A confession: Though I live in La Bourgogne, wine central for France and maybe the world, I’m a miserable failure at being a Wine Snob. Though I’ve visited more vineyards, cavs, châteaux and wine co-ops than I can shake a grape vine at, I’ve improved my palate a bit but I just can’t Talk the Talk.
Olivir Magny, everyone’s favorite wine blogger at O Chateau (and owner of the famous Paris wine bar and wine school of the same name), is a sommelier by training who reassures us all that we don’t have to sprinkle fancy-smanzy jargon around to appreciate wine. In fact, Olivier wants you to put your nose to the ground and muck around in the dirt a bit. I interviewed him about his new book, Into Wine: An Invitation to Pleasure which you must read if you’re a wine sophisticate and especially if you aren’t. Here’s what he had to say.
Not being an amateur du vin [that's a knowledgable enthusiast] myself, I was surprised at how much I loved the book--as did my husband, who IS an amateur. Who did you envision as your target audience for the book?
That's great to hear, thanks!! Into Wine is a terrific read for anyone with who's ever drunk a glass of wine! Everybody will learn something: about wine, but also about its beautiful and inspiring culture. I did my very best to find the right balance between informative and fun. That's how I do things at O Château, and I think it's a strategy most people enjoy - novices just as much as seasoned drinkers. Makes learning new things both easy and really exciting!
Well terroir is truly the key to the understanding of anything wine. It's the one idea that makes everything fall in place and suddenly make sense. Why are French wines so complicated? Terroir. Why is this wine so delicious? Terroir. What's so wonderful about Burgundy? Terroir! It is a tricky notion but one it is tremendously rewarding to grasp. The beauty of it is that when you step back for a second, you realize that terroir is an idea that goes far beyond wine. Into Wine is also the story of this eye opening journey.
Your book is irreverent and full of humor, not things we normally associate with wine writing (only with drinking it). Does the professional wine community not quite know what to make of you, or do they appreciate a breath of fresh air?
Thank you Lynn! You know, no matter what I do, I try to do it well, and also, I try to do it with my heart. I think most people recognize it when you do something with your heart. So at the end of the day, though some stuck-up wine professionals might look at me with a bit of circumspection (which I can very much understand), I think most people - amateurs or professionals - just see a young guy with a real passion, they see someone who's not scared to go out and take some risks for what he believes in.
The global wine market has given the French fierce competition. Will the French be able to maintain that close connection with the land that makes French wine so special?
I think so. As I explain in the book, French wines are going through a fantastic Renaissance right now. The connection between vignerons and their land, which had been vastly lost in the 70s, 80s and 90s is being rebuilt. And that's not going anywhere. There are so many people interested in wine these days that the future is quite bright for all the wineries that make the most interesting and delicious wines. And no matter, that means focusing on your land and on your grapes. Now will the French realize this and start drinking more wine, that's a whole different question...
After getting into the book, I was shocked to find out you were French, since your English is current and beyond perfect. Where and how did you learn it?
Thank you very much. School mostly, though I do recall trying to make sense out of the lyrics of the English or American songs I heard on the radio. I would record them and play the tapes over and over again. Since I liked rap, I guess I caught up on a fair bit of ebonics at a young age! I also worked for a little while in California, and then at O Chateau, we have tastings in English every day, so that helps too!
OK, so we live in Burgundy, and we drink mostly white Burgundies and Côtes du Rhône reds. How should we go about picking our ‘house wine’ for everyday drinking? Or how should anybody, for that matter?
I'd say first, buy your wine from a wine shop, not from a supermarket. This way, you can get better advice and a better (usually healthier too) selection. If you're after value for money, don't go for the well-known names, for you always pay more for those (so for white burgundies, for instance the wines from the Côte Chalonnaise will be better value than those from Pouilly-Fuissé), And as a general rule, I would recommend going for wines with less chemicals, they're simply much better for you. In the book, I listed a bunch of awesome value organic and biodynamic wines, worldwide. Just take a picture of these pages on your phone and you'll never feel lost again comes the time to pick a wine!
You seem like a really fun guy. If we visit Paris, can we come hang out at O Chateau and talk to you?
Absolutely!! We offer great food and over 40 wines by the glass... so even if you think I'm dull and boring, chances are you'll still have a good time!!
Restaurant tip: On a recent visit to Paris, Ron and I and friends visted Olivier's wine bar, O Chateau, and had a lovely tasting dinner. I highly recommend it! (Plus our server knew her wines well and was so cute that the guys were ready to follow her home).
Favorite Reads: In addition to grabbing Olivier's new wine book, Into Wine: An Invitation to Pleasure , be sure to get his other book, tthe best selling Stuff Parisians Like: Discovering the Quoi in the Je Ne Sais Quoi. It's really funny, and if you want to get to the heart of what makes Parisians tick, he nails it.
You can read more about Olivier and his new book over at The Daily Basics later this week.
Photo courtesy of Olivier Magny.