There’s a Place in France
Earlier today, Robert Thoresen, Stephen Rogers and Aldo Sohm, spent the morning at my office cupping some coffees. Those who follow this Tumblr are probably familiar with Robert and Stephen; those who follow wine are probably familiar with Aldo, the sommelier at le Bernardin.
My guess is this was the first time that a World Barista Champion (Robert, 2000) and a Best Sommelier in the World (Aldo, 2008) cupped coffees together, and even if I’m skeptical of any competition with “world” in the title (not to sound cynical, but, really? the whole world?), it was a kick to stand at a table with people who possessed so much intimate knowledge of two of comparable but dissimilar drinks that I love dearly. Naturally, the conversation turned to coffee varieties.
Robert brought it up. I don’t want to speak for him, but he seemed to echo much of what Peter posted on this Tumblr, that the distinctive characteristics of coffee varieties are as important as (more important than?) place and process. Variety matters. Robert had some fantastic coffees with him: a Pacamara, a natural Geisha, a Catuai. There was a gorgeous Caturra on the table I took home to drink in the morning.
Remembering some of the tweets from last week, I asked Aldo about French wine, specifically if the red wines of Burgundy are one hundred percent pinot noir. They are, he said. Unlike Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a rustic wine from the southern end of the Rhône that’s a blend of thirteen varieties.
According to Aldo, the formulation depends on the year. Grenache plays the biggest role, but you would never up the Grenache past the tipping point to where you could call a Châteauneuf-du-Pape a Provençal Grenache. You wouldn’t want to. The name “Châteauneuf-du-Pape” not only evokes the character of the wine (shapely, pretty, moody), it allows the winemaker to respond to the year and adjust the grapes in the unmistakably regional blend while still coloring within the lines: you want to use all the Crayons in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape box because that’s what it takes to make a Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
I should note that viticulture in the area has been going strong for thousands of years and was refined in the early 1300s, after Pope Clement V moved the seat of the Catholic Church from Rome to Avignon. They’ve had time to work it out.
I should also note that Aldo is a terroirist.
How does this relate to coffee? I’m not sure there’s a clear connection for me to make, but I will cull some thoughts from the accounts above. For a Burgundy, the variety is fixed; for a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the configuration of varieties is fluid; and for both, variety is one factor among many that determines how the wine tastes in the glass.