Malcolm Jolley catches up with Trevor Gulliver and his wines.
My friend, the indomitable Trevor Gulliver, was in town from London at the end of last month to help his agent, Charles Baker, sell more wine in Ontario. To be precise, he was helping Charles and his team at Cru Wine Merchants sell more of the wine that Tevor oversees production of in France: the St. John, and the Boulevard Napoléon labels that Trevor insists are “not projects of vanity, just insanity”. Trevor’s time was short, as Charles had him hustling around the city and Niagara; he’d just landed in Toronto from Ottawa, where he’d hosted a wine dinner, and was before that in Montréal hanging out with his friends at Joe Beef. Luckily, we had just enough time together to check out Erik Joyal and John Sinopoli’s beautiful Rooftop Bar on top of the newly renovated Broadview Hotel, drink a cold beer and taste through the St. John’s and Boulevard Napoléon wines Trevor has in our market.
We began our tasting with the 2016 St. John Rosé, made in the Languedoc with 100% Grenache – or Grenache Noir, as they might say there. It was light, crisp and pretty and on the market for only $18 a bottle. This was the first of many wines, actually all the wines, that was tasted that seemed to me to be aggressively priced. Trevor explained that the point of both labels was to supply the St. John restaurants with good, reasonably priced wines, and he and his well known chef partner Fergus Henderson simply extended this philosophy to their sales outside of the restaurant group.
That philosophy was manifest in the next wine, the non-vintage St. John Champagne ($59). This was a fresh fizz, full of green apple and pear and, as Trevor said, “no biscuit”. This “not yellow” Champagne was designed as an aperitif, a prelude to a restaurant meal that cleaned and refreshed the palate.
Trevor told me that the Champagne caused no small amount of consternation at its inception. The Comité Champagne, it seems, did not take well to the idea of a pig on the label of one its wines. Charged with protecting the integrity of the Champagne AOC, the Comité has all kinds of rules about what can or can’t be on the labels of wines from its hallowed terroir. Nevertheless Trevor and Fergus were adamant: a St. John wine would have to have the St. John pig on its label. After much back and forth, their grower and winemaking partner in Champagne managed to convince the Comité to make an exception and allow their pig to grace their bottles, but with one compromise: it could only be on the back label. At first this struck Trevor as unacceptable, until their French partner went on to explain with a smile that there were no rules about how big the back label had to be in relation to the front label. As a result, St. John Champagne is nearly always presented backwards.
We tried two more St. John label (with pigs in front) wines: the Bourgognes. The 2015 Chardonnay was, I wrote in my notes, ‘typique: fresh but rich’ and a bit of a steal at $29 a bottle. The 2014 Pinot Noir was ‘classique’ full of good cherry fruit and a hint of cranberry and even more of a bargain at the $30 range.
Now it was time for wines from the winery at Boulevard Napoléon, which is a joint venture between Trevor and the winemaker Benjamin Darnault from the Pays Hérault in the Languedoc. First, the Grenache Gris from 2014; what a lovely an interesting wine. I had ordered a case of a previous vintage of this to my in-laws house in the UK when we went over for Christmas a few years ago. We drank it all and ordered another for New Year’s a soon as we could. Its crisp in fruit with a touch of saltiness, but also with a substantive mouthfeel and some herbal notes. Just really good, and aggressively priced at $29.
The last two wines I tasted were equally aggressively priced at $29 and beautifully made, each from a single vineyard. The 2012 Boulevard Napoléon Grenache ‘Le Pujol’ was full of fruit from black into red, charming and pretty. By contrast, the 2012 Boulevard Napoléon Carignan ‘L’Angely’ was full of violets and rich purple fruit notes, a bit of ‘grapiness’ – in the best way – and a very long finish.
I hope Trevor and his wines come back to town soon. In the meantime I will be looking for them on the wine lists of some of the city’s better restaurants, and bug Charles Baker at Cru Wine Merchants for more information on how to get some into my cellar.