Who makes it: Eric Texier
Where: Cotes du Rhone, St Julien-en-St Alban
What is it: 85% old vine Grenache, 15% Clairette/Viognier/Chasselas/other
How is it made: co-harvested and -fermented in whole clusters, gently pressed. Brief 5-day maceration in concrete tanks. Aged for a year in concrete before bottling. Biodynamic.
Translating to “crazy cat,” Texier’s “Chat fou” is an intentionally fresh, breezy style of Cotes du Rhone. I personally can’t shed light on the origin of its name, since this wine is anything but unapproachable, and it doesn’t sneak up on you or attack when you least expect it. I did, however, take the opportunity to pose the bottle with my roommate’s crazy cat Zuzu, and at least that resemblance is uncanny.
The wine is soft and elegant, with tart fruit and pronounced minerality. Old school done right. It smells like cooked cherries and licorice and my mother’s overgrown backyard ‘garden’ of broken terracotta pots and unidentifiable weeds and herbs. “Chat fou” is from the commune of St Julien-en-St Alban, just a 25 minute drive south of Hermitage in the Ardèche, known for its old-vine Syrah and Grenache and its granite soil. Predominantly Grenache, the wine is unusual for its cepage, the remaining 15% consisting of indigenous white varietals. Vinified locally to obtain its AOC, the wine is then transported to a 16th-century cellar in Charnay-en-Beaujolais, where Texier lives.
Texier is a renowned natural winemaker, known for his scientific approach to organic and biodynamic wine production, and for bringing attention and acclaim to regions of the Rhone that were once prominent but had fallen into disrepair, particularly Brezeme in the Northern Rhone. Originally a nuclear engineer, he changed careers in 1992, trained with Jean-Marie Guffens at Verget in Mâcon, and made his first vintage in 1995. He now makes 30 different wines, from 10 different origins, from the Mâconnais to the Rhone. In the world of natural wine, his signature leaf insignia denotes excellence. “Chat fou” is no exception.
I recommend this wine slightly chilled, with a crazy cat to warm your lap.