Latour not Le Tour. It is a village in the Pyrénées-Orientales with an unusual profile in terms of winemaking as nearly all the vignerons make natural wine. La Bande de Latour is their open day and it was such a fun event last year that we decided to return again, the date was in the diary for a long time.
Unbelievably the event took place on the only bad day’s weather in the last 3 weeks, low cloud, mist and dampness prevailed though the event was far from spoiled and more than compensated for the weather. The vignerons of Latour invite others from around the Languedoc Roussillon and further afield, but there is a common bond of natural wine. In recent weeks there has been much discussion in the world of wine about whether natural wines should be certificated and what direction the wines should take. I intend to address these issues in the next articles but it was a good opportunity to see what lessons could be learned at such a gathering of producers.
The first thing to say is that there were wines which did not appeal and which seemed a little lacking. I believe that natural wines are moving on and that with more experience of not using sulphites, for example, winemakers are learning how to tackle the process of making clean, fresh and healthy wines with a minimum of faults despite not having the safety net of additives, interventionist winemaking etc. However, there were some winemakers present who, in my view, are either new to the approach, haven’t learned or have not moved on. I won’t name names here but would share my thoughts if anyone wants to get in touch.
However, I felt that the majority of wines were of at least good quality, with fruit, freshness, balance and complexity – all that you would want from any wine but certainly the features which make natural wines appeal to me. There were wines which really were top class and I put my money where my mouth is by buying some.
Top of the podium was undoubtedly Cyril Fhal of Clos Rouge Gorge. His vineyards are high in the hills, gobelet and exposed to the elements. Cyril is a master of Carignan and his wines are relatively expensive though not by comparison with the likes of Burgundy or Bordeaux, and his wines do bear comparison with top class wines. The Carignan was very good indeed, long, fresh, deep and balanced. However, it was the Blanc, made from Maccabeu which really captured my imagination, one of the best wines I have tasted in 2015. It starts zesty and fresh and then the oak adds a little roundness, coating the mouth with spicy notes but always clean and refreshing. Beautiful wine, brilliant winemaking. I happily bought both wines.
Other top performers from the village included Domaines Rivaton, Mathouans and Trbouley.
Frédéric Rivaton presented a very good white wine, Blanc Bec 2014 which was full flavoured, fresh and balanced the Carignan Blanc, Grenache Gris and Maccabeu beautifully. The rosé was mainly Grenache and the best of his wines today, lovely aromatics of red fruits matched by full, almost textured, flavours. Very good. I liked the red Gribouille too, showing a lot of depth and complexity. I liked Rivaton wines when I have tasted them before but they seemed to be much more complex and interesting today, more purchases.
I don’t remember tasting Domaine Mathouans wines before, I certainly have no notes, and that is my loss. These wines were very well made with lots of fruit but also much more complexity behind the fruit. Light tasting but structured, easy to drink but with real depth and interest. The orange wine Mine De Rien 2014 made from Muscat Petits Grains had lovely muscat aromatics (plus a little reduction which disappeared in glass), but was dry, clean and not overly concentrated as some orange wines can be. Fresh and clean, very well made. Assureté is a blend of red grapes which are complanted in the vineyard and vinified together. Full, fruity and very good – my question is why on earth did I not buy some? My mistake. And again with Le Bon, Le Brut et Le Carignan which was aromatic, red fruits with deeper black fruits behinid, very complex but always fresh and balanced. Aline Hock is clearly a very talented winemaker, I intend to find out more about the domaine.
Jean-Louis Tribouley‘s wines have always appealed to me. Today we only tasted the red wines, which was a shame as I love his Grenache Gris. They were all good wines, however, I have to single out Mani 2012 made from young vine Grenache, Syrah and Carignan which was sweet, ripe and very good. Another I wish I had bought.
My other favourite wines came from outside the area.
I was taken by the wines of Domaine Hausherr when I met them in Montpellier in January. Despite their long journey to Latour the wines were equally good today. Hausherr like to express their vineyards rather than single varieties as most Alsace producers do. Therefore, wines such as Altengarten are a blend, in this case Riesling and Gewurztraminer. They are wines with full, ripe aromatics hinting at sweetness but in fact they are very dry and expressive, really delicious. La Colline Celeste 2012 was my favourite of the dry wines and I also really liked Roc Et Porcelaine 2011 which was made from the same vineyard but with more residual sugar kept to add a touch of sweetness. Sungass 2003 was also very interesting, the hot summer of 12 years ago but the wine was fresh and dry, pure Riesling with petrolly notes.
L’Ostal is in Cahors, a small and youthful domaine run by Louis Pérot. The Malbec grape can be tough and often needs aging but Louis has made different styles of wine using, for example, carbonic maceration. There is still a classic Cahors, Plein Chant (2013 bigger than 2014) but I really enjoyed Anselme 2014 which was full, rich but velvety and very good. Similarly Le Tour (not Latour) was bigger than many of the wines but retained a freshness and fruit character. I was happy to buy both of these and enjoyed the other wines too. Particular thanks to Louis who replaced a bottle I broke on the way out, my fault and he didn’t need to, it was much appreciated.
I’d also like to add Axel Prufer of Temps Des Cerises to my recommendations. The Chardonnay Peur De Rouge 2013 was very good, this is a wine which is coming into its own and Axel confirmed it needs a year or two to do so. His red Fou du Roi 13 was also very good but the Chardonnay was a real treat.
So a great day, lots of music, choices of food (including vegetarian!) and a good atmosphere despite the gloomy weather. There were my favourite wines, there were others too from Domaine Sabbat and the very promising new domaine of La Bancale.
I do think natural wines are moving on and improving still further and La Bande de Latour provided me with plenty of evidence to support me. As I said I shall be coming back to the whole natural wine debate soon.