amarchinthevines

Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc


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Jour De Fête Pour Vin Des Amis

En français

 

I am a very lucky man. If in doubt, read on.

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Yesterday (February 23rd) was the first big bottling day of Mas Coutelou 2015 wines. First in line was Vin Des Amis and 11,400 bottles were prepared. As Jeff put it, “Le vrai jour pour la belle cuvée”. (The bringing into the world of the beautiful wine). It proved to be the most aptly named of wines as Jeff welcomed friends from far and wide.

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Vincent, a friend of many years who has featured before, was here from Paris. Another Paris based teacher, Sébastien, is spending a week in Puimisson in order to learn about being a vigneron (see his report on the domaine here). The most important visitor yesterday was Céline who was celebrating her birthday.

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Birthday girl

Bordeaux based Céline has been a regular visitor to Puimisson for many years and helped me with picking grapes for my 100th blog wine last September. Her husband, restaurateur Brice, and friends Thibaut and Anne from Monein in the Béarn, were here to help her to celebrate and threw themselves into the bottling work with gusto. Michel, Julien and I were present too.

The bottling line was in operation from 7.30am to around 5.30pm. Cuve 7, which contains up to 100hl, was emptied and the bottles taken to be stored for a few months until they are ready to label and to market in springtime. With 10 of us available we were able to share the load and take the occasional break as Jeff provided food and wine to ease us through the day. The Vin Des Amis was opened of course and it is already a bright, clear, delicious vintage of this popular cuvée, fresh red fruits with a lingering spiciness. Another sign of how good the 2015 will be. Jeff also opened a 1997 Mas Coutelou, a wine from his first solo vintage which had a lovely earthy perfume combined with red fruits which carried into the taste. The age was showing, the flavours cut short a little but still very drinkable. We also tasted some of the white wines from tank, they are developing beautifully, an amazing Maccabeu in particular. Could this be the year white wines steal the show at Mas Coutelou?

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I thought I was the star!

The theme of friendship continued as Pat and I were invited along to dinner at Jeff’s to celebrate Céline’s birthday. Brice prepared some delicious fish dishes; marinated mackerel, squid in garlic and parsley, fresh cockles in a seafood broth, monkfish with garlicky potato purée and delicious sauce. He is clearly a very talented chef as well as restaurateur, ably assisted by Thibaut who made some very tasty flour-free crêpes.

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And then there were the wines. A veritable who’s who of natural wine’s top producers. Plageoles’ sparkling Mauzac was a good start with which to toast Céline. Her phone rang throughout the day, she clearly personifies vin des amis.

A delicious rosé from Clos Des Grillons in the Gard followed, full flavoured, very appetising. Much more fruity than many rosés, this originates in Tavel.

Perhaps my favourite wine was the Pinot Blanc 2010 of Gérard Schueller, very full, a honey edge but dry – not sure that I have ever tasted a Pinot Blanc of such quality. I must track down some other wines from the domaine.

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Céline had brought along a 2012 Leon Barral Blanc, Terret Blanc and Gris with some Viognier and Roussanne. Textured, a golden colour but very fresh and a good match with the fish.

La Bégou 14 made by Maxime Magnon in the Corbières was lovely, fresh white peach flavoured and very round, Grenaches Gris and Blanc. I liked this wine a lot, more evidence of how good Grenache Gris can be.

JF Ganévat’s J’en veux encore is a light red wine from an amazing blend of umpteen local Jura grapes by a producer who makes up to 40 cuvées (he must have amazing powers of memory to keep on top of so many wines). I tasted some of the range earlier this year and must admit to preferring the white wines but this was nice, very drinkable red fruits and a good match with the monkfish in its seafood sauce.

Back to Barral for Jadis 2001. Shy at first but this opened up in carafe through the night. Plummy, spicy, very long and terrific Faugères, the Carignan shone through with roundness from the Grenache. I have not always ‘got’ Barral’s wines but this showed me that they need time and patience. Very good.

Sébastien brought along a biodynamic Sauternes from Rousset-Peyraguey, a 2000 yet youthful with lovely sweetness but also freshness.

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And then, just when you think you have got to grips with Jeff’s wines, there appeared two remarkable bottles. The first was Robert A, despite the label. This was Grenache Gris and Blanc from 2003, his first year of going sulphur free in the cellar. It passed through some interesting stages in its development and early bottles spat out their cork so it was put into sparkling wine bottles. It was amazing. Unbelievably fresh for a 12-13 year old white wine, white fruits with a tight edginess but clean and bright. It continued to develop in glass and in bottle through the evening, wine of the night.

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R for Robert

Then came another new cuvée to me BL002, also from 2003. A Sauvignon Blanc but I’d never have identified it as such, with a sweetness (from the Muscat in the blend) and delicious freshness. Many around the table chose this as their preferred wine and it was another amazing wine. How does he do it? Vincent chose this because it reminded him of those early days of Jeff’s winemaking adventures and of their long friendship, a perfect fit for the theme of the day.

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A birthday. A long day. A rewarding day. A memorable day. A day for friends, for vin des amis.


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Coutelou cuvées

cuvees map

En francais

Jeff Coutelou produces a large range of different wines, or cuvées, every year. There are a number which are made every year, les incontournables. These are the biggest production wines, the breadwinners and, probably, his best known cuvées, Classe and Vin Des Amis. Depending upon the vintage Jeff will then decide what to do with the grapes he has left and which cuvées to produce. Some of these extra cuvées reappear regularly, others very occasionally and some will be new.

So, let’s start with the more celebrated wines.

Classe

This is the wine which was described in The Guardian by wine writer David Williams like this in April 2015:

Mas Coutelou Classe, Languedoc 2013
For the natural wine-sceptic, it’s hard to think of a better place to start than the wines of Jeff Coutelou: full of vivid, finger-staining blackberry fruit, this carignan is explosively juicy and succulent: pure pleasure.

Usually a blend of 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah from Segrairals and Sainte Suzanne vineyards. In older years the remainder was Carignan, more recently Cinsault and a little Mourvèdre. Around 13,000 bottles of Classe are made with their distinctive pink labels showing a diamond. I always think of Classe as having a slightly darker fruit profile than Vin Des Amis whilst retaining its charm and drinkability.

Le Vin Des Amis

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The wine which was my first experience of Jeff’s wines and which blew away my preconceptions of good wine. It was the sheer vitality and energy of this Syrah and Grenache wine which impressed me. From the Metaierie or Sainte Suzanne vineyard it is made in similar quantity to Classe. The wine writer Jamie Goode described the 2012 as:

Rich, dense, vivid and pure. Quite backward with real grip under the vivid black fruits. Powerful and structure with amazing fruit quality, dominated by fresh blackberry and black cherries. 93/100

Whenever I share Vin Des Amis with people they always sing its praises and ask for it next time, it is well named. Another striking and unusual label gets it noticed but the fruity freshness are what makes people love it.

7, Rue De La Pompe

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from wine anorak website

More Syrah from Segrairals with just a little Grenache from the same vineyard blended in. The different cuvées are based around different vinification methods as well as different parcels. The 2010 of Rue De La Pompe was a wine of the week for Jancis Robinson who also considered the 2012 as being like a northern Rhone wine with a bone dry profile. There are raspberry  and pepper notes and the trademark freshness and vivacity. 

Another large production in most years, around 10,000 bottles or so, it didn’t appear in 2014 because the Syrah was very low yielding that year and was used for the two big cuvées. The wine is called after Jeff’s address incidentally.

Sauvé De La Citerne

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Citerne was another well known cuvée which did not appear in 2014. Largely Mourvèdre with some Grenache, again from Segrairals, this is wine which was originally made from grapes which Jeff didn’t use elsewhere, hence the name of the cuvée meaning saved from the tank. This was always one of my favourites with blackberry and blackcurrant flavours and an earthiness from the Mourvèdre. That cépage has done very well recently and was bottled as a single variety wine in 2014. Jeff has other plans for the Mourvèdre of 2015 with another cuvée planned mixed with Syrah and Cinsault, I have tasted it and it is lovely, very elegant and precise.

Sauvé De La Citerne will reappear with a 2015 however. It fits with the idea of making the cuvée from otherwise unused grapes that this year will see a blend of Grenache with a little Syrah. It will therefore be different but again my early tasting of it suggests a very attractive wine.

La Vigne Haute

This is probably my favourite cuvée of all and sadly it hasn’t appeared since 2013 and nor will it this year. Made purely from Syrah from the La Garrigue vineyard where the vines face northwards, this might explain the fresh acidity and vitality of La Vigne Haute. That acidity means that Vigne Haute ages extremely well and gains even more complexity. It is classic Syrah, red fruits and spice with great length and balance and beautiful aromas.  It would be my desert island wine.

There was a pure Syrah in 2014 and another is planned for 2015 but under a different name, it is lovely but I do miss Vigne Haute, fortunately I have quite a few bottles tucked away until it reappears (please).

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Jeff surveys the Vigne Haute vines

5SO Simple

 

5SO has quickly become established as a Coutelou favourite, around 7,000 bottles are made. Its name is a play on Cinsault and the wine is indeed pure Cinsault from the Segrairals vineyard. Designed as a light red, easy to drink it is delicious in summer slightly chilled and a great wine for drinking without food. Fresh cherry and raspberry flavours and a light structure make for a lovely wine. 

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Cinsault vine in Segrairals

 

Flambadou

 

Named after a barbecue tool Flambadou is pure Carignan from the vineyard Rec D’Oulette. It reappeared in 2013 and was also made in 2014 and 2015, made in smallish quantities as this is a small, low yielding vineyard. Jeff considered the 2013 as the star wine of that vintage and the 2014 is also amongst the best.

More full bodied than some of the other wines the Carignan brings dark fruit flavours and aromas. There is a brooding undertone of spice and plenty of red fruit freshness on the finish. Another wine which ages well. The vines are on an open parcel of ground so well exposed to the sun, the freshness a reflection of the healthy soils and skilled winemaking. Carignan is making a comeback in the Languedoc Roussillon and this is one of the best examples of why. Carignan enthusiast Michel Smith in his series on Carignan bottles praised Flambadou as follows, ” La bouteille a été vite vidée, ce qui est un bon signe”.

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The Rec D’Oulette vineyard

Flower Power

A relatively new addition to the Coutelou cannon. Flower Power is a true expression of terroir as this is a wine made from a variety of grapes from one parcel, Font D’Oulette (as the name suggests not far from where Flambadou originates). Jeff has begun to complant grape varieties more and more and to produce wine made from that mix of grapes. This is the first wine to show the results and it is a winner.  

Aramon and Oeillade Noir are just some of the grapes in the mix of Flower Power. Aramon was once one of the most planted of all grapes in the Languedoc but went out of fashion as it was often overcropped and dilute. Now vignerons are realising that when it is grown with lower yields Aramon produces flavoursome wine. Oeillade is also interesting, a grape related to Cinsault, another old Languedoc variety which Jeff wants to bring back. Just to add some mystery there are some Clairette Musquée grapes in here, a white grape.

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Font D’Oulette

Flower Power is lightly structured but packs a punch with flavours of black cherries and red fruits, and, appropriately, it is very aromatic, perhaps from the influence of the Clairette. As the vines age this will become more structured I would imagine but it is already a favourite.

In the last week La Revue Du Vin De France selected Flower Power as one of their top 50 Languedoc wines, an accolade from a source which does not usually favour natural wines.

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L’Oublié

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Now here is a fascinating wine. L’Oublié is a blend of cépages AND vintages. The wines are aged in old barrels, not the usual practice of the domaine. Carignan was the forerunner with some 2001 and then more Carignan 2007 and 2010 were added. Then Syrah joins the assemblage, grapes from 09, 10, 12 and 13. This blend forms L’Oublié, the forgotten one. I imagine this refers to the original 2001 Carignan barrel. 

It has aromas of dark fruits and leathery, spicy notes too. It is dark flavoured too, blackberries, liquorice and even coffee are just some of the many complex flavours. It benefits from decanting to allow that complexity to resolve itself a little, and it will stay fresh for days after opening. There are not many wines like this around and I honestly don’t know why. It is unusual and one of my favourite wines because of its complexity, its balance of older and more youthful flavours. Terrific.

Les Copains

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This was a wine which used to be a regular but disappeared after the 2003 vintage. It reappeared in 2013 and became my favourite wine (or have I already chosen another?!). Cinsault is the grape but it is a more complex wine than 5SO Simple, richer, darker and more structured. The grapes come from the beautiful Rome vineyard and are from 40 – 50 year old gobelet vines which bring low yielding fruit, rich and elegant. The wine is recognisably Cinsault with cherry notes but it has attractive depth and power, very long flavours of red fruit and peppery / spicy too. Sadly 2015 did not bring enough fruit to make Copains so enjoy what is available, it is worth ageing a couple of years but difficult to resist now.

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Rome’s Cinsault vines

Other red cuvées are made for restaurants and and as one offs. A lovely pure Grenache was made in 2014 for example whilst Tete A Claques and Buvette A Paulette are others which appear from time to time.

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It is fair to say that Mas Coutelou is best known for its red wines but there are some very good white wines too. They make up around 15% of the vineyards made up of a multitude of white grape varieties.

PM Blanc

PM

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The most regular of the white bottles though Jeff has started to experiment with various other blends and single variety wines. Most of the white grapes are grown in La Garrigue and Peilhan vineyards. PM usually contains Sauvignon Blanc from La Garrigue but assembled with other white grapes which are available such as Grenache Blanc, Macabeu, Muscat and Carignan Blanc. Dry, clean and full of flavour PM has texture and white fruits galore.

Single variety white wines in recent years have included, for example, Carignan Blanc from Peilhan. If Jeff feels that the grapes are of particularly high quality he will make a single variety wine. They always wear the mark of fresh acidity and the grape brings different fruit profiles, the Macabeu with aromatic yellow fruit for example. The Macabeu will appear from the 2015 vintage. I am a particular fan of Carignan Blanc and Jeff’s version was very clean, mineral and long lasting in flavour. This year he is combining it with Grenache Gris which did well in 2015 in Peilhan. Most of these white wines come in small quantities.

Car Blanc

Roberson Wines

Muscat grapes grow in Peilhan and Rome and appear in some white blends as well as PM RoséThe rosé is very aromatic and a dry wine, good with food and also on those hot, Languedoc summer days. It usually has juice from Syrah and Cinsault, pressed after a short time on skins. 

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Bibonade

Sparkling wines are also made at Mas Coutelou. Bibonade (think lemonade) has appeared in various forms, white and rosé and sometimes sweet! The dry version is fresh, clean and appley, a perfect quaffing wine and disappears very quickly after opening. There is usually Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and some Grenache Blanc in there but again Jeff will play around with what he has available. This is my wife’s favourite wine!

Another sparkling wine which was popular in the 2013 vintage was Blanc Frisant. Macabeu and Grenache Gris grapes were bottled with a small quantity (8g) of sugar to encourage a second fermentation in the bottle. This produces a small quantity of CO2 bringing a light fizz when the bottle is opened.  It was wonderfully refreshing with citrus and spice flavours. It is another example of Jeff’s inventiveness and experimental nature.

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Carignan Blanc grapes in Peilhan

Sweet wines are made too, have a look at my article on the solera system.

So there we are, a huge array of different bottles, something for everyone. Fruit, freshness and drinkability are the hallmarks of Coutelou cuvées, they all contain those three qualities and many more. Jeff’s restless search for better wines means that the cuvées change every year (with two main exceptions). As he develops the cellar with more cuves available he will no doubt continue to produce new wines. As new plantations of grapes such as Riveyrenc, Terret, Morastel and Piquepoul Noir mature there will be even more variety. However, buy with confidence whatever is available is very good.

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Coutelou catch-up

It’s been a few weeks since I updated about events at Mas Coutelou, partly due to Millésime Bio and, partly, because it’s a relatively quiet time. That is not to say nothing has been happening, far from it.

Millésime Bio and Le Salon des Vins De Loire are two huge events in France attracting many thousands of trade visitors. As you have seen with Millésime Bio these salons also attract satellite events and Jeff takes part in those. Les Affranchis in Montpellier and La Dive Bouteille in Saumur last two days each and so adequate samples of the wines need to be prepared, transported and poured for guests to taste. Those events alone take about 7 days of the last month. I know from feedback from various people who sampled Mas Coutelou wines at both events that they enjoyed the wines which were samples from cuve (tank) of the 2015 cuvées such as Vin Des Amis, Classe, Syrah, PM Blanc and Flower Power. Hopefully the salons will spread the word about how good they are, the elegance and finesse of the vintage is obvious as you taste it.

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Bottles of the 2015 wines made specially for the salons

Those visitors were also presented with Jeff’s annual Carte Des Voeux, his new year greetings card, together with his summary of the last year’s events, weather, vintage and cuvées. The Carte’s original is printed by hand and this year’s was especially complicated to print because of the different colours used. The message is worth the hard work.

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For the last several weeks pruning (taille) has continued. Julien is leading the work this year and his back must be getting sore by now. It is hard work! The importance of good pruning should not be underestimated. It maintains the health of the vines, removing damaged or sick wood. It reduces the number of canes which will grow grapes so that the vine’s energy will produce quality rather than quantity, probably reducing potential yields by half. It also shapes the vine so that future work such as ploughing and harvesting will be more straightforward. I wrote about pruning last year describing the different methods.

I visited Julien in Peilhan vineyard on Monday, the same day as I saw a pruning machine at work in a nearby vineyard. It certainly does the job quickly and more cheaply but looking at the vines afterwards it was hard not to think that the machine did not reduce the number of canes to limit yields and, of course, cannot check the health of the vines. Julien and his fellow tailleurs are more costly but, to my mind, essential for good vineyard management and, ultimately, good wines.

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Michel was also in Peilhan, making sure that the pruned vines were tied to their trellis. If the vine is not straight he might stake itfor support and then tie the vine to the stake using a fastener called a ‘queue de cochon’ as it resembles a pig’s curly tail. This will help to avoid the vine being knocked during ploughing or other work.

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Michel and Julien hard at work

Meanwhile, in the cellar it has been a hive of activity. One of the features of the cellar has been a large basket press which has been used by the Coutelou family for generations.

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Sadly, it has been out of use for many years and became something of an obstacle as work was done, especially during the vendanges. Jeff reluctantly decided to remove it, I know this was a difficult choice for him. It proved to be a much more difficult task than anticipated as the press screw went deep into the ground and a massive hole still didn’t get to the bottom of it so, eventually, it was sawn through to enable the whole press to be moved.

The story does have a happy ending though as the press is on its way to Jeff’s friend Didier Barral where it will be put to good use. The result is certainly more space in the cellar, even if a part of the domaine’s history has disappeared.

Another big tank (cuve) has also been split into two. Jeff will be able to vinify smaller quantities of wine and have more choices about the most suitable cuve for grapes as they come in at harvest time.

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Finally, for those of you who want to find out more about Mas Coutelou a new website is available. I have included a link at the top of my page and invite you to have a look at the site.

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Jeff wrote the text for it (I did the English translation) and it will inform you about the philosophy, methods and wines of the domaine. And it is those wines, the different cuvées, that I shall be writing about next time.

Pour les lecteurs français je m’excuse, j’ai des grandes difficultés de mettre à jour la page en français. J’ai demandé à WordPress pour résoudre le problème.


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Off notes 2 – natural highs

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Three of the offline events around Millésime Bio feature natural wine producers alongside others who are biodynamic. Indeed this includes two of the most attended of the offlines, Le Vin De Mes Amis and Les Affranchis. Last year 1,100 people attended the former and judging by the queues to get in this year I would think those numbers were at least equalled. Though some people decry natural wines, are suspicious of them and see natural wine as some kind of deception, thousands of others actively seek them out and seem to be convinced by them.

I like many conventional wines, organic wines and biodynamic wines. I have an open mind but I am one of those convinced by natural wines. My time with Jeff Coutelou and visiting other natural producers has led to me taste wines which I genuinely think are thrilling and offer something special. So, I was one of those queuing to get into Domaine Verchant for Vin de Mes Amis and to Les Affranchis as well as a new offline event, Les Vignerons De L’Iréel.

Of course there are some bad wines, naive wines and wines which did not appeal to me. However, there were bad, naive and unappealing wines in the main salon and elsewhere too. So, these are the wines and producers whose wines I did enjoy and heartily recommend.

Les Affranchis

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Held in the Chateau de Flaugergues as last year though this time in a marquee. I have to say it was a little cramped in there and that the provision of only one lunch truck with long queues (for an 8€ cup of risotto!) were not the best conditions for a tasting. Nevertheless there were many good producers present, including Jeff, and the event was a success in my view but could have been so much better.

Once again the highlight was Austria this time supported by Beaujolais. I enjoyed the champagnes of Valerie Frison especially the Pinot dominated Goustan 2012. I always enjoy the wines of Nicolas Carmarans from the unlikely wine region of Aveyron. Using grapes such as Fer Servadou, the Cabernets and Chenin Blanc he produces amazing wines such as Maximus and Mauvais Temps. Talking with James Dunstan, who imports wines in Japan, we agreed that Carmarans is one of the most talented producers, no matter what type of wine.

The Beaujolais producers whose wines I enjoyed were Jean-Claude Lapalu and Romain Zordan.

Lapalu is one of the more famous names in the natural wine world and on this showing I understand why. All the wines on tasting were 2014s and all showed lots of fresh red fruits, were clear and, while enjoyable to drink now, would age well for a few years. These are classic Beaujolais wines, pleasurable but with a serious side to please the brain and palate. The Côte De Brouilly and Beaujolais Villages were lovely, accessible wines, the oak aged Brouilly Fûts and amphora aged Alma Mater were more serious but still pleasurable. Great wines by any standards.

Romain Zordan was a new name to me. The Fleurie and Fleurie Cuvée Spatiale both offered lots of long fruit flavours, the village wine having real character. These were like the Beaujolais wines I grew to love from producers such as Champagnon, yet natural. The Morgons were more serious, restrained wines as is normal and yet there was sweet fruit in both the Vieilles Vignes 14 and the Morgons from 14 and 15. Definitely a name to remember.

Austria was the star though. I enjoyed the wines of Andreas Tscheppe, the labels showing dragon flies and butterflies. Made from grapes such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc they showed character, clear, zesty fruit and good length. the Green Dragon Fly 2014 Sauvignon was my highlight.

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Ewald Tscheppe’s Weingut Werlitsch wines were a highlight of the 2015 Affranchis and repeated that success. Again made from various combinations of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc the wines were more natural in character but always with clean, fresh fruit and long flavours. There is a series of wines called Ex Vero (I, II and III) and I (2012) was my favourite with zest and round fruit. III, grown at higher altitude had a real freshness, cleansing yet lingering. The macerated Werlitsch was lovely, with 5 weeks on skins adding texture. I found the Werlitsch II, macerated for 12 months, a little too dried.

Sepp Muster also uses maceration and I really enjoyed those wines, the Grafin 12 for example is Sauvignon Blanc macerated for 3 months, giving the freshness of the grape combined with texture and roundness, truly excellent. Graf Morillon (the local name for Chardonnay) 11 was fermented for 3 years! Fresh pear and apples, pure fruit with a razor sharp freshness behind it. Even the simpler wines such as Sauvignon 2012 were clean and fruity and way above the usual bottles of that type. Sgaminegg 2008, a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon from high slopes showed complexity from aging yet still fresh and long. The reds too were good, plenty of spice, pepper and red fruit – wines such as Rotwein 07 and Zweigelt 11. Muster is a great winemaker, restless in pursuing ways to improve his wines.

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Finally, I was eager to taste the wines of Jean Francois and Anne Ganévat from the Jura. I had heard so many good reports of this domaine from trusted sources such as David Crossley. I like Jura wines, I stayed int he region over 20 years ago and was taken by their unique grapes in particular, Poulsard, Trousseau, Savagnin. The region was under a cloud at the time but is now very much at the cutting edge, a centre for natural winemaking. I loved the Chardonnay wines of Ganévat. Le Montceau 14 was like a top Burgundy village wine with well judged oak supporting the lovely fresh, clean fruit. The Chalasses Vieilles Vignes 13 was even more concentrated, a terrific depth of zesty, appley flavours and light oak. The red wines were perhaps eve better. The Gamay wine Le Jaja du Ben 14 clean, red fruit flavours and very long. Madelon 14, also Gamay, was fuller and more structured but already lovely along with the Poulsard wine L’Enfant Terrible 14. Ironically the Savagnin was the only wine which did not hit the mark but Ganévat lived up to expectations, another huge talent.

Les Vignerons de L’Irréel

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A new event organised by Ivo Ferreira. I went along to meet up with a number of producers whom I know well and whose wines I like, such as Julien Peyras, Grégory White and François Aubry of Domaine La Fontude. I tasted François’ wines and they were as pleasing as ever. I consider Fontude wines to be seriously underrated, any merchant seeking a consistent, quality range of wines should head straight to Brenas. The Pierre De Lune 14 and Entremonde 13 showed how these wines are serious, complex and well made as well as fruity and enjoyable. The latter was kept back a year for it to straighten out (indication of someone who cares about the wine first and commerce second), I wrote the word ‘lovely’ twice in my notes.

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I liked the Mortier Gobin Muscadet 14 from Jo Landron, Soleu 14 from L’Escarida in the Ardèche, ever improving Mas Troqué wine of Christelle Duffours and, from Le Raisin Et L’Ange (also in the Ardèche) the  cuvées Fable and Brân, both from tank, the latter very concentrated and fresh. Ivo Ferreira‘s wines were also very good, especially the Escarpolette Rouge 14 a full, round fruity wine with classic Languedoc richness balanced by a nice fresh streak.

One reason for going here was to meet up with my friend Joe Jefferies, an Englishman, long resident in the Languedoc. His Bories Jefferies wines are showing real quality. The white wines Pierre De Sisyphe 14 and La Cabane de Jeanne 14 are both fresh, fruity with clear texture and bite from longer maceration. The Terret grape forms the majority of the former wine and is fast becoming one of my favourites, complex pear and apple flavours. The Carignan dominated Pierre De Sisyphe rouge is also very good, the 2013 more rounded and together than the 14 thanks to the extra year, both very good but promising even better with time.

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Fleur Godart and Camille Rivière, former students of Jeff and now selling his wine in Paris and New York respectively, recommended Domaine Séléné, a Beaujolais producer. Their good taste was proved correct again. The Beaujolais and Beaujolais Vieilles Vignes (both 2015) have lovely fruit, structure and freshness and the oak aged Vieilles Vignes 14 was even better with the oak adding sweetness and a little power.

Finally it was good to get to taste again the wines of Vino di Anna from Sicily, which I first tasted two years ago at the Etna Contrade on the island. The Bianco 14 was lovely, a saline, fruity pleasure. Reds such as Palmento and Rosso had lively, cherry, acidic freshness from grapes such as Nerello Mascalese, indeed the latter is pure, whole bunch Mascalese. They are experimenting with qvevri (amphorae) though I was a little unconvinced at what they added so far. I am partial to Etna wines and these are amongst the best.

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Le Vin De Mes Amis

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And so to the grandest of the offlines. Seventy of the most respected and talented producers in biodynamics and natural wines. Gathered in the 5* Verchant hotel, a grand setting for the natural wine world. Lovely rooms, more space and a very good free lunch! I would happily have spent a couple of days going around every one the producers but time was short and so I had four hours to try to sample from my selected few. Local producers such as Barral and Pelletier I left alone and I followed recommendations from trusted palates such as Céline Burgué who harvested at Mas Coutelou and is a regular visitor.

Domaine Bott Geyl continued the excellent run of Alsace wines I tasted during the week. The introductory level Elements wines are good but the Grand Crus, especially Riesling had real concentration and quality. Schlossberg 12 was classic almost Germanic Riesling, lean, slatey, racy and zesty. The Schoenenbourg 12 was fruitier, rounder Riesling, a lovely demonstration of terroir, the former being from granite soils, the latter marl and limestone. The Pinot Gris Furstentum 11 was concentrated with classic spicy notes but clean and dry. Lovely wines.

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On that theme so too were the wines of Albert Mann, a domaine seeking a dry, fresh style which, as you will have gathered by now, is exactly what I like. The various Cuvée Albert wines, entry level for each cépage, showed typical characteristics for the grape but always had a clean, dry edge. This version of Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 14 had texture and a long chewy finish and the Grand Cru Furstentum of Gewürztraminer 14 and Pinot Gris 13 controlled the spiciness and floweriness which can let down wines from other domaines, with that dry edge leaving you want more whilst admiring the complexity. Delicious wines.

To Beaujolais, again. First port of call was Domaine Foillard, genuine star name in the natural movement, wines which apart from one glass in 2014 I had long wanted to taste. And I was not disappointed. These are wines which are living proof that natural wines are classic wines, just made with a different philosophy. The Morgon Corcelette 14 was juicy, fruity with an austere edge and, as with classic Morgon Côte De Py 2014, was more concentrated and restrained but with fruit bubbling under the surface waiting to emerge and complete the wine. The Fleurie 13 was more fruity and aromatic, exactly as you might expect. Morgon Trois Quatorze (the number for π) 2013  was wilder, complex and lovely. Great wines.

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Christophe Pacalet is another renowned Beaujolais producer. More clean, red fruits with tannins and spice. These were all brut de cuve, straight from tank and not yet bottled but they show that 2015 will be a very good vintage. The Julienas was very good, the Chénas a little tougher, St Amour had more floral aromas and was lighter, less spicy. The Blanc was also very good, all pear and fresh minerality.

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Mathieu Lapierre now runs the domaine formerly run by his father Marcel, one of natural wine’s forerunners. These were my favourite Beaujolais wines of the week, as their website says “pure grape wine”. Raisins Gaulois 15 is designed to be drunk young and was ultra juicy red fruit, classic simple Beaujolais, completely addictive. Morgon 15 was a little wild because of being brut de cuve but was full, fruity with a core of soft tannins and texture. Beaujolais 14 is a deceptively simple name for a complex wine, balancing clean fruit and a dry edge. I can’t do these justice, they were lovely, lovely wines. Good, informative website too.

I have praised Rhone wines in the previous articles and there were more to enjoy here. Domaine Charvin‘s Chateauneuf du Pape wines 12 and 13 were old fashioned in some senses. Big flavours, quite a light structure but packing power, fruit and tannins. Elegant and needing time. James Dunstan imports these wines to Japan and I was happy to taste them alongside him and his wife.

Domaine des Entrefaux of Charles and François Tardy is based in the Crozes Hermitage wine area and those Crozes wines are delicious. The basic Crozes Hermitage 14 is round and fruity Syrah supported by ripe tannins , elegance in a bottle. Other cuvées such as Les Pends 14 and Les Machonnières 13 were more complex but always fresh with fruit and power. I actually liked the basic cuvée most but these were all very good, though the white wine I liked less.

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Maxime Magnon makes wines in the Corbières, a region I believe to be emerging as one of the Languedoc’s best. Jeff is a fan of Magnon’s wines so I wanted to try them. The rosé Métisse 15 is light but elegant and full flavoured, the white La Bégou 15 had lots of white fruits supported by a gentle acidity. Best of the three was Campagnes 14, 95% Carignan, dark, plummy and spicy with a clean finish. As with the Beaujolais wines I described above Magnon’s wine was further evidence that natural producers are making classic regional wines though bolstered by their philosophy and freshness.

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One last producer to mention. When I visited the Jurancon region last autumn I was unaware of Domaine Larredya. My loss. The dry La Part Davant 14 was zingy, zesty with a round yellow fruit note, similar to the great dry wines of Domaine Montesquieu. The moelleux Costat Darrèr 14 was balanced with sweetness and acidity and the even sweeter Au Capcèu 14 had honey with a zesty freshness on the finish, really top class wine. Further evidence for me that Jurancon is a great wine region.

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I could go on but these were my highlights. There were other producers I would like to have visited but didn’t get to and there were also some disappointments, including some big names. If you want to know about them then feel free to contact me. I want to remain positive and this was a very positive event. Le vin de mes amis? Definitely.

So, three long posts about Millésime Bio and its satellite events. A thoroughly enjoyable four days with some great wines. Lessons? I genuinely do believe that organic, especially biodynamic wines, have a real freshness and vitality which appeals to me. I am pleased to see organic wine’s progress in the vineyard and in the market place.

Highlights? Pittnauer, Moser, Stentz, Kreydenweiss in Alsace and Rhone, Lombard, Coulet, Ganévat, Lapierre, Foillard.

Plus the social side of meeting up with familiar and new faces whose company, kind words and advice I enjoyed immensely.

 

 

 

 

 


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Off notes

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Before and during the salon of Millésime Bio I attended six offline events. They are proliferating, probably too many of them in all honesty. Yet during those six events I tasted some of the best wines of the whole week, just as I did at the offs last year. So, I am torn – are the offs good for Millésime Bio?

Well, they do distract and take away attention from the growth of organics and the benefits of organic viticulture as well as the very good wines in the salon itself, some of which I described in the last article. Would I have tasted more good wines in the salon if I hadn’t attended the offs?

On the other hand, I’d be less tempted to go along to the whole event and spend four days in Montpellier if it were not for the offs and the chance to taste wines not to be found in the main salon. Last year wines from the likes of Huët and Zind-Humbrecht were major attractions for me. This year there were a lot of natural producers especially whose wines I wanted to try. The offs create a buzz around the main event, drawing people to it. It can stand the opposition, producers such as Kreydenweiss (père et fils!) and Pittnauer were at least the equal of anything tasted at the offs.

As there were so many events and so many good wines I have decided to split the report on them in two parts. In the next article I shall deal with those centred more around the natural movement. So here I shall be describing Outsiders, Carignan vs Grenache and Biotop.

Outsiders

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Jon Bowen (right) talking to photographer Ken Payton

Louise Hurren does a great job in promoting the Outsiders group of vignerons, producers in the Languedoc-Roussillon who originated outside the region. Held at La Panacée on the eve of the salon this was very well organised in a bright, modern space with excellent food served as a bonus. I am a fan of many of the producers in the group, some of whom I think of as friends. I have described the wines of Turner Pageot and Cébène many times in these pages. Both are sources of outstanding wines. Manu Pageot was in discomfort having cracked some ribs but it was good to catch up with him. Brigitte Chevalier’s wines were well on form across the whole range, Bancels 13 was especially good here.

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It was especially pleasing to see present Simon and Sara from Mas Sibert as guest producers. I first wrote about Mas Sibert last February and hope that I have helped to spread their name a little in the following year. They now have a UK importer and higher profile and I couldn’t be more pleased. The wines have a freshness and depth of fruit which is rare. New planting of white grapes (as ever unusual cépages) will widen the range and I can’t wait. I would drink these wines happily every day. Incidentally, their rosé, Saramon (mainly Sangiovese!), is amongst the very best in the Languedoc.

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Talking to Simon in animated form

I also enjoyed the Pouilly Fumé wines of guest Jonathan Pabiot. They are classic wines from the appellation but with extra steeliness and minerality. I have had the good fortune to visit the domaine in the past and recommend them heartily. Especially good were the Pouilly Fumé 15 and the excellent Aubaine 14 grapes selected from special parcels, matured in gentle oak, more concentration and white fruit flavours.

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Finally, Domaine Modat in the Roussillon produces very good wines. Lucioles 14, the white wine from mainly Grenache Gris was lovely, fresh and fruity with a little texture. Comme Avant and Le Plus Joli 11 were rich, spicy and clean from classic Roussillon grapes varieties. Great website too.

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Hats off to Louise for such a well run event.

Bataille Carignan – Grenache

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I like the idea of this, pitting two great cépages against each other. The venue was good, Salle Pétrarque, a 14thC building with beautiful vaulting. However, truth be told I didn’t really enjoy the event. The room was packed, it was hard to get around the tables, there was (very) loud hip-hop music playing some of the time which made it hard to talk. It was also difficult to taste the red wines, most came across as heavy and tannic. I was not alone in thinking so from the conversations I had.

I went mainly to meet up with my friend Jonathan Hesford of Domaine Treloar in the Roussillon. You will have to trust me that when I say his wines were amongst the best that evening that I am not saying so out of loyalty. Le Maudit is the Treloar Carignan dominated wine and was spicy, fresh and very good. Jonathan also had his One Block Grenache on tasting, a proper interpretation of the event’s title.

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Another which came out well from the evening was Domaine Sainte Croix, coincidentally one of the Outsiders producers. Jon and Elizabeth Bowen produce very good wines in the Corbières, I have enjoyed them many times. Tonight the Carignan was very good, cherry fruits and spice. Star of the night though was La Part Des Anges, a late harvest Carignan with deep fig, coffee and chocolate notes. Lovely, a little sweetness matched by freshness on the finish.

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Incidentally, I met Jon during the main salon as he visited various other stands to taste, his search for wider wine experience clearly promotes his winemaking knowledge. This was also true of Jonathan Hesford who went to the salon simply to taste. It wa she who tipped me off to go and taste Pittnauer wines, one of my stars of the show. I am sure many vignerons do the same but it seemed no coincidence that their wines emerge so well when I see them learning elsewhere, always seeking to improve their understanding.

The other wine I enjoyed at the event was from Mas des Capitelles. A Faugères wine this was 95% Carignan with a touch of Mourvèdre and it was delicious, lots of fruit and spice and very drinkable. I shall look out for Capitelles in the future.

Biotop

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The Phare, home of Biotop

Fifty vignerons gathered in the lighthouse at Palavas. Organised by Isabelle Jomain, Biotop was one of my favourite events in 2015 and no doubt it will be one of my highlights this year. Once again time caught up with me and I was unable to get to the tables of many vignerons I would have liked to visit. My friend, sommelier Sandra Martinez from La Table 2 De Julien near Uzès, accompanied me round some of the tables and it was good to learn from her expertise. Incidentally for a different account of Biotop have a look at the blog of Michel Smith.

Highlights included the champagnes of Fleury and Franck Pascal. Michel was underwhelmed by Fleury but I enjoyed the range, especially the Pinot Noir dominated wines Nature and Bolène 05 both marked by round, fresh fruit and the latter, more expensive of course, having real depth and gravity. The Sonates Nº9 was especially good, delicate fruit, fresh, long. Pinot Noir 100% and no added sulphur. Sorry Michel, I enjoyed these wines.

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Franck Pascal’s champagnes were an eye opener for me last year, I selected the cuvée Quintessence as my favourite sparkling wine tasted last year. Not surprisingly it was once again a favourite here, beautifully aromatic from the Pinot domination (Noir and Meunier) this was fuller than the Fleury wines, still structured and yet fresh and fruity. This was the 2005 rather than 04 but the quality is undiminished. I also loved the Sérénité 2010, sulphur free Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, dry, clean with lingering delicate fruits. The price tag of 120€ is a bit of an issue however.

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From champagne to dessert wine. Domaine Juchepie‘s Coteaux Du Layon wines are just lovely. The dry wine is good but it with moelleux and liquoureux wines that they shine brightest. The word ‘lovely’ reappears through my tasting notes for every wine. The 2011 and 2014 moelleuxs have a light touch whilst being rich, mouth filling pleasure. Take a wine like Quintessence 05 (yes the same name as the champagne above). Yields of 5-10 hectolitres per hectare are miniscule, the grapes hand picked with great care and vinified with enough acidity (pH 3.84) to cut through the 223 grammes of residual sugar. In other words it is a sticky, sweet, explosion of flavours with a refreshing finish. And those flavours go on and on, stunning.

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Saskia van der Horst is another familiar name on this site with her Domaine Les Arabesques. I tasted her wines first at Labande de Latour in November 2014 and they have been favourites ever since. Yet even within the last year those wines have improved in quality and, as the work in the vines done by Saskia and her partner bears fruit, they will continue to improve. The refreshing white Elianon 14 is good but the reds are the stars. The pure Syrah Lou Pal 14 had lovely raspberry notes; Champs d’Andrillou 13 (Grenache and Carignan) plummy and spicy; Les Arabesques 100% Grenache with rich tannins and chocolate flavours. All very good wines. Saskia is 8 months pregnant, I wish all concerned well and congratulate them on their wines and personal futures.

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Old photo of Saskia’s wines

And so to the Rhone Valley. One of my wines of the year for 2015 was Cornas Brise Cailloux of Domaine Coulet made by Matthieu Barret. It was Sandra Martinez who introduced me to it. So, I was delighted when Matthieu was present at Biotop and was rewarded by the range of his wines. The structured, fresh and elegant Crozes Hermitage 2014 was very good, the 2013 Brise Cailloux spicy, aromatic and fresh (every bit as good as the 2012), the Cornas Billes Noires was darker, spicier with fresh, dusty tannins. Even simple wines like the Mourvèdre 15 were elegant. Matthieu is a very skilled winemaker, these were top wines by any standard. Thanks Sandra.

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I was unfamiliar with the Brézème region south of Valence though I must have driven through it many times. I can only say that the wines of Domaine Lombard will make me stop off in future. Julien and Emmanuelle Montagnon are making superb wines. From the dry, textured Viognier 14 to the top of the Brézème range Eugène de Monicault 13 every cuvée was clear, full of character and a pleasure to taste. Marked by fruit and freshness they reflect their terroir and the Syrah in particular is classic Rhone Valley, as good as it gets. Whether whole bunch fermented such as Grand Chêne 14 or made from old vines like that top cuvée they are wines to please the palate and the brain. I would imagine their Hermitage wines are very special. I really loved these wines, thanks again to Sandra for introducing me to them.

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From the Yapp Brothers website, Lombard’s UK importer

So many great wines, so many domaines which deserve more space and time devoted to them. And there were other lovely wines too. And that is why the offs are a valued part of the whole Millésime Bio experience. They are separate but I feel they add more choice and more experience of good wines.


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Millésime Bio – the salon

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A small part of one of the three halls in the salon

Austria, the Rhone and Alsace were the wine regions which impressed me most over the four days I was in Montpellier and this was reflected in the main salon and the offlines. The main event hosts 900 winemakers, impossible to get around them all and I didn’t even manage 10% of them. As stated in my previous post the plan was to taste wines outside of the Languedoc-Roussillon in order to widen my understanding and appreciation of wines generally and to place my region in context more accurately.

The overwhelming feature of the wines I tasted was freshness, a common feature of so many organic wines. It was also interesting to note that 250 or more of the producers are biodynamic. Some were also experimenting with natural wines, offering a cuvée or two which had no sulphites added. Proof to me that natural wine is making inroads and winning the argument and that there is a market for natural wine which winemakers are eager to supply. Warning however, some of those cuvées were not very good, the exceptions were from Domaine Py in the Corbières and, also, the Austrian producer Pittnauer, of whom more later.

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So to my favourites.

Kreydenweiss (Alsace and Rhone)

I want to start with a father and son team with a difference, they work in different regions of France. Marc moved to the Gard where he produces a range of wines whilst the domaine in Alsace which bears his name is now run by his son Antoine. I found the wines of both domaines to be completely thrilling.

Let’s start with Alsace, the home of the family. From the basic Riesling 2014 to the Grand Crus all the wines are marked by round fruitiness but with a core of clean, fresh acidity which leaves you wanting more. I can honestly say I liked every wine on tasting but especially the Clos Rebberg Grand Cru Riesling 14 and the Kastelberg Grand Cru 2014 Riesling. The Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc wines were also excellent. I had tasted the range before and knew how good they could be, what I did not know about was the Rhone range of wines. Again I loved every wine here. From the fruity, herbal long maceration white Ansata 14 to Chateauneuf Du Pape 08 these were wines marked by elegance, precision, fruit and cleanliness. Thrilling. Single variety wines such as Ansata 13 (Syrah) and Ka 13 (Carignan) were lovely wines but so too were the pure Grenache Chateauneufs 08 and 09. If I had to choose the range which summarised Millésime Bio 2016 this was it. Great wines of character (like their producers), elegance, liveliness and sheer enjoyment.

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Marc Kreydenweiss

Aimé Stentz (Alsace)

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Marc and Etienne

Whilst on the Alsace theme I was very impressed by the range of wines from Domaine Aimé Stentz. I spoke with father and son, Étienne and Marc, for some time whilst tasting and they explained how being organic was a moral rather than commercial choice. Those hoping that it would bring a premium would need to consider the extra work involved. The wines themselves were very well balanced, a fine edge of acidity running through the fruit. They taste of the classic grape flavours but have a nice dry edge. Other producers I tased from Alsace such as Jean Becker go for much dryer styles, very gastronomic, other such as Bott Geyl seemed to prefer more fruit and sweetness.

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The Stentz wines pleased me more because of the balance. All three domaines were good but these were my preferred wines. When the entry level wines taste long, fresh and balanced you know that the higher wines are going to be special and Grand Crus wines such as Riesling Sommerberg 13 and Pinot Gris Hengst 12 delivered everything I had hoped for. Full but elegant, fruit but dry, very well balanced. The Vendanges Tardives were also balanced, lovely sweet notes but clean and fresh leaving you wanting to drink another mouthful.

Domaine des Aphillanthes (Rhone)

Run by Daniel and Hélène Boulle, it was good to talk with Hélène whilst tasting the wines. The various Côtes Du Rhone, such as Plan De Dieu 13, were marked by fruit, freshness and length. The grape varieties such as Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault are the same as Languedoc wines and there was resemblance of course. Like the best of both regions the wines had elegance and balance, fruity but dry with fine tannins. None of the Aphillanthes wines come from the more famous regions of the Rhone yet the wines carry a quality resembling the big southern villages such as Cahteauneuf or Gigondas. That they are to be found on the wine lists of top restaurants shows the respect they richly deserve.

Preisinger and Judith Beck (Austria)

Austria was the origin of many of my favourite wines throughout the Salon and the offlines. Claus Preisinger and Judith Beck run separate domaines in the same Burgenland region but share similar biodynamic philosophy and practices. Their wines make something special out of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Grüner Veltliner grapes, I particularly enjoyed the white wines of Preisinger, for example the amphora matured GV. All again showed the fruitiness and freshness I love. The red wines were the real revelation however. Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent are particular to the country and they showed great power, elegance and balance, great with food and yet good to drink on their own. The two are part of a wider group of nine producers making a series of wines called Pannobile which are designed to reflect the local grapes, soils and characteristics. Wines such as Beck Ink 2013 and Preisinger’s Zweigelt 2012 were top class wines, heartily recommended. I also recommend the website of Claus Preisinger, a model of innovation and information.

Pittnauer (Austria)

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Producer of probably my favourite series of wines in the whole salon, Gerhard Pittnauer has the appearance of a wild rocker with restless personality and his wines reflect him. There is a touch of wildness, unpredictability and of being on the edge. The wines are alive, full of long flavours and aromas, truly delicious. The entry white wine was called Mash Pit (that rock reference again), whole bunch maceration, no sulphites, natural, clean and sharp. The reds were the standout however. Light, Pinot like, the St Laurent 14 carried sweet fruit with freshness. The Pannobile 13 (Gerhard is in the same Burgenland region as Preisinger and Beck) and single vineyard St. Laurent Rosenberg 13 were equally good. Much richer and darker plum flavours in the Blaufränkisch Ungerberg 2010 showed that this a domaine producing a good range, every one of which would deserve to be in my personal wine stocks. Outstanding wines.

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Others

More recommendations for Austria, wines from Jurtschitsch, Weininger and Weninger were very good, especially the white wines based on Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. This is a country which is really on the move in the wine world, top of my list for wines to explore and to drink.

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Italy had its good producers too. Le Carline is a producer in the Veneto whose wines I praised last year and I enjoyed them again especially the local grapes such as Lison. From Abruzzo, mainly using the Montepulciano grape, very good wines by Villa Reale. The rosé Cerasuolo 15 was the best rosé I tasted in the salon, the red Montepulcianos from simplest to more complex were all delicious. From Sicily the Frappato and Cerasuolo di Vittoria made by Feudo di Santa Tresa were lovely wines.

The Chablis wines of Domaine Bernard Defaix were lovely. The Premier Cru wines in particular were lovely, fresh, dry and truly reflecting their vineyard such as Vaillons 14 and Côtes de Lechet 14 with varying degrees of mineral, saline and fruit characteristics.

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Most surprising wine of the salon was from Greece, I liked the Giannikos wines generally but my heart sank when I saw a Viognier, surely Greece would be too warm for this grape which often becomes flabby and heavy? Yet they have made a delicious dry, fresh wine with apricotty, citrus flavours. They harvested on July 25th last year, to capture the freshness of the grapes. Their new sweet wine was also lovely and fresh.

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It was a very good salon. I will undoubtedly have overlooked many excellent wines due to the size of the event but I tasted some fantastic wines, notably those mentioned above. I reiterate my praise for Austria, the Rhone and Alsace and I believe you will find that the various offline events offer further support to the wines of these exciting vineyards.

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With Denis Jamain of Chateau de Reuilly, very good wines