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


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Loving Languedoc

After tasting wines from around the world at RAW I opened a bottle or two at home. By chance the bottles I reached for were from the Languedoc, my first love. And how richly I was rewarded.

First up was the Grenache Blanc, The Velvet Underschiste, from La Graine Sauvage in Faugères. The domaine is the work of Sybil Baldassarre and I have got to know her through Jeff Coutelou. Sybil is a trained oenologue who decided to show she can make wine as well as advise upon its making. This bottle had witty references to Velvet Underground all over the labels but the wine itself was What Goes On (sorry). Pure Grenache Blanc the 2016 had lovely tannins underpinning the apple and pear fruit. However, what made this wine stand out was how it evolved over the course of an evening. The last glass was the most delicious of all, the wine had opened out to reveal more fruit. This was a wine of real quality. I have been fortunate to taste other wines of Sybil and suggest that she is a real star to follow.

Next up was another white from Faugères, known more for its reds. Clos Fantine is a long time favourite of mine and I wrote an article about the Andrieu family and their work a few years ago after spending a couple of days with them. Their gobelet bush vines high in the Faugères hills provide clean, pure fruit. Valcabrières is their white wine from the rare Terret Blanc and Terret Gris grapes. More white fruit flavours, pears to the fore but with a clean, fresh acidity. Again this was a wine which opened up as we drank down the bottle, complex and delicious. This was a 2014 and I believe the wine would age much further but it was pretty perfect now.

And, for good measure, I opened a bottle of Jeff’s, Flambadou 2017. The pure Carignan has been a star of the Coutelou domaine for a number of years, certainly whilst I have been there in 2014. This bottle was very youthful, the wine bright purple in colour and full of fresh black and red fruits backed with soft tannins. I shall keep my other bottles for a few years to allow them to develop complexity but it is good to follow a wine’s progress. With every wine of 2017 I taste I become more convinced that it is an absolute peak vintage for Jeff, the fruit and freshness backed with tannin and depth of flavour, they are stunners. Flambadou is a great wine, this 2017 definitively so.

Make no mistake the Languedoc can produce top quality wine, these three bottles were absolute proof to me that it will always be the source of my favourite bottles. I urge you to try them and other wines from the region which is my other home.


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More from RAW

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My last post described my overall impressions from RAW, interestingly the hybrid issue has been in the news elsewhere a little, a topic I shall pick up again. To follow up I shall describe a few of my favourite wines without too much detail. If you want more technical details then the RAW site has information on each producer and wine.

Gravner is one of the most celebrated of natural domaines, a true pioneer of skin contact wine from the Friuli region. I thought these shone out against the other big names such as Radikon and Cornelissen, though I liked their wines too. Star of the show for me was my first wine tasted in the whole RAW event, Bianco Breg 2010. A blend of grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc the skin contact gave nice tannins and a firm finish but there was a lot of enjoyable white fruit flavour to add roundness.

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Brand is a well established Alsace domaine which has taken a turn to natural wine as Philippe has taken the reins. I liked a lot of these wines, my favourite was the Gewurztraminer maceration Tout Terriblement 16. As I said last time I am becoming convinced that skin contact works best with aromatic grapes and this showed lovely Gewurz notes without any of its tendency to go over the top. Lovely fruit and a long finish. (Very low sulphites)

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AMI is a newish domaine in Maranges using bought in organic grapes to make natural wines. I liked all the wines here, red and white from the basic Bourgognes to a Hautes Cotes and a lovely Maranges Premier Cru. Top of my list though was the St. Romain Blanc 17, classic Burgundy with citrus, hazelnut, cream and a delicious freshness. Definitely on my shopping list.

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Chateau Le Puy I had tasted before and enjoyed even more this time. The main cuvee from various years was lovely but my favourite was the Barthelemy 2016, from the Francs Côtes De Bordeaux appellation. There was such a depth of fruit in the Cabernet / Merlot blend, classic Bordeaux with lift! (No added sulphites). Similarly Chateau Meylet showed a lovely 2014 of real quality, not something I usually say about a Cabernet Franc led wine. (very low sulphites)

Agricola Marino has just 1.5ha of bush vines in Sicily making just 6,000 bottles. The two wines were lovely, my favourite the Turi Bianco 18 a pure Catarratto of white fruit and texture. Lovely labels too. Please someone, support Salvatore and import these great wines.

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Karim Vionnet is a well known maker of very drinkable Beaujolais. Last year in a joint venture with Domaine Viret they produced Nous, a blend of Gamay and Syrah which was generously fruity but had a lovely tannic backbone to add complexity and length of flavour. Very good.

German wines were what first got me interested in the whole topic so it was a slight disappointment that only one producer was present. However, Andi Weigand compensated in quality for lack of numbers. Some lovely wines from the Franken region using grapes such as Muller Thurgau and Silvaner. It was the latter which made my favourite. The maceration wine Skin 15 was fermented in whole bunches for 8 weeks, kept in old barrels for 3 years then refermented using 20l of juice from 2018’s harvest. The result was a perfumed, peachy and clean, fresh wine, a real joy. Unusual winemaking with no added sulphites producing great results, bravo.

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The Morins of Touraize

Domaine De La Touraize is a Jura producer and the Morins showed a series of excellent wines reds, sparkling and white. I’d happily buy them all but top of my list would be the Savagnin 15, left for 2 years ‘sous voile’, i.e. under the flor of the yeasts, the method used in sherry as well as in the Jura. The result was nutty, stony, fruity – my notes simply read ‘gorgeous!’ Possibly my favourite wine of the whole RAW event. (very low sulphites)

I mentioned Thomas Niedermayr last time as I was impressed and intrigued by his hybrid grape wines such as the Souvignier Gris. However, my favourite was the 14 Solaris 2017, (the 14 refers to the year the vines were planted). Solaris was produced in 1975 by crossing various grapes in Czechoslovakia. The fruit was clean and fresh, white stone fruit, almost green and yellow fruit gum. These were fascinating wines from the Alto Adige.

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Also from that region was Grawü, and another exciting range of wines though from more classic grapes this time. Lovely Pinot Grigio, the Bianco with Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurz in the blend was excellent too. There was another Bianco (16?) with more Sauvignon Blanc which gave more open flavours and I especially liked, as I did the skin contact Gewurz.

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Finally I must mention the delicious Banyuls wines of Domaine Du Traginer. I enjoyed their Collioure table wines but the Banyuls were something else. A lovely Rimage 17, rich and delicious Grand Cru 08 as well as a lovely Blanc 15. However, the star was a Solera 2000 which was almost clear, light in appearance but with deep, full and fresh light fruits and a rich port like finish. A special wine.

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I could mention many other wines and I feel guilty for omitting some other very good wines. RAW showed that the world of natural wine is expanding and improving in reliability and quality. To counter the most common criticism of natural wines I should also mention that amongst the 350+ wines I tasted I only detected three with a problem of mousiness and one with a very slight cork taint. Any of the wines mentioned here would enrich your wine collection.

 

 

 

 

 


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RAW impressions

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Two days at RAW London, the natural wine fair which has become part of the establishment with fairs now taking place around the world. Isabelle Legeron’s work in organising the fairs as well as her excellent book ‘Natural Wine’ and other media work has helped boost the reputation of winemakers who work organically, biodynamically and naturally and she deserves much credit.

In a way that success is a two edged sword, Sunday afternoon’s public session was very crowded and parts of the The Store were very hot, not the best tasting conditions. Monday’s trade day was much more manageable and I was able to get to almost all the producers I had shortlisted. I shall be commenting on some of those in the next article, however, I wanted to give some general impressions first.

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Simon Woolf interviewing Isabelle Legeron

Perhaps it was the fact that I spent a bit of time and lunch with Simon Woolf that orange or amber wines were to the fore of my RAW experience. Seemingly every producer is working with skin contact wine, some have been doing so for generations, some for years, some making their first experiments. Simon’s book ‘Amber Revolution’ is one of the best written wine books of recent years and I highly recommend it. As for the wines themselves, well they varied greatly. Once again I was struck by the success of skin contact wines using aromatic varieties which seem to add extra layers of aroma and flavour compared to others. Successful examples here included Riesling (Domaine Brand in Alsace), Gewurztraminer (Brand and the Alto Adige producer Grawü) and Silvaner (Franken producer Weigand). Make no mistake orange wines are here to stay.

Hybrids and cross bred grapes are gathering some attention in the wine world with climate change and disease resistance amongst the reasons for their cultivation. It was interesting to taste a few examples here notably two examples of Souvignier Gris. This grape is a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Bronner, the latter a white grape produced from hybrids Merzling and GM6494 (a romantic name if ever there was one). Slovenian producer Batic and Alto Adige’s Thomas Niedermayr both had examples (they were unaware of each other’s bottles until I told them). The results were excellent in both cases, creamy but fresh white wine with plenty of good aroma and flavour. This is certainly an area of winemaking which will be interesting to see unfold.

Niedermayr wines to the left, the left bottle is Souvignier Gris, a photo showing its pink grapes is in front. The Batic example is the white bottle.

The growth of quality winemaking in Central and Eastern Europe has been well documented, the evidence was clear once again at RAW. Austria has been a source of excellent wine for a few years now, Georgia too. Add in the Friuli / Slovenia region for orange wines, Czech, Hungarian and Swiss producers too. There were some lovely wines and the story behind wineries such as the Czech Jaroslav Osicka is inspiring, a family working in organic ways, determined to do things right whilst struggling against bureaucracy and attitudes from those in authority and colleagues too. Osicka, Batic, Balog, Natenadze’s were all wineries which offered good wines from these regions and which I would recommend. My friend David Crossley regularly reports upon the growth of such wines and I recommend his report on Osicka and others here.

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The continued success of natural wine’s big guns continues unabated. The likes of Radikon, Gravner and Cornelissen attracted large crowds on both days, rightly so. These are fascinating, unique wines. Cornelissen wines have become more consistent to my taste in recent vintages and they were showing very well. In the hunt for the new let’s not overlook the established stars.

Similarly I was struck by how much classic wine regions shone for me at RAW. My favourite ranges of wines were probably the Burgundies of AMI and the Saint Emilion wines of Château Le Puy and Château Meylet. I would not have imagined that to be the case even a year ago. These classic regions have a new wave of producers, such as AMI, who are working in organic, biodynamic and natural ways and the results are great. Expensive, perhaps, but delicious.

Finally, fairs such as RAW always throw up surprises and new discoveries. I had no intention of visiting Sicily producer Marino but an empty table on a crowded day proved fortuitous. I really liked the two wines of this small domaine, the Turi Bianco in particular. As is so often the case lovely people make lovely wines, a young couple deserving of success. I was pleased to see David liked them too in his report. Other pleasant surprises: the Welsh producer Ancre Hill, with a terrific Orange Wine (of Albarino grapes) and two PetNats; a new Languedoc producer to me, Mas Lasta with fresh, flavoursome wines including a white wine made from Grenache Noir; the excellent Banyuls wines of Domaine Du Traginer.

By Monday afternoon my tasting abilities were exhausted. As usual there were regrets at missing one or two producers but I had enjoyed myself and came away confident that RAW winemaking is in a healthy place with new, exciting producers and ideas emerging to join the wealth of talent already established. I shall be sharing more of my particular findings next time.

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More words about bottles and wine

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This weekend I head down to London for RAW and will have lots of wine to report back so I thought I should mention some wines I have enjoyed over the last few weeks before they were forgotten amidst all those RAW discoveries.

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Let’s start with my birthday which I spent in the company of family and friends, it doesn’t get better than that.  A number of bottles were opened of course. Let’s start with the Coutelou wines, how could I celebrate without Jeff? The Blanc 2016 is a blend of many white grapes such as Maccabeu, Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Muscat which were aged in barrel for a year. That oak age gives a richness which is different to many of the previous Blanc/PM wines. There’s an unctuousness rather than a taste of wood but the wine remains clean and satisfying. Lovely.

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The magnum of Flower Power 2015, a blend of Syrah with the Flower Power (Font D’Oulette) vineyard of so many varieties. Still youthful and fresh with bright red fruits there is also a growing power and complexity. The other bottles will be kept for a few years. And no celebration of mine would be complete without La Vigne Haute. This was 2017, turning into an exceptional vintage. The Syrah is generous with red fruit but has a streak of fine tannin and a firm edge still, hard to resist now but with discipline I shall keep some bottles for the future. My desert island wine.

Along with those gems other bottles went down well too, there were many of us! Jordi Llorens’ Blankafiorti 17 is a blend of Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in the Tarragona region. A definite sense of Spanish warmth with a richness but plenty of fresh dark and red fruits, however, maybe one to keep for a couple more years to be at its best. Valette Macon Villages 15 is a lovely wine, a lovely example of Chardonnay with a citric edge to the Chardonnay richness, well balanced and delicious. Tollot Beaut’s 2006 Chorey les Beaune was classic Burgundy, the age adding smoky, vegetal notes to good Pinot fruit.

Other wines on other occasions. Testalonga wines from South Africa are becoming a firm favourite with me as mentioned on here recently. Stay Brave 18 is a Chenin Blanc matured on skins for 11 days, a relatively light maceration, giving a golden colour and very fine texture but plenty of fruit and pleasure. This made a real impression on me, a wine I will remember for a long time. La Bufarella 17 from La Salada comes from further along the coast from Tarragona towards Barcelona in the Penedes region. The Xarel.Lo grape has good acidity (it’s the main Cava grape) so stands up well to the 6 months maceration here. Much more orange in colour than Stay Brave and with more complexity and tannin. Also from Xarel.Lo was the Clot De Les Soleres 15, light, fresh with a touch of sparkle, a good aperitif wine.

Red wines included Andrea Calek’s À Toi Nous, a lovely blend of Grenache and Syrah from the Ardeche. Rich fruit but plenty of freshness, this is one of my favourite domaines in France, the labels aren’t bad too. Domaine La Marfée Della Francesca 2007 comes from near Montpellier. The age has allowed the 80% Mourvèdre to develop plummy, leathery notes, the Syrah adding more direct fruit still. Certainly its age has made this biodynamic wine more complex, this was my wife’s favourite wine of recent weeks. By contrast the 2018 50-50 Gamay – Pinot Noir blend from the Auvergne producer Domaine Miolanne, Volcane Rouge, was light and fresh. The Gamay dominates, this is very like a young Beaujolais and the Pinot adds a little richness. I liked this a lot, a food wine for sure. La Paonnerie is in the Ancenis area of the Loire. Jacques and Agnès Carroget plant various crops such as oats and clover amongst the vines to add nitrogen to the soils amongst many other organic, environmentally sound practices. Simplement Gamay 16 is very enjoyable on a drinkability level but there is some complexity in the bottle with sharp raspberry fruit.

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Different altogether was one of my favourite sherry wines, the Palo Cortado Cayetano Del Pino which offers the freshness of a manzanilla with the complex nutty notes of an amontillado. It is a great wine, I’d sneak some onto that desert island with La Vigne Haute.

There have been a couple of duds along the way but the last few weeks have provided some excellent wines, I hope you have enjoyed sharing my thoughts. On to RAW and more new wines.