My first wine tasting in two years. How I have missed them. Appropriately it was natural wine UK pioneers Les Caves De Pyrène who organised it, in Newcastle at The French Quarter restaurant near the Castle itself, a place I visited with countless school groups as a teacher. It felt a little odd being in a fairly small room with a lot of people but once in the swing of the event I relaxed and enjoyed it (honestly that wasn’t the result of the 70 or so wines I tasted!!).
The room was set out with informal stands for France, Spain, Italy, the Americas, the rest of Europe and one for Australia, New Zealand and South Africa combined. The hosts at each stand were excellent, knowledgeable and helpful. There were a lot of good wines ( as you would expect from Les Caves, a regular supplier for me through lockdowns) and only one that was faulty (mousiness after starting as a lovely white). I have selected a few favourites to describe.
Let’s start with familiar France and, indeed, it was a familiar wine which stole the show, possibly even of the whole event. Clos de Tue-Boeuf, the home of Thierry and Zoe Puzelat in the Touraine is one of the most famous of natural wine domaines, much loved by the likes of Alice Feiring. I have always liked the wines but the Cheverny Blanc Frileuse 2020 was in seriously good form. The blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc was clean and fresh with lovely white fruits which were sharp yet left a roundness behind. Seriously good. The Cheverny Rouge Rouillon was also good.
I enjoyed the Pinot Blanc 2018 from Achillée with good ripeness though still fresh. Chénas is the Beaujolais village which I visited most over the years but it seems to have been left behind by the other cru villages in recent years, especially its neighbour Morgon. It was very pleasing, therefore, to come across Chénas Les Carrières 2020 from Domaine Thillardon. Nice fruit with a clean start, complexity grew in the mouth. Very good.
On to Spain. A consistently good range was on offer and I struggled to keep my recommendations to a reasonable number. In the end my four favourite wines came from two of the producers. Firstly Partida Creus, whose wines I already knew. GB Garnaxta Blanca 2020, light in colour for a maceration wine but there was clear texture from the skin contact and a lovely herby, fruity flavour. Equally good was UL Ulldellebre Tinto 2018. Uldellebre is a Catalan name for Tempranillo, perhaps the most famous Spanish grape. This example was fresh, very well balanced with fruit and complexity with lots of spice and length.
The other producer, new to me, was Pedro Olivares from the Murcia region. Muscat Blanc D’Argila 2020, its name suggesting the skin contact in amphorae (?). Very aromatic and fruity with good texture from the maceration of 24 days, well judged winemaking balanced the wine nicely. Similar comments apply to the lovely fruits of Monastrell 2019, lovely fruit and complexity. Definitely worth seeking out this producer.
The Italian range was more mixed for my taste but there some lovely wines in there. AA Tuccio Raffaele is based in Puglia and I liked the Antica Enotria Vriccio 2019, made from Primitivo grapes. I often think of Primitivo wines as being light but this was a big, complex wine, dark and powerful with a classic Italian red finish of sour cherries. Very good. From Sicily came Etnella‘s Attia Rosso 2020 from Nerello Mascalese grapes. I have a real fondness for Sicilian wines and this was a classic example with fresh red fruits, full and balanced. Finally a Barolo, not a wine I usually find easy to enjoy. Barolo Casina Bric 2015 was, as expected, very full and rich with dark fruits and tannins but those fruits were clear and spicy. A convert.
I tasted the wines from the Americas first and they were the ones which perhaps left the longest impression from the event. I confess to not being as familiar with Chilean geography as I ought to be and I have found South America to be lacking in wines from the natural sphere so it was good to discover a range unearthed by Les Caves. Coincidentally I had opened a Pais wine from Itata in the south of Chile the previous evening so I was drawn to a comparison, believe me the wines here were better and I shall be writing about the other wine soon.
There was a lovely entry level wine, Vinos Inacayal‘s La Cueva 2021 made from Pais and Carignan in the Colchagua region. Organic grapes made with minimal intervention in cement tanks. The Carignan added finesse to the blend, good and fruity. Mauricio Gonzalez in Yumbel has made a lovely wine in Pipeno Tinto 2021. Pipeno is a style of wine made to be drunk early and this was a good example of a young, fruity and savoury wine, a Beaujolais style with simple enjoyment to the fore. A Los Vinateros Bravos is based in Itata and I enjoyed the Cinsault wine Las Curvas 2019, direct with clean light red fruits and a little texture.
My favourite wine from Chile though was from Vina Ventisouero, a new producer in the Atacama, just south of the desert itself. Their Tara Chardonnay 2018 had lovely intensity with fresh fruits and a roundness on the finish. Made from whole bunches part fermented in barrel and partly in tank this Chardonnay is quite expensive but worth it. There was also a very good wine from Oregon in the USA, Bow and Arrow‘s Time Machine NV. Pinot Gris, macerated in concrete egg is blended with barrel aged Chardonnay and the result is clean fruits with a ripe, round finish.
The European stand showed bottles from England, Wales, Greece, Austria, Slovenia and Georgia. It was my first tasting of Tillingham wines, both very good. Wales’ Ancre Hill was just as good though. I have praised their orange wine on here before, and bought a bottle just last week. The two sparkling wines on show here were very pleasing, the Pet Nat Red and Blanc De Noirs. I have had mixed experiences with Georgian producer Pheasant’s Tears in the past but enjoyed the two wines here, the white Rkatsiteli had the most dusty skin contact mouthfeel of any wine I can recall for many years and I enjoyed it a lot. My favourite wine here though was Arndorfer‘s Gruner Veltliner Naturtrüb 2021. I find a lot of Gruners to be fairly neutral though pleasant this one was much better with apple and pear fruit flavours, clean and fresh but nice complexity too.
Finally, back to the southern hemisphere. I really enjoyed a Barossa Shiraz, not my usual thing at all. Stone Spring‘s Shiraz 2021 was full but there was a good balance of direct acidity and the wine was very well balanced. Good winemaking. South Africa is fast becoming one of my favourite sources of wine. Intellego produce good value wines and their Chenin Blanc / Chardonnay blend Story of Harry 2020 was savoury, fruity and had good length and fruit. Radford Dale‘s Renaissance Chenin Blanc 2017 was even better with balanced, concentrated flavours of apple and pear and excellent complexity.
Excellent wines from a cool Welsh climate to the edges of a desert in Chile. Grapes familiar and new. A Barolo that I really enjoyed and a confirmation of Spain as a real driving force in exciting winemaking. I thoroughly enjoyed being back to discovering wines, a big thank you to Les Caves De Pyrène and The French Quarter for their hospitality.