As I write the rain is tipping down and it is 13c at midday here in North East England. A good time, therefore, to reflect on a warm summer and its good wines, it brings a little reflected glow to a bleak day. Both here and in France I have opened dozens of bottles over the last few months and have also shared in some lovely bottles opened by others, notably Jeff Coutelou during vendanges. I have selected a few bottles which really excited me in addition to one or two which raised questions to me about my selection of wines and when I drink them.
I don’t often drink Champagne or much sparkling wine generally. I do love them but, the price of Champagne means I see it as a treat and my Protestant upbringing makes me feel that a treat has to be a very special occasion, so they are rarely opened. Maybe the ‘treat’ aspect and the circumstances of drinking Val Frison’s Lalore make me recall it with rose tinted spectacles but I think I can honestly say it was my favourite wine of the summer. Those circumstances were Jeff opening it on the last day of vendanges and the team sharing it together sat round the table in the garden. So, there is certainly a happy memory but the wine itself was stunning. A consistent effervescence, fresh opening taste followed by lingering white fruits and a deliciously smooth aftertaste – it really was a fantastic Champagne. Val works using natural methods including very low SO2 but this is classic Champagne and would appeal to natural wine sceptics. A genuinely exciting wine.
Allow me to include one of Jeff Coutelou‘s wines, indeed one I opened very recently. On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que 2015 is Syrah from La Garrigue vineyard, a wine made from the grapes which would make La Vigne Haute in the best vintages. The seven years of age had really brought out the best of the wine; tannins present but smooth as silk, dark fruit flavours made more complex by the tertiary flavours of ageing, a leathery note. The wine stayed consistent from first to last glass and I am confident that I opened it at its peak. I am always pondering on the right time to open bottles to experience them at their best. In recent years I have moved towards early drinking to maximise the fruit and freshness but I have opened a few bottles this summer which have developed so much by the last glass that I became all too aware that I should have shown more patience. Perhaps it is the natural world’s promotion of glouglou, everyday drinking wines which has influenced me. This OPPVDQ has convinced me to wait longer with some wines.
Two more of my selections confirm that decision for me. Firstly, Christian Venier’s La Pierre Aux Chiens 2018. This is Christian’s pure Pinot Noir and the four years of age had done it good but it developed so much as we drank it through one evening that I know that more time would have benefited it. Nonetheless this was excellent with round red fruits and good freshness and length. The sort of Pinot Noir which makes me realise how great a variety it is and how many great Pinots are now being produced outside of Burgundy. Certainly, this will be on the shortlist for my best wines of the year. Another Pinot Noir also pleased me greatly, this time from Alsace. Jean Pierre Rietsch’s Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes 2020 had a peppery note to the bright red fruits, a genuine pleasure. And, yes, I should have kept it for a couple of years but it was lovely now.
The other two wines I have chosen reflect another of my recent wine contemplations. I am a Francophile and proud to be so. I also have favourite producers to whom I return most for purchases. I really need to broaden my wine tasting further, both outside of France and also with newer, younger producers. Therefore, when I was in the Languedoc I consulted my friend Frédéric Lambeau who runs the excellent restaurant/winebar Picamandil in Puissalicon. He recommended a number of very good wines and I have selected two.
The only vendanges I have missed in the since 2014 was the pandemic year of 2020 and a young winemaker worked with Jeff. Unfortunately, I didn’t meet Thomas Angles but I can heartily recommend his first wines made in the St. Chinian area. Fred advised me to start with the Carignan and it was lovely, good fruit with balancing tannins and freshness. This is a wine to drink fairly young but it is one of the best debut wines that I can recall. I hope to seek him out next time I am in the area.
The other wine was from Le Picatier, Picatier Un Jour, Picatier Toujours 2017. Le Picatier is run by the Pialoux family west of Roanne in the high Loire, Auvergne region. They have been making wine since 2007 and, unfortunately, in 2017 disaster struck with frosts damaging a large part of their vines. Sometimes good can come from disaster, however, and the Pialouxs blended their remaining grapes, mainly Gamay but with some Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The latter two varieties really lift the Gamay and the result is a refreshing, fruity deep wine of real class. I would have guessed this was a young wine, it wears the years well.
So impressed was I by these two wines that I bought more of the range of both producers, I look forward to them but will give them some time!
I have included some photos of other very good wines but hope that you have enjoyed the selection and my reasoning for it.