A year of mixed blessings, moving back to normality from the pandemic, successful and happy trips abroad but a sting in the tail with a family accident and illness. I have blogged less yet reader numbers remain good and I am grateful to you all for taking the time to look in. The most read article was my last about regenerative viticulture, pleasing as it was my favourite one to write. Here is a review of my wine year.
I am fortunate to try lots of different wines at tastings and in France when I am working with Jeff Coutelou. Memorable tastings this year began with a rare event in North East England thanks to Les Caves De Pyrene. It was odd to resume such events after the hiatus of recent years but that made me appreciate it even more. I also thoroughly enjoyed the June Faugeres tasting in somewhat warmer and sunnier climes. I also led a tasting in my local area for 60 people in order to raise funds for Ukraine, worthwhile and a good experience which I hope to repeat.
I want to give a mention to Marks And Spencers’ Found range which I wrote about here. The company deserve much credit for highlighting grape varieties, outside the norm for supermarket customers, I have continued to seek out more of the range after I wrote the article and have been rewarded with some affordable, well made and interesting wines. I still like the Weissburgunder best but there are many more worthy of purchase.
Looking back through the notes and photos of wines tasted in 2022 I kept noticing the regular appearance of wines made with Chenin Blanc grapes. This is something of a return to my wine roots as the Loire, Vouvray especially, was where I made my initial vineyard visits and tastings. Vouvray once more provided my favourite of the Chenins I tasted this year, Michel Autran’s Les Enfers Tranquilles 2017, a lovely balance of freshness and depth, fruit and minerality. Another excellent Loire Chenin was Jean Christophe Garnier’s Rouchefert 2020, I shall be seeking out more bottles and keep a few for longer term drinking. Craig Hawkins’ Testalonga wines have received recommendations galore from me in these pages and South Africa is a source of excellent Chenin Blanc wines, including Stay Brave 2021 with its salty, spicy profile heightened by short skin contact. I also had examples of Chenin from the USA and Central Europe but my other favourite was Brash Higgins’ CHN 2020 from McLaren Vale in South Australia with a profile quite similar to Testalonga but a little wilder. So, Chenin Blanc, my grape of the year.
I am a wine nut, I love learning and reading about winemaking. I wrote about Jamie Goode’s excellent book Regenerative Viticulture recently and reiterate my recommendation for any like minded wine enthusiast to read it. You will be rewarded with approachable, convincing arguments about vineyard practice, remarkably entertaining for a subject which could be dry (apologies for an inadvertent pun). However, my book of the year and also wine website of the year are the work of one person, Aaron Ayscough. I declare my friendship and liking for Aaron, who has worked vendanges in Faugeres with Clos Fantine and visits Jeff regularly. He does not hide his thoughts, likes and dislikes and is not afraid to upset others who may disagree. The website Not Drinking Poison has interviews, articles and wine notes based on Aaron’s restless voyaging around the natural wine world. It is well worth the subscription though there are some free articles. I will be reviewing Aaron’s book, The World Of Natural Wine, in a forthcoming article but suffice to say it is essential reading. Some fascinating insight into the context of natural wine in relation to past winemaking, a balanced approach to some of the claims for the wines and good insight into how natural wine is made along with top recommendations. All in a beautifully produced format, this is a book to read and reread.
To my wines of the year. Not necessarily the greatest wines but the ones I enjoyed most. Let’s start with white wines and, despite my previously professed love of Chenin Blanc, my favourite white grape, Riesling. Julien Meyer’s Riesling Grittermatte 2014 was a joyful, complex wine full of citrus flavours, a slick of honey and great length. When I visited Patrick Meyer a few years ago he had bottles which he’d opened a few days before but were utterly delicious. This was still youthful, yet full and balanced, a great bottle. Hermit Ram Sauvignon Blanc 2020 made by Theo Coles in Canterbury, New Zealand. Skin contact, no SO2, cloudy – almost a stereotype of natural white wine- but this is full, fresh, salty and simply delicious. A New Zealand Sauvignon but certainly not a typical New Zealand Sauvignon. A different style of Sauvignon Blanc altogether was Alexandre Bain’s La Levée 2019. Bain makes Puilly Fumés that don’t always meet with approval from the local authorities as he seeks extra ripe, fuller flavours. La Levée was rich, full of citrus and apple but also round and waxy. Two Sauvignons, two great wines, two completely different wines.
At the Faugeres tasting I attended in June the stand out white wine was from Catherine Roque’s Mas D’Alezon, Cabretta 2021. A blend from Roussanne, Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris this offered white fruits, minerality, freshness and complexity and the flavours lingered long. When you taste a large number of wines in one event a standout wine grabs your attention, it becomes memorable, the one you want to return to. This was that wine. Needless to say I bought some and this was close to being my wine of the year.
Beaujolais provided me with a lot of red wine pleasure this year. An older Foillard Morgon, Dutraive’s Fleurie and Chateau Cambon bottles, all excellent. My most memorable though was Séléné Cote De Brouilly 2020. I had heard a lot of good things about the producer but found it hard to get hold of any wine. Whilst in France I was able to purchase this bottle and it lived up to those glowing reports. The light red fruit profile of Beaujolais but backed up by good tannins and depth, a very classy wine. If Riesling is my favourite white grape then Pinot Noir is, probably, its red equivalent. Alsace provided my favourite example this year, as with the Riesling. Rietsch Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes 2020 is simple winemaking leaving ripe, balanced grapes to express their fruit whilst offering further spicy flavours as well as texture. I had more expensive Pinots this year but for sheer pleasure this was my favourite.
The Languedoc obviously provides me with much of my wine and two wines stood out. From Jeff Coutelou I most enjoyed On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que 2015. This is Syrah from the vineyard which makes La Vigne Haute in the best vintages but in lesser years Jeff prefers to release it under different labels to maintain the high quality of La Vigne Haute. The 2015 bottle, released as OPPVDQ showed, like the Meyer Riesling, that natural wines do age well when they are made by talented producers and the full fruits were matched by a complexity produced by age, spice and leather for example. It really is worth aging bottles sometimes. That can’t be the case for Thomas Angles who made his first wines in 2021 in the St. Chinian area. I have never met Thomas even though he did harvest with Jeff in 2020 as that was accursed pandemic year. I was recommended Thomas’ Carignan and was seriously impressed, the bright red fruits were supported by light tannins and a spicy aftertaste which lingered. For a first vintage, excellent.
Unusually my wine of the year though is a Champagne. I don’t drink huge amounts of sparkling wines, let alone top Champagnes but I appreciate a good one whenever I can. Jeff opened Val Frison’s Lalore on the last day of vendanges to celebrate our work and a very good vintage. This Blanc De Blancs, 100% Chardonnay, is aged for nine months in old oak then spends sixteen months in bottle before release with no additions, filtration or dosage. The result is a pure expression of the vineyards, clean, fresh, citrussy fruit combined the classic yeasty notes of Champagne. Lalore is, relatively, cheap for Champagne yet I believe that it stands up against much more celebrated and expensive examples. The wine, the occasion and the memory of a bottle shared with friends, Lalore is my wine of the year.
Wishing you all a very Happy New Year, may 2023 bring good wines, health and happiness.