amarchinthevines

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


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Faugères, Le Grand Saint-Jean

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The annual wine event in the village of Faugères took place last weekend and I duly went along on Sunday for the tasting. Twenty five vignerons with stands along the streets and corners of the medieval village, all sharing their finest products, what is not to like? I have said many times before on these pages that Faugères is my favourite appellation in the region. The schist based vines produce deep flavours and a final twist of refreshment which leaves you wanting to taste more of the wine. I am looking for clean fruit, depth and compexity and that enjoyable palate cleansing finish.

Some of my favourite domaines were not present at the event, Barral, Clos Fantine, Domaine des Capitelles but that meant the opportunity to try other domaines as well as reacquainting myself with other favourites. * Rosemary George was present signing copies of her authoritative book on Faugères and asked me whether I had discovered anything new, happily I had.

(plus Mas Sibert based in Fos but whose wines are more Pézenas and not strictly appellation wines either)

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Domaine De L’Ancienne Mercerie is one I have tasted previously and is a firm favourite of my friend Graham Tigg whose palate I trust implicitly. These wines wee certainly on good form today; a refeshing Blanc 16, a big oaky Couture 13 but best for me was the Petites Mains 15. This is a classic Faugères full of long flavours of dark fruits with an earthy note and that lick of acidity to cleanse the mouth. An assemblage of Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre Petites Mains would be a excellent introduction to the Languedoc and to Faugères.                                                                                             Website

Chateau Des Peyregrandes is based in Roquessels. With 25ha this is a large domaine and there were multiple bottles on taste. These ranged from a good Blanc 16 to big oaky reds. Personally two wines stood out for me. The Rosé 16 was much darker than many rosés, the Syrah had given it colour. Nice red fruits and a long textured finish, this would be a good aperitif or match many foods. I also liked Prestige 13 with good character and complexity from Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre.                                                        Website

Domaine Valambelle was new to me though it is a well established, independent producer in Laurens since 2002. Another large domaine with many cuvées I tried a handful. Millepeyres 15 offered a classic Carignan with red fruits, an earthiness too. I also liked the Mourvèdre led Caprice 15 (well named for this grape) with plummy fruits. Keenly priced, good wines.                                                                                            Website

 

Domaine Du Causse Noir is the Cabrerolles domaine of Jérome Py and he always greets me with a big smile and firm handshake. His wines are regulars on my table and firm favourites, indeed I had opened a bottle two nights before. It was good to meet this great guy again and share his wines with some Arbroath converts who were at the stand at the same time. Low yields of 20-25 hl/ha give a rich full bodied fruit profile in the cuvées. 3,14 (a pun on π) 2015 is so complex for an entry wine, full of fruit and life. Caius 14 was even fresher and Mathias 13, serious and lovely. Favourites again.                                    Website

Jérome Rateau makes wines under his own name as well as his domaine Haut Lignières. Based at the top of the village of Faugères Jérome’s wines are always good. New to me this year was a premium white Empreinte Carbone (same name as the prestige red). Made with the same juice as the Petites Plumes white but given 9 months in a very lightly charred new barrel with acacia top and bottom. The effect was certainly impressive, very little oak flavour surprisingly but lots of nutty complexity.          Website 

Domaine De Cébène was one of the first Languedoc domaines I visited and remains a favourite. Brigitte Chevalier has made a name for herself and her wines through hard work and skill, she has lovely vines high on the hills around Caussiniojouls along with a brand new chai. Brigitte showed the wines of her partner who makes St. Martin D’Agel whose traditional red I like very much. Brigitte was showing the excellent Carignan Belle Lurette 15 with fruit, complexity and a long life ahead. She explained that the schist soils mean the vines send out very long roots to fins nourishment and their contact with the soils adds complexity. My personal favourite of the Cébène wines is Les Bancels, classic combination of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. The 14 was expressive, round with full fruits and the classic Faugères refreshing finish. Brigitte kindly opened a 15 to compare, and it will be great. Still a little reticent it packs flavour and, yes, that finish.     Website

Mas Angel / La Graine Sauvage  is the domaine of Alexandre Durand and Sybil Baldassarre also based in Caussiniojouls. Sybil is, first and foremost, an oenologue and I have been privileged to meet her and Alexandre numerous times at Mas Coutelou and various events. They have ventured into winemaking for themselves and the results are impressive. The white Rocalhas was star of the day. Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne grapes blended to give a gorgeous fruit nose with soft, peachy fruit and a nice sharp finish. Very drinkable, very good. A lovely red fruits and textured Prestige 15 red (Carignan/Grenache) and very deep, complex Syrah Marius 15 converted me completely. These are very good Faugères wines, very good natural wines. If you want proof that natural wines can express terroir then here you are.                                      Facebook

A very enjoyable morning, lots of parades, stalls, music and fun. But most of all, a reminder that Faugères is so good. Incidentally all of these domaines are organic, other than Haut Lignières, this really is a pioneering appellation.

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Dégustation, Bédarieux

 

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It was good to be able to attend a local tasting after being in NE England for so long, I’m afraid they are rare in my home region. Christine Cannac runs a wine bar, which offers good food too, in Bédarieux. These sort of caves/restos are to be found all over France and are my favourite eating places of my time in France. Places such as Christine’s,  Cave St Martin (Roquebrun), Pas Comme Les Autres (Béziers) and Picamandil (Puissalicon) offer good wines with quality food in the Languedoc. Not to mention Verre Volé and Cave Insolite in Paris, Aux Crieurs in Troyes and the peerless Papilles Insolites in Pau. Highly recommended.

Christine organised a dégustation of some of her producers as she regularly does. There were 9 winemakers present and they offered a high standard of wine.

Domaine Léonine (Roussillon) had some very good red wines with my favourite the Bottle Neck, a full, complex combination of Grenache and Syrah with plenty of fruit and power.

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Bernard talking with my friend Vincent

Domaine Plageoles (Gaillac) is a domaine rightly renowned for its quality, pioneering work and championing of local and old grape varieties. Bernard Plageoles was present and it was good to chat with him. The Mauzac Nature 16 seems richer than usual and truly delicious. However, his Contre Pied 16, made from Duras was my highlight. Made to be drunk young it is refreshing, light, fruity with typicity of the grape and its dusty aromas.

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Domaine Mosse (Anjou) offered bright, clear Chenin wines. The highlight was the Rouchefert with round, full apple and honey notes, a wine which will develop for many years.

Yannick Pelletier (St Chinian) is a regular on these pages. His wines are always good, often excellent with concentrated fruits, local character and very drinkable. As so often Engoulevent was my favourite, classic St Chinian notes of dark fruit and lovely depth.

Mas D’Agalis (Hérault) is a long term favourite too, Lionel Maurel offered Yo No Puedo, perhaps his most famous wine. Largely Carignan but with Syrah,Grenache and Cinsault it is classic Languedoc and the 2016 has really come together from when I tasted it in Montpellier in January.

Domaine Yoyo (Roussillon) with yields of less than 10hl/ha in places has serious wines and features one of my favourite grapes, Grenache Gris. However, it is made into a light and darker red by maceration on skins. Both are very good but the lighter La Vierge Rouge is a favourite, lots of red fruits with power and a refreshing finish.

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Léonine (left), Foulards Rouges served by Laurence Manya Krief who makes Yoyo wines

Les Foulards Rouges (Roussillon) is another well known producer. I really like Glaneurs, pure Grenache with dark, complex fruits and a clean, refreshing finish.

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Justifiably proud Vincent

Domaine De Pélissols (Bédarieux), the local boy done good. Vincent Bonnal has really upped his game and these were very good wines. I liked everything, would happily drink his Luna Novela red at any time. However, star was the clairet style rosé. 36 hours maceration gives the Grenache (and tiny amount of Syrah) time to extract a deep colour with a depth of flavour to match. Lots and lots of fruit, not many wines will be more suited to the Languedoc summer, a real success.

Champagne Jacques Lassaigne (Montgueux near Troyes). I first tasted Lassaigne champagnes at the aforementioned Aux Crieurs in Troyes and have sought them out since. Pure Chardonnay they are wines of pure fruit, concentration, complexity and sunshine in a glass. Jacques was present and I loved his Blanc De Blancs from 10 parcels, La Colline with added complexity from the barrel ageing and the blend of 2010, 2011 and 2012. Star though was the vintage 2008. Such power, fruit; pleasure for the palate and mind. I have been lucky enough to enjoy some fantastic champagnes this year and these rank as high as any.

So, a small friendly tasting with a lovely mussel brasucade to add to the pleasure. If you are in the Bédarieux area seek out Chai Christine Cannac.


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Brief return to Mas Coutelou

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After my sojourn in Alsace it was great to return to the Languedoc. Sadly I was already aware that due to a bereavement I would have to leave within a couple of days to return to the UK. However, I was able to spend one of my two days there with Jeff and amongst those vines which I had missed so much.

It was a great time to be there, the vines were in full flower, many already past that stage showing the new grapes, firstly with their brown hoods and then just the green baby berry itself.

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The vines were looking very healthy, plentiful rain in the winter and a sharp frost in early spring had allowed the vines to rest, to gather their strength for the season ahead – a sharp contrast to 2016. Greenery aplenty, wild flowers blooming and, during my visit to Peilhan, I saw a young deer running through the vines and a pheasant. Clearly the Coutelou vines attract wildlife to its oasis amongst the surrounding desert of chemically treated soils.

During the previous weeks the soils of Peilhan had been ploughed, by a horse. Gentler on the soils Jeff asked a local man to till.

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He himself was giving the soil a light rotivation that afternoon, turning the plants and flowers amongst the vines into the soil, a natural composting. Icare, with an injured paw, and I watched on in the sunshine.

 

The only real problem this year has been the return of the snails. Last year they ravaged Font D’Oulette (the Flower Power vineyard) so that only a few cases of grapes could be picked. Fortunately, that vineyard has been spared this year but they are out in force in the largest vineyard, Segrairals. It was there that I also found Michel, Julien and Vincent working, tightening the wires of the palissage and removing side shoots etc from the vines.

In the afternoon we tasted through the 2016 vines and, they are so different even from February when I tasted them last. The whites are splendid, highlight a hugely successful long maceration Muscat. The reds such as the Carignan were very good and the top wine of the year will be the Mourvèdre, a silky, complex wine with huge depth of flavour – a treat for the short and long term. 2016 was a difficult year but Jeff has still produced some great wines.

So, I look forward to getting back to Puimisson as soon as possible, to follow the vintage further and see the latest progress. There is bottling to be done and plenty more besides.

The cellar is transformed, painted with the new office and floor and the stainless steel cuves plumbed in for temperature control. And perhaps, most interesting of all, there is an amphora. This is the trendy method of vinification around the world. However, very few winemakers have an amphora dating from the time of Julius Caesar with which to make wine. Jeff plans to use it this year, connecting his wine to those made 2,000 years ago. Wines with links to the past, present and future, Mas Coutelou has soul!

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Ode to joy

 

This weekend was Real Wine Fair time in London. I did not attend as I am travelling to France in the next few days and didn’t fancy a long round trip followed by another. I would have loved to attend and taste more great wines from around the world, with an organic, biodynamic and natural core. I have already seen some interesting reports but as so often it was Jamie Goode’s which caught my attention because he touches on one very important aspect of wine tasting – pleasure.

I have attended many tastings over the years and very often they are held in hushed, reverent surroundings. Nothing wrong with that, it is easy to appreciate the wines and concentrate upon their strengths or weaknesses. However when I have attended tastings such as RAW, RWF, La Remise or Les Affranchis there is a much more boisterous atmosphere. People enjoy the wines and are not afraid to show that. There is laughter and pats on the back. As Goode says it must drive some natural wine haters nuts “to see consumers having such fun drinking these natural wines. The future of wine is bright, I reckon.”

He goes on to discuss the term ‘natural’ and how it has become divisive and argues that SO2 levels are a moot point. I don’t wholly buy the last point as I know it matters a great deal to many natural producers and I respect their choices and philosophy. Nonetheless, as I have said many times in these pages, the influence of natural wine on others is now clear.

However, Goode’s point about the sheer pleasure which people take from these wines is what I think deserves repeating. Wine is meant to be enjoyed, the younger crowds at natural wine fairs are not afraid to do just that. Good on them.


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Decanter’s first natural wine tasting

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A sign of acceptance in the mainstream wine world? Decanter magazine held its first tasting of natural wines recently. Simon Woolf, Andrew Jefford and Sarah Jane Evans were charged with the tasting and I think that is a very fair minded trio of experienced tasters.

The first issue they faced was how to classify a selection of natural wines and Simon explained on his very good blog themorningclaret.com how they adopted the rules of RAW, the natural wine fairs organised by Isabelle Legeron. That means organic/biodynamic production (preferably certified), hand harvesting, no modern techniques such as reverse osmosis, no fining or filtration and no cultured yeasts. Of course the issue of sulphites was central to discussion, as it so often is, and RAW’s rules allow up to 70mg/l so this tasting allowed the same. When I attended and reported on RAW this spring I made it clear that I view this as too high but that was the rule laid down here.

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122 wines were tasted mainly based on bottles provided by UK retailers. Interestingly, and inevitably, the three tasters produced very different results. Being a Decanter tasting they were required to give marks (which I increasingly dislike) but the comments and selections are well worth reading. The results and top ten wines for each of the tasters is available on Simon’s blog here along with a link for a pdf of the Decanter article. The full list of wines tasted is here.

I have obviously been drinking too much wine as I know the vast majority of these 122 bottles. Their top wine turned out to be La Stoppa’s Ageno 2011 and I have praised this domaine before as well as that wine, so no argument from me. My own views would differ from all three but that is the nature of tasting (and why marks make little sense to me). Kreydenweiss, COS, Occhipinti, Haywire, Meinklang, Muster, Sainte-Croix and Testalonga are all firm favourites of mine so, in fact, I would agree with many of the selections.

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I highlight this event because I think it is a landmark in that a very conservative magazine (I didn’t renew my subscription many years ago because of its very traditional bias) has brought natural wine on board. I believe natural wine should be willing to accept constructive criticism from such fair minded critics and so this is an important step in the right direction.

Also worth noting is the sheer spread of producers from all corners of the globe, natural wine is not going away it is growing in popularity with consumers and producers. Note too that some big producers are making  versions of natural wine, a trend mentioned on these pages before. Whilst I personally may not regard them too sympathetically at least it is a sign that the philosophy behind natural wine is winning support.

So, well done Decanter, and Simon Woolf in particular, for promoting this tasting.

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Wonderful wines which definitely pass muster with me

 


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Mas Coutelou 2016

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Tasting September 27th

It was a year of difficulties as I have reported on here many times. From a virtually arid winter and spring to a chilly early summer and then a very hot summer the vines had a struggle to cope with the bizarre climate. Add in a hail storm, snails eating away large numbers of grapes and mildew. No surprise then that the quantity of wine produced was much reduced, bottles will be much scarcer than previous years – so when you get the chance buy them. If quantity is down then what about quality?

I have had the good fortune to taste through the range of wines on two occasions. On September 27th the wines were in their infancy settling in tank, the team got together to gain first impressions. In late January and in February this year I tasted them again with a number of visitors. What I tasted was the wine from the different vineyards before it was then assembled into the various cuvées which Jeff will eventually put out. Therefore, my notes are about the ingredients rather than the finished dish.

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Tasting January 28th

I decided to simply publish my notes as I wrote them on the two occasions – no editing, just my personal impression at the time. Already these wines had changed a great deal after 4-5 months and they will have changed again even before being assembled into Le Vin Des Amis etc.  I have chosen only the main wines, there are several other cuves with other wines but these are the main wines of Mas Coutelou.

September 2016

January / February 17

  1. Muscat Petits Grains – 2 weeks maceration, fairly neutral nose but fresh Muscatty flavour with tannins / texture. Orange flavour in there – G

Nose is Muscatty and orange blossom. No real grapey Muscat flavours but a dry                   wine, fresh,  direct and clean. Little drying on finish but coming together well. – G

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  1. Carignan Blanc – little reduced on nose, nice fresh acidity and appley fruit. Still cloudy – G

This has improved, white flower aromas, fresh, white fruits, very long – VG

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  1. Maccabeu/Grenache Gris/ Muscat – Lovely pears and red apples. Fresh acidity, lovely. Full, nice texture – VG

Some residual sugar still but direct fresh fruit – pears and apples – G

  1. Cinsault (Segrairals) – assembled with marc from Syrah. Nice fresh acidity – OK

Not tasted 

5. Grenache Ste Suzanne – Little green, quite acid, some spicy after notes. A bit tart –             OK

 11.5%, light but fruity and grapey, lost its tartness, more round – QG

Lovely grenache

Grenache just picked

6. Syrah Ste Suzanne – Nice, perfumed, red fruits, good acidity and soft tannins – G

Very attractive red fruit nose, has some heft yet only 12%, rich and easy to drink – G

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Syrah from Ste Suzanne

 7. Flower Power (plus others) – Round red fruits, lively, red fruit flavours – QG

Syrah and Cinsault in there too, nose is lovely, really attractive with red fruits and              floral. Nice round easy fruits – G

8. Syrah Segrairals – Still fermenting, quite a lot of residual sugar. Nice, fresh acidity,              red fruits – G

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9. Syrah La Garrigue – Slight acetate nose, Round dark fruits. Nice texture and mouth             filling – G

Dark, ripe round fruits on nose and flavour, plummy, a little closed, good tannins –             G

10. Grenache La Garrigue – Nice ripe cherry aromas, good acidity and texture. Ripe –                G+

Very fresh and open, round ripe fruits. A little residual sugar still – G+

11. Mourvedre – Very attractive floral aromas, some sugar still, raspberry fruit – G

Improved a lot, a little reduced but liquorice flavours, dark and how it builds in                  the mouth, could be a surprise star – VG

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Mourvedre I picked

12. Carignan – lovely dark fruit, very fruity and fresh flavours. Very clean finish,                      almost slatey minerality – VG

Still working, a little spritz. Quite acidic as yet but there are dark ripe fruits and                  these are playing together on the palate, will develop well – G

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Still fermenting

Overall, the general impression is of good quality with plenty of freshness and fruit to balance. Mourvedre could provide the star wine of the year which would be a surprise, though the Carignan will no doubt improve and be a star once again. The whites, in various styles, are again showing how good white wines can be in this region.  After a very problematic year it is surprising that the wines emerged so well, testament to healthy vines and a skilled winemaker.

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Celebrating 2016 with a lovely Bibonade rosé

 


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dRAW conclusions

Vionnet (RAW link)

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I had heard good reports about Karim Vionnet’s wines and I enjoyed the lighter non-oaked versions in particular. Du Beur Dans Les PInards 2015 had well balanced fruit and depth, very good Beaujolais. The light, straightforward Chiroubles ‘Vin De KaV’ 2015 would please anyone, though added sulfites seemed unnecessary.

Riberach (RAW link)

The Roussillon is home to many excellent winemakers and I had seen some rave reviews about Riberach so it was good to taste their wines at last. Riberach is a collection of grower, winemakers and others with 20ha of vines certified by Ecocert. I liked the wines in general especially the white wines. Hypothèse Rouge 2011 had good fruit and mineral mouthfeel but top for me was the Hypothèse Blanc 2014. The red is based on Carignan Noir, the white on Carignan Gris – a Carignan whitewash for me.

Château Massereau (RAW link)

The highlights of the Montpellier tastings in January included Chateau Meylet from St. Émilion and, perhaps, Bordeaux based wines are making a comeback in my affections as Chateau Massereau based in Barsac was a favourite here. Certainly the Sauternes wines were a real delight (La Pachère lighter than Cuvée M) but the reds were the core wines, I liked them all but especially the Cuvée Socrate 2009, picked early for freshness which shone in the glass. A word too for a really good Clairet 2015, weightier than a rosé with 48 hours of skin contact, fruity, light and delicious.

Gut Oggau (RAW link)

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Another Austrian producer makes my list, it really is a source of some of the best wines at present. I presume Eduard Tscheppe is somehow related to the excellent Andreas whose wines I have praised so often on here. Together with his partner Stephanie they make very attractive and drinkable wines. So popular that they ran out of wine early on the Sunday so I made a bee line for them on Monday morning. The Theodora (weiss) 2015 was very mineral but plenty of fruit too, complex and good. my other favourite was Emmeram 2015 made from Gewurztraminer, not everybody’s favourite grape but this was long, fruity, exotic and just a touch of residual sugar to add a pleasurable finish.

Meinklang (RAW link)

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Tasting with my good friend David Crossley

More from Austria and amongst the best of its producers, another to run out of wine early. Delicious Foam White 2015, a petnat with superb freshness and depth after 15 months on lees. Graupert Pinot Gris 2015 had chewy fruit (2 weeks on skins) and a lovely clean finish. The two Konkret wines (raised in concrete eggs) were particularly good, proof that ageing wines in this style does work well. The white had lovely peachy aromas and long fruit, the red was clear, direct and long. The Zweigelt 2015 was a highlight, beautiful precise fruit and a mineral, clean finish. I should also praise the delicious Foam Cider.

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So much did I like the wines and cider from Meinklang that I immediately ordered some.

Batic (RAW link)

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I tried wines from quite a few East European producers and was a bit disappointed by them. However, Batic, a Slovenian producer, was outstanding. A lovely 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon but the real star was Angel 2011 a blend of 7 varieties complanted in the vineyard, 31 days on skins and 4 years in barrel. How does that make such a light, fruity, pleasurable wine? I don’t know but it was a terrific wine.

I Mandorli (RAW link)

Excellent Italian wine based on Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Freshness was the hallmark of the wines. Particular favourites were Vigna Alla Sughera Rosso 2013, lovely sharp cherry flavours. The Vigna Al Mare 2013 had real Cabernet profiles of blackcurrant. Vino Rosso Base 2014 was a light blend of the 2 grapes and very drinkable.

Conclusions

A very good tasting offering the opportunity to taste wines from many countries. Natural wines are on the up, producers emerging not just in the traditional hotspots of France and Italy. One well-known wine writer recently suggested in a description of one wine that natural wine is a fashion. Apparently she is unaware that they have been made for almost 40 years, they are no fad. More producers, more customers, more restaurants – the demand for natural grows every month.

I remain unconvinced by amphorae, some producers are mastering the technique but there is a lot of clumsy, inexperienced use at present. Concrete eggs on the other hand do seem to be more sympathetic to the wine.

Most producers at RAW were certified organic or biodynamic. It is important that consumers should be confident that their wine is really natural. The wine described by the critic was made SO2 free but not organic, to my mind (and in RAW’s charter) that would not be a natural wine. I also did wonder why some producers continue to feel the need to add sulfites to the wine.

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Natural wines are here to stay, they will hopefully become known as simply very good wines. The wines described in the last 3 articles should help to provide many examples of such very good wines. And that is without covering the wines of such illuminati as Cornelissen, Gravner and Texier.