amarchinthevines

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


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Buzzy Bs – Real Wine Fair #2

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So many good wines at Real Wine Fair, I include a selection of wines worthy of anybody’s attention and money. How to order them for this blog was the difficult choice.

The buzzy, busy Bs? Binner, Bain, Ballorin were amongst more established natural producers whose wines showed up very well.

 

Gilles Ballorin is based in Morey St. Denis in the heart of the Côte De Nuits. I liked the freshness of his wines, plenty of characterful fruit flavours, supported by a cleansing finish of acidity in the Marsannay wines but especially the lovely Fixin “Les Chenevières”. Fixin was the first Burgundy village I visited, it has happy memories and this wine lived up to all hopes.

 

Christian Binner is based in Ammerschwihr in Alsace. Yet another village which was the centre for my early visits to that region. I have been trying Christian’s wines for many years and, to my taste, they get better and better. The whole range was excellent, a lovely rosé (Si Rose) made from Pinot Gris, the beautifully named Amour Schwihr, but above all, the tremendous Rieslings, the 2016 Grand Cru Schlossburg being as fine an example of place and grape as you could ever taste. Lovely guy, and give a listen to his fun interview on the Bring Your Own podcast.

Alexandre Bain from Pouilly in the Loire is another firm favourite. His Pouilly Fumé wines are brilliant proof of how Sauvignon Blanc is a noble grape. It is mad that the authorities there make life difficult for him to get the Pouilly Fumé label because he doesn’t meet strict guidelines. The wines are superior to virtually anything else in the area. 2017 Terre d’Obus from young vines gives a real taste of the region, sharp, flinty (yes I use that word deliberately). The Pierre Précieuse 17 from older vines has more concentration and elegance whilst keeping the freshness, precious indeed. Mademoiselle M 2015 has a hint of sweetness even, very ripe, very fruity and just lovely.

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Sometimes the wine world rushes to the new and more established figures such as Christian and Alexandre can be overlooked. Do not make that mistake. These men are making wines with love and precision based on experience. Buy, buy, buy.

Other Bs were new to me but well worth sharing with you.

Social media and a mutual friend in the Languedoc, Guillaume Deschamps, meant that I have got to ‘know’ Emma Bentley without ever meeting her. It was a pleasure to finally do so along with her partner Alessandro. He now manages La Biancara after the retirement of his father Angiolino Maule, running it with his 3 brothers. The range of wines was excellent including the main Masieri white and red wines. The Garganega grape is to the fore in the whites, showing its quality in the 2017 Sassaia and Pico Bianco, the latter with oak age. Both fresh, fruity and lingering. Star of the show for me though was So San 2016, made from Tocai Rosso grapes, the local name for Grenache. Aged in barrel for 15 months this was a big wine with lovely fruit up front backed by ripe tannins which will surely allow the wine to age for many years. It was perfectly balanced, a terrific wine from one of my favourite grapes.

Gareth Belton (it begins with a B!!) and his wife Rainbo make Gentle Folk wines in the Adelaide Hills and I wrote about them last year after visiting with my friend James Madden of Little Things winery. Indeed, it was exciting to taste some of the wines because they were the very 2018s which I saw being made during my visit as harvest came to an end there. There is a terrific range of juicy, fruity and complex wines from classic Riesling (Clouds) to fresh Sauvignon Blanc (Schist), smashable rosé (Blossoms) and serious reds. Tiersman Syrah 18 from bought in fruit was one of my favourite wines tasted all weekend. Round, characterful, Rhone like rather than typical Aussie Shiraz. Lovely wine. Favourite of all though was the 2018 Village Pinot Noir with classic Pinot flavours, lovely freshness and deceivingly complex for such a joyful wine.

Bencze Birtok wines come from Hungary and left me eager to try more wines from there. Clean, fresh whites such as Riesling 17 (the 18 was even better), Kek 17 made from Bokator grapes. A lovely amphora raised wine called Keknyelu 18 with fresh stone fruit flavours. Round, enjoyable and lingering Pinot Noir 18, even better Pinot Atlas 18 from higher vineyards with more complexity, drier and purer. Best of all 2018 Rozsako (a local grape), an amber or orange wine with full, round apricot and stone fruit flavours. One of the best orange/amber wines I have tasted. This was a real discovery for me, great wines from a lovely couple.

Finally, Serbia (there’s a stressed b in the middle!). I had never tasted wines from there before but I am glad that was rectified at RWF. Oszkar Maurer is a 4th generation winemaker and I really took to his wines, highlighting 3 which was just about the highest number of any range at the Fair. The 2017 Furmint was cracking, balancing generous fruit with clean acidity, one of the best white wines of the tasting. Kadarka is one of the local grapes which Maurer specialises in tending and it provided 3 excellent wines. The oldest vines are 138 years in age, and the Kadorka 1880 was structured, fruity and generous. However, perversely enough the other two Kadarka wines were my favourites on this occasion. the 2017 Kadarka was fresh, fruity, round and just very drinkable, really good. Even better was 2017 Kadarka Nagy Krisztus, giving strawberry aromas and more fruit. There was a hint of medicinal tonic in there, it makes no sense but it’s true, which highlighted the fruit profile and added to a very successful wine.

So many great wines, believe me.

 


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Recent wine highlights

I have had some cracking wines in recent weeks. Let me share some of them with you before I get to my wines of the year in a future article.

 

Jeff Coutelou always provides me with memorable wines and these two from 2017 underline what a great vintage that was from him. Classe is one of the headline acts of the domaine and the 17 is as good as any I recall. Syrah (50%), Grenache (40%) and Mourvedre (10%) with ripe red and black fruit flavours and a depth of flavour indicating many, many years of life ahead if you can resist drinking it now. The Vin De Table (Syrah and Grenache again but this time with Merlot) is made from what was left after the main cuvées were assembled. But, it is no leftover. Ripe, concentrated and very drinkable. Jeff’s wines gets better and better and that is the highest praise I can give him as I have long considered him an exceptional winemaker as well as a friend.

From the same stable comes my good friend Julien Banville who took some of Jeff’s grapes in 2017 to produce his Chateau Des Gueux. A light red wine of intense red fruit aromas and lingering flavours it shows Julien’s talents for stamping his won personality on his wines. Delicious but sadly unavailable commercially.

From Spain two excellent wines. Jordi Llorens‘ wines have long been a source of pleasure and the Blan 5.7 2017 of Macabeo and Parellada was a joy, refreshing but full of creamy, white fruit. Partida Creus XL 2016 made from Xarel.lo was equally good with perhaps a little more acidity. I preferred that to the red VN though that was still good.

Back to France and two eastern regions. Alsace has long been one of my favourite wine regions in the world and the biodynamic Zind Humbrecht domaine one of my favourite producers. This Riesling 2009 was classic of the grape, petrol nose, citrus fruit, dry but with just a slight suggestion of sweetness. Savoie is becoming ultra fashionable and the Altesse from Domaine Giachino was a clear example of why its reputation is high. Floral, fruity, complex and dry, it really convinced me that Savoie and the grape Altesse are top quality.

I mentioned how much I enjoyed Patrick RolsLes Anciens 2016 in the last article with its Merlot and Cabernets from the Auvergne region. There’s an iron edge to the complex red fruit flavours, a wine showing the promise of a region only starting to develop its wines. From the Gard department came the Va Nu Pieds 2016 of the Frères Soulier. Classic Languedoc/Rhone Syrah and Grenache with plenty of black fruits as well as good tannins.

Finally and certainly not least. From England, yes you read that right. Davenport winery in East Sussex produces one of my favourite PetNats but this was the first still wine of theirs I had tasted, the Limney Horsmonden 2017. If Savoie shows promise then this is equally the case for English wine. Ortega, Bacchus, Huxulrebbe and Segerebbe are not grapes I know particularly but this blend had tremendous floral notes and a dry, clear expression of the place and grape. One of the best wines I have tasted this year.

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Alsace

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View from Sigolsheim Nécropole over Grand Cru vineyards

When I first started to develop my passion for wine it was the books of English writer Oz Clarke which guided my tastes and my visits to the wine regions of France. I recall an evocative piece he wrote about sitting in the Nécropole, the military cemetery, of Sigolsheim in the Haut-Rhin department of Alsace. The view from this hill over the vineyards showed him how the Grand Cru sites corresponded to their position on the slopes. I visited the cemetery (of men who died in the Colmar pocket battle in World War 2) again last week and Clarke’s words came clearly to mind.

During my 5 days in Alsace I was to taste wines from all over the region, from its vineyards on the plains and the Grand Cru sites. For some years I was unconvinced by the true premium of those sites but my recent experience suggested to me that vignerons are now truly extracting the best from these vineyards and that there is a real jump in quality. I am sure that is not true of all of them but certainly the wines I tasted supported Clarke’s opinion back in the 1990s.

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Two favourite grapes from Alsace, Riesling and Pinot Noir, both by Trimbach

One other main development from previous experiences in Alsace was how much drier the wines are being made. There was always a sweetness to many wines but producers seem to have realised that consumers were confused by the different levels of dry, medium and sweetness in bottles which appeared to be of similar wine. It was noticeable that some wine lists even listed some wines such as Gewurztraminer as ‘sucré’ (sweeter). I found this a welcome consistency.

Finally the other main development for me was the improvement in wines from Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. The Blancs were often simply neutral, lacking real character and flavour. I tasted a number last week which showed real white fruit flavours and a floral, attractive aroma. Similarly the green, thin Pinot Noirs I remember from a few years back are generally now replaced by red fruit, more body and very pleasurable drinking.

The region is arguably the most attractive in France and I do love it. Towns and villages full of colourful, beamed houses, storks nests and often overlooked by castles. The vineyards can be precipitous, alarming slopes falling down to the villages. Machines would find it impossible to operate on some of them, these slopes need careful manual attention.

And yet..

Despite the many positives of Alsace wines it was disappointing to see so much use of herbicides, chemical sprays etc. I saw 3 spraying machines in use and every one operated by a vigneron dressed in plastic suits and masks to (rightly) protect them, these were clearly powerful chemicals being used.

Fortunately I was able to visit some of those who work in more environmentally friendly ways and I shall describe those visits next time.


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Millésime Bio – the salon

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A small part of one of the three halls in the salon

Austria, the Rhone and Alsace were the wine regions which impressed me most over the four days I was in Montpellier and this was reflected in the main salon and the offlines. The main event hosts 900 winemakers, impossible to get around them all and I didn’t even manage 10% of them. As stated in my previous post the plan was to taste wines outside of the Languedoc-Roussillon in order to widen my understanding and appreciation of wines generally and to place my region in context more accurately.

The overwhelming feature of the wines I tasted was freshness, a common feature of so many organic wines. It was also interesting to note that 250 or more of the producers are biodynamic. Some were also experimenting with natural wines, offering a cuvée or two which had no sulphites added. Proof to me that natural wine is making inroads and winning the argument and that there is a market for natural wine which winemakers are eager to supply. Warning however, some of those cuvées were not very good, the exceptions were from Domaine Py in the Corbières and, also, the Austrian producer Pittnauer, of whom more later.

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So to my favourites.

Kreydenweiss (Alsace and Rhone)

I want to start with a father and son team with a difference, they work in different regions of France. Marc moved to the Gard where he produces a range of wines whilst the domaine in Alsace which bears his name is now run by his son Antoine. I found the wines of both domaines to be completely thrilling.

Let’s start with Alsace, the home of the family. From the basic Riesling 2014 to the Grand Crus all the wines are marked by round fruitiness but with a core of clean, fresh acidity which leaves you wanting more. I can honestly say I liked every wine on tasting but especially the Clos Rebberg Grand Cru Riesling 14 and the Kastelberg Grand Cru 2014 Riesling. The Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc wines were also excellent. I had tasted the range before and knew how good they could be, what I did not know about was the Rhone range of wines. Again I loved every wine here. From the fruity, herbal long maceration white Ansata 14 to Chateauneuf Du Pape 08 these were wines marked by elegance, precision, fruit and cleanliness. Thrilling. Single variety wines such as Ansata 13 (Syrah) and Ka 13 (Carignan) were lovely wines but so too were the pure Grenache Chateauneufs 08 and 09. If I had to choose the range which summarised Millésime Bio 2016 this was it. Great wines of character (like their producers), elegance, liveliness and sheer enjoyment.

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Marc Kreydenweiss

Aimé Stentz (Alsace)

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Marc and Etienne

Whilst on the Alsace theme I was very impressed by the range of wines from Domaine Aimé Stentz. I spoke with father and son, Étienne and Marc, for some time whilst tasting and they explained how being organic was a moral rather than commercial choice. Those hoping that it would bring a premium would need to consider the extra work involved. The wines themselves were very well balanced, a fine edge of acidity running through the fruit. They taste of the classic grape flavours but have a nice dry edge. Other producers I tased from Alsace such as Jean Becker go for much dryer styles, very gastronomic, other such as Bott Geyl seemed to prefer more fruit and sweetness.

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The Stentz wines pleased me more because of the balance. All three domaines were good but these were my preferred wines. When the entry level wines taste long, fresh and balanced you know that the higher wines are going to be special and Grand Crus wines such as Riesling Sommerberg 13 and Pinot Gris Hengst 12 delivered everything I had hoped for. Full but elegant, fruit but dry, very well balanced. The Vendanges Tardives were also balanced, lovely sweet notes but clean and fresh leaving you wanting to drink another mouthful.

Domaine des Aphillanthes (Rhone)

Run by Daniel and Hélène Boulle, it was good to talk with Hélène whilst tasting the wines. The various Côtes Du Rhone, such as Plan De Dieu 13, were marked by fruit, freshness and length. The grape varieties such as Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault are the same as Languedoc wines and there was resemblance of course. Like the best of both regions the wines had elegance and balance, fruity but dry with fine tannins. None of the Aphillanthes wines come from the more famous regions of the Rhone yet the wines carry a quality resembling the big southern villages such as Cahteauneuf or Gigondas. That they are to be found on the wine lists of top restaurants shows the respect they richly deserve.

Preisinger and Judith Beck (Austria)

Austria was the origin of many of my favourite wines throughout the Salon and the offlines. Claus Preisinger and Judith Beck run separate domaines in the same Burgenland region but share similar biodynamic philosophy and practices. Their wines make something special out of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Grüner Veltliner grapes, I particularly enjoyed the white wines of Preisinger, for example the amphora matured GV. All again showed the fruitiness and freshness I love. The red wines were the real revelation however. Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent are particular to the country and they showed great power, elegance and balance, great with food and yet good to drink on their own. The two are part of a wider group of nine producers making a series of wines called Pannobile which are designed to reflect the local grapes, soils and characteristics. Wines such as Beck Ink 2013 and Preisinger’s Zweigelt 2012 were top class wines, heartily recommended. I also recommend the website of Claus Preisinger, a model of innovation and information.

Pittnauer (Austria)

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Producer of probably my favourite series of wines in the whole salon, Gerhard Pittnauer has the appearance of a wild rocker with restless personality and his wines reflect him. There is a touch of wildness, unpredictability and of being on the edge. The wines are alive, full of long flavours and aromas, truly delicious. The entry white wine was called Mash Pit (that rock reference again), whole bunch maceration, no sulphites, natural, clean and sharp. The reds were the standout however. Light, Pinot like, the St Laurent 14 carried sweet fruit with freshness. The Pannobile 13 (Gerhard is in the same Burgenland region as Preisinger and Beck) and single vineyard St. Laurent Rosenberg 13 were equally good. Much richer and darker plum flavours in the Blaufränkisch Ungerberg 2010 showed that this a domaine producing a good range, every one of which would deserve to be in my personal wine stocks. Outstanding wines.

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Others

More recommendations for Austria, wines from Jurtschitsch, Weininger and Weninger were very good, especially the white wines based on Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. This is a country which is really on the move in the wine world, top of my list for wines to explore and to drink.

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Italy had its good producers too. Le Carline is a producer in the Veneto whose wines I praised last year and I enjoyed them again especially the local grapes such as Lison. From Abruzzo, mainly using the Montepulciano grape, very good wines by Villa Reale. The rosé Cerasuolo 15 was the best rosé I tasted in the salon, the red Montepulcianos from simplest to more complex were all delicious. From Sicily the Frappato and Cerasuolo di Vittoria made by Feudo di Santa Tresa were lovely wines.

The Chablis wines of Domaine Bernard Defaix were lovely. The Premier Cru wines in particular were lovely, fresh, dry and truly reflecting their vineyard such as Vaillons 14 and Côtes de Lechet 14 with varying degrees of mineral, saline and fruit characteristics.

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Most surprising wine of the salon was from Greece, I liked the Giannikos wines generally but my heart sank when I saw a Viognier, surely Greece would be too warm for this grape which often becomes flabby and heavy? Yet they have made a delicious dry, fresh wine with apricotty, citrus flavours. They harvested on July 25th last year, to capture the freshness of the grapes. Their new sweet wine was also lovely and fresh.

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It was a very good salon. I will undoubtedly have overlooked many excellent wines due to the size of the event but I tasted some fantastic wines, notably those mentioned above. I reiterate my praise for Austria, the Rhone and Alsace and I believe you will find that the various offline events offer further support to the wines of these exciting vineyards.

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With Denis Jamain of Chateau de Reuilly, very good wines


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Case of 2015 – white wines

 

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After my everyday case it is time to select my case of wines representing my favourite wines tasted (and drunk) in 2015. It has been a fantastic year for me, I love my life in the Languedoc and the opportunity to spend time alongside someone I consider to be a truly great winemaker and, I am fortunate to say, my friend. Through various tastings, meals and purchases I have also been fortunate to discover many top class wines. So here is my final selection of twelve. I have omitted Jeff’s wines as that will form the next article and they would fill much of this case. It should also be said that my choice would probably vary day to day, I was torn between a number of great wines.

The Languedoc Roussillon is perhaps best known for its red wines and yet looking through my notes it was often white wines which excited me most in 2015. Indeed I will start with two wines from the region.

Mas Gabriel, Clos Des Papillons 2013. No surprises here, this also featured in my everyday case. It has been a favourite wine of mine for many years, I love the Carignan Blanc grape with its freshness and white fruits and Peter and Deborah Core have mastered a wine which brings out its best. Every vintage from 2010 to 2014 tasted at the Domaine’s tenth anniversary dinner was excellent but the 2013 stole the show for me.

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The 5% Viognier adds a little mystery but it is the Carignan Blanc which gives the fruitiness, freshness and longevity. The reds of Mas Gabriel are lovely too but this remains my favourite and I’m also looking forward to the development of the new white wine Champ Des Bleuets. It is not just loyalty which earns Clos Des Papillons its place here though, the wine genuinely thrills me no matter how often I drink it. It claims first place ahead of another exciting Carignan Blanc from Caux, Lune Blanche of the Conte De Floris.

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Clos Du Rouge Gorge, Sisyphe 2014. Cyril Fhal produces great red wines especially his Carignans in Latour De France in the Roussillon. However, this year it was his white wine Sisyphe which really captured me. Grenache Gris is the cépage behind most of my favourite wines in the region and this wine adds a clean, fruity yet racy edge. A wine you could drink alone or with food and one which leaps out as something special from the first sniff to the last sip.

Domaine Montesquiou, Terre De France 2014. I could probably include every wine made by Montesquiou, so high is the quality of this Jurancon domaine. It was a thrill to visit Fabrice and Sébastien in Monein and to tour the vineyards and cellars, I had long been a great fan of their wines. The excitement and enjoyment found in the wines is so obviously a reflection of the land and the family, the brothers are passionate about their vines and restless in seeking to make their wines even better. The raciness of the dry wines, the skilful use of oak, the tightrope balance of the sweet wines, every bottle offers a treat. I chose this wine as it walks that fine tightrope with lime, lemon and white fruits just offset by a trace of sweetness. Masterful.

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With Olivier Humbrecht

Zind Humbrecht, Clos Windsbuhl Riesling 2011. I love Riesling, I love Alsace wines. Most of my favourite Rieslings are from the Mosel, others from Australia but this wine blew me away, apt on a day when gales were threatening the tent where the tasting took place near Montpellier for Biodyvin. I had tasted some Zind Humbrecht wines before and enjoyed them but this was one of those moments when the lightbulb lit above my head. Classic fresh aromas, so clean tasting and those flavours of fruit with a thrilling edge of acidity and, yes I know it makes no sense, minerality. There really is a texture and saltiness which reminds me of minerals. It is a very young wine, it will age for decades I would think but it is already packed with so much complexity and pleasure. It is everything I would ever want from a white wine.

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Domaine Huët, Clos Du Bourg Demi-Sec 2005. At the same tasting as the Zind Humbrecht I tasted this beauty. I admit to some bias as Vouvray was my first wine village visited in France and long a favourite. The sweeter style moelleux which I tasted that day were excellent, a 2008 Haut Lieu for example but I love the demi-sec style which balances the dry appley side of Chenin Blanc with its capacity to produce a sweet side with hints of honey balancing the zestiness. This Clos Du Bourg was so deep and complex and so long lasting, it was like tasting several different wines in one glass. This will again age for a long time, I’d imagine it will develop more sweetness but right now I love this balance of dry and sweet. I often resist the big names of a region but this Huët just stood out as an example of great winemaking.

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Pierre De Sisyphe of Joe Jefferies

Other dry white wines close to selection included Pierre De Sisyphe 2014 from Bories Jefferies (again from Caux!), the Greco 2013 from Giardino (Campania, Italy), Casa Pardet’s Chardonnay 2013 (Costers del Segre, Spain), Loin D’Oeil 2014 from De Brin (Gaillac) and a lovely Chenin Blanc from Testalonga (Swartland, Soith Africa), tasted on a beach in Marseillan, called El Bandito but no vintage noted whilst there I’m afraid.

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I’m including Champagne Franck Pascal Quintessence 2004. Long, yeasty, rich but with a great freshness which cleansed the palate and left me wanting more. Yet another biodynamic producer, I loved all the wines I tasted but this vintage champagne with its Pinot Noir dominance had the extra complexity and depth which marks great wine of any type. The 2005 was almost as good but this 2004 was extra clean and long. I tasted a lot of very good champagnes this year, Barbichon, Leclerc Briant, Drappier, Lassaigne being some, but Quintessence was special.

So, six white wines which have given me great pleasure in 2015. Next the reds.