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.
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.
Aimé Stentz (Alsace)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.