March seemed like a long month in lockdown though, after three months, the end of the month saw a family reunion in my sister’s garden. Together with beautiful Spring flowers in the garden that brought some optimism at last. Sadly, the news from France was not so good as they enter another lockdown to fight a third wave of COVID. Jeff keeps me up to date with what’s going on and his niece Flora has sent some lovely photos, I shall share both in the next week or so.
Let’s start with Jeff Coutelou and, after that opening paragraph, Flower Power 2015. This was, of I recall correctly, the first Flower Power made from the field plantation of Font D’Oulette with added grapes such as Castets from Peilhan. The wine received high praise in La Revue Des Vins De France magazine back in 2016. It was lovely, the 5-6 years of age bringing it to its apogee with fruit and complexity and lingering flavours of plums and blackberries. The tannins and acidity have softened nicely, a lovely bottle. Flambadou 2015 was also at its peak, classic Carignan notes with red fruit and then darker notes coming through. This is consistently one of the best wines from Puimisson and the 2015 is a fine example.
L’Ostal “Plein Chant” has a connection with Coutelou too even though it is a Cahors through and through. There is no vintage clearly marked but it is a 2016. I have recounted how I first met Louis Pérot at La Remise in Arles where he was one of the new producers. I fell in love with his wines, praised them to the high heavens enough that he was able to get some listed in good restaurants. Jeff was also taken by the wines and the strict natural approach of Louis and Charlotte. They became friends and Louis has visited us many times. This pure Malbec (known as Cot locally) has deep berry flavours, the power of Cahors and benefits from decanting in softening out the tannins a little. I loved the wines back in 2016 and I still do.
Brigitte Chevalier of Domaine Cébène in Faugeres has become a renowned producer, praised widely in wine circles for the purity of her fruit and excellent work in the vineyard. I bought her wines from Leon Stolarski long before moving to the region and whilst there met Brigitte on a number of occasions including visits to her vineyards and cellar many times. These are precise, structured wines expressing the schist soils beautifully. Les Bancels 2016 is Syrah and Grenache and a classic example of why the Languedoc. and Faugeres in particular, is my favourite wine region. Fruit, depth, tannins, pleasure.
If you ever needed an example of how wine has changed during my lifetime then the Rieffel Pinot Noir Nature 2018 is it. I first started visiting Alsace 35 years ago or so and Pinot Noirs were largely thin, acidic and fairly undrinkable. Maybe I just didn’t find good examples but at several tastings I left shaking my head even from some famous producers. Nowadays I love Alsace Pinots in general, they have fresh fruit, usually red fruit flavours, they are softer and just enjoyable. I’d rather drink an Alsace Pinot such as this very good example of the grape, region and producer than most Burgundies of similar price. Very enjoyable. Climate change? Better vineyard and cellar management? Winemaking improvements? Probably a combination of all, but heartily recommended.
Morgon 2018 from celebrated producer Jean Foillard was the wine we shared when my family met up again on the 30th. Morgon in Beaujolais is traditionally the most serious of the ten crus producing more structured wines than the typical regional light, juicy wines. This is usually attributed to the schist soils marked by red iron oxide and manganese, most famously on the Mont du Py. This wine is certainly in that tradition, probably opened a year or two early. The Gamay fruit is masked at first by the power though comes through, more ageing should release it sooner in the glass. Foillard is one of the natural pioneers of the region and a source of benchmark wines.
Finally, to balance out this post with a second I have added Franz Weninger’s Ponzichter 2018. Weninger is Austrian but his father bought some vines in Hungary when communism ended and this bottle is made from those vines. A blend of Pinot Noir and Zweigelt this was a lighter style with very enjoyable red fruit showing through and soft tannins to balance it and add a little depth. Very enjoyable and well made.
T.S. Eliot believed it was the cruellest month but my selection of April wines proved to be generous and pleasing. Here are my thoughts, including my early front runner for wine of the year.
My first real wine tasting was in a small village in the Rhine Valley called Bacharach, in 1982 I think. It is therefore a doffing of my proverbial wine hat to open a bottle from that village. Toni Jost is one of the biggest producers there, this 2009 Kabinett was a classic Riesling, dry with a nice streak of acidity but a sweet fruit finish. I do love German Riesling, my fondness steming from that first experience 37 years ago of how diverse wine could be. In truth this was fairly routine wine, nice enough without being noteworthy. The nostalgia quotient is my only reason for its inclusion here.
Compare that to the 2016 Bourgogne from Fanny Sabre. I often forget how good Burgundy can thrill the tastebuds like very few other regions. There is a reason why prices have gone through the roof and my hopes of tasting Romanée-Conti have sailed off into a horizon never to be reached. My brother in law was amazed that this was natural, it was a pure Chardonnay, classic buttery and hazelnut flavours and, quite simply, very satisfying. This is a basic regional wine, nothing special about the vineyards or terroir, yet it was very well made and I am on the hunt for more of the Sabre wines.
Catherine Riss is another winemaker attracting attention in recent years, this time in the Alsace region. This 2016 Riesling De Grès Ou De Force was a bright, zesty, joyful wine. Catherine’s vineyards are spread around northern Alsace including Nothalten home to Patrick Meyer (and another of my early holiday bases). Made from vines on sandstone (grès) it delivers pleasure and has a serious side too from the acidity, a winning combination. Last time I was in Nothalten talking to Patrick Meyer he praised Catherine Riss and bemoaned that there were not more young winemakers starting out in the region because of the high price of land. On this evidence his faith is being well repaid. I’d choose this every time over the Jost. Great labels too.
By contrast the wines of Jean Foillard are well established, he is one of natural wine’s pioneers and greats, one of the major factors in the renaissance of Beaujolais as one the world’s greatest wine regions. This 2014 Morgon epitomises those points. Foillard wines imprive over several years in my experience and this was at a peak. Delicious Gamay fruit supported by fine acidity and light tannins. This is classic Beaujolais made naturally as it used to be generations ago. Classic wine.
Two other great red wines need to be saluted on here. Louis and Charlotte Pérot make wines in Cahors and (disclaimer) are personal friends whom I admire greatly. I first met them in 2015 at La Remise in Arles, one of their first big wine tasting events and, proudly, I was one of the first to praise them. Understandably they have received many plaudits since and their wines get better and better as their vineyards respond to their care. The labels change annually based on book prints, a reminder of their previous work in Paris. L’Ostal is able to make Cahors’ Malbec (or Côt) into approachable, fruity, delicious wine but with the typical backbone and structure of that region. I love these wines, this was another April success.
Sylvain Bock’s wines from the Ardèche are one of my ‘go to’ picks for enjoyment and reliability. Neck is pure Grenache, ripe but with a serious side. I have seen reports that this 2016 was the best vintage of this cuvee and I can believe it because, like all the wines I have lauded in here, there is a combination of pleasure and reflection. By that I mean, there is a serious side which makes you look closely at the wine, and think about its making not just drink it unthinkingly. Lovely bottle.
The pleasures which April wines showered upon me were greatest from one bottle however. La Paonnerie is based in the Coteaux D’Ancenis in the western Loire. The Carrogets work naturally and I have enjoyed their wines in the past. However, the 2017 Vegyes was on another level for me. Golden in colour I was convinced that there must be extended skin contact but no. The colour is the result of vines over 100 years old which provide Chenin Blanc of great purity. The vineyards have been organic since 1997, the wines are made without anything added. The result was complex. Quince flavours certainly, other fruits too but with texture and classic Loire Chenin acidity. This was a great bottle of wine.
I have spent most of the last 25 months living in the Languedoc and as that period draws to an end I have begun to feel naturalised: my French has started to adopt a local accent such as ‘veng’ for ‘vin’; I tut at anybody and everybody; I rush for a jumper if the temperature dips below 20°C; I even went to a rugby match!
We are searching for a house to move more definitively to the area, it is where I feel happy, healthy and home. Sadly, when I look back across the Channel I see little to make me feel at home there. Brexit has seen a fall in the £ of more than 20% in less than four months. There has been a startling increase in racist and homophobic attacks. The government (with an unelected Prime Minister) is hell bent on going it alone, prepared to do without the EU single market even if it means damaging the economy. Companies such as Nissan have warned they will leave the UK if that is the case yet the government ploughs on determinedly. The 48% who voted to Remain in the EU are ignored, reviled and, today, told that they should be silenced.
Mrs. May told her Party, “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.”
Worrying times. Is it any wonder that I, proud to be a citizen of the world, feel more naturalised here in the Hérault? Though Robert Ménard, the far right mayor of Béziers, is doing his best to out do May’s government by opposing the housing of immigrants relocated from Calais to the town. He sanctioned this poster for example:
As for wine?
After a few tranquil months natural wine has again become the focus of attacks and disparaging remarks by those who seem threatened by it.
In France, Michel Bettane, elder statesman of wine critics, accused natural wine drinkers of being ‘peu democratique’ in their words and ways. No great surprise from a man whose connections make him part of the wine establishment.
In the UK one of the most respected and established of wine merchants, The Wine Society, published this statement from one of their senior buyers.
“Prone to spoilage, high proportion not particularly pleasant to drink, rarely demonstrate varietal character or sense of place.” A damning list. And I am a member of this co-operative group!
Again I feel alienated from mainstream opinion. Sykes is talking complete rubbish and dismisses great wines and talented winemakers with generalisations and prejudice.
I don’t always agree with Alice Feiring, one of natural wine’s more celebrated advocates. However, in a recent article she stated that she cannot support faulty winemaking and those who seem to favour it as an expression of their anti-establishment credentials. I agree. Wine must be drinkable, must be pleasurable, must, above all, be interesting. I could name dozens of natural wine producers who make great wine, it just happens to be natural wine. Are Barral, Foillard, Métras, Coutelou, Occhipinti, Radikon, Ganévat etc making wines as Bettane or Sykes describe?
Tasting Casa Pardet in 2015, a moment when wine stops you in your tracks and makes you say, wow
I have tasted many natural wines which sing of their cépage and origins, wines from France, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Australia. They tell a tale of their producer and their terroir. They are interesting, some stop you in your tracks and make you reflect on their beauty. Rather those than the very many dull, monotonous wines which taste the same as everybody else’s from Otago to Oregon.
I do enjoy conventional wines, I really like some of them. However, I often find more excitement and interest in the many, well-made natural wines.
Long live freedom of movement, long live the Languedoc and long live great wine.
I am becoming naturalised.
Mas Coutelou Roberta 2003, fresh as a daisy in 2016. Take note Mr. Sykes
Whilst making a brief return to the UK I noticed that The Real Wine Fair was taking place in London, a showcase for organic, biodynamic and natural producers. Thus, I endured a 5.30am start to the day to travel down to London, returning home at 11pm – but it was worth the long day. Above all it was an opportunity to taste outside of my usual wine list of France, wines were on show from all around the world. My plan, therefore, was to taste from these other places to give myself a better context and understanding of wines.
I liked the set up where producers were set out across the rooms by country and region. It allowed easy movement and planning, the catalogue was well set out and there were good food stalls available too from the likes of Ottolenghi and Galvin. The seminars were another good feature, I’d have loved to hear Alice Feiring or Jamie Goode on the Sunday but it was a real pleasure to listen to Wink Lorch speaking on the Jura.
Wink Lorch with Kenjiro Kagami and Julien Maréchal
So these were the wines I enjoyed the most, as ever it was impossible to get round all of the producers I would have liked to visit.
Mouthes Le Bihan, Cotes de Duras Les Apprentis 2010 Merlot 60% with Cab Franc, Malbec and Cab Sauv – rich cassis nose and blackberry fruit. Nice whites especially 100% Semillon Pérette et les Noisetiers 14
Roc Des Anges,Maury Blanc Terres de Fagayra 14 (GrGris/GrBl/Macc) dense fresh, a lovely style of vin doux naturel – I liked this white version a lot
Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet (Hervé Souhaut), whole range good especially the 2014 VdP Ardèche wines Roussanne/Viognier and Syrah and the 2 2014 St Josephs, Cessieux and Saint-Epine with great depth yet balanced and fresh
Foillard, Morgon Classique and Cote De Py both 14s both classic Beaujolais, the latter very concentrated
Lapierre, Raisins Gaulois, VdF 2015 – lovely fruit, simple style but extraordinary freshness and flavour from this top Beaujolais domaine
De Moor, Chablis Vendangeur Masqué 14, lovely zesty but round finish with long, dry finish
Derain, St Aubin Blanc ‘En Vesvau’ 14, concentrated, fresh, long and round
Buisson, St Romain Blanc especially the 13 (no so2) and the Meursault ‘Marguerite’ 14 with lovely aromas and fruit and good use of oak
Domaine de la Borde, Arbois. 2014 Chardonnay ‘Caillot’ lovely, 14 Savagnin lively, zesty but yellow fruit and balance, 15 Ploussard Les Charmines looked to be older but very good soft red fruits
Domaine Des Miroirs (Kagami), Chardonnay Sonorité du Vent 13 – terrific, textured, light golden colour with fresh nutty white fruits
Alexandre Bain – all wines especially ‘Pierre Precieuse’ with 30% botrytised fruit yet still dry with roundness and length
Proseccos from Casa Coste Plane di Loris Follador and Casa Belfi especially latter
Princic, older wines, they do need time eg 11 Vino Bianco Trebez (PinotGrigio/Chard/SauvBl) 8 days on skins showed long, stone fruit flavours
Vodopivec, 12 Carso Vitovska Anfore with textured pure fruit, 12 Vitovska Solo MM12 over 6 months skins, 2.5 years in foudre – orange colour lovely minerality, almost liquorice
La Stoppa, Reds best, eg Trebbilo Rosso 14 with fresh cherry acidity and best of all the intense red fruits, long maceration and years in foudre of the 07 Macchiona (possibly my favourite wine of the day)
COS, 14 Rami Bianco zesty and golden, 14 Cerasuolo deep, dark red fruits with lovely acid and best of all 14 Nero di Lupo, darker still, raspberry and cherry
Occhipinti, favourite of the Italian producers; SP 68 Rosso 2015, bright vibrant fruit and colour, tremendous Frappato 14 rounder than COS with red fruits, almost menthol freshness, lovely
Forja del Salnes, Rias Baxas – brilliant wines from old vines Albarino, 13 Leirana Finca Genoveva great concentration and depth (100 year old vines) yet still zesty, 2011 Golliardo A Telleira (60 year old vines at highe altitude) concentration, rich flavours but still clean. Red 13 Bastion de la Luna Tinto (Caino, Espadeiro and Loureiro grapes) – pure red fruits.
Celler Batlliu de Sort, Costers del Segre – reds a bit woody but lovely 13 Biu Riesling pure slatey Riesling, almost piercing citrus freshness
Thörle, excellent range, the dry Rieslings were all good especially Saulheimer Kalkstein 14 and impressive Schlossberg 14 (slate dry mineral). The Kabinett Riesling 15 was gorgeous, green apple with 56g of residual sugar. Spätburgunders too especially Kalkstein 14 and the single parcels 13 Probstey and 13 Holle with good concentration and depth.
I said hello to Messrs. Tscheppe and Muster but did not taste due to time pressures as I had tasted their wines in Montpellier at Les Affranchis. They remain top of the class for me.
Warnung, 2013 Skin Contact Grüner Veltliner and 13 Riesling Berg especially the latter with spicy freshness. Nice Portuguieser Feldspiel 13 with round fruit and 13 Etsdorf Blauer Zweigelt, a rosé wine with citrus freshness and white fruit flavours.
Schnabel, Morillon 14, a golden Chardonnay, mineral / texture and long nutty flavours, good Pinot Noir Hochegg 14 classic Pinot Noir
Okro’s Wines, Rkatsiteli 14 more rounded than some of the other whites, tighter, Rkatsiteli Pet Nat 15 also very good appley fruit
Bitarishvili, 14 Iago with skin contact was actually fruitier than the non contact version, a little reduced but nice
Mandidli, 2015 Mandili Mtsvane grape, fruitier and rounder than other examples of this grape elsewhere, fruity, balanced
Revasashvili, 15 Chinuri clear pear / apple fresh and textured.
Testalonga, lovely range. El Bandito skin contact 15, lovely Chenin Blanc, apple fruit and clean. Sweet Cheeks 15, Muscat d’Alexandrie skin contact, dry, fruity clean (impressive for a grape which can become very blousy). Dark Side Syrah 15, spicy, coloured. El Bandito, Mangaliza apple and pear with lovely balance. Keep On Punching 15 Baby Bandito, Chenin, stainless steel dry, fresh clean apples. Baby Bandito Follow Your Dream (Carignan) 15, fresh, spicy light. Very keen on these wines from Craig Hawkins, a good man to talk with too.
Patrick Sullivan, Haggis 15, assemblage of leftover wines but really good fruit
La Garagista, Vermont – Unusual varieties due to climate. Harlots and Ruffians 14 – Frontenac Gris 5 weeks contact but nice and fresh. Frontenac Noir (related to Aramon) in Loups Garoux 14 lovely aromas but a bit foxy and wild.
Kelley Fox, Oregon – Momtazi Pinot Noir 13 with concentration, depth and flavour. Maresh Pinot Noir 13, lighter colour but more fruit and elegance
Clos Saron, California Sierra Mountains– Carte Blanche 14 (Albarino) green, zesty fruity. Blue Cheer 14 nice blend with Cinsault lifting the Carignan to a lighter feel, spicy. Heart Of Stone Syrah 09, truffley, good deep and balanced. Stone Soup Syrah 12, fresh, tannic but good fruit
Ambyth, California Paso Robles – nice whites especially Grenache Blanc 13 but best was Venustas 11, (Tempranillo/Sangiovese) lovely balance of fruit and spice, complex and long
Overall impressions. Well it was good to see how the world of wine is being influenced by organic, biodynamic and natural ideas. Whatever your thoughts about these influences they are making winemakers think about the way they produce wines. Interesting to see how producers as far afield as Oregon and Georgia, South Africa and Wales have embraced similar ideas and thinking, encouraged by events such as this no doubt.
There were some negatives for me. Skin contact is fine and clearly very fashionable for white wines. However, there were a lot of clumsy wines made in this style with overlong maceration or over extraction. They ended up tasting harsh and lacked fruit or freshness.I know some people like that, but not for me. Other producers did long maceration but kept fruit, freshness and balance. Maybe it is a learning process but I had really heard enough about skin contact wines by the end of the day. There were also some reductive wines, others with brett and mousiness. However, these were few in number in a Fair where I tasted over 300 wines.
There were many interesting wines, there were many very pleasing wines, and some excellent wines. I particularly loved the ranges from Occhipinti, Testalonga, Thörle, Clos Saron, Alexandre Bain and Romaneaux-Destezet. My top half dozen wines were:
Three of the offline events around Millésime Bio feature natural wine producers alongside others who are biodynamic. Indeed this includes two of the most attended of the offlines, Le Vin De Mes Amis and Les Affranchis. Last year 1,100 people attended the former and judging by the queues to get in this year I would think those numbers were at least equalled. Though some people decry natural wines, are suspicious of them and see natural wine as some kind of deception, thousands of others actively seek them out and seem to be convinced by them.
I like many conventional wines, organic wines and biodynamic wines. I have an open mind but I am one of those convinced by natural wines. My time with Jeff Coutelou and visiting other natural producers has led to me taste wines which I genuinely think are thrilling and offer something special. So, I was one of those queuing to get into Domaine Verchant for Vin de Mes Amis and to Les Affranchis as well as a new offline event, Les Vignerons De L’Iréel.
Of course there are some bad wines, naive wines and wines which did not appeal to me. However, there were bad, naive and unappealing wines in the main salon and elsewhere too. So, these are the wines and producers whose wines I did enjoy and heartily recommend.
Held in the Chateau de Flaugergues as last year though this time in a marquee. I have to say it was a little cramped in there and that the provision of only one lunch truck with long queues (for an 8€ cup of risotto!) were not the best conditions for a tasting. Nevertheless there were many good producers present, including Jeff, and the event was a success in my view but could have been so much better.
Once again the highlight was Austria this time supported by Beaujolais. I enjoyed the champagnes of Valerie Frison especially the Pinot dominated Goustan 2012. I always enjoy the wines of Nicolas Carmarans from the unlikely wine region of Aveyron. Using grapes such as Fer Servadou, the Cabernets and Chenin Blanc he produces amazing wines such as Maximus and Mauvais Temps. Talking with James Dunstan, who imports wines in Japan, we agreed that Carmarans is one of the most talented producers, no matter what type of wine.
The Beaujolais producers whose wines I enjoyed were Jean-Claude Lapalu and Romain Zordan.
Lapalu is one of the more famous names in the natural wine world and on this showing I understand why. All the wines on tasting were 2014s and all showed lots of fresh red fruits, were clear and, while enjoyable to drink now, would age well for a few years. These are classic Beaujolais wines, pleasurable but with a serious side to please the brain and palate. The Côte De Brouilly and Beaujolais Villages were lovely, accessible wines, the oak aged Brouilly Fûts and amphora aged Alma Mater were more serious but still pleasurable. Great wines by any standards.
Romain Zordan was a new name to me. The Fleurie and Fleurie Cuvée Spatiale both offered lots of long fruit flavours, the village wine having real character. These were like the Beaujolais wines I grew to love from producers such as Champagnon, yet natural. The Morgons were more serious, restrained wines as is normal and yet there was sweet fruit in both the Vieilles Vignes 14 and the Morgons from 14 and 15. Definitely a name to remember.
Austria was the star though. I enjoyed the wines of Andreas Tscheppe, the labels showing dragon flies and butterflies. Made from grapes such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc they showed character, clear, zesty fruit and good length. the Green Dragon Fly 2014 Sauvignon was my highlight.
Ewald Tscheppe’s Weingut Werlitsch wines were a highlight of the 2015 Affranchis and repeated that success. Again made from various combinations of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc the wines were more natural in character but always with clean, fresh fruit and long flavours. There is a series of wines called Ex Vero (I, II and III) and I (2012) was my favourite with zest and round fruit. III, grown at higher altitude had a real freshness, cleansing yet lingering. The macerated Werlitsch was lovely, with 5 weeks on skins adding texture. I found the Werlitsch II, macerated for 12 months, a little too dried.
Sepp Muster also uses maceration and I really enjoyed those wines, the Grafin 12 for example is Sauvignon Blanc macerated for 3 months, giving the freshness of the grape combined with texture and roundness, truly excellent. Graf Morillon (the local name for Chardonnay) 11 was fermented for 3 years! Fresh pear and apples, pure fruit with a razor sharp freshness behind it. Even the simpler wines such as Sauvignon 2012 were clean and fruity and way above the usual bottles of that type. Sgaminegg 2008, a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon from high slopes showed complexity from aging yet still fresh and long. The reds too were good, plenty of spice, pepper and red fruit – wines such as Rotwein 07 and Zweigelt 11. Muster is a great winemaker, restless in pursuing ways to improve his wines.
Finally, I was eager to taste the wines of Jean Francois and Anne Ganévat from the Jura. I had heard so many good reports of this domaine from trusted sources such as David Crossley. I like Jura wines, I stayed int he region over 20 years ago and was taken by their unique grapes in particular, Poulsard, Trousseau, Savagnin. The region was under a cloud at the time but is now very much at the cutting edge, a centre for natural winemaking. I loved the Chardonnay wines of Ganévat. Le Montceau 14 was like a top Burgundy village wine with well judged oak supporting the lovely fresh, clean fruit. The Chalasses Vieilles Vignes 13 was even more concentrated, a terrific depth of zesty, appley flavours and light oak. The red wines were perhaps eve better. The Gamay wine Le Jaja du Ben 14 clean, red fruit flavours and very long. Madelon 14, also Gamay, was fuller and more structured but already lovely along with the Poulsard wine L’Enfant Terrible 14. Ironically the Savagnin was the only wine which did not hit the mark but Ganévat lived up to expectations, another huge talent.
Les Vignerons de L’Irréel
A new event organised by Ivo Ferreira. I went along to meet up with a number of producers whom I know well and whose wines I like, such as Julien Peyras, Grégory White and François Aubry of Domaine La Fontude. I tasted François’ wines and they were as pleasing as ever. I consider Fontude wines to be seriously underrated, any merchant seeking a consistent, quality range of wines should head straight to Brenas. The Pierre De Lune 14 and Entremonde 13 showed how these wines are serious, complex and well made as well as fruity and enjoyable. The latter was kept back a year for it to straighten out (indication of someone who cares about the wine first and commerce second), I wrote the word ‘lovely’ twice in my notes.
I liked the Mortier Gobin Muscadet 14 from Jo Landron, Soleu 14 from L’Escarida in the Ardèche, ever improving Mas Troqué wine of Christelle Duffours and, from Le Raisin Et L’Ange (also in the Ardèche) the cuvées Fable and Brân, both from tank, the latter very concentrated and fresh. Ivo Ferreira‘s wines were also very good, especially the Escarpolette Rouge 14 a full, round fruity wine with classic Languedoc richness balanced by a nice fresh streak.
One reason for going here was to meet up with my friend Joe Jefferies, an Englishman, long resident in the Languedoc. His Bories Jefferies wines are showing real quality. The white wines Pierre De Sisyphe 14 and La Cabane de Jeanne 14 are both fresh, fruity with clear texture and bite from longer maceration. The Terret grape forms the majority of the former wine and is fast becoming one of my favourites, complex pear and apple flavours. The Carignan dominated Pierre De Sisyphe rouge is also very good, the 2013 more rounded and together than the 14 thanks to the extra year, both very good but promising even better with time.
Fleur Godart and Camille Rivière, former students of Jeff and now selling his wine in Paris and New York respectively, recommended Domaine Séléné, a Beaujolais producer. Their good taste was proved correct again. The Beaujolais and Beaujolais Vieilles Vignes (both 2015) have lovely fruit, structure and freshness and the oak aged Vieilles Vignes 14 was even better with the oak adding sweetness and a little power.
Finally it was good to get to taste again the wines of Vino di Anna from Sicily, which I first tasted two years ago at the Etna Contrade on the island. The Bianco 14 was lovely, a saline, fruity pleasure. Reds such as Palmento and Rosso had lively, cherry, acidic freshness from grapes such as Nerello Mascalese, indeed the latter is pure, whole bunch Mascalese. They are experimenting with qvevri (amphorae) though I was a little unconvinced at what they added so far. I am partial to Etna wines and these are amongst the best.
Le Vin De Mes Amis
And so to the grandest of the offlines. Seventy of the most respected and talented producers in biodynamics and natural wines. Gathered in the 5* Verchant hotel, a grand setting for the natural wine world. Lovely rooms, more space and a very good free lunch! I would happily have spent a couple of days going around every one the producers but time was short and so I had four hours to try to sample from my selected few. Local producers such as Barral and Pelletier I left alone and I followed recommendations from trusted palates such as Céline Burgué who harvested at Mas Coutelou and is a regular visitor.
Domaine Bott Geyl continued the excellent run of Alsace wines I tasted during the week. The introductory level Elements wines are good but the Grand Crus, especially Riesling had real concentration and quality. Schlossberg 12 was classic almost Germanic Riesling, lean, slatey, racy and zesty. The Schoenenbourg 12 was fruitier, rounder Riesling, a lovely demonstration of terroir, the former being from granite soils, the latter marl and limestone. The Pinot Gris Furstentum 11 was concentrated with classic spicy notes but clean and dry. Lovely wines.
On that theme so too were the wines of Albert Mann, a domaine seeking a dry, fresh style which, as you will have gathered by now, is exactly what I like. The various Cuvée Albert wines, entry level for each cépage, showed typical characteristics for the grape but always had a clean, dry edge. This version of Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 14 had texture and a long chewy finish and the Grand Cru Furstentum of Gewürztraminer 14 and Pinot Gris 13 controlled the spiciness and floweriness which can let down wines from other domaines, with that dry edge leaving you want more whilst admiring the complexity. Delicious wines.
To Beaujolais, again. First port of call was Domaine Foillard, genuine star name in the natural movement, wines which apart from one glass in 2014 I had long wanted to taste. And I was not disappointed. These are wines which are living proof that natural wines are classic wines, just made with a different philosophy. The Morgon Corcelette 14 was juicy, fruity with an austere edge and, as with classic Morgon Côte De Py2014, was more concentrated and restrained but with fruit bubbling under the surface waiting to emerge and complete the wine. The Fleurie 13 was more fruity and aromatic, exactly as you might expect. Morgon Trois Quatorze (the number for π) 2013 was wilder, complex and lovely. Great wines.
Christophe Pacalet is another renowned Beaujolais producer. More clean, red fruits with tannins and spice. These were all brut de cuve, straight from tank and not yet bottled but they show that 2015 will be a very good vintage. The Julienas was very good, the Chénas a little tougher, St Amour had more floral aromas and was lighter, less spicy. The Blanc was also very good, all pear and fresh minerality.
Mathieu Lapierre now runs the domaine formerly run by his father Marcel, one of natural wine’s forerunners. These were my favourite Beaujolais wines of the week, as their website says “pure grape wine”. Raisins Gaulois 15 is designed to be drunk young and was ultra juicy red fruit, classic simple Beaujolais, completely addictive. Morgon 15 was a little wild because of being brut de cuve but was full, fruity with a core of soft tannins and texture. Beaujolais 14 is a deceptively simple name for a complex wine, balancing clean fruit and a dry edge. I can’t do these justice, they were lovely, lovely wines. Good, informative website too.
I have praised Rhone wines in the previous articles and there were more to enjoy here. Domaine Charvin‘s Chateauneuf du Pape wines 12 and 13 were old fashioned in some senses. Big flavours, quite a light structure but packing power, fruit and tannins. Elegant and needing time. James Dunstan imports these wines to Japan and I was happy to taste them alongside him and his wife.
Tasting with James
Domaine des Entrefaux of Charles and François Tardy is based in the Crozes Hermitage wine area and those Crozes wines are delicious. The basic Crozes Hermitage 14 is round and fruity Syrah supported by ripe tannins , elegance in a bottle. Other cuvées such as Les Pends 14 and Les Machonnières 13 were more complex but always fresh with fruit and power. I actually liked the basic cuvée most but these were all very good, though the white wine I liked less.
Maxime Magnon makes wines in the Corbières, a region I believe to be emerging as one of the Languedoc’s best. Jeff is a fan of Magnon’s wines so I wanted to try them. The rosé Métisse 15 is light but elegant and full flavoured, the white La Bégou 15 had lots of white fruits supported by a gentle acidity. Best of the three was Campagnes 14, 95% Carignan, dark, plummy and spicy with a clean finish. As with the Beaujolais wines I described above Magnon’s wine was further evidence that natural producers are making classic regional wines though bolstered by their philosophy and freshness.
One last producer to mention. When I visited the Jurancon region last autumn I was unaware of Domaine Larredya. My loss. The dry La Part Davant 14 was zingy, zesty with a round yellow fruit note, similar to the great dry wines of Domaine Montesquieu. The moelleux Costat Darrèr 14 was balanced with sweetness and acidity and the even sweeter Au Capcèu 14 had honey with a zesty freshness on the finish, really top class wine. Further evidence for me that Jurancon is a great wine region.
I could go on but these were my highlights. There were other producers I would like to have visited but didn’t get to and there were also some disappointments, including some big names. If you want to know about them then feel free to contact me. I want to remain positive and this was a very positive event. Le vin de mes amis? Definitely.
So, three long posts about Millésime Bio and its satellite events. A thoroughly enjoyable four days with some great wines. Lessons? I genuinely do believe that organic, especially biodynamic wines, have a real freshness and vitality which appeals to me. I am pleased to see organic wine’s progress in the vineyard and in the market place.
Highlights? Pittnauer, Moser, Stentz, Kreydenweiss in Alsace and Rhone, Lombard, Coulet, Ganévat, Lapierre, Foillard.
Plus the social side of meeting up with familiar and new faces whose company, kind words and advice I enjoyed immensely.