amarchinthevines

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


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April, not the cruellest month

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.

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Open Up Your Door

En français

The weekend of Pentecost was spent in the Loire. Christian Venier hosted a Portes Ouvertes at his domaine in Madon, Touraine along with his partner Marie-Julienne.

It was an opportunity for winemakers and friends to get together and there was a lot of fun, food and frolics. Jeff Coutelou and most of his team were present including Michel, Vincent and many of the people who spent time in Puimisson during the vendanges such as Céline, Carole and Karim.

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Michel struts his stuff

I know that Jeff and some others did not get to bed much before 4am on those three mornings. It was also quite amusing to see a lot of French people dancing to ‘Waterloo’ of all songs! Good to know that history is safely in the past. It was easy to make new friends too, as always there is a real energy and friendliness in the natural wine crowd.

The Veniers were great hosts, many thanks to them for their generosity.

To mark the event Christian and Jeff Coutelou made a special cuvée, ‘Devigne Qui Vient Dîner’ (a play on Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner). Gamay and Pinot Noir from Christian assembled with Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault from Jeff and made only in magnums. Very nice too.

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Christian’s wines are a great combination of fruit and complexity with plenty of texture. His La Roche 2011 in magnum was a true highlight of the year’s  wines for me, a great Gamay which I wrote about as Wine Of The Week. I will be coming back to this later in the article.

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A number of winemakers joined the event and having just written an article about how there was a promising new wave of young producers it was good to see my statement supported by yet more up and coming talent.

One of those was a friend from the Languedoc, Sébastien Benoit-Poujad of Domaine de la Banjoulière. Sébastien bottles his wines at Jeff’s cellar and his wines are starting to show real quality, his light, fresh Aramon 15 and, especially, his lovely Carignan 13 were on great form. Sébastien’s partner Tina is also a familiar figure on these pages as she worked at Jeff’s during the 2014 vendanges, that’s where the pair met.

Of the Loire new wave there was:

Noella Morantin whose old vine 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ‘LBL’ was especially good

Benoit Courault, very good reds especially the Grolleau 2014 ‘La Couléé’.

Laurent Saillard, whose wines spoke of their grape and terroir. ‘Scarlett’ (Gamay and Pinot d’Aunis) and the Sauvignon Blanc ‘Lucky You’ 15 were especially good.

Finally there was Cédric Bernard who has worked with Christian and is now venturing out on his own. In an act of incredible support and  generosity Christian has given his La Roche vineyard to Cédric to help him. This is the parcel of Gamay whose 2011 I so enjoyed. What a spirit of sharing and humanity. And the first Gamay from that parcel was lovely, named ‘La Cabane À Marcel’. After the 2011 it was my favourite wine of the weekend and as a bonus it comes in a litre bottle! I look forward to drinking the bottles I bought. I very much liked the Chenin Blanc ‘Brin De Chèvre’ too. If this was Cédric’s debut year as a winemaker he is definitely a talent to watch.

It was interesting to compare notes with Vincent and find out that La Roche and the Gamay of Cédric were his two favourite wines. Every one of these winemakers is someone whose wines I would gladly buy and recommend.

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My friend Vincent

A sad postscript was the news that the April frosts hit La Roche vineyard hard and unfortunately there will be no wine from there this year. The vicissitudes of life as a vigneron, a tough break for a man starting out.

Christian took Jeff and myself out to look at his vineyards on the Sunday morning. His passion for his land and vines was evident. It was interesting to see the vines surrounded by parcels of wheat and other crops such as asparagus which grows well in the more sandy areas of the land. Christian showed us some of the frost damage on his parcels though happily he has not been too badly affected.

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Frost damaged

Ironically a parcel more prone to frost was left untouched this time. He showed a few rows that were touched because they were next to the wheat which created humidity which in turn encouraged the frost. However, the positives shone through and it was a great experience to spend time with Christian.

Finally, it was also good to be left in charge of the Coutelou stand and share wines with the people who wanted to try them out. I even completed some sales. My education continues.

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A lovely weekend, shared with great people in a relaxed and spirited environment. Christian, I hope I’ll be coming to dinner next year too.

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