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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Les Affranchis 2017

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Two of the main salons of the year take place in Montpellier in January, Les Affranchis and Le Vin De Mes Amis. Both are based around natural producers though there are other producers present who follow organic or biodynamic methods but who do use SO2 in their wines.

Les Affranchis (The Liberated) meet at Chateau de Flaugergues, happily this year the event was back in the main rooms of the domaine rather than the marquees of 2016. The Sunday was relatively quiet and it made it easy to get around and talk to the producers as well as taste their wines. Though some were familiar, Jeff Coutelou and Olivier Lemasson for example, there was plenty of opportunity to meet producers whose wines were new to me.

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A familiar range

Rather than a bottle by bottle description here are my highlights from Les Affranchis:

La Busattina (Tuscany) – completely new to me but what an impression. The white San Martino was lovely and came in two forms, the traditional and the longer maceration which I actually preferred with cleaner, direct fruit and acidity though both versions were very good. Legnotorto 2012 was a Sangiovese of real cherry fruit and impressive length, and the Ciliegiolo 2008 was even better showing the value of aging these wines with truffle, cherry and round flavours. It was pleasing to hear other friends also praise these wines, the real highlight of the day.

Kumpf et Meyer (Alsace) – I am a fan of Alsace wines but this was a new domaine to me and quickly became a favourite. Julien Albertus presented an excellent range from a lovely fresh PetNat, top still wines and a delicious sweeter wine. Favourites were a Crémant of Chardonnay and Auxerrois plus a Pinot Noir Weingarten 2014 of lovely fruit and depth. I never thought an Alsace Pinot Noir and Crémant would be highlights of any tasting so these were a lovely surprise. Best of all though was the Riesling Westerberg 2014, classic Riesling flavours with a freshness and drinkability all too rare. I shall be looking out for Julien’s wines in future.

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Binner et Cie, Les Vins Pirouettes (Alsace) – yes Alsace again. This is a range of wines where Christian Binner has enabled young producers to move away from the co-ops and bottle their own wines. There was one producer, Stéphane, whose wines shone here. His Tutti Fruti, a blend, was lovely classic Alsace wines but the single cépage Riesling Bildstoeckle, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer were all just lovely, marked by freshness, fruit and flavour. The Riesling was top class and Gewurz is a grape I find difficult but was delicious. Prices are very affordable too.

More familiar wines which again proved worthy of a place at the top table came from:

  • La Ferme Saint Martin (Rhone), a long term favourite of mine and this time it was the Beaumes De Venise Vieilles Vignes 2015 and the delicious Le Blanc 15 which took the prize
  • La Sénéchalière (Muscadet), proving how the region has really moved on and is producing top fruity wines of distinction. Favourite cuvées were the well named Miss Terre 16 and, especially, the longer macerated Nuitage 15.
  • Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme (Touraine), more lovely, fresh Loire white wines from all across the river’s length. Lovely Melon De Bourgogne 16, round apple and pear fruits made from grapes bought from the Landon family. Very nice Pouilly Fumé 15 of real minerality and clean fruit and lots of other good cuvées too.
  • Boulard (Champagne), lovely wines, champagnes of real freshness and length. Les Murgiers was my favourite cuvée and came in two forms, non-dosage and 5mg dosage. Both had their merits though the former had clearer floral notes and a zesty finish.

Other wines I really enjoyed were:

  • Les Roches Sèches (Anjou) – Pentes Douces with a lovely, dry fruit and a well-judged touch of sweetness from Chenin Blanc
  • Tetramythos (Greece) – Muscat Sec 15, fresh and grapey
  • La Paonnerie (Anjou) – Les Champs Jumeaux 15, a lovely Chenin Blanc, clean, fresh and mineral; Loire white wine at its best

 

  • Rémi Dufaître (Beaujolais) – Côte De Brouilly 16, darker fruit and lovely Gamay, joyful
  • Chateau Meylet (Saint Ėmilion) – the 2010 showed the benefits of age for this lovely wine. I had forgotten how good Bordeaux wines can be and this has freshness and very deep fruits. The other vintages were good but this was lovely.

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An excellent event, relaxed atmosphere, great producers and not too crowded. I missed out on some other top producers as always at any tasting, however the wines above and many more made for a lovely day. Surprises in the form of enjoying Crémant and St Émilion, variety from Greece and Italy, favourites from previous years – liberating.

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