amarchinthevines

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


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Fraternité – Vendanges 17

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Version francaise

Last Monday (September 11th) we were joined at Mas Coutelou by winemakers Charlotte and Louis Pérot and of their friends. You might recall that their Cahors domaine L’Ostal is one which has appeared on these pages before. I first met Louis in spring 2015 at La Remise in Arles where I was taken by his wines and was eager to spread the word of how good they were. Happily Jeff agreed with my judgement and a friendship grew between the winemakers.

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Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Sadly the spring of 2017 brought 3 nights of frost to the vines of L’Ostal damaging the young growth and buds, up to 80% of the vines were damaged meaning huge losses on the year. Jeff decided to help out and offered the Pérots the opportunity to come to Puimisson and take some Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to ensure they had more wine. I hasten to add that this was a gift, free of any charge, offered simply to help out a colleague and friend. I have heard of similar stories for other winemakers affected but it was humbling to see this fraternity in action for myself.

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Heading home

Louis and Charlotte picked around 60 cases and drove them back to Puy L’Evêque where I am sure they will make another very good wine. We actually opened one of their magnums the following day at lunch, and very good it was too. If you thought Cahors wines are too difficult I urge you to try and find one from L’Ostal, it will change your mind.

In a year when Jeff himself will lose up to 40% of his average production he showed no hesitation in helping out someone who was in a worse situation than himself. A mark of the man.


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Young, gifted and natural

In March and April I was able to visit a number of wine tastings with the emphasis on natural wines, in Bédarieux, Arles and London. The latter, Real Wine Fair, I wrote about recently and also featured organic and biodynamic wines. One of the features of all three events, upon reflection, was the rise of a number of talented younger vignerons. Now, that should be no surprise, there have always been a number of young vignerons attached to the natural wine scene. Indeed there is a youthful core to the crowds who attend though, again noticeable, the age profile of attendees this year seemed to me to be much higher.

The buzz around natural wines has certainly created interest in the whole world of wine and been an entry point to many younger people who like the ideas and principles of many vignerons who seek to make wine with as little intervention as possible in the vineyard and cellar. It has struck a chord with many. As natural wines have become more widespread, vignerons more experienced in making wines without a safety net then their appeal has broadened. Many wine enthusiasts were put off by the (in my view false) reputation that natural wines were often faulty and wrong. I do believe that winemaking has improved and that consumers have more confidence in the wines, hence the arrival of a broader cross section of clients. As an older wine enthusiast myself I welcome the fact that I am, usually, not the oldest person in the room.

 

In the three salons there were many familiar faces, vignerons whose wines I have tasted, drunk and bought many times. Others whose wines are not for me. I shall return to these people in the next article. Many moons ago I likened the natural wine movement to punk rock in that it was creating an alternative scene and would introduce change on the whole industry. Just as punk was followed by a new wave of music, artists such as Joy Division, Talking Heads, Blondie and Elvis Costello who were influenced by punk but channelled its energy in a different way, I believe that there is a new wave of younger winemakers in the natural movement who are building on the work of the pioneers, the punk winemakers. Some for better, some for worse.

Here are some of those winemakers from the salons whom I would heartily recommend as vignerons to follow, whose wines I would gladly drink.

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Thomas Rouanet from the St Chinian area I met at Bédarieux and enjoyed his wines especially the pure Carignan of ‘Le Voltigeur’ 14 with lovely fruit and freshness. I look forward to trying more from him.

Bastien Baillet has a 2ha domaine called La Bancale in the Fenouillèdes area of Roussillon. I gather he has been working with Jean Louis Tribouley, a very good producer himself of course. I very much enjoyed his ‘En Carême’ a Carignan based wine with plenty of red fruits and a nice balanced finish.

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La Cave Des Nomades is also in Roussillon but this time in one of my favourite French towns, Banyuls sur Mer. Run by a young Portuguese and Polish couple their wines were without any question one of the big hits of La Remise. I tasted them on the Sunday and by the evening word was out just how good they were. On Monday I saw a number of prominent cavistes at the stand. With only 3ha their wines will run out quickly I am sure. José and Paulina’s domaine is part of the excellent 9 Caves project in Banyuls. A lovely range including an excellent vin doux naturel, my favourites were a very deep, balanced and fresh Grenache Noir 15 and a beautiful Grenache Gris 15 called ‘Les Rhizomes des Sorcières’, real depth of fruit with a delicious, clean finish. Fascinating labels too, one of my favourite range of wines this year.

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John Almansa runs Zou Mai in the Gard. He has worked with the excellent Philippe Pibarot and so, like Bastien Baillet above, he has learned about winemaking from a good teacher. Surely this must be a huge help. His first wine is a Cinsault and it was a very drinkable, fruity wine with a clean finish.

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Julie Brosselin used to work with another domaine in Montpeyroux but has now struck out on her own. A number of people told me to go taste her wines, including excellent judges such as sommelier Sandra Martinez, and I am glad that they did so. Her white wine ‘Mata Hari’ was good and also the unusual combination of Cinsault and Mourvèdre in ‘Queue de Comète, full of juicy fruit. As a new domaine these were both 2015s and will improve still further.

Thierry Alexandre has been working with Les Miquettes in the Ardèche and has now produced wines of his own from just 1ha of vines. His Pet Sec (Marsanne/Roussanne) 15 was one of the best PetNats on offer at La Remise, fresh pears, clean and round. He showed the 14 and 15 St Joseph and they were both good, the 14 more rounded of course but both with good fruit and a round but clear finish, classic Syrah.

Most links I can find to Samuel Boulay say he is a Loire producer but the address given at La Remise was for Ardèche. A good Viognier/Marsanne was deliciously fresh and a Grenache / Merlot blend was very good, lots of round fruits and a fresh aftertaste.

Most of these winemakers were in a group of young producers invited by La Remise, an idea which I find encouraging and supportive. More salons should follow. From last year’s group a number returned as part of the main salon in 2016.

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Firstly, Christelle Duffours of Mas Troqué, whose wines from Aspiran in the Languedoc are really starting to express themselves very well, improving all the time. Equally so Joe Jefferies of Bories Jefferies in Caux whose wines sell out quickly. I know Joe and so declare a partisanship, but I can honestly say that his white Pierre De Sisyphe (mostly Terret) is one of the best natural white wines I know. The reds are very good too.

One other domaine from that group in 2015 was L’Ostal from near Cahors. I wrote about them then and again after Labande De Latour in November. It was great to hear from Louis and Charlotte Pérot that they are doing well and that a 3* Michelin restaurant has taken their wine. I am not surprised. They are extremely talented winemakers as well as lovely people. Their wines are very drinkable, even young, and yet retain the spine of Malbec and Cahors which is traditionally a tough wine. Wines such as ‘Anselme’ and ‘Zamble’ are of high quality but there is always a refreshing lick of acidity which makes them so good to drink.

On my return from Arles I was talking to Jeff Coutelou about the wines I had tasted and he told me that he was very impressed by L’Ostal and that it is rare to find such talented winemakers as Louis and Charlotte. That was good to hear, as it meant I wasn’t mistaken in my praise for them but in particular it was good for the Pérots.

These are all skilled winemakers, I would happily drink their wines anytime. I do hope that I don’t patronise them by calling them young winemakers as though that makes them lesser producers. With more experience they will surely be looking to improve their wines still further and in their hands the future of natural wine looks healthy and successful.

 


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Latour De France

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                    Portes ouvertes, well most

Latour not Le Tour. It is a village in the Pyrénées-Orientales with an unusual profile in terms of winemaking as nearly all the vignerons make natural wine. La Bande de Latour is their open day and it was such a fun event last year that we decided to return again, the date was in the diary for a long time.

Unbelievably the event took place on the only bad day’s weather in the last 3 weeks, low cloud, mist and dampness prevailed though the event was far from spoiled and more than compensated for the weather. The vignerons of Latour invite others from around the Languedoc Roussillon and further afield, but there is a common bond of natural wine. In recent weeks there has been much discussion in the world of wine about whether natural wines should be certificated and what direction the wines should take. I intend to address these issues in the next articles but it was a good opportunity to see what lessons could be learned at such a gathering of producers.

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The first thing to say is that there were wines which did not appeal and which seemed a little lacking. I believe that natural wines are moving on and that with more experience of not using sulphites, for example, winemakers are learning how to tackle the process of making clean, fresh and healthy wines with a minimum of faults despite not having the safety net of additives, interventionist winemaking etc. However, there were some winemakers present who, in my view, are either new to the approach, haven’t learned or have not moved on. I won’t name names here but would share my thoughts if anyone wants to get in touch.

However, I felt that the majority of wines were of at least good quality, with fruit, freshness, balance and complexity – all that you would want from any wine but certainly the features which make natural wines appeal to me. There were wines which really were top class and I put my money where my mouth is by buying some.

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Top of the podium was undoubtedly Cyril Fhal of Clos Rouge Gorge. His vineyards are high in the hills, gobelet and exposed to the elements. Cyril is a master of Carignan and his wines are relatively expensive though not by comparison with the likes of Burgundy or Bordeaux, and his wines do bear comparison with top class wines. The Carignan was very good indeed, long, fresh, deep and balanced. However, it was the Blanc, made from Maccabeu which really captured my imagination, one of the best wines I have tasted in 2015. It starts zesty and fresh and then the oak adds a little roundness, coating the mouth with spicy notes but always clean and refreshing. Beautiful wine, brilliant winemaking. I happily bought both wines.

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                                     Outstanding

Other top performers from the village included Domaines Rivaton, Mathouans and Trbouley.

Frédéric Rivaton presented a very good white wine, Blanc Bec 2014 which was full flavoured, fresh and balanced the Carignan Blanc, Grenache Gris and Maccabeu beautifully. The rosé was mainly Grenache and the best of his wines today, lovely aromatics of red fruits matched by full, almost textured, flavours. Very good. I liked the red Gribouille too, showing a lot of depth and complexity. I liked Rivaton wines when I have tasted them before but they seemed to be much more complex and interesting today, more purchases.

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I don’t remember tasting Domaine Mathouans wines before, I certainly have no notes, and that is my loss. These wines were very well made with lots of fruit but also much more complexity behind the fruit. Light tasting but structured, easy to drink but with real depth and interest. The orange wine Mine De Rien 2014 made from Muscat Petits Grains had lovely muscat aromatics (plus a little reduction which disappeared in glass), but was dry, clean and not overly concentrated as some orange wines can be. Fresh and clean, very well made. Assureté is a blend of red grapes which are complanted in the vineyard and vinified together. Full, fruity and very good – my question is why on earth did I not buy some? My mistake. And again with Le Bon, Le Brut et Le Carignan which was aromatic, red fruits with deeper black fruits behinid, very complex but always fresh and balanced. Aline Hock is clearly a very talented winemaker, I intend to find out more about the domaine.

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Renaud of Domaine Mathouans, a convincing advocate for the wines

Jean-Louis Tribouley‘s wines have always appealed to me. Today we only tasted the red wines, which was a shame as I love his Grenache Gris. They were all good wines, however, I have to single out Mani 2012 made from young vine Grenache, Syrah and Carignan which was sweet, ripe and very good. Another I wish I had bought.

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My other favourite wines came from outside the area.

I was taken by the wines of Domaine Hausherr when I met them in Montpellier in January. Despite their long journey to Latour the wines were equally good today. Hausherr like to express their vineyards rather than single varieties as most Alsace producers do. Therefore, wines such as Altengarten are a blend, in this case Riesling and Gewurztraminer. They are wines with full, ripe aromatics hinting at sweetness but in fact they are very dry and expressive, really delicious. La Colline Celeste 2012 was my favourite of the dry wines and I also really liked Roc Et Porcelaine 2011 which was made from the same vineyard but with more residual sugar kept to add a touch of sweetness. Sungass 2003 was also very interesting, the hot summer of 12 years ago but the wine was fresh and dry, pure Riesling with petrolly notes.

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                    Talking to Heidi Hausherr

L’Ostal is in Cahors, a small and youthful domaine run by Louis Pérot. The Malbec grape can be tough and often needs aging but Louis has made different styles of wine using, for example, carbonic maceration. There is still a classic Cahors, Plein Chant (2013 bigger than 2014) but I really enjoyed Anselme 2014 which was full, rich but velvety and very good. Similarly Le Tour (not Latour) was bigger than many of the wines but retained a freshness and fruit character. I was happy to buy both of these and enjoyed the other wines too. Particular thanks to Louis who replaced a bottle I broke on the way out, my fault and he didn’t need to, it was much appreciated.

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I’d also like to add Axel Prufer of Temps Des Cerises to my recommendations. The Chardonnay Peur De Rouge 2013 was very good, this is a wine which is coming into its own and Axel confirmed it needs a year or two to do so. His red Fou du Roi 13 was also very good but the Chardonnay was a real treat.

So a great day, lots of music, choices of food (including vegetarian!) and a good atmosphere despite the gloomy weather.  There were my favourite wines, there were others too from Domaine Sabbat and the very promising new domaine of La Bancale.

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Enjoyed talking to Bastien Baillet of La Bancale, a domaine to watch

I do think natural wines are moving on and improving still further and La Bande de Latour provided me with plenty of evidence to support me. As I said I shall be coming back to the whole natural wine debate soon.

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