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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.