I was fortunate to taste many excellent sparkling wines this year. Excellent PetNats such as Éxilé from Domaine Jousset in the Loire, Jeff’s Bibonade rosé and the excellent Restons Nature from Kumpf et Meyer in Alsace. However, I have to admit that champagne always comes out as my favourite sparkling wine. From Boulard, Pascal, Jacquesson and others I was able to appreciate some lovely wines.
Top of my class this year though was Jacques Lassaigne, who I was very happy to meet at Chai Christine Cannac in Bédarieux. His vintage 2008 was sheer delight, a top class champagne with freshness, complexity and sheer pleasure.
So many good white wines this year. The unexpectedly good Georgian amphora wine from Marks and Spencer was a late favourite. Alexandre Bain’s excellent Pouilly Fumés are always a joy, especially Pierre Précieuse 2015, proving that Sauvignon Blanc can be a wine of true quality. Okanagan Crush Pad from Canada was another source of excellent Sauvignon Blanc, Free Form 2015 which had nine months of skin contact. Austria provided many highlights, the wines of the Rennersistas, Koppitsch, Gut Oggau, Meinklang and the brilliant Andreas Tscheppe.
Alsace, however, was the star of the year. I visited the region in May and had the great pleasure to spend time with the inspirational Patrick Meyer and the rising star Julien Albertus. The quality of wines, typicity of grape, freshness and pleasure provided were remarkable. Patrick’s wines astonished me, even many days after opening they were precise, fresh and stunning.
Special mention to the orange wine from Languedoc producers Régis and Christine Pichon of Domaine Ribiera, Orange sur les Canilles a wine which more than any other persuaded me of the benefit of skin contact wines.
From the Languedoc Maxime Magnon’s Métisse 2016 readily springs to mind along with some older vintages of Barral’s Faugères. Olivier Cohen and Mas D’Alezon were other Languedoc producers whose wines I enjoyed.
Italy’s I Mandorli and Azienda Vitivinicola Selve made an impact at RAW in London. I enjoyed the Pinot Noirs from the aforementioned Patrick Meyer and Julien Albertus. This was a year when white wine provided most of the memorable moments however. Highlight of reds will be described in the next post.
Sweet and fortified
A lovely Banyuls Cuvée Méditeranée 2005 from Piétri-Géraud was a highlight but the most memorable was the 1959 Muscat De Frontignan which Jeff opened for me on my birthday. Not often you get to drink a wine from your birth year, especially as the years slip by! It was sticky, sweet and very rich, a real taste of history.
Le Vin De Mes Amis is the biggest of the offline events in Montpellier. It takes place at Domaine De Verchant, a luxurious hotel providing a very good lunch as well as the dozens of producers. Labelled a natural wine event, it actually includes many biodynamic and organic producers who do not make natural wines. There were many good wines available to taste, however, I would admit that, overall, I was slightly underwhelmed this year in comparison to the 2016 event.
There were some very good still wines notably:
Maxime Magnon (Corbières) – Magnon is a producer who Jeff recommended to me a few years ago and though I have had one or two of his wines this was the first occasion I had been able to taste a few together. Every single bottle was very good, white and red. The round white fruits of the Grenache Gris, the deeper Rozeta and Campagnès (all 2015) but especially the Métisse 2016 with delicious light, clear red fruit flavours of Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault. The star of the show.
Christophe Pacalet (Beaujolais) – classic fruity Beaujolais wines but with some complexity especially the Julienas and Moulin À Vent (both 2015), the latter with darker fruit flavours, the former so very drinkable.
Olivier Cohen (Languedoc) – a young producer whose wines were very drinkable, especially the Rond SNoirS made from Syrah and Grenache with lovely round fruit flavours and some depth.
Chateau des Rontets (Pouilly Fuissé) – an organic producer with lovely clear wines, classically Pouilly Fuissé especially the minerally, zesty fruits of Una Tantum 2015 an assemblage from all parcels.
Domaine Vacheron (Sancerre) – one of the first domaines I visited in France many years ago, now a celebrated biodynamic producer of very clean and lovely Sancerre. I liked the range, especially the Guigne Chèvre 2015.
There were a few disappointments along the way I freely admit, including some well-known producers. However, what really made the event fizz was the range of sparkling wines. These are not usually my favourite types of wine at all so to have a number of such bottles amongst my favourites of the week’s tastings was a surprise to me. From Champagne to PetNat and, especially amazing to me, Limoux. Let me explain the latter point first.
I have stayed in Limoux a few times, I have tasted many Blanquettes and Crémants from there. Virtually all have been disappointing, lacking flavour and length. When my friends Benoît and Nicholas told me to try the wines of Monsieur S I was highly sceptical but they were correct and I discovered my favourite wines of the day along with those of Magnon. The white and red still wines were good but it was the sparklers which shone. A vibrant non dosage Blanquette showed lovely white fruit flavours; the Rosé De Saignée with just a little red Pinot Noir fruit and, especially, a delightful green apple Crémant (100% Chardonnay). These were far and away the best Limoux wines I have come across. Well done Étienne Fort, the producer. However, that would not be to give them enough validation, these are top class sparkling wines from any region.
Champagne Jacquesson – very good champagnes with a clarity of fruit and minerality, I really liked them but Cuvée 735 (based on the classic combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) was my favourite with more evolved flavours from the base of 2007 wines.
Champagne Clandestin – biodynamic since 1998 but this was a new range to me and a lovely discovery. This seems to be a group of producers with Vouette et Sorbée as the principal one. There was a depth of fruit and fine mousse and I really enjoyed them all including the non SO2 Saignée De Sorbée 2012. Stars were the cuvées Fidèle, a 2014 of Pinot Noir with round, ripe Pinot Noir fruit and Blanc D’Argile a pure Chardonnay with an amazing (and delicious) rhubarb flavour, very clean and fresh.
Jousset (Montlouis) – Producers of very good still wines but it was the PetNats which were the stars. Mosquito had a very grapey flavour with a nice clean finish. Then two cuvées called Ėxilé, a rosé and a white, both were lovely. The rosé had lovely ripe Gamay fruit and a very dry yeasty freshness. The blanc was even better with vibrant, clean Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc fruit, a wine to simply enjoy.
It was these sparkling wines, along with Magnon’s, which left a lasting impression and would be top of my list to buy. Le Vin De Mes Amis is a great event in a beautiful setting which caters for its attendees with real style.
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.
Cabrières, Corbières and there is also Cabrerolles in the Languedoc, easy to get confused. The Corbières is a hilly, wild area to the west of Narbonne and has long been known for its cheap, big, fruity simple wines. However, I have tasted a number of very good domaine based wines in recent months and visited some too. There seems to be a new wave of producers who are raising quality in the region.
Chief amongst these is Maxime Magnon, a winemaker whose reputation is very high with other winemakers in the region and beyond. Based on just one wine tasted personally I could see why there is a buzz around his name and I hope to taste more soon. Another exciting domaine I got to know through a bottle in the well known O Tonneau restaurant in the seaside village of Peyriac de Mer. Domaine Des 2 Anes is based in that village and I was able to taste ore of their range at Millésime Bio, very exciting too. Natural in style and really well made wines, rich with power and elegance.
Wines of Les 2 Anes, one of my favourite domaines
Le Grand Guilhem, La Baronne and Sainte Croix (gold medal winners at Millésime Bio) are all domaines whose wines excited me at Millésime Bio (see notes here and here) and are worth seeking out.
Another domaine introduced to me by Dominic George at Le Wine Shop in Pezenas is Aonghusa, I have tried 3 of the wines and they are all full, rich and have a hint of spice and of the wild garrigue in the area’s hills. Owned and run by an Irishman, Pat Neville, Aonghusa has quickly become my house wine. I really like the wines so thank you Dominic!
Aonghusa Laval 2012, delicious
Aonghusa’s Bentouly 2012
My final recommendation would be Pech Latt which I visited last October, a remote domaine near Ribaute producing lovely wines including some interesting sweet wines from Grenache. Long standing organic producers Pech Latt is areliable source of good wine.
There are also some good white wines from Les Cascades though I found the reds a little oaky for my taste, other than the entry level which is good. This can be a region difficult to master but there appears to be a group of producers who are succeeding in doing so and improving the profile of the Corbières. For me this is the most improved region in the Languedoc. The sleeping giant is awakening.