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.
As my last article said RAW promotes wine “in a natural state; not treated by manufacturing or other processes.” However, those vignerons who do work to make wine as naturally as possible might argue that wines with SO2 levels over 20mg/l are not truly what they would mean by natural. No doubt Isabelle Legeron would regard measures of one particular substance as not the whole issue about natural wine and she would be correct, especially regarding work in the vineyard. Nonetheless the RAW guide itself listed producers with no added sulphites, those with <35mg/l and the others. Some producers cross these boundaries making some wines with added SO2 especially at bottling whilst other bottles are sulphite free.
My favourite producers who mostly add no SO2 are described below, apologies to those I did not get to. I have included links to the excellent RAW website which has details of all the bottles. Have a look to at David Crossley’s articles, more detailed and descriptive than I can manage.
My favourite wines were those of The Scholium Project as I described last time, some of whose wines are sans sulfites. However, of those producers working wholly without sulphites, top of my list was the Aosta Valley producer Selve.
Since this domaine was taken over by the Nicco family in 1948 they have been making wine naturally, in the early days selling it to local people on tap! Three generations later the wines continue to be made with respect to the terroir and nature. The grape here is Nebbiolo, one I often find difficult to like but here it was stunning, such vibrant, pure wines with structure typical of the grape but also delicious round dark fruits.
The main bottling is Picotendro. The 2012 was deep and complex but very drinkable even now. However, Jean louis also produced a 2012 aged in chestnut wood rather than oak and that was on a higher plateau altogether. Four years in old wood had softened and rounded the wine and added a nutty complexity,. In special years the family produce a cuvée called Pantheon and I tasted the 2003. Certainly there were signs of its 14 years, a brown edge to the colour but the wine was youthful, in good form and full of life ahead. It was simply delicious, balanced and pleased palate and brain. This is the domaine who showed me that their analyses show virtually no sulfites in the wine, less than 2mg/l mostly.
I had planned to taste more Spanish wines at RAW and I must admit I failed to do so. Of the half dozen I did taste Uva De Vida stood out a mile. Based near Toldeo, Carmen López and Luis Ruiz manage their vineyards biodynamically (Demeter certified) and I love their quote from the RAW biography, “The earth does not belong to man, but man belongs to the earth”. That should be the philosophy of every winemaker, indeed everyone.
The wines are made with the Graciano grape. It was the Latitud 40 wines which impressed me so much. The 2012 Crianza had real energy and the 14 months in old oak added spice to a red fruit profile. The Castillacuvée was offered from 2014 and 2015. The 14 was bigger, spicier and had lots of power and depth but always balanced by fruit and life. I actually liked the 15 better, no oak and there was actually even more spice and complexity. Pure, well made wines.
Austrian wines have rapidly become amongst my favourites in the last 2-3 years, producers such as the Tscheppes, Preisinger, Meinklang and Pittnauer have really excited me. The same was true at RAW and this was a new domaine to me. Low intervention, including virtually no use of machine in the vineyard together with no added SO2 is not an easy choice for a young winemaker but Alexander and Maria succeed in producing lovely fresh wines, white and red.
There were numerous cuvées on offer and all were good. My white wine highlights included a skin contact wine which still had plenty of fruit and zest as well as complexity (Welschriesling Maischevergoren 2015), a fascinating, lively field blend of varieties Gemischter Satz Maischevergoren 2013 again made with skin contact and best of all a beautiful Weissburgunder Unfiltriert 2016, loads of grapefruit, melon and long flavours.
My favourite reds were both from the St. Laurent grape, the Unfiltriert 2015 had beautiful clarity and fruit whilst the vat sample 2016 was as good if not better. 2016 was a harsh year for winemakers in Austria with yields well down and this St Laurent is testament to Alexander’s skill. My liking for recent vintages suggests that the wines are improving as the domaine progresses.
Two sisters, Susanne and Stefanie, in the early years of their winemaking and already producing very good wines.My two favourite wines here were both called Waiting For Tom, in tribute to the two men with whom they learned about winemaking, Tom Lubbe and Tom Shobbrook. They clearly were good teachers and students. The rosé 2016 made from Zweigelt was one of the best rosés I have tasted, lovely aromas of fresh red fruits and citrus carried into the taste. Light, refreshing – a perfect rosé wine. The red 2016 combines Pinot Noir with Blaufrankisch and St. Laurent and has so much life, freshness and joy.
Champagnes formed many of the highlights of the January Montpellier tastings and again here at RAW. This domaine works organically (Ecocert) and uses horses to hoe the soils, no dosage, no added sulphites either. The Vibrato 2012 was lovely, slightly yeasty (which is how I like champagne). Refreshing, long flavours and bettered only by the 2013 where the fruit was even more prominent. I’d have these in my cellar every time.
I have sung the praises of this domaine a few tomes on this blog, Alexandre works biodynamically (Ecocert and Demeter) and adds nothing to the grape juice. His pure way of working has got him into trouble with authorities in the past even though these are the purest examples of Pouilly Fumé! All 3 cuvées on offer were excellent, my favourite the Pierre Précieuse 2015with its clean fruit and , yes, minerality. I do think he is a winemaker at the top level.
Oronce De Beler makes wines in Vosne-Romanée but is not a vigneron, he makes his wines from bought in grapes from organically grown sites. He works naturally with little or no SO2. Let’s face it when red Burgundy is made well there are not many better wines, hence the high prices these days. I liked all the wines here they showed good balance of fruit and complexity, promising long life in bottle as well as pleasure now. Favourites were the Fixin Les Clos 2015, tannins bolstering lovely fruit and a top class spicy Vosne-Romanée Aux Réas 2015of great depth, all spice, red fruits but plenty of ripe tannins too.
I admit to some partiality here as I know these wines well, they are amongst my favourite Faugères wines and, if you know this site you will know that Faugères is my favourite Languedoc region. Catherine Roque made wines at Clovallon (now run very well by her daughter) and acquired Mas D’Alezon in 1997. Demeter certified and working sans sulfites has added zest to the wines and the classic Faugères is lovely but the wine which wowed me here was a new one to me. Le Presbytère 2016 has Cinsault and Carignan but also Lledoner Pelut as the major part. I only know of a few domaines working with the grape and, if winemakers drink this bottle, they will be clamouring for the vines. Delicious, drinkable, clean red fruits but with a depth and coffee notes on the finish. One of the wines of the tasting.
I should mention Clot De L’Oum in the Roussillon and Domaine Rapatel in the Gard who also offered some lovely wines. Also special mention to Olivier Cohen whose excellent wines I described here from a previous tasting.
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.