I really like Champagne and whilst I had some good examples this year nothing stood out especially. Two sparkling wines made an impression however. I have enjoyed a number of PetNats but my favourite of the year was Les Vignes de Babass Brutal 17, made by Sébastien Dervieux in the natural wine hotspot of Anjou. Part of the pleasure of sparkling wine is sharing it and the circumstance in which it is consumed and this admittedly benefitted from being drunk at a vendanges lunch. I loved the fresh citrus flavours and a richness from the Chenin Blanc. Cleansing yet satisfying.
When I first moved to the Languedoc Crémant De Limoux wines always seemed to disappoint me. I discovered the very good sparkling Limoux wines of Monsieur S a few years ago and they changed my opinion of the are and this more favourable impression was confirmed by Gilles Azam’s Les Hautes Terres Crémant De LimouxJosephine. Lighter than the Babass with fresh citrus flavours this was a really successful wine.
Again the Crémant wine benefitted from being drunk between those of us who worked together with Jeff Coutelou in the vendanges.
A trip to the Douro in February was one of the year’s highlights and I tasted a number of lovely Port wines. A very good lunch at Graham’s lodge in Porto culminated in a splendid tasting of old tawny ports including this splendid 6l bottle of the 20 year old tawny. High in the hills of the Douro valley I was able to taste a magnificent Quinta do Beijo 1963 white port which was liquid gold, incredibly rich and fresh.
A real contestant for my wine of the year was from the magnificent Cota 45 range. These are sherries made without being fortified and I was unsure whether to include them in the white wine selection or in this post. They are made from Palomino grapes and aged in barrel and taste like a sherry but without fortification they are lighter and fresher and incredibly long. This is a traditional method of making sherry which has all but disappeared. I loved them, bought some and continue to love them. Agostado Palo Cortado 2016 was my favourite but it could be any of them.
However, even this magnificent bottle was surpassed by another wine shared at a vendanges lunch. My friend Steeve brought along a bottle of Michel Gahier’s Vin Jaune 2010 from his native Jura. It was truly amazing. Every drop had a fresh salinity to balance the rich oxidised notes. Golden in the glass, mouth filling with amazing complexity which grew on the palate for a long time. We were all stunned into silence as we drank it. When Jeff is blown away by a wine you know it is something special. A very special bottle, one I will remember vividly for a long time.
This weekend I head down to London for RAW and will have lots of wine to report back so I thought I should mention some wines I have enjoyed over the last few weeks before they were forgotten amidst all those RAW discoveries.
Let’s start with my birthday which I spent in the company of family and friends, it doesn’t get better than that. A number of bottles were opened of course. Let’s start with the Coutelou wines, how could I celebrate without Jeff? The Blanc 2016 is a blend of many white grapes such as Maccabeu, Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Muscat which were aged in barrel for a year. That oak age gives a richness which is different to many of the previous Blanc/PM wines. There’s an unctuousness rather than a taste of wood but the wine remains clean and satisfying. Lovely.
The magnum of Flower Power 2015, a blend of Syrah with the Flower Power (Font D’Oulette) vineyard of so many varieties. Still youthful and fresh with bright red fruits there is also a growing power and complexity. The other bottles will be kept for a few years. And no celebration of mine would be complete without La Vigne Haute. This was 2017, turning into an exceptional vintage. The Syrah is generous with red fruit but has a streak of fine tannin and a firm edge still, hard to resist now but with discipline I shall keep some bottles for the future. My desert island wine.
Along with those gems other bottles went down well too, there were many of us! Jordi Llorens’ Blankafiorti 17 is a blend of Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in the Tarragona region. A definite sense of Spanish warmth with a richness but plenty of fresh dark and red fruits, however, maybe one to keep for a couple more years to be at its best. Valette Macon Villages 15 is a lovely wine, a lovely example of Chardonnay with a citric edge to the Chardonnay richness, well balanced and delicious. Tollot Beaut’s 2006 Chorey les Beaune was classic Burgundy, the age adding smoky, vegetal notes to good Pinot fruit.
Other wines on other occasions. Testalonga wines from South Africa are becoming a firm favourite with me as mentioned on here recently. Stay Brave 18 is a Chenin Blanc matured on skins for 11 days, a relatively light maceration, giving a golden colour and very fine texture but plenty of fruit and pleasure. This made a real impression on me, a wine I will remember for a long time. La Bufarella 17 from La Salada comes from further along the coast from Tarragona towards Barcelona in the Penedes region. The Xarel.Lo grape has good acidity (it’s the main Cava grape) so stands up well to the 6 months maceration here. Much more orange in colour than Stay Brave and with more complexity and tannin. Also from Xarel.Lo was the Clot De Les Soleres 15, light, fresh with a touch of sparkle, a good aperitif wine.
Red wines included Andrea Calek’s À Toi Nous, a lovely blend of Grenache and Syrah from the Ardeche. Rich fruit but plenty of freshness, this is one of my favourite domaines in France, the labels aren’t bad too. Domaine La Marfée Della Francesca 2007 comes from near Montpellier. The age has allowed the 80% Mourvèdre to develop plummy, leathery notes, the Syrah adding more direct fruit still. Certainly its age has made this biodynamic wine more complex, this was my wife’s favourite wine of recent weeks. By contrast the 2018 50-50 Gamay – Pinot Noir blend from the Auvergne producer Domaine Miolanne, Volcane Rouge, was light and fresh. The Gamay dominates, this is very like a young Beaujolais and the Pinot adds a little richness. I liked this a lot, a food wine for sure. La Paonnerie is in the Ancenis area of the Loire. Jacques and Agnès Carroget plant various crops such as oats and clover amongst the vines to add nitrogen to the soils amongst many other organic, environmentally sound practices. Simplement Gamay 16 is very enjoyable on a drinkability level but there is some complexity in the bottle with sharp raspberry fruit.
Different altogether was one of my favourite sherry wines, the Palo Cortado Cayetano Del Pino which offers the freshness of a manzanilla with the complex nutty notes of an amontillado. It is a great wine, I’d sneak some onto that desert island with La Vigne Haute.
There have been a couple of duds along the way but the last few weeks have provided some excellent wines, I hope you have enjoyed sharing my thoughts. On to RAW and more new wines.
I read an article recently by renowned wine writer Eric Asimov in the New York Times in which he outlined the twelve wines he would always want to have around, his everyday case of wine. As I read it I naturally began to consider which wines I would include in such a case.
Issues to consider included the balance of red and white, sweet and fortified as well as sparkling wines. I could make a case just from the Languedoc, even from Mas Coutelou alone. In the end I went for a balance of wines. As an everyday case I have chosen still wine over £15 (€20) and sparkling / fortified wine less than £25 (€33).
I decided on a balance of white and red together with one example each of sparkling wine, sherry, port and sweet wine.
I have to start with Riesling, my ultimate white grape. I like Alsace examples a great deal but nothing surpasses the Mosel for me and the Kabinett / Spätlese styles in particular. JJ Prum or Bürklin Wolff Kabinetts would fit the bill nicely, easily within the price bracket, I shall go with the former.
The last few years have given me a great love of Jurancon dry white wines, heightened by a recent visit. In particular Domaine Montesquiou strike me as amongst the great white wines of the world. The balance of fruit, acidity, hint of sweetness enriched by the lightest oak influence is just my thing. I loved the new Vin De France and L’Estela is a favourite (unoaked) but will stick with Cuvade Préciouse for that extra complexity of oak.
Vouvray was the first wine village I visited in France and remains a favourite for its mix of dryness and hints of sweetness in the demi-sec style. The Loire is a centre of natural winemaking and I shall opt for Vincent Carême’s Vouvray Le Clos, though not all his his cuvées are sulfite free . Champalou would be an alternative.
I would love to include a white Burgundy but price makes it difficult, I was close to choosing a Grenache Gris from Roussillon. Instead I shall opt for Mas Gabriel’s Clos Des Papillons. A firm favourite for many years I was fortunate enough to attend the 10th anniversary dinner of the Domaine this summer and to taste through a number of brilliant vintages of this superb Carignan Blanc and it is a wine which gives me so much pleasure and a reminder of how great the Languedoc can be.
Red wines and the choice becomes even harder. I have to include a Languedoc – Roussillon wine because I love it and there is no better value for quality wine. How to choose? There are so many wins I love but how could I not include a Mas Coutelou? A week without one is too long so there has to be one in my everyday case. Vin Des Amis was the wine which hooked me, Copains and Flambadou would be amongst my favourites. La Vigne Haute and its pure Syrah with drinkability and complexity combined is the choice though. If I had to choose one bottle to drink for a final meal this would be it and yet I can fit it into this everyday price bracket, great.
I love lighter structured red wines and I would definitely want one in the case. Beaujolais is a favourite but my preferences are, sadly, above the price bracket. Just fitting it however, my choice would be a Sicilian Frappato from the excellent producer COS. I really fell for this on a trip to the island in 2014 and its fruit, complexity yet light touch fits the bill perfectly.
My favourite red wine grape is Pinot Noir. I was lucky enough to visit Burgundy when prices were high but not stratospheric. I soon learned that one memorable bottle would be followed by a number of disappointments but that one bottle was so good that it made me keep searching for more, very addictive. No New World Pinot can match Burgundy though there are some very good ones. But at less than €20? Well there are good Bourgogne Rouges available and villages such as Fixin offer better prices but even they push that limit. One producer whose wines I really like is Guillot-Broux in the Maconnais. The wines are much more serious than you’d expect from that area, equal to many Côte D’Or producers. I notice the Macon Pierreclos is £15.95 with the excellent Leon Stolarski so maybe he will do a discount for a bulk order. Cheat? Probably, but I have to include a Burgundy.
Other than Sicily my choices have been all from France and I want to remind myself that good wine comes from around the world. Te Mata Coleraine was the first new world red to really make me realise how good it could be but the price has risen way too high. Australian reds were a staple for so many years though I find so many too heavy these days, especially in this price range, much as I love some Penfolds, Wakefield and Tim Adams. Spain is a source of good value wines though I find too many overoaked. Casa Pardet (Costers del Segre) was a great discovery this year but too expensive for this. Instead I have opted for another Italian wine, Le Carline Refosco which is sulphite free and has great freshness and fruit, a great food wine. And a reminder of how unusual cépages have been a great interest for me this year.
Daniele explaining his Carline wines
Sparkling wine means champagne to me. I love some Pet Nats such as that of Vincent Carême, I appreciate some crémants and sparkling wines such as the Nyetimber I tasted recently but nothing quite matches Champagne for quality. I have always liked Roederer and nothing has been better than Charles Heidsieck in recent years but they are too pricey for this case. Barbichon, Lassaigne and Franck Pascal are all producers which pleased me through the year and I could buy wines from all three in France for under €30 so I shall opt for the Quatre Cépages of Barbichon, with its Pinot character adding some extra weight.
Sherry is a must, nothing beats its variety from the clean dry fino or manzanilla to the intense sweetness of pedro xinenez. I am a fan of them all but a Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado really caught my attention this month with a real balance of dryness with a touch of sweetness and great complexity. Like many sherries it is great value too.
Port is another wonderful wine style and I love its variety, from tawny to vintage. At this price I would choose Late Bottled Vintage and probably Niepoort just above Warres, it is more in a vintage style, not quite so rich.
Finally, a sweet wine. The Jurancons of Montesquiou and Nigri were a delight, great wines from Huet too. Natural sweet wines from De Brin and Clos Mathélisse would fit the bill too but in the end one range of sweet wines stood out this year and they were the Coteaux Du Layon from Juchepie and I would select Les Quarts for the case.
At a push I would merge the port and sweet wine choice and opt for another red wine but I would be very happy with my case. Feedback and your own selections would be very welcome.