amarchinthevines

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


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My wines of 2017

Sparkling

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.

White

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.

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Red

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.

 


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Naturally RAW

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.

Azienda Vitivinicola Selve (RAW link)

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.

A great discovery for me, salve Selve!

Uva De Vida (RAW link)

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 Castilla cuvée 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.

Alexander Koppitsch (RAW link)

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.

Rennersistas (RAW link)

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.

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Champagne Laurent Bénard (RAW link)

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.

Domaine Alexandre Bain (RAW link)

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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 2015 with its clean fruit and , yes, minerality. I do think he is a winemaker at the top level.

La Maison Romane (RAW link)

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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 2015 of great depth, all spice, red fruits but plenty of ripe tannins too.

Mas D’ Alezon (RAW link)

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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.

 

 

 


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Off notes

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Before and during the salon of Millésime Bio I attended six offline events. They are proliferating, probably too many of them in all honesty. Yet during those six events I tasted some of the best wines of the whole week, just as I did at the offs last year. So, I am torn – are the offs good for Millésime Bio?

Well, they do distract and take away attention from the growth of organics and the benefits of organic viticulture as well as the very good wines in the salon itself, some of which I described in the last article. Would I have tasted more good wines in the salon if I hadn’t attended the offs?

On the other hand, I’d be less tempted to go along to the whole event and spend four days in Montpellier if it were not for the offs and the chance to taste wines not to be found in the main salon. Last year wines from the likes of Huët and Zind-Humbrecht were major attractions for me. This year there were a lot of natural producers especially whose wines I wanted to try. The offs create a buzz around the main event, drawing people to it. It can stand the opposition, producers such as Kreydenweiss (père et fils!) and Pittnauer were at least the equal of anything tasted at the offs.

As there were so many events and so many good wines I have decided to split the report on them in two parts. In the next article I shall deal with those centred more around the natural movement. So here I shall be describing Outsiders, Carignan vs Grenache and Biotop.

Outsiders

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Jon Bowen (right) talking to photographer Ken Payton

Louise Hurren does a great job in promoting the Outsiders group of vignerons, producers in the Languedoc-Roussillon who originated outside the region. Held at La Panacée on the eve of the salon this was very well organised in a bright, modern space with excellent food served as a bonus. I am a fan of many of the producers in the group, some of whom I think of as friends. I have described the wines of Turner Pageot and Cébène many times in these pages. Both are sources of outstanding wines. Manu Pageot was in discomfort having cracked some ribs but it was good to catch up with him. Brigitte Chevalier’s wines were well on form across the whole range, Bancels 13 was especially good here.

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It was especially pleasing to see present Simon and Sara from Mas Sibert as guest producers. I first wrote about Mas Sibert last February and hope that I have helped to spread their name a little in the following year. They now have a UK importer and higher profile and I couldn’t be more pleased. The wines have a freshness and depth of fruit which is rare. New planting of white grapes (as ever unusual cépages) will widen the range and I can’t wait. I would drink these wines happily every day. Incidentally, their rosé, Saramon (mainly Sangiovese!), is amongst the very best in the Languedoc.

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Talking to Simon in animated form

I also enjoyed the Pouilly Fumé wines of guest Jonathan Pabiot. They are classic wines from the appellation but with extra steeliness and minerality. I have had the good fortune to visit the domaine in the past and recommend them heartily. Especially good were the Pouilly Fumé 15 and the excellent Aubaine 14 grapes selected from special parcels, matured in gentle oak, more concentration and white fruit flavours.

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Finally, Domaine Modat in the Roussillon produces very good wines. Lucioles 14, the white wine from mainly Grenache Gris was lovely, fresh and fruity with a little texture. Comme Avant and Le Plus Joli 11 were rich, spicy and clean from classic Roussillon grapes varieties. Great website too.

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Hats off to Louise for such a well run event.

Bataille Carignan – Grenache

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I like the idea of this, pitting two great cépages against each other. The venue was good, Salle Pétrarque, a 14thC building with beautiful vaulting. However, truth be told I didn’t really enjoy the event. The room was packed, it was hard to get around the tables, there was (very) loud hip-hop music playing some of the time which made it hard to talk. It was also difficult to taste the red wines, most came across as heavy and tannic. I was not alone in thinking so from the conversations I had.

I went mainly to meet up with my friend Jonathan Hesford of Domaine Treloar in the Roussillon. You will have to trust me that when I say his wines were amongst the best that evening that I am not saying so out of loyalty. Le Maudit is the Treloar Carignan dominated wine and was spicy, fresh and very good. Jonathan also had his One Block Grenache on tasting, a proper interpretation of the event’s title.

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Another which came out well from the evening was Domaine Sainte Croix, coincidentally one of the Outsiders producers. Jon and Elizabeth Bowen produce very good wines in the Corbières, I have enjoyed them many times. Tonight the Carignan was very good, cherry fruits and spice. Star of the night though was La Part Des Anges, a late harvest Carignan with deep fig, coffee and chocolate notes. Lovely, a little sweetness matched by freshness on the finish.

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Incidentally, I met Jon during the main salon as he visited various other stands to taste, his search for wider wine experience clearly promotes his winemaking knowledge. This was also true of Jonathan Hesford who went to the salon simply to taste. It wa she who tipped me off to go and taste Pittnauer wines, one of my stars of the show. I am sure many vignerons do the same but it seemed no coincidence that their wines emerge so well when I see them learning elsewhere, always seeking to improve their understanding.

The other wine I enjoyed at the event was from Mas des Capitelles. A Faugères wine this was 95% Carignan with a touch of Mourvèdre and it was delicious, lots of fruit and spice and very drinkable. I shall look out for Capitelles in the future.

Biotop

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The Phare, home of Biotop

Fifty vignerons gathered in the lighthouse at Palavas. Organised by Isabelle Jomain, Biotop was one of my favourite events in 2015 and no doubt it will be one of my highlights this year. Once again time caught up with me and I was unable to get to the tables of many vignerons I would have liked to visit. My friend, sommelier Sandra Martinez from La Table 2 De Julien near Uzès, accompanied me round some of the tables and it was good to learn from her expertise. Incidentally for a different account of Biotop have a look at the blog of Michel Smith.

Highlights included the champagnes of Fleury and Franck Pascal. Michel was underwhelmed by Fleury but I enjoyed the range, especially the Pinot Noir dominated wines Nature and Bolène 05 both marked by round, fresh fruit and the latter, more expensive of course, having real depth and gravity. The Sonates Nº9 was especially good, delicate fruit, fresh, long. Pinot Noir 100% and no added sulphur. Sorry Michel, I enjoyed these wines.

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Franck Pascal’s champagnes were an eye opener for me last year, I selected the cuvée Quintessence as my favourite sparkling wine tasted last year. Not surprisingly it was once again a favourite here, beautifully aromatic from the Pinot domination (Noir and Meunier) this was fuller than the Fleury wines, still structured and yet fresh and fruity. This was the 2005 rather than 04 but the quality is undiminished. I also loved the Sérénité 2010, sulphur free Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, dry, clean with lingering delicate fruits. The price tag of 120€ is a bit of an issue however.

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From champagne to dessert wine. Domaine Juchepie‘s Coteaux Du Layon wines are just lovely. The dry wine is good but it with moelleux and liquoureux wines that they shine brightest. The word ‘lovely’ reappears through my tasting notes for every wine. The 2011 and 2014 moelleuxs have a light touch whilst being rich, mouth filling pleasure. Take a wine like Quintessence 05 (yes the same name as the champagne above). Yields of 5-10 hectolitres per hectare are miniscule, the grapes hand picked with great care and vinified with enough acidity (pH 3.84) to cut through the 223 grammes of residual sugar. In other words it is a sticky, sweet, explosion of flavours with a refreshing finish. And those flavours go on and on, stunning.

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Saskia van der Horst is another familiar name on this site with her Domaine Les Arabesques. I tasted her wines first at Labande de Latour in November 2014 and they have been favourites ever since. Yet even within the last year those wines have improved in quality and, as the work in the vines done by Saskia and her partner bears fruit, they will continue to improve. The refreshing white Elianon 14 is good but the reds are the stars. The pure Syrah Lou Pal 14 had lovely raspberry notes; Champs d’Andrillou 13 (Grenache and Carignan) plummy and spicy; Les Arabesques 100% Grenache with rich tannins and chocolate flavours. All very good wines. Saskia is 8 months pregnant, I wish all concerned well and congratulate them on their wines and personal futures.

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Old photo of Saskia’s wines

And so to the Rhone Valley. One of my wines of the year for 2015 was Cornas Brise Cailloux of Domaine Coulet made by Matthieu Barret. It was Sandra Martinez who introduced me to it. So, I was delighted when Matthieu was present at Biotop and was rewarded by the range of his wines. The structured, fresh and elegant Crozes Hermitage 2014 was very good, the 2013 Brise Cailloux spicy, aromatic and fresh (every bit as good as the 2012), the Cornas Billes Noires was darker, spicier with fresh, dusty tannins. Even simple wines like the Mourvèdre 15 were elegant. Matthieu is a very skilled winemaker, these were top wines by any standard. Thanks Sandra.

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I was unfamiliar with the Brézème region south of Valence though I must have driven through it many times. I can only say that the wines of Domaine Lombard will make me stop off in future. Julien and Emmanuelle Montagnon are making superb wines. From the dry, textured Viognier 14 to the top of the Brézème range Eugène de Monicault 13 every cuvée was clear, full of character and a pleasure to taste. Marked by fruit and freshness they reflect their terroir and the Syrah in particular is classic Rhone Valley, as good as it gets. Whether whole bunch fermented such as Grand Chêne 14 or made from old vines like that top cuvée they are wines to please the palate and the brain. I would imagine their Hermitage wines are very special. I really loved these wines, thanks again to Sandra for introducing me to them.

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From the Yapp Brothers website, Lombard’s UK importer

So many great wines, so many domaines which deserve more space and time devoted to them. And there were other lovely wines too. And that is why the offs are a valued part of the whole Millésime Bio experience. They are separate but I feel they add more choice and more experience of good wines.