amarchinthevines

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


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Ode to joy

 

This weekend was Real Wine Fair time in London. I did not attend as I am travelling to France in the next few days and didn’t fancy a long round trip followed by another. I would have loved to attend and taste more great wines from around the world, with an organic, biodynamic and natural core. I have already seen some interesting reports but as so often it was Jamie Goode’s which caught my attention because he touches on one very important aspect of wine tasting – pleasure.

I have attended many tastings over the years and very often they are held in hushed, reverent surroundings. Nothing wrong with that, it is easy to appreciate the wines and concentrate upon their strengths or weaknesses. However when I have attended tastings such as RAW, RWF, La Remise or Les Affranchis there is a much more boisterous atmosphere. People enjoy the wines and are not afraid to show that. There is laughter and pats on the back. As Goode says it must drive some natural wine haters nuts “to see consumers having such fun drinking these natural wines. The future of wine is bright, I reckon.”

He goes on to discuss the term ‘natural’ and how it has become divisive and argues that SO2 levels are a moot point. I don’t wholly buy the last point as I know it matters a great deal to many natural producers and I respect their choices and philosophy. Nonetheless, as I have said many times in these pages, the influence of natural wine on others is now clear.

However, Goode’s point about the sheer pleasure which people take from these wines is what I think deserves repeating. Wine is meant to be enjoyed, the younger crowds at natural wine fairs are not afraid to do just that. Good on them.


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Real? RAW? Just very good

 

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At La Remise

In the last article I wrote about the young up and coming winemakers whose wines I enjoyed at Bédarieux, La Remise and The Real Wine Fair. Whilst this new wave are producing good things there are still many good tunes from the some of the ‘older’ fiddles. As ever there were many vignerons present who have been making natural wines for longer. Many of these began as winemakers on a family domaine and learned about winemaking in conventional form before deciding to go natural. Others have moved into the world of wine with the intention of making natural wine.

Natural wines developed a reputation for faults amongst traditional wine drinkers (especially some journalists). Some of these appraisals were genuine, others a matter of perception. There is no doubt that some wines are faulty, I have tasted them myself. Problems such as mousiness and brett are genuine faults. Other issues can be a matter of taste, eg skin contact.

In contrast, however, I visited a wine fair in Vouvray on Sunday May 15th. It was full of conventional producers, bar one converting to biodynamics. There were many dull wines, often with high sulphur. There were many faulty wines. So, j’accuse les vins conventionels.

Natural wines are, in fact, the way that wines were made for generations, over hundreds of years. The conventional wines of 2016 are the product of more recent methods, of modern science and technology. Going back to the traditional methods involves a leap of faith and requires very healthy grapes if you are to  abjure sulphur dioxide. As the natural wine movement has gained momentum in the last 20 years many of its producers have become more experienced in making wines without the safety net of modern science and technology. Standards are getting higher, the wines ever better. So, here are some that I enjoyed recently.

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With Fred Rivaton

At Bédarieux I was very happy to meet up again with Fred Rivaton from Latour De France (66) who makes many of my favourite wines. Blanc Du Bec and Gribouille, both 2014s, were delicious. In the last few weeks I have selected both as Wine Of The Week, and would do so most weeks when I was fortunate enough to open a bottle. One of the best.

Another of my WOTW selections was the Pinot Blanc 2010 of Gérard Schueller. He was present at Bédarieux too and his 2014 Pinot Blanc and Riesling were both excellent. Next time I visit Alsace he’ll be top of my list of domaines to visit. I bought both of those wines.

Philippe Valette‘s Macon wines were another source of quality, I especially liked his Chaintré 2012, a beautifully clear, zesty and round expression of Chardonnay. As a third generation winemaker, Valette is a fine example of my comments above.

Didier Barral (Domaine Leon Barral) is one of natural wine’s great stars. His wines at Bédarieux were proof of how justified his reputation is. They require time to be at their peak but are pleasurable, profound and priced accordingly but worth it. Barral is a model of biodiversity and philosophical winemaking, a must try. My favourites were the Blanc 14 made mostly from Terret with lovely melon, grapefruit flavours and great length, together with the Faugères 13 of stunning depth.

Nicolas Carmarans is living proof that talent and good winemaking can make very drinkable, quality wines in regions not usually associated with wine. He works in the Aveyron. There is a direct, mineral side to his wines married to fruit and length. Wines such as Selves 14 and Maximus 14 reflect local grape varieties such as Fer Servadou at their best.

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Clos Fantine is a domaine which features regularly in this blog and the 2015 wines which Corinne was showing at La Remise were the best of recent vintages in my opinion. La Lanterne Rouge and Faugères Tradition have pure fruit with structure, complexity and a beautiful expression of the schistous soils of the area.

Philppe Pibarot makes wines in the Gard. As well as encouraging his young assistant John Almansa, Philippe makes first rate wines. I loved both his white wines, Blanc and Clos Domitia 14 with Clairette, Roussanne and Piquepoul and the delicious red fruit freshness of Cante Renard 15 made from Cabernet Sauvignon with Languedoc varieties such as Carignan and Syrah mixed in.

Guy and Thomas Jullien are still young but I have enjoyed their Ferme Saint Martin Rhone wines many times and met them in Arles and London. I especially enjoyed the Ventoux wine Estaillades 14 (Grenache and Counoise) with round, spicy flavours and the Beaumes De Venise Costancia 14 a 50/50 blend of Grenache and Syrah, more structured but balanced with lots of delicious fruit.

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Italian producer Colombaia presented some lovely wines at La Remise, classic Tuscan wines with Sangiovese, Malvese and Colorino grapes. Lovely freshness and fruit were trademarks of the wines and I particularly appreciated their Rosso Toscano 12 from young vines.

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From Galicia in Spain I enjoyed the wines of La Perdida. Perfumed, spicy aromas in their wines, nicely balanced too – signs of good winemaking. The Godello 14 with 20 days maceration on skins was one of the best examples of longer skin contact white wines that I have tasted and the Garnacha (with 30% Mencia) was even better, full of deep spice and dark fruits and very aromatic.

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I could add other names like Yannick Pelletier, Julien Peyras and Alexandre Bain. Good producers all.

And, yes I am biased, there are the excellent wines of Jeff Coutelou. It is interesting to taste Mas Coutelou wines in the context of producers from around France and Europe. They more than hold their own, the 2015 freshness and restraint certainly lifting them to bear comparison with the best of the Rhone, Loire or anywhere.

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Jeff is a 5th generation producer, he learned winemaking skills from his family before branching out into ‘real wine’ production. He has a natural talent of course but he has learned from experience and his wines are improving in quality as a result of that talent and learning about his vines, his soils and his cellar work. And passing it on to the new wave of producers who come to spend time with him.

Terms such as ‘real’, ‘natural’, ‘living’ are often applied to these wines, but don’t get hung up about them. The cuvées and producers I have listed here are just very very good wines and winemakers.

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Young, gifted and natural

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 


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The Real World

RWF

Whilst making a brief return to the UK I noticed that The Real Wine Fair was taking place in London, a showcase for organic, biodynamic and natural producers. Thus, I endured a 5.30am start to the day to travel down to London, returning home at 11pm – but it was worth the long day. Above all it was an opportunity to taste outside of my usual wine list of France, wines were on show from all around the world. My plan, therefore, was to taste from these other places to give myself a better context and understanding of wines.

I liked the set up where producers were set out across the rooms by country and region. It allowed easy movement and planning, the catalogue was well set out and there were good food stalls available too from the likes of Ottolenghi and Galvin. The seminars were another good feature, I’d have loved to hear Alice Feiring or Jamie Goode on the Sunday but it was a real pleasure to listen to Wink Lorch speaking on the Jura.

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Wink Lorch with Kenjiro Kagami and Julien Maréchal

So these were the wines I enjoyed the most, as ever it was impossible to get round all of the producers I would have liked to visit.

France

Mouthes Le Bihan, Cotes de Duras Les Apprentis 2010 Merlot 60% with Cab Franc, Malbec and Cab Sauv – rich cassis nose and blackberry fruit. Nice whites especially 100% Semillon Pérette et les Noisetiers 14

Roc Des Anges, Maury Blanc Terres de Fagayra 14 (GrGris/GrBl/Macc) dense fresh, a lovely style of vin doux naturel – I liked this white version a lot

Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet (Hervé Souhaut), whole range good especially the 2014 VdP Ardèche wines Roussanne/Viognier and Syrah and the 2 2014 St Josephs, Cessieux and Saint-Epine with great depth yet balanced and fresh

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Foillard, Morgon Classique and Cote De Py both 14s both classic Beaujolais, the latter very concentrated

Lapierre, Raisins Gaulois, VdF 2015 – lovely fruit, simple style but extraordinary freshness and flavour from this top Beaujolais domaine

De Moor, Chablis Vendangeur Masqué 14, lovely zesty but round finish with long, dry finish

Derain, St Aubin Blanc ‘En Vesvau’ 14, concentrated, fresh, long and round

Buisson, St Romain Blanc especially the 13 (no so2) and the Meursault ‘Marguerite’ 14 with lovely aromas and fruit and good use of oak

Domaine de la Borde, Arbois. 2014 Chardonnay ‘Caillot’ lovely, 14 Savagnin lively, zesty but yellow fruit and balance, 15 Ploussard Les Charmines looked to be older but very good soft red fruits

Domaine Des Miroirs (Kagami), Chardonnay Sonorité du Vent 13 – terrific, textured, light golden colour with fresh nutty white fruits

Alexandre Bain – all wines especially ‘Pierre Precieuse’ with 30% botrytised fruit yet still dry with roundness and length

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Italy

Proseccos from Casa Coste Plane di Loris Follador and Casa Belfi especially latter

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Princic, older wines, they do need time eg 11 Vino Bianco Trebez (PinotGrigio/Chard/SauvBl) 8 days on skins showed long, stone fruit flavours

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Vodopivec, 12 Carso Vitovska Anfore with textured pure fruit, 12 Vitovska Solo MM12 over 6 months skins, 2.5 years in foudre – orange colour lovely minerality, almost liquorice

La Stoppa, Reds best, eg Trebbilo Rosso 14 with fresh cherry acidity and best of all the intense red fruits, long maceration and years in foudre of the 07 Macchiona (possibly my favourite wine of the day)

COS, 14 Rami Bianco zesty and golden, 14 Cerasuolo deep, dark red fruits with lovely acid and best of all 14 Nero di Lupo, darker still, raspberry and cherry

Occhipinti, favourite of the Italian producers; SP 68 Rosso 2015, bright vibrant fruit and colour, tremendous Frappato 14 rounder than COS with red fruits, almost menthol freshness, lovely

Spain

Forja del Salnes, Rias Baxas – brilliant wines from old vines Albarino, 13 Leirana Finca Genoveva great concentration and depth (100 year old vines) yet still zesty, 2011 Golliardo A Telleira (60 year old vines at highe altitude) concentration, rich flavours but still clean. Red 13 Bastion de la Luna Tinto (Caino, Espadeiro and Loureiro grapes) – pure red fruits.

Celler Batlliu de Sort, Costers del Segre – reds a bit woody but lovely 13 Biu Riesling pure slatey Riesling, almost piercing citrus freshness

Germany

Thörle, excellent range, the dry Rieslings were all good especially Saulheimer Kalkstein 14 and impressive Schlossberg 14 (slate dry mineral). The Kabinett Riesling 15 was gorgeous, green apple with 56g of residual sugar. Spätburgunders too especially Kalkstein 14 and the single parcels 13 Probstey and 13 Holle with good concentration and depth.

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Austria

I said hello to Messrs. Tscheppe and Muster but did not taste due to time pressures as I had tasted their wines in Montpellier at Les Affranchis. They remain top of the class for me.

Warnung, 2013 Skin Contact Grüner Veltliner and 13 Riesling Berg especially the latter with spicy freshness. Nice Portuguieser Feldspiel 13 with round fruit and 13 Etsdorf Blauer Zweigelt, a rosé wine with citrus freshness and white fruit flavours.

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Schnabel, Morillon 14, a golden Chardonnay, mineral / texture and long nutty flavours, good Pinot Noir Hochegg 14 classic Pinot Noir

Georgia

Okro’s Wines, Rkatsiteli 14 more rounded than some of the other whites, tighter, Rkatsiteli Pet Nat 15 also very good appley fruit

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Bitarishvili, 14 Iago with skin contact was actually fruitier than the non contact version, a little reduced but nice

Mandidli, 2015 Mandili Mtsvane grape, fruitier and rounder than other examples of this grape elsewhere, fruity, balanced

Revasashvili, 15 Chinuri clear pear / apple fresh and textured.

South Africa

Testalonga, lovely range. El Bandito skin contact 15, lovely Chenin Blanc, apple fruit and clean. Sweet Cheeks 15, Muscat d’Alexandrie skin contact, dry, fruity clean (impressive for a grape which can become very blousy). Dark Side Syrah 15, spicy, coloured. El Bandito, Mangaliza apple and pear with lovely balance.  Keep On Punching 15 Baby Bandito, Chenin, stainless steel dry, fresh clean apples. Baby Bandito Follow Your Dream (Carignan) 15, fresh, spicy light. Very keen on these wines from Craig Hawkins, a good man to talk with too.

Australia

Patrick Sullivan, Haggis 15, assemblage of leftover wines but really good fruit

USA

La Garagista, Vermont – Unusual varieties due to climate. Harlots and Ruffians 14 – Frontenac Gris 5 weeks contact but nice and fresh. Frontenac Noir (related to Aramon) in Loups Garoux 14 lovely aromas but a bit foxy and wild.

Kelley Fox, Oregon – Momtazi Pinot Noir 13 with concentration, depth and flavour. Maresh Pinot Noir 13, lighter colour but more fruit and elegance

Clos Saron, California Sierra Mountains– Carte Blanche 14 (Albarino) green, zesty fruity. Blue Cheer 14 nice blend with Cinsault lifting the Carignan to a lighter feel, spicy. Heart Of Stone Syrah 09, truffley, good deep and balanced. Stone Soup Syrah 12, fresh, tannic but good fruit

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Ambyth, California Paso Robles – nice whites especially Grenache Blanc 13 but best was Venustas 11, (Tempranillo/Sangiovese) lovely balance of fruit and spice, complex and long

Overall impressions. Well it was good to see how the world of wine is being influenced by organic, biodynamic and natural ideas. Whatever your thoughts about these influences they are making winemakers think about the way they produce wines. Interesting to see how producers as far afield as Oregon and Georgia, South Africa and Wales have embraced similar ideas and thinking, encouraged by events such as this no doubt.

There were some negatives for me. Skin contact is fine and clearly very fashionable for white wines. However, there were a lot of clumsy wines made in this style with overlong maceration or over extraction. They ended up tasting harsh and lacked fruit or freshness.I know some people like that, but not for me. Other producers did long maceration but kept fruit, freshness and balance. Maybe it is a learning process but I had really heard enough about skin contact wines by the end of the day. There were also some reductive wines, others with brett and mousiness. However, these were few in number in a Fair where I tasted over 300 wines.

There were many interesting wines, there were many very pleasing wines, and some excellent wines. I particularly loved the ranges from Occhipinti, Testalonga, Thörle, Clos Saron, Alexandre Bain and Romaneaux-Destezet. My top half dozen wines were:

  • La Stoppa, Macchiona 2007
  • Forja del Salnes, 2013 Leirana Finca Genoveva
  • Thörle, 2013 Schlossberg Riesling
  • Romaneaux – Destezet, 2014 St. Joseph Cessieux
  • Clos Saron, 2009 Heart Of Stone Syrah
  • Testalonga, 2015 Baby Bandito Follow Your Dream

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