amarchinthevines

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


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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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Latour De France

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                    Portes ouvertes, well most

Latour not Le Tour. It is a village in the Pyrénées-Orientales with an unusual profile in terms of winemaking as nearly all the vignerons make natural wine. La Bande de Latour is their open day and it was such a fun event last year that we decided to return again, the date was in the diary for a long time.

Unbelievably the event took place on the only bad day’s weather in the last 3 weeks, low cloud, mist and dampness prevailed though the event was far from spoiled and more than compensated for the weather. The vignerons of Latour invite others from around the Languedoc Roussillon and further afield, but there is a common bond of natural wine. In recent weeks there has been much discussion in the world of wine about whether natural wines should be certificated and what direction the wines should take. I intend to address these issues in the next articles but it was a good opportunity to see what lessons could be learned at such a gathering of producers.

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The first thing to say is that there were wines which did not appeal and which seemed a little lacking. I believe that natural wines are moving on and that with more experience of not using sulphites, for example, winemakers are learning how to tackle the process of making clean, fresh and healthy wines with a minimum of faults despite not having the safety net of additives, interventionist winemaking etc. However, there were some winemakers present who, in my view, are either new to the approach, haven’t learned or have not moved on. I won’t name names here but would share my thoughts if anyone wants to get in touch.

However, I felt that the majority of wines were of at least good quality, with fruit, freshness, balance and complexity – all that you would want from any wine but certainly the features which make natural wines appeal to me. There were wines which really were top class and I put my money where my mouth is by buying some.

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Top of the podium was undoubtedly Cyril Fhal of Clos Rouge Gorge. His vineyards are high in the hills, gobelet and exposed to the elements. Cyril is a master of Carignan and his wines are relatively expensive though not by comparison with the likes of Burgundy or Bordeaux, and his wines do bear comparison with top class wines. The Carignan was very good indeed, long, fresh, deep and balanced. However, it was the Blanc, made from Maccabeu which really captured my imagination, one of the best wines I have tasted in 2015. It starts zesty and fresh and then the oak adds a little roundness, coating the mouth with spicy notes but always clean and refreshing. Beautiful wine, brilliant winemaking. I happily bought both wines.

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                                     Outstanding

Other top performers from the village included Domaines Rivaton, Mathouans and Trbouley.

Frédéric Rivaton presented a very good white wine, Blanc Bec 2014 which was full flavoured, fresh and balanced the Carignan Blanc, Grenache Gris and Maccabeu beautifully. The rosé was mainly Grenache and the best of his wines today, lovely aromatics of red fruits matched by full, almost textured, flavours. Very good. I liked the red Gribouille too, showing a lot of depth and complexity. I liked Rivaton wines when I have tasted them before but they seemed to be much more complex and interesting today, more purchases.

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I don’t remember tasting Domaine Mathouans wines before, I certainly have no notes, and that is my loss. These wines were very well made with lots of fruit but also much more complexity behind the fruit. Light tasting but structured, easy to drink but with real depth and interest. The orange wine Mine De Rien 2014 made from Muscat Petits Grains had lovely muscat aromatics (plus a little reduction which disappeared in glass), but was dry, clean and not overly concentrated as some orange wines can be. Fresh and clean, very well made. Assureté is a blend of red grapes which are complanted in the vineyard and vinified together. Full, fruity and very good – my question is why on earth did I not buy some? My mistake. And again with Le Bon, Le Brut et Le Carignan which was aromatic, red fruits with deeper black fruits behinid, very complex but always fresh and balanced. Aline Hock is clearly a very talented winemaker, I intend to find out more about the domaine.

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Renaud of Domaine Mathouans, a convincing advocate for the wines

Jean-Louis Tribouley‘s wines have always appealed to me. Today we only tasted the red wines, which was a shame as I love his Grenache Gris. They were all good wines, however, I have to single out Mani 2012 made from young vine Grenache, Syrah and Carignan which was sweet, ripe and very good. Another I wish I had bought.

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My other favourite wines came from outside the area.

I was taken by the wines of Domaine Hausherr when I met them in Montpellier in January. Despite their long journey to Latour the wines were equally good today. Hausherr like to express their vineyards rather than single varieties as most Alsace producers do. Therefore, wines such as Altengarten are a blend, in this case Riesling and Gewurztraminer. They are wines with full, ripe aromatics hinting at sweetness but in fact they are very dry and expressive, really delicious. La Colline Celeste 2012 was my favourite of the dry wines and I also really liked Roc Et Porcelaine 2011 which was made from the same vineyard but with more residual sugar kept to add a touch of sweetness. Sungass 2003 was also very interesting, the hot summer of 12 years ago but the wine was fresh and dry, pure Riesling with petrolly notes.

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                    Talking to Heidi Hausherr

L’Ostal is in Cahors, a small and youthful domaine run by Louis Pérot. The Malbec grape can be tough and often needs aging but Louis has made different styles of wine using, for example, carbonic maceration. There is still a classic Cahors, Plein Chant (2013 bigger than 2014) but I really enjoyed Anselme 2014 which was full, rich but velvety and very good. Similarly Le Tour (not Latour) was bigger than many of the wines but retained a freshness and fruit character. I was happy to buy both of these and enjoyed the other wines too. Particular thanks to Louis who replaced a bottle I broke on the way out, my fault and he didn’t need to, it was much appreciated.

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I’d also like to add Axel Prufer of Temps Des Cerises to my recommendations. The Chardonnay Peur De Rouge 2013 was very good, this is a wine which is coming into its own and Axel confirmed it needs a year or two to do so. His red Fou du Roi 13 was also very good but the Chardonnay was a real treat.

So a great day, lots of music, choices of food (including vegetarian!) and a good atmosphere despite the gloomy weather.  There were my favourite wines, there were others too from Domaine Sabbat and the very promising new domaine of La Bancale.

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Enjoyed talking to Bastien Baillet of La Bancale, a domaine to watch

I do think natural wines are moving on and improving still further and La Bande de Latour provided me with plenty of evidence to support me. As I said I shall be coming back to the whole natural wine debate soon.

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