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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.