Autumn Tasting Highlights
Our trade tastings are wont to cram a gallon of wine into a thimble. What to choose, what to leave out? The focus is usually on value for money – which is a fairly wide focus as value can be viewed in cheap, middle and moderately expensive wines. These tastings are also an opportunity to test drive callow newbies, and pore over (and pour over) recent arrivals and finally an opportunity to exhume some forgotten favourites and grizzled veterans.
The autumn trade tasting, which this year we forgot to baptise with a catchy PR title, saw 170 runners and riders line up on the serried tables. We would love to mention each and every wine, but none of us have the time, so herewith a selection of vinous winners based on feedback from colleagues, which, in turn is based on feedback from customers attending the tasting.
Part one : France
Vigne d’Albert, Chateau Tour des Gendres Bergerac
This wine is like an old Bergerac folk song. Composed of Mérille a.k.a. Périgord, Abouriou, Fer, Cot (massale selection), Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, it’s a homage to Guillaume de Conti’s grandfather (Luc’s uncle), a field blend vinified sans soufre made in the glouglou style that Albert would enjoy. Light on its feet, juicy in its remit.
Buzet Rouge, Le Pech Abusé
Magali and mad-haired Ludo are amongst a handful of growers working naturally in the south west of France. Their wines, consequently speak in a different idiom and taste of the soil and the wildest of fruit. Le Pech Abusé is a mix of Merlot (40%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%) and Cabernet Franc (40%), a garnet-hued wine mellowed for several years in stunning 200 year old oak foudres (with a capacity of 100 hl) after égrappage and three weeks vinification in stainless steel vats, developing striking prune and leather aromas after several years in the bottle. Sauvage in the best possible sense.
Terrane rouge, Caves de Labastide-de-Lévis
This for seekers and snapper-uppers of great value little reds, a comely blend of Gaillac natives, Duras and Braucol, combining to delicious effect. The red has that slightly graphite edge and brisk acidity allied to red fruits that is delightfully moreish. It bangs buckishly.
Selves Blanc, Nicolas Carmarans
Nicolas Carmarans, restaurateur and vigneron, a man who looks like he wrestles bears and then eats them for breakfast, has vines implanted on the decomposed granites high in the northern Aveyron. As he says himself, “I want to make wines that I like to drink”. This Chenin from 30-year-old vines grown on granitic sand on steep slopes, has renewed zip, verve and offensive quantities of fun. Orthodox wine lovers might roll their eyes (and I once saw a sommelier squirming in his straitjacket after trying this), but I love a wine that tickles my ribs whilst staying several steps ahead of my palate. Unsheathing sharp darts of spiky lemon, grapefruit and white peach, this sizzling white blossoms in the mouth, unveiling layers of apple, quince and ripe greengage, brine and chalk minerality, finishing persistently with musky florality, anise, angelica, and subtle bitterness of herbs, alkaline minerality, and fruit skin. Yum.
Evidençia, Clos Lapeyre
A Pyrenean nat wine designed for my curious palate. Jean-Bernard Larrieu has finally gone and done it. So he did. From the Vitatge Viehl vineyard (Gros & Petit Manseng plus some old Courbu), a selection of three of the best barrels which are vinified and bottled with no sulphur. Natural boxes ticked include: indigenous yeasts, old oak aging before assemblage, then three months in fibreglass tank before being bottled in January this year. Despite the rich spicy malo character and dry honey notes this has truly amazing acidity and crystalline citrus fruits. A natural wine to bring you to your Pyreknees.
L’Orphée, Mas Foulaquier
A pick from our Pic Saint-Loup crop. Swiss native Pierre Jequier was seduced by the wild, majestic landscape of the Pic St Loup, a high limestone peak which provides the backdrop to an exceptional landscape. The 15ha of vines are set in an environment of Mediterranean garrigue and are exposed to the cool climate of the Cévennes foothills creating wines which can be cellared for a surprisingly long time. This gorgeous wine is 50% Syrah and 50% Grenache Noir and Blanc. The former provides the spiciness, the latter suppleness and warm herb-tinged fruits.
Emmenez-Moi au Bout de Terret, Clos du Gravillas
Emmenez-moi au bout de la terre
Emmenez-moi au pays des merveilles
Il me semble que la misère
Serait moins pénible au soleil
Nicole and John make a delicious Terret Gris from low yields for sophisticated quaffage. The wine is a pale yellow with hints of lemon, wild herb and chalk on the nose and fills the mouth with buttery, garrigue-inflected flavours. A wine of the sun, a wine of the summer.
Boit Sans Soif, La Coulée d'Ambrosia
Legally not even wine because it falls beneath the abv threshold (@ 8%). All this means is that you can drain a bucket load of this fuzzy-hued Grolleau. As natural as the summer day is long, pinkish-red colour, aromas of cider apple and tart raspberries and a classic yeasty quality on the finish as if delivered from tank to bottle without passing Go. Bang the bangers on the barbie and guzzle with alacrity.
Bourgueil Breteche, Domaine de la Chevalerie
The Caslot family have been farming their domaine of thirty-three hectares since 1640 from their farmhouse, which sits on the hill overlooking the vines in the heart of the superb terroir of Restigné. Several cuvées of varying degrees of intensity and complexity are made from different soils and organically farmed vines. Some wines are to be quaffed with a smile and some smoked meats, the more profound versions (which will age decades) should be decanted to allow the fruit and mineral perfumes to mingle. Planted higher up the slopes on soils of young limestone and clay over tuffeau, this makes for a long, more linear style than Galichets or Chevalerie, one with evident stony aromatics, lift and focus given by the limestone. Floral aromas of redcurrant, graphite and tobacco. Supple on the attack, then juicy on the middle palate, offering attractive red berry and spice flavours. Delicious – as Bourg are wont to say: Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated to these flavours.
Attention Méchant Chenin, Nicolas Reau
No need to beware, but certainly be aware of Nicolas Reau’s cheeky, nifty Chenin. It is from a vineyard that he farms (but does not own) in Anjou which is being converted to organics. Crisp dry Chenin with green apple and ripe citrus, electrifying acidity that keeps the palate refreshed and tingling.
Pouilly-Fumé, La Levée, Alexandre Bain
These wines are the antithesis of mean, green Sauvignons you often taste from this part of the world. The vines are farmed biodynamically, the grapes are picked quite a bit later (at roughly half the allowed yields), with colour in the skins and sugar in the juice, and the wine is vinified naturally in cement, with nothing added, undergoes a full malolactic and is not filtered – and no sulphur is added either. La Levée is lush stuff – there’s an elderflower cordial reminder of the grape, but then it is like biting into ripe golden pear – fleshy, juicy and tangy at the same time. The élevage on the lees gives an additional warmth and spice – a beautiful, generous wine.
Rockaille Billy, Domaine No Control
Without getting into an involved explanation about the origin/inspiration behind the name of the wine, let’s just say that this… rocks. Old vines Auvergnate mountain Gamay on rocky (rockaille) soils, whole bunch fermented in fibreglass, aged part in tank and part in barrel. Bottled without sulphur. A mouthful of minerals. The Auvergne mountains have black peppery quality which distinguishes them for expressions of this variety from other places. It is probably to do with soil (often basaltic) and climate – extreme.
Vini Viti Vini Coulanges
Nicolas Vauthier (for it is he) has created a micro “négoce” house in Avallon, in the northern part of Burgundy near Chablis. Nicolas buys organically grown grapes ‘a pied’, still on the vine, harvests them with his own pickers, and then, in the spirit of minimal intervention, lets the wine make itself, intervening as little as possible. This Pinot has wonderfully vibrant fruity aromas, satin textures and a vibrant, mineral core. He works with partial carbonic maceration which helps to make his northern Burgundy wines fruitier and more delicious. The fermentations take place in large old wooden foudres with no sulphur – only a drop in the bottle.
Crémant de Bourgogne, Celine & Laurent Tripoz
The Crémant de Bourgogne is 100% Chardonnay from various plots around the property on silty clay-limestone soils. Laurent and Céline decided early on that they had to invest to make everything at the property instead of sending their juice to a "champagnisateur." After a few years of doing two versions, one with dosage and one without, they decided to make only one cuvée without any additions, dosage or otherwise, which has become one of the most successful sparkling wines of the region. The first natural ferment is done in tank (with full malo); the second was done using a Demeter-approved biodynamic yeast (from Champagne Fleury). No filtration (other than disgorgement), no fining, no sulphur added. Super-crunchy with delightful nervous energy.
...and that's a temporary wrap. Join us next time for our round up of part two of the autumn trade tasting. Stay tuned!
Images courtesy of Hesh Hipp at Real Wine 2017 and Domaine de la Chevalerie.
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