This is the second part of our Yazoo-themed coverage of the joint Tasting held by Otros Vinos (Part 1, here) and Wines Under the Bonnet. Whereas all Fernando’s wines are Spanish, the wines I picked out here are largely from France, with the interesting and fascinating exception of the Chilean producer at the end.
JEAN-PIERRE RIETSCH, MITTELBERGHEIM, ALSACE
I began with what I consider a bit of a coup for the WinesUTB boys, a producer who I visited last October, when he told me he didn’t currently have a UK importer. I doubt that Basile and Alex made the decision to visit J-P on the basis of my write-up, but you can read it here. Visit him they did, in December, and now the UK has access to a producer I consider right in the front rank in the region.
Jean-Pierre is what I (not he) would call a philosophical winemaker. I mean that he does seem to think deeply about what he is doing, and why, and he is keen to produce focused wines of great purity. He makes wines both with and without skin contact, and with and without added sulphur. I know one or two people who have issues with some of these sulphur-free wines, but not me. I’ve not yet had any wine from this producer showing the slightest fault, bar temporary, removable, reduction.
I didn’t taste all the wines, trying to recall what I’d tasted and bought when I visited, but there were some I’d not tasted in Mittelbergheim. One such wine was Blanc au Litre 2017. This is a gentil-style blend, 80% of which mixes Riesling and Sylvaner, along with 15% Auxerrois and 5% Gewurztraminer. It’s well priced for a litre, and is fruity with a touch of florality and a savoury edge. The Gewurz doesn’t come through more than a little and the Sylvaner and Riesling give acidity and freshness. Simple but great glugging for two people.
Demoiselle 2016 is a wine I’m very much taken with. It’s a maceration Gewurztraminer (16 days on skins and then six months in tank). It comes off the argilo-calcaire soils of the Zotzenberg Grand Cru. Forget the Gewurztraminer flab effect, which has certainly turned me off this variety on many occasions, this is really focused. The florality of the bouquet is delicate, not over blown. Pale and fresh, with light acidity, it nevertheless finishes round and long. “Elegant” doesn’t often apply to this variety, but I think it does here.
The next wine on the list was J-P’s Savagnin Rose Klevener de Heiligenstein 2016. Well, I drank this wine a couple of weeks ago so you’ll have to wait for my roundup of September wines (#theglouthatbindsus) to read about it. But as a teaser, my notes say “one of the wines of the year so far”…but then I do have strange tastes 😉 .
Rietsch bottles two versions of Pinot Noir. The first is the Rouge au Litre 2017, which is very pale, the way Alsace reds used to look. But it doesn’t taste like they used to. It undergoes a 22-day carbonic maceration and then sees six months in cuve. It was bottled with a moderate 12.5% alcohol and no added sulphur. Its light sour cherry fruit is balanced by the right amount of fresh acidity, very well judged, to create another great wine for knocking back.
Some people say that Jean-Pierre makes one of the best Pinot Noirs in Alsace. This was only the second time I’d tried his Alsace Pinot Noir, although I’m very lucky – it was sold out at the domaine but Jean-Pierre let me have one out of his own stash. But that is a 2016. This is the 2017 vintage, which had a 16-day carbonic of grappes entières followed by six months in cuve. It has an extra half-degree of alcohol over the red litre, and again, no added sulphur.
This has a pale garnet colour, very vibrant, but not as pale as the litre (see photo). The bouquet is sweeter cherry, and whilst it is still very fruity, and quite lively, it has more presence than that wine. It’s made entirely from Mittelbergheim grapes.
LA DERNIERE GOUTTE, CYRILLE VUILLOD, VAUX-EN-BEAUJOLAIS
Cyrille Vuillod is a name I’d never come across before. He farms 4.5 hectares around Brouilly, and is also new to WinesUTB, who more or less came across him accidentally. He’s apparently around forty years of age, from the Alps, a former ski instructor who discovered wine when first picking for, and then working with, the Lapalu family. He’s been going on his own for three-to-four years. All the wines are bottled as Vins de France, with no AOP applied for.
Tisane de Bois Tordu XVI Vieilles Vignes (effectively 2016) comes from 80-year-old vines. The grapes undergo a three week carbonic maceration before going into concrete tank. It has amazing colour, and the nose has that slightly dusty, almost textured quality which you often get from cement. On the palate the fruit is amazing, really zippy and alive.
Tisane de Bois Tordu is a 2017 cuvée made from earlier ripening plots. It’s also incredibly fruity, if with a little less depth than the Vieilles Vignes. La Baleine Ivre is another 2017 bottling, which in fact was the first of these wines I tasted. A great start, it sees an eight-day whole bunch maceration and has exciting (not just nice or lovely) fruit.
Sang Neuf (2017) is made in a concrete egg. It retains the signature zippy fruit that seems to be Cyrille’s calling card, but definitely has an extra dimension. Delicious. That would have been a good enough place to end, but there was still Dolia (2016) to try. Every individual berry for this cuvée is hand-destemmed. I know how that must feel, having hand-destemmed the fruit for just five litres of juice a couple of weeks ago.
The pampered berries get a whole-grape maceration in amphora for 50 days, are then pressed, and go back into amphora. There’s a sort of CO2 zip to the fruit, which is big and rounded, but the wine has plenty of texture as well. You might think that an amphora Gamay off granite might not taste like your normal Beaujolais, and you’d be right. This is an astonishing wine, but it might scare some people as much as it would excite others.
On the basis of what I tasted I think this is a real find for WinesUTB, although the fresher bottles did taste more lively than those which were down to the last couple of centimetres.
LANDRON CHARTIER, BEN AND BERNARD LANDRON, LIGNE, NANTES
Basile comes from the Muscadet Region, and so there is a sort of Loire focus within the Wines Under the Bonnet List. Bernard Landron moved northeast of Nantes in 2002 when he stopped working with brother Jo, and bought 20 hectares of vines in the Ancenis region. His son, Benôit, did his travels abroad before coming back to join and then take over from his father.
I tasted one wine from this exciting venture, a wine which has already had a bit of social media coverage, Naturlich Petnat Rouge 2017. It’s one of several exciting sparkling Gamays to emerge from the natural wine movement, and it’s really grapey, and “winey”. This was initially tasted from a flat bottle, almost empty, but a second bottle opened for me had great bubbles and a frothy head, wonderful. In fact, in that context, I’d suggest that this wine is amazing. It has no added sulphur, and was machine disgorged, but it’s a relatively cheap sparkler made for fun drinking, not cellaring. Just dry and fruity. I think there’s a bit of Folle Blanche blended in with the Gamay. Go (Gamay Go) for it!
DOMAINE DES COGNETTES, VINCENT & STEPHANE PERRAUD, CLISSON, NANTES
This is a domaine run by two brothers in the southeastern sector of the Muscadet region, about 15 to 20 kilometres outside Nantes. Eguor is an amphora wine, blending Pinot Noir with Gamay and Cabernet Franc. Some whole Cabernet Franc berries are added in to the fermentation at the end.
Twelve months in amphora rounds out a very interesting red wine which is not quite what you’d expect from the region. It has a lovely savoury quality with texture, but fruit too.
MELANIE HUNIN & AYMERIC HILLAIRE, LE-PUY-NOTRE-DAME, SAUMUR
Domaine Mélaric is a compound of its owners’ first names. Their 4.5 ha of 50-year-old vines are on the steep chalky hillsides near their base at the Château de Baugé, not far from the impressive Château de Montreuil-Bellay, in the far southwest of the appellation.
Saumur Clos de la Cerisaie Blanc 2015 is a lovely “natural” Chenin Blanc. The nose is fresh, but then savoury notes follow, and it has old vine depth. A very tiny bit of volatility helps lift and freshen it. “Volatile” will signal a fault to many, and some people are massively sensitive (philosophically as well as in terms of their senses) to volatility. But many argue that a tiny bit can add character and personality. It’s all about degree. It works here, for me, for sure. I like the leanness as well. You might wonder where I’m going with all these potential negatives, but the wine is just really good. Not the same old same old.
CHATEAU BAROUILLET, VINCENT ALEXIS, POMPORT, BERGERAC
You drink nothing from Bergerac for years and then several come along in quick succession. Eight generations of the Alexis family have farmed this large Bergerac estate, based south of the town within the Monbazillac zone (they also make a sweet Monbazillac), but they also have vines up in Pécharment, to the immediate east of Bergerac, too. Vincent only joined the family operation in 2010, and began releasing domaine bottled organic cuvées in 2012.
Vincent is in his early forties. He got into wine working in London, allegedly for the Nicolas chain, and got into natural wine totally by accident, without knowing this was what he was enjoying. He was originally going to go to work in Chile but ended up staying at home, and he intends slowly to change the direction of the family estate.
Bergerac Rouge 2017 is a blend of four out of five Bordeaux red varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec. In my humble opinion this is just the kind of wine the Bordelais should be thinking of putting out. The fruit is fairly lightly extracted, and the cuvée sees only stainless steel, no oak. It has all those classic flavours of a balanced Bordeaux blend without the encumbrance of over extraction, over cropping and over oaking. This is just simple, pleasurable wine.
ROBERTO HENRIQUEZ, NACIMENTO, BIO-BIO, CHILE
Roberto trained as an agronomist and oenologist in his native Chile, worked for a few commercial wineries, and then headed off to Canada and South Africa, before a stint in the Loire turned his mind and palate towards a more natural approach. He now farms (since only 2015) 6 ha in the up-and-coming Bio-Bio Valley (only three hectares of which he owns). After trying the stunning Argentinian wines of Pol Opuesta a week or so ago, this is yet another revelatory South American producer, wholly new to me.
Rivera del Notro White 2017 is a blend of Moscato, Semillon and Corinto, the latter being the same variety as Chasselas. The grapes originally rocked up in Chile from the Canaries and the resulting wine here is exciting stuff. It undergoes a gentle maceration giving a wine which is almost smoky rather than fruity, on the right side of unusual.
Rivera del Notro Red 2017 is made from Pais. Basile drew my attention to a Decanter Article (current edition) which covers the Criolla varieties. I wasn’t aware that this term covers a list of grapes (not just one variety) which came to South America with the Spanish invaders in the 16th Century. Many of these vines arrived from the Canary Isles, or occasionally from the Azores.
Pais used to be Chile’s most planted variety, even up until this century, but in the past eighteen years it has been supplanted by Cabernet Sauvignon. It was especially found down south, in Bio-Bio (and Maule, and the Itata River regions). A thin-skinned grape with low acidity, it was usually over cropped and over extracted to make a thin jug wine. Recently, pioneers have discovered that as with so many disliked varieties, if you keep yields low you can work wonders. Another bonus is that the vineyards up here have often seen no chemicals put on the soils, ever. What is more, many of the vines are really old, some over 200 years. This gives some special plant material to convert into wine.
So, this particular cuvée comes from grapes Roberto buys from friends, off alluvial soils washed down from the Andes. Hand destemmed (very traditional, part of an historic range of winemaking practices called pipenos), the grapes see an eight day maceration and ageing in stainless steel. Every stage sees the material worked lightly and the result is a wine with surprisingly rounded deep cherry fruit and just a little grip, with a hint of beetroot on the nose. Any hint of rusticity is avoided. Tasty and sappy.
Santa Cruz de Coya 2017 is also made from Pais. This is from Roberto’s own vines, three hectares at 350 metres. This is one of those 200-year-old plots I mentioned, all on granite, forgotten and never grubbed up or grafted over. The vinification begins as with the previous wine, but this one goes into new oak (although Roberto plans to put some of this cuvée into amphora as soon as he can afford to buy some). This is wonderful stuff, very pure, and almost certainly the best Pais I’ve ever tasted.
Roberto has gone from someone who learned to make commercial wine to someone with a real interest in keeping historic vines alive, and keeping historic winemaking traditions going. He deserves our support. His wines merit it.