Quite a diverse range from the past six weeks at home, although four of the ten wines here are from Jura, perhaps a poor attempt to clear a bit of space for the purchases which will be made in the region very soon. As always, I’ve tried to cull things down (more successfully than usual, this time), so that every one of the wines below is a real cracker in its own way.
Apremont 2017, Domaine Giachino, Savoie
Apremont was the first ever Savoie AOC I tasted, back in the 1980s, I think. This wine is a good step up from those early bottles (from the Château). Most of Giachino’s vineyards are on the slopes of Mont Granier, and the Apremont vines are tucked between the rocks and the shore of Lac Saint-André. Apremont is effectively the first of the better known Savoie crus south of Chambéry, in that boomerang-shaped viticole known as the Combe de Savoie. The soils here are the result of an enormous landslide in the thirteenth century, formed largely of limestone with some marls.
This wine is 100% Jacquère, which some call the workhorse grape of Savoie. Don’t be fooled. Frédéric Giachino has more than twenty years experience here. The vines, over 25 years old, are farmed organically, and although these are not “natural wines” as such, minimal sulphur is used at the domaine. They also ferment with the natural yeasts on the grape, and age the wine on lees.
Characteristically pale, it’s fresh, fruity (lemon citrus) and with a herby finish, and mineral too. It’s not a complex wine, but it’s truly fresh as a mountain glacier. The domaine claims it has bergamot notes, which I admit I didn’t get. There’s a nice lees texture, though, which adds considerable interest. It is relatively inexpensive considering this is a top Savoie producer.
This 2017 was purchased in Paris, although Dynamic Vines bring it into the UK (currently listing 2015 and 2014, which should not be of concern – the producer suggests that it will keep for five-to-ten years).
Arbois-Pupillin “Côte de Feule” 2011, Hughes-Beguet, Jura
The first time I visited Patrice Beguet in Mesnay (just on the edge of Arbois) I bought some 2011 and 2012 Côte de Feule and set some aside to see how it might age. This vineyard is one of Pupillin’s best, on limestone and marl, with a nice sunny exposure which usually fully ripens the Ploussard, which thrives here. There’s a nice circular walk from the village which takes in the Côte de Feule slope if you ever visit Pupillin.
So, how had it fared? The colour was brick red with an orange glow. The bouquet was autumnal, a little leafy, but still showing some red fruits. The palate had slightly bitter cranberry and redcurrant flavours, pretty mellow now but still with a bit of bite. I’d say this bottle was more or less fully mature, and perhaps best drunk slightly sooner, but I’m glad I kept some. Definitely armchair stuff, sedate.
What I didn’t know when I bought this, is that Patrice’s Côte de Feule was going to become one of the finest reds in the region, a wine to challenge some of the more famous names, from the same slopes even. In recent years I think this wine has got even better, and the new labels are certainly a step forward as well. But if you happen upon an older bottle, you are undoubtedly in for a lovely taste of one of Northern Jura’s finest sites.
Epileptic Inspiration 2016, Blank Bottle Winery, Elgin, South Africa
I’ve written about Blank Bottle a few times recently, in an article about Pieter Walser’s relationship with Butler’s Wine Cellar in Brighton, and in another article, meeting, and tasting with, Pieter in London recently (Swig Wines’ Portfolio in Soho). Epileptic Inspiration, a name and label which is quite personal to Pieter, is old vine Semillon. Originally unhappy with what was in barrel, Pieter left it and kind of forgot about it. A year later he tasted it, and as is often the way with these things, was amazed at the transformation.
It’s a little bit buttery on the mid-palate, with the lasting impression being honey and lemon with a tiny hint of lime at the finish. Underlying all this, it develops some nutty textures. You’d never guess, from its freshness, that this rather nimble wine piles in with 14% alcohol. It tastes lighter. There’s a lot going on here, and it evolves as it sits in the glass and warms a little. Brilliant stuff! Okay, my daughter thought it was a little weird, so maybe not one to pull out on Grandma’s birthday. Save it for explorers. I’m not sure many people are making more exciting and thrilling wines in South Africa right now.
Grand Cellier d’Or 2006, Vilmart, Champagne
Vilmart is certainly a maison of star quality as far as most Champagne connoisseurs are concerned, but many of those will focus (and rightly so) on the top wine there, Coeur de Cuvée. I too adore that wine, but I’ve bought a fair bit of Grand Cellier d’Or in the past as well, and I am rarely any less than thrilled when I open one. This 2006 came from a visit to Vilmart, on the Montagne, in 2012.
Vilmart’s wines always question the old echelle des crus. Their vineyards around Rilly-la-Montagne are all premier cru, yet many would argue that Vilmart makes grand cru wines in all but name. Of course, careful viticulture, careful selection, and fermenting and ageing the wines in wooden foudres, all adds to a harmony between depth and freshness, which Grand Cellier d’Or exemplifies very well without being overwhelmed by the deep complexity which Coeur attains at maturity.
A few technical details: I believe the blend for the 2006 was 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir. It had ten months in foudre followed by four years on lees in bottle, and it was disgorged in early 2011 and dosed at 9g/litre.
The 2006 has developed a little more colour over time. The bead is very fine and delicate and, for the vintage, it’s beginning to drink really well. It has depth, as I said. The bouquet is apples, but for me there’s more creamy apricot/peach on the palate. But there’s one more thing to say about this wine which isn’t easy to convey with mere words – it’s such pure joy to drink. Thank you, Laurent.
Zibibbo in Pithos 2014, COS, Vittoria, Sicily
This wine is more or less legendary. It’s the first vintage of the COS amphora Muscat of Alexandria, bottled only in magnum (there was no 2015 and I only managed to get 2016 in 75cl).
There’s the deep straw-gold of a skin contact wine (seven months on skins in amphora). The nose gives out that clear, floral and musky Muscat fragrance, with a hint of lychee, whilst on the palate you get candied fruit balanced by a more bitter, ever so slightly astringent, spiciness which seems to recreate the texture of the terracotta inside your mouth. There’s also a touch of orange citrus, and a softness too. But whatever you get from the palate, I can assure you that it goes on for a very long time.
I had wondered whether I’d left this too long before opening, but maybe the magnum format helped – this was certainly nowhere near needing to be drunk up quickly. Solent Cellar are still showing four left on their web site, although I’d wager that is an oversight. Les Caves de Pyrene suggested there are no more magnums left from 2014, but this is a new classic from COS and one to follow in future vintages. Every time I tried it, it had the “wow!” factor, none more so than on this occasion.
Arbois Chardonnay “Les Brûlées” 2015, Domaine de Saint-Pierre, Jura
Fabrice Dodane bought Domaine Saint-Pierre, just outside of Arbois at Mathenay, in 2011, but he’d been managing the domaine for its previous owner for more than twenty years before that. He’s still not as well known as some of his fellow vignerons around Arbois, but his reputation has grown very swiftly in the three years since I first tasted his wines.
Fabrice makes excellent Pinot Noir, and a fine Vin Jaune, among others, but I think that perhaps this 2015 Chardonnay may be my favourite from him so far. Its beauty lies in its freshness, allied to a certain richness from the hot vintage, without that richness playing too great a role. What keeps the wine together is a good mineral spine. It does have 14% alcohol, but it’s a good example of balance, achieved through not picking too late and handling the must carefully. It’s stony on the palate, but there’s a smooth velvet texture too. You’d think those two are incompatible, but that’s the interplay between the freshness and richness. Barrel fermented (25% new), like a white burgundy, it has quite a bit of polish.
Fabrice has Chardonnay at Mathenay, neighbouring Vadans and Arbois (which lies very close, to the south), just under three hectares, being his most planted variety. Les Brulées is a site at Mathenay where the soils are more based on limestone (with, unusually, a little chalk) than the usual marnes of Arbois. This limestone, some say, is what can give these wines such freshness. The winemaking is biodynamic and synthetic additive free, with the exception of a little sulphur added at bottling. I’ve read that Fabrice wants to eliminate sulphur, but doesn’t yet feel ready to do so.
Definitely a domaine to watch carefully, and one to give to any friends who are cautious about natural wines. Domaine de Saint-Pierre is quite widely distributed in the usual independents, via Les Caves de Pyrene.
Côtes du Jura Trousseau “Les Lumachelles” 2016, Domaine des Cavarodes, Cramans, Jura
Etienne Thiébaud is still in his twenties by my reckoning, but he’s been making wine since his late teens. His small 4.5 hectare domaine is at Cramans, in that most northern part of the region near Arc-et-Senans (and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Saline Royale), which seems to yield some of the most singular personalities of Jura wine (think Catherine Hannoun and Raphaël Monnier), who have put some magic into a one time backwater. He also farms some vines at Arbois.
Etienne got his basic training, as so many inspired Jura winemakers seem to have done, with Evelyne and Pascal Clairet at Domaine de La Tournelle. He may be young, but Etienne was lucky to grab some plots of very old vines (many over a hundred years of age).
This Trousseau is another wine to juxtapose opposites. It is quite pale to look at. Sniff it and you get raspberry and light strawberry, plus a touch of underlying ripe plum. All this gets mirrored on the palate. The fruit is soft-textured and rounded, but there is also a bit of unexpected muscle and sinew. This is what binds everything together. This is a wholly natural wine with, in this case, no added sulphur. It’s good-natured and pure, and wholly lacking in pretence – exactly like Etienne, I’m told.
Bulles de Minière Rouge, Château de la Minière, Touraine, Loire
Château de la Minière isn’t your normal artisanal natural wine producer like those most of us cut our teeth on when we discovered low intervention winemaking – in fact The Loire quickly became the heartland of natural glouglou in the early days. They are more than just a winery, with quite well developed options for tourism (ten rooms/suites in the 16th Century Château) at Ingrandes-de-Touraine, to the east of Borgueil. The estate has been owned since 2010 by the Van den Berghe family. The vines are currently in conversion to organic farming, and generally wine buyers from smaller importers might consider them too big to look at.
I only know this particular wine from Minière, but I wonder whether the other six or seven wines they make are as interesting? I’ll admit I’m not someone who buys a lot of sparkling reds, but I really liked this Cabernet Franc. It’s made by the Ancestral Method – carbonic maceration, then destemmed and pressed, fermented in stainless steel, fermentation blocked by cooling, a little under a year on lees under crown cap, then disgorged and sealed with cork and muzzle.
It’s a dark and frothy wine, with scents of dark fruits and violets. The palate is packed with fruit, with cherries and blackcurrants to the fore. Light (just 11.5% abv) but with a bit of grip and structure/backbone. It’s a fun wine, pure and simple, which the producers suggest consuming within a year of release, but what fun.
Bulles de Minière among the Bonfire Night selection chez nous
Betty Rosay Vin de France , Domaine L’Octavin, Arbois, Jura
As with so many producers around France over the past few vintages, Alice Bouvot has tried to ameliorate decimated yields by purchasing grapes from other regions. I recall the last time I saw her, she was rather bleary-eyed at 8.30 in the morning, having driven to Savoie the previous day to collect some.
Betty Rosay is a direct-pressed Gamay made with biodynamic fruit sourced from Patrick Besson in Southern Beaujolais. Although Alice is not unique in this respect, her winemaking approach is unusual. She doesn’t aim to produce the same wine year after year, but reacts to the raw materials she has available. This means that L’Octavin wines are always exciting and even when labelled the same as a previous vintage, you don’t necessarily expect the same approach.
Here, we have a different take on Gamay. Being direct (and gently) pressed, the colour is very pale, a kind of orange-pink. The fruit is intense, exploding in the mouth, pursued by a sprinting, zesty, freshness, riding on a thin bed of CO2. This wine is astonishingly good. I could almost cry whilst tasting it. It’s simple, not complex, but the fruit intensity and liveliness make it far more life affirming than many a posh wine. This is stripped back and pure. I really don’t know how she does it.
Irouléguy 2009, Domaine Ilarria, Pays Basque
A very long time ago I visited Irouléguy, staying in a lovely chambre d’hôte at the foot of green clad hills, eating delicious basque chicken and drinking the local wines. We then headed into Spain, towards Pamplona, over a pass that leads to Roncesvalles (where Charlemagne stopped the Moorish advance). It was very early in the morning, and as we climbed a hunter came out of the forest, rifle in hand and with a small deer draped over his shoulders. That summed up how atmospheric this region is, green and misty and a little mysterious.
Back then its wine was hardly known in the UK, and today that has changed very little. There are, as far as I’m aware, seven independent producers, along with a fairly good local co-operative. The wines can be red, white or pink. The reds, mostly dominated by Tannat, are still, shall we say, ageworthy, though perhaps approachable sooner than most Madiran.
Peio Espil is the current winemaker at Ilarria, a domaine which has been in the same family for centuries, and he has created one of the region’s best estates, owning around ten hectares under vine. This is the estate’s entry cuvée and, as such, is a blend of 55% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and only around 20% Tannat. It’s still a firm old beast when young. Yapps, who import it, suggest ageing for 5 to 10 years, but this 2009 was still dark, structured and a little tannic (I wouldn’t say rustic, but there’s just a hint of earthiness).
Yields are low at around 25 hl/ha, so the wine tastes quite concentrated, but not at all heavy. It was quite “autumnal”. There’s a whiff of dead leaves in there, but with the nasal zip of bramble fruits. Underneath there’s a hint of ripe red plum. Slightly tongue-staining, you do feel you are getting your daily dose of resveratrol. Yapps recommend pairing it with local dried meats and duck, excellent choices of course. We didn’t drink it with any meat, but it was still a treat well worth waiting for (it had rested many years in the cellar).
It costs about £20 now, probably costing me a little more than half that when this 2009 was purchased, but it’s still very good value today (where the current vintage on sale is 2015). It should be noted, however, that this wine is not vegan, being fined with egg whites, it seems. I mention this because it’s increasingly the case that people reading this Blog are interested in such information.