This second part of my coverage of Les Caves de Pyrene‘s 2019 London Portfolio Tasting takes in four of the categories of wines which relate to “terroir and climate”. These are Minerals, Sea Sand and Saline, Volcanoes and Mountains and Garrigue Maquis Fynbos. If you would like to read Part 1, which includes all of my introductory comments, follow the link here. Part 3, which will take us through to the end of the tasting, will follow shortly.
If you don’t read my intro it might be helpful if I point out that from all these wonderful wines I have given three hearts (♥♥♥) to those of which I am most enamoured. It’s purely subjective, wines I react to on an emotional level rather than being a reward resulting from organoleptic analysis.
TASTE OF TERROIR AND CLIMATE – MINERALS
The four sections which make up Part 2 are where we really see the team at Les Caves working hard to create a narrative. In a wine shop I tend to prefer the shelves to be organised by country and region. That’s partly because eight times out of ten I enter a store knowing more or less what I want (although invariably I spot something I didn’t know I wanted and end up buying it). At a tasting it’s a nice change to look at wines in a context which is more real than that of sometimes random geopolitical borders, and it enables me to learn far more about the wine in a stylistic context.
♥♥♥Nicolas Carmarans “Entre Les Eaux” Blanc 2017 Nicolas is based half way between Aurillac, on the Causse de Cantal, and Espalion in Aveyron, two of France’s least visited but most strikingly beautiful departments, but for this 2017 white wine he needed to supplement his grape supply due to the usual meteorological disasters of frost and hail. So this wine is a blend of 60% Aligoté sourced from a friend’s organic vines in Mâcon and 40% Chenin Blanc from his own vines, grapes which would usually go into the cuvée called “Selve”. It has a granite minerality immediately coming through. The Aligoté has that modern fruitiness with none of those old fashioned shrill qualities, whilst the Chenin brings a deliciously sour finish to the party. A fascinating, and satisfying blend.
Andreas Tscheppe Blue Dragonfly Sauvignon Blanc 2017 We had another impressive Sauvignon from Styria in Part 1 (Sepp & Maria Muster), and this pair merely shows how excellent this Austrian region is for the variety. The bouquet soars with a “you can take me high-er” (Funkadelic) and it is remarkably multi-dimensional for the variety, despite a certain clean side to it. I know this wine well, and if you linger over it you will get all sorts of quite dainty floral and fruit flavours, with a bit of weight in the mid-palate. Aims for purity, gets purity.
♥♥♥Domaine de la Borde Chardonnay “Terre du Lias” 2018 2004 was a good year for the Jura. Wink Lorch says that ten new young vignerons got off the ground, and Julien Mareschal was one of them. He farms around five hectares biodynamically in Pupillin, near Arbois. I came to Julien’s wines late, but I think he has really come a long way since 2004. “Terre du Lias” is made from 50-year-old vines on a decent slope below Pupillin, with clay and limestone over grey marl. The wine has a certain breadth which gives it a more serious air than some, but the mineral freshness he gets gives it lift. A fine wine from one of the village’s “newer” stars.
♥♥♥Domaine Belluard Gringet “Le Feu” 2016 The autochthonous grapes of the French Alps have surely been given a boost by Wink Lorch’s new book, but obscure and rare as Gringet is, I’d guess that most people reading this article have at least heard of it. That’s down to Dominique Belluard of Ayze, just off the A40 Autoroute, southeast of Geneva. His ten hectares plus of vines are dominated by this rare but fine variety, from which Dominique makes both still and very fine bottle fermented sparkling wine. Le Feu is the top Gringet cuvée, from a perilously steep slope with tiny parcels of old vines. It’s just a remarkable wine, intense and pure, mineral and long. But be aware that it begins life as a wine with concentration and acidity. It prefers at least five years of age to soften. The “Les Alpes” cuvée is approachable sooner but doesn’t quite match the product of this half-hectare patch of vines.
♥♥♥Les Vignes de Paradis “C de Marrin” 2017 The best winemakers in the Alps usually seem to be called Dominique these days. Dominique Lucas is based south of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) in a region long known for Chasselas of generally (but not exclusively) mediocre quality. Dominique is the magician who has conjured miracles from these soils. “Kheops” is his rare as hen’s teeth super cuvée, made in a cement pyramid. “C de Marrin” is biodynamic Chasselas (the C) from the appellation known as Marin (with one r), close to Evian and Thonon (this wine is, of course, VdF). The acidity is curtailed and it allows the mineral intensity of the Chasselas to come through. Much as I like many a Chasselas from the lake’s north (Swiss) shore, this is perhaps superior to most of them.
Domaine Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté Cötes d’Auxerre 2018 I’ve known the Goisot wines for decades, and I rather think that being over familiar makes me buy them less often these days than I should. This may have been compounded in recent years by the very small harvests they have suffered, up in the very north of Burgundy. Their Aligoté used to be legend in our house, when all Aligoté was usually thin, weedy, and shrieking with acidity. This isn’t a wine of overt complexity. It is fresh but not too acid, and it rests its case on one thing – being the essence of minerality. It’s that sea shell/marine fossil minerality we get in nearby Chablis (the family is based at Saint-Bris in the Yonne). A very affordable classic, no question.
TASTE OF TERROIR AND CLIMATE – SEA, SAND, SALINE
Pierre Luneau-Papin Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie “Goulaine Excelsior” 2015 Note the vintage. L-P is always a source for majestically aged Muscadet. Thirty-six months on lees here, from vines planted in 1936. Depth of both flavour and texture make this genuinely “Grand Cru” quality. What adds the icing to the very dry cake is its salinity. Wow!
Domaine de la Sénéchalière Folle Blanche 2017 is one of an increasing number of super wines being made not from the Pays Nantais’ best known variety, Melon, but from Folle Blanche (I had another at home recently). The variety is a child of the famous Gouais Blanc, and is better known in Cognac and Armagnac, where thin and acidic wine is a plus. In fact it became used in the Western Loire for Gros Plant, which in our house was usually best softened with some Crème de Cassis, if not used to clean the sinks. But if you take 60-year-old vines and allow the wine to rest four months on lees you might get a wine like this, pure and long, textured and tasting of the sea. For Folle Blanche this is magnificent, but hardly less so for just a lovely seafood-friendly drink.
Martha Stoumen Post Flirtation White 2018 We saw Martha’s exciting red sibling to this wine in Part 1. The white is 40% Roussanne with 28% Colombard, 17% Marsanne and 15% Muscat, largely from Mendocino, and it comes in at a very moderate 10% abv. The Colombard is fermented separately and the other varieties are co-fermented and then added in. I’m not sure what the specific effect is, but as with all of Martha’s wines, it’s certainly effective. This is pure salinity on the tongue, in some ways extreme, but it really works. A delicious wine which I’m hoping my usual sources for the red might be selling soon.
Bodegas Cota 45 UBE Miraflores 2018 How many people know that before the 1970s the fortification of Sherry was not as habitual as it is today? What we have seen recently, perhaps given a big boost by the Equipo-Navazos Florpower series, is a return to unfortified Palomino. It’s really making waves. Ramiro Ibáñez Espinar is the man behind Cota 45 and three of his wines were on taste on Monday. The “Miraflores” is from one of the famous Sherry Pagos, but this is an unfortified Vino de la Tierra de Cadíz. The bouquet is a floating chalky perfume. There’s a burst of citrus fruit on the palate which as it broadens turns salty and tingly. Just 10.5% alcohol.
TASTE OF TERROIR AND CLIMATE – VOLCANOES AND MOUNTAINS
I Vigneri Carricante “Aurore” 2018 is a classic Etna white from the village of Milo, 90% Carricante with 10% Minella, a variety whose name derivation is interesting, but perhaps I’ll leave you to look it up. The vineyard is between 900 to 1,000 MASL on Etna’s north side. As the producer, Salvo Foti, would suggest (he’s cited as “the godfather of Etna wine”), this is no simple white. The old bush vine fruit gives depth and intensity, and from my perspective it is a typical “volcanic” white wine, yet it also shows some of the marine influence of the wines from the previous section. Classic Etna, far more serious than Carricante used to be taken.
Vino di Anna Jeudi 15 Rosato 2018 Anna’s rosato is mostly Nerello Mascalese co-planted with other varieties (including white). Just looking at the colour brings joy, and that’s what this wine is all about, joy (joy as an act of resistance, as Idles would say). It’s a wine for all seasons, with beguiling ripe fruit on the bouquet and a little richness underlying its volcanic structure making everything nicely in balance.
Etnella “Kaos” Rosso 2016 Totally new to me, a blend of principally Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio from vines at 750 metres, again on Etna’s northern side. Davide Bentivegna also makes olive oil and apple cider at his 17 ha property, plus he runs an agriturismo with what look like stunning, elevated, views to the coast. This wine reminds me a little of Palari’s Faro, which Les Caves used to sell in the distant past. Bright fruit, textured and tannic, built to age a while, and a richness partly derived from, and driven by, 14% alcohol.
Jean Maupertuis Gamay “Pierres Noires” 2018 is a still wine made by a producer from whom I buy his pink petnat every year. Jean farms less than four hectares in the village of Saint-Georges-sur-Allier and neighbouring La Roche Noir. They lie on dramatic rocky terrain southeast of Clermont-Ferrand. The Gamay here, Jean describes as Gamay de L’Auvergne, demonstrably different to the Beaujolais Gamay. I think the soils here are well described in the wine’s name, based on the area surrounding Central France’s volcanic puys. The grapes have a short maceration and you get the purest cherry fruit with an extra dimension. A lovely artisan wine, full of personality.
Cave Verdier-Logel “Le Poycelan” 2017 is a wine from a rarely seen region, the Côtes du Forez, which is in the hills between the Loire and the Allier to the northwest of Lyon. This is also Gamay, but like the Maupertuis above, it’s a different wine entirely to Beaujolais. The vines in this case are over a hundred years old and the soils are volcanic, again being the outer reaches of France’s Massif Central. It’s spicy and quite dark-fruited, and even though I knew otherwise, I really stopped in my tracks and wondered whether this was Syrah. Big, mouthfilling fruit with a textured finish. 13.5% abv gives it quite a presence, but a deliciously concentrated one.
TASTE OF TERROIR AND CLIMATE – GARRIGUE, MAQUIS, FYNBOS
I could have written about every one of the eleven wines on this table, and that in a nutshell summarises the difficulty I elaborated in my intro to Part 1. At a Les Caves tasting there really are too many wines (178) to do them all justice. So there’s no Fynbos among the three wines below. These bring Part 2 to a close.
Clos du Gravillas “Lo Vielh” 2016 is another one of the earliest wines I bought from Les Caves rather a long time ago now. In those days I had rather more of a thing for fairly rich wines from Languedoc-Roussillon. I suppose in some cases I’ve become less keen on high alcohol wines, but mostly it’s just down to the desire to try new things. Tasting this after a long time no see, I was struck by how intense and herbal this 100-year-old Carignan wine is in the freshness of relative youth. If you want sweet fruit seasoned with garrigue herbs wafting across the nose and on the tongue, you can’t do a lot better than Nicole and John Bojanowski’s brown label. It’s made from the first vines the couple purchased, and is only excluded from the Minervois AOP because it is 100% Carignan, bottled instead as IGP Côtes du Brian.
Panevino UVA Rosso Sardegna 2018 I’ve never seen this before. Les Caves calls it a “rare unicorn”. Gianfranco Manca is a baker, and as he knew his way around yeasts, and as his bakery had a plot of old vines, in the mid-1980s he decided to give winemaking a go. All Gianfranco’s wines do what they will. This new one (they don’t usually have consistent names vintage to vintage) comes from forty varieties of co-planted centenarian vines off three vastly different terroirs, all hard and mineral-laden.
Although this is a zero sulphur cuvée it doesn’t taste at all like the stereotype of a natural wine, then how many here do? It has a smoothness and very pure biodynamic fruit, with, as they say, great line and length. There’s also a touch of the vermouth about it…packed with herbs. UVA? United Vines of Angiona, of course. It also spells “grape” in Italian. Doug Wregg called it “a wine true to its time and place, born out of the instincts of the vigneron”, hence “unicorn” status.
Hervé Souhaut Syrah Vin de France 2018 We finish with a classic producer of natural Northern Rhône wine. I’m hazarding a guess that this is one wine many readers will have tried, perhaps in previous vintages. Hervé farms at Saint-Épine, within the Saint-Joseph appellation and opposite the Hermitage Hill. He trained with Dard & Ribo and his illustrious neighbour is Thierry Allemand, but his connections run very deep. His “Cuvée Saint-Épine” is the essence of concentrated natural Syrah, but this wine has a similar smoothness of fruit, assured I’d say. I’ve seen some volatility in his wines in the past, but not here. Classic, fine and, as with everything tasted (but particularly in this case), sings out “I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive”.