Right now we seem to be drinking more at home, I wonder why? Actually, although the current clampdown seems to somehow encourage drinking, we have tried to rein it in just a little, but as we are not dining out then the “home drinking” has naturally increased a bit. Rather than hit you with all of March’s worthwhile bottles in one go, I thought I’d split it over two parts. So just eight wines to begin with, I hope as eclectic a selection as usual.
CHAMPAGNE VAL FRISON “GOUSTAN” BLANC DE NOIRS (Champagne, France)
Valérie Frison began farming her family’s vines at Ville-sur-Arce on the Côte des Bar in the late 1990s, under the label Demarne-Frison (with her former husband, Thierry de Marne). The estate was renamed only in 2015, but it is ironically since this date that Valérie has come to the attention of the connoisseurs of Southern Champagne. Valérie was mentored, significantly I think, by one of the region’s great growers, Bertrand Gautherot (Vouette & Sorbée).
I believe Valérie only makes three wines and I have never come across Elion, her pink. The two I know are the white wines, Lalore (Blanc de Blancs) and this Goustan, which is 100% Pinot Noir. The former is a single vineyard wine, which I have often cited as my favourite of the two, but I’m lucky enough to have drunk both wines a reasonable number of times and now I can’t be sure I have any peference. Goustan is a blend of parcels.
This bottle was disgorged in March 2016 from a 2013 base. It therefore has seen longer post-disgorgement ageing than it had on lees, but it has aged well. By that I mean that it has lovely matured (softish) red fruits but a distinct minerality which allows it to keep a beautiful freshness. There seems, in a certain light, to be just a hint of red to the colour. In a way it’s a fairly easy going Champagne but it has nice length and lovely acid structure. These wines are not flashy or demonstrative, but they sure are tasty…and indeed this wine made its way through dinner pretty easily, like a Sunday afternoon stroll. Definitely a producer worth seeking out if you haven’t tried them.
Purchased from Les Papilles in Paris.
PATRIMONIO VERMENTINU 2018, CANTINA DI TORRA (Corsica, France)
Cantina di Torra sounds like a cooperative, but rather it is one of the labels of Nicolas Mariotti Bindi. Nicolas was a lawyer who changed direction and after stages with people like Antoine Aréna, one of Corsica’s great winemakers, he began to farm and make wine at Oletta, which lies close to Bastia in the north of the island. The di Torra wines come from north-facing slopes, on fairly pure limestone (called locally “carcu”) with a little clay, within the Patrimonio Appellation.
This is classic quality Corsican Vermentino (spelt with a “u” on Corsica) made as a natural wine except for 50mg/litre of sulphur added, but it has a fairly classic profile and taste. Vermentino is often accused of having less flavour than many varieties but despite this wine’s mere 12.4% alcohol, it has a lot more presence than you’d expect. It doesn’t come across as in any way fruity, but instead it is smooth, savoury and saline. The chalky texture blends with moderate acidity and good length to make it a very interesting discovery. Good with fish sounds a pretty bland suggestion, but sometimes if someone spouts such a cliché you can only say “yeah, I know just what you mean”.
A recomendation from Simon at The Solent Cellar.
LE CLOU 34 ALIGOTÉ VV 2017, CLAIRE NAUDIN (Chablis, France)
This Naudin-Ferrand “Le Clou 34” is no ordinary Aligoté, being made principally from a parcel, Le Clou, planted in 1934 (we do get some younger fruit…from vines planted between 1935 and 1953). So old vines means old vines. It’s made simply, fermented in tank. It’s the old vines which make this special, and as a known lover of Aligoté I would suggest that this indeed special. It saw only a light pressing and just a touch of sulphur at bottling.
The result is very mellow, deep and classy, like few versions of this variety used ever to achieve. I would not say, for example, that this is a particularly acidic wine. It does have acidity, it’s just that all its other qualities cause you not to notice it. Fresh and textural more than anything, this is a wine which stands up on its own, irrespective of grape variety, and I’d say it will certainly go another five years if you wish.
LANGHE NEBBIOLO “ROSSO DI ROCCA” 2018, ALBINO ROCCA (Piemonte, Italy)
In the first two months of 2020 I’d been lucky enough to drink more than my usual share of excellent fine Nebbiolo, starting on the last day of 2019 with Mascarello (Giuseppe e Figlio) Barolo and finishing just before we were exhorted to remain at home, at the end of February, with Mascarello (Bartolo) and Giovanni Canonica. But you can’t drink the best stuff all the time, and you don’t need to because good producers in Piemonte make a range of wines. This Albino Rocca is a good example.
The wine comes from a vineyard on the left bank of the Tanaro at Magliano Alfieri, with some extra volume from Barbaresco (where Albino Rocca is based), mostly on marls with some limestone and sand. This is mainly Nebbiolo (97%), but with the inspired addition of 3% Cabernet Franc. Clever. Albino Rocca only recently purchased the vineyard in 2016, but some of the vines go back to 1967, undoubtedly adding depth.
Initially this was a little tight, showing some tannins, but the 14.5% abv on the label didn’t seem to show up on the palate (thankfully). The bouquet was uncannily pure strawberry, lifted by a gentle florality. Below the tannins the palate is rich and smooth, no doubt riding on the alcohol to a certain extent. The wine is grounded by a typical savoury side to it. This is an all round excellent value Piemontese.
Just £20 from Solent Cellar.
MONDEUSE “LA DEUSE” 2013, GILLES BERLIOZ (Savoie, France)
Gilles is the senior Berlioz at Chignin, currently farming around five hectares of vines, just one of which is planted with Mondeuse. Gilles farms biodynamically (he only received Demeter certification in 2018), and he long ago rejected wood in favour of fibreglass tanks and, recently, eggs.
La Deuse isn’t necessarily what you’d expect from the variety. A clue might be the alcohol content, astonishingly just 9.5% (some vintages it does get a little higher). It does have some depth to the colour, but the bouquet is floral. I won’t lie, I’ve tried other vintages which have had a touch of volatility, though not in this bottle. We are talking strawberry and mulberry with a faint whiff of beetroot! The whole bouquet soars gently, like wood smoke into the Alpine sky.
The palate is fairly delicate, not surprising considering the wine’s age and low alcohol, making it gentle to sip. It doesn’t lack a certain structure though. I may have made it sound slightly unappealing but that is not my intention. I think it’s an unusual wine, yet one that I think people will enjoy and warm to. It’s easy drinking yet with its own personality.
From the 2016 vintage Gilles’ wines are made under the “Domaine Partagé” label, instigated so as to better reflect their philosophy of sharing more than for any other reason.
This 2013 was purchased at The Winemakers Club in Farringdon.
GRINGET “LES ALPES” 2016, DOMAINE BELLUARD (Savoie, France)
Two Savoie in a row, quite right too! Dominique Belluard is probably my favourite Savoie producer, and has been for many years. Although the youngest of two brothers originally working at a family estate at Ayze (on the Arve’s right bank, close to Bonneville, as the river flows towards the western end of Lac Léman), Dominique effectively became winemaker in 1986 (he later bought out his brother after their father passed away). Since then he has quietly become known as the saviour of the Gringet grape variety, although he has some Altesse and a little Mondeuse among his ten or so hectares of vines.
The mainstays of the Belluard production are two very fine Crémant sparkling wines from this variety, and two still wines. “Le Feu” is the masterpiece, from a small and very steep slope, whilst “Les Alpes” is the junior wine, a blend of different parcels on marls. The grapes are initially fermented and aged in concrete eggs (some of which are diamond-shaped with a horizontal egg inside). Those winemakers who use these eggs feel the wines benefit from the natural lees circulation that their shape encourages. Ageing lasts one year, and is finished in more classical stainless steel vats.
Wink Lorch, who knows these wines well, suggests that “Les Alpes” begins to open at three years old, and “Le Feu” at five (Wines of the French Alps…2019, Wine Media Travel). That seems pretty much spot on to me. There’s real “alpine” freshness of course, but this vintage is also beginning to develop rondeur and spice notes. The texture is stony, and certainly evokes the terroir. Even though we are not at the pinnacle of Belluard’s range, we have a degree of complexity. It’s a truly beautiful wine. One would call Gringet the forgotten star grape of Savoie, were there not a couple of other contenders. I’ve never been able to buy any of Dominique’s wines made with the other varieties, but the Gringet wines I know well. In all its forms, still and sparkling, Belluard’s Gringets are unmissable.
Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.
TROUSSEAU DES CORVÉES 2014, DOMAINE DE LA TOURNELLE (Jura, France)
Domaine de la Tournelle sits in the heart of Arbois, tucked away at the top of the tiny Petite Place, close to the Michelin two-star restaurant Maison Jeunet. Here you will find their summer tasting room and their increasingly famous bistrot, where you can sample the domaine’s wines (and those of a few friends) with a cold plat by the river. Evelyne and Pascal Clairet began their domaine in 1991, and it wasn’t that long before I discovered them, initially via their delicious Uva Arbosiana Poulsard.
I saw Pascal recently at the Dynamic Vines portfolio tasting, but I foolishly bought no Tournelle wines in my last Dynamic purchase, thinking I’d be sitting by the river in Arbois this July, possibly chatting with Evelyne over a glass before lugging a box back to the Chambre d’Hôte. Triste.
Trousseau des Corvées comes from one of the better known vineyards just outside the town itself, below the road to Montigny-les-Arsures. As you drive towards that village, as you certainly will wish to if you visit Arbois, or better still, go there on foot through the vineyards, you will see the clay slope of Les Corvées with its rocky limestone here and there peeking through, just below the Tour de Curon, made famous by Stéphane Tissot.
This is paler than some Trousseau, but it is astonishingly vibrant and energetic, tasting like a wine made by a young couple, not (slightly) older hands who have helped mentor and support many of the town’s current stars. At six years old we have a smooth-fruited wine, mature now, yet with its very own wild side. No sulphur is added. This is wonderful “natural” Trousseau, and perhaps it’s the ideal wine (this or Tissot’s quite different “Singulier”) with which to delve into the grape variety for the first time. This bottle of 2014 is right on the button.
Available via Dynamic Vines, or try the wine shop at Antidote Wine Bar (Newburgh Street, Soho).
VELTLÍNSKÉ ZELENÉČ 2 2017, JAKUB NOVÁK (Moravia, Czechia)
Jakub Novák has a mere one hectare to farm, but you wouldn’t know it as this cult winemaker gets his distinctive labels all over social media. He does buy in a little organic fruit from other producers, but not a lot. He’s apparently a very shy guy who studied under Jaroslav Osicka before establishing himself at Tasovice, and Jakub is a member of the famous “autentiste” group of natural winemakers.
Vinification and ageing is in wood, always a mix of oak and acacia. There’s a period of skin contact, usually a couple of days, but the wine ages on its lees with regular stirring/batonnage for the remaining eleven months of its élevage. You get a bit of colour from the skin contact, stone fruits and more ginger spice than your usual Veltliner pepper. Add to this a touch of richness, creaminess even, from the lees stirring, with a hint of pear, and you get an immaculately crafted wine. Jakub is one of the emerging stars of this fascinating Czech natural wine movement.
Importer: Basket Press Wines.