06 February 2012

n.d.p. in the loire: 2012 - la renaissance des AOCs, la dive bouteille, le salon les pénitantes

While they're fresh in mind, I thought I might as well post some impressions of three natural wine tastings I attended in the Loire the weekend before last. This is to break from my habit of posting things six months after they occur, when everyone has forgotten each others names and it becomes curious to see pictures of friends sporting t-shirts and tans, as though it were still summertime. 

Like last year, I traveled with my friend J and his wife C. This year we were accompanied by our good friend D, another non-wine-professional who, in addition to being a capable photographer and worthy iPad Scrabble opponent, also provided a sunny foil for C's patient boredom during the Renaissance des Appellations (Angers), La Dive Bouteille (Brézé), and, new this year, Le Salon Les Pénitantes (Angers).

My main takeaways: an interview with Catherine Breton (to be published elsewhere), a reaffirmed obsession with Chinon Blanc (another post), and a perceived uptick in the quantity and quality of Jura-style oxidative cuvées, from the likes of Ludovic Bonnelle, Michel Augé, Julien Courtois, and Dominique Derain

Niche Interest

The interview with Breton was for a new general interest publication based in New York. I won't go into it here, except to say that it was really kind of her to emerge from the relatively warm (!) catacombs below the Château de Brézé to pose for some photos in the snow at La Dive Bouteille.

Two nights prior we'd attended the party she organized at Café de la Promenade in Bourgeuil. I don't mean it as a criticism to say that it was calmer than last year, less of a piss-up. There were still vignerons busting Michael Jackson moves and sommeliers dancing the can-can on tables.

But there seemed to be less of us;  notably absent were several vignerons from Beaujolais who are reliable roofshaking partiers. By the same token, however, it was nice to encounter, all gathered in one place, many of New York and Paris' most enthusiastic proponents of natural wine.

The Year Of The Cheese Plate

Although I'm hesitant to play trend-spotter in a scene as fractured and insouciant as natural winemaking, there did seem to be more and better Jura-style and skin-maceration oxidative cuvées cropping up this year. The orange-wine thing has certainly already had its moment in the sun on sophisticated wine lists, and become something of a geek cliché. But in my experience the real overhyped bankbreakers of this genre seem mostly limited to Italy, in particular Sicily and the Friuli-Slovenia border. Tasting in the Loire last week further confirmed my suspicion that wines of comparable profundity and depth can be found in France at a fraction of the price.

I've mentioned Loire biodynamicist Michel Augé's "Vin de Voile" Sauvignon previously; at this year's Renaissance des AOCs he was showing two separate 500ml bottle cuvées of same wine, one from old vines and one from young. Curiously, I preferred the young vine cuvée. The fresh almond aromas projected further, and the flavors, while less dense, struck me as purer.

Forgot to take a photo this year - this is the previous vintage of same wine, in which the old and young vine Sauvignon had been blended into just one cuvée. 

Meanwhile, at La Dive Bouteille, Ludovic Bonnelle of biodynamic Buzet estate Domaine du Pech showed a deeply funky, topaz-coloured 2006 Sauvignon called "Soleil." My friend Nadine has it in stock already at Au Nouveau Nez, in the 11ème, but I'd thus far declined to purchase, as it seemed a wild card at 22€. I recall her telling me the wine was made with a version of the solera method, although the bottle itself declared the wine was from the 2006 vintage.

It was a happy, geeky surprise in the end: vivid trail mix flavors, and very well balanced acid. The wine also smelled notably better than Bonnelle's (slightly more) conventional Sauvignon, which can be a little filthy. 

At La Dive I also tasted with Sologne vigneron and Gael Garcia Bernal look-a-like Etienne Courtois, presenting along with his own wines those of his brother, Julien and father, Claude. I've written about the Courtois clan wines several times before, but this was my first time tasting Julien Courtois' "Savasol," an astonishingly profound amber-toned skin-maceration cuvée of Menu Pineau.

J and I were pretty mesmerised by this wine, not least because neither of us could even recall ever tasting a Menu Pineau possessed of any flavor whatsoever.* As a grape it is like the Aligoté lover's Aligoté, a black hole of personality from which no light escapes. A no less talented winemaker than Herve Villemademakes a sparkling version that still tastes like nothing more than fermentation. Whereas the 2007 "Savasol" was totally beguiling: long, graceful, almost off-dry, with notes of candied almond and fennel.

Then, having mentioned these in increasing order of my esteem for them, there's the most surprising of the bunch: St. Aubin based natural Burgundy producer Dominique Derain's just-released oxidative Chardonnay, "Voile Not," aged six years in Savagnin cask from the Jura.

The refined hazel-nut and salted-caramel aromas fairly launched themselves out of the glass when this was poured for me at La Renaissance des AOCs, revealing a masterfully calibrated, bone-dry, slightly rooty palate reminiscent of Bodegas Hidalgo's dense but delicate single-vineyard Manzanilla. I can only say bravo to both the spirit and execution of this wine. 

Le Salon Les Pénitantes

I was indeed feeling somewhat guilty for not having gone to this smaller, more intimate offshoot tasting before the nearby Renaissance des Appellations. J and I arrived half an hour before closure and barely had time to: taste the magnificent 2010 Chablis of Thomas Pico; marvel at the katana-sharpness of an unlabeled bottle of Champagne-base brought by Emmanuel Lassaigne, who was by then exceedingly merry; and congratulate Elisabetta Foradori on a second brilliant vintage of her single-vineyard amphorae-aged Teroldegos. (Teroldegi? That sounds weird to my ears. I'll have to ask her next time.) 

In sum, it was worth the 5 minute walk from the Renaissance. But given that, of the eighteen vignerons present,  at least five were also showing at the Renaissance, there was a slight air of superfluity over the event, as though its existence may have been the result of inter-vigneron cliquey-ness and bravado, rather than any real need.  

Whatever though. As I've enumerated above, there are reasons we are happy to indulge these people.

Emmanuel Lassaigne's base wine. 

* J. Courtois makes another orange cuvée of Menu Pineau called "L'Originel" - the 2009 I tasted the other night was also pretty great, slightly cleaner than the 2007 "Savasol." 

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