I found myself with a late afternoon to kill in Angers on the Friday before this years' tasting salons. With the aim of avoiding drinking at all costs, I nursed a café crème on the terrace of a no-name bar beside a parking lot, where I soon ran into Beaujolais vignerons Karim Vionnet and Jean-Claude Lapalu.
They were toting several magnums between them, headed elsewhere. I said I'd see them tomorrow at the tasting, whereupon Vionnet reminded me that they were presenting at La Dive Bouteille, which didn't start until Sunday in Saumur. For the winemakers, evidently, as much as for me and most other attendees I know, the weekend was mainly a social occasion.
I'm guilty of complaining about this dynamic from time to time. The truth is, though, that the pageantry and partying of the Loire salons are signs of a vibrant community, and ought to be encouraged as such, or at very least, gracefully tolerated. Take, for a counter-example, the Demeter France tasting at Angers' Palais de Congrès, where my friends and I tasted the following morning. Most of the winemakers looked embarrassed to be there, like they hadn't even been introduced to one another. It seemed illustrative of the limitations of merely-biodynamic collective marketing, at a time when even the natural wine off-salons, Vin Anonymes and Les Pénitantes, are metastasizing each year. I missed out on Anonymes this year, in favor of arriving earlier at La Dive Bouteille - a somewhat unnecessary precaution, it turned out, since this years' edition was notably better organised, and seemingly less overrun by local daysippers. After the jump, some scattered takeaways. Slightly more in-depth posts on a few topics to follow in days to come.
The Late Renaissance
The Renaissance des Appellations welcomed two promising newcomers to the Grenier Saint Jean this year: Maison Pierre Overnoy and Domaine Leroy. Only time will tell whether these scrappy biodynamic underdogs will attract any interest from buyers, or attain acceptance from their formidable peers in the ultracompetitive, dog-eat-dog Anjou scene. 'Sure,' I heard more than one attendee sneer, 'Lalou Bize-Leroy can make a pretty solid Richebourg. But where's the pét'-nat'?'
Similarly, the whispers of those passing by the perpetually desserted Overnoy stand expressed an incredulous curiosity as to the identity of the smiley old guy sitting behind Emmanuel Houillon. What was his deal, anyway?
In all seriousness: I didn't get to taste with Mme. Bize-Leroy, because by early afternoon on Saturday all her wines were finished, which seems significant at a tasting attended, to a large degree, by the same cavistes, sommeliers, and importers who in their own businesses work so tirelessly to steer clients towards anything other than great Burgundy.
I did taste briefly with Emmanuel Houillon, whose wines showed the way I always encounter them in Paris : far, far too young. I learned that Maison Pierre Overnoy were also quite afflicted by suzuki drosophile in 2014, losing up to 40% of their Poulsard. Which is a shame, since it means they'll finally have to turn off the firehose, as it were, when it comes to distribution.
I can see the promotional and educational value of including impossibly-allocated domaines at La Renaissance, particularly for foreign buyers, who would otherwise be obliged to spend their few days in France asking where the hell to taste Overnoy. But it does seem like La Renaissance would do an equal, if not better service, by ceding these tables to younger domaines that need the exposure.
|Carolin & Nikolaus Bantlin of Domaine Les Enfants Sauvages|
For example, my most pleasant surprise of the whole tasting was a lovely Roussillon white by 9ha Roussillon estate Domaine Les Enfants Sauvages, whose labeling had presumably steered me away from their stand during previous years' tastings. German architect-turned-winemaker Nikolaus Bantlin's 2013 "Cool Moon" is a blend of Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc, Macabeo, and Vermentino, with a fresh cornbread nose, supple acidity, and pure lychee fruit.
Unfortunately it appears to be quite expensive for its type : 18€ on-line. By "its type" I mean "whites from Roussillon," primarily, but I also mean "bottles emblazoned with French translations of Doors lyrics in Times New Roman," which category has also, historically, never really broken though.
High Hopes For Amphorae
Amphorae cropped up in places where one might not expect. Stephanie Roussel, the frank and vivacious winemaker behind Chateau Lassolle in the Côte Marmandais, explained she plans to put her entire production in amphorae the following year.
While this might smack of kookiness and / or desperation, I think in Roussel's case it might help bring a little uniformity to her range, which is presently kind of all over the map.
I liked her black, piratic 2012 Abouriou, partly for its boldness, partly because it gave me better perspective on the one made by her neighbor and complete human opposite, Elian da Ros. But the "Lassolle Triple S," bottled only in magnum and made from three grapes, aged three different ways, from three different vintages, was as muddled as it sounds.
Meanwhile, Bernard Vallette in southern Beaujolais was showing an experimental 2013 cuvée of 100-year-old vine Gamay aged in a single 400L Georgian amphora he'd bought from a Swiss winemaker friend. Tasting the "Jarre" was a bittersweet experience, chiefly because its dark cherry fruit and rugged energy were so much more livelier than in the winemaker's "Cuvée Centenaire," which is the same wine aged - steeped, I might add - in 3rd passage oak. Someone should start a kickstarter to buy Vallette more amphorae.
New Voices In Vouvray
I was happy to make the acquaintance of two young Vouvray winemakers, whose wines I'd recently begun to encounter in Paris.
Michel Autran was among the few newcomers at Les Pénitantes, which seems like a high honor for a guy with almost no wine. Autran began his domaine in 2011 with just 0,5ha, after having worked several years for François Pinon. As of this year he has 3h80ares, from which he produces three parcellaire cuvées of joltingly acid Vouvray. I lost tooth enamel on these wines, and liked it, particularly "Le Ciel Rouge," from clay-limestone soils.
He also made a terrific and totally unserious Gamay-Chenin pét'-nat' rather mysteriously titled "Arréts-toi à Kerguelen." ("It's a real town," the winemakers explained, no less mysteriously.) The wine was buoyant and bright, with cracking cranberry-currant fruit, and such acid that one forgot the 10g residual sugar.
Later at La Dive Bouteille I tasted with Matthieu Cosme, who, interestingly, farms one of the same vineyards as Autran, "Les Enfers."
|Matthieu Cosme, right|
I also enjoyed their still Vouvray "Promenard," which stood above the others in tension and sheer mineral muscle.
Les Pénitantes is reliably the most insidery and least appealing tasting of the weekend, being perpetually thronged, humid, and brimming with wines one knows back-to-front already (Puzelat, Breton, Foillard, Lassaigne, etc.) and wines that do not seem necessary to know (the Spanish contingent).
But on some friends' recommendations I tasted through the wines of biodynamic Styrian domaine Weingut Muster, and really enjoyed much of their blitheringly incomprehensible range, which encompasses all combinations of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Riesling, along with, for reds, Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch.
As I sense is become more frequent in my interactions with domaines specialising in orange wines, I liked the entry level wines best... The basic Welschriesling (Riesling Italico) and the Chardonnay-Sauvignon-Muscat-Riesling blend "Opok" were both bright, mineral, well-drawn, with an intensity that never overspilled their slender frames. The richer, longer-macerated whites were all well-made, if less to my tastes, and the reds were showing too oaky for anyone's taste.
Silence of the Layons
|Philippe Delmée looking sinister as heck. Guillaume Dupré of Paris wine bar Coinstot Vino on left.|
If the death of the erstwhile great sweet wine genre Côteaux de Layon needed any hastening, I've begun to suspect that (arguably misplaced) natural wine tenets will soon finish the job. It's a thought that occurred to me a few months ago, when I opened a bottle of unsulfured 2008 Closerie de Belles Poules Côteaux de Layon that had been rendered unrecognisable by oxidation. It occurred to me again at La Dive, where I found myself disappointed with Clement Baraut's brown, one-note Bonnezeaux. (Particularly in comparison to the rest of his oeuvre, which is stunning. He just débuted a really scrumptious, satisfying Grolleau at this year's Dive.)
Of the unsulfured Angevin sweet wines I've tasted, the only one that retained any significant complexity was Philippe Delmée's 2010 "La Grosse Nadine," whose rich, gingerbread nose belied a nice knuckly acidity.
The winemakers I spoke to about this particular pet subject all seemed to imply that, if classic Côteaux de Layon can't be made without sulfur, then as tasters we ought to content ourselves with the sorts of Côteaux de Layon that can be made without sulfur, i.e. brown, tamarindy creations bearing little resemblance to the historical template.
To me this seems like a confusion of genre. Applying a sulfur-free ideal to a form in which sulfur is seemingly a key ingredient is like insisting that sherry be unfortified, or that beer be fermented without temperature control. I appreciate the ideal of sulfur-free winemaking as much as the next guy at these salons. But I get unnerved when I sense the ideal being applied too liberally, to the point of incompatibility, in the same way that it's weird when certain vegetarians inflict their diet on their pet cats.
|Yann Durieux & François Saint-Lô. I was hoping Etienne Thibaud would walk by. It would have been like a reggae fest.|
My coverage of the 2014 Loire salons
My coverage of the 2012 Loire salons
My coverage of the 2011 Loire salons