February’s NEWTS was a celebration of the range and character of French wines, subtitled “if I could have just one more glass”. Presenter and Society Chairman Geoff has been buying wine in France for 35 years, often returning to the same wineries and buying off two or three generations of winemakers. Geoff gave an introduction to each winery and, where known, the winemaker.
We began with whites from the Loire, Alsace and Rhône, before a red from the Languedoc, back to the Rhône for the core reds and finishing back in the Loire with a sweet wine.
Sadly my slow recovery from a cold meant I often doubted my tasting ability (although strangely my sense of smell seemed OK) so some of the comments from my fellow NEWTS pad the tasting notes. Prices are all cellar door.
The first white was a new one for me, a Montlouis, which is the town on the south side of the river Loire opposite Vouvray (whose AOC it was part of until 1937).
Domaine François Chidaine Le Clos du Breuil 2009, Montlouis, Loire (Chenin Blanc, 13.5% abv, £14.00).
François Chidaine follows biodynamic viticulture but does not mention this on his bottles even though the estate has been certified since 2003. Montlouis Chenin Blancs are typically more crisp and mineral than those from Vouvray and the Clos de Breuil vineyard, grown on a soil-type known locally as “les perruches”, is known for its flinty character. With 6 months in wood this wine was made following Chidaine’s goal to produce “vibrant wines that age gracefully”.
There was a floral, honeyed richness on the nose. On taste there was clean, lemony acidity at the front of the palate (maybe too much) with a sharp minerality. The mid-palate took on a honeyed fruit aspect with with hints of apple, almond and pear and it had a strong, warming finish.
3 stars overall.
To Alsace next, and one of the oldest wineries in the region.
Maison Léon Beyer Comtes d’Eguisheim 2005, Alsace (Pinot Gris, 14.0% abv, £23.00).
Maison Léon Beyer has a history dating back to 1580 (Yann-Leon Beyer, son of winemaker Marc Beyer is 14th generation) and has a reputation for being somewhat aloof in Alsace – Marc is a fierce critic of the local Grand Cru system for masking poorly made wine. Neither is he a fan of residual sugar, it “masks the imperfections” – for more information read the Schiller Wine blog post from January– and the Comtes d’Eguisheim range are their top dry wines.
The Pinot Gris had a rich golden colour with a deep floral nose. There was a bitter attack which dropped off quickly on the honeyed mid-palate into a warming finish with an underlying grapefruit bitterness throughout. The texture was not as thick as expected from the nose, but some members thought it was a little creamy heading towards “fat”.
A good 3 star wine.
Then to a producer that we’ve had before at NEWTS, Domaine de la Janasse (last tasted, the excellent 2004 Terres d’Argile Cotes du Rhone Villages).
Domaine de la Janasse 2010 Viognier, IGP, Principaute d’Orange, Rhône (14.0% abv, £11.00).
Domaine de la Janasse was established in 1973 by Aimé Sabon and is now maintained by his grandchildren Christophe and Isabelle (who took over the winemaking from their father, Christophe, in 1991). The winery covers several Rhône appellations but is based in the heart of the Côtes du Rhône whose the AOC rules for white are for a blend as opposed to single varietal. The Viognier is therefore labelled as an IGP (ex Vin de Pays) but the website confirms the inferred quality with a reference to “Condrieu selection” with only 5000 bottles a year produced.
This wine had a beautiful sweet peach and tangerine aroma which penetrated my cold ridden nose! There was a sweet bitterness of orange oil and waxy stone-fruit underneath, well balanced, dry and complex with a warming finish.
This was the best white on the night, 3+ stars.
So to the reds and a detour into the Languedoc before retracing our steps.
Château la Voulte-Gasparets Cuvée Roman Pauc 2008, Corbieres-Boutenac, Languedoc (14.0% abv, £18.00).
While Corbières is the region’s largest appellation the small Boutenac part barely adds 1% to that total, but is regarded as one of the superioir terrooirs, a “Grand Cru” if you will, where Carignan rules. La Voulte Gasparet is a family estate run by Patrick Reverdy, the 6th generation of the Pauc, Grulet, Bergès and Reverdy families at the Château.
This 50% Carignan 25% Grenache 25% Mouverdre blend had a deep, dark colour suggesting more youthfulness than the label. There was sweet ripe fruit on the nose and a touch of sourness. There were dry, desiccating tannins with muted fruit on the taste and base textures in the mouth. Other members said it had good balance with leather, liquorice and tobacco.
A bit of a rough-edged youngster but a pleasant 3 stars nonetheless.
Then back to the Rhône with a Vacqueyras, often referred to as the little brother of Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Domaine Les Amouriers Cuvée Signature 2010, Vacqueyras, Rhône (15.0% abv, £9.00). Domaine Les Amouriers is run by Patrick Gras and Igor Chudzikiewicz who have 25 ha of vineyards across the southern Rhône worked to organic, low yield principles.
This was a blend of 55% Grenache 40% Syrah and 5% Carignan and showed a delicate nose with some Violet while in the mouth there were firm tannins and a peppery dry aspect in the mouth with firm tannins. From start to finish there was a straightforward progression of textures and flavours, this is a young and simple wine, very easy drinking but uncomplicated and lacking depth.
An entry level, 2+ star quaffer.
From the baby brother to the middle sibling and Gigondas, the Grenache dominated appellation producing almost entirely red wines.
Domaine les Goubert Cuvée Florence 2004, Gigondas, Rhône (14.5% abv, £23.00).
Domaine les Goubert is another Southern Rhone estate with a long history, belonging to the Goubert family since 1636. Augusta Goubert’s son, Jean-Pierre Cartier now runs it with his wife Mireille and daughter Florence, which the 80% Grenache 10% Syrah 10% Mouverdre wine is named for.
This was bottle No. 7719 and gave an initial whiff of rose petals before turning somewhat cabbagey (not in a bad way though) with some plum or damson underneath. There was a light menthol aspect and smooth fruit, backed up by a firm tannic structure and complex secondary flavours on the finish.
Some in the room suggested this is over the hill but though I begged to differ; for me this was 3+ stars drinking beautifully and which I believe will continue to do so for another year or two.
And so to the eldest of the South Rhône siblings, the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape and its interpretation by the old favourite, Domaine de la Janasse.
Domaine de la Janasse Cuvée Chaupin 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape, Rhône (15.5% abv, £45.00).
The Sabons believes “Grenache really is the most interesting variety in Chateauneuf du Pape because “it joins smoothness and power, and gives all their complexity to wines.” And the Cuvée Chaupin only uses this grape rather than the 18 allowed by the appellation. This wine was a joy to drink, amazingly complex with the classic smoothness and sweetness of Grenache raised to another level. Fresh and light, with a sweet menthol nose and a creamy texture throughout and a mity sweet aspect.
The wine’s soft tannins were the only concern for me, maybe too much for such a young wine which could compromise its ageability, but right now it was a 3+ star wine to be enjoyed.
And so the end of the evening yet back to the beginning with a Loire Chenin Blanc, but this time a sweet Vouvray from the region’s most celebrated producers.
Domaine Huet Le Mont, Première Trie 2009 Moelleux, Vouvray, Loire (Chenin Blanc, 12.5% abv, £30.00).
The Domaine was created in 1928 by Victor Huet and was run since 1976 by Noël Pinguet, son in law of the late Gaston Huet, Victor’s son. The recent shock news to the wine world was that Pinguet has surprisingly left the estate – initially reported as acrimonious but later modified to a more agreeable departure.
Première Trie is “first selection” of the ripe (possibly botrytised?) grapes from the “Grand Cru” Le Mont vineyard, which produces wines of youthful minerality which age elegantly.
The wine was surprisingly acidic which balanced the high residual sugar; sweet but with a strong acid backbone, clean fresh and refreshing. There was a spicy tickle on the nose, candied sweet fruit with some caramel and honey. In style I’d compare it to a sweet Spatlese or Auslese Riesling and relatively good value for a 75cl bottle.
Very good throughout and 3+ stars.
On the night the best wine was probably the Janasse Chateauneuf du Pape at £45 but, at only £11, the Janasse Viognier was not far behind and easily best value – a one-two for this excellent Rhône Estate.