I’m waiting at the airport in Austin, Texas having spent the last week and a half in the USA. For the sake of transparency, it should be said that I was there showing the wines of a producer for whom I work, but who does not feature in any way in this list.
It’s been an intense but fun trip. Louis Dressner Selections imports some of the most interesting natural wines into the USA (clearly they’re not the only ones…) and so it’s been highly amusing frolicking with the likes of Thierry Puzelat and Arianna Occhipinti for a week.
It’s also been fun tasting wines that I don’t get to try too often. Here’s a selection of my favourite discoveries:
DAMIEN COQUELET (Beaujolais) Morgon Côte du Py 2015 Gamay – vieilles vignes
Côte du Py is the most emblematic appellation in Beaujolais, largely because of Foillard and Lapierre. I’ve even had so many good experiences with that particular cru that I get rather excited when I come across it again.
Damien Coquelet is a young (just turned 30 years old) winemaker who, having legendary Georges Descombes for a step-father, has spent his entire life living and breathing Beaujolais.
This is a light-bodied but poignant wine with good length and depth, having been aged for 8 months in Burgundy barrels. It is a far more serious wine than his other expressions; I also tasted the Beaujolais Villages and the Chiroubles, both of which are only aged in stainless steel and lack the body of this Morgon.
In my glass, I have a wine bursting with red cherry and strawberry aromas, all whilst being underlined by the terroir’s characteristic ferrous base note. The mouthfeel is austere and profound; rooty and rustic. Typical Côte du Py, in my opinion.
It’s easy to say that gamay wines made through carbonic maceration are simple, juicy “fruit bombs” but, with this wine, there’s more than meets the eye. It’s like a child who’s pretending or possibly aspiring to be a grown up. There’s a structure and austerity to this wine which makes it old beyond its years. Just 3000 bottles were made.
KEWIN DESCOMBES (Beaujolais) Morgon 2016 Gamay
I remain in Morgon for the next wine but shift over to talk about another producer and a different vintage. Kewin, or Kéké as he is more commonly known, is Damien Coquelet’s younger half-brother. Both Damien and Kéké have the lion’s share of their vineyards in the cru of Morgon, but despite the same origins they produce such different wines.
Now, admittedly it’s not an entirely fair comparison because 2015 was a hot and sunny year and 2016 was far more difficult in Beaujolais, which received several lashings of hail during the growing season.
That said, there’s no denying that Kéké’s Morgon is exuberant, magnanimous wine, with lavish black fruit, raspberries and prunes. Whereas Damien’s was austere and somewhat introverted, this is a completely different style: it’s outgoing and bold. The tannins here are plush and velvety and the result is remarkably enjoyable. It’s a country mile away from what I think of as traditional Morgon but is this the new emerging style of Beaujolais?
DOMAINE FILLIATREAU (Loire) Saumur Champigny 2015 Cabernet Franc
Listening to Fredrik’s description of his winery to the various clients who approached his table, I mentioned that out of all of us winemakers on the tour, he’s working the hardest. Those clients were treated to an enthusiastic and passionate spiel about his father, about the uniquely shaped vineyards, even the troglodyte tunnels and habitations that gives Saumur its unique features. “Yes, but I need to. Nobody wants Saumur-Champigny these days.”
He’s not wrong. It would seem that these days Loire reds – if it’s not Gamay or Pinot d’Aunis – are not seen as particularly sexy.
These old vineyards were planted by Fredrik’s father and grandfather. The local limestone “tuffeau” soils are key: firstly they continue to release water to the vines even during dry summers and this, in turn, gives a superb elegance to the wine.
Such an attractive nose; all the spice of Cabernet Franc with none of the barnyardiness. 30 days of maceration means that it’s a substantial medium-bodied wine, but it’s wonderfully soft with perfectly ripe tannins. It finishes a little short but it’s a pleasure to take another sip.
COMBEL LA SERRE (Cahors) Château Combel La Serre 2015 Auxerrois / Malbec
Cahors is another appellation that has seen a sharp fall from grace… because until recently drinking many of those black wines was like taking a suckerpunch to the face. For that reason, it’s refreshing to find a Cahors wine with the perfect amount of weight.
Julien Ilbert, another young, dynamic French winemaker, only grows Auxerrois (a synonym of Malbec) for his Cahors wines; but he uses a mix of cement, stainless steel and some fibreglass for the vinification and some old wood barrels for the ageing. As a result, you get beautiful fruit characters (black fruit, berries, herbs and garrigue) and just the right balance of tannins and acidity.
It strides down the middle path between traditional, rustic, tannic Cahors and a carbo juice which has lost all sense of territory, resulting in a wine which is thirst-quenching but not frivolous. A sure bet.
DOMAINE DE LA PEPIERE (Loire) Monnières-Saint Fiacre 2015 Melon de Bourgogne
Domaine de la Pepière is situated in Muscadet. How could an appellation as dull as Muscadet slip into my six favourite discoveries? Well, as well as the classic Muscadet expressions, they make a handful of more interesting, individual single crus. My favourite of which (after trying each of them a couple of times at least over the course of the week – pity me!) was this: Monnières-Saint Fiace.
Unlike the other single vineyard cuvées which are on granite, volcanic basalt or clay soils, the Monnières-Saint Fiacre vineyard is planted on a very particular type of schist soil, called gneiss. It gives a slight bitterness to the finish of the wine which, in my opinion, gives it the edge over the others.
Relatively long ageing (2 years) in stainless steel gives complexity without adding adornment.
Holding up the glass to the light and you don’t need to The colour is one of those ‘barely there’ nude tones – Melon de Bourgogne was never the Picasso of the grape world. All the wines have great minerality and tension. This particular cuvée has a particularly high citrus feel – lime and lemon peel – which would lend itself superbly to shellfish and sea food – and let’s face it: that’s what Muscadet does best.
JULIEN PINON (Loire) Vouvray Pétillant Brut Non Dosé 2011 Chenin Blanc
Last but certainly not least, another surprising wine from one of the more traditional French wine regions. 100% Chenin Blanc, harvested a little later than normal, left for 5 years sur latte (i.e. on its side, with all the yeasts of the secondary fermentation) before the dégorgement.
I really liked this wine. It had such an distinctive nose with so many savoury, umami notes: peanuts, soy sauce, lemongrass…. That the grapes are a little riper than normal means more aromas, more originality and more personality. Don’t get me wrong – it’s dry, salty and there’s a frank earnestness to it that I find in other zero dosage wines too.
I would happily sip this while sitting outside on a warm summer evening, or kick off a meal with this as a substitute for Champagne.