Sunday, March 22, 2015

9 natural wines I’ve enjoyed in Paris this week

It’s not often I spend a whole week drinking natural wine but I’ve been in Paris with my husband who drinks nothing else, given the chance. And we’ve been hanging out in restaurants and bars that have natural wine lists.

So here are a few things we’ve enjoyed, where we’ve drunk them and what we ate with them. As usual I’ve rated them from green to red - see my traffic lights system, right.

X Bulles at Le Mary Celeste 

A  super bone-dry pet nat made from melon de Bourgogne from muscadet producer Vincent Caillé  Great with oysters. (See my recently updated review of the restaurant). N/A in the UK. GREEN TO AMBER

Le Temps d’Aimer Sorcellerie 2012 at Sauvage

A new one on me, this dry chenin from Francois Maudet’s Le Temps d’Aimer just south of Angers was delicately peachy but with the acidity to make it a great match with oysters (yes, again). See my review of Sauvage in the previous post - I think only they stock it. GREEN TO AMBER

Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet 2013 Vin de Pays de l’Ardèche Blanc at Au Passage

I’ve enjoyed Hervé Souhaut’s syrah before but not tried this richly textured blend of Roussanne and Viognier. It sailed through our starters of salmon with beets and horseradish, salt cod with saffron aioli. and roast Jerusalem artichokes. Les Caves de Pyrène GREEN TO AMBER

Le Vendangeur Masque 2013 Bourgogne Blanc, de Moor at Le Servan

Confusingly this seems to be labelled as Chablis in some markets and Bourgogne in France but it’s very fine either way - beautifully crisp and precise. My mate Fiona ordered a case (from Les Caves de Pyrène) she enjoyed it so much. Spot on with tête de porc with cockles and celery and gravlax of trout with endive and orange. GREEN

Muxagat Tinta Barrocca 2013 at Le Servan
One of the few non-French wines on this list, a deliciously vibrant unoaked Portuguese red from Mateus Nicolau de Almeida of Quinta do Monte Xisto in the Douro (see this interesting background profile from Wine Detective Sarah Ahmed.)  Very good with a robust, sticky beef stew with carrots and black sesame. GREEN

La Stoppa Ageno 2005 at Le Baratin

No real excuse for ordering this as we have several bottles at home but it’s rare to come across a 2005 let alone for €7.50 a glass. Deep, deep orange (as you can see below) with an exotic flavour of quince. Perfect with paté, braised duck and gorgonzola (not all on the same plate, obviously). Les Caves de Pyrène. AMBER

Camerlengo Accamilla 2013 at Heimat

Not quite in the same league as the Ageno but still very young, a beguilingly floral skin contact Malvasia from Basilicata. Very good with a deeply savoury starter of veal tongue. Vini Italiani in the UK has the 2011vintage for £21. AMBER

Sang Neuf, Vuillaud 2013, Beaujolais at Heimat

The name says it all. This unusual Beaujolais really did smell of blood, iron and freshly dug earth which obviously won’t make it to everyone’s taste. Great with a robustly spicy seafood pasta though. AMBER TO RED

Koforobé 2013 Gregory Guillaume from L’Etiquette

L’Etiquette on L’isle Saint-Louis is one of our favourite wine shops (pop by if you’re in the neighbourhood for their Saturday tastings). An unusual blend from Alba La Romaine in the Rhône, marrying peppery syrah with fresh redcurranty merlot. No added sulphur, fining or filtering - a simple vin de soif. 17€ GREEN TO AMBER

Interestingly when I went through my notes and snaps I found we drank more white than red, maybe a reflection of the style of food we were eating. A topic I’ll return to in due course.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sauvage, a new natural wine bar discovery in rue du Cherche Midi, Paris

While we pick up most of our recommendations online, it’s always good to discover somewhere for yourself as we did a couple of months back heading back up the rue du Cherche Midi and stumbling upon Sauvage.

Having recently opened it consisted of a few shelves of natural wines and the standard wine bar fare of cheese and charcuterie. Now it has a few hot dishes too prepared in a minute space at the back by the owner Sebastien Leroy with the aid of a sharp knife, a microwave and a slow cooker.

Given the fact that Leroy has to combine the roles of salesman, sommelier, chef and front of house (and presumably washer-upper) the operation runs surprisingly smoothly. If you sit down and order a couple of glasses of wine (a slightly wild pet nat - La Buelloise from La Grapperie in our case) you get a few slices of excellent saucisson with it.

Leroy rattles off the menu - there’s no written version so it pays to have a smattering of French - which includes oysters, mackerel, some kind of fish I didn’t catch and sausage de Morteau with carrots. The oysters which we could hear being shucked in the background were wonderfully fresh and salty, perfect with the utterly delicious 2012 Sorcellerie dry chenin from Francois Maudet’s Le Temps d’Aimer (GREEN TO AMBER - see my traffic light ratings on the right) that he suggested to go with them, a generous hunk of beurre de sel and some thickly sliced dark rye bread.

The satisfyingly meaty, slightly smokey sausage came with sweet-tasting heritage carrots which I gather from the ‘ping’ were microwaved (nothing wrong with that) then had some shavings of carrot added to the hot broth for an interesting textural contrast. Very simple but a first class use of good seasonal ingredients, following the natural wine philosophy of adding nothing and taking nothing away. Considering his background is apparently in film rather than a restaurant kitchen according to this review in Le Fooding, Leroy can cook a bit.

A selection of Sauvage's wines - not the ones we tasted
The wine selection is modest but eclectic with not many names i recognised apart from Sebastien Riffault but Leroy says he tries to stock wines that aren’t available elsewhere. The ‘Malice’ Cab Franc we had with the sausage, also from Maudet was delicious too though slightly funkier (AMBER). I can’t find out much about the domaine at all other than that he’s just south of Angers. Certainly one to look out for.

It was hard to keep track of exactly what we spent because there wasn’t a bill and we the took the remains of the two bottles we started away to finish over the weekend. But I’m guessing the wine came to about half our €112 total. You could certainly get away with a lot less.

Sauvage is at 60 rue du Cherche Midi, 76006 Paris (the 6e) and on Facebook at cave.sauvage. Closed Sunday after 3 and Mondays. Open 10-3 Tues & Wednesday and 10-11pm Thursday-Saturday

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Are women more tolerant of natural wine?

I’m not sure what’s in the air but there’s been a lot of impassioned debate about natural wine this week - both pro and anti.

Natural wine advocate Isabelle Legeron referred to it in the Guardian as ‘life in a glass’. Jay Rayner countered that they were ‘brutal’ (scroll down to the comments below the piece). Wine critic Tim Atkin referred to it on Twitter as ‘primitive wine’, his fellow writer Jamie Goode poked gentle fun at both while baker and food stylist Claire Ptak enthused about her favourite natural wine diners in the FT.

It’s possible to detect a couple of patterns here. One is - and it's tempting to  argue this on International Women's Day -  that women are more tolerant than men of natural wine. At one level that’s true. I think women are generally less inclined to be confrontational about their preferences and accepting of those who don’t share them. But the people who make natural wine - and other types of wine - are mainly male, as are many of the young sommeliers who champion them.

No, the big divide I think is between people who have a food background and those whose background is in wine. By and large the wine establishment (Jamie and a handful of others apart) is anti and I can see why. Regardless of whether you approve or not of the ’N’ word about which I blogged myself a couple of weeks ago the implication for many is that if these wines are good then there’s something wrong with the rest of the wines we drink. (Not a view I share. I think it’s perfectly possible to enjoy both pet nat and champagne for example but the establishment seems to feel you can't do both.)

Food writers, chefs and younger consumers, are more open-minded. Their reaction to an unfamiliar taste or ingredient they haven’t come across is ‘bring it on’. If they don’t like it to start with (as many of us don’t take to olives or anchovies, say) their response is to try it again to see what the fuss is about. It helps to explain why many of the new wave of restaurants and wine bars serve natural wines. The chefs are into them just as much as their wine guys (or gals).

Regardless of the merits - or demerits - of natural wines, and there are good and bad examples of each, I just don’t see why people (especially middle-aged men in the wine trade) get so angry about them. No-one forces them to drink them or to go to restaurants that serve them. Almost every restaurant - even those with a 100% natural wine list - serves some other beverage - beer, cider, cocktails - that they could drink. Or they could simply say to the sommelier "I’m not that keen on natural wine, can you suggest one I might enjoy?" They might even - and this might come as a shock to them - actually find one they liked.

Image © nicoletaionescu -

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Plateau: a great natural wine bar in Brighton

“I look every week at your blog to see if it has been updated” said Thierry Pluquet mournfully. “It never is. ”

How could I not respond to such a heartfelt rebuke? You always reckon it doesn’t matter that much if you let a blog slip so it’s a bit chastening when you find that readers actually mind. Well, one of them anyway ....

Anyway Thierry’s restaurant, Plateau which he runs with his business partner Vincent LeBon* is a good enough reason to update it.

It’s a fair size place in Brighton’s Lanes - slightly more than a wine bar, not quite a restaurant with the most incredible wine list.

I was there, in fact, not as a customer but giving a talk about the Discover the Origin campaign which promotes wines from Burgundy and the Douro, port, parma ham and parmesan cheese but as soon as I saw the list I knew I’d have to dip in.

My first glass was a wine I’d tried before - Le Blanc qui Tente (literally - the white which tempts) a cloudy, unfiltered sémillon from Stephanie Roussel of Chateau Lasolle in the Côtes du Marmandais which sells as a Vin de France.

It wasn’t a typical semillon by any means with far more white peach and apple than pineapple fruit but absolutely luscious. They were slightly apprehensive about pouring it for me but needn’t have been. Much more an amber than a red (see my classification, right)

The menu looked pretty tempting too so we decided to stay for supper mainly so I could order the canon of lamb with wild garlic purée, asparagus and feta a combination I thought would work really well with a light bright red.

It did with the Opi d’Aqui Les Fainéants - a blend of mourvèdre and grenache  made by carbonic maceration. just outside Clermont L’Herault. A great find.

So there you are Thierry. It was worth complaining. The question is can I keep it up?

Plateau is at 1, Batholemews, Brighton BN1 1HG. Tel:01273 733085. They’re also on Facebook

*Both nominated as Imbibe Restaurant Personality of the Year.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Two natural wines from Fattoria La Vialla

It's been interesting to watch the progression in winemaking at Fattoria La Vialla, an organic Tuscan estate I visited four years ago.

I went to cover the olive oil harvest but found they produced a wide range of products including pasta, pasta sauces and wine which even then was produced from biodynamically-run vineyards.

They've kept in touch and recently sent me two of their wines from the 2012 vintage which are very much in the natural wine mould. An intriguing unfiltered white called Barriccato Bianco - quite strong at 14% - which tastes of apples, pears and quince (AMBER) and a dark sparkling rosé called La Brumosa made from pinot nero which looks sweet but although fruity (it tastes rather deliciously of strawberries) is surprisingly dry. (GREEN) The white is more challenging - though I like it - but I'm sure most people would enjoy the rosé which would make an excellent party fizz or aperitif.

I like the Fattoria La Vialla set-up which is family-run. They don't sell through any intermediaries and produce hard-to-resist handwritten catalogues full of artisanal products. It's well worth getting on their mailing list to order the new season's olive oil as soon as it's released - and their delicious fresh vino novo if they're selling it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Olivier Cousin must wait till March to learn his fate

Photo by Jim Budd
Those who follow this blog probably already know this news but the decision on Olivier Cousin's high profile case has been put back until March 5th next year.

If you remember Cousin was taken to court by the authorities for using the letters AOC - Anjou Olivier Cousin - on his labels, a gesture against the AOC (Appelation d'Origine Controlée) system.

It's amazing how anyone has the time and energy to pursue this matter - and the lack of judgement. As a figurehead for small artisanal winemakers Olivier has attracted a lot of support both inside and outside France.

To see in more detail what's been happening read Jim Budd's Jim's Loire - always doggedly on the case, Betrand Celce's excellent post on Wine Terroirs which has great pictures of the picnic which took place outside the courtroom and this reflective post from American natural wine importers Jenny & François.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Our last bottle of Stephane Cossais Le Volagré

Trevor pays tribute to one of his favourite winemakers.

"We said goodbye to an old friend last night. We drank our last bottle of the stellar chenin "Le Volagré" 2006. We had friends over  for supper including Chris Wicks, late of Bell's Diner in Bristol (in my opinion the finest chef in Britain never to be awarded a Michelin star) and his wife Marti.

We started with a very good organic chenin (from Johan Reyneke) then went on to the Volagré, which I didn't introduce or big up in any way. It was just  "another chenin, from the Loire this time".  Chris, who as well as being a fine chef is one of the few who really gets wine, sipped and raised his eyebrows quizzically as if saying "my God what is this?"

I told them all what it was, and how poor Stéphane died of a heart attack in july 2009. A heart attack that many believe was brought on by the stress of relentless and unending persecution by the authorities throughout his oh-so-brief five vintages. He made "natural" wines you see!! Shock, horror . . .

Chris said simply that he found the wine in his glass to be the equal of the finest burgundies of Puligny or Chassagne and that at the first sip he was convinced he was drinking something from Annie Leflaive.

Apart from this being chenin and not chardonnay, he was also amazed to hear that this wine wasn't aged in a barrique, but only vinified in Stephane's beloved 400 litre foudres.

It's always satisfying when someone whose taste you respect and who has sampled so much good wine in their day agrees with your own long-held opinions. I first drank Le Volagré in 2006, and have ever since held it to be one of the very finest wines I have ever had the pleasure of drinking.

I defy all the natural wine-haters and the carping mean-spirited and closed-minded antis of this world to drink that wine blind and find it anything but exquisite.

Thank you Stephane. Thank you very, very much for your brief but utterly meteoric blaze across the natural wine sphere."

PS If any of you know where we can buy some more Le Volagré, I'm sure Trevor would be ecstatic! FB. And an update. We have now managed to get our hands on a case of the 2008!