Sunday, June 3, 2012

My OH’s highlights from the Real Wine Fair and RAW fair

My husband, Trevor Vibert, as I’ve mentioned before, is the one who got me into natural wine so it seemed only right that he should come to the Real and RAW fairs with me the other week. (Needless to say he didn’t need a lot of persuading). These were the wines that stood out for him, in no particular order, he says.

“This is, of course, not an exhaustive listing. There were far too many wines on show for anyone to claim to be able to offer that. The other caveat is that, by and large i haven’t included wines from producers I already knew well - just wines from producers I know that I hadn’t already tasted - as I wanted to concentrate on breaking new ground as far as possible.

Domaine des Roches Neuves: Thierry Germain’s extraordinary Saumur-Champigny "Franc de Pied" 2008 (Les Caves de Pyrène)
A totally convincing demonstration of just how wines must have tasted pre-phylloxera, with all the zing of ripe Cabernet Franc, enveloped in luscious fruit (almost sweet - but definitely not). This was, in some way that I haven't quite yet managed to articulate, unlike anything else I have ever tasted. But in a good way, not in a scary, off-the-wall way. It was like the best Loire Cab Franc and then somehow even more than that.

Domaine Alexandre Bain Pouilly Fumé 2010 (CdP)
As classy as the classiest Sauvignon you have ever tasted, but combining that with all the complexity and aromatic weight that the wild men of Europe have taught us to see as equally essential to getting the most out of Sauvignon. As big as a great Chardonnay but with a whole other spectrum of delicacy and exotic fruit. A mailed fist in a velvet glove . . .

Domaine Cousin-Leduc (CdP)
Two wines here: Olivier Cousin's wildly, maniacally exuberant 2010 Gamay - which almost leaps out of the glass and grabs you by the throat. One sip (gulp in my case - tch, tch, I told you to spit! FB) and you can't stop grinning. A real vin des copains. The other is the 2007 Cabernet Franc Vieilles Vignes. Equally exuberant but with a big, big structure that makes the most out of the minerality of Cabernet Franc. This one lingers on and on in the mouth. Again it shouts rustic values and real unconfined joyousness.

Domaine du Corps de Garde 'Gueules de Loup' Bourgogne Côtes d'Auxerre 2010 (CdP)
This is doubly an exception to the rules I set myself, as it is a wine I’ve tasted before - several years ago following a wine trip to Chablis and that I didn't taste it at the stand. At the Monday night Real Wine Fair dinner there were armies of bottles all around the room and we were invited to just pitch into what we liked (many times!)

Out of curiosity to see how they had progressed I picked this bottle (hence the soggy label). We had been convinced by that first visit that this young winemaker would go places (he was so youthful in appearance that we have always referred to him as the ‘boy wonder’!). From the very first taste it was astounding - fully the equal of a great Chablis, with all the power and concentration but an overall impression of sweet and lingering delicacy. My great-uncle - a winemaker - would always describe Chablis as tasting of cream with sweetness, roundness and acidity. This had the lot. And it was wonderful with food.

There were two domaines I found exceptional in that all their wines were outstanding:

The first was Domaine Belluard from Savoie (CdP). All three wines showed  (all 2010s) were whites made from the very rare Gringet grape. All possessed a wonderful minerality with a great aromatic signature to the finish.

Monsieur Belluard came over as a kind of philosopher king. He made his wines like a warrior in the vineyard but with the thoughtfulness of a real thinker in his vinifications. The sort of innovator who extends and expands traditional values and techniques.

His first two wines, Les Alpes, and Le Feu - a single parcel - were both fermented in ovoid concrete tanks. The third was fermented on the skins for 12 months in clay amphorae. And did they taste nutty and off the wall? Not in the slightest*. They had the profile - though with the taste of a very different grape - of a great Condrieu. Particularly the last called Amphore. (*Beg to differ here. The Amphore was quite far out for me. Definitely a red! FB)

I came away from his stand wondering if I'd gone a bit mad. It was after all towards the end of two solid days of tasting but then I bumped into Arnaud Combier, a winemaker we'd met a couple of years ago in the Maconnais, and asked him if he had come across anything I should taste. He turned round and pointed to the table I had just left, saying in his view Dominique Belluard "was the man" which made me feel less out on a limb than usual.

Finally there is Testalonga and Lammershoek from South Africa (CdP, Indigo, Richards Walford).
I'd tasted one of Craig Hawkins wines before but here got the chance to taste the whole range and found them just as exciting and individual as the first Chenin I encountered - the El Bandito Cortez.

I tasted one other Chenin, the El Bandito, a Syrah grown on granitic soil and a Mourvèdre (all 2010s except the El Bandito which was from the 2009 vintage). Hawkins is a relentless experimenter, often using unstemmed bunches with carbonic maceration, and he believes (a belief shared by Combier) that the  lees are the soul of the wine.

However he does it the results are wonderful. The two Chenins are probably unlike any other South African Chenin that you have ever tasted with none of those overripe, slightly flabby, confected flavours. He produces Chenins of great length and minerality combined with a huge depth of aromatic flavour, They are not like the great Loire Chenins - they have the stamp of a hot climate southern wine about them, but they somehow combine that with a rare grace and elegance.

The LAM syrah (above) just knocked me out. It had all the finesse of a great Northern Rhone example - singingly pure - but with a depth and weight (and again length) that was never excessive, A world away from the over extracted "Parkerized" wines we have become used to. As to the Mourvèdre I reserve judgement. Still a little young and maybe not the ideal grape for granite.

Finally honourable mentions for two brilliant, exciting Italian Dolcettos - vivid and intense at one and the same time. One from Valli Unite:  the Diogene Colli Tortonesi, the other fron Cascina Corte, the Pirochetta Vecchie Vigne. Plus everything from Essencia Rural and, of course, Frank Cornelissen. Oh, and Castagna's wonderful silky Genesis . . .


  1. So glad that you, Trevor, fell under the spell of Dominique Belluard and his Gringet wines, fermented in concrete eggs especially but also in amphorae. Considering that his Savoie cru Ayze is best known for its sparkling wines (which form more than 90% of his production, also from Gringet, and delicious too), what he has done with his tiny production of still wines is impressive, they improve year on year. His wines are now exported to the USA and he has quite a cult (niche) following there.

    If it weren't for Dominique's and his late father's determination to build up the reputation of their estate, we would have no Gringet and no Ayze - there would be mountain chalets instead - the vineyards are on prime construction area between Geneva and Chamonix. No other producer in the cru makes anything more than very ordinary from Gringet.

  2. Thanks for this, Wink. Sorry it's taken a time to reply. Have neglected the blog woefully recently for reasons given in the latest post!