Saturday, August 18, 2012

Le Raisin et L'Ange, Fable 2009

This is exactly the sort of red I like to drink in summer - well, to tell the truth most times of the year.

We ordered it on our way back from France when we stopped another night at the Auberge de Chassignolles from which we seem unable to keep away.

It's a sign, I suppose, of how much our tastes have changed that Harry Lester, the proprietor, wasn't sure if we would like it and offered to open another bottle if we didn't. (He said he would drink it himself as it was one of his favourite wines.) But it had that vivid life-enhancing fruit that natural reds - especially Syrah - tend to possess and I loved it. No sulphur though which may mean it varies from bottle to bottle - and Harry decanted it which I suggest you do too.

We drank it with buckwheat pancakes, stuffed with chard and goats cheese, with slow roast lamb shanks and a deconstructed, less-oily-than-usual ratatouille and with a selection of cheeses to which it stood up very well. 

The producer Gilles Azzoni of Mas de la Bégude doesn't seem to have a website but there's a good account of his winemaking philosophy here. He's based in St Maurice d'Ibie in the Ardèche just west of Montélimar. You can buy it in the UK from Gergovie Wines at I'm not sure what price but it shouldn't be too expensive. Just 16€ on the Chassignolles list.

Rating: Amber (see right)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

L'Ami Chenin: a good place to stay in the Loire

Here’s another good place to stay if you’re a natural wine fan - L’Ami Chenin in Saumur which we - or more accurately - my diligent researcher of a husband - chose because it was just down the road from Thierry Germain of Domaine des Roches Neuves who we were visiting the following day*.

It’s an 18th century house built into the rocks up above Saumur (see note on parking below). The proprietor Xavier Amat used to be a winemaker - but now combines his role running a chambres d’hôtes with that of a natural wine merchant. As a result he has a spectacular cellar.

We shared a pet nat rosé with him and his wife, France, then an old bottle of Benoit Courault’s glorious quince-scented Gilbourg Anjou Blanc whose vintage I negligently forgot to note and Noella Morantin’s 2010 Côt à Côt (Malbec) with our fellow (British) guests who, if they were taken aback to drink such off-the-wall wines, were too polite to say so.

Dinner, which you need to reserve and which may not be available if you’re the only guests, is cooked by France and is served outside in the garden if it's fine. The night we were there (July 19th 2012) it consisted of a suitably summery baba ganoush (aubergine purée), fennel, orange and red onion salad, chicken cooked with preserved lemon and couscous, a splendid selection of local cheeses and a simple strawberry dessert - a steal at 25€ (£19.58 at the time of writing)

Our very pleasant large room was 75€ (£58.75) with breakfast included.

A word of warning - the house is reached via a somewhat hairy hairpin bend and has slightly tricky parking. So it might be wise to take it easy on the vino if you go out to eat in Saumur. Oh, and there’s no wifi and not much of a phone signal but they do have an ethernet cable for computers that have a slot for one. (Not mine unfortunately but not everyone is as obsessive as me about needing to be online).

*We arranged that visit ourselves but Xavier can set up visits to winemakers if you need him to

L’Ami Chenin is at 37 rue de Beaulieu, 49400 Saumur and is closed from November 1st to January 31st. Tel: 02 41 38 13 17

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Fête du Vin, Chassignolles - small but perfect

There was music. There was dancing. There were three days of feasting - and of course there was wine - litres of it! The tiny fête du vin the the Auvergne village of Chassignolles two weekends agom masterminded by the owners of the auberge Harry Lester and Ali Johnson, was as good as it gets. The pictures say it all . . .

The eve of fête feast with the winemakers and helpers. Centrepiece - roast lamb with spelt.

The lunch menu at the fête - note the franglais translation of hot dogs. The tripe was ladled out of a giant cauldron (below). Enjoyed less by me, I must confess, than one local habitué on the terrace.

The resident artist . . .

1368 Cerro las Monjas from Spanish natural wine producer Barranco Oscuro

Photographer Jason Lowe enjoying a swig

René Mosse

Another natural winemaker - can't recall who. The slogan on his T-shirt reads "After midnight I'll be different."

The musicians tuning up.

The evening's feast for 200. A fantastic five course meal of paté, soup, grilled beef and gratin dauphinois, cheese and chocolate tart.

Lunch the next day. (Alain Castex of the wonderful Casot de Maiolles standing). Another 5 courser: scrambled eggs with girolles, pea and broad bean soup, roast chicken with purée, cheese and apricot tart. All for 25€.

And finally the lovely fête posters.

If this hasn't sated your appetite for photos of the event you'll find more on my Flickr stream here and more pictures of the Auberge and the surrounding countryside here.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

How do natural wines last so long once you open them?

Last night we got back to France and shared the remains of a bottle of Mas Coutelou’s Le Vin Des Amis 2011* we’d left in the fridge a week before. It was delicious - as good as the night we’d opened it.

It’s not the first experience I’ve had of that recently. Thierry Germain told us that the Terres Chaudes we tasted the other week had been open for 8 days. And some wines even taste better the second day than they do when they're first opened. So what’s going on?

In my experience that doesn’t happen with conventional wines - certainly not at this price. Often I’ve had some bottles hanging around from a tasting and tried them the following day with food and they’ve just fallen apart.

The most obvious explanation is that these are ‘living’ wines or vins vivants as the French put it. Because there is very little, if any, sulphur in them, because they’re not fined or filtered  bacteriological activity is still taking place (precisely what those opposed to natural wines disapprove of).

Wines that are clearly heat-treated (see previous post on soupy reds) by contrast or which are made with aromatic yeasts seem to fall apart very quickly. The producers and retailers who sell them probably assume - quite rightly - that most people will drink them in an evening well before they get to that stage but with the greater awareness of alcohol intake at the moment I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case - certainly in households of two like ours.

The yeast aspect is interesting. The wines I’m referring to - indeed almost all natural wines - are made with wild yeasts and therefore presumably don’t need the enzymes required to make commercial yeasts do their job. Sourdough bread also lasts a great deal longer than bread made with commercial yeast. So maybe that’s it?

Or is it the tannins - both the wines concerned were red? Or the fact our wine had been kept in the fridge which I imagine must have helped?

Winemakers, what do you think?

* a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvèdre