Unsung? Perhaps, but well done!
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
Some great values from the Jura, the Côtes du Rhône, the Loire Valley, Saint Joseph and Champagne among others …
19 February 2017
As I prepare my trip to cover Bordeaux en primeur in late March, I took time to taste through wines from lesser-known French regions with partner in wine crime Kevin Gagnon, who was a fellow student for the WSET diploma in Rust, Austria. Kevin is a professional opera singer and wine expert – and a great guy. So it was fun to discover less famous appellations that yield much pleasure – and sometimes superb quality/price ratios.
The occasion was the Salon des Vignerons Indépendants, a massive grouping of often lesser known producers throughout France. It is a traveling consumer trade show, that traverses French cities, and thus wise to get their early, as the crowds get quite thick. And best to keep your coat in the car, and even wear a T-shirt as it gets hot.
So, no, the tasting conditions were not ideal. But the more savvy exhibitors could be caught blending cooler bottles they kept in fridges into bottles that had been left too long on the stand, to maintain a decent tasting temperature.
Sure, this Salon of independent winemakers includes many from Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne, but we were focusing more on the Loire Valley, on Saint Joseph, on Beaume de Venise, on village level Cote du Rhone and other, somewhat lesser known regions.
Take for example Domaine Ogereau in the Loire Valley, which is making Burgundian-like dry Loire whites like their brilliant Savannieres Clos le Grand Beaupréau 2014. At 14% alcohol but not felt, just very ripe fruit that is balanced by brisk acidity and finding much balance in its tension and full body: a steal at €18 a bottle.
The estate is run by the charming and musically inclined (he plays tuba) Vincent Ogerau and his wife Catherine and they are both very conscious about matching grape variety with specific terroir, such as a special bottling of Chenin Blanc that grows on a thin vein of sandstone (gré) soil that is particularly wet stone like in aspect (L’Enthousiasme Savannières). I wonder if the 2014 would have come across less heavy, as we tried only the 2015, but the latter was very nuanced and layered – and Kevin and I each bought a bottle without much hesitation.
Their basic Anjou Blanc for €11.50 was refined and dry and just fine, too. Of course, they are known quite well for their Coteaux du Layon late harvest wines and all three we tried were excellent: pure, fruit-driven, not cloying and the upper echelons showing more distinct botrytis-spice aspects that proved simply delicious. We even tried an older bottling (2010, ok not that old) that was particularly excellent, although the price was rather high at €45 for that bottle. Thanks to Kevin for sharing this discovery!
I discovered another excellent producer from the northern Rhone: Domaine Guy Farge, an estate no less concerned about matching the grapes with the terroir and micro-climates. It was perhaps not as exciting that they featured the 2015 whites and the 2014 reds (I would have preferred it the other way around).
But that just proved how good the estate is. One super star among the six that we tried (three whites, three reds) was the Saint Joseph Blanc Vania 2015, that exuded superb structure, fine tension and a full-bodied aspect coming from the somewhat opulent nature of the vintage no doubt. At €18.50 per bottle, I snatched three. This wine really came across as a fine white Burgundy for half the price.
We both by sheer happenstance came across a clean, smooth and tasty dry Savagnin Blanc by producer Domaine Ligier Père & Fils in the Jura called the Cuvée des Poètes. No, this is not an oxidized style but rather pristine and dry, preserved from oxidation during barrel aging thanks to a regular topping up (filling of the barrels to compensate for the evaporation). The producers thus preserve the “minerality” and aromatic freshness of the grape variety, unlike a more typical Savagnin from the Jura. And under €10, a no brainer.
Kevin took me to the stand of Domaine de Fenouillet from the village of Beaume de Venise. The Terres Blanches 2014 by Patrick and Vincent Soard is a smooth and savory blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre that displays plum and red berry fruit with some pleasing anise notes. At less than €10 per bottle, so well worth your money.
It was fun also trying to discover lesser-known Champagne houses at this fair. OK, it is annoying that the fair does not group the wines according to appellation, but at least each appellation comes with a different color. So for example is Champagne a grey color. When I went to the fair the day before with some colleagues from the Council of Europe, we hunted almost every grey sign – and picked out one for the oysters on a half shell at another stand: the oysters came from Arcachon, that wonderful region in Bordeaux – and they were delicious with our choice of the Lancelot-Goussard Grand Cru Avize Cramant 2012, which was clean and rich for only €20.50 per bottle. Heck, their basic Brut at only €17.50 was pretty darn good, too.
Another worthy Champagne producer I discovered was Pascal Henin, based in Ay. Their Brut NV Reserve at €18 was also excellent and just better than the tasty and equally interesting QPR €15 Tradition Brut that could well put higher-priced Champagnes like Lanson or Mercier to shame, given their more established name(s).
Beaurenard is making some of the best southern Rhone wines today, and I bought a six pack of their regular Rasteau bottling – a village from the Côtes du Rhône that comes across as sumptuous yet fresh and brisk, and the 2015 is spot on in that sense. At €13.50 per bottle, one gets a very high quality Côtes du Rhône that could put some more prestigious appellations to shame, and I prefer it to the more intense and somewhat heavier prestige bottling of the Les Argiles Bleues. Perhaps that wine excels in cooler vintages, as I recall buying it in the past. Of course the domain’s CdnP is great, and I really liked the cooler aspects of the 2014, which needs some time to enter a normal drinking window.
By the same token, it was great to taste the wines of Domaine du Grand Tinel, especially to compare the 2012 and 2013 CndPs. The former has more layers of flavor and depth and is a superior wine, but one should give credit to a fine effort in 2013 from this excellent estate.