Natural wine is one of those terms that seems to have acquired a lot more significance in the last couple of years.  This is not the place for a precise definition.    As I understand it, wine growers who make natural wine, work as simply as possible.  They cultivate their vineyards organically or biodynamically, and in the cellar they favour minimum intervention, so natural yeast, no fining and filtering, and as little SO2 as possible.     It goes without saying that cellar hygiene has to be impeccable.    And does the wine taste different?   Maybe.  The flavours might be fresher, purer and more precise, but as there are good and bad ‘conventional’ wine growers, so are there also good and bad natural wine growers.    There were two large natural wine fairs in London in May, but instead I got to go to a small fair in the village of Colombières-sur-Orb in the Haute Vallée of the Hérault.

It was a lovely sunny morning and the event began with a ballade around the vineyards of Axel Prűfer of Domaine du Temps des Cerises.   We first took a track along what was the old Roman road, past a cluster of Provence orchids, and past other wild flowers, over a fast flowing stream.  Axel  talked about his work in the vineyard; it was a small vineyard of old Carignan and Grenache, with stubby little vines.  He allows the grass to grow, to encourage the natural cycle.  I have never seen such a carpet of serapia or tongue orchids – they were completely unexpected – and for further entertainment there were readings, wine related, from Omar Khayyam; Moliere’s Bourgeois Gentilhomme and from Le Vin Bourru by a local author, Jean-Claude Carrière. 

And at the end of the vineyard there were a number of upturned barrels, with bottles – and an opportunity for some interesting encounters.   But as with outdoor wine fairs, tasting conditions are not ideal; you are with a crowd of people, everyone jostling for a taste – and no one has thought to bring a list of the wines that they are showing, so you are scribbling down unfamiliar names from labels.   And I’ve not always noted price or vintage, so apologies for any gaps and mis-spellings.

Julien Peyras in Paulhan – his first vintage was 2007 and he has three hectares.
2010 Lo Terrau – he favours Occitan names -   a blend of 50% Grenache and 25% Syrah and Carignan.   12 – 14 months in wood.
Deep colour. Quite a dense nose.  Quite solid ripe fruit on nose.  As well as fruit, quite furry tannins and a touch of VA on the palate.
2010 Coste Fére
60% Syrah, 40% Carignan.  14 months ageing
Deep colour.  Quite solid rounded nose.  More soyeux and silky, but also more body, with ripe berry fruit on the palate.

Le Casot des Mailloles
2011 Le Blanc - Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Vermentino.  Some skin maceration.  Light colour.  Orange notes on the nose.  Nutty,  orange and ginger fruit on the palate.  Very stony; salty.  Intriguing.
 El Nino
Grenache Gris, Carignan and Syrah, in vat.  Very perfumed fruit.. Orange notes on the nose.  Some acidity; some tannin, some fruit and an elegant balance.

Next was Bernhard Bellahsen  from Domaine Fontedicto– see an earlier posting for more details.  And on the day his wines stood out in the crowd.
2008 Coulisse
Quite sold rounded and ripe nose.  And on the palate ripe but supple tannins.  Rounded fruit, with a mineral note.
2005 Promise
Quite firm nose  quite rounded palate.  Ripe palate with supple tannins.  Lovely balance and drinking beautifully.

Mylène Bru was a new name for me.  Her family come from the Corbières; she is based in Sète, and she has four and a half hectares of vines  at St. Pargoire.   Her first vintage was 2008.  She is bright and vivacious.
Lady Chasselas, Vin de France.   Chasselas is not often used as a wine grape in France – You might find it in Pouilly sur- Loire, and more commonly  in Savoie, where it is called Fendant, and much more extensively across the border in Switzerland,
This was delicate and fragrant with a fresh, dry finish.
2010 Far Ouest – 15.00€
A blend of Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Cinsaut, with 8 months élevage in vat.
Light red colour; rounded nose; quite a stony mineral note on the palate.  Very garrigues.

Domaine la Fontude with François Aubry
2011 Jour de Fête,  Terret blanc
Fresh orange note on the nose.  Very good acidity.  Very fresh with tight minerality on the palate.  Very intriguing.
2010 Amarèl
Carignan with 20% Terret Gris.  The Terret gives suppleness to the Carignan. Quite rounded fruit with fresh supple tannins.  Medium weight.  Nice balance. 

Opi d’Aqui – a blend of 2010 and 2011 vintage – and the first wine of this estate based in Vendémian.
Equal parts of Syrah, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon.  No SO2.   Quite rounded nose, with ripe cherry fruit.   Attractive spice and liquorice on the palate.  A touch of volatility but quite a fresh finish.  I’ve scribbled down the wine growers’ names as P. Formentin and H Coumont. 

Next were the wines of Axel Prűfer, of Domaine du Temps des Cerises, in whose vineyards the fete was taking place.  He favours imaginative wine names.
La Peur du Rouge is a Chardonnay.  Rounded and ripe with soft fruit and acidity and a stony, tannic streak on the finish.  The vineyard is on the high plateau, or causse above Bédarieux.
2011 Avanti Popolo. The Carignan from the vineyard here, with a little Grenache.  Light red colour. Ripe fruit on the nose.  Very gouleyant and drinkable on the palate with a touch of acidity.  Very elegant. 
2011 Fou du Roi, from the adjoining vineyard   One third each of Carignan, Cinsaut and Grenache.  Quite firm nose.  A fresh palate with tannin and acidity, and a touch of volatility on the finish.
Un pas de côté – comes from vines near Colombières sur Orb.  40% each Merlot and Grenache, with Carignan, Aramon and Cinsaut.    Quite a rounded dense nose.  Quite ripe and rounded on the palate with fresh fruit.  Very elegant, and with more depth than the previous two reds.
2011 Les Lendemains qui chantent
Ripe rounded with fresh cherry fruit.  Beautifully balanced palate, rounded and ripe.  Very elegant. Delicious.  Grenache Noir on granite.

Hautes Terres de Comberousse, an estate which specialises in white wines, with vineyards outside the village of Cournonterral.
Cupidone, Vin de France  Quite fresh, with good acidity; lemony honeyed palate with some texture.   Mainly Chasan, with some Chardonnay
2011 Sauvagine, Coteaux du Languedoc.  Quite leesy with what I  call fermentation aromas, which I find slightly off putting.  Some fruit underneath.  A blend of Grenache and Rolle.
2009 Rocaillat, Coteaux du Languedoc.
Roussanne, Rolle and Grenache.  A touch of oak.  Quite rounded and ripe with a hint of honey.  Some leesy notes.  Quite intriguing.

Clos Fantine in Faugères
2011 Terret blanc, from 80 year old vines.  Quite fresh orange notes on the nose.  Quite perfumed –and at that moment the neighbouring stand proffered a piece of Catalan ham.  A good combination.
2011 Lanterne Rouge, a blend of Cinsaut and Aramon
Cherry fruit on the nose.  Medium weight palate, Elegant fruit with a tannic steak.  Quite intriguing.
Medium colour.  Quite a rounded nose.  Quite a sturdy palate; quite firm and tannic with a touch of volatility. 

Yannick Pelletier at St. Nazaire-de-Ladarez in St. Chinian.
2009 L’R de Rien, Terret blanc
Very orange in colour.  I assume I mean the colour rather than nose, as my handwriting is beginning to deteriorate at this point.  Quite rounded ripe palate, with good body and mouth feel and a tannic steak.
2010 L’Oiselet
Grenache and Cinsaut and a little Carignan.  Quite spicy nose.  Ripe rounded spicy orange fruit on the palate.  Supple tannins.  Medium weight. 
2009 L’Engoulevent
A blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah in vat.  I found this rather curious. There was more volatility than I am comfortable with, and quite firm tannins, with a dry finish.
2010 Coccigrues – Yannick explained that a coccigrue is like a chimera, an imaginary animal.  Old vines of Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre.  The Mourvèdre is kept in wood, and the Grenache and Carignan in vat.  This was quite fresh and spicy on the nose, but with quite a lot of orange fruit on the palate – too much for my taste.

And then we spotted Ivo Ferreira from Domaine de l’Escarpolette in Montpeyroux.  See my earlier post on the caves ouvertes in Montpeyroux.   A quick taste of three wines that were showing deliciously, and I have a cellar visit arranged for next week, so more on Ivo and l’Escarpolette in due course.


AlanM said…
Funnily enough we had L'Oiselet 2009 from Pelletier for lunch and after an initial curious nose (hints of Burgundian farmyard) it developed in bottle and glass into a beautifully balanced, deep and exciting fruit bomb which lingers in the mouth a couple of hours later.
Perhaps the 2010 is too young or not so good?
Graham said…
One point that I find striking from the line-up is how much Terret Blanc was on show. It seems popular with "natural" winemakers - perhaps because as the grape itself has little character it doesn't get in the way of expressing terroir, flavours from wild yeasts. I think it also ripens late yet keeps good acidity.
It's sad that some growers (or the occasional wine) give the movement a bad name. I was told by a natural wine growing neighbour that you have to factor in 20% loss to VA and the like.
That is my only experience of l'Oiselet, and not in ideal tasting conditions, so you may well be right.

and Graham I think Terret blanc is enjoying something of a revival - like Carignan blanc and favoured as a grape variety with old vines to be found and regenerated- and like Carignan, it does have good acidity.

And as much as 20% - that is a pretty high.

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