Natural Wine at Bedarieux

It poured with rain in the Languedoc last Saturday so my tasting buddy, Lits, and I drowned our sorrows at the lack of spring sunshine with an afternoon at the Natural Wine Fair, organised by Christine Cannac who runs the wine bar in Bédarieux.  This is the fifth year that she has held this event, and I have to say that it was not a totally happy experience.  There were some lovely wines, but there were also some that should never have been put in bottle, and by people who should have known better.  Here I will concentrate on the highlights.

First stop was Thierry Navarre

2012 L'Oeillade, Vin de France - 7,50
Lovely perfumed fruit; Oeillade is related to Cinsaut and this had the same appealing fragrant fruit.  It was rounded and fresh, a lovely vin de soif on a summer's day.

2010 Laouzil - 9.00
Carignan, Grenache, Syrah.    Deep colour.  Quite leathery with some tapenade fruit and supple tannins.  A lovely glass of St. Chinian.

2010 Cuvée Olivier - 12.00
Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, including some 90 year old vines.  Firmer nose, more structured and on the palate quite solid and rounded, with a tannic streak, but no wood ageing.  A slightly rustic note on the finish.

2009. La Conque - 10.00
Syrah and Merlot grown at 500 metres.  Thierry was not happy with the nose, and neither was I,  but the palate had the elegance and freshness of higher altitude vines.

Axel Prűfer from Le Temps des Cerises was there with a couple of his wines

2011 Un pas de coté – 14.00€.
Grenache and Merlot.  Some perfumed fruit on the nose, and on the palate the flavour were fresh and ripe, but with what I am increasing calling  a natural edge on the finish.

2011 Les Lendemains qui chantent 20.00
This was much better - a pure Grenache, with perfumed fruit and silky tannins.   A lovely  balance .

Ivo Ferreira from Domaine de l'Escarpolette was not there as he has just become a father for the second time - congratulations Ivo!  And a friend was pouring his wines.

2012 Blanc  - 19.00
Half Terret and half Muscat, given a ten days maceration on  the skins, but not stems.  It was very orange in colour,  and very intriguing on the nose and palate, with some orange fruit and firm acidity.

2011 La Petite Crapule 13.00
From ten year old Carignan vines and made by maceration carbonique, with six months ageing in vat.  Quite rounded and ripe with cherry fruit, but also a natural edge.

2010 LEscarpolette 14.00
70%. Syrah with 30% Carignan.  12 months in demi-muids.  The oak was still quite obvious and needing to tone down, so that it slightly overwhelming the fruit.

Domaine Hautes Terres
From the village of Roquetaillade in Limoux.  Gilles Azams wines were the star of the tasting for both of us. 

2012 By Azan Blanc, Vin de France 7.80
Mainly Chardonnay with a little Chenin and Mauzac. No oak.  And Vin de France to emphasise that it is the entrée de gamme,  a term which sounds so much more elegant than the English entry level  - Quite elegantly understated fruit, lightly buttery and rounded.

2011 Limoux, Cuvée Louis 11.80
80%  Chardonnay  and 20% Chenin with some ageing in old barrels, as the appellation dictates.  More rounded and lightly buttery and nutty.  Lightly leesy, with a nice balance of freshness with some body.  Nice depth.

Crémant de Limoux, Brut nature, Cuvée Joséphine 12.00
Chardonnay  with some Chenin and Mauzac.  Lightly creamy with a fine mousse. . A little nuttiness on the palate, the result of nine months in wood and two years on the lees in bottle.  Finesse and depth.  A lovely glass of bubbles.

.2012 Rosé, Vin de France 7.80
The grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were pressed, so the colour was a very pale pretty pink.  Quite rounded and ripe with fresh acidity on the palate.

Definitely the highlight of the whole tastiing.  We began making plans for a cellar watch this space. 

Domaine La Fontude with François Aubry
2011. Un Jour de Fête 8.00
Pure Terret grown on basalt. Quite mineral, but with edgy acidity on the finish. . 

2012 Fortitude 8.00
Pure Cinsaut made in what François called a semi-carbonique method. He makes a pied de cuve of Aramon and Grenache and gradually incorporates the Cinsaut by means of a gentle pigeage.  It sounded a bit like making mayonnaise!  It had some perfumed spicy fruit, with some fresh tannins and acidity, and a lovely fresh finish.  We agreed that Cinsaut is the Languedocs answer to Beaujolais - c'est notre Gamay - with an appealing drinkability

2010 Entremonde 9.00
Carignan and Aramon with some Cinsaut  and Grenache..  12 months in vat followed by 12 months in bottle before sale.  Deep colour; quite a firm nose, with some black cherry fruit.  The wine has the freshness of the terroir, and was long and fresh. A sympa glass of wine.

I always enjoy seeing Jean-François Coutelou
2012 7 rue de Pompe was showing nicely.  Quite a deep colour, ripe and fresh with some peppery fruit.   Medium weight .  Nice fresh fruit on the finish.   Mainly Syrah with a touch of Grenache.  6.40

2012 le Vin des Amis 8.40
75% Grenache with 25%  Syrah  and just a drop of Cinsaut . Quite rounded and ripe with some cherry fruit and spice.  Medium weight.  Youthful tannins

2012 Paf la Syrah  - 14.00
A pure Syrah, kept in vat.  Jean-François only uses oak for his dessert wines. Some fresh spice and pepper.  Medium weight.  Some rain diluted the grapes, just before the harvest when the grapes were already ripe and ready to pick, but that was no bad thing as it  made the wine more elegant.

2011 Classe 9.60
Syrah 40% Grenache 40%  and Carignan 20%.  A touch of class in a glass said the label.  Jean-François has some great labels - I regretted not bringing a camera. The wine was more solid, with a more rounded palate.  Quite ripe and mouth filling, with a hint of  a natural edge on the finish,

Next was Mas d'Agalis in Nébian, with Lionel Maurel, who is young and bright.  We asked him about his sulphur levels, a question which we should have been asking since the beginning of the tasting.   No sulphur at all was the reply. We were tasting his 2011 Le Grand Carré which is half Terret with some Vermentino, Chenin and Chardonnay.  It was a bit eggy on the nose.  Would a touch of sulphur make it more restrained and less blowsy? . He conceded that was probably so and pointed out that he had been pouring from the bottle in question since the beginning of the tasting three or so hours ago.  The palate was better, fresher with some rounded fruit. 8.40

2011 Yo ne puedo  mas. Vin de France 9.00
60% Carignan, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre. 30% aged for twelve months in old barrels. Quite deep colour.  Quite a ripe nose, with lots of black fruit.   Ripe and spicy with supple tannins on the palate.

Navis. Coteaux du Salagou 14.20
One third each of Carignan , Grenache, Syrah.  18 months élevage.  Deep colour, quite rounded and ripe.  Quite supple tannins, but with an edge on the finish.

Yannick Pelletier was showing a range of vins de France and St. Chinian.  The best was
L'Engoulevent, St Chinian  half Grenache with Carignan and Syrah.  Deep young colour, rounded ripe spice on nose and palate. Nice fruit and less natural than his other wines which all seemed to have a volatile edge.  14.00

Thomas Rouanet in Creissan, in the appellation of St. Chinian has just five hectares.  Bombadilom, apparently a  reference to Tolkien, is a blend of Carignan and Grenache, grown on clay and limestone soil. He studied in Montpellier and worked with Jean Viennet at Château de Raissac, learning 'what not to do'.  The Carignan is vinified by carbonic maceration, and no sulphur  is added.  The colour was good, with a ripe rounded palate and some lovely black fruit, and supple tannins, but with an edge on the finish.   

There were growers from Roussillon too. 
In Maury La Petite Baigneuse,
2011 Trinquette  - 10.20
Grenache 60% and  Carignan 40%  A short élevage in a foudre and a little SO2 at bottling.  Medium weight, rounded and ripe but with fresh fruit, and quite a sweet finish. 

2010 La Grande Largue 15.20
Lladoner Pelut and. Carignan.  12 months in foudres.  Rounded with a touch of oak and vanilla.  Quite ripe with some tannin on the finish.

Domaine Rivaton
The first vintage of this estate was 2004, and Frederic Rivaton has practiced biodynamic viticulture from 2010.  He has stylish labels showing different silhouettes of the skyline of the village of. Latour de France. His young daughter was doing the pouring and carefully answering our questions about the composition of the wine - she had learnt her lesson well.

Blanc Bec was is a blend of Macabeo, Grenache Gris and. Carignan Blanc. All three varieties are fermented together and given 12 months élevage in wood.  A little so2 is used at fermentation.  The wine was quite rounded and leesy with an edge, but also quite a fresh finish. 13.00

2009 Vieilles Vignes 12.00
70% Carignan, with some Syrah and Grenache.  Aged in vat for two years.  Rounded, with some firm leathery fruit.  A certain warmth on finish.

2009 Gribouille. after a  character from a Georges Sand novel.  The same blend as the Vieilles Vignes but grown on schist.  12 months ageing in foudres, and 12 months in concrete. I liked this a lot, with some ripe rounded fruit, and some dry leathery notes on the palate.  Medium weight.  A nice mouthful.  Some mineral notes from the schist.  17.00

Le Casot des Mailloles in Trouillas with Alain Castex
2012 Tir à blanc 17.40
Macabeo, Grenache blanc and Muscat, fermented altogether.  No so2
Quite rounded orange notes, with full orange fruit on the palate.

Le blanc 35.00
Grenache blanc, grenache gris and Vermentino.  Quite rounded. Lightly oaky, quite textured.  Fermented in wood, which fills out the palate. But I am not sure how the price is justified.

Rosé Canta Manana 16.20
Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache Blanc and Gris and Macabeo, all fermented together and saigné. Orange pink colour. A touch eggy.  Better palate.  Quite rounded and ripe with a natural finish.

Poudre d'Escampette 15.20
Same cépages as for the rosé, as well as Carignan, in foudre. The rest is vinified in vat. Quite rounded and ripe.  Some spice and quite a supple finish .

This tasting certainly left me with very mixed feelings about natural wine.  I can appreicate that sulphur levels need to be modest, and would like them to be modest, but sulphur has been used since the Romans.  We have to accept that wine is not a natural product - whether we like it or not, without human intervention and left to its own devices, the end result is vinegar.  A little sulphur ensures that a vat filled with a delicious fruity liquid that we want to enjoy, stays that way.   As it happened, the day after this tasting an email popped into my inbox - a circular letter from Jean-Louis Denois who is not known to mince his words.  And he was holding forth on the subject of vins natures, except that he refuses to call his wines nature, when the word has been spoilt by products coming from another planet other than that of good wine.  He argues 'that there is no point in offering customers natural wines if they are oxidised, acetic and defective.  Quite simply it is suicide.   And there is no excuse for not using the tools that are at our disposal; it's like refusing to use a fridge to keep meat fresh'. 

He elaborates various points -

'So2 remains the only toxic additive allowed in wine making - if its use were requested for the first time today, it would be refused':

'Organic viticulture does not forbid chaptalisation, which is an aberration as that entails the introduction of something that does not come from grapes'.

'Organic viticulture does not change the taste of wine, but vinification without sulphur does.   However the bad tastes in natural wine are not due to the absence so2 but the result of a lack of hygiene and professional 
discipline'   That to me seems to be the key point.  The best wines of this tasting showed that it was possible to make something delicious without any sulphur or with minimum sulphur, but the attention to detail in the cellar must be absolutely meticulous as far as hygiene is concerned. There is no room for anything less.     And for Jean Louis Denois, the quality of raw materials, ie his grapes, is primordial - if they are ripe and healthy and handled with care in the cellar, he should not need sulphur.  As he concludes, I want to make natural wine that is guided by man.


Alan March said…
Fascinating. Yes there is a rush of natural wines at present and I imagine that some people are bandwagon jumping and not so motivated as some of the more impassioned producers such as Jeff Coutelou and Thierry Navarre. As you say what is the point of wine if not a pleasurable drink? There comes a point where theory has to give way to flavour and drinkability.
Can't wait for the section on the bad wines??
I wasn't planning a post on the bad wines - don't want to land up with a libel suit!
Alan March said…
Shame. It's always good to know who to avoid, but understand your dilemma :)
Graham said…
Agree there are "natural" wines being released that give the style a bad name. Robustness once the wine is bottled, and hence bottle variation, is a massive issue. Wiser growers add sulphur to the bottles destined for export for example.
There's also a degree of personal taste at play here as well e.g. how much volatility is acceptable. In that sense it's a bit like the use of oak, it can be overdone.
Alan -if you let me have your email address, I'll name a name or two, but strictly entre nous.

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