After a long silence, in part due to a lengthy flu, a failed trip to the Canary islands, then the ordeal that are the Christmas holidays, it’s time to shake off the dust and get this blog back up and running. A lot has happened since the last post and there is no shortage of topics to chime in on, despite the fact that there will be no reviews of Tenerife wineries as was originally planned. Foremost among these would have to be the Salon des Vignerons Indépendants at the Porte de Versailles November 25-29. Being the serious enojournalist that I am, I obviously had to go twice; both the Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the events of which I shall relate over two parts; the first installment of which, from the Saturday, is this.
The plan was to begin the dégustation at noon, but the friend who I was bringing along fell asleep on the train in from Amsterdam and remained at the station for almost an extra hour. As a result, the other friends we were going to be meeting there had a bit of a head start. We met them at a Champagne producer's stand, which was a fine way to kick things off. Not being especially focused on champagne this time around, I did not dedicate my fullest attention here and so there's not a whole lot for me to recount.
After the champagne, the first official stop was with burgundy producers Domaine des Moirots; Muriel, Christophe and Lucien Denizot for a taste of my latest obsession. In their cellars one might find Montagny 1er Cru, Bourgogne Rouge, Bourgogne Blanc Côte Chalonaise, Bourgogne Aligoté, Crémant de Bourgogne and Givry Rouge, but it was the Givry Blanc that I came for. I do not remember this long after the fact which of their wines we actually sampled, but it was indeed the Givry Blanc that was the standout and eminently reasonably priced to boot. Because it was the first stand of dozens I was planning to visit that afternoon, I only bought two bottles, something that I regret now.
For those who are not familiar with it – and I expect most people not to be as this appelation was only brought to my attention a couple of months ago - Givry Blanc is a dry white that, to me, has the complexity of a fine red. It is made entirely from the Chardonnay grape, and it is quickly becoming my favorite dry white appelation: of the few bottles I have sampled, only one was merely very good; the others have been excellent. This example, the 2009 Domaine des Moirots, was one of the second group and comfortably held on to the title of best dry white of this incarnation of the Salon for me.
Next on the agenda were the good people from the Soucherie, producers of all sorts of wines in the Loire valley. These include the Anjou Blanc and Rouge, Savennières, Rosé de Loire, Cabernet d'Anjou, Crémant de Loire and, of course, the Coteaux du Layon and Chaume which I had the pleasure to discover at the Festibacchus at the Bercy village in Paris earlier in September. I must have made an impression then because they remembered me.
Now I can no longer remember which vintages we tried, but I am reasonably sure that we did try every varietal and assemblage they brought, including the several vielles vignes versions available. Unfortunately, the reds from this part of France have never impressed me; perhaps due to the fact that Anjou is too far North and too continental, I find that they have too much acidity. The dry whites – the Anjou Blanc and Savennières – though good, continued this theme. However, it wasn't for the reds and dry whites that I came for as Château Soucherie make some excellent dessert wines. And even though they did not wow me as much as they did the last time I tried them, the 2008 Coteaux du Layon and 2004 Chaume were still very good and I left with two cases of them.
A closer look at their offering can be found at their website, http://www.domaine-de-la-soucherie.fr/.
After this was a much needed sandwich break and I succumbed to a delicious, albeit overpriced, foie gras sandwhich on a baguette de campagne. I resisted trying a Sauternes at this point -- that would come later. We did the Jurançon instead, courtesy of Domaine de la Malarrode.
Jurançon is a fairly unique appelation. Situated at the foot of the Pyrenées, it's effectively a Catalan wine. The cépages used, Manseng, Petit Manseng and Courbu, are sure to be unknown to all but the most dedicated winos. It is my goal to become one of those noble elites.
Malarrode brought with them four wines: a 2006 Jurançon Sec codenamed “La Pierre Blanche” for the type of stones found in the vineyards; a semi-sweet 2008 Jurançon Moelleux nicknamed the “Douceur d'Automne”; a 2004 Jurançon Moelleux, the Quintessence; and a Vendanges Tardives Jurançon Moelleux, or late harvest, for maximum sweetness from the grapes.
The Pierre Blanche was nice but not revelational, but for the price (7 €), not a bad value. The Douceur d'Automne was similar in that it was also enjoyable but not paricularly memorable, and still reasonably priced. Semi-sweet wines are often hit or miss for me: they don't pair especially well with very many foods and can easily be bland. The Quintessence, a bit more expensive than the Douceur, was a definite hit, however. It was almost as sweet as a liquoreux or vin doux naturel with equally lovely aromas, for it too is a Botrytis-afflicted wine. The final one, the Vendanges Tardives, was actually less impressive despite being over twice the price. The Quintessence de Jurançon was the clear winner here.
Malarrode's website can be found here: http://malarrode.pagesperso-orange.fr/malarrode2007/index.html
Up next was Château Gibalaux-Bonnet, producers of Minervois wines in the Languedoc-Rousillon greater geographic area.
Minervois is a spicy red from one of the southernmost parts of mainland France and is made from Carignan, Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and a little-known and impossible to pronounce grape called Lladoner Pelut.
In contrast to the powerful, masculine reds of the Médoc, Minervois are what I would call very feminine reds; silky, smooth and – I got a fair amount of flak for this – with hints of strawberries. Gibalaux-Bonnet Minervois were perhaps less strawberry-ish than some others that I have tried, but were still an excellent bargain for the reasonable price the owners were asking.
From there was a short but wobbly walk to R-45 to Domaine Tour Saint-Michel, who are situated in the south of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appelation in the Côtes du Rhône greater region.
Like most producers from that region, they make both the broader Côtes du Rhône wine, which is less demanding and, in general, significantly cheaper while often still being very good; and the more exclusive Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is finer, more elegant, but also more expensive. Since both often come from the same vinyards and share the same grape assemblages (thirteen grape varieties are permitted in total, so too many to list, but the dominant one is usually Grenache, although Syrah and Mourvèdre are also common), it is fair to think of the former of being the Château's second wine and the latter its first.
Tour Saint-Michel had brought with them the following wines:
a 2008 Côtes du Rhône;
a 2008 Châteauneuf-du-Pape blanc;
a couple of vintages of red Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée des 2 Soeurs;
a couple of vintages of red Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tour du Lion;
and a 2007 red Châteauneuf-du-Pape called Feminessence.
The Côtes du Rhône was pleasant, but a fairly average red for an average price. A decent wine that is fit for your everyday meal, but that's not the kind of wine we came to buy at the Salon. The CdP blanc was very nice: crisp, fresh, fruity; but on the heals of the excellent Givry from earlier, not worth the price, which was nearly double. The two red CdPs were exquisite, though, and held up to be at least the best red wines of the first day. The difference between the two, the Cuvée des deux soeurs and la tour du lion, is the container in which they were aged. The former was aged in concrete tubs while the latter in barrels. The two wines were both silky smooth and refined, though also sufficiently different in taste to warrant separation. It was actually refreshing to taste an excellent, aged red that was not kept in oak barrels in the cuvée des deux soeurs. What you smelled and tasted were the qualities of the grape and nothing else. That said, the extra complexities of the Tour du Lion were also lovely, so it's tough to pick a winner between the two.
A final red CdP was the Feminessence which was an even velvetier version of the Tour du Lion. The quality may have been a tiny bit better but the price was double, so the Cuvée des deux soeurs and the Tour du Lion shone brightest for me and those are the ones I purchased.
For more information on Tour Saint-Michel's vineyards and wines, interested parties can check out their website at http://www.toursaintmichel.com/.
But we didn't stop there. The next stop was at a bordelais producer, Château La Bridane & Domaine de Cartujac, part of the greater family of Vignobles Bruno Saintout. La Bridane was the lone Saint-Julien at the show which, for those unfamiliar, is an appelation right next to Pauillac in the Médoc from the village of the same name, and so the wines carry considerable repute and come with a price tag to match.
Domaine de Cartujac is the vineyard situated in Saint-Laurent de Médoc and, hence, yields red wine of the Médoc appelation. They use technology wherever applicable, be it mechanical harvests or pneumatic pressing. The grape juice – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot – is fermented in either steel or cement tanks.
The Saint-Julien, Château La Bridane, is treated in almost the same way, but the terroir is nobler. The only difference in treatment is that 2/3 of the barrels the wine is kept in from nine to sixteen months are new, whereas only 1/3 is new for the Médoc. Regardless, on this day, neither wine truly impressed, despite trying several vintages, but I purchased a 1996 anyway as it showed potential and I figured that on another occasion, it would really wow me (I have had this happen to me before with other bordelais).
Still going strong at this point (I never spit out the wines; I told one of the winemakers that spitting would be an affront to her excellent wine – though I don't remember which one because I didn't spit), the next stop was Vignobles Dubourg, who were represented at the salon by their Saint-Emilion, the Château Maurins; and their Sauternes, Château Landion.
In between were a couple of unremarkable stops, including a Pessac-Léognan that lacked any lustre, which was unfortunate, as Pessac is usually among my favourites.
Like Vignobles Bruno Saintout just before, Dubourg made just about every wine possible in the appelations they dabble in. To get an idea of the area they cover, Sauternes is in the south of Bordeaux's rive gauche, and Saint-Emilion is in the north of its rive droite, and they do everything in between. As far as representatives of these respective appelations go, both were very reasonably priced. Furthermore, both were very good, which was a pleasant enough surprise as you'd expect that a jack of all trades would be a master of none. Dubourg's ambassadors at the salon represented well. For more info: http://www.vignobles-dubourg.com/accueil.html
As lucid and coherent I still was at this point (my friend tells me he was amazed at how intelligible I was, asking pertinent questions and schmoozing still eloquently – he even tells me that because I was talkative with them, the vintners were filling my glass up more than others, but that's neither here nor there), I cannot claim to remember the vintages they had on sample at the stand, especially not this long after the fact. What I can remember, however, is that I did buy a bottle of the 2008 Château Maurins Saint-Emilion, which was quite a good value and one of the better reds of the afternoon; and another bottle of the 1999 Château Landion Sauternes, which edged out the Malarrode Quintessence de Jurançon and Château Soucherie Coteaux du Layon as the best dessert wine of the day.
It has to be said that Sauternes is an extraordinary dessert wine. Crafted exclusively from grapes afflicted by the noble rot botrytis, it is delightfully sweet and tangy, with aromas of honey, dried apricots, roasted almonds – a miracle of serendipity.
We closed out the day at another Champagne producer; a salute to what, by all metrics, was a very succesful day. The fact that our glasses still smelled of Sauternes only made the Champagnes better – giving them a sweet aroma of honey and apricot essence. A fitting way to end the day indeed.
All in all, an excellent day one at the salon. Winners would have to be the Domaine des Moirots Givry Blanc from dry whites; the Domaine Tour Saint-Michel Châteauneufs-du-Pape from the dry reds; and the Château Landion Sauternes from the liquoreux.
2009 Domaine des Moirots Givry Blanc ♣♣♣♣♣
2009 Château Soucherie Anjou Blanc ♣♣♣
2008 Château Soucherie Savennières Clos des Perrières ♣♣♣
2008 Château Soucherie Coteaux du Layon ♣♣♣♣♣
2004 Château Soucherie Chaume ♣♣♣♣
2006 Domaine de la Malarrode Jurançon Sec La Pierre Blanche ♣♣♣
2008 Domaine de la Malarrode Jurançon Moelleux La Douceur d'Automne ♣♣♣*
2004 Domaine de la Malarrode Jurançon Quintessence de Jurançon ♣♣♣♣♣
2008 Château Gibalaux-Bonnet Minervois ♣♣♣
2008 Domaine Tour Saint-Michel Côtes du Rhône ♣♣♣*
2008 Domaine Tour Saint-Michel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc ♣♣♣♣
2008 Domaine Tour Saint-Michel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée des deux soeurs ♣♣♣♣♣
2005 Domaine Tour Saint-Michel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tour du Lion ♣♣♣♣♣
2006 Domaine du Cartujac Haut-Médoc ♣♣♣
2008 Domaine du Cartujac Haut-Médoc ♣♣♣
1996 Château La Bridane Saint-Julien ♣♣♣♣
2008 Château Maurins Saint-Emilion ♣♣♣♣
1999 Château Landion Sauternes ♣♣♣♣♣