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“White wine is like electricity. Red wine looks and tastes like a liquified beefsteak.”
― James Joyce
DOMAINE LA ROCHE AUX MOINES, MONIQUE & TESSA LAROCHE, Savennières
Savennières is a tiny but justifiably celebrated appellation just south west of Angers where white wines of immense
nerve, concentration and longevity are made from the Chenin Blanc grape – locally called Pineau de la Loire. The
AOC lies south-southwest of Angers on the right bank of the Loire on sandy schist soils and the lieu-dit of Roche-aux-
Moines occupies a mere 6.85 hectares within it. Vineyard practices are designed to protect the environment, yields are
low, organic fertilisers are used. Thermoregulated stainless steel vats and a pneumatic press ensure that pure fruit
quality and gentle extraction are the order of the day. There is also a “petit chai” with twenty-five oak barrels in
which the best selections of each vintage are either fermented or aged, although the object is not to acquire a woody
flavour in the wine. In exceptional vintages a doux or slightly sweet wine is produced. Get vertical – and horizontal –
with the duo of vintages that we are listing. The younger Sav is a powerhouse with diamond bright acidity and a
beeswaxy texture, a breath-taking vintage that leaves you on your knees, the ripeness of the fruit balancing the
muscular minerality of the wine, truly an unfiltered philtre. Try this with grilled wild salmon, andouillette, rabbit in
white wine or veal chop à la crème. The more grizzled vintage flaunts secondary aromas of medlar and bruised plums
with notes of honey, mushroom and humus.
New Chenin! Because a world of Chenin is not enough. Berceau des Fees (Cradle of Fairies) from Domaine aux
Moines in Savennieres. Young Chenin on volcanic soils - zero SO2 added. The wine is super smart, piercingly pure..
BERCEAU DES FEES
BERCEAU DES FEES - magnum
SAVENNIERES-ROCHE AUX MOINES
SAVENNIERES-ROCHE AUX MOINES
DOMAINE JEAN-CHRISTOPHE GARNIER, SAINT-LAMBERT-DU-LATTRAY, Anjou – Organic
Jean-Christophe Garner is based in St Lambert du Lattray, 11 km due south of Savennières, on the south side of the Layon
River; a town technically in the AOP Coteaux du Layon. Originally from Brittany, J-C worked as a sommelier and naturally
became captivated with fine wine. Ultimately, he migrated into wine production. He had a stage with Marc Angeli, who
helped him get settled in the region. When a number of small plots in Anjou became available, he grabbed them. And we’ve
grabbed some of his wines
Meet some fantastic old vines Chenin from Anjou region plus one red from middle-aged vines. His electrifying whites obey
cider house rules – as with many natural versions the wines major on apple and quince fruit of the gently-bruised timbre, but
their lickety-split acidity strikes the taste buds and carves a clear path for the fruit to cascade over the tongue. Orthodox wine
lovers might roll their eyes at the bold flavour and texture jolts, but I love a wine that tickles my ribs whilst staying several
steps ahead of my palate. Unsheathing sharp darts of spiky lemon, grapefruit and yellow peach La Roche unleashes sizzling
white blossoms in the mouth then unveils layers of apple, quince and ripe greengage, brine and chalk minerality, finishing
persistently with musky florality, anise, angelica, and subtle bitterness of herbs, alkaline minerality, and fruit skin. La Roche
Bezigon reveals its terroir-specific origin and this wine reveals a touch more warmth to the fruit whilst covering all the angles
in the mouth, whilst Les Dreuilles is more oxidative with a rich and buttery texture. The red called Les Tailles remains in quaff
territory, half each of the two Cabs contributing to medicinal flavours of peppercorn and dried currants.
VIN DE FRANCE LA ROCHE BEZIGON
VIN DE FRANCE LES TAILLES ROUGE
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Why say we have not the price?
My horse spotted with five flowers,
My fur-coat worth a thousand pieces of gold,
These I will take out, and call my boy
To barter them for sweet wine.
And with you twain, let me forget
The sorrow of ten thousand ages!
Li Bai – An Exhortation
Taste these wines. One might describe them without too much fancy as an invigorating blend of fermenting apples, soil, mulch, wild honey,
almonds and dry sherry marked by perfect incisive acidity carrying the wild flavours across the palate; wines of tremendous length and brio
and seigniorial rusticity. You might equally say that they taste oxidised and faulty. Well, how do you like them apples? Can one reconcile
these views? Who is right and what is right and by whose normative standards are we judging? Do we criticise a sunset for not being romantic
enough; do we mark trees out of ten; does a disfigured person have less of a soul than a perfectly formed one? Chagall once observed: “one
cannot be precise and still pure”. When I have drunk great Savennières (and these are great Savennières), I have rarely experienced such
purity and depth of flavour in a white wine, for my imagination has been engaged and my senses enraptured. And, like the living thing it was,
the wine changed in the glass: the aromas multiplied, became richer and more complex. Generically, Savennières wines are not easy; they
resist facile comparison, but are true to themselves and to the vintage. We believe that it is a good thing that growers are occasionally unable
to control all the parameters that go into the making of wine because it is precisely this element of uncertainty and imperfection and surprise
that helps to forge the character of the wine. We are not aiming to discover a good, but standardized wine, which with the help of certain
chemicals would be the same year in, year out. I refer elsewhere to Tennyson’s description of Maud “faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly
null” as a good definition of the orthodoxy of homogeneity. Rather, we are looking for a wine that reflects the context in which in it was
grown. Each year brings a lot of uncertainties and it would be useless to try to ignore them. Indeed, we should try to learn from the whims of
weather to understand that with a bit of enthusiasm and by acquiring knowledge we can stand out in a market that is increasingly standardised
due to globalisation.
A French winemaker once told me: I understand deacidification, reacidification, oak chips. I have seen it done and I understand why it is
done. But that is not my choice. Wine is made in the vineyard. We do not call him or her “the winemaker” but rather “the vigneron”, the
conductor not the creator. There is a subtle difference. We also say that wine is le sang des pays, the blood of the earth. It is a romantic
notion that wine makes itself or that the winemaker is benignly neglecting his or her vines. You have to work hard to achieve purity, an
unmediated expression of character. Nature presents the choices; the vignerons have to act accordingly.
Without the vigneron there would be no wine, but one might argue, the greater the interference the more one gets away from the genius of
nature. If the sole purpose of wine is to transform blocks of grape juice into a chemically stable product, then aesthetic criteria are
fundamentally irrelevant. Character is irrelevant. Provenance is irrelevant. The test tube can effectively replace the womb. The wines from
Domaine aux Moines are truly singular. In a brand-driven, supermarket-dominated world let us celebrate their funky quirkiness (yes, I know
that’s a tautology!).
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DOMAINE VINCENT OGEREAU, Anjou
Plus mon Loyre Gaulois, que le Tybre Latin,
Plus mon petit Lyre, que le mont Palatin,
Et plus que l’air marin la doulceur Angevin
Joachim du Bellay
old vines Chenin Blanc and has the same steely frame as Savennières (see above). Serve at cellar temperature for best results.
Exotic heady aromas of melons come billowing out of the glass. As someone once wrote about another wine: It doesn’t ask for
pity nor beg for charity. The baby Anjou Blanc has acidity as keen as a whippet with mustard on its nose and fruit to boot. The
unfiltered Anjou-Villages Rouge is hugely extracted with thick juicy grungy damson fruit and a cool earthiness – so different
to the majority of weedy Cab Franc. Big, albeit ripe, tannins abound here, so serve “modern” room temperature. Seekers of
heavenly pleasure will instantly be drawn to Ogereau’s Coteaux du Layon, a nectar marvel of dried fruits, spices and honey,
and yet another coup de 104irab from this top grower. This is celestial, nepenthean Chenin with overtones of wild honey – the
finish seems to go on forever, amen. Apparently, Vincent Ogereau plays music to his wines whilst they are maturing in cask –
on this evidence it would have to be the Ode To Joy.
COTEAUX DU LAYON, SAINT-LAMBERT
DOMAINE SYLVAIN MARTINEZ, Anjou – Biodynamic
Sylvain Martinez is a young vigneron passionate about working the vines in harmony with nature. He is following in the steps
of his grandfather, a peasant farmer who instilled in him a respect for the soil. After ten years experience working with Mark
Angeli and René Mosse he then worked alongside Olivier Cousin where he learned how to work with animals. His vines,
average age 80 years, on schist soils over a bedrock of volcanic sandstone, are from a small parcel situated in the heart of
Coteaux du Layon. This is dirt-under-the-fingernails artisan viticulture. Ploughing is by horse, no chemicals are used and
only natural, organic solutions are sought. Yields are a minuscule 10 hectolitres/ha and a manual harvest with strict selection
is carried out in small cagettes. Vinification is very slow with light pressure using an ancestral press. Fermentation and
maturation is in old barrels for fourteen months before the wine is bottled on the lees without filtration or added sulphur. A
beautiful wine rippling with tension, possessing an exceptional, precise minerality, unveils subtle aromas of poire 104irabel
and shaved quince, dried fruits and herbs. Only 500 bottles made. The Gazouillis is a Pet Nat chip off the bruised appley
Chenin block. Finally, Corbeau is pure Grolleau (from Olivier Cousin’s vineyards) aged in old barrels. Confit plums and
cherries with some wild herbs, another excellent red for charcuterie.
VIN DE TABLE CUVEE “GOUTTE D’O”
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“We are becoming besotted with the notion that wine must be biodynamically grown, made in small batches by hands and feet…”
Provided it doesn’t involve the addition of anything illegal or harmful, I am in favour of using whatever techniques are legally permissible
to make a wine better, at whatever price it might be intended to sell.” …Take technology and interference away from wine and you get
Jeremy Oliver – Australian Wine Writer of the Year 2005 (Wine Selector Magazine)
DOMAINE COUSIN-LEDUC, OLIVIER COUSIN, Anjou – Biodynamic
These wines, to quote Alice Through The Looking Glass, are as “large as life and twice as natural”. We first made the
acquaintance of the Chardonnay one lunch time in a small bistro-à-vins in Paris. We’d spent the previous evening
destroying one of the finer lists in the city in search of a wine – any wine – that would jolt us upright and beat a taradiddle
on the tastebuds. Everything seemed hollow and confected as if someone had sucked the corks out of the bottles and drawn
out the very souls of the individual wines themselves. Then this Chardonnay, a vin de table, almost trembling with volatility,
reeking of bruised apples and honey, so alive that the flor seemed to be at war in the wine. Nature red in tooth and claw, the
skin of the grape, the air, the climate, the mulched soil, the binding of biological flavours through a purer form of chemistry,
herein a wine that wore its guts for garters.
Situated in Martigné-Briand south of Angers the domaine extends over 12-hectares planted to Gamay, Chardonnay,
Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grolleau and Chenin. The Angevin climate, tempered and regulated by the Atlantic and the
Loire river, the preservation of regional organic, natural elements such as micro-flor, the selection of grape varieties and
traditional methods of viticulture and vinification is what gives these wines their powerful identity.
Cousin’s wines are of the nowt-taken-out-and-nowt-added-to-them brigade.
“Les traitemùents contre les maladies ou la pourriture risquent d’anéantir toute flore lévurienne naturelle et de laisser des
résidus qui se retrouveront dans le vin. Une culture raisonnée, voir biologique est plus respectueuse du milieu”. Pierre
Casamayor (L’Ecole de la Degustation) – this is the credo of Olivier Cousin. This credo produces wines from organically
grown grapes, it is a philosophy derived from a paramount desire for quality and the fruit of real conviction rather than a
statement of fashion. These wines are free of enzymes, artificial yeasts or added sulphur. By the way he ploughs the
vineyards with the help of his trusty horse, Joker. He does this because he loves the companionship of animals.
Grolleau (or Gros Lot), a variety now virtually only encountered in Rosé d’Anjou, is properly the subject of withering scorn
from all manner of wine journalists. Its name is derived from an old French word “grolle” meaning the raven, a bird with
plumage as black as the grapes of this vine. According to my research this grape truly has croaked along with similar
anachronisms such as Aramon, Alicante Bouschet etc. And yet from such ugly corbies something gentle and rather fine can
occasionally emerge. Cousin’s version is a still a vin de copain, but it does have the benefit of being from sixty year old
vines and undergoing carbonic maceration. Flavours of violets and sweet red fruits allied to soft tannins and fresh acidity
make this a friend to the ice bucket. The exotic label will have you asking: “Who’s the daddy longlegs?” Le Cousin,
The Anjou red is pur Breton by another name. Very herbal on the nose with a mossy undertone it has a very medicinal quality.
A silky texture and cherry flavours complete the picture. We’ve added a couple of other Cousin humdingers. Pur Breton – not
to be confused with the structured Cab Franc mentioned above is a pot-pourri of ripe plum, juicy cherry, red apple core and
chalk tones with a secondary naughty whiff of mushroom and undergrowth. Crushed strawberries mixed with invigoratingly
fresh bing cherry and red apple explode on the palate. Joie de vivre. The Gamay combines that carbo fruitiness and freshness
with blood sausage and herb flavours. These wines have plenty of poke for your pig. There is, in my fond imagination, a desert
island populated by plutocratic lotos-munchers who feast on honeydew and drink the milk of paradise who lunch on DRC with
Chateau d’Yquem for dessert. Cousin’s Gamay is a welcome taste of raunchy reality. Sure it would spook the effete drinker in
their luxury cups, but it is immensely satisfying and lifts the spirits. Humble wines can compete with the best, if not on
reputation but in the matter of what is in the glass. This is the ugly goose that goosed the goose that layed the golden eggs.
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“It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.”
DOMAINE BENOIT COURAULT, Anjou – Organic
Two wines for the table, one to appeal to white vin man, the other to red vin girl. How easily one falls into these reductive
tropes. Benoit took over the 6.5 ha vineyard in 2006, having cut his vinous teeth in Chambolle-Musigny and in Tavel with the
one of the archbishops of natural wine, Eric Pfifferling. Farming is organic and the non-interventionist philosophy extends
into the winery. The Gilbourg (name of the plot) is pure, but not so simple, Chenin. Sixty year old vines, very low yields, long
vinification, wild yeast ferment without temperature control and maturation for twelve months in three to five year old barrels,
makes for a rich, earthy style of wine with bruised orchard fruit. Imagine ripe apples rolled in honey-coated green leaves then
add cinnamon and musk and some spiky acidity for definition. The wine moves, sometimes more mellow and textured,
sometimes sharper and delineated.
churned out by the barrel-load. This Cabernet Franc/Grolleau blend (60/40) from old vines is 106rborio, unfiltered, unfined
and unsulphured. A piffling 11.5% means that you can drink a magnum before the neo-Prohibitionists and their witchfinder
generals cotton on to what you are doing. In short, this is a profoundly delicious wine that doesn’t need to be profound. New
to our Courault mini-range is “Le Petit Chemin”, a superbly crunchy, almost salty pet nat Chenin. These boules rule.
LE P’TIT CHEMIN SEC
LE P’TIT CHEMIN SEC - magnum
VIN DE TABLE GILBOURG
VIN DE FRANCE “LES GUINESCHIENS”
VIN DE FRANCE LA COULEE GROLLEAU
VIN DE FRANCE TABENEAUX
VIN DE FRANCE TABENEAUX - magnum
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