26 March, 2022
These are the wines Thomas and me tasted over the course of seven days during my stay in March. When I started the blog I had set myself a rule: I would never publish (my) tasting notes as I couldn’t trust my taste (yet). I only started drinking natural wine two years ago. Before that I enjoyed conventionally-produced wine but never really paid attention to where it came from, what it actually was and who had made it. In one of my previous lives I had been a music journalist. I knew a lot about music but always felt uncomfortable writing reviews. I was more interested in interviews, getting to speak to the makers of the music that I liked. The same, I thought, I had to apply to wine and this is also why this blog is and will be including plenty of interviews. However, tasting notes I’ve come to find important to school my taste and my understanding what a wine can be and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be. I am interested in making my own wine and therefore consider it important to know what kind of wines are… possible. What a wine can taste and make you feel like. So, these tasting notes are not to be taken as a critique or a buyer’s guide. I enjoy putting my thoughts on paper and then transferring them into this blog, reflecting whilst writing. At the moment I’m reading Anders Frederik Steen’s »Notes: 2013–2020« which are titled »Poetry Is Growing in Our Garden – Thoughts one wine-making and wine-drinking«, published in 2021 by Apartamento Publishing. I was surprised to find that he, a well-known winemaker and former chef and sommelier (at very famous restaurants), also has a quite, how should I say, ›straightforward‹ way of writing down tasting notes. Here’s an example: »2003 / Vendages de Chardonnay / Olivier Cousin. Very ripe fruit, quince/pear. Oxidation/caramel. I think we drank it a little too late. I usually really like his wines. It’s a bit annoying when Chardonnay gets a little too affected by age; the oxidation is not quite in place and the sweetness seems to be caramelised, which may be due to a warm vintage. It could be an exciting match for a dish of hazelnuts or almonds , olive oil and cooked apples, braised/grilled endive, or something like that«. Well, I’m not there yet but I warm to his reduced kind of language. It also reminds me to keep thinking and looking for structure, to ask myself why a certain sensation appears or why it’s missing. Not forgetting about the food that I had with a wine or the food that I could have had with a wine is challenging.
Alexandre Giquel (2019): a Chenin Blanc from nearby Noizay (appellation Vouvray), no name for the cuvée. Unfortunately, I have lost my tasting notes but I still remember raving about it and Thomas talking about Alexandre, about his endless energy and how he works with a horse in his vineyards. Hard to find and, quite rightfully, not cheap: 35+€. The back label in French translates as follows: »In this bottle here is the work of the land, respectful of the soil, cart in hand, to the rhythm of the horse. There is no mechanization, work in the vineyard is entirely manual to offer the plant the best conditions for its development. Manual harvesting allows the preservation of the grapes up until the cellar where vinification takes place naturally with minimum intervention.« Natural winemaking in a nutshell.
Nicolas Joly’s »Les Vieux Clos« (2018), a Chenin Blanc from the appellation Savennières, was a bit too much when we opened it on the day of my arrival at Thomas’s, on 18 March. I had bought it in Berlin, as a present for Thomas, and brought it, by train, in my backpack, all the way back to where it had come from, originally. Well, not really, but sort of! (Joly’s domaine lies 134km west of Thomas’s, near Angers). If we had only paid attention to Joly’s note on the back which advised immediate decanting. Well, we ignored it and were slightly appalled by its manly power and its amount of alcohol. It came across as quite shouty! But we intended to try it over a couple of days, letting the oxidation do its job. On the fourth day it had fully opened up and showed a depth that was hard to understand. So many layers, so many flavours and tastes! I had first drunk this wine on the day of my birthday, in August 2020, although I couldn’t say now which vintage it had been. It left a long-lasting impression on me, and I was equally impressed with this bottle here. I’m sure it could easily rest another couple of years in the bottle, it somehow seems indestructible. 38€ in Berlin, a bit less in France, I imagine.
»Orthogneiss« (2018, I think), from Domaine de l’Ecu who are based in Le Landreau and who make wine within the appellation Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, using amphorae only: salty, tropical, flinty, 100% beloved Melon de Bourgogne. On day two and three it became quite mild and soft and I started making out the taste of candied pineapple. Sold for around 18€.
Sylvain Leest’s »Blanc de Pierre« (2018) is made from Orbois Blanc grapes. We loved it. The cépage reminded me of Melon de Bourgogne. It was a joy to drink while not being boring at all. It was well-balanced with a pronounced acidity. Around 14€ only. I sent Leest an e-mail the next day and met him at his cave shortly afterwards.
Domaine de Cambalu, »Chichic« (2018): a Pineau d’Aunis from Francueil. If I remember correctly the Famille Moreau has always been selling grapes to plenty of winemakers but never released a wine of their own. Only recently they started vilifying their own wines. Well, if that’s the case then I look very much forward to their next vintages! 17€. (What I like about this grape variety is its ›thinness« and the pointedly taste of white or black pepper.)
»Les Palennes« (2018) by François Saint-Lô disappointed me. His Chenin maceration is one of my all-time favourite white wines but this Cabernet Franc irritated me. It was slightly sparkling and I could smell nail polish which I simply detest. I decided to let it rest for a few minutes. It became more grounded and showed more depth. I was relieved. But twenty minutes later a strong spirited nose returned. Those 14% alc. showed themselves. It was weirdly active, almost restless. Thomas enjoyed it on its second day but I was still, sadly and unfortunately, disappointed. In the shops for 25€.
»Matin, midi et soir« (2020) is a Chenin Blanc from Vincent Bergeron. It reminded me of Thomas’s »Le Rayon Blanc« from 2019 – I adored its ease, its multiple layers, the tropical flavours and the slight hint of brioche. Stunning! I can’t remember where I got it from (and can’t find it on the internet either. Strange!). Or did Thomas buy it or receive it as a gift?
Vinyer de la Ruca, »Banyuls« (2012): Manuel de Vecchi Staraz, originally from Florence, Italy, makes this sweet wine from Grenache grapes in Banyuls-sur-Mer. The Catalonian name for his domaine translates as »the vineyard of the jenny« (jenny is a female donkey). Thomas is friends with him. Recently, they exchanged a few bottles of wine and that is why I got to taste this utterly unique beverage. Each bottle is one-of-a-kind, produced by a glassblower. Each cork is made specifically, too! »Chocolate, pickled plums, syrup«, my notes said. We only had a tiny amount of wine but it stayed with us forever. It was warming! Time stood still, as corny as that may sound. The way this wine is produced is as follows, paraphrasing from what Thomas told me from memory: The wine ferments, transforming sugar into alcohol. Using high-volume alcohol (pomace, grappa, schnapps, basically) the fermentation is stopped prematurely, making for a sugary wine that is, well, amazing. No need for a dessert when you have this! It’s very expensive, something like, erm, 115€ for 500ml, but worth every damned cent.
Thomas Puéchavy, unreleased (2020/2021): Thomas surprised me with an impromptu assemblage of a sweet, as of yet unreleased, wine from his 2020 vintage, mixed with a, as of yet unreleased, quite acidic wine from 2021. »Hammer!«, my note said. »Hammer« meaning »hammer« but also meaning »banging«.
Cyril Fhal (of Domaine Clos de Rouge Gorge), »Une vie la nuit« (2020), from his négociant side of his business. (A négociant:e buys grapes from growers, quite often she:he picks the grapes her:himself. In any case the négociant:e vinifies the grapes.) »Syrah et un peu de Grenache sur la route de Padern«, the label says. »Syrah and a little Grenache on the road to Padern«, Padern being a town in the department of Aude. It was only 17,50€ and we fantasized about buying a case or ten as it was so gorgeous: an incredible nose, so flowery, and a stunning, long-lasting reverberation.
Emmanuel Haget & A.’s »Palabres«, a very present and equally deep Pineau d’Aunis from the Saumur-Puy-Notre-Dame appellation (one day later I served it again, this time straight from the fridge, a huge mistake). Around 15€.
Amicalement vin, the local wine shop in Pocé sur Cisse, next to Amboise, makes its own wine, a Chenin Blanc named »Les amis du petit bois sont bien arrivés« (2020). The name of the cuvée is referring to the coded language used by La Résistance, Clement told me. The sentence translates as »The friends of the small forest have arrived well« which, in regards to wine, doesn’t make sense, obviously. Who knows what it meant back then? »The machine guns have arrived and can be found in the shed next door«? I shall ask Amicalement vin the next time I visit. I opened it on my own and wasn’t very pleased with it, at first. That dreaded smell of nail polish! »Aggressive!«, my notes said. On day two an enjoyable oxidative tone took over, and we then agreed that it was best on day three! Around 15€, I think.
Antoine Sanzay »Les salles Martin« (2018): Sanzay makes this Chenin Blanc in Saumur. I couldn’t find my notes of day one but on day two I seemed to enjoy it tremendously. Its volatile nose reminded me of Nicolas Joly’s Chenin (see above). I don’t mind a little volatility as it often helps establishing tension, doesn’t it! And tension is important. Rich, dry, salty, very cool. A highlight that goes for 30+€.
Martin Nittnaus »Manila« (2021): The second wine I had brought with me from Berlin where Nittnaus’s wines are sold by Weinhandlung Suff/Drunk by Nature. They also sell Thomas’s wines. I had met Nittnaus at an Austria-only wine fair Suff had put on at Kreuzberg’s Markthalle IX. Nittnaus seemed like a really nice person, it was great talking to him, and his wines were the ones I liked best out of those approximately 20 which I had tasted in total. His »Manila« is a Blaufränkisch, my favourite Austrian red grape variety. Thomas was intrigued! I had put a sock on the bottle so Clement, Nedjma and Thomas had to guess where this wine was from and what cépage it was in the first place. Clement had somehow overheard me a few days earlier mentioning that I had brought a wine from a different country than France with me so was betting on Germany or Austria. Thomas wasn’t so sure but decided it was »north of the Loire«. All commented favourably on the acidity. Was it a Pinot Noir? I tell them it’s a Blaufränkisch from Austria. Thomas jumps up and fetches his »Guide des Cépages et Terroirs«. There’s not much info about Blaufränkisch in it though. I am pleased that my present was a success. (A bargain for 17€.)
Nedjma, unreleased (2021): Nedjma, whose family name I don’t know, is a musician and friends with Thomas. Last year she made her first wine, a pet nat. I present it to our group with a sock on the bottle. Everyone’s enjoying it, no one’s able to guess its contents. I go for Pineau d’Aunis, the grape variety I can make out the easiest, Thomas goes for Chenin. Well: it’s an assemblage of Chenin Blanc, Gamay and Pineau d’Aunis! Congratulations, Nedjma!
Domaine Clos de Rouge Gorge (2019): yes, brilliant! Tension, a little bit of wood, Macabeu. We prefer his reds, though!