There's a format for wine tastings and mini wine fairs that is on the rise in France, and it's perfect for me because that's my type of event, informal, casual and just the right size so that you don't feel like you go to work when you push the door : you're here to enjoy your day, have good wine and chat with nice people, not to race along long lines of immaculate tables, scribbling incomprehensible (even for yourself) notes in-between, racing to meet your numbers. These new types of tasting are held by a given winery which invites in the way a few friend-wineries, say, from 5 to 12 in general, so that you can taste the wines of a given small group of wineries in a single location. Considering that these vignerons are more on the artisan side than on a business-centered mindset, this shared mode allows them both to split the costs and to have time to meet the other participating vintners with whom, you may guess, they share the same passion for real wines. France's economic prospects may have taken a somber turn recently, at least we'll still have these wine gatherings to heat up the mood. There are really plenty of these small artisan-wine tastings all over France, from the Jura to the Languedoc and from Anjou to Auvergne in the Loire, and if not for the distance and costs (and weather conditions when you ride a motorbike), I'd visit more of them if I could because you don't just technically taste wines there, you live a very nice experience. Such shared tastings usually last a couple of days, you can buy wine from each participating vigneron (it's one of the main goal : selling wine directly to customers), and you have entertainment of some sort, music, street performers of some kind or other artists taking part. This particular Open Doors took place at Les Vins Contés just outside the village of Fougères-sur-Bièvre, which is located in the Loire in western Sologne, a large forested area south of Orléans and Blois. Fougères is also home to a beautiful little-known medieval castle (pic on right).
All the "tasting tables", actually casks set in the vertical position, were in the cask room, a precautionary measure when you look at the weather these days in France, with not only temperatures below normal, but lots of scattered rain. I recognized Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme (center right), the associate of Thierry Puzelat, who was tasting around, although he didn't take part (He and thierry organize their own mini tasting fair soon with Hervé Villemade, june 2nd and 3rd).
__ Vins Contés Bois sans Soif 2010. A white table wine (Vin de France). Menu Pineau (60-year-old vines) & Romorantin (40-year-old vines), 50 % each. Nice acidity, very very vivid in the mouth, very dry too, tensed. No SO2 at all. 12,2 ° in alcohol (12,5 ° on the label). Costs 7 € a bottle.in 2011. Very, very different expression, although this is the same terroirs and the same winemaking. Much less acidic, super pleasant wine with more substance, my choice definitely between the two. Costs 9 € a bottle (few bottles left).
__ Vins Contés Cour-Cheverny 2011. Another white, made from Romorantin grape variety. Turbid wine. This is a Cour-Cheverny Appellation wine, but Olivier says that he hasn't yet passed the agreement, he is supposed to pass it this week and there's always the risk that the wine is denied the green stamp. On the nose, the wine is already chewy and appetising, you feel life from this start. Here is a straight wine with minerality and intensity. Not a single SO2 adding here too. Olivier says that the wine has justbeen bottled and that it should be even better soon. I'm impressed if that's a wine supposed to be still under the shock of a recent bottling. Costs 9 €. There's a radiating feel in the mouth and palate with this wine, Romorantin rocks... The whole cuvée here makes 1200 bottles.
__ Vins Contés Le Ptit Rouquin, red table wine (Vin de France) made from Gamay with a 10-day carbonic maceration in wooden tronconic vat. This wine is the entry wine of their range. 1gram of SO2 added before bottling, actually he asked for a lab analysis afterward for his Japan-bound exports (a compulsory requirement for Japan) and there was no SO2 left. Fruity nose, chewy feel. Costs 6,5 € a bottle (tax included, like all prices listed here)
__ Vins Contés R. A red blend of Gamay (20 %), Côt (40 %) and Grolleau (40 %), another table wine (Vin de France). Beatiful, delicate nose of faded opulent flowers, very pleasant. In the mouth that's a real pleasure, asks for more. 1 gram SO2 [per hectoliter I guess] added at bottling too. 7 € a bottle.
__ Vins Contés Poivre et Sel, Vin de France 2011. Pineau d'Aunis and a bit of Gamay. Tannic feel in the mouth with a bit of astringency. Bottled a month ago, the whole cuvée making 5000 bottles (8 €) and 300 magnums (18 €). No more regular bottles available, only magnums. I noticed this particular cuvée recently and even though it's a different bottling, I understand why buyers ordered their lot in advance.
__ Vins Contés Gama Sutra, Vin de France. From 100-year-old ungrafted Gamay (franc de pied), the missing vines being replaced through marcottage. The whole parcel makes 60 ares. Beautiful intensity in the mouth, with a long, enjoyable feel. 20 day of carbonic maceration without any cap-punching or pumping-over, so as to avoid extraction. Bottled 3 weeks ago only, costs 10 € a bottle, or 9 € per 12-bottle case. You need to try this if you have the opportunity, very nice wine.
__ Vins Contés Cheville de Fer 2010, Vin de France. Côt. 12 ° in alcohol. Nose with peony notes.
__ Vins Contés Cheville de Fer 2011. Côt, sampled from a metal vat., will be bottled in 15 days but will be on the market only by next september. That's quite nice, an elegant wine with a nice chewy mouth and an enjoyable substance. 10 € a bottle.
__ Les Capriades Pepin la Bulle 2010. 100 % Chardonnay. Super vivid wine, pleasant drink. 9 €. All his sparklings are of course made without any dosage (sugar addition) and without any SO2 either.
__ Les Capriades Piège à Filles rosé 2011. Mostly Gamay (90 %) with a bit of Cabernet Franc. Direct press, so the color is very light. A bit of residual sugar (5 grams), but not so sugary in the mouth. Costs 8 €. Humourously named Piège à Filles (Girls trap) because women like this lightly sugary sparkling...
__ Les Capriades Piège à Filles blanc 2011. 2/3 Menu Pineau and 1/3 Chenin. Not turbid at all although unfiltered, because there's a long deposit phase, and there's a double disgorgement without icing, with two weeks in-between. Thin, small bubbles, refined feel in the mouth. More sugary but it's well integrated in the whole feel. 8,5 €.
__ Les Capriades. A red table wine (Vin de France) made from Côt. No cuvée name yet. Fine print reads LR10 meaning it's a 2010. Organic-farmed grapes purchased to Mickael Bouges. Vivid violet-color disk in the glass. 12 ° in alcohol. Costs 7,5 €.
__ La Grange aux Belles, Les Moyens du Bord 2011, white Vin de France (table wine) made from Chenin. The wine is strikingly mineral, with a rather powerful mouth-feel. Nice wine for only 8 € a bottle. I listen to Julien as he speaks with two guys, he and Marc are checking the needs of the vineyard in nitrogen, using the Herody method, whixh allows to quantify the assimilable nitrogen needed by the soil, which can be satisfied by organic compost spread at the right time and on the right spot. He says that while nitrogen is central to make wine, the needs of the vines have to be fulfilled before blossoming, after, it's too late. They use sprayings made with plants like nettle and horsetail, coupled with sulphur and copper to keep the vine strong.
__ La Grange aux Belles, Fragile 2010, Anjou blanc (white). Chenin again, which comes from the same parcels than the previous wine, but with a later picking and an élevage in old casks (3- to 4-wines old). Unfiltered but rather devoid of sediments. 2 grams of SO2/hectoliter added at bottling. Nice mouth-feel. 13,5 ° in alcohol. 13 €.
__ La Grange aux Belles La Chaussée Rouge. Named "La Chaussée Rouge" (the Red Road) from a same-name locality near their winery in Anjou : in the Vendée during the early days of the French revolution, the "revolutionary" armies sent by the new regime from Paris killed so many civilians that the road on this particular spot was blood-red. The modestly-named guerres de Vendée (Vendée wars) were in fact an organised genocide planned by the revolutionary government in Paris, as proven by documents, in order to tame and subdue through extinction a region that fiercly resisted the new order. Julien says that there are many such local names like this one who testify of the mass killings of civilians during this era.
The wine is a blend of Grolleau/Cabernet Franc. Let's remind that the estate has one third of its surface in Grolleau, [these guys are proud heirs of the counter-revolutionaries, it seems to me, fighting for the old indigenous varieties rather than following the new rules imposed by the Appellation system...]. This is of course, a proudly-renegade table wine (Vin de France). From what I understand, the vines here are massal selections from 1960. The aromatic character of this wine is striking, even in the mouth, with notes of faded flowers and peony. Very elegant and feminine wine. 8 € only, very good value. 10 000 bottles overal in this cuvée, the biggest batch of the winery.
__ La Grange aux Belles, 53. Anjou Appellation. This cuvée is made from a massal selection of Cabernet Franc planted in 1953. Vinified in plain cement vats (no tiles or lining in the vats). Powerful wine, but with well-integrated tannins. 13,5 ° in alcohol. Costs 10 €.
__ La Grange aux Belles, La Nina, fine print : "Elle est née des caprices". Gamay, 24-month élevage in casks. Surprising freshness in the mouth. Aromas of small red fruits. Interesting and unusual vividness here. Total volume : 800 bottles plus 200 magnums, the magnums being totally sulfur-free. Not made every year. Costs 15 € a bottle or 30 € a magnum.
__ La Grange aux Belles Chenin moelleux. Coteaux de L'Aubance Appellation, made from half grains-nobles Chenin, and half "jaune-doré", that is with different maturity/ripeness types. Very nice and pleasant wine, fresh and goes down well; costs 13 € only. 12 ° in alcohol.
They also have Pineau d'Aunis at the Grange aux Belles, but it's alas sold out.
At one point I exchanged a few words with Jasmine (pictured on right), a young woman who seem passionated by artisan wine and works here and there both in the cellar and in the vineyard. It's not impossible that we have here a promising actor of the wine trade...
__ L'insurgé. red Vin de France (table wine) made from old vines of Gamay (50 years). Fine print on the label "Vin d'expression libre 2011". Carbonic maceration of 3 weeks with two pumping-over. Very nice wine in the mouth, get's down easily. Thin tannins. 12 ° in alcohol. Costs 7,5 €. Zero SO2 added, bottled under nitrogen (he uses a service company for that). Nice wine, try it if you have the opportunity.
__ Côt Lectif 2011. Vin de France again. 100 % Côt, from 40-year-old vines. He didn't try to pass the agreement for the Appellation status. Bottled 6 weeks ago, will open, he says. The wine right now is quite fresh, pretty nice mouth-feel, which radiates beautifully in the palate. Also a nice wine, particularly when you learn that it was bottled so recently. Costs 9 € a bottle.
__ L'insurgé 2010 (Gamay, table wine). Carafed. He has still a few bottles to sell. Carbonic maceration with cap-punching and pumping over for this vintage. Nice chew and freshness too, here. Costs 7,5 €.
His wines can be found in several places in Paris : A La Renaissance, Le Verre Volé, Cave des Papilles, Tandem. He also exports to Japan (Junko Arai - Cosmo Jun), the U.S. (Selection Massale)
__ Les Roches, Chinon 2007. Bottled in 2009 after a shorter-than-usual élevage because marc Sibard of les Caves Augé in Paris wanted the wine urgently for his wine shop. He had tested the wine in a primeur tasting and couldn't resist the appeal of the wine. We'll excuse his impatience, the wine is fine with a nice freshness. Jérôme says that the wine had actually turned closed shortly after bottling (probably angry to see his élevage shortened), which pushed Sibard to suspend the sales, and then it turned beautiful again. These days, Jérôme Lenoir is preparing to bottle his other 2007, which is more in line with his usual cellaring time in casks.
Les Roches, Chinon 2005. Also a Cabernet Franc with freshness and this earthy character. Jérôme says that the 2005 still needs a few months, ideally.
__ Les Roches, Chinon 2004. Nice concentration. A wine that seems more supple with a beautiful fruit.
__ Les Roches, Chinon 1989. Beautiful youth for a Cabernet Franc of this age, still things to say in the glass. The right acidity you ask to a wine.
__ Les Roches, Chinon 1996. A wine with intensity and length. That's a pleasure wine, with a beautiful texture coupled with minerality and freshness. We taste two bottles of this same wine, one coming from the cellar of a customer (a restaurant if I remember) who at some point thought the wine had veered astray in his own cellar. Not at all, same enjoyable experience. And this Cabernet Franc is 15 years old. If I remember, Jérômes wines sell for 11 € a bottle (for the current vintages, right now the 2007).
__ La Sénéchalière, La Folle Blanche 2011. Made from the same-name grape variety, which few people know because it's the variety behind the vulgar Gros Plant which is usually the cheapest white wine is stores, used to cook dishes or make Kir. In the Gros Plant Appellation, Folle Blanche has allowed yields of 78 hectoliters/hectares ! Here, on Marc Pesnot's 3 hectares of Folle Blanche, he has yields of only about 15 hectoliter/hectares for his humble table wine. And he doesn't add any sugar of course when the Appellation rules allow to add 300 kilograms of sugar per hectare.... The goal being of course to make a maximum volume, forgoing the quality from the start. The wine has flowery aromas and is very pleasant to drink. It is made without any additives, except 10 mg of SO2. Actually for the SO2, it's case per case, Marc checks the wine under the microscope and makes a bacteria count before deciding to addSO2, if any.Marc Pesnot says that this 2011 reached 12,04 ° in alcohol naturally, which proves that you don't need sugar to make wine from Folle Blanche. The fermentation lasted 6 months (on wild yeasts), which makes a difference compared with the usual 8 days needed by the commercial wineries around, using added lab yeasts.
This cuvée makes 6000 bottles and the price per bottle is 6,5 €.
__ La Sénéchalière, La Bohême 2011. A white made from Melon de Bourgogne, the star variety of Muscadet. Vines on shists. Exiting nose, this is full of vibrant life... The mouth is beautifully full. Goes down well. Marc Pesnot says that he sprays the vines with essential oils and herbal decoctions.
__ La Sénéchalière, Chapeau Melon 2010. Vin de France (table wine). Melon de Bourgogne again. fermented a year, plus 6 months of élevage. No SO2 here. Very classy mouth, that's a nice wine indeed... Bottled with a crown cap, not a cork. Costs 7,5 €.
__ La Sénéchalière, same wine but with a 12-month fermentation plus 6 months in bottle. The color is more on the golden side, the wine oxidized itself a bit under the crown cap. Intense wine with complexity.
__ La Sénéchalière, Mystère 2007. Melon de Bourgogne from old vines. His same-name 2010 cuvée is sold out. 2007 was one of the worst vintage when you look at the weather conditions : blossoming had been tricky and overstretched along more than 1 month. But Marc Pesnot turned around the challenge by picking in two times, 10 days in-between. He got grapes with 12,3 ° natural sugar. He says vignerons around looked more for efficiency and volume and got a vintage of poor quality because they didn't adapt their practice to the vintage. They all thought no one could make anything good in these conditions but they were positively surprised when they tasted his wine in 2008.
Read Jim Budd's report about this open doors at Les Vin Contés.