Paris, 11th arrondissement
I went to a wine tasting event named Ici Commence la Loire some time ago (check the participating domaines on the linked Pdf). This was a few weeks ago but I was busy until now and delayed the story, it was taking place at La Cartonnerie in the 11th, a nice place to organize a professional tasting event, a no-fuss place, not too big and with several connecting rooms (this is a well-preserved set of former workshops). I went to quite a few artisan-wine tastings in this venue.
The event was organized the wine communication agency Clair de Lune.
The wines featured there were coming exclusively from the eastern wing of the Loire region, namely from 4 small wine regions, the Côtes d'Auvergne, the Côtes du Forez, the Saint-Pourçain and the Côte Roannaise, an area that seems to sit closer to the city of Lyons than the Loire valley proper, but which is still part of the extended family of the Loire wines. The name of the event (Ici Commence la Loire) means "Here Begins the Loire", reminding that the Loire-wine-region's eastern lands start here, and also that the river Loire has its source in these eastern mountains.
Mouse this Loire-region map down to its far right/lower corner and you'll spot the 4 colored patches of these tiny wine regions that stand clearly apart from each other, 2 of them (Côte Roannaise & Cotes du Forez) being next to the Rhone (69) département.
There were almost 40 domaines taking part, and while many of the wines (especially the reds) were a bit rough for me and still very conventional, I discovered a few nice wines. I went there after work and only managed to sample a few wineries. This far-east area of the Loire is completely under the radar, and while the main reason (I think) is that many of the wines there are not very exciting, it's a region with a good potential for change, so I try not to miss an occasion to visit the rare tasting events exclusively devoted to this region. The other positive aspect of these little-known Loire regions is that the wines are pretty cheap.
As I was tasting at a table I heard that the winegrowers were called for a group picture and I jumped on the opportunity to take a shot of these cheerful vintners. Small wine regions have the advantages of easy-going relations and you could feel that clearly that day.
What follows is a very quick and partial overview of the wines found at this event, hoping this will nonetheless make you want to discover the wines of this area.
Here I tasted a few wines from Yvan Bernard who runs 8 hectares of vineyards in the Côtes d'Auvergne area near Montpeyroux. Yvan Bernard restored these terraced vineyards which were in disuse.
__ Yvan Bernard Oppidum, Chardonnay 2013. Soil : limestone and basalts. The domaine is certified organic (Ecocert). This Chard comes from a 1,4-hectare parcel. Aromatic wine with a nice mineral touch in the mouth. The bottle cost 8 € tax included.
___Yvan Bernard Côtes d'Auvergne Les Dômes red). 80 % Gamay & 20 % Pinot Noir.. Terroir : basalts. 2-hecare paecel. nose : cooked fruit, dust. But some sort of alcohol-induced astringency.
__ Yvan Bernard Arkose 2012, Vin de Pays. gamay (old Gamay d'Auvergne vines, a local type of gamay). Soil : crushed granite. Long vatting time, he says (1 month), one-year élevage in 1/2 muids (large-capacity casks). In the mouth : pleasant cooked fruit aromas. Still a bit alcohol-forward in my feel. Some astringency on the side of the mouth.
__ Yvan Bernard Petrosus 2012. 100 % Pinot Noir. 40-year-old vines, vatting time 3 weeks. In cask for a year then. Quite dark for a pinot noir. Also a wine with alcohol and astringency coming forward, too much exctraction, I feel.
My impression during this tasting is that many red wines throughout these regions went through some sort of thermovinification and systematic lab yeast use, yielding these dark extracted wine. Just an impression (maybe unfounded), but knowing what a small group of dedicated artisans can do in the Auvergne, I can't but notice the gap between the characters of the wines. Enologists should leave these winegrowers alone, I'm sure that 60 years ago when no such consultancy services and labs were around you had nice simple wines on the bistrots counters.
After doing some research, I found a detailed description of the thermovinification technique on Richard Kelley's Côte Roannaise page (scroll down, there's a pic of a basket press with the thermovinification machine next to it), and I think this technique is widely used in the 4 regions :
First seen in Beaujolais in the early 1990s, this method was soon common place in the Roannaise. The process involves heating either whole berries (although the method allows for heating must as an alternative) to a temperature of between 50 and 80 degrees centigrade for around one minute. This ensures the skins of the grapes are hot, whilst the pulp remains cold. The result is that the skin cells of the grape are either damaged or killed which helps release the anthocyanins (colour compounds) during maceration and fermentation. The result, in theory, is to produce wines that are rich in colour, with low levels of astringency (the method extracts only the anthocyanins and not the tannin compounds) and increased primary fruit flavours. This method is also useful in years when there is rot, such as 2002, which is when the Vial brothers began using this technique.
The domaine Famille Laurent is located in the Saint Pourçain appellation, exactly in the village of Saulcet. the Saint-Pourçain has been for a long time a favorite bistrot counter wine in Paris, sourced there by the bar owners who were
often coming from this region of France or from the neighbouring Massif Central mountains.
The famille Laurent is a domaine with aa 27-hectare vineyard surface, quite a good size wine farm. It bottles all its production selling half to individual customers and half to restaurants and shops, with a bit of export too.
__ Famille Laurent Calnite 2013. A white blend made from 70 % Chard 20 % Tressailler (the white variety of the region) and 10 % Sauvignon, no chaptalization. Yields 25 ho/ha. Soil : limestone and granite. Malolactic not completed. Very aromatic wine, nice feel in the mouth. Vinified in vats. Costs 6,45 tax included at the winery.
__ Famille Laurent Saint-Pourçain rosé. From gamay, direct press, no chaptalization. The mouth feels like a white, interesting. Richness.
__ Famille Laurent Calnite red 2012. 60 % gamay & 40 % pinot noir, the proportions vary a bit depending of the year and the respective yields of the parcels. Nose : cooked red fruits. Mouth : alcohol feel.
__ Famille Laurent Puy Real 2012. 60 % pinot noir & 40 % gamay, or the other way around for the proportions. Here, longer vatting time (10 days). Nose : more delicate with opulent flower aromas. Mouth : some complexity, softer alcohol feel.
Blend of several parcels making a total surface of 4 hectares, some being on limestone and others on granite. Vinified in barrels. Costs 8,4 € tax included.
I then tasted the wines of Jacques Plasse who is managing a small winery in the Côte Roannaise, with a total vineyard surface of 6,3 hectare near St André d'Apchon west of Roanne. Read the well-documented page about the Côte Roannaise by Richard Kelley.
__ Jacques Plasse Roussanne-Viognier, Vin de Pays d'Urfé (bottle held by J.P. on this pic). A rare blend, with a saline feel in the mouth, very interesting. Soil is granite, Jacques Plasse says. If I read my notes correctly, the wine is made fromm a 6000 square-meter plot of Roussanne and 3000 sq-m plot of Viognier. No malolactic here but in 2011 it went through (I forgot to note the vintage here, can be 2012 or 2013). Good balance for this white, gets down the throat well, the alcohol is in line with the other parts of the wine. Vinified in vats, sterile filtration when malolactic not made. SO2 under the norms. A bottle costs 5,5 € tax included (public price) at the winery, quite a good deal I think.
__ Jacques Plasse Côte Roannaise Bel Air 2013 (a red). Gamay. 2,5 hectare of vineyard for this cuvée. Not convinced, similar feel than for the previous domaine.
__ Jacques Plasse Côte Roannaise 2013 Vielles Vignes (100-year old gamay vines, 1,2 hectare). 100 % destemmed. Peppery wine but alcohol feel.
__ Jacques Plasse Bouthéran 2012, a red too. 2-hectare parcel of gamay. The peppery side comes forward, the parcel is on a slope.
Next (I chose almost randomly the tables I would stop at) I tasted the wines of the Domaine de la Paroisse, Jean-Claude Chaucesse is managing a domaine with 7 hectares of vineyard surface near Renaison, another village of the Côte Roannaise. He works with his wife and they're the 13th generation at the wheel of this family winery. Read Richard Kelley's detailed profile of Jean-Claude Chaucesse.
__ Domaine de la Paroisse Chardonnay 2013, Vin de Pays d'Urfé. 9000 sq-m parcel, 35-year-old vines. Vat sample (not bottled yet when the tasting took place). Very aromatic, pleasant wine. Wild yeast, 100 % vinified in vat. The malolactic is done but the wine retains a good aromatic edge. Vinified a low fermentation temperature. Costs 5,5 € tax included (public price), good value.
__ Domaine de la Paroisse Côte Roannaise Cuvée Tradition 2013 (red- gamay). Vat sample. Filtered but not bottled yet, should be in may 2014. Fruity wine but with astringency and some alcohol which tends to bring a dry feel in the mouth.
__ Domaine de la Paroisse Côte Roannaise 1878 2012. Black-label bottle, this wine is made with very old vines : planted in 1878, dating from the first tries for grafting following the phyloxera destruction. What is surprising is that Jean-Clause Chaucesse says that there's no esca losses on this very-old-vine parcel. Interesting. Plantation density is 12000 vines per hectare, he says, there are not many missing vines, unlike most old parcels. I prefer this red compared with the former,but yields dryness in the mouth too, I feel. 50 % destemmed, which allows a longer vating time without the vegetal aromas coming up, he says.
I stopped at this table following the advice of two people I know from Le Rouge & le Blanc, the independant wine magazine [by the way, they're having their 30-year anniversary tasting tomorrow sunday 27th of april in this very venue of La Cartonnerie -- a must-attend event].
I spotted the R&B people finishing their tasting tour and they pointed me this domaine, the Cave Verdier-Logel. Jacky Forez is a colorful and cheerful guy who is the one laying in the group photo at the top. He is not orgininally from the wine sector, he was a carpenter in Mulhouse, Alsace and his partner Odile Verdier was a dietetician there. They decided to change life and settled there, Jacky went to the wine school of Macon (Burgundy) and their first vintage was 1992. They farm organicly 17 hectares of vineyards in the Côtes du Forez, an appellation which is even less wel-known than the Côte Roannaise. The estate was converted beginning 1997 anf fully certified in 2000.
Read Richard Kelley extensive page on the Côtes du Forez.
__ Cave Verdier-Logel PierreLune 2012, Vin de Pays d'Urfé, white wine made from Pinot Gris. Hand picked, wild yeast fermentation, malolactic performed. Soil : granite, vines planted in 2002. Nice mouth touch, like silk paper. 50cl bottle. Costs 6 € tax included at the domaine.
__ Cave Verdier-Logel La Sentimentale 2013. From pinot gris planted in 1994 on the Montverdun former volcano. Soil : basalt. Vat sample, was currently through the malolactic when this tasting took place. Very nice mouth feel too, the wine sends nice vibrations in the mouth. Aromatic. Quite superb experience. 50 cl bottle. Costs 6 € tax included, good deal although smaller bottle volume.
__ Cave Verdier-Logel Côte du Forez red 2013. Granite soil. Peony aromas. Again some alcohol feel even if not as forward as for other reds that I tasted that day.
__ Cave Verdier-Logel Côte du Forez, cuvée La Volcanique. Gamay of course, on basalt soil (we're definitely on a volcanic terroir). Vat sample, malolactic on its way. Will be ready by april-may. 7 hectares of gamay, also hand picked and vinified with indigenous yeast. Filtration before bottling using earth filtration. Quite a nice mouth touch here. Costs 6,1 € tax included (regular 75cl size). Interesting wine.
__ Cave Verdier-Logel, a sample of gamay 2013 that will go into La Volcanique (not bottled separately). Very classy and elegant wine, here is a wine that has things to tell and could be indeed bottled separately. Very atypical, lovely gamay...
__ Cave Verdier-Logel, Apprendre à Lyre, a gamay with lyre trellising on a one-hectare surface. Nice vividness, a small astringency but a noticeable elegance with good expectations for the future of this wine. They got the tannins of the stems but without the green, vegetal aromas, and this, through pressing the stems separately, tasting the juice all the way to check. Vinified in 4- to 5-wines casks.
Here again, with Domaine Vincent Willenbucher in the Côte Roannaise, we have a winegrower who is not originally from a winegrowing family, which strengthens my feel that outsiders do a very good job to rejuvenate winemaking practices in region where conventional winemaking yields unexciting wines. Vincent Willenbucher who is orinally from Roanne set up his domaine in 2005 after a life devoted to music (he was the bass guitar in a band), travels abroad and years working for harvests in the Beaujolais, where his wine passion took root. He first worked in different wineries before setting up his own. His first vinifications took place in a dilapidated farm which he has now renovated, his clients are local but he begins to sell in a few bistrots in Paris. He still organize music events, for example during open-house days at the winery.
The vineyard surface makes 5 hectares today, part owned and part rented. His first own parcel was planted in 2009. Here is a domaine to watch closely.
__ Domaine Vincent Willenbucher Cuvée du Bois Charmeur 2012. a gamay, light, gouleyant, an enjoyable red wine. This gamay is hand picked with yields of 30 hectoliters/hectare. Nice wine, a wine you can swallow easily
__ Domaine Vincent Willenbucher Cuvée du Bois Charmeur 2013. Vat sample at that time. The vats include cement vats with epoxy coating. Was to bottled this april 24 folowing the lunar calendar. Nice fruit, gentle mouth feel. Unfiltered, you may find sediments in the bottle. This cuvée Costs 5,7 € tax included at the domaine, a very good deal.