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Clos Fantine is a small family winery that sits on breezy, sloping hills behind the commune of Cabrerolles in the Faugères AOC. The long road that winds up to the front door is lined with brightly colored wildflowers sprouting between slabs of exposed schist, and 9 hectares of gnarly vines and fruit trees. At a glance the place looks placid, but everywhere the eyes rest is teeming with life.
After inheriting the winery from their father, siblings Caroline, Olivier, and Corine Andrieu continue to live and make wine in the house where their grandmother was born. The property totals around 30 hectares of organic Mourvèdre, Grenache, Terret Blanc and Gris, Cinsault, Syrah, and Aramont (a very old variety, planted in 1915) vines. Each of their parcels was "liberated" from their wire-training 20 years ago and now grow in perfect rows as bush vines -- which they say is prefferable for the windy hillsides and sunny clime. In an effort to encourage biodiversity in the vines, they do not plow, so the grass grows high between the rows in the summer and is managed by sheep in the winter.
The Andrieu's philosophy of cultivating life and balance in the vines carries over to their work in the cellar. For the Andrieu family, working with ambient yeast is the most important aspect of vinification. They explained that during fermentation there are different populations of active yeasts working in various parts of the vat, and if they were to interrupt that natural composition with pump-overs (remontage) or pigeage, for example, then it would consequently diminish the complexity of their finished wine. Instead, they gently wet the caps with wine to keep it from oxidizing in the tank. Admittedly, it did not take long for me to lose this thread of conversation in french, but when we tasted the wines I knew all was not lost in translation.
The wines from Clos Fantine have been a staple for our Languedoc section for some time now. It seems that the winemaking becomes more inutitive and confident with each new vintage. Whether that is the work of the industrious yeast colonies or not, these are wines that resonate emotionally, and we are pleased to offer them today. Amanda Bowman
While we’ve always loved Clos Fantine due to their impeccable farming, thoughtful cellar work, and the wines’ wild soulfulness, we’re especially enamored by the juicy and pure 2016 Tradition. This cuvée is a harmonious blend of de-stemmed Carignan, Syrah, and Grenache vinified separately in large vats with indigenous yeasts, then assembled and aged in cement before bottling with no sulfur. Slightly more polished than previous vintages, this year is singing, with a nose that is bursting with aromas of wood smoke, baked red apple skins, citrus and garrigue. The wine shows a deep purple in the glass. The palate is lifted by cool minerality and structured with powdery tannins with flavors of juicy plum, cinnamon spice and dried herbs on the finish. This is a satisfying wine that would pair beautifully with grilled sausages and wild rice. Amanda Bowman
Each year the Andrieu family chooses the best grapes of the vintage for their Cuvée Courtiol. In 2015 it's predominantly Mourvedre from bush-trained, 30 year-old vines grown on beautiful schist vineyards in Faugères. The grapes are hand-harvested into small crates, and as always, the fermentation is long and slow with indigenous yeasts then bottled with no fining, filtration or added SO2. Deep red/black color in the glass, like the "Tradition" the 2015 has less "sauvage" aromas than past vintages. Elegant notes of plum, cherry liqueur, violets and roasted herbs develop on the nose as the wine aerates. The palate shows dense blackberry fruit with hints of tart cherry, anise seed and bitter chocolate framed by firm, earthy tannins. This is a beautiful natural wine that the Andrieu family recommends holding for 5-10 years or decant two hours before drinking if you don't want to wait! Amanda Bowman
"Valcabrières" is made from ancient white grapes native to the Languedoc called Terret Blanc and Terret Gris. The vines are planted gobelet style (bush vines) in horizontal black schist and are around 100 years old. The big bunches are resistant to disease and thrive in the windy and warm climate of Faugères. All of Clos Fantine's wines are vinified in large vats with ambient yeasts, which means that fermentation times will vary each year. For example, the 2016 vintage finished at the same time as the 2017, so the two vintages were blended together and bottled without SO2. The robe is a hazy lemon drop color in the glass. The nose offers tangy grapefruit peel aromas with faint notes of ripe melon, dried herbs and stone. The mid-weight palate is etched with salty minerals, bright acidity, tropical melon, and savory leesy notes on the finish. We enjoyed this with a plate of fried chicken recently, but it pairs nicely with summer vegetables and goat cheeses too. Best served chilled and consumed the same day it's opened. Amanda Bowman