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We're very happy to start off 2019 with new arrivals from four superb producers of natural wines. The word "soulful" comes to mind when describing the wines in todays' email - it comes from the character of the vignerons and their committment to the health of their soils and the natural purity of their wines. It comes from creativity and enormous effort, from intimate knowlege of the land and vines and from the experience and techniques required to make wines with zero additives. Needless to say the wines are vibrant and delicious, though sometimes unpredictable, in the fascinating style of real natural wines! (Wines arrive Monday, 11/7)
Christian Ducroux needs no introduction to CSW customers - since importing his 2009s we have been writing incessantly about Christian's dedication to the health of his vineyard soils through the most thoughtful and uncompromising organic viticulture that we have ever encountered. His "Exspectatia" is now recognized as one of the very finest wines of Beaujolais, particularly by those who have experienced the wine after five to eight years of cellaring. Just arrived is Christian's glorious 2018 Prologue! This superb "nouveau" comes mostly from a separate high altitude parcel always giving a beautifully low-alcohol wine that is fabulously delicious and refreshing. (Yes, case quantities are avilable!) Coming later this year with the 2018 Exspectatia is Christian's first white wine, from young vines of Riesling and Pinot Gris...
During our search for organic Bordeaux a few years back, we were ecstatic to find Didier Michaud's Chateau Planquette! M. Michaud farms 1.7 hectares in Saint Yzans and Couquèques on high ground of gravel and clay over the limestone plateau, equal parts Cab and Merlot with a small percentage of an old strain of Petit Verdot, organic since 1978. The grapes are hand-harvested in small baskets and undergo a long fermentation with wild yeasts, with no attempt to extract - "more of an infusion" says M. Michaud, followed by two years in old barriques. There are no additives or corrections - the finished wine is analyzed at approximately 3 mg/liter total SO2. Certified organic by Ecocert and labeled simply "Planquette" Vin de France. After a series of very short harvests due to frosts, thunderstorms, drought and mildew, 2016 finally brought an almost normal harvest and we are happy to offer a good quantity of this beautiful natural Bordeaux.
We have just received our second shipment from Christian and Nadia Charmasson at Balazu des Vaussières in Tavel. The estate practices natural winemaking at it's very finest, beginning in the vineyard, where they work with organic and Biodynamic methods (primarily those of Maria Thun) and refuse to apply the permitted organic treatment of copper-sulfate as it is harmful to the life of the soil. As a result, they lost the majority of their crop in 2018, a freakish year for mildew in the southern Rhone. Vinifications here are without additives, essentially semi-carbonic, with the white spending about two years in vat and the red about three years and bottling is without SO2. As we said in our previous article, this is not “laissez-faire” winemaking, but rather the work of intelligent, hard-working people who have the courage of their convictions to produce a pure and healthy wine from living soils. And while the wines may deviate somewhat from “conventional” norms, they can also be wildly delicious and elegant as we found on our visit last winter. As Bert Celce points out in "Wine Terroirs," it's "no surprise that with Pfifferling of L'Anglore they're considered the Natural Giants of Tavel..." Each year they produce one red, one white and one rosé, with different blends depending on the charater of the vintage. The new releases: 2014 Rouge "Achillée Millefeuille" 50% Grenache, 25% Carignan and 25% Syrah, from 94 year-old vines surrounding the house and 70 year-old vines on clay/galets soils in Roquemaure; 2016 Blanc "Solaire" 50% Grenache Blanc with Roussanne, Viognier, Clairette, Marsanne and Bourboulenc; 2017 Rosé "Sept Syllabes" (Available in May 2019) Direct press 40% Grenache from sandy soils in Tavel, 30% Carignan from galets soils at St. Agricole and 30% Cinsault from clay/limestone soils in Tavel. (For more information and great photos, please see the excellent article in "Wine Terroirs")
Another of the most creative and committed natural wines estates of France is Le Jonc Blanc of Franck Pascal and Isabel Carles in Bergerac. Hugely respected in the French natural wine community, the wines of Jonc Blanc are rare and unique, and seldom available in the US. While all of the wines in the new shipment are simply delicious, we bring your attention to two special cuvées: After a devastating frost in April 2017, Franck and Isabelle harvested the tiny secondary berries of Cabernet and Merlot and made the sensational, light and lovely Petillant Naturel Bulles Rosé - it's extraordinarily light and delightful at 11% alcohol; The 2016 "Final Cut" is a special cuvée of about 100 cases - the last harvest from a small rented parcel of old vine Semillon that is being torn out by the owner. The wine was vinified and bottled with zero added SO2 and shows ripe aromas of spiced pear, melon, candied citrus, chestnut and lime flower, lifted by bright acidity. The palate is ripe and sapid with pear, quince, stone and white pepper, finishing with preserved lemon and pear with saline minerals. This is a beautiful natural wine to serve with full-flavored cheeses, fish in sauce, white meats and soups or pâtés. Bravo to Franck and Isabelle!
Please join us this Tuesday at Racines NY as we pour Ducroux "Prologue," Planquette, Balazu des Vaussières "Achillée Millefeuille" and "Solaire," Jonc Blanc "Final Cut" and "Pure T." Six half-pours $35. (The wines will pair beautifully with the creative cuisine of Racines' new Executive Chef Diego Moya.)
Didier Michaud works 1.7 hectares in the Medoc with 30 to 100 year-old vines on limestone with thin soils of clay with sand and stones. He has old vines of Merlot Queue Rouge and massale selection Cabernet Sauvignon, farmed organically with just a little compost and shallow plowing. Vinification with wild yeasts, no extraction and usually no added sulfur. This is one of the most "natural" and deliciously old-fashioned wines of Bordeaux. The 2016 vintage is wonderfully balanced, a wine both fleshy and tense at the same time. Ripe notes of cassis, blackberry, black cherry and plum are framed by lively acidity and herbaceous tones of blackcurrant leaf and slight menthol. This wine also displays a mineral edge, with graphite and wet stones present on the long and persistent finish. Perfect with a hamburger or a leaner steak, the 2016 Planquette is drinking very well now, but will surely improve with five to ten years in the cellar.
The 2016 “Solaire” from Nadia and Christian Charmasson at Balazu des Vaussières is predominantly Grenache Blanc and Clairette with Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Bourboulenc. A complex and elegant wine of the south, at 14% alcohol, the wine shows a clear pale gold/bronze color with complex aromas of earthy citrus, almond, pear and peach fruit with spiced apricot, really showing the Marsanne when opened. The palate is quite mineral with saline stone flavors, preserved lemon and pear, finishing with anise, white pepper, dusty stone, almond and white fruits. This is a delicious and soulful natural wine from the stony soils of Tavel and Roquemaure - perfect with bouillabaisse with aioli, monkfish in sauce and white meats, or to just sip and contemplate. (On the label of the Blanc and Rosé is the Berber Flag from North Africa (Nadia’s heritage) with the symbol of the free man and three colors representing Berbers who lived by the sea, in the mountains and in the desert.) David Lillie
The 2014 “Achillée Millefeuille” from Christian and Nadia Charmasson at Balazu des Vaussieres is made from Grenache, Syrah and Carignan, which undergoes an approximately two month carbonic maceration, followed by pressing and 3 years in vat (no wood). (This is perhaps the most "natural" of all Southern Rhône reds, as the Charmassons use no SO2 or other additives in the wine and refuse to use copper sulfate in the vines.) The wine shows a deep black/red color with aromas of plum skin, ripe black cherry, spiced strawberry, roast meat, anise and cola. Ripe Morello cherry, earth, citrus peel and black olive on the palate with cool acidity, earth, licorice and spicy berry fruits in the finish, changeable and enticing, a real product of living soils. Anyone who appreciates natural wines should try this! Our thanks to Christian and Nadia for their beautiful work... David Lillie
This is a lovely Biodynamic white made from Sauvignon, Semillon and Sauvignon Gris by Isabelle and Franck Pascal, whose great vineyard work and natural vinifications are producing outstanding wines on their clay/limestone terroir near Bergerac. No SO2 is used except a tiny addition before bottling. The 2016 Les Sens du Fruit shows lovely aromas of lime-flower, spiced pear, melon, almond and honeyed citrus. The palate is round and ripe with stone and earthy flavors underlying ripe pear and creamy lemon fruit and is backed by firm acidity. The finish is long, ripe and refreshing. This is a complex and delicious natural wine that will shine with shellfish, a platter of cheeses or a fish or chicken in sauce, just delicous! David Lillie
A beautiful natural wine from Isabelle and Franck Pascal at Jonc Blanc. Always a blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, raised in large 1500L barrels. The 2016 is super aromatic, with cocoa and earth on the nose, a deep purple hue in the glass with rich silky blackberry fruit. For anyone who is searching for natural wines but prefers to drink Cabs, Malbecs and the like, this is the wine for you! Biodynamic farming, no sulfur added... it's a natural wine through and through (yes not every natural wine is 11% alc. carbonic Gamay!). Just fresh enough to drink on it's own, this will be a knockout with a light chill and paired with grilled food this summer. Eben Lillie
Isabelle and Franck Pascal make this beautiful natural wine (formerly known as "Classik") from Cabernet and Merlot grown on their Biodynamic estate near Felines, in Bergerac. The wine is aged sur-lie 12 months in barrel, and is bottled without filtration or added sulfur. The color is a dark red/black; the wine shows bright, vivid aromas of ripe cassis and boysenberry liqueur with earth, musk, violet and graphite. The palate is lush, ripe and vibrant with cassis, prune, chocolate, earth, stone and licorice lifted by firm, cool acidity that continues in the long, bright and sapid finish. Wow, delicious! Serve with grilled pork or beef, a daube provencal, strong cheeses and charcuterie or cellar for 5 to 8 years.
Christian Ducroux' 5 hectare estate has been organic and biodynamic since 1985, and has operated as a nearly self-sufficient farm, producing its own fertilizer and compost, and plowing and harvesting almost entirely without machinery. The vines average over 60 years of age and are replaced by massale selection, giving extremely low yields and low levels of alcohol. Christian's farming is among the most thoughtful and inspired practiced anywhere in the world and his wines express this work in a joyful natural way. "Faites des vins peu alcoolisés avec un joli parfum" said Jules Chauvet (Make wines low in alcohol and with lovely aromas) and no one does this better than Christian - the 2018 Prologue weighs in at a hefty 11.5% alcohol due to the extra ripeness of what is shaping up to be a great vintage in Beaujolais, and shows a fairly dark red/black color with lush aromas of crushed raspberry, strawberry and blackberry (!) with bright floral notes and hints of roast meat and citrus. The palate is lush, bright and supple with ripe black raspberry, citrus, earth and mineral flavors. This lively, very alive and simply beautiful wine takes you into the soils of Ducroux's vineyards and is a tonic for the soul. Zero added sulfur, keep cool - highly recommended for lovers of natural wines. David Lillie
"Final Cut" is another soulful natural wine from Franck Pascal and Isabelle Carles at le Jonc Blanc in Bergerac. It's a special cuvée of about 100 cases - the last harvest from a small rented parcel of old vine Semillon that is being torn out by the owner. The wine was vinified and bottled with zero added SO2 and shows ripe aromas of spiced pear, melon, candied citrus, chestnut and lime flower, lifted by bright acidity. The palate is ripe and sapid with pear, quince, stone and white pepper, finishing with preserved lemon and pear with saline minerals. This is a beautiful natural wine to serve with full-flavored cheeses, fish in sauce, white meats and soups or pâtés. Bravo to Franck and Isabelle! David Lillie
The vineyards of Jonc Blanc were hit by a devastating freeze in April of 2017. From parcels that were 100% lost, the tiny secondary berries were harvested to make this amazing sparkling rosé! Yields were 6.5 hl/ha at 11% alcohol; bottled for the second fermentation at 25 grams of RS per liter, it has turned into a beautiful and complex Bulles Rosé. The wine shows intriguing aromas of wild strawberry, tart cherry, rose, orange peel and brioche. The palate is creamy, light and pretty with tart cherry, rose-water, citrus and melon with a soft, refreshing finsh...could I have another glass? DL
The 2015 Pure "T" is another beautiful natural wine from Franck Pascal and Isabelle Carles at Jonc Blanc! Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grown on shallow soils over limestone ("Calcaire de Castillon"), two year elevage in 18 hl Stockinger foudres, bottled without fining or filtration and with zero added SO2. The wine shows a very deep black/purple color with lush, vibrant aromas of cassis and blackberry with brown spice citrus, violet and black pepper. The palate is supple and rich but with bright acidity, showing ripe cassis fruit, with earth, coffee, cocoa and sappy fruit liqueur. The finish is lush, complex and long. This is a superb natural Cabernet, a joyful wine to serve slightly cool with grilled foods, stews and charcuterie, or just to sip by itself late at night with a good book.... Highly recommended. David Lillie