Brett happens

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MWG October 2nd tasting: report (1/2)

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Most members of the Mo’ Wine Group are intrigued by so-called natural wines and many are fans, so we were delighted when Glou’s Jack Jacob recently joined us to lead a tasting of private imports from two of the most radically natural winemakers around.

What is a natural wine? According to the Association des vins naturels, the basic principles of natural wine-making are organic or biodynamic farming (not necessarily certified as such), manual harvesting, fermentation with native yeasts and the avoidance both of harsh physical procedures (reverse osmosis, cross-flow filtration, flash pasteurization, thermovinification) and of additives, including sugar (an exception is made for small amounts of sulphur dioxide added as a stabilizer at bottling). As a definition, that works for me, though I’d also add that many natural winemakers say their wines are made in the vineyard more than in the cellar, which leads them to adopt a non-interventionist approach and to largely or completely avoid filtering and fining.

The upsides of natural wines include their individuality and a juicy tartness that, in the best examples, seems very close to the fruit and terroir. Many also have a rustic appeal – a sense of not taking themselves too seriously – that their more polished and manipulated counterparts lack. Downsides include greater bottle-to-bottle variability, the ever-present possibility of reductive notes on opening (which is why as a rule it’s a good idea to carafe natural wines an hour or two before drinking), the need to store the bottles at cool temperatures (ideally 14ºC/57ºF or less) and, for some drinkers and some wines, their cloudy appearance and funky bouquets.

Anyway, back to our tasting, which begin in the Loire.

Hailing from Brittany, Olivier Lemasson entered the wine world as a caviste (retail wine seller). After encountering natural wines, he headed for Morgon, where he trained under pioneering winemaker Marcel Lapierre, first picking grapes, then tending the vines and working in the cellar. He eventually ended up as a winemaker in the Touraine and, with Domaine du Moulin‘s Hervé Villemade, founded Les Vins Contés as a négociant business. Four years later, Villemade split, leaving the business to Lemasson.

Lemasson gets his fruit from three hectares of vines that he tends and from local and not so local growers, whose grapes he and his team harvest and bring back to his cellar. All the grapes are organic and the wines will soon be certified as such.

After harvesting, the whole bunches are placed in large wood vats and allowed to undergo carbonic maceration with no cap-punching or pumping-over. Maceration lasts between ten and 30 days, depending on the wine. The wines are unfiltered and unsulphured.

Finding his wines refused AOC status due to their atypicité, Lemasson decided to embrace the Vin de pays (now Vin de France) denomination, which gives him the freedom to make wines as he sees fit.

For a nicely illustrated report on a recent visit to Lemasson’s operation, see the Wine Terroirs blog.

Vin de France 2011, Bois sans soif, O. Lemasson/Les Vins Contés ($26.55, Glou)
A 50-50 blend of Menu Pineau and Romorantin from 20- to 60-year-old vines. 12% ABV.
Closed nose: chalk, straw and lees. Crunchy pear and apple fruit with a lemonade-like acidity. Long, lemony rainwater finish.  A vin de soif if ever there were one. (Buy again? It’s a bit pricey for what it delivers but sure.)

Cour-Cheverny 2011, Les Rosiers, O. Lemasson/Les Vins Contés ($26.55, Glou, NLA)
100% Romorantin from 40-year-old vines. Matured 12 months in old oak barrels. 12% ABV.
Soft-spoken nose of honey, wax and apple. A bit cidery at first but blossoming into a richly flavoured mouthful of apple, lemon and chalk. Intense acidity. Long, crystalline finish with a hint of hazelnut. Intriguing and delicious. A standout. (Buy again? Would if it weren’t sold out.)

Vin de France 2011, Coup de brosse, O. Lemasson/Les Vins Contés ($22.00, Glou)
2011 is the first vintage of this wine, which is the fruit of a partnership between Lemasson, Glou’s Martin Labelle and Jérôme Dupras. Gamay (90%) and Pinot Noir (10%). 11.8% ABV.
Green bell pepper and chile, horsehair and earth wrapped around a core of raspberry. On the lighter side of medium-bodied. Juicy and acidic. The fruit starts sweet but sours and gains a slatey/earthy edge. Tart finish. (Buy again? Sure.)

Vin de France 2011, Le P’tit Rouquin, O. Lemasson/Les Vins Contés ($20.58, Glou, NLA)
Gamay from 20- to 60-year-old vines. 11.5% ABV.
Black cherry with notes of red meat, earth, slate, bell pepper and eventually a floral perfume. Light-bodied. As minerally as it is fruity. Bright acidity. Not a lot of depth but refreshing, i.e. another vin de soif. (Buy again? If in the mood for a light pound-backer, sure.)

Vin de France 2011, Gama-Sutra, O. Lemasson/Les Vins Contés ($27.40, Glou)
Gamay from ungrafted 100-year-old vines. 13% ABV.
Ashy, horsehair, slate/graphite, “clay and mud,” “tout le Fesitval de St-Tite dans un verre,” eventually red berries. Soft, fruity and sweet-tart on the palate. Faint tannins give astringency as much as structure. Peppery finish. Moreish. Several tasters’ wine of the flight if not the night. (Buy again? Yes.)

Vin de France 2011, Cheville de Fer, O. Lemasson/Les Vins Contés ($26.55, Glou),
Côt (Loire’s name for Malbec) from 50- to 100-year-old vines. Matured 12 months in old oak barrels. 12% ABV.
Sour plum on horseback: that’s the nose. Rich and smooth in the mouth, though no heavier than medium-weight. Light but noticeable tannins, enlivening acidity. Chewy cherry, earth and minerals with a sweet spice note chiming in on the finish. Fun. (Buy again? Yep.)

Written by carswell

October 24, 2012 at 20:40

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  1. […] the monopoly has been a Cour-Cheverny-free zone, forcing Romorantin lovers to turn to agencies like Glou and Vini-vins. Until last week, that is, when this showed up on SAQ […]

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