Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Jenny & Francois Portfolio Tasting

In case you're not familiar with Jenny & Francois, they import natural wines from all over France, from heavy hitters like Burgundy to unsung heroes like the Côtes de Duras (just northeast of Bordeaux, and considered Southwest France).

Here are a few things that struck me during the tasting:

  • If I had tasted blind, I would have guessed wrong on the grape varieties in many of these wines. Is that because the natural versions exhibit the true flavors and aromas of carignan, for example? Maybe it's just odd wine making. Maybe a bit of both.
  • I've never considered myself to be a real fan of wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon, or the other hot southern climes. Too dense and hot and clunky for me, like a bull in the china shop that is my mouth (wow - am I that much of a priss?). But I liked these wines at this tasting. They were perfumed and at times, elegant, and very much balanced and expressive.
  • Some of the wines I particularly enjoyed are incredibly cheap (Cahors, Duras white).
  • Some of the wines were seriously funky, smelling literally of animal poop. Of those, some tasted good, others did not. Some of these wines were too natural for their own good.
  • I need to stop assuming that everyone in the wine business knows what they're doing. At least one wine buyer with whom I spoke and tasted with clearly should not have been making decisions about wine for anyone.
Write down the names of a few of these wines and give them a try. If I'm wrong, you never have to listen to me again. Here are some notes (including some I didn't like):

NV Lassaigne Brut Blanc de Blancs - yup, still delicious. Chalky, elegant, and powerful.
NV Cousin-Leduc Brut Saumur - gorgeous nose of honeyed nuts.

2004 Vergé Viré-Clessé Vieille Vignes - barnyard funk is overpowering on the nose. This one might be too natural for me.
2007 Haut la Vigne Côtes de Duras - 50-50 chardonnay and semillon. Crisp, dry, floral, just lovely. And this should cost less than $15. Should be great springtime wine.
2006 Sebastien Riffault Sancerre Akméniné - huh? This can't be sauvignon blanc. More like rousanne or viogner or something like that. And it's too round and just weird. If I wanted Sancerre and got this I would return the bottle.
Binner - I liked everything I tasted - pinot gris, riesling, gewurtztraminer, even the pinot noir. Binner is a winner, baby!

2004 Peyra Côtes d'Auvergnes - somewhere between the south-eastern edge of the Loire and the north-western Rhône is Côtes d'Auvergnes. This is 100% gamay and it looks like fresh pressed grape juice, cloudy and pink. Gorgeous spicy nose, delicious fresh apples. Totally weird and wonderful wine.
2004 Derain Mercurey "la Plante Chassey" - smells like cured meat and sandalwood, kind of chalky too. When I smelled it I immediately thought "this is what Mercurey smells like - I've smelled this before." I would love to taste this in 5 years. But I might not buy a bottle at almost $30 - too much else happening in Burgundy.
2003 Courois Racine VdP de Sologne (Loire) - barnyard poop all the way, and expensive.
2002 Mazel Cuvée Planet VdP de L'Ardeche (Rhône) - light, floral, perfume in the mouth, well balanced and absolutely delicious. And this wine is made from CABERNET SAUVIGNON. What the heck is going on here?!? I've never tasted a cabernet like this one.
2005 Clos Siguier Cahors - I never would have guessed. Light, perfumed, almost delicate in a way. No merlot in this one, maybe some tannat. None of the bulkiness I associate with malbec. Yes, there's dusty dirt, but there are raspberries and flowers and good acidity. And this wine costs $11 or so. This for me is the best value of the tasting, and you should buy it if you see it. Have it with duck or lamb or cheese or on its own.
2005 Haut la Vigne Côtes de Duras - the first time I've ever smelled cat piss on the nose of a red wine. As bad as this producer's white wine was good.
2005 Romaneux-Destezet Souteronne VdP (Rhône) - gamay from 50-100 year old vines. Beautiful musty perfume, just delicious.
2007 Comptoirs de Magdala La Chance Côtes de Provence - made by Antoine Pouponneau who makes wine at Tour du Bon in Bandol. This is gorgeous drink now deliciousness. Flowers, perfume, a deep nose and a gulp-able and balanced mouth. Should be under $20.
2007 Comptoirs de Magdala Escapade Côtes de Provence - even better, but may need a year or so to unfold. 45% mourvedre in this one. Deep and spicy nose, dense, but floral and lovely. I want to buy 3 bottles of this now for next winter, and it should also be about $20 a bottle.
2005 Les Tonnillières Coteaux du Languedoc Pic Saint Loup - Raspberry syrup, perfume, licorice. Enticing and delicious.
2005 Deux Anes Corbieres L'Enclos - much better than the other two from this estate, although I loved the Fontanilles when I drank it at home. These natural wines show differently on different days, I guess.
2006 Domaine Rimbert Saint Chinian Mas au Schiste - at under $20, another best value of the tasting. Not at all masochistic, as the name might suggest. This is delicious, complex, well balanced, gorgeously perfumed wine. I want some for my house, just to lay out in bowls so the aromas will diffuse.
2005 Clos des Camuzeilles VdP (Languedoc) - 100% carignan from 70 year old vines. Spicy plums, smoky, just delicious. Priorat has nothing on this wine, and unlike good Priorat, this wine will cost about $25 a bottle.

You're a champ if you made it through this. But I meant it to be helpful reference, not fun easy reading. And I'm drinking the Clos Siguier Cahors right now with the last of the lentil stew with pork, and it's sooo good. there's some dark chocolate in there too on the nose. Took over an hour to open up, but very rewarding. And it's $11 at Chambers Street....


David McDuff said...

Nice post, Neil. You've discovered one of the truisms that all too often gets lost in the current fascination with natural wines. Natural wine does not necessarily equal good wine. If there's a shortcoming with J&F's overall portfolio (though I haven't tasted through as much of it as have you), it's that they apparently place their emphasis on naturalism while sometimes turning a blind eye to quality.

The Cahors sounds great though, especially at the price.

Anonymous said...

The Comptoirs red was 2007 already? Is there still forthcoming a review of the Tre Bicchieri tasting? I was looking forward to that. Enjoyed this one a lot.

Anonymous said...

All right brooklynguy!! This is the post I've been looking for since Sunday. Where we have tasted the same wines from this portfolio, we're sympatico. The last time I had some Domaine de Peyra I found it still echoing in my senses 24 hours later. I've really enjoyed several vintages of the Rimbert, and agree with you about the Riffault. I'll be taking notes on your notes next time I go wine buying--you've given me a number of ideas.

Anonymous said...

I loved the Peyra! There is absolutely nothing else like it! There is a relatively new wine shop in San Francisco, Terroir, that sells a lot of J&F (and other "natural) wines. I am becoming more enthusiastic about "natural" wines, no matter how much the rationalist side of me dismisses the woo-woo stuff!

On the other hand, 10-year old Gamay/Cab Franc low sulfer blend wines are not always a good idea.

Brooklynguy said...

hey david - first of all, that cahors is excellent. with an hour decant it really shines. i agree - there were some funky and unappealing wines, but also some great stuff. who out there only brings in excellent wines? .300 hitters make it to cooperstown, you know. and actually it was lyle i took that quote from, "too natural for their own good." he said it to me regarding the first j & f post i wrote. i'd be really curious to hear your thoughts on the cahors.

hi michele - that's what the handout says, but it does sound rather impossible, you are right. i will look into that and get back to you. thanks for pointing this out. i was going to write about tre bic but i don't have all that much to say. i will do something though, right now, because i'm touched that you pay attention to what's coming and you wanted to read it.

hiya steve - so glad that you're happy with it. i just had the rimbault with dinner last night and it was excellent, not the mas au schist though, the travers de marceau, a lighter and unoaked wine. cheaper too. have fun shopping, lemme know what you get/like.

hi brian - heard about that place on joe's blog called old world old school. sounds like a great shop. it would be fun to taste a 10 year old version, but i hear you - maybe some one else should cellar it and then let me taste it.

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Joe said...

A neat collection of wines, Neil - I love poking around the corners of France. I always love Pic St-Loup wines, and you know I love those Southwest wines (not the Languedoc as much - except Pic St-Loup). Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the report. It sure is helpful reference.

The whites

Binner is a winner -- consistently since at least the 2001 vintage.
About Riffault Akméniné: it is legitimate that you would return the bottle. INAO, the government body that runs the AOC, consistently indicates that AOC is not a badge of quality but an indication of 'typicity'. (Here is reference in French to back my claim.) In my view this bottling should have been denied the AOC indication.
Here is my note (dated January 2008): no cut grass - the nose is varietal - the mouth shows white fruit, gooseberry, density, a hint of almond, toffee, freshness. I would agree that this wine is true to the variety but not to the place. Roussanne or viognier would show more alcohol but no gooseberry.
The Peyra wines were too weird too often. This is a reason why the operation closed.
You got the Sologne details wrong: the tenants are Julien & Etienne Courtois, the brand is Claude Courtois, the bottling is 'Racines', which means roots. Now forget them.

The reds

You have already encountered wines by the winemaker of Romaneaux-Destezet. He is Hervé Souhaut.
Regarding Le Mazel: the perfume of 'pâte de fruit' is a mark of the winemaker Gérald Oustric. It is similar to the cherry vibrancy of some Touraines by Le Clos du Tue-Boeuf. Beware that a few bottles by Le Mazel show volatile acidity, in which case you could have the wine dance in a decanter or put it away for a few days.
Regarding Clos Siguier: Cahors must comprise malbec at minimum 70%. They make a better bottling called Les Camille ; it too is a hairdresser of a wine.
I advise you to follow these last 3 estates.

Anonymous said...

I thought Domaine de Peyra had gone belly up since Chambers Street Wines wasn't carrying them anymore. I used to buy these all the time. Wacky wine.
Where can you get a bottle now?

Brooklynguy said...

hi michael - i think they did go belly up. I've not found the wines anywhere, and i looked pretty hard. i will find out what i can from jenny & francois though and let you know.

and by the way, very cool that you're here on my site, and welcome. a drummer you play with sometimes, joe farnsworth, is a pal of a friend of mine i believe, a sax player named alex grahm.