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.
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....