With a view to finding interesting, new wines from off the beaten track to add to the wine list of one of my Scottish clients, I have turned my attention to a notable, specialist wine merchant down in the south of England. Vine Trail Ltd, of Bristol www.vinetrail.co.uk
Vine Trail style themselves as “specialist importers of French wines made by pioneering, small domains.” Music to my ears and needless to say many of those domains are either organic or biodynamic. Amongst Vine Trail’s clients are Pollen Street Social www.pollenstreetsocial.com , the Clove Club www.thecloveclub.com and plenty of other restaurants, frequently Michelin starred, that are noted for their for their wine lists as much as for their food. It’s early days for Vine Trail north of Hadrian’s Wall however and so far just a few of Scotland’s best restaurants seem to be buying from them. I have listed a generous handful of their wines after tasting my way through a couple of dozen that caught my eye.
Zellenberg Pinot Blanc from Marc Tempé (this blog’s photo is of Marc) 2012 www.marctempe.fr has a heady, opulent, spicy bouquet. This wine is made bio-dynamically. It is 40% Pinot Auxerrois is and far more arresting than your average Alsace Pinot Blanc. Richly textured, with a long finish; it reminds me a bit, stylistically, of Olivier Zind-Humbrecht’s wines or put another way – this is very good.
Cour Cheverny 2014 from Domaine de Montcy http://www.terra-laura.com/en/ is superb: unusual, full bodied, lemony and salty. It is made solely from the Romorantin grape variety and the vines here are very old.
Clos du Rouge Gorge 2012 from Cyril Fhal is exceptionally distinctive. It’s made from seventy year old Maccabeu vines planted around the village of Latour-de-France which until 1659 sat on the border between France and Catalonia. The estate covers less than 15 acres and yields are very low: 26 hl/ha. Cyril Fhal, 6 Place Marcel Vie, 66720 Latour-de-France, France.
Riesling “Luss” 2013 from Leon Boesch www.domaine-boesch.fr stood out for its really brisk, dry style. Very lemony, good acidity and a perfect aperitif. A Pinot Gris “Le Coq” from Boesch was also very good; quite rich and full bodied and leaning towards medium dry it had a slightly smoky and very long finish.
Madiran 2011 from Domaine Labranche-Laffont is made by Christine Dupuy http://www.abistodenas.com/vignerons-et-distillateur-d-a-bisto/domaine-labranche-laffont/
and has a feminine touch that is welcome in a wine that is 100% tannat. Labelled “Vielles Vignes” the 2011 is a mix of vines that are roughly fifty years old supplemented with fruit from a small parecel of vines (pre-phylloxera which are 130 years old). Perhaps more crucially is the that only a quarter of the harvested grapes see ageing in new oak and that is for only one year. Decanted straight into ship’s decanter, this wine is drinkable, with food, straight away but it will certainly be better for more ageing in bottle.
Domaine Gallety Cotes du Vivarais 2010 was drinking really well. Vivarais is, to my mind, a slightly under-rated appellation, heading up the A.7 from Avignon, it’s roughly half way to Valence. The Gallety vineyard is planted on iron-rich limestone dominated ground. I first discovered the Vivarais wines in the 1990’s and the region did not receive AOC status until 1999. The vineyards are just west of the river, whereas the AOC Cotes du Rhone vineyards nearest it are on the east bank. Essentially Vivarais is on the edge of the l’Ardeche. Yes, it is wetter here, marginally, but it is also cooler and this makes for a longer ripening season and gives potential for more finesse. The Gallety wine is half Grenache and half Syrah. The wine is full bodied, deeply coloured and almost opulently perfumed: dark fruits, wood, pencil shavings, bonfires and smells of autumn woodland walks. It’s a fine, meaty wine that partners casseroles and game effortlessly. The wine has fine tannins and nice acidity. It is all too drinkable.
The Vine Trail list concludes with more than a dozen Champagnes, neatly divided into the Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte de Blancs regions. All the Champagnes seem to be typically small growers, each with a couple of hectares perhaps, and names that are by and large unfamiliar. I chose to taste just one (at least for now) and opted for Benoit Lahaye’s Grand Cru “Essential” Brut NV. This bio-dynamically made Champagne from grapes (mostly pinot noir) grown around Bouzy and Ambonnay and vinified mostly in oak, is first rate. The wine is aged in oak, left on the lees for two and half years and the core is fruit harvested in 2011 along with some older wine. Whilst I could only find five Champagnes, I felt inclined to mention specifically, in my book “Tasting Notes”, I would certainly now add as a sixth Benoit Lahaye.