While the larger fair Millésime Bio has upset the natural order of things by relocating to Marseille this year, smaller wine fairs like Les Affranchis and Les Vin de Mes Amis still snuggle discretely in the country-side outside the former Guilheim stronghold of Montpellier.
The sudden move of the big organic wine fair seems to be the result of a failed cooperation with ViniSud, one that ended abruptly and ugly as Millesime Bio suddenly found their traditional week at the Montpellier Palais de Congrès booked by the other fair.* The move has however been applauded by many of the visitors who appreciate the possibilities the larger city has to offer as well as the lower cost of actually getting there. The smaller wine fairs either don’t want to move or didn’t have time, so after landing in Marseille we quickly hired a car and set off towards the west.
Revisiting Les Vin du Mes Amis this year was like meeting an old friend. Same location, mostly the same producers, same relaxed albeit crowded vibe. That said every year the line-up seems to be get just a little bit stronger, the wines a tad better and the producers more sure of their philosophy and how to implement it.
Olivier Rivière for example is evolving continually. If you go back to his wines from 2008-2009 they exude grape quality and careful vinification, but the later vintages are much more elegant and immediate in their expression. Another producer that continues to impress is of course Terroir al Limit. The 2015 vintage is showing great promise but the wines are still extremely young, so if you have the opportunity to stock up on for example Torroja and Terra de Cuques from 2014 now is the time.
Ampeleia – the Tuscan winery run by Marco Tait and Simona Spinelli with the backing of none other than Elisabetta Foradori – is a winery that I have been following for almost five years now. Whether it’s experimenting with maceration carbonique or vinifying grapes such as alicante nero and cabernet franc Ampelia has a nerve and clarity well pleasing to both the palate and intellect.
At Les Vin de Mes Amis they were showing both the 2015 and 2016 of their entry level Unlitro. Both vintages exuded aromas of cherries, herbs and cassis and were quite balanced, the 2106 showing perhaps a bit more complexity and length. The Kepos 2015 exhibited a wonderful structure, long length and astringent fruit. It may not be a wine that needs time, but it’s a wine that deserves time. The only disappointment of the tasting was actually the Ampeleia 2013. Even after retasting it almost a week later at the Degustation Grenier Saint Jean in Angers I perceived it as alcoholic, overly tannic and lacking in fruit.
Next to Ampeleia was of course Azienda Agricola Foradori. This year Elisabetta herself had opted out of the French wine fairs, letting her sons Theo and Emilio, budding partners in the winery, handle the events. It was the first time I met the sons, and it was highly amusing to see the two contrasting personalities who somehow still incorporated the many of the calm, regal traits of their mother.
The Foradori tasting was very interesting in that many of the wines seemed unusually nervous. They were all from the 2015 vintage, so whether they hadn’t traveled well or were just too young is impossible to know. The nosiola-based Fontanasanta was much more transparent than in older vintages, both in color and in richness of palate, with a tannic bite in the finish. The Fuoripista on the other hand drank incredibly well, with a slightly rose-colored hue, light aromas of almonds and an elegant structure. My former colleague usually calls the Fontanasanta an elven wine due to it’s shimmering hue and cloudy appearance, but today the Fuoripista held that titel.
On to the reds. The Foradori was a bit alcoholic on the nose but had a fresh mouth-feel. The single vineyard Sgarzon showed an interesting and dark range of aromas from anchovies and ink to iodine but suddenly dissipated in the mouth. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Morei, and thankfully it was the most open wine of the tasting. With a darker core and a more direct approach than the Sgarzon it exhibited good balance with aromas of ink, stone and kelp, a medium length and a juicy finish giving way to and aftertaste of fresh blood and black rocks.
Theo Foradori – who seems to have an adorable and admirable lack of verbal filter – likened the 2015 vintage to something like the following:
“2015, it was everything. May, June – disaster, rain. July complicated and paranoiac start. End of July to start of September – desert. Last part perfect.”
He was speaking very fast and my stenography skills are non-existent, so this is in no way a direct quote. It does however seem like the 2015’s may still be exhibiting some of the tension and strife that birthed them…
After tasting Spanish and Italian wines we turned to France. A winery that has finally been introduced to Norway this past year is Château des Rontets. This is only the second year that I’ve tasted the wines, but their interpretation of the Pouilly-Fuissé terroir is as lovely as it is serious. In 2015 they actually declassified the majority of their grapes, choosing instead to make Una Tantum – or only once as they hope it will be. Accordingly it is a blend of different vineyards, with mild aromas of fruit and grass and a somewhat bitter and rough but honest style. The Clos Varambon from the same vintage is made from a selection of vines from a 4,5 ha area most of which are between 20 and 70 years old. According to proprietors Claire and Fabio it is a wine made to be drunk young, but I guess young is a question of perspective. Still a tank sample, the wine is initially quite closed but quickly opens up. With a sharp acidity yet good concentration it clearly needs some more time. The Pierrefolles 2014 comes from a relatively warm vineyard mainly consisting of granite. With aromas of brioche, gunpowder and hydrangea followed up by a juicy acidity and a clear-cut, almost steely body, it ends with a stony, dissipating aftertaste. Saline and sleek, it’s a wine to keep your eyes on. Les Birbettes 2014 is made from the estates older vines, one hectare mostly planted between the world wars. The wine has aromas of strawberry yoghurt, white stone and iodine. Clear and self-evident it relies on a skeletal structure and a long and mineral aftertaste.
Other interesting producers at the fair included Vouette et Sorbée and Pattes Loup. I’ve never really fallen for the champagnes of Vouette et Sorbée myself but they are well made and pleasing to the palate, the most accessible wine of the day being the chardonnay-based Blanc d’argile. Pattes Loup however always manages to impress me. The 2015 chablis is still so young it simply feels wrong tasting it, but weirdly enough the two premier crus Beauregard and Butteaux from the same vintage were much more accessible, with especially the Beauregard exuding aromas of peach and wild strawberries with a pleasingly stony aftertaste.
All in all Les Vin de Mes Amis proved more than worth the travel, and even if many of the 2015’s were in a tough spot many wines from the 2014 vintage seem to be finally coming into their own. Hopefully and ironically – considering the low yields in many areas that year – one must hope that they haven’t all already been drunk due to early releases.
*I’ve heard this from both wine importers and producers but have no statements from either Millésime Bio or Vinisud corroberating this, so my statement is solely based on rumours.