Visitors from France

The French Trade Commission hosted an event recently which was a highlight of this year’s trade calendar: the French Wine Connection 2011.

A selection of organic and biodynamic wines made by 16 producers in 8 regions of France was featured at French Wine Connection tastings held last week in Toronto and Vancouver.

Most of the wines were new to Canada and this event was aimed at giving profile to the makers so they could find agents willing to import their products into Ontario and B.C.  The format of the event was much more low-key and relaxed than any trade event I have attended in Canada.  This atmosphere allowed ample time to taste and chat with the makers and was more conducive to doing business than the usual noisy scrum that characterizes these events, in Toronto at least.

Three makers stood out for me:  Domaine du Closel from the Savennieres appellation in the Loire Valley; Clos de Caveau in the Southern Rhône appellation of Vacqueyras and Montirius, also in Vacqueyras.

Why did the wines of these producers stand out above all others?  The answer is simple: purity of fruit and sense of place defined their wines– across the full range of wines tasted.

There are some reasons for this consistency in style:

  • All three makers are small and hands’-on in every aspect of their operation.
  • All three apply organic and/or biodynamic techniques in their vineyards.
  • All three do almost no manipulation in the winery (hands’-off…the opposite of hands’-on) and use neutral vessels for maturation of the finished wine.

For those who have grown up with wines made with hyper-ripe fruit, elevated levels of extraction and lashings of new oak, these wines would be light and austere.  For those who hanker Old World style with no adornment in their wines, these wines would be sheer ambrosia.

Kudos for the makers of these wines for staying the traditional course in a world of fads.

Mme Evelyne de Pontbriand, vigneronne at Domaine de Closel

The Domaine du Closel Savennieres stands as the benchmark for this small and distinctive appellation in the Anjou et Saumur sub-zone of the Loire Valley. This appellation is the home of Nicholas Joly, the ardent proselytizer on the philosophy behind biodynamism.  Joly’s wines have achieved cult-status and commend icon-level prices. Truthfully, I would put any of the Closel wines up to Joly’s, for both style and value.

Look for elegant wines from Closel that show citrus fruit, honey, minerals and spice.  They are barrel aged and have matured on the lees.  Wonderfully crisp, each has a supple mouth feel with bright acid and a long, lean finish These wines are made with the Chenin Blanc grape and will benefit from extended ageing.  Savennieres is a perfect match with shell fish.

Clos de Caveau is an old family operation which has recently come under the hand of

Henri Bungener, Clos de Caveau, Vacqueyras

Henri Bungener, son of the owner who has grown old and unable to continue in the vineyards. Bungener is a clinical psychologist who still practices one day a week in Avignon, but it is evident he has a long and rosy future in his adopted role as vigneron.  His wines showed consistent elegance, great minerality and brilliant fruit.  There is not a splinter of oak in his wines; you get round, big fruit and an harmonious assembly of the elements: fruit, acid, alcohol and tannins.  Watch for his elegant AOC Vacqueyras Fruit Sauvage 2009 in a forthcoming Vintages release.

We have seen some wines from the Montirius portfolio in past Vintages releases and they have been rightly well-received by critics and consumers alike.  These wines show bright fruit, juicy and clean mouth feel and sleek tannins.  The stand out wine was AOC Vacqueyras Le Clos 2007, an harmonious and bright wine that would be a perfect match with…chocolate cake!

Both Clos de Caveau and Montirius have agency relationships in Ontario, while Domaine du Closel is looking for representation.  I have made a referral to a local agent and hopefully this will lead to a contract which will see the wines of Closel in Ontario soon.  In the meantime should you wish to learn more about Clos de Caveau contact The Case for Wine (Lloyd Evans or Anne Popoff at 416 482-0241).  Lloyd is the former director of the Vintages program at the LCBO and is one of the best wine finders in Canada, bar none.  The Ontario agent for Montirius is Signature Wines and Spirits (905 815-8865).

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2011.

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Author: John Switzer

I am wine writer, educator and tour guide. From 2005 to June 2014 I published a bi-weekly newsletter, the Winesights Vintages Newsletter (WVN). This Newsletter was closed in July 2014 when the Government of Canada put in place the onerous administrative requirements of Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation. The legacy of WVN continues on this blog spot where I post wine-related articles as well as reviews of a small selection of best-value wines from each bi-weekly LCBO Vintages release. I hold the WSET Diploma, I am a WSET Certified Educator, I teach in the WSET program at the Independent Wine Education Guild in Toronto where I am the past Director of the WSET Diploma program. Since 2010 I have been a judge at Decanter World Wine Awards on the Rhône panel and I am a member of the Society of Wine Educators.

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