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Driving deep into the foothills of the Massif Central mountains to the village (nay, hamlet) of Le Bruel, near Campouriez, northeast of Toulouse in the Aveyron department, winding roads lead around fantastically steep slopes and through lush forests. The hamlet itself boasts no more than twenty homes and barns, no shops or stores among them, making one feel as if they’ve stepped back in time to a more rugged, simplistic era. The region is incredibly pleasing atmospherically, and boasts the title of France’s largest producer of sheep, but it is no longer a hotspot for viticulture even though the hillsides here were historically dotted with steep terraced vineyards. Those days are long gone as people left the hardships of living in such a rugged region behind for an easier life in Paris in the late 19th/early 20th century. Today there are only 19 hectares under vine in the local apellation Pays d’Entraygues, and there is without a doubt one producer who is making soulful wines here: Nicolas Carmarans.
While running the Parisian natural wine bar, Café de la Nouvelle Mairie, Nicolas got the itch to begin making wine. He chose his ancestral village in the Aveyron as his great-grandfather was a winemaker here; his grandfather left for Paris during the aforementioned period. Starting with a handful of vines in 2002, it wasn’t until 2007 when he purchased a vineyard named “Le Mauvais Temps” (and the house that came with it) that he decided to pursue this way of life full time. This is a special parcel that used to be part of a much larger area of vines planted to a southern exposure in soils composed of schist and decomposed granite at around 500m in elevation. Nicolas has worked incredibly hard to bring this parcel back to life. In a very interesting long-read article in Wineterroirs, Bert Celce writes that “Le Mauvais Temps” was all but abandoned after a devastating frost in the winter of 1956. More on that here: http://www.wineterroirs.com/2012/01/nicolas_carmarans_aveyron.html. He converted entirely to organic farming, with no herbicides or pesticides used at any time. The surrounding woods allow for a great amount of diversity – both of insects and plants – a natural fact to which Nicolas attributes the health of his soils and vines.
The winemaking process is fairly straightforward, with mostly carbonic maceration for the reds in large tronconic vats, after which the wines are racked into neutral oak barrels, with a minimal amount of SO2 added. This process yields wines that are incredibly bright and aromatic, with a decidedly silky texture on the palate. All of his wines are bottled by hand.
These are beautiful wines that showcase this uncommon terroir. The reds from 2015 are delicious, clean natural wines that are showing very well right now, and we still have a bit of the fantastic 2014 Chenin Blanc – a very thoughtful, precise take on the grape that has enough energy and verve to compete with Chenin grown further north in the Loire Valley. If you haven’t had the wines of Nicolas Carmarans before, now is your chance. Tim Gagnon
***Join us in the shop this Wednesday, October 5th, to taste the new arrivals from Nicolas Carmarans! 5-7pm.***
An incredibly fresh, yet intense wine made entirely from the local grape Fer Servadou, planted in granitic soils at 450m in altitude. The grapes undergo a 10-day-long carbonic maceration in large wooden vats before a portion of the juice is racked off to be aged in neutral oak barrique. Before bottling, Nicolas blends the wine in tank and adds 1g/L of SO2. The nose is powerful, earthy, and animal with underlying aromas of red berries, red currant, citrus pith, violet, and red apple skin. Vivid red berries mingle with hints of fresh green herbs, black pepper, and a hint of mandarin orange. Compared to Fer de Sang, this is a much more forward wine, especially in this wonderfully ripe vintage. Seriously delicious! Tim Gagnon
A new wine from Nicolas Carmarans! Fer de Sang is his first negociant project, and is made from 100% Fer Servadou sourced from Marcillac, about an hour and a half’s drive away from Le Bruel. The vines here are 60 years old and are planted at 250m – a bit lower in elevation than most of the vineyards in the region – in soils with a limestone base (this is a far cry from the red clay soils that are the norm in Marcillac). A 10-day carbonic maceration in tanks is followed by élevage entirely in neutral barrique. It is deep and brooding on the nose with a smoky, gamey edge that opens up in the glass to reveal tart cranberries, citrus, tomato leaf, and a hint of wet tar. On the palate it is a burst of fresh berry fruits alongside an almost bloody character that I’ve come to associate with Fer Servadou from Macillac. Long and silken, this would be a perfect match to all kinds of different foods. Tim Gagnon
I always love this wine, and the 2015 is no exception. Made from a blend of Fer Servadou, Negret de Banhars, and Cabernet Franc sourced from vines that average 30 years old. These grapes go through a 15-day-long carbonic maceration – the longest of all the 2015s. Wild and aromatic, it shows aromas of smashed red raspberry, vine tomato, basil, clementine, tobacco leaf, and iron. The palate has the trademark silkiness of all of Nicolas’ reds, with great tension and fruit. Strawberry liqueur comes to mind with herbs, a good touch of funk, and a smoky, meaty side. Pair with gamey meats (blood sausage!) and heartier fare for a real treat. Tim Gagnon
The wines of Nicolas Carmarans never fail to reflect the natural, rugged beauty of the region from where they are made. A stand out during a recent tasting was Selves made from 100% Chenin Blanc from vines aged anywhere from 5-50 years old that are planted in granitic soils. The nose is very pretty with seashells, white flowers, a touch of smoke, and ripe tropical melon. On the palate it is lean and mineral, complete with mouth-coating, fleshy tropical fruit, a racy acidity, and beautiful tension. Chenin Blanc isn’t usually what comes to mind when thinking of Aveyron, but this is something special. Tim Gagnon