French Wine from the Connoisseur's Cellar

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“How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?” Charles de Gaulle

France is a big country! Perhaps it’s not geographically large by American standards, but it’s incredibly varied and culturally rich. And it has more and more wines of real interest, coming from every nook and cranny that’s suitable for growing grapes. Some of that richness and variety is represented on the following list – almost an embarrassment of riches, in fact. Jamie Wolff

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Barral, Leon 2008 Faugeres La Valiniere

This is absolutely everything I love about Barral, and it takes me back to some of my first experiences with Faugères. A blend of Mourvèdre and Syrah from younger vines planted in schist soils with a northern exposure, it opens with a bright and vivid nose, with brambly blackberries, sour cherry, and smoke, accentuated by citrus balm and dried herbs reminiscent of rosemary and thyme. The palate is fresh and energetic with ripe red raspberry, tart red cherries, pine needles, and a hint of dried hibiscus lasting onto a lengthy finish that continues the brambly fruit, spice, and herbal motif. Truly a fascinating wine! Tim Gagnon

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Clos du Rouge Gorge (Cyril Fhal) 2011 VdP des Côtes Catalanes L'Ubac

This is one of the most rare and elegant wines of the south of France. According to Fhal, "L'Ubac (slope with the least sun) is from one of those rare parcels well suited to the Cinsault of the Roussillon. This variety, which made its reputation in certain wines before phylloxera, has been neglected or poorly planted since, often in the plains where its capable of prodigious, that is to say catastrophic, yields. This parcel is a 70 degree slope on gneiss facing due north, with 40 year-old vines worked by hand and by horse. It's the Pinot Noir of the south for me! A material very fine, very delicate, with length and a strong signature of terroir. With the Cinsault, there is Carignan from the same parcel planted in 1905, which, due to its age and its location on the steep slope, has truly a profile very mineral and fine. Whole bunch maceration, but foot-tread when put in cuve as I don't wish to have carbonic maceration. I keep the stems for the finesse of the tannins that they give. 20 month aging in 500 liter Austrian demi-muid."

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Clos Fantine 2013 Faugères Cuvée Courtiol

Each year the Andrieu family chooses the best grapes of the vintage for their Cuvée Courtial. In 2013 it's predominantly Grenache, grown in their beautiful organic vineyards in Faugères. The grapes are hand-harvsted into small crates, the fermentation is long and slow with no pigeage or remontage and the wine is bottled with no fining, filtration or added SO2. Dense red/black color, quite "sauvage' aromas of blackberry, cherry liqueur, spice, roast meat and clove. With aeration the aromas become more pure with red/black fruit liqueur and floral notes. The palate shows deep blackberry fruit with hints of spice, licorice and dark chocolate, finishing with earthy acidity. This is a beautiful natural wine to be enjoyed over the next ten years with grilled meats, stews, Moroccan tagines and full-flavored cheeses. Decant one to two hours in advance if drinking now.

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Le Raisin et L'Ange 2014 Vin de France Hommage a Robert

After attending winemaking school in Macon in the late 1970s, Gilles Azzoni settled in Saint-Maurice d'Ibie, Ardèche in 1983. He converted fully to organic farming in 1997 and committed to zero sulphur wines beginning in 2000. Over the past decade the wines have achieved quite a following and after drinking them again and again, it’s not hard to see why! Hommage à Robert is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Merlot that is bursting with fresh watermelon, candied red raspberry, melon, and rosewater on the nose and is equally juicy and fresh on the palate. It does maintain quite a bit of grip and a touch of earth as well making it very food-friendly. Tim Gagnon

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Ducroux, Christian 2015 Vin de France Exspectatia

 (We're getting to the end of Ducroux's complex and supernatural Exspectatia 2015 - be sure to grab some before it disapears. Happily we have 2015 Patience and 2016 Exspectatia on the way.)  Christian Ducroux' 5 hectare  estate has been certified organic and biodynamic since 1985, and has operated as a nearly self-sufficient farm, producing its own fertilizer and compost, and plowing and harvesting almost entirely without machinery. The vines average over 60 years of age and are replaced by massale selection, giving extremely low yields. The 2015 Exspectatia (the wine formerly known as Regnié) shows a deep opaque red/black color. Slight reduction, then vivid aromas of blackberry liqueur, blood orange, rose, black pepper, brown spices, earth and licorice. On the palate the wine is very complex with blackberry and red currant fruit, earth, spice and citrus with a long intense finish of black fruits and earth that lingers on the palate. Only 12.5% alcohol, even in this very ripe vintage. Bravo to Christian Ducroux for his beautiful farming and for this complex, expressive natural wine! Re-tasted in October 2016,  the wine showed beautifully, with remarkable complexity, intense aromas of ripe blackberry, violet, musk, pepper, licorice and earth, that continue with a dense, earthy texture on the palate. This is a living, changeable and profound wine of terroir that expresses the incredible farming and winemaking of Christian Ducroux - certainly  one of the finest natural wines of France.(Decanting advised, no added sulfur - consume on the day opened.)

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Dutraive 2014 Fleurie Clos de la Grand Cour

Certified organic since 2009, the Dutraive family's Domaine de la Grand Cour produces subtle, traditional wines from their 9 hectares in Fleurie and a small parcel in Brouilly. Harvested by hand, the grapes ferment with wild yeasts in carbonic maceration, without addition of sulfur. The "Clos de la Grand Cour" is aged in a combination of cuve inox, barrels and foudres. The wine shows bright aromas of violets, raspberry and strawberry fruit, earth and spice. Pretty berry and plum fruits on the palate with refreshing citrusy acids. The palate opens up nicely with time showing deep red-currant, strawberry, beach plum and citrus with a long sappy finish.

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Dutraive (Domaine de la Grand Cour) 2015 Fleurie "Champagne" VV

From vines averaging 70 years of age in the Dutraives' 1.5 hectare parcel "Champagne." Yields are extremely low, the wine ages in barrels for 12 months, of which one-quarter are new. The wine shows elegant aromas of ripe berry fruit and spice framed in a bit of oak, quite elegant. The palate is dense and well-structured with raspberry and red currant fruit, a bit more high-toned and focused at this point than the other Dutraive Fleuries. The fruit is quite pretty, and the wood, though present, is not overdone and adds support to the power of this vintage. We look forward to drinking this after six to ten years of aging, perhaps alongside the Coudert Griffe du Marquis? David Lillie

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Dutraive (Domaine de la Grand Cour) 2015 Fleurie La Part des Grives (See DL)

This cuvée is from a late-harvest done in the parcel "Chapelle des Bois," collecting only a few grapes per vine one month after the normal harvest. A part of the small second generation grapes ("grismotte") are added to bring acidity and complexity to this extra-ripe harvest.


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Lapierre 2015 Morgon

Matthieu and Camille Lapierre continue the beautiful work of their father, producing an elegant Morgon in the difficult, very ripe 2015 vintage. The wine shows lovely deep aromas of blackberry liqueur and earth lifted by hints of citrus, violet and mint. The palate is ripe and supple with plum, blackberry, earth, spice  and citrus. The finish is ripe, soft and lovely. We would recommend drinking this juicy Morgon, served quite cool, over the next five years, but longer term aging might be possible as well.

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Pignard 2011 Beaujolais-Villages

From 40 to 60 year-old vines in high-elevation parcels above Morgon, not far from Christian Ducroux, certified biodynamic. This is a really lovely wine with delicate raspberry/strawberry aromas that carry through on the pure, light palate. Beautifully balanced with lingering fruit and distinctive mineral acidity in the finish, quite delicious! DL

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Terres Dorées (Jean-Paul Brun) 2009 Fleurie Grille Midi

This new cuvee, from the oldest vines in the upper part of Grille Midi, is a dense, dark and complex wine showing deep fruits and strong earthy flavors (for more impressive verbiage please see other ads or reviewers...). A very young wine currently showing reduction, this seems structured and balanced enough for long-term cellaring. Not exactly a delicate style, but five to ten years of aging should bring exceptional results. In 2009 Jean-Paul’s Fleurie grapes were so productive that he decided to bottle the grand cru site “Grilles Midi” seperately. The vineyard is a granite ampitheater in the south of the appelation and is bathed in sun. The result is a wine with deep roasted pepper and Asian spice aromatics over a rich fruit core. There is no detectable heat from alcohol, and the label reads 12%.....JR

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