So I’m in France, where they are much better at making wine than the English but not as good at selling it. I mean, they’re great at selling their own wine, but pretty useless at accepting that anybody else, even the Italians, might have a product worth adding to their shelves. Which is bad for the French, but good for the English bloke in France for a fortnight and happy to try something local and obscure. Having been fairly emphatically disappointed by the selection in my local Carrefour, I found myself in a town I had never, until the moment I arrived there, heard of and went in search of something better. It was a short search, and ended at a small shop which sells cold meats, teas and coffees and a selection of wine that had burst out of its allocated shelves and into a couple of fridges and assorted wine racks squeezed into improbably spaces around the shop. I recognised a couple of labels from Les Caves de Pyrene, and engaged the owner in conversation about natural wine, which turned out to be his passion. I pointed to a wine called Le Soif Du Mail, which I tried at the Les Caves sale and enjoyed so much I bought four (sitting, with the rest of the Les Caves booty, in my parents’ basement for the time being). “Well,” he said, pointing to one of his wines, “if you like that, you simply must try this.” The wine he was pointing to was called Il Fait Soif, leaving the possibility that he thought I simply liked wines with the word soif in the title. “Oh, and this. And you’d probably enjoy that.” Neither of the last two wines had the word soif in the title.
And so it was that on my second shop review I abandoned the randomiser and just bought everything he pointed at.
Il Fait Soif 2008
Reduced to 10 Euros from a little under 14 because they want to move on to the latest vintage, this is made by Maxime-Francois Laurent, who also works with his mother at Domaine Gramenon. In America it costs $30 and is sold as one of the finest Cotes du Rhone on the market. I’ve struggled to find out much about it – the label is singularly unhelpful, there’s no rear label at all and Maxime-Francois doesn’t seem to have much of an online presence, but it appears to be “un cuvee de grenache”. It’s really excellent for the (my) price – very leathery odour, but quite a complex array of berry flavours and an incredibly peppery aftertaste. Really very peppery indeed. Excellent late-summer sit-outside-with-your-feet-up wine.
Andrea Calek is so devoted to his vines that he sleeps in a caravan in the middle of his vineyards. No sulfur at all in this blend of 40% syrah, 40% carignon and 20% grenache. A faulty bottle, methinks: I wasn’t too put off by the slight efervescence on the tongue, but the overpowering aroma (and flavour) was of pickled onion. I don’t like eating pickled onions, and I certainly don’t want to drink them. Perhaps this is why everyone else uses sulphur. (EDIT: When I told him this on my next visit, he gave me another bottle, which was much better but just not as vibrant and action-packed as the other two)
Domaine Jean David Seguret
Another hit. 71% grenache, 8% mourvedre, 6% syrah, 6% carignan, 4% counoise and 5% cinsaut. Cuvee Beau Nez, it’s called. Quite wild aromas (and with the wine glasses I’ve got at this rented villa it’s amazing it can smell of anything) of bramble and menthol and leather and tar. Amazingly vibrant fruity palate, really juicy. Again, not a jot of sulphur, but a better advert for the practise than the last.
Free tasters: 0/5 (there was a moment in our conversation when I waved at a wall said, “I don’t know any of these wines”, and he said, “Well, you need to taste them.” I got excited, thinking he was about to crack open a few for my entertainment and instruction, but it turned out he expected me to actually buy them first. Not unreasonable, really, but mildly disappointing in the circumstances)
(incidentally, if you happen to be in this part of the world, I can recommend a small, obscure, out-of-the-way, crammed-with-locals bistro called Chez Jules in Puimichel for blindingly cheap delicious food)