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15 April 2013

Roussillon: Jean-Louis Denois, Saint Paul de Fenouillet

UPDATED NOV. 2013 - SEE BELOW.

There's a lot of talk about "low or no sulphite" wines, and enough examples out there to remind us why most winemakers DON'T go down this more challenging route (sulphur dioxide and related additives are basically used as anti-bacterial agent, anti-oxidant and preservative). Jean-Louis Denois, perhaps better known for his pioneering still, and especially sparkling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines from Limoux (links to other profile on these vineyards and wines) to the north over the 'border' in the Languedoc (as well as experimental plantings of Riesling and Gewurztraminer in the late 90s, deemed 'illegal' at the time by narrow-minded bureaucrats), takes a pretty rational scientific view of this approach while claiming "there's just no alternative." In 2006, he bought a couple of vineyard plots lost between Saint Paul de Fenouillet and Caudiés de Fenouillet, in the upper Agly valley in the far northwestern corner of the Roussillon, which, like all his vineyards, was converted to organics in 2009. But he began to question whether this was enough: "Producing organically is certainly good for the planet, environment, soils and our water; but shouldn't we go further? 'Sulphite free' is also good for our health." Vintage 2012 was the year of the big experiment...
Jean-Louis is convinced, logically enough, that the only way to make good 'stable' wines without adding sulphites is to get "perfect healthy grapes" by controlling yields and sorting them before and after picking; and, naturally, to make sure of "hygienic conditions in the cellar... critical to eliminate the risk of negative bacteria causing off-flavours sometimes observed in natural wines... Only this protocol is able to guarantee stability for this type of wine." He also stresses this is "very different to the idea of letting 'Nature do it alone'." Well, the proof is in the pudding, as that charmingly curious expression goes. And, yes, the wines are good and free from any obvious 'faults' you might possibly find in other 'natural' wines (especially if you're looking for them). They cost about €10-€11 a bottle in France. More info @ www.jldenois.com.

Mes Vignes de Saint Paul 2012 white (Chardonnay) - attractive floral and fresh, juicy and lively nose with nutty yeasty 'straw' like edges; richer honeyed side on the palate vs zingy appley flavours, crisp 'mineral' and dry with light elegant finish; quite long really for 12% alcohol, nice and mouth-watering making it very drinkable yet there's subtle concentration and character too. After a day or two open: does get more appley and nutty / oxidative yet was still juicy and refreshing with appealing sultana notes too.
Mes Vignes de Saint Paul 2012 red (Syrah, Merlot and Grenache) - not showing a lot of rich fruit flavour at first but again it's elegant and balanced (13.5% abv though) with nice textured dry vs silky tannins, subtle ripeness underneath vs enticing savoury edges; very drinkable now actually, you get more black cherry and blueberry fruit as it opens up with peppery, herby and even eucalyptus hints. After a day or two open: gets more savoury and developed (as you'd expect really) with attractive black olive notes too, yet still structured and reasonably fresh.

Some other wines sourced from Caudiès include:
2011 Saint Louis Syrah (9 months in cask, 14% abv) – light spicy coconut tones with rich damson black cherry and cassis, stewed apple and blackberry notes too vs a savoury and earthy wilder side; lush ripe fruit vs firm dry tannins although palate is rounded and smooth too, that spicy coco grain comes back, powerful and structured but balanced. Lingering dark fruit with subtle oak and tannin texture, lots of peppery vs ripe cherry/berry fruit edged with spicy earthy notes then grip and punch. Second day open – more savoury and rustic edged with liquorice flavours, concentrated and still powerful with sweet fruit and lovely dry/rounded tannins. Good stuff, needs a little more time in bottle perhaps although approachable now.
2007 Saint Louis Syrah pays d'Oc (14%) - a bit 'soupy' / volatile / wild edged, but it's lush and concentrated too, thick dry textured vs ripe and silky tannins, turning to black olive and meaty / leather. Big wine vs rounded and quite mature.
2012 Les Oliviers white Sud de France (blend of mostly Chardonnay plus a little Muscat from the Fenouillèdes and some Chenin from Roquetaillade; 11.8%, organic) - nice aromatic nose, floral and grapey vs peach and citrus, dry crisp and elegant palate with attractive simple tasty fruit and zesty 'chalky' finish. €7

More on JLD's Limoux wines etc. HERE.

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