Two weeks ago, I wrote about my visit to Domaine des Roches Neuves, highlighting their top, old-vine Cabernet Franc named Les Mémoires. I'm circling back since the Chenin Blancs deserve their own spotlight. A protégé of Clos Rougeard's Charly Foucault, Thierry Germain has been practicing Biodynamics for over two decades and is now a benchmark for the Loire.
Germain's Chenins are marked by rich concentration and mouth-watering acidity—so much so that we tasted them after the Cabernet Francs. Clos Romans is considerably young, as it was re-planted in 2007, but don’t let that fool you. This 0.3-hectare parcel produces Germain’s most promising and coveted cuvée. Some enthusiasts have gone as far as to compare its grandeur to Burgundy’s Corton-Charlemagne. At this site, the dense limestone soils pulverized into a chalk-like form express a salty minerality in the wine. This insider cuvée continues to creep up in price, but Germain's son, Louis, argues that the 2020 vintage is one of the best renditions they’ve produced. If that price tag is still too steep, the Clos du Moulin is a great alternative, as it comes from a neighboring parcel.
Across the board, these Chenins and Cabernet Francs walk a fine balance of ripeness, freshness, and underlying tension to drive it all home—to be enjoyed now or years down the road. With time in bottle, the wines have transformational aging capabilities like the best of Burgundy. There are many great producers throughout the Loire, but Germain remains one of the very best.
My tour through Spain and Portugal in the summer of 2018 was to better familiarize myself with producers I had been enamored with for a long time. Of course, traversing through this land steeped in rich history was going to provide some new revelations. At one dinner, the owner of Mesón A Curva restaurant in Galicia blind-poured us a stunning glass of wine. The big reveal was: Forjas del Salnes's Rias Baixas "Goliardo" Albariño, a joint project between Rodrigo Mendez and Raul Perez.
Albariño's birthplace, Val do Salnes, is the coolest of the five subzones of Rias Baixas. Galician winemakers are more focused than ever on wines with levity instead of power, though Forjas del Salnes has found a way to instill both of these virtues with a balance.
Goliardo a Telleira comes from a 1973-planted Albariño parcel on sand and granite soils—sourced from the same site as Raúl Perez's famous Sketch bottling. The grapes see partial skin-contact fermentation with malolactic blocked to preserve the wine's verve. A single foudre is used for fermentation, then the wine is transferred to stainless steel for several months before bottling.
The other bottling, Leirana, is as unique and singular a wine as I've had from Galicia. From vines planted between 1952 and 1982, the most profound trait in Leirana is centered around multi-layered textures and that ultimate elusive density without weight. Less than 1,000 bottles produced of both wines!
Last week, I wrote about Les Mémoires, Thierry Germain’s soulful, old-vine Cabernet Franc. I’m switching gears today and heading to the French Alps. If you enjoy white wines from the Jura but haven’t dipped into Savoie, you're missing out. One of the most important names to know is Michel Grisard.
This vigneron started Prieuré Saint-Christophe in the late 1970s, after running his family's domaine for a decade. His new sole intention was to produce high-quality, ageable Mondeuse, a powerfully deep red grape variety native to the area. Grisard succeeded but didn’t stop there: He was the Savoie’s first vigneron to adopt Biodynamics, played a key role in the local movement to revive the region’s many abandoned vineyards, by replanting them with indigenous varieties, and he also founded Domaine des Ardoisières.
Grisard devoted his career to championing Savoie, and the wine region is as popular as ever, largely thanks to his pioneering work. He retired after the 2014 vintage and gave his vineyards to the Giachino brothers (Currently, my favorite producer in the Savoie). They have carried on Grisard's legacy and continue to produce wines from his former estate under the Prieuré Saint-Christophe label.
In addition to Mondeuse, Grisard also planted 1.4 hectares of Altesse—the finest indigenous white grape variety of Savoie, according to Wink Lorch, author of Wines of the French Alps. (If you don’t know about Lorch, she is a leading expert on this alpine region). Comparable to Burgundy’s Aligoté or Italy’s Trebbiano, Altesse offers an intriguing concentration of fruit with floral and nutty tones.
From the foothills of the Massif des Bauges, on clay and limestone soils, this estate produces one of the most linear examples of Altesse we’ve encountered. It interplays succulent pear with striking minerality, and a slight texture of fresh almond—a pleasing combination that’s compelling and delicious. The wine spontaneously ferments and ages in large oak casks to avoid any oak flavors.
Paolo Bea is most famous for its wildly interesting take on Montefalco's Sagrantino red grape variety, but today, I’d like to pivot to their orange wines. Paolo's son, Giampiero, was one of the first naturalists in Italy to adopt the practices of Josko Gravner and Stanko Radikon (the Friulian winemakers who repopularized the ancient-old tradition of fermenting white grapes on their skins). Today, Bea’s Arboreus is considered a benchmark in the world of orange wine, and it has a fascinating backstory.
These Trebbiano Spoletino vines were planted below oak trees on the Paolo Bea estate over 120 years ago and have completely wrapped themselves around the trees (Hence the name Arboreus). Once harvested and de-stemmed, the grapes ferment on the skins for several weeks and spend a minimum of two years on the lees in stainless steel tanks. Gravner and Radikon produce the most concentrated, structured examples of orange wine you’ll come across and are undoubtedly the pinnacles in this category. I more often gravitate toward Paolo Bea's style, though. Arboreus has that same deep amber hue, golden stone fruit showing apricot and yellow plum, powerful tannins—but with an added streak of freshness that balances its other components. Note: This is a great food wine with the tannins to take one heavier foods than typical whites (Lamb kabobs and saffron rice were on my mind when we tasted this).
If you prefer your orange wines, well, less orange-y, consider Lapideus. The grape variety, soil type, and winemaking are the same as Arboreus (same skin-contact and élevage regimen). Except, these 80-year-old Trebbiano Spoletino vines, trained in the traditional cordon method, grow in a cooler microclimate, resulting in a leaner, more acid-driven orange wine. Paolo Bea provides a counterpoint to the argument that this style of wine can’t be terroir-driven! There are also Monastero Suore Cistercensi’s orange wines, Coenobium and Ruscum, as value-driven options. Based in Lazio, these wines are farmed and produced by the Sisters of the Cistercian order, with some guidance from Giampiero.
Lastly, I highly recommend reading Giampiero's interview with Sprudge Wine, which includes a photo of those stunning Arboreus vines. If you are a skin-contact fanatic, like me, Paolo Bea is a must-try, as these were the among the defining wines for what's now a booming category.
Wineries like Werlitsch in Austria's Styria region perpetuate those dreamy biodynamic farm vibes we've seen springing up in Eastern Europe. Sure, the scenes are breathtaking and make for a good selling point, but what winemaker Ewald Tscheppe produces from his opok-rich soils restores our faith in the far reaches of natural wine.
Our team once blind-tasted the Ex Vero I together. It had a matchstick quality on the nose, followed by white florals, fresh citrus, coconut milk-like texture, and electric acidity on the palate. Still, the wine's focal point was its lively energy and slightly waxy texture. I guessed it was from the Jura, thinking it had a Burgundy gone rogue feeling, but it turned out to be a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Morillon (aka Chardonnay). Ex Vero is a three-part series showcasing the varied levels of altitude and soil composition on Werlitsch's steep hillside. These vines grow on limestone and clay soil rich in minerals and marine fossils, which locals refer to as opok. Frankly, the wines are unlike anything you'll taste from Austria or elsewhere.
Ewald and his friends discovered biodynamics while studying wine in the early 1980s. As a true devotee of the naturalist movement, he believes that nature always does it better—for him, that means gravity-flow winemaking, natural yeast, no temperature control, and no sulfur. In 2004, Ewald began to apply biodynamics to his family's estate, which also inhabits fruit trees, wild herbs, vegetables, and forests.