I have been attending Didsbury Wine Club sessions whenever I could over the last 6 months or so and I always find it bang on the money. The selection of wines is always varied, clever and of quality and for 15 quid, it’s quality school night time. Plus, they always try to arrange canapés accompaniments to pair with the wines and believe it or not, it’s not that common these days in wine tastings.
For the October opus however, although no canapés could be arranged this time around, there was a very nice little twist to the normal format of 5-6 wines presented by Omar and David. Instead the @DidsWineClub team went to fish out Muriel Lismonde of La Tour de Belfort. Now…unless you have been touring the various wine events in Manchester and London in recent months, chances are you don’t know who they are and you could be forgiven for it as they are pretty new out there.
Whilst you can get parts of this great story from their website, we were told the full tale directly from Muriel herself on the night and I cannot pretend to render it here as good as she did so preventative apologies are due.
Around 12 years ago, Muriel and her parents were living in Paris and whilst business was working well, the somewhat unhealthy life of the capital was soon to get the best of them. So one day, dad decides to take his family back down south in the Cahors region where Muriel’s mum’s side of the family are from and have been for decades, possibly centuries. They bought the land with a fantastic period property on top, refurbished it from top to bottom, extended it, planted vines and provided them with tender love and care ever since. They also happen to be bang in the middle of a Natura 2000 protected regional park…. nice one. And without getting too technical on soil and climate, suffice to say they are gifted with a lovely piece of Terroir.
On this land, they raise and grow 8 different grape varieties: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Semillon for the whites and Malbec, Merlot, Carbernet Franc and Syrah (or Shiraz in the new world) for the reds. Winemaking is Ecocert-certified organic which means no chemical fertilisers or other nasties. Grape picking is strictly by hand and so is the sorting. Standards are high and fruits that have been damaged or are not so healthy do not make it to the next stage. At the chai (actual winery in French), the same principles of clinical care allow them not to use additives and other ingredients normally used to prevent harmful bacteria proliferation and I believe there is only a little bit of sulphur at bottling…when necessary. That said, you’re going to think I have been paid to write this piece. Now who on earth would pay me to write a crappy bloggy blob with no readers? You could be thinking that a French winemaker in Manchester would definitely have struck a few chords….erm, yeah there may be some truth to that actually 😉 Don’t worry, I do try my utmost to remain objective when it comes to the matter of tasting as, like anybody else, I don’t want to buy a case of wine on a whim to find out I over-estimated it.
Now on to the wines proper…and I might add that we enjoyed the full range on offer including the latest two Grand Vin. Just a quick word on Grand Vin, this has no legal bearing whatsoever, it just means that it is the wine which the winemaker regards as its best piece. In other words, they have tried to use the best grapes of the best parcels, often fermenting and ageing in oak. To keep it simple, Grand Vin is generally used to describe the best wine of a particular winemaker. Definitely is the case here.
1. 2011 Chardonnay Sauvignon Blanc – Now that’s an interesting blend because Chardonnay, as a fruit, tends to be quite neutral, which means it’s the perfect grape to use when you want to extract as much of the terroir as possible. Sauvignon Blanc on the other hand has quite a typical range of aromas which do vary slightly depending on whether you’re in a cool or hot area. So here we have a wine that has fresh green fruit with a nice acidity to keep it crisp from the dominating Chardonnay but with undertone aromas of stone fruits coming from the hot climate Sauvignon. There is also a bit of lees ageing for a couple of months which gives the wine a subtle buttery character and gives it a bit of weight.
2. 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Chardonnay – I seem to remember that the weather in 2010 was a bit more capricious and was in some instances better for reds than for whites. At the end of the day, there are skilled vignerons out there who just know how to make the best of a particular situation and it seems the Belfort crew has been well advised for their second vintage. This wine is more on the mineral and the fresh citrus fruits, still getting some buttery character in the middle but the bitter clementine pith finish cleanses nicely and gives it length.
3. 2011 Grand Vin 100% Chardonnay – This one has been aged for 6 months in Burgundy oak. Burgundy oak allows for a lot more of a subtle kind of oak ageing so this wine has more character and body with aromas of butter and toast but it’s not over powering and there is an underlying acidity throughout to keep the wine refreshing and moreish. Gorgeous stuff, and having been to Burgundy recently, it’s strangely not too far from a well-crafted white from Chardonnay dream land.
4. 2010 Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah – All on the smooth fruit, relatively light weight, a nice acidity and just the right amount of tannins to give it structure. This is going to be our house red for the next couple of months I reckon. Simply beautiful.
5. 2011 Same players, different year… More big black fruits, more depth and body here with a certain spice and toast type aromas which adds character and again these smooth tannins. Give them a few years and they’ll become feathers. Someone has been learning a bit about wine making in between these 2 vintages. This was my wow factor at the recent Manchester Food and Drink Festival Indie Wine Fest.
6. 2011 Grand Vin Malbec – Now… If you have come across this blog there is a slight chance you are quite keen on your wines. If that is the case, you may have heard of Mendoza, Argentina before and if you have you would know that Malbec is never far away. Malbec is actually the primary grape variety of Cahors reds. It has unfortunately been mishandled for a few decades until recently and Muriel and her dad have managed to extract the essence of this grape. The healthy grapes come out raging with beautiful fruit, the wood has given it depth, body and complexity and the tannins, whilst young are very well behaved. Giving birth to that bad boy at their third vintage is bloomin’ impressive.