TN: Disappointed, naturally

One vinous friend of mine has been delving into the natural wine scene for some time now. He has a long history with many respected Italian wine producers (many which are as natural as they get, even if not marketed as such), but these French VdF naturalistas are a more recent thing.

Honestly, I really don’t understand what keeps him buying all the bottles of these hyped funk bombs. I guess it’s just endless curiosity combined with the thrill of acquiring cult-ish stuff that people rarely get to taste due to scarcity. And, hey, that’s also the reason why I go to these tastings as well - even when I know I’m more or less going to be disappointed.

Sure, every now and then some bottles of these natural wines are exceptionally good and outstanding by any standards. However, that seldom happens and more likely the wines are going to be just natty, excessively funky, heavily reductive and/or suffering from mousiness. This tasting was not an exception.

We tasted wines from two Languedoc producers:

Le Temps des Cerises is a winery project started in 2003 by Axel Prüfer, a Frenchman born in East Germany who cultivates grape vines in the middle of nature in Languedoc, near Saint-Chinian and Minervois. Some of Prüfer’s vineyards are even in clearings in the middle of forests in a natural park and both his viticulture and winemaking aim for minimal inputs and intervention. The winery itself is pretty minimalist as well, consisting only of a few fiberglass tanks and a handful of very old, neutral oak vessels. The wines are vinified without any sulfites or commercial yeasts and they are bottled unfined and unfiltered, typically with either a minimal dose of SO2 or without any SO2. Annual production for all labels is minuscule, due to the small size of the production and naturally very low yields.

Ugo Lestelle is a more recent face in the natural wine scene, having produced wine only since 2015. He farms vineyards organically in Saint-Chinian and produces wines in a non-interventionist fashion, typically vinifying the red wines using carbonic maceration and fermenting the wines spontaneously with indigenous yeasts. Typically the wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered with a minimal dose of SO2.

To my taste, Le Temps des Cerises didn’t stand a chance against Lestelle’s wines. Although some of Prüfer’s wines were quite clean and nice and some Lestelle’s wines were suffering a bit from ripeness and softness, the differences in style were remarkable: all too often Prüfer’s wines were just “natty”, unclean and too funky for pleasure, whereas Lestelle’s wines were typically recognizable for natural wines, yet emphasizing wonderfully the purity of fruit, freshness and balance. However, I must say that even if the wines were nice, only one or two I could honestly describe as actually great and captivating wines.

We also had two extra wines served blind at the end of the tasting, but I managed to take a photo only of the Burgundy bottle.

  • 2018 Le Temps des Cerises (Axel Prüfer) La Peur du Rouge - France, Vin de France (8.2.2022)
    A naturalist blend of estate-owned Chardonnay from low-yielding, naturally farmed vineyards in the middle of a forest and purchased, organically farmed Clairette, both from Languedoc. Fermented spontaneously, vinified without any SO2. 12,2% alcohol. Tasted in a Le Temps des Cerises tasting.

    Somewhat hazy pale green color. Very open and expressive nose with vibrant and slightly sauvage aromas of mirabelle plums and yellow damsons, some plum pit, a little bit of papaya, light rich nuances of apple sauce, a hint of honey and a touch of lifted wild character. Although the overall feel is quite obviously natural, I'd still describe it nuanced rather than funky. The wine is ripe,very primary and fruit-driven on the palate with somewhat wild flavors of fresh golden apple, tart notes of fresh yellow damsons, some pear juice, a little bit of plum pits, light tangy saline nuances, an acetic hint of VA and a touch of sappy herbal greenness. Moderately high in acidity. The finish is long and rather wild with flavors of fresh red apples, crunchy notes of quince, some apple peel bitterness, light notes of plum pits, a little bit of acetic VA, a tart hint of yellow damson and a touch of sappy herbal character.

    A nice, characterful and drinkable naturalist white with some lifted naturalist notes, a little bit of acetic VA and tons of vibrant, slightly primary fruit character. Although the wine is balanced and very drinkable, it really doesn't come across as anything particularly complex or captivating - just very fruity and expressive with a subtly acetic undercurrent. This is fun and nice little white - not unlike a mixture of freshly pressed apple juice, a little bit of table salt and some drops of white wine vinegar - but while it is very enjoyable and drinkable, it ultimately doesn't manage to offer anything that would make me seek out a bottle for myself.
    (87 points)

  • 2019 Le Temps des Cerises (Axel Prüfer) La Peur du Rouge - France, Vin de France (8.2.2022)
    According to some sources, this is 100% estate-owned Chardonnay from low-yielding, naturally farmed vineyards in the middle of a forest, others say this is a blend of estate Chardonnay and purchased, organically farmed Clairette, both from Languedoc. Fermented spontaneously, vinified without any SO2. 12,5% alcohol. Tasted in a Le Temps des Cerises tasting.

    Hazy, medium-deep yellow-green color. Quite wild and funky nose with aromas of leather, phenolic spice, some ripe apricot, a little bit of smoke, light zesty notes of citrus fruits, a lifted hint of nail polish and a touch of ripe red apple. The wine is ripe, broad and quite full-bodied on the palate with moderately natty flavors of cidery apple juice, some honeyed richness, a little bit of cantaloupe, light acetic notes of VA and a hint of zesty citrus fruits. The medium-plus acidity keeps the wine somewhat in balance, but doesn't lend much freshness to the palate. The finish is rich, soft and juicy with a bit sweet flavors of nectarine, some apple jam, a little bit of primary pear juice character, light honeydew melon tones and an acetic hint of VA.

    A drinkable but also a bit dull and somewhat wild naturalista that really doesn't manage to hit the bullseye. While nothing too wild, natty or funky, this lacks the vibrancy and expressive fruit of the 2018 vintage, coming across more as a dull and slightly wild naturalist white that is a bit too much on the ripe side. Especially the soft acidity makes the wine lack the necessary verve and precision. Can't say I'm particularly thrilled.
    (83 points)

  • 2019 Le Temps des Cerises (Axel Prüfer) Avanti popolo - France, Vin de Table Français (8.2.2022)
    Typically Avanti Popolo is a 100% Carignan, but to my understanding, the 2019 vintage is a blend of Carignan, Aramon, Cinsaut and Muscat. Fermented spontaneously, vinified entirely without SO2, bottled unfined and unfiltered. 10,5% alcohol.

    Pale, completely clear rose hip color with a watery, colorless rim. The wine looks more like a dark rosé than a red wine. The nose is fragrant, characterful and quite wild with aromas of fresh wild berries and ripe raspberries, some barnyardy notes of brett, a little bit of acetic VA, light candied primary fruit notes and a distinctive, perfumed hint of musky flowers (well, in retrospect, the Muscat component explains this!). All in all, pretty nice - natural, but not too natty. The wine is fresh, lively and light-bodied on the palate with flavors of ripe forest fruits, some crunchy apple, a little bit of wild strawberry, light perfumed notes of rosewater and musky flowers and an acetic hint of VA. The medium-plus acidity keeps the wine in balance, even if it doesn't bring much freshness to it. There are no tannins to speak of. The finish is wild and slightly unclean with flavors of wild strawberries, some damp earth notes, a little bit of red cherry, light floral tones, an acetic hint of VA and a touch of raspberry juice. Fortunately - and despite the slightly unclean touch in the aftertaste - the wine doesn't seem to turn mousy. At least soon after opening the bottle.

    A nice, fun and drinkable little naturalist red that both looks and drinks more like a fresh rosé wine. I guess one really should approach this wine more as a rosé rather than a red. Can't really see it benefiting from age - it might keep for some years, but most likely this wine is showing its best now. Enjoyable stuff, but ultimately nothing particularly memorable or that interesting.
    (85 points)

  • 2018 Le Temps des Cerises (Axel Prüfer) jalava - France, Vin de Table Français (8.2.2022)
    A naturalist Cinsaut from organically farmed vineyards Languedoc. Fermented spontaneously, vinified without any SO2. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. 11,6% alcohol. Tasted in a Le Temps des Cerises tasting.

    Translucent, very slightly hazy pale red or deep pink color with a wide, watery rim. The nose feels dull and not particularly pleasant with aromas of rye bread, some earthy tones, a little bit of jammy red fruit, light and quite distinctive honeyed or marmaladey notes that remind me of red Beerenauslese wines and a hint of stewed strawberries. The wine is bright, crunchy and light-to-medium-bodied on the palate with flavors of strawberries, some stony minerality, a little bit of jammy red fruit, light leafy green tones, a hint of sappy herbal bitterness and a vinegary touch of VA. The wine is medium in acidity with no perceptible tannins. The finish is dull, medium in length and slightly unclean with flavors of brambly raspberries, some sappy herbal character, a little bit of ripe, sweetish red fruit and finally a touch of emerging mousiness, towards the end of the aftertaste.

    Meh. A mediocre naturalist red with quite little substance and a slightly unclean overall character that might explode into full-blown mousiness as the wine breathes and opens up with oxygen exposure. Anecdotal evidence says that mousiness might disappear with age, but I really don't see this wine benefiting from any cellaring, so I doubt the wine will get better with further aging even if that tiny hint of mousy THP disappeared with age. All in all, not really a convincing effort.
    (70 points)

  • 2018 Le Temps des Cerises (Axel Prüfer) Un pas de côté - France, Vin de France (8.2.2022)
    Some sources say this is a blend of Grenache and other red varieties, others say it is 100% Grenache. Apparently the base blend can change according to the vintage. Fermented spontaneously with carbonic maceration for 2 weeks, vinified without any SO2. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. 13% alcohol. Tasted in a Le Temps des Cerises tasting.

    Luminous, moderately translucent and quite deep raspberry red color. Very funky and rather natty nose with aromas of vinegary VA, animale, some barnyardy brett, a little bit of hay, light earthy notes and a hint of strawberry juice. The wine is wild, funky and a bit soft on the palate with a rather full body and quite sauvage flavors of strawberries, some acetic VA, a little bit of barnyardy brett, light metallic notes, a hint of cherry and a touch of something unclean and nutty, suggestive of mousiness. The wine is medium in acidity with rather light and gently grippy tannins. The finish is dull, unclean and unpleasant with medium-long flavors of medicinal bitterness, earthy tones and a nutty streak of mousiness that only grows in intensity as the wine opens up in the glass.

    Hrrr. This is a lousy effort. None of the Prüfer red wines managed to impress me, but this bottle was just a disappointment. The fruit department feels very underwhelming compared to the acetic - at times almost vinegary - notes of VA and not just funky but also moderately dirty bretty notes. To top it all off, the wine finishes with an unpleasant streak of mousiness that only underlines the natty overall character of the wine. All in all, a major disappointment. Not recommended.
    (61 points)

  • 2020 Ugo Lestelle Vin de France B - France, Vin de France (8.2.2022)
    A blend of Terret Blanc (70%) and Grenache Blanc (30%) from Saint Chinian. Vinified according to a non-interventionist philosophy. 13% alcohol.

    Clear, pale yellow-green color. Somewhat dull, closed and slightly reductive nose with aromas of lemony citrus fruits, some waxy funk, a little bit of stone dust, light musty notes of old wood and a flatulent hint of reduction. The wine is dull, ripe and slightly funky on the palate with a medium body and somewhat understated flavors of waxy funk, some phenolic bitterness, a little bit of fresh white peach, light stony mineral notes, a hint of chalky minerality and a touch of sappy herbal spice. Moderately high acidity. The finish is moderately acid-driven but also a bit dull with flavors of ripe red apple, some white peach, light notes of chalk dust, a little bit of decomposing old wood, a hint of flatulent reduction and a touch of waxy funk.

    A bit understated and slightly funky naturalist white that seems to suffer from both reduction and slightly unclean bretty notes that don't seem to add rustic complexity as much as they overwhelm the fruitier notes and add dull, earthy and funky tones that take their toll on the freshness and precision. You can taste this wine is cut from the same cloth as the Lestelle B 2018 that was tasted alongside, but while both wines suffered from some reduction, the 2018 was nevertheless bright, fruity and noticeably less funky than this 2020. While drinkable, I must admit this wine didn't leave a particularly lasting impression.
    (78 points)

  • 2018 Ugo Lestelle Vin de France B - France, Vin de France (8.2.2022)
    A blend of Terret Blanc (70%) and Grenache Blanc (30%) from Saint Chinian. Vinified according to a non-interventionist philosophy. 13% alcohol.

    Slightly hazy lemon-yellow color. Surprisingly reductive and closed nose with aromas of skunky, flatulent reduction, some peachy yellow fruit, a little bit of phenolic spice, light smoky tones, a hint of something vaguely resinous and a sweeter touch of apricot jam. The wine is broad, juicy and slightly sweet-toned on the palate with ripe yet a bit reductive flavors of apple jam, some funky notes of brett, a little bit of passion fruit, light resinous and at the same time vaguely tropical flavors that remind me of exotic hop flavors in a NEIPA, a hint of wild waxy character and a touch of smoky reduction. The acidity feels medium-to-moderately high. The finish is ripe, round and mellow with quite long flavors of ripe apricots and passion fruit, some leesy notes of yeast, a little bit of honeydew melon, a sweet hint of apple jam and a sulfurous, flatulent touch of reduction.

    A pretty nice and rather distinctive naturalist white that suffers from quite prominent reduction, but still manages to show an enjoyable white lurking underneath. What's most interesting here is that slightly tropical character that lends an almost aroma hop-like quality to the wine, making it aromatically feel surprisingly similar to an exotic NEIPA - and not in a gimmicky way. I'd let the wine wait for a few years more, based on how very reductive it still is.
    (88 points)

  • 2020 Ugo Lestelle Vin de France Le P'tit Bonhomme - France, Vin de France (8.2.2022)
    A 100% Cinsaut from a very old parcel (80 yo) in Saint Chinian. Vinified according to a non-interventionist philosophy, fermented using carbonic maceration for 3 weeks, very gently pressed to avoid extraction, then aged for 6 months in old oak barriques. 12,5% alcohol.

    Luminous, moderately translucent blackish-red color with youthful, subtly purplish highlights. The nose is youthful, expressive and quite primary with bright aromas of cherries, some strawberry juice, light candied primary notes of blackcurrant marmalades, a little bit of blueberry and a perfumed hint of sweet purple flowers. The wine is ripe, rich and medium-bodied on the palate with bright, berry-driven flavors of red brambles and redcurrants, some cherry tones, a little bit of gravelly minerality, light perfumed notes of floral lift, a sweet hint of strawberry and a faint touch of something metallic. The wine is medium-to-moderately high in acidity with very gently grippy light tannins. The finish is fresh and subtly grippy with medium-long flavors of wild strawberries and blueberries, some ripe black cherries, a little bit of crunchy redcurrant and a perfumed hint of floral spice.

    A very lovely, wonderfully fresh and eminently drinkable little naturalist Cinsaut. There's really nothing "natty" here and the wine is all about pure, crunchy and unadulterated red-fruited deliciousness with a lovely flora edge. The only tiny blemish here is a subtly metallic note that occasionally appears on the midpalate, otherwise this is just smashable. It shows great harmony between the focused fruit, rather light body, balanced acidity and modest alcohol. Not a super-complex effort, but a very drinkable wine all the same, coming across as something a bit more interesting than your typical bistro naturalista.
    (90 points)

  • 2020 Ugo Lestelle Vin de France Punkahontas - France, Vin de France (8.2.2022)
    A 100% Syrah from an old-vine parcel in Saint Chinian. Vinified according to a non-interventionist philosophy, fermented using carbonic maceration for 3 weeks, very gently pressed to avoid extraction, then aged for 6 months in old oak barriques. There is no indication of vintage in the label, but according to the retailer, this is supposed to be 2020 vintage. 13% alcohol.

    Luminous, moderately translucent and rather dark cherry-red color. Surprisingly closed nose with restrained aromas of wild strawberries, some notes of stone dust (a winemaker commented the wine smells like an emptied concrete tank), a little bit of fresh redcurrant and sweet primary hint of gummi bears. The wine is fresh and crunchy on the palate with a light-to-medium body and bright flavors of redcurrants, some gravelly mineral tones, a little bit of herbal bitterness, light tart notes of chokeberries, a smoky hint of phenolic spice and a subtly lifted touch of VA. Rather high acidity with gently grippy light-to-medium tannins. The finish is quite long and gently grippy with dry, savory flavors of bitter chokeberries, phenolic spice, some crunchy redcurrants, a little bit of tart lingonberry, light gravelly mineral tones and a darker-toned hint of brambly blackberries and black raspberries.

    A nice and clean but also somewhat closed and restrained wine that is stylistically closer to a Burgundy or a cooler-vintage Cru Beaujolais than your typical Languedoc Syrah. Although the style has some naturalist qualities, the overall style is pretty conventional and pure-fruited - if only a bit reductive, which is nothing unexpected when it comes to Syrah. Seeing how very young the wine is, I think this bottle was just opened too early and it was not given enough air. If opened now, it really calls for some decanting, but I'd rather let it rest for a handful of years longer in a cellar. At its current state it is hard to assess where the wine is going to go, but nevertheless, the quality shines through.
    (89 points)

  • 2019 Ugo Lestelle Vin de France L - France, Vin de France (8.2.2022)
    A 100% Grenache from an old-vine parcel in Saint Chinian. Vinified according to a non-interventionist philosophy, fermented in concrete tanks using carbonic maceration for 2 weeks, very gently pressed to avoid extraction, then aged for 6 months in old oak barriques. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. 13,5% alcohol.

    Moderately hazy and somewhat opaque strawberry juice appearance. The nose is sweet, fragrant and very youthful with vibrant aromas of strawberries and blueberries, some juicy plummy tones, a little bit of lifted wild character and light primary notes of raspberry marmalade candies. The wine is lively, clean and quite light-bodied on the palate with ripe and juicy flavors of redcurrants, some strawberry tones, a little bit of succulent red plum, light funky notes of bretty leather, a hint of phenolic spice and a touch of gravelly minerality. The acidity feels rather high, while the medium-minus tannins are quite gentle and easy. The finish is rich and juicy with vibrant flavors of strawberries, some ripe red plummy tones, a little bit of phenolic spice, light leathery tones, a hint of sour cherry bitterness and a subtle touch of tannic grip.

    A very nice, clean and tasty Grenache that has a bit of that wild naturalist character without making the wine feel particularly funky or natty. For a Grenache from Languedoc, this is a remarkably fresh, precise and delicate effort, yet true to the variety with its rather ripe, subtly sweet-toned flavors of strawberries and red plums. An immensely drinkable and thoroughly enjoyable Grenache. Difficult to say whether it will improve much from here, but for immediate consumption this is pretty terrific stuff.
    (91 points)

  • 2019 Ugo Lestelle Vin de France Bob - France, Vin de France (8.2.2022)
    A 100% Carignan from centenarian vine parcel in Saint Chinian. Vinified according to a non-interventionist philosophy, fermented in concrete tanks using carbonic maceration for 2 weeks, very gently pressed to avoid extraction, then aged for 8 months in old oak barriques. Bottled unfined and unfiltered, only in magnums. No vintage designation in the label, only lot number LBOB520 - which supposedly means the bottling date. 13,5% alcohol.

    Luminous, somewhat translucent black cherry color. The nose is ridiculously exuberant but rather linear with pronounced aromas of blackcurrant juice concentrate, followed by lighter notes of red cherries and some brambly nuances of black raspberries. The wine feels ripe, juicy and somewhat sweetish on the palate with flavors of ripe blackcurrants, some strawberry jam, a little bit of smoky phenolic spice, light tart notes of redcurrant juice, a hint of blueberry and a touch of earth. The wine is medium-to-moderately high in acidity with quite supple medium-minus tannins. The finish is rich and juicy with rather long flavors of ripe blackcurrants, some soft dark plums, a little bit of black cherry, light bitter notes of phenolic spice and a touch of tart lingonberry.

    A clean but also surprisingly ripe effort for a Lestelle red. The wine is very youthful and all about lush, vibrant fruit, but compared to the other Lestelle wines we tasted at the same time, this came across as noticeably more solar, showing sweeter fruit, softer acidity and less overall crunchiness compared to the other wines. This is a good and enjoyable wine, but nothing particularly interesting - and I fail to see why this wine was so special that it had to be bottled only in magnums. Fortunately we emptied this bottle in a tasting, since I probably would've bored with this wine if it was opened in a setting with less people to share the bottle...
    (87 points)

  • 2018 Ugo Lestelle Vin de France Grande Dame - France, Vin de France (8.2.2022)
    A blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre from Saint Chinian. Vinified according to a non-interventionist philosophy, fermented in concrete tanks using carbonic maceration, very gently pressed to avoid extraction, then aged for 5 months in old oak barriques. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. 12,5% alcohol.

    Very hazy - even slightly murky - cherry-red color. Wild, fascinating and even a bit sauvage nose of blueberries, some baking spices, a little bit of fresh forest fruits, light leathery notes of funk, a hint of earth and a candied touch of black Bassett's wine gums. The wine is juicy, fresh and fruity on the palate with a medium body and youthful flavors of black cherries, some brambly notes of black raspberries, light candied notes of black wine gums, a little bit of sweet baking spice, a hint of forest floor and a lifted touch of acetic VA. The wine is a bit on the soft side with medium acidity and supple medium tannins. The finish is juicy, quite long and a bit funky with flavors of strawberries, some brambly notes of black raspberries, light bitter notes of phenolic spice, light earthy notes, a hint of fresh red plum and a slightly unclean touch of nuttiness that might turn into emerging mousiness with some air. However, during the first half an hour or so, the wine remained clean and didn't turn mousy at any point.

    A tasty and pleasant, although a bit sauvage naturalist red that feels somewhat less pure and slightly more funky than the other Ugo Lestelle wines we tasted at the same go. All in all, the wine is vibrant and approachable, but ultimately perhaps a bit too soft and not that interesting for my preference. Good, but nothing particularly memorable.
    (86 points)

  • 2018 Ugo Lestelle Vin de France VI - France, Vin de France (8.2.2022)
    A 100% Carignan from Saint Chinian. Vinified according to a non-interventionist philosophy, fermented in concrete tanks using carbonic maceration, very gently pressed to avoid extraction, then aged for 8 months in old oak barriques. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. 13,5% alcohol.

    Luminous and almost fully opaque blackish-red color with a youthful blue hue. The nose is dark-toned and slightly sweetish with a bit restrained and slightly sauvage aromas of juicy blackcurrants, some plummy tones, a little bit of ripe boysenberry, light lifted notes of sweet VA and a lambic-like hint of bretty leather. The wine is bright and rather savory on the palat ewith a medium body and quite dry flavors of crunchy forest fruits and fresh red plums, some ripe blackcurrant tones, a little bit of smoky phenolic spice, light bretty notes of leather, a hint of sour cherry bitterness and a touch of gravelly minerality. The wine feels rather high in acidity with slowly gripping medium-plus tannins. The finish is ripe and juicy with some tannic grip and rather savory flavors of wild strawberries, some tart red plums, a little bit of phenolic spice, light blackcurrant tones, a bretty hint of leather and a touch of sous-bois.

    A lovely, fresh and precise Carignan with a good deal of ripe and vibrant fruit, yet not too much so that the wine remains dry and savory in taste. Overall the wine shows great balance between the fruit, the body, the structure, the alcohol and the fine, understated nuances of brett and VA that linger in the background, reminding that this is a natural wine, yet never coming too much to the fore. Drinking mighty well right now, but could actually improve from here. Perhaps my favorite of the Ugo Lestelle wines I've tasted thus far.
    (92 points)

  • 1985 Domaine Laleure-Piot Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc - France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Pernand-Vergelesses (8.2.2022)
    Tasted blind.

    Deep, noticeably evolved and moderately dark lemon-yellow color with an amber core. Very complex, tertiary nose with aromas of caramel and popcorn, some burnt sugar, a little bit of lemon marmalade, light creamy notes of browned butter and crema catalana, a hint of bruised apple, a touch of wizened apricots and a whiff of smoke. Tons of things happening here! The wine is evolved, somewhat tertiary and remarkably complex on the palate with a medium body and layered flavors of bruised apple, browned butter, some lemon curd, light creamy notes of crema catalana, a little bit of chalky minerality and a hint of dried peach. The mouthfeel is slightly concentrated by the age, coming across as subtly oily, yet there wine retains great freshness and sense of structure, thanks to the high acidity. The finish is rich and complex with persistent flavors of browned butter and roasted nuts, some cooked cream tones, a little bit of bruised apple, light notes of lemon curd and a hint of grilled pineapple.

    An outstanding old white Burgundy at its peak. Or, rather, at its plateau of maturity; the wine feels like it has been this tertiary for quite some while and most likely it will stay that way for some time more. Although the wine most likely won't benefit from any further aging - nor has it benefited for many long years - I'd say there's no hurries with this wine. Either you'll find a great bottle that is still in great shape, or the wine has been long gone. At this age, there are no great wines, only great bottles - and I'm happy we managed to get one.
    (94 points)

  • 2016 Château de l'Engarran Quetton Saint Georges - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Coteaux du Languedoc Saint-Georges-d'Orques (8.2.2022)
    A blend of Syrah (80%) and Grenache (20%). Aged for 12 months in oak (50% in new barriques), then for another 10 months in large tanks. 15% alcohol.

    Dense, only very slightly translucent blackish-red color. Very bold, juicy and expressive nose with fruit-forward aromas of ripe blackcurrants and even crème de cassis, some wizened black cherries, light inky tones, a little bit of almost overripe black plum, a hint of toasty oak and a touch of milk chocolate. The overall impression is very polished and modern. The wine feels rich, sweetly-fruited and mouth-filling on the palate with a very full body and lush flavors of ripe blackcurrants and black raspberries, some plummy dark fruit, a little bit of boysenberry marmalade, light woody notes of savory oak spice, a hint of vanilla and a toasty touch of cocoa. The acidity feels moderately high - even surprisingly high for such a big and ripe wine - whereas the ripe and supple medium-plus tannins contribute quite little to the structure in comparison. The high alcohol shows through a little bit. The finish is rich, juicy and gently grippy with long and powerful flavors of ripe blackcurrants and dark plums, some jammy blackberry tones, a little bit of sweet black licorice, light woody notes of savory oak spice, a toasty hint of mocha oak and a touch of vanilla. The high alcohol makes the wine end on a rather warm note.

    A big, powerful and quite extracted blockbuster red made in a very polished - even gloopy - style. Even though the wine is a traditional blend of Syrah and Grenache, this feels more like an overdone, modernist Napa Cab or Australian Shiraz-Cabernet than anything remotely French. Lots of sweet, cassis-driven fruit and sweet, obfuscating new oak character. There's no denying this wine makes quite an impact with the first sniff and sip, it starts to feel quite tiring rather fast. The overall impression is quite clumsy and it's hard to say whether the wine gain any finesse with further aging. I guess the wine is priced according to its quality at 23€ if you like monolithic wines like these, but I really can't see the attraction here.
    (84 points)

Posted from CellarTracker

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Thanks for the report - neither producer is very cult are they? Not here anyway.
I have only tried the Cerises once and didn’t really want to follow it up.

I don’t know exactly, because I’m not that deep into natural wine geek scene (for example I hadn’t heard of Bruyère-Houillon when I tasted one and was floored when I got to know how much the bottle normally costs). What I’ve heard is that they’ve got a strong following and many wines sell out very quickly. They’re not cult-y in the sense that they’ve become overpriced unobtainium, but they definitely seem to be something one really must keep an eye on if is looking to buy any bottles.

Although, I’m not sure why anyone would seek out those Temps des Cerises wines! :sweat_smile:

B-H, well they cost e60 in a wine bar I know… :wink:
Easy to find Cerises in France, but I haven’t really tried.

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Yeah, that’s what I said - they’ve not become overpriced. At least yet. I’ve understood that most of these wines were very reasonably priced (and the tasting didn’t cost much, so gathered as much).

However, I’ve understood that as the production is small, the allocations are small, too. I guess you know several places where one can buy them, if they’re that widely available, but I’ve seen them mainly in a few select internet shops and in most of them these wines disappear very fast.

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Very interesting read! I too, am intrigued by this category of wines that seem to be more than just an obscure movement. As with any producer, I hardly buy less than 12 or six bottles of any given wine. I have had noso2 wines from the same case that went down the drain on first approach, which I felt were virtually undrinkable, to turning around actually enjoying them during subsequent occasions. With a few exceptions, like well known Frank Cornalissen’s reds, I have, to date been exploring white offerings/cépages exclusively. I have enjoyed a bunch, that a well respected wine professional (not in the trade) has called virtually undrinkable and categorically outright nasty. I am not going out of my way to buy natural wines and I’d rather define them as Jamie Goode did, in his book “Authentic Wines”, nor am I going short on more conventional, traditional offerings but I find myself drawn to check them out as I go along. Now in my early 50ies, I like to wake up my jaded palate with unconventional wines every now and then. Furthermore, they tend to be inexpensive hence I don’t mind just to have a glas / bottle max. All being said, “disappointed naturally” is an interesting take on the subject but seems a tad superficial considering the size of this particular market. Thanks for the detailed notes.

I went down this path for few years. Natural wine is such a big thing in Copenhagen, so it was “natural” for me to do so.
The first time i was hit by all the funk, the brett, the VA, the light extracted wines i was mind blown.

But after i while all the really wild wines started to feel like the same wine, because the funk just takes over too much… and then there is the mouse in the room. **** i hate it. I poured so much wine down the drain. I got to a point where i could not accept it anymore. It is one strike and your out for me now for new winemakers i test.

Thing is many of the best wines I’ve had has been low-to-no added sulfites wines. So these days i buy more careful from winemakers with a good track record or i search for winemakers using low amounts to just secure and clean up the wines a bit.

It sounds like you’re following the same path I’ve been down to. :sweat_smile:

10-ish years ago I was much more into natural wines, although I never went into them so fully, but with much more enthusiasm than now. I remember how the first natural wines I tasted were so different, so refreshing and so characterful, having drunk mainly contemporary conventional wines up until then - apart from Musar and a few other more atypical ones (you have to remember that the availability of natural wines in Finland was close to zero back then and it still isn’t great, so in that time wine geeks have had to rely on internet shops and word-of-mouth). I’ve always had a great tolerance for brett (probably because I first got into craft beer including very funky lambics) and I’ve no problem with some VA, so I didn’t find them wines faulty, unlike many others with whom we tasted these wines (mainly people who had been drinking conventional wines for decades, not for years).

However, I think that back then the natural wine boom wasn’t going on a full throttle, compared to how they are now - there were fewer producers and I think the ones that were, were making less “natty” wines. In my view, after the natural wine boom of the 2010’s got into full blast, some natural wine makers have started to make funkier and more “natty” wines than what they used to - I’m looking at you, JF Ganevat, and your red wines. There are some exceptions, though, like Cornelissen, whose wines have evolved from volatile, spritzy and cloudy funk bombs of his early career into these surprisingly conventional, clean and vibrant wines that they are today. I’ve understood this is partly due to Frank’s evolution as a winemaker, partly due to his disillusionment with wild, completely hands-off wines (to my understanding he might even use some SO2 now!).

I guess I became somewhat disillusioned with the natural wines as well. After my initial falling in love with these wild and lifted wines, I soon started to realize that there are good natural wines and bad natural wines - and the latter portion has turned out to be actually quite big. I do love great, characterful and idiosyncratic wines, no matter how they are made (well, unless they are doctored industrial wines), be they conventional or fully natural. However, all too many of today’s natural wines are excessively volatile and that dreaded mousiness seems a problem more common than ever before. I guess this view has partly evolved along with the wines I’ve tasted - at first I found even the wines with quite noticeable VA to be lovely if the lifted and/or acetic qualities just worked nicely together with the fruit. However, today I view the characteristic quite similarly as how I view oak usage: a tiny bit can add nice depth and complexity, but any more than that and it starts to distract, obfuscate the finer nuances and turn the wine into an anonymous banality.

Unless the wine is mousy (a quality I immediately consider as a flaw), I really don’t think funky or lifted (ie. volatile) natural wines are inherently flawed, unless these “wild” qualities are just way too excessive (a view some don’t seem to share even here on this forum). The problem is that the more the funk goes up, the more the wines just taste exactly like each other. The more you drink these “natty” natural wines, the more you realize that they all taste the same. As an example, I had a Serbian red wine a little while ago; had I tasted it 10 years ago, I would’ve thought it was an eye-opening example of very light, crunchy and wonderfully sauvage red wine made in a country not known for their wines. However, now I thought it was yet another funky little bistro wine that might’ve had some lovely character if it weren’t suffering from a bit too high levels of acetic acid - the vinegary streak muddling all the interesting fruit flavors.

So all in all, your story sounds pretty similar to what I’ve been through. I, too, have had some of the best wines ever from the natural wine camp. However, I’ve burnt my fingers one time too many to buy them with abandon. For many years now, when I’m buying natural wines, my purchases as well have centered almost solely on naturalists with great track record or who employ a tiny bit of SO2 to keep the wine microbiologically stable. Only very occasionally I still buy a single random naturalist wine on a whim, but I must admit, too often I’m disappointed with what I get.

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And at least in the past I’ve been reading some of your comments of appraisal on wines I myself have thought they’re just way too natty and not particularly great in their genre. :sweat_smile:

(This coming from a natural wine geek!)

So here’s a somewhat philosophical question. What’s the point of these natural wines?

I have very limited experience with them, but it seems sans some exceptions, they look like they have been excreted and not fermented, they are unclean and overly funky, and finding one you can actually enjoy is a huge task. Most of the time they are served by waiters with questionable taste in facial hair, at restaurants where being hip and trendy is more important than being good.

Reminds me of eating at what was considered the best restaurant in Finland some years ago. The sommelier told us that their theme is wines made by women. One of the wine pairings was completely absurd (think sweet white wine with dark meat), and the sommelier said they couldn’t fine a suitable wine that was made by a woman.

To me, it sounds like a classic case of “even if you can, doesn’t mean you should”.
I’d love to know what motivation there is to tackle this minefield, where you’ll end up pouring tons of wine down the drain to find one wine that is acceptable.

Is it really worth it?

You need to seek out a bottle of Domaine des Miroirs or Ganevat’s Les Vignes de Mon Père and then tell me. :smiley:

If one dives head-first into natural wines, it’s - as you say - a minefield. But you need to remember what me and Lasse said above; some of the best wines we’ve tasted are natural wines.

I guess you could replace “natural wines” with “Burgundy” and the point would still be valid. So, what’s the point of these Burgundy wines? :stuck_out_tongue:

Mikko I really enjoy your posts here but this one strays pretty closely into ‘man yells at cloud territory’.

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First of all great post above Otto. For me mousiness is also clearly a fault. Brett and VA is certainly also a balancing question for me. I rather enjoy them when in balance.

And yes my taste spans pretty wide. From what others will find overly funky to what some on these boards would find too ripe :grin:. But what i truly love and buy for my collection has narrowed down a lot now and many of the producers is certainly still in the low sulfites category. But most of them also makes rather clean wines.

Sounds pretty much like the common path all natural wine geeks go. :grinning:

(Well, except for some sommeliers who work in restaurants that stock only natural extremists.)

When I wrote that post I thought of that exact same picture as a matter of fact, it did sound a bit like “get off my lawn” post.
That’s why I said it’s a bit of a philosophical question - Is it worth pouring down the drain cases of wine to find one where everything is in perfect balance, knowing the peak drinking window might be measured in weeks (given how natural wines are not really shelf stable).

Uh this is a big question… there a many sides to this. I would think that for most winemakers who subscribe to the idea of “natural wine”, the idea is not only centered around how a wine taste, but also how you treat the environment you farm. That you try and create a product without filling it with additives and so on.

To me that is an admirable approach.

You obviously have very little experience with natural wines.

Apparently very many people think that natural wines should be drunk within weeks or months, whereas in realty they can keep just fine for years, even decades. The problem is that these wines just need to be kept in temperatures cool enough, constantly.

I guess most people think natural wines must be drunk instantly before they fall apart when their experiences are based on wines bought from stores in which the wines have been sitting at a room temperature for a few months.

Otto, thanks for the nuanced, reasoned post. There is a ‘both sides’ to this and you cover them quite well.

I’ve been dipping my toe into the natural wine world over the last year. With a few exceptions, I’ve avoided the minefield, in no small part because I’ve done so by working with retailers and restaurants that I trust. It helps that I am in a vibrant metropolitan area where the scene has been established for years.

In that short time, I’ll say that all the things that Otto, Lasse, Mikko etc pointed out as shortcomings drive me crazy too. There is a sameness to the funk, mousiness, VA etc that gets really old.

I think of conventional vs natural wines as being similar to corn-fed vs grass-fed beef. If someone who grew up on corn-fed has a bad grass-fed steak, they won’t go back. But just as you can’t rock up and turn out good natural (or conventional) wine, you can’t do the same with grass-fed beef either. It takes understanding how the animal is raised and it’s impact on the final flavour. Many ranchers don’t (or didn’t initially) understand that. As a result they turned a lot of people off of the entire category, and that’s a shame. (BTW I’m intentionally avoiding the debate about the ethics of corn vs grass fed, and please do not confuse the comparison as an ethical judgement on conventional wine).

My wife and I had a similar experience with natural wines back in 2020. She’d been drinking (and enjoying!) natural wines, albeit sporadically, for a year or so. But it had always been via restaurants/wine bars in London that I had tested out before and trusted to weed through the natty stuff - and they had. I hadn’t bothered to tell her they were natural either. It wasn’t to be deceptive - I just wanted to avoid a label.

We rocked up to what looked like a quaint wine bar one day (no point in naming, and it’s not in London), and didn’t know it was exclusively ‘natural’. Every.damn.wine we tried was mousy/funky/reductive. And it turned her off the entire category for two years.

It was only this year, when we spent time with some trusted friends in the Languedoc, touring natural wine producers. She was blown away by what it could be. It was the best of what Otto and Lasse referred to above - everything we had was bright, fresh, vibrant, and full of life. None of the negative qualities mentioned in this thread.

It’s absolutely out there. And yeah, it can be huge work to sift through it on your own. Again we’ve been lucky between friends ITB and a great lineup of restaurants, bars and retailers here in London, that we have had to do minimal sifting. But I can understand why someone would be turned off by the hunt, and by the low hit rate that can result.

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And here is a quick follow-up. What is the definition of natural wine? Is natural the same as “minimal intervention”? I might just have tried natural wines that were too far in the extreme end of the spectrum.

And for the record, I think the total number of natural wines that I’ve bought and have been faulty enough to be undrinkable and worthy of the drain treatment is probably five bottles or less. I’ve had much worse luck with poorly made or faulty craft beers.

I’ve had tons and tons natural wines, but while some have been disappointing and not of particularly great quality, I’ve still managed to avoid the truly horrible ones. I’d say 99% of the truly horrible natural wines I’ve tasted have been in tastings, bars and restaurants.

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