Wine Gang on Vine Trail annual London tasting

Extracts from THE WINE GANG following our recent annual London tasting at which David Williams and Joanna Simon attended.

“Vine Trail tasting is always a pleasure, the range of this importer, restaurant supplier, and retailer being a carefully chosen pick of some of the most exciting small producers in France.” The focus at this tasting was on “low-alcohol reds and idiosyncratic whites of the Jura, but there was plenty more to inspire and intrigue.”

Dry Whites

Domaine Macle Château Chalon 2005
Château Chalon (Jura), France, Dry White (Cork), 14.5% abv
Rated 94

You have to love Vine Trail's indication of the drinking window for this superb example of vin jaune: "now until 2100" they say on the website. And you have to say they're probably right, given our (and their) experience of older vins jaunes which have an extraordinary capacity to age. Indeed, at the tasting, we were also told that we shouldn't really be drinking this for a good few years yet, but the flavours, while tightly wound, are still hugely impressive already: there such intensity of nuts, salt, Marmitey umami, just a hint of curry leaf, but also some yellow plum and an electrifying nervy tension between that flavour assault, the full-body and the acidity. It leaves an impression that lingers on the palate and stays in the glass long after it's been emptied and rinsed. (The price is for 62cl, the traditional bottle size for vin jaune.)

François Merlin Condrieu Les Terroirs 2012
Condrieu (Rhône), France, Dry White (Cork), 13.0% abv
Rated 92

Exquisite Viognier that balances the variety's trademark luscious apricot fruit with a charming floral lilt. The texture, too, is nicely pitched between opulence and gentle acidity. Utterly charming.

Les Granges Pâquenesses La Pierre 2011
Côtes du Jura (Jura), France, Dry White (Cork), 12.5% abv
Rated 91

So good to see the intriguingly different wines of the Jura getting their due in the trendier parts of the wine market at the moment. Made from Savagnin, this is an example of the fresher ouillé style, which means it is aged in barrels that are kept topped up, and that it therefore doesn't have the oxidative, sherry-like notes of the traditional Jura whites. What you get instead is a fabulously complex, rich, but tensile mouthful of spiced and salted apple and grapefruit, blistering acidity, even a touch of herb.

La Grange de 4 Sous Jeu du Mail 2011
IGP Pays d'Oc (Languedoc), France, Dry White (Cork), 14.0% abv
Rated 91

From Hildegard Horat-Diop’s 8-ha domaine in the hills above Assignan, this blend of Viognier and Marsanne has a lovely resinous and subtle herbal (fennel seed) twist to its peachy stone-fruit and floral flavours, it feels generous, warm and embracing but not at all excessive, with just a little grip and super length.

Domaine Garnier Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir 2011
Chablis (Burgundy), France, Dry White (Cork), 13.0% abv
Rated 94

Chablis at its finest – substantial but elegant, intense and long, with nutty, spicy, wheatmeal flavours, hints of honey, white pepper, and salt, and a mouthwatering, stony fresh finish. Drink any time this decade.

Dry Reds

Domaine de la Biscarelle Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2011
Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône), France, Dry Red (Cork), 14.5% abv
Rated 93

An exceptionalChâteauneuf with a seam of pretty, unforced, fresh-off-the-bush brambly fruit and woody herbs to go with its creamy texture, sweet spice and meaty depths. There's lots of substance here - tannin, chew, body, alcohol - but it's not at all heady or overbearing, and it's crying out for rosemary-roasted lamb.

Château des Graviers Margaux 2009
Margaux (Bordeaux), France, Dry Red (Cork), 13.5% abv
Rated 92

An old-style Bordeaux blend, in the sense that it includes a little Carmenère and Malbec alongside the 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and the dollop of Petit Verdot. The wine itself is also classic Margaux, pretty and perfumed on the nose, silky fine tannins and plush, pure black and red fruit through the long, fine finish.

Domaine de Cébène Faugères Belle Lurette 2011
Faugères (Languedoc), France, Dry Red (Cork), 14.0% abv
Rated 92

Around 70% Carignan from very old vines (70-to-10 years old) is blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre for this intense but enchanting red, the liquorice-edged fruit beautifully rendered over ample, chewy tannin, but there's energy and freshness here too.

Domaine de Cébène Cuvée Ex-Arena 2011
IGP Pays d'Oc (Languedoc), France, Dry Red (Cork), 14.0% abv
Rated 91

Grenache from a sandy terroir (hence the name 'Ex-Arena' - from the sand) plus a little Mourvèdre, and made with great sensitivity by Brigitte Chevalier: there's real purity of wild herb-inflected cherry, and brambly fruit, a seasoning of white pepper, great freshness and a framework of firm but not in any way aggressive tannin.