Never one to sit on its laurels, Louis Latour Agencies has been busy adding new wineries to its 15-agency strong portfolio that includes many new vintages, cuvées and, in one case, winemaker. Particularly interesting was how Maison Louis Latour under the direction of Louis-Fabrice Latour is increasing its spread of Pinot Noir outside of core Burgundy territory – in Beaujolais, Coteaux de l’Auxois and Provence – and how these wines are getting better vintage by vintage. There were on-trade exclusives here as well as a brand new ‘natural’ Beaujolais from Henry Fessy.
Two new New Zealand estates to Louis Latour Agencies are both run by Steve Smith MW and Brian Sheth – Pyramid Valley in North Canterbury and Smith & Sheth in Hawke’s Bay.
Apart from the latest vintages, annual portfolio tastings are the place for catching up with new agencies, new winemakers and tasting new cuvées.
The Annual Wine & Cognac Tasting hosted by Louis Latour Agencies at London’s OXO2 on January 30thhad plenty of all three across its 14 brands, 15 if you count Louis Latour itself, which had a 2018 preview along with wines from back vintages.
With Jean-Philippe Archambaud having moved to Château de Santenay after some 15 years as head winemaker at Simonnet-Febvre in Chablis, the tasting was a good opportunity to catch up with the new winemaker at Simonnet-Febvre, Paul Espitalié who was showing the excellent new 2018 vintage that, with 60 hectolitres per hectare, also has volume.
Apart from the change at the top here most of the changes have taken place with the winery’s continued interests in the Coteaux de l’Auxois. This once prolific region that never recovered from phyloxerra is increasingly being invested in with another hectare of Pinot Noir being planted this year – the region is very interesting – it as the slopes, the soils and the wines are getting better each year.
The Pinot Noir Des Lyres 2018 (£10.48) is good quality, quaffable Pinot that like Latour’s Les Pierres Dorées (£13.35) is part of the company’s strategy of increasing its Pinot plantings outside the core Burgundy region, and is showing marked improvements vintage by vintage. The vines are traditional, lyre-pruned, hence the name of this and the other new single vineyard wine Chardonnay Des Lyres 2018 (£10.48) which comes from older (37 year old) vines.
The entry level Coteaux de l’Auxois wines are no longer blended, now simply being single cepages of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Auxerrois (£9.21-£9.48) and have been given a facelift too. They ‘stack up’ tasting-wise and are excellent value for money, especially perhaps the Pinot Gris.
Espitalié confirmed that these most Northerly of Burgundy Pinot vines are improving every year as temperatures rise with the fruit being riper and with the wine having smoother tannins.
Simonnet-Febvre is mainly about Chablis, of course, with a new good quality cuvée out on the market called Chablis D1840, 2018 (£15.81) corresponding to the age of the vineyard, that is domaine-owned and sits close to the 1er cru Montee de Tonnerre; four of the estate’s other cuvées are now certified organic.
Henry Fessy, Louis Latour’s estate in Beaujolais, was largely showing the 2018 vintage which is a return to the lighter, slightly more crisp style of Bojo after the rich and slightly more powerful 2015, 2017 and, soon to come 2019 vintages. Reminders again of just how delicious Beaujolais Blanc 2018 (£9.31) can be and then tastes of the usual suspects – all the Beaujolais crus apart from Chiroubles.
There was one new wine simply called Beaujolais 2018 (£9.99) which was terrific, a non-intervention, cloudy red which was really wild and made for early drinking (no added sulphur, yeasts and no filtration). Winemaker Laurent Chevalier explained that he concentrated on Beaujolais Nouveau stylistically which he sold 1000 as such with another 1000 bottles kept as a ‘natural’ Beaujolais. More experiments please Laurent! This is a terrific stuff and is an interesting direction for this always-reliable domaine.
Maison Louis Latour itself was showing off the new 2018 wines as well as previous vintages such as the stunning Pommard Premier Cru Epenots 2017 (£56.11). Les Pierres Dorées was showing well as were the two Pinots from Var, down in Provence. Pinot Noir Domaine de Valmoissine 2016 (£9.38) is quite unique with its spicy, garriguey notes and, whereas this wine is freely available from Majestic the good news is that the new cuvée Pinot Noir Bellevue, Domaine de Valmoissine, 2017 (£12.52) is not.
This is the third vintage of a wine that has been hand-picked, had more selection and whole bunch, but it is the first series release and new in the UK. Again, it is gorgeously spicy and has a rustic, gastronomic grip. Well worth checking out.
Castello Banfi’s range is always worth getting stuck into – I still think the San Angelo 2018 (£11.70) is one of the best Italian whites around in its price point.
La Rime Grigio 2018 (£8.56) is a new wine, a younger, less complex brother to San Angelo, while the Cum Laude 2015 (£17.57) is the younger, earlier-drinking brother of Summus 2015 (£29.18) with the same grapes in the blend: Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), Sangiovese (40%), Merlot (20%) and Syrah (10%) – Tuscan with a modern edge. It was delicious, with rounded-tannins great balance and lots of potential in the on-trade.
Banfi also has a new Chianti Classico Riserva 2016 (£15.80) and it was good to re-acquaint myself with how good the Cost’e Rosé 2018 (£11.56) is and also the La Lus 2016 (£13.68) which is the rare grape Albarossa of which there are only 10 hectares in the world. Widely believed to be a crossing between Nebbiolo and Barbera, Albarossa is a grape variety created in the 1930s by crossing obscure French variety Chatus with Barbera – there was a mix-up in the lab! It is fresh, fruity, and has a velvety palate – despite a high level of (sweet) tannins. There are notes of plum jam, black cherries, liquorice and a hit of vanilla cream. Amazing for a trade price of £13.68.
Viu Manent is an 85 year-old winery in Colchagua Valley, Chile, but I like the way they are trying new ideas. Its El Incidente 2016 (£28.93) is an always hugely impressive take on Carmenere; from 20-30 year old vines its chalky tannins comes from the volcanic ash sub-soil the vines are planted in. Two new wines from Viu Mament were also worth checking out – El Olivar Single Vineyard Syrah (2017) which spends 18 months in 500l foudres, second use oak and 20% eggs. It’s a medium bodied wine with juicy fruit, spice, and a savoury element that turns leathery after 3-4 years. I also liked the Viu Infinto 2016 (£28.93) that is a Cab Sauv. Cab Franc and Malbec blend; the coldness of the vintage combining with the age of the vines (80 years old), gives the wine a natural intensity, young ripe tannins and a welcome freshness.
No new wines but plenty of new vintages were on show at the tables of Clare Valley’s Wakefield Wines and the two South African wineries in the portfolio: Isonto and Morgenhof Estate, Simonsberg-Stellenbosch whose Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (£11.03) was ripe but with a nice lean streak that kept it well balanced.
McHenry Hohnen in Margaret River had two new wines on show: Burnside Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (£11.47) which was Old World-style SB, wood-fermented, fruity, fresh and obviously with that point of difference… Savvy Blanc from the ‘North Island’! Hazel’s Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 (£17.81) for me was the star of this table and it now has a partner in the new wine Hazel’s Single Vineyard Syrah (£15.39) which was tutti-frutti red and, interestingly Syrah not Shiraz.
Two new New Zealand estates to Louis Latour Agencies are Pyramid Valley in North Canterbury and Smith & Sheth in Hawke’s Bay, whose wines are modern-day negociant and largely come under the Cru label. Pyramid Valley was purchased three years ago by Steve Smith and Brian Sheth, the latter, as the name suggests, was co-founded by Smith and Seth. Biodynamic producer, Pyramid was showing a Sauvignon Blanc, Noth Canterbury Chardonnay 2018, and two Pinots, one from North Canterbury 2018 and the other from Central Otago 2017 (£17.12-£20.44). Smith & Sheth had an entry level, negoce SB 2019 (£10) then Cru Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (£12.23) which was a real step-up, a citrusy Cru Heretaunga Chardonnay 2018 (£18.90), a Cru Syrah 2017 (£20.01) and a Tempranillo, Cab Franc, Cab Sauv blend called Cru Omahu Cantera 2017 (£29.74).
There were new vintages on the tables of the other producers: the excellent Pouilly-sur-Loire producer Dom. Michel Redde whose Barre à Mine 2018 (£32.25) is spectacular; the Rhône’s Vidal-Fleury with its lighter style Condrieu 2017 (£32.14) and cheap-as-chips Ventoux 2017 (£8.67) which shows once again how this region delivers time and time again. At Champagne Gosset good to try all its wines but particularly the Extra Brut NV (£29.18) which is an on-trade exclusive launched two years ago which has the house’s lean, mineral, gastronomic character with precise, crisp redcurrant and red fruit notes. And what LLA tasting would be complete without a final visit to the Cognac Frapin table whose splendid Millésime 1990 27 year old (£111.98) won the Cognac Masters 2019 Cognac of the Year – and quite right so.
All prices are trade list prices.