Louis-Fabrice Latour, the 11th generation of the family to head the company, describes 2018 as a year that will face tough obstacles, but one that he is increasingly optimistic about. Tasting our way around the Louis Latour Agencies portfolio he has good reason to be optimistic. The 14 wineries that make up the group not only have some awesome wines and spirits available this year, but they also have a genuine sense of camaraderie and a set of common beliefs – and are all family-owned and family-run estates just like Latour.
The winemakers have always taken centre stage at the Louis Latour Agencies portfolio tastings and never more so than in 2018 where a central wine trail picked out their favourite wines and most unusual bottles.
In recent weeks The Buyer’s tasting team has prefaced its tasting reports with the strategy employed to tackle enormous tastings that no man nor beast could possibly complete in their entirety.
Chris Wilson tackled Australia Day Tasting with a scattergun approach, Justin Keay decided to focus in on a couple of key territories that Liberty Wines is strong in, Roger Jones focused on the new wave Spanish wines in Hallgarten’s portfolio.
It was pleasing then to arrive at the annual portfolio tasting of Louis Latour Agencies to see a trail already mapped out; each winemaker from the 14 family-run estates that it imports and distributes into the UK had been asked to select their favourite wine. In addition, each winemaker was allowed to submit something unusual or distinctive labelled as Not Your Average Bottle – mostly in magnum.
It was a neat way of helping sommeliers and those running against the clock to do a whistle-stop of the Louis Latour Agencies portfolio, but it also allowed the winemakers themselves to take centre stage and focus on what they believe makes them unique – a philosophy that has always run through Latour.
Louis Latour has had a change at the top of their winemaking team with technical director Boris Champy moving to the LVMH-owned Domaine des Lambrays last year leaving Jean Charles Thomas as head winemaker and Christophe Deola promoted to domaine director.
I thought the 2016 new releases were showing very well at the tasting with the whites as good as any I have tasted in this weather-hit vintage. The Beaune Blanc was crisp with lively acidity, very nice for an entry level white, although my favourites were the Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Referts 2016 that was precise with delicious fruit and great balance.
As a red I really enjoyed the grainy, juicy Château Corton Grancey Grand Cru 2016.
Back vintages available represented every vintage from 2010-2016 except 2013 and it was here that the first of the two special bottles could be found, Marsannay 2015 that was picked by owner Louis-Fabrice Latour for both sentimental reasons (it was one of the first projects he worked on with his father) but also the quality of the Pinot in 2015.
At £16.88, pound for pound, it would be hard to find better value in Burgundy right now.
The bottle quite rightly boasting the Not Your Average Bottle label was a Magnum of Corton Charlemagne 2012 that was as blissful as a cream tea – deep, creamy, rich, fresh and heady – I could have drank this all afternoon.
Quentin Sadler, the wine communicator on this table nicely described it as an armchair upholstered with velvet.
Simonnet-Febvre in Chablis has had a torrid time of late. Terrible weather has limited it to only showing two of its 2016 wines. Luckily there are 2014s and 2015s left in stock with winemaker Jean-Philippe Archambaud thankful that in the bountiful 2015 vintage he also bought in grapes so that his delicious Petit Chablis 2015 is still available as is his outstanding Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2015.
The Winemaker’s Favourite bottle was Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu 2015, which he chose because “It is complex, mineral, a bit tropical, multi-layered, it has everything.” This is a site that has high elevation and is at its best in a solar vintage like 2015 where the ripeness can be just right but still fresh.
Because of the vintage, Archambaud decided to omit the customary César (which he made a 100% cuvee out of) and produce a 100% Pinot Noir instead – free run juice with no pressing.
This decision plus the warmth of the vintage means this is a soft, elegant Irancy that would make a perfect by-the-glass wine. £30.70 for a magnum.
Henry Fessy in Beaujolais was showing the new 2016 vintage that is a classic style closer to 2014 than the warm, rich, powerful style of 2015 (that 2017 is close to incidentally). Winemaker Laurent Chevalier showed his Beaujolais-Villages 2016 (light, crispy, nice depth) and the more complex Château des Reyssiers Régnié 2016 (violets, forward tannins) from this vintage.
His Winemaker’s Favourite was the Château des Labourons 2015 that he uses 10% of oak-aged Gamay in the blend, the result is a much richer and brooding wine with notes of leather, spice and liquorice. The Not Your Average Bottle was the more classic Brouilly 2015 in magnum which at £21.16 you can file under ‘a steal’. It is the wine that Fessy is most known for (even though they have all the Beaujolais crus) and this, along with the Fleurie 2015, was ripe, delicious and unbelievable value.
Louis Latour Agencies is represented in the Rhône by the traditional estate Vidal-Fleury whose winemaker Guy Sarton du Jonchay has been improving the range over the past few years. 2015 was spectacular in the Southern Rhône and 2016 was similarly so in the Northern Rhône so it was a ‘tale of two vintages’ that dominated the wine trail.
First, a Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2015 that was fresh and balanced but obviously very young. Guy says ”This was so easy to vinify in 2015. All parameters were at the top: maturity, no stress related to the weather or rot, many beautiful materials to extract grapes (tannin, acidity and aromas) and no difficulty in the ageing.”
The Magnum at Vidal-Fleury was Vacqueyras 2016 as Guy explains: “As the winemaker, I had nothing to do except to have the patience and wisdom to let nature make wine.” The nose was alluring, it was rich on the palate with terrific acidity. £14.77 in 75cl.
Domaine Michel Redde, like all of the Louis Latour Agencies stable is a family-run wine estate – this time in Pouilly-sur-Loire. Thierry Redde and his two sons, Romain and Sébastien, make great virtue out of the differences in soil type in their premium range of Sauvignon Blanc and accentuate this by following a non-interventionist philosophy.
I enjoyed all of their wines and would have had trouble picking a favourite as each cuvée was special in its own right.
The nose was bright, pretty and on the mouth complex, grassy, honeyed with a lovely tension in the wine. There was no Magnum on this table rather a Jeroboam of Pouilly-Fumé Barre à Mine 2016 which is an intense, vibrant wine that comes from a disused flint mine which was dynamited with then new vines eased in with a crowbar.
Louis Latour Agencies has two South Africa wineries in its stable, Isonto where it makes entry level red and whites and Morgenhof Estate which is based on the slopes of the Simonsberg moutains outside Stellenbosch.
The Winemaker’s Favourite was the dry-farmed low intervention Chenin Blanc 2017 that was picked by Andries De Klerk as much for its drinkability as it was for the complexity that the 49 year old vines bring to this very approachable and good value Chenin (£10.07).
The first (in order at the tasting)of the two Australian wineries that Louis Latour Agencies distributes in the UK is McHenry Hohnen whose single vineyard Chardonnays were all showing very well.
In 2014 Rocky Road Single Vineyard Chardonnay had a name-change to Hazel’s and picked up 95 points from James Halliday, no mean feat for a wine with a price tag of £15.41. This vineyard produces wines with great definition and a nice lick of oak (9-12 months in 2nd hand French oak from Latour) that can age well in the mid-term as winemaker Julian Grounds showed by picking the 2013 as his Winemaker’s Favourite. The Burnside Chardonnay 2016 that they also singled out is a library wine and a treat for those at the tasting.
Wakefield Wines (called Taylors in Australia) is a giant in Clare Valley, producing some of the country’s best Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Its St Andrews Riesling 2015 is also very special – petrol nose, and then disarmingly dry with terrific texture.
Winemaker Adam Eggins singled out the Jaraman Shiraz 2015 as his Favourite bottle, a wine that our very own Roger Jones gave 95 points to last June in a Decanter round-up. Very fruity, complex, nice tight finish – this wine is such good value (£12.27) which is one reason Eggins picked it: “What makes me proud about it is that it is a wine of reasonable volume, but it has also been applauded globally, for its sheer, unquestionable quality.”
Owner Mitchell Taylor also picked a Favourite, The Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 that has a good degree of evolution – a nose of rich blackcurrant, spice, cinnamon and big ripe, evolved flavours balanced by great acidity and freshness.
“What makes this 2010 so special,” Taylor says, “is that the UK is the only market to have access to this ‘cellar release’ providing our most important fine wine market with a wine of substantial bottle age but still with the capability to last for at least another two decades.”
83 years old and named Winery of the Year last year by Wines of Chile, Viu Manent in the Colchagua Valley has a large range of celebrated wines including a terrific Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2015, some interesting blends and single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbecs, much loved by Robert Parker.
Patricio Celedon had picked his Winemaker’s Favourite bottle as the ViBo Punta del Viento 2014 which is meant to challenge preconceptions about what you can achieve in Colchagua. “The aromatic intensity and freshness of Grenache, with the central structure of Mourvèdre blends perfectly with the minerality of Syrah. This 2014 vintage was special, because we had lower yields naturally and unusually cool nights that helped to keep the acidity levels high,” says Celedon.
The Single Vineyard San Carlos Malbec 2014 was picked as Not Your Average Bottle which is a terrific, deep and brooding wine made from 100 year-old vines. There is limited availability so you had better be quick.
I am a big fan of the wines from Seresin Estate in Marlborough and recently tasted through the range at Flavours of New Zealand.
These wines really show off their handmade nature – the flavours are crystal pure and the crunch in the Pinot Noirs is pure joy.
Owner Michael Seresin picked out a library wine as his favourite, the Rachel Pinot Noir 2012 which was lovely and ripe, with delicious flavours and great texture. “The perfect balance of age and depth,” says Seresin. Quite.
Also on the table as the ‘special’ bottle was the Tatai Pinot Noir 2015 which was a special blending of the single estate vineyards and Sun and Moon Pinot that was a one-off blending to celebrate the winery’s 25th anniversary in June last year.
There was a bit more flesh on the bones here but the balance and complexity were a pure delight. The wine was only produced in magnum and has a trade price of £117.10.
Champagne Gosset is the oldest wine house in Champagne and I have always been a big fan of their terroir-driven wines. The range was impressive with each cuvée special in its own right, the Grand Millésime 2006 showing particularly well on the day as was the Celebris 2004.
Like Domaine Michel Redde, Gosset’s winemaker Odilon de Varine had picked the signature of the House, the Grande Réserve NV magnum, as its non-average bottle. Its style rests on Pinot Noir from Aÿ that gives structure to the wine with malolactic fermentation avoided to preserve the freshness and character that comes from the region’s chalk-based soils. This had a lovely nutty marzipan nose and was good value at £74.15 a magnum.
The Winemaker’s Favourite was the Grand Blanc de Blancs NV, the House’s first blend based on the 2005 vintage with the idea to balance Côte des Blancs crus with various Premier Crus. The wine was crispy and clean and quite delicious.
Rich, complex and smooth Cognac was the order of the day at the Cognac Frapin table, a unique house that has been in business since 1270. There was an obvious reason why this was the last table in the tasting and there were quite a few enjoying the spirits to their full potential before wending their weary way home.
Patrice Piveteau had picked the Millésime 1991 20 year old as his favourite bottle for its linearity and precision. Flamboyant in character it is a tribute to Cognacs of yesteryear with rich floral and vanilla aromas.
None of the bottles were average, but the one singled out for special attention was the Frapin Château Fontpinot XO which is £52.16 the half bottle and was so ridiculously smooth with a massive finish – which is exactly why it was the last liquid at the tasting.
This was a terrific event, housed at OXO 2 for the first time after a number of years at Hospital Club, Covent Garden. Having wine educators behind some of the tables was a great choice as was, dare I say?, having a proper coffee machine with really decent coffee and light healthy snacks. Yes, we are there to taste wine but we are only human after all!