Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Léon Barral Tradition 2007, naturally

Léon Barral is a Faugères name I've known for years but a wine I don't recall ever trying. If I had, it would have been more than a decade ago and obviously failed to leave an impression. Either way, I had a glass at a gathering of wine lovers at La Fromagerie South Kensington where the month's theme was, topically, natural wines (my observations on this subject are here). We each brought a bottle or two and of the 17 wines the red Léon Barral Tradition 2007 was my wine of the evening. Beautifully balanced with ripe damson acidity and fruit along with heathers and bonfire - straightforward yet not simple and seemingly at its peak.

It wasn't the most complex and layered red - that accolade goes to the warmer and weightier 2005 Domaine Viret Maréotis (Côtes du Rhône) I brought along having tasted it back in December (that post is here). A favourite of many of the imbibers, but the elegance of the Faugères won me over. Not surprisingly, the Faugères wasn't as cool, fresh and mineral as the 2008 Foillard Morgon Cotes du Py, a wine with a bit of a reputation as a hero of Beaujolais and natural wines - a reputation it lived up to.

Disappointing was 2007 Le Temps des Cerises Les Lendemains qui Chantent from just north of Bédarieux in the cool upper Orb valley. I had a bottle (earlier vintage) at Octopus in Beziers 5 years ago where I perceived it as a fun wine for warm weather. The sommelier decanted it and proceeded to shake the decanter violently - one reason why the memory stuck. It certainly divided opinions on our table of two. This bottle had nice tannins and some classy smoke, along with scrumpy cider yeasts and pear skin odours. Then after a while it was distinctly apply. Perhaps this is what observers coin as the wild end of the natural wine spectrum. There was a suggestion it hadn't travelled well - stability with such wines is an issue. Price is another, apparently 16€ at the cellar door and a disproportionate increase on the 22€ restaurant price in 2006.

This wasn't a France only tasting and I placed 2009 Cos Pithos Rosso (Sicily) up there with the Léon Barral Faugères, Viret Rhone and Foillard Morgon.

There's a lot to conclude. The wines certainly made for a convivial evening, for many this was a first look at the "style" beyond the odd bottle. There were two orange wines, "red" wine made from white grapes, that were nothing if not complex. The two whites were at the conventional end of the natural wine spectrum. Alas three were corked - maybe not statistically significant but worrying. Two or three had faults by most yardsticks; nail varnish and scrumpy cider character with the latter working very nicely on a pétillant Gaillac but not the reds please.

The wines continually evolved all evening and with hindsight decanting in advance would have helped. None of the wines were remotely reductive nor notably oaked. No headaches were reported the next day. None seemed to be a bargain, although at some 12€ on it's home patch I'll be seeking out the Léon Barral. Natural wines are a bit of a punt when it comes to bottle variation and deterioration. I suspect the skill of the grower/winemaker is magnified dramatically, something that was big back in the early 1980s before the pendulum swung the way of technological manipulation.

We finished with a 2007 Domaine Ribiera late harvest Grenache from just off the Herault valley north of Pezenas. The evening was well beyond note taking by then. All I can say is that the style is young vintage Maury, quite cherry with nice pure fruits and tannins.

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