We had never been to this well-established fixture in the French wine calendar before (this was the 38th 'edition'). Actually we had never been to any French wine fair. As we found elsewhere (VinItaly, Vinnatur, RAW, LIWF, Oenorama etc.) each wine fair has its own character.
This one was rather like the largest Cash and Carry you could ever imagine. People were shopping for wine as if at the Christmas sales and quite a few wines were sold out by our visit on the afternoon of the 5th and final day.
It is not news that France has a wonderfully diverse wine scene. Some even say "Wine is by definition French" although we at Slotovino would dispute that vigorously. Faced with hundreds of producers seemingly from every apellation we narrowed our stops down to those who might deal in the lesser known grape varieties.
|M. Tissot himself|
Here we met M. Tissot - an iconic producer from the Jura and stopped by a producer of Tursan whose cuvee including the rarity Baroque was quite heavenly.
|Chateau de Perchade, Tursan|
|Chateau de Perchade's lovely Cuvee including the Baroque grape variety.|
Did you know that Baroque was saved from extinction by none other than the chef Michel Guerard, owner of 'Les Pres d'Eugenie'?
On these criteria it was going to take us another 5 days to get through the more than 1,000 desks arranged it seemed randomly in 11 long rows.
|just one of eleven aisles|
What became evident was that practically everyone among the producers in Alsace makes Pinot Noir in addition to Riesling, Pinots Blanc and Gris (still known as 'Tocai' here and there), Muscat, Gewurztraminer etc. not to mention Cremants (usually Pinot Blanc) and even Eau de Vie. Their Pinot Noirs sometimes looked like an afterthought with a few producers having to search around for a bottle when requested.
In fact we can read in the 3rd edition (2006) of Jancis Robinson's 'Oxford Companion to Wine' that plantings of Pinot Noir were on the increase at 9% of the total vineyard at that time. It was noted then that "Alsace Pinot Noir was always light, fresh quaffing wine, with raspberry fruit flavours, but increasingly it has suffered an identity crisis with many growers experimenting with oak ageing. Good oak matured wines are increasingly the result of warmer vintages."
|Bernard Humbrecht's two Alsace Pinot Noirs. The lighter version is in the transparent bottle of course.|
We soon noticed that many make Pinot Noir in two versions, often named on the one hand 'Tradition' and on the other, 'Reserve' or 'Cuvee'. 'Tradition' is the lighter wine made without wood. 'Reserve' might be a tad higher in alcohol and sometimes from 'Vieilles Vignes' or a lieue dit. Other monikers for the oaked, heavier style might include 'Hommage a Gerard', 'Cuvee Prestige', Futs de Chene' and even 'Ancestrale' although we would have thought 'Tradition' was more Ancestrale. These more substantial wines seem to want to be compared to Bourgogne or Spaetburgunder from across the border in the Ahr valley.
Still on the light side (although we did come across a few 14% and even a 14.5% example, these wines seem to us to lose their identity and could have come from many places outside Alsace whereas the 'Tradition' wines by and large are something unique.
We tasted 34 Alsace Pinot Noirs, a footling number if you are a professional wine writer but quite enough for us. Towards the end we had to narrow our choice to wines under 13% just to get out of the fair in good time.
|Charming Oriel people|
For our taste the biological wines at 12% or 12.5% were our favourites. They seemed to preserve the character which we like best.
Of these we chose a bottle from 'Domaine de l'Oriel'. The people were as charming as any of the producers we met (and they were all charming to a degree). The wine was bio, the alcohol was 12.5% and we loved the wine for its individual personality within the recognizable 'Tradition' tradition. We could have chosen several other bottles just as easily but there could be only one given transport constraints.
A great fair. Vaut bien le voyage.