A tasting of Tour de Belfort's latest vintage with winemaker and winery owner Eugene Lismonde at the IPA
I first tried Eugene Lismonde's Tour de Belfort wines a few years ago when I met with daughter Muriel at her home in Cheshire.
As unofficial "Wine Director" at work, I invited Eugene into our offices for an informal tasting of his current vintages.
On this occasion, I was particularly struck by a number of things:
Purity; Eugene has, in his own words, a Dutch obsession with cleanliness, both in the vineyard and the winery; his vineyard is organic and he learnt his winemaking skills from a Swiss consultant.
As a result, the wines have a purity, vibrancy and cleanliness that I have all too rarely encountered.
Deftness; the wines are made with a light touch; gentle pressing under nitrogen for whites and rosés, gentle fine lees stirring, just six months in new oak for the Grands Vins.
The 2012 wines feel really well-balanced and are drinking nicely now; they will surely develop with age, but do not require age to become palatable.
Concentration; although his vines are young (Eugene planted the vineyard from scratch just ten years ago) yields are kept very (uncommercially?) low through strict pruning with only three or four bunches per vine instead of the more usual six to eight.
The 2012 reds are almost opaque in colour - and a youthfully bright purple - and feel densely concentrated.
My detailed tasting notes are below, but what struck me most about all Eugene's wines is that they are wines to drink and enjoy, not points-chasing critic-slayers.
Whilst they have a warm, southern personality with plenty of fruit expression, they are also elegant and understated with relatively low levels of alcohol and in many ways remind me of Swiss wines at their best.
Their very uniqueness is perhaps their biggest challenge; with a mixture of grapes from Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhône, plus a white, a rosé and a fizz that are not traditionally produced in the region and a Malbec that is much softer than the traditional black wine of Cahors, it is not easy to pigeon-hole these wines, to liken them to particular traditional styles.
If that makes them more challenging to sell, it also makes them an even better bargain for the consumer, as ultimately, the proof is in the tasting.
Methode Traditionelle Brut light, fresh, easy-drinking fizz. More of a Prosecco alternative than Champagne-alike, and priced accordingly.
Cuvée Classique Blanc 2012 a blend of Sauvignon and Chardonnay with extra body from lees-stirring. Fresh, aromatic and weighty with some gentle persistence on the finish. Good.
Rosé 2013 very pale salmon pink, ripe red fruits, gently rounded palate, well-balanced, really lovely. Good.
Cuvée Classique Rouge 2012 (unoaked CF/Malbec blend) vibrant purple, ripe bramble fruits, freshness, soft, perfectly ripe tannins, long palate and persistence. Good.
Grand Vin Rouge 2012 (6m in new French oak, 100% Malbec) complex spicy nose with dark fruits and liquorice; lovely harmonious palate with added weightiness and complexity from deft oaking. Very Good.
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