Leon Barral Faugeres Valiniere 2008

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Wines this good and with such purity of fruit are rare. Even rarer are natural wines with such cleanliness and precision that they taste nothing of the movement and everything of place, reinventing the terroir in the process.

Faugeres is a land of schist terroir, though its potential was only discovered in 1948 when a few winegrowers managed to establish an officially recognized region, though it was not until the 1980’s that Faugeres become recognized as a high quality region. Nonetheless, while the wines have been quite good none I have tasted have been profound. Until now.

Didier Barral founded the domaine (named after his grandfather) only in 1993 but has since taken it to a very high level. Barral used biodynamic practices from the get-go and farms his 30 hectares with a “team” of twenty horses, cows and pigs as propagators of biodiversity in the vineyard by their grazing of the cover crop, which adds considerable microbiological activity to the soils.

Barral is also a naturalist, using no added sulfur, no racking, no filtering and no fining. This particular wine sees about two years in barrel, of which only 10% is new.

Of the South and Naturalism

Made with 80% Mourvedre and 20% Syrah from 20-30 year old vines, this wine is a revelation of fruitiness and explosive purity. You have never had Mourvedre like this before: plums, black berry fruit, chalky minerality. Fundamentally this is a juicy but serious wine and, as such, is only something that a naturalist can produce.

My experience has taught me that many natural wines are flawed, but that the absolute masters pull off wines of true character and distinction. A secondary lesson from my experience drinking many natural wines around the world is that climate is fundamental to the success of natural wines. Also important is grape variety.

Drier climates seem more indicative to making clean natural wines, particularly in the hands of the fastidious. The best natural wines I’ve had generally speaking have been from more southerly climates, in Spain, southern France and southern Italy. While anecdotal, I’ve wondered why my experience has pointed me in this direction. It seems that wines in these regions made naturally with the particularly robust grapes of the south (whether in alcohol, tannin or fruit) cut through the makeup and expose the truth of these grapes and regions more than any other. I have been amazed at the purity and expression from these regions since I had given up on many of them. Instead of heavy, dense, alcoholic and wearing wines, the wines of producers like Barral, Jimenez-Landi and Rayas are light and deft, pretty and silky on the palate without a hint of heaviness. In a word: delicate.

If you want to experience the new south, look no further.

Excellent+
$45 at Vinopolis Portland

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