We all know the French are pretty meticulous about their wines and about how they are made. We can all probably name a few famous French houses no matter if you are a new wine drinker or connoisseur. But what about the lesser known treasures rarely found outside of the country? Keen to uncover the hidden gems from one of the world’s oldest wine regions? Read on and learn about five top-notch boutique winemakers you should put on your radar.
1. Champagne Lucien Collard
Bouzy, Champagne, France
The Pinot Noir specialist Champagne Lucien Collard is no stranger to Bouzy, the beautiful Grand Cru village located in the northeast of France. The winemaker comes from one of the oldest families in Champagne, residing in the region long before Champagne became a sparkling drink. Following a career in finance, Lucien Collard was able to realise his lifelong dream of making his own Champagne after he was able to inherit two hectares of Grand Cru vineyards in 2004.
The winery’s best kept secret, their House of Harvesters or Maison des Vendangeurs in French, has the look and feel dated back to their golden era. A spacious kitchen shows exactly how the harvesters used to gather and live, with a showcase of vintage corking machines and antique glasses dating back to Napoleonic times. They host private functions there upon very special arrangements.
Monsieur Collard’s idea is to modernise traditions by reaching back to historical recipes and bottling techniques. Pinot Noir, a prestige red-skin grape variety, is transformed into three works of art.
Wines to try: The fresh and delicious Extra Brut Non-Vintage Champagne; the fruity and delicate Rosé 2015 vintage, blended with white and red Pinot Noir wines in the original Bouzy way; and the intense and well-structured 2009 vintage, which demonstrates the power of ageing.
2. Domaine Edmond et Anne Vatan
Sancerre, Loire Valley, France
Sancerre may be known as the home for everyday white wine, but it is also a prestigious producer of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Situated in the far end of Loire Valley with close proximity and geographical composition to Chablis, this region offers many tiny gems that definitely deserve your attention.
Emond and his daughter Anne Vatan create a very charming Sauvignon Blanc in the Grand Cru village of Sancerre – Chavignol from their single hectare winery.
The consistency and purity of the wines set the benchmark of what a remarkable French Sauvignon Blanc should be like. It is aromatic, elegant on the nose and delicate on the palate with a long finish. If you are a goat cheese fan, you’ll want to try pairing this wine with Crottin de Chavignol, a button-shaped cheese that offers a chalky texture and rich aroma.
Wine to try: Look for “Sancerre Clos la Néore” on the wine list next time, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
3. Domaine Sylvain Pataille
Marsannay, Burgundy, France
If you are a red Burgundy lover looking to pair something with red meat — but are faced with the misconception that the Pinot Noirs of the region might be too light, you’ll want to try the wines from Marsannay. Marsannay is located in Côte de Nuits, the only place in Burgundy where all three colours of wines can be crafted — red, white and rosé. The reds, made from 100 percent Pinot Noir, offer a signature result of intense colouration, a bouquet of red fruits and meaty texture. Some consider this the perfect Burgundy for red meat dishes.
Domaine Sylvain Pataille in particular has a cult following of new Burgundy lovers. An oenologist himself, Sylvain is a passionate innovator. He leads the way in being an appellation ambassador, highlighting the unique personalities of each plot and parcel by vinifying them separately.
This is a great representation to show how Burgundian Pinot Noir can also be approachable when young, and expressively aromatic and structured — awesome to consume after resting in the cellar for a couple years.
Wines to try: Look for Clos du Roy, En Clémengeots, and Les Ouzeloy, some of his selected vines that demonstrate an enriched texture.
4. Maison Thiriet
Côte d’Or, Burgundy, France
Situated in Comblanchien, this little town of less than 800 inhabitants is also the home of Burgundy native Camille Thiriet’s micro-winery. Trained as a professional marketer at the renowned Domaine de Bellene winery under grower and winemaker Nicolas Potel, she decided to follow her passion to create the beautiful liquid art herself in 2016.
“While we have grand dreams of producing some of Burgundy’s most famous appellations, we have decided to start small, hoping to build trust in our brand over time by producing delicious, drinkable wines from smaller appellations,” said Thiriet.
Aside from the ambition to create extraordinary wines, she also builds an emotional connection with the honest cultivation of wines. She creates an uncommon cuvée from her father’s hometown, Vézelay, known to locals as a highly original appellation that also adopts traditional barrel-layering techniques during wine maturation. The resulting wines are texture-rich, characterised by their fruit-forward aromas.
The first release was in 2016, produced in a garage without electricity supply. With the use of natural yeast, a vintage grape press and minimal sulphite addition, everything from Maison Thiriet is carefully selected and limited – the total production in 2016 and 2017 were 2,000 and 3,500 bottles respectively. With the hype rapidly arising in the US’s East Coast, you don’t want to miss their 2018 releases before it is too late.
Wines to try: Arbois Savagny; Bourgogne Chardonnay Cuvée Confidentielle; Vézelay Champs Cervin; Volnay Les Grands Champs; and Rosey.
5. Domaine du Coulet
Cornas, Rhone Valley, France
Cornas is one of the smallest wine regions in Rhone Valley, just South of Lyon. They only make red wine from one of the most beloved grapes in Asia –- Syrah (it’s said that King Louis XV was a big fan).
Beyond its whimsical logo of a cartoon bear, Domaine du Coulet’s wines are definitely more than meets the eye. Winegrower Matthieu Barret crafts uncommon wines that capture your heart in seconds.
Being a seventh generation winemaker and trained in Beaune, Barret is convinced that he can radically upgrade the quality of wine by adopting a biodynamic and organic approach in winemaking. He also introduced pockets of green spaces into his 11-hectare estate, bringing in eco-diversity around the plots to nurture the vineyards in the most natural way. His magic sauce is his egg-shaped tank, which rounds off the tannins and texture of the wines smoothly.
His style is easy to recognise – fresh, pure and lots of red fruits.
Wines to try: Domaine du Coulet Billes Noires and Brise Cailloux are special selections from the best plots in Cornas. They’re perfect with French stew or Cantonese meat dishes over dinner. Petit Ours, or ‘Little Bear’, is an excellent choice if you’d like something lighter and casual.