€7.50, £7.50, 125.80 rand, 86 Swedish krone
Hats off to the Cave St-Verny co-op in the département of Puy-de-Dôme in the Auvergne in the far north east of France's Massif Central. It's not a region famous for its wines today – although at the end of the 19th century it produced so much wine that Puy-de-Dôme was France's third most important wine-producing département after the Aude and Hérault in the Languedoc. But two of the Cave St-Verny's wines labelled, without hyphens, IGP Puy de Dôme – a Pinot and a Chardonnay – struck me as great bargains recently.
The Cave Saint-Verny is the Auvergne's only co-operative, founded in 1950 just outside the village of Veyre-Monton. It was nearly dissolved for lack of interest and direction in the 1980s – so many of the locals having given up viticulture for work in Clermont-Ferrand's Michelin tyre factory – but it was rescued by Limagrain, the largest agricultural seed specialist in Europe. In 1993 they financed a new cellar with 37 temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks. (Hardly any oak is used.) A resident oenologist, Olivier Mignard, has been in place since 1999 and seems thoroughly on top of things, having instigated a rigorous assessment of all the vineyards under his control to optimise their potential.
This corner of the Auvergne counts, just, as part of the Greater Loire region because it lies on the Allier, a tributary of the Loire, and is not that far from the source of the great river Loire, which is oddly close as the crow flies to the river Rhône in fact. The most exciting restaurant in the Auvergne is in Chassignolles and is reviewed here. It is run by Brits who organise a wine fair and, coincidentally, introduced my cousins who have a house in the Auvergne to this wine.
Cave St-Verny is still responsible for about half of all the wine made with the local, recent (2010) appellation, Côtes d'Auvergne. About 80% of what it produces carries this appellation but the rest is now labelled, often rather snazzily, as IGP Puy de Dôme created in 2011. Indeed no wine that is all-Pinot can be a Côtes d'Auvergne whose regulations favour the more widely planted Gamay. The Cave's 90 members have about 180 hectares of vines, so a good half of all the grapes are picked by hand, something that is becoming a rarity at basic to mid level in French viticulture. The vines are spread over dozens of communes with a high proportion of volcanic soils; this is where the Auvergne's famous Puy de Dôme volcano just outside Clermont-Ferrand (pictured) is located. The Pinots I tasted, from both Majestic and The Wine Society, really do seem to have a sort of warm, mineral, graininess that reminded me a little bit of Ahr Pinots, although at a fraction of the price.
Saint-Verny produces Gamay, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I liked Cave Saint-Verny, St Roch Chardonnay 2011 IGP Puy de Dôme that Majestic in the UK is currently selling, exclusively, for £8.99 if two bottles are bought (the 'regular' price of £11.99 is too high). It's a single-vineyard wine from a site south of Clermont-Ferrand at 570m, probably the highest vineyard in the Auvergne. It's picked late (13.5%), malolactic fermentation is suppressed during a very protracted alcoholic fermentation and is bottled around 15 months following the vintage. I liked the funky typographical label that has been designed especially for Majestic and found it tasted a bit like Chablis only slightly fatter. (Richard Kelley MW who is a Loire specialist as evidenced on his excellent website and who has introduced these wines to export markets, points out that Puy-de-Dôme is on the same latitude as Côte Rôtie and St-Émilion but that altitude prevents the region from managing to ripen Syrah, Merlot or Cabernet.) I found a hint of passion fruit zestiness but none of the boring tropical fruit aromas that so often dog cheap, cool-fermented Chardonnays.
Even more distinctive and useful, however, is its red counterpart Cave Saint-Verny Pinot Noir 2011 IGP Puy de Dôme. It is made in greater quantity from vines grown at beween 350 and 550 m altitude, so much higher than, say, the Côte d'Or vineyards. It's the same price as the Chardonnay at Majestic but can also be found, with a more traditional label, for £7.50 at The Wine Society (although you have to buy a £40 share in the Society before you can take advantage of this price) and in the UK is also stocked by the likes of Lea & Sandeman, The Sampler, Handford, Wright Wine Co, Corks Out, Woodwinters and George Hill. Winesearcher.com lists about a dozen UK stockists. Prices will vary, but do bear in mind all the extras that many of these independents can offer and costs they have to bear before castigating them too heavily for charging more than The Wine Society (which is another co-operative and one that specifically avoids making a profit).
This particular wine is also available in Germany, Sweden, Canada and South Africa and a Puy de Dôme 2011 Pinot Noir is also widely available in the US from $10.14 as part of The Seeker range but this is not the same cuvée and I have not tasted it.
My tasting note on this cork-stoppered, 14% Pinot Noir: 'No oak used. Greyish mid crimson. Lots of juice and life. A tad sweet but very easy to like if not exactly sophisticated. Its softness would make it a popular red for dinking without food, I'd have thought. Made just outside Clermont-Ferrand on volcanic soils. Bit of chew and warmth on the finish – a baby Ahr Pinot? I gave it 16 points out 20 for what it's worth and recommend drinking it until the 2012 is released (Lay & Wheeler recently an offer of this new vintage in magnum).