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A Cinderella Story: The Best 2018s from France’s Under-the-Radar Regions


Marcel Orford-Williams Marcel Orford-Williams / 14 October 2019

2018 is the best vintage in living memory for some of Europe's, and especially France's, marginal wine-producing regions. Buyer Marcel Orford-Williams tells us why you should be paying attention.

Vineyards in the Savoie
Vineyards in the Savoie

Vintage reports tend to revolve around the classic regions, those must-have areas that throw wine collectors into a spin, vintage after vintage. So 2018 in Bordeaux, for example, has already been written about, scored, pored (and poured!) over, rated by the wine world's top scribblers in London, Paris and New York and the top wines already sold en primeur, while still in their barrels in Bordeaux. Others will follow, but most reports will fail to include the lesser regions, those more on the periphery, the Cinderellas of the wine world, if you like. Who will speak up for Savoie, Auvergne or even Beaujolais? The press reported on English success in 2018 (and we did too with our article by,Olly Smith), but we haven't seen much more on other regions.

Success in these Cinderella regions does not come easily; winemaking is often at the limits of what is possible with no guarantees and often the prospect of a write-off vintage, as happened to Nyetimber in England in 2012.

Though far from being a straightforward year, the results in 2018 are very good and there will be great wine made in all the classic regions. But for me, your buyer for the French country regions, the real story of 2018 is Cinderella's; for once, she was allowed to come to the ball in her finest dress and will steal the show.

In many ways it will be the reds that are the real stars in 2018 and most of these we won't see until next year, when I intend to put them firmly in the spotlight of their own Cinderella offer. In the meantime, here's my pick of the success stories of the vintage that are available now.

Fringe benefits of the 2018 vintage

Coteaux du Lyonnais, Domaine des Hauts de Chasselay 2018

From vineyards on the hillsides to the west of Lyon on the fringes of the Rhône to the south and Beaujolais to the north comes this delightful gamay. It's always a lovely fresh red-fruited wine but is exceptionally good in 2018 when grapes ripened to perfection. Wines from this tiny appellation are mainly consumed locally, years like 2018 show just what it is capable of and why we ship it out.

Rural landscape in Aveyron where the Cros family are using the local fer servadou grape to revive this forgotten vinous corner of France.
Rural landscape in Aveyron where the Cros family are using the local fer servadou grape to revive this forgotten vinous corner of France.

Marcillac 'Lo Sang del Pais' Domaine du Cros 2018

Devastated by phylloxera (the vine louse that all but destroyed Europe's vineyards in the 19th century) then war, there were once extensive vineyards in this out-of-the-way corner of the Aveyron. Winters here on the edge of the Massif Central are long and hard, and so the warm summer of 2018 must have been especially welcome. The 'blood of the land', as the name translates, comes from the local fer servadou grape and is all crunchy fresh raspberry fruit. The Cros family are leading the revival of this forgotten vinous corner of France.

Merlot, Domaine du Bosc, Pays d'Oc 2018

Not so much a Cinderella region but a bit of an unexpected gem in this vintage. Soft, round and easy-drinking year-in, year-out, but in 2018 this member favourite is a little cracker! Ripe-tasting spicy plum fruit is given that extra polish from the character of the vintage which seemed to suit the merlot grape particularly well this year. Do try it if you haven't already.

The 2018 vintage of Côte Roannaise Eclat de Granite, Domaine Sérol 2018 displays explosive fruit flavours of blackberry and raspberry fruit too
The 2018 vintage of Côte Roannaise Eclat de Granite, Domaine Sérol 2018 displays explosive fruit flavours of blackberry and raspberry fruit too

Côte Roannaise Eclat de Granite, Domaine Sérol 2018

Another resurgent region at the far eastern end of the Loire where the grapes grown high up on the granite plateau take their chances alongside the more lucrative cereal crops. Gamay again is the main variety (it was once shipped in bulk over the mountain to Beaujolais) and in the hands of the Sérol family, who have practically single-handedly kept the appellation going, is always elegant and fresh. Bring on the 2018 vintage and you have explosive fruit flavours of blackberry and raspberry fruit too.

Savoie-Chignin Vieilles Vignes, Domaine A&M Quenard 2018

Finally, some whites get to go to the ball too this year and the fragmented mountain vineyards of Savoie on the Swiss border have produced this one. Usually these Alpine wines don't make it out of the ski slopes but we were pleased to emancipate this one. Made from jacquère, the most widely planted of the region's grapes, it is flinty and dry, as fresh as a mountain stream and showing the life-affirming, delicate appeal of these wines more emphatically than in most years.

Marcel will release more Cinderella wines in an offer to members next year. Keep your eyes peeled.

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