WineWriting.com & French Mediterranean Wine
Richard Mark James' wine and travel blog

01 December 2007

Languedoc: Mas Belles Eaux


Revamped by the might, money and know-how of the AXA Millésimes group (assurance / insurance / property investment: owner of Château Pichon-Longueville in Pauillac, Disznókő in Tokaj and Quinta do Noval Port among others), who combined two vineyards - Château Ste. Hélène and Château Belles Eaux - to form a 90 hectare (220 acre) estate. Here you'll find Syrah (some grafted onto underperforming Carignan), Grenache, Mourvèdre (4 ha replanted) and parcels of old vine Carignan on the gravel/clay slopes of Caux in the central Languedoc, lost (and I mean lost, without the mysterious imaginary monsters though: they're improving the signposting) between Pézenas and Montpellier. The stately 16th to 19th Century buildings (from the original barrel cellar to handsome chateau added later) are being renovated, part of which houses the remodelled and re-equipped winery.
Stockists in the UK include independent wine merchants such as the splendid PW Amps in Peterborough, Ipswich Fine Wines, JH Logan of Edinburgh, Topsham Wines near Exeter, crammed-with-lovely-bottles Wimbledon Wine Cellars and direct e-tailer fromvineyardsdirect.com. For more info on their UK and US distribution, contact Marie Louise Schÿler:
mlschyler@chateauxassocies.com. They also launched a bag-in-box red a couple of years ago in France, which doesn't, in retrospect, really seem to fit in with their 'premium-positioning' plans (to use the marketing babble), but I haven't heard anything about that since then.
Tasted August 2006:
2003 Fûts de Chêne (Syrah Grenache Carignan 14.5%, 12 months in French 20% new oak) - rich purple turning red/brown at the edges, ripe plum and black cherry notes, smoky and rustic with very light cedar and spice undertones; quite concentrated, nice soft rounded palate v grip and power, drinking fairly well now. Better balance than the Ste-Hel in terms of alcohol, extraction etc. £7.99 88-90
2003 Sainte-Hélène (same varieties plus Mourvèdre, from selected plots) - delicious earthy plum and black cherry/olive, very ripe and aromatic with subtle background oak; lush and forward, rich and soft with textured tannins and light oak; pity about that 14.5% alcohol (at least I'd say), which throws a very nice wine out of kilter. A victim of heatwave 2003? Look forward to the 2004. £15 87 (because of its overly hot finish).
Update: I visited the winery in October 2006 and re/tasted the following:
2004 Chardonnay fûts de chêne (no new oak) - creamier and fatter than the basic Chardy with nice oat character v light peachy fruit; more power and texture, rounded with well judged oak. 85-87
Muscat vendanges d'automne (13.5% 80 grams/litre residual sugar) - made "for fun" from sun-shrivelled berries: gorgeously exotic, slightly
botrytis aromas lead to lovely citrus and peach fruit; quite fresh acidity actually v lush sweetness. 89
2003 Fûts de Chêne - nice ripe spicy black cherry with light liquorice, beginning to develop; fairly soft texture v quite powerful alcohol v dry rounded tannins, attractive fruity length with well integrated wood. 89
2003 Sainte-Hélène - a little woodier but not much (from the 05 vintage they're only using 1 year old barrels, by the way), richer more intense dark fruit aromas and palate; firmer and tighter yet still rounded tannins, pretty concentrated v slightly hot alcohol. 89
2004 Fûts de Chêne (10% more Syrah than the 03, 13.5%) - a touch more vanilla, the fruit's a little subdued on the nose; however the palate launches into attractive black cherry intensity, firm tight and fresher than the 03, shows greater elegance and promise. 89-91
2004 Sainte-Hélène (20% more Syrah, more Mourvèdre, Carignan, less Grenache; 14.5%) - light coconut notes v rich liquorice and cherry fruit, firm grip with good texture and weight; fine length with alcohol much better integrated, needs 6-12 months to open out and the oak to merge into the fruit.
90-92

Update 2007/08: for a start, they've relaunched the estate and its top reds as Mas Belles Eaux with the promising 2005 and 06 vintages. Cédric Loiseau, the winery & vineyard manager placed in situ by AXA, has overseen replanting of over 20 ha and upgrading parcels of Syrah with "top-grafting and retraining," as their blurb says (meaning young Syrah was grafted directly onto old Syrah or a different variety more likely, then the trellising was redone accordingly). In addition, the "two-level winery" is nearly finished and fitted out with small temperature-controlled concrete vats (very de rigueur). Big boss Christian Seely commented: "This was a departure from our normal policy of restoring great vineyards to their former glory. This time we are creating one instead. I truly believe that Mas Belles Eaux is capable of producing some of the great red wines of the Languedoc." Mind you, they'll have to be given the high prices they're aiming for - see below.
Tasted December 2007:
2006 MBE Vieux Carignan, Vin de Pays de Caux (100% 60 year-old Carignan, 13.5%) - light coconut oak lifts off to reveal fragrant cassis, damson and liquorice fruit; intense and tangy v ripe and full palate, attractively tight grip with concentration and chocolate cherry length. 89-91
2005 MBE Les Coteaux, AOC Languedoc (70% Syrah 20% Grenache 10% Mourvèdre 14.5%) - similar to the Sainte-Hélène, below, but a touch quirkier (maybe it's the Mourvèdre?) and less overtly oaky-smooth, showing vibrant black cherry and chocolate with earthy undertones; fresh tannins v rounded ripe mouth-feel, in the end the alcohol is pretty well integrated too. 90 £12.99
2005 MBE Sainte-Hélène, AOC Languedoc (80% Syrah 10% Grenache 10% Carignan 14.5%) - impressive and lush with ripe concentrated black cherry v coconut oak texture, underlying spicy smoky liquorice notes too, rounded and structured with tighter bite to finish. It's almost a bit too Bordeaux, oak-textured and seamless; yet those rich vibrant Mediterranean edges, which might develop over time, carry it. 90+? £21.99

Mas Belles Eaux, 34720 Caux. Tel: 04 67 09 30 96 / 95 (the latter Cédric Loiseau's direct line),
contact@mas-belleseaux.com,  www.mas-belleseaux.com

30 November 2007

Languedoc: Domaine Siméoni, Saint-Chinian

Domaine Siméoni

Cordial couple Sylvie and Franck Siméoni plunged themselves into running their domaine organically right from the start: they set up shop in the region in 2001, after leaving jobs in the north to try and make a living in Saint-Chinian wine country. Out of the several cuvées they make, their La Toure (mostly 100+ year-old Carignan from this namesake vineyard) and L'Ame des Schistes (usually Syrah and Mourvèdre) stand out in particular for this scribbler's palate. They also do some tasty and fun Vin de Pays varietals, quirkily labelled with a sense of humour: a stripy Mourvèdre red and rosé, a Syrah called La Tête à l'Envers ('head inside out' or 'wrong way round') and a Carignan Vin de Crise ('crisis wine')! Click here for notes on some of these, tasted at Millésime Bio in 2006.
Commendably and bravely (purely because it might be perceived as un-trendy or down-market by toasted plank fans), they stopped using any wood for ageing their wines in 2002. Other 'house secrets' include "preferring to pick everything very ripe then do less extraction during vinification," as Franck explained his non-rocket-science approach. This year (2008) sees the launch of a new chunky Syrah rosé (see below); and the Siméonis have purchased a further 5 ha of vineyard, which is gradually being converted to organics. If you're in the area, it's best to make an appointment as their time is divided between Prades-sur-Vernazobre (home/office), the cellar in Cazouls-lès-Béziers and vineyard plots found here and there between the two.


I tasted these 2007 samples from the vats in Cazouls on a sunny but chilly (especially in that cellar, not surprisingly) late November day, 2007:
2007 
Rosé de Syrah, St-Chinian (14%) - delicious fruit on a crisp and zingy yet weighty palate, very drinkable and stylish foodie rosé. 87
2007 
Aramon - attractive juicy boiled sweet aromas lead on to tangy redcurrant and strawberry flavours, fresh and gluggable.
2007 
Cinsault - delicious black cherry, rounded tasty and fresh.
2007 
Grenache – gorgeous fruit and ripe rounded mouth-feel, fair grip too with the 15%+ alcohol not so obvious (this will be blended anyway). Very promising.
2007 
Syrah + 10% Carignan – spicy and vibrant showing very ripe dark cherry fruit. Good stuff.
2007 La Toure (1 ha/2.5 acres of 1898 
Carignan) – incredible colour with superb spicy blackberry and perfumed violets, concentrated and powerful with fresh elegant length. Wow, should be stunning after it settles down a little.
2007 the remaining 
Carignan – crisper and more closed up but again shows nice fruit and style.
2007 
Mourvèdre – black olive with lively almost citrus tones, austere tannins yet it's very fruity with chunky concentrated finish. Another future star probably.
2001 Domaine Siméoni rouge (their first vintage blend aged in American oak) – maturing savoury edges with leather and dried cherry fruit, quite sumptuous and savoury on the finish. 
89

Route de Berlou, 34360 Prades-sur-Vernazobre. Tel/fax: 04 67 93 78 92, mobile: 06 99 40 66 62, simeoni5@aol.comwww.domainesimeoni.com

24 November 2007

Languedoc: Mas Champart, Saint-Chinian

LATEST HERE (St Chinian special Jan. 2014)

Isabelle and Matthieu Champart, who bought their first vineyard here over 30 years ago, craft an unimpeachable range of mostly reds (although I'm not that keen on their white - see below - but it's early days for this kind of style, given that white wines have only really been coming on-stream for a few years) at this secluded 16 ha (planted out of 25), or 40 acre, Saint-Chinian estate. It's located on the rapid climb, at 200m to 300m altitude (650-950 feet), to the south of the town just before the hamlet of Cazo; and is essentially a patchwork of about twenty distinct plots. Their star reds are 'Clos de la Simonette' (mostly south-facing vineyard on steep terraces, although one parcel has a more northerly exposure: the fruit from here is used for rosé, Matthieu told me in 2005) with at least 70% Mourvèdre and Grenache; and Causse du Bousquet, a more classic Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Carignan blend. By the way, their Mourvèdre was originally selected from Domaine Tempier in Bandol and Château de Beaucastel, that slightly well-known CNDP property. They have plans to build a better visitor reception area at some point (the cellar is appealingly small), so you can taste and chat in comfort. For US distribution, try Kermit Lynch in California.

I visited Mas Champart in late Nov. 2007 and opened these two bottles shortly afterwards:
2005 Causse du Bousquet, St-Chinian (50-60%
Syrah plus Grenache Mourvèdre Carignan 14%) - quite fine mix of ripe v earthy black cherry with very light cinnamon oak spice; lush concentrated and full v tight firm framework, restrained finish showing weight and elegance too. £12.50 terroirlanguedoc.co.uk. 89-91
2006 Saint-Chinian blanc (
Marsanne Roussanne Bourboulenc Grenache blanc) – toasty coconut nose with some creamy yeasty notes, full and rounded with submerged aromatic fruit but overall the oak's a bit heavy-handed, finishing too overtly woody. 80+


Plus a few notes on more Champart wines sampled at Vinisud trade fair in 2006:

"Isabelle and Matthieu Champart's lovely reds have long been among my favourite St-Chinian wines, especially their Mourvèdre rich Clos Simonette..."
2004 St-Chinian blanc
(Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache blanc & Bourboulenc) - fresh and exotic fruit then turns zesty and mineral, nice clean elegant finish. 85

2003 Côte d'Arbo St-Chinian (Syrah, Grenache & Carignan) - wild and spicy with attractive pure fruit, quite elegant with ripe soft-ish finish. 87-89
2003 Causse du Bousquet (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache & Carignan) - more liquorice and black cherry, again shows softness v concentration, grip v elegance. 90
2003 Clos de la Simonette (70% Mourvèdre & Syrah) - firmer structure and style, again displays lovely fruit and rounded tannins. 90-92


And previously these reds at a wine fair in Montpellier in 2005:
2002 Clos de la Simonette (70% Mourvèdre + Grenache) - Displays pretty good balance of firmness and forward fruit, tight elegant finish too. 87-89
2003 Clos de la Simonette (vat sample, 70% Mourvèdre + Grenache) - Shows promising classic mix of firm yet rounded tannins and lovely ripe sweet fruit within a chunky framework. 89-91
2002 Causse de Bousquet (Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre Carignan) - Also shows some of the nice concentrated black fruits of the C d'A but this has firmer leaner structure. 85-87
2003 Côte d'Arbo (vat sample Syrah Grenache Carignan) - Offers youthful chunky black cherry fruit, not finished or together but shows promise.

Bramefan, Route de Villespassans, 34360
Saint-Chinian. Tel: 04 67 38 20 09 (cellar), 04 67 38 05 59 (office), mas-champart@wanadoo.fr.

01 November 2007

1907 Revolt 2007 Roussillon

From Jean Clavel's
1907 Winegrowers' Revolt
The Roussillon 100 years on!

"An evening event orchestrated by Roussillon Wines and the Mayor of Saint-Estève November 2007... informative and commemorative, as we shouldn't forget that people died in that tragic historic year..." Plus: my pick of a tasting of award-winning wines selected for the annual Saint-Bacchus competition 1997-2007...

Eyebrow-raising title perhaps: this evening event was orchestrated by Roussillon Wines and the Mayor of Saint-Estève, the host, in November 2007. It was both informative and commemorative, as we shouldn't forget that people died in that tragic historic year. To find out more, read the feature I wrote for Decanter magazine (page down to "100 Years of Protest"), which summarises what happened and discusses its lingering relevance today. They screened a fascinating film about the 1907 crisis called 'Vendanges Amères' (bitter harvest) followed by commentary from a panel of specialists on the subject: Jean-Louis Roure, Jean Sagnes, Pierre Dauga, Thérèse Tarrieux and Jean Clavel (actually he couldn't make it but was a great source for my article). Afterwards we were treated to a tasting of award-winning wines selected for the annual Saint-Bacchus competition from 1997-2007; enhanced by delicious tit-bits created by leading caterer Christian Segui and other locally starred chefs (called Les Toques Blanches du Roussillon). Here are my notes and comments on a few of these wines, some of them now quite rare I'd imagine. I focused on reds and sweet Vins Doux Naturels (listed separately, youngest to oldest); not sure why they decided to put ten year-old rosés out for tasting...

2005 Domaine Fontanel 'Prieuré', Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel – quite oaky and wood spicy yet it shows intense fruit too, closes up a bit with a structured finish v supple tannins. A little youthful and unrevealing at the moment. 87-89
2002 Cave Abbé Rous? 'Cyrcée', Collioure – sweet herbs tinged with liquorice and leather, very ripe and floral even with a rich coating, maturing yet still chunky. 90-92
2001 Coume del Mas 'Schistes', Collioure – oily tarry maturing fruit; I think it's a bit corked as it's rather stripped and bitter on the finish? Having tried recent vintages of this great wine, difficult to believe it's knackered especially 2001, a superb year in general in the region.
2000 Domaine Piquemal 'cuvée Justin Piquemal', Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes – smoky and spicy with rich tar and meaty edges, concentrated v maturing finish. 90-92
1999 Domaine Gardiès, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel – quite dense and structured v maturing savoury fruit, fresh tannins still keeping it very alive. Yum. 92-94
1999 Château Aymerich 'Général Joseph Aymerich', Côtes du Roussillon Villages – perfumed red pepper with spicy cherry and pepper tones, elegant and long again showing some freshness. 92-94
1998 Domaine Mounié, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel – liquorice leather and garrigue notes, resiny fruit v still firm tannins although not hard. 88
1996 Terrassous (Cave de Terrats) 'Les Pierres Plates', Côtes du Roussillon – interesting mature 'sweet & savoury' fruit with a vanilla oak coating, attractive and elegant. 87
1996 Domaine Cazes 'Credo', Vin de Pays d'Oc (Cabernet sauvignon Merlot) - herbal v meaty tones, complex 'sweet & savoury' characters on the palate, mature and intriguing. 89

Vins Doux Naturels

1999 Domaine Rossignol, Rivesaltes ambré – walnut and orange aromas, lively palate although the alcohol's still a bit strong and obvious, quite complex nevertheless. 87+
1996 Domaine Pouderoux, Maury – lovely liquorice and tar with leather tones, lush v lively palate showing intricate 'sweet & savoury' fruit; fantastic with strawberries dipped in melted chocolate sauce! 93-95
1994 Cave Abbé Rous? 'Christian Reynal', Banyuls Grand Cru – stimulating although a bit too old style for me, nevertheless it's quite complex with nutty length; Tawny-like in fact. 87-89
1990 Mas Amiel, Maury – toffee plum and coffee notes proceed cooked cherries, mature v solid palate with complex fruit development; nice with foie gras de canard! 92-94
1982 Arnaud de Villeneuve (Caves de Rivesaltes/Salses) 'Hors d'Age', Rivesaltes ambré – perfumed v lush offering plenty of dried apricot, intense fruit v mature and mellow, delicious finish. 94
1976 Domaine Cazes 'cuvée Aimé Cazes', Rivesaltes ambré – extraordinary length and complex rich fruit, can't believe it's over 30 years old; lingering tangy roasted pecan nut finish. Difficult to give it a silly score – 95 I guess.

Find profiles and more wines reviewed from many of these wineries by following the red links in the Roussillon A to Z, on the right (down a bit).

13 October 2007

Languedoc: Château La Roque, Pic-Saint-Loup

Updated Dec 2012 - see below.

The elegantly imposing country château is the first thing that hits you coming up the dusty gravelly drive: it is indeed made from rock, although the estate's actually named after an eponymous 13th Century noble family. Old rock too: the tasting cellar vault is part of a restored, former Medieval post-house, I'm told. La Roque is a long-standing ambassador for the Pic-Saint-Loup appellation, which is found not far north of Montpellier scattered around its namesake peak (650 metres/2000 feet high), although the Languedoc capital feels a long way off given how quickly the terrain transforms into untamed scrub-land and pointy cliff-faces.

La Roque's specialities include their often superb Cuvée Mourvèdre, a challenging variety in this area but rewarding in certain sites in the right hands*; Syrah-based Cupa Numismae and Clos des Bénédictins, an unusual barrel fermented white. The property was taken over by Jacques and Marion Figuette in late 2006 (I didn't have the cheek to ask them how much €...), who sensibly appear happy not to make any major changes and have kept prices fairly reasonable, for such a sought-after name: €7 to €13 a bottle across the range.
*Previous owner Jack Boutin planted 9 ha/22 acres (out of 42) of Mourvèdre, which faces due south on steep pebbly terraces at approx. 200 m/650 ft altitude. Another local Mourvèdre fan is Jean Orliac at Domaine de l’Hortus (Valflaunès), who has 11 ha ("and increasing" as he told me back in 2005) in one similarly elevated vineyard sitting smack-bang between Pic St-Loup and Mont de l’Hortus.*

I tasted these Ch. La Roque wines with Marion Figuette in October 2007:
2005 Tradition blanc (Rolle Roussanne Marsanne) – oily honeysuckle tones, nice texture and maturing fruit v lightly crisp elegant finish. 85-87
2006 Clos des Bénédictins blanc (Rolle Roussanne Marsanne) – toastier and creamier yet very floral with exotic white peach tones; zingy v fat with attractive balance and style. 87-89
2004 Tradition rouge (Syrah Mourvèdre Grenache) – tangy cassis and cherry fruit, lightly creamy palate with firm fresh bite, drinking well now in fact. 85-87
2005 – a touch richer and more concentrated than above with attractive cherry and liquorice fruit, followed by dry grip and good length. 87-89
2003 Cupa Numismae (60% Syrah 40% Mourvèdre) – smoky and slightly animal showing lush dark cherry and blackberry/olive notes, a bit of spicy oak adds texture to a solid firm palate; good balance of ripe v structured and maturing v a few years ahead of it. 89-91
2004 – more fragrant floral and spicy (the Syrah comes out more), more delicate mouth-feel yet still juicy lush and firm with elegant length. 89-91
2005 – closed and chunky, attractive concentration and rounded fruit, powerful tannins at the moment which should unfurl nicely.89-91
2003 Cuvée Mourvèdre (90% plus 10% Grenache) – 'sweet' herbs liquorice and black olive, ripe with resiny development, quite delicate actually (considering the hot vintage) v dry tannins and lovely length. 90-92
2005 – smokier and a tad toastier yet still 'sweet' herbal and liquoricey, delicious fruit concentration and fine tannins on a commanding, mouth-coating finish; yum, give it a couple of years to really shine. 92-94

UPDATE: latest La Roque wines here (PSL report April 2011). 

UPDATE 2012

34 ha (85 acres) of vineyards are now certified organic since vintage 2011, hence these wines below are their first 'official' samples aired and tasted earlier this year at Millésime Bio wine show in Montpellier.

Languedoc Pic Saint Loup
2011 white - nice creamy yeasty edges with exotic fruit notes, aromatic and floral too then crisp fresh finish. Good.
2011 rosé - rose petal aromas with creamy red fruits, quite full and rounded with oily notes and nice fruity vs crisp finish.
2011 red (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) - enticing aromatic spicy minty fruit, fairly rich and fruity with a meatier side too, concentrated vs softer mouth-feel. Should be good.

Older vintages in this post including 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003 Cuvée Mourvèdre; from a visit in 2005.

Château La Roque, 34270 Fontanès. Tel: 04 67 55 34 47, contact@chateau-laroque.eu, www.chateau-laroque.fr

05 October 2007

Languedoc: Château l'Euzière, Pic-Saint-Loup

Château L'Euzière

Brother and sister Michel and Marcelle Causse run this charming, old family property found on the main road through Fontanès. Or rather their mini-manor house and winery at least: the 23 ha/55 acres of vineyard spread out around the village, a mixture of older vines and more recent plantings as they continue to improve quality in the field. The top red cuvée, les Escarboucles, is based mostly on Syrah; L'Almandin is an earlier-drinking, 'SGM' blend but still quite serious with aromatic pure fruit; and they also make a very nice white called Grains de Lune. One to watch and relatively reasonably priced (
Pic-Saint-Loup commands higher prices than other parts of the Languedoc) at €6 to €12.50 across their range. These wines sampled in their cellar and handsome vaulted stone tasting room in October 2007:


2006 Almandin (tank sample, 
Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre) – lovely perfumed black cherry with gamey edges developing into liquorice and violets, firm and fresh showing nice elegance with a touch of weight and length too. 89
2006 Escarboucles (barrel sample, more 
Syrah + Grenache Mourvèdre) – quite a bit of spicy coconut at the moment (12 to 14 months in one year-old casks) but again has that delicious black cherry fruit, more structured with firmer tannins; closed finish with dry texture v underlying 'sweetness'. 89-91
2005 – quite smoky with blackberry and cassis, a little closed up offering light spice and liquorice tones with gamey edges, rounded v soild mouth-feel although again it's quite elegant. 
90+

More of their wines here (Vinisud 2006).

Ancien Chemin d’Anduze, 34270 
Fontanès. Tel: 04 67 55 21 41, leuziere@chateauleuziere.frwww.chateauleuziere.fr


30 September 2007

John Platter Guide 2008

The John Platter Wine Guide, South Africa's benchmark annual guide (actually, it recently got the 2007 Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Award in the latter category) published by Andrew McDowall and edited by Philip van Zyl, has revealed a record 21 'five-star' wines in the forthcoming 2008 edition. "Given the enormous number of ranges and individual products tasted, the wines which merit a five-star rating make up a very select group indeed," McDowall explained. "The Guide, which strives to rate, as far as is practically possible, all of the wines that are available for the duration of the particular edition, locally as well as abroad, tasted and assessed nearly 6000 individual wines over several months." The asbestos-palated team of tasters ranked them on the guide's five-point scale, ranging from 0 ("Somewhat less than ordinary") up to 5 ("Superlative. A Cape classic"). Their top wines include a few recurring names such as Ken Forrester, Bouchard Finlayson, Vergelegen and Kanonkop. For more info or to buy the guide, check out www.platteronline.com. Posted 28/9/07.

28 September 2007

Sensation Vin autumn courses Beaune, Lyon and Paris

Damien Delattre, owner of the Sensation Vin wine school in Beaune, in the heart of Burgundy, has 'rolled out' their autumn tasting program with tailor-made courses and weekend events now available in English. These include new ideas such as tutored tastings of classic Burgundies from the 1990s. Another novelty is the Sensation Vin 'road show', where Damien or one of his qualified colleagues will come to Paris or Lyon to create your own group tasting experience. 1 rue d'Enfer (Hell street!), 21200 Beaune. Tel: +33.3.80.22.17.57.
www.sensation-vin.com, contact@sensation-vin.com.

26 September 2007

BK Wine Tours autumn 07 & spring 08

In commendably un-PC style, BK Wine aka Britt and Per Karlsson, Paris' most famous vinous Swedes, are running a tour called Truffle, wine, duck and foie gras in the south west of France from February 13-17th 2008. I can understand vegetarians getting upset about foie gras, and I know it's not a very nice way to rear birds (although the result is too delicious to think about what those goose farmers actually get up to...); but I find it baffling when regular meat-eating folk (like in California or the UK or Ireland for example) condemn it, yet carry on scoffing steak or whatever.
Anyway, enough of the rant. Click on the highlighted link above if this sounds right up your street. Britt is also doing a wine tour to Portugal's stunning Alentejo region this October 17-21. And the busy couple has just published a book on the Languedoc, although only in Swedish at the moment: interested English language publishers should get in touch. For more info or sign up to Britt's newsletter: info@bkwine.com. Posted 28/9/07.
Update on BK's wine tour programme for 2008 on www.bkwine.com.

21 September 2007

2007 vintage looking good in south of France

2007 vintage looking good in south of France

I knocked this techie/weathery report together at the end of August, with updated paragraphs slotted in on 21st September, for a couple of publications. More to follow once I've been out and about further across the region...
In contrast to the doom and gloom and ‘earliest on record’ hyperbole elsewhere in France, it’s business as usual or a reserved rather good even in the south. A mix of cool and hot weather from early to mid August followed by rain then several very hot days towards the end of the month, have turned a slightly late start to picking into normal conditions then could all be over quickly.
In Bandol on the Provence coast, Eric de Saint Victor at Château de Pibarnon described vintage dates as “about the same as last year, ahead of those in the 90s but usual nowadays.” Grenache is “already well in advance showing nice phenolic ripeness” with one batch picked on 28th August. As for Mourvèdre, they were looking to wait “at least another 10 days.” Generally, there was less of a drought problem this year with late spring rain interspersed with hot periods, a regular cooler June and “normal July and August: hot, dry and windy.”
Following a 10mm splash of rain at the end of August, fine weather continued into September prompting a rapid change of tune. The last Mourvèdre came in on 18-19 Sept. at Pibarnon signalling “the earliest finish since we’ve been here, i.e. 30 years,” according to Saint Victor. “Ten to fifteen years ago we’d hardly started picking the Mourvèdre.” He estimated yields will be down 25% due to small berry size with elegant balanced wines: “black-coloured, fine tannins, nice acidity and typical alcohol levels towards 14% for reds and 13.5 for rosé and white.”
This pattern was echoed in the Languedoc and Roussillon. Marc Barriot of Clos de l’Origine in Maury (Roussillon) also didn’t observe any vine stress describing conditions as “normal then looking a little late then speeded up by the heat.” Potential alcohol levels suddenly rose 1 to 1.5° in one day. All his white varieties (Muscat, Grenache Gris and Macabeu) were picked between the middle and end of August, and the reds appear to be “ahead but it depends on the weather.” Like Barriot, Jonathan Hesford of Domaine Treloar in Trouillas remarked on “higher acidity this year,” meaning “picking started a bit later” with Muscat à petits grains on 28th August. He predicted Syrah for the first week of September, Grenache a week later and Mourvèdre “maybe the end of September or early October.” Philippe Gard at Coume del Mas in Banyuls commented: “we started 10 days later but ripening is more even so will finish earlier. Grenache and Syrah are looking very good, but it depends on the grower,” referring to isolated mildew problems.
Favourable conditions continued into September in the Roussillon with some light rain on Friday 14th then a dramatic, half-an-hour hailstorm on the evening of Monday 17th. However, Gard described it as “nothing serious even if spectacular.” He added: “I finished picking for Banyuls on Monday morning, and we’ve managed to make a nice batch of Mourvèdre; just the Carignan and more Mourvèdre to follow, as the skins weren’t ripe. Very low yields exacerbated by the wind.” Barriot also reported everything wrapped up with the last parcel of Syrah and Carignan going into vat on Wednesday 19th. “Plenty of substance, nice acidity and lots of fruit,” he concluded. Hesford confirmed he lost a few bunches from the storm but finished picking most of his Mourvèdre on 21st Sept. (with a little help from yours truly, well a few boxes anyway!): “very healthy grapes and that initial high acidity has almost disappeared.”
In the Languedoc, Richard Lavanoux, production manager at Michel Laroche’s winery near Béziers, agreed about the quality: “I wouldn’t be surprised to see a great vintage, especially for Syrah,” following a ripening period of “rare quality” thanks to more even summer temperatures. Marion Figuette at Château La Roque in Pic St-Loup, eastern Languedoc, reported picking started early: whites were all in last week and reds the first week of September. Over in Corbières, “2007 is slightly ahead of 2006 with Syrah starting this Friday (31 Aug) and the first Grenache and Carignan in the earlier ripening coastal zones on 6 or 7 September,” according to Jean Pierre Thene, head of the AOC Corbières Syndicat. The picture is different inland in the western Aude, where grapes should come in much later than usual thanks to cooler conditions. Thene stressed that the Languedoc-Roussillon “should not be seen as part of this very average vintage elsewhere.”
The Monday night storm also hit the Languedoc, although Figuette at La Roque described the downpour as “perfect for our Mourvèdre! Otherwise everything is over and it’s looking like a very promising vintage.” Lavanoux agreed the storm did more good than harm. In contrast - "unfortunately" according to Jean-Pierre Thene - the Corbières were spared the downpour: "we've seen very little rain since April, which combined with strong northerly winds will mean low yields from berry concentration." However, acidity and high sugar levels are nicely balanced, with Carignan, Grenache and Cinsaut being the best performers; and Syrah and Mourvèdre less adapted to the hot dry summer. Thene believes they may have to rethink the latter varieties in Corbières AOC zones thanks to climate change.
RJ posted 2/9/07 and 21/9/07.


01 September 2007

Malbec Made for Meat

An equally mouth-watering, determined-to-upset-vegetarians contest brought to you by Wines of Argentina in conjunction with Wine & Spirit magazine, the Hotel du Vin & Bistro Group and Gaucho Restaurants. The plan? The blurb says: "Malbec Made for Meat is a UK quest to find the Malbec or Malbec-based wine from Argentina that best matches traditional British meat dishes." Sounds like a fun idea. They've held three heats in Glasgow, Harrogate and Brighton (well done for getting out of London too); and the final will be held on 12th September at Gaucho's W1 restaurant. By the way, apparently the average Argentinean eats 68kg of beef per annum!
At the first heat, tasting Malbecs with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding at Hotel du Vin & Bistro in Glasgow’s West End, one of the judges, wine writer Tom Cannavan, commented that "the wines drunk with the beef generally worked well, and the first and second placed wines really worked in harmony." The heat winner was Bodegas Catena Zapata Malbec 2004, from Mendoza (Majestic £10.99); and runners up Masi Tupungato Paso Doble 2005, Mendoza (Oddbins £8.99); Co-op Argentine Malbec 2006, San Juan (£2.99); and Asda's Argentine Malbec 2006, La Rioja (£3.78).
In Harrogate, the meat was roast lamb with 'all the trimmings'. "For anyone who thought they'd mastered Argentine Malbec," said judge Joe Fattorini, "this tasting revealed what a chameleon grape it is, turning from brooding and burly to aromatic and balletic with the lift of a fork." Heat winner was Familia Zuccardi Q Malbec 2004, Mendoza (Alliance Wine RRP £9.99); and runners up Fincas Patagonicas, Tapiz Malbec 2005, Mendoza (Hispa Merchants RRP £5.99); Bodega Mendel, Unus Malbec 2004, Mendoza (Prestige Agencies RRP £19.99 or Handford Wines); Bodegas Catena Zapata Alta Malbec 2004, Mendoza (Bibendum RRP £29.99); Bodegas Salentein, Malbec 2004, Mendoza (£8.49 Tesco); and Bodegas Valentin Bianchi, Malbec Particular 2003 (Liberty Wines RRP £9.99).
The Brighton tasters stuffed their faces with roast pork while trying these wines: heat winner Dona Paula Malbec 2005, Mendoza (Oddbins £9.49); runners up Bodegas O Fournier, Alpha Crux Malbec 2004, Mendoza (Seckfords RRP £19.99); Bodega O Fournier, Urban Uco Malbec 2004, Mendoza (Seckfords RRP £5.99); Gougenheim Malbec 2005, Mendoza (Las Bodegas RRP £6.99); and Bodega NQN, Reserve Malbec 2004, Neuquen Patagonia (Hispa Merchants £8.99). Interesting to note they're not all expensive posh wines that were picked by the judges. Anyway, call back in September for an update on the winning wines or check out winesofargentina.com.ar. Posted 1/08/07.
Update Sept: Bodega Catena Zapata’s Alta Malbec 2004 "took top spot as the wine to have with meat" in the gripping carnivore final, which took place at Gaucho's in Piccadilly, London, and was also deemed the 'Best with Lamb' wine. The Viña Doña Paula 2005 Malbec replicated its regional success winning 'Best with Pork'; but in the hottest contested category, Gouguenheim Malbec 2005 and Catena Malbec 2004 "proved impossible to separate" and so both won the 'Best with Beef' award (the most important, you would've thought given the Argentinean penchant for beef).

Waitrose wine magazine (allegedly)

Last year, I was commissioned to do a few introductory pieces for a possible new wine magazine to be published by Waitrose (for those of you outside the UK, it's a superior supermarket chain owned by the John Lewis Group with a more enlightened wine range than some). Whatever happened between then and now behind the corporate scenes, my purple prose never saw the light of day and Waitrose did launch a funky little drinks mag called Thirst (I only ever saw the first couple of issues so don't know if it's still running...). Anyway, I'm not so surprised they changed their plans as they already produce the glossy monthly Food Illustrated with wine articles by writers such as Andrew Jefford and Tim Atkin; as well as a free mouth-watering little food mag plus features, interviews and recipe matching tips on their website. My four snippets below and opposite were written to a specific brief and are a little déjà-vu / back-to-basics / textbook in style, but I thought somebody out there still might find them an informative read.
Richard James, September 2007.

Winemaking 'master class'

Part 1: How wine is made – the vineyard
Standing among the vines in a dramatic wine region setting can give simple pleasure and peace of mind, yet a vineyard’s location and environment also greatly influence how vines grow and the quality of grapes they produce. French winemakers in particular attribute this to the all-encompassing, slightly mysterious terroir. The word is basically untranslatable into English but has geographical and cultural overtones.
The concept combines specific site – its soil and structure, topography (slope, altitude etc.), water holding or drainage, local climate, suitability to variety planted and how it ripens – with the way the grower thinks, works and thus interacts with the land (nuances of English words terrain and territory) to maximise grape quality. All of this should be enhanced, rather than dominated by the winemaker to convey a unique ‘sense of place’ or typicité to the wine’s actual flavour and consistent character. Terroir is often used confusingly meaning just local soil type: although it’s scientifically dubious you can actually taste soil qualities, e.g. chalky, it does have an important effect on ripening and hence quality.
Taking Château Pech-Latt in the stunning Corbières region of southern France as an example, their 100 hectares (250 acres) are made up of a variety of vineyard parcels, soils and aspects, circled by high hills on the foothills of Mount Alaric. The land contains chalk – good for drainage and limiting vine vigour – and red marl – a mix of clay and silt conferring minerals and moisture retention. The different grape varieties are planted according to site and their needs – red: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan; white: Marsanne, Vermentino and Muscat. So you choose the cooler plots for Muscat to preserve freshness and the sunniest for Mourvèdre, a late ripening variety.
Pech-Latt farms organically, which doesn’t necessarily mean guaranteed quality, but organic growers rightly claim it’s also a whole way of life. This philosophy, accompanied by fussy attention in the vineyard, can produce superb grapes. No synthetic pesticides or fertilisers are used, although substances such as copper sulphate (against mildew) are permitted. Sulphur dioxide (a preservative among other uses) levels in winemaking are sometimes (but not always) half that for non-organic. The idea is to foster biodiversity in soil and vineyard and hence naturally healthy vines. It doesn’t make much sense to talk about terroir yet destroy it with potent chemicals!
There are several ways of controlling a vine’s growth, the amount of leaves it has and ultimately how many grapes it yields. Winter pruning is crucial for cutting a vine back to its raw state and how it develops the following spring. You could then remove a few buds and trim it further in early summer to get a balanced canopy – sufficient for photosynthesis and perfect ripening without it becoming a leaf monster. In Corbières, old Grenache is often pruned on handsome bush vines, which need less attention with age and offer protection from sun and wind. Syrah can perform better by trellising it upwards to increase leaf and bunch exposure. Fruit thinning or green harvesting is also practised to reduce the crop.

Part 2: Winemaking – the process from grape to wine
All grapes are hand picked at Château Pech-Latt, which is time-consuming and costly but enables finicky and gentle selection. If the vineyard is set up for machine harvesting, this allows you to make quick decisions and speedily harvest a large area. Nowadays the technology is precise and doesn’t necessarily harm the fruit, particularly for white grapes. Domaine Bégude near Limoux (west of Corbières) picks Chardonnay by machine for Vins de Pays but the best block of Chardonnay by hand for their top wine. Quality producers sort through the grapes again on arrival at the winery.
Processing and winemaking depend on the colour and character of each variety and style and quality of the ultimate wine. Coming back to the kind of Chardonnays made by Bégude, for the drink-young style the emphasis will be on retaining aromatic fruit and fresh acidity. So the whole grapes could be kept chilled before pressing then cold stabilisation (to rack off the thickest solids) and fermentation at relatively low temperature in stainless steel vats. For richer age-worthy Chardonnay, the juice is fermented in barrels and stirred on the yeast lees deposit adding fatness and character. The wine would complete its malolactic fermentation, which softens the acidity, and perhaps aged further in cask to round it out more, without picking up overtly oaky flavours.
Similarly to many estates, Château Pech-Latt handles the red grapes separately, particularly Carignan part of which is whole-berry fermented to bring out its lively earthy liquorice fruit. This batch will then be held in large vats before blending. The other varieties are vinified ‘traditionally’ with extended skin contact before pressing. Methods of colour and tannin extraction range from simple hand or foot plunging, pumping over the juice from bottom to top of vat, to ‘rack and return’ where the entire tank is emptied into another then back again. The winemaker judges the best approach and temperature depending on grape variety, ripeness and quality.
There’s always heated (and slightly geeky) debate on oak barrels, or oak chips even, and their effect on maturation, colour and flavour in red wines. Crudely, oak can add attractive spicy chocolate texture; fundamentally, it’s about oxygen and influence on a wine’s tannin structure and ageing ability. The main elements are age, toast (low or high), size of container and how long. A small new barrel allows more air into the wine, thanks to its surface area/volume ratio and porous grain, giving rounder tannins, sweeter flavours and stable colour. A huge old cask promotes slower maturation yet ironically the wine loses colour sooner.
The term blending is sometimes taken negatively (the French word assemblage sounds sexier somehow), but it’s difficult to think of a wine that isn’t a blend. Even if from a single variety and vineyard, the winemaker skilfully puts together different lots to recreate the desired style. Pech-Latt’s three reds contain Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan, but the proportions vary according to vine age, site or vintage characteristics. The best rosés are drained off from red grapes after a few hours skin contact, giving colour, fruit and flesh, then made like an aromatic white wine.

How winemaking styles differ – New World and Old World


Part 1: From a New World perspective
Pushing aside any condescending colonial overtones, the term New World is just as much about attitude as it is geography when applied to winemaking styles. Certainly, in general New World wines can be perceived as delivering big ripe fruit and high alcohol while emphasising ‘technological’ winemaking or easy oak flavours. But it’s too simplistic to generalise about hot climates and iconoclastic thinking, when comparing countries and people as diverse as Australia, South Africa, USA, Argentina or Chile. And nowadays there are plenty of European wines that fit the above description. Four ‘classic’ varietals from the Southern and Northern Hemispheres have been chosen to illustrate the point.
The d’Arenberg winery makes model high-powered Shiraz in McLaren Vale, South Australia (they’ve been around for 100 years by the way); yet their reds aren’t one-dimensional fruit bombs, often expressing something wilder and more exciting as you’d expect from a relatively ‘traditional’ approach. The Dead Arm Shiraz is made from very old vines, whose concentrated fruit is fermented in open vats with foot-treading, pressed in basket-presses and aged in American and French barriques. The result is distinctively Old New World: rich and full with oak undertones yet herbal, peppery and firmly textured.
Jackson Estate’s Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is consistently one of the leaders in New Zealand for this benchmark grape variety and wine style. It could be argued that New World winemakers reinforced the importance of producing zingy aromatic dry whites using technology to control fermentation temperature and exclude oxygen etc. The same techniques are used for Sauvignon in the European regions of Sancerre or Styria (southeast Austria), yet the wines rarely taste the same, which says a lot about New Zealand’s unique climate and terrain (cool and southerly). It’s that pure just-ripe green fruit intensity mixed with more tropical flavours, crisp mineral like finish yet showing nice weight too, as the Jackson exemplifies.
Zinfandel and California are synonymous (even if the grape variety did originate in Italy or Croatia), although this powerful red wine comes in many guises: soft, raisiny and gluggable; super ripe, oaky and alcoholic; to finely structured and balanced. Ravenswood Vintners Blend is a good example of the advantages of blending fruit from different growers and areas to produce a well-priced typical style every year. New World in its California-ness – yet evoking something equally Mediterranean – it’s up-front with attractive liquorice, pine and earth notes; good fruit in the mouth countered by a touch of tannin and oak then a punchy yet poised finish.
Chenin Blanc particularly excels in two countries: the Loire Valley in France and South Africa, both very different environments and winemaking traditions yet somehow possessing the right elements for this star white grape. Ken Forrester’s FMC from Stellenbosch really is a Cape classic communicating African sun tempered by a maritime mountain climate. The very ripe grapes are barrel fermented and aged giving voluptuous fruit layered with coconut, late harvest sweetness characters set against toasty oak then tight mineral acidity and length, so in the end it doesn’t really taste sweet. Click on the pic. above for more SA CB.


Part 2: From an Old World perspective
Does Old World mean old-fashioned wine style (read no longer appreciated in today’s busy cosmos); or 'traditional' in the sense of classic, inimitable quality, gaining complexity with age and matching the local food? It’s clear that some winemakers in certain areas of Europe, such as the south of France, Sicily or Mediterranean Spain, have adopted ‘New World’ attitude and practices to produce more accessible wines (and rightly so). However, there are still plenty of seminal styles that speak volumes about where and how they are created. As above, here are a few examples of Old World greats and a brief account of why.
There are now many very good sparkling wines made in the same way as Champagne in other regions of Europe and the world. But at the top end, there’s something sublime and so distinctive about delicious Champagnes such as Bollinger. Most of the grapes they use come from ‘Premier Cru’ and ‘Grand Cru’ vineyards, i.e. the best sites. The Special Cuvée is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier; the Grande Année vintage is often at least 65% Pinot Noir (one third from the top village of Aÿ) plus Chardonnay.
Control of acidity is the cornerstone of balance in their Champagnes and ability to mature. In a good year, the first pressing (Bolly only uses this part) has a pH of around 3, i.e. pretty acidic. This isn’t so difficult to achieve, coupled with ripe grapes from vineyard selection, in Champagne’s marginal climate. All of the ‘reserve’ wines – held back from certain years, they play a very important role in the house style and quality of non-vintage Champagne – and Grande Année are barrel-fermented. Special Cuvée is a blend of two vintages with 5-10% reserve wines and three years yeast lees ageing, which add biscuity richness and intricate aromas. Click on JB above for more on Bolly.
You can’t get much more Old World in winemaking styles than Sherry, especially Fino or Manzanilla (even if certain ‘New World’ countries are replicating it). These charming bone-dry fortified wines owe much of their idiosyncratic character to what happens in the cellar, rather than the baking Andalusian sun. By maintaining humidity levels, a yeast called flor develops over the maturing wines protecting them from air and transmitting tangy nutty flavours. A chilled glass of the Solera Jerezana Manzanilla or Hidalgo’s La Gitana is ideal with fresh gazpacho soup, grilled sardines or potato omelette.
Piemonte in northwest Italy has a beautiful mountain backdrop and climate with cold winters and hot summers, which suits the Nebbiolo grape variety well. These elements come together, steered by 'traditional' winemaking, to fashion the unique style of Barolo or Barbaresco. It’s that elusive cocktail of the grape’s quintessential sweet yet savoury/sour delicacy, light colour yet gripping mouth-feel and sometimes high acidity. Winemakers are thinking carefully about barrels, namely their effect on ageing and character for Barolo – new barriques versus old large casks – and especially colour and taming tannins. At the end of the day, it comes down to whether the wine drinker really needs another richly purple wine from a variety that naturally isn’t? Click here for the answer!

Roussillon: Mas Alart

Muscat petits grains from www.masalart.comFrédéric Belmas and his winemaker produce attractive, rather than sensational, red Côtes du Roussillon that can be drunk young while benefiting from a little bottle-age; barrel-matured Rivesaltes Hors d'Age (literally 'beyond age': made from white grapes but slowly turns golden brown, as the Stranglers once sang, over the years) and a lively Muscat de Rivesaltes. The Mas also makes a kind of balsamic vinegar - the smell in the on-site plant (for want of a better word: French has the handy vinaigrerie) is wonderfully overpowering - and a variety of things from organically grown almonds. It's not too difficult to find, off the main road heading out of the village of Saleilles towards Perpignan; easy does it down the potholed rustic track that leads to it.


Tasted mid October 2006:
2005 Muscat sec, la Vigne de Madame - crisp and fresh with lightly perfumed, grapey citrus peel notes; clean mineral finish. 83-85
2005 Carignan vieilles vignes - attractive liquorice fruit, juicy black cherry v dry tannins, quite fine and long. 87
2005 Côtes du Roussillon (Syrah Grenache Carignan) - young spicy fruit, quite concentrated yet elegant, ripe v dry textured finish. 87-89
2005 Muscat de Rivesaltes - fresh and lively honeyed orange peel flavours, nice bite and length v sugar. 87-89
1994 Rivesaltes Hors d'Age - complex rich, oxidised toffee notes on a dried fruit backdrop; good length, 'cut' and maturity v sweet finish. 89-91
Tasted summer 06:
2001 Côtes du Roussillon rouge (13%) - complex maturing meaty tones layered on liquorice and red pepper fruit, soft and ready to drink with a little dry tannin left to finish. Approx €4.50 89
Tasted Sept. 2007:
2005 Merlot, vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes (13%) - enticing plum and cassis aromas with gamey earthy edges, slightly baked/oxidised although this bottle was found on a high supermarket shelf under a light and it had a plastic cork; quite lush and powerful v a touch of extracted dry tannins, not exactly elegant but good with sausages. €3.95 85


Off the D22, 66280 Saleilles. Tel: 04 68 50 51 89, http://www.mas-alart.fr/, frederic.belmas@wanadoo.fr.

01 August 2007

Roussillon Dessert Trophy 2007

This year's sweet-toothed event starts in August, run by the Wines of Roussillon generic body (CIVR) in association with the Academy of Food & Wine. It's a restaurant competition looking for "the most talented pastry chef/sommelier team in Britain," by inviting them to submit a winning combination of a Roussillon Vin Doux Naturel (VDN) sweet wine (white, 'amber' or red) with their dessert fantasy. Eric Aracil, CIVR Export Manager, commented: “The CIVR is proud to support an initiative which recognises excellence in the UK on-trade. The 2007 Roussillon Dessert Trophy puts the limelight on pastry chefs and sommeliers and encourages them to go further in developing their knowledge and expressing their creativity."
Those entering are asked to choose dessert wines off their list from these VDN appellations: Banyuls, Banyuls Grand Cru, Maury, Muscat de Rivesaltes and Rivesaltes. The Roussillon region, or French Catalonia, produces most of France’s VDN wines (see "more wine words" for several articles).
How to enter the Roussillon Dessert Trophy 2007: forms are available from Sophie Brown at the Academy of Food & Wine on 0208 661 4646 or info@acfws.org. Deadline Friday 31st August. If you don't already list Roussillon dessert wines, samples are available from Georgie Hope or Natalie Jeune at Focus PR on 020 7432 9432 or civr-focuspr@focuspr.co.uk.
The final: the trophy will be presented at the Arts Club, Dover Street, London on 1st October 2007. The prizes: the winning chef gets a 4-day course with world champion pastry chef, Olivier Bajard, at the École Internationale de Patîsserie in Perpignan; the winning sommelier spends four days on a guided tour of top Roussillon wine producers. Jury members include Nigel Sutcliffe, restaurant consultant and former director of the Fat Duck, Sarah Jane Evans MW, writer and broadcaster, and Sara Jayne Stanes, chief executive of Academy of Culinary Arts.
Last year’s winning team was sommelier Anke Carmen Hartmann and chef Rebecca Kinsella from Chewton Glen, who paired poached black plums and anise chiboust (what?) mille-feuille with Domaine du Mas Blanc's Banyuls Rimage 2003. Carmen Hartmann enthused: “We enjoyed the challenge of combining flavours with textures and found that, for outstanding results, the dessert needed to be created after the wine was chosen rather than the other way round.”

Update 20/09/07: Dessert Trophy finalists announced
And they are (drum roll...):
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, London
Chocolate Gianduja parfait with roasted pear and pecan, Banyuls syrup with pear and cardamom foam.
Wine: 1996 Banyuls Grand Cru, Cuvée André Magnères, Domaine Vial Magnères.
Chef: Hideko Kawa, sommelier: Naoko Tomita.
Hotel du Vin, Winchester
Dark chocolate mille-feuille, poached cherries, coffee tuiles.
Wine: 2005 Banyuls Quintessence, La Coume del Mas.
Sous chef: Adam Fargin, chef sommelier: Yohann Jousselin.
Roussillon Restaurant, London (I should hope so too!)
Honey mousse with glazed dates, pear rösti and Chinese lemon sorbet.
Wine: 1988 Rivesaltes ambré, Domaine Piquemal.
Pastry chef: Heinrich Greve, chef sommelier: Roberto Della Pietra.
Galvin at Windows, Hilton Park Lane, London
Palet d’or of chocolate with spiced ice cream, spiced crunch tuile, roast fig in Mas Amiel 15 YO and fig purée.
Wine: Maury Prestige 15 Year Old, Mas Amiel.
Pastry chef: Peter Bras, sommelier: Charles Segond.
Call back in October to find out which of these yum-inducing creations is the winner... 

Update 7/10/07: Dramatic drum roll... it's the first one i.e. chocolate Gianduja (what?) parfait with Domaine Vial Magnères' 96 Banyuls Grand Cru, by Hideko Kawa and Naoko Tomita chez Gordon Ramsay.

14 July 2007

Caliterra sponsors Allotment of the Year

In a cunningly original sponsorship deal to infiltrate the very core of things peculiarly British, Chilean wine brand Caliterra has lent its name (and a few bottles presumably) to this most serious of competitions. Run by the National Allotment Gardens Trust, the winners will be announced during National Allotment Week, August 13th to 19th. Being a bit slow in reacting to this news, it's actually now too late to enter so my apologies for that! However, these are the five earth-moving categories:
Best Shed - looking for "the ultimate UK shed, the English allotmenteer’s supreme bolthole."
Best Allotment in the Country - "recognising the most beautiful, individually held plot in the country."
Best Newcomer - "for the person who has been allotment-gardening for less than three years."
Best Community Project - "everything from communal orchards to wild gardens used by special needs groups, an inclusive-minded Eden."
Best Allotment Site - "...in terms of maintenance, cleanliness and organic waste disposal."
With a new British film just out about life on the allotment, 'Grow Your Own', and the UKTV Gardens series, 'Dig For Victory'; this appears to be something that'll run and run. All goes to show you don't need an excuse to have a sit down in your veg garden after a hard day's digging, with a nice glass of wine of course. By the way, I'd stick to spuds and courgettes if I were you: Cabernet vines might be a bit tricky even in these global warming times. Posted 13/07/07. More Caliterra and Chilean wines to follow (see "Chile" page on the right).

13 July 2007

Champagne with potato chips?

"...Zinfandel with your Tex-Mex? Not a problem," says Natalie MacLean, author and sommelier,  who claims to offer no less than 360,000 "daring food and wine matches" in a new feature on her website Nat Decants. So click here www.nataliemaclean.com/matcher and have a bit of fun playing around with it. There's quite a lot of superior rubbish written about which wines should go with what; or, worse still, you know that kind of useless back label stating 'ideal with red meat or cheese.' What I like about Natalie's thing is the depth of options she's included: for example, put in 'pasta' and you'll get a long list of different sauces and ingredients, much more helpful and important when attempting to pair flavours and textures. You might not agree with every suggestion but at least she's spent time thinking it through, and probably done a fair bit of cooking and complementary tasting too! Another good site on this theme is Fiona Beckett’s www.matchingfoodandwine.com.

10 July 2007

Northern Rhône: 'Touring Crozes-Hermitage country..'

"Crozes-Hermitage literally stands in the imposing shadow of the Hermitage hillside vineyard, but do the wines lag far behind in its awesome wake? The busy little town of Tain l’Hermitage, on the Rhone’s right bank north of Valence, forms the heart of the appellation (AOC) and where the eponymous hill starts to rise steeply, immediately behind the station, adorned with placards carrying those oh-so famous names (Chapoutier, Jaboulet…) and the landmark Chapelle revered by wine lovers around the globe..."
Featuring these wineries: Chapoutier, Cave de Tain, Jaboulet, Yann Chave, Laurent Combier, Delas Frères, Alain Graillot, Rémizières-Desmeure, Gilles Robin, Chasselvin-Chomarat, Cave Fayolle, Hauts Chassis; and some touristy stuff such as Valrhona choc factory and the magnificently bizarre Palais Idéal... Part of this feature was originally written for the website winetourisminfrance.com (summer 2007).
CLICK HERE TO READ THIS ARTICLE (in my archive pages).

01 July 2007

Wine Women Awards 2007

Another competition, I hear you say! But this one's a bit different and celebrates leading women in the wine business and related fields, including an 'amateur' category this year. The contest itself takes place in Paris in mid June, where the finalists will be grilled by judges holding €4000 prize-money in their wallets/purses. Closing date to enter is 20th April, so 'sisters get doin' it for yourselves.' Full details on the WWA website: www.winewomenawards.com. Posted 5/3/07.
Update July 07: and the winners were Veronique Rivest, a 41 year-old Canadian sommelier, educator and columnist in the 'professional category'; and, in
the 'amateur category', Aurélie Degoul, 23 year-old from France who's in charge of a wine tourism project in Sauternes (sounds pretty 'professional' to me).

22 June 2007

Reader offer on Wine Travel Guides...com

This new and original site launched by wine writer and educator Wink Lorch is very good; although I'm biased as I compiled all the Languedoc-Roussillon sections, or 'micro-regions' as we like to call them. Wink had the bright idea of breaking up all of France's wine and administrative regions in a less traditional and more logical way (for English speakers at least). Hence there are 40 downloadable micro-region guides each including a dozen personally recommended wineries to visit, good restaurants and hotels, wine and tourist events and attractions and much more besides. All neatly brought together in a downloadable compact PDF format along with location maps and suggested itineraries for the 'busy independent traveller'.
Unsubtle plugging and humour aside, these guides are all compiled by specialist writers who live in the area or visit it very regularly:
Jane Anson, Liz Berry MW, Jacqueline Friedrich, Elizabeth Gabay MW, Rosemary George MW, Jean-Pierre Renard, Tom Stevenson, Paul Strang, Sue Style, Wink herself and yours truly. Wink explains further: "The Guides are available by annual subscription with several options. For Gold subscribers they include not only the Michelin Green Guides for extra tourist information, but also interactive Michelin maps, which provide precise locations for all the recommendations. The design is crisp, fresh and professional and there is no advertising to get in the way of the wealth of information. Registration on the site allows access to a free sample Guide available as a PDF download or to view on-line." Here's the deal for winewriting.com readers:
Introductory offer for subscriptions on www.winetravelguides.com. Enter the code D1CTR07 into the ‘Subscribe’ Page to receive a discounted subscription of: £6.50 Bronze (instead of £7.50), £17 Silver (instead of £19.50) and £39 Gold (instead of £49). Valid until 30th September 2007. So check it out today! Posted 22 June 07.
Latest March 2008: there are now 46 downloadable mini-guides to France's wine regions, all recently updated and revised. Click on the link above to check it out.
UPDATE June 2008 As I've said before, I'm a contributor to these guides so have an interest in seeing the site succeed. So, I'll let creator Wink Lorch do the talking: "At Wine Travel Guides we are marking one year on-line and are delighted at how the website has been received. As an example, a recent subscriber wrote: "My son and I are doing a food/wine trip in the Rhône and the level of detailed local insight you give on growers, restaurants and hotels isn't equalled by any other source I've found." To celebrate, we have changed the free sample guide on the site to the enticing Inland Provence Guide by local resident Elizabeth Gabay MW. As a registered user, you can view the Guide on-line or download the PDF guide right away once you've logged in. (Your login is your email address; if you've forgotten your password just click on the link and it will be re-sent to you)."
SPECIAL SUBSCRIPTION OFFER for winewriting.com readers
"There's no better time to subscribe to a Gold subscription with our very special June offer (nearly 30% off) which will give you a whole year of access to all the Guides, with interactive Michelin maps and tourist guides too. Generous discounts are available too for the Silver and Bronze PDF subscription options. Go to the 'subscribe' page, enter the promotional code D2REG0608 and click 'Apply promotion'. This offer is only valid until 30 June 2008: Gold £35 (instead of £49)
, Silver £15.50 (instead of £19.50) and Bronze £6.00 (instead of £7.50). The approximate € or US$ rates prevailing at the time will appear in brackets."
Developments in the pipeline include adding GPS coordinates to all recommended wine producers, places to stay, eat and shop etc. By popular demand, WTG will be extending the choice of guides into major wine regions elsewhere in Europe including Italy, Spain and Portugal. These new guides will come on stream over the year. Other plans include a general wine travel resource section and blog. And for fans of the Loire Valley, serious-moustached & loud-shirted wine writer Jim Budd (click here to go to his Loire blog), an authority on the region's wines, will now be covering this section (currently five guides). Posted 30/5/08.