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30 March 2007

Roussillon: Mas Crémat, Espira de l'Agly

Originally from Burgundy, Catherine Jeannin's beautiful hillside Mas was established (and replanted) 17 years ago, complete with charming old Catalan farmhouse buildings; and is found down a signposted, vine-enFrom www.mascremat.comclosed track between the villages of Espira and Cases-de-Pène. You catch a glimpse of it while driving along the main road; but you have to carry on towards Espira, turn left at the roundabout up a hill and then left off this road. Now that her son and daughters have returned after various studies and work experience to help run the estate, Catherine wants to develop the wine tourism side by offering accommodation and lunches to small groups of wine lovers, as well as regular events such as their 'open day' in June. Watch this space...
In addition to all the usual red suspects, they have 10 ha/25 acres of white varieties including the less common Vermentino and Carignan blanc, plus both Muscats. "I'd like to increase plantings of red," she explained, implying she'll remove some of these white grape vines. "But it's important to have a good mix of vins de pays and dearer wines. We find people buy either the cheapest or the dearest, not so much the mid-price ones." Their 'entry level' red is indeed
great value
(see below) and sensibly Catherine believes that "we don't want to price our top wines too high."

Tried and tested back in March 2007:
2005 Grenache vieilles vignes, vin de pays Côtes Catalanes white (70+ year-old Grenache blanc & gris 14%) - subtle toasty notes mingle with apricot, peach and floral tones; elegant soft mouth-feel, attractive but lacks a bit of zing perhaps. €12 85+
2006 Tamarius red, vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (Syrah Grenache Carignan) - delicious vibrant black cherry/currant fruit with light cedar tones, fresh and easy palate with a touch of grip to finish. €4.30 85-87
2005 Côtes du Roussillon red (Grenache Syrah Carignan Mourvèdre) - still quite fruity although savoury too with rustic edges; more structured and firmer with nice backdrop of fruit, quite elegant and long. 87-89
2003 Cuvée Bastien, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre 14%) - smoky and peppery showing lovely fruit with liquorice notes; concentrated and firm v spicy and lush with very light chocolate oak coating, again good balance grip and length. 90-92

Mas Crémat, 66600 Espira de l'Agly. Tel: 04 68 38 92 06, www.mascremat.com, mascremat@mascremat.com.

25 March 2007

Roussillon: Olivier Pithon, Calce

Updated Dec 2012 - see below.

This much talked-about domaine (although I'm still not 100% convinced why...) is found on the 'high' street in sleepy Calce: to find it, look for a clue outside on the pavement such as the odd winery hose or empty palette. Olivier started doing his own thing in 2001, having worked for Gérard Gauby among others, and thinks the Roussillon "has a big future in quality wines" thanks to its "rich variety of very different terroirs and old vines." He now has 15 ha / 37 acres spread out around the village and up towards the Col de la Dona (a lovely spot for a drive or walking), planted with about 60% red varieties. He also believes that "the best white wines in the Languedoc and Roussillon are from around here! The region has everything going for it, you can do lots of different styles – simple, big, elegant, less heavy... We just need to build up its image, new growers are arriving all the time hoping to follow in the footsteps of people like Gauby." And, like many, feels the Roussillon's main advantage over parts of the Languedoc is that "people kept their old vines and it's cooler (relatively) and windier here, favouring the production of finer wines."

Here are a few wines I tasted from vat in Olivier's garage cellar (in the sense of compact premises rather than home to overblown styles) back in March 2007 (read on for latest vintages):
2006 Cuvée Laïs white (Macabeu Grenache blanc) – quite rich and toasty v perfumed and exotic apricot fruit, fresh and long with nice poise on the finish. 87-89
2006 La D18 (named after the road!) white (100% Grenache blanc) – very different from above, more mineral and appley with lightly creamy and spicy edges, again fresh acidity to finish.
2006 red (mostly young
Carignan) – shows nice floral cherry fruit with light grip, peppery and fruity. 85+
2005 Saturne (
Grenache Carignan Syrah) – about to be bottled: complex wild flowers and ripe cherry fruit, liquorice palate with a tight, dry and fresh finish. 89-91
I've tried one or two others since, I'll add them to this blurb when i've relocated them.


UPDATE 2012 live from Millésime Bio wine show, Montpellier!


2011 Mon P'tit Pithon blanc (Macabeu, Grenache blanc/gris) – appley nutty and leesy, perhaps lacks a bit of character in the end. €8.20 cellar door.
2011 Laïsblanc (Macabeu, Grenache blanc/gris: barrel sample) – quite rich and toasty with apricot fruit tones, concentrated with nice yeast-lees bite, long finish balancing power and fresh acidity. Very good. €15.50
2011 Mon P'tit Pithonred (mostly young vine Grenache) – attractive fruity and minty style, fairly simple though. €8.20

2009 Le Pilou (very old Carignan) – intense and concentrated with lush vs crunchy blueberry, black cherry and cassis fruit; has freshness vs weight too on its tasty long finish. Very good although rather dear at €33. 

19 Route d'Estagel, 66600 Calce. Tel/fax: 04 68 38 50 21, pithon.olivier@wanadoo.fr, www.domaineolivierpithon.com.

15 March 2007

Roussillon: La Préceptorie de Centernach, St-Arnac

For your pure enjoyment, here are some tasting notes on a few well-shaped white and red, dry & sweet, wines from man of nature Vincent Legrand (pictured right). La Préceptorie covers some 40 ha/100 acres (that's a lot of ploughing) producing mostly Vin de Pays wines in all colours (5700 cases) followed by AOC Roussillon styles and 2000 cases of small bottles of luscious Maury. I tasted these in March 2007 along with Domaine de la Rectorie's (see 'R' under winery A to Z) range (see below, they work together) at their Argeles warehouse and office:
2006 Coume Marie Réserve l'Almandin, Côtes du Roussillon blanc (Grenache Gris Macabeu 14.5%) - barrel sample: milky and juicy with fresh mineral length, the high alcohol and light wood toast aren't very noticeable and should integrate nicely. 87-89
2006 Les Terres Nouvelles Réserve l'Almandin "écrits de lumière", vin de pays Côtes Catalanes blanc (Grenache Gris 13.5%) - barrel sample: delicious flowery white peach aromas with very light creamy tones, fresh bite v power and poise. 88-90
2005 Zoé vin de pays Côtes Catalanes rouge (Syrah 13.5%) - nice juicy black cherry fruit with fragrant spicy edges, attractive full palate v light dry bite. 87-89
2005 Coume Marie, Côtes du Roussillon rouge (14.5%) - richer and more structured but still has fragrant black cherry and spice, quite brawny v tangy fresh fruit. 89-91
2005 Cuvée Aurélie Pereira de Abreu, Maury (Grenache & Carignan 17.5%) - youthful aromas and flavours, shows enticing lush peppery blackberry fruit with lightly savoury leather notes; the alcohol's a bit obvious at the moment but it has attractive sweet texture, bite and finish. 90

Centernach near Maury: 1 Route de Lansac, 66220 St-Arnac. Tel: 04 68 81 02 94 / 06 82 67 04 17, legrandvin@wanadoo.fr. See La Rectorie below for more web contacts. Summer 2009: Vincent Legrand is no longer at La Préceptorie, update to follow...

10 March 2007

Roussillon: Château Valmy, Argelès-sur-Mer

From www.chateau-valmy.comThe road up to Martine and Bernard Carbonnell's remarkable Bavarian/Disney-esque castle cum winery & hotel is well signposted off the Argelès bypass, but you absolutely could not miss it (even if it was dark and you were wearing sunglasses...). Perched up on a hill and surrounded by neatly terraced cascading vineyards, the Carbonnells have spent a fortune restoring this old family estate. Bernard started by replanting all the vineyards in the 1990s, building a show-piece glass-inner-walled cellar with tasting bar and finally had the peeling château itself renovated. They now offer five sumptuous and well-equipped guest rooms that retain a certain timeless Old World charm; priced from €150 to €350 depending on time of year, size and meal options (it's not open in the winter by the way).
As for the wines, I found them attractive and well-made although a bit over-glossy and lacking substance given the quite high prices they charge (€8 to €16); then again, most of the vines are still young so the wines should gain more depth in time. They currently produce about 70,000 bottles and "need to get to 100K to really be profitable, in terms of the investments made," taking a long-term view like so many who believe in the Roussillon's quality future and have gambled a lot of money on it. The whole set-up is clearly geared to getting numbers of wine tourists to come to them, and why not when you have an extraordinary estate like this in a superb location? And it appears to be paying off: Martine said they now sell around 60% of production on-site, way above the average; and it's a great place for them to entertain their trade customers too.

These wines tasted in March 2007:
2005 Valmy rosé (Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre) – fruity chunky and rounded with quite fresh length; good but looking a little old, look forward to trying the 06. 85

2005 Les Roses Blanches de Valmy (Viognier Marsanne Grenache blanc) – pretty toasty (fermented in oak) but does has nice aromatic apricot notes and creamy full palate too. 85
2004 Côtes du Roussillon rouge (Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre)attractive creamy blackcurrant and raspberry fruit, soft and ripe with dry bite and subtle finish. 83-85
2004 Le Premier de Valmy, Côtes du Roussillon (
Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre) - coconut spice dominates the nose (14 months in oak), quite lush with elegant fruit texture, dry v rounded then tighter finish. Quite good but €16? 87
2004 Valmya Rivesaltes Grenat VDN (
Grenache) – enticing blackberry/cherry nose moves on to savoury v dark chocolate and wild fruit flavours; nice balance of tannin texture, sweetness and alcohol. 89
2005 L'Or de Valmy, Muscat de Rivesaltes (
Muscat petits grains) – delicious floral honeyed nose, fruity and rich palate with lively finish showing roundness and freshness. 87

Chemin de Valmy,
66700 Argelès-sur-Mer. Tel: 04 68 81 25 70 / 04 68 95 95 25, contact@chateau-valmy.com/ chateau.valmy@tiscali.fr, www.chateau-valmy.com

05 March 2007

Déjà-Vu Wine Oscars across the Andes

The Argentinean wine establishment has mirrored their Chilean counterparts over the other side of the Andes with their first vinous awards ceremony held in Mendoza a couple of weeks ago. And as sure as night follows day, Wines of Chile had their fourth annual bash in Santiago a month before that. What was a first for Santiago this year, was the all American judging team - in the past mostly Brits - including Bob Paulinski MW, Mary Ewing-Mulligan MW, Joshua Greene (Wine & Spirits mag), critic Jay Miller and the Wine Enthusiast's Michael Schachner. Over in Mendoza, the tasters included many established names from the UK - in fact the same 'old' ones who've previously done the judging thing in Chile (ooh, jealousy and bitching will get you nowhere!) - such as Oz Clarke, Robert Joseph, Peter Richards, Jancis Robinson MW and Beverley Blanning MW, as well as winemakers from Argentina Roberto de la Mota (Bodegas Mendel) and Daniel Pi (Trapiche) among others.
Anyway, enough of the banter; let's move on to the decorated wines. As for Argentina, "interestingly eight out of the nine Trophy winners will retail in the UK for under £10" commented James Forbes, UK Director of Wines of Argentina. They are as follows:
Sparkling wine - Familia Zuccardi, Alma 4 Chardonnay Roble 2003
Red blend - Bodega Norton, Norton Privada 2003
Tempranillo - Tittarelli, Finca El Retiro Reserva Especial 2004
Cabernet Sauvignon - Bodegas Santa Ana, La Mascota 2005
Malbec - Fabre Montmayou, Fabre Montmayou Gran Reserva 2005
Sauvignon Blanc - Pulenta Estate, La Flor de Pulenta Estate 2006
Torrontés - Bodega Felix Lavaque, Quara 2006
White blend - Bodega Luigi Bosca, Gala 3 Viognier 2006
Syrah - Don Domenico, Finca Don Domenico de Huanacache 2006.

You might be surprised to see a top sparkling wine from Argentina, although Domaine Chandon, for example, has also been making good fizz there since the 60s. I haven't tried the Zuccardi wine (but hope to at some point), yet that producer doesn't usually disappoint. Apart from them, there are a few other old favourite names here such as Norton, Fabre Montmayou and Luigi Bosca.
All the medal results are available on www.winesofargentina.org.
Back to Chile, best screenplay and director go to:
Sauvignon Blanc & 'best in show' - Viña Casas del Bosque Reserve 2006
Cabernet Sauvignon - Viña Hacienda Araucano, Reserva 2005
Carmenère - Viña Odfjell, Orzada 2004
Syrah - Viña Porta, Winemaker Reserve 2005
Merlot - Viña Concha y Toro, Marques de Casa Concha 2005
Chardonnay - Viña Nuevo Mundo, Tacón Alto 2006
Other red variety - Viña Millaman, barrel aged Zinfandel 2005
Red blend - Viña Estampa, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenère/Petit Verdot 2005
Best value white (this is beginning to sound like the International Wine Challenge) - Viña Miguel Torres, Santa Digna Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2006
Best value red - Viña MontGras, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Rosé - Viña Chocalan 2006.

Similarly, see www.winesofchile.org for full listing. I'm pleased to see
Casas del Bosque up there, as I've always thought they make one of Chile's best Sauvignons. Also worthy of comment is the mix of familiar names, who are obviously now showing their experience and pedigree, and new estates (to me at least). I look forward to tasting these wines in the near future. My feature on the 2006 winners is included on a mega Chile page (see "more wine words" on the right).

01 March 2007

Wine Relief 2007

Big plastic red noses, 22 million people tap-dancing at once, football celebs being doused in purple custard: Comic Relief day is back with a vengeance on Friday 16th March. The UK wine industry, retailers, writers, restaurants etc. will once again be doing their bit to raise money for CR charities in Britain and Africa (Wine Relief has amassed £2million since its launch in 1999). The following are donating 10% of the sale price of a range of Red Nose wines: Co-op, Majestic, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Somerfield, Tesco, Threshers, Waitrose and Café Rouge.
A few of my favourites include
Montes Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley (£6.49) and Crozes-Hermitage, Cave de Tain L'Hermitage (£6.99) at Majestic (if you're anywhere near their Vinopolis shop in Southwark, south London, you don't have to buy a case there); Darting Estate Riesling (£6.99) and Pirque Estate Sauvignon Blanc (£6.99) from M&S; Porcupine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon (£5.49) at Sainsbury's; Brown Brothers Dry Muscat (£5.24) at Somerfield; Tesco Finest Tapiwey Sauvignon Blanc and Kulapelli Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere (both £7.99); Gobelsburger Grüner Veltliner from Austria (£6.49), Fetzer Syrah Rosé from California (£5.99) and J P Ramos' Trincadeira from Portugal (£7.49) at Waitrose; and the Laroche Terret and Grenache white and red house wines at Café Rouge (£15) sound worth a go. Consume sensibly of course! Click on the Big One top right for more info, fundraising ideas, donations etc. Posted 27/2/07.
Although not part of Comic Relief, another inventive fundraising event for the world's poor is the VSO Big Curry Night on Saturday March 10 2007 (follow the highlighted link for details), which sounds like a fun idea for charidy. This was brought to my attention by Warren Edwardes from Wine for Spice, purveyor of curry-friendly wines such as Raja Rosé (I did a little feature and tasting on his wines in 2004, which I haven't yet rebuilt on this site...), who's also supporting Big Curry Night. You can read his blog here. So check out the VSO's recipe ideas, go shopping and get cooking. Talking of rosé wines, I do find they often go with spicy food very well: check out my regular "wines of the moment" and Roussillon guides, for example, for recommendations. Posted 5/3/07.