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01 December 2008

Languedoc: Château des Auzines, Corbières

Award-winning Auzines (it's called Chateau or Domaine, the former referring to vineyards and cellar and the latter the entire huge property-cum-lieu-dit) is another organically farmed estate - for over ten years in fact, so a bit ahead of their time by modern standards - set on gorgeous forestland and hills near the historic village of Lagrasse (which might mean 'fat one' by the way). The Lagrasse area has become a veritable hub of exiting wineries (see above and below for more) in the vinous vastness that is the Corbières region.
Auzines comes to a quite sizeable 41 hectares (100 acres) of vineyards and is run by highly qualified winemaker/viticulturist Bruno Bernet, whose sought-after Syrah-based micro-label called 'Cuvée des Roches' is definitely worth tracking down, if there's any left. Alternatively their Hautes Terres red and deliciously good white Corbières even offer an equally rewarding taste sensation (and more affordable experience). They sell most of their wine in export (Germany, UK, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Japan, Denmark among others) so shouldn't be too difficult to get hold of, although North Americans reading this might have to wait as they don't appear to have crossed the Atlantic yet.


These wines tasted at Millésime Bio, Perpignan January 2008:
2006 Fleurs Blanches Corbières blanc (mostly Grenache Gris) - honeyed apricots with very light toasted notes, attractively fresh v fat palate with rounded oily yet elegant finish. 87
2006 Rosé de Garrigues (Grenache Gris, Cinsault) - still quite fresh and elegant with oily roundness, subtle red fruits and crisp bite. 87
2004 Vin de Pays de l'Aude rouge (Carignan, Aubun?, Alicante) - rustic and quite rich with juicy smoky fruit and crunchier finish, attractive now. 85
2005 Fleurs de Garrigues Corbières rouge (60% Carignan, Grenache, Syrah) - lovely aromatic berry fruit, lively tasty palate with liquorice flavours, light tannins and elegant finish. 87-89
2005 Hautes Terres Corbières rouge (Grenache, Syrah) - a bit closed on the nose, some coconut and blackberry on the palate; chunkier gripper and more 'modern' style (although no better or worse for it than the above, just different), needs several months to open up. 87-89
2003 Hautes Terres Corbières rouge (Grenache, Syrah) - richer with more tobacco-edged tones, pretty grippy & powerful mouth-feel moving on to leather and spice. 89
2005 Cuvée des Roches (mostly Syrah) - a touch
reduced to start with, although unlikely given this has seen quite a bit of cask ageing but there was something funny about the nose? However, it's concentrated showing ripe black fruits, extracted tannins but not too as there's nice roundness to balance that firmness; again needs some time to come together as it's promising. 90+

Update Dec 2008
I sailed over to Auzines in October 2008, where I met Bruno and his enthusiastic sidekick Franck who offered up the wines below for tasting. To find it, take the D3 road out of Lagrasse towards Carcassonne, then follow the signs turning right over a narrow bridge then left and keep climbing until you arrive at the winery buildings and chateau itself. Bruno talked about a few of the peculiarities that make Auzines special. "As we're at altitude here (300 metres / nearly 1000 feet), we have to have a good September otherwise we need to do a lot of sorting. We're really at the limit here for ripening (some of the varieties) so we wait."
There's more Syrah coming on stream (new plantings in 2005) and they've removed some of the old Carignan, although the blends will remain mostly Carignan except Roches. "Not all old Carignan is good, you need good clones... and because we're high up here, it's difficult for Carignan, we need late flowering to get proper ripeness, e.g. in 2002 it was all declassified to vin de pays. From 2005 to 2008, we've had a good late season so have waited to the right moment to pick, taking a few risks even..." For the red wines, no yeasts are added going the 'natural' route, and they like to age them "as much as necessary before releasing them." Bit of a luxury nowadays I'd have thought!

Over to those wines:
2007 Fleurs de Garrigues Corbières (vat sample: mostly Carignan + Grenache Syrah) - no barriques. Lovely wild fruits, spicy and crunchy v quite rich; attractive bite and freshness v rounded tannins. 87+
2008 white Corbières (from barrel: Grenache Gris & Blanc) - very nice, not toasty really yet with fat and juicy, yeast-lees underbelly. Promising.
2006 Corbières (some barrique ageing: Carignan Syrah Grenache) - showing fairly obvious chocolate and cocoa touches at the moment, although there's delicious wild fruit underneath, black cherry & olive; firm bite and length suffused with fruit, finishing with a bitter twist. More depth and weight. 89+?
2007 Syrah (from barrel, destined for La Roche) - pretty woody but it has plenty of vibrant fruit and concentration, again shows dark cherries & olive with wilder edges; chocolate tannins on the finish, powerful v grippy texture. 90+
2004 Fleurs de Garrigues (Carignan + Grenache Syrah, 14.5%) - maturing 'sweet & savoury' notes on the nose; quite dry, extracted and firm palate with a hint of spicy oak texture; beefy with some resiny dried fruit on the finish, not sure will get much better. 87+?
2005 Hautes Terres (Grenache Syrah, 13.5%) - 12 months in barrel. Has purer fruit character with resiny dried cassis edges; solid and concentrated but better balanced, with more depth v those firm tannins and rounder texture. 89+
2006 cuvée des Roches (mostly Syrah, 13.5%) - lovely lush dark cherry with chocolate spice undertones, turning savoury and liquorice; firm structure v spicy oak v richness v tight length, quite elegant actually and well-handled. 90-92
2007 Fleurs Blanches white (mostly Grenache Gris) - delicious exotic v nutty nose, aromatic and rich with spicy oak / yeast-lees undertones; however, it's mostly nutty, apricot and floral in character; that 14% alcohol certainly adds weight although its lush v dry mouth-feel makes it a very nice, food-leaning white wine. €9.50 88-90
Previous Auzines vintages
here (Millésime Bio 06).

Les Auzines, 11220 Lagrasse.
Tel: 04 68 43 10 13, domaineauzines@wanadoo.fr / chateaudesauzines@wanadoo.fr / chateaulesauzines@wanadoo.fr, info@lesauzines.comlesauzines.com.

Wine fairs, tastings, events & special offers November-December: UK and France

A wide-ranging pre-festive round-up of winey things going on and Christmas offers, which will probably be updated over the next few weeks...
Alternative gift ideas perhaps: the Wine Society is offering a £20 credit with any new membership up until 31st December. A share in one of the UK's oldest, 'mutual' mail-order wine companies usually costs £40: there's no annual fee and anyone can join. More info at thewinesociety.com. They've also launched an own-label red from South Africa, The Society’s Pinotage, sourced from Robertson region in the Western Cape and made by family-run Bon Cap Organic Wines: click here for my review and notes.
Another idea is a gift subscription to winetravelguides.com: prices go from £7.50 (about US$12) up to the full monty Gold Gift Subscription (£49 or US$80), which gives you full access to all travel guides on the site. Meaning no less than 46 'micro-regions' in France with 7 new guides coming on stream over the next couple of months - Mosel, Germany; Rioja, Spain; and Tuscany, Italy. Vouchers can be emailed directly to the recipient, or you can print it out or forward it yourself. By the way, a subscription discount code is still valid that can also be used for gifts. To find it, check out WTG publisher Wink Lorch's personal blog or "look out for our Wine Travel Guides Blog coming to the website very soon!" says Wink.
On-line wine merchant FromVineyardsDirect.com brings you the 'Hard Times Case': apparently the "perfect credit-crunch beating Christmas gift." This actually quite posh selection of French wines includes two "de-frocked" Cru Classé reds and "a bound Everyman's edition of Dickens' Hard Times," priced at £122.
French Winegrowers Fair takes place from 21-23 November at the Barbican Exhibition Centre in central London. Visitors can buy and print out a half-price admission voucher, £10 instead of £20 door price, from their website: www.frenchwinegrowersfair.com.
Decanter Fine Wine Encounter over the weekend of 22 & 23 November, London's glitziest annual wine show featuring top samplings and producer masterclass tastings. Book your tickets from www.decanter.com.
On a more local scale ("for local people"), Wokingham Wine Festival rolls out over the weekend of 6-7 December. This event is in aid of charity, with ticket proceeds going to the Multiple Sclerosis Society and is organised by ASDW (Association of Small Direct Wine merchants) including Nick Dobson Wines, Leon Stolarski Fine Wines and Amordivino. More info at: www.wokinghamwinefestival.co.uk.
Bistrot du Sommelier, Paris: "Les vendredis du Vigneron season 4" continues on Fridays at Philippe Faure-Brac's celebrated wine bar/restaurant. 28th November: Jean-Luc Aegerter from Maison Aegerter, Burgundy. 5th December: Xavier de Rozières from leading Corbières estate Château de Lastours. 12th December Champagne Perrier-Jouet dinner. Tasting and three-course lunch costs €45 or five-course dinner with five matched wines for €70, except the Champers bash €100. Info and booking at www.bistrotdusommelier.com or phone (+33) (0)1 42 65 24 85.
The Ronde des Cépages 2008 takes place this Sunday 30th November (also St. Andrews Day in Scotland, by the way) in the village of Bizanet, in the northern Corbières (not far from Narbonne). Expect wine tastings, music and a Christmas food market. More info: phone +33 (0)4 68 58 17 42 or bizanet.net.
Nuit des treize desserts Rasteau (night of 13 desserts) Sat. 13th December. A kind of pudding crawl around Rasteau (pretty village in the southern Rhone Valley), hopefully including a little taster of their Port-like red made from Grenache. Cost = 26 euros (15 for under-twelves, presumably not including wine!) for the first 1000 people to book with Terres de Lumière. Phone 04 90 46 18 73 or via terres-de-lumière.com. Local wine info from rasteau.com.
Continuing the dessert theme, there's a "Divin chocolat en noir et blanc" exhibition throughout December at Loire Valley winery Ackerman - Rémy Pannier (13 rue Léopold Palustre, Saint Hilaire-Saint Florent, 49412 Saumur). The theme: discovery for beginners of food, wine & chocolate matching. For youngsters, there's a grape and cocoa taste & smell showcase. Admission: €2 or free for under 18s. Check it out on www.ackerman-remypannier.com.
In the Côtes du Ventoux wine region, a Christmas truffle tasting takes place on Sat. 20th December at TerraVentoux co-op wine cellar from 11am-1pm. Truffle farmer Eric Jaumard will talk about black truffles tasted with TerraVentoux's wines. Contact Jean-Marc Thibaut on 04 90 61 79 47 or magasin1@cave-terraventoux.com.
Other seasonal things to do: New Year's Eve grape picking in the Southwest, see www.plaimont.com; "L’art du goût, le goût de l’art" 3-14 December sponsored by Malbec from Cahors: www.frenchmalbec.com.

21 November 2008

Languedoc: Château de Lastours, Corbières


Updates below.

This breathtaking estate is perched high up in the Corbières hills, watched over by giant windmills facing the sea, and is well-signposted from the A9 motorway (the exit for Sigean) or off the Portel-Durban road: keep following the winding track upwards until you reach the tasting room/cellar. Lastours changed hands just in time for the 2004 vintage, following a period of neglect it has to be said. The new owner (the Filhet-Allard group) has invested a lot of money and time in upgrading and reducing the vineyard area, to focus on the best parcels: there’s been a massive vine removal and replanting programme led by resolute estate manager Xavier de Rozières. They're also in the process of planting 3000 olive trees with a view to producing their first oils from around 2015.
This has paid off in quality terms from the 2004s onwards, and their 2005 and particularly 2006 reds look very promising indeed (although care should be taken not to over-oak some of the wines!). Favourites include the Simone Descamps and Château de Lastours Reserve labels, and their 2007 white shows fair depth and class. Lastours also lays on 4x4 rides around this huge wild estate, which is great fun and gives you a better idea of how varied the vineyard terrain is up here. In addition, there’s a very good restaurant called La Bergerie; and further ambitious plans include constructing a new landscaped solar-powered winery (big cheque book, those Filhet-Allards. Now completed, ed.). There are still a few handicapped people who work in the vineyards and live on the estate.

The three 2004 vintage reds below were cask samples tasted at Vinisud on 20th February 2006, the rest at the property on 9th Feb.
2004 Arnaud de Berre - lots of young spicy fruit, shows nice grip v softness and elegant length. 87+
2004 Simone Descamps - just a touch of wood adds choc and spice, displays intense ripe black fruits, more concentrated than the Berre with attractive soft texture, dry bite and length. 89-91
2004 Château de Lastours - a tad oakier but not much, lovely concentration set against structured mouthfeel, showing similar fruit style and elegance; will be super. 92-94

Update: tasted April 2007
2004
 Château de Lastours Réserve - ripe 'sweet' fruit leads to rather dry chocolate wood. Disappointing considering this was looking really good in barrel: left it too long? €17
2004 Rosé - zingy v juicy fruit, more elegant style with subtle finish. 87
2000 La Grande Rompue - rather rustic nose yet has good concentration, power and some elegance as well; nice texture and mature fruit, a little too farmyardy (perhaps from poor barrel hygiene) but good underneath. 85+
2001 Château de Lastours - similar aromas to above but cleaner, more concentrated and firmer, good weight v elegance. 87-89


Lastours update November 2008
Xavier laid on a comprehensive tasting including everything they've made so far, except the 2007 and 2008 reds (unfinished obviously). We also took a spin around the estate to see how they've progressed with the replanting programme and remodelling parts of the terrain (some of the work to create water reservoirs and elsewhere to make way for more windmills).
2006 Lastours white - light coconut and toast notes yet it's still aromatic and quite crisp, fair weight with juicy v creamy texture. 85
2007 Lastours white - more yeast-lees tones and complexity with it v citrus fruit with nice depth and bite, leesy buttery mouth-feel then quite fine length. 87-89
2007 Lastours rosé (Cinsault 
Grenache Syrah) - quite rich and creamy with raspberry and strawberry fruit, still fairly crisp with refreshing finish. 85-87
2005 Arnaud de Berre (Carignan Syrah Grenache) - smoky nose with 'sweet' vanilla tones in the background; juicy and quite rich v firm yet rounded tannins, liquorice fruit v bitter twist on the finish. 87+
2006 Arnaud de Berre - lovely wild berry fruit with herbal undertones; quite concentrated, very fruity and lively, dry yet soft-ish tannins, again has that dark chocolate twist. 89
2004 Simone Descamps (Carignan Syrah Grenache) - surprisingly closed up to start, tight palate with light oak texture, fairly meaty and firm with the fruit still a little submerged. 89+
2005 Simone Descamps - similar concentration and depth to above with that powerful, firm and closed up palate too; more fruit though with dark choc texture and biggish tannins, quite fine and promising in the end. 90+
2006 Simone Descamps - oakier at this stage but again it's lush and concentrated; dark cherry, chocolate and liquorice on a solid palate, delicious fruit too. Needs 1-2 years to open up, long and balanced despite that chocolate oak coating. 92+?
2004 Château de Lastours Réserve (all three Carignan Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre and 14.5%) - showing more toasty coco oak, solid concentrated mouth-feel with that trademark 'sweet' v bitter texture, peppery dark fruits too; probably a touch too much oak, but this is commanding and quite impressive. 90-92
2005 Château de Lastours Réserve - toasted dark chocolate nose is quite up-front, but this has more fruit than the 04 with nice spicy intensity; perhaps a touch charred on the finish although it's very rich and vigorous with enticingly thick tannins. Needs 2-3 years. 92+?
2006 Château de Lastours Réserve - brooding and closed up with coconut and vanilla coating dominating at first; but once again it has livelier fruit (than the other two vintages) lurking underneath, finishing with lovely concentration and punch. Opened up over lunch. 93+?


Latest Lastours vintages here (2009 vintage report).
And HERE'Grande Réserve' Corbières 2008 ("wines of the mo" Feb. 2014)


Lastours, 11490 Portel-des-Corbières.
Tel: 04 68 48 64 74, www.chateaudelastours.com.

04 November 2008

Roussillon Dessert Trophy 2008

This year's sweet-toothed challenge for sommeliers and pastry chefs to create the perfect pudding and Vin Doux Naturel (VDN) match was extended beyond the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium into... France. It might sound a bit odd that the CIVR (Roussillon wines trade association) only decided this year to open it up to restaurants in France, but traditionally VDN wines have been preferred as an aperitif by the French. I find the idea, and the practice in fact, of drinking something pretty sweet and strong as an appetizer before dinner a tad bizarre - as presumably do fellow VDN fans in northern Europe - so it's refreshing to see that the Roussillon lot are trying to shift French people's perceptions and get them to try these sometimes delicious wines with their dessert instead.

Anyway, enough of the waffle; who won then, I hear you ask? The final took place yesterday in Perpignan at Olivier Bajard's Ecole Internationale de Pâtisserie, chaired by Olivier himself along with other local chefs and wine types. Toulouse restaurant Le Metropolitan stole the title from Le Bistro des Saveurs in Obernai, Alsace (both Michelin-starred). Young Toulouse chef Timothée Dedievre's inspiringly named creation was "une barre crousti fondante au chocolat Alto El Sol millésime 2007, sorbet au citron jaune rafraîchi au gingembre" (crispy melting chocolate bar {07 vintage Alto El Sol?}, lemon yellow sorbet invigorated with ginger). Sommelier, or rather sommelière, Vanessa Bouisset impressed the judges with her VDN choice and thinking behind it: Rivesaltes Ambré Hors d’Age from Domaine Boucabeille. They now go through to the European final of the RDT on the 2nd February 2009, to be held in Perpignan during the third 'Rencontres Méditerranéennes du Muscat', a biennial trade event celebrating all things Muscat.



They'll be joined by the British winners, who were Dessert-Trophied in London last month: chef and sommelier partnership Thibaut Panas and Anne Coquelin from Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Oxford. The blurb says: "Le Manoir’s team wowed a panel of wine and culinary experts with their creation of Manjari Chocolate ‘Sable Breton’ with Black Provençal Fig dessert matched with a Rivesaltes from Domaine Gérard Gauby called Caricia, 2005 vintage." The UK final, held on 20th October at The Arts Club, central London, was between four pastry chef and sommelier teams: Compass Group – Restaurant Associates, Gordon Ramsay at Maze, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and Tom Aikens.

Stop press Feb. 2009 - click below to read the Decanter.com news piece on the European winners: Raymond Blanc’s Manoir wins dessert trophy
A team from Raymond Blanc’s Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons has won the European Roussillon Dessert Trophy...

01 November 2008

Promenades en France opens in Beaune

Wine tour operator Promenades en France has had the bright idea of opening premises called les Caves de l’Abbaye in lovely Beaune, where they'll be laying on daily tastings or wine & food matching-meals, and you can also hire the place for a candlelit private wine function. More details: www.promenades-en-france.com or www.les-caves-abbaye.com. Update November 2008: wine tour gift vouchers now available.

31 October 2008

Languedoc: Domaine Cavaillès, Minervois

Domaine Cavaillès - Minerve

These two reds have been extracted from my pick of a variety of producers tasted at the end of October 2008, during Les Grands Chemins "Rencontres en Minervois" - an annual wine, food and arts festival centred on the broodingly Mediaeval village of Minerve and surrounding area (that link goes to the website) - over dinner at the excellent Relais Chantovent restaurant in Minerve.

2005 Minervois (Syrah Grenache Carignan 13.5%) - nice ripe rounded red fruits with smoky garrigue notes; attractive depth of spicy fruit v soft tannins and a bit of punch. Good with the three-mushroom nems (Vietnamese style spring rolls). 87(+)
2007 Minervois (Syrah Grenache Carignan 13%) - similar fruit and spice to the 05 but more liquoricey and with tobacco undertones too; firmer mouth-feel v more concentrated, again attractive garrigue style and power on the finish. 89


Languedoc: Château La Bastide, Corbières

Château La Bastide from www.chateau-la-bastide.frAnne-Marie and Guilhem Durand bought this cute property twenty years ago, lying in the deepest northern corner of the Corbières appellation; just northwest of Lézignan and a pebble's throw away from Minervois country, actually. Their no-less-than 100 ha (250 acres) feature quite a lot of Syrah, which, looking at the wines, seems to like it here bathing in all that gravel, chalk and slate; with some young Mourvèdre coming on stream as well as less common Pinot Noir and Viognier, for example (and why not?). Anyway, the Durand family exports most of their wines, so good news for those of us in the US, Canada, UK, Belgium, Luxembourg or Germany (according to the printed blurb - see website for more details). I tried these in late October 2008, at a tasting laid on by the appellation people at Château Boutenac:

2007 Viognier Vin de Pays d'Hauterive - nice exotic style with juicy v creamy v lightly crisp mouth-feel. 85
2006 Syrah Vin de Pays d'Hauterive - attractive spicy menthol and cherries on the nose, bit of a chunky framework v fruity with rustic edges. 85
2006
Corbières
(Syrah Grenache) - enticing herbal v creamy red and black fruit mix, more concentrated than you think it's going to be with firm texture and a bit of weight too. 87
2006 cuvée Plénitude Vin de Pays d'Hauterive (Pinot Noir Merlot Syrah) - herbal 'sweet & savoury' characters move on to light chocolate texture, a tad over-extracted and firm but it's interesting quand meme...
2006 L'Optimée
Corbières
(Syrah Grenache) - smokier richer style showing fair concentration v solid tannins, power and savoury v dark fruit on the finish. 89+

Château La Bastide, 11200 Escales. Tel: 04 68 27 08 47, http://www.chateau-la-bastide.fr/.

Languedoc: Château d'Agel, Minervois

This old-as-history estate, and associated wines, originally featured as part of my ad hoc pick of a variety of producers encountered and tasted at the end of October 2008, during Les Grands Chemins "Rencontres en Minervois" (an annual wine, food and arts festival centred on the broodingly Mediaeval village of Minerve and surrounding area - that link goes to the website). A group of us stayed the night at Château d'Agel, which really is a magnificent full-monty ye olde chateau: click here to read a piece I did for Decanter magazine on great wine places to stay in the region ("Wine travel: western Languedoc"). A taster if you can't be bothered:
"... Not far from the amazing Mediaeval town of Minerve itself and much talked-about La Livinière appellation, is the quiet village of Agel, seat of Château d’Agel. This splendid place really is a full-on fortress complete with turrets, coats of arms, wide swirling staircases and no doubt secret passages too..."

And a couple of reds sampled in an appropriate setting of the old cellar:
2004 Grenache - maturing smoky nose, appealing full-bodied fruit v light bite of tannins to finish. 85+
2007 Minervois (Carignan Grenache Syrah) - touch of vanilla oak but it has attractive fruit, textured dark chocolate and bitter black fruit twist. 85+

And this "white of the moment" from Jan. 2006:
2004 Minervois blanc Château d'Agel (Macabeu & Muscat, 13%) - a pleasant surprise, given that Minervois isn't famous for whites: fairly rich oily textured palate balanced by lively aromatic fruit. €3-4 88
More info: www.chateaudagel.fr 

30 October 2008

Languedoc: Domaine de la Combe Blanche, Minervois-La Livinière

Domaine de la Combe BlancheGuy Vanlancker has slightly more eclectic plantings than most in the area - including some Tempranillo and Pinot Noir too! - which are the base (the non-eclectic varieties that this) for two pretty representative blends, both appellation Minervois-La Livinière: La Chandelière (mostly Syrah + Grenache) and La Galine (Syrah Grenache Carignan Cinsault), among others. These wines seem to stand the test of time well, especially La Chandelière: I remember once trying a rather good 1990 or 91 with about ten years on the clock, which I'd given to my uncle & aunt a few years beforehand and who'd had the sense to keep it. Anyway, Belgian Guy first moved here in 1981 and bought a few vineyard parcels around La Livinière, which is a cute wee village; so it’s easy to visit a few other producers on foot, especially since there are plenty of suitably pointy signposts. I bumped into Guy at the end of October 2008, during Les Grands Chemins "Rencontres en Minervois" festival, and tasted the following:
2003 La Galine (14.5%) - warming and spicy, quite soft yet punchy mouth-feel; turning savoury, mature and tasty on the finish. 87+
2004 La Chandelière (60% Syrah) - quite tight and firm with chocolate oak texture; concentrated and lightly perfumed, pepper and liquorice with attractive dry tannins on the finish.89-91

And these at Vinisud in Montpellier back in Feb 2004:
2001 La Chandelière - Leathery touches to the tightly structured and spicy fruit, finishes with long bite of tannins and alcohol. Needs time to come together. 92
2002 La Galine - Rich chocolate and plum fruit, very concentrated and tight, grippy but quite fine and fresh too. 90
2000 La Galine - Aromatic, spicy pepper and blackberry; has nice texture and grip with lengthy mineral finish. 89
2000 Vin de Pays blanc (Roussanne Viognier Chardy) - Developing vegetal and complex minty notes, light toffee characters lend a rounded 'sweetness', finishing with a blast of alcohol. 87
2002 Vin de Pays blanc - Bit of toasty oak combines with creamy and yeast-lees characters; rounded and quite rich, dry and full finish. 87
2001 Vin de Pays Tempranillo - Lots of new oak and very grippy texture; we'll see if it opens out nicely as it's too oaky at the moment, although there could be something there... 80-84
Didn't like his 2001 Pinot at the time, I'm afraid!


3 Ancien Chemin du Moulin Rigaud, 34210 La Livinière. Tel: 04 68 91 44 82 or 06 80 43 40 61 (mobile), lacombeblanche.comcontact@lacombeblanche.com.


29 October 2008

Languedoc: Château Festiano, Minervois

The following wine was one of my pick from a variety of producers tasted at the end of October 2008, during Les Grands Chemins "Rencontres en Minervois" (annual wine, food and arts festival centred on the broodingly Mediaeval village of Minerve and surrounding area - that link goes to the website), aLes Tonneliers restaurant in Homps.


2007 Château Festiano 'Vincent' Minervois (SyrahGrenache 13%) - seductive up-front fruit and spice showing blackberry, liquorice and black pepper; its fruitiness and freshness (acidity/tannins) on the palate rendering my cassoulet a little less heavy! 85+


Languedoc: Château Fauzan, Minervois

Château Fauzan

The following wine was one of my picks from a variety of producers tasted at the end of October 2008, during Les Grands Chemins "Rencontres en Minervois" (annual wine, food and arts festival centred on the broodingly Mediaeval village of Minerve and surrounding area - that link goes to the website), at the Chai de Port Minervois in Homps (wine shop & tastings).

2005 La Balme Minervois La Livinière (80% Syrah 20% Grenache) - lovely spicy menthol and very ripe black cherry fruit, liquorice v pepper on the palate; quite complex and tasty with soft v powerful v maturing finish. €8.60 88+

Languedoc: Claude Serra, Minervois

The following wine is one of my picks of a variety of producers tasted at the end of October 2008, during Les Grands Chemins "Rencontres en Minervois" (annual wine, food and arts festival centred on the broodingly Mediaeval village of Minerve and surrounding area - that link goes to the website), over a hearty lunch at the very recommended Restaurant - Hotel d'Alibert in Caunes-Minervois:

2003 Villa Serra Minervois rouge (Grenache Mourvèdre Carignan Cinsault 14%) - smoky peppery nose with dark black cherry and olive notes; 'sweet' v savoury palate, powerful and spicy v ripe and rounded. Nice with the duck and roasted veg but not the orange sauce, giving it a lightly bitter twist; but good wine though. 88+

28 October 2008

Languedoc: Paul Durand, vin de table

The following wine was one of my pick of a variety of producers tasted at the end of October 2008, during Les Grands Chemins "Rencontres en Minervois" (annual wine, food and arts festival centred on the broodingly Mediaeval village of Minerve and surrounding area - that link goes to the website); mostly over a meal at the restaurants specified below.
With lunch at Restaurant - Hotel d'Alibert, Caunes-Minervois:
2005 Paul Louis Eugène Vin de table blanc Paul Durand (Marsanne Sauvignon blanc 13.5%) - rule-breaking, quirky, slightly volatile style showing concentrated oily mouth-feel v fresh citrus and green fruits; you wouldn't think it was 3 years old with its nice weight and creamy texture v crisp bite. 88+


26 October 2008

Languedoc: Etoile du Matin, Corbières

Etoile du Matin

Geoffroy Marchand’s tiny domaine is organically grown ("if you can't here, where can you?"): his equally tiny cellar isn’t well-marked, although you should find it easily enough on the left just before the village of Feuilla; look out for the give-away wine-tractor or decorative Étoile du Matin boxes. Feuilla is the final frontier (derr dedd derr...) between Corbières, Fitou and Roussillon; and what a stunning setting too. I know I say that often enough, but you have to go there and you'll believe me! Geoffroy is one of an increasing number of young risk-taking growers either side of the Corbières, who’s crafting handmade, very natural and sometimes breathtaking wines (and sometimes a bit strange!): AOC, Vins de pays & table as fits his whim. He studied and worked in Burgundy, then a stint for the Roussillon’s one-and-only Hervé Bizeul, before settling here. His signature label (Syrah, Grenache and/or Carignan) is a wild-fruited powerful Corbières; there’s a peppery pure meaty Grenache rarity called Les Agnelles - actually, it’s got some Lladoner Pelut in it too, a disappearing Catalan variety thought to be related to Grenache (pelut means furry or pointy I think); and the 2006 was bottled without sulphur dioxide, something Geoffroy might continue to do depending on acidity levels etc. (starting with the 2007s) - and a slightly off-the-wall 100% Carignan. This estate should rapidly enter into every critic's Corbières top ten and is unquestionably one to keep an eye on. Tasted late October 2008:


2007 Védépé (2/3 Carignan, 13.5%) - still had a bit of a malo-lactic fermentation pong, but this went after a few days open (probably implying it will naturally after a few months in bottle: the 07s were only just bottled when I tried them and haven't been released yet). Moving on to nice depth of pure crunchy fruit, spicy and fresh mouth-feel with lively blueberry and black cherry finish. 87+
2007 Miss Tam Corbières (Syrah Carignan 13.5%) - similar slightly 'off' aromas at first, moving on to a more concentrated and powerful palate, again it has that hallmark purity and earthy spicy berry fruit; chocolate texture v lovely wild fruit v dry grip. Will be good. 89+
2006 Carignan - fragrant liquorice and wild herbs; crunchy v rich, powerful yet quite fine and long, refreshing fruit purity too. 90
2005 Carignan - developing smoky liquorice, lush peppery and concentrated mouth-feel, still firm tannins but beginning to melt with savoury/tobacco notes. Delicious. 90-92
2006 Les Agnelles (Grenache Lladoner Pelut) - very appealingliquorice and cinnamon with raspberry and blackberry; meaty tobacco edges to a grippier textured palate, again has delicious fruit on its long tasty finish, maturing yet very alive. 92+
2006 Patangame white (Grenache blanc Grenache gris) - declassified to vin de table because it has 20 grams/litre residual sugar (g/l RS: meaning it would have been 16%+ if fermented dry) and is a little atypical! Nutty oxidised tones with floral honeyed fruit; that touch of sweetness balances nicely with its power and fresh mineral acidity v toasted almond v milky yeast-lees notes too, then appley finish. Different! 90These wines are priced between €8 and €19. More Etoile du Matin wines here.

La Plantaire, Route de Treilles, 11510 Feuilla. Tel: 04 68 45 01 82, etoile.du.matin@wanadoo.frwww.etoiledumatin.com.

Languedoc: Domaine Adenis, Corbières

Nadine Franjus-Adenis has a background as a science journalist and broadcaster, who moved to the Corbières in the late 90s to "mettre les pieds sur terre," as she says on her website ("get back to my roots" or "a foothold on the land" type-stuff, man). A fascination for wine, and the powerful vineyard landscapes that characterise this eye-candy neck-of-the-woods, led to a winemaking degree in 2000 swiftly followed by her buying up a few plots of old vines near Ferrals. Nadine only makes two red wines, which she had on sampling at a tasting laid on by the Corbières people at Château Boutenac in late October 2008, including three vintages of her top one:


2002 Agapê Corbières-Boutenac (Carignan Grenache Syrah) - nice resiny fruit with meaty leather notes; mature and tasty palate with dry grip and dried fruit finish. 87-89
2003 Agapê - spicier and richer, showing a bit more wood and punch but there's lots of juicy ripe v savoury fruit; stylish and well-balanced for a heat-wave 2003. 89+
2004 Agapê - quite elegant and more closed up to start, attractive fruit and spice with a touch of oak in the background; concentrated v firm mouth-feel with fine length. Needs a couple of years to come out fully. 90+
2006 La Mariole Corbières (mostly Grenache) - youthful 'earthy' black cherry nose leading on to chunky fruity palate, nice style. 87+

UPDATE 2012: Nadine has sold her vineyards to focus on writing and journalism. For more on those vines to follow when I get some...


11200 Ferrals-les-Corbières. Tel: 04 68 43 62 77, www.domaine-adenis.com.

Languedoc: Château Sainte-Eulalie, Minervois La Livinière

Château Sainte-Eulalie

Tracking the wine-themed arrows out of the village of La Livinière up a lane heading for Calamiac, you should find (using eyesight rather than GPS) Château Sainte-Eulalie lying a good bit up the hill. Isabelle and Laurent Coustal bought this scenic estate in 1996 and are now making flavoursome, spicy and structured reds mainly from Syrah. If you call or email them in advance, they'll be pleased to take you on a spin around the property, where you get a fab view from the top (225 metres/700 feet) giving a snapshot vista of La Livinière appellation and its assorted, undulating, contoured vineyard terrain. The Coustal family also rent out a holiday cottage across the yard from the cellar, surrounded by postcard vines it goes without saying – see website for more info.



I visited Sainte-Eulalie end of October 2008, during Les Grands Chemins "Rencontres en Minervois" festival, and tasted (see updates below):
2006 La Cantilène Minervois La Livinière (50% Syrah + Grenache Carignan, 14% alc.) - dark cherry and chocolate on the nose, lightly toasted v rich and tasty, grippy tannins v nice 'sweet' texture; closes up on the finish with lingering oak dominating at the moment but this is promising and needs 6-12 months. €12 89+?

And three vintages of this wine were sampled at Montpellier's Vinisud show back in Feb. 2004:
2003 La Cantilène Minervois La Livinière (barrel sample) - Rich colour, spicy blackberry fruit and chocolate oak; structured backbone layered with ripe dense fruit, elegant finish too. 89
2001 La Cantilène - Attractive maturing rustic notes mix with tobacco and dark plum fruit, quite fine and tight showing elegant length and concentration. 89+
2002 La Cantilène - Floral notes to the liquorice and blackberry fruit, pure and mineral style with tight framework and bite set against concentrated fruit. 89

Latest: note on their 2008 La Livinière, Minervois report June 2011 and 2009 vintage posted June 2010.


34210 La Livinière. Tel: 04 68 91 42 72/06 03 89 13 41, info@chateausainteeulalie.comwww.chateausainteeulalie.com.

25 October 2008

Languedoc: Domaine de la Bouysse, Corbières

Domaine de la Bouysse

Martine Pagès and Christophe Molinier have been at the helm of La Bouysse since 1996, "following in grandpa's footsteps," as paraphrased from their website. Their AOC Corbières vineyards spread across two terroirs (if you can refer to such big areas using this elusive term) - Fontfroide and Boutenac - and they also make some nice white and red vin de pays varietals and blends.I've picked these two wines from a tasting laid on by the Corbières people at Château Boutenac in late October 2008:

2006 Corbières Roc-Long (Carignan Grenache Syrah) - a bit closed on the nose at first, moving on to attractive liquorice and black fruit palate with tobacco edges; quite rich v very firm and fresh framework, should be good in 6-12 months. 88+
2005 Corbières Mazérac (50% Carignan plus Grenache and sometimes a touch of Mourvèdre) - developing resiny fruit with liquorice and leather hints; quite full and powerful with dry chewy tannins yet maturing savoury fruit too; nice although feels like it's beginning to dry out? 87+


11200 St-André de Roquelongue. Tel: 04 68 45 50 34,www.domainedelabouysse.fr.


24 October 2008

Languedoc: Domaine Vordy, Minervois

The following wines are a couple of my pick from a variety of producers tasted at the end of October 2008, during Les Grands Chemins "Rencontres en Minervois" (annual wine, food and arts festival centred on the broodingly Mediaeval 'city' of Minerve and surrounding area - that link goes to the website), over dinner at the recommended Relais Chantovent in said awesomely old and haunting village (where I met and talked to Didier Vordy):


Domaine Vordy - Minerve vordy.monsite.wanadoo.fr
2005 cuvée Alice Minervois rouge (14%) - very spicy with ripe resiny wild fruits; powerful with light oak texture, closes up becoming firmer but very fruity too. 89+
2006 Liquoreux (late picked Grenache blanc & Terret, 80 grams/litre residual sugar, 14.5%) - quite complex honey, fig and quince notes/flavours v citrus and mineral freshness; nice balance and style, not too sweet nor too alcoholic not too old! 89+

23 October 2008

Languedoc: Domaine Tailhades Mayranne, Minervois

The following wines are some of my pick of a variety of producers tasted at the end of October 2008 during Les Grands Chemins "Rencontres en Minervois", an annual wine, food and arts festival centred on the broodingly Mediaeval village of Minerve (where Tailhades has a cellar cum shop), which has to be seen to be believed. Stunningly old and located...
Domaine Tailhades Mayranne - Minerve 
domaine.tailhades@terre-net.fr
2007 Minervois blanc (Marsanne Maccabeo) - aromatic and floral nose v oily and quite powerful mouth-feel. Nice style. 85
2006 cuvée Elise Minervois rouge - attractive pure spicy Syrahfruit, good grip v depth of fruit with lively peppery finish. 87+


21 October 2008

Languedoc: Château Lacour Manoy, Corbières

Château Lacour Manoy

The Arnaud family has been nursing vines around here (near the village of Boutenac) for quite a while (originally set up shop in the 18th Century apparently). The present boss is André-Jacques, who's making some quite good reds as featured below, although admittedly I didn't like a couple of the others I tasted, and a reasonably attractive sweet white vin de pay. They also have two spacious holiday gites on the property - for info, click on their website lurking at the bottom of this blurb. I picked out these two wines, for your amusement, from a tasting organised by the Corbières people at Château Boutenac in late October 2008:


2002 cuvée Louis Domairon (50% old Carignan + Syrah Grenache) - vanilla notes lead on to savoury v resiny fruit with smoky edges; very firm mouth-feel (a little too perhaps), but it's got nice depth underneath even if essentially mature now. 87
2004 cuvée Louis Domairon - much richer and more concentrated with vibrant black fruits layered on spicy chocolate oak; promising I'd say with grippy v rounded texture. 89

11200 Montséret Tel: 04 68 433 959, www.aristidou.fr.

13 October 2008

Roussillon: Domaine Rouaud, Pézilla-la-Rivière

Jérôme Rouaud and his wife Sophie set up their domaine 6 years ago, farming nine hectares (22 acres) organically from the start; which means they got certified status from the 2005 vintage. Before that, Jérôme worked in the car industry in Paris (yawn) then for Nicolas wine shops; went to Bordeaux to study winemaking and viticulture, moved to the Roussillon to work as a winery assistant, and finally bought, ripped out and rebuilt an old cellar in Pézilla west of Perpignan.
Wines tasted June 2006:
2005 Têt blanc (Carignan blanc) - he has a few, rare white Carignan vines mixed in with the red ones. Mineral tones with light toast and creamy edges, fat mouthfeel v lively intensity v power too; interesting. 87+
2005 Frivole doux (Muscat petits-grains) - less residual sugar than Muscat de Rivesaltes with 33 grams/litre and 12% alc. Nice fresh grapey style, more medium dry really on its clean finish. 85
2004 Barbacane Grenache vin de pays Côtes Catalanes - attractive spicy black fruits with tobacco tones, ripe with soft tannins and attractive pure flavours. 87-89
2003 Côtes du Roussillon rouge (Syrah Carignan Grenache) - lovely dried fruits displaying liquorice and black cherry notes, appealing maturing spicy fruit with oily texture and background dry tannins; weighty length with lingering tobacco fruit. 89+
2004 Têt Pourpre Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah Carignan Grenache) - more overt coconut oak immersed in delicious spicy fruit, blackberry/olive; full bodied with good depth v firm tannins, tight lively length, beginning to develop on the finish. 90+
2003 Tuilé (will go back into barriques before bottling) - intense peppery oxidised plum and tobacco aromas, rich and sweet v nice cut of alcohol.
2005 Frivole rosé vin de Pays Côtes Catalanes (purely so he can put Syrah Grenache on the label) - juicy red fruit style, quite chunky without being blowsy, nice fresh finish. 87
These wines are priced from around €5 to €10. More of them here and here.


Updates: the two reds below were tasted at the 2008 Millésime Bio wine show (Perpignan):
2005 Barbacane (100% Grenache) - smoky and rich style, a tad of awkward background wood that jars a little? Ripe v firm finish.
2006 Têt Pourpre, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah Carignan Grenache) - lush spicy fruit set on chunky rounded tannins, very tight and lively finish. 89-91

October 2008 - I called in at Jérôme's cellar to see what was new: they now have 13 ha of vineyards after buying and leasing a few more parcels on the slopes just outside Pézilla.
2007 Frivole 'light red' (Grenache Syrah) - slightly fruity liquorice v crunchy black cherry, a bit of dry texture; neither one thing nor the other really: 80+. The 2008 from vat had nicer fruit.
2006 Barbacane (Grenache 13%) - delicious Grenache fruit showing liquorice, spice and turning slightly tobacco-ish; good depth v grip and length, well-balanced and attractive. 89+
2006 Têt Pourpre Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Carignan Syrah Grenache 13.5%) - a touch of subtle spicy oak on the nose and palate, but this has lots of lovely black fruits with savoury edges; solid structured finish, needs 6 to 12 months to open up more. 90-92
2006 Ganaxe Rivesaltes Grenat (Grenache muté sur grains) - enticing dark fruit with peppery and meaty edges; nice balance of sweetness, crunchy fruit and dry tannins. 88-90


LATEST UPDATE (2012) TO FOLLOW...

7 Rue du Portal d’Amont, 66370 Pézilla-la-Rivière. Tel: 04 68 92 46 59, mobile: 06 98 17 22 81; rouaud.vigneron.66@orange.fr.

11 October 2008

Chocolate week at Gauchos 13-19 October

I, probably along with thousands of others, didn't know it was National Chocolate week in the UK next week; so Gauchos restaurants are offering what sounds like a tantalisingly South American choc based pudding matched with apparently "Argentina's first fortified red wine." So why not pop in and try their Chocolate Tres Leches with a glass of Malamado Malbec made by merit-worthy winery Familia Zuccardi (a tad steep perhaps at £12, pud and wine together that is, although I'm a bit out of touch with London prices). More info from: www.gauchorestaurants.co.uk and www.familiazuccardi.com (wasn't working when I tried).

Les Grands Chemins festival, Minervois

This enticingly arty-sounding event combines discovery and tasting of wines from the Minervois area with art exhibitions and a cinema festival rolled into one. It takes place from 24th October to 5th November 2008 in and around the awesome historic town of Minerve (worth the trip all by its self), kicking off with a wine weekend 24-26 October where you get to taste and visit producers in the Minervois and Minervois La Livinière appellations. More info and booking:
Syndicat d'Initiative de Minerve, 9 rue des Martyrs, 34210 Minerve. Tel/fax: 04.68.91.81.43, minerve.accueil@wanadoo.fr - www.les-grands-chemins.com.
Look at my posts in two or three weeks time for profiles of wineries visited on this trip.

10 October 2008

Roussillon: Domaine Lafage, Perpignan /Tordères / Maury

Les Onze Terrasses in Les Aspres - see below.
Eliane (nee Salinas) and Jean-Marc Lafage have been at the helm of this expanding, tri-location estate for a relatively short time (in the scheme of things), having both travelled and worked at different wineries from California to Australia for a few years beforehand. Overall, they now have 140 hectares (345 acres) of vineyards across the Roussillon. More than half of them, planted primarily with Grenache blanc, Muscat and Syrah, are located between Perpignan and Canet overlooking the sea; the original Lafage family estate which they took over from Jean-Marc's father in 2001. The winery has since been refitted and a cellar-cum-shop renovated next to it, where you can taste the whole range (my first visit there and tasting of their wines - see below* - was in October 2006).
Back in 1996, they'd already bought about 30 ha of terraced vineyards called Le Vignon, near Tordères in central-southern Roussillon towards the mountains in an area called Les Aspres. It was largely remodelled and is home to Syrah, Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Marsanne and Muscat (see my October 2008 update below). Continuing the altitude theme, they also have a few plots in the wilds of the Agly valley, not far from Maury, planted with Muscat, Grenache and Carignan. These very different terroirs, to use the terrifying T word, allow them to fashion very good examples of all the regional styles; from dry and sweet whites - including one of the best, award-winning Chardonnays I've tried from round this way - a tasty gourmet rosé, intricate reds such as their Cuvée Léa to traditional aged Vins Doux Naturels.
2007 update: Waitrose (upmarket UK supermarket chain) listed two of Lafage's red and white Roussillon wines for their April/May 'showcase'; and I heard rumours that they'd bought Château Saint Roch (see A to Z) in Maury, but admittedly I wasn't able to go along to a couple of recent events they put on so haven't asked them what the latest is! Watch this space... Yes indeed, Saint-Roch is being integrated into the Lafage empire.

*2005 Côté Chardonnay - exotic honeyed nose (maybe some botrytis in there?), full & creamy but not oaky, quite rich fruit v fresh mineral intensity and very light coconut spice. 89+
*2005 Centenaire
Côtes du Roussillon blanc (mostly Grenache Blanc) - quite complex herbal honey and wild flower notes, nice freshness v weight and subtle spicy wood. 87
*2005 Côté Muscat sec - zippy and gummy, elegant grape and clementine flavours, nice length and bite. 87
*2005 Parfum de Vignes Côtes du Roussillon rosé - delicious floral red fruit cocktail, quite concentrated and chunky with fine dry finish bathed in aromatic fruit. 87-89
*2003 Côté Grenache noir (14.5%) - a bit cold and oxidised (been open for a few days); however, it shows attractive liquorice and leather tones, powerful mouth-feel yet not out of kilter thanks to some freshness and dry grip.
*2003 Cuvée Léa, Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres (Grenache Syrah Carignan) - interesting mixture of delicate smokiness and coconut v earthy yet ripe black fruits; a touch of oak notes and texture balanced by sufficient fruit, power and panache. 89-91
*2005 Grain de Vignes Muscat de Rivesaltes - lovely fresh fruit, once again offering zesty bite v extract, not so sweet in the end. 87-89
*2003 Rimage Rivesaltes Tuilé (Grenache) - quite closed up to start, meaty v black fruit undertones, tight and concentrated with light oak texture v depth of sweet fruit; needs a few years to mellow. 90-92
*1998 Vintage Rivesaltes (Grenache) - appealing savoury maturity v fig and raisin richness, quite chunky tannins v meaty fruit and sugar; drinking nicely now. 88-90

Lafage update October 2008
I was invited to clamber up the spectacularly located Le Vignon to witness the makings of 2008 vintage Les Onze Terrasses, their premium red wine sourced from selected parcels which are left until around mid October before picking. The view really is magnificent from just above the top of the vineyards, planted up to about 300 metres (950 feet), where you can see the terraced contours rolling down the slope (pictured above) and all points south (the Albères hills along the border with Spain), east (the Med), north (the Corbières) and, over the other side, Mont Canigou west-ish.
2005 Les 11 Terrasses is a blend of hand-selected Syrah (mostly), Carignan and Grenache, which are literally sorted grape by grape - removing any under- or over-ripe or rotten berries - and put directly into 500 litre barrels in situ. A bit of a publicity stunt perhaps, but there can't be many in the region making a red like this. There were two barrels this year the day I was there, but the quantity bottled of the 2005 suggests three. Apparently these are left for ten days, taken to the cellar then pressed down with wooden plungers and allowed to bubble away, with squashed whole berries still inside, for a further six to eight weeks before being emptied into a vat. After pressing, the wine goes back into new barrels for about 20 months. The 2005 was first released in Dec. 07, and 2006 will be available this Christmas; the attractive modernist label is designed by local artist Patrick Loste. 'T 11' is already sold in Belgium, Germany, Japan and the US, I'm told; I'll have to check the price but I know it's suitably expensive! Les Onze Terrasses (15%) - rather chocolate oak dominated to start although has lovely black fruits lurking underneath, gradually opens up to show depth, spicy intensity and purity; dark chocolate rounded texture v freshness, black olive & ripe blueberry flavours. Despite the oak (I can't help thinking they should take it out of barrel sooner), it does have nice balance and some kind of elegance, surprisingly that high alcohol is quite well-integrated. Went well with black pudding, saucisson and chorizo; a bit overpowering for the cured ham. Needs a couple of years to express itself better. 90+

More Lafage here (2009 Saint-Bacchus awards).
Plus the latest medal-winning vintages of some of these wines are featured HERE (World Grenache Competition 2013).

Mas Miraflors, Route de Canet, 66000 Perpignan. Tel: 04 68 80 35 82, contact@domaine-lafage.com, domaine-lafage.com.