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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.