Richard Mark James' wine & travel blog
Buy my French wine e-magazine (click there - updated Sept 2016) on Amazon for £3.76/$4.99/€4.44/¥512/Ca$6.51/Au$6.62 (or £4 emailed as a PDF) including Languedoc, Cahors, Champagne, Chablis, Alsace. Other special supplements and guides: English wine guide £3.50, Cava guide £3, Slovenia & Croatia, Portugal, Argentina (follow links for more info and payment). Pay by card with PayPal: click here for more about card payments using PayPal, general 'terms & conditions', and your privacy.

31 January 2010

Millésime Bio 2010: Rhône valley highlights

Domaine Clusel-Roch - Côte Rotie
Brigitte Roch and Gilbert Clusel have a massive four (which probably is in this super-steep, small-parcelled wine area) organically farmed hectares (10 acres) lying in, or on rather, the almost legendary "roasted slope" appellation, plus a few rows in nearby Condrieu; and their cellar is located in the village of Verenay close to more famous Ampuis (home of Guigal among others) alongside the Rhone in the so-called "northern" region (if you see what I mean). I tried all their reds, I think, all of them 100% Syrah, at this year's (2010) Millésime Bio wine fair in Montpellier:
2006 Côte Rotie - quite a bit of spicy wood still dominating the nose; smoky and peppery vs ripe and rounded palate, fairly elegant in the end actually. 87
2007 Côte Rotie - similar aroma/flavour profile but richer and fruitier too, velvety vs firm mouthfeel and finish; needs time to express itself better. 88
2007 Les Grandes Places Côte Rotie - from a specific "lieu-dit" plot: attractive herbal spicy black peppery and black cherry notes; again relatively soft and elegant palate then tight and punchy on the finish. 89+
2008 Côte Rotie - juicier and less oaky on the nose; showing nice fruit overlaid with touches of creamy oak, solid but subtle finish. 87
2009 Côte Rotie (barrel sample) - lush with lively fruit, firm and spicy mouthfeel with good weight and tight framework; should be good. 89
www.domaine-clusel-roch.fr
Clos du Joncuas - Gigondas
More than just Gigondas actually, as the Chastan family (Dany, Fernand and Carole) has 29 organic hectares (72 acres) in total around the latter village, Séguret and Vacqueyras; all nestling quietly in that southern Rhone paradise valley. Well, not always: it snowed quite a bit there this year I believe. I digress... they've been doing the organic thing since the beginning, 1989, with a hint of biodynamics now thrown in too. My tastebuds got stuck in to the following reds at this year's Millésime Bio show in Montpellier (2010):
2004 Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages (Grenache 70% plus Carignan, Mourvèdre etc.) - maturing smoky nose with dark savoury notes; chunky firm mouthfeel vs mature fruit, a tad old with extracted tannins but quite nice still (with food). 85
2004 Vacqueyras (Grenache 80% + Syrah etc.) - enticing herbal minty spicy aromas underpinned by maturing black fruits; powerful and pretty grippy still yet lush too, big old tannins layered with nice savoury vs dark fruit finish. 87
2004 Gigondas (Grenache 80%, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Syrah) - similar profile to above but more complex, developing meaty fruit; again very grippy tannins but I like that lush sweet vs savoury fruit underneath. 88
2005 Gigondas - richer smokier nose and palate, lovely concentration vs firm structure; smoky, liquoricey and peppery finish. Quite wow. 88-90
www.closdujoncuas.fr

Domaine La Fourmente - Visan
This 46-hectare (110-acre) organic estate (since 2005) is owned by Rémi and Valérie Pouizin and found in the Côtes du Rhône Villages Visan appellation (a bit longwinded to say but now producing some superb reds, as you can see), which lies a good bit northeast of Orange and north of Cairanne or Rasteau. They also produce natural lavender oil, by the way: I tried to copy one of the nice pics of lavender fields off their website, but it must be an annoying "flash" thing as I couldn't! See for yourself @ www.domainelafourmente.com. These were sampled at Millésime Bio in Montpellier (January 2010), a bit of a discovery, I'd say, especially those two 100% Grenaches:
2009 Nature rosé (Grenache Syrah) - clean and fruity, crisp and juicy; nice enough quaffer. 80+
2009 Amour de Fruit Côtes du Rhône (Cinsault Grenache Syrah) - attractive juicy fruity style with a bit of grip and substance too. 85
2009 Nature Visan (Grenache Syrah) - richer spicier Syrah-prominent style (although with more Grenache actually), perfumed black cherry fruit vs chunky tannins, lush and peppery; yum, promising. 87+
2007 Les Vieux Grenache des Garrigues Visan (14%) - sexy liquorice, spice and dark leather edges; very rich and concentrated vs uplifting floral peppery notes; dark lush fruit turning savoury, firm and powerful finish. Wow. 92-94
2007 La Fourmente Grains Sauvages (old Grenache) - delicious liquorice, dark plum and spice notes; "sweet" vs floral fruit too, gripping tannins on a very tasty finish; perhaps firmer and tighter than above, but similarly gorgeous! 90-92

"Now that's what I call a chateau,"
taken from www.chateaulanerthe.fr
Château La Nerthe - Châteauneuf-du-Pape
This simply famous estate has been in the hands of the Richard family since 1985, the latest in a line of owners spanning its, well, historic long history. The vineyards were first converted over to organic growing back in 1998, one of few in Châteauneuf-du-Pape actually (you have to wonder why?), which must be a challenge for estate boss Christian Voeux and his team managing 80 ha (200 acres) accordingly; while probably being surrounded by non-organic spraying neighbours (it's a compact appellation). Their impressive "Cadette" cuvée is sourced from a particularly senior and cherished plot with 100+ year-old Grenache and their oldest Mourvèdre and Syrah. And the powerful yet complex Clos de Beauvenir white shows how well good white CNdP can age. I tasted these wines with Christian at the earthy Millésime Bio show, Jan 2010 in Montpellier:
2008 La Nerthe white (Clairette Grenache blanc Roussanne Marsanne Bourboulenc among others) - a bit closed on the nose to start with, moving on to a much more exotic palate vs mineral and light wood spice notes; oily and weighty mouthfeel vs nice juicy, yeast-lees tinged finish. €28 87+
2004 Clos de Beauvenir white (Roussanne Clairette) - lots of hazelnut and oily maturing notes, rounded and creamy mouthfeel vs fair bit of oomph; long mellowing finish but certainly not old. €57 89+
2007 La Nerthe red (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre Cinsault & others) - lovely rich Grenache-styled, liquorice and spice aromas followed by a tad of sweet oak although subtle; dark ripe fruit explosion with firm and fiery backdrop, tight closed up finish yet plenty of delicious fruit. Promising. €30 90-(92)
2005 cuvée des Cadettes (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre) - showing more wood but there's lots of maturing sweet fruit underneath; attractive dry vs ripe tannins, actually finishing more elegantly than I thought it was going to! €62 90+
2006 cuvée des Cadettes (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre) - more developed and leather-edged supported by sumptuous fruit, concentrated vs firm palate; again big and bold but lush and dark too, dry texture vs intensity and great finish. €63.50 92+
Route de Sorgues, 84230 Châteauneuf-du-Pape. www.chateaulanerthe.fr, 04 90 83 70 11.

Roussillon: Domaine du Traginer, Banyuls-sur-Mer

UPDATED Dec 2012

No-nonsense Jean-François Deu is very proud of his organic status (since 1997 officially) and philosophy – some wines have no added sulphites too – combined with certain biodynamic farming methods (he doesn't go along with the full-monty "witchcraft"), which seem to nicely match his laid-back manner, ironic sense of humour yet uncompromising standards. The result is an edgy yet classy range of wines going from his pure and floral site-blend Collioure red, to the peppery more refined Cuvée du Capitas single-siter and delicious late harvest Banyuls ‘mise tardive’ (late bottled). Jean-François spends long hours out in his vineyards (best to ring his mobile number if you want to see him personally, although you can taste the wines in his shop from spring to autumn) working the soil and stimulating the vines' natural defences by applying various biodynamic herbal remedies. He’s also trying to make things less labour intensive by "mechanising" some of the work, which isn’t an easy task in the area’s mostly narrow, terraced and very steep vineyards. Actually, that's a little bit of a joke; he uses a mule and plough, which is a touch easier on the back no doubt!


Jean-François Deu hard at it
from www.traginer.fr


I tasted and reviewed these wines and vintages at Millésime Bio organic wine show in Perpignan and Montpellier in January 2008, 2010 and 2012. Click here for older Traginer vintages (Millésime Bio 2006) and read on for 2010 and 2012 updates. UK specialist merchant Stone, Vine & Sun lists some of his wines.
2004 Cuvée Capitas, Collioure rouge – ripe and raisiny with aromatic dark plum tones, concentrated and chunky showing a touch of oak and alcohol, rounded v grippy finish. 90-92
2006 Cuvée al Ribéral, Collioure rouge – liquorice and spice notes lead on to a concentrated inky palate, closes up on the finish although has lovely underlying black fruits. 89-91
2005 Collioure rouge – coconut spicy oak is quite prominent at the moment, but this has lovely depth of fruit v solid tannins. 90-92
2003 Cuvée d'Octobre, Collioure rouge – more raisiny and smoky, light old wood spice otherwise firm v ripe mouth-feel. 88
2006 Banyuls Rimage – fruity pruney nose with youthful fruit v grip v sweetness on the palate; very nice style. £17.95 90
2003 Banyuls Grand Cru – much more oxidised, Tawny style with complex maturing tones; good but personally prefer the Rimage wine. 89


Update 2010: Jean-François was, as always, present, earthy, philosophical and good-humoured at the increasingly big Millésime Bio tasting held in Montpellier. I seem to have overlooked his star white wines somehow:
2008 Collioure blanc (Grenache blanc, Grenache gris) - hazelnutty and fino-edged nose; dry mineral mouthfeel, very intense with refreshing length and concentrated, lightly exotic vs spicy fruit. 87+
2007 Collioure blanc (Grenache blanc, Grenache gris) - more mature (obviously), attractively appley and fino in style; lovely nutty vs creamy palate with incisive long finish. 88+
2007 Collioure rouge - sweet, perfumed, garrigue aromas (kinda wild herbs etc.); delicious spicy fruit vs underlying grip, elegant vs powerful. 87-89
2006 Cuvée Capitas Collioure rouge – rich and smoky with lush dark fruit and spicy oak in the background; liquorice "sweetness" vs meaty flavours / texture vs proper grip, concentrated and powerful yet fine length. 90+
2004 Cuvée Capitas – turning savoury and meaty, attractive elegant vs rich fruit, ripe and soft vs still firm finish. 87-89

2012 tasting update

2010 white – peachy yet nutty too, intense mineral characters vs rounded texture vs crisp tight finish. Very good.
2007 Cuvée Octobre – ripe sweet fruit with lavender edges, turning savoury too on the palate, intense spicy finish though.
2008 Cuvée Capitas – quite savoury and leather-tinged, structured and punchy mouth-feel, very powerful finish; a tad unbalanced.
2009 Cuvée Al Ribéral (no added SO2) – lively wild fruits and scorched heather/lavender undertones, 'volatile' edges too but it works well here, intense long finish. Very good.

30 January 2010

Languedoc: Clos de l'Anhel, Corbières

Château Pech-Latt (see A to Z) estate manager Philippe Mathias and his partner Sophie Guiraudon, who are based at Pech-Latt, have a small domaine of their own called Clos de l’Anhel ('lamb fold' in Occitan: there is a semi-crumbling farmhouse / sheep shelter alongside the track leading up to their vines, which they might eventually do up into a small cellar). So, their address is the same as Pech-Latt below (they do also have a cellar in a nearby village, but it's not marked and difficult to find). Philippe and Sophie have converted six hectares/15 acres (with three more in the pipeline) over to biodynamic grape growing, man, and are already coming up with remarkable results, as demonstrated by the three tasty reds below all built mostly from old Carignan. They've also planted "a bit of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre;" as you do.
They're using very little in the way of oak barrels, and Sophie said "we might stop using wood all together," a refreshing trend I've spotted elsewhere on mini-estates; partly to let the fruit do the talking, and partly, I'd imagine, because new barrels are expensive. You can taste Clos Anhel's wines while visiting Pech-Latt; and Sophie might also take you up to their 250-300 metre-high (900 feet) vineyards if you arrange it in advance (you’d never find this peaceful spot on your own anyway), where you’ll be greeted by three cheeky donkeys. I don't think they work in the vineyard but are probably a good, three HP manure machine. Other growers worth pencilling in in this area include Domaine Baillat, Château Prieuré Borde-Rouge, Château de Roquenégade and Domaine la Rune.


Tasted October 2008 and again in January 2009:
Les Autres vin de table (because it's 80% Carignan + Grenache, 14%) - the name refers to all those who helped with the harvest, listed on the label. Pure ripe liquorice, cassis and juicy raspberries; more savoury on the palate with tobacco and leather edges, and soft v dry mouth-feel; has a bit of a kick too but also juicy fresh fruit. 87
2007 Les Terrassettes
Corbières (mostly Carignan + Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre, 14%) - shows similar purity of liquorice fruit with dark cherries and wild herbs; richer colour and body, tasty mouthful of spicy tobacco-tinged fruit; powerful with more grip & structure, lively finish too, needs 6-12 months to come together nicely. 89+
2007 Les Dimanches
Corbières (50% 70 year-old Carignan + Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre, 10% of it aged in used casks, 14% alc) - again has that similar hallmark profile but more aromatic and floral with richer black cherry/olive fruit; concentrated and powerful with nice grippy texture v deliciously drinkable fruit quality, quite fine and well-balanced to finish. 90-92

And Clos Anhel 2005 vintages from Vinisud 2006.

Update Jan 2010. Sophie had their lively 2008s ready and waiting to be sampled at Millésime Bio wine fair in Montpellier:
2008 les Autres (mostly Carignan) - very smoky with liquorice and tobacco notes, very Carignan style with lots of dark blueberry too; fairly easy palate with a bit of grip too. 85
2008 le Lolo Corbières - a tad reduced on the nose (these weren't finished bottled samples), turning more intense with perfumed fruit and dark vs crunchy mix; attractive dry grip and bite on the finish. 87+
2008 les Terrassettes - lush, smoky and expressive with blueberry vs meaty notes; chunky yet supple with good depth of cherry/berry fruit, nice length with lingering dried fruits. 89+
2008 les Dimanches - similar profile but richer with lively dark plum, liquorice and tobacco; pretty intense mouthfeel with firm vs rounded tannins, tight long and delicious finish. 91+


Plus 2009 vintage report under Corbieres reds, obviously... 

Lagrasse. Tel: 04 68 43 18 12, anhel@wanadoo.frwww.anhel.fr.

28 January 2010

Roussillon: Domaine Jean-Philippe Padié, Calce

You'll find Jean-Philippe working his twisty old vines "naturally" (with a bit of biodynamics too actually) up in the wilds of Calce, where he has 11 hectares divided up into "about 30 parcels." I bumped into J-P in late October 2009 at a "harvest party" (where they spit-roasted an entire lamb in the yard outside the Tautavel co-op winery), where I tasted his very nice "little bull" below. I'll probably be embarking on a comprehensive Calce revisit at some point... And, if you're ever in the area in early/mid May, there's the village wine fair/"open-day" called "les caves se rebiffent" ("wine cellars strike back"), where Jean-Philippe, well, opens up along with neighbours Gauby, Pithon, Matassa (see links under Roussillon A to Z for "profiles," right-hand column) and other local producers. By the way, there's a map of where to find his wines (in France) on the site link below. Not much luck for you lot in the US or UK though, as his export markets are Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada (Quebec).

2006 Petit Taureau Côtes du Roussillon (50% Carignan 30% Syrah 10% Grenache 10% Mourvèdre, no oak, 13.5%) - ripe black cherry with savoury and tobacco edges; rich and intense with attractive tannins and power/elegance together, "sweet" and savoury finish. 89-91


2010 update: from Millésime Bio organic wine show in Montpellier, where I tried most of Jean-Philippe's range:
2008 Fleur de Cailloux white (Macabeu, Grenache blanc) - appley, quite intense, crisp and refreshing vs rounded and lightly creamy. 85
2008 Milouise white (Grenache gris, Grenache blanc: oldest vines) - lees notes and similarly lively yet richer and rounder; bigger too with greater concentration, then spicy and mineral finish. 87+
2008 Ad Libitum Côtes du Roussillon rosé (Carignan, Mourvèdre) - creamy and nutty vs rose petal and red fruit tones; a bit odd/unexpected but I like it in the end!
2007 Petit Taureau Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Mourvèdre) - ripe and rich vs meaty and a tad of complex volatile tones; intense sweet/sour berry fruit vs dry firm tannins vs lively fruit and weight. 88-90
2008 Calice (Carignan) - a bit reductive on the nose, lively blackcurrant palate finishing a bit appley and tart.
2006 Ciel Liquide Côtes du Roussillon Villages - much lusher with oaky notes, attractive peppery dark cherry/berry fruit; concentrated and powerful vs full rounded mouthfeel, followed by tight long finish. Fairly wow. 90-92


11 Rue Pyrénées, 66600 Calce. Tel: 04 68 64 29 85/06 99 53 07 66  www.domainepadie.com.

26 January 2010

Languedoc: La Grange de Quatre Sous, pays d'Oc

La Grange de Quatre Sous

Hildegard Horat and Alioune Diop's 8 ha (20 acre) organic estate lies peacefully off the winding road between Saint-Chinian and St-Jean de Minervois, although they make very un-appellation wines (as you can see below), all vin de pays (if you have to have a moniker). Hildegard and Alioune left their native Switzerland in 1983 to establish a vineyard ending up in the wild back-lands near Assignan, and deliberately choosing to make Vins de Pays d’Oc "so I could plant varieties such as Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Viognier," as Hildegard explains simply on the "Vinifilles" site (link below), an association of Languedoc & Roussillon women winemakers. Add to that some Chardonnay, Marsanne, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault and that makes quite a colourful vine tapestry. Seems like a good idea looking at the three wines I tried at Millésime Bio organic fair 2010:

2008 Jeu du Mail (2/3 Viognier 1/3 Marsanne) - enticing juicy leesy edges with honeyed, oily and peachy notes; lively chalky texture even vs rounded with exotic spicy flavours. Yum. 89
2006 Les Serrottes (50/50 Syrah/Malbec) - aromatic spicy cherry notes layered with ripe red fruits, liquorice and violets too; tangy vs lush mouthfeel, peppery and tight with firm tannins vs fairly concentrated fruit. 90
2005 La Grange de Quatre Sous (Syrah/Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon/CabernetFranc) - smokier profile with cassis undertones, solid chunky structure vs intense concentrated fruit; meaty tobacco notes too on the finish combined with grippy texture. Wow. 90-92
Click here  for a note on their 2005 Serrottes ("wines of the moment" winter 08).

34360 Assignan. Tel: 04 67 380 641, www.vinifilles.fr.


25 January 2010

Languedoc: Domaine Grand Guilhem, Fitou

You'll (eventually) find Séverine and Gilles Contrepois in a beautiful spot pretty much smack in the middle of the Corbières hills, not far from Villeneuve or Durban nestling in the rugged inland part of the slightly confusing Fitou appellation (well, all you really need to know is that its geography is purely political...). They have 10 organic ha of vineyards (25 acres) - officially blessed as such since 2004 - around their splendid stone-built home, which also has four guestrooms (they do B&B and wine dinners) and a couple of adjoining holiday cottages (see website below). I tried these wines with Séverine and Gilles at the 2010 edition of Millésime Bio organic wine show:

2007 Fitou - herby vs smoky nose, attractive dried currant and ripe dark plum aromas/flavours; quite powerful and chunky with firm tannins vs lingering maturing "sweet" fruit. 87+
2006 Fitou - more mature (obviously) and savoury with rich yet elegant fruit; lovely peppery concentrated palate with solid structure, big finish and dried fruit vs meaty flavours. 89
2006 Fitou "Coup de Coeur" (more Carignan, different parcels) - more volatile and cough sweet tones; firmer mouthfeel, probably more concentrated but overall less charming perhaps. 
2005 Fitou - developing savoury aromas underpinned by nice "sweet" dried fruits; quite elegant for an 05 (some are pretty rich and big) with again fair grip but not too much. 88


2012 update here (2008 Fitou tasted).


Chemin du Col de la Serre, 11360 Cascastel des Corbières. Tel: 04 68 45 86 67, www.grandguilhem.com.

24 January 2010

California: Frey Vineyards - Redwood Valley

Paul Frey at this year's (2010)
Millésime Bio show
Not only was Paul Frey the lone winemaker from California at this year's (2010) Millésime Bio wine fair in Montpellier, but the Freys also claim to be pioneers in several other things: America's first organic winery, "sulphite-free for 28 years," first maker of certified Biodynamic ® Wines in the US... So, quite a lot to live up to when I tried the wines below on their stand and talked to Paul. Did they deliver? Well, yes, although some of them show a wild, natural, old-fashioned even kind of intense style that certain textbook, squeaky-clean winemakers might call faulty: maybe technically correct, but there's something exciting and living about these flavoursome wines, as you'll see from my notes. Overall, the Frey family has around 50 ha or 124 acres of organic and biodynamic vineyards in Mendocino County. According to their website, it's tough titty for readers and organic wine fans in the UK, as they only appear to be distributed in northern Europe in Norway, the Netherlands and Denmark; but they're widely available in the US and Canada of course! So, a good excuse to go to the winery some day yourself...
2009 Sauvignon Blanc - herby vs peachy nose, crisp vs oily palate; elegant and long, different too. 87+
2009 Chardonnay - exotic oily style with lively mineral bite, crisp and intense finish. 87+
2006 "Biodynamic" Zinfandel - savoury/sweet almost Pinot Noir style nose, earthy vs ripe and fruity palate; bit like old Burgundy! 87
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon - smoky leathery aromas, lush vs grippy mouthfeel with dark smoky finish; not sure but interesting anyway. 87?
2007 Syrah (North Coast) - meaty vs spicy dark cherry fruit; lighter style but still attractive with minty, fruity and toasty/smoky finish. 87+
2005 "Biodynamic" Syrah - dark toasty liquorice vs pepper notes; lush vs firm and sweet vs savoury palate, maturing vs still alive on the finish. 90+
2007 Petite Sirah - wild herbs and burnt plums, funky northern Rhone-ish styling; rich "tar" with cloves undertones vs dry yet rounded tannins, wow. 89
www.freywine.com

Languedoc: Domaine de la Triballe, Grès de Montpellier

You'll find La Triballe nestling about 15km (10 miles) northeast of Montpellier sandwiched between the Grès de Montpellier and Pic Saint-Loup appellations (or two pieces of bread perhaps). Owners Sabine and Olivier Durand (pic.), who also make a good variety of vin de pays wines and organic grape juice, took over the reins in 1990 and have been applying full-on organics to their 14 ha (35 acres) of vineyards since 1996. I sampled these wines with Sabine in Montpellier at the 2010 edition of Millésime Bio organic fair:

2009 Aphyllanthe white (RolleRoussanne) - honeyed vs gooseberry notes, very lively and floral too; crisp, mineral and oily too with creamier yeast-lees edges and "sweet" rounded fruit too. 87
2009 rosé - nice clean and straight style, zingy and subtle with crisp intensity. 80-83
2008 Coteaux du Languedoc (
CarignanSyrahGrenache) - slightly 'reductive' / cassis nose; youthful lively and crunchy fruit on the palate, turning lusher on the finish. 83-85
2007 En attendant que Coteaux du Languedoc - spicy Syrah-dominated style, the wood's a tad intrusive although it does add attractive rounder texture...
2007 La Capitelle Grès de Montpellier (GrenacheSyrah,
Carignan) - spicy minty aromas with cassis and cherry; firm vs round mouthfeel, tasty chunky vs fruity profile and dry vs "sweet" finish. 89+

34820 Guzargueswww.la-triballe.com.

23 January 2010

Languedoc: Château de Brau, Cabardès


Cabardès AOC is found to the north of Carcassonne and is trying to push a 'west meets east' image, with varying degrees of success. The region is planted with a mix of Mediterranean, Rhone, southwest and Bordeaux varieties; and further afield too with Chardy, Sauvignon, Pinot Noir etc. cropping up more and more. As you approach from further east or south in the Languedoc, the weather can quickly change once you're in or beyond Carcassonne (sometimes rainier or colder in the winter yet hotter in the summer too), as if there actually is some kind of Atlantic-cum-continental karma at play; even though you're still much nearer to the Med here. While Cabardès has (had?) its fair share of rather ordinary wines (nothing unusual about that then), there's a burgeoning band of top estates coming to the fore such as Château de Brau and the others featured below this profile. For more info on Cabardès producers and to get hold of a copy of their handy little wine trail in English (includes a few hotels, restaurants etc. as well), check out www.aoc-cabardes.com.
Back to Brau. This charming, unpretentious and quite sizeable (40 ha/100 acre) estate is owned by Gabriel and Wenny Tari and farmed organically: certified back in 1989 in fact with the youngest Syrah and Pinot being converted. It's split roughly into two big chunks - one around the winery and chateau, the other just off in the distance on rolling slopes at slightly higher altitude - with natural borders formed by the river to the south (a tributary of the Aude) and wilder countryside to the north. Unusually, they have 15 different varieties planted, mostly red including oddities such as Fer Servadou (from the southwest) and Egiodola, a crossing of Fer and Abourriou (que?!). Their Cabardès red blends are particularly impressive, although so is the Pinot Noir (rare to find good examples in the south) and other varietal wines like Cabernet Franc. The property is well signposted from the tricky-to-pronounce village of Villemoustaussou, and individuals or small groups are preferred by appointment.
What I also like about Gabriel and Wenny Tari, apart from nice wines, is their openness in poking fun at established so-called wisdom, or rather the usual clichés rolled out by some growers. This snippet from their brochure gives you a taster and also shows we must be kindred spirits, reflecting a line from the intro blurb on my homepage (an attempt at humour, if you bothered to read it and are a Monty Python fan): "We have not been growing wines since Roman times. We are farmers... modern-day peasants and have been for a long time... we don't have an exceptional terroir, just good land for vineyards of which we've ploughed every inch and which we've revived according to organic principles over the last 20 years" (not my translation by the way). Hats off. 



The following wines were tasted at Millésime Bio, Perpignan January 2008, and/or in situ when I visited in April 08.
2006 Pinot Noir Pure, Vin de Pays d'Oc - touch of toasty chocolate oak leads on to attractive 'sweet and savoury' Pinot fruit, juicy mouth-feel v fresh bite and tannins; with a little air the oak drops revealing more silky Pinot character, surprising considering it's made from young vines too. 89-91
2005 Domaine Majelus Merlot - smoky plum and cassis notes, nice ripe edges with 'tar' and liquorice v grip and fresh acidity. 87+
2006 Cuvée Château Cabardès (Merlot Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon) - nice mix of herbal pepper and ripe smoky fruit, again solid tannins v ripeness and power v lightness of touch. 89-91
2006 Cuvée Exquise Cabardès (Syrah Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon and sometimes Grenache too) - different from above, more berry fruit with light mint tones then liquorice on the palate v dry grip from textured tannins; less charming now perhaps but could blossom. 88+
2005 Le Suc de Brau Cabardès (SyrahCabernet Sauvignon) - more peppery and rustic with light coco oak, black cherry and cassis; powerful chunky and quite concentrated palate v rich smoky liquorice and black fruit layered on its firm solid framework. 90-92
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Pure - attractive juicy cassis enhanced by smoky prune tones, quite elegant finish actually. 87-89
2006 Cabernet Franc - pretty ripe and spicy v red pepper notes but mostly full and rounded in style, very appealing wine. 87-89
2006 Fer Servadou - a little reduced and funky on the nose but this is concentrated, peppery, rustic and rich; nicely handled tannins and finish too.88-90
2006 Egiodola - a bit stalky and closed on the nose, reveals more in the mouth with lively spicy tart aromatic damson v darker fruit and liquorice; quite concentrated with very grippy tannins and fresh acidity, different for sure! 87+2006 Syrah - less exciting to be honest, although made from young vines so we'll see.
2007 Domaine de Brau Chardonnay-Roussanne (12.5%) - nice peachy v yeast leesy style with a bit of depth and crisp finish. 85+ 



Update 2010. Gosh, was that really two years ago... these new vintages tasted with Gabriel and Wenny at Millésime Bio show in Montpellier:
2008 Chardonnay / Roussanne - quite rich and exotic with peachy and yeast-lees tones; juicy with a touch of weight then crisp bite vs "sweet" fruit and lively finish still. 87
2008 Cabernet Franc / Cabernet Sauvignon - attractive "sweet vs savoury" mix with herby red pepper notes vs richer darker berry and cassis fruit; nice styling and depth on the palate. 87+
2007 Fer Servadou - juicier than previous vintage perhaps with meaty/savoury notes and light wood spice; quite lush vs tarter side with dark fruits and leather on the finish, attractive tannins too. 87+
2009 Pinot Noir - a bit closed up but slowly reveals enticing "sweet/savoury" Pinot style, nice fruit vs grip too; promising. 87-89
2007 Cuvée Exquise Cabardès - a touch of oak on the nose vs maturing herbal berry fruit; chunkier and lush on the palate vs tight firm mouthfeel, ripe vs savoury finish. Yum. 90
2006 Le Suc Cabardès (SyrahCabernet Sauvignon) - spicy wood aromas, moving on to chunky and concentrated mouthfeel; a tad oak-heavy perhaps but has nice oomph, richness and spicy finish. 89



Latest Brau here (report June 2012).

Domaine de Brau, 11620 Villemoustaussou. Tel: 04 68 72 31 92, chateaudebrau@aliceadsl.fr.

22 January 2010

Languedoc: Château Bousquette, Saint-Chinian

Updated Jan 2014: latest vintages etc. can be found in my all singing, all dancing St Chinian special supplement HERE.

A couple of forgotten yet plush reds (re)discovered from the tasting table at Millésime Bio organic wine show (Perpignan Jan 2008). I didn't get around to following up with the producers on their stands or writing them up until now, six months later although none of them is in danger of fading away! So 'ones to watch' perhaps or 'ones to call in on' when next in the area...
2005 Cuvée Pruneyrac Saint-Chinian (Mourvèdre Grenache) - dark fruits and liquorice with pepper and leather tones; fairly dense mouth-feel with firm structured finish; a fairly 'wow' kinda red. 90+?


Update 2010 from Millésime Bio organic fair in Montpellier. Owned and run by Swiss winegrowers Eric and Isabelle Perret since 1996, although the property's 24 ha/60 acres have been organically farmed since 1972 actually; quite progressive in the scheme of things. Bousquette (pic.) lies on the eastern side of the Saint-Chinian appellation about 15 km northwest of Béziers.
2007 "tradition" (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan) - dried fruity and smoky nose, ripe and liquoricey vs tobacco edges; tasty and soft-ish palate, nice now. 85
2006 Cuvée Pruneyrac (Mourvèdre, Grenache) - a tad reductive or struck-matchy (?) on the nose yet enticingly fruity too; lovely concentrated pruney fruit vs pretty solid tannins and fair oomph on the finish. 88+
2008 L'Absolu (Mourvèdre, Grenache, Carignan) - a dollop of sweet oak overridden by attractive black fruit / olive notes; quite intense and fruity with firm yet rounded framework, closes up on the finish; should be interesting when it softens a little. 87+
2006 Prestige (Syrah, Grenache) - herbal vs liquorice on the nose; rich yet very solid mouthfeel bolstered by delicious depth of maturing fruit and attractive weight, still young though in the end. 90

Route de Cazouls, 34460 Cessenon: www.chateaubousquette.com.

Roussillon: La Borde Vieille, Felluns

Scroll down to "Ah, but the Mexicans were here before them!" in this article: Relentless Roussillon - strange goings-on in Maury...

France: "Relentless Roussillon: strange goings-on in Maury..."

There's nothing new about a high-profile "outsider investment" story round these parts: Calvet-Thunevin's stark statement winery fashioned from blocks of orange Gard stone was the boldest testament to this up until now, and has somewhat altered the view on the way into town (I also noticed, by the way, the logo on the facia now runs "Domaine Thunevin-Calvet": we probably shouldn't read too much into that?!). But the once slightly dull and dour village of Maury has rapidly become the centre of the Roussillon wine universe, maybe even of the Languedoc too. I'm constantly amazed, and pleased I have to say, that the momentum is still going strong; it's getting difficult keeping up with everything that's happening...

Mega-bucks: the Americans are here
Grenache-loving Dave Phinney (pictured) of Napa's Orin Swift fame (the man behind the, I'm told, hugely successful "Prisoner" label, a Zin/Cab/Syrah blendl), is the first to put American $$$ behind an even bigger, and arguably bolder, site just up the hill from the village centre (off the Route de Cucugnan). This huge - relatively for the area - high-tech winery, along with the whole project, is being managed by Englishman Richard Case of Domaine de la Pertuisane. As well as his own wines, Richard already does a couple of special labels for his US importer (Kimberley Jones and David Shiverick in Ohio) and has moved Pertuisane lock, stock and barrels onto the new premises. When I first called in, Richard gleefully pointed out some of the brand new equipment (including something resembling "the machine that goes ping") like a spoilt child in a toy shop.
This very contemporary winery, called Department 66 (the region's French département number = Pyrénées Orientales) was operational for vintage 2009, not a bad year to start I'd say, although the aesthetic finishing touches have recently been put in place. To fill up all these neat shiny vats and scented oak casks, Dave has bought a staggering, for this old-parcelled neck of the woods, 80 hectares (nearly 200 acres) in total dotted around Maury. I'm told much of this fine and well-established, although not very economic, vine-land was destined to be reluctantly ripped up by retiring locals glad to see the viticultural landscape being preserved. So why here and why now? I'll be meeting Dave in the near future hopefully, and tasting some of his 2009 reds no doubt, so will publish an interview and tasting notes then.
You might well question whether these new-build wineries are a sore on the area's beautiful dramatic terrain and if everyone here sees this kind of development as a good thing? Personal taste and any local jealousies aside, Charles Chivilo, mayor of Maury, told me: "Some of the old co-op growers were happy to sell and pleased the vineyards would be looked after... vines are our landscape. The winery was built on a vacant piece of land and there are vineyards behind it. There was only one objection from people who'd planned to build a cellar next to it, but it came to nothing. With the viticulture crisis, we see this kind of investment in Maury as very positive. As long as there's local dialogue and they respect the village traditions and people." Mind you, some hooligan broke into Richard's old cellar a few months ago and emptied much of his 2007 reds onto the floor, so obviously someone out there felt hard done by...

Ah, but the Mexicans were here before them!
On a less ostentatious but no less ambitious scale, the "Mexican thrust" is being headed up by Hugo d'Acosta. "La Borde Vieille" is Hugo's baby, along with a few other Mexican investors, who purchased a 25 ha (60 acre) chunk of vineyards and the cellar, previously Domaine La Colline des Vents, all in one stunning spot near Felluns (beyond Lesquerde southwest of Maury). And there's a second, even more intrepid "Mexican project" taking in a further 50 ha and two village co-ops: I'll come back to that in a minute... The soils around Borde Vieille have "lots of grey schist," as Hugo explained, with some white varieties, Carignan blanc and Macabeu, mixed in with the majority, usual-suspect reds all planted mostly on east-west facing slopes.
"Wine has always been my dream," Hugo told me more about is background. "I went to viticulture school one summer, got a qualification in agriculture then went to study winemaking at Montpellier and Torino. I've worked for 15 years in different wineries in Mexico and started my first vineyard there in 1997." My next question inevitably brought the conversation round to: why, and how, here? "I was looking for a few years in the Corbieres and Roussillon," Hugo continued and, like many who've come to the Maury area, the right thing cropped up at the right time.
So, 2007 was their maiden vintage which was looking a bit closed up when I tried it, although chunky yet quite subtle and promising. I also tasted several different 2008s and 2009s from vat and cask. They make three reds, each one dominated by each of the three main varieties - so c. 60% Carignan or Syrah or Grenache with the remainder being the other two blended according to the vintage. I won't go into detailed notes on all these unfinished wines; but my favourites included a 2008 50/50 Syrah/Carignan, another duet of the latter with 65% Syrah, a 100% Grenache and two single-plot, "oldest vines" varietals: 20 year-old Syrah and 40 to 100 year-old Carignan. And from the challenging-to-taste but radiant 2009 vintage, a north-facing Grenache, two stylish Carignans and a gorgeous Syrah.
Next stop, the former village co-op cellars in Felluns and nearby Assignan, which had both closed down. An extraordinary (ad)venture: Hugo has rallied a dozen Mexican wine producer investor friends plus a few locals, who together purchased both of these old winery buildings along with 50 hectares (125 acres) all around the two villages, which lie on splendid terraces at 250 to 500 metres altitude (850-1700 feet) divided by a patch of hillside woodland. In Felluns, they were fermenting the first reds in square-looking, small-batch plastic "tubs" (1000 litres: the cube shape allows very good skin/juice contact), as "we didn't want to use the old concrete vats this year. The plan is to split them all into two levels to make everything on a smaller scale," and get rid of any geriatric equipment and completely remodel the grape reception zone.
Naturally, I was intrigued about what investing in all of this has cost Hugo and his colleagues. He was commendably frank about it and prepared to give me some approximate figures: €500,000 for the land and buildings and €400K for the new gear, plus €3K per year to run the vineyards and €1K for winemaking and ageing costs. "Over half of the vineyards are already sold... each individual will make their own wine and handle sales themselves," but this is a kind of private co-op venture implying they're pooling their resources too. Everything is picked block by block, so some of the vats I tasted from were already mixed thanks to those traditional "field blends," e.g. an attractive 2009 Grenache / Carignan and a few different promising Syrahs.

Let's not forget the South Africans... and the Swiss
The Cape's Grier family made a move on the area a few years ago now and has vineyards and an understated winery off the main road through St-Paul de Fenouillet, ten minutes west of Maury. Heading back to Maury, located up the hill on the Cucugnan road almost next door to Dept. 66, Swiss-owned Domaine des Enfants is another great-potential "start-up" estate. Marcel Buhler made his third vintage this year (i.e. kicked off in 2007) in his compact cellar, formerly owned by Serge Rousse (of the sadly defunct Domaine Terre Rousse), gleaned from 20 ha (50 acres) split across seven sites (Maury, Caramany, Latour-de-France among others) with alarmingly low final yields of eight hl/ha. "We pick late then really select through (the fruit)," Marcel clarified, "we must've chucked away a quarter of it this year. Everything's very manual as the vineyards are old, so I've got two horses. No herbicides are used and I'm going for organic certification in 2010."
Marcel's background was in Zurich banking; he then studied winegrowing/making at Germany's esteemed Geisenheim university. "I looked (at vineyards) in the Languedoc, in the Montpeyroux and Pic St-Loup areas, and Priorat and elsewhere in Spain... but it was all too expensive. Then I stopped off in the Roussillon and met Jean Pla (proprietor of Le Pichenouille wine shop & restaurant in Maury, vineyard real estate broker and all-round "Godfather of Maury," as someone once said, affectionately)..." At the moment, Domaine des Enfants' wines are mostly sold in Switzerland and Germany, by (e)mail order or at Jean's place above. He, like other newcomers aiming high, has priced the wines at a pretty ambitious level: €18, €36 and €55. My tasting notes of Marcel's 2008 reds are here. More info @ domaine-des-enfants.com.

Small is beautiful too
No less spectacular is the continuing number of mostly French-owned, one/two-man/woman domaine start-ups in the Maury area. Last April's version of the annual Fenouillèdes wine show, which takes place in Tautavel a few kilometres up the road, threw up yet more surprises and several new names showing 2008 wines, their first vintage. Worth mentioning briefly are Domaine Deveza (Estagel), Mas Mudigliza (St-Paul), La Petite Baigneuse (Maury) and Clos Serre Romani (Maury) among others: click on those links to see profiles. Winegrowers at the show confirmed something else I've been noticing more and more: there are now quite a few cracking white wines too, making this region much more than a one trick pony ("hearty reds" are what spring to mind first). Plus a winemaking shift to youthful Vintage-style Maury, but that's another story... No doubt the Fenouillèdes 2010 fair will reveal more new names and newer wines...

Et les Anglais?
Not content with buying up holiday homes and gites, there's a handful of budding British vignerons who've either settled or purchased vineyards here. Katie Jones is no stranger to the area, at least the Fitou/Corbieres region just to the north, as she used to be marketing and export director at the Cave de Mont Tauch co-op. The lure of the land obviously proved too overwhelming for Katie, who's bought a few, more-or-less adjoining old parcels perched up behind Maury on pretty steep, very rocky soil (mostly pure grey/black schist on top), which are a challenge to access even for her old faithful 4x4. She's going to make three or four wines (two reds, one dry white? Watch this space...) including a super-late harvest Grenache gris sweetie picked from a few vines deliberately left until just before Christmas! Once again, I'll be tasting these when they're ready and will knock up a fuller profile (UPDATE: now done so click on this link for notes and more words). And have a look at her blog to keep up with the Jones'. Other English winey goings-on include Justin Howard-Sneyd MW's Domaine of the Bee and the longer established Les Clos Perdus (actually an Anglo-Oz partnership).
Meanwhile, back in Maury village: will the Maison du Terroir, Pascal Borrell's ambitious upmarket restaurant, help pull in the crowds? They're also working with the on-site Tourist Office organising wine routes and tasting suppers, for example: more info @ www.maison-du-terroir.com. And not far away in the Trilla / Bélesta area, Vincent Balansa, whose track record includes working at Le Soula, Gauby and Bizeul among others, is the man behind another new, organic-from-the-start project. He and a consortium of private investors have bought up some great parcels otherwise destined to be ripped up: more details @ biotrilla.blogspot.com, and a profile on this might follow at some point...
So, what does this all mean for lovers of authentic, terroir-oozing Mediterranean wines? In these "doom and gloom" times, the momentum just hasn't stopped in this "New Eldorado" (as the region has been called in the past but still seems appropriate), where newcomer and established winemakers alike are obviously convinced there are plenty more exciting discoveries to be made and shared here. And maybe Maury itself could finally become the wine tourism must-go place it deserves to be.
Profiles on the wineries mentioned above, along with lots of tasting notes on their wines and web details, have now been teleported across from 'old' WineWriting.com: see links in the Roussillon winery A to Z.

All rights © Richard Mark James January 2010

Roussillon: "Strange goings-on in Maury..."


Latest article from French Med Wine: 'Relentless Roussillon: strange goings-on in Maury...' Featuring Department 66 ('the Americans', Dave Phinney pictured from orinswift.com), La Borde Vieille ('the Mexicans'), Les Enfants ('the Swiss'), oh... 'the English' (Jones, Bee, Pertuisane...) and 'French' too (Deveza, Mudigliza, Petite Baigneuse, Serre Romani...).
"There's nothing new about a high-profile 'outsider investment' story round these parts: Calvet-Thunevin's stark statement winery fashioned from blocks of orange Gard stone was the boldest testament to this up until now, and has somewhat altered the view on the way into town..."

18 January 2010

Delmas 2004 Crémant de Limoux

Champagne producers can forward all the "reasons" they like for "having" to charge the money they do - area of production = less wine than world demand type ecomonics is the only convincing one knowing how many grapes some growers there squeeze out of each vine - and they can bang on about unique climate and soils blah blah (an element of equally convincing truth even though bottled-fermented fizz is essentially naturally shaped by the way it's made rather than so-called terroir). But, when you try a "traditional method" sparkling wine from, say, Limoux (western Languedoc) as tasty as this one - Delmas 2004 Crémant de Limoux, aged for 2 years on the yeast-lees giving it nice toastiness and roundness on top of its refreshing tangy side - which at €6.99 presumably gives them a desirable profit margin, you've gotta wonder, no? (It was organically produced too, which might even bump up their costs a little.) I know it's been said before but there's nothing like sipping tangible proof of something to warm you up into a slight rant!

Delmas 2004 Crémant de Limoux

Champagne producers can forward all the "reasons" they like for "having" to charge the money they do - area of production = less wine than world demand type ecomonics is the only convincing one knowing how many grapes some growers there squeeze out of each vine - and they can bang on about unique climate and soils blah blah (an element of equally convincing truth even though bottled-fermented fizz is essentially naturally shaped by the way it's made rather than so-called terroir). But, when you try a "traditional method" sparkling wine from, say, Limoux (western Languedoc) as tasty as this one - Delmas 2004 Crémant de Limoux, aged for 2 years on the yeast-lees giving it nice toastiness and roundness on top of its refreshing tangy side - which at €6.99 presumably gives them a desirable profit margin, you've gotta wonder, no? (It was organically produced too, which might even bump up their costs a little.) I know it's been said before but there's nothing like sipping tangible proof of something to warm you up into a slight rant!

14 January 2010

"Interesting" statistics no. 9: Austria et al

I got an email from those nice Austrian wine people today: "It’s almost eerie – the 9 series! The legendary Austrian “9er” vintages certainly live up to their reputation even in the new millennium. It began in 1959..." Apparently, so it goes on: 69, 79, 89, 99 and now 09 were all top vintages (so I'm told). Fascinating stuff, I hear you say. I can vouch for 1999, I've tried some excellent Austrian wines from that vintage from memory, dry and sweet whites and reds too (hopefully I'll find the time to rebuild the several pages and tons of wine reviews from a memorable trip I went on to Austria back in 2004 - click here for a couple of articles I penned for the wine trade press at least, and scroll down a bit). It was also a cracker in Hungary I believe, especially for Tokay (my in-depth wine touring feature from 2006 with more on Tokay vintages can be found HERE in "wine words" archive, and here too under "wotm" Hungary). But not very good at all in Bordeaux (rather charmless Médoc wines but better in St-Emilion from memory?), although much much better elsewhere in France, e.g. the South in general. Austere yet some exciting 99 Barolos and Barbarescos (see here and scroll down a good bit), and I think it was generally good in Spain too... 89 was pretty classic across much of Europe, and I'd have to check various guides for the other 9ers. What about California, Australia (I think so) etc? Although this is beginning to get a touch too dull already to be bothered trawling through old tasting notes and vintage reports... Anyway, looking forward to trying some Austrian 09s, which looks like a fab vintage elsewhere in Europe too.

12 January 2010

Languedoc: Château Camplazens, La Clape

Susan and Peter Close's award-winning estate lies at the top end of La Clape (more on that under Pech-Redon) about as far as the "road" goes before you reach an air force base. You can get there via the little village of Armissan or follow signs for Hospitalet then "base aérienne." Either way, the road does a long winding loop and it's a nice peaceful drive. Susan and Peter, originally from northeast England although they then lived in the States for 20 years, bought Camplazens in 2000 after looking extensively around the wine world for that perfect spot. They invested a fair sum in rebuilding the winery and replanting part of the vineyards including Syrah, Viognier and Marselan, a very promising crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache; as well as recently adding olive trees and new machinery to bring an old well back to life and be self-sufficient in water. Yann Claustre is their winemaker and estate manager, who's worked for the Closes since the beginning.

I tasted these wines with them at the property in January 2010:
2007 Viognier vin de pays d'Oc (13.5%) - exotic and fat vs juicy fruit, attractive ripe oily texture with light toast/spice tones; soft rounded and creamy then a more floral and greener finish. Nice style. 87
2007 Marselan vin de pays d'Oc (13%) - smoky liquorice vs herbal cassis aromas; similar flavours showing lush vs crunchy fruit, wild and spicy too with attractive rounded tannins; liquorice vs fresh bite, very tasty sweet vs savoury aftertaste. 87-89
2008 Syrah vin de pays d'Oc (13%) - appealing peppery black cherry fruit, soft and ripe yet floral and pure; good depth of fruit vs light tannins, a bit of bite and weight too. 87+
2007 La Garrigue La Clape (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan 12.5%) - lovely scented wild herbs and spicy berry fruit; quite lush vs touch of grip, fairly elegant style and subtle length with lingering fruit vs spice. 89+?
2007 Sélection Schwander La Clape (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan 13%) - he's their Swiss importer by the way, the wine is their "Reserve" level I think. Similar profile although more intense, spicier, wilder and richer; lusher vs crunchy fruit, delicious style and depth, again shows balanced length with subtle power. 90+

11110 Armissan. Tel: 04 68 45 38 89, www.camplazens.com.

04 January 2010

Serious ginger

I recently rediscovered "Ginger Wine" while back in England, or rather a non-alcoholic version called "Rochester Dickensian recipe traditional ginger drink" described as having "the kick of two very angry mules." And they aren't kidding, this stuff is VERY gingery and makes your throat glow. A great winter drink diluted with a splash or two of water, which traditionally was drunk as a mixer for whisky for those of you who like a double-double kick. Actually, why not try it blended with a fairly neutral dry white wine even?

03 January 2010

Languedoc: Château Pech Redon, La Clape

Down-to-earth owner/grower/winemaker Christophe Bousquet also happens to be the president of the Clape winegrowers association and doesn't have to put up with annoying neighbours at all, as he doesn't have any; lost as he is up a rough meandering climbing track, perched up on the highest point (vines run from 150 to 200m/500-650 feet altitude at Pech-Redon) of the curious hunk of untamed hilly rock that is La Clape. The dramatic terrain here is so different from the flat land around Narbonne, which it overlooks obviously, sticking out awkwardly and dropping into the Med. Christophe and his fellow winemakers are working on shaping a separate mini-appellation for La Clape (its name is already visible on labels alongside "Coteaux du Languedoc"), which he thinks "should be in place by 2011." If there is a more convincing argument for creating this kind of obscure sub-AOC, then La Clape does seem like a case in point compared to other oversized and varied/variable, compromise appellations.

Paraphrasing and summarising what Christophe told me when I called by in January 2010, he's simply trying to make the most expressive wines possible and as naturally as possible (he does farm organically by the way) from his vineyards, and bring out the true character of the grape varieties (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and some whites too) grown in them along with the environmental factors that shape them. Which is a long-winded way of saying "terroir" wines, I suppose, or wines with a "sense of place" - me I mean, he didn't overuse the "T" word like some people do. Having tasted quite a few wines from La Clape, you can often pick up dark scented "garrigue" aromas, like roasted wild herbs or something like that, and plenty of attractive sweet/sour fruit character. Even if scientifically it's difficult to prove how different plants could or do interact and draw flavours from their soil or surroundings.

Anyway, let's not get too heavy here. Pech Redon's wines basically aren't very textbook, a bit on the wild side even, and quite well-distributed in English speaking markets - Christophe exports most of his production. In the US, via Village Wine in NYC and an importer in North Carolina, whose name I neglected to write down (I'll ask him again sometime)! In the UK, try Terroir Languedoc, the Real Wine Company, Discovery Wines (Cambridge) and Richards Walford sell a few bottles into posh restaurants in London. 


I tasted these wines with Christophe in his little barn-cum-cellar:
2008 white (Grenache blancBourboulenc) - wild cidery and mineral style, turning fatter and nuttier on the palate vs crisp and refreshing twist; gets more exotic with oxidising hazelnut tones, complex and attractive in fact. 87+2002 Les Genêts (ChardonnayViognier 14%) - apricots and buttery tones with a touch of toasted vanilla; "sweet" palate vs aniseed and hazelnut twist, creamy and mature yet still has a hint of freshness and life about it. 89+
2008 Les Cades (
CarignanCinsaultSyrahMourvèdre,Grenache 14%) - smoky and ripe, "tar" notes with spicy wild herbs too; dark vs crunchy fruit, quite firm yet with nice fruit vs bite; closes up on the finish, although you still get more of that aromatic floral character then darker side. 87+
2005 L'Epervier (mostly 
Syrah Grenache 14%) - more open on the nose, pretty wild and smoky with spicy cloves and minty/medicinal tones; concentrated with solid tannins vs dark cherry, spice, thyme, leather and balsamic flavours; powerful finish with slightly bitter grip yet quite lush wild fruit too. Not everybody's cup of tea (and possibly a tad faulty) but I kinda like its one-off style. 87+
2007 Lithos (50/50 
Syrah/Grenache 14.5%, unfiltered) - fairly upfront and lively style showing crunchy, red-pepper tinged fruit vs baked black cherry and sweet cassis; pretty firm mouthfeel and weight vs rich and smoky finish. 89-91
2002 La Centaurée (
SyrahGrenacheMourvèdre 14%) - meaty development on the nose with background vanilla notes; grip vs depth on the palate, a tad over-extracted perhaps vs substance? 87
2003 La Centaurée (
SyrahGrenacheMourvèdre 14%) - more aromatic and spicy with attractive liquorice notes, turning to leather vs dark ripe fruit; has more substance, weight and roundness with a more generous, complex maturing finish. 90-92

Latest here (2007 L'Epervier, La Clape tasting report April 2011).


Route de Gruissan, 11100 Narbonne. Tel: 04 68 90 41 22, www.pech-redon.fr / blog-pech-redon.moonfruit.fr.