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30 March 2010

Wolf in sheep's clothing

Or sheep in wolf's clothing perhaps: Wolfberger 2005 Riesling "Grand Cru Ollwiller" to be precise. The "wolf mountain" winery is a brand name coined by the Eguisheim co-op in Alsace, I believe, who make pretty decent and well-priced wines across the board. This one isn't the most exciting Grand Cru Riesling you'll come across from Alsace - they get much better than this, e.g. Clos Sainte Hune from Trimbach is possibly one of the greatest (although not technically a Grand Cru vineyard but who cares) and one of the dearest too at €100+ a bottle (or £65+ / $70-$100), more even for collectable vintages (it ages brilliantly). Anyway, this cheeky little 2005 Wolfie Ries bartered itself off the shelf for €6.99 (LeClerc supermarket, France) and was very palatable, mature and distinctly Riesling-edgy. Nice floral lime touches, plenty of developed oily/petrol notes and texture, fairly soft and delicate finish (and refreshingly 12% too). I had it with a spicy fish risotto, quite good combo actually.

29 March 2010

Roussillon: Domaine Cazes, Rivesaltes

Lionel Lavail and Emmanuel Cazes
Lionel Lavail and Emmanuel Cazes
A quick visit, chat and tasting (mid Sept 2006) in their shop at the winery in Rivesaltes, just north of Perpignan, revealed the first batch of wines below. You'll also find a couple more in my Millésime Bio 2006 wine show report, meaning Cazes is organically farmed with a view to gradually integrating biodynamic methods across the whole estate. It's pretty big (170 hectares/420 acres), so it must be back-breaking to apply all those 'alternative medicines' to that many vines. Maybe the sheer size and resultant range form part of a slight criticism I have: too large perhaps, as some of the wines aren't that exciting considering their reputation and higher than average prices. However, some are.
2005 Muscat-Viognier, vin de pays d'Oc - the Viognier adds weight, spice and exotic fruit without overpowering the Muscat, which lends a mineral slightly bitter finish; falls a little short after promising start.
2000 Credo Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, vin de pays d'Oc - a bit oxidised (been open too long probably) and oaky, developing leather and cassis notes on the palate, mature fruit v light bite of tannins; the oak's also a bit dominant on the finish.
Libre Expression, Rancio Sec (Macabeu, 16%) - you'll think it's going to be sweet thanks to the rich ripe honeyed characters, but it's off dry with a tangy mineral finish. Different.
1976 Rivesaltes cuvée Aimé Cazes (80% Grenache Blanc 20% Grenache) - complex developed pecan nut and 'cheesy' Madeira notes, mouth-coating richness v oxidised fruit, nice fresh finish considering its age and sweetness (110g/l). 90-92



Update March 2007. I met the energetic Lionel Lavail, who heads up an expanding family empire backed by big Languedoc house Jeanjean. The group now takes in the Cazes brand, Mas de Lavail (see A to Z) near Maury (Lionel's uncle, aunt and cousin), Domaine des Hospices (his parents' estate near Canet) and Cazes' project with co-ops in the Latour de France appellation (see below). Business talk aside, from the visitor's point of view, summer 07 saw a refit for the tasting room and shop and plans for an organic café-deli are well under way...
2006 Canon Muscat-Viognier, vin de pays Côtes Catalanes - nice aromatic mix of grape and apricot, crisp yet quite fat, dry v fruity; good commercial style. 80+
2006 Canon Syrah/Merlot/Grenache rosé, vin de pays Côtes Catalanes - zingy floral red fruit cocktail, crisp and clean. 83+
2005 Canon Syrah/Merlot, vin de pays Côtes Catalanes - light and creamy with tangy currant fruit and spice. 80+
2005 Château de Triniac, Latour de France Côtes du Roussillon Villages - attractive black cherry and liquorice notes, successful mix of medium-bodied ripe fruit v nice dry grip, needs a few months to round out a little. France €4 US $9 UK £5 87
2000 Credo Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot - tasted rather cold, but showing perfumed sweet oak with nice gamey edges coming through, concentrated v quite elegant; the oak's still a bit dominant over nevertheless good underlying fruit and length. 89+?
Tasted summer 2007:
2006 Syrah rosé, Domaine des Hospices, vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (12%) - vibrantly coloured and fruity dry rosé with crunchy red fruits, light creaminess and crisp bite. 85
2006 Muscat sec, les Hospices de Canet, vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (12.5%) - nice, well-made style with plenty of aromatic grape and citrus fruit; crisp, dry and fresh v a little rounded too. 85



2009 update from Millésime Bio wine fair in Montpellier (late January):
I tasted a few new vintages and chatted with Emmanuel Cazes, who updated me on latest goings-on chez the family empire; including building work in the pipeline for a fully-fledged organic tapas bar-restaurant next to their offices and cellars in Rivesaltes (and the difficulties!). I have to say, though, I thought the wines were a bit of a mixed bag; the ones below were my favourites:
2008 Muscat-Viognier vin de pays - bubbly fresh grapey nose with orange peel edges, slightly exotic and juicy palate. Overpriced though at €6.60. 83-85
2008 Syrah-Merlot Vin de pays - nice youthful vibrant fruit, a bit of grip in the mouth v fruity finish. Overpriced though at €6.60. 83-85
2007 Ego Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre) - better than the 2006 with its lively blackberry/cherry fruit and rustic edges; chunky and firm texture and good length. €9.50 87
2005 Alter Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre) - mature ripe nose, herbal v liquorice fruit profile with power and spice on its attractive finish. €13 87-89
2005 Rivesaltes Grenat VDN (Grenache) - expressive blackberry and spice on the nose; youthful fruit and not so sweet-tasting thanks to good grip and underlying freshness. €11.50 88



Update March 2010
Emmanuel, who's in charge of technical matters re vineyards (although his father and uncle are still very hands-on here) and winemaking, laid on a tasting at their offices/wine shop; and we ate in their new (mostly) organic restaurant next door afterwards (recommended if you're in the area: see website below). I asked him how difficult is it to apply biodynamic farming methods to an estate the size of Cazes (nearly 200 ha/500 acres)? "We went biodynamic via good old farmer's common sense and now just do it on a much bigger scale. For example, we have three large dynamisers and each one can do 50 litres of herbal teas, which will treat 20 to 30 ha when we can or want to, while respecting the right days. This helps us avoid doing stupid things and keep the balance between soil, plant life etc. At the start, the vines were "stressed" for a few years, but after that we noticed softer soil with better colour and (ultimately) more concentrated fruit." Emmanuel also explained that "we're focusing more on Syrah and Mourvèdre as the Grenache we have isn't great clones... we're replanting Grenache and have changed the way we're working with Mourvèdre, so it's producing well."
Le Canon du Maréchal vin de pays range (300,000 bottles a year!):
2009 Muscat/Viognier (13%) - elegant grapey aromas with light apricot and orange tones; fairly crisp and mineral vs slight bitter twist, quite nice style. 80+
2009 Syrah/Merlot rosé (12.5%) - attractive juicy style with subtle creamy red fruits, also just bottled when I tried it but good elegant vs fuller finish. 83+
2008 Syrah/Merlot - nice fruity red with a bit of grip and crisp mouthfeel even; cherry and plum fruit, a tad light but it's OK. 80+
2008 Marie-Gabrielle Côtes du Roussillon (Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre 13.5%) - a  bit closed up at first, quite tight and grippy vs juicy black fruits; fair structure actually with gentle cherry and liquorice flavours, "chalky" tannins on the finish. 85+
2007 Ego Côtes du Roussillon Villages (13.5%) - smokier and more developed, ripe nose with leather edges and a tad volatile but it works; quite concentrated and fleshy showing nice fruit turning savoury, fairly solid yet attractive tannins adding dry bite vs "sweetness" and a touch of dark chocolate. 87+
2007 Alter Côtes du Roussillon Villages (14.5%) - touches of spicy coconut oak but not overdone, it adds a little bit of attractive grainy texture and sweetness vs dry chunky framework; punchier yet well-balanced with a bitter twist to finish. 87-89
2008 Collioure "Notre Dame des Anges" (Grenache Mourvèdre Carignan Syrah 14%) - Cazes is working with a handful of co-ops and estates here to make this wine, €1 of its hefty €14 price-tag being donated to a charity working on the upkeep of the countryside and terraced vineyards in the area. Appealing spicy liquorice notes, quite elegant and soft with sweet berry fruit and a bit of bite; nice although fairly simple perhaps. 85+
1996 Rivesaltes Ambré - beginning to turn quite oxidised with toasted walnut and mature cheese edges; enticing oily palate with nutty tangy bite vs rich and mouth-filling, good balance of sugar and alcohol (15%). 88-90
2005 Grenat - fruity chunky style with nice black cherry and liquorice, beginning to turn meaty too; sweet "cough mixture" vs firm dry tannins, fair oomph still (15.5%) although should integrate nicely over the next couple of years. 87-89
1990 Tuilé - complex Madeira nose and tangy vs sweet pecan nuts; concentrated and intricate vs 16.5% power, still delicious with its long sweet/savoury finish. 92(+)
2006 Muscat de Rivesaltes (mostly Alexandria, 15%) - developing very orange peel edges vs honey and dried apricot; lush mouthfeel yet has attractive bite and style still. 87+
1991 Muscat de Rivesaltes (yes, all bottle age! 15%) - much less Muscat-y and much richer with cooked marmalade; oily and sweet vs still tangy and lively surprisingly. 89+
1978 Aimé Cazes (15%) - Madeira overtones, stewed sultanas and intense pecan/walnuts; oily and rich vs tangy and intense, delicious coating with sweet/sour twist, complex volatile lingering flavours and huge length. 93-95


More Cazes here (2009 Saint-Bacchus awards).

And the very latest is here (July 2012).


4 rue Francisco Ferrer, 66600 Rivesaltes. Tel: 04 68 64 08 26, www.cazes-rivesaltes.com.


24 March 2010

May the land lie

2007 Château Maylandie "Carnache" from Corbières-Boutenac (Carignan/Grenache, 13.5%) - black cherry, damson and cassis with smoky spicy tones, hints of tobacco and light vanilla/coconut too; attractive thick coating of dark chocolate, berries, liquorice and chunky dry tannins; quite concentrated and powerful with dense fruit, sweet vs meaty finish and lively, light coconut grip. Needs a few months in bottle to round out a little, yet pretty promising: 89-91. Profile on Maylandie two posts down and even more tasting notes here (recent Corbières-Boutenac feature).

May the land lie

2007 Château Maylandie "Carnache" from Corbières-Boutenac (Carignan/Grenache, 13.5%) - black cherry, damson and cassis with smoky spicy tones, hints of tobacco and light vanilla/coconut too; attractive thick coating of dark chocolate, berries, liquorice and chunky dry tannins; quite concentrated and powerful with dense fruit, sweet vs meaty finish and lively, light coconut grip. Needs a few months in bottle to round out a little, yet pretty promising: 89-91. Profile on Maylandie and more tasting notes here.

23 March 2010

Madchester rosé - Hauts de Llaro Roussillon

Nothing much to do with wine, apart from the corresponding rosé tip below (although they might occasionally indulge too), but I just had an old-fart nostalgic listen to "the best of" CD by this band, which re-confirmed there really only was one truly mad 80s/90s Manchester band: the Inspiral Carpets (their very name speaks volumes). Lots of great poppy / punky tunes and interestingly enigmatic lyrics, bordering on plain and wonderfully strange in certain songs (e.g. "...today I stole the sun from the sky... the food from the hand of a starving child..." or something like that, hmm). And who could forget that inspired idea to do a even livelier version of "Nobody said it was gonna be easy" featuring Manchester icon Mark E Smith (remember the Fall?) mumbling majestically across the song. All slightly enhanced by a refreshing glass of 2009 Les Hauts de Llaro Cotes du Roussillon rosé: quite chunky style with crisp twist (€4).

Madchester rosé

Nothing much to do with wine, apart from the corresponding rosé tip below (although they might occasionally indulge too), but I just had an old-fart nostalgic listen to "the best of" CD by this band, which re-confirmed there really only was one truly mad 80s/90s Manchester band: the Inspiral Carpets (their very name speaks volumes). Lots of great poppy / punky tunes and interestingly enigmatic lyrics, bordering on plain and wonderfully strange in certain songs (e.g. "...today I stole the sun from the sky... the food from the hand of a starving child..." or something like that, hmm). And who could forget that inspired idea to do a even livelier version of "Nobody said it was gonna be easy" featuring Manchester icon Mark E Smith (remember the Fall?) mumbling majestically across the song. All slightly enhanced by a refreshing glass of 2009 Les Hauts de Llaro, Cotes du Roussillon rosé: quite chunky style with crisp twist (€4).

22 March 2010

Languedoc: Château Maylandie, Corbières-Boutenac

Maylandie lies unobtrusively on the outskirts of the village of Ferrals, to the south of Lézignan and not far from the A61 (Narbonne-Toulouse) motorway. It's owned and run by Jean (whose father Jacques started the ball rolling in the 50s by buying a few vineyard parcels in the area), Anne-Marie and their daughter Delphine Maymil. There's a little shop at the entrance to the estate, where you can try their range: my favourites are the tasty concentrated Villa Ferrae and tobacco-tinged Carnache, aka ‘petites vendanges entre amis’ as the corresponding bunches were apparently picked by a few close friends. If you're planning a trip to get to know this wine region better, Maylandie is kitted out with two holiday gîtes across the yard from the château, which look out onto fetching vines. Delphine also organises walks around different vineyards within Corbières-Boutenac with a few other growers, if booked in advance.
I tried these wines in late October 2008, at a tasting laid on by the appellation people at Château Boutenac:
2007 Le Cabanon Corbières (Grenache Carignan Syrah Cinsault) - a touch 'reduced' on the nose,otherwise this wine has nice tangy cassis, cherry and liquorice fruit; fruity v crunchy v grippy finish. 85
2005 Cuvée Prestige Corbières (Grenache Carignan Syrah Mourvèdre) - attractive maturing resiny fruit with wild herb, 'tar' and wood undertones; dry texture v smoky fruit and good weight. 87+
2005 Villa Ferrae Corbières-Boutenac (Grenache Syrah Carignan) - resiny v savoury with appealing depth of rich 'tar' fruit; quite firm tannins at first v tasty and concentrated, worked well with the beef dish at lunch. 89+
2005 Carnache Corbières-Boutenac (50-50 Carignan Grenache) - fruitier style with tobacco and leather edges; again pretty firm mouth-feel but has that enticingly tasty, savoury maturing fruit on its long finish. 90+

Tasted in March 2010 at home:
2007 Carnache Corbières-Boutenac (Carignan/Grenache 13.5%) - black cherry, damson and cassis with smoky spicy tones, hints of tobacco and light vanilla/coconut too; attractive thick coating of dark chocolate, berries, liquorice and chunky dry tannins; quite concentrated and powerful with dense fruit, sweet vs meaty finish and lively, light coconut grip. Needs a few months in bottle to round out a little, yet pretty promising. 89-91

UPDATE! Latest vintages here  (Corbières & Boutenac report May 2011).

Ferrals-les-Corbières Tel: 04 68 43 66 50, www.maylandie.fr.

21 March 2010

Waitrose Mediterranean "showcase"

I can't usually be bothered wasting time plugging British supermarket wine promotions - as if you need a so-called "expert" to help pick a bottle (or three "for a tenner" as is often the case) of something viciously discounted - but this forthcoming one at Waitrose seems a little more exciting than on average. Ok, perhaps it's my slight bias towards Med wine styles, but the Waitrose team has selected quite a few interesting-sounding bottles that could well be worth taking a punt on. Such as: Cune Monopole Blanco 2007 Rioja down from £8.49 to £6.36, although make sure it is 2007 as I recently tried the 2008 and found it disappointing; Cuvée Royale Brut Crémant de Limoux, Languedoc fizz at £6.74; Fruits of France Grenache 2007, Vin de Pays d'Oc, at £4.49; Inycon Fiano 2008 from Sicily £4.86; Duc de Vendome white 2008 from Saint-Mont, in southwest France, £5.24; Araldica Brachetto d'Acqui 2009, a lightly obscure red from northern Italy at £4.66; or Domaine Marie 2008 Faugères in the Languedoc for £5.99.
And lots of other lesser-known Italian, Greek, Croatian, Slovenian and Lebanese wines, for example. Mind you, a white from Savoy (on the way to the French Alps!) slipped onto the list somehow, which couldn't be less Mediterranean if it tried (although still nice though). They've also highlighted a few food-friendly combo suggestions under useful headings like "wines to drink with tomato based dishes," which can be a tricky match for a wine picked to go with the main ingredient ahead of the sauce. The "showcase," as they call it, will be running from 7th April to 11th May 2010. Lights, music, camera and action!

Waitrose Mediterranean "showcase"

I can't usually be bothered wasting time plugging British supermarket wine promotions - as if you need a so-called "expert" to help pick a bottle (or three "for a tenner" as is often the case) of something viciously discounted - but this forthcoming one at Waitrose seems a little more exciting than on average. Ok, perhaps it's my slight bias towards Med wine styles, but the Waitrose team has selected quite a few interesting-sounding bottles that could well be worth taking a punt on. Such as: Cune Monopole Blanco 2007 Rioja down from £8.49 to £6.36, although make sure it is 2007 as I recently tried the 2008 and found it disappointing; Cuvée Royale Brut Crémant de Limoux, Languedoc fizz at £6.74; Fruits of France Grenache 2007, Vin de Pays d'Oc, at £4.49; Inycon Fiano 2008 from Sicily £4.86; Duc de Vendome white 2008 from Saint-Mont, in southwest France, £5.24; Araldica Brachetto d'Acqui 2009, a lightly obscure red from northern Italy at £4.66; or Domaine Marie 2008 Faugères in the Languedoc for £5.99.
And lots of other lesser-known Italian, Greek, Croatian, Slovenian and Lebanese wines, for example. Mind you, a white from Savoy (on the way to the French Alps!) slipped onto the list somehow, which couldn't be less Mediterranean if it tried (although still nice though). They've also highlighted a few food-friendly combo suggestions under useful headings like "wines to drink with tomato based dishes," which can be a tricky match for a wine picked to go with the main ingredient ahead of the sauce. The "showcase," as they call it, will be running from 7th April to 11th May 2010. Lights, music, camera and action!

19 March 2010

Languedoc: Clos Marie, Pic Saint Loup

2006 cuvée l'olivette from this "cult-ish" Pic Saint Loup winery (Grenache Syrah and Mourvèdre). Cut to my full review (winter 2009/2010):
"Smoky and lush showing nice depth and weight, pretty chunky tannins adding dry texture and bitter twist/bite; fair oomph and grip vs dark cherry liquorice and tobacco, needs 6-12 months to come together fully. Turns a tad rustic and leather-tinged with very firm framework, but its solid trad Languedoc style seduces you in the end..."

Clos Marie

2006 cuvée l'olivette from Pic Saint Loup (Grenache Syrah and Mourvèdre). Cut to full review.
"Smoky and lush showing nice depth and weight, pretty chunky tannins adding dry texture and bitter twist/bite; fair oomph and grip vs dark cherry liquorice and tobacco, needs 6-12 months to come together fully. Turns a tad rustic and leather-tinged with very firm framework, but its solid trad Languedoc style seduces you in the end..."

16 March 2010

Marie-Jean of Sète

Not a sexually confused Frenchwo/man but a rather nice restau, where I ate last week in the company of lots of Languedoc winemakers and fellow international journos on a trail of discovery. Sete, so to speak (doh!), right on the canal calmly watched over by rusty yet sturdy fishing boats. The raw shellfish platter to start was a feast for the eyes, if you're into something that fresh out of water, although I had a different dish (quite, although not very, tasty goats' cheese and sun-dried tom tart) as I find oysters, well, degusting, for want of a better word. Close to excellent fillet steak to follow "tasted" with a variety of Corbières and Minervois La Livinière reds. A wee bit of each one I mean... I quite like Sète, actually, fairly horrible all around the town (the industrial porty bits, I mean, rather than the sea and hills) but cute in the centre with its lively canals and bridges. Anyway, if you're ever in town: Restaurant Le Marie-Jean, 26 Quai du Général Durand, 34200 Sète. Tel: +33 (0)4 67 46 02 01 but I couldn't find a website.

Marie-Jean of Sète

Not a sexually confused Frenchwo/man but a rather nice restau, where I ate last week in the company of lots of Languedoc winemakers and fellow international journos on a trail of discovery. Sete, so to speak (doh!), right on the canal calmly watched over by rusty yet sturdy fishing boats. The raw shellfish platter to start was a feast for the eyes, if you're into something that fresh out of water, although I had a different dish (quite, although not very, tasty goats' cheese and sun-dried tom tart) as I find oysters, well, degusting, for want of a better word. Close to excellent fillet steak to follow "tasted" with a variety of Corbières and Minervois La Livinière reds. A wee bit of each one I mean... I quite like Sète, actually, fairly horrible all around the town (the industrial porty bits, I mean, rather than the sea and hills) but cute in the centre with its lively canals and bridges. Anyway, if you're ever in town: Restaurant Le Marie-Jean, 26 Quai du Général Durand, 34200 Sète. Tel: +33 (0)4 67 46 02 01 but I couldn't find a website.

15 March 2010

Roussillon: Domaine Singla, Rivesaltes / Opoul / Saint-Laurent

From www.domainesingla.comYoung Laurent de Besombes' stimulating range of Catalan-titled wines was originally born out of two very different vineyard sites. He used to have 70 ha/175 acres in total: 45 in the Opoul/Salses-le-Château area snuggling up to the Corbières hills (called Mas Passe Temps among other sites), and 25 near Camélas in Les Aspres zone (called Mas d'en Alby) between Thuir and Ille-sur-Têt. He relinquished the latter relatively recently for a variety of reasons: read on and see my March 2010 update below for more on that. However, for the moment only about 11 ha of selected varieties are the source of the Singla label, launched in 2001. Laurent has 24 ha of Muscat and other whites used to make Rivesaltes VDN styles, and he sells off the rest in bulk to the local co-op. His Singla reds are priced between €8 and €10 a bottle, because "I want to stay reasonably priced despite all the work involved (he farms organically too). It's difficult to try and make a name for yourself straight away with very expensive wines. In this region, you can find neighbours where one sells for €50 and the other's losing money. It's more about getting the most out of, and highlighting the different terroirs." (He's since launched a wine at this price, by the way - first tasted in 2008).
Hence Laurent claims to be "super selective about what fruit goes in," and "there's no press wine in the blends either. I use whole berries, foot treading and usually no temperature control, apart from doing 'rack and return' on the big cuve to cool it down." (Literally emptying one vat into another then back again, which helps aerate the must, lose some heat and extract colour/tannin.) The range is a mix of Côtes du Roussillon and Vin de Pays, as "if the taste matches AOC regulations, then fine; if not, I don't care." Good for you, I say...


We tasted the following wines in April 2007 in Laurent's old Rivesaltes cellar, and I tackled the leftovers over the next few days; would've been rude not to.
2004 Castell Vell (mostly 7 year-old Syrah, 14.5%) - nice juicy fruit with light coconut tones v meatier savoury edges; fairly full with attractively chunky tannins and finish, dense grippy and savoury. 87-89
2005 La Pinède, Côtes du Roussillon (old vine
Grenache Carignan Syrah, 14%) - attractive pure blackcurrant/cherry/berry fruit with very light spicy oak, turning more black olive and liquorice after one day; quite tight and firm with fine length and freshness, chunkier than above with dry textured tannins needing 6 months or more to open up. 89-91
2004 La Pinède
, Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache Carignan, 14%) - more forward and juicy-fruity with black cherry and wild herbs, nice solid yet elegant fruit and fresh length v tight firm and powerful; well-balanced and quite fine, the oak melted into the wine after one day open. 89
2004 Passe Temps
, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes (mostly Grenache, 14.5%) - succulent rich black fruits and liquorice, turning savoury/rustic on the palate with a touch of bitter chocolate oak; quite lush and weighty (14.5%) v firm and fresh bite and length with lingering wild fruits and leather. 88-90
2004 El Molí
, Côtes du Roussillon (Syrah Grenache Carignan 14%) – delicious black cherry fruit with coco/cedar oak notes, soft yet dense fruit v dry textured grainy tannins; once again nice bite and lively finish v lush liquorice and (alc) weight. 89-91
2004 La Crinyane Côtes du Roussillon (mostly old vine
Carignan plus Grenache, 14%) - a little closed to start off, light oak v fine liquorice and dark plum fruit on the palate with soy sauce edges, quite dense lush and concentrated yet elegant with attractive coating of rounded tannins; not very expressive needing a bit of time, as the fruit does come out slowly with aeration. 89-91

Update October 2008
A second visit to Laurent's cellar 18 months down the line (where do all those months slip away to?) and an opportunity to try his rather good 2006s. Not that much has changed on the growing and winemaking front, apart from the fact that all the grapes are now spring-cleaned on a sorting table (rather than just in the vineyard) before being included or rejected. Laurent told me: "I dumped quite a lot (of fruit) this year (08 vintage)," and that he's not doing any green-harvesting anymore (removing bunches just before colour-set, which certain growers don't think has much effect - or sometimes the opposite as the vine can then over-compensate - especially as some probably do it too late anyway, just to reduce so-called yields on paper).
Nonetheless, I detected something different about the wines, apart from the obvious fact that it's a different vintage, the pretty classic 06. Better balance perhaps and certainly showing more subtle oak influence, even though "all the wines now go into barriques!" So what do I know, huh.
2006 La Pinède Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache Syrah Carignan 14.5%) - nice ripe liquorice, cherry and menthol notes on the nose; firm and powerful v spicy and fruity, savoury undertones too; closes up a bit, but 6 months more in bottle will let it come out a bit (so to speak). €9 88-90

2006 Passetemps
Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes (Grenache) - more open and lusher with resiny yet spicy liquorice notes; lively, quite soft and tasty with dry although rounded tannins and elegant finish. €9 89
2
006 Castell Vell (Syrah) - oakier and more chocolatey on the nose but shows classic Syrah, black cherry / pepper hallmarks underneath; attractive dry v chocolate texture with plenty of pure ripe fruit carrying the palate. €17 90-92?
2006 Arrels ('roots' in Catalan: majority Grenache plus Syrah) - lovely concentration with tasty juicy dark fruits v very grippy and textured v lush mouth-feel v bite and great length. Aged entirely in new barriques but it's well-integrated; this one's worth laying down. €50 (!) 92-94?



Update March 2010
The latest news is that Laurent has downsized vineyards-wise and tweaked his range accordingly. He's no longer sourcing fruit from the Aspres, where he was actually leasing a vineyard off a cousin, to focus on his own vineyards near Opoul. So, a couple of names have disappeared while a couple of new ones have been introduced (as well as a Mourvèdre: read on), although in terms of varieties and blends overall, it's apparently not going to make a lot of difference. While I was in the cellar tasting, a couple of TV journos turned up from the local France3 station, as one of Laurent's wines - the 2006 Passetemps - was selected for the Presidential palace cellar in Paris! He's also planning to refit and extend his cellar with a tasting room in St-Laurent (where he lives) and move out of the Rivesaltes premises, perhaps this year or next.
2008 La Matine vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (majority Syrah + Grenache 14%) – gently spicy coconut notes with layers of black cherry; attractive soft juicy palate vs lightly chalky tannins and smoky savoury touches, subtle refreshing bite to finish. 87
2008 Mataro Côtes du Roussillon Villages (mostly Mourvèdre 13.5%) - a bit closed up with dark berry and olive tones, a touch peppery too; ripe with light oak texture and quite broad mouthfeel vs firm tannins, crunchy fruit and tight quite fine finish. 87-89
2008 La Crinyane Côtes du Roussillon Villages (mostly old Carignan 15%) - more perfumed and floral with blueberry notes; tight firm and fresh palate, again quite fine vs oomph and attractive dry yet subtle tannins. 89+
2008 Bressol CdRV (mostly Grenache
15%) - spicier and oakier, ripe and fat with grainy texture; closes up with fine tight and rather unrevealing finish. Need to try it again further down the line.
2008
Castell Vell CdRV (mostly Syrah 15%) - again the oak is quite strong vs juicy dark cherry fruit, dry yet elegant bite and length; not expressing much at the moment, in a way it's lighter yet more powerful too... 89+?
2006 Passetemps (Grenache) - smoky/meaty and chunky vs herby edges, nice balance of still firm framework, concentrated fruit and power with peppery finish. 87-89


There's now a rosé, white and even more reds too ranging from €7 to €17 a bottle, except for the Arrels 'super-cuvée' still at, erm, €50...

7 Rue Pasteur, 66600 Rivesaltes (cellar); mobile 06 11 77 07 11. Home: Saint-Laurent-de-Salanque, tel: 04 68 28 30 68; laurent.debesombes@free.fr, www.domainesingla.com.

12 March 2010

A dose of La Clape

Childish humour aside, there are two new Languedoc "winery snapshots" featuring Château Camplazens and Château Pech Redon; both found on "the curious hunk of untamed hilly rock that is La Clape" between Narbonne and the sea. Talking of which, I just spent a couple of days at some mammoth 2009 vintage "en primeur" tastings of lots of Languedoc wines, including several rather good white wines actually (it's perhaps best known for its reds) from this compact and distinctive sub-appellation. Round of applause then (get it, ho ho?). Full report on those Languedoc 09s here, and more info on Camplazens and Pech Redon by clicking on those links...

A dose of La Clape

Childish humour aside, there are two new Languedoc "winery snapshots" on WineWriting, the site, featuring Château Camplazens and Château Pech Redon; both found on "the curious hunk of untamed hilly rock that is La Clape" between Narbonne and the sea. Talking of which, I just spent a couple of days at some mammoth 2009 vintage "en primeur" tastings of lots of Languedoc wines, including several rather good white wines actually (it's perhaps best known for its reds) from this compact and distinctive sub-appellation. Round of applause then (get it, ho ho?).
Full report on those Languedoc 09s is on my other blog HERE. And follow these links for more info on Camplazens and Pech Redon...

Dances with vines

Dancing in the vineyard might sound like something the more eccentric among our biodynamic winegrowing friends occasionally indulge in, but slighty avant-garde Languedoc winery Le Chemin des Rêves is organising dancing lessons "en pleine nature" (in the middle of nowhere rather than taking your clothes off, I'd imagine) among their vines in Combaillaux not far from Montpellier. This will be run by Sylvie Klinger on Sunday 21 March from dance group "Noun." So pull on your Syrah-coloured dancing shoes and "do it large" (as they used to say in Manchester, England) to the Grenache/Mourvèdre remix... More info @ www.myspace.com/association_noun or www.chemin-des-reves.com, who've just opened an on-site groovy-looking log-cabin tasting room/shop, by the way.

Dances with vines

Dancing in the vineyard might sound like something the more eccentric among our biodynamic winegrowing friends occasionally indulge in, but slighty avant-garde Languedoc winery Le Chemin des Rêves is organising dancing lessons "en pleine nature" (in the middle of nowhere rather than taking your clothes off, I'd imagine) among their vines in Combaillaux not far from Montpellier. This will be run by Sylvie Klinger on Sunday 21 March from dance group "Noun." So pull on your Syrah-coloured dancing shoes and "do it large" (as they used to say in Manchester, England) to the Grenache/Mourvèdre remix... More info @ www.myspace.com/association_noun or www.chemin-des-reves.com, who've just opened an on-site groovy-looking log-cabin tasting room/shop, by the way.

11 March 2010

Languedoc: Domaine Magellan, IGP / Pézenas

Why vin de pays? The village of Magalas is indeed very Languedoc found just south of the Faugères appellation yet was never "classified" within the so-called "Coteaux du Languedoc," for no doubt a variety of odd, political and/or ultimately probably not very interesting reasons. Until 2008 that is, the first vintage to be "delimited" as such and hence Bruno Lafon and Sylvie Legros' quite sumptuous Grenache Syrah wine below, sourced from a hilltop plot lying on the Pézenas-zone side of their vineyards. Another reason, and their original guiding philosophy actually, was that Bruno (from the Lafon Burgundy family) and Sylvie could experiment with the whole gamut of varieties (a dozen) planted across their undulating terrain, which includes e.g. Merlot and Tempranillo among the usual Med and Rhone grapes, based on "one terroir, one wine". Over 10 years later, their thinking is now more "Chateauneuf" than Burgundy; and it's the subtle blending of complementary varieties, all sourced from essentially two very different, although neighbouring "terroirs" (Pech Redon: sandstone and pebbles, Caves de Paris: clay and cobblestones) that create the most complete wines in the south. Having done a quick tour through their vines with Sylvie back in March 2010, it is remarkable how the soil, slopes etc. change from one spot to another, as is often the case in larger Languedoc vineyards. By the way, Le Fruit Défendu is an easy-drinking range based on some old Cinsault, for the red and rosé, that was selected from Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the 60s and they were advised to rip up but decided not to (technical consultants, huh)!

2008 Magellan white (Grenache blancRoussanne 14%) vin de pays de l'Hérault - attractive honeyed oily notes vs spicy and a touch toasty vs quite rich and buttery; nutty and crisp vs powerful, nice balance in the end despite that initial punch! 87
2009 Fruit Défendu rosé (CinsaultSyrah) vin de pays Côtes de Thongue - mouth-watering and crisp with rose petal tones and light red fruits; clean, gummy and easy finish. 80-83
2009 Fruit Défendu white (Grenache blancMuscat) - aromatic nose vs rounder and juicy palate; crisp and mineral with honey and melon flavours. 83-85
2009 Fruit Défendu red (CinsaultSyrah) - appealing juicy cherry and liquorice fruit; peppery palate with light grip and nice blackcurrant finish. 80-83
2008 Magellan Coteaux du Languedoc (GrenacheSyrah) - lovely vibrant minty nose with spicy black cherry and liquorice; attractive fresh bite and "chalky" tannins, tight long and balanced finish. 87+
2007 Magellan red (GrenacheSyrahCarignan) vin de pays de l'Hérault - smokier and richer yet still minty with wild herb and berry notes, "sweet" liquorice and savoury edges too; grippy with lingering maturing fruit, big but very tasty. 89+
2005 Alios (GrenacheSyrahMourvèdre + Tempranillo etc.) vin de pays de l'Hérault - enticing savoury maturing nose with dried black fruit edges; good mix of ripe and raisin-y vs solid and meaty, quite complex and interesting flavours with herby vs savoury profile, big finish and fairly firm tannins still. 90+?

Latest vintage tasted here (2009 Coteaux du Languedoc Pézenas, May 2011).

467 Avenue de la Gare, 34480 Magalas. Tel: 04 67 36 20 83 / www.domainemagellan.com.

10 March 2010

Languedoc: Château Meunier St-Louis, Corbières-Boutenac

Château Meunier St-Louis

Martine and Philippe Pasquier-Meunier have over 20 years experience behind them to bring out the best of their sizeable 120 ha estate (300 acres). The white varieties are also all 20+ years old, which is probably one factor behind the latent quality of their attractive "Prestige" white wine, grown on "pebbly quartz sandstone terraces," as you do! The reds are at slight altitude as well but on stoney clay-limestone sites, so there. Their top cuvée "Exégèse" is sourced from "the prettiest hills" (someone once said if a vineyard is beautiful, it must be good!) lying in the northernmost tip of the Boutenac appellation zone and selected grapes including their oldest Carignan. I tried these wines over dinner (10th March 2010) with Martine (among other Boutenac and Minervois owner/winemakers) at Le Marie-Jean restaurant in Sète (that link goes to a post on my other blog), and at the Languedoc "en primeur" tastings that week (see link below):

2009 Prestige rosé Corbières (SyrahGrenache, Carignan) - elegant and very crisp, attractive and versatile style. 83-85
2009 Prestige white (Grenache blancBourboulencMarsanneRolle = Vermentino) - aromatic banana/pineapple notes with gummy lees-tinged intensity; nice rounded mouth-feel vs light bitter twist, "sweet" fruit vs mineral bite. 87
2005 Exégèse Corbières-Boutenac (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan) - quite oaky, sturdy and extracted with lush spicy fruit vs grainy wood; not sure at first, in the end the fruit comes through more although it's still pretty chunky, firm and tight for an 05. One to try again sometime...
2009 Exégèse (Syrah/Carignan/Grenache) - smoky bacon oak with ripe fruit and wild herb undertones; dry vs rounded tannins with minty finish. Good but far too expensive at €32! 87+  (unfinished sample from my 2009 Languedoc report).

UPDATE: more here (May 2011, Corbières report).

Saint-Louis, 11200 Boutenac. Tel: 04 68 27 09 69, www.pasquier-meunier.com.

Languedoc: Château Hauterive le Haut, Corbières-Boutenac

Château Hauterive le Haut

Fabienne and Jean-Marc Reulet's expansive 90 ha (225 acres) of vines spread across four different zones: on the clay-sand soils around Boutenac, clay-limestone Caumont Cayenne hillsides, clay and sandstone around the Boutenac pine-forest and the Hauterive vineyard itself in Gasparets. I tried these wines over dinner (10th March 2010) with the owner/winemaker at Le Marie-Jean restaurant in Sète (that link goes to a post on my blog), and at the Languedoc "en primeur" tastings that week (see below):
2009 Corbières rosé (Cinsault/Syrah/Grenache)- raspberry fruity and quite chunky style with juicy and crisp finish. 85
2007 Corbières-Boutenac (old Carignan/Grenache) - very nice smoky savoury touches vs vibrant cherry and berry fruit, a tad of oak adding rounded texture vs quite concentrated palate. 89+
2009 Averal (50-50 Carignan/Grenache) - perfumed herby aromas, leading on to tobacco tones and blue/black fruits; crunchy vs ripe palate with lively length. €13.50 88+ (unfinished sample included in my 2009 Languedoc report ).

11200 Boutenac. Tel: 04 68 27 62 00, reulet.6mablog.com.


Languedoc: Château Faîteau, Minervois La Livinière

Château Faîteau

The timeless twisty-alleyed village of La Livinière, lying about half an hour north of Lézignan-Corbières, appears to have as many signposts pointing to wine cellars as street names. No bad thing, given the generally high standards being achieved in this Minervois sub-appellation. I first called in at Jean-Michel Arnaud's place on 9th February 2006 for a chat and tasting (see below). Jean-Michel, whose family are former cooperative growers turned independent in 1998, coaxes quite impressive complex reds out of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan in his compact little winery (two or three visitors at once maximum!). The latest release (end of 2008) 2004 vintage La Livinière is a pretty classic example, showing solid weight / tannins and smoky versus ‘sweet’ fruit (read on for more updates). If you want to go and see him, call in advance as he's often out in the vineyards. He also sometimes puts on summer barbeques in conjunction with other growers and takes part in an annual spring event called, unsurprisingly, ‘Printemps du Minervois’ (see website)By the way, other producers of Minervois La Livinière to look out for include Domaine de la Combe Blanche, Domaine Anger, Domaine la Rouviole, Château Cesseras and Sainte-Eulalie.

2003 Minervois (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre Carignan) - attractive perfumed spicy black cherry with rustic leather notes; plenty of liquorice, black fruits and spice in the mouth with a bit of bite and weight; good for AC Minervois. 85-87
2001 Minervois La Livinière (Syrah, Grenache Carignan) - liquorice and earth, nice black cherry fruit underlined with choc oak; developing complexity, grip v elegant concentration, length and style; closes up a little on the finish although the sample was very cold. 90+ 
2002 Minervois La Livinière - not so revealing on the nose, chunky blackberry fruit lies on top of textured oak; concentrated and meaty, firm tight finish with nice lingering depth of fruit. 90+

Update 2009: I bumped into Jean-Michel at the end of 2008, during Les Grands Chemins "Rencontres en Minervois" festival, and tasted the following:
2004 Minervois La Livinière - fairly complex and smoky, also showing light wild herbs v rich dark fruit; solid palate with underlying chocolate oak v 'sweet & sour', liquorice & tobacco on its good length. £9.95 from vineyardsdirect.com 90+

Update 2010: Jean-Michel had his latest vintage with him on the evening of 10th March, when a big group of us ate at Le Marie-Jean restaurant in Sète (that link goes to a mini review), during the marathon week of "en primeur" tastings of 2009 vintage Languedoc wines:
2006 Château Faiteau Minervois La Livinière - quite coconut spicy at the moment but has nice dark fruit and liquorice flavours; punchy palate with pretty grippy tannins although attractive grainy/rounded texture, tight spicy finish. Needs 6 months to open up a bit, promising.

Route des Meulières, 34210 La Livinière. Tel: 04 68 91 48 28 / 06 15 90 89 48, jma-ch-faiteau@wanadoo.frwww.chateau-faiteau.leminervois.com.


09 March 2010

Languedoc: Château Ollieux Romanis, Corbières-Boutenac

This neat slightly fading 19th-Century château-cum-farmhouse is, as legend has it, named after olive trees planted by Romans (uh oh, Roman alert: so they did ever do something for us then!), which used to cover this picturesque rolling property. It's found to the west of Fontfroide Abbey in Corbières-Boutenac country, a few kilometres northwest of Montséret off the D613 road to Thézan-des-Corbières. Jacqueline Bories has now handed over the reins to son Pierre who, together with Jean-Pierre Amigues are slowly converting the 130 ha (320 acre) estate over to organics.
There are at least 20 ha of Carignan with the youngest vines 50 years old and the most senior dating from 1896 apparently. Their Cuvée Prestige, made from this old Carignan with Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, exemplifies how attractive, concentrated and well balanced their reds are. Compare it to a €10 wine from elsewhere and feel self-righteous you discovered it here! Other highlights include the barrel-fermented cuvée Prestige white and seductive, oak-free, old Carignan-based Atal Sia (labelled as Boutenac AOC). There are also a couple of holiday gîtes, which might be integrated into a larger conversion of part of the winery buildings into a hotel and resto.


Tasted November-December 2008:
2007 Les Ollieux 
Corbières white (Marsanne Roussanne 13.5%) - attractive mix of exotic 'fat' fruit and mineral crispness, oily v zingy with nice weight and length. Oddbins (UK). 85+
2007 cuvée prestige white 
Château Ollieux Romanis (Marsanne Roussanne Grenache blanc 13.5%) - enticing buttery coconut nose, oily juicy textured fruit v spicy oak; lovely depth of fruit and exotic intensity, crisp v toasty finish. Needs a few months to come together fully. 89+
2006 cuvée Alice 
Ollieux Romanis (Carignan Grenache 13.5%) - fragrant peppery resiny cherry fruit, dry coating v liquorice 'sweetness'; lively spicy finish, nice style. 87+
2006 cuvée Classique 
Château Ollieux Romanis (Carignan Syrah Grenache 13.5%) - richer and more complex, although similar style tasty fruit; weightier with bigger tannins, closing up a bit on the finish. 89+
2005 cuvée Prestige 
Château Ollieux Romanis (Carignan Grenache Mourvèdre Syrah 14%) - smoky wilder side on the nose, ripe dark fruits too; concentrated and grippy v that tasty fruit again, more savoury finish bolstered by very firm tannins; well-balanced though with bitter chocolate oak very much in the background, very promising. 92+?
2007 Atal Sia 
Corbières-Boutenac (majority Carignan plus Grenache Mourvèdre Syrah 14%) - delicious pure perfumed fruit, lush v crunchy, lovely intense 'mineral' notes v dark fruits; fine long palate layered with herby perfumed spicy flavours, attractive rounded tannins adding poise. Later: very intense cassis and blueberry fruit v dense concentrated and grippy texture, tasty intriguing  peppery v liquorice finish. 92-94
2006 cuvée OR 
Ollieux Romanis (Carignan Grenache Mourvèdre Syrah 14%) - lots of toasty dark chocolate oak, concentrated and powerful with extracted tannins; the oak is covering up the fruit a little at the moment but this probably needs 1+ years to open up. 90?
2007 
Alicante Ollieux Romanis (14%) - different for sure, rich colour and deep aromas with peppery earthy black cherry/currant, plum and black olive too; quite gutsy, spicy and lush v dry yet soft tannins, attractive with fairly simple finish.85-87


Update March 2010: more info here including note on the fledgling 2009 Atal Sia (goes to Languedoc 09 and 08 vintage reports).
2008 Cuvée prestige white (
Grenache blanc Marsanne Roussanne) - quite toasty and grainy, perhaps too much although it did open up with food getting fatter and tastier vs still quite tight and mineral.
2007 Atal Sia Corbières-Boutenac (mostly 
Carignan GrenacheMourvèdre Syrah) - a second tasting confirms my note above: delicious nose showing perfumed blue/black fruits; nice "chalky" tannins with rich yet crunchy mouth-feel, herby minty vs savoury flavours on the finish. 92+


More Ollieux Romanis here too ("Top L&R reds over €10" tasting, 2007).


And latest COR here (Corbières-Boutenac report May 2011 featuring 2010 vintage plus 2009 and 2008 revisited...).

Ollieux Romanis, 11200 Montséret. Tel: 04 68 43 35 20, www.chateaulesollieux.com.