WineWriting.com & French Mediterranean Wine
Richard Mark James' wine and travel blog

28 April 2010

Languedoc: Mas de l'Ecriture, Terrasses du Larzac

Pensive Pascal Fullá - écriture means writing, as you might have guessed from his quill pen logo, so perhaps there's a latent wine author, philosopher or composer behind the winemaking here (and he was a lawyer in a previous life) - bought this estate in 1998 and made his first vintage the following year. It's located in the unassuming village of Jonquières (among a clutch of talented names, it has to be said), and about half of the 10 hectares (25 acres) of vines have been replanted. The varietal make-up is fairly typical, although with quite a bit more Mourvèdre (20%) than most growers in the Languedoc (but not so unusual in this area), Syrah (35%), Grenache (27%), Carignan (12%) and Cinsault (6%). Ecriture lies at the feet of the dramatic Larzac hills, where the grape-bearing earth is mostly composed (although not solely by any stretch) of clay-limestone with plenty of stones on top. When I called by in rather warm late April 2010, Pascal told me he's carrying on the "organic spirit" in the vineyard and, since he's never used synthetic pesticides from the beginning and focused a lot of attention in the field, is now over a year into heading towards "Ecocert" certification.
On the winemaking and ageing front, since we were probably talking about oak (uh oh, geek alert), Pascal clarified that "each variety is aged on its own in the appropriate barrel." For example, he's increasingly using those larger demi-muids (600 litres) "...with about 20% renewed each year. It depends on the vintage and tasting rather than putting the same variety in the same type of barrel each year... for about 12 months, then the wines are blended and bottled." And back in the vineyard, Pascal commented on what I spotted and called "gobelets palissés" (trellised bush vines): "you retain the character of a bush vine but with better leaf surface area and you can treat the bunches if necessary (as the leaves can flop over them)." The result: delicious yet subtle (a word that crops up in each of my tasting notes, by the way) Med reds, even if a little pricey at e.g. £12.50/£19.95/£29.95 in the UK... then again "you gets what you pay for," as they say. Mas Ecriture wines are well distributed around the world: try Terroir Languedoc or Dudley & de Fleury in London, Royal Wine Merchants (NY) or Cynthia T Hurley (MA) in the US and Cottage Vineyards in Hong Kong.

2006 Emotion Terrasses du Larzac (GrenacheCarignanSyrah,Cinsault 13.5%) - this wine makes up about 2/3 of production. Shows lovely fragrant dark cherry, liquorice and light white pepper notes; attractive lush fruity palate with a bit of weight, elegant bite and fine dry tannins; warming and fruity yet well balanced with "sweet/savoury" finish and subtle length. Drinking quite well now although should improve nicely over 1-2 years.87-89
2005 Les Pensées Terrasses du Larzac (more GrenacheSyrah,Cinsault, Carignan 13%) - riper "sweeter" more floral nose with liquorice and spice vs wild herb and blueberry hints; fairly rich and concentrated with tasty "sweet/savoury" fruit, subtle power with light grip adding to its delicious length; almost "mouth-watering" even (not a term I'd usually apply to a red) leaving you wanting more! 89-91
2005 L'Ecriture Terrasses du Larzac (more Syrah, Grenache,Mourvèdre 13%) - again has that enticing "garrigue" edge vs ripe berry/cherry fruit, perfumed and peppery vs darker liquorice profile; feels weightier on the palate and a tad firmer, although still has attractive balance and subtle fresh length; lush dark spicy fruit with meaty edges, nice chunky tannins with lovely mix of concentration vs ripe/rounded vs elegance. 90-92+


Lots more info @ masdelecriture.fr/blog-vignoble. Rue de la Font du Loup, 34725 Jonquières. Tel: 04 99 57 61 54.


21 April 2010

South Africa: a fine-pruned pair from Badenhorst

A full-flavoured couple from South Africa recently cut across my vinous path: Secateurs Red 2007 and Secateurs 2009 Chenin Blanc made by AA Badenhorst Family Wines in Malmesbury (northeast of Cape Town: pic. Adi Badenhorst & son?). The red is a spicy, smooth, black-fruity and dark chocolate tinged blend of Shiraz, Cab Sauv, Pinotage, Merlot, Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, kitchen sink... the latter a little joke I pinched, but you get the point. The 2009 Chenin is quite full-on, honeyed and aromatic with creamy oily notes and dry-ish mineral finish. Imported into the UK by SWIG in London and priced at £8.50 for the white and £9.50 for the red, so not inexpensive but both good and different.
Update: note on 2011 Secateurs Chenin Blanc.

Roussillon: Château de Rey, Canet-en-Roussillon

Château de ReyCathy and Philippe Sisqueille have 40 hectares (100 acres) of vines on low-lying land, although undulating and stoney, by the coast found to the east of Perpignan. The family's been at it for four generations, and Cathy and Philippe have injected a bit of contemporary style into the estate on the winemaking, packaging and wine tourism fronts, producing some very enjoyable wines. For more info on prices, where to buy them and their three spacious on-site holiday gites: see website below.
I tried the following, served up by Cathy, at the enigmatically named "Salon du X" - it's not that much of a mystery, actually, a tasting organised by their agent Xavier Peyrot des Gachons with a dozen Languedoc & Roussillon winegrowers present (there were originally 10, I think) hence the X - in April 2010 at Domaine Gayda's impressive winery & restaurant complex between Limoux and Castelnaudary.
2009 Sisquò white (Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Macabeu) - citrusy and grapey aromas, turning more honeyed and rounded on the palate vs zesty mineral bite. 85+
2009 Galets Roulés white (Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Macabeu from different sites) - lightly toasty yet creamy with nice aniseed notes too; quite rich vs crisp and nutty, a bit of weight vs freshness. 87+
2009 Sisquò rosé (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan) - lovely raspberry fruit, creamy and quite full vs crisp and lively finish. 85+
2009 Galets Roulés rosé (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache barrel-fermented) - hints of spicy wood, although it does add rounded texture and weight with underlying creamy fruit. Not for everyone but would work with food. 85+
2008 Sisquò red (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache) - delicious "sweet" perfumed fruit, floral with spicy cherry; crunchy lively palate yet fairly soft mouth-feel vs attractive "chalky" tannins. 87
2007 Galets Roulés red (Carignan, Syrah, Grenache) - more closed up and grainy textured vs dark and spicy fruit; solid firm tight finish still with nice oomph. Needs a year or so to express itself.
87+
Mas Sisqueille, Route de Saint-Nazaire, 66140 Canet en Roussillon. Tel: 04 68 73 86 27, www.chateauderey.com.

20 April 2010

Roussillon: Domaine Laguerre, Saint-Martin de Fenouillet

Updated December 2012

Eric Laguerre (pic. right doing his Vincent Cassel impersonation, for those of you who follow French cinema...) and wife Corine make organic wines with altitude... Naff joke aside, St-Martin is indeed a fairly elevated spot - much of their 50 ha (125 acres) of beautiful windswept vineyards lie at 500 metres (1640 feet) above sea level - and hotbed of planting activity (e.g. Gauby/Soula, who Eric has worked in partnership with among others) due to its potential as the place to grow and make 'cooler climate' wine styles in this otherwise rather warm area (in the summer at least, in winter it's one of the coldest around here). Picking doesn't usually begin until end of September up here carrying on to mid October.
Eric took up the reins here in 1999 resolving to go back to basics and grow / make wine as naturally as possible from the start. They restored or replanted most of the vine-land and bottled their first vintage in 2001. All manual work and treatments done in/on vines and soil follow organic and biodynamic principles and time-frames; and certain homemade natural preparations are concocted on site with 'chemical' usage limited to sulphur based products against mildew primarily. Eric's white wines do show what can be done in the hot dry south by heading for the rocky hills, and he also planted some Cabernet up here, which has perhaps taken some time to adapt, or be adapted too, but could well be promising in the long term.
Wine writer and biodynamic specialist and author Monty Waldin also spent a lot of time around here a few years ago tending vines and making a wine movie, so he must have thought these wine-lands have something special about them. More info on that under Chateau Monty, where you'll find a mini-profile and comments on his 2008 vintage wines...

These Laguerre wines were sampled at the Fenouillèdes wine show in April 2007:
2005 Le 20 Côtes du Roussillon blanc (Macabeu Marsanne Roussanne Rolle) – lightly honeyed, fresh and floral with subtle milky undertones; nice fruit on its more mineral finish. 87
2005 Le 20 Côtes du Roussillon rouge (50% Syrah + Grenache Carignan) – peppery and rustic with black cherry tones, attractive lively fruit then light grip and quite fine length. 87-89
2004 Le Ciste rouge vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon Grenache Carignan) – a touch reduced on the nose, moves on to lively blackcurrant styling with quite firm dry tannins, understated weight and finish. 87-89
2005 Le Ciste blanc vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (Marsanne Roussanne Macabeu Grenache Blanc Rolle) – quite exotic with peach and apricot aromas, creamy with very light toasty edges, weighty finish v freshness too. 89

2009 update: I caught up with Eric and tasted his latest vintages at Millésime Bio wine show (Jan 09, Montpellier):
2007 Côtes du Roussillon white (Macabeu Marsanne Roussanne 13%) – nice natural crisp apple and mineral characters v a tad of yeast-lees texture and style; weight v fresh finish. 85+
2006 Le Ciste white, Vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (Macabeu Marsanne Roussanne Vermentino) – still very fresh, appley and real-cidery; 'stoney' steely notes and mouth-feel v a touch of weight, roundness and 'sweetness'. 87+
2007 Eclipse red, Vin de pays Côtes Catalanes - a bit reduced on the nose to start, moving on to smoky thick spicy fruit with 'earthy' edges; has similar balance of power and elegance, nice style. 87
2007 Côtes du Roussillon "20" red - again ever-so lightly reductive on the nose but not unattractively so; shows concentrated spicy Syrah black cherry fruit, attractive bit of grip and fresh v lush fruity finish. 87+
2005 Le Ciste red, Vin de pays Côtes Catalanes - wilder richer fruit, nice and smoky / peppery; powerful tannins layered with 'sweet' v herbal fruit, plenty of life in it yet. 90+

2010 update: Eric was showing his wines at the enigmatically named "Salon du X" - it's not that much of a mystery, actually, a tasting organised by their agent Xavier Peyrot des Gachons with a dozen Languedoc & Roussillon winegrowers present (there were originally 10 in his 'gang', I think) hence the X - in April at Domaine Gayda's impressive winery & restaurant complex, found between Limoux and Castelnaudary. Latest vintages are:
2009 Le 20 blanc - mineral and zesty vs creamy banana notes; quite intense and steely with long juicy finish and nice lingering appley nutty flavours. 87
2007 Le Ciste blanc - more honeyed with lightly spicy and cedar notes, appley and nutty with toasty edges; again steely mineral mouth-feel and maturing vs lively finish. 89
2008 Le 20 red (Syrah, Grenache) - juicy cherry aromas and hints of cider too; spicy crunchy fruit with dry vs lively finish, nice in the end. 85
2007 Le Ciste red (Syrah, Grenache) - similar but more intense, blueberry and herby tones vs fuller and spicier; again shows wilder edges vs elegant and brisk, firms up a bit on the finish. 87+
2006 Altitude (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon planted at 500m/1650 ft) - cedary and leafy nose, moving on to richer savoury cassis flavours; attractive "sweet" vs meaty profile with leather edges, firm and powerful on its good finish. 87+


*2012 update from Millésime Bio wine fair, Montpellier, where Eric had his usual stand and good-humoured nature as he poured and chatted.

2010 Eos white (Grenache blanc, Marsanne) - quite intense, appley and nutty with crisp mineral underbelly, attractive concentrated vs refreshing finish. Very nice white wine.
2010 Eos red (mostly Grenache + Syrah) - perfumed and spicy nose, enticing crunchy berry fruit vs rounded weightier side; again nice wine.
2009 Le Ciste red (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan) - rich and spicy with attractive 'sweet/savoury' profile, ripe dark and meaty vs crunchy fruit mix, punchy and grippy finish. Very good.
2008 Altitude (Cabernet Sauvignon) - pretty oaky when I tried it with chocolate texture / flavours, it's concentrated though with firm solid finish. Would like to try it again sometime.

Le Village, 66220 Saint-Martin de Fenouillet. Tel: 04 68 59 26 92, mobile: 06 15 35 78 92 - New website www.domainelaguerre.com

19 April 2010

Languedoc: Domaine Collin, Limoux

Domaine Collin
You'll find Philippe Collin's Burgundy-modelled estate on the way into the blink-and-miss-it village of Tourreilles, to the southwest of Limoux or northwest of Roquetaillade. He and his wife had the following vintages up for tasting at the enigmatically named "Salon du X" - it's not that much of a mystery, actually, a tasting organised by his agent Xavier Peyrot des Gachons with a dozen Languedoc & Roussillon winegrowers present (there were originally 10, I think) hence the X - in April 2010 at Domaine Gayda's impressive winery & restaurant complex between Limoux and Castelnaudary. Some of their wines are imported into the UK by Yapp Brothers and Colombier Wines.


Crémant de Limoux Prestige (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir) - toasty, yeasty and oily vs quite fine and tight; pretty dry (only 6g/l residual sugar) and zingy vs lightly bready, tasty and mouth-watering with yeasty complexity. 87+
Crémant de Limoux Selection (mostly Pinot Noir) - again fairly fine, tight and dry style; steely and crisp vs oily and yeasty biscuit flavours/texture, more serious rounded yet refreshing finish. £10 UK. 88+
2006 Limoux (Chardy) - tightly textured vs toasty and grainy, quite mineral style and still a bit closed up?
2001 - buttery and rich with luscious creamy fruit vs still zingy actually, nice balance of hazelnutty maturity and freshness. 88+
2004 Pinot Noir - savoury maturing profile showing dried red fruits vs fresh bite; a bit vegetal perhaps in the end but has attractive maturing PN style traits.
2001 Chenin Blanc ("noble rot" with 120g/l RS) - maturing, oily, exotic and spicy; marmalade vs underlying mushroom flavours, lush yet has nice bite and balance with lively long vs caramelised finish. 89


Route de Magrie, 11300 Tourreilles. Tel: 04 68 31 35 49, philippe-collin2@wanadoo.fr.

17 April 2010

Hot choc @ Folies-Bergère

Well, try the Courtauld Gallery café instead, off the Strand in central London, for my "alcohol-free tip of the week." After contemplating and relishing Manet's fine intriguing painting "Bar at the Folies-Bergère," a quick visit to the café downstairs revealed possibly the tastiest hot chocolate I've ever been served, made from real dark chocolate.

15 April 2010

Languedoc: Mas Conscience, Terrasses du Larzac

Mas Conscience

Laurent and Geneviève Vidal were (wo)manning a stand at the enigmatically named "Salon du X" - it's not that much of a mystery, actually, a tasting organised by their agent Xavier Peyrot des Gachons with a dozen Languedoc & Roussillon winegrowers present (there were originally 10, I think) hence the X - in April 2010 at Domaine Gayda's impressive winery & restaurant complex, found between Limoux and Castelnaudary. And what a find: effervescent Laurent and Geneviève farm 10 ha (25 acres) of vines biodynamically (although not "certified" I don't think, if it matters) on the lower slopes of the increasingly fashionable, it would seem, and very beautiful Terrasses du Larzac. St-Jean is found about 50 minutes northwest of Montpellier and northeast of Béziers, off France's most dramatic motorway, the A75, at the point where it begins to climb up onto the Massif Central mountain plateau. I tasted these quirkily titled yet nevertheless delicious wines, which are available in the UK and US via Berry Bros:
2009 L'In vin de pays (Grenache blancRoussanneViognier) - aromatic and exotic white with zesty and mineral touches; "chalky" vs leesy palate with greener fruit edges. Attractive style. 85+
2008 La Petite Prise Coteaux du Languedoc (6 year-old Syrah &Grenache) - nice juicy vs ripe vs scented garrigue fruit; liquorice vs crunchier side, tasty and soft vs a bit of weight. 85
2009 Cieux ciel ciel vin de pays (100% old Cinsault) - lovely "sweet" cherry and lavender notes almost; quite elegant with fine tannins and underlying liquorice and wild herbs. Unusual. 87
2008 Le Cas vin de pays (100% old Carignan) - smokier and richer profile, again has that very ripe black cherry fruit but with more grip and intensity; enticing dry vs "sweet" texture, fresh and firm vs elegant fruit. Approx £10/$15. 89
2007 As 
Terrasses du Larzac (SyrahGrenacheCarignan) - delicious ripe aromas again vs lightly toasty oak; good grip and tight mouth-feel, more powerful and lusher too. Needs 1 to 2 years to open up. Approx £13/$19. 89-91
2007 MahaTma (Mourvèdre) - a tad toasty at first with herbal undertones; riper palate with black olive and garrigue notes too, interesting "sweet/savoury" style with attractive tannins and subtle fruit. 87+


Route de Montpeyroux, 34150 Saint Jean de Fos. Tel: 04 67 57 77 42, mas.conscience@wanadoo.fr.


12 April 2010

Languedoc: Domaine Maria Fita, Fitou

Marie and Jean-Michel Schmitt describe themselves as a couple of "vieux bab's" (old hippies, I guess, especially as I've met them once), who landed in this savage neck of the woods to make "different wines..." in "higher" Fitou country (paraphrased from their website). Restaurant owners in a former life, their love of good wine led them to buying a dozen ha of vines (30 acres) and finally fulfilling their obsession in 2000 by putting their name on the bottle. The idea is not to make "standardised" wines at Maria Fita: no "carefully marketed" range here! I tasted the ones below, which are indeed a bit different verging on the wild side even, at the enigmatically named "Salon du X" - it's not that much of a mystery, actually, a tasting organised by their agent Xavier Peyrot des Gachons with a dozen Languedoc & Roussillon winegrowers present (there were originally 10 in his "gang", I think) hence the X - in April 2010 at Domaine Gayda's impressive winery & restaurant complex, found between Limoux and Castelnaudary. A visit "sur place" is definitely called for...

2009 Fitou red - reduced on the nose (a tank sample though), moving on to lively "inky" cassis and berry on the palate; tight finish with dark spicy fruit, could be good. 85+
2007 Le Schmitou red vin de pays - quite rustic with meaty leather notes; fairly rich "sweet/savoury" palate vs a tad reduced and bretty? Nice depth though with very firm and meaty finish, not sure!
2004 Fitou - again has that meaty maturing fruit with liquorice and leather edges vs dry grainy mouth-feel; attractive smoky depth of fruit though, still very firm / extracted but good in an old-fashioned way. 85+
2001 Fitou - lovely dried vs meaty fruit, mature with a touch of oak grain; delicious lush vs dry palate, leather vs sweet fruit plus a bit of oomph and grip too. Again old-fashioned, "natural" style but good with it. 87-89
2007 Le Schmitou white - nutty oxidised and toasty nose; very rounded yet still has fresh bite too, interesting. 87


12 Avenue du Pont-Neuf, 11360 Villeneuve-les-Corbières. Tel: 04 68 45 81 21, mariafita.com.


Roussillon: Domaine des Schistes, Estagel

Domaine des Schistes (there is indeed quite a bit of schist in their vineyards), owned and run by Jacques and son Mickaël Sire, is made up of assorted parcels lying along the Corbières foothills (on the Roussillon / Fenouilledes side) between the villages of Estagel (where the winery is), Maury and Tautavel. Back in late November 2008, Jacques took me for a spin around some of them (not recommended in your average family saloon), which gives you a good feel for their differing terrain as the land undulates up and down & side to side. We stood on the top of a rocky/schisty ridge in one vineyard, or perhaps the line between two as, although planted with more or less the same varieties on both sides, that sloping variation in aspect can mean a few days or a week's difference in picking in this peaceful raw spot. We ended up at Mas de las Fredas, which nestles behind Maury and Tautavel (marked off the D117), where Mickaël lives and where they have two holiday gîtes constructed inside a chunky 14th-Century farmhouse (next door to Domaine des Soulanes actually – see below). There’s also a small barrel cellar underneath containing some of their ageing Vin Doux Naturel styles, such as Rivesaltes Solera or Rancio Sec (see notes below).

2007 Les Terrasses Blanches (mostly Grenache blanc 13.5%) - floral and peachy with light toast and creaminess, nice mineral character running underneath its otherwise quite chunky and powerful mouth-feel; well-handled subtle oak / yeast-lees texture with hazelnut, pear and apricot flavours on the finish, plus a fresh aniseed twist. 85-87
2007 Tradition Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Carignan Grenache Syrah 14.5%) - spicy non-oaked style showing fragrant cassis, blueberry and black cherry; nice liquorice v concentrated cassis richness, peppery with dry tannins and dark chocolate twist; closes up a bit yet it's quite elegant despite the obvious power. 87-89
2006 Les Terrasses Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel (Syrah Carignan Grenache 14%) - a bit cold to start so that toasted oak character comes out first, but it opened up showing more black cherry aroma/flavour v dry grip and coating v dark fruit and coffee. Needs a couple of years, again quite elegant despite its weight and gripping tannins. 89-91
2005 La Coumeille Côtes du Roussillon Villages (80% Syrah 14.5%) - developing savoury nose v spicy dark cherries; very concentrated and robust although opening up and becoming rounded, lush liquorice v grip and bite on its powerful finish, along with well-integrated chocolate-oak tinged texture. 90-92
2006 La Coumeille - closed unrevealing nose; light chocolate oak notes v rich and concentrated, perhaps has more depth than the 05 with big tannins v attractive purity of fruit; stonking finish, chunky and grippy v lush texture. Needs 2+ years to open up, very promising. 92
1998 Tradition (13.5%) - savoury and mature nose with minty herbal undertones; fig, liquorice and leather on a dry v maturing finish. Nice now. 89
2006 Maury (muté sur grain 16%) - beginning to develop savoury leather notes underneath a lush, ripe fruit mouthful; pretty grippy and powerful at the moment leading to a hardly sweet finish, needs a little time to come together fully. 89+
Rivesaltes Solera (mostly Grenache gris 16%) - tawny orangey colour, complex oxidised nutty caramel notes; toasted pecan richness v freshness and bite, delicious classic style. 90-92
1995 Muscat de Rivesaltes (16%) - yes, that vintage is correct! Caramelised orange peel and brown sugar aromas/flavours, rich and nutty yet still grapey with nice cut. Weirdly alive, odd but I like it. 89+
Rancio sec - very nutty, tangy and lively with old oxidised complexity; very dry and crisp with super dried walnut flavours, great length and panache. Wow. Not for everyone but really different: try with anchovies or mature chesses.

2010 update: Jacques had the following new vintages up for tasting at the enigmatically named 'Salon du X' - it's not that much of a mystery, actually, a tasting organised by his agent Xavier Peyrot des Gachons with a dozen Languedoc & Roussillon winegrowers present (there were originally 10, I think) hence the X - in April at Domaine Gayda's impressive winery & restaurant complex between Limoux and Castelnaudary.
2008 Les Terrasses Blanches white - honeyed vs spicy toasty notes; rounded, weighty and oily vs crisp bite. 85+
2008 Les Terrasses red - attractive 'sweet' vs crunchy fruit; quite intense cassis and blueberry turning richer and darker on the finish, fragrant and herby too vs power and grip. 87-89
2006 La Coumeille red - smoky chocolate oaky nose; meaty and very firm with tight powerful length, underlying dark lush fruit then closes up. Needs time still. 89-91

Click here for more Schistes wines (6th Fenouillèdes wine fair).

1 Avenue Jean Lurçat, 66310 Estagel. Tel: 04 68 29 11 25 / 06 89 29 38 43.

10 April 2010

Languedoc: Château Haut-Gléon, Corbières

Château Haut-Gléon

The Duhamel family's 37 ha (90 acres) of vines (15 different varieties) nestle among a huge expanse of wild and pretty forest and scrubland, lying between Durban and Portel in "Paradise Valley" on hillsides at up to 350 metres (1200 feet above sea level). They make a rather big range including bag-in-box and brandy even and, although I found their white and rosé tasted below very attractive, I'd have to try the reds again, as I had a bit of a problem with two vintages of the Haut-Gléon Corbières (especially the 2005: funny intrusive old wood or musty/corked?). And overall, these wines are kinda pricey considering... They have good distribution around the world: see their website for details (well done, by the way, not many have this amount of useful info on them). The following were tasted at the enigmatically named "Salon du X" - it's not that much of a mystery, actually, a tasting organised by their agent Xavier Peyrot des Gachons with a dozen Languedoc & Roussillon winegrowers present (there were originally 10 in his "gang", I think) hence the X - in April 2010 at Domaine Gayda's impressive winery & restaurant complex, found between Limoux and Castelnaudary.
2008 Corbières white (RoussanneGrenache blancMarsanne) - quite exotic and honeyed with light spice and toast notes; nice rounded creamy mouth-feel with spicy undertones, lush and oily yet well-balanced finish. €15.50 87+
2008 Grenache gris rosé Vin de Pays de la Vallée du Paradis (13.5%) - a bit different for a pale-style rosé: closed on the nose to start, building up to oily raspberry aromas/flavours; quite fat, weighty and textured actually vs attractive light bitter twist. €9.50 85-87
2008 Le Petit Gléon Corbières red (SyrahGrenacheCarignan) - ripe, juicy and easy style; has a tad of grip too vs soft and quite simple palate. €6.50 80-83
2006 Haut-Gléon Corbières red (GrenacheSyrahCarignan) - spicy upfront oak, again that wood's a bit odd and intrusive? Although it has fair depth of fruit and power. Not sure?  €13



11360 Villesèque des Corbières. Tel: 04 68 48 85 95 /www.hautgleon.com.


08 April 2010

Mosel: some things age better than others

A new, although hardly contemporary "wine of the moment" was tasted a few weeks ago, thanks to Luc Charlier at Domaine Coume Majou in the Roussillon (he's a bit of a collector - for drinking, I mean, not hoarding - as well as winegrower/maker):
1995 Fritz Haag Riesling Auslese, Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr - impeccable balance of old petrol-y maturity, oily mineral characters, a touch of sweetness and steely tart finish. So much flavour and complexity yet only 7% alcohol! 95
Talking of the Mosel, not standing the test of time so well are the 40 year-old stalled plans to build a lovely motorway bridge across the top of some of the region's greatest vineyards: you can read the latest on that on Decanter.com. Good to see the campaign is finally attracting some high-profile support, in Germany and internationally. Down with roads, up with fine Riesling! Picture: Haag junior and senior from weingut-fritz-haag.de

06 April 2010

Languedoc: Domaine Sainte-Croix, Hautes Corbières

Domaine Sainte-Croix - updated July 2013 (click there)

Jon and Elizabeth Bowen's fledgling domaine is found in the 'Hautes Corbières' (it is indeed higher up here) in the quiet little village of Fraisse-des-Corbières, "two valleys to the north of the Pyrenées Orientales (the official department name for the Roussillon+)," as Jon put it. Great drive across the 'border' too, it has to be said. Actually, they "set up in 2004," so longer ago than some in this guide: good to see new people are still landing in this breath-takingly raw and natural vineyard setting. Like many, Jon said they were "drawn to the parcels of old-vine Carignan and Grenache noir, blanc and gris planted on incredible soils." Before this, he'd already worked in the south as a winemaker at some well-known estates such as Pierre Clavel, just north of Montpellier.
Jon sums up their wines as "being made with the aim of expressing their origins, as I feel that here is a truly unique area. However, having worked both elsewhere in France and also in Australia and California, there are influences gained from many places in the way that we work." Pretty good overall definition of terroir, I'd say without using the terrible T word! And he expanded on this: "without resorting to clichés, as a winemaker it's of utmost importance our wines have a sense of place and an integrity gained by limiting the amount of interventions during winemaking." Fair enough I'd say, especially as wine doesn't make itself as others like to imply. These wines were tasted at their home in Fraisse on a dry but rather chilly January day 2009 (yes, it is cold here in winter too). They have good distribution in the UK through certain independents and elsewhere around the world - see their website and 2010 update below.


2007 La Serre (Grenache blanc Grenache gris Terret 14%) - nutty 'toasted' but not toasty notes, rounded full texture v mineral intensity running through it; creamy finish yet with attractive bite too. €10 87-89
2007 La Sorbeille rosé (Syrah Carignan Grenache 13.5%) - big ripe juicy style with oily 'nutty' tones too; rounded and rich fruity v again that nice mineral bite. €6 85-87
2006 Le Fournas Corbières (50% Carignan Grenache Syrah 14%) - nice pure ripe smoky tobacco-edged fruit, liquorice and leather v plum and toffee apple; juicy v lush v dry grip, good balance and style. €7 87-89
2004 Magneric Corbières (similar blend of Carignan Grenache Syrah but from older vines and different parcels 14%) - developing attractive 'tar' notes mingling with tobacco and leather; bigger and more concentrated, with chunky tannins and very light wood texture; closes up on the finish although coming back to it, already 'sweeter' and more aromatic, more tobacco too. €12 88-90
2006 Carignan Vin de table - not very expressive on the nose to start, lightly nutty and herby perhaps; concentrated crunchy fruit with floral cassis aromas/flavours, very firm and dry-textured v depth and purity, again closes up on its long finish; it did open up later with some air, although there's a slightly awkward background wood texture? €16 89+?
2005 Cel
èstra Corbières (Grenache Carignan Syrah 14.5%) - complex minty herbal aromas with wild fruit backdrop; closes up on its firm-textured palate, yet lively lush flavours v sour & savoury, concentrated and intense finish; wow certainly different, I like it although not one for everyone; still pretty youthful actually. €20 90+? 


2010 UPDATE: the following - a second tasting of some plus a few more recent vintages and one new wine - were served up by Jon at the enigmatically named "Salon du X" - it's not that much of a mystery, actually, a tasting organised by their agent Xavier Peyrot des Gachons with a dozen Languedoc & Roussillon winegrowers present (there were originally 10, I think) hence the X - back in April at Domaine Gayda's impressive winery & restaurant complex between Limoux and Castelnaudary.
2009 La Serre white - appley nutty and crisp vs oily, zesty and chalky; long steely finish. 87
2007 Le Fournas Corbières red - wild and smoky vs rich and tasty; turning meaty with spicy black fruits underneath, grippy and intense finish. 87-89
2006 Magneric - fruitier aromas with maturing plummy edges; again shows that lovely concentration with intense wild "garrigue" vs fruit and spice, lightly grainy finish. 89+
2006 Carignan - attractive maturing and meaty nose; good depth of fruit with tight elegant palate and grainy texture, although not sure about that wood? 87+
2005 Celèstra - carafed (as a touch 'reduced' or wild/herbal anyway?): very spicy and concentrated palate though, again had mixed feelings as I did above but it certainly commands your attention!
La Part des Anges (Carignan Grenache, "late picked" 15%) - lush and sweet vs intense and crunchy blueberry; attractive bite and grip with wild spicy sweet finish. Very nice and unusual "passerillé" style (dried grapes). 90


More updates here (Corbières report May 2011) and here (2009 vintage showcase June 2010) both featuring Ste-Croix wines.

7 Avenue des Corbières, 11360 Fraisse-des-Corbières. Tel: 04 68 42 27 26 / 06 85 67 63 88, www.saintecroixvins.com.

03 April 2010

Languedoc: Château Rives-Blanques, Limoux

Château Rives-Blanques

Jan and Caryl Panman own the neighbouring vineyard to Domaine Bégude (both of them lie above the village of Cépie: follow the signs past and keep going up the lane for five minutes), which they bought over 10 years ago from Eric Vialade, who still works here overseeing vineyards and cellar. The hospitable enthusiastic Panmans only make white and sparkling wines - although their new vintage Crémant de Limoux rosé has a dash of Pinot Noir in it sourced from elsewhere - which they’ll be happy to taste with you after showing you around some of their picturesque vines. These lie on a plateau, although slightly above Bégude, and are farmed in the "most environmentally friendly way" they can, with a couple of plots of old-vine Mauzac undergoing an organic trial (the whole vineyard used to be, but the previous owner was plagued by a certain disease in the mid-90s and was forced to treat with systemic sprays). Talking of Mauzac, Caryl and Jan are vociferous champions of this local variety, which, apart from being used for their sparkling wines, has been transformed into an unusual barrel-aged dried white called Occitania. Others worth trying include their fine Odyssée Limoux Chardonnay, a complex dry Chenin Blanc called Dédicace, La Trilogie (a barrel-selection blend of all three grapes not necessarily made every year) and occasionally a luscious late-harvest passerillé Chenin-Mauzac name after their daughter Xaxa. 



I tried these in situ in April 2010 (read on for 2011 & 2012 updates):
Blanquette de Limoux (90% Mauzac 10% Chenin Blanc, 12.5% alc, 3.5g/l residual sugar) - lightly yeasty and appley on the nose; crisp and refreshing, pretty dry and lively finish, nice clean elegant style. 85+
2007 Crémant de Limoux rosé (ChardonnayChenin BlancPinot Noir) - gentle red fruits with appley vs lightly bready notes; tight fine and crisp mouth-feel, again refreshingly dry vs fuller oilier finish. 87+
2009 Chardonnay-Chenin Blanc vin de pays d'Oc - attractive zesty style vs lightly exotic peachy fruit; turns more citrus zingy and crisp vs a hint of yeast-lees creaminess. 85+
2008 Cuvée Occitania Limoux (100% Mauzac from plots undergoing organic conversion) - a touch of coconut oak and lees on the nose, turning oilier vs wild floral and honeyed aromas/flavours plus fennel and aniseed tones too; rounded with underlying spicy coconut notes vs oily / mineral texture, quite well-handled oak giving something a bit different too. 87
2008 Dédicace Chenin Blanc (13%) - juicy melon fruit vs rounder oily creamy texture; quite elegant and steely finish, closes up on itself although it's promising...
2007 Dédicace Chenin Blanc (13%) - maturing oily notes with coconut edges; attractive ripe melon fruit vs mineral bite, hints of oak spice on its creamy vs fairly steely finish. 87+
2006 Dédicace Chenin Blanc (13%) - more developed oily nose (almost old Riesling-like "petrol"), oxidising and complex; nice rounded towards buttery palate vs greener edges, enticing lingering flavours. 89(+)
2008 Odyssée Limoux (Chardonnay 13.5%) - aromatic citrus notes with underlining buttery, oily and lightly toasty profile; good balance of juicy leesy mouth-feel vs weight and subtle oak spice vs crisp and long. 88-90
2008 Trilogie Limoux (mostly Chenin Blanc ChardonnayMauzac) - a tad exotic and peachy vs nutty and coconut; quite refined and steely vs fatter more powerful side, oily "sweet" texture vs greener fruit and zesty lees; again subtle oak handling, promising. 89-91
2008 Sauvageon (Sauvignon Blanc, 35% new oak) - toasty edges with green pepper and kiwi fruit tones; fatter mouth-feel with oily coconut and slight punch vs crisp and interesting finish. Not everyone's cup of tea though. 85+
2004 Xaxa (late-harvest passerillé 60% Chenin 40% Mauzac, 14% alc & 90g/l RS) - complex nose/palate with marmalade and toasted honey vs orange/lemon peel; has refreshing "cut" and a bit of weight vs that sweetness, lovely balance and style in fact. 90+



Quite a few independent merchants in the US and UK list these wines, including James Nicholson in Northern Ireland.


UPDATES: latest R-B here (Limoux report April 2011)...
And here (Limoux fizz May 2012).


11300 Cépie. Tel: 04 68 31 43 20, www.rives-blanques.com.

02 April 2010

Perpignan: "stuff your face (in style) @ Palais Gourmand..."

This extraordinary gastronomic event took place last Sunday in fact (28 March) in Perpignan, capital of "French Catalonia" or the "Mediterranean Pyrenees," as the tourist office calls it. So, more a case of "I stuffed my face" (in style though), as obviously it's already happened. Nevertheless, it's worth sharing as it really was an unusual one-off food and wine festival on a grand scale, which takes place every two years; so think about it for 2012. Populated by easily one thousand+ food and wine lovers, most of the region's top chefs, known as the “Toques Blanches du Roussillon,” were there cooking up creative nibbles in a frenzy, each joined by one of many winegrowers who poured a sample of their wine picked by the chef to match that particular dish. So: one stand, one chef (with plenty of hands on deck), one dish (starter, fish, meat or dessert) and one wine (tasting measures of both of course!). And lots of stands, hence a marathon tasting and eating session over several hours although, not surprisingly, impossible to try everything (I bet some people managed though). And that wasn't all: there were also several local butchers/charcutiers, cheese and honey producers, independent wine shops etc. there offering their wares. Overall, a great quality showcase for the region's talented restaurateurs, farmers, wine producers et al. Here's just a taster of some of my favourite combos:
Starter - medley of lobster, fennel and creamed sea urchin (by Philippe Bessieres, La Cote Vermeille in Port-vendres) with 2008 white Collioure "Trémadoc" from Domaine Madeloc.
Fish - Mediterranean fish fillet, caramalised potato, roquette and anchovy pesto and fried quinoa (by Bart Thoelen, Les Palmiers in Laroque-des-Alberes) with 2008 white from Mas de la Deveze.
Meat - Catalan veal sweetbread in a "meurette" sauce (rich reduced red winey: by Jean-Luc Planes, Hotel-Restaurant Planes et Planotel) with 2006 L'Ego red Cotes du Roussillon Villages from Domaine Cazes.
Dessert (two as difficult to choose) - sweet potato "tatin" with lime mousse (by David Carcaiso, La Casa Dalie in Thuir) with Rivesaltes ambré from the Trouillas co-op; and Montner "schist", choco-caramel praline and Rivesaltes "reduction" with 2003 L'Oursoulette Rivesaltes grenat (red) from Domaine Comelade (delicious fortified wine by the way).
Consult the 'Roussillon winery A to Z' for more on these wines and producers. And in the meantime, more info on the "Palais Gourmand" experience @ toques-blanches-du-roussillon.com and cdt-66.com (tourist office) to whet your appetite...

Stuff your face (in style) @ Palais Gourmand

This extraordinary gastronomic event took place last Sunday in fact (28 March) in Perpignan, capital of "French Catalonia" or the "Mediterranean Pyrenees," as the tourist office calls it. So, more a case of "I stuffed my face" (in style though), as obviously it's already happened. Nevertheless, it's worth sharing as it really was an unusual one-off food and wine festival on a grand scale, which takes place every two years; so think about it for 2012. Populated by easily one thousand+ food and wine lovers, most of the region's top chefs, known as the “Toques Blanches du Roussillon,” were there cooking up creative nibbles in a frenzy, each joined by one of many winegrowers who poured a sample of their wine picked by the chef to match that particular dish. So: one stand, one chef (with plenty of hands on deck), one dish (starter, fish, meat or dessert) and one wine (tasting measures of both of course!). And lots of stands, hence a marathon tasting and eating session over several hours although, not surprisingly, impossible to try everything (I bet some people managed though). And that wasn't all: there were also several local butchers/charcutiers, cheese and honey producers, independent wine shops etc. there offering their wares. Overall, a great quality showcase for the region's talented restaurateurs, farmers, wine producers et al. Here's just a taster of some of my favourite combos:
Starter - medley of lobster, fennel and creamed sea urchin (by Philippe Bessieres, La Cote Vermeille in Port-vendres) with 2008 white Collioure "Trémadoc" from Domaine Madeloc.
Fish - Mediterranean fish fillet, caramalised potato, roquette and anchovy pesto and fried quinoa (by Bart Thoelen, Les Palmiers in Laroque-des-Alberes) with 2008 white from Mas de la Deveze.
Meat - Catalan veal sweetbread in a "meurette" sauce (rich reduced red winey: by Jean-Luc Planes, Hotel-Restaurant Planes et Planotel) with 2006 L'Ego red Cotes du Roussillon Villages from Domaine Cazes.
Dessert (two as difficult to choose) - sweet potato "tatin" with lime mousse (by David Carcaiso, La Casa Dalie in Thuir) with Rivesaltes ambré from the Trouillas co-op; and Montner "schist", choco-caramel praline and Rivesaltes "reduction" with 2003 L'Oursoulette Rivesaltes grenat (red) from Domaine Comelade (delicious fortified wine by the way).
In the meantime, more info from toques-blanches-du-roussillon.com and cdt-66.com (tourist office) to whet your appetite...