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26 December 2011

Languedoc: Gérard Bertrand 'Grand Vin', La Clape

UPDATE: One of the Bertrand empire's top reds, from his country wine estate and hotel lying up on the almost-island 'La Clape' sub-appellation nestling between Narbonne beach and Narbonne town, was up for tasting at a London show a few months ago (just rediscovered my notes...). It sells for about twenty quid in the UK, imported by Thierry's Wines, but it's pretty damn good virtually every vintage.


2008 Château l'Hospitalet Grand Vin (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache) - complex wild flowers, herbs and berry fruits on the nose/palate, lush concentrated mouthful vs still very firm tannins and powerful long finish, lovely lingering wild flavours too. Needs a few years to blossom, great stuff.


More GB on this blog:
Features, winery profiles and reviews from wine touring and tasting 2006-2008 (goes to "King of the Languedoc?" page  in my "more wine words" archive).
2009 & 2008 Languedoc vintage tasting reports (also in "more wine words").
LimouxLa ClapeCorbières & BoutenacApril & May 2011, a trio of shorter posts on the Languedoc 2010 vintage showcase (including 2009s and 2008s revisited) by wine area / theme...

19 December 2011

France: the Original Malbec

A little Vs-up to Argentina perhaps, where Malbec is thriving in certain places made by certain wineries; but this red variety did come from southwest France originally and is still very much alive in the Cahors region (some winemakers have even been replanting it in parts of the Bordeaux wine-lands). Rigal, a major Cahors producer and owned by the ever-expanding JeanJean group (link goes to a Languedoc feature on my other blog), has launched a tasty gutsy fruit-driven varietal Malbec (vin de pays du Lot, the name of the département and the long river that runs through it) called The Original Malbec (2010 vintage, 13% alcohol), which has lots of vibrant spicy character, nice weight, red/black berry fruits and dry yet rounded finish. Maybe a good Christmas-y "red of the mo" even... A Fiver on offer at Asda, usually over £7 I think.

12 December 2011

Languedoc: Cave d'Embres et Castelmaure, Corbières



UPDATE: the brooding 2008 vintage of one of their top Corbières reds, called La Pompadou, is now available in the UK via Laithwaites / Direct Wines at £11.99. My impressions of it have been chiselled below, as well as a profile penned last year including a fascinating insight into why the bright hypnotic stripes, and notes on a few of their range sampled on that particular occasion. Here we go:
2008 La Pompadou (Carignan, Grenache) - perfumed blueberry aromas / flavours, quite tight and fresh mouth-feel with grip, power and concentration lurking underneath. Still seemed a bit young when I tasted it a few months ago, very good though.


The Embres & Castelmaure name evokes myth and legend, as a wonderful place lost in time yet one of the first co-op cellars (although much smaller than many) to understand what changes needed to be made to move forwards into the, perhaps inevitably and certainly very competitive, quality wine arena. This enchanting mediaeval village, or rather (later) merger of two villages, lying at the southern end of the Corbières, was where Patrick de Hoym de Marien, who's still the president, and MD Bernard Pueyo instigated a major rethink and replanting program in the 80s; as well as identifying and mapping out all vineyard plots owned by the co-op's 70 members. This thorough "back to basics" in the vineyards - proper pruning, tilling, controlling yields, selecting grapes etc. - was complemented by upgrading winemaking and ageing techniques and equipment, with timely advice from a few key consultants and culminating in building a brand new cellar opened in 2007.
By the way, I pinched the picture, with the loud coloured stripes featured on their labels, off their poetic website, where you'll also find some stunning pictures and tips for staying and eating in this lost corner of the Corbières (the "main road" to the village only goes to, erm, the village). I sampled these 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 2010 at Domaine Gayda's impressive winery & restaurant complex, found between Limoux and Castelnaudary.

2009 Corbières white (Grenache blancMacabeu) - juicy and zesty vs exotic banana fruit; nice depth and oily vs crisp mouth-feel. 85+
2008 La comporte du garage (barrel-fermented Grenache blanc) - a bit spicy wood dominated vs juicy and colourful fruit; lightly creamy and maturing notes vs a bit of zing on the finish. 85+
2009 rosé - attractive "boiled sweets" fruity style, crisp and zesty to finish. 80+
La Buvette (mostly  .
Grenache Carignan 14.5%) - light colour with lovely ripe soft raspberry and sweet liquorice notes; quite stocky actually with a light touch of tannin, nice easy style. 85
2008 Castelmaure (Carignan 
Grenache Syrah) - scented "garrigue" with vibrant blueberry and blackberry fruit; juicy lively palate with a bit of weight and grip, subtle lingering fruit. 87
2007 La Pompadou (Carignan 
Grenache Syrah) - enticing cassis and black cherry fruit with more depth and concentration and a hint of chocolate oak; appealing "sweet" vs perfumed vs chunky finish, again tasty and well-balanced. 88+
2007 Grande Cuvée (
Grenache Syrah) - riper liquorice nose and spicier too; fairly lush texture with a tad more oak, attractive depth and grip vs quite concentrated with "sweet" vs dry finish. 89+



4 Route des Canelles, 11360 Embres & Castelmaure. 04 68 45 91 83 / www.castelmaure.com

Wine courses in the Belfast area (updated)

Wine Education Service, which runs consumer wine courses and tastings at various centres around the UK, and yours truly RMJ have teamed up to launch a new introductory evening wine course and a one day wine workshop. The five week course starts in April 2012 in Belfast City Centre and in Bangor (Co. Down), and the one day event is on Saturday 31 March in Belfast. Details as follows:


Belfast
1 day workshop "the World of Wine" on Saturday March 31: £75 per person including tasting approx 15 wines with tuition, lunch with wine and a course manual.
Oscar Wilde room, Ramada Encore Hotel, Saint Anne's Square, Belfast BT1 2LD. www.encorebelfast.co.uk
5 week introductory course Tuesday evenings starting 3 April until 1 May inclusive: £125 including half-a-dozen wines tasted each session, tuition and in-depth course material. At the Ramada as above.

Bangor
5 week introductory course Wednesday evenings starting in April: £125 including half-a-dozen wines tasted each session, tuition and in-depth course material. One day workshop and other wine tasting & food events possible - details to follow.
Upstairs @ the AVA vin café bar & grill, 132 Main Street, Bangor (opposite the rail station). www.theava.co.uk

More information and booking: www.wine-education-service.co.uk, tel: 020 8991 8213. Or email Richard James.

08 December 2011

Languedoc: Domaine Gayda, pays d'Oc / Malepère

UPDATE: this quirky red, in the sense that you don't find much Cabernet Franc planted in the region and some growers / winemakers are getting interesting results from it, was tasted in London not so long ago...

2009 Figure Libre Cabernet Franc, IGP Pays d'Oc - leafy spicy nose, unusual 'inky' vs rich profile, nice tannins and pretty intense long finish. Good stuff and certainly different although again it's quite expensive at £16.99 (New Generation Wines, UK).
And this is what I said about Gayda (the winery rather than a device used by gay men to catch like-minded wavelengths...) and sampled in situ back in April 2010:
All the wines featured below are labelled up as Pays d'Oc (their winemaking policy) but, to help you pinpoint where to locate, in mind and on map, Domaine Gayda's impressive winery & restaurant complex (modern yet Mediterranean), it's found between Limoux and Castelnaudary just before the tiny village of Brugairolles (you can't miss it). Gayda is technically in the virtually unknown Malepère appellation, although, as I said, this isn't what motivates owners South African Anthony Record and Englishman Tim Ford's wine styles (Marc Kent of Boekenhoutskloof in the Cape is also listed as a "non-executive director," by the way). They bought the estate in 2003 with 11 hectares (27 acres) of vineyard circling the winery and another eight near La Liviniere in Minervois; plus they source grapes from other growers: e.g. in Tresserre, Opoul and Maury in the Roussillon; and Fontfroide in the Corbières. Their wines are sold by New Generation Wines in the UK, James Nicholson in Ireland, various importers in the US (see "where to buy" on their site, link below) and Sean Robson in Hong Kong. The premises are also used by British owned wine school Vin Ecole. I tasted these in April 2010 in situ:

2009 Sauvignon Blanc - nice towards New Zealand style with mix of ripe and exotic vs grassier side; pretty textbook zingy SB with a hint of class too. 85+
2009 Viognier - light peach and apricot with a touch of spice too; creamier mouth-feel with lees notes, aromatic crunchy yellow fruits with clean yet punchy finish. 85+
2007 Figure Libre Maccabeo - nutty oily and developed nose, toasty with "sweet" fruit too; lees-edged and mineral palate vs fair weight and nice nutty oily finish. 87
2009 Gayda rosé - attractive creamy vs red fruity style, crisp juicy and tasty. €6.50 85
2008 Gayda Syrah - attractive pure spicy black cherry aromas/flavours; juicy fruit with a bit of depth, a tad of oak and grip although nicely done. €6.50 87
2008 Figure Libre Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon - cassis and red pepper with spicy, "inky" and tobacco tones; lively and quite concentrated palate with tasty "sweet/savoury" finish, dry vs rounded texture. €14 87-89
2007 Chemin de Moscou (GrenacheSyrah etc. 14%) - showing more chocolate and coconut oak, although it's lush with dark fruit and appealing rounded tannins; powerful with fruity vs dry texture, perhaps lacks a bit of character but still good (although not value-wise at €19.50). 87
2005 Chemin de Moscou (14.5%) - maturing "sweet/savoury" nose, juicy and concentrated with solid mouth-feel and hints of coconut spice; firmly textured and powerful, still needs a couple of years or so to open up. 88-90


11300 Brugairolles. 04 68 31 64 14 / www.domainegayda.com.

05 December 2011

Roussillon: Bugarach or until the end of the world...

Cue Edge style guitar strumming... remember the U2 song used for the soundtrack of that early-90s arty apocalyptic Wim Wenders movie? Well, I like a man with a sense of humour, and it makes a refreshing change to come across this Roussillon red in the cluttered wine world. As it says, translating from the back-label: "Inspired by the oldest legends, this Bugarach wine should survive the end of the world and help you get in touch with extraterrestrials. This wine will be at its peak in December 2012..." He's called Jean Pla (pic.) and is probably best known for the "resto-cave" he and his wife used to own in Maury, Le Pichenouille, which he sold this year to focus on his wine broking / making activities. I remember someone also once called him "the Godfather of Maury," with respek.
Bugarach is a tiny village found nearby in the Corbieres at the foot of the mystical 'upside-down' Bugarach peak, which for some reason will be spared next year's apocalypse according to some wise souls. Anyway, this wine is a 100% Grenache blend sourced from vineyards around St-Paul de Fenouillet where Jean lives, is available locally and in "Northern Europe" (a bit vague, see website link below) and in the US via the appropriately named  David Vincent Selection (remember the star of the original Invaders TV series?).

Cuvée Bugarach 2010 vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes, Jean Pla Sélection (Grenache, 14.5% alc); subtitled as "S'il n'en reste qu'un, je serais celui-la" = "If there's only one left, I'd be this one." 
Volatile "real cider" notes in that "natural" wild ferment / low sulphite winemaking style (I'm guessing), nice chunky palate vs rounded tannins with wild blackberry / cherry fruit, has a bit of oomph vs fresher bite, light touch of chocolate oak underneath with grainy texture, 'cidery' vs sweet fruit on the finish tinged with savoury black olive flavours too. €8
jeanplaselection.com

Posh Chablis @ M&S

Marks & Spencer has always had a reputation for good reliable Chablis in my book, usually expressing exactly what you’d expect and want from a nice bottle of Chabbers. And the latest vintages of their whole Chablis range didn’t disappoint (except one) when sampled at their London press tasting a few weeks ago. These 'steely' dry whites are made from 100% Chardonnay, as is all Chablis stating what might be b******* obvious for some perhaps, although producers haven’t always put this simple and nevertheless interesting fact on their back-labels. Classic ‘straightforward’ Chablis is usually unoaked; and the higher quality ‘Premier’ and ‘Grand Cru’ wines, sourced from certain specific vineyard sites, often see varying degrees of barrel ageing depending on how rich the wine is, the producer’s style or vintage quality. Mind you, they’re getting dearer though with no Chablis under a tenner at M&S nowadays (apart from the 'Petit' version, which I didn't try this time and have found OK but lacking substance in the past), although they do occasional promotions like everyone else of course!

2008 Chablis La Chablisienne (12.5% alc.) - classic creamy vs steely style, nice intense buttery fruit vs crisp bite and light lees edges; maturing oily vs still fresh finish. Good + : £10.99
2008 Organic Chablis Jean-Marc Brocard (12.5%) - from a biodynamically farmed vineyard where they use “medicinal plants against insects and diseases.” Deep coloured and fruity, has almost toasty edges with exotic buttery fruit vs very crisp bite and long lingering finish; quirky stuff but lovely with it. £14.99 170 stores.
2007 Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume Union des Viticulteurs de Chablis (12.5%) - quite rich and mature on the nose, subtle concentration of warm buttery fruit vs steely cut vs mature oily finish; fair class with elegant balance and length. Very good, drinking well now. £18 300 stores.
2008 Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos Louis Moreau (13%) - richer and toastier profile, concentrated vs crisp mouth-feel; quite 'impressive' although perhaps trying too hard to be a white Burgundy from further south. £38 50 stores.

01 December 2011

Languedoc: a tale of two Fitous...

Aka a couple of Fitou-esque updates from Domaine Jones and Cave de Mont Tauch, just for the sake of making the post title a touch catchier. There's also a theme to my stream-of-conscious word outpourings, as you'll gather if you read this post from August last year featuring Domaine Jones and her first vintage release wines. Katie used to work for the Mont Tauch co-op in marketing but is now a fully-fledged winegrower/maker, and has a few wee vineyard parcels in the Maury area and now a massive 0.6 hectares (1.5 acres) in Tuchan in Fitou country (near where she lives) across the rocky Corbières border between Languedoc and Roussillon. The 2010 red tasting-noted below is hence her first vintage (although it says on her website that 2011 would be the first?!) from these particular mixed old vines, some of them 100 years and counting, which is looking good already. Katie's wines are also now available in the US via David Vincent Selection, in Sweden from Johan Lidby and at Bodaweinhaus and Weinhaus Gawron in Germany, so she has been busy.
Just for the hell of it, or to stir up a bit of mischief perhaps, I've slotted in a new (outside of France anyway) single-vineyard Fitou from Mont Tauch co-op winery (also from Tuchan) underneath, which was previously included in this post on some new southern French reds from M&S. Oh, and a little "local politics" might not go amiss here... Katie's partner used to be president of said co-op and has since reverted to quietly getting on with looking after his own vineyards in the area, although was unfortunately a victim of some spiteful jealous moron, allegedly, who decided to wreck one of these, presumably because of some former conflict over "policy". There's progress for you, just when most of France has finally woken up to real competition in the big bad wine world, down south, in certain co-op worlds at least rather than forward-thinking ones or estate wineries, your competitor/enemy is still your neighbour! Anyway, as always, let's let the wines do the talking, which are both good it has to be said in their different ways...

2010 Domaine Jones Fitou (Carignan, Grenache, Syrah; 14% alc): Sweet dark berry fruit and liquorice aromas with volatile edges, shows a light touch of chocolate/coffee oak adding grainy vs rounded texture, fair oomph vs attractive supple tannins, black fruits and subtle dark choc bitter twist. Drinking nicely already yet still structured and concentrated, ripe and rounded mouth-feel vs tarter blueberry fruit side. Quite dear at £20 but I understand she didn't make much at all, and it's good stuff for sure. Available on-line for UK delivery or see Katie's blog for other outlets: domainejones.blogspot.com.
And one of her latest red releases is featured here2012 Le Petit Train Syrah December 2013

2009 Fitou, Château de Montmal / Cave de Mont Tauch (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan; 13.5%): nice spicy black cherry and sweet liquorice vs smoky tobacco and volatile balsamic notes; powerful solid palate with tasty concentrated fruit, lush and lively with ripe maturing finish. Well-made attractive chunky style, a special-occasion red at the price: £12.99 M&S on-line only.
Previous MT wines and profile are here.

28 November 2011

Germany: Reichsrat von Buhl "Grand Cru" tasting

Kirchenstück single vineyard
"Or 'Grosses Gewächs' tasting to be precise, although the German equivalent of 'Grand Cru' does sound more like a term of abuse than a term describing a first-rate vineyard site..." Sensational taste-off of Von Buhl's 2009 vs 2010 dry Rieslings, sublime 2010 sweet wines and "a little surprise" vintage from the past...
CLICK HERE to read the full works, which goes to the just added German section of my wine words pages where you'll also find these archive features brought across from "old" WineWriting.com:
Riesling Riesling & Riesling or "a couple of racy German tastings combined..."
Terrassen-Mosel: "Extreme vineyard walking, right-angle Rieslings & Mosel-side eating..."
Plus an "international Riesling review" and Lingenfelder's "Vineyard Creatures"...

24 November 2011

Australia: Rhone / Med winter reds (up north anyway)

Following in the shadowy footsteps of a similarly themed post on my other blog called Southern French reds @ Marks & Spencer's, here's a trio of hearty Aus "reds of the mo", if you like, created from Rhone/Med grape varieties and recently shipped neatly onto the shelves of your nearest Marks & Spencer's (well, perhaps, as these two have limited distribution as you can see below) and Asda (added 28 Nov). Discovered at a recent M&S tasting at their HO in London (more recommended wines from that to follow), and the third one in my local Asda store...

2010 Hunter Valley Shiraz - Tyrrell's Wines (100% Shiraz, 13% alc.): odd nose at first turning into sweet cherry and spicy 'medicinal' notes, it's a little at sorts with itself on the palate (still youthful though) but finishes better in a fuller Crozes-Hermitage like way. £9.99 M&S 150 stores.
2008 Marananga Dam Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre - Torbeck, Barossa Valley (44% Grenache, 34% Mourvèdre and the rest Shiraz/Syrah; 13% alc.): rich ripe fruit with meaty edges on the nose, liquorice and pepper aromas/flavours too vs enticing tangier side; punchy and concentrated mouth-feel with attractive sweet/savoury style, then maturing yet still lively finish. Very good although quite pricey: £12.99 M&S 200 stores.
2009 Shiraz/Viognier (14%) - Zilzie Wines, SE Australia: Victoria based Zilzie does a straight Viognier white wine as well as this spicy aromatic red blend, following a bit of a fashion in Aus for adding a drop of white Viognier to red Shiraz/Syrah in the style of traditional northern Rhone reds such as Côte-Rôtie. I liked the not so full-on fruity style of this one with attractive black cherry and cassis hints, a spicy floral side to it too, as I said; nice rounded quite weighty palate with fairly soft tannins and just a hint of chocolate oak adding texture and aroma/flavour. £6 Asda on promotion (usually £10).

More GSM from Aus here.

21 November 2011

Languedoc: Château de Caraguilhes, Corbières

UPDATE: the latest vintage release of one of their top Corbières reds, Solus 2009, crossed my tasting path a couple of months ago in London, which is available in the UK via Les Producteurs et Vignerons de France retailing for a wallet-thinning £16.99...
2009 Solus (60% Syrah, 25% Mourvèdre, 15% Carignan) - vibrant black cherry fruit with chocolate oak tones, structured palate still although has attractive texture with long spicy finish. Very good, needs a few months more to open up.
Click here for a glimpse of the 2010 Solus, an unfinished sample tasted in Montpellier six months ago. And read on for a profile of Caraguilhes with some previous vintages reviewed from 2006 to 2010...

Pierre Gabison, previously a shareholder in this vast picturesque estate and Pech-Latt, bought out Caraguilhes entirely in 2005 and has spent a fortune on restoring the chateau, looking at the sumptuous pictures on their website. He's also continuing a long-standing 'tradition' (true in this case) of organic farming and philosophy, apparently pioneered by the previous owner in the 50s and 60s, which was virtually unheard of back in the golden age of newfangled nasty synthetic sprays and fertilisers. The sizeable 100+ ha (250 acres) of vineyards have been organically certified since 1992, which must be hard work. They lie on pretty rolling hills at slight altitude (up to 180m / 550 feet) surrounded by huge tracts of forest and scrubland, in the middle of nowhere: it's about 30 km (20 miles) from the sea, 15km south of Lézignan and 25 km southwest of Narbonne. Pierre's team includes young Etienne Besancenot, the new-ish "technical director" (senior winemaker I guess in "Anglo-Saxon" speak, as the French love to say as a put-down) who I first bumped into at Chateau de Pibarnon in Bandol back in 2004 (he was working the vintage as part of his studies); and Bruno Averseng in the field, literally.

I tasted these wines at Millésime Bio 2009 in Montpellier:
2008 Domaine de l'Olivette Vin de Pays des Coteaux de la Cabrerisse (Grenache blanc, Marsanne) - nice crisp zesty style with floral and honeyed aromas / flavours. 80-85
2008 Caraguilhes white Corbières (Grenache blanc & Marsanne) - more intense with enticing citrus, honey and exotic fruits; crisp bite and length on the palate. 87

2008 Corbières rosé (50/50 Grenache & Syrah) - delicious, juicy and zesty rose petal and red fruit cocktail; quite big mouth-feel then very crisp to finish. 87+
2007 red Corbières (Carignan Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre) - attractive crunchy cassis and blueberry fruit; very vibrant and tasty with firm v fruity finish. 87+
2007 Solus Corbières (Carignan Grenache Syrah) - richer and more concentrated with a touch of chocolate oak texture, but it's mostly the lush v crunchy fruit that shines through; solid firm tannins countered by lots of liquorice and black cherry. Very nice. 90-92
2005 Prestige Corbières (Carignan Syrah Grenache) - oilier aromas and texture with maturing edges, still quite firm and dry with a touch of wood on the palate; big mouth-feel although has some rich dark fruit underneath, less seductive perhaps. 87+


Update: I paid Etienne a visit in late January 2010 and hence had the opportunity to tread some of the soil on this sizeable and handsome estate, found up a track off the main road between Thézan and St-Laurent. He's been overseeing a bit of ripping up and replanting including some Carignan, which is quite rare nowadays as most people only seem interested in (re)planting Syrah and Grenache. Etienne's pretty excited at being at the helm at Caraguilhes as he thinks "there's huge potential here." We tasted the latest vintages and a couple of experimental wines, which certainly confirm this:
2008 white (60% Marsanne + Grenache blanc) - quite exotic and rich with floral apricot and banana aromas underlined by yeast-lees notes; full and rounded vs crisp biter twist, nice clean vs fruity finish. 87
2008 Grenache blanc (barrel-fermented) - rounded and "sweet" mouthfeel vs quite crisp, vanilla notes but not too toasty overall; perhaps needs more bite and fat, although it's an interesting experiment.
2008 rosé (Syrah Grenache Carignan 13.5%) - very appealing strawberry / raspberry on the nose; weighty / oily palate then refreshing finish. Yum. UK: Waitrose stores. 87
2007 classique red - wilder "garrigue" tones vs very spicy black cherry fruit, ripe liquorice aromas too; quite concentrated with dry vs rounded tannins and lovely fruit too. Waitrose 88+
2007 prestige red (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre) - more complex nose with its almost animal, meaty and savoury tones; less open on the palate, but it's a more exciting wine underneath showing subtle spicy finish; less charm now but give it a year or two. 89-91
2008 Solus red (more Mourvèdre and Syrah, less Grenache; cask sample) - estery aromas with wild black fruits; quite vanilla-coated adding "sweetness" countered by lovely depth of fruit, again good balance of dry and firm mouthfeel vs lush and ripe; carries the 15% weight well as it's surprisingly elegant and not overworked, finishing with tight bite. Needs 1 to 2 years to round out. 90-92
Caraguilhes reds are priced €6.90, €9.90 and €15 cellar door.

And previously at Millésime Bio organic wine fair in 2006:
2005 Corbières rosé - very appealing strawberry fruit and weight, then fresh crisp and long. 87+
2004 Corbières rouge - nice depth of youthful cherry fruit with tobacco edges, well handled tannins on the finish. 88-90


11220 Saint Laurent de la Cabrerisse. Tel: 04 68 27 88 99, www.caraguilhes.fr

18 November 2011

Roussillon: Domaine of the Bee update

Click here for profile and note on the 2007 vintage of their sumptuous old Grenache and Carignan based red and see below for my impressions of the recently released 2009. Other news includes their 2008 vintage now being available in the US via a distributor who sells in 35 states. More details are on their website domaineofthebee.com under 'Order your wine' then select USA, obviously!
There's a special offer running at the moment too "at the Domaine of the Bee shop," as the blurb goes. Use this code £10NOV2011 and they'll "take a tenner off your bill." One bottle is usually a somewhat pricey £27.95 delivered (£20 single bottle price + £7.95 p+p) so that makes it £17.95. The price does come down as the quantity goes up, here's the maths in a nutshell: 3 bottles = £60 + £7.95 minus £10 = £57.95, or 6 bottles = £108 + £7.95 minus £10 = £105.95, for example. The catch is it's limited to the first 50 people who order and is valid until Sunday 27th November (UK deliveries only). Enough of the sales pitch, you might well be saying (I don't have shares in the Bee incidentally), although you could combine this offer with the charity row (as in boat not argument...) Justin, whose father died of prostate cancer last year, is just about to do in aid of that cause. In their words: "Amanda, Philippe and I have decided to help raise funds by donating £10 to the charity for every 6 bottle case of Domaine of the Bee we sell before 20th November."

Now over to that new-release wine:
2009 Domaine of the Bee IGP Côtes Catalanes (15%) - touches of coconut oak but not too much adding texture and roundness to its ripe tannins and fruit, offering up sweet liquorice and blackberry flavours; powerful mouthful although that 15% alc. is surprisingly well hidden among its concentrated lush black fruit and damson mix with nice peppery edges too; attractive soft tannins vs light bitter chocolate twist and subtle dry grip, this is drinking nicely already actually.

16 November 2011

Undiscovered Spain: Castilla y León

"Home-cured acorn-fed Iberian Black Pig
with La Setera wines"
by Brett Jones
I've just resurrected this tasting & touring feature originally published on "old" WineWriting.com and now here for the first time, as it seemed like a good idea:
"Undiscovered Spain - from Valladolid to the Portuguese border and north beyond León..." Featuring the following Bodegas with restaurant and hotel tips: Pilcar (Cigales region), La Setera (Arribes del Duero), Cenit (Tierra del Vino de Zamora), Zamoranas, Otero (Valles de Benavente), Agribergidum (Bierzo), Margon (Tierra de León) plus get to know your Juan Garcia, Prieto Picudo, Mencía and Godello; grape varieties, that is... "The vast evocative Castilla & León region, which lies roughly between Madrid and the north coast stretching almost from Rioja across to Galicia and Portugal, isn't exactly 'undiscovered' for Spanish wine lovers at least. Hip Ribera del Duero needs little introduction and other areas such as Toro and Rueda, which are found to the east, south and west of Valladolid, appear to have gained some ground in the recognition stakes. But on this tour, we travelled resolutely west..."
Read the full works here (goes to 'SPAIN' wine words archive - scroll down to below Cava guide). Big ham photo © Brett Jones "the Wine Maestro": thewinemaestro.co.uk. More pics in the article and on shutterfly.com.

Spotlight on Sicily: updated

From www.cantinaottoventi.it
I've now slipped nine fuller winery profiles of some of the producers and wines extracted from an earlier article "Spotlight on Sicilian wines" into my increasingly huge ITALY archive (click there). These snapshots complement, with a few nice photos too, this tasting feature already teleported across from "old" WineWriting.com, where you'll also find more reviews and generic info. Includes these exciting wineries: Brugnano, Ceuso, Cristo Campobello, Casa Grazia, Limonio, Murgo, Ottoventi, Mimmo Paone, Santa Anastasia... 

14 November 2011

Languedoc: Domaines Paul Mas

2014 update

This belated catching-up sees a couple of striking new poking-fun labels (there's a picture here), another sizeable vineyard added to the Mas stable, a variety of 2011 and 2012 vintage reds and whites tasted last year and recently, plus a few words on that "road is long" restaurant 'project' mentioned previously which finally opened a year ago...
First off, Jean-Claude Mas has been vineyard shopping again: La Ferrandière, a 70 hectare property (170 acres) near the pretty village of Aigues-Vives in the Aude region planted with Cabernet, Grenache, Malbec, Marselan, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Viognier. This latest addition to the total 478 ha now owned/managed by Mas (eight different estates), was "to ensure their development on the French market as well as abroad," the blurb explains. The company has been very export focused so far - 97% of sales in 58 countries apparently - and also works with 70 contracted growers across the Languedoc for extra fruit source.
Their new on-site restaurant - wine bar - wine shop Côté Mas is pretty good by all accounts I've heard (review to follow when I've been there), and looks worth a trip if you're touring this area. And following in the self-mocking footsteps of Arrogant and Elegant Frog, Ribet Red and such like, Doms P Mas have just launched a pair of Striking French! varietals - the labels sport a cartoon character demo holding banners saying On veut du Viognier / On veut du Merlot, as in "We want Viognier/Merlot" obviously. See what I thought of them below along with a selection of other new vintages from across their now extensive portfolio...

2011 Domaine Martinolles Limoux blanc – nice lees-y toasty notes tinged with aniseed, light toasted coconut vs ripe 'sweet' Chardonnay fruit, good bite vs rich and toasty finish.
2012 Château Paul Mas 'Belleguette' Coteaux du Languedoc blanc (Vermentino, Marsanne) – aromatic aniseed with subtle yeast biscuit flavours vs floral and mineral, concentrated with tasty oat finish vs tight and crisp with light bitter twist. £15/£12 (case) Cheers Wine Merchants (UK).
2012 Mas des Tannes Réserve blanc (organic Grenache blanc, 13.5% abv) - subtle mix of floral aniseed, juicy exotic fruit and light coconut grain; has a little bit of richness and roundness on the palate although is quite tight and grainy, not a blockbuster style white but attractive enough with food. Noel Young Wines, Soho Wines £10.95.
Striking French! Sud de France Viognier, Pays d'Oc (13% abv) - light peach and apricot notes with hints of toast and coconut, a little weight on the palate vs tighter fresher side; nice white although not as good/full-on as some of their other Viogniers. A bit dear at £9.99 UK RRP.
2011 Mas des Tannes Réserve rouge (Cabernet, Grenache, Mourvèdre) – complex and quirky mix of 'inky' black olive vs very ripe 'tar' and liquorice vs herbier cassis notes, taut fresh and firm mouth-feel vs sweet and smoky side. Odd but nice.
2011 Mas des Tannes Peyre Plantade (Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan) – sweet fruit and floral aromas with lovely ripe rounded texture, subtle bite and length; delicious red.
Striking French! Sud de France Merlot, Pays d'Oc (13.5% abv) - a little heavy on the vanilla oak for my taste, although it has nice plump fruit and rounded mouth-feel. The oak blends in a little better if left open for a day. Same comment as the Viognier above about price, available at Majestic in the UK.
2011 Mas des Mas Corbières (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan) – a tad baked on the nose, attractive wild herb and violet aromas though with 'sweet' Grenache fruit, bite and grip tightening up the palate but it's tasty now too.
2011 Château des Crès Ricards 'Stécia' Terrasses du Larzac (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Grenache) - wild smoky vs herb/flower notes and dark fruit with savoury hints, intense smoky dark fruit flavours with firm structured tannins vs rounded mouth-feel and ripe fruit finish, lovely mix of smoky vs fresh and tight too. £12.99 Cheers.
2011 Château des Crès Ricards 'Oenotheca' (Grenache, Syrah) - richer with sweet and smoky notes vs herby berry fruit, softer yet fuller with enticing lush mouth-feel vs subtle grip.
Côté Mas Picpoul Frisant - juicy yeasty notes vs sweeter ripe melon fruit edges, has a bit of crispness vs a touch of residual sugar. Nice and easy frothy wine.
2011 Les Faïsses (60% Grenache, 40% Syrah) - alluring ripe vs spicy liquorice fruit with firm and tasty palate, fairly easy-going compared to previous vintages but I like that Grenache dominant style.
2011 Grés de Montpellier (half Mourvèdre plus Syrah and Grenache) - a touch more structured vs attractive sweet fruit, lacks a bit of concentration and depth perhaps as I remember it from previous vintages...

November 2011: the latest from the expansionist and thick cheque-booked Jean-Claude Mas camp is the purchase of vineyards in wild and woolly Terrasses du Larzac country (source vitisphere.com), called Crès Ricards (goes to my May 2012 report on Larzac including notes on some of these nice reds) and Domaine de Moulinas in Caux not far from Pézenas. He's also taking over running Domaine de Martinolles (links to profile and previous vintages reviewed) who's a fairly sizeable yet traditional Blanquette and Crémant de Limoux winemaker, which should complement Mas' already growing production of white and red wines in this area from their Domaine Astruc estate. This brings DPM to over 300 ha of owned vine-land across the Languedoc, plus those managed properties and partner-growers who supply grapes. Some people (usually certain small-minded French growers who think all big is bad) diss the Paul Mas operation as a simple churner-outer of lots of "unserious" varietals, largely because of their fun export brand Arrogant Frog I'd guess, which appear to be in-demand and are consistently good. But they've probably never tried their more serious single-vineyard or sub-appellation reds or Limoux whites, for example.


In addition, Domaine de Nicole estate winery, where the company's head office is located near Montagnac, has been expanded into a "wine tourism site" with a restaurant opening in spring 2012 (Ed: the following year actually, see above). I've tasting-noted some of their latest vintages below sampled over the last few months; and there's a fuller profile and lots more wines going back to 2004 underneath these. Their UK importer is Stratford’s Wine Agencies and they're well distributed in the States too (see website).

2010 Vermentino - floral peachy nose, spicy juicy palate with crisp 'gummy' mouth-feel, attractive lively dry white. £7.99 at Majestic allegedly although I couldn't find it on their site.
2010 Chardonnay - benchmark sunny south of France Chardy with juicy citrus and peachy fruit with milky yeast-less edges, quite weighty yet crisp finish. Fairly widely available under different labels.
2010 Sauvignon blanc - nice classic gooseberry vs ripe citrus SB style with soft-ish yet zingy finish. Different versions of this are sold in various retailers e.g. Majestic, Waitrose.
2010 Viognier - delicious V style with lighter zesty touches vs fatter exotic fruit, crisp intense vs rounded and towards weighty/oily mouth-feel. Sainsbury's do an Elegant Frog version and Asda has an own label on offer at the moment for under a Fiver.
2010 Marsanne - floral apricot aromas / flavours, zesty palate vs lightly creamy edges, has a bit of oomph too followed by tight zingy length. Asda and Majestic do different labels of this.
2010 Rosé de Syrah - strawberry and raspberry boiled sweet notes, lively and quite long with a attractive bitter twist, nice round vs zingy style.
2010 Grenache noir - seductive simple fruity style, touch of dry grip on the palate vs lively berry and spice combo.
2008 Mas des Mas Saint-Chinian red - lovely wild herby and floral liquorice nose, spicy white pepper tones vs sweet fruit, quite elegant and drinking well now.
2010 La Forge Merlot - herbal 'inky' tinges vs lots of juicy plummy fruit, a little closed up and firm when I tried it but shows the usual Forge concentration and Merlot style.
2010 La Forge Carignan old vines - 'reductive' nose and tight palate, has attractive fresh blueberry fruit though with intriguing tangy vs ripe profile; quite structured acid/tannin mouth-feel combo, needs a few months to open up but promising probably and different for sure. Majestic lists a version of this at £8.99.
2009 La Forge Malbec - complex spicy nose, aromatic vs richer side with grainy vs sweet texture; quirky Malbec style and tasty with it. Majestic lists a version of the 2010 vintage at £8.99.
2009 DPM Vignes de Nicole Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah - touches of dusty oak or something ? (can't remember if this bottle was screwcapped or with a cork) but layered with cassis and dark cherry fruit, nice texture and depth with again tight finish.
2009 Château Paul Mas "Clos des Mûres" Coteaux du Languedoc (85% Syrah, 10% Grenache, 5% Mourvèdre) - quite chocolate oaky when I tried it with taut firm grainy texture, closing up on a big structured finish; but it's pretty concentrated and stylish too suggesting something much more promising and exiting once it opens up and softens. £12.50

You'll find even more Mas wines buried in here (Languedoc vintage reports 2009 and 2008) and within a few mini-reports before and after this post on Limoux (based around 2010 vintage tastings). In addition, I've copied across all this stuff previously published on various pages of WineWriting.com:

Domaine de Nicole, one of four Mas family properties in the Pézenas area and now their HQ, has been refitted to house a tasteful tasting/reception area and shop with an enlarged "wine tourism site," including a restaurant, due to open in late 2008 (oops, see update above - planning permission delays etc...). If they get the planning permission through soon, that is (a somewhat French case of bureaucracy over progress it seems). A "Languedoc modernist," as their PR accurately calls him, with irreverent labels like Arrogant Frog (the wine’s good too) and lively varietal Vins de Pays such as La Forge Merlot, Chardonnay or Viognier; Jean-Claude Mas and brother Michel also produce serious, more 'traditional' Coteaux du Languedoc reds such as Château Paul Mas (see vertical tasting of five vintages below) and Les Faïsses. In addition, they've now launched wines from a recently converted organic vineyard plus three new 'single terroir' reds called Mas des Mas from the 2006 vintage (also below), which show great promise and knock on the head any thoughts that they're all marketing (although they're pretty good at that too). Oh by the way, guess which country is one of their main export markets? Australia! (2008)

These wines were sampled at Vinisud in Montpellier, February 2008:
2006 Château Paul Mas (all five are mostly Syrah plus Grenache Mourvèdre) - showing spicy coco oak layered with lovely black cherry fruit and peppery tones, attractive textured tannins balanced by depth of fruit, well-handled oak and power on the finish. About £10 in the UK, available shortly at Majestic. 90-92
2005 Château Paul Mas - a touch smokier and richer v firmer and more powerful palate, yet still ripe, rounded and showing great balance of oak/tannins/fruit; lovely concentration v solid grip, the alcohol is a little more noticeable but it works in this wine. 92-94


2004 Château Paul Mas - much more developed than the last time I tasted it two years ago at Vinisud (obviously perhaps but you know what I mean), showing complex liquorice and leather notes; 'sweet' peppery palate with solid structure, grippy tannins yet elegant finish. 92-94

2003 Château Paul Mas - dried fruits, leather and complex herbal v savoury nose; stonky tannins and weight v big rich fruit and power. 90-92
2002 Château Paul Mas - maturing rustic tones with leather and liquorice, further delicious liquorice fruit and savoury tobacco edges on the palate; again still firm tannins but nicely layered, drinking well now. 92-94
2006 Les Tannes Cabernet - Merlot (organic) - nice herbal v tobacco nose with ripe cassis, tangy tannins and quite concentrated & fine finish. 87-89
2006 Mas des Mas, Pézenas (mostly Mourvèdre) - quite closed on the nose, showing tight structure and quite austere in style, oak textured but very concentrated and long. Needs a year or two to open up. 90-92
2006 Mas des Mas, Terrasses du Larzac (more Syrah) - again structured and powerful but a bit richer with black cherry Syrah style; chocolate oak background to its concentrated, firm and commanding finish, yet well-balanced too. 92-94
2006 Mas des Mas, Grés de Montpellier (50% Mourvèdre) - more black fruits and liquorice in style and a tad more savoury too, also peppery with subdued oak; very firm tannins and big weight v 'sweet' fruit and black pepper coming back on its promising finish. 94+?
2007 'lower alcohol' Viognier (10%) - surprisingly characterful, aromatic and faintly exotic with fresh finish; winemakers normally say Viognier isn't an interesting variety unless fully ripe therefore 13-14-15% even. 80-85
2007 Enigma (late harvested Chardonnay blended with 10% Muscat and 20% Viognier both fermented dry, leaving 30 grams/litre residual sugar) - quite exotic v fresh citrus tones, doesn't seem very sweet thanks to its refreshing crisp finish. Nice wine. 87

Stop-press April 2008: Jean-Claude had seven wines selected in the 'Top 100 Vins de Pays' competition, an annual tasting held in Britain aimed at the trade. They were La Forge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Trophy for best Cab Sauv), Arrogant Frog Ribet White Chardonnay/Viognier 2007, Claude Val Rosé 2007, Paul Mas Rosé de Syrah 2007, La Forge Estate Merlot 2007, Paul Mas Merlot 2007 and Paul Mas Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.

2006 update A few new vintages and releases from the JC Mas team, including some unusual blends and the cross-breed red variety Marselan from recently purchased organic vineyards near Pézenas. Tasted at this year's Vinisud:
2005 Sauvignon Blanc dA, Limoux - attractive crisp intense gooseberry and citrus fruit, fresh long finish. 85-87
2005 Viognier - lively and zesty showing lovely depth of rich apricot fruit and aromatic class. 89
2005 La Forge Chardonnay - attractive citrus and peach fruit underlined by subtle toast and cream flavours, good bite v weight on the finish. 90+
2005 La Forge Cabernet Sauvignon - tight focused cassis fruit, firm yet rounded mouthfeel; needs 6 months to come together, promising. 89-90?
Paul Mas 1892 (its name rather than vintage!) (Alicante, Carignan, Cinsault Grenache & Merlot) - stonky grippy palate, unusual meaty style, old fashioned chunky blend but good with it. 87-89
2004 Marselan - curranty juicy fruit, has fair depth and firm texture; different. 87
2004 Château Paul Mas, Coteaux du Languedoc - the oak's quite strong at the moment, but this displays beautiful concentration of blackberry and chocolate; tight, fine yet weighty finish. 92+
2003 Château Paul Mas, Coteaux du Languedoc - similar power v finesse with richer wilder more developed fruit. 92+
2003 Les Faisses, Coteaux du Languedoc - lovely drinking now (with rack of lamb) yet concentrated and structured enough to develop much further; full, gamey and 'sweet' with firm rounded tannins. 92-94
2005 Sauvignon Blanc dA, Limoux - attractive crisp intense gooseberry and citrus fruit, fresh long finish. 85-87
2005 Viognier - lively and zesty showing lovely depth of rich apricot fruit and aromatic class. 89
2005 La Forge Chardonnay - attractive citrus and peach fruit underlined by subtle toast and cream flavours, good bite v weight on the finish. 90+
2005 La Forge Cabernet Sauvignon - tight focused cassis fruit, firm yet rounded mouthfeel; needs 6 months to come together, promising. 89-90?
Paul Mas 1892 (its name rather than vintage!) (Alicante, Carignan, Cinsault Grenache & Merlot) - stonky grippy palate, unusual meaty style, old fashioned chunky blend but good with it. 87-89
2004 Marselan - curranty juicy fruit, has fair depth and firm texture; different. 87
2004 Château Paul Mas, Coteaux du Languedoc - the oak's quite strong at the moment, but this displays beautiful concentration of blackberry and chocolate; tight, fine yet weighty finish. 92+
2003 Château Paul Mas, Coteaux du Languedoc - similar power v finesse with richer wilder more developed fruit. 92+
2003 Les Faisses, Coteaux du Languedoc - lovely drinking now (with rack of lamb) yet concentrated and structured enough to develop much further; full, gamey and 'sweet' with firm rounded tannins. 92-94

Posted January 2005. Reviews of the latest releases from this go-getting Languedoc producer and exporter. Also read my article published in the weekly trade magazine Harpers: Is there a d'Oc in the house? (towards the bottom of that page) which includes a few comments by Jean-Claude Mas.
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Vignes de Nicole, Vin de Pays d'Oc - Wow, needs time: plenty of toasty chocolate oak at the moment concealing big structure and concentration. 90+
2004 Carignan Vieilles Vignes - Tasted from barrique: lots of inky berry fruit with liquorice edges, spicy wood on the firm tight finish, yet shows plenty of nice ripe fruit to balance. Also one to watch. 87+
2004 Claudeval/Domaine de Nicole rosé (Syrah Grenache Cinsault) - Attractive rose petal and strawberry style, quite chunky fruit with a touch of crispness; nice quaffer. Try with tomato and avocado salad. Less than £4. 85
2004 dA Marsanne, Vin de Pays (sourced from the Limoux area) - Attractive honeysuckle aromas, zesty depth with fair concentration of waxy honeyed fruit too; should be rather good in a few months time. 85-87
2003 Ile de Conas Viognier, Michel Mas winemaker, Vin de Pays d'Oc - Quite fat yet flowery apricot fruit; however, this also has lovely bite and length balancing the weighty mouthfeel. Under £6 at Asda. 87-90
2004 La Forge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Vin de Pays d'Oc - Vat sample: lovely balance of riper yet tangy blackcurrant fruit and liquorice edges, firm rounded tannins; will be super in a few months. 90+
2004 La Forge Estate Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc (40% sourced from Limoux, 60% from 'warm' climate vineyards) - Rich and creamy yet aromatic with fresh peach and pear fruit, more toffee-ish in the mouth but has crisp bite and length too. Yum, a bargain too at £5-6. Asda does the Ile La Forge label for £4.99! 90
2003 Les Faisses, Jean Claude Mas, Coteaux du Languedoc (Syrah Grenache) - Light cedar aromas underneath pure ripe blackcurrant, closed firm palate showing greater elegance than the Vinus, good depth of fruit v solid tannins, very long. Needs time to open up. 90-92
2004 Pinot Noir, Vin de Pays d'Oc - Tasted from barrique: not showing much on the nose, but the palate offers nice youthful cherry fruit set against a tight acid structure; you can see some savoury character underneath, wrapped in not too heavy chocolate oak. Could be good: 85-87. Aldi is now selling Ile la Forge Pinot Noir at £4.99.
2004 Sauvignon Blanc, Vin de Pays d'Oc - Plenty of zingy grapefruit and gooseberry, shows nice balance of green v riper fruit, mineral v fatter palate, crisp length. 86-88
2002 Vinus de Jean Claude Mas, Coteaux du Languedoc (Syrah Grenache) - Hints of cedar mingle with ripe rustic fruit, very grippy and structured set against attractive rounded liquorice fruit, power v elegance on the finish. Very good for 2002, not a great vintage here. 90+


From "Previous wines of the moment" tasted July 2004
2003 Arrogant Frog Ribet Red, Vin de Pays d'Oc (13.5% Screwcap Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon) - Offers a touch of spicy oak, aromatic blackcurrant and cherry fruit, alcohol and some complex earthy notes on the nose; full fruity and spicy leading to firm bite, yet it's drinking well now and will roll out nicely with 6-12 months in bottle. I like your style. 87
2003 Hidden Hill Captivating Chardonnay Viognier, Vin de Pays d'Oc (13% Screwcap) - Fresh aromatic nectarine and apricot nose, nice zesty extract and zingy fruit, lively style and finish. 85-87

2003 Hidden Hill Charismatic Cabernet Shiraz, Vin de Pays d'Oc (13% Screwcap) - Needs a little air... then opens up to reveal spicy blackcurrant, cherry and elderberry fruit; tangy fruity palate finishing with a bit of grip and length. Appears to be suffering a little from "young red under screwcap" syndrome, i.e. displaying reductive notes in the background. 84-86

2003 Hidden Hill Memorable Merlot, Vin de Pays d'Oc (13% Screwcap) - Quite memorable: aromatic cherry, plum and raisin fruit with a tangy twist; reasonably firm palate to start but softens out, especially with food. Appears to be suffering a little from "young red under screwcap" syndrome, i.e. displaying reductive notes in the background. 84-86

2003 Hidden Hill Scintillating Sauvignon Blanc, Vin de Pays d'Oc (12% Screwcap) - Grassy gooseberry aromas lead to a tangy citrus palate, soft acidity adds a touch of crispness; not so scintillating but pleasantly easy going if kept well chilled. 80-83
2003 La Forge Estate Merlot, Vin de Pays d'Oc (13% Unfiltered) - Lovely nose showing rich smoky rustic black cherry and plum fruit touched up with aromatic oak, pretty dense and concentrated with nice thick tannins and fruit leaving a coating in the mouth; modern and chunky yet classical style balancing alcohol, power and subtlety. Bargain at £5.99. 90-92

Domaine de Nicole, Route de Villeveyrac, 34120 Montagnac. Tel: 04 67 90 16 10, paulmas.com / arrogantfrog.fr.


10 November 2011

Southern French reds @ Marks & Spencer's

Half-a-dozen new releases or new vintages of old M&S favourite reds gleaned from a sweeping swathe of the big south, taking in the Languedoc, Roussillon, Provence and Rhone Valley and all sampled and savoured at their recent London tasting (nice newish HQ building by the way).

2010 Old Vines Grenache Noir, Roussillon - Vindivin (14% alc.): sexy ripe sweet juicy Grenache nose and palate, soft liquorice vs peppery punchy side, lush mouth-feel with a bit of grip vs pure fruity pleasure. £6.99
2008 Cuvée Extrême, Côtes du Roussillon Villages - Vignerons Catalans (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan; 14.5%): spicy vs maturing nose, quite rich and big with a touch of 'old wood' grain, powerful and grippy vs sweet / spicy fruit finishing with meaty edges too. That 14.5 alc. is a little hot but this has plenty of flavour to counter it! £9.99 150 stores.
Profile and Catalan wines tasted previously.
2007 L'Etoile de Romanin, Les Baux de Provence - Château Romanin (Mourvèdre, Cabernet, Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault; 14%): interesting cocktail of varieties conjuring up a seductive smoky nose and palate, liquorice vs cassis fruit and savoury meaty and black olive tones as well; grip and power vs concentrated mouth-feel, attractive raisin vs olive flavours, lovely style balance and class. Dear though at £13.99 (150 stores), which is pretty typical of rich men's club and small production Baux de Provence. They sell most of it to well-off Parisians with holiday villas in twee places like St. Rémy de Provence. Jealous, moi...
2009 Crozes-Hermitage, northern Rhône - Domaine Collonge (actually made by Philippe and Vincent Jaboulet; 100% Syrah, 13% alc.): quite closed up on the nose, leads on to delicious Syrah spice style with dark cherry fruit and meaty edges, concentrated with dry grip vs lovely white peppery and fruity finish, rounded vs lively; well-balanced and classy. £12.99 in 150 stores.
2009 Saint-Josephnorthern Rhône - Cave de St-Désirat (100% Syrah, 12.5%): quirkier herbal-leaning nose moving on to lusher mouth-feel with dark vs savoury profile, chunky and more structured vs sweet peppery fruit then maturing meaty notes; much firmer finish than above but still good. £12.99 80 stores.
2009 Fitou Reserve, Languedoc - Château de Montmal / Cave de Mont Tauch (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan; 13.5%): nice spicy black cherry and sweet liquorice vs smoky tobacco and volatile balsamic notes; powerful solid palate with tasty concentrated fruit, lush and lively with ripe maturing finish. Well-made attractive chunky style although very much a special-occasion red at the price: £12.99 on-line only.

Click here and here for a couple of M&S southern French whites. And here for a couple of hearty Australian "reds of the mo" from Rhone / Med grape varieties...