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

29 June 2011

Guest article by Elliot Majere

"How to find the best red wine for you..."

"There's no one size fits all approach to red wine and one person's idea of the perfect tipple may be absolutely undrinkable to someone else. Red wine is, to most people, something of an acquired taste in itself and it can be difficult to get to grips with all those rich flavours and bold tannins. While many beginners to the world of wine will have little difficulty finding a white wine that suits their taste, reds present much more of a challenge, but once you have discovered the types of wine that work for you, you will be on track to a lifetime of exciting wine discoveries. Most people who dislike red wine do so because of the perceived 'heaviness' of the drink, which is particularly true of very tannic wines, such as the famous French Clarets.
However, while many red wines are indeed a little overwhelming on the palate, there are plenty of more easy drinking red wines on the market that are often a better introduction to the genre. While French wine is considered by many people to be the 'best' wine, this is simply a matter of taste and many red wine drinkers find that the typical French wine is too heady by half and that the wines of the New World are easier to drink.
The New World is certainly the best place to look for light or medium-bodied reds with a fruity flavour that can make them deliciously drinkable. With comparatively low tannin levels and relatively high sugar content, these wines - sometimes described as 'fruit forward' - often appeal to people who think they don't like red wine. Dismissed by snootier sections of the wine world, at their best they can be very good indeed, are generally easy-drinking and make good party wines. Generally made from Pinot Grapes, some good examples of this type of wine are emerging from California.
For something that is a little bolder, without being overwhelmingly tannic, you might want to consider the earthy wines such as Pinot Noir and Syrah. French wine from the Rhone region also produces noteworthy earthy wines. These wines are generally medium bodied or medium-full bodied and have notes that are denser than the fruitier wines. If you are planning a dinner party, an earthy wine is often a good bet, as these tend to pair very well with a wide range of foods.
If you are in the market for something bolshier still, you will enjoy experimenting with bold, full-bodied wines (the two terms essentially mean the same thing and 'big' is another term used to describe this type of wine). The classic grape for making full bodied wine is Cabernet Sauvignon, but French wine is not the only type that falls into this category. Far from it. An Argentinean Malbec can be a seriously bold wine, while Zinfandel grapes also make some seriously big wines.
When it comes to enjoying wine, half the fun is in experimenting with different styles and taste profiles. Once you find something that truly appeals, ask your wine dealer for recommended similar bottles and you will soon be developing a knack for finding wines that will suit you."

Text by Elliot Majere with sponsored links (EveryWine). WineWriting.com does not vouch for the contents of this article.

Roussillon: Domaine Vinci, Estagel / Espira de l'Agly

Latest vintages, new wines and some old favourites from Domaine Vinci tasted on different occasions in 2013. Sulphite levels mentioned, not for geek value but because some people are interested. The trend for recent vintages onwards of Olivier and Emmanuelle's wines is "no added sulphites, no fining or filtering" for reds and just low sulphite additions to whites. Read on for much more...

2009 Rafalot (late 19th century Carignan; total sulphites 6 mg/l) – wild smoky and dark with liquorice vs crunchier fruit profile, lush and extracted although with nice tannins and sweet fruit.
2008 Coyade white (75% Macabeu plus Carignan blanc and Grenache blanc; 8 mg/l SO2) – floral Fino sherry and hazelnut nose, appley with intense bite and length vs creamy lees texture and power, complex finish.
2008 Inferno (Grenache, 9 mg/l SO2) – 13% abv with a little residual sugar. Maury-esque with dried smoky fruit, punchy yet has fresh bite too. Wow.
2012 Roc (Grenache, Carignan; aged in vat only) – juicy fruity cassis and liquorice, tasty crunchy vs riper fruit finish with a little bite.
2011 Roc (Mourvèdre, Carignan) – darker fruit and funkier profile, smoky with black olive notes, firmer fuller finish.
Where to get them: jump to the bottom of this long page.

Update May/June 2011. Read on below for a Vinci profile and notes/reviews spanning 2007 to 2010 (years, that is, not vintages). I caught up with co-owner cum winegrower/maker Olivier Varichon at the first ‘natural’ wine fair held in London (click there for more info) and tried/retried these little 'natural' gems (again, scroll down for detail on varieties, where from, where available etc.), judged with the now world-famous 1-2-3 'scoring system' (see blurb, right hand column):
2006 Coyade white – maturing appley nutty aromas/flavours, rounded and creamy mouth-feel vs still crisp and zingy, very nice now. 1-2
2006 Rafalot red – maturing dried fruits with savoury vs liquorice tones, delicious complex fruit with style and balance. 2-3
2007 Rafalot red – ripe cherry and liquorice, concentrated and lush vs crunchy side, lovely tannins and length. 2
2005 Coste red – resin-y wild edges vs concentrated sweet dark liquorice-tinged fruit, then meaty tones on its long powerful yet classy finish. 2-3
2009 Coste rosé (Mourvèdre, Carignan) – powerful Bandol rosé style, zesty with light red fruits vs oomph and rounder finish. 1-2

You'll find Olivier Varichon and Emmanuelle Vinci's garage-cellar cum office located, unobtrusively, on the main road out of Estagel heading towards Maury. But call first if you want to visit, as they're just as likely to be elsewhere lost among their different parcels of vineyard in the Agly Valley. These four plots all have their own identity and each wine is named after them, whether a varietal or blend. In total, seven hectares are planted with Macabeu, Grenache Blanc and Carignan Blanc (now rare) for the whites; and red Grenache, Carignan (some of which dates back to the late 19th Century - see below) and a not bad amount of Mourvèdre too.
Olivier explained his philosophy: "we decided to work only with so-called local varieties to avoid any style homogenisation by having Syrah or others like Cabernet Sauvignon." All their wines are labelled as vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes, as "appellation laws are restrictive and a typically French absurdity!" coming from a slightly anarchic French winemaker, who did admittedly work in the wine biz in London for several years. He carried on letting off steam: "French wine regulations are a lung cancer for any business, and the AOC system just makes it more confusing for wine consumers. We need to keep it simple using branding and prioritising education on the Roussillon region and its wines."
The following frank comments have been taken out of context a little, due to lack of space, but you get his point: "Honesty isn't the grape-growing industry's forte, so how can you recommend a label that unfortunately doesn't necessarily reflect what the wine or terroir really is. Apologies for sticking the boot in to our viticultural hypocrisy!" Vinci's vineyards are farmed organically as "by and large, the environment gives us the freedom to. But being organic in the vineyard doesn't necessarily mean quality wine. You've got to follow through with the same logic..."


Wines below were tasted in March 2007 (and read on for annual updates, latest from Oct. 2010): all priced €20 in France; also available in the UK (approx £25, see bottom of page), Switzerland and Belgium.
2004 Coyade blanc - fresh floral tones set on hazelnut richness, nice mixture of oily rounded palate v zesty lemon and mineral bite. 87-89
2005 Coyade blanc (just bottled) - fresher chalkier style, milky with light toast v nice crispness, riper softer fruit than the 04; needs a few months to open up. 87-89
2004 Coste (Mourvèdre Carignan) - attractive dark fruit with black olive and gamey edges; herbal v 'sweet' flavours, elegant and ripe with tangy freshness v liquorice finish. 88-90
2004 Rafalot (Carignan, some of which dates from 1889!) - a bit smokier with more chocolate/coconut notes, perfumed black cherry/currant fruit; tighter firmer and more intense, fine length with light choc coating, needs a few years to express itself. 89-91
2004 Inferno (
Grenache at altitude) - a little closed up with light perfumed cherry, spice and liquorice; tighter palate still, lovely freshness and bite v power and rounded fruit, great length. 91-93
2006 Mourvèdre (vat sample) - deliciously perfumed fruit with black olive notes, fresh and peppery with pretty ripe tannins. Promising.


Vinci update 2009: I called in on loquacious and enthusiastic Olivier at the cellar in March and tasted, well, just about everything in tank and barrel plus the latest vintage releases in bottle! Very worthwhile trip that confirmed they - Olivier and Emmanuelle - really are making some of the most exciting wines in the Roussillon.
2006 Coyade white (Macabeu Grenache blanc Carignan blanc, 13.5%) - they blend the must of these three varieties before fermentation, unusually, let it settle out then drain into barriques for 12 months followed by 8 months in stainless tanks. Lightly toasty vs exotic and fat then dry and crisp; tight palate closing up a little, quite fine actually with appley tones vs yeast-lees richness, coconut spice and aniseed finish. 88+
2005 Coyade white - quirky maturing hazelnut and real cider aromas vs still perfumed floral and peachy; yeast-lees fatness vs steely, mineral, almost salty bite; full-bodied with oily texture, tasty and still quite fresh with very dry finish, spicy apple and aniseed too. 87-89
2006 La Coste (Mourvèdre Carignan 13%) - smoky liquorice and black olive tones; juicy and rich with nice crunchy fruit vs firm punchy mouthfeel, well-structured yet quite silky too with rustic fruit and wild herbs vs fine lively finish. 90
2006 Rafalot (very old Carignan, 13.5%) - perfumed floral blueberry, cassis and black cherry fruit vs smoky tobacco edges; delicious cherry fruit, very concentrated with tight acid / tannin framework although still attractively rounded, spicy long finish with lovely lingering wild fruit / herb cocktail. 92+
2007 Inferno (
Grenache tasted from 6 year-old barriques, will spend up to 18 months total, 14%) - toffee-ish & liquorice aromas turning meaty and savoury vs underlying 'sweetness'; chunky tannins vs fresh acidity, very dry long and promising finish. 90-92
2007 Rafalot (from barrel, 13%) - wild fruits with tobacco tinges, again meaty vs crunchy juicy fruit then floral cassis on the finish; delicious firm and dry palate with enticing coating of fruit and tannins, very long and quite fine really. 92+
2007 Mourvèdre - smoky yet perfumed with black olive notes, lovely liquorice fruit vs tangier and wilder side; very firm texture at the moment although has nice meaty concentration and dark fruit finish. Superb although not to everyone's taste! 93-95
2008 Rafalot and Inferno were both looking very good with dense fruit and fine dry silky tannins and 'sweet vs savoury' style. I look forward to trying all the 2008s again after a bit of barrel ageing.
2004 Coste (Mourvèdre Carignan) - powerful, complex, spicy and earthy with wild herb and savoury/leathery dark olive notes vs lively cassis & blueberry fruit; punchy palate with fresh acidity and dry bite still vs juicy spicy fruit, big and rounded turning savoury vs dark chocolate on the finish. Dense mouthful of wine yet multifaceted and maturing nicely into a kind of traditional Bandol style. Good with pan-fried lamb steak. 88-90


2010 updates
1. Olivier had the following new and older 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. That was back in April at Domaine Gayda's impressive winery & restaurant complex found between Limoux and Castelnaudary. Refer to wines above for varieties, as they do more or less the same blends each year for each wine; hence the name of a wine = the name of the parcel.
2006 Coyade white - wild lees-edged nose with intense hazelnut and aniseed; concentrated and lively vs oily nutty texture, powerful and long. Lovely. 88-90
2005 Coste - very meaty with black olive notes, smoky and rich vs grip; very nice now although still pretty solid. 89-91

2004 Rafalot (sampled a few weeks earlier at a tasting of 100% Carignans) - slightly grainy tones vs quite lush blueberry, smoky earthy vs rich and spicy; nice rounded fruity mouth-feel yet still structured and quite tight, maturing vs punchy with subtle depth and spicy finish. 89+
2007 Rafalot (sampled a few weeks earlier at a tasting of 100% Carignans) - quite pungent reduced nose at first (had just been bottled I think), which did slowly lift off revealing juicy "sweet" fruit vs crunchier herby spicy profile; again concentrated and powerful, hopefully that "awkward" side should sort itself out in bottle...
2007 Rafalot - still a touch reduced or something on the nose. Moves on to lively crunchy berry fruit, concentrated and chunky with "sweet/savoury" profile, spicy and firm with tight finish needing 2-3 years to open up. Wow. 88-90
2007 Inferno - rich almost cooked nose, concentrated and meaty/leather with grippy solid mouth-feel vs lush and full-bodied. 90
2006 Rafalot - smoky liquorice notes vs cassis and blueberry; more elegant firm vs ripe profile, nice balance of full-on vs restrained. 90+


2. October 2010
Olivier and Emmanuelle had just finished picking when we called by, with Olivier describing it as a rather stressful and short vintage, to say the least. "We lost a lot this year," slightly gloomy but nevertheless characteristically enthusiastic, "...less than 50% of what we usually get!" This was thanks to strange weather throughout the growing season with huge wind during flowering (let alone the snow I've mentioned a few times beforehand back in March) followed by a vicious hailstorm followed by drought! Challenging, this winegrower/maker thing, even in a supposedly ideal climate for wine grapes. Apart from tasting some of their 2006/07/08 reds, it was also great to try four vintages of Vinci's Coyade (the 09 from barrel) side by side, which give me good reason to think this lovely white is already a Roussillon classic...
2006 Coyade (Macabeu/Grenache Blanc/Carignan Blanc 14%) - maturing nutty rich and exotic nose with nice lees edges, towards Riesling "petrol-y" almost too! Lush oily and mealy palate vs "mineral" aniseed and peach stone notes, developing well yet still has a certain freshness keeping it relatively youthful. 89-91
2007 (13%) - much less golden in colour with yeastier and lightly toastier tones; tighter less developed palate, intricate lees notes and very lively crisp and steely finish; nice balance of mouth-watering vs concentrated showing promise, needs a year to express itself. 89-91
2008 (just bottled) - closed up estery nose, more floral and nutty too; very crisp "mineral" mouth-feel with appley notes vs oily texture vs creamy toasty and hazelnut, closes up on the finish. Again v. promising, think quite fine Burgundy! 89+
2009 - quite yeasty nose (obviously), lovely and complex though; full-bodied buttery and nutty with nice refreshing balance, aniseed and mineral undertones vs quite lush finish. Could be pretty sensational... 90-92
2007 Rafalot (very old Carignan) - spicy and aromatic with wild fruits vs meaty earthy edges; quite lush vs complex (sulphide?) notes and crunchy berries, long and tight vs full and developing. 89-91
2006 - smokier with more tobacco and liquorice, spicy too; delicious "sweet/savoury" palate with attractive juicy vs dry texture, lovely tannins and maturing fruit. 92+
2006 Coste (Mourvèdre Carignan) - gorgeous nose, wild smoky and ripe with meaty leather touches yet still aromatic as well; intense concentrated mouth-feel with tasty meaty texture/flavour vs "sweet" and rounded vs dry finish. Star red. 92-94
2008 (100% Mourvèdre this vintage!) - wild aromatic and earthy with ripe black olive, liquorice, leather and pepper; firm and taut palate, intense and lively though with rich fruit underneath vs tight "chalky" finish. Promising too. 90-92+

2008 Inferno (Grenache) - very ripe and powerful nose, peppery and Porty almost; crazy wine, punchy and rich with lots of liquorice and pepper plus a touch of underlying wood grain. Wow: very popular with the Brits, I'm told! A bit OTT on its own but worth a go, has plenty of flavour for sure in a dry Maury way!

Domaine Vinci's wines are available in London from Swig, Eminent Wines, Aubert & Mascoli and the Wine Library for about £25-£30 a bottle. US distributor: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant CA.
19 avenue du Dr Torreilles, 66310 Estagel. Tel: 04.68.52.04.99 / mobile: 06.18.49.11.21, www.domainevinci.com.

Roussillon: Domaine Matassa, Calce

Updated March 2014 - see below.

Matassa is the name of the first vineyard bought in 2002 by Tom Lubbe (originally from South Africa although has worked in a few countries), his wife Nathalie (Gérard Gauby's sister) and Sam Harrop MW (a New Zealander winemaking consultant based in London); which is now part of 14 biodynamically farmed ha (35 acres) located roughly in two spots. Around the village of Calce, where they live and where the cellar is, and a fair way west of here near Le Viviers on the Fenouilledes hills at over 500 metres altitude. Tom is rather sceptical about 'appellation' and prefers to label their wines as vin de pays (now IGP) Côtes Catalanes, which he believes "... has more resonance for us and others around here."
I took that comment and the ones in this paragraph from a survey done over three years ago, so he might have changed his mind on some of these ideas; but I doubt it (read on for more views in the 2011/13 updates below). When asked about plans afoot in the region to create new 'cru' appellation zones, he said: "I think more bureaucracy is not so desirable, but that particular villages or areas will create, re-create their own identities for the future." Arguably, this is already happening in Calce (Matassa, Gauby, Padié, Pithon etc). And on the topic of organics, is it really a major asset for the Roussillon in particular? "It should be," but obviously still difficult to convince everyone...

I tasted this first batch of wines with Tom at Millésime Bio wine fair 2010 in Montpellier. The "three trees" wines are a new, earlier drinking (and less expensive) range, by the way.
2009 three trees blanc (Macabeu, Carignan blanc, Vermentino) - nice juicy leesy style with lively crisp finish. 85
2008 Marguerite blanc (Muscat, Viognier) - very intense mineral notes vs rich exotic and spicy aromas/flavours; lovely length and bite vs concentrated fruit and creamy lees tones. 89+
2008 Matassa blanc (Grenache gris, Macabeu) - nutty cider aromas with again that intense mineral side vs oily, concentrated peachy and peppery. Wow. 90-92
2009 three trees Cabernet Franc - reduced notes on the nose (not a finished wine sample) but has attractive, spicy, leafy, tobacco edges and red fruit cocktail; appealing "sweet" vs spicy/savoury finish. 85+
2009 three trees Grenache / Carignan - enticing lively juicy style with liquorice flavours and soft peppery palate. 85+
2007 Romanissa rouge - also a tad reduced, leading on to firmer closed up palate; yet again shows delicious spicy liquorice leather and wild berry notes, intense powerful finish needing 1 to 2 years to come together. 90+
2006 Romanissa (mostly Grenache & Carignan + Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon) - slightly wild, volatile and complex nose; intense concentrated berries and spice, a tad of background oak adding texture, lively peppery finish turning meaty/savoury with hints of leather. 90-92


Update May/June 2011:
I caught up with Tom at the first ‘natural’ wine fair held in London (click there for more info). On the much talked-about issue of 'low-sulphite' winemaking (yawn), the show organiser wrote this in the catalogue: “For us, low sulphite levels means that the grower is ultimately aiming to add little or no SO2 (sulphur dioxide) at all… dependant (sic.) on the year.” Tom told me he sets a more technical level for this at “less than 20 milligrams per litre total SO2 in bottle,” which is readily measurable in a lab and about one-fifth to one-tenth of what might be in a ‘normal’ wine (and permitted). It's worth adding that all wine contains some sulphites, even if no SO2 is added, as a natural by-product of fermentation etc. Tom also talked about copper based treatments, the traditional ‘natural’ choice for combating e.g. a particular type of mildew, as copper (present in the human organism in minute quantities but toxic at higher levels) can hang around and pollute rivers. “In a well-run organic or biodynamic vineyard (i.e. not using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, working the soil in the old-fashioned way etc.), you don’t see a build up of copper… or a desert effect…” as a living soil manages to diffuse these solutions. And something else missing from the NWF’s manifesto is sulphur itself, which is also a mainstay of organic viticulture in a ‘natural’ form.

These wines are priced from about £6 to £20 in the UK, available via their agent Les Caves de Pyrène. Reviews feature my new 1 to 3 "scoring" system (see right hand column for explanation).
2009 Three Trees Le Cayrol white (Macabeu, Rolle, Chenin Blanc) – zesty mineral side with nutty edges, juicy fruit palate with fairly delicate yet tight finish. 1
2009 Three Trees Metairie Brugens red (Cabernet Franc) – herbal red pepper and soy sauce notes, juicy fruity vs crisper finish. 1
2009 Marguerite white (Muscat, Viognier) – quite rich and exotic peach/apricot fruit vs appley twist and mineral bite, attractive combo of these two varieties with fair substance too. 1-2
2008 Domaine Matassa white (Grenache gris, Macabeu) – toastier and ‘fatter’ with enticing hazelnut edges, tangy and intense too with good concentration, dry long and exciting finish. 2-3
2006 Domaine Matassa ‘Romanissa’ red (Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon) – maturing savoury nose with rich dried fruit, firm vs ‘sweet’ palate with a touch of grainy tannin and grip vs lovely maturing fruit. 2+
2008 L’Estanya red (Carignan) – intense ‘sweet/savoury’ style, black vs crunchier blue fruit cocktail, perfumed vs liquorice finish. 1+

Update: 2011 vintages sampled with Tom in London in 2013:
2011 Marguerite blanc (Muscat, Macabeu; total sulphites 12 mg/l) – nutty 'Fino' and apple notes, intense and tangy getting creamier and more hazelnut on the finish, long bite and quite elegant too.
2011 Matassa blanc (Grenache gris, Macabeu) - yeast lees notes and intense with aromatic vs richer fruit, concentrated and lush vs lees-y and appley bite, tasty and very long finish.
2011 Matassa red (Carignan, Lladoner Pelut, Mourvèdre and other varieties) - smoky yet 'inky', pretty wild fruity with soft blue fruits, pure and intense with nice freshness on the finish too.

Previous Matassa wines here (Vinisud show 2006).

10 Route d'Estagel, 66600 CalceTel: 04.68.64.10.13, www.matassawine.com.

24 June 2011

Montpellier / Béziers area restaurants & wine bars

(Read on for listings at the bottom)

1. Les Caves de Trinque Fougasse
Trinque Fougasse is a lively Montpellier wine bar and restaurant institution, and I finally  went there not so long ago having tried at least once in the past but couldn't find it! Montpellier isn't the easiest of cities to navigate your way around, for the uninitiated non-local (well, I did live nearby for six months going back a few years) - especially with yet more serious roadworks currently underway thanks to the latest ambitious tram-line extensions (a good thing of course, when all completed...) - and Trinque Fougasse is found a bit of a way north of the centre lurking among university buildings etc. Anyway, it's worth the trek for its usually buzzing atmosphere, fairly huge wine selection from the Languedoc & Roussillon and no-nonsense hearty Med food.

Click to view YouTube video of new summer platter

They describe their cuisine as "ni gastronomique ni cantine" meaning it's somewhere inbetween: not trying to be fancy or pretentious but certainly not school dinners and still good quality. Set menu options include: at lunchtime, the day's special for 12€ or for 14€  combine it with a starter or dessert; or go the whole hog and have 3 dishes for 16€. The kind of thing they're good at is tasty charcuterie - cured hams and sausage - mussels, tapenade and brandade (olive paste, very garlicky mashed salt cod and spud), sizzling squid on a hotplate, beef tartare and steaks, "Emincé de magret," a kind of cottage pie but with duck, cheeses from the south etc. They do a large combo-platter including some of these dishes plus homemade orange gâteau for 20 euros at lunchtime and 25 euros for dinner.
As you go in, you pass through their wine shop so can browse the wine list on the shelf (not actually a huge difference in price between drinking it in or carry out, from memory), and they have a bigger range available for sale on-line. TF also organizes regular tasting events with winegrowers showing and talking about their own wines, run a mini wine school and hold jazz evenings etc.
1581 route de Mende, 34090 Montpellier. Tel: 04 99 23 27 00, and lots more info @ trinquefougasse.com.

More restaurants & wine bars reviewed or mentioned on this blog:

2. Folia restaurant @ Ch de Flaugergues - Montpellier
3. chez Paul[e] - Montpellier
4. Chez Boris - Montpellier
5. La Raffinerie - Béziers
6. Le Chameau Ivre - Béziers
7. La Distillerie - Saint Marcel sur Aude

8. Marie-Jean - Sète

9. Le Plaisance - Bourg, Bordeaux.

19 June 2011

Australia: Grenache

In keeping with my self-confessed ‘Mediterranean’ theme, and confronted with an enormous amount of Australian wines up for tasting at the London International Wine Fair last month, I decided to seek out that seductive favourite, Grenache. I tend to disagree, by the way, with those who insist on calling Grenache and associated grapes “Rhone varieties.” Okay, Syrah, yes; and there is a lot of Grenache planted in the southern Rhone Valley. But let’s not forget it’s a Spanish variety, Garnacha, and very Med in origin. Ditto Mourvèdre / Monastrell / Mataro, which definitely isn’t a Rhone variety although did, of course, also migrate further north in Europe and overseas.
Back to Australia and Grenache, there’s some history here with a handful of producers who can boast plantings of some really old vines. As you’ll see from the first wine below, Barossa-based Yalumba uses a labelling charter to classify that rather vague term ‘old-vine,’ which is being adopted by other wineries in the region. So, “Old Vine” = 35+ years of age, “Survivor Vine” = 70+ years, “Centurion Vine” = 100+ and “Ancestor Vine” = over 125 years old! All of the Grenache and Grenache blends I found on show come from Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in South Australia, which is probably part history and part climate/soils.
It’s believed the first vines were planted in or near Barossa in 1842 and, fittingly for my theme here, the word comes from the Barrosa Ridge in Andalusia, Spain; although these winegrowing settlers weren’t Spanish but German (from Silesia) and English. This area is still phylloxera-free hence how plots have survived as knotted old bush vines on their own roots. However, there’s only about 700 hectares (1750 acres) of Grenache in Barossa vs almost 6000 Shiraz, which has accelerated dramatically in the last 20 years. And there's about 400 ha of Grenache in McLaren, which was established around the same time and is a smaller region than Barossa. Grenache champions such as Chester Osborn (pictured top) of the d’Arenberg family winery have been restoring abandoned vineyards and have some 100+ year-old Grenache.
I say blends as, in general, the best/most successful wines (and the majority) I tried were in fact Grenache with Syrah/Shiraz and/or Mourvèdre or sometimes other combos such as Tempranillo, Carignan, Cinsault. Which reflects the French, Spanish or Californian experience, except for the occasional sensational 100% Grenache you discover here and there; but that’s not usually the norm. It’s a tidy balancing act to create something that’s rich, full of sunshine, rounded yet chunky without being too big, heady or ‘jammy’. Either way, straight or blended, in the right spot and the right hands, Grenache certainly can be transformed into exciting red wines. Here’s a couple of dozen from Australia… and there’s one rosé too...

2009 Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache, Barossa “certified old vine” (14.5% alc.) – not much nose, lightly peppery and sweet fruit, almost a bit ‘dusty’ (?); punchy mouth-feel vs soft tannins; lacks a bit of depth though vs alcohol. 1
2006 Yalumba Single Site Grenache; Moppa, Barossa (14%) – touch of vanilla oak vs maturing spicy liquorice notes, more savoury on the finish; powerful vs soft and mature texture, a tad more elegant although stills lacks a bit of concentration. 1
2006 Yalumba Single Site Grenache; Vine Vale, Barossa (14%) – a touch richer and chunkier with firmer structure vs nice ‘sweet/savoury’ fruit, again it’s maturing and soft with better integrated alcohol. 2
2009 Chapel Hill Bush Vine Grenache, McLaren Vale (15%) – perfumed and spicy, soft-ish with meaty edges and liquorice / coffee notes, touch of firm structure and punch to finish. 1
2009 Chapel Hill Mourvèdre, McLaren Vale (15%) – aromatic dark cherry and black olive, spicy and punchy with grippier palate; still quite tight and fresh/firm on the finish vs attractive sweet blackberry fruit. 2
2008 Paxton AAA Shiraz/Grenache, McLaren (14.5%) – 70% of the former: herbal minty dark cherry with sweeter lusher liquorice side, powerful yet has nice soft texture vs a touch of grip. 1-2 (£14)
2009 McGuigan The Shortlist Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre (GSM); Lyndoch, Barossa (14%) – rich and spicy black-fruit cocktail with liquorice and dark olive tones, nice grip vs ‘sweet/savoury’ fruit; well-made blend. 2 (£15 Majestic)
2009 Willunga 100 The Tithing Grenache, McLaren (14.5%) – has more Grenache character with sweet and juicy fruit vs chunkier firmer side, liquorice vs peppery with subtle oak backdrop, rich soft finish vs dry coating. 2 (Liberty Wines)
2010 Willunga 100 Grenache, McLaren (14.5%) – shows more oak adding chocolate and blackberry, nice fruit vs grip with lively finish. 1-2 (Liberty Wines)
2009 Peter Lehmann Shiraz/Grenache, Barossa (14.5%) – rich dark berry and pepper, savoury side too vs minty and wilder tones, attractive tannins vs sweet black fruit. 2
2009 Peter Lehmann Layers (Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Tempranillo), Barossa (14.5%) – more herbal berry on the nose, firmer mouth-feel vs enticing ‘sweet/savoury’ fruit and peppery punchy side; maturing vs spicy finish, quite long and powerful. 2
2008 Peter Lehmann Barossa Brunette (75% Grenache, 25 Shiraz; 14.5% alc.) – attractive sweet fruit with savoury edges, punchy and fairly firm vs lush fruit and tannins; showing a nice touch of age and interesting style. 2-3
2009 d’Arenberg The Stump Jump (GSM), McLaren (14%) – nice sweet berry and spice on the nose, quite soft vs a hint of grip, lacks a bit of depth though. 1 (slurp.com)
2008 d’Arenberg The Custodian Grenache, McLaren (14.5%) – fuller style, nice savoury edges and sweet maturing berry with liquorice and raisin notes, oomph to finish. 1-2 (Majestic)
2008 d’Arenberg The Cadenzia (Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, Cinsault), McLaren (14.5%) – livelier berry fruit, peppery too and quite subtle actually with appealing grip vs sweet tannins, enticing savoury coffee notes on the finish that wears the 14.5 well. 2 (slurp.com)
2007 d’Arenberg The Ironstone Pressings (GSM), McLaren (15%) – more obvious oak to start but it’s set on a sweet black fruit and ‘tar’ background; concentrated and peppery, still youthful actually with tight vs tasty maturing finish, again that 15% is well-integrated. 2-3 (Waitrose)
2009 Rosemount Grenache/Shiraz, SE Australia (13.5%) – nice juicy fruity blackberry style with touches of olive and savoury meaty too, soft vs dry finish; attractive easy going wine. 1
2009 Jacob’s Creek Grenache/Shiraz, SE Australia (14%) – appealing sweet liquorice fruit style, soft tannins, attractive and tasty now. £7.59
2009 S.C. Pannell Grenache, McLaren (14.5%) – rich spicy nose with meaty leather tones, concentrated and ‘oxidative’ style, still firm vs developing ‘sweet/savoury’ fruit. 2-3 (Liberty Wines)
2010 Charles Melton Rose of Virginia, Barossa (50% Grenache + Cab Sauv and others, 13% alc.) – deep colour and chunky fruit, vibrant and juicy vs creamy cherry; crisper finish, nice Med style rosé. 1+ (Liberty Wines)
2008 John Duval Wines Plexus (SGM), Barossa (14.5%) – hint of sweet oak vs vibrant black cherry, wilder spicier side too with liquorice and ‘tar’ vs savoury maturing fruit, punchy structured finish still. 2-3 (Liberty Wines)
2009 Torbreck Cuvée Juveniles GSM, Barossa (14.5%) – lovely maturing and pure sweet berry nose with hints of ‘tar’ and meaty edges, spicy berries vs ‘sweet/savoury’ profile then a touch of grip and bite to finish. 2
2008 Torbreck The Steading GSM, Barossa (15%) – again has that attractive ripe sweet side vs more structured palate, the alcohol’s a bit punchy vs maturing fruit finish. 1

Lots more Australia in the archive (top Chardy, Riesling & Shiraz etc.) and click here to view several hot Oz winemaker profiles: Yabby, Wakefield, St Hallett, Pirie, Mitchelton, Knappstein, Greenstone, Clonakilla, Paxton, Petaluma, Lehmann and more...

13 June 2011

Montpellier: Château de Flaugergues & Folia restaurant

Château de Flaugergues was no doubt once set among rolling fields basking in splendid isolation; now, it nestles somewhat incongruously in the Quartier du Millénaire just on the outskirts of the sprawling Montpellier metropolis, next door to the firestation, chain hotels and office buildings. But, as soon as you turn into their palm-tree lined driveway alongside the first plot of vines you see, it feels a bit like “let’s do the time warp again…” Ironically perhaps, this area’s name (= the millennium district) is quite fitting for a noble estate that’s notched up a few hundred years of history. Descendant Etienne de Flaugergues acquired it in 1696 and the family has occupied the place ever since. Current incumbents Brigitte and Henri de Colbert are, I understand, also relatives of Louis XIV's Finance Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, and their son Pierre is now in charge of vineyards and winery. They've restored/maintained the château, rooms and gardens keeping a period feel although they do actually live here too. They do tours around this lovely old property, including a wine tasting of course, for a small fee; and can host private receptions as well: see flaugergues.com for more info.
The de Colberts have also opened an on-site eatery called Folia, serving “market cuisine”, where I tasted most of Flaugergues’ range with Pierre and a group of other scoffing wine journos back in late March (see my notes below). The chef’s certainly making an effort to grab your attention, although personally found they were perhaps trying a little too hard to be kinda trendy fusion blah, e.g. beef stir-fry in a very lemony sauce (refreshing but what wine with that?) or ling (‘julienne’ in French, a fish I’ve never heard of in English but have come across it before in Med France) with sort-of red fruit crumble! And, call me old-fashioned, I quite like seeing and enjoying the texture of vegetables rather than everything in a puree. But certain combinations and dishes were good, especially the desserts. Set daily menu: €16 for two courses, €19.50 for three. The restaurant’s open Monday to Friday lunchtimes and for group bookings only evenings and weekends: phone (+33) (0)4 99 526 635.

Château de Flaugergues ‘Foliae’ 2010, La Méjanelle (Grenache blanc, Rolle, 12.5% alc.) – aromatic pear with quite exotic peach and pineapple flavours vs zesty/chalky texture, attractive, quite light and easy style. 1 €7
Château de Flaugergues ‘Cuvée Sommelière’ white 2010, Languedoc (Grenache blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Rolle) – a bit closed up to start, fatter mouth-feel and quite exotic fruit with lees-edged roundness; lacks a touch of acidity, it might open up and blossom. 1 €9
‘Le Vin de l’Oncle Charles’ 2007 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot) – “as it says on the label,” from his uncle’s vineyard: a bit overly chocolate oaky, nice enough sweet fruit underneath and a bargain at €3.50.
Château de Flaugergues red 2008 (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) – a tad lean maybe vs some simple berry fruit.
Château de Flaugergues ‘Les Comtes’ red 2008 (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) – quite subtle I guess, again not showing much. €6
Château de Flaugergues ‘Cuvée Sommelière’ red 2007, Grés de Montpellier (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre; 13.5%) – this one was a little closed up on the nose too – most of these wines were screw-capped, from memory, by the way – but it gets richer and spicier with tight tannins, quite classy in the end. 1-2 €9
‘Cuvée Colbert’ 2006, Grés de Montpellier (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache) – oaky although has fairly lush texture with black cherry and liquorice notes, grainy texture and again quite tightly structured vs bit of oomph. 1 €12

06 June 2011

‘Natural wine’

The first ‘natural’ wine fair (NWF) was held in London last month, and I’m certainly not the first person to go on about it or ask the inevitable question: what exactly is ‘natural’ wine? And do we need to define and label it anyway, when there already are systems and rules in place for those winegrowers/makers who want to go that extra kilometre (or ten) and get themselves certified as an organic or biodynamic producer. The NWF catalogue included a ‘Charter of Quality’ giving a few definitions:

“All grapes are, at a minimum, organic. All grapes are hand-harvested. No added yeasts. No added sugar. No rectified acidity. Basically none of the dozens of additives often found in wine, except perhaps a little sulphite (a preservative among other uses) added during fermentation or at bottling*. Some of the wines won’t have anything added at all.”

So, all sounds perfectly fair enough and commendable but nothing more than what many/most organic and all biodynamic producers already adhere to. That * clause about sulphites is perhaps one of the key things here, certainly in terms of ‘controlling’ winemaking (there’s a subtle difference between keeping the upper hand on the process and swamping a wine with technology). “A little” isn’t very specific or scientific for sure; they quantify this by adding: “For us, low sulphite levels means that the grower is ultimately aiming to add little or no SO2 (sulphur dioxide) at all… dependant (sic.) on the year.”

Tom Lubbe of Domaine Matassa in the Roussillon sets a more technical level for this at “less than 20 milligrams per litre total SO2 in bottle,” which is readily measurable in a lab and about one-fifth to one-tenth of what might be in a ‘normal’ wine (and permitted). It's worth adding that all wine contains some sulphites, even if no SO2 is added, as a natural by-product of fermentation etc. Tom also talked about copper based treatments, the traditional ‘natural’ choice for combating e.g. a particular type of mildew, as copper (present in the human organism in minute quantities but toxic at higher levels) can hang around and pollute rivers. “In a well-run organic or biodynamic vineyard (i.e. not using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, working the soil in the old-fashioned way etc.), you don’t see a build up of copper… or a desert effect…” as a living soil manages to diffuse these solutions. And something else missing from the NWF’s manifesto is sulphur itself, which is also a mainstay of organic viticulture in a ‘natural’ form.

At the end of the day, there were many exciting wines and wineries on tasting at the show, which was obviously the point. Due to lack of time, I stuck to sampling producers from the Languedoc & Roussillon, some I knew and some I didn’t, and wasn’t disappointed. But I also overheard several people who attended comment on certain wines, which were just plain ‘bad’ in the sense of very faulty, which, as Isabelle Legeron MW said - one of the event organisers along with importers Caves de Pyrene, Dynamic Vines, Aubert & Mascoli and Yapp Brothers - is always the danger. “Producing natural wine is like walking on a tight rope without a safety net. Great natural wine producers are brave men and women who dare to go against the grain of the modern wine world…”

Totally ‘natural’ wines, e.g. SO2 free, can easily include all the undesirable stuff too, the stuff that makes wine behave, look, smell or taste odd, unstable or ‘off’; such as wild spoilage yeasts, uninhibited oxidation or excessive acetic bacteria. You could argue whether it really matters if a natural product contains these things that come with nature; but, if left unchecked, it’s about the difference between a wine tasting good, complex, wholesome or even quirky and teetering over the edge into not nice. A common character I’ve noticed on ‘natural’ white wines is a kind of ‘real-cider’ aroma/flavour, which can be attractive if not over the top (i.e. verging on cider vinegar). But I don’t think it suits a red wine. Like balancing those sometimes complex, wild, smoky or almost leather/‘animal’ notes vs a red that smells of farm compost.

Profiles and notes on these sampled estates to follow on my other blog (where you'll find this same post, as it applies to all wines and winemakers of course) over the coming weeks: Matassa, Enfants Sauvages, Vinci, Ferrer-Ribiere, Clos Perdus, Ledogar, Clos Fantine, Les Eminades, Clos Gravillas, d’Aupilhac, Sénat, Alain Chabanon, Daumas Gassac, Mas Bruguiere.
 

‘Natural wine’

The first ‘natural’ wine fair (NWF) was held in London last month, and I’m certainly not the first person to go on about it or ask the inevitable question: what exactly is ‘natural’ wine? And do we need to define and label it anyway, when there already are systems and rules in place for those winegrowers/makers who want to go that extra kilometre (or ten) and get themselves certified as an organic or biodynamic producer. The NWF catalogue included a ‘Charter of Quality’ giving a few definitions:


“All grapes are, at a minimum, organic. All grapes are hand-harvested. No added yeasts. No added sugar. No rectified acidity. Basically none of the dozens of additives often found in wine, except perhaps a little sulphite (a preservative among other uses) added during fermentation or at bottling*. Some of the wines won’t have anything added at all.”


All sounds perfectly fair enough and commendable but nothing more than what many/most organic and all biodynamic producers already adhere to. That * clause about sulphites is perhaps one of the key things here, certainly in terms of ‘controlling’ winemaking (there’s a subtle difference between keeping the upper hand on the process and swamping a wine with technology). “A little” isn’t very specific or scientific for sure; they quantify this by adding: “For us, low sulphite levels means that the grower is ultimately aiming to add little or no SO2 (sulphur dioxide) at all… dependant (sic.) on the year.”


Tom Lubbe of Domaine Matassa in the Roussillon sets a more technical level for this at “less than 20 milligrams per litre total SO2 in bottle,” which is readily measurable in a lab and about one-fifth to one-tenth of what might be in a ‘normal’ wine (and permitted). It's worth adding that all wine contains some sulphites, even if no SO2 is added, as a natural by-product of fermentation etc. Tom also talked about copper based treatments, the traditional ‘natural’ choice for combating e.g. a particular type of mildew, as copper (present in the human organism in minute quantities but toxic at higher levels) can hang around and pollute rivers. “In a well-run organic or biodynamic vineyard (i.e. not using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, working the soil in the old-fashioned way etc.), you don’t see a build up of copper… or a desert effect…” as a living soil manages to diffuse these solutions. And something else missing from the NWF’s manifesto is sulphur itself, which is also a mainstay of organic viticulture in a ‘natural’ form.


At the end of the day, there were many exciting wines and wineries on tasting at the show, which was obviously the point. Due to lack of time, I stuck to sampling producers from the Languedoc & Roussillon, some I knew and some I didn’t, and wasn’t disappointed. But I also overheard several people who attended comment on certain wines, which were just plain ‘bad’ in the sense of very faulty, which, as Isabelle Legeron MW said - one of the event organisers along with importers Caves de Pyrene, Dynamic Vines, Aubert & Mascoli and Yapp Brothers - is always the danger. “Producing natural wine is like walking on a tight rope without a safety net. Great natural wine producers are brave men and women who dare to go against the grain of the modern wine world…”


Totally ‘natural’ wines, e.g. SO2 free, can easily include all the undesirable stuff too, the stuff that makes wine behave, look, smell or taste odd, unstable or ‘off’; such as wild spoilage yeasts, uninhibited oxidation or excessive acetic bacteria. You could argue whether it really matters if a natural product contains these things that come with nature; but, if left unchecked, it’s about the difference between a wine tasting good, complex, wholesome or even quirky and teetering over the edge into not nice. A common character I’ve noticed on ‘natural’ white wines is a kind of ‘real-cider’ aroma/flavour, which can be attractive if not over the top (i.e. verging on cider vinegar). But I don’t think it suits a red wine. Like balancing those sometimes complex, wild, smoky or almost leather/‘animal’ notes vs a red that smells of farm compost.


See winery A to Z for profiles and notes on these Languedoc & Roussillon estates sampled at the fair: Matassa, Enfants Sauvages, Vinci, Ferrer-Ribiere, Clos Perdus, Ledogar, Clos Fantine, Les Eminades, Clos Gravillas, d’Aupilhac, Sénat, Alain Chabanon, Daumas Gassac, Mas Bruguiere.

02 June 2011

Languedoc: Minervois & Muscat

“What, no reds?” is possibly the first thought that permeates your enquiring mind, but Minervois is also a little corner of Muscat heaven in the Languedoc. Especially the stunningly back-dropped lost little corner of Saint-Jean de Minervois, a blink-and-miss-it village lying “out there” on the northeastern edge of the appellation roughly between St-Chinian (town) and awesomely Mediaeval Minerve itself (a must-see in the area). Here they grow (100% ‘Petit Grain’ variety, AKA Muscat d’Alsace, Moscatel de Douro, Moscato d’Asti, yellow Muscat in Germany & Hungary) and make a small quantity of traditional sweet fortified Muscats (Vins Doux Naturels), as well as, increasingly, dry Muscat, late-picked barrel-aged Muscat and even ‘Fine de Muscat’ (a rather good ‘eau de vie’ or grappa actually, see below). Certain estates are at the forefront of this almost ‘adapt or die’ movement, e.g. Barrubio, Sacré Coeur, Clos Gravillas and the Saint-Jean co-op winery too.

Most of these wines were sampled at the ‘Chai de Port Minervois’ in Homps - a wine shop on the Quai des Tonneliers that also holds tutored tastings - at the end of March, where a group of us landed after an energetic bike ride alongside the Midi canal (and slightly hazardous, as it was stormy the week before so the path was nicely branch-strewn). By the way, there’s a handy rental company called Mellow Vélos (mellowvelos.com) that will deliver bikes to any spot in the area then pick them up again at an agreed rendezvous and time, so you can peddle as far as and take as long as you want.

2010 Domaine de Barrubio Muscat sec – lively aromatic and grapey, crisp mineral mouth-feel vs nice Muscat fruit, attractive dry style. 1
2009 Muscat de Saint-Jean de Minervois VDN, Cave Coop – nice and fresh and relatively light, a bit of kick and sweetness vs fair bite too. 1
2009 Domaine du Sacré Coeur ‘cuvée Kevin’ – more exotic and sweeter, quite rich vs still has nice bite though. 1
2010 Domaine de Barrubio Muscat de SJM VDN – nice and fresh with citrus vs pineapple notes, lovely balance and classic style. 1+
Barrubio Muscat de St-Jean ‘Vendanges d’Automne’ (barrel aged) – dried apricot, candied and complex oxidative notes, oily texture vs light oomph. 2
2008 Barrubio Muscat ‘cuvée Nicolas’ (selected late-picked grapes) – delicious exotic marmalade aromas/flavours, concentrated and lush vs a touch of underlying freshness. 2
Fine de Muscat ‘Esprit de Barrubio’ (44% alc.) – very Muscat-y aromas, quite fine actually despite that ‘wow’ kick. A small shot after a big dinner would be nice.
Tasted at the Natural Wine Fair in London, May 2011:
2009 Clos du Gravillas ‘Douce Providence’ Muscat de St-Jean – delicious style, floral with orange peel twist, refreshing vs sweet finish. 1+

A few other Minervois wines worth including tasted during the “Millésimes en Languedoc” event in late March 2011, mostly while eating, as you do. I’ve used my simplified scoring system of one, two or three ‘ticks’ (good, very good, fabulous); or just plain 1 to 3 above and below.

2010 Domaine de Barrubio rosé (red, white and grey Grenache; saignée or ‘bleed’ method) – attractive elegant style with zingy mouth-feel and light red fruits tinged with rose petal perfume. 2
2008 Château Sainte-Eulalie, La Livinière red – quite rich and smoky, maturing lush palate vs oak backdrop, fairly supple tannins and fresh bite; more concentrated than some 08s with nice ‘sweet’ black cherry finish. 2
2009 Villerambert-Julien white (Roussanne, Viognier) – attractive exotic honeyed nose vs aromatic floral and lees-edged, good concentration and juicy ‘fat’ fruit vs crisp finish. 2
2010 Château La Grave rosé – elegant crisp with pink rose tones, subtle red fruits with zingy lees-y finish. 1
2007 Château La Grave ‘Privilege’ red – still quite tight and firm in the mouth vs underlying smoky/savoury side and dark fruit. 1-2
More to follow, maybe.

01 June 2011

Bordeaux: “Roederer Masterclass” - de Pez & Pichon-Lalande


No, they don’t just do Champagne (Port, California…): this was the slightly serious title coined for a special tasting of Louis Roederer’s Bordeaux estates organised by the Circle of Wine Writers on 17 May 2011. We were served two flights: one of the 2007 vintage across five labels and the second an enlightening vertical of Château de Pez. The latter is considered a rising star of Saint-Estephe in the northern Haut-Médoc region and sits alongside their other Château here, Haut-Beauséjour (they’re both located on the western side of the S-E appellation). And heading south, there’s Château Bernadotte, which lies just within the Haut-Médoc AOC bordering Pauillac and a few kilometres west of Roederer’s star estate, Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (to give it its full name) purchased in 2006. Found just up the road from comparatively dour looking Latour, Pichon Lalande really does look the part as the full monty ‘f-o’ Château with its glorious pointy tours and imperial splendour (pic.).
The odd titbit of info on vintage conditions or winemaking has been included in my notes on the wines, paraphrased from what Sylvie Cazes or Mark Bingley MW told us: MDs of Roederer’s properties in Bordeaux and UK agent MMD respectively, who led the tasting. I’ve again used my ‘new-fangled’ simplified scoring system of one, two or three ‘ticks’ (good, very good, fabulous); or just plain 1 to 3 for the wines below.

2007 vintage

The Roederer team ended up taking four weeks to pick everything at all their estates in 2007, as September turned on the sunshine again after a wet August and generally cool summer. So it paid to wait this year, as it often does in Bordeaux. The problem was the top châteaux were on such a roll of good vintages, high demand and hence corresponding prices; that a lot of people had to pay through the nose for these wines, if they wanted to secure some on release. The traditional trade is now backing them as a pleasant surprise and an attractive elegant vintage for drinking now or within a couple of years or so. Well, they’re probably right, but this doesn’t really stack up against the kind of prices that suggest all the wines should be nothing but sublime (call me old-fashioned)…

Château Bernadotte 2007 (55% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot) – unusually high proportion of Merlot this vintage. Perfumed cedar-y aromas with light damson, morello cherry and dried blackcurrants, maturing savoury notes too vs leafy edges; similar palate with subtle grainy tannins, turning meatier vs underlying berry fruit, medium weight; attractive enough mature fruit vs light grip vs a touch of freshness and elegance, a tad stalky perhaps and fairly short although nice now; ages quite quickly in the glass. 1. About £20.
Château Haut-Beauséjour 2007 (59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot) – showing more toasted coconut oak vs richer cassis fruit, again it’s aromatic and forward with leafy vs savoury notes; has more weight and power with firmer texture vs more substance, a bit longer too and again quite mature now. 1+. £20-£25.
Château de Pez 2007 (60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc) – 40% new oak. Deeper more purple colour, coconut tones; quite concentrated, firm and structured vs riper plum characters; a little more closed up too with coated tannins vs nice fruit, power vs elegance meaning fairly good balance; needs a couple of years still. 1-2. About £35.
Reserve de la Comtesse 2007 (46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc) – 30% new oak for 12 months. Vanilla and coconut dominate the nose/palate then turning a bit leafy, grainy texture with the oak rather carrying the wine while adding texture; over-extracted and a tad hard on the finish. Hmm. This is the only ‘second wine’ from Pichon, which is sometimes sold off if they’re not happy. I’ll say no more. At least £35.
Château Pichon Lalande 2007 (58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc) – 60% new oak for 18 months. Richer colour and nose, leafy edges vs fairly dense blackcurrant fruit, still firm and quite tight actually with oak and extraction much better integrated; yet there are still hints of not-so-ripe vs underlying maturing towards ‘sweet’ fruit, solid but not hard tannins; fair length, classier and attractive now although probably needs 3+ years. 2. About £80.

Château de Pez vertical

2006 (46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot) – delicious maturing cassis plum and liquorice even vs lightly leafy tones, quite dense actually and fairly structured, firm yet attractive coating of tannins; tightens up with well-integrated oak texture and good balance in the end, has much more substance than the 07 although not a ‘huge’ wine, just pretty classic. 2+
2005 (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot) – more savoury vs herbal red pepper notes vs meatier with quite rich fruit, broodier than the 06 in a way although smokier and more rustic/wilder too, showing a fair bit of development considering it’s only a year older; still dense yet with quite rounded tannins although does have a slight biter twist, concentrated with complex maturing flavours; ‘bigger’ wine than the 06 but less classy perhaps, drinking quite well now. 2
2004 (43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot) – a dry but not very hot vintage, picking took place from 25 September to 10 October. More savoury still and ‘sweeter’ vs intriguing herby berry notes, leafier too with cedary oak notes in the background; has fair power although less substance, tannins are less attractive too although not harsh with nice acidity underneath lending a touch of elegance; it’s longer than you first think, but the oak and alcohol do perhaps rather carry it through. 1(+)
2001 (47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 48% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot) – a small crop this year and a vintage initially overshadowed by 2000. Intense depth of colour, blacker even yet with browner rim; enticing smoky maturing nose with ‘sweet/savoury’ fruit, still firm with attractive fresh side too vs subtle lush fruit and nice tannins; drinking quite well although has a firmer drier finish well-balanced by complex sweet vs savoury development. 2-3
2000 (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 49% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot) – picked from 22/09 to 8/10. Similar colour, a touch older looking and much older on the nose and palate; pretty meaty savoury and ageing fast, dry vs sweet tannins, almost beginning to dry out although it’s complex on the finish, punchier too and less well balanced. Drink now. 1-2

‘Mystery’ vintage of Pichon Lalande (revealed afterwards as 1986) – complex herbal vs liquorice vs smoky leather, still alive with very appealing nose; quite mature and meaty vs leafy side vs chocolate, dry tannins with a bit of oomph vs some fresh acidity still; a touch out of balance now but very attractive and looks very interesting alongside the 2000! Quite chuffed with myself as I guessed 1988. 2-3

UK stockists include: Villeneuve Wine (Scotland), Amps Fine Wine (Peterborough), Wholefoods Market (London, Glasgow), the Good Wine Shop (London), Henderson Wines (Edinburgh), Portland Wine Company (Manchester/Macclesfield), Penistone Court Wine Cellars (S. Yorks), Aitken Wines (Dundee), the Wine Cellars (Isle of Man), Harvey Nichols (London), Noble Green Wines (London), Partridges of Sloane Square, Laytons (London), Goedhuis & Co. (London, Suffolk), Selfridges, Four Vintners (London), Upton Wines (Worcester), Francis Fine Wines (Leicester), Planet of the Grapes (London). See their websites (links at the top) for US importers.

More Bordeaux hereCôtes de Bourg and Listrac-Médoc