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28 July 2011

"Wines of the moment" - South Africa & Portugal

I've been a fan of Chenin Blanc for a long time and the sometimes stimulating white wines the South African climate, vineyards and their winemakers manage to mould from it. Here's a rather good-value one too, on offer at least at Sainsbury's for a Fiver: 2010 "Taste the Difference" Fairtrade Chenin Blanc from Wellington region (13.5% alc.). It earns its "white of the mo" status thanks to enticing and quite rich honey and melon fruit, juicy zesty vs rounded and towards weighty texture finishing with nice crisp dry bite. Try with fishcakes, fish and chips, prawn risotto and might even stand up to mackerel or goats' cheese, maybe...
And my coveted "rosé of the mo" award goes to... drum roll... another wine on offer, inevitably perhaps (was £4.50 in Asda stores, usually £5.98): Portugal's Tagus Creek 2010 rosé made from Shiraz and Touriga Nacional by the Falua winery (Tejo region, 13% alc.). This one is definitely in the deep-coloured and quite chunky rosé school with lush berry fruits, boiled sweet tones and rounded almost oily mouth-feel with off-dry finish. Good all-rounder on the food front. taguscreek.com

Languedoc: Domaine Alain Chabanon, Montpeyroux/Terrasses du Larzac

Alain Chabanon worked for the legendary (in his own particular way) Alain Brumont of Château Montus in Madiran country after getting his degree in viticulture and winemaking; then returned to the Languedoc in the late 80s, where he bought a few plots of vines around Montpeyroux and Jonquières. He made his first vintage in 1992 and the rest is history, as the cliché runs, since Alain now enjoys quite a reputation for his quality and sometimes slightly quirky wines - you wouldn't perhaps expect Merlot planted up here let alone that it makes good wine too, and his white from Vermentino and Chenin Blanc is something special as well. These blends/varietals are sourced nowadays from 20 ha (nearly 50 acres) of vineyards lying around his home in Lagamas on the way up to the awesome Larzac terraces, which spectacularly fall off the bottom end of the Massif Central range. Alain is a certified organic winegrower and also uses biodynamic techniques; the resulting wines are available in the USA, UK (distributed by Dynamic Vines) and Ireland among many other places: more info @ www.domainechabanon.com

My notes and reviews below spring from four different occasions (hence the mix of 'new' and 'old' scoring systems), although I only met Alain for the first time at the "natural" wine fair in London in May 2011 (the wines with the 1-2-3 ‘scores’: see blurb on the right-hand column) and previously to that (reviewed with the old ‘100 point scale’) in March 2010 and March 2009 at the “Languedoc Millésimes” tasting road-show in the region; and further back into the mists of time at Millésime Bio 2008 organic wine show in Perpignan (Jan 08). To add one of my “interesting to note” themed comments, just for the hell of it, I’ve rated two vintages of Alain’s Campredon red higher than three of his more expensive L'Esprit de Font Caude (although two of these were unfinished cask samples). Perhaps because the latter is less approachable when young – although I wasn’t so wowed by the 2004 vintage tasted recently alongside his other wines, for some reason – or perhaps I’m just too facile?! Or perhaps a winemaker’s reasons for pricing certain wines aren’t always obvious… personal taste vs so-called ‘intrinsic’ quality? Funny old game this wine-tasting lark: answers on an e-card please…

2007 Trelans white vin de pays d’Oc (Vermentino, Chenin Blanc) – complex maturing toasty notes with honeyed and buttery overtones, still lively actually and long. 2 £10-£15
2008 Tremier Languedoc rosé (Mourvèdre, Carignan, Grenache) – yeast-lees-y and rich with toasted red fruits, not sure about this style of rosé...
2008 Le Petit Merle aux Alouettes red vin de pays d’Oc (Merlot) – ‘sweet’ vs red peppery and herby aromas, quite concentrated vs fresh tight palate, nice style of Merlot actually. 1-2 £10-£15
2008 Campredon Coteaux du Languedoc (50% Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Carignan) – really minty and spicy on the nose with enticing black cherry fruit, delicious elegant style with taut tannins/acidity and good length. 2+ £10-£15
2006 Campredon Coteaux du Languedoc (Syrah Mourvèdre Grenache Carignan) - nice smoky black cherry fruit with light coconut edges; extracted tight palate leading to very dry finish, but there’s good depth of fruit underneath. 89+
2009 Esprit de Font Caude (50/50 Syrah, Mourvèdre; cask sample) - concentrated and spicy with nice "sweet/savoury" profile, solid mouth-feel although quite subtle too vs tighter commanding finish. €25 87+
2008 L'Esprit de Font Caude (cask sample) - a bit closed and unrevealing although it has fair depth of spicy floral v riper fruit then firm texture. 87+
2004 L'Esprit de Font Caude (Syrah, Mourvèdre) – maturing smoky leather tones, concentrated and meaty with light wood grain vs still quite firm tannins. 1+ £15-£20
2007 Le Merle aux Alouettes vin de pays d’Oc (90% Merlot, 10% Carignan) – richer than the “little” version above with a tad of oak still coming through, quite concentrated / extracted even, closes up to unrevealing finish. 1-2? £15-£20

26 July 2011

Les Clos Perdus, Corbières / Agly Valley

Updated March 2014 - a tasty trio by Paul and Hugo revisited in London last year, imported there by Indigo Wine. Their (now quite pricey) wines are also sold elsewhere in Europe, North America, Japan and Australia - follow the web link at the bottom of this page. Read on for some words about the people and the places.
2011 L'Extreme blanc Côtes Catalanes (Grenache gris/blanc planted in 1903) – juicy and yeast lees-y, floral and nutty too then developing richer more honeyed fruit with lees notes vs fresh juicy mouth-feel to finish. Good white, should be for £27.50.
2008 L'Extreme rouge Côtes Catalanes (75% Lladoner Pelut + Syrah; total sulphites 40 mg/l) – developing 'tar' and meaty notes, quite extracted and chocolate oaky still yet lush and full palate, light bitter twist too but overall quite impressive. £27.50
2010 Prioundo Corbières (Grenache, Cinsault; total sulphites 30 mg/l) – ripe and smoky with dark yet perfumed berry fruit, maturing meaty notes too, concentrated with nice textured tannins, peppery and punchy finish. Yum. £18


July 2011 update: Paul Old, the winemaking half of "the lost vine-plots" which he established with Hugo Stewart in 2003, was showing and pouring their wines at the first "natural" wine fair in London back in May (click there for more info). These wines are imported by Dynamic Vines in the UK. Read on for more wise words and tasty wines dating from my travels 2007 to 2010 (extracted from WineWriting.com). Look at the little blurb on "wine scores" on the right for an explanation/rant on my curious 1-2-3 "marking"...
2009 L’Extreme white VDP des Côtes Catalanes (Grenache gris) – grainy toasty edges vs exotic peachy fruit, soft rounded mouth-feel then crisper finish. 1 although expensive at £15-£20.
2010 Macabeu (not bottled) – steely tight white wine developing light nutty tones, bright floral citrus fruit with a nice bitter twist, subtle refreshing finish. 1+
2007 L’Extreme red Côtes Catalanes (Lledoner pelut/Grenache) – a little closed up at first but it’s nicely perfumed slowly revealing peppery liquorice notes, has savoury leather touches on its rounded vs powerful palate, real depth too. 2+ £15-£20
2009 Cuvée 71 Corbières (mostly Carignan) – ripe berry aromas lined with hints of dark chocolate and vibrant black cherry, attractive dry vs ‘sweet’ tannins. 2 £10-£15
2006 Mire la Mer Corbières (Mourvèdre based) – maturing ‘sweet/savoury’ profile, black/blueberry fruit with ‘forest floor’ undertones; lovely concentration and style with firm yet still lively mouth-feel and elegant length. 2+ £10-£15

This scattered collection of old-vine parcels is owned, and transformed into the wines below, by English farmer Hugo Stewart and Australian winemaker, former dancer Paul Old (now there's an interesting combination of talents), who have vineyards in the Corbières region and in the northern Roussillon near Maury (hence the title of this post and inclusion in two 'guides'). They follow many biodynamic principles and tend the vines and their environment entirely by hand; well, using a few viticultural tools no doubt. The cellar is located in Peyriac-de-Mer on the coastal side of the Corbières, not far from Sigean and the sea obviously. Sampled at the Fenouillèdes in April 2007:
2005 Prioundo Corbières (around Villesques: Grenache Cinsault Mourvèdre) – quite tight and fresh, peppery v cherry fruit, a touch bitter perhaps but it displays nice elegance. 85-87
2005 Cuvée 31 Corbières (Peyriac area: Mourvèdre Carignan Grenache) – meaty black olive characters, more weight and power, again fresh bite and tangy grip but balanced. 87-89
2005 Mire la Mer
Corbières (Mourvèdre Carignan Grenache) – splash of vanilla oak with black fruit coating underneath, rounder finish yet still pretty extracted; quite attractive in the end but lacks soul (too much wood probably).
2005 L'Extreme Vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes (Maury area:
Lladoner Pelut/Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre) – lush palate v quite toasty oak, closes up on the finish; difficult to tell, could be good... come back to it in 6 to 12 months. 89+?

Clos Perdus update January & April 2009
I popped in to see Hugo and Paul in their well-chilled cellar in Peyriac in Jan. and tasted a few more wines on their stand at
the Fenouillèdes wine show, in Tautavel in April. Latest news is the purchase of some "very old" Grenache Gris vines between Mas Las Frédas and Maury, to boost their white wine range; something I'm seeing more and more of generally, with increasingly impressive results.
2008
Grenache Gris (off the lees) - yeasty intensity v crisp mineral bite.
2008 Grenache Gris (older vines) - a bit more barrel adds nice roundness and texture v orange peel zestiness.
2007 Prioundo Corbières (mostly Grenache + Cinsault, from tank but final blend about to be bottled) - really perfumed and peppery with liquorice notes; fresh then fatter palate, very nice style. 87+
2007 L'Extreme (mostly Lladoner Pelut + Syrah from Mas Fred, nearly finished sample) - smokier and richer black fruits and spice; lively bite and length v light coconut oak texture. Paul wasn't "entirely happy" with this blend and might tweak it, but it's still v. promising though. 88+
2007 Mire la Mer
(Mourvèdre Carignan Grenache) – dense smoky black olive, berry and cassis; dry and firm mouth-feel v lovely fruit, power and well-balanced tasty finish. 89+
2007 Cuvée 51
Corbières (mostly Peyriac: 50% Carignan + 35% Grenache + Mourvèdre, 14% alc.) - quite rich and medium concentrated with lively floral and dark fruit and light chocolate backdrop. 87+
2008
Lladoner Pelut (from tank) - tangy cassis v spicy v ripe dark fruit, dry rounded texture.
2007 Le
Rosé (mostly Mourvèdre 13.5%) - deep orange colour, chunky and juicy with ripe raspberry fruit turning creamier, weighty v dry finish. Nice style. 87
2008
Cinsault - floral and plummy.
2008
Mourvèdre  - floral v black olive.
2008 Le
Blanc - nice leesy edges v citrus and mineral bite; fresh and dry turning more interesting on the finish. 85
2008 L'Extreme
blanc - fatter and more exotic, again nice yeast-lees and mineral bite v apricot notes. 87
2008 Le Rouge (
Grenache) - very white peppery and explosive berry fruit; ripe v dry mouth-feel, attractive style. 87


2010 UPDATE: Paul was manning a stand at the enigmatically named "Salon du X" - it's not that much of a mystery, actually, a tasting organised by agent Xavier Peyrot des Gachons with a dozen Languedoc & Roussillon winegrowers present (there were originally 10, I think) hence the X - in April at Domaine Gayda's impressive winery & restaurant complex between Limoux and Castelnaudary.
2009 Le Rosé (90% Mourvèdre) - wild and herby edges vs creamier red fruits; tight and quite lean mouth-feel vs a bit of weight and roundness. 85+
2006 Mire la Mer
Corbières (70% Mourvèdre etc. 14% alc.) – chocolate/coconut oak notes vs rich and smoky backdrop, quite toasty yet layered with ripe dark fruit and spices; attractive full rounded finish, tasty and well balanced in the end. 88-90
2007 L'Extreme vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (mostly Lladoner Pelut/Grenache + Syrah) - juicy black cherry, lush with "sweet" liquorice vs spicy undertones; quite soft tannins and finish vs 14% weight. 87+


17 Rue du Marché, 11440 Peyriac-de-Mer. Mobile France: 06 70 08 00 65, UK tel: 01725 511119; www.lesclosperdus.com.

21 July 2011

Roussillon: Domaine Ferrer-Ribière, Terrats

Update: Denis Ferrer was at the hotly attended ‘natural’ wine fair (click there for more) in London a couple of months ago (doesn't time fly...) alongside several other Roussillon and Languedoc "natural" winegrowers. Read on for a bit of blurb about the people and estate, notes on some previous vintages and an indication of retail prices in euros. Their UK agent is the splendidly portfolio-ed Yapp Brothers, who sell these wines for about £10-£15. Refer to explanation on 1-2-3 "scoring" in the right hand column.

2009 Grenache blanc Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes – quite fat and juicy, a tad grainy perhaps (or something slightly intrusive?), lush and rounded although falls a bit flat on the finish. Preferred the 2008 (see below).
2007 Carignan Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes – ‘sweet’ ripe vs maturing savoury side, nice dry vs lively mouth-feel, quite elegant for warm-vintage 2007. 1-2
2007 Côtes du Roussillon red “tradition” – herbal peppery edges, again mature with ripe liquorice and turning meaty, a touch of oak grain on attractive tannins then lingering ‘sweet/savoury’ fruit. 1+
2007 Cana Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres (Mourvèdre, Grenache noir) – richer with a tad more oak, again has that hallmark ‘sweet/savoury’ thing with liquorice then wilder edges; more concentrated too with firm punchy finish, needs a year or two to open up. 2

Set up in 1993, Denis Ferrer and Bruno Ribière are the partnership (not forgetting their wives of course) behind this slightly elevated (up to 250 metres / 800 feet altitude) estate - hence their original tag "terroirs des Hautes Aspres" (not heard that one before) - that spreads across different plots around the villages of Terrats and Fourques. Over 40 ha / 100 acres are now tended organically with 2010 being the landmark vintage as their first to be officially "certified" (where's that straight-jacket...). These two down-to-earth guys make quite a wide range of wine styles, from classic to quirky, at different qualities and prices; so, there should be something for everyone here.

I tasted these at Millésime Bio show in January 2010 in Montpellier:
2008 Grenache blanc Empreinte du Temps, Vin de Pays Catalan - nutty fino like nose and palate; peachy and lightly toasty flavours vs mineral streak, bit of rounded weight too. €9 87
2008 "F" Vin de Pays Catalan (Carignan, Grenache) - delicious juicy cherry, cassis, blueberry and liquorice fruit; tasty and crunchy palate making it an attractive quaffer. €5 85+
2007 Carignan Empreinte du Temps, Vin de Pays Catalan - quite elegant and tight in style showing sweet/savoury notes; quite concentrated actually with firm, spicy and leather-tinged finish. €10 87-89
2006 Cana Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres (Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah) - pretty concentrated and chunky with wood spice tones; maturing vs tight palate with attractive texture and fruit underneath. €16 88+

20 Rue du Colombier, 66300 Terrats. Tel: 04 68 53 24 45, www.vinsferrerribiere.com.

18 July 2011

Languedoc: Mas Bruguière, Pic Saint Loup




Guilhem, Isabelle, Xavier and Majorie Bruguière’s serenely nurtured 12 hectares (30 acres) and wine cellar are found down the road from Domaine de l’Hortus not far from the village of Valflaunès. The family farming and winemaking history goes back to the dawn of time – well, since the 13th Century and the Revolution respectively anyway – and the Bruguière name has become rather cult among Pic Saint Loup and Languedoc aficionados. I tasted these three wines with Xavier at the first ‘natural’ wine fair held in London, meaning they do vines organically, naturally (ho ho), and "prefer not to fine or filter" their quite sublime wines, it has to be said. See right-hand column for more on 1-2-3 ratings/rantings. UK importer: Yapp Brothers. mas-bruguiere.com
Photo = Xavier and Majorie Bruguière.


2010 Les Mûriers white Coteaux du Languedoc (Roussanne, Marsanne) – fresh and tight style vs milky edges and apricot fruit, nice texture and refreshing length. £12.50 2
2009 L’Arbouse red Pic Saint Loup (Syrah, Grenache) – lovely spicy cherry and cassis fruit, peppery vs ‘sweet’ profile with dry yet nicely textured tannins, tight fine finish. £11.50 2
2008 La Grenadière red Pic Saint Loup (65% Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre) – similar floral spice notes and tightly textured tannins, more intense though and firmer too, tasty elegant and long. £16.50 2-3
More Pic St. Loup here, or find other PSL estates by browsing the winery A to Z (right-hand column).

14 July 2011

Wines of Lebanon in London

Wines of Lebanon had an impressive and suitably Mediterranean presence, for this blog and its vague themery (enhanced by a Middle Eastern twist of course), at this year's London International Wine Fair. The result: several new winery "profiles" & updates with nearly 50 wine reviews featuring Musar, Karam, Ixsir, Ksara, St. Thomas, Coteaux du Liban, Tourelles and Wardy... Read on (goes to Lebanon page in "more wine words").

I've also brought everything else Lebanese together on this page previously published on 'old' WineWriting.com (but not yet dead...), including:
Winery snapshot: Heritage... latest vintages reviewed March 2008.
Wine touring in Lebanon November 2005: Beirut, Baalbek and Bekaa.
Lebanese food by John Salvi MW.

Photo = Cedar and moon, copyright Jim Budd

Domaine les Enfants Sauvages, Opoul / Fitou

Update: I chatted and tasted with Carolin and Nikolaus at the first "natural" wine fair held in London back in May (click for more info); there's a bit of detail and philosophy on "the wild children" below scribbled after a laid-back visit to their cellar a couple of years ago. These wines sell for £10-£15 in the UK available via their agent Dynamic Vines; and from two US importers: Williams Corner Wine in Charlottesville, Virginia, and another one whose name escapes me in Boston. They're all monikered as vin de pays des Cotes Catalanes (read on for explanation...) and 'scored' using my now world-famous 1-2-3 'system' (see blurb, right hand column):
2009 Cool Moon white (Grenache blanc, Grenache gris, Carignan blanc) - very appley and nutty nose, almost fino/cider like; perhaps a tad too much so as it's verging on acetic, but not quite... that's "natural" for you.
2007 Les Enfants Sauvages red (Grenache, Carignan) - no wood: nice dark berry with fruity vs tangier side, easy going and ripe style with maturing edges, soft elegant finish. 1
2007 Roi des Lézards (Carignan) - aged 2 years in large casks: perfumed ripe blueberry vs liquorice hints, again attractive maturing fruit and tannins, subtle flourish. 1-2


Hesitating whether to head up this profile as Roussillon or Languedoc, since the "wild children," aka Carolin and Nikolaus Bantlin and sons (not so savage really), have a little winery/cellar underneath and adjoining their house up the hill in the village of Fitou itself; but the wild-child vineyards lie just over the 'border' towards Opoul, which is what counts at the end of the day if we must locate them on paper, so to speak. Carolin and Nikolaus' story is the kind-of love story I've written about before on this site, but I certainly don't mind telling it again. They fell in love with a beautiful place frozen in time, which was the catalyst for leaving their native Germany and settling in the area as soon as they could. So, in 1999 they bought some old vineyards surrounded by dry scented scrubland a few kilometres inland from Fitou and an elderly house in the village, which was refitted in 2004 to accommodate a new cellar.
Right from the start, like many young couples from elsewhere turned independent growers, they decided to nurture the eight ha (20 acres) of vines that "came with the land" as naturally as possible, using that "new-old approach" as they call it and by extension a minimalist winemaking touch as well. As their goal was to be certified organic (they are, as well as practising certain biodynamic methods), they realised - encouraged by Olivier Pithon among others - it didn't make a lot of sense to carry on being co-op growers (2001-2) and waving goodbye to their treasured grapes once picked. So, they took the plunge, went back to school and fused a mini-winery into their home, as I said. Good job too, otherwise these lovely wines (notes below) might not ever have seen the light of day. All the promising 2008s were tasted from vat or barrel (unfinished obviously) in March 2009.
2008 Carignan blanc - attractive fresh acid structure, tight and long palate; the barrel fermentation doesn't overpower it at all.
2008 Grenache blanc - slightly more exotic fruit aromas, again fresh tight and long in the mouth with a tad of light coconut flavour / texture.
2008 Grenache gris - fatter and peachier with apricot notes too vs nice taut mouthfeel and framework.
2008 Grenache rosé (barrel-fermented) - rounded and full-bodied rather than overtly fruity, long dry finish. Unusual.
2008 Carignan (60%+) Grenache Mourvèdre blend - six days maceration with foot-treading. Delicious black fruits and spice, firm framework on the mouth, fresh with lively fruit and attractive tannins. Lovely.
2008 Carignan (90%) Syrah - more perfumed with enticing blueberry fruit, 'sweet' and ripe vs tangy and tight, rounded tannins again.
2006 Roi des Lézards (Carignan Grenache Mourvèdre 14%) - nice "vinous" fruit and mouthfeel (wine like!) with very light chocolate / coconut texture; cherry and black olive notes, turning savoury & leathery vs vibrant and refreshing, solid yet rounded finish. Yum. €12 88-90
Muscat Vin Doux Naturel - very aromatic orange peel and grape nose; zingy and zesty with lovely fresh bite vs quite sweet and lush. 87+



10-12 rue Gilbert Salamo, 11510 Fitou. Tel: 04 68 45 69 75, www.les-enfants-sauvages.com.