Richard Mark James' wine & travel blog
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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.