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

30 January 2012

Bandol: Château Tournier Guilhem

Guilhem, Henri and Genevieve Tournier’s compact and bijou property, lying not far from the cute hilltop village of La Cadière d’Azur a fair trek to the north of Bandol town, has two almost unique characteristics about it in context of the wider Bandol appellation. At six hectares (15 acres), it’s one of the smallest vineyards in an area probably better known for quite large estates (think Ch. Pibarnon at 50 ha or Dom. Tempier at 30, for instance); and it’s now certified organic (from 2011). “We were one of the first to convert to organics,” Genevieve confirmed in fact as I tasted at their stand at ‘Millésime Bio’ organic wine show in Montpellier last week. There was only one other organic estate from Bandol at the show - the ultra ‘natural’ and quirky Château Sainte-Anne (see post directly below) - which got me thinking why aren’t there more in this very French Mediterranean wine region? Not a criticism - people have their reasons and many non-organic growers (or not officially certified but more or less are anyway) are sensible about what they use, how much and why (as I’ve said before, I’ve never aimed to make this blog exclusively organic; it just so happens that an increasing amount of the best ones are, or in the process of) - but a question worth asking.

I digress - back to the Tournier’s wines, which were definitely worth unearthing after deciding it seemed like a good idea to see how many organic Bandol producers were exhibiting! I’ve also just re-published a towards-huge wad of exciting material on Bandol and its kingpin variety, Mourvèdre, originally gathered and scribbled from 2003 to 2006 (I lived in nearby Marseille for two of those years, by the way): click here and here for much more info then (goes to two pages in my “wine words” archive: the former featuring 150+ wines and a few winery touring pieces / profiles, the latter a more academic article called ‘Understanding Mourvèdre’ written for Wine Business, USA).

2011 Bandol rosé (majority Mourvèdre + Cinsault and Grenache, tank sample) - attractive juicy crisp rosé in that more elegant and mineral style, although has a bit of weight as well, showing aromatic citrus fruit with floral rose petal edges, nice structured bite and almost salty tangy finish.
2010 Bandol rosé - hints of yeast-lees, fuller rounder and oilier texture with developing red fruit flavours and still has a fresher side too; good although the 2011 will be better. €15 (that's trendy Bandol for you...)
2008 Bandol rouge (85% Mourvèdre) - light touches of coconut oak aromas and grainy texture, concentrated dark vs savoury fruit with tight grippy mouth-feel, subtle and still a little closed up vs developing meaty edges. Very good, promising too. €18
2009 Bandol rouge - meatier and more powerful with lovely rich black cherry with spicy savoury dark olive notes, firmer bigger palate with weighty finish vs attractively rounded tannins. A slightly more in-your-face vintage maybe but it’s still good stuff.

Bandol: Château Sainte-Anne

Château Sainte-Anne
from maisondesvins-bandol.com
As I mentioned in the post above, the ‘natural’ quirky Sainte-Anne style has been with us for a while: this 15 ha (37 acre) estate, lying on the northeastern side of the Bandol appellation in Sainte-Anne d’Evenos, has been farmed organically(+) for twenty years by larger than life owners Françoise and Jean-Baptiste Dutheil de la Rochere. ‘Natural’ in the sense of not much used, done or added in the vineyard and cellar - “very few treatments in the field…” and “no SO2, fining nor filtration (for red winemaking),” for example - apart from working the vines and soil, picking the grapes, fermenting them and watching over their ageing in barrels. Bit of a simplistic cliché maybe but they like to keep it nice and simple. I went to the property and interviewed Françoise back in 2004 and tasted quite a few blends and vintages of their red wines, and my memory was something like a rollercoaster road of discovery. Certain wines were very traditional and pretty awesome in that way, while one or two others were teetering on the brink or probably a little more rustic than you might like. Jean-Baptiste agreed, when I tried their latest vintages at Millésime Bio wine show in Montpellier (Languedoc) last week, that “our wines have always been a bit on the wild side.” Right on, man.

Here are my condensed notes from that aforementioned late autumn 2004 trip just to weave in a touch of background and detail, extracted from a load of other material for a paper (yawn) I was doing on Mourvèdre back in 2005/06, although I don’t imagine much has changed essentially at Ste-Anne.
Françoise told me she believes “the microclimate here comes from the usually cool nights we get from the end of August, meaning we are among the latest to pick Mourvèdre (coupled with a lower risk of rot, so they can chance it more).” Her Bandol vineyards are on the higher ground facing southwest, and the lower-lying areas are classified as Côtes de Provence. A protective circle is formed by a range of hills all the way round to Le Beausset and the terraces behind the vineyard. Sainte Anne has clay/limestone soils with veins of sand underneath meaning it’s better drained, a “less heavy soil favourable to elegant reds,” as she put it. Their organic/biodynamic methodology takes in growing wild mustard grass between the vine rows and only using fertilisers from organic matter (shite). This is a “very old family property going back five generations, so there’s plenty of old vine stock,” although escat (a disease attacking and causing the wood to die) is a problem here limiting their age. They don’t use trellising since “it’s not easy to do and Mourvèdre stands up well in gobelets (bush vines) anyway!” And something mystical too about “creating magnetism…” or whatever I scribbled down followed by a double question mark??

On picking Mourvèdre at the right moment: “When it’s perfectly ripe and you squeeze the grapes, it leaves finger marks because of its thick skins,” Françoise explained. Fruit for their Cuvée Collection is usually left a day or so longer, in specific plots, for extra ripeness. “No SO2 is used for white and rosé before fermentation and usually none at all for reds.” Typical winemaking ‘techniques’, as exemplified by the very good 2001 vintage, include a relatively short period in vat of 12-13 days with one remontage (pump-over) per day. “It needs a good aeration each day but no more than that, otherwise the must becomes too extracted.” The reds are matured for about 18 months in old 50 hl foudres (very large tuns) - in fact they don’t use any new wood at all - “just for slow oxidation.” Blending is done after cask-ageing “because of Mourvèdre’s richness, I leave it pure (until then).” The S-A basic cuvée is made up of 60% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache and 20% Cinsault. But her Cuvée Collection is typically 95-98% Mourvèdre selected by parcel (and slightly later picked) and isn’t made every year: 2003 and 2004 were looking likely at that time, none in 2002 as it was “too dilute,” 2001 and 2000 were both very good and 1999 was “unspectacular but well balanced.”

Click here to view my notes and reviews of those older vintages (goes to my mega-Bandol page in the "wine words" archive: scroll down quite a lot towards the bottom). There are more Ste-Anne wines here (Millésime Bio 2006) too.
And now, over to those ‘latest’ vintages tasted last week:
2010 Bandol white (Ugni Blanc, Clairette Verte) - oily honeyed nose and palate, quite full then becomes more mineral and elegant with crisp bite. Good. About €15.
2010 Bandol rosé (Mourvèdre, Grenache, Cinsault- quite developed with ripe raspberry fruit and rounded mouth-feel, lacks a bit of bite. Expensive too at €14.
2008 Bandol red (60% Mourvèdre) - nice ‘sweet’ black cherry with savoury black olive undertones, a hint of spice too with attractive tannins and subtle depth of fruit; 'lighter' more elegant style. €19
2005 Bandol red - developing savoury notes, richer chunkier firmer wine vs appealing maturing leather characters.
2006 Bandol Collection - more of that dark cherry fruit vs a wilder ‘animal’ side, solid gripping yet still rounded palate, it’s balanced and complex with it.

chateausteanne@free.fr, tel.: 04.94.90.35.40

26 January 2012

New wine tours from Wine Voyages

Wine Education Service and Criterion Wine (both UK based) have teamed up to create an exciting new wine holiday company called Wine Voyages, with several tours planned from the end of May 2012 onwards. The first is a wine tour by coach to the wine & food mecca of Alsace country from 31 May to 5 June; and other scheduled trips include Champagne in July and November, Greece in September and Burgundy in November. Tours to more classic wine areas of Europe are also being put together, as well as further afield to e.g. California and South Africa.
To find out more, email info@winevoyages.co.uk or phone Sandy on 020 8991 8213 or Malcolm on 020 8991 8212. Full details are here:
Photo: Riquewihr in Alsace.

25 January 2012

Millésime Bio 2012

Just returned from a day-and-a-half tasting my way around what appears to have become the biggest organic wine show in the world, Millésime Bio in Montpellier (the Languedoc's finest/only city). But it's still a nice down-to-earth user-friendly fair though, like the growers and winemakers themselves who were there showing their wares on a simple table so you can easily talk and taste. No flash stands, corporate bull or "ah, you haven't made an appointment?" attitudes.
Anyway, expect a few new winery "profiles" (I'll drop the FBI gag this time... oops there I go again with that silly/sad sense of humour) over the coming weeks focusing on people and wines fresh from Italy and Austria...

Millésime Bio 2012

Just returned from a day-and-a-half tasting my way around what appears to have become the biggest organic wine show in the world, Millésime Bio in Montpellier (the Languedoc's finest/only city). But it's still a nice down-to-earth user-friendly fair though, like the growers and winemakers themselves who were there showing their wares on a simple table so you can easily talk and taste. No flash stands, corporate bull or "ah, you haven't made an appointment?" attitudes.
Anyway, expect plenty of new winery "profiles" (I'll drop the FBI gag this time... oops there I go again with that silly/sad sense of humour) and updates over the coming weeks, focusing on people and wines fresh from the Roussillon, Languedoc, southern Rhone, Bandol and Corsica...

18 January 2012

Chile: "no way rosé!" part 3

Or my latest "rosé of the mo" even: this tasty pinkie is part of the Co-Op's (UK) 'Fairtrade' range - that term makes a slight cynic like me slightly suspicious of the otherwise implied "we really stitch up our other 'non-fairtrade' wine suppliers," although the concept is commendable of course. It's sourced from Chile's Curicó Valley - I only kept the front label so don't know who made it - but, anyway, was £5.99 I think and is a Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blend.

2011 Chilean Fairtrade Rosé - fairly deep raspberry/cherry colour and fruit aromas, lovely juicy mouth-feel vs quite rounded and textured too, then delivers crisp and refreshing finish. Worked well with different dishes in an Indian restaurant.

More Chile pinks, plus here and here too. Other recent Chile: Pinot Noir, Syrah/Shiraz.
Coming soon: profile on De Martino winery and Carmenere vertical tasting report.

Languedoc: Château de la Negly, La Clape

Negly, with a sizeable 50 ha (125 acres) of vines surrounding its handsome yet workmanlike chateau, is owned by Jean-Paul Rosset, whose talented winemaker is Cyril Chamontin working with uber-consultant Claude Gros. Jean-Paul’s father used to grow grapes for the local co-op but he upped the quality stakes massively in vineyard and cellar from the mid 90s, and this is now one of the best estates on La Clape, out of quite a few very good ones it has to be said, if not the Languedoc (he types pushing the proverbial boat out). Their tasty reds age well too, as you'll see from my glowing notes on the 1998 'Falaise' below... I love what they cram into a glass, typical of that quintessential 'Clape' style showing concentrated warm ripe fruit with deliciously natural wilder edges (garrigue if you like, it's what the French call it) and heady Med 'sweet/savoury' mix. The first two were sampled and 'assessed' at a tasting in London a few months ago:

2008 La Falaise (Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre Carignan) - aromatic herby black cherry and liquorice notes, peppery and rich mouthful with powerful structured palate; lovely mix of concentrated fruit and firm chunky tannins, tight long finish too. Excellent. £17-£20 Thorman Hunt & Co, Bancroft Wines (London).
2007 La Porte du Ciel (15%) - dense dark colour, savoury maturing leather tones vs coconut oak vs very concentrated lush dark fruit, solid yet nicely textured tannins with very long powerful but balanced finish, still very much alive. Yum. €75 although apparently they only make a couple of hundred cases or so! Alexander Krossa Wines (based in the Languedoc selling mostly to Germany and a few other markets now as well e.g. the UK: profile on him with lots more wines to follow. I copied the photo off his site, by the way...)
1998 La Falaise – wow! That wild Clape nose comes through loud and clear, like burnt lavender plus lovely smoky mature fruit, delicious wine you just want to have more of... (tasted March 2011).


James Nicholson (Northern Ireland) also stocks a wide range of Negly wines including older vintages.