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

31 March 2012

Languedoc: Clos des Augustins, Pic Saint Loup

While browsing through my long-lost 'little red book' (it is, velvety too) recently containing a fair chunk of last year's tasting notes scribbled on the hoof, I was surprised to rediscover these wines from leading Pic Saint Loup estate Clos des Augustins, which never saw the digital light of day. Until now, that is. Augustins is owned and run by the Mézy family with son Frédéric (hence "le gamin" below meaning kid) now in charge, whose efforts have led to the vineyards becoming officially certified organic this year. He’s also been implementing some biodynamic measures to soil and vines, which have almost reached 30 ha (75 acres) in undulating surface area spreading around the wee village of Saint Mathieu de Tréviers. There are some nice pics @ closdesaugustins.com in one of those Flash slideshows that you can't copy from!

2010 Les Bambins white (Marsanne, Roussanne) - nice creamy lees-edged style vs tighter crisper palate and closing up on the finish (should be drinking well now though). Good.
2010 Joseph white (Chardonnay, Marsanne, Roussanne) - was still quite toasty when I tried it, although rich and juicy too vs more structured finish; very promising, needing 6+ months in bottle to open up.
2010 Les Bambins rosé (Cinsault, Grenache) - attractive zesty ‘Provence’ style rosé, has fair extract vs zing with long perfumed finish. Delicious quaffer.
All these reds are appellation Pic Saint Loup:
2010 Les Bambins (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre) - bright cherry and spicy liquorice with subtle wild herby side, good fruit vs light grip, fairly tight finish showing nice concentration too. Good stuff.
2009 Le Gamin (Syrah, Grenache) - spicy and rustic hints with ripe dark fruit and minty edges, more savoury and firmer mouth-feel with big/long finish; wow, very good.
2006 Sourire d’Odile (Syrah, Grenache) - maturing meaty leather tones, solid concentrated palate with again minty flavours then turning more ‘sweet/savoury’, still quite tight with attractive acidity/tannins vs maturing fruit. Lovely.
2006 L’Ainé (mostly Syrah) - a touch more oak suffused with savoury notes, pretty dense and extracted yet has a lot of substance, still seems young really with those big grainy rounded tannins vs lovely depth of fruit underneath. Towards excellent.

Clos des Augustins wines featured previously on this blog: 2004 and 2003(“Languedoc & Roussillon top wines over €10 tasting” posted 2007), 2008(“Languedoc vintage report” posted 2009). Which confirm this winery has been "delivering" (to use marketing babble) high quality over the years and continues to do so!

29 March 2012

San Antonio, Chile: Casa Marín & Matetic Vineyards

Felipe and Maria Luz Marin
Knowing how much it amuses me to create a nice little theme (sad and obsessive, moi)... which in this case cunningly revolves around a couple of great wineries found in Chile's San Antonio Valley: Casa Marín and Matetic Vineyards. This "cool-climate" coastal region lies to the south of the perhaps better known (or longer established at least) Casablanca Valley and (south)west of the country's lively capital Santiago.
Click here to read what I said about / tasted from Casa Marín back in 2007 (scroll down quite a bit), where you'll find lots more on Chile (e.g. De Martino, Ventisquero) too. I rated their wines well then and wasn't disappointed when I came across them again at a Wines of Chile trade show last year, where founder/winemaker Mariluz Marín's son Felipe, joint-winemaker and vineyard manager, was holding the vinous fort. Their vineyards snuggle up against the village of Lo Abarca close to the Pacific, whose influence definitely comes through via the cooler-climate varieties they've planted here and resulting quite delicate wines. The £15+ price-tag is the approx retail quoted by London importer Mentzendorff & Co. putting Marín up there among Chile's 'aspirational' boutique wineries. More info @ www.casamarin.cl

This first wine was previously featured in this Pinot Noir report posted in Oct 2011: 
Lo Abarca Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 (14.5% alc) - delicate aromatic "sweet/sour/savoury" nose, tangy vs ripe fruit palate with maturing tones, quite weighty but balanced alcohol, attractive and classy meaty vs perfumed finish.
Miramar Vineyard Riesling 2010 (12.5%) - racy and floral with lime fruit and mineral bite, attractive Riesling style showing crisp and juicy vs oily touches.
Estero Vineyard Sauvignon Gris 2010 (13.5%) - a relation to Sauv blanc probably originally shipped over mixed in with SB cuttings by mistake, although a wise move in the end. Grassy green pepper notes vs more exotic white peach, rich and concentrated with long punchy vs steely finish. Wow. Lovely dry white wine.
Casona Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2011 (13%) - very aromatic with flowery lychee tones, quite crisp and juicy with exotic perfumed fruit, again restrained and refreshing style.

Matetic Vineyards is described as a "modern winery pioneering organic and biodynamic viticulture in the cool coastal region of San Antonio", so obviously a breezy and slightly hippy neighbour of Marin's. They're also one of the best producers of allegedly the next-best-thing-in-Chile Syrah variety - follow link below and you'll understand my slightly cynical stance on that one - and have been doing so for a few years actually. Same could be said for Pinot, without the cynicism; well, planted in what appear to be suitable areas like this anyway. I've now added notes on one of their aromatic whites and a red blend after wines made from the latterly glossed over varieties. Prices are approx retail quoted by their London importer Armit Wines. Matetic has an on-site hotel and restaurant by the looks of their site: mateticvineyards.com, just in case you ever end up in that neck of the woods!

Previously featured in this Pinot Noir report posted in Oct 2011:
Corralillo Pinot Noir 2010 (14.5%) - Rich cherry fruit with wilder edges, perfumed and intense; light grip and lively acidity vs a bit of oomph and concentrated. £14
EQ Pinot Noir 2009 (14.5%) - Touch wilder and gamier still, more intense "s/s" profile too with sweet floral fruit, a little more oak textured but well-integrated, powerful and tasty finish. £18
Posted back in Sept 2011 in this Syrah/Shiraz report:
‘Corralillo’ Syrah 2009 (14.5%) - fairly firm and tight vs pretty concentrated with sweet vs peppery profile, black cherry and plum fruit underneath; again well balanced and stylish. £14.30
Syrah 2008 (14%) - wild edged with spicy black cherry and berry, punchy and grippy vs lovely fruit, has more new oak but not over the top. £37
‘EQ’ Syrah 2010 (14%) - smoky bacon tones layered with spicy black fruits, nice tannins and weight, a tad over-oaked perhaps but it’s quite concentrated and has good depth of fruit. £15+
Tasting note on their top-notch 2004 EQ Syrah here (scroll down to WOC Awards 2006).
2008 Corralillo Winemakers Blend (Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Syrah) - gamey nose with savoury edges vs livelier spicy berry, quite lush and concentrated with nice tannins and 'sweet/savoury' finish. Very good. £10-£15
2011 Gewurztraminer - lychee and pineapple on the nose, more mineral on the palate, a little dilute perhaps but it's elegant and crisp.

27 March 2012

Languedoc: Château Capitoul, La Clape

2007 Les Rocailles, La Clape (60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Carignan) - fairly punchy to start, but this has a lovely big Grenache heart with light chocolate oak texture then taut solid finish. Good stuff. £12.70 (Enotria, London).

Owner / winemaker Charles Mock has been at the helm of this sensationally set property since 1983. His substantial 63 ha (150+ acres) of vineyards are found off the meandering Route de Gruissan on the wildly scented La Clape semi-island landmass, just a few kms southeast of Narbonne. Charles has slowly built up a top-notch reputation for Capitoul, as you’ll see from my notes on previous vintages/wines here (including his lovely white 'Rocailles') and probably elsewhere on this blog too (try the search box if you can be bothered). By the way, the cute pointy-towered chateau, built in the late 19th Century, is actually available as a holiday rental (the whole place if you like): more @ chateau-capitoul.com

21 March 2012

Languedoc: La Bergerie du Capucin, Pic Saint Loup

La Bergerie du Capucin 2009 Dame Jeanne, Pic Saint Loup (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) - lush blackberry aromas/flavours with a touch of chocolate, firm vs fruity vs punchy profile, attractive tannins on the finish. Tasty. £12.25 (Christopher Piper Wines, UK) or about €11 cellar door.

La Bergerie comes to 12 ha (30 acres) of vines lying around the villages of Valflaunès and Lauret thick in the beating heart of Pic Saint Loup country, found to the north of Montpellier. It's been looked after by 40 year-old winegrower/maker Guilhem Viau for many years now, who decided to actually focus and control the making of their own wines at the estate relatively recently. Guilhem says he's committed to sustainable, towards organic wine production including a number of measures put into place to conserve energy and water. This particular GSM blend is named after legendary family figure Jeanne, who took over the property more than 60 years ago, which is fitting for a winery / label that's become ever so slightly cult. They also grow a bit of Chardonnay and Viognier for their white wines (obviously, doh!).
More BdC wines here and info on the region (PSL tasting report and wild wine walking, April 2011). Photo taken from bergerieducapucin.fr.

Chile: De Martino Carmenere vertical tasting and more...

Welcome to the "dark side of my winemaking," as De Martino's winemaker Marcelo Retamal put it, tongue in cheek, as we tasted the 2007 vintage of their single-vineyard Carmenere. Fortunately for us, he didn't don the full-monty black cape and dodgy breathing apparatus and convert to the dark side permanently. In fact, he saw the light again and came back down the righteous sky-walk of sensible winemaking and vineyard practices. So, this is the tale of one variety, that elusive Carmenere, its performance and potential over a measured period (vintages 1996 to 2010 and counting) from a certain site (Alto de Piedra, their "best vineyard" for it) and of "men" (to use a French-style macho "hommes" cliché): Marcelo, Sebastian and the rest of the De Martino family and winery team...
Click here to read this article - goes to a new Chile page in my "more wine words" section. Also featuring archive posts on Ventisquero/Pangea, Tabalí (update to follow), Casa Marín (update to follow), Wines of Chile Gold & Trophy award winners, Errázuriz and more...

07 March 2012

Roussillon: 'dry' Maury, hooray...

So, it comes to pass. A little bit of common sense has arguably prevailed behind the creation of a new Cotes du Roussillon Villages (CdRV) subzone for dry red wines, also called Maury. These wines will come (first ones will be vintage 2011 appearing in about a year's time) from the same appellation area (Maury, Tautavel, Saint-Paul de Fenouillet and Rasiguères) as for the already well-known Maury 'Vins Doux Naturels' (sweet fortified reds), so a big advantage on the marketing front from the start then.
In France, they'll have to put 'sec' (dry) on the label as the 'wine authorities' are needlessly paranoid that consumers won't understand the idea of a regular 'dry' red coming from this area, since the Maury VDN name is much better established over the Channel / Sleeve than in the UK, Ireland or the US, for example. This could have been one reason why this new appellation took such a long time to surface, agreeing on the name etc. as well as all the inevitable rules & regs; but I don't think they need to worry. Rasteau, in the southern Rhone Valley, did the same thing a few years ago and it wasn't a big deal: perhaps producers should leave the 'Roussillon Villages' bit on the label for the time-being so the village-area 'concept' is clearer.
Anyway, does the Roussillon, or France even, need yet another, to non-wine die-hards at least, obscure village name on the label? Well, this one has a certain logic - perhaps more so than e.g. nearby CdRV Rasiguères (will this survive given that the latter village is within the new Maury zone? Confusing or what...) - and doesn't make the same original mistake they made with straight CdRV by telling winegrowers they had to have a certain proportion of Syrah in their wine, even if they didn't have / didn't want any. This one does say you have to have a "minimum of 60% Grenache (Noir)" in the blend, which is after all THE sexy Maury grape variety, but, whoopee, no fascist diktat ordering them to include Syrah.
Nothing against Syrah, but this really does give winemakers the opportunity of crafting distinctive wines that taste a bit different from many from the Languedoc and Roussillon. Lovely rich Mediterranean / Catalan reds. Pity the regs insist on having a blend of "at least two varieties" - why not a 100% Grenache, if the winemaker is clever enough not to make something too overblown, as can happen with pure Grenache - although this does mean growers can make up the balance with good old (being the operative word around these parts) Carignan if they like. Or Syrah, I suppose...
Looking forward to trying some of the new wines next year (goes to my World Grenache Competition 2013 report on Châteauneuf-du-Pape & Roussillon, where you'll find some 2011s), or sooner from barrel / vat in the cellar hopefully. Oh, by the way, dry white Maury might well be next on the cards, which also seems like a good idea as certain wineries are already making some excellent whites from this area (currently called plain old CdR).
Sources: Vins du Roussillon and Vitisphere.com.

A fuller version of this piece (including a few "dry Maury" recommendations drawn from this blog) is viewable on Palate Press Story Bank.