Richard Mark James' wine & travel blog
Buy my French wine e-magazine (click there - updated Sept 2016) on Amazon for £3.76/$4.99/€4.44/¥512/Ca$6.51/Au$6.62 (or £4 emailed as a PDF) including Languedoc, Cahors, Champagne, Chablis, Alsace. Other special supplements and guides: English wine guide £3.50, Cava guide £3, Slovenia & Croatia, Portugal, Argentina (follow links for more info and payment). Pay by card with PayPal: click here for more about card payments using PayPal, general 'terms & conditions', and your privacy.

30 May 2012

Languedoc: Limoux sparkling wines

It wouldn't be the first time I've knocked together a few enthusiastic words about Limoux fizz on this blog and what great value for money these wines often are. This increasingly dynamic region, and relatively "cool-climate" for the Languedoc - lying mostly on rolling hilly land stretching out to the south of Carcassonne around the eponymous market town - boasts hundreds of years of history of making quality sparkling wines. Not that I usually give a damn about how long somebody's been doing something per se - if what they're doing is good anyway - but a little "tradition" probably helps in this case.
The first two Limoux styles featured below are essentially created in the same way using the so-called traditional method (same as Champagne with a second fermentation in bottle), although different grape varieties, or proportions of, make up the base blends for each style; and the 'rules' on ageing differ slightly too. Crémant is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (especially for rosé), Chenin blanc and/or Mauzac with at least 12 months bottle-ageing on its yeast-lees sediment. Blanquette is built mostly, or sometimes entirely, from Mauzac supplemented by Chenin and/or Chardonnay. There is another 'older' style called Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale, which is 100% Mauzac and the result of a bottle-fermentation that stops leaving some residual sugar and lower alcohol of 6-7%. I tried these tempting bottles on a tasting trip to the Languedoc last month.

Crémant de Limoux

White

2008 Château Rives Blanques Blanc de Blancs - delicately toasty and honeyed with almond and yeasty edges, crisp and stylish with attractive nutty and bready flavours, long refreshing finish. Very good.
2008 Taudou - less expressive nose, quite yeasty vs honeyed although crisp and steely too; a touch too much of that toasted yeast character although it has substance and is still nice!
2008 Alain Cavailles/Le Moulin d'Alon 'Résilience' - subtle nutty bready flavours with 'straw' and honey undertones, crisp mineral bite vs 'sweeter' toasty creamy side, good length and style.
2008 Domaine Delmas Cuvée Audace - richer nose with more 'fino'/nutty character too, lovely crisp steely bite vs yeasty and toasty. Very good.
2009 Georges et Roger Antech Cuvée Héritage - fairly fine with elegant nutty yeasty intensity, a tad closed up although has intricate flavours and crisp length.
2010 Domaine J Laurens Clos des Demoiselles - 'winier' and fuller with toasted oat notes, crisp and fresh finish. Lovely.
2006 Domaine de Martinolles - toasty complex nose, enticing rich developed character showing oaty nutty flavours vs steely and fine mouth-feel. Tasty stuff.
2007 Toques et Clochers Sieur d'Arques - delicious sparkling wine offering toasty complex full-bodied flavours vs tight fine and crisp on its long finish. Who needs expensive Champagne? This limited edition fizz is €15 cellar door, making it one of Limoux's dearest although among the best too.

Rosé

2009 Antech Cuvée Emotion - elegant red fruits and rose petal vs bready and nutty, tight and crisp finish. Good stuff.
2009 Alain Cavailles/Le Moulin d'Alon 'Micromégas' - rich and 'winey', not very pink but who cares; honeyed and fairly toasty cakey vs fresher finish and bite. More good stuff.
Domaine de Martinolles - delicate vs oily red fruits with nutty yeasty and crisp palate, again lovely fine steely finish vs gently toasty character. These guys know what they're doing.
Profile on Martinolles with older vintages HERE.
Domaine J Laurens La Rose No. 7 - sounds like a lipstick maybe, but this quite delicate tight and steely fizz also has subtle rose water and red fruit tones; mouth-watering refreshing style with nice lingering flavours. Very good.
Sieur d'Arques Première Bulle rosé - delightfully refreshing light and delicate pink fizz. Quite expensive though at €12.

Blanquette de Limoux

2009 Joseph Salasar Carte Blanche - toasty earthy winey with attractive honeyed straw character, richer yeasty palate vs crisp bite and length. Very good.
2009 Château Rives Blanques - aromatic grapey winey nose, rounded vs steely palate, nicely crisp and long; a bit different too.
2009 Alain Cavailles Etincelle Originelle - earthy vs appley nose, yeasty and lightly toasty flavours, crisp vs honeyed, quite intense and refined.
2009 Alain Cavailles Résilience - similar style, finer and nuttier perhaps, again crisp refreshing vs honeyed mouth-feel, elegant length.
2009 Domaine Robert Carte Noire - floral and almond aromas, light crisp and refreshing palate vs yeastier biscuit flavours, long and fresh. Good stuff.
2010 Nicolas Therez Instant d'Arome Peche - fruitier and grappier vs apple and pear notes, crisp and steely with light refreshing finish.
2010 Sieur d'Arques Première Bulle - clean crisp and appley with yeasty undertones, quite delicate and tart, nice palate cleanser with crisp length. Good. €10
2010 Robert Carte Ivoire - juicy honeyed hints vs appley and crisp backdrop, nice lightly toasty yeasty richness vs dry and steely, fresh and long. Fair class.
Profile on Robert / Domaine de Fourn with older vintages HERE.
2010 Taudou - more honeyed and fuller style, oat cakey flavours vs appley crisp and clean bite, delicious fizz actually.
Domaine Delmas Tradition NV - subtle honeyed grapey tones vs appley bite, attractive yeasty depth and oat biscuit flavours, crisp long vs richer finish. More good stuff.
Antech Brut Nature - appley and lightly yeasty, intense crisp and dry vs rounder honeyed biscuity side, long and refreshing; needs food as it's pretty dry on its own. Very good though if you like 'nature' styles (no added dosage = sweetening).

Blanquette Ancestrale

Sieur d'Arques Coeur de Bulle (6% alc., 80 g/l residual sugar) - refreshing and light although quite sweet: best with a fruit dessert actually. €7.60
Antech Ancestrale - grapey and earthy, sweet vs crisper side, pleasant Moscato d'Asti alternative.

Lots more Limoux fizz here (report from last year's "Millésimes en Languedoc", April 2011. See also Limoux winery profiles in the Languedoc A to Z on the right...

19 May 2012

France: Centre-Loire "silex" tasting

Silex? Sounds like a distant planet in an implausible sci-fi movie, but silex actually comes from the Latin for a kind of hard flint, although it can also mean silica in modern English according to Wikipedia. Anyway, this wasn't a rock-sucking tasting but of ten 2010 vintage whites from the Menetou-Salon, Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre regions in the central Loire Valley, where in places this type of soil crops up mixed with clay. Well, do these wines really taste "flinty"?
Photo © Benoit Roumet
The science behind any possible correlation between soil, vines and actual flavour in wine is complex and, as yet, not very conclusive and probably not that helpful either. And this sort of geological jargon only helps perpetuate old clichés about soil being more important than anything else in growing grapes and making wine. However, you'll notice the regular use of words like "chalky," "steely" and "mineral" in my tasting notes below; maybe because I knew these wines were from 'silex' and inevitably you're influenced by this? What they do have in common is high quality, with some excellent wines in the line up, and showing intense expression of the Sauvignon blanc grape variety (they're all made from 100% SB, steeped in flint chips of course...). I see that, on the vins-centre-loire.com site, they don't go overboard about silex in the glossary simply saying: "...Wines sourced from these soil types generally have good ageing potential," which I wouldn't disagree with.
Being intense concentrated and well-built like this also makes them great food dry whites, including the usual fish-pairing suggestions but should handle rich or full-flavoured sauces well (wine, sherry, cream, black pepper, parsley, basil etc.). And why not try with e.g. a succulent pork rib roast, rabbit stew or duck/goose even. Or anything with cheese in it... I've included a few UK distributors and prices where available.

Domaine Pellé Le Silex du Carroir, Menetou-Salon - grassy gooseberry aromas tinged with intense citrus and lime even, crisp chalky mouth-feel with long finish and subtle ripe green fruits. Very good.
Domaine de RiauxPouilly-Fumé - more fragrant gooseberry / kiwi style, concentrated vs crisp palate with lingering citrus and ripe greengage flavours, oily notes too vs steely and intense. Very good. Layton's Wine Merchants.
Domaine ChampeauPouilly-Fumé - similar profile to above although "flintier" perhaps, certainly has zesty chalky texture vs nice green fruit depth vs oily notes too, crisp elegant finish. Lovely wine.
Domaine Masson-Blondelet Pierres de Pierre, Pouilly-Fumé - showing yeast-lees edges and vibrant gooseberry fruit, steely mineral palate vs concentrated and ripe, great balance and length. £16.95 from Stone, Vine and Sun (appropriately as the wine's name is "stone stones" or "Pierre's stones" perhaps...)
Domaine Michel Girard et Fils Silex, Sancerre - leesy and "flinty" nose, subtle green fruits vs a riper side vs nice crisp length. Good stuff although less expressive than some of the others at the moment. Boutinot.
Claude Riffault Les Chailloux, Sancerre - blackcurrant leaf aromas, quite intense and chalky mouth-feel to start although falls away a little perhaps. Flint Wines (ho ho).
Vincent Grall, Sancerre - nettley gooseberry tones, steely chalky and intense with crisp long finish vs tasty concentrated fruit. Very good. Jascots, Decorum Vintners, Avery's of Bristol. About £16.
Domaine Vacheron Les Romains, Sancerre - don't mention the Romans! More closed up on the nose, moves on to an intense palate showing green vs oily combo, elegant crisp length with underlying green pepper / sweet gooseberry flavours. Stevens Garnier.
Domaine Laporte Le Rochoy, Sancerre - screaming gooseberry and greengage fruit, builds up to lively zesty finish with steely chalky undertones, very long and classy wine. Auriol, Roberson, Jascots, Ellis, Cellarrange/L'Assemblage. About £19.
Serge Laloue Cuvée Réservée, Sancerre - smoky notes plus gooseberry fruit, pretty intense and "flinty" actually with lovely bite and length vs riper rounder side too. Grands Vins de France.

More Centre-Loire posts: Pinot Noir rosés and reds and Sancerre vertical tasting (2005 to 1996 vintages).

17 May 2012

Roussillon: Château de l'Ou update

Click on this highlighted link to view my earlier profile of Château de l'Ou (2008) plus a few previous vintages tasting-noted.
The Bourrier family's vineyards have happily expanded taking in a couple of plots up near Caudiès and St. Paul in the Fenouillèdes zone, which is found northwest of their Montescot base in the central Roussillon, as Séverine B updated me at this year's Millésime Bio wine fair held in Montpellier. This brings their total surface area to 32 organically farmed hectares (= 80 acres no less); organic since the late 90s in fact. They've launched the 2010s of some top new varietal wines and now have a website too, where I copied the rocky photo from: www.chateau-de-lou.fr.
2011 Côtes du Roussillon white (mostly Grenache blanc + Roussanne) – yeast-lees notes add a little intensity vs roundness to its attractive profile, has nice crisp finish too. €8.50 cellar door.
2010 Infiniment white (Chardonnay) – toasty edges with lees notes vs juicy fruity, quite rich mouth-feel vs refreshing bite too. Good but dear at €16.50.
2009 Côtes du Roussillon red (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre) – fruity and spicy with black cherry, liquorice and pepper vs hints of background oak and light grip on the palate; attractive mix of nice and easy vs a bit more serious as well. €8.50
2010 Infiniment red (Syrah, 14.5% alc) – lush and chocolatey although not too much oak, structured concentrated and powerful vs lovely ripe fruit and balance. Very good. €16.50

11 May 2012

Austria: Werner Michlits, Burgenland

Egg-shaped vats at Meinklang
The Michlits family - namely Anneliese, Werner, Johannes and Lukas - estate is a comforting back-to-nature flashback in time (apart from those splendidly quirky egg-shaped concrete vats - see photo - which have become the trendy thing to ferment your wine in apparently), as vines are just one of the 'foodstuffs' that receive their undivided biodynamic attention (and the fruit is turned into grape juice and wine). They also grow apples (and make apple juice, brandy and vinegar), cereals (transformed into beer) and sunflowers and rear cattle (you'll notice a bit of a cow/bull theme on their website and labels), pigs and horses too! The most planted grape varieties here are the red Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch, pretty typical of the warmer Burgenland region in eastern Austria, followed by other reds Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir) and St. Laurent plus a smidgen of 30+ year-old Cabernet Sauvignon, the region's oldest Cab I'm told.
On the white front, which I focused on tasting at this year's Millésime Bio wine show held in Montpellier a few months ago, they have Welschriesling (Laski Rizling, "Italian" Riesling or Graševina among other synonyms; but it's not Riesling Riesling the experts say), Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grüner Veltliner and Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris). The farm, actually the most appropriate word, has been run organically since 1980 and is now Demeter registered. And, as if all of this wasn't enough to keep them busy, they have a small vineyard across the border in Somló, Hungary, hence the ever-so-familiar (not!), and rather delicious in fact, Juhfark varietal wine noted below; as well as more familiar, although much trickier to pronounce Hárslevelü. Like your style! More info, and a selection of nice little red and green cows doubling up as links, @ www.meinklang.at.

Meinklang Grüner Veltliner 2011 - aromatic and peppery nose, intense zingy green fruity mouth-feel with lively finish, nice refreshing style. €7.60 cellar door.
Graupert 2011 (Pinot Gris) - quite rich and honeyed countered by attractive spice tones, big mouthful with creamy oily texture/flavours vs crisp tight finish; good characterful stuff. €13.60
Juhfark 2010 - also lush textured with exotic fruit style, concentrated vs steely palate with lots of flavour and finish. Very good though dear at nearly €20 a bottle.
Weißburgunder Eiswein 2008 - complex dried fruits, honey and marmalade vs intense lively acidity, lush sweet dried fruit finish vs steely cut. Wow, lovely wine.


LOTS MORE AUSTRIA HERE (Pfaffl, Grüner Veltliner Galore, "I'll be back..." and other archive features) or see post below: Sepp Moser.

09 May 2012

Languedoc: Terrasses du Larzac and Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert


Mas des Brousses, Puéchabon
From masdesbrousses.fr
Toasted as the darling of a clutch of new Languedoc village subzones, Terrasses du Larzac was officially created in 2005 although the name has been used for much longer than that. The appellation's northern and eastern borders, flanked by the raw landscape painted by the Causse du Larzacare shaped by a variety of ranges, foothills, natural terraces, sheer cliffs and scrubland that form the bottom end of the Massif Central mountains. The Hérault River runs silently and roughly through the middle of it, and the terrain then dramatically climbs from here heading northwards (take the A75 motorway towards Millau sometime and be wowed by the view).
However, despite all this terrace talk, vines are planted at from below 50 metres above sea level to over 300 (165 to nearly 1000 feet); so to pretend this is all some kind of unique and homogeneous "high-altitude" appellation is a bit of a nonsense. It also takes in over 30 villages (though there probably aren't vineyards planted around all of them) spanning a pretty sizeable area, including the following perhaps best-known ones: Aniane, Gignac, Jonquières, Montpeyroux, Puéchabon, Saint-André-de-Sangonis, Saint-Félix-de-Lodez, Saint-Jean-de-Fos, Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière and Saint-Saturnin-de-Lucian. In addition, certain of these places have created their own village sub-sub-zone (well, the winemakers there I mean obviously), e.g. Montpeyroux and Saint-Saturnin (see some of the winery links below).
See where I'm heading with this quasi rant? Well, I understand the logic of trying to parcel up the enormous Languedoc wine-lands to highlight the best areas, producers and wines. And agree in principle, as long as you make it mean something by creating distinctive statement wines from a relatively small area, and get the message across successfully to wine lovers looking for hot new bottles to try (the tricky bit in a world awash with names of wine regions nobody's heard of or really cares about at the end of the day). But, having sampled my way through a table full of reds from several vintages from Larzac in the Languedoc at their recent "Millésimes en Languedoc" showcase week, I found myself a little disappointed compared to what I tried there two years before (I didn't feature this area's wines last time: see blog archive April-May 2011) and in situ or elsewhere on other occasions.
I ended up excluding quite a few wines out of the total tasted, as they just weren't exciting enough to include or, worse, weren't very good. Admittedly, as is always the case / problem with this sort of event and line-up where it's up to the wineries to submit samples, a few top names were conspicuous by their absence, as I've commented on before. However, certain familiar estates did stand out nicely, such as Mas des Brousses, Mas des Chimeres or Clos du Serre; as well as not so familiar (to me at least), Domaine des Cres Ricards for instance.
I also see Gérard Bertrand, one of the Languedoc's biggest privately owned wineries and vineyard owners and a name some winegrowers like to dislike (although they wouldn't say so publicly of course), has landed in the Larzac zone with his purchase of La Sauvageonne, and its excellent track record over the past few years, up in Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière, which is a remote hilly village definitely on the higher side with its remarkable elevated and very stoney terraces.
Over to the wines then: here's my top 20 TDL reds. Some of the 2010s weren't finished samples, but it's looking very promising as a vintage in this area and overall in the Languedoc. Generally, Syrah, Grenache and/or Mourvèdre are the main varieties used here, although certain producers feature old Carignan or Cinsualt in the blend too.

2008 Domaine de Brunet Mas Brunet Prestige - quite forward with ripe liquorice, scented garrigue and spicy Grenache style; good palate and balance with a bit of bite and freshness vs 'sweet' fruit and rounder mouth-feel. Nice now.


2009

Mas de la Seranne Antonin et Louis - perfumed floral nose with spicy liquorice and black fruits, touch of oak but not too much, grippy vs textured with light oak grain, powerful finish layered with 'sweet' fruit.
Les Conquetes Les Innocents - quite rich and lush with herby edges, 'sweet' liquorice and black fruits, drinking quite well now with underlying oomph vs rounded palate vs attractive ripe fruit.
Quinquarlet / Familongue L'Esprit de la Bastide aux Oliviers - very ripe smoky and 'resiny' with savoury edges, chunky tannins vs dark and spicy fruit, dry finish with a bitter twist.
More Familongue here.
La Traversée - this is Gavin Grisfield's new venture, former winemaker at La Sauvageonne. Shows enticing ripe dark fruit vs touch of coco oak, toasted chocolate tannins but it's concentrated, well-made and attractive (although a shade expensive at €30!).
Mas des Brousses Mataro (= Mourvèdre) - lovely scented black fruits and wild herbs, lush savoury vs sweet palate with a touch of oak grain vs rounded texture, liquorice spice and power to finish. Very good stuff.
Domaine Alexandrin Alex - perfumed ripe nose and palate, hints of vanilla oak with 'sweet' textured vs grippy mouth-feel, quite concentrated and punchy.
Quinquarlet 3 Naissances - dark plummy 'soy' vs herby notes, smoky and quite rich vs firm and dry, closes up a bit but should be good.
Les Chemins de Carabote Les Pierres qui chantent - perfumed garrigue and blackberry/cassis notes, nice mouthful of ripe vs spicy fruit, lush powerful and firm yet quite silky too somehow. Very good wine.
Plan de l'Homme Habilis - rich dark 'tar' tinged nose, lush palate with savoury edges, has fair grip yet rounded tannins, good fruit and depth.
Mas des Chimeres Caminarem - rustic ripe and peppery, lush fruit and tannin combo, a bit 'bretty' (rustic) perhaps but is concentrated and has tasty savoury/sweet profile.
Mas des Chimeres Nuitgrave - more savoury and developed, again showing nice dark fruit with those rustic edges; similar mouth-feel to above, tighter and less obvious perhaps although is drinking well at the same time.

2010


Domaine des Cres Ricards Stécia - dark and smoky with a touch of sweet oak, concentrated and tasty, touches of oak grain vs rounded tannins, closes up with firm vs supple finish, nice depth and style. Very good.
Domaine des Cres Ricards Oenothera - smokier and richer perhaps, quite tight on the finish, chunky vs lush mouth-feel, nice balance and class.
Mas des Quernes Villa Romaine - pretty oaky start vs concentrated and lush palate, spicy with dry vs rounded vs grainy tannins, needs time to open up but should be good.
Le Clos du Serre Les Maros - a little closed up, firm concentrated and punchy with dark chocolate tannins vs a lot of depth too, slightly at sorts at the mo but it´s promising.
Previous vintages and profile on Clos du Serre HERE.
Mas des Brousses - quite firm and closed up, showing grainy oak vs lush and concentrated underneath; difficult to tell but there´s definitely something there with attractive sweet/savoury finish.
Quinquarlet la Bastide aux Oliviers - quite juicy fruity vs firm and tight, not very revealing although has good depth of fruit.
Gérard Bertrand La Sauvageonne Pica Broca - spicy herby black cherry notes, good concentration vs solid yet rounded, powerful finish with lingering sweet liquorice and spice, nice length and style.
Sauvageonne under previous management.

Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert © OT SGVH


On a more cultural and historical note, if you're thinking of doing a little wine touring in this area, make sure you find time to have a stroll around the Mediaeval hilltop village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. With its magnificent Romanesque abbey (photo), sloping narrow cobbled (and car free) streets and awesome cliff-face backdrop, it's not far from some of the wine villages and estates mentioned above. Great drive too along the twisty Hérault river gorges, as you wind your way up there. Probably best avoided in the summer though, as it soon gets crowded with tourists. By the way, its name does indeed come from a certain noble warmonger Guilhem, who found his perfect isolated retreat here to study as a monk and founded the monastery in 804, which was rebuilt in the 11th Century on the same site. More @ saintguilhem-valleeherault.fr.