Richard Mark James' wine & travel blog
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30 July 2012

Sparkling wine: France, England, Germany, Spain, Chile, Oz, Italy, S Africa...

A gratuitously fizzy post simply to create one central URL for a handy "wine words" side-bar link (below right) to all pieces on sparkling wine... Updated: from June 2015 posts and features on Champagne are now appearing on a special page HERE.

Gusbourne Estate, Kent
Excluding Crémant de Bourgogne, which you'll find there on my Burgundy page; and Limoux fizz (May 2012) among my French Med Wine posts which was updated in July 2015 HERE. It's that time of year anyway (if you need a time of year), when you may be more inclined to crack open the bubbly out in the garden (huh!) or better still on your hols. If you're travelling or chilling in France or elsewhere in €uro land, Champers and other sparklers are less expensive than in the UK or North America. So here are a few links pointing to sparkling stories and recommended bottles on WW.com / FMW.com...

Latest bubbly pieces from Italy & Spain are linked directly below:
Find more Spanish fizz by doing a Cava search (click there).

Champagne: Drappier IV 'Quattuor' (June 2015) - after this one, Champagne links can be found HERE.
English sparkling wine supplement (updated May 2015) - "I've put together a 14-page special supplement on English sparkling wines, which is fizzing over with great 'Champagne' lookalikes, and taste-alikes, from 15 exciting English wine estates, vineyards, wineries and brands featuring Upperton, Hattingley, Brightwell, Digby, Henners, Hush Heath, Jenkyn Place, Danebury, Gusbourne, Chapel Down, Bolney, Bluebell, Ridgeview, Knightor and Furleigh..."
Champagne & sparkling wines festive fizz (Dec 2013) featuring nice bottles that crossed my path: Cava, Prosecco, the Cape, England, Champagne and sparkling Shiraz.
A couple of Champagnes "of the moment": Champagne Louis Chaurey Brut (M&S) and Premier Cru Champagne (Tesco) (New Year's Eve 2012, updated with super-duper Croser Sparkling from Aus).

England: Furleigh Estate, Dorset featuring their 2009 Classic Cuvée (Oct 2012).
Reichsrat von Buhl Riesling and Pinot Noir Sekt, 2004 to 2009 vintages (Nov 2011).


Champers vs English fizz: Pierre Gimonnet et Fils and Gusbourne Estate, Kent (Sept 2011). I hear from Decanter.com (full story on their site) that Gusbourne has been poured recently at some right royal Olympic do.
Fizz of the moment: Royal Seyssel Brut: obscure yet pretty sparkling wine region in Savoy on the way up to skiing country in the French Alps (Sept 2010).
English Wine Week (almost): Ridgeview, Nyetimber (W. Sussex) & Camel (Cornwall) (June 2010).


"Yawn, yet another luxury special edition..." : Champagne Gosset (Dec 2009).
Pass the Bolly or "if it's the 85 you were expecting me...": Bollinger feast including some fab old vintages (May 2004).

Even more international fizzy links:

Cava guide (Spain, on-going: updated Aug 2015)
Isla Negra Brut sparkling rosé, Chile (May 2011).
Pirie & Petaluma Australia (Feb 2010).
And you'll probably find more using the search box top right...

27 July 2012

Languedoc: Fitou

Fitou (pronounced something like 'fee-too'), possibly the Languedoc's most schizophrenic wine region, has a coastal bit around the town of Fitou and a hilly bit inland around Tuchan and neighbouring villages, which are inconveniently buffered by a fat wedge of the Corbières appellation in between (something to do with history, local politics and this co-op winery that occupies much of the latter territory, allegedly). So, two rather different areas in terms of microclimate and terrain; and, generally speaking, the best wines probably come from the wineries and estates lying inland (but not exclusively) on these higher wilder wine-lands. Fitou is for red only, and you'll find all the usual-suspect grape varieties here with a fair bit of old Carignan still being used side by side with plenty of new plantings of Syrah. And not forgetting lovely Grenache of course.
Touring around this pretty neck of the woods, you could start in Fitou village, which is nicer than the first impression you get just off the dangerously busy main Narbonne to Perpignan road, as you climb up the hill to a more peaceful backdrop. Tuchan and around (Villeneuve, Paziols...) is very much Caves de Mont Tauch country, an amalgamated mega co-op that's become the biggest player and well known in export markets for being reasonably innovative. The Mont Tauch mini-mountain overlooking their silvery winery and surrounding landscape is dramatic in a raw and primeval kinda way; for the best view, approach from the south on the winding road from Roussillon country over the other side...
I've covered a few Fitou estates and wineries on this blog before - here are links with words and recommendations of some of the more interesting reds, and more links below too alongside the relevant winery:
Domaine les Enfants Sauvages (cellar/home in Fitou though their vineyards aren't...)
"Cellar Reserve" FitouChâteau de Montmal and Cave Mont Tauch (all CMT)
Domaine Jones and Domaine Maria Fita.
The wines tasting-noted and tipped here, spanning the 2008 to 2011 vintages, were on the table at this year's epic "Millésimes en Languedoc" week about three months ago. Has to be said it was quite hard work filtering out the best ones to recommend, with a lot of hard tannic and/or clunky oaky wines; and I wasn't the only one who thought this. Anyway, here she blows:


2008

Domaine Grand Guilhem - maturing prune and plum fruit, quite light and crunchy with dark berry vs smoky meaty notes, pretty firm but the tannins are digestible; drink now. Previous DGG here.
Château Lérys - quite rustic and 'inky', fairly rich on the palate though with earthy liquorice fruit vs extracted tannins and a bit of weight. Previous Domaine Lerys.

2009

Vignerons de Cascastel 'F' - spicy berry fruit layered with a fair bit of vanilla oak adding sweeter texture and flavour, pretty firm tannins but softens up on the finish with weight and dark fruit.
Cave Mont Tauch Hautes de Paziols - aromatic black cherry, ripe vs firm backdrop, lacks a bit of character but it's not overblown at least like many here.
Château Abelanet vieilles vignes (old vines) - again a tad extracted and firm vs subtle grainy oak and has substance too, rounder sweet berry finish.
Domaine Bertrand-Bergé Ancestrale - nice perfumed black cherry and blueberry fruit, minty wild floral thing going on too with subtle concentration and solid but not too tannins. Very good. Previous Domaine Bertrand-Bergé.
Château de Nouvelles - perfumed spicy floral black cherry, fruitier softer wine with ripe berry and touch of savoury development, light grip and elegant length. Also one of the better ones.
Château Wiala Sélection - smoky earthy savoury notes vs dark fruit, a bit rustic perhaps but has some substance and attractive coating of softening tannins, tobacco vs liquorice tones on finish.

2010

Domaine de la Grange Via Fonteius - chunky fruity style with minty berry / cherry flavours, firm yet rounder tannins underlined by ripe fruit. Good.
Château de Nouvelles Gabrielle - touches of coconut oak and attractive minty black cherry, pretty solid mouth-feel yet has a lighter touch too and nice grainy texture.
Château Champ des Soeurs Bel Amant - floral minty cherry and cassis, ripe vs dry tannins, fairly elegant finish. Good.
Château Champ des Soeurs La Tina - coco vanilla oak but not too over the top, has fair grip vs sweeter cherry and liquorice fruit then rounds out a little.
Domaine de Mandraou - slightly rustic perhaps with leather and tobacco notes vs pruney liquorice, solid tannins vs some concentration too.
Domaine de la Rochelierre Privilege - 'modern' style with lively blackberry vs a touch of coconut, nice softer palate vs a bit of oomph and grip.
Domaine les Mille Vignes Atsuko - upfront spicy black cherry and minty garrigue aromas (that slightly elusive wild earthy herb/flower thing), a little punch and grip vs ripe dark fruit; probably very Syrah but good with it.
François Lurton cuvée des Ardoises - smoky rustic edges vs raisiny berry and black cherry, again has appealing dry vs softer mouth-feel with 'sweet' perfumed vs earthy fruit.


2011 (probably unfinished samples)


Château de Nouvelles - enticing ripe dark fruit, spicy blackberry/cherry and liquorice, fairly soft tannins vs nice grip and depth. Promising.
Mont Tauch - chunky and quite extracted with vibrant fruit, ripe blueberry and black cherry, again nice textured tannins.
Château Champ des Soeurs La Tina - chocolate oak coating vs ripe and rounded, bit closed up and firm yet has good depth of fruit.

25 July 2012

Italian reds: Sicily, Barbaresco, Amarone...

The first Sicilian red recommended here is made entirely from an obscure indigenous variety called Nerello Mascalese from vines grown in the Agrigento area in the southwest of the island. The second is another co-op winery red moulded from the better-known Nero d'Avola grape (I wouldn't have said that a few years ago but I've noticed more and more Nero d'Av wines around, which is nice) sourced from southern Sicily. Finally, the dearest one, also from the south and 100% Nero d'Avola, is a bit of a Mediterranean treat although still quite good value for the quality at £12; I'd much rather drink this than a 'cheap' Barolo at the same price.
Talking of which, or next door at least, Marks & Spencer sell a Barbaresco for £12 as well, which I found a tad austere though still pretty typical Nebbiolo in style I guess. The Barby I've included here - 100% Nebbiolo too as they all are - is more than twice the price unfortunately but is in a different class; shame that you have to pay so much to get something very good from the Piemonte region. And travelling east to the other side of the north, if you get my drift, we have a rather yummy Amarone from Valpolicella. It's fairly expensive as well, as they naturally tend to be, and not everybody's cup of red tea, being typically full-on and towards head-banging in style, so save it for a special and very hearty meal (wild boar stew perhaps?! Matured hard cheeses certainly).

2009 Nerello Mascalese Cantina del Coppiere, Sicily (13% alcohol) - 'sweet' floral fruit with wild lavender edges, tasty 'sweet/savoury' palate with ripe maturing fruit vs a touch of grip. Nice Med style. M&S £5.99
2009 Baglio Rosso Nero d'Avola Cantina Sociale Viticultori Associati, Sicily (13%) - similar profile to above, perhaps more intense and lusher with lovely sweet fruit and wild herb undertones, again attractive soft and easy mouth-feel vs structured too. Good stuff. M&S £7.99
2007 Nero d'Avola di Sicilia Casa Girelli (13%) - rich and seductive nose with savoury and almost tar-like notes, ripe dark fruit for sure; concentrated gamey and savoury palate with lush structured underbelly, very long finish. Delicious wine. M&S £11.99
2007 Barbaresco Cascina Morassino, Piedmont (14.5%) - has all that enticing firm and fresh character you'd expect from Nebbiolo vs much richer and darker than the 'cheaper' one, meaty powerful finish; classy wine. M&S £27
2008 Villalta Amarone della Valpolicella Speri, Veneto (mostly Corvina and Rondinella plus Molinara and others; 15%) - perfumed dried cherry notes with meaty 'tar' edges, powerful and firm mouth-feel vs nice and lush vs dry texture, big stylish finish. M&S £25

23 July 2012

Roussillon: Domaine Cazes update, Rivesaltes

Lionel Lavail and Emmanuel Cazes
Click here to read what I've said about Cazes and their wines on various occasions over the past six years. The most recent catch-up session with Emmanuel Cazes (vineyard manager & winemaker) and Lionel Lavail (sales director) was at Millésime Bio organic wine show earlier this year, where I had the chance to try some of their 2010 and 2011 vintages. These were my favourite two for entirely different reasons...

Canon du Maréchal 2011 Muscat/Viognier - grapey aromas with exotic touches, apricot vs orange notes; crisp and 'mineral' with light bitter twist, nice and easy style. €6.60 cellar door.
2010 Ego Côtes du Roussillon Villages (still roughly the same Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre blend) – attractive dark fruit with savoury edges and towards chocolate notes/texture although it's quite subtle, nice ripe mouthful offset by herby edges, grippy vs rounded mouth-feel. Good stuff, possibly better than previous vintages. €10 cellar door (comparatively much better value than the above).

LATEST vintage VDN released by Cazes tasted here: Rivesaltes ambré 2000 (February 2014).


Roussillon: Domaine de l'Ausseil update, Latour de France

Latour de France overlooking Grenache gris vines  Domaine de L'Ausseil
Latour de France watching over old Grenache gris vines
Domaine de L'Ausseil
Previous wines and words on Domaine de l'Ausseil can be found here (April 2007 and April 2009). Owner/grower/winemaker Jacques de Chancel was, as sure as flowering follows budding, at the 2012 vintage version of Millésime Bio wine fair (held in Montpellier earlier this year) with the latest vintages gleaned from about 10 organic ha (25 acres) of mostly old vines scattered around the handsome timeless village of Latour de France (photo). Among other things, Jacques told me that, in addition to organic-only treatments in their vineyards, he's also focusing on using "very little - less than 10 milligrams per litre - or no SO2" (sulphites in winemaking: without wanting to get too chemical, 10mg/l is roughly 10% or less of what could be in a 'regular' bottle, depending on the wine/winemaker). €uro prices below are cellar door (in France obviously) to give you an indication: more info @ www.lausseil.com.

2011 P'tit Piaf white - very Muscaty with orange peel vs floral grapey notes, ripe and rounded vs crisp and juicy. Nice easy style. €6.50
2011 P'tit Piaf rosé (Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah) - zingy 'mineral' touches with yeast-lees undertones, crisp dry finish. Nice style again. €6.50
2010 Papillon (Grenache gris/blanc, Macabeu, Muscat) - rich nose with complex 'volatile' edges, lovely spicy vs honeyed palate with lush and lees-y vs intense 'mineral' finish. Very good dry white. €13
2008 La Capitelle Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France (Carignan, Syrah, Grenache) – lush vs savoury style red, again has that intriguing wilder side and lovely concentrated fruit; developing quite fast but it's still very good. €9.50
2007 Les Trois Pierres Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France – reductive/herby vs ripe and aromatic Syrah dominant profile (?), meaty and concentrated with chunky tannins, developing complex flavours with powerful finish. Lovely red. €14
2011 Prise de Bec red (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre) – lively black cherry/berry and cassis to start, soft vs dry texture, attractive quaffer finishing with peppery liquorice notes.
2011 Du Vent dans les Plumes(Carignan based) – quite rustic / bretty even (?) and spicy, although the former works here thanks to its rich vs crunchy mix of flavours and textures; concentrated too with thick yet supple tannins. Very good actually despite that initial nose.

14 July 2012

Port: Niepoort 'masterclass'


Niepoort family
"Dirk Niepoort (pic. second from right) hosted what turned out to be a dream tasting back in late May in London, where we were treated to three flights of his Garrafeira, Colheita and Vintage Ports spanning almost a century; from a couple of youthful 2009s back to an incredible 1912. Needless to say the latter has fared better than that other slightly better-known 100 year-old vessel, as it carries on sailing majestically across oceans of time..."
Click here to read the full report (goes to my 'Portugal page').

10 July 2012

Rhône: Domaine Jean David, Séguret

Jean David
I met Jean at the lunch table at Millésime Bio organic wine fair in Montpellier earlier this year, where he had a bottle of one of his commanding 2010 reds open for sampling with the nosh (organic of course). This cuvée is a touch different from the norm around these wild and spectacular parts (and in their range too), as it's made predominantly from old Carignan (47%) followed by the staple Grenache (31), Mourvèdre (11) and splashes of Syrah (8) and Counoise (3). The blend is done this way as it's sourced from a particular plot among 16 ha (40 acres) overall, where these vine varieties are all mixed up together roughly in these proportions; hence this wine's made in ye olde "field blend" style. Jean and Martine David are fair old-timers when it comes to organics, as they've been doing it in their vineyards since 1989. Respek. Séguret is one of those lovely old-as-time villages stuck on a hill and a stand-alone Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation lying somewhere between Gigondas and Rasteau in the shadow of the brooding Dentelles de Montmirail hills. They make six other wines, which I look forward to trying sometime somewhere.
More @ www.domaine-jean-david.com where, for a nice change, they say, accurately, they don't use synthetic chemicals etc. Unlike some organic growers who conveniently make generalizations about not using any chemicals, as if explaining the details doesn't matter. My point being many consumers are a bit confused and believe organic means no chemicals, which clearly isn't the case (sulphur, sulphur dioxide, copper based treatments...). These are considered 'natural', which, well, they are, and are sanctioned and difficult to do without (although some are trying with varying results...). Sorry to be pedantic but worth repeating my little rant just to clarify!

2010 Cuvée Beau Nez Séguret (14.5%) - chunky vs aromatic style, powerful with lush dark fruit, firm and punchy finish with meaty savoury notes too. Needs a few months to open up but it's good stuff.

More Côtes du Rhône Séguret profiles and wines to follow (Domaine de Mourchon...)

09 July 2012

Rhône: Palai Mignon, Tavel & Lirac

Tavel
www.vin-tavel.com
The compact neighbouring wine regions of Tavel and Lirac, known for their chunky rosés and reds based on Grenache, are classed under the Rhône Valley, which they are in lying just to the northwest of Avignon; although the village of Tavel, where this wee winery is found is actually in the Gard département in the Languedoc. A not particularly confusing fact though, nor terribly interesting and who gives a damn anyway, you may be tempted to add. The curiously named Palai Mignon (cute palace?) belongs to winegrower/maker Cyril Amido and comes to a slender three ha (7.5 acres) farmed organically - he set up this label in 2005 (having worked for the local co-op for years) and has been certified organic since the 2011 vintage. I couldn't find a website or blog but his email is cyril.amido@orange.fr, if you ever wanted to call in and taste sometime or find out where he sells his wines (outside of France), which are worth tracking down imho. I sampled these two tasty little numbers at Millésime Bio wine show in Montpellier earlier this year:


2011 Tavel (mostly Grenache + Syrah, Clairette, Carignan) - rich colour and rounded full-bodied style rosé, nice lees edges and a touch of 'mineral' character somehow, although this isn't especially acidic with its fruity oily texture. Different, good with food I'd imagine.

2011 Lirac 'Caprice' (mostly Grenache + Syrah, Mourvèdre) - aromatic perfumed and spicy liquorice fruit, ripe and juicy palate with attractive tannins and 'sweet' fruit, quite elegant actually with subtle grip and weight to finish. Very good.


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Chile: Viña Tabalí - Limarí


Viña Tabalí - Limarí Valley

Viña Tabalí - Limarí Valley

Tabalí claims to be the first to have started planting in this northerly region in 1993 (now reaching a whopping 180 ha = 450 acres of vines), which might have raised a few eyebrows at the time as it's on the edge of the Atacama desert hence is pretty hot and dry, although being only about 30 km (less than 20 miles) from the ocean compensates for this (cool breezes, man). The company is mostly owned by Guillermo Luksic Craig and run by head winemaker Felipe Muller, whose team includes Christián Sepúlveda in the winery and Héctor Rojas in charge of vineyards. As you can see from the previously written snippet and older vintages reviewed underneath, I've been following Tabalí for a few years now and they seem to be making better and better wines. Their UK importer is Boutinot (£ prices below are approx retail in independent merchants), and their wines are also available in North America: more info @ www.tabali.com.

Reserva Viognier 2011 (13.5% alc.) - exotic peach aromas with yeast-lees edges, rich and rounded with apricot fruit vs juicy 'chalky' texture, long crisp finish. Very good. £8-£10
Reserva Pinot Noir 2010 (13.5%) - Lovely perfumed cherry tones, juicy and tasty with "sweet/savoury" edges, attractive ripe fruit and refreshing bite. £8-£10
Reserva Especial Pinot Noir 2010 (13.5%) - Smokier and edgier style, has a bit more grip and weight then fairly intense finish. Very good. £10-£15
Talinay Pinot Noir 2009 (14%) - Touches of oak, quite big mouthful with enticing perfumed "s/s" notes, a little tannin and fresh bite too, fair class overall. £15+

Reserva Syrah 2010 (14.5%) - youthful and ‘inky’ with a touch of oak, tight firm palate showing hints of chocolate oak, fair length though with sweet fruit vs dry tannins, closes up on the finish. Reasonable value at £9.49.
Payen’ 2007 (mostly Syrah, 14% alc.) - herby peppery nose with wild black fruits, subtle oak on a very concentrated palate, dry vs sweet texture and liquorice vs meaty finish. One of the best ones I tasted out of 50 Chilean Syrah/Shiraz wines last year (see link to report on those at the bottom). £15+
Reserva Especial red blend 2008 (mostly Syrah + Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot; 14%) - complex herbal berries with spicy edges, quite big and chunky with maturing savoury tones, attractive lush vs firm mouth-feel. Very good. £10-£15

And this is what I said and tasted five years ago by the way (copied from my Chile archive page):
Their website says: "At 30º29’ latitude South, Limarí is currently Chile’s northernmost wine-producing region, although this is likely to change quickly as pioneering winemakers continue to push northward in search of new viticultural frontier." Indeed, according to Wines of Chile the Elqui Valley is the most northerly, although relatively recent for quality grape growing (there's only one major winery so far). Limarí is 400 km (250 miles) north of Santiago and close to the sea.
Fascinating, I hear you say, but there must be something special about the place, as I've now tasted a few very good wines from here. So, over to Tabalí (who, it has to be said, appear to have boosted their prices since winning a load of awards), tasted at Boutinot's bash in the Tower of London (mind your head) in Feb 2007:
2005 Special Reserve Chardonnay - peachy and fresh v lightly buttered toast, nice acidity and elegant length. £17 87-89
2005 Special Reserve Pinot Noir - attractive herbal 'sweet and savoury' Pinot style with light creamy vanilla backdrop, soft v tangy mouth-feel. £17 87
2005 Special Reserve Shiraz - enticing smoked bacon and white pepper notes, firm and tangy v ripe and rounded finish. £17 87-89
2004 Special Reserve red blend (50% Cabernet Sauvignon 15% Merlot 35% Syrah) - a bit reduced / funky on the nose? Piquant cassis and blackberry fruit, more concentrated than above with solid tannins and fresh bite too, needs time to come together. £20+ 88-90



More links to Tabalí and other Chile:
www.winewriting.com/2011/10/pinot noir
www.winewriting.com/2011/09/chile syrah shiraz

05 July 2012

Wine Education Service: courses & tastings in Belfast from September

Dates for Wine Education Service courses and tastings scheduled this autumn in Belfast and tutored by RMJ are:

INTRODUCTORY COURSE
ESSENTIAL WINE TASTING
£125 for 5 sessions
Tuesdays 25/09/12 - 23/10/12 19.00-21.00

INTERMEDIATE COURSES
£150 for 5 sessions
CLASSIC GRAPE VARIETIES
Thursdays 4/10/12 - 1/11/12 19.00-21.00
THE CLASSIC WINES OF SOUTHERN FRANCE
Wednesdays 7/11/12 - 5/12/12 19.00-21.00

ONE-DAY WINE WORKSHOPS
£75 including lunch, all Saturdays 09.30 - 17.30:
From Grape to Glass 6/10/12
The Wines of France 3/11/12
Champagne & sparkling wines 1/12/12

Ramada Encore Belfast
These laid-back wine events are held at The Ramada Encore Hotel, St. Anne's Square, Belfast BT1 2LD. More info and booking: www.wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast

Wine Education Service: courses & tastings in Belfast from September

Ramada Encore Belfast
Dates for Wine Education Service courses and tastings scheduled this autumn in Belfast and tutored by RMJ are:



INTRODUCTORY COURSE
ESSENTIAL WINE TASTING
£125 for 5 sessions
Tuesdays 25/09/12 - 23/10/12 19.00-21.00

INTERMEDIATE COURSES
£150 for 5 sessions
CLASSIC GRAPE VARIETIES
Thursdays 4/10/12 - 1/11/12 19.00-21.00
THE CLASSIC WINES OF SOUTHERN FRANCE
Wednesdays 7/11/12 - 5/12/12 19.00-21.00

ONE-DAY WINE WORKSHOPS
£75 including lunch, all Saturdays 09.30 - 17.30:
From Grape to Glass 6/10/12
The Wines of France 3/11/12
Champagne & sparkling wines 1/12/12

These laid-back wine events are held at The Ramada Encore Hotel, St. Anne's Square, Belfast BT1 2LD. More info and booking: www.wine-education-service.co.uk/wine-tasting-belfast

04 July 2012

Languedoc: Minervois, red white rosé 2010 and 2011

It was perhaps reassuring to see some familiar names cropping up among my favourites at this year's Minervois tasting and over lunch afterwards, such as Château La Grave, Sainte Eulalie, Borie de Maurel, Domaine Cavaillès and Gérard Bertrand. These sprawling and mostly picturesque wine-lands stretch from St-Chinian country to the east across to Carcassonne in the west and towards Narbonne to the south, signed and sealed by the Canal du Midi flowing along its substantial bottom (roughly speaking) on its ambling way out into the Mediterranean.
To find your way around this vast wine region more easily, pockets of quality are found here and there around Minerve or St. Jean de Minervois, for example, or in the Montagne Noire foothills in villages like Trausse-Minervois and Caunes-Minervois, and around La Livinière. However, I didn't include many from the latter trendy sub-appellation this time, especially 2009s, as I just found too many of these reds were over-extracted or swamped in new oak (helps justify those high prices perhaps!). Generally, the reds (and rosés) featured here major on Syrah with Grenache, Carignan and occasionally some of the other Languedoc varieties (I chucked away the tech sheets, as my bag was just too heavy...). Whites tend to be based on Grenache blanc and/or varieties such as Roussanne, Marsanne or Muscat even.
I sat next to Michel Escande from Borie de Maurel at lunchtime and had a good chat with him about his philosophy, wines, food (his substantial rosé went well with blue cheese even actually) etc. Which was great, as I've known and liked their wines for some time (wife Sylvie and son Gabriel are very much involved in the vineyard and winery too, by the way) - see this mini-profile for a snippet about them (there is more lurking around, just can't seem to find the notes on the blog...) - but haven't yet been there or hadn't met the personality behind the bottles until now. This amicable down-to-earth kinda guy has a playful sense of humour and believes in keeping things as simple and natural as possible, putting in a lot of work in the field and cellar to make it all happen. These Minervois wines were sampled and savoured a couple of months ago on the annual "Millésimes in the Languedoc" bash...
"The windmill" from boriedemaurel.fr
Rosé 2011

Vignobles de Pouzols Mailhac Florilège - nice zingy zesty underbelly vs gentle red fruits and perfumed roses, lively juicy finish.
Château Villerambert Moureau - nice 'tight' Provence style, lighter and zestier vs aromatic fruit and crisp bite.
Château La Grave Expression - quite delicate and zesty with lees tones, crisp palate with crunchy red fruits then rounder oilier finish.
Château Sainte Eulalie Printemps d'Eulalie - bit tight and closed up but I like that elegant crisp style.
Borie de Maurel - chunky full-bodied style, rounded and fruity, quite powerful 14% alc. vs nice 'winey' texture then a touch of freshness on the finish; a foodie rosé, good with different cheeses.

White 2011

Tour Saint Martin - not bad, lightly chalky vs bit of zest and aromatic floral fruit.
Le Clos des Suds Elegie - touches of vanilla and coconut but not overdone, hints of banana with fennel edges, lightly creamy vs bit of freshness too. Good in the end.
Château Villerambert Julien - aromatic with peachy apricot notes, quite concentrated and full vs crisp and steely, leesy creamy texture then mineral bite. Very good.
Château La Grave Expression - lovely complex nose, pungent celery vs oily exotic characters, crisp 'chalky' palate with very fresh long finish. Delicious.
Borie de Maurel La Belle Aude - closed up to start with, subtle yeast lees intensity and concentration reveal themselves, crisp and tight, should round out a little. Good.
Alliance Minervois La Capricieuse - aromatic grapey nose with citrus peel in a Muscat-y style, zesty 'chalky' palate with lingering floral notes. A bit different.

Red - 2010

Château du Donjon Grande Tradition - nice dark spicy fruit, vibrant and tasty with a little grip vs roundness. Straightforward but good with it.
Vignobles BonfilsChâteau Millegrand Aurore - quite dense and closed up, hints of black plum with savoury edges, again grippy vs quite rich and rounded. Good.
Borie de Maurel Sylla - 'reductive' nose (was an unfinished vat sample) but has concentrated dark berry and plum fruit, attractive savoury vs sweet profile, firm vs rounded texture. Promising assuming that pong goes away.
Château Mignan Pech Quisou - the tannins are pretty full-on, but it has good depth of fruit and substance, spicy vs sweet blackberry fruit, grip vs rounded mouth-feel. Good.
Domaine des Tourels Les Terres Rouges - quite dense and extracted vs underlying attractive spicy/minty black cherry fruit, fairly lush and concentrated vs that dry grip. Should be good after a few months in bottle.
Château Sainte Eulalie Plaisir d'Eulalie - ripe yet savoury dark fruit, nice fruity spicy chunky style with a little grip vs lingering black fruits. Attractive now.
Anne Gros et Jean Paul Tollot Les Fontanilles - touches of coco oak but nicely done adding dry grainy vs rounded texture, subtle black fruit finish and  good weight.
Domaine Cavaillès Cuvée Jeannot - enticing vibrant black cherry and cassis aromas, lightly minty too and savoury edges; fairly firm tannin but has enough fruit and weight to balance it out.
Domaine Cavaillès - purer fruit character and spicy too, black cherry/berry flavours layered with attractive grip and texture, lingering spicy fruit and oomph. Good stuff.
Domaine Saint Jacques d'Albas - quite straightforward with nice chunky mouth-feel and spicy fruit, a bit short but with attractive dry/rounded texture.

2011 (mostly unfinished wines)

Château Villegly Moureau - upfront lively black cherry fruit vs chunky tannins although reasonably soft already, ripe vs dry finish.
Château La Villatade Noma - similar fruit and style, grippier though and more closed up, could be good further down the line.
Château La Villatade Sanguine - chunkier still yet has more depth of fruit, a bit firm and closed up at the moment but has appealing spicy berry fruit underneath. Good.
Château de Sérame Réserve - again quite dense and grippy vs attractive upfront dark vs spicy fruit, reasonable substance and a tad of character too. Pretty good.


MINERVOIS LA LIVINIERE

2010


Gérard Bertrand Château Laville Bertrou - enticing upfront blackberry/cherry aromas with subtle coconut oak notes and grainy texture, firm vs rounded palate, coco choc texture underpinned by lively spicy fruit. Good.
Borie de Maurel La Féline - closed up but its attractive black cherry and spice character comes through, dark meaty palate with concentrated vs grippy mix, tight long finish yet a rounder side too. Needs time but will be very good.


2009


Alliance Minervois Grand Terroir - appealing upfront Syrah fruit style, herby minty black cherry, quite soft and tasty now yet has a bit of grip and length.
Gérard Bertrand Le Viala - complex herby minty tones vs richer black cherry liquorice and black pepper; grippy and concentrated mouth-feel vs rounder 'sweeter' texture to finish, powerful and long. Promising.
Château Sainte Eulalie La Cantilène - subtle grainy coconut oaky vs spicy berry fruit, more elegant less heavy handed style. Good.
Oustal de Cazes - light grainy coco touches and texture vs subtle concentration and ripe dark berry vs savoury development; well made with bit of character too, better and perhaps less Bordeaux / more interesting than previously!


Other recent bits and pieces on Minervois:
La Rouviole Feb 2012
Muscat & Minervois June 2011 (a Muscat and cheese post from this year's trip will follow at some point soon...)
Domaine Sénat Sept 2011
Clos du Gravillas Aug 2011, update to follow.


See the South of France on a cruise: click here for more information on Mediterranean cruises!

03 July 2012

More Chablis: Bichot Vaillons 2009

Following in the wake of my recent Grand Cru Chablis report (this page also contains links to other Chablis recommendations and stories including Marks & Spencer's), I came across a fairly enthusiastic scribbled note on a worth-mentioning Premier Cru Chablis that I enjoyed a glass of not so long ago. This 2009 vintage Vaillons is made by Domaine Long Depaquit (owned by Albert Bichot, one of the producers featured in the above-linked article) and is a tasty classy mouthful of riper richer styled buttery and toffee-edged fruit vs underlining steely mineral side and subtle crisp finish. According to Wine Searcher, it costs about £16 from Fine & Rare Wines in London (that's their case price plus guestimated taxes) or $28 from JJ Buckley in Oakland, CA.

02 July 2012

USA: Virginia

Click on this link to view a new page just slotted into my wine country archives:

The gist of the blurb: "For non-Americans reading this whose US geography is about as good as mine, the state of Virginia is on the east coast... Viognier, which is becoming one of the most popular white varieties. And you can see why, as they appear to be coaxing generally impressive, expressive yet quite refined wines out of this can't-just-plonk-it-anywhere grape. Petit Verdot, which struggles to impress in Bordeaux's vineyards unless they have very favourable vintage conditions, also looks promising in Virginia; even managing to make some good varietal wines from it... They seem very geared up for wine tourism too, with various wine trails and organised tours and wineries with restaurants and accommodation. It's certainly a pretty state to visit..." Plus 26 whites and reds tasting-noted made by the eight wineries featured in the link above...