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27 February 2013

Spain: Garnacha / Garnatxa, red white and rosé

Following in the red-stained footsteps of my 'World Grenache Competition' series (part 1, part 2, part 3), this time we're turning the spotlight on Garnacha/Garnatxa from different parts of northeast Spain (Rioja, Aragon, Catalonia) with a little vinous wandering beyond the timeframe of the WGC event, which took place in Perpignan, south of France (Catalan side) recentlyMy favourites from the Garnacha-based rosados tasted in the competition are highlighted below, along with a few reds sampled/enjoyed in the afternoon or evening with food and some background info on this sumptuous variety in the regions of Aragón and Catalunya. I've noted any medals awarded and/or my 100-point style score as appropriate. Some of the other wines crossed my path last year but haven't seen the on-line light of day yet.

Rosé / rosado - Rioja

2012 Castillo de Albai Felix Solis Avantis - full-on cherry nose, fresh lively and lees-y with plenty of aromatic red fruits, zippy long finish with nice lingering fruit. Gold Medal winner. My score 87+
2012 Valcaliente rosado Ruiz Jimenez - fresh lees-y nose with attractive cherry fruit, crisp and zippy mouth-feel with long ripe vs tart finish, nice weight too vs tight and crisp. Silver Medal. 87
2012 Arnegui Felix Solis Avantis - almost red, rich and aromatic with ripe cherry fruit, full-bodied 'sweet' vs crunchy palate, impressive big rosé style even if a little heavy on the winemaking (then again, that is rosé, no?!). 85
2012 Vina Herminia Garnacha - even richer in colour than above, has plenty of extract and fruit, rich and full-on yet fresher and more elegant than above. Gold. 87

Aragón

2010 Las Rocas Garnacha viñas viejas Calatayud (Bodegas San Alejandro co-op winery, from 80 year-old bush vines) - lovely ripe minty blackberry fruit and spice, concentrated and powerful with 'sweet' vs peppery profile, silky tannins layered with tasty dark lush fruit and savoury-edged finish. Yum: 'modern' style but good with it. Silver Medal. UK/Ireland importer: Liberty Wines (I copied the photo above from libertywines.co.uk).
2009 Aquilon Garnacha Campo de Borja - lots of sweet coconut and chocolate oak vs lush fruit and layered tannins, rounded and ripe vs a touch of firmness; nice but rather oaky.
2010 Coto de Hayas Garnacha Centenaria Campo de Borja - touches of oak grain, lovely tobacco notes vs ripe sweet fruit, powerful yet with some fresh bite and grip too. Nice old-fashioned style. The 2011 vintage won a Gold.

Whereas only 10% of Spain's vineyards overall are planted with Garnacha, there's "much more in Aragón..." (also suggested as the variety's origin), Juan Cacho told us giving an overview of the region (professor of winemaking at Zaragoza University). Looking at the main 'DO's (appellation areas) within this province, Garnacha accounts for at least half of varieties planted in Calatayud and Campo de Borja (both on the western side), and nearly a third of the surface area in Cariñena yet just 5% of Somontano (more mountainous zone to the northeast). "Garnacha was declining but now we're replanting it," Juan explained, "it suits dry climates and low-yields. Old vineyards are now sought after. I think the increased investment in technology and winemaking have had a very positive effect on Garnacha in particular, in quality terms, and especially for the co-ops." There's also a new emphasis on export marketing e.g. joint Grenache promotions in North America. "We're looking for EU funds to work with people in the Roussillon etc. Home wine consumption is falling, so we have to look elsewhere," he concluded logically.
More Garnacha wines from Aragón here ("wines of the mo" Oct 2011) and here (Spain archive page).

Catalunya

2011 Viladellops Garnatxa Penedès - nice 'sweet' aromatic floral minty and spicy blackberry/cherry fruit, firm and peppery vs ripe and soft palate, powerful yet fairly easy going with tasty fruity finish. (The 2009 vintage won a Silver Medal).
Nuria Ruiz from the Catalan Wine Association added that "this vineyard was replanted, or rather grafted 28 years ago so the vines are 'older' than that. The wineries in our association export less than in Spain overall (meaning those thirsty Catalans drink most of it presumably), and a quarter of wine exported is red Garnacha." They promote them in e.g. the US, London, Switzerland, Barcelona and Perpignan (!); the average bottle price is €34, which is pretty high value wine.

2009 Domènech 'Teixar' Montsant (Garnatxa "pelut" = furry Grenache!) - showing a fair dose of coconut and vanilla oak, rich and ripe palate though vs nice firm and peppery finish, enticing tasty savoury fruit with layers of coco/choc oak, but not too much in the end.
2009 Domènech 'Furvus' Montsant (Garnacha & Syrah, 14.5%) - 'sweet' and maturing nose and palate vs grippy and structured, attractive lingering savoury fruit vs solid and tight still; good stuff. Silver medal (I tasted it in the special 'Grenache room' at last year's London International Wine Fair actually).
Josep Ignaci Domènech showed his first wine here representing the 'Terra de Garnatxes' group, which is funded by half a dozen wineries including him. Catalunya has diverse vineyard areas running from the coast right up to 700-1000 m altitude (2300-3300 ft roughly); the Montsant DO region lies inland and not far from the city of Tarragona. Josep told us "there are 5837 ha (approx 14,500 acres) of Garnatxa in Catalunya," splitting down as about 3900 of red, 1780 white "...plus the three other Garnachas..." ('grey', 'furry' and ..?).

El Miracle Cava rosado Vincente Gandia - attractive fruity style with a touch of intense toasty yeast-lees character.
2011 Herencia Altés Benufet Garnatxa Blanca - soft rounded and oily with interesting aniseed flavours, nice food white.

Parés Baltà organic wine and Cava producer based in the Penedès region.
2011 Indigena white Garnatxa (11.5%) - from La Plana Molinera, Finca El Subal at 700m altitude. Juicy lees-y and light, attractive mineral side vs honeyed fruit, crisp and delicate actually.
2009 Hisenda Miret (Finca Cal Miret, 400m) - nice juicy Garnacha style with peppery liquorice notes, full bodied and grippy with a touch of class too.
(Tasted in a special 'Grenache room' at last year's London International Wine Fair).

More Catalan Garnatxa here.

21 February 2013

Cahors: Malbec roadtrip part 3 - Châteaux Haute-Serre, La Caminade, Armandière...

Cahors: special wine touring report now available
You can get my special Cahors wine touring supplement as a PDF file, featuring all three parts of my Malbec road-trip trilogy posted on French Mediterranean Wine earlier this year, plus bonus winery profiles from this exciting region of south-west France and the latest update added in Nov 2015. Yours condensed into a neat 20 page mini-mag PDF delivered by email when you buy it for £3 - these specials are not free2view. Click on the title link above to find the PayPal buttons!

Also starring a few choice wine picks and comments on 'the Perrin project' (not as mysterious as it might sound), La Bérangeraie, VinoValie/Les Bouysses, Clos Troteligotte and an update on previously 'profiled' organic estate LaCapelle Cabanac (click there)... Which all come together neatly to form the third and final part of my Cahors discovery tour from last autumn (alternative title perhaps: "Malbec III, the return home..."). To recap then, the story so far on FMW.com...
Cahors: Malbec roadtrip part1 Château Les Croisille - Château Combel La Serre - Château Tour de Miraval.
Cahors: Malbec roadtrip part 2 Châteaux du Cayrou, Famaey, Métairie Grande du Théron, Latuc.


1000 year-old olive tree (really!)
at Domaine de Landiech
Our first stop the following day was a picturesque (I took a few) wavy vineyard centred on a couple of spectacularly old olive trees and so-far not so pretty building site at Domaine de Landiech, where future plans for a landscaped winery and tourism operation are being put into place by Alain Dominique Perrin, owner of well-known Cahors estate Château Lagrézette. They planted 20 ha/50 acres of Malbec back in 2009 in one spot here along with cypress and olive trees (not the one above obviously), and are considering doing up the disused collection of old farm buildings on site to posh bed & breakfast accommodation. But the priority is to finish the new winery here, not much more than concrete platforms and pillars when I was there in October 2012, which is being constructed into the hill at the top end of the vineyard...
Get the full report to read on!


The Cahors Wine Producers' Association had the bright (bordering on radical) idea of relocating from a rather bleak old place opposite the station to the swinging heart of down-town Cahors, and must have spent a tidy sum refitting a lovely old building into the 'Cahors Malbec Lounge'. This groovy wine bar cum office space is obviously well stocked with local wines; and they run a variety of tastings to suit, from just turn up and taste (€5 for three wines in 20 minutes, three languages spoken) to a bookable one-hour mini-course (€15 six wines) or tailor-made evening events seating up to 44 people. This is a great idea and shopfront for their wines: more @ vindecahors.fr and travel tips at www.tourisme-cahors.fr. We met and tasted with a few more winemakers 'at the bar' here, these were my favourites (all Cahors)...

16 February 2013

Cahors: Malbec roadtrip part 2: Châteaux du Cayrou, Famaey, Métairie Grande du Théron, Latuc

Cahors: special wine touring report now available
You can get my special Cahors wine touring supplement as a PDF file, featuring all three parts of my Malbec road-trip trilogy posted on French Mediterranean Wine earlier this year, plus bonus winery profiles from this exciting region of south-west France and the latest update focusing on ten organic estates (Nov 2015). Yours condensed into a neat 20 page mini-mag PDF delivered by email when you buy it for £3 - these specials are not free2view. Click on the title link above to find the PayPal buttons!

You'll find a snippet of "the first tantalizing instalment reporting from once-upon-a-time a little downtrodden but now groovy again Cahors, in deepest south-west France ("home of Malbec" as it likes to dub itself)..." featuring these wine estates here: Cahors: Malbec roadtrip part 1, Château Les Croisille - Château Combel La Serre - Château Tour de MiravalMy further adventures of 'desperately seeking Malbec' in Cahors continue, rather belatedly, with a wine touring report of Château du Cayrou, Château Famaey, La Métairie Grande du Théron and Château Latuc. Plus another restaurant tip in the middle of lovely nowhere...


Château du Cayrou (meaning gravel or stone) is a handsome yet understated affair (pic.  above, I wouldn't want to guess how much his roof maintenance costs though) in that typically 17th Century French country estate style; not as grand and show-off-y as Bordeaux, more workmanlike than a regal old town mansion, but plenty of it all in big stone nevertheless. The backdrop to my Facebook page did also feature a (not bad) shot of a beautiful old chunky "150 to 200 year-old" cedar tree in front of a curious round-tower outbuilding, lying off this photo rotating right of the chateau. Anyway, you'll come across Cayrou near Puy-L'Evêque and the estate has been owned by Georges Douin for four years now. Incidentally, Georges has been converting over to organics since he took over, so 'official certification' will be appearing on their labels soon...

Get the full report to read on!

A taster of the final part of my Malbec-tastic Cahors trilogy is HERE featuring Haute-Serre, La Caminade, Armandière, La Capelle Cabanac, La Bérangeraie, Vino Valie, Clos Troteligotte and Les Bouysses, peppered with more wine travel tips including the 'Malbec Lounge' in pretty Cahors town itself...

13 February 2013

World Grenache Competition part 3 - Sardinia: Cannonau di Sardegna

Enzo Biondo's book on Cannonau
The third thrilling installment of my 'World Grenache Competition' coverage brings us back to Sardinia featuring my pick of the Cannonau (= Grenache) di Sardegna reds we tasted in the competition, along with a few succinct nuggets and couple more older Cannonaus plucked from a presentation given in the afternoon. Any medals awarded are stated in brackets, and/or my own 100-point style scores come afterwards (for wines tasted blind in the competition at least). You'll find Part 1 with a bit of background and comment on the competition below this post and Part 2 on my French Med blog, which focuses on the Roussillon and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Part 4: Spain, Garnacha/Garnatxa...

Cannonau di Sardegna DOC
Something of a mostly enjoyable voyage of discovery for me, this flight of Sardinian reds received my most extreme scores, the highest and lowest of the three flights we tasted! My top scoring five on our table were:
Sartiglia 2011 Azienda Vinicola Attilio Contini (Trophy winner) - hints of maturing tobacco notes vs 'sweet' and peppery aromas, lovely blackberry and liquorice; concentrated and grippy palate, powerful with tight long finish; classy wine, needs time to develop. 93. Roberson Wine in London has the 09 vintage of this for £10.95.
Olianas 2011 Societa Agricola Olianas (Gold) - attractive nose, lively and spicy with lots of dark fruits; very concentrated with nice tannins and a touch of freshness too, lovely lingering rich peppery flavours with good balance and style. 92
Tuvara 2006 Vitivinicola Alberto Loi, Isola dei Nuraghi (Silver) - enticing developed meaty nose with dried cherries and tobacco tones, concentrated with nice rounded tannins, quite mature with a touch of class. 90

Su'entu 2011 Societa Agricola Varoni - aromatic sweet plum and liquorice, peppery vs savoury vs ripe with attractive lingering meaty fruit, fairly restrained and tight on its long finish. 90
Chio Riserva 2008 Cantina Il Nuraghe-Mogoro (Silver) - lifted peppery nose with nice sweet liquorice fruit, quite soft palate vs a bit of punch, still quite structured though with fairly complex finish. 87

And these two older wines were shown as part of a presentation on the island's big-gun red (get it, ho ho?) by Enzo Biondo (winemaker and author of 'Cannonau Mito mediterraneo', pic. top) and Mariano Murru (winemaker at the Argiolas co-op winery):
2007 Riserva Nepente di Oliena Cantina Oliena (15% alc.) (their 2010 non-Riserva won a Silver medal) - very ripe 'sweet' fruit with floral and kirsch tones, 'volatile' maturing edges; savoury leather notes vs 'sweet' dried fruits, dry tannins but not drying, tasty developing finish, a tad cider-y perhaps but good in that old-fashioned 'volatile' way.
The northeastern part of Sardinia boasts about 70% of Cannonau/Grenache production, and most of it is concentrated in the Nuoro region a little inland from the east coast, where this wine is comes from. The whole island is made up of over 80% hills and mountains by the way. Here the variety is planted on old bush vines, and the wine sees traditional ageing in large old tuns. Oliena itself has the biggest surface area of Grenache planted at 668 ha/1650 acres (along with star white variety Vermentino): "You hardly find it anywhere else in Italy," Enzo continued, "and I prefer it as 100% of the wine here. It gives less colour but I like all those ripe Mediterranean flavours." So do I Enzo. He also said that picking dates are tricky in this neck of the woods, as ripening isn't even across all the different zones.
Mariano showed us the 1997 Turriga from the Serdiana co-op in the south of the island, found a little north of Cagliari on "slightly west-facing vineyards at 140 metres altitude...  we don't get many bunches per vine here." Cannonau/Grenache is often blended here with Malvasia Nera, Carignan and Bovale Sardo (I think he said the latter is the same as Mourvedre, but it's a clone of Bobal according to Jancis Robinson's guide?). This wine was very ripe and savoury with sweet dark fruit and soft palate, mature with earthy edges; a bit past its best perhaps but interesting nevertheless. The 2008 vintage of Turriga won a Gold medal.

12 February 2013

World Grenache Competition part 2: Roussillon and Châteauneuf-du-Pape

"Part one" posted on WineWriting.com ran a bit like this, just to regurgitate a bit of background and my thoughts: The first of its kind, I/they believe (? and set to become a regular event I hope), an international wine competition in celebration of one of my fav varieties, Grenache / Garnacha / Garnatxa / Cannonau: red, white, rosé and fortified wines. And absolutely why not, I hear you say. Ah, yes, Cannonau: it took me a while too to remember that Sardinia's Cannonau di Sardegna (click for Part 3...) red is made from what they call Grenache!


Old terraced Grenache, Banyuls-sur-mer
By Vi Erickson
I was on one of the tasting panels in Perpignan on 24th January; my table of tasters (two Spanish - erm, one Valencian, one Catalan - three French and yours truly) sampled and marked about 30 wines: one flight of Spanish rosés, one of Cannonau (my pick of those appear on my other blog - click on the link at top of page) and one of Roussillon 'table' reds. Being held in Perpignan, there were naturally a lot of local entries, which is probably reflected in the amount of medal winners from this region (and some good wines of course). Then again, most of the world's Grenache is planted in France - split between the Rhone valley, Roussillon and Languedoc - and Spain, Garnacha's spiritual home (I have/found contradictory info disagreeing over whether Spain or France has the most!). There were also some entries from Australia (probably not as many as there could/should have been?) and South Africa (again, medal winners and my favs will appear on WW.com), accompanied by surprise samples from Brasil and Republic of Macedonia! But what about California? I believe the main criterion applied for the contest was for large-majority Grenache (red, white, grey or 'furry'...) wines, which perhaps also explains the dominance of the Roussillon and lack of Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Languedoc in the 'French category', although you'd still have expected more Rhone wines in the medal line-up.
Talking of which, this is where I might make myself unpopular. I counted 163 Gold and Silver medals including nine Trophy winners: out of only 364 wines tasted, that's nearly 45% of them, which is too high a proportion compared to other international competitions; and in fact OIV regulations, the organisation that dreamed up the frankly stupid 'official' system used, apparently state that "awards are limited to 30% of samples entered..." I've come across this system before, where you have to allocate a set amount of marks to all aspects of each wine, including e.g. colour and clarity as if that really matters when making a quality judgement. Especially since Grenache isn't naturally known as a variety with lots of rich colour (you can if you really extract it), compared to say Syrah or Cabernet. Anyway, this very long-winded methodology does at least add up to 100, but it's more generous - or the opposite - than the 100 point system used by some wine critics. Scoring works as follows: 84 to 87 Silver medal, Gold 87 to 92 and Trophy 92 to 100 (see what I mean). It's too easy to award too many or too few marks to a wine by adding them all up for each 'category' (visual, olfactory, mouth-feel, overall impression and totally subjective 'typicity'), as you're supposed to. So I judged them applying the 'traditional' 100-pointer in my mind while asking myself: "is this really a silver or gold wine?" Then did the silly math afterwards.
Rant over: you have to use some scoring system or other obviously. And I'm certainly not knocking any attempt to promote great wines made from Grenache from around the world. The nine 'trophy' winners were as follows, which include a fair few Vins Doux Naturels fortified reds and 'whites' (red highlight = link to profile on this blog):
Château de Péna Hors d'âge AOP Rivesaltes Tuilé, Roussillon.
Dom Brial 2010 AOP Rivesaltes Grenat, Roussillon.
Domaine Rossignol 2008 AOP Rivesaltes Ambré, Roussillon.
Albera En croisade Hors d'âge AOP Rivesaltes Ambré, Roussillon.
GT-G 2010 LePlan-Vermeersch AOP Côtes du Rhône Villages.
Lafou Els Amelers 2011 Roqueta DO Terra Alta white, Catalonia.
Saint Roch Kerbuccio 2011 Maison Lafage AOP Maury Sec, Roussillon.
Sartiglia 2011 Azienda Vinicola Attilio Contini DOC Cannonau di Sardegna (actually my top wine in our flight from Sardinia: see WW.com link at top).
Sur Grains 2011 Domaine Boudau AOP Rivesaltes Grenat, Roussillon (my note below).
The full results are viewable here: www.grenachesdumonde.com.

My favourites from the Roussillon and Rhone Valley (tasted in the competition blind, that evening at a food & wine tasting bash or the previous night over dinner) were as follows, including the first outing, for me at least, of some exciting Maury Sec dry red wines (the appellation rules were amended from vintage 2011 to embrace 'dry' and fortified sweet reds from the same area based on Grenache). Medals awarded are in brackets and/or my 100-point style score afterwards:
Sans plus attendre 2010, Domaine Modat Côtes du Roussillon Villages Caramany (Gold medal) - attractive white pepper, sweet cherry and liquorice; firm vs rounded with powerful yet balanced finished. 90
Domaine de Bila-Haut 2010 M. Chapoutier, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France (Gold) - young lively fruit, rich black cherry with minty spicy edges, tight fresh finish showing a bit of class too. 87+
Le Clos du Fourat 2011 L'Etoile AOP Collioure Rouge (Gold) - nice peppery style with quite rich dark fruit, rounded oak-tinged palate but has attractive tannins and ripe fruit too. 86
Cuvée Centenaire white 2010 Domaine Lafage (large proportion of Grenache blanc I believe) - shows a touch of wood layered with attractive yeast-lees notes and buttery hazelnut aromas/flavours and floral 'mineral' edges, rounded and quite soft with fair weight and rich exotic fruit vs hint of fresh acidity still; good with creamy porcini soup appetizer.
Nicolas vieilles vignes 2011 Maison Lafage, Côtes Catalanes (15% alc.) - attractive Grenache nose, sweet fruit with peppery edges and punchy mouth-feel, firm and structured with tasty ripe fruit; good (Silver).
Cuvée Léa 2011 Maison Lafage, Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres (14%) - ripe resin-y and rich vs solid framework, closes up on its long finish; needs a little time to open up (Silver).
Montpin 2011 Domaine Pouderoux, Maury Sec - lovely Grenache fruit with peppery intensity, again tasting a bit austere on the palate at the moment (like many 2011s) but it's promising (Silver).
Légende 2011 Mas Amiel, Maury Sec - delicious juicy ripe Grenache fruit, powerful and peppery palate with tight firm long finish; very nice wine.
Grenache blanc vieilles vignes 2011 Clos des Fées (14.5%) - rich rounded and powerful, concentrated with honeyed vs aniseed flavours, rounded finish vs a touch 'mineral' too. Lovely white wine served by the owner/winemaker, the ironically philosophical and down-to-earth Henri Bizeul himself.

Vins Doux Naturels
As a 'by the way', we discovered from Eric Aracil, the Roussillon Wines' export guy who offered the first two below for tasting, that in terms of labelling "Vintage" style red VDNs, winemakers are moving to a uniform use of 'Grenat' in Rivesaltes and Maury and 'Rimage' for Banyuls.
2011 Rivesaltes Grenat 'sur grains' Domaine Boudau (fortified 'on skins', aged in inert concrete vats) - lovely lively black cherry and liquorice fruit with spicy pepper and violet notes, tasty black fruit palate vs firm tannins and nice cut, delicious style drinking well already although will improve in bottle no doubt (Trophy).
2011 Maury Mas Karolina (similar winemaking although part-aged in demi muids size casks = usually about 450 to 600 litre capacity) - more closed up to start, hints of lush dark blackberry fruit, powerful ripe and sweet with peppery tones, bigger more structured wine than above, less 'fruity' even and beginning to show more savoury characters; good stuff, for keeping.
2008 Maury Domaine Thunevin Calvet - enticing mix of dark fruity and peppery vs savoury meaty development, still has a bit of 'kick' yet is also becoming quite soft on the finish.
2010 Maury Serre Romani (15.5%) - attractive aromatic violet notes, sweet vs grippy palate, nice fresher 'lighter' style. Their 2011 won a Gold by the way.
2003 Rivesaltes ambré 2003 Vignoble de Constance et Terrassous (merger of the Thuir and Terrats co-op wineries) - delicious pecan/walnut aromas with toasted hazelnut and Amontillado-style oxidising maturing notes, well balanced and complex finish; still very much alive actually.
The day after the competition, a group of us visited Coume del Mas and Cave Abbé Rous in Banyuls-sur-mer and Domaine Sarda-Mallet on the outskirts of Perpignan: updates on these estates/wineries to follow.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape including some tit-bits of background presented by Michel Blanc, director of the producers' federation:
The Châteauneuf appellation area comes to about 75% Grenache overall, pruned to old bush vines which are handpicked "forcing them to sort the grapes in the vineyard or cellar." Grenache is planted up to about 150 metres altitude with less of the region's characteristic big pebbles as you go up the slopes. The vineyards are often swept by the powerful Mistral wind and see little but heavy rain when they get it. Lots of Grenache was planted here for the first time in the early 20th Century - only 30% was allowed until the end of the previous century - although "we're now looking again at our other varieties, such as Counoise, in the face of hotter summers to get better balance in the wines."
2010 Cornelia Constanza Domaine de la Solitude (100% Grenache, 10% of it aged in new oak) - aromatic floral dark cherry and liquorice nose with volatile fiery notes, punchy vs soft palate with sweet peppery fruit; attractive style even if a little 'hot'.
2010 Domaine Pierre Usseglio - lovely ripe Grenache style with liquorice and pepper, punchy vs soft and fruity palate, nice dry vs rounded tannins, quite fiery yet concentrated and complex; not over the top in the end.
2010 Grenaches de Pierre Domaine Giraud (15% alc.) - wow, quite 'hot' vs lush and spicy warm Grenache fruit; too powerful and unbalanced though: goes to show that 100% isn't necessarily best.

My pick of the Spanish rosados and Cannonau di Sardegna reds we tasted (will) feature on WW.com (click on highlighted links), along with a few choice cuts from the succinct presentations given in the afternoon on Grenache and pen names in Sardinia, Aragon, Catalonia and Australia.


06 February 2013

World Grenache Competition part 1: Spain, Sardinia, Australia, South Africa.

The first of its kind, I/they believe (? and set to become a regular event I hope), an international wine competition in celebration of one of my fav varieties, Grenache / Garnacha / Garnatxa / Cannonau: red, white, rosé and fortified wines. And absolutely why not, I hear you say. Ah, yes, Cannonau: it took me a while too to remember that Sardinia's Cannonau di Sardegna red is made from what they call Grenache!
I was on one of the tasting panels in Perpignan on 24th January; my table of tasters (two Spanish winemakers - erm, one Valencian, one Catalan - three French and yours truly) sampled and marked about 30 wines: one flight of Spanish rosés, one of Cannonau and one of Roussillon 'table' reds (my pick of the latter appear in part 2 of this report on my French Med Wine blog). Being held in Perpignan, there were naturally a lot of local entries, which is probably reflected in the amount of medal winners from this region (and some good wines of course). Then again, most of the world's Grenache is planted in France - split between the Rhone valley, Roussillon and Languedoc - and Spain, Garnacha's spiritual home (I have/found contradictory info disagreeing over whether Spain or France has the most!). There were also some entries from Australia (probably not as many as there could/should have been?) and South Africa (again, medal winners and my favs are below), accompanied by surprise samples from Brasil and Republic of Macedonia! But what about California? I believe the main criterion applied for the contest was for large-majority Grenache (red, white, grey or 'furry'...) wines, which perhaps also explains the dominance of the Roussillon and lack of Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Languedoc in the 'French category' and wines from Aus and SA (tends to be a lower % of the blend), although you'd still have expected more Rhone wines in the medal line-up.
Talking of which, this is where I might make myself unpopular. I counted 163 Gold and Silver medals including nine Trophy winners: out of only 364 wines tasted, that's nearly 45% of them, which is too high a proportion compared to other international competitions; and in fact OIV regulations, the organisation that dreamed up the frankly stupid 'official' system used, apparently state that "awards are limited to 30% of samples entered..." I've come across this system before, where you have to allocate a set amount of marks to all aspects of each wine, including e.g. colour and clarity as if that really matters when making a quality judgement. Especially since Grenache isn't naturally known as a variety with lots of rich colour (you can if you really extract it), compared to say Syrah or Cabernet. Anyway, this very long-winded methodology does at least add up to 100, but it's more generous - or the opposite - than the 100 point system used by some wine critics. Scoring works as follows: 84 to 87 Silver medal, Gold 87 to 92 and Trophy 92 to 100 (see what I mean). It's too easy to award too many or too few marks to a wine by adding them all up for each 'category' (visual, olfactory, mouth-feel, overall impression and totally subjective 'typicity'), as you're supposed to. So I judged them applying the 'traditional' 100-pointer in my mind while asking myself: "is this really a silver or gold wine?" Then did the silly math afterwards.
Rant over: you have to use some scoring system or other obviously. And I'm certainly not knocking any attempt to promote great wines made from Grenache from around the world. The nine 'trophy' winners were as follows, which include a fair few Vins Doux Naturels fortified reds and 'whites' from the Roussillon (red highlight = link to profile on my other blog):
Château de Péna Hors d'âge AOP Rivesaltes Tuilé, Roussillon.
Dom Brial 2010 AOP Rivesaltes Grenat, Roussillon.
Domaine Rossignol 2008 AOP Rivesaltes Ambré, Roussillon.
Albera En croisade Hors d'âge AOP Rivesaltes Ambré, Roussillon.
GT-G 2010 LePlan-Vermeersch AOP Côtes du Rhône Villages.
Lafou Els Amelers 2011 Roqueta DO Terra Alta white, Catalonia.
Saint Roch Kerbuccio 2011 Maison Lafage AOP Maury Sec, Roussillon.
Sartiglia 2011 Azienda Vinicola Attilio Contini DOC Cannonau di Sardegna (actually my top wine in our flight from Sardinia).
Sur Grains 2011 Domaine Boudau AOP Rivesaltes Grenat, Roussillon.

The full results are viewable here: www.grenachesdumonde.com.

My pick of the Spanish rosados and Cannonau di Sardegna reds (tasted in the competition blind) (will) feature in separate posts (click on highlighted links), along with a few succinct points plucked from the presentations given in the afternoon on Grenache and pen names in Sardinia, Aragon, Catalonia and Australia. Plus more wines worth mentioning sampled / quaffed that evening at a food & wine tasting bash or the previous night over dinner. Any medals awarded appear in brackets and/or my 100-point style score afterwards...
AND "WGC Part 2" including my favs from the Roussillon and Rhone Valley IS HERE, with the first outing, for me at least, of some exciting Maury Sec dry red wines (the appellation rules were amended from vintage 2011 to embrace 'dry' and fortified sweet reds from the same area based on Grenache)...

05 February 2013

Film: 'Les Terroiristes du Languedoc'

I was slouched in the off-red velvet front row (stiff neck anyone) at the packed out Diagonal cinema in Montpellier old town recently for the premiere of American wine filmmaker (or film winemaker perhaps?!) Ken Payton's new documentary, Les Terroiristes du Languedoc. This enjoyable (although arguably half-hour too long, a little more editing needed me thinks...) piece of wine storytelling follows the trials and tribulations of a dozen Languedoc wine estate owners from worries about the weather and bank manager in late spring 2012 to slight relief of vintage time of that same and somewhat unpredictable and challenging year.

Ken Payton
The stars of the film are (highlight = link to post, updates to follow on some of these): John & Nicole Bojanowski from Le Clos du Gravillas in stunningly set St. Jean de Minervois; John & Liz Bowen from Domaine Sainte-Croix in not exactly ugly either Fraïssé-Corbières; Emmanuel Pageot & Karen Turner from Domaine Turner Pageot in Gabian; Virgile Joly, wife and kids in Saint Saturnin; Cyril Bourgne from Domaine La Madura, Saint Chinian; bubbly Brigitte Chevalier from Domaine de Cébène in difficult to pronounce Caussiniojouls, Faugeres country; André Leenhardt at Château de Cazeneuve in Pic St-Loup; François Delhon from Domaine Bassac in Puissalicon north of Béziers; Eric & Vianney Fabre from Château d'Anglès in St Pierre la Mer on beautiful La Clape 'almost-island' near Narbonne; Frédéric & Marie Chauffray, La Réserve d'O up in the Terrasses du Larzac; Jean-Pierre Vanel from Lacroix-Vanel in Caux near Pézenas; and last but not least Thierry Rodriquez from Prieuré de St Sever/Mas Gabinèle, in Causse et Veyran on the far-eastern St-Chinian high ground.
I particularly liked the way you get an insight into the problems, setbacks and difficulties (keeping a sense of humour though) that face guys like this running a vineyard and selling the wine they produce, as a business trying to make a living as much as any lifestyle choice or whatever. You also get a feel for these likeable personalities behind the labels including e.g. those little disagreements between the partners involved (business, husband and wife, sons and daughters etc.), which is certainly more interesting than 12 people would be all going on about nothing but their special terroir. There are some pretty vine-scape shots for sure (not too difficult in the Languedoc wild-lands), but not too much - menacing cloud and big wind are as much a feature here as what could easily become over-idealized dream-scapes.

Anyway, nice one Ken. Apparently, Les Terroiristes du Languedoc will be available on DVD and online sometime soon-ish. Check out their Facebook page for more info: facebook.com/LesTerroiristesDuLanguedoc


04 February 2013

Alsace: Cave de Turckheim: big French co-ops part 2

Riesling 'Brand' from
www.cave-turckheim.com
Continuing this compelling mini-mini-series on large but good French co-op wineries and their wines, which I started on my other blog with this post: Rhône: Cave de Tain: big co-ops part 1... Cave de Turckheim was founded post-War and is a substantial vineyard owner in the must-tour region of Alsace nestling on France's eastern border with Germany, separated by the River Rhein yet sharing certain grape varieties and a long mutual history (not always a happy one, mind you) and aspects of culture (the hearty local food springs to mind). Anyway, you've probably tried a white wine from Turckheim, especially their always consistent Gewurztraminer available under many different guises and own-labels throughout the world. But the winery's 200+ co-op members also own plots in some stunning vineyard sites such as the Brand (meaning 'burnt' in the same sense as the northern Rhone's Cote Rotie, i.e. it gets a lot of sunshine) Grand Cru, as you'll see from my glowing notes on their superb Riesling and other varietals sourced from this steep slope of vines overlooking the twee town of Turckheim. And their 'old-vine' wines can be surprisingly good too, even from a scorned and usually rather characterless variety like Sylvaner. The man in charge of winemaking and vineyards here is Michel Lihrmann, by the way.

I tasted these wines with export director Emmanuelle Gallis on their UK importer's stand, Boutinot Wines, at the London International Wine Fair last year (yet more forgotten-about notes...). Prices quoted below are in euros per bottle for cases of three bought in France cellar door or on-line, to give you an idea. In the UK, their 'standard' Gewurz sells for about £7-£8; so the Pinot would be about £6, I'd guess, the Brands about £15-£17 and going up to £18-£20 for their sumptuous late harvest Gewurz.


2011 Pinot Blanc - nice crisp 'mineral' tones vs light honeyed flavours, has a bit of substance too and attractive fresh bite. €5.45
2009 Sylvaner vieilles vignes - nutty rounded and concentrated vs crisp tight mouth-feel, delicious maturing notes with long tasty finish. Surprising. €5.95
2008 Riesling vieilles vignes - turning oily and mineral edged, intense pure Riesling style with zesty crisp vs oily palate, very long and fine with stylish finish. Classic dry Riesling. €7.95
2007 Riesling Grand Cru Brand - maturing 'kerosene' (!) tones with floral mineral nuances, rich and concentrated, beautiful Riesling style, intense with 'cut' and huge length. Superb. €15.35
2008 Pinot Gris Grand Cru Brand - lush and honeyed, very ripe and full-bodied vs lovely bite and length, spicy rich finish. Delicious again. €15.35
2008 Gewurztraminer vieilles vignes - intense lychee and rose water aromas and flavours, full and rounded vs tight intense and long mouth-feel, crisp vs aromatic 'sweet' fruit. €10.20
2010 Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Brand - relatively closed up to start with, very lychee on the palate, big and fruity vs again has freshness and class, powerful too then closes up a little. Needs a few years to develop. €15.95
2008 Gewurztraminer vendanges tardives - oily honeyed aromas with exotic lychee and mango, rich and sweet vs lovely 'cut' and length, beautiful balance and class with fresh acidity vs exotic fruit. €17.50 50cl.

More Alsace producers and wines HERE: e.g. Martin Schaetzel and Eblin-Fuchs.
And previously on this blog: Juilen FreyEguisheim co-opBeer of the moment: FischerAndré KleinknechtDomaine Josmeyer and several more in this 2007 piece: Organically focused on Alsace Riesling...