"Buy my book about the Roussillon region on Amazon UK in colour paperback and eBook or black & white version, and Amazon USA: colour paperback and eBook or black & white. Also available in the US from Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback or eBook. For other countries, tap on the link below above the cover image." Richard Mark James

16 May 2021

South of France: Pays d'Oc IGP part two.

The second instalment of a mini-feature on Pays d'Oc IGP wines from the Languedoc (see part 1 for more about terminology, rationale etc.) focuses on half-a-dozen varietal wines, this time including well-known grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon blanc) and relatively new arrivals to the region or discoveries (Albariño, Marselan). Last time, my notes were mainly centred on a few different styles of Syrah, Carignan, Grenache (and combinations) and Viognier.

Camas Chardonnay Anne de Joyeuse 2019 (13% abv) - Sourced from vineyards in three different sites around the town of Limoux in the Aude, western Languedoc. Tasty well-balanced unoaked Chardy mixing up citrus and mango, buttery and zesty yeast lees-y nuances with crisp yet rounded finish. Chablis without the elevated acidity! Drinks & Co (US) $10.64, Les Vins du Soleil (FR) €6.70, Grapes House of Wine (BE) €6.95, Bel Vino (NL) €6.75, The Living Vine (CA) $14.95.

Sillages Albariño 2019 Les Vignobles Foncalieu (13% abv) - Enticing well-made style of this originally Galician grape (widely planted in this region of Spain and neighbouring part of north-western Portugal where it's called Alvarinho) grown in a vineyard in the village of Puichéric (close to the River Aude and Canal du Midi). Nice combination of zesty grapefruit and richer oilier Riesling-like characters, chalky and fresh palate with some roundness and weight too. Pretty good match with a couple of Malaysian king prawn dishes, Rendang curry and spicy peanut satay. Comptoir de la Cité (FR) €7.50, Le Bon Vin and Drinks & Co (UK) £11.90-£13.50.

Les Quatre Chemins Sauvignon Blanc 2020 Les Vignerons d'Argeliers (13% abv) - I've never been super-convinced that Sauvignon works very well in the Languedoc, but this easy-going example from co-op grower vineyards located inland from Narbonne is an elegant floral style with soft citrus fruits and refreshing dry finish. The winemaking note on their site is rubbish, as it says 'aged in French oak barrels for 12 months' but it had no hint of wood about it and it's 2020 vintage tasted in May '21, so go figure! Mind you, it wasn't the same label as on the site either, so a mix-up maybe? Try with salmon or plaice or on its own with nibbles. Good value at €5 cellar door.

Pinot Noir Le Village 2019 Domaine de la Métairie d'Alon, Abbotts & Delaunay (organic, 13.5% abv) - Sourced from different plots around the blink-and-miss-it village of Magrie in the Limoux hills (vines planted at 280 to 400 metres altitude). Elegant subdued Pinot with light perfumed red fruits and savoury hints, a touch of cedar oak adding dry texture and structure, taut fresh finish. Needs a few months longer in bottle to develop and express itself more? Quite dear though: £15.99 Majestic (UK), €20 Twil and Les Vins de Carole (Fr).
Domaine Girard Pinot Noir 2019 (13.5% abv) - Planted at over 300 metres above sea level, this winery has vineyards in the Malepère and Limoux regions on the far western frontier of the Languedoc. Deceptively light-touch (despite the alcohol) and tightly structured Pinot, fragrant floral berry fruits with enticing savoury edges, closed up subtle finish. Develops more flavour and complexity with a couple of hours' aeration, indicating it should be drinking nicely after a few months' bottle age. UK £12.99-£13.50 Yapp Brothers, The General Wine Company; €17.95 Wicklow Wine Co (IE); Sacred Thirst Selections, San Francisco; €9 cellar door (Fr).
Fat Bastard Pinot Noir 2019 (13%) - Part of this fun-poking range made by Gabriel Meffre winery in the southern Rhone Valley and English wine importer Guy Anderson (who I worked with for a few years in my very early days in the wine business). Relatively deep-coloured with lots of aromatic red fruits and black cherry, has a fair amount of tannin for a Pinot although is ripe and rounded too. Tasty easy-going red even if not very Pinot in character. £8.69 Winemark (NI).

The exciting Marselan variety is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache noir created in the 1960s in the Languedoc, where it has adapted well to different climate zones and landscapes although still not widely planted for some reason. I had a sample of Domaine Lalaurie 2018 but this bottle was badly corked, so I look forward to trying it again sometime...
Other Marselans on WW.com: Domaine C&D Deneufbourg (Top 100 Roussillon reds), Languedoc: Domaines Paul Mas update.

From www.worldmarselanday.com (April 27th)

24 April 2021

South of France: IGP and Vin de France

Many wine producers in southern France make wines labelled as Indication Géographique Protégée or IGP, which replaced Vin de Pays over ten years ago as part of a Europe-wide rationalisation of wine laws and 'trademarking' of specified wine areas. Hence in Italy, it's Indicazione Geografica Protetta or Indicación Geográfica Protegida in Spain, although confusingly they still also use the term Vino de la Tierra ('country wine') whereas the French have dropped Vin de Pays.

The largest and most popular in the south of France is Pays d'Oc IGP incorporating much of the new Occitanie region, an amalgamation of the Languedoc, Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées created five years ago, and covers the former two-thirds of this super-region. Some winemakers prefer to use this nomenclature exclusively, deliberately wishing to ignore stricter appellation rules; and it's obviously a useful moniker for producing and selling 100% varietals that don’t qualify for Appellation d'Origine Protégée (AOP) status.
IGP Pays d'Oc is favoured in the Languedoc, as e.g. Roussillon winemakers tend to use IGP Côtes Catalanes for greater local identity. Any official blurb describing the types of IGP wine made are usually somewhat general (given the freedom and scope offered to winemakers) from being for immediate enjoyment to something much more serious; and the reality is that IGP wines can be found on sale at €5 or even €50 a bottle and anything in between, because sometimes a producer's best wine is labelled this way rather than AOP.
In addition, there's been a surge in interest in the region (and throughout France) in having certain wines categorised simply as Vin de France for those who don't want to play ball and don't care about any possible outdated stigma attached to the name (hints of Vin de Table of the past perhaps). This label terminology legally allows a winemaker to make a cross-regional blend as well, while having a winery based outside of the area where the grapes are grown. Or, on a much smaller scale, for those experimental winemakers who know it's a waste of time trying to get their 'natural' or off-the-wall or other non-conformist wines approved by a sometimes self-interested appellation tasting quango.

Pays d'Oc IGP

L'Ostal Blanc Viognier 2019, Famille J-M Cazes (13%) - Floral apricot and honeysuckle, quite voluptuous mouth-feel although restrained too for a Viognier, chalky and zesty to finish (the wine was left on the fine yeast-lees for a several weeks before bottling). Good with smoked haddock with gnocchi, green beans and pesto. £12-£13 UK.

Olivier Coste Old Star Carignan Noir 2020 (13%) - From old bush vines grown on pebbly soils, it tastes a little like it was made in a Beaujolais Nouveau style (but frankly much better and more interesting), although the winemaking blurb says 'three-week maceration with pumping over' of the must. Very aromatic and floral with ripe blueberry and blackcurrant notes, tasty juicy palate with lots of fruit and subtle depth, refreshing light tannins and lingering soft elegant fruity finish. And no oak. Delicious. I like the man's style too: Olivier's email address is bonjour at faitavecamour.love (hello @ 'made with love' . love). About €10-€11 France, £10-£11 UK, $21-$22 Canada.
Les Jamelles Carignan Le Beillou 2018 (15%) - This attention-grabbing Carignan is totally different in style, made from 'century-old vines planted in the southwestern Minervois region' and picked later very ripe. Half of the harvest is vinified uncrushed with the stems in wooden vats, the rest in vats in the usual way, and the wine is aged in 228-litre oak barrels and 550-litre casks for 6+ months.
Bit of a monster in several ways - it comes in an unfashionably big heavy bottle measuring 15% abv and showing natural-leaning wild-side touches - but this very tasty red isn't all front by any means. Enticing perfumed wild blueberry and cherry nose with balsamic and maturing savoury edges, huge punchy palate (at first) but has subtle concentration of lingering savoury black olive flavours, sweet and sour fruit with peppery herbs all wrapped in dry-coated although rounded oak-dusted tannins, lively and long finish. Wow: not for the fainthearted. Coped fairly well with spicy lamb samosas, or pesto mash on another occasion. One of their Sélection Parcellaire range sourced from a single site. £15-£20 UK, €20 France.

Domaine Gayda Collection Grenache 2019 (14%) - Delicious unoaked Grenache from this go-getting Languedoc winery with kirsch and dark chocolate tones, fairly soft cherry and liquorice finish, just a hint of tannin and well-hidden oomph. Good with duck. £9.99 James Nicholson (JN) Wines (10% off mixed case).

Domaine de Sauzet Syrah 'Jeanne & André' 2018, organic wine with no added sulphites (14.5%) - Fermented in concrete vats, no oak. Lovely wild nose of mint, rosemary, smoked bacon and very ripe dark cherry and olive, meaty and liquorice flavours too with peppery edges; dense, concentrated and firm mouth-feel although maturing and rounded too, complex smoky finish with rich sweet / savoury notes. Superb 'natural' type Syrah that matched a lamb Balti admirably. €16 cellar door.
Les Collines du Bourdic Syrah 2019 (13.5%) - More straightforward perhaps, or less wild at least, but nevertheless another very tasty Syrah showing fragrant violet and black cherry notes with spicy herby tinges, powerful palate rounded out by pure black fruits and a firm yet attractive coating of tannin with light bitter liquorice twist. £8.50 UK, €6-€8 Netherlands and Germany. US importer as well.
Secret de Lunès Syrah 2019, Vignobles Jeanjean (organic, 13.5%) - Black cherry and liquorice with spicy tones, fairly punchy mouth-feel with dusty tannins (30% of the wine is aged 3 months in oak), some lingering dark fruit with baked olive and leather nuances; attractive enough although a little unbalanced considering the quality of Syrah at this lost-in-the-wilds wine estate somewhere north of Montpellier.

Côtes Catalanes IGP

L'effet papillon Grenache noir & Syrah 2019 (14.2%) - One of a less expensive trio made by the owners of Domaine Roc des Anges in the Roussillon, this solid lightly rustic Grenache and Syrah blend offers lush spicy plum fruit and chunky framework. JN Wine £12 / £10.80 (with case discount).
L'effet papillon Grenache blanc & Macabeu 2019 (13%) - This flavoursome aromatic white offers enticing juicy pear fruit with yeast-lees and almost wild herbal notes, elegant soft lingering flavours. JN Wine  £11.50 / £10.35.
Tons more Côtes Catalanes wines are recommended here (red) and here (white), all extracted from the extensive tasting research behind my book on the Roussillon (follow link to purchase your copy if you're inclined).

Méditerranée IGP

Petit Mazuret Viognier 2019 (14%) - Thought-provoking style of Viognier from southern Provence that downplays the overt apricot/peach characters, although it's certainly aromatic with rich spicy honeyed fruit, rounded oily texture and quite concentrated finish. Try with smoked haddock. £9.50 JN Wines (10% off mixed case).

Vin de France

Le Petit Chat Malin blanc 2019, Boutinot (13%) - Aromatic zesty unoaked blend of Grenache Blanc (60%) with Marsanne (20%) and Roussanne 10%, chalky yeast-lees tones mingle with lightly exotic fruit, medium bodied with lingering refreshing finish. £8.49 DC Wines (Belfast).
Le Petit Chat Malin rosé 2019, Boutinot (12%) - Elegant Languedoc blend of Grenache Noir (60%), Cinsault (30%) and Syrah (10%) giving a delicate rose petal tinged rosé with light red fruits and almond notes, dry and crisp. £8.49 DC Wines (Belfast).
La Vieille Ferme rosé 2020, the Perrin Family (13%) - Also produced from Grenache (60%), Cinsault (30%) and Syrah (10%) but sourced from the southern Rhone Valley, this tasty dry rosé is floral and fruity with zingy finish and a little mouth-weight. £7.50 Asda, Tesco.

07 April 2021

Varietal wines of the moment (except Sauvignon blanc)

Finest Valle de Leyda Chardonnay 2020, Chile - Luis Felipe Edwards (13.5% abv): As soon as this delicious fruity Chardy was discovered among Tesco's large 'Finest' range, it went out of stock; hopefully just temporarily. Ripe peach and melon fruit with creamy tones then zestier citrus on its weighty but balanced finished. Oak is suggested in the blurb but you can't taste it thankfully, perhaps adding to its rounded texture and cashew flavours. £8 or £9 Tesco ('currently unavailable').
La Burgondie Bourgogne Chardonnay 2019, France - Vignerons de Buxy (13.5%): Seems riper and fuller than the last time I bought it (see here); white peach turning buttery with Brazil nut aromas and flavours, elegant dry and fruity mouth-feel with refreshing acidity although a touch of oily roundness and oomph too. Quite stylish Chardy, a good all-rounder. Tesco £10 although now out of stock too!
Cape Heights Chardonnay 2019, Western Cape - Boutinot South Africa (13.5%): Ripe creamy unoaked Chardy with light tropical fruit and enticing yeast-lees tones, steelier and chalkier on the finish. £7.99 DC Wines (south Belfast).

Yalumba Organic Viognier 2020, South Australia (13.5%): Surprisingly restrained style of Viognier with floral honeysuckle, apricot and peach, yeasty edges, full-bodied but balanced and dry. £10 Tesco.
Cape Heights Viognier 2019, Western Cape - Boutinot South Africa (14%): Very expressive Viognier with super ripe apricot fruit and weighty mouth-feel, ends up a little flabby though like it's aged quickly (look out for the 2020 perhaps). £7.99 DC Wines (south Belfast).

Finest Marlborough Riesling 2020, South Island New Zealand - Indevin (11.5%): I don't think many state on the label which island, north or south, a NZ wine from a certain region comes from, but it's a good idea perhaps helping people to locate and better appreciate this dual island country's regions and climate zones. Lovely lively and light dry-ish Riesling style, floral and lemony with chalky acidity lifting it nicely, delicate zingy finish. £8 (?) at Tesco but also 'currently unavailable' I'm afraid!

Cape Heights Chenin Blanc 2020, Western Cape - Boutinot South Africa (12.5%): Refreshing dry style with apple citrus and melon, yeasty touches and lightly oily roundness although crisp and fresh in the end. £7.99 DC Wines (south Belfast).

Adobe Reserva Gewurztraminer 2019 organic wine, Rapel Valley, Chile - Emiliana (13%): Well-made Gewurz mixing up lush lychee and rose water with a zestier drier side. £9.99 DC Wines (south Belfast).
Gewurztraminer de Colmar 2019, Alsace, France - Domaine de la Ville de Colmar (14%): First bought and reviewed this delicious Gewurz at the beginning of the year, it's now turning richer and more honeyed with smooth-drinking oomph, perfumed rose water and spicy lychee, off-dry finish with unctuous mouth-feel. Good with prawn and veg Madras made biriyani style. £9 Tesco.

Alsace Pinot Gris 2019 M&S Classics No. 31, France - Cave de Turckheim (13%): Lush honeyed fruit with spices and stewed pears, ends up a little sweet and bland but also good with curry. £10

Merinas Organic Rosé Tempranillo 2019, Spain (12%): Deep-coloured easy-drinking berry fruity rosé from M&S with rounded, off-dry yet crisp finish. Not super-exciting but good value at £7.

Tank No. 26 Nero d'Avola Appassimento, Sicilia DOC (13.5%): Made from Sicily's signature red variety, which is left to dry out or shrivel slightly on the vine before picking. Earthy, spicy and wild herby with sunny black fruits, kirsch, liquorice and raisins, warm and rich with soft fruity finish, balsamic undertones and dark chocolate twist. £8.99 DC Wines (south Belfast).

Bruce Jack Pinotage Malbec 2020, Western Cape (14.5%): Sweet black cherry and black olive aromas / flavours with wild herb and red pepper undertones, fairly soft but with full-on fruity finish. £7 / £6 'rollback' Asda.

05 March 2021

Sicily: Ragusa and Agrigento

Aruci Aruci caffetteria & gelateria / 'Casa Siciliana' Trattoria
Scicli, Ragusa province, Sicily.

A few reminiscences, sightseeing tips, places to stay, photos and a little food and wine condensed from a lucky-break week spent in Sicily last September in between Covid restriction lockdowns. The plan was to avoid big towns and cities (so no Palermo or Catania this time unfortunately), hire a car, stay in the middle of nowhere and not tour around too much (pretty much the opposite of a 'normal' holiday), which part of the south of the gorgeous island provided a perfect backdrop for (Ragusa province and Agrigento a couple of hours up the coast).
The blurred picture above, taken through a glass cabinet wearing a face covering, would be a familiar one seen everywhere in Italy, but at this shop, Aruci Aruci gelateria in Scicli (pronounced 'shee-clee'), the selection included the most sensational dark chocolate ice cream imaginable made from the local Cioccolato di Modica (front middle), which has a celebrated history and was granted IGP status in 2018 (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) covering a controlled production zone around the town of Modica lying about ten kilometres southeast of the provincial capital Ragusa. Find out more on the official site: www.cioccolatomodica.it.

On arriving in Scicli, catching your breath back after the spectacular drive coming from the north on the winding road that ascends and descends very dramatically, it may first come across as a small sleepy historical town. But it's home to nearly 30,000 people and spreads over a deceptively large area surrounded by and partly built across tall hills rolling in different directions ('nestled at the intersection of three valleys' is how the official website describes it). It's a great place to slowly explore and absorb all that history, architecture and elegant worn-out feel, inevitably tempting you to continue climbing higher up yet another steep old-stone lane or path taking you to a breath-taking vantage point. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2002, the town's mediaeval base was added to in the late Baroque period and into the 18th century after a terrible earthquake in 1693. More info: www.visitsicily.info.
Photos above and below: Scicli, an awesomely old town a few kms from the sea (Donnalucata). More shots around Scicli are on my Facebook page as well as Agrigento (read on).

Agrigento is one of if not the most obvious tourist choice destination(s) but shouldn't be shied away from just because of that, in fact it's an unmissable site and sight. The Hellenic monumental remains at the Valle dei Templi in any case, as the town of Agrigento just off in the distance to the north doesn't look that remarkable (but it could be). It's about 130 km or 2 hrs plus from Ragusa to Agrigento; the fastest way is along the mostly coastal road heading east and lightly northeast, although, like most of the roads around there, it's hard to keep track of the speed limits on any stretch as they keep varying with confusing regularity. You are signposted into a fairly expensive car park, but there's no getting around it because you can't really park anywhere else and easily access the site. It sprawls over a vast exposed area taking in the majestic and almost-intact Tempio della Concordia to the 'only four columns left' structure of Tempio dei Dioscuri, which looks curiously like an ancient Imperial Walker from the early Star Wars films (photo below)! There's further detail on the Visit Sicily website linked above.

Back in Ragusa province, Chiaramonte Gulfi is a fair size town for this area (8100 population) perched up strikingly at over 600 metres above sea level (hence the fab view in the photo below), which over time witnessed the arrival and departure of Ancient Greek, Roman and Arab invaders among others until the 'new' town was rebuilt up on high and fortified at the end of the 13th century by count Manfredi Chiaramonte. Parking near the old centre is a bit tight, so it makes for a pleasant and energetic walk by leaving the car on the way up and walking slowly up successive looping streets or, to cut the corners, a series of steep steps. There are several lovely old churches to have a look at as well as plenty of places to eat and enticing food stores and bakeries. More @ www.comune.chiaramonte-gulfi.gov.it.

Nearby, Agriturismo Villa Zottopera is a wonderful place to stay even if tricky to find - luckily, getting lost for the third time travelling to it from Catania airport, we once again encountered some charming locals who insisted on driving out of their way (with the whole family on board) to lead us right to the unobvious entrance off a hard-to-find country track (gateway pictured below)! And what a place. This old working farm - olive groves, vines, fruit trees, vegetable plots, animals - has a massive farmhouse property (dating from the 1800s) at its centre with adjoining buildings forming a big walled courtyard on either side, where most of the upper floors, former stables below and other outbuildings have been converted into a variety of sizes of well-equipped apartments and suites.
The owners and staff are very convivial and helpful, and the place appeared to be mostly run by Anna who also cooked all the meals. Breakfast was copious and varied (extra charge) - you could have pretty much what you wanted - and the four or five course dinner served on the terrace cost €25 including wine. With delicious olive oil fresh from the mill of course. Some of the apartments have a spacious kitchen so you could cater for yourself too, although a mix of both was a good idea (and Anna didn't cook every evening). There's a nice wee swimming pool in the garden below the restaurant, and bikes are available for free for guests: just help yourself. There are more of my photos of Zottopera in this Google album. For booking check out Agriturismo Villa Zottopera Facebook or www.villazottopera.it or on Booking.com. And talking of tasty olive oil, I've since discovered that Tesco's Finest Sicilian Extra Virgin Olive Oil (£6.50) is produced somewhere close to Zottopera!

Flying there: Comiso airport is just a few kilometres down the road although there are limited flights; otherwise Catania is the nearest. Obviously there are several ferry options from the mainland too. If you have time to kill waiting on the way to the latter airport, to the south of Catania there's a series of wildlife and bird reserves along beautiful untamed beaches and coves. And not forgetting Etna of course to the north of the city, which naturally hogs the background vista in that direction much of the time (it erupted a little again recently). By the way, driving in Sicily can be a tad stressful; there's always somebody sitting right on your tail impatient to pass whatever your speed and the road is doing ahead, often in twos and threes. Perhaps take some advice from the 1976 movie The Gumball Rally: "The first rule of Italian driving: what's behind me is not important!" as he pulls off the rear view mirror (quotation found on www.pinterest.com).

Don't forget the espresso! So-Italian coffee machine @ Zottopera.

Finally, a little wine talk. Here's a handful of highlights, or at least the ones photoed and remembered, sipped with food and pleasure on the elevated terrace outside or in the apartment, as on this occasion we didn't eat out in a restaurant apart from at Zottopera outside on their simple terrace. A mix of supermarket wines and a couple from the winegrower on the estate there (Antiche Cantine Rosso): the organic 'natural' styled Grillo (majority) and a tasty Frappato red not mentioned here, as I didn't photo the label, which was similar to the one noted below yet a bit richer and earthier from memory. Plus a 'new wave' Nero d'Avola red purchased recently from a local wine merchant in Belfast (see below too). Generally, there's a good amount of vineyards in the province of Ragusa in the south, mostly around Vittoria, although not as much as in the west of Sicily.

There's more on Sicilian wines on this blog here (Lidl Italian wines August 2017), here (Syrah/Shiraz tasting March 2017), here (Italy south & north July 2016), here (Italian 'wines of the mo' November 2014), here (Bosco Falconeria August 2013), here (Italy south July 2013), here (Italian reds July 2012), here (Valdibella Camporeale June 2012), here (Spotlight on Sicily update November 2011) and here (Italy page including Spotlight on Sicily).

Isoletta Vermentino 2019, Cantine Settesoli (organic) - Fragrant and zesty/lees-y dry white with citrus and aniseed undertones.
Aura 2019, Antiche Cantine Rosso, IGT Terre Siciliane (13.5%) - Made mostly from the sumptuous Sicilian white grape variety Grillo (85%) blended with a little Fiano by a small organic producer based outside Chiaramonte Gulfi, this natural-edged deep-coloured wine is rich and exotic with quirky stewed apple and yeast notes, long dry finish.
Barone di Bernaj Grillo 2019, Cantine Madaudo - A different style of varietal Grillo bought in a supermarket showing more typical aromatic Grillo character with perfumed apricot and peach, full rounded palate and fresh finish.
Barone di Bernaj Frappato 2019, Cantine Madaudo - Sicilian red variety Frappato produces relatively light spicy and fruity wines, this one was delicious ever so lightly chilled.
Tank No. 26 Nero d'Avola Appassimento, Sicilia DOC (13.5%) - Made from Sicily's signature red variety, which is left to dry out or shrivel slightly on the vine before picking. Earthy, spicy and wild herby with sunny black fruits, kirsch, liquorice and raisins, warm and rich with soft fruity finish, balsamic undertones and dark chocolate twist. £8.99 DC Wines (south Belfast).
Isoletta Nero d'Avola Rosato 2019, Cantine Settesoli - Nero d'Avola can be turned into various types of red wine, usually rich ripe and earthy, and full-bodied dry fruity rosés like this very nice example from the well-known co-op winery Settesoli.
'Aura' photo from sicibia.it.