"Buy my book about the Roussillon on Amazon UK in paperback or eBook or black & white version, and Amazon USA: paperback or 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

12 December 2006

Red Heart wine is good for you, says Sainsbury's

UK supermarket Sainsbury's has taken a bold step by launching Red Heart, an Australian Cabernet Sauvignon - Petit Verdot selling at £4.99, claiming it has an antioxidant level 32% higher than other red wines. These antioxidants derive from polyphenols in red grape skins and pips and might help our bodies combat cell damage, heart disease etc. When drunk in moderation of course: excessive alcohol will probably cause your liver to pack up. Red Heart is quite risky on two fronts then: the anti-alcohol element could slam JS for promoting drinking, and new research keeps appearing about possible health benefits of red wine, which seems to be based on lab experiments. Writer, publisher of Wineanorak.com and scientist-author Jamie Goode believes their claims are rubbish: read his blog for more details on antioxidants, wine and health etc. Still, in a climate of binge-drinking and governments getting very heavy around the world, it's commendable that potential benefits of moderate red wine drinking should be communicated, as long as scientific evidence can back it up. Their press release emphasises, of course, that "Sainsbury's supports sensible drinking..." and includes the www.drinkaware.co.uk website. Another good one is Alcohol in Moderation. I look forward to seeing more research on antioxidants in red wine and their actual effect on the human body. Would be good to know if it really does have a place in a healthy balanced diet! Not that mine is very... 

01 December 2006

Austria: Mittelburgenland, 2006 vintage, festive breaks

Mittelburgenland is Austria's first red wine region to adopt appellation or DAC status - bizarrely they decided to use the Latin words Districtus Austriae Controllatus, although perhaps easier to grasp than in German - for wines made from and typical of the Blaufränkisch grape variety, from the 2005 vintage. Where's that you may well ask? It's a small area in the far east bordering Hungary. Outside of Austria, you have to question whether this will help wine lovers understand Austrian wines better. The same could be said for the other DAC appellation, Weinviertel for Grüner Veltliner. However, they are trying to associate origin and actual taste by limiting it to each region's main variety. Mittelburgenland is a smaller part of Burgenland where Blaufränkisch makes up over half the vineyard area. As I've always argued, if terroir shapes unique character in wines, it has to be on a measurable scale to have any meaning. By basing the DAC on the variety that growers agree suits the area's climate etc best, it might be a good idea and send out a clearer message, with a little explanation and tasting of course. To read the full release on the their website, click here.
Some other Austrian wine tit-bits that have come my way:
The 2006 vintage is looking very promising, according to growers in all of Austria's wine regions, with good ripeness and sugar levels coupled with balanced acidity. The downside is a reduced crop of flagship variety Grüner Veltliner. More info here.
If you're thinking of going to Austria for Christmas or New Year, there are a few wineries with a restaurant and accommodation that are doing festive slap-up meal packages. Saziani Neumeister is one of them, based in Straden in southeast Styria. Talking of which, Weingut Polz is another estate worth visiting in the region; their excellent Sauvignon Blanc has been attracting a lot of attention recently in various magazines.

Roussillon: "Finding Fenouillèdes country..."

"Finding Fenouillèdes country, wild wine touring..." Around Calce, Estagel, Tautavel, Caudiès de Fenouillèdes, St-Paul de Fenouillet, Lesquerde, Maury, Caramany, Rasiguères, Latour de France, Bélesta, Vingrau...
This article was published in English and French on the wine travel website www.winetourisminfrance.com in December 2006.

Whichever map angle you approach the Fenouillèdes region from, you’ll quickly be invaded by the primal beauty of the unforgiving terrain that cradles its vineyards. Draped across a dramatically wild, elevated valley landscape bridging Corbières and French Catalonia, you can kick off a wine route on its eastern side coming from Perpignan airport, around the villages of Calce, Estagel and Tautavel; or from the west between Caudiès de Fenouillèdes and St-Paul de Fenouillet. The latter choice is recommended, if you’re travelling down from Carcassonne via Limoux and Couiza then winding your way through the scary Gorges de Galamus. Between St-Paul and Estagel, dotted along and south of the D117 valley road, the villages and wines of Lesquerde, Maury, Caramany, Rasiguères and Latour de France all grab your attention.

Fennel or hay?
You might assume the word Fenouillèdes came from the French (or Occitan: historically most of this region wasn’t part of Catalonia) for fennel (fenouil), which apparently does grow wild round these parts. But according to the handy site histoireduroussillon.free.fr, the Romans called the area Pagus Fenioletensis meaning ‘hay country,’ although there is a connection between the two words. Either way, it’s the grapes that excel in this corner of the Roussillon; and winegrowers at a number of up-and-coming (and firmly established), high quality estates are keen to spread the word.
In the past, the area was known mainly as a producer of thick fortified red ‘Vins Doux Naturels’ based on Grenache. Many still make these unique wines, some of which are superb such as the Maury AOC crafted by Mas Karolina, Domaine Jorel (both in St-Paul), or, in Maury itself, traditional super-aged styles from la Coume du Roy, who still have a little of their incredibly treacly 1880 vintage! But there’s a limited market nowadays for this kind of strong, tannic and sweet wine. Hence why a fresh generation of newcomers, sons/daughters who’ve gone back into family vineyards and former co-operative growers who’ve established their own domaines, are producing exciting reds (and unusual whites and rosés) in line with today’s wine drinking tastes.

Serious Grenache

In fact, Richard Case of Domaine Pertuisane (Maury) cites Grenache as the pull of the area: “Unparalleled anywhere in France... the best three places to grow it are Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Priorat and Maury.” One hectare of old vine Grenache or Carignan is also relatively cheap here at around 10-15,000 euros. Compare that to at least €300,000 in CNDP. Quite a bit of Syrah has been planted, which seems to give very good results if matched to the right sites and soils, such as around Rasiguères, Bélesta and Vingrau.
Many growers cherish their old Carignan above all: Gérard Gauby called it “one of the great varieties of the future.” And let’s not forget majestic Mourvèdre, the mainstay of a rich complex blend, championed by some and abandoned by others. You must get out into the vineyards to fully appreciate how difficult it is to work these vines and why grape yields are generally very low. For example, when you tread uneasily on the dry schist and stone ‘soils’ at Domaine des Soulanes between Tautavel and Maury; hard to believe anything grows here at all. Owner Daniel Laffite said he wears out two pairs of boots a year!

Worth visiting and tasting

In addition to those mentioned above, other names to keep an eye out for as you tour around the region include the following, listed by village.
Calce – pretty little lost village, home to the biodynamic Gauby family (their 2003 Muntada red is particularly impressive) and Domaine Matassa (try the intense whites from Viognier-Muscat and Grenache Gris-Macabeu).
Vingrau – spectacularly set vineyards circled by limestone cliffs and hills. Domaine de l’Edre: Jacques Castany, long time grower, and Pascal Dieunidou vinified their first vintage in 2002. Look out for the 2004 Dom de l’Edre red and 2005 white. Talking of whites, about half of Domaine des Chênes’ production is white: try their atypical oak-aged 2003 les Sorbiers CdR from old vine Grenache Blanc and Macabeu.
Tautavel (where you’ll also find the Centre européen de Préhistoire, kind of history of mankind museum) – Domaine des Soulanes: 2004 Sarrat del Mas Côtes du Roussillon Villages; Domaine Fontanel: 1997 Rivesaltes Ambré.
Estagel – Domaine Hylari: Côtes du Roussillon Villages 2004 and Rivesaltes Tuilé VDN; Domaine des Schistes: 2003 La Coumeille CdRV; Domaine les Tourdelles: 2004 Cuvée Pierre Damien CdRV.
Latour de France – the old castle tower was a border outpost until ‘northern Catalonia’ became part of France in 1659. Domaine de la Balmière: 2005 Latour de France CdRV, Muscat sec and rosé; Domaine Rivaton: 2005 Latour de France CdRV.
Rasiguères – Domaine Jouret et Fils: 2004 Cuvée les 3 Soeurs CdRV; also home of Trémoine, one of the Roussillon’s most serious rosés.
Bélesta - Clos de l’Oum: 2004 Numéro Uno CdRV. The local co-op also makes some decent wines.
Vignerons de Caramany: 2004 CdRV.
Maury – Clos de l’Origine set up by former Bandol grower/winemaker Marc Barriot, who’s aiming for super-organic status: 2004 Vin de Pays rouge with 40% Mourvèdre and no sulphur dioxide. Domaine Serrelongue: young enthusiastic Julien Fournier’s 2004 Saveur de Vigne CdRV among others; Domaine Terre Rousse: 2005 CdRV looks very promising; Domaine Duran: 2005 Dom du Vieux Cépage; Mas de Lavail (with on site gîte/chambres d’hôte): 2003 la Désirade CdRV; Domaine Semper: old family estate making a full range of styles; Château Saint Roch: 2003 Kerbuccio CdRV; Domaine Pouderoux: 2003 Terre Brune CdRV; and Dom la Pertuisane’s 2004 VdP from 90% Grenache and Carignan, both very low yielding.
St-Paul de Fenouillet – Domaine de la Fou: 2004 Ricochet CdRV. Interesting to note that the Grier family of South Africa’s Villiera estate has recently purchased 22 ha of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan nearby.
Caudiès – Domaine de Majas: 2003 les Hauts de Majas CdR and good Cabernet Sauvignon vin de pays.

Mad Cathare fortresses

Facing the Pyrenees to the south and dangerously perched up on the Corbières foothills, you just have to drive (or hike) up to Château de Peyrepertuse and/or Château de Quéribus. The former is found to the northeast of St-Paul and the latter by taking the D19 road from Maury. Best to visit them when the sometimes ferocious wind isn’t blowing its heart out…

All rights Richard Mark James / WineTourisminFrance 2006

Restaurants and what’s on
The area isn’t exactly awash with places to eat and stay. Jean Pla – who’s involved in promotional activities carried out by the producers’ association, Fenouillèdes Selection – and his wife have opened a ‘resto-cave’ in Maury called Le Pichenouille. This compact establishment offers well-priced menus, winegrower dinner/tastings and you can pick your wine straight off the shelves from a wide choice of local bottles. They’re also setting up a company offering guided tours etc. 33 avenue Jean Jaurès, 66460 Maury. Tel: +33 (0)4 68 59 02 18 or mobile: 06 07 69 54 78. (ED. update - they sold it a few years ago).
The Auberge du Cellier (1 rue de Sainte Eugénie, 66720 Montner - Tel: 04 68 29 09 78 - Fax: 04 68 29 10 61) is fancier and describes its cooking as “neo-Catalan.” Tasty refined menus from 29 to 65 €uros, wines by the glass from 5 € and top Roussillon bottles priced from 15 to 300 €. They also offer six double rooms at 45 to 56 € and organise vineyard walks etc: www.aubergeducellier.com
Le Petit Gris just outside Tautavel has a large terrace outside with peaceful 360° views; fuel up with their hearty grillade catalane. Tel: 04 68 29 42 42.

Regular local events include the Fenouillèdes wine fair in May. More info including all the producers’ contact details can be found at vins-fenouilledes.com and vinsduroussillon.com

Fitou splits from Languedoc

This story was posted on www.decanter.com on 1/12/2006.

The entire Fitou appellation and its producers have left the CIVL, the regional association of Languedoc wineries. When revealing export marketing budgets at the CIVL’s AGM in Narbonne, Fitou’s letter of resignation was also conspicuously on the agenda.

The move towards a single, united wine trade federation called Inter-Sud - combining CIVL, CIVR (Roussillon), Inter-Oc (vin de pays d’Oc) and ANIVIT (vins de pays & table) - has been too slow for some members. The concept of managing and promoting the whole region as ‘South of France’ was agreed a year ago and the Inter-Sud charter signed in June this year. Jean-Marc Astruc, Fitou winegrowers’ president, commented: “If we want to do this, we have to do it quickly. Everyone is talking about unity but people are dragging their feet.” Katie Jones, export manager at Mont Tauch, the progressive co-operative based in Tuchan and major player in Fitou production, added: “we’re committed to South of France, it’s a fantastic idea. The CIVL was just one level too much…”
“The reason why Fitou left is because what we were paying in was too much compared to what we got out of it,” clarified Astruc. “The administrative structure was too expensive and Fitou wasn’t very visible,” he added. “South of France is simple, clear and easier for the consumer. There’s no point in paying to complicate.” Philippe Coste, CIVL president, endorsed reducing the timescale: “we must make this happen over the next year, especially with the Languedoc regional AOC; how can we if we’re still each doing our own thing?”

25 November 2006

South of France earmarks €7 million for export

An edited version of this news item was posted on www.decanter.com on 25/11/2006.

Ambitious plans were announced by Languedoc wine producers at their recent AGM in Narbonne. In an unprecedented move to boost export sales, around half of the overall €15 million budget has been allocated to key European, North American and Far East markets. The total pot consolidates funds from the CIVL (Languedoc wineries’ association), CIVR (Roussillon) and Inter-Oc (vin de pays) into the new Inter-Sud super-body, which will promote all the region’s wines as South of France/Sud de France. These joint funds have been matched by the Languedoc-Roussillon regional parliament thus doubling the projected budget, which will be spent on PR, supermarket promotions, on-trade events and trade & consumer wine shows. The export share has also been split 50-50 between ‘mature’ – the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark – and ‘developing’ markets – the US, Japan and Canada. Currently 35% of Languedoc appellation wines are exported and 57% of vin de pays d’Oc.

Progress towards creating one united wine trade federation in the South has been gathering momentum since the InterSud constitution was signed in June. However, legal and administrative fine detail appears to be slowing down the process, despite, on the whole, vocal support throughout the region. Government representative Eugène Julien described all the existing organisations as “a luxury” re-emphasising the need for “one cohesive body, very quickly too.” A further setback could be the delay in Paris ratifying the new cross-regional Languedoc AOC, which forms an essential part of marketing strategy and has been agreed by the INAO (national body controlling appellations). An unnamed commentator mentioned “rumours in the corridors of the Ministry” of possible problems ahead. Another unsettling development is the shock resignation of Fitou from the CIVL in October: it’s not yet clear whether they intend to be part of InterSud.

03 October 2006

Institute of Masters of Wine holds endowment auctions

The IMW received an endowment fund last year from two generous donors (£200,000), on condition that MWs themselves raise matching funds by donations and volunteering lots for auction. Hence their London auction on 30th October at 6pm at Christie’s (8 King Street) and New York auction on 1st November at 5.30pm at Christie’s (Rockerfeller Plaza). Siobhan Turner, director of the IMW, commented: "The money will be invested to provide an income for scholarships, bursaries and other special projects that the Institute could not otherwise fund from its general revenue." Lots include one bottle of 1982 Le Pin (which apparently is one more than Le Pin has) and a sumptuous trip for four to Bordeaux, including dinner and overnight at Ch. d’Yquem, lunch at Palmer, dinner at Le Pin... Click on these highlighted links to view the London and New York catalogues (PDF files). You don't need to pre-register to attend the auctions but do if you want to make an absentee bid. Click on the logo above to visit the IMW's website.

27 September 2006

Rioja rocks

The Rioja wine people have been heartened by the findings of a recent survey conducted in three of its top export markets - the UK, Germany and USA - carried out by AC Nielsen. The study, which targeted 35 to 50 year old men and women, focused on "regular wine drinkers" in London, Manchester and Nottingham, i.e. those who consume at least one bottle of wine per week (average spend per bottle £5.27). In the UK, where shipments came to more than 2½ million cases last year, 'brand Rioja' has one of the highest recall rates amongst all wine producing regions, coming in 7th after Australia, California and Bordeaux. Among those questioned, 54% who “know Rioja” consume it, and of this group, 29% are regular drinkers. The reasons why included: they like the taste more than other options such as “full bodied, affordability and consistent quality.”
Hence the launch of their 'Rethink Rioja' campaign featuring lots of promotions and tastings. 'Dine with Rioja for £10' will run in The Daily Telegraph from 8th October into November; from 23 - 29 October independent wine shops will be participating in a Rioja week; tastings and daily seminars in the wine theatre from 22 – 26 November at the BBC Good Food Show, NEC Birmingham (www.bbcgoodfoodshow.com) stand number J51. And on 30th November, there's Decanter Magazine's Rioja tasting at Lloyd’s of London; tickets priced at £20, see their website: www.decanter.com. Rioja producers have also launched a 'lifestyle' website for UK: www.winesfromrioja.co.uk, which has full details of these events, where to buy Rioja and tips for travelling in the region. Further information from the Rioja Wine Information Centre, 58 Grosvenor Street, London WIK 3JB; tel 020 7409 0494 or rioja@spearcommunications.co.uk
Tasting report on some new Rioja releases and vintages coming soon... By the way,
the "exceptional" 2005 vintage has been awarded an “Excellent” rating by the Rioja Regulatory Council, the 13th vintage to be called this in the history of the region. Of course they're obviously totally unbiased! Posted 27/9/06.

21 September 2006

Languedoc: Domaine Lerys, Fitou

Domaine Lerys

A serene daytrip back in late September 2006, taking in 
the wine villages of western Fitou country, set the scene ruggedly for discovering three wineries, one big (Cave de Mont Tauch) and two (Bertrand-Bergé and this one, obviously) small... Maguy and Alain Izard farm 45 "low-yielding" hectares (110 acres) around the pretty lost village of Villeneuve; they also do chambres d'hôte with two rooms above their nice shop, one double and one family with a terrace.


2003 Fitou tradition (Carignan Grenache, 13.5%) - perfumed and pure, liquorice and pepper fruit with light rustic notes; firm tannins v ripeness, elegant bite and length. €6.20 87-89
2003 Fitou Prestige (Carignan Grenache Syrah) - more floral and herby followed by nice black fruit, firmer and more austere with lightly bitter bite; structured finish with coating of tannins. €7.30 88-90
2001 Fitou Fût de Chêne (Carignan Syrah) - coconut spice with nice fruit underneath, layered tannins with long bite; attractive but would be better with less oak. €7.70
Rivesaltes (
Grenache blanc & gris) - appealingly oxidised walnut and toffee notes, quite subtle freshness v sweetness. €6.20 87+



Latest HERE - 2012 Fitou report featuring their 2008 vintage.


11360 Villeneuve-les-Corbières

05 September 2006

Roussillon: Domaine Fontanel, Tautavel/Estagel

Laid-back Pierre and Marie-Claude Fontaneil (not a spelling mistake) have 25 ha (62 acres) around Tautavel, where their small yet soon-to-expand winery is found, and 10 ha (25 acres) in the village commune of Maury. I like those traditional village cellars found on a narrow residential street like any other, where you just walk in as if you were going into a large garage. The domaine was set up in 1989, before that the two families were cooperative growers. Their focus is red, mostly Roussillon AOC wines, producing around 10,000 cases in total per year, 80% of which is exported particularly to Asia and the Far East. In the UK, the wines are listed by Stone, Vine & Sun and Indigo Wine.

Tasted 5th Sept 2006:
2004 Côtes du Roussillon rouge (Grenache Syrah Carignan, 14%) - smoky black cherry with minty notes, elegant fruit despite fair concentration and weight, tight fresh finish v dry coating of tannins. 87
2003 Tradition Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache Syrah Carignan, 13.5%) - firm and a bit closed up, subtle ripe fruit underneath; attractive tannin texture, needs 6-12 months to express itself as it's concentrated and structured. 89+
2004 Prieuré Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel (Syrah Mourvèdre Grenache) - elegant perfumed nose and black cherry fruit, good grip and length. 89-91
1997 Rivesaltes Ambré (Grenache blanc & gris, 16.5%) - appealing mix of aged toffee notes and mature cheese complexity, finishing with fresh long bite. 88-90
2002 Maury (Grenache, 16%) - deliciously concentrated spicy blackberry and liquorice fruit, nice grip bite and power on the finish; not so sweet.
90-92


25 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 66720 Tautavel (cellar address, from April to October) or 37-39 Avenue du Docteur Torreilles, Estagel (shop open all year round 10am to 7pm). Tel: 04 68 29 04 71, 04 68 29 45 21; http://www.domainefontanel.com/.

24 August 2006

Médoc Marathon

This annual charity run hits the road on 9th September 2006 passing through the famous villages and Châteaux on Bordeaux's Right Bank. As usual, a team of Masters of Wine will be taking part (no doubt fuelled by samples of Margaux, Pauillac and Foie Gras...) including Caroline Gilby MW, pictured. In her own words, Caroline has "chosen to raise money for the breast cancer team at Bedford hospital, a cause very close to my heart.  I am keen to raise as much money as possible to give something back after all the support I've had through my own treatment. The best way to sponsor me is through http://www.justgiving.com/carolinegilby. Thanks very much for any support, or even your good wishes." More info on the marathon here (in French).

02 August 2006

Mediterranean Jazz 3-6 August

Château l'Hospitalet, part of the energetic Gérard Bertrand empire located in the unfortunately named La Clape wine area near Narbonne, is hosting wine tasting jazz concerts over the next few days. Artists include Nicole Croisille on Thursday 3rd, on Friday 4th the Louis Martinez Quintet  with Charlie & Sourisse, Sat 5th: Guy Marchand with 'Amor y Perfidia' and a homage to Frank Sinatra with the Big Brass Band on Sunday 6th August.
The 'Jazz in l'Hospitalet' shows start at 10pm (it'll be nice and cool by then) with tickets priced at 25 €uros (hopefully including some wine!). Ring (+33) 04 68 45 36 00 for more info and booking, or the town hall on 04 68 90 30 30 or check out their site www.gerard-bertrand.com. Château l'Hospitalet also has 22 rooms in its on-site Hôtel Mona Lisa plus two restaurants: l'Olivet and La Grange; phone + 33 (0)4 68 45 28 50 or fax : + 33 (0)4 68 45 28 78.

01 August 2006

Understanding Mourvèdre: Wine Business Monthly

'Comparing Mourvèdre's European growing characteristics and winemaking styles provides an understanding of its US potential...' by Richard Mark James.
An edited version of this feature was published in the August 2006 issue of Wine Business Monthly and on their website winebusiness.com (goes to article on their site):

"Dial M for Mourvèdre…Monastrell…or indeed Mataro: The very fact that it has (at least) three names says a great deal about this migrant, mystifying and misunderstood variety..."

22 July 2006

World Wine Challenge™ quiz for wine geeks

Created by American wine educator Barry Wiss, as part of his Vine To Dine culinary and wine education programme designed for the Trinchero Family Estates winery, an Advanced Level of the game has just been launched in the UK on CD Rom. Complete with sound effects, it takes the form of a virtual wine wheel on screen which spins when you click the mouse.  An arrow lands  on a wine region and points to a question - such as ‘Sangiovese Grosso is also known as?’ or ‘The Walla Walla AVA is located in?’ - giving a choice of answers. World Wine Challenge™ is available from winegiftcentre.com at £12.95. I'd recommend playing with a glass or two of something appropriate to make it even more fun...

06 July 2006

Languedoc: Château de Sérame, Corbières/Minervois

Château de Sérame

"...Delving deeper into the Corbières, this huge region has been witnessing an impressive transformation with several very serious investors on the scene. Château de Sérame is an extensive property straddling both Corbières and Minervois, who went into partnership with Bordeaux magnate Dourthe four years ago. With 120 hectares in production and 10 being replanted every year, “our aim is benchmark wines” commented winemaker Vincent Bernard..." Read the rest of this article for more info (scroll down to OLN 2006).

Tasted July 2006:
2003 Minervois (Syrah Grenache Carignan Mourvèdre) - warm blackberry and liquorice fruit with light toasty oak, slightly 'reductive' tang and complexity; nice soft-ish texture v depth of fruit, weight (13.5%) and chocolate coating; quite big yet the fruit wins the day. 87-89
2004 Minervois (Syrah Grenache Carignan Mourvèdre) - touch more vanilla but also lively floral spice notes; attractive juicy v fresh and tight mouthfeel, enough black cherry fruit to absorb the choco oak; more elegant and perfumed than the 2003. 89+
2004 Corbières (variation of same grapes) - tighter more blackcurranty fruit, again very light oak and reductive notes; nice concentration v firm tannins, elegant and long; needs a little time to express itself. 87-89
2003 L’Icone Corbières - powerful barrel-fermented, limited series red: pretty rich, spicy and toasty nose leads to very concentrated choco palate, sweet fruit v solid rounded mouthfeel, actually 15% but not so obvious. Quite wow Parker-esque style (sorry Robert for that sweeping comment), not sure I'd want to drink more than a glass. 90 (purely as a 'show' wine)


Domaine de Sérame
2005 Merlot Réserve, Vin de pays d'Oc - appealing plum and cherry aromas with very background oak, good varietal character; aromatic v chunky, attractive style. 87-89
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Réserve, Vin de pays d'Oc - quite tangy and tight, perhaps bottle-shocked needing a few months; it does say Cab with less charm than the Merlot, maybe an awkward adolescence...
2005 Viognier Réserve, Vin de pays d'Oc - delicious floral apricot notes, gummy and fresh v fatter 'sweet' fruit, clean long finish. 87-89
2005 Muscat sec Réserve, Vin de pays d'Oc - sexy pure piercing orange peel and grape aromas build to a very zesty palate, 13.5% adds weight yet it's long and fine. 90

Latest vintages tasted here (Corbières report May 2011).


North of Lézignanwww.chateaudeserame.com

30 June 2006

Signature Bio organic wine competition

Signature Bio organic wine competition June 2006


I was Judge Dredd at this organic wine competition held in rather-hot-June at the AIVBLR's HQ (Languedoc-Roussillon organic growers' association, with the very French 'interprofession' word in it), who also organise Millésime Bio trade show where the medal winners are officially honoured. Apart from my pick of the ones I tasted - blind of course, their identity was revealed afterwards - I've also included notes and scores for all the gold-decorated wines. The competition covers the whole of Mediterranean France, so organic growers from Provence and southern Rhône as well as Languedoc-Roussillon. Two things stand out in particular: many of them are under €10 and are vins de pays, which certain people strangely regard as inferior to appellation wines! As for the judging process and results, I think it's worth adding a few candid comments.

The wines were marked out of twenty - 12 to 13 for a Bronze medal (equivalent to 80-84 on the 100 point scale), 14 to 15 for Silver (85-89) and 16 to 20 for Gold (90-100). This seems a little generous to me, and why such a wide band for gold medal? Compare this to the International Wine Challenge, for example: Gold 95-100, Silver 90-94, Bronze 85-89 and Seal of Approval 80-84 (whatever that means). Each wine category was divided into tasting flights by style and vintage (certain judges weren't comfortable with this, as the appellation wines and vins de pays were mixed together; who cares, I say) with a 'possible number of medals' depending on how many wines in each flight, coming to max 29% of 197 samples in total. Is it a good idea to suggest up-front how many medals could/should be awarded? Surely best to let the juries decide which wines are worth what...

In the end, 23% of the wines were given medals including nearly 7% gold (11 plus 2 'highly rated') and more silvers than bronzes. The IWC "rewarded 64% of entries" including the more modest Seal of Approval but only 3% gold medals. I should also add I was frustrated by some of the judges' inability to spot faults. For example, I tasted the gold medal winning Marselan from Dom. de l'Attilon (see below) three times, blind and uncovered, and found excessive reductive/sulphide notes. Admittedly it was a youthful red perhaps only just bottled; this does happen and the off-smells can disappear, but the level here went beyond potential aromatic complexity! Anyway, enough of the maths and chemistry, let's move on to the wines. The panel I was on tasted Provence, southern Rhône and Côte d'Azur reds by the way.

GOLD

Highly rated: 2001 Cuvée des Cadettes Château la Nerthe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape - ripe smoky and oaky on the nose, rich extracted and concentrated with nice dark fruit and rounded tannins; powerful finish but still too much vanilla oak, which by my reckoning leaves it just short of gold. By far the most expensive wine in the show at €56.50. 15 / 87-89
More La Nerthe here.

Highly rated: 2005 Le Sol Blanc Château Veredus, vin de pays (VDP) d'Oc - peachy fruit v good mineral intensity, crisp long finish. Very attractive but not really competition winning wine, although good value at €4. 14.5 / 87
2005 Cuvée Inès Château la Rèze, Minervois - lively citrus fruit edged with intricate yeast-lees notes, very light toast and fatness v crisp length. €6.80 15.5 / 88-90
2005 Cuvée Tradition rosé Domaine des Aspras, Côtes de Provence - classic delicate style, tight zesty and long. €6.50 15 / 87-89
2005 Merlot Domaine des Soulié, VDP des Monts de la Grage - cherry fruit aromas with meaty notes, a bit oxidised; spicy dark fruit palate, quite inky with menthol undertones. €5.50 14.5 / 87
2005 Côtes du Rhône Château les Quatre Filles - rustic spicy nose leads to tight cherry-fruited palate, firm tannins and good length. €5.20 15 / 87-89

2002 Prestige Château Bousquette, Saint Chinian - smoky black fruit notes edged with nice minty spicy chocolate, quite rich mouth-feel with tight firm finish. €8.95 16 / 89-91
2003 La Lignée Julien Mas de Janiny, Coteaux du Languedoc - leather and pepper tones set the scene for ripe liquorice fruit v solid tannins and impressive finish. €11.50 17 / 90-92
2004 Alix Château Pech-Latt, Corbières - the bottle I tasted was faulty, a bit oxidised and dusty? At
Millésime Bio back in January I said this about it: ripe and silky liquorice and herb flavours build to dry grip and elegant length. €18.30 16 / 89-91
2004 Grenache de l'Etoile Domaine de Clairac, VDP de l'Hérault - smoky toasty aromas with very intense cassis fruit, shows good length and balance. €8.50 16 / 89-91
2004 Pioch de l'Oule Domaine Costeplane, VDP d'Oc - quite jammy with oaky background, nice enough but fairly simple. €7.40 14 / 85-87
2005 Marselan Domaine de l'Attilon, VDP des Bouches du Rhône - 1. a bit reductive, spicy cherry fruit but rather over-extracted tannins. 2. similar nose and palate, the fruit's coming through better this time. 3. Sulphide notes still dominate, crisp cassis and cherry fruit, still rather firm yet elegant. €4 13 / 85
2004 Confidentiel Domaine Montirius, Gigondas - blackcurrant & blueberry fruit with savoury backdrop, tight firm palate but elegant too v power. €29 15 / 87-89


SILVER

2004 VDP de Vaucluse Château la Canorgue - shades of meaty complexity, lovely peppery fruit on the palate supported by subtle oak, rich concentrated and powerful. €12 15-16 / 88-90
2003 La Chapelle de Romanin Château Romanin, les Baux-de-Provence - attractive rustic wild herb aromas layered with liquorice, good depth of fruit and balance, ripe v firm; stylish. €9.40 15-16 / 88-90
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Domaine des Beynes, VDP Bouches du Rhône - ripe and smoky with spicy savoury undertones, quite extracted rustic fruit and firm tannins with background oak, muscular finish. €4 13 / 85
2005 VDP Bouches du Rhône Mas du Petit Azégat - herbal slightly reduced yet interesting nose, spicy wild cassis fruit, elegant and unusual although lacks a bit of ripeness. Still, it only costs €2.50. 13.5 / 85


Other SILVER MEDALS I didn't taste:

Domaine du Jas d’Esclans Côtes de Provence Cru Classé Cuvée du Loup Rosé 2005
Château La Nerthe
Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Clos de Beauvenir 2003
VDP du Gard Domaine de Tavernel 2005
Domaine de Tavernel VDP du Gard 2005
Minervois Château La Rèze 2004
Clos de Barbéjo
VDP d'Oc
Elégance 2004
Château La Canorgue
VDP de Vaucluse
Viognier 2005
Peter Riegel
VDP du Gard
Le Corbeau Rosé 2005
Château Les Eydins
Côtes du Lubéron
Cuvée des Consuls 2004
Château Les Eydins
Côtes du Lubéron
Fontête 2004
Domaine Siméoni
VDP d'Oc Mourvèdre 2004 - at
Millésime Bio I said this about it: youthful black cherry fruit with earthy peppery notes, nice olive fruit and grip on the finish. 87
Château de Brau
Cabardès
Le Suc de Brau 2002
Château de Brau
VDP Cité de Carcassonne
Méditation Syrah 2004
Les Vignerons de Correns
Côtes de Provence
Croix de Basson Rosé 2005
Domaine Grand Corbière
VDP Sables du Golfe du Lion
Chardonnay 2005
Domaine Grand Corbière
VDP Sables du Golfe du Lion
Gris de Gris Rosé 2005
Château de l’Ou Côtes du Roussillon 2005

BRONZE


Château de Bastet Côtes du Rhône Les Acacias 2005
Domaine Bassac VDP Côtes de Thongue Syrah 2005
Château Sainte-Marguerite Côtes de Provence Grande Réserve Rosé 2005
Domaine de la Grande Pallière Côtes de Provence 2005
Domaine de Clairac VDP d'Oc Réserve de Chasse 2004
Domaine Pastouret Costières de Nîmes 2005
Latest wines and profile on Pastouret: go to Languedoc winery A to Z, right hand column.
Château Bousquette St Chinian Cuvée Pruneyrac 2004
Peter Riegel VDP d'Oc Soliano Merlot 2005
Domaine de la Sauveuse Côtes de Provence Cuvée Philippine 2004
Domaine du Revaou Côtes de Provence 2004
Domaine du Revaou Côtes de Provence Rosé 2005
Les Vignerons de Tornac VDP des Cévennes Rosé 2005

For some reason our panel didn't put through any wines for Bronze, which were deemed to miss Silver medal. Anyway, I thought these deserved it:
2003 Mas de Gourgonnier Réserve du Mas, les Baux-de-Provence - complex earthy medicine notes, maturing spicy fruit turning savoury with balanced dry tannins. We tasted this one twice in fact, so what happened? €8.80 15 / 87-89
2005 Marselan Domaine des Beynes, VDP Bouches du Rhône - better than their Cabernet, in my humble opinion: closed nose, some pure blackcurrant fruit; firm and tight yet has reasonable concentration, more savoury finish. €4 14.5 / 85-87

Click here for a post on Signature Bio 2010.

15 June 2006

Winetourisminfrance.com goes live

Winetourisminfrance.com goes live
A new website dedicated to, erm, all things wine tourism in France has just been launched: click on the title above to check it out. At the moment, the site's just in French but it will soon be available in English (translated by yours truly) and Chinese. Magazine, regional winery and restaurant guide, what's-on, organised tours and tastings, wine books and films... you can plan your trip around where the best vineyards are; find all the useful addresses, phone numbers and websites, and also sign up for their newsletter if you like. More news and information to follow.

06 June 2006

New Zealand: Auntsfield Estate, Marlborough

Auntsfield Estate - Marlborough

Graeme and Linda Cowley are renovating and replanting this vineyard in the upper Wairau Valley, which had been abandoned for 100 years. The fruit for the Sauvignon, International Wine Challenge 2006 gold medal winner, was grown near the earthily named "long cow paddock." The Hawk Hill Pinot is named after "magnificent harrier hawks riding the thermal currents" over Auntsfield’s north-facing slopes, and was awarded two silver medals (IWC and Decanter World Wine Awards 2006). Tasted June 2006:

2005 Long Cow Sauvignon Blanc - lovely classic style capturing the best of Marlborough's climate: purity and intensity of green yet tropical edged fruit, nice elegance and length v concentration and power. 90+
2005 Hawk Hill Pinot Noir - I found this a bit clumsy when first opened with charred oak and high alcohol (at least 14.5% from memory) dominating; the next day it better expressed those hoped-for floral 'sweet and savoury' Pinot characters, which pulled in the reins a little. Perhaps just too young at the moment, but I'd prefer much less toasted new oak a wine like this... 87


Languedoc: Château Coujan, Saint-Chinian

Château Coujan

Florence Guy makes quite a large and varied range at this peaceful estate found a few km out of Murviel-lès-Béziers, on the eastern side of the Saint-Chinian appellation. Her top wines are definitely worth seeking out, e.g. an off-the-wall 100% Mourvèdre that varies in taste-profile according to vintage - sometimes labelled as St-Chinian, sometimes Vin de Pays if ‘non-conformist’ in terms of alcohol or residual sugar content - see below for explanation! Her team also organises walks, wine dinners, summer concerts and art and cookery classes even (the Lebanese food weekend was a big hit apparently). There are also two on-site family gîtes available all year round (see website); it's quite nice just to hang out here sitting outside, and why not try Coujan’s olive oil while you're at it, listening to the roaming peacocks squawking (funny birds aren't they). Wines tasted June 2006:
2005 Rolle, Vin de Pays Coteaux de Murviel - floral and honeyed, crisp mineral tones v fatter fruit; different. €4.95 85
2005 Bois Joli, Saint-Chinian blanc (Rolle Grenache Blanc Roussanne) - barrel sample: light toast with mealy creamy notes, good weight and concentration v citrus zest. €6.90 87+
2004 Tradition rosé, Saint-Chinian (80%+ Mourvèdre) - attractive tangy strawberry fruit with still quite crisp and lively palate, fat v fresh finish. €4.60 87+
2003 Cuvée Gabrielle de Spinola, Saint-Chinian (Mourvèdre Syrah Grenache Cinsault) - lovely black cherry & olive aromas, liquorice v peppery; solid fruity mouthful, powerful yet balanced. €5.90 87-89
2002 Cuvée Spéciale Bois Joli, Saint-Chinian (Mourvèdre Syrah) - rich leather and spice tones with light chocolate, quite mature with nicely textured tannins. €12 87-89
2004 Ile de Corail, Vin de Pays Coteaux de Murviel (100%Mourvèdre) - gorgeous ripe wild herb, liquorice and cherry tones; rich lush mouthfeel v structured and fresh, very different. Actually has 10 grams residual sugar and 15% alc, hence why it's VDP this vintage! €23 90+


34490 Murviel-lès-Béziers. Tel: 04 67 37 80 00, chateau-coujan@orange.fr or stanislas.pujol@wanadoo.frwww.chateau-coujan.com.


30 May 2006

Biodynamic growers worldwide: 'return to terroir'

In brief: "Biodynamic viticulture is slowly moving from obscure homeopathy-cum-astrology to hippy mainstream... the illustrious names who are members of the Renaissance des appellations or 'Return to terroir' group... speak for themselves..." Two dozen 90+ pointers picked from a ground-breaking tasting in London (May 2006) including sublime wines from: Josmeyer, Falfas, Leroy, Abbatucci, Gauby, Coulée Serrant, Breton, Trévallon, Montirius, Chapoutier, Nikolaihof, Geyerhof, Herrnsheim, Sander, Eymann, Pepe, San Giuseppe, Trevvalle, Valgiano, Lezaun, Estela, Benziger, Bonterra, Antiyal and Castagna. Plus an attempted summary of Nicolas Joly's ideas, biodynamic guru grower and author: "winegrowing for the future..." Read on to be enlightened!

Biodynamic growers worldwide: 'return to terroir'

This post is duplicated and has moved here:

Roussillon: 6th Fenouillèdes wine fair

"Winegrowers in the Fenouillèdes region, draped across a dramatic, elevated valley landscape bridging Corbières and French Catalonia, are talking enthusiastically about their wines and the unforgiving terrain that cradles their vineyards." This wine fair revealed a number of up-and-coming quality estates keen to spread the word. Richard Case of Domaine Pertuisane describes the old vine Grenache here as "unparalleled anywhere in France..." Read on for other names to look out for with my comments and tasting notes.

Click here for further reflection and prosaic scribbling: Finding Fenouillèdes country. Loads more from the area under Roussillon-French Catalonia winery A to Z (right hand column), where you'll find links through to updates and profiles on most of these producers:

Domaine des Soulanes
2004 Bastoul Laffite, vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (Grenache) - lifted spicy nose with very light oak, power v elegant fruit, nice dry structure and length. 88-90
2004 Sarrat del Mas Côtes du Roussillon Villages (CdRV)  (Grenache Carignan Syrah) - smokier and richer, again shows that black fruit and pepper combo, weight v finesse and dry v 'sweet' texture; more power and oak than above but it's impressively balanced. 92-94

Château Saint Roch
2004 La Bastide blanc - toasty and creamy with aniseed undertones, fat yet mineral and crisp; good foodie white, may be too toasty for some. 85-87
2003 Kerbuccio CdRV (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre) - smoky tar and black olive, luscious maturing fruit set against firm powerful backdrop, good stylish length. 90-92

Domaine de l'Edre
2005 CdR blanc - yeasty and fat start leads to fresh mineral poise, crisp and dry v rich mouth-feel. 87-89
2004 Dom de l'Edre CdRV (Syrah Grenache Carignan) - rich vibrant blackberry fruit with chocolate oak texture, firm closed up finish but it reveals more with a little aeration, dense and powerful (14.5%) yet has mineral bite too. Needs time. 87-89

Domaine Barriot - Clos de l'Origine
2004 Vin de Pays rouge (40% Mourvèdre, no sulphur dioxide) - aromatic black olive and cherry notes lead to quite rich concentrated fruit, firm fresh and a little closed up on the finish but that black fruit/olive comes back impressively. 89-91
2004 CdR (Carignan Grenache Syrah) - quite fleshy with a touch of spicy oak, soft and elegant though with fresh length, light tannins and attractive fruit. 89


Domaine Serrelongue
2003 Extrait de Passion (Mourvèdre Grenache) - maturing raisin fruit and wild herbs, the oak's now melted into it better; oily textured tannins, perhaps won't last much longer. 87
2004 Saveur de Vigne CdRV - nice ripe peppery fruit with choco oak backdrop, firm rounded tannins, good weight and style despite slightly too much wood; promising nevertheless. 89
2005 Syrah cask sample - appealing fresh spicy black cherry aromas with cinnamon oak edges, nice pure Syrah peppery 'medicinal' style with firm fresh finish. 90+

Domaine Rivaton
2004 Gribouille Latour de France CdRV - (2nd bottle; the one in the blind tasting was bottled too soon and suffered from reductive taint) nice smoky tar and leather tones, rich and ripe v firm and tight, attractive style. 90
2005 Latour de France CdRV ("probably": cask sample) - smoky leather tinged with black cherries, rustic and lush with solid yet elegant finish. 90

Domaine les Tourdelles
2004 Granit Vin de Pays (Carignan) - lovely ripe liquorice fruit, soft and elegant finishing with a little dry & fresh tannin/acidity. 87
2004 Cuvée Pierre Damien CdRV (Syrah Grenache Carignan) - light cedar background notes, firm mouth-feel yet shows subtle fruit too, closes up a bit but should be good. 87-89

Domaine des Schistes
2003 Les Terrasses CdRV (Carignan Grenache Syrah) - herbal aromas lead to a luscious peppery black fruit palate, solid and powerful with oak undertones; but it's the dark fruit and structured tannins that stay with you. 90
2003 La Coumeille CdRV - tobacco leaf, spice and scented oak underlined with maturing complex notes; firm and commanding, again showing concentrated blackberry, tobacco and olive flavours. Wow. 92-94


Domaine Duran
2004 Dom du Vieux Cépage CdRV (Grenache Carignan Syrah) - appealing cherry fruit intensity v coating of tannins and a touch of wood, bite and grip v power of fruit and alcohol (a bit much at 15%). 87-88
2005 barrel samples - Syrah Grenache: rich fruit v high alcohol and firm tannins, very spicy with fresh bite and more elegance than the 2004. Carignan Grenache: more liquorice and black cherry/olive than the first one, firm and dry with similar freshness and power. Should blend up to a 90+ wine.

Domaine Terre Rousse
2004 CdRV (Grenache Carignan Syrah Mourvèdre) - smoky and intense, a little oxidised but not too much, spicy tobacco and liquorice fruit set against firm fresh finish. 87
2005 CdRV (before going into barrique) - delicious wild herbal black cherry fruit, firm dry structure and power v sexy fruit and length. Does it need oak? 89-91

Domaine de la Balmière
2005 Muscat sec - very lively mineral style with crisp citrus fruit v lightly rounded finish. 87
2005 Côtes du Roussillon (CdR) rosé - floral white peach and redcurrant fruit, attractive dry finish and length. 87
2005 Latour de France CdRV (1/4 each of Grenache Carignan Syrah Mourvèdre) - lovely peppery ripe black fruits and olive, firm dry mouth-feel with generous rounded texture. Promising. 88-90

Domaine de la Pertuisane
2004 Le Nain Violet (Grenache Carignan Syrah) - closed up and difficult to taste as it had just been bottled: firm yet elegant and long with attractive underlying fruit and well handled wood texture. 88-90
2004 La Pertuisane (90% Grenache, Carignan) - similar story to above: pretty oaky at the moment with fleshy underlying fruit, very concentrated and powerful with firm grip and oak coating. However, it is balanced despite all this and 15% alc, thanks to its subtle mineral freshness and that lovely dark fruit. Needs time. 90-92These wines are available in London from Planet of the Grapes on New Oxford Street, priced from £15 to £40.


Mas Karolina
2004 CdRV (Grenache Syrah Carignan)  - smoky and sweet-scented, nice ripe black fruit, concentrated and powerful enough to soak up the oak, dry grip v sweet coating; brawny (15%) but brainy too. 89-90
Maury Vin Doux Naturel (VDN) - luscious black cherry and liquorice, opulent and sweet balanced by lively bite of alcohol and tannins; try with a mature hard cheese such as Gruyere. 90-92

Vignerons de Caramany
2004 CdRV - a bit cardboardy on the nose but this was a vat sample, elegant layered fruit with subtle tannins and fresh bite. 85-87


Domaine Jouret et Fils
2004 Cuvée les 3 Soeurs CdRV - red pepper and spicy black live aromas, 'sweet' v floral; stiff and fresh mouth-feel with interesting wild ripe side. 87


Mas de Lavail
2004 la Désirade CdRV - ripe 'tar' notes lead to an oaky palate, rounded and full; closes up firmly with slight bitterness, again too young to tell. 89+
2004 Tradition CdRV - subtle perfumed fruit showing damsons with light oak, perhaps a little 'burnt' in style yet has good power and black fruit centre. 87-89

Clos de l'Oum
2004 Numéro Uno CdRV - the nose is a bit 'reductive', moving on to a concentrated firm palate set against blackberry/olive fruit; rather closed up and awkward but could develop nicely. 87-89+

Domaine de la Fou
2004 Ricochet CdRV - alluring cassis and black cherry fruit, fine and soft v fresh and firm, stylish length. 87-89
2004 la Clue (Cinsault Grenache) - closed nose to start, cinnamon spice and raisin fruit on the palate, quite big and firm yet nice ripe depth of fruit too. 87

Les Clos Perdus
L'Extreme Vin de table - wild rustic notes surrounded by rich black cherry, attractive mouth-feel with earthy black olive undertones, grippy and powerful with lively core. 87-89


Mas des Frèdes
2004 Grenache Noir, vin de pays Côtes Catalanes - attractive floral cherry and liquorice, elegant fruit v a tad of dry tannin, nice easy drinking style. 85-87

22 April 2006

Bordeaux École du Vin new programme

The Bordeaux Wine School, whose office and tasting rooms are based in the city centre, now offers three levels of intensive courses in English:
Level 1: Learning how to taste and discover Bordeaux wine.
Level 2: The Essence of Bordeaux – Proficiency Course.
Level 3: Legendary Châteaux of Bordeaux: classifications and wines.
Shorter courses have also been added including a two-hour “Introduction to Bordeaux wines” and one-day “Saturday at school” (sounds fun). Between May and October, they're holding wine weekends such as ‘Bordeaux Classics’ and ‘Bordeaux off the Beaten Track.’ Classes are tutored by local wine makers and are supplemented by field visits and tastings at local estates. More info at:
ecole.vins-bordeaux.fr

04 April 2006

German wines on the up

Wine exports from Germany increased by 10% in 2005 to a value of €475 million, according to the DWI (German Wine Institute), the highest for 20 years. This figure also includes some wines from other countries re-exported by German shippers. The UK remains their largest market with a 27% share, although down nearly 8% in volume yet slightly up in money terms (meaning less cheap crap sold and at last the Brits are buying better quality German wines), with the USA accounting for 16% and Netherlands 12%...

30 March 2006

Gîtes de France and Languedoc 'Escapades Vigneronnes’

Gîtes de France and Languedoc producers have launched a new wine tourism partnership packaged as ‘Le coffret Escapades Vigneronnes’. A smart boxed kit containing a glossy guide and CD will be sold on-line and in book shops and wine merchants throughout the region for 19€. The guide includes details of each gîte property located on participating wine estates in the Hérault département, as well as information on the area’s vineyards, seasons and tourist attractions. The wine trail stretches from east and north of Montpellier across to St-Chinian, Minervois and Narbonne. The CD offers tips on tasting, grape varieties and winemaking styles. “We wanted to make it educational rather than technical and try not to be too highbrow or trade focused,” Dominique Dupeyroux explained, director of Gîtes de France Hérault. “It’s aimed at different levels of wine enthusiast. We can go further in the next edition, and an English language version is a possibility if we can find a suitable publishing partner.” The guide also gives suggestions with prices for two and three day tailor-made wine and food tours including accommodation and itinerary, which can be booked on-line and offered as a present. More information is available at www.sejour-en-vignoble.fr
March 2006. A version also appeared in Decanter magazine.

27 March 2006

Chimpanzés et bonobos…

Chimpanzés et bonobos…
En France, l'évolution de la société est-elle possible sans violence, sans révolution ? Chez nous des mots ont perdu leur sens : concertation, écoute, négociation, compromis, ouverture, non-violence… D’autres sont menacés : démocratie, modernisation, progrés social…
Pourquoi se mêler de ce débat ? Parce qu’il y a des points communs entre les manifestations étudiantes, syndicales et les manifestations vigneronnes. D’abord leur violence inutile : pourquoi dégrader La Sorbonne quand on est étudiant ?
Pourquoi détruire du vin et des chais quand on est vigneron ?
Ensuite, abrités derrière le paravent de « l’exception française » nous ne voyons pas que le monde avance, mais sans nous !
Dans les forêts équatoriales, les chimpanzés querelleurs et agressifs sont en régression, les bonobos pacifiques et positifs seraient à nouveau en expansion…
Taken from
E-lettre Vitisphere.com 27th March 2006.
My translation:
"Can we change society in France without violence or revolution? Words have lost their meaning round our way: dialogue, listening, negotiation, compromise, opening up, non-violence... Others are under threat: democracy, modernisation, social progress...
Why get involved in this debate? Because the student and union demonstrations have something in common with the winegrowers' demos. First of all their pointless violence: why deface the Sorbonne when you're a student? Why destroy wine and cellars when you're a winegrower? (news piece in French on sabotage at the Val d'Orbieu group.) Secondly, shielded by 'the French Exception', we can't see the world is moving on, but without us!
In the equatorial rainforests, antagonistic and aggressive chimps are on the way out, peaceful and constructive bonobos (couldn't find that in the dictionary but must be a kind of ape!) will soon be on the up..."

28 February 2006

Montpellier: Vinisud 2006

Comments and hot tips below from the trade showcase for Mediterranean wines, which took Montpellier by storm, in the most constructive sense of the expression. Unfortunate use of words perhaps, in light of recent isolated desperate acts (opens a story on Decanter.com). It's an event such as Vinisud and participants that successfully demonstrates the future path for wine in the South, not smashing things up (even if difficult not to sympathise with stranded growers asking for more help from a distant Paris): I'll leave further comments on this to Vitisphere.com (goes to related piece). Featured estates below: Daumas Gassac - La Sauvageonne - L’Euzière - Anger - Grézan - Champart - Paul Mas - Matassa - Força Réal - Crus pour Joie (Corbières).


Mas de Daumas Gassac
Still the legend of the south? MDG was one of the first to make top quality Vins de Pays in the Languedoc from a mix of Mediterranean, Rhône and Bordeaux varieties. There are now more growers reaching a similar standard; but their wines remain classy and elegant including a back catalogue of older reds, which few others can match and shows how well they age. As for the high prices they command, well that's a different argument and MDG aren't lacking in customers!
2004 Eraus blanc (mostly Sauvignon Blanc) - quite concentrated with mineral intensity, not very Sauv Blanc but shows nice length and bite. 85

2005 MDG blanc - lively zesty fruit with oily depth v aromatic peachy notes, zingy and long. 89
2004 Guilhem rouge (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache & Carignan) - nice soft youthful black cherry and liquorice fruit with a bit of dry bite to finish. 85
2003 Elise rouge (Syrah & Merlot) - attractive smoky tobacco and dried fruit aromas & flavours, soft mouthfeel v grip of tannin, elegant yet powerful finish. 87-89
2004 MDG rouge (Cabernet Sauvignon + 15 varieties, barrel sample) - tight elegant blackcurrant and cherry fruit, nice tannin texture v fruit concentration on its subtle length. 90+
2003 MDG rouge - more open and rustic, ripe liquorice fruit with wild herb notes; richer than the 04 with attractive tannins, softer texture v weight on the finish. 92
2001 Cuvée Emile Peynaud (Cabernet Sauvignon from selected parcels) - quite oaky nose yet shows developed fruit underneath, grippy powerful palate, the oak's still a little strong but it's also concentrated and richly textured. 90+
Tasted at the estate 13/3/05:
2005 MDG blanc - tight and crisp yet lively and intense: this offers perfumed apricot and peach fruit on a zingy palate, underpinned by a touch of yeast lees and very light toast adding complexity, length and richness. 87-89

2003 MDG rouge - lovely ripe smoky cassis and black cherry fruit with notes of leather, has softness v dry grip in the mouth with light creamy oak coating; quite elegant actually for this hot vintage, complex finish. 90-92
1995 MDG rouge - had been open for a few days so a bit oxidised; however, it displayed complex herbal v figgy flavours and again that perfumed leather edge, still quite firm and lively with maturing fruit on the finish. 92-94
Updated August 2011.

La Sauvageonne
A new range of wines from this estate up in the rugged Coteaux du Languedoc hills purchased in 2001, with a resident English winemaker sourcing from vineyard parcels at different altitudes with very chunky soils.
2005 Sauvignon Blanc (+5% Muscat) - zingy green fruit set against ripe citrus, nice length and intensity. 85+
2005 Rosé - creamy red fruits v crisp long mouthfeel, nice style. 87
2004 Les Ruffes (Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault & Carignan) - lovely youthful cherry, liquorice and menthol flavours; fruity v light grip, on the simpler side but nice finish. 85-87
2003 Pica Broca (Syrah & Grenache) - ripe fruit v firm texture, again has that attractive herby black cherry character, with fairly soft tannins on the finish. 87-89
2004 Pica Broca - spicier and more elegant than the 03, with soft tannins on the subtle finish. 89
2004 Puech de Glen (mostly Syrah + Grenache) - rather closed, tight and unrevealing at the moment; however, has attractive fruit underneath and elegant length. 89+

Château L’Euzière
Brother and sister Michel and Marcelle Causse run this scenic property near Fontanès in the Pic Saint-Loup region, north of Montpellier. One to watch...
2005 Grains de Lune
, Coteaux du Languedoc blanc (Roussanne, Vermentino & Grenache blanc) - nice and juicy with complex yeast lees edges, crisp bite and length. 87-89

2004 L'Almandin, Pic St-Loup (Syrah, Grenache & Mourvèdre) - intricate rustic notes mingle with black fruits, nice firm grip yet elegant and spicy; young (just bottled in fact) showing potential. 89+
2004 Les Escarboucles, Pic St-Loup (Syrah, Grenache & Mourvèdre) - closed and oaky on the nose, solid structure with nice texture, fruit and concentration; also needs time to express itself. 89-91

Domaine Anger
Laurent Anger is a leading grower in the Minervois La Livinière subzone.
2001 La Chapelle de Calamiac (100% Syrah) - intriguing flavours of lovely ripe smoky liquorice fruit and leather notes, soft long finish. 92-94
2001 Château Anger la Croix de St-Bénoit - herbier with more aromatic black cherry fruit, again elegant and ripe, smoky and long. 92-94


Château de Grézan
This extraordinary walled-castle estate (think Knights Templar meets Disney) makes a fairly large (perhaps too, given some of the variation here) range of traditional Faugères reds and charming varietal white wines.
2004 Commanderie de St-Jean Chardonnay - nice clean citrus and peach style, soft juicy palate with a little freshness on the finish. 85-87

2005 Commanderie de St-Jean Viognier - subtle yet lively apricot, herb and mineral flavours, weighty extract v quite crisp and fresh. 89+
2004 Commanderie St-Jean barrique Chardonnay - nice creamy, fairly fat fruit set against yeasty bite and intensity; well handled oak. 89
2003 Château de Laurens Faugères (this and below variations on Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre & Cinsault) - ripe spicy developing nose, nice balance of grip and fruit with good length. 87-89
2003 Château de Grézan Cuvée Arnaud Faugères - less open and seductive, mintier too; structured yet round tannins, the fruit's not coming through at the moment but this is designed for ageing. 87-89
2003 Cuvée Vieilles Vignes Faugères (Grenache & Carignan) - firmer and stockier, light oak coating wraps up a concentrated grippy palate; needs a couple of years at least. 88-90
2001 Les Schistes Dorés (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) - richer and more concentrated, mint and chocolate underneath black cherry fruit, very firm and powerful yet shows sweetness and roundness too. 89-91

Mas Champart
Isabelle and Matthieu Champart's lovely reds have long been among my favourite St-Chinian wines, especially their Mourvèdre heavy Clos Simonette.
2004 St-Chinian blanc
(Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache blanc & Bourboulenc) - fresh and exotic fruit then turns zesty and mineral, nice clean elegant finish. 85+

2003 Côte d'Arbo St-Chinian (Syrah, Grenache & Carignan) - wild and spicy with attractive pure fruit, quite elegant with ripe soft-ish finish. 87-89
2003 Causse du Bousquet (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache & Carignan) - more liquorice and black cherry, again shows softness v concentration, grip v elegance. 90
2003 Clos de la Simonette (70% Mourvèdre & Syrah) - firmer structure and style, again displays lovely fruit and rounded tannins. 90-92

Château de Lastours
I tasted cask samples of their promising 2004 vintage reds:
2004 Arnaud de Berre - lots of young spicy fruit, shows nice grip v softness and elegant length. 87+
2004 Simone Descamps - just a touch of wood adds choc and spice, displays intense ripe black fruits, more concentrated than the Berre with attractive soft texture, dry bite and length. 89-91

2004 Château de Lastours - a tad oakier but not much, lovely concentration set against structured mouthfeel, showing similar fruit style and elegance; will be super. 92-94
Mind you, this is what I thought of the above wine over a year later (April 2007):
2004
Château de Lastours Réserve - ripe 'sweet' fruit leads to rather dry chocolate wood. Disappointing considering this was looking really good in barrel: left it too long? €17

Les Crus pour Joie
Fetching name for this recently formed, merry band of mostly young, small estates in wild Corbières country around the town of Lagrasse. Several delicious finds here.
2005 Domaine Baillat rosé (Syrah, Cinsault & Grenache) - very youthful, tight and steely with elegant zippy fruit. 85-87

2005 Clos d'Espinous rosé - juicier style than above, quite concentrated with tight, zesty and youthful finish. 85-87
2005 Château Roquenégade blanc (Roussanne & Grenache blanc) - quite fat and juicy set against mineral and herb edges, nice length and bite. 87+
2003 Domaine la Rune 'Pertho' (mostly Grenache) - lovely ripe Grenache fruit with smoky spicy liquorice notes, then elegant dry finish. 87-89
2003 Château Prieuré Borde-Rouge - ripe and spicy with wild flowers and black & red fruits, powerful finish yet light tannins. 89-90
2003 Château de Roquenégade rouge - also has very ripe fruit, more on the leather and chocolate side, firmer structure and power too. 89
2004 Domaine Baillat rouge - up-front black cherry and liquorice aromas lead to a firm and concentrated palate, young and closed but will be good. 89+
2005 Clos de l'Anhel 'les Terrasses' - concentrated and meaty, lots of depth and style, grippy tannins v ripe fruit; very promising. 90+
2003 Château Cascadais - slightly dusty wood on the nose but this shows nice depth of fruit, more trad and structured style yet good with it. 87

Domaine Força Réal
Jean-Paul Henriquès and his son Cyril have done sterling work restoring this spectacular estate up on a hill between Millas and Estagel, with distant views of Perpignan, the Mediterranean, Corbières hills and the Pyrenees.
2004 Mas de la Garrigue - nice ripe black fruits with earthy notes, soft palate with a touch of grip too. 87
2003 Domaine Força Réal - richer fruit than above, attractive depth and stylish finish. 89-91
2003 Les Hauts de Força Réal - chocolate oak aromas lead to rich wild fruits and lovely textured finish; needs a couple of years. 92-94

Domaine Matassa
Tom Lubbe and Sam Harrop's estate in the northern Roussillon/eastern Fenouillèdes area, where they're making some distinctive whites and an elegant, pure Grenache red.
2005 Matassa blanc (Muscat & Macabeu) - lively aromatic fruit with mineral edges, clean long and zesty palate. 87

2005 Viognier-Muscat - lovely aromatic apricot and white peach fruit, zesty citrus undertones with long bite and power on the finish. 89+
2004 Grenache Gris-Macabeu (white) - toasty and funky with similarly intense and pure length. 89

Domaines Paul Mas
A few new vintages and releases from Jean-Claude Mas and his go-getting team, including some unusual blends and the cross-breed red variety Marselan from recently purchased organic vineyards near Pézenas (Languedoc).
2005 Sauvignon Blanc dA, Limoux - attractive crisp intense gooseberry and citrus fruit, fresh long finish. 85-87

2005 Viognier - lively and zesty showing lovely depth of rich apricot fruit and aromatic class. 89
2005 La Forge Chardonnay - attractive citrus and peach fruit underlined by subtle toast and cream flavours, good bite v weight on the finish. 90+
2005 La Forge Cabernet Sauvignon - tight focused cassis fruit, firm yet rounded mouthfeel; needs 6 months to come together, promising. 89-90?
Paul Mas 1892 (its name rather than vintage!) (Alicante, Carignan, Cinsault Grenache & Merlot) - stonky grippy palate, unusual meaty style, old fashioned chunky blend but good with it. 87-89
2004 Marselan - curranty juicy fruit, has fair depth and firm texture; different. 87
2004 Château Paul Mas, Coteaux du Languedoc - the oak's quite strong at the moment, but this displays beautiful concentration of blackberry and chocolate; tight, fine yet weighty finish. 92+
2003 Château Paul Mas, Coteaux du Languedoc - similar power v finesse with richer wilder more developed fruit. 92+
2003 Les Faisses, Coteaux du Languedoc - lovely drinking now (with rack of lamb) yet concentrated and structured enough to develop much further; full, gamey and 'sweet' with firm rounded tannins. 92-94

Search through the Roussillon winery A to Z (right) to find fuller profiles and updates on most of these producers and their more recent vintages etc.

'RED'

'Red is for wine, blood, revolution, colour... A time-warped slice of mystery, murder, history, fantasy, crime, art, cinema, love...' Buy the e-book or paperback novel on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. Click here to view the RED blog!