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30 April 2008

Roussillon: Vignerons Catalans

Purists might well be purposefully tutting, while wondering why I’ve included possibly the largest producer in the Roussillon - it’s between them and the Rivesaltes/Salses cum Arnaud de Villeneuve wine factory, I think. Well, their huge winery certainly isn’t pretty to visit, sitting as it does on an industrial estate on the way into Perpignan; but their wines, and the people behind them, do merit a mention on a populist level. In addition to various bottles bought in local supermarkets and restaurants over the years, my first contact with ‘the people’ was when I tried a number of wines from their broad portfolio over dinner at the Villa Duflot restaurant in Perpignan back in 2006, where the Catalans' then export manager François Trouquet talked about their hopes and dreams.
The funky Fruité Catalan trio, launched in summer 2005 (read on for more info), has apparently sold over 1 million bottles to Sept. 06 and they'd like to exceed 10 million by 2010. Ambitious indeed: François described it as "a mission for the Roussillon" in true Blues Brothers style, even if it wasn't dark and he wasn't wearing sunglasses... To get there, they've ploughed in €4 million in the first year with at least another €5 mill to come.
FC is a "regional project" (forgive the marketing speak) to "help growers here in the Roussillon." There are 60 estates and 4 co-ops involved, who submit samples of the specified wines and then obviously bulk wine for the final blends if selected. As for the wines themselves, I found the 2005s better than the 2004s launched originally: the rosé is nice enough, fresh and crisp with light raspberry fruit; the white has benefited from more Muscat in it and red tastes a bit gutsier. VC are talking to UK supermarket buyers with a view to getting wide distribution at £4.99 or £3.99 on promotion. So we'll see. Peruse my article archive pages on the right to read a more detailed business article ("Roussillon's Identity Parade") published in 2007 including an interview with their Marketing Director, Christophe Palmowski.
Those cunning Catalans also since introduced (autumn 2006) two flowery butterfly, 2006 Primeur wines into French supermarkets (€2.95): see below and under "wines of the moment" (on WineWriting blog) too for other reviews from the stable.

And this is what I said originally about Fruité Catalan (posted 14/6/05): "In contrast, is this the new face of French wine? I stumbled across these wines in a supermarket outside Montpellier - couldn't miss them really, piled high with distinctive yet simple butterfly motif packaging and bright pinky purple capsules and plastic corks. The 'brand' sells here for €2.99, and the producer (Vignerons Catalans near Perpignan) is obviously doing some serious promotion, offering '3 for 2' backed up by billboard advertising. Perhaps this is the way to attract younger people to wine drinking (moderately, of course, given the increasingly draconian laws in France) - uncomplicated presentation and easy wine styles. I think they should make them a bit more interesting - the wines are perfectly OK, just lack a bit of substance..." Notes on the debut launch vintages:
2004 Fruité Catalan red Côtes du Roussillon (12.5%) - Easy drinking soft fruity, Beaujolais-esque style, straightforward summer BBQ red with broad appeal. 80
2004 Fruité Catalan rosé Côtes du Roussillon (12.5%) - Quite weighty restrained strawberry and raspberry fruit, juicy mouthful with dry-ish finish. Probably the best of the three, try with Roquefort risotto. 83
2004 Fruité Catalan white Vin de Pays Catalan (12.5%) - Fresh and zingy, quaffing citrus style, needs a bit more flavour but it's OK as a simple apéro. 80

Here's my pick of the ones we tasted on 4/9/06 in the restaurant mentioned earlier in addition to Fruité Catalan:
1995 Rivesaltes Ambré (16%) - strange choice to start with perhaps (strong and sweet), but this was good with the foie gras (right-off but irresistible)! Toffee and walnut flavours with smoky complex aromas and finish.
2003 Château Cuchous Côtes du Roussillon Villages (13.5%) - mint and spice notes mix with black cherry and earthy liquorice, soft yet powerful palate with rounded fruit and tannins; drinking now. 87+
2001 Caramany Haute Coutume 'Gneiss des Capitelles,' Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah Carignan Grenache  13%) - smoky mint with light red pepper tones, 'cheesy' and intricate; soft and mature yet still has nice dry grip too, making it good with the lamb dish.
2000 Caramany 'Schistes de Trémoine'  Côtes du Roussillon Villages - a little richer and more rustic than above, more developed with soft shorter finish. 87

The 'brand extension' (to use the marketing babble) continues - tasted summer 2007:
2006 Terroir Catalan rosé Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre  13%) - nice lively red fruits with light grip even, quite full and satisfying. Good but dear at €4.99. 85
2005 Caramany Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah Carignan Grenache, 13%) - deep purple ("smoke on the water...") black colour, very fruity with white pepper and earthy notes, very light oak backdrop; fairly rich and ripe black & red fruits, firm tight & elegant finish. 87+
2006 Primeur Catalan Syrah-Merlot, vin de pays d'Oc (13%) - pleasant enough, Beaujolais nouveau type - but with more oomph - fruity quaffer; not really my taste, I prefer the white below. 75-80
2006 Primeur Catalan Muscat-Viognier, vin de pays d'Oc (13%) - the latest funkily packaged release from those cunning Vignerons Catalans is very floral and zingy with nice grapey apricot notes, crisp and refreshing; drink it cold "juste comme ça," as the French might say... 83-85

And an April 2008 "wine of the moment":
2007 Rasiguères Côtes du Roussillon Villages (14%) - full-on chunky black fruit and tannins, lively and fruity modern-styled red with liquorice edges, quite serious backbone and dry grip even so. €3.95 87

UPDATE November 2011
Taken from this post on new M&S southern French reds:
2008 Cuvée Extrême Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan; 14.5%): spicy vs maturing nose, quite rich and big with a touch of 'old wood' grain, powerful and grippy vs sweet / spicy fruit finishing with meaty edges too. That 14.5 alc. is a little hot but this has plenty of flavour to counter it! £9.99 150 stores.

1870 avenue Julien Panchot, BP 29000, 66962 Perpignan Cedex 9. Tel: 04 68 85 04 51, www.vigneronscatalans.com

21 April 2008

Languedoc: Domaine de Martinolles, Limoux

UPDATED May 2012 - see link below.

Domaine de Martinolles

Located roughly between Limoux and Carcassonne outside the village of Saint-Hilaire (the abbey here is said to be where the Blanquette traditional method sparkling style was first conceived), you'll eventually find the Vergnes family's cellar, tasting room and holiday gite at the end of a twisty track off the 'main' road (you'll see a kind of embossed stone obelisk marking the entrance). Once you've passed through vineyards and olive trees, all you have to do is manoeuvre your car around a couple of snoozing dogs blocking the drive, after they've checked you out and given an approving 'woof'. Guardians of a fairly classic range, if you like, especially their Crémant (the Vergnes' obviously, although perhaps one of the hounds is a part-time winemaker).
I digress: these wines were tasted in April 2008 at the estate:

2006 Limoux blanc 'vieilles vignes' (Chardonnay 13.5%) - quite big, fat and toasty yet also has fairly rich rounded fruit and refreshing finish. €7.70 87
2005 Limoux rouge (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Syrah) - perfumed 'garrigue' tones with spicy plum and black cherry fruit, moves on to a bitter chocolate v liquorice palate with fresh but rounded tannins. €5.40 87
2006 Blanquette de Limoux (mostly Mauzac 12.5%) - shows a nice mix of fresh and crisp v biscuity and more exotic fruit; finishing with elegant dry length. €6.20 87
2005 Crémant de Limoux (Chardonnay Chenin blanc Pinot Noir 12.5%) - more generous and classier displaying fine oily toasty fruit v crisp, stylish and long finish. €8 90+


11250 Saint-Hilaire. Tel: 04 68 69 41 93, www.martinolles.com.

20 April 2008

Languedoc: Château Guilhem, Malepère

Son Bertrand Gourdou-Guilhem has now taken over at the winemaking helm at this well-known property found on the southern side of the Malepère appellation, on the edge of the quiet village of Malviès (southwest of Carcassonne, northwest of Limoux). The old family château, built in Revolutionary times, is charming and timeless although a little flaking perhaps. Future renovation plans - the recent focus has been on upgrading vineyards and cellar - could include converting it into up-market 'chambres d’hôte' offering rooms and meals. The Malepère region itself isn't very well known and a bit of a final frontier ("to boldly go" etc...) for wine in the Languedoc, stretching out on its western side towards Castelnaudary almost. Growers were crowned with full AOC status in 2007, if that really makes any difference, and like Cabardès they've decided to base their wines on a mixture of Med/Southwest/Bordeaux varieties, although leaning more towards the latter as Merlot is central to their red wines. Guilhem is making some good reds crafted from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec; a lively dry rosé as well as decent Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. As part of a charity event, every year one parcel is left unharvested until October, after the other 30-odd hectares have been gleaned, to celebrate the Fete des Vendanges when customers and friends are invited to pick the remaining grapes, taste fermenting musts, play games, stick a couple of Toulouse sausages on the Barbie and contribute to local good causes, of course. I sampled these wines at Vinisud Montpellier, February 2008, and/or in situ when I visited in April 2008:

2007 Cuvée Tradition rosé, Malepère (Cabernet Franc Merlot 13%) - lovely zingy red fruits and roses style, crisp intense and elegant in a Provence kinda way. 87
2006 Cuvée Tradition rouge, Malepère (Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon) - nice mix of sweet and sour fruit with lightly rustic edges, creamy cooked cassis v tart tangy plum with lingering spicy black cherry on the finish. 85-87
2007 Cuvée Tradition rouge, Malepère (Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon) - more fragrant and spicier than the 06, showing good depth of black cherry and plum with tarter edges and grip on the finish. UK retail approx £7.99. 87+
2006 Cuvée Prestige, Malepère (Merlot Cabernets Malbec) - richer nose and palate, not too toasty on the coconut oak front; good depth of fruit and textured tannins, interesting mixed style towards Bordeaux but with more power and/or sunshine. 87-89
2006 Clos du Blason (Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon) - one selected parcel fermented in barrel: showing quite a lot of new oak at the moment but it has rich fruit as well; not sure, will have to taste it again later down the line.
2006 Grande Cuvée (Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon) - chunky fruit and tannins again with those spicy coconut flavours and texture but not too much; rounded, richer and more powerful yet has nice bite and a touch of elegance in the end. 89-91
2007 Sauvignon Blanc, vin de pays d'Oc - attractive fresh citrus tones, crisp yet soft mouth-feel with elegant zesty finish. 85
2007 Chardonnay, vin de pays d'Oc - juicy pear and white peach style, light yeast lees notes and a touch of cream adding extra dimension, then fresh and zippy. 87

Guilhem's UK importer/agent is Stevens Garnier, Oxford.

Le Château, 11300 Malviès. Tel: 04 68 31 14 41, www.chateauguilhem.com.

17 April 2008

Languedoc: Domaine Escourrou / La Régalona, Cabardès

Domaine Escourrou

Guy and Arnaud Escourrou work as a father and son, men-of-nature team and are certainly doing their bit to put Cabardès on the serious red wine map. Semi-retired Guy works (and occasionally talks to according to their website) the vines and soil, while Arnaud, international winemaker, concentrates on his 'baby' (part French/part South American: read on), their excellent flagship wine called ‘La Régalona’, which I gather is produced lovingly but also rather ruthlessly, in terms of the fussy selection, pruning, fruit thinning etc. that I'm told is involved. This Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and occasionally Merlot blend shows great depth of fruit, structure and ageing potential. Apparently the wine has created quite a stir in the region and further afield in Bordeaux, where a leading critic praised it very highly (allegedly thinking it was Pomerol!) and Jean-Luc Thunevin is a bit of a fan too. Arnaud has also launched a Régalona project in Chile using the same quality philosophy and varieties. So if you want to taste the wines at their place, an appointment is advisable as he spends several months away from their unassuming home in the sleepy village of Ventenac, although dad is an equally enthusiastic host. I was lucky enough to try several vintages in situ when I visited in April 2008.

Régalona - light hint of coconut oak layered with dark cherry/cassis, lovely depth of fruit showing 'sweet' v bitter twist; powerful with grippy tannins balanced by nice vibrant spicy fruit, needs 2-3 years to round out a little. 90+
2003 Régalona - richer riper and more open with a touch of coconut, again has that lush black
 cherry fruit with wild herbs too filled out with lots of liquorice; solid texture v concentrated fruit, 'sweet' v savoury development, forceful finish but actually well-balanced in its own way. 92+
Régalona - complex and savoury with liquorice maturity and light cedary touches, very grippy and chunky smoothed out by developing sweet and savoury fruit. 89+
2005 Régalona (about to be bottled) - the oak's more obvious but it has lots of juicy berry
 and raisin flavours, chewy tannins and lush concentrated attractive fruit core, finishing quite elegantly actually. 90+
Cabernet Sauvignon (from barrique, destined to part of the blend) - lovely dark cassis with tobacco and light spicy oak, rich texture v grainy tannins, tart cassis fruit v generous mouth-feel. Promising. 92
2006 Syrah / Merlot (ditto) - closed up to start with, moving on to dark cherry and plum pudding with soy sauce tones; very concentrated showing depth, style, well-handled oak
 and nice fine-grained tannins. Should add a pretty special dimension to the blend. 94
2007 (random cask) - a touch of malolactic fermentation notes but this shows lots of chunky black cherry and berry fruit, fine fresh tannins, balance of power v elegance and pure concentration too. Very promising.

Latest on Cabardès here (report June 2012).

6 Avenue de la Viale, 11610 Ventenac-Cabardès. Tel: 04 68 24 92 30 / mobile06 17 40 54 31, arnaud.cabardes@wanadoo.fr or contact@laregalona.frwww.regalona.fr.

13 April 2008

Languedoc: Domaine Bégude, Limoux

English couple James and Catherine Kinglake put their money into a dream in 2003 and bought this charming property, which lies up above (at 400m altitude) the village of Cépie to the north of Limoux (south of Carcassonne) and offers spectacular views in all directions. Describing his philosophy as "turbocharged lutte raisonnée" meaning as environmentally friendly as possible without being full-blown organic, James and his winemaker are making some handsome Chardonnays – oaked-aged, full-bodied AOC Limoux styles and lively unoaked Vins de Pays – surprising Chenin Blanc and an attractive rosé from the small amount of Pinot Noir they have planted (see 2008 update below). They can accommodate up to 30 people for a vineyard tour, tasting and lunch in their converted barn function room, if booked in advance. Bégude's wines are available in the US and UK as well as elsewhere in northern Europe and the Far East. Email them for details (at the bottom).

The following 2005s were unfinished wines tasted from vat in the cellar December 2005:
2005 Sauvignon Blanc - attractive citrus v mineral style, soft ripe gooseberry fruit then leaner crisp finish.
2005 Chardonnay (will be blended with barrel fermented Chardonnay) - nice clean white peach fruit and balance of weight v elegance, again finishing with crisp length.
2005 Chardonnay (will be vin de pays) - more mineral and yeast leesy style, tighter longer finish.
2005 Chardonnay - livelier and richer although a touch bitter on the finish at the moment.
2005 Chenin Blanc (will blend 85-15 with Chardy) - lovely melon v buttery fruit, intense and fresh v fat yet fine.
2005 Pinot Noir rosé - elegant rose petal aromas build to creamy weightier mouthful.
2004 Chardonnay vin de pays - creamy raisin fruit showing juicy fatness v greener crisper edges; very attractive at €5.
2004 Chardonnay-Chenin Blanc - again creamy to start followed by leaner fresher finish. £5.99 in the UK.
2004 Chardonnay Limoux - shows light toasty oak and juicy fat fruit then a more elegant finish, well balanced.

"The Corbières in Autumn" from www.domainebegude.comBégude update April 2008: A long-overdue return visit revealed that, with the successful 2006 vintage the Kinglakes have launched an experimental red batch made from late-picked Pinot Noir called L’Esprit - they left one row of the most promising Pinot until the end of September - and a limited barrel-selection Chardonnay called L’Etoile ("about one third as much as the classic," James told me, after several critical tastings of all the Chardy in barrel). He's also toying with the idea of making a sparkling Limoux: watch this space. I tasted these including a few potentially exciting 2007s from tank and cask:
2007 Sauvignon Blanc - lovely piercing citrus and pea notes with zingy grapefruit, pure and zesty palate with crisp yet relatively soft finish. €6 at the winery, and also available in Loch Fyne restaurants across the UK. 87
2007 Bel Ange (Chardy + touch of Chenin Blanc) - nice peachy v citrus style, rounded mouth-feel with weight v freshness; very drinkable now actually. £6.49 Majestic. 87+
2007 (different batch) - a bit fatter, oilier and honeyed with again crisp graceful finish; less structured perhaps. 87
2007 Pinot Noir rosé - zesty nose with light red fruits, elegant and fresh with subtle depth of fruit. €6 87
2006 Limoux blanc 'classic' - judicious toasty oak adds texture as do the lightly creamy yeast-lees characters, shows nice fruit v acid balance. €8 89
2007 Chardy from a new demi-muid (600 litre barrel) - lively fruit v subtle oak coating, very promising.
2007 Chardy from a barrique - more yeast-lees presence with lovely fruit, texture and crisp length; stylish.
2006 L’Etoile de Bégude, Limoux (selected Chardy, 13.5%) - closed nose showing delicate toasted coconut oak, creamy oily and peachy mouth-feel with nice yeast-lees depth, weight then crisp balanced length, tight structure and purity too. Opened up over the next day or so. €15 90-92
2006 L’Esprit de Bégude, Vin de pays d'Oc (Pinot Noir 14.5%) - unusual sort of New Zealand meets Sonoma PN style: a layer of oak adds a bitter chocolate texture to its smoky savoury characters edged with attractive cherry fruit; pretty big and bold yet there's freshness too. Should open up with a few months in bottle, it's a bit awkward at the moment. 89-90?

Saint-Martin-de-Villereglan, 11300 Cépie. Tel: 06 86 05 73 74 (mobile), fax: 04 68 69 20 41; james@domainebegude.com, http://www.domainebegude.com/.

09 April 2008

Languedoc: Domaine de Fourn / Robert, Limoux

UPDATED 2012 - see link at bottom.

This 40-hectare estate, owned by the Robert family and set adrift in the hills not far from the village of Pieusse, is efficiently signposted; otherwise you really would be on a "magical mystery tour" to find it (maybe that's the idea, hush hush and all that). Ardent defenders of the region's distinctive fizz, like Domaine Martinolles below, this is a good place to see how sparkling Limoux is made in the different styles; particularly as the Roberts still use traditional racks to slowly invert the bottles to remove the sediment. This process is mostly automated nowadays, as it is in Champagne and understandably as it's very labour-intensive, where the wines are stored in 'giro-palettes' which jolt every now and then while gradually tilting the bottles. Blanquette is made mainly from the Mauzac variety (90+%) with some Chardonnay and Chenin blanc, depending on producer preference, and can be Brut (quite dry with about 8-10 grams per litre residual sugar (RS) v towards high acidity) or Demi-Sec (actually quite sweet). Crémant is always dry (similar Brut spec. to above) and often based on Chardy and Chenin with some Pinot Noir. Both styles undergo second fermentation in bottle and must be aged on the fine yeast-lees for at least nine months before being disgorged: the best, and certainly the most interesting wines are aged for much longer. The Méthode Ancestrale style is a bit of a local curiosity ("for local people" perhaps) and can be quite attractive: 100% Mauzac, sweet (50+ g/l RS) and refreshingly light in alcohol (around 7%) making them nice with fruit desserts, for example.

I tasted these Robert wines in situ in April 2008:
2004 Blanquette de Limoux Brut Carte Noire (90% Mauzac + Chardy Chenin,12% alc.) - quite fine and appley with light biscuity development and ageing character; crisp elegant and quite dry v subtle chocolate flavours too. 85-87
2001 Crémant de Limoux Brut (60% Mauzac + Chardy Chenin, 12.5%) - richer nuttier aromas, more cakey flavours v quite dry & elegant acidity; nice length and style showing age v finesse. 89
2004 Crémant de Limoux Brut (50% Chardy 30% Chenin Pinot Mauzac, 12%) - tighter and fresher with delicate toasted biscuit flavours, again attractively fine & crisp length. 88-90
2006 Blanquette Ancestrale Doux (100% Mauzac, 7%) - pleasant, buoyant and sweet balanced by nice acidity; try with light desserts. 85

LATEST VINTAGES REVIEWED HERE (Sparkling Limoux report May 2012).

11300 Pieusse. Tel: 04 68 31 15 03, www.robert-blanquette.com.

02 April 2008

Roussillon: "Present and Future, a mini-thesis..."

Click here to read the whole (very long) dissertation with bibliography and appendices (goes to 'more wine words' archive pages).


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