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21 November 2008

Languedoc: Château de Lastours, Corbières

Updates below.

This breathtaking estate is perched high up in the Corbières hills, watched over by giant windmills facing the sea, and is well-signposted from the A9 motorway (the exit for Sigean) or off the Portel-Durban road: keep following the winding track upwards until you reach the tasting room/cellar. Lastours changed hands just in time for the 2004 vintage, following a period of neglect it has to be said. The new owner (the Filhet-Allard group) has invested a lot of money and time in upgrading and reducing the vineyard area, to focus on the best parcels: there’s been a massive vine removal and replanting programme led by resolute estate manager Xavier de Rozières. They're also in the process of planting 3000 olive trees with a view to producing their first oils from around 2015.
This has paid off in quality terms from the 2004s onwards, and their 2005 and particularly 2006 reds look very promising indeed (although care should be taken not to over-oak some of the wines!). Favourites include the Simone Descamps and Château de Lastours Reserve labels, and their 2007 white shows fair depth and class. Lastours also lays on 4x4 rides around this huge wild estate, which is great fun and gives you a better idea of how varied the vineyard terrain is up here. In addition, there’s a very good restaurant called La Bergerie; and further ambitious plans include constructing a new landscaped solar-powered winery (big cheque book, those Filhet-Allards. Now completed, ed.). There are still a few handicapped people who work in the vineyards and live on the estate.

The three 2004 vintage reds below were cask samples tasted at Vinisud on 20th February 2006, the rest at the property on 9th Feb.
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

Update: tasted April 2007
 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
2004 Rosé - zingy v juicy fruit, more elegant style with subtle finish. 87
2000 La Grande Rompue - rather rustic nose yet has good concentration, power and some elegance as well; nice texture and mature fruit, a little too farmyardy (perhaps from poor barrel hygiene) but good underneath. 85+
2001 Château de Lastours - similar aromas to above but cleaner, more concentrated and firmer, good weight v elegance. 87-89

Lastours update November 2008
Xavier laid on a comprehensive tasting including everything they've made so far, except the 2007 and 2008 reds (unfinished obviously). We also took a spin around the estate to see how they've progressed with the replanting programme and remodelling parts of the terrain (some of the work to create water reservoirs and elsewhere to make way for more windmills).
2006 Lastours white - light coconut and toast notes yet it's still aromatic and quite crisp, fair weight with juicy v creamy texture. 85
2007 Lastours white - more yeast-lees tones and complexity with it v citrus fruit with nice depth and bite, leesy buttery mouth-feel then quite fine length. 87-89
2007 Lastours rosé (Cinsault 
Grenache Syrah) - quite rich and creamy with raspberry and strawberry fruit, still fairly crisp with refreshing finish. 85-87
2005 Arnaud de Berre (Carignan Syrah Grenache) - smoky nose with 'sweet' vanilla tones in the background; juicy and quite rich v firm yet rounded tannins, liquorice fruit v bitter twist on the finish. 87+
2006 Arnaud de Berre - lovely wild berry fruit with herbal undertones; quite concentrated, very fruity and lively, dry yet soft-ish tannins, again has that dark chocolate twist. 89
2004 Simone Descamps (Carignan Syrah Grenache) - surprisingly closed up to start, tight palate with light oak texture, fairly meaty and firm with the fruit still a little submerged. 89+
2005 Simone Descamps - similar concentration and depth to above with that powerful, firm and closed up palate too; more fruit though with dark choc texture and biggish tannins, quite fine and promising in the end. 90+
2006 Simone Descamps - oakier at this stage but again it's lush and concentrated; dark cherry, chocolate and liquorice on a solid palate, delicious fruit too. Needs 1-2 years to open up, long and balanced despite that chocolate oak coating. 92+?
2004 Château de Lastours Réserve (all three Carignan Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre and 14.5%) - showing more toasty coco oak, solid concentrated mouth-feel with that trademark 'sweet' v bitter texture, peppery dark fruits too; probably a touch too much oak, but this is commanding and quite impressive. 90-92
2005 Château de Lastours Réserve - toasted dark chocolate nose is quite up-front, but this has more fruit than the 04 with nice spicy intensity; perhaps a touch charred on the finish although it's very rich and vigorous with enticingly thick tannins. Needs 2-3 years. 92+?
2006 Château de Lastours Réserve - brooding and closed up with coconut and vanilla coating dominating at first; but once again it has livelier fruit (than the other two vintages) lurking underneath, finishing with lovely concentration and punch. Opened up over lunch. 93+?

Latest Lastours vintages here (2009 vintage report).
And HERE'Grande Réserve' Corbières 2008 ("wines of the mo" Feb. 2014)

Lastours, 11490 Portel-des-Corbières.
Tel: 04 68 48 64 74, www.chateaudelastours.com.

04 November 2008

Roussillon Dessert Trophy 2008

This year's sweet-toothed challenge for sommeliers and pastry chefs to create the perfect pudding and Vin Doux Naturel (VDN) match was extended beyond the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium into... France. It might sound a bit odd that the CIVR (Roussillon wines trade association) only decided this year to open it up to restaurants in France, but traditionally VDN wines have been preferred as an aperitif by the French. I find the idea, and the practice in fact, of drinking something pretty sweet and strong as an appetizer before dinner a tad bizarre - as presumably do fellow VDN fans in northern Europe - so it's refreshing to see that the Roussillon lot are trying to shift French people's perceptions and get them to try these sometimes delicious wines with their dessert instead.

Anyway, enough of the waffle; who won then, I hear you ask? The final took place yesterday in Perpignan at Olivier Bajard's Ecole Internationale de Pâtisserie, chaired by Olivier himself along with other local chefs and wine types. Toulouse restaurant Le Metropolitan stole the title from Le Bistro des Saveurs in Obernai, Alsace (both Michelin-starred). Young Toulouse chef Timothée Dedievre's inspiringly named creation was "une barre crousti fondante au chocolat Alto El Sol millésime 2007, sorbet au citron jaune rafraîchi au gingembre" (crispy melting chocolate bar {07 vintage Alto El Sol?}, lemon yellow sorbet invigorated with ginger). Sommelier, or rather sommelière, Vanessa Bouisset impressed the judges with her VDN choice and thinking behind it: Rivesaltes Ambré Hors d’Age from Domaine Boucabeille. They now go through to the European final of the RDT on the 2nd February 2009, to be held in Perpignan during the third 'Rencontres Méditerranéennes du Muscat', a biennial trade event celebrating all things Muscat.

They'll be joined by the British winners, who were Dessert-Trophied in London last month: chef and sommelier partnership Thibaut Panas and Anne Coquelin from Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Oxford. The blurb says: "Le Manoir’s team wowed a panel of wine and culinary experts with their creation of Manjari Chocolate ‘Sable Breton’ with Black Provençal Fig dessert matched with a Rivesaltes from Domaine Gérard Gauby called Caricia, 2005 vintage." The UK final, held on 20th October at The Arts Club, central London, was between four pastry chef and sommelier teams: Compass Group – Restaurant Associates, Gordon Ramsay at Maze, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and Tom Aikens.

Stop press Feb. 2009 - click below to read the Decanter.com news piece on the European winners: Raymond Blanc’s Manoir wins dessert trophy
A team from Raymond Blanc’s Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons has won the European Roussillon Dessert Trophy...

01 November 2008

Promenades en France opens in Beaune

Wine tour operator Promenades en France has had the bright idea of opening premises called les Caves de l’Abbaye in lovely Beaune, where they'll be laying on daily tastings or wine & food matching-meals, and you can also hire the place for a candlelit private wine function. More details: www.promenades-en-france.com or www.les-caves-abbaye.com. Update November 2008: wine tour gift vouchers now available.


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