"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

22 January 2013

Rhône: Cave de Tain: big co-ops part 1

The sizeable Cave de Tain l'Hermitage co-operative winery dominates the 'big-boy' field in the northern Rhône Valley, although that's not necessarily a bad thing at all when you taste right across their varied range (or even just drink a glass or two of one of them, of course); including a rare back-cellar of some excellent older vintages too (e.g. 1990 red noted at bottom of page), if you're lucky enough to get the chance. I wouldn't be the first or last one to say that they almost always make very reliable Crozes-Hermitage red, which is nicely representative of pure tasty fruity spicy Syrah (all their reds are 100% sexy Syrah) and widely imported under many own-labels into many countries (see web link below photo for more info). Or white Crozes for that matter: as you'll see here, Cave de Tain's white wines, and northern Rhône whites in general other than that trophy-hunter wine Condrieu perhaps (and I can see why), are sometimes overlooked but definitely worth a look (although not always all of them...)

Steep Syrah steps from www.cavedetain.com
A few quick facts & figures might help set the scene here, although I'm not going to rehash everything on their site. The co-op growers' total wine-lands come to over 1000 ha (about 2500 acres; told you they were 'big'), and they do own vineyards in certain top sites especially the Hermitage, Cornas and Saint Joseph cru appellations. These growers are backed up by the usual, and essential, modern winery operation with a solid team of winemakers, marketeers, sales people etc. Something worth pointing out in particular is Cave de Tain's recently restored estate and property, Le Fief de Gambert de Loche, found among precious Hermitage hillside vine-land. This has become a kind of wine tourism centre focusing on the area's history and the Syrah variety, and regular tutored tasting events can be booked and are held in situ. If you're planning on staying around here, two co-op grower families have holiday accommodation available: again check out the CdT site.
I sampled these wines with the export manager on their UK importer's stand, Boutinot Wines, at the London International Wine Fair last year (yet more forgotten-about notes, still worth resurrecting though). Prices are in euros per bottle for cases of six bought on-line, to give you an idea.

White - all 100% Marsanne

2011 Marsanne - attractive yeast-lees notes with white peach fruit, honeyed and creamy too vs crisp mouth-feel with the odd aniseed flavour. Nice style and good value. €3.50
2010 Crozes-Hermitage - similar characters to above although quite closed up when I tried it, probably more intense yet seems to fall a little flat in the end? €7.90
2003 Hermitage - rich colour and oxidized nutty nose, toasted hazelnut notes, rounded and buttery vs mineral tones, surprisingly complex and alive still underneath all those lovely developed flavours (03 was a very hot vintage). About €25?
2008 Hermitage Au Coeur des Siecles (selected from two 100 year-old vineyards) - nutty maturing nose/palate vs fresh mouth-feel underneath, buttery and toasty vs crisp mineral and classy. Serious foodie. €30


2010 Syrah - nice simple aromatic peppery style, light easy and tasty. €3.50
2009 St-Joseph - aromatic perfumed Syrah with spicy black cherry, firm vs ripe mouth-feel, nice balance and style with enticing lingering minty fruit. About €10.
2010 Crozes-Hermitage - floral spicy typical young Syrah nose, firm and tangy vs delicious simple fruit. €7.90
2009 Les Hauts de Fief Crozes-Hermitage (plot selection) - a bit heavy on the pencil-shaving / coconut oak, although has lively fruit too; solid vs maturing tones, concentrated but a touch samey on the winemaking front. €11.80
2007 Cornas Arenes Sauvages - smoky maturing meaty nose with peppery tones, still structured vs nicely maturing, has power weight and grip vs lovely fruit. Great stuff. €22
2009 Hermitage - touches of oak on the nose, quite closed up and firm still vs lots of ripe dark fruit lurking in there; punchy on its tight taut finish, not expressing itself so well at the moment but has great potential. About €25.
1990 Hermitage - a classic vintage in the Rhone, north and south from memory. Complex leather and tobacco notes, meaty vs dried dark 'sweet' fruit, still has plenty of substance vs developing savoury fruit; firm vs rounded mouth-feel on its long tasty classy finish. Wow. Yum.

More Crozes et al on this blog:
Wine touring feature here (2007 road-trip).

Southern French reds @ Marks & Spencer's (Nov 2011).

Big French co-ops part 2 to follow soon on www.winewriting.com:

18 January 2013

Chile: no way rosé, part 4!

This latest post carries on the spirit of my slightly obsessive rosé-tinted-spectacles theme started in back 2011 (click there), exploring the perhaps contentious argument that Chile is making some of the best rosés coming out of the 'New World' or South and North America even. These two 'serious' food-demanding rosados tasting-noted below came my way recently, one bought from Marks & Spencer and the other a probably widely distributed brand from Torres.

17 January 2013

Roussillon: Domaine Les Conques, Fourques/Villemolaque

François Douville started up this not widely known estate in 2004, which encompasses 7 ha/17 acres of vines (tended organically since 2008 by the way) found on a site known as Las Counques in Catalan, reflecting this particular shape of seashell apparently. Besides vines, the pretty rolling slopes around here in Les Aspres country are home to cork oak trees (this area used to be a big production centre), woods and wild bushes with thick hedges hemming in the vineyards, where natural grass cover is left to protect the soil from erosion and help foster wildlife. Man. In 2009, François refitted some old farm buildings with a new cellar and shop, which you'll find on 2 Route de Passa in the village of Villemolaque, down the road from the family home (5 Place de la mairie, 66300 Fourques). Phone 04 6852 8256 or 06 8151 3699. francois.douville@wanadoo.fr, www.lesconques.fr.

2011 Bohême white Côtes du Roussillon (Macabeu, Grenache blanc; part-aged in barrel for a few months) – quite concentrated and nutty, intense mineral notes vs richer texture and flavour. Good+
2009 Vitis red Côtes du Roussillon (mostly Carignan plus Grenache/Syrah) – jammy and spicy nose, firm and taut mouth-feel vs subtle concentration too, attractive crunchy vs dark fruit profile with rustic edges.
2011 Vitis red - similar warm and spicy character, fruitier and less 'earthy' than the 09, again has concentrated and intense finish with crunchy vs dark fruit mix. Very good.

15 January 2013

Roussillon: Domaine Cayrol, Espira/Rivesaltes

Geographically speaking, Cayrol should really be mentioned in the same sentence as Espira de l'Agly neighbours Domaine Joliette et al, as that's where their vineyards are... But you'll find cellar and home in Rivesaltes town, so that's maybe where you're more likely to taste the wines if you're touring the area. Danièle Cayrol made their first certified organic vintage in 2011, by the way, hence this is what I tasted at last year's Millésime Bio show. More info to follow when I find some (the web address I was given doesn't work)... from this year's show perhaps...
Where to find them: 15 rue du 4 Septembre, 66600 Rivesaltes. Phone: 06 86 53 82 71, dancay@hotmail.fr

2011 Cuvée Rebin white (Muscat) – lively aromatic citrus and grapefruit notes, nice and crisp & refreshing.
2011 Cuvée Sébastien rosé (Grenache) – clean and crisp style, a bit baked?
2011 Cayrol rouge (Grenache) – attractive warm fruity style, peppery with liquorice fruit, ripe and soft vs powerful and dry grip, nice lively youthful fruity finish. Good.
2011 Cuvée Anaïs(Carignan, Grenache) – concentrated blue and black fruits, spicy crunchy side vs ripe fruity texture, tasty fresh vs lush finish. Good stuff.

14 January 2013

Roussillon: Domaine de Joliette, Espira de l'Agly

Domaine de Joliette

Jean Gardiès' (update to follow soon) neighbours Philippe (pic.) and Laurence Mercier have been based in Espira for some time now – and there's a “...great-grandfather and grandfather after the war... with even older Catalan roots...” story lurking nicely in there somewhere - and Joliette is rightly a well-known name on the northern Roussillon quality circuit. Eleven vine varieties, including more whites than you might imagine in this sometimes very hot and dry microclimate and terrain, and their treasured environment have been looked after using organics since 2000. All in all, around 30 ha/75 acres make up the Joliette estate lying on the spectacular near-lunar (although a touch more wooded!) landscape nestling up near Espira and Vingrau on the edge of the Corbières hills.
Route de Vingrau, 66600 Espira de l'Agly. Phone: 04 68 64 50 60 / 06 80 33 31 44. mercier.joliette@wanadoo.fr & www.joliette-mercier.com.

2010 Côtes du Roussillon white – nutty honeyed nose, toasty and creamy palate with roasted hazelnut notes vs nice crisper 'mineral' side too. Good to very good.
2009 Côtes du Roussillon red – toasted oak tones layered with very ripe dark fruit, concentrated and grippy, closes up a little on its taut finish. Needs time.
2006 Cuvée Montpins (mostly Mourvèdre) – mix of herby, black olive and cooked cassis notes; concentrated and firm mouth-feel with savoury vs dark fruit, powerful and still youthful finish. Wow, very good.
2005 Côtes du Roussillon Villages – savoury leather aromas with minty edges too, structured and concentrated, quite extracted tannins with coconut nuances vs rich and dark texture. Good+

Languedoc: Château de Gaure part 2

The second installment of my profile on Pierre Fabre and his dual location vineyards and wines takes us to Château de Gaure itself in the Languedoc, resting peacefully and slightly loftily between Limoux and Carcassonne, which Pierre snapped up in 2004. As I said in my report on his exciting Roussillon reds (posted below), all their vineyards are now farmed organically with minimal intervention on the winemaking front I'm told. The Limoux vine-scape in Rouffiac d'Aude is planted with mostly Chardonnay plus Chenin blanc and local variety Mauzac, traditionally used for sparkling wines but increasingly being fashioned into the occasional interesting barrel-fermented dry white by certain producers (Rives-Blanques is another). Apparently Pierre and his team have been uprooting any red varieties in this relatively cooler spot, because "they couldn't give us the kind of wines we're looking for." Château de Gaure, the building (pic. below), has also been refitted for holiday accommodation: more info www.chateaudegaure.com.

2010 Campagne (Chardonnay, Chenin blanc) - quite toasty and buttery vs crisp and steely underbelly, attractive citrus vs richer more exotic fruit; nice balance and style in the end. Good to very good.
2010 Oppidum (Chardonnay, Chenin blanc, Mauzac) - richer and more buttery than above but not too toasty-oaky, lovely underlying freshness and long finish. Very good.
2010 Mauzac - quite toasted to start yet aromatic and honeyed with nutty tones too, again has attractive fresh bite on the finish. Good+

11 January 2013

Wine tastings in Belfast next month

There are still places left on these two Wine Education Service NI events starting early February in Belfast city centre, tutored by yours truly:
One-day wine workshop £75 for the day including lunch
'Grape to Glass' Saturday February 2
More details about this and other workshops here:

'Essential Wine Tasting' 5 week course £125 five sessions
Tuesday evenings February 5, 12, 19, 26 and March 5.
More details about this course here:
Learn about and taste wine in a fun environment: book now!
Full listing of wine tastings and courses running in Belfast Feb to June 2013 are here:

10 January 2013

Roussillon: Château de Gaure part 1

This kind-of Roussillon estate kind of in Latour is actually a collection of vineyard plots spread across the varied village sites of Latour, Estagel, Calce and Cassagne; bought by Pierre Fabre who owns the real Château de Gaure (acquired in 2004) over the hills in Aude country between Limoux and Carcassonne. Drawn in by the Roussillon's rugged hypnotic charms, as many new investors and settlers are here, Pierre decided to buy and create a second vineyard bearing his name a couple of years later, to produce primarily red wines (although there's some Macabeu and Carignan blanc mixed in with the 'black' varieties) to supplement the all-white range he makes up in Rouffiac d'Aude. This 'expansion' brought the total area under vine to 32 ha/80 acres, certified organic since 2010. Pierre also works closely with his winemaker Marc Bertrand and consultant JA Bloc.

From www.chateaudegaure.com
Their 'Pour mon Père' cuvée is a slightly different blend each year depending on the vintage, although always based on old Carignan, Grenache, Syrah & Mourvèdre. Which is probably one reason why they use the 'Vin de France' moniker, although, if it's made and bottled in Limoux (there isn't a cellar in the Roussillon), they're probably not allowed to call it Cotes du Roussillon or Latour de France anyway! Pierre's an accomplished artist too, hence his labels feature colourful reproductions of certain of his favourite paintings. He seems keen on showing people around the winery; in the Aude at least, there's nothing but lovely old vines and pretty backdrops in 66 country... Contact him on 04 68 10 63 89 or 06 43 47 36 85 if you're touring the area, or email pierre.fabre@skynet.be.

2010 Macabeu white – intriguing Fino-esque 'oxidative' edges and attractive nutty flavours/bite, subtle richness and texture too with aromatic honeyed characters underlined by toasty oak tones and crisp acidity as well. Good+
2009 Pour mon Père red (Latour) – lush ripe dark fruit with 'funky' edges vs crunchier 'mineral' side; nice balance of grip, power and freshness too. Good to very good. €15
2009 Aldérica red (mostly Mourvèdre) – toasted and grainy coconut notes, peppery and structured palate, closes up on a tight firm finish. Needs a bit of time to come out of its shell.

Château de Gaure part 2 with words and white wines from Pierre's Limoux vineyards...

07 January 2013

France: Loire, 'old' Sancerre

Not a spotlight on cobwebbed-infested bottles of the Centre-Loire Valley's best-known dry white wine, but an intriguing vertical tasting of Sancerre ranging from a youthful seven to brooding sixteen years old (and juxtaposing a variety of very different vintages). You wouldn't usually expect anyone to talk about Sauvignon blanc wines and bottle age in the same sentence, but it just goes to show what a surprising variety Sauvignon can be. Tasting these wines, some of them wonderfully quirky rarities from top producers by the way, a few months ago now in London (although I doubt any of them has changed much since then), reminded me of some gracefully elderly New Zealand Sauvignons I once sampled; as they'd developed in the same way showing lots of intricate unexpected aromas and flavours, and how alive some of them still were/are. Commercially speaking, I imagine you'd be hard-pressed to find any of these vintages on sale of course... But, if you visited the winegrower and got on the right side of them over dinner, it's the kind of bottle they might suddenly reveal in a moment of enthusiastic conviviality (now that sounds a bit French)! More generic info on the region's wines: vins-centre-loire.comor browse around the webosphere for individual producers' sites/blogs mentioned below.

Picking at henribourgeois.com
2005 Joseph Mellot Châtellennie - 'oily' vs greengage aromas, almost Riesling like nose actually! Quite juicy and yeast-lees edged with a touch of mineral bite vs rounded with ripe kiwi fruit. Wow, still looking towards superb.
2004 Château de Sancerre / Marnier-Lapostolle - 'burnt' toasty notes, developing 'sweet' gooseberry fruit vs richer toasted side vs surprisingly fresh acidity; good and interesting wine even if that aged character vs acidity clashes a little.
2003 Domaine Fouassier Les Chailloux - ripe kiwi and quite exotic papaya type fruit, perfumed vs sweet profile; a bit weird toasty and fairly punchy (alcohol?), still has some acidity underneath though vs almost creamy texture. Odd but quite good.
2002 Pierre Prieur et Fils - developed greengage and towards toasty notes, still has very fresh acidity vs richer almost toffee like flavours; again odd but I like it! Very good.
2001 Domaine du Carrou - weird 'sweet' vs vegetal nose, ageing characters yet nicely perfumed, rounded and creamy vs crisp and mineral. A surprise, never had anything like this before! Good + perhaps.
2000 Domaine Bailly-Reverdy - I think this was a little corked, as it had musty background notes and was a bit stripped of flavour on the palate. Certainly quite rich and concentrated though.
1999 Domaine Gitton Pere et Fils - Fairly oxidised nose with Fino tones vs sweet green fruit vs toasted hazelnut; still showing a tad of freshness on the palate though, almost like old Burgundy although perhaps over the hill? Yet it's pretty long intense and interestingly quirky!
1998 André Dezat et Fils - toasty yeasty notes vs 'sweet' and rounded with pineapple vs green fruits, again it's interesting although a touch flabby in the end.
1997 Jean-Max Roger GC - much livelier than the previous two vintages, showing ageing gooseberry fruit with toasty nutty edges then crisp mouth-feel. Difficult to believe this is a 97, still has structure and freshness vs lovely maturing fruit. Very good.
1996 Domaine Henri Bourgeois La Bourgeoise - oily 'petrol-y' Riesling-esque nose, gets richer toastier and creamier in the mouth vs lively structured mouth-feel and bite. Pretty amazing really, still alive and very long. Superb.

More Centre Loire here - Pinot rosés and reds & "silex" tasting...


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