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07 December 2003

Bandol Fête du Millésime 2003

My tasting notes from this lively outdoor event can be found below under the relevant producer's paragraph (dated accordingly), or separately at the very bottom of the page, which offer a first glimpse of wines from this year's sun-drenched vintage; plus a few majestic older ones as well. Held on the 7th December 2003 (this is a worth-checking-out annual event by the way, usually over the first weekend in Dec.) all along the port in Bandol town, it was a kind of more hedonistic version of 'en primeur' tastings with the emphasis on a fun day out rather than serious trade affair. FULL STORY HERE.

01 June 2003

L’Ambassade des Vignobles, Marseille

Wine magazine (UK) June 2003 issue (the title was bought by another publisher a couple of years later and is now called Wine & Spirit).
L’Ambassade des Vignobles, 42 Place aux Huiles, 13001 Marseille.
Tel. 04 91 33 00 25, fax 04 91 54 25 60.
Restaurant 4/5 - Wine list 4.5/5 (alas, it's closed since...)

This vast tranquil square is easily found just a stone’s throw from the traffic lining the south side of Marseille’s historic Vieux Port, at the bottom of the steep ascent to that other postcard landmark, the magnificently kitsch Notre Dame de la Garde basilica. On the port side, touristy restaurants offering bouillabaisse aplenty dominate; in the furthest southwestern corner sits L’Ambassade des Vignobles. The building is very old, the walls made of near-crumbling stone with dark wood beams above. However it’s smart in style but unstuffy in atmosphere; this is the South after all.

The restaurant is famed for its cellar, shared with nearby La Côte de Boeuf also owned by Paul Léaunard (and is still open I think) whose magnificent moustache is equally famous. The full wine list is extraordinary totalling 82 pages, seven of them devoted to 'foreign wines' (as the French say a bit patronisingly) including several vintages of Vega Sicilia, Opus One, Grange etc., as well as less culty offerings and even English! The selection of French wines is bedazzling and too extensive to go into, suffice it to say they aren’t short of fine Claret, Burgundy, Alsace, Loire; in fact everything and plenty of older vintages. I was tempted to order a bottle of Bouchard’s 1864 Beaune Clos de la Mousser 1er Cru (1373 Euros) to see if it existed or was drinkable.

However we opted for local wines and I for the Menu Provence (36E for entrée, main and dessert; 43E with cheese), which includes one glass of a different wine matched with each course. To start ‘Remoulade de chicons, duo de moules et palourdes marinées, vinaigrette d’oursin’ came with Ch. des Anglades Collection Privée rosé 2001, Côtes de Provence. The mussels and clams were fresh sea-fishy set against an attractively crunchy and dressed bitter chicory salad. The wine was delicately pink, more serious than fruity; good but there are better. For main I had ‘Emincé de magret de canard au miel et baies roses, pommes paille et navets glacés’ accompanied by Réserve Perrin Côtes du Rhône rouge 2000. The succulent slices of duck sat in a reduced savoury honey sauce, enlivened by perfumed pink berries, alongside cute little chips. The red showed decent fruit, spice and complexity.

My companion went à la carte, kicking off with ‘Foie gras maison, toasts de pain briochés aux figues, compotine de rhubarbe’ (11E) helped along by a lovely rounded, oily and weighty white Bandol 2001 from Dom. de la Tour du Bon (27E 75cl, 5E glass). The foie gras was spot on: not heavy and contrasting with the sweet fig bread and rhubarb. This was followed by a nicely cooked ‘Pièce de filet de boeuf aux arômes de truffe, couronne de legumes de Provence’ (23E), served with a splendid meaty truffley sauce and elegantly topped with grilled courgettes etc.

Desserts were of a similar standard: my frangipane and apple pie was tastily gooey, although too much for Dom. de Salente Viognier 2001. Crêpes stuffed with Grand Marnier mousse (8E) were fortified by a glass of the same (5E). Service was professional and speedy but never pushy.

Wine Magazine bar & restaurant reviews

Follow these links to four bar and restaurant reviews written for Wine magazine (UK) in 2002 and 2003 (now defunct in this format: the title was bought by another publisher a couple of years later, and by another since, and renamed Wine & Spirit International):
L’Ambassade des Vignobles, Marseille
Chine Rouge, Manchester
Kro2, Manchester
Choice bar & restaurant, Manchester

Another Manchester resto is review here: Miyako (sushi) penned for Harpers On-Trade magazine, as well as a
 brief investigation into and review of sushi restaurants in Manchester... Plus a few thoughts on licensing policy and growth of late bars in the city centre...

And there's more Madchester food etc. on this page:
City Life (Manchester) 1998-2003: wine columns, food & drink guide and travel pieces...

29 May 2003

Les Baux de Provence

Les Baux de Provence

An obscure wine sub-region centred on this historic village in the Alpilles hills between Avignon and Arles, the appellation encompasses only 12 growers spread over a mere 320-340 hectares. The Baux valley boasts beautiful wild countryside (and coach-loads of tourists), several rich individual reds and full dry rosés. Here Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon harmoniously collide alongside Grenache and Mourvèdre...
At the end of May 2003, I was invited to be a taster on one of three juries at an annual competition, the Prix Noël Michelin. Here I joined French wine journalists, sommeliers and winemakers and was confronted by a rather strange scoring system, linguistically poetic and at the same time mathematically complex (how French). I was on the red panel, and the results said interesting things about national palates. I didn’t score the winner, Domaine de la Vallongue, particularly well using a silly system that allocates over half the marks to appearance and nose. However, my favourite (unfortunately the identity of this and the other 10 wines tasted blind were never revealed to me) did also feature strongly in most of the panel’s top 3. So I’ve reverted to the usual method and scoring system for my tasting notes - click on the Cité des Baux shot - which shed a degree of new light on the wines.
Over lunch following the competition, we also tried several different wines including older vintages. The best reds do age well and may justify the high prices les Baux commands, but others need to work harder to convince at this price level. Nevertheless, overall they have something very interesting here. The white wines are currently classified as Appellation Contrôlée Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, and the growers talked about moves to lobby for AC Baux status for them. When I'd first heard about this, I thought it a cynical attempt to flesh out the prices of the generally average AC whites; or at the very least a dilution of their terroir (it seems best expressed by the reds). However, the producers want to base it, if it happens, on the Marsanne and Roussanne varieties - not permitted for AC wines at the moment - and Sémillon. Tasting some of the complex, barrel-fermented Vins de Pays made from these grapes confirms their potential, and a worthy improvement on Grenache Blanc, Rolle and Clairette blends.
The majority of estates in les Baux are farmed organically, and one, Château Romanin by biodynamic principles (see my article on Château Falfas for details on this). Others tasted and worth visiting are Mas de la Dame, Olivier d’Auge, Domaine de Lauzières, Jean-André Charial, Mas Sainte-Berthe, Château d’Estoublon, Château Dalmeran, Domaine Hauvette, Mas de Gourgonnier, Domaine de Terres Blanches and Domaine de la Vallongue.

Tasting notes etc. coming soon...

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