"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. OR BUY IT DIRECT FROM ME (UK & EU only). Also available in the US from Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback or eBook. For other countries, tap on the link above the cover photo (below right)." Richard Mark James

14 December 2004

Languedoc wines speak the same language

Here's the original version of my story published on Decanter.com 14/12/2004.

The Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc (CIVL) has revealed plans to promote all the different appellations (AOC) under the one umbrella of ‘Languedoc’, and to work together with other producers to push the idea of ‘South of France’ in export markets. At the AGM held on 3rd December, the CIVL announced details of their marketing strategy for 2005 supported by a budget of €4 million, including a 30% increase in expenditure earmarked for export promotions and advertising. The boldest move is the willingness of the three largest regional associations – the CIVL, the Conseil Interprofessionnel Vins du Roussillon (CIVR) and Vins de Pays d’Oc growers – to pool their ideas and resources. The combined pot for export campaigns comes to €2.7 million. This new found cooperation takes in the ‘Printemps du Languedoc et du Roussillon’ tasting in London on 15th February, mini-fairs in Toronto and Vancouver in May and a joint stand at Germany’s Prowein exhibition.

The “common geographical ground focusing on the south of France” should communicate the diversity of the region’s wines better to the consumer. “The idea is simple,” Rémy Wuatelet, Marketing Director of the CIVL explained. “With intense international competition, we need to offer a complementary range that suits the market and consumer – still wines, varietals, sparkling and sweet – for a winning formula.” Individual Languedoc AOCs include traditional red blends such as Fitou and Corbières; the ‘cru’ subregions of Minervois la Livinière and Pic Saint Loup; dry whites Picpoul de Pinet and Clairette, Limoux sparkling wines and a variety of fortified Muscats. These will be marketed alongside Vins de Pays ‘cépages’ such as Syrah, Chardonnay and Grenache, and Côtes du Roussillon wines.

Michel Laroche, who already labels his varietal wines ‘South of France’, agrees working together “is fundamental; there’s too much complexity and we need to simplify things. South of France is more abstract yet means more.” Putting Languedoc in the spotlight also fits in with plans to launch an inter-regional AOC, which are awaiting approval from the INAO. The ad campaign in English centres on the Languedoc cross logo, which appears on specially embossed bottles, and the catchphrase ‘Fine French Mediterranean wines’. In addition, a ‘destinations’ theme links wine routes to tourism. Exports of Languedoc-Roussillon wines for the first eight months of 2004 were down 7% in volume and 3% in value. However, Canada, Japan and the US show positive trends outperforming all other countries, albeit from a smaller base.

03 December 2004

Fête des Vignes, Montpellier 2004

Discover 18 worthwhile wines tasted at the first "Fête des Vignes de Montpellier Agglomération" (that's like the 'Greater Montpellier' area). While in town on a gloriously sunny, early December afternoon, I stumbled across this local fair ("for local people") in the elegant imperial Place de la Comédie. The wine capital of the South is literally surrounded by vines (although it probably shouldn't be given the location of certain vineyards) - all of the growers mentioned here are on the Montpellier wine route. This is Coteaux du Languedoc country taking in individual areas such as Grés de Montpellier and Pic Saint-Loup, as well as attractive vins de pays varietals too. Plus a few dry and sweet guest Muscats thrown in...

Domaine de PiquetConfidence NV sparkling wine - Quite fine nose displaying light toasty notes, crisp v milky palate finishing with subtle yeasty touches. A surprise. 87

Domaine de Causse
2001 Cabernet/Merlot, vin de pays d'Oc - Lovely cassis fruit with rustic notes, tangy leafy edges too but it's ripe and rounded with a bit of bite and good length. 89
2003 Muscat, vin de pays d'Oc (Muscat à Petits Grains) - Aromatic dry and fruity, fairly fleshy style yet elegant and grapey, showing good depth of fruit.85+

Domaine de Rieucoulon
2003 Carignan rosé, vin de pays Collines de la Moure - Crisp dry and tight in the mouth set against nice elegant fruit and style. 85
2003 Merlot, vin de pays d'Oc - Impressive depth of plummy fruit tinged with leafy notes, quite weighty and concentrated within a firm framework. €5 87

Domaine de Terre Megere2001 'Clapas' Grés de Montpellier (SyrahGrenacheMourvèdre) - A touch 'reductive' on the nose (ever so slightly vegetal) but this disappears into the smoky plummy whole, with lightly herbal edges; richer riper palate, very firm and stonky finish. 87+

Château de Fourques2001 Coteaux du Languedoc (SyrahGrenacheCinsault) - Minty blackcurrant and cherry aromas, nice tangy fruit, firm tannins but ripe and textured. 85+

Château de Flaugergues2002 Cuvée Sommelière Grés de Montpellier (SyrahGrenacheMourvèdre) - Firm tannins and tight structure with long finish; not revealing much at the moment so difficult to say. €9 87

Le Chemin des RêvesLa Première Cuvée (SyrahCarignanGrenache) - Benoît Viot made this as vin de table because he felt like it: Soft fruity cherry notes showing elegant depth, fairly light yet quite long and attractive with it. 84+

Vignobles Baron de la Liquisse
2000 Lion d'Azur Grés de Montpellier (95% Syrah) - Herbal peppery nose leads to delicious black fruit palate, ripe v firm texture with subtle concentration and length. 92
2003 Rosé d'Aurore, Coteaux du Languedoc (Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault) - Attractive style showing elegance yet weight too, lively raspberry fruit then oilier texture on the finish. Drink with grilled red mullet. 85+
2002 Tradition 'Terroir de Verargues', Coteaux du Languedoc (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache) - Soft ripe and smoky with plenty of liquorice and 'sweet' red fruits, supple tannin mouth-feel and lovely mature fruit to finish. 88+

Château de Stony
2002 Lumière d'Automne, vin de pays d'Oc (Muscat à Petits Grains, 14%) - Made with over-ripe grapes in oak casks. Coconut oak notes mingle with quite rich sweetness (50 grams/litre residual sugar), fairly toasty/spicy but underneath it's concentrated, fruity and nicely textured. Unusual, needs time. €13 for 50cl 90
2003 Muscat de Frontignan, Cuvée Sélection de Vendanges (Muscat à Petits Grains, 15%) - Vin Doux Naturel fortified to 15% leaving natural sweetness. Starts with a fair kick of alcohol, but this also has delicious Muscat fruit intensity and sweetness balancing it out. €7.80 89
2003 Muscat Sec, vin de pays d'Oc (Muscat à Petits Grains, 13%) - Perfumed grapey aromas lead to crisp bite on the palate, yet it's soft and elegant too with very dry finish. €4.60 87

Latest Stony here (March 09).

La Magdelaine d'Exindre2003 Muscat de Mireval 'Vent d'Anges' (Muscat à Petits Grains, 15%) - Classic style Vin Doux Naturel fortified Muscat with delicious grapey orangey fruit, intense yet elegant sweetness, pretty full-on finish. €10.20 87+

Domaine Desvabre
2003 Pic Saint-Loup Fût de Chêne (Syrah, Grenache) - Spicier and toastier than the 'tradition' below with coconut vanilla edges, quite concentrated and tight with rounded tannins; more 'modern' style but good with it. 89
2003 Pic Saint-Loup Tradition (Syrah, Grenache) - Nice smoky rustic fruit, soft mouth-feel with a touch of dry grip too, finishing with elegance and power combined. 89

01 November 2004

Waitrose Christmas wines 2004

Out of 50 recommendations picked from their autumn press tasting, there should be something for everyone here. Waitrose snatched the award (again) for Wine Supermarket of the Year in the 2004 International Wine Challenge, and it's not hard to see why. They have 166 branches, and the wine department seems to be run a bit like a specialist shop chain (or at least should be). The good news is that Waitrose has spread into virgin territory in the north of England and Wales, since they bought 19 stores in the fallout of Morrisons' takeover of Safeway.
There were some disappointing areas in the tasting though, it has to be said. Like Majestic, they stock some brilliant Burgundies - e.g. Drouhin's Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru - but a few surprisingly mediocre, overpriced ones too (conclusion = Burgundy is the problem as these guys know how to taste wine, after all). I also wasn't very impressed with some of their new Eastern European wines, and Portugal was a bit variable. In contrast, I've selected a nice variety of reds particularly from Italy, Spain (lovely Riojas), Chile and South Africa (classics from Rustenberg).
In addition, Waitrose stocks several top wines from Australia (all styles); take a look at Pinot Noirs from Stonier and Henschke. Among the whites, Germany (including Künstler and Prüm), Austria, France (especially their Alsace range) and Ken Forrester's South African Chenin Blancs really stand out. I appear to have had a bit of a Sauvignon Blanc frenzy as well, including several great examples from the Southern Hemisphere. Mind you, be wary of some 2004 New Zealand Sauvignons though; I've tasted a few that display too much of those grassy green pepper characters, perhaps due to overly high yields and under-ripe grapes. But Craggy Range and Jackson Estate show real class; ditto Nepenthe, Shaw & Smith... Wines tasted October 2004. More words & wines regarding things Waitrose.





Austria

Schloss Gobelsburg, 2003 Gobelsburger Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal (12.5%) - Vegetal aromas turning nutty, quite intense and peppery with crisp acidity set against rounder off-dry finish; nice commercial style. £5.99 85+
Schloss Gobelsburg, 2003 Gobelsburger Riesling, Kamptal - Fine greengage and celery mineral nose, vibrant concentrated pure fruit with zesty crisp length. £7.49 87+
Felsner Grüner Veltliner Moosburgerin Kabinett, Kremstal 2003 - Aromatic zesty and very spicy, delivers lovely concentration and class with crisp intensity balanced by nice depth of pure fruit. Try with Vietnamese stir-fried squid! £7.99 90


South Africa

Ken Forrester, 2003 Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch (14%) - Delicious honey and greengage fruit, a little sweetness balanced out by the tight acid framework, and a touch of toasty oak and quite high alcohol add weight to the palate. £6.99 89
Ken Forrester, 2002 Meinert Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch (13.5%) - Voluptuous fruit layered with coconut, showing late harvest sweetness characters set against toasty oak then tight mineral acidity and length, so in the end it doesn't really taste that sweet. Wow: a one-off. £14.99 94+
Rustenberg Wines, 2003 Chardonnay, Stellenbosch (14.5%) - Very buttery and toasty on the nose, weighty creamy palate with intense green edges, massive flavour yet becomes more elegant and tighter on the finish. Wow. £9.99 93+
Rustenberg Wines, 2001 Peter Barlow Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch - Somewhat closed up on the nose at first, shows bags of coconut oak on the palate but it's concentrated and grippy too with tight long finish; needs a few years to express itself and integrate (I hope...). £22.50 selected branches only. 90+?
Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2003, Boekenhoutskloof, Coastal Region (14.5%) - Meaty nose with cinnamon edges, quite perfumed and peppery black fruits on a tight long palate. £6.99 89
Semillon 2002, Boekenhoutskloof, Franschhoek (14%) - Creamy yeast-lees & toasty notes contrast nicely with its tight structure, nutty elegant finish rounded out by well integrated alc. £13.50 90
Springfield Estate Sauvignon Blanc special cuvée 2004, Robertson - Asparagus and spearmint aromas, very intense fruit offering nice weight yet mineral depth too, long crisp finish. £7.99 91


Chile

Piedra Feliz, 2001 Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley (14%) - Lightly toasty and smoky notes on the nose lead to silky "sweet & savoury" fruit on the palate, quite concentrated with firm long finish. £9.99 90+
Santa Rita Floresta Sauvignon Blanc 2003, Leyda Valley (13%) - Very vibrant pure gooseberry nose, green pepper notes on the palate rounded out by weighty concentration, intense wow finish. £9.99 90
Errazuriz Max Reserva Chardonnay 2002, Casablanca Valley (13.5%) - Wild aromas on the nose, creamy fat palate balanced by subtle bite and acid structure, big v elegant. £7.99 90
Nativa Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, Carmen, Maipo Valley - Rustic cassis notes jump out of the glass, has lovely depth of fruit in the mouth finishing with firm conclusive bite. £7.99 90


France

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, 2002 Zind, Alsace (Auxerrois 50%, Chardonnay 35% and Pinot Blanc) - exotic voluptuous nose following through to delicious fruit and concentration, has a touch of sweetness but also fresh "cut" to balance, nice coating and texture in the mouth. £13.99 93
Jean Marc Brocard, 2002 Chardonnay Vin de Pays Coteaux de Tannay, Burgundy - from 40 miles (65km) south of Chablis. Mature "Chablis" style, quite fat and creamy actually set against nice mineral bite, good length and a bit of class too at the price: £5.99. 87-89
Domaine Huet Vouvray sec Le Haut-Lieu 2002 (Chenin Blanc) - Ripe and oily nose with a touch of botrytis richness, concentrated palate rounded by very light toasted oak, fine underlying acidity leading to off-dry finish. £10.99 89
Heresztyn Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2002, Côte de Nuits (Pinot Noir) - Shows good "sweet & savoury" Pinot style, with quite silky fruit set against firm tight palate, nice length and bite. Needs a bit of time to develop. A classic for duck dishes. £19.99 90
Albert Mann Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum "Vieilles Vignes" 2002, Alsace (14%) - Elegant pure Gewurz nose of rose water and lychees, very rich and concentrated showing purity and depth of fruit, then lovely bite on the finish cutting through the sweetness (32 g/l residual sugar with 14% alc.). Perfect match for Munster cheese. £17.50 94
Menetou-Salon "Clos de Ratier" 2003, Domaine Henry Pellé, Loire Valley (Sauvignon Blanc 13.5%) - Ripe oily citrus fruit contrasts nicely with pungent lees characters, quite open and soft actually with subtle length and light-ish acidity. Get the goats' cheese out. £9.99 87+
Pinot Noir 2002, Domaine Paul Blanck, Alsace (13% screwcap) - Nice perfumed style with dry bite on the palate contrasting with typical "sweet & savoury" fruit. Try with choucroute (sauerkraut) and charcuterie. £8.99 87
Pouilly-Vinzelles 2003, Thibert, Mâconnais (Chardy) - Juicy ripe fruit contrasting with leesy bite and intensity, fresh elegant length. £8.99 87
Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru "Les Folatières" 2001, Joseph Drouhin, Côte de Beaune (Chardy 13.5%) - Delivers fat and rich mouthfeel set against aromatic lightly green fruit, sexy creamy palate rolls out underpinned by fine acidity on the length. Yum although not cheap of course: £29.99. 95
Organic Vin de Pays du Gard 2003, Saint Roche, Languedoc (Carignan Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon) - Attractive "sweet" rustic fruit with various berries and liquorice notes, has a touch of grip on a nice finish. £4.99 84+


Italy

Dardi la Rose, 2000 Barolo, Piemonte (Nebbiolo) - Lovely smoky tobacco notes with generous fruit underneath, then firm bite of tannins and acidity building a solid framework. Good trad style, shame about the price: £25 (admittedly not so silly compared with some Barolos). 90+
Borgo Salcetino, 2002 Chianti Classico, Tuscany (Sangiovese Canaiolo Nero 13%) - Quite rustic and soupy but has attractive smoky fruit and concentration, showing nice austere bitter cherry style and bite; needs time. £8.99 89
MGM Mondo del Vino "Da Luca" Grillo/Chardonnay 2003, Sicilia (13.5%) - Interesting nutty fruit, quite concentrated in fact showing nice weight and oomph yet a bit of fresh bite too, and very light touch of toast to finish. £4.99 87
Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino 2003, Campania (13%) - Zesty perfumed aromas suffused with banana and herbs, lovely concentration and style, long balanced finish. £9.99 89
Tria Syrah 2003, Sicilia - Appealing pure spicy blackberry and cherry, quite "modern" fruit-forward style but is chunky and grippy with vibrant fruit finish. £5.99 85


Spain

CVNE Monopole Rioja blanco 2003 (Viura) - Creamy coconut fatness contrasts interestingly with its nutty dry side, has a bit of bite too on the finish along with well handled oak. £6.49 87
Celler de Capçanes Mas Collet 2001, Tarragona (Carignan Garnacha Tempranillo 14%) - Rich smoky nose leads to firm palate supported by lovely tobacco and liquorice fruit, has good bite and length too. £6.49 89
Reserva Selección Especial 2000, Muga, Rioja (Tempranillo Garnacha Mazuelo 13.5%) - The nose is a bit closed but it's concentrated and firm in the mouth, showing nice raspberry fruit tempered by subtle oak; has real bite, intensity and depth of flavour. £16.49 94
Ribera del Duero 2002, Vega de Castilla (Tempranillo) - Quite complex, smoky and minty nose paves the way to a grippy palate, yet balanced by good depth of fruit. £7.49 87
Rioja Reserva 1998, Dominio de Conte, Rioja Alta (Tempranillo Graciano) - Rich cheesy maturing nose invites you in to this classic style Rioja, pitching "sweet" raspberry fruit against firm structure, finishing with elegant length. £12.99 92+


California

RH Phillips Dunnigan Hills Syrah 2001 - Appealing pure spicy fruit style, chunky and firm in the mouth showing a little well-balanced wood to round it off. £6.99 85


Germany

J.J. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese 1994, Mosel - Ten years old and looking good: maturing mineral and petrol aromas, still has a zesty edge supported by elegant concentration, finishing not so sweet (46 g/l residual sugar versus nearly 10 g/l total acidity!). And reasonable too at £12.99 considering its age and class. 93+
Franz Künstler Hochheimer Kirchenstück Riesling Spätlese 2002, Rheingau - Very zesty mineral style, concentrated vs tight fresh and fine; finishing not so sweet despite its lush 102 g/l residual sugar, thanks to almost 10 g/l total acidity; meaning it will develop for a long time! £13.99 92+


Australia

Henschke Henry's Seven Shiraz/Grenache/Viognier 2002, Barossa Valley - Berries and liquorice aromas reveal nice depth of fruit, firm yet elegant finish despite the high-ish alcohol. £14 87+
Henschke Lenswood "Giles" Pinot Noir 2002, Adelaide Hills - Ripe "sweet & savoury" nose, tangy and complex mouthful offering lovely depth of fruit, vibrant ripe characters yet meaty/mushroomy too, and silky tannin texture to finish. Yum. £19.50 very limited availability. 95
Domaine Leasingham Magnus Riesling 2003, Clare Valley - Lime zest aromas abound, very fresh and crisp acid structure needing a few years to develop and soften; very good but not for everyone. Try with a fishy Thai green curry. £7.99 89+
Reserve Pinot Noir 2000, Stonier, Mornington Peninsula - Gorgeous "sweet & savoury" style, showing silky soft fruit, texture and elegance skilfully balanced by firmness and structured finish. £17 93
Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Nepenthe, Adelaide Hills - Displays great intensity of eye-watering green fruit with very crisp, elegant long finish; one for SB fans (I am), needs food I'd say e.g. a goats cheese or anchovy salad  £7.99 92
Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Shaw & Smith, Adelaide Hills - Yeast-lees notes on the nose, elegant palate offering gooseberry fruit and subtle zesty extract with long fine finish. £9.99 90+
Stella Bella Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Suckfizzle Augusta, Margaret River - Not obvious on the nose to start, green fruit and white pepper notes develop with crisp subtle palate, has a touch of roundness too without trace of oak flavour (10% barrel-fermented) finishing very dry yet with nice fruit. £7.99 90
Step Road Sangiovese 2001, Step Wines, Langhorne Creek (with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) - Attractive "Tuscan" style offering sweetness of fruit and tobacco notes yet firm tannins, good long bite on the finish. £6.99 88


New Zealand

Old Renwick Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Craggy Range, Marlborough - More subtle still than the Jackson yet shows nice trademark, very intense gooseberry fruit; super concentration and tight long finish. £9.99 94
Private Bin Pinot Gris 2004, Villa Maria, Marlborough - Alsace leaning style but zestier and crisper, offers lovely floral honeyed spice and juiciness typical of decent PG, good depth and purity of fruit too. £6.99 90
Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Jackson Estate, Marlborough - Intense gooseberry fruit yet has elegant mineral dimension as well, very tight and crisp palate with super zesty green fruit finish. £8.99 92


Mexico

Petite Sirah 2002, L A Cetto, Baja California - Spicy blueberry aromas, chunky and fruity palate offering nice style and grip on the finish. £5.29 85


Portugal

The Cork Grove Castelão/Touriga Nacional 2003, Casal Branco, Ribatejo - Juicy blackberry/cherry fruit with nice perfumed edges, quite chunky and attractive style with pretty firm finish. £4.49 85


14 October 2004

"Bandol harvest finishes early..."

This news story first appeared on Decanter.com in shortened form on 14th October 2004:
The costumed tradition of les Vendanges du Rond-Point des Mourvèdres – harvesting of 225 Mourvèdre vines planted on the roundabout near motorway exit La Cadière-Le Castellet north of the town of Bandol – took place on Thursday 7th October in temperatures of over 25°C, despite threats of rain issued by weather forecasters. The event usually symbolises the vintage in full swing but this year marked the finishing touches, and summed up the positive mood surrounding this year’s crop.
Michel Bronzo, owner of La Bastide Blanche and President of the Bandol Association, described 2004 as “following in the footsteps of 2000 and 2001, both great years for Bandol, after the difficult 2002 vintage and exceptionally hot 2003.” Nevertheless, he estimates production is 10-15% down on last year. Summer 2004 experienced more even temperatures, consistent sunshine and a little rain in August and September, followed by a drying Mistral. But, according to most growers, not enough rain to avoid near drought conditions. Bandol escaped the storms seen elsewhere in France, and the fine weather continued through September until the last grapes were picked in the first week October.
Eric de Saint-Victor of Château de Pibarnon, who finished picking their last parcels at the end of September, commented: “we already had excellent sugar and polyphenol levels, it would’ve been a pity to wait any longer… it could be a great vintage.” Freddy Estienne from Domaine de la Laidière was also enthusiastic: “we completed the harvest on Saturday 2nd October, it’s never been that early here.” He predicts 35-40 hectolitres per hectare (hl/ha) overall including whites and rosés. Yields for Mourvèdre for red wines will be nearer 25-30 hl/ha, also confirmed by Domaine de la Tour du Bon and Domaine de la Vivonne. Reynald Delille of Domaine Terrebrune in the commune of Ollioules ventured a cautious “very good” for the vintage, with average volumes of 35 hl/ha.


The ceremonial picking and pressing of grapes were followed by a tasting at the roadside (fortunately, the cops had partly blocked it off knowing what Med French drivers can be like...): I've highlighted a dozen favourites, a mix of young and older Bandol reds and rosés, on this page.
And either side of this event, I toured around several estates for some research I was doing on the Mourvèdre variety (links to article written for Wine Business, USA): Pibarnon, Laidière, Terrebrune, Vivonne, Tour du Bon, Bastide Blanche, Lafran-Veyrolles, Gros'Noré, Tempier, Ott and Sainte Anne. So overall, you'll find 150+ recommendations and reviews on this page including a few excellent older vintages...

30 September 2004

Big Turkish wine export push

An adaptation of this Turkish wine report was first published on Decanter.com on September 30th 2004: I've since added a bit more information and opinion. Click here to view my notes and thoughts on wines tasted on this delight-ful (ho ho) Turkish wine trip...

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