"Buy my book about the Roussillon wine region (colour paperback or eBook) on Amazon UK HERE or Amazon USA HERE. Or order it direct from me (UK & EU only). Also available in the US from Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback or eBook. For other countries, tap/click on the link over the cover photo (below right)." Richard Mark James

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).

29 March 2008

Malbec galore Cahors April 4th to 6th

Why not indulge in a weekend of unbridled Malbec (in moderation of course, as Big Brother governments keep reminding us) in the pretty old town of Cahors (a good bit north of Toulouse or east of Bordeaux), at the first 'International Malbec weekend'? There's a somewhat intense-looking trade and press conference called Grape of the 21st Century? taking place on Saturday April 5th in the morning, but otherwise the gen pub is welcome to invade the place and try the region's unique red wines made wholly or mostly from this increasingly trendy (?) variety; and no doubt plenty of opportunity to stuff your face with some lovely southwestern French food specialities (magret de canard, duck breast fillet and a chunky Malbec red sound like a good combo actually). In addition, there'll be a group of winemakers from Argentina, where apparently there's at least five times the surface area of Malbec planted, who presumably will be bringing a few examples for you to taste in their bubble-wrap lined suitcases. More info from www.french-malbec.com. And full marks to the Cahors growers' union, or whoever had the bright idea, for coming up with the latter name for the website rather than something obscure in French that no English speaker would find on Google! Posted 29/3/08.


'Red is for wine, blood, revolution, colour... Time-warped slices of mystery, history, fantasy, crime, art, cinema and love...' Buy the e-book or paperback novel on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. Click here to view the RED blog!