"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

21 January 2009

Languedoc: Domaine La Borie-Fouisseau, Faugères

Domaine La Borie-Fouisseau

Véronique Vaquer-Bergan's perhaps promising, small estate amounts to seven ha (17 acres) lying on dry stoney slopes, with some vines planted at up at 500 metres altitude, around the dead little village of Laurens in deepest Faugères country. Although Béziers is only half-an-hour or so south of here, you don't have to go too far north before you hit the edges of fairly serious mountain ranges. Véronique is Ecocert organic-certified and at the moment makes just three AOC red wines, which I sampled at Millésime Bio wine show in January 2009 in Montpellier.

2006 La Salamandre (Grenache Cinsault Syrah Carignan) - a bit closed up and firm to start, some dark fruit lurking underneath; I wasn't sure about it, at that moment at least.
2004 Garance (mostly Mourvèdre) - warm spicy garrigue tones with black olive and dried fruits, very aromatic; solid powerful mouth-feel v fragrant fruit and wild herb edges; lively and different. 89
2005 Clara (mostly Grenache) - 'vinous' nose with lots of liquorice, very firm tannins on a punchy palate; a touch over-extracted but it's intriguing and promising. 

10 Avenue de la Gare, 34480 Laurens. Tel: 06 18 38 00 60,vaquerdago@aol.com.

01 January 2009

Languedoc: Château Grand Moulin, Corbières

Château Grand Moulin

Jean-Noel Bousquet relocated his winery to the Lézignan ring road, after his cellar collapsed before his eyes during the incredible floods the area was subjected to in winter 1999. However, he took it as a good opportunity to rebuild and remodel things to suit a shift in growing and winemaking philosophy, plus incorporate a smart new tasting reception area and shop. The estate has now expanded beyond 100 ha (250 acres) in size, some of which is 
classified as Corbières-Boutenac AOC (a fairly recent sub-appellation centred on the village of Boutenac, about half-an-hour southwest of Narbonne, and also home to the Corbières police force... I mean, appellation authorities) starting with the 2005 vintage.

These wines were sampled February-March 06:
2001 Corbières
 Terres Rouges (Syrah, Grenache & Carignan, 13.5%) - a little closed and awkward on the nose, yet shows spicy lightly earthy black cherry/currant fruit with perfumed oak overtones; powerful, tight mouthful of smoky black fruits and chocolate vanilla then firm/tart, dry and long finish. Needs time as the oak and acidity/tannins are a bit out of kilter at the moment, but it should blossom in 2-5 years. 89-91
 Terres Rouges (12.5%) - lovely developed smoky nose, liquorice and spice, ripe raisiny black cherry fruit with tobacco notes; soft elegant palate set against remaining dry grip and attractive long finish. 91-93
1998 Corbières Vieilles Vignes (12.5%) - mature intricate aromas, savoury raisins and prunes with leather undertones; supple refined palate, nice depth of 'sweet' fruit v light dry tannin backdrop. Drinking now yet should reward from a couple more years ageing.90-922001 Vieilles Vignes (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan & Mourvèdre) - complex smoky nose, appealing liquorice and prune fruit; soft tannins layered with well handled oak, elegant dry finish with ripe fruits lingering too. 88-90
2005 La Tour rosé (CinsaultSyrah, Grenache & Mourvèdre, 13%) - fresh and crisp style: very lively tangy red fruits showing good extract v elegance and juiciness, zesty and long. 87
2002 Corbières blanc, fermenté et élevé en futs (Grenache BlancVermentino & Macabeu) - toasty, oily and oxidising nose leads to milky yeasty weight and tanginess, rich palate finishing quite fat although there's still some fresh acidity underneath; quite good if you like this oaky style. 84

Grand Moulin update November 2008-January 2009

2007 La Tour 
Corbières rosé (13%) - nice dry and full style with creamy red fruit palate, quite elegant yet big enough to go with many different dishes. €4.60 85+
2007 La Tour 
Corbières white - citrus and honey aromas, floral notes on a rounded v crisp palate, appealing style. €5.20 85+
La Tour Corbières red - fragrant black cherry and cassis with light vanilla and liquorice edges; attractive fruity mouth-feel and style with dry bite to finish. €5.20 85-87
2005 Vieilles Vignes 
Corbières red - richer with a tad of chocolate oak showing, quite concentrated dark fruit cocktail with chocolate texture, firm and powerful yet well-balanced. Good value too at €6.90. 88-90
 Terres Rouges Corbières red - smokier with wild herbs, liquorice and plum notes; solid mouth-feel with fair muscle, concentration and length; again well-balanced with nice, understated coco oak texture and subtle grip. €9.80 89-91
Corbières-Boutenac red (14.5%) - more coconutty new oak on the nose but it has lush smoky dark fruits too, firm solid texture and punch; tasty and promising, closes up on the finish. Dear though at €14.50. 90+

6 Boulevard Maréchal Galliéni (RN113), 11200 Lézignan-Corbières. Tel: 04 68 27 40 80, contact@chateau-grand-moulin.com / chateaugrandmoulin@wanadoo.frwww.chateau-grand-moulin.com.

Roussillon: Domaine des Balmettes, Cases-de-Pène

2013 UPDATE - see below.

Lucien Salani is, like his friend Geoffroy Marchand at Etoile du Matin, one of an increasing band of young risk-taking growers with vineyards either side of the Corbières, who is making handmade, natural and whimsical wines; sometimes breathtaking, sometimes just a little too off-the-wall for some. All of Lucien's wines are simply labelled 'Côtes Catalanes' and most of them are varietal too, although it doesn't say so on the label. Each one is named after the plot(s) where a particular variety is planted - and more specifically the type of trees alongside - reflecting the different soils and, perhaps more importantly, varied lie of the land and micro-climate that characterise his vineyards as a whole. So, paraphrasing, each wine strives to say more about terroir, or rather the different terroirs you find here, than so-called appellation, Lucien believes.

For instance, out of eight hectares (expanded from the original four when he 'launched' back in 2003) he has spreading out from the back of Cases-de-Pène towards the hills above Espira; there's "Grenache facing all ways, Syrah facing south" and a few white vines here and there too. Despite the fact that his Syrah turns out a cracking wine, Lucien thinks: "Grenache and Carignan are the best adapted varieties here... Syrah also doesn't live as long (max 60-70 years)... And why have Mourvèdre if you have to treat it because it ripens late. The ideal is to get good ripe grapes without intervening with chemicals... and (for example) using traditional field selection to choose the most resistant plants" (as opposed to clonal selection or GM). On the winemaking front, he no longer de-stems the grapes (whole bunch fermentation) and is trying to move towards using zero sulphur dioxide (already quite low).

These wines were tasted, and some of them re-tasted, between October 2008 and January 2009:

2007 Les Agaves (Macabeu) - tasty, nutty and tangy; mineral freshness v honeyed floral fullness, dry and quite fine finish.
2007 Les Amandiers (Grenache on mostly marl, 14%) - ripe, smoky, tobacco-tinged black fruit and liquorice cocktail; turning meaty on the palate with lively gripping mouth-feel, tasty and long. 90
2007 Les Oliviers (Grenache on mostly schist, south and north facing parcels picked 2 weeks later, 14%) - less developed and smoky, much tighter and firm-textured mouth-feel with a tad of chocolate; nice depth of fruit underneath those currently big tannins, needs 6-12 months to open up. 90-92
2007 Les Figuiers (Syrah 14%) - slightly reductive yet smoky nose with wild cherry and herbs; again very ripe v savoury, very firm and powerful, dark fruit v dry texture. Needs 1-2 years to open up. Yum. 92+

2008s tasted from vat:
- lovely, nutty and savoury, rounded v fresh.
Grenache Blanc - more exotic and fatter, powerful v crisp finish.
Grenache Gris - pinky/copper colour, deliciously spicy and full v lively and with a touch of grip even.
Agaves (red) - gorgeous fruit v meat v grip.
Oliviers - big structure and concentration but nice tannins.
Les Balmettes ('Grenache Ouest' = west: new cuvée about to go into barrel) - more austere with coating of extract/tannins v lovely dark cherry and choco twist.
Syrah - rich and dark, big concentration and tannins layered with deep fruit.
2007 Muscat de Rivesaltes (15.5%, 100 grams/litre residual sugar) - rich and honeyed with attractive freshness so doesn't taste so sweet; oily textured peachy fruit v refreshing pear flavours, much crisper finish than most. 87+
2005 Les Oliviers (14%) - maturing smoky rustic nose with fig and cooked black cherries, cheesy / savoury with volatile complexity; meaty palate with leather notes and liquorice, grippy textured tannins v concentrated wild fruit v maturing 'real cider' flavours. Something in the background like it's a tad corked? Coming back to it: ageing quite quickly yet still has a kind-of wild intensity, richer mouth-feel with more liquorice and peppery now, turning more savoury and softer v firm and powerful. Still has ever so slightly 'musty' finish but it doesn't smell corked though? 90
2006 Les Oliviers (14%) - funky/reductive(?), slightly volatile 'real cider' aromas layered with 'sweet' dried black fruit, fig and wild herbs; very concentrated & ripe with tobacco and leather edges, very solid dry coating with big spicy finish, although it's comfortable with itself. At least, it will be as it closes up a little with lots of grip v lightly savoury fruit. Not sure. Next day: less funky, more complex with dried herbs/fruit, lush liquorice and smoky too; dry coating v ripe maturing fruit with leather, fig and baked apple; tasty and savoury v structured finish. 89+
2007 Les Oliviers (14%) - complex volatile wood-smoke notes v very ripe dried fruit, liquorice v peppery herbs, toffee apple and very light leather too; very concentrated, lush & rounded v solid dry tannins, 'sweet' liquorice and fig then tight closing up finish; needs a year to come out fully. Next: intense ripe fruit with wild/volatile edges v big structure and bite; a one-off. 92+

Click here for more Balmettes ('Top Languedoc & Roussillon over €10 tasting').

2013 update
Lucien has launched a couple of 'blended' wines featuring a mix of varieties, despite what I/he said above! Meant as easy-going 'range openers' though. The red is: 2012 L'Herbe rouge (Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre) - crunchy berry vs liquorice profile, fair depth actually with earthy edges and nice fruit.
2011 Les Figuiers (Syrah) - 'inky' and intense, concentrated with almost odd mix of fresh vs very ripe mouth-feel, lively and peppery with tight firm finish, nice tannins though. Should be good when it opens out a little.
2012 Les Agaves blanc (Macabeu) - wild cider vs apricot aromas, lively and fresh palate with intense crisp bite, hints of orange peel yet exotic and quite rich too. Wow!

2 Rue des Jaoumets, 66600 Cases-de-Pène. Tel: 04 68 38 16 03 / 06 09 58 17 35, lesbalmettes.com.

01 December 2008

Languedoc: Château des Auzines, Corbières

Award-winning Auzines (it's called Chateau or Domaine, the former referring to vineyards and cellar and the latter the entire huge property-cum-lieu-dit) is another organically farmed estate - for over ten years in fact, so a bit ahead of their time by modern standards - set on gorgeous forestland and hills near the historic village of Lagrasse (which might mean 'fat one' by the way). The Lagrasse area has become a veritable hub of exiting wineries (see above and below for more) in the vinous vastness that is the Corbières region.
Auzines comes to a quite sizeable 41 hectares (100 acres) of vineyards and is run by highly qualified winemaker/viticulturist Bruno Bernet, whose sought-after Syrah-based micro-label called 'Cuvée des Roches' is definitely worth tracking down, if there's any left. Alternatively their Hautes Terres red and deliciously good white Corbières even offer an equally rewarding taste sensation (and more affordable experience). They sell most of their wine in export (Germany, UK, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Japan, Denmark among others) so shouldn't be too difficult to get hold of, although North Americans reading this might have to wait as they don't appear to have crossed the Atlantic yet.

These wines tasted at Millésime Bio, Perpignan January 2008:
2006 Fleurs Blanches Corbières blanc (mostly Grenache Gris) - honeyed apricots with very light toasted notes, attractively fresh v fat palate with rounded oily yet elegant finish. 87
2006 Rosé de Garrigues (Grenache Gris, Cinsault) - still quite fresh and elegant with oily roundness, subtle red fruits and crisp bite. 87
2004 Vin de Pays de l'Aude rouge (Carignan, Aubun?, Alicante) - rustic and quite rich with juicy smoky fruit and crunchier finish, attractive now. 85
2005 Fleurs de Garrigues Corbières rouge (60% Carignan, Grenache, Syrah) - lovely aromatic berry fruit, lively tasty palate with liquorice flavours, light tannins and elegant finish. 87-89
2005 Hautes Terres Corbières rouge (Grenache, Syrah) - a bit closed on the nose, some coconut and blackberry on the palate; chunkier gripper and more 'modern' style (although no better or worse for it than the above, just different), needs several months to open up. 87-89
2003 Hautes Terres Corbières rouge (Grenache, Syrah) - richer with more tobacco-edged tones, pretty grippy & powerful mouth-feel moving on to leather and spice. 89
2005 Cuvée des Roches (mostly Syrah) - a touch
reduced to start with, although unlikely given this has seen quite a bit of cask ageing but there was something funny about the nose? However, it's concentrated showing ripe black fruits, extracted tannins but not too as there's nice roundness to balance that firmness; again needs some time to come together as it's promising. 90+

Update Dec 2008
I sailed over to Auzines in October 2008, where I met Bruno and his enthusiastic sidekick Franck who offered up the wines below for tasting. To find it, take the D3 road out of Lagrasse towards Carcassonne, then follow the signs turning right over a narrow bridge then left and keep climbing until you arrive at the winery buildings and chateau itself. Bruno talked about a few of the peculiarities that make Auzines special. "As we're at altitude here (300 metres / nearly 1000 feet), we have to have a good September otherwise we need to do a lot of sorting. We're really at the limit here for ripening (some of the varieties) so we wait."
There's more Syrah coming on stream (new plantings in 2005) and they've removed some of the old Carignan, although the blends will remain mostly Carignan except Roches. "Not all old Carignan is good, you need good clones... and because we're high up here, it's difficult for Carignan, we need late flowering to get proper ripeness, e.g. in 2002 it was all declassified to vin de pays. From 2005 to 2008, we've had a good late season so have waited to the right moment to pick, taking a few risks even..." For the red wines, no yeasts are added going the 'natural' route, and they like to age them "as much as necessary before releasing them." Bit of a luxury nowadays I'd have thought!

Over to those wines:
2007 Fleurs de Garrigues Corbières (vat sample: mostly Carignan + Grenache Syrah) - no barriques. Lovely wild fruits, spicy and crunchy v quite rich; attractive bite and freshness v rounded tannins. 87+
2008 white Corbières (from barrel: Grenache Gris & Blanc) - very nice, not toasty really yet with fat and juicy, yeast-lees underbelly. Promising.
2006 Corbières (some barrique ageing: Carignan Syrah Grenache) - showing fairly obvious chocolate and cocoa touches at the moment, although there's delicious wild fruit underneath, black cherry & olive; firm bite and length suffused with fruit, finishing with a bitter twist. More depth and weight. 89+?
2007 Syrah (from barrel, destined for La Roche) - pretty woody but it has plenty of vibrant fruit and concentration, again shows dark cherries & olive with wilder edges; chocolate tannins on the finish, powerful v grippy texture. 90+
2004 Fleurs de Garrigues (Carignan + Grenache Syrah, 14.5%) - maturing 'sweet & savoury' notes on the nose; quite dry, extracted and firm palate with a hint of spicy oak texture; beefy with some resiny dried fruit on the finish, not sure will get much better. 87+?
2005 Hautes Terres (Grenache Syrah, 13.5%) - 12 months in barrel. Has purer fruit character with resiny dried cassis edges; solid and concentrated but better balanced, with more depth v those firm tannins and rounder texture. 89+
2006 cuvée des Roches (mostly Syrah, 13.5%) - lovely lush dark cherry with chocolate spice undertones, turning savoury and liquorice; firm structure v spicy oak v richness v tight length, quite elegant actually and well-handled. 90-92
2007 Fleurs Blanches white (mostly Grenache Gris) - delicious exotic v nutty nose, aromatic and rich with spicy oak / yeast-lees undertones; however, it's mostly nutty, apricot and floral in character; that 14% alcohol certainly adds weight although its lush v dry mouth-feel makes it a very nice, food-leaning white wine. €9.50 88-90
Previous Auzines vintages
here (Millésime Bio 06).

Les Auzines, 11220 Lagrasse.
Tel: 04 68 43 10 13, domaineauzines@wanadoo.fr / chateaudesauzines@wanadoo.fr / chateaulesauzines@wanadoo.fr, info@lesauzines.comlesauzines.com.

Wine fairs, tastings, events & special offers November-December: UK and France

A wide-ranging pre-festive round-up of winey things going on and Christmas offers, which will probably be updated over the next few weeks...
Alternative gift ideas perhaps: the Wine Society is offering a £20 credit with any new membership up until 31st December. A share in one of the UK's oldest, 'mutual' mail-order wine companies usually costs £40: there's no annual fee and anyone can join. More info at thewinesociety.com. They've also launched an own-label red from South Africa, The Society’s Pinotage, sourced from Robertson region in the Western Cape and made by family-run Bon Cap Organic Wines: click here for my review and notes.
Another idea is a gift subscription to winetravelguides.com: prices go from £7.50 (about US$12) up to the full monty Gold Gift Subscription (£49 or US$80), which gives you full access to all travel guides on the site. Meaning no less than 46 'micro-regions' in France with 7 new guides coming on stream over the next couple of months - Mosel, Germany; Rioja, Spain; and Tuscany, Italy. Vouchers can be emailed directly to the recipient, or you can print it out or forward it yourself. By the way, a subscription discount code is still valid that can also be used for gifts. To find it, check out WTG publisher Wink Lorch's personal blog or "look out for our Wine Travel Guides Blog coming to the website very soon!" says Wink.
On-line wine merchant FromVineyardsDirect.com brings you the 'Hard Times Case': apparently the "perfect credit-crunch beating Christmas gift." This actually quite posh selection of French wines includes two "de-frocked" Cru Classé reds and "a bound Everyman's edition of Dickens' Hard Times," priced at £122.
French Winegrowers Fair takes place from 21-23 November at the Barbican Exhibition Centre in central London. Visitors can buy and print out a half-price admission voucher, £10 instead of £20 door price, from their website: www.frenchwinegrowersfair.com.
Decanter Fine Wine Encounter over the weekend of 22 & 23 November, London's glitziest annual wine show featuring top samplings and producer masterclass tastings. Book your tickets from www.decanter.com.
On a more local scale ("for local people"), Wokingham Wine Festival rolls out over the weekend of 6-7 December. This event is in aid of charity, with ticket proceeds going to the Multiple Sclerosis Society and is organised by ASDW (Association of Small Direct Wine merchants) including Nick Dobson Wines, Leon Stolarski Fine Wines and Amordivino. More info at: www.wokinghamwinefestival.co.uk.
Bistrot du Sommelier, Paris: "Les vendredis du Vigneron season 4" continues on Fridays at Philippe Faure-Brac's celebrated wine bar/restaurant. 28th November: Jean-Luc Aegerter from Maison Aegerter, Burgundy. 5th December: Xavier de Rozières from leading Corbières estate Château de Lastours. 12th December Champagne Perrier-Jouet dinner. Tasting and three-course lunch costs €45 or five-course dinner with five matched wines for €70, except the Champers bash €100. Info and booking at www.bistrotdusommelier.com or phone (+33) (0)1 42 65 24 85.
The Ronde des Cépages 2008 takes place this Sunday 30th November (also St. Andrews Day in Scotland, by the way) in the village of Bizanet, in the northern Corbières (not far from Narbonne). Expect wine tastings, music and a Christmas food market. More info: phone +33 (0)4 68 58 17 42 or bizanet.net.
Nuit des treize desserts Rasteau (night of 13 desserts) Sat. 13th December. A kind of pudding crawl around Rasteau (pretty village in the southern Rhone Valley), hopefully including a little taster of their Port-like red made from Grenache. Cost = 26 euros (15 for under-twelves, presumably not including wine!) for the first 1000 people to book with Terres de Lumière. Phone 04 90 46 18 73 or via terres-de-lumière.com. Local wine info from rasteau.com.
Continuing the dessert theme, there's a "Divin chocolat en noir et blanc" exhibition throughout December at Loire Valley winery Ackerman - Rémy Pannier (13 rue Léopold Palustre, Saint Hilaire-Saint Florent, 49412 Saumur). The theme: discovery for beginners of food, wine & chocolate matching. For youngsters, there's a grape and cocoa taste & smell showcase. Admission: €2 or free for under 18s. Check it out on www.ackerman-remypannier.com.
In the Côtes du Ventoux wine region, a Christmas truffle tasting takes place on Sat. 20th December at TerraVentoux co-op wine cellar from 11am-1pm. Truffle farmer Eric Jaumard will talk about black truffles tasted with TerraVentoux's wines. Contact Jean-Marc Thibaut on 04 90 61 79 47 or magasin1@cave-terraventoux.com.
Other seasonal things to do: New Year's Eve grape picking in the Southwest, see www.plaimont.com; "L’art du goût, le goût de l’art" 3-14 December sponsored by Malbec from Cahors: www.frenchmalbec.com.


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