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31 July 2010

Some posh old Bordeaux

Has moved HERE...

Some posh old Bordeaux


Tasted, savoured and gently quaffed at the Circle of Wine Writers' 50th anniversary dinner at the National Café, London WC2, on May 17th 2010 ("Flaunt it baby, flaunt it," as Zero Mostel said in "The Producers"): my notes got a bit lost in a pile of paper until now...

These three reds served with rack of spring lamb or wild mushroom risotto:
1996 Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac Grand Cru Classé - smoky maturing nose with savoury tobacco vs liquorice even; rich mouth-feel and depth vs still quite firm tannins, although I like its seductive chewy roundness; complex maturing finish with "sweet/savoury" and tobacco tones again vs underlying grip indicating there's still life in it yet. 92-94
1998 Château Branaire-Ducru Saint-Julien Grand Cru Classé - leafy cedary blackcurrant aromas vs maturing savoury edges; lighter palate with fresher acidity, attractive crunchy cassis fruit vs sweeter/savoury texture; gets richer and more open with air, probably very good for this tricky vintage. 88-90
2001 Château Canon La Gaffeliere Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé - ripe black fruits even with quite rustic smoky profile, intricate and "cheesy" (like old Rioja) too; still showing a touch of dry grip vs "sweet" texture and oomph (13.5% ?); lush, seductive and soupier too (bretty even?) but difficult not to like it! Tastes older than the other two. 90-92
With apple tarte tatin:
2002 Château Guiraud Sauternes Premier Cru Classé - delicious actually, even if not very rich and exotic; shows classy spicy nose with dried fruits, honey and marmalade; fine cut and bite vs oily texture, lovely balance. 88-90
Oh, we also enjoyed a wee glass of Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champers with nibbles beforehand to set the scene nicely. Afterwards, back to reality to catch a late tube. Ho hum. Picture from www.lynchbages.com

30 July 2010

Languedoc: Château de Campuget, Costières de Nîmes

Château de Campuget
Campuget is a much larger property than Pastouret (see winery A to Z, right) and actually borders it on one side, although you have to go quite a long way round country lanes to get from one to the other. Anyway, there is a genuine and rather cute old Château in classic French bourgeois style, which you can rent out for functions apparently! Owned by the Dalle family, who makes quite a big range of appellation wines and vins de pays also including the ones from their other nearby estate Château de L'Amarine. They can all be tasted in their comfy, former old barn of a tasting room & shop next to the chateau, which is found more or less in the middle of a forest although well signposted from approaching roads. I visited and tasted these in June 2009 with son Franck-Lin Dalle (approx retail prices €5 to €12):
2008 Invitation Costières de Nîmes white (Roussanne/Grenache blanc/Viognier) - aromatic oily and zesty, turning more exotic in the mouth with a bit of weight then crisp and mouth-watering. 80+
2008 Invitation Costières de Nîmes rosé (13%) - zingy and crisp palate, tasty light-ish style, nice quaffer. 80+
2008 Invitation Costières de Nîmes red (13.5%) - peppery bright black cherry style, ripe and juicy vs touch of grip then darker "sweeter" liquorice flavours; again tasty and quite easy-going although has a bit of oomph too. 85-87
2005 La Sommelière Costières de Nîmes red (100% Syrah) - a bit more austere and serious, spicy with a touch of chocolate/coconut oak; firmer framework vs maturing tobacco notes and attractive textured tannins. 87+
Campuget's wines are available from www.wineman.co.uk in the UK (Kevin O'Rourke) and www.dreyfusashby.com in New York City.

Update summer 2010: I recently bought their 2009 white and rosé from a supermarket (€3.50 each), which were both enjoyable, well-made and easy-drinking in line with my reviews of the 08s.

30129 Manduel. Tel: 04 66 202 015, campuget@wanadoo.fr, www.campuget.com / www.chateaulamarine.com.

29 July 2010

Languedoc: Domaine du Grand Arc, Corbières

Bruno and Fabienne Schenck set up domain in 1995 in beautiful middle of nowhere near Cucugnan at the bottom end of the Corbières, before the meandering climb down into Maury and beneath the awesome Chateau Quéribus (just to throw in a hint of cliché touristy and dramatic Cathar ambience - the castle is a must-see though)... although they already had and worked vineyards before then and used to deliver their grapes to the local co-op cellar. The estate now comes to 23 ha (57 acres) with vines planted from around 250 to 400 metres altitude (over 1000 ft on average).
When I called in at Grand Arc in late July 2010, Bruno expressed their philosophy as "agriculture non-violente," meaning, although not strictly organic, "sometimes we don't interfere... and take a little risk, we might lose a bit but you get better balance and we always have enough crop." He also said: "We no longer green-harvest and do very little de-budding and leaf-removal," the idea being that "it's all well thought out to try and understand everything around us. So, we make a range that reflects all our terroirs... The climate is very even here, we try to use that." And on the winemaking front, he claims to have experimented with not using sulphur for wines made in 2008 and 2009, except adding a very low quantity at bottling to "guarantee stability and ageing potential." I tasted their range at the same time as some eager Belgian tourists, who promptly drove off with a few cases, so obviously a hit! I'm inclined to agree, as no doubt does UK wine merchant Stone, Vine & Sun who stocks some of these wines:

2009 Veillée d'Equinoxe white (Grenache Blanc Roussanne Maccabeu 14%) - aromatic floral & banana-y nose; fatter fuller palate vs crisp and quite mineral, attractive light bitter twist too. €5.30 / £8.50. 80-85
2009 La Tour Fabienne rosé (Grenache Syrah Carignan Mourvèdre Cinsault 14%) - has plenty of creamy strawberry/raspberry fruit to start; juicy vs quite chunky style with bite and subtle bitter twist, rounded & fairly powerful too vs crisp and fresh. A foodie rosé, good value too @ €4.80 / £8.25. 85
2009 Nature d'Orée red (Grenache Syrah Carignan MourvèdreCinsault) - nice lively fruity style showing a touch of grip vs liquorice and black cherry, spicy and punchy too; drinking well now although quite serious, value too @ €5. 85
2008 Réserve Grand Arc red (Carignan Grenache Mourvèdre) - tighter and fresher style with crunchy vs ripe blue/black fruits; good bite vs weight and very light touch of oak. €6 / £8.75. 85-87
2008 Quarante red (Carignan Grenache Syrah) - more closed up with subtle concentration of blue fruits, spicier and grippier too; nice tight length showing refreshing side vs oomph and again a deft touch of oak (?), long and quite fine. €7.60 / £10.50. 87-89
2008 En Sol Majeur red (Grenache Syrah) - richer and more powerful, a touch more oak too adding coco spice and texture; concentrated and tight, again not very expressive at the moment with toasty/grainy finish; lush fruit underneath though vs solid mouth-feel and punch. Promising. €10.80 89-91
2008 Aux Temps d'Histoire red (mostly very old Carignan) - spicy and grainy and closed up to start; gets more aromatic and very intense, attractive blue/black/red fruit combo adding rich vs crunchy profile; fresh acidity on the finish too with pure intense fruit vs coconut grain texture, long and tight. Wow. €12.90 90-92
A couple of previous DGA vintages here (Fenouilledes road trip 2005) and 2009 reds 'en primeur' here.
Le Devez, 11350 Cucugnan. Tel: 04 68 45 01 03, www.grand-arc.com

25 July 2010

Hot southern French winey summer, part 3: unknown Rhone

The southern Ardeche to be precise, or "Ardèche méridionale" in French which has a "sexier south" ring to it somehow. It's difficult not to be wowed by the stunningly varied and wild countryside in the southern chunk of this huge "département," which spans out from the Rhone river itself (the eastern flank stretches along almost the entire length of those more familiar northern to southern Rhone valley wine areas) way out west into the Cévennes hills on the edge of the Massif Central mountain range; marked by the winding Ardeche river and those spectacular gorges it's carved out over time and dotted with myriad hilltop villages teetering with history.
Wine producers, along with the tourist board, restaurant & hotel owners, museums & sites etc. have really got their act together in this neck of the woods. There's a comprehensive programme of winey and other things to do on this site: lesvinsdardeche.com. And a resumé below of my findings and feelings gleaned from a flying visit to the area last month.
Update: a full-monty wine travel feature on the Ardeche has been published here, packed with nice wineries to check out (40 reds, whites and rosés recommended) and places to go, eat & stay. A taster:
"One of a handful of emerging Rhone valley wine areas but still not well known outside of France, the southern Ardeche is nurturing some surprising good, and great value, fruity peppery Grenache and Syrah based reds and rosés, as well as tasty contemporary whites (made from Viognier, Marsanne, Grenache blanc in particular)." There are three distinct wine appellations:
Cotes du Rhone and CdR Villages around Bourg-Saint-Andéol in the southeast corner (northwest of Orange) - a few recommended estates here (generally, the southern Ardeche is dominated by sometimes well-run, now amalgamated co-op cellars) include Domaine de Couron, Mas de Libian, Domaine Nicolas Croze, Domaine du Chapitre (his sublime 1999 CdRV shows how well some of the reds can age), Domaine Coulange and the St-Just St-Marcel co-op.
Heading to the west and north: Cotes du Vivarais - names to look out for include Clos de L'Abbé Dubois, Vignerons Ardechois, Domaine Notre Dame de Cousignac, Mas de Bagnols and Cave d'Orgnac l'Aven. This region is also home to the fragrant Lavender Museum surrounded by rolling lavender fields, where they still produce their own addictive lavender oils and other products.
Keep going west and north: vins de pays des Coteaux de l'Ardeche and the new IGP ("indication géographique protégée") Ardeche zone - very good value varietals and blends from e.g. Domaine de Peyrebrune, Domaine du Colombier, Domaine de Cassagnole, Cave d'Alba La Romaine, Domaine de Pecoulas, Domaine du Grangeon. And not forgetting Cave Co-op La Cévenole, "passionate defenders" of (drum roll)... the Chatus variety! An obscure local red grape, which seems capable of making long-lived structured reds and is being gradually replanted on certain terraced hillside sites...
My full article on WW.com also features a couple of restaurant and hotel recommendations; and, in addition to the Ardeche gorges being canoeing heaven by the way, there are several well-organised "wine routes" and some of the producers mentioned above lay on tailor-made mini-tours and tastings for small groups, as well as offering holiday gite or B&B accommodation. Another wine event to pencil in in the meantime: Sunday 8th August, the Fête des Vignerons Ardéchois in Ruoms with entertainment, tastings and live music.
Picture = "Chèvre chaud rôti aux amandes et à la farine de châtaigne" (baked goats' cheese with almonds and chestnut flour (chestnuts, in many different guises, are a huge local speciality) with a nice white wine from www.lesvinsdardeche.com

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