"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

27 August 2011

Languedoc: Domaine les Eminades, Saint-Chinian

Set up by affable couple Patricia and Luc Bettoni, this spectacular-vista estate has been tended organically since the beginning in 2002; and they say they do as much "naturally" and by hand as possible. Their handsome old vines line up across dry stoney hillsides around the villages of Cébazan and Villespassan, mostly made up of senior-citizen Carignan (50 to 110 years old), Grenache (25 to 60 years), a splash of younger Syrah and some middle-aged Cinsault too.
The three wines below sell for about £15 to £25 in the UK via their London agent Aubert & Mascoli (or 10 - 13 - 24 Euros in situ) and were sampled at the ‘natural’ wine fair (click there for more info)See right-hand column for rant on "1-2-3" scoring.

2009 Silice white, Coteaux du Fontcaude (Sauvignon blanc) - toasty and yeast-lees notes, quite intense and concentrated, a tad yeasty still on its tight unrevealing finish. Try it again in a few months time please. 1
2008 Cebenna St-Chinian red (40% Carignan, 40% Grenache, 20% Syrah) - perfumed wild herb/shrub aromas, floral and spicy, elegant lighter style with lovely tasty finish. 2
2007 Vieilles Canailles St-Chinian red (100% single plot 1902 Carignan) - herby vs rich profile, more powerful and concentrated than above, still quite firm and tight mouth-feel yet with enticing liquorice vs savoury flavours. 2+

Blue Nun: retro chic & Indian food

"Imagine my surprise" when my companion got a bottle of Blue Nun to take to one of those civilized Indian (or probably north Pakistani / Bangladeshi actually) restaurants that let you take your own - the recommended 'Green Chilli' in Bangor, N.Ireland to be precise. But, hey I thought, things have changed and it's a whole branded range now including reds, pink and fizz too sourced from all over the wine planet. Let's see what it's like nowadays... Reinventing yourself and changing "to suit consumer tastes," as the marketing babblers would no doubt put it, are obviously a good thing.
This Blue Nun, a 2010 Rivaner/Riesling blend (the former a crossbreed of Sylvaner and Riesling, aka Müller-Thurgau, so kinda two-thirds Riesling then I s'pose) from Germany's Rheinhessen region with refreshing 10% alcohol, is zesty floral and citrus edged with some of that Riesling 'mineral' oily thing going on. It's also on the off- to medium-dry side, unlike the dreaded sickly sweet Liebfrau of the past, and, although fairly delicate, did work quite well with a variety of 'Indian' dishes, such as prawn puri, aloo chat, mushroom rice or sag tikka special (all very tasty, nice and spicy but not too powerful). But it was a bit light for the sizzling lamb dish, which probably needed a fruity rosé with a touch more weight although certainly not a red wine, which doesn't generally go with this type of food from my experience (spices and tannin = big flavour clash). Widely available for about a fiver: this bottle £4.89 in Asda I think.
Photo = Blue Nun Winemaker’s Passion Riesling, not the one I tried but could be worth a go too...

24 August 2011

Chile: no way rosé! Part 2...

Without wishing to get too obsessive about rosado from Chile - refer to my previous post Chile: rosé / rosado to follow my drift - here are a few more that seem worth throwing into the pink wine pot. It is still summer after all, even if August has turned out a little variable (sorry for the boring weather talk)... then again, I enjoy rosé all year round as it's usually very food friendly (making sweeping generalizations). Plus there are so many on offer at the moment, like these three all priced about £4 to £5 a bottle. See blurb on 'easy as 1, 2, 3' scores in the right-hand column.

15 August 2011

Languedoc: Mas de Daumas Gassac, Aniane

Some of the family and some of the team
UpdateThe Guibert family – it was the now well-known names of Véronique and Aimé who started the ball rolling when they established the estate back in 1970 - produces a wide range of wine styles, quality levels and labels nowadays at many different price points. This includes pink fizz, single site and sweet wines, easy-going varietals, an organic Grenache/Syrah Coteaux du Languedoc (just the one organic red with their “natural” credentials?)… In addition to their classic MDG white (based on Chardy & Viognier etc.) and red blends (based on Cab Sauv) and limited edition “Emile Peynaud” homage cuvée. Overall, their wines go from about €5.50 a bottle for their starter range (if you buy a case in France) and upwards & upwards, although all the ones tasted below at London's swinging ‘natural’ wine fair (click there for more info) sell for £20-£30+ in the UK (sold by Les Caves Pyrene, Berry Bros, Big Red Wine Co. and Terroir Languedoc among others) and approx. $45+ in the US. Read on for a few comments and tasting notes I made five years ago, when I first met Samuel Guibert at Vinisud wine fair and then a few weeks later at the Mas in its pretty, rolling-valley setting just outside the village of Aniane. And, although certain wines are particularly good or occasionally towards sensational and often age very well; I couldn’t help feeling a little underwhelmed in general, like I have done before, given their huge reputation and kind of awe you probably feel you ought to experience when tasting the wines, if you see what I mean… See right-hand column for enlightenment on the "1-2-3 scores" front.

2009 Mas de Daumas Gassac white (Viognier, Chardonnay, Petit Manseng, Chenin Blanc and other more obscure varieties: see site for more info, bottom) – exotic oily and rich with a certain ripeness / ‘sweetness’ even, has a bit of bite but not much, finishing a touch flabby. €35 1
2003 Mas de Daumas Gassac white – quirky maturing and Fino notes, nutty and quite complex too; getting a tad old on the palate although it’s still an intriguing white wine. 1
2008 Mas de Daumas Gassac red (80% Cabernet Sauvignon + 10 others) – herbal tones on the nose, quite tight mouth-feel with lively berry fruit, closes up with refreshing elegant touches. Not very expressive at the moment. €37 1+
2004 Mas de Daumas Gassac red – maturing savoury side although still tight and herby too, nice balance and style even if lacks depth. 1+
2007 Cuvée “Emile Peynaud” (100% Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 1975, 2000 bottles made) – wilder wine with intense smoky and leather edges, quite lush with meaty notes vs still pretty solid, structured and powerful; needs a few years to calm down and come together, promisingly age-worthy I’d say. 2+

I said this back in 2006 after trying some of their wines and talking to Samuel at Vinisud trade show in Montpellier: "Still the legend of the south? MDG was one of the first to make top quality Vins de Pays in the Languedoc from a mix of Mediterranean, Rhône and Bordeaux varieties. There are now more growers reaching a similar standard; but their wines remain classy and elegant including a back catalogue of older reds, which few others can match and shows how well they age. As for the high prices they command, well that's a different argument and MDG aren't lacking in customers!"
2004 Eraus blanc (mostly Sauvignon Blanc) - quite concentrated with mineral intensity, not very Sauv Blanc but shows nice length and bite. 85
2005 MDG blanc - lively zesty fruit with oily depth v aromatic peachy notes, zingy and long. 89
2004 Guilhem rouge (SyrahMourvèdreGrenache & Carignan) - nice soft youthful black cherry and liquorice fruit with a bit of dry bite to finish. 85
2003 Elise rouge (Syrah & Merlot) - attractive smoky tobacco and dried fruit aromas & flavours, soft mouth-feel v grip of tannin, elegant yet powerful finish. 87-89
2004 MDG rouge (Cabernet Sauvignon + 15 varieties, barrel sample) - tight elegant blackcurrant and cherry fruit, nice tannin texture v fruit concentration on its subtle length. 88+
2003 MDG rouge - more open and rustic, ripe liquorice fruit with wild herb notes; richer than the 04 with attractive tannins, softer texture v weight on the finish. 92
2001 Cuvée Emile Peynaud (Cabernet Sauvignon from selected parcels) - quite oaky nose yet shows developed fruit underneath, grippy powerful palate, the oak's still a little strong but it's also concentrated and richly textured. 90+ 

And these vintages at the estate with Samuel 13/3/06:
2005 MDG blanc - tight and crisp yet lively and intense: this offers perfumed apricot and peach fruit on a zingy palate, underpinned by a touch of yeast lees and very light toast adding complexity, length and richness. 87-89
2003 MDG rouge - lovely ripe smoky cassis and black cherry fruit with notes of leather, has softness v dry grip in the mouth with light creamy oak coating; quite elegant actually for this hot vintage, complex finish. 90-92
1995 MDG rouge - had been open for a few days so a bit oxidised; however, it displayed complex herbal v figgy flavours and again that perfumed leather edge, still quite firm and lively with maturing fruit on the finish. 92-94

08 August 2011

Languedoc: Clos du Gravillas, St-Jean de Minervois

2012/13 update: oops, it's the old 'take far too many months to get round to finding and typing up these notes' ploy. So, here are their 'latest' tasty vintages sampled at The Real Wine Fair in London in May 2012 (including a white made from Terret gris and a 'Fino' style, for the first time); and some of them again in Jan. 2013 at the premiere of the Terroir-istes du Languedoc film screening in Montpellier (they're part of this terrorist band). There's some more info on Nicole, John and Gravillas below these updates (mostly extracted on my first visit in 2007).
2010 Emmenez-moi au Bout de Terret (gris) - intense nutty nose, concentrated richer almost 'toasty' side vs green 'mineral' freshness. Different. £12-£15
2010 L'Inattendu white Minervois (mostly Grenache Gris/Blanc and a splash of Muscat) - rich toasty and yeasty vs exotic fruit and roast hazelnut edges, delicious lush vs crisp and intense palate. £15-£20
2010 Sous les Cailloux des Grillons red - intense fruity vs 'inky' nose, grippy and fresh mouth-feel with smoky dark berry side. Yum. £10-£12
2008 Rendez-vous du Soleil red - pretty grippy with meaty edges, coconut texture/flavours too, quite rich vs savoury finish. £12-£15
2008 Lo Vièlh (ye olde Carignan) - similar savoury developing vs grippy and pretty intense profile, smoky and lush vs still tight and fresh. Needs time to open up. £15-£20
Oxytan (Grenache blanc aged under flor yeast (like Fino sherry), 2006 vintage plus topped up with others) - hazelnutty and yeasty 'Fino' characters, intense long and tangy; again, a little different and nice with it.

2011 updateJohn Bojanowski was one of several winemakers from the region to make the trek to London SE1 for the mucho-mentioned, on this blog anyway, first ‘natural’ wine fair (click there for more info) back in May. Read on below for a wee profile on this always worth tasting/drinking/visiting estate. These wines are priced from about £10 to £20 in the UK available via their agent Les Caves de Pyrène; send him an email for info on where to buy in the US and elsewhere. Latest reviews feature my 1 2 3 "scoring system" (see right-hand column for explanation); previous words and notes from a visit and tastings in 2007 and 2010 feature ye olde 100-point thing. And there's more here too, an enthusiastic note on their delicious Muscat de Saint-Jean 2009. As usual, it seems, my favs in London were his top Carignan, the 2007 Lo Vièlh ("the old one" in the Occitan lingo, I think) and the 09 vintage of their dry white Minervois was/is pretty impressively done as well.
2009 L'Inattendu white Minervois (mostly Grenache Gris/Blanc/Muscat) - honeyed nose and palate with subtle toast and creamy lees tones, refreshing mineral mouth-feel vs concentrated and quite rich, elegant balanced finish too. Unexpected in fact (ho ho: what it means in French...) 2
2009 Sous les cailloux des grillons red blend (see below for varieties) - nice juicy cherry fruit with soft tannins, has a bit of attractive 'bite' too. 1
2007 Rendez-vous du soleil red blend (see below for varieties) - liquorice with enticing wild herby edges, tight intense mouth-feel with nice spicy notes, gets lusher on the finish vs still firm and structured. 2
2007 Lo Vièlh (senior-citizen Carignan) - maturing nose with savoury and leather notes vs rich concentrated palate, lovely 'sweet/savoury' profile, again still quite solid vs nicely textured tannins then attractive smoky blast. 2-3

2010 update: I caught up with John and Nicole at Millésime Bio in Montpellier (meaning they go officially organic this year) and sampled some new vintages and new wines too. They are now distributed in the UK, US and Canada as well as Japan, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium.
2007 L'Inattendu white (Grenache gris, Grenache blanc) - nutty, lightly leesy, exotic and oxidative style nose; rounded with subtle wood tones, mature feel vs mineral touch. 87
2008 "sous les cailloux des grillons" (similar red blend to RdVdS below plus Counoise/Terret Gris) - lively cherry and blueberry fruit with smoky edges; juicy and tasty with mouth-watering finish, very nice now although has enough depth to hold back. 85-87
2007 Rendez-vous du soleil (CarignanSyrahCabernetMourvèdreGrenache) - firmer and more savoury in style; somewhat closed up and unrevealing yet has appealing, subtle intensity. 87+
2006 Lo Vièlh (ancient Carignan) - developing smoky fruit with ripe blueberry notes and a hint of tobacco; juicy vs solid with underlying sweet oak, great depth of fruit plus enticing dry vs ripe and rounded texture, powerful yet elegant. Needs a couple of years yet. 90+
2007 Côté obscur (Carignan) - "I've wanted to make a wine with this name for ages!" John explained (it does indeed mean "dark side" so start your Darth Vader heavy breathing now): wilder, funkier and spicier aromas; lively tasty fruit with crunchy berry vs liquorice profile, intense and long too. 89+

Nicole and, a little later, American John Bojanowski (becoming husband: "I just came here to drive the tractor," he quipped) arrived in the timeless Languedoc outback in the late 1990s. They have since planted Syrah, Mourvèdre, Counoise, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Marsanne and Muscat among others, to complement Nicole's original 1 ha/2.5 acres of cherished 1911 Carignan and Grenache Gris. The estate now amounts to over 6 ha planted with no less than 13 grape varieties (a bit of a ner-nerdy-ner-ner to Chateauneuf-du-Pape perhaps?); all found on a 300m/950 foot-altitude plateau composed of the meagre chalky gravel soils that surround the tiny village of Saint-Jean, set in a stunning remote spot between the gorges of St-Chinian and the old Mediaeval city of Minerve (a must-visit when you're in the area). Their signature reds Le Rendez-vous du soleil and Lo Vièlh are made from old-vine Carignan (the above mentioned, almost 100 year old plus 1 ha planted in 1952 and relatively youthful 1970) - the RdV is now a broader blend, by the way, see below below. John is a big fan of this sometimes unloved variety and founder-member of a growers' group called Carignan Renaissance, who are actively shouting about their wines crafted from this awkward Med grape (see www.carignans.com). The family (there is a petit Bojanowski) also rents out the converted old village café, a two-bedroom gîte with terrace and quite nice view! Details are on their website below.
I tasted these wines with John on a daytrip in sunny but chilly late November 2007:
2006 L'Inattendu Minervois blanc (Grenache gris Grenache blanc, 14%) - milky and toasty with honeysuckle notes; full, rounded and quite rich finishing with attractive bite and freshness. 87+
2005 Vous en voulez en voilà Vin de pays Côtes du Brian (that's a local river, by the way, rather than Monty Python homage; made from all reds except Grenache, 13.5%) - ripe blackberry/currant, floral and spicy with liquorice tones; rounded and fruity palate v serious edges as well, firm and quite long. 89+
2003 Le Rendez-vous du soleil (Carignan plus a touch of Cab Sauv) – maturing smoky and white peppery, quite complex; liquorice and tobacco flavoured palate, concentrated and lush with fresh tannins and bite; very nice wine. 90+
2006 Muscat de Saint-Jean de Minervois – very floral and perfumed with white peach notes, the sweetness is nicely cut by alcohol and acidity, so it doesn't end up so sweet. 87

Clos du Gravillas, 34360 Saint-Jean de Minervois. Tel: 04 67 38 17 52, nicole or john@closdugravillas.com, www.closdugravillas.com.


'Red is for wine, blood, revolution, colour... A time-warped slice 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!