"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

13 August 2013

Pink Port and Amarone: a couple of "headbangers of the moment"

I don't usually recommend wines based purely on alcohol content - and I'm not really going to this time either - yet the alcohol is an intrinsic part of these two totally different wines (but 'still only' 19.5% and 16% abv respectively, so we're not talking schnapps/eau de vie here). Besides, a Sun-style headline doesn't do any harm every now and then, and helps bring a 'little theme' nicely together...
So, over to Croft Pink Port then: I first tried it over five years ago when just launched, in Barcelona of all places (links to feature on the 2008 Wine & Climate Change conference; not sure what this wine has to do with that, but maybe Croft was a sponsor...); and again in 2010 in the line-up of a special Douro Valley 'masterclass' tasting (links to post about this). If you can be bothered clicking on that, you'll see that I was trying to like it but was "... struggling... too techno... boiled sweets and bubble gum in that ester-y chemistry lab kinda way..." Well, I've sampled it again a few times recently, on its own and with different things; and I think I was being a bit mean before. I doubt the wine's changed much, if at all, winemaking or style-wise, so I must have. It was still a touch ester-y and 'nouveau' at first, but got more interesting in an ultra-fruity sweet rosé way with intriguing earthy kirsch aromas/flavours, nice zing and kick too (without being overpowering) to counteract the quite high residual sugar. Serve well chilled as a summer dessert or milk chocolate wine, or with/on fresh red berry fruits. Or a few sips with salty crisps or peanuts is also strangely quite nice... And Croft is keen on promoting it in trendy bars as a cocktail base: check out croftpink.com for some ideas, there are quite a few. I like the look of simply mixing it with Champagne, especially their 'Decadent' recipe including Pink Port, Champers, tea, lemon juice and "Absinthe soaked sugar lump." Mind you, I'd dispense with the sugar though! Anyway, in the UK, it's £11.99 for 75cl at the Co-Op, selected branches of Majestic and Selfridges, which might sound a tad dear, but this would do you for a week or so kept in the fridge and poured half a glass a go.
Back to the Amarone red finally, obviously no similarity whatsoever as a wine; though, as I said, with 16% (natural rather than added like Port) abv, it certainly 'packs a punch'. This one's full title is Tenuta Pule 2008 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico and is new to Lidl's 'wine cellar' range (£19.99 UK). The raised alcohol content comes from the grapes being dried out before fermentation, which concentrates the sugar in them while water evaporates; then they make it like a regular dry red wine (with cask ageing in this case). So, you get plenty of rich earthy cherry and damson flavours with balsamic and toasted almond (!) touches, big powerful and rounded mouth-feel with lush dark berry and spice fruit vs attractive meaty leather edges; turns gamier and more savoury after opening for a day or two, yet still retains that nice wild kirsch fruit. Went well with South African style chunky sausage (a version of Boerewors made by my local butcher with beef pork and coriander) and a slightly wacky spiced red cabbage risotto I made up as I went along!

09 August 2013

Languedoc: Domaine Turner Pageot, Gabian

Frenchman Emmanuel Pageot and Australian Karen Turner almost strike you as an uber-qualified and experienced couple, with an impressive international wine world background between them. Karen studied winemaking at Adelaide Uni, and Emmanuel's CV takes in France's Université du Vin, sommelier training, UK trade qualifications and learning the biodynamic way from certain distinguished mentors; and, before doing their own thing, they both worked for some well-known names in Aus, UK, elsewhere in France, South Africa, Italy and Portugal. However, this isn't some globalized shiny winery operation, but a small (6.5 ha/16 acres) down-to-earth and bio-dynamically farmed estate off the beaten Languedoc track that appears to be making quality-focused wines worth talking about. Domaine Turner-Pageot is split up into four main chunks of vineyard circling the little village of Gabian, which lies about halfway along the road from Pézenas to Faugères, to the north of Béziers. It's a pretty part of the world to tour around, also sitting between Magalas and Neffies on a hilly southwest-northeast axis. Back to winemaking, very briefly, they prefer to "limit use of SO2 to the final bottling stage" when possible; and both whites and reds spend a fair amount of time ageing on the fine lees. I like their colourful 'modernist' labels too, like the fishy rosé here; makes them stand out. More @ turnerpageot.com.

2012 Le Blanc (Marsanne, Roussanne) - floral honeysuckle and apricot notes, creamy lees-y palate with spicy floral notes and quite exotic fruit too, crisp vs fatter profile with tasty long finish. €11 cellar door.
2011 48H 'rosé' (Grenache, Syrah macerated for two days and 'bled' off) - very deep colour with cherry fruity 'boiled sweet' nose, full and lush mouth-feel with light grip even vs nice creamy fruit. Wow, serious foodie style. €7
2011 Le Rouge (mostly Grenache + Syrah) - perfumed fruity nose with black cherry and cassis, fairly concentrated vs firm tannins and fresh bite too, lively yet tight finish; needs one to two years to open up. €11
2011 Carmina Mayor ("best barrel selection" of 70% Syrah from basalt & limestone soils, 30% Mourvèdre on sandstone) - a touch funkier on the nose with herbal berry fruit, tight and a bit awkward on the palate with light bitter twist; has good depth and length though, so maybe just needs to calm down a little in bottle... €14

Previous comments on some of their wines HERE - my mini-report on Pézenas area wineries penned in May 2011 (mind you, reading it again, I obviously wasn't that keen on their 2009 vintage Rouge!). Emmanuel and Karen are also one of the Terroiristes du Languedoc gang caught pensively on film by Ken Payton, and the Languedoc Outsiders (goes to Facebook) where I pinched the photo from.

08 August 2013

Spain: Loxarel - Catalunya

Based at their Can Mayol estate near Vilobí del Penedès in the hills just to the north of Vilafranca (about 40-50 km west of Barcelona), the Mitjans family produces, following organic and biodynamic techniques, an interesting mix of 'local vs international' whites and reds, in addition to a variety of different rosés. From classic Catalan rosat (even if containing a large splash of Pinot) to an "extreme" style made from high-altitude late-picked Merlot; and a quirky barrel-fermented one from Xarel.lo vermell, a virtually extinct red-skinned version of this indigenous variety, which I wasn't that keen on though. And let's not forget the great range of traditional method sparklers (I won't call them Cava, as they've dropped that term...), most of them made in the Brut Nature style, i.e. no dosage added (= unsweetened). Check out their wild '109' at the bottom; hard to find fizz with much more flavour and complexity, except Bolly RD perhaps! € prices quoted are cellar door/online: click on the web link below the photo for more info.
Goat pruning method - from loxarel.com
2012 Xarel.lo (fermented in amphorae, 13% abv) - nutty 'mineral' nose, crisp and steely palate with light yeast-lees and pear notes, intense mineral bite vs lightly oily texture and bruised pear fruit; elegant and long. €12
2012 Petit Arnau rosat (Pinot noir, Merlot; 13% abv) - lively cherry fruit, full and creamy mouth-feel with fair weight vs crisp dry and tight with attractive raspberry and cranberry fruit. Nice dry rosé style. €6.40
2011 Gal Gran Arnau rosat (Merlot, 14.5% abv) - described as "extreme rosé", this has earthy, smoky even, raspberry and black cherry fruit, ripe vs crisp with a touch of grip on the palate, big mouthful; unusual! €12.50
2011 Eos Syrah (from a single vineyard in the upper Penedès at 600 metres altitude farmed organically, eight months in new Hungarian oak 500 litre barrels; 14.5% abv) - pure spicy/floral black cherry Syrah style, nice sweet fruit vs grippy texture, fairly intense finish; attractive "modern" red. €10.70
2008 '790' Reserva (single estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% abv) - maturing savoury 'oily' notes vs peppery cassis with cedary edges; quite smooth palate with enticing 'sweet/savoury' finish vs still a little firmness too; developed a bit of complexity as well. €13.80
2008 Cava Reserva Vintage Brut Nature (now labelled as D.O Penedès, old-vine Xarel.lo & Chardonnay; 12% abv) - light bready oat cake notes, crisp and dry mouth-feel vs rich and classy, long fresh finish with subtle toasted flavours. Very nice fizz, great value at €7.40.
2002 'Cent Nou' Gran Reserva Brut Nature (95% old-vine Xarel.lo: 'new' sparkling D.O Penedès style which isn't disgorged, i.e. fine lees sediment left in the bottle. Cent Nou = 109 in Catalan, as in 109 months bottle-ageing on the yeast lees!) Full-on rich nose, oat biscuit and chocolate with more exotic fruit too (dried apricot!) vs very yeasty, freshly baked bread notes; very intense flavour with nutty toasty finish vs lean mineral bite. Wow, not tried anything like that before! €64


Plenty more from Spain, Catalunya and Cava HERE.

07 August 2013

Roussillon: Coume del Mas update

Further to the latest blah blah on partner vineyard Mas Christine below (or click there), I've been following Philippe Gard's Coume del Mas estate for a few years now: click on that highlighted link for previous words and lots of wines reviewed on trips to the winery from 2007 to 2010). Wine-growing / making associate and resident Englishman Andy Cook was on hand earlier this year for a pan-European group tasting (yours truly plus winos from Poland, Germany, Denmark, Norway...) of their, at the time, rather closed-up 2011s (this vintage is tighter and more elegant than say 2010 or 2009), and a few older ones too...
Andy talked about what they do in field and cellar as we sampled along, from bottle, barrel and tank. "We sort everything twice here... Picking usually starts in mid August (for whites) and on to mid October." They don't add acidity to the white wines; and the red grapes are "heated after fermentation and macerated to get more tannin - you can only do this with good fruit," he explained. More comments below as related to each wine. By the way, the background image to this blog is the view looking out from the CDM winery in Les Cosprons near Banyuls-sur-mer. And the photo below is of the village, also taken by Vi Erickson.


2011 Coume del Mas Folio white Collioure (Grenache gris, barrel-fermented) - toasty notes vs exotic fruit with floral apricot, concentrated honeysuckle flavours with a 'salty' tang, light oak grain vs rounded and full vs nicely crisp too. Good stuff.
2010 Special Edition white Collioure (14.5% abv) - toasted hazelnut vs floral and apricot/peach aromas/flavours, fairly punchy and rounded with a bitter twist; falls a bit short and flabby after that enticing start.
2011 Coume del Mas Schistes red Collioure (Grenache noir, 14.8% abv) - fermented in stainless steel with five weeks maceration. Aromatic sweet berry with peppery liquorice notes, closes up on the palate, tighter and leaner than I remember although has nice tannins and a bit of bite too. Should be tasting better by now though.
2006 Schistes red - savoury meaty edges vs ripe and peppery, concentrated and still quite tight and firm actually (though the bottle was very cold), perhaps less lush than other vintages although has that classic 2006 balance.
2011 red - a new blend, I think, of Grenache (50), Mourvèdre (30) and "90 to 100 year-old" Carignan ("It's older up the hill, and a little cooler at night.") only bottled a few weeks before I tasted it. Grainy and tight, concentrated for sure with nice ripe vs crunchy profile, a tad firm and solid at that time, not very revealing.
2011 Abysses Collioure (about 50-50 Syrah/Grenache, 14.5% abv) - they made four barrels of this red, new oak. Toasted coconut tones, concentrated and firm with good texture/structure, again tight and austere on the finish; too young at the mo, could be very good.
2011 Banyuls white Vin Doux Naturel (Grenache gris, fortified) - coconut touches layered with floral exotic fruit, toasty notes vs nice sweet apricot vs attractive bite, making it taste drier than its residual sugar would suggest (less than 100 g/l). "Picked about the same time as grapes for the dry whites..."
2011 Galateo Banyuls (macerated and fortified "sur grains" - before pressing - and aged in an LBV style, 120 g/l RS) - lovely fruity wine with black cherry/berry, sweet vs crunchy with attractive tannins and 'cut' vs that lush fruit; lovely.
2011 Coume del Mas Banyuls - delicious rich dark fruit, lovely tannins vs bite and a lighter side vs big and concentrated; hints of oak grain in the background, well-structured with fresh tannins. Yum, nice now but will age well.
2006 Banyuls (oxidative ageing) - lovely savoury and 'tar' aromas, sweet dried fruits with complex nutty backdrop, still has fresh bite of tannin too then savoury vs syrupy finish; looking good. "Might be bottled as a Grand Cru, although the EU is trying to ban this term!"

Their Consolation range is made from "the best selections" from CDM, MC and other partner wineries.
2011 Dog Strangler (Mourvèdre) - yields of "three bunches per vine" and fermented in "open-top barrels with foot treading." Pretty toasty and closed up on the nose and palate, dark fruit lurking underneath on a fresh and firm backdrop, grainy oak vs concentrated and elegant too actually; needs time (I'm finding this with the 11 vintage).
2008 Dog Strangler (Mourvèdre) - wild floral nose with black olive and meaty edges, powerful with a hint of freshness too, still firm vs maturing fruit, long elegant finish; lovely wine.
1996 Rivesaltes ambré 'Antic' (aged in old Armagnac barrels) - pruney yet tangy too, rich dried fruits and oxidized/aged characters vs still alive with nice bite, intense nutty finish. Good value for a complex old VDN: £12 / 50 cl.
2010 Wild Boar Syrah (14.5% abv) - complex maturing nose with rich dark cassis and black cherry, turning resin-y on the palate yet has herbal/reductive hints (?), pretty alcoholic too; that funny mix of herby/tart vs big and punchy lingers somewhat, a little unbalanced even if that sweet fruit and alcohol are slightly flattering...

If you want to have a look around their vineyards and taste in the cellar, best to give them a call as Andy and Philippe aren't always around here or at the CDM winery: contact details are on tramontanewines.com, where there's also a comprehensive list of importers and outlets worldwide...

05 August 2013

Roussillon: Mas Christine update

There's some background and previous vintages HERE on/of Mas Christine, serenely overlooking the seaside town of Argelès-sur-mer, and the (ad)venture called Tramontane Wines set up by Philippe Gard, owner of highly-rated Roussillon estate winery Coume del Mas (just updated too), resident English winemaker Andy Cook and other partners, who leased this pretty, originally early 19th Century vineyard in 2006 and have since created a new range of wines.


I met up with Andy earlier this year, who took me for a wee spin around some of the Mas' vine plots (and enjoy the view as well naturally), which overall amounts to some "35 parcels," as he put it. Andy also told me: "we replanted quite a bit of white varieties and re-trellised... there's about 50-50 red and white now." Most of the best Grenache they use is in one spot higher up the hill with their Syrah lying further down the slope. "We're trialing some new organic sprays against grape worm," Andy added, "as they didn't work before. Mas Christine could possibly become organic, as we can plough here too." As opposed to much of Coume del Mas near Banyuls-sur-mer, where the vineyards are just too tight, steep and stoney-terraced... The wines "don't have added acidity... and we usually use the natural yeasts" for fermentation.

2011 Mas Christine white Côtes du Roussillon (blend of, not necessarily in this order: Grenache gris & blanc, Macabeu, Roussanne, Marsanne, Carignan gris. About half the wine is barrel-fermented) - yeast-lees notes and peachy on the nose, steely and 'salty' even mouth-feel with a touch of weight vs fresh bite; not that expressive when I tried it, quite good though.
2012 Mas Christine rosé Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache, Syrah; "whole-bunch pressed") - fresh and lively with crisp and crunchy palate vs beginning to get rounder and fruitier; again still quite tight and closed up when I tried it, should be nice now though.
2010 Mas Christine red Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan; the Syrah sees some oak ageing in older barrels) - attractive perfumed fruity nose with liquorice and spice notes, more austere on the finish with nice crunchy fruit.
These three wines cost about €10-€11 in France and £12 in the UK.

Their Consolation range is made from "the best selections" from CDM, MC and other partner wineries.
2011 Dog Strangler (Mourvèdre) - yields of "three bunches per vine" and fermented in "open-top barrels with foot treading." Pretty toasty and closed up on the nose and palate, dark fruit lurking underneath on a fresh and firm backdrop, grainy oak vs concentrated and elegant too actually; needs time (I'm finding this with the 11 vintage).
2008 Dog Strangler (Mourvèdre) - wild floral nose with black olive and meaty edges, powerful with a hint of freshness too, still firm vs maturing fruit, long elegant finish; lovely wine.
1996 Rivesaltes ambré 'Antic' (aged in old Armagnac barrels) - pruney yet tangy too, rich dried fruits and oxidized/aged characters vs still alive with nice bite, intense nutty finish. Good value for a complex Vin Doux Naturel like this: £12 / 50 cl.
2010 Wild Boar Syrah (14.5% abv) - complex maturing nose with rich dark cassis and black cherry, turning resin-y on the palate yet has herbal/reductive hints (?), pretty alcoholic too; that funny mix of herby/tart vs big and punchy lingers somewhat, a little unbalanced even if that sweet fruit and alcohol are slightly flattering...
Notes on the latest Coume del Mas vintages are HERE.

If you want to have a look around their vineyards and taste in the cellar, best to give them a call as Andy and colleagues aren't always around here or at the CDM winery: contact details are on tramontanewines.com, where there's also a comprehensive list of importers and outlets worldwide...

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