Saturday, 22 December 2012

Buying Languedoc wine in the UK

I had an e-mail from Terroir Languedoc that particularly caught my attention as they were offering one of my wines of 2012, Domaine Clovallon Pinot Noir 2011. With vines sited in the cool Orb valley the wine typically has a fresh understated Burgundian character you won't find anywhere else in the region with Pinot Noir. It also comes in at just 12.5%. Vintage variation is relatively pronounced here, but in 2011 the harvest yielded perfect fruit giving a wonderful equilibrium; irresistible drinking without being a quaff. Note that I have yet to try the Les Pomarèdes cuvée made from older vines. Terroir Languedoc is particularly strong on the well established classics and offers some mature vintages - think Peyre Rose, St Jean de Bebian, Mas de l'Ecriture and the like. That noted, my tip would be to look at growers with a lower UK profile - Mas Gabriel, La Jasse Castel, Domaine Rimbert and Mas Champart, plus the rest of the Clovallon range. If you're quick, the Pinot Noir is available as a 6 bottle case offer at the bottom of the Clovallon page

Another merchant worthy of mention is Joseph Barnes Wines, they also take Languedoc-Roussillon seriously. Here you find a good selection from Léon Barral (my pick would be cuvée Jardis), Ollier Romanis plus some Clos du Gravillas. They also list wines I'm itching to try from Domaine Thierry Navarre.  or visit their shop in Saffron Waldon.

Cambridge Wine Merchants are Sud de France merchant award winners with well over 100 "serious" wines of the region listed. Hidden in the depths - I do find the site annoyingly clunky to browse - are Mas Cal Demoura L’Infidele 2008, La Reserve d’O 2008, several great value Domaine des Trinités reds, some Domaine Rimbert and Domaine de Cébène plus pretty much everything made by Domaine Treloar. or visit one of their Cambridge shops.

Leon Stolarski Fine Wines continues to champion the region and Leon feels strongly enough about it to regularly blog passionately on his gems. Every wine on the list is well chosen and sourced from small growers he will have visited. My personal recommendation would be to look at Domaine d'Archimbaud, Domaine de Cébène, Mas Foulaquier, Domaine de La Marfée and from Roussillon Domaine Treloar.  and Leon's blog

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Vin Primeur 2012 apero time

Clochers and Terroirs is an enormous operation by any standards. Eleven central Hérault valley villages have combined forces and now represent some 850 grape growers with 2,800 hectares of vines. Production is 200,000 hl that equates to over 26 million bottles, although most will go into popular 10 litre BIBs.

Every other cooperative seems to make Vin Primeur these days. At Clochers and Terroirs the launch of the new vintage is an opportunity for villagers to have a convivial apero or three and be subjected to mercifully brief thank you speeches.

The cave at Nébian could easily host a tennis match plus audience in the space surrounded by dozens of now defunct double-decker cuves.

As for the wine itself, it avoids overdoing heady carbonic maceration induced fruit and has a pleasant dry and slightly tannic adult finish. That said, analysing it isn't really the point. Given that this year's harvest is down 25%, at least in one of the communes, it was a very generous event.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

150 Years of Languedoc grape varieties

The Béziers médiathèque is an impressive new building just to the east of the town centre. An exhibition "150 years of grape varieties in the Languedoc" has a display of lithographs of grape varieties by Henri Marès published in 1890. This is one of them.

My translation "Probably a very old variety originating from the Bas-Languedoc.
Long living, the aspiran variety displays an elegant poise and shape in its leaves and bunches. In the departments of the Bas-Languedoc it is [in 1890] usually the preferred table grape for eating. It is delicious and wholesome and very moreish, one can east vast quantities. No other variety is lighter, more agreeable and easier to digest".

Aspiran is a small village just off the Hérault valley in the Pézenas appellation (I also have a blog on the village Aspiran Postcard). To my knowledge this is the only French planted grape variety named after a local place, or at least a small village (Syrah derives from Shiraz in Persia, now Iran). Today Aspiran seems to be better known under the synonym Ribeyrenc, but that said the grape is seriously rare with just a handful of vines growing in a few Languedoc domaines. It seems following the phylloxera epidemic and frosts of 1956 the variety was not replanted.

A big hope is Domaine Thierry Navarre at Roquebrun who has rescued and grafted some vines and is now making a Ribeyrenc. I now need to seek this out.

Other references I have found are Wikipedia
And a fiche in French from INRA

The dossier on the médiathèque exhibition is here (for now) dossier-cepage.pdf

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Grand new order revisit #2

My final words on my last post on this subject were "I suspect it may be less than 8 months before returning to this topic". Life flies by - it was 18 months ago I typed this. To be frank, I'd also lost interest in the matter.

Rosemary George gave an update on her blog here nearly a year ago; essentially that INAO don't like the term Grand Cru for the Languedoc leaving Cru at the top of the pyramid, plus there is the idea of creating a Terroir d’exception below Cru. However, Terroir d’exception can't appear on labels, so it all seems a bit naff and to me sounds more important/prestigious than Cru. Never mind, since then almost total radio silence on the matter has prevailed.

The absence of news seems to be confirmed by this "the drinks business" article that indicates no official change since Rosemary's piece, assuming the article was recently researched of course. The only "news" is that Faugère, 30 years after being awarded AOC status, has unofficially declared itself as Faugères: grand terroir de schiste. Like schist, perhaps things are starting to fracture.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The way it once was - Domaine de la Tour

Les Journées Européennes du Patrimoine are an excellent opportunity to see and learn about places not usually open to the visiting public. I knew of Domaine de la Tour (Nebian in the middle Hérault valley) as somewhere for concerts, art expositions and big private parties. I'd also cycled through the building complex that sits atop a modest hill overlooking the middle Hérault valley just south of Clermont l'Hérault.

Like most grand estates in the Languedoc, Domaine de la Tour would have been funded by profits from wine production during one of the boom periods for the region. While still surrounded by vineyards, these days the grapes are all destined for the local co-operative. Nevertheless, much remains of what once was.

The theme of the day was was a guided tour of the features for managing water on the estate. Most impressive was a pumping house above a well that housed an early 20th century electric pump once used to plenish a water tower above the winery over 200 meters away. Although now dismantled, the old water tower is clearly visible at the left end of the old photograph.

The chai is still lined with 35 wine barrels that each held 280 hl giving a capacity of over a million bottles. In the days before de-stemmers, pumps and pressure hoses a great deal of water would have been needed for cleaning.

Also in the chai is an interesting museum space with various bits of "vintage" equipment artefacts, old photographs and other memorabilia.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Home made grape juice (and natural wine)

One of the best alternatives to wine, especially at breakfast, is decent grape juice. It also goes brilliantly with muesli.

Inspired by a friend while picking grapes this is my version.

1. Pick some organic grapillons with the permission of the vigneron. Grenache or Carignan from Mas Gabriel are perfect. Grapillons are small bunches from later flowering and are less sweet than ripe bunches. More importantly, vignerons don't generally pick them as their unripe green tannins makes red wine bitter.

2. De-stem the grapes in a clean bowl. Fingers are good at this.

3. Blend the grapes in a blender. This is quick but aggressive - quite a few skin tannins will be extracted.
For a gentler approach try treading them with your feet.

4. Sieve into a bowl. The juice can then be bottled (used plastic mineral water bottles or similar are ideal) and stored in the fridge.

The remaining skins, pips and stalks can be spread on the vineyard, although technically they should be left in a designated place to be collected by the local distillery.

Note that following has not been attempted by the author.

To make a natural wine use ripe grapillons and after step 4 just allow the juice to ferment. You don't need to add anything else as I'm told it won't be natural, although bio yeast nutrients are acceptable. Using a closed glass fermentation vessel like a demijohn should reduce the risk of the fermentation going wrong.

The above makes deep rosé, although rosé from Carignan will look like red wine.

To make a deeper red wine wine delay step 4 by a couple of weeks but be careful not to over extract. For white try white grapillons. For sparkling wine simply use a pressure proof bottle and omit the fridge bit of step 4.

Bon chance.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Pressing matters

This is the first time I've seen a pneumatic or membrane press in action. A team of 8, including me, took 7 hours without a lunch break to pick a full load of 30 hl. Whole bunches of Terret, mainly blanc with some gris, go on a conveyor to fill the press from the top. After a 2.5 hour cycle juice for around 2,000 bottles had been extracted.

Regis Pichon (Domaine Ribiera) and Emile Heredia (Domaine des Dimanches) load the conveyor
The machine is a cylinder that works by inflating a long membrane that gently presses the grapes against perforated ridges on the opposite side. The resulting juice collects in a tray underneath and is pumped away. For an excellent short explanatory video by Charles Simpson of Domaine Sainte Rose look here on YouTube.

David Caer (Clos Mathelisse) loads the press
The press is shared between several small wine makers in Aspiran, part of the Pézenas terrior. This model would cost over €20,000 even second hand so realistically isn't affordable for start-up vignerons.

The juice collects underneath and is pumped into a cuve.
For Domaine Ribiera this is the last harvest bar some minute quantities of late harvest Grenache and Clairette. Terret is a relatively late ripener, especially as most of these grapes were picked from north east facing parcels. The potential alcohol is just over 10% with plenty of acidity.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Fons Sanatis Reds

I was so impressed last year with the Domaine Fons Sanatis B… d’Agniane 20.09 (a Vermentino) that on spotting some reds from the Domaine in a caviste I didn't hesitate to give them a punt.

Fons Sanatis Couderen 20.09 turns out to be Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Had I known this my bias against producing a Bordeaux blend on such prime terroir would have vetoed the purchase.

Dark, brooding and concentrated without much Cabernet blackcurrent but plenty of classic Merlot fruitcake. Good acidity. Really quite hard tannins are prominent and coat the mouth. Challenging, or at least a shock, to drink on its own but with Merguez sausages laced with harissa followed by cheese it stood up and interplayed brilliantly. Not at all Bordeaux in style is has a herbal streak to it. I also couldn't detect any change to the wine the next day.

If I had another bottle I'd keep it years with the hope it would layer itself out, but I won't be buying any to lay down. Around 12€.

Another bottle in the selection was Senescal L’Art Amont 20.09 I took along to a vendanges lunch. The grape is Aramon, a variety that was once a monster yielding workhorse of the Languedoc. Today it's unheard of which is curious given that in 2008 there were 1719 Hectares of the stuff in the Hérault which amounts to 1.8% of the land under vine. By comparison this is comfortably more than Picpoul and Viognier. It's a hard wine (apparent unoaked) that reminded me of Vin de Table from early holidays in France back in the 1970s. This 2009 version eliminates the rustic and volatile characteristics of those days, but at 15€ is of course seriously priced. I look forward to trying it in slightly more analytical circumstances.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Domaine d'Emile et Rose

A great way to discover new wines and estates is to have recommendations from a quality source, in this case an ex-Sommelier turned vigneron. I was given a glass of Domaine d'Emile et Rose 2007 Carignan Blanc earlier in the year and was impressed by its apparent youth for a near 5 year old Languedoc white. This is partly down to the citrus acidity that balanced the fragrant oily rich character of the wine resulting in a lovely mouth feel and a wine complex and long enough to savour.

On a commute up north I spotted bottles of the estate while browsing Vins Naturels Caviste Tocsin in Bourges. Les 5 Seaux 2011 is a red Cinsault. Good colour. Dried fruits with herbs but light and cool - not heady like so many Cinsault red efforts. Drinkable and interesting; a half-bottle rather than 1 glass wine, somewhat remarkable given the modest price of around 6€.

Up until 2007 the estate called itself Domaine des 1000 Roses. Situated in Corneilhan just north west of Béziers the Domaine is in the distinctly unfashionable Coteau du Libron which, if nothing else, explains why their wines are such good value (expect to pay around €12 for the Carignan Blanc).

Thursday, 12 July 2012

A pair of cool reds from Montpeyroux

Red wine in hot weather is not everyone's choice, hence the popularity of rosé. I find young unoaked red served at fridge temperature does work particularly well, with the wine starting cold being absolutely essential if disappointment isn't to ensue - at least when it's 25 deg. plus indoors. Two reds that got this treatment were from Montpeyroux.

Jasse-Castel has a track record of nearly 15 years and makes particularly approachable wines that seem to drink well throughout there life (often that's well over 10 years). For us it's now up there with Auphilac and Alain Chabanon as an established star of the commune, plus Pascale Rivière certainly has few challengers in the vinous personality department. La Pimpanela 2010 has nice crunchy fruit - black cherry with a refreshing fennel and wild mint streak. Uncomplicated but certainly not a quaff. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan.

At the other extreme 2011 is the first vintage for the new Domaine de Joncas. I recall Pascal and Christiane Dalier were from Alsace and have been spotted visiting the area for many years. Alain Chabanon no less is their advisor. Jòia 2011 is their unoaked red, mainly Grenache with Syrah. A bit more crafted and refined that La Pimpanela; more redcurrent and rosehip fruit, deliciously fine and well knit in the mouth. Good length but currently a bit monolithic. At 14€ arguably poorer value than the 10€ Pimpanela, but then Montpeyroux is not the place to look for bargains these days, including procuring vineyards.

Monday, 28 May 2012

I bought a wine book

A few months ago, while others indulged in retail therapy, I passed the time in a good sized bookshop - Waterstones in reasonably well healed Kingston-upon-Thames south west London. The food and drink section occupied extensive shelf space and yet the drinks bit was one meager short shelf, and of that barely half covered wine. I estimated food outdid wine by over 20 to 1. While memory plays tricks, I'm certain the ratio has shifted at the expense of wine books over the past 20 years to support the relative explosion in TV celebrity cookbook publications.

Having an interest in cooking and food, combined with a somewhat specialist (OK narrow) interest in wine then, for what it's worth, my home shelf ratio is about 5:1 in favour of food matters. The timeless nature of a good recipe or just the ideas on offer keep them on my shelves. Wine ages as do the people involved and, like restaurant guides, too many pass their shelf-life date or are superseded.

My latest purchase has nothing specific to do with the Language-Rousillon, indeed I've yet to find any credited reference to the region in the tome. Nevertheless, I thoroughly recommend Authentic Wine: Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking by Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop. It covers the approaches to viticulture and winery practices from a "what is natural" perspective by presenting the views of people involved supplemented by the scientific slant that Jamie brings. Co-author Sam Harrop MW was one of the founders of Rousillon's Domaine Matassa so has experience of the hands-on side of things. I particularly like the balanced coverage of biodynamic practices for example, Matassa being biodynamic must have helped.

For me, most of the topics covered reflect the choices made by the more serious independent producers in the region - including our vin naturel producing village neighbours. As a read it works exceptionally well as a book to dip into and should turn out to be as timeless as the best of my food books.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Blind tasting - do Languedoc reds age?

The answer of course is some do, although few are worth keeping more than a decade in my experience. Reds that age was simply the theme of a blind tasting with a few friends hosted by Deborah and Peter Core of Mas Gabriel. It was an ideal topic given that, for various reasons, I have bottles that theoretically needed drinking.

The wines were served in age order with the youngest first; a traditional approach to tackling a flight of wine. As an aside, Languedoc wine locals order them by palate-power, although obviously when the wines are known to those determining the order.

After the first pass we re-tasted each bottle in reverse order before unmasking it.

When finally revealed (it was tasted first and last) Léon Barral Tradition 2009 (Faugères) was the surprise, indeed shock, of the evening given the 2008 had been my "wine of the previous year" although the 2007 was equally impressive. It started with an attractive brambly fruit that did evolve nicely over the evening. However, on the palate a volatile apple character dominated and everything else was incomplete and disjointed. I discussed the experience with a sommelier a few days after the tasting and confirmed this wasn't a one off with our  bottle; the restaurant concerned isn't taking the 2009 Tradition although did comment that the Jadis is excellent.
[Update July 2012 - tasted a glass of this again and found it to be in much better form, can only conclude this was a rogue bottle or was poorly stored by the cavist]

Our hosts slipped in one of their wines, Mas Gabriel Clos des Lièvres 2008. Lightly baked liquorice. Lovely balance and ripeness. Showing big ripe tannins that would benefit from a few years to mellow. Already showing a layered finish. Easily the most palate-power of the evening.

Domaine de la Garance Les Armières 2001 (Pézenas). Lean. Pencil wood dominates, little discernible fruit. Starting to dry out. This is the classic Carignan of the Pezenas area, but we concluded the Carignan had been picked too soon before fully ripening. I recall 9 years ago this had promise but as the fruit has dried the wine has declined. Carignan wine making has certainly advanced in the past decade.

Domaine Ollier Taillefer Castel Fossibus 2002 (Faugères) was the panel's mature wine of the evening. Structure with plenty going on - toffee, liquorice and orange peel. Elegant as reflects the cooler vintage. A reliable wine from a very reliable producer. My last bottle following on from the 2001s I finished last year.

Mas Bruguière La Grenardiere 2001 (Pic St Loup) Full colour with heaps of sediment. A gutsy yet silky wine balanced by plenty of acidity. Pepper and spices with chocolate on the finish. If the Fossibus is a Clarinet then here are the French Horns. This example makes it unbeatable of its type, but vintage and bottle variation around that time have made opening bottles a roller-coaster experience.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Bottling at Domaine Ribiera

A picture tells a thousand words, but in the case of bottling wine just a few words make it seem simple. Move the wine from the vat into a bottle, cork, add a capsule plus label and box ready for shipment. The challenge is to make this scale to over 10,000 bottles and complete the task in a couple of days.

The approach at Domaine Ribiera (Aspiran in the Pezenas terroir) is to use a compact mobile bottling unit. The advantages include the ability to set it up in a confined space, minimal wastage of wine in connecting pipes and a reasonable bottling rate; I timed over 20 a minute. A big disadvantage is that at least 7 people need to coordinate and work flat out.

The equipment is aligned like lego but requires manual intervention at every stage. One person feeds bottles into the amazing kit that precisely fills each bottle and rams in the corks (at the back of the picture above). The bottles are spewed onto a carousel where the loose capsules are placed over the neck by a number 2. The 3rd person moves these bottles onto a line that seals the capsule over the cork and rolls on the label (left of the top picture and below). The 4th person will fold cardboard into boxes so the 5th can pack cases of 6 bottles. A neat device then tapes each box up so that number 6 can pile them onto a palate (picture below). Those left over need to manage the whole operation, perform quality control, replace rolls of labels and tape, ensure a supply of new bottles, remove rubbish, manoeuvre palates and make coffee.

David Caer (Clos Mathelisse) on box duty

The wine by the way is 2011 Causse Toujours 80% Grenache 20% Syrah. I'll be sampling some after giving it a chance to settle down.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Rising Stars London Tasting

I was pleased, especially given I'm an amateur but obviously with a love of the region's wines, to be asked to nominate growers for this event and thereby join some illustrious company. The criteria was reasonably new and exciting ventures not available in the UK. All the contributions would be ranked to create an invite list and several of my nominations were exhibited. Some were present I would have nominated, but perceived them as risen stars or as having importers - a fickle thing as sadly many stockists are unable or unwilling to import regularly, or are simply not doing enough in the eyes of their suppliers.

There were 15 wineries along with samples from growers unable to travel to London. With hindsight, I would have tasted a broader range, but after 40 plus samples it becomes counter productive for my palate.

Gavin Crisfield La Traversée (Terrasses du Larzac) was my wine of the tasting - the 2009 is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault with heaps of intertwining layers of summer fruits, herbal perfumes and balancing savoury tannins. The cask sample of 2010 suggested it will be equally exciting. Until recently Gavin was the winemaker at La Sauvageonne and told me he had been eyeing up small well tended vineyards in the vicinity of nearby St Privat for years. Tucked under the cliffs of the Larzac plateau this is the area where Olivier Jullien has his sandstone Carlan vineyard. Also at the tasting, and almost a junior version of La Traversée, was the 2010 Les Vignes Oubliées. This is a venture between Jean-Baptiste Granier and Olivier Jullien to rescue abandoned vineyards in the same area. I've enjoyed previous vintages and, at roughly half the [euro retail] price of La Traversée and Carlan, excellent value.

Domaine Les Aurelles is very much an established star - I purchased a selection soon after the millennium and recall tasting older wines from the mid-1990s. What I admire about the reds is the absence of oak for wines equipped for ageing. I also admire the extensive us of Carignan. The simple, light and clean 2008 Déella and brambly meatier 2007 Solen have 60% along with Grenache. The white 2007 Aurel is a masterclass in what can be done with the tricky Roussane - youthful and understated. While memories plays tricks, I found these wines had a better balanced ripeness than older vintages.

I first tasted Domaine Turner Pageot's wines the previous July. Back then what took me by surprise, shocked even, were the whites. Le Blanc (2010?) is 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne, but for me the grapes are not the point here, as Emmanuel explained it's a wine with texture. I found concentration without being hard work to drink. 2011 La Rupture (early bottling sample) is Sauvignon Blanc for what it's worth; but with oak, indigenous yeasts and (again Emmanual explained) fermentation at a relatively warm 28 deg. it becomes something else. My previous description of coriander seeds and preserved lemon will have to do, and again there is a mystical texture. I can see these whites becoming an addiction. The reds were more conventional as it were. Grenache dominated 2010 Le Rouge showed great balance with supple tannins and is already delicious. Perhaps the nearest, in style and geography, to a Faugères at the tasting.

Domaine Sainte Cécile du Parc really does fit the term rising. Just north of Pezenas the estate was acquired in 2005 and has undergone massive replanting and winery construction. 2010 Notes Pures is Sauvignon Blanc in the freshest of styles - gooseberry and pineapple, an uncomplicated aperitif style. The reds on show were Syrah dominated. 2009 Notes d'Orphée is the unoaked version, attractive easy drinking with lovely fruit and is my pick.

Mas d'Amile make one wine, a stunning pure expressive of fresh Carignan. I've enthused about in the past here - it deserves to be imported. A favourite Domaine Jones was there as well - see my Outsiders posts.

Over in Roussillon Domaine Modat has vineyards on a 300m plateau rising to 500m. The white 2010 De ci de la (half Grenache Gris with Grenache Blanc and Macabeu) was rich, nutty, stony with lemon rind - definitely a wine I'll keep an eye out for. The reds were equally well made, although my palate fatigue was becoming advanced.

Judging from the simplistic price guide in the well presented catalogue, Mas de Cynanque in Saint Chinion could be offering some of the best value at the lower end of the price scale. 2009 Fleur rouge is Carignan dominated with a lovely drinkable cherry character. 2009 Plein grès (Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre) had interesting liquorice and mint flavours while 2010 Amicytia (mainly Grenache) was the most complex with layers of coffee, caramel and balanced fruit.

Also with wines in the value category is Chateau d'Or et de Gueules in the east of the region south of Nîmes - I liked the supple tannins and cassis with pepper of their 2009 Les Cimels (Syrah, Carignan and 20% Grenache). 20,000 bottles are listed as being available, enough I would have thought for the greediest nationwide retailer.

My overall impressions? Frankly I would enjoy drinking all the wines I tasted - the standard and consistency was high. The Languedoc factor of reds with rich ripe fruit but not shying away from a bit of tannin was on show in spades while the whites were as diverse as the region.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Southern Rhone, Languedoc and Image

I would strongly recommend the Charlemagne wine club to any wine lover within striking distance of Ealing in West London. Still going strong after 30 years plus they get it right. Plenty of informed speakers, diverse wines, sit down tasting, excellent value and a good balance between giving the wines attention and a social event. They meet the 3rd Monday of most months - see their website for details.

Charlemagne's March evening covered the Southern Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape star Vieux Télégraphe. The Southern Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon have much in common with a similar Mediterranean climate and shared grape varieties. Vinously, the most significant difference is the greater use of Grenache in the reds at the expense of Carignan, and that's about it.

From a UK consumer perspective the Southern Rhône is way ahead. Back in the 1980s Côtes du Rhône managed to elevate itself above country wine status, a polite term for holiday plonk, to be a recognisable and reliable marque and join the likes of generic Bordeaux and Burgundy. The area single handedly represented the south of France on many wine lists and retail shelves and continues to be top dog today. Dine in an ordinary restaurant in France outside a wine area and more often than not Southern Rhône is the closest you'll get to the Med. on the wine list.

Fine. But what's extraordinary and harder to explain is how decades ago Châteauneuf-du-Pape became, and continues to be, an icon commune. Shrewd marketing by the town and the reference to papal connections moulded on the neck of every bottle would have been key factors. Perhaps being located on the main north-south communication artery is another. For many everyday wine consumers it's up there with the likes of Chablis and Sancerre as a French label to pay a premium for - an affordable luxury or gift to impress.

Chateauneuf is home to a handful of estates recognised by connoisseurs and, no doubt fuelled by Parkerisation, even wine investors. Vieux Télégraphe is one of these as the four vintages back to 2001 at the tasting illustrated. At around £50 a bottle it may seem modest value when compared to peers in the Languedoc, but I would argue it represents a bargain when compared to Chateauneuf's marketed to everyday consumers. All the big UK supermarkets list examples starting at £15 and up. One was sampled at the tasting and young (2010), sweet and dull sums it up. By contrast, the 1/2 million bottle production 2007 Guigal Côtes du Rhône at half the price was a decent drink, even when revisiting it after the might of Vieux Télégraphe.

Back in the Languedoc no area has anything like the perceived cachet of Châteauneuf and I hope never will. While it may generate better prices for good producers, too much mediocrity will be rewarded as is the case in the aforementioned famous appellations. Côtes du Rhône is another matter and the world perceiving, say, Coteaux du Languedoc as a desirable peer would be just recognition.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Party Time with Domaine Sainte Rose

I first purchased Domaine Sainte Rose on a visit to the property back in 2003 and still have a bottle of La Garrigue from Charles and Ruth Simpson's first vintage 2002. The wines aren't available in France, being destined to northern climes. In the UK (check out Majestic, Waitrose and online) the RQP is astonishing - they drink well but are not a quaff, are uncomplicated without being dull, plus work well with or without food. I was volunteered to source the wine for a family and friends bash and Domaine Sainte Rose was an easy choice. Being known as a bit of a wine buff meant high expectations in some quarters, but there were plenty of positive comments.

Le Vent du Nord is a blend of Chardonnay and Rousanne which combine to give some aromatic interest to a delicious citrus base. The warm spicy La Garrigue is Syrah with Grenache these days (all the wines were 2009) yet still retains the hints of outdoor wildness only those who have visited the region will fully relate to. Mourvèdre, once used in La Garrigue, goes into Les Derniers Cépages along with Bordeaux hard-man Petit Verdod, giving a wine with some delicious ripe tannins.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Mystery White DIV'IN

I was given this wine by a wine maker. All I know beyond its colour (white) comes from the label and, obviously only visibly on broaching, wording on the cork. In essence the label states: -

Vin de Table de France
Roxane Almanza et Loic Mathieu
Fontès 34320
13.5% L03.06

The cork has 2006 embossed on the top which may be confirming the year disguised in the code "L03.06". Also on the cork is an email address and, while encouragingly my enquiry hasn't bounced, so far I've had no reply.
Obviously these days information can be gleaned instantly from an internet search. What's extraordinary is that nothing at all wine related comes up for any of the words available. Everything about the wine and the makers avoids the www radar which effectively means a winery with zero marketing and publicity. My conclusion is a small production hobby wine reserved for friends and contacts.

Either way, with pushing 1,000 independent producers registered in the region this must be one of many hiding away.

Fontès is the village above Caux on the other side of the basalt lava flow. Vinously, Fontès is dominated by a successful cooperative perhaps best known for its popular, keenly priced and harmless rosé. A successful cooperative usually means relatively few independents as the vines are accounted for. Judging by the cooperative's new and attractive reception area dominance looks set to continue.

In the glass this ocra tinted wine has a particularly distinctive and individual bouquet - very aromatic and Mediterranean with pine and beeswax. In the mouth there are savoury herbs with a wonderful balancing acidity. Overall a substantial and well made wine that will no doubt divide opinions when it comes to personal taste. The empty glass test reveals an impressive lingering persistence. The dregs of the bottle had yeast lees which would certainly have magnified the flavours.

I've no idea what the cepage is, although it seems reminiscent of mature Rousanne so that's my guess. I will seek to find out more.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

France Show, but where is the Languedoc-Roussillon?

The France Show has been an annual early January event at Earls Court in London for some years. It seemed well attended but not heaving, although the offer of free tickets to (presumably) previous attendees like us suggests a numbers boost was sought. The event is essentially for deprived Francophiles and wannabe future French home owners. It splits into two halves physically. A more serious property, finance, legal and business section on the right vs. lifestyle - food, wine, travel, fashion, language, entertainment and the like - on the left.

Now France is pretty big – the Languedoc-Roussillon is one of 22 regions on the mainland. Nevertheless, for a region on the top tier in the expansion and tourism league it had a near zero presence. Just one obvious representation out of 150 exhibitors; a new build specialist based in Narbonne called Villas from Languedoc. Their website URL name is as befits an established business of 28 years.

This is a wine blog so I’ll get back on topic with, on this occasion, much despair. I eyed well over 100 bottles on various stands and only spotted two L-R examples. There were two wine theatres and one was dedicated to Bordeaux. The other admirably featured Alsace and, seemingly forgetting this is January in London, Provence Rosé. The Sud de France logo, which covers food as well as wine, was nowhere to be seen. That said, with one cowboy stall charging £39 a kilo for 24 month old Comté to the uninformed, perhaps disassociation isn't a bad thing. That said, such extreme rip-offs were as rare as bargains.

We chatted to a charming couple who are 3D Wines and operate a vine rental scheme that supports small family operated vineyards. Their portfolio is 33 strong but with zilch from the L-R and just 3 from the Rhône to prop up the south. While they did tell us to "watch this space", we concurred that image and the lack of icon wines remain as L-R challenges.

I'll end on a more positive note. The Languedoc-Roussillon's reputation as a hidden secret is safe for now.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Old Red Wine

My last post touched on a lunch with some special classic wines brought along by a group of disparate wine lovers. I remarked that only 2 of the 14 wines were of this century, including the Mas de L'Écriture 2001 I brought to the party. The other was a Ruchottes Chambertin F Esmonin (Burgundy of course) and was the wine I’d most like to imbibe again. The oldest was 1966 Chateau Palmer (Bordeaux) along with Graham’s port of the same year.
The event prompted me to ponder some fairly deep personal matters – vinous of course. It distils down to this - ‘has my taste changed to favour younger red wine’?

I discovered wine in the early 1980s. In hindsight this could be considered the golden age of wine given that, with the exception of the so called Bordeaux great growths and a few equivalents, icon wines were affordable. A 10 year old Palmer from a modest vintage back then cost me a similar amount after inflation to the L'Écriture. These days Palmer is ×5 and up that of L'Écriture. Of course much has changed in 30 years. Fine wine has become a serious investment and therefore distorts values of course, but most crucial has been the revolution in wine making know-how and equipment. Poor vintages are enjoyable rather than near undrinkable or even a write-off. Often overlooked is that wines back then were usually made to go with food, or more pertinently simply needed food, and traditionally rich food at that. They also possessed less alcohol generally and the fruit seemed to be in a lower key.

Most fine reds needed to be aged. In their youth they seemed tannic monsters, or at least somewhat hard, and most soon withdrew into a comparatively dumb period for several years. With luck, a palatable complex wine would eventually emerge, usually after several disappointing bottles had been broached along the way. Perhaps I exaggerate a to make a point, but this did apply to plenty of well reputed clarets I owned or tasted.

Some wines are still built to age of course, but most have riper tannins and fruit making them more attractive throughout their life. There are also new styles. So called fruit bombs mainly from the new world are one that don’t appeal. Vibrant, expressive, supple and perfectly balanced wines do.

Going back to my analysis of ‘has my taste changed’ then perhaps the answer is not so much ‘yes’, but more ‘my taste has grown to appreciate, and often prefer, certain modern styles’. There are several Languedoc domains making reds (from Mediterranean varieties) that I’m familiar with and with a proven track record of ageing well for 10 years or more. Along with L'Écriture, aged cuvees from Alain Chabanon, Virgile Joly, Mas Jullien, Marfée and Ollier Taillefer have all given great pleasure and, in the future as a treat, will continue to do so. Golden age the 1980s may have been, but with the choice and diversity available today certainly not missed by me.