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 Wine ages as do the people involved and, like restaurant guides, too many pass their shelf-life date or are superseded.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.