Thursday, 22 October 2009

SOME LANGUEDOC HIGHLIGHTS IN LONDON, PLUS PROVENCE AND ROUSSILLON

WAITROSE have some new additions to their southern French range. While the Faugères, Domaine Marie and the St. Chinian, Domaine Combes, did little for me, I really enjoyed their new 2008 Costières de Nîmes, Fontaine du Roy. The small print told me that this is made by François Collard, who is the talent behind the better know name of Château Mourgues-du-Grès. The wine is beautifully perfumed on the nose, with some lovely spicy fruit on the palate, with a supple finish. I don’t think it would be unfair to say that Costières de Nîmes is the southern French answer to Beaujolais – at its best it produces eminently drinkable wines. There is no great ageing potential, no complex tannic structure, just sheer pleasure.. £5.99From Waitrose Direct and 141 branches

CORNEY & BARROW were showing a small selection of French Regional wines at their tasting at the Tower of London. They represent Chateau Léoube, an up-and coming Côtes de Provence estate, near Bormes-les-Mimosa, where Romain Ott is making the wine.
2008 Chateau Léoube Blanc, Côtes de Provence - £12.71
This has a rounded, herbal nose with a beautifully textured palate, with some leafy herbal notes, and what the French call fleurs blanches. The English translation of white flowers does not really do it justice, nor does the adjective floral. Think of white blossom, and more so. The grape variety mix is equal proportions of Rolle and Sémillon.
2008 Château Léoube Rosé, Côtes de Provence - £9.56
This is a blend of 40 per cent each of Grenache and Cinsaut, with10 per cent each of Syrah and Mourvèdre. The colour is a delicate pink and on the nose there is creamy raspberry fruit, which repeats on the palate, with some fresh acidity. Beautifully harmonious and balanced, displaying talented wine making.
I remembered enjoying the red enormously when I visited the estate last November, but sadly they were not showing it in London this week.

2008 Château la Nielle, Coteaux du Languedoc, La Clape – £6.77
This was a new name to me, but the small print revealed the name Boscary. Jacques Boscary is the owner of the award winning estate of Château la Rouquette-sur-Mer, which is one of the historic properties of this extraordinary part of the Languedoc. The wine was very perfumed on the nose, with lovely supple, ripe fruit and soft tannins on the palate, conjuring the herbs and spices of the garrigues of the Massif of la Clape, outside the city of Narbonne. However, there was enough tannin to provide the necessary backbone.

Next a new discovery at CLARK FOYSTER’S portfolio tasting, namely Mas Cristine, from Roussillon, which owns the last vineyards before you reach the tiny appellation of Collioure. The soil is clay, as opposed to the schist of Collioure.
2008 Cotes du Roussillon Blanc – Recommended retail price - £11.71
A blend of Macabeu, Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Gris. Quite a rich herbal nose, with good ripe fruit on the palate, rich and leafy with good acidity. A successful combination of freshness and weight.
2007 Mas Cristine Rouge – £11.71
A blend of Syrah and Grenache. Medium colour; rich stony mineral fruit on the nose. Rich and spicy on the palate, with a lovely warm finish. A real winter warmer.

Coume del Mas is a Banyuls estate that is a familiar name, but I don’t think I have ever tasted the wines before and I was impressed. The estate was created by Philippe Gard, who began buying small plots of land back in 2000 and he subsequently took over Mas Cristine about five years ago.
2008 Folio, Collioure Blanc - £17.30
Grenache Gris, all barrel fermented but with no bâtonnage. Lightly oaky nose; nicely integrated oak and a rounded palate. Very good mouth feel, texture and weight, all balanced with good acidity.
2008 Schistes, Collioure - £17.41
Pure Grenache Noir. I thought Collioure needed to be a blend of grape varieties, but apparently not. Medium colour. Firm leathery fruit on the nose. Ripe. rounded and satisfying, with a good firm tannic streak and a generous finish.
2006 Quadratur, Collioure - £22.25
A blend of Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre. Deep colour, with dry leathery notes on the nose and rounded fruit on the palate; firm with youthful tannins and excellent depth of flavour.
2006 Banyuls Blanc - £15.87
Light golden colour; lightly biscuity on the nose. A soft, rounded palate, with biscuity notes and an alcoholic bite on the finish.
2006 Galateo Banyuls Rouge - £17.47
Pure Grenache Noir. Bright young red. Fresh spicy liquorice on the nose. The aim is for fresh fruit, and not the oxidative style of Banyuls. It works brilliantly well, with ripe red fruit, with some liquorice – think good ruby port, maybe an LBV, but the alcohol is well integrated, so no spirity finish.
2006 Quintessence Banyuls Rouge - £25.45
Again pure Grenache Noir. Quite a deep colour and more leathery, smokey notes on the nose and palate. The vineyards for this are at 300-400 metres, so the grapes are picked a month later than for Galateo, which comes from vines close to the sea. Here the aim is tannin and power, with a six week maceration allowing for maximum extraction of fruit. Lots of concentration and weight on the finish.

Some new wines from MAJESTIC were shown at their recent Winter Press tasting
2008 Domaine les Yeuses, Muscat à Petits Grains, Vin de Pays d’Oc - £7.99 or Buy two bottles and save £4 = £5.99
From an estate near Mèze and the étang de Thau. Fresh pithy, grapey fruit on the nose. Ripe and blowsy, with a fresh finish. It really tastes of grapes!
2007 Domaine Les Yeuses, Les Epices, Syrah, Vin de Pays d’Oc - £8.99 or £6.99 a bottle if you buy two.
This is benchmark Syrah, with a meaty spicy nose, with similar spice on the palate. Rounded and mouth-filling, with a leathery finish.
2007 Château la Dournie, St. Chinian - £7.99 and £6.99 if you buy two bottles
This is what the Midi is all about, redolent with Languedoc spice with lovely supple fruit and the appealing sun soaked scents of the garrigues. Just the thing for a winter’s evening in London.
2008 Château de Pennautier, Cabardès - £6.99 or buy 2 bottles and save £3 = £5.49. Or buy between 24th November and 4th January, and the price come down to £4.99. Cabardès is original, but not unique in including both bordelais and Midi varieties in the blend and Pennautier is the most prominent producer of this small appellation. And should you find yourself hungry and in the vicinity, the winery restaurant offers good local fare for lunch. This Cabardès is ripe and spicy, with some easy fruit, but finishes with a firm streak of tannin, more reminiscent of Bordeaux.

And now I am off to New Zealand for the best part of a month, so no more postings until my return in mid-November. I’ll be at the Organic wine tasting at the Maison du Languedoc in London on 19th November, so look out for a posting on that in due course.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

WINE AND CHOCOLATE

Wine and chocolate has always been a tricky combination; for some, perceived wisdom has it that wine does not go with chocolate at all; others prefer something sweet, and another view favours red wine. After a tasting yesterday evening, featuring various red wines from the Vin de Pays de Cotes de Thongue, I am inclined to favour the red wine school. I have to admit to being already slightly converted, a memory lingers on of A Castello Vicchiomaggio Chianti Classico with a delicious chocolate tart in the early days at the River Café, when it was only open at lunch time.

The chocolate was supplied by Isabelle Alaya from The Melange Chocolate Shop in Pieckham Rye, London SE15 and Stefan Gorda, the sommelier at the Hotel du Vin in Bristol took me through the various pairings. Isabelle makes delicate wafer thin chocolates with different flavourings and Stefan had selected the one he thought most appropriate to the wine.

We began with Domaine Bonian, 2007 Carignan Vieille Vigne. The wine was nicely rounded with soft tannins, a touch of acidity and some red fruit. A milk chocolate flavoured with coriander and grapefruit seemed to soften any tannins, while the tang of grapefruit added a little acidity.

2004 Grenache from Domaine du Bourdic, élevé en fûts de chênes, tasted quite firmly of oak, which masked the fruit. However, a dark chocolate with a hint of bergamot miraculously calmed down the oak, making a rounded enjoyable mouthful of flavour.
2005 Emocion from Domaine Monplezy, from old Carignan has some rounded red fruit, ripe flavours and nicely balanced tannins. The accompanying milk chocolate was flavoured with coffee and fennel, which seemed to favour the tannins. I started to think that black chocolate works better than milk chocolate.

2007 Merlot from Domaine Coste Rousse was quite rounded and jammy, with a slightly bitter finish. The dark basil flavoured chocolate masked the touch of bitterness, but didn’t really enhance the wine.

More successful was 2007 Synthèse from Domaine de l’Arjolle, another pure Merlot. This was accompanied by a milk chocolate, flavoured with lemon and lavender. The wine had some smokey, cassis fruit, and here the chocolate seemed to add a streak of tannin and some depth to the palate.

And the final combination was 2005 le Pinnacle from Domaine St. Rose, a pure Syrah. Here the black chocolate was flavoured with five spices, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger cloves and fennel, as well as some lemongrass. The wine was quite rounded with soft fruit, and again the chocolate seemed to add depth to the flavour.

www.TheMelange.com

Saturday, 17 October 2009

LE BISTROT D'ARIANE

Returning to London after days, or weeks, in the Languedoc is always a bit of a shock to the system, so we try to soften the blow. Our unofficial departure lounge is a splendid restaurant, just ten minutes from Montpellier airport, Le Bistrot d’Ariane on the Port Ariane at Lattes. It is a little oasis, in rather extraordinary surroundings that have more in common with Florida than the Languedoc, for the tables outside have you sitting beside some expensive yachts and looking out at shuttered holiday flats. But don’t put off by that. You are also savouring the last moments of Languedoc sunshine, with some delicious food – they are particularly good at fish, not to mention the local oysters, and the wine list is a wonderful illustration of some of the best of the Languedoc. And if you want to drink wines from elsewhere, the rest of France is well covered too.

We were there last Tuesday, for cabillaud (or more prosaically, cod) in a creamy sauce, with a morille des pins as an accompaniment. It was succulent. And the wine was 2008 Mas Conscience, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault blanc, Cuvée L’In. This is yet another shining example of how much white wine from the Languedoc has improved. The grape variety blend is Bouboulenc, Marsanne and Roussanne. Dare I say that it was almost like young Chablis, with some firm acidity and minerality, but with more weight. There was good structure and body, with dry herbal notes on the nose. Mas Conscience also produces some lovely reds, notably their Cuvée l’As which is based on old Carignan.

Le Bistrot d’Ariane, 5 rue Chevaliers de Malte, Lattes. - Tel: 04 67 20 01 27 Take the Lattes exit from the A9 motorway and follow signs for Port Ariane. Bon appetit!

Friday, 9 October 2009

A DAY IN THE GARD

My Languedoc home is the Hérault, so the prospect of a day in the Gard was a bit of adventure. Our plan was to visit three wine growers, with estates south of the town of Anduze and the gateway to the Cévennes. We took the scenic route, past the dramatic landscape of the Pic St. Loup and Montagne de l’Hortus. A quick reviving coffee in Quissac, and then to our first appointment.



DOMAINE DE L’ORVIEL at St. Jean de Serres, with Jean-Pierre Cabane.
I‘ve met Jean-Pierre previously at the annual Salon des Vignerons Indépendants in Paris and have enjoyed his wines, but this was the first time that I had visited his cellar. It has to be said that he has a very smart tasting caveau, which welcomes visitors. Often there is an art exhibition, and this time there was an extraordinary sculpture at the entrance.. His spacious, modern cellar is underneath, to accommodate the production of 23 hectares. He grows a number of different grape varieties, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache Noir, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cinsaut. Upto the 1980s, there had been a bit of everything, including hybrids, but rationalisation came with replanting, after he inherited most of his vineyards from his grandfather in 1980. Until 2002 he was a member of the two nearby village cooperatives, but then it was the moment to go it alone.



The local vin de pays for this part of the Gard is Duché d’Uzès. They are hoping for an appellation in 2010, or maybe even for this vintage, if they are lucky. The red will be based on Syrah and Grenache, just like the Coteaux du Languedoc, leaving the Bordeaux varieties for Vin de Pays d’Oc or Vin de Pays des Cévennes. The white varieties will be Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne.

Jean-Pierre treated us to an extensive tasting. For the most part I like his wines. They are elegant and understated, and finely crafted. Highlights included :
2008 Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d’Oc 5.50€

Light fruit on nose and palate, with fresh acidity. There’s a hint of oak to give some body, but it’s very nicely integrated.

2008 Viognier Vin de Pays d’Oc - 6.00€
Lightly peachy apricot palate, and a slightly dumb nose

2008 Sauvignon, Vin de Pays D’Oc – 5.00€
Good fresh fruit, with firm minerality on nose and palate. A really good example of a Midi Sauvignon. I liked this a lot, and I am not usually impressed by Sauvignon from the south.

2008 Les Trois Blancs Vin de Pays des Cévennes – 5.50 €
As the name implies, from three grape varieties, mostly Sauvignon, blended with some Viognier and Chardonnay. Quite a firm mineral Sauvignon nose, with some peachy fruit from the Viognier on the palate. The Chardonnay wasn’t particularly obvious, but I think it serves to link the other two varieties, and the wine works remarkably well.

2008 Vin de Pays du Duché d’Uzès. – 6.00€
Apparently there is a Duke of Uzès. This comes from 80 per cent Viognier, 8 per cent Roussanne and 12 per cent Grenache Blanc. You must have some Grenache Blanc in a white Duché d’Uzès. The three varieties are fermented together. Jean-Pierre considers that Viognier on its own would be too floral, whereas Roussanne adds some weight and the three varieties compliment each other, with some peachy, rounded fruit.

2008 Gris, Vin de Pays d’Oc - 4.50€
From Cinsaut and Grenache. A pale colour, resulting from a short time in contact with the skins before pressing, The palate is delicate too, with fresh acidity and light fruit.

2008 Le Petit Verdot, Vin de Pays des Cévennes – 5.50€
This is the last variety to be picked. It was quite firm and peppery with some leathery notes and a firm streak of tannin, and hints of liquorice, but also a slightly green note. Aged only in a concrete vat, with no wood

2007 Cuvée de l’Arche, Vin de Pays d’Oc – 5€
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache Noir, with Merlot the dominant variety. They are all blended together at the end of the fermentation. This was eminently easy to drink, with some rounded fruit. It was soft and harmonious without being jammy.

2007 Vin de Pays du Duché d’Uzès – 6.00€
Syrah dominant with some Grenache, and aged in vat. Quite firm, dry spicy fruit on the nose, with appealing peppery fruit on the palate. Medium weight.

Then followed a couple of oaked cuvées, including Cuvée de la Peyrière - 7.00€ A pure Cabernet Sauvignon Vin de pays d’Oc, with some firm cassis fruit.

And then onto late harvest wines, with:

2006 Barriques Oubliées, Vendange Tardive Vin de Pays d’Oc - 12.00€
A blend of Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Viognier made from grapes that are either raisined or passerillé on the vine, or that have developed noble rot, picked in late October. The colour is lightly golden and the palate has some dry honey with balancing acidity. It is very intriguing, leaving you wondering, and wanting a second glass. With just 14 gm/l residual sugar remaining, it is not really a dessert wine, but you could drink it at the end of a meal, instead of a pudding.

We finished with Orvieux de l’Orviel – 13.00€, also a Vendange Tardive, with 40 gm/l residual sugar. Jean-Pierre made just 600 bottles of this from one hectare of Chardonnay and Viognier with a yield of 10 hl/ha. It was fermented very slowly and then spent three years in wood. Again it is very intriguing, with a biscuit honeyed note, some acidity and a dry and sweet finish. It is a vin de table, and without a vintage date.

After that we thought we deserved lunch and adjourned to the cheerful village restaurant in the centre of St. Jean de Serres, which came up trumps with a copious salade niçoise and a coup de rosé in the sunshine.




Our next stop was DOMAINE ORENIA with Philippe Nusswitz outside the village of Durfort. He hails from Alsace and arrived here in 2002, after working for Seagram’s in Canada. He knew that the Languedoc was the place for him; the vines are cheapest; the potential enormous and the climate is great. He looked between Nîmes and Carcassonne, dismissing some areas for too much wind. Aniane, Montpeyroux or the Pic St. Loup attracted him initially, and he lived in St. Mathieu de Tréviers, close to the Pic St. Loup, for twelve months, but found it a very closed community ‘like an oyster’ and there was nothing for sale. And then chance brought him to this corner of the Gard and he fell in love with the old mas that he has bought for chambres d’hôtes. He also realised that there was great wine potential, although there were very few independent growers here. His first proper vintage was 2004.



His cellar belongs to an old château at Vibrac. It was abandoned when the local cooperative was created, and still has the enormous concrete vats and an earth floor. Once the building would have been used for rearing silk worms, for Durfort was an important centre of the silk worm industry. He has open top concrete vats for fermentation; they are as wide as they are high, and he uses natural yeast, with several pigeages and favours a long maceration, and then uses a basket press. “The less I do, the better the wine” describes his wine-making philosophy.



All his wines are Vin de Pays du Duché d’Uzès.
We tasted :

2008 Orénia blanc – 7.00€
Mainly Viognier, with Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. Philippe explained that you have the bitterness of the Marsanne and the rondeur of the Viognier. I found some peachy notes, with good weight and a rounded palate, balanced with some acidity and a ripe finish

2007 Orénia rouge – 6.00€
From Syrah blended with 20 per cent Grenache Noir, and no oak. Some spicy fruit, supple tannins and medium weight body, and an appealing freshness. Philippe explained that here in the foothills of the Cévennes, you get cool nights, when the days are as hot as 30ºC. He was looking for a vin gourmand and 2007 was a rich vintage.

He also made a 2007 Orénia réserve 9.00 € with a firm spicy, leathery nose and ripe black fruit on the palate. It was quite rich and layered with supple tannins and liquorice fruit.

Then we went on to:
2006 Miratus, which comes from his own vineyards. It is a blend of 60 per cent Syrah, 20 per cent Grenache Noir and 20 per cent Mourvèdre, blended when Philippe feels like it. There are no rules. He keeps some back so that he can fine tune the blend six months before bottling and the wine spends twelve months in wood. There was lots of black fruit, blackberries, blackcurrant and cherries, with the herbs of the garrigues and some fine tannins, and a rich, but quite alcoholic finish. The ageing potential is promising.

And Miratus blanc 2008 was a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache blanc and a little Vermentino that have been aged in oak. There was good acidity and some nicely textured fruit and oak on the palate.

Philippe’s enthusiasm was palpable. He has a need to create – ‘ça m’amuse; you can be a pioneer in this region. There is total liberty here.’

And from there we went on to PUECHCAMP, a small estate lost in the byways around the village of Vabres, and off very much of the beaten track. The name translates literally as the field on the mountain, or le champ sur le montagne. Daniel Faure gave us a warm welcome. He is another wine grower whose wines I have enjoyed at the Salon des Vignerons Indépendents in Paris.



His first career was freelance photography, but he wanted to return to his roots with a house in the country. And the house came with five hectares of vines, planted with Syrah, Grenache, Cinsaut and for whites, Viognier, Roussanne, Vermentino and Grenache blanc. 2001 was his first vintage.

Two of his wines are Duché d’Uzès and all the rest Vin de Pays des Cévennes; he is more phlegmatic about the potential appellation – on verra.



Our tasting began with 2007 Fontanalbe, Vin de Pays des Cévennes - 6.90€
It is a blend of Grenache noir and Cinsaut, with some lovely, spicy red fruit, a hint of nutmeg, with supple tannins. The suggestion was to drink it slightly chilled.

2007 La Vigne de Gaspard, recalling a great-uncle Vin de Pays de Cévennes 8.90€
A blend of 80 per cent Cinsaut and 20 per cent Grenache Noir. It is Vin de Pays des Cévennes, as there is too much Cinsaut for anything else, but Daniel loves Cinsaut, so this is not a problem. If the yield is low, it makes lovely wine, with fruit and spice and supple tannins.

2006 Gasparissime – 10.50€
60 per cent Cinsaut, 30 per cent Grenache and 10 per cent Syrah, and like the previous two wines, not a hint of oak. With a deep colour and dry spice and a touch viandé on the nose. With rounded spice and quite powerful flavours on the palate, with an elegant finish.

2006 Antarès. Duché d’Uzès - 14€
70 per cent Syrah, with 30 per cent Grenache, given eighteen months élevage in oak, but no new oak. The oak is nicely integrated, with a touch of coconut. There was more depth and structure, so that the wine was powerful, but retained its elegance, with a long finish.

And we finished with 2004 Galaad, Vin de Pays des Cévennes. -20.00€
This first vintage of this cuvée was 85% Syrah with 15% Grenache Noir, with some intensive fruit and good tannins and plenty of personality. With the 2007 vintage, it is virtually pure Syrah, and a Vin de Pays du Duché d’Uzès. We tasted a barrel sample so the oak was still quite obvious, with some firm leathery fruit and structured tannins. It will be bottled before the end of the year.



Before leaving, we had a quick look at Daniel’s vineyards, in the middle of garrigues, near the village of Monoblet, enjoying views of the Pic St. Loup and the Montagne de l’Hortus. The soil was deep red, and very stony; the 60 year old Cinsaut looks magnificent and the noise of the crickets was deafening.

Friday, 2 October 2009

MAS DES DAMES




Lidewij van Wilgen is a bright, young Dutch woman who has, almost single-handedly, developed a new estate outside the village of Murviel-lès-Béziers on the edge of the appellation of St. Chinian. Her first vintage was 2002, which represented a complete career change, from life as an advertising executive in Amsterdam. Each time I see Lidewij, I am filled with admiration for her energy and courage. Life as a vigneronne on your own, in what is still a man’s world in the Languedoc, is not always easy. An invitation for an aperitif was also the excuse for an update on her wines.

2008 Mas des Dames Blanc, Vin de Pays d’Oc – 8.95€
From old Grenache Blanc vines. This has quite a rich golden colour. There are rich herbal notes on nose and palate, with some lovely texture and mouthfeel and very good acidity. Maybe there is a hint of oak but it is nicely integrated and understated.

2008 Coteaux du Languedoc Rosé – 6.50€
Made from Grenache Noir, a little Syrah and some new Mourvèdre vines. The grapes are pressed after a little skin contact, so that the colour is a rich orange pink. There is some fresh herbal fruit on the palate, with good acidity. This is a food rosé, with some structure and body. It is quite delicious, but sadly it is virtually all sold out, so we shall have to wait for the 2009, which promises to be as good.

2008 La Dame, Coteaux du Languedoc - 7.50€
This comes mainly from Grenache, with some Syrah, and a small amount of the Syrah is aged in barrel. Quite a deep red colour. A firm nose, with dry red fruit and hints of liquorice and spice, with a peppery freshness on the finish. It is still quite closed, with an underlying elegance.

2007 Côte Rouge, Vin de Pays des Coteaux de Murviel - 9.95€
This is mainly Syrah, with some Grenache Noir and 20 per cent of 90 year old Alicante Bouschet vines. It has been aged in barrel, but discreetly so. There is rounded red fruit, with some spice and oak on the palate, as well as a firm streak of tannin. The finish is quite rich and mouth-filling, but still retaining the hallmark of elegance that always characterises Lidewij’s wines.

Lidewij is very pleased with the quality of her 2009s. My experience of tasting wines that have barely finished fermenting is limited, but a taste of very young Grenache showed lovely ripe fruit. The snag is that the quantity is down by 30 per cent, thanks to the dry summer conditions.

www.masdesdames.fr

Her UK importers are Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com and Robersons www.roberson.co.uk