Thursday, 31 December 2009

MORE FROM PARIS - CHATEAU LA DOURNIE IN ST. CHINIAN

Chateau la Dournie has belonged to the Etienne family since 1850. It is a substantial property on the edge of St. Chinian, with a château dating from the mid-19th century, surrounded by a park of mature trees. This is another estate, where I had not tasted the wines for a number of years and it was reassuring to find the wines as good as I remembered them.

2008 Vin de Pays d’Oc – 5.20€
A blend of Viognier, Roussanne and Vermentino.
Lovely fresh fruit on both nose and palate. No one grape variety dominates, so that there is a harmonious mouthful of fruit, with balancing acidity, and a refreshing lift on the finish.

2008 St. Chinian rosé – 6.30€
A blend of Cinsaut, Syrah and Grenache Noir
Light pink colour, with a firm dry nose. Rounded fruit on the palate. Medium weight, fresh and easy drinking for a summer’s day.

2008 Vin de Pays d’Oc – 5.20€
A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc
Medium depth of colour. A touch of dry spice; easy fruit and not especially bordelais in character. Just a supple undemanding glass of wine.

2007 St. Chinian – 6.80€
Mainly Syrah with some Grenache Noir and Carignan, aged in vat.
A lovely rounded spicy nose. This is very Midi, with spicy fruit and sunshine in a glass, balanced with supple tannins.

2006 Chateau Etienne la Dournie – 10.50€
The same blend of grape varieties but with a year’s élevage in wood. This shows. The nose is much firmer and more structured, with more depth and concentration on the palate, but still an underlying suppleness, making for satisfying drinking.

2007 Cuvée Elise, St Chinian – 13.50€
This is the top cuvée which always comes from the same plots. A blend of Grenache Noir and Syrah, aged mainly in barriques, with 40 per cent new oak. Some of the Syrah is vinified by carbonic maceration, and some traditionally. It is ripe, with some good fruit. The oak is present, but not overpowering, and it should age well, but I have to admit to preferring the other two St. Chinians.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

BACK IN THE MIDI

We are back at our house in the Languedoc for New Year, with two good bottles, from two of our favourite appellations, to welcome us.

2008 Picpoul de Pinet, Cuvée Prestige de l’Ormarine from the cooperative at Pinet

This coop works really well for its appellation, with a great range of Picpoul. Picpoul is not necessarily the world’s most exciting grape variety, but when vinified properly, it has some lovely salty notes, with a light herbal lift and good acidity. It’s just the thing for a New Year oyster. We actually had it as an apéro, and it went down very nicely.

Then we moved on to un coup de rouge, - 2007 Faugères, les Collines from Domaine Ollier-Taillefer. This is their entry level Faugères, but it is none the worse for that. This encapsulates the charm of Midi, with some lovely spicy fruit. We finished the bottle at lunch today – sitting outside on our sheltered terrace in almost warm sunshine – on 30th December. All seemed very right with the world.


Thursday, 24 December 2009

HAPPY CHRISTMAS

I had every intention of posting more about the Paris Salon before Christmas took over, but I am afraid that this has not happened. No excuse – just Christmas festivities. There will be more Paris postings soon. Meanwhile may I wish you a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year, with lots of delicious Languedoc wine. And a big thank you to those of you who are following my blog, and taking the trouble to add encouraging comments.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

DOMAINE PIQUEMAL IN PARIS

I’ve always enjoyed Pierre Piquemal’s wines, ever since my first visit to his cellars in the back streets of the Roussillon village, Espira d’Agly, some ten years ago. Over the years his wines have gently evolved, with Galatée and Pygmalion the newest additions to his range.

2008 Muscat Sec, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes - 5.85€
This is fresh and spicy, redolent of fresh, pithy Muscat with some bitter orange fruit, with a little body and weight resulting from lees stirring. Great for an apéro!

2008 Les Terres Grillées, Côtes du Roussillon blanc - 9.70€
Quite rounded and leesy, with a touch of oak and a slightly resinous note. You find the same characteristics on the palate, with some good acidity. Quite fresh and nutty on the finish. Another example of the dramatic improvement in white wines from the south.

2006 Côtes du Roussillon Tradition 7.15€
A blend of equal parts of Carignan, Grenache Noir and Syrah. Medium colour. Quite firm stony mineral notes on the nose. Rounded and ripe on the palate, but with that underlying minerality.

2006 Le Chant des Frères, Côtes du Roussillon - 8.05€
Again a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah. Quite a stony mineral nose, developing riper berry characteristics. Ripe rounded spicy fruit on the palate, with a good backbone. Just the thing for a cold winter’s day – like London today.

2005 Les Terres Grillées, Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 9.35€
Grenache Noir 35%; old Carignan fermented by carbonic maceration 35% and 30% Syrah aged in oak. Good colour, with ripe spicy fruit on the nose. The touch of oak is nicely integrated, giving body and weight, but nothing more, so that the palate is ripe and rounded, and very satisfying.

2005 La Colline Oubliée, Côtes du Roussillon Villages - 9.35€
Aged in wood for 12 months – Mourvèdre 40%; Syrah 30%; Grenache Noir and old Carignan both 15%. Deep colour with firm, dense spicy notes on the nose and palate. A rounded substantial mouthful with some lovely spicy fruit.

2007 Galatée, Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 14.65€
Grenache Noir 70%; 25% Syrah and 5% Carignan, grown on schist, and fermented in vat. Unfiltered, so richly dense, rounded and ripe. A heady 14º.

2006 Pygmalion Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 14.65€
Syrah dominates here, at 70%, with Grenache 25% and 5% Carignan. Just 10% is aged in oak and the rest in vat. Deep colour. There are some sweet oaky notes on the nose, with a ripe rounded, almost sweet palate. To be honest, for my taste buds it was almost too much, to the extent that it lacked grip. Again a heady 14.5º.

Pierre also makes a fine range of Vin Doux Naturels which I had every intention of tasting at the end of day, but somehow that never happened. I finished the day at Aisle R and he was somewhere nearer Aisle A. Sorry Pierre.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

PARIS - THE CHATEAU DE FLAUGERGUES

I first visited the Château de Flaugergues back in the mid-1980s, when I was writing and researching French Country Wines. Ten years later I went back in order to include it in The Wines of the South of France, and I had not tasted the wines since, so I was delighted to find the Count Pierre de Colbert behind a stand at the Salon. On previous visits I had met his father, Henri, who is both one of the eccentrics, and enthusiasts, of the Languedoc wine world, and directly descended from Louis XIV’s minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert. Pierre is the tenth generation of vignerons at Flaugergues, and took over from his father five years ago. He assured me that his father was still very much around, an energetic 70 year old, even if taking things a little easier these days.

Château de Flaugergues is situated outside Montpellier, within the terroir of Méjanelle, which is now being incorporated into Grès de Montpellier. It is the vineyards of Méjanelle that you can see as you land at Montpellier airport. Flaugergues is a handsome 17th century château set in fine gardens, with vineyards all around, which are fighting a rearguard action against encroaching urbanisation. The soil here is a mixture of limestone and clay, covered with the heavy galets that you also find in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Pierre has a more modern approach than his father, while maintaining the intrinsic quality of Flaugergues. For a start all his wines are bottled with a screwcap, even the most expensive. He also makes a range of low alcohol wines, with the help of Vincent Puygibet from Domaine la Colombette, near Beziers. And he is planning to open a restaurant at the château for spring 2010.

2008 Cuvée Foliae, Coteaux du Languedoc blanc, la Mejanelle - 7.00€
Mainly Rolle with a generous splash of Grenache blanc. It is fresh with light fruit and light herbal notes, with sufficient acidity. Nicely rounded and easy to drink, and an example of how much even quite simple white wines from the south of France have improved in recent years.

2008 Cuvée Sommelière, la Méjanelle. 9.00€
This is more serious, a blend of Rolle, Grenache blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. The enigma is to work out which of the five varieties dominates the blend, and it is impossible to decide. There are rich herbal notes, with floral hints and a certain peachiness on the palate, which led me to Viognier, but on the nose it was impossible to say which. It was rounded and satisfying, a jolly nice glass of wine.

2008 Cuvée de l’Oncle Charles, Vin de Pays d’Oc 3.50 €
This is intended for easy drinking. There is light dry cassis fruit on nose and palate, with a fresh youthful finish.

2007 Cuvée les Comtes, Coteaux du Languedoc 6.00€
A blend of Grenache, with 15% each of Mourvèdre and Syrah, aged in vat. It was a tad stalky on the nose; I liked the palate much better with rounded ripe fruit. It was eminently drinkable, what the French would call gouleyant, with a satisfactory tannic hint on the finish.

2006 Cuvee Sommelière, la Méjanelle. 9.00€
Again Grenache is the dominant grape variety, as in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with Syrah and Mourvèdre. The wine has a lovely deep colour, with quite a closed dense nose. The palate is dense and ripe too, and at the moment a touch clumsy, probably just a trifle adolescent.

2006 Cuvée Colbert, Grès de Montpellier. 12.00€
A blend of 60% Syrah with 30% Mourvèdre and 10% Grenache Noir, which have been aged in 400 litre barrels for 12 months. It was rich, youthful and concentrated on both nose and palate, promising good things for the future.

Definitely time for another visit, was my concluding thought.


Friday, 18 December 2009

TASTING IN PARIS I

DOMAINE DE LA ROCHELIERE in the appellation, and also the village of Fitou

This is a new estate to me – it was highlighted in Révue des Vins de France. Madame explained that the vineyards had previously been in the village coop, until her father-in-law opted for independence in 1993. Her husband, Jean-Marie Fabre, took over the family’s 13.5 hectares in 1998.

Fitou does not a white appellation. Any white wine produced in the area is vin de pays, or in this instance vin de table. Cuvée Camille is a blend of 60% Vermentino, 10% Grenache and 30% Roussanne, which were aged in wood for three months, with some lees stirring. The nose has resinous, oaky overtones, but the palate is very intriguing, slightly fruitcakey, with good acidity and considerable length. As a vin de table, there is no vintage. 7€

2008 Fitou Tradition - 7.50€
A blend of Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, with aging in vat. Deep colour, with ripe fruit on the nose. Medium weight with some acidity and tannin. Nicely balanced with a firm mineral finish.

2008 Fitou Privilège – 9.50€
The same blend, but with eleven months ageing in oak. The wine was only just bottled and the oak was still was obtrusive. I wondered if there was enough fruit for the oak. Probably., but it needs time to settle down.

2008 Fitou Noblesse des Temps – 18.50€
A blend of 505 Mourvèdre, 30% Carignan and 20% Grenache, aged in new oak for 13 months, using only free run juice and with the malolactic fermentation taking place in barrel. If you like oaky wines, you will love this. I am less enamoured of oak, but I have to admit that this was very well made. The palate was a rich, rounded oaky mouthful, with good tannins, but nicely integrated, or englobé, as the French would say. Madame said this was the effect of the Mourvèdre. An estate to watch out for.

Another completely new estate for me was DOMAINE DELEUZE-ROCHETIN which produces Vin de Pays du Duché d’Uzès and also some Vin de Pays d’Oc from 23 hectares near the town of Uzès. The first vintage that Catherine and Jean-Michel Cathonnet bottled was 2004. Their wine maker is Bertrand Salzes who trained in Montpellier and has worked for Domaine Drouhin in Oregon and at Château Montus in Madiran.

2006 Chardonnay Sorcier, Vin de Pays d’Oc – was rounded and lightly leafy with some soft fruit, while 2006 Chardonnay Arpellus had been partially fermented in oak, and was firmer and nuttier, but nicely crafted, for 8.00€

2006 Saba, Vin de Pays d’Oc, is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with ripe rounded cassis fruit and a supple palate. Aurelius, also Vin de Pays d’Oc, from 70% Merlot with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc had good colour, a rounded nose, and quite a solid, dense palate. It was quite structured, with some nicely balanced tannins. 8.00€

2007 La Sarrazine Vin de Pays du Duché d’Uzès, 95% Syrah with just 5% Grenache. Deep in colour, with quite a sweet nose, with peppery hints. On the palate there was rich peppery fruit, with good texture and depth. This promised well. Definitely another estate to watch out for.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

THE SALON DES VIGNERONS INDEPENDENTS IN PARIS

Many apologies for neglecting my blog for a while. Blame other deadlines, a week in southern Italy and a seasonal cold. I’ve also been to Paris for the Salon des Vignerons Indépendents. If you have time and stamina, this is a brilliant fair, with the whole of France under one roof, in an enormous exhibition hall at the Porte de Versailles. The entrance is opposite aisle K; look to your left and there are ten aisles stretching to A, and to your right they go as far as T, with 40 - 50 exhibitors in each aisle. So that makes about one thousand wine growers altogether. Every region is covered, and they are all family estates, with the name on the label behind the stand, so it is a great opportunity to discover new producers, and to see old friends. I concentrated mainly on Languedoc Roussillon, but did allow myself the odd detour into Provence and across the water to Corsica.

The other attraction is a foie gras baguette at lunchtime. Only at a French wine fair would you find such an indulgence. True, there is nowhere to sit down and eat it, apart from a quiet corner on the floor. But it tastes all the better for that, and soaks up all the tastes of the morning and prepares your palate for the afternoon’s onslaught.

It’s also a wonderful opportunity to observe the French wine drinking public, for this is not a trade fair. I encountered a man who absolutely refused to contemplate a screwcap; there were a couple of guys who were limbering up for what sounded like a very serious wine tasting competition. From the way they described it, it almost made the MW exams sound easy! Rather you than me, I said. Some refuse to countenance anything as obscure as the Languedoc; others are more broad-minded. The parisiens come with trolleys, rucksacks and even suitcases on wheels, with the express purpose of buying wine for Christmas and stocking up their cellars, or cupboards. Some go straight to their favourite growers of previous years; others are more adventurous. Considerable quantities of wine are sold over the five days. I usually attend the first two days, Thursday and Friday, when it is a little less crowded. Avoid the weekend, for then you will also be avoiding babies in pushchairs, and even the occasional dog! And by Monday the best growers have sold out.

So in the interests of re-energising my blog, I am proposing to cover some of my highlights and favourites over the next few days, before I head back to the Languedoc itself after Christmas.