Sunday, 5 September 2010

A ROUNDABOUT ROUTE TO THE LANGUEDOC

We took eight days to drive down to our Languedoc home this time, making a significant detour for a wedding outside St. Jean de Luz. It turned into a vinous voyage through France.

First stop was Rouen – for a bottle of lively Saumur Champigny, to wash down an andouillette on a grey evening in a welcoming brasserie in the old town.

On, the next day, to stay with friends near Limoges. Their address is Le Château de la Vigne, but the vines have long since gone and the Limousin is certainly not known for its wine quality these days, but Thierry came up with a bottle of Condrieu from Guigal, which was beautifully peachy, with a touch of oak. I am pleased to say that was one bit of blind tasting that I managed to get right first time!

And the next day saw us in the Basque country. A bottle of Jurançon for dinner, and at lunch time a plate of mussels by the port of St. Jean de Luz, with some delicious white Irouléguy from Domaine Brana. Irouléguy is one of those small appellations which has evolved enormously over the last few years. When I visited it in the mid-1980s, the white wine simply did not exist. This was deliciously fresh and savoury, with a pithy, nettley flavour. A lovely discovery, and a treat with a mussel.

The red wine for the wedding was La Clape, Château Pech Céleyran, Cuvée Sixtine. That was everything that an easy-drinking Midi red should be, supple and spicy and eminently gouleyant. One of the groom’s cousins is a wine merchant, so he took full credit for the choice.

By the next evening we were in Pau. We succumbed to hot foie gras for dinner, which required a sweet Jurançon, which O Gascon served by the glass out of a magnum bottle. It was Domaine Bellegarde, and the combination is delicious. And with our fish we enjoyed a Jurançon Sec, Souvenirs d’Enfance from Domaine Bordenave.

The next day we indulged our Jurançon habit still further. A morning at the coop, which works extremely well for its appellation, with a lovely range of both sweet and dry wines encompassing the whole gamut of flavours from fresh and dry, though sweet, to extremely late harvested, concentrated and rich. They explained how they make three different styles of wine from the same vineyards, with three tris at harvest time. First they pick for Jurançon Sec, then a few days later for the doux, and finally at the end of November or early December, for the truly late-harvest wines.

And in the afternoon we went to Domaine Cauhapé. Henri Ramonteu has been making wine for thirty years and is a master of Jurançon. His Cuvée Geyser is new and intriguing, including grape varieties which had almost disappeared from the area, such as Lauzette and Camaralet, and the 2009 Symphonie de Novembre, a pure Petit Manseng, is everything that sweet Jurançon should be, honeyed and concentrated, but with an elegant finish. Dinner that evening was accompanied Odé de Aydie, from one of the leading and long-standing Madiran estates

From Pau, Madiran is a short drive. I took the advice of Paul Strang, author of The Wines of South-West France, who knows the region like the back of his hand. If I were to visit just one wine grower …..? Besides telling me that my question was impossible with 37 growers to chose from, he narrowed his choice to Philippe Mur at Clos Basté. This is a relatively new estate and the wines are elegant and stylish. An expression of Tannat at its very best.

We were outside Foix for dinner that evening. The Ariège is not really known for its wines, and our hotel chose to ignore them completely with a wine list comprised of Gérard Bertrand’s various estates. This ex-internation rugby player is busy building up a solid portfolio of Languedoc wines and he has recently acquired Domaine de l’Aigle outside Limoux. The 2008 Pinot Noir, Vin de Pays d’Oc was deliciously fresh with raspberry fruit, and went very well with our monkfish.

And the next day we did find out more about the wines of the Ariège, but for that you will have to read my next posting. or maybe the one after that.

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