Saturday, 27 March 2010

PINK COTES DE PROVENCE

Think rosé; think Provence! Although pink wine is produced in most of the wine regions of France, it often comes a poor third after red and white. In contrast, Provence has really made rosé its own. The principal appellation of Provence, Côtes de Provence, produces significantly more rosé than red or white – 75 per cent to 20 per cent red and just five per cent white wine. Pink wine has an image problem; no one takes it very seriously. It is frivolous and fun; you drink it on hot summer days over long languid lunches, after which a siesta beckons. On a winter’s day in London, it simply will not do. And serious wine drinkers ignore it. They see it as a compromise, the wine to choose when you are not sure whether to drink red or white. All these preconceptions need overturning. In fact rosé is remarkably versatile and compliments a variety of dishes. In Provence itself I was delighted to discover how well it accompanies barbecued lamb chops with herbs, not to mention the summer classics, such as salade niçoise, or the variety of provençal fish dishes.

Most winemakers will tell you that pink wine is much harder to make than either red or white. In many parts of France it is produced by the saigné method – this is a term that translates very clumsily into English. Quite simply, you take your vat of fermenting grapes which are destined for red wine and run off some of the juice, thereby ‘bleeding’ the vat, after a few hours, which of course has the effect of concentrating the red wine as well as giving you some rosé, which you finish making like a white wine, with a cooler fermentation than for the red.

However, in Provence they take much greater care. Firstly grapes intended for rosé, will make only rosé. They may be given some skin contact, depending on the variety, or they may be pressed immediately. Infinite care is taken to avoid oxidation so that the flavours remain fresh.

There is a research centre that has been set up specifically to address the problems attached to rosé, from the vine to the bottle, in order to help the numerous wine growers improve their wines. Nathalie Pouzalgues, who runs the centre, is vivacious and intelligent, and absolutely committed to the cause of rosé. Colour is one of the most difficult things to get right; it can vary so much from the most pale and delicate of pinks to a much deeper pink that is almost red. They have established a colour chart of possible grades of pink – it has a marked resemblance to a Dulux chart - and have selected the colours that you find most commonly in provençal rose. As colour has such a subjective effect on our judgement of flavour, they taste initially with a black glass, which is a very disorientating experience, making you realise just how important colour is for your appreciation of a rosé.

The appellations of Provence allow for several different grape varieties, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsaut, Grenache Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tibouren amongst others, which all behave in different ways. Consequently they have worked to ascertain how best to treat the different grape varieties. Cinsaut and Tibouren are ideal for rosé, as they produce a very pale colour, even after a few hours of skin contact, whereas Syrah has a much deeper colour and should be pressed immediately. Grenache too requires less time on the skins. Generally Grenache is deemed to provide weight; Cinsaut elegance and Syrah structure. Different grape varieties have been planted in the same soil to see how they vary, as well as the same grape variety in different soils, again to discern the differences. The nuances are intriguing and provide the wine growers with a rich artist’s palette for blending.

There was a tasting in London last week, mainly of Cotes de Provence. What follows are a few of the highlights: I've given the UK agent or stockist, plus a recommended retail price, where appropriate. They are all from the 2009 vintage, unless otherwise stated.

Château Barbaneau - The Wine Society - £9.50
A provencal rose should look pretty and this does. It's a delicate pale pink and on the palate the fruit is delicate but ripe, with a firm note of acidity and a fresh finish.

Château Coussin - Oddbins £13.99
A very pale ethereal colour. Quite rounded and ripe on the palate, with good fruit, hints of raspberry and maybe strawberry.

Château d'Esclans, Sacha Lichine. Goedhuis
The two wines from this property, with its previous associations with Bordeaux - think Chateau Prieuré Lichine - were the most expensive of the tasting. Cuvee Garrus is a mind-bloggling £65.00 - I was relieved to find that I much preferred the basic wine which is a mere £16.50. It is very delicate, but with a surprisingly powerful structure and backbone, and fresh fruit.

Chateau du Galoupet - Oenoville: contact@oenoville.com £9.70
A pretty pale colour. Quite an appealing herbal note on both nose and palate, with a firm dry finish.

Chateau Leoube - Corney & Barrow - £12.50
A pale colour orange pink. firm and fresh on the nose, and quite ripe and rounded on the palate, with a dry finish.

Chateau Sainte Rosaline - no UK importer
This is one of the traditional estates of the appellation, and vaut le detour for the wonderful chapel with a Giacometti lecturn and a Chagall fresco. The Prestige de Roseline is delicate on the nose and surprisingly powerful on the palate, with rounded fruit and body.

Domaine du Grand Cros - Jules UK - julian@jules-wines.com £7.99
Light pink with some herbal fruit on nose. Good depth and weight and nicely balanced. They also make a cheerful sparkling rose, with some refreshing dry fruit. It is a methode traditionnelle.

Chateau Rimauresq - Boutinot Ltd. Waitrose. £8.99

This too was one of the original grand crus classes of the appellation. The colour is light which belies the rounded ripe palate. There is an elegant balance of fruit and flavour.

Domaine Saint Andre de Figuiere, Cuvee Magali - £9.25 Robert Rolls Fine Wines
Delicate nose, with an equally delicate palate, with light fruit and fresh acidity. Nicely balanced with an elegant finish. The owner of this property, Alain Combard, used to work in Chablis, but the lure of the south was too strong....

Chateau la Calisse - Coteaux Varois-en-Provence - £10.75 Hourlier Wines, Derby.
Delicate colour, with a fresh bouquet. Elegant fresh fruit on the palate. Nicely balanced and finely crafted.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

A DILEMMA

What to drink after 1921 Château d’Yquem? That was my problem yesterday lunchtime – a pretty upmarket one, I’ll admit, but daunting all the same, as I didn’t want to get it wrong. My old boss – he had the misfortune to endure my typing for four years in the mid-1970s - had invited me to Terroirs to share a bottle of d’Yquem of his birth year. The other guests were my ex-Managing Director, who is a MW of 50 years standing; another ex-colleague with keen palate, and Jack’s son-in-law, who had given him the bottle in the first place, along with his grandson who is new to wine and keen to learn.

The d’Yquem could only be described as fabulous and venerable. It was deep amber in colour and elegantly honeyed on the nose, with the unmistakable note of botrytis. The palate was that fabulous combination of richness, elegance and maturity, with a long lingering finish. It was certainly a wine that I will remember for the rest of my life. It was ageing gracefully, but like my ex-boss, who still plays a regular round of golf, very far from being on its last legs. 1921 was one of the great Sauternes vintages and I think the wine more than surpassed our expectations.

And then came the thorny question: what do we drink next? The wine list was thrust at me. If you ever find yourself in London, wondering where to have a meal, Terroirs near Charing Cross, is the solution. The food is delicious, with French country flavours, terrines, charcuterie, boudin noir, bavette, seafood, and so on, and the wine list comes from one of the UK’s most original importers, Les Caves de Pyrène who specialise in organic wine and make a point of seeking out quirky wines from off the beaten track in France and elsewhere. So I was spoilt for choice.

The question was which wine to choose? Give me a clue, I said. No you choose; we are both very out of date declared the octogenarians. France or Italy? I had spotted a friend’s Brunello di Montalcino. France they said. And then my eyes alighted on the evocatively titled Sous les Cailloux des Grillons (under the stones of the crickets) from Domaine de Gravillas in the village of St. Jean de Minervois. John and Nicole Bojanowski produce some of the most original wines of the area, and more often vin de pays rather than appellation. The name of this particular cuvée conjures up warm sunshine in a glass. Let’s try something different, I thought. Jack won’t want to drink claret – he’s got plenty in his cellar at home.

I admit I held my breathe as the assembled company tasted the wine. The octogenarians wouldn’t hesitate to voice their opinion. Would they like it? I certainly did. It had a lovely red fruit and brambly nose, and on the palate, the vibrant flavours of fresh fruit, with some acidity as well a hint of tannin, with some intriguing flavours, that I could really only describe as funky, with a touch of appealing rusticity. The combination of sunshine with fresh flavours was delicious. Imagine my relief when they started to purr with pleasure. They liked it just as much as I did. The crickets had come up trumps!

My next appointment of the afternoon was a Côtes de Provence tasting. Well anything would be an anti-climax after such lunchtime drinking. But more in my next post.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

DOMAINE DE CLOVALLON WITH THE SOLICITORS' WINE SOCIETY

I had a treat on Thursday evening – another one. The Solicitors’ Wine Society invited me to come and help with a tasting of Domaine de Clovallon and Mas d’Alézon with Catherine Roque. I first met Catherine back in 1999 when I was researching The Wines of the South of France, and since we have had our house in the Languedoc, we have become firm friends, and without paying her any gratuitous compliments, I would rate her as one of the very best wine makers of the Languedoc. The vineyards of Clovallon are situated in the Haute Vallée of the Orb, outside the town of Bédarieux and the other side of the hill from Faugères, so that they are much cooler than most of the Languedoc. Consequently Catherine fits into two camps; as a producer of vins de pays she enjoys the liberty that allows you to plant almost anything you might like, in her case, Petite Arvine and Petit Manseng, not to mention Viognier, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. And in Faugères she makes the classic blends of the Languedoc, with Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache. Faugères is on schist, while Clovallon is limestone and clay.

2007 Jolie Cantel.
A blend of Chardonnay with a little Roussanne, with a small amount aged in oak. It is beautifully rich and textured, ripe and rounded. You initially think Chardonnay and then realise that there is another dimension from the Roussanne. A lovely, long finish.

2008 Viognier les Aires
Viognier in the Midi can either be over oaked, or horribly confected and cloying. Catherine gets it just right, with the peachy flavours that are the benchmark of good Viognier. It is beautifully balanced and elegantly unctuous, with a fresh finish. A small part is aged in wood, which you do not detect, while the rest is vinified in stainless steel.

And then we were treated to four vintages of les Aurièges. This is a shining example of just how dramatically white wine in the Midi has improved. Les Aurièges is a blend of Chardonnay, Clairette, Petit Manseng, Viognier, Roussanne and Petite Arvine, which apparently is a cousin of Viognier. A tiny part of the blend is aged in barrel.

2008 Aurièges
This is fresh and youthful; Viognier dominated the nose, with some pithy notes of citrus fruit and a fresh elegant finish. A wine to keep.

2006 les Aurièges
Light golden in colour, with a hint of oak on the nose. The flavour is intriguing. I tried to decide which grape variety dominates the blend. In fact none of them do. There were peachy hints from the Viognier and a flavour of white flowers, with a youthful rounded finish.

2003 was the year of the heat wave and although the effects were less marked in the Midi, than in, say, Chablis, it does not have as much acidity as the other vintages. There were almonds on the nose and the palate was rich and textured.

2000 This was the surprise of the evening, a white wine from the south of France that was almost ten years old and drinking beautifully. There were notes of hazelnuts on the nose, with some rich nutty, almost honeyed flavours on the palate. Maturing beautifully, with a nutty, honeyed finish.

2008 Pinot Noir
Medium young colour. A rich nose with some plummy fruit, spice and liquorice. On the palate there is red fruit, with a ripeness that has more in common with New Zealand than classic Burgundy. It is very appealing, with a long elegant finish.

2007 Le Palagret
This is predominantly Syrah, with 25% Pinot Noir, which is intended to soften the Syrah. To her knowledge Catherine is the only person to produce this particular blend. The Pinot Noir does indeed soften the Syrah. There are fresh peppery notes on the nose, with a more rounded palate, some peppery hints and some ripe red fruit. It is surprisingly successful.

And we finished with one of Catherine's two Faugères. Unfortunately the bottles of le Presbytère, which is predominantly Grenache Noir with a little Mourvèdre, had gone walk about, but the other cuvée 2006 Mas d’Alézon Montfalette was showing beautifully. It is a blend of Mourvèdre and Syrah, with a little Grenache Noir which links the other two varities. It has youthful peppery fruit on the nose, with lovely leathery, spicy mineral flavours on the palate. It is drinking beautifully now, but will continue to develop.

And the next day we went to visit two English wine producers, Denbies and Ridgeview. Catherine is now looking at English wine in a new light!