Monday, 20 December 2010


If you have not come across The Wine Gang, you should remedy that omission. They are a lively group of five wine writers – they rightly describe themselves as some of the UK’s most experienced wine critics, who issue a monthly report on the tastings that they have all attended during the month, with an editorial on whatever they consider to be the burning issue of the moment. Annual membership is £19.99. And they are Anthony Rose, Joanna Simon, Tom Cannavan and two new recruits to replace two resignations, Jane Parkinson and David Williams.

And at the end of November, they hold a Christmas fair which is well worth attending, as it is well supported by some of the leading merchants, generic bodies and importers, along with a series of tastings and seminars. I went along to listen to Jean-Claude Mas, who has been a key player in the Languedoc over the last decade or so. He is also a keen observer, and always has pertinent things to say about his region. This time he wanted to enthuse about the diversity of the Languedoc, likening it to a Rubik cube, in that there are so many factors that contribute to make the one successful whole.

He talked of the climate, the different winds, the grape varieties – they have as many as twenty-five in their vineyards, while thirty-three are allowed in the Pays d’Oc. The key is finding the perfect grape variety for the site, to make the perfect wine. Soil is a significant variable. You need to know your soil ‘and its life’; you must consider water, aspect, altitude, suitability of rootstock. Vineyard management and the age of the vines are other factors, while the excessive use of chemicals over the last fifty years provides an additional challenge. Jean-Claude suggested that different parts of the Languedoc are suited to different grape varieties, which is a determining factor, as well as market demand. Blending is another variant - and for that, there is no mathematical model. The accompanying tasting illustrated the diversity of the flavours of Syrah throughout the Languedoc; from pepper, to blackcurrant, to tapenade, and ripe fruit.

A selection of highlights, in no particular order:

2007 Corbières, Vieux Parc Selection - £11.25 Great Western Wine
Carignan dominates the blend. Quite firm fruit, leathery, ripe. olive tapenade. Very intriguing. Good depth of flavour.

2008 Corbières, Château Les Ollieux Romanis, Cuvée Pierre Bories - £8.50 R.S. Wines Ltd.
Good deep colour. Quite a firm dry leathery nose; a warm rugged palate, with dry warmth on the finish. Conjures up that wild Corbières countryside in a glass.

2006 Corbières, les Clos Perdus, Mire la Mire - £9.50
Firm stony mineral nose, and on the palate. Quite sturdy and tannic, with a stony minerality. Characterful.

2008 La Clape, Château d’Anglès, Classique Blanc - £9.99
This is one of my favourite wines from La Clape, 50% Bourboulenc, three traditional variety of the region, with fresh pithy salty fruit on both nose and palate. The vineyards are close to the sea, and you can taste the marine influence in the wine. A rounded finish and very appealing.

2007 la Clape, Chateau d’Anglès, Grand Vin Rouge - £15.99
A blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache. This is serious; a touch of oak on the nose, with a rounded concentrated palate, and a warm leathery note. Still very youthful, with plenty of ageing potential.

2009 Château Paul Mas, Clos des Mûres, Vin de Pays d’Oc, SyrahDeep colour; quite a perfumed nose, with some peppery notes on both nose and palate. Quite firm with some tannin and a touch of oak. Medium weight.

2008 St. Chinian Château la Dournie – Majestic £7.99
Lovely perfumed easy fruit – ripe and supple; easy drinking.

2009 Domaine Lafage, Cuvée Centenaire, Côtes du Roussillon blanc. – Bibendum - £10.74
Intriguing white, showing just how the white wines of the Midi are improving apace. Quite a structured palate, with body, weight and texture. Lots of depth, some floral fruit.

2008 Domaine Matassa Côtes Catalanes blanc. - £28.99 – les Caves de Pyrène
A structured oaky nose, and on the palate. Tight knit, mineral notes and firm acidity. It will be fascinating to see how this develops with bottle age.

2007 Bandol, Domaine Tempier - The Wine Society - £20
I couldn’t resist straying into Provence, as Tempier is one of my favourites, and this did not disappoint. Medium colour; quite a rounded nose, quite perfumed, with Mourvèdre viandé fruit. Very harmonious, elegant with supple tannins. Beautifully balanced, with ageing potential.

2009 Domaine de Simonet, Côtes de Pérignan, -£7.50 – The Wine Society.
With vineyards on La Clape. Pure Bourboulenc, with some fresh nettley, herbal fruit on both nose and palate. Fresh acidity and a rounded finish.

And I had better apologise for neglecting my blog over the past few days - I am embarrassed to realise that my last posting was two weeks ago. What can I blame - pressure of other deadlines; the snow; pre-Christmas chaos...... And with Christmas looming at the end of the week, I doubt that I shall post again until the New Year so may I wish you lots of good bottles from the Languedoc and elsewhere over the festive season.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


After that detour into southern Italy, I am now firmly back in the Languedoc. And I have finally caught up with Pascal Fulla’s missing wines from a tasting a few weeks ago – see my posting of 6th October.

His vineyards are outside the village of Jonquières, in the Terrasses du Larzac. Freshness is the hallmark of the Larzac and Pascal’s wines exude elegance and finesse. He looks for subtlety and nuances of flavour in his wines. He began his working life as a lawyer, and came to wine with a career change and a first vintage in 1999, and he makes his wine with the same meticulous attention that he applied to the legal world. All his wines are vinified in the same way; what makes the difference is the assemblage. He uses mainly French oak barrels for élevage and over the years has moved towards larger barrels, 500 and 300 litres, and away from new oak. He keeps his barrels for five wines. He has also used oak fermentation vats for the last five or six years, and has a modern basket press. His vineyards have been fully organic since 2009.

2007 L’Emotion – 10€
This is a blend of 30% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 20% Cinsaut and 30% Carignan. This is his entry level wine, more accessible and lighter than the others. Medium colour; fresh red fruit on the nose and palate, with a streak of tannin to provide backbone and balance.

2006 Les Pensées – 19€
A blend of 45% Grenache Noir, 20% Syrah, 25% Cinsault and 10% Carignan. Good colour; ripe fruit and a more intense nose. A touch of oak, but beautifully integrated on the palate, which has rounded, ripe fruit, with the scents of the garrigues. Very satisfying and complete. For Pascal the Grenache gives fruit and elegance; Cinsaut also provides fruit, while Syrah gives length and the Carignan links everything together in one harmonious whole.

2006 L’Ecriture – 31€
Pascal’s top wine, a blend of 50% Syrah, 30% Mourvèdre and 20% Grenache. This is serious, and will age beautifully but is none the less is already relatively accessible with the right dish – in our case a roast chicken. The nose is quite closed and peppery, and on the palate there are youthful tannins, with the red fruits and the freshness of the Larzac terraces. There is a firm streak of oak, but it is nicely integrated, and you are left with the impression of a finely crafted wine. What a treat.

UK stockists -

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


We spent the morning with Sebastiano de Corato from the wine estate of Rivera, which is situated north of Bari, outside the town of Andria. But first of all Sebastiano took us to see Castel del Monte, the 13th century castle, which gives its name to the local DOC. He made a remarkably well informed guide, talking eloquently about the 13th century castle, which was built by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, not to defend anything, but to assert his authority. It can only be described as dramatic and awe-inspiring, especially with the white stone reflecting against the brilliant blue sky of a bright autumnal morning. It was almost dazzling.

Some of Sebastiano’s vineyards are nearby. He explained how there used to be lots of Bombino Nero in the area, which was used for rosato, but that was pulled up in the 1970s, and wheat was planted instead; there is enough water for a winter crop. At the beginning of the 20th century the region was also important for sheep, and we did indeed meet a shepherd with his flock.

And the other important crop is olive oil. Olive trees are grown all over Puglia, but the olive oil industry is fraught with malpractices. The only way that you can be sure that an olive oil is genuine is for the label to bear a DOP, which states exactly where it comes from. Produce of Italy could mean Moroccan olives crushed in Italy, or oil from the EU blended with 1% Puglian oil. He also talked of Turkish nut oil miraculously transforming itself into olive oil mid-Mediterranean. The Italians have simply failed to defend their position in Brussels.

Puglia does not have the hills of Calabria; the countryside is quite different. There are groves of olive trees, almost as far as the eye can see, and vineyards – a dramatic sight of a flock of black starlings on their way to Africa flying over red leafed vines – and then there is scrub land, which is scattered with little casette, or small trulli, the stone houses that look like igloos, that are traditional to the area. Although people farmed, they lived in towns and came out to the countryside to work, staying for a few days in a casetta.

And back at the cellar, Sebastiano explained that Rivera is the name of the estate. It was originally 800 hectares and was bought by his great grandfather. There were some vines and olive trees, but it was mainly pasture for sheep. His grandfather was the youngest of eleven children. When he criticised his older brother’s inability to manage his vines, he was given the property. This was back in 1946, and his grandfather set to work to develop the brand of Rivera. At this time all Puglian wine was sold sfuso, in bulk, and it had an image for high alcohol, though in fact the rosato was usually only about 10.5º. In the 1960s the rosato became very fashionable; they have a photograph of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton drinking a bottle of Rivera rosato on the Via Veneto in Rome, and it featured in a film with Sophia Loren.

Sebastiano also gave us a very good overview of Puglian viticulture, explaining that the region is 400 kilometres long but only 50 kilometres wide, so that most of the vineyards are relatively close to the sea. The Adriatic is not very deep so that it does not have much effect on temperatures, but it does bring wind. The north wind cools in summer and brings snow in winter. Winters are much cooler in northern Puglia than at the bottom of the heel. You can divide the region into three, each with its own indigenous grape variety. Salento is the place for Negro Amaro, Primitivo is grown around Manduria and Gioa delle Colle, and in the north, where we were, Nero di Troia, or Uva di Troia, is the key variety. You will also find Aglianico as the Basilicata is nearby, and Montepulciano is used in blends, as it grows from the Marche down to Puglia. In the south Primitivo and Negro Amaro ripen early, during the hottest part of the year, whereas in sharp contrast the grape varieties of northern Puglia are late ripening, specially Nero di Troia. Montepulciano is usually picked at the end of September, Aglianico at the beginning of October, and Nero di Troia as late as late October, so that the harvest takes place two months later than at the foot of Puglia. The grapes are still unripe during the heat of summer, and the wines have lower alcohol and higher acidity than those of the south.

The DOC of Castel del Monte covers red, white and pink. With its long coast line white wine is important in Puglia, to accompany the wealth of seafood. Sebastiano’s father, Carlo, introduced international varieties some thirty years ago, planting Chardonnay, Sauvignon andSebastiano observed how Chardonnay lacks acidity; this year it was picked on 12th August, as opposed to 20th September for Bombino bianco.

We were treated to a comprehensive tasting, finishing with a vertical tasting of Il Falcone, the wine that really established the reputation of Rivera.

2009 Marese, Bombino Bianco – 6.00€
Light and delicate, quite fresh, simple and innocuous. Great with seafood, and reminded me of Picpoul de Pinet.

2009 Pungirosa, a rosato made from Bombino Nero. 6./50€
Soft strawberry nose. Fresh acidity; very crisp dry raspberry fruit and good acidity. Really tastes of a cooler climate. Bombino Nero has low sugar and high acidity, and is rather thin-skinned and therefore used for rosato rather than for red wine.

2006 Violante, Nero di Troia – 7.00€
Medium colour; quite a perfumed nose. Some dry fruit with a touch of spice. Quite firm tannins. They are working on clonal selection for Nero di Troia with Attilio Scienza, the leading ampelographer of Italy, and professor at the University of Milan. Nero di Troia has big berries; it is a tannic variety with a lot of juice, and they are looking for selections of old clones with smaller berries. With Violante they aim for an easier style; the wine has spent twelve month in tank and there is no oak. They want their wines to be fresh and drinkable – acidity is the key.

2005 Cappellaccio Castel del Monte. This is made from Aglianico; Monte Vulture where Aglianico is at its best is only 30 kilometres away as the crow flies. However, the soil is quite different, volcanic limestone, whereas at Castel del Monte the limestone has marine origins, with shells. The nose was quite perfumed, with certain warmth. It is in French oak, which was nicely integrated.

2007 Triusco IGT Puglia – 10.00€ A pure Primitivo. This is the grape of southern Puglia and it was dramatic how much riper, more raisiny the wine was; a complete contrast to the cooler flavours of the north, with a firm tannic streak.

And then we embarked on a vertical tasting of Il Falcone Castel del Monte Riserva, with one vintage of its predecessor Stravecchio. Sebastiano observed that the first vintage of Il Falcone was 1971, the same as Tignanello, the inspirational wine from Antinori in Tuscany. The wine is not a single vineyard, but a wine that represents the best of the vintage. Originally the Stravecchio was aged in concrete vats, then botte were used in the late 1960s, and then in 1995 the first barriqueswere introduced. The blend is traditional to the area, 70% Nero di Troia and 30% Montepulciano which is how the vineyards were originally planted. They want the wine to be accessible, but that trend went too far in the wrong direction from 1985 to 1993,and indeed 1988 was the weakest of the line-up. In 1994 they introduced the technique of délestage, which has had a beneficial effect on quality. As befits a blend, Il Falcone does not taste of a particular grape variety.

1967 Rosso Stravecchio – which does means very old.
Quite a deep colour, with a tawny rim. Dry cedary nose. Quite firm mature fruit, mature elegant, long. Some depth. Fading but still drinking beautifully.

1971 Il Falcone, Castel del Monte Riserva Quite light colour, with a tawny edge. Quite an elegant nose, with firm fruit on the nose and palate, Some lovely mature cedary notes. Depth, length and elegant. I liked this a lot.

1980 – Deep colour; a brick edge. Light nose, with cedary hints. Elegant cedary fruit on the palate. A supple tannic streak. Lovely length. Again wonderful elegance.

1988 – The lightest of the first four wines, a mature meaty Bovril nose, with more Bovril notes on the palate and a dry finish.

1995 – Deep colour, beginning to show a hint of age. Some rounded berry fruit. Smokey mature notes on the palate. Good fruit, a streak of tannin, elegant, satisfying and long.

2001- Deep young colour. A tight nose; some peppery, berry fruit. Quite fresh and elegant, pepper and red fruit, with a tannic streak. Balanced and harmonious.

2005 – The current vintage on sale and a bargain at 13- 14€
Deep young colour; hints of red fruit on the nose. Young fresh red fruit on palate. Some tannin; depth and elegance. Youthful and needing time.

2006 – will be released for sale in April 2011
Deep young colour; quite oaky still with spice and cassis. Also a minty hint, unlike the others. Good tannins; youthful fruit and masses of potential.

We were tasting history and my tasting notes simply do not do these wines justice.

And we finished with 2006 Puer Apuliae, a pure Nero di Troia, Castel del Monte – 30€ this has spent 14 months in new French oak, and it is deep in colour, with a firm nose, with structure and concentration and tannin on the palate, but with an underlying freshness. The first vintage was 2000.

And then it was time to dash to the airport. We finished with a last taste of Puglia, for it is in Puglia rather than Calabria that burrato was invented, and believe it or not, the café at the airport offers a deliciously creamy fresh burrato with a cheerful salad, which we washed down with a glass of rosato, before catching our flight to Rome.

And you may wonder why a blog on the Languedoc is covering the wines of southern Italy. Apart from the fact that the wines are delicious and well worth seeking out, I do think there are parallels. Both regions have had a chequered history and have only recently established a reputation for wine in bottle. In the past the wines have been used to blend and boost weaker wines from further north. As in the Languedoc, southern Italy has a growing number of independent and energetic producers, and it offers some intriguing and original grape varieties and flavours. In both regions you feel that there is an enormous amount of untapped potential.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010


A day for more Cirò. We spent the morning with Raffaele Librandi, whose family company is the biggest producer of Cirò. First we went to see their vineyards at Azienda Rosaneti near the village of Rocca di Neto. Raffaele explained that they have identified 154 different indigenous varieties in Calabria, which have been simplified to 70 different strains, identified by DNA. The ancient Greeks had brought dried grapes to the region and planted the pips, and vines grown from grape pips will apparently transmute slightly, so that among the 154 varieties, there are some that are so similar to be almost identical. At Rosaneti, Librandi have 160 hectares of vines, as well as 80 hectares of olive trees, mainly of Magliocco and Gaglioppo, as well as some Greco and Chardonnay. They also have vines near the sea. The harvest takes over two months – Chardonnay ripens early and the indigenous varieties are not ready for picking until the middle of October. The cellars near Cirò Marina have all the modern equipment that you would expect. Raffaele explained how his grandfather had begun with just three hectares in the 1950s; the family estate had grown to 40 hectares by 1997, and now totals 232 hectares of vines, as well as extensive olive groves. His father Nicodema, travelled to England to sell his wine, without speaking a word of English.

We were treated to a comprehensive tasting.

2009 Cirò bianco – a pure Greco, with some appealing leafy fruit; a light delicate palate, with some peachy hints and good acidity.

2009 DOC Melissa – a neighbouring DOC to Cirò, and also from Greco bianco. This was more mineral, with tighter firmer fruit, and from higher vineyards with a lower yield.

2009 Critone, Val di Neto made from Chardonnay with 10% Sauvignon. This did not do anything for me. Why bother? I wondered.

2009 Efeso, Val di Neto. Mantonico with six months oak ageing. This was nicely rounded with well integrated oak. A hint buttery on the palate, and quite elegant with good acidity.

2009 Cirò rosato. A pure Gaglioppo, made by running off the juice after 12 hours. Rounded strawberry fruit on the nose and a ripe vinous palate, with a dry finish.

Raffaele explained how they had experimented with international varieties in the 1980s. So the next pink was 2009 Terre Lontane a blend of 70% Gaglioppo and 30% Cabernet Franc. It had a more structured tannic on the palate, with a slightly sweet finish and was altogether less harmonious.

Asylia, which is the old name for Melissa, was a pure Gaglioppo. Raffaele explained how Melissa had almost disappeared, but others had followed the example of their first vintage in 2001. They distinguish it from Cirò with a shorter maceration at a lower temperature so that it is light red in colour, with a dry nose and a hint of liquorice on the palate, and a tannic edge on the finish.

2009 Cirò is given ten days maceration – any longer and the wine is too tannic. It was dry and peppery, providing easy drinking.

2007 Duca Sanfelice riserva Cirò, from older vineyards, and a longer maceration, and some ageing in stainless steel tanks. Gaglioppo oxides easily and is already quite tannic, so that there is no tradition for ageing it in wood, not even in large botti. Traditionally they just used concrete vats. It is fairly light in colour, with a dry nose, but more depth on the palate than the previous wine, with cherries and liquorice and a tannic streak.

Next came 2008 Magno Megonio, Val di Neto, named after the Roman centurion, whose will dates the existence of early Calabrian viticulture. It was a pure Magliocco, given twelve month in French oak. This was deeper in colour, with a firm dry nose, and hint of liquorice. The oak was nicely integrated, and the palate had more structure with more body, so that it was riper and fleshier, with softer tannins.

Gravello IGT Val de Neto was a blend of 60% Gaglioppo and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the first wine that they put in barriques and the wine on which they built their reputation. 1988 was the first vintage. It had quite a firm nose, with some rounded cassis fruit and well integrated oak, with a firm tannic streak. You could see its appeal to an international market. As Raffaele said; it put them on the map and made everything else possible.

And we finished with 2008 Le Passule, from Mantonico grapes that had been dried for fifteen days on wooden trays outside. The juice was kept into barrel for ten months. The colour was amber golden, with a touch of oak on the nose, while the palate was rich and sweet with a tannic streak and some hints of dried apricots.

And then we adjourned to a little restaurant in the village of Cirò,. Ristorante Aquila D’Oro, run by Carmela and Francesco. She cooks; he waits. The decor leaves much to be desired, but that is irrelevant; the food was to die for. We limited ourselves to antipasti – I use the word limited with care, as we were treated to a banquet, a succession of different flavours – soppresata, salsiccia, capocolo and pancetta went without saying; pizza with sardines and pepperoncino, fried ricotta, stuffed mushrooms; something called stighioli which came from unmentionable bits of a goat, stuffed aubergines, broad beans skins, prepared with vinegar, olive oil, bread crumbs, garlic and of course chilli, a mixture of onion, pumpkin and chilli, an eggy concoction with onions and tomatoes.

We managed a tasting sample of fusille with meatballs and tomato, and chilli – we put chilli on everything, observed Carmella – there is apparently a unit of measure for the heat of a chilli. This was washed down with liberal quantities of Librandi's Cirò. And then a couple of homemade liquors were produced, flavoured with bay and fennel. Fortunately there was nothing more demanding to do in the afternoon than be conveyed towards Bari for the final part of our trip, a morning in Puglia.

But first a cautionary tale. The two producers of Cirò who we met both emphasised that Cirò is made from the original indigenous grape variety Gaglioppo. Consequently I was horrified a day or two after my return to read the headline, Suicidio in Cirò, in Franco Ziliani’s superbly informative weekly newsletter WineWebNews. Quite simply the consorzio of Cirò has allowed the inclusion of ten percent of international varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in the misguided belief that the wines will sell better – sales abroad are small and they believe that it is because 'our wines are too Calabrian'. Have you ever heard such nonsense? Italy has a wealth of wonderfully original grape varieties – that is part of its charm - and one of the astonishing things about those of Calabria is that despite the summer heat, these varieties perform very well; they do not suffer from the heat; they ripen late, almost closing down during the summer and their wines are not excessively high in alcohol, nor lacking acidity. Indeed I was surprised by the elegance of Cirò, compared with other wines produced in a warm climate. The reasons that Italian wines do not sell well on the international market have absolutely nothing to do with their unusual indigenous grape varieties.

Monday, 29 November 2010


Just back from a couple of days at the Salon des Vignerons Indépendents. Lots of good wines to taste – some new discoveries and some old favourites, but more of that anon, when I’ve finished enthusing about Calabria and Puglia. Meanwhile a taster from Roussillon. A visit to Paris for work is of course an excuse to stay for the weekend and catch up with friends, and Saturday lunch saw us at Juvéniles. This was one of the very first wine bars in Paris, set up by Tim Johnston over 20 years ago – it is small and cosy, stuffed with wooden boxes, cartons and bottles, and it is quite surprising how many customers Tim manages to accommodate as well. Juvéniles is the place to go if you have an urge for fine sherry in Paris – the French do not understand sherry at all. You can also find bottles from Australia, and you can drink Prosecco rather than champagne. And the menu on Saturday included haggis as well as more traditional French brasserie food.

I asked Tim if he had any new recent enthusiasms and discoveries. It seemed easier than pouring over the wine list. And of course I knew that the answer would be yes. He produced a bottle of 2007 Domaine Pouderoux, Terre Brune, Côtes du Roussillon Villages. All I can say is that it was absolutely delicious, a perfect choice for the chilly temperatures outside and the convivial atmosphere inside. The wine was deep in colour, with stony, mineral notes on the nose. The palate was rich and warming, but not heavy. It was perfectly balanced, with some lovely spice and fresh tannins, and was drinking beautifully now, but would continue to develop in bottle. Tim operates a very sensible pricing policy – if you buy a bottle to take away, it costs you half the price of the bottle on the wine bar list. So to drink Terre Brune chez Juvéniles we paid a modest 25€ and could have taken it home for 12.50€.

47 rue de Richelieu
Paris 1er
01 42 974 649

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


Day 2 in Calabria provided our introduction to the DOC of Cirò, with Francesco Siciliani, who owns the wine estate of San Francesco. There have been vineyards in his family since the 1800s, but he only started bottling wine in 1985, and concentrates on Cirò. The grape variety for the white is Greco Bianco and for red and rosato, Gaglioppo. His winery is a large insulated shed, with lots of stainless steel and a large cellar underneath to accommodate the barrels. There is also a wine shop and wine bar open in the summer for tourists.

Highlights in our tasting were

Cirò bianco 2009 A pure Greco. It was golden in colour, with a rounded, almost nutty nose, and quite a fresh, salty sappy palate, with nice body and fresh acidity. There is no skin contract, but a bit of lees contact.

I was less struck by a white wine that included some Chardonnay as well as Greco.

As for red, best was Cirò Classico 2009, from Gaglioppo alone. An example of how the wine making has improved. Twenty years or so ago, it was only given three or four days on the skins; nowadays the maceration lasts at least eighteen days. Gaglioppo, like Pinot Noir, does not have a lot of colour, and there was a suggestion that the taste of the two grapes was comparable too. It had a slightly vegetal note on the nose, with some rounded perfumed fruit on the palate, and a dry tannic streak. Nicely balanced.

Ronco dei Quattroventi 2007 was a pure Gaglioppo aged in oak for 12 months, a selection of older vines, with a lower yield. It had a lovely ripe nose, with red cherry fruit on the palate, and a touch of oak. A supple palate, with a tannic streak.

Francesco also produces a delicious dessert wine, Brisi, a Greco passito, but not DOC Cirò. The most recent vintage was the 2005 – he doesn’t make it every year, and just 3000 bottles at that. The grapes are dried in a well ventilated area and pressed in December – we saw them later. The colour was golden amber and the wine was unctuously smooth, and quite honeyed. Even better was the 1999 Brisi, it was drier on the nose, with notes of dry marmalade, and had evolved beautifully with elegantly sweet fruit and good acidity.

Before lunch in a lovely original restaurant Max in Cirò Marina we went to Punta Alice, past vineyards that are almost on the beach. And lunch was a multitude of different antipasti, different bits of the pig, prawns and other sea food and some smoked ricotta. Pepperoncino played a big part in the flavour spectrum.

In the afternoon we were back at the wine estate Ceraudo, which is attached to our agriturismo. They also grow olives, so we saw the olives being treated

First the leaves are removed, and the olives washed.

Then they are mashed,

And then pressed, so that the solids are separated from the liquid.

And then the oil is separated from the water.

One kilo of olives contains 45% water; 45% solids or sansa and 10% oil.

And then we were taken for a ride through the vineyards on the back of a tractor – the views were stunning in the autumn sunshine.

Amongst the wines of Ceraudo, there were various highlights, as follows. All are IGT Val di Neto - I am a free man, observed Roberto. He has no intention of conforming to rigid DOC regulations.

Petella 2009, a blend of Greco bianco and Mantonico, was delicate and lightly herbal with fresh pithy acidity and a sappy finish.

Grisara, the vineyard name, was pure Pecorello and delicate and fresh and nicely rounded but without much depth of flavour.

Roberto makes two reds. The first was Dattilio, a pure Gaglioppo. The 2007 was showing better than the 2006,with some elegant structured fruit. It has been aged in old wood for three years, which seems a little excessive.

Petraro, a vineyard, comprises 60% Gaglioppo and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, given 18 months in oak. Cabernet Sauvignon was planted in 1989, when there was a fashion for international grape varieties. Again I preferred the 2007 to the 2006, with its elegant cassis fruit and nicely balanced oak. And we finished with Dorobè, a dessert wine from dried Magliocco grapes, which was unctuously sweet and smooth.

Dinner in the restaurant was a treat, some elegant antipasti, nduja (cured pork, liberally seasoned with pepperoncino) on bruschetta and various other bits of Calabrian pig. Riso de Sibari (the local rice) with a broad bean puree and some seafood –and some tagliatelli with chestnuts and porcini.

And the next morning Roberto showed us an olive tree that thanks to carbon dating, he knows to be 1600 years old. It was truly venerable.

And then we went to the nearby church at Strongoli to see a column which records the will of a Roman centurion from the 4th century BC, leaving a vineyard to his wife and children. This is proof of the vinous history of the region.

I'm off to Paris tomorrow for a couple of days at the Salon des Vignerons Independents, usually a good place to find new wines from the Languedoc - so watch this space, though first I must finish Calabria.

Friday, 19 November 2010


Calabria was new and unknown to me, and it was wonderful. For a start the weather was like an English summer, even though it was early November. The vines looked spectacular with wonderful red and golden leaves in the sunlight. And the wines made for a veritable voyage of discovery, with grape varieties that I had never heard of, Magliocco, Gaglioppo, Mantonico, Pecorello, Greco bianco and so on. And we were treated to some delicious local dishes. Calabrians are as proud of their cuisine as of their wine.

We flew to into Crotone and stayed in a welcoming agriturismo, Dattilio, which is part of the wine estate of Ceraudo, a little way up the coast. Our first day was spent exploring the northern half of Calabria, called Citra, and the province of Cosenza. We drove up the coast almost as far as the Basilicata and then over the hills, paying short visits to several producers and finishing with a tasting in Cosenza, and an explanation of the proposed DOC Terre di Cosenza, which will incorporate a whole host of unknown, and frankly, irrelevant DOCs. And this being Italy, with the usual healthy disrespect for wine regulations, there are also various IGT such as Valle dei Crati, which allow for the so-called international grape varieties as well as the indigenous ones. Personally I fail to see the need to drink indifferent Cabernet when you can drink Magliocco. However I did succumb to some Syrah. The scenery is hilly and undulating. Sadly Cosenza we only saw in the dark.

Vinous highlights that day included:

Pink : Az. Agr. Serracavallo 2009 Don Fili rosato. 12.00€ This was a pure Magliocco dolce, of which a third had spent a few weeks in some new American oak. There was a tannic streak which gave the wine some backbone, balanced by some ripe fruit. Surprisingly successful.

Red: 2006 Vigna Savuco, a single vineyard from the same estate, pure Magliocco dolce, from overripe grapes. This was serious, with lengthy ageing in both vat and barrel. Deep colour, solid and dense needing time.

Red: Tenuta Terre Nobili – 2009 Alarico, a pure Nerello, which is similar to the Nerello Mascalese of Sicily, given six months in new French oak. Smoky oak on the nose, with a tannic streak on the palate, with some supple fruit and peppery freshness. The oak was nicely integrated with a harmonious finish.

Az. Agr. De Caro – The winemaker here comes from the Alto Adige but is very committed to Calabria.
White: 2009 Feudi del Duca - the land belonged to the dukes of Cosenza- from Mantonico and Greco. A light herbal note on the nose, and one the palate an almost sappy salty note, with fresh acidity.

Terre del Gufo, in the unknown DOC of Donnici.
Red: 2008 Portapiana from Magliocco dolce, Greco Nero and a little Mantonico was ripe and oaky on the nose, but quite elegant, with some balancing fruit.

To my surprise I preferred 2008 Timpamara, a pure Syrah, which had spent a year in oak. It had rounded peppery fruit, with youthful spice and some satisfying varietal character. Eugenio Muzzillo makes just 3000 bottles of this.

Az. Agr. Murini Red: IGT Esaro 2008 Elaphe, from Magliocco and mainly Aglianico and a little Cabernet Sauvignon, with some barrel ageing. This had ripe berry fruit, with an elegant finish. And was the last wine of the day which explains why my tasting notes are running out of steam.

Gastronomic highlights – my very first taste of burrata, a wonderful cow’s cheese, made from left over mozzarella, to which a hefty dose of rich cream is added. It was creamy and succulent.

Super fresh ricotta – made that morning, so that it was fresh feather light. By the next morning it had completely lost its frothy quality.

A range of charcuterie, from local black pigs, that purvey salsiccia, sopressata, capocollo, pancetta.

There are various DOP for local foods, including clementines and lemons, and figs, dried figs from Cosenza, rice from Sibari, and cheeses such as cacciacavallo, as well as local pecorino.

Day 2 will follow in my next posting.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


Johnny Goedhuis always holds his annual Rhône and Midi en primeur tasting in the splendid surroundings of the Saatchi Gallery. Word has obviously got out that this is a tasting not to be missed – there was a long queue of eager customers snaking out of the gallery waiting to gain access on a chilly autumn evening. The quantity of people did make tasting conditions pretty difficult, not to mention the odd whiff of an excess of perfume, or aftershave, and even some cigar smoke found its way back into the gallery. But I was not deterred.

Prices are those of Goedhuis & Co. And where there is no price, the wine was brought for interest alone.

First stop was Château St. Jacques d’Albas with Graham Nutter. Graham had a successful career in the City and bought St. Jacques in the Minervois as a second career and is making an enormous success of it.

2008 Château St. Jacques d’Albas £85 per case duty paid ex VAT
65% Syrah, with some Grenache Noir and Carignan. Young colour; firm fresh peppery fruit, ripe and quite oaky on the palate, nicely structured with firm fruit and tannin, and plenty of potential.

And in contrast Graham had brought along the 2003 Château. Medium colour, showing some development. Some lovely ripe mature fruit on the palate. Supple tannins and very harmonious. Nicely rounded. £91 ex VAT

His Minervois la Chapelle has a higher proportion of Syrah, 95%, with just 5% Grenache Noir. The 2008 is just bottled, and has some dense young red fruit on both nose and palate. The palate is firm and tannic, and still a bit adolescent with youthful edges, but with good depth of flavour. It promises well. £165 In Bond

2007 Minervois la Chapelle is dense and peppery on the nose, with youthful fresh fruit on the palate, nicely balanced, with good depth of flavour. £159 duty paid, ex VAT

And then again to show how well his wines age, the 2003. Quite a ripe mature nose, with some rich mature leathery fruit. Some warm fruit, but not obviously from a hot year.

Domaine de Trévallon in Les Baux. OK it’s outside the Languedoc, but Trévallon is one of the great estates of the south, and a treat to taste. A blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is well known that Eloi Durrbach refuses to plant the mandatory Grenache Noir in his vineyards, so his wine is condemned to be IGP Bouches du Rhône, but is certainly none the worse for that. It is indisputably the best wine of Les Baux. Eloi was showing:

2009 Young colour; quite deep. Firm youthful nose and a leathery note on the palate, with an appealing freshness that gave a lift on the finish. Very elegant. £145.00 per 6 bottles In Bond. There are also magnums and jeroboams available.

2007 Quite a firm nose, with firm leathery notes. The palate was quite ripe and rounded, with the benchmark freshness. Youthful and elegant. Very harmonious. Mme. Durrbach suggested a slightly minty, menthol note. I could see it once she had mentioned it, but it didn’t immediately strike me.

2003. This was a warm year and it was quite solid and dense and less elegant than the two younger vintages.

Domaine Tempier. Bandol. Apologies for another deviation from the Languedoc, but irresistibly so. This is one of the great estates of Bandol, with a reputation that was created by Lucien Peyraud.

2008 Bandol Cuvée Classique. Medium colour. Quite a dry firm closed nose. The palate is youthful and elegant, and quite discreet, but then you suddenly realise that it has enormous length as it lingers in the mouth. Very elegant. £175 in bond

2008 Bandol la Migoua. Medium young colour. More depth on the nose, and more richness on the palate. Very stylish with some elegant fruit. £135 per 6 bottles In Bond

And then a fabulous treat. 1975 Bandol Cuvée Classique.
The colour was light tawny, almost ethereal. And the nose elegantly leathery, some lovely subtle mature notes. And the palate was surprisingly powerful, with length, elegance and concentration, and lovely leathery notes.

James Kinglake from Domaine Bégude in Limoux was pouring his Chardonnay, a gentle lightly buttery unoaked, Vin de Pays d’Oc, Cuvée Especial £72.00 duty paid, ex VAT. It has the acidity of Limoux with some fresh fruit.

2007 Etoile de Bégude AC Limoux £89 duty paid ex VAT was quite solidly buttery and oaky, for my taste buds. And there was a cheerful 2009 Pinot Noir Rosé, with a delicate colour and fresh acidity. James has another white in the pipeline, and I promised to visit before too long.

Mas de Daumas Gassac was offering its latest vintages, both red and white. Here I have to admit to considerable disappointment. I’ve always admired Aimé Guibert, the proprietor of Mas de Daumas Gassac for his pioneering role in the Midi. In recent years I tended to prefer the whites to the reds, simply because I prefer Syrah to Cabernet in the south, and Cabernet is the dominant variety of Mas de Daumas Gassac. This time the wines were not showing at all well.

The 2010 Vin de Pays de l’Hérault white was admittedly very young and unfinished, rather leesy on the nose, with some peachy fruit and not much acidity. The 2009 was also quite soft and peachy on the nose, and rather broad and biscuity on the palate and lacked its usual charm. £110 per 6 bottles In Bond for 2010 and £120 per 6 duty paid ex VAT

The reds were the chief disappointment. The 2009 was lean and stalky, £110 per 6 In Bond. while the 2008 had a disconcerting whiff of brett on both nose and palate, and did not excite. £120 per 6 In Bond.

But to finish there was a cheerful Faugères, Domaine Saint Antonin. Cuvée Magnoux 2009 £115 In Bond Very youthful and peppery on the nose. Fresh fruit with an appealing touch of spice. Just what the Languedoc should be.

Monday, 8 November 2010


The now not so new team at Oddbins is making a great effort to revamp what had become a rather boring range of wines under the Castel ownership. At their tasting last week, it was clear that the Midi had been given some attention, to good effect.

2009 Equilibre de l’Arjolle - £10.99

Domaine l'Arjolle is one of the leading estates of the Côtes de Thongue, with the Teisserenc family amongst the pioneers of the area. This is a blend of 60% Sauvignon and 40% Sauvignon, aged on the lees in stainless steel tanks for six months.

It was more Sauvignon on the nose, with some fresh pithy fruit, while on the palate the Viognier added weight and texture and some peachy hints, with a rounded finish, with balancing acidity from the Sauvignon. An unusual and successful blend.

2008 Collioure Blanc Domaine Madeloc, £15.49
This is the Roussillon estate of Pierre Gaillard, who produces Côte Rôtie, as well as Faugères at Domaine Cottebrune – see my earlier posting. The wine is a blend of 60% Grenache Gris, 20% Vermentino and 20% Roussanne. I liked this a lot. It is light golden in colour, with an intriguing nose, a touch resinous, a little honey, with lots of nuances, and on the palate it is full and ripe, with sufficient acidity, again some honeyed notes, as well as white blossom. A full-bodied floral finish.

2008 Corbières Château Ollieux Romanis - £10.99
A blend of 40% Carignan, 30% Grenache Noir and 30% Syrah. Medium young colour; some firm spicy notes on the nose, while the palate is rounded and intense with ripe berry fruit and some leathery hints. Lots of southern spice with a leathery finish.

2007 Corbières, Boutenac, Château Ollieux Romanis - £19.99
40% Carignan, 30% Grenache, 25% Mourvèdre and 5% Syrah. Boutenac is the cru of the Corbières, from vineyards around the village. Again some lovely ripe spicy fruit on the nose, but the palate was more elegant and refined’ nicely rounded with a peppery, tannic finish. Drinking well now, but also with ageing potential.

2006 Minervois, Domaine St. Jacques d’Albas - £8.79
A blend of 40% each of Carignan and Greanche, with 20% Syrah. This property has been renovated by a dynamic Anglo-French couple and Graham Nutter employs an Australian winemaker, Richard Osborne, who has a surprisingly European approach to wine-making. Good colour. Rounded red fruit nose. Quite a rounded palate, with more red fruit, some peppery notes and some fresh tannins on the finish.

2007 Collioure Rouge, Domaine Madeloc, Cuvée Serral - £15.49
80% Grenache 20% Mourvèdre. Aged in used barrels for 15 months. Young colour; medium depth. Quite a firm nose, with a touch oak, and more oak on the palate. Some ripe red berry fruit; vanilla notes and a tannic backbone. Still very young, with good ageing potential.

I’m off to discover the delights of Calabria, the toe of Italy, this week, so there will be no more from me, until at least the middle of next week, and then I shall probably be enthusing about southern Italy rather than the south of France.

Friday, 5 November 2010


There were South Africans in town last week for their annual tasting. You may well be forgiven for thinking: what the hell has that got to do with the Languedoc, and I would admit that the connection is not immediately obvious. However, Cinsaut was one of the parents of Pinotage, South Africa’s most original grape variety, only there it was called Hermitage.

Confronted with 44 stands and at least twice as many different producers, I decided that I needed a theme for my tasting, and that I would look for southern French grape varieties. When I was writing Lateral Wine Tasting, now twenty years ago, I was hard pushed to find a single example of Cape Syrah – not so today. There are numerous examples of Syrah to be had, not to mention blends with Grenache and Mourvèdre, some Cinsaut, as well as white varieties, such as Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc.

But first I went to the seminar, with four wine producers who were looking back on the developments in the Cape over the last ten years, with some wines to illustrate the progress. First Jo Wehring from Wines of South Africa gave us some background figures, mentioning that the production of Shiraz has tripled in the last ten years. The first producer was Kathy Jordan from Jordan Wine Estate, talking about the selection of cooler sites for Chardonnay. These were good, but I’m a Chablis girl, so they lacked the minerality I look for in Chardonnay – sorry Kathy. And Peter Finlayson, who is one of the pioneer Pinot Noir producers of the Cape was showing two of his Pinot Noir, followed by an intriguing 2001 Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal, a blend of Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Barbera and a touch of the Midi, with some Mourvèdre. Sangiovese cherry fruit dominated the flavour, with some tannic edges.

More relevant to the Languedoc was Adi Badenhorst. He made his reputation as the winemaker at Rustenberg and now runs his own family estate, focusing on southern French varieties, and he stated quite categorically that the future of South Africa is with the Mediterranean grape varieties, such as Shiraz, and Cinsaut, which is making a strong come-back. It is one of the forgotten grape varieties of the Cape. The younger generation is discovering old plantings of grape varieties such as old Grenache. He showed a couple of Bordeaux blends and then his 2006 AA Badenhorst Family Wines Red, a blend of Shiraz, Mourvèdre and just 3 % Cinsaut, which has some lovely perfumed fruit, with a smoky nose; it was very ripe and perfumed, concentrated and almost port-like, and redolent of warmth.

And the seminar finished with Kevin Arnold, who showed wines from Waterford Estate, including a 2003 Shiraz, which was smoky and intense, with some ripe chocolatey oak and a leathery finish. At that time Shiraz was still relatively new; and now Grenache and Mourvèdre are becoming part of the flavour profile too. A common theme was how much viticulture is improving; they now have a much better understanding of the potential of their vineyards, and just what the soil will give them. The position of the Cape between two oceans provides a cooling influence, not to mention the relative proximity of the South Pole.

Some highlights from the tasting, in no particular order: The capital letter indicate price bands, as follows:
C - £5-£7
D - £7-£10
E - £10-£20
F – Over £20

E - 2010 Rustenberg Stellenbosch Roussanne – Quite fragrant, white blossom on the nose; rounded fruit with good acidity on the palate. Nicely textured and satisfying.

E – 2007 Rust en Vrede Shiraz – Medium colour; rich peppery nose, and on palate, rounded with a leathery finish.

C - 2009 Living Rock Cinsaut Ruby Cabernet - 60/40 Medium colour; rounded spicy cherry fruit, soft, ripe and easy drinking.

E – 2008 Big Easy. A wonderful blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Viognier – the bordelais bit only accounts for 20 % of the blend. Made by Ernie Els. Rounded perfumed nose. Fresh rounded fruit, ripe and spicy with a plumy finish. Quite voluptuous and appealing.

C – Zalze Shiraz / Mourvèdre / Viognier. This won a Decanter trophy. Rounded peppery fruit. Medium weight, useful and fresh, with a hint of orange on the finish.

E – 2006 Quoin Rock Simonsig Syrah, with 7 % Mourvèdre. Quite fresh leathery fruit, on both nose and palate. Medium weight and well integrated oak.

E – 2006 The ‘Foundry Syrah, with 3 % Viognier. Lovely leathery fruit on nose and palate. Rounded supple textured leathery fruit. Very appealing.

D - 2010 The Foundry Grenache Blanc – Rounded white flowers on the nose. Lovely textured palate with lots of layers. Aged in 300 litre old wood for six month on the lees.

E – 2008 The Liberator Episode #2 The Unsung Hero. Shiraz with 15% Mourvèdre and 1% Grenache. Some elegant leathery fruit; medium weight with a long dry finish.

F – 2008 The Sadie Family Collumella – 80% Shiraz and 20% Mourvèdre. Deep colour. Fresh young oak on the nose. Rounded ripe; fresh and young with very good fruit. Very complete. Lots of potential.

D – 2009 Goats in Villages Viognier Quite rounded with quite a fat peachy palate and a dry finish. A touch of oak.

F – 2007 AA Badenhorst Family Wines Red – Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Cinsaut and Grenache. Quite a firm nose, and quite a tannic palate, with some warmth and depth.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


Catherine Wallace is young and energetic, and she needs to be. In 2005 she bought Domaine Combebelle from Bertie Eden. It’s a wonderful spot on the edge of the appellation of St. Chinian in the hills above Villespassans, lying at an altitude of 250- 300 metres. The views are fantastic; the shimmering light in the distance is the Mediterranean, and the Etang de Leucate, with the Pyrenees in the background. Those you do not want to see too clearly, as when they clearly defined, it is a warning of imminent rain.

The estate has eleven hectares in production, Grenache Noir and Syrah and Catherine is planning a further six hectares of white varieties, probably Grenache Blanc, or Gris. The soil is red calcaire, and there is also some schist. Yields are low, an average of about 21 hl/ha over the last four years. Catherine and her husband, Patrick, had looked specifically for an organic vineyard, and bought this, which is biodynamic. Catherine, however, is more rational in her approach and is not adhering strictly to biodynamics; she is not planting cow horns, but prefers to buy comparable preparations; she prepares her own composts and prunes according to the calendar. It is a balance of the purist, versus the rational; she tends to the rational. However, things have proved tougher than she initially expected; the property had been on the market for three years, so the minimum had been done in the vineyards, with the result that there were some pretty tenacious weeds that needed shifting. But she is undeterred; she has wanted a vineyard of her own since she was eight.

She has not studied or trained as a winemaker but has worked in vineyards and cellars in Bordeaux, Alsace and Germany, as well as in the British wine trade for the likes of La Vigneronne, Adnams and Majestic. She admits to a steep learning curve when she arrived at Combebelle, and as a winemaker says that she lets Nature take its course. Some of her vineyards are handpicked, and some mechanically harvested. She uses natural yeast and old oak barrels.

2009 Rosé les Cerisiers, St. Chinian 7.50€
Quite a light pink orange colour. Dry raspberry fruit; fresh and rounded with good acidity.
It is all saigné, after 24 – 36 hours. 75% Syrah and 25% Grenache, fermented at about 15ºC. The fermentation takes about three weeks or so and the wine is completely dry.

Currently Catherine makes three reds, and she is planning a fourth.

2007 Chateau Combebelle, - 8.50€ A blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache Noir, from each of the nine different vineyard plots, so it is really representative of the estate. Traditional vinification, with open tanks, and no cooling plates, so the fermentation can get up to 35ºC. The wine then spends 12 months in two year old barrels; the final blend was done at the beginning of 2010 for bottling in March.
Medium colour; quite a sweet nose with some peppery notes. In 2007 Catherine said that she really concentrated on fruit; she wanted structure, but not so much as to overpower the fruit. I think she succeeds. The oak is well integrated with supple tannins.

2006 Henri, St. Chinian 15.00€
Named after her twin sister’s son; he was born in 2007, Pure Syrah from young vines, a barrel selection. Quite rounded and oaky on nose and palate. The oak dries a little on the finish, but with some peppery, meaty notes. Catherine wants concentration, but certainly not over-extraction. She didn’t make a Henri in 2007; she didn’t like it, so did something different, and in 2008 aged it in 500 litre barrels for two years. She now considers it her flagship wine.

2007 Les Fleurs Sauvages, St. Chinian.
A blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache, including her oldest vines, some 50 year old Grenache. Quite a rounded nose, with some firm tannins on the palate, and rounded fruit. Quite dry and leathery with dry spicy flavours. Quite intriguing.

And our tasting finished with some vat and barrel samples from more recent vintages. And even though she was in the middle of harvest Catherine had very hospitably invited us to lunch. There was unlabelled magnum on the table. Taste it first and then I’ll tell you what it is. There was a hint of oak on the nose, with more oak on the palate, and some lovely fruit underneath. It was rounded and youthful with well-integrated oak. And then she told us that it was Henri 2008. And quite delicious it was too, but with plenty of potential for development in the bottle.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


It is no exaggeration to suggest that the south of France, the vast vineyard of Languedoc-Roussillon, is currently the country’s most exciting wine region. Twenty years ago such an idea would have been preposterous; even ten years ago it would have been debatable, but over the last few years there has been a veritable flowering of new wines and new producers. The principal appellations, Coteaux du Languedoc, Corbières and Minervois were established in 1985. Since then there have been moves towards the recognition of even more qualitative but smaller areas or crus, of which Minervois La Livinière is the very first.

Where is Minervois la Livinière?
Quite simply, Minervois la Livinière forms part of the larger appellation of the Minervois which stretches from the outskirts of the medieval city of Carcassonne eastwards to the neighbouring appellation of St. Chinian. The cru covers a much smaller area, centred on the village of La Livinière, but also including five other nearby villages, namely Siran, Cesseras, Félines-Minervois, Azillanet and Azille, all situated on what is called Le Petit Causse, the high land that forms the part of the foothills of the Montagne Noir. The altitude of the vineyards may vary between 50 and 260 metres. The Montagne Noir protects the vineyards from the north wind and, looking south, you can see the Montagne d’Alaric, the Canigou and the skyline of the Pyrenees. It is wild, dramatic scenery. In spring the hillsides are covered with cistus and bright yellow broom; in summer they become parched and arid. The bell tower of the church of La Livinière, with its distinctive shape, has been taken as the logo of the cru, so that bottles of Minervois la Livinière are instantly recognisable from the outline of the tower on the capsule.

The climate
Climate is a major determining factor in the taste of any wine. Essentially the weather follows the classic pattern of the Mediterranean, with mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers. The prevailing winds are an important influence: the Marin blows in from the sea, bringing rain, the Cers from the west bringing dry weather. Rainfall is usually low and sunshine abundant. The wines of Minervois la Livinière taste of the warmth of the deep south, with the herbs of the garrigue, thyme, bay and rosemary, with the scents of cistus and broom.

The grapes
Minervois la Livinière is only red wine, while Minervois may also be white and rosé. Five key red grape varieties are responsible for most of the red wines of the Midi, namely Syrah, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Cinsaut and Carignan. The first three are considered cépages améliorateurs, an expression that translates somewhat clumsily as ‘improving grape varieties’. Their importance has grown over recent years and for the cru of Minervois la Livinière they must account for 60 per cent of the blend. That percentage is the same as for Minervois, but with the difference that Syrah and Mourvèdre must comprise 40 per cent, as opposed to only 20 per cent in simple Minervois. Grenache Noir contributes weight and warmth to the wine; Syrah colour and elegance, while Mourvèdre, which traditionally performs best nearer the sea, can sometimes prove rather temperamental and consequently plays a lesser role. However, it is the blend of different vineyards and grape varieties that is all-important.

The soil
Most Minervois la Livinière is a blend of the complicated patchwork of soils. There is a zone of schist in the north, and another of limestone; the central part is dominated by sandstone; and a lower area, called les terraces, contains clay as well as limestone. Some vineyards are immensely stony, seeming to defy anything to grow, but the stones perform the useful functions of reflecting heat, improving drainage and retaining humidity in the soil, so essential in hot, dry summers.

The wine-making
Minervois la Livinière enjoys a longer period of élevage or ageing than Minervois, for it must remain in vat or barrel until 1st November of the year following the harvest. Ageing in oak is not essential, but many producers favour it, in order to differentiate la Livinière from their simple Minervois. This means that Minervois la Livinière is a wine with more structure and staying power. The grapes are the best of the estate, the result of careful viticulture, and in the cellar the wine making is finely tuned. The assemblage may be done before or after élevage, such decisions depending on the wine-maker’s personal preference.

The people
Two men take the greatest credit for the creation of the cru, Minervois la Livinière: Roger Piquet from Domaine Gourgazaud and Maurice Piccinini from Domaine Piccinini; in each case the younger generation has now taken over. From the creation of the cru in 1999, with a retrospective acceptance of the two previous vintages, the number of producers has increased so that they now total 38, with 365 hectares currently registered as Minervois la Livinière. Some are wine growers with long-standing family traditions in the Minervois; some are new to wine-making since they have taken their family vines out of the cooperative; and others are newcomers to the region, following the example of the pioneers and adding their own broader experience to the cru. There is no doubt that there is a pervading feeling of excitement and commitment in the appellation.

The wines
Quality is the all-important issue. The wine growers of Minervois La Livinière are not content with the customary labelle tasting for the appellation: a tasting panel visits the cellar of each producer before the wine is bottled as Minervois La Livinière to ensure that the quality is maintained. This aspect of stringent self-regulation and control is rare among French appellations, and its enforcement can only benefit the wine lover, who will enjoy some of the best that the south of France has to offer: wines with an indisputable sense of place, wines that are born in the warm south, redolent of the herbs and scents of the wild hills of the region.


Patricia Domergue also brought a few examples of Minervois la Livinière to show us, as follows:

2008 Domaine Ste Eulalie, la Cantilène Made by Isabelle Coustal
Quite a deep young colour. Very perfumed leathery fruit; quite dense and ripe on the palate. Rounded with some firm tannins. A touch of alcohol on the finish, with 14º.

2007 Château Faiteau. Jean-Michel Arnaud.
Quite deep colour; rounded with ripe cherry fruit, and a firm tannic streak. Quite dry and leathery on the finish. Youthful. Should develop

Domaine la Combe Blanche, la Galine, Guy Vanlanker
Medium colour; quitea rounded, perfumed nose. Quite ripe, with warm spicy fruit and a warm leathery finish. 14.5º but the alcohol is better integrated than some.

Domaine l’Ostal CazesThe back label tells you that this is a blend of 70% Syrah, 15% Carignan, 10% Grenache Noir and 5% Mourvèdre and that the wine has spent fifteen months in wood. Deep young colour; quite a warm, young, spicy nose. You are certainly aware of the oak on the palate, more than any of the others, with some firm structured tannins. Medium weight and quite a fresh finish.

2005 Domaine Borie de Maurel, la Féline, Sylvie and Michel Escande. Their son Maxim now makes the wine.
Quite deep young colour; fresh leathery fruit on the nose. Attractive cherry peppery fruit, with a certain freshness. Medium weight with some tannins. Evolving nicely and in the tasting it benefitted from being the oldest wine in the line up.

And my next posting is an introduction to Minervois la Livinière, which I wrote for Patricia about four years ago. If anyone is wondering what differentiates Minervois la Livinière from Minervois tout court, it should explain the differences.

Monday, 1 November 2010


Quite simply, Clos Centeilles is one of my favourite Minervois estates. It was created by Daniel and Patricia Domergue in the late 1980s and these days, it is Patricia rather than Daniel who makes the wine, with their daughter Cécile showing an interest in eventually following in her parents’ footsteps.

Patricia and Cecile were in London last week, which was an opportunity for Patricia to present her wines at the Maison du Languedoc, along with a few examples of the cru of Minervois la Livinière, for which she is president of the syndicat. Patricia and Daniel are passionate about the diversity of vines that grew in the vineyards of the Midi before they were destroyed by phylloxera and have planted a small vineyard of grape varieties such as Picpoul Noir, Oeillade, Riveirenc and Terret Noir. And Cinsaut is another enthusiasm. So often it is dismissed as suitable only for rosé, whereas at Centeilles they make two wines to disprove that idea, one pure Cinsaut and one predominantly Cinsaut. Cinsaut is an antioxidant and if you give it a long cuvaison as much as two months, with a low yield in the first place, you will obtain fine results. The grapes must be really ripe, and you must not put it in wood, as it will lose its fruit. It also withstands very dry conditions.

2009 C de Centeilles white, Côtes du BrianThis is made from old white varieties, Araignan Blanc, Riveirenc Blanc and Gris, and Grenache Gris. The colour is light golden, with a delicate nose, with notes of quince, fennel and herbs. There is good acidity on the palate with some fresh herbal fruit and a slightly bitter finish. Not a wine to age.

2006 C de Centeilles red, MinervoisAlso from old varieties, Piquepoul Noir, Riveirenc noir, Oeillade, Morastel à jus noir.,
Quite a warm noise with delicate spice, and on the palate, warm sunshine with southern spice and an underlying freshness and elegance on the finish. Quite intriguing.

2007 Carignanissime de Centeilles, Minervois.
From old vines, 80 years or more. Medium colour. Some ripe sour cherries, griottes, on the nose. Slightly dry leathery palate, with some cherry fruit. Medium tannin structure. Rounded with a dry finish. A fine example of Carignan.

2006 Campagne de Centeilles, MinervoisMainly Cinsaut. Quite a light red colour, just beginning to age. Ripe cherry fruit on the nose with a rounded supple palate, with cherry fruit. Soft tannins and a nicely rounded finish.

2003 Capitelle de Centeilles, MinervoisThis is the cuvée of pure Cinsaut which shows just how well Cinsaut can perform in red wines and with ageing potential.

Medium colour; this was a warm year, and you get ripe warm fruit on both nose and palate, with soft cherry and the flavours of other red fruit. A touch alcoholic on the finish.

2000 Capitelle de CenteillesThis was a cooler year, and the wine is fresher, with appealing spicy red fruit. Medium weight and a more focussed structure. Nice balanced and remarkably youthful for a wine that is 10 years from a grape variety that is usually deemed to be unsuitable for structured red wine. It’s always good to upset preconceived ideas.

And next we had a small vertical of Clos Centeilles, Minervois la Livinière, which is a blend of more or less equal parts of Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir and Syrah, aged in old wood.

2007: Medium young colour. Fresh peppery fruit with some cherry notes. Rounded peppery fresh fruit; youthful with nicely integrated tannins.

2004: Medium colour. Quite warm cherry fruit on the nose. Quite a perfumed palate, with slightly meaty hints of Mourvèdre.

2003: The warm vintage. Quite a firm leathery nose; rounded leathery fruit on the palate. Ripe and rounded; quite perfumed with a firm finish.

2002: A good vintage in the Minervois, much better than the eastern half of the Languedoc. Quite perfumed with fresh cherry fruit on the nose. Rounded fresh fruit; medium weight; supple tannins and nicely balanced. Developing beautifully.

2000: the colour is beginning to develop. Quite a warm rounded nose and palate, with a leathery finish. Some appealing notes of maturity, demonstrating just how well wines from the Languedoc can age.

More on Minervois la Liviniere in my next posting.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


John and Nicole Bojanowski are wine growers in the village of St. Jean-de-Minervois at Clos du Gravillas. The village is known for its sweet Muscat but they prefer to make an intriguing range of table wines. I’ve mentioned them a few times over the last year or so, but it had been a while since I had tasted the complete range of their wines. They have 8 hectares of vineyards, having just bought another two hectares, of old Terret and other varieties. The cellar is a cramped space next to their house in the village; each vat has a name; the largest is called Shakespeare; next down in size is Chabal, a ferocious French rugby player. John and Nicole have a healthy disrespect for the niceties of appellation laws so most of their wines are the local vin de pays Côtes de Brian – Brian being a small river.

2008 L’Inattendu, Minervois, 16.00€
A blend of Grenache blanc, Grenache gris and Macabeo. In theory Grenache gris is not part of the appellation, but John considers that it is much better than Grenache blanc. I’ve already enthused about this at the Absolutely Cracking French Wine tasting, but here my notes say the Chablis of the Midi. If you knew how much I love Chablis, you would realise that really is a compliment. The vineyards are on white limestone rock, and you can really taste the minerality, with firm acidity, and also some dry honeyed notes.

2009 L’InattenduIn September we tasted a finished vat sample, which would be bottled this October. Quite rounded and fuller on the nose and palate; lightly herbal, creamy, with good minerality and acidity on the finish.

2009 Emmenez moi au bout de la Terret, a play on words, after a Charles Aznavour song. From both Terret blanc and gris. I didn’t know that there was a Terret gris. Quite a firm dry stony nose, with a hint of apricots. Good acidity and minerality. Terret ripens late, and is ripe with only 12º alcohol. 10.00€

2009 Sous les Cailloux, des Grillons – 8.00€
Contains six different varieties, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Grenache, Counoise and Mourvèdre. Deep colour; ripe berry fruit with lovely acidity and fresh fruit and spice. A touch of tannin and some firm minerality. You may remember this wine was the solution to my dilemma of what to drink after 1921 d’Yquem. And what I did not know then was that the name is a reference to 1968, Sous les Pavés, la Plage. The Parisian paving stones, the pavés, and the favoured missile of the rioting students, were set in sand.

2007 Le Rendez-Vous du Soleil – 11.00€
A blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan – 27 months aging, in barrels for the Syrah and Cabernet.
Quite deep colour; quite ripe berries on nose and palate. Fresh acidity and tannin; medium weight with spicy leathery cherry notes on the palate.

2007 Coté obscur – 10.00
Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan
This is very wild, with meaty leathery notes, definitely a coté sauvage, very animal as the French might, almost too much, with some tannin on the finish.

2006 Lo Vièhl Carignan. 16.00€
The old Carignan vines were planted in 1911. 14 months in 400 litres old barrels. Needs to breathe for the nose to develop. The palate is much more forthcoming, with some fresh spicy notes and a certain appealing rusticity and elegant concentration. John has a website which extols the virtue of old Carignan; he is one of the Midi’s most enthusiastic exponents of this underrated grape variety.

2009 Un peu de tendresse, Côtes de Brian moelleux. Named after a Jacques Brel song and a blend of Muscat and Viognier 9.00€
Fresh, grapey peach nose, with acidity and soft pithy orange fruit on the palate. Soft honeyed finish, with 20 gms/l residual sugar. You could almost consider it the Languedoc’s answer to Moscato d’Asti but drier.

2008 Douce Providence, Muscat de St. Jean de Minervois. This is the first year John and Nicole has made Muscat de St. Jean – the name of the wine implies that the grapes fell from heaven, and there is indeed a story behind it. The wine was fresh, honeyed and grapey and quite delicious.

Monday, 25 October 2010


It has been a while since I have visited Damien Coste of Domaine Belles Pierres outside the village of Murviel-les-Montpellier. He has had a well-deserved reputation for his white wines for a number of years, going back to the time when white wine was not really taken very seriously in the Languedoc. His first vintage was 1992. Before that his grapes went to the village coop, but he quickly realised that was not the way forward.

Damien now has 17 hectares of vines. His red vines are the Midi classics, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsaut, whereas the whites are an original mixture – Sauvignon, Viognier, Roussanne, and Vermentino, Muscat à petit grains, Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng, Grenache blanc and Marsanne. Also unusually white wine account for 40 % of his production.

2009 Cuvée Mosaïque, Vin de Pays d’Oc – 5.00€
Named because they found a mosaic nearby in a Roman oppidum. The name of the village Murviel means vieux murs or old walls in Occitan and the church dates back to the 11th century. This wine is a blend of Sauvignon, principally, with Viognier, Muscat and Grenache. The nose is quite peachy and perfumed, with intriguing nuances; the Muscat gives a lift on the palate, with the Grenache provides body and Sauvignon the fresh acidity, with some peachy fruit from the Viognier. It is nicely mouth filling and very good value. Damien observed that he prefers making white wines, as you have so many more choices with blending than with reds, and white wine is a growing trend all over the Languedoc.

2009 Latino d’Oc, IGP d’Oc. 6.00€
2009 was the first vintage of this pure Viognier. It is lightly peachy, with some rounded textured fruit and fresh acidity, and maybe a touch alcoholic on the finish. It comes from vines that are only eight years old. The name is a reference to the fact that Damien’s wife comes from Colombia, and since you ask, they met in Venezuela. He was visiting a friend there, and so was she.

2009 Les Clauzes de Jo, Coteaux du Languedoc 9.00€
A blend of 60% Roussanne and 40% Viognier, with some Grenache Blanc, fermented in barrel and left on the lees for twelve months. There is a touch oak on the nose, with some lightly buttery fruit and a streak of tannin. Quite rounded and mouth filling. It had just been bottled and needs time to settle down. Damien mentioned that he was one of the pioneers of barrel fermented white wine in the Languedoc; this is le vin de reference of the estate, which he has been making since 1994.

2008 Chant des Ames, St. Georges d’Orques – 15.00€
Barrel aged for 18 months. 10% new, with a preference for 500 litre barrels, rather than 225 litre barriques. A blend of 60% Roussanne, 30% Viognier and 20% Grenache Blanc. It was quite golden in colour, with peachy oak on the nose, with a rich, rounded palate. It is quite textured and long.

(2007) Ineptie, vin de table, - 12.00€
From Gros and Petit Manseng, Roussanne, Grenache blanc and Viognier, picked mid-October, rather than early September. Quite golden in colour, almost old gold and on the palate, honeyed barley sugar going to dry honey on the finish, with some acidity on the finish. Hints of dried apricots. 15 gm/l residual sugar.

On September 8th, the date of my visit, Damien had picked all his white grapes; and the first fermentations were looking good; the summer was warm, but the nights were not too hot, which is beneficial to the acidity levels.

Damien made Ineptie for the first time in 1996, by accident. He had some very ripe Roussanne which was refused its agrément for an appellation at analysis – a typical example of French wine bureaucracy - so he sold the it as vin de table, but he doesn’t make it every year.

And then on to reds:
2008 Cuvée Mosaïque, Coteaux du Languedoc – 5.00€
A blend of Cinsaut, Grenache and Syrah, kept in vat, with two to three week maceration.
Medium red colour; quite firm mineral nose. More supple ripe palate, with some tannin. Quite an elegant finish.

2007 Latino D’Oc, Languedoc – 6.00€
A 50/50 blend of Syrah and Grenache, fermented in vat, with just 10% in barrel. Quite a firm nose with some dry spice. Medium weight – he doesn’t want it too extracted. Sufficient tannin, and tasted slightly cool, it is very refreshing.

2008 Les Clauzes de Jo, St. Georges d’Orques – 8.00€
A blend of Syrah and Grenache wit h20% Mourvèdre, and twelve months in oak, no new barrels, with a four to five week maceration. Damien’s father is Jo, and clauzes are the dry stones walls surrounding many of the vineyards.

Quite a firm nose, with a nicely structured palate. There is fruit, with well-integrated oak underneath and a streak of fine tannin. Good balance with an elegant finish.

2007 is a more supple vintage, whereas 2008 enjoyed a hotter summer, so the wines are more structured and deeper in colour.

2008 Chant des Ames, St. Georges d’Orques – 15.00€
A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, with 18 months in wood; 10% new. Elevé en fût de chêne.Quite a deep colour. A firm structured nose, with some well integrated oak on the palate. The tannins are elegant, and the wine will benefit from further bottle age. It is a selection of his best plots, which are usually the same ones each year. His 17 hectares are divided into about 30 plots all round the village.. St. Georges d’Orques was one of the original crus of the Coteaux du Languedoc and is now trying to differentiate itself from the appellation of Grès de Montpellier to become one of the grands crus of the Languedoc. It includes the villages of Montarnaud and St. Paul-et-Valmalle, as well as Murviel. Asked about its tipicity, Damien referred to Burgundy, for its elegant tannins, making for reds that are quite fresh. Historically it is red rather than white, but Damien thinks that whites are successful in his vineyards as the soil provides good acidity.

And we finished with the sweet wines:

(2005) Monica, El Encuentro, vin de table de France -15.00€ for 50cl - NB in theory a table wine should not mention a vintage on the label. A blend of 90% Mourvèdre and 10% Grenache, late harvested, with two years in wood. And you might guess that Monica is the name of Damien’s wife. There is 35 gml/l of residual sugar, with a potential alcohol of 18º; the fermentation stopped at 14º. Medium colour, with some sweet spicy cherry notes on the nose and palate. It reminded me of cherries preserved in alcohol, and was potentially rather more-ish.

(2006) Passidore vin de table – 17.00€ for 50cls.
A blend of Gros and Petit Manseng with a little Viognier and Muscat – two or three tries during November and December, a lottery of fighting the birds, the weather and the wild boar. He doesn't make it every year Deep golden in colour. Rich and honeyed o the nose; very smooth and unctuous on the palate, barley sugar and balancing acidity. The name is a play on words, passerillé, which the grapes are, and his great grandfather was called Isidore

And by way of conclusion we went to listen to a fermenting barrel of Roussanne, gently whispering in the cellar.