Thursday, 27 May 2010


The London Wine Trade Fair, which took place last week – three intensive days at the large exhibition centre of Excel – is not normally the place for finding new wines. It’s usually more a question of catching up with old friends, and revisiting familiar producers, but you never know. There is also an element of chance about who you happen to meet – and in the sandwich queue I bumped into Katie Jones. We last saw each other a couple of years ago, when I visited her at Mont Tauch, one of the Midi’s leading cooperatives, with a dynamic range of Fitou and Corbieres. Until the middle of last year, Katie was their sales and marketing director, and about three years ago she bought a plot of vines. Since then she has taken the plunge, given up the day job and made her first wines. She was ‘camping’ in a small corner of the Mont Tauch stand, with a couple of bottles to taste.

Katie is a natural enthusiast and she was positively bubbling about her new project. Her vineyard – just three hectares of sixty year old vines – in the village of Maury in the Agly valley, lies below the dramatic ruined Cathar castle of Quéribus. I’ve not seen the vineyard, but I know the village and can envisage the spot. It is in a wonderful situation. She has Muscat, Grenache Gris, Grenache Noir and Carignan, and last week the Grenache Gris and Muscat available for tasting.

2009 Grenache Gris. Vin de France - £15.00
Katie is not going to fuss about French bureaucracy and submit bottles and paperwork for a vin de pays label, or indication géographique protégée, as it should be called now.. She has opted for simplicity and vin de table. Half of her Grenache has spent six months in oak, but it is so beautifully integrated that you simply wouldn’t realise. There is some attractive spicy fruit on the nose and palate, with hints of white flowers and a fresh finish and lovely mouth feel. I was dead impressed. Here is somebody who until last year had never actually made wine – true she has worked in wine for years, but that’s quite different from making it. She does have access to some expert advice, but she has still got to implement it.

Then we tried the 2009 Muscat - £10.00 for 37.5 cl. bottle
Instead of the traditional, and sometimes rather heavy, Vin Doux Naturel, Katie has aimed for something lighter and more delicate. This has 13º alcohol with 60 gms/l of residual sugar. The nose has the characteristic grapey notes of Muscat, with a slightly bitter hint, and the palate is lovely and ripe, quite sweet, moelleux, and elegant rather than luscious. In France, where they favour sweeter aperitifs, you might drink this before a meal. I would like it with a light fruity dessert, or quite simply instead of dessert.

Katie’s red wine is not ready for drinking yet. It is still doing its malo, and she is planning on releasing it in July or August. Meanwhile she has one particularly good barrel of Carignan which she might bottle separately. The quantities are tiny; this is the ultimate garagiste wine. And it all promises deliciously for the future. I can’t wait to taste the red.

Thursday, 13 May 2010


A trip to see friends, who live near the dramatic Dentelles de Montmirail, provided an excuse to stop off in Gard and visit Château Mourgues du Gres. There is no doubt that this is one of the leading producers of Costières de Nîmes, the appellation that makes the transition between the Languedoc and the Rhône, with vineyards to the south east of the city of Nimes. The estate is run by François and Anne Collard; Francois’ father arrived from Morocco in the 1970s, and bought land and planted vines and also olive and fruit trees. François began concentrating on the wine in the 1990s, making his first vintage in 1993. He had studied at Montpellier, oenology and agriculture, and then worked as a journalist before coming back to the family estate.

As well as Château Mourgues du Gres, since 2001 they have produced wine on the adjoining property of La Tour de Bérard, with a total of 65 hectares of vines. The 15 hectares of La Tour de Bérard are kept separately. The name comes from an old beacon, a tower with an open roof, so that a warning fire could be lit at the top of the tower. Both Anne and François were away the day we called, but their export manager, Sophie Laurent, gave us a very comprehensive tasting. With one exception, the wines are all appellation Costières de Nîmes.

Whites : 2009 Galet Dorés – 6.20€
A blend of Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Roussanne and a little Bourboulenc. This is light and fresh with a touch of minerality, nicely balanced with a fresh edge of acidity. 2009 is similar in quality to 2007, though a little cooler than 2007, while 2008 is considered a particularly good, year, and was significantly cooler, making for fresher wines.

2008 Terre d’Argence, Vin de Pays du Gard – 9.90€
This includes 40% Viognier, while the maximum for the appellation is 20%, which is blended with Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. There is a touch of oak on the nose, as a small percentage of the Viognier has been fermented in oak, but it is elegantly integrated, with freshness and elegance, and some rounded peachy fruit. The oak serves to fill out the palate, rather than change the flavour.

Rosés : 2009 Fleur d’Eglantine – after the wild roses. – 5.20€
A blend of Mourvèdre, Carignan, Grenache Noir which are pressed, and a little Syrah, which is saigné. A light colour, with delicate raspberry fruit on the nose and palate. The aim is a light delicate wine; it was may be a touch amylic, but a little time in bottle should sort that out.

2008 Galets Rosés – 6.20€
A blend of Syrah and Grenache which are saigné. Ripe and rounded raspberry fruit with some fresh acidity. A little more weight and body than the Fleur d’Eglantine, but still light and elegant.

2008 Capitelles des Mourgues – 7.50€
From Mourvèdre that is pressed and fermented in oak, and Syrah and Grenache that are saigné and fermented in vat. This has a little more colour, with a touch of oak on both nose and palate. There is good acidity, with some body and structure and some rounded fruit, and a hint of oak on the finish. Rosé vinified in wood is relatively unusual, but it makes for a intriguing flavours, that will go well with more substantial summer dishes, even barbecued lamb.

Reds: 2008 Galets Rouge – 6.20
This is their entry level red wine, a blend of Syrah and Grenache, with some Mourvèdre and Carignan, elevé in vat; blended in January and bottle in June. There is soft spice on the palate with some fresh tannin and a touch of orange. Syrah is the dominant grape variety and it finishes with hints of the garrigue and a touch of liquorice.

2007 Terre d’Argence - 9.90€
From Syrah, and Grenache vines that are 55 years old. Mainly an élèvage in vat, apart from some oak for small part of the Syrah. Good colour; with ripe rounded fruit and some spice and more body and weight and a warm spicy finish. Very satisfying.

2007 Terre du Feu - 9.90€
Mainly Grenache with a drop of Syrah, and only made in the warmest years. 2003, the year of the heat wave, was the first vintage. Fermented and aged in vat. Medium colour, with fresh raspberry fruit on the nose, and warm Grenache fruit, raspberries and cherries, on the palate, with a warm, rounded finish.

2007 Capitelles des Mourgues – 13.00€
The opposite of Terre de Feu, with 90% Syrah to 10% Grenache, and aged in oak for nine to twelve months. This is solidly oaky on nose and palate, a bit too much for my taste. There is fruit underneath, and a firm tannic oaky backbone and a rich oaky finish. It should age well and develop in bottle, but for current drinking I would go for Terre du Feu, or indeed my favourite of the four, the Terre d’Argence.

La Tour de Bérard is a simpler proposition, a red white and rosé . All at 4.50€

2008 Blanc – A blend of Grenache, Roussanne and Marsanne. Light in colour, with rounded fruit, and some notes of agrumes, which sounds better in French, than the English citrus fruit. Also a hint of lychees. Deliciously easy drinking

2009 Rosé – A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, which are pressed. Ripe rounded and creamy on the nose and palate, with some raspberry fruit and balancing acidity.

2008 Rouge – A blend of Carignan, Syrah and Grenache. Medium colour, ripe and rounded, with immediately appealing spicy fruit. Very accessible and gouleyant.

And then Sophie took us to see the vineyards in the drizzle. They have the same galets of Châteauneuf-du- Pape, with red soil, and on a slightly elevated plateau, or costières, about 50 metres above sea level.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


Since my visit in April, Verena has been obliged to change the name of her estate. When she first named it ten years ago, she was quite unaware that there was another Domaine Canteperdrix in the Cotes du Ventoux. She has decided to use her own name, which confirms the identity of the estate, and the names of the various cuvees, and well as the partridge on the label remain the same.

Verena Wyss is a cheerful Swiss lady who has been making wine at Domaine de Canteperdrix, outside the village of Gabian, for nearly twenty years. She and her architect husband, Jean-Pierre, arrived there by chance, initialy looking for a second home. Friends had told them about an old house that needed restoring - and not only that the vines had all been pulled up, so they had to start from scratch, buying droits de plantation. It was tough at the beginning. Verena has done no formal training but had learnt on the job. Much of the time Jean-Pierre was back in Switzerland running his business, and she was on her own with just the cat for company. Her very first vintage was 1993, when she harvested just 1.76 hectare of Viognier, amounting to two barriques of wine. Graham Chidgey, the genial wine merchant who ran Laytons at the time, turned up at her cellar quite by chance; tasted the Viognier; liked it and bought the lot. Her UK agents these days are Clarion Wines, set up by a former employee of Laytons. And she now has 14 hectares, of which Cabernet Sauvignon is the largest planting. Initially all her wines were Vin de Pays de Cassan, after the nearby priory, but now she is favouring the IGP Oc. And why the name Canterperdrix? Verena explained that there is an association with Rabelais who wrote ‘De Languedoc qui croit a Mirevault (Mireval) Canteperdrix and Frontignant (Frontignan).

Our tasting began with her unoaked Viognier, simply labelled Wyss Vin – this is a play on words as weiss is white in German. This 2009 Wyss Vin is light golden in colour, with delicate peach and apricot notes on the nose. The palate is rounded with spicy, peachy fruit and good acidity, with a fresh finish. It does not have the unctuousness of some Viognier, but is none the worse for that.

2008 Wyss Vin - 8.50€
More rounded on the nose, with light peachy notes, hints of grapefruit, and a fresh herbal finish. Yields are small, averaging 30 hl/ha.

2009 Roussanne les Perdreaux - 8.50€
Verena is very pleased with her Roussanne, and with reason. About a third of it is fermented in wood, in barriques and slightly larger demi-muids, which gives the wine some depth and weight. The palate is rounded and harmonious, with some fleurs blanches on the nose, and nicely textured weight on the palate.

And then she gave me the 2006 to try. I have to admit that it was a touch oxidised on the nose, with some dry honeyed notes on the palate. More intriguing was the 2007, a barrel sample. It had a tannic streak from the oak, but with some textured fruit underneath, with hints of tilleul or lime flower on the palate.

The 2000 les Perdreaux has aged beautifully. It was quite golden in colour, with a rounded nose, with lots of white flowers on the palate, as well as texture and weight, to make a very satisfying mouthful of wine. Comparisons with the northern Rhone would not be out of place.

2004 Cante d’Automne - 9.00€
An oak aged Viognier, which has spent sixteen months in barrel. I found the oak quite heavy, so that it masked the Viognier fruit, and much preferred the unoaked Viognier However the finish was long and dry and honeyed.

2008 Rosé des Roses – 7.00€
From Lledoner Pelut, which is a cousin of Grenache Noir, and made by the saigné method of running juice off from the fermenting tank. Verena doesn’t make it every year. It has an orange pink colour and is ripe and rounded and quite mouthfilling, with a dry finish. This is definitely a food rosé, rather than one for sipping as an aperitif.

2008 Lledoner Pelut – 7.50€
The red version of this grape variety. It has spent eleven months in old wood, which gives the wine some structure. The nose is quite fresh with some dry spicy notes on the palate. It was the last variety that she planted, in 1998.

2006 Merlot Chant de la Terre 10.00€
This has spent sixteen months in barrel and has good ripe fruit, balanced with a firm streak of tannin and oak, and plenty of body. It is given a pigeage or plunging down every morning. It promises well for future development in the bottle.

2006 La Tonga – 8.50€
A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot, given fourteen months in oak. The colour is a deep red, with a dry cassis nose; the palate is fresh and tannic, with youthful fruit and a firm finish. This promises well for future drinking.

2006 Bel Canto – 9.00€
The same blend as La Tonga but with twenty-four months in oak, which to my mind makes for a better wine. It is more elegant and stylish, and is definitely a wine for claret lovers, with its deep colour, and lovely dry cassis notes on the nose and palate. The tannins are elegant, giving a firm backbone which allows for future ageing.

We finished with the Vin de Fête, 14.00€ - a sparkling Viognier, which is lightly honeyed, rounded and peachy. And I didn’t know, when I accepted an invitation to lunch, that Jean-Pierre is a talented chef – his risotto aux petits légumes is worthy of a Michelin star, with the flavours enhanced by a generous splash of Viognier.