Wednesday, 28 November 2012

HIghlights at the Salon des Vignerons Independants in Paris

This is a great wine fair covering the whole of France, with around a thousand wine growers, all under one roof at the Porte de Versailles, but it is enormous.  There were moments in the two days when my energy levels were definitely flagging, but where else can you revive yourself with a baguette au foie gras??!  And it is a great opportunity to make new discoveries and to catch up with old favourites, and also just check out a few familiar names, with which I was a bit out of date.   Naturally I concentrated on the Languedoc, but did allow myself a deviation or two, to Chablis for Domaine des Maronniers with my friends Bernard and Marie-Claude Légland, and to the Côte d’Or for some lovely Pommard with Anne Parent.  

New discoveries included Domaine Pech Tort in the Pic St. Loup with Nadège Jeanjean.  I asked the obvious question, and no, she is not related to the other bigger Jeanjean company.   Her first vintage was 2008.  There was also a new, to me, Faugères estate, Domaine des Pres-Lasses.   The owners are from Alsace and their first vintage was 1999.  Their vines are in the village of Autignac.  The cheerful vigneron at Château Pepusque in the Minervois described himself as un jeune vieux; his first vintage was 2005 and he was a chartered accountant in a former life.  ...And Domaine de la Rencontre is a Muscat de Mireval, created by an Anglo-French couple, Julie and Pierre Viudes, who met in Mexico.  Their first vintage was 2010 and they introduced me to the delights of sweet Muscat with Bleu d’Ambert cheese.   And thanks to a mention in the Revue du Vin de France I stopped at Domaine la Yole.   I am not usually very enthusiastic about Chardonnay from  the Languedoc, but how wonderful to have my prejudices firmly overturned.

And there were some delicious vins doux naturels.  Two sisters at Mas Karolina make irresistible Maury, as well as serious Côtes du Roussillon Villages; and Domaine de Fontanel in Tautavel had a wonderful Rivesaltes Ambré, which was everything that good Rivesaltes should be. 

And amongst the ‘old favourites’ I would highlight Château de l’Engarran, for St. Georges d’Orques and delicious late harvest Grenache; Château Perdiguier for elegantly understated  Bordeaux blends; Domaine de Nouvelles for sturdy Fitou.  I always enjoy the elegant Palette from Château Henri Bonnaud.  Sylvie Guiraudon at Clos de l’Anhel in Lagrasse produces an elegant range of Corbières, refreshingly without a trace of oak;  Philippe Modat’s new vintages at Domaine de Modat in Roussillon lived up to expectations.  And I can never resist the vins doux from Domaine des Chênes, and I left the fair with the lingering taste in my mouth of  Cap de Creus Rancio Sec from Domaine la Tour Vieille in Collioure. 

Some more detailed posts will follow.......

Friday, 16 November 2012

A deviation to Turkey

I’ve just returned from a wonderful week in Turkey.  The purpose of my trip was the European Wine Bloggers’ Conference, the EWBC for short, in Izmir.   And I had a complete immersion in Turkish wine, with lots of tasting opportunities; guided tastings of Turkish grape varieties, and blends with international grape varieties.  Nearby producers had their wines available for tasting during the two days, and there were also wine growers from Georgia, Lebanon and Armenia.   And then when the conference was finished, there was a trip inland to see vineyards around the towns of Manisa and Denizli, within easy reach of Izmir, and on my last day I went out to Urla, to visit vineyards close to the coast.

You may well ask what Turkey has to do with the Languedoc.   I think there are parallels and it is always interesting to make comparisons.

Turkey has many indigenous grape varieties.  We had the opportunity to taste white Emir and Narince, as well as the more widely planted Sultaniye, which is commonly known as Thompson Seedless, and  also grown for table grapes and dried sultanas, not to mention the popular drink of raki.    The red varieties have exotic names, such as Kalecik Karasi, Őkűzgözű and  Boğazkere.  Őkűzgözű translates literally as bull’s eye and the grapes are fat and juicy, and flavour is not unlike Zinfandel.  Boğazkere means throat gripper, for the firm tannic streak in the wine, while Kalecik Karasi is more elegant and sometimes compared with Nerello Mascalese or Nebbiolo.    The flavours are fresh and exciting, and these undoubtedly represented the discovery of the trip.

But the Turks much prefer to drink international grape varieties, so you will also find Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon, as pure varieties or blended with the indigenous varieties.   This is not so different from the Languedoc, where the true varieties of the south grow alongside international varieties.   There is interest too in Italian varieties.  Federico Curtaz who has a vineyard on Etna and consults for Villa Estet, where the soil is volcanic, is planting Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio.  I also encountered Sangiovese and Nero d’Avola.  And for Midi grape varieties, there is a Roussanne /Marsanne from Suvla winery, as well as Grenache and Carignan, in addition to Shiraz or Syrah.

Turkey is one of the world’s largest growers of grapes, coming sixth in volume, and fourth in growing area after Spain, France and Italy.  However only about 2% of the total grape production is actually used for wine, and 96% of that production is drunk in Turkey, by tourists and by Turks.   Consequently there is not yet much Turkish wine available on the export market.  And you sense that it is only in the last ten years or so that the industry has begun to emerge from the doldrums, with a growth in the number of wineries, created often by people who have done other things.  

I lost count of the number of wineries, who when I asked the date of their first vintage, answered with a year in the last decade.  Take the three wineries I visited around the town of Urla outside Izmir.   The winery called Urla was created by Can Ortabaş with a first vintage in 2006.  He also owns what he said is the  world’s biggest producer of palm trees.  The winery is very stylish - my photographs simply don't do it justice, so I've not used them  - and the wines show promise.  Mosaic is run by Ali Emin.  He made his first wine in 2008, with the help of Italian expertise and the modern winery was funded by his father-in-law’s coal mine.  And Reha and Bilge Őğűnlű lived in Ann Arbor before coming back to Turkey in 2002 and planting vines on a more modest scale. My instinct to favour indigenous grape varieties was upset here; they produce an intriguingly salty Chardonnay and a beautifully harmonious Cabernet Sauvignon.

And this injection of new life into the wine industry has given the older established wineries like Doluca, Kavaklidere and Pamukkale the impetus to improve and renovate.   The young wine maker, Semril Zorlu, at Kavaklidere’s Pendore vineyards has trained in Montpellier and Bordeaux, including a stage at Château Margaux, working on experiments with organic and biodynamic viticulture.    And she is not alone; several of the winemakers have studied abroad, and the newer wineries are employing foreign consultants.  At Pamukkale a Frenchman Jean-LucColin has been instrumental in improving quality. 

As for taste, oak can be an issue.  We were told that it is illegal to import second hand barrels into Turkey, though somebody else disputed this.  Whatever, the chief wine-making defect is an excess of new oak, and not necessarily very good oak at that.  Sometimes it was heavy handed with an excess of vanilla – most people use French oak, but there is American too – and sometimes the flavours were green and drying.   There certainly is a parallel with the Languedoc here, where the wine growers have needed to learn to manage their use of new oak barrels.  But it is a problem that will be solved with experience.

So I have come back to London full of enthusiasm after a wonderful voyage of discovery.  You could not help but be carried away with the passion and dedication of the Turkish winemakers.  There is a sense of adventure, and the feeling that the Turkish wine industry does have a serious future, with both indigenous and international grape varieties and flavours.  Like the Languedoc, Turkey is full of untapped potential.   So if you come across a bottle, do give it a try.  You may be very pleasantly surprised. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Outsiders' Tasting

The Outsiders are a group of ten wine growers from Languedoc-Roussillon, who were not born and bred in the region.  Their origins are as varied as England, Ireland, Holland, New Zealand, Australia and North America – and elsewhere in France.   Some, but not all, have had careers in other fields, before coming to wine, and to the Midi, which gives them a broader experience and wider horizons than many of the more traditional wine growers of the region.  And last Thursday they were in London for a tasting at the Maison du Languedoc.  I already knew most of them, and so it was a great opportunity for a catch up and a taste of new vintages.

Château Rives-Blanques  -

Caryl Panman was at the first table and anyone who reads my blog with any regularity will know that Rives- Blanques is one of my favourite Limoux – and I always enjoy seeing Caryl.  

2010 Blanquette de Limoux
Fresh herbal creamy fruit on nose and palate.  Very elegant with good depth.  This was a great start to the tasting, and the 2010 vintage is particularly successful.

2009 Crémant de Limoux Rosé
Light pink colour.  Delicate raspberry nose.  Ripe, rounded and creamy on the palate – raspberries and cream in a glass.

2011 Limoux Occitania, Mauzac
Quite a rounded oaky nose.  Good acidity; intriguing herbal notes and a touch of ginger.

2011 Le Limoux 
This was made for the first time in 2010.  A blend of Chardonnay,  Chenin Blanc and Mauzac.  Caryl explained the blending decision.  First they choose the barrels for Trilogy, and then they determine the individual varietals, and make a selection from those barrels for Le Limoux.  The result was some elegant oak, with fruit underneath.  Some honeyed hints, with rounded fruit and good length, and potential for future development, to tone down the oak.

2010 Limoux, Dédicace
Chenin Blanc. Dry and honeyed with youthful fruit and firm acidity.  A touch of oak on the finish.  Textured palate and again still youthful, with plenty of potential.

2011 Limoux Chardonnay
Quite rich and buttery on the palate. Nice mouth feel. 

Clos du Gravillas  -

John Bojanowski is one of the leading enthusiasts for Carignan, both red and white.  But we began with:

2011 Emmenez-Moi au Bout du Terret blanc  IGP Côtes de Brian
Light herbal nose.  Quite rounded palate with good acidity and herbal notes.

2009 Minervois, l’Inattendu
Light colour.  Quite rounded nutty nose, ripe and rounded and texture.  This is Carignan blanc.

2009 Lo Viehl Carignan, IGP Côtes de Brian
Light red colour.  Ripe berry fruit.  An appealing rustic note on the palate, with fresh fruit.  Good tannin structure and elegant balance.

And as he is in the village of St. Jean de Minervois, he was also offering:

2011 Douce Providence, Muscat de St. Jean de Minervois
Light colour.  Elegant honey on both nose and palate.  Fresh, with a hint of orange and some grapey fruit.   

Château d’Anglès  -

Eric Fabre was technical director at Chateau Lafite for a number of years, but really wanted to grow Mourvèdre on the Massif of La Clape.  Nonetheless, there is a bordelais style in their wines, beginning with the idea of a Classique Cuvée and a Grand Vin for both red and white.  His son, Vianney, was pouring their wines.

2009  La Clape Classique Red
Syrah, Grenache Mourvèdre.  Elegant spicy fruit.  Silky tannins.  Elegant balance.  Very stylish and satisfying.

2008 La Clape Grand Vin Red
This is 55% Mourvèdre, with Syrah and Grenache, with ten months in oak.   Ripe fruit.  Quite rounded and gutsy, a certain meaty tapenade quality.  Ripe and solid, but with well mastered tannins  and lots of character.  Needs some time.

2010 La Clape Classique White
50% Bourboulenc, 30% Grenache blanc, with 10% each of Marsanne and Roussanne.   Herbal and salty on nose and palate.  The vineyards are very close to the sea. Nice body, with a refreshing sappy note. 

2009 La Clape Grand Vin White
40%  Bourboulenc, 20% Grenache blanc – 60 year old vines, with 20% each of Marsanne and Roussanne.    Barrel fermented in old oak.  Very rounded, very ripe.  Rich with layers of flavour.

There will be more on Chateau d’Anglès in due course, as I did visit them in the summer, so they are due another post.      

Domaine Turner Pageot

Manu Pageot was pouring their wines.  He is French and his wife Karen is Australian, and they met in Alsace, chez Hugel.  Karen also makes the wine for the now Russian owned Prieuré de St. Jean de Bébian.   I really enjoy their white wines.

2011 La Rupture
Fresh herbal fruit on nose and palate with good acidity.  Some lovely characterful Sauvignon.

2011 Blanc
80% Roussanne with 20% 'orange' Marsanne – i.e. a vin nature.  Light colour.  Rounded ripe white blossom with a nutty streak.  Nicely textured, with weight and length and an ‘orange’ edge.

2010 Carmina Major
70% Syrah, half grown on limestone and half on volcanic soil, with 30% Mourvèdre.  One year in wood and another year in tank.  Quite peppery, sold and ripe, quite dense firm and tannin and plenty of ageing potential.

2010 Le Rouge
80% Grenache grown on schist, with 20% Syrah grown on volcanic soil.  Ripe and rounded.  Quite dense and spicy.  Gutsy and warm, with a tannic edge.  Manu observed that the 2012 harvest had dragged on – it had turned out well, but had been quite tricky.

Domaine Sainte Rose with Ruth and Charles Simpson.

Not content with making wine in the south of France, they have also bought land in Kent, near Canterbury and are planning a vineyard for sparkling wine.   These are all IGP d’Oc..

2011 Le Marin Blanc
A blend of Marsanne, Roussanne with 10% Viognier.  Quite rounded, ripe and oaky with a good balance.

2009 Barrel Selection Roussanne
Aged in barrel.  Quite golden colour.  Rounded nose and palate.  A rich oxidative style.   Their flagship wine.

2009 Le Pinnacle Syrah
Ripe and oaky and peppery and spicy with some tannin.

2011 Les Derniers Cépages
Made from Petit Verdot and Mourvèdre, the last grape varieties to ripen, and the last varieties that Ruth and Charles planted.  Medium colour.  Quite fresh ripe and oaky on both nose and palate.   Some spice and a rich finish.    

Domaine - in Roussillon, with Rachel Treloar who comes from New Zealand.

2011 La Terre Promise, IGP Côtes Catalanes
Grenache Gris, Macabeu, Carignan blanc.  Fermented and then six months ageing in oak.  Delicate nose; nicely rounded nutty fruit, with good acidity and satisfying structure.

2011 Muscat de Rivesaltes
Light golden; quite sweet spicy nose.  Ripe, fresh lemony and honeyed with refreshing balancing acidity.

2010 Côtes du Roussillon, Three Peaks
Syrah, Grenache Mourvedre, all aged in oak.  Quite rounded and ripe.  Nice balance; medium weight.  Harmonious.

2010 Côtes du Roussillon, Motus
90% Mourvèdre, all aged in oak.  Firm oak, with a youthful structure palate and a tight knit nose.  Masses of potential.

Domaine Sainte Croix, in the village of Fraissé des Corbières   
With Liz Bowen.  This was the one completely new estate, to me.  Jon Bowen trained at Plumpton and 2004 was their first vintage.  They have 14 hectares. 

2011 La Serre white
Grenache blanc and Grenache blanc, from two plots,  one late picked on schist,  and the other early picked on limestone.  Cool fermented in tank.  Quite a rich ripe nose, but with a leaner, more restrained palate.  Dry white blossom.

2010 Le Fournas
Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and a little Mourvèdre.  No wood.  Fournas derives from furnace, so an especially warm vineyard site.  Dry spice; a little stalky on the finish but some peppery dry fruit.  Medium weight.

2009 Magneric
60% with Grenache, Carignan and Syrah. Part aged in wood.  Ripe, rounded cherry liqueur fruit.  Quite ripe with sweet fruit.  A little alcoholic on the finish at 14.5º.

2007 Carignan, Vin de table
Carignan, with 15% Grenache, planted in 1905. 70% in wood.  No maceration carbonique.  Destemmed grapes and natural yeast. Firm fruit on nose and palate.  Some berry fruit, and some body.   Quite structured. 

2009 La Part des Anges
A late harvest Carignan, from grapes picked at the end of October, so a good month later than usual  and then dried on mats in the attic.  Fermented in wood.  Deep colour.  Rich spice and ripe red berry fruit, with a tannic streak.   Made for the first time in 2006, and now an annual production of just 600 bottles per year.  An original dessert wine.   Perfect for a chocolate pudding.   

Domaine de Saumarez, with Robin Williamson.

2011 S’ white
A blend of Grenache blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne.  Fresh and zingy on the palate with youthful fruit.  What Robin called un vin de la semaine, for  a weekday supper.

2010 S’ red
A blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah.  Quite rounded, ripe spice with a tannic edge.  Easy drinking.

2010 Trinitas
One third each of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah.  Co-fermented.  Medium colour.  Quite rounded with easy spicy.  Nicely harmonious.  Elegant with depth.

2010 Aalenien
Named after the geological formation, based on quartz, and mainly Syrah.   Frustratingly both bottles were very slightly corked, not blatantly so, but just enough to dull the wine, and give it a slightly grubby edge.  This is TCA taint at its most invidious as you could just think that it was the result of bad winemaking, if you did not know better.  Underneath the cork was some peppery fruit with a firm structure.

Château de Combebelle

Catherine Wallace was showing a mini-vertical of four St. Chinian, essentially the same wine, a blend of 60% Syrah with 40% Grenache, but with vintage variations.  About 30% new oak, with the rest aged in older oak..  I tasted from young to old, when she would have preferred me to do the opposite, and when I reached the 2008 I could see why, as it was the least successful of the four wines.   Catherine has obviously learnt much from experience.

2008 St Chinian
Medium colour; a bit earthy and edgy

2009 – Some ripe spicy fruit.  Rounded.  Some tannin.  Medium weight.

2010 – Medium colour. Quite a ripe nose.  Rounded with some oak on the palate.

2011 – Quite rounded fresh and youthful. Some spice and a firm streak of tannin.

Domaine de Cébène, in Faugeres   with Brigitte Chevalier  Cébène was the name of a sleeping lady, and the origin of the name Cevennes

2011 Ex Arena IGP Oc
90%  Grenache with 10% Mourvèdre
Medium colour, quite ripe spicy fruit, with liqueur cherries.  Medium weight.  A streak of tannin. 

2011 Faugères, Belle Lurette
Based on Carignan.  Firm spicy berry fruit.  A certain rustic note on the palate.  Ripe spice and rich fruit.   Carignan at its best

2010 Faugères les Bancèls
Syrah with a little Grenache and Mourvèdre.   Medium colour.  Quite dense spice on the nose.  Ripe and rounded on the palate, with supple tannins.

2011 Faugères les Bancèls
The same blend, with some lovely spice.  Youthful fruit and appealing peppery notes.  Lots of potential

2010 Faugères, Felgaria
Mainly Mourvèdre, grown on schist.  Quite a rounded palate, with some peppery fruit.  Medium weight and elegant.

2011 Faugères Felgaria.
Medium colour.  Some peppery depth with some body.  Ripe spice and good fruit.  Still quite tannic, but elegant.

A great tasting with some lovely wines.  The Outsiders may be a somewhat artificial grouping but they make an effective marketing team, with some undeniably delicious wines.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Domaine Binet-Jacquet

I had met Pierre Jacquet at an event for Faugères’ 30th birthday party, and wanted to follow up the suggestion of a cellar visit before the summer had gone.  So one afternoon we tracked him down in an old cellar in the heart of the village of Faugères.   His cellar is very discreet.  I was glad that he was waiting outside for us; otherwise I might have walked straight past it.   The Binet part of the domaine is Oliver Binet, who lives in Switzerland.  It is Pierre who does the work sur place.  And wine for him is a second career, after working in la commerce internationale.

In good Burgundian tradition, we tasted from vat rather than bottle, but wines that would very shortly be put in bottle, beginning with

2011 Faugères Tradition  - 11.50€  
A blend of 30% Carignan, 30% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 10% each of Mourvèdre and Cinsaut.   The wine had been blended in June, and it was now July, and it would be bottled in August, on a fruit day.  They follow the biodynamic calendar.  The élevage is in vat. There was some berry fruit on both nose and palate, with some ripe flavours. I enjoyed the slightly rustic notes that come from the Carignan.

Pierre explained that they have nine hectares.  The estate was created in 1999, from bare land.  They planted the first vines in 2001 and made their first wine in 2005, and found this small cellar in 2006.  Their first vintage was made chez Didier Barral.  In 2006 they bought two hectares of old Carignan; this is the only vineyard that they bought, rather than planted, or replanted. 

The vines are in the villages of Lentheric and Cabrerolles.  Pierre particularly appreciates the schist of Faugères.   They have about 12 plots altogether.  Each cépage has its own particular univers  à lui, considering aspect and slope and micro-climate.  Carignan in particular needs sunshine. 

Pierre explained that they look for finesse and elegance; he wants natural acidity which will emphasise the minerality of the wines.  It all depends on the travail du sol; he uses no chemical products and minimal sulphur, just as a disinfectant.   Yeast naturally produce a little sulphur and that is a good thing – otherwise the end result would be vinegar.  And he also uses a little sulphur at bottling.    He is registered with Demeter, which is very strict – the Demeter dose of copper for oidium is half that of the usual dose for organic viticulture. 

They vinify in a tronconique vat, but do not use it for élevage.  That is easier in barriques.  And they also ferment in some open barrels, and also cement and fibre glass vats.  And favour pigeage in the open top vats. 

2010 Faugères Réserve – 17.00€
2 years élevage, all in wood, and then into vat for bottling.  40% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 20% Carignan and 10% Mourvèdre.  Deep colour.  Quite dense fruit on the nose and a touch of oak.  On the palate good length and some silky tannins and lots of black fruit.   Belle concentration and length.  Very promising. With their later vintages they are moving towards using less wood, and look for the minerality and finesse, with some ageing in vat.   They buy second hand barrels from Château Rauzan Gassies in Bordeaux and use a basket press, which gives a very gentle pressing.  Their average yield is about 25 hl/ha – in an ideal world they would prefer 30 hl/ha

2007 Faugères Grande Réserve – 30€
In 2007 they made a Grande Réserve, from Mourvèdre vinified in barrique.  It was so good that they kept it separately and used new oak for it.  And since then they have made a 2009 and 2010 Grande Réserve, in years when the Mourvèdre has shown particularly well.  The decision to make it is taken at the final assemblage.   40% Mourvèdre, 40% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Carignan.  Deep colour.  Quite perfumed spicy fruit on the nose.  Quite dense and solid fruit on the palate.  Very good concentration.  Good tannins.  Ripe fruit from the Mourvèdre.  Very good structure.   All very promising, with lots of potential.   As is the future of the estate.