Thursday, 3 December 2009

South-West France: The Wines and Winemakers by Paul Strang

After months of waiting for Amazon to notify me when this book is available in the UK, my copy arrived yesterday. Whilst timing like this obviously intends the book to be given as Christmas presents, University of California Press should be congratulated of finding a sure-fire guarantee that I won't be able to get any work done between now and the end of the year.

First impression: coffee table presentation belies the fact that this is clearly a serious work and a must have for any SWF nut. A quick glance at some of the comments suggests that Paul Strang and I agree about several things (the New Black Wine from Clos Triguedina, for example: for me, it's like drinking squid ink! Other wines from them are good, though, if overpriced) and, of course, I'm pleased to see he rates all the estates I am working with.

More soon, no doubt

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Lamartine: lamenting the end of a vintage

My last bottle of Lamartine's 2004 Cahors tonight (still got some "Particuliere" though which is even better): quite chocolatey, very Malbec in a Cahors sort of way. It even worked with the chicken curry I made!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Ten wines at the RBS

A lively crowd of mainly Claret lovers invited me to show a range of wines from the Southern Rhone! I told them: next time, South-West France. At least it's closer to the style of wines they enjoy. I find it rare that I "get" Bordeaux at all; maybe it's just that I can afford decent wines from the Rhone and SWF but the really good Bordeaux tends to be out of my league. That said, a recent bottle of Teyssier's 2005 was rather enjoyable - maybe it's not that typical! As this was the first wine of the evening, everyone had a full glass; no-one complained.

First up was Domaine des Anges' 2007 "L'Archange" Blanc, a monovarietal - and, therefore, technically illegal - wine from the renamed Ventoux. Still very youthful and fresh with citrus on the nose and palate. Some liquorice and almond and the merest whiff of oak. It really needs another couple of years or more to flesh out; it noticeably improved as the glass drained. Perhaps it should be less chilled to allow its character to show fully. I can understand that anyone unfamiliar with Roussanne could find it difficult to know what to make of this wine; you have to know how Roussanne develops to appreciate where this is going. For the Claret crowd, this is best explained by comparing it with Semillon which can have a light fragrance in youth, developing its waxiness as it ages.

A wine that is not remotely shy, Domaine des Coteaux des Travers' 2007 "Cuvee Marine" is far more intense with the Roussanne aromas and flavours, well matched by the Viognier with Grenache and Marsanne in supporting roles (in fact, all four varieties make up 25% each of the blend). Quite a sweet palate with a lingering, dry finish. My sort of white!

Enough of the whites then; on to Domaine des Anges' 2006 Rouge, chosen as a good for current drinking, typical, high quality, fruit-driven wine that shouldn't offend anyone - except for the chap who announced that he enjoyed the Xavier Rouge (next up) almost as much as he disliked this! I questioned why he had come to a Rhone tasting if he disliked the region's wines so much. He didn't really have an answer but spent the rest of the tasting moving around the room talking to other people rather than focusing on the wines (I should explain: this sort of tasting is quite formal like a lecture only with wine). I found the wine faultless within its context and would be happy drinking this with most food or on its own, as would most other consumers I know. I find it bizarre that anyone would have a problem with any good wines from this region although there is no doubt that strong prejudices exist, even in the world of wine (the Bordeaux/Burgundy divide for starters).

Xavier Vignon's "Rouge" seemed very slightly oxidised on the nose but I think it was just the bottle I tried (interestingly, this was also the bottle the chap who didn't like the DDA tasted from) but the palate was fresh: rich with red/black fruit and very big.

I had to show them something from the 2007 vintage, given how good it was in the Southern Rhone (or so I thought before I remembered most of them don't know anything about the region apart from what I tell them and show them every couple of years) so I thought Laurent Brusset's Gigondas "Le Grand Montmirail" would be a good bet, especially given how well it had gone down in Canterbury earlier in the year (but they know how to enjoy the wines from this part of the world). Chewy, as you would expect from a young wine, with wonderful dark fruits - black cherries and blackberries and quite a bit of liquorice. I won't open any for drinking at home for a couple of years but it's heading for glory.

The next few wines were all from 2005, another great vintage so not fully mature but showing quite well nonetheless. First, Mourchon's "Grande Reserve". Walter McKinlay's estate is undoubtedly the leader in Seguret, one of the most delightful of the region's medieval villages. One of the tasters was interested enough to observe that Michael Broadbent had written up the 2006 in Decanter this month so I was rather buoyed up by this. I found it had quite a meaty Syrah component and chewy tannins (a chunk of cheese took the edge off this) which surprisingly dominated the Grenache-based wine at this time.

Rarely have I ventured into Lirac before: the geography and architecture on the right bank is less appealing than the main CDR Villages area of the Vaucluse departement. Grand Veneur's "Clos des Sixte" is worth making an exception: at present, it is not unlike the Mourchon although less obviously chewy. The hint of Mourvedre (15%), though, will shine through more and more with time. A very good wine at a fair (by which I mean favourable to the consumer) price.

The first bottle of Raymond Usseglio's Chateauneuf-du-Pape was, unfortunately, corked (one out of 32 bottles opened tonight - still too many in my view). The others were in good condition and revealed a gorgeous Chateauneuf, one of the defining characteristics being its superb mouthfeel. I didn't actually taste it last night as there were only two bottles to be shared between around 35 tasters but I have opened one today instead and am enjoying every sip of it!

The wine society's Chairman - very much a Claret man - told me recently that the reason he didn't go for the Rhone wines was because he doesn't like Syrah. Of course, all the above reds are Grenache-based but have some Syrah mixed in. I had a choice - to include Mourchon's "Family Reserve" or Ussglio's "Imperiale" or some other pure Grenache wine (the Usseglio does have around 2% Cinsault but who's counting?) - or, I thought, go to the Northern Rhone instead (my brief was Rhone wines - I generally stick to the south). Instead, I opted for Domaine de la Charite's "Ombres", a mere CDR which I haven't tasted for a while so was slightly nervous about. It was fantastic: that perfect synthesis of Rhone Syrah and cool climate Oz Shiraz. Lovely sweet black fruit carrying on and on. Sometimes I think Christophe Coste makes too many cuvees (he probably does) but when I taste a wine like this, I can't fault him for doing so.

To round off, the Chairman and I discussed a vin doux naturel, one of the region's local specialities from either Beaumes-de-Venise (Muscat) or Rasteau, these being from the Grenache grape in various guises: Rouge, Dore or Rancio. I had included Bressy-Masson's Rancio the last time so thought it only fair to show the Rasteau Rouge from Domaine des Coteaux des Travers this time. The Chairman was happy when I told him this was a Southern Rhone take on Port. More evolved than last time I tasted this, it is beginning to take on some of the figiness that will make this so enticing in another year or two.

Overall, I was very pleased with the selection - it was only a shame that so few of the members can divorce themselves from the preconception that Bordeaux is best. Perhaps some of these wines will sow a seed of doubt in their minds. I hope so.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Advice for drinking your best wines

I was presenting a selection of ten Rhone wines at the NatWest Bank Wine Society last night in central London. I will post notes later but at the start of it, one of the the members came up to me to thank me for some tips I had given a couple of years earlier (I don't remember but I'm happy to take the credit!). Best of all was: when you want to open a bottle of really good wine, don't do so at a dinner party where most people won't appreciate it. Better to save it for an occasion where there are just two of you, the other one preferably teetotal.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Michael Broadbent writes up Domaine de Mourchon (again!)

"Back to the old country - France - for yet another wine new to me, Domaine de Mourchon's Grande Reserve 2006 from Cote du Rhone-Villages Seguret. Owned since 1998 by a British family, the MacKinlays, who kindly sent me a bottle to taste. Familiar grapes, 65% Grenache and 35% Syrah, old vines, low yield, 40% in oak blended with 60% in concrete vats. A most attractive brochure which, as is my wont, I read avidly. Set in a secluded valley, the 'steep slopes' looked rather on the flat side to me but there was a rather sensuous hint of a downward slope on the near horizon. Still, I musn't carp. I liked the wine despite its robust alcoholic content (15%) which gave it a hot finish. Colour appropriately deep with youthful purple core and rich legs. Nose and flavour full of fruit, meaty and spicy. I didn't open it 'several hours' before serving - surely right - but, the next best thing, decanted it (not for sediment's sake - I didn't notice any) into my open jug. It is worth leaving to age and mature. Well priced for its quality." Michael Broadbent (Decanter, November 2009)

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Domaine de Mourchon on

I just came acrioss this review of Domaine de Mourchon's 2007 Seguret "Tradition" in Jamie Goode's blog on his website (

"Domaine de Mourchon Séguret Tradition 2007 Côtes du Rhône Villages, France
14% alcohol, unoaked. A beautiful expression of the southern Rhône, this is a deep coloured wine with lovely sweet, dark cherry, blackberry and plum fruit aromatics, as well as hints of meat and spice. The palate shows lovely sweet, vivid fruit, but with added meat and pepper complexity, adding a deliciously savoury counter to the ripe fruit. It’s dense and well structured, but lush and smooth at the same time. Really successful: modern but interesting, with plenty of non-fruit complexity. 91/100."

I haven't had a bottle since the early summer when it still seemed very young (though with lots of potential) - it sounds like I need to give it another whirl!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

A weekend of 1999s

With our oldest son just turning ten, the weekend was the perfect opportunity to re-taste some of his vintage in wines.

First up was Beaucastel - one person thought it slightly corked and threw it away in disgust. Everyone else thought it was brett and enjoyed everything else that was going on in the glass. When I suggested to the dissenter it had, perhaps, more of a farmyard smell than he was accustomed to (he is a dedicated New Zealand Pinot Noir drinker), he agreed it could be that (he still threw it away - will I ever get over that?). Perhaps I should have decanted it! In any case, I found it to have lovely deep black cherry fruit, quite brambly, big without being overdone.

De Vallouit's Cote Rotie 1999 "La Voniere" on Sunday was the perfect partner for roast beef. I had been asked to try it by someone who had opened a badly shaken up bottle. This was in perfect condition, very clear and bright. It looked like it had plenty of life ahead. The nose was sublime, exotic and captivating - this is possibly the only CR with the maximum 20% Viognier included. The palate superb, almost impossible to pin down; words can't do it justice so I won't try. Simply superb.

Monday night's wine was the 1999 St Joseph from Pascal Perrier's Domaine de Gachon. Pascal is one of the wine world's great characters: huge moustache, non-stop Gauloises and some great stories surrounding him. The wine started life as one of the most awkward I have encountered but now has an enticing, almost Burgundian nose, deliciously sweet. The palate is more solid but still has that lightness of touch which surprises me when I look back at the label to see it really is ten years old.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Shortage of rosé wines

On this blustery day in Suffolk I have sold the last of my Domaine des Anges Rosé. A good time to run out, you may think, given that the summer seems to have ended so abruptly. Not so - rosé is more popular now as a year round drink than ever before it seems and we have it listed in a few restaurants who are never too happy having to make changes to their lists. So, the obvious thing is to call Ciaran and arrange for some more to be shipped. Already tried it - he's sold out and is only now thinking about harvesting the 2009 crop so that won't be available until next Easter.

The problem is that 2008 was a smaller vintage than usual - around 25% down on an average year (more for some wines) - and the summer of 2009 has (until today) been a hot one both home and abroad so rosé sales have been phenomenal. We have some Mourchon and Pezat left but that's all. Oh well, the weather will, no doubt, continue to worsen so those heavy Cahors and Madirans we have coming in will hit the spot!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Madiran - the best fete des vins ever?

Having spent most of yesterday at a Citroen garage in Aire sur l'Adour waiting to find out how long it would take to replace the gearbox after it seized just outside Termes d'Armagnac, we were probably more receptive to light relief than usual but this was one of the great wine fairs.

The reason was plenty of seriously good wines - all Madiran and Pacharenc - mixed in with some great entertainment including a bunjee-trampoline for the kids (and quite a lot of people who should have known better after tasting all those wines) and some fabulous live music. One band consisted of a singer equipped with a megaphone, a guy with a snare drum, another with a tuba and one with a guitar (there was one more - I can't remember what he did and the photo doesn't help much). Their version of Jumping Jack Flash made the Stones look and sound extremely amateurish which, of course, they were. My musical highlight of the year!

Lots to do around the village too although this all cost money unlike the tasting arena which was all free (including the bunjee) - the only cost in the tasting zone was 3€ for a glass. And any wine purchased, of course.

So many wines to taste and with three small children on a blazing hot day, I only got to taste at half a dozen or so stands including Berthoumieu, Aydie, Capmartin, Producteurs de Plaimont and Crampilh. For me, the Berthoumieu wines were the most interesting but I enjoyed Guy Capmartin's exceptionally good value "Vieilles Vignes" enough to buy a few bottles and visit the estate a few days later to stock up.

Of all the sub-regions of South-West France, this has to be least interesting to visit in terms of geography and architecture but I will be returning to the Madiran fete which is certainly worth a detour if not a trip in itself.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Star gazing in Gaillac

Tonight we are staying in Cordes-sur-Ciel, one of the "100 most beautiful villages in France". It lives up to both this tag and to its name, rising into the sky as of from nowhere. Cordes is about 20 minutes north of Gaillac, itself a very attractive town, and is surrounded by many other stunning sites.

We are at a campsite just outside the village and the sky is perfectly clear. The youngest two boys have just gone to sleep but out oldest son has asked to stay up to look at the stars. He could not have chosen a better night for it. In the thirty minutes between 10 and 10.30 we must have seen as many shooting stars. The sky is lit up like a fireworks display. Absolutely incredible.

I found out later that this was a rare meteor shower which would have been visible from the UK if the skies were clear (apparently they were not) rather than this being a regular occurance but we did see more shooting stars over the next few nights so we were in the right place at the right time. A memorable end to our stay in this beautiful region.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Domaine Rotier, Gaillac

Having missed Alain Rotier of Domaine Rotier at Gaillac on Saturday, I was curious to see how his wines would stack up against those I did taste at the fair. The estate has been "in conversion" since the start of the year so will obtain organic status from the start of 2012. This seems to be a common theme amongst the better estates of the region: we came across this at Haut-Monplaisir last week, for example.

After a tour of the winery (which as Alain said, is fairly standard except for his use of 400 litre barrels - the standard is 225 litres), we got down to the wines starting with the "entry level" white "Initiales". This is 40% each Mauzac and Loin de l'Oeil with the balance Sauvignon and is one of the most acidic whites I have tasted for a while but it is pitched perfectly for salty seafood.

The oak-fermented "Renaissance" white is very different, made from older vines with good Loin de l'Oeil character on the nose (the Sauvignon Blanc seems to give more to the structure than to the flavour), a touch of wood and very good length. Well restrained, refined wine. Quite different from all those Chardonnays, Sauvignons etc; a welcome change.

The only rose is part of the "Initiales" range and is made from 70% Duras, the balance Syrah. It has a sweet palate like those candy cigarettes that must surely be banned these days. Red fruits (Grenadine) flavours. Not very long but easy and enjoyable.

Three reds: the "Initiales" has a young, fruity nose and pleasant, easy-drinking palate. 80% peppery, black fruited Duras and 20% cassis-flavoured Braucol. Fermentation at 25 degrees to extract fruit rather than tannins. Decent grip and medium length.

"Gravels" followed with deeper colour and some vegetation on the nose. Very Cabernet in style - 55% Duras, 30% Braucol and 15% Syrah - with black fruit and good length. No oak.

"Renaissance" Rouge is a vin de garde needing a minimum of five years to loosen up those tannins. Made from older vines (50% Braucol, 30% Syrah, 20% Duras) and aged in oak, there is lots of black fruit/cassis on the nose but the palate is almost impenetrable now.

A new red, as yet unnamed was much easier. Made using 80% Duras and 20% Braucol with the fermentation in barrel, it offers more red fruit on the nose and a much softer palate (even more so later that day when we polished off the rest of the bottle).

The sweet wines came as something of a relief after those tannins. The first is "Gravels" which has a lovely honeyed nose with stoned fruits, good freshness and length, helped along by good acidity. 90 grams/litre residual sugar makes this well pitched as an aperitif, for example. 65% Loin de l'Oeil, 35% Sauvignon.

One of my old favourites is the "Renaissance" Doux which I first came across when Ciaran from Domaine des Anges gave me a case insisting I would love it - he was right. This is 100% Loin de l'Oeil, much richer and sweeter (150g/l) than the "Gravels" with great length. The 2006 vintage deservedly won a Gold Medal and will easily keep for 15 years although I can't see my case lasting that long.

My only concern about these wines from a business perspective is their commercial value. I don't know how well known Gaillac wines are so the simple question is, would they sell in the UK?

Saturday, 8 August 2009

31st Fête de Vins, Gaillac

Another day, another wine fair!

Better organised than the Cahors wine fair a couple of days ago, each of the estates represented had its own shack. Interesting to see, therefore, which ones were difficult to get to. I had an appointment to see Alain Rotier on Monday morning and thought I should introduce myself. Even on the quieter Saturday there was no chance of this as his stall was constantly packed with visitors – not surprising really given his reputation as the best producer in Gaillac (whilst writing this I am sipping on some of his 2006 “Renaissance” Doux which has 155 grams/litre residual sugar, a simply stunning wine.

Better organised for families too: a magic show in the afternoon and various games and rides for when they – and you – need a few minutes out of the fair.

The wines? A mixed bag: some really good fruity wines offering superb values and some tannic brutes (lots of Syrah for the top reds mixed in with the local Duras and Braucol grapes) some of which had potential, some of which didn’t. One estate had some bizarre wines but for me the stars were the Gaillac Doux wines and, apart from the Rotier offerings which I didn’t taste until the Monday, there were a couple of real stars which would vie with the best from Sauternes etc, albeit from the local Loin de l’Oeil grape which is a little different from Sémillon!

Another good day out!

By the way, Gaillac itself is a really good tourist destination with the Abbaye St Michel a stunning building (housing the tourist office and Maison des Vins) and just a short ride away are villages such as Cordes sur Ciel.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

25th Fête de Vins, Puy l’Eveque (Cahors)

Puy l’Eveque is one of the stunning villages in the Lot Valley, the region which used to be known as Quercy (check out agneau de Quercy, the local lamb, best cooked simply with just a little salt and pepper to appreciate its superb flavour). Each year the village hosts one of the strangest wine fairs I have ever attended (this was my second consecutive visit). Strange because of the way it is arranged: one table for local white, rosé and sweet wines (fair enough) and two for the reds, around 80 wines altogether.

The problem is that no estate may enter more than one wine so everyone is putting forward the wine they think will impress the most. Usually this is the blockbuster cuvée of old-vine Malbec with, perhaps, some Merlot to soften the blow (they tend to be very young wines so very tannic, especially once you hit double figures) or some Tannat (usually around 10%) which adds a fragrant cassis character. Bear in mind this is taking place at the start of August, the hottest time of the year, so it is no surprise that the lighter style, younger-vine, un-oaked wines such as Lamartine’s 2007 bottling (10% Merlot) tend to be the friendliest (this was a fruity, easy-drinking wine for a modest price).

That said, I wasn’t going to be put off the big guns and tried around 20-30 of them (rounding off with the sweeties to get my palate back). My very favourite was Haut-Monplaisir’s 100% Malbec (all their reds are mono-varietals) 2006 “Prestige” (actually, their very top wine is called “Pur Plaisir” but the Prestige is a step up from the standard cuvée). This is cropped at 40hl/ha and gently fermented at 27 ͦ and raised in 1/3 new barrels (and 1/3 second year, 1/3 third year) for around 20 months. Some oak is apparent but the overall impression is of a rich, sweet black-fruited wine which will come into its own in a couple of years. The vineyard is now “in conversion” to organic status (which, of course, means it has been making organic wines for years).

I also enjoyed the already organic 2006 “Malbec XL” from Haut-Monplaisir’s neighbour, Château Lacapelle-Cabanac which was very Malbec in character, very black and nicely oaked. Rouffiac’s “L’Exception” was aged 24 months in oak which was very apparent on the nose, accompanised by sweet, ripe fruit which followed through to the tannic palate (best from 2012, I thought).

The Tannat blends available to taste were lead by Coustarelle’s 2006 “Grande Cuvée Prestige” which had an interesting (ie. different) oak character to most which suggested time in the bottle could not be replaced with breathing the wine but it will undoubtedly be good. Eugenie always seem to make decent wines and their 2007 “Reservée de l’Aïeul”was no exception with the Tannat quite apparent on the well-balanced palate which was not too tannic. Very typical of the forward 2007 vintage.

Some I didn’t like, mainly those with too much Merlot included but it's bad form to single them out so I won't. Some others decent but overpriced which can be a problem in Cahors (last year we visited one prestigious estate whose wines were 19€ for the standard wine, 48€ for the next and 95€ for the top wine - it wasn't a first growth Bordeaux so I couldn't see how they could justify the last one).

Overall, a good couple of hours spent tasting a mixed bag of generally good wines with few exceptional ones. A couple of tips: if you go with kids, take a few sweets along with you (there is an opportunity to buy at 3€ per 100 grams which is rather excessive for Haribo!) and take a bottle of ice cold water for yourself as your palate will need refreshing every few wines!

Monday, 20 July 2009

A Xavier vin

Dinner last night with a couple of neighbours who had been impressed to find us written up in Oz Clarke's guide. It seemed only fair to give them a taste of his recommendations. First, though, a sample sent by Miguel Angel Muro of his 2004 Reserva, the inaugural vintage of this wine. Very smooth: as always, Miguel Angel's wines are about texture first. The fruit is soft, slightly overwhelmed by the sweet oak just now but earlier incarnations (the 2001 Seleccionada Vendemmia, for example) suggest this will be a very good Rioja in a couple of years.

Another debut followed, this time it is Xavier Vignon's red vin de table which was called "Debut" until Virgin Wines trademarked the name (so I am told). This could not fail to impress the neighbours. There is so much going on in the wine it is actually very difficult to know where to start (so I won't!). Xavier has just come under the radar of Robert Parker although it is unlikely he will get this wine reviewed as I don't think he sells it in the States.

Friday, 3 July 2009

News from the Auberge du Vin - by Linda Field

Vintage 2009 - 70 days to go!
The vines outside the Auberge have berries already - now we are waiting for the veraison, the stage where the skin of the berries starts to change colour from green to red. As anyone who has been on a wine course knows, all grapes have a clear juice and its the colour of the skin and how long the juice is in contact with it in the winery, that will determine if the final wine will be white, rosé or red.

The date of the harvest is always tricky to predict - the amount of sun and rain we have in the next 70 days will impact, but assuming we continue with this 37C heat through summer, the harvest should be from the 10th September to the end of September.

Tour de France 2009-1 day to go!
All those sports mad people out there will already know Le Tour starts on Saturday, but did you know the penultimate stage will be right past us, to the top of Mont Ventoux? Watch out for us on Saturday July 25th as we wave on Brit Mark Cavendish up the gruelling 2000 metre ascent on what is likely to be an extremely hot day.

Autumn at Auberge du Vin
October and November are beautiful times of the year to visit the Auberge and enjoy the autumnal colours as the vines and the cherry trees in the region turn red, amber and gold. The wineries are less hectic and more welcoming once the wine is made, and the weather can be very sunny and bright.

Enjoy the summer weather and remember to drink lots of water alongside that refreshing glass of Cotes du Rhone rosé!


Linda Field
WSET Certified Educator
Helping you understand and enjoy wines more!
Tel: 0033 (0)4 90 61 62 84
Portable/Mobile: 0033 (0)6 04 07 82 58

Friday, 5 June 2009

All the way from Volterra

Last night I saw meatballs cooking and mentally flipped a coin to decide between Spanish and Italian. Italy won the toss and had only one player on my close-to-hand rack (about five dozen assorted bottles all for current drinking or tasting - some samples are included - and all at room temperature): Tenuta Monte Rosola's 2004 IGT Super-Tuscan, 100% Sangiovese "Crescendo".

The estate was founded only a decade ago by Gottfried Schmitt and his wife Carmen Vieytes. Just a few miles from Volterra and well outside the various Chianti zones, Monte Rosola was planted with just a couple of hectares of vines and many more olives (their olive oil is probably the best I have ever tasted). The majority of the vines are Sangiovese but there is a smattering of Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot here for their "Corpo Notte" wine which, as the name suggests, is a wine for the night time.

"Crecendo" is, by way of contrast, a wine for the early evening as the sun sets. As the evening builds into the night, so the wine develops its bitter sweet cherry character, intermingled with coffee and tar and, eventually, a hint of plain chocolate. It slips down too easily with its velvety tannins carressing the throat, leaving lingering fruit. Very sumptuous. Evenings such as this should never end.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

When Chateauneuf gets tired

Clos des Brusquieres' owner Claude Courthil sold everything off to negociants until the 1996 vintage, the first to be estate bottled. We began buying the wines with the 1998 vintage, followed by the 2001.

Claude is something of a loner, spending most of his time quietly in the fields or at the winery, gradually improving the quality of his small production. Most of his eight and a half hectares is to the north of the village on stony soil. An indication of Claude's reserve, we learnt after we had already purchased a parcel of his 1998 wines that Claude's uncle - and mentor - is the legendary Henri Bonneau, one of the most revered winemakers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Whilst Claude would not suggest that his wines are in the same league as those of Oncle Henri, they are good examples of the traditional style of wines from the region which is fast becoming history in the pursuit of Parker points and other trophies.

One problem - for me - with this style of wine is that bottling is very late. Some estates (Clos du Mont Olivet is a good example that springs to mind) traditionally bottled as and when orders came in so some wines could remain in the big old foudres for years. I once visited Les Reflets, the bottling and distribution plant for the Sabons, to be given the opportunity of tasting some wines which were between 15 and 20 years old. Normally that would be a wonderful experience; it was not. The wines had grown tired in the barrel rather in the way that a Tawny Port ages (but in that case the nuances it develops are welcome).

The very last bottle of Clos des Brusquieres 2001 in my cellar was uncorked last night and, sadly, was a perfect example of a wine that had remained in barrel for too long for my taste. When first bottled it was fine but after only three or four years, the extended barrel aging showed through with very muted secondary fruit character. There was still some fruit but the wine was just unexciting and uninteresting to me. Oh well, lesson learnt I hope.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Vintages - a lesson in words

Tonight, a bottle of Domaine Peysson's 2007 Vinsobres (they have a 20€ bottle called "La Grande Chloe" which is very good but the regular bottling is far better value at 7.2€ from the cellar door). The fruit is young but approachable with a very attractive perfume, contributed by the oak which smells and tastes quite new. A lot for the money!

I was talking with Xavier Vignon a couple of weeks ago (he of "Debut" fame). As oenologist to several hundred estates in the region, he knows the area better than anyone (even Mr Parker!) so it's always worth paying attention when he talks. I had said that I thought there are some superb values in Vinsobres which, although it had recently been elevated to Cru status, prices have not caught up yet. Xavier agreed but then went on to tell me how truly awful many of the 2008s are going to be. Apparently this area of the valley was worst hit by the rains in the run up to the harvest.

This just goes to show that whilst I have always (rightly, I believe) considered the name of the producer to be the most important words on any wine label, vintage is next, far ahead of appellation.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Wine Anorak's Jamie Goode praises Domaine de Mourchon's 2007 Tradition

Walter McKinlay gets 10/10 for good publicity. One wonders if he has enough bottles left to sell after all the samples tasted (and clearly enjoyed) by the press. Already this year I have encountered dozens of reviews of his wines all heaping praise on the wines made at his southern Rhone estate. Today it is Jamie Goode's turn to enthuse about the 2007 CDR Villages Seguret from Domaine de Mourchon

"A beautiful expression of the southern Rhone, this is a deep clooured wine with lovely sweet dark cherry, blackberry and plum fruit aromatics as well as hints of meat and spice. The palate shows lovely sweet vivid fruit but with added meat and pepper complexity adding a deliciously savoury counter to the ripe fruit. It's dense and well structured but lush and smooth at the same time. Really successful,: modern but interesting with plenty of non-fruit complexity." 91/100

Ariving soon!

Domaine de Mourchon in the Wine Spectator

James Molsworth of the Wine Spectator has been heaping praise on Walter McKinlay's 2006 and 2007 wines from his spectacularly situated estate - Domaine de Mourchon - in Seguret. I have tasted all these wines recently (at the Domaine at Christmas and Easter and on Wednesday at the LIWF - as well as the 2006 a couple of times in between) so it is interesting to know what others think after I have made up my own mind.

Top of the pile is the 2007 Family Reserve "G" (the pure Grenache cuvee) which scored 91 points with the words "Very enticing with blueberry, fig and boysonberry fruit laced with spice, fruitcake and melted liquorice notes. The long perfume- and graphite-filled finish is nicely rounded and plenry deep." 200 cases made. There are differences of opinion as to whether this wine should be enjoyed in its fruit-filled youth or held on to see how it develops. I think it has all the necessary ingredients and will certainly hold back a couple of bottles for the longer term but I have already been enjoying the 2006 so will probably do the same with this vintage.

Next the 2006 Grande Reserve also gained 91 points: "Very dark showing fig and currant paste notes but very racey with graphite, freshly drawn espresso, bittersweet cocoa and black tea notes helping to extend the long, alluring finish. Nice underlying grip." 3,000 cases made. This is classic Southern Rhone Grenache/Syrah aged in understated new oak (not all of it, probably around 40%), just beginning to come round to the drinking stage.

The 2007 Family Reserve "S" must feel like the poor relation with a mere 90 points! "Dark and broad with crushed plum, hoisin sauce and black liquorice snap and fruitcake notes backed by a fleshy, toasty finish. Racey and long, with lingering violet notes." 200 cases made. This is the essence of Southern Rhone Syrah with lots of peppery black fruit with more than a little crunchiness. Very good but I wonder if I prefer the blend?

Thursday, 14 May 2009

South West France at the London International Wine Fair - Part II: the health benefits

Dr Roger Corder of the William Harvey Research Institute followed Anthony Rose's guide to the wines with a fascinating lecture on his research into the health benefits of certain wines from south-west France - the so-called French Paradox - as discussed in his book "The Red Wine Diet".

The French Paradox concerns the lower number of coronary deaths in south-west France despite the fatty diet (think duck: foie gras, duck breast etc). The relationship with wine consumption came to the fore in 1991 when Professors Serge Reynaud and R Curtis Ellison suggested the link on 60 Minutes, sparking a surge in red wine consumption which continues today. Dr Corder showed a graph illustrating the very low number of deaths in high consumption countries such as Italy and, especially, France compared with the very low consumption countries with Scotland and Finland topping the list (of course, this doesn't make those places unhealthy to live in, just the typical diet and, perhaps, other lifestyles of the people in those countries).

He had found that between 0.25-0.5 litres of red wine (at 11-12% ABV) each and every day reduced the risk of coronary illness (but asserted that consumption in excess of 600ml per day increased the risk of other illnesses). Furthermore, the Lyon Diet Heart Study had found that up to 0.5 litres per day reduced by 50% the risk of a further vascular event (eg. heart attack or stroke) in patients who had already had one such event.

Dr Corder expanded on the science behind all of this - I am no chemist and would probably get most of it wrong (indeed, I had understood it was all to do with resveratrol but Dr Corder said we would need to consume 1000 litres of wine per day before the benefits of this ingredient were appreciated) so I would encourage anyone interested to read Dr Corder's book (as I will now!)

That said, my understanding is that our bodies need high levels of active polythenols to keep the levels of the amino acid Endothelin-1 appropriately low (we need this but high levels are dangerous). Wine polythenols include flavanoids and non-flavanoids (this group includes resveratrol); it is the pro-cyanidins which are the active component. Pro-cyanidins are found mainly in the seeds and, importantly, are extracted only when the ABV exceeds 6% so grape juice won't do.

The question then arises: does red wine increase longevity? Heart disease is more common in the beer drinking regions of norther France; correspondingly it is less common in the wine drinking south where people tend to live longer. Interestingly in 1933, the average life expectancy of a wine drinker was 65 compared with only 59 for water drinkers. At the same time, 87% of centenegerians were wine drinkers.

South-West France has the highest percentage of men over the age of 75 in all of France with the Gers having twice the number over the age of 90 of any other region in France. I find that a stunning and compelling statistic.

These are the wines of Madiran and of Saint Mont and Cotes du Brulhois in particular although a tasting at the end of the session of a Saint Mont, Cahors and Fronton showed them increasing in total phenolics and procyanidins with the Fronton having just about the highest level of procyanidins of any wine Dr Corder had tested - a staggering 2.5 grams/litre).

Essentially, it seems that any wine with procyanidins in excess of 1 gram/litre are extremely beneficial. Around 10% of red wines come into this category including 86% of all wines from Madiran and other wines such as Cahors are extremely good in this respect too. Don't expect to find this in the wines of Australia, for example, which hover around 0.25 g/l.

However, alcohol volumes are relevant too as the higher the ABV, the lower the procyanidins - 375ml of wine at 11-12% is good but more than 250ml of wine at 15% is definitely bad, it seems.

In conclusion then, it seems that a couple of glasses or so of any of the tannic brutes of South-West France will do us some good. When I asked Dr Corder more about this he said that any tannic red would be beneficial but that some varieties (he named Cabernet Franc as an example) would become less good with bottle aging as procyanidin levels decreased over time. He had not found this negative effect of aging in the Tannats, Malbecs and Negrettes of the South-West so we can continue to enjoy old-style and modern wines from this wonderful part of France, all being well until we have reached our centuries!

South West France at the London International Wine Fair - Part I: the tasting

This week is, of course, the most gruelling in the UK wine trade's calendar. The LIWF takes place over three days at Excel in east London. Each year I try to attend a special regional tasting or a seminar - this year it was a bit of both.

The session began with a tasting of nine very different wines from all over the South West of France which, when lumped together, is the fourth largest viticultural region in France (after Bordeaux, the Rhone and the Languedoc) with 18 distinct appellations, we were told by Anthony Rose who lead the tasting.

First was a white from Gaillac (Domaine Rotier), a blend of 50% Loin de l'Oeil and 50% Sauvignon Blanc. These were cropped low for concentration and partially oak fermented to reveal a wine with medium body and tangy, peachy, juicy fruit with a slightly herby finish. A revelation for me as my previous experiences have been of rather dilute wines from this region (except for Rotier's sweet wine).

Next, from Domaine des Cassagnoles, a 100% Gros Manseng wine which had all the characteristics I would normally associate with a New Zealand Sauvignon: musky aromas, zesty with grapefruit nuances. Not exactly my sort of thing (I do like the sweet wines from Petit Manseng though) but I can understand its popularity and this is clearly a good example.

The one pink wine came from Gaillac's Ch. Candastre to demonstrate the Duras grape which presented a fresh berry nose with bubblegum and raspberry/cranberry fruit on the palate in a refreshing, dry style.

The reds started with a 100% Fer Servadou wine known in the 180 ha appellation of Marcillac as Monsoir apparently. I didn't enjoy the stalky, herbacious nose but there was some good, fairly intense raspberry fruit which was pleasant although I found the wine slightly lacking in the mid-palate and on the finish of the "Lo Sang del Pais" from Domaine du Cros.

Negrette is one of the reasons I attended the session as it is the main grape in the wines of Fronton, just north of Toulouse. I started importing wines from Château Montauriol last year when I became facinated by the contrast between their mid range "Mons Aureolus" cropped at 40hl/ha and their top of the range "Caprice d'Adrien" cropped at only 28hl/ha. The first has much in common with a good Beaujolais as I discovered most of this appellation's wines do; the second wine could double up as a first growth Bordeaux!

Ch. Marguerite's wine which included some Syrah and Malbec was in the first camp: not too tannic, slightly rustic, bright and fresh with just a touch of oak. Very much a glugging wine - Anthony Rose suggested we needed some Toulouse sausages to really appreciate it.

Heading north to Cahors, another region whose wines I have begun to appreciate more since I started visiting the captivating Lot valley a couple of years ago and have imported the wines of Château Lamartine which surely must offer some of the appellation's best values. I also visited Ch. du Cedre and bought some of their superb 2005 "Le Cedre" so I was pleased to taste this again today. Whereas Malbec can be rustic, even astringent unless handled well in both vineyard and winery, there was none of this here. The wine has a deep colour and quite an oaky nose with lots of pure black fruit character. The superb ripeness all but masks the fact that this wine really needs another five years or more for the tannins to soften and will easily last through the next decade.

The final trio of wines all had Tannat in common. The first from Saint Mont, next to Madiran, a VDQS which has improved radically over the last several years but still has some way to go. The excellent cooperative produces some of the best wines (actually, I've never come across wines from this region made anywhere else!) and the "Monastere de St Mont" is a good example with a core of dark fruit and chocolate, savoury tannins and some astringency and vibrancy. Not at all bad. The Madiran from Ch. d'Arricau-Bordes was more to my liking with big, sweet black fruits (damson, mulberry) and a massive, chewy structure which desperately needs 3-5 years more to soften despite the fact it is almost certainly micro-oxygenated to help achieve this. Finally from the Basque country, the wine from Domaine Arretxea in the Irouleguy appellation had a herbacious Cabernet France character amid the intense red plum/black cherry fruit. Quite rustic and tannic, I think I'll stick with Madiran (and Cahors and, occasionally Fronton) based on this tasting.

Friday, 1 May 2009

A mixed dozen from the Rhone at Canterbury

Every year I am invited to show a selection of Rhone wines to the Canterbury Wine Tasting Society which meets at Christchurch College (it has probably changed its name in the years since I have been going along). Having just returned from the Rhone, it seemed a good opportunity to put some 2007s in front of this discerning crowd along with a selection of older wines.

Just a couple of white wines: to start with, Domaine des Anges' 2007 "L'Archange" Blanc from the recently renamed Ventoux appellation. This is Irish winemaker Ciaran Rooney's flagship pure Roussanne cuvee although, unless they have changed the rules, I should probably pretend it has some Marsanne mixed in (monovarietals are - or, at least, were - not permitted in the Ventoux). This is a wine still in the making although it is rather nice to drink now. I had my penultimate bottle of the inaugural vintage, 2004, quite recently: that has grown wonderfully fat with age and I can only dream of the direction this 2007, a better wine from a better vintage, is headed. Wonderfully aromatic with hints of citrus fruits - quite limey - and superb balance. The general consensus was that whilst the Beaucastel old-vine Roussanne may be a little better, at £11.25 this represents much better value.

Robert Charavin's white wine is one of the few made in Rasteau. His Domaine des Côteaux des Travers', Rasteau Cotes du Rhone Villages "Marine" 2007 is, as always, a blend of equal parts Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier and the first and last named varieties are, for me, the ones that really sing out. The Roussanne has aged in oak and has a lovely richness to it as well as the lime character noted in the DDA white above. The Viognier is well married to it, bringing apricot fruit to the party. The other varities do, of course, add to the flavour and textural profile but it would manage well without them it seems - perhaps. I think this is a glorious wine to drink on its own, well chilled of course, on a hot summer's afternoon whilst waiting for the barbecue to heat up. Not at all expensive for what it is at £11.50.

The first red was Domaine Grand Veneur's Cotes du Rhone Villages 2007 "Champauvins", one of the estate wines (they also have a decent range of negociant offerings; the estate wines are worth the extra pennies) which is Grenache-dominated from a vineyard adjacent to Beaucastel. The fruit is still a little fiery but the texture is magnificent for a wine from such lowly origins. The CDRs from some of the CDP producers really are the hidden values of the region. This will turn out more like a mini-Chateauneuf than anything from Cairanne, Rasteau or Seguret. £9.75 (£38/6 in bond).

The 2007s continued with Domaine des Côteaux des Travers'' CDRV Cairanne, maybe no Chateauneuf in the making but the perfume from this wine is truly intoxicating. The fruit is so packed in but there is structure too. Like the 2003s, these wines have so much fruit the tannins and other structural elements are almost hidden; unlike 2003, when they do emerge more obviously they will be in good balance. The relatively high alcohol level of this and other wines is not excessive when the wine is as harmonious as this. Another superb sub-£10 wine (£38/6 in bond).

Moving up a notch and over to Gigondas. Domaine Brusset's "Le Grand Montmirail" can be enjoyed already but will undoubtedly develop well over several years. The fruit has a maturity about it: already quite rich with black raspberries and cherries as well as some more savoury elements. The second year oak adds only a little to the flavour profile but fleshes the wine out well, perhaps contributing to its drinkability. £13.95 (£62/6 in bond)

The last of the en primeur wines tasted was from Domaine des Florets. Their prestige wine Gigondas "Saveur des Dentelles" is a steal even at £16.50 (£75/6 in bond). As with the Brusset wine, the oak helps to round out the wine but in this case the fruit has very great potential but is still a little youthful. Almost a rarity in this vintage where so many wines can be enjoyed immediately. That seems to be a plus point for this wine!

More notes from Canterbury to follow.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Just back from the Rhone

After a short delay (the car broke down just outside Montelimar so we hired a car for a few days and had a few bonus days in the south of France - can't really complain!), we have returned from Easter in the Vaucluse where I visited most of the estates I work with and a few new ones. Universally superb although, to be fair, I probably tasted only a couple of hundred wines, all from good producers, so there are probably some duds out there.

I was particularly taken by Laurent Brusset's wines which, when I tasted them at Christmas, were unsettled. Now, just a few months on, Domaine Brusset's "Le Grand Montmirail" 2007 is going to be a superb value, even with the exchange rate falling through the floor. The fruit is quite well evolved already with none of the young fiery Grenache character that can be misleading (you never quite know whether it is going to develop properly or if it is overcropped) and some additional warmth from the second and third year barrels. At 14% it is one of the lower alcohol wines I came across - Laurent always seems to manage to curtail the ABV comparatively well.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Oz Clarke reviews BRW

Not strictly a post from today but this is from Oz's 2009 guide...

"Intelligently chosen, reliably individualistic wines from estates in France, Italy and Spain.
A list worth reading, full of information and provocative opinion – and they’re not overcharging."
Oz Clarke's 250 Best Wines Wine Buying Guide 2009

Wines included in the guide:

Domaine des Anges, Cotes du Ventoux 2004 "L'Archange"
Xavier Vignon "Xavier" Rouge
Xavier Vignon "Xavier" Blanc
Moulin de Gassac, VDP de l'Herault - Sauvignon Blanc