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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

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 …

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.

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 …

Domaine de Mourchon on wineanorak.com

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

"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!

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…

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 Blan…

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…

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 th…

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…

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 …

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 eve…

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…

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…

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 th…

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, oth…

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%…

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 directio…

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 …

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