Saturday, 27 February 2010

Vinisud report - the first instalment

Right then - I've had a couple of days to recover, so here goes with the first instalment (of how many, I do not know) of reports from my trip to Vinisud. Joining me for the trip was my good friend and soon-to-be-a-wine-merchant-again, Bernard Caille. As well as being excellent company, being a native Frenchman, Bernard also came in very useful as an occasional interpretor. Alright, more than occasional, since my mastery of the French language leaves much to be desired.

Anyway, we'll start at the beginning, with what turned out to be a rather frustrating outward journey. It all went very well for a while, with a very easy drive to Manchester airport in the early hours of Sunday morning, arriving well in advance of the check-in time for our 6.25am flight to Toulouse. Unfortunately, almost as soon as we arrived it started to snow. By the time we boarded the plane, a full-blown blizzard was in progress. I won't bore you with the details, except to say that we were stuck on the plane for a further three-and-a-half hours before the snow relented enough for the runway to be cleared and deemed safe enough for departures to recommence. I hate flying at the best of times, so the delay just made things a whole lot more difficult to bear. Not that I (or anybody else on the aircraft) could do much about it, as there was never any chance that they would let us get off until we reached our destination!

A murky photo of the (second) defrosting of the plane, taken on my mobile phone.

Still, I guess it could have been worse. If the snow had really set in for the day, we may never have got to France at all. We finally got into the air just after 10am, arriving in Toulouse two hours later - 1pm French time. We had been looking forward to a leisurely lunch in a Saint-Chinian restaurant with my friend Peter Gorley, which was out of the question, of course, since Saint-Chinian was around 120 miles away. So we drove straight to Peter's house in nearby Assignan, where he had a lunch ready and waiting for us. After the day Bernard and I had endured (by this time we had been on the go for more than 12 hours) Toulouse sausages, poached eggs, ultra-fresh pain de campagne and a glass of local rosé couldn't have tasted better.

Peter and his wife bought their house in Assignan around 25 years ago and have been dividing their time between there and London ever since. It is a very old property, occupying a prime spot in the centre of the village, and has been lovingly restored. The roof terrace offers wonderful views of the Haut Languedoc to the north, the Minervois vineyards and the Montagne Noir to the west and the Canigou to the south-west. It is a view I could look at for hours. But time was of the essence, since we had a tasting event to go to on the outskirts of Béziers.

The tower in the centre of Assignan, viewed from Peter's roof terrace - note the flag of the Languedoc Cross, pretty much ripped to shreds by the bitter winter winds!

Peter and Bernard on the roof terrace, looking south-west towards Minervois.

Peter led the way to Béziers, along the winding roads through Saint-Chinian and Faugeres - driving in Languedoc is rarely a chore when you are constantly surrounded by such beautiful countryside. The location for "Dégustation Melting Potes" was Domaine de Lezigno, an ancient wine cellar which has been transformed into an urban architecture workshop and artistic space. Bernard and I were particularly keen to taste the full range of Champagnes from Henri Giraud, plus a few selected growers from Languedoc. And we weren't disappointed - the Champagnes were utterly brilliant, as were some of the Languedoc wines, not least of which was a range of red wines from a Pic Saint Loup grower which has (until now) gone under my radar. Not for much longer, though, as I am very keen to import them as soon as possible.

I'll post some tasting notes from Degustation Melting Potes tomorrow (including those wonderful Champagnes and Pic Saint Loups) along with some brief impressions of the launch party for a new association of Languedoc and Roussillon lady wine growers, called "Vinifilles".

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