Thursday, 18 March 2010

Vinisud report, part 7 - some highlights (plus a few lowlights) from our last day

Following another late night (dining with Jon and Rachel from Domaine Treloar at their rented apartment in Montpellier) Tuesday saw another relatively early start. Not too early, mind. Following a leisurely breakfast at our hotel in Marseillan, we were on the raod again by about 9.30, heading straight for another intensive day of tasting at Vinisud. By 10.15, the car parks were again filling-up fast, although we actually managed to find a parking space this time, saving us another long walk.

This being our last day at the event, I wanted to visit a few more of my own growers, as well as a few other growers whose wines I hadn't previously experienced, but that might have some interest. The beauty of Vinisud is that you don't have to go tearing about the countryside in order to try and visit a few growers. At Vinisud, it is a bit like the mountain coming to Muhammed - a significant majority of the growers, from small independent estates to the large cooperatives and negociant companies, have stands. Indeed, only three growers from my whole southern France list weren't actually there.

Anyway, here are a few thoughts and an occasional tasting note from some growers we visited on day 2 - in no particular order, and by no means a comprehensive list......

Domaine Treloar was, of course, one of my main points of call. Having been the designated driver on the previous evening, when we dined with Jon and Rachel, I didn't really get the chance to properly enjoy the wines they had laid on. We tasted through them all again on their Vinisud stand, although I didn't take any notes. Which may be remiss of me, since the whole range forms an integral part of my list, and I will be adding all of the new vintages very soon. Suffice to say that the wines were of a consistently high standard (I wouldn't have expected anything less!) and I look forward to listing them for many years to come. Jon and Rachel are a hard-working and very friendly couple, who deserve all the success that is surely coming their way - and I'm glad to be able to play my own small part in helping to promote their wines.

Rachel holds the fort, whilst Jon talks a visitor through his wines

Someone whose wines I was keen to taste again was Alain Chabanon. I used to sell a selection of his wines until a year or two back, having first met him at Vinisud in 2006. Those wines were pretty damn good, if a little expensive and a bit of a hard sell. We started with Trelans 2006, which is a blend of Chenin Blanc and Vermentino (a.k.a Rolle). It tasted quite oxidative, almost like a fino sherry. There were some interesting lemon and herb notes, but it was light and somewhat austere, to my palate at least. Rosé Tremier (2008, I think) was light-bodied and delicate, with some residual SO2 spritz. Le Petit Merle 2008 (predominantly Merlot) was light-bodied and quite fruity, but quite tannic and austere - even a touch green. Campredon 2008 is a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Carignan. Lovely on the nose, but again oh-so-light, with little in the way of body or fruit. Les Boissieres 2005 (mostly Grenache) was richer, but tannic and tarry. I couldn't see where it was going to end up. Esprit de Font Caude 2005 (Mostly Syrah and Mourvedre, with a bit of Grenache) was more like it, with a lot more fruit. Still, it was so tannic, I'd say it needs 5 to 8 years to soften. Will the fruit last? Maybe, maybe not, but I won't be buying any to find out. Merle Aux Alouettes 2006 (which, as the name suggests, is predominantly Merlot) had a lot of fruit on the nose, but what there was on the palate was - yet again - totally masked by hefty tannins, which will take years to soften. Again, not for me.

I was left with the feeling that Alain Chabanon has totally changed his style of winemaking - and not for the better, in my opinion. His top wines have always been given long ageing in oak (in some cases, up to 36 months) but the results in years gone by were brilliant, complex and even "soft" wines that were approachable whilst young, even if they were built to age. Unfortunately, I can't see the current crop of wines doing the same thing. Shame.

Another important rendezvous for me was with Remy Reboul of Chateau d'Estoublon. Although I have been importing from Estoublon for a little while now, this was my first meeting with Remy. We didn't have time to talk at length, since the Estoublon stand (which they just happened to be sharing with their near neighbours Domaine de Trévallon) was extremely busy. Not surprising really, as the wines are top-notch and they had a fairly big stand, including an area laid out with some comfy chairs and tables - certainly no expense spared here! Whilst tasting through the wines, Remy asked if we would like a little food to accompany the wines. Why not, we said, thinking a few nibbles might tide us over until we went for lunch. Five minutes later, we were presented with what was pretty much a full three-course lunch of a standard which had to be tasted to be believed. I won't bore you with the details, although the coq au vin was utterly historic, with two pieces of succulent poulet laid on a bed of polenta with an amazingly rich and tasty sauce. Michelin star-standard cooking at a wine fair is not something one expects too often, but it certainly was appreciated!

Bernard compliments the chef on our delicious lunch

Although I have tasted most of the wines (and indeed sell them) it was nice to revisit the Chateau d'Estoublon Syrah 2008. A sample bottle I received a few months ago did not impress, and I gave it a rather unenthusiastic write-up in a blog entry at the time. But this one was spot on - rich but fresh, powerful but elegant, like a fine northern Rhone, but with an extra bit of southern Rhone stuffing. It may turn into something really special. It all served to confirm what I had previously suspected, which was that the sample bottle I had was faulty in some or other way. Chateau d'Estoublon is definitely an estate to watch.

Remy Reboul - winemaker at Chateau d'Estoublon

Once we had finished our lunch, Eloi Durrbach, who is something of a legend as far as I am concerned, came over to shake hands and exchange a few pleasantries. We tasted his Domaine de Trévallon red 2007, which showed all the hallmarks of yet another great wine. It was spicy and full, with oodles of garrigue herbs and poached red and black fruits, along with plenty of that juicy acidity which is a hallmark of Trévallon. At the time, I thought that it had some quite firm tannins, which would need a good few years of ageing to soften. It was only when I tasted more wines on other growers' stands that I realised that the delicious, but extremely rich and sweet dessert we had enjoyed on the Estoublon stand had made a big difference to my palate. A good few wines which I assume were actually very good actually tasted very tannic and austere after my taste buds had taken such a battering. Which leads me to suspect that the 2007 Trévallon is actually open for business and those tannins are very fine and pretty well integrated. Nevertheless, I think it will be a 15 year wine, if not 20 - and maybe even one of the great vintages.

That's it for now - in my next post, I'll mention a few more wines and growers of note from our last day, including a classic example of how to market some truly shit wines. No, I'm not cursing - they really were called "Vins de Merde"!

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