As usual, I can't believe it is over a week since I posted a blog entry. Time flies when you have a million-and-one things to do, but there's no let-up, when there are umpteen new wines to deal with - and just as many sample bottles to get through!
December is always hectic, but the unusually early (and unusually long) bout of wintry weather we have endured over the past couple of weeks have made things that bit more difficult. Although the bulk of my wines are stored in bond, I have to keep sufficient stocks of all of them at my store in Nottingham, to enable me to quickly fulfil orders as they come in. Which means regular 80-mile round trips up the M1 to Rotherham - hardly ideal, but Rotherham just happens to be the nearest and most convenient bonded warehouse to me. And two separate deliveries of new wines (from no less than five growers) in the past couple of weeks has meant two trips in less than ideal conditions. On the first occasion, I left dry, sunny Nottingham and arrived at Rotherham to find 6 inches of lying snow. By the time I got back home, a good 4 inches had been dumped on us, and traffic was beginning to grind to a halt. By the second time, a week later, Rotherham was almost literally knee-deep in snow, although the motorway was fairly clear - until I found the M18 blocked for my return trip, which meant going the long way, down the A1 to Worksop, then cross-country via the A614. Which would have been a real pain, were it not for some rather alluring winter landscapes along the way...........
Still, I managed once again to get home in one piece, although by that time, the view from the dining room window was this......
Even so, we actually managed to get to our monthly wine evening in Nottingham, the same evening, courtesy of the NET (tram), which clearly needs more than almost a foot of snow to put it out of action!
So what of the wines? Well, I've already posted notes on a few of them, and all the new stuff is now up on my website. And if you are on my mailing list, you'll hear all about them tomorrow or Tuesday. But I've also been enjoying (and in the odd case, not enjoying) a good few sample bottles over the last couple of weeks, so here are my notes on some good ones, from two growers whose wines once featured heavily on my list - and will almost certainly do so again, in the near future.
Les Vignes de l'Arque Vin de Pays Duché d'Uzes Blanc 2009
A blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne. Lemon and flowers on the nose, with notes of oregano, fennel, nettles and cut grass. The palate is medium-to-full bodied, with fresh, zesty lemon, orange, stone fruit and spiced apple flavours, countered by those herby nuances, with a liquorice and orange peel richness to the finish. With air, everything melds together into a rather lovely, refreshing, yet mouth-filling wine. It isn't hugely complex, but it is far from a simple quaffer. In fact, it bears comparison with a good many lofty white Rhones I've had. Nice wine. Projected selling price - £8.75.
Les Vignes de l'Arque Merlot 2009 Vin de Pays d'Oc
A clear, bright, ruby red colour, with a nose of blackcurrant, plum and tobacco, with hints of coal tar and orange peel. The palate is mellow and full of fruit - black cherry and cassis - with good acidity and a nice tannic structure - not too soft, but not too hard. I'm not the biggest fan of Merlot, but this is a really well-made wine, which gives me far more pleasure than either cheap Claret or soupy new-world Merlot. Projected selling price - £7.95.
Domaine Sainte-Rose Le Mistral Merlot 2008 Vin de Pays des Cotes de Thongue
This has a nose of plum and cherry, mixed spice, garrigue herbs and cigar box, the result of some well-judged oak - and if (as the ex-cellars price suggests) it has been "chipped", it is very well done. The palate has a medium concentration of plum and cherry fruit, with good balance between tannin and orangey acidity. The fruit seems quite young (perhaps from young vines?) and fairly light-bodied, but is actually quite elegant and refreshing, and almost "Italian", in its sweet/sour/savoury style. Another rather enjoyable Merlot. Having said that, I probably only really want one southern French Merlot for my list, and the Vignes de l'Arque version will probably win the day, on the basis of a truly excellent quality/price ratio.
Domaine Sainte Rose Le Pinacle Syrah 2009 IGP Cotes de Thongue
The label says 95% Syrah, 5% Viognier, co-fermented then aged for 12 months in French oak barrels (although I'd swear there is a whiff of American oak). The colour is opaque purple, with the tiniest ruby rim, whilst the nose is intense and expressive, with quite a marked oak influence. But it is the sort of oak that is beautifully fragrant, without masking the delightful aromas of bramble, blueberry and orange fruit. There's a hint of florality to it as well - not your typical northern Rhone lilies, but perhaps violets and spring flowers. There's also an intriguing note of butterscotch (no doubt from the oak) and a touch of meatiness. The palate is less dense and oaky than one might expect (and with a respectable - and believeable - 13.5% abv). I suspect the grapes might have been picked relatively early, in order to preserve the freshness and ph in the finished wine. And it seems to have worked a treat. There's plenty of black fruit, with bramble, a touch of blackcurrant, a hint of orange, gentle coffe/mocha oak, a smidgen of dark chocolate and a dusting of herby/savouriness. Superficially, it is quite a glossy wine, but delve beneath that slightly modern veneer and it feels very together, very integrated and really rather complex. It isn't Cote Rotie, but it does a very good impression of some of the better northern Rhone Vins de Pays and "lesser" appellation wines. Indeed, it is probably rather unfair to pronounce on this wine at such a young age, and I feel it could evolve into something quite special, with a few more years in bottle. At a projected price of around £18, though, it wouldn't be cheap. I also feel that the minimalist (and rather dark) label doesn't really do justice to what is in the bottle - I really believe that such a lovely wine calls for a much more demonstrative (i.e. traditional) label!
The wines of Les Vignes de l'Arque were amongst the very first wines I ever imported and the first vintage of the Vin de Pays Duché d'Uzes Rouge that I sold was the amazing 2001. In fact, over subsequent vintages, it was a consistently brilliant performer, and one which I was confident enough to buy without actually tasting. Until the 2006 vintage, that is, when the style changed completely. Apparently, they started using young vine fruit for this, their flagship red cuvée, and I was left with a good few cases of rather thin, weedy wine on my hands, which I ended up selling-off very cheaply. That, along with a failure to send me some promised samples, whilst on holiday in a different part of France a couple of years ago, meant that Les Vignes de l'Arque eventually disappeared from my list altogether. So it was with some trepidation that I contacted winemakers Arnaud and Patrick Fabre recently, to say hello and ask how their wines were fairing. Arnaud emailed me back very quickly and seemed genuinely pleased to hear from me - and also seemed only too pleased to send me some samples. These duly arrived (no less than 8 different cuvées) a couple of weeks ago, and the first couple of bottles (see above) were as good as ever. But the one that I wanted to taste most of all was this one - had they seen the error of their ways and reverted to the old tried and tested formula........?
Les Vignes de l'Arque Vin de Pays Duché d'Uzes Rouge 2009
Well, all I can say is a resounding yes! The nose is fabulous - a riot of bramble and plum skin and a hint of blackcurrant, with further notes of orange peel, soft spices, tobacco, oak vanillin and meat/leather. It manages to be both fruit-filled, primary and complex at the same time. The palate is simply crammed full of ripe, sun-drenched black and red fruits, with rich, chocolatey tannins and ample acidity. And the 14.8% abv doesn't make it in the slightest bit hot - just rich, ripe, orange-tinged fruit, spice, a touch of savoury and immense concentration. It may need a year or two more in bottle to really get into its stride, but it is gloriously drinkable already (and gets better and better after a day or two in the decanter). This is a brilliant wine, and easily as good as any previous vintage I have tasted - and I'm thrilled to bits to have reacquainted myself with it! And at a projected retail price of around £10, it will be one of the best bargains on my list - once I can get some shipped over in the New Year.