Sunday, 5 June 2011

Some brilliant wines from southern France (plus a Chilean interloper)

Last Tuesday was the latest edition of our monthly tasting at Le Mistral in Nottingham and, although I find it too much of a chore (not to mention a bit too geeky) to make notes on the wines, a couple of them really stood out for me;

Domaine de Trévallon 1996 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhone was everything that a semi-mature Trévallon should be - elements of fruit, savoury and minerality in perfect harmony, with velvety tannins and utterly mouth-watering acidity. There's no reason to doubt that this will keep going for at least a few more years but, as a relatively forward vintage, it seems to be at its peak right now. A lovely, life-affirming wine. Whilst Trévallon rarely fails to hit the spot, Mas de Daumas Gassac is a wine that has - for me, at least - provided too many disappointments. Having tasted a good few vintages of this wine, going back as far as the early 1980's, the only vintage that really set my pulse racing was the 1990, which was an absolute stunner. Most of the rest tended towards the austere, with a few of them remaining tannic monsters, even at 20 years-plus. So the sheer loveliness of Mas de Daumas Gassac 2000 Vin de Pays de l'Hérault came as a complete surprise. Those tannins were present and correct, but velvety and soft, with a tremendous depth of Cabernet fruit (it is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, plus a mix of 8 other varieties), spice, tobacco, garrigue herbs and flowers. Aimé Guibert set out with the intention of teaching the Bordelais a thing or two about making great Cabernet and - if this one is anything to go by - he has done exactly that. The fruit is rich, savoury and ripe, but elegant too - and without a hint of green (or even red) capsicum in sight. It is luscious and long, with a core of juicy acidity, and whilst it certainly has another 5 to 10 years to go to its peak, it really is lovely to drink now. It appears that Daumas Gassac have finally managed to temper those fierce tannins, and I think the wine is all the better for it. And on this showing, I will certainly be seeking a few vintages out for myself.

And here's a trio of wines which have hit the spot for me, over the last week or so..........

Domaine d'Estoublon Blanc 2006 Vin de Pays des Alpilles
This is so lovely - beautiful aromas of orange blossom, honeysuckle, nuts, citrus, tree fruits, Provencal herbs and woodsmoke. I'd swear there is even a touch of savouriness/meatiness in there, which is most unusual in a white wine, but most welcome in this particular one, for it really does add to the overall complexity. If I didn't know better, I might even call it "brettiness", but for a wine that sees no oak-aging at all (it is actually aged in those new-fangled "traditional" egg-shaped ceramic things) it is otherwise clean as a whistle. The flavours are equally lovely, with oodles of appley, lemony fruit, laced with herbs, spices (a touch of cinnamon and clove) and a creamy, almost oily texture which fills the mouth, but is countered by beautifully tangy acidity. That was a few days ago....... and drinking the last glass this evening, it is still quite fresh, whilst also having taken on more weight. Those who have been lucky enough to taste this and other vintages young will be well aware how delicious it is. But this one is getting on for 5 years old now and I think it still has lots of evolution left in it - and, rather like white Trévallon, I have a feeling it will be even more lovely at 10 years old. Shame it is my last bottle. :-(  That said, I will be taking delivery of the 2008 vintage (and some more of the 2007) within the next couple of weeks - both priced at £21.99. I can't wait!

Terrunyo El Triangulo Vineyard Block 28 Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Chile
It only says so in very small text on the back label, but this is from the large (very large) producer Concha Y Toro, albeit one of their more up-market bottlings. And it really is rather good. The vineyard is apparently just a few miles from the sea, on soil with abundant flint content - and there is certainly a flinty, smoky quality to both the nose and the palate, along with some nice notes of lemon oil and freshly cut hay. There's a touch of pea pod, a zingy lemon pithiness and a very gentle lick of oak. It is quite full-bodied and rich, with just a hint of warming alcohol, but plenty of acidity and mineral depth to keep it nicely balanced, in the style of a super-ripe Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé. I like it!

Chateau Peyros Greenwich 43N 2003 Madiran
This is the latest release of this excellent Madiran estate's top cuvée (a sample bottle, sent with my last shipment from Peyros). Although 2003 was a super-hot vintage in Languedoc and Roussillon, the effect in regions such as Madiran was to produce wines with super-ripe fruit, but also super-ripe tannins. Which is no bad thing with the Tannat grape, known for its unforgiving and sometimes rather agressive tannic structure. This estate was one of the pioneers of micro-oxygenation, which basically injects tiny bubbles of oxygen during the winemaking process, in order to soften the tannins. I don't know how much (if any) of this process was necessary in 2003, but it is a remarkably drinkable wine. The colour is not as dark as I might have expected - a transluscent deep ruby/blood red, rather than the usual opaque purple, whilst the nose offers wonderful aromas of bramble, blackcurrant leaf, orange peel, tobacco and undergrowth. There's a touch of smoky/toasty oak, but it is beautifully done and allows the fruit to shine through. And the palate, whilst showing plenty of tannic structure, is remarkably balanced, with some really succulent, tangy red and black fruit flavours and excellent acidity. In fact, if ever I were to use the word "elegant" for a Madiran from a hot vintage, then this would be it. Coming back to the nose, for a moment, there are some delightful crystsallised fruit and floral aromas peeping through, in a sort of Hermitage or Brunello sort of way - sounds a bit far fetched, but its a fact. I might even be tempted to compare and contrast it with a top-ranking classed growth Bordeaux, but that would be damning it with faint praise. Last night, it had the unenviable task of being paired with a chilli con carne (and did so remarkably well). The remainder will be paired with goose this evening - and it should be a perfect match.

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