Saturday, 28 September 2013

A trio of lovely Provençal reds for Autumn - plus a delicious wedding anniversary wine

Although the weather over the past few days has been wonderfully bright and sunny, there is no doubting the onset of Autumn. An early morning nip in the air and an abundance of dew is testament to that. And so, it is time for us to start opening a few more red wines (having consumed more whites in our house this year than ever before). And here are just 3 of the best we have tasted in the last week or so..........

Terre des Chardons Bien Luné 2012 Costieres de Nimes
Not *strictly* Provence, although Costieres de Nimes is as close as it gets without being so, wedged as it is between the southern Rhone, Languedoc and Provence. A 50/50 blend of Syrah and Grenache. When we last tasted this in June, the Syrah was very much the dominant variety, almost to the exclusion of the Grenache - so much so, that it would be hard not to imagine it was a rather good Crozes-Hermitage or even a lesser Cote-Rotie. It is still fragrant - actually, perfumed is a better word - with wonderfu plum, blackcurrant and floral aromas, but the Grenache now gets a look in. Spicy, earthy, raspberry and redcurrant notes abound, with hints of darker, crystallised fruits, black cherry and iodine. The palate is beautifully rounded, elegant and complex, with a softly tannic backbone, around which is wrapped the most voluptuouscloak of ripe red fruits, soft spice, minerality and subtle garrigue herbs. And all shot through with the freshest, most piquant sour cherry and soft citrus acidity. It really is a delightfully elegant and uplifting wine, the result of the finest grapes (biodynamic), a mix of traditional and whole-bunch fermentation, the complete absence of oak and brilliant winemaking. One of the best bargains I have ever found in 10 years of importing from Languedoc. £11.99.

The next 2 wines speak very much of Provence. Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre are the 3 varieties that make up the blend in the main Chateau d'Estoublon red wine. Winemaker and owner Remy Reboul told me at Vinisud last year that people had suggested, after tasting barrel samples, that he should bottle some varietal wines, such was the quality of each of them. He was, to be honest, rather scathing about the idea, since he believes that the true expression of his terroir is in the final blend, rather than in the individual components. Which is fair enough, but these wines are so good that they do - in my opinion - stand on their own as brilliant examples of what is possible on the southern slopes of the Alpilles.

Estoublon Mono-Cépage Grenache 2009 Vin de Table
The colour is a reassuringly pale/medium raspberry, with a slight tawny hue, whilst the nose is delightfully elegant, with aromas of redcurrant, raspberry and old leather fairly leaping from the glass, and subtle hints of sous-bois, graphite, truffle and soft citrus peeping through. There's also a gentle waft of very fine eau de vie, although despite the 15.25% (yes fifteen) abv, there is little suggestion of heat, either on the nose or the palate. Indeed, it is really rather fresh and elegant, with a veritable bucket-load of fresh and crystallised red fruit and soft citrus flavours, barely perceptible tannins and plenty of mouth-watering acidity. In the space of around a year since I last tasted it, this really has blossomed into something really quite lovely and more-ish - in short, a wonderfully balanced wine, which is a real delight to drink. Burgundy snobs might well throw their arms up in horror at my suggestion that a wine like this can be so fresh and elegant, but I would venture to say that it is almost "Burgundian" in structure. On the other hand, lovers of nearby Chateauneuf du Pape might be surprised that a 100% Grenache from outside of "their" region could be so utterly compelling. None of your 101 point Parkerised soup here, I'm afraid. Actually, I've heard more than one vigneron call Grenache the "Pinot Noir of the south" - and on this evidence, they are not far wrong. Wonderful wine. £19.99

Estoublon Mono-Cépage Syrah 2009 Vin de Table
Deep, translucent blood red. Identifiably Syrah - bramble, blackcurrant, violets and herbs, again steeped in the finest eau de vie, with enticing hints of tobacco and damp earth. As with the Grenache, the alcohol (15.5% in this case) neither burns nor overpowers the fruit. Yes, it is rich and spicy, but gloriously tangy and balanced, with cherry skin and citrus flavours, ripe tannins and ample acidity ,all of which combine seamlessly with the abundant red and black fruit flavours. In fact, this is anything but soupy - quite the opposite. And it certainly passes the "more than one glass" test with aplomb. Elegant? No. More-ish? Yes indeedy! £19.99

Oh, and by the way, 28 September 1985 was hot and sunny. How do I remember? Because that was the day I married the lovely Diane. How lucky am I?! And to celebrate, we have been enjoying a bottle of Francis Boulard Les Murgiers Extra Brut Champagne. No tasting note - but it is very yummy - just like my wife! As is this wonderful bottle of Paul Jaboulet Ainé Domaine de Thalabert 1988 Crozes-Hermitage.

Well, a special occasion demands a special wine, don't you think?


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