Thursday 9 March 2023

Domaine Ravanès - a tasting of new releases and older vintages

Hello?! Remember me? I used to write a wine blog..... but, to my great surprise, it has been over 5 and-a-half years since I last posted (and much longer since I was posting at all regularly).  So what do I do now, when all of a sudden I have a particularly interesting set of wines and tasting notes that I want the world to know about? Well, why not put them here on my Blog?! Whether anyone will see them is open to question, of course - my erstwhile pretty healthy audience may well have dwindled to nothing, over the years - but to whoever reads this, thanks for looking, and I hope you enjoy the read.......

Friday 30 June 2017

A new discovery - Ma Poésie 2016 Vin de France

As always, June is holiday time for us (in Languedoc - where else?) and I did intend to post a few blog entries whilst we were here. Unfortunately, for virtually the whole two weeks until yesterday, we have had no Internet connection, which has scuppered my plans. However, I have lots to write about, so will certainly be posting several new entries over the following few weeks, as and when time allows. For now, though, I feel compelled to tell you about a wonderful new (and unexpected) discovery - Ma Poésie 2016 Vin de France.
This is a wine that exemplifies/typifies the efforts being made by small-production "garagiste" vignerons all across southern France these days. And in this particular case, no less than 5 different vignerons, who all make wines in the same tiny single-storey building, situated along a country track, north of Sommières, between Montpellier and Nîmes.
The wine cellar/chai(!)

Indeed, under the tutelage of the inspired (and elusive, as I have *still* yet to meet him) Robert Creus of Terre Inconnue, these 5 growers are making some of the quirkiest, most interesting and downright delicious wines in the Languedoc region. I already import from 3 of them - Terre Inconnue, Domaine de Maruejols and Domaine Adeleandre. And now I have had the pleasure of tasting this wine, from another of the 5.......
Tasting barrel samples and a few bottles

We were actually supposed to meet Robert Creus yesterday, but he was unfortunately unable to make it, so he asked the delightful Sylvi Leichtnam to meet us instead. Sylvi runs a chambres d'hote business nearby, and she kindly showed us around the cellar, offering us a variety of barrel samples as we went along. And then she opened a bottle of Ma Poèsie 2016, the very first vintage of her own wine.......

Not least because one of Sylvi's favourite wines is Domaine de Trévallon, it just so happens that she has fashioned a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, aged (as are most of the wines in the group) in a mix of stainless steel vats and old oak barrels. Although her wine may not quite possess the wild, "sauvage" nature and structure of Trévallon itself, it is a wonderful wine in its own right. Whilst the colour is quite a deep, dark cherry red-purple, suggesting a big wine, the nose is really quite elegant, offering myriad red and black fruit aromas, with hints of garam masala, black pepper, rosemary, thyme and polished old wood.

The palate is equally elegant and (dare I say it) almost feminine, offering a multitude of bramble, cassis and black cherry fruit flavours, again with myriad spice and herb nuances, with very fine, supple tannins and just the right level of balancing acidity. It finishes spicy, warm, sweet-sour, with little hints of savoury and balsam, and is very long. For a first effort, it really is a remarkably lovely wine, which is already good to drink, but would also age and evolve for at least 7-10 years, probably more. Oh, and it is - bien sur! - pretty much biodynamic and pretty "natural", with just a little SO2 added at the bottling stage. 14% abv.

Bravo Sylvi! I *will* be importing some of this wine, in due course - if Sylvi will let me have some. :-)
Sylvi Leichtnam and her first wine
Incidentally, we also met another excellent winemaker yesterday, as part of the same visit - about which more, very soon.

Monday 12 December 2016

Brexit - have turkeys really voted for Christmas?

I've rarely, if ever, used this blog as a political platform. After all, it's supposed to be (mostly) about wine. But one of the reasons I have posted just one single article in the last 6 months or more is that I have spent an inordinate amount of time on Twitter and Facebook, ranting and seeking solace amongst like-minded (and occasionally opposite) people about the disaster of 23 June 2016.

The following is a quote from a BBC article on the issue of a so-called "Hard Brexit", by one of 60 or so Tory MP's who want to inflict irreparable damage on our nation and its economy; Suella Fernandes, MP for Fareham, who said: 

"As was made clear in the referendum campaign, remaining in the EU's internal market like Norway, or in a customs union like Turkey, is not compatible with either of these commitments and doing so would frustrate the will of the electorate." 

So, how exactly was it "made clear"? And who says it is "the will of the electorate"? I very much suspect that 95% or more of the electorate have little or no understanding of how things like the Single Market, EFTA or customs union actually work. And why should they? Most people have their own lives to manage, and prefer to leave the intricacies of trade agreements and inter-EU commerce to those much-maligned experts. Indeed, as someone who imports (wine) from the EU, even I don't have a particularly good grasp on these things - though I am only too aware that "Hard Brexit" would probably mean tariffs on wine and other goods (with obvious price implications) together with more, rather than less, bureaucracy and hoop-jumping. In other words, disastrous for small businesses like mine, and most probably for every other business (large or small) that imports goods from the EU. 

But according to Ms. Fernandes and her self-serving cohorts such as Rees-Mogg, Redwood, Gove, Duncan Smith, Fox etc (and, I suspect, a good few on the Labour side - this goes way beyond party politics), the prospect of economic suicide is "the will of the electorate". And yet, there is not one single commentator (including some of the more obvious "Leavers" at the BBC) that would deny the fact that - for better or worse - the one single issue that won the referendum for Leave was immigration. That in itself is a far more complex issue than most people (both racist and non-racist) could imagine, but the emotive aspect, as presented by the likes of the Mail, Express, Sun and (to an extent) the Telegraph, gave them an easy target. 

So let's be clear, the "will of the people" (or at least a shade over 1/4 of Britain's total population) is not withdrawal from the single market/EFTA/customs union or any other *real* economic issue - it is varying shades and combinations of "send 'em all back", "regain control of our borders" (which we already have control of), "freedom from un-elected Brussels bureaucrats", "sovereignty", "the whole world will be desperate to trade with us", etc. And if anybody wants to argue that they voted Leave because of issues other than those stated above (and it is entirely reasonable to suggest there will be some) I will say this - you are in a tiny minority. 

I've spent the last 6 months grieving and tearing my hair out over the utter madness of the 23 June referendum result. Let's be honest, in a year full of awful news, Trump was also a bit of a shock. But assuming he reaches the White House to begin with - and that is by no means yet a certainty - at least the US can vote him out in 4 years' time. 

But the prospect of Brexit (of any texture) and the divisions it has created in the UK presents the nation with the darkest, most profoundly disturbing issue it has faced in the last 70 years. Aside from the economic, political and social issues, it threatens the very existence of the greatest peace and cultural project the world has ever seen. And that is far too high a price to pay for "taking back control". 

As things stand - and in the spirit of the Season - the turkeys have indeed voted for Christmas. But if I were a betting man (which I am not) my prediction would be this: Once the lies have been fully exposed, once the offer is on the table, and once it dawns on "the electorate" that what they voted for is very different to what they are actually going to get, we will be offered a second referendum on the "terms". And pragmatism - or, if you like, a collective sense of self-preservation - will win the day.  OK, so my feeling is based as much on hope as it is on common sense, but as the saying goes, it's not over until the fat lady sings. Watch this space............

Friday 25 November 2016

2016 and all that (plus a couple of bargain reds)

What follows was meant to form the basis of a newsletter to my customers, but I thought better of boring them with my thoughts (and occasional ranting), so it now manifests itself as my first blog post since January. 10 months without hearing from me? How have you coped?!

Anyway, a lot has happened in 2016 – and to be honest, not a lot of it good. A succession of national (and international) treasures dropping like flies, suffering the shock of Brexit whilst on holiday in the south of France, the ensuing fallout as a nation became deeply divided over the whole shambles…. and now President Trump(!) This really must be the weirdest (and for me personally) the most frustrating year in my 55 years on this planet. The last newsletter I sent out to my customers was way back in June, shortly after yet another bombshell, as we were forced (through no fault of our own) to move all of our wine stocks out of the bonded warehouse to another storage facility. The 5-figure sum that we had to shell out to pay the excise duty was a big cash-flow hit for a small company like ours, and recouping it was a slower process than we had hoped. Hence the relative paucity of new wines added to the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines portfolio this year.  

The imminent threat of Brexit (I underline it because I believe it is by no means a done deal) is of course a constant worry. Whatever the arguments for and against - and, as you may have gathered, I personally can see little in its favour - the potential impact on wine importers, especially small independents like us, would be at best difficult to overcome and at worst disastrous. The 15% fall in the value of Sterling against the Euro is one thing (although we have been there before), but the possibility of leaving the single market and customs union is potentially a much bigger threat. Personally, I believe that unless and until we actually jump off that cliff, nothing is certain, but I guess only time will tell. Meanwhile, we carry on and hope for a workable outcome.... 

To be honest, there have been times this year that I have seriously considered packing it all in and finding something (actually, lots of things) more useful to do with my life. None more so than a couple of weeks ago, when a customer emailed me to say he was unable to complete his order on the website. In the 12-plus years of its existence, I had never encountered such a problem. Following no less than 3 days (and nights) of frantic efforts to fix the problem, I finally got to the bottom of things and managed to carry out a complete refresh/update that got things working perfectly again. Thanks in no small part to a thread from 10 years ago on a software user forum – isn’t Google wonderful?! 

However, having dodged a bullet with that one, I finally realised that it was time to put 2016 behind me and get on with something I have been threatening to do for a couple of years. And so, we have invested in the latest all-singing-all-dancing e-commerce software and I will be busy over the next couple of months preparing for a brand new site to go live, hopefully very early in 2017. Wish me luck! Furthermore, with 2016 almost out of the way, and with everything back on an even keel, we will be back on the buying trail very early in 2017. So rest assured that Leon Stolarski Fine Wines is still here – and here to stay. 

As for blogging, clearly I need to rediscover my enthusiasm and motivation. I'm not the sort of writer that can bang out an article (or even tasting note or two) in double-quick time - it takes concentration, attention to detail and the desire to provide regular input. Something(s) that I tend to lack, these days. Then again, if I can write tasting notes and other wine-related material on Facebook/Twitter, it will do no harm to copy them across to this blog, for my wider readership (if it still exists) to see. It might also help if I can, as the Leavers say, "get over it" and stop Remoaning! Meanwhile, here's a tasting note I banged out recently.

Les Vignes de l'Arque Duché d'Uzes 2014
Almost a year on from my first taste of this wine, and it is really starting to sing. 50/50 Syrah and Grenache, it is full of bright, vibrant, chunky summer fruits, with a whiff of freshly-baked bread on the nose and just the right combination of ripe red/black fruit, rounded tannins and cherry kernel acidity on the palate, with a sprinkling of garrigue herbs and soft, peppery spice. Languedoc-does-Côtes-du-Rhône, to a very high standard indeed. A snip at £8.95 and the perfect pizza wine.

Mas Sibert Armélot 2014 Vin de France
Sometimes, you open a bottle that just sings from the very first sniff and sip - and this is one of them. A quirky blend of 40% Merlot, 40% Syrah and 20% Petit Verdot, which is very definitely more than the sum of its parts. Winemaker Simon Bertschinger was very selective in opting for very particular clones of Merlot and Petit Verdot, choosing the ones that offer ample acidity. Ripeness is a given, of course, as the grapes are grown on gently undulating slopes around Pézenas, but it is a testimony to the skill of this young (Swiss) winemaker that he can achieve such wonderful balance and vivacity - not to mention a wonderful sense of place - in his wines. And this is simply overflowing with luscious, tangy, sweet-sour raspberry, blackcurrant and red cherry fruit, with hints of garrigue herbs, soft citrus and beautifully ripe tannins. And oh, that acidity. It just grabs you, in the most gloriously mouth-watering, tongue-tingling way! At just £11.50, it is an absolute bargain - a simply wonderful, life-affirming wine!

By the way, if you want to follow me on Facebook and Twitter..........


Thursday 7 January 2016

At last – A brand new book about the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon!

I can hardly believe that it is almost 6 years (April 2010) since I published this blog post, concerning my good friend Peter Gorley's quest to find funding for the second edition of his book, Gorley's Guide - The Wines Of Languedoc-Roussillon. Even at that time, a good many years had passed since any sort of comprehensive book had been published about this wonderful - and still rapidly evolving - wine region. Rosemary George's seminal book The Wines of the South of France: From Banyuls to Bellet was released in 2001, followed by the first edition of Gorley's Guide in 2002. But since then, nothing of any real substance has come along to assist those who are interested in searching out the region's sheer wealth of new and dynamic wine growers that have appeared in the intervening period. There can't be many world class regions that have suffered such a dearth of new or topical reading in that time, let alone one which many of its proponents (of which I am obviously one) consider to be currently the single most dynamic and varied wine region on the face of the planet.

During that time, things have changed in so many ways – almost all for the better – with huge advances in the quality of the wines produced, fuelled in no small way by an influx of young, dynamic, quality-minded winemakers, who in turn have raised the bar for the older growers and the farmers who have gone independent, following the demise of the previously dominant wine co-operatives. In short, lovers of Languedoc and Roussillon wines have never had it so good. As I have said above, I honestly believe that the region is now the most dynamic in the world of wine,  producing wines of just about every style and colour imaginable, at unprecedented levels of quality – and of course prices to suit every pocket.

I hardly need tell you that, since I first highlighted his work in 2010, Peter's journey towards (self-) publication of the second edition of his book has been long and arduous. I believe he did eventually manage to obtain a modicum of help - though seemingly more moral than financial - from one or two of the region's promotional organisations, but still not enough to finance a physical/hard copy book - yet.

However, I am so happy to announce that it has finally been published in iBook form. And having been given a sneak preview, I can confirm that Peter Gorley – The Wines And Winemakers Of Languedoc-Roussillon has been well worth the wait. 

And although the project originally had a working title of Gorleys Guide II (or GG2, as Peter called it) this is effectively a completely new book, bearing only a passing resemblance to the much smaller (and sadly out of print) "GG1".

At around 450 pages, with 15 chapters or “routes”, covering no less than 500 different growers, it is a comprehensive and beautifully illustrated guide, with useful maps and stunning photography, not to mention plenty of tips on what to see, where to eat and - bien sur - where to find the best wines.

Contact details and addresses (and website links, where available) are provided for every one of the 500 featured growers, with biographies and tasting notes ranging from a few lines to a couple of pages. The book is the result of a decade or so of hard graft on the visiting, tasting and writing trail, which has been translated beautifully and affectionately by Peter Gorley into a truly comprehensive guide. Indeed, a true Pièce de Résistance, and one which every lover of Languedoc-Roussillon, both aficionado and novice alike, should cherish.

Peter Gorley – The Wines And Winemakers Of Languedoc-Roussillon is now available in the iBooks Store, at a bon rapport qualite-prix of just $15.99 / £12.99. For those who have yet to succumb to the joys of Apple technology, a version of the book in pdf format is also available at the same price, via Peter's website.

I should point out that, although Peter and I have become good friends over the last few years, I myself have nothing to gain from the promotion of his book – apart from the warm glow of having received an honourable mention in the Acknowledgements section and a few name-checks in the various grower profiles(!)

Monday 16 November 2015

Domaine de Montesquiou - a fabulous quartet of dry and sweet Jurançon

My Facebook friends (no doubt some of whom are also readers of this blog) will have seen a post from me a few weeks ago, extolling the virtues of a rather fabulous wine, which was a sample sent to me along with my previous pallet of wines from Domaine de Montesquiou. Problem was that it arrived in December 2014 - and I only actually discovered it a couple of months back! Furthermore, the label told practically nothing about what was in the bottle, and I was reluctant to open it until I knew a little more about it. A flurry of email correspondence with winemaker Fabrice Montesquiou eventually revealed that it was a (almost) dry white, essentially a Jurançon Sec, but with more residual sugar than allowed for it to qualify for that particular AOP. Hence, it is labelled as a "humble" Vin de France. Of course, as I have often opined, some of France's very best wines are - for a variety of reasons - labelled as such. And this was a very special wine indeed. And although that wine was from the 2013 vintage, I have managed to get my hands on some of the 2014, which is every bit as good! I'll explain in more detail a little later.

Meanwhile, here's a photo which illustrates what I have been occupying myself with, over the last few evenings.................

Yes, my latest pallet from Domaine de Montesquiou has arrived this week! All are from the 2014 vintage, and mostly bottled less than 2 months ago, so surely yet to really get into their stride. But boy are they good already! Here are my tasting notes.............

Domaine de Montesquiou l'Estela 2014 Jurançon Sec
50% Gros Manseng, 10% Petit Manseng, 40% Courbu. Clear, pale, shiny silvery-gold colour. The nose offers a complex array of freshly-cut lime, orange peel and hay aromas, delightfully prickly and with an almost palpable minerally, smoky depth - a fabulous nose! Hints of peach/apricot add just a suggestion of richness, which manifests itself on the palate and offers a generosity that I haven't encountered in previous vintages of this cuvée. It really is delightfully concentrated and intense, yet wonderfully fresh and mouth-watering, in a zesty, appley, earthy, mineral sort of way. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a wine of this sort of structure and class at twice the price. An absolute delight and by some distance the best vintage of this cuvée that I have tasted. 13.5% abv. £9.95.

Domaine de Montesquiou Cuvade Préciouse 2014 Jurançon Sec
60% Gros Manseng, 30% Petit Manseng, 10% Camaralet. Bright, medium-pale, limpid gold colour. Intense! And very complex, too - aromas of lime oil and orange peel, with a generous portion of apple pie with raisins and hints of exotic fruits, not to mention a pot-pourri of herbs and spices. Having been bottled in September 2015, at the time of writing (November 2015) it takes a full day or more after opening to really open-up, but one's patience is richly rewarded. Although this wine spends 10 or so months in barrel, the oak influence is ever so subtle, allowing the fruit to shine through on the palate. It is concentrated but bone-dry (with just 2 g/l residual sugar), beautifully balanced, taut and structured, full of zesty lime/orange fruit, herb and spice and even a hint of grape tannin. As ever, though, the qualities that shine through more than anything are the intense, stony/steely minerality and tab-tingling acidity, which carry the fruit all the way through to a very long finish. Another truly life-affirming wine. 14.0% abv. £11.95.

And now, a little background information about *that* wine............

To qualify for the Jurançon Sec appellation, the residual sugar in the finished wine must not exceed 4 grammes per litre. Depending on picking dates (the harvest is carried out in several tranches or "tries" - sometimes by necessity, as they have a limited number of vats) the potential alcohol levels in the grapes can be anywhere between 13% and 16.5%, especially for Petit Manseng. For the later-picked grapes, converting all of the sugars to alcohol can prove problematic, at least at the relatively low fermentation temperature Fabrice prefers. Because of this,  they occasionally experience a "stuck" alcoholic fermentation with at least one of the vats intended for Cuvade Préciouse. And whilst it is possible to kick-start the fermentation again (by increasing the temperature) Fabrice feels that this would not be true to the style of Jurançon Sec he is looking for. The upshot is that, with a little blending, as and when necessary prior to barrel ageing, he is able to make two distinct cuvées; Cuvade Préciouse, from (mostly) earlier-picked grapes, with 2 g/l of residual sugar and 14.0% abv, and Terre de France, from the later-picked grapes, with 10 g/l of residual sugar and 14.5% abv. Just a few barrels of the latter are made (no more than 4, so by my calculation, around 1200 bottles) and then only when the vintage conditions dictate. 2013 was the first vintage, and it was made again in 2014, but none was made in 2015 - so if you want some, don't wait too long!

This certainly isn't your typical "super cuvée" - it is a wine made largely by necessity, rather than design. And although the residual sugar means that it can only qualify as a "humble" Vin de France, it exhibits all of the qualities of Cuvade Préciouse - only with the volume turned up to 11(!) Yet despite its inherent richness and concentration, it possesses all of that wonderful acidity and minerality so typical of great Jurançon Sec, so it should (in my humble opinion) be treated as an essentially dry - albeit extremely versatile - table wine. Here's my tasting note................. 

Domaine de Montesquiou Terre de France 2014 Vin de France
65% Gros Manseng, 30% Petit Manseng, 5% Camaralet. The nose offers masses of honeyed, sweet-smelling quince and apricot aromas, laced with aromatic herbs and spices, orange blossom, honeysuckle and a judicious lick of oak. And yet it still has that lifted lime oil and mineral quality so typical of Jurançon Sec - you can literally smell the acidity and immense freshness, even before you take a sip. Indeed, for a wine with such immense concentration (and an abv of 14.5%) it really is quite staggeringly juicy and refreshing, with barely a hint of alcohol, and the most complex array of flavours you are ever likely to encounter in a young, dry white wine. It manages to combine the same zesty lime/orange fruit, herb and spice qualities as Cuvade Préciouse, not to mention similar levels of acidity and minerality, whilst achieving perhaps even more depth and elegance. I'm not sure if my enthusiasm for this wine is quite clear enough, but just in case it isn't, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that it is the loveliest white wine to have passed my lips this year - indeed for many a year. If it were Burgundy (for there are indeed certain structural similarities) it would be a top 1er Cru at the very least. It really is utterly wonderful and more-ish. And at the price, a really quite remarkable bargain! 14.5% abv. £11.95.

And last but certainly not least..........

100% Petit Manseng. The grapes for this wine are harvested deep into November, by which time they have begun to dry on the vine, concentrating the flavours, whilst retaining all of the bracing acidity which is the hallmark of Petit Manseng. The colour is a very enticing shiny, rich yellow-gold. Goodness me, what a fabulous nose! The intensity pricks (or more appropriately caresses) the senses, offering a veritable orchard-ful of sweet apple, apricot, mango and passion fruit aromas, with further notes of dessicated orange peel, root ginger, cove and fig. Trust me, it's all in there! Take a sip and you are transported to vinous heaven. It is palpably sweet, luscious and full-bodied, whilst at the same time supremely balanced, courtesy of the most glorious, tangy, citrussy acidity and earthy minerality. You could *almost* imagine drinking this as a main course wine (think chicken, duck or sweet and sour pork), but the rich, sweet/tangy palate makes for a match made in heaven for starters such as patés, fois gras or smoked mackerel. Or of course it is equally suited to desserts (lemon or apple-based tarts and puddings) or soft cheeses. A stunning wine! 13.0% abv. £15.95.

Fabrice Montesquiou amongst the vines - taken during my visit in June 2006.
Time for another visit in 2016, methinks!

Incidentally, during my recent flurry of correspondence with Fabrice, I asked him about Camaralet. This is a grape variety mentioned on most of the back labels of Domaine de Montesquiou's wines (except Terre de France, which doesn't mention any varieties), although I had never seen it listed in any of their "fiche techniques". Indigenous to south-west France, Camaralet is apparently very rare, these days, even in its home region, to the point where it has recently been on the verge of exctintion. Although known to have a fine aromatic and flavour profile, it has small berries in loose clusters and generally produces low yields, and is also susceptible to grey rot. But with the high trellising favoured by Domaine de Montesquiou (which allows the air to circulate freely around the vines) this is obviously less of a problem, although yields are unpredictable and vary from vintage to vintage. They planted more Camaralet vines in 2014, which should come into production in 2017 or 2018. It's great to see such passion for reviving these old, almost-forgotten grape varieties, from one of the finest growers it has ever been my privilege to be associated with.

All of the new wines from Domaine de Montesquiou are now available for you to buy (just click the links above the notes) - and bargains every one of them!

Wednesday 7 October 2015

The wines of Domaine Gigou

A good many years ago, one of the members of Nottingham Wine Circle (a big fan of Bordeaux wines and an even bigger fan of the Loire) presented a selection of wines from Le Loir. No, not "La Loire" (the big river) but "Le Loir", one of its tributaries slightly to the north. And I have to admit that, whilst I found the white wines (based on Chenin Blanc) rather delicious, I hated the reds. Or at least I thought I did.

Fast forward a few years and the same person presented a similar tasting and I loved them all. I suspect that, having cut my wine-drinking teeth on the likes of Aussie Shiraz, Cali Cabs, rich southern Rhone blends and, latterly, wines from the sunny south of France, my palate had been incapable of appreciating (or simply too inexperienced to appreciate) the nuances and subtleties of wines grown in the relatively cool north/central part of France where the Loire Valley is situated. Indeed, Le Loir is even further north, being situated midway between Le Mans and Tours.

A couple of years ago, whilst on the way down south, we visited a couple of growers in Le Loir and I tentatively thought about importing some of the wines. It didn't happen - one of the main reasons being that I still had almost a pallet's-worth of German wines sitting in the bonded warehouse that nobody seemed to want to buy. And if I couldn't sell top-notch German Rieslings, how the hell would I sell wines from unknown growers in the least-known part of the Loire Valley, (no matter how much I myself loved them)?!

Anyway, fast forward yet another couple of years to June 2015, and TLD and I found ourselves making an overnight stop at the very splendid Hotel de France in La Chartre sur Le Loir...... which just happens to be situated on the banks of Le Loir, smack dab in the middle of the Coteaux du Loir and Jasnières appellations. Indeed, one the very best growers was less than a mile down the road. And so we found ourselves next morning visiting Domaine Gigou for a tasting of some truly excellent wines - and resolving once again to import them. After all, our mantra (a rather important one, in the fickle world of selling wine) has always been "if we can't sell it, at least we will enjoy drinking it"!

The Jasnières white wines of Le Loir are - like Touraine to the south - based on Chenin Blanc (sometimes known locally as Pineau Blanc de La Loire). The Coteaux du Loir reds are based on a fairly obscure variety called Pineau d'Aunis - which is rather confusingly also known locally as Chenin Noir! Gamay also gets a look in, either as part of the blend of Coteaux du Loir or as simple Vin de France. I'm not sure of its origins (and I have yet to look it up) but Pineau d'Aunis actually has more in common with Pinot Noir than anything else, both aromatically and in flavour/structure - lighter in body, and invariably with a peppery bite, but still with a profile that every Burgundy aficionado would recognise. It certainly won't appeal to everyone, but it certainly puts a smile on my face these days.

The Gigou family (image courtesy of the Gigou website)

The Gigou family have been making wine in the region for over 40 years - Joel and his wife Sylvie created the estate in 1974, with son Ludovic becoming part of the team in 1998 and daughter Dorothy joining a few years ago. Domaine Gigou is without doubt one of the most respected and traditional growers in Le Loir, producing a range of dry and semi-sweet Chenin Blanc white wines and some deliciously quirky, fruity, spicy, sappy wines from both Pinot d'Aunis and Gamay. They farm a dozen or so hectares of vines, from various vineyards dotted around the region, on a variety of soils/terroirs. They farm organically (indeed, they also employ various biodynamic principles) and use only the natural yeasts on the grapes for fermentation. The wines are aged in vaulted troglodyte caves (typical of the Loire valley) in a mix of stainless steel vats and very old oak and chestnut barrels, and are bottled and released only when they are ready to drink - or at least approachable, for they will age for a good few years, especially the whites.

The vaulted cellars (image courtesy of the Gigou website)
According to Richard Kelley MW (undoubtedly one of the most respected authorities on the wines of Le Loir and La Loire) "The Gigou’s wines are the epitome of the old, traditional style of Jasnières, and they are justifiably proud of the fact. They are the reference point for this style of wine in the region and ........... are great ambassadors for these two appellations."

And if you would like to read more about Domaine Gigou, together with numerous tasting notes which testify to both the high quality and ageing ability of their wines, see Richard Kelley's full grower profile

Meanwhile, here are my notes on a selection of Gigou wines, which are now available for you to buy, via the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines online shop;

Not for lovers of big, rich, jammy wines, this is light, sappy and ethereal, with oodles of tart wild strawberry, raspberry, red cherry and rhubarb aromas and flavours. Beautifully dry and peppery, with lemony hints - really mouth-watering and more-ish, with a long, tangy/spicy finish. Think of a village Burgundy from a cool(ish) year, but with a little less tannin and more fruit, and you're there. Many inexperienced drinkers would find it rather thin and acidic - as indeed I did, a few years ago - but this is a style of wine I have grown to love. It really is deliciously yummy and saliva-inducing stuff! 12.0% abv. £11.40

Although this is 100% Gamay, the resemblance to a minor Burgundy Pinot Noir is uncanny. I guess that has something to do with the traditional maceration (rather than carbonic) and the more northerly climate in which this is grown. Quite a deep colour, with a nose of raspberry and soused black cherry and hints of black pepper and undergrowth. The palate is superficially light and airy, with abundant red and black fruit flavours, plenty of tangy, cherry kernel acidity, just the right level of rustic tannic grip and a gentle peppery, stoney/mineral bite. It isn't a particularly serious wine, but it hit all the right notes when tasted on a pleasant late summer's evening - and was a great match for a barbecued steak and new potatoes with a tomato and green salad. A deliciously light, airy, food-friendly wine. 13.0% abv. £11.95

Medium yellow/gold colour with a slight orange hue. A nose of apple and citrus, with hints of honey and nuts, intense slatey minerality, wet straw and perhaps even the merest suggestion of botrytis - a classic Chenin Blanc nose, full of complexity. There is real ripeness here, but the palate is pretty much bone dry, with citrus and apple fruit flavours countered again by intense minerality and deliciously searing acidity. And that slight hint of botrytis adds a touch of contrariness to the proceedings, whilst the finish is long and tangy. A lovely, classic, old-style Chenin Blanc. 12.2% abv. £12.50

Bright, medium-deep orange/gold colour. The nose offers complex white fruit, citrus, honey and floral aromas, with a pronounced herbaceousness and hints of lanolin and emulsion paint. The palate is beautifully clean, tight and focused, almost bone dry, with intense, juicy, lemon, lime and gooseberry fruit and equally intense, steely minerality. It really is a most wonderfully mouth(and eye!)-watering wine, certainly not lacking in ripeness, but made in a traditional, bone-dry style. The faint-hearted may find it somewhat austere, but I find it dangerously drinkable (with or without food), although it certainly has the structure to age for years, if not decades. The more I sip it, the more I love it! Long too. Another brilliant, old-style Chenin Blanc. 12.0% abv. £14.30

A glorious medium-deep amber/gold colour. The nose is equally glorious - classic late-harvest Chenin Blanc aromas of lime oil, bruised apple, raisin and orange peel, accompanied by pronounced wet stone/flint and wet wool notes and subtle hints of preserved root ginger and beeswax. I'm not sure how much botrytis the 2010 vintage enjoyed, but I suspect this is more in the way of passerillé (grapes dried on the vine) because, whilst the texture is rich and gently honeyed, it is tremendously focused and tightly-structured. With a fair amount of residual sugar, the palate falls somewhere between demi-sec and moelleux. Layer upon layer of preserved white fruits, honey, lime oil and mandarin orange coat the tongue, with the oily/honeyed texture offset by a massive layer of stoney minerality and fantastically eye-watering apple/citrus-tinged acidity. The combination of - or perhaps the contrast between - lush, sweet, raisined fruit, mineral tang and elevated acidity really is something to behold, and makes for a wonderfully contrary wine, with a long, lingering, spicy, bitter-sweet finish. An outstandingly brilliant wine, which will probably be even greater in another 10-20 years - and certainly a match for the very best sweet wines of La Loire. 12.5% abv. £19.99

Incidentally, the delightful Hotel de France (mentioned above) in La Chartre sur Le Loir makes for a perfect stopover, if you are ever on your way to/from the south of France. It is a beautiful Logis de France hotel, with an excellent restaurant, situated in the heart of the town. And since it is only around 20km from the famous Le Mans circuit, it also happens to be a favourite haunt of many race fans and teams, during the week leading up to the 24 Hour race. Which means that you have a chance of bumping into some rather legendary names from the racing world.........

Yours truly, with a certain Derek Bell, 4-time winner of the Le Mans 24 Hour race, outside Hotel de France.
Nice chap, though he seemed to question my taste in shirts! ;-)

More soon. A bientot!

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Ahahr (revisited)! More wines from the Ahr Valley

I know - like buses, you wait for ages for a blog post from me, then two come along at once! Anyway, as promised in my previous post (of literally minutes ago) here's one I wrote earlier, using my new little smart phone gizmos...............

These are my notes from a recent tasting of wines from the (relatively under-the-radar) Ahr Valley region of Germany. This follows on from a similar tasting in November 2010, and the wines certainly seem to be on the up. Just two growers were featured in the latest tasting, namely Weingut Meyer-Näkel and Weingut Kreuzberg, and the prices (from the cellar door) seemed eminently reasonable. As with the 2010 tasting, the wines were presented by Kevin and Ena-Marie Scott, who are regular visitors to the region. Apologies for the standard of the photo, by the way, but it was the only one I took - and is useful, if only to illustrate how Ahr Valley growers for some reason like to put their top Pinot Noir wines into tall bottles!

1. Meyer-Näkel 2012 Illusion No 1 Blanc de Noir
A decent, if rather unremarkable, fizz.

2. Kreuzberg 2013 Blanc de Noir
Nettles and Pears, apples and a touch of wet wool. Lots of acidity, but not a lot else - again, unremarkable.

3. Meyer-Näkel 2013 Weissburgunder
A bit more like it, with some varietal character, albeit in a slightly sicky way. Nice rich, fruity and slightly nutty on the palate, with plenty of juicy acidity and steely minerality. Decent stuff.

4. Meyer-Näkel 2013 Riesling
Cut limes and mineral/Stone. Slightly herbaceous and a hint of orange, which shows even more on the palate. Otherwise, very steely and high acid, but quite enjoyable, though not a lot of Riesling character.

5. Kreuzberg 2013 Spätburgunder
All sour cherries and tobacco, with a tiny hint of oak. Sour red and black cherries on the palate, with a real /asp of lemon juice and quite tarry tannins. Young but promising. €10.80.

6. Meyer-Näkel 2009 Spätburgunder
€10.80. Meat and tobacco on the nose, hints of damp earth. Rich and concentrated, almost sweet, jammy fruit - Stops just short of NZ Style OTT-ness. Quite complex, but a little short on acidity. Decent, but not special.

7. Meyer-Näkel 2013 "G"
This does smell more Burgundian, akin to a Nuits Saint-Georges. Subtle dark cherry and raspberry aromas, with minimal oak influence. Palate is lovely, with Sour Cherry and a slight bitterness that actually contributes to the freshness and structure, with ripe tannins and good acidity. Very good stuff. €14-ish.

8. Meyer-Näkel 2008 "G"
Smoky, slightly bretty nose, almost shitty, with a touch of Band Aid. Palate is really quite dull and flat. Over the hill? I think so.

9. Meyer-Näkel 2013 Frühburgunder
Elegant, complex nose, ranging from red cherry to mandarin Orange, with tobacco and herbs. A nice prickle to the palate, with good acidity and soft tannins, allied to bright red fruits and soft citrus. Manages to be complex and elegant and easy-drinking at the same time. Lovely.

10. Kreuzberg 2009 Unplugged
Ooh, yum! Complex, elegant fruits and damp earth, tobacco and herbs. Lovely palate, pure, high-toned, cherry and raspberry, fine tannins, lemony acidity, elegant and really lovely. Cracking wine.

11. Kreuzberg 2013 Neuenahrer
Dirty, slightly musty nose, but not detrimental to the wine itself. Again, very sprightly, almost lemony, tight, but really quite enjoyable, in a youthful way. Probably wont age, but why wait. Very nice. €13.50.

12. Kreuzberg 2009 Neuenahrer Schieferay
Classy nose, tobacco and earth, subtle oak. Another complex wine, with masses of sour cherry and raspberry fruit, earthy notes, a hint of mixed spice and herb, polished wood and myriad other things going on. This is *really* cracking wine! A stunner. €17-ish, so great vfm. 

13. Meyer-Näkel 2012 Blauschiefer
Equally complex, in a savory, meaty way, with plenty of underlying fruit, hints of flowers. Again, a slight spritzy bite, which heightens the sense of an elegant, complex, fruit-filled wine. Soft tannins, but plenty of juicy acidity, not to mention a really quite Burgundian structure and flavour profile. Really delicious and reasonable value at around €24.

14. Kreuzberg 2009 Devonschiefer
Very Morey-St-Denis, with its exotic spice-laden fruit nose, a gentle meatiness and a touch of damp earth. The palate also reminds me of MSD, with soft spice, raspberry and strawberry fruit, a welcome touch of jamminess and excellent structure. Another winner, which I can see ageing nicely for a few years. Lovely.

15. Meyer-Näkel 2012 "S"
This is another really good wine, which - almost in spite of its similarily to NZ Pinot - hits the Spot in many ways. Tarry, quite rich, but still nicely balanced, if not reaching the heights of the previous few wines. Still very good, though!

16. Kreuzberg 2008 Schieferlay "GG"
Deeper, darker, but with some elegance. Again, more NZ than Burg, albeit very good. I just like it less than some of the more recent vintages.

17. Meyer-Näkel 2006 Demauer Fruhburgunder Pfarrwingert
There is a good wine in here, but the slight oxidation or madeirisation gets in the way.

In conclusion, I would say that (as with the 2010 tasting) the whites from the Ahr region are decent but unexciting. The reds, on the other hand, are getting better and better - and are in some cases genuinely world class.
If you would like more information on these two growers, here are links to their own websites........

Weingut Kreuzberg

Weingut Meyer-Näkel

Isn't technology wonderful?! A pair of new apps that have just made my life a lot easier.

Yes, I know that it has - once again - been a while. But this time I might be back for good, as I have news of a couple of "apps" I have discovered, both of which are free, which will hopefully facilitate much more action on this blog than there has been over the last year or more.

Firstly, Google Handwriting Input is the sort of thing that I have been searching for, for a very long time - namely, the ability to use a stylus (or indeed just my index finger) to write on the screen of my smart phone (in my case, a Samsung S4 Mini, with Android). I simply scribble away at whatever it is I want to write, and - hey presto! - it converts my writing to text in whatever application I am in at the time, be it text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, or indeed anything at all that would normally require me to type into my phone. As with most things that are new to us, it takes just a little bit of getting used to, but it really is quite intuitive, and any errors that it makes are usually down to my terrible handwriting. These are easily spotted, and it only takes a couple of clicks on the backspace button to correct. That said, I find that my mistakes are getting fewer, since it appears to develop something akin to predictive text, in that it seems to recognise unusual words or names that I have written previously - which comes in very useful when I need to write so many foreign wine names and places. It even recognises accents on letters - é, ô, ü, etc. All-in-all, a very useful little application, which renders the keypad (and in many circumstances, the keyboard) redundant.

One of the best things about the Handwriting app for me is that I no longer need to go through the laborious task of writing notes (with a pen and paper/notebook) and then sitting down at the desktop computer and typing them into a document or application. For instance, as my customers and friends know, I write full tasting notes of every single wine I sell via the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines website, which was always a necessary but somewhat painful task. But now I can open a bottle of wine of an evening, take a photo and then swirl, sniff and sip to my heart's content, whilst writing my note into a Facebook post. I can therefore kill two birds with one stone, by boring my Facebook friends about what I am drinking *and* writing a "live" tasting note to add to the website (or indeed this blog). Who said men can't multi-task?! ;-)

The second app I have installed is called Google Keep, which is essentially a note-taking organiser. For those of you who remember the 80's, think Filofax, but without the hassle - or indeed the shame of actually being seen with one (and I never dared buy one)! Google Keep offers me the facility to write notes "on the go", in conjunction with the Handwriting app, which are then recorded for posterity in the cloud. You can also take photos from within the app, which are stored with the relevant note. An even more amazing function of Google Keep - especially for someone like me, who still looks on in wonder, as a large airliner magically lifts off from the ground - is that you can take a photograph of a printed document, press a button and have it "grab" the text. Which comes in very useful when faced with (for instance) a long tasting sheet at a wine presentation. So with the name of each wine already written for me by the app, I then simply write my notes underneath. Isn't technology wonderful?

I should add that - at least from a personal point of view - I don't see the above technology as having replaced the good old desktop computer. Sometimes, it is easier to simply sit down and use a keyboard and a mouse - and I don't see that changing for a good while yet. Indeed, this post was written in that way. But my next post (which will follow almost immediately) will have been compiled almost exclusively on my little phone, before being copied and pasted into Blogger............

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Top Cru Beaujolais - Domaines Piron and Lardy

I have been promising to write-up the notes from this rather excellent tasting, ever since it took place in October 2014. It was the result of a summer visit by Nottingham Wine Circle members David Bennett and Peter Bamford to the domaines of Dominique Piron and Lucien Lardy. I don't have much technical information about the viticultural or vinicultural practices of either grower, though I assume David or Peter might chip-in with some info in the comments section. There are links to both growers' websites at the bottom of this post.

By way of full disclosure, I am told by David and Peter that whilst the Piron wines were sold to them at "trade" prices, the wines from Lucien Lardy were very kindly provided free of charge, specifically for this tasting. Not that there is ever any obligation to publish notes on every wine given away by growers. But in this case, it would be a shame not to do so, since the wines - and especially those from Lucien Lardy - are well worthy of merit. From what I am told, Dominique Piron is hailed as one of *the* stars of the region, whilst Lucien Lardy seems to be flying somewhat under the radar............... 

David Bennett (left) and Peter Bamford (right). Apologies for the grainy photo, taken with my phone. Then again, with these two, the softer the focus, the better!
Beaujolais Blanc, “La Chanaise”, Dominique Piron, 2013 
Vanilla and lemon, like a fresh-from-the-oven lemon layer pudding. The palate seems a bit one-dimensional and flat. Decent enough, but boring. 

Beaujolais Blanc, Chardonnay, Lucien Lardy, 2013 ** 
This is really good stuff and, frankly, knocks the Piron into a cocked hat. Identifiably Macon Chardonnay – lemon, apple, minerality, lovely acidity, floral. Yummy! 

Brouilly, Dominique Piron, 2013 ** 
Carbonic maceration? Boiled sweets and tar on the nose, quite floral, meaty too. Brioche. Lots of dark cherry and bramble fruit, lovely acidity and rich, ripe tannins. A lovely drink. 

Fleurie, Dominique Piron, 2013 **+ 
Totally different to the Brouilly above. Smoke, meat, mushroom, iodine, earth, with subtle floral and mineral notes. The palate is contrary – elegant and fine, with more structure – tannins are lighter but grippier. Sour cherry, steely minerality. Long, warming and really lovely. 

Morgon, “Côte du Py”, Dominique Piron, 2013 *** 
Dark, with cherry, meat and floral aromas. Quite northern Rhone, but also quite Cote d’Or - not a bad mix! Ripe and even rich, but very classy and beautifully made. The range of flavours – savoury/fruit/mineral - is exceptional and the balance is spot on. This will be even better in 5-8 years. A really brilliant wine.

Morgon, “Côte du Py”, Dominique Piron, 2012
Apparently 2012 was a disastrous Beaujolais vintage, and I guess it shows in this wine.Very dumb nose. Sniff hard and you get iodine, raspberry, lapsang tea, earth. The palate has hints of emulsion paint, mineral and earth. There is some fruit, but it is all rather lean and graceless (in comparison to 2013’s). 

Régnié, Domaine de la Croix Penet, “Croix Penet”, Dominique Piron, 2012 
Again, iodine/mineral, earth, a hint of meat, quite tannic and extracted, and seemingly having had too much time in barrel. Decent, but not distinguished. 

Chénas, Domaine Piron-Lameloise, “Quartz”, Dominique Piron, 2011
Earthy, meaty (there’s a trend here), ripe, with notes of blueberry muffin and tar. Earthy, dense; lots of ripe, chocolatey tannins and lots of oak. This needs lots of time, though I reserve judgment. 

Fleurie, “Lardy”, Lucien Lardy, 2012 ** 
Complex, in a way that nothing leaps out, but there is plenty going on. Lots of small, sweet, wild strawberry and raspberry, hints of leather and herbs, flowers. This isn’t a show-off – rather it speaks quietly but carefully. Balanced, beautifully structured and elegant. This really is very classy stuff and was a true bargain at €7 from the cellar door. A cracker. 

Fleurie, “Les Chènes”, Lucien Lardy, 2011 **+ 
What a lovely nose! Elegant, full of subtle berry and red cherry fruits, both fresh and crystallised, yin and yang, with a touch of oak, but very carefully done. This is beautifully elegant, balanced, classy. A really lovely wine. 

Fleurie, “Les Chènes du Vivier”, Lucien Lardy, 2011 **+
Another lovely nose - Love Hearts (remember them?) and a lick of classy oak (new, I suspect), but with lots of earthy, minerally, floral and other things going on. The palate is already so elegant, soft yet compelling. I could drink this now, but it has lots of potential. Another lovely wine. 

Fleurie, “Les Moriers, Vieilles Vignes”, Lucien Lardy, 2012 **+
Smells of seared steak – char-grilled. Once again, some oak is evident, but the effect is subtle, with all of the emphasis on fruit – bramble and cassis, black cherry. Complex and compelling wine. This guy makes great wines! Another to drink or keep. 

Fleurie, “Les Moriers, Vieilles Vignes”, Lucien Lardy, 2011 **++ 
I’m losing track and running short of adjectives. Sweet fruit nose (fresh and crystallised), aubergine (apparently), slow roasted beef / gravy, hints of flowers. The palate is once again so complex, so approachable, yet full of verve and truly multi-dimensional. Again, some oak, but the fruit is more than ample. Hints of iodine, cough medicine, mint, jam, bread. Uber complex and utterly delicious.

In conclusion, though some of the Piron reds showed very well, it is worth noting that the best were all from the stellar 2013 vintage, whilst the 2011's and 2012's were pretty average, at least to my palate. The Lardy reds, on the other hand, were all 2011 and 2012 - and without exception, they were all truly delicious. Suffice to say I would love to see what sort of wines he made in the fabulous 2013 vintage!

All of which goes to show that the old adage rings true - it's not about the vintage, it's about the grower. Having said that, one should never assume blindly that a grower's wines are necessarily worthy of their lofty reputation. Ultimately, Piron may be the star, but the Lardy wines were considered by pretty much all those present to be the purest, most structured and most elegant of the two. Indeed, were I to dip my (commercial) toe into the Beaujolais market again (which is unlikely, since I always found it such a hard sell, for some reason) then I would be banging Monsieur Lardy's door down, in order to get my hands on his wines! 

Grower websites;                       

Friday 21 November 2014

Heads-up for an excellent new Languedoc blog

Wot - 2 blog posts in a day?! Well, I thought that whilst I was on such a roll, I would give you a pointer towards an excellent new(ish) blog, authored by one of my customers and Facebook friends, Alan March.

Alan retired this year, from his job as a school teacher in the north-east of England. Much like TLD and I, Alan and his wife have been holidaying in Languedoc for many years and have developed a great love for the region, it's culture and of course it's wines. So much so that they decided to make use of their new-found leisure and spend a whole year living the dream in rural Languedoc. Although they haven't (yet) decided to make the move permanent, I suspect that may be a strong possibility(!)

Not that it has suddenly become all play and no work for Alan. Over the years, he has formed a strong friendship with one of the region's most enigmatic winemakers, Jeff Coutelou. So much so that, since his arrival in Languedoc a couple of months ago, he has been hard at work as Jeff's all-round helper in the vines and the cellar, learning the ropes and generally immersing himself in the everyday workings of a Languedoc wine estate. Not to mention tasting plenty of fabulous wines along the way. It's a hard life, but I guess someone has to do it!

Alan March, hard at work in the cellar
(photo nicked from his blog!)

Alan and I have yet to actually meet, although after many years of correspondence via this blog, Facebook, other wine websites and email, it seems like we know each-other well. And I won't let the fact that he is a Liverpool supporter (my loyalty is with Nottingham Forest) get in the way. Nor the fact that, whilst away from the UK, he isn't buying any of my wines! ;-)  I actually owe Alan a debt of gratitude for having introduced me to the wines of Mas Coutelou. He'd been banging on about them for so long that I felt I needed to taste them and see for myself. So whilst on holiday in June, TLD and I visited Jeff and were treated to a fascinating tour of his vineyards and a tasting of some of his wines (even though he had none to sell, at the time). Suffice to say that I was blown away by Jeff's wines and his whole viticultural and vinicultural ethos. And, with more than a little help from Alan as my "man on the spot", I have since managed to secure a shipment of Jeff's latest wines, which will arrive in stock next week. I can't wait!

I shall write in more detail about Mas Coutelou very soon. Meanwhile, I urge you to take a look at Alan's blog, A March In The Vines. As a journal of his adventures in and around Languedoc (and occasionally further afield), it is rich in content and really is well worth following - and you even get to read it in a choice of languages (English and French). Keep up the good work, Alan!

A wonderful new wine from Chateau La Dournie

I posted the following note on my Facebook page last evening and someone suggested that "it feels like a blog post". Which I must say did strike a chord with me - it isn't that I have disappeared from the social media scene (which I guess includes blogging), it is just that Facebook seems a much easier medium in which to post quick entries, directly from my phone. Then again, a lot of potential blog posts have gone this way in recent months, and it seems a shame not to spend a few minutes cross-posting them to my blog. Plus of course there are plenty more (sometimes much meatier) issues that deserve blog posts of their own. Therefore, you can take this as a commitment to start ramping-up the blogging again (yes, I know I've said it many times before, but now I'm serious!). Now if I can just shake off this horrible virus that has been bugging me for the last 3 weeks, I might just find the energy and enthusiasm to keep my promises....... ;-)

This has the unmistakable whiff of a (very) fine wine...... a veritable cornucopia of fresh and preserved red and black fruits burst forth from the glass, combined with (but not to be out-done by) all manner of herbal, floral, medicinal, earthy and savoury aromas. Freshly baked bread/brioche also gets a look in, not to mention a hint of the very finest eau de vie you can think of. Oh and just the *faintest* lick of (older) oak. It really is quite the most complex, integrated and intoxicating wine I have sniffed in a while. If I didn't know better, I would swear there was some Syrah in there, but this is a blend of Grenache and Carignan, so I guess the classic Saint-Chinian terroir (schiste) has worked it's magic once again. There's always a danger that such a wonderful nose might end up as the highlight, but in this case not a bit of it - this wine is absolutely the real deal, with oodles of spice-laden, garrigue-infused black cherry and bramble fruit, rich, ripe tannins and a backbone of truly mouth-watering acidity. 

A rather well-known and respected wine writer and Languedoc expert described this very wine as "reminiscent more of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but not too heavy or alcoholic". Well I am here to tell you that the latter may be accurate, but the former is complete tosh. For although it may not be like your everyday Saint-Chinian, it does possess all of the vibrancy and elegance that the best wines from this (relatively cool-climate) region of Languedoc has to offer - and is therefore far more reminiscent of the wines of the northern Rhone. The more I drink it, the more I am falling for it's rich, sweet-sour, tangy-spicy-herby loveliness. Apparently, there were just 600 bottles of this wine produced for the inaugural 2011 vintage. And having not tasted it previously, I have to admit that I bought a shamefully tiny quantity. So small in fact that I will limit my customers to 3 bottles each. And at £21.95 (yes I know, expensive for Languedoc) it is a fantastic bargain. Bravo Véronique Etienne - you have created your masterpiece..... and please save me a few more cases for my next order!

Tuesday 19 August 2014

What I did with my summer - Plus a brand new book about the wines of Languedoc and Roussillon

OK, so my stated intention earlier in the year to start posting a little more on here has – at least until now – gone badly awry. I am putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of the fabulous summer we have (or do I mean had?) been enjoying. Not that I have necessarily been lazing around doing nothing, but when push comes to shove, working outside beats working inside. Hence, since we returned from our June holiday in Provence and Languedoc (about which more in due course) I have been busying myself with jobs I have been postponing for far too long, such as erecting the large wooden gates on my driveway (which had been “seasoning” against the kitchen wall for a full 2 years!).

My beautiful new gates - our own little piece of southern France!

I've also spent many hours making various other renovations to the outside of the house, clearing and organising what TLD calls my “man cave” in the garage and – most time-consuming of all – tending the vegetables and fruits in my greenhouse and raised beds.

The Goode Life - Tom and Barbara would be proud!
The upshot is that we now have much more security and privacy (not to mention our own little piece of the south of France) courtesy of our beautiful new azure blue gates. Not to mention complete self-sufficiency in tomatoes, chillies, capsicums, cucumbers, beans, courgettes, shallots, onions, carrots, beetroots, lettuces and even some very successful frisée lettuces (yes I know, they are really endives). And in a few weeks, we should have corns on the cob galore!

The downside to all of this is, not surprisingly, is that most things wine-related (apart from drinking it, of course) have been put on the back burner. I have page after page of notes from numerous grower visits from my June holiday, which I haven't even begun to transcribe yet. I also have the bare bones of a new website, which I haven't touched for several months. And most importantly - and some would say most unforgivably - I have devoted very little time to the actual business of selling wine. That said, summer always tends to be the quietest period of all - and with the best will in the world, and effectively being a "one-man band", the 24/7 (365) wine business grind can sometimes be a bit wearing. At which point the multiple roles of head chef, housekeeper, gardener, handyman and all-round domestic super-hero make for a refreshing change. Furthermore, the great summer of sport - The World Cup, Le Tour, Wimbledon, golf (both watching and playing), motorcycling (ditto) and all manner of other things - has done little for my focus. But with summer seemingly morphing all too quickly into autumn, I guess it is time to regain that focus.......... 

But I digress. The main thrust of this post is to tell you all about a new (and very welcome) book about the wines and vineyards of our beloved Languedoc and Roussillon. Until very recently, I wasn't familiar with the name of Wendy Gedney, although I had heard she had recently published a book about the region. During the second week of our June holiday, I called winemaker Brigitte Chevalier, to arrange a brief visit to taste the latest vintages of her fabulous Domaine de Cébène wines. She told me that she would be at her cellar in the hills of Faugères the following afternoon - and although she would be conducting a tasting for a group of visitors, TLD and I would be welcome to join in. And as chance would have it, this group was led by none other than Wendy Gedney, on one of the many wine tours that she organises, via her company Vin en Vacances. Naturally, Wendy and I got chatting about our respective lives in the wine trade and she kindly gave me a copy of her book, The Wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon. And I have to say, it is a delightful and very informative read.

The aim of this book is not to lead you to individual wines or wine growers - indeed, it only mentions the odd grower, in passing here and there, throughout the entire book. Rather, it offers an all-encompassing guide for the wine lover, with chapters covering the history of the region, the many and varied landscapes and terroirs, the grapes, the wine laws, the wine styles and viticulture. We are taken on a vinous journey from the Gard, in the far east of Languedoc, all the way to Banyuls and Collioure at the southern end of Roussillon, detailing the grapes, wines and terroir of every appellation and sub-appellation in-between.

Along the way, we learn about towns and villages of note, the stunning scenery, some of the region's notable food and drink specialities and lots more. The book is beautifully illustrated - not to mention greatly enhanced - by myriad specially commissioned colour maps, pencil drawings and watercolours by illustrator Jenny Baker.

Most importantly of all, it is a book which will appeal equally to seasoned wine enthusiasts and Languedoc-Roussillon aficionados, as well as those who are new to the region. Furthermore, since it's main purpose is to provide the reader with an all-round guide to the region and it's wines and vineyards - rather than keep up with the relentless pace of change and evolution amongst the wine-making fraternity - it is sure to remain relevant and topical for many years to come. And for that, it deserves a place on the bookshelf or coffee table of any self-respecting lover of Languedoc-Roussillon.

Whilst on the subject of books about the region's wines, many years have passed - and so much exciting progress has been made - since any sort of in-depth publication about the growers and wines has been published. Thankfully, the wait may almost be over, as my good friend Peter Gorley informs me that he is progressing quickly towards publication (initially, at least, in e-book form) of the second edition of Gorley's Guide to the Wines of Languedoc-Roussillon. 2014 is certainly shaping-up to be an excellent vintage for wine books!

"The Wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon" by Wendy Gedney is now available via the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines online shop, priced at £19.95.

You can find out more about Wendy's wine tours, plus lots of tips on where to stay, via the Vin en Vacances website.

Thursday 1 May 2014

A new star in the Languedoc - Domaine Saint Sylvestre

I'm not quite sure how it was that I came to hear about Domaine Saint Sylvestre, although I have a feeling it may have been via their Facebook page. In any event, my interest was suitably piqued by the information I found and the images of their vineyards, scattered amongst the wild, oak-covered hills of the Terrasses du Larzac, near the village of Puéchabon, just a few kilometres north-east of Aniane - historically one of the real hotbeds of Languedoc fine winemaking, with such esteemed growers as Mas de Daumas Gassac, Domaine de La Grange des Pères and Domaine de Montcalmès all situated close by.

Vincent Guizard became involved in viticulture from an early age, working in the vines with his grandfather and, in the late 1990's, he worked with Olivier Jullien at Mas Jullien. From 2003 to 2010, he was part owner, in association with Frédéric Pourtalié, of Domaine de Montcalmès.

At the end of 2010, Vincent decided to break away from Montcalmès, taking his 7 hectares of vines and creating Domaine Saint Sylvestre, together with his wife Sophie, who also has several years' experience in winemaking, as well as having previously spent some time in London, working for a wine marketing company.

Having corresponded with Sophie via Facebook, she invited me to visit the estate whilst on holiday in the region last June. And so it was that we arrived in Puéchabon, for our 10 o'clock rendezvous with Sophie, on a somewhat atypical gloomy, overcast early summer morning. Before tasting the wines, Sophie drove us up into the hills, along a series of tracks almost as rugged as the landscape itself, for a tour of the vineyards.

The estate currently comprises around 8 hectares, set in clearings among the holm oak forests above Puéchabon, and surrounding the isolated 12th century church of Saint Sylvestre des Brousses de Montcalmès. The vines are planted in four separate plots, all of which are between 300 and 350 metres above sea level; 
  • "Fon de La Coste" is mainly Syrah, planted in 1989 on clay/limestone soil, with a north-west-facing aspect. 
  • "Saint Sylvestre" was planted in 1993, with Syrah and Grenache, on south-east-facing slopes, with a "topsoil" of galets roulés (similar to Châteauneuf-du-Pape). 
  • "Défriche de Rouges" (défriche meaning cleared forest) is the largest plot, with a similar aspect and terroir, and was planted by Vincent between 2000 and 2003, comprising Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. It is worth noting that the wines resulting from each of these three plots are markedly different, providing a compelling argument for the concept(s) of microclimate and terroir - not to mention complexity in the final blend. More on this later. 
  • And finally, "Défriche de Blancs", comprising Chardonnay, Roussanne and Marsanne, was planted in 2007, with an east-facing aspect, on limestone soil. 

Even on such a gloomy day (weather-wise) the setting is beautiful and tranquil, leaving you with a feeling of being miles from anywhere - which is pretty much the case, actually (take a look at the satellite view on Google Maps and you will see what I mean). In many ways, it reminds me of Domaine de Trévallon - and not many vineyard sites can match such a landscape.

After our tour of the vines, we headed back to Puéchabon, where Vincent and Sophie have built a small but functional new winery, on the very edge of the village. Although not officially organic or biodynamic, Vincent and Sophie prefer a sympathetic approach to viticulture, along the lines of "Lutte Raisonnée" (the reasoned struggle) and no synthetic fertilisers or herbicides are used in the vineyards - apparently, the biggest danger to the vines are the voracious wild boar that roam the vineyards, feasting on the ripening grapes! All of the work in the vineyards is done by hand, and they keep the yields very low (around 20 hl/ha) by way of de-budding and green harvesting. Fermentation is completely reliant on naturally occurring wild yeasts. For the red wines, each grape variety, from each plot, is vinified separately, with long cuvaisons of between 30 and 40 days, then aged separately for 2 years in used barrels (i.e. which have seen one or more previous vintages) before being blended 3 months prior to bottling. For the whites, each grape variety is pressed separately, with the resulting juice being blended and then fermented and aged in used barrels for one year. Bottling is carried out according to the phases of the moon.

We were joined by Vincent for a tasting of 2011 wines in bottle, plus various components of the 2012's from barrel, beginning with the whites;

Le Coup de Calcaire 2012 (from barrel)
90% Chardonnay, 5% Roussanne, 5% Marsanne. Very cool-climate and Burgundian in style. Floral, full of fruit, yet delicate and minerally, with a fresh, almost prickly palate. A really fabulous expression of Chardonnay. If only I could get my hands on some!

Le Blanc 2012 (from barrel)
45% Roussanne, 45% Marsanne and 10% Viognier. A cool, minty, herbal nose, rich but not dense, lemon and orange. Not oaky. Gently prickly, without being zesty. Elegant.

Le Blanc 2011 (from bottle)
Same blend. The yield for this wine was a miniscule 13 hl/ha (18 hl/ha for the 2012 above). A little less expressive than the 2012, but still very complex, with hints of flowers and orange peel. Quite rich, unctuous and lovely, and I imagine quite age-worthy.

Then a series of 2012 reds from barrel, being the various constituents which would eventually go into Le Rouge 2012;

Grenache 2012 from the Saint Sylvestre plot - Gently woody and spicy, smooth and elegant, with red fruits, rather than black.

Grenache 2012 from Défriche de Rouges - Stronger and more robust, slightly tarry and more overtly spicy and with richer/darker fruit.

Syrah 2012 from Saint Sylvestre - Dark and dense, with an elegant nose of preserved red fruits and subtle hints of leather and meat. The palate is at the same time taut, yet elegant and lovely, with soft tannins, tangy acidity and gently spicy and herby.

Syrah 2012 from Défriche de Rouges - Robust and dense, with hints of curry spices, but with a delightful streak of freshness.

Syrah 2012 from La Fon de La Coste - There's a lot going on here. New leather, spice, bramble and garrigue herbs. Big and expressive, but with underlying elegance.

Mourvedre 2012 from Défriche de Rouges - This is so ripe! Brambles and prunes on the nose, with a hint of orange peel. The palate is contrary - fresh, almost zesty, with velvety tannins, spice and cracking acidity. Very long and lovely.

Les Vignes de La Garrigue 2012 (100% Carignan) (from barrel) 
I must admit that I failed to enquire about the origins of this wine, but seeing as Carignan is not listed as being in any of the other four plots, it must be from an entirely separate plot. I have no idea of the age of the vines, though I suspect that they may be old and very low-yielding, for I believe only 300 bottles are produced annually. The colour is dense and, whilst the nose is a touch muted, the palate is gloriously expressive and elegant, with ripe red and black fruits, a hint of citrus and fantastic acidity. I love it!

Le Rouge 2011 (from bottle)
70% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre. A complex nose of ripe red/black fruits, leather and soft curry spices, with distinct notes of flowers and violets. Rich and expansive, with spicy undertones and herbs of the garrigue. A wine of real structure - lovely already, but with great potential for the future.

Les Vignes de La Garrigue 2011 (from bottle)
100% Carignan, neither fined nor filtered. Lots of leather, mixed fruit and citrus aromas and flavours, with a typical rasp of  Carignan rusticity - which is just how I like it(!)

And that was it - a fabulous and very enlightening tour and tasting, in the company of delightful people. The only disappointment (and a big one at that) was that Sophie and Vincent had not a single bottle of wine that they could sell me. With (by my calculation) only around 20,000 bottles produced each year, their wines are in such demand that they are available only on allocation, to their loyal band of customers and cavistes. Considering that the first vintage Vincent and Sophie made together was 2011, it is remarkable that they have gained such a cult following in such a short space of time. But, as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait - and we eventually managed to secure a small (very small) allocation of the 2012 red, and an even smaller allocation of the white. Unfortunately, we still can't get our hands on Les Coups de Calcaire or Les Vignes de La Garrigue. But now that we finally have our proverbial foot in the door, hopefully we can manage to secure more wines (perhaps even the whole range) in the forthcoming years. Meanwhile, these two beauties will have to do.......

70% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, aged 2 years in barrel. A deep, semi-opaque colour, with a powerful nose - a complex and heady array of black fruits, fresh bread and exotic spice aromas, with notes of leather and woodsmoke lurking in the background. Even after a full 2 years in barrel, there is just the merest hint of (older) oak, which only serves to heighten the fruit aromas, whilst further nuances of preserved fruits and fine eau de vie emerging with air. The palate is deeply concentrated and crammed full of flavour, in a spiced, baked fruit kind of way - rich, warming and almost a meal in itself. It is certainly good now, but is really only just starting out on a long journey of evolution - I'd say 10-plus years to maturity - with just the right levels of juicy acidity and rich tannins. Young, but with a great future ahead of it. (£18.50) 

45% Marsanne, 45% Roussanne, 10% Viognier, fermented and aged in barrel for 1 year. A gorgeous, limpid, translucent pale gold colour. The nose is wonderfully complex, heavy with the scents of herbs, spices and stony minerality, at the same time exhibiting myriad aromas of apple and peach, mint, honeysuckle and fennel, with subtle notes of spring blossom and lime oil peeping through. The palate has a rich, creamy, almost oily texture, which is perfectly offset by juicy peach and apple flavours, a rasp of cut lime, garrigue herb and spice, whilst the heightened, limey acidity and intense core of minerality makes for an explosively refreshing, yet considerably complex wine. The flavours last an age on the finish, revealing extra layers of complexity and sensation as they do so. It is a shame we could only secure a handful of cases - and even then, we had to beg and plead - for this is without doubt one of the finest Languedoc whites we have ever tasted. A quite faultless and very special wine. Rated 18/20 in Le Guide Bettane et Desseauve des Vins de France. (£18.50)