Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Two more cracking wines from Joseph Swan Vineyards

I must confess that I was a bit worried about this wine when I first opened it. I couldn't quite put my finger on what might be "wrong" with it, though. Hints of cabbage (the red sort - but not exactly pickled), jam, tar and volatility were dominating the fruit, whilst the palate was exhibiting plenty of highs and lows - but not an awful lot in-between. But rather than dismiss it as a bad bottle (or even, heaven forbid, a bad wine) I decided to give it time to clean-up its act in the decanter. And it worked a treat, so I can only assume that this was a rather extreme case of reduction/bottle stink. What follows is a tasting note compiled over 2 or 3 hours, as the wine continued to open-out and blossom into something really quite lovely.

A semi-transluscent blood red core, fading gently to a raspberry rim. An unusual nose, combining black fruits, citrus fruit and peel, herbs and coal tar, with just a hint of trademark Swan volatile acidity and earthiness and a note of warming eau de vie. A little coaxing reveals further hints of leather, exotic spices and polished old wood. Over time, the palate reveals itself to be remarkably zingy and youthful, with plenty of primary red and black fruit flavours, allied to nicely grippy tannins and a mouthwatering backbone of lemony acidity. Subtle spicy and herby flavours begin to emerge after a good 2 hours in the decanter, and the fruit really begins to blossom, with the bramble and raspberry flavours turning to red cherry, redcurrant and even a hint of cranberry. There's also an intriguing earthiness, which adds yet more interest to what is already a considerably complex wine. This is no rich, extracted or overly-concentrated fruit bomb - in fact it really is quite elegant and restrained, in an almost Tuscan (Brunello/Chianti/Sangiovese) way. Indeed, the transformation from opening to 3 hours down the line is quite remarkable. All of which leads me to suspect that this is a bit of a sleeper, that may take just a few years to show its real potential - but I have a feeling that it could turn into something rather special. 14.0% abv. £21.95.

No such teething problems with this one, I have to say! A deceptively light-coloured wine - pale raspberry red at the core, fading to a watery pink rim. The nose really is essence of Pinot Noir - ripe summer fruits, exotic mixed spices, roses, leather and forest floor. The entry is soft, velvety and full of sweet, succulent fruit, with gentle tannins and ample acidity, making for a supremely balanced wine. There is a touch of old(ish) oak influence, but only in the background - this is a wine dominated by fruit, with flavours of raspberries, strawberries and cream, and a hint of cranberry adding lightness. This isn't trying to be Burgundy - it it is somewhat richer and more velvety, and doesn't possess the heightened acidity usually found in a Burgundy. But neither can it be compared to young New Zealand Pinot Noir, many of which - to my mind - can seem over-extracted, tarry and obvious by comparison. No, this wine has a style all of its own, managing to be both generous and elegant at the same time. And although relatively primary at the moment, it shows enormous potential for development over the next 5 years or more. But it really is so lovely to drink now, who could wait that long? A(nother) lovely wine - in fact, I can't remember ever having a wine from this grower that I haven't loved. 14.5% abv. £23.50.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

White Rioja, red Navarra, foie gras de canard and Wensleydale cheese

I know, I know - it's Christmas Day, and I should be doing other things, rather than blogging. Then again, the bulk of this was written last night, so publishing it is really just a five-minute job - and these wines (together with some amazing foie gras given to us by my cousin Fabrice and his lovely wife Sandrine) deserve mention, as they provided us with a wonderfully hedonistic Christmas Eve supper................

R. Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia S.A. Viña Gravonia Crianza Blanco 1999 Rioja
Yes, it's a long name, but well worth the effort in typing it out in full - respect, where it is due, say I. Experience has told me that Lopez de Heredia is almost certainly the greatest jewel in the Rioja crown, not to mention the last bastion of what I like to call "traditional" Rioja. Because whatever the colour (red, white or rosé - honestly, I mean it!) or whatever the style (from Crianza to Gran Reserva) the wines are uniformly brilliant - and usually released only when they are considered ready to drink, or at least approachable. And this little beauty, a mere slip of a youngster at just 11 years of age, is a fine example of the Lopez de Heredia style. A wonderfully deep gold colour, with orange glints, and a gloriously complex nose of cider apples/Calvados mingled with lemon and orange peel, aromatic herbs and spices, polished old shoe leather, tobacco and oak vanillin - at a guess, older American oak barrel vanillin. The style is very definitely oxidative, but in a mellow citrus and apple skin way - almost like a fino sherry, but without the saltiness and with far more fruit. And the palate too is full of tangy, herby, secondary fruit flavours, which manage to both caress and refresh the palate, with just a touch of richness, allied to mouth-watering, zesty-fruity acidity and a finish that is both fresh and long. The more I sip it, the more complex it seems. It may not be profound, but it certainly has many facets, and really does press all the right buttons for me at this moment in time. Actually, in its own way, it is profound, because it will probably turn out to be one of those bottles that lingers in the memory for a long time - a classic case of the right wine, at the right time and in the right place.

Emilio Valerio Laderas de Montejurra 2009 Navarra
This was a recent "wine of the week" on, so I was keen to give it a try and see what I thought for myself. Unlike the white Gravonia, this is all about young, vibrant, crunchy fruit. The colour is a deep, dark, virtually opaque blood red, with a tiny rim. The nose offers a huge waft of just-fermented bramble and plum skin fruit aromas - tarry, almost yeasty, with a rasp of fresh acidity and a vitality which fairly leaps out of the glass. I'm not sure what the grape mix is (I'll need to  look it up) but if I were tasting this blind, I would swear it was a youthful Cotes du Rhone, or even something more serious (i.e. seriously fruity) and substantial from the Languedoc. In fact, it bears a striking similarity to the Les Vignes de l'Arque Vin de Pays Duché d'Uzes that I wrote about a couple of weeks back, with its intense core of fruit and subtle savouriness. Although very young, and with a coating of slightly grainy tannins, it is is already dangerously drinkable, even on its own, although I suspect it may go nicely with the cheese and foie gras we plan to have for supper. Lovely stuff!

Later......... Both of these wines performed admirably with the foie gras and Wensleydale cheese. Although it has to be said that the Gravonia won hands-down. In fact, I'd go as far as saying it was the perfect match - utterly wonderful stuff.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Two excellent "Best Bottle Blind" wine evenings

The week running up to Christmas is always a busy time in the life of a wine merchant. Busy, busy, busy, and it certainly provides a very welcome end-of-year boost to the Company funds - but I wouldn't exactly say I enjoy it! But the same week also happens to be a busy time in the life of your average Nottingham wine enthusiast - at least for those who are lucky enough to be part of two different wine tasting groups, both of which are populated by like-minded people who are only too glad to share the fruits of some very impressive wine cellars.

On Tuesday evening, a dozen or so of us met for our monthly meal at Le Mistral restaurant, enjoyed with a selection of extra-special wines. Each person brought a bottle, and all were tasted blind. The fact that I was (am) still recovering from my latest bout of cold/man flu meant that I was more interested in enjoying the wines, the food and the company, rather than actually writing down anything worthy of posting here. Thankfully, though, I noticed my friend Andy Leslie had written a few thoughts on many of the wines we tasted, so I asked him if he wouldn't mind typing them into something cohesive for me to publish on the blog. I wouldn't normally do this, because (a) I am a pretty avid note-taker myself and (b) if I am going to publish tasting notes, they generally ought to be mine. That said, Andy and I seem to have similar palates and wine preferences, even down to our mutual disdain for most things Claret and Chablis! So what follows are Andy's notes, with any relevant thoughts I personally have from memory in brackets at the end. I did take a few photos, though the quality leaves something to be desired - my excuse is that I have been ill, so didn't have a particularly steady hand!

Nyetimber Classic 2005, England
I’ve liked this in the past but I found a distinct acetic note to both nose and especially the palate suggesting it was on the slide to vinegar. But I was in a minority of one and others mostly liked it much more. [LS - I loved this wine and think it has a lot of evolution left in it - I thought citric, rather than acetic.]

2002 Champagne, Les Rachais, Extra Brut, Raymond Boulard
Much more the thing! Toasty and lovely – really good balance here and with an encouraging vivacity and freshness. Will keep.

2002 Chablis Grand Cru Bougros, Cote Bourguerots, William Fevre
I’m not much of a Chablis drinker, prefering my chardonnay less austere but my experience is pointing me to GC level being much more to my taste! Real richness to the nose here – butter and fudge, maybe treacle tart too – a descriptor I’ve never used before but the mineral and citrus notes combined with the butter/fudge smells really put me in mind of this. Very appealing. Palate rich and vanilla. This is lovely and plenty of time to go. [LS - I loved it too - cracking wine, like proper Burgundy! If only most Chablis was anywhere near this good......]

2002 Sancerre, Le Chene Saint-Etienne, Henri Bourgeois
We spent a long time trying to work-out what this was – not like Sancerre at all, but striking, individual and delicious in its own way. Rich and buttery, touch of oak, clean and fresh. Delicious. [LS - very Burgundian in structure - in fact, I was convinced it was Chardonnay.]

1996 Hermitage, Chante-Alouette, Chapoutier
Interesting combination on the nose of classic Northern Rhone peaches and blossom notes added to oxidative nutty and peach stone smells. Palate similar, oily texture plus peachy fruit and nutty smoky flavours. Interesting and complex and not OTT. Lovely. Drinking from now, but no rush.

1990 Bourgogne, Jean-Marc Morey
Nice aged old pinot – still has some fruit and has developed nice meaty notes too. Evolved, converging toward the “old wine” mean, but pleasureable now. Good stuff, though it rather faded over the evening. [LS - TLD and I brought this, and I wished I hadn't decanted it beforehand. It's a lot to ask of what is essentially a very basic Burgundy of 20 years of age to stay "together" for 3 hours or more before drinking. It was still lovely, though.]

1982 Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
I had a bit of a “claret moment” here! For genuinely the first time ever, a claret I would be happy to drink again! It was classic claret on the nose but had complexity and depth. The palate has softened and is open and giving now. Yum. [LS - Personally, I thought this was a "modern" Claret, or even a new world version thereof, though it was still very good - though I have had more enjoyable ones. That said, ay 28 years of age, this is still incredibly youthful, though soft and approachable. I'd say it will be better in another 10 to 15 years.]

1994 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, Penfolds
Lovely meaty BBQ nose, softening nicely but overall still pretty primary. It’s not going anywhere fast, but I guess these wines don’t. Enjoyable.

1991 Domaine de Trévallon, Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence
The first of two lovely Trévallons this week. The 1991 has given soooo much pleasure and this is a perfect bottle. More evolved than the 1990 below, meaty and earthy, just a touch of cherry fruit left. Classic stuff, spot-on. On the whole, I think drink these over the next 2 or 3 years – not going to get any better. [LS - again, TLD and I brought this, our last bottle of the 1991, and it was really on form. As Andy says, this particular vintage has given so much pleasure, and was actually the first purchase we made, a few years ago at an auction. Not bad at around £16 per bottle!]

1995 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Big primary stuff still – bonfire note on the nose and lots of deep rich fruit. It’s tannic and alcoholic in the mouth at the moment. The overall impression is that this needs lots more time. And on the track-record of the producer I guess it will turn-out well, in the end.  

1986 Chateau St Helene, Sauternes
Others liked this more but I couldn’t get past the barley sugar on both nose and palate. For me, over-the-hill and cloying.

2001 Chateau Climens, Barsac
Much better! Fresh orange and brioche nose – clean as a whistle pear fruit with honey botrytis. Delicious classic Sauternes. [LS - lovely wine, but still not a patch on my Jurancon!]

1983 Graham’s Vintage Port
Oh dear, I just don’t get Port. Spirity and crude for me and I feel churlish as a result. The Port-lovers liked it. [LS - I'm not particularly a Port lover, but I really enjoyed this. It was soft, rich, mellow, and not as spiritous as many I have tasted.]

The next night, various members of the Nottingham Wine Circle gathered in the rather grand residence of Professor Glenn McDowell, situated in the grounds of the Nottingham University campus. Again, all wines were tasted blind. Not all the wines are listed here, but a selection of the best (again, with notes courtesy of Andy Leslie):

2005 Ravenneau, Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre
Fabulous white Burgundy and again it’s the richness that I find seductive compared to more humble examples. Delicious. [LS - agreed. It looks like we both have a tolerance only for the finest 1er Cru and Grand Cru Chablis!]

2000 Bouchard, Le Montrachet
My first-ever Le Montrachet, and it lived-up to its billing, and then some. The nose is buttery and oily and shifting, ethereal and complex. The palate is stupendous – successive waves of flavours. Intense and long, long, long. Fabulous+++ [LS - After the initial oakiness had blown away, the sheer quality of this wine shone through. A very fine (and to me quite rare) example of a wine in which the fruit is in absolute harmony with the oak. Masterly winemaking.]

2005 Vallet Freres, Gevrey Chambertin, Clos de la Justice
Nice firm Gevrey structure, solid fruit core, meaty kernel, just a touch of floral perfume. Palate is firm too with good structure and length. Maybe this has retreated into itself a little at the moment.

1995 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva Ovello
Unmistakeably Nebbiolo on the nose and is developing maturity. For me, on the palate it’s still a bit tannic and I think it needs another 10 years to shine. But others liked it more.

1996 Sorrel Hermitage Le Greal
I loved the nose on this – volatile and savoury, earthy forest floor complexity. Palate still has lovely sour fruit as well as more evolved non-fruit flavours – delicious and drinking really well now, though no rush.

1989 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle
Clearly seriously structured wine and amazingly youthful and primary, such a contrast to the previous Hermitage. This needs at least 10 years, and I’m predicting that it’s structure and density mean it will be amazing when ready. [LS - This actually seemed overly rich and a bit baked, to me, without the elegant streak I was expecting. Then again, I guess my palate was beginning to flag, by now, and I'm not about to pass judgement too early on a wine which clearly still has a very long way to go.]

1990 Domaine de Trévallon, Coteaux d'Aix-en-ProvenceClearly Trévallon – has the all the classic hallmarks of the producer; by some distance the best bottle of 1990 Trevallon I’ve tried, the palate has fantastic presence – long and mouth-coating and very delicious. [LS - Agreed, a very good bottle of wine, though for me less enjoyable than the 1991 from the previous night. Then again, this has years of evolution left in it.]

1996 A. Rousseau, Le Chambertin
 Profound. I’m not going to try & describe this. Makes everything else look simple. Easily WOTY. Drink now? Why not. Keep? Oh yes. [LS - Bugger! Why did the finest red Burgundy ever placed in front of me have to come at a time when I was unable to appreciate it fully? That said, it was still very clearly a pretty damn special wine.]

1995 Josmeyer, Riesling Vendange Tardive, Grand Cru Hengst, Alsace
Lovely off-dry aperitif wine.

1990 Chateau Guiraud, Sauternes
Another Sauternes (see the Climens above) with no barley sugar – hoorah! Nose of honey and fine herbs, interesting and appealing. Palate sweet without being cloying, long. Very good.

Thanks to all who attended the above two events for your company - and of course your generosity in sharing such wonderful wines. We are very lucky people!

Happy Christmas!

Friday, 17 December 2010

A hell-ish week in the life of an independent wine merchant, plus memories of an altar boy - Joseph Swan Vineyards Côtes du Rosa 2008

It has been a hell of a week (mostly in the worst sense). This is traditionally the most hectic week of the year for wine merchants, and this year has been no different for me. Not that I'm complaining on that score - the more wine I sell, the better. I just wish that I didn't leave it so late to get myself organised and geared-up for what I know is going to be a stressful time. But taking delivery of umpteen new wines in the first week of December (a bit late in the year, even by my standards) and dealing with all the work involved in getting them online and "out there" almost finished me off! Take Wednesday, for example - my "day off" from the day job. Having fallen asleep on the settee on Tuesday evening, I woke up at 3am, feeling distinctly flu-ey. But some things just need to be done, so I spent the next 4 hours on the computer putting the final touches to the website updates and preparing an email newsletter that simply couldnt' wait a day longer. I then managed 3 hours in bed, before getting up again and spending 2 hours trying to send the email to around 1,100 people, in batches of 50 at a time. Which frankly was a bloody nightmare, as the server kept bouncing them. I think it all turned out right in the end, but if anyone reading this got several identical emails from me, I apologise sincerely! Likewise, if you should have received it but didn't.

Once that was sorted, I then embarked on a 180-mile round-trip to a bonded warehouse in Rotherham, then another in Stamford, followed by a detour to a nearby wine agency, Richards Walford, to collect samples of Richard Kelley MW's "The Liberator" wines. Then it was back to my store in Nottingham to unload a car crammed full of wine. I eventually arrived home at 6.40 pm, feeling even worse than ever, aching all over and with a face you could fry an egg on.

The only good thing to happen on the way was finding a brace of freshly-killed pheasants on a country lane in deepest Rutland. In fact, I could have easily mown-down several more myself, as the they seemed intent on walking out in front of the car every 50 yards or so. But I didn't have the heart, and 2 is enough to be going on with anyway.

After another evening at the computer, dealing with orders and other "admin" stuff, I grabbed a few more hours sleep before going back to the day job on Thursday. If it weren't for the fact that I had wine business to deal with afterwards, I would almost certainly taken the day off sick. But today was different - I don't send wines out on a Friday - so, still feeling very much under the weather, I decided that enough was enough, and that my body needed rest, if I wanted to see Christmas. I was in bed by 11pm last night and stayed there until late this morning, which seems to have done me the world of good, because by this evening, I was ready to try a glass or two of this little beauty..........

A pretty, medium-hued raspberry red core, fading to a cherry/pink rim. The nose is strikingly reminiscent of a very fine Côtes du Rhone (the name is no accident). In fact, it even has a touch of the Châteauneuf about it, with beguiling scents of strawberries, raspberries, plum skins, citrus/orange, a hint of savoury/leather and exotic spices. In fact, those spices, married to what I assume is some old(ish) oak barrel maturation, are strongly suggestive of incense and polished wood. So much so that it takes me right back to my days as an altar boy in the local Catholic church! Is it just that smell is perhaps the most evocative sense we possess, or is this just that this wine smells so darned beautiful? And the palate isn't too shabby, either, although that is where the similarity with Châteauneuf ends - a delicious mouthful of fresh red and black fruits, incense (yes, I swear I can actually taste it, too), supple, savoury tannins and a simply mouth-watering core of juicy, orangey/appley acidity. With a relatively modest 13.6% abv, this is no glass-staining Cali/Rhône monster - it is supremely balanced, elegant and thoroughly charming. And although it is eminently drinkable now, it also has the capacity to age beautifully for a decade or more - I can say this with confidence, because I have tasted one or two older vintages that were quite memorable. And, do you know what? As far as I am aware, this wine is made from 100% Carignan, a variety which is considered by at least one prominent wine writer I know of to be a thoroughly fifth-rate variety. Which only serves to strengthen my opinion that anyone who persists with the idea that Carignan can't make charming, elegant, age-worthy, world class wine needs their head examining.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

December so far - snow, more snow, new wines, plus some lovely sample bottles

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.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

More new wines

Apart from all the other things I have to do at the moment (day job, car mechanics for son(s), odd jobs for my mother, shovelling snow, cooking, packing wines etc!) I also currently have the somewhat more enjoyable task of tasting through lots of new wines and writing them up for my website. Here are are my notes on four more wines, enjoyed over the last couple of evenings (and no - we haven't finished them all!) which I have recently added to the website;

Delicate aromas of melon, apricot, quince and tropical fruits, with background notes of oregano and fennel. Although this is aged in oak barrels for 6 months, the effect is minimal - for reasons I have stated before on my blog, winemaker Guy Vanlancker hasn't bought any new barrels since 2001! The palate is packed with flavours of fresh quince, stone fruits and lemon zest, yet infused with a herby, spicy, almost savoury quality. Although the flavours are quite rich, the overall effect is of a bone-dry wine, with a backbone of refreshingly zesty acidity and a commendably long, spicy finish. £8.99

Sauvignon Blanc, from vines planted as recently as 2006. Sauvignon is not a variety permitted by the Limoux AOC, so this has to be labelled as a vin de pays, but it benefits from the same barrel fermentation and ageing as the Cuvée de l’Odyssée Limoux Chardonnay from the same grower (full tasting note to follow). And it makes for a really interesting, quirky wine. The colour is a quite a pale gold, with green tinges. The nose is gently oaky, but with lots of other aromas, such as lime and mandarin, apple, fennel, cloves and herbs. There are some backround herbaceous notes, but this is a far cry from the minerally, occasionally lean wines of Sancerre and the overtly fruity, herbaceous wines of New Zealand - but it remains recognisably Sauvignon. The palate also shows a touch of oak, but it is very skilfully done and adds structure, rather than dominating, with some quite intense flavours of orange zest, honey and apple pie, with ample (but not high) acidity and a nice, long, spicy finish. A really interesting and quite lovely wine.

Bright ruby/blood red colour, with a mix of primary and secondary fruit aromas (wild strawberry, raspberry, cherry), garrigue herbs and hints of polished wood and sous-bois. The palate shows sweet and sour red and black fruit flavours, spice and liquorice, with firm tannins and a nice lick of acidity. This is a robust, earthy wine, which has plenty of tannic structure, which softens-out nicely after an hour in the decanter, but needs food to show its best - a hearty winter stew or cassoulet would do very nicely! Not serious, but a nice entry-level Minervois. £7.50.

This is yet another wine from the  Brigitte Chevalier stable, which I am enjoying as I type - and it is yummy! Opaque purple/blood red core, with a narrow ruby rim. Bramble, cherry and plum skin aromas, with notes of savoury, tar and undergrowth. The palate is rich and full of bramble and black cherry fruit flavours, and nicely savoury/meaty, with gentle spices thrown in for good measure. Rich, chocolatey tannins, allied to those soft fruits and excellent acidity make for a juicy, sweet-and-sour style of wine. It isn't complex, but it is a really delicious wine, which is both food-friendly and nice to drink on its own. £8.50.

Right - I'm off to prepare dinner for TLD and I, before settling down to watch Match Of The Day!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

New Jurançons from Domaine de Montesquiou, plus a couple of lovely Languedoc reds

The arrival of the latest Jurançon vintages from Domaine de Montesquiou is always one of the highlights of my year, so when they finally arrived at the bonded warehouse last week, I was eager to get my hands on a bottle of each, to taste and enjoy over the weekend. And enjoy them I did! Here are my notes;

70% Gros Manseng and 30% Petit Manseng, aged for 11 months in oak barrels. This shows richness on the nose, with aromas of baked apples, honey, brioche and spice. The palate is nicely rich, too, with a hint of oiliness and flavours of apples and lime zest, tangerine and a barely perceptible touch of oak. It is also made in a slightly more oxidative, ripe, even opulent style than the 2009 below - more Rioja/Rhone in style, to the 2009's Burgundy style. A lovely wine. £12.50.

70% Gros Manseng and 30% Petit Manseng, aged for 11 months in oak barrels. This is quite different from the 2008. Were I tasting it blind, I might just mistake it foir a very young white Burgundy, with its aromas of peach and apricot combined with herbs, smoke and very subtle oak. The palate is less rich and more tightly-structured than the 2008, lemony rather than limey, and with huge mineral depth. It is a bit like a supercharged version of La Rosée de Montesquiou (a cuvée not made in 2009) and certainly has a lot more to give in the next year or two, whilst I would expect it to peak in perhaps 5 years. It is a really lovely wine, and makes for a fascinating comparison with the opulent 2008. £12.50.

100% Petit Manseng, aged for 11 months in oak barrels. A vivid 24 carat gold colour with orange glints. The nose has complex aromas of honey and woodsmoke, with hints of toasted brioche, cinnamon, clove and a touch of oak vanillin. And that is before I even mention the fruits! As ever, this wine is complex in the extreme, with notes of apricot, apple, mango, orange and lime oil. And the palate sure matches the nose, with all of the above coming into play, along with subtle spice and toffee notes. It has a beautifully rich, oily texture in the mouth, and the flavours coat the palate and linger for an age. And then, of course, there is that wonderful, searing lemon and lime acidity and minerality, the like of which (in my opinion) is unrivalled by any other sweet wine style in the world, and balances the richness so perfectly - a more finely poised sweet wine is hard to imagine. Although the grapes for this wine are not harvested until deep into November (and occasionally December) botrytis is not necessarily a classic Jurançon trait, since the region is only occasionally visited by the autumn mists necessary for the growth of this particularly (sweet wine-friendly) fungus. And yet this particular vintage displays many of the hallmarks of a somewhat botrytised harvest, with its intense honey and apricot notes. When I first opened a bottle, I considered it to be almost as good as the outstanding 2004 and 2007 vintages. But now, a full 6 days after opening, it is so spectacularly good that I have no doubt whatsoever that it is the finest vintage I have tasted - it is utterly, utterly brilliant! £16.99.

Hot on the heels of the Jurançon pallet came 2 pallets of wines, from no less than 4 different Languedoc growers (or 6, if you include some lovely Corbieres and another delicious Faugères find from the negociant arm of my friend Brigitte Chevalier's stable of wines). These arrived on Monday, so I hot-footed it up to Rotherham on Tuesday, to collect some stocks. There was already 6 inches of snow in Rotherham by then, and I returned home to find just as much had been dumped where I live, to add to the inch or two we'd had over the weekend. I'm now busy tasting through some of these wines and preparing the notes for my website, so will be posting them here, in the coming days. Frankly, there's not a lot else to do, whilst we are well and truly snowbound! Here's a couple of delicious new reds for starters;

55% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre, 10% Carignan, aged in vat. Medium raspberry/purple colour. The aromas are beautifully fresh and vibrant, suggesting bramble, blackcurrant, plum and orange, with background notes of cinnamon and oregano. The palate is similarly fresh and juicy, crammed full of fresh and crystallised bramble fruits, a touch of black cherry, creamy vanilla and a delightfully fresh, orangey acidity. The tannins are beautifully soft and velvety and there is just a hint of spiciness to the finish. This is a really nice wine, and a fine introduction to the wines of the Faugères appellation. It isn't serious, but it is seriously soft, refreshing, food-friendly and very more-ish! £8.95.

70% Grenache and 30% Syrah. A bright, medium-deep ruby red colour, with an expressive nose of plum skin, cherry and raspberry, a hint of tar and woodsmoke, and pronounced herby aromas (notably thyme and rosemary). The palate is beautifully fresh and fruity, with bags of red and black fruit flavours, soft spices and herbs, supple tannins and a refreshing streak of orange-tinged acidity. From one of the best growers in Corbières, this really is an attractive, elegant wine, which is lovely to drink now - but there's no hurry. £9.75.

More anon........

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Ahahr! The wines of the Ahr Valley

There were many such awful puns at last week's meeting of the Nottingham Wine Circle, as we gathered to taste a selection of young white, rosé and red wines from the tiny and relatively unknown Ahr Valley region of Germany. Most of us had very little previous experience of Ahr wines before this tasting, presented by Kevin Scott and his half-German wife Ena Marie. The Ahr Valley is even more northerly than the Mosel Valley, but its particularly ambient microclimate makes growing red wines (pricipally from Pinot Noir) viable. The wines are certainly not cheap (around 10 Euros seems to be the starting point for a drinkable wine) but the proximity of cities such as Bonn and Cologne means that the majority of its relatively small production is easily sold directly from the cellar door, to day trippers from the cities. Hence, very few of them seem to find their way across the water to the UK - and if they do, they are invariably expensive.

Here are my tasting notes, with cellar door prices (where available) in Euros;

1. Meyer-Näkel 2009 Weissburgunder - €9.80
Very pale colour. Lots of non-wine aromas - minerals, slate, flowers and spices, with just a hint of lemon and apple. The palate is very lemony, yet quite rich and peppery, not unlike a Gruner Veltliner. Well balanced and quite complex, finishing very fresh.

2. Kreuzberg 2009 Pinot Blanc - €10.00
Ultra-pale colour. The nose is very minerally, herbaceous too, with aromas of pea pod and nettle. Very young, fresh and fruity, with tangerine and grape flavours, but again very minerally. Not complex, but a nice drink.

3. Kreuzberg 2009 Blauer Spätburgunder (Blanc de Noir) - €10.00
Almost white, but with a very pale pink hue. Herbaceous and minerally, with lovely grape and wild strawberry flavours and nice acidity. Not serious, but very fruity and refreshing.

4. Meyer-Näkel 2009 Riesling
Nettles and lemons, with some minerality. Not very Riesling-like on the nose, though a touch more so on the palate. Very minerally and lemony, herby and herbaceous. A touch sugary, but with with excellent minerality. I think this has lots of promise. Edit - over a week later (I took the remnants home with me) that sugary layer has disappeared and it the wine is much more integrated, quite lemony, even steely, in an Alsace sort of way.

5. Deutzerhof 2009 Catharina C
This too is a Riesling, but has aromas and flavours of caramel. There is a touch of lemony fruit, but despite some richness on the palate, it is really quite austere on the whole, and quite bitter. Not a particularly pleasant drink.

6. Deutzerhof 2008 Saumon de L’Ahr (Rose)
An interesting nose - smoky, spicy, but Pinot-y. The palate, however, is harsh, like cheap Beaujolais Nouveau. Lemon-pithy and bitter.

7. Deutzerhof 2009 Cossmann-Hehle (unoaked) - €9.50
A nice New Zealand-like Pinot nose, which promises much, but delivers stalky tannins. There is some really nice Pinot fruit lurking in there, but it is virtually impossible to get past those tannins. Hard work.

8. Max Schell 2008 Frühburgunder - €9.00
Frühburgunder is apparently a different clone (or mutation) of Pinot Noir from the usual Spätburgunder version. This one has a lovely nose - very fruity, peppery and spicy. The palate has some noticeable oak to it, along with some nice fruit, but it is spoiled a little by a slight bitterness on the finish. Perhaps smothered by the oak?

9. Meyer-Näkel 2009 Frühburgunder - €17.00
This has a really deep colour and smells a bit like a serious, oaked Gamay, rather than a Pinot Noir - squished plums, cherry and bramble do not suggest Pinot. The palate is rich, soft, deeply fruity and velvety. A touch of stalkiness on the nose is softened on the palate by some classy oak. I think there is an interesting (though atypical) wine in there just waiting to emerge, but it needs a good few years yet.

10. Kreuzberg 2008 Spätburgunder unplugged - €14.00
A nice light colour, with a delicately fruity nose - strawberry, raspberry and undergrowth. The palate is light, but very fruity, even if a touch lean at the moment. A nice drink.

11. Meyer-Näkel 2008 G - €14.50
A deeper colour, with an attractive nose displaying typical Pinot fruit and a hint of orange. Nicely oaked, slightly medicinal and again a touch stalky, but quite peppery too. Needs time, I think.

12. Deutzerhof 2007 Balthasar C - €20.00(?)
Pinot ..... and Coca Cola, with some older oak notes, herbs, spices and leather. The palate is nicely fruity, sweet and orangey, with good acidity and a hint of tannin. A bit like a middling New Zealand Pinot, but without the sweet finish. I like it.

13. Deutzerhof 2007 Caspar C - €21.00
Somebody said "Givry meets Frühburgunder - and I see what they mean. There's quite a lot of extraction, but it is well done, with a nice whiff of old(er) oak. The palate is quite Burgundian to begin with, but then it becomes a bit astringent, with a somewhat stalky bitterness on the finish. I think this needs time, but for now, the jury is out. See * below, for a later assessment.

14. Kreuzberg 2007 Schieferlay GG Spätburgunder - €27.00
Very Pinot on the nose - fruity, very fragrant and elegant. Sweet wild strawberry and orange fruit, nicely balanced, if slightly low on acidity - again, there's a touch of New Zealand style winemaking here. The best Pinot of the night, and a lovely wine - but is it really worth that sort of money? See ** below, for a later assessment.

15. Meyer-Näkel 2008 S - not sure of the price
A deepish colour. I get the feeling that this is (or was) a good wine, but - though not overtly oaky - whatever time it has spent in barrel seems to have stripped away the vitality from the fruit. I'm really not sure about this one.

As a postcript to this tasting, it wasn't until a full 6 days later that I remembered I'd taken the remnants of a couple of the Pinots home with me - and, to my amazement, they has really blossomed!

The Deutzerhof 2007 Caspar C is really rather lovely, especially the nose, which has a wonderful perfume of pure, Burgundian Pinot Noir fruit - wild strawberries and redcurrants, with gamey, herby notes and polished old wood. The palate also has true Pinot structure and flavour, not to mention a great deal of elegance, which suggests to me that this could end up being something quite special in another 5 to 10 years.

The Kreuzberg 2007 Schieferlay GG Spätburgunder is also really singing. It too has that wonderful wild strawberry fragrance that only great Pinot Noir seems to be capable of, along with a touch of orange zest, rotting leaves and polished wood - a nose that puts me in mind of a Joseph Swan Pinot Noir. In fact, if I were tasting it blind, I might be fooled into thinking it was a very fine cool-climate Californian Pinot, or even a semi-mature 1er Cru Burgundy, although the slightly restrained (though still ample) acidity would suggest the former, rather than the latter. Oak? Yes, it is there, but it works in complete harmony with the fruit, in a wine which really does add up to more than the sum of its parts - a glorious wine, in fact!

Would I buy these wines for myself? Well, to be honest, not many of them - the prices, even at the cellar door, are not really matched by the quality I would expect. In fact, the white wines appear to be no more than competent, at best - and when you can visit a really good grower in the Mosel and buy some really cracking wines for around 6 Euros upwards, the Ahr whites offer a very poor quality-price ratio. The "cheaper" Ahr reds also don't really deliver. But I'm really glad that I tasted the above two wines again, because they were a revelation, and demonstrated that the Ahr Valley is capable of producing world class Pinot Noir - all they need is time to reveal their true colours.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Bordeaux or Barolo? A bit of a no-brainer!

Those of you who visit the forum - and I know of quite a few of you do - may have noticed yet another discussion on the "merits" or otherwise of expensive Bordeaux. And there is nothing more certain in life (apart from death itself, of course) than the fact that such a discussion will, sooner rather than later, degenerate into a right royal case of handbags-at-ten-paces. The recipe is very simple;

Attend an event where a handful of top Bordeaux reds are offered for tasting (for maximum effect, they should be First Growths - and ideally with examples of both painfully young and relatively mature wines, by way of comparison). Confirm your long-held suspicion that they really aren't that brilliant and offer shockingly bad value, even for your average billionaire football club owner's money. Write about your experiences on a wine forum which you know to be frequented by wine lovers of all persuasions, from supermarket bargain hunters to serious collectors with fat wallets. Then light the blue touch paper, retire to a safe distance and wait for the fireworks (or handbags) to begin.

I must admit there was a time when I would find it very hard to resist joining in these "discussions", but I eventually grew tired of the posturing and the willy-waving. On the one side you have the vast majority, with their catholic tastes and desire to explore the great world of wine - and on the other, you have the minority, with their unshakable belief that the wines of their chosen region (not necessarily always Bordeaux - Burgundy has its insufferable bores, too) are best, and everyone else is drinking second-rate stuff. Of course, the fact that top Bordeaux is now way beyond the means of the vast majority of drinkers (apart from those who like to keep up with the Jones's, at whatever cost) leaves most drinkers with little option but to be more adventurous. But given that it is possible to pick up a whole case of very fine wine from regions such as the Rhône, Barolo, (traditional) Rioja, California, Australia, Languedoc and even Burgundy for the price of a single bottle of First Growth Bore-deaux, it becomes a bit of a no-brainer. So why bother arguing?

Which all leads me very neatly onto last weekend, when my friend Andy Leslie laid on a rather wonderful dinner party, based largely around funghi of various types, accompanied by a mightily impressive (and beautifully aged) bunch of Piedmont wines.

This being a dinner party, it would have been a little too geekish even for me to write notes on the wines. Instead, we concentrated on enjoying and appreciating them in the way they were designed to be - as an accompaniment to fine food. Before getting down to the really serious stuff, we enjoyed a trio of white palate cleansers; a delicious, frothy, semi-sweet Bera Moscato 2009 was followed by a rather hedonistic and perfectly aged Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque Champagne 1989 and Afros Vinho Verde 2009. Then it was onto the food - and truly outstanding food it was, too;

  • Starter - Fresh tagliatelle (home-made, of course) with white truffle shavings
  • Mains - Mushrooms stuffed with puffball duxelle and topped with fontina; potato and cep gratin; wild mushroom tart; biodynamic greens(!)
  • Cheese - Wigmore Waterloo (similar to a really good Brie) and a huge chunk of aged Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Dessert - Quince & cardamom tart with pine-nut honey ice cream
  • Chocolates
Here's a little food porn for you (with apologies for the somewhat blurry middle photo)................

Tagliatelle with white truffle shavings

Wigmore Waterloo and Parmigiano Reggiano

That little lot was perfectly accompanied by the following wines;
  • Pio Cesare Barolo 1978
  • Prunotto Barbaresco Riserva Montestefano 1982
  • Prunotto Barolo Cannubi Riserva 1982
  • Pio Cesare Barolo 1985
  • Brovia Barolo Rocche Riserva 1985
  • Mascarello Monprivato Barolo1985

As I said, this was not an occasion for note-taking, but all of the wines performed brilliantly, with my favourites being the rich, ripe, concentrated (and still only semi-mature) Pio Cesare 1978 and the beautifully rounded, soft, warming and slightly more modern Mascarello Monprivato 1985. In fact, all of the Barolos were pretty outstanding examples of their kind, and left the Barbaresco slightly trailing in their wake (though it would undoubtedly still shine amongst lesser company).

So where is the link between expensive Bordeaux and Barolo? Well, I would be willing to bet that none of the wines we enjoyed that evening cost more than £30-£40 (mostly from auction, I guess) and some may have been considerably less. But make no mistake, these were wines fit to grace any dinner table - and far more enjoyable than 95% of all the Bordeaux I have ever drunk (including a fair proportion of classed growths). In fact, the greatest expense involved in this particular dinner was surely Andy's trip to London last Friday - seemingly made with the sole intention of "scoring" that fabulous white truffle!

White truffle

So thanks to Andy and his lovely lady Jo, for a truly wonderful evening of (very) fine food, and some really outstanding wines - I really do feel blessed to have such generous and welcoming friends, whose company I value greatly. And I think they (and all the others present) will join me in saying you can keep your expensive Bore-deaux, whilst the rest of us enjoy wines with far more interest and character that don't cost the earth. ;-)

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Outsiders (Part 4) - Domaine de Calet and Domaine de Cébène

This is the final instalment of my write-up from last week's Outsiders tasting in London, featuring two more growers whose wines impressed me greatly. 

Anna-Lena and Yvon Gentes - Domaine de Calet, Beauvoisin

Anna-Lena and Yvon Gentes spent 30 years in Anna's native Sweden - Anna-Lena was a nursery teacher, whilst Yvon was a major player in the Swedish seafood industry. In 1999, they bought a run-down 30 hectare wine estate on the fringes of the Camargue, in the Costières de Nîmes. I almost didn't get around to sampling their wines, as time was fast running out, but I am mighty glad that I did so, as they are producing some really excellent wines, made with the minimum intervention and careful (i.e. minimal) use of sulphites. They received organic certification 2 years ago and are currently in conversion to full biodynamic status.

Domaine de Calet Long Terme 2008 Costières de Nîmes
75% Syrah and 25% Grenache. 20% of the blend spends time in 2 year-old oak barrels. The nose is lovely - very perfumed and clearly dominated by Syrah. In fact, there's even a hint of the Northern Rhône about it, with flowers, spice and savoury making for a wine of surprising complextity (given the relatively low price). And the palate certainly lives up to its promise, with a hint of oak influence, but dominated by rich, expressive, spicy fruit, whilst remaining very elegant. If only most Côtes du Rhône was half as good. A really lovely wine!

Domaine de Calet Grand Mas 2007 Costières de Nîmes
85% Syrah and 15% Grenache. Quite a similar wine to the Long Terme, again with an amazing Northern Rhône-like Syrah nose. The palate is again rich, but soft, velvety, ripe, and chock full of wild strawberry, bramble and plum flavours, whilst managing to remain beautifully elegant. Another lovely wine.

Domaine de Calet La Tournerie 2007 Costières de Nîmes
85% Grenache, 15% Syrah, aged for between 12 and 15 months in oak barrels. This has only just been bottled and is currently a little dominated by the oak, but it is very skilfully done, and there is so much fruit lurking in there, with abundent bramble and cassis flavours, complemented by garrigue herbs and soft spices. Quite a big wine, but very long in the mouth and showing huge potential for medium to long-term ageing.

Domaine de Calet Travers du Rey 2005 Costières de Nîmes
100% Syrah, from yields of just 20 hl/ha, aged for 18 months in new oak barrels. I must admit I found this quite hard to taste, since the oak is still very dominant. There is undoubtedly an enormous amount of fruit underneath the oak, but I feel it needs a good few years to really start to express itself. Given my experience of the other wines, I wouldn't be surprised if this turned out to be a really fabulous wine in 5 to 10 years, but it is currently a bit "international" in style, for my palate.

Brigitte Chevalier - Domaine de Cébène, Caussiniojouls

The delightful Brigitte Chevalier needs no introduction to regular readers of my blog, nor to those of my customers who have been lucky (or canny) enough to have tasted her wines. I have written about Brigitte a couple of times already this year, once as part of my Vinisud report and again in June, when I visted her cave in Caussiniojouls, deep in the heart of the Faugères region. I tasted the following 3 wines in June, whilst they were still resting in cuves, prior to being bottled, but I lost my notes. I didn't actually taste them on the day of the Outsiders tasting (knowing that I would soon be taking delivery of a range of wines from Brigitte very soon anyway) but took the bottles of Ex Arena, Bancels and Felgaria back home with me to taste. Even then, I didn’t actually taste them and write my notes until a few days ago – and they still tasted wonderful, even after being open for up to 5 days!

Domaine de Cébène Ex Arena 2009 Vin de Pays d'Oc
Grenache and Mourvedre, from sand-based terroir in Corneilhan, just north of Béziers. Tasting this after being open for 2 days, it really is only just beginning to get into its stride. Lovely aromas of poached raspberry, cherry and redcurrant, with background notes of leather, sandalwood and eau de vie. There are also enticing notes of fresh bread, spices and garrigue - so complex! The palate has layer upon layer of red and black fruit flavours, with hints of soft citrus and peel, with a touch of nicely integrated oak. It has power, but without too much weight or extraction, grippy but fine tannins and a decent backbone of acidity. It is a really lovely wine, which probably needs 3 to 5 years to show its best - or just a couple of days' air, to help it open-out(!) Very complex, and worthy of contemplation.

Domaine de Cébène Les Bancels 2009 Faugères
50% Syrah, 35% Grenache and 15% Mourvedre, grown on schiste. This had been open for 5 days(!) and was still very fresh. Indeed, the aromas fairly leap out of the glass, which is sitting a foot away from me as I write, and I can still smell the glorious aromas of bramble, raspbery and redcurrant steeped in eau de vie, with notes of oregano and cinnamon, leather and polished wood. It is indeed a rare wine that can do that.The palate is truly expressivewith warming spice and savoury/herby flavours mingling with red and black fruits, fine tannins and excellent acidity. The result is a wine of enormous complexity, combining fruit, savoury, sweet and sour in a rich, even powerful, yet deceptively elegant, feminine wine. A fabulous wine, with great potential for development. No wonder Tim Atkin scored it 94/100!

Domaine de Cébène Felgaria 2009 Faugères
50% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 20% Grenache. This is Brigitte's top cuvée - deep, dark (almost opaque), brooding and even more serious than Les Bancels. Bramble and blackcurrant aromas mingled withblack cherry and seville orange. Once again, laden with herbs and exotic spices, meat and and an enticing hint of volatile acidity. There's a strong schiste/mineral streak, together with classy cedar/cigar box and an amazing freshness and vitality (again, even after several days) - another astonishingly complex wine. The palate is rich, deeply flavoured and beautifully extracted, without sacrificing its inherent freshness. The flavours are complex and full of fruit, with supple tannins and fresh, almost lemony acidity. The finish is spicy, zesty and very long. A glorious bottle of wine. It won't be cheap, at over £20, but Faugères does not get any better than this.

That's it for this year's Outsiders tasting. Well done to Louise Hurren for such a brilliantly organised event and thanks to all the growers for coming over. I do hope it will become an annual fixture, and that the Outsiders group go from strength to strength!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Outsiders (Part 3) - Château d'Anglès and O'Vineyards

Here's the third part of my review of the Outsiders tasting in London last week, featuring the wines of a couple more excellent growers. Part 4 will follow tomorrow.

Eric, Vianney and Arnaud Fabre - Chateau d'Anglès, Saint-Pierre la Mer, La Clape

Following 8 years as technical director at Château Lafite Rothschild in Paulliac, Eric Fabre purchased the historic La Clape estate of Château d'Anglès in 2002. He now runs the estate with his two sons Vianney and Arnaud. Only 36 of the 80 hectares are planted to vines, the remainder being a mixture of wild garrigue and pine forest. La Clape was once a small island off the coast of Narbonne, but is now joined to the Mediterranean coastline and is effectively a small mountain (well, a hill really) reaching an altitude of around 200m (650 feet). Average temperatures are amongst the highest in France, thus providing an ideal climate for grape growing, whilst the closeness of the Mediterranean ensures the wines are imbued with a certain maritime savoury/saline quality.

Château d'Anglès Classique Blanc 2008 Languedoc La Clape
A blend of Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne. Apricots and flowers on the nose. A rich palate, quite warming and winey, rather than obviously fruity. But the nose won me over - and I think it has more to give, with a year or two more in bottle.

Château d'Anglès Grand Vin Blanc 2007 Languedoc La Clape
Same blend, which I assume spends at least some time in oak barrels. A bready, mealy, quite oaky nose, with notes of honey, apricot and orange. The palate is rich and oaky and quite warm.

Château d'Anglès Classique Rouge 2007 Languedoc La Clape
Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache, aged in vat. Garrigue herbs and soft, crystallised fruits on the nose, with a touch of savoury/saline. The palate is very elegant and soft, with savoury, spice and bags of fruit, complemented by fine tannins. Quite complex and long. I like it.

Château d'Anglès Grand Vin Rouge 2007 Languedoc La Clape
40% Syrah, 40% Mourvedre, plus Grenache and Carignan, aged for 10 months in a mix of new, one and two year-old barrels. Very fragrant on the nose, with soft fruits, savoury and garrigue in equal measures, with nicely softened cedary oak. Rich, but soft in the mouth, with crystallised fruits and a gentle spiciness. Quite modern, but very elegant. Lovely wine.

Ryan O'Connell - O'Vineyards, Villemoustaussou, Carcassonne

Ryan O'Connell, his American father Joe and French/Vietnamese mother Liz arrived France in 2005, having traded the family business building luxury homes in Florida for a more rural existence making wine in the Cabardès region. Ryan is full of infectious enthusiasm and, as well as making some very good wines, works tirelessly in promoting the wines of southern France as a whole.  His favourite toy is his flip video camera, which he uses to good effect, creating an ever-increasing number of informative and enthusiastic (and occasionally very funny) short videos, featuring visits to different growers the length and breadth of Languedoc and Roussillon, which he posts regularly on his Love That Languedoc blog. In fact, Ryan leaves no stone un-turned in using the power of the Internet to get the message across about the joys of wine as a whole, and about Languedoc and Roussillon in particular. Long may he keep blogging, Facebooking, Tweeting and generally bigging-up his adopted region!

The shy and retiring Ryan O'Connell(!)

O'Vineyards O'Syrah 2005 Vin de Pays de La Cité de Carcassone
100% Syrah. Cassis, plums and bramble, beef and spice aromas - lots of fruit, but savoury too, with notes of garrigue herbs. The palate is rich and very spicy, but the Syrah character still comes through, and it is surprisingly elegant, for such a big wine. At 5 years old, it is good to drink, but there is absolutely no hurry.

O'Vineyards Trah Lah Lah 2005 Vin de Pays de La Cité de Carcassone
65% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep, dark colour ,with a tiny rim. Again, a savoury, meaty nose, like a fruity gravy, with hints of new leather. The palate is rich with sweet fruit, still quite tannic, but with good underlying acidity. The finish is bitter-sweet. Another keeper. For me, not quite as enjoyable as the Syrah, but a good wine nonetheless.

O'Vineyards Proprietor's Reserve 2005 Cabardès
Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. There's oak, but it is nicely integrated, with plenty of rich cassis and plum fruit, leather, polished wood and spice. The palate is loaded with rich, sweet fruit flavours, but with excellent balancing acidity, something akin to a new world Claret blend. In fact, if I somebody told me it was from California, I might believe them - and that would be no mean compliment. Very nice wine!

I like the way Ryan and his father are pushing the boundaries in the somewhat unfashionable (by which I mean relatively unknown) region of Cabardès, immersing themselves totally in the French culture, whilst bringing fresh ideas and new world innovation to the winemaking process. They deserve to succeed.

Next up - Domaine de Calet and Domaine de Cébène.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Outsiders (Part 2) - Domaine Jones and Hegarty Chamans

Continuing my write-up from the recent Outsiders tasting at the Maison du Languedoc-Roussillon in London, here are my notes on the wines of two more excellent growers. Once again, if you want extra information about the growers, I have added links to their websites.

Katie Jones - Domaine Jones, Tuchan

Katie Jones hails from Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire, but worked for a good number of years as export sales and marketing director at the Mont Tauch Co-operative in Tuchan, before finally succumbing to the urge to make her own wine. Katie owns just under 3 hectares of vines near Maury, although she makes her wines (with the help of Australian winemaker David Morrison) at her cellar 25 km away in Tuchan. For this reason (not to mention the fact that it also avoids much bureaucracy and paperwork) the wines are labelled as Vins de France.

Katie Jones 

Jones Blanc 2009 Vin de France
Grenache Gris, with a splash of Muscat a Petit Grains. Grenache Gris isn't usually the most expressive or aromatic variety, but the addition of that small amount of Muscat has imbued this wine with a lovely perfume of honey, apricot and flowers. The palate is gloriously fruity, with a certain richness and gentle spiciness, but  beautifully balanced and elegant with it. Long, too. A lovely wine.
Jones Rouge 2009 Vin de France
100% old-vine Grenache. This has a nice light colour and another really expressive nose of fresh fruits, garrigue herbs and spice, with a hint of cigar box. The palate is a riot of bramble, raspberry and redcurrant, but with plenty of garrigue herb and spice flavours - there's a lot going on in this wine. The tannins are fine and the acidity is ample, making for a quite rich, but very elegant - even feminine - wine.
Jones Muscat 2009 Vin de France
I was so busy chatting away to Katie and enjoying this wine that I completely forgot to write any sort of note. But I do remember that it was deliciously aromatic, grapey and apricotty, in the way that only a Muscat can be. It is an unusual wine, in that it is neither bone dry nor fortified (the two styles most often encountered in Languedoc and Roussillon). Instead, it falls somewhere between off-dry and sweet, making for a deliciously drinkable wine, with residual sweetness balanced by plenty of orange-tinged acidity. Yum!

Sir John Hegarty and Philippa Crane - Hegarty Chamans, Trausse-Minervois

Sir John Hegarty made his name as co-founder and Creative Director of advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (remember "Vorsprung duch technik" and the Levi's jeans launderette ads?). In 2002, John and his partner, New Zealander Philippa Crane, bought the 20 hectare Chamans estate. With the help of their winemaker Samuel Berger, John and Philippa are making some excellent red and white Minervois wines.

Philippa Crane and Sir John Hegarty
Hegarty Chamans Les Chamans Blanc 2008 Minervois
50% each of Marsanne and Roussanne. Honey, almonds and spring flowers, with nicely integrated oak. the palate is rich with fruit and considerably complex, with flavours of honey, lemon zest, peach and apricot. It manages to be both full-bodied and warmly spicy, yet very elegant. Lovely wine.
Hegarty Chamans Les Chamans Rouge 2007 Minervois
35% Carignan, 35% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre. Fruit - and lots of it! The palate is rich, fruity and robust, even a touch rustic, but so clean and fresh. In fact, quintessential Minervois, with lots of sweet red and black fruit flavours, nicely rustic but ripe tannins and excellent acidity. A really nice wine.
Hegarty Chamans Cuvée No. 1 2005 Minervois
60% Syrah, 40% Carignan. Sweet fruits on the nose, with a touch of meatiness, even funkiness. Very together and complex, with nicely integrated oak. The palate is rich and spicy, with pastilley fruit flavours and nicely resolved tannins and a soft oakiness. I like the nose more than the palate at the moment, but I think this wine will develop nicely with a few more years of bottle age.
Hegarty Chamans Cuvée No. 2 2008 Minervois
70% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, 10% Cinsault. Crystallised fruits, cloves and garrigue herbs, and nicely woody, in a cigar box/cedar way. Soft, fruity and rich but again elegant. An impressive wine, which is really lovely to drink already, but will surely age well over the next 3 to 5 years.
Next up will be Chateau d'Angles and O'Vineyards.