Thursday, 30 June 2011

Some new wines from Provence

Well, it's been a few days since we returned from our holiday in Languedoc and I've been so busy catching-up on things that time for blogging has been short. I did sort of indicate an ntention to make plenty of posts whilst we were in France, but the best intentions sometimes fall by the wayside, especially when relaxation takes hold - after all, it was our annual holiday. I guess I could have adopted a "little and often" approach, but I am not one of these people who feel it is necessary to make daily blog posts, even if one has little to say of substance. That's what Facebook and Twitter are for.

That's not to say that I haven't been busy meeting some great people and tasting some great wines (and in some great places)! But it takes a lot of time to transform hastily scribbled notes into cohesive reading material - and rest assured, I have plenty of that to go at, and shall publish several posts over the next week or two, covering those visits. Meanwhile, whilst I was away, my Provence wines were delivered to the bond, with new vintages from 3 of the region's finest growers, and I have been busy tasting and compiling notes on some of them, over the past couple of days. They should be loaded onto the website in a few days, but here are a few notes to be going on with;

Chateau Pradeaux Rosé 2010 Bandol
55% Mourvedre and 45% Cinsault. As always with Pradeaux Rosé, this has the most exquisite, ultra-pale onion skin/blood orange colour – really beautiful to look at. It is a vin de pressurage, meaning that it is made from a direct pressing of the grapes, rather than the usual saignée (free-run juice) method. The nose has aromas of wild strawberry, redcurrant and pale peach, along with some delightful notes of rose petals, forest floor, hedgerow and garrigue - it really is an elegant, subtle, yet considerably complex wine. There's just a hint of creaminess, which also manifests itself on the palate, with a combination of delicate red fruits and citrus and a light herbiness. There's ample acidity and a mineral streak which, combined with just the right amount of grape tannin, makes for a pretty serious, yet beautifully rounded wine, which develops beautifully over a period of several hours in the decanter. This is a vintage that tends towards elegance, rather than power, yet it has a very impressive finish, with tangy, zesty, herby, lightly spicy flavours lingering long on the finish. One of the world's great rosés. 12.5% abv. Will be £17.50.

Domaine d'Estoublon 2008 Vin de Pays des Alpilles
A blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, aged for 11 months in barrel. The nose on this wine exhibits notes of quince, apricot, peach and pink grapefruit, along with something almost evocative of red fruits, which is most unusual in a white wine. Further notes of citrus blossom and honeysuckle, soft spices, nuts and clarified butter make for a wine of quite stunning complexity. As with previous vintages, the oak-ageing is beautifully done and really quite subtle, allowing all of those wonderful "winey" aromas to sing. The palate is crammed full of flavour, with a high level of concentration and a rich, mouth-coating oiliness and nuttiness, which is balanced by wonderful orangey acidity and perhaps even a little grape/wood tannin. Once again, restrained power is the order of the day, in a wine which combines richness of flavour with supreme elegance and a gentle, spicy warmth. It is perhaps a tad richer than the 2007, but no less complex or elegant for it. The finish is as long and complex as the start and the middle, with all of those glorious, hedonistic flavours lingering for an age. Another utterly glorious white wine from this rising star of Provence. 13.4% abv. Will be £22.99.

Le Lys de Chateau Pradeaux 2006
90% Mourvedre and 10% Grenache. Although this wine is made from vines aged between 20 and 30 years old and is effectively the "second wine" of Pradeaux (the vines used for Chateau Pradeaux are 35-plus years old) it is very similar to the grand vin in both aromatic profile and structure. Iodine, polished old leather, meat and garrigue herbs are prevalent on the nose, whilst the palate is very definitely old-school Bandol - plenty of black fruit flavours, laden with herbs and spices, but with a firm tannic backbone and a tight, earthy, minerally structure. Of course, it also possesses typical southern warmth and generosity, making it really rather nice to drink already, especially with food - we paired it with some Toulouse sausages and a herby, garlicy tomato sauce, and it was a wonderful match. It is a lovely wine, and an excellent introduction to top-notch estate Bandol, at a price that won't break the bank. Will be £16.50.

Chateau d'Estoublon 2006 Les Baux de Provence
A blend of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Mourvedre, aged for 18 months in oak barrels. A delicious combination of smoke, meat, garrigue herbs, soft spices, polished leather, red capsicum and rotting, high-toned red and black fruits fairly leap out of the glass. It really is a tremendously complex and alluring nose, which strikes a perfect balance between fruit and savoury, with a touch of florality thrown in for good measure. The palate is full of fresh red and black fruit flavours, combining all of those qualities of fruit, herbs, spices, peppery and savoury/meaty notes with tremendous concentration, fine, grippy tannins and admirable acidity - and a tremendous length of flavour. That said, this is no Parkerised monster - despite the concentration, it has plenty of subtlety, with that heightened acidity giving real lift and vitality. This is another multi-dimensional wine, from one of the great Provence vintages in recent memory, which again possesses all of the ingredients necessary for it to age gracefully for at least 5 to 10 years. 13.4% abv. Will be £19.99 - and worth every penny.

Domaine de Trévallon 2007 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhone
A 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, grown on the north-facing slopes of the Alpilles in deepest Provence. Aged for 20 months in large oak foudres. A deepish purple, semi-transluscent core with a tiny ruby rim, this has an intensely fruity, pastilley, perfumed nose, with classic Trévallon mulberry, bramble and blackcurrant fruits comined with notes of flowers, meat, leather and citrus. As with most Trévallons from great vintages, it has immense concentration and depth of fruit, but the balance is nigh-on perfect, with juicy, citrussy acidity combining with super-ripe tannins in a wine which I find almost impossible to fault. Tasting the last dregs a few days later (this is a 3 July edit) I am struck by the sheer weight and concentration of fruit in this wine, but also the fact that it manages to remain elegant and balanced, with some lovely smoky, cedary notes lingering. But - more importantly - the fact that it smells and tastes like a classic Trévallon, even at this stage. Trévallon is never velvety or soft - it is wild, herby, ever-so-slightly spicy and full of the flavours of Provence. But this particular vintage is generous, whilst remaining tremendously focused, complex and possessed of real finesse. It is a wine with the generosity, depth of flavour and structure that marks it out as one the great Trévallons - if not the greatest - produced in the last 20 years. And whilst I have rarely - if ever - encountered a Trévallon which is so deliciously drinkable at such a young age, I have no doubt that it will also be very long-lived. Quite simply, it is a masterpiece. 14.0% abv. I only have very a small quantity of this wine, so it will be limited to 2 bottles per customer, at £43.99 - and for one of the world's great red wines, that is still a bargain.

Next up will be a feature on my recent visit to one of my very favourite Languedoc growers, Thierry Hasard of Domaine de La Marfée.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

A visit to Chateau Rives-Blanques

It has been rather warm over the last few days, here in Languedoc, culminating in a real scorcher today, with the temperature rising towards 35C. Actually, the weather has been rather splendid for the duration of our holiday, although it did cool down for a day or two last week, which coincided with our trip south to Roussillon, taking in a couple of grower visits on the way.

First was Chateau Rives-Blanques, up in the hills above Cépie, near Limoux. Although we eventually turned up more than half an hour late (traffic jam near Béziers, then not one but two separate "route barrée" incidents which the Sat Nav found difficult to cope with) we were greeted warmly by owners Caryl and Jan Panman, and dog Bruno.

Jan and Caryl had lived and worked in a dozen countries on four continents before Limoux's wines and its beautiful countryside stopped them in their tracks. They bought the Rives-Blanques estate in 2001 and have since been involved in every stage of the vineyard management and wine-making process at Rives-Blanques, complementing the talents of long-time Rives-Blanques winemaker Eric Vialade and vineyard manager Mack Van Tong. I had met Caryl at the Outsiders tasting in London, last November, but this was the first time I'd had the pleasure of meeting Jan. Caryl is relatively tall for a lady, but Jan is a veritable gentle giant of a man - at least to a relative midget of 5' 7" like me!

To begin, we were treated to a tour of the vineyards, which are the highest in the Limoux region, on a rolling plateau 350 metres above sea level, with magnificent views stretching (when the weather is clear) as far as the Pyrenées. Even on a rather cloudy (though still pleasantly warm) day, the views were mightily impressive, and the air beautifully fresh. In fact, it really is a beautiful place to grow grapes!

Wherever you look, there are magnificent view from the Rives-Blanques vineyards

Rives-Blanques employs farming methods designated as Agriculture Raisonnée, which basically means the absolute minimum use of pesticides and no synthetic fertilisers. All vine cuttings, and even the pips and grapes from the winemaking process, are ploughed back into the soil, whilst pests and weeds are kept at bay by the sewing of wild flowers and cereals between the rows of vines. The soil itself is typically clay/limestone, with significant deposits of galets roulée (large pebbles) washed down over millions of years from the Pyrenées. The vineyard area comprises just over 20 hectares, with 9 ha of Chardonnay, 7 ha of Mauzac, 2.4 ha of Chenin Blanc and 2 ha of Sauvignon. Most of the vineyards were re-planted between 1972 and 1987, with the Sauvignon being planted as recently as 2006. Total production is around 100,000 bottles, with yields of around 37 hectolites per hectare.

I could be wrong, but I think these are Chenin Blanc vines

Then it was back to the winery, for a brief tour of the chais, followed by a tasting of the complete range if Rives-Blanques range in the tasting room;  

Blanc de Blancs 2008 Crémant de Limoux
Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. Lemon and apple flavours. Lovely acidity, yet very rounded and mouth-filling, with a persistent mousse. Pure and moreish, with good length. Only really beginning to get into its stride.

Vintage Rose 2008 Crémant de Limoux
This is basically the same as above, but with the addition of 5% Pinot Noir. And that 5% makes all the difference, with some lovely redcurrant and floral/honeysuckle aromas and flavours. Again, rich and rounded, with real mineral depth. Another one which will be even better with further bottle age.

Vin de Pays d'Oc 2010
Chardonnay, with 10% Chenin Blanc. A touch of peardrop on the nose to begin with, but this fades into the background to reveal some nice apple and floral notes. Medium-rich, slightly zesty, ripe and with a touch of leesy richness. This is lovely.

Occitania 2010 Limoux
100% Mauzac, aged in older oak barrels. There is actually some creamy, quite coconutty oak showing at the moment, but with bags of exotic fruit salad aromas. The palate has real depth and complexity - lime, apple, peach and apricot flavours, with soft spices and a touch of herbiness thrown in for good measure. Rich and delicate at the same time, and with really excellent length. A pure Mauzac table wine is a rare beast, even in Limoux, but this one doesn't need bubbles to show its class.

Dedicace 2009 Limoux
100% Chenin Blanc, aged in barrels of up to 5 years old, but with 8% new. Apple and stoney mineral aromas. A lemony palate, with some tropical fruit notes, but more in the way of non-fruit/mineral flavours.

Dedicace 2010 Limoux
Lots of prickly acidity here, balanced by some creamy oak and tropical fruits and lemon oil. Beautifully fresh and zesty in the mouth, but with some complexity too. Good length. Of the 2 vintages, I definitely prefer this one. As a footnote, we have enjoyed a whole bottle of this wine, over the last couple of days and it really is a classy wine - swathes of classic Chenin fruit on the nose and palate, with notes of wet wool, lemon curd, tangy apple and serious minerality, which puts me in mind of a bone dry Vouvray.

Trilogie 2010 Limoux
A blend of Mauzac, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. Complex and very winey on the nose, with notes of Calvados, apple pie, cloves and herbs, and with oak very much in the background. Apple and peach flavours on the palate. Really quite refined and complex - and very persistent. Lovely.

Odyssée 2010 Limoux
100% Chardonnay, aged in oak barrels, 25% new. Apple pie and a touch of coconutty oak. Hints of tropical fruits, but with a layer of zesty lemon/citrus and spiciness. Very long.

Sauvageon 2010 Vin de Pays d'Oc
100% young-vine Sauvignon Blanc, aged in barrels, 30% new. Hints of elderflower and pea pod on the nose. The fruit flavours are zesty and delicate, whilst the oak adds complexity without dominating. Although neither Sancerre nor Marlborough in style, I guess you could say it combines aspects of both - and the result is a really lovely wine.

Lagremas d'Aur 2006 Vin de Table de France
Made from late-harvested Chenin Blanc (60%) harvested in November and Mauzac (40%) harvested in November, fermented and aged in oak barrels for 3 years, followed by a further year in bottle before release. As with most (if not all) non-fortified sweet wines made in southern France, there is no AOC, so this qualifies only as a humble Vin de Table. But don't let that fool you, because it is delicious. It is at the same time floral, herby, minerally and crammed full with flavours of tropical fruits, soft citrus, apples, ginger and spice. Although - as with most late-harvested wines - there is a fair degree of natural sweetness, it also possesses a backbone of truly mouth-watering acidity, making for a tremendously sprightly wine, full of freshness and verve. In fact, I would hesitate to call it a full-on sweet wine, because it isn't thick or gloopy or syrupy - or even overtly sweet. Although I am loath to make comparisons, I'd compare it more with a sort of vendange tardive in the Alsace mode, or perhaps even a rich, off-dry botrytis-affected Semillon from the Hunter Valley. There is perhaps a touch of botrytis, as evidenced by a palpable whiff of honey, but any richness is down to paserillé - the drying of the grapes on the vine, prior to harvesting. Whatever the method, it is very more-ish!

Some of the above wines are already available on the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines website, but on this showing, I will certainly be adding to the range in the near future. And it was a delight to meet Caryl and Jan and to spend some time in their beautiful vineyards - and of course to taste those lovely wines!

Bruno the Springer Spaniel - I wish we could have taken him with us!

Next, I'll tell you about our visit to Domaine Gayda.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

A sad day - another hero bites the dust

Well, that's another of my heroes gone. Bruce Springsteen's long-time saxophone player and right-hand man Clarence Clemons - affectionately known to the E Street Band and his millions of fans as the Big Man - passed away last night, aged 69, following complications arising from a stroke the previous week. It is fair to say that Bruce Springsteen's music has played a very significant part in the soundtrack to my life. And the Big Man's wonderful sax solos figure prominently in my line-up of favourite Springsteen songs - and in many cases actually made the songs what they are. If you are one of those rare people who are unfamiliar with Springsteen's (and hence the Big Man's) music, then check out this live (audio) version of Jungleland, which features a sax solo lasting over two minutes - and probably one of the Big Man's finest..............

For those that are familiar, then check-out your Springsteen record collection and remind yourself how good the Big Man was, on other classic tracks such as "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)", "Thunder Road", "Badlands" or - my very favourite - "Drive All Night".

I was privileged to see Bruce and The E Street Band 5 times - twice in 1981, twice in 1985 and once in 1988 - and the Big Man's solos were always a highlight. This guy was far more than a mere "sideman" - when he stepped into the spotlight, the crowd would go mad, even before he played a note. And when he did play, it was enough to send a real shiver down the spine - he was that good. 

The death of long-time keyboard player Danny Federici a couple of years ago was a real body blow to Springsteen and The E Street Band, but the passing of Clarence Clemons may just be the knock-out blow. For sure, Bruce and the band may go on for a good few years yet. But it will never be the same again - not without the Big Man. :-)

RIP, Clarence - and thank you for the music.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Lazy days in Laurens

Well, I said I'd be posting quite a lot whilst in France, but I obviously lied - the best laid plans can sometimes be scuppered by a desire to do nothing more than just chill-out (a bit of a misnomer, given the scorching weather we are experiencing here in Languedoc)!

We left Nottingham at around 2am last Friday morning and managed to catch an earlier ferry than we had booked, which made my planned detour to a couple of growers in Jasnieres (north of Tours, in the Loire) much more do-able. I'd wanted to do this ever since a fabulous tasting of Jasnieres whites and Coteaux du Loir reds a few weeks ago at the Nottingham Wine Circle.  We visited 2 growers - Raynald & Francine Lelais at Domaine des Gauletteries and Domaine Philippe Sevault. I'll tell you more about these growers - and that brilliant tasting in Nottingham - in another post.

Having failed to make it in time for a visit to third grower (by this time it was 7pm on a Friday evening and most sensible natives of the region probably had better things to do) we decided to head cross-country towards Clermont Ferrand and the A75 autoroute across the Massif Central, where we planned to grab a few hours kip in the car, before arriving in Languedoc on Saturday morning. At one point, just before the sun went down, we were hit by an almighty thunderstorm, so had to stop for a few minutes. My camera skills aren't really up to scratch, but here's a picture of the sun going down over the Auvergne, surrounded by a very dark sky.........

A spectacular sunset following a cloudburst over the Auvergne

All went otherwise to plan, although I did get flashed by a speed camera on a particularly steep (downhill) and very winding section of the autoroute, just south of Clermont. However, considering the speed limit on that stretch was 90kph and I was doing exactly that, I would be more than a little miffed if I got a ticket. Actually, I have been flashed on the autoroute at least a couple of times in previous years (again, not going particularly fast) and I've never had a ticket yet. French speed cameras do seem to go off a bit indiscriminately, it seems. We shall see......

After a few hours sleep, we had just a couple of hours' drive to Laurens (our base in Languedoc) so we decided to avoid the 6.50 Euro toll for the Viaduc de Millau and take the "old" route down into Millau and up the other side of the Causse. A drive of around 15 kilometres, which might once have taken several hours (before the viaduct was built, this was a single carriagway bottleneck between two stretches of 3-lane autoroute) took no more than half an hour, which included a stop to take in some bracing early-morning air and a photo or two...............

The magnificent Viaduc de Millau

We arrived at our destination much earlier than we have ever done before (indeed, too early to be able to get in) so we nipped to Pézenas to do a quick shop for supplies, then back to our lovely little hideaway in Laurens..........

Frankly, we have been very lazy since we arrived - sunbathing, the occasional dip in the pool, a glass or two of wine, a bike ride or two in the surrounding countryside and some lovely meals on the patio have been the order of the day so far. We did meet up with the delightful Brigitte Chevalier yesterday evening, to taste through her range of wines (including barrel samples of her brilliant 2010's) and I'll tell you more about that in another post.

A typical Faugeres scene, whilst out on a gentle evening bike ride

Scrumping for cherries!

Of course, we've enjoyed plenty of lovely wines, including this delightful little number.......

Domaine de Gauletteries 2010 Coteaux du Loir
80% Pinot d'Aunis, the remaining 20% being a mix of Gamay, Cabernet Franc and Cot a.k.a. Malbec). Light ruby red in colour - not much darker than a full rosé. In my relatively limited experience, I have come to understand that Pinot d'Aunis displays quite a distinct aromatic profile, and this one has bags of character - redcurrant, cherry and wild strawberry, damp earth, ground pepper, tobacco and a distinct florality are just some of the aromas in what is really quite a complex and beguiling nose. It certainly wouldn't be to everybody's taste, because it is essentially light-bodied - Chateauneuf or Priorat it is not. In fact, it even makes your average Burgundy or Beaujolais seem like big, strapping wines. If I'm honest, I probably would have hated this wine a few years ago, because I would have dismissed it as weedy and thin. But I know better these days. For there is much to reward the contemplative drinker, with a slightly creamy texture and beautifully delicate red fruit flavours of both the fresh and crystallised varieties and even a hint of apple. It has really good (but not excessive) acidity, bags of earthy minerality, light-ish tannins and a warm, spicy/peppery/tangy/sweet and sour finish, which really does linger for quite a while. Red wines rarely get much lighter than this - but rarely do they possess such delightfully rustic charm, either.

Today, we are contemplating a trip to the beach at Marseillan (decisions, decisions!) whilst tomorrow we are off to Limoux, for a couple of grower visits, followed by a night at Domaine Treloar.

More anon!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Chateau Musar 2004 and Swan Syrah 2005

Chateau Musar 2004 Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
I shared a case of this wine with a friend recently and couldn't resist trying a bottle, before laying the other 5 down to age for a few years. The colour and hue is typical Musar - bright, transluscent blood/cherry red, with orange/brick tinges - and a nose more typical of Musar than just about any vintage I have ever experienced...... Boy, this has volatile acidity by the bucketload - and I do like my VA, but this is almost off the scale! That's not to say that it mars the wine, because volatile acidity is, as seasoned campaigners will testify, almost part of the genetic make-up of Chateau Musar. Even at this relatively early stage (Musar tends to be released for sale 7 years after the vintage) there is some decent complexity, with notes of raspberries, brambles, strawberries and cherries steeped in eau de vie, hints of roast beef, leather and a curious - though rather attractive - hint of Play-Doh(!) There's a bit of tannic grip to the palate, but it isn't harsh, and I'm sure that the fruit (of which there is plenty) will eventually win the day over that incredible streak of volatile acidity. And anyway, I like raspberry vinegar! I'm not sure this will be one of the longest-lived vintages of Musar (a really good one will age gracefully for 20 to 30 years) but it should eveolve nicely over the next 10 years. Not a great Musar, but a decent one - and still reasonably good value at around £18 a bottle.

Joseph Swan Trenton Estate Syrah 2005 Russian River Valley, California
I picked a case of this up yesterday from the importer, because they have sold out of the 2004. And whilst the 2004 was very good, this 2005 represents a quantum leap in quality. The colour is a fairly dense purple at the core, with a narrow ruby rim - youthful, but not opaque or soupy. The nose isn't giving an awful lot away, to begin with - on opening, there's a touch of tar and beetroot (a bit reductive, perhaps) but it blows away very quickly, to reveal notes of raspberry, bramble and a hint of blackcurrant leaf. There are hints of spices and herbs, too - I can't quite nail it, but there's a definite whiff of fresh basil and perhaps even a touch of clove. In fact, there's real complexity here - it just needs time to develop - not to mention a degree of elegance which is more than a little reminiscent of a young Pinot.

The palate is more expressive, again possessed of a certain "Pinosity" (in all honesty, of the Cotes de Nuits sort, rather than new world) but with plenty of Syrah characteristics as well, beginning with delightfully fresh flavours of raspberry and redcurrant, and followed by a plummy/brambly richness in the middle and a bit of savouriness thrown in for good measure. The tannins are present, but very fine and almost inobtrusive, whilst the acidity is, well....... utterly mouth-watering, like when you bite into a just-ripe nectarine. The spice/herb thing is also there on the palate, but it all remains very subtle and in the background, allowing all of that wonderful fruit to shine through. The length is impressive, but the feel-good factor is even greater(!) I'm tempted to say that this is a bit of a schizophrenic wine - is it Syrah, or is it Pinot? Then again, if it shows some of the best characteristics of (arguably) the two finest red grape varieties on the Planet, why worry? The bottle says 14.6% abv, but it tastes more like 13% or less, such is its elegance and cool-climate character. In fact, the more I taste this wine, the more I am falling in love with it - it is truly multi-faceted and very hard to resist. I'd love to see how it ages for (say) another 5 to 8 years, but I fear that I won't be able to keep my hands off it for that long. I'll be adding it to the online shop soon (probably the end of June, when I can hopefully get my hands on some more) at around £23, but I think I will keep the remainder of this particular case for myself. Love it, love it, love it!

We're off to France for a couple of weeks at the weekend, whilst my boys "look after" the house - no doubt every night will be party night! I hope to post quite a few entries from our Languedoc hideaway, so keep 'em peeled.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 3 June 2011

Shortlisted for an award..... and who needs Springwatch?

It has been a while. In fact, don't think I've gone so long between posts, since I began blogging in earnest a couple of years ago. As always, I have a perfectly good excuse..... A few weeks ago, I received notification from Decanter magazine that Leon Stolarski Fine Wines had been shortlisted for the "Specialist Wine Merchant of the Year" category of their World Wine Awards. As a follow-up to this, each nominated merchant is asked to submit answers to a questionnaire - 6 questions about various aspects of their business, allowing a maximum of 200 words for each answer, the objective being to say how fabulous we are and why. It goes without saying that I wasn't short of things to say - I wouldn't still be ploughing a furrow in the wine business (at the same time as holding down a day job) if I didn't think we were doing good things. But 1,200 words turned out to be a really tough challenge. So much so that it took me a couple of weeks of note-writing and fine tuning to be able to say all that I wanted to say. Frankly, I could have written pages, so the biggest challenge was keeping each bit down to 200 words - which, if you are still reading, is less than it has taken for me to get this far. 

Anyway, it's done now - I submitted my entry by email on Wednesday, with a hard copy (together with hard copy wine list, T&C's, example customer newsletters and a few of my blog posts from the previous 12 months) sent just in time for today's deadline. All I can do now is sit back and wait to see what the judges think of my entry. To be honest, I probably don't stand a cat in hell's chance - my "opposition" are Les Caves de Pyrene, Howard Ripley, South Africa Wines Online and SWIG. But at least I know that, whatever happens, I put my heart and soul (not to mention a lot of time) into my submission. I'm not sure what person (or persons) actually nominated me (it wasn't me!), but whoever you are - thank you.

In-between fretting over my submission, and all the other things that seem to take up all of my time, I've been observing the local wildlife going about their business in my garden. Most notably, for the past week or two, I've been watching a pair of blackbirds building a nest amongst the tangled branches and foliage of my wisteria. And over the last few days, no less than 5 eggs have appeared, at an average of 1 each day. I know, it's nothing special - this sort of thing is going on in a million other gardens at this time of year. But it is nice to be able to watch all the comings and goings and to be able to capture a few photographs of the proud parents-to-be and their little hoard................

Hopefully, I'll get to see some of the little critters after they have hatched. They'd better hurry-up, though, as I'm going on holiday soon! I'll keep you posted.

Oh, and I might even write about a few wines tomorrow!