Saturday, 27 August 2011

Two new arrivals from Joseph Swan Vineyards

Having posted recently on the rather stunning Joseph Swan Vineyards Syrah 2005, I make no apologies for writing about yet more lovely wines from this wonderful California grower. I'd love to visit the winery one day, as I believe they make quite a few other wines that are not available through their UK agent - and of the ones available over here, I have yet to taste a single one that doesn't hit the spot. And here are two more, just arrived at Leon Stolarski Fine Wines.....

100% Carignan. This one is quite a deep colour in comparison to the 2008 - almost opaque red/purple, with a narrow rim. It also shows a degree or so less in alcohol (12.3% as opposed to 13.5% in the 2008) and displays scents of roses and parma violets, raspberries, cassis and cream, mint, damp earth. On the palate, it appears younger, more primary and less developed, with abundant fresh red and black fruit flavours, fine but grippy tannins and vibrant, mouth-watering acidity. But the apparent youth of this wine is certainly no bar to drinking this now - one of the things I love about Joseph Swan wines is that they are always lovely to drink, whatever age they are - even when made from 100% Carignan!. But whereas the 2008 seems a little more developed and forward and absolutely ready now, this 2009 seems like more of a slow burner, with the balance and structure to develop beautifully over the next 8 to 10 years.

The colour is transluscent, light-to-medium raspberry/blood red, leading to a watery rim. As with just about every vintage of this wine, the nose really is the essence of fine, sensuous Pinot Noir - ripe summer fruits, exotic mixed spices, roses, leather, sandalwood and damp earth. If you tasted it blind, you could hardly mistake it for anything other than Pinot. And although you might not suggest Burgundy, then again you just might. For I have tasted wines from the Cotes de Nuits that display similar qualities of sweet, succulent fruit and exotic spices (think 1er Cru Morey-Saint-Denis or Nuits-Saint-Georges from the same vintage) although I've tasted a good few lesser ones that would kill for this level of ripeness and complexity. And that generosity of fruit really shines though on the palate, with flavours of raspberries and cream and a gentle tanginess, courtesy of soft tannins and juicy acidity. Not that it is all about the fruit, of course, for those notes of exotic spice, flowers, undergrowth and old wood add real complexity. You really do get the sense that you are drinking something very fine, despite its relative youth. And as always with Joseph Swan wines, it is even better the next day. A supremely elegant and truly lovely wine.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

2009 was obviously a good year - a stunner of a red wine from the Loire

Wednesday is usually Nottingham Wine Circle night, but having worked for most of the day on my website, it occurred to me that it was far more out of date than I had feared. Therefore, I'm still working at it, late into the evening, instead of being out tasting lots of other people's wines. But I can't let a Wednesday evening pass without a decent glass of wine, so I took a break to make something for supper and taste a few of the bottles I brought home from that weekend Loire marathon I mentioned in yesterday's post. And here's my note on a real stunner of a Cabernet Franc (now that's a combination of words that I never thought I'd use)......

Domaine de La Butte "Mi-Pente" 2009 Bourgueil - Jacky Blot
A classy nose indeed - lots of new, toasty oak and a huge waft of dark, sensuous black fruits steeped in eau de vie. It's clearly youthful, but already gloriously complex, with enticing notes of cigar box, leather, damp earth and cloves. It smells big and lavish, but there's a high-toned, citrus fruit note that gives real lift. And that citrus certainly comes through on the palate, with a huge mouthful of prickly acidity, right at the front - it really is mouth-wateringly delicious. Of course, it has tannin in abundance (what self-respecting Cab Franc doesn't?) but it is rich, ripe and creamy and combines seamlessly with that lovely acidity, almost to the point where you cannot decipher between the two. And inside that structure lies a dense core of red and black fruit flavours, again earthy, gently spicy and savoury, even slightly medicinal. But great wine is all about the whole, not the individual components, and the package here is virtually faultless. When I first tasted this wine, I had a feeling that the acidity may have been "adjusted". Maybe so, maybe not, but the effect is ethereal, rather than unnatural - and this may just be the most balanced, fruity, complex, complete young red wine I have ever tasted from the Loire, with a tendency towards elegance that will surely emerge with some bottle age. It is utterly compelling and delicious - and it is still evolving, a full 4 days later. If I had some of this wine in my cellar (which I don't) I'd be tempted to drink it all far too quickly - but boy, would I love to taste it in another 10 years' time. I'm not quite a convert yet, but if this is what Loire Cabernet Franc is capable of, then give me more!

Oh, and I have to say it goes beautifully with my home-made pizza, topped with tomato, mushrooms, anchovies, green peppers, mozzarella, a little pepperoni and oregano. A match made in heaven!

Right - back to work on my website............

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A lovely white wine from South Africa

Having spent most of Saturday tasting more than 100 red wines from the Loire Valley (actually, there were almost 150, but I simply didn't have the staying power!) I have plenty of notes to write up over the next few days. Meanwhile, here's a note on a rather good South African Chenin-based wine that was enjoyed at the post-tasting dinner.

Mullineux White 2010 Swartland, SA
This is a blend of 80% Chenin Blanc, 10% Clairette and 10% Viognier, bottled unfined and unfiltered. Whether it is aged in oak, I can't say for sure, although if it is, the effect is subtle. The texture is lovely, with a slight oiliness and a really quite rich mouth-feel, but that richness is beautifully offset by a combination of intense, stoney minerality and ample acidity. It isn't overtly fruity, either on the nose or the palate - aside from a touch of orange/lime pithiness and perhaps a vague hint of spiced apple - but it is intensely "winey", which I guess is another way of saying it is complex. The fact that I find that complexity hard to describe is very much a positive, because it is a wine for contemplation, which keeps inviting you back for more. And there is definitely a start, a middle and a finish - it is weighty and intense to begin with, before a wave of minerality and zingy acidity hits you, followed by a long, warm and really quite spicy finish. This bottle was brought to dinner by the man who imports the Mullineux range of wines into the Netherlands, and he kindly gave it to me to take home at the end of the evening. And 3 days later, it continues to offer a lot of enjoyment - and, indeed, is still evolving and gaining weight, which is a sure sign that it should age nicely for a good few years. Having rather damned the 2009 vintage of this wine with faint praise a while ago, I found this bottle to be really excellent. I believe it retails for around about £16 in the UK.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Good wine and good bread - what more could one ask for?

I've been selling this wine (by which I mean this very vintage) for around a year now, and you can find it on my website, along with a completely unrelated tasting note. But I thought I'd open a bottle and see how it is developing - purely for research purposes, mind! It is a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, grown on the southern slopes of the Alpilles in deepest Provence. The nose is honeyed, though not buttery, with notes of super-ripe apples, candied peel, marmalade and a complex mix of spices and herbs. The palate has a slightly waxy texture, but is otherwise beautifully poised and fresh as a daisy. It is awash with flavour - "winey" rather than overtly fruity, that's for sure, but it has definite hints of apples laced with cloves and cinnamon and a marmaladey richness, offset by a core of stoney minerality and nervy acidity. Although it is very definitely Provencal/Southern Rhone in origin, this wine is free of the overt pithiness - and therefore bitterness - that I often find in white Chateauneuf, and consequently bears more than a little similarity to (say) a white Hermitage in structure........ or even a white Trévallon. I actually opened this bottle 4 days ago, and we drank most of it with home-made chicken liver parfait and sourdough bread, with a mixed salad and cherry tomatoes from my greenhouse - and it really was a delicious combination. But the last glass (drank this evening) is perhaps even better than the first. Which tells me that this wine can only get better - perhaps another 5 years or more?  £22.99.

Domaine Sol-Payré Vertigo 2009 Cotes du Roussillon
Continuing the vaguely Southern Rhone theme, this is a wine very firmly rooted in Roussillon - but with more than a nod towards the red Chateauneuf style. It is a new cuvée - a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, with perhaps just a touch of oak-ageing, but not too much - older oak, for definite, because in this wine, the fruit definitely wins the day. In fact, when I first opened the bottle (last night) it had just a bit too much Grenache intensity and rusticity for my personal taste - rich, full of grape skin and bramble fruit and a tarry quality which slightly overwhelmed. But what a difference a day makes, for it has blossomed into a wine of real elegance......... the nose offers aromas of mixed red/black fruits and garrigue herbs, polished wood, forest floor and subtle notes of eau de vie, whilst the palate is almost unrecognisable - expansive fruit flavours, silky mouthfeel, great balance and a fair amount of complexity. And (despite the 14.5% abv shown on the label) no sense of heat - just a lovely southern, spicy warmth. It provided a very decent match for tonight's Spaghetti alla Carbonara. I like it a lot and will no doubt grab a few cases when I next import form Sol-Payré, later in the year - projected price around £14. 


Sunday, 14 August 2011

A visit to Domaine de La Marfée - surely one of Languedoc's finest growers

With a backgound in accountancy, Thierry Hasard came relatively late to winemaking, making his first wines in 1997. He farms around 9 hectares of vines, on a dozen or so different plots near the village of Murviel Les Montpellier, within the relatively unknown Saint Georges d'Orques sub-appellation of Languedoc. Although the village of Murviel is situated just a handful of kilometres west of Montpellier itself, it can best be described as a relative backwater - indeed, a real hidden gem - since it isn't actually on the route to anywhere in particular. You really have to be going there to even be aware of its existence, which probably explains why, in almost 2 decades of visiting the region, I'd never been there before. Murviel is located on a hill, with views of the Mediterranean about 15 kilometres away. Here, prehistoric men lived and the Romans built a temple and an oppidum, from which the name of the village originates: "mur viel", meaning "old wall". It is a pretty village, surrounded by undulating countryside, given over partly to vines and a few arable crops, but interspersed with numerous forests of holm oak. It almost feels like you are in the middle of nowhere, even though a big city lies so close by.

On our recent holiday, I felt like I'd been far too lazy and spent far too much time at our gite, lazing around. So I called Thierry Hasard on a whim, on one of the rare overcast (though still warm) afternoons, and managed to steal a few hours away. We arranged to meet an hour later and, although he gave me some vague directions, I found myself driving around the outskirts of the village, feeling rather lost. To be fair, he did say it was difficult to find! I pulled over to the side of the road and was about to call Thierry on his mobile when a car hooted from behind, and there he was. I guess it isn't hard to spot a lost English tourist around these parts! We exchanged greetings and then drove out of the village, to take a look at a handful of Thierry's vineyards.

His passion for the vines and the land is obvious - he practices biodynamic farming, although (unlike many growers who have jumped on the bandwagon) he feels no need for the certification to prove it. But one only needs to compare his vineyards, which are a picture of health and full of life, to those of others around here, which have been treated with chemicals. You can simply see the vigour in the vines and the soil. Aside from the occasional use of a little sulphur, nothing else goes onto his vines or into the soil - everything else is down to hard work, occasional (though not too much) ploughing and plenty of TLC for the vines. I asked whether the vine tips (which you can see reaching skywards in the photos) would be cut back. Thierry explained that the tips are the "heads" of the vines, and therefore (as with humans, I guess) provide a crucial role in their development through the growing season, so it would not do to cut them off too early(!) Being mid-June, the grapes were still green, but an absolute picture of health - and heathy grapes make healthy wine.

Syrah - note the bits of green dotted about between the rows -
no chemicals used in these biodynamic vineyards - only careful ploughing and hard work

Grenache - bush vines, but with wires to keep them orderly and provide support for the heads

Thierry Hasard in the Vermentino plot, planted just a few years ago

Precious 60 year-old Carignan vines - a picture of health

Following our walk through the vineyards, we drove to Thierry's newly-built chai, set amidst gently rolling hills, a couple of kilometres outside the town of Murviel-les-Montpellier. He's built a house next to the chai, which he and his family will move into later this summer. It's a tranquil spot, with lovely views over the surrounding countryside. There are probably few - if any - other buildings within a kilometre or more of here, although the suburbs of Montpellier now appear on the horizon, just a few kilometres to the east. Thierry believes that the inexorable sprawl of the city will eventually reach this far, and fears that within a generation, these beautiful vineyards may well have given way to houses. Even in southern France, prime agricultural and viticultural land is so much more valuable as building land. And if that happens (and I pray that the powers-that-be will eventually realise the true value of this region's wine industry, before it is too late) some wonderful terroir and yet more precious old vines will be consigned to the history books. But that's for the future to decide - for now, we can still enjoy the wonderful wines from this beautiful and peaceful backwater of Languedoc.

The road leading to the new chais at La Marfée - the suburbs of Montpellier appear on the horizon, now just a few kilometres away

The view from the new house and chai -
- looking south-east towards the Montagne de la Gardiole and the Mediterranean

And so to the wines. Firstly, we tasted through various components of the 2010 vintage, all from barrel.

Vermentino 2010
The colour has a faint orange hue. Apples, tree blossom and minerals on the nose. The palate is generous and expansive, but beautifully poised and elegant - rich, but not too rich, with flavours of honey, soft citrus and a little bit of spice. Supremenly elegant finish, with lovely acidity. Thierry told me his wife said he was mad to plant Vermentino (a.k.a Rolle) but she has now changed her mind. This is a wine he can be rightly proud of, and although it tasted wonderful on its own, it will be blended into the white Frisson d'Ombelles - which can only make an already brilliant wine even better.

Chardonnay 2010
A little bit reductive on the nose, but with some lovely "non-fruit" Chardonnay aromas. Reminds me of a Cote d'Or wine, actually. Thierry said the acidity was almost lemon juice in intensity when first vinified, but it has settled nicely into a medium-rich wine, with real depth and minerality, a touch of wood/grape tannin and wonderful length. Only 12.9% abv, too.

Roussanne 2010 (aged in a new 600 litre oak demi-muid - the only new barrel in the chai)
Aromas of citrus and orange blossom, with buttery, honeyed notes. Wonderfully tangy on the palate, with some richness and savouriness, but with a backbone of lively acidity. Delicious.

Grenache 2010 (only just put into barrel)
Very light in colour, almost like a Pinot (I can't divulge why). And the nose, whilst not really Pinot, does show some real elegance, with aromas of cherry, redcurrant and raspberry. The palate is richer, with a hint of licourice, but bags of fruit too.

Syrah 2010
Savoury, almost meaty nose, but with hints of minerality and white flowers. to complement the red fruits and a touch of citrus. Grippy, but very ripe tannins, with redcurrant fruit and loads of mouth-watering acidity.

Carignan 2010 (from 60 year-old vines)
Earthy, red and black fruit aromas, with notes of citrus and blackcurrant leaf. The palate is just lovely - a huge core of elegant red and black fruit flavours and wonderful lemon/orange acidity and a length that just goes on and on. A gorgeous wine, with immense potential.

Mourvedre 2010
Smoky! Meaty and savoury, too - it just screams Mourvedre. A touch of petillance/spritz, with lovely acidity (there's a theme to these wines), so fresh and full of life, yet with a richness and generosity. Still tannic, but fine-grained, even soft. Thierry describes it as being like a big, soft blanket, covering you with its multi-layered warmth. Delicious wine, with a serious side.

Part of the barrel room in the new chais - a bit foggy from the effects of the humidifier!

One of 5 new concrete "eggs" - these are becoming a popular alternative to oak and stainless steel

After tasting through the 2010's, Thierry showed me his private cellar. He was an accountant in his previous career (and indeed still practices a little, for a few chosen clients) and it is obvious that a good deal of his disposable income at the at time was spent on his love of good wine. He has a fair amount of classed growth Bordeaux, top-notch Burgundy and Rhone, and a rather impressive selection of vintages of Chateau d'Yquem. Clearly, though, he has a balanced perspective on what is worth keeping and what is simply too expensive for any normal person to drink, for he showed me a case of 1989 Chateau Haut Brion, which will soon be destined for the auction house. After all, life as a vigneron is much less lucrative than that of an accountant, and every little helps. I was much more interested in his collection of vintages of Domaine des Grange des Peres, which I assume must be in lieu of payment for professional services rendered - if you see what I mean. When I remarked that I had never - for my sins - tasted a Grange des Peres, he very generously gave me a bottle of 2008 red, which I shall do my best to avoid broaching for a few years.

Just part of Thierry Hasard's personal cellar -
- the fruits of a somewhat more lucrative previous career as an accountant

Finally, we tasted through the current release wines, from bottle - all 2008's, and all opened especially for my visit. After the tasting, Thierry kindly gave me the bottles to take away, so my initial notes are augmented by further impressions, written over the following couple of days;

Frissons d'Ombelles 2008 Vin de Pays de l'Hérault
A blend of Roussanne and Chardonnay (from 2010, Vermentino will also become part of the blend). Spring flowers, blossom and citrus aromas, with definite nutty and honeyed notes and a real mineral streak. The palate is supremely fresh and full of life, again slightly nutty and medium-rich, but with a wonderful citrussy, zesty acidity and underlying flavours of apple, peach and spice. The oak is very much in the background, on both the nose and the palate. Lovely structure and complexity, which makes it lovely to drink now, but with the potential to evolve for up to 10 years. 13.0% abv.

Les Gamines 2008 Languedoc Saint Georges d'Orques
Quite closed on the nose to begin with, but opens-up nicely to reveal some really quite complex aromas of leather, spice, bramble, vanilla, smoke, damp earth and soft citrus. There's a core of ripe (but not dense) red and black fruit on the palate, with perfect tannin/acidity balance, again with orange/citrus notes and a long, spicy finish. This is a classic "day 2" wine - on the first day, it seems in need of 2 or 3 years to soften, but by the second day it is really singing. A wine to drink now (preferably decanted well in advance) or to age for 5 to 8 years. 13.5% abv.

Les Vignes Qu'On Abat 2008 Vin de Pays de l'Hérault
100% Carignan, from 60 year-old vines. Savoury, meaty, herby and sous-bois aromas, with masses of both red and black currant fruit. The palate is medium-bodied and almost understated, with a piquancy rarely found in a Carignan-based wine. The acidity is quite high, though nicely integrated with fine tannins and prominent cherry and redcurrant fruit - a beautifully poised, elegant wine, and the absolute antithesis of soupy. A real connoisseur's wine, with brilliant medium-to-long term potential. 13.0% abv.

Les Champs Murmurés 2008 Languedoc Saint Georges d'Orques
50% each of Syrah and Mourvedre. A very complex nose of leather, coffee, beef, allspice and polished wood. Savoury and meaty, but with plenty of rich bramble fruit and even some floral notes. Quite rich and velvety, but with ample acidity and plenty of grip. On day 2, the savoury notes are complemented by a hint of forest floor and red and black fruits steeped in eau de vie. The palate shows a lovely combination of ripe fruits, citrussy acidity and fine tannic structure. As with all of Thierry Hasard's wines, it is complex and expansive, but at the same time understated and carefully extracted. It is surprisingly drinkable now, but will be magnificent in 5-10 years - and surely longer. 13.5% abv.

Rosé 2010 IGP Pays d'Hérault
Thierry also presented me with a bottle of this wine, which we drank at home last week. And although I included it in an earlier post, I've included it here, for completeness. To be honest, I have no idea of the grape mix - I really should have asked. It is a fabulous colour - ultra-pale onion skin pink, with orange glints, and with a lovely nose, too - lightly zesty, forest fruits and orange blossom, apples and flowers, with hints of sweetly aromatic herbs. The flavours are wonderfully delicate and understated, rather than showy, with myriad red fruits, herbs, minerals and beautifully integrated acidity of the juicy (rather than pithy) kind. The flavours are long, spicy and gently warming, though without even the merest hint of alcohol. Most rosés can perhaps be dismissed as lacking identity - a sort of confected halfway house between red and white wine. But for me, this lovely wine is the very definition of the style, and worthy of real appreciation and contemplation - a wine of real structure. It may well age for a few years, and if I had any more, I'd be tempted to tuck a few away for a year or two, but it is just so lovely now, and it would give the very best Provence rosés a real run for their money. A truly lovely rosé. 13.0% abv.

I've written quite extensively about the wines of Domaine de La Marfée on several previous occasions (see the alphabetical menu on the right-hand side) but have no qualms about doing so once more. For I genuinely believe that Thierry Hasard makes some of the greatest wines the Languedoc has to offer. As it is, they remain hidden gems on the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines list - perhaps a relatively expensive leap of faith for the majority of Languedoc fans who look to the £8 to £12 category for what is perceived as the starting point for real quality/price ratio. And, of course, those who choose to spend their money on much more expensive wines from the more fashionable regions of France and elsewhere may never make that leap, despite the fact that growers such as La Marfée are making wines to rival - and in my humble opinion surpass - their over-priced trophy wines. It is their loss - and the canny Languedoc aficionado's gain.

Leon Stolarski Fine Wines currently stocks the full range of 2007's from Domaine de La Marfée, priced from £13.79 to £24.50. We also offer a 6-bottle sampler case, at the special price of £110.44 (a saving of £10).

Saturday, 13 August 2011

A profound Californian Syrah

Alright, so I said I was going to publish a report on my visit to Domaine de La Marfée today, but that has been almost 2 months in the making (it's a bit of an epic!) so it can wait a day longer. But tonight, I just have to tell you about a rather wonderful wine, which is worthy of its own post - in fact, two posts, because I first wrote about this wine as recently as June. That was a wonderful bottle in it's own right, but tonight's bottle left me in complete rapture with it's sheer lovliness. Actually, I think it is an interesting exercise in comparing (my own) tasting notes, so without the benefit of actually reading what I wrote in June, here's what this latest bottle did for me.....

Goodness me, this is so incredibly prefumed. Heady aromas of leather, meat, flowers, woodsmoke, iodine, mixed spice, damp earth, truffles and polished mahogany. I guarantee, they're all in there. Oh, and masses of fruit, of course - blackberries, blackcurrant and dried citrus peel. It really does have the most complex nose you could ever imagine. There's a wildness about it, almost reminiscent of a young Trévallon, or - dare I say it - a touch of the Chateauneuf. The nose would lead you to think the palate would be all about the savoury, but not a bit of it - the flavours are intense and vibrant, with a core of ripe, concentrated red and black fruits, allied to the most lip-smacking acidity and ultra-ripe tannins. I'm almost minded to describe it as velvety, but that would be a disservice, because this wine has such beautiful grip, with a balance and structure that is nigh-on perfect. The flavours linger for an awful long time on the finish, whilst the not insubstantial 14.6% abv merely serves to add yet more definition.

I am not often moved to describe a wine as "great", but for me, this really is a great wine, in the real sense of the word. And although it is so good to drink now, it could well turn out to be absolutely profound, given another 5 to 10 years in bottle.

Friday, 12 August 2011

A handful of lovely wines enjoyed over the past week

Prior to my publishing a big write-up on Domaine de La Marfée (hopefully tomorrow) here are my thoughts on some really nice wines tasted/drank over the last week or so.

Bodegas Castano Monastrell Ecologico 2008 Yecla, Spain
Made from 100% organically-cultivated Monastrell (better known in France as Mourvedre) not too far from the coast in south-eastern Spain. On opening, there is a strong whiff of funkiness - beefy, barnyardy and herby - allied to some really rich, almost sweet-smelling bramble and cherry fruit. That funkiness soon blows off with some air, to reveal a really quite complex wine, crammed full of red and black fruits steeped in eau de vie, but with an alluring savouriness and herbiness and background notes of damp earth, tobacco and allspice. In the mouth, it has all the concentration you could wish for, but still exhibits a degree of elegance, combining rich fruit flavours, soft, ripe tannins and mouth-watering acidity, all of which makes it a joy to drink on its own, whilst also being a brilliant food wine. We paired it with some herby sausages and mustard mash, although I suspect it would go equally well with spaghetti bolognese, pizza or barbecued red meats (lamb chops or a peppered rib steak spring to mind). This has got to be worth a tenner of anybody's money, but at £7.50 a bottle, it is a cracking bargain. Drink now, or keep for 5+ years. 14.5% abv.

Domaine de La Marfée Rosé 2010 IGP Pays d'Hérault
This was a gift from winemaker Thierry Hasard, following my recent visit. To be honest,  I have no idea of the grape mix - I must find out. It is a fabulous colour - ultra-pale onion skin pink, with orange glints, and with a lovely nose, too - lightly zesty, forest fruits and orange blossom, apples and flowers, with hints of sweetly aromatic herbs. The flavours are wonderfully delicate and understated, rather than showy, with myriad red fruits, herbs, minerals and beautifully integrated acidity of the juicy (rather than pithy) kind. The flavours are long, spicy and gently warming, though without even the merest hint of alcohol. Most rosés can perhaps be dismissed as lacking identity - a sort of confected halfway house between red and white wine. But for me, this lovely wine is the very definition of the style, and worthy of real appreciation and contemplation - a wine of real structure. It may well age for a few years, and if I had any more, I'd be tempted to tuck a few away for a year or two, but it is just so lovely now, and it would give the very best Provence rosés a real run for their money. A truly lovely rosé.

Alain Graillot La Guiraude 1995 Crozes Hermitages
This wine still has an amazing core of rich, fresh bramble and blackcurrant fruit. In fact, for a northern Rhone wine of 16 years' age, it is remarkably fresh and vibrant and not yet imbued with those meaty, bacon fat notes that one would expect. It has a touch of rusticity about it, but that is one of the things I love about this appellation - it is a real un-polished diamond. The palate is more than equal to the nose, with wonderful flavours of bramble, blackcurrant, citrus and mineral, with a tannic structure that should see it age for at least another 5 to 10 years. Problem is, this was my last bottle - damn and blast! A fabulous Crozes, which is easily on a par with most vintages of the benchmark Domaine de Thalabert.

Luis Pato Casta Baga Vinho Tinto 2007 Beiras, Portugal
My friend Andy Leslie brought this round to an impromptu get-together at my house the other evening, and it was a sheer delight. Maybe it's because we'd just enjoyed a really decent red Burgundy, but I swear that I was back in the Cotes de Nuits again with this one. When told categorically that it wasn't Burgundy - or indeed Pinot Noir - we (that's David Bennett and I) were scratching about for other grape varieties that occasionally showed similar characteristics. But no, it wasn't Tempranillo, not Sangiovese, not Nebbiolo and not Syrah. But to be told that it was the indigenous Portugese grape variety known as Baga came as a big surprise. Don't get me wrong - my experiences (albeit limited) of Baga have all been good. Indeed, one of my "house wines" over the last few years has been 1990 Luis Pato Baga - several cases of the stuff, in fact, picked up for a song at a certain well-known auction house. But that is a 20 year-old wine, and the tannins are still somewhat evident, even though the fruit is still there too. But this is a 2007 wine, though to be fair, it is blended with the somewhat more forgiving, sweet-edged Touriga Nacional variety. But sniffing it now, as I type, this wine still smells like a rather masculine Burgundy, with strawberry/raspberry fruit, cream, exotic spices and damp earth. And it tastes like Burgundy - tart red fruits, maybe even citrus, spice, damp earth again, and essentially fairly light-bodied and really quite elegant. I guess the biggest giveaway is the slightly rustic tannin, although some lesser Burgundies can have rusticity too. I guess I'm just amazed that a wine made from Baga (don't you just love the name!) can be so utterly lovely and drinkable at such a young age. And for about £9 (apparently from D Byrnes of Clitheroe) I'd say it is a wine of real character and interest - and an absolutely cracking bargain. 12.5% abv.

Domaine du Garinet Futs de Chene 2001 Cahors
Bramble fruits, dried orange peel, smoke, damp earth, mushroom/truffle and some pretty attractive polished wood.... and what seems like an unmistakeable - though completely harmonious - touch of brett. The fruit is bright and still relatively fresh, although perhaps heading towards secondary. The tannins are present, even slightly grippy, but certainly not drying. Flavours of cherry kernel and red and black fruits, with lovely acidity. My first impression is that this is mature and needs drinking within the next 2 to 3 years, but tasting the rest of the bottle on day 2, it remains fresh and really quite delicious, so perhaps there's still life in it yet. Andy remarked how much he liked this (on day 2, that is) and that it was one of the most enjoyable Cahors he'd tasted - soft, but with real character, and well worth the £14 or so I would need to sell it for. Which really is not a bad price for such a lovely, mature wine. I might get some. 13.0% abv.
The colour is a fairly opaque deep blood red, with a narrow ruby rim. The nose exudes class - indeed, it is quite beguiling, with heady black fruit aromas, a touch of meat, polished wood, garrigue herbs and incense. As you might expect with such a young wine, it is quite big on the palate, but it certainly isn't foursqare. The tannins are present, though undoubtedly very fine - in a slightly dusty, chocolatey fashion - whilst the core of rich, ripe, almost sweet bramble and blackcurrant fruit really is impressive, though there is a bitter cherry quality to it that keeps it fresh, in a sweet and sour sort of way. There is a certain amont of oak influence, not charred or toasty, but rather more in the way of old polished mahogany - integrated, subtle and beautifully aromatic. Again, it is ever-so-slightly savoury, herby, even meaty, whilst the mouth-watering acidity provides a perfect foil for the sweet fruit and the tannins - so much so that it is almost drinkable now. Then again, this is a wine built for the long haul and I would say it has at least a decade of evolution ahead of it. Not cheap, at £42.95, but a magnificent wine.

Domaine de la Semellerie 2010 Chinon
This is from a new grower to the list of importer Richards Walford, from whom I buy a few bits and bobs (notably those wonderful Joseph Swan wines from California and the Rolly Gassmann Alsace wines). Loire wine buyer (and all-round Loire aficianado and expert) Richard Kelley MW describes this wine as "a complete joy and everything I want my Chinon to be; pure, red-black fruit with excellent Cabernet Franc definition and bottled straight from the tank." And I tend to agree with him. I've never been a huge fan of Cab Franc, but this is a beautifully light, sappy, fruit-filled wine, with reatively soft tannins, but just enough stalkiness to give it a touch of grip. Add to that a little peppery spice, some delightful cherry and redcurrant/blackcurrant fruit and a delicious backbone of lemon-tinged acidity and you have a perfect summer red wine. It is is a joy to drink on its own, although I fully expect it to be a great match for the spaghetti carbonara and fresh home-made bread I am cooking up. Edit; Later...... it did! I think I may take some of this for my list, and it should retail for around £10.50. 12.5% abv.


Domaine de la Semellerie Rosé 2010 Chinon
This is the rosé version of the above wine, again made from Cabernet Franc, with two-thirds "saignée" (i.e. free run juice) and one-third direct pressing of the grapes. It is high-toned, again full of bright red fruits and a touch of citrus and herb, with a nice streak of earthy minerality. The palate is fresh, zingy and beautifully clean - perhaps the merest hint of pear drops, but otherwise majoring on red fruits, juicy apple and lively acidity. The palate is long and slightly peppery. A really nice rosé, but I fear that I can't make much of a margin, unless I sell it for a tenner or so - and that isn't cheap for a rosé. Nice wine, though. 12.5% abv.

More, very soon. Meanwhile, I need sleep!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A visit to Domaine Gayda

On the same day as our visit to Chateau Rives-Blanques in Limoux, which I reported on in June, we also visited Domaine Gayda in nearby Brougairolles. Gayda is a truly international effort, and whilst both the winery and the winemaking (and indeed viticultural) techniques employed have something of the New World about them, the resulting wines speak very much of their Languedoc and Roussillon roots.

South African Anthony Record and Englishman Tim Ford joined forces with French winemaker Vincent Chansault to form Domaine Gayda in 2003. At just 30 years of age, Vincent has packed a lot of experience into his career, working in the Loire Valley, Rhone and Languedoc, as well as having worked for a number of years in South Africa, notably under the tutelage of Marc Kent, winemaker at the famous Boekenhoutskloof winery, and now a non-executive Director at Gayda. After building a brand new (and, I must say, very impressive) new winery, the estate produced its first vintage in 2004. At the same time, they set about planting vineyards on the surrounding land which had, until then, been used for the raising of various other crops. The winery is actually situated within the Cotes de Malepere region, although they do not use this (or any other) AOC for their wines. At 7 years of age, those vines (Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc) are now in full production, but a large proportion of the grapes are still sourced from various different parts of Languedoc and Roussillon. 

Bringing in grapes from far and wide is an interesting concept, and one which many new world wine growers have practiced for a long time. But it is a relatively new concept to southern France, although some of the larger, more mass-market-oriented concerns such as Skalli and Gerard Bertrand have been doing it for a number of years. But Gayda's approach is very focused, and they source grapes from some of the top growers in Roussillon, with whom they have built firm - though strictly non-contracted - relationships. In addition, Gayda own some parcels of vines on the Petit Causse, in the hills above La Liviniere in Languedoc.

Of course, the blending of grapes from these different areas ensures that Gayda's wines cannot qualify for any particular AOC, and are thus labelled under the catch-all Pays d'Oc denomination. But if the wines are this good, who cares if they lack a perceived single regional identity? I say "perceived", because the wines are far from international, showing a strong Languedoc/Roussillon character - and if I tasted them completely blind, I would most likely be there in a flash, especially with the ones made from indigenous grape varieties.

Before we began, we were treated to a 3-course lunch with Vincent, in the delightful restuarant at Gayda, overlooking the vines and the plot that will soon be planted with Olive trees (another Gayda project). The day was warm but overcast, so the view of the nearby Pyrenées was pretty much obscured, but the views from the restaurant were still a delight, as was the food and the Gayda wines which accompanied it.

The restaurant at Domaine Gayda offers good food and (normally) fine views of the Pyrenées

After lunch, Vincent took us on a tour of the vineyards and the winery..........

Winemaker Vincent Chansault in the vineyard

Inspecting the grapes - in mid-June, still small and green, but very healthy

The winery is modern and hi-tech, with plenty of stainless steel.........

......... and approximately 400 top-quality oak barrels, each one on rollers,
which enables two people to turn every single one in around an hour

Then it was to the tasting room, to taste through (most of) the range of wines

Viognier 2010
Very floral and aromatic, with notes of honeysuckle and citrus. Fresh on the palate, with ripe tree fruits. Nicely balanced.

Sauvignon 2010
At veraison (the beginning of the fruit ripening process) the vines are largely de-leafed on the north-facing side, to aid development of the fruit, but without the burning effect of the sun. The wine spends a month on its lees after fermentation. It is herbaceous and fruity, with a nose of elderflower, freshly-cut grass, lemon and quince. The flavours are delicate - definitely more Sancerre than Marlborough. I'm not a huge fan of Sauvignon, but I like this.

Chardonnay 2010
25% of this wine spends some time in barrel, but the effect is very subtle. Again quite herbaceous and even herby, but very fresh in the mouth, with notes of lemon and mineral. Quite Chablis-like in structure.

Figure Libre Freestyle 2009
A blend of 60% Grenache Blanc, plus 15% Macabeu, 15% Roussanne and 10% Marsanne. A yeasty/leesy, smoky, savoury nose, with hints of tropical fruit and a lick of oak. The leesy element shows on the palate too, with flavours of citrus and peach and a delicate herbiness. A hint of butter gives richness, whilst crisp acidity and a mineral streak add balance and structure. There's a touch of oak influence, but it is really well-judged and there's a nice hit of orange peel on the long finish. A lovely wine for now or for medium term ageing.

Figure Libre Macabeu 2009
Not much of a note here - I guess I must have been talking too much! Aromas of minerals, smoke and a certain nuttiness. Some oak on the palate, quite rich, with a touch of salinity and zesty flavours. Promising, but I think I marginally prefer the Freestyle.

Syrah 2009
A creamy nose reminiscent of vanilla ice cream melted over strawberries and raspberries. Hints of blueberries and tar. Juicy redcurrant, plum and bramble fruits in the mouth, with firm but fine tannins and lots of acidity. Nice wine.

Grenache 2009
Again, my note for this is barely non-existent...... Very ripe, with plums, cream and tar.

Figure Libre Freestyle 2009
A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Mourvedre and Cabernet Sauvignon. Serious oak, smoky and complex, with big fruit aromas. Amazingly soft and rounded on the palate, with rich, chocolatey tannins, sweet blackcurrant and plum fruit and medium acidity. It is a big wine, built to last, and probably needs 5 years to really come into its own. Very promising.

Cabernet Franc 2009
From a 1.9 hectare plot, planted on the Gayda estate in 2004. A nose of tobacco, cedar and spice, with black fruits and a hint of white peach. Hints of savoury, and even a touch of greenness, which adds a refreshing streak. There's real depth in this wine. The tannins are quite firm at the moment, but very ripe, peppery and spicy. A very promising wine, which needs 3 to 5 years to really sing.

Selection Chenin Vin de Table de France
From a 1.2 hectare parcel of vines planted on the Gayda estate in 2004. For the technically-minded, here are some details from the Gayda website; "Individual berries or bunches affected by Noble Rot are harvested on four separate pickings – Harvested at 430g/L of sugar (or 23% potential alcohol) – Gentle pressing for 10 hours to slowly release the juice – Cold settling – Barrel fermented in one year old oak – Slow fermentation for 6 months due to the high sugar levels and stops naturally at 12.5% alcohol – Racked and matured in barrel on the lees for 6 months – Tangential filtration prior to bottling." Those four separates pickings or "tries" were conducted over a 5-week period between early October and mid-November 2008. Delightful aromas of honey, nuts and orange marmalade. The palate displays a lovely combination of ripe apricot, tangerine, peach and quince, with a nice level of oak and excellent acidity. It manages to be at the same time honeyed, savoury and fruity. A really yummy wine, and although not cheap, I bought a bottle to bring back to the UK for my own future enjoyment. 

As well as the wines I tasted during my visit, I have previously written about a trio of wines, tasted during the early part of this year. For completeness, here are my (slightly truncated!) notes on those wines;

Cuvée Occitane Blanc 2008
A blend of 48% Grenache Blanc, 28% Marsanne, 16% Roussanne and 8% Viognier. As I write, the bottle has actually been open for 2 days, and the wine seems all the better for it. When first opened, it had a delightful floral aroma, with notes of spring blossom and honeysuckle, but those aromas carried through to the palate in a way that was a bit too intense for my personal liking (although TLD loved it). However, 2 days later and it is really singing. There's still a hint of flowers, but also some nicely-integrated (and quite subtle, quite smoky) oak, and hints of peach and lemon zest, but with plenty of secondary/non fruity, though beautifully "winey" notes. The palate has also really settled into its stride, with gentle peach and lemon fruit flavours, a hint of earthiness and again, beautifully integrated oak. It also offers a delightfully tangy streak of stoney minerality, making for a wine which actually possesses a good deal of complexity - it just takes a day or two in the fridge (or a year or two more in bottle, perhaps) to really show its class. As with many of Languedoc's (or in this case Roussillon's) classier oak-matured whites, this isn't too far removed from the old-style Riojas I enjoy so much. All-in-all, this is a really promising wine, which is lovely to drink now, but which may well turn into something even more interesting with 3 to 5 years more in bottle. It really is very yummy indeed.
Viognier 2009
Aged on its lees for 6 months before bottling. There's a faint whiff of garrigue herbs on the nose, which also manifests on the palate, but just enough to add a little complexity and interest to a wine that definitely majors on fruit, with a rather attractive combination of peaches and apricot, orange blossom and other floral notes. It's a really smooth, rather attractive expression of Viognier, with soft apricot and peach flavours countered by just the right amount of zesty citrus fruit and even a hint of stony minerality. The 6 months this wine has spent sitting on its fine, yeasty lees seems to have polished away any rough edges.  In fact, this is another wine from Domaine Gayda which calls on new world practices and techniques, whilst very definitely speaking loud and proud of it's Languedoc (and Roussillon) origins.
Chemin de Moscou 2006
68% Syrah, 24% Grenache and 8% Cinsault, with the various constituents being aged in oak barrels ranging from new to 3 vintages old, for a total of 21 months. The nose on this wine offers a veritable array of heady - not to mention, considerably complex - aromas, with dark bramble fruit and something vaguely citrus leading the way, accompanied by notes of meat, leather, sandalwood and allspice. There's also an undeniable touch of brett, but at a level which shouldn't offend the purists, and which is nicely offset by a perceptible whiff of lifted acidity and just the right level of oak. The palate is squeaky-clean and again dominated by brambly fruit, though it certainly doesn't come across as too "sweet" - in fact, there's a sour cherry element which gives the palate plenty of lift, and everything is held together beautifully by a combination of grippy but fine tannin and simply mouth-watering acidity. The finish is gently warming, but very fine and very, very long. Whilst it is already fiendishly drinkable, all of my instincts tell me that this wine will evolve beautifully for at least another 5 years, and should still be holding on nicely by 2020. It certainly isn't cheap, but as the estate's flagship wine, it really does tick all of the boxes - in fact, a Languedoc classic in the making.

Having now had the pleasure of visiting Domaine Gayda and seeing how the grapes are grown and how the wines are made, I have no doubt that this is an estate with a great future. Of course, some of the wines moved me more than others, although none of them were anything less than beautifully-made examples of their kind. And the premium cuvées such as Figure Libre and Chemin de Moscou clearly have the potential to be up there with some of the region's finest wines. I like them a lot, and hope to import a selection of them in the not too distant future.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Cheap white Rhone and Aussie fizz

Chateau Saint Nabor Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2010
This is another bargain from our raid on the wine shelves of a couple of Intermarché supermarkets on our recent holiday in France. It is actually made by a "vigneron independent", Gérard Castor - i.e. not your average co-operative stuff - and does a more than passable impression of a rather good white Cotes du Rhone, offering delightfully fresh, vibrant aromas of apple, peach, lime and honeysuckle, with some distinctly minerally/flinty/smoky notes adding plenty more interest. It is quite herby, too - oregano and basil spring to mind. The palate isn't too shabby either - extremely fresh and immediately appealing, full of fruit and herb flavours, with a touch of richness countered by intensely zesty, limey acidity and a hint of warming spice on the (really quite persistent) finish. This is about the fifth different bottle I have opened from our little collection of bargain basement wines from Intermarché, and yet another that acquits itself very admirably indeed. They obviously have a very astute buying team. I don't remember the exact price, but it was around the 3.5 Euro mark - and another real success in terms of quality/price ratio. If only supermarket wines were so reliable in the UK.

Orlando Trilogy Sparkling Rosé - South-East Australia
What am I doing drinking Aussie fizz, you may ask. Well, since it cost me the princely sum of £4.95 per bottle from a local bin-end supplier, it was worth a punt on half a dozen bottles. And what is more, wines like this, from suppliers like this, will almost certainly have a year or two of bottle age, which in my book is always a good thing with Champagne - oops, sorry "tradional" - method sparklers. This one has a nice, slightly evolved onion-skin colour, but still possesses a healthy mousse. It is a bit reticent to begin with, perhaps needing to warm up a little after being refrigerated, but soon develops some nice aromas of fruits of the forest, citrus and a slight herbiness. The palate shows a touch of underlying richness, but is essentially quite dry and crisp, with really good acidity and contrasting flavours of bitter cherry and sweet redcurrant and a really decent, grippy/fruity finish. It isn't complex, but it is far from superficial. And it goes nice with a piece of soft, salty cheese and some home-made bread. Very nice, on a balmy, slightly sticky English summer's evening.