Tuesday, 4 December 2012

A glorious fortified red wine from one of Languedoc's most enigmatic winemakers

This is a wine I've been meaning to write about for a while. I opened my first bottle a couple of weeks ago and wrote the majority of the my tasting note at the time. Problem is, most of my notes are compiled with a good old-fashioned pen and notebook, so typing them out for online use is always a bit of a pain, especially when I leave it for too long. I like to think I write with a certain amount of feeling, but that feeling can somehow be lost if I don't get it to the keyboard fairly sharpish, no matter how memorable the wine. So what more excuse do I need for opening another bottle, in the early hours of a cold December morning, when I should be in bed (or at least making better use of my time by completing some urgent pre-Christmas updates to my website)? Don't get me wrong, my sustenance of choice at such a late (or should I say early) hour is usually either tea or coffee. But what the hell - it is December, so why not enjoy a little Christmas spirit.................

What to call this? Vin de Table? Vin de France? Or what? The label states the name, volume, abv, but nothing else. To be honest, it probably offends many a UK/EU labelling regulation, but I'm not too concerned, especially as I bought it from the grower's (ex) UK importer, rather than importing it myself. But what of the contents? Well, when I first tasted this wine at a dinner in the cellar of winemaker Pierre Quinonero in June 2012, I was completely blown away - and now I am blown away once more, for it is a real stunner.

100% old-vine Grenache, blended from the fruit of no less than 5 different vintages (from 2001 onwards) and lightly fortified. The label says 15% abv, but I'd say possibly 16-17. Like many of Pierre's wines, it can harly be termed "limpid", although to be fair the slight haze is more to do with a fine sediment, courtesy of having spent several years in barrel (or at least some of it) followed by a good couple of years in bottle, without fining or filtering. It is a lovely colour - sort of pale tawny/mahogany, fading gently to an even paler rim. The nose is quite beguiling - on opening, you get a lovely whiff of coffee grounds, chocolate and a touch of toasty oak. We also have molasses, fig, burnt orange, polished wood and a wonderfully evocative hint of autumn forest floor. Not to mention an array of fresh and preserved red fruit aromas, notably raspberry, redcurrant and wild strawberry. There's a hint of fine eau de vie, but this is such a gently and skilfully fortified wine that neither the nose nor the palate shows too much in the way of alcoholic heat. The palate is a glorious symphony of flavours, combining rich fruitcake, orange peel, fig, molasses, lapsang tea and mocha, with a long, tangy, earthy finish. Beautifully resolved tannins and a refreshing streak of tangy sour cherry acidity complete the package, in an utterly more-ish wine of great depth and complexity. Think of a mature Port (but with less alcohol) with a hint of fine old Banyuls and a touch of Madeira thrown in for good measure and you have some idea of the pleasure that this wine brings.

Simply wonderful stuff, which I have also discovered to be the perfect bedfellow for a thick slice of fruity stollen cake - and is thus a vital component of a healthy diet. After all, it is only 2 o'clock in the morning, and I have already had two of my "five a day"!

Oh, did I mention that you can buy this wine, via the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines website, at the perfectly reasonable price of £23.95? Be quick, though, as I don't have very much (and I may drink it all)!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Outsiders - still rocking the wine world

The Outsiders are a group of "non-native" wine growers based in various corners of Languedoc and Roussillon,  with origins as diverse as the UK, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, the USA and other regions of France. Ten of these "Outsiders" gathered at La Maison de Languedoc-Roussillon in London a few weks ago, to showcase their latest wines to the trade and media, and what follows are my thoughts and tasting notes on some of my favourites.

Chateau Rives-Blanques - Limoux

It is always nice to meet the delightful Caryl Panman, and she was once again on hand to offer the latest releases from Rives-Blanques. And in my opinion, these are amongst some of the best wines I have tasted from the estate. 

Blanquette de Limoux 2010
Mostly Mauzac, with a small amount of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. A fruity, grapey nose, with hints of sweet apples and oranges. The palate is clean and super-fresh, very slightly off-dry, with bags of fruit. Love it.

Vintage Rose 2009 Crémant de Limoux
Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir. A riot of red cherry, raspberry and strawberry aromas. Rich, ripe and opulent, again with just the merest hint of residual sugar. Long, mellow and lovely.

Le Limoux 2010 AOP Limoux
Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Mauzac. A lovely nose, scented with orange and lime oil. The palate shows soft citrus, subtle oak, hay and sweet herbs, with a streak of minerality. Generous and really rather lovely.

Occitania 2011 AOP Limoux
Mauzac. Quite oaky on the nose, but with plenty of orange blossom, fruit and herby notes too. Rich and again oaky on the palate, but nicely integrated.

Odyssée 2011 AOP Limoux
100% Chardonnay. An abundance of peach, orange blossom and lime oil on both the nose and palate. Quite rich and opulent, but beautifully balanced. Long and lovely.

Dédicace 2010 AOP Limoux
100% Chenin Blanc. A subtle nose of spring flowers, peach, orange and herbs. Steely dry, with plenty of Chenin character and minerality, with cracking lemony acidity.

We shall be importing some of these in the near future, although we do of course already offer a selection of Chateau Rives-Blanques wines.

Clos du Gravillas - Minervois

I have met John Bojanowski on several occasions and have always been impressed with his wines, and his current selection is as good as ever. Given that we tend to import most of our wines directly from our growers, we don't carry any of John's wines, but I would never discount stocking some of them in the future, via his UK agent.

L'Inattendu Blanc 2011 AOP Minervois
80% Grenache Gris and Blanc, 20% Maccabeu. A wonderful nose of bread, spice, apple and clove, all of which come through on the palate, which exhibits a lovely spiced orange quality, with beautifully integrated and subtle oak, courtesy of 11 months in Austrian oak barrels. Very long and very lovely.

Emmenez-Moi au Bout du Terret Blanc IGP Cotes du Brian
Delicate, floral and mineral. Winey, though not so much in a fruity way, with subtle flavours of citrus, apple, licorice and herbs.

Lo Vielh Carignan IGP Cotes du Brian
Lovely aromas of cherry and bramble. Fresh, almost floral, with a hint of licorice. Beautifully balanced and fruity, with ripe tannins, refreshing acidity and a streak of minerality.

Chateu d'Anglès - La Clape

I first tasted the wines of Chateau Anglès at the Outsiders tasting in 2010 and was pretty impressed, so it was nice to taste the latest vintages. They also have a UK agent importer, but once again, I am certainly tempted to add some of their wines to our list, sometime in the future.

Classique Blanc 2010 La Clape
A blend of Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne. Strong citrus/orange aromas and flavours, winey more than fruity, with subtle oak. Nice wine.

Grand Vin Blanc 2009 La Clape
40% Bourboulenc, plus Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne, fermented and aged for 6 months in 1 and 2 year-old barrels. Soft citrus, spiced apple, garrigue and tobacco aromas - and a definite hint of the sea (the hill of La Clape borders the Mediterranean to the east of Narbonne, and was actually once a small island). The flavours are rich and ripe, but surprisingly elegant, with notes of apricot and peach. A delightful and age-worthy wine.

Classique Rouge 2009 La Clape
40% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 20% Mourvedre. Aromas of cherry, redcurrant and roses, with subtle hints of tobacco, spices, mint and (again) the sea. The palate is soft and ripe, with gentle tannins and just the right amount of acidity. Warming and long.

Grand Vin Blanc 2008 La Clape
55% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah and 15% Grenache, aged for 10 months in oak barrels (25% of which are new). A lovely dark but transluscent colour, with a gorgeous nose of crystallised red and black fruits and classy, well-judged oak. Rich, dense and concentrated flavours of red fruits and fig, with a lovely savoury quality. Very long. Superb stuff.

Domaine Turner Pageot - Gabian

Australian Karen Turner and her French husband Emmanuel Pageot have between them a wealth of winemaking and viticultural experience in places such as Australia, South Africa, Italy and France. Indeed, Karen also makes the wine at the famous Prieuré de Saint Jean de Bébian, near Pézenas. Their new estate is in Gabian (where the now defunct co-operative named Les Vignerons de La Carignano used to make some brilliant wines) where they farm 4 different plots around the village, on a variety of soil types. They employ biodynamic farming principles and are generally as non-interventionist as possible. With 2 estates to oversee, I assume Karen was minding the fort back in Gabian, but Emmanuel was there to serve and talk (very passionately, I might add) about their wines. Having heard good things about the wines of Turner Pageot from several different sources, it was great to finally be able to taste them for myself. And very impressive they were, too.

La Rupture 2011 IGP Pays de l'Hérault
Very fresh and perfumed, with aromas and flavours of peach, citrus and rhubarb, and an intriguing hint of asparagus. There is a "naturalness" to this wine (and indeed there is little or no sulphur added during the winemaking process) but it is beautifully clean and full of life. Long and absolutely gorgeous - a star wine.
Blanc 2011 IGP Languedoc
80% Roussanne, 20% Marsanne. Prickly, fresh and very natural. Lovely sour fruit and saline aromas and flavours. Quite rich, but beautifully balanced.

Le Rouge 2010 IGP Languedoc
80% Grenache (grown on schiste) and 20% Syrah (grown on volcanic soil). Lots of high-toned cherry, bramble and orange aromas, with hints of saline and tar and subtle oak (the majority of the blend is aged in vat). Smoky, slightly meaty, but fruity too.

Carmina Major 2010 IGP Languedoc
70% Syrah (grown on limestone) and 30% Mourvedre (grown on sandstone), aged in oak barrels for 1 year (15% new) and then for a further year in vat. Aromas of crystallised fruits, spices, white pepper and sweet tobacco. Rich, concentrated, warm and spicy, with grippy tannins and good acidity. Like the other wines (both red and white) there is a savoury, even saline quality to this wine, along with plenty of fruit. Long and lovely.

Domaine de Cébène - Faugères

Brigitte Chevalier and her wines need no introduction to most readers of this blog (or of course our customers). Indeed, we were the first merchant to import Brigitte's fabulous wines into the UK and we hope to continue to do so for a long time to come. This latest batch of wines are definitely the best yet, especially with the recent addition of a Carignan-based wine, made from the fruits of an ancient and very beautiful vineyard high in the hills above the small village of Caussiniojouls - deep in the heart of the Faugères region - which Brigitte acquired only last year.

Ex Arena 2011 IGP Pays d'Oc
From a vineyard planted on sandy soil, just north of Béziers. For some reason, I didn't get much of a note on this (I think I was probably too busy chatting with Brigitte) but whilst perhaps a touch more rustic and less complex than the Faugères cuvées, it is a lovely wine.

Belle Lurette 2011 Faugères
Being such a fan of Carignan, and having been mightily impressed with a tank sample of this wine back in June, I was really looking forward to tasting this from bottle. And it did not disappoint. 70% Carignan, with Grenache and Mourvedre making up the remainder, it offers smoky, dense cherry and bramble aromas. The palate too is dense and deliciously sweet-fruited, with ripe, velvety tannins and cracking acidity. All-in-all, it is a complex, yet soft and supremely elegant expression of Carignan, and a wonderful addition to the Cébène stable. Brilliant wine.

Les Bancels 2011 Faugères
Syrah, Grenache, plus a little Mourvedre. Smoky, meaty and savoury, with bags of schiste-grown Syrah fruit and minerality. Rich, but elegant.

Felgaria 2011 Faugères
Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. This is so dense and rich, but once again so elegant. Yes, I know that the words "rich" and "elegant" don't often go together in wine terms, but there is an element of (for want of a better expression) femininity in Brigitte's wines that puts them firmly in the elegant category, whilst exhibiting richness and restrained power. This one is herby and floral, with a gentle meatiness and is crammed full of black cherry, bramble and soft citrus flavours, with stoney minerality and a warming touch of eau de vie. Long and complex - and absolutely benchmark Faugères.
It won't be too long until until we import the 2010's and 2011's (possibly before Christmas, but if not, then definitely very early in 2013). Meanwhile, of course, you can still buy a selection of Domaine de Cébène wines from our online shop.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Some recent wines - South Africa and California

Despite my travails in recent weeks, I haven't been totally abstemious on the wine front. After all, under any circumstances, life is too short to avoid the finer things for too long! Here's a trio of noteworthy wines we have enjoyed over the past couple of weeks (I'll add a few more in the next couple of days).........

The Liberator Episode 4 - The Pie Chart 2011, Stellenbosch
Richard's labels are never less than quirky and amusing - not to mention eye-catching - but this one is the best yet. The teacher pig, the rather unequal pie chart and the confused rabbit would suggest that the proportions of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon may or may not be 50/50. I guess I'd better ask Richard for clarification. But whatever the proportions, this is a lovely wine - really fresh on the nose, with lots of zingy lemon, elderflower, cut grass and wet stone/mineral aromas, with subtle notes of herbs and creamy orange. The palate too is wonderfully fresh and citrus-tinged, with plenty of concentration and amazingly mouth-watering acidity. It is rare for a Cape wine to be quite so similar in profile to its northern hemisphere counterpart - in this case, a bit of a ringer for a rather good white Bordeaux. And although I have never been a fan of the red Bordeaux style, this one is right up my street. Indeed, it gets better and better with more air, and by the second day, it is really singing. Intense, grassy, pea pod and elderflower aromas, with a real "prickle", even on the nose, with hints of orange and tart apple. The palate too seems even more intense, focused and grippy than on day 1, with all sorts of white fruit, gooseberry and rhubarb things going on. It really is delicious stuff! 14.0% abv.

Note/disclaimer: This was a sample bottle, which Richard asked me to share amongst his old buddies at the Nottingham Wine Circle. Suffice to say it was very well received, and I hope to add some to my list in the near future (priced somewhere between £11 and £12).

The Liberator Episode 2 - The Unsung Hero 2008, Swartland
A blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Carignan. This is another bottle given to me by Richard, primarily because the previous review I wrote was less than enthusiastic - and he suspected that the bottle I had may have been faulty in some way. And how right he was, because this one was quite lovely. Still quite a deep blood red colour, with an aromatic profile not too far removed from a northern Rhone Syrah, with some intense but elegant bramble and blackcurrant aromas and a suggestion of minerality. Or perhaps even one of the more refined southern Rhone blends, with a rich fruitcake element, courtesy of the Grenache and Mourvedre, and a welcome touch of earthy rusticity from the Carignan. The palate is rich, but finely balanced, with concentrated dark fruit flavours, damp earth, pepper and exotic spice, combining seamlessly with slightly grainy tannins (which for me adds texture) and mouthwatering acidity. The finish is long, grippy and gently warming. It is such a shame that my first bottle was faulty, because on this showing, I definitely would have snapped a few cases up. Unfortunately, it is no longer available. :-(

100% Carignan. A hint of brett/meatiness on the nose, which blows off quickly to reveal aromas of roses and parma violets, damsons, damp earth, mint, spice and a delicious hint of raspberry vinegar (a la Chateau Musar). At 12.3% abv, this was probably harvested earlier than usual and some may find the heightened lemon and rhubarb-tinged acidity too much, but not me! It is full of fruit, like raspberries and redcurrants, with hints of black fruits too, with plenty of fine tannin, all of which combine in a deliciously tangy sweet and sour whole. The acidity should soften in time and ensure a long (10-15 year) life for this wine. At present, it is best paired with food (in our case, a rich spaghetti bolognaise). A lovely, old-style wine, combining elements of Rhone, Burgundy and Piedmont. I love it. £20.50 via my website.

More anon..........

Saturday, 17 November 2012

There are times when 51 begins to feel quite old (warning - not in the least bit wine-related!)

For one reason or another (and sometimes several reasons at the same time) I've posted so infrequently in the last few weeks/months that I'm in danger of forgetting my Blogger password. After supposedly getting over my illness a week or two back, things took a turn for the worse again a few days later. Without going into too much detail, the infection had obviously not been completely eradicated, despite 2 separate (and different) lots of antibiotics, and I was back to feeling rather sorry for myself, though admittedly nowhere near as ill as I had done the first time. So I decided to go down the organic/natural route. No, not wines, but copious amounts of cranberry juice, yoghurt, probiotic drinks and as much tap water as I could physically drink without exploding. 5 days later, things hadn't got any worse, but neither had they really got any better.

So off to the doctor's I toddled once more, knowing full well what was in store for me this time. Again, I won't go into too much detail, but the words "digital" and "arse" may give you a clue. And the fact that said digit belonged to a young, pretty, female doctor really was of no great comfort to me, I can assure you. Anyway, to cut a long story short (thank goodness for that, I hear you say) my "examination" revealed nothing particularly sinister going on in the "gentleman's innards" department, save for what I assume is a bit of age/infection-related enlargement. 2 days later and a third (and different again) course of antibiotics seem already to be working their magic. And so they should, because they look like bloody horse pills! Always assuming that my latest water sample comes back to reveal only an infection, I'm hoping and praying that I can finally put all of this behind me and get on with life again. But it has made me realise that I really should take up the offer of my free "over 50's health check", sooner rather than later. I'm not sure why I have been afflicted by this problem in recent weeks. Whether it is simple bad luck, or some underlying problem that might need further investigation, I don't know. Hopefully, being relatively young and healthy, it will turn out to be the former. But if it were to be the latter, I think I'd rather address it, rather than ignore it.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, for a start, I have always tended to wear my heart on my sleeve - or perhaps I simply know no shame! But if my being candid happens to resonate with anyone reading this who may be harbouring some or other similar worry, you never know - it might inspire them to get checked out. More importantly, my Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer when he was in his early 70's. He was already in pretty poor health by then, meaning that an operation was more than likely to kill him. Under the circumstances, he was told he probably had a year or two left to live. Mercifully, he died a few months later from a heart attack, before the cancer had a chance to subject him to a long, slow decline. I last saw him a just a couple of days before he died, and although he was by then tired and world-weary, he was still sharp as a knife.

Of course, just because my Dad had it, it doesn't necessarily mean that I will get it too. But I doubt it reduces my chances of getting it sometime in the future either. The received wisdom used to be that things like prostate cancer were old men's diseases, but that simply isn't the case. I know at least two or three men who have had (or currently live with) the disease as young as their 50's.

Up to now, I've been pretty lucky - in my whole life, I have never had to spend so much as a single night in hospital. And I intend, if possible, to keep it that way. But as I get older - in body, if not in mind - I'm beginning to appreciate the concept of prevention, rather than cure. But beware - not all doctors are equal. I've known some pretty good ones in my time, but I've also known a couple of pretty useless ones.............

A good few years ago (when I was in my late 30's actually) I visited the doctor with a somewhat similar problem to what I have experienced recently. He was pretty dismissive, to say the least, suggesting that I was worrying about nothing and stating quite categorically that prostate problems only affected men in their 70's (or older). When I told him that one of my golfing buddies who lived just across the road had just died from prostate cancer at the age of 51, he asked me his name. When I told him, he said, quite matter of factly, "Oh yes - he was one of my patients".

Right - back to wine!

Friday, 2 November 2012

A wonderful red wine to get me back into my stride

A few days after my last blog post, I went down with a kidney and bladder infection, which laid me low for a good few days, during which I felt quite possibly the most ill I have ever felt in my life. It was very similar to a bad case of the flu, with the added bonus of p*ssing razor blades (on one day, at least 30 times!). I spent pretty much all of the next few days and nights in bed, apart from my frequent "visits" and going to the kitchen to make cups of lemon tea (my comforting drink of choice, at times such as this). One of the most disconcerting things was the way I was constantly going from freezing cold shivers to waking up in pools of sweat and back again. Of course, when she was not at work, TLD was there to cater to my every whim, which really amounted to nothing more than the odd word of sympathy and a constant supply of hot drinks. I eventually went a full 5 days without eating and, despite the need to take on water as often as possible, I was pretty dehydrated. So much so that, even when I felt I was on the mend, I suffered constant headaches for several more days. I guess once the body has dehydrated so badly, it takes a few days to find its equilibrium. Having said that, I have yet to regain much of the half a stone I lost in the process, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it as a convenient weight loss regime!

Anyway, that is now thankfully all behind me and I am back to rude health - and even becoming vaguely interested in drinking wine again! So much so, that I opened a bottle of 2004 Chateau Musar, which happened to neatly bookend my illness, since the previous wine of any note that I drank was a bottle of 2001, which I referred to in my previous post. And where the 2001 didn't exactly have me purring with delight, the 2004 certainly did..........

Chateau Musar 2004 Lebanon
This is the current release (though I have heard of a couple of sightings of the 2005) so definitely still youthful - at least in terms of Musar. The nose is classic (and this time I mean classic) Musar. A riot of complex red and black fruits, polished wood, toasty oak, beetroot, exotic herbs and spices and a level of volatile acidity I have rarely before encountered - even in Musar. And in all honesty, it merely serves to enhance what is already such a gorgeous wine. Even on the palate, the level of prickly, almost acetic acidity would have Bordeaux nuts and wine purists of all persuasions screwing their faces in horror. But the sheer concentration of sweet (really sweet) red and black fruit flavours is enough to convince me that we have a really wonderful wine here, with all of the components necessary for a classic "ageing" vintage, be that in 5, 10 or even 20 years' time. There's an almost lactic creaminess to the rich tannins, which again might put some people off, but to me just adds weight to what is already an impressively weighty wine. The depth of flavour really is remarkable. And of course there is that gloriously acetic acidity, which really does make the eyes narrow and the cheeks sing, and carries the fruit all the way to a long and deliciously sweet and sour finish. Going back to the nose after an hour or so in the decanter, some of the excess VA blows off to reveal black cherry, plum, bramble and blackcurrant, steeped in fine eau de vie. A delightful sous-bois quality and some savoury/meaty notes add yet more complexity. It really is a wonderful and gloriously quirky wine, made for contemplation, and which takes me back to some of the glorious vintages of the late 70's and early 80's and which got me hooked on wine (and Musar in particular) in the first place. If you don't have any, then I strongly suggest you go out and buy some before it runs out (it is widely available at under £20). And if you do have some, then I suggest you can take great pleasure in drinking it now, or let it age and evolve for another decade or more.

Incidentally, as part of my rehabilitation into the world of wine, I attended the "Outsiders" tasting in London yesterday, and will be reporting on some of the highlights in my next couple of posts.

Friday, 12 October 2012

A couple of "early" weekend wines

I get the impression (at least from reading wine message boards) that in most households, weekends are the times when the better bottles are opened. In my house, that isn't necessarily the case, since I have so much stuff lying around the house and in my wine store that I/we tend to be dictated more by circumstance. And last night was one of those occasions. I went to my store earlier in the day, to put a couple of orders together, and to root though a couple of piles of boxes that contain some of my own stuff, in preparation for a "young and old" tatsting I am due to present at the Wine Circle next week. And in doing so I (a) found a bottle of white with a low fill level (in other words, a leaky bottle) and (b) a few vintages of one of my favouite reds that I hadn't visited in a while. Not that last night was a special occasion, but just one of those evenings when TLD and I were together in the kitchen, she cooking a spag-bol and I making some bread. And here are a couple of lovely bottles I decided to open, to celebrate such a "non-occasion"...............

Fresh bread, quince and a variety of citrus and tree fruits, cloves, cinnamon, herbs of the garrigue and a whole bucketful of wet stone/slate mineral aromas. It really is delightfully fresh and alive, albeit in a (deliberately) oxidative style - think old-school white Rioja, with a bit of added richness and body, not just on the nose, but the palate, too. It really is wonderfully expressive, with lots of secondary fruit flavours (soft citrus, quince, apricot and raisin), herbs and spices, a touch of wood/grape tannin and marvellous balancing acidity - grippy, but generous and very, very long. Despite the low fill level, a bottle in tip-top condition, and still with a good few years of potential development left in it - but at the top of its game right now. Yummy! You can buy this wine from our online shop for the measly sum of just £12.95.

Chateau Musar 2001 Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
It is ages since I opened a bottle of Musar, not least because my stash (currently a few bottles each from 3 or 4 different vintages) is buried under piles of other stuff in my storage unit. But it is a wine I have always loved, ever since I drank my first bottle (a 1978, if memory serves) so opening one always feels like a treat. But I'm not sure what to make of this bottle - or maybe even this particular vintage. The hue is the classic Musar brick red, though slightly deeper and less translucent than usual (and maybe even a touch on the muddy/dull side), as is the nose, which shows hints of the beetrooty, sweet raspberry vinegary volatile acidity and plenty of bramble and blackcurrant fruit. But it just seems to lack the sort of vitality and verve and sheer hedonistic perfume I expect from Musar. I can't quite put my finger on it, but something is missing. The palate too is lacking in the excitement stakes, for whilst there is plenty of fresh red and black fruits, and again a touch of polished wood and VA, it somehow doesn't have a "wow" factor. Not that it is a bad or faulty wine - just that, for the moment at least, it isn't doing it for me, either with last night's spag-bol, or on its own this evening (spicy fishcakes, chips and salad would be a step too far for such a red wine). Nevertheless, as a long-standing Musar-head, I am confident that this wine has yet to show its true colours. Some vintages show well on release (at around 7 or 8 years of age) whilst others take 15 years or more to blossom. I'm hoping that this is one of the latter, and I shall tuck my remaining bottles away for another 5 years or more.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A bevy of brilliant 2009's from Domaine de La Marfée

I am always excited by the prospect of adding new wines to the LSFineWines list and last week was a rather good one, since I took delivery of a range of new wines made by the supremely talented Marc Benin of Domaine de Ravanès. I posted about our visit to Ravanès back in June, and we now have all of the wines I wrote about in stock.

And on the same pallet, we took delivery of the latest releases (all from the 2009 vintage) from the equally talented Thierry Hasard at Domaine de La Marfée. Regular followers of this blog will know how highly I regard Thierry and his wines, although when we tasted the 2009's at Vinisud in February, I wondered if they were going to quite live up to the quality of previous vintages. But because they had only just been bottled, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt (and I do recall it was at the end of a long day's tasting, when my palate was probably jaded). And I'm so glad I did, because a further 8 months in bottle have seen them blossom into truly wonderful wines. Here are my notes on 4 of the 5 wines we now have in stock;

70% Roussanne, 30% Chardonnay, barrel-fermented and aged for 1 year. The nose is really expressive, with aromas of lime, apricot, spring flowers and all manner of herbs, with subtle notes of curry spices and woodsmoke. Only part of the blend is aged in oak barrels, the remainder being aged in inert concrete "eggs", so the oak influence is very subtle, allowing all of those fruit, floral and savoury notes to shine through, not to mention a pronounced mineral/stone/flint quality that gives this wine such wonderful lift. It actually smells zingy, and this shows on the palate, which really is full of mineral and fruit-laden character, with flavours of stone fruits, soft citrus, herbs and spices. The texture possesses a gently oily feel, which is perfectly countered by immense mineral depth and fabulously zingy acidty - a wine with real grip, yet delicate at the same time. This has all of the attributes of a fine white Burgundy or Northern Rhone - with lashings of Languedoc terroir thrown in for good measure. 13.0% abv. This is in my opinion one of Languedoc's finest white wines - and consequently an absolute bargain at £15.50.

50% Syrah, 40% Mourvedre and 10% Grenache, aged 2 years in barrel. A mélange of black and red fruit aromas, notably blackcurrants and cherries steeped in eau de vie, infused with garrigue herbs, with enticing (old) woody aromas, with background notes of tobacco, cocoa and allspice. Not to mention, of course, the hallmark of pretty much every Marfée wine - aromatic blackcurrant leaf and elderflower. For a wine at this (by no means expensive) price point, it really does show remarkable complexity and allure. And the promise of all those glorious aromas shows through in the mouth, with intense blackcurrant and cherry flavours, grippy but fine-grained tannins and a healthy lick of acidity. The herby and spicy notes, combined with the lush fruit flavours and just a hint of bitter dark chocolate give this wine a sweet and sour quality - savoury, fruity and spicy all at the same time. It certainly gains weight with a few hours of air, but never loses focus, with fruit, acidity and tannin in equal measure. Lovely wine, which is approachable now, but thas the stuffing to age for 5 or even 10 years. 13.6% abv. At £13.50, this is another cracking bargain.

85% Mourvedre and 15% Syrah, aged 2 years in barrel. Yet again, we have that wonderful trademark Marfée nose of blackcurrant leaf and fruit pastille, with hints of elderflower, polished wood, tobacco, spice, mint and a definite savoury/meaty element - not too much, mind, for the emphasis is definitely on the fruit. The palate again shows typical freshness, with citrussy acidity, grippy but fine tannins and tangy, sweet-and-sour flavours, courtesy of some intense plummy and brambly red and black fruit, again with a savoury/spicy/meaty/herby quality. The finish is very long, with those mouth-watering red/black fruits lingering for an age. This is mightily good to drink already, but will cellar well for a decade or more. 13.8% abv. £17.99.

100% Carignan, aged 2 years in barrel. This is dense, intense, smoky and ethereal - and at just 3 years of age, yet to really show its true colours. The nose is simply crammed full of raspberry, bramble and blackcurrant aromas, with all sorts of other things going on, such as red meat, polished wood, incense, aromatic herbs, curry spices, new leather, damp earth, truffles, orange peel and cream. And despite ageing in oak for 2 years (mostly older oak, with just a small percentage of new barrels used each year) there really are no obvious oak aromas - everything just melds together beautifully into a whole of immensely heady complexity - every sniff reveals something new. The palate is medium-rich, but delightfully tangy and refreshing, with flavours of bramble, blackcurrant, cranberry, tar and spice, hints of garrigue and stoney minerality. Ample tannins are matched by ample acidity, and carry the fruit all the way to a persistent finish. Another fantastic Carignan, from one of Languedoc's very finest exponents of the variety, and a surefire winner over the next 10 to 15 years. 14.0% abv. £24.95.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Nick Dobson - another good friend lost to cancer

My good friend, fellow wine merchant and erstwhile mentor Nick Dobson died recently, after a short battle with cancer. He was just 54 years old. The funeral is today, and although I am unable to make it down to Wokingham to be there, I cannot let the occasion pass without at least writing a few words of appreciation for his life and his friendship.

My start in the wine business would have been much more of a daunting prospect without Nick's generous and sage advice. Towards the end of 2003, when I decided I wanted to start importing wine, I scoured the Internet for some or other friendly merchant that seemed "small" (for want of a better expression) who might be willing to give some advice to a total beginner like me. Having found Nick's site (and noticing that he himself had started only a year or so previously) I sent him an email, with goodness-knows-how-many questions. Within the day, Nick replied with a host of answers/advice twice as long as my own email(!) From there, we had numerous other email correspondence and phone conversations. I couldn't believe my luck in finding someone so knowledgeable about setting-up a wine business and (crucially) so willing to share that knowledge - not to mention his valuable time - with someone that he had never even met.

The following year, I met Nick for the first time, when he and I and various other wine merchants got together at Waddesden Manor, to share some good food and wine and to form the Association of Small Direct Wine Merchants (ASDW). I won't bore you with the details - briefly, it was (indeed still is) a trade association for small independent merchants who get together occasionally to share ideas and organise wine shows and trade tastings. Over the next few years, we met at least 2 or 3 times a year and shared some good times at various meetings and tasting events. Nick and his charming wife Jean even put me up for a night at their house, when he had organised a tasting event in his home town of Wokingham - and their kindness and hospitality made me feel very much at home. We also had a tradition of sending each-other a case of our best wines each Christmas and I very much enjoyed sampling some of his excellent and quirky selections from places like Austria, Switzerland, Beaujolais and southern Burgundy.

At The Atlas, Fulham in June 2006 - Nick Dobson is 3rd from the right
Things have moved on since then, and I am no longer a member of ASDW, but some of us have kept in touch. And although I hadn't seen Nick for a couple of years, we still enjoyed the occasional chin wag on the phone, very often for an hour or more - like me, Nick could talk for England! I have some great memories of us all getting together for AGM's and tastings at The Atlas in London, Canon's Ashby House, Wokingham Town Hall, and other venues. So I have Nick to thank not only for helping me get into the wine business (for better or worse!) but for being one of the driving forces in gathering together a disparate band of wine nuts who not only worked for a common cause, but - much more importantly - formed some long-lasting friendships. For that, and more importantly for Nick's own friendship, I am truly grateful.

Nick was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of 2012 and he quickly decided to sell his business, in order to spend more time with Jean and their son Charlie and to try and beat his illness. The last time I spoke with hin, he was surprisingly upbeat and philosophical, and for a short while he even seemed to be making some progress. Unfortunately, it just wasn't to be.

My heart goes out to Jean, Charlie (who is a lot younger than my two boys) and all of Nick's family. To me, Nick was one of a kind, and a good friend. To them, he was infinitely more precious than that. I'll be thinking about them a lot, in the coming days and weeks............

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Chenin Blanc heaven - 50 years of Moulin Touchais

I was pleased and honoured recently to receive an invitation from Richard Kelley MW to partake in a vertical tasting of Moulin Touchais. For the uninitiated, Moulin Touchais is one of the oldest wine estates in Anjou, dating back to 1787. One of the largest and oldest stock of single estate wine stocks in the world sits maturing in miles of underground cellars, with somewhere in the region of 1,000,000 (yes, one million!) bottles squirrelled away, some dating back to the 1800's.

The vineyards are situated in the heart of the Coteaux du Layon region and have been farmed by eight successive generations of the Touchais family. The methods of viticulture and vinification have changed little over the years. The Chenin Blanc grapes are hand-picked in several stages, with 20% of the grapes being picked around 80 days after flowering, while the fruit is still under-ripe and loaded with acidity, and the other 80% being harvested late (as late as 120 days after flowering) which yields fruit with very high sugar levels and concentrated flavours. This combination of high acidity and high sugar levels is aimed at determining the Moulin Touchais house style. The grapes are carefully sorted, the pips are removed and the must is clarified by decanting before beginning the slow fermentation process, which lasts several weeks.

The wine is bottled early - between the end of February and early March following the harvest. Residual sugar levels tend to be around 80g/l (+/- 20g, depending on the vintage). Only the best vintages are released for sale, and then only after a minimum of ten years' ageing. Whilst the grapes are harvested late, they are generally unaffected by botrytis (noble rot) although some noble rot does occasionally occur, depending on the characteristics of the vintage.

This impressive line-up of wines, spanning 50 years of Moulin Touchais, was presented by Richard Kelley MW, accompanied by Frederik Wilbrenninck, who represents the interests of Moulin Touchais and was able to offer further insight into the wines during the tasting. The venue was the Old Bridge Hotel in Huntingdon, and owner John Hoskins MW was also part of the tasting panel.

Frederik Wilbrenninck, Richard Kelley MW and John Hoskins MW
Along with the wines which are commercially available from Moulin Touchais, further wines were included from Richard's own cellar, whilst Frederik also provided some additional vintages from the 1950's, courtesy of Jean-Marie Touchais. Interestingly, although most of the wines were labelled as Coteaux du Layon, some of them were labelled as merely Anjou (especially for the UK market), the reason being that they assumed the UK wine-buying public wouldn't have a clue what Coteaux du Layon was or where it was from! Another interesting fact is that production varies from as little as 6,000 bottles to as many as 200,000 bottles, depending on the quality of the vintage. Hence, presumably, why some of the wines are no longer commercially available. Additionally, no Moulin Touchais was made in either 1983 or 2008.

Frederik talks about the wines and winemaking philosophy
What follows are my notes (which are relatively brief, since we had at least 30 wines to get through, at around 5 minutes per wine). I personally can't be doing with scores as such, but for clarity, I've used a 1, 2 and 3 star system, to indicate my preferences/favourites. The lack of a star doesn't mean that I didn't like or rate the wine - just that it was probably decent but unspectacular.

The tasters:

Sarah Ahmed
Jim Budd
David Hesketh MW
John Hoskins MW
Gary Jordan
Richard Kelley MW
Chris Kissack
Jo Locke MW
Duncan Murray
Leon Stolarski
Frederik Wilbrenninck

FLIGHT ONE – The Noughties

2003 (release set for January 2013)
Deep-ish colour. Notes of orange peel, mineral and a hint of barley sugar, with a sweet attack that carries through to a long finish. Rich orange marmalade flavour, with spices and herbs. Decent acidity for such a hot year. Jean-Marie Touchais apparently thinks this one has great potential. It certainly has the stuffing to reach a great old age! For now, I'll give it *+.

Lighter colour. Nettles and grass. Mineral/wet wool too, along with a touch of florality/fruit blossom. An unusual but rather attractive palate, with a hint of acetone, which does nothing to detract from the overall enjoyment. Packed with orange flavours, deep, stoney minerality and brilliant acidity. Very long. Lovely wine. **+

Similar colour to 2002. Candied orange fruit/peel. Very perfumed and complex. Citrussy, floral and mineral at the same time, with hints of herbs and spice, and even a touch of leather. The palate is rich and hedonistic, with flavours of orange marmalade, ginger, clove and cinnamon, with brilliant structure and real mineral depth. Beautiful wine. **+

More like the 2003, with more barley sugar, but also more expressive on the nose, with mineral, wet wool, lemon peel and lemon oil aromas. Slightly earthy, but attractively fragrant. Fresh root ginger and spice on the palate, with lingering marmalade, spice and mineral flavours. Very long. **+

FLIGHT TWO – The Late Nineties

Less expressive than the wines from the previous flight - at least in terms of fruit and savoury elements - but with lots of subtle mineral notes. Decent wine, but pales into insignificance, relative to what followed. *

Full of apple and quince flavours, with an almost savoury/meaty quality, with a not unattractive vegetal note. Amazing richness to the palate, with intense spice and marmalade flavours, toffee apple and fig. Very long. **

A lovely bright yellow colour, which suggests richness, as does the nose, with aromas of raisins, figs and lemon marmalade. Gently floral but not (yet) particularly mineral. Almost as rich and spicy as the 1998, but perhaps a touch more elegant and harmonious. Rich and deeply mineral, with a backbone of mouth-watering acidity, which carries all the way through to an almost endlss finish. Superb wine. ***

Quite high-toned apple and lemon aromas, again with plenty of stoney minerality on the nose. This is (for me) where Chenin takes on an almost Riesling-like character, with some definite grapey, petrol/kerosene aromas. The palate shows power, concentration and complexity, with waves of dried fruit flavours, nervy acidity and immense length. A wine which manages to be both powerful and delicate at the same time. Fabulous wine. ***+(!)

1995 (limited availability)
Slightly stinky and cheesy - in an attractive way - with nicely rotting peach and apple aromas. Actually, quite farmyardy! A bit of barley sugar and a hint of woodsmoke, with a faint whiff of fermented hops. The palate is hugely mineral and much fruitier than the nose would suggest. Even richer and sweeter than the 96 and 97, with more of a barley sugar quality, but with plenty of complex rotting fruit. **

FLIGHT THREE – The Early Nineties

Hints of woodsmoke, tree fruits, lemon and wet wool, but a touch muted. The palate, on the other hand, is very expressive, with a rich, ripe, almost dried fruit quality, wrapped around a core of steely/stoney minerality, with further notes of spiced marmalade, ginger and lemon peel. Finishes rich and gently bitter-sweet. **+

Similar to the 94, but with a curious hint of emulsion paint. Opens-out to reveal further notes of lime oil, wet wool and polished old wood. The palate is sweet, but not so much fruity as medicinal, with cloves and balsam/expectorant to the fore. Perhaps a touch of marmalade, but overall, this reminds me too much of a trip to the dentist!

Apricot, cider apple and a hint of sulphur or reduction. Old wardrobes and a sprinkling of dried herbs as well, but overall, rather unexpressive. Again, a sweet, medicinal palate, with huge spiciness. A bit too much of everything (except fruit), with bitter acidity. Not my favourite!

1990 (not available)
Very deep colour, almost orange. Reeks of figs, marmalade, hops and Parmesan cheese(!) Like the 95, a touch of farmyard manure, but really rather interesting and inviting. The palate is rich and sweet, with toffee apple, fig, fudge and orange peel flavours - like a fruit-laden butterscotch. Rich, but with decent acidity and moderate length. *+

FLIGHT FOUR – The Late Eighties

1988 (not available)
All four wines in this flight are quite deeply coloured. This one smells like Riesling! Grapey, herby, honeyed, with strong lemon and kerosene notes and bags of minerality. Very spicy and sweet - almost bitter-sweet. Rich and hedonistic, with some genuine botrytis, adding a honeyed, nutty quality. Very long. Not my absolute favourite style, but a very good wine. **+

1987 (not available)
Damn - corked! Which is a shame, because it otherwise smelled rather lovely, though it deteriorated very quickly during the flight.

Lemon sorbet? Lemon grass? Lemon oil? Did I mention that this smells very lemony?! A wine with immediate appeal, with further notes of diesel and toffee apple. The palate shows enormous concentration and richness, very spicy, with apricot, fig, apple and fudge flavours. Has some real grip, too. Intense and complex. **+

Smells almost fortified, like a white Maury or Banyuls. Apples, oranges, cloves and even a hint of salinity. Immensely rich and powerful (13.9% abv). Powerfully sweet, too, with flavours of toffee apple and lime oil. To be honest, the acidity is hidden beneath that enormously rich, sweet structure, but I think it will emerge in time. A massive wine, which I suspect needs another 20 to 30 years to really get into its stride. Currently, I'll give it ** but it could turn out to be even better.

As the wines age, they take on a deeper colour
FLIGHT FIVE – The Early Eighties

Even though I have seen bottles of this on various auction lists for some years now (and have tasted one or two examples myself) it is still commercially available from the estate. Rich toffee aromas, with an almost chocolatey quality, with burnt apple, cloves and orange marmalade, though not really showing much in the way of minerality or high notes. The palate does though show some genuine wet wool character, along with spice and tangy lemon and lime. Long, too, and really very good. **

This is faulty, I think. Acetic on the nose and palate, with a quite "dirty" feel to it. Possibly corked, but definitely not in good condition. Shot, in fact.

1981 (not available)
Very slightly rancio in character - high-toned, honey, nuts, orange and lime - but still with a nice dollop of minerality. Again, we have notes of baked apple, fermented hops and toffee. Seems fully evolved and even slightly cheesy. Rich toffee, orange and spice flavours, but with plenty of balancing acidity. It is good now, but I don't think it will improve any further. *

A bit dirty, old wood, cardboardy. Corked, perhaps? The palate says yes.

FLIGHT SIX – The Seventies

Apart from toffee, orange and barley sugar, this isn't particularly expressive or interesting. The palate is "winey", but not really saying much about its origins. Slightly spicey, but also slightly hot, with a bitter-sweet finish. As I said, winey, but not "Loire-y".

1976 (not available)
Another one showing toffee, orange and barley sugar, and slightly cheesy/farmyardy. It also shows some volatile acidity - bordering on acetic, but not quite, and again showing a hint of emulsion paint. The palate is possibly a touch on the dirty side, but it does have some nice apple, orange and fig flavours and sprightly acidity. It could evolve, but why wait? Good, but not great. *

Vanilla. Earthy, but not fruity, though it does have plenty of allure, with polished old wood aromas accompanied by notes of citrus, honey and toffee. The palate shows genuine richness, countered by searing limey acidity. It isn't hugely complex, but it certainly appears to have plenty of life left in it. I like it. **+

High-toned and seemingly very evolved. Ginger, spice, orange peel and toffee on the nose. Again, some old woody, forest floor/damp earth notes, but with a delicious core of apricot and apple fruit and some richer toffe and fig nuances. And all countered by simply wonderful acidity. Perhaps not the finest wine of the tasting, but in comparison to the wines from the late 70's and early 80's, an absolute cracker. Very long, too. **+

Deeper still!
FLIGHT SEVEN – The Sixties and Fifties

1969 (not available)
Oh dear - corked again! Badly.

1964 (not available)
Another wine with a Rivesaltes/ Banyuls nose - somewhat sherried/rancio, but with some attractive earthy and tertiary fruit aromas and flavours. Unfortunately, there is also more than a hint of Airfix glue to it, and depite the fact that there is plenty else going on, it really does get in the way.

1961 (not available)
My birth year, so a (very) rare treat. What a lovely nose! Woody, with an almost new oak character, polished, earthy, leathery and meaty. It almost smells like an old red wine, a theme which in some ways carries through on the palate, with curious (but delightful) hints of black fruits and red capsicum, with all sorts of other crystallised fruit nuances. Deceptively light and fresh, earthy and contemplative, rather than heavy or rich. Not especially complex, perhaps, but just delightfully (old) winey. Not a great wine, but a very, very good one. **+

1959 (not available - though apparently it was until a few years ago!)
A Madeira-like nose of rotting fruit, volatile acidity, old wood and sous-bois. Perhaps even more like a fine old Tokaji 5 (or even 6) Puttonyos - so definitely up my street! Wonderful flavours of rotting white fruits, honey, minerility by the bucket-load and huge acidity. Complex and very lovely! ***

1953 (not available)
A distinct note of fireworks! Further notes include old wood, forest floor, nuts and some tertiary fruit. The palate is gently oxidative (but in no way oxidised) and totally wonderful, like an old Maury, but without the alcoholic edge. Indeed, the palate is delightfully clean and fresh, with cranberry and lemon fruit flavours. It isn't hugely complex, but is deliciously tangy and very moreish, with mouth-watering acidity. A lovely wine on which to finish. ***

My overall impression from this tasting is that Moulin Touchais is a source of some very fine wines indeed - but you have to pick your vintages with care. Or, to be more specific, pick your period carefully. Without the benefit of knowing who made the wine (or how it was made)  there appears to have been a 5 to 10 year period in the late 70's and early 80's where the quality of the wines (be that due to the winemaking or iffy vintages or a bit of both) dipped quite markedly. A similar lull appeared to affect the wines from the early 90's. That's not to say that every wine from these periods was bad - or, conversely, that every wine from the other periods was great - but it does seem to indicate that (a) the majority of the wines from the 50's through to the early 70's were beautifully made, (b) that the majority of those from the mid-80's (apart from that mini-dip in the early 90's) onwards have shown a real return to form and (c) that the wines of Moulin Touchais are built to last!

Many thanks to Richard for the invite, to Frederik for his valuable insights and to John for his hospitality. It was a real treat!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Some delicious red and white wines from a new Provence grower - Villa Minna Vineyard

Villa Minna Vineyard is a 15 hectare family estate situated in the heart of Provence, between Aix and Salon, established in 1929 by the grandfather of current owner, former rally driver Jean-Paul Luc. Until the mid-1990's, the grapes were sold to the local co-operative, but Jean-Paul and his wife Minna (after whom the estate is now named) were more ambitious. They grafted new varieties onto existing vines that previously yielded grapes of poor quality and also planted their first parcel of Syrah. In 1996, Minna graduated from her studies in viticulture and oenology and for 3 years (1996, 1997 and 1998) Minna and Jean-Paul made their first small batches of wines, purely for the enjoyment of their family and friends.

1999 was the inaugural commercial vintage of Minna Vineyard, with just 2,900 bottles of red wine produced. But this wine gained instant recognition with 2 stars awarded in the Guide Hachette, as well as being listed by some of the best restaurants in Provence. In 2005 the first vintage of Minna Vineyard white wine was made. Since then, the estate has gone from strength to strength, garnering some excellent reviews in France's top wine publications. The estate is now in its third year of conversion towards official organic status, a philosophy which Minna and Jean-Paul have adopted all along. No pesticides or artificial fertilizers are used and weeding is kept to a minimum, whilst all cuttings from the vines and other flora are ploughed back into the ground. The soil is limestone and characterised by the presence of many fossils - difficult to work, but good for heat retention and for encouraging the roots to grow deep.

I received an invitation from Jean-Paul to visit the Villa Minna stand at the Vinisud fair in Montpellier in February 2012, and was sufficiently intrigued by the description of the wines and the impressive list of citations in the various French publications to pay them a visit. And I am glad we did, for TLD and I were bowled over by them. The white wines are quirky, elegant and full of life, whilst the reds are ripe, beautifully balanced and show excellent ageing potential. And in comparison to many of their Provençal counterparts, they are very competitively priced, considering their undoubted quality. The labels for each wine in each vintage are all different, being extracts from various childhood paintings by Jean-Paul and Minna's daughters, Tytti (pronounced Tutti) and Meryl. All of the following wines are now available to buy from the LSFineWines online shop. Give them a try - I think you will be suitably impressed! All are priced at £17.80.

Minna Vineyard Blanc 2007 Vin de Table
45% Vermentino, 36% Roussanne, 19% Marsanne. 14.0% abv. Beautifully fragrant with aromas of honeysuckle and orange blossom, hay, baked apples and pears infused with cinnamon, clove and anise. There's a herby element too, redolent of oregano and basil. But most of all, there is a quality to it that can best be described as "winey" - everything seems to have melded together beautifully, at the same time possessing the youthful attributes of a white Hermitage and the somewhat more evolved apple and mineral characteristics of a Loire Chenin Blanc. This quality also shows through on the palate, which, whilst beautifully focused, displays a mellowness that makes it a delight to drink already, offering complex flavours of soft peach, apple, apricot, spiced orange and a subtle herbiness, with refreshing acidity and a very long finish. A rather compelling Provençal white wine. £17.80

Minna Vineyard Blanc 2008 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhône
45% Vermentino, 26% Roussanne, 29% Marsanne. 13.0% abv. A slightly different blend than the 2007 (though from the same 3 grape varieties) - and also now with Vin de Pays (IGP) status. It is somewhat lighter-bodied and perhaps even a touch more elegant than the 2007 - not better, just different. The nose is more high-toned, more prickly, more fruity, lemon/limey, with an abundance of fresh herbs on the nose, a hint of granny smith and clove, orange pith and a whole load of minerality. It is lighter on the palate, too, but no less flavoursome - delicious flavours of herb and spice-infused apple, peach and soft citrus abound, with wonderful grip, succulent acidity and no sign of the pithy, slightly bitter flavours that can often be found in Provencal/southern Rhone whites. It really is gloriously fresh, fruity, herby and - once again - winey. The finish is tangy and mouth-watering and keeps you coming back for more. Furthermore, it really does benefit from a night in the decanter, becoming richer and more complex with plenty of air. Delicious, but will it age? I think so, but whether you want to drink it now, or keep it for a few years, you are onto a winner!

Minna Vineyard Rouge 2005 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhône
49% Syrah, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Mourvedre. 13.5% abv. Brooding blackberry and blackcurrant aromas, damp earth, some lifted orange peel and citrus notes and a touch of leafy herbaceousness, with enticing polished wood and subtle eau de vie in the background. A hint of meat/savoury and iodine add further complexity. The palate is medium-to-full bodied and grippy, with some healthy tannins underpinning the ripe, tobacco and herb-infused bramble and raspberry fruit, whilst a backbone of juicy, orangey acidity keeps everything tightly-knit and focused. It is a cracking wine, pure and clean, with a fabulous structure, which should ensure it evolves and gains yet more complexity over the next ten years or so.

Minna Vineyard Rouge 2006 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhône
46% Syrah, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Mourvedre. 14.5% abv. The nose is crammed full of bramble, cassis, black cherry and dried fig aromas. At the other end of the spectrum, we have violets, mixed herbs, spices and polished wood. There's a gentle yeastiness too, with subtle hints of iodine and warm eau de vie. It is certainly complex stuff! It is equally impressive on entry, with intense red and black fruit flavours, rich but not sweet, with cracking acidity. The tannins are vigourous and quite grippy, but succulent rather than drying, and combined with all of that fruit and heightened acidity, it grips the bottom of your mouth and the back palate, rather than the sides. Indeed, it is really rather refreshing and mouth-watering, for a relatively young wine, which carresses rather than assaults the senses. And oh, that nose! Drink now, or let it age and evolve for at least another 10 years.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

A Sunday evening treat - top-notch Burgundy that didn't cost the earth

Domaine Méo-Camuzet Clos Saint-Philibert Monopole 2008 Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits
Although I am a bit of a Burgundy ignoramous, I do know that this is (a) from a rather grand producer and (b) from a patch of land - albeit slightly higher and cooler - not too far removed from some rather grand (indeed Grand Cru) vineyards around Vosne-Romanée. In other words, it is - by repute, at least - top notch white Burgundy which is within the means of even relatively frugal wine buyers (like me). And by 'eck, is it good stuff! It probably lacks the sheer depth and breadth of it's more exalted brothers and sisters from the gentle, sun-kissed slopes lower down and nearer to the village, and perhaps even the expensive oak-ageing regime given to the finest cuvées, but it certainly doesn't lack in winemaking stakes - or for the qualities that elevate fine Burgundy above every single one of it's imitators around the world. Why? Because it possesses that wonderful streak of leanness and verve that sets it apart from the rest. I stress "leanness", rather than thinness, because it is otherwise possessed of all the flavour and grip you could ever ask for in a dry white wine. The last thing it needs is to be fat, for it would do nothing to enhance those wonderfully intense lemon/lime/apple and fragrant herb flavours, the sheer steely/stoney minerality and abundant (but beautifully ripe) acidity that makes you crave for food. It matters not what food, so long as it is savoury and filling. That is not to say this wine lacks richness - in this case, richness of flavour and lip-smaking more-ishness that renders the bottle two-thirds empty before the food even reaches the table! And the cost? A mere £16 (approximately) from the sale of some or other merchant whose name I can't remember (it was a shared purchase with some of my local wine geek friends). And at that price, it is a bargain. Delicious and life-affirming stuff!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Some new Corbières wines - Prieuré Sainte Marie d'Albas

Vincent Licciardi and his wife Laurence farm a total of 32 hectares of vines around the sleepy village of Moux, in the foothills of the Montagne d'Alaric, between Carcassone and Narbonne. TLD and I visited them in June, en route from our accommodation in the Ariège region to Faugères. And although our rather fraught journey (including a horrendous traffic jam on the autoroute) made us around 2 hours late for our appointment, we were treated to an excellent 4-course lunch, including an absolutely wonderful summer truffle risotto, accompanied by the full range of wines. It would be difficult to find a more friendly and charming couple - and their wines (not forgetting Laurence's home cooking) are delicious!

Vincent and Laurence Licciardi
The vines grow on a subsoil of limestone and clay and benefit from a terroir defined by the warm Mediterranean sun and the dry winds of the northerly Cers Tramontane. They employ sustainable viticultural practices, with only minimal use of spraying in the vineyards, when absolutely necessary.

Moux, with the Montagne d'Alaric in the background

The winery at Prieuré Sainte Mari d'Albas
The grapes are hand-picked at the height of their maturity (at yields averaging no more than 35 hl/ha) and are pre-selected during the harvest itself, prior to being vinified in such a way as to bring the best out of the fruit and yield genuinely expressive wines. The reds are all vinified using the carbonic maceration method (i.e. whole bunches - a la Beaujolais). Although I am not normally a fan of this method, the red wines of Prieuré Sainte Marie d'Albas manage to be rich, fruity and beautifully balanced, yet imbued with typical Lanuedoc warmth and spicyness. The rosé is "proper" wine (made from direct pressing, rather than the free-run saignée method) and the white is full of juicy citrus and tree fruit flavours. What's more, we now have the following wines in stock. Try them - you won't be disappointed!

40% Carignan, 30% Grenache, 30% Syrah. 13.5% abv. Intense, deep purple colour, with real aromatic complexity - a melange of summer pudding fruits, garrigue herbs, cumin and coriander, with hints of roses, violets and leather. On the palate, it is soft, easy drinking, yet nicely concentrated, with a great mouthful of fresh summer fruit flavours, ample acidity and a just the right level of tannic grip. Stylistically, this isn't too far removed from a rather good Cru Beaujolais - in other words, gloriously fruity, but with a little southern warmth thrown-in for good measure. Lovely wine! £9.79.

50% Grenache, 50% Syrah. 13.5% abv. A deep, intense, glossy purple colour. Another complex nose, displaying aromas of ripe red fruits, crushed blackcurrants, with hints of garrigue herbs, crushed pepper, spices, roasted meats and light mineral notes. There's a hint of clotted cream, too, along with a gentle whiff of fine eau de vie. Indeed, it has a similar aromatic profile to a rather good Chateauneuf! The palate is marked by a breadth of generous spiced black cherry and bramble fruit, with hints of meat and savoury herbs. Supple tannins and refreshing soft citrus-tinged acidity combine to add a sweet and sour quality. A long, spicy finish completes the package, in a wine chock full of southern character. £11.75.

50% Grenache, 50% Syrah. 12.5% abv. Crystal clear and copper-coloured with salmon pink highlights. Beautifully fragrant, with aromas of raspberry, cherry, mint and garrigue herbs. Bags of juicy red cherry and raspberry fruit on the palate, with a gently creamy texture. This is a "proper" rosé, made from pressed grapes (rather than the usual "saignée" or free-run method), nicely rounded and without any of the slightly bitter notes found in many other rosés. A lovely wine, which strikes a balance between easy-drinking soft summer fruits and refreshing crispness. £8.99.

100% Macabeu. 12.5% abv. Clear and bright with pale yellow/gold highlights. On the nose, delicate floral aromas of white peach, white flowers and lemon oil, with disticnctly herby overtones - basil, mint and oregano spring to mind. The palate is bright and crisp, offering juicy citrus and exotic fruit flavours. There's a fair amount of richness to it - not oily, but expansive and lightly spicy. The finish is very long and gently warming, yet remaining remarkably fresh and mouth-watering. £9.79.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Reunited, Together Again, Never Gonna Give You Up.........

OK, so that's enough of the song titles! Let me explain..........

A few weeks ago, I was up at my Mum's and was just going out of the front door when we noticed a car reversing from a drive across the road. I assumed that the driver had noticed my motorcycle parked there - after all, it is (for want of a better expression) big, red and shiny! With hindsight, what happened next was pretty inevitable really. In fact, it reminds me of King Harold's last words at the Battle of Hastings - "Watch that bloke over there with a bow and arrow - he'll have somebody's eye out in a minute!" Alright, so he probably didn't say that, but I bet he wished he had done. ;-)

"Ooh", said my Mum, "Watch that car over there, it looks as if it's getting a bit close to your bike." In the 2 or 3 seconds it would have taken me to run up the drive and bang on the car window, all I managed to do was to yell "Oi!!!!!!!", as the car sent my bike crashing down onto the pavement. As the rather shocked lady got out of her car, she remarked that she'd seen the bike parked there earlier, but was concentrating too much on looking left and right to notice what was behind her. I pulled the bike up and put it back on the stand, to inspect the damage. The most noticable things were a rather bad gash on the crankcase/clutch cover and a mashed-up handlebar end weight, plus a few superficial chips and scratches on the mirror, indicator, tail fin and the bottom of the fairing. "It's the first accident I've ever had, so I'd rather not go through the insurance and lose my no-claims", said the lady.

So the next day, I went to the Honda dealer to obtain prices for a new clutch cover and handlebar weight, which would come to just shy of £200. Being a kind soul (some would say naivve/stupid) I was prepared to overlook the chips and scratches, figuring I could sort those out myself. But by the time I contacted her, she'd discovered that there was some damage to the back of her car, and since her cover included a protected no-claims discount and just £50 excess, she would prefer to go through the insurance. It was all surprisingly simple and I hardly had to lift a finger, as her insurance company called to arrange collection (all the way from London!) of my bike and a replacement hire bike for the duration. Within a couple of days, I had a shiny black Kawasaki ZX6R to play with, whilst my Honda was taken away for assessment/repair.  It was a lovely bike, but not as lovely as my own, so I was keen to get it back.

Nice bike but not as nice as my own.......
What happened next was a bit more drawn-out and stressful than I had hoped. Clearly, the assessor had gone over the bike with a magnifying glass and a fine-tooth comb, because they decided that if every little bit of damage they found had to be repaired or replaced, it would exceed the value of the bike. I was left with three options:

(1) They would effect most (but not all) of the repairs, up to the cost of what they estimated the value of the bike to be.
(2) They would write-off the bike and it would be returned to me in its current condition, together with an amount of money.
(3) They would write-off the bike and dispose of it, and I would receive a cheque for the full current market value.

Being a bit dim, it took me a while to digest this information, so I asked him to just go back to option 2 and explain it to me in more detail. Basically, he said, it would be a "Category C" write-off - which in effect means "beyond economical repair, but can be put back on the road". "So", I asked, "apart from getting the bike back, how much will I get?" When I heard his answer, you could have knocked me down with a feather! "Bit of a no-brainer", I said. "Yes", he said.

It took a week or so for me to finally get the cheque, and another week before they brought my bike back, but - to cut a rather long story just a bit shorter - me and my beautiful Honda CBR600RR are finally reunited, and I have a decent-sized cheque in the bank, which should more than comfortably pay for the necessary repairs and replacement parts. All I have to do now is to get her through an MOT (which is due anyway) and re-insured (which is also due) and everything will be tickety-boo. And once I have spent a few hundred quid on replacing the damaged bits (all of which are purely cosmetic and don't affect the rideability of the bike) and some silver touch-up paint, she will effectively be back to pretty much mint condition. So who am I to complain?

Then again, it does bring into stark focus one of the reasons why insurance premiums are so damned expensive these days. That's all I'm going to say..........

Together again with my beautiful Honda CBR600RR
As a postscript, I also received a letter from my ex-employers the other day, informing me that I would receive a "corporate bonus" (or at least part thereof, for the part of the last financial year I worked). Considering I "retired" in October 2011, it came as a very pleasant surprise. Not a huge sum, you understand, but it will buy me a few nice bottles of wine. Every little helps! ;-)