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.