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.