Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Another trio of wines from the Loire Valley

I will offer no apologies for the complete lack of posts on this blog over the last couple of months. Frankly, I have been far too busy with other things (both wine and non-wine related) to even think about spending what can amount to a good deal of my time, writing for "pleasure"(!) I guess I have also become more used to posting what some may call "micro-blogs" on Facebook. I have to say I like the immediacy and intimacy of Facebook and the way that friends and followers (I cross-post wine-related posts from my personal page to my business page) can interact to their hearts' content, to the point where genuine conversations or debates can develop in a very short space of time - which is much more difficult on platforms such as Blogger. And whilst I used to get frustrated when I posted links to my blog posts on Facebook, only for people to reply on Facebook (rather than on the blog itself), I now just accept that as a fact of 21st Century life. If people want to say something, they will say it using the easiest way possible. I still think blogging is a useful way of communicating, and certainly intend to carry on posting, whenever time or work allows (or dictates). And if anyone can suggest a useful way of linking Facebook to Blogger - rather than the other way around - I would be mightily interested in hearing it!

Anyway, enough about that - let's get back into it gently, courtesy of an interesting trio of Loire whites.  I was recently asked by French wine marketing organisation Sopexa if I would like to receive some more sample bottles to taste. And although they are already well aware of the fact that I have no commercial interest in Loire wines (as a merchant, that is), I guess the fact that I have - historically, at least - a decent following for my blog is all-important. So if they want to keep sending me wines to taste/review, who am I to argue? And if the wines are good, I'm happy to say so - and equally likely to say if they are not.

Paul Bouisse La Grille Sauvignon Blanc 2012 IGP Touraine
This is intensely grassy and uber-fresh, with pronounced elderflower, gooseberry and blackcurrant leaf/fruit aromas. There is just the merest hint of something tropical on the palate, but it is really all about apples, peaches and cut limes, with a combination of zesty acidity and stony minerality. Quite modern, but in a very good (and very French) way. It is a really clean, fresh, mouthwatering wine, with a long-ish, gently spicy and cool, peppermint-y finish. Apparently, the recommended retail price at Majestic is £7.99. I guess if you wait a while, you just might get the usual (or do I mean predictable) 2 at £5.99(ish) each - but don't quote me on that. Either way, a decent wine and good value for money.

Eric Chevalier La Noë 2012 Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu Sur Lie 
Muscadet trying to be Burgundy? Actually, it is doing a fairly decent impression, in a ripe, opulent sort of way. Lots of creamy, orangy, honeyed sur-lie aromas and flavours (and do I detect a hint of barrel fermentation?) with notes of spiced apple pie and overripe peach, and perhaps a slight perception of salty minerality. Opulent, rich and full-bodied, it almost hits the spot, but for the lack of some genuinely bracing acidity. Almost serious...... but on balance - or rather, the lack thereof - falling just a little bit short. It is a fairly decent wine for the money (£11.95 Lea & Sandeman) though ultimately too big for its own good.

Monmousseau Brut Etoile Methode Traditionelle NV
Made from somewhere between 50% and 70% Chenin Blanc (depending on where you look), plus Ugni Blanc and possibly other varieties, this really is very rich and limey, with what seems like a touch of residual sugar, yet with an intense cooking apple and spice note. It all makes for a rather bitter-sweet palate, which is interesting to begin with, but soon begins to tire - rather than refresh - the palate. It lacks the subtlety of (say) Champagne, Crémant de Bourgogne or Blanquette de Limoux. Would I buy it? No, because to be honest, at this price (£10.49 from Averys) too many other regions and countries produce better, more refined sparklers.

Looking ahead, tomorrow sees the annual "Best Bottle" tasting at the Nottingham Wine Circle. Given that this event usually throws up a few real gems, I will actually find it hard to resist posting my notes on some of them. Possibly...................... ;-)

Friday, 18 October 2013

A visit to Mas Foulaquier

Mas Foulaquier is a Pic Saint-Loup grower that had - until a few years ago - flown completely under my radar. Winemaker Pierre Jéquier, a native of Switzerland and formerly an architect, created Mas Foulaquier in 1998, following an exhaustive search for his dream wine estate. Situated in the most northerly corner of one of Languedoc's most northerly appellations, the eight hectares of existing vines were at the time just 8 years old, but happened to be planted on some great terroir. Now approaching 25 years of age, those maturing vines are the source of a quite brilliant set of wines. Pierre's wife and fellow winemaker Blandine Chauchet joined the team in 2003, bringing with her the ownership of a further 3 hectares of 50 year-old Grenache and Carignan vines in the "Tonillieres" vineyard in Claret. Other parcels have since been added (including a 2 hectare vineyard planted to Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc and Rolle) bringing the total area under vine to around 15 hectares - 10 ha or so surrounding the winery and the rest dotted around the village. Pierre and Blandine also employ the services of two of the finest consultants in their respective fields of expertise - biodynamics guru Jacques Mell on the viticultural side and Christian Prudhomme (formerly of Chateau Mouton Rothschild) on the winemaking side. Estate and sales manager and all-round good guy Adrien Laroche holds everything together from day-to-day.

Most of the wines are aged in vat..........
.......with just a small amount of barrel ageing for some cuvées
The vines surrounding Mas Foulaquier
Having first met Pierre Jéquier and tasted his wines at a small (but very busy) tasting event in Monpellier in 2010, I was totally blown away by their quality and jumped at the opportunity to import a selection of them. And so, more than 3 years down the line, our first actual visit to the Mas Foulaquier estate in June this year was certainly long overdue. As you can see from the photo above, it wasn't the sunniest of days and there were certainly plenty of angry clouds lurking, but it stayed dry and warm enough to allow for a rather delightful al fresco tasting, under the shade of one of several magnificent chestnut trees surrounding the winery. And all accompanied by a delicious array of fresh bread, cold cuts, local goats cheese and olive oil.

TLD had no trouble taming the Foulaquier "guard" dogs!
The start of a very fine tasting and lunch - Pierre Jequier pouring l'Orphée 2011
Adrien was a mine of information, whilst Pierre spoke about his wines with the sort of passion you expect from a dedicated vigneron. And although the wines based mainly on Syrah and Carignan are wonderful (indeed, my personal favourite is Tonillieres 2012), Pierre was at pains to stress that he thinks that Grenache is the variety most suited to the terroir - basically clay-limestone with a pebbly top layer - of this little corner of Pic Saint-Loup. And who am I to disagree, for Le Petit Duc 2011, which is 90% Grenache, is one of the most delicious wines of its type I have tasted from this part of the world. My notes on that and other wines below are an amalgam of brief notes taken on the day, more detailed notes written from the opened bottles that we were kindly given to take away with us and - for the 4 cuvées we eventually settled on - further bottles opened when we took delivery of our new stocks (purely in the interests of "research", you understand!).

To be fair, we have until now found the wines of Mas Foulaquier quite difficult to sell. I know not why - perhaps they aren't the cheapest wines, especially in the wider scheme of things in Languedoc, but then again quality doesn't usually come cheap. And in my experience, these are without doubt some of the finest wines the Pic Saint-Loup appellation (and indeed the Languedoc as a whole) has to offer. Which actually makes them rather good value. And I'm not about to let the fact that they are difficult to sell deter me from trying all over again with these latest vintages!

So....... is the quality of these wines down to biodynamic farming (something Pierre set out to do from the start - the wines are all certified biodynamic), or is is simply a testament to brilliant winemaking? To be honest, in my experience, the two are often inextricably linked. Whether you believe in biodynamics or not (extreme organics, or just wacky mumbo-jumbo?) those very principles go pretty much hand-in-hand with a love for the land and a fastidious approach to winemaking. The wines are also as natural as can be - no sulphites or added yeasts are used in the winemaking process, there is no fining or filtering, and only the tiniest amount of SO2 (between 10 and 30 mg) is added at the bottling stage.

I could go on and tell you more about Mas Foulaquier, but why do that, when they have their own rather excellent website? I'm here to wax lyrical about the wines. And do you know what? From an already extremely high level of quality, their current vintages have raised the bar even higher, for this was one of the finest selections of wines from a single grower we have ever had the privilege of tasting. And if you have any sort of claim to be a lover of Languedoc's finest wines, then you simply must try them. Who knows - the following tasting notes might even persuade you to do so...............

l'Orphée 2011 Languedoc Pic Saint-Loup
A 50/50 blend of Syrah and Grenache. Semi-translucsent, bright, deep cherry red colour. Fresh, ripe redcurrant, raspberry, cherry and bramble aromas mingle with notes of meat, new leather, garrigue herbs, curry spices and damp earth - all-in-all, a considerably complex and heady nose. The palate too is brimming with wonderfully ripe red and black fruit flavours, with a delicious bite of tart cherry skin and tangy orange, the effect of a seamless combination of ripe, tea-like tannins and juicy acidity. With air (and especially on day 2) it develops some rich fruitcake aromas and flavours, whilst still retaining freshness. There's also a savoury tang - not meaty, but more like a sun-dried tomato, vegetable and garrigue quality, which adds complexity without detracting from all of that wonderful sweet/sour/tangy fruit. There are wines that I occasionally flag-up as quintessential examples of fine Languedoc wine - and this is one of them. A simply glorious, fine, elegant wine - and I challenge you not to empty the bottle in one sitting! £15.50

Les Tonillieres 2012  Languedoc Pic Saint-Loup
Another 50/50 blend - this time, Carignan and Syrah. Semi-transluscent, medium-deep carmine red, fading to a narrow rim. Only the press wine goes into barrel - the rest is aged in vat - but the grapes are first given a full 3 months' maceration at a cool temperature, which ensures good extract whilst retaining a good deal of elegance. The Carignan element is so expressive, you almost don't notice the Syrah - and when Carignan is this good, it is hard to beat. Fabulous aromas of pickled brambles and raspberries, with an amazing array of secondary nuances - notably, leather, cigar box, coffee grounds, beetroot and damp earth. Not to mention a delightful rasp of soft citrus-like volatile acidity, which makes your eyes water in the most glorious way (especially on day 2)! The flavours are so fresh and full of vitality, with an almost Musar-like structure, chock full of sweet and sour raspberry and black fruit flavours, with subtle hints of coffee and toffee. With air, it becomes even deeper, more expressive, more elegant, whilst retaining all of that wonderful freshness, complexity - and impressive length. A truly glorious wine, which every one of our customers (indeed any lover of fine Languedoc wine) should buy. It will age nicely, but why wait, when it is so wonderful now? £15.95

Le Rollier 2010  Languedoc Pic Saint-Loup
40% Syrah, 60% Grenache. No oak. Rich, balanced and rather yummy. Quite soft, but nevertheless balanced and nicely structured. Tasted over the next couple of days, there are plenty of rich, ripe fresh fruit and jam aromas, with hints of toffee and curry spices. Lovely and soft on the palate, but far from blowsy, with plenty of juicy fruit and acidity, with nice tannic grip. Long and spicy.

Les Calades 2010  Languedoc Pic Saint-Loup
70% Syrah, 30% Grenache. With its aromas of dark red fruits, exotic spices, garrigue herbs, fine eau de vie, damp earth, leather and polished mahogany - a bit like an old church pew - this is one of the most complex wines (aromatically speaking) I have encountered in a long time. It really does caress the senses in a way that keeps you coming back for another sniff. And the palate certainly delivers, offering a hugely complex array of fruit, spice, herb and tertiary flavours. Richly-textured and almost velvety at first, you suddenly get this wonderful hit of dark cherry, bramble and orange-tinged fruit, a rasp of fine, tea-like tannin and simply mouth-watering acidity on the mid-palate, followed by a long, tangy, gently spicy finish that goes on forever. Fabulous wine! £19.50

Le Petit Duc 2011  Languedoc Pic Saint-Loup
90% Grenache, 10% Syrah. A lovely bright translucent cherry/blood red colour. The nose shows an intriguing leathery, meaty quality, though not at the expense of some really delightful raspberry, cherry and floral aromas, a hint of creaminess, toasted brioche and herbs - alluring, complex and elegant, rather than big and burly. Sort of what Chateauneuf would be like if its climate were a little gentler..... like that of Pic Saint-Loup! The palate too is elegance personified - a lovely warm, spicy, herb-laden mix of fresh and crystallised fruits with a gentle orangey tang, with subtle notes of redcurrant and cranberry, all of which combine in a delightfully fresh sweet and sour whole. Pierre believes that his little corner of the Pic Saint-Loup terroir is the perfect spot for Grenache, and on this showing, who am I to disagree? This really is a lovely wine, which all fans of the more aspirational southern Rhône reds would do well to try. £19.95

Gran' T 2010 Languedoc Pic Saint-Loup
Polished wood, tobacco, curry spice and garrigue herbs mingle with dark cherry and redcurrant aromas and a whiff of oak. The palate is full of ripe but tangy fruit flavours, with plenty of grape skin and wood tannins. And whilst it has excellent acidity and a fine, even complex structure, it is (for me) the least appealing wine of the line-up, since it needs a lot of time to shed the puppy fat and for all of that tannin and oak to integrate, before it becomes a joy to drink. A quite rich and oaky style of wine, which is not necessarily my bag, but nevertheless imbued with a fine structure and plenty of ageing potential. One for the classicists, I guess. Indeed, it may even turn out to be a very fine wine after a decade in the cellar - but I don't want to wait that long, when all of the others are so damn delicious now(!)

So there you have it - Pic Saint-Loup at its very best. And if we still can't sell 'em, we'll just go ahead and drink 'em! Drool.............

Saturday, 28 September 2013

A trio of lovely Provençal reds for Autumn - plus a delicious wedding anniversary wine

Although the weather over the past few days has been wonderfully bright and sunny, there is no doubting the onset of Autumn. An early morning nip in the air and an abundance of dew is testament to that. And so, it is time for us to start opening a few more red wines (having consumed more whites in our house this year than ever before). And here are just 3 of the best we have tasted in the last week or so..........

Terre des Chardons Bien Luné 2012 Costieres de Nimes
Not *strictly* Provence, although Costieres de Nimes is as close as it gets without being so, wedged as it is between the southern Rhone, Languedoc and Provence. A 50/50 blend of Syrah and Grenache. When we last tasted this in June, the Syrah was very much the dominant variety, almost to the exclusion of the Grenache - so much so, that it would be hard not to imagine it was a rather good Crozes-Hermitage or even a lesser Cote-Rotie. It is still fragrant - actually, perfumed is a better word - with wonderfu plum, blackcurrant and floral aromas, but the Grenache now gets a look in. Spicy, earthy, raspberry and redcurrant notes abound, with hints of darker, crystallised fruits, black cherry and iodine. The palate is beautifully rounded, elegant and complex, with a softly tannic backbone, around which is wrapped the most voluptuouscloak of ripe red fruits, soft spice, minerality and subtle garrigue herbs. And all shot through with the freshest, most piquant sour cherry and soft citrus acidity. It really is a delightfully elegant and uplifting wine, the result of the finest grapes (biodynamic), a mix of traditional and whole-bunch fermentation, the complete absence of oak and brilliant winemaking. One of the best bargains I have ever found in 10 years of importing from Languedoc. £11.99.

The next 2 wines speak very much of Provence. Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre are the 3 varieties that make up the blend in the main Chateau d'Estoublon red wine. Winemaker and owner Remy Reboul told me at Vinisud last year that people had suggested, after tasting barrel samples, that he should bottle some varietal wines, such was the quality of each of them. He was, to be honest, rather scathing about the idea, since he believes that the true expression of his terroir is in the final blend, rather than in the individual components. Which is fair enough, but these wines are so good that they do - in my opinion - stand on their own as brilliant examples of what is possible on the southern slopes of the Alpilles.

Estoublon Mono-Cépage Grenache 2009 Vin de Table
The colour is a reassuringly pale/medium raspberry, with a slight tawny hue, whilst the nose is delightfully elegant, with aromas of redcurrant, raspberry and old leather fairly leaping from the glass, and subtle hints of sous-bois, graphite, truffle and soft citrus peeping through. There's also a gentle waft of very fine eau de vie, although despite the 15.25% (yes fifteen) abv, there is little suggestion of heat, either on the nose or the palate. Indeed, it is really rather fresh and elegant, with a veritable bucket-load of fresh and crystallised red fruit and soft citrus flavours, barely perceptible tannins and plenty of mouth-watering acidity. In the space of around a year since I last tasted it, this really has blossomed into something really quite lovely and more-ish - in short, a wonderfully balanced wine, which is a real delight to drink. Burgundy snobs might well throw their arms up in horror at my suggestion that a wine like this can be so fresh and elegant, but I would venture to say that it is almost "Burgundian" in structure. On the other hand, lovers of nearby Chateauneuf du Pape might be surprised that a 100% Grenache from outside of "their" region could be so utterly compelling. None of your 101 point Parkerised soup here, I'm afraid. Actually, I've heard more than one vigneron call Grenache the "Pinot Noir of the south" - and on this evidence, they are not far wrong. Wonderful wine. £19.99

Estoublon Mono-Cépage Syrah 2009 Vin de Table
Deep, translucent blood red. Identifiably Syrah - bramble, blackcurrant, violets and herbs, again steeped in the finest eau de vie, with enticing hints of tobacco and damp earth. As with the Grenache, the alcohol (15.5% in this case) neither burns nor overpowers the fruit. Yes, it is rich and spicy, but gloriously tangy and balanced, with cherry skin and citrus flavours, ripe tannins and ample acidity ,all of which combine seamlessly with the abundant red and black fruit flavours. In fact, this is anything but soupy - quite the opposite. And it certainly passes the "more than one glass" test with aplomb. Elegant? No. More-ish? Yes indeedy! £19.99

Oh, and by the way, 28 September 1985 was hot and sunny. How do I remember? Because that was the day I married the lovely Diane. How lucky am I?! And to celebrate, we have been enjoying a bottle of Francis Boulard Les Murgiers Extra Brut Champagne. No tasting note - but it is very yummy - just like my wife! As is this wonderful bottle of Paul Jaboulet Ainé Domaine de Thalabert 1988 Crozes-Hermitage.

Well, a special occasion demands a special wine, don't you think?


Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The importance of family (plus wine and life in general)

I haven't posted on this blog anywhere near as much as I would like in recent times, which is down to a combination of circumstances - namely family, wine business and (frankly) sheer laziness. Anyway, by way of an update...........

July and August have come and gone in the blink of an eye, with no less than 5 pallets of new wines (from around a dozen different growers) and all that such activity entails. Not to mention a whole lot of other activity on the wine front - which, thankfully, entailed a decent amount of selling of the stuff(!) And of course we have enjoyed the best summer we've had in many a year, which meant plenty of lazy evenings spent barbecuing on the patio, eating lots of great food and enjoying plenty of good wine. No excuses at all - when it comes down to a choice between blogging and lazing about on a balmy evening, there is only going to be one winner. Food, wine and the company of family wins every time.

I have also to a certain extent been preoccupied with my Mum. Regular readers may know that she's not been too healthy recently. Following a bout of pneumonia in December last year, plus another couple of stays in hospital in Spring, she has been battling ill-health for most of this year. With an ever-increasing cocktail of drugs (Warfarin, Digoxin and a veritable box-full of other stuff), weekly visits to the health centre for blood tests and a constantly uphill battle against the resulting heart failure symptoms, she's had a right old time of it. Although she is 84 and has been afflicted with COPD for a number of years, she has always been extremely active and enjoyed an excellent social life. But this year has been different and - despite the wonderful summer - her illness has certainly taken its toll. Indeed, last week, I was beginning to wonder whether she would see the month out, never mind the year. It was all very depressing - not least for her, but also for me and the rest of the family. But over the past few days, lo and behold, she seems like a different woman. Something is working, and she seems much more chipper than she has in quite a while. Of course, it is still one day at a time, but every sign of improvement is a blessing.

Add to that the fact that my youngest son Daniel has had a promotion at work, oldest son Alex has found a new job, and they are both therefore happier (and better off financially) and it all adds up - for now at least - to all being well with the world. Of course, it cannot last (does it ever?) but whilst it does, I'm going to enjoy it. These are the days.

Chicken marinating in a spicy sauce, with onions, garlic, mushrooms, chillies and capsicums -
- and a rather more-ish red Burgundy to aid the preparation!
When I first started writing this entry a couple of days ago (see what I mean about being distracted?!) I was about to cook a wonderful chicken stir fry, prepared whilst enjoying a wine picked up at a bargain price from a local bin-end supplier, namely, the Blason de Bourgogne 2008 Beaune you see in the picture. Made by a mere "negociant" - or at least a large producer that buys-in most of its grapes, in the form of a co-operative - it is a decent, fruity, uncomplicated wine with plenty of Pinot/Burgundy character. It isn't complicated or even particularly concentrated - in fact, it is almost alarmingly light in colour, and would certainly not go down too well with those looking for bags of fruit or body. But it does what it says on the tin,  with sour cherry, cedar and damp earth aromas and flavours and cracking acidity. And at around the same price as your average supermarket BOGOF, it provided brilliant value for money. Oh, and it went beautifully with the stir fry!

Anyway, now I have eased myself very gently back into the blog, I intend to publish my notes on a rather good tasting of Californian red wines, last week at Nottingham Wine Circle. That will be within the next day or two........ Meanwhile, I am off for this week's edition - a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir special!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Rare as hen's teeth - affordable white Burgundy

Every once in a while, a wine presents itself on my lap (or at least arrives as a special parcel at a local trade supplier) with a quality level and price that makes it impossible for me to resist. Even less often, it turns out to be something that is becoming a bit of a rarity these days - high-quality affordable Burgundy. So when I tasted this wine last week, I picked up a few cases - one for myself (if not more!) and the rest for my customers. Some of it is already spoken for, so if you like the sound of it enough to want to buy a few bottles, then be quick, as it won't stick around for too long................

Domaine Yves Girardin Chateau de La Charrière Santenay Sous La Roche 2007
Sous La Roche is a "lieu-dit" (a named single vineyard) in one of the less-celebrated (and therefore more under-the-radar) appellations of the Côte de Beaune. But don't let that fool you, for this is top-notch village Burgundy, at less than the price of a decent basic Bourgogne. The nose is a riot of citrus fruits, grated zest, soft tree fruits and apple, with a strong impression of flinty/stony minerality and a just hint of struck match. Indeed, it smells and tastes for all the world like something very decent from nearby Puligny-Montrachet or Meursault. It is so packed with fruit and mineral nuances, it almost makes the nose prickle. The palate is racy and, like the nose, crammed full of lemon, lime and juicy apple flavours, with subtle herb and spice nuances - ripe and full, but with a wonderfully bracing mineral streak and a core of mouth-watering acidity. The finish is long, although you might not notice for a while, as it keeps you coming back for another sip. At 6 years of age, it is pure, clean, elegant and really just getting into its stride. And whilst it is a real joy to drink now, you could age it for another year or two yet - probably a lot more, if you dare risk the dreaded white Burgundy "pox"! Personally, I will drink my case with pleasure now, and over the next year or so...... if it lasts that long! Decent village/single vineyard Burgundy (either white or red) at this price is as rare as hen's teeth these days - and this is an absolute steal! 13.0% abv. £11.95.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Terre des Chardons - a very exciting discovery

I first read about the wines of Terre des Chardons in an article by Richard James, one of the more unheralded Languedoc-Roussillon specialist writers and bloggers. It was only a week or so before I was due to go on holiday, but Richard's impressions of the wines (especially as he doesn't dish out praise lightly) had me all excited and determined to try and organise a visit. A quick Google, followed by a couple of emails to owner and winemaker Jerome Chardon did the trick and so, on the way to our holiday base in deepest Languedoc, we made the detour to Bellegarde, in the most south-easterly corner of the Costières de Nimes region. As is often the case, it took a bit of finding, being a couple of kilometres down a series of narrow, winding roads, with a mix of dirt and tarmac. As the crow flies, it is only a few hundred metres from the autoroute. In practice, it is one of those sort of places that feels like miles from anywhere, so isolated and tranquil is it. And I am so glad we made the visit, for it turned out to be a very rewarding journey of discovery.

Jerome Chardon
The Chardon family moved from Touraine (in the Loire Valley) to Bellegarde in the early 1980's, where they bought some land and began farming fruits such as apricots and cherries and vegetables, converting to organic farming a few years later. When their son Jerome graduated from his studies in agronomy in 1993, he moved to the estate to assist his parents. At the same time, he planted vineyards with Syrah and Grenache, and also bought an established vineyard planted with Clairette (the local white variety). Because much of Jerome's time was still devoted to the fruit and vegetable side of things, he employed the services of a certain lady by the name of Julie Balagny to manage the winery, which she did for the next 4 years. I have it on good authority - from more than one source - that Julie is now making big waves (and great wines) in Fleurie. I mention this because, by complete coincidence, I had had it in mind to arrange a visit with Julie earlier in the day, on our way down through southern Burgundy, but my (probably misplaced) perception of her fearsome reputation, and the fact that she probably wouldn't have any wine left to sell, dissuaded me. I must remedy that some time, because her wines sound wonderful! Suffice to say that Julie's passion for biodynamic viticulture rubbed off on Jerome Chardon, for the estate has for many years now been certified as both organic and biodynamic. 

Jerome Chardon is a gentle, unassuming man, with a clear passion not just for organic and biodynamic viticulture, but for the whole ethos of sustainable farming and respect for tradition. This even extends to the winery, which Jerome built himself next to the farmhouse, from natural materials. The walls are made from the same stone that was used by the Romans to build the nearby Pont du Gard. Each one is 2.1m wide, 0.9m high and 0.6m thick and weighs a whopping 2.5 tons! The roof structure consists of untreated oak beams and rafters, traditional baked earth tiles and 8cm thick cork insulation. The result is an extremely functional and cool yet really rather beautiful chai. The tasting table is actually a huge (and very ancient) grape press, which was rescued from a Burgundy grower who was about to send it to the tip.

The cellar - note the "bricks", weighing 2.5 tons each!
The idyllic setting of the Chardon farmhouse, with the winery on the right

The 9 hectares of vineyards (2 ha of Clairette, 4.3 ha of Syrah and 2.1 ha of Grenache) surround the property, along with fruit and olive trees. The soil consists of the same sort of siliceous rocks that are the hallmark of the Costières de Nimes region, and of course Chateauneuf du Pape, a few kilometres up-river, whilst the vines are trained on wire trellises, in order to facilitate good air circulation. No chemicals (apart from the occasional treatment with a very weak "Bordeaux mix") are used in the vineyards, the only regular treatments being completely natural herbal and biodynamic sprays and soil treatments, plus shallow tilling to keep weeds to a manageable level (with a flock of sheep doing their bit for the cause through the winter!). Similarly, no chemicals are used in the winery, save of course for a little SO2 at the fermentation and bottling stages. The grapes are de-stemmed and some parcels fermented traditionally, whilst others go through a sort of semi-carbonic maceration, depending on the style required from each parcel. Fermentation is entirely reliant on the naturally-occurring indigenous yeasts. Picking, racking and bottling are all carried out in accordance with the phases of the moon. Rather importantly (in fact crucially, in my opinion) the wines are all aged in vat - the only oak barrels in sight are old and purely ornamental. Which - biodynamic practices aside - is one of the main reasons why the wines all taste so alive and "un-mucked-about-with" - as you will gather from my rather enthusiastic tasting notes!

These vines are in extremely rude health!
Olive groves are also a feature of the estate, not to mention some majestic cedars and cypresses

Jerome makes 3 different dry red cuvées, a rosé, two dry whites (a "regular" Clairette and a "reserve") and also a late-harvested sweet Clairette. We didn't taste the reserve Clairette or the sweet wine (we have more than enough of those to be going on with). Apart from the Clairette, all are from the 2012 vintage (the Clairette may be slow to shift, but the reds obviously fly out of the door). All of these wines came in last week, so are available for you to buy. So what do they taste like.........? 

Clairette de Bellegarde 2010 
100% Clairette, harvested at just 35 hl/ha (between 6 and 8 bunches per vine). Pale straw colour. The nose is smoky, herby and spicy at the same time, with notes of over-ripe apples, apricot and lime marmalade. The palate is quite rich, even gently oily in texture, nicely fruity in a lemon and lime sort of way, with a rich seam of herbs and spices and even a touch of grape tannin, which leads to a long, tangy finish. It is considerably complex and concentrated, and whilst the acidity isn't high, it is a match for many an expensive southern Rhône white and really does come into its own with food. 13.5% abv. 

Rosée d'Été 2012
70% Grenache, 30% Syrah. A delightful pale copper/pink colour, offering aromas of ripe red fruits, peach, apple and orange blossom and an intriguing touch of florality and smokiness. The palate is soft, almost creamy, medium-rich, with loads of summer fruit flavours, shot through with garrigue herbs and a gentle spiciness, cracking acidity and a long finish. This is serious rosé, not cheap, but definitely on a par with many of the more expensive Provence rosés (Bandol included). Lovely stuff! 12.5% abv. 

Bien Luné 2012 Costières de Nimes 
50% Syrah, 50% Grenache. This is so fresh, so intensely aromatic - it simply reeks of violets and lilies, damsons and cassis. Indeed, if you didn't know better, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were in the northern Rhône! The palate is one of real contradictions - wonderfully fresh, elegant and airy, but at the same time intense, concentrated and considerably complex. A core of ripe, tangy red berry fruits, black cherry, a lick of blackcurrant and a gentle herbaceous streak, married to ripe tannins and mouth-watering acidity, make for something really rather special. When I first tasted this wine, I was amazed to find that it contained any Grenache at all, for it smells and tastes for all the world like a pure Syrah from Crozes-Hermitage or even Hermitage - it really is that good. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that it spends no time in oak whatsoever - indeed, none of the wines from this estate do - which allows the fruit to express itself to the full. And the best thing about it is that it is so good to drink now, despite its obvious age-worthiness. Wonderful wine. 12.5% abv. 

Marginal 2012 Costières de Nimes
80% Syrah, 20% Grenache. Initially a touch closed, with dark, smoky, mineral, citrus peel and tobacco notes. It opens-out nicely after a few minutes, revealing complex aromas of cassis, raspberry, cherry, black olive and lilies. As with its "Bien Luné" sibling above, it manages to be both delicate and light on its feet, yet possessed of a core of rich, concentrated black fruits and soft citrus, with subtle flavours of tapenade, garrigue herbs and warm curry spices (perhaps courtesy of the Grenache element, which shows a little more in this cuvée). Once again, the velvety tannins and ample acidity combine with all of that wonderful fruit (and no oak, remember) to give real definition and focus, all the way through to a very long finish. Another superb wine, from one of the star estates of the future. Voted the best Languedoc red at the 2013 "Signature Bio" competition. 12.5% abv. 

Chardon Marie 2012 Costières de Nimes
100% Syrah. This is the estate's top red wine, named in honour of winemaker Jerome Chardon's grandmother, Marie (Chardon-Marie is also the French name for milk thistle, hence the label design and the play on words). It comes from the best parcel of Syrah vines - and it shows. The nose simply reeks of all manner of red and dark fruits, especially raspberry, blackcurrant and red cherry, with complex floral and savoury undertones such as violets, black olive tapenade and just a hint of meat/leather. There's no oak, remember, but a wine as good as this doesn't need oak. It is so clean, so fresh, so full of life and youthful vigour, with a palate crammed full of concentrated fruit and herb flavours. There's an intriguing touch of saline minerality, countered by a cool, almost minty quality, whilst velvet tannins and a rasp of gloriously prickly acidity make for a supremely balanced and deceptively elegant wine. The finish is delightfully sweet and sour - and very long. This is very much in the Northern Rhone style of winemaking (with a nod to the elegance of the Côtes de Nuits) and, whilst unbelievably good to drink already, has the capacity to age and evolve into something even more beautiful, over the next 5 to 10 years. A very special wine, which (for me) sets a new benchmark for the appellation. 13.5% abv.

So there you have it - a brilliant grower, and brilliant wines. Indeed, the reds are a real eye-opener, and redefine for me what is possible in this little corner of south-east Languedoc. In fact, not only do they set a new benchmark for the Costières de Nimes appellation, they are simply some of the best Languedoc Syrah-based wines I have ever tasted. Trust me - they are that good!

Update - June 2020
The latest vintages from Terre des Chardons are available to buy via our new website, by clicking the following link;

Friday, 12 July 2013

Two wines from the Loire Valley

One of the perks of being in the wine business is that I often get to drink free wine (usually from various growers on my list, and occasionally those looking for me to import them). But I recently received an offer of a couple of bottles, courtesy of a certain French wine promotional organisation, purely it seems for the sole purpose of blogging about them. Of course, I have in the past had numerous offers of some or other product to review, despite the fact that they were in no way related to wine - and I have (for obvious reasons) refused. But wine is different! Not that I would want to fall into the trap of receiving such samples on a regular basis, simply because I don't want to feel obliged to write about them. And if I did write about them, I certainly wouldn't shy away from writing something negative, if called for. Thankfully though, this pair from the Loire, which I decided to accept (purely in the name of research, you understand!) were not bad at all...................

Fief Guérin Vieilles Vignes 2011 Muscadet Cotes de Grandlieu Sur Lie
Pale straw-gold, with an attractive nose of stone fruits, cut lime, wet stone and a slight hint of the sea. Being a "sur lie", I was expecting a touch of leesy richness to the palate, but it is in fact steely dry and really quite lean, with flavours of unripe apples, lemon pith and just a slight hint of peachiness. Needless to say, it doesn't lack for acidity, and a streak of stony slightly salty minerality adds to the feeling of austerity. That said, Muscadet (at least in my limited experience) was never about opulent fruit flavours, and as an aperitif, it certainly makes the mouth water and gets the taste buds flowing. We drank it with a selection of cured hams, mousse de foie gras de canard, cheeses and salad, and it really did work quite well, although I think my perfect match for it would be moules a la mariniere. At £7.49 from Waitrose, it provides fairly good value, although its combination of dry, pithy fruit and searing acidity may come as quite a shock to all but the most seasoned Muscadet campaigners.

Famille Bougrier Rosé d'Anjou 2011
A blend of Gamay, Cabernet Franc and Grolleau. Quite the loveliest salmon/cherry pink colour. There's an initial touch of reduction on the nose, but this blows off quickly. From there, it is all about fruit - red and black berries, peach, apricot and even a slice of tart apple for extra freshness. Even though I am a confirmed Languedoc-Roussillon addict, I have always tended to favour rosés from the Loire. The relative lack of ripeness in the cooler north lends itself to fresher, fruitier, less alcoholic wines, and at just 11% abv, this one is light enough to allow all of those fresh fruit flavours to shine. There is even a smidgen of residual sugar, which helps it to slip down very easily, though not at the expense of some refreshing, almost orangey acidity. All-in-all, this is a pretty decent rosé for the money (£4.69 from Morrisons). It paired well with some barbecued steak and chipolata sausages we brought back from France, and made a refreshing alternative to the usual full-bodied reds. And as TLD is a Morrisons employee (and shareholder) I am happy to recommend it - especially as I/we didn't have to pay for it! ;-) It is also available from the Wine Society, though at the rather surprising price (given some of their insanely low mark-ups on certain other wines I could mention) of £6.95. Then again, the Morrisons price has all the hallmarks of a typical supermarket loss-leader.

Lots more on my Languedoc trip coming up very shortly.........

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A visit to Domaine Turner Pageot

Although I promised recently that I would be posting lots of entries on the blog, whilst on holiday in sunny Languedoc, that was before I realised just how much material I would gather in the process. At a conservative estimate, I would say we have already tasted around a hundred wines, from around a dozen different growers, with more to come tomorrow! So as you can imagine, it didn’t take long for me to begin to feel rather daunted by the prospect of transcribing my notes, not only on so many wines, but also so many growers with such interesting stories to tell. Not to mention sifting through countless photos (hopefully some of which may turn out to be half-decent). And, of course, this is our annual holiday, so whilst TLD and I cannot fail to enjoy the time we spend meeting, tasting wines (and often eating) with so many lovely people, we also need time for rest and recuperation. And the rather glorious weather we have enjoyed (save for a couple of iffy days last week) makes the patio and the pool all the more tempting. Nevertheless, I am determined to get at least something published before we leave (what I write now saves me time further down the line, especially if some of the wines are going to end up on the LSFineWines list) so here’s a good one for starters…………….

The landscape along the road heading north from Pézenas to Roujan and Gabian, then on towards Bédarieux, is almost completely dominated by vineyards. It is a landscape we know well, having been coming to this region of Languedoc on and off for the last 20 years or so. Indeed, Les Vignerons de La Carignano, the quaintly-named grower co-operative in Gabian, which lies 10 kilometres or so north of Pézenas, was one of the first wine-related visits I ever made, back in the days when I was a mere wine “amateur” (or even novice!). At the time, La Carignano was blazing a bit of a trail for Languedoc wines, garnering much praise from the likes of Oz Clarke. And they were indeed very good wines. So much so that when we first created Leon Stolarski Fine Wines, theirs were some of the first wines we added to the list.

Fast-forward to 2013 and La Carignano has long since ceased to exist - as have many other co-operatives in the region - having struggled to adapt to the changing market, dwindling demand (from both home and foreign markets) and competition from the ever-increasing number of independent growers. And frankly, the quality did take a dip in the few years before they finally closed in 2007. The upside was that some quality vineyards came up for sale, for whilst a few of the members decided to set up as independents (and no doubt a few chose to take government subsidies to rip up their vines and turn to other crops) many of the older members simply sold their vineyards and retired.

And so it was that younger vignerons like Karen Turner and her husband Emmanuel Pageot were able to seize the opportunity to move in and inject some new life and vigour into a village that shows all the signs of becoming (as Emmanuel puts it) a “dying village”. Of course, they may not change the ultimate fate of Gabian itself, but if the quality of their wines are anything to go by, they will at least succeed in fully realising the potential of those established vineyards and some great (and very varied) terroir.

I first met Emmanuel at The Outsiders tasting in London last November and really loved the wines that he and Karen were making. So it was great to meet up again with Emmanuel, this time in his cellar in Gabian. Unfortunately, I have still to meet Karen, as she was out working her day job, which just happens to be head winemaker at one of Languedoc’s most iconic estates, Prieuré de Saint Jean de Bébian. As Manu said, it helps to pay the bills!

Before tasting the wines, Manu took us on a tour of the Turner Pageot vineyards, small parcels of which are dotted around the hillsides surrounding the village. They have several different parcels of Grenache and Syrah, plus Mourvedre, Sauvignon Blanc, Roussanne, plus a small amount of Marsanne. Altitudes range between 200 and 300 metres above sea level, and the aspects and soil types are many and varied, including schiste (shale), argilo-calcaire (clay-limestone), Myocene-era clay-limestone, volcanic basalt/limestone and bauxite.

Sauvignon Blanc, lying to the south of the village

I think this is Marsanne or Roussanne - so many photos and not enough notes!

Manu, checking for signs of mildew and uneven flowering (considering the long Winter and cool Spring, things are beginning to catch up - and the vines are in remarkably rude health)

After seeing the vineyards, we repaired to the cellar, for a tasting of the current releases from bottle. The cellar and house are situated in the middle of the village - it is quite small, but well-equipped, and they are in the process of buying the house next door, which will effectively give them twice the living space and a much larger cellar. 

The cellar is cramped, but well-equipped
Unlike many growers (especially in the south) Karen and Manu like to encourage warm fermentations for their grapes (anything up to 30C) and, aside from the very occasional stuck fermentation, prefer not to add yeast, relying on the naturally-occurring yeasts to do their job. And apart from occasional spraying of sulphur and copper in the vineyards, they use no sulphites until the point of bottling, and even then, no more than 4 to 6 grams per litre. The aim is to have less than 20g/l of free sulphites in the finished wine. The reds are unfiltered. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention (though you may have already guessed!) that they are fully certified as both organic and biodynamic. And so to taste the wines (August 2013 edit - prices and website links now added, as these are now in stock)………

80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne. The former is fermented traditionally, whilst the latter sits on the skins for 3 months, resulting in what is known as an “orange wine”, which adds not only some extra colour to the wine, but also a real depth of aroma and flavour. Notes of apples, raisins and brioche. Really quite zingy, with excellent acidity to match the rich, ripe tree fruit, orange zest, basil and rosemary flavours. There is also real minerality, with an almost savoury, even saline tang. Restrained power, but with a refreshing streak, and a long, spicy/herby finish. 14.0% abv. £13.50

100% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% of which is also given the “orange” treatment. The nose is rich and apricotty, with notes of lime oil, orange marmalade, basil, flowers and a whiff of beautifully judged oak. It leads you to expect a rather muscular wine, but quite the opposite – it is a considerably complex wine, chock full of delicate white fruit and floral flavours, apple, pink grapefruit and soft citrus, with a really fine, minerally structure and wonderfully prickly acidity. And absolutely no cat pee or elderflower! In a blind tasting, not many would guess it as Sauvignon, but who cares when the wine is this good. A really brilliant, quirky and utterly delicious wine. 14.0% abv. £17.50

OK, hands up those who have had more than a handful of Clairets in their time (if any)? Clairet is a term the Bordelais use for a light red wine, or a very dark rosé. The method is basically saignée (the free-run juice) but taken only after an extended 48 hour maceration (hence the name 48H). The colour is more of a bright ruby red than rosé, and the nose is distinctly fruity, with notes of raspberry and redcurrant, subtle hints of peach and apricot and a delightful smokiness. There is a welcome hint of rusticity to the palate – and even a touch of grape skin tannin - but it is essentially soft and gloriously fruity, rich and mouth-filling. Think of a young Pinot Noir or Gamay and add a touch of soft, ripe southern fruit and you’re just about there. A really delicious, even quite serious wine. 14.0% abv. £11.95

At this point, Manu poured us a sample of his 2012 Marsanne orange wine, currently ageing in new oak barrels (Vosges oak, with a medium toast) where it will stay for up to 2 years. It smells rather like a traditional white Gran Reserva Rioja (i.e. absolutely wonderful) and the colour is quite a deep orange. The nose offers intense aromas of apricot, orange, lime oil and oak vanillin. The palate is rich and very intense, with the combination of wood and grape tannins making it quite dry and difficult to taste at the moment, but I suspect it will turn into something rather spectacular when it is ready.

60% Grenache from schiste, 20% Grenache from other terroirs and 20% Syrah from volcanic basalt. Manu described this as going through a post-fermentation infusion, by which I think he meant an extended maceration on the skins. And it is indeed deeply coloured, almost black/purple, with a tiny rim. The nose is pungent with ripe bramble and plum aromas, with notes of bitter chocolate, curry spices and polished old wood. The palate shows plenty of extract, with rich, ripe, tea-like tannins and orange/lemon acidity. It is robust, but so ripe, and full of fresh red and black fruit flavours, a pot-pourri of herbs and spices and not a little minerality, followed by a long, spicy, grippy finish. Lovely now, and should age nicely for a good few years. 14.0% abv. £13.50

70% Syrah, 30% Mourvedre, aged for 1 year in wood, after an extended 3 month maceration. Smoky, tarry and to begin with a touch reductive. Dense and smoky, with rich bramble and plum flavours, opening out with notes of spices and herbs and bright, orangey acidity. I took the bottles home with me and this really opened out nicely with a few hours of air, with the nose revealing aromas of old wood, meat, curry spices and orange peel. The palate is certainly rich, ripe and extracted, but surprisingly elegant. Redcurrant, cherry and bramble fruit flavours combine beautifully with spices, herbs and salty, stony minerality, in a deliciously tangy, sweet-sour whole. A serious (and seriously good) wine, built to age, but surprisingly good to drink now. 14.0% abv. £15.95

The current range from Turner Pageot - coming soon to a certain UK wine merchant!
Following our tasting, Manu very generously treated us to a 3-course lunch at the local café (for me, some rather good charcuterie and salad to start, followed by veal escalope with creamy potatoes, finishing up with a really delicious, dense mousse au chocolat). Then it was back to the cave for a tasting of the 2012 reds from the tanks and barrels………….

Firstly, we tasted Grenache from 3 different terroirs;

From bauxite terroir, ageing in tank – Rich, ripe and heady. Tannic, but crammed full of fruit and truffle aromas and flavours. Relatively low acidity.

From schiste terroir, ageing in barrel – Wow, what a difference! Again, quite tannic and primary, but with loads of fruit and quite wonderful acidity and minerality, making for a very refreshing wine.

From Limestone terroir, ageing in barrel – A heady perfume of black fruits and violets, iodine, licorice and a hint of fresh apple. Soft, rich, ripe, sweet fruit, with ripe tannins and good orangey acidity.

Then a couple of Syrah;

From volcanic terroir – Heady black fruit, herb and spice aromas, a touch reduced, with some tarry notes. Almost painfully intense and tannic at the moment, with the acidity hidden.

From limestone terroir – Fresher nose, very perfumed and floral, with black cherries and eau de vie. Sweeter on the palate, but with more acidity too, and soft(er) tannins. Long and powerful, and destined to be blended with Mourvedre, in the Carmina Major.

And finally, Mourvedre – The colour is almost black. Iodine, chocolate, prunes, bramble, beef and leather. Super-ripe, soft, salty/tangy, big tannin and relatively low acidity. Concentrated and grippy.

And that was it! After almost 4 hours of talking, driving, tasting, eating and more tasting, we bade farewell to Manu and made the short journey back to the sanctity of our little hideaway and a relaxing afternoon by the pool (the sun was well and truly out by then). All-in-all, a fabulous visit, and I look forward to importing the full range of wines from Turner-Pageot, as soon as we get home.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Feels like coming home - holiday time!

Well, not really home, but we are ensconced once again in our comfortable little hideaway in Laurens, deep in the heart of Languedoc wine country. Not that we own the place, of course, but we love it so much here that we are happy to pay for the privilege of returning (for the 3rd time) to what really does feel like a home from home. Apart, that is, from the weather, the scenery, the wine, the food, the language and the general pace of life!

Our journey from Nottingham was fairly uneventful. We left at the stroke of midnight on Friday morning, and actually managed to make the 4am ferry, despite a bit of a scare on the M20, when the car suffered a sudden loss of power. Thankfully, it was just the same "faulty anti-pollution system" that caused it to cut out completely a few weeks ago, whilst driving into Nottingham. But we managed to get to Dover without any problem and the engine light finally went out by the time we got to France. Something to have a look into when we get back to the UK, but I think it may be a case of supermarket fuel clogging-up the system and the fact that it needed a good blast to clear it. And 1,000 miles in 40 hours certainly seems to have done the trick!

Anyway, once in Dunkerque, we headed south towards Reims and onto the Maconnais in southern Burgundy, for a 4pm appointment and a tasting of some brilliant Chardonnay, Gamay and Pinot Noir, made by Emmanuel Guillot at Domaine Guillot-Broux. I'll tell you more about this in a future post. Then it was a half-hour drive to our base for the night in Saint-Gengoux le National, care of my good friend David Bennett and his kindly neighbour, Father Micheal MacAvish, who was there waiting for us with the key - not to mention a very welcome chilled bottle of Crémant de Bourgogne and a selection of nibbles. A decent supper and a good night's sleep was just what the doctor ordered, and by 9am Saturday morning, we were ready for the last part of our journey south. And so we swapped the gentle slopes of southern Burgundy for the rugged landscapes of central Languedoc..........

A sunny Friday evening in the Maconnais
An even more sunny Monday evening in Languedoc (looking north, from the vineyards of Faugeres towards the foothills of the Haut Languedoc)

On the way, we stopped for visits to a couple more wine growers, in the far south-west of the Cotes du Rhone and nearby Costieres de Nimes, with the latter in particular yielding some spectacularly brilliant wines. Again, I will report on these over the next few days, but suffice to say that I was very excited at this new discovery.

We finally arrived in Laurens at around 7pm, having stocked up on food and supplies in Pézenas. The weather since then has been mostly hot and sunny, though today was rather unusual, in that it was mostly cloudy, but every time the sun peeped through the clouds, it started to spit with rain! The forecast for the next couple of days is for rather changeable conditions, so it is the ideal time to go hunting for wine. We have three visits planned for tomorrow, plus perhaps a couple on Thursday, on which I will also report very soon.

Meanwhile, it is off to bed.........

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

A delicious Provençal white and red pair from Villa Minna

Here is another post that has enjoyed/endured a rather long gestation period. I enjoyed these wines more than a few weeks ago, but simply haven't had the time (or do I mean energy?) to write my notes up - which is a shame, because they are lovely, and from one of my "undiscovered gems" in Provence, Villa Minna. I believe that - partly, if not entirely due to my having included a couple of the current vintages I list in a sampler case I sent to Chris Kissack at the Wine Doctor - Villa Minna actually sent some of their later vintages for Chris to review. Which he did so, on his blog, as long ago as February - which just goes to show the extent of my procrastination! Looking back at his notes, he clearly enjoyed the white more than the red, but I loved them both and have a feeling that the red has much more to give, over the next 5 to 10 years. Here are my own notes on those very same wines...........
Minna Vineyard Blanc 2009 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhône
Pale, shiny gold colour. The nose exhibits complex aromas of apricot, quince, orange blossom and clove, with subtle roasted nut/almond and toasty oak nuances. The palate is rich and expansive, yet at the same time complex and subtle, with flavours of preserved white fruits, lemon oil and again a suggestion of roasted nuts. There's a subtle warmth and spiciness too, with hints of fine Calvados and a licoricey quality, but with just the right amount of acidity and minerality. There are plenty of savoury, herby and rich buttery/pastry notes and a lingering, tangy, spicy apple pie quality to the finish. I happened to take another bottle of this to the Nottingham Wine Circle a couple of weeks ago and it went down a storm. I think the consensus was that, although it isn't Trévallon (which costs 3 times as much) it is pretty damn good wine! And as it happens, I took the remains home with me and am sipping the last half-glass as I type (a full 2 weeks later) and it is still really singing. In fact, it is even more integrated and complex, with ample acidity showing through (a good sign for long-term ageing) and all of those fruity, spicy, herby, mineral flavours to the fore. It really is delicious!

Minna Vineyard Rouge 2007 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhône
I wrote my note for this on day 2, which gave it plenty of time to open-out and show its true colours. A lovely nose - bramble, plum and cassis fruit aromas combine beautifully with notes of new leather, creamy oak, sous-bois, patisserie and orange eau de vie. Not to mention a veritable pot-purri of exotic spices and herbs. Clearly, the Wine Doctor should have let this wine breathe for 24 hours! It really is beautifully lifted and perfumed, all of which comes through on the palatewith vibrant red cherry and black fruit flavours, ripe, spicy, grippy tannins and really mouth-watering, citrussy acidity. And despite (or perhaps because of) those grippy tannins, it all makes for a deliciously tangy, sweet and sour (and considerably long) finish. It may be packed with rich, ripe fruit and flavour, but it is no soupy Rhone-alike, because it is actually rather elegant and light on its feet. From a great year, this is just lovely! Revue du Vins de France - 15.5? Wine Doctor 15? Come on! Enjoy now (with food) or in another 5 to 10 years or more. A real cracker.

I currently sell the 2005 and 2006 Minna Vineyard reds, along with the 2007 and 2008 whites. And they are lovely too, so if you haven't tried them, I promise you - you should. And at £17.80 per bottle, they do provide rather excellent value for mony, when compared to many of Provence's other top wines. Hopefully, the 2007 red and 2009 white will be in stock later in the summer.

Right - I'm off on holiday, to the south of France! And my regular readers will know what that means - lots of new posts over the next couple of weeks!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Sticky heaven - a vertical of Stanton & Killeen Muscats and Topaques

This is a report that I have been meaning to publish for a number of weeks now, but I never actually got around to writing my tasting notes until a few days ago. Which in itself is not a problem, since the wines I am going to tell you about can last for weeks, months or probably even years after opening, without any change or deterioration in quality - they really are built to last!
This was a tasting for the Nottingham Wine Circle, organised in conjunction with Richard Kelley MW (in his capacity as buyer for the importers Awin Barratt Siegel Wine Agencies) and presented by myself and Wendy Killeen, CEO for Stanton & Killeen Wines. Although many of us present were already to some extent quite familiar with the Muscats and Topaques (actually Muscadelle and formerly known as Liqueur Tokay) of Rutherglen, Wendy was a mine of information and enthusiasm, answering questions as we went along. She suggested that we taste the wines in 2 flights - the Topaques, followed by the Muscats, moving up the quality ladder in each flight. And it was definitely the right call, for the difference between the levels (and indeed the 2 grapes/styles) was marked, with the level of intensity and lusciousness being ramped up with each successive wine.
The delightful Wendy Killeen, CEO of Stanton & Killeen Wines
Briefly, the Rutherglen classification, introduced around 10 years ago, comprises 4 different levels that mark a progression in age, richness, complexity and intensity of flavour (and I quote from the printed information given to us during the tasting);

The foundation of the style: displaying fresh fruit aromas, rich fruit on the palate, clean grape spirit and great length of flavour.

A maturing style imparting greater levels of richness and complexity; exhibiting the beginnings of 'rancio' characters produced from prolonged maturation in oak.

A mature style with greater intensity and mouth-filling depth of flavour, complexity and viscosity; producing layers of texture and flavour with seamless integration of the flavours of fruit, grape spirit, and mature oak.

The pinnacle of Rutherglen Muscats and Topaques, the richest and most complete wines – displaying deep colour, intense fruit and ‘rancio’ characters, rich viscous texture and extraordinary depth of mellowed complex flavours.

And so to the wines - I've used a basic 3-star system to indicate my favourites..........

Stanton & Killeen Rutherglen Topaque
Medium golden brown. Apricot and burnt peach, orange marmalade, molasses, polished wood and damp earth. Even a touch of salinity/savouriness. Rich, unctious, warming and super-sweet, but with a delightful streak of tangy orange peel acidity. Earthy and surprisingly complex. **

Stanton & Killeen Classic Rutherglen Topaque
A deeper colour, more orange-brown. Musky/earthy nose. Burnt Seville orange, fig, molasses, hints of mocha and chocolate. Rich and gloopy, with yet more residual sugar, more damp earth, but again with lovely tangy acidity. There's an interestingvegetal/savoury note in both this and the one above, which is hard to put my finger on, but it makes the wines all the more attractive. This is almost a meal in itself. **+

Stanton & Killeen Grand Rutherglen Topaque
Deeper still - the colour of treacle toffee! Smells like treacle toffe, too, or a super-rich Christmas cake, again with those lovely earthy, damp, musky aromas and a whiff of fine eau de vie. The flavours are ramped-up another couple of notches - intense, rich, tangy, almost reminiscent of (say) a 6 putt Tokaji, with acidity to match. Immense flavours, with those rich fruitcake flavours augmented by notes of ginger, cinnamon and all manner of exotic spices. Immense length, too. A superb wine. ***

Stanton & Killeen Rare Rutherglen Topaque
How deep can you go? This one looks almost like black treacle! The nose is redolent of fine Armagnac, with aromas of damp earth, peat, burnt toffee apple, dark chocolate, fig and curry spices. Amazingly complex and worthy of lengthy contemplation. Indeed, the angels must have taken more than their fair share of this one, such is the almost painful level of intensity and concentration. And yet pain never felt so pleasurable! The flavours go all the way from A to Z (not to mention all the way to 11!) with all of the sweet, sour, savoury, salty, earthy and tangy elements in complete harmony, and a finish that goes on forever. Heavenly wine. ***+

Stanton & Killeen Rutherglen Muscat
Quite a dark orange/brown colour, with a definite red-ish hue. Roses, violets and turkish delight leap from the glass, with notes of redcurrant jam, orange marmalade and milk chocolate. A really lovely nose - earthy, but at the same time floral and grapey. The palate is rich, with flavours of fresh grapes and figs, with an intense dark muscavado sugar sweetness and just enough tangy acidity to keep it from cloying. One for pouring on the ice cream. *

Stanton & Killeen Classic Rutherglen Muscat
Like the above, only darker and redder. A lovely waft of freshly-baked sourdough bread and rich, dark fruitcake emanates from the glass - doughy, almost donutty, with notes of flowers, spiced dried fruits, molasses, figs, ginger, with hints of mint and balsam.The palate is uber-rich and sweet, but this time has all the acidity required to give it real lift. A bundle of soft, sweet, tangy loveliness. **

Stanton & Killeen Grand Rutherglen Muscat
Deep tawny colour, almost like an aged, dark red wine. Amazingly, it almost smells like a perfectly aged red wine, too, with delicate aromas of redcurrant and spiced bramble, with hints of dried orange peel, incense, damp earth and mocha, all steeped in the finest eau de vie. The flavours are just so intense, so riveting and mouth-filling, with burnt chocolate, candied peel, coffee grounds, parma violets and a gently saline, savoury, meaty and smoky quality. Wave upon wave of spices and herbs, dried exotic fruits (mango, papaya) and black syrup, with an almost tannic grip , all countered by the most wonderfully tangy orange acidity. Another heavenly wine. ***

Stanton & Killeen Rare Rutherglen Muscat
Almost coffee-coloured, and again with a distinct red hue, this one is so viscous, so thick, it almost prevents the aromas from escaping. It isn't muted, but the aromas are hard to describe. The palate, though, is a different matter. The texture is immense, almost like treacle, and completely coats the mouth with flavours of muscavado, laced with orange oil, curry spices, soy and dark chocolate, yet shot through with a streak of tangy acidity, and hardly a sign of anything spiritous or warm. A completely contrary and compelling wine, with massive length. Sheer ambrosia in a glass! ***

On the night, I marginally preferred the Muscats, but tasting through all of the wines again, several weeks later, my allegiance was with the Topaques, which overall seemed to possess just a little more complexity and depth. But it is a close call - and there wasn't a wine in there that I wouldn't choose to drink at the drop of a hat.

Thanks Wendy - and let's hope we can do it all again when you are next in the UK!