Monday, 25 February 2013

It isn't Chardonnay - it is Burgundy

Apologies if all I have done over the last week or so (or even more) is post tasting notes, but that is what I do well (or try to). And although I have some pretty strong views on other wine-related matters (another Simon Baile wine company in administration, cryo-extraction in Baumard's Quarts de Chaume and the related crusades/vendettas by fellow wine bloggers, for instance) I prefer to avoid controversy and concentrate on the positive things - like sharing the sheer joy of drinking good wine, wherever it comes from.

I've heard it said before (and I have also recounted the saying before) that it would matter not which grapes were grown in Burgundy, but more that they were grown in Burgundy. OK, I am paraprhrasing slightly (I can't be bothered to look the source up) but you get the picture. The suggestion being that Burgundy would produce great wines, whatever the grape. I remain firmly of the opinion that this is not true, but I am also firmly of the opinion that there are few, if any, better places on earth to grow Pinot Noir or - in this case - Chardonnay. In my experience, the Jura states a pretty good case for Chardonnay, as on occasion does California (for both Pinot and Chardonnay, but generally at a much higher price). Which is saying something, as even lower-end Burgundy of both persuasions is now generally beyond the pocket of all but the most avid fans. But there are still some relative bargains to be found, especially in some of the "satellite" appellations of the Côte d'Or, or (more appropriately) in the southern end of greater Burgundy, in the Mâconnais and the Côtes Chalonnaise. And here are a couple of excellent examples............

Domaine Guillot-Broux Les Genièvrières 2011 Mâcon-Cruzille
Well, I did say in my previous post that it would be hard to resist broaching the rest of my little stash of wines from this grower, especially as I am going through one of my (ever more regular) phases of preferring white over red. I opened this last night but – as with La Croix 2010 from the same grower - it is currently showing better after 24 hours in the decanter. I am actually writing this at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, which under normal circumstances is definitely too early for me to be drinking wine. But boy did I need a glass, after the day I’ve had, and boy, oh boy, does it do the job! It really is wonderfully lime-scented, again with an array of freshly-cut hay, basil and oregano notes, and with a strong perception of wet stone minerality – for me, such an enticing quality in any wine (whether white or red). And that stony theme continues through onto the palate – a veritable double-whammy of bracing, citrus-tinged acidity and a dry, almost chalky mineral edge, which really does make your tabs laugh and your eyes water. But in a most enjoyable way, for there are plenty of tart Bramley apple and soft citrus fruit flavours, with perhaps the merest hint of something richer, like slightly under-ripe peach or apricot. All of which amounts to a pretty good knife-edge balancing act – with less fruit, the tartness might make the teeth jangle, but any more and it wouldn’t excite the taste buds so much. Flippin’ ‘eck, it is good wine! And long, too. I guess the options are to drink it now (with a good overnight airing or a vigorous shake if consuming the same night) or keep for 2 to 3 years to let it fill out a little. Any more and you would be in the potential “premox” window, although to be fair, I’ve yet to drink a white wine from this grower that has suffered such a fate. I love it. But unfortunately, my glass is now empty - as is the bottle - so what other option do I have, but to open a.................

Domaine Guillot-Broux Les Molières 2011 Mâcon-Cruzille
This one is quite a different proposition, not only because it is singing from the start, but also because it has a distinctly smoky scent. Not oaky-smoky, or even reductive-smoky, but wood fire-smoky. And with the amount of tree and hedge cuttings (not to mention the odd Euro-pallet or two) that I have to burn on a regular basis, I do love a good fire. In fact, had I not been brought up to know the difference between right and wrong, I could have had a promising career as an arsonist! Anyway, back to the wine. It still has all of the bracing acidity and deep minerality of Les Genièvrières, but feels just a tad richer, with the Bramley apple augmented by a helping of something a touch sweeter, like a tarte tatin with dessert apples, a sprinkling of demerera sugar, a dash of cinnamon and cloves and a dollop of crème fraiche (now I really am beginning to feel hungry). In fact, in its own way, it is just as thrilling as Les Genièvrières and continues to hit all of the right notes - plenty of fruit, plenty of acidity and minerality by the bucket-load. Not to mention a good deal of complexity, for this would undoubtedly be a match for many a Côte d'Or Village wine (or better) from some pretty serious growers. One way or another, I must get some of these wines on my list - and very soon. Can Mâcon wines compete with the (ever more expensive) wines of the Côte d'Or? On this showing, I would say yes. Brilliant wine.

Friday, 22 February 2013

A couple more tasty numbers from southern Burgundy

"Try the Beaumont - it is stunning!" So said my friend David Bennett, who has a house in southern Burgundy and was kind enough to bring me back a box of goodies from Domaine Guillot-Broux, on his most recent trip. And so, being an obedient fellow, and knowing that we have a beef stew with garlic and mustard mash for dinner this evening, I decided to broach my bottle as instructed. And I'm glad I did, for it is truly delicious

Domaine Guillot-Broux Beaumont 2011 Mâcon-Cruzille
A riot of crushed redcurrants, raspberries, wild strawberries, white pepper, spice and bits of undergrowth, rubbed around the inside of an old leather shoe. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, if you  didn't know better, you might think it was a rather nice Burgundy frrom somewhere high up and cool. Indeed, it does have a cool, herby, almost minty quality and a really quite pronounced minerality to it, along with a rasp of slightly mouth-puckering, rustic tannin. Not to mention a core of acidity that would doubtless take the breath away from those who may be more used to lush, sweet, extracted wines from much warmer climes. Let's be honest, they would dismiss it as tart, thin, rustic and charmless. But not me - it ticks most, if not all of my boxes, and has enough fruit, tannin and acidity to make me crave for something beefy, stewy, garlicy, mustardy and potatoey. So I'm off to eat....................


Right, where was I? Oh yes, the 2011 Beaumont! So what can I say? Of course it isn't Pinot - it is Gamay - but I challenge anyone with a half-decent palate not to love it for it's tart red fruit, it's bracing acidity and minerality, it's food-friendly tannins and it's sheer youthful vivacity - and it's striking similarity to a half-decent young Burgundy. Like all of the good things in life, it certainly puts a smile on my face. So there you have it - whether you drink it whilst still youthful, or age it for 15+ years, this wine is an absolute joy!

Domaine Guillot-Broux La Croix 2010 Mâcon-Cruzille
This white (Chardonnay) is pretty good too, as it happens. Not particularly elevated or showy, but it does exactly what it says on the tin, which is to provide enjoyable white Burgundy drinking at a very decent price - especially when compared to similar wines from the Côte d'Or. Delightfully apple-scented, with hints of lime/citrus and once again a cool, almost minty quality. Likewise, the palate is cool, fresh, herby, minerally, with gorgeously zingy, citrus and tart apple fruit and enough juicy acidity to revive the most jaded of palates. Apparently, this spends 10 months in oak barrels, but you wouldn't notice it, for it really is as fresh as a daisy - even (as I type) 2 nights after opening. A delightful wine!

At this rate, the other 4 bottles in my box of goodies are not going to last very long!

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A brief history of Domaine de Trévallon - worth 7 minutes of any true wine lover's time

Despite the recent paucity of posts on this blog, followed by a real flurry in the last few days, I make no apology for my second post in as many hours(!)

I had the privilege of meeting Eloi Dürrbach of Domaine de Trévallon in 2007, when I visited the estate whilst on holiday in Provence. Despite the fact that I was a little late for my rendezvous (as usual!) Monsieur Dürrbach was very gracious and charming - he glanced up at me over his half-moon reading glasses, with a gently chastising look that said "You're late", but the twinkle in his eye gave him away. Despite my poor French, and thanks to his willingness to converse in a sort of Franglais, I immediately felt at ease, and it was such a thrill to spend 90 minutes or so in his company, tasting the wines (the finished wines from bottle and the constituent parts of the latest vintage from various large old oak foudres), touring his cellar and looking around a few of his 20 or so different vineyard plots, dotted around the hillsides of the Alpilles. The scenery is breathtaking and the terroir is magnificent - and not so much soil as rock. A truly magical place to grow grapes and make wine..........

I never tire of looking at this photo, taken during my visit in 2007.
One of the smaller plots at Domaine de Trévallon - a truly magical place

My own little homage to Domaine de Trévallon in my dining room - alas, all empty!
So imagine my pleasure and surprise at seeing a link to this short video, posted today on the Trévallon Facebook page. It really is a gem of a profile and is surely worth 7 minutes of anyone's time - especially those who share a love of great wines and great winemakers. Enjoy. And many thanks of course to Domaine de Trévallon for sharing it!

In case you hadn't noticed, we at Leon Stolarski Fine Wines stock a range of vintages from Domaine de Trévallon. They aren't cheap, but when you consider that one of France's greatest wines will cost you no more than some Village Burgundies or middling Bordeaux, it kind of puts things into perspective.

You can follow Domaine de Trévallon on Facebook. And of course you can follow Leon Stolarski Fine Wines on Facebook.

Yet more new wines - Roussillon (Part 2) - benchmark reds from Domaine Sol-Payré

Concluding my write-ups on a large batch of new wines, here are my notes on a quintet of brilliant reds from another grower whose wines I have been importing almost since the beginning in 2004. Domaine Sol-Payré was created by Gustave Payré in 1913 and therefore celebrates its 100th anniversary 2013. The wines are now made by Gustave's grandson, Jean-Claude Sol and his wife Pascale. Previously based in the centre of the old town of Elne, south-east of Perpignan, the family moved a few years ago to a fine new house and purpose-built winery set in the heart of the vineyards, just a couple of kilometres away. Many of the vines here date back to when the domaine was created, and yields range from just 40 hl/ha down to as little as 32 hl/ha. It is worth noting that the first 4 wines are all aged in stainless steel vats, and therefore see no oak-ageing at all. And when the wines are this good, who needs oak? Modernistas and Parker-pleasers, take note - great wine is all about the fruit!

Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. Medium ruby red colour with a light-ish rim. The nose offers enticing aromas of cherries, stewed plums and raspberries. Notes of herby garrigue mingle with leather, toffee apple, forest floor and freshly-baked bread - a proper "winey" nose! The palate is grippy, gently rustic and loaded with fresh, juicy red cherry and raspberry fruit flavours, again with some herby notes and subtle spice. All of that flavour, combined with a healthy dash of lemony, high-toned acidity and just the right level of tannin makes for a wine that is perfectly balanced and deliciously drinkable already. As with previous vintages, this wine shows just how good traditional (and un-oaked) Roussillon reds can be at the "lower" end, with an aromatic and flavour profile not a million miles away from really good Cotes du Rhone - but with extra dimensions of freshness and lift. £9.79

Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The rich bramble, dark cherry and plum aromas typical of this cuvée are all present and correct, with subtle cedar, leather, tobacco and forest floor notes, along with some enticing violet, redcurrant and savoury elements lurking in the background. An abundance of rich, super-ripe, tangy red and black fruit flavours and all of those savoury and floral elements combine with robust tannins and ample acidity, in a wine of considerable concentration, with a long and spicy finish. Already good to drink now (with the right food) it shows even better on the second day, which marks it out as a wine that will age and improve nicely over the next 5 to 8 years, perhaps more. £13.99

The beautiful view over the vineyards of Domaine Sol-Payré, with the foothills of the Pyrenées in the background
70% Grenache, 30% Syrah. An immensely appealing nose of summer pudding - bready, with oodles of raspberry, red cherry and stewed plums, gently spicy, with subtle herby notes. Despite seeing no oak, there are also some enticing polished mahogany and orange peel notes. It is wonderfully expressive in the mouth, with an abundance of sweet and sour summer fruit flavours, grippy but fine tannins and a delicious backbone of acidity. Whilst really lovely to drink now, I can see this gaining much more complexity over the next few years. Indeed, this is borne out by the fact that it fills out even more over 2 or 3 days, taking on a rich, baked fruit quality, with hints of savoury and warm spices. So enjoy it now, for all of that wonderfully fresh fruit, or let it age and evolve and take on secondary flavours. £13.99

Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. A blend of 3 grape varieties, from 3 different soil types, all at 300-plus metres altitude in the north of the region, around the Aigly Valley and the Fenouillèdes - Grenache on schiste, Syrah on gneiss and Carignan on granite. Another wine with an immediately appealing and expressive nose. Blueberries, plums and black cherries steeped in eau de vie spring to mind, with subtle hints of violets and herbs, polished leather and brioche. Rich, ripe and packed full of juicy red and black fruits, this really is a deliciously fresh, vibrant, chunky, mouth-filling wine. It isn't a glugger, it is a serious wine with genuine structure, but it slips down so readily, even before food is introduced into the equation. The sweet-sour fruit flavours are shot through with all manner of herb and spice nuances, with a rich, bread/pastry quality countered by beautifully ripe tannins and orange-tinged acidity. Even after a couple of days, it continues to change and just get better. Wines from this estate almost invariably have the dual attraction of extreme drinkability in youth and excellent age-worthiness, and this is a classic example. For it has all of the vibrancy you could wish for in a wine so young, yet undoubtedly has the stuffing to age and evolve for a good 5 to 10 years or more. £18.50

25% each of Syrah, Carignan, Grenache, Mourvedre, aged for 12 months in oak barrels. Rich bramble and plum aromas, with notes of forest floor/damp earth, cigar box, spices and herbs, with a cloak of roasted, coffee-infused oak. Initially quite showy and rich, but with excellent tannin/acid balance. The oak quickly subsides and integrates on the palate, to reveal a lovely wine, full of southern charm, with rich, concentrated fruit flavours - not overtly sweet, but rich, figgy, chocolatey, yet imbued with a freshness and vitality redolent of red fruits (raspberry, redcurrant, even strawberry). It needs a year or two in bottle to fully integrate, but as the estate's flagship wine, it already shows signs of getting into its stride. Long, warming, fresh, beautifully balanced and considerably complex. £18.95

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Just another week at the Nottingham Wine Circle - another spectacular Domaine Tempier tasting

I've been typing up the notes for this entry, on and off, for the past 2 or 3 weeks, having been preoccupied with lots of other stuff. However, how could I not post a full report on the second major tasting of Domaine Tempier's wines at the Nottingham Wine Circle in the last 30 months? Let's be honest, most wine lovers would kill for just one such tasting! On this occasion, the wines were presented by two of the group's founding members, Roger Halfpenny and David Selby - and once again for the almost criminally low cost of £15 per person. Amazingly, whether by design or by accident, only two of the wines from that previous tasting were included in this one. So I make that 37 different combinations of cuvée and vintage in just 2 sittings And for reasons I will touch on at the end, it is worth reading both this and my previous report together, by way of a compare and contrast. I've said it before and I will say it again - I feel so privileged to be part of what must be the finest (and collectively most generous) wine tasting group in the country.

Roger Halfpenny and David Selby - and 19 bottles of Domaine Tempier!
Here's a quick reminder of the make-up of the various Tempier cuvées;
  • La Migoua is grown on 6 hectares of clay/limestone, at altitudes of between 180 and 270 metres, in the village of Le Beausset-Vieux. 50% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 26 to 28% Cinsault and 2 to 4% Syrah. The vines are, on average, about 40 years old. Yields are between 30 and 35 hl/ha.
  • La Tourtine is grown on 6.5 hectares of clay/limestone, on a south-facing hillside in the village of Le Castellet. 80% Mourvedre, 10% Grenache and 10% Cinsault. Vines average around 40 years old. Yields are between 30 and 35 hl/ha.
  • Cabassaou is a small parcel on the hillside below La Tourtine, with similar soil. 95% Mourvedre, 1% Cinsault and 4% Syrah. The vines average 50 years old. Yields are kept to 25 hl/ha.
  • All of the above are field blends (from within each named vineyard). All of the grapes are de-stemmed, followed by a 2 to 3 week maceration and fermentation. After pressing, the wines are transferred to large oak casks (of between 25 and 75 hectolitres) and aged for around 20 months, before being bottled, un-fined and un-filtered.
  • Cuvée Classique is a blend of grapes from Migoua, Tourtine and Cabassaou and goes through an identical vinification process. The blend may differ very slightly, with each vintage - generally, 70-75% Mourvedre, 14-16% Grenache, 8-9% Cinsault and 2-3% Carignan, with yields of between 35 and 38 hl/ha.
  • The Rosé comprises 50% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 20% Cinsault and 2% Carignan, with the grapes sourced from all of the named vineyards, from vines averaging 20 year-old
Rosé 2003
Pale onion skin - almost orange. Evolved, winey nose. Rich - as to be expected with the vintage - but not cloying. Orange peel flavours, perhaps slightly pruney, but a surprisingly decent structure, with restrained power. *

Rosé 2001
Although 2 years older, this is much closer to pink, with shades of peach skin. Reeks of raspberries, cream and peaches. Amazingly fruity and alive, herby, soft, but beautifully structured. Long, and with years left in it. Lovely wine. **

La Tourtine 2001
From a classic warm vintage. The nose exhibits orange, raspberry, bramble and damp earth, with just a hint of savoury/meat and curry spices. Soft but nicely structured, with a massive core of red and black fruit. Medium acidity and tannin to match, making for a nicely balanced, approachable wine. That said, it has plenty of life left in it. **

Cuvée Classique 2000
Quite earthy, smoky and meaty, with notes of iodine and mineral notes behind the red and black fruit aromas and flavours. Perhaps a touch stalky, but not lean, although it is (as one would expect from a more "normal" vintage) less generous than the preceding wine. Plenty of acidity. A nice wine, which may improve further. *

Cuvée Classique 1998
Another warm vintage. A generous, expressive nose of leather, exotic spices, raspberries and cream, with an intriguing note of diesel and some classy oak. Generous on the palate as well, with rich black fruits and nice cherry acidity. This has aged so much better than most 1998 southern Rhones I can think of (and still has further potential, though it is good to drink now). Nice wine. **

La Tourtine 1994
Polished old wood and spice, with red and black fruits veering towards the secondary. Delightfully balanced, with utterly mouth-watering acidity and velvety, almost-resolved tannins. Huge complexity, combining red and black fruits, soft citrus, garrigue herbs and curry spices. Glorious stuff, to enjoy now or over the next 5 or more years. **+

La Migoua 1993
This is dense and spicy, yet beautifully soft, winey and totally sexy! There's even a hint of florality to it. Spicy and soft, yet with real complexity, combining fruit, savoury, spice and earth. Another gorgeous wine. **+

La Tourtine 1990
Oh dear - all I get (to begin with, at least) is alcohol, almost like a watered-down spirit concoction. There's a touch of cassis (not exactly a classic Bandol trait), but not really a lot else on the nose. The label states 13% abv, but the flavours are quite hot and frankly lacking interest. Is it faulty, past it or (heaven forfend) badly made? Whatever, it is drinkable, but that's about the best I can say.

La Migoua 1990
The aromas and flavours are somewhat different to La Tourtine - softer, with somewhat more in the way of fruit, but still quite alcoholic. Definitely a better wine (or bottle) but it seems quite a way past its peak and definitely needas drinking quickly. I have a theory that Bandol is a better bet in the "cooler" (relatively - there are few "bad" years in Bandol) years, whereas the hot year wines are rich and unctious when young, but don't age well. And these two wines do nothing to dispel that theory.

La Migoua 1989
This is much more like it. Much brighter and complex, with a lovely structure - gentle tannins and soft, juicy acidity, with a core of sweet fruit and spice. Still warming, but in a balanced, spicy, sensual way, with masses of fruit. A really lovely wine - great now and for a good few years yet. **+

La Migoua 1988
Waves of sweet, rich, seductive spiced fruitcake and winey aromas. Rich, warming and spicy in the mouth, but beutifully balanced and showing considerable elegance, not to mention a good deal of further ageing potential. For a 25 year-old wine, this really is only just coming into its own. A cracking wine. **++

Two of my favourites, the remains of which I enjoyed at home, later that evening
La Louffe 1987
This cuvée is mostly Mourvedre from La Migoua vineyard and is no longer made, since all the fruit now goes into the Migoua cuvée. Winey, with nice, light citrus and raspberry aromas and flavours, with soft spicy nuances...... and unfortuntaely perhaps just a tiny hint of TCA. Not enough to completely spoil the wine. Indeed, several people (myself included) opined that they would still drink it. I suspect that a "clean" bottle would have been completely delicious. *

La Cabassaou 2002
Brett (just a touch), emulsion paint and raspberry compote. Still fairly primary, but a nice wine to drink now, with a good balance of fruit, tannin and acidity. Quite a lot of  new oak, quite minty and high-toned. Quite new-world in style. A nice enough wine, but not typical of Bandol. *+ 

La Cabassaou 2001
Unlike La Tourtine, this displays too many of the less attractive traits of hot years like 2001. Quite hot, on both nose and palate, and whilst it shows reasonable acidity and some decent raisin and cassis fruit, I feel the tannin and alcohol will eventually outlive the fruit. That said, it has some complexity and is very good to drink now (if you like wines with hot characteristics) but if I had some, I'd be drinking it fairly soon. *

La Cabassaou 1999
This is lovely. A complex array of fresh and preserved red and black fruit aromas. A touch of rich "portiness" is offset beautifully by the rich, vibrant fruit flavours and citrus-tinged acidity. Herby, gently spicy, with some cool, almost minty nuances. Juicy, but winey, and just lovely. The best wine so far. **++

La Cabassaou 1996
What's not to like about this? In terms of style and evolution, it is very similar to the 1999 - perhaps a touch drier and more tannic, but showing all of the meaty, earthy qualities one looks for in great Bandol, with plenty of iodine and mineral character and bags of succulent fruit. This is a bit of a sleeper and has many years of life left in it. Superb wine. **+++

La Cabassaou 1995
A soft, seductive and amazingly complex nose of spiced forest fruits, raspberry, bramble, old leather and some intriguing hints of emulsion paint, sherbert and iodine. Wonderfully balanced, almost soft and velvety, gently bloody/meatyy, with almost resolved tannins, cracking acidity and loads of fruit. It's a close call between this and the previous couple of wines, but this one just edges it, if only because it is absolutely at its peak. Yum!  ***

La Cabassaou 1991
Funky and vegetal - this is plumbing the depths. Frankly, it is a bit past it. Certainly not undrinkable, although I probably wouldn't drink it by choice!

La Cabassaou 1989
Once again, this appears to show far too many hot year traits. Smells and tastes hot and alcoholic, with the fruit fading. A wine for brandy lovers.

A couple of slightly duff wines at the end couldn't spoil what was an extremely pleasurable and educational tasting. So what did I/we learn? Well, the main conclusions I drew from it were;
  • When made well, Bandol is up there with the world's great wine styles
  • When grown in locations such as this, within sight of (or at least within a few kilomtres of) the sea, Mourvedre is one of the world's great grapes
  • Domaine Tempier is (historically at least) up there with the very best estates in the appellation - possibly even in the top 1
  • As mentioned in my write-up of that previous tasting, it remains to be seen whether or not the change of winemaker can sustain Tempier's position at the very top.
  • Wines from normal or cooler vintages are much better prospects for medium/lng-term evolution and represent the true Bandol style and grace. Wines from hotter vintages are better drunk in the short/medium term, before the alcohol overwhelms the fruit.
For more about Domaine Tempier -

Monday, 18 February 2013

More new stuff - Roussillon (Part 1) - Classy white, chunky reds and an exceptional vintage Maury

Following on from yesterday's post on some new wines from Domaine Gayda and Chateau Rives-Blanques, here are my notes on more new wines, this time from Domaine Mas de Lavail in Roussillon. I discovered this wonderful estate, just outside the village of Maury, in the summer of 2004 and have been importing from them ever since - though not as often as I would like. Winemaker Nicolas Batlle and his father Jean make a brilliant range of wines, from dry-farmed old (in many cases, very old) Grenache (Noir, Gris and Blanc), Syrah and Carignan. For some reason that I can't put my finger on, they have always been relatively difficult to shift, which is a shame, because they represent some of the best wines (in terms of both quality and value for money) that Roussillon has to offer. In fact, were it not for an article by Jancis Robinson MW in March 2005, in which she recommended the Mas de Lavail 2003 Tradition (resulting in a fair number of sales of that wine) I might still be struggling to find any kind of market for them at all.

In many ways, Mas de Lavail epitomises the struggle for a small merchant like me, who chooses to import wines from quality, artisan growers who have little or no track record in the UK. Other than the occasional review by some or other wine writer, tutored tastings, or word-of-mouth from intrepid customers who are willing to chance their arm on something other than the usual suspects, it can be nigh on impossible to get them noticed. Unless of course a bigger or better-known importer suddenly finds out about them - as has happened to me on a number of occasions. One of the perils of trying to innovate, I guess - there's little to be gained by keeping it a secret.

Anyway, here are my notes on the latest vintages of my favourite Mas de Lavail wines. And because I  import them in such tiny quantities (just a handful of cases of each), there is little point in me firing off a few samples in the hope of gaining favourable reviews. So you'll just have to take my word for how good they are!

A blend of Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris. Intensely aromatic and floral, with notes of honeysuckle, pine and orange blossom, with subtle notes of lemon zest/oil and wet stone. A mix of both soft and tart citrus on the palate, with apple pie, mixed spice and hints of white pepper and star anise. Essentially rich, honeyed and nutty, it is very pure and focused, with plenty of acidity and a perception of stoney minerality, which kicks in at the end and lingers for a good while on the finish. That said, this is a robust, quite muscular wine, which would not appeal to those who like their white wines light, airy and delicate. But if you like your white wines rich, powerful and nutty/spicy, then you will love this. It will age nicely, too. £13.99

All I can say is damn and blast - I wish I had bought (a lot) more! Frankly, even though I have never stocked this in large (or even medium) quantities, I have still had trouble selling it, even despite the relative bargain price. Perhaps even because of it - perhaps people think that it would be a cheap imitation of the real thing, despite the fact that this is a top-notch grower, with yields averaging just 25-30 hl/ha across their range. My goodness, this really is such a cracking wine, with a tremendously evocative nose of raspberries, blackberries, plums and cherries and a whiff of mothballed old clothes kept in an old mahogany wardrobe. Background notes of molasses, mixed spices and fine cigar leaf make for a considerably complex nose. Fanciful, perhaps, but there is only one way for you to find out! The palate is rich, but perfectly balanced and fruity - and elegant. Yes, this is the oft-maligned Carignan we are talking about, but I defy any lover of good red wine not to love this. It has an amazing depth of ripe, concentrated cherry and bramble fruit, complemented by a lick of fennel and liquorice. A wine of restrained power - and yet another wonderful Carignan. £9.50

40% Carignan, 40% Syrah, 20% Grenache, all from vines in excess of 50 years of age. A pungent nose of red and bramble fruits, garrigue herbs, spice and leather, with a gently smoky, meaty character and subtle notes of orange peel, polished mahogany and incense. The palate displays ripe, succulent flavours of summer and autumn fruits, combined with velvety soft tannins and bracing acidity. The classic blend of dry-farmed Carignan, Syrah and Grenache grapes harvested at full maturity makes for a full bodied, complex and concentrated wine that is extremely enjoyable to drink now, but with enough stuffing to age and evolve for a few years yet. This is benchmark Roussillon, made without recourse to oak-ageing (this is aged in vats). And who needs oak, when the fruit is this good? Enjoy it now, or age it for another 3 to 5 years - possibly more. Either way, you are onto a winner. £10.25

Made from 100% old vine Grenache, harvested at the peak of maturity. The grapes are given a long maceration, followed by "mutage" (the addition of a small amount of grape brandy) which halts fermentation and retains some of the grape sugars. The colour is densely purple and opaque, with a tiny, vivid pink rim. The nose is all about dark fruits of both the fresh and dried varieties. Bramble and blackcurrants, cherries and prunes steeped in eau de vie mingle with dark chocolate, forest floor and cedar wood. The palate is a riot of intensely sweet, concentrated fruit, combining tangy black cherries, stewed brambles, cassis and prunes, with a hint of Seville orange marmalade. Notes of molasses and dark chocolate add an intense richness, like liquid Christmas cake. And through it all runs an enticing, refreshing streak of acidity. I guess there are some healthy tannins in there somewhere, but the balance and the richness render them almost unnoticeable. This wine is so delicious and so more-ish that it is hard to fault. And although it is so lovely now, it will surely age and evolve beautifully for at least a decade, perhaps a lot longer. Vintage Maury is one of the world's best and most underrated sweet red wine styles - and this is a truly exceptional example. £15.25 

More wines from Roussillon tomorrow.........

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Some new wines - including the best Cabernet Franc I've ever tasted

Once again, I've been so busy with other stuff over the last couple of weeks that blogging has taken a back seat. Nevertheless, I've been tasting and writing-up my notes on more than 20 new wines, from 4 different growers in Languedoc and Roussillon. These will be followed closely by yet more new wines, from Jurancon and Madiran within the next week or two, so I've still got plenty to go at. I also have to prepare for presentations to 5 different wine groups in as many weeks, plus a few other non-wine things going on at the moment, so it really is all go. That said, I now have all of these new wines to tell you about, especially since I have spent so much time over the last few days transcribing hand-written scribbles into cohesive tasting notes. It goes without saying that I love tasting/drinking the wines, but the rest is a right royal pain in the bum! Anyway, here's the first batch, including an utterly brilliant Cabernet Franc. All are now available to purchase online, should you like the sound of them...........

A blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Chenin Blanc, showing a delightfully pale, watery gold colour. The nose is almost reminiscent of Sauvignon, perhaps even hinting at Riesling, with notes of elderflower, apples, grapes and a rasp of chalky minerality, with tiny hints of basil, orange peel and liquorice. The palate is fresh, tight and zingy, combining zesty lemon, tart apple and soft peach flavours, with herby nuances and bracing, mineral-laden acidity. This is a wonderful example of what Chardonnay (with a touch of Chenin Blanc) is capable of in the higher, cooler reaches of south-west Languedoc. Wonderfully fresh, with genuine elegance. £8.95.

A blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Mauzac. Delightful aromas of honeysuckle, orchard fruits, orange blossom and lime oil, with a strong sense of minerality, along with subtle hints of flowers, herbs and freshly-cut hay. Quite rich and intensely fruity on entry, with a touch of earthiness and gentle orangey acidity, countered by strong minerality and a delightful pithiness at the end. Barrel fermentation (as is the rule for all AOC Limoux wines) has imparted a gentle florality and elegance, rather than any overt oakiness. As a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Mauzac, this is the perfect expression of what the still white wines of Limoux are all about - and is absolutely delicious. £11.95.

50% Grenache Blanc, 21% Marsanne, 21% Roussanne, 8% Maccabeu. The majority of the grapes are sourced from different vineyards around St. Martin de Fenouillèdes in Roussillon's Agly Valley. Each variety is fermented and aged in 1 and 2 year-old barrels for 9 months, before being blended and aged for a further 3 months in vat. The colour is a limpid pale gold, with orange glints. The nose offers notes of honeysuckle, quince, pink grapefruit and mandarin, whilst the palate is beautifully rounded, with floral and fruity notes on the entry, followed by a gentle hit of white pepper and spice and a mouthwatering rasp of lemony, green apple acidity. There is even a suggestion of grape and wood tannin, which helps to fill out the wine and give a real sense of seriousness. Subtle background notes of spice and ripe peach add to the complexity and carry on to a lingering, tangy, spicy yet cool finish. It is wonderfully balanced and an absolute pleasure to drink now, or to cellar for 3 to 5 years. A really fabulous wine - and brilliant value for money at £12.50.

From limestone in La Liviniere and sandstone on the Gayda estate. 10% is aged in 1, 2 and 3 year-old barrels, the remainder in stainless steel. A nose of bramble, blackcurrant, raspberry, violets and fresh bread, with hints of tobacco, allspice, citrus-infused pot-pourri and iodine adding more complexity. This is a lot of wine for the money. Spicy, tangy redcurrant and cranberry flavours, with supple tannins and citrussy acidity. There are some very subtle savoury notes, but more in the way of lapsang tea, herbs and tar, with a nice hit of sweet damson giving a touch of richness to an otherwise tangy, sprightly wine, very much in the northern Rhône style. A really lovely wine, to drink now or keep for a year or three. £9.25.

62% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 9% Carignan, 6% Cabernet Franc and 3% Cinsault. The grapes are sourced from a variety of vineyards in Roussillon, Minervois/La Livinière and Gayda's own estate in Malepère. Fermented in stainless steel, then aged for 9 months in a variety of oak barrels. Deep but translucent purple with a narrow rim. This is so fragrant and reeks of rich, dark, bramble and raspberry Syrah fruit, with subtle fruitcake aromas, courtesy of the Grenache and some high-toned red fruit and citrus nuances. Further notes of fresh bread, herbs and spices and polished wood make for a complex and compelling nose. The palate is beautifully balanced and gloriously fruity, shot through with flavours of bramble, damson and spiced oranges, with firm but ripe tannins and cracking acidity, all beautifully extracted in a medium-rich wine, with a spicy, sweet-sour finish. Like its white counterpart, this has generosity and charm in equal measure. Really top-notch winemaking, and once again brilliant value for money at £12.50.

From Gayda's own Cabernet Franc vines surrounding the property, planted in 2004 and now with full organic certification. Goodness me - Cabernet Franc never smelled or tasted so good! This has quite the most intoxicating aromas, including (though by no means limited to) blackcurrant, plum, bramble, raspberry, spiced orange and even a hint of strawberry. And those are just the fruity bits, for it also manages to cram in exotic spices, tobacco, iodine, freshly-baked brioche and beautifully integrated (and really quite subtle) oak. For someone like me, who has struggled to love Cabernet Franc, this really is a bit of a revelation. Apart from the complete absence of any sort of vegetal or green/red capsicum notes, it has plenty of genuine Cab Franc character, with fabulous acidity and plenty of tannic grip. It manages to be at the same time generous and rich, yet beautifully balanced, with sweet black and red fruits and savoury/herby elements combining seamlessly with the tannins and acidity, in a wine which is pretty much impossible to fault. At just 18 months of age (at the time of writing) it is already the most delicious Cabernet Franc I have ever drank. And yet, my instincts tell me that it also has the structure to age and evolve gracefully for a good few years to come. It is worth pointing out that the vines were planted on the Gayda estate as recently as 2004, so it may be many years before they really get into their stride. Heresy, I know, but just as I believe that Cabernet Sauvignon does better things in warmer climes than Bordeaux, so the best Cabernet Franc wines will eventually come from the cooler slopes in warm areas such as Languedoc (in this case, the Côtes de Malepère, near Limoux). Vincent Chansault, you are a winemaking genius! A stunning wine. £14.95.

There's plenty more where these came from. More tomorrow.........