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!