Richard Mark James' other wine & travel blog

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13 Aug 2015

Muscadet: Guilbaud Frères

Pascal Guilbaud
Pascal Guilbaud and family are the latest in a long line of grape-growers and winemakers to be at the wheel of this eye-opening estate winery, which just goes to show that there's Muscadet and there's Muscadet. They've obviously managed to lift up this well-known (and often rather boring) dry white wine onto a higher dimension, stylistically, as I noted about their 2012 old vine cuvée, like "a mix of good Burgundy and Riesling." Which inevitably translates as their wines being a little dearer, but not by much for this quality. These three tried and tested below are all made from 100% Melon de Bourgogne aka Muscadet to you and me - I get the impression the latter name is perhaps considered an inferior moniker for the variety, especially by producers like the Guilbaud brothers who obviously take it very seriously... The Vintage House in London stock some of their wines priced about £10; also available in Germany and Belgium.

Le Clos du Pont Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2009 - Sourced from a well-exposed sunny spot from a vineyard planted in "clay on schist" with 30 to 40 year-old vines. 2009 enjoyed a particularly hot summer with "selected, very ripe grapes" coming in to the cellar. The fledgling wine spent "several weeks in vat on lees" before fermentation in large oak casks, then aged for more than two years in barrel afterwards (not new oak though), which is unusual for Muscadet - most of it doesn't get any near wood or isn't aged even, made and kept in stainless steel tanks.
Seemed surprisingly youthful for its age, kind of like 'flat' Cava or Champagne with toasty almond, yeasty and appley aromas and flavours, maturing savoury and nutty notes contrasting with that crisp appley side, complex ageing and rounded finish yet still quite steely underneath. Unusual and well tasty. €10.55 cellar door.

Château de la Pingossière 'Vieilles Vignes' Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie 2012 - From "silica, schist and Gneiss soils" (for all you geologists out there), picking started late in 2012 due to a late winter freeze (causing a fair bit of damage too limiting the final crop) and slow start to summer. This vineyard is found in the Vallet village area on a hilltop, planted with 35 to 45 year-old vines. Yeast-lees stirring was done once a week for the first two months, then ageing on fine lees for 10 months "partly in underground vats and partly in old tuns in the cellar." (It must all be in the geeky detail you might be wondering..?)
Very nice style mix reminiscent of Burgundy vs Riesling, quite concentrated and intense, crisp and 'salty' with 'mineral' celery tones vs more savoury baked apple, long fine fresh finish vs nutty oily texture. Very good. €7 cellar door.

Le Soleil Nantais Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie 2014 - From "different parcels in silica-clay soils around the village of Mouzillon and schist soils around Vallet." Younger vines aged 20 to 35 years. In 2014, vintage conditions were all going fine up until a rather rainy August, but which was followed by a great September (like just about everywhere). Seven months on the lees in those "underground vats" and stainless tanks.
Refreshing and crisp with nice 'chalky' texture vs ripe apple and melon flavours, again has good depth of character and racy acidity to finish. €6.50 cellar door.


By the way, all Loire Valley words and wines will be moved from (links to page where it is at the mo) to this blog sooner or later...

30 Jul 2015

Languedoc: more photos

Marc Coulet pours Mas Brunet red al fresco.

The gang modelling more of those Terrasses du Larzac hats
Off the beaten track leading from Le Pont de Diable just outside Saint-Jean-de-Fos (between Aniane and Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert).
Tarbouriech oyster farm near Marseillan, Etang de Thau.

28 Jul 2015


Prime real estate, pretty middle of nowhere 
somewhere near Aniane, Languedoc.
My 2015 Languedoc special report is now available as a 26-page PDF mini-mag including a few of my photos, emailed to you for only £3 (about $4.65 or €4.20). Buy it using the Paypal button below with a card or your own PP account, although you don't need one to do this. I'll email the PDF to you when I receive confirmation of payment.

More about using Paypal, your privacy and general terms HERE.

Here are the highlights then of what's grabbed my attention, for better or worse, in this year's Languedoc special report:
Four-page feature on Limoux sparkling wines (Blanquette and Crémant: "Always one of my favourite 'activities' in any Languedoc tasting or trip..."), whites and reds including profiles and notes on: Paul Mas, Martinolles, Taudou, Antech, Guinot, Sieur d'Arques and Rives-Blanques among others.
Thoughts on (and critique of) Languedoc AOP reds and whites with dozens of recommended wines, and a Rosé round up with RMJ's pick of 2014 vintage Languedoc pinks from across the entire region (over 30 very nice rosés).
Minervois La Livinière: "What's the story then in Minervois' darling little sub-appellation?" (sensitive producers hold on to your hats...) plus my pick of Minervois whites mostly the very good 2014 vintage: "There's as much, if not more fun to be had trying the surprising white wines from this red-dominant region..."
Cabardès: "I can't say I've ever got too excited about the reds from this lesser-known region lying to the north of Carcassonne, except for the same three or four very reliable estates. But this year... something's happened." A dozen hot red and rosé tips for something different...
A dozen Fitou reds 2011 to 2014 vintages, and a profile on Domaine Grand Guilhem.
Corbières profile: Domaine du Grand Crès plus other "premium" Corbières red and rosé tips.
Clairette de Languedoc: "One of those quirky 'why-not' sub-appellations built on the probably deserves-more-attention Clairette white variety..."
Ten 2014 vintage Picpoul de Pinet "worth a go priced between €5 to €8..." and ideas for "visiting one of the oyster farms cluttering up the Thau lagoon..."
Half-a-dozen Terrasses du Larzac reds sampled al fresco including two favourites Mas Brunet and La Réserve d'O, as well as an overview and comments on this 'cru' sub-appellation and profiles on Château des Crès Ricards and Clos du Prieur.
Pic Saint Loup: a handful of tasty 2013 reds and 2014 rosés with their "trendy prices"...
Faugères: two-page feature on this exciting region including words and reviews on Domaines Prés Lasses, des Trinités, du Causse Noir, du Météore, l'Arbussele and du Fenouillet.
Saint-Chinian: some delicious reds from Château du Prieuré des Mourgues, Château La Dournie and Hecht & Bannier, plus several great rosés recommended.
Languedoc & Roussillon négociant profile: Calmel & Joseph from Languedoc white to Vieux Carignan and a couple of Roussillon reds...


24 Jun 2015

Champagne: Drappier IV 'Quattuor'

As an appetiser to all my Champagne talk fizzing across from to, AND a Champagne de Vignerons special feature ('growers' Champagne, i.e. smaller vineyard owners who make Champers from their own grapes rather than selling them to the big houses) coming out at some point over the summer... Here's a note on a very tasty and unusual (and rather expensive alas) special cuvée made by the perhaps less well-known brand Drappier (outside of France at least).

Drappier's Quattuor IV or 'Blanc de Quatre Blancs' is a blend of four white varieties, 25% of each including three "forgotten" and now replanted grapes Arbane, Petit Meslier and Blanc Vrai in addition to good-old Chardonnay. Their blurb also informs us that "only natural compost" was used in the vineyard, and "minimal added SO2 (the standard wine-making preservative) and unfiltered..." The dégorgement (when sediment is removed after second fermentation and lees ageing for "at least three years" in bottle) took place in January 2014, meaning the wine's had nearly another year and a half maturing gracefully before release.
12% abv: This bubbly shows fair class with its enticingly toasty yeasty nose and honeyed oat biscuit notes, fragrant and fruity too; quite rich baked biscuit and brioche flavours vs fine steely mouth-feel, fresh 'cut' and very dry appley finish (the dosage is only 4.2 g/l residual sugar, about one half to one third of the usual amount for 'Brut' styles); tight crisp and long with delicious complex lingering yeasty tones.
Costs about €60 a bottle in France. The UK agent is Berkmann Wine Cellars in London (where I downloaded the bottle shot from), who told me this Champers is mostly sold in restaurants, such as Les Mirabelles near Salisbury, Burythorpe House Hotel in North Yorks, Lake Road Kitchen in Cumbria, Andaz in London, Midsummer House and Alimentum in Cambridge and The Fat Duck in Berkshire. Approx retail price is £50 e.g. Hedonism wine shop in London. Dublin: €84.95 at The Corkscrew.

21 May 2015

International Chardonnay Day: Rully

Despite one website (in Australia I think) saying it's this Saturday, most seem to agree that International Chardonnay Day is indeed today. Here's my tasty Chardonnay tip for the day then, from towards the southern end of Burgundy, in celebration of the many-faced Chardy grape. Once ultra-hip, now relegated to the shelves below piles of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, if the average UK supermarket is anything to go by. But still more interesting and versatile than either of those two arguably...

2013 Domaine Marguerite Dupasquier Rully AOC blanc (100% Chardonnay, 13% abv) - quite classy wine actually showing a skilful mix of background toasty oak vs tasty buttery oaty characters with yeast-lees and nutty undertones (probably a bit of barrel-stirring on the winemaking front, as is the custom in much of Burgundy) vs a tighter crisper finish balancing the whole out nicely. Try with trout, smoked salmon, cured ham, certain cheeses even. £10.50 at Adsa, although I got half-a-dozen bottles on sale for a few quid less making it a fair bargain.

7 May 2015

Languedoc rosé

Here's another "opinion" blog post on the Languedoc written for Harpers' Wine & Spirit (goes there, published 5th May), this time focusing on rosé. After the words, you'll find over 30 worth-sipping dry rosés I tasted recently on a concentrated trip to the region...
"You wouldn't be surprised to hear that most (over three-quarters) of what the Languedoc produces and sells is red wine – nothing earth-shattering in that statement – but an obvious plus-side to having lots of Mediterranean red varieties planted, is the potential to make increasing amounts of rosé to match a growing thirst for the pink style. Couple this with the right technology and winemaking for producing good (dry) rosé and a different way of thinking at the outset - i.e. preselecting certain vines, plots, picking dates for this style rather than it being a second-choice by-product - and things are looking up. A massive quantity of decent, often varietal, rosé is already being syphoned off into IGP 'category' wines (used to be Vins de Pays - these weren't available for tasting for some reason); and I've already talked about what the catch-all Languedoc AOP has to offer on the red and white front – the same applies to rosé. There are also sometimes high-quality rosés coming from just about all the other Languedoc appellations – rosé now holds a 12% share – some of them better known than others.

Château Borie Neuve Minervois rosé - see below
(apologies for the crap photo).
Corbières, that vast hilly region sitting on the Languedoc's western side snuggling up along the top of the Roussillon, sits in the former camp. And here, good rosé isn't anything new, there just seem to be more and more producers making very nice ones: full-bodied, fruity, dry and crisp and essentially based on Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault with the odd dollop of Mourvèdre or the 'other' Grenache varieties, white and grey. Corbières 2014 rosés from these wineries particularly caught my eye at last week's “Terroirs et Millésimes en Languedoc” showcase held in the region: Château Beauregard-Mirouze, Terre d'Expression, Château Saint-Estève, Château les Palais, Château Ortala and the star Clos Canos (one of the winemakers credited with making the first serious rosés in the region); all of them sitting comfortably in the £5.99 to £7.49 bracket.
Staying out west, lying to the north of Carcassonne, the Cabardès appellation still has something of an identity problem, and the best reds usually come from the same three or four names; but I was nicely surprised by the rosés on offer, all from the fresh and zingy 2014 vintage. Like the reds, these are all variations on a theme of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Syrah, Malbec and Merlot with some Cinsault. These four rosés would hit similar £5-£7.50 price points, except a grander more ambitious part barrel-aged rosé by Vignobles Lorgeril / Château de Pennautier (£8.99): Château Ventenac, Vignerons du Triangle d'Or and Château Jouclary.
Moving east to Minervois, another sweeping red wine heartland with up-and-down quality, where there also appears to be an accelerating trend to making big dry rosés. Quite a few tasty ones to be found here from the just-released 2014 vintage, such as examples from Château du Donjon, Château La Grave (both £6.50-£7), Château Borie Neuve (dearer at £10 although very good and comes in a smart heavy-bottomed bottle: photo above) and Château Sainte Eulalie (£6.29), built on Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah.
Still moving eastwards, the neighbouring sprawling Saint-Chinian region and then more compact Faugères, to the north of Béziers, both home to some of the Languedoc's best red wines, have integrated rosé into their respective appellation make-ups. And many producers in both areas are taking it very seriously, having tried several delicious and altogether more structured examples last week. These tend to be on the slightly dearer side though (approx retail £6.99-£9.99), perhaps because of lower yields or not wanting to have too much of a price disparity between their reds (and now whites), but would suit independent merchants who could hand-sell them. Here are a few names that did it for me. St-Chinian (all 2014): Château Viranel, Château La Dournie, Château Bousquette, Domaine Moulinier, Laurent Miquel / Château Cazal Viel and Château Coujan (one of the few with majority Mourvèdre). Faugères: Domaine des Trinités, Domaine du Météore and Domaine l'Arbusselle among others..."
All rights Richard Mark James for Harpers.

RMJ's pick of Languedoc pinks
€ prices are cellar door - see above in the text for approx UK retail prices.

Corbières rosé all 2014 vintage
Château Beauregard Mirouze Tradition (Syrah, Grenache) - Fairly intense and crisp with floral red fruits and nice bite. €7
Terre d'Expression Fortes Tetes (Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah) - 'Gummy' and zesty, fair depth and length, gets more aromatic on the finish. €4.90
Château Saint-Esteve (Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault) - Yeast lees-y and crisp, again very tight and closed up but has substance for a rosé; a foodie. €5.50
Château les Palais Tradition (Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvèdre) - Very tight and crisp mouth-feel, a bit too fresh perhaps although there's something underneath. Trying be very Provence. €6.50
Château Ortala (Syrah, Grenache) - Juicy with 'boiled sweet' aromas, gummy extract on the palate, fresh but less tart than many of the others with more rose petal and red fruit characters. €7.70
Clos Canos (Grenache noir, Grenache gris, Grenache blanc, Syrah) - Very juicy and tasty, 'gummy' and 'chalky' almost, fresh and zingy yet again has very nice aromatic rose and red fruits. Classy. €7
Château du Roc La Grange (Syrah, Grenache) - Gummy and lively, not bad for the price. €4.70
Château Le Luc - pale Provencesque style, nice and zippy and crisp with it.

Cabardès rosé 2014
Vignobles Alain Maurel Château Ventenac Cuvée Diane (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Syrah, Malbec) - Lively gummy style, crisp and tight mouth-feel with subtle rose petal and redcurrant, zingy finish. €7.50
Vignobles Lorgeril Château de Pennautier 'Terroirs d'Altitude' (Grenache, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault; small portion barrel-aged) - Tight and zesty palate with yeast-lees notes, very crisp; should be quite good. €10.50
Vignerons du Triangle d'Or Notre Dame de la Gardie (Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Cinsault) - More currant-y and fruity with light 'celery' and floral tones plus red fruits too, crisp zingy finish. €4.60
Château Jouclary (Cabernet Franc, Cinsault, Grenache) - Very zesty, 'chalky' zingy texture, elegant and tight mouth-feel; starts to open up a bit on the finish. €5.50

Minervois rosé 2014
Château du Donjon (Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah) - Zingy elegant style, a little closed up and lees-y but should round out nicely. €6
Château La Grave Expression (Syrah, Grenache) - Juicy and elegant, light red fruits and rose petal, 'chalky' zesty finish; stylish. €6.40
Château Borie Neuve Marie (Grenache, Cinsault) - Fragrant rose petal aromas, tight and zingy and tasty, long and elegant vs a touch of weight too. Stylish even if quite expensive: comes in a chunky heavy bottle (photo above). €12.90
Château Sainte-Eulalie (Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah) - Very tight and zingy style with crisp bite, almost like a white but has hints of redcurrant. €5.40

Saint-Chinian rosé 2014
Domaine Marion Pla Petit Bonheur (Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah; organic) - Tight and steely palate vs subtle rose and red fruits, crisp and long style. €6.70
Château Viranel Tradition (Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault) - Bigger fruity style, powerful and rounded vs tight and crisp to finish. Good. €8
Château La Dournie (Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault) - Sweet berry and quite lush creamy raspberry flavours, chalkier crisper finish; nice foodie rosé. €6.10
Château Bousquette Rosalie (Grenache, Syrah; organic) - Zingy zesty and intense, light rose petal tones, steely bite vs ripe fruit notes underneath. Very nice. €6
Château St Martin des Champs Camille (Syrah, Grenache) - Steely and lean palate at first vs light red fruit notes, has fair depth though with good length and bite. Quite dear: €10.
Domaine Moulinier (Syrah, Grenache) - Very lively and juicy with red fruit and rose aromas, super crisp 'mineral' finish. Yum. €5.80 good value.
Laurent Miquel Château Cazal Viel vieilles vignes (old vines: Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault) - Subtle steely gummy and chalky mouth-feel vs aromatic floral fruit, needs a few months to open up. €8.90
Château Coujan Tradition (Mourvèdre, Syrah; organic) - Lively lees-y start then ripe red berry vs very zesty and crisp, quite big too vs tight steely and long finish. Good stuff. €6.20

Faugères rosé
Domaine des Trinités 2013 (mostly Syrah + Carignan; biodynamic) - fairly rich and fruity with underlying dry 'mineral' side, powerful yet with attractive bite. Good, drinking now. €6.50
Domaine du Météore Les Léonides 2014 - crisp and steely with subtle floral red fruits, lively dry finish; also quite stylish. Probably about £9-£10 in the UK.
Domaine l'Arbussele Envol 2014 (GSM, 13% abv) - lively and aromatic with red fruits and roses, tight and zingy palate with delicate yet long finish. Very nice dry rosé: this was his first vintage.
More from these Faugères producers to follow.

Pic Saint-Loup rosé
These three were my favourites from a small line-up of 2014 rosés tasted outdoors - in the shadow of the Peak so to speak - in a hurry: Château Valcyre (mostly Syrah + Grenache - about €7), Mas Bruguière (Syrah 50%, Mourvèdre 40%, Grenache 10% - €8.50) and Pierre Clavel's Mescladis (60% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre; organic - €7-€7.50, UK £9.60).

Other rosés that crossed my path favourably (mostly):
Clos des Nines Pulp 2014 Pays d'Oc (Grenache, Cinsault) - good combo with chorizo type saucisson.
Gérard Bertrand Château La Sauvageonne 2014 Languedoc (Syrah and Grenache mostly; 6 months in barrel) - a tad oaky, but really came into its own with the lobster ravioli in bisque sauce served at Le Jardin des Sens in Montpellier (name dropping, moi). Hopelessly expensive though at €39!
L'Emothion d'Encoste 2013 Languedoc - still restrained at first (although very cold), classic dry rosé style which was an admirable match for a variety of charcuterie.

Read on below for my thoughts on Languedoc appellation whites and reds (or click there). Plenty more to come from elsewhere in the Languedoc too...

1 May 2015

Languedoc white

Following on from my previous post (read it here or scroll down) with some info and comments on the catch-all Languedoc appellation, featuring a dozen red recommendations tasted last week in the region; the spotlight is now turned on to my selection of Languedoc AOP white wines from the blind line-up. A few observations: there are some enticing blends here, and I was particularly taken by wines majoring in the Vermentino variety in the mix. A true Med white grape that could prove to be one of the most exciting in the Languedoc, along with Bourboulenc, Picpoul, Roussanne and Clairette for instance. 2013 was obviously a lovely vintage for whites - many of these were still tasting quite young - and the 2014s are naturally very zingy and fresh: another good white vintage by the looks of it. Generally, I'm pretty impressed by the progress made on the white Languedoc front (more to follow on Picpoul de Pinet and whites from other appellations). € prices are cellar door: the whites tend to be similar to or dearer than the reds though, probably a yield / production cost thing (or fashion marketing...).

A Languedoc white with fresh oysters from the Bassin de Thau?
Calmel & Joseph 2013 (Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache blanc; no oak) - Zesty mineral style, still tight and crisp for a 2013, developing honeyed notes vs 'chalky' texture, quite elegant and nutty on the finish. €7 value.
Prieuré Saint-Jean de Bébian 2013 (Roussanne, Clairette, Picpoul, Grenache blanc; 12 months in barrel on the lees with stirring) - Nice zesty lees character, quite tight and complex with long zingy bite vs shades of richer exotic fruit. Good although dear: €27.
Mas Granier 2013 Les Marnes (Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Viognier; 80% of it spent 10 months in oak) - Bit of oak on the nose and palate, but nice and creamy too vs tight and crisp mouth-feel, not too toasty finishing more elegantly despite fair weight as well. €9.30
Domaine des Lauriers 2013 Cuvée Baptiste (Vermentino, Picpoul; no oak) - Tight and unrevealing at first (too cold probably) with hints of grapefruit, finishing with a 'firmer' texture even; should be very good. €7.54
Clos de l'Amandaie 2013 (Grenache blanc, Roussanne; 10 months on lees) - Similarly closed up and crisp to start, developing banana and nut flavours, very tight and zingy finish; needs a few months still. €10
Clos Sorian 2013 (Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache blanc) - Nice ripe 'Chablis' style, in the sense of showing greener vs creamy characters, tight vs weighty palate, drinking well now. €9.90
Le Plan de l'Homme 2013 Florès (Roussanne, Grenache blanc; organic) - Hints of toast? (the tech sheet implies no oak though), buttery fruit vs fresh and mineral mouth-feel, quite structured actually with fair class and length. €9
Saint-Martin de la Garrigue 2013 Bronzinelle (Grenache blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Picpoul, Terret; no oak) - Lees-y and zesty nose and palate, maybe still needs a few months to open up but it's very intense and characterful. €9.80
Chemin des Reves 2013 La Soie Blanche (Vermentino, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache blanc, Viognier; 1/3 in barrel) - Gummy with light vanilla and coco tones, zesty with banana notes vs a bitter twist, has fair oomph too; almost trying too hard but it works! €15
Domaine du Grand Crès 2013 Le Blanc (Roussanne, Viognier; 9 months on lees) - banana and exotic fruit vs a little bite, oily and rounded with savoury finish; seemed a bit flabby tasted on its own but went well with a mackerel starter at lunchtime! €9.60
Jeanjean/Domaine du Causse d'Arboras 2013 '320' (Vermentino, Roussanne, Marsanne; organic, 14% abv) - Quite intense and lees-y with subtle almost grainy tones (no oak though according to the tech sheet?), tight elegant and classy finish despite a bit of weight and richness, turning more exotic and spicy vs that lighter 'mineral' touch. Expensive but they don't produce much apparently: €28 or approx £17.99 UK retail.
Le Clos du Serres 2013 Le Saut du Poisson (Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Vermentino; one-third in barrel for +12 months) - Ripe banana fruit then crisper and more intense on the palate, yeast lees tones adding to a lively finish. €14
Mas Saint Laurent 2013 Montmèze (Picpoul, Roussanne, Terret; aged on fine lees) - Ripe buttery and oily then crisper tighter finish, very nice style for the money. €7
Domaine de Mortiès 2013 (Roussanne, Vermentino, Viognier; organic, aged on lees) - Enticing mix of oily and exotic vs 'mineral' and zesty mouth-feel, bitter twist but good balance and length. €13
S. Delafont 2014 (Vermentino, Marsanne, Bourboulenc, Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Viognier; biodynamic/organic) - Nice and juicy vs lightly oily texture, tight and zesty finish with a bit of character too. €8
Virgile Joly 2014 Le Joly blanc (Grenache blanc, Roussanne; organic) - Closed up at first, turning to banana and exotic peachy notes vs lees-y and intense, very crisp and long, needs time. Reasonable price too: €7.20.

And a trio of other Languedoc whites tried with food:
L'Emothion d'Encoste 2013 blanc (12.5% abv) - attractive ripe and creamy characters with a little richness and exotic fruit vs lighter finish, drinking nicely now.
Château Hospitalet Grand Vin blanc 2013 La Clape (Vermentino, Roussanne, Viognier; 8 months in barrel with lees stirring) - a little oaky at first but it's rich and lees-y with enticing oat and nut flavours, powerful but not over the top. Good with lobster ravioli in a bisque (as you do). Typical 'grand' Gérard Bertrand price: €25.
Château d'Anglès Grand Vin blanc 2012 La Clape (Bourboulenc, Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne; barrel fermented and stirred on lees for 6 months) - also quite oaky to start but was great with grilled langoustines (aka scampi or Dublin Bay prawns), quite fat and lees-y with creamy oily texture and nice mature savoury finish. €16

Next up: Rosé...

29 Apr 2015

Languedoc red

As a scene-setter to this first of several pieces drawn from a trip to the Languedoc region last week, here's a punchy post written for UK wine & spirit trade website (goes there, published 28/4/15) about the Languedoc AOP, followed by my pick of the red wines on tasting from this appellation.
"Created in 2007 as an extension of, and ultimately to replace the old 'Coteaux du Languedoc' designation, the Languedoc AOC (becoming AOP from vintage 2014) covers wines from one or any of the other Languedoc named appellations following roughly the same production 'rules', although a little less restrictive. It differs from IGP (used to be Vin de Pays) mainly by the way the wines have to be a blend of at least two grape varieties, yet they have the cohesive edge of using the same single geographic moniker rather than a myriad of sometimes unrecognisable, even if pretty sounding, place names. So, eight years down the line, how successful has it been?
Languedoc AOP only accounts for 17% of the region's overall appellation-status output, which doesn't suggest a massive uptake from potentially thousands of producers, despite the obvious advantage of labelling a wine simply as 'Languedoc' helping consumers easily locate where it's from, especially in 'wines from everywhere' markets like ours. On a broader scale, and more positively, 185 million bottles of all AOC Languedoc wines were sold in the year 2013/14, and about one-third of this exported with the UK sitting in third place in value and volume behind China, Germany and Belgium.
Out of over 100 red and white Languedoc AOP wines tasted last week at the CIVL's (Languedoc wine trade federation) annual 'Terroirs et Millésimes' press showcase held in Montpellier, I singled out about 25 – more whites than reds actually – as exciting enough to make a note of. Assuming this was a representative selection (always the problem with these kind of line-up tastings, if some of the top producers don't put samples in), you have to question the rationale or end-result, if, it seems, many estates end up leaving all their best stuff to be classified as one of the various new subzone appellations within the Languedoc, such as Terrasses du Larzac, La Clape, Pic St Loup or Pézenas, which after all is logical enough; and their least exciting wines are released as AOP Languedoc. It could undermine the whole idea if consumers don't get too inspired by these wines either. But AOP Languedoc should be, and already is judging by some of the wines I liked, a good opportunity for the more progressive co-op wineries and large property owners / brokers to get listings for full-on fruity Med red, rosé and whites in the £4.99-£8.99 bracket, such as ones from Cave de L'Ormarine, Les Costières de Pomerols, Jeanjean or Calmel & Joseph that were in the blind line-up.
As for recent vintages, I didn't select many 2012s at all; my overall impression is that it isn't a very charming vintage, or at the very least isn't drinking well at the moment. 2013 is a very different animal, although I probably missed some good wines as they weren't very revealing at this stage but should blossom well (more fruit yet structured too). And 2014 is generally looking promising across reds, whites and rosés. Here are some other wineries worth looking out for, which are labelling wines as Languedoc AOP (with approx UK retail): Domaine le Nouveau Monde (two reds £7.50/£10), Domaine de Sainte Cécile du Parc (£10.99), Mas Belles Eaux (the red I picked wasn't good value though at over £20), Château de l'Engarran (£7.99), Château de Flaugergues (£7.50), Les Trois Puechs £6.99, Domaine Cammaous (£7.99); and whites from Domaine des Lauriers (£7.50), Clos Sorian (£8.69), Virgile Joly (£6.99) and Mas Saint Laurent (£6.99)..."
All rights Richard Mark James for Harpers Wine & Spirit.

Le Folia restaurant @ Château de Flaugergues
A dozen Languedoc AOP reds to look out for with my notes and cellar door prices (added afterwards as these were tasted blind):

Domaine le Nouveau Monde 2011 Estanquier (Syrah, Mourvèdre; 1 year in cask, not fined or filtered) - The first one with any charm in a long line-up: nice minty spice and aromatic fruit, fair depth vs firm tannins still with lingering menthol and black cherry flavours. €10

Domaine le Nouveau Monde 2012 Tradition (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre; no oak) - Lots of aromatic minty spicy black cherry and liquorice, firm texture but has attractive 'chalky' tannins, extracted style but with solid Med fruit. €7.50
Domaine de Sainte Cécile du Parc 2011 Sonatina (Syrah, Cinsault, organic; mostly oak aged) - Quite chunky and firm but rich too, dark fruit vs hints of savoury development, powerful yet balanced in the end despite fair toasted oak. €15
Mas Belles Eaux 2012 Carmin (selected block of Syrah, 18 months in barrel) - Bit of oak on nose and palate and chunky tannins, nice fruit though underneath with lively spicy black cherry/berry, fairly full-on finish. Very expensive though at €35.
Les Costières de Pomerols 2013 Hugues de Beauvignac (Syrah, Mourvèdre; no oak) - Nice soft-ish Syrah dominant styling, chunky vs fruity mouth-feel with a bit of depth too, drinking well now. €10
Château de l'Engarran 2013 Sainte-Cécile (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault; no oak) - Nice minty vs funky black cherry thing on the nose, quite soft and easy with a tad of grip; good for the price (some of their other reds are dear). €9
Château de Flaugergues 2013 Les Comtes (GSM, no oak) - Quite firm, chunky and closed up; good substance though, chunky dark fruit vs tannins rounding out on the finish. Screwcapped so needs a little longer to soften up. €7.90
Les Trois Puechs 2013 Tradition (Syrah, Grenache; no oak) - Lovely spicy minty nose, firm but fruity with 'chalky' tannins; much more charm and character than many of the others. €6.50 good value.
Cave de L'Ormarine 2013 Château Cazalis de Fondouce (Grenache, Syrah; no oak) - Reasonable depth for an inexpensive wine, spicy vs dark vs savoury fruit profile, firm structured but not drying, nice minty finish and length. €5.05 great value.
Cave de L'Ormarine
2013 Château Fertillère (Grenache, Syrah; no oak) - Chunky black cherry/berry with liquorice notes and a meatier side too, grippy mouth-feel but has some roundness, quite big but tasty with it. €6.20
Domaine Cammaous 2013 Audace (Syrah, Grenache; no oak) - Extracted to start but finishes well, concentrated and powerful with lingering savoury notes and spice. €9
And a couple of other Languedoc AOC reds tried over dinner:
Domaine de Roquemale 2014 Les Terrasses (old-vine Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah; no oak) - aromatic black cherry with floral blueberry notes, attractive with quite soft tannins, "sweet 'n' savoury" fruit and fresh finish; nice style.
L'Emothion d'Encoste 2011 (Jeanjean family estate) - enticing herby and crunchy vs ripe fruit combo, quite tight still on the palate and elegant, then nice spicy fruity finish.

21 Mar 2015

Alsace: Grand Cru tasting by Olivier Humbrecht & Christophe Ehrhart

This latest slightly esoteric feature on Alsace is neatly stored HERE on a sizzling new page dedicated to the Alsace region:
"These are my notes and thoughts on a Circle of Wine Writers' tutored tasting (so forgive the sometimes nerdy detail weaved into the words) earnestly called "Beyond terroir - exploring the influences on Alsace wines." The audience was informed and entertained by two great speakers, who guided us through nearly a dozen ("this one goes up to 11" in fact) mostly delicious top wines: Olivier Humbrecht MW from Domaine Zind-Humbrecht and President of the Alsace Grand Cru association, and Christophe Ehrhart from Josmeyer and Vice-President of Alsace Grand Cru..."
My five favourite wines at a glance:
Domaine du Clos Saint Landelin Grand Cru Vorbourg Riesling 2012
Domaine Paul Blanck Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling 2010
Gustave Lorentz Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim Riesling 2008
Josmeyer Grand Cru Brand Pinot Gris 2010
Hugel & Fils Vendange Tardive Gewurztraminer 2007
You can also buy this in-depth feature as a handy PDF supplement including other recent material on Alsace for just £2.50 (about €3.50 or $3.75). READ ON...

Olivier Humbrecht MW, left (from

12 Mar 2015

WES Belfast update: wine tastings...

Details just posted on my other blog: (follow this link), including a new evening event: Organic & 'natural' wines tutored tasting on Thursday April 30th...