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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 Harpers.co.uk (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 zindhumbrecht.fr)

12 Mar 2015

WES Belfast update: wine tastings...

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

23 Feb 2015

Languedoc: Terrasses du Larzac

I've talked about the now officially stand-alone subzone of the Terrasses du Larzac a few times before and reviewed/profiled certain producers here and their hearty, sometimes wild-side wines. I've also gone on about its slight misnomer and implied mountain-vineyards-ness, as some of them do indeed lie on the lower southern edges of Massif Central range, while others are, well, pretty flat really. Inevitably, perhaps, it's the same old problem when trying to create new smaller zones based on initially quite focused criteria; then everybody in the area wants in on it... Anyway, here's a bit of background reading for you then, in handy "click on this link" form:
Terrasses du Larzac and Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert (May 2012) with its neat summary of and opinions on this fledgling appellation, a touch of sightseeing info and tasty wines from these estates: Brunet, la Seranne, Les Conquetes, Familongue/Quinquarlet, La Traversée, Brousses, Alexandrin, Chemins de Carabote, Plan de l'Homme, Chimeres, Cres Ricards, Quernes, Clos du Serre, La Sauvageonne... As well as even more handy links to these producers in the area, and a little beyond its boundaries (this does seem to stretch the imagination a little too far): domaine la croix chaptal - domaine alain chabanon - domaine d'aupilhac - mas conscience - domaine coston - mas de daumas gassac - mas de l'ecriture - domaine virgile joly - domaine de malavieille - domaine saint andrieu - languedoc tasting reports 2009-2008 vintages.

The region must have become even more fashionable, since some of the Languedoc 'big boys' have moved in over the past few years and bought vineyard plots or already high-profile estates. The Gérard Bertrand group is one of them, which acquired Domaine La Sauvageonne three or four years ago (now cunningly repacked as "Château", although I don't remember much of a manor house type building in situ when I went there six years ago) up in the wilds of St-Jean-de-la-Blaquière (with real terraced vineyards) - click HERE, HERE and HERE to find out what I thought of the wines, before and after so to speak.

Jean-Claude Mas obviously got excited about these terraces too, as his expansionist Domaines Paul Mas (links to lots of other stuff about them) family operation snapped up Domaine des Crès Ricards in 2010. Even if "the vineyard is planted at an altitude of 60 metres," (watch out vertigo sufferers) it does lie at the foot of Mount Baudille and is covered in hardy pebbles apparently. This now-extended and varied 42-hectare estate - there's some Cab, Merlot, Chardy, Viognier etc. here in addition to the 'usual Med suspects' - is found near Saint André de Sangonis around the village of Ceyras. They've recently launched a new white called Esprit de Crès Ricards into the range too. More info: www.cresricards.com, London office: www.cotemaslondon.com, US site: www.paulmas.com

Château des Crès Ricards
Alexaume 2012 IGP Mont Baudille (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Carignan; 14.5% abv) - nice ripe liquorice and wild herb nose with spicy cassis, dark berry and roasted red pepper edges; fairly smooth and easy palate with a touch of weight, rounded finish with a hint of richness and grip too. Attractive drink-now red. €8 cellar door, UK £8.50.
Stécia 2013 (“selected” Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, 14.5% abv) – sweet black cherry and liquorice with minty herbal edges, aromatic and powerful nose; lush mouth-feel with earthier tones underneath, enticing sweet/sour cassis/berry fruit vs developing liquorice, a touch of grip yet it's nicely rounded, powerful and fairly concentrated, bitter twist of tannin vs lush and spicy texture. Well balanced in the end, approachable yet has a bit of structure; good with steak pie and roast duck. €12.50 cellar door, UK: Cheers Wine Merchants £9.99.
Oenothera 2012 (“selected old-vine” Syrah and Grenache, 14.5% abv) – had a funny unripe? (doubt it with 14.5) red pepper/herby brambly smell that was still there after two days open – or is it reduced? (also seems unlikely with a barrel aged red). Certainly had an odd 'dirty' character, which was a shame as underneath there was rich black cherry, liquorice, mint and black olive; more concentrated and structured than the Stécia, although that distracting pungent brambly thing lingered... A second bottle was the same: is it reductive for an oak-aged wine and still there after being open for a few days? Or a not very nice unripe note? Would like to try another bottling or the next vintage... €17 cellar door, £13.20.


Sticking with the theme, another fairly hefty bottle came my way recently bearing a similarly hefty and familiar name: the Orliac family, who are well-known pioneers in the Pic Saint-Loup appellation lying a little to the (south)east of the Terrasses du Larzac. Marie Orliac and, paraphrasing her note, her brothers are making a wine in the stunningly set Buèges valley on their elevated (600+ metres, so now we're talking terrasses) property called Clos du Prieur. The family actually bought the vineyards back in 1999 but had to spend considerable time and effort restoring and replanting the hotchpotch of old-vine blocks and a wee cellar in the village. More @ www.closduprieur.fr including some scenic photos - I downloaded the one of Marie above.

Clos du Prieur 2012 Vignobles Orliac (Syrah 75%, Grenache 25%, Cinsault 5%; 13% abv) – attractive soft and elegant with ripe black fruits and pepper, tasty now actually with its sweet currant palate vs a touch of grip; well balanced and quite straightforward, a nice Languedoc red although not sure I'd pay €16 for it (cellar door). These UK importers list wines from Domaine de l'Hortus, the Orliac's PSL winery, but it doesn't look like anyone ships this one yet: Caves de Pyrène, Bancroft Wines, Berry Bros & Rudd; ditto Wines Direct in Ireland. $38.50 Réserve & Sélection Quebec.

By the way, if you happen to be in the area, or Montpeyroux just down the road to be precise, on Sunday 19 April, the village’s twenty-one wineries will be open to all for tasting, chat and sales presumably for their annual "Journée de Toutes Caves Ouvertes." More: montpeyroux-en-languedoc.com or www.montpeyroux-tco.fr

10 Feb 2015

Rhone "reds of the moment": Rasteau & Lirac

The large-flavoured 2010 is the latest vintage release of Cave de Rasteau's 'premium' red called 'Les Hauts du Village', which, even if you only do a soupçon of French, is indeed "what it says on the label," a selected 'GSM' blend sourced from old vines on certain high-ground sites around Rasteau. It also differs from their other reds being about one third each of these varieties, with a higher proportion of Mourvèdre as opposed to the usual majority Grenache set-up. You'll find more words about this exciting co-op winery (90 this year by the way) and their other wines HERE, HERE and HERE.
Rasteau Les Hauts du Village 2010 - Mourvèdre 35%, Grenache 35%, Syrah 30% (just the Syrah aged in cask for a year), 14.5% abv. Earthy punchy nose layered with blackberry, black cherry and black olive too, peppery with savoury edges; fairly serious tannins vs lush dark fruit and spicy punchy finish, dry bitter twist balanced by lovely fruit and nice maturing 'tobacco' notes. Wow. After two days open (my old favourite test for big reds): more savoury and black olive on the nose and palate with lingering sweet vs spicy liquorice fruit, the tannins were a little rounder too. Predictably it's one of their dearer wines: €14.40 cellar door, £15.95 Hercules Wine Warehouse (UK), €20.49 O'Brien's (Ireland), $29.99 The Wine Merchant Cincinnati, $20-22 (plus tax) Total Wine & More.

From vignobles-alain-jaume.com
Alain Jaume & Fils doesn't do the southern Rhone Valley lightly, since the family owns vineyards in Vacqueyras, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Lirac with their winery base in Orange. It's the latter appellation I'm focusing on here, which sits waving at its grander neighbour over the other side of the Rhone and is decked out with the same old big stones and all that jazz. Clos de Sixte is an organically farmed vineyard located in this area and home to the rock n' roll 'GSM' blend I've reviewed below. Click on the web address under the photo for more info.
Lirac 2012 Domaine du Clos de Sixte (15% abv) - Grenache 50%, Syrah 35%, Mourvèdre 15%, and 30% of the wine is aged in cask for 14 months. Delicious bold red with bags of rich peppery black fruits and liquorice, a powerful mouthful yet concentrated and surprisingly balanced actually, fairly soft tannins and complex lingering sweet vs savoury flavours on its big finish. It's actually dearer than some CndPs, although stacks up well flavour-wise against serious examples from there: €13.20 cellar door, £17.50 Ellis Wharton, Wimbledon Wine (UK); €21.50 Mitchell & Sons (Dublin); $22-$28 B-21 Florida, MacArthur Beverages DC, Wine House CA, Total Wine & More and other stores around the US.

9 Feb 2015

France: "whites of the moment" (Chablis, Gewurz, Champers and sweeties)...

Shrivelled grapes from www.jurancon-cauhape.com
Chablis 2014 L’Eglantière Jean Durup (Chardonnay, 12.5% abv): surprisingly soft and not too acidic for a Chablis that was probably only bottled recently; it was a bit awkward and closed up to start with, although has attractive citrus fruit on top of its 'mineral' structure, subtle concentration too then tight and crisp on the finish. Needs a few months in bottle to express itself but should be good. €11.75 cellar door, Thorman Hunt & Co. London, $15.99 K&L Wines California. Also available in Germany and the Netherlands.
Chablis 2012 Louis Moreau (Chardy, 12.5% abv) - pretty classic and classy style Chabbers, not very forthcoming at first (was a bit too chilled out) but slowly revealing subtle ripe citrus and peachy fruit, lightly creamy touches and fairly crisp finish. UK: Marks & Spencer £14 (was on promotion for £10.50). Easy to find the Moreau name just about anywhere in the world.
Champagne Louvel Fontaine Brut NV (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier; 12% abv) - sounds like a madey-uppy name and the print was totally tiny, but probably made by one of Champagne's reliable co-op wineries. Attractive Pinot-dominant style with a little more structure and bite than most own-labels, yet nicely balanced by subtle yeasty biscuit flavours. UK: good buy from Asda for £10 on offer, but I wouldn't pay the supposed £24.50 full-price though.
Alsace Gewurztraminer 2013 Cave de Turckheim (13% abv) - another spot-on style typical of well-made Gewurztraminer from Alsace: full of perfumed lychee and rose water aromas/flavours, rounded and quite rich with off-dry finish and a bit of oomph too. Try with Thai food or blue cheese. UK: £8 Sainsbury's "Taste the Difference". Turckheim's wines are widely exported.
Sauternes 2010 L'Ilot de Château Haut-Bergeron (Semillon, Sauvignon blanc; 13.5% abv) - lovely sweet classic, drinking well now although still has a bit of fresh structure to age for a few more years. Lush honey and spice with dried apricot cut by lively orange peel acidity and bitter twist, rich and concentrated but not too heavy in the end. Probably about £12 for a half-bottle - I bought it a while ago now, and that's the price of a different label and vintage of Sauternes currently listed by M&S.
Jurançon 2012 Symphonie de Novembre Domaine Cauhapé (Petit Manseng, 14% abv): selected berries hand-harvested in mid November (see photo at top) then barrel fermented. Delicious and complex opulent nose, honey and botrytis-type? aromas, oily and toasted nutty too with floral citrus edges; lush and sweet vs very fresh cut and oomph, oxidative and honeyed flavours with very light coconut tones, sweet textured vs crisp bite, long and tasty finish. Yum. Try with foie gras, venison or duck paté, strong or blue cheeses, apple or peach tart. Cellar door €19.20, £13.99 half-bottle The Wine Library London, £11.99/€16.50 half-bottle James Nicholson Northern Ireland, £24.90 Hedonism Wines London; $18.84 half-bottle Saratoga Wine Exchange NY, $23.99 half-bottle Toast Wines CT. Also available in Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland. Made by one of the region's leading estates.
You might also like to have a look at, you've guessed it, some French "reds of the mo" HERE.

3 Jan 2015

Bordeaux mini-focus: Château La Tulipe de la Garde & Château Guiraud

These two châteaux don't actually have anything in common, as far as I know, apart from being loosely "in Bordeaux" albeit about 70 km from each other; one to the northeast of the city near the Dordogne river and the other a good trek southeast along the Garonne...

Château de la Garde was bought by Ilja Gort in 1994, a rather ramshackle wine estate dating from the 13th century apparently; and it took him 10 years to restore and re-equip the property, which is located on 20 hectares of vineyards in a little place called Saint Romain La Virvée (on the way to Libourne). In 2010, Ilja decided to change its name to Château la Tulipe de la Garde, presumably to give it a Dutch twist. I'm told "the vineyards are divided into 30 blocks, which are vinified separately... and made up of 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc." Well-known consultant winemaker and Pomerol estate-owner Michel Rolland has been working with them since 2009, to refine the wine's style using less oak and bringing out the fruit, paraphrasing Ilja, who's obviously not publicity shy: in 2008, he had his nose insured by Lloyds of London for five million Euros!

Château La Tulipe de la Garde 2011 Bordeaux Supérieur (13.5%) - a touch more Cab Sauv and touch less Merlot than the 2012 below. Light cedar and herby red pepper notes vs darker cherry / damson fruit, quite powerful with a hint of grip and bitter chocolate tannins, black cherry, plum and blackcurrant flavours; nice freshness vs weight with a lush touch and some developing fruit vs dry structured bite on the finish. It was a little softer after being open for 24 hours with subtle ripe vs crunchy fruit finishing with dark chocolate bitter twist. Attractive modest modern claret, if you like, and fairly good value too.

Château La Tulipe de la Garde 2012 (13.5% abv) - 86% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc; aged for 12 months in new French oak. Much softer wine and 'lighter' (although still similar 13.5% weight) with nice plummy fruit and light cedar edges, crunchy fruit too vs soft and sweet mouth-feel vs a hint of dry grip and subtle cedar/coconut texture, rounded and full finish with more immediate fruit and drinking-now style.
UK: Sainsbury's £10. More info: www.tulipe.co.uk


Château Guiraud probably needs less of an introduction, which is one of the oldest and largest wine estates in sublime sweet wine country, found in Sauternes itself, and is ranked as a Premier Grand Cru Classé in the (in)famous 1855 classification. And apparently the only one belonging to this royal elite that's certified organic. Winemaker and estate manager Xavier Planty embarked on a subtle style change from the 2000 vintage, to give "grip and structure but... cleaner, lighter and more elegant..." In any case, here are a few words on three very different vintages, plus one of Petit Guiraud, the "second wine", and 'Le G' which is their new-ish dry white.

2013 Le G de Château Guiraud - produced from certain 15 ha plots with 70% Sauvignon blanc and 30% Semillon (no noble rot), half of it fermented in barrels used to make Sauternes. Lively citrus and gooseberry aromas vs a more exotic, rounder and creamier side; nice intense lively palate with yeast lees notes then richer finish, lovely dry white.
2011 Petit Guiraud - described as "a modern Sauternes... refined sweetness given extra freshness by a high proportion of Sauvignon." Gorgeous exotic nose with dried apricot and spiced honey, lighter and fresher on the palate with attractive concentrated vs crisp finish.
2008 Château Guiraud - beginning to get enticing marmalade aromas tinged with orange peel, lush yet very crisp mouth-feel with a touch of coconut oak, good balance of sweet exotic botrytis fruit vs that fresher side too.
2001 Château Guiraud - almost restrained for its age with subtle butterscotch notes, rich lush and exotic with lovely 'bite' underneath, beautiful balance of concentrated and long finish with spicy and still lively tones. Classic.
1996 Château Guiraud - orangey brown colour with caramel and marmalade on the nose, lush and concentrated with attractive honey flavours; probably already peaked but a lovely wine anyway.

15 Dec 2014

France: ban on naughty wine names?

According to a recent post on punchy French wine business website Vitisphere.com (goes there, in French), more draconian proposals might be on the cards regarding wine labelling in France. A verging-on fascist state health body has suggested, in the name of "public health," that wine names using words like "pleasure" should be banned. While not condoning abusive alcohol consumption, FMW.com was wondering how stupid do politicians think we are? Wine is wine, and it's got booze in it, whatever poetic and/or marketing twist you adorn the bottle with. No doubt health ministers beyond France are watching this 'progress' with great interest too... Ho hum.