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Friday, 23 December 2011

What we drank in early December



Starting as always with whites and rosés, this fortnight inccluded a Durban white (mainly viognier) from one of our favourite domaines perched high in the Dentelles de Montmirail above Beaumes de Venise, and Didier Cornillon's Châtillon rosé from our favourite produceer in the Drôme - plus several generall delicious bottles brought by friends (and as always, shared with them)


Reds from our cellar included another delicious Brouilly from our favourite Domaine les Roches Bleues near Odenas, some Chilean pinot bought through the Wine Society, a still excellent Jacuss Refoxco from the Friuli area of NE Italy bought there on a visit to our friends John and Mary a few years ago, a good 2003 Mas du Theyron from the nearby village of St Christol and a Guinand Plaisir du Sud from the same village.


Sweet and sparkling wines included some Limoux brut brough by one of our Tuesday conversation class, a sweet Malaga moscati which we bouoght at a modest price on a trip to Granada earlier this year, some of Didier Cornillon's fine Florilège Clairette de Die and a Guinand Cartagène.  The Glenfiddich and the Napoleon cognac were the ends of bottles consumed over some months!

Monday, 28 November 2011

What we were drinking in late November







The same wines crop up in consecutive posts, but here are some of the new whites and rosés - 2 Picpoul de Pinets, one from the local co-op in Pinet and the other from Claude Jourdan's Domaine Félines near Mèze, apparently the largest independent producer ion the appellation now, and one of our long-term favourites from the Wine Society.  Also a Grange Philippe (Ch Grès St Paul) Sauvignon Blanc, and a Gris des sables brought to us by a Canadian guest, Mr Montcalm, who had searched out the domaine Montcalm in the marshy area south of Saint Gilles which he thinks is linked to his family, but now run as a winery by new young makers.


As always a big mixture in the reds of inexpensive bottles brought to drink at shared meals, and special ones which we've either saved ourselves - a Jacob 2002 Savigny for example, or a St Joseph Septentrio from the Cave de Saint Désirat.  The Capucine on the left is another local discovery at our local caviste, who specialises in Languedoc wines.



A nice variety of sparklers this time including 3 bottles of Clairette de Die - a favourite since our link through twinning in the early 1990s, and a delicious sparkling rosé called Clandestine made from pinot noir by the excellent Didier Cornillon in the Drôme.  And we finally finished a nice bottle of Glenfiddich, one of several single malts we enjoy now and then!


What we were drinking - early November 2011



This month we enjoyed the fruits of the supermarket wine fairs - a Chateau de Fesles Coteaux du Layon bought in Leclerc, which reminded us of our visit to the domaine during a Loire trip and stay in Angers around 2000; 2 excellent bottles from the Bourdic co-op near Uzès, a dry muscat and a lovely sweet late-picked viognier 'Les vignes rousses', a splendid Jacob Savigny blanc and a Soltane dry muscat made by the Drôme winemaker Didier Cornillon but in his Tunisian winery.


Reds included a new discovery at our local caviste ô Pecheur Devin, a Côtes du Rousillon called Perle et Pépin; Richard Maby's excellent Lirac which was one of our Wine Society discoveries during our exploration of the area in the early 2000s, and the Secret de Frère Nonenque from the Abbay de Valmagne near Mèze.

Among fortified and sparkling wines and spirits were a Macvin de Jura, an excellent sweet apéritif made from grape juice and alcohol, some lovely PX (the grape variety is Pedro Ximenes, which on its own makes a rich dark sweet wine in the Xeres area of SW Spain, and is also mixed with drier wines to make the cream sherry the English love!), a Blanquette de Limoux, and some Linie akvavit brought to us from Norway by our friend Rydar.

What we were drinking - 2nd half of October


Among whites and rosés, some Bourgogne Aligotés past their technical 'sell-by' dates but still delicious, a Bugey white from our summer trip east, one of our favourite dry muscats from the Domaine de Durban in Beaumes de Venise, and 2 lovely rosés, one from Didier Cronillon in the Drôme and the other a new discovery from Fadèze near Marsillargues on teh Etang de Thau.


In reds, we enjoyed a long-time favourite from Ch St Eulalie in La Livinière (Minervois), local wines from Guinand in St Christol and the Salle de Gour near St Hippolyte du Fort, a regular cheap and good Tarragona which we buy in quantity from Lidl, older and gracefully aging wines from the Domaine Rabasse-Charavin between Cairanne and Rasteau and from the Mas de Bressades near Bellegarde, and a Chilean merlot from Colchagua via the Wine Society.


2 sparklers this time - Serge Martin's Clairette de Die from St Roman, a long-term favourite, and a Prosecco which was a welcome gift from Italy-loving friends, the excellent Rosanna which takes our local Muscat de Lunel to new levels of refinement, a fascinating sweet red La Lune Rousse, also from St Christol (Ch des Hospitaliers) and the final drops from a bottle of Jacob crème de framboise which has given us pleasure in kirs (often with vin rosé) over many months.

EU regulations

It only seems a moment since the EU was trying to restrict yields and improve quality.  Now we ahve this:
http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-news/529546/wine-regions-oppose-catastrophic-eu-expansion-plans?utm_source=Cheetahmail&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Newsletter-281111&dec#comments

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Discovery - Château Capitelles des Salles

For various reasons I've been a bit quiet in the past few weeks, but we have not stopped drinking and enjoying wine, as further posts will soon demonstrate.

For today, I just wanted to share an encounter at our local caviste, the admirable ô pecheur devin which deserves an entry to itself soon.  Often on Sundays Benoît, the proprietor, invites a vigneron to present her or his products under the arches of the Caladons, the old market place in the centre of Lunel.  This Sunday it was the turn of Estelle Salles, oenologue and viticultrice from the village of St Jean de la Blaquière near the A75 north-west of Aniane.  She and her husband Frédéric make 3 reds, the least expensive - Caminaïre - from cinsault and a closely-related old grape variety called oeillade, with a small amount of syrah.  My favourite was the next, a classic AOC Languedoc grenache/syrah mixture called Caractère.  This is a good example of passionate winemakers picking up the family reins (the domaine has been in this family since 1829) and creating excellent wine with small yields and careful techniques. http://capitelle-des-salles.com/

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Guide tourisme et vignerons

This is the guide Mary and I translated - written by our friend Luc Poulain d'Andecy.  Check it out here: http://tourisme-et-vignerons.blogspot.com/

Monday, 19 September 2011

What we've been drinking 19/9/11

This being a birthday month there are some specially good bottles among this lot.  Our September tasting circle included 4 Chambolle Musignys and two village reds from the Côte de Nuits, of which only the 2007 C-M disappointed - not such a good year, perhaps too young.



Among the whites and rosés, a new discovery - the Dom. de Fadèze near Marseillan and the Etang de Thau - stands out for its refereshing rosés.  Another wonderful rosé from the Chemin des Rêves - see also below, and (from Bourgne) alongside 3 aligotés which drank well despite their age, but made excellent kirs too, there was a Ch des Hospitaliers 'Muscats' (4 different varieites of muscat grape).



In reds, apart from the tasting, we had some excellent wines.  Apart from non-French wines from Chile and Italy (the Lascar Carmenere was lovely, and the Montepluciano d'Abruzzo a good cheap standby from Lidl) you'll see Abracadra from the Chemin des Rêves again, a syrah vin de pays from the Salle de Gour domaine at St Hippolyte du Fort (which I am amazed to say is now on sale at our bakers'!!), an Enclave des Papes we found at the cave coopérative in Visan and one of the sensations of the fortnight, a 2000 Vacqueyras from the Domaine des Amouriers.  This was one of our first discoveries in the southern Rhône, and is still winning accolades after reviving after the unexpected death of its Polish owner in the late 90s.


Finally we have a variety of sweet wines, apéritis and alcohols used for kir and other mixtures and cocktails.  Highlights are the crème de cassis from Bourgogne and limoncello from Italy, both used to make kinds of kir with aligoté whites, and the sweet wines made from late-picked grapes - the '15 novembre' from Didier Cornillon in the Drôme, and the muscat vendanges tardives from the local cave coopérativeat Vérargues - simply delicious!



Saturday, 10 September 2011

Favourites - Domaine Lucien Jacob, Echevronne

The vigneron here is Jean-Michel Jacob, son of Lucien who became well-known in the Côte d’Or for developing new strains of pinot noir well suited to the higher vineyards of the Hautes Côtes.  This maker was our first contact with Burgundy in 1995 when Mary visited them to set up Jon's 50th birthday present, a 'vineyard share' through 3D Wines.

Since then we have visited the Cave almost every year, and have got to know Jean-Michel and his wife Christine quite well.  The Hautes Côtes de Beaune red was where we began with them; since then we have enjoyed more exalted wines from their expanding production including Savigny les Beaune, Beaune, Gevrey Chambertin and Chambolle Musigny as well as excellent white chardonnay and aligoté and some of the best crème de cassis and crème de framboise in the Côte d'Or.

We have bought a lot of their wines - premiers crûs from Gevrey, Savigny and Beaune itself in the 15 years and this is gradually being opened and sampled in its maturity.  For more immediate drinking we often choose village wines from Savigny lès Beaune, which often show the difficulty and interest of the pinot noir grape on first tasting; Mary once said "if you were offered this without knowing it was wine you might not guess".

Each December they hold an open weekend, with between 20 and 40 wines on offer including those from Jean-Michel’s sister and brother-in-law's property, Domaine Forey, in Vosne Romanée.  Their basic wine is an excellent red Morey-Saint-Denis but they make others including Vosne Romanée and a superb Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru which we like too much!

Christine is originally English so it's a good place to visit if your French is not so good!  They also have a gîte to let in the village. 

Domaine Lucien Jacob, Echevronne, 21420 Savigny-les-Beaune  Phone 03 80 21 52 15.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A great article

I never read the Daily Mail, but a friend drew my attention to this article on Languedoc wines.  Spot-on from beginning to end.  I'd only add that the other Picpoul de Pinet well worth buying the Domaine Félines available from Waitrose - or for much less from the Domaine near Mèze!!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Guide Hachette des Vins 2012

The new edition of Hachette has arrived, always a good moment.  It has been a standby in our search for new, interesting and delicious wines since the mid-1990s, and lately we have been pleased to find, quite often, that makers whom we have got to know and like by other routes have ended up listed in Hachette.  Among our favourites in the 2012 edition are:
  • in Champagne, Guy Larmandier at Vertus in the Côte des Blancs - his children are now running the business and have a coup de coeur for their Cramant
  • in Bourgogne, Dom. Lucien Jacob (one of our first discoveries, originally through 3D Wines) in Echevronne, Dom. Henri Naudin Ferrand (2 sisters have long succeeded their father in nearby Magny-les-Villers in the Haut Côtes de Nuits, Raymong Dupont-Fahn near Meursault and the Mercurey producer Domaine Pillot at Mellecy in the Côte Chalonnaise.
  • Our favourite among the Beaujolais crûs, Domaine les Roches Bleues for their Brouilly and Côtes de Brouilly
  • Lingot-Martin at Poncin (Ain) for their Cerdon pink sparkler, our most recent discovery last month
  • Didier Cornillon in the Diois for his Gamay d'Antan
  • in the southern Rhône, Durban in Beaumes de Venise (for their red Gigondas as well as the Muscat), Amouriers at Vacqueyras which was another of our very early discoveries, the conic Oratoire de St Martin at Cairanne, Jean-Marc Espinasse's Domaine Rouge Bleu near St Cécile les Vignes for his Mistral red, Trapadis at Rasteau not only for the unusual red vin doux naturel of that village but for Côtes du Rhône red too, and Pesqué near Mont Ventoux
  • near to our home in the east of the Languedoc, Grès Saint Paul here in Lunel, Guitard just east of us in the Gard, La Coste Moynier in Saint Christol (this village is now the main centre of wine production in the Pays de Lunel)
  • two family connections of our friends the Llinares, Tavernel (south of Nîmes), and Bergerie du Capucin who have shone as very new arrivals in the crowded but excellent Pic Saint Loup appellation.
  • Further afield across the Hérault and the Aude 2 coastal domaines: Nouveau Monde south of Béziers (to which we were introduced by our friend Régine) and Mire l'Etang in the La Clape area near Narbonne, Félines Jourdan (who makes excellent Picpoul de Pinet) and Fadèze for their delicious Roussanne, both near the Etang de Thau between Marseillan and Mèze, Benoit Viot's outstanding Chemin des Rêves at St Gély du Fesc south of the Pic St Loup, and at the western extremities, Isabel Coustal's Château Sainte Eulalie at La Livinière in the Minervois and the Le Mariés Château Aiguilloux in the Corbières
That's just a snapshot - doubtless there are more we already know and many, many more that we look forward to discovering among the 10,000 wines listed. 

Thursday, 1 September 2011

What we've been drinking 1/9/11


The selection this fortnight includes a raspberry-pink Cerdon sparkler, demi-sec; viognier and roussanne whites from the Domaine la Fadèze near Marseillan (the roussanne is especially good); a Tavernel white made by our friend Daniel's brother-in-law south of Nîmes, and a delicious Muscats des Hospitaliers made from a blend of 3 varieties of muscat at the Ch des Hospitaliers in St Christol.  Among the reds were 2 bottles of Camille Cayran from the Cave Co-op at Cairanne, a Plaisir d'Eulalie Minervois from Isabel Coustal at La Livinière, and longtime favourite; other Rhône wines including a Rabasse Charavin Cairanne 2004 and a 2010 Beaumes de Venise from the Dom. de Durban.  3 other Languedoc wines from makes we know well - a Coté Sud from Grès St Paul, a red Abracadabra from Benoit Viot's Chemin des Rêves, and a Rabassière from the Collines de Bourdic Co-op near Uzès.   There were 2 2003 burgundies, a Gevrey Chambertin from Dom Lucien Jacob and a Haut Côtes de Nuits from Dom. Naudin Ferrand.  Overseas wines included a good and cheap Tarragona (bought at Lidl) and a Chilean merlot (Dona Pauliina) and a Barbera d'Asti, both bought through the Wine Society.  22 in all, 18 French, 3 other European and one South American.  6 whites, 3 rosé, 13 red.  One of these was corked [it happens :-(]

Saturday, 27 August 2011

How cool is your wine?

 A friend asked me about temperatures for serving wines (she's American and someone said Americans preferred their wines colder than other people!) and she sent me this chart, which seems to make sense:

Wine Serving Temperature Guidelines


Temp F Temp C Notes

100°

39°
Warm Bath

68°

20°
-

66°

19°
Vintage Port

64°

18°
Bordeaux, Shiraz

63°

17°
Red BurgundyCabernet

61°

16°
RiojaPinot Noir

59°

15°
ChiantiZinfandel

57°

14°
Tawny/NV PortMadeira

55°

13°
Ideal storage for all wines

54°

12°
Beaujolais, rose

52°

11°
ViognierSauternes

50°

10°
-

48°

Chardonnay

47°

Riesling

45°

Champagne

43°

Ice Wines

41°

Asti Spumanti

39°

-

37°

-

35°

Fridge Temperature

33°

-

32°

water freezes


-18°
Freezer Temperature

Having replied to her I thought what I wrote might interest others, so here it is:

To bear in mind:
  1. Wines will warm up after opening.  Chilled whites need to be kept cool, and a red which starts at the right temp will usually be a bit warmer at least.  Wines also warm up in the glass.
  2. In the outside temps we have here in the Languedoc in summer, reds usually need to start a bit cooler than ideal so that most of the bottle is consumed at the ideal temperature.  I often put a bottle of red in the fridge for an hour in hot weather for this reason.
  3. The disadvantage of drinking whites and rosés at their 'ideal' temperature is that you lose aromas - often, aromatic whites come out better when they have warmed up a bit.
  4. When tasting at the makers', as we found when we went to the Rhône, the whites are often a bit warmer than ideal and the reds a bit cooler.
  5. There are the same difficulties in restaurants - if they have a reasonable wine list they can't possibly keep all the wines people may choose at ideal serving temperature.  You realise after a while why expensive restaurants are so expensive - it takes a lot of organisation, equipment and staff to make sure it's all ideal.
  6. You will have noticed in your table that there are not many Languedoc or Rhône wines in the list - ideal temperatures for many of the local reds are surprisingly cooler than people may expect.
  7. On the whole therefore, it is not a bad thing to err on the side of coolness - if nothing else, wait  mins and swirl it around and it will warm up nicely.
  8. Most wine tasting situations are for pleasure, not scientific experiments.  I do  own a wine thermometer but rarely use it - more enjoyable things to do!
  9. In the end personal taste is paramount.  If you like something, it is OK for you.
The chart incidentally comes from a website you might want to look at - I have not done more than glanced, but it seems interesting.

    Saturday, 20 August 2011

    Favourites - Domaine Félines-Jourdan (Picpoul de Pinet)


    Picpoul de Pinet is a very local production from the white piquepoul grape in the area round the small village of Pinet north of Mèze.  The wine is seen locally as an ideal accompaniment to the oysters and other seafood from the neighbouring Étang de Thau, but the Jourdan Picpoul is in a different league, richer and more complex, and a favourite white wine of Wine Society buyers and members alike for many years, and now receiving good notices from all over the world.

    When we first went in the mid-1990s there were already also very good VdP wines (a red called Sensations and a barrel aged sweet muscat - still made - which is delicious).  Now Claude Jourdan has built on her success and has AOC red and white wines (the white is mainly Roussanne which we have yet to try, but we're betting it's good!) and a range of vins de pays, many single-cépage, but including two blended wines, a red and a white.  Quite a large range for a fairly small producer, and we are really looking forward to trying them.  Watch this space!  See the website (below) for more information.

    This is a splendid location, flat and open, very near the shores of the Etang.  Finding it used to be one of those peculiarly French adventures involving 2km  of deserted road, although now there are more signs.  But you still need to take care not to end up at the huge déchetterie which collects all the oyster shells from the restaurants and sales along the shore.  From the centre of Mèze you follow Écosite signs and carry on beyond the Ecosite for another km; there are other routes on the map but we discovered that they can lead to divorce or despair!  It is essential to phone ahead to arrange your visit: 04 67 43 69 29.

    Thursday, 18 August 2011

    What we've been drinking - 18/8/11

    Every 2 or 3 weeks we take a trolley of empties to the bottle recycling bin.  It occurred to me to photograph the bottles to provide a snapshot of our drinking.  This time the selection includes one sparkling wine (bright pink and delicious, from Cerdon in the Bugey area of the Ain), 7 whites, 4 rosés and 8 reds.  All French: 11 were AOC and 9 not, 13 came from the Languedoc, 2 each from Bugey and from Bourgogne, and 1 each from the Diois, the Rhône and another part of France.

    Saturday, 13 August 2011

    Chinese whispers

    Thanks to Robin Hicks of the excellent WoW (Hérault What's on Where) website for this.

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 5:50PM
    French wines fall victim to Chinese counterfeiting

    After designer handbags, perfumes and tablet computers, the latest global success story to fall victim to Chinese counterfeiting is French wine. The process is easy, a vender tells FRANCE 24, and most customers don’t seem able to tell the difference.
    By Sophie PILGRIM

    Copycat kings of the world, the Chinese counterfeit industry has added a new item to its production line: vintage French wine. Impossible to tell a genuine bottle from a fake one, many unsuspecting customers will remain none the wiser until their first sip. And even then, only a connoisseur could taste the difference.

    “A bottle of wine is very easy to replicate,” Sheng Wen*, a wine seller from Shanghai, told FRANCE 24. “The counterfeiters search for original bottles in restaurant trash. Once they’ve got hold of one, they reproduce the label and replicate the bottle. They then buy mid-range bottles of wine from the supermarket, pour them into the fake bottles, and sell them.”

    Wine is relatively new to China, in both its genuine and phony forms. Preferring to stick to Baidu, the gutsy spirit that has been washing down their dinners for centuries, the Chinese viewed wine, until recently, as a Westerners’ drink.

    But after growing acclaim, and – strangely enough – a government campaign promoting its health benefits, wine has become a must-have at swanky dinner parties. For the newly wealthy, it is one of the many luxuries that symbolises their admission to the global elite and emergence from the privations of decades of strict communist rule.  “Wine is seen as a rich person’s drink,” says Sheng. “And that means everyone wants to be seen drinking it.”

    A new penchant for Bordeaux made China and Hong Kong the world’s biggest Bordeaux importers in 2010. Some 33.5 billion bottles made their way into the country, and straight into the dragon’s den of counterfeit expertise. Like any valuable product, it didn’t take long for the fakes to start lining the shelves.

    More money than sense?
    One of the major victims of Chinese counterfeiting is the Chateau Lafite Rothschild ’82, a Bordeaux that has gained more popularity in China than in its home country. Described as “the reference” Bordeaux by Zhongguo Wine, a blog on the Chinese wine market run by two French expats, the price for a bottle shot up by 574% between 2001 and 2010 after sales in China went through the roof.
    Today, a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild from 1982 can fetch up to 5,400 euros. That means around 5,000 euros of profit per bottle for a resourceful counterfeiter -- and there are plenty of those in China. Lucas Botebol, one of the Zhongguo bloggers, estimates that some 70% of the Chateau Lafite sold in the country must be fake due to the fact that the sales numbers vastly outstrip the import figures. “There is more Lafite '82 in China than was produced in France,” Romain Vandevoorde, head of wine importer Le Baron, told AFP. “So you really have to be wary if you find any of that in China.”
    For a European wine merchant who deals in sales to Hong Kong, the figures are not surprising. “I don’t think the Chinese have a clue what they’re drinking,” he told FRANCE 24, on condition of anonymity. “They wouldn’t realise if they weren’t drinking a Lafite because they don’t know what it’s supposed to taste like.”

    The Shanghai vender agreed. “A lot of Chinese people honestly wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a top French wine and something from the supermarket,” he said.

    ‘Drinking a label’
    Wine vender Yang Yi, who owns a wine boutique in the prosperous eastern Chinese city of Suzhou, sympathised with deceived customers. “These people have no idea,” he told FRANCE 24. But Yang described his own customers as “connoisseurs” who would recognise a counterfeit wine from the first sip.  The European merchant we spoke to was not convinced. “The Chinese don’t really like wine. They drink it because it’s the in-thing,” he said. “What sells in China is brands, not tastes; they’re drinking a label.”

    Already overwhelmed by phony laptops, designer handbags and cartons of cigarettes, will the counterfeit police now begin the search for fake winemakers?  “It’s not going to be easy for the police,” says Yang. “You can only tell a wine is fake by what’s inside the bottle. How can they be expected to know what certain French wines taste like?”  The only solution for customers, Yang says, is to buy from a reputable dealer who keeps a close watch on his stock. Is he surprised that there is so much fake wine on the market? “Ha!” he laughs. “The Chinese counterfeit everything. Why do computers and not wine?”

    Friday, 12 August 2011

    Bugey

    Playing music in the Ain département, over the past couple of years we have taken the opportunity to discover the wines of Bugey.  Last year we visited the Caveau Bugiste in the pretty village of Vongnes.  White wines are often excellent in this appellation, made either from Chardonnay or from the local Roussette cépage which gives its name to their Roussette de Bugey. 


    This year we arrived at our music course to be greeted by our host with a magnum of pink fizz.  A demi-sec Cerdon, in fact, which we liked very much.  Later in the week he served a lean, elegant chardonnay from the same cave - I'm drinking a glass as I write.  So on leaving we called in at the caveau of Lingot-Martin not far from the village of Cerdon.  The approach to the vineyards from the higher  ground to the north is dramatic - you wind down the main road towards Cerdon seeing vineyards on the steep valley slopes of the Ain river.  Cerdon is a sub-appellation of Bugey for these sparkling rosés - the reds and whites are plain Bugey.  Red and rosé wines use Gamay grapes - the rosé combined with a local cépage called Poulsard, the red with Pinot Noir.


    More about Bugey and its wines at http://www.cc-belley-bas-bugey.com/fr/vins_et_spiritueux.php
    and about the village of Ponçin where Lingot-Martin can be found - a very pretty area - at http://www.poncin.fr/accueil.html

    Thursday, 28 July 2011

    Some new links - local and global

    I've just come across this blog written by a Frenchman, Claude Gilois, whose new book 'Tour du monde epicurien des vins insolites' has just been published.  Living in London for some years he became aware of the availability of good wine worldwide, and returned to France determined to spread the message.  French people in the past have known wbout the wines of their own area, and had little awareness of those from other parts of France, let alone other parts of Europe or the world.  He finds unusual places and makers in France as well as around the rest of Europe and elsewhere in the world.  If you can read French this blog, and the book, are well worth looking at.

    Nearer to home the little village of St Christol is becoming well-known as a local centre of excellence.  Winemakers like La Coste Moynier, Guinand, Hospitaliers and the Mas de Theyron all have a deserved, secure reputation, and the Cave Coopérative also makes good wines.   A few years ago a project was launched to set up a centre for wine tourism (known as the "Pole Oenotouristique") which should be opening in the next year or so.  This video shows what is planned.

    Tuesday, 7 June 2011

    Favourites - Domaine les Roches Bleues

    Côte de Brouilly (and Brouilly - both Beaujolais crûs)
    Domaine Les Roches Bleues, 69460 Odenas Phone 04 74 03 43 11
    Christiane and Dominique Lacondemine run this family domaine on the southern slope of Mont Brouilly where the vines of the Côte de Brouilly appellation grow - the Brouilly vines grow on the plains surrounding the hill.  The welcoming Lacondemines make just the two crû wines, and we met them through 3D wines who run the vineyard sharing scheme Jon joined in the early 1990s.  Now we have moved on but we still visit this domaine regularly and are delighted to buy their wines.  Both (like all red Beaujolais) are made from gamay grapes.  The Brouilly is for fairly early drinking (2-3 years) while the Côte de Brouilly keeps rather longer.  Incidentally there are 8 other Beaujolais crûs: Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles Morgon and Régnié.

    A visit in 2006 (during our holiday in the Côte d’Or):  It was a quiet, sunny drive down the motorway to Belleville, and we drifted on round Mont Brouilly to a warm welcome at Domaine les Roches Bleues, where Christiane Lacondemine (her husband is Dominique) showed us round.  She was glad we'd come because she is uncertain of her English and was expecting new English 3D partners.  We had a jolly tour of the old and newer vineyards, now being planted in wider and higher rows to facilitate cultivation.  Inside, they were preparing for bottling the 2005, with huge heaps of bottles swaying across the yard in Dominique's strong arms, and the bottling lorry waiting in the road outside.  We saw the insides of the barriques coated in sediment and tartar, which has to be scraped out by crawling inside - photos of D doing so were displayed.  The tasting was wonderful, although the 02 and 03 which we tried for comparison showed how far the 04 we bought has to develop.
    We visited again with friends Lilli & Per on a trip north from Lunel in March 2011.  The wines were as good as ever, and the setting again lovely in the sunshine.  Further details of this Burgundy trip in other posts over the weeks to come.

    Monday, 30 May 2011

    Favourites - the Chemin des Rêves, St Gély du Fesc

    Early in our life in France we stumbled upon the Chemin des Rêves and the then new winemaker Benoit Viot.  At that time he and his wife Servane and their children lived in Grabels north-west of Montpellier.  Now he has acquired vines in the little village of Saint Gély du Fesc, a bit further north with a view across the vines to the Pic Saint Loup and the magnificent cliff face of l'Hortus.  Here he has built the caveau and cave, and also their family home in the middle of the vines, all to the highest ecological standards.  When I saw him today he told me that he'd just completed their large sheltered terrace.  A perfect spot at the edge of a fast-expanding village.
    Benoit used to work for Boots (pharmaceutical company and pharmacy chain) in England and Spain, and made his first wine (of which he is not proud!) from one of their kits while he was living in Nottingham.  His fairly short English experience has left him with a useful command of the language, so if you don't speak French, don't be put off visiting him.

    His vineyards straddle the AOC areas of Pic Saint Loup and Grès de Montpellier.  The name 'Chemin des Rêves' comes from the ancient footpath alongside one of hhis fist vineyards in the neighbouring village of Combaillaux. He makes excellent AOC wines including an inexpensive Côteaux du Languedoc called Bois-moi ('drink me' from the bottle of potion Alice used to change size in her adventures in Wonderland). Its lighter style reflects his love of his native Loire valley, and is unusual for a Languedoc red.  Then there is a lovely trio of wines called Abracadbra - the red (one of my favourites today) and rosé are AOC Pic Saint Loup, as is the more sphisticated Gueule de Loup.  But like many top winemakers in the Languedoc his most interesting wines are vins de pays, either because they include grape varieties such as cabernet sauvignon which are not in the Appellation Controlée regulations (Utopie 1, 2 and 3), or because they use a cobination of local varieities but in different proportions (The Saltimbanque is pure carignan).

    We first tasted his wine at our favourite retaurant l'Authentic in Lunel, whose owners share our enthusiasm for these wines.  When I met him yesterday Benoit had just heard that he is invited to England in July among a small group of French winemakers selected by Jancis Robinson as examples of excellence.  He deserves it!

    Rue du Grand Plantier - 34980 Saint Gély du Fesc
    (Postal address not yet on GPS: 218, rue de la Syrah )
    Phone 04 99 62 74 25 • 06 85 73 29 33

    Sunday, 15 May 2011

    Italy - Friuli (2)

    We decided to invite local wine-loving friends here in France to a tasting of the Italian wines we'd brought back in 2008-9.  The wines were all made from single grape varieties from Friuli, almost all little-known outside the area.  We asked everyone to bring something to share for the meal, trying to match each of the 6 wines we had chosen with a dish.  All six wines were excellent, and each went well with its accompanying food. 
    For the apéritif we had the sweet but refreshing and slightly tannic white Verduzzo friuliano (Iacuzzi), then a fresh and lemony Tocai friuliano (Iacuzzi) with a light tuna and vegetable bake from one of  our guests as the first entrée.  The first of the reds, the Tazzelenghe (Iacuzzi) went with charcuterie - the wine is quite astringent at first taste, but as in the tasting we found the aftertaste wonderful and well-matched with the meats.  The main course, a richly-flavoured rabbit casserole (from Elizabeth David's Italian food ) went with the second red, a Schioppetino (Iacuzzi) which had a delicious taste of sour cherries.  The cheese included two or three Italian ones, with which we drank a refined and powerful refosco (Anna Berra).
    Then the sweet, one of the elegant fruit tarts you can buy at almost any bakers', went with the dessert wine, a Ramondolo (Anna Berra) made from the same grape as the apéritif but is richer and more concentrated because the grapes are dried before the juice is extracted.  In fact, we learned in Italy that the Tazzelenghe is also made with grapes left to dry for a month after picking - this is a common Italian practice for some of the great concentrated reds from other areas, but it was a surprise to find it used with a wine from such an obscure grape variety.  The results, however, justify the effort we think: when we tried the rest of a bottle the day after the tasting it tasted even better.
    I have mentioned the producers them in the previous entry with links their websites from which the last two wines came from.  The first 4 were from the Iacuzzi brothers in Torreano, the final two from the Anna Berra vineyard a little further north in the hills of Nimis.  I hope we can return and revisit both these excellent wineries.

    Italy - Friuli (1)

    Over the past few years we have visited the north east of Italy and the excellent but little-known wine area of  Friuli several times.  On our first visit, with our friends who have a house near Udine, we decided to explore the area just north of their village, and in the hamlet of Ramandolo we found the Anna Berra winery perched on a steep winding road with magnificent views across the vineyards and away to the south.
    It was nearly 7 in the evening and we had no appointment, but we were greeted with enthusiasm and courtesy by the wine maker, Ivan Monai, who spent an hour with us in one of the best tastings I have ever experienced - 8 wines, each carefully presented from new bottles in glasses rinsed with each new wine before we tasted it.  And they were great wines too - of the reds, the cabernet franc stood out for me, and there are also dry whites of which we liked both the friulani (grape variety also in the past confusingly known as tokai although it has little to do with the Hugarian grape) and pinot grigio.
    But it was the 2 sweet wines made from late picked and for one wine partly-dried Verduzzo Friulano grapes that were really special.  Ramondolo gives its name to one of these while the second, Anno Domini, the one from dried grapes, is fermented in oak barrels.  We did not even taste the third sweet wine, Piccolit, also made from late picked and dried grapes, but we’ve since tried wines from this variety and from other producers and found them excellent.
    Azienda Agricola Anna Berra, via Ramandolo 29 NIMIS - (UD) Italia tel. 0432 790 296 http://www.annaberra.it/
    On a return visit we accompanied our friends to their nearest wine makers Sandro and Andrea Jacuzzi near Torreano.  Again, we were very interested in local grape varieties although the makers often use internationally-known varieties like merlot, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc and pinot bianco too.  This time we tasted 5 wines - 3 local reds made from schioppetino (grapes dried for a month before vinification) tazzelenghe (which means tingling tongue, in reference to the tannic 'buzz' of the first taste in the mouth) and refosco, and two whites, a dry tocai, and verduzzo (here used to make a semi-sweet and complex wine).  All 5 were excellent in their way - the tastes lingered pleasantly in the mouth without unpleasant aftertastes, and demonstrated the potential of talented makers to rediscover old varieties and wines as well as using modern varieties well.
    Azienda Agricola Iacuzzi, Viale Kennedy 35, 33040 Montina di Torreano (UD)
    Tel. 0432 715147. 
    http://www.jacuss.com/

    A brief mention here of a wine maker Livio Felluga whom we did not visit until a later visit, and whose wines are very good but pricey.  They are reviewed in  the British wine press more frequently than most other Friuli makers, and we confirmed their quality by sampling a bottle we were given.  The website is good too!

    Friday, 13 May 2011

    Sweet wines

    We are very fond of sweet wines.  Often the word 'sweet' tells only part of the story - the best have aroma and freshness as well as more than usual sugar.
    Mostly the sugar is the natural content of the grape juice.  In most wine, all of it is turned into alcohol during fermentation.  But in sweet wines, either fermentation is slowed down and stopped by cooling leaving some sugar, or alcohol is added to kill the yeast before all the sugar is used up, or sugar can be added to a dry wine - generally frowned on  or prohibited, but it is allowed in Champagne.
    In many cases, sweet wines are made by using riper than usual grapes - if they are late-picked they develop more sugar on the vine, and sometimes a special fungus - 'noble rot' - intensifies the sugar content still further.
    There are costs and risks in using late-picked grapes - the weather has more chance to wreck a crop; riper grapes shrivel so you need more to get a given volume of juice; not all grapes on a bunch ripen at the same rate so you may need to hand-pick individual grapes (in French, vendanges passerillés); and if you wait for noble rot you sometimes get the wrong sort of fungus and the whole crop is ruined.  So many sweet wines are relatively expensive.
    Great sweet wines made from late-picked grapes include Sauternes and Barsac from Bordeaux, and many German wines from Riesling and other grape varieties.  Some of our favourites from other parts of France are Coteaux du Layon and Bonnezeaux made of chenin blanc grapes, from the area south of Anjou in the lower Loire (these have astonishing keeping qualities for white wines and we have drunk 20- and 25-year-old examples which were delicious).
    Closer to our new home and in the Rhône valley there are a number of well-known muscat vins doux naturels - the term is misleading since they are all made by stopping fermentation with alcohol, so are fortified like sherry or port.  The best known of these is from Beaumes de Venise in the southern Rhône but Languedoc-Roussillon examples include Rivesaltes, St Jean de Minervois, Frontignan and our own local appellation, Muscat de Lunel.
    Recently (July 2007) we have found wonderful sweet wines in Friuli in north-east Italy - Piccolit and Ramondolo are examples - and have realised that there are many wines in Italy like these which use late-picked grapes for sweetness but also enhance and concentrate them by partly drying the grapes before fermenting them.  Obviously this produces still less wine from a given quantity of grapes!

    Wednesday, 11 May 2011

    Favourites - Cave de St Désirat

    http://www.cave-saint-desirat.com/aoc_saint_joseph_accueil.html-p-1.html

    We first visited the Cave de Saint Désirat in the summer of 2005 - I know when because it was early in our wine explorations in France, but they told us they only moved to the current site in 2004, so it must have been just after that.  It's on the west bank of the Rhône south of the village of Condrieu, and it's the delicious if expensive white wine of the same name which is one of the main attractions.  Condrieu is a small appellation controlée and the first to make famous the difficult but very perfumed white grape viognier which has since become ubiquitous across the south of France and across the world.  But as Chablis is to chardonnay, so Condrieu is to viognier.  There are lots of fruity, flowery examples from elsewhere (Mary described one of the first we bought, from St Estève d'Uchaud in the southern Rhône, as tasting like dolly mixture - it made her laugh), but the original AOC is an altogether more elegant and refined wine.  Not, at the price, one for everyday, but a beautiful apéritif for a special occasion or (as the French always have it) accompaniment to foie gras.

    But the main business of this cave co-opérative is the production of another AOC, Saint Joseph, one of several in the northern Rhône (others include Hermitage, Cornas and Crozes Hermitage) made from 100% syrah.  The impressive array of 2005 and 2006 wines on offer at the moment come from 2 quite exceptional years in the Rhône as in most of France.  All were deep-coloured and deep-flavoured - the less expensive ready to drink soon, but the better-made, with old and new oak adding to their complexity without 'woodiness', capable of being kept for some years.

    Incidentally, the historical proximity of the viognier and syrah cépages on this bit of the west bank of the Rhône has led to a curious mixture in one of the great wines of the area, Côte Rôtie.  This appellation, as small as Condrieu, is at face value another deep red syrah, but unlike its northern Rhône neighbours the wines have a small amount of viognier added to give a wonderful exotic lift to the smell and taste of the wines.  In recent years lookalikes from Australia and South Africa have made this rare combination of grape varieties better known.

    CAVE SAINT DESIRAT
    07340 SAINT DESIRAT
    TEL 04.75.34.22.05 
    FAX 04.75.34.30.10
    MAIL : maisondesvins@cave-saint-desirat.fr
    Coordonnées GPS : N 45°15'53.27" et E4°47'50.15"

    Thursday, 5 May 2011

    Favourites - Didier Cornillon

    Clairette de Die (and other wines from the Diois - and Tunisia!)
    Cave Didier Cornillon, 26410 St Roman-en-Diois.  Phone 04 75 21 81 79.  http://cave.cornillon.online.fr/
    Didier was one of our earliest vigneron acquaintances in France - we met him in 1993 soon after he had broken away from the Cave Co-operative in Die to set up as an independent wine maker, and we have followed the success of his enterprise with interest ever since.  His Clairette de Die Tradition (and the special cuvée Florilège in particular) is an excellent example of the unique sweet sparkling wine of the Diois, made largely or wholly from muscat grapes.  This is a bit confusing - the name of the appellation comes from a grape variety, clairette, which is sometimes mixed with muscat in this wine but is mainly used to make the dry sparkling wine now known as Crémant de Die.  Didier's crémant and some of his other French wines have entries in Hachette almost every year, incidentally.

    We are always pleased to rediscover his wines on our visits to the Diois, including those from Tunisia (with tastes of spices and hotter soils) as well as from the Diois including of course the sparkling Crémant and Clairette de Die.  We've enjoyed the Tunisian red and rosé with various meals during recent stays, and brought back some of the excellent Gamay d'Antan which is one of his appellation controlée (Châtillon en Diois) wines.  Most recently he has started to make red St Joseph from a small parcel of vines he has acquired on the other side of the Rhône, and we were fascinated to compare this wine with the St Joseph we acquired at the Cave Co-opérative at Saint Désirat on the one hand, and with his own 100% syrah called Saint Romanée which he grows right here near Châtillon on the other.  The St Josephs compared well and were both excellent.  Since the early years of the 21st century Didier has branched out into Tunisia, and produces outstanding red, white and rosé wines there, sold through his Cave in the Diois. 

    Wednesday, 4 May 2011

    What's in a name? - grape varieties and confusions

    Lunel, where we live, is one of several places in France which produces a Muscat vin doux naturel.  We love these sweet, fortified wines and so do many of our friends.  A couple of whom, hoping to take some back home with them, decided to rush into the supermarket on their last day to buy a  bottle.  They emerged with Muscadet (de Sèvres et Maine) - not the same thing at all.  So here are a few notes on some of the confusions in the world of wine and grapes - very personal and not scientific or exhaustive:
    • Grapes come in many varieties or cépages each with its characteristic flavour - in some parts of the world it is the grape variety which is highlighted on the label; in France it is usually the appellation - often the place or area of origin - which identifies a wine because French winemakers believe the terroir (a subtle combination of soil, geology and climate) has as much or more influence on the character of a wine.
    • Muscat - a fragrant, floral grape used for many sweet and a few dry white wines, in France, Spain and Italy as well as in some countries of the new world.  Muscadet is a variety used in dry white wines from the lower Loire.
    • Clairette de Die (from the Drôme département in south-east France) is a delicious sweet sparkling wine made mostly or entirely from the muscat grape, and so with the characteristic floral scent and flavour.  Although the Clairette grape is sometimes used in small quantities with muscat in Clairette de Die, its main use is in the dry sparkling white wine called Crémant de Die.
    • The Clairette grape is used in many white wines in the Languedoc in particular, blended with other grape varieties.  But it is also used on its own in two appellations in the region to which it gives its name - Clairette de Bellegarde (Bellegarde is a village south of Nîmes) and Clairette du Languedoc (made in the country area between Montpellier and Pézénas).
    • The word clairette comes from the same root as claret, now used by the English-speaking world (but seldom by French people) for red Bordeaux wines.
    • Vins doux naturels are certainly sweet but in a sense less 'natural' than other wines - they are slightly fortified (similar alcoholic strength to sherry, for instance) because alcohol is added to stop fermentation before all the sugar in the grapes is converted to alcohol.
    • Many famous French appellations are blends of two or more grape varieties, but some are made from single cépages.  Examples: most red and white wines from Bourgogne (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay respectively), northern Rhône wines (reds such as Cornas and Crozes Hermitage and the white wine Condrieu which first made Viognier famous), and red Beaujolais (gamay) as well as most Alsace wines which bear the name of the grape on their labels.
    • Red wines get their colour from grape skins, left in contact with the juice for some time.  Many rosés acquire their colour in the same way but with shorter skin contact, although a few are made from grapes with coloured juice.  And since the juice of red grapes is sometimes 'white' it can be used to make white wines - a major example is Champagne, much of which uses Pinot Noir (often belnded with Chardonnay).  Thus Champagne made from Chardonnay alone is called blanc de blancs meaning white wine made from white grapes.

    Friday, 29 April 2011

    Favourites - Dupont-Fahn

    Last week I was singing a Maundy Thursday Mass (Byrd for 4 voices) with friends at the Dominican Priory in Montpellier.  Between rehearsal and service, we were invited for apéritifs at the apartment of a couple of singers, and among other good wines they offered us a Monthélie.  This is a red Bourgogne from one of the lesser-known villages just south-west of Beaune, and the best are excellent and floral.   This was certainly one of those, an absolute delight made by Michel Dupont-Fahn.  He now also makes wines in the Languedoc since he and his American wife spend part of the year in and around Montpellier, and this like many of his wines has had a good review in Hachette.

    It was a real pleasure to find this wine during a pause in our musical day, but not a complete surprise.  The same friends who'd invited us to their flat, Phil and Katharine, had given us an introduction to the family as we prepared for our trip to the Côte d'Or a few weeks earlier.  We had a wonderful few days in the area around Beaune - more of that in other posts - but on the Friday morning we found ourselves heading for the little and very quiet village of Tailly to find Michel's son Raymond who makes wine there.

    Tailly is south of Beaune, and a stone's throw from the illustrious vineyards of Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet.  So the story takes a fascinating twist - Raymond has (inherited? acquired? I forget the details) vineyards on the borders of classified vineyards in Meursault and P-M, so his wines have every chance of exceeding expectations based on the labels.  His white Bourgogne AOC comes from a vineyard in Meursault recently declassified from grand cru status.

    It is not an exaggeration to say that when we sat at his kithcen counter and tasted the 4 white wines he offered us it was one of the best tastings we'd ever experienced.  The wines sang, and although he had none for sale (we look forward with bated breath to the offer of 2010 wines when they are released) the bottle of Bourgogne Chaume des Perrières 2009 he offered us for our wine tasting circle went down a storm, and was awarded a near-perfect score by at least one of us.  Father and son, the Dupont-Fahns are gifted winemakers.

    Thursday, 28 April 2011

    Useful links

    Some favourite web links:

    Tom Cannavan's Wine Pages - including round-up of weekend newspaper recommendations each week, as well as worldwide information on wines and vineyards.

    The wine anorak - Jamie Goode's excellent blog and wine pages for novice and enthusiast alike.

    The Wine Society - a never-failing source of good and often excellent wines. You used to have to be a member to access this site but now it is open though you must join to buy, which is easy to do.

    The Guide Hachette is one of the main French wine guides, and I buy it every year.  Not quite sure why when this website is so comprehensive and easy to use!  References to all the wines they have reviewed over the past several years.  They say the reviews are independent and based on blind tastings.  French wines only of course and in French!

    The British wine mag Decanter has a daily email news alert - you can sign up and also see the latest wine news here: http://www.decanter.com/news

    3D Wines - operate a 'vineyard share' scheme which allows newcomers to French wines an easy way to visit vineyards and purchase good wine.  This helped me start my exploration of French vineyards, when Mary gave me a share in the Domaine Lucien Jacob in the Côte d'Or.

    Caves du 41, Nîmes.  Like the better wine merchants in England, cvaistes in France are interesting if only as a source of wines from other regions from the one you happen to be in.  This one, near where we live in the Languedoc, specialises in Languedoc wines and often has vintages that are no longer on sale at the vineyard.  It was also one of the first places we visited on our quest for wine here in the early 2000s.  Its name originally came from its street number in the centre of town, but it seems to have moved to the western outskirts now, and a different number!

    Finally the blog of wine blogs, Wine Blogger.

    Tuesday, 26 April 2011

    Starting my wine blog

    Our early forays into wine drinking were typical of young people in the 1960s-1980s - Mateus rosé in Chinese restaurants as students, Nicolas red Franch table wine and, later, £1 Bulgarian red from Sainsbury's.  My first serious purchase was in the mid-70s when, with my wise friend Malcolm Thomas, I invested in a case of Château Batailley Pauillac, for the princely sum of £2 a bottle.  Sadly I was not sufficiently prudent to avoid drinking my share within a few years, but I still keep a few bottles of a more recent vintage in my cellar.  Oddly we have never been great Bordeaux fans, and this is one of the few clarets I've really taken to, but there is still time for us to widen our horizons there

    Since we began to visit France regularly in 1993 we have developed our love of and interest in wine, exploring individual makers and their products in our travels especially through Champagne, Bourgogne, the Rhône and the Languedoc, as well as pursuing our interest in the wines of the world through the exceptional international markets and sales outlets of UK supermarkets and specialist wine suppliers.  Our first close view of French vineyards was in the Drôme, around Die and Châtillon en Diois which we visited frequently through our twinning link, and in the mid-90s I was honoured to be elected a member of the Confrerie de la Clairette de Die.  Soon we began to expand our explorations around the Rhône valley, and also to visit vineyards en route in Beaujolais, Bourgonge and Champagne.

    Now we live in France permanently, we are taking every opportunity we can to meet vignerons who are new to us, and to revisit old favourites. Our home area of the Languedoc used to be the source of the famed ‘wine lake’ of the 1980s but over the past 20 or so years has transformed itself into one of the world’s major producers of high quality but affordable wines. This has happened by improving practices in the vineyard and above all in the wine-making process, by changing grape varieties and reducing yields to improve quality. Old varieties like carignan which yielded a lot of mediocre wine are now enjoying a new life producing interesting single-variety wines and blends from older, lower-yielding vines.

    We haven’t cut our ties with the UK – in particular I'm a member of the Wine Society which now sells wines in France, and I subscribe to Decanter.  So with a little organisation we have access to a wide variety of reasonably priced New World wines. In addition Spain and Italy are on our doorstep, so gradually we are getting to know more of the wines of southern Europe. This is a voyage of exploration very much in progress and this Blog aims to capture some of the (lucid) moments we enjoy en route.