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Thursday, 19 December 2013

Wine tasting circle - wines from the Jacob domaine in Echevronne

Last Saturday our wine-tasting circle met for its monthly get-together.  Each month we meet in a member’s home, rotating to spread the burden or hosting.  The hosts provide a main course, others arrive with other parts of the meal.  The wines are chosen around a certain theme, often a grape variety, a geographical area or appellation, or whatever.  This time unusually we were tasting wines from a single domaine, chosen by the makers.

We drove to the Côte d’Or and back over a beautiful sunny weekend in early December.  Calling into another favourite domaine in the Côte de Brouilly en route, we were amazed to see Mont Blanc clear on the eastern horizon and, once seen, we realised that it’s visible from the motorway almost all the way northwards to Beaune.  We arrived on the Saturday evening in good time to collect delicious white wines and pink crémant de Bourgogne from the domaine Naudin Ferrand in Magny les Villiers, another maker we’ve known for many years.

But the main reason for our trip was a visit to the Jacobs’ open weekend, with several dozen wines to taste from their own domaine and that of The Domaine Lucien Jacob is in the neighbouring tiny village of Echevronne, in the hautes côtes de Beaune, not far from Pernand Vergelesses and Savigny lès Beaune.  The hillsides around are wooded – this is the limit of the vineyard area on the slopes above the  Saône valley.  It is named for Jean-Michel Jacob’s father, a well-known figure in the Côte d’Or, who had been instrumental in developing new strains of pinot noir better suited to the higher vineyards of the hautes côtes.

I wrote about domaine Jacob in this blog in September 2011.  We have known Jean-Michel and Christine since the mid-1990s, when  Mary and the family clubbed together to buy me a kind of ‘share’ in a vineyard for my 50th birthday  She decided to visit the domaine to get a couple of bottles and to see it for herself.  From then on, and up to the present day (long after the early ‘share’ arrangement was over) we have visited them regularly and watched the evolution of their wines in quality and variety.  We've also enjoyed seeing Jean-Michel's evolution as an artist, using the barrels and other materials around him.

The wines we tasted this December included the wines of the hautes côtes and from premier crû vineyards at Savigny, but also from Gevrey Chambertin some distance to the north in the Côte d’Or, and from Mercurey in the Côte Chalonnaise to the south.  The latter was the source of much of their white wine this year as hail destroyed almost all their local grapes.  Over several years we’ve developed a simple scoring system out of 50 – appearance (4), nose (10), taste (20), finish (8), label (2), value for money (3) and something we call ‘emotion’, or the wow factor perhaps, also 3 points.  We tasted the wines as usual alongside a meal and over a friendly evening together.

The results were interesting because although the scores varied more widely than usual between one person and the next, in the end the scores and rankings clustered close together. So though several people scored the top wines in the 40s, others were much less enthusiastic. Probably the main reason is that some people really don’t like the pinot noir grape – for others like us it is among our favourite cépages.  So here are the combined scores of 11 tasters:

Mercurey 2012 (selected by the Jacobs)                36.1
Savigny Vergelesses 1e crû blanc 2012                 38.3
Bourgogne hautes côtes de Beaune 2008             32.3
Savigny Vergelesses 1e crû rouge 2008                38.5
Savigny lès Beaune 1e crû "les Peuillets" 2008     37.7
Gevrey Chambertin 2008                                          36.6


Thursday, 11 July 2013

2013 winners in the annual Concours des grands vins of the Languedoc Roussillon region

Just out, the results of a major regional competition held in Béziers in April.  A well-constructed, easy-to-search database including some of our favourite wines and makers, many other which we don't (yet) know, and surprising omissions!

Among those we have long known and valued are the husband-and-wife duo Cyril Marès (Mas des Bressades) and Nathalie Blanc-Marès (Mas Carlot) in the Costières de Nîmes, Domaine Bort and the Coop itself in Saint Christol, La Gravette de Corconne (major Coop for Pic Saint Loup), the Jullien family  of Ch de Mus and Dom Bachellery near Béziers (but only one Mus wine - they make a lot of other good ones), the Château Sainte Eulalie in La Livinière (Isabelle's Grand Vin and yet another accolade for La Cantilène) A new wine we have not tried from Aiguilloux in the Corbières, and several entries from Ch Mire L'Etang in La Clape which is one of our earliest discoveries in the Languedoc.

Surprising omissions - Benoit Viot's Dom de Chemin des Rêves (in fact there are only 4 Pic Saint Loup AOP wines in the mix) is not there, nor other makers from the Saint Christol group, nor the Domaine Félines Jourdan at Mèze which is a leading and respected producer of Picpoul de Pinet.  But these and other omissions in an interesting but patchy field only serve to demonstrate that the selection of winners in all competitions depends on who enters.  I've always assumed that if a maker can sell her or his wine sithout going in for competitions s/he will do so!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Portes ouvertes in La Livinière

Yesterday we were at the portes ouvertes  at the Château Sainte Eulalie in La Livinière.  I have written before of this excellent Minervois domaine, and you can look at the website to find details of Isabelle Coustal's always excellent wines, so this is a photo opportunity to show off the lovely countryside (with disant views of the Pyrenees, where the Tour de France and Chris Froome were toiling away as we left) and to share some photos of a great day out with our Swiss friend Ralph Néri.

La Livinière from the domaine

Our welcome

Horses & calèche wait for their first passengers..., that is!

Tour around the vineyards

 Views across the vines

Ralph thanks our horses

Isabelle offers tastings to Ralph and to me - he was really delighted with the wines

Apéro time

Music with the meal

View back to the chais from the path nearby

Another excursion returns in time for lunch

Barbecue in action

Music continues

Lunch under the trees

Isabelle announces the quiz winners

Ralph wins first prize!!

The desserts arrive

One of our Australian acqaintances wins the second prize, the splendid La Cantileène

Mirages on the journey home

Typical avenue of plane trees, though the ones on the Canal du Midi nearby are dying

Perched village among the vines

Friday, 17 May 2013

Triballe at Guzargues

Yesterday I went to the organic Domaine de la Triballe in Guzargues.  No photos this time - sorry!  We'd met Sabine Durand and her father Olivier during the excellent Balade Gourmande for the Grès de Montpellier appellation, around Montepellier itself last weekend (see separate post to come), and found their wines really interesting and a bit different, so I decided to stop off on my way to sing in St Matthieu de Tréviers. 

It was a typical vineyard visit, that is, difficult to find especially since I was relying on an internet map - I'll try to include a real map to show the rather wild and isolated setting - so I ended up phoning from the village centre to discover that the caveau is a 2 km out in the country (and a lot simpler to find next time without going through the village!)  Anyhow, I arrived in a rather ramshackle courtyard and deserted buildings, but Olivier arrived soon after and his daughter followed to serve another customer.  Arriving for tastings just after the lunch break here is always slightly risky...

They make some vin de pays, cabernet sauvignon and others, but their main production is in AOC Languedoc - Grès de Montpellier and Pic Saint Loup.  Having tasted the rich white AOC "Aphyllante" at the weekend, along with the nice Grès "Capitelle" 2011 which is mostly grenache,  I decided to taste the other reds, a classic Languedoc which is 50% carignan plus grenache and syrah, very pleasant but with good structure, and then one called "En attendant que..." which is complex, 60% syrah and 40% grenache, and will certainly keep.  I did not taste, but bought to try, the 2010 Capitelle, which has a longer name and a story to match.

As you drive along the new 'Lien' road towards St Matthieu, you go through an area devastated by fire in the summer of 2010.  I realised as I approached Triballe yesterday that Guzargues had been one of the villages worst hit - a friend's house there had only narrowly escaped.  And although vines have a reputation of not burning, parts of the vineyard had in fact been destroyed, including much of the Triballe grenache.  So their cuvée "La Capitelle part en fumée" 2010 was produced in only tiny quantities (700 bottles instead of several thousand) that year, and using a much higher proportion of syrah than usual.  It commands a relatively high price, 18€, not just for its rarity value but because it gained two stars in the 2013 Guide Hachette!  I'm really looking forward to trying it - naturally they were not keen to open one of the rare bottles left for tasting.

Sabine now does most of the winemaking.  Olivier told me they do export a little to the UK, but hopes for more when a favourable Decanter review appears soon.  The premises would win few prizes for elegance, but the wine shows a lot of talent concentrated where it should be, in the bottle.  I'll certainly return.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Favourites - Bachellery

Taking a moment this morning on a journey past Béziers, we called in at the caveau of the Domaine de Bachellery (this site has an English language version) - the domaine is just along the road from the caveau, close to the edge of Béziers.  As it turns out it is also the outlet for another local domaine, the Château de Mus, at Murviel lès Béziers around 20 km north of the city.  Both are owned by the Julien family, but we'd not previously come across Mus, whose château seems to be one of several built at the beginning of the 20th century in imitation of the grand châteaux of Bordeaux or Bourgogne, when the Languedoc wine market was temporarily good.  We must pay them a visit.

We have known Bachellery for more than 10 years, when we first visited the domaine itself with our friend Max during a holiday in Béziers.  They never did tastings at the domaine so you had to buy and hope, but now with the caveau and a choice of nearly 20 wines from 2 domaines available for free tasting, this is an excellent visit.  The place is easy to find too.  Our morning was made even more interesting because we were welcomed by Mme Julien herself, whose son is now the winemaker while her husband is, as she describes him, chef d'orchestre!  All the 6 wines we tasted were excellent, and the prices are exceptionally good - most wines under 5€ a bottle.

Most of the wines are single cépage vins de pays d'Oc.  We tasted 4 whites - a viognier from Mus and sauvignon, chardonnay and Fleur de Sel from Bachellery, the last a mixture of several grape varieties including muscat d'Alexandrie and roussanne, fragrant and pleasant.  Mary liked the chardonnay best and I the viognier and Fleur de Sel.  Then we tried 2 reds, a Bachellery pinot noir we have tried several times over the past 10 years, and a really great malbec from Mus.  We did not taste the Bachellery gewürztraminer, called Ballade en Straminer and with a picturesque label and Alsace-shaped bottle, but we bought some bottles anyway - again, we know from experience that it is delicious.  It costs twice as much as the others we bought - 9.50€ a bottle - but it is worth every penny.

There are plenty more wines to try on a future visit - grenache which we know already, and merlot, from Bachellery, and an intriguing cab. franc/syrah blend from Mus.  We shall certainly return!