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Friday, 10 June 2016

Les Domaines 'Coup de Coeur' from the Guide Hachette (part 1)

 As you can see, a wonderful book has come my way.  People who know me often think of me as glued to the internet and the Kindle, but I do still love a nice book even when, like this one, it weighs over 2.6 kg.  It is beautifully written and illustrated, and a very useful practical guide.
I buy the annual Guide each year anyway, but this is a distillation of the best of the past 30 years.  However, the main reason I'm moved to write about it is that there are at least 20 places listed that we have visited and enjoyed, and many wines we still enjoy.  It lists 600 altogether, so there are many exciting discoveries in store.  Anyway, there follow a few words about each of 'our' 21 and what they mean to us.

This post includes the first 11:

  • Ch. Chasse-Spleen (Medoc)
  • Vins Georges Duboeuf (Beaujolais)
  • Naudin Ferrand (Hautes Côtes de Nuits et de Beaune)
  • Alfred Gratien, Epernay (Champagne)
  • Cave du Sieur d’Arques, Limoux (Blanquette et crémant de Limoux)
  • Domaine de Barroubio (Muscat de Saint-Jean-de-Minervois)
  • Château Mire l’Etang (Languedoc La Clape)
  • Grès Saint-Paul (Muscat de Lunel & Languedoc Grès de Montpellier)
  • Mas Amiel (Maury)
  • Clos d’Yvigne (Saussignac)
  • Ch. Bellevue la Forêt (Fronton)

Our one visit to Bordeaux took us to Ch. Chasse-Spleen for a great tasting and an opportunity to admire surprising sculpture (yes, they are giant wellies) in the grounds of this rather out-of-the-way château in Moulis-en-Medoc, which eveyone tells you is one of the good value corners of this prestigious area.   This Château has very good wines, and we tried the middle-of-the-range ones which were and are good enough, but they cost what Bordeaux inevitably costs!  The wealth of the area shows in the perfect decor of the newly constructed underground chais.  The name is a reflection of the effect of wine in chasing away gloom and melancholy

In passing, I can't leave our memorable trip to the Medoc with our cousins Barbara and Alan without referring to my all-time favourite, Château Batailley, whose bottles I buy one by one every year or 2, for old times' sake.  With my friend Malcolm Thomas, now sadly passed on, I bought my first ever case of fine wine, 12 Ch. Batailley 1986 (or thereabouts) for £2 a bottle.  O for such luxuries now - the latest I paid was over 40€ and then you need to wait 5-10 years for it to be ready to drink.  It has never disappointed though!!

Back on our side of the country, the book highlights Vins Georges Duboeuf in Romanèche-Thorins.  Duboeuf was originally a producer of white Maconnais wines who helped develop the reputation and quality of the Baujolais cru wines in the north of Beaujolais, south of Macon, and so demonstrated the amazing versatility of the gamay grape.  Today names like Morgon, Fleury and Moulin-à-Vent are well-known, and as a négociant Duboeuf and his enterprise label and market good examples of all 10 cru wines as well as Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages.  The Duboeuf visitor centre is well worth a visit, with imaginative displays and tastings.

Our recent trip to Burgundy, described in recent posts on this blog, included the Domaine Henri Naudin Ferrand in Magny-lès-Villers, so there is no need to elaborate on that here.  The Côte d'Or was a regular stop on our trips south from the UK to the Drôme in the 1990s and early 2000s, when of course we also passed through the Champagne region.  But although we visited various makers on our travels, one producer we got to know in England was Alfred Gratien of Epernay whose champagnes have long been a staple of the Wine Society's list, which has been the source of many of our wine discoveries and visits now we live in France.  Mary particularly likes their demi-sec!  

Staying on the sparking theme, and at the far edge of our own Languedoc Roussillon region, the Cave du Sieur d’Arques in Limoux is the huge co-op which flies the flag for Blanquette de Limoux, a range of sparkling wines whose common feature is the inclusion of the mauzac grape (sometimes called blanquette) as well as crémant de Limoux which contains a high proportion of chardonnay.  I first visited the Cave with a large party of chorists from the UK, who took a brief break from their singing tour of French cathedrals and churches to taste some wine!

We have got to know the Domaine de Barroubio very well in the past year or two.  It is near the tiny village of Saint-Jean-de-Minervois and just over the hills south of Saint Chinian, and particularly well-known for its sweet muscat vins doux naturels (VDNs).  Our own commune of Lunel also produces one of the 7 appellations of this wine, but for all our local loyalty we have to admit that the Barroubio wines are delicious, and they make good reds too in the Minervois appellation.  On top of that, the vigneron Raymond Miquel and his mum always offer a warm welcome and tasting.  Raymond's latest white is sweet, but not as sweet as the traditional VDNs.  His youngest son told him his sweet wines seemed too sweet, and the dry muscat (which we also like very much) too dry, so why not try for something in between - the result is delicious and named, for the son, Le Petit dernier.  As you approach up the hill from the Narbonne in the south you emerge from trees and rocks to an astonishing landscape, white with chalk, which is particuarly suited to the muscat grape.

Staying near Narbonne, the Château Mire l’Etang in the commune of Fleury d’Aude produces wines from the Languedoc La Clape appellation, named for the hilly area between Narbonne and the coast.  We've been there often over nearly 20 years since we first holidayed nearby.  We went again this spring, at the same time as another visit to Barroubio, and were welcomed by one of the brothers Chamayrac with a very good tasting - we have always liked their red wines and the 2 rosés are both delicious.  We were fortunate to be with our friend Daniel who wrote his thesis on the ecology of the La Clape countryside to help with conservation during the establishment of the new coastal tourist areas around Gruissan - he showed us the amazing natural lake the Gouffre de l'Oeil Doux, set beneath deep cliffs not far from Mire l'Etang and only just inland from the coast.

On our doorstep here in Lunel is the domaine and château Grès Saint-Paul, where Jean-Philippe  Servière has esablished an excellent reputation for a wide variety of IGP and AOP wines.  Their VDN muscats are exceptional, Rosanna (with some oak aging) in particular being one of the few wines to achieve a perfect 50/50 in our wine tasting circle, but they have a great range of IGP varietals, including marsanne and vermentino (rolle) among the whites and and cabernet franc among the reds.  Their AOP Grès de Montpellier reds include Antonin which is frequently selected in Hachette.

Back to the other end of our area, in the Roussillon near the Cathar castle Quéribus, is Mas Amiel which we visited on one of our first holidays in the area.  It has long been a standard-bearer for sweet Maury wine.  The appellation has the peculiarity that, like the apéritif Noilly Prat, the wines are aged for up to a year in full sunshine.  Look at the website to see the impressive rows of huge glass bonbonnes ranged outside by the vineyard and in front of the mountains.

The Clos d’Yvigne in Gageac-Rouillac near Bergerac was made famous by Patricia Atkinson whose book, The ripening sun, did as much as anything I've read to paint a picture of the rewards and trials of winemaking.  The sweet Saussignac white wine (from late-picked grapes) she made secured her reputation as a good winemaker, starting from scratch in difficult circumstances.  We have visited the vineyard, which was interesting, but despite our love of good sweet wine it is the book which stays in our minds.

I'd read often of the appellation Fronton, north of Toulouse, with its reputed taste of violets from the negrette grape (often now mixed with cabernet sauvignon).  We finally had a chance to visit the Château Bellevue la Forêt a few years ago on our way to Bordeaux, and the trip was well worthwhile for the scenery as well as for the wines.  However confusing it may be, France is a wonderful source of unusual, very local grape varieties which manage to overcome the demands for standardisation.

The next post will cover 10 more we have visited:

  • Cave de Crouseilles 5Madiran & Pacherence du Vic Bilh)
  • Dom. de la Chevalerie (Saint Nicholas de Bourgueil)
  • Cave des Vignerons foréziens (Côtes du Forez)
  • Cave de Tain l’Hermitage (Crozes Hermitage)
  • Dom. Saint-Anne (Côtes du Rhône Villages Saint Gervais)
  • Domaine Maby (Lirac & Tavel)
  • Dom. de l’Oratoire Saint-Martin (Cairanne)
  • Dom. La Réméjeanne (Côtes du Rhône & CdR Villages)
  • Ch. Mourgues du Grès (Costières de Nîmes)
  • Vignerons d’Estézargues (Côtes du Rhône & CdR Villages)

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Back to Burgundy part 2

In the last post I talked of trips to Meursault, Pernand Vergelesses, Monthélie and the splendid Domaine Naudin Ferrand remain to be made.  We never made it to Pernand, and bought our Monthélie in Beaune, but the story of the rest of our wine visits last week follows.

Back from our trips to the far west near Auxerre, we began with a visit to Merusault.  This is of course white wine country, part of the wonderful collection of villages south of Beaune where chardonnay trumps pinot noir.  Here our friends' friend Gaël Fouré has set up a négociant business with two partners, making and marketing wines both from Meursault and nearby white wine appellations like Saint Romain, and from the red wine areas like Chambolle Musigny to the north of Beaune.  This is, in a sense, a hobby or passion on top of their day jobs - Gaël for example works in a nearby vineyard as cellar-master.  Anyway, their wines were delicious and our welcome likewise!

The next morning we drove the short distance to Magny lès Villiers to revisit one of our first discoveries in the Côte d'Or, the domaine Naudin Ferrand whose white wines we love - they are situated across the border of the Hautes Côtes de Beaune and the Hautes Côtes de Nuits (next door to the north, above Nuits Saint Georges) and we can never decide which we prefeer - the HCB includes 30% pinot blanc but the HCN is 100% chardonnay.

We finished the morning back in Echevronne where Jean-Michel Jacob offered us tastings from the barrels of his newest wines.  We were able to taste the difference between one- and two-year old oak barrels as well as between the oak and acacia barrels he is using in the (100% chardonnay) Hautes Côtes de Beaune white.  The acacia remains one of our favourites.

Before I sign off this time I must mention the series of catastrophes that have hit Burgundy vineyards again this year - the latest on hail in Chablis as well as more on the frost is on Decanter's website.  The lack of wines is only part of the story, a few years down the road, the financial worries start almost straight away with loss of seasonal employment in the vineyards, expensive machinery lying idle and rents set to increase by arcane regulations which makes them higher in times of scarcity.  Buying burgundy is the thing to do in solidarity with winemakers there.

Unintentional skyline on a barrel in the Jacobs' cellar

This lizad outside did not know what it was missing!

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Back to Burgundy

If the posts in this blog are a bit repetitive it is because we know good wines and winemakers and enjoy returning to them when we can.  Burgundy and Beaujolais were on the route south for us since the early 1990s, and in 1996 Mary and the family clubbed together to buy me a 'vineyard share' in the Domaine Lucien Jacob for my 50th birthday.  20 years on we are back for a week in the Côte d'Or.  I can't go on without referring to the sobering news that tragedy in the form of a sharp late frost struck huge areas of Burgundy and the north-easterly vineyards of France recently - in Christine Jacob's own words: "Please pull a cork on a good bottle of Burgundy and toast the strength and courage of winemakers who are out caring for their vines despite knowing that there won't be many grapes this year. A thought also for our colleagues in the Loire, the Charentes and Champagne who are in the same position."

Often our trips up and down the A6 involve a stop by Mont Brouilly, and this year once again we were delighted to visit the Domaine des Roches Bleues and to sample lovely reds with Christiane Lacondemine who spared us time in her busy family day.  Then, blessed with sunshine that has since disappeared, we drove on with our friends Gaynor and Edward to Echevronne (do not know what Mary was saying animatedly here!)

The tasting chez Jacob that evening was an extended apéro lubricated with a number of open bottles that 'needed finishing' as well as new things to try.  How lucky we were, with good crémant, a new cuvée of white matured in acacia rather than traditional oak barrels (the label has a nice acacia sprig in the corner and the lemony zing of the wine was very attractive - we shall certainly add that to our payload on the way home) and then more reds than I can recall, though the Savigny Vergelesses premier crû sticks in all our minds, and several bottles accompanied us back to our gîte for the evening meal.

Although we always try to revisit makers we have got to know over the past 20 years, we also seek out new ones and this year after a visit to Vézelay we spent a very good hour tasting wines near Auxerre, in the village of Saint Bris le Vineux, whose fame rests partly on the Appellation Sauvignon de Saint Bris, which gestures to Sancerre and the Loire not too much further west.  However, the Auxerrois is not far from Chablis either, and the reputable producer Domaine Verret produces wines from there, from the nearby appellation of Irancy (red wines combining a small amount of the local grape César with pinot noir) as well as others.  Their best Chablis was simply too good to resist, but the Irancy wines were a revelation, a different dimension added to the pinot noirs we know and love.

In Vézelay my lazy legs would not take me back up to the Basilique, which was lucky because in the little supermarket at the bottom of the hill I found the local white I'd hoped to find (I could not get an answer from the maker in her nearby vineyard at Précy le Moult) since we got to know it shortly after Elise Villiers started making wines in 2006.  We shall include it in our next tasting back home in the Languedoc.  For the rest, trips to Meursault, Pernand Vergelesses, Monthélie and the splendid Domaine Naudin Ferrand remain to be made, and the descriptions for the next blog in a week or so!

One of Jean-Michel Jacob's many lovely wooden sculptures
- as if making lovely wine was not enough, he is a gifted artist