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Monday, 30 August 2021

New discoveries and old friends

At the Mas de Bellevue above Lunel to the north

I've nearly begun this post several times over the summer.  I do so now in memory of my recently deceased friend Alan Byars, married to Mary's cousin Barbara.  Although he made his money from another liquid, oil, this larger than life Texan shared my interest in wine and encouraged me to revive this blog when we met over good glasses whether in New Mexico or the Rhône valley.  He was an atypical American, (many I know don't even have passports) having lived and worked in Europe as well as in the US, and he and Barbara shared many holidays with us in England and in France as well as America.

Last time I wrote of our winter excursions into Spanish wines, and we have continued to enjoy the fruits of  our discovery of the Barcelona wine merchant Decántalo whose deliveries and service are very good.  Now I want to write a little about more local wines, which of course have been at the heart of our enjoyment of wine since our first excursions to France in the 1990s.   Our most recent discovery has been a wine truck, a motorised market stall that turns up at markets and evening events in Lunel and other local towns.  It's based near the Pic Saint Loup, one of our best-known local appellations, which can be seen (as here from the Mas de Bellevue) on the horizon from many places around here, and it's called Dégustez Sud, run by a nice couple who spend a lot of time picking out good wines from small producers across the area from Spanish border to the Rhône.  The wines are not necessarily cheap, but this is largely because smaller producers have higher overheads than larger-scale winemakers.

So far we have tried two whites, Folio, a grenache gris from Collioure near the Spanish border and a Mas d'Amile terret blanc, neither cheap but both out of the ordinary and enjoyable.  White wines can be more expensive than run-of-the-mill reds despite the generally shorter making time, because the process has to be cleaner and more temperature controlled.

Pleasant evening outings into Lunel to try wines from Dégustez Sud, the second with oysters for Mary!

Terret used to be a grape only used for fortified apéritif wines like Noilly Prat, but recently some delicious dry white wines have been made from this grape, and one from the Domaine de la Fadèze near Mèze has long been one of our favourites.  Interestingly, in a comparative tasting of that and the Amile wine the other day, we both preferred the cleaner, lemony Fadèze to the more recent discovery, and it has the benefit of being less than a third of the price, but that may be partly because we go to the producers for the Fadèze.  They make a range of red, white and rosé single-variety wines, all at very good prices.  

I'm ending with a few of the labels of recently enjoyed wines - 2 from the Rhône valley, a 10-year-old Beaumes de Venise from the left bank of the Rhône, in perfect condition from Durban, one of the first producers we visited there and the other from the right bank, the newere additions to the Rhône area in the Gard, in fact near the Pont du Gard and so named Domaine de l'Aqueduc.   And 2 from the Rive droite of the Garonne, one of the good sweet wines opposite the great Sauternes châteaux, and a very good Entre Deux Mers white from our good friend Jérôme whom we met recently in the Drôme, another proof that good white wines can keep for several years.



Sunday, 28 March 2021

Spanish winter


My encounters with Spanish wines go back to my teens, when my father returned from holiday in Spain (with my mum of course, but I’m not sure if Pam and/or Tom went too) lugging on the train 12 bottles of Rioja.  We have carried many bottles in our car over the years, but on the train with all the suitcases too…  Only my Dad!

More recently it all started in the autumn when Mary sighed that she missed Fino sherry, and we both recalled our love of PX (short for Pedro Ximenes, a grape variety used for sweet fortified wines in southern Spain, and so used in blends with drier wines to make the ubiquitous 'cream sherries' well-known in the UK).  We first encountered 100% PX 20 years ago at Rick Stein’s Padstow restaurant when the dessert was simply vanilla ice cream with a schooner of PX poured over.  

So I hunted idly to try and satisfy Mary’s craving and came across the Barcelona wine merchant Decántalo .  They specialise in Spanish wines but a quick scan shows they have plenty from other countries too – it seems to me to be as reliable and well-organised as the UK Wine Society with the advantage for us that it is just down the road, not in what we have now sadly to think of as a foreign country!

On top of this, this wine merchant packs things in super-safe cartons – we've had one or two disasters with breakages in the past, but bottles really have a hard time getting broken in these deliveries.  We began before Christmas with Tio Pepe Palomino Fino and Gonzalez Byass Nectar PX, plus a couple of  unfortified wines.  One of the first of these we tried was Protos Clarete, a light red or dark pink from Ribera de Duero, an area now quite well-known, top centre/north Spain a bit SW of Rioja.  This reminds me of the light red clairet which is produced in Bordeaux and whose name of course links to the red clarets from there we all know and love.  But the dark pink, or light red, style is distinct there as it turns out to be in Spain.

We also tried 3 Muga Riojas (red, white and rosé), all of them very good – a friend who knows this whole field well says white Rioja is hard to find, and remembering Dad’s samples I was really interested in this – Oz Clarke says white Rioja is a bit of an afterthought, but we have really liked this Muga, so still have some bottles to enjoy!   We then spotted a Christmas offer of 18 different wines, all red,

·         6 from Ribera del Duero (see above – we have already enjoyed these, wines and makers included Juegabolos, Malleolus, Corimbo I, Pago de los Capellanes Reserva, Pícaro del Águila and Astrales);

·         6  from Priorat (wines and makers include Ferrer Bobet Vinyes Velles, Salanques, Laurel, Mas d'en Compte Negre, Planetes de Nin, and Coma Vella) – we are halfway through these and have been so impressed by the  Ferrer Bobet that we have spent a small fortune on some of these bottles to lay down for the next few years;

·         and 6 other reds, 3 from Montsant: (Fredi Torres Lectores Vini Montsant; Sindicat La Figuera; and Orto - we shared the  Figuera wine with friends yesterday and were very impressed), another Rioja: (Diez-Caballero Crianza 2018) and two from further south (Jumilla - SE Spain N of Murcia: Casa Castillo; and from Valencia: Parotet Vermell)

In the huge country of Spain and its many contrasting wine areas, I was surprised to find that two of these 3 appellations are tucked into a tiny hilly area SW of Barcelona: 

Priorat,  which according to Hugh Johnson's pocket guide produces some of Spains finest wines. It's named after a former monastery tucked under craggy cliffs. The key is the slate soil – known as llicorella. 

Montsant, tucked in around Priorat 

The thing to look forward to is a trip to these areas of Spain, relatively close to us although the travel complexities of travel with Covid, national restrictions and of course Brexit remain to be discovered! 


Thursday, 10 September 2020



We have travelled past the precipitous vineyards south of Lyon often, and once we even bought excellent Condrieu at the Cave Coopérative of St Désirat.  We have also often bought and enjoyed viognier wines across the south of France and it is a scented grape variety often used in Rhône white wines with other grapes, as well as on its own.  But last week was the moment to enjoy a few sunny days in a riverside hotel and to visit the village and the vineyard which is the original home of the viognier grape.

There is an even tinier and more prestigious Appellation, Château Grillet, tucked in the middle of this hillside area (it has its own railway station just south of Condrieu), but the 'larger' Appellation is still small enough.  Its equally prestigious neighbour the Côte Rotie is on the riverside hills just to the north, between Condrieu and Lyon.  The makers we visited have some vineyards there and we came back with a few bottles of that iconic wine, almost 100% syrah but with a splash of viognier of course to add an exotic touch.

But the white wine, Condrieu, was our main focus on this trip.  Of course (as in most high profile areas) the less exalted wines are pretty good too.  We went  with a recommendation to a maker whose IGP viognier was recommended by a friend of a friend ad over the course of our stay in the hotel Bellevue in Les Roches de Condrieu (on the left bank facing the village of Condrieu and the vineyard hills behind) we drank glasses of this and of a late-picked viognier which was dark yellow and delicious.  

So we visited the Mouton winery on the hilltop settlement of Rozay high above the Rhône valley late one afternoon, just after they ahd returned from picking grapes for the day.  Of course we needed to make an appointment at this busy time of year, but we were received with warmth and courtesy, and we could taste both their IGP viognier and the 2 complex Condrieus, together with 2 Côte Rotie cuvées.   

The hillside vineyards in the photos are named Châtillon for one of the cuvées, facing the river.  We could see the vines from which one of our wines was made as we looked out of our bedroom windows or sat in the restaurant each day.  It was a memorable trip, and the wines will be with us to remind us for some time to come.

Monday, 24 August 2020

Visits during the Covid period

Earlier this year we returned, as we do often, to Domaine Lucien Jacob in Échevronne in the Côte d’Or. We were introduced to the Jacobs and their wines over 20 years ago when Mary and the family presented me with a kind of ‘share’ there, and we’ve never regretted it. Despite our encounters with much less expensive wines further south, we would not be without our Burgundy. 

We read of complex and difficult problems in the wine industry - among other things, bubbly consumption is plummeting because people feel they have little to celebrate.  But apart from difficulties in selling and exporting wine, this week there have been local headlines about the lack of water for muscat grapes here, where of course irrigation is not allowed.  But the hot weather also makes producing lower alcohol wines very difficult - quickly ripening grapes have more sugar and so wines end up more alcoholic.

We've had some good visits to winemakers in the past month.  One was an excellent wine tasting outing with visitors Chris and Siena to the Coop in St Christol, and to Ch. Grès Saint Paul. Both were enjoyable, but our encounter with Jean-Philippe Servière at GsP as especially good. We first met him nearly 20 years ago, and his wines are as good as ever; he’s nearly my age and has been making wine for over 40 years (his last holiday, he says, was in 1978!). Nobody can say winemakers have easy lives...

We revisited Nouveau Monde on the coast at Vendres Plage again at the weekend and found the whites and rosés we tasted excellent and reasonably priced. The chardonnay, 'now with vermentino' as the sales blurb might say, is as good as ever (thanks to Régine in Béziers for her recommmendation nearly 20 years ago) and the Chasan, the other white, very good too. I think they are surviving the difficulties just now not only by producing good wine by being next to a campsite, so sales trickle along nicely including a lot of volume sales! We had a very friendly and businesslike reception from Sébastien (his wife Anne-Laure is the oenologue), and although we did not taste reds this time (there is a limit at 32 in the shade!) we will be back to do so. 

Now we are looking forward to a birthday trip to Condrieu and the Côte Rôtie by the Rhône south of Lyon.  Watch this space!

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Wines we've drunk in May

Nearly another month has slipped by so here is an update on wines we've enjoyed over the past few weeks

The wines this past month have included
  • 4 from the Chemin des Rêves in St Gély du Fesc (2 reds, a rosé and a white)
  • two from the Minervois (a white and a rosé)
  • reds from Fronton and the Côte de Brouilly (one of each)
  • 2 more rosés, from the Côtes du Rhône and from the Côteaux d'Aix en Provence
  • and 2 more whites from the Jura and our local Grès Saint Paul
I think it is fair to say that there was not a dud among them.  Almost all were bought from the makers themselves, mostly in person though we had some delivered recently because they originate more than 100 km from where we live.  But we are very much looking forward to revisiting winemakers in the Jura, Burgundy, Beaujolais and the Minervois.

Meanwhile our next trip will be to the Domaine de la Fadèze, overlooking the Étang de Thau near Mèze and well within our range.  And who knows, if French distance restrictions ease more may be possible.  Looking forward to wine trips helps us to ease the blues of cancelled holidays.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Drinking in lockdown part 2: white and rosé

We enjoy white and rosé wines, and often have them as apéritifs.  Here's a good variety from the past few weeks - delicious white Seyssel from the Savoie area of eastern France, discovered during our several visits for music to the Val du Séran.  Then two from opposite sides of the Rhône:  from the east, Coyeux near Beaumes de Venise.  When we first discovered them 20 or more years ago it was their sweet muscat that caught our attention - now they make excellent reds and this delicate dry muscat; and from the west (not far from the Pont du Gard, the Roman aqueduct on our doorstep here) some excellent whites and rosés as well as very good red Côtes du Rhône.

The two bottles of Lacoste, white and rosé, were the result of a busy year to and fro to the Lot, where the two dogs we welcomed for short periods were found in a refuge in Figeac.  Their sad tales are told elsewhere, but we were delighted to discover that they were to be found near the wine areas of Cahors, the Côtes du Lot and the  and the Côteaux de Quercy, several hundred km northwest of us here.  And the final two in this lineup are from the Clos de Bellevue, just up the hill to the north of us in Lunel.  Their rosé is also made in a sweeter version equally palatable for an apéro; the dry muscat is another example of the variety of delicious dry wines now being made from the muscat grape.  The view from the courtyard looking back over Lunel is among our favourite panoramas.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Drinking in lockdown - part 1, reds

A while ago I used to post frequent pictures of bottles we'd sampled.  Now, the lineup of empties destined for the bottle bank is a little less random - it only includes the bottles we'd chosen ourselves, without extras brought by guests.  But now we can't travel the bottles evoke more than ever our memories of the places we've visited, winemakers we've met, and favourite grapes.  Above, a few reds.  left to right, one of several excellent wines from a Vinsobres producer, the Domaine de Deurre.  We first discovered the village of Vinsobres during some of our first forays into the Vaucluse in the mid-90s, and vividly recall the magic of climbing the steep winding hill northwards and seeing Mont Ventoux rising ever higher to the south as we drove.

The next in line is from a much more recent trip, our first visit to the Jura last year.  There we discovered the pretty town of Arbois in the hills not far from the Swiss border, and an excellent wine co-op whose pinot noir we are enjoying.  The other three reds are all Beaujolais crûs, from the area south of Mâcon which we've visited often over the past 25+ years - the Fleury and Saint Amour are both from the huge variety of good wines produced by the firm Georges Duboeuf  - he himself died last year, having been a pioneer in the growing reputation of Beaujolais wines, and we have acquired several of these wines for a future tasting with friends once the lockdown is over, but we decided to try these two 'extras' in advance of that.  The Côte de Brouilly however is from one of our longest-standing contacts in the area, Les Roches Bleues,, which we discovered through the 3D Wines scheme for buying wines direct from producers in France.  I've just discovered that this firm has become insolvent - a pity, they introduced us to several excellent producers, some of whom have become friends.  But the miracle of Beaujolais is the variety of wines they produce from the single grape variety, gamay