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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

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Return to the Vaucluse, 2019

One of our first ports of call when we began regular visits to France over 25 years ago was to the southern Rhône valley, the south of the Drôme département (south that is, of our old twin town, Die).  This September we were back in the Vaucluse for a short overnight stay on my birthday.  The photo above is from the road approaching the Domaine de Coyeux, high above Beaumes de Venise, with Mont Ventoux in the distance.  Try as I might I could not convey the height and scale of this well-known obstacle in many Tours de France, but it is often there in views of the area.

When we first visited in the mid-1990s the only way to approach Coyeux was via an unmade road, snaking across the top of the Dentelles de Montmirail, itself already a worrying distance from civilisation.  We've visited the Domaine de Durban, on the road towards Coyeux, quite often over the years, but now that track is closed and the road to Coyeux snakes up the hillside like a Tour de France special, until you arrive on the high plateau with the lace-like rocks that give the Dentelles their name, at closer quarters.

On the way to the Domaine de Coyeux
When we first came in the 90s, Beaumes de Venise was well-known for its sweet muscat wines, as it still is, but in the past 20 years sweet wines have become less popular and the reds from this village have become increasingly good and, compared with the neighbouring Gigondas or Vacqueyras, let along Châteauneuf du Pape, very good value.  Coyeux is noted this year in the Guide Hachette for an excellent red, Praestans, which fulfilled our expectations when we tasted it.  We also fell for dry white and rosé wines from Muscat grapes - a very worthwhile visit with views to match.


All the white and rosé wines we tried at Coyeux were made from muscat petit grains grapes, the same as are used to make the fortified Muscat de Beaumes de Venise.  When we firt came, dry wines were only made when the harvest was plentiful enough.  Now, dry white wines are increasingly normal, and I was surprised to discover rosé made from the same grape (this is not really surprising - the skins are reddish though the juice is 'white', so leaving ths skins in contact with the juice for a short time makes a nice pale rosé).  Mary is always pleased to find dry muscat, and the Coyeux rosé and white were both excellent.  We also have more and more dry muscat around us in Lunel, and one of our best winemakers tells us he decreases the sugar content of even his sweet wines year by year as people's tastes change.

As we often do when travelling in France, we chose to stay in a Logis de France hotel - almost always with good restaurants attached.  This one in Sablet, the Domaine de Cabasse, lived up to the usual good standards and is as its name suggests also attached to a wine domaine.  However, with so many good wines around we didn't buy here this time - just drank some of their good red with our meal.  The pool was also a welcome attraction in the afternoon heat.

The hotel is among the vines midway between the small sleepy villages of Sablet and Séguret.  
As you emerge onto the little road, across the fields you can see two huge buildings typical of the caves coopératives you come across right across the south of France, but if possible even bigger.  This I guessed, rightly, was the Gravillas Coop which we were aiming for after our night in the hotel.  It has a good reputation, and a Rosé in particular which got outstanding marks in the latest Guide Hachette.  The previous afternoon we'd stopped in another small sleepy village, Violès, on the plain between the Rhône and the Dentelles.  There we visited a charming family-run domaine, the Bastide Saint Vincent, another Hachette recommendation, whose red Florentin is a splendid example of the newish 'Plan de Dieu' (plain of God, I guess) Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation.

 The story of our link to Violès also goes right back to our twinning visits 25 years ago.  At that time our local organic shop in Derbyshire had branched out into wines, and had a nice red Côtes du Rhône and we decided to see if we could find the producer.  At that time Violès was even more of a backwater than it is now - small, dusty and not really used to tourists, but we found the winemaker, bought some wine and had a meal in the little restaurant at the village crossroads.  The raising of quality and acquisition of the plan de Dieu tag has brought new fortune to Violès, which now has more commerce, several well-set-up winemakers and a beautiful new public library among other things.  All very enouraging

To finish here are a few photos of the area, taken on the top of the Dentelles but a little further south and west around the Domaine de Durban, with some better views of Mont Ventoux too

Sunday, 21 October 2018

September wine fairs

The French 'rentrée' is also the start of an interesting period for wine enthusiasts - the season of wine fairs in supermarkets.  In all, these span nearly 6 weeks, and these days the wines are not only good value but also carefully selected.  As with medal competitions, you always have to bear in mind that makers who already have a good market for their wines need not participate, but with the aid of review articles you can usually buy good wines at good prices.  Since the best bargains are usually snapped up early, the secret is to arrive at the supermarket at opening time on day 1. 

I did this several times in September, partly for our wine tasting circle here in Lunel and partly to find wines as presents.  The wines I bought are listed below, but first a few notes on the different places I visited and on some of my choices.  I was aided by the comprehensive article in the Revue in August, which highlighted a dozen or so top picks from each chain.

The earliest wine fairs are in the cut-price supermarkets - Lidl, Aldi, Netto and Leader Price.  One could add BioCoop but their wine fair sas so chaotic that they could not even agree on a start date, so lost out as I arrived early on the first day of each.  That’s what you have to do to snap up the best bargains.  Lidl is the most impressive, with three aisles dedicated to a huge range of French and a few foreign wines.  As you can see, I found plenty of choice even without the usual array of Bordeaux reds.  Rhône reds and a nice Touraine white were my picks here.

For the rest, the budget stores ranged from the chaotic Netto (lucky to find any of the wines listed beforehand) to the interesting but slightly disorganised Leader Price and the very nicely organised Aldi, whose range I’ll explore more next year.  Although the major supermarkets’ fairs start later in September, or into October, I managed to find one of my star buys in Intermarché and (as I have done often in previous years) some good buys in Leclerc.

Two personal stories link to my wine fair visits this year.  The first is a red from the flat lands between Orange and the Dentelles de Montmirail in the southern Rhône, from the village of Violès.  When we first discovered this it followed a purchase from the organic shop Beanos in Matlock Bath, which we used a lot during our time in Derbyshire.  At that time Violès was on the bottome rung of the Côtes du Rhône, a sleepy village en route to more celebrated places like Vacqueyras, Gigondas and Beaumes de Venise.  Since then the village has acquired Côtes du Rhône Villages status itself, and the Tour des Abbesses we found in Inter was one of the best reds we’ve come across recently for  everyday drinking.  I seek it out when I visit Intermarché stores in the Cevennes, but I doubt it will be sin stock for much longer.

Second, one of the highlights of my visit to Aldi was the Bonnezeaux from a well-known producer, Château de Fesles.  The sweet chenin blanc wines from this area (the Layon valley south of Angers) are exceptional and long-lasting, one of the few white appellations outside exalted Burgundies to keep more than a few years.  But is is for this very reason that makers divest themselves of wines 15 years old or more.  We first discovered this in the 1990s when we bought 1979 Bonnezeaux from the very same producer from 3D wines, who introduced us to some of our favourite makers elsewhere.  Because these wines last so long, makers hold onto stocks but in the end have to sell them to make room in their cellars, and we profit.  This Bonnezeaux was not a great wine, but a delicious wine to drink now all the same, and it will keep a few years yet.

By the way, a late purchase not on my list below is a Savennières, another Anjou wine but this time dry but equally longlasting.  Sadly the bottle we bought from Leclerc will not be tested for longevity because we finished it between us at lunchtime today, but there is another lurking and I’ll be getting back to Leclerc in the vain hope that there may still be some left - utterly delicious.

Here is my list of purchases, 7 whites first, the rest red.

Saint Véran Louis Dailly 2017 Leader Price 8.04 €
Macon Villages Cave d'Azé 2017 Netto 4.99 €
Touraine Sauvignon Caves Gilles Gobin 2017 Lidl 3.99 €
Menetou Salon Patient Cottat 2017 Intermarché 9.95 €
Sancerre Les Fossiles, dom Roblin 2017 Intermarché 13.75 €
Alsace Riesling Rittimann Celliers de Romarin 2016 Aldi 5.99 €
Bonnezeaux Château de Fesles (50 cl) 2001 Aldi 13.99 €
CdR Villages Dom de Tavans 2017 Leader Price 5.87 €
Cahors Malbec du Clos 2015 Leader Price 5.33 €
J L Baldès
Saint Joseph Dom de Blacieux 2017 Lidl 9.99 €
Vacqueyras Terroir des Dentelles 2016 Lidl 6.99 €
SCA Rhonéa, Beaumes de Venise
Juliénas Collin-Bourisset 2017 Lidl 5.99 €
Vinsobres Dom Croze-Brunet 2016 Lidl 5.49 €
Côtes du Rhône Vill. Dom la Tour des Abbesses, Plan de Dieu 2017 Intermarché 4.49 €
Gaillac Gd réserve de Labastide de Lévis 2016 Aldi 3.99 €