The Vinécole Blog


Viva Vega Sicilia !

As you drive along the N-122 from Valladolid towards Peñafiel it is easy to find Vega Sicilia. Just keep an eye on the red kilometre posts and when you reach km 323 you are there. A rather functional address for one of the world’s greatest wine domaines but reassuringly unpretentious and very handy if you do not have satellite navigation.Vega Sicilia's address

This was the first stop on our recent road trip to Spain to seek inspiration from two of Spain’s top wine regions – Ribera del Duero and Rioja. Javier Ausas Lopez de Castro, the technical director, was our guide for the visit and after a brief introduction we jumped in the cars and drove 10km down the road to their Alion winery.IMG_2232

Alion is Vega Sicilia’s newer Ribera del Duero winery (1991). A superb 120 hectare estate producing one wine from one grape variety – Tempranillo or Tinto Fino as it’s called here. The pristine grape reception area looks down on the vinification cellar, three quarters complete with wooden foudres, the other quarter currently being replaced as part of a rolling renovation programme. Post fermentation the wine undergoes ageing in new Nevers barriques for around 15 months followed by 2 years ageing in bottle. It is highly impressive to witness 2 years worth of stock gently ageing before your eyes. The attention to detail from grape growing to bottling – there is even a machine to make sure the Alion branded corks are always inserted the correct way up, is staggering. Statistics and superlatives abound but none more so than with harvesting. Everything is harvested by hand and up to 300 people are employed. In 1999 harvest lasted 6 weeks, in 2005 the harvest was completed in 5 days !P1030769

Alion 2007 : Lovely perfume, elegant red fruits, medium bodied, early drinking. Excellent wine from a cool and difficult vintage. Harvested 7-10 October. 100% Tinto Fino, 14 months ageing in barriques, 2 years ageing in bottle. Due for release late 2011.

Alion 2005: Fuller, more structured than 2007. Concentrated, fine grained tannins interwoven with wild strawberry fruits.A seamless wine with no rough edges or flaws. 100% Tinto Fino, 13 months ageing. Harvested 20 – 26 September.

Alion 2000 : Brick red, more savoury than others, a maelstrom of leather, truffle, spice and hedgerow fruit with trademark elegant finish. 100% Tinto Fino, 15 months ageing. Big vintage – 316680 bottles produced.

Vega SiciliaP1030744

Back in the car for a short drive back to Vega Sicilia via a trip though the vineyards.Here they just make 3 wines , Unico, a Gran Reserva vintage wine produced in the best years, Valbuena the second wine of Vega Sicilia  and Reserva Especial a non-vintage blend from exceptional years – rare as hen’s teeth. The impressive statistics keep on coming :

200 hectares of vineyard, 1.4million oak trees planted, carbon neutral, no vines under 10 years old are used, oldest vines 110 years, own massale selection of vines (15 types), average yield 22hl/ha…

One of the striking things about Ribera was the weather. Snow on the way down, morning mists, frost.. this is a marginal climate. At around 800m altitude it is common to experience frosts at either end of the growing season – spring and autumn, witness 27th September 2008 -4 degrees C ! As Javier remarked – people always underestimate the harsh conditions in Ribera, popularly referred to as ” 9 months hiver, 3 months l’enfer ..” The vineyards at Vega Sicilia are located either side of the N-122. In broad terms those on the North facing side are for Valbuena and Unico, the flatter more alluvial soils on the South facing side are predominantly Alion. P1030715

Tinto Fino is the main variety at Vega Sicilia, complemented by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and a few vines of white Albillo. Full hand harvesting (300 people), severe selection in vineyard and winery, de-stemming and long oak and bottle ageing are the hallmarks of this domaine. The facility is a juxtaposition of several buildings with state of the art equipment (each destemmer alone costs around 60,000€) and a separate fermentation cellar for Unico. It’s not just a case of money no object, there is an understandable reason for each process and an awe in that nothing is left to chance.

We were firmly on Spanish time now and we moved to the private house for pre-lunch tasting, aperitif (a classy Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 1998) and lunch. Pablo Alvarez, the owner of Vega Sicilia, hosted a fabulous meal which we finally got up from the table at 5;15pm. The pre-lunch tasting included :

Pintia 2008 : The VS estate in Toro.Deep purple, intense blackberry and blueberry fruit, tight structure like a caged tiger desperate to be unleashed. 100% Tempranillo (Tinto de Toro), 40-60 year old vines, 12 months in oak, 70% French/30% American, 2 years in bottle. Due for release later in 2011.

Pintia 2007 : Super ripe raspberry and fig, bold but integrated style with high degree of minerality, surprising freshness and elegance that belie the 15 degrees of alcohol.The big boulders in Toro (similar to the galets roulés of Châteauneuf) have a real influence on this wine.

Oremus “Mandolas” 2007 : The Tokaji estate owned by VS. 100% Furmint, pale gold, dry, modern style with traces of lanolin and quince underpinned by crisp acidity.  Fermented in Hungarian oak, aged for 6 months in barrel with batonnage and 1 year in bottle.

Wines with Lunch

Lunch was served with 2 vintages of Valbuena and 4 vintages of Unico – all served blind.

Valbuena 2006 : Perfumed, fragrant, pure core of red fruits, oak quite prominent but not overbearing. 15 months in new oak (60% American, 40% French), 3 months in one year old oak and 3 months in wooden vats. Tinto Fino 85%, Merlot and Malbec 15%.

Valbuena 2000 : More leathery and balsamic with gorgeous wild strawberry flavours, delightful tannins and refreshing acidity. A wine at peak but with the stamina and silkiness to keep going and going .. more Sebastian Coe than Steve Ovett.IMG_2253

Unico 2003 : Lightly fragrant, deceptive debut, starts slowly but quickly picks up pace. Lovely mélange of cherry, vanilla and spice with a suppleness and elegance that lingers. Hard to believe this wine has had over 6 years ageing in oak.. The next Unico for commercial release.90% Tinto Fino, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. 37000 bottles produced.

Unico 1999 : Deep ruby, cherry, forest fruits, leather, cedar, gunsmoke and wild herbs – like a symphony orchestra in full flow. Impressive on every level but still with the trademark restraint and class. Harvested really late even for Vega Sicilia. Started 11th October, finished 16th November.90% Tinto Fino, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Wood ageing : 21 months in vat, 20 months in new oak, 17 months in 1-2 year old oak and 24 months in large vats. 3 years bottle age.96159 bottles, 2596 Magnums, 157 Double Magnums

Unico 1994 : Brick red, more evolved style, cassis, menthol, mocca, pencil shavings and sweet spice.  A totally harmonious wine with unbelievable poise and class and an infinite finish. Like Margot Fonteyn and Darcy Bussell combined. Incredible wine. 85% Tinto Fino, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 24 months in vat, 22 months in new oak, 30 months in 1-2 year old casks, 30 months in large vats followed by 3 years in bottle. 96280 bottles, 2196 Magnums, 150 Double Magnums

Unico 1953 : Verging on the garnet, cocktail of wild fruits, rosemary, truffle, iodine and cedar. Elegant and persistent with immense breeding and stature. Lovely weight, more akin to Grand Cru Burgundy than First Growth Bordeaux. 80% Tinto Fino, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, Malbec and Albillo. Ageing – long.. 32000 bottles produced.

And finally..

Oremus Aszú 5 puttonyos 2002 : Deep gold, huge botrytis, marmelade, beeswax and barleysugar all underpinned with searing acidity. Benchmark Tokaji in the modern rather than oxidative style. 75% Furmint, 20% Hársevelü, 5% Muscat de Lunel. Fermented in Hungarian oak for 2 months, aged for 2 and half years in new Hungarian oak. 12% Alcohol, 148g/l Residual Sugar.IMG_2250

After our final goodbyes and photos we left at 5:30pm. Often in the wine trade you are privileged to taste some top wines in wonderful locations. However in 24 years in this wonderful trade I find it hard to remember a more extraordinary day that I have experienced. To spend over 6 hours with one of the world’s greatest winemakers, enjoy unrivaled access to the majestic facilities, share lunch with owner Pablo Alvarez and to taste some outstanding wines including 4 vintages of Unico spanning 50 years will live for ever in the memory. P1030774

I would like to thank both Javier and Pablo for giving up their entire day to us and for providing us with such a memorable experience. Finally, an extra special thank you to Elisa Kwon for making the whole day possible. Muchas gracias !

Tastings, Wine Tasting

White Graves screwcap challenge

During the WSET L2 course today, we conducted a cork/screwcap challenge. The wine in question was Château Couhins-Lurton 2007 white Pessac-Léognan, a 100% barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc from the Graves in Bordeaux, kindly donated by Véronique Bouffard from André Lurton. All the students left the room while I poured the wine into 2 glasses. On their return they tasted the 2 wines and wrote down (in a kind of secret ballot) which wine they preferred. Wine A was cork, Wine B was screwcap. Wine A received 2 votes, Wine B 4 votes. A victory for the screwcap.


What was interesting is that there was a clear difference between the 2 wines. Wine A (cork) was deeper in colour, very expressive with more  evolved aromas of lanolin, bootpolish and honey. Wine B (screwcap), in contrast, was less aromatic on the nose but the palate showed a highly clinical purity of citrus fruit, tighter structure of oak and acidity and a more youthful vitality.

OK, so it’s not particularly scientific, but it does show that for these styles of wine consumers (and not just wine trade professionals) clearly appreciate the tauter, refreshing profile brought by the screwcap. These are consumers who before expressed no particular preference but were willing to approach the trial with an open mind. It worked well in a controlled, educational environment. I realize selling it to the wider French wine drinking public, especially here in Bordeaux, would be a much tougher challenge.


MW exam practice Blind Tasting weekend – January 2011

Another eleven students, this time from 8 different countries, turned up for our second MW exam blind tasting weekend at the end of January. The group, which included a big Scandinavian contingent and a fairly even split between first and second years, stepped up to the challenge Juliet and I had prepared for the weekend. The wines as usual contained a mixture of classic styles, well known and a few lesser known varieties and a few “curved balls” to test everyone’s knowledge and reasoning. In detail the wines were as follows :


Paper 1

1. Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay 2007, Margaret River, Australia

2. Temporada Chardonnay 2009, Mendoza, Argentina

3. Talmard Macon- Chardonnay, Mallory et Benjamin 2009, Macon, France

4. Carillon Puligny Montrachet 2007, Burgundy, France

5. Château de Fesles Anjou Sec 2008, Anjou, France

6. Grosset Springvale Watervale Riesling 2009, Clare Valley, Australia

7. Millton Te Aria Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2007, Gisborne, New Zealand

8. Villiera Chenin Blanc 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa

9. Condrieu Chéry, Perret 2009, Condrieu, France

10. Clay Station Viognier 2009, Lodi, California

11. Vina Real Rioja, CVNE 2006, Rioja, Spain

12. Picpoul de Pinet, Cave de Pomerols 2009, Languedoc, France


Paper 2

1. Nicolas Catena Zapata 2006, Mendoza, Argentina

2. Yalumba “The Menzies” Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Coonawarra, Australia

3. Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste 2006, Pauillac, France

4. Ridge Montebello 2007, Santa Cruz, California

5. Clos Mogador 2006, Priorat, Spain

6. Laderas de El Seque 2009, Alicante, Spain

7. La Rioja Alta, Vina Arana, Reserva 2001, Rioja, Spain

8. Bohorquez Ribera del Duero 2004, Ribera del Duero, Spain

9. Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico, Barone Ricasoli 2007, Tuscany, Italy

10. Gerard Bertrand Merlot IGP Pays d’Oc 2009, Languedoc, France

11. Quinta da Rigodeira Bairrada 2005, Bairrada, Portugal

12. The Den Pinotage, Painted Wolf 2009, Coastal Region, South Africa


Paper 3

1. Graham’s Vintage Port 1980, Douro, Portugal

2. The Wine Society’s LBV (Symington) 2005, Douro, Portugal

3. Dow’s Colheita 1996, Douro, Portugal

4. Château Sociando-Mallet 2005, Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux

5. La Demoiselle de Sociando-Mallet 2008, Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux

6. The Wine Society’s Chilean Pinot Noir 2009, Leyda, Chile

7. Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir 2008, Leyda, Chile

8. Côte Rôtie, Les Bécasses, Chapoutier 2006, Rhône, France

9. St Joseph, Deschants, Chapoutier 2007, Rhône, France

10. De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2007, Riverina, Australia

11. Samos Anthemis Muscat 2004, Samos, Greece

12. Jurançon Moelleux La Megendia de Lapeyre, Clos Lapeyre 2006, Jurançon, France



MW exam style Blind Tasting weekend – Dec 10

Juliet Bruce Jones MW and I hosted our first MW blind tasting weekend in December. The idea was simply to give MW students experience and practice at answering the practical under exam conditions – a sort of mock exam. The tastings follow the exam format (2 and a quarter hours for each paper) and these are then followed by feedback sessions, whereby the students are given constructive advice on how to answer in a manner the examiners are looking for.

Eleven people from five different countries participated in this first event with one first year student coming from Vancouver for the weekend ! It’s not all school and exams : there are also dinners where people share bottles they’ve bought (more about this in an upcoming post) and even some free time..The main focus, however,  is the tasting papers and as any MW student will tell you, the more you practice the luckier you get….


The wines tasted over the weekend as follows :

Paper 1

1. McHenry Hohen Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Margaret River, Australia

2. Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2005, Graves, Bordeaux

3. Tyrell’s Vat 1 Hunter Semillon 2002, Hunter Valley, Australia

4. Isabel Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Marlborough, New Zealand

5. Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett JJ Prüm 2007, Mosel, Germany

6. Forster Pechstein Bürklin-Wolf Riesling 2007, Pfalz, Germany

7. Erbacher Marcobrunn Riesling Kabinett Von Simmern 2007, Rheingau, Germany

8. Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2006, Auckland, New Zealand

9. Kumeu River Village Chardonnay 2008, Auckland, New Zealand

10. René Muré Signature Pinot Gris 2009, Alsace, France

11. AS Sortes Godello 2008, Valdeorras, Spain

12. Tesco Reserve Chenin Blanc 2009, Western Cape, South Africa


Paper 2

1. Clos St Denis Grand Cru Jadot 2006, Morey St Denis, Burgundy

2. Volnay Vieilles Vignes Nicolas Potel 2006, Volnay, Burgundy

3. Bourgogne Cuvée St Vincent, Vincent Girardin 2006, Burgundy

4.Vosne Romanée 1er Cru Les Suchots, Conferon-Contedit 2006, Vosne Romanée, Burgundy

5. Brunello di Montalcino, Gianni Brunelli 2003, Tuscany, Italy

6. Brindisi Vigna Flaminia Vallone 2007, Puglia, Italy

7. Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso Torre del Falasco 2008, Veneto, Italy

8. Barolo Monprivato Mascarello 2005, Piedmont, Italy

9. De Martino Legado Reserva Carmenère 2008, Maipo, Chile

10. Cline Zinfandel 2008, California, USA

11. Domaine Pierre Cros Minervois, Les Aspres 2008, Minervois, France

12. Faldeos Nevados Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina


Paper 3

1. Nyetimber Brut Classic Blend 2005, Sussex, England

2. Pelorus Brut Cloudy Bay 2006, Marlborough, New Zealand

3. André Gallois Vin Mousseux NV, France

4. Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve NV, Champagne, France

5. Barroubio Muscat de St Jean de Minervois 2009, St Jean de Minervois, France

6. Stanton and Killeen Rutherglen Muscat (av 12 years), Victoria, Australia

7. Cave de Beblenheim, Muscat Sec 2009, Alsace, France

8. Asti Spumante Villa Jolanda NV, Piedmont, Italy

9. Hardy’s Nottage Hill Cabernet Shiraz 2008, SE Australia

10. Château Musar 2003, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

11. Lustau Oloroso Don Nuno, Jerez, Spain

12. Henriques & Henriques Bual 15 y.o. , Madeira



Outsiders – What’s In A Name?

Some may argue that calling yourself an “outsider” in your adopted country may lead to a certain scepticism and reticence on behalf of the locals. Others would say it should be seen as a compliment and proof that people from beyond the French territoire are proud to invest their time and considerable ressource in an area that deserves recognition. Whatever your opinion it’s always great when a bunch of like-minded people group together to put on an excellent tasting.

Held in a super “cool” bistro in downtown Montpellier, Chez Boris, 11 producers from all over the region put on a total of 4 wines each. Less is often more in the wine business, a maxim that many importers should consider when presenting to buyers, and all the more manageable in what turned out to be probably the most tightly packed tasting I’ve ever attended. Sadly the crush became so intense towards the end that I couldn’t actually reach the table (long given up on the spittoon) and so was not able to get round all the producers.


Nevertheless, I did manage to give it a good go and highlights of the evening included : Rives-Blanques Dédicace, certainly one of the best 100% Chenins outside of the Loire, Classique Blanc La Clape White from Château d’Anglès, a really refreshing Bourboulenc based blend from a generally arid location, and Jones Blanc 2009 a lovely 100% Grenache Gris from the eponymous vineyard of Katie Jones in the foothills of Queribus castle.

New to me were the impressive estates of Mas des Dames, close to Saint Chinian and Domaine de Cébène on the outskirts of neighbouring Faugères. I loved the concise named ‘La Dame’ from owner and winemaker Lidewiji van Wilgen of Mas des Dames, a quintessential Languedoc red blend of Grenache/Syrah and Carignan. The Cuvée Ex Arena from Brigitte Chevalier at Cébène, on paper a blockbuster Grenache/Mourvèdre blend but in reality a triumph of subtlety and elegance, was also a revelation and a steal at what I guess amounts to around 10€ retail in France.

To round off the tasting a visit to some regular friends, Combebelle the Biodynamic Estate owned by Catherine Wallace whose “Fleurs Sauvages” captures the high-top, garrigue fuelled plateau of Saint Chinian to a tee, and O’Vineyards Proprietor’s Reserve Cabardès, a big, bold Atlantic/Mediterranean blend that would rival many a Cru Classé Bordeaux in a blind tasting challenge. The least you would expect from Ryan O’Connell , a man who has done more to put this most westerly Languedoc Appellation on the map.


With the distance to the bottles, table and spittoon increasing, the persistent inward flow of restaurant diners it became impossible to taste further so I was unable to reach Domaine Treloar, Calet, Vella Frontera and Domaine Sainte Rose. Still a good reason to visit when next in their respective areas.

All in all a very good tasting, superbly organised and arranged by Louise Hurren. I managed to catch up with some old friends and discover something new. For the record I think the Outsiders is a great name, it embodies the notion of a struggle for acceptance, a very necessary quality when setting up a domaine in the Languedoc-Roussillon ! It seems appropriate to leave with a quote from Albert Camus whose most famous novel carries the same name : “Charm is a way of getting the answer yes without asking a clear question.”


Sojourn in Sancerre

En route to London with a stopover in Sancerre.
I thought the UK had the reputation of having all forms of weather in one day, but after my drive through France today , the “Hexagone” runs it a close second.
I left the Languedoc at lunchtime under clear skies but with a rapier-like Tramontane blowing at over 100km an hour (the sort of wind that makes people go mad). At Montauban the rain started, lightly at first, then pretty heavy. Between Cahors and Brive the temperature dropped below freezing (at 3.30 in the afternoon) and it started to snow. It remained like this all the way to Chateauroux where the mercury finally struggled to reach a rather timid 2 degrees. The milder temperature, though, gave way to thick fog and the last 100km to Sancerre took an “eye-challenging” 2hours. Luckily the last hour was spent on the taillights of a local who had rashly pulled out in front of me but actually enabled me to reach the village of Saint Satur, outside Sancerre, a good 30 minutes earlier than I would have done tout seul.
Found a great little hotel by the Loire (apparently, as haven’t seen it yet) and an even greater bistro type restaurant 2 minutes walk away. The sort of establishment that rekindles your faith in authentic French cuisine.
2 courses of delicious food (hot Crottin de Chavignol salad) followed by a succulent Bavette au poivre all for an incredible 13.50€.
The real eye-opener though was the wine selection. Over 20 Sancerre wines on sale by the bottle at no more than 24€ for the most expensive. Even better was that all were offered by the glass at 3€ a pop ! Fantastic. My knowledge of Sancerre producers being a little rusty, I asked the owner to recommend a selection of his best wines and he didn’t disappoint. A Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir from Vincent Pinard and another Pinot from Domaine Paul Cherrier were inspiring – notes to follow in a future post.
I came away feeling enthused, not only about the food but the high quality wines that I had tasted but also without the feeling of being fleeced and bankrupted.
I wish more On Trade experiences were the same…….Vincent Pinard Cuvée Florès Sancerre 2008

France, Languedoc-Roussillon, Wine Courses

Fire in the Corbières

Driving home from work the other day I could see smoke in the distance. When only 10 minutes away it was clear that this was a major fire and that it was not far from our house. By the time I arrived in our village , fire engines were screaming down the narrow lanes and the road past our house was closed off.

The Cave Cooperative at the end of our road became the nerve centre of operations as the full force of the emergency services swung into operation. After persuading a fire officer that I only lived a short distance away, he let me past. The children were out, so I took a stroll down the drive to see what was happening.I did not have to go far as by now a huge pall of smoke dominated the skyline and the fire was increasing in intensity at an alarming rate. Fortunately the wind was blowing the fire away from our direction into an area with no dwellings just pine forest, garrigue and vines.

There then followed a massive concerted effort on behalf of the fire service to bring the fire under control. 240 firemen, over 100 appliances and 10 Canadair were deployed to tackle the blaze. Four years of drought, tinder-dry forest, blazing sunshine and a steady nor’wester soon fanned the flames over a considerable area. Around midnight the wine changed direction and the smoke spread over our house. My wife and I decided we had better pack a few essentials in case we were asked to evacuate as the fire was by now less than 2kms away. She packed our wedding album, the kids’ favourite toys and passports. I packed my record collection and saxophone.

It took 2 days for the fire to be extinguished. A stray spark from a vigneron’s tractor had been enough to ignite the biggest fire in France this year. Over 900 hectares went up in smoke, it was all over the papers and even made the national news.The response from the emergency services had been nothing short of fantastic. All through July and August fire engines are based in villages around the Languedoc to enable a rapid response in the event of a fire. Most days for the firemen are filled with endless rounds of poker and petanque waiting for the call. When it did happen, they were on the scene within minutes.

Despite the extensive area affected, no houses were damaged or people injured. The vines also played their part, acting as firebreaks and preventing it spreading even further. They stand like an oasis of green surrounded by an ashen lunar landscape. Unbowed, although a little singed, this majestic plant shows again what a great asset to the “paysage” it is. Perhaps the authorities should take this into account when deciding when and where to grub up vineyards.

The vines have survived, the fruit is now being harvested and the quality is looking very good. I may, finally, be able to use “a hint of an autumn bonfire” in my tasting notes for the 2008 Corbières this year.


A trip to the Tax Office

I jumped in the car when I realized my TVA (VAT) return was due and sped off to the Tax office in Narbonne. What I’d forgotten was that it was the day the Tour de France was in town and the whole local population was heading in the same direction.

An hour later after what should have been a journey of 20 mins I decided it was best to dump the car and walk. A good move as it turned out, as all the roads in the City Centre were blocked off and much impatience and general intolerance was in the air.

I arrived at the Tax office 10 mins before closing for lunch and the place was deserted – unheard of on deadline day for Tax payments. The guy at the “accueil”, normally man of few words and even less sense of humour was positively chirpy. He checked the form, corrected a mistake without treating me like a moron, and offered to take it to the correct dept. I wish I’d taken a photo as it probably won’t happen like that on the next visit.

By the time I left, Narbonne was at a standstill. I joined the throng, weather was fabulous, the team coaches arrived and the riders emerged. After each one had been individually introduced to the waiting crowds it was down to the start-line in front of Les Halles, the indoor market. I watched the départ and then waited a full 20 minutes whilst all the support vehicles, team buses, police, medics and a huge caravan of Press and TV went past. 

A normal round trip of 60 mins had taken approx 5 hours, yet it’s not often that a rather routine chore combines with one of the world’s greatest sporting events. Paying tax has never been so much fun and the cerise on the gateau was that the stage was won in Nimes 4 hours later by the Brit – Mark Cavendish. 

I must leave it to the last minute next time……..



Wine Tasting

South of France Tasting

Just ran my first tutored tasting under the appropriate theme of South of France. A tasting of 8 wines from around the Languedoc-Roussillon backed up with plenty of visuals of the vineyards, locations and profiles of the people behind the wines.

I am often asked how I choose wines for the tastings and my response is always the same. Firstly they have to be good wines, not necessarily super expensive, just made with care and with a desire to express and encapsulate the spirit of their location. Secondly, all the wines are from producers I have visited. Essential to understand the location, method of working and general philosophy. Finally, all the wines are from people I like and respect. Every good wine has a great story behind it and the tastings are much more meaningful when you can communicate the personal and historical context.

For the record the wines tasted were as follows :

Blanquette de Limoux 2006 Rives-Blanques. Always good to start a tasting with some fizz and this wine from Jan and Caryl Panman sets the perfect tone.

Picpoul de Pinet Beauvignac 2007. A 4€ wine from the Cave Cooperative in Pomerols. Crisp, clean, refreshing from the vineyards bordering the Etang de Thau. Cried out for a plate of oysters !

Le Ciste Blanc 2006 Cotes du Roussillon, Domaine Laguerre. Rolle 30%, Marsanne 20%, Roussanne 20%, Grenache Blanc 20%, Maccabeo 10%. One of the most expensive wines of the tasting and the one which divided people the most. Half the assembled tasters loved the layers of flavour, depth and clear, balanced structure of the wine. The other half found the oak too obtrusive.

L’Archet Rose 2007 Vdp , Domaine Gayda. A well balanced, vibrant rose from the host domaine. Not too heavy on the colour or the extraction, very few bothered to reach for the spittoons on this one.

“Paysage” Coteaux du Languedoc 2006, Mas Plan de l’Om. 85% Carignan from the schist based soils of the Terrasses de Larzac. Made by former pharmacist and round the world yachtsman, Joel Foucou. Perfumed with immaculate balance, it demonstrates how you can make wines with real class without reaching for the sledgehammer.

Minervois GSM 2006 Chateau la Bouscade. A mathematically symmetrical blend of 1/3 each of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre from my favourite Languedoc “garagiste” David Cowderoy. A dense, silky style with emphasis on ripeness, accessibility and a real desire to please.

“Les Bartelles” La Clape 2006, Mas du Soleilla. The biggest red of the tasting both in concentration and alcohol (14.5%). More Newfoundland than Rottweiler, a wine of undoubted power and pedigree but with masterful restraint and subtlety.

Banyuls Parcé Frères 2006, La Rectorie. Many people’s favourite wine of the tasting and one that didn’t disappoint. Mostly Grenache Noir with a liberal inclusion of Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc. So difficult to harvest the 3 different varieties separately that they just throw them all in together ! These VDN (Vins Doux Naturels) wines are always popular when tasted – just need to work out how to translate this to commercial success.

A lively session throughout with plenty of comments, observations and discussion. At the end of the tasting everyone agreed that they had discovered something new and most importantly left with a good impression of the region’s wines. Un bon départ.


Up and Running

Four weeks since setting up the company and after countless meetings with Accountants, the Chamber of Commerce and other bureaucratic organisations, we’re off !

It feels great to actually to get started and finally bring a long held dream to fruition. My first event at Vinécole was a tasting at a dinner for over 60 delegates staying at the domaine for a conference on the ‘Heart in Business”. A rather appropriate title as this is what my new venture is all about.

I presented 4 wines which encapsulate for me the richness and diversity of the Languedoc/Roussillon and show, particularly to those who had never visited this wonderful place, what the region can offer. All were from the 2006 vintage :

Blanquette de Limoux – Rives-Blanques. 90% Mauzac. Lively, fruity, elegant, with real finesse. You can see why Dom Perignon took the secret back to Champagne.

Mas Champart Blanc St Chinian. Less than 1% of this region’s wines is made as AOC blanc, but it’s really worth seeking them out. It’s the constant ability to surprise that really excites me about the Languedoc/Roussillon and this wine certainly does that. A blend of Grenache blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Bourboulenc. Who could fail to be intrigued with a line-up like that ?

Domaine de la Rectorie – Coté Montagne AOC Collioure. The red wine of the evening, sumptuous but with a vibrant streak of stone-filled minerality . A blend of 5 different varieties, trumping even the white. For those interested – 30% Grenache, 30% Counoise (surely one of the few outposts of this rare cépage outside Chateauneuf), 27% Carignan, 12% Syrah, 11% Mourvèdre. A triumph of man over topography from some of the steepest and most breathtaking vineyards to be found anywhere.

Late Harvest Chateau La Bouscade Vin de Pays d’Oc. 60% Maccabeo and 40% Vermentino from almost 100% Botrytis berries, harvested one month later than normal. Made by owner and winemaker David Cowderoy – a garagiste in the literal sense (his garage is his winery !) Unctuous, concentrated with 198g/l residual sugar supported by a backbone of rapier-like acidity, this wine was considered the best value of the whole evening. When asked the price, many considered it to be 30€+. To find out it’s staggeringly good value at 10€ will find many beating a path to the door of this emerging Minervois domaine.

A really fun evening and a great way to start the new business. With wines like this to work with, it should be a ball !