I have already chosen my favourite wines of the year, both red and white. However 2015 has been probably the best year of my life offering me opportunities to fulfill lots of ambitions such as travelling and living in France, a full vendanges and lots of wine tasting. These have been 15 highlights.
- Wine of the year – Casa Pardet Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. One of those great, rare moments when a wine stops you in your tracks and wraps up all your attention in the wine as it unveils its aromas and flavours. Simply great wine.
- Tasting of the year – Lots of competition such as Biodyvin with wines from the likes of Zind Humbrecht and Huet, La Bande De Latour and the excellent series of tastings organised by Le Wine Shop in Pézenas (see Wine Tastings page). However, one salon stood out.
La Remise in Arles was a two day joy. In its own grounds, with excellent food and a range of excellent producers, including the Casa Pardet above and Jeff Coutelou, La Remise had a lively, friendly atmosphere. The inclusion of producers from Spain and Italy as well as various parts of France and the welcome addition of new, young producers provided a rich, enjoyable and rewarding experience.
- Visit of the year – I was tempted to choose my visit to Jurancon’s Domaine Montesquiou, the family produce a supreme range of wines with a great philosophy behind them. However, the visit which highlighted my interest in the different cépages and sheer variety of vines was to Domaine Vassal in Marseillan Plage. Here, for the time being, is maintained France’s repository of vines. The work and effort to acquire, conserve, classify and valorise vines was fascinating and inspirational. Being there with some of my favourite vignerons was an added bonus on a memorable day.
- Book of the year – Pierre Galet’s ‘Dictionnaire Encyclopédique des Cépages’ was a gift from Jeff and is, like Domaine Vassal, a treasure trove of information about every wine and grape variety. Almost a thousand pages of facts, photos and drawings, it will be a book which will accompany me forever.
- Blog of the year – I have enjoyed reading about wine from so many sources, however, it seems to me that blogs provide me best these days with opinion, entertainment and information. Michel Smith, David Farge, Rosemary George, Steve Slatcher, Jamie Goode and others would be worthy of your time. However, the one which has opened my eyes to wines from Australia, Austria, the Jura and many other areas of wine is the blog of my friend David Crossley and I strongly recommend it. Written with authority, wit and style, David has a broad tasting experience and an open mind, a rare combination in wine writing.
- Wine region of the year – Faugères, simple. So many excellent wines this year have come from Faugères, Clos Fantine, Domaine Cébène, Haut Lignières, Mas Sibert, Causse Noir, Mas d’Alézon amongst others. If you don’t know Faugères wines, then please seek some out.
- Dud of the year – corked wines. It’s an ongoing debate about which closures are best and I know that corks are of better quality than ever. Memories may fade of pouring a whole case of top Chablis down the sink but they are still there. And this year an expensive bottle of Beaujolais was just one disappointment amongst far too many. It really is the most frustrating aspect of wine when you pour a wine you have anticipated keenly only to find it spoiled.
- Restaurant of the year – Bouchon Bistrot in Hexham is always a treat and my favourites this year included; Le Terminus at Cruzy, La Very’Table in Neffiès, Cave St. Martin in Roquebrun and L’Amphitryon in Pézenas. Best though was Octopus in Béziers. Excellent cooking and service, imaginative food and a lunch menu at 32€ for 3 courses including wine and coffee. A close second was Les Papilles Insolites in Pau, a wine shop with a Michelin listed restaurant offering fantastic fresh, tasty food and no corkage fee at lunchtime for wines bought in the shop.
- Meal of the year – not a restaurant in fact. During the vendanges we were joined by a number of friends of Jeff and one, Karim, brought some fresh lobsters and scallops. Fresh, cooked simply with great skill and timing, they were simply delicious. Matched with a magnum of Casa Pardet (again!) Chardonnay, with Jeff, Cameron, Karim and Pat it was a superb evening, all the better for following a good day of vendange and the conviviality of friends.
- Location of the year – the Languedoc Roussillon. Varied, exciting, beautiful, friendly, fascinating.
UK readers will know that the BBC runs a Sports Personality Of The Year competition and my next five highlights follow their categories.
- Team of the year – Team Coutelou during the vendanges. Jeff, Michel, Cameron, myself, Carole plus a host of special guest appearances from lots of friends. The camaraderie, hard work and spirit was something special and it was almost a let down when harvest finished and that tight team stopped working together every day.
- Young producer of the year – I met Joe Jefferies first at the Pub Quiz in Pézenas and it was a surprise when I met him at La Remise (see above) in Arles in his role as a vigneron. To be honest the wines were still very raw and unformed when I first tasted them but at subsequent tastings they developed into excellent wines, with Pierre De Sisyphe Blanc a particular favourite. It was a blow when Joe told me there were none left to buy! I look forward to watching him develop his talents with time.
Special mention also to Simon Bertschinger and Sara Frémine at Mas Sibert in Fos, their Fosénot is a wine which has become a real favourite.
- Overseas producer of the year – in other words not French. Clear winner, Casa Pardet for the most memorable bottles of the year the Cabernet and the Chardonnay we shared at Jeff’s with the lobsters. Outstanding producers.
- Personality of the year – well no shock here, it has to be Jeff Coutelou. Yes he’s a great winemaker and a passionate advocate for, and defender of, nature. However, he’s also a teacher, coach and friend. So many of the opportunities and so much of the learning I have enjoyed have been due to Jeff. His wines are a constant delight and a reflection of his personality.
- Joy of the year – This blog. I started it as a hobby to occupy myself. Amazingly it has opened doors for me, taught me a lot and been a great way to meet people. I never imagined 11,000 people would read it within a year and that people in 106 countries would do so. So my final post of 2015 is written to thank you all for reading and sharing my experiences and enjoyment of wine, vines and the people who care for them. May 2016 bring you good wine, health and happiness.