amarchinthevines

Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc


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Faugères, Le Grand Saint-Jean

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The annual wine event in the village of Faugères took place last weekend and I duly went along on Sunday for the tasting. Twenty five vignerons with stands along the streets and corners of the medieval village, all sharing their finest products, what is not to like? I have said many times before on these pages that Faugères is my favourite appellation in the region. The schist based vines produce deep flavours and a final twist of refreshment which leaves you wanting to taste more of the wine. I am looking for clean fruit, depth and compexity and that enjoyable palate cleansing finish.

Some of my favourite domaines were not present at the event, Barral, Clos Fantine, Domaine des Capitelles but that meant the opportunity to try other domaines as well as reacquainting myself with other favourites. * Rosemary George was present signing copies of her authoritative book on Faugères and asked me whether I had discovered anything new, happily I had.

(plus Mas Sibert based in Fos but whose wines are more Pézenas and not strictly appellation wines either)

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Domaine De L’Ancienne Mercerie is one I have tasted previously and is a firm favourite of my friend Graham Tigg whose palate I trust implicitly. These wines wee certainly on good form today; a refeshing Blanc 16, a big oaky Couture 13 but best for me was the Petites Mains 15. This is a classic Faugères full of long flavours of dark fruits with an earthy note and that lick of acidity to cleanse the mouth. An assemblage of Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre Petites Mains would be a excellent introduction to the Languedoc and to Faugères.                                                                                             Website

Chateau Des Peyregrandes is based in Roquessels. With 25ha this is a large domaine and there were multiple bottles on taste. These ranged from a good Blanc 16 to big oaky reds. Personally two wines stood out for me. The Rosé 16 was much darker than many rosés, the Syrah had given it colour. Nice red fruits and a long textured finish, this would be a good aperitif or match many foods. I also liked Prestige 13 with good character and complexity from Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre.                                                        Website

Domaine Valambelle was new to me though it is a well established, independent producer in Laurens since 2002. Another large domaine with many cuvées I tried a handful. Millepeyres 15 offered a classic Carignan with red fruits, an earthiness too. I also liked the Mourvèdre led Caprice 15 (well named for this grape) with plummy fruits. Keenly priced, good wines.                                                                                            Website

 

Domaine Du Causse Noir is the Cabrerolles domaine of Jérome Py and he always greets me with a big smile and firm handshake. His wines are regulars on my table and firm favourites, indeed I had opened a bottle two nights before. It was good to meet this great guy again and share his wines with some Arbroath converts who were at the stand at the same time. Low yields of 20-25 hl/ha give a rich full bodied fruit profile in the cuvées. 3,14 (a pun on π) 2015 is so complex for an entry wine, full of fruit and life. Caius 14 was even fresher and Mathias 13, serious and lovely. Favourites again.                                    Website

Jérome Rateau makes wines under his own name as well as his domaine Haut Lignières. Based at the top of the village of Faugères Jérome’s wines are always good. New to me this year was a premium white Empreinte Carbone (same name as the prestige red). Made with the same juice as the Petites Plumes white but given 9 months in a very lightly charred new barrel with acacia top and bottom. The effect was certainly impressive, very little oak flavour surprisingly but lots of nutty complexity.          Website 

Domaine De Cébène was one of the first Languedoc domaines I visited and remains a favourite. Brigitte Chevalier has made a name for herself and her wines through hard work and skill, she has lovely vines high on the hills around Caussiniojouls along with a brand new chai. Brigitte showed the wines of her partner who makes St. Martin D’Agel whose traditional red I like very much. Brigitte was showing the excellent Carignan Belle Lurette 15 with fruit, complexity and a long life ahead. She explained that the schist soils mean the vines send out very long roots to fins nourishment and their contact with the soils adds complexity. My personal favourite of the Cébène wines is Les Bancels, classic combination of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. The 14 was expressive, round with full fruits and the classic Faugères refreshing finish. Brigitte kindly opened a 15 to compare, and it will be great. Still a little reticent it packs flavour and, yes, that finish.     Website

Mas Angel / La Graine Sauvage  is the domaine of Alexandre Durand and Sybil Baldassarre also based in Caussiniojouls. Sybil is, first and foremost, an oenologue and I have been privileged to meet her and Alexandre numerous times at Mas Coutelou and various events. They have ventured into winemaking for themselves and the results are impressive. The white Rocalhas was star of the day. Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne grapes blended to give a gorgeous fruit nose with soft, peachy fruit and a nice sharp finish. Very drinkable, very good. A lovely red fruits and textured Prestige 15 red (Carignan/Grenache) and very deep, complex Syrah Marius 15 converted me completely. These are very good Faugères wines, very good natural wines. If you want proof that natural wines can express terroir then here you are.                                      Facebook

A very enjoyable morning, lots of parades, stalls, music and fun. But most of all, a reminder that Faugères is so good. Incidentally all of these domaines are organic, other than Haut Lignières, this really is a pioneering appellation.

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Living wine history

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Version française

As a History graduate and teacher I have always believed that to understand the present we must understand our history. Whether it be politics, culture, sport or, indeed, wine the route to the present gives us the fuller picture. In wine terms I relish the stories of the winemakers and how they came to their place in producing the wines we appreciate, that route often explains their philosophy and their hopes for the wines. I often hear from them, as in Clos Fantine or Domaine Montesquiou, how the family history and its relationship with the land influences how they nurture their soils, vines and wines.

Naturally, spending so much time at Mas Coutelou I have come to appreciate the story of the domaine and its roots and traditions through to its present. Nowhere is that history more alive than in one of its most unusual features, the solera system.

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I was talking to Rosemary George at the Mas Gabriel 10th anniversary dinner and I told her how a blog post she wrote first led me to Jeff’s door and, consequently, changed my story and journey to the Languedoc. Rosemary’s greatest memory of Mas Coutelou she said was of the solera system. It is certainly virtually unique in the region. After my initial tour of the vineyards and tasting with Jeff I was amazed by the discovery of a solera. Clearly it left an impact upon Rosemary too.

So, what is it? What is its own history?

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Soleras are usually associated with sherry. The word means ‘on the ground’ in Spanish. Barrels are filled with wine and the oldest wine is used to fill bottles though some of the wine is left. It is refilled from the next oldest barrel and that in turn by the third oldest. As each is only partly emptied the barrel’s contents become a mix of vintages. Traditionally, the oldest barrel is in on the ground and filled from above, hence the name solera. That ground barrel in Mas Coutelou’s solera is over 200 years old! The barrels also lose some of their contents through evaporation. The larger barrels (around 225 litres) lose around 6% of their wine per year, smaller barrels can lose up to 15%! Hence the need to replenish the barrels for natural reasons not just because they have been emptied.

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Michel removing must from muscat ready for the solera

The Coutelou system was started by Jeff’s great grandfather and has become a family tradition. Muscat and Grenache grapes are used to feed the solera each year. They can follow a route of being used for sweet or dry wines, they might be blended together or kept separately. Altogether there are 16 possible paths for the wines to take and Jeff must choose the most appropriate one based on his tasting experience.

The wines vary from the very dry to the very sweet and luscious. Some of the old Grenaches can be very like old amontillado sherries, lightly structured but packing power with long nutty, prune and raisin flavours which linger and fill your mouth. Others, especially the sweeter Muscats, are caramel, toffee and raisin in aroma and flavour and the wine clings to the glass with its viscosity. They are an utter delight and a special treat to savour slowly. Going from barrel to barrel in the two rooms where they lie there is an enormous range of wines, somehow Jeff keeps a record of them all in his head. As you taste them you are enjoying the results of decades of grapes from the lovingly tended vineyards, the work of generations of the family. This is tasting history.

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I love these wines, their complexity, aromas and flavours are captivating, making you smile, savour, sniff, speculate and sigh with pleasure. It is impossible to taste and to drink them without reflecting on the story of the wine and the people who made them. A sense of the past reinforced by the surroundings. The solera cellar contains all sorts of artefacts, equipment used in the vines and the cellars over the years as you can see above. It is a museum to great wines and to great people representing the history of the village and region too. The wines are that history in the glass, rich and rewarding.

 


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Mas Gabriel – 10 / 10

Deborah and Peter Core have been making wine in Caux (34) for 10 years, a cause for celebration. I was truly honoured to be invited to share their celebration evening with a vertical tasting of their Carignan led wines and a dinner held in their cave and garden. Present were luminaries such as Rosemary George, Michel Smith, Andrew Jefford, Catherine Roque of Domaine Clovallon, Gary Voss and Annette Atkins of Voss Estate in Martinborough, New Zealand along with Helen Deneuve who works for Coteaux Du Languedoc and other wine groups and is a good friend of Deborah’s, as well as Wendy Gedney, owner of Vins en Vacances, a wine tours company, Christopher Gallaway, wine expert and Bernard Degioanni, wine and food journalist, so it was a true privilege to be amongst their company.

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l-r Christopher, Gary, Annette and Wendy

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Michel, Andrew and Rosemary at work whilst Peter pours

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l – r: Bernard (just), Peter, Catherine and Helen

Mas Gabriel has long been one of my top Languedoc wine domaines and I have purchasing from there over many vintages. I have huge respect for the Cores who gave up successful careers in London in law and finance to follow their dream of making wine. Having trained and studied in New Zealand and France, they decided on the Languedoc as the region which would offer them what they were seeking in making their wines. Land was bought around Caux and the work began. What courage to embark on such a venture and the going must have been immensely difficult at times in the ten years which have followed. Learning about your vineyards, making wine in different vintages, mastering the bureaucracy in a second language and, not least, finding markets. That they remain so passionate about their land and wines whilst being the most courteous and charming people is testament to two people of strength, determination and talent. Their wines are produced organically, indeed biodynamically, and are marked by freshness and fruit.

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We gathered in the cave for the tasting and began with a flight of 5 vintages of Clos Des Papillons, the white wine of the domaine (though joined by a new white cuvée in 2014, Champ Des Bleuets). Papillons has long been one my favourite white wines of the region so this was a special treat for me.

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Until 2014 the Carignan was given a small 5% addition of Viognier but in 2014 the Cores changed this to 15% Vermentino. Around a third of the Carignan Blanc is aged in acacia barrels to add a little complexity without oak flavours. There is no malolactic fermentation as they seek to reflect the freshness and natural acidity of Carignan Blanc. When the wine was first made yields were tiny at 12 hl/ha but much work and even more cow manure has helped to boost yields to 20-25 hl/ha. There are only around 0,4ha of the vines (more have been planted) and this is a variety with only about 40ha in the Languedoc so Mas Gabriel has around 1% of them all. Peter and Deborah actively sought out the parcel after tasting the Carignan Blanc of neighbour Conte De Floris, who does make excellent wines also. The parcel they found is made up of 40 year old vines in gobelet on a sandy, limestone soil.

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So, the wines:

2014 – The first Clos Des Papillons with 15% Vermentino, which is grown in soil with galets, large round flat stones. The wine is very young still and a fresh, lively aroma is matched by a dry, very mineral initial taste. Fresh, fleshy fruits then fill the mouth to round out the dry core of the Carignan, like a peach with the fruit around the stony centre. The Vermentino certainly appears to provide that fruity roundness though the Carignan was slightly less acidic than usual in 2014 too. The wine comes together to form a lovely, refreshing, clean taste. It is very young, it will fill out further and I really like it.

2013 – A big rush of freshness leaps from the glass. Green and yet apricotty. It settles down quickly and lovely fruity, dry aromas emerge. The harvest was quite late in 2013, September 16th, so the nights were fresher as the grapes reached the optimum ripeness, and this is reflected in the fruit itself. Huge flavours of yellow and white fruits mixed with fresh acidity – always in balance, always with a delicious tension. Lovely, a very good wine.

2012 – Yellow, almost light golden in colour. I could detect a little more evidence of wood on the nose but nothing out of balance and it provided yet more complexity, there was no obvious taste of wood. The acidity appeared less obvious, though it was actually a lower pH than usual, the result of an extra year in bottle? Juicy, yellow fruits, with an edge of citrus and agrume. Stony, clean and delicious. I smiled in relief that I have resisted temptation and kept a bottle or two of this vintage, excellent.

2011 – Woh, what a nose, almost ‘Riesling’ in character with hints of kerosene. Happily, Wendy Gedney agreed with me, it’s not just me! Full flavours, lingering lime and lemon fruit flavours add that delicious freshness, definitely more so than 2012. Long, refreshing, balanced, poised! This was the earliest picked vintage (August 24th). It has years of life ahead if anyone still has a bottle (sadly, not me). I loved this.

2010 – Lively, this is certainly not on a downward slope, far from it. Still a yellow/green Starburst citrus edge. the highest acidity of any of the Carignan vintages yet the wine has rounded out a little. There is a saline, mineral edge in there too but then as you drink (and I did drink some!) an almost waxy, oily finish which helps to coat the mouth with the yellow and white fruit flavours. Lingering, clean and lovely.

Clos Des Papillons ages well, no question about it. The freshness and acidity surely help this and whilst difficult to resist drinking in a year or two I am now determined to hold back some bottles. Interestingly, Andrew Jefford was slightly less in agreement with most and would welcome some malolactic fermentation to round out the flavours more. For me, I love it as it is. To choose one vintage? I really like them all, there is nothing here to which I would not give at least 4/5 on my personal scale. 2011 perhaps but maybe 2013 just wins with the freshness, sorry Andrew.

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In the Trois Terrasses vines with Peter in 2012

So to Trois Terrasses, the first of two red wines made at the domaine, the other being Clos Des Lièvres, a Syrah led wine which is bigger and more powerful, and also excellent I hasten to add (deserved Gold Medal winner at Millésime Bio this year). The first two vintages in 2008 and 2009 were 100% Carignan but in 2010 came a change with 20% Syrah  and afterwards up to 30% of the wine is Syrah and Grenache. These are vinified separately in cuves, the Carignan cuve being cement the others fibreglass. Peter explained that yields of the Carignan were only 10 hl/ha at first but they have built this up, with more hard work and cow manure, to 25 to 30 hl/ha on average. This is reflected in gradually lowered alcohol levels in the Carignan with slightly higher acidity.

2013 – Slightly reductive at first but that blew away within a few seconds to leave a torrefacted nose with plummy, dark fruits which carried over into the flavours along with those coffee notes. There was an almost citrus freshness on the finish refreshing the palate. Spicy, peppery notes developed too and though this needs a little time yet, it is already good and will grow into something very good in a couple of years.

2012 – Rounder, darker, deeper. Complex nose of dark fruit with freshness evident even on the nose. Full in the mouth, rounding out with lots of fruit and minerality and always the trademark freshness which I love so much in Mas Gabriel wines. It is a characteristic which reminds me so much of biodynamic and organic wines, dare I say natural wines too! It certainly appeals to me.Still youthful, this is a wine which has been a big hit with friends and family when I have shared a bottle with them. Very good.

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Here’s one I shared earlier

2011 – Rounder aromas, hints of cassis. Perfumed and fruity, very heady in a pleasing manner. It tastes round and full too, ripe plums and a raspberry fresh note. Liquorice with pepper sprinkling the range of flavours too. As the wine evolved in the glass there were even smoky notes emerging. Very complex, but all working well together, always lovely to drink and, yes, that fresh finish. Very good.

2010 – The year in which Syrah was first added to the Carignan. Fruit aromas spring out from the glass, cassis, blackberry and red fruits too, lively acidity. Ironically, given the blending, Carignan characters emerge, a slightly leathery, wild edge to add to the complexity. Plummy but not too fruity. No sign of being old, still very much a wine reaching its peak with a long time to enjoy it. Harmony despite all the complexity, balance and freshness, of course. Very good.

2009 – 100% Carignan. Almost restrained on the nose, the wine colour is garnet and fresh, no signs of starting to age. A wine reaching its prime but still plenty of life ahead. Pure, direct, lovely fruit with some dusty, round tannins. The acidity is still fresh but beautifully balanced with fruit profiles such as raspberry, cassis, blackberry, plums – round, ripe and delicious. Deep, complex, full. Superb. There was a noticeable lull in conversation as we tasted this wine, it stopped us in our tracks and we had to simply stop and admire, hallmark of very, very good wine.

2008 – The first ever Trois Terrasses, pure Carignan. I detected a little more alcohol on the nose but nothing off putting. Soft, easy to drink with black fruits and a little gaminess, tannins still present but soft and supportive to the wine. Very much alive and kicking, it will continue to grow. I liked it, a lot, though perhaps overshadowed by the previous glass of 2009.

My favourite, most peoples’ favourite, was the 2009. Joyful wine, the sort of glass which makes you realise why you find wine so fascinating and rewarding.  Of the blends, I particularly like the 2010 and the 2012 but I am happy to have some bottles of all of them left.

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At dinner in the garden with a refreshing breeze

An interesting discussion followed as we compared favourites. Andrew Jefford had chosen the 08 and 09 and suggested a return to pure Carignan. Much thought for Peter and Deborah but they must have been delighted at how well the wines all performed, worthy of anyone’s cellar, certainly in the top rank of the Languedoc. I was so pleased for them, they deserve every little bit of credit and praise. I gather the thought of a pure Carignan was already in their heads, maybe this evening will influence them.

And so to dinner, made by Deborah and her friend Helen Deneuve. They even provided me with a superb vegetarian main course which was one of the best I have eaten in a long time. To accompany dinner the Cores served their Carignan rosé, Fleurs Sauvages, so popular that it disappears very rapidly out of the cellar every year, and justifiably. Various bottles of Clos Des Papillons and Trois Terrasses also appeared on the table to be drunk not just tasted. A fitting end to a fantastic evening. The conversation flowed, Michel entertained us royally (am I allowed to use that adjective for a Frenchman?) and then provided a beautiful Banyuls Mas Blanc 2003 to accompany a delicious chocolate gâteau.

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Deborah, Michel and a photo of Rosemary taking a photo

Thank you so much for the invitation Deborah and Peter, it was such a privilege to be present. There was talk of reassembling in another 5 years for ten vintages and that would be a dream. So raise your glass to Mas Gabriel, and make sure it is filled with one of their wines, you deserve nothing but the best, and so do they.

Mas Gabriel website including where to buy the wines around Europe.

Michel Smith’s blog

Rosemary George’s blog

Andrew Jefford weekly on Decanter 

Wendy Gedney’s company through which you can visit Mas Gabriel

Books by Bernard Degioanni


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Wine and me, a journey to the Languedoc

Version française

I was reflecting on two wine blogs which I read recently (Frankie Cook and David Crossley) Independently they were writing about how we got into wine and how, over the years, our tastes have changed.

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Pat and myself with our tasting guide at Olivier Leflaive, Puligny Montrachet

I was brought up in a County Durham small town, Crook. My family were teetotal and brought me up as a Methodist. This meant that alcohol had virtually no impact upon my life for many years, the pub was not a part of lives other than the occasional meal whilst on holidays. Wine was an alien concept, something which posh people and foreigners drank. Even during my time at Liverpool University I drank some beer but never wine. That I should turn out to be horse racing fan with passion for wine may be seen as something of a reaction to that upbringing though it should be said that my childhood and youth were wonderful and I would not change anything about them.

So it was a school trip which ignited my interest in wine. As a teacher. I was asked to accompany a visit to the Rhine Valley in Germany in 1982. The hotel where we stayed was big and old fashioned, in the centre of Bacharach not far from Rüdesheim.

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The hotel owner was a very sociable and generous host and every evening he would offer us wine to accompany our meal and then he would teach us about the local wines and how they could vary in levels of dryness or sweetness and according to site and winemaker. (I hasten to record that two teachers would abstain to supervise the children). Well his teaching was a revelation! As far as I knew wine came in two types, red and white just as there were different flavours of soft drinks such as Cola, lemonade etc. Our host opened up a whole new world of how wines could vary so much even within the same place and vintage never mind from other regions. How I wish that I could remember the name of that German tutor, he set me on the road which leads to the Languedoc in 2015.

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With Oz Clarke at a London tasting, his books taught me so much

From Germany to Australia. 1980s Britain saw a boom in wine interest in Britain, fuelled by television coverage, magazines and books. My chosen guides were Oz Clarke and Hugh Johnson, different in approach but knowledgeable and with a great ability to communicate their enthusiasm and to educate me with their words. At the same time the arrival of New World wines, especially from Australia, and Oz’s championing of those wines widened my tastes from German Riesling, though that remains my favourite white wine type it should be said. Huge stonking Shiraz, colourful Chardonnay and cassis-heavy Cabernet Sauvignons were the order of the day. Wyndhams Bin 222 and 444, Penfolds Bins 128 and 389, then cheap! Massive amounts of oak (often from wood chips added to the barrel) which today would make me shudder and wince. 

 

Add in the Sauvignon Blancs which were starting to arrive from New Zealand, tropical fruits, cut grass and cat’s pee aromas. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon was the bottle to find, indeed it was rationed out. And trips to Oddbins, the most dynamic of wine retailers, who offered Penfolds Grange Hermitage for around £20 (now over £200), why didn’t I buy it all?

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Iain and I using Oz Clarke and Hugh Johnson to help us navigate Beaune

From the Antipodes to France. By the mid 1980s I was a regular holidaymaker in France, profiting from school holidays in summer. The Loire was the first region visited and particularly tasting wines in Vouvray. Dry, appley Chenin Blanc wines which could magically also be sweet and luscious vins moelleux in the hands of winemakers such as Huët, Foreau and Fouquet.

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A startlingly youthful me with my brother in law Iain in the Cave Madeleine, Vouvray.

My first wine fair was in the troglodyte Cave Madeleine on August 15th. I assumed you drank rather than spitting the wines and rolled happily down the street back to the accommodation. Then onto Burgundy, Alsace, Beaujolais, the Rhone Valley, Bordeaux and Jura. Some were more welcoming to wine drinkers than others. Great welcomes from people like Martin Schaetzel in Ammerschwihr who opened bottles generously. I met lovely people whose passion for their work and wines was freely shared with visitors. Louis Champagnon in Chénas was always a man who greeted you with a smile, food, a joke and great modesty.

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With the great Louis Champagnon, Chénas

The Échezeaux producer who shared her Grand Crus, knowing that as a young teacher I couldn’t afford them (sadly I still couldn’t 25 years later!). Sadly, Bordeaux was different, most producers kept their doors firmly closed, though I still loved the wines. I tasted first growths such as Haut Brion at generous merchants such as Hungerford Wines. I bought en primeur in 1990 and struck lucky with a great vintage and wines from La Lagune and d’Angludet at just over £100 a case.

My experiences broadened, more tastings, more wines from around the world but especially France. As a teacher my budget was limited and I relied upon Oddbins, The Wine Society and supermarkets to find good wines. Plus I got bolder in knocking on doors, a remarkable visit to Didier Dagueneau and his wonderful Pouilly Fumés for example. In Germany trockenbeerenauslese wines were offered and I even learned to pronounce it.

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A March in the vines of the Loire

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A March in the vines of the Rhone

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A March in the vines of Alsace, golden autumn 2001

Blind spots remained however, Italy and Spain in particular, much to my brother in laws’s disbelief. California too though a visit to the USA (South Dakota and Seattle) showed me that good wines were abundant there, and oh those ice wines in Canada! Lovely. A trip to Sicily also opened my eyes to the possibilities of Italian wines, the Frappato grape and Etna wines were revelations.

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Well 30 years of wine drinking brought joys and disappointments, bargains and rip offs. Memorable bottles, glasses and also corked wines, a whole case of expensive Chablis was one painful low. A hundred bottles stored away has turned into five hundred. And then with age the question, when will I drink it? Why buy expensive en primeur which won’t be at its best until I’m too feeble to drink it or indeed incapable of drinking it.

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Sorting and happy (and hair!)

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Wine fair in Cahors

Tentative steps further south in France in the last decade. The Languedoc. Rosemary George was my guide through her book and blog to discovering the well priced and under rated wines of the region. Wines which offered pleasure but also, from many producers, complexity. A chance visit to Puimisson and Mas Coutelou as that was the domaine Rosemary wrote about when I was in the area. The expected half hour visit turned into three and a half hours. Even after visiting hundreds of vineyards and cellars I was flabbergasted. Vineyards without chemicals, wines without sulphur, a solera! In Puimisson?? All true. Above all a generous, passionate man and generous friend who happens to be a great winemaker. And a teacher about the vineyards and winemaking who encouraged my interest and deepens my understanding and who agreed to being the focus of a blog to keep me busy. Le Vin Des Amis indeed. Retirement, the chance to spend a year, indeed more, in this fabulous region. Learning, living.

Cheers