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

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Real? RAW? Just very good



At La Remise

In the last article I wrote about the young up and coming winemakers whose wines I enjoyed at Bédarieux, La Remise and The Real Wine Fair. Whilst this new wave are producing good things there are still many good tunes from the some of the ‘older’ fiddles. As ever there were many vignerons present who have been making natural wines for longer. Many of these began as winemakers on a family domaine and learned about winemaking in conventional form before deciding to go natural. Others have moved into the world of wine with the intention of making natural wine.

Natural wines developed a reputation for faults amongst traditional wine drinkers (especially some journalists). Some of these appraisals were genuine, others a matter of perception. There is no doubt that some wines are faulty, I have tasted them myself. Problems such as mousiness and brett are genuine faults. Other issues can be a matter of taste, eg skin contact.

In contrast, however, I visited a wine fair in Vouvray on Sunday May 15th. It was full of conventional producers, bar one converting to biodynamics. There were many dull wines, often with high sulphur. There were many faulty wines. So, j’accuse les vins conventionels.

Natural wines are, in fact, the way that wines were made for generations, over hundreds of years. The conventional wines of 2016 are the product of more recent methods, of modern science and technology. Going back to the traditional methods involves a leap of faith and requires very healthy grapes if you are to  abjure sulphur dioxide. As the natural wine movement has gained momentum in the last 20 years many of its producers have become more experienced in making wines without the safety net of modern science and technology. Standards are getting higher, the wines ever better. So, here are some that I enjoyed recently.


With Fred Rivaton

At Bédarieux I was very happy to meet up again with Fred Rivaton from Latour De France (66) who makes many of my favourite wines. Blanc Du Bec and Gribouille, both 2014s, were delicious. In the last few weeks I have selected both as Wine Of The Week, and would do so most weeks when I was fortunate enough to open a bottle. One of the best.

Another of my WOTW selections was the Pinot Blanc 2010 of Gérard Schueller. He was present at Bédarieux too and his 2014 Pinot Blanc and Riesling were both excellent. Next time I visit Alsace he’ll be top of my list of domaines to visit. I bought both of those wines.

Philippe Valette‘s Macon wines were another source of quality, I especially liked his Chaintré 2012, a beautifully clear, zesty and round expression of Chardonnay. As a third generation winemaker, Valette is a fine example of my comments above.

Didier Barral (Domaine Leon Barral) is one of natural wine’s great stars. His wines at Bédarieux were proof of how justified his reputation is. They require time to be at their peak but are pleasurable, profound and priced accordingly but worth it. Barral is a model of biodiversity and philosophical winemaking, a must try. My favourites were the Blanc 14 made mostly from Terret with lovely melon, grapefruit flavours and great length, together with the Faugères 13 of stunning depth.

Nicolas Carmarans is living proof that talent and good winemaking can make very drinkable, quality wines in regions not usually associated with wine. He works in the Aveyron. There is a direct, mineral side to his wines married to fruit and length. Wines such as Selves 14 and Maximus 14 reflect local grape varieties such as Fer Servadou at their best.


Clos Fantine is a domaine which features regularly in this blog and the 2015 wines which Corinne was showing at La Remise were the best of recent vintages in my opinion. La Lanterne Rouge and Faugères Tradition have pure fruit with structure, complexity and a beautiful expression of the schistous soils of the area.

Philppe Pibarot makes wines in the Gard. As well as encouraging his young assistant John Almansa, Philippe makes first rate wines. I loved both his white wines, Blanc and Clos Domitia 14 with Clairette, Roussanne and Piquepoul and the delicious red fruit freshness of Cante Renard 15 made from Cabernet Sauvignon with Languedoc varieties such as Carignan and Syrah mixed in.

Guy and Thomas Jullien are still young but I have enjoyed their Ferme Saint Martin Rhone wines many times and met them in Arles and London. I especially enjoyed the Ventoux wine Estaillades 14 (Grenache and Counoise) with round, spicy flavours and the Beaumes De Venise Costancia 14 a 50/50 blend of Grenache and Syrah, more structured but balanced with lots of delicious fruit.


Italian producer Colombaia presented some lovely wines at La Remise, classic Tuscan wines with Sangiovese, Malvese and Colorino grapes. Lovely freshness and fruit were trademarks of the wines and I particularly appreciated their Rosso Toscano 12 from young vines.


From Galicia in Spain I enjoyed the wines of La Perdida. Perfumed, spicy aromas in their wines, nicely balanced too – signs of good winemaking. The Godello 14 with 20 days maceration on skins was one of the best examples of longer skin contact white wines that I have tasted and the Garnacha (with 30% Mencia) was even better, full of deep spice and dark fruits and very aromatic.


I could add other names like Yannick Pelletier, Julien Peyras and Alexandre Bain. Good producers all.

And, yes I am biased, there are the excellent wines of Jeff Coutelou. It is interesting to taste Mas Coutelou wines in the context of producers from around France and Europe. They more than hold their own, the 2015 freshness and restraint certainly lifting them to bear comparison with the best of the Rhone, Loire or anywhere.


Jeff is a 5th generation producer, he learned winemaking skills from his family before branching out into ‘real wine’ production. He has a natural talent of course but he has learned from experience and his wines are improving in quality as a result of that talent and learning about his vines, his soils and his cellar work. And passing it on to the new wave of producers who come to spend time with him.

Terms such as ‘real’, ‘natural’, ‘living’ are often applied to these wines, but don’t get hung up about them. The cuvées and producers I have listed here are just very very good wines and winemakers.



Case of 2015 – white wines



After my everyday case it is time to select my case of wines representing my favourite wines tasted (and drunk) in 2015. It has been a fantastic year for me, I love my life in the Languedoc and the opportunity to spend time alongside someone I consider to be a truly great winemaker and, I am fortunate to say, my friend. Through various tastings, meals and purchases I have also been fortunate to discover many top class wines. So here is my final selection of twelve. I have omitted Jeff’s wines as that will form the next article and they would fill much of this case. It should also be said that my choice would probably vary day to day, I was torn between a number of great wines.

The Languedoc Roussillon is perhaps best known for its red wines and yet looking through my notes it was often white wines which excited me most in 2015. Indeed I will start with two wines from the region.

Mas Gabriel, Clos Des Papillons 2013. No surprises here, this also featured in my everyday case. It has been a favourite wine of mine for many years, I love the Carignan Blanc grape with its freshness and white fruits and Peter and Deborah Core have mastered a wine which brings out its best. Every vintage from 2010 to 2014 tasted at the Domaine’s tenth anniversary dinner was excellent but the 2013 stole the show for me.


The 5% Viognier adds a little mystery but it is the Carignan Blanc which gives the fruitiness, freshness and longevity. The reds of Mas Gabriel are lovely too but this remains my favourite and I’m also looking forward to the development of the new white wine Champ Des Bleuets. It is not just loyalty which earns Clos Des Papillons its place here though, the wine genuinely thrills me no matter how often I drink it. It claims first place ahead of another exciting Carignan Blanc from Caux, Lune Blanche of the Conte De Floris.


Clos Du Rouge Gorge, Sisyphe 2014. Cyril Fhal produces great red wines especially his Carignans in Latour De France in the Roussillon. However, this year it was his white wine Sisyphe which really captured me. Grenache Gris is the cépage behind most of my favourite wines in the region and this wine adds a clean, fruity yet racy edge. A wine you could drink alone or with food and one which leaps out as something special from the first sniff to the last sip.

Domaine Montesquiou, Terre De France 2014. I could probably include every wine made by Montesquiou, so high is the quality of this Jurancon domaine. It was a thrill to visit Fabrice and Sébastien in Monein and to tour the vineyards and cellars, I had long been a great fan of their wines. The excitement and enjoyment found in the wines is so obviously a reflection of the land and the family, the brothers are passionate about their vines and restless in seeking to make their wines even better. The raciness of the dry wines, the skilful use of oak, the tightrope balance of the sweet wines, every bottle offers a treat. I chose this wine as it walks that fine tightrope with lime, lemon and white fruits just offset by a trace of sweetness. Masterful.


With Olivier Humbrecht

Zind Humbrecht, Clos Windsbuhl Riesling 2011. I love Riesling, I love Alsace wines. Most of my favourite Rieslings are from the Mosel, others from Australia but this wine blew me away, apt on a day when gales were threatening the tent where the tasting took place near Montpellier for Biodyvin. I had tasted some Zind Humbrecht wines before and enjoyed them but this was one of those moments when the lightbulb lit above my head. Classic fresh aromas, so clean tasting and those flavours of fruit with a thrilling edge of acidity and, yes I know it makes no sense, minerality. There really is a texture and saltiness which reminds me of minerals. It is a very young wine, it will age for decades I would think but it is already packed with so much complexity and pleasure. It is everything I would ever want from a white wine.


Domaine Huët, Clos Du Bourg Demi-Sec 2005. At the same tasting as the Zind Humbrecht I tasted this beauty. I admit to some bias as Vouvray was my first wine village visited in France and long a favourite. The sweeter style moelleux which I tasted that day were excellent, a 2008 Haut Lieu for example but I love the demi-sec style which balances the dry appley side of Chenin Blanc with its capacity to produce a sweet side with hints of honey balancing the zestiness. This Clos Du Bourg was so deep and complex and so long lasting, it was like tasting several different wines in one glass. This will again age for a long time, I’d imagine it will develop more sweetness but right now I love this balance of dry and sweet. I often resist the big names of a region but this Huët just stood out as an example of great winemaking.


Pierre De Sisyphe of Joe Jefferies

Other dry white wines close to selection included Pierre De Sisyphe 2014 from Bories Jefferies (again from Caux!), the Greco 2013 from Giardino (Campania, Italy), Casa Pardet’s Chardonnay 2013 (Costers del Segre, Spain), Loin D’Oeil 2014 from De Brin (Gaillac) and a lovely Chenin Blanc from Testalonga (Swartland, Soith Africa), tasted on a beach in Marseillan, called El Bandito but no vintage noted whilst there I’m afraid.


I’m including Champagne Franck Pascal Quintessence 2004. Long, yeasty, rich but with a great freshness which cleansed the palate and left me wanting more. Yet another biodynamic producer, I loved all the wines I tasted but this vintage champagne with its Pinot Noir dominance had the extra complexity and depth which marks great wine of any type. The 2005 was almost as good but this 2004 was extra clean and long. I tasted a lot of very good champagnes this year, Barbichon, Leclerc Briant, Drappier, Lassaigne being some, but Quintessence was special.

So, six white wines which have given me great pleasure in 2015. Next the reds.



The twelve wines of Christmas

I read an article recently by renowned wine writer Eric Asimov in the New York Times in which he outlined the twelve wines he would always want to have around, his everyday case of wine. As I read it I naturally began to consider which wines I would include in such a case.

Issues to consider included the balance of red and white, sweet and fortified as well as sparkling wines. I could make a case just from the Languedoc, even from Mas Coutelou alone. In the end I went for a balance of wines. As an everyday case I have chosen still wine over £15 (€20) and sparkling / fortified wine less than £25 (€33).

I decided on a balance of white and red together with one example each of sparkling wine, sherry, port and sweet wine.

I have to start with Riesling, my ultimate white grape. I like Alsace examples a great deal but nothing surpasses the Mosel for me and the Kabinett / Spätlese styles in particular. JJ Prum or Bürklin Wolff Kabinetts would fit the bill nicely, easily within the price bracket, I shall go with the former.

The last few years have given me a great love of Jurancon dry white wines, heightened by a recent visit. In particular Domaine Montesquiou strike me as amongst the great white wines of the world. The balance of fruit, acidity, hint of sweetness enriched by the lightest oak influence is just my thing. I loved the new Vin De France and L’Estela is a favourite (unoaked) but will stick with Cuvade Préciouse for that extra complexity of oak.


Vouvray was the first wine village I visited in France and remains a favourite for its mix of dryness and hints of sweetness in the demi-sec style. The Loire is a centre of natural winemaking and I shall opt for Vincent Carême’s Vouvray Le Clos, though not all his his cuvées are sulfite free . Champalou would be an alternative.

I would love to include a white Burgundy but price makes it difficult, I was close to choosing a Grenache Gris from Roussillon. Instead I shall opt for Mas Gabriel’s Clos Des Papillons. A firm favourite for many years I was fortunate enough to attend the 10th anniversary dinner of the Domaine this summer and to taste through a number of brilliant vintages of this superb Carignan Blanc and it is a wine which gives me so much pleasure and a reminder of how great the Languedoc can be.


Red wines and the choice becomes even harder. I have to include a Languedoc – Roussillon wine because I love it and there is no better value for quality wine. How to choose? There are so many wins I love but how could I not include a Mas Coutelou? A week without one is too long so there has to be one in my everyday case. Vin Des Amis was the wine which hooked me, Copains and Flambadou would be amongst my favourites. La Vigne Haute and its pure Syrah with drinkability and complexity combined is the choice though. If I had to choose one bottle to drink for a final meal this would be it and yet I can fit it into this everyday price bracket, great.


I love lighter structured red wines and I would definitely want one in the case. Beaujolais is a favourite but my preferences are, sadly, above the price bracket. Just fitting it however, my choice would be a Sicilian Frappato from the excellent producer COS. I really fell for this on a trip to the island in 2014 and its fruit, complexity yet light touch fits the bill perfectly.

My favourite red wine grape is Pinot Noir. I was lucky enough to visit Burgundy when prices were high but not stratospheric. I soon learned that one memorable bottle would be followed by a number of disappointments but that one bottle was so good that it made me keep searching for more, very addictive. No New World Pinot can match Burgundy though there are some very good ones. But at less than €20? Well there are good Bourgogne Rouges available and villages such as Fixin offer better prices but even they push that limit. One producer whose wines I really like is Guillot-Broux in the Maconnais. The wines are much more serious than you’d expect from that area, equal to many Côte D’Or producers. I notice the Macon Pierreclos is £15.95 with the excellent Leon Stolarski so maybe he will do a discount for a bulk order. Cheat? Probably, but I have to include a Burgundy.

Other than Sicily my choices have been all from France and I want to remind myself that good wine comes from around the world. Te Mata Coleraine was the first new world red to really make me realise how good it could be but the price has risen way too high. Australian reds were a staple for so many years though I find so many too heavy these days, especially in this price range, much as I love some Penfolds, Wakefield and Tim Adams. Spain is a source of good value wines though I find too many overoaked. Casa Pardet (Costers del Segre) was a great discovery this year but too expensive for this. Instead I have opted for another Italian wine, Le Carline Refosco which is sulphite free and has great freshness and fruit, a great food wine. And a reminder of how unusual cépages have been a great interest for me this year.

Daniele explaining his terrific wines

         Daniele explaining his Carline wines

Sparkling wine means champagne to me. I love some Pet Nats such as that of Vincent Carême, I appreciate some crémants and sparkling wines such as the Nyetimber I tasted recently but nothing quite matches Champagne for quality. I have always liked Roederer and nothing has been better than Charles Heidsieck in recent years but they are too pricey for this case. Barbichon, Lassaigne and Franck Pascal are all producers which pleased me through the year and I could buy wines from all three in France for under €30 so I shall opt for the Quatre Cépages of Barbichon, with its Pinot character adding some extra weight.



Sherry is a must, nothing beats its variety from the clean dry fino or manzanilla to the intense sweetness of pedro xinenez. I am a fan of them all but a Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado really caught my attention this month with a real balance of dryness with a touch of sweetness and great complexity. Like many sherries it is great value too.

Port is another wonderful wine style and I love its variety, from tawny to vintage. At this price I would choose Late Bottled Vintage and probably Niepoort just above Warres, it is more in a vintage style, not quite so rich.

Finally, a sweet wine. The Jurancons of Montesquiou and Nigri were a delight, great wines from Huet too. Natural sweet wines from De Brin and Clos Mathélisse would fit the bill too but in the end one range of sweet wines stood out this year and they were the Coteaux Du Layon from Juchepie and I would select Les Quarts for the case.

At a push I would merge the port and sweet wine choice and opt for another red wine but I would be very happy with my case. Feedback and your own selections would be very welcome.


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.


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.

Bacharach am Rhein

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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


A March in the vines of the Loire


A March in the vines of the Rhone


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.


Sorting and happy (and hair!)


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.