Tag: South West France

The Fifth Element – Part 1

Quintessential Wines are are specialist wine importers, distributors and retailers based in Drogheda, just north of Dublin, and with an online store.  Here are a few of their wines which really took my fancy at their portfolio tasting in April:

Doran Vineyards Paarl Arya 2015 (13.0%, RRP €18.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

Doran Vineyards Arya

Doran Vineyards is the baby of Irish born Edwin Doran, partnered by South African winemaking legend André (“Adi”) Badenhorst.  “Baby” is actually quite apt as the winery was redeveloped as recently as 2012.

This wine is quite an unusual blend, one that could only really be from South Africa: 57% Chenin Blanc, 22% Grenache Blanc and 21% Roussanne.  The nose has citrus, herbs and floral notes; the wine is soft and supple in the mouth with fresh apple, stone fruit, citrus and a hint of nuts.  This blend is lovely to drink on its own but is also very food friendly.

Clos Cazalet Tursan Carpe Diem 2015 (12.5%, RRP €16.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

carpe-diem-clos-cazalet-blanc-sec 2

Tursan is one of the lesser known appellations of south west France, spanning the border between the new regions of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitanie.  It also has a lesser known grape at the heart of its white wines – the delightfully named Baroque which must be between 30% and 90% of the blend.  The balance is made up by a combination of Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc.  Reds are based on Tannat (40% maximum), Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Clos Cazalet is one of the few independent producers in Tursan.  Their Carpe Diem comprises 60% Gros Manseng, 30% Baroque and 10% Petit Manseng.  This blend gives a full “here comes the Lilt man” tropical experience – pineapple, peach, pear and grapefruit.  it’s soft and round in the mouth,  a perfect summer drink!

Mas des Agrunelles Barbaste 2016 (13.0%, RRP €22.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

barbaste-2015

We’re on a go-slow here – well a go-sloe to be exact, as Agrunelles are sloes which are common round this area.  And what an area – a part of the Languedoc traditionally not used for viticulture given the cool micro-climate, and instead given over to sheep grazing and charcoal production.

The Domaine was set up by Frédéric Porro of Domaine La Marèle and Stéphanie Ponson of Mas Nicot as the antithesis of bulk cooperative grape production – each small plot is harvested and vinified separately so production is spread over a large number of different wines, though volumes of each are small.  It is also worthy of note that Mas des Agrunelles is both organic and biodynamic.

Barbaste is a blend of Chardonnay, Roussanne and Marsanne; it’s a thing of beauty, tangy yet soft (some oxidative softening, perhaps?) with spicy pear and fennel flavours.  Very moreish!

Mas des Agrunelles Camp de Lèbre 2015 (12.5%, RRP €27.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

mas-des-agrunelles-camp-de-lebre-2

Another wine from Mas des Agrunelles…whereas Barbaste means “white frost” in Occitan (the local language), Camp de Lèbre means “Field of hares”, as the local varmints help themselves to the tasty wine buds in spring.  This is a varietal wine, being 100% Carignan Blanc planted on clay and limestone.

The first line of my tasting notes was: “What the hell is that?  it’s Magnificent!”  There’s lots of texture and roundness in the mouth (possibly from some time in oak?).  Aniseed and herbs partner soft pip and stone fruit – deliciously tangy!

 

I Wanna Give You Devotion – Part 2

Following on from a pair of whites from France’s mountainous eastern marches in Part 1, we now turn to some excellent Jurançon wines distributed by Nomad Wine Importers.

The wines of South West France receive only limited recognition outside of their region(s) – and to be honest the plural is more fitting here as they are actually a diverse collection of wine regions with some geographical proximity.

In fact, looking at a map of south west (no caps) France shows that the biggest wine region of the area – Bordeaux – is not included in South West (with caps) France.

900px-Vignobles_sud_ouest
Credit: DalGobboM

Located in the foothills of the Pyrenees, south and west of Pau, Jurançon is an area whose wines I am quite familiar with after visiting the area several times.

At least I thought I was, anyway – cheap examples of an appellation picked up at a supermarket aren’t a good indicator of the quality available within a region.

The most important thing to know is that there are two different appellations, Jurançon itself which is sweet (moelleux) and Jurançon Sec which is dry.  Not the easiest for novices to remember, just like Bordeaux’s Graves-Supérieures is actually sweet.

There are five grapes permitted for both AOCs – Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng (which must make up at least 50% of each blend), (Petit) Courbu (which ripens early and adds acidity) and the minor legacy varieties Camaralet de Lasseube and Lauzet.

Camin Larreyda is currently run by Jean-Marc Grussaute, son of Jean & Jany Grussaute who terraced and replanted the family property in 1970.  The Domaine has been certified organic since 2007 and has 9.5 ha planted to 65% Petit Manseng, 27% Gros Manseng and the remaining 8% Petit Courbu and Camaralet.  They also make wine from their neighbours’ grapes.

Here are the four wines I tasted recently, each named after the plots where the grapes are grown:

Domaine Larredya Jurançon Sec “la Part Davant” 2015 (14.0%, RRP €28 at Jus de Vine, Greenman Wines)

camin-larredya-jurancon-la-part-davant-blanc-sec-2015 2

The “entry level” wine from Larredya consists of 50% (very ripe) Gros Manseng, 35% Petit Manseng and 15% Petit Courbu & Camaralet.  The Part Davant plot is 4.5 ha and is farmed organically.

This is a lighter and fresher style than the other wines made by Larredya – there’s the typical peach stone fruit notes but also citrus and a touch of minerality.  For me this is a pleasant drinking wine but even better with food such as white fish, poultry, pork or veal.

Domaine Larredya Jurancon Sec “la Virada” 2015 (14.0%, RRP €40 at Jus de Vine)

camin-larredya-jurancon-la virada

This is a blend of equal parts Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng and Petit Courbu, harvested at a very low 20 hl/ha.  The grapes are whole bunch pressed then fermented with natural yeast.  Fermentation and maturation take place in barriques and foudres.

The alcohol is quite high at 14.0% as all the sugar has been fermented to dryness, but it doesn’t stand out on the palate.  Peach and apricot fruit flavours are to the fore, but there’s also honey all the way through with a bracing, fresh finish.  Superb!

Domaine Larredya Jurancon “Costat Darrer” 2015 (13.0%, 60g/L RS, RRP €27)

camin-larredya-jurancon-costat-darrer-blanc-moelleux-2015 2

Just below the name of the appellation on the label, “Les Grains des Copains” shows that this wine was made from their friends’ grapes rather than their own.  The average age of the source vines is 25 years and the different vineyards are either organic or “lutte raisonnée” which roughly translates as sustainable.  Yields are between 30 and 35 hl/ha and the blend is 70% Petit and 30% Gros Manseng.

This is definitely a sweet wine but the sweetness enhances the exotic fruit flavours rather than dominating them.  This could be the perfect wine to match with a fruit salad!

Domaine Larredya Jurancon “Au Capceu” 2015 (13.0%, 130g/L RS, RRP €42 at 64 Wine)

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This cuvée is 100% Petit Manseng and is from a three hectare plot, mainly higher altitude terraced vines with a southerly or eastern orientation; the location is excellent for producing late harvest wines without grey rot.  The vines are 30 years old and yields are low at 20 hl/ha.  Fermentation and maturation (for a year) are in a mix of barriques and foudres.

This is an intensely concentrated wine with a combination of stone fruit and citrus – it also reminded me somewhat of whisky marmalade.  Although quite sweet it is nicely balanced and not at all cloying.  An absolute treat!

This Summer’s BBQ Wines #3 – and #4!

This Summer’s BBQ Wines #3 – and #4!

Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne

A white for summer barbecues – though to be honest there’s no bad time to drink this tasty, versatile wine. Crisp, dry and fruity, it’s great for quaffing on its own or with lighter food. It has more going on that virtually any other wine you can get for the same price.

Where is Gascogne?

Gascony is in South west France, and is now generally thought of as the area below Bordeaux. As a larger historical region it included Bordeaux’s Medoc peninsula and the Basque Country of the Pyrenees. Culturally, it was the literary home of d’Artagnan (perhaps Dogtanian as well, I’m not sure) and Cyrano de Bergerac.

Map of SW France (from www.winesofsouthwestfrance.com)
Map of SW France (from http://www.winesofsouthwestfrance.com)

Beverage wise its most famous product is Armagnac, the other quality grape brandy which is lesser known than Cognac. But now its undistilled wines are increasingly popular.

Here are a couple I’ve tried and enjoyed recently:

Domaine de Maubet IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2014 (€14.99, Honest 2 Goodness)

Domaine de Maubet IGP Côtes de Gascogne
Domaine de Maubet IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2014

This is a blend of Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc (proportions not given) and weighs in at a very lunch-friendly 11.5% abv.  For a Vin de Pays it has remarkable concentration, with lemon and grapefruit keeping it fresh and some tropical notes adding another dimension.  There’s no sign of oak – and nor should there be, the fruit is allowed to express itself.

Venturer IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2014 (€6.99, Aldi)

Venturer IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2014
Venturer IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2014

No the price is not a misprint / typo / mistake!  Again this is a very fruity, easy-drinking style of wine.  It has far more character that you’ve a right to expect for this price tag – and it comes with a handy screwcap so there’s no synthetic cork you normally get with less expensive wine.

The blend is 80% Colombard, 20% Gros Manseng giving citrus and a touch of melon.  At this price you can fill your fridge!

Background info

The region’s viticultural borders now align with those of Armagnac, across the three departments of Gers, Landes and Lot-et-Garonne.  In the Gers the production volumes are approximately: 91% white, 8% red and 1% rosé wine. This is very atypical for the southwest of France, because in neighbouring departments mainly red wine is produced (e.g. Madiran).  Around three quarters of production is exported.

The white grapes of Côtes de Gascogne are:

Colombard is the mainstay of the area, sometimes seen in cheaper blends from California, South Africa and Australia, but at its best here

Ugni Blanc is used for Armagnac production, and even more so for Cognac production (the other side of Bordeaux).  It also features in Italy under the name Trebbiano (yuck!)

Petit and Gros Manseng are traditional grapes of SW France, particularly Saint-Mont and Jurancon.

Muscadelle, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc are of course the three white grapes permitted in white Bordeaux wine.

Len de l’El (aka Cavalier, prominent in AC Gaillac) is a rarity.

This Summer’s BBQ Wines:

#1 – Bellow’s Rock Coastal Region Shiraz 2013

#2 – Château Michel Cazevieille Origine 1922 AC Saint Chinian 2012

#3 – and #4! Domaine de Maubet IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2014 & Venturer Côtes de Gascogne 2014

#5 – Byron Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2012

#6 – Lot #01 Mendoza Malbec Cabernet 2013