Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A day in Provence

Handy late flight from Bordeaux down to Marseille; cuts out a huge amount of driving. Picked up hire car, spent a good five mins trying to find the handbrake (on the dash, merci Citroen) and headed for St Tropez. After many km's of winding road, I arrived late at the little town of Cogolin so it was head-down to be ready for an early start.

A sunny but blustery morning as I made my way to Celliers des Ramatuelle on the outskirts of St.Tropez.

Glad I got up early as the truck was an hour late. Further south you go the more laid back it gets … makes the Bordelais look punctual. However they get away with it, no grumpy, complaining old men truck drivers ‘a-la’ Bordeaux, here; the truck drivers are lovely young ladies! Well, this is Saint Tropez!

I was paying a flying visit to the cellar to ensure our delicate 2011 rosé doesn't fall at the last hurdle and is safely transported from the winery to the bottle without oxidising. That would turn that beautiful, classic Provencal pale-pink colour to a dull orange.

This is the place to be for Rosé. It’s big business here and rose makes up 80% of their total production. Ramatuelle village is up on the la Colline de Paillas, just south of Saint Tropez at an altitude of 130m. The combination of slate soil, cool nights and proximity to the sea gives lovely fruit-driven wines with low alcohol.

2011 was a good year for rose with a much-needed wet winter, warm and dry spring, and a good summer with the odd storm that thankfully brought no hail. The wines resulted in being very aromatic with great colour and a slightly higher acidity than previous vintages.

On arrival at the winery the president, aka the 'Doc Brown' of Provence,' was as animated as ever and began by drawing up a quite mad, over-complicated plan to get the heavy CO2 bottle up to the tanker. I was thinking "maybe a longer hose?", but that's nowhere near as exciting or dangerous as calling in a forklift and balancing a huge cylinder of CO2 on a rickety wooden pallet accompanied by a cellar hand for extra risk and lifting him up to the top of the tanker!

We got there in the end and I am very glad to say no injuries occured.

So with the wine avoiding every possible contact with air and no Doc Brown ideas given the chance of affecting the wine quality, we were soon on the way to the bottling plant in Brignolles.

The wine will be available soon so give it a try, remember you can drink rose all year round. I do.

Job done and back to the Aeroport de Marseille-Provence for a hop back up to Bordeaux. Need to be at Le Chai first thing as Les Secrets des Etoiles comes out of barrel tomorrow … mum’s the word!

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Tuesday, 13 March 2012

JMS’ Big 50th Bash

This weekend saw JMS turn 50 and what a party it was! To celebrate, a reception tasting and dinner was held at the magnificent Vintners Hall in London. The turn out of guests from the wine world showed just what a great winemaker and character JMS is and I felt most privileged to be present with family and friends.

The evening kicked off with a tasting of 50 wines ranging from my own La Voute Chardonnay to 1988 Château Haut Brion! I didn’t manage to taste many of the wines but I liked very much the Haut Brion ‘88, Domaine l’Hortus ’09 and Château Thieuley 2000 (red).

After the tasting we headed downstairs to the incredible dining room where I was seated next to Libby, Kaye Laithwaite and Jamie Goode. Libby also shares the same birthday as JMS – the 10th of March – along with one Hugh Johnson, also present at the dinner so a Happy Birthday to them too!

However tonight was about JMS, who has been with Laithwaites for 20 years and who is still head winemaker, Bordeaux buyer and also juggles owning his own Rioja Bodega Altos. How; I don’t know. (Well I do, actually. Lots of planes and very fast driving!)

The four courses of salmon, grouse, cheese and desert were matched with four delicious wines that were chosen by JMS:

Château Thieuley 2009 white
Pigeage Altos Rioja 2007
Château Gigault 2005 (magnum)
1962 Port specially blended by Andresen for the occasion

All the wines matched beautifully, but there wasn’t a wine to go with the shotgun pellet I found in my grouse breast.

A fantastic evening was finished with a 1962 cognac and, of course, Poire in magnums. Bon Anniversaire JMS and a grand merci!

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Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Malolactic Wine Competition, Madrid

I spent two days last week tasting in Madrid at the ML wine competition organised by Lallemand ML School. I had been asked to join an experienced judging panel including Norrel Robertson MW (wine maker in Calaytayud Spain), Jamie Goode (UK wine writer), Mike Florence (director of Litmus Wines), Dr Sybil Krieger-Weber (Directrice of ML school of science), Cees van Casteren (writer, wine business teacher), Antonio Palacios (winemaking teacher at the University of Rioja), David Molina (Director of Barcelona Wine School and ex El Bulli sommelier).

This competition was slightly different than normal and required a more technical palate as it was all about malolactic (ML) bacteria. The wines entered had been made using different strains of ML bacteria and fell into three categories; co-inoculation (ML bacteria introduced at the start of the alcoholic fermentation), sequential inoculation (after alcoholic ferment has finished) and the third being ML bacteria inoculation with oak.

I was lucky enough to have participated in last year’s inaugural competition, and this year’s event was again set in the magnificent Casino de Madrid.

The competition was split into two days: day one the jury tasted through the many entries narrowing it down to 39 finalists; day two saw 60 producers invited to taste along with the judging panel, with the final results being split between the jury and producers.

We tasted blind and in three flights of 13 wines, each flight representing a category, scoring appropriately as we went. It was a thoroughly enjoyable tasting, magnificent room, good company, great tasters and seamless organisation from Carlos Suarez of Lallemand. I also got to grips with how to taste and spit with my top shirt button done up and wearing a tie!

Needless to say a very Spanish and late lunch followed in the casino restaurant.

Click here to read Jamie Goode’s wine blog on the event.


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Friday, 2 March 2012


I headed down to Montpellier on Sunday for the biggest wine fair of the year exclusively for wines from the Midi and the Rhone … right up my street! The fair has grown hugely since it started back in 2003.

I remember the first one, couldn’t afford the bus fare there let alone a stand and I still owe Maurynates J Montagne of Clos del Rey, D Laffite of Domaine Soulanes and JR Calvet (now partner with the famous St.Emilion garagiste Jean-Luc Thunevin) for the ride and the hotel room floor! But I will always remember those few days where I was able to taste the delights of the Midi grape varietals together in one place for the first time.

We were all there this time round too, but we each had our own transport, own wines to be proud of and thankfully, our own hotel rooms! For me, even only ten years ago this seemed like a far off dream; to be able to afford the time away from our vineyards to travel to a wine fair.

In that first visit, us lot from Maury were (and still are) Grenache fanatics be it noir, gris or blanc. Having the opportunity to taste the diversity of many other tiny appellations and meet the producers of the Midi and Rhone region was what I can only imagine meeting people from the outskirts of the universe is like; we just didn’t think it was possible!

But now we can, due to more people drinking wine, transport, more exposure on social networks, TV, books, shops and restaurants. I always remember how long it took to get myself to Tavel once to taste my favourite Grenache rosé … and there they all were on one stand! You just need to taste and talk.

I made the most of my time at this fair by firstly annoying a very well turned out Corsican stand, tasting every Vermentino on offer plus a few from under the counter reserved for better clients! Now, three vintages into making my ‘Un Vent de Folie’ Vermentino, I absolutely loved the wines on offer from all over the island and there were plenty of new winemaking ideas to try for my next vintage. My personal standouts were the very different styles of Clos Canarelli from Figari and the Domaine Leccia from Patromonio; I didn’t get time to taste the reds, hopefully next year.

Heading southwards out of Hall 6 I didn’t get very far before stumbling on the Rhone wines … I admittedly got rather lost tasting some stunning 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Papes now in bottle. Finally I made it through to home turf, the Roussillon. Familiar faces everywhere, none other more for me than the best Maury winemaker of all, Daniel Lafitte with his ever-supporting wife Kathy.

I have been in France long enough now to not flinch from cheek kisses and hugs from hardy vignerons, but I was glad it was over and we could get on tasting some of his wines. His wines are fantastic and our evolution of Grenache winemaking has been very similar, from the days of the richest oaky wines to today’s preferred fruit-filled styles. Daniel is an organic producer, but can’t be arsed to go to Perpignan to fill out all the paper work to get it credited. He says it would be valuable time away from the vineyards! I love the way Daniel’s winemaking style has evolved and he is still someone I drink wines from all over the world with … always over a great Catalan dish on his little farm nestled in between Maury and Tautavel.

After the Roussillon section I headed to the ‘International’ section. The French were clearly the hosts as they had bundled all the Spanish, Italians, Turks, Moroccans and Portuguese together into a side hall! My mate Norrel Robertson the ‘Flying Scotsman’ – or Escosses Volante in Spanish – was there presenting his excellent wines from Calatayud. His white El Puno Viognier is just superb and the Grenaches grown on slate for his El Puno red and Manga del Bruja are really something.

That evening we went Grenache mad and joined the party at the G-night organised by the Grenache Symposium where people solely dedicated to Grenache showed their wines in a cool bar with DJ and tapas food. I will be showing the Chai Grenache’s next time round: GG, Un Vent de Folie and the XV du Président.