Friday, 30 September 2011

Is this innocent?

Why would a big wine tanker lorry from Bordeaux(with '33' number plates indicating the Gironde department) be filling up with wine from a large Cave CoOperative in the Minervois, Languedoc? Click on the picture to see it clearer.
This picture was taken on Wednesday this week.

It would be disappointing to think that wines were blended from the Languedoc with wines from Bordeaux. Bordeaux had a big harvest this year and would not need to bolster their wines.
It is illegal to label a wine as coming from one region, when the juice has been sourced from another. Unfortunately this kind of thing has been going on for many years. I just hope that this situation is innocent!

The weird thing is that the front of the lorry had Bordeaux number plates, whilst the back of the lorry had '11' plates for the local Aude region.
Maybe they were covering both eventualities?

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Guest Spot: Will Hargrove, Corney and Barrow

This is a new venture for this blog....a guest slot.
The first guest is the smartly dressed Will Hargrove, who heads up the sales team at one of the oldest and well connected wine companies in England, Corney and Barrow.
Will and I know each other mainly through Twitter. Our links with rugby, horse racing, wine and cigars seem to be common ground.
Will is worth following on Twitter @DuvaultBlochet

Here are a few questions for Will Hargrove:

So Will, tell me why you ended up working with wine. You seem to be as equally passionate about horse racing, rugby and cigars..........why wine?

Finished a degree in Sport Studies back when it meant even less than it does today and didn’t know what I wanted to do except that I didn’t want to work at the weekends because I wanted to play Rugby (still do). Ended up selling advertising, hated it, so looked for something I was interested in as I promised myself I wasn’t going to do something I wasn’t into. My interest in wine was increasing so I made a few calls and was just about to join Majestic when a son of a friend of my mother (tenuous I know) said the Corney and Barrow needed a driver for the West London wine shop for Christmas with potential to stay on. That was November 1998. Love all the other things but they are hobbies I guess, wine still is too but the balance of having hobbies works for me and the scope and variety of the wine world probably beats even those things.

Was your family involved in wine, winemaking or restaurants?

Not really, my dad and grandfather have/had an amateur interest. First proper wines I had with them were Beychevelle and Cos d’Estournel, both 1986’s, we finished both cases years ago which was a bit premature but I wasn’t complaining at the time!

You work for a prestigious London wine merchant and therefore you taste some exceptional wines on a regular basis. Which is your favourite and most exciting wine region currently?

I think the quality of wine generally is as good as it has ever been. I am lucky in that respect. My own favourite, and what I buy most, is the wines of Piedmont, mainly Barolo but also Barbaresco and a few Barbera’s. I just think there is Burgundian like complexity and the pricing in the most part is reasonable. I love the ability the wines have to age and the food from the region too. Otherwise Burgundy for red and white and Mosel (not that knowledgeable there just love the wines!).

Who is the most attractive female/male winemaker currently working?

Good question. Sandra Tavares da Silva of Pintas sets a high standard.

In your opinion which wine journalist (global) is the most interesting to read and which wine journalist has the most power?

I always think that Andrew Jefford writes very well and in a way I enjoy. I like Antonio Galloni on Piedmont as he “gets the region” and is positive. Robert Parker has the most power and has been amazingly consistent but as he relinquishes regions, to others on the Advocate this wanes. You can’t blame him for his power but I think it isn’t generally a positive thing to have one dominant voice.

Which vinous area is the NEXT BIG THING?

Piedmont should be, I am buying what I can now. In seriousness I think the number of new areas and countries is slowing which means everyone can just get on and do the best they can where they can, I think this is positive.

What would your work colleagues say about you?

That I am grumpy….I don’t disagree I am happily grumpy

Many thanks to Will Hargrove.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Diversity of Languedoc Roussillon

Whenever I describe the Languedoc Roussillon I always mention the diversity, the beauty, the countryside, the dynamism and generally the fact that the area is at the crossroads between many different influences. The nearby town of Narbonne is known as the crossroads historically as it was the meeting place for the Via Domitia and the Via Aquitania (which linked to the Atlantic coast via Toulouse and Bordeaux).
We live in the stunning countryside near the village of Minerve. The Canal du Midi is 8 km down the hill. The Mediterranean beaches are 35 minutes away at Gruissan. The Spanish border is less than 2 hours. Within 4 hours travel I could be in Avignon, Bordeaux, Barcelona, Carcassonne, Montpellier, Toulouse, Nimes, Perpignan or Lyon. Therefore this area has so many influences and outsiders (like my family and I) who invade the area often bring their cultures, their styles and their make up.
In the world of viticulture this cross over of style and influence can add to a massive diversity, whilst also negating any sense of true identity. Yes, the world is changing all the time, but sometimes the known known can be safe rather than a risk. The vineyards of Burgundy mainly work with one white varietal (Chardonnay) and one red grape variety (Pinot Noir). The northern Rhone is mainly Syrah, Bordeaux is mainly Cabernet Sauvignon in the Medoc and mainly Merlot in the Saint Emilion and Pomerol areas.
So it was quite a shock to see some weird and wonderful grape varieties that are planted in this area today. I took these photos at the local Cave CoOperative in Aigne. These are some of the grapes planted in the local area.

Have you ever heard of these grape varieties that add to the diversity of the Languedoc? Auban. Aramon,, Caladoc, Carignan Blanc, Chassan, Chenanson, Clairette B, Listan, Terret Blanc, Terret Gris and Terret Noir, Egiodolan, Marselan and Portan.

Next time you are having a glass of Sauvignon Blanc just remember that there are quite a few other grape varieties waiting to be explored.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Minervois Harvest 2011

Harvest time in the Minervois!!!

Everything is looking very good for the grape harvest for 2011. I was out in the vineyards at 7.30am on Sunday morning picking some delicious ripe Syrah grapes with my children and the team of 8 assorted pickers from the nearby town of Beziers.

We then had a go later on Sunday on the grape harvest machine with Eric Mari, the owner at Domaine La Prade Mari

According to Eric Mari this year is looking very good. The warmth in Spring time advanced the vegetative growth on the vines and the rain was even and constant, whilst the Summer was warm enough without being excessive. The conditions for harvest are very good. Fresh crisp early mornings followed by clear bright days.

We also taste the result of our hard work!!
Here young Max Wakes-Miller is tasting some Syrah grape juice (pre fermentation).

Monday, 12 September 2011

Chateau Falfas, Cotes de Bourg....a hidden gem in Bordeaux

Zooming around the big name Chateaux of Bordeaux one can easily forget that there are in fact over 8000 Chateaux producing wine across the 60 different Appellations. Many people recognize Bordeaux by the big names such as Chateau Margaux, Lafite, Latour and Haut Brion. But there are many hidden gems tucked away in the hinterland. The areas such as Moulis, Listrac, Castillon, Premieres Cotes, Blaye and Bourg can selectively offer great value for money wines.
That is not even mentioning the vast area of Entre Deux Mers, where there are rolling hills, forests, lakes and many different soils and aspects with contributions from the soils of the Dordogne river area as well as the Garonne river.

One of my favourite examples of quality winemaking from one of these less well known areas are the wines from Chateau Falfas in the Cotes de Bourg area. This magnificent Chateau was built in the seventeenth century. However winemaking and viticulture has taken place in the Bourg area since the 2nd Century AD. The Romans cultivated this land extensively as well as mining the tin and fishing. The Bourg Appellation lies about 30 minutes drive to the North of Bordeaux. It is on the East side of the Gironde river. In fact the Bourg area is very close to the very wide part of the Gironde where it splits up in to the Garonne and Dordogne river.

Chateau Falfas has 20 hectares of vineyards on these beautiful rolling hills close to the river. The vines planted are 55% merlot, 40 % Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc and 5% Malbec. The largest parcel of vines is near the Chateau, so it benefits from the magnificent bio diversity of wildlife which is lurking in the woodland behind the Chateau. The rolling hills also benefit from the active air from the river. The tides are changing every 6 hours, which adds movement and life to the area.
Veronique and John Cochran bought the property in 1988. They have been farming the land using biodynamic principles since that time. Unfortunately John Cochran passed away recently and Veronique is now ably running the wine estate. In fact Veronique has a stronger link to biodynamics as her father was Francois Bouchet, who was one of the main pioneers of biodynamic grape growing in France. He, in fact taught many of the most famous winemakers and wine estates the biodynamic philosophy.

Today the wines are exemplary. I tasted a selection last weekend at the Chateau with Veronique Cochran:

Les Demoiselles de Falfas 2010
More merlot soft fruits on the nose. A real explosion of red summer fruits and straberry jam. A delicious soft wine with lighter tannins for early drinking.

Chateau Falfas 2009 (just been bottled one month previously) An awesome fresh nose of dark dense Autumnal fruits. The 55% merlot is balanced with the 40% Cabernet and dash (5%) Malbec. This is a fitting wine for their main wine. A true identity of fresh clean fruit and balanced oak ageing. This wine will develop 10-15 years.

Le Chevalier de Falfas 2006 This extraordinary dense wine has 100% new oak and is mainly from the very oldest (70 years plus) Cabernet vines. The wine has a dark damson character and a toasted richness. Delicious with steak or cheese.

I am commercially linked to these wines, as I want to help Veronique develop more distribution in the UK. She exports to 20 different countries around the Wold and many prestigious Michelin starred restaurants list her wines.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Wine Forums or Fora!!

A new phenomenon in the last few years has been the plethora of wine fora (yes I studied Latin a long time ago!). These fora are opportunities to share wine information, to learn more, to make new friends and generally to open your mind and your palate to new flavors. Many of these fora have 'Off Lines' where you can share wines and be convivial. Most of the meetings/tastings are in good restaurants and the wine is matched to the food. I have only explored the web side of fora so far, but some of the 'Off Liners' look fantastic.
The internet is certainly a great window for this kind of information sharing. I must admit that some of these groups are more interesting than others. Sometimes there are more things in common with certain groups than others. And sometimes there are idiots, bigots, looneys and subversives lurking.....but I suppose that is a break of society in 2011.
The forum platform is often a side part of a main website. The journalist, winery or blogger wants to promote traffic to the main site and feels that conversations and discussions are helpful. However sometimes the forum can be more popular than the main site!
Here are a few websites that I occasionally contribute to:

Wine Pages is the website of the Scottish journalist Tom Cannavan. Tom was one of the original wine web journalists having started in 1995. Tom is regularly on Scottish television and writes mainly for UK based wine magazines. The UK Forum is part of Tom's website.

Cellar Tracker is the website of the American wine geek, Eric Levine. Eric is an ex Microsoft programmer who turned his passion of wine in to a phenomenal wine sharing, wine tracking, portfolio management website. There are over 2 million tasting notes on the site and there are over 160, ooo users of the site. The site has strong links with Jancis Robinson, Allen Meadows, James Halliday, John Gillman and Stephen Tanzer for professional tasting notes and reviews.
The forum aspect of the website is mainly American, but has characters who contribute globally.

WineBerserkers started up in 2009 after Robert Parker started charging people to access his website. This is an American based forum, with a lot of American content. It is rapidly growing and worth looking at.

Wine Lovers Page is Robin Garr's website and forum. Robin has been writing about wine for many many years. He is also an early adopter for having a wine website (since the early 1980's). His views and contributions are 'snob free'.

I know that Jancis Robinson has a forum for Purple Page subscribers (which I am not), but if there are any other forum, fora or wine discussion groups that you think are relevant and fun please write them in the comment section below.

I have even started a forum on Bella Wine Tours but as yet nobody has seen it!! And nobody has feel free to contribute in the conversation...

My only advice on these kind of sites is to be polite and be truthful. There will always be bigger, better, richer etc etc. There is no point deceiving or being rude.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Frenchman pays damages to ex wife for lack of sex.

Sometimes this wonderful country of France lives up to all its stereotypes. I saw this article in The Daily Telegraph this morning.
The French women certainly have a healthy appetite!!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

What is Wine???

A couple of weeks ago I sold a case of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2010 for €12600. The wine was sold 'En Primeur' ie it is still in a barrel and will not be bottled until next year, then transported to the customer.
In the same week I sold 56 cases (12 bottles in each case) of Domaine Moulin Gimie Merlot 2009 for €1545.60.(for 672 bottles) The wine is an excellent award winning merlot (Gold Medal in Paris for the last few vintages).
The one case of 12 bottles Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2010 costs eight times the pallet (56 cases) of very decent, ready to drink Merlot. They are both red wines, they are both created from quality vineyards and cared for by people who actually give a damn. Put it this way the Lafite Rothschild is 456 times more expensive than the Domaine Moulin Gimie Merlot.

I love wine and I love the wine trade. I have worked in and around the wine business in Australia, South Africa, Germany, Portugal and France for the last 24 years. But the gap between the rich and poor is becoming even larger. Perhaps this is a reflection on global society in 2011? Perhaps the top Chateaux in Bordeaux are being too greedy?

The reason for this post is that I live in the wild hilly countryside of the south of France. An area called the Minervois within the Languedoc Roussillon. We are close to the beautiful Mediterranean sea, we are surrounded by magnificent olive groves, vineyards and wild aromatic garrigue. We benefit from over 300 days of sunshine per year. We are very lucky.
But the vignerons and wine producers are finding it very tough here. There are constantly mergers between the large un viable state supported Co Operatives. Some of the smaller growers have to find a very specific niche to sell their wines. There are more and more patches of vineyards that have been abandoned, which is a great shame.

Whilst I live here in the Minervois with my family I seem to do more and more work in the Bordeaux region (a 4 hour drive). Bordeaux has the historical connections with Northern European trading markets. Bordeaux has the old advantage of the port (unfortunately no longer used for wine). Bordeaux has many many beautiful Chateaux that produce stunning wines that will age for 20,30 or even 50 + years. Bordeaux has the class and structure to support their existing market and to further develop this market.

I adore both areas, but it is increasingly evident where the money is!