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Bulletin Detail
Date March 13, 2010 
Title Vine Clippings – Southern France 2010 – Vignettes from a Vinous Paradise 
Bulletin Untitled Page

Vine Clippings – Southern France 2010 – Vignettes from a Vinous Paradise

Part One – Pre-VinIsud – Uzès and Environs

The excuse was VinIsud 2010. The gigantic wine exposition is held every other year just outside Montpellier in southern France to showcase the wines of the Mediterranean. It really is a great way for Hélène and me to meet with many of our existing and prospective vintners and taste their latest vintages. Given our druthers, we would prefer to visit our producers at their domaines, to chat with everyone involved in making our wines, to get caught up with all the local gossip and to taste in peace and quiet – except perhaps for the occasional nudge from the vineyard dog. However, VinIsud is an efficient alternative when time is limited. Besides, it had been five long months since we had last visited Provence and we needed our fix.

Patrick Chabrier officiating at a cheese fondue party

After hauling our impedimenta into our centuries old, temporary home in the heart of Uzès, we beat as straight a path as is possible in a medieval town to La Cave du Suisse d’Alger to secure the necessary rations for our week-long siege. We asked the proprietor for a liberal sampling of good value wines from the area and, as it turned out, he knew his stuff. They were mostly from the 2005 and 2007 vintages. One we particularly enjoyed was a 2007 ‘Laudon’ Cotes du Rhone Villages from Domaine Pélaquié – a huge, well-balanced wine full of red berries, chocolate and pepper. We are contacting the owners, Luc and Francoise Pélaquié to see if we can establish a relationship with them so you can try this wonderful wine too.

We had two exhilarating encounters with the garrulous Patrick Chabrier and his forbearing and generous wife Frédérique of Domaine Chabrier Fils - the first, along with Christian Esparza (our vinous mentor) and his wife Patricia was over an extended Valentines Day lunch at the stunning Aux Vieux Castillon restaurant in the quaint village of Castillon du Gard and the second was at an olive oil tasting and Swiss fondue dinner at the Chabrier winery (the Chabriers also own vineyards in Switzerland).

Didier Négron, Delphine Sabon and Hélène

We brought several Canadian wines to the lunch for everyone to try. The first was a 2006 ‘Neige Cidre Glace’ from La Face Cachée de la Pomme in Quebec that we had during dessert. It wowed everyone at the table, the wait staff and several other patrons! The second was an older Inniskillin Ice Wine that was also savored by all. We then repaired to a private corner of the bar to try a Chardonnay from Ontario, a Pinot Gris from the Okanogan and two top flight reds also from the Okanogan. The whites disappeared quickly, the reds were politely ignored.

Eloi and Ostinia Dürrbach, Jim and Tulip

I am pleased to say the Chabrier’s 2008 ‘La Garrigue d’Aureillac’ is once again a real winner – maybe not quite up to the very high standard of the ’07, but very, very good. We also thoroughly enjoyed their 2008 ‘Riomel de Molines’, an old vines Carignan and the crisp and lively 2009 ‘Pay d’Oc’ blanc.

Hélène wanted to see her friend Beatrice Navarre who owns the charming bastide that serves as the epicenter for Helene’s Tours of Provence. Being only a few kilometers from Chateauneuf du Pape, this gave me a splendid opportunity to meet with the Sabons at Domaine Roger Sabon and to see for myself how their 2008 Chateauneufs and Lirac are coming along. I was pleasantly surprised. The white Chateauneuf du Pape, ‘Renaissance’ and the Lirac ‘Chapelle de Maillac’ were very pleasant and drinking well. The Sabons did not make their acclaimed ‘Le Secret des Sabons’ in 2008. After a very strict grape selection there simply wasn’t enough fruit left to make it. What there was went into the cépages (blends) for the ‘Prestige’,Réserve’ and ‘Les Olivets’. The surviving trio are all showing well for such young wines and should provide a great deal of early drinking pleasure. At this stage I prefer the ‘Réserve’.

Jim, Hubert Ratel and friend

We had a most enjoyable and informative meeting with the legendary Eloi Dürrbach, maverick owner of Domaine de Trévallon. I have been a huge fan of his wines for many years and am very pleased to say that they have become an Arthur’s Cellar Wine Club winery. Robert Parker has said that Domaine du Trévallon is, “One of the greatest discoveries of my life.” They make a spectacular white from Grenache Blanc, Chardonnay and Marsanne as well as their glorious red made from equal parts Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The prices are lofty, as are the wines. More about Domaine de Trévallon soon.

Titus’ the truffle dog; much better than a pig!

We love Nîmes, the gracious, exhilarating city with something for everyone. Our old Montreal friend Arnaud Ratel has been admonishing us for not visiting his cousin Hubert who owns the La Grande Bourse brasserie and restaurant right across from the Les Arènes, the magnificent Roman Arena where bull fights are still fought to the death. Hubert is a most convivial fellow and very knowledgeable about wine (it runs in the family). He put us on to several hidden treasures, including a smashing Rosé that not only quenches the parched throats of the denizens of France’s hottest city but is bound to do likewise for our Members. We are in vigilant pursuit.

Action at the truffle market in Richerenches

When in southern France during winter, one’s thoughts naturally turn to … truffles, those pungent, horribly expensive fungi that add a very special dimension to omelets, pan fried potatoes and much more. So, of course we went to the truffle market in Richerenches and then on a truffle hunt out in a truffle-oak grove. You should know that they use dogs, not pigs to root out the truffles – pigs are too hard to load into trucks (I can attest - I once helped a friend do this at his hobby farm - pigs can be very nasty when they don’t want to do something) and they tend to eat the truffles. In between these adventures we wedged in a terrific, modestly priced lunch at L’Oustaou in Saint Paul Trois Chateaux (if ever in the neighbourhood, don’t miss it).

Vine Clippings – Southern France 2010 – Vignettes from a Vinous Paradise

Part 2 – Slaving away at VinIsud – Just for You!!

Hélène with Delphine and Cendrine Faraud

Finally we made our way to Montpellier and VinIsud … let the tasting begin. First up was Domaine du Cayron where we met with Delphine and Cendrine Faraud (the third sister, Rosaline was back in Gigondas looking after the vineyards) and confirmed the excellence of their 2007 Gigondas. We also got a sneak preview of the 2008 vintage. The ’08 (a very selective yield of 26 hectoliters per hectare) reminded me of the 2006; medium plum colour with a nose of dark fruit, cherries and exotic spices. It has nice, tangy tannins, is beautifully balanced and of medium length. This will be a great wine to drink while waiting patiently for the ‘07s to mature.

We then tackled the very good and reasonably priced Côtes du Rhônes from Domaine Pélaquié located near Saint-Victor-la-Coste. Owned by Luc and Françoise Pélaquié, this winery produces big, powerful and well-balanced wines that we are sure will be popular with our Members.

Matthew Kling and Amy Lillard

Next was Domaine de la Gramière owned by two young Americans, Matthew Kling and Amy Lillard from Minnesota and Colorado respectively. They recently purchased some old vineyards near St Quentin la Poterie (yes, beautiful pottery is made there) and are now crafting their wine in very small quantities. We had tried their 2005 vin de table rouge (they qualify for appellation Côtes du Rhône but prefer the freedom that the vin de table status gives them) at a small deli called Envie de Terroirs in Uzès and loved it. Matt and Amy are as hands on and organic as it gets and their wines are terrific. Their 2008 Grenache/Syrah blend was most quaffable, their 2007 Syrah was lovely stuff and their 2007 and 2005 Grenache were very special and wonderful. We think you are really going to enjoy Matt and Amy’s wines.

Pascal Fraychet relaxing with Hélène

Château Romanin, the almost surreal winery tucked literally in Les Alpilles near St-Rémy-de-Provence was next on tap (sorry about that). This is a very seriously biodynamic winery that was acquired by Anne-Marie and Jean-Louie Charmolüe, former owners of the St-Estèphe second growth Château Montrose a couple of years ago. As Pascal Fraychet, the estate’s manager enthusiastically pointed out, their wines have taken on more fruit and a most pleasing added complexity since the change in ownership. We sampled the delicious 2009 white made from 100% Rolle (Vermentino), the delicate, lovely 2009 Rosé, the elegant 2006 La Chapelle de Romanin and the wonderful 2005 Château Romanin. You are really going to enjoy these fine wines from the les Baux-de-Provence appelation.

A rose between two thorns!

Our old friend Charles Pacaud and the delicious Côteaux du Languedoc wines from his beloved Domaine la Croix Chaptal (located not too far from Montpellier on Les Terrasses du Larzac) were next on our exhausting agenda (I can almost hear your sympathetic sighs). I was most anxious to try the 2006 Cuvée Charles and am happy to report that it is every bit as good as the 2005; and, we were able to convince Charles to let us have most of his remaining stock of the latter. We also tried again and thoroughly enjoyed the 2007 old vines Clairette (pineapples, pears - superb) and the remarkably elegant 2007 Les Terrasses. As an added bonus we got to meet one of Charles’ twin daughters, Héloise who was helping her father look after the throngs of thirsty visitors at their VinIsud booth.

Franck and André Léonor et Nous

Les Cuvées du Firmament, the wonderfully situated estate in the Minervois was our next delicious stop. Franck Léonor and his Uncle André were most hospitable as they poured the latest vintages of their fine wines. The 2009 ‘Cuvée Horizon’ (from the tank) was well-balanced, medium bodied with ample red fruit and it left a very pleasant overall impression. The 2009 ‘Cuvée Sky’ (also from the tank) was quite big with lots of red fruit, lead pencil and a hint of cherry. I think this is going to be a real winner. We started to get quite serious with the oaked 2006 ‘Cuvée Nocturne’ which sang of cassis, ripe plums and the smoothest of tannins. Then there was the grand daddy of Les Cuvées du Firmament and one of my favourite wines, the ‘Cuvée Star’! First was the 2005 which I have enjoyed in the past followed by the smashing, but somehow different 2006. “We changed from French to American oak”, Franck announced. A subtle, but definitely effective move.

It is always a pleasure to meet with Caryl and Jan Panmann and to taste their brilliant white wines from Château Rives-Blanques. The big treat was their 2008 ‘Sauvignon Blanc”. This is not like your typical Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc but a robust, pineapple and citrus gem with lovely acidity and a satiny finish. We also thoroughly enjoyed the Panmann’s new Crémant de Limoux, the 2007 ‘Blanc de Blancs’ and ‘Vintage Rosé’. Lovely stuff! And we thoroughly enjoy the 2008 ‘Blanquette de Limoux’ and three smashing white wines – ‘Dédicace’ (Chenin Blanc), ‘Occitania’ (Mauzac) and ‘l’Odyssée’ (Chardonnay). Our latest shipment from Rives-Blanques has just been released by the LCBO and deliveries are about to start.

Graham Nutter, Martine, Jim and Marc

We finished off our first exhausting day at VinIsud with a visit to our ebullient pal Graham Nutter of Château Saint Jacques d’Albas renown. It is hard to believe that it was almost exactly four years ago that we began our wine club by featuring Graham’s wines! We were also delighted to see Martine and Marc Bonnevenc who so ably operate the Nutter estate. Graham has recently acquired several additional nearby plots of excellent grape-growing land and as one result has rationalized his entry level branding strategy. There are now a rosé, a white and a red under the ‘Le Petit Saint-Jacques’ label and if the currency rates remain favourable, we expect to soon offer them for $12.95 each. We also took the opportunity to sample the 2008 ‘Clos de Garric’ (a pleasant quaff), the 2008 ‘le Domaine’ (most palatable), the 2007 ‘le Château’ (very yummy) and the 2006 ‘la Chapelle’ (as good as ever). Afterward we repaired with Mr. Nutter to the very good Restaurant Séquoїa located on the outskirts of Montpellier where we discussed the day’s activities and the affairs of the world over just a little more nectar of the grape.

Vine Clippings – Southern France 2010 – Vignettes from a Vinous Paradise

Part 3 – Our Last Day at VinIsud – Sob!!

Happy Jim and Hélène with Christine Commeyras

We were back hard at it the next day (what we won’t do for our thirsty members). We began with Christine Commeyras and her stellar wines from Domaine l’Aiguelière which is located near Montpeyroux in the Côteaux du Languedoc appelation. You can often find Christine’s wines sold at the SAQ in Quebec. These wines have received rave reviews from Robert Parker including 95+ for the luxury ‘La Côte Dorée’ and ‘Côte Rousse’. We started off with the crisp, dry 2007 ‘Sarments Blanc’, a delicious wine made from equal parts Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. Next came several vintages of the unoaked ‘Tradition’ made from sixty percent Syrah and forty percent Grenache from vines averaging forty-five years of age. Then the 2006 ‘Tradition’ aged in one year old oak barrels which added a nice tannic backbone. Finally, and what a way to start the day, were the 2006 ‘Côte Dorée’ and ‘Côte Rousse’. The two super wines were aged in different varieties of new oak (Allier and Nevers) for a year. These are wondrous monsters - complex, full and most compelling.

Jim, Rosé and Olivier Privat

We had been introduced to Olivier Privat of Les Vignes du Lys at the Chabrier’s Swiss fondue party. He recently acquired a sizable amount of old vine properties near the Chabrier’s vineyards and has been industriously experimenting with the many varieties of grapes and combinations thereof to determine which he likes best. Olivier might just be the most energetic person I have ever met. We tried everything, mostly 2009’s: a crisp Sauvignon Blanc; a delightful, quaffable little red; a most pleasant crisp, fresh rosé; a luscious Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc blend; a young Syrah; an old Syrah and many others! Our biggest challenge is going to be in selecting a manageable number for the wine club!

Hélène with Frédéric Maillet

Amélie Barrot and Frédéric Maillet from Vignobles Mousset-Barrot poured for the next half hour! And what a pour it was. First a 2009 ‘Château de Fines Roches Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc’ from the tank made the ultimate sacrifice. It was awash in pineapples, fresh white flowers, peaches, pears and apricot pits. It was absolutely terrific. The more I get to experience white Châteauneuf du Pape, the more I appreciate it. And, if that wasn’t enough we moved on to a 1998 ‘Château de Fines Roches Châteauneuf du Pape Rouge’. What a treat, especially at eleven o’clock or so in the morning! Cassis, Provençal spices, black fruit, sweet tannins and incredible length – a most elegant and refined way to prepare oneself for lunch.

Mark Thursday, April 15th in your calendars. Paul Biggs and I, ably abetted by our old friend David Moorcroft (of ‘Commodore Dave’ fame) are in the process of plotting a wine and food pairing evening that will feature four of the Vignobles Mousset-Barrot Chateauneuf du Pape and other succulent delicacies! Details to follow very shortly.

Jim, Martine Sauvage and the new look

After a delicious catered lunch at the Domaine de Trévallon booth, augmented by a slurp or two of their marvellous 2007 red, we met with Martine Sauvage of Château Beauferan, a beautiful estate in the Coteaux d’Aix appellation. Martine has refreshed her branding, doing away with ‘Etiquette Rouge’ and ‘Etiquette Noir’ (red and black label) in favour of more contemporary names and style. The 2007 white, now called ‘Océanide’ is a dry, crisp, clean almost austere little number made from sixty percent Grenache Blanc and twenty percent each of Sauvignon Blanc and Rolle. It would be ideal with raw oysters. The 2009 Rosé is very similar – dry, clean and refreshingly crisp with a nice, if somewhat muted finish. It is a pale pink and would be lovely for sipping out on the patio or at dockside. The 2006 ‘Tradition’, unoaked and straight from the tank was comprised of fifty percent Syrah, and twenty-five percent each of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon. It showed nice red fruit, a hint of cassis, pepper and new leather and nice, refined tannins. But it was the 2006 ‘Élevé en Fût de Chêne’ that really got our attention. It had everything the ‘Tradition had and then more with a touch of vanilla and greater depth and structure. This is one to look for.

We poked around VinIsud a little longer but reluctantly had to leave to prepare for our long trek home. It was a grand trip and certainly took care of our southern France yearnings … at least for a few months.

2007, 2008 and 2009 Vintages in Southern France – a Summary

2008 was a very difficult year for growing grapes throughout Europe - but, it was probably better in the Languedoc than anywhere else. It was a cool summer without the normal amount of sun. As a result, the grapes were very late to mature and many of them never did. So, to make a decent wine, the grapes had to be very carefully hand sorted. Those who did so made quite decent wines that are medium-bodied and early drinking. The biggest problem for these well-made 2008’s is that they are sandwiched between the very good 2007’s (which seem to be closing up a little right now) and the potentially equally as good 2009’s. While the vintners are doing what they can to prop up the prices for the 2008’s - delaying the introduction of the 2009’s and just basically being stubborn - I think many vintners including some of the better houses are going to have to discount their 08’s by this summer.

Now then, many of those who were not ultra-selective with their fruit in 2008 made really unpleasant wine. I would avoid most of the co-ops and other mass producers like the plague.

I tried a lot of 2009’s and I really liked them. Looking back on my notes I see that I was very happy with the fruit but not sure the structure was there for a classic year. I liked the whites the best, but even the reds are very good. Part of the problem is I usually tasted the 09’s right after the 08’s, so at this stage I am a little cautious. Therefore, it will be necessary to return in September to make sure!!!

Châteauneuf du Pape Evening at Bodega – Thursday, April 15th!

Paul Biggs, owner and chef of Bodega Restaurant in Toronto and I, ably abetted by David Moorcroft (AKA ‘Commodore Dave’ of cruise blog fame) are almost finished plotting a very special wine and food pairing evening scheduled for April 15th. There will be no less than four different Châteauneuf du Papes served along with Paul’s specially prepared delicacies. Be sure to mark it in calendar – details to follow as soon as the scheming has been completed.

Room Remaining for Hélène’s Tour of Provence – September 11 to 18, 2010

Room for up to three guests remains available at the magnificent bastide in the heart of Provence. See the details at (Week 3, 2010) and contact Hélène for details.


Jim and Hélène