Wine of the Week 9 – a winning Riesling

Columbia Valley / Ancient Lakes, Washington State.

Columbia Valley / Ancient Lakes, Washington State.

Many of you regular readers will know that I love the Riesling grape. For me Riesling produces some of the very best white wines in the world and, in my opinion even a modest example can deliver a huge amount of pleasure. I am well aware though that many people do not love Riesling as I do and that many wine drinkers who have excellent taste in all other respects often lose all reason when it comes to Riesling.

Some of the people I serve Riesling too tell me it is too sweet, even when I pour them a dry wine. Others just seem to think it is a passé 1970s thing to be locked away in a vault along with the equally dubious and hilarious safari suits, bell bottoms and wing mirrors – when was the last time you saw an old-fashioned wing mirror on a car?

Riesling is frequently damned as being the grape that gave us Liebfraumilch, a wine people loved to drink in the 1970s, but now like to pretend was only ever drunk by others. In actual fact Liebfraumilch and all those other cheap German wines – Niersteiner Gutes Domtal, Piesporter Michelsberg etc. – that have almost, but not quite, disappeared from the supermarket shelves were never made from Riesling, but the lesser quality Müller-Thurgau. By the way it is possible to make good wines from that under appreciated grape too.

The other day I wanted a white wine with some intrinsic purity, minerality and elegance to go with my rather wonderful home made spaghetti alle vongolespecial ingredient here & here  and amazingly simple recipe at the bottom of this article hereMy thoughts turned initially to those lovely white wines from the slopes of Etna in Sicily. Sadly the branch of Marks and Spencer I was in did not stock their Etna Bianco and so I had to rethink my plan.

At first glance they did not seem to stock many wines that did what I wanted. Last week’s Wine of the Week would have been a great match with my spaghetti and clams too, but they didn’t have that either, so I had to get creative. Focussing on the wine style rather than origin and grape variety I eventually chose a Riesling from Washington State in America’s Pacific North West. In my mind a wine like that would be a more natural partner with Pacific Rim and spicy Asian cuisine, but my spaghetti had a similar purity to it as well as a little kick of red chilli in true Sicilian style – and hey isn’t spaghetti a type of noodle?

Sadly I have never ben to that part of the world, but I do know that the climate is much cooler than California, so delicate grapes perform very well there.

Honourable Riesling2013 The Honourable Riesling
Charles Smith Wines
Washington State, USA

Charles Smith has become a sort of rock star wine maker since his first vintage in 2001. Originally from central California, where wine would have been all around him, he travelled the world managing bands and music tours before catching the bug and settling in Seattle to retail wine. That same year on a trip to Walla Walla, an important wine growing area in Washington, the itch became more serious and he soon settled in the area and started to make wine. His first vintage was the 2001 and he released just 330 cases. Well that small acorn has grown and Charles now commands a loyal following as a committed, passionate and self-taught wine maker and original marketeer of his wines, much like Randall Graham in California. He makes a wide range of wines, but can be regarded as something of a Riesling specialist, one of his most famous wines is Kung Fu Girl Riesling.

Evergreen Vineyard from the air - photo from Milbrandt Vineyards.

Evergreen Vineyard from the air – photo from Milbrandt Vineyards.

This wine is actually a single vineyard wine from the Evergreen Vineyard which is owned by the Milbrandt Brothers, Butch and Jerry, not David and Ed by the way. Also a source of fruit for Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Evergreen is situated in the far north of Washington’s Columbia Valley A.V.A. and since 2012 the area has had it’s own Ancient Lakes A.V.A.. Although Seattle is famously wet, this far inland the area is very dry. What’s more the place is high, cool and windy, which together with plenty of sun delivers ripe flavours at lower sugar levels, which hopefully makes balanced wines. The thin rocky soils ensures the vines have to work hard and produce concentrated grapes with good minerality, which suits Riesling very well.

The man himself, Charles Smith looking suitably rock & roll.

The man himself, Charles Smith looking suitably rock & roll.

I assumed that I would like this wine, but it is very, very good in a seductively easy drinking style. The nose is aromatic, lifted, richly floral and full of tropical tinged citrus, lime drenched in fact. This limey character goes on to the palate too and while the acidity is refreshingly high and keeps the wine clean and pure, it is not tart at all. In fact the acidity has a soft sweetness to it – the wine though is dry – like lime curd or a rich key lime pie. The flavours pull off a great balancing act between being vibrant and powerful, while the whole thing is actually rather elegant, pure and laced with cleansing acidity and complex mineral characters. The Honourable Riesling delivers a huge amount of pleasure and if you are anything like me you will find it just slips down – 91/100 points. I gave it an extra point for the sheer pleasure it gave!

A lovely wine to drink on its own, with spicy food, Asian food, Pacific Rim cuisine and yes it was perfect with my spaghetti alle vongole, I would like to have it with tapas too.

Available in the UK from Marks & Spencer at £12 per bottle.

If you are one of those people who have failed to find the joy that Riesling can offer, then this might well be the wine – give it a go, I think you will enjoy it.

 

 

Wine of the Week 8 – return of a favourite

Episkopi, Santorini - photo from Athenee Importers.

Episkopi, Santorini – photo from Athenee Importers.

With summer sporadically here, I was very excited to see that one of my favourite dry white wines had returned to Marks and Spencer, it’s great value too.

Regular readers will know that I love wines that are just slightly unusual and a little off the beaten track. There are so many great wines out there made from places and grape varieties that most people just do not think of trying and I see it as my mission to tell the world about them.

For many, many years I have loved exciting Greek wines. Greece is not high on many wine drinkers lists of places to explore, but it really should be, the country makes a dazzling array of styles of indigenous and international grapes and I would urge you to try a few Greek wines.

Some of Greece’s very best wines come from the beautiful island of Santorini. Santorini in my opinion is truly a great wine region and it makes some of the best white wines in the entire Mediterranean area, the reds aren’t too shabby either by the way.

Harvest at Argyros - photo from the Argyros Estate.

Harvest at Argyros, back breaking work, but worth the effort.

MS_FD_F23A_00885010_NC_X_EC_0-22013 Atlantis White
Argyros Estate
Santorini
P.G.I. Cyclades (like a Vin de Pays, but actually could be labelled as a P.D.O. Santorini)

This estate has been family owned since 1903, but most of the success has been since 1974 when the founder’s grandson, Yiannis Argyros, took over. Yiannis managed to dramatically expand the vineyard holding to 65 acres, which is massive for Santorini. The vineyards are all in Episkopi Gonia Thiras, not far from the airport, and the vines are trained into a basket to protect them from the extreme winds. What’s more they the vines hug the ground to keep them out of the wind and to maximise the effects of the morning dew in this hot, dry climate.

The secret weapon for white wine on Santorini is the wonderful Assyrtiko grape. It is high in acid, so makes clean refreshing wines even in the heat and like Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, as well as Sicily’s Carricante, usually has something mineral about it.

Atlantis white is 90% Assyrtiko grapes  with 5% each of the richer Aidani & Athiri.

White Santorini wines vary quite a bit in style from rich and heady to taut, mineral and crisp. The blend here makes this wine somewhere between crisp and soft as it is slightly fleshy and textured, so it feels less mineral than some pure Assyrtiko wines. However it is still utterly delicious, bone dry and very drinkable – indeed my bottle emptied in minutes. The palate gives a touch of pear that softens the citrus, while the nose has a touch of the sea. This makes a stunning aperitif as well as being perfect with a bit of fish, a salad and some grilled prawns or squid – 89/100 points.

I have tried three vintages of this wine now and always been impressed, the estate actually produces ten different wines, including dessert wines and I hope to taste some of the others before too long.

If you have never tried a Greek wine, or a Santorini, or just want a lovely dry white wine, do give it a go, I promise you won’t regret it.

Available in the UK from Marks & Spencer at £10.49 per bottle.
Distributed in the US by Athenee Importers.

 

Piemonte Part 1 – first taste of Monferrato

Vignale in Monferrato.

Vignale in Monferrato.

I experienced my first wine trip to Piemonte the other week and I really enjoyed it. The countryside is beautiful, the variety of landscapes in a small area is quite extraordinary – totally flat around the Po Valley, but with the towering Alps just to the north, while the rolling hills in the south morph into a coastal range of mountains towards Liguria and the sea. The towns and villages are delightful too, the food is memorable and the people are very welcoming. There is a great deal to enjoy in Piemonte and I recommend a visit, oh and the wines are wonderful too and come in an amazing array of different styles from a plethora of grape varieties, some well known, but some quite obscure.

As soon I told people that I was going to Piemonte they jumped to the conclusion that I would be visiting Barolo, but actually my destination was the much less well known Monferrato region. Monferrato covers the provinces of Alessandria and Asti, I was visiting the bit in Alessandria. For most of the time was I based in the lovely provincial town of Acqui Terme, which was originally a Roman Spa town and the bollente, or hot spring, still bubbles up in the town centre.

Il bollente, the water comes out at 75˚C.

Il bollente, the water comes out at 75˚C.

Monferrato
The Monferrato D.O.C. is pretty hard to pin down. It covers great swathes of territory that look and feel very different. The D.O.C. itself can use all sorts of different grapes and incorporates the territories of other wines within its boundaries, Gavi D.O.C.G. being the most famous. It also includes much of the Asti territory, so allowing many producers to make Asti, Mosacto d’Asti as well as Barbera d’Asti. The overall effect is a quite beguiling hotch potch of wine names that straddle and overlap each other.

Map showing the wines of Piemonte, I will draw a more detailed map soon.

Map showing the wines of Piemonte, I will draw a more detailed map soon.

The region is divided in to two by the Tanaro River. In the north the Basso Monferrato – or Monferrato Casalese – is an open land of rolling hills that give way to the plains of the Po Valley. To the south there is the Alto Monferrato, which is a hilly and mountainous land that forms part of the Apennines. Culturally the whole region is diverse with Piemontese, Genoese and Ligurian influences in the food. Asti and neighbouring Alba are also centres of truffle production and they are also important in the cuisine.

The most widely grown grape, the signature grape for the region is the generally under appreciated Barbera. Many others are used though, including Gavi’s Cortese, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Freisa  and Grignolino and I will write more about those another day.

Looking towards the Alps from Marenco's vineyards in Strevi.

Looking towards the Alps from Marenco’s vineyards in Strevi.

Marenco
There were many highlights on this trip and I will write about some of them soon, but one of my favourite winery visits was to the Casa Vinicola Marenco. This family winery is run by three sisters, Michela, Patrizia and Doretta, who are the third generation of the Marenco family to run the family business, interestingly the next generation is entirely male.

The Marenco winery.

The Marenco winery.

Michela Marenco picking cherries for us to eat.

Michela Marenco picking cherries for us to eat.

Our little group enjoying the cherries - photo courtesy of Paul Balke.

Our little group enjoying the cherries, that’s me front left looking serious – photo courtesy of Paul Balke.

Marenco are based in the lovely quiet town of Strevi midway between Gavi and Asti – which is an important area for Moscato (Muscat) production and Moscato Passito di Strevi is the tiny local speciality D.O.C. for a dessert wine made from dried Moscato grpes. All their wines were excellent, but the ones that thrilled me the most were:

2scrapona2013 Marenco Scarpona Moscato d’Asti 
Casa Vinicola Marenco
Strevi
D.O.C.G. Moscato d’Asti

Moscato d’Asti is less fizzy than Asti itself, but tastes very similar and is similarly light light in alcohol – 5.5% in this instance. This single vineyard wine from the Scarpona slope is an exceptionally fine example with a purity, elegance and finesse to it, so much so that it tastes drier than it is, even though it has 130 grams of sugar per litre.

The wine is very pale and delicately frothy rather than fizzy and the CO2 settles on the surface like lace. It is wonderfully aromatic with floral and delicately peachy notes and candied lemon peel making it smell like a freshly opened panettone. The palate is light and fresh with that frothy feel, a slight creamy intensity, and although it is sweet it also tastes very clean, fresh and lively. Candied citrus, light peach and zesty orange flavours dominate. A joyous hedonistic delight of a wine, try it with some fruit, a panettone or a simple sponge cake – 90/100 points.

Click here for UK stockist information for Contero Moscato d’Asti as Scarpone is not available in the UK.
Click here for US stockist information.

Marenco's Scarpona vineyard.

Marenco’s Scarpona vineyard.

pineto2013 Pineto Marenco Brachetto d’Acqui
Casa Vinicola Marenco
Strevi
D.O.C.G. Brachetto d’Acqui

The rarer red equivalent to Moscato d’Asti, this is made from the Brachetto grape, which is a local speciality. The grape is thin skinned, so makes pale wine, but is tannic, like Nebbiolo and is made sweet to balance the tannins in the wines, as many Nebbiolos were until the late nineteenth century. Marenco farm their Brachetto grapes in the Pineto Valley, hence the wine’s name.

In many ways this is like a red partner to the Moscato, with a similar character, lightly sparkling and low alcohol of 5.5%. It has 125 grams of sugar per litre, but tastes drier.

The colour is red cherry or cherry-ade even with that lacy, frothy top. It smells of tangy red fruit, cherry and strawberry, with a touch of cherrystone bitterness too. Frankly the palate tastes like a really good Black Forest Gateau and it would be the perfect partner to it too. This is so, so delicious that I could not stop drinking it – 91/100 points.

I cannot, for the life of me imagine why these two wine styles are not more popular in the UK, they just deliver pure pleasure to your senses - go on, please, I beg you, give them a try. Sadly you won’t find these two particular wines in the UK as Marenco’s distributer, Liberty Wines, sell the Moscato d”Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui from the Contero estate. Luckily Contero is also owned by Marenco and the wines are equally fine.

Click here for UK stockist information for Contero Brachetto d’Acqui.
Click here for US stockist information.

I was also delighted with this red wine produced in a more normal dry style:

MA4012010 Marenco Red Sunrise Albarossa
Casa Vinicola Marenco
Strevi
D.O.C. Piemonte

Albarossa is an unusual grape that is just beginning to catch on in this part of Piemonte and I tasted quite a few, but this was definitely my favourite example. In case you have never heard of it, and I hadn’t, it is a cross of Chatus (Chat-ooo) with Barbera. The position is confused somewhat by the widespread belief that Chatus is a form of Nebbiolo, so some people tell you that Albarossa is a cross of Nebbiolo and Barbera, both native to Piemonte, but that is not the case. This confusion probably arose because Chatus is known as Nebbiolo di Dronero in the Alba region of Piemonte.

The wine is cold fermented in stainless steel tanks and 50% was aged for a year in large oak casks.

As you might expect from this area the wine is red, quite a vivid crimson in fact.
The nose offers a mix of floral and earthy notes, stones, black fruit and red too, especially plums and stewed cherries, with a dash of tobacco.
The palate is soft and marked by rich smoky fruit, red and black, the texture is supple, deep and velvety, with slightly gamey, savoury flavours. All the while there is excellent balance between the lovely acidity, concentrated fruit and soft gamey, ripe tannins. I enjoyed this wine very much and was very excited to try something so completely unexpected. There is a Nebbiolo like feel to it at times, it is overwhelmingly savoury, but the fruit is richer and the tannins softer. I think this is a very fine wine and my favourite Albarossa so far – 90/100 points.

Click here & here for UK stockist information. Also contact Liberty Wines.
Click here for US stockist information.

I think you can probably tell that I was completely bowled over by Marenco and loved visiting them. The vineyards were very beautiful, their wines were superb, the people were lovely and they have real passion for their land and their wines, and it shows. Do try them if you can, you won’t regret it. I will be writing much more about my trip to Piemonte, but Marenco was a real highlight.

 

Wine of the Week 7 – a great value, richly fruity red

The entrance to Château Ksara.

The entrance to Château Ksara.

As some of you may know, I visited Lebanon for the first time this year and got to visit many wineries and to taste many different wines. Overall I was very impressed by the quality of what I found. I didn’t taste anything that wasn’t acceptable and most of what I tasted was very good indeed. Sometimes the prices would make the wines difficult to sell on the UK market, but then Lebanese wineries are mainly small boutique operations and making wine on that scale does unfortunately cost money. However some of the wines offered fantastic value for money and a great quality to price ratio, this delicious white from Domaine des Tourelles for instance.

One of the wineries that I visited was Château Ksara and they make a lovely, great value red wine that I have made this week’s Wine of the Week.

Vineyards at Château Ksara, that is the winemaker Jack Plage.

Vineyards at Château Ksara, that is the winemaker James Palgé.

Founded in 1857 by Jesuit monks, Ksara is the oldest wine producer in Lebanon. Ksara had a bit of luck in 1898 when an extensive Roman cave system was discovered underneath the winery and this was expanded and repaired to become Lebanon’s only natural cellar system. It keeps at a steady 12˚C so is perfect to mature wine, as well as being an amazing place to visit.

The caves at Château Ksara.

The ancient caves at Château Ksara.

Wine production flourished and by the 1970s Ksara produced well over a million bottles a years, 85% of all Lebanese wine. In fact it was so successful that the Vatican considered that it got in the way of the religious aspects of monastic life and so instructed the monastery to sell the winery. Château Ksara was bought by a consortium of Lebanese businessmen and has never looked back.
I was hugely impressed by the range of wines they produce. It seems to me that they make a marvellous range of wines that stretch from attractive, easy going wines – the Gris de Gris Rosé or the Blanc de Blancs – to superbly crafted serious wines that need time to show their true worth, wines like Le Souvrain, their Chardonnay and even their standard Château Ksara red blend.
Well, while you are waiting for those wines to come round you can drink this lovely more easy drinking red:

James Plagé with the barrels that give that touch of mocha to his Reserve du Couvent.

James Palgé with the barrels that give that touch of mocha to his Reserve du Couvent.

wwl073700_chateau_ksara2011 Château Ksara Reserve du Couvent
Château Ksara
Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

40% Syrah 30% Cabernet Franc and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, dry farmed without irrigation, cold fermented in stainless stell tanks and aged for 12 months in French oak barrels.

The colour is an enticingly deep and vibrant ruby.
The nose gives powerful wafts of rich cherry, blackberry and mocha, coffee notes together with a touch of earth too.
The medium-bodied palate is rich with sweetly ripe fruit, the generous fruit and ripe tannins make it soft and supple. The climate shows with a  little bit of heat on the finish, but this is juicy, slightly herbal, lightly spicy, attractive and very drinkable indeed. Try it with lamb dishes, from roasts to tagines and casseroles – 88/100 points.

Available in the UK from around £9 to £11 per bottle, click here for stockist information, more stockists here, here & here
Available in the US from around $13 to $15 per bottle, click here for stockist information.

If you have never tried Lebanese wine before, or just never tried anything from Château Ksara before, I do urge you to give this wine a try, you will enjoy it.

 

Wine of the Week 6 – a great dry white wine & great value too

Trimbach vineyards in Ribeauvillé, courtesy of Maison Trimbach.

Trimbach vineyards in Ribeauvillé, courtesy of Maison Trimbach.

I presented a wine at a tasting last night that had all the criteria to be my wine of the week. It is delicious to drink, stunning quality and great value for money – what more could you ask for?

Well, for me nothing, but it will leave a great many people cold because this wine is a Riesling. Riesling – pronounced Reez-ling – is one of my absolute favourite grapes. It is a grape that, when it’s good, shows such diversity of styles and yet always maintains a purity and a minerality which makes the wines feel poised, fine and elegant.

Most UK consumers seem to resist the delights of Riesling because they think that they shouldn’t like it, just as they shouldn’t like Chardonnay anymore, because they now drink Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. Many UK consumers assume that all Riesling is sweet and even when they taste a dry one often pull a face and pronounce it to be sweet. I find the resistance to Riesling in this country to be very odd, I love dry Riesling and I also love Riesling with some sweetness – what’s not to like about a wine with a little sweetness?

Anyway, my wine of the week is a dry Riesling from the wonderful French region of Alsace. Despite being in the north east of the country Alsace is one of the driest, warmest and sunniest spots in France and that is why they can produce fully ripe, dry Rieslings.

With the Vosges mountains, its half timbered houses and walled medieval villages it is also one of France’s most beautiful regions, although it’s Germanic culture does set it apart from the rest of the country. The people speak a Germanic language and much of the superb cuisine has a German slant to it. It is that Germanic culture that has given them both of their most important grape varieties - Riesling and Gewurztraminer.

trimbach_riesling_bot2011 Trimbach Riesling
Maison Trimbach
Ribeauvillé
A.C. Alsace

Founded in 1626 Trimbach is one of the great old wine houses of Alsace and 12 generations on is still family run in the delightful town of Ribeauvillé. They produce a wide range of wines including all the famous Alsatian grapes, but are something of Riesling specialists as they produce two of the most iconic examples in their Riesling Clos Sainte Hune and Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile.

This example though is their most humble Riesling from their ‘classic’ range, but it is a splendid example of just how delicious Alsace Riesling can be.

This wine is bone dry with an elegant, stony and apply nose. The palate is wonderfully concentrated with some fresh and cooked apple notes, lemons and dry honey. It also has pure, fresh, clean acidity and minerality that keeps it lively, crisp and taut. The finish is refreshing, thrilling and long with some apple and pear skin succulence to it too.

This is a superb dry white wine that everyone should try as it is delicious and versatile. I would expect anyone who likes Sauvignon Blanc would enjoy it if they are open  index enough to give it a taste. It is wonderful as an aperitif, with fish or light meals and even with Thai cuisine – 89/100 points, it scores high marks for being such great value.

Available in the UK from The Wine Society for £10.95 per bottle and £11.99 per bottle from Majestic. Other UK stockists are available here.
US stockists are available here.

So, please do try this wine, it is a great dry white for summer that will go with all sorts of food, it’s salads and goat’s cheese as well as fish, white meat and spicy food. What’s more if you don’t finish the whole case, the high acidity ensures that it ages well too, so there’s no hurry to drink it all.

 

Sud de France – excitement & variety

The lovely Château Haut-Gléon in Corbières.

The lovely Château Haut-Gléon in Corbières.

Recently I was invited to attend the Vinisud wine fair in Montpellier and had a great time sniffing out all sorts of wines from the south of France. The fair actually covers the whole of southern Europe, but I limited myself to France, otherwise I would still be there, sniffing away.

Foncalieu
I was the guest of the Foncalieu cooperative, which is an impressive outfit based in the Languedoc, but whose operations have spread to the Côtes de Gascogne and Côtes du Rhône.

Michel Bataille

Michel Bataille

Being an unreformed lefty - albeit of the Champagne variety – I have a soft spot for cooperatives and find many of them to be top notch wine producers and Foncalieu are one of the best. They have a smart and sophisticated wine range and I have long been an admirer of them because they are so good at what they do, both in producing good wines at good prices and in pushing the envelope. What’s more in keeping with the cooperative ethos, everyone seemed to be very nice and to be proud of what they do. The president of the company is the charming Michel Bataille – a great name for a former soldier I thought – and he was quite clear that the company’s mission was to serve the winegrowers, so to market their production efficiently, to defend their rural environment and to produce good wine. To these ends he said they really do need solidarity in all they do and seeing him shaking hands and chatting with the other growers in the co-op - Michel owns vineyards too – it really seemed that there was a genuine comaradarie here.

While in Montpellier I tasted my way through a good cross section of their wines and I was, as ever, impressed by the quality, the packaging, style and the breadth of vision – they offer an Albariño and a Sauvignon Gris for heavens sake – and yet still many UK consumers think the French don’t innovate!

Foncalieu produce a massive array of wines under many different labels, but the principal quality label is Le Versant. This is a stylishly packaged range of nicely made Vins de Pays / P.G.I.s in classic varietals that are classy enough to grace any table – we drank them with stunning food in a 3 star Michelin restaurant in Montpellier and a fine time was had by all.

The Le Versant range.

The Le Versant range.

I was similarly impressed by their deliciously drinkable Domaine Cambos wines from Côtes de Gascogne. This is only a vin de pays / I.G.P. region but it is a wonderfully reliable source of modern French white wines, try some the next time you are wondering what to drink. Their 2013 Domaine Cambos Colombard-Sauvignon blend would keep any Sauvignon drinker happy, mind you so would the more richly textured and fruity 2013 Domaine Cambos Gros Manseng.

I also enjoyed their attractive 2011 Château Saint Angel from the obscure Cabardès appellation, which is in the Montagne Noir near Carcasonne and is one of the very few places in France that traditionally blends Aquitaine (Merlot and Cabernet) and Mediterranean (Syrah) grape varieties.

Click here for UK stockists of Le Versant wines.
Click here for UK stockists of Le Versant wines.

Map of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, click for a larger view.

Map of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, click for a larger view.

Château Haut-Gléon
A real highlight for me was discovering Château Haut-Gléon, which although owned by Foncalieu is run entirely separately. This is an estate in Corbières which is apparently pretty well known on the continent, but has very little exposure in the UK and so was completely new to me. I cannot imagine why it isn’t more widely sold over here as the wines are very fine indeed.

I met the director – or directrice as her card says – Karine Meyer at a group dinner one night and got to taste some of her wines and to hear something about the Château. I was pretty excited by them so went to their stand the next day to taste my way through the entire range and my first impressions were confirmed.

Situated some 20 km north of Perpignan, near the sea, in the enticingly named Vallée du Paradis, in Durban-Corbières - one of the 11 terroirs of the Corbières appellation - Haut-Gléon has a long history going back to Roman times. The estate has certainly been making wine since the seventeenth century, but its high reputation for quality only dates since the 1990s when the Duhamel family bought the property and restored it after decades of decline. Foncalieu bought the estate in 2012 and plan to develop it as a wine tourism destination, while maintaining the high quality of the wines produced there.

The distinctive Haut-Gléon bottle.

The distinctive Haut-Gléon bottle.

These are very good wines, full of character and style. The estate enjoys a cool micro-climate which enables them to make elegant examples of red Corbières and to craft excellent whites and rosés too. They round it all off by presenting the wines in a unique and stylish heavy bottle, which gives the wines good recognition.

They make 2 ranges, Domaine de Haut-Gléon, which are  labelled as Vin de Pays de la Vallé du Paradis, not Corbières, but are very good indeed. The main label though is Château Haut-Gléon itself and these A.C. Corbières wines are a little more serious and fine.

As you might expect though, it is the red wines that are the most famous, I tasted the 2009 and 2008 and both were very fine blends of old vine Syrah, Grenache and Carignan indeed with a lovely supple palate, a juicy mix of red and black fruit and judicious use of balancing oak enhancing the delicate spicy quality.

The Château Haut-Gléon rosé is excellent too, this Syrah and Grenache blend is brimming over with fresh cherry and strawberry fruit, with a touch of creamy ripeness on the palate. For me though the big surprise was the superb Château Haut-Gléon white, which was quite delicious. It is an exciting blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Marsanne aged for 6 months in new oak barrels.

These are really good wines, far superior than most people would expect from the Corbières region whose general reputation is one of offering good value for money rather than finesse. Do try them if you can, you won’t regret it.

Cathagène
Rather excitingly I was also able to try my first ever examples of Cathagène, which is a speciality mistelle or liqueur wine specific to the Corbières region and is a bit like Pineau de Charente, Ratafia de Champagne, Macvin or Floc de Armagnac. Basically it is grape juice from the estate fortified with brandy made from the grapes grown on the estate. Cathagène can be white or red and I greatly enjoyed the examples made by Château Haut-Gléon. The white is a blend of Marsanne and Muscat, while the red is pure Syrah. Both would be splendid after dinner drinks or served with lightish desserts. The white would be perfect with homemade biscuits (a bit of sophisticated dunking beckons perhaps?) while I think the red would be lovely with a black forest roulade.

I was going to write about some more of the exciting things I found in Montpellier, but will leave those for another day, so make sure you come back soon.

Wine of the Week 5 – fine organic red from the Douro

The beautiful terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

The beautiful terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

My wine of the week this time is a wine that I have mentioned before in a piece about Portugal’s Douro region. I drank a bottle the other day and was once again struck by how good it was. It was so classy, so delicious and such great value for money that I simply could not resist making it my wine of the week.

It is made by the Symington family who own many superb estates in the beautiful Douro Valley as well as Port houses such as Graham, Dow, Cockburns and Warre. For the last 15 years or so they have branched out from being purely a Port producer to becoming one of Portugal’s best winemakers too and this wine is a superb calling card for them. If you have never tasted a really good Portuguese wine, or just want something good at a great price, then give it a go, it could well be your wine of the week too:

The view from Vinum

The Douro in Porto.

LN_504100_BP_a_232011 Altano Quinta do Ataide Organic
D.O. Douro, Portugal

This blend of organically grown Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca grapes was sourced from the Symington family’s Assares vineyard which was certified organic in 2006. The wine was cold fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged in second fill French oak for 10 months.
This offers great concentration and depth and wonderfully vibrant fruit together with a touch of spice and a slatey minerality, it gives lots of pleasure and is sinfully drinkable. This is stunning quality for its price and should be more popular – 90/100 points because of the great value.

Available in the UK from Waitrose & Fareham Wine Cellar @ £9.99 per bottle, more UK stockist information is available from Fells, the distributor.
Available in the US from Curtis Liquors, more US stockist information is available from Vineyard Brands, the distributor.