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FINE WINES OF FRANCE A TASTING AT ROBERSON WINE
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 15th 2008
LANGUEDOC & ROUSSILLON
Languedoc & Roussillon:
Vineyard area: approx 300,000 hectares Major AOC red grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre, Carignan, Cinsault Major VdP red grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and many others Recent vintages to watch: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006 Recent vintages to avoid: 2002
With more land under vine than any other wine-making region in the world, Languedoc and Roussillon constitutes almost 40% of total French wine production. Stretching from Nimes in the East (the Languedoc) all the way to the Spanish border in the West (Roussillon), this is the region that has driven the renaissance in French wine over the past 10 years. For many years this area was the major source of the French ‘plonk’ that used to fill Europe’s wine lake – today it is recognised as being a hotbed of quality and innovation. Winemakers in L&R have taken on the New World by using their Vins de Pays classification to produce interesting wines that offer stunning value for money, while maintaining the quality and tradition that the best AOC wines consistently provide.
The various Vins de Pays zones (the largest being Vin de Pays d’Oc) are full of small producers making artisanal wines from a wide range of grape varieties.
Appellations such as Minervois, Corbieres and the ‘crus’ of AOC Languedoc (Pic St Loup, La Clape etc) produce red wines of genuine character – chunky, fruity, meaty and smooth, with inimitable scents and flavours of the ‘garrigues’.
LANGUEDOC & ROUSSILLON
1999 AOC Coteaux du Languedoc; Roc d’Anglade Syrah (65%) / Grenache (35%)
Once L&R had established itself as the latest frontier in fine wine, it was no surprise to see top drawer winemakers from other regions of France (and increasingly the world) snapping up ne- glected vineyards in prime locations with very old vines. One of these was a star of the Rhone Valley called Rene Rostaing who teamed up with Remy Pedrino, a friend who had managed to get his hands on one of the best plots of vines in the region. 1999 was the first vintage of what has gone on to become one of the top wines of the region.
1998 VdP l’Herault; Mas de Daumas Gassac Rouge Cabernet Sauvignon (80%) / Another eight varieties(!) (20%)
This iconic estate is the flag bearer for the Vins de Pays movement, and an inspiration for win- emakers in unsung wine regions around the world. Aime Guibert was a Parisian lawyer (and wine lover) that purchased an estate in the Languedoc during the 1970s. He enlisted his close friend (and eminent viticultural expert) Professor Henri En- jalbert to conduct a soil survey of the estate’s land and discovered that a geological anomaly had blessed him with the exact terroir found in the top Chateaux of the Medoc in Bordeaux. Guibert therefore planted acres and acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vines, which were illegal under AOC law, and labelled the inaugural vintage (1978) as ‘Vin de Table’. Daumas went on to become the first great Vins de Pays wine with the help of the great Bordeaux enologist and consultant Professor Emile Peynaud.
RHONE VALLEY THE REGION Rhone Valley:
Vineyard area: approx 80,000 hectares Major AOC red grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre Recent vintages to watch: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005 Recent vintages to avoid: 2002
The Rhone Valley is one of the world’s most prestigious vineyard areas, studded with superstar appellations and producers that command ludicrous prices, but with high quality wines across the board that offer excellent value in some of the lesser known areas. This is the spiritual home of the full-bodied red, with the world’s best Syrah (also known as Shiraz of course) and Grenache inspiring a slew of New World copycats.
Syrah is King in the Northern half of the valley, where it is at its very best on the great hill of Hermitage and the ‘roasted slope’ of Cote-Rotie. While perhaps not the Rhone Valley’s most famous exports, the reds of Hermitage and Cote-Rotie are generally considered to be the region’s (and some of the world’s) best wines.
In the case of Cote-Rotie, Syrah can be blended (or even co-fermented) with up to 20% Viognier – a white wine varietal that adds elegance and a floral complex- ity to the meaty, dark fruit characteristics of Syrah. Appellations such as Cornas and St Joseph also offer wines of superb class and structure, often at very rea- sonable prices.
Grenache is the key ingredient to most of the Southern Rhone’s best wines from Vacqueyras, Gigondas and of course Chateauneuf-du-Pape. While the Northern Rhone tends to produce wines of greater elegance, the warmer South- ern appellations yield powerful wines that are savoury, spicy and full-bodied.
The South’s most famous appellation is un- doubtedly Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which was the prototype for the entire AOC system adopted in France during the 1930s. It has some slightly bizarre AOC legislation for producers to contend with, such as the dizzying choice of 13 varieties permitted in the blend (including red and white), and rules outlawing the taking off, flying or landing of UFOs on an AOC vineyard.
RHONE VALLEY THE WINES 1996 Cote-Rotie; Rene Rostaing Syrah (97%) / Viognier (3%)
Rene Rostaing began winemaking in 1971 when he inherited a meagre 0.47 hectares of Cote Ro- tie. Over the years he added to his domaine and it now stands at 6 hectares - more than enough land to enable him to establish himself as one of the very best producers in the Rhone Valley. Cote Rotie is what he is famous for, and along with Guigal he is considered to be the best pro- ducer of this iconic wine. His Syrah vines are co planted with some Viognier, and although it is difficult to ascertain exactly how much he uses, he is partial to giving his red wines a lift with this aromatic white grape.
1997 Chateauneuf-du-Pape; Chateau de Beaucastel Mourvedre (35%) / Grenache (30%) / Counoise (10%) / Syrah (5%) / Cinsault (5%) / Misc (10%)
The Beaucastel family have been part of the vinous community in Chateauneuf-du-Pape since the 16th century, and today it is the Perrin family that are in charge – they married into the Beau- castel family a few generations earlier. The wines at Cheateau de Beaucastel have always enjoyed an enviable reputation, but since the tenure of Jacques Perrin (which ended in 1978) this has become one of the most highly respected producers in all of France. Quintessential Chateauneuf – Beaucastel often use all thirteen permitted varieties in the blend and age the wine in traditional oak foudres.
BURGUNDY THE REGION Burgundy:
Vineyard area: approx 28,500 hectares (including Chablis), but Cote d’Or just 8,000 hectares Major AOC red grapes: Pinot Noir Recent vintages to watch: 1995, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005 Recent vintages to avoid: 2007(?)
Burgundy has more appellations than any other wine region in France (including the smallest – La Romanée), is home to producers mak- ing many of the world’s rarest and most expensive wines, and is the birthplace of two of wines most noble grape varieties - Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. For many, your host included, Burgundy represents the absolute pinnacle of both red and white wine production.
The region of Greater Burgundy is divided between a number of sub- regions – Chablis, Cote d’Or (the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune), Cote Chalonnais, Cote Macconais and Beaujolais. However, it is the Cote d’Or that has brought fame and prestige to the vignerons of Burgundy, thanks to wines from villages such as Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-St-Georges, Volnay and Puligny-Montrachet.
Newcomers to the world of wine tend to break out into cold sweats when faced with the intricate details and complicated network of vineyards, villages and producers. It is undeniably difficult to get past the intimidating complexity, but a little perseverance will reward the taster with some of the most profound and delicious wines on the planet.
Elegance, purity and complexity are the hallmarks of good red Burgundy. Delicate red fruit and silky tannins are joined after a few years of age by savoury and earthy flavours of meat, game, truffles, and of course the farmyard!
BURGUNDY THE WINES 1999 Gevrey-Chambertin ‘Au Vellé’; Domaine Denis Mortet Pinot Noir (100%)
The name Denis Mortet is one that resonates with drinkers and producers of Burgundy. This was a man that revolutionised his family domaine and influenced a generation of young winemakers in Gevrey-Chambertin and beyond, before tragically taking his own life in 2006. Famous for treating even his ‘humble’ village wines (such as this Au Vellé) as if they were Grand Cru cuveés, the Mortet wines are all of the highest quality and have their own sense of style – Rich, full and utterly delicious with a meaty, earthy – almost bestial quality. Today it is his son Arnaud in charge and the ethos has very much remained the same.
1999 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru ‘Les Poissenots’; Domaine Geantet-Pansiot Pinot Noir (100%)
Vincent Geantet has been in charge here since 1982, and his preference for wines of elegance and sophistication is demonstrated in wines that have been steadily improving ever since he took over from his father. The wonderful vine