Monday 23 june 2014 1 23 /06 /Jun /2014 20:21

Okay, I don’t have to be told how erratic and infrequent my blogposts have been. But I hope that the following explanation will offer an excuse worthy of a blessing.

Over the last 3 months or so, I’ve been developing a project to import & distribute wines from a few of the wonderful small family estates that I’ve come to know in Languedoc-Roussillon. The main incentive would be the introduction of these high-quality, natural and authentic wines to local wine lovers - especially those interested in unique wines from lesser-known regions. I.e. this is by no means a big money-making project for me, rather an opportunity to provide exposure to some passionate wine growers who truly deserve it. Obviously, at my age, there’s no incentive for me to plant the seed for some “expanding project” over time - that is, I intend to start small and stay small with these 5-6 vignerons. And my hope of course is that, when I’m ready to move on, their wines will become established in our local market, so that someone would be willing to continue their importation.

While contemplating which producers to approach with my proposal, I considered the idea of choosing one estate from each of the top appellations in Languedoc-Roussillon, but after further consideration, decided it made more sense to focus on the area with which I’ve become most familiar - i.e Corbières/Minervois, St Chinian and Roussillon. Besides, After having discovered so many stellar examples from these terroirs, narrowing down to a list of 5-6 domaines would not be difficult. At this point I have firm plans to begin importing wines this fall from the following four estates: *Chateau de Cabriac (Corbières), Domaine Ste. Croix (Corbières), Clos Canos (Corbières) and Domaine Padié (Roussillon). Fortunately, the three Corbières estates are all located in different areas of this fairly large appellation, giving them each a unique wine style. During our annual stay in the region this month, I’ll be making a decision on selecting one producer each in Minervois & St. Chinian as well - providing me with all the wine I’ll need to keep this one-man operation busy for the next few years.

So I suppose this activity won’t make my goal of more frequent and regular blogposts any easier (an understatement). And of course, if I am able to keep up with my Trusty Vine obligations, you won’t see me reviewing or rating the wines I’ll be importing, as that would be a definite conflict of interest. As you’ve likely noticed though, my posts have been more story-like than an attempt to rank wines from a specific area by quality level - and this will probably be my approach into the future as well.

Following are a few vignettes of the “people behind the labels” whose wines I will be representing (p.s. it should come as no surprise that all of them make excellent pure or majority carignan cuvées along with their proprietary blends).



The gracious owners of Ch. de Cabriac in the village of Douzens, Corbières, Jean & Michèle de Cibeins. Their estate and vineyards are situated just downhill from Mont D'Alaric, in the northwest part of Corbières.





Pierre Galinier and his lovely wife, Françoise Castel, pouring wines from their estate, Clos Canos at the recent ViniSud event in Montpellier. Their cellars and vineyards are located in the village of Luc-sur-Orbieu. This is near the center of the appellation, and within the separate sub-appellation of Boutenac.




Jon Bowen, surrounded by the well-aged vines of Domaine Ste Croix in the village of Fraissé, Corbières - which is in the higher elevation region of southwest Corbières. Jon and his wife Elizabeth, are British transplants, and passionate supporters of the "Carignan Rennaissance" movement in S. France, as well as meticulous natural wine adherents.




Another strong adherent of natural wine production, Jean-Philippe Padié, here in his cellar in the village of Calce, Rousillon. Only a 25-30 min. drive south from Jon & Elizabeth Bowen. Jean-Philippe is somewhat of an iconoclast, in that he is less concerned about the appellation guidelines as he is about making great and authentic wine - regardless of the grape blend.


Well, tomorrow it's off to our beloved Narbonne area. After which I'll have no shortage of material to share in future posts (if I can just kick myself in the derrière to deliver!). In the meantime...........







* winery websites:

By vigne de confiance, aka Russell Raney
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Thursday 3 april 2014 4 03 /04 /Apr /2014 01:28

After my memorable, but "unfinished" journey to the 2012 ViniSud in Montpellier, nothing could keep me from returning for this year's 3-day event in late February. Unfinshed, due to the fact that I was not quite prepared the first time around to use my time efficiently enough to include all the wines I'd hoped to taste. This time though, I did my homework and managed to visit all the domaines on my "A" list, plus numerous other pleasant surprises (with the help of friend and Languedoc guru, Michel Smith). What can one expect though, when one considers that over 1600 producers were on hand to pour, of which many were offering 10+ different bottlings! I would of course love to be able to include the "MillésimeBio" organic/biodynamic wine event held one month earlier in the same exhibition park, but I don't think my wife, Mary, would be too excited about my taking a six week vacation to France without her. In order to get beyond the jet lag before the event, I arrived four days early, which also allowed me to take some side trips to visit a few estates who chose not to attend ViniSud....more on that in upcoming posts.








Having been bitten by the carignan bug, thanks to Michel, the first item on the agenda was an enlightening seminar and tasting of carignan cuvées on the first morning. The purpose was mainly to expose attendees to the diversity of styles and the ever-evolving high quality of the varietal. Not unexpectedly, there wasn't perfect agreement on the standouts in the group - but most importantly, there were no disappointments in terms of quality and style. That said, I had two clear favorites: 2012 Le Champ des Murailles, recently purchased by the well-known Ch. Ollieux-Romanis (this wine contains small amounts of mourvedre & grenache), and the 2011 Lo Vieilh from Domaine Clos du Gravillas. The latter, owned by the energetic and talented Kentucky transplant to Languedoc, John Bojanowski.



John Bojanowski and his wife with a winning smile, Nicole


Unlike my 2012 ViniSud experience, I managed to broaden the horizons a bit to take in some fascinating wines from  appellations in France's Southwest, an extensive tasting of the beautiful Bandols from Ch. Pibarnon, and a rewarding revisit of an exceptional co-op type producer in the Luberon region (North of Provence), Marrenon. In the case of the Southwest, I had to revise my somewhat negative attitude towards negociant producers, after an impressive tasting (along with some wonderful small dishes!) with the friendly and knowledgeable staff at Lionel Osmin & Cie. based in the village of Morlaas, near Pau. This company seems to have writen the book on intelligent selection of regional wines along with "personable" marketing.



"Mr. Carignan" (aka Michel) with "Mr. Marrenon"




Eric de Saint Victor, Ch. Pibarnon


Following is a list of my faves tasted from southwest appellations:


Domaine du Cros " Vieilles Vignes" 2013, Marcillac. Classic wine from the esoteric SW grape, fer servadou. Delicate yet intense, and reminiscent of good cabernet francs from Chinon or Bourgeuil.

Ch. Aydie, Madiran 2010, 2011 & 2012. These were all blends of cabernet franc and tannat, and exhibited lovely spice, flavors of cured meat and great balance between tannin and rich texture. They were also very fairly priced.

Domaine Le Roc "La Folle Noire d'Ambat" 2012, Fronton. This wine, 100% from the indigenous négrette variety, had an almost carignan like earthy "funk" (the positive kind!), with a silky texture and a ripe herbal character.

Lionel Osmin, Jurançon Sec 2011. A lovely dry Jurançon, produced from the two indigenous white varieties, gros manseng and petite manseng. The result yields a beautiful baked apple/cinnamon character, rich yet with tangy citrus highlights and a touch of vanilla (from light oak?).

Lionel Osmin, Rosé of Négrette 2013, Fronton. Extremely aromatic rosé with strong banana esters together with a nice balance of richness and fruit acid.

Lionel Osmin "Chambre d'Amour" 2012, Vin de France. This multi-appellation (SW) bottling is ca. 75% gros manseng and 25% sauvignon blanc, and is a perfect summer quaffer, being medium-sweet with only 10% alcohol and lively acidity.


As for stellar stand-outs from other regions, here's an abreviated list (it would be too exhausting to include all the wonderful wines experienced):


Ch. Pibarnon, Bandol 2001. I was overwhelmed by all the vintages that owner, Eric de Saint Victor poured for us, but this was perhaps the most classic of all for its appellation. Beautiful silky texture with notes of spicy tobacco and "raw beef". It happens also to be Eric's favorite vintage of the decade.

Domaine St. Andrieu "Vallongue" 2010, Montpeyroux. Although, I'd have to say that Domaine D'Aupilhac would be my standard for camparison in this small higher-elevation region of the Languedoc, this estate ranked right up there with them in this majority carignan cuvée (with some grenache). Lovely aromas & flavors of cassis and hemp (my carignan "marker") while not too extracted  - nice silky elegant texture with sufficient fruit acid.

Stella Nova "Quid Novi" 2011, Pézenas/Languedoc. Another carignan blend (90%, with 10% grenache), this wine is definitely made for a serious carignan devotée, with deep, dark fruit, a hint of hemp, great structure (needs time) and a long rich finish.

Clos Canos "Tradition" 2010, Corbières. This was perhaps the best value carignan blend I came across at ViniSud - at around $10/bottle. Very nicely balanced, with classic aromatic hemp and cassis notes and vibrant acidity, making it an excellent food pairing wine. (sidenote: The owners here, Pierre & Françoise Galinier, are cousins of my friends and Corbières vignerons, Roland & Isabelle LaGarde at Roque-Sestière)

Marrenon "Grand Marrenon" 2011, Luberon. I could easily have mentioned all of this producer's impressive wines, but this was perhaps the apex wine of the group. A 70% syrah-30% grenache blend, it was very complex and aromatic, with tobacco-like spiciness and a velvet texture, making for a long finish.

Ch. de Beaupré Rosé 2013, Coteaux d'Aix en Provence. A pretty grenache-syrah rosé with very fresh and crisp fruit character - predominantly strawberry and pear tones. The lively fruit acid would make it a great aperitif or light seafood wine.



Pierre & Françoise Galinier of Clos Canos


You may notice that I didn't include any Rhone wines above. I'm a big fan of S. Rhone wines, especially those from Gigondas and surrounding communes like Cairanne, Rasteau etc. During this visit however, I opted to focus my time on other regions which I "shortchanged" on my last trip. As eluded to above, it's simply impossible to make the rounds to every booth in the event, but I'm content that I made (most of) the right choices this time!


À Votre Santé,


By vigne de confiance, aka Russell Raney
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Friday 3 january 2014 5 03 /01 /Jan /2014 19:08

The changing face of the U.S. wine market and wine consumption is a topic I've long wanted to delve into, so I'm diverting from my usual French/Spanish themes here. On the other hand I kept putting this off because I feared the laboriousness of the task. However, after having been involved with the wine industry (in various forms) for over 38 years now, I seem to often have the urge to share with other oenophiles the significant transformations in wine availability, drinking preferences etc. which I've observed during this time.



I suppose the most obvious change in the U.S. market from my early days in the trade - late 70's - is the huge increase in the availability of wines from lesser known regions, along with the improvement in quality of these wines (largely related to a reduction in crop levels = better ripening and concentration). While living in St. Louis in this earlier era, wine afficianados (with some disposable income) focused primarily on the well-known names from Bordeaux & Burgundy - with a gradual interest in the new boutique cabs & merlots from N. California. This of course made for a somewhat predictable, and sometimes uninspiring wine market - especially coupled with the fact that the 70's was a time in which there were numerous uninteresting and over-priced reds being pumped out in Burgundy. But it was at the beginning of the next decade that a revolution in small production and higher quality emerged in virtually every viable wine region on the planet, and as can be withessed today, it is still happening. On the positive side, many of the renowned estates' wines were considerably more affordable back then, but personally, this is not of consequence to me, as my interests and taste have changed so dramatically over the years, that I find myself much more intrigued and fascinated by these new and esoteric entries into the market - often from varieties that were shunned in the past. I think it's safe to say that, in addition to the vintner's attention to a vineyard's site, crop level etc., their focus on the authenticity of the wine (for its variety & region) has lead them to low-tech production techniques which eschew over-manipulating a wine. i.e. employing as natural an approach as possible (preferrably either organic or bio-dynamic). I would argue that this "movement" has single-handedly defined (and above all, improved) the diversity, quality and authenticity of wines available in the wine market today.
There is of course still no shortage of bulk-produced wine, which can be pleasant while usually a bit one-dimensional - and sadly, many of these producers have tried to steal the marketing pitch of the smaller, craft wineries - but this is where, I believe, the usefulness of the numerous (and often specialized) wine blogs come in. There are many wine-bloggers out there, who have no interest in promoting a wine just because its owners have sent them free samples, or due to a pricey ad placed in their glossy publication. And happily, many of the newer winebloggers specialize in a partiular region or varietal, which affords them more time to thoroughly research current wine offerings and provide (more often) reliable information to their readers. I realize it can be a jungle out there in the oenoblogosphere, but once one finds a writer whose palate is in accord with his/her own, it is easier to cut through the BS of much of these estates' propaganda who tend to place more emphasis on marketing than on the quality and individuality of their wine.


And this is where the new breed of consumer enters. Armed with facts and information about the wines they're seeking, they are naturally more inquisitive, astute and well-equipped to separate the chaff from the wheat - and with the huge diversity of wine & wine prices in the market today, this helps immensely in dealing with the subjective nature of wine. It's a much more user-friendly environment in which to buy wine today for consumers -even those with more limited means. Of course it's very helpful to have a seasoned palate, but again, the most important aspect is knowing the style of wine one prefers and using the available data to locate these wines. Besides, regardless of the "natural" sensitivity and accuracy of one's palate, I'm still convinced that it's the knowledge and experience acquired from researching and tasting wine regularly that is most useful in choosing the "appropriate" wine (especially comparative tastings and the exchange of ideas in a group setting etc.).

Granted, the prices for all (even lesser known) wine categories have climbed over the last 25 years, but there are still so many good value wines to be found in the market today - and this is precisely what provided me the incentive to write the occasional blog. i.e. like many other bloggers, I very much want to make the case for value in honest wine for "every day consumption", and not simply mimic the big publications with their oft meaningless 100 pt. rating systems and annual praise of the renowned estates - along with the trendy new boutiques on the block. I guess I wouldn't mind being labeled a "democratic wine populist" because of my desire to connect those consumers of limited means to decent and authentic wines in the market. On the other hand, that label also applies to my attitude towards fair compensation to small artisanal winemakers (who are often working with limited means as well). This is to say that there is a fine line in this equation - whereby both consumer and producer can be accommodated fairly.



This new set of consumers should be largely credited for giving a nice boost to the "artisinal" wine producers - and when I use the term artisinal, I would essentially include all of the (most often smaller) "craft" vintners who, if not certified organic or bio-dynamic, are at least following a  *"non-manipulative" regime, as regards vineyard and wine-making technique. With the plethora of new small wineries over the globe, there's an increased need for "being unique" and setting one's image apart from the others (while at the same time striving for typicality for the vineyard's region & terroir). Of course like any other consumer niche, the"genu-winists" or "oenauthentists" (or whatever term suits you) have their shortcomings like anyone. e.g. Many often tend towards trendy movements, even when this or that new winemaking trend may not have much basis in increased authenticity or quality - or be easily swayed by clever marketing campaigns designed to portray hipness or the "rebel image". Once again though, the bottom line is simply accumulating enough research and wine tasting experience to decide for oneself how much interest, authenticity, quality & value is in the glass. So here's to a new wine year 2014! And may it yield ever more good-value, unmanipulated and highly quaffable wine!


Vinously Yours,




* Note that I'm hesitant to use the term "natural", due to its controversial perception. Unfortunately the term has been abused by many wineries & consumers alike - and co-opted by some "not-so-natural" larger wineries for marketing purposes. I think it's definitely time for the term "natural" to be more rigidly defined before use in publicity and on labels.

By vigne de confiance, aka Russell Raney
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Saturday 7 december 2013 6 07 /12 /Dec /2013 20:18

So as not to be misinterpreted, I should explain that, by "sides", I mean literally or physically here: i.e. the east bank and the west bank of the Rhône River. I discovered this past June that even with only two tastings scheduled in the area north of Avignon, there's no quick way to drive from the village of Gigondas to St Gervais - even though they're not so far apart "as the crow flies". It's just that there aren't very many small highway bridges across the Rhone when you need them. Thankfully, apart from a lot of convoluted driving to reach my destinations, I had two great visits that more than made up for the minor inconveniences.




Les Dentelles de Montmirail (just uphill from Gigondas)



My first stop was at the respected producer, Clos du Joncuas in Gigondas. There I was warmly received by the lady who "wears all the hats", i.e. winemaker, marketing person etc., Dany Chastan. I should add though that Dany's sister, Carole, does help out part-time with sales & marketing. Joncuas' flagship wine is their Gigondas, but they produce excellent reds as well from the villages of Séguret under the Domaine de la Garancière label, and Vacqueras under the label "Font de Papier". I was first acquainted with these wines at a "Return to Terroir" tasting in San Francisco in 2007 - which (if you're familiar with this organization) might tip you off that Dany's operation is managed organically. Visiting Clos du Joncuas was a welcome confirmation for me that all their wines are produced with an eye towards their typicality by site, resulting in very authentic expressions of their terroir and grape varieties. I guess I should mention that I'm somewhat prejudiced in favor of the commune of Gigondas vs. other southern Rhone wine-growing villages. Maybe it's the awe of the jagged and impressive "Dentelles de Montmirail" mountains in the background (which are responsible for the regions dolomite limestone and gypsum soils), but I've long considered Gigondas to be the equal of its more famous neighbor to the South, Chateauneuf du Pape (and at a morer reasonable price!). They are admittedly different in nature, but in terms of sheer quality, I've always felt Gigondas deserved equal footing.



Clos du joncuas



Dany poured me three lovely vintages of Gigondas: 2005, '06 and '07. I have to admit that although Joncuas' reds aren't the least expensive of the region, considering both their high quality and the fact that they're held in bottle for some time prior to release, I find them very fairly priced. All three of the above wines shared their site's rustic characteristics of leather, dust, spice and dark plummy fruit, yet with a refined texture. But of course the phenomenal 2007 vintage stood out with its great depth, intensity, and long finish. I personally found her Vacqueras and Séguret to be very similarly styled, only with a tad less viscosity. For those looking to try an exemplary village-designated southern Rhone, I can highly recommend the Séguret, especially for both its typicality for this village and its good value.



Dany Chastan

The "face" of Clos du Joncuas, charming Dany Chastan



After grabbing a quick lunch in neighboring Orange, I moved to the west side of the river to Domaine Clavel, in the village of St Gervais, quaintly nestled behind a ridge of the Cevennes hills. Unlike Clos du Joncuas, Clavel is a "family affair", i.e. each of the three family members manages a different aspect of the estate. Mother, Françoise is the winemaker, father, Denis tends the vines, and daughter, Claire, does the marketing. It was Claire who greeted me at my visit (I had actually gotten to meet her and Françoise at ViniSud Montpellier in early 2012, so I wasn't a stranger). Unfortunately my visit was just a day after they held an art exhibition (with wine & food of course) - featuring regional artists. But fortunately, most of the works were still on display when I arrived, so I still got more than I'd bargained for.



Dom. Clavel 2

The Clavel "Line-Up"



Besides the difference in soils (the St Gervais area has mainly limestone-clay), it was clear to me that Domaine Clavel and Clos du Joncuas also have two different "business models". They're both quite successful in their own ways. While Joncuas is more low-key, Clavel is perhaps more "extroverted" and more focused on retail sales at their tasting room. In terms of their wine selection, Joncuas offers primarily AOP village-designated wines, whereas Clavel does as well, but with the addition of some special blends and cuvées that use varietal blends that aren't "sanctioned" by the Côtes du Rhone AOP regs. i.e they seem to be a bit more experimental and less conventional. Also unlike Clos du Joncuas, they are also producing a larger volume, allowing them to offer more wines at a somewhat lower price point.



Claire Clavel

Claire with her lovely daughter, Lou Anne


E.g. Domaine Clavel makes, in some vintages, a very impressive pure carignan bottling - and although as such, is not approved under the AOP regs, it frankly doesn't need those "niceties" for enjoyment. It was enlightening to find that this wine, 2007 "Berger", had such identifiable carignan characteristics, like garrigue herbs and dried hemp, yet was distinctly Rhone as well, with it's leathery, dusty nuances. The other difference I found more evident was the silky texture of the wine, providing for a long rich finish. Their Côtes du Rhone blend, "Regulus", is a very quaffable, and good-value wine for every day drinking - a blend of predominantly grenache with syrah, cinsault & carignan. It's a bright-fruited wine but with good intensity and with notes of spicy white pepper & cassis.



Dom. Clavel

Cool art on display at Dom. Clavel


It's this kind of diversity within the Rhone Valley's numerous sub-regions, which make them all the more fascinating, beckoning hearty wine lovers to keep coming back.



À Votre Santé!


By vigne de confiance, aka Russell Raney
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Wednesday 6 november 2013 3 06 /11 /Nov /2013 19:51

I just couldn't resist sharing a brief story on this recent experience. After having cast eyes on this bottle every time I'd enter my little cellar, I'd think to myself, "man I've got to drink this before it's down the tubes" (while fearing that it may well be "there" already). Besides, in 1982 you could probably count on one hand, the number of wines from Languedoc that pundits would expect to age beyond 9-10 years.

So last week I finally decided that I needed to face the consequences, and open my lone bottle of 1982 Mas de Daumas Gassac - and was I ever astounded! I don't believe it could hardly have been any better if I'd opened it 10 or 20 years earlier, as it was still amazingly vibrant and healthy.







Many of you know about this fine estate in the village of Aniane, and how it's owners, the Guibert family, helped in putting the Languedoc region on the map with their first vintage in 1978, i.e. as more than just a region of over-cropped plonk. What is intriguing to me however, is why they chose to plant Bordeaux varieties, primarily cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. This I suppose though could be partly explained by the fact that none other than the famed Bordeaux enologist, Emile Peynaud himself, visited the site to give his blessing before the planting. Even if their sub-region of the Coteaux du Languedoc, Terrasses du Larzac* near Montpellier, is slightly cooler and moister than many Languedoc micro-climates, I'm still dubious about the fact that the local indigenous varieties were eschewed - unless the Guiberts were convinced that they could compete with grand cru Bordeaux? Granted, they do now produce some fine wines from indigenous varietal blends - syrah, grenache, carignan etc. under the Moulin de Gassac label - but their flagship reds are still cabernet sauvignon based.








Getting back to my point for this little piece, I've been trying to contemplate how best to categorize Mas de Daumas de Gassac. That is, while it has certainly built a solid reputation for itself over the years, can it really be considered as a typical wine from its region? I'd have to say unquestionably not, and tasting the above wine confirmed that for me. Their 1982 could easily be mistaken for an old Medoc if tasted blind - what with all its cedary, cigar box like aromas & flavors. Make no doubt about it though, this is still an impressive wine regardless of its lack of typicality - intense & ripe dark plummy fruit tones with soft tannins and an almost chewy texture. I now regret not stashing a few more of these away, especially considering I only paid $7.99 for the experience, back in 1984 - whereas the same wine in the currently available vintage, 2011, runs about $32 per bottle. On the other hand, if I'm seeking a Bordeaux-like red, Languedoc is not where I'd be looking. The region currently has hundreds of wonderful authentic wines that, quite honestly can "speak the Occitane language" better than Mas de Daumas Gassac.

* can only be labeled as "Vin de pays de l'Herault" due to its use of non-approved grape varieties.

By vigne de confiance, aka Russell Raney
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  • : The Trusty Vine
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  • : My blog's goal is to educate & inform the public about the best values among natural and authentic wines, with a focus on organic and bio-dynamic wines from the South of France & Spain. Wine reviews will be as objective as possible, and without the use of the much abused 100 pt. system - rather using specific criteria to determine the wine's typicality and authenticity, in addition to its overall quality.

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