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June 23 2014 2 23 /06 /June /2014 18:21

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:





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April 2 2014 4 02 /04 /April /2014 23:28

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,


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January 3 2014 6 03 /01 /January /2014 18:08

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.

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December 7 2013 7 07 /12 /December /2013 19:18

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!


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November 6 2013 4 06 /11 /November /2013 18:51

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.

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October 31 2013 5 31 /10 /October /2013 21:09

As a follow-up to my earlier post on carignan, this time I'm "moving the conversation" back to Oregon.

For some time, I've been wanting to expose a group of local wine buddies to what I consider the new "carignan movement" in the south of France - this, by way of a tasting of current typical versions of the wine (in this case from Languedoc-Roussillon). So I brought some bottles back with me from my last trip there in June, and added to these, a couple of solid examples available in the Oregon market, plus a California ringer for comparison.



Already having a fairly good feel for the perception of carignan wines from a French perspective, my idea behind the tasting was to get reactions from a non-French group of tasters as to the quality level and style of the wines. In the line-up, the quality range was quite limited, making it difficult (for me at least) to choose a favorite. As well, there was a fairly good concurrence of opinion on the preferences of the tasters. I made it clear up front that I was not so interested in ratings for each wine, but rather, to discuss the attributes and stylistic differences of each wine, and then have each taster try to choose their top three preferred wines. Although for most attendees it likely wouldn't have mattered if we'd poured the wines without concealing labels, having already tasted most of the wines (individually) in the recent past, however, I felt that I needed to taste them blind in order to be objective.





The results of the tasting preferences were somewhat surprising to me, in that the three favored wines for the whole group were what I would have predicted for a group of "veteran carignan" tasters in the south of France. All of the wines presented (except the California bottle?) were either produced from older vines and/or fairly low yields - which of course, together with the right choice of vineyard site, are factors that have brought about carignan's recent rise in popularity, even among "more serious" wine aficionados.






Following are the 8 wines in the order tasted, together with brief notes (my own). The top three group-preferred wines are indicated with an asterisk. I've shown the AOP sub-regions in parentheses from which each wine derives, but you should know that the (in my opinion, misguided) AOC labeling regs require a different region designation on the label because no more than 40% of carignan is permitted in blends for AOP growing regions in Languedoc-Roussillon. I should note that all of the wines below are in the 14% alc. range, which thankfully doesn't seem too overpowering for this late-ripening variety.

*Domaine La Tour Boisée (Minervois) Carignan 2012
This wine was highly lauded for its great value - retailing in Oregon for $10-11. Big dark aromatic fruit, fairly extracted yet well-balanced, with light dusty nuances and a long finish. Would be interesting to track it's aging ability.

Domaine Padié "Ciel Liquide" (Côte du Roussillon Villages) 2009 (50% carignan/50% grenache)
Okay, this was my one screw-up: I managed to grab the wrong bottle when leaving France in June - intending to bring Padié's 100% carignan cuvée, "Calice". Nevertheless, this wine's carignan character still showed amply in the aromas as well as on the palate. Quite ripe but not "fat", with brighter fruit and light tones of leather and a bit of hemp resin (my favorite carignan indicator).

Domaine Pierre Cros (Minervois) Carignan "Vieilles Vignes" 2012
Dark cherry fruit in a soft fleshy-textured wine - here again with ample "hemp" and other garrigue herb notes. Good concentration and lingering finish.

Ridge Vineyards (Sonoma County, CA) Carignane "Buchignani Vineyard) 2011
If it weren't for the noticeable American oak on the nose, this ringer might have been more difficult to peg - but that one characteristic made it easily identifiable. Otherwise, the wine did exhibit good varietal notes of dried herbs with a touch of cedar, and fruit tending more toward cane berries (raspberry?). Nicely extracted.

Cave Co-Op Agly (Roussillon) Carignan "Vieilles Vignes" 2011
Among the French entries here, this wine was perhaps the most distinctive, in that it had an intense black currant, cassis character, which some I the group described as petroleum or mineral-related. Nicely balanced and a touch more fruit acid than most others in the group, but perhaps the least typical for the variety.

*Domaine Rimbert "Carignator" (St Chinian) 2009
Very ripe and perfumy aromatics and more forward than the rest, yet with intense varietal character. Good extract and long finish - with light notes of vanilla and coconut (a bit of new oak?)

Chateau Cabriac (Corbières) Carignan "Vieilles Vignes" 2011
This is perhaps the one wine in which I differed with group opinion - i.e. I would have included it in my top 3. Very exemplary varietal character: a little "good funk" with hemp, leather and allspice. Almost sweetish fruit, yet good tannic structure.

*Domaine de la Coume Majou "La Loute-Cuvée du Jubilé" (Côte du Roussillon Villages) 2011 Carignan
My favorite of the day, and a true benchmark for the varietal. Subtle spicy, earthy notes and great depth of blueberry-like fruit, accompanied by "signature" dust, hemp and leather tones in keeping with the variety. Excellent intensity which should make it a good candidate for aging.




  The Cast of Eight


This is an event I'd love to make an annual occurrence, with different entries each year. There are, after all. an almost infinite list of worthy carignan wines being made in S. France these days, with the list continually growing, thanks in part to great promoters of the varietal, like my friend in Perpignan, Michel Smith - who, by the way is on "Carignan Story # 192  in his popular wine blog!


P.S. I'd be remiss not to offer thanks to my wife, Mary, who served up her great Tuscan bean soup after the tasting - a perfect pairing with every bottle in the group....and a thank you also to Keith Orr for contributing the Ridge carignan, as well as to Bob Mayfield for his excellent homemade goat cheese.

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September 30 2013 2 30 /09 /September /2013 22:52

It's like an awakening, when I consider my naïveté at the time I was just discovering wine in the early/mid '70's. For one, I recall being so easily influenced by the wine evaluations and recommendations of the (few) "reliable" publications in that era*. But I suppose my most egregious 'vinous sin' committed, was the total embrace of the 100-point wine rating system. It seemed so plausible and concrete then - and of course, as a wine retailer for many years, it was also a useful technique for promoting the sale of one wine over another. In retrospect, I only wish I'd had the courage to break away from this monotonous cookie-cutter approach, and stick to my own palate for making recommendations. After many years, I finally came around to the realization that there is so much more relevance in reading the descriptions with these often meaningless scores - and better yet, discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of these wines with other interested oenophiles - of course, over a glass of wine. Certainly, in terms of basic "quality characteristics" of a particular wine, most experienced tasters could come to an agreement. However, in terms of specific wine styles (for any given variety) the assessment of wine is simply too subjective to satisfy consumers with a "one-size-fits-all" point rating. One person's "shortcoming" in a wine can often be another's element of complexity.


IMG 0172The Evening's First Course - Tuna from the nearby Mediterranean


And this is one important reason why I feel that most large wine publications (esp. those which accept advertising!) are increasingly irrelevant in today's wine journalism. Surely, it may seem convenient to have ratings for practically every genre of wine at your fingertips, but for the specific wines one most enjoys, is he/she getting the most accurate information
available? Personally I don't think so. e.g. On the internet today, one can find many a 'decent' blogger, often who specializes in a specific region or genre of wine, for virtually every type of wine on the market. Of course it's necessary to do the vetting process in this case (tasting recommended wines) in order to confirm whether one is "in tune" with the palate of any given wine-blogger. But also, increasingly, many bloggers are not even out to make blanket wine comparisons and assessments (myself included?) but rather to simply provide information on the nature of a wine or wine region - hopefully in an entertaining way. Perhaps the most positive aspect of internet wine & food reviews, is the ability of the reader/consumer to interact with the writer, responding to an article - agreeing or disagreeing with the premise. For me, this kind of transparency and interaction give more legitimacy to on-line wine journalism, helping to keep the writer more honest as well. There are numerous wine appreciation books out there for beginning wine drinkers, but beyond that point, I'd contend that most of those consumers, new to wine, are better served by a wine/mentor friend, the local merchant of their choice, or by experienced wine bloggers.



IMG 0174Isabelle Brunet (center), Isabelle Courbet (on her right) & Ivo Pagès (far right)



All this leads me to the 'crux' of the above title: relationships. Maybe it's a "mellowing with age" thing, but I no longer have any use for merely collecting wine based on this or that score or review in a Spectator type pub. I much prefer these days to develop personal relationships with other wine consumers, producers & merchants. My real gratification derives from enjoying an authentic and well-made wine from a vigneron whom I like and respect. But above all, enjoying such wines with people whose company I enjoy. This latent desire of mine was recently awakened while attending a wonderful tasting and dinner this past June at the home of friend and fellow oenophile in the Languedoc, Isabelle Courbet. With my new-found interest in wine writing, I was in nirvana, being in company with two respected (French & Catalan) wine bloggers. Vincent Pousson & Ivo Pagès (unfortunately my much respected "veteran" writer friend Michel Smith, was out of the country at the time). The occasion for the event was a fascinating tasting of older whites from the "sister domaine" of Mas d'Alezon (about whose wines I wrote this past July) i.e. Domaine Clovallon. This was followed by a casual dinner with miscellaneous wines brought by the attendees. But my focus here is not on the food & wine itself (as excellent as they were) rather the camaraderie and conversation accompanying the food and wine. When I asked Vincent his opinion of certain wines, he didn't seem too interested in making broad assessments, but instead (in my loose translation) remarked that it was more important that they were well-suited to the food and company - and his partner, Isabelle Brunet, echoed the same sentiment. In the same vein, although Catherine Roque (of Domaine Clovallon) was curious to know our ratings on the wines she poured, she seemed more inspired by the discussion that followed. It was genuinely refreshing to hear this affirmation of an attitude I've long held - but have needed to express more strongly. And all the more so, coming from a well-seasoned knowledgeable wine writer with a large and loyal readership. Personally, I would submit that there are numerous American (as well as some Brit & French) wine reviewers who could learn from the sincerity and lack of egotism displayed by the likes of Vincent, Ivo & Michel. They don't pontificate, they just do their research diligently, inform and entertain - as wine & food writing should be!



IMG 0179

Vincent  (the bald one)


Discussing all the enjoyable wines consumed at this gathering would likely make this post too lengthy and ponderous - or maybe not, since by 1:30 a.m. I could scarcely recall what I'd drunk! But I should mention that, apart from Catherine's lovely line-up, I did take notes on a very solid, mainly carignan, red from the revered Cave Co-Op Castelmaure (Corbières) brought by Vincent (with the witty designation: "Le Millésimé du Siècle?" translated: "The Vintage of the Century?") - fine balance, bright fruit, with a good, but not excessive, tannic grip.


But the real "take-away" here is the sheer pleasure of sharing good wine & food with good company! - the too often 'unsung' value of relationships in the realm of wine journalism.





 * the wine shop I managed was subscribing to the hand-typed version of The Wine Advocate in 1979.

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September 12 2013 5 12 /09 /September /2013 21:38

I've had an interest for some time in making a little excursion to the Gaillac region of SW France. So on my last trip to France, I made a point of flying down to the Languedoc via Toulouse this time. Although the city is not immediately surrounded by vineyards, it's only about a 30 minute drive in any direction to reach various wine growing regions. Closest to Toulouse on the east side, is Gaillac, a lovely appellation in the rolling Massif Central foothills of the Tarn Valley. Due to the slightly higher elevation, and the greater Atlantic maritime influence than Languedoc, vineyard locations are necessarily more sporadic and less contiguous than further south. On the the other hand, being a sort of "crossroads" in terms of growing regions, the climate is suitable for a fairly wide range of  varieties. With a few exceptions, this range includes many esoteric varieties, unknown to the average wine drinker - making a trip here all the more fascinating.



Wines of SW France

Gaillac in red, NE of Toulouse



The Gaillac winegrowing region is considered to be one of the earliest in ancient Gaul (after Languedoc), likely first planted in the 1st century under Roman rule. Currently, the vineyards cover around 4,200 hectares (10,000 acres), and the total production of the AOC region is between 110-150,000 hectoliters of red wine, 45-60,000 hl of white wine, and 20,000 hl of rosé. The appellation has three distinct terroirs: on the right bank of the Tarn the soils are calcerous-clay, with a mix of granite & calcerous soils to the north (this is where the more subtle and fruity styled wines are produced). The soils on the Tarn's left bank are more typically alluvial, with sand & gravel deposits, and (where the more robust and heavier-weight reds are made). The Gaillac AOC requires that the wines be a blend of approved grape varieties, i.e. 100% varietal cuvees would have to forego the appellation on the label. What makes the region unique though, are the numerous indigenous traditional grape varieties (some of which are only found here), such as the "signature" red variety, Braucol, which also goes by the name fer servadou in the nearby Coteaux de Quercy and Marcillac regions. This grape makes lovely, slightly delicate & spicy reds, reminiscent of Loire Cab Franc. Another unique staple red variety is the robust & peppery Duras - no connection to the region "Côte de Duras" near Bordeaux. Then there's Prunelart, one of the rarest varities in France with only 20 hectars planted, and possibly related to Malbec. Principal white varieties are Mauzac, used in the Limoux AOC for sparkling wine, the crisp, perfumy and rare Ondenc grape (used primarily in sweet wines), and the ancient Len de l'el, which adds floral and citrus notes to white blends. Lastly, there is the very rare Verdanel, which is capable of producing a quite high alcohol, yet firm white. Each of these are used in both dry and dessert style whites. As for the more well-known varieties, Syrah, Gamay and Sauvignon Blanc are the most commonly used in the region.



IMG 0133 10-50-48


  Plageoles Whites


With limited time for my visit, I made sure to seek a recommendation for a respected producer of typical & authentic regional wines. Interestingly, there seemed to be agreement from multiple sources on the place to go (for someone who only had time for a single winery), which made my decision easier. The choice, Domaine Plageoles, in the town of Cahuzac-sur-Vere , met and exceeded my expectations - even if the convoluted route I chose made me a half hour late (would have helped to know that the estate was 'outside of' and not 'in' the village). I was greeted by the affable winemaker/owner, Bernard Plageoles. With limited time, I waived the "facility/vineyard tour" so as to focus on the wide range of wines (incidentally all organic) being offered in the tasting room.


IMG 0130

Gentle verdant hills of Gaillac, just shy of Domaine Plageoles


As I'd anticipated, virtually every wine I sampled here was highly distinctive. Perhaps the only exception was their Mauzac, which with its fresh, crisp appley character, was a bit like drinking a still version of Blanquette de Limoux. Next was the sturdy and bone-dry Verdanel, which, with its weight and intensity, would make it nice accompaniment to rich pork or poultry dishes. This was followed by Bernard's dry version of Ondenc, which was quite aromatic - and, just as he suggests in his technical notes, has a distinct quince character in both aroma and on the palate.


On to the reds: I found the Braucol to be rather light and refreshing, with hints of black pepper, cassis and dried tea leaf (à la Cab Franc), as well as a versatile food wine. The Syrah was most definitely not as weighty or viscous as it's Rhone counterparts, but still had good typical varietal flavors and a fine balance. The Duras was nicely rounded (softer tannins) with noticeable brambly (blackberry) notes and hints of pepper. I have to admit though that my final sample, Prunelart, left me with the most lasting impression of all these well-made wines. Deep plummy flavors, accented with spice and even anise, were packed into a quite concentrated and voluptious wine with a long rich finish.


Unfortunately, cutting my visit short, cost me the opportunity to taste some of Plageoles' special reserve and dessert bottlings. Thankfully though, I intend to return soon, and Bernard assured me that we'll take up where we left off!


IMG 0135

The man himself, Bernard Plageoles, behind a bevy of lovely wines


If you're able to visit (advisable to call ahead):



Route des Très Cantous


Tél :  - Fax


P.S. Plageoles' wines are available in the U.S. through:


Jenny and Francois Selections (contact to inquire about availability in your location)

(646) 775-6400

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August 6 2013 3 06 /08 /August /2013 01:06

I don't consider myself to be a restaurant reviewer by any means, but occasionally I come across a place that meets my every expectation, and begs to be written up. I'll leave the Michelin starred restaurants to the full-time professionals, but as is the case with my wine recommendations, I'm also a seeker of good-value in dining. As I've eluded to in the title above,
I'm usually a bit cautious in getting too excited after a single great experience in a new restaurant. Mary & I just, however, made our third gratifying visit to this sweet little bistro in our "other home town" of Narbonne, France, and I feel that all its merits warrant some accolades now.

Of course with all the restaurant apps available online these days, anyone can spout off their opinion on a particular dining spot - even before they vacate the premises. So even for those places I would tend to rate highly, there are usually as many diners who had a bad (or not so stellar) experience there. Who knows, perhaps we're dealing with extremely fussy diners who are easily put off by a single kink in the decor, service, or preparation etc. - which is why I prefer to delay making an assessment until the second or third visit.   





My Wife, Mary (dreaming of the meal to come?). We obviously beat the crowd this night!



Auberge des Jacobins is a totally unpretentious little bistro, located on a side street just off of Narbonne's main plaza on the Canal de la Robine. Not having the heavier foot traffic adds to the intimacy of the location - along with the limited seating (more than half of which is on the sidewalk in the warmer months). Auberge describes itself as serving "cuisine traditionnelle" in one online restaurant guide, while applying the rubric of "cuisine provençale" in another. In either case, it is definitely typical southern French cuisine with an emphasis on Mediterranean seafood. The menu is by no means exhaustive, but is well-balanced for such a small venue, staying with local products. Happily the somewhat limited wine list also focuses on small local producers - especially reds & whites from nearby La Clape and Corbières, and like the food choices, are both very suitable with the dishes offered and very fairly priced. Of course, being just a block away from Narbonne's covered produce, meat & fish market certainly helps as well.








One feature of the food preparation I particularly appreciated is the way the chef-owner, André, seems to be careful about not letting his sauces interfere with the flavors of the fish, fowl or meat, using subtle condiments/sauces which nicely accent rather than overwhelm the dish. Two specialties that diners here don't want to miss are the wonderful freshly caught "encornet" (largish Mediterranen squid) and anchovies (above - definitely not the oily, salty version you find in cans!). And to complement their shellfish, they've selected some ideally suited crisp & minerally regional whites (like the lovely 100% bourboulenc above) - this in a region which is much better known for its reds.





André Brianc, hospitable chef & proprietor


Last and definitely not least is the congenial and efficient table service of the chatty and energetic Vanessa - who is the only server we've ever experienced here. Personally, even considering the small size of Auberge, I'm not sure how she manages alone when the place is packed, as it was on our last visit. So if you should find yourself in Narbonne with an appetite and some time to spare, Auberge des Jacobins is time (and euros) well-spent.

Bon Appétit,


practical info:


Auberge des Jacobins
8, Place des Jacobins

11100 Narbonne
tel. 04 68 32 27 43

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July 26 2013 6 26 /07 /July /2013 21:23

So I'd be the first to admit that I've often been a bit wary of wines marketed by negociant companies - this wariness has only increased as I've made authenticity & typicity in wine a higher priority. On the other hand I'd never refuse an offer to sample wines from a wine negociant.

Such was the case in my recent Southern France wine travels, when Languedoc wine promoter extraordinaire, Louise Hurren, asked me if I'd like to taste two wines from the portfolio of the quality-conscious regional negociant team, Laurent Calmel & Jérôme Joseph. I had heard the name mentioned before but was unfamiliar with their approach. They've essentially formed a company specializing in the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon, by contracting with (presumedly) good small producers throughout the region to buy wine lots in order to offer distinctive wines within the major L-R sub-appellations. The self-description of their operation on the home page of their website perhaps borders on the notion that they actually "produce" these cuvée themselves i.e."Créateurs de Grands Vins en Languedoc-Roussillon" however the details of their "mission statement" make it clear that they are "éleveurs" (wine blenders/agers/bottlers) and not actually  "vignerons". Granted, small specialized wine negociants are nothing new, especially in the more established wine regions like Rhône, Burgundy etc. However, what I found refreshing for such an operation (based on the two wines I sampled) is that Calmel & Joseph appear not just to be interested in being the hot new small negociant on the block, but they actually seem to have respect for the consumer's quest for a good quality/price ratio (i.e. value). This was all the more gratifying, after I'd recently tasted a couple of Languedoc wines from another regional negociant (whose name I won't mention here). The latter's wines were both seemingly well-made and quaffable, but not necessarily typical for their region, and worse, were grossly overpriced. In the case of Calmel & Joseph, I found both wines to be well-made, balanced & food-friendly - i.e. neither appeared to be excessively ripe, or fruit-bomb style (to garner a high score in the Spectator or Advocate!). As well, they seemed to have some subtlety and were representative of their terroir.



 C&J CdRoussillon
This brings us to the wines in question. Louise chose to have me taste two 2011 bottlings from the Roussillon: one, a Côtes du Roussillon Villages from C&J's "Les Terroirs" collection, the other, a cuvée from the village of Caramany in Roussillon from their "Les Crus" collection.


The CdR Villages was produced from a blend of syrah, grenache and carignan - grown on mostly schist soils with some clay/limestone. I found the nose a little subdued on first opening (bottle shock from the plane ride?), but on the second day it was showing aromatic notes of sandalwood and black cherry. On the palate there was plenty of bramble and dark berry character - a little 'dried fruit' in the soft finish, but overall, very good regional character. And at €8.00 ($10.50) it was perhaps an even better value than its "superior" below.


The Caramany was produced from the same blend of grape varieties, yet with a somewhat higher percentage of carignan, grown on gneiss and limestone soils. Unlike the CdR above, a portion of this wine was aged in new French oak barrels - although this wasn't very evident in tasting. Both wines shared a dark fruit core, but the Caramany tended more towards plums on the palate, with interesting notes of cologne & spice. The finish was surprisingly soft-textured, considering the youth of the wine. However, the nice balance of the components should bode well for aging potential (6-8 yrs.?). The bottle price of €13.80 seemed fair to me for a good village appellation Roussillon.



C&J Caramany


So if nothing else, this opportunity (Thanks again, Louise!) made me more receptive to exploring negociant wines - especially the smaller regional types. After all, it's the palate that guides a negociant, just as it guides the enologist.

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  • : The Trusty Vine
  • The Trusty Vine
  • : 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. Please go to: http://vignedeconfiance.wordpress.com/ for my most recent posts (begin 8/2014). All posts at this site are consider as my blog archives
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