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March 16 2012 6 16 /03 /March /2012 00:00

I'd lke to go a bit more into depth with the region in which my September '11 adventure began, namely the Côtes du Rousillon & Côtes du Roussilon Villages. It's hard to simply gloss over a wine region like Roussillon, due to its comparatively vast area and variety of soils & micro-climates, but I hope I can do it some justice here by providing a little insight into the distinctive characteristics of both the terroir and producers. To be sure, the region has received its share of flack (some justified) from wine consumers and reviewers over the years. This is due to the fact that many producers in the warmer lower-lying regions of Roussillon have perhaps not been as vigilant as to harvest timing etc. as they should, with the result being over-ripe wines which are in need of fruit acid and balance. With more knowledge of (and experimentation with) planting the appropriate grape varieties in the right locations, plus more cautious monitoring of ripening, many vignerons have begun to create more finesseful and balanced wines, albeit while maintaining Roussillon's signature fleshy texture.





Low gravelly terrace in Côtes du Roussillon (harvest 2011)



In late February I had the wonderful opportunity to experience first-hand some wines in this style while attending Southern France's premier wine event, ViniSud, in Montpellier. Generally, the reds of Roussillon resemble, in character, those of the Corbières and other Languedoc regions, at least in terms of their dried herb notes, deriving from their surrounding garrigue terrain. On the other hand they have a tendancy toward a "chewier" texture than other Southern French reds, while often expressing a bit more "dust & leather" à la Rhone. I believe this could be partly attributed to the slightly greater proportion of carignan grapes cultivated in both Rousillon and the Cote Catalane areas surrounding it, a variety that seems to love the poor soils of Roussillon. As well though, the similarity to the Rhone's gravelly plains shouldn't be overlooked either. In addition to these vast gravelly terraces, one can also find numerous vineyards planted on crystalline schiste and granite-based soils, mainly in the foothills of the Pyrenees. These wines tend to be a bit more elegant with lower alcohol content than those in the lower-lying areas, and have been a catalyst for the renewed interest in the region (both by wine consumers and vineyard land seekers). I already referenced carignan as a major component of Rousillon blends. This is the region's signature variety, giving their reds great structure and longevity. However, grenache (or "garnatxa" in Catalan) is also important in contributing suppleness and alcohol content to the wines. Syrah though, has probably seen the biggest increase recently in terms of percentage in the region, considered to add perfumy aromatics and complexity to the wines. Rounding out the four principal red varieties is mourvedre, which is found primarily in the vineyards closest to the Mediterranean, and which many growers like for its color and fine tannins. Finally, in recent years there has been a growing trend for area vignerons to produce at least one cuvee of pure (or majority) carignan. These wines, typically from low-yielding old vines, are often considered an estate's finest expression of terroir (though ironically AOP rules don't allow them to use the Cotes du Roussillon/Villages names on the label for these), and the prices reflect this! There is a even a movement afoot in Roussillon to have the AOP rules changed, to allow for 100% carignan bottlings under the Roussillon & Roussillon Villages appellation labels. For tasting notes/ratings of some of the wines tasted at ViniSud, please see the featured wine reviews below.


The two main Roussillon sub-regions: Côtes du Roussillon and Côtes du Roussillon Villages together form a sort of ampitheatre with the Mediterranean representing the "stage" (east side) and the foothills of the Pyranees forming the "seating" or north, west and south sides. Roussillon Villages is located on the north side of the ampitheatre, just south of the Corbières, while Roussillon is predominantly on the south & west side approaching the Spanish border. Carving up the middle of the two regions are the three rivers: L'Agly, La Têt, & Le Tech, which of course help explain the gravelly/sandy soils in the lower elevations of both regions. In addition there are a handful of individual villages on the north (Roussillons-Villages) side which have obtained their own separate appellations, i.e. Caramany, Tautavel, Latour de France etc. However the map below can better portray the layout of the region than my description. Perpignan, The regions "capitol" is a vibrant city with deep Catalan roots, and provides a great place to experience the food and culture of the region, as well as a good base for exploring the surrounding vineyards and domaines.



datPhoto1 482ab926625cd

courtesy of Conseil Interprofessionel des Vins du Roussillon



The last stop on my September Languedoc trip was in the Limoux region, just south of the medieval fortress city of Carcassonne, and surrounding the charming market town of the same name. This sparkling wine region seems almost to be an anomaly as a part of France known mainly for its warm dry Mediterrannean climate. However with the somewhat cooler micro-climate (higher elevation) and right choice of varieties, their vignerons have left no doubt about the ability to produce good quality bubbly.The appellation has always made the case that they, not Champagne, were the first to produce sparkling wine in France, with the first mention of "Blanquette de Limoux" (being the sparkling version of the local white still wine) appearing in 1531 in papers written by Benedictine monks at an abbey in Saint-Hilaire. Today the term "Blanquette" is synonymous with their principal indigenous white grape variety for sparklers, mauzac. In fact, with the changes in AOP regs in 1990, sparkling wine labeled as "Blanquette de Limoux" must contain at least 90% mauzac, with chardonnay and chenin blanc being the only other varieties allowed for the remaining 10%. At this same time, a new designation, "Crémant de Limoux" was introduced, which allowed for the use of up to 90% chardonnay & chenin blanc grapes with a minority percentage of mauzac and/or pinot noir. This move was undoubtably taken to insure the protection of the uniquely Limoux mauzac grape. Just as the picpoul variety has done for coastal areas of SE Languedoc, mauzac has provided the comparatively warm Limoux region with a grape capable of achieving the lower alcohol and zesty acidity needed for quality sparkling wine. For the record, although I readily acknowledge the overall superiority of true Champagne in the world of bubbly, I was drawn to this region because of its increasingly consistent quality for the money, the quest for which is of course a main focus of my agenda - i.e. at an average of $13 or so per bottle ($9-10 if you're buying it there), these are wines that can be drunk practically on a daily basis. How many among "we the 99%" can afford to indulge in Champagne that way?


My Limoux tour took me to two very different but equally high quality domaines: Domaine Fourn and Domaine J. Laurens. The former, an old family estate, nestled in the hills above the town of Limoux, and the latter a fairly new addition to the local wine scene, whose facility and vineyards are located on a lower ridge just west of Limoux, and which is already garnering high praise among Limoux aficionados.



Courtesy of Conseil Interprofessionel des Vins du Languedoc


I had already visited the amiable Robert family of Domaine Fourn once before in 2002, after reading glowing reports on their wines. I was immediately attracted to their traditional production style - and of course, the resulting authentic character it yielded: like the typical green apple notes on the nose & palate (especially their Blanquette). They also produce a Blanquette "Methode Ancestrale" which, with its rich bready yeastiness and slight oxydation resembles more closely Champagne.




Mélanie Robert in Domaine Fourn's tasting room





  Mauzac grapes heading for the press at Domaine Fourn (Sept. 2011)


The somewhat smaller Domaine J. Laurens, by contrast is housed in a modern facility with shiny new equipment. Looks can be deceiving though, as their tidy operation doesn't preclude the use of traditional methods à la Fourn. Laurens was founded in 1983 by a native "Champenois" and was purchased by a longtime scion with local roots, Jacques Calvel, in 2002. I was lead through a tasting of their cuvees by the owner, and came away very enthusiastic about the future for Limoux. Stylistically, Laurens' brut sparklers tend to be a bit perfumier than Fourn's, while also using a smaller "dosage"  - i.e. drier than those of Fourn. The star of the day for me would have to be their brut rosé (see below) - delightfully crisp, delicate and refreshing. Prices for J. Laurens wines are slightly above average for the region (e.g. the rosé would be $15-16 in the U.S.), but still a relative bargain in the world of bubbly.




Tasting line-up at Domaine J. Laurens




Low hills in Limoux AOP (near Dom. J. Laurens, Sept. 2011)



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February 1 2012 4 01 /02 /February /2012 00:16

Before continuing on my Languedoc journey, I should reiterate the emphasis of my wine research in the South of France and Spain: that is the quest to fully understand the unique characteristics of the individual growing regions here. Above all though it is to enable myself to recognize what constitutes typicality and authentic terroir expression in these wines and share this with the "wine community". This task is, I believe, most daunting in the Languedoc, due to its plethora of micro-climates, soil types and grape varieties. Of course, the task is made easier when examining wines produced from organically-grown fruit and with minimal intervention on the part of the maker. These are the wines that can best be used as standards for comparison for typicality - but it must be noted that this alone doesn't guarantee wines of the highest quality in a given region. e.g. the grower must also be meticulous about choice of vineyard site, suitability of grape varieties to the site, monitoring crop levels and knowing when to pick in a given vintage. I will always have respect for the growers and vintners who are dedicated to the most natural approach in vineyard and cellar, but admittedly, my greatest admiration is reserved for those who can also translate this respect for minimal intervention into wines with great balance, intensity of fruit character & complexity while preserving the wines' integrity and unique terroir attributes.


So it's time to move north from the Corbières to the neighboring Minervois wine region and beyond. This region shares so many of Corbières' attributes, yet has its own distinct character. The predominantly limestone-clay soils here greatly resemble those of Corbières, however the single biggest difference between the two regions has more to do with typical exposures: i.e. whereas Corbières has greater diversity in vineyard orientation, Minervois' vineyard slopes are much more predictably south and southeast - this due largely to the fact that the Massif Central plateau rises along the northern edge of the region. Also like Corbières, although carignan is still the most widely planted grape variety here, syrah, mourvedre & grenache have all seen a significant increase in acreage in recent years.


On the recommendation of friend and French wine writer, Michel Smith, I made an appointment to visit Jean-Baptiste Sénat in the little village of Trausse. With limited time on this short trip, I was already focusing my attention on organic/biodynamic producers and with the added burden of harvest, I was only able to connect with Jean-Baptiste and his wife Charlotte to arrange my sole Minervois visit. But an auspicious visit it was, especially considering we shared so much in common regarding vineyard and cellar philosophy. Like my former estate, Evesham Wood (Willamete Valley, Oregon), Domaine Sénat is fanatical in its dedication to natural, hands-on techniques, for the purpose of allowing the wines to express their native terroir. Like Evesham Wood, Sénat is a member of a small band of winemakers/growers ("Changer L'Aude en Vin") formed for this very purpose. In the case of Evesham Wood's group (Deep Roots Coalition) there is a big emphasis on non-irrigation (dry farming) in the vineyard, something that in France's AOP wine regions is of course taken for granted as a requirement for adherents. Otherwise the tennets are essentially the same: elimination or minimalization of any vineyard/winery techniques that might inhibit a vineyard's or wine's distinctive typicality or authentic character.



Entrance to Domaine Sénat, Minervois


Finishing up their last day of grape processing when I arrived, Jean-Baptiste was understandably a bit distracted, yet he still found the time to do a little tasting and chatting. We sampled both from newly fermented reds of the current vintage, as well as bottles of the recent '09 and '10 harvests, two excellent and ripe vintages, with the 2010 being the most structured and suitable for aging, and 2009 being very supple and balanced. All the wines I tasted shared a common intensity of dark fruit and all showed an authenticity of origin: excellent structure with spicy dried herbs (garrigue), and a hint of reduction for complexity. These were the diametric opposites of your fruity, mass-produced grocery store Minervois wines - but then what else would you expect from a passionate practitioner of organic/biodynamic winegrowing? You'll find a review of one of Baptiste's current releases - 2010 "La Nine" in my March blog, as it will be the "non-locally available ringer" in a Minervois tasting I'm conducting next month.



Jean-Baptiste Sénat in "harvest mode"




Fermentation & holding tanks at Dom. Sénat


A couple of days later I made the trek northeast to the Languedoc applelation of St. Chinian to the little village of St. Nazaire de Ladarez, where I had an appointment with Yannick Pelletier at his estate of the same name. The youthful and dedicated Yannick operates what may be the smallest cellar in the region - and is proof positive that shiny expensive equipment isn't required to make authentic high quality wine. With a facility even more humble than my own in my embryonic winery stages, I could strongly identify with Yannick's noble efforts (and achievements). From the inception, he has wisely focused his attention on the best grape sources in the region vs. investing heavily in building and equipment.....and his wines display their origins very well. The three I tasted, 2009 "L'Oiselet" (cinsault, grenache & carignan blend), 2009 L'Engoulevent (grenache, syrah & carignan blend) and 2008 Les Coccigrues (mostly grenache with carignan), had great intensity of dark brambly fruit, but were also remarkably restrained and subtle, and with firm tannins, indicating great potential for aging. It was undoubtedly his training with the famed Leon Barral in the neighboring Faugères appellation, that influenced Yannick's choice of the primarily schiste-based soils of the north side of St. Chinian, for his ca. 10 hectares of biodynamically farmed vineyards (multiple sites). Not surprisingly, soils on the south side of the St. Chinian AOP more closely resemble those of the Minervois - i.e. clay-limestone. Although Pelletier's wines are imported into the U.S. they will likely never be widely available due to the tiny production. Stay tuned for a review of the '09 L'Oiselet in March.




The only indication one has arrived at the right place




Yannick Pelletier (old press spindle in background)



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January 8 2012 1 08 /01 /January /2012 20:12

In this, the 3rd issue of The Trusty Vine, I'll be moving on to the Corbières to relate my visits there, then, with my last post of this series I'll venture into neighboring Minervois and further east to St. Chinian.


For those unfamiliar with the geography of the western Languedoc, I think it helps to know that the two most well-known sub-appellations in this area, Corbières and Minervois, are only separated by the Aude River (see map below), which starts in the foothills of the Pyranees, flowing southeast into the Mediterranean north of Narbonne. Both regions share a predominant soil type, limestone-clay, and both share very similar climatic influences as well as the ubiquitous "garrigue" terrain (the scrubby, herb-infused hillsides lying between the valley floor and the higher forrested mountains. Perhaps the biggest difference is the more uniformly south and west facing slopes of Minervois vineyard sites versus a more diverse variety of exposures in the Corbières. In addition, the Minervois tends to have fewer vineyard sites in lower, flatter plains than Corbières, as well as somewhat less marine influence from the Mediterranean (at least on the south flank of each region). Both regions have recently divided their appellations into individual "terroirs" (distinctive climatic/geological subregions), while granting a  higher classification to specific areas within each appellation: in the case of the Minervois, the area surrounding the village of La Livinière, and in the Corbières, the terrain around the village of Boutenac. As in any such classification, there are bound to be politics and injured egos involved, but it seems most seasoned connoisseurs of Languedoc wines agree that on average these two terroirs are producing the most consistently high quality wines of their respective appellations. Only time will tell though, whether other areas may emerge which will garner as high or higher acolades as these two. I never cease to be amazed that in such an ancient (Greco-Roman) wine region as the Languedoc, the quality classification of vineyard sites and wines continues to be a work in progress. The Languedoc's status as a sort of "New Frontier" in French wine can largely be explained by the fact that until recent times, too much emphasis was placed on quantity over quality - often giving preference to a grape variety mix which was not the best suited to a particular climate and soil. Of course this is now precisely what makes the region so exciting for oenophiles.



Corbieres-Minervois Map-copy-1

* map courtesy of La Région Languedoc-Roussillon



On a beautiful morning in late September I drove out from Marcorignan to visit the Cibeins family at Chateau Cabriac in Douzens. With limited time in this trip, I purposely tried to select some vintners in subregions with which I'm a bit less familiar. From all I'd read and heard, Ch. Cabriac was an estate that is a must see - as well as very typical - for the Montagne d'Alaric area of Corbières. Although perhaps not as heralded as the Boutenac area, Montagne d'Alaric boasts a handful of the most respected wineries in Corbières. I was graciously received by Jean & Michele Cibeins, who led me through a brief tasting of their current wine offerings and a cellar tour, followed by an unexpected invitation to lunch - an impromptu but delicious spread of cheeses, cured meats and fruit - taken in a garden area next to the chateau. I should mention here that there's often a misperception among Americans that French Chateaux are all inhabited by elitists who have little regard for visitors. The Cibeins are among the many French wine chateau owners who help dispel that myth on a daily basis, inviting strangers into their homes as if they were family.




Chateau Cabriac, Mont d'Alaric, Corbières



From anywhere in this part of the Corbières, one need only look to the south at the massive limestone ridge of Mont d'Alaric to understand why the vineyard soils here are so rocky. The red wines I experienced at Cabriac were very much what I'd anticipated, very good concentration of dark fruit with a firm backbone of tannin which is to be expected from vines grown on shallow rocky soils. What caught me unaware though was the beautifully light and crisp white from the Vermentino grape I tasted during my visit here. This grape, known more often by the name Rolle in southern France is an Italian import which (judging from this example) has great potential in Corbières. In addition, it appears that the Syrah variety appears to have more success here than in most other parts of the Corbières, a higher proportion of which gives the Cabriac that extra bit of structure in the reds.


Due to a little too much sipping and socializing, I had to call ahead to my next stop, Ch. Caraguilhes, to beg forgiveness for my certain tardiness. Thankfully they were very flexible with their time, I'm suspect because they had no other visitors scheduled on a weekday in late September - during harvest no less. Ch. Caraguilhes is situated above a very gently sloping (and extensive!) vineyard in a wide valley on the west side of the Corbières' Boutenac region - and on the opposite side of Montagne d'Alaric from Ch. Cabriac. The soil here is deeper than Cabriac's vineyard but slightly less so than the area closer to the village of Boutenac. Ch. Caraguilhes was actually still finishing up the harvest when I visited, I guess not surprising since they have so many hectares of vines, plus a substantial planting of the Mourvedre variety, which is one of the last to ripen in the Corbières. Caraguilhes only had a few bottled wines still available for tasting - but at least enough to get a good feel for the "house style". Caraguilhes' reds often exhibit a distinctive earthy/herbal character, which speaks of typical Corbières, just more intensely so. Their organic approach in both vineyard & cellar guarantees that their wines' distinct character is a natural (terroir-derived) attribute, vs. a product of excessive winemaking manipulation. Judging from the spacious facility and high-end equipment, Caraguilhes is obviously a well-financed operation - in this case, not a deterrent to the production of authentic and natural wine!




Fermentation area, Chateau Caraguilhes, Corbières



My last stop on the Corbières circuit was Chateau Ollieux-Romanis - not to be confused with their equally rated next door neighbors, Chateau Ollieux (next trip?). The chateau is situated at the base of a gentle south slope in the heart of the Corbières-Boutenac terroir. A rather rustic tasting room is located on the ground floor of the building with production facilities connected to the back of the chateau. This is one of the older estates in the region, at least concerning its existence as a family-owned (non co-op) producer. Like many medium to large estates in the area, Ollieux-Romanis offers a fairly wide range of wines in terms of quality and price. Their wines provide a very good introduction to the Corbières, as they seem to posess all the most typical regional traits in their flavor profile - and above all, are not heavily extracted fruit bombs - rather fairly subtle.




Entrance to Chateau Ollieux-Romanis, Corbières






Barrel aging cellar, Ch. Ollieux-Romanis




Featured Wine Reviews

The following reviews of Languedoc wines were tasted either at home in Salem, or in a group tasting - i.e. not on site at the winery. You'll notice that they are not nec correlated to the estates visited. An explanation of symbols can be found at the bottom of page.







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October 27 2011 5 27 /10 /October /2011 18:48

Welcome to the second installment of my little blog, "The Trusty Vine". NOTE: This project is a work in progress. That is, I'm still uncertain as to some elements of the format, as well as the frequency of the postings etc. I appreciate your patience and understanding as I continue to hone my skills. And now to the crux of the matter............


As I made plans for a mid-September trip back to the Languedoc, it occurred to me that even if I still owned our vineyard & winery I could easily fly over for 3 weeks and be back with time to spare before harvest start in the Willamette Valley. As a matter of fact I could have easily worked harvest this year in both locations since harvest started there in late August while Oregon was experiencing its latest harvest on record.....but of course it was preferable not to have the pressure of that burden lurking above. 


Although this trip wasn't exclusively wine-oriented, I managed to arrange appointments at numerous domains. Best of all this was my first trip to France during harvest season since 1977 (pretty wet and disastrous vintage throughout Europe - with the exception of Portugal), when I drove from my viticulture school in Germany to Burgundy and then on to Bordeaux. This time I left a wine region whose prospects for an exceptional vintage were looking quite dim, to arrive in an ancient Mediterranean wine region whose warm dry climate seems not to have changed much since before the Romans had even arrived in Gaul....and the weather didn't disappoint this time either, with only a single night of rain during my 20-day stay.


Upon arrival at our little "maison de village" just outside of Narbonne in the village of Marcorignan, only a good whiff of the air was enough to tell me where I was. I can hardly think of anything more alluring than the "garrigue" aromas of wild lavender and rosemary that grow on the scrubby hillsides of this region - the same aromas which are often used in describing characteristics of the region's red wines. Added to this though was the heady aroma of fermenting grapes detectable in almost every little village with vineyards. Many of these towns are still dominated by the local vintners co-op (some of which produce noteworthy wines), but since 1977, the number of family owned domains all over the Languedoc has grown astronomically. This development has translated into vastly improved quality for both privately and co-op owned wineries - in large part due to required lower crop levels, but also improved vinification methods - in what has historically been France's largest reservoir of plonk. It is this fairly recent transformation that first piqued my interest in the area. When you combine this reality with the Languedoc's endless variety of micro-climates, soil types and exposures, plus a plethora of grape varieties (many shared by its Southern Rhone neighbors to the East) you have all it takes to create enthusiasm among wine lovers. The potential here seems almost infinite. While many of the highest accolades recently have been bestowed on the wines from the area just north and east of Montpellier (e.g. Pic St. Loup, Montpeyroux etc.) we'll save that for a later article. In this trip my focus was on the western side of the Languedoc, including Cotes de Rousillon, Corbières, Minervois etc. Of all the sub-regions or appellations of the Languedoc, it's the Corbières which best exemplifies the huge variability in terroir described above, and thus (up to now) perhaps the greatest variation in wine style and quality.


I'd barely arrived in Narbonne, when I shifted my focus to a quick trip over to Perpignan to meet friend and noted French wine writer/reviewer, Michel Smith. Michel had asked if I would like to help in the harvest of his little 1 ha. block of old carignan vines near Perpignan in the Côte Catalane. With at least 10 other pickers (average age 60!) I figured it wouldn't be too much work and a fun opportunity. Admittedly though, I hadn't counted on the evening of copious food & wine at a great little bistro in Perpignan, Le Comptoir des Crus, before the early morning harvest - so, combined with the jet lag, I was not exactly in top form when the picking began. Fortunately the weather was ideal, and after a few rows I got into my rythym, but not without a good supply of bottled water which Michel had supplied. On a surprising note, just to illustrate how small the "wine world" can be, the vineyard manager and harvest coordinator was Didier Van Ooteghem, co-proprietor with his wife Isabelle Raoux, of Domaine des Demoiselles, and a supplier (of organic wines) to our good friend, Don Oman at Casa Bruno Wine LLC in Portland, OR. The vendange ended in the early afternoon with an excellent, if very rustic, 'grillade' chez Demoiselles, with every sort of meat, cheese and bread, washed down by a variety of wines, indigenous and otherwise...... a perfect ending to the day's activities. The only lifting required for the rest of my winery visits was the glass

in my hand.  



IMG 4199

Yours truly loading the last tray





Grillade at Demoiselles





Michel Smith & Isabelle Raoux at Demoiselles




Balancing house-related duties with winery & vineyard visits, I managed to take in nine producers during my two week stay. These were largely producers about which I'd read (or visited before) as well as recommendations from M. Smith, with an emphasis on natural & organic wines. Five of these in the Corbieres/Roussillon area are listed below along with brief background information on each. I plan to recount the remainder of the visits to other nearby regions with the next posting in December.


Domaine des Demoiselles, Tresserre (AOP* Rivesaltes & Côtes du Roussillon)

Ca. 20 hectares (ca. 45 acres) of certified organic vineyard, predominantly carignan and grenache. The affable Didier Ooteghem manages the vineyards and his equally congenial wife, Isabelle Raoux is winemaker. Both reds and dry/sweet muscat are produced.


Domaine Cazes, Rivesaltes (AOP Rivesaltes & Roussillon)

Large organic/bio-dynamic estate in Rivesaltes producing dry reds (Roussillon AOP) and dry & sweet muscats (Rivesaltes AOP). 200 hectares of vineyard on a gravelly-marly, Chateau Neuf-like alluvial plain. Mostly planted to syrah, mourvedre and grenache, but with sizable plots of cabernet sauvignon & merlot, used in "vin de pays" (not approved varieties for AOP Roussillon). Co-owner & winemaker, Emanuel Cazes is the high-energy force behind the wine-making, while his father and uncle handle marketing and financial management. There's even a beautiful little restaurant, La Table d'Aimé, on premise.


Chateau les Ollieux-Romanis, Montseret (AOP Corbières-Boutenac)

54 hectares of mainly south facing vineyards on a lovely well-protected slope of one of the numerous low ridges of the east Corbieres. Planted primarily to carignan, grenache and syrah. One of the Corbieres' older estates, producing traditional styled reds that are true to the terroir.


Chateau Caraguilhes, St. Laurent de la Cabrerisse (AOP Corbières-Boutenac)

135 hectares of certified organic vineyard (largest such planting in Corbières) primarily carignan, syrah, mourvedre and grenache, with grenache blanc, marsanne and bourboulenc for their whites. Soils are predominantly clay/limestone with significant areas of sandstone. Well-managed estate with a nice variety of wine styles.


Chateau Cabriac, Douzens (AOP Corbières, Montagne d'Alaric terroir)

This old estate and its vineyards lie just north of the massive Mont d'Alaric, and have been owned by the same family since 1793. Current proprietors are gracious and amiable hosts, Jean and Michèle de Cibeins. There are ca. 70 hectares of vineyard here, planted on a north facing slope with marly sandstone, and a shallower soil depth than most parts of the Corbieres, yielding well-structured reds. Varietals used for reds are carignan, mourvedre and syrah, with smaller portions of grenache and cinsault. Cabriac also produces small quantities of a vibrant and crisp white from the vermentino (rolle) grape.


* Appellation d'Origine Protegée (replaces Appellation d'Origine Controllée)






   Emanuel Cazes (in case the sign wasn't enough)




A section of Cazes' bio-dynamically farmed vineyard







Estate vineyard at Ch. Ollieux-Romanis 





  Crush area at Ch. Caraguilhes







Veronique at Ch. Caraguilhes' tasting room






  Reserved parking for Burros - Ch. Caraguilhes






  Michèle et Jean de Cibeins at Ch. Cabriac







Featured Wine Reviews

The following reviews of Languedoc wines were tasted either at home in Salem, or in Marcorignan - i.e. not on site at the winery. You'll notice that most are not correlated to the estates visited. Many of these wines from mentioned properties will appear in the December post (sorry, logistical problems). An explanation of symbols can be found at the bottom of page.


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October 19 2011 4 19 /10 /October /2011 16:52

Pinot Weekend 012AY-YAY-YAY.....another wine blog!!  Of course this reaction crossed my mind when I concluded that I needed to add my voice to the cyber-sea of wine opinions. On the other hand, as a former vigneron/winery owner, wine shopkeeper and wholesale wine buyer over the past 36 years, I feel that I have much to contribute to the conversation. As I've mentioned in discussions with various wine writers/reviewers over the years - there seem to be two categories of wine writers out there: ones that have a knack for communicating and writing, but have limited wine knowledge and tasting skills (you know, the naive enthusiasts), and ones that have a good depth of wine knowledge and subject experience, but with limited writing skills. Occasionally someone with both of these attributes emerges, but it tends to be the exception. For the record, I feel that I comfortably fall into the second category, so please bear with me as I "test the microphone".


So what's my purpose here? I feel a bit like a crusader against the current state of affairs in the wine information realm. That is, I strongly feel that today's wine consumers are not being well-served by the major publications and their excessively subjective style of reviewing - coupled with a (usually 100 pt.) rating system which is all too often self-serving as well as misused by the readership. The wine industry is sorely in need of a new paradigm in wine reviewing. I realize that I can't accomplish this lofty goal alone, but merely hope that I can a be a part of a larger movement towards more informative wine discussions and reviews for the consumer. Above all, I would like to help stem the tide of wine publications whose ratings tend to reflect a "penchant for the obvious" in wines, while hopefully enlightening consumers about a wine's subtler attributes which make it distinctively different from its peers. In the process, I will share stories of my encounters and experiences in cellar and vineyard. By the nature of my status as a lone publisher with a limited budget, I feel that I must confine myself mostly to a particular segment of the wine world, so I've chosen to focus on the area where I have the most familiarity: Southern France - esp. the Languedoc region. I will also limit reviews of wines from my native Willamette Valley, Oregon because of conflicts of interest due to my relationship with many producers here. However, part of of my mission is to bring attention to the great wine values in the market, so I intend also to cover wines under $30 from other regions, including Oregon. This need is prompted by the tendancy of the main-stream wine press to focus largely on the prestigious appellations and collector-type wines, often to the detriment of covering the numerous great affordable wines for everyday consumption.


Above all, my approach to reviewing will emphasize a wine's authenticity & typicality of region and variety, not just the hedonistic pleasure it may deliver. In an effort to lend more objectivity to my reviews I will limit my descriptors to less esoteric terms (if I hear the over-hyped term "mind-boggling" again I think I'll gag!). As well, I will use icons to indicate more essential wine components (please see below). Realizing that it's simply not practical (nor acceptable by the consumer) to avoid assessing a wine's overall quality, I've chosen to apply three basic quality levels to wines reviewed, indicated at the end of this article. My hope though is that readers will balance this categorization with a wine's description in making decisions about their preferences. Again this is in keeping with my goal to minimize subjectivity. I won't include reviews of wines below the minimum ("gratifying") quality level. Having hosted, as a producer, numerous wine writers over the years, I've observed that it's extremely difficult for a wine reviewer to objectively assess a wine when tasting on premise & from barrel etc. Therefore, although I may often discuss and describe wines tasted on site, I will not rate a wine tasted in this way, rather only in comparative blind tastings in a "neutral" location.


Finally, although I can't resist the opportunity to introduce readers to lesser known discoveries made during my escapades in the South of France, I will try to remain focused primarily on wines that are available in the American market - either in local wine shops or via mail order.


Please come back again soon for my first article on select wines of the western side of the Languedoc (Corbières, Minervois, Côte de Rousillon) which I experienced on a recent trip there.


À Bientôt - Russ






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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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