Thursday, July 06, 2006

South of England take in the South of France

Bibendum's South of England team recently returned from a trip to the Languedoc.
The whole trip started in a fairly surreal way, as we actually got to Stansted for 5am! We flew to Carcassonne and picked up the hire cars. First stop, Mas la Chevaliere to meet the absolutely superb girls and boys from Laroche…

We started with a tasting of the Laroche South of France wines. All of which again showed us great varietal identity, quality of fruit and value for money. Specifically the 05 Pinot Noir, Neil. It is worth pointing out the impressive progression of the Mas la Chevaliere wines. When I tasted these wines 2 years ago they were definitely a work in progress and would’ve been a particularly hard sell. However they are now showing delicate, complex character that more than justifies their price. Don’t get me wrong, these are food wines and a definite ‘hand sell’. But they can offer Bibendum customers great value and really over deliver in quality.

After a cooling look round the shiny new winery (pictured above) and an astonishingly hot visit to the Roqua Blanca vineyards we managed to squeeze in some sunbathing and/or a quick game of Petanque. By the way, you’ll do well to watch Willsher and Macca on a boule court… they both throw in random comments like, “do I go now?” and, “please can I throw the little ball next?” It’s a complete façade; they’re secretly brilliant and ruthless.

Before we cracked on with an awesome seafood platter and a very relaxed BBQ we sat round and tasted through the L’Avenir (South Africa) and Laroche Chile wines. Again some great wines on show, a few of the highlights are as follows: L’Avenir Chenin Blanc – Offering a completely different style to the De Trafford version, this wine has very subtle oak influence, with a lively acidity and rich tropical fruit. Not cheap I’ll grant you, but genuinely good kit. Punto Nino Carmenere – Rich and complex with ‘in your face’ dark fruit. As a great food wine that really walks the walk this is spot on for your Gastro list. Punto Alto Pinot Noir – Always going to be popular this one, we all pretty much loved it before we got there. Chilean Pinot is growing in reputation and credibility and this shows why. Proper wine at the right price.

The next day following an extensive barbecue / further tasting session, the team assembled at 8, got into cars and made its way to the Southern Rhone to see the guys at TerraVentoux. We powered across the garrigues with a CD of ‘Now Classics’ cranked right up: Tiffany, Wham, Frankie Goes to Hollywood… Charlotte and I ‘arm danced’ pretty much the whole way. Awesome.

TerraVentoux tasting was both succinct and air conditioned, ideal in the steamy circumstances. Popular on the day were definitely the French Folies – A spicy Syrah Grenache blend with really jammy cooked fruits and balancing tannins. Also a sneak preview of their new La Cave wine, another serious Grenache blend. Diarmid won tasting note of the day with “It’s kind of wet but dry at the same time”. A man with a great future behind him.

After a quick lunch in the winery (with one of the best selection of cheeses I’ve ever seen) we took a trip around some of the vineyards with the excellent Jean-Marc Lafage, their consultant oenologist and one of the most respected wine growers in Southern France. It was genuinely interesting to visit these sites with someone explaining their viticultural methods as they were doing it. You’d think a conversation about potassium management would be boring, not with Jean-Marc… although I’m not going to try recreate the lesson here, my version definitely would be boring.

Laroche and TerraVentoux both shout about the diverse range of soils and climates in this part of France and this is very clearly represented in their wines. We tasted a range of different styles from fresh, lifted aperitif’s to spicy, rich reds; all of which are great quality and great value. A very pragmatic approach to winemaking.

In all a very good (and very hot) trip.


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