Category Archives: Wine Tastings

Grand Cru Drive Thru Bordeaux: Back to (Wine) School

Guest Wines Tour de France

Back to wine school and commuting to Bordeaux, how exciting!

Having been inspired by several friends in the wine business who have attended courses at the Wine School in Bordeaux, L’Ecole du Vin, Kelvyn and I decided it would be a missed opportunity not to see what was on offer during the month we were to be residents in the region! Coincidentally there were a couple of courses running bang in the middle of our stay, so I went for it and booked myself on a two day Practical Bordeaux Course. This was my first bit of formal training since completing the WSET Advanced late last year and I was both excited and nervous. Chateau la Tour de Chollet were kind enough to release me from harvest duties as they understood the importance and benefits of me undertaking this training.

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The course ran on a Sunday and Monday at l’Ecole du Vin in the centre of Bordeaux city. This meant getting up rather early to drive the hour’s journey there, which was all nice and easy on the Sunday but a rather different story on the Monday when I was plunged into rush hour traffic. Although it turned out to be pretty straight forward parking on the city’s limits to catch the tram the rest of the way.

It was a nice sized group with some of the people having already attended the previous two day theoretical course. We were a mix of English, German, Taiwanese, Canadian, Chinese and Italian. It took me a bit by surprise when our course tutor, Caroline, introduced herself with a distinctly Irish accent, admittedly I assumed she would be French although this did not make any difference as the course was in English.  Caroline was a great tutor, there was a lot of content and tasting to get through in the two days, including almost 30 wines to taste, lunch out on day one and a cookery workshop on day two.

It was a well set up classroom and we each had our own sink for spitting in, lovely, and light for analysing the wine in glass. We addressed topics related to starting your own cellar, the Bordeaux wine market, serving wines and matching wines with food. Each day we tasted up to 14 wines giving us the opportunity to experience a range of the Bordeaux appellations, which equally highlighted how diverse the area’s produce is.

As you can see I am paying attention despite having several glasses of wine on the go at once.

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Part of the course dealt with serving wines and decanting, in particular where older vintages are concerned. Here Caroline used a twist and pull opener on this 1981 Château Poujeaux, the cork impressively stayed in tact and didn’t crumble. The wine itself was also in tact with good structure and silky tannins. This was most certainly one of the oldest wines I have tried and I was surprised at the freshness of a wine this age. I now look forward to trying many more older vintages … if I can get my hands on them!

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Caroline also demonstrated a little gadget with a torch incorporated into it that hangs around the neck of the bottle, so you can see exactly when the sediment is nearing the neck and you should stop pouring. This is still often done using the good old fashioned candle method.

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On an evening back at Chollet, Kelvyn and I spent most of our time reading up about Bordeaux, sampling wines from the various appellations and testing our senses with the help of the Nez du Vin that Kirstie had leant to us. With all our travels and what I was learning on the wine course, Bordeaux wines were opening up to us and sharing their deeper meaning.

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On day two we had a session on food and wine matching but what I think none of the class realised was that in order to really get to grips with this, we were to be taken to the local chefs training workshop, L’Atelier des Chefs, for a cookery course. A fabulous and unexpected surprise.

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It was great fun preparing and cooking the tapas dishes: creamy cucumber and mint gazpacho with marinated salmon on pain grille; duck thigh spring roll; baked cherry tomatoes with pesto and olives; prawn and smoked duck samosa. I was mightily impressed with what we made.

The zesty Sauvignon Blanc (Chateau le Tros, 2011) worked nicely with the gazpacho and salmon and the dark savouriness of the Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot (Chateau Reverdi, 2009) was perfect with the smoked duck samosa, beautiful flavours abounded!

The tomato and pesto might have benefited from a lighter, more acidic style than the juicy Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot (Chateau Cantelaudette, 2009) and although the duck spring rolls matched very well with a sweeter wine, the Semillon (Chateau la Rame, 2009), a bit more zesty acidity would have balanced better.

Success in the end! Some of the group, Chang, Chai, James, Gabriele and Frank all looking pleased with their achievement!

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I throughly enjoyed this practical course and met a great group of people. It taught me all sorts of useful facts and stats about the region as well as giving me the chance to try a great variety of Bordeaux wines!

Grand Cru Drive Thru Bordeaux: St-Émilion & Pomerol

Guest Wines Tour de France

We set out on our drive to Saint Émilion on what was to be a rather grey and rainy day but this didn’t dampen our sense of excitement on seeing this infamous town impressively reveal itself as we journeyed along the D670.

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We chose to drive straight through the town to begin with as we wanted to seek out Clos Trimoulet, which lies just outside the town walls on a flatter bit of the plateau. Having enjoyed their Grand Cru wines purchased at the Salon des Vignerons Indépendants in Paris a couple of years ago, it seemed fitting to be heading to this particular producer to get our day underway.

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The Appollot family has been making wine here for six generations and is currently managed by Joel and Alain Appollot. We were greeted by one of the wife one of the owners, who was pleased to hear our connection with the estate and glad that we were here to taste and take away a few more of their lovely wines, which are excellent value. This we did, not leaving empty handed we filled our car boot with a case of their 2008 and 2010 vintages.

We now headed back into town and upon arrival we discovered that we were parked beside the Wine Information Centre, which is situated around the corner from the main Tourist Office, so this seemed like a good place to start. Here, we were presented with a history of the region’s wine making as well as an opportunity to engage with the “identify the aroma”  interactive learning tool, which picked out those commonly found in the local wines.

Afterwards, we decided to take a stroll around the town with its many charms and we were glad to have worn our hiking boots to help us up and down the very steep cobbled streets. The local speciality, a tasty ‘canelé’ cake, gave us the energy to keep going.

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It seemed that we had chosen a good time in which to visit as the place was almost deserted, giving us the opportunity to take in the views unobstructed by the hoards of tourists that descend during the summer months.

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Standing proudly on the south facing limestone ridged hill is Château Ausone, one of the four Premier Grand Cru Classé (A) Chateaux, so it only seemed right to climb the steep narrow lane that leads to its main entrance where we took in fine views of the vineyard slopes that surround the town and stretch out into the adjoining countryside. And this is as close as we got to this ‘Class A’ Château, as unfortunately, we did not have an invite to hand… maybe next time?!?

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We then took to driving around the small and winding roads in and around St-Émilion and Pomerol to gaze in delight as one famous chateau after another appeared before our eyes. The chateaux on this side of the river are definitely not as flamboyant as their neighbours on the other side, apart from one or two, but this does not distract away from their grandeur simply by name alone. For instance,  Château Petrus could have easily been passed by if it wasn’t for our GPS informing us that we were actually in the right place!

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We also called in for a photo stop at Château La Fleur-Pétrus and were met by a member of staff who asked what the purpose of our visit was. He allowed us to take a photo as long as we left swiftly … no appointments today!

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However, there was no mistaking Cheval Blanc with its grand winery designed by architect Christian de Portzamparc, which has been created to give the appearance of blending in with the surrounding countryside. Nobody seemed to mind us taking a stroll around the grounds or enjoying the panoramic views from the top of the winery… we just needed a glass of Cheval Blanc in our hands and our day would have been even more perfect than it was already turning out to be.

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Whilst on our St-Émilion journey of discovery, we got a tip off from a friend who suggested that we should try to call into Château Laniote, a teeny five acre Grand Cru Classé that has been in the same family for seven generations. We turned up at the door with a hint of trepidation not knowing if anyone would answer or if we might be turned away because we didn’t have an appointment.

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However, all our fears quickly dissolved when Monsieur Arnaud de la Filolie appeared with his extremely friendly and welcoming manner. He was more than happy to receive us despite it being the “official” French lunchtime, which he quickly dismissed with a ‘paf’ as he shoved bottles in our hands so we could help him finish his labelling.

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During the next hour we had the most wonderfully entertaining tour of the winery finished off with a tasting. We were very impressed by his wines, which he makes with his oenologist wife Florence.

Arnaud was a real gentleman who loved showing off his magic tricks and kept us laughing throughout. However, his wines were no joke, excellently crafted and to be enjoyed.

Follow us next where we shall be getting our hands dirty for the harvest at a Bordeaux chateau.

Grand Cru Drive Thru Bordeaux: Medoc & Graves

Guest Wines Tour de France

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Returning to our Tour de France wine journey, we now find ourselves in Bordeaux. Our journey to the infamous Médoc region began with a stroll around Bordeaux city itself on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It was surprisingly easy to navigate our way into the centre and find parking because it was the first Sunday of the month, when apparently cars are banned from the citys’ central streets and cycling is very actively encouraged. It’s actually great once you ditch your car as you can happily walk around without much concern for traffic sneaking up behind you the minute you stop to admire a view. As a result the city was surprisingly buzzing, being a Sunday we knew most things would be shut but in fact a number of places were open.

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The grand buildings lining the Esplanade des Quinconces appeared ahead of us as we crossed the Pont de Pierre, over the Garonne River, alongside shiny trams that quietly floated by. It is understandable to see why it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Lots of people were enjoying the sun on the Esplanade, an assorted mix of walkers, cyclists, skate boarders, roller skaters and even someone on a pair of running blades who bounced past.

We happened upon the very lively market at the Quai des Chartrons, where there was plenty of fresh local produce to buy as well as to eat there and then at the pop up restaurant stalls. The market had a distinct Latin air about it with sounds of salsa drifting over the airwaves.

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Venturing into the narrow streets that snake off from the Esplanade we strolled around the Chartrons District, famous for its wine merchant history, and found our way to the centre of the city, where pedestrianized streets that house shop after shop spread out around us.

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We were pleasantly impressed by Bordeaux city and it gets even more interesting when you start Chateaux spotting. A mere 5 minute drive South and you soon find yourself surrounded by vines on either side of the road, that are themselves surrounded by urban sprawl. Welcome to Château Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, part of the Pessac-Léognan appellation.

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As you leave the urban sprawl behind heading deeper into Graves, you start passing through small towns and villages, where pretty vineyard views stretch ahead of you. We called in at the picturesque Château Haut Bailly, for a walk amongst the vines, which seem to be always in the shadow of the chateau that stands proudly looking on.

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Whilst, on the other hand, the journey North to Medoc takes you through a wine wilderness. Upon leaving the city of Bordeaux, we found ourselves in a large faceless industrial estate and if it wasn’t for Oz Clarke’s fantastic Bordeaux book, in which he describes the drive up the D2, we would have believed we had taken a wrong turn. However, perseverance pays off and one by one the famous Chateaux and vineyards began to appear.

It’s difficult driving as we looked on in awe at so many world renowned names on every corner of nearly every lane on our drive through the region. However, this contrasted somewhat with finding ourselves in the Grand Cru village of Margaux at lunchtime, with nowhere open, it was fitting that we should be sat in a car park in the rain eating our packed lunch.

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Do you know your Chateaux? Chateau Palmer, Chateau Beychevelle, Chateau Margaux, Cos D’Estournel, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Lynch-Bages, Chateau Latour, Chateau Pichon Longueville.

We stopped off at La Winery in Haut Médoc, established by Chateau D’Arsac in 2007 who aim to lead the way into a more new world type of wine tourist experience. Amongst its selection of wines, they even had a few bottles from “other countries”, well fancy that!

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It was fascinating to see the variations in soils from one vineyard parcel to the next literally side by side. The meaning of ‘terroir’ was growing increasingly evident to us as we travelled around.

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As we headed further North to St Estephe the rain clouds cleared away and the sun started to shine, giving us great views of the Gironde Estuary and vines sloping all the way down to the river banks.

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We returned via Moulis in the sunset, which brought down the curtains on a fine day as we headed once again into the grand city of Bordeaux.

Our next adventure will see us moving from the Left Bank to the Right Bank.

NEWTS Christmas Dinner

The North East Wine Tasting Society, otherwise known as The NEWTS, has been in existence for some 30 years or more with regular meetings held in Newcastle. With a limit on numbers and with most of its core members still active within the society, we felt honoured when a couple of places became available and we were invited to join just a year ago.

Since then, we have tried to attend as many of the monthly meetings as we could (though our schedule this year has been somewhat busy to say the least). However, the ones that we have managed to attend have always been a great learning experience alongside tasting some fabulous wines.

These tastings are either hosted by an outside organisation, such as a local wine merchant, or are undertaken internally, with each of us given the task of presenting. The only restriction is that we have to stick within budget, the session lasts no more that 2 hours and it must be interesting! We have our presentation pencilled in for next summer – so we’d better get planning!

The society also offers a bi-annual dinner. This gives an opportunity for members to get together and bring along with them some interesting wines for anyone to try. This event is currently held at Newcastle College – The Lifestyle Academy and sees us served a dinner by those training to work professionally in the hospitality  industry.

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Again, the Academy did us proud, the food and service was good, all washed down with some great wines!

Back for more … International Wine Challenge 2014

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Mid-November saw us return to the International Wine Challenge in London for the first stage of the 2014 competition that has now been split into two parts, with the first ‘Tranche’ being mostly dedicated to Southern Hemisphere producers. This time we found ourselves working at a different location than that of the April 2013 event, the Barbican, where we arrived on a cold, wet Monday morning to begin what would be an intensive fortnight. However, the thought of this was eased by the welcome sight of familiar faces amongst a few newcomers to the crew. It’s strange to think in only April this year we were the newcomers, yet now the new members of the team are coming to us for advice on how to do things and it was nice to know that we could give adequate answers.

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The event has been slightly more relaxed than envisaged due to its present size in comparison to the April event, which made for smooth running.

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Panel judges at work, alongside Co-Chairs Peter McCombie, Martin Moran, Oz Clarke, Charles Metcalfe, Sam Harrop, Jamie Goode, Richard Bampfield

This year, we were both given positions that had more of a key role to them, which was very exciting as well as a little scary as neither of us wanted any major, or minor, hiccups along the way. Ruth was given the task of ‘Floor Pit Boss’ to ensure the smooth running of the tasting tables, whilst Kel had the position of ‘Dispatch Pit Boss’ whose role it is to oversee the correct dispatch of tasting flights to the tasting tables. Jokes about husband and wife communications swiftly arose as our roles needed to ensure that we made ourselves clearly understood to ensure that the wines arrived at the tables on time. All went well reflecting that this husband and wife team are a perfect match!

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The competition week went well and passed by quickly. It was great to meet up with many of the judges again and to witness their expertise at first hand – many red lips and teeth by the end of the competition.

The week was nicely rounded off with a curry dinner all washed down with a nice glass of wine … or two.

The results from this event shall be released on December 4th, so remember to look out for those medals and snap up the wines whilst you can… just in time for Christmas!

Tranche 2 is to be held at The Oval in London, April 2014.

Grand Cru Drive Thru: South West France – Cahors

Guest Wines Tour de France

A couple of hours drive North of Toulouse, is the attractive medieval city of Cahors with its distinctive Mediterranean feel. Easy to navigate, we parked just off the main street before taking a stroll around the city and along the River Lot. A walk around the old part of the city transported us back in time, soaking up the atmosphere amidst the medieval architecture and narrow winding streets.

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Cahors has a great feel to it, quite bohemian with real heart and soul, bustling with life and shops that stay open over lunchtime! There were even a couple of vegetarian restaurants, Le Petit Salon being one.  This is in contrast to it being one of the main regions for producing foie gras, so was very welcome and seemed quite progressive based on our experience so far!

Adding to the positive vibes of Cahors charms, we even managed to find a sim card for our ipad, unlike in other parts of France where we were rebuffed and told we couldn’t buy one unless we had a French bank card, eh? And again, isn’t this supposed to be Europe?! Thankfully, Rodolphe at the Orange shop on the main street, made our lives very easy getting us hooked up to the net in minutes, ahhhhh civilisation!

Next to the tourist office we made a beeline for the La Villa Cahors Malbec, which upon entering appeared to be a bar so when we tentatively asked if it was possible to taste the wines, Armand, the Promotions Manager, explained that it was in fact a tasting facility aimed at promoting the wines of Cahors and for 5 euros we could taste three styles of Malbec, which he would talk us through. It was just what we needed for our short stay in the area.

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Armand was extremely helpful, explaining in excellent English about the different styles available as well as giving us a brief history of the region. He also suggested several wine merchants worth visiting based on our feedback of the wines he offered us. We came away with a much better appreciation of Cahors wines as well as a handy booklet ‘Cahors Capitale du Malbec’ that enabled us to explore the region and its producers in finer detail.

It sounded like there is quite a drive to reinvent the wines of Cahors and shrug off an out dated image, for example Armand highlighted to us that the regions’ wines were being celebrated as part of Le festival Cinédélices taking place on 3 October this year, an evening of Malbec Eroticus … oo la la!

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The three wines we tasted were excellent examples and were split into the following categories:

‘Round & Structured’ – min 70% Malbec plus Merlot & Tannat but can have Cabernet Sauvignon & Gamay, no age in barrel, made to drink young, retail between 5-7 euros. We tasted Domaine de Chantelle 2009, app 5 euros, fruity nose – fresh red fruits, currants, soft tannins, light bodied, easy drinking and great for a BBQ.

‘Full & Tasty’ – 85-100% Malbec, use of oak app 12 months, 5-7 years ageing in bottle. Classed as food wines, matching with meats, duck and lamb, retail between 7-10 euros. Accounts for 40% production. We tasted Domaine la Borie 2009, app 7.50 euros, lovely dark concentrated fruit nose, spice, more brooding, chocolate, silky tannins, good length, balanced. Needs a couple of hours in a decanter.

‘Intense & Complex’ –  100% Malbec, matured for 24 months in oak, can last 10-15 years in bottle, matches well with beef, pate or chocolate, retail above 15 euros, may need 5-6 hours in decanter. Accounts for 10% production. We tasted Domaine la Borie Exception 2008, app 16 euros, deeper and darker fruits again from previous wine, prune overtones, stronger tannin, more structured, a lovely wine.

We were so impressed by these that we headed out to see if we could find them. Armand also recommended searching out Château du Cèdre, which is deemed one of the top producers and an excellent example of great Cahors Malbec.

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Our first stop was at L’Atrium Georges Vigouroux, which is a wine warehouse on the outskirts of the town. We visited here first to see what range they had, as they are a large retail unit who sources their wines from selected producers and wineries, acting as a négociant for many, it was also the furthest away and it opened the soonest after lunch, many other shops didn’t open until at least 2.30pm or even 3pm!

We picked up a bottle of Pigmentum Gros Manseng 2012, at 7 euros, which won a Bronze medal at both IWC and Decanter Competitions, as well as Marcillac Cuvée Réservée 2010, combining Tannat and Malbec, at 8 euros. The Pigmentum was a demi-sec style with a honeyed, viscous mouthfeel, apricots, peaches and tropical fruits, soft acidity and a herbal undercurrent, a nice aperitif. Watch this space for our thoughts on the Marcillac.

Safe in the knowledge that the shops back in town would now be open, we drove back into Cahors and popped into Sudreau for a bottle of Château du Cèdre, Le Cèdre 2008, after which we walked down a side street and discovered Lafon-Frères, which was a bit of a treasure trove of older Cahors vintages. We picked up a bottle of Chateau D’Aydie 2004, Madiran, made of Tannat with a small amount of another red grape, possibly Cabernet Sauvignon, having quickly read a rather promising review by Hugo Read about its potential, so we look forward to trying it.

Pleased with our visit to Cahors but reluctant to leave as we were enjoying it so much, we took to the road for the last leg of our journey to Bordeaux. Winding along narrow roads and across rolling hills we passed impressively large houses and quaint sandstone villages, one such village that inspired us to stop and look around was called Goujounac, each building was made of orange stone and steeply tiled roofs seemed particular to this area. As we strolled the small, cobbled streets, we came across a pretty white cat on a bench, then noticed a teeny grey kitten run off round a corner, on following we were delighted to discover a whole kitty family hanging out in the street. A very sweet sight indeed.

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As we moved across and up the country, the scenery was changing and the vineyards disappeared, the landscape became more green and felt somehow more Northern European. We also started seeing more evidence of an English speaking population, the type of shops we were passing in towns, signs in English and drivers not constantly tailgating us (not that this is unknown in the UK but the French seem intent on perfecting this!).

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Passing through Bergerac, in the Dordogne Department, vineyards once again opened out before us. This is an area that we intended to return to on another day as time was quickly passing and we did not want to arrive too late at Le Chateau La Tour de Chollet, in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, which would be our home for the next month.

Arriving at the Chateau in the early evening, we were welcomed by Paul and Kirstie Rowbotham and family.

Check out our tales of life on a Bordelais vineyard in our next instalment.

Salon des Vins des Vignerons Indépendants

383220_10150385154236931_1377581205_n This week sees the opening of the Salon des Vins des Vignerons Independants in Paris – an event that we have in the past enjoyed attending, combining this with a bit of a pre-Christmas Parisian break.

This year, we shall not be there as we are involved in the International Wine Challenge Southern Hemisphere 2014 Tranche 1 Competition in London (more on that soon).

However, we thought it fitting to highlight the fair in Paris as you can find many fabulous wines there (ensure that you have enough space for the many cases that you will, no doubt, purchase – as we always do!). This is a great way to stock up for Christmas and the New Year ahead of course!

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It is also a great time to be in Paris (as if there is a time when not to be) as the festive celebrations are getting underway and to get in the mood, there’s no better way than to stroll down the Champs- Élysées, where a huge Christmas fair takes place ever year – you even get to see Santa!

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Below are a selection of wines that we purchased from the fair which have put a certain spirit into our Christmas festivities:

Baur Charles, Cremant d Alsace Brut NV: Riesling – Good mousse and body, floral, citrus with a creamy edge – a nice alternative to Champagne

Baur Charles, Alsace Grand Cru, Pfersigberg 2008, 13.5%: Gewurtztraminer – Absolutely scrumptious! Gorgeous mouthfeel that included orange peel, blossom and roses entwining around your tongue!

Domaine de Fussiacus, Saint Veran 2010, 13% – Hints of Pineapple and crushed almond, good acidity

Gilles Bouton et fils, Saint Aubin Premier Cru, Les Champlots 2010, 13.5% – Lovely buttery mouthfeel with citrus tang

Chateau de L’ou, Cotes du Roussillon 2009, 14.2% – fresh summer fruits including strawberry and raspberry – an easy drinker!

Domaine de la Milliere, Chateauneuf du Pape 2006, 14.5%  – Fruity, chocolate box fondant with balance and structure

Clos Trimoulet, Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2006, 13%: Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon – Dark fruits, Blackcurrant, touch of Tabacco – We felt that this still had some way to go, even though we enjoyed drinking it

Grand Cru Drive Thru: South West France – Fronton

Guest Wines Tour de France

The next leg of our road trip saw us leaving the medieval town of Avignon to head South West to Toulouse for our next overnight stop. This journey took us from the Southern Rhône, passing by the city of Nîmes, towards the sprawling vineyards of the Languedoc surrounding Montpellier and Beziers.

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As this was to be pretty much a car bound day of rather epic driving, we decided to take a detour to the coast for the chance to dip our toes in the Mediterranean sea. We ended up in the buzzing town of Sète, France’s largest Mediterranean fishing port, where we had a bite to eat alongside the Canal du Midi, watching the boats floating past.

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Although we were only here a short time, we got the feeling this might be a bit of a hidden gem on the Mediterranean coastline and we weren’t to be disappointed as we drove towards Agde along the spit of land that separates the lagoon from the Gulf of Lion, where carefully planted grasses line the sides of the road, hiding the miles of white sandy beach just from view. Ruth couldn’t resist a paddle but it was a tad fresher than she expected although very refreshing in the heat of the day. It was a peaceful moment in our long journey today, sitting on the beach, watching people relax and swim in the shimmering clear blue sea.

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Sadly, we couldn’t stay any longer as we needed to press on to Narbonne, passing through the Corbières appellation to then reach the historical city of Carcassonne. We had intended to have a brief stopover in Corbières as we thoroughly enjoy the wines from this region, always proving great value for money, however, we found ourselves ‘imprisoned’ on the péage (motorway with tolls if you’re not familiar with this), unable to exit, and forced to continue on. A future visit will most certainly see us spending more time to visit these great cities and wine regions.

Our destination of the day was to be Fronton, just North of Toulouse, where we had an appointment for a wine tasting with Jean Luc Ribes at Domaine le Roc. We pulled into the driveway of this more traditional looking winery, that had the feel of a farm about it, where geese and chickens were sauntering around. It was charming to find sculptures and pieces of art hidden amongst the garden’s greenery and the painted concrete tanks in the winery were a cheery sight. This artistic eccentricity is also encapsulated on the label of ‘La Folle Noire d’Ambat’, which is made from 100% Negrette and seems fitting for this particular variety.

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Everyone, including Jean Luc, was busy cleaning out tanks and moving equipment ready for harvest but Jean Luc kindly took some time out to go through his wines with us. Also, Pierre, who has worked at the farm for over 20 years, welcomed us with his unique sense of humour and amazingly Dick van Dyke-esque English accent that brought a red wine stained grin to our faces!

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Le Roc’s rosé and red wines are predominantly made from the Négrette grape, complimented by Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, and the white is a blend of Semillon, Chardonnay, Muscadelle and Viognier, what an interesting wine indeed, falling outside the local Appellation gives more freedom for such blending! These wines taste fabulous and are great value for money, at under 10 euros, considering the farm uses sustainable farming methods and organic practices, for example in winter sheep help to manage the foliage around the vines rather than herbicides being sprayed.

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It’s a true family business, run by brother’s Jean Luc and Frederic, whose wife Cathy took care of payment for our wines, and it was a real pleasure to visit.

Leaving Le Roc and Fronton, the rain caught up with us again and it was time to head back to Toulouse to find our accommodation for the night. Unfortunately, the ring road around the city took us on a magical mystery tour, with signs that seemed to be more cryptic than informative always leading us away from our destination rather than to it. Luckily, after much muttering and swearing and several unaccounted for trips on the (now dreaded) péage, we made it to our Appart’city, a compact but welcome apartment that gave us the opportunity to cook the first hot meal of our journey so far. However, we soon realised why it was such a bargain as it was in direct line of the airport runway, tempting Kel to consider taking up plane spotting! Nevertheless, after a few glasses of La Folle Noire d’Ambat and a hot pasta meal, we contentedly settled in  for the night.

 

Grand Cru Drive Thru: Rhône Valley

Guest Wines Tour de France

The weather had certainly changed as we started our journey through the Northern Rhône. No longer were we greeted with beautiful sunshine, instead, lots of rain! La Côte-Rôtie? More like La Côte-Rainy indeed! Still, those hillsides looked imposing and impressive!

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Driving along the valley famous names started to appear on large billboards on the hillsides amongst the vines, as we had seen in books but nothing really prepares you for seeing it with your own eyes! Firstly, Guigal, then Condrieu, then Paul Jaboulet Aîné and Chapoutier to name just a few. The slopes were extremely steep and in the pouring rain, with mist hanging low on the hills, it made for dramatic scenery. It reminded me of many a place in Asia, such as Southern China or Vietnam.

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Much the same as we first experienced in Burgundy’s Côte-d’Or, the vines were trained straight up stakes rather than on trellis systems, which are not so practical on the steep slopes. Geek alert: we found this fascinating to see as so far we had mainly seen the Guyot system, most widely used nowadays.

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Our first stop was by appointment with a producer in Mercurol, Domaine des Remizières, but despite us endeavouring to get there on time in the rain we arrived about 14 minutes later than our estimated arrival and were refused the appointment. We were extremely grateful that the Domaine had agreed to see us on a Sunday as they would not usually be open on this day but we were so disappointed to be turned away despite our long drive in torrential rain on roads that we had not travelled on before but sadly the proprietor was unwavering in their decision. We felt that their reaction was a tad extreme but hey, there were plenty more Rhône wines to be had so onwards we drove.

So our first tasting of the day was at the cooperative winery Cave de Tain, in Tain l’Hermitage, thankfully one of the few places open on a Sunday! We were given a taste of their range to get an overview of what they produce and were pleasantly impressed, for the price of 10 euros, the Saint Joseph Classique 2012 was smooth and fruity. Unfortunately, the Hermitage Classique 2009, at 25 euros, was corked and although a little apprehensive to point this out to the advisor since there were several French people also tasting this wine who had not raised any issue, we were very pleased when he agreed and threw the wine down the drain, but not before getting other staff members to smell and taste it as part of their education on an example of a corked wine. Another WSET success there – Hoorah!

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The Cornas and Hermitage reds were particularly tasty, especially the Cornas ‘Les Arenes Sauvages’ 2007 and Hermitage ‘Gambert de Loche’ 2007. As a bit of experimentation we also picked up a bottle of the Vin de Pays Syrah 2010 for all of 3.60 euros, and it wasn’t half bad whiling away an evening in our Premiere Classe Hotel on the outskirts of Avignon.

Next to visit was M. Chapoutier wine shop, also in the town of Tain. Whilst waiting for the shop to re-open after lunch, we took the opportunity to have ours sat on the railway station platform, with the impressive backdrop of world famous vineyards to gaze upon (you wouldn’t expect anything less of us, would you?).

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The wine advisor at Chapoutier talked us through a wide selection of wines and treated us to taste their single vineyard Ermitage ‘Le Meal’ 2001, which had the most amazing fruitcake aromas held up by a very good structure, the 2010 vintage listed would set you back at least 230 euros! We were particularly impressed by the Hermitage Chante-Alouette 2011 from Marsanne grapes, beautifully soft with creamy cooked apricots and hints of orange, lovely mouthfeel, as well as the Côte-Rôtie Les Bécasses 2010, showing classic gamey/rubber with dark, spicy fruit.

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Before leaving the shop, we thanked our wine advisor for the tasting to which he thanked us, i.e. the English, for helping Hermitage wines to exist, he then went on to explain the history further, how Merlot and Cabernet were brought from Bordeaux in 18th century to be blended with Syrah – hermitagé became the term used for blended Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet, hence hermitage came into existence, although now without wines from Bordeaux of course!

We made the most of having a day in one place and in between showers were able to walk around Tain, enjoying the views of the Rhône River as we crossed over to Tournon on the other side, a glimpse of sun even shone through for us!

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On leaving Tain, we headed South, driving through Cornas and Saint-Péray, interested to see where the wines we had just tasted that morning had come from. Stunning castle ruins balance almost precariously on rocky outcrops all the way down the Rhône, which was an amazingly emerald green colour with wide and high waters. The small town of Rochemaure, had a particularly impressive castle overlooking the streets below!

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The landscape strangely changes between the Côte-Rôtie and Southern Rhône where the expanse of vines disappear to be replaced by heavy industry. In contrast to our experience so far, many of the famous names of Southern Rhône, such as Gigondas and Vacqueyras, were further off the beaten track and the next vineyards we hit were at Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Luckily, we were in for a treat as the skies cleared, a rainbow stretched out above us and the sun shone across the goblet shaped vines shimmering against the large pudding stones all around. It looks so stony, it’s a wonder anything grows but it shows the resilience of the vines that reflects that special ‘terroir’.

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Whilst here we sought out another of the producer’s we have bought wine from at the Paris Vignerons Indépendants Fair, Domaine de la Millière, more out of interest to see where they are based rather than expecting any kind of tasting, as it was Sunday so not general opening hours. It certainly is a beautiful area, which rather impressed us.

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Extremely happy with this lovely end to our journey through Rhône, we headed towards Avignon and even managed to find our hotel by 8pm, just before it turned dark!

Next we skim the Mediterranean sea through Languedoc to arrive in South West France.

Grand Cru Drive Thru: Burgundy & Beaujolais

Guest Wines Tour de France

We had now reached what seemed like miles and miles upon miles of vines, it was truly beautiful! Every available space was lent to viticulture – welcome to Burgundy!

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The weather was still being kind to us, with temperatures in the twenties, enabling the skies to clear later in the day opening up a wide vista of vines as far as our eyes could see. What better place to begin our day than at Gevrey Chambertin.

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We had an early morning appointment at Domaine Heresztyn and did not want to be late as we knew that we were in for a treat. We were met and greeted by Ewa, who is mother to winemaker Florence Heresztyn, third generation of the family, whose husband Simon Mazzini also makes Champagne.

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Ewa spent a little time explaining her family history and how the Domaine has developed over the years. You would be right in thinking this isn’t a very French Domaine name because it’s actually Polish. Jan Heresztyn emigrated from Poland in 1932, eventually arriving in Gevrey-Chambertin where he started acquiring parcels of vines, building up the business to what it is today with his two sons and now grand-daughter. It was a lovely start to the day and helped create a nice ambience in which to taste some truly excellent wines.

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Kelvyn particularly liked the more gamey aromas of the Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru 2007, whose grapes came from the parcel of vines right next to the house. Ruth preferred the softer, fruitiness of the Morey-Saint-Denis 2007. It was fascinating to taste the differences between each vineyard site.

Soon we were on our way again, travelling south. So much is in close proximity to the road that name after famous name simply pass by as you drive. It was with awe that we tried to take all this in.

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In order to gather our thoughts, we felt that it would be a good idea to stop off and stretch our legs at Vosne-Romanée to walk around its many famous high sloping vineyards. What an ideal place for a picnic whilst bathed in beautiful sunshine, leading to an immense feeling of satisfaction, eating local produce (though the tomatoes were from an allotment in North Shields!) and drinking a glass or two of the red stuff. A lasting memory indeed!

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We then drove through the famous Côte d’Or villages of Nuits-St-Georges and Beaune. Stopping off at Nuits-St-Georges as well as making a detour to Meursault, Saint Aubin and Puligny-Montrachet for brief strolls to soak in the atmosphere. It was also great to see the many pickers at work in the vineyards – something that we would be doing in a few days time.

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Near to Saint Aubin we passed the sign for the quaint village Gamay (though none of the grape variety of the same name is found here) and recalled a producer from there whose wines we have previously bought at the Paris Vignerons Indépendants Fair, Domaine Gilles Bouton et Fils, and are excellent. Sadly, all was quiet due to harvest so we weren’t able to visit on this occasion but we hope to return again.

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On our way from North to South Burgundy, the terrain turned quite flat and agricultural concerns other than vine took precedence before regaining their status as we approached Mâcon. Here, the valley that we were driving through grew more hilly.

After a little bit of driving up and down small winding country lanes, we eventually arrived at Château de Lavernette where we were greeted by another mother of one the wine makers, Anke Boissieu. She made us feel very welcome and gave us a bit of a history lesson whilst we were waiting for her son Xavier and wife Kerrie, who share the wine making between them, to arrive.

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We discovered that the Château has been in the hands of the family for some 400 years, having taken over from The Lordship of Lavernette and prior to this, the place had been owned by monks. It also lies on the border of Mâcon & Beaujolais, in fact the driveway of the Château is located in both AOC’s. Therefore, allowing the property to create both these regions’ wines.

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Ta-da on the border of Burgundy and Beaujolais

We were met by Kerrie, who took us on a tour of the vineyards, first the Gamay grapes grown in the Beaujolais section and then onto the vines of Mâcon. Quite a novel experience!

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Kerrie explained that the Estate is managed biodynamically, of which both her and husband Xavier are keen advocates. However, Kerrie also likes to inject a bit of a scientific approach into this as much as possible as her background was originally in medicine when she was a native of the States. It is here that she met Xavier when both were studying oenology at Saintsbury in the Napa Valley California.

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We later came across Xavier in the winery where he was undertaking final checks and preparations for the forthcoming harvest, which was expected to start after the weekend of our visit.

Both he and Kerrie make the wines, though both have different approaches. For example, Kerrie has purchased some stainless steel tanks and is producing a range of wines from these, whereas Xavier prefers to use the traditional concrete tanks.

However, despite the family being steeped in tradition and Xavier’s endeavour to maintain this, he is not afraid to try out new things, for example by developing a sparkling style Blanc de Noirs ‘Granit’, with 100% Gamay, alongside a more traditional Crémant de Bourgogne and we must say that we thoroughly enjoyed both.

Kerrie showed us around the winery and cellar, where there were some interesting looking ‘saucissons’ hanging from the ceiling, of which one was enjoyed with a glass of vino later on around the table. She also showed us the equipment used for making up the biodynamic mixtures as well as examining the fertiliser that is produced from manure that had been placed in a cow’s horn, the earth was alive with worms and wee beasties.

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It was great to while away a few hours tasting the wines from both winemakers and being made to feel very welcome by other family members and their friends on what was becoming quite late on a Saturday evening. We came away knowing that we would return to this delightful Château and its wonderful hosts hopefully sometime in the not so distant future.

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Would things heat up as we headed South to the  Rhône? ….