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- Some Southern French Wines We Like
TO THE BACKGROUNDER PAGE of the SOUTHWEST AND SOUTH-OF-FRANCE
- DOMAINE BERTHOMIEU
2015 MADIRAN "Charles de Batz" $21.99
2005 PACHERNC DU VIC-BIHL Sold Out
- We are, in fact, a bit mad for Madiran! How could we not be?
With big, teeth-staining red wines being so fashionable, Madiran ought to be
the rage everywhere. It will get extra points for its color and, since
wine writers love young wines that slap you around a bit, this ought to
score in the low 110s.
Berthomieu estate has been around since 1850. The sixth generation,
Didier Barre, ran the show until a few years ago and today the estate is
operated by another family which owns a winery a few kilometers away..
They Bortolussi sisters have about 26 hectares of vineyards,
predominantly in red grapes. Tannat is king, of course. But
there's also Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux, after all, is not too far north)
and Fer Servadou.
Claire and Marion Bortolussi
We have a dynamite 2015 vintage in stock. This is a wine that is so
dark, you'll have trouble assessing its clarity is difficult.
Dark and almost inky.
The color adheres to the glass...this is a deep, dark, full-throttle,
pedal-to-the-metal red wine.
Tannat is the main grape, though this has a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon blend. You'll find, aside
from the glass and teeth-staining color, the wine displays lots of
black fruit aromas. Think of tiny blackberries, blackcurrants and dark
plums. You have to serve this with something fairly rich...it will
overpower mildly-seasoned foods, for example. Lamb...duck...beef: all
good accompaniments. The wine, his top bottling, is named after
Charles de Batz. That name might be obscure to most people, though his
"other" name, D'Artagnan (of Three Musketeers' fame) is better
But, be warned: Not for those who drink fruity California Chardonnays or
estate also produces a dynamite dry white called "Pacherenc du Vic
Bihl." This is a white wine that's well under the radar.
We have not tasted this in a few years...
Didier served, ages ago, a plate of little "bites"
featuring a bread laced with olive oil, a tiny morsel of ham, a red pepper
and an bit of anchovy. It's a flavorful mix and the white wine, Pacherenc
du Vic Bihl was a good match.
CHATEAU LE ROC
2009 FRONTON Red Sold Out
2012 Fronton Rose Sold Out
FOLLE NOIRE D'AMBAT Sold Out
- The main grape variety in the region of Fronton, just north of
Toulouse, is called Negrette. I read that this is the same variety which in
California is called "Pinot St. George." Since the French (and Italians)
have to have multiple names for the same grape variety (to confuse us more easily), this
also might be found as Morelet, Chalosse Noir, Cap-de-More, Dégoûtant and
Saintongeais. Fill your head with obscure info like that and you'll be branded a
true wine geek and you'll probably need an aspirin.
Chateau Le Roc is run by the Ribes family, who cultivate the 18 hectare property. We
had a dynamite red wine from them which is a field blend (the various varieties being
inter-planted and harvested and fermented together) based on Negrette. Syrah,
Cabernet and Cot are the other varieties.
The Folle Noire red wine was a delight! It's predominantly Negrette and is
vinified to be drinkable in its youth. And it is!! You'll find
fairly deep color to this wine with a marvelous fruit fragrance and an
underlying spice tone.
- We like this served at
cool cellar temperature, so leaving the bottle in the 'fridge for 40-60
minutes is ideal. It can be paired with all sorts of foods, too.
- They make a lovely dry Rosé...the most recent vintage, now sold out, was
a bit fruity and mildly smoky...
The Ribes Brothers.
Large wood and larger wood in the Le Roc cellars.
Lots of bottles get opened when we visit!
Apparently a previous generation made some sort of aperitif or
Until next time!
The Ribes Brothers in 2011.
Jean Luc Ribes in the winter of 2008.
The Le Roc cellar in 2008.
One of the Le Roc Pooches, making good use of a French oak barrel.
DOMAINE DE SULAUZE
- In 2004 Karina and Guillaume Lefèvre purchased scads of
land in the western-most part of Provence and immediately set about
cultivating grapevines in an organic manner. These days they've gone
beyond mere organic farming and are biodynamic.
Why is the estate called Surlauze? Well, "lauze" is a kind
of stone and a rock quarry is called a "lauzières" in
Provence or a lavières in Burgundy. This sort of stone is
often used for making the roof of a house or barn, as you can see below.
The property is quite large and they cultivate
something like 3 dozen+ varieties of wheat (and have some fellow come and bake
breads in an ancient oven which was built in 1882). There's barley and
hops being cultivated, too, as a former cellar rat is now making quite a range
of beers under the Sulauze banner.
They have a few hectares of olives, too and make
There was a field in the distance with a herd of bulls, too.
I asked them about this...saying I was just in Burgundy where there were no
bulls, but a fair bit of bull-shit, while here in Provence they have a lot of
bulls, but no B-S.
Maybe this is a matter of perspective?
The cellar is rather simple. It's not the
museum-of-a-winery you might visit in Bordeaux. And it's not one of those
Burgundian showplaces, either. This is Provence. It's neat, clean
and functional for making wine, which is as it should be.
The crew at the shop have been big fans of the estate's Cochon
wine...a cool blend of Grenache, Syrah, Vermentino, Cinsault and Mourvedre.
The 2015 Cochon is currently in stock...fairly dark in color and
sporting all sorts of red and black fruits. The idea is they've gone
"whole hog" on this wine and make this blend of all sorts of grapes.
Most likely you'd find Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvedre and a little bit of
the white grape Rolle in the blend.
You'll find it to be along the lines of a youthfully exuberant Beaujolais,
except with more spice notes and more body.
But like a good Beaujolais, this shows most handsomely lightly chilled to cellar
temperature and it's quite versatile in terms of food pairings, so anything from
lighter fare to full-throttle, well-seasoned meats can work with this.
On the day of my visit, there was an entire crew from some
restaurant in Norway being hosted for a tour and tasting. It seems they
are quite enthusiastic for the Sulauze wines and so they took a busman's holiday
to come to France.
I'm quite certain the Sulauze wines will pair nicely with Kjøttkaker, Fårikål,
Stekte pølser or tørrfisk, but Mediterranean cuisine also works handsomely.
The Welcoming Committee had a little rest and relaxation, watching the
The group members were quite enthusiastic for the Sulauze wines (and beers)...
And the few Provencal vittles they offered didn't hurt,
Galinette is a dry white wine.
To me, it simply "tastes like Provence."
The crew at the shop was perplexed by this description, but if you've ever spent
time in Provence, perhaps you will recognize the character in this wine.
It's a blend of 40% Grenache Blanc, 20% Ugni Blanc, 20% Clairette and 20%
Vermentino. The Grenache is pressed immediately after crushing, but the
others are given a bit of skin contact. Most of the juice is fermented in
tank, but just to give an additional layer of complexity, 10% is fermented in
seasoned oak cooperage.
There's a suggestion of green apple here, along with a faintly stony, minerally
tone. But we find that underlying character which offers notes of herbs
and spices that haunts us as being decidedly Provençal in character.
Try a bottle with some starters...olives, salame, etc. or pair this with some
The 2014 is in stock.
Les Amis is an especially delightful, friendly wine if you're on its wavelength.
A blend of Syrah and Grenache, they do a brief cold soak before initiating the
fermentation, so the skins macerate for about two weeks in total with the
juice. After the fermentation, the wine is transferred to large wood vats
where it stays for about 9 months.
They add no cultured yeast...no sulfur has been added, either and yet the wine
shows quite handsomely.
Oh...! The Syrah: it's said to be the grape some Northern Rhone
vignerons called "Sérine."
At the very least, it's a massal selection of Syrah cuttings likely taken from
vineyards in Côte Rôtie. Or it could simply be Syrah, but there's a bit
of confusion regarding Sérine as some growers regard it as a grape variety
that's different from typical Syrah.
Is it a smaller-berried version of Syrah? Was it originally Syrah and it's
morphed over the years into a uniquely regional type of Syrah?? Or what???
Whatever it is, it's very charming and damned good.
This is a wine which probably is best consumed in its youth...the color is
radiantly purple and the wine is teeming with dark plummy fruit, a bushel of red
berries with a bit of spice and a touch of tapenade...
We suggest serving it lightly chilled to cellar temperature.
Currently in Stock: 2014 SULAUZE GALINETTE (White
Blend) Sold Out
2015 SULAUZE COCHON (Red Blend) Sold Out
2014 SULAUZE LES AMIS (Sérine/Grenache Blend) Sold Out
They make an interesting range of beers...One day, perhaps, we may have a
Sulauze brew in the shop!
Those wires near the ceiling allow them to hang bunches of grapes there
in an effort to dehydrate the fruit.
They make a dessert wine from these and the wine is somewhat along the lines
of a Banyuls or Maury.
in the once-famous region of Cahors have become jealous of the 'fame and
fortune' garnered by vintners in Argentina with the Malbec grape.
You see, from their perspective, Malbec's home is in France's Southwest
region of Cahors.
The wines of the Cahors region, about 60 miles north of Toulouse
(and 2+ hours' drive east of Bordeaux) has long been known for its deep red
wine. It was, we understand, on the table during the wedding celebration
of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Hank-the-Second (around the year 1152...and we were
not invited!). Pope John the 22nd was born in Cahors and it was his
Sacramental wine. Russian Emperor Peter The First was a fan
of Cahors wines (this was around the late 1600s, early 1700s).
Cahors wines were darker and deeper in color than Bordeaux way back when...and
it was described as "the black wine of Cahors."
The region experienced a disaster in 1956...winter frosts (like they have frost
in the summer?) killed off the vineyards. Growers replanted in the
following years and the Malbec grape (also known as Côt or Côt Noir and even
as Auxerrois, which is truly confusing since in Alsace, Auxerrois is a white
grape!) became more greatly entrenched in Cahors.
The La Coustarelle estate is a bit below the radar of most French wine
aficionados. The property is owned by Michel and Nadine Cassot and they're
in the village of Prayssac next to an on-the-radar property called Clos de Gamot.
We usually have two wines from La Coustarelle. The 'regular' bottling is
approximately 80% Malbec, tempered with Merlot. It's a good, medium-bodied
red wine showing hints of dark fruits and a faint minty/woodsy character.
The "Reserve" bottling is called "Cuvée Prestige" and this
is usually 90% Malbec with 10% Tannat. As you might imagine, it's a
bigger, more structured wine. But it's not especially astringent as the
Cassot family does a great job with the vinification and maturation of the
wine. Small oak gives a really attractive wood component. It's
medium+ to full-bodied.
The Cassot family in their tasting room at La Coustarelle.
These days Caroline Cassot is running the domaine.
Currently in stock: LA COUSTARELLE CAHORS Sold Out Presently
LA COUSTARELLE 2015 Cuvée Prestige $17.99
HERE TO SEE SOME CAHORS CUISINE...
MY LUNCH WITH THE CASSOT FAMILY
Pic Saint Loup
2019 LE LOUP DANS LA BERGERIE RED $11.99
North of Montpellier is the rising appellation of Pic Saint
Loup. One of the wineries behind this notoriety is L'Hortus and winemaker Jean
Orliac and his son François.
- They have some 67 hectares in a fantastic little valley. The
vineyards are in three parcels. The soils are quite rocky (as you can
see if you look closely at the photo).
Red grapes dominate, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah being the main
varieties. About 10% of the vineyards are devoted to white grapes,
Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne and Sauvignon Blanc accounting for those few
They have a considerable number of stainless steel tanks for the fermentation
and clarification of the various L'Hortus wines. The top cuvée are given
some time in small oak.
They make a nice range of wines, red to white and rosé.
Apparently someone needed more "wood" in their white wine, so they
gnawed on the bench outside the Orliac's residence.
Winemaker Philippe Fezas of Chiroulet
word "chiroulet" refers to a whistling sound, a sound one might
hear as the wind whistles over the hills and dales of this Gascony
The property is owned by the Fezas family, with Philippe at the
helm. He not only makes wines and brandies (they are in the region
famous for Armagnac, after all!), but also represents the barrel-making
firm of Seguin-Moreau.
The Fezas family makes both white and red wines of note. And their
wines seem to show a dedication to quality that's exceptional. After
visiting I sensed they'd like their wines to compete with those more
famous estates in Bordeaux.
Especially good is their Côtes de Gascogne white wine, the Cuvée Terres
Blanches. While many wines of this humble appellation are based on
Ugni Blanc or Colombard, this wine is of terrific pedigree. Fezas
blends Gros Manseng, a more "noble" grape variety that's more
commonly found in the Jurançon wines, along with Sauvignon Blanc and Ugni
"We have planted our white grape vineyards on northern facing slopes
and higher elevation sites," says Philippe. "The chalk and
limestone translates to good acidity, floral, mineral and fruit notes in
2019 is very
fine and quite flavorful. Bone dry, too. "I don't like
the green acidity in the Gros Manseng," Fezas explains.
"With time on the lees and some battonage (stirring the spent yeast
sediment), I can create a wine of greater complexity."
The wine displays some citrusy notes, but you can also sense that
underlying minerality and chalky quality. Though he is a big fan of
barrel aged wines, oak is not found in this white wine. The fruit is
in the spotlight. We like this quite a bit as an aperitif
wine, especially with nibbles such as sushi. But it pairs handsomely
with seafood, too.
We have had their basic Red wine. It is a blend of Merlot,
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and about 10% Tannat. The wine
displays remarkable finesse and elegance while costing a mere fourteen bucks. Very fine!
But currently we have their 2015 "Reserve" red in stock and this
wine is easily comparable to similarly priced (and more costly) reds from
Philippe works for a famous barrel-building company, Seguin-Moreau.
In his gig with them he visits all the top estates in Bordeaux to sell
barrels. As a result he's been able to pick up the tricks of the trade
in growing grapes and vinifying and aging red wine. These contacts
have helped improve the Chiroulet wines and these are some of the best kept
make a seriously fine dry white called La Cote d'Heux. It's Gros Manseng
matured for a brief period in well-seasoned oak cooperage. The oak is not
intended to impart wood to the wine but to allow them to leave the wine on the
spent yeast and to stir the lees from time to time. This is one of the
little treasures in the shop and it's known just to the 'regulars' who don't
mind venturing off the beaten path.
Currently in stock: 2020 Chiroulet Côtes de
Gascogne Blanc $13.99
2016 Chiroulet Côtes de
Gascogne Rouge "Reserve" $19.99
La Cote d'Heux White Wine Sold Out
We usually also have Chiroulet's Floc de Gascogne, a lovely white aperitif
CHÂTEAU du CÈDRE
the name "Cahors" to most fans of French wines and they'll
immediate associate the name with "the black wine" of
Cahors. That's because many years ago the wines of this appellation
in the southwest were much darker than those made in nearby Bordeaux.
Malbec, or "Cot" as it's known in the region, is the predominant
variety. We've periodically had the wines of the Verhaeghe family, Château
du Cèdre, here in the shop. The wines have typically been
deeply-colored, muscular, mildly astringent, somewhat coarse wines.
Some vintages are more "plump" and balanced than
This estate is located due west of the city of Cahors. The
Verhaeghe family farms about 27 hectares of vineyards, all but two of them
being red varieties. That means "Cot," though they have a
bit of Merlot and Tannat (half of the white vineyards are
Viognier!). Brothers Pascal and Jean-Marc run the domaine, the
former having done some "industrial espionage" at Napa's
Saintsbury winery as an "intern."
The wines, to my taste, have been improving and evolving in a nice
direction, although they seem plagued with over-ripe fruit for a vintage
or two. This winery is viewed by many as the reference point for
Their wines display the dark color one hears about Cahors wines as
having. The 2011 displayed a touch of toast and a hint of wood which
has been their style for about a decade now. It's 90% Malbec, with
equal parts of Merlot and Tannat. Twenty months, or so, in small oak
barrels contributes a mildly cedary tone to the wine.
I read they've fine-tuned
their winemaking...fermenting in wood, rather than stainless steel or
cement tanks. They're doing some micro-oxygenation, according to
Pascal Verhaeghe, who told me they like the more approachable
"texture" or structure of their wines today. The
secondary, malolactic fermentation is now being done in barrel, a popular
technique which winemakers like because it "fixes" the color of
We have had the Le Cèdre Cahors, a sort of prestige bottling. The
last vintage we had was the 2011. It's made entirely of Malbec and sees a
higher percentage of new oak (80% this vintage). It has a long
period of skin contact during and after the fermentation, so the wine is
quite muscular and intense. If you want to taste a full-throttle,
pedal-to-the-metal Malbec, this is gorgeous. It's drinkable now,
especially with a steak or roast. I know our colleague John is
especially fond of this wine and customers routinely return to buy a
second bottle. It's a wine he shows people who express an interested
in a fifty-buck bottle of Napa Cabernet, but perhaps they want to try
something a bit unknown...
make an entry level wine called "Heritage" and this is
predominantly Malbec. We understand they blend in a small amount of
Merlot, though we couldn't possibly discern this when we tasted it.
The 2016 is a deep, dark red...full-bodied and young. Be sure to pair it
with savory, soulful cuisine. It's not intended for cellaring...
By the way...we were surprised to see the word "Malbec" on the
back label, but it seems the appellation laws changed recently to allow
this on bottles of Cahors. The producers had lobbied the French
government for this change, since they were having trouble getting
recognized alongside competitors from Argentina.
They make a wine labeled "GC" for "grand cru," but the
wine, for our taste, is well "over the top." It's big and
brawny, for sure, but the oak takes center stage and it's, for us, merely
a show-piece for wine critics.
For wine drinkers, it's too much...too big and too palate-fatiguing.
Never mind the price.
- NOTE: The more recent bottlings we tasted
displayed elements of cooked fruits or jam...we will wait until we taste
some Cedre wines which show better balance of fruit...ripe, but not
Currently in stock: CHÂTEAU du CÈDRE 2011
"Le Prestige" CAHORS Sold Out
CHÂTEAU du CÈDRE 2016 "Heritage" Cahors $14.99
CHATEAU du CÈDRE "LE CÈDRE" 2011 Cahors Sold Out
- DOMAINE ILARRIA
- The vineyard
land in this south-west appellation struck me as rather rugged, perched on
steep hills and worked by rugged individuals. I suppose it's little
wonder, then, that the wines of the Irouleguy area are some of the most
"sturdy" in France and they're a galaxy apart from today's modern,
internationally-styled wines so prevalent thanks to point-counting
You're in the Pyrénées and Basque Country when visiting producers of
Irouleguy. The language is different, the people are wonderfully
different and the wines, thank goodness, are different.
Domaine Ilarria is owned by Peio Espil, one of the top vintners in the
region, not that there are hundreds. In fact, most of the wine of the
appellation is made by the local growers' cooperative. Most of the
production from the region stays at home...only 10% is exported. But
then, when you think about it, not many foreigners probably have a palate to
appreciate this sort of wine. They make a rosé, for example, which is
screamingly dry and tart.
Here's a wine based on the Tannat grape that's "tempered" with
Cabernet Franc (yikes!), so it pairs well with red meats, duck, etc.
The word "austere" comes to mind as a good descriptor. I
like the 2016 from Ilarria. It's big, moderately herbal and I found
the Cabernet Franc to give much of the aroma in this wine. If you're a
fan of Madiran and Cahors wines from the Southwest, you might consider
trying a bottle of Irouleguy. The 2016 is best paired with
well-seasoned red meats or game.
Some people liken this wine to a good, sturdy Cab Franc from the
Loire. I find it a bit more aggressive, but can understand the
American wine geeks visiting the Ilarria cellar.
Peio Espil in explains cultivating Tannat and Cabernet vines in Basque
Country. The vines, just 6 miles from the Spanish border, are
cultivated organically because Espil says the indigenous yeast on the
grapes is 'stronger' or more capable of a complete fermentation.
Yields are rather small in an effort to maximize quality.
A recent vintage of Ilarria...
Here's an antique bottle of Irouleguy...a 1928!
Currently in stock: 2016 ILARRIA
The next generation of winemakers...
Southwest region is a marvelously rich viticultural area, dominated by
Bordeaux. Everything else in the region stands in the shadows of the
sweet wines of Sauternes and the majestic Cabernet and Merlot-based wines
of the Medoc, Graves, Pomerol and Saint-Emilion.
But for people who look closely at their enological radar screens, you can
locate some amazingly good wines. Those of the Jurançon can be
remarkably good and yet few of our customers even know these exist.
First, there's often confusion with the wines of the Jura in the Alps and
the wines of the Jurançon from the Pyrenees. The wines are worlds
Most famous in the Jurançon appellation are the sweet wines. But
there are some very good dry wines to be found, as well. These are
usually a bit austere for the American palate, frankly.
Charles Hours is one of the leading lights in the region and a winemaker
to watch. He owns a famous little vineyard called Clos Uroulat,
which we've had in the shop for several years.
Hours took over the domain in 1983 and had 3.5 hectares of
vineyards. Over the past two decades his holdings have increased and
he now tends, with the help of his young daughter Marie, something like 14
Happily, there's no Chardonnay here. Instead you'll find the
vineyards devoted predominantly to Petit Manseng for the sweet wine and
Gros Manseng and a tiny bit of Petit Courbu for the dry wine.
their Uroulat wine for a number of vintages. This is made entirely
of late-picked Petit Manseng. The harvest usually takes place in
November and the fruit attains high sugar through a drying-on-the-vine
process called passerillage. Unlike Sauternes where
they have long relied on Botrytis cinerea to shrivel the grapes, here the
fruit hangs on the vine and essentially dehydrates thanks to a warm wind
from the south. You'll hear winemakers in the Jurançon speak of the
"Foehn" winds, a dynamic where the wind blows up one side of the
mountain where it dehydrates and cools and then as it flows down the other
side, it becomes significantly warmer. This wind pattern is common
in the Jurançon and the Petit Manseng grapes are dried, concentrating the
sugar and acid.
Hours crushes the Petit Manseng and allows the juice to settle before
racking it into barrels for the fermentation. He's sensitive to the
character and quality of the juice each vintage, but generally employs
about 25% new wood for the wine. It's typically bottled after nearly
a year in oak, enough time to take a touch of wood, but not so much that
the oak is a prominent feature of the wine.
Uroulat is a delicious wine with fruit desserts, but it also shines when
paired with baked apples, apple pie, white cakes, poached pears,
etc. In the Southwest, though, you'll find this wine being partnered
with foie gras at the start of a meal, too.
dry wine from Monsieur Hours is remarkably good and quite complex. It's made primarily of Gros
Manseng which gives the wines it backbone and crisp structure.
There's about 10% of Courbu in this which Hours says contributes a measure
of finesse. Whatever the blend, it's a good one! We like the
hint of toasty oak here, too. The wine displays a fantastic aroma,
reminding us of peach and citrus. It's quite dry and austere on the
palate, but there's a bit of weight to the
wine. Try it with seafood.
Currently in stock: CUVÉE MARIE JURANÇON SEC
2013 UROULAT JURANÇON $31.99 (750ml)
- The wines of Jurançon are largely unknown except by a very few
connoisseurs who likely appreciate not only the quality of wines from this
southwest French wine region, but also the relatively good value.
Well in the shadow of the famous Bordeaux wines from Sauternes, Jurançon
is a tiny blip on the radar if it even registers.
The area might be somewhat more prominent today had the area gotten more
attention when a vigneron from the Loire invested in vineyards in this
Basque region. He made a couple of vintages, but died in a plane
accident and while there has been wine made after Didier Dagueneau's
passing, you rarely hear about these wines.
Clos Guirouilh is a tiny domaine with Jean Guirouilh at the helm.
He's an old-timer and has passed the torch to his daughter
Marie-Françoise and her husband who carry the flag proudly.
The wine is a blend of Petit Manseng (25%) and Gros Manseng. They
will make several passes through the vineyard during harvest season to
select grapes at optimum maturity. And the vineyards are on steep
slopes so this work is not a day at the beach.
The wine has notes of honey and dried apricots with about 85 grams of
residual sugar and ample acidity to balance.
Currently in stock: 2015 CLOS GUIROUILH
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