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DOMAINE BERTHOMIEU
2010 MADIRAN "Charles de Batz" $19.99
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.



The Berthomieu estate has been around since 1850.  The sixth generation, Didier Barre, runs the show.  He has about 26 hectares of vineyards, predominantly in red grapes.  Tannat is king, of course.  But Didier has Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux, after all, is not too far north) and Fer Servadou.  

We have a dynamite 2010 vintage in stock.  This is a wine that is so dark, you'll have trouble assessing its clarity.  We mean dark, deep, intense and 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
Barre uses 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 known.


But, be warned: Not for those who drink fruity California Chardonnays or basic Beaujolais.

The estate also produces a dynamite dry white called "Pacherenc du Vic Bihl."  This is a white wine that's well under the radar.  Quality of this sort of wine has escalated nicely over the past decade, or so.  I was enchanted by this wine when it was in tank in the winter of 2006.  Part of the total production is vinified in wood, part in stainless steel.

Barre's blend is quite good.  This wine features 50% Gros Manseng, 25% Petit Manseng and 25% Petit Courbu.  The wine in bottle is exceptional and even better than I tasted previously.  There's a wonderful citrusy note to the nose with a bit of a woodsy element.  There are floral aspects here with some herbal undertones.  And then the wood chimes in with a bit of harmony to produce a remarkably interesting and delicious dry white.  ((There are sweet versions of Pacherenc...this is not one of those!))



Didier served 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 $9.99
FOLLE NOIRE D'AMBAT $12.99

ch_le_roc.gif (7340 bytes)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 is 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 2012 is crisp and fruity.  Ten bucks, too!

 


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 vermouth-styled wine.


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.

 

CHATEAU BARREJAT

Denis Capmartin is a fourth generation vintner and he's been running the Barrejat estate since the early 1990s.

The property is something like 25 miles north and a tad to the east of Pau, the "big city" in France's Southwest.

Capmartin takes care of 27 hectares of vineyards, with 6 devoted to white grapes and the rest to their various Madiran bottlings.  

They have some extraordinarily old vines on the estate, with the claim that some plants are 200 years old.

The grape taking the spotlight here is the Tannat, a variety which is said to take its name from the fruit being quite tannic and aggressive.  Barrejat's wine, though, is remarkably graceful, smooth and elegant.  And we're talking about their 2011 vintage, a young wine to be sure, but it's rather supple and even a bit silky on the palate!

Capmartin actually tames the tannin of the Tannat by blending a fair bit of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon into the wine.  The wine is kept in neutral containers and old oak foudres for about a year and a half, yet we find an handsome, mildly woodsy tone to this vintage.
This is $15 well spent!
 

Currently in stock:  2011 CHATEAU BARREJAT MADIRAN  $14.99

 

 

 

PELLEHAUT -- BIDALERE
The Beraut family owns this modest estate near Montreal-du-Gers, a terrific little village in the vast Southwest region of France.  Gascony is the appellation here.  We've had the wines with the Pellehaut label for many years, but the family had some importer sweet-talk them into letting him use it exclusively and so now the wines arrive with an alternate label called "Bidalere."  Different label, but same, terrific wine and good value, as always.


We're fans of their Ténarèze Armagnac, a lovely, well-aged spirit that rests in barrels out in an old cellar in one part of the domaine.  I can't tell if they actually sell much of their brandies, since they have so many old barrels.  


Mathieu Beraut did internships at Bordeaux's Château Beychevelle and California's Au Bon Climat.  He, quite clearly, took good notes as he's making wines of exceptional quality.  Over the past few years the quantity of wine sold under the Pellehaut label, rather than in bulk to negociants in France, has increased.  Little wonder.  Taste their wines, look at the price tags and you'll quickly understand why this is such a delightful source of good wines!

Today the estate comprises some 180 hectares of vineyards.  They make a lot of white wine, as only 25 hectares are in red grapes.  You'll find varieties such as Chardonnay and Merlot, but also Gros Manseng, Colombard, Ugni Blanc and Tannat here.


The Beraut brothers...Mathieu and Martin.

The 2011 Bidalere white wine is delicious!  It's a super value and the wine terrific, so don't think since it's modestly-priced, it's no good.  The wine is of similar quality to good Verdejos from Spain or Grüner Veltliner from Austria.  Don't miss it.

The Pellehaut "basic" red, selling for $9.99, is a nice woodsy wine.  It is actually matured in both French and American oak.  I find more of the American on the nose, though Mathieu says only 10% was in such wood.  This is a blend of Merlot, Syrah, Tannat and Cabernet.  It's sold out presently under any label.

Bidalere Rosé is very fine.  It's made of Tannat, Syrah and Merlot and is dry and shows lovely cherry/herbal/berry fruit.  And it's affordable, as usual.  2010 vintage.


Ampelomeryx.  
Huh?
Ampelomeryx is some sort of pre-historic animal thought by paleontologists from the Museum of Natural History in Toulouse to have roamed Gascony and environs millions of years ago.  It was something like half deer and half giraffe.
So, Mathieu makes a fantastic dry white wine using both Gros and Petit Manseng along with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  There's a lot of apricot and peach fruit on the nose and some nice toasty oak.  Affordably priced, too!  The first shipment was quite popular...we're waiting for more.

Currently in stock: 
2006 PELLEHAUT "HARMONIE ROUGE" Sold Out
2011 BIDALERE "HARMONIE" BLANC Sold Out
2008 PELLEHAUT AMPELOMERYX $12.99  Sold Out
2010 BIDALERE ROSÉ Sold Out

 

 

CHÂTEAU LA COUSTARELLE

Wineries 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.


Currently in stock:  LA COUSTARELLE CAHORS $11.99
LA COUSTARELLE Cuvée Prestige  $16.99

CLICK HERE TO SEE SOME CAHORS CUISINE...
MY LUNCH WITH THE CASSOT FAMILY

 

 

 
 


L'HORTUS

2011 "Bergerie" Blanc List $16  SALE $13.99
2012 ROSÉ SALE $12.99

l'hortus.gif (964 bytes)
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 hectares.


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. 

 

The Bergerie Blanc is a magnificent dry white wine.  The 2009 is a bit less Rhone-ish than last year's wine.  I'd describe this as showing more apple and pear, rather than the peach and citrus.  Still, it's nice.  Dry.

Oak is not a major part of the wine.  Actually, come to think of it, it's not a minor part, either.


Apparently someone needed more "wood" in their white wine, so they gnawed on the bench outside the Orliac's residence.





 

 

DOMAINE CHIROULET

The word "chiroulet" refers to a whistling sound, a sound one might hear as the wind whistles over the hills and dales of this Gascony estate.  

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 Blanc.  

"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 the wine.  

The 2012 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."  
Indeed.

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 currently have the 2008 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!  

They 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.

MORE CHIROULET PHOTOS

Currently in stock:  2012 Chiroulet Côtes de Gascogne Blanc $11.99
2008 Chiroulet Côtes de Gascogne Rouge $13.99
La Cote d'Heux White Wine Sold Out

Chiroulet "Reserve"  Special Order: $18.99 per bottle - 10% case discount

We usually also have Chiroulet's Floc de Gascogne, a lovely white aperitif wine.   

 

 

 

 

 



CHÂTEAU du CÈDRE

Say 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 others.  

This estate is located due west of the city of Cahors.   The Verhaeghe family farms about 25 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.  They have the dark color one hears about Cahors wines as having.  The 2004 displays a touch of toast and a hint of wood which I didn't find until the 2002 vintage.  

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 the wine.

We sometimes carry the "Le Prestige" bottling from du Cèdre.  As mentioned, the 2007 is a deeply-colored wine and the fragrance displays lots of black fruit notes...blackberry, dark plum, etc., along with a nice woodsy note.  This may be cellared for several more years, but drinking it now, with well-seasoned red meats, for example, will show off this wine magnificently.

They 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 2009 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.


The "Le Cedre" Cahors is magnificent.  It's made entirely of Malbec and it's matured in small French oak barrels, typically about 80% of the cooperage being brand new.  The wine is massive, bigger than most Bordeaux from a warm vintage.
You can put this on the table in place of a good fifty-buck Napa Cabernet, too.  

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.

Currently in stock:  CHÂTEAU du CÈDRE 2009 "Le Prestige" CAHORS  $23.99
CHÂTEAU du CÈDRE 2009 "Heritage" Cahors  $14.99
CHATEAU du CEDRE "LE CEDRE"  $49.99




 

 




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 world.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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 2009 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 2009 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 comparison.
 
  
Mrs. Espil.



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:  2009 ILARRIA "Irouleguy"  $17.99 


The next generation of winemakers...

 





CHARLES HOURS

France's 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 apart!  

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 hectares.

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.

We've had 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.

The 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 $19.99
2009 UROULAT JURANÇON  $31.99 (750ml)





DOMAINE BRU-BACHÉ

Founded by Uncle Georges Bru-Baché in the 1960s (or possibly even earlier), this famous winery is today operated by nephew Claude Loustalot.

The estate comprises some 10 hectares of vines and makes 6 different wines.  Many of the wines, I understand, are fermented in barrel.

We've had their seriously sweet Jurancon in stock, but currently have  the 2010 Jurancon "Moelleux" styled wine.  It's, we understand, Gros Manseng and made of fruit that's been dried a bit to further intensify the sugar.  With the fairly high level of acidity in the wine, this comes across as lightly sweet, but not nearly as sugary as a Sauternes or seriously late-harvested wine.


Currently in stock: 2010 BRU-BACHE JURANCON $21.99








 

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