- Some Southern French Wines We Like
TO THE BACKGROUNDER PAGE of the SOUTHWEST AND SOUTH-OF-FRANCE
- DOMAINE LAFFONT
Madiran "Erigone" $19.99
DOMAINE LAFFONT Madiran "Hecate"
DOMAINE LAFFONT 2007 Pacherenc du Vic-Bihl $18.99
- The owner of this property, Pierre Speyer, must have taken the wrong exit from the
freeway in his homeland of Belgium and ended up running out of gas somewhere in Gascony.
He hasn't left Gascogne and is running a small domaine in the Madiran appellation.
Maumusson is the "center" of the Madiran universe.
As this fellow took over this property in 1993, he's just starting to
attract the attention he deserves.
Taste Monsieur Speyer's "Erigone"
bottling (Erigone seduced the Greek God of Wine, Dionysus, or so I'm told) and you'll
agree Speyer is well on his way to making a name for himself.
Here's a François Boucher painting from 1745 depicting this seduction.
The local grape is Tannat and Speyer blends some 20% of Cabernet Franc to create a deep,
dense, rich red wine. Using some new French oak barrels, Speyer offers a wine with
deep red or black fruit elements and some mocha-like notes from the wood. The wine
is rather full-bodied and is delicious with a grilled steak or rack of lamb. This
will probably cellar nicely for another 3-8 years.
"reserve" bottling is offered from time to time. Called
"Cuvée Hecate," it's named after the Greek Goddess of magic and
spells. I can certainly see why people might be entranced by this
wine! It's entirely Tannat with no "foreign" grapes getting
in the way. Speyer makes about 4,500 bottles in vintages he feels
warrant this elevated designation.
A friend of ours who did an internship at a top Bordeaux estate told us how
in blind-tastings, frequently a Madiran wine from Montus would win the
tasting over the Cabernet-based wines for the Medoc. You simply have
to taste this wine to see how much intensity, yet elegance, is on
display! Very fine now served with roasted or stewed red meats, this
probably has a number of years of cellaring potential. Very exciting.
- The white wine called Pacherenc du Vic-Bihl is about as obscure as you might hope to find. It's a marvelous wine from Gascony and is produced in both dry and sweet formats. I suspect "sweet" is the more traditional as back in 1745 the law did not permit the harvest for this wine to commence until November 4th! Recent statistics show the production of sweet wine outstrips that of dry wines in the appellation by a 2 to 1 margin.
It's made entirely of Petit Manseng, though one might blend Arrufiac, Courbu, Sauvignon Blanc and/or
Sémillon if one cared to.
Laffont's wine offers an exceptional fragrance. It's honeyed to a degree, with notes of white flower fragrances and ripe, tropical fruit. In Gascony, of course, this sort of wine is consumed with Foie Gras. Here in California, where state legislators
passed a bill to outlaw the production of Foie Gras, you might want to pair this with a rich dessert. Sheep's milk cheese is said to pair well with Pacherenc.
Barrels in the Laffont cellar.
Pierre shows off the vineyards.
Sampling the new vintages in Pierre's home.
As you can see, the color is rather intense, so please don't wear light
clothing when drinking this.
- DOMAINE BERTHOMIEU
2007 MADIRAN "Charles de Batz" Sold Out
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 Barr, 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 2007 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 Barr
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
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.
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.
Barr'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
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 $9.99
2011 Fronton Rose $9.99
FOLLE NOIRE D'AMBAT $11.99
- 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 2011 is crisp and fruity. Ten
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.
- 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
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 2010 Harmonie 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 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
2010 BIDALERE "HARMONIE" BLANC $9.99
2008 PELLEHAUT AMPELOMERYX $12.99 Last bottles...
2010 BIDALERE ROSÉ Sold Out
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 $15.99
HERE TO SEE SOME CAHORS CUISINE...
MY LUNCH WITH THE CASSOT FAMILY
2009 "Bergerie" Blanc List $16 SALE
2011 ROSÉ SALE
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.
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.
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
2011 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 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!
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: 2011 Chiroulet Côtes de
Gascogne Blanc $11.99
2008 Chiroulet Côtes de
Gascogne Rouge $13.99
La Cote d'Heux White Wine $13.99
Chiroulet "Reserve" Special Order: $18.99 per bottle - 10%
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 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
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.
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.
I was pleased to taste their "Le Cedre" bottling as well as the
"GC" (as in Grand Cru?) wines. Very showy and pretty, but
very expensive. I can probably special order the Le Cedre for you
(about $55 or $60 a bottle, I think) and the GC wine is about $120 per
bottle. Nice, but pricey!
Currently in stock: CHÂTEAU du CÈDRE 2009
"Le Prestige" CAHORS $23.99
CHÂTEAU du CÈDRE 2009 "Heritage" Cahors $14.99
- 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
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
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
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 $19.99
2009 UROULAT JURANÇON $31.99 (750ml)
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
MORE WARM-CLIMATE FRENCH