Monday, February 02, 2009

A taste of the warm south - but white

Don't know why, but on one of the chilliest weekends in recent years, we've by-passed red wines and been sipping and supping white wines, all from southern France. It's a vast and varied region, and as with the reds, trying to pigeon-hole them under one banner is somewhat difficult. But the best do have something in common. I'm not talking here about the many varietal Chardonnays and Sauvignons - they're perfectly adequate Ronseal wines, (they do what they say on the labels) but they seldom set the pulse racing. No, the real excitement is in those rather wacky grapes such as Marsanne, Roussanne, Rolle (aka Vermentino), Bourboulenc and Grenache Blanc. These grapes aren't out-and-out fruity and in-yer-face, but planted in the right place, but the right grower, they make wines that intrigue rather than assault, and can compete on complexity terms with some of France's finest whites. And where once they wobbled and keeled over with a couple of years of vintage, today they're happy to spend a number of years in bottle.

Friday saw us on 2005 Château Gravade Minervois, Languedoc (£7.95 Vintage Roots)

It's a blend of Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, pepped up with 10% Muscat à Petits Grains, and then partially oak-aged. The result is a wine that manages to be rich, yet remain fresh and sappy, with the citrus flavours boosted by notes of vanilla, herbs and honey overtones. Good by itself, but also a decent cheeseboard white.

Saturday saw us climb to the 2006 Domaine d’Aupilhac Coteaux du Languedoc Montpeyroux Blanc Les Cocalières (£17.35 Berry Bros & Rudd)

Sylvain Fadat has been at the forefront of the Languedoc red revolution for several years, but he's no slouch on the white front either. Les Cocalières is equal shares of Marsanne, Rolle, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, fermented and aged in old barrels of varying sizes. It's still a pup, but its already awash with character - white pepper, honey, quince, dried apricots and more, with freshness and minerality coming through on the finish. Good now, better in a couple of years - move quickly if you'd like to try it as supplies are limited.

If Les Cocalières was the wine for tomorrow, then the 2005 Domaine des Anges Côtes du Ventoux l’Archange (£9.95 The Big Red Wine Company) was absolutely perfect for today.

Château de Beaucastel’s fabulous Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes is the benchmark for oak-aged Roussanne, but here's an excellent alternative for a fraction of the price, rich in smoky pearskin and peach flavours, with oatmeal and honey on the finish, and some of that classic spent-match character (is it minerality, is it barrel related?) that you find in top white Burgundies. Three great wines, one great weekend.

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