Claribès Wins Bronze at IWC

June 15, 2010

Congratulations to Helen and Nick at Chateau Claribès in Gensac near Sainte Foy whose latest wine – Vieille Vigne Malbec – has just been awarded a Bronze Medal at the International Wine Challenge in London.  This award follows stars from the renowned French wine guide the Guide Hachette and goes to prove that British winemakers are pleasing palates on both sides of the channel!  You can visit Helen and Nick’s organic vineyard, taste their wines and stay in the gite next door to the Chateau – click here for details.

Loire Reds: a blind tasting

April 11, 2010

La Manche Wine Circle blind tasting, last night: A rough comparison of the main Loire red sub-regions from recent vintages (2005 to 2009), wines from Anjou Brissac, Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil, Bourgueil, Saumur Champigny and Chinon – plus an ‘intrus’ from Cheverny. Once again Chateau de la Varière was the panel’s coup de coeur closely followed by Christophe Baudry’s Chinon – Domaine de la Morandiere. Bronze goes to the ’05 Bourgueil – Domaine du Carroi.

2006 Château la Varière Anjou-Villages Brissac

Black red sombre robe with crystal clear highlights – no signs of ageing. Ripe, rich, sweet black fruit – far more complex and concentrated than the others in the flight with hints of cherry tobacco, vanilla, pepper and confiture. Velvety smooth on the well-balanced palate with a pleasant bitterness on a medium-long finish. Great food wine with the potential to age well – a real Bordeaux-beater! IH (84 pts.)

Chateau de la Variere’s 15th-century cellar

2008 Domaine de la Morandière Chinon

Very dark red, ruby rim and good legs. Tingly ‘bonbons’ aromas at first then sweet, ripe fruit. Almost a Burgundy-style nose. Nice balanced palate, good acidity; refreshing and clean. One to keep 2-3 years. PH (80 pts.)

2005 Domaine du Carroi Cuvée Tradition Bourgueil

Darkest of all the wines in the flight – viscous. Concentrated, ripe blackcurrant fruit with cedar and fresh coltsfoot. An easy-drinker with soft tannins. Another good BBQ wine with enough weight to go well with char-grilled meats and spicy marinades. Drinking well now. DG (78 pts.)

2009 Sylvain Bruneau Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil La Croix Blanche

Very young, dark black cherry with big legs. Black fruit and white pepper over a robust alcohol giving pleasant amylic and menthol aromas and a hint of cedar. Very juicy acidity – one to keep 1-2 years to reveal its potential. IH (75 pts.)

2007 François Cazin (Le Petit Chambord) Cheverny

Ruby robe with a bright rim. Lovely, perfumed red fruit on the nose with a hint of the spice cupboard. Green, herbal, feminine. Pleasing crushed redcurrants and greengage on a medium palate. A very pleasant summer BBQ wine to drink now – the scoring was probably brought down 5-10 points by putting this pinot/gamay blend in a flight of cabernets. DA (71 pts.)

2008 les hauts buits Saumur-Champigny

Mid-red robe, thin. Nice blackcurrant fruit on the nose like weak Ribena but a tad one-dimensional. Very soft palate – a passable breakfast wine! GT (70 pts.)

No surprise to find the 100% cabernet sauvignon Brissac at the top of list for a panel with ‘Bordeaux’ tastes. A first time for a Cheverny for most of the panel and this pinot/gamay wine was easily identified as the odd one out – its relatively low score reflects this but it’s not a bad little wine at all and it went very well with the Thai-style marinated prawns in chilli. The bigger wines from Chinon and Anjou were perfect accompaniments to a hearty Catalan lamb casserole.

French Vineyards selected by the Guide Hachette des Vins 2010

April 1, 2010

Surprise, surprise! Over forty wines from the book “French Vineyards” have been selected by the 2010 edition of France’s wine Bible – the Guide Hachette. Serge Dubard’s wonderful red Pécharmant, Les Farcies du Pech’ 2007, is very worthy of its three stars – well done Serge and the team. Nine reds, whites and sparklers won two stars; in total the French Vineyards entries get 39 stars! You can stay at all these award-winning wineries and taste and buy their delicious wines at the cellar door – click on the winery’s name for all the details…




Reds – three stars

Château les Farcies du Pech’ Pécharmant 2007 ***





Reds – two stars

Domaine Borgnat, Bourgogne, Coulanges-la-vineuse 2007 **

Château Bujan, Côtes-de-bourg 2007 **

Domaine de l’Europe, Mercurey ‘Les Chazeaux’ 2007 **

Château Ricardelle, Languedoc La Clape ‘Blason’ 2007 **

Château Richelieu, Fronsac 2006 **

Reds – one star

Château Bellevue-Gazin, Premières-côtes-de-blaye 2007 *

Château le Bourdieu, Médoc 2006 *

Domaine de Clapier, Vaucluse 2006 *

Domaine Gayda, Pays d’Oc, ‘Syrah’ 2007 *

Domaine Lucien Jacob, Gevrey-chambertin 2007 *

Domaine des Marrans, Fleurie ‘Terroir du Pavillon’ 2007 *

Mas du Soleilla, Languedoc La Clape ‘Les Bartelles’ 2007 *

Château Monlot, Saint-émilion grand cru 2006 *

Château Pierre de Lune, Saint-émilion grand cru 2006 *

Château de Pintray, Côtes-de-castillon 2006 *

Domaine des Caves du Prieuré, Sancerre 2007 *

Domaine du Roncée, Chinon ‘Clos des Marronniers’ 2007 *

Château Saint-Estève de Néri, Côtes-du-luberon ‘Grande Réserve’ 2007 *

Reds – citation

Abbaye de Saint-Hilaire, Coteaux-varois-en-provence, ‘Cuvée du Prieur’ 2006

Les Amants de la Vigneronne, Faugères, ‘de Chair et de Sang’ 2007

Domaine de Beauséjour, Chinon 2007

Domaine de Bournet, Coteaux de l’Ardèche, ‘Cuvée Notre Dame des Songes’ 2007

Château Sartre, Côtes-de-bourg 2007

Le Clos de Caveau, Vacqueyras, ‘Fruit Sauvage’ 2006

Domaine Désertaux-Ferrand, Beaune 1er Cru Les Sceaux 2006

Domaine Désertaux-Ferrand, Côtes-de-nuits-villages ‘Les Perrières’ 2006

Château Pesquié, Côtes-du-ventoux ‘Terrasses’ 2007

Whites – two stars

Domaine Agapé, Alsace Riesling, ‘Isa’ 2007 **

Thierry Violot-Guillemard, Auxey-duresses 1er cru Les Reugnes 2007 **

Whites – one star

Château de Claribès, Sainte-foy-bordeaux 2008 *

Horcher, Alsace Riesling, ‘Cuvée Sélection’ 2007 *

Château de la Tuilerie, Costières-de-nîmes 2007 *

Whites – citation

Château Carbonneau, Sainte-foy-bordeaux, ‘Cuvée Margot Sauvignon blanc’ 2008

Domaine Guillot-Broux, Mâcon-villages Cruzille ‘Les Perrières’ 2006

Halbeisen, Alsace grand cru Altenberg-de-bergheim Gewurztraminer 2007

Château de Melin, Saint-romain ‘Sous Chateau’ 2007

Château de Pitray, Montlouis-sur-loire sec 2007

Rosés – one star

Domaine de Garbelle, Coteaux-varois-en-provence 2008 *

Rosés – citation

Domaine de Saint-Ferréol, Coteaux-varois-en-provence 2008

Sparking – two stars

Domaine du Clos de l’Épinay, Vouvray, Brut 2006 **

Pierson-Whitaker, Champagne ‘Réserve’ **

Read about them all in the book “French Vineyards” by Alastair Sawday’s.

Beat the Taxman – How to buy direct and save £££s Q&A

March 25, 2010
Q: Why is wine still so much more expensive in the UK compared to wine in France?
A: Bottled wine is expensive to transport and heavily taxed by the UK government – even more so after yesterday’s ‘misery’ budget which adds another 10p of excise duty to the cost of a bottle.
Q: How much tax do I pay on a bottle of wine bought in the UK?

A: For a wine selling at say £4.99 in the supermarket, £2.45 of the cost is gobbled up buy Customs and Excise and the Vatman. At £3.99 the tax accounts for nearly 58% of the shelf price!

Q: That’s just at the cheaper end – what about more expensive ‘Fine Wines’?

A: Duty is a fixed tax, at present about £1.70 per bottle. The more you up-spend, the lower the proportion of alcohol duty. But, for a bottle priced at £15.99, you’re still paying over £4 in duty and VAT – over a quarter of the bottle price.

Q: So, if I spend £4.99 I’m only getting £2.55-worth of wine?

A: No, not even as much as that! Transportation, storage, and intermediaries’ margins take a slice out of the retail price, typically marking-up the winemaker’s cost price by at least 20%. For a £4.99 bottle this amounts to about 50p, so your £4.99 claret in really only worth £2!

Q: I’m spending five quid and only getting two quid’s worth! Can’t I dodge the taxman and the middlemen by buying mail-order?

A: Well, you can call a friendly winemaker overseas and ask them to send you a couple of cases through the post. Typically the duty is rarely collected on small quantities of wine sent to a private, domestic address but the transportation costs will add £4 or £5 to the per bottle price. And unless you know the wine and the vintage well, you might be disappointed with what you receive – plus breakages and corked bottles are difficult to replace.

Q: OK, you’ve got me… I’m not rich but life’s too short to drink bad wine – what’s the solution?

A: Go to France! They built a tunnel remember! The vineyards of the Loire, Champagne and Northern Burgundy are all well within reach for a weekend trip so you can buy your delicious dessert wines, festive fizz, favourite Chablis and rare red Burgundies at the cellar door. And taste them before you part with your hard-earned cash!

Q: Sounds good, but the French have duty and VAT n’est ce pas (see I’m already in the mood…)?

A: Yes, there is a tax on French wine but it’s only a few centimes per bottle (indicated, for French sales, by the little ‘Marianne’ stamp on the top of the cork capsule). VAT (or TVA) in France is currently at 19.6% but this is payable on only the cellar door price and the much, much smaller wine tax. So, your £4.99 wine from Tesco should cost about £2.40, all taxes paid, if you buy it at source.

Q: Ooh La La! La Belle France beckons! But how much wine do I have to buy to justify the cost of the trip?

A: You’ll be saving between £2.50 and £4.40 per bottle if you buy in the £4.99 to £14.99 range (in UK price terms), more if you go for Grands Crus Classés and expensive vintage Shampers (but you said you weren’t rich…) So, taking an average saving of, say, £3.50, six cases of wine could save you £250 – which should cover the cost of the ferry or Le Shuttle. Sharing a consignment among your friends and colleagues? Buying for a wedding party or anniversary? Twelve cases of wine should save you enough for a week’s rent in a vineyard gîte or pay for the travel, petrol and a night (or even two!) at one of the hundreds French wineries with hotel or B&B accommodation.
Q: I’m gone! How do I plan the trip? Do I need to parler Français? How do I pay for the wine? (Gosh this is exciting!!!)
A: To find the most special places to stay in France, click here. Most winemakers speak more than a little English. Most wineries accept major credit cards, and this is still the best way to get the best exchange rate and insurance for your purchases. Finally, you could buy my book “Staying at French Vineyards” – only a couple of clicks away! Bons Voyages! ;o)


Fontenay’s Medal-winning rosé

March 21, 2010

There’s something for everyone to taste in the chalet-style tasting room next-door to Château de Fontenay at Bléré on the river Cher: reds and rosés from cabernet, cot (the south’s malbec) and grolleau, sweet white chenins, bone dry sauvignons, sparkling chardonnays… The dry rosé – Les Garennes 2008 – won a gold medal at Macon last year and it’s available at the end of this month. 

After a wine tasting there’s lots to do along the valley of the Cher. In Bléré there’s an award-winning cheese maker (one of the best in France), and there are many small farms nearby where you can buy meat, eggs and vegetables ‘at the gate’. For more energetic pursuits, you can take part in harvest days, go hiking or a take a pleasant bike ride along the towpath to the beautiful renaissance château of Chenonceaux; as you reach your destination, the view from the river is spell-binding. 

Château de Fontenay le Rosé des Garennes 2008 Touraine 

A perfect example of the dry Touraine style – an intense pink robe with orange tints revealing aromas of red fruits, plum blossom and broom. Propped-up by a full, fruity mouthful of pleasure, this medal winner is the consummate accompaniment to summertime barbecues.

To book a room – or a gite – at Fontenay, click here for details…

Côtes de Bordeaux

March 11, 2010

My very good friends Chrystelle and Jean-Marc Lirand, owners of Chateau Roche-Pressac near Saint Emilion, explain the new ‘Côtes de Bordeaux’ labelling.  Here’s the video from the French TV station TF1… 

Roche-Pressac is a must for lovers of rich, mineral ‘côtes’ wines; Chrystelle is the head of the Order of the Brotherhood of Castillon Wines, and a great cook too.

The côtes vines at Chateau Roche-Pressac

Owning a French Vineyard

March 9, 2010

Caroline and Sean Feely own one of the few biodynamic wine properties in “French Vineyards”.  In an interview in today’s Telegraph they talk about how they took the plunge into the world of winemaking…

“The Feelys moved to south-west France five years ago with a toddler, Sophia, now seven, and baby Ellie in tow. In search of a house and separate gite with at least 25 acres of vines… they found exactly what they were looking for…”

 Biodynamic vines at Haut Garrigue, Saussignac

Read the full article here.

For information about staying at Haut Garrigue click here.

Decanter Bordeaux Fine Wine Encounter – Feb 20th

February 11, 2010

Taste, enjoy and learn about dream Bordeaux wines at this exceptional Encounter.  You can taste 300 fine Bordeaux wines and meet over 70 winemakers. Wine writers Oz Clarke and Michael Schuster will be there to sign their latest books as will yours truly, along with travel guide publisher and eco guru Alastair Sawday.  Yet another COMPETITION will allow one lucky winner to spend a weekend at one of my favourite wineries. It’s Chateau Carbonneau, a fabulous 19th-century manor house and Sainte-Foy Bordeaux vineyards owned by franco-kiwi couple Wilfred and Jacquie Franc de Ferriere.  Here’s a picture of the house and their beautiful Bouvier Bernois!

Mas du Soleilla wins International Trophy

October 24, 2009


Congratulations to Swiss winemakers Peter Wildbolz and Christa Derungs for winning three Decanter World Wine Awards this year including the International Trophy for their 2007 Les Bartelles, La Clape.  I’ve yet to taste the ’07 but the older vintages are superb – the vines are picked by hand, the grapes are transported in small baskets and finally sorted by hand in Peter’s chai on this ‘sunny hill’ above Narbonne Plage.  Read the judges’ tasting notes on all three winning wines on  A full tasting note for Les Bartelles to follow…

For more information about staying at Mas du Soleilla click here

IMG_5599-1Bringing in the 2008 harvest, Mas du Soleilla.

Valmengaux – Top Bordeaux!

October 24, 2009

IMG_6918Parker is a fan of Vincent Rapin’s wines, the Guide Hachette team like it, and so do I. On the 15th October, at the restaurant La Coupole in Paris, the Syndicat des Bordeaux voted Domaine Valmengaux 2007 as the ‘Top Vin’ of the Bordeaux Appellation.  I tasted it from the barrel on a freezing cold day in December last year. I was amazed by its ripeness and concentration of fruit, especially for a wine from what was a challenging harvest in the Gironde.  Hats off to Vincent (photo) – he’ll be in London on the 28th of this month with his wines at the book’s press launch at the October Gallery in Bloomsbury.  I’ll be posting a full tasting note for the ’07 very soon.

For more information about Domaine de Valmengaux and its holiday accommodation click here.