Category: Travel

Château de Pennautier, Pennautier

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon series

Chateau Pennautier, Pennautier

As with many grand houses that began in the Middle Ages, building of the house of Château de Pennautier happened in several stages. Given the enormous size of the building, it’s easy to see why.

Chateau Pennautier, Pennautier

Although the Château contains only (in the most nonchalant manner, of course) 20 bedrooms, it’s also home to a ballroom, library and themed drawing rooms that are only found in such palatial buildings. It even boasts a set of bedroom furniture that once belonged to Louis XIII, gifted to the family centuries ago.

Now the Château is part-time family residence and part-time hotel/corporate retreat/events space.

About 10 minutes gentle stroll down the well kept lawn and past the outdoor pool you’ll find the first of the vineyards but those are just for private consumption. The real vines lay elsewhere in the region.

Chateau Pennautier, Pennautier

No wine is mentioned until now because the wine making aspect of the property seems wholly separate to the rest of the estate. In fact, the estate belongs to an empire with five other properties making Lorgeril wines.

To taste the wines that are made by the estate, you need to go some way into the centre of Pennautier where a restaurant, tasting room and indeed some of the cellar is housed.

In the IGP category, or its Collection Fruitée, Lorgeril/Château de Pennautier made several varietal specific wines. The Sauvignon de Pennautier 2012 had some light minerality but very little fruit. Chardonnay de Pennautier 2012 fared much better with higher acidity and good notes of green apples.

The Cuvées Classique were only marginally better for me. De Pennautier Cabardès Rouge 2012 was austere and woody on the nose but rescued by some fruit on the palate. With a little age, the de Pennautier Cabardès Rouge 2010 seemed to offer much more fruit. Both, however, were high on the feel of alcohol.

Moving on to the Grands Vins, things got better. L’Esprit de Pennautier Cabardès 2010 had much softer tannins with a more palatable mix of red and black fruits. That is, in comparison to another wine made by Lorgeril – Domaine de Lorgeril Minervois La Livinière La Croix 2008 – which though offered much higher acidity was relatively restrained on the fruit.

The sweet wine, Le Rêve de Pennautier 2011, made to moelleux (semi-sweet), was at least a reasonable finish. With a fair balance of acidity and sweetness, it was an interesting use of 100% Chardonnay.

Spotlight on: Bergerac

Monbazillac castle, Bergerac

With the success of the, Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon series, I thought I would expand that into some of the other wine regions I’ve visited. Most recently, that was Bergerac (read my post for Yahoo here).

Lying to the east of Bordeaux, Bergerac is often seen as the younger cousin of the famous wine region. Yet in many respects, Bergerac is not like Bordeaux at all. That sentiment is shared with the winemakers – some promoted their wines as Bordeaux-style while others preferred to tout Bergerac as something entirely different.

While it’s true that the terroir of the two regions are largely similar, it’s important to note that Bergerac, being further inland, has less maritime influences.

In terms of grapes, there are similarities too. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are used in the main for reds while Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are used for whites and sweet wines. Bergerac also seems to make much bigger uses of Malbec, now more associated with Argentina, Muscadelle and even Ugni Blanc (or Trebbiano).

What is interesting about Bergerac wines is the incredible diversity in styles and approaches to winemaking. Some producers are still making that very elegant style of wine, which is too austere when drunk young; others are being influenced by the wines of the South West and using more unusual grapes in their blends; and others still are influenced almost entirely by the New World and fashioning wines for drinking today, tomorrow but probably not ten years down the line.

With that in mind, here are the few wineries I visited in Bergerac with tasting notes to be posted in the coming weeks:

Château Barouillet

Château de la Jaubertie

Château de Tiregand

Château des Eyssards

Château Moulin Caresse

Château Thénac


Château Mourgues du Grès, Beaucaire

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon series

Vineyard, Château Mourgues du Grès, Beaucaire

If you’ve ever ridden a train from Nîmes to Beaucaire, the chances are the vineyards that you’ve spotted along the way belonged to Château Mourgues du Grès. The 65 hectare family-owned estate is spread throughout Costières de Nîmes AOP and often finds itself remarkably close to the train line.

Building, Château Mourgues du Grès, Beaucaire

Undistracted by the passing trains, owner and winemaker François Collard makes full use of the varied mix of chalky, sandy and pebbly soils to create some stunning wines. But then again, he started his career at Château Lafite Rothschild.

Wine tanks, Château Mourgues du Grès, Beaucaire

Les Galets Dorés 2012 makes a good entry white wine. While simple in its citrusy notes, it’s very refreshing when served at the right temperature. The Terre d’Argence 2012 uses Viognier as the head note alongside the usual Languedoc varieties of Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache. The result is a white with surprisingly high acidity but a well rounded finish.

On the rosé, the Les Galets Rosés 2012 was showing some nice strawberry notes and while interesting, wasn’t quite for me.

The reds were the really impressive bunch. Terre de Feu 2011 was in a strange way creamy. The tannins had really softened with vanilla notes coming through hand in hand with cherry and chocolate. The Terre d’Argence 2011 was the favourite for me. Made from old vine Syrah and a touch of Grenache, the dark brambly fruits offered a seriously intense experience for the nose while restrained herbaceousness and elegance greeted the palate.

Château Les Carrasses, Quarante

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon series

Château Les Carrasses was a 19th Century wine domaine. I say was because although the main château has been fairly faithfully restored, the domaine no longer makes wines of its own.

Wine glass on Canal du Midi

Redeveloped by Bonfils in partnership with Domaine & Demeure, the estate has been turned into luxury accommodation that’s nestled in a sea of vineyards.

It’s my understanding that the estate itself is still owned privately and there is wine made on the estate for the private consumption of the owner. For the guests, the wine is supplied by the nearby Bonfils wineries such as Domaine de Cibadiès.

If you do happen to stay at Château Les Carrasses, however, there are plenty of wine related activities.

A Languedoc based company, Vin en Vancances, runs tastings and tours from the Château including a scenic tasting on the Canal du Midi. It might sound a bit fluffy, and it is extremely enjoyable, but it’s also incredibly educational. Wendy, who runs Vin en Vacances, was previously a wine educator in the UK before relocating to Languedoc back in 2009.

Château de l’Hospitalet, Narbonne

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon series

Château de l’Hospitalet is just one of the seven wine estates owned by former French rugby player Gérard Bertrand.

If you’re not a rugby fan then you might be scratching your head on this one but the chances are, you’ll probably have tried a wine from one of his estates before. They tend to be mid to high priced and pretty good quality.

At the moment, Château de l’Hospitalet is perhaps one of the most developed for wine tourism in the region. Investment has been made towards developing accommodation, restaurant, shopping and even art on-site. It also benefits from being close to the sea, though it gets pretty windy on the coast.

Sea view, Château de l'Hospitalet, Narbonne

On the wine side of things, Château de l’Hospitalet is one of the smaller estates and produces around 16k bottles per year. It’s a working number that’s set to expand as the estate grows.

The wine cellar is open for tours and tastings with seasonal staff drafted in from around the world. Case in point, the girl who led my tasting was from Wales.

The tasting started with the Art de Vivre La Clape 2012, a refreshingly acidic white. It’s citrusy but well rounded with an expressive finish.

In the same category was a rosé, also named Art de Vivre La Clape 2012. The pale salmon coloured wine was less acidic and much more fruity with strawberries on the finish.

The red in the same category, the Art de Vivre La Clape 2011, was made with the same blend as the rosé – Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. The slightly older vintage displayed red fruits and smoky overtones. It still feels herbaceous and young though.

On the pricey side was the l’Hospitalitas La Clape 2011. This deep garnet number was elegant and velvety smooth with lots of blackberries coming through. It was already drinking very well but has great potential for ageing too.

Château de Lastours, Portel-des-Corbières

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon series

Château de Lastours, Portel-des-Corbières

Château de Lastours is in a state of development. And with some 800 hectares of land, it has a lot of developing to do.

That’s one of the reasons why the estate is in a state of confusion too.

Whilst it already boasts a collection of award winning wines, the grand plan is to develop the estate into a full eno-tourism facility. The catch is, the final product is, for now at least, looking like it’s more focused on the tourism than the wine.

Of course the wine is very much part of the estate but offered alongside is a whole host of outdoor activities. That’s everything from quad-biking to off-road driving. With accommodation (chalet-style with twin room), in-villa breakfast and separate restaurant (semi-gastronomic), it’s all looking a bit corporate.

In actual fact, given the planned activities, it would be ideal for team-building and corporate days out where wine is only a minor aspect of the whole package.

On the wine side, the estate is only producing reds and rosés at present although that too is set to change. In the next couple of years, the estate, which is currently producing under capacity, will also be producing white wines.

It’s no doubt that, with all the investment into the property, the wines will continue to thrive but you won’t find a romantic story of the winemaker and his vines.

Château de Flaugergues, Montpellier

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon series

Château de Flaugergues, Montpellier

Château de Flaugergues is more grand palatial home than working winery.

The first thing to welcome you on site is the courtyard with a restaurant (Folia) and wine shop. What’s really impressive is semi-concealed by the botanical garden – the Château itself.

Bamboo forest, Château de Flaugergues, Montpellier

This was a house built for the Comte de Colbert in the centuries past and was home not only to the current Comtes, Henri Comte de Colbert, but also history and treasures brought back from and for the previous Comtes.

The estate is run in a very hands on way by the Comte de Colbert and his son, who also happens to be the wine maker.

There’s generations of tradition at Château de Flaugergues but this certainly hasn’t stopped them creating an eclectic portfolio of wines.

Case in point, their Cuvée Foliae Blanc 2012 comes in an electric blue bottle and is packed with minerality. The Cuvée Sommelière Blanc 2012 was much more elegant, showing vibrant freshness and quite a bit of (confused) complexity from its blend of five grapes.

The Cuvée Les Comtes Rosé 2012 had excellent structure for a rosé, with plenty of red fruits coming through.

The Cuvée Les Comtes Rouge 2011 showed similar structure but also offered high tannins and quite a herbaceous finish. It will certainly take to ageing a little more. In contrast, the Cuvée Sommelière Rouge 2011 showed much lower tannins while retaining fresh red fruit on the nose and palate.

Domaine Cazes, Rivesaltes

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon series

Domaine Cazes is a bridge between history and modernity in many respects.

The family owned wine company can trace its history back to 1895 when they were winemakers rather than grape growers. These days Domaine Cazes manages the whole production process, employing modern theories of organic and biodynamic viti- and viniculture under the 4th generation winemaker Emmanuelle Cazes. In fact, it’s one of the largest biodynamic and organic producers of wine in France.

The core portfolio consists of red, white, rosé and dessert wines.

The white wines were noticeably higher in acidity than wines found in Languedoc. Le Canon du Maréchal Blanc 2012 was also noticeably perfumed.

The red wines were on the austere side but only because they were requiring a lot of age. Côtes du Roussillon Villages Alter de Cazes Rouge 2009 was showing development but still too herbaceous to be easy drinking.

They also make a small quantity of rosé wines. The Côtes du Roussillon Villages Ego de Cazes Rosé 2012 was a very fruity rosé with high acidity and a hint of sulphur.

Barrels, Cazes, Rivesaltes

Its most famous offering is still its sweet wines, some of which you can see concentrating in the age-old barrels sitting in the headquarters at Rivesaltes or on the wine lists of the likes of Maison Troisgros and Hotel George V’s Le Cinq.

The Rivesaltes Ambré 1999 was a lusciously bronzed caramel liquid that’s rich with raisin on the nose with a long finish of dried apricots and great balance of sugar and acidity. The Muscat de Rivesaltes 2009 was comparatively lighter in colour with hints of elderflower on the nose. The alcohol was a little off balance leading to the sensation of tasting grappa on the palate but the overall mouthfeel is good. The Cuvée Aimé Cazes Rivesaltes 1978 was a really stunning wine. Rich with caramel and Christmas fruit and rather high in alcohol at this stage, it was rather reminiscent of a whisky.

Pork, beetroot and potatoes, Cazes, Rivesaltes

The Rivesaltes headquarters is also home to their charming restaurant La Table d’Aimé, where the day’s offerings are chalked on to a blackboard and brought to the table for guests to order from. Aimé, incidentally, was the name of Cazes’ first winemaker. The food is rustic, French but with plenty of Catalan influences.

Like its counterparts in the Languedoc-Roussillon, Cazes has also expanded its portfolio to include properties elsewhere in the region, notably Clos de Paulilles. This expansion has added contrasting wines to the portfolio.

The Les Clos de Paulilles Collioure Blanc 2012 is a much more creamy and nutty white, with medium acidity with hints of citrus fruit and green apples. The Les Clos de Paulilles Collioure Rouge 2011 was much more fruity, which helped to balance the herbaceousness. The Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls Traditionnel 2008, aged outside in glass bottles, had a velvety texture with deep amber colours and notes of caramel and toffee.

Abbaye de Valmagne, Villeveyrac

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon series

Abbaye de Valmagne can trace its history all the way back to the 12th Century when it was founded under the Benedictine order before its monks joined the Cistercian movement. Like other abbeys in the region and at the time, it was through the Cistercian movement that wine arrived at the Abbaye.

Vineyard, Abbaye de Valmagne, Villeveyrac

Now a family-owned estate, the Abbaye remains a place where you can explore the religious history of wine-making through audio guides and walking tours. There are vineyards close by but even closer are the mini-plots of vines on site that showcases the grape varieties used in the abbey’s wines.

You can do a wine tasting on site but there’s also a rustic French restaurant a short stroll away.

There’s quite a selection of wines to taste through from red, white, rosé to dessert and ranges in price.

Red wine at Abbaye de Valmagne, Villeveyrac

For the whites, the most basic Cuvee Adhemar Blanc Sec, Vin de Pays des Collines de la Moure 2012 showed low acidity with a little citrus acidity while the not too dissimilar Le Secret de Frere Nonenque Blanc, Vin de Pays des Collines de la Moure 2012 was already showing some development. The best in show for the white was the Gres de Montpellier Cuvee de Turenne Blanc 2010, which while still low on the acidity, at least showed considerably more structure with much more of the stone fruit and flinty notes coming through.

Le Secret de Frere Nonenque Rose, Vin de Pays des Collines de la Moure 2012 was the only rosé I tried and it was surprisingly nice. There were lots red fruits coming through, if not at times artificial, but if properly chilled, can be quite refreshing.

The red wines were considerably better. The Le Secret de Frere Nonenque Rouge, Vin de Pays des Collines de la Moure 2012 was heavily herbaceous and could do with some age. Coteaux du Languedoc Bernard et Benoit 2011 showed really good structure and acidity with dark berry fruits. Gres de Montpellier Cuvee de Turenne 2010 was the favourite with its wonderful bouquet of berry fruits and a well rounded finish – it’s a bit obvious but sometimes that’s good. The more aged Coteaux du Languedoc Cardinal de Bonzi 2007 has managed to retain its fresh fruits with age and should go on ageing for a few more years.

The abbey’s only sweet wine, the Aragome 2008, was quite delicate, not too cloying, with a short and dry finish.

Overall the wines weren’t as sophisticated as you might hope and there’s definitely room for improvement. They were available in the UK more than a decade ago but now it seems tastes have moved on but the abbey’s wines haven’t quite caught up yet. At least, not for the white wines. But then perhaps it’s really the history side that you’d go to see.

Abbaye de Fontfroide, Narbonne

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon series

The Abbaye de Fontfroid is an abbey near Narbonne that can trace its roots back to the Cistercian order. It was during the Cistercian period that the abbey started its wine making journey.

Now wine is only a small part of the family owned but foundation run estate, with around 80,000 bottles produced per year.

Instead, tourism has taken over as the main source of income. These days, you’re more likely to be at the Abbaye de Fontfroide for concerts and art exhibitions than for wine. In fact, for a while, the abbey operated as a sort of artists’ retreat as its then owner was very much into the arts.

You can still taste a selection of wines in its boutique or at its restaurant though, where there are 12 wines to choose from.

The Ocellus Blanc 2012 was a little off balance with noticeably high alcohol but only a little citrus fruit and minerality coming to its rescue. The Deo Gratias Rouge 2o10 was much more palatable with vibrant red fruits coming through though it could be a little more elegant.

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