Category: Sweet Wine

Domaines Paul Mas, Montagnac

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

There was a time when, as a thank you, a wine friend gifted me a trio of wines. One of them was from Paul Mas.

At the time, I didn’t know very much about wines. Anything at all, really. But the wine had come very highly recommended and, as it had turned out, was pretty good.

Fast forward a few years and I was visiting Domaines Paul Mas for the first time. It had become a brand that was extremely interesting from a market perspective.

Paul Mas, Montagnac

Despite being incredibly widely available – around eight million bottles are produced a year and some 97% of the production is exported – it also happens to be incredibly well regarded. It has, perhaps, a lot to do with the owner, Jean-Claude Mas’ philosophy that Domaines Paul Mas should be all about every day luxury.

Paul Mas, Montagnac

The story started in 2000 when Jean-Claude Mas inherited 35 hectares of land from his family. Mas, a bit of a marketing whiz, quickly created various labels of good quality wines that are a fun representation of the brand. For Australia for example, where Domaines Paul Mas is the biggest import wine brand, he launched Arrogant Frog to great success.

Though the quality of the wine was good, the prices weren’t astronomical. And though the overall production was huge, each individual label was small enough to garner a boutique cult status. The combination of good wine, good price and good marketing has led to rapid expansion at Domaines Paul Mas.

These days Paul Mas has expanded to more than 400 hectares all over Languedoc-Roussillon comprised of its own vineyards as well as those of its partners.

Has the quality suffered?

Not at the top end but the difference between that and the more basic range is certainly noticeable. But trading on the Domaines Paul Mas brand, they continue to do incredibly well.

The success of the wines have helped Mas indulge in his big love of Japan. Mas has even donated to the rescue efforts at Fukushima. The result can be seen in a thank you letter proudly displayed at his Japanese/French restaurant, Côté Mas.

It was at the restaurant that I tasted a bigger selection of his wines, with food.

Starting with a sparkling, I tasted the Prima Perla Crémant de Limoux Blanc, a simple, citrusy sparkling wine with high acidity.

Moving on to the white wines there was Château Arrogant Frog Limoux Blanc 2012, a well rounded white that’s filled with minerality and a hint of sweetness at the finish. The Château Paul Mas Blanc Belluguette 2012 was heavier on the minerality but perhaps a little less fruit on the nose. There was also an organic wine, the Mas des Tannes Réserve Blanc 2012, which followed a similar style but with much higher acidity and turning out to be a much more refreshing wine.

For the reds, there was the Château Paul Mas Clos de Savignac 2011, a smoky red wine with plenty of red fruit shining through. It was followed by Vignes de Nicole Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah 2012, a very herbaceous red with blackfruits but dominating wood. The Château Paul Mas Clos des Mûres  Magnum 2006 is still needing rest but was already displaying nice complexity of fruit.

Finally finishing on the sweet was a sparkling and a still. The Prima Perla Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale was very fresh and still grapey with lots of citrus. The Paul Mas Chenin Vendanges Tardives 2012, in stark contrast, was a weighty bold wine with a lot of sweetness but perhaps not quite enough acidity.

Domaine Gayda, Brugairolles

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

Domaine Gayda, Brugairolles

Domaine Gayda is very well known in the UK. At least I’ve tried various vintages on several occasions, written about it and recommended it.

I also say it’s well known because according to the rather eccentric English owner, Tim Jones, majority of the visitors to Domaine Gayda are English speaking.

That is not to say that the wines are any less French. In fact, Jones’ philosophy is all about making terroir driven wines and accommodating the seasonal fluctuations with great blends. That said, like many of the producers in the Languedoc-Roussillon who are looking to make something different, his inspiration comes from the New World.

In the case of Jones, that place is South Africa.

A horticulturalist by trade and one-time safari guide in Kenya for Abercrombie & Kent, Jones has maintained his Africa connections through winemaking. Each year, winemakers from South Africa visit Domaine Gayda for a season to learn about wines in the region and vice versa.

Even after 10 years at Domaine Gayda, the innovations and experimentations haven’t stopped. Having recently acquired the hip and trendy “concrete egg”, Jones is also building a separate winery for white wines. The estate is incredibly developed in terms of tourism too, with holiday accommodation on site, restaurant and a rather serious wine school with courses run by Matthew Stubbs in the summer.

Grey concrete egg, Domaine Gayda, Brugairolles

I was very excited about visiting Domaine Gayda, not only because I already knew and loved the wines, but also because my friend and flying winemaker Nayan Gowda was at Domaine Gayda for a season. Unfortunately I couldn’t taste anything made by him as, at the time of my visit, the grapes had yet to fully ripen, but the selection was interesting to taste nonetheless.

Starting with the Pays d’Oc whites, the Cépage Viognier 2012 didn’t have as much of the floral punch as might be expected but there’s certainly plenty of minerality and body of citrus and stone fruits to get to grips with. The Cépage Chardonnay 2012 had a slight spice on the nose with hints of pear drops.

The Figue Libre Freestyle Blanc 2012, the first vintage that’s certified organic, with its delicate nose and little distinguishing features, was actually the least impressive for me out of the whites.

In contrast, the Figue Libre Freestyle Rouge 2011 had a great nose of blackcurrant with well balanced acidity and tannins. The Figue Libre Cabernet Franc 2011, the vintage I had previously recommended, had an equally fruity nose but underpinned by herbaceousness.

Moving a little up-market, the difference was noticeble. The Chemin de Moscou 2011 had vibrant fruit, velvety tannins and much more complexity.

Finishing off is a golden Sélection Chenin Blanc Vendange Tardive 2010 that sang of delicious apricots with a floral nose and great body. It may not compare in complexity against, say, a great Sauternes, but then few things do.

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


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.

Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon

Earlier this year I went to the Languedoc-Roussillon for a tour around an eclectic mix of vineyards and wineries.

Vineyard, Abbaye de Valmagne, Villeveyrac

Although I had written about wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon before on here and elsewhere, being at the winery and actually seeing the different philosophies on wine making has really helped me get into the heart of it.

What was most interesting, for me, was the fact that while there were plenty of wineries that had been making wines as far back as the 12th Century, it feels very much like an emerging wine region. Much of it has come down to the fact that many of the younger generation of wine makers aren’t so set in their ways about how they made wines and were happy to experiment. What’s more, the region’s mix of AOC and IGP statuses allowed them to without prejudice. They’re not trading on century old brands but rather, cult statuses.

With that in mind, I thought it was rather apt to gather some small postings about the wineries in the region I visited and written about (more to be posted in coming weeks):

 Abbaye de Fontfroide

Abbaye de Valmagne


Château d’Anglès

Château de Flaugergues

Château de Lastours

Château de l’Hospitalet

Château Les Carrasses

Château Mourgues du Grès

Château Pennautier

Domaine Gayda

Domaine Haut Gleon

Paul Mas


Japanese food, French wines: an evening with Luiz Hara and Bordeaux wines

 Luiz Hara, London Foodie Japanese Supperclub with Bordeaux Wine

French wine and Japanese food, why wouldn’t you?

After all, there are some surprising similarities between French and Japanese food. Stock, for example, features prominently in both cuisines, albeit with different basic ingredients. And then of course there are plenty of French restaurants, employing classical techniques but using Japanese ingredients. Joel Robuchon‘s empire, in particular, comes to mind.

So French wine and Japanese food, not too wild a path for the stretch of imagination.

And it was at Luiz Hara‘s (The London Foodie) lovely home that this combination came to life – a Japanese supper club hosted with Bordeaux wines.

Having cooked with Luiz at his supper club before, I sort of knew the food to expect – home cooked food done well. There were a couple of old-faithfuls like the salmon sashimi South American way and teppanyaki of rib-eye but it was also great to see Luiz’s new creations like “Ankimo” and “Deconstructing Sushi”.

And you know that well known fact about the expense of Bordeaux wines? About how it’s auctioned at record prices in Hong Kong? And how the buoyant Chinese wine market is what’s driving it up? Well this supper club dispels that myth too.

All the wines chosen to match Luiz’s dishes were under £20, and there were some interesting combinations too.

Take “Deconstructing Sushi” (essentially a Japanese version of Coquilles Saint-Jacques) and Roquefortissime 2010 from Château Roquefort for example, the dish was a lot spicier than I would have expected of Japanese cuisine but the wine was robust enough to stand up to that very powerful dish. It was also rounded enough to drink alone and would, I imagine, go rather well with pork or walnuts too. It’s probably something that I’d choose if I didn’t want to change wines between a starter and a main and I’m usually not a Sauvignon fan.

The dish that delighted me the most was definitely “Ankimo” – sous-vide ballotine of foie de lotte, shredded daikon and ponzu dressing. I had wanted to try the foie de lotte while in France but sadly never got round to it so this was a great opportunity to try something new. It’s a lot less rich in comparison to foie gras but no less delicious. The wine match was a 2011 rosé from Château Méaume which, while not something I’d drink on its own, did work surprisingly well with the dish.

The evening drew to a close with a Sauternes; what else could it have been? I was surprised to discover that the Ginestet 2009 we had was only priced at £10. It doesn’t hold the same intensity in flavour as some of the greats and will literally pale in comparison to say the golden hues of Château d’Yquem but it is also a tiny percentage of the cost.

That’s the thing you forget under the thousand pound a bottle umbrella of the Latours and Lafits – there are every day Bordeaux wines, quite capable of being matched to interesting food, that are also very affordable. Well, even the New York Times agrees with me.

(Check out the menu and additional photos here)

Bordeaux Wines hosted the supperclub. Amateur Wine was a guest at the event. You can find out more in our Editorial Policy.

Desserts and wines with Nancy Gilchrist MW

dessert and wine matching at Leiths School of Food and Wine

Leiths School of Food and Wine, famed for training professional and amateur chefs alike, has recently launched a new series of evening tasting classes. I went to its West London kitchen classroom to try some food and wine matches.

The class was fairly informal and led by Nancy Gilchrist MW – author, journalist and Master of Wine. For any worshipper of desserts, the evening promises to be enjoyable, entertaining and educational. Unfortunately the class took place when London was in the grips of icy wintry weather.

Having braved the snow and ice with a questionable choice of footwear, which got me cursing every two steps, I was very well rewarded. We were welcomed into the class with a glass of Zonin Brut Prosecco, which given the warm embrace of the classroom, was like an injection of summer. As guests slowly trailed in, the hubbub in the class grew.

Nancy Gilchrist at dessert and wine matching at Leiths School of Food and Wine

Nancy introduced the format of the evening – there were six dessert wines to try with six matched desserts. There was brioche to cleanse the palate, water for rinsing and we could request a personal spittoon, if we wanted to. We also had a course booklet with notes on all the wines and recipes for all the desserts. It was a case of “you can take it as seriously as you like”, or just enjoy.

First up was a delightfully summery Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti 2009. At only 5% alcohol, it was the least alcoholic of the wines and also my favourite. It was matched with pomegranate meringues, pomegranate and strawberry compote and sweetened whipped double cream. Nancy suggested tasting the wine in four stages – on its own, with just the meringue, with the meringue and the compote and finally with everything. It was interesting to find that the perceived flavour profile of the wine was changing according to what it was paired with.

Nivole Moscato d'Asti with brioche, dessert and wine matching at Leiths School of Food and Wine

The wine was very pleasant to drink to begin with and pairing with just the meringue seemed to make little difference. With the compote the contrast was a lot sharper and the wine, although not unpleasant, didn’t taste nearly as nice. When the cream was added though, the natural taste of the wine returned but with a new-found richness.

The second wine was Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes 2006 from Waitrose paired with crème brûlée and raspberry coulis. There was a hint of marzipan in the wine which worked particularly well with the caramelised sugar of the crème brûlée. This sweet wine is produced via a very labour intensive process as it’s made from grapes affected by noble rot. The grapes are infected by a special strain of Botrytis which causes them to dry out like raisins. They must be harvested at a particular stage of the infestation to produce the required characteristics in the wine, which means that each vine must be harvested several times by hand. Nancy tells us that this soft and mellow wine would also work well with foie gras or blue cheese.

Tarte tatin, dessert and wine matching at Leiths School of Food and Wine

Wine number three was the Royal Tokaji 5 puttonyos 2005, which was paired with tarte tatin and Calvados crème anglais. Made with hand picked Aszu berries, the production of this wine is also highly labour intensive. The 5 puttonyos indicates the amount of berries added to the wine and therefore the level of sweetness. As the scale is between 3 and 6, this wine is very sweet.

Next up was an intensely sweet Henriques & Henriques Single Harvest Malmsey Madeira 1998 matched with stollen. Sweetness is definitely a defining characteristic of dessert wines but this one was particularly so. It was very interesting to learn about how Madeira’s distinctive flavour was first discovered as a result of some wines being carried aboard merchant vessels making long journeys across the world. These days, instead of making that long journey, the wine is heated to around 50°C and maintained for some three months. Madeira is a fortified wine which continues to improve with age, is relatively insusceptible to oxidation and will therefore last for a long time.

Fig frangipane tart, dessert and wine matching at Leiths School of Food and Wine

After that large dose of sugar, it was on to a slightly less sweet wine – the Les Vignerons de Maury, NV Solera 1928 Maury. This is another fortified wine but produced using a Solera process, where new wines are blended with older wines in rotating barrels, which began in 1928. It is a non-vintage wine as, in order for a wine to be deemed a vintage, at least 85% of the bottle must be wine produced from that vintage year. (Port and champagne must be 100%.) The dessert paired to this non-vintage was fig and frangipane tart to match the hint of fig and tobacco in the wine.

Last but not least we had the Bacalhoa Moscatel de Setubal 1999 paired with a chocolate and mocha layered cheesecake to pick up on the hints of coffee.

The evening wound down in the same relaxed manner as it began – guests were able to explore the different combinations of desserts and wines with Nancy on hand to answer any additional questions. For me though, it was a matter of stomping through the snow in an attempt to get home. After all, I now had renewed energy from all the sugar consumed to make the best of my impaired balance.

(First seen on Foodepedia)

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