Category Archives: Wine Travel

I Love Picpoul de Pinet

Villa Blanche Picpoul de Pinet

Villa Blanche Picpoul de Pinet.

It’s happening. It’s taken a while, but more and more wine lovers are beginning to have heard of Languedoc-Roussillon’s Picpoul de Pinet. For every Pinot Grigio lover out there that I have introduced to Picpoul de Pinet, I cheer. I have reached my goal. One more wine drinker trying and loving something new. Each time someone says to me, ooh, I love Picpoul de Pinet, I am delighted that they have more than Prosecco or Marlborough Sauvignon in their wine repertoire. Fist pumps and High Fives all round.

Picpoul de Pinet is a curious name for a wine, non? It’s easy really – Picpoul’s the grape, Pinet is one of the Herault towns by which the vines grow. Flanked by the A9 main road between Montpellier and Beziers, and the Etang du Thau lagoon, the vineyards are situated on the flat, salty plains in close proximity to the French Mediterranean coast.

Picpoul in all its gloriousness, is a wine of simplicity. As often is the case, the wine was made to drink with the local food. Unsurprisingly, there is no lack of seafood and shellfish fresh from the local shores and lagoon itself in this part of the world – visitors to the region might be familiar with the picturesque port of Sete. Oysters and mussels this fresh need little preparation and anything more than a fresh, clean and simple white wine, such as the Picpoul de Pinet drunk alongside, would easily trample all over such delicate, natural and delicious flavours.

As I glance out of the window , I’m greeted by a damp and grey Spring afternoon in suburban Berkshire, a far cry from when I first tasted Picpoul de Pinet, sitting on the Grau de Roi quayside, basking in the evening sunlight with a chilled glass and a fresh-out-the-sea platter, although I don’t have a photo to insert <here>, I’ll keep that memory close in my thoughts until I can relive that moment even better, when I open that bottle of Picpoul de Pinet waiting for me in the fridge.

If you’re yet to taste the delights of Picpoul de Pinet and are local to Marlow and Maidenhead, come and see me on the 19th March outside Emmett’s Farm Shop for a taste of the Villa Blanche Picpoul as featured in my Spring Wine Case, or drop me an order for local wine delivery! If you love it already, I’d love to hear where you first tasted it!

 

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Filed under Eating/ Drinking In, Eating/ Drinking Out, France, Grape Varieties, Wine and Food Pairing, Wine Travel

Harvest at an English Vineyard

Whereas I just left the sunny Languedoc in full swing, with the majority of their harvest safely in tanks, things are only just starting to get going in the UK on the grape harvest for the 2015 wine vintage.

Grapes need a whole lot of sunshine hours to ripen, and although the UK days are long, as you’ll know, the sunshine can be a little minimal. In the hot and dry regions of the world, grapes have no problem ripening, but in cooler climates like the UK, we’re reliant on a long growing season to maximise the grape ripeness to develop the sugars and flavours in the grape to produce enough alcohol. A long, warm September like we’re experiencing definitely helps to ripen off the grapes and vineyards around the South East of England are now beginning to plan their 2015 harvest.

If fancy getting involved with harvesting at a vineyard, look no further to many of the vineyards here in the UK who are on the look out for volunteers or others selling tickets for those less green fingered amongst you who fancy more of an ‘experience’. Of the 400+ vineyards in the UK, there’s loads of harvesting opportunity to be had, but here are a handful of the ones that I’m familiar with in the South East, all producing excellent wine and guaranteed to show you a great day out however hard you fancy working;

Photo of TIm singlehandedly brining in the 2014 harevest (stolen blatantly from Chafor's Facebook.com/chaforwine page)

Tim singlehandedly bringing in the 2014 harvest (Photo credit: Guy Adams from Chafor’s Facebook.com/chaforwine page)

Chafor Wine Estate,  Gawcott, Buckinghamshire, MK18 4HT

Be part of the CHAFOR Grand Harvest 2015 on 17th and/ or 18th October. Tim Chafor heads up this family owned vineyard set in the midst of the Buckinghamshire countryside, not far from Oxford and Milton Keynes. Their first release of still wines was their 2013 vintage, featuring award winning Bacchus, Chardonnay and Rosé, their sparkling wine is yet to be released.

Perks include lunch (FYI, Tim has a pizza oven and does jolly fine pizzas!), wine to take home and a VIP invitation to the Grand Harvest Supper.

Book your place now: info@chafor.co.uk or call Tim on: 07973 892427

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One of the hottest days this summer in the vineyard back in early July.

Oaken Grove Vineyard, Fawley, Henley-on-Thames, Buckinghamshire (just over the Oxfordshire border).

We helped owner, Phil Rossi, with his bountiful harvest on a beautiful sunny, autumnal day last year, picking his Bacchus grapes. I say we, because it was a family affair and the kids came too and were surprisingly, not too annoying. This year, he hopes that harvesting will start on 17th October for the Bacchus and the following weekend for the Pinot Noir, so drop him a Facebook message or email to get involved. He’ll also be at the Perfect Friday Wine Tasting afternoon in Marlow on 10th October, if you wanted to have a chat before you sign up! [You can buy Oaken Grove Benham Blush here]

Last year, we were fed a well earned hog roast with all the trimmings, tasted newly released wines and got sent home with a bottle. A fabulous day to spend one of those last days of summer around Henley.

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Boutique wines at their finest at Dropmore Vineyard, just to the north of Burnham, Bucks.

Dropmore Vineyard, Littleworth Common, Buckinghamshire, SL1 8NF

Perhaps Maidenhead’s closest vineyard, the Dropmore harvest is a real family affair. With just 3 acres of vines, this is as boutique as they come and the delicious Bacchus White and Pinot Blush have both won awards. Owned by John Petersen, drop him a line if you fancy lending a helping hand. Harvest starts on 11th October and will continue throughout October. Word on the street has it that Dropmore offer the best harvest catering going! [You can buy Dropmore Vineyard Bacchus here]

John will also be at the Perfect Friday Wine Tasting afternoon in Marlow on 10th October, so he can check you out before he lets you near the vines!

Pinot Noir grapes in stage of 'veraison' (colour change) earlier in the summer at Bluebell.

Pinot Noir grapes in stage of ‘veraison’ (colour change) earlier in the summer at Bluebell.

Bluebell Vineyard Estates, Furners Green, East Sussex, TN22 3RU

More of an experience than a horticultural work out, Bluebell are hosting a day in the vines on Saturday 17th October, 10-3pm. Spend the morning hand-harvesting grapes followed by a delicious lunch overlooking the vineyard, then a tutored tasting of their fabulous sparkling wines, made onsite, led by wine maker Kevin Sutherland. Also, taste the grape juice, fresh off the press (which, is sooooo tasty and described to me as ‘the nectar’ by one Saint-Chinian vineyard worker). [You can buy Bluebell Vineyard Estates Brut Rosé and Seyval Blanc here]

Call 01825 791561 or email wineinfo@bluebellvineyard.co.uk to book your tickets at £40 per head (well worth it for being wined and dined in such a beautiful setting). Or come and meet Bluebell Vineyard at the Perfect Friday Wine Tasting afternoon in Marlow on 10th October.

 

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Filed under English Wine, Home Counties, Maidenhead, Seasonal, Seyval Blanc, Sparkling, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

Languedoc Wine Hotel, Chateau les Carrasses and Canal du Midi Wine Tasting

Now I’ve set the Saint-Chinian scene and explained a bit about the wines in my previous post, I’ll go on to tell you more about the beautiful and very tranquil region of Saint-Chinian and the fabulous Languedoc wine hotel we were so lucky to stay in.

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The view from the terrace at Chateau les Carrasses. The perfect base to explore Languedoc.

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Chateau les Carrasses

Bearing in mind that the school summer holidays were 2 whole months long and I’ve only just started to recover, to say the view from our first night’s accommodation,  the Chateau les Carrasses, brought a smile to my face, is a massive understatement. A little gem of a hotel, hidden away in the Saint-Chinian countryside, only 35km from Beziers Airport, I’m tempted to pop over every weekend. The Chateau les Carrasses is adult and child friendly, has a gorgeous pool with some jawdropping views. There is also an onsite restaurant and terrace and even bikes for all the family to borrow.

Being surrounded by vineyards, Chateau Les Carrasses also makes its own wine, a refreshingly chilled glass of which was gratefully received on the terrace on our arrival. Although those workers amongst us had a jam-packed itinery filled with wine tastings, visits to tasting rooms and sites touristiques du Saint-Chinian, regular guests who fancy being taken out into wine country beyond the adjacent vines, can get a feel for the locality on a Les Carrasses’ Wine Activity Day.

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Wine Tasting on the Canal du Midi

If you prefer to make your own way around, but aren’t sure where to start, there’s the Office du Tourisme du Canal Midi in local village Capestang, a short cycle ride away (although it’s uphill home). The office du tourisme is named after the ancient canal that runs right through the village, stretching to Toulouse in the west, straight across to the Mediterranean near Sete. The tourist office have a summer long schedule running regular wine tastings alongside the Canal du Midi, buddying up with local winemakers who are more than keen to share their wines with willing tasters.

You could also do as we did and grab a hire boat on the Canal du Midi, pick up some wine from the Office du Tourisme, and take a (self-driven) tasting actually ON the Canal itself.  This was undoubtedly the most peaceful wine tasting that I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience – I think I may have actually gone into a trance-like state as we pootled along the canal on a little boat, in the warm evening sun, tasting delicious local wine and produce from the surrounding Saint-Chinian area, to the sound of the breeze in the plane trees.

Saint-Chinian whites as I like them.

Saint-Chinian whites as I like them.

As mesmerised as I was, I did manage to stay awake and took lots of tasting notes before we headed back to the Chateau les Carrasses for dinner. Although most of the best wines in Saint-Chinian are red, the best of the whites can be very tasty indeed. Perhaps the most notable of the wines tasted being this Cuvee Bois Joli from Chateau Coujon, a Grenache Blanc and Rolle (better known as Vermentino) blend which had seen 6-8 months on oak. A crisp and citrussy white with pineapple flavours and a hint of dried coconut went particularly well alongside the tiny local olives known as ‘Lucques’.

After all that hard work, there was only one thing for it, to head back to the Chateau les Carrasses for a slap up dinner in their restaurant and of course, more wine tasting..

 

 

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Filed under France, Languedoc-Roussillon, Wine and Food Pairing, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

Wine Love in Languedoc: Saint-Chinian AOC

The Languedoc-Roussillon wine region in Southern France remains the one that keeps calling me back, most recently, specificially Saint-Chinian AOC,  situated  around 60km east of Carcassone, 35km north of Narbonne. My first visit to the vineyards of Languedoc-Roussillon was  in May 2014, where I spent some time amongst the old Carignan vines of the rolling hills of Minervois with negociant Calmel and Joseph, tasting a comprehensive selection of some of the best Languedoc-Roussillon red wines around. I was back in January 2015, this time to charismatic Montpellier to visit Natural Wine Fest Milleseme Bio and meet some of Languedoc’s most enterprising independent wine producers ‘Les Outsiders‘.

Saint Chinian Map (credit from Saint-Chinian.pro)

Saint Chinian Map (credit from Saint-Chinian.pro)

But, this side of the summer, I was lucky enough to spend a few sunny days visiting many vineyards, meeting even more wine producers and tasting a vast amount of Saint-Chinian AOC wines all accompanied by my very lovely guide from the St Chinian tourist office, Nelly.

Saint-Chinian isn’t just one appellation, but three. The areas around the highly regarded and very picturesque villages of Roquebrun and Berlou, hold their own appellation statuses, Saint-Chinian Roquebrun AOC and Saint-Chinian Berlou AOC. Although the wines aren’t necessarily better than a straight Saint-Chinian AOC (most  is grown in similar ‘terroir’ and tastes just as good), the village named wines are guaranteed to come from high quality grapes grown on the sought after hilly, schisty, less fertile soils north of the river Vernazobre and the village of Saint-Chinian itself.

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One of many tasted prior to lunch.

I like a lot about these Saint-Chinian appellation wines. From a practical standpoint, I like that most actually have a back label, often so lacking in French wine, telling you what’s in the bottle.  It should tell you about grape varieties and, something to look out for, likely to mention the ‘schisty’ soil and ‘foothills’ or altitude, important factors distinguishing the AOC wines from the lower-quality, bulk, non-appellation wines of the flatter plains further south.

I like the blends. The whites are dry and tend to have a bit of body, some tropical fruitiness and some minerality. Tending to contain Viognier (the oakier ones are the best in my mind), Vermentino (or Rolle, as it is known locally), Rousanne and Marsanne, the main player is Grenache Blanc, which has to be at least 30% of the blend.

Like most AOC Languedoc wines, nine out of ten Saint-Chinian AOC wines are however red wines, blended from Carignan (often old vine, low yield – of which I am particularly partial to), Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, and must contain 70% of the latter three. More Mourvedre makes for a heavier wine, Syrah brings spice, Grenache; juiciness. More Carignan tends to produce, a very palatable, more medium bodied, lower tannin, versatile wine which works well without food (just like the Calmel and Joseph Saint-Chinian).

But just as importantly, I like the personality and charm of these wines and that the vast majority of the wine producers, whether they are negociants, co-ops or independent, really seem to care about the wines. They care about the vines in the vineyard and the fact that the grapes take on flavour characteristics of the ‘garrigue’ of lavender, bay, thyme, rosemary situated amongst the vines. Many wines are ‘organic’, even if they are not formally labelled that way with many winemakers choosing not to bother with the cost or faff of registration, concentrating of the actual wine rather than paperwork.  Most care about how and when the grapes are harvested, the way the wine is fermented, blended and aged. This is pure and precise wine making without pretension but from a passion and love of wine, very much in harmony with the beautiful region that they are made in.

Not only are these producers making some of the best wine from Languedoc-Roussillon, whilst Saint-Chinian remains relatively unknown, these wines are relatively inexpensive compared to some of their better known French relatives therefore offer real value, although that that may not remain the case for long!

Feel the love!

Le Caroux protects Saint-Chinian from northerly winds and resembles a lady lying down, cast in stone.

Le Caroux protects Saint-Chinian from northerly winds and resembles a lady lying down, cast in stone.

* An appellation is the French term for a designated wine producing area whose wine meets a certain number of criterior e.g. yield, grape varieties, blend. AOC stands for ‘Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée’ or Controlled name of Origin.

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