Saturday, August 27, 2011

Chai Christine Cannac, Bédarieux

From the Auvergne to the Languedoc - specifically Bédarieux, an attractive town in the Vallée de l'Orb we haven't visited for a while. But we'd heard there was a good natural wine bar and shop there and finally made it up there for lunch today.

Christine Cannac (above) has worked as a sommelier all over the Languedoc but came back to set up a wine bar in her home town a couple of years ago. She'd become more and more drawn to natural wines, she told us. Her wine list is a roll-call of the great and the good including Casot des Mailloles, Marcel Lapierre, Dard et Ribo, Thierry Allemand and Léon Barral in nearby Faugères.

We initially made the mistake of ordering a couple of unknown (to us) wines by the glass - a grenache gris called La Begou from Maxime Magnon and a rather over-funky rosé called Plait-t'il from Le Petite Baigneuse - which I don't think were showing at their best. Possibly they'd just been open too long.

So we switched to a bright, breezy vin de soif called Fou du Roi from Axel Prüfer of Le Temps des Cerises just up the road at Le Mas Blanc which was perfect with our shared platter of charcuterie. According to the Australian importer Living Wines, which rather impressively ships it over to Tasmania, it's a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan.

We drove up the road to see if Axel was around but the winery was firmly shut up. Shame. He sounds quite a character.

Anyway if you're in the area Chai Christine Cannac is a good place to drop by for a drink. Just order by the bottle. The bar is at 3 square Robert Schumann, 34600 Bédarieux. Tel: 04 67 95 86 14.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Auberge de Chassignolles: a natural wine hotel

Ever since I visited the natural wine bar Gergovie earlier this year and found out that owner Harry Lester (below) ran a hotel in the Auvergne called the Auberge de Chassignolles during the summer I’ve been dying to go.

And last week we made it and spent 3 indulgent nights there.

It’s just as good as I’d hoped. A tiny village set in glorious unspoilt countryside about 950m above sea level, surrounded by dense forests and rolling green pastures it’s as good a get-away-from-it-all destination as you can imagine.

Our room overlooked a 12th century Romanesque church

The auberge operates on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis, dinner being a 5 course prix fixe affair that changes every night - fantastic value for 24 euros a head.

Harry also has a serious, largely natural wine list which we made good use of - highlights being the 2008 Domaine Michel Lafarge Raisins Dorées Bourgogne Aligoté, the 2008 Elian da Ros Cotes du Marmandais, Le Vin est une Fête and Antoine Arena Carco 2009 from Patrimonio in Corsica. There are also some great classics such as Domaine Tempier Bandol, Thierry Allemand’s Cornas, Grange des Pères and a 1999 vintage of Domaine de Trévallon.

In fact it was so perfect we’re squeezing in another night on the way home next week ;-)

Note: the hotel closes for the summer at the end of September

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Gamay sans Tra La La 2010

We took this wine on a picnic this week. Well, a sort of picnic. We took the day ferry from Poole to Cherbourg (narrowly missing the floods) and decided to forgo the delights of the cafeteria service and take our own sandwiches (parma ham and basil, since you ask).

A bright breezy gamay, served well chilled seemed the perfect accompaniment and so it proved. It was utterly delicious, full of wild berry fruit with a whiff of white pepper and a slightly earthy edge that stopped it being jammy.

It comes from Domaine de la Garrelière a biodynamically run estate in Touraine and is made with natural yeasts, unfined and unfiltered. Sans Tra La La, for those of you who don't speak French, roughly translates as gamay without fuss (or, more accurately, pretension).

Amazingly the remaining half bottle survived a 9 hour car journey and an overnight stay on our route to the Auverge and was still as fresh as a daisy, two days later. A genuine vin de soif.

You can buy it from Caves de Pyrène and Vinceremos for around £10-11 though the latter only seem to have the 2009 vintage currently.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Why score wine?

The movement against scoring wine seems to be growing. There's now a website called Scorevolution which is backed by a growing number of individuals including Christophe Hedges of Hedges who I met in Washington state last year and - inevitably - Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon who has a trenchant view on everything, bless him.

The manifesto, it has to be said, is a bit turgid, but it's hard to fault the sentiment.

"Wine is a gustatory expression of where its grapes grew and the method by which they were farmed. These methods having been developed over time to address the variability of nature. The combination of land, climate, culture and philosophy is terroir. Ideally a wine will evoke an understanding of the region and perhaps the individual vineyard that was its place of origin. The subtle expression of wine through the context of its geography"

"If we rely on the biased palates of the select few - and no palate can ever be unbiased, as the process of tasting is supremely personal - to tell us what is good, great and perfect then haven't we sacrificed our own understanding of the wine and, as such, what would be the point of drinking it?"

In other words wine is more than numbers.*

I was interested to read Eric Asimov the wine writer for the New York Tines had been reported as reiterating that the only way to appreciate and assess wine was with food which is, after all, the context in which most people enjoy it.

And how reliable are scores? On what basis are they allocated? I remember discussing this with Tom Cannavan of, a frequent judge in wine competitions on a press trip and he said that even if critics ostensibly score from 1-20 that most have a register of 1-5. I'm conscious of that myself. I usually score supermarket wines for my own reference between 12 and 17, most of the wines I taste falling around the 13-14 mark. But 12 sounds much more generous than 1, on the 1-5 scale, doesn't it?

How then do you indicate to your reader how you rate a wine? On my credit crunch drinking blog I do in fact rank wines from 1-5, 1 being 'drinkable. Amazing, given the price' and 5 'unmissable. Snap it up'. Which I think is probably OK for cheaper wines, much less satisfactory for more complex ones.

Parker appears to score from 1-100 but any wine below 89 seems to be regarded as a poor score.

And surely it depends on how you're feeling, who you're with, what you're eating and, above all, what your personal taste is.

Which is why I now favour a system of flagging up natural wines in accordance with how they're likely to fit into your wine drinking experience: green being similar to a conventional wine, amber maybe slightly more challenging and red a warning that the wine may well be way outside your comfort zone.

Speaking of which I've had a wine this week, the Herbel La Pointe Chenin 2008 which has the unfortunate look of an unhealthy urine sample and an aroma of fermenting apples. Maybe it's suffered in transit or wasn't kept cool enough but even my husband, a diehard natural wine fan, couldn't finish his glass. Definitely a red which goes to show, as I've said before, that just because a wine is natural doesn't mean it's good.

What do you think about wine scores? Are they useful or useless and is there any other way you'd advocate of flagging up a wine's style and quality to the consumer?

* There's an interesting debate on the 100 point scale on Palate Press here.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

AB Ansonica Bucce 2008: a complex Tuscan white

I missed Gianpaolo Paglia's Poggio Argentiera winemaker's dinner at a local Italian restaurant Rosemarino in Bristol the other week but we caught up with one of his wines on Thursday night: a complex, earthy white from the Maremma region of Tuscany called Ansonica Bucce.

Ansonica is apparently the same variety as Inzolia and, according to Gianpaolo, derived from the Greek Roditis. It's fermented (I think, though my Italian is pretty rudimentary) on the skins "not filtered, not manufactured, just made" as the back label puts it. "How wine was once upon a time." It's aged for a year in cement and oak vats so has a slightly oxidative character but isn't an orange wine.

At first I found it a touch austere (it was served too cold) but it opened up in the glass and really came into its own with food, particularly my spinach, walnut and fontina lasagne which also had a slightly bitter edge. (Interestingly my husband says it was more aromatic when he tasted it at the dinner: Thursday was a root day.)

You can buy it from R.S.Wines in Bristol for £9.99 + VAT.