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Greetings From The French Wine Lake

Header-image-StephenBy Robert K Stephen (CSW)

(TORONTO, ON) – The southern area of France once had a reputation as a veritable lake of cheap, mass produced wines to be consumed by the working class of France. In the past twenty years the lake may be there, but the quality has vastly increased to produce some very good rustic and surprisingly light and refreshing wines.

Some of the big appellations perhaps are well known to you such as Minervois, Corbières, Limoux, Fitou, Côtes de Provence, and Costières de Nimes. Generally speaking, these wines are a bit more wild and untamed than wines north of them, but they are usually cheaper, quaffable yet lacking the elegance and complexity of the north.

They are out of the orbit of most wine drinkers, but should not be ignored.

This H&B Minervois is dark ruby in colour. The nose is a bit tough and full of earth, blackberry, cassis, and wood smoke.

It goes down with a bit of gruff smoothness. Again there is tightly wound fruit not flashing off, but letting you know there is a good wallop of cherry, smoke, prune, and a bit of freshly cut hay.

Rather devoid of power on the finish. Big nose with a 99 pound weakling finish. (Hecht and Bannier 2013 Minervois, Gregory Hecht & François Bannier, AC Minervois, Aix-en Provence, France, 750 mL, 14%, LCBO #17764, $19.95, Square Media Group Rating 81/100)

Three years ago in 2013, it was not a great vintage year in France, so buy with caution. This is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Carignan which are capable of producing more powerful wines than this H&B. The quality is what can we can have hoped for at best in a weak year.

The Cuvée Constance is ruby coloured. Ripply aromatics of early season cherries, dates, and dark chocolate. Smooth as a baby’s bottom with just a bit of grip.

Short finish and a bit chewy. Masterful winemaking where acids and tannins fall into complete harmony. The palate is brambly blackberry and sweet young cherries. A simple, honest, and highly quaffable wine. (Cuvée Constance 2012 Appellation Côtes du Roussillon Contrôlée, Thunevin-Calvet, 750 mL, $18.95, LCBO #168690, Square Media Group Rating 89/100)

The Domaine Houchart is a ruby red suggesting perhaps a degree of lightness. Cute aromas of sweet red cherries, beets, and a tad of tar.

On the palate smooth with cherry Jell-O, raspberry galette, and clafoutis.

It’s a wine, however, where the mid palate seems missing although, on the finish, it does come through with some gentle clout. But, in between I can’t seem to find much.

It’s a cheerful, pleasant, and happy wine you’ll enjoy consuming, but it is far from exceptional. (Domaine Houchart 2013, Appellation Côtes de Provence Controlée, Domaines Quit en Provence, France, 750 mL, LCBO #438614, $16.95, Square Media Group Rating 87/100) Might as well drink now. The 2014’s will be better.

Picpoul de Pinet is one of the oddest names for a wine. This Beau Vignac 2014 version has that rebel look with a screw top.

Pale yellow in colour with aromas of pineapple, banana cream pie, and apples with a rich core of baked pear. Very quiet and unassuming, at least initially, on the palate, but with a moderate lingering light finish.

On the palate there is lemon, pear, and Northern Spy apples. Very gentle with minimal acidity.

I would think it’s an excellent match with lighter cheeses or an afternoon sipper with a good book. Non pretentious, calm, and simple. I can also imagine it with poached chicken in sherry, chicken broth, and garlic.

Drink before the end of this year. (Beau Vignac, Picpoul de Pinet 2014, Appellation D’Origine Protége Picpoul de Pinet, Les Costiéres des Pomérols, Pomérols, France, 750 mL, 12.5%, LCBO #350124, $14.95, Square Media Group Rating 84/100)

Don’t expect anything but simplicity, which just might be needed from time to time. Do you really want or need to drink complicated, intriguing, and expensive wines all the time? 100% Piquepoul.

The Château des Erles has a darker colour than the Languedoc Roussillon wines we have already tried. It is dark garnet in colour. Powerful blackberry, black plum, dates, charcoal, and cassis on the nose.

Des Erles FitouOn the palate a creamy delight of smoked meat, black cherry, and liquorice. A bit more of a heavy hitter than the delicates previously sampled in this review. A beautiful combination of tannins and acids that give a perfect balance to the wine and do not disturb its richness.

The finish is short, but heavy with notes of chocolate and coffee.

I don’t see enough tannins to justify ageing this wine, but best within next couple of years. (Château des Erles 2004, Appellation Fitou Protége, SCEA Lurton, Lahore Bergez, France, 750 mL, 13.5%, LCBO #654590, $25.95, Square Media Group Rating 94/100). A powerful blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan. As a last kick in the can while the Rhone is the god-like home of Syrah, southern France can produce a charming, delicious, and less sophisticated Syrah that should not be ignored.

There is a rather unique creaminess to this wine.

The Vintages panel remarked on the lip-puckering acidity of this wine. I’m confused I detect virtually no acidity, but rather smoothness and placidity. Plastered on this Fitou are ratings from just about every major publication aside from the Windsor Square.

The Wine Spectator gave this a 90 and I usually vary from their ratings by 2 points, minus or plus.

Let’s try the Gayda Syrah. Light purplish and red, not quite one or the other. Loads of cherry and spice on the nose. As well, some blackberry, chocolate, and a whisper of caramel.

All said and done, heady and hearty stuff, so far.

Surprisingly smooth on the palate. Some light, but clingy tannins. On the palate, unmistakeable cherry with some watermelon and a tad of black pepper.

Southern France produces a distinct Syrah that one can be described as cheap and cheerful. Ideal for simple bistro food. (Gayda 2013 Syrah, IGP Pays D’Oc, Domaine Gayda, Brugariolles, France, 750 mL, 13%, $14.95, LCBO #39977, Square Media Group Rating 88/100) Drink before year end. Great for a whole variety of grilled meats in the summer night.

Moving on to a Georges 2011 from Roussillon. It exhibits a dark ruby colour. Black cherry, blackberry, and vanilla with pancakes and maple syrup presents itself to the nose.

The palate veers off into a bacon and wood fest, yet there has been no oak touching this wine. Very thin and weak fruit notes, but the palate is presented with a thin empty presence. A big disappointment considering its aromatics.

The wine cellar is a bit cold tonight, as its minus 23 outside. I have a passive wine cellar, so I pay particular attention to the label advising that the wine should be served at room temperature. I decide to wait 20 or so minutes before another try.

The Robert Parker critic gives it a 91, but this poor, deluded Square critic is willing to dole out an 84. The warm up does not affect my rating. (Georges 2011, AC Côtes du Roussillon, Georges Puig-Parahy, Passa, France, 13.5%, $17.95, 750 mL, LCBO #171025, Square Media Group Rating 84/100)

Moving on, the La Lumiére which is a 2012 Corbiéres.

Earthy aromas of blackberry, black cherry, rare beef, dark chocolate, and a touch of graphite. There is also what I think to be a touch of brettanomyces, which some say gives the wine a pleasurable barnyard characteristic in small doses, but funkifies it in any dose above small.

The Brett, as it’s called in the trade, gives the wine its earthy notes.

On the palate, shy and typically French in that the wine discretely shows is fruit flavours and sometimes even seductively. Some sour cherry tartness blended in with almost a creamy blueberry charcoal tinged finished. The wine is tannic if you are trained to detect it, but smooth enough to drink without any obvious tannic interference.

Although three years old, this wine is one of the few Corbiéres which is cellar worthy. Decant if you insist upon drinking now, but it’s good for at least ten years according to my read of its tannins and acids.

It is one of the few wines I encounter that I note to be still too young to fully appreciate, made in the traditional French way that encouraged the making of a wine designed to evolve rather than being immediately accessible. If you have a cellar this is a case worthy wine. (La Lumiére 2012 AOP Corbiéres, Vignobles Foncalieu, Arzens, France, 750 mL, LCBO #438044, $37.95, 14%, Square Media Group Rating 92/100)

The wine lake of France is enormous, so it’s time to stop with a Chateau Pech Redon L’épervier 2012 Couteaux du Languedoc.

Dark ruby coloured. It has aromatics of raspberry pie and black cherries with a slight hint of cocoa powder and solid beam of black fruit.

Taut and slightly bitter palate of almonds and a sudden hook of sour cherry, which morphs into raspberry pie.

The finish is short and snappy. The almonds tend to take over and tame the bitterness.

The wine is odd and unpredictable, if not wild. Not unlike a poor 1950’s mental patient undergoing electroshock therapy. As it opens up it takes over the unique Jack Nicolson character in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

This wine must be decanted and swirled for at least 5 minutes lest it be committed to an institute for quirky wines. You must be patient with this wine as its initial impressions are not overly approachable.

I like wines with chameleon characteristics and this one foots the bill. (Château Pech Redon L’épervier La Clape 2012, AC Couteaux du Languedoc Contrôlée, 750 mL, 14.5%, LCBO #129965, $24.95, Square Media Group Rating, 92/100) A Blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Carnigan. It has enough stuffing to get you into 2021 and it’s not a shyster type of wine. It’ll keep giving you a bundle of fruit.

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