Friday, January 24: Arrived in Paris at 9:30 am. Slept for a couple of hours on the flight after a tiny bottle of wine of dubious provenance, having had dinner in the lounge at Pearson Airport. The entertainment system was down for a couple of hours so started reading a wine murder mystery – Crush by Vancouver novelist Jennifer Fraser. The book is set in the Okanagan Valley about a woman war correspondent who is commissioned to write a book about the wine year in the valley. Sounds promising.
Landed on time at Charles de Gaulle with a three-and-a-half hour lay-over before my flight to Montpellier; but there is no Air Canada lounge at terminal 2F where I am to leave from. So I took the 20-minute navette ride to Terminal 2A (having taken a 15-minute ride to reach 2F from my arrival terminal). Am installed in the lounge now having had a croissant (not bad) and an espresso. I’ll have about two hours here before I take the navette back to terminal 2F. This airport is crazy. I think I’ve already done by 10,000 steps.
In Montpellier: Our group of ten wine writers and sommeliers were met by a taxi company who deposited us at the Mercure Antigone Hotel. At 7 pm we foregathered in the lobby and were taken by the local tram to dinner at Les Vignes restaurant in the city centre (2 rue Bonnier d’Alco). We started with rillette de loup de mer with chutney as an amuse bouche, accompanied by La Château de Liguière Cistus Faugères 2012 (a blend of Roussanne, Grenache, Vermentino and Bourboulenc). I ordered steak with foie gras and chocolate sauce (which tasted better than it sounds; it looked very brown and there were only fingerling potatoes with it, no greens). It was served with Château Bousquette Prestige 2009 (St. Chinian, a Syrah/Mourvèdre blend). Dessert: chestnut cream in a wafer cup. Taxied home and in bed, exhausted, by 11 pm.
Saturday, January 25: Awoke at 5 am. Today we leave the hotel at 8:30 am and bus to Domaine Cazes in Rivesaltes. A two-hour drive.
Welcomed by Emanuel Cazes who takes us upstairs, where 71 wines have been set out for us to taste – after a brief slide show lecture on biodynamic wines. Best wines: Domaine Cazes Canon du Maréchal Blanc Muscat Viognier 2013, La Prade Mari L’Or des Gerrigues Blanc 2013, Le Conte des Floris Lune Blanche Blanc 2011, Château de Nages Vieilles Vignes Rouge 2012, Domaine des Carabiniers Rouge 2012, Vila Volaire Peuch Auriol Tourment Rouge 2010, Domaine de Cigalus Rouge 2012, Château Costes-Cirgues Rouge 2011, Château Bousquette Tradition Rouge 2011, Domaine Cazes Ego Rouge 2012, Château de l’Ou Inifiniment l’Ou Rouge 2011.
Following the tasting we went down to the winery’s restaurant (named for Emanuel’s grandfather who founded the winery), La Table d’Aimé. Here we started with a carrot and beetroot salad with fish mousseline and Domaine Cazes Le Canon du Maréchal Rosé 2013 and Domaine Cazes Canon du Maréchal Blanc Muscat Viognier 2013. The main course, pork cheek on mashed potatoes with a lemon grass sauce, with Domaine Cazes Alter 2011 (40% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 20% Mourvèdre; very elegant, floral blackberry flavour (89)). With dessert of pear roasted in honey with gingerbread ice cream, Domaine Cazes Muscat de Rivesaltes (spicy, orange blossom, off-dry, honeyed flavour – 88) and Domaine Cazes Rivesaltes Ambré 2000 (tawny-amber colour; nutty, honey and dried fruits on the nose; medium-sweet, nutty flavour; beautifully balanced (89)).
After lunch we got back on the bus to drive to the domain’s vineyard. Emanuel told us that the region gets 200 days of wind (and today is one of them) and 300 days of sunshine (which makes up for it). He showed us the constituents of a “tea” he spreads over the vineyard – nettles, horsetail and willow leaves which are steeped in boiling water and mixed with cow dung that has been buried in a cow’s horn for several months (the recipe of the Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner, who first promoted the idea of biodynamic farming in 1924). He says that after fifteen years of practicing biodynamic growing the pH of his wines is lower and the roots of his vines are deeper. Then back to the winery for a tour of the cellars and another tasting.
- Domaine Cazes Le Canon du Maréchal Rouge 2013 (tank sample): deep ruby colour; fruity and fresh with banana and cherry flavours and a firm finish. (87)
- Domaine Cazes Marie Gabrielle Côtes de Roussillon 2012 (Syrah/Grenache): ruby colour; full-bodied, fruity, plum and black cherry flavours, earthy and spicy with a dark chocolate note. (88)
- Domaine Cazes Le Credo 2010 (Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre/Carignan): deep ruby colour; spicy, floral nose with herbal notes; rich and full in the mouth with concentrated black cherry and earthy flavours. (91)
- Domaine Cazes Rivesaltes Grenat 2011: sweet cherry flavour, full-bodied and firm with an earthy finish. (89)
- Domaine Cazes Tuité 2005: tawny ruby colour; oxidized, raisiny, nutty flavour of dried figs; rich and full on the palate. (92)
- Domaine Cazes Rivesaltes Cuvée Aimé 1978: deep amber colour; rancio nose, dried apricot leather with notes of graphite; smooth on the palate with lively acidity and a dried fruits finish. Delightful. (93)
On the drive back to the Novotel Hotel in Perpignan, where we are staying tonight, we were told that Salvador Dali lived for a while in Perpignan and he declared that the railway station here was the centre of the universe.
Wine cellar at Via del Vi, Perpignan
Our group, which has now been augmented by another writer from Montreal, had dinner at a tiny wine bar called Via del Vi – mercifully across the road from the Novotel. I ordered pâté of winter vegetables and stuffed squid on rice – both delicious. Three winemakers had been invited to join us and show their wines.
- Domaine L’Horizon 2009 (Grenache Blanc/Grenache Gris): deep straw colour; high toned, spicy, apricot and leather nose; rich and spicy on the palate with a peachy flavour; mature with lively acidity. Would have liked to taste it two years ago. (88)
- Trigone La Soula Terroir d’Altitude Vin de Fenouillèdes 2012: dense purple; fruity, spicy, floral nose of cherries and white pepper; fresh acidity; carbonic maceration. (87)
- Domaine Les Conques Bohème 2012 (Grenache Gris/Macabeo): straw colour; minerally, pear; dry with a bitter finish. (86)
- Infiniment de L’Ou Chardonnay 2011: deep golden-amber; rich and full-bodied caramel and pineapple flavours; spicy, fleshy and full in the mouth, with evident oak. (89+)
- Les Conques Anatole 2011 (Carignan/Grenache/Syrah): deep purple-ruby; high toned cherry flavour with lively acidity (87)
- Domaine Carle-Coutry Mon Vin Blanc Camps Bernats 2011 (Grenache Blanc/Roussanne/Macabeo): straw colour; minerally, pear skin nose; dry, pear flavour; a little short. (86)
- Infiniment Syrah 2011: dense purple; a nose of wild herbs, blackberry; dry, savoury, blackberry and black olive flavours; full-bodied, elegant and well balanced. (90)
Severine Bourrier, winemaker at Chateau de l’Ou
Got to bed around 11 pm and awoke at 3:30 am. Took a while to fall asleep but eventually did and awoke at 6:30 am.
Sunday, January 26: After breakfast we toured the Roussillion region, stopping first at L’Hermitage Força Real, a former royal fort at 507 meters. It was part of a string of fortifications along the border between France and Spain, subsequently a hermitage. Great view of Mount Calligou and the surrounding countryside.
L’Hermitage Força Real
Door knocker at Domaine Olivier Pithon
Our next stop, Domaine Olivier Pithon in the village of Calce. Olivier, originally from the Loire Valley, studied in Bordeaux and purchased vineyards here. By next year he’ll own 20 hectares. He took us to see a block of 100-year-old Carignan vines, where we tasted two of his wines.
- Domaine Olivier Pithon La D18 2007 (named after the local road – a blend of Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc, with a Vin de Pays Côtes Catalannes appellation; in magnum): pale straw colour; crisply dry pear and lemon flavours with a light floral note and a refreshing finishing flavour of crab apple and grapefruit. (90)
- Domaine Olivier Pithon Le Pilou 2009 (100% Carignan from 100-year-old vines; in magnum): deep ruby colour; herbal, black raspberry nose; full-bodied, savoury and fresh, richly extracted cherry flavour with lively acidity. (91)
Olivier Pithon in his 100-year-old vineyard
After a quick tour of the cellar we went to lunch at a restaurant across the street from the winery in Calce, called Le Presbytère Bistro. With a Rolling Stones’ vinyl disc playing in the background Olivier conducted a tasting of his wines:
- Domaine Olivier Pithon Mon P’tit Pithon Blanc 2013 (a play on Monty Python): (Macabeo and Grenache) pale straw colour; minerally grapefruit flavour, fresh in the mouth. (87)
- Domaine Olivier Pithon Mon P’tit Pithon Rosé 2013 (Grenache Noir. Olivier says he doesn’t like rosé and made two vintages which he poured out, unsatisfied with the results, before this one): pale pink-amber colour; dry, very flavourful, cherry and peach with minerality. (88)
- Domaine Olivier Pithon Mon P’tit Pithon Rouge 2013 (Grenache/Syrah): purple-ruby colour; earthy, cherry nose; fresh, easy drinking, fruity cherry pit and apple flavours. (87)
- Domaine Olivier Pithon Cuvée Laïs Blanc 2012 (Grenache Blanc/Grenache Gris/Macabeo): pale straw colour; minerally, pear and grapefruit flavours with fresh acidity. (88)
- Domaine Olivier Pithon D18 2011 (Grenache Blanc/Grenache Gris): golden straw colour; minerally, floral, peachy nose; full-bodied, spicy, pear and apple flavours with fresh acidity; full-bodied. An ageable wine, will improve. (88–90)
- Domaine Olivier Pithon Cuvée Laïs Rouge 2012 (Carignan/Grenache/Mourvèdre): dense purple colour; wild herbs and blackberries on the nose with a floral note and vanilla oak; full-bodied, sweet fruit – black cherry with a herbal note; elegant, and ripe tannins. (90)
- Domaine Olivier Pithon Le Pilou 2011 (100% Carignan from 100-year-old vines): dense purple colour; spicy black cherry nose with a herbal note; full-bodied, sweet fruit, beautifully balanced with a lovely mouth feel. (91)
Then we had what turned out to be the best meal we’ve had so far: tarte tatin au foie gras (with poached pear and leeks) followed by roasted lamb hock. Which turned out to be the best meal we had in France!
Our next visit it to Domaine Gardiés. Jean Gardiés is the seventh generation of wine growers in the family. He has been biodynamic since 2004 (certified in 2007). He owns 20 hectares on the winery site and 18 in the neighbourhood. Jean has a 110-kilo mountain dog called Corto who watched us from the shade of an olive tree.
Corto at Domaine Gardiés
Jean took us first into the cellar for a barrel tasting and then upstairs to the tasting room.
- Domaine Gardiés Clos des Vignes 2012 (Grenache Blanc/Grenache Gris): straw colour; grapefruit and peach flavours; firm structure and minerally with crisp acidity. (89)
- Domaine Gardiés Le Millères 2012 Côtes du Roussillion Villages (Grenache/Syrah/Carignan/Mourvèdre): deep ruby colour; vanilla oak, tobacco, red berry nose; full-bodied with red berry flavour augmented with bitter chocolate; full in the mouth with firm tannins. (89)
- Domaine Gardiés Je Cherche Le Ciel 2012 (Mourvèdre) deep ruby colour; spicy plum and cherry nose with a wild, rustic note; still tight. (88–90)
- Domaine Gardiés Clos des Vignes 2012 (Grenache/Carignan with 20% Mourvèdre and Syrah): deep ruby-purple colour; minerally, black raspberry nose; firmly structured with lively acidity and a floral top note. (90)
- Domaine Gardiés La Torre 2011 (80% Mourvèdre with Carignan and Grenache): deep purple-ruby colour; spicy, floral nose; rich, sweet black cherry flavour, elegant, creamy mouth feel; full on the palate. (92)
My top wine of the trip
Back in Montpellier we dined at Chez Boris, a steak house whose napkins depict a cow with the meats cuts portioned off. The ceiling at the back where we were is 6 ft. 3in high with black chalkboards covered with graffiti. Three producers joined us (Borie La Vitarèle, Domaine des Carabiniers and Terroirs Vivants), all of whose wines we tasted with dinner for a meal of pot-au-feu and French fries, followed by tarte tatin aux pommes.
Low-hanging chalkboard ceiling at Chez Boris
Monday, January 27: The first day of Millésime Bio. We take the tram to Park Expo. There are three halls as large as hangars, filled with 800 producers of biodynamic wines from around the world (though no Canadian representation). No fancy booths and gigantic signage – just endless rows of tables with white table clothes and Balthazar bottles with funnels as spittoons. Very democratic. Faced with the endless lines of tables, it’s a daunting prospect as to where to begin tasting. Happily, Emanuel Cazes had marked my dance card with producers I shouldn’t miss.
A hall of wine producers at Millesime Bio
A Balthazar spittoon at each table
I started in the Loire with Château de Fosse-Sèche Saumur Blanc 2012 (fresh, green pineapple flavour – 90 points), which was an auspicious beginning. This was followed by Domaine des Huards Romo 2010 (my first taste of the Romorantin grape). Over the course of the day I tasted 63 wines, ending with an organic beer – Brasserie des Garrigues La Saison des Amours Bière Ambré. Particularly enjoyed the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines of Domaine Grand Veneur, Domaine Montitius des Dames Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Trenel Saint-Véran 2011, Château Tour des Gendres Cuvée des Conti 2012, Château Bouissel Negrette 2012, and Clos Puys Arnaud Cuvée Pervenche 2011 from Castillon. Really like the Alsace wines of Zinnkoepflé and Léon Boesch and Domaine Philippe Gilbert Menetou Salon 2012 and Les Renardières 2011 from the Loire.
Taxied to La Coquille Restaurant in Montpellier, where we were joined by winemakers from Domaine Bassac and Virgile Joly, whose wines we tasted with dinner. I ordered roast duck stuffed with goat cheese (!) that was served on a slate, followed by lemon tart.
Tuesday, January 28: Back to the fair, where I decided to taste all the gold medal-winning wines from the Millésime Bio competition. Tasted 46 wines. Ended up at the Château Le Puy (Côtes de Francs) table and tasted their 2010, 2009 and 2008. Françoise Amoreau, the proprietor, told me that they put 1% of Carmenère in the blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Guide Michelin 1921 edition
Dined at Prouhèze Saveurs (728 Avenue Pompignane, Montpellier). On the mantelpiece above the fireplace in the back room they have a collection of Guide Michelin dating back to 1921. The host for the evening was Patrick Guiraud, Chairman of Sudvinbio and the Millésime Bio Fair and owner of Domaine Valescure in Saint-Raphaël (a town in the Camargue twinned with Tiberias in Israel). Unfortunately, he forgot to bring his wines with him. But there were two other winemakers at the table – Marie Farbre-Teisserenc of Domaine Coulon in the Gironde (which has been in the family for 13 generations) and Jean François Deu of Domaine du Traginer (Banyuls and Collioure). M. Giraud, since he had no wines to show, chose from the list, Domaine Mortiès 2012 (Pic St. Loup), a Viognier, Vermentino, Roussanne blend: ripe, full, tropical fruit flaovurs with a strong thread of minerality (90). I ordered duck two ways that was served hot from a glass jar (absolutely delicious).
- Domaine Coulon Viognier 2013: pale straw colour; floral peach blossom nose; minerally with fresh acidity, beautifully balanced. (90)
- Domaine du Traginer 2008 (Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Mourvèdre): savoury, herbal, raspberry flavour, firmly structured, still very youthful. (90)
- Château Coulon Veredus Corbière Reserve 2011 (Grenache, Carignan, Syrah Mourvèdre): fresh and elegant, medium-bodied, great balance with a raspberry flavour and a floral grace note. (91)
- Domaine du Traginer Banyuls Rimage 2011 Vin Doux Naturel (Grenache, Grenache Gris, Carignan): 17.5%alcohol – earthy sweet, chocolate and raspberry flavours. (89)
Duck two ways at Prouhèze Saveurs
Domaine du Tragnier 2008
Chocolate dessert at Prouhèze Saveurs
Wednesday, January 29: Today we leave Montpellier. The taxi is called for 5 am. I have a 4:30 am wake-up call and turn on the alarm on my cellphone as back up. I fly to Paris and have a four-and-a-half-hour lay-over before boarding the Air Canada flight to Montreal and another leg to Toronto. I spend the time in Paris in the Air Canada lounge. They have freshly squeezed orange juice! On the Montreal flight the sound does not work on the entertainment system so instead of watching movies I finish the novel I started on the flight over. I have 55 minutes to clear immigration, get my suitcase and make it through security for my flight to Toronto. At 20 minutes before the flight takes off, I am in line for security. No time to check my bag – which contains a corkscrew and a Leatherman pocket tool kit. Of course, they are confiscated. As it turns out the flight is delayed 20 minutes but they have given away my seat.
Eventually I managed to get on the plane and Deborah was at the airport to pick me up. Good to be home in spite of the cold.
Thursday, January 30: Caught up on emails and wrote my Commentary for Quench magazine (formerly Tidings) on wine and pregnancy. The US have dropped the symbol of an obviously pregnant woman raising a glass of wine to her lips inside the universal sign for Desist – the circle with a diagonal line through it. The reason is some women took this to mean if you drink wine you will not get pregnant. And some read it as wine will get you pregnant.
For dinner, sautéed shrimp with rice and red cabbage with a bottle of Les Fils des Gras Moutons Muscadet Sèvres et Maine Sur Lie 2012 – a perfect marriage.
Friday, January 31: Walked Pinot to the bank and then went downtown to have lunch at Ki with Mat Tedford, a director of Grapes for Humanity. Sally, a neighbour, is coming for dinner with her dog Bentley. Pinot enjoys his company and allows him to root around in her toy basket. Deborah prepared cod and I opened Panul Chardonnay 2012 from Chile and Jacob’s Creek Reserve Chardonnay 2013 from Australia’s Adelaide Hills. The ladies preferred the Panul but I liked the Jacob’s Creek better, though both went well with the cod.