Tag Archives: South of France

Duck sauce – Domaine Rimbert 2009 Saint-Chinian Comocolo

I really don’t consider myself a foodie. I mean, I enjoy good food, but I don’t have the curiosity and passion behind what’s on my plate as I do for the wine in my glass. In general, I consider the dish to be secondary and my wife prepares meals according to the bottle I plan on opening. Last night, however, was food night!

Since we’ve come to the South of France, we’ve been firing up the barbecue practically everyday, and this time, we decided to go all out and try our favorite meat: duck. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures, as I haven’t acquired the food porn reflex, but this magret (duck breast) was absolutely magnificent! I won’t try to describe it either. So why do I even bring it up? Because of the wine (of course!) and the incredible food pairing that resulted.

Domaine Rimbert

Domaine Rimbert is situated in Berlou with about 30 hectares of old-vine parcels spread across the slopes of the Languedoc’s Saint-Chinian AOC. From what I could read on the French website, the bon-vivant Jean-Marie Rimbert [video] runs his 28ha estate since 1996 in good humor (francophones, check out the very funny lettres on the home page), specializing in terroirs of schiste, or slate. In fact, the first time I encountered his wines was the very elegant and rose scented “Mas aux schistes“. You may chuckle, the pun is intended.

2009 Saint-Chinian Comocolo

Domaine Rimbert 2009 Saint-Chinian Comocolo (Despite the cute chick on the label, it's with a grilled duck magret that this wine truly shone.)

Domaine Rimbert 2009 Saint-Chinian Comocolo (Despite the cute chick on the label, it’s with a grilled duck magret that this wine truly shone.)

Despite the cute bunny on the label, it’s with a grilled duck magret that this wine truly shone.

Impression (+)

The Comocolo is blend of the southern varietals (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache) and is the more accessible bottling by the estate. As such, it does not offer the complexity of the Mas, but is more fruit forward and youthful. In fact, this is a straight up fruit bomb. The ripe crème de cassis aromas explode, covering the entire palate with a juicy coating of sheer pleasure, while the smooth tannins do their best to scrub it off so that the wine doesn’t feel heavy and finishes in style.

Food and Wine Pairing: Duck Magret (++)

Although I would normally pair duck with a classic Pinot Noir, I was really itching to try the remainder of this Saint-Chinian with the magret (I also didn’t have any Burgundy on hand). I figured the incredible fruit would pair nicely with the bloody red meat, while the extra southern power could provide balance with the char-grilled skin. I had no idea it would be this good though!

My wife didn’t prepare the usual red wine and balsamic reduction to go with the duck, since we wanted the simple grilled experience. The wine replaced the sauce however, and our meal was transformed into a magret au cassis with every sip, while retaining the character of the tender meat and crispy skin.  My favorite part is that the wine delivered tons of fruit without the sweetness of a sauce or reduction. When you think about it, what better to serve duck “sauce” than in a glass?

A Muscat Aged in Outdoor Glass Jugs!

I mentioned earlier that I had moved back to the Languedoc, just outside of Frontignan. On my Twitter account, I jokingly said that I wouldn’t be reviewing any Muscat wine, the local specialty, but it turns out that I found a pretty interesting bottle from Domaine de la Plaine aged outdoors in glass jugs! Skip the next section if you’re already familiar with Muscat.

Muscat de Frontignan

Muscat is one of the few grape varieties which is consumed as both a table grape and a wine. It is also one of the only grapes which retains its distinct aromas after fermentation. We say that the wines literally smell “muscaté” and it is an intensely fruity scent. The closest thing I can think of is cantaloop melon, but that’s probably because it is usually served with a glass of muscat in the area (whereas other parts of France sometimes prefer Port wine).

Frontignan is a Languedoc AOC which is limited to sweet fortified whites from the Muscat grape. The wines are immediately seductive, and I’m probably not the only one to have first lost my sobriety to this charming apéritif as a teenager. With age and knowledge however, Muscat wines tend to lose their appeal, as they can be a bit simplistic and heavy.

Domaine de la Plaine Muscat Mil’Or

Domaine de la Plaine Muscat Frontignan Mil'Or

Domaine de la Plaine Muscat Frontignan Mil’Or

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While I tend to prefer the late harvest Vin de Pays Muscat wines, which are not fortified and present less residual sugar, this Mil’Or bottling is in fact a proper fortified Frontignan Muscat AOC. What makes it unique is that it ages an entire year outdoors, in the sun, stored in big glass jugs of various sizes.

This exposes the wine to a slight oxidation, which in turn gives the wine interesting sherry-like aromas of walnuts. The intense, juicy muscat fruit is still in the foreground, but the added complexity from this original maturation technique gives the wine terrific length. I was still tasting it on my drive home from the estate! It would be a shame to serve this as an apéritif. Domaine de la Plaine estate only makes about 5,000 bottles each year.

Wine totem pole

Wine totem pole

They also tried a new experiment, which is to replace the big jugs of wine with regular 75cl bottles on a “wine totem“. Apparently, it hasn’t proven very successful, other than as an original garden ornament. The wine’s color hasn’t evolved a bit in a year, and the they told me that the taste is slightly off, but they are just gonna keep waiting and see what happens.

Wines of Pézenas in the Languedoc: la Garance & la Grangette

Local market at Pezenas

Local market at Pezenas

Old streets in the town of Pézenas.

Last week I drove out to Pézenas (between Montpellier and Béziers), and while I didn’t have time to stop at any estates, I insisted on checking out a local wine shop so that I may try a couple reds from an area which I am not very familiar with. The town is lovely by the way, and I definitely recommend a stroll in the small streets protected from the strong afternoon sun.

Domaine la Grangette 2008 “Rouge Franc”

Our plans were to have some asparagus pasta at a friend’s apartment for lunch, prepared by Paola, his Italian friend. My initial reaction was to go for a Sauvignon Blanc or Rolle based wine to match the green notes of the asparagus, but one of the guests did not drink whites (urgh). As a backup, I picked out this relatively inexpensive Cabernet Franc, a rare grape variety here in the South, from the Domaine la Grangette.

Impression (+)

Immediately, I was surprised by this wine’s aromas. Because the climate in the Languedoc is much warmer than the cool Loire Valley or even Bordeaux, where this grape is primarily grown, I was expecting a riper version with only subtle herbal notes. What stood out however, was an intense tobacco spiciness, combined with the luscious fruit. The website makes no mention of oak aging, so my guess is that this is a varietal expression, and a very original one at that! The beauty of this wine though, is that despite its intense character, the medium body and smooth texture kept it very easy to drink, especially with the asparagus which brought out a floral element in this lovely red.

Domaine de la Garance 2007 “les Armières”

Pierre Quinonéro took over the Domaine de la Garance with his wife in 1998 after recovering from a serious accident. Although he releases his wines under the Vin de Pays d’Oc label, the estate is considered one of the flagships of the Pézenas/Caux area. The Les Armières bottling is made from old-vine Carignan and aged for 27 months in large oak barrels.

Impression (++)

“What an amazing wine!!!” From the moment I dove into the very deep fruit and noble oak aromas, that’s all I could say (making me very poor company). What really got me was this red’s amazing texture and energy on the palate. Difficult to put into words, it’s as if this cactus shaped wine had been crafted from solid steel and satin needles. The edgy tannins and acidity provided contrast and excitement, while the intense fruit polished this sculpture and made it pleasant, no.. presentable. What character! It felt as if the wine’s different elements were branching out in every direction, but the whole remained in a fragile state of balance in which a sense of tension prevailed. A masterpiece!

Back in the Languedoc – Mas Jullien 2009 Rosé

After a year in Germany followed by a few months in my Jura hometown, I have returned to the south, the midi as we say in French, where nearly 2 years ago I wrote my first blog post. It was meant as an exercise in wine writing, a different approach to tasting, but what I hadn’t expected was how important the interactions would become. Not just here, but on the FB page, comments on other blogs, and more recently Twitter. I guess what I’m saying is that blogging isn’t as lonely as I thought it would be.

So what have I accomplished? Not much! I’m still broke, still obsessed, and still splurging on wines when I should be looking for my next job. Well, I suppose fatherhood is working out well, and I’m savoring every single moment with my little girl. Can’t wait for her first swim in the Mediterranean this summer! And so, in the honor of the sunny Languedoc, which I will be calling home for a while, I splurged (again) on a serious rosé by one of the leading Languedoc estates: Mas Jullien.

Mas Jullien 2009 Languedoc Rosé

Mas Jullien 2009 Languedoc Rosé

Mas Jullien 2009 Languedoc Rosé

Rather than following in his father’s footsteps and selling grapes to the local co-op, Olivier Jullien decided to go out and bottle his own wine, from vineyards he purchased in the Terrasses du Larzac sector, also home to some of the other great Languedoc wines, such as Daumas Gassac or la Grange des Pères.

He has quickly risen to the top of the appellation, and even the entire region,  but the prices at the estate have remained very reasonable. Both times I’ve been there however, the white and both reds were completely sold out. In fact, there is a 6 to 12 bottle maximum even when buying the wines in advance.

I did find his wines at a small shop in Pézenas last week however, and while I was very tempted to pick up the white, considered by some as the best white of the entire South of France, I settled for the rosé for half the price at 12 Euros.

My first impression was that of the little fruit yogurts I grew up on: Petits Gervais., strawberry flavor. I actually carafed the wine, because it initially had a slight reduction on the nose, but this blew off very quickly and the wine presented its clean fruit aromas in a brightly decorated package, still wrapped, but hardly discreet.

The wine, much like myself, felt a bit out of place, unsettled. It clearly displayed its affection for red wine drinkers, offering its dark hair and voluptuous curves, teasing our palates like a flamenco dancer expertly lifting her dress as her bare hip disappears from sight. This wine lived and breathed the south, and yet with all the seductive charms it conveyed, it was little more than a hollow game which played itself out in front of me. A dance with no outcome.

Perhaps I expected a more convincing performance, a burst of energy which would lift me from my seat. But no. I remained a spectator, silent and all too anchored in my reality. Perhaps the stage was not ideal, or the expectation too high. Or perhaps I too felt that I was not living up to my potential, like this youthful rosé which falls short of the ambitious red it could have been.

A Natural Saint-Chinian by Thierry Navarre

After a pleasant experience with Domaine Rimbert’s Saint-Chinian, I decided to explore this appellation a bit further with a recommendation by my friend Arnaud of the French la terre vue du vin wine blog.

Saint-Chinian

Thierry Navarre is a biodynamic producer in the  Languedoc‘s Saint-Chinian appellation. This AOC is further divided into two sub-sectors on the northern end, both of which have been recently approved for the CIVL’s upcoming “Grand Cru du Languedoc” label: Berlou  and Roquebrun. While Domaine Rimbert is located in the former, Thierry Navarre makes wine in the latter. Both feature slate soil and the traditional Languedoc grape varieties (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan..)

Domaine Navarre 2007 “les Oliviers”

A Natural Saint-Chinian by Thierry Navarre

A Natural Saint-Chinian by Thierry Navarre

I decanted the wine 3 hours before dinner. At first, this ripe red struck me with its lively acidity and slightly animal aromas. I was hoping this would blow off, and it more or less did, although a noticeable musky note did remain on the finish. I don’t really like the dirty sock analogy, but it did have a bit of that going. The fruit as well as some dark licorice stood out overall however, and it was quite an experience in a powerful, rustic way.

Towards the end of the bottle however, another enticing aroma started to emerge. It brought me back to my childhood, rummaging through the spice cabinet and sniffing from several small tin boxes with Persian motifs, each containing different varieties of dried tea leaves. I’m not sure my family ever even used them, considering that they remained there for decades, but the strong scents definitely had some mystical hold on me as I would keep sneaking in to smell them, and I still remember them to this day. This Saint-Chinian reminded me of some of the darker colored leaves, but I would have no clue as to what they were. I’m just glad the wine brought this memory back!