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La Vigneronne New Releases: 22 top wines from the South of France

I give the South of France a lot of coverage on wineanorak. There's a good reason for this: it's one of the world's most exciting wine regions at the moment. Acting like a magnet to dynamic young (and some older) vignerons, the southern regions of the Languedoc, Provence and the Southwest have been producing many interesting, complex and affordable fine wines over recent years. There's a problem though. Most of these wines are produced in fairly small quantities, so you won't find the good-uns on the high street. Instead, it's down to independent retailers such as La Vigneronne to source these gems and then enthuse their customers about them. With this in mind, last October La Vigneronne held a southern French wine fair. I couldn't make this (head colds are the wine writer's chief enemy), but I did make a special tasting of 24 of the wines from this fair a few weeks later. Some real gems here.

[It has to be said in this day of conflicting interests that I have no financial connection with La Vigneronne. I'm just enthusiastic about what they do. If I recommend a wine or a retailer on wineanorak, it isn't because of any commercial involvement, just because I'm keen on it.]

Château Grande Cassagne Blanc 2000 Costières de Nîmes
40% Grenache Blanc, 60% Roussanne, cool fermented and with one-third vinified in barriques. Fresh, crisp nose has a bit of fruity richness -- it's almost aromatic. The palate is rounded and fruity, in a full flavoured modern style. A good alternative to Chardonnay when a full flavoured dry white is called for. Very good (£5.95)

Domaine du Grangeon Viognier 2000 Vin de Pays de L'Ardeche
There's a sweetness to the nose, which displays some floral notes and a touch of caramel. The attractive, rounded palate is quite interesting. It's a low acid style with some peachy fruit, and a tiny bit of hollowness on the mid palate. Not fully convincing, but Viognier is a hard grape to get right.. Good/very good (£8.95)

Château Simone Blanc 1999 Palette
A blend of Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Ugni Blanc, aged in barrique. One of the South of France's most famous white wines, this is expensive but is a fairly serious, ageworthy effort. Yellow/gold colour. Savoury nose with some complex, spicy, limey, waxy notes. Rich, full flavoured, slightly old-fashioned palate is quite tight-knit, with way, nutty notes. I love the old-fashioned labels that this producer uses. Very good/excellent (£17.95)

Château Grande Cassagne Civette 2000 Costières de Nîmes
60% Grenache/ 40% Syrah. Striking nose shows pungent fruit with a lovely savoury, roasted, toasty edge. The chewy, savoury palate has plenty of structure, too. Very full flavoured and extracted, but perhaps a tiny bit rustic. Impressive for the price. Very good+ (£5.95)

Château Grande Cassagne Rameaux 2000 Costières de Nîmes
100% Syrah, unfiltered. Very deep coloured, this wine shows intense, spicy, roasted fruit on the nose. The palate is full, expressive, chewy and tannic with lots of meaty, spicy fruit. This is a full flavoured wine with lots of personality, but it avoids being 'modern' or flashy. Very good/excellent (£6.95)

Elian de Ros Clos Blaquey 1999, Coteaux du Marmandais
A blend of Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Abouriou aged in second-hand barriques from Michel Tardieu (after all, he does have quite a few…). This is a deep coloured, concentrated red wine. The beguiling nose shows sweet herbs and spices, rich cassis and berry fruit, and some subtle oak notes. The plate is quite full and tannic, with plenty of concentration and structure. Quite a rich, modern style but finishing dry. A dense, youthful wine; super stuff. Very good/excellent (£12.95)

Les Laquets 1999 Cahors
A varietal Malbec (or Cot, as it is known locally). Bright, dense red/purple colour. Vivid, bright nose of raspberry and cassis; pure and deep with a touch of oak. The palate is youthful with pure, primary fruit, firm tannins and a spicy oak edge. Needs some time to open out and develop complexity. A concentrated effort, this is impressive for a Cahors, and has the potential to develop into something much better. Very good+ (£14.95)

Domaine Tempier Cuvée Speciale 1999 Bandol
Tempier is probably the most famous name in the Provencale appellation of Bandol, but rumours from some quarters are that the wines aren't quite as good as they used to be. This has a savoury, meaty nose with just a touch of spice. The palate is rich, herby and spicy, and finishes dry. Tight now, this may develop. Should be better at this price. Very good+ (£15.95)

Domaine Tempier Cuvée Migoua 1999, Bandol
A single vineyard wine that's about 80% Mourvèdre. Deep coloured, with a pronounced meaty, spicy nose showing berry fruit and coffee bean overtones. Chunky, spicy palate with lots of concentration and firm tannins. Dense and almost unapproachably tight at the moment, but with good potential. Not cheap, though. Very good/excellent (£20)

Domaine Gros' Noré 1999 Bandol
A blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault, vinified in large foudres. The lovely rich nose shows cassis and berry fruit: quite open, savoury spicy edge. Really dense palate is rich and full flavoured, with quite a bit of structure and a minerally edge. A really full-on style, with a bit of meaty complexity, although it is quite clean. Potential here; I've rated this higher in the past, but on this showing it does need some years to reach its best. Perhaps it has closed down a bit? Very good+ (£14.50)

Domaine Lafran Veyrolles 1999 Bandol
A blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault, vinified in large foudres. Leathery, spicy, almost gamey edge to the nose, which has a dry, savoury character. Lovely, full, savoury, slightly herby palate. Firm, ripe tannins. This is serious Bandol, and currently quite youthful. Very good/excellent (£12.95)

Mas Jullien Rouge 1998 Coteaux du Languedoc
A blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan, vinified in barriques. A concentrated, new wave wine, this is remarkable stuff. Very deep coloured, this is liquoricey and seductive on the nose, with a sweet, spicy, seductive character. The palate has a lovely richness to it, with sweet-edged fruit and lots of herbal character. With well integrated oak, this just avoids becoming soupy. There's some spicy structure underneath the fruit. Very good/excellent (£14.50)

Mas Haut Buis 'Les Carlines' 1999, Coteaux du Languedoc
40% Syrah, 35% Grenache, 25% Carignan. Perfumed nose displays a sweet, spicy edge, but stays savoury. Lovely palate is quite chunky with a sweetly spiced, tannic finish. Touch of garrigue here. Interesting: lots of flavour, but not lush, and impressive for the price. Very good+ (£7.95)

Mas Haut Buis 'Costa Caoude' 1999, Coteaux du Languedoc
70% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 60% of which is matured in new barriques. Taut, liqouricey, spicy nose. Concentrated stuff. Chunky, rich, savoury, spicy palate with a nice herby edge. Quite noticeable oak influence. Fairly serious, with potential, but a bit boring at the moment. Very good+ (£14.95)

Domaine de la Garance 'Les Armières' 1999, Coteaux du Languedoc
Old vine Carignan at the very low yield of 18 hl/ha, 70% of which is aged in new oak. Really startling nose displays perfumed minty, liqouricey fruit with a herby, eucalyptus edge. Real garrigue character on the taut, savoury palate. Some tannins and god acidity. Fascinating stuff, and I really like it, although I can imagine it won't be everyone's cup of tea. Excellent (£12.95)

Domaine des Aurelles Solen 1999
65% Carignan, 35% Grenache, aged in large wood foudres. Quite a rich, ripe nose with some spicy, southern character. Delicious herby character to the palate, which is still quite tannic and pretty savoury, with a dry finish. Not a blockbuster, but plenty of character. Very good/excellent (£11.95)

Tardieu Laurent Corbières No. 3 Embres 1999
Syrah, Grenache and Carignan from a small co-op with only 12 members. Unfined and unfiltered. Very deep coloured, with a rich, complex nose of herbs and spice. The dark-fruited palate has plenty of tarry oak influence, but it works quite well. There's some tannin hiding under the fruit, with a slightly alcoholic finish. Very good/excellent (£14.50)

Terre Inconnue 'Les Bruyeres' 1999, Vin de Table
Carignan, Syrah and Grenache from a tiny domaine. Noticeably pale in colour and slightly hazy. There's a sweet edge to the nose and the palate is light, earthy and spicy. Midweight. Disappointing when compared with the superb 1998, but still a nice savoury wine. Very good (£14.95)

Mas de l'Ecriture Rouge 'Les Pensées' 1999
A bend of Cinsault, Syrah and Grenache, aged for 18 months in new oak. Slightly muted nose, with a bit of spicy, herby fruit. Full, liquoricey fruit on the palate, with good density and plenty of herby fruit. Not a stunner though. Very good+ (£17.95)

Domaine Les Creisses 'Les Brunes' 1999 Coteaux du Languedoc
67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Syrah, aged in barriques (50% new). Rich, full nose of striking, perfumed fruit, with complex liquoricey, spicy and herby notes. There are some sweet undertones. The concentrated, spicy palate has real appeal, with firm tannins and some prominent new oak. Very good/excellent (£25)

Domaine la Grange des Pères 1999
Florent Vialhé's estate is gaining a huge reputation, and on the basis of this wine it's understandable. The complex, open nose is herby and spicy, with earthy, leathery fruit. Beautiful palate is complex and savoury, with some spice, garrigue and enough tannic structure to age well. Balance is the key here. Excellent (c. £30, sells out before it hits the shelves)

Muscat de St Jean de Minervois Blue Label NV
Undisclosed producer, a non-vintage wine. Lovely perfumed nose is grapey and rich. Rich, soft, fat palate is a little bit on the flabby side. Very good+

21 November 2001
Contact: www.lavigneronne.co.uk

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