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La Vigneronne 'Own Imports' tasting, 20th September 2000
La Vigneronne is one of London's most interesting wine shops, carrying a relatively small but carefully chosen range of wines, especially strong in the south of France. This was a chance to taste some of their own imports, and for me there were some real stars in this strong line-up.

Of the whites, particularly impressive was the 1999 Grande Cassagne, which was an attractive, floral wine of real character, mostly contributed, I suspect, by the 20% Rousanne in the blend. The 1998 Courtade Blanc is expensive but very impressive, showing the aromatic, peachy/floral character of the Rolle grape to good effect. If you haven't tried the 1995 Arbois Savagnin, from the Jura, you need to, just for the experience: this has the nose of a fino sherry coupled with savage acidity and wild intensity on the palate. This must be matched with food. In complete contrast, the 1998 Kreydenweiss Lerchenberg Tokay Pinot Gris was quite impressive, but lighter in style than I would have expected. Of the reds, the 1998 Cabernet from Domaine Terre Mégère was surprisingly good for the price, showing pungent, leafy-green fruit with a chocolatey edge. Both Grande Cassagne red wines impressed in a restrained sort of way, and the 1999 Sablet from Domaine des Espiers was a winner: the 1998s may be catching all the attention, but this tasted for all the world like a top Châteauneuf, with gorgeous earthy/spicy intensity. One of my favourite reds was the 1997 Tautavel from Domaine des Chênes, which displayed dense herby, medicinal and meaty character. The 1998 Baruel wines, however, were rather simply-fruited and disappointing compared with previous vintages from this producer. The 1998 Montus Madiran is an unusual wine that you'll either love or hate, with its huge, barnyardy presence -- I'm a fan, but I won't even think about opening my bottles for five years. Two impressive Mourvèdres followed, first a stunning Bandol from Lafran Veyrolles, and then a more international-styled effort from Domaine La Courtade. I enjoyed both, but the former has a more promising future ahead of it and is deeply impressive. Finally, a wine I couldn't make my mind up about, but which could be a potential superstar: the Domaine de Ravanès 1998 Gravières de Taurou Merlot. This is a huge, brooding monster, with lots of everything. Intoxicating and bold, this is a must for any lover of Parker-style trophy wines. An honourable mention goes to both of the Champagnes and the Banyuls.

The wines...

Champagne Margaine Brut NV (£14.95)
Pleasant toasty nose: buiscuitty and pronounced. Complex and rounded on palate. Very good.

Champagne Egly-Ouriet Brut Non-Dosé (£21.95)
Soft but intense buiscuitty nose. On the palate it's quite striking, with a savoury, dry, complex character and bracing acidity. Very interesting, but quite extreme. Very good/excellent

1999 Château Grande Cassagne, Costières de Nîmes Blanc (£6.75)
Grenache Blanc (80%) and Roussanne (20%). Lovely full, rounded nose. Attractively floral and waxy. On the palate this is crisp and full flavoured, with a touch of oak. Very impressive; I'm often unmoved by southern French whites. Very good.

1999 Chablis Premier Cru Montmains, Domaine de la Tour (£12.95)
Although this hasn't seen any oak, it has a pronounced minerally, smoky and toasty nose. On the palate it is lean, savoury and a little bit bitter, which is a shame. Good.

1998 Lirac Blanc, Domaine de la Rocalière (£6.95)
A varietal Grenache Blanc, and I'm pretty unmoved by this. Unusual: dry and lean with an odd, nutty, waxy nose. A bit dull, though.

1998 Côtes du Provence Blanc, Domaine la Courtade (£13.95)
A varietal Rolle, this is an impressive aromatic white. Rich aromatic nose: really lovely and floral, with a soft, mellow, peach and apricot palate. Very good +

1998 Tokay-Pinot Gris Lerchenberg, Domaine Kreydenweiss (£12.95)
Smoky rich nose leads to a soft, slightly fat palate. It's complex but a little bit light in style, lacking real presence on the palate. Otherwise very good though.

1995 Arbois Savagnin, Jacques Puffeney, Jura (£13.50)
A really unusual white wine. Powerful nose just like a fino sherry, with a complex, salty character. On the palate it's wild: viciously dry and savoury, with huge acidity. You simply have to serve this wine with food. Odd but lovely. Very good/excellent.

1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Vin de Pays, Domaine Terre Mégère (£5.75)
Bold, pungent, herbaceous nose with a chocolatey richness on the palate. This is very approachable and is full of character; a great value for money wine. Very good +

1999 Chateau Grande Cassagne, Costières de Nîmes Rouge, La Civette (£6.75)
A Grenache/Syrah blend, this has an attractive, smoky nose with a nice spice and mineral palate. Medium weight, this is an appealing, spicy wine. Very good

1999 Chateau Grande Cassagne, Costières de Nîmes Rouge, Les Rameaux £7.50)
This is a Syrah, and it’s a bit deeper coloured than its sibling. There's a mineral edge to the nose, and it has spicy, earthy notes. Overall, it is an attractive mid-weight juicily fruited red with good balance. Good/very good

1999 Côtes du Rhône Sablet, Domaine des Espiers (£7.95)
A Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre blend. This has a lovely southern Rhône nose: stony, earthy, spicy and deep. Firm, tannic and herby palate. Really lovely stuff, with good ageing potential. Very good/excellent

1998 Collioure, Domaine de la Casa Blanca (£8.95)
60% Grenache/40% Syrah. Muted, stony, caramel nose. Soft and earthy on the palate, this is a nicely balanced southern wine -- you can almost taste the summer heat. Very good.

1997 Côtes du Roussillon Tautavel, Domaine des Chênes (£9.95)
A powerful, stunning wine of real character. Herby, medicinal, pungent nose. Concentrated, mouth-filling, meaty palate. Delicious and individual. Excellent

1997 Bourgogne Passetoutgrains, Dominique Laurent (£8.95)
100% Pinot Noir. Odd stuff. Light cherry red colour, with a distinctive minty, herbal nose. I can't make up my mind about this one: it is certainly unusual, but is it good?

1998 Volnay Clos des Chênes, Michel Deschamps (£16.95)
A slightly dull red Burgundy: muted nose with a balanced palate showing just a touch of complexity amid the cherry fruit. Good.

1998 Vosne Romanée, Jean-Marc Millot (£17.50)
This is more like it. Cherry herby nose leads to a ripe palate with herby fruit and plenty of character. Very good

1998 Domaine du Baruel Vin de Pays de Cévenees (£9.95)
A Cabernet/Syrah blend. Muted nose. Lighter than previous vintages, this is a boldly fruited but rather simple wine, with some dry tannins. Good +

1998 Domaine du Baruel Vin de Pays de Cévenees Cuvée Fontanilles (£11.95)
A varietal Syrah. Dense red/black colour, with ripe fruit and plenty of structure. May be ageworthy. Very good.

Château Montus Madiran 1998 (£11.95)
Mostly Tannat, but there's also a substantial contribution from other grapes. Dense purple/black colour. This is a dense, savoury, tannic beast with a pronounced barnyardy, cheesy, animal nose. It's all in great balance though: a lovely, individual wine, but don't open for at least five years. Very good/excellent.

1997 Bandol Cuvée Longue Garde, Domaine Lafran Veyrolles (£15.95)
Mourvèdre is the grape here. Red/black colour, with a herby, savoury nose. Lovely palate: earthy, stony fruit combine with dense tannins to produce a dense wine with great potential. Very good/excellent

1998 Côtes du Provence Rouge, Domaine la Courtade (£13.95)
Another varietal Mourvèdre, in an international blockbuster style. Menthol-laced, toasty/tarry nose. On the palate ripe fruit and new oak are nicely fused. A delicious, concentrated modern-styled wine. Very good +

1998 Les Gravières de Taurou, Domiane de Ravanès Merlot, Van de Pays de Côteaux de Murviel (£16.95)
From an ambitious producer near Beziers, this is the first vintage of this supercharged Merlot, made from low yielding old vines. It's powerful and intoxicating, combining ripe, intense blackcurrant-pastille fruit and new oak pretty effectively, to make the sort of wine bound to make an impression with certain US wine critics. I'm not sure about it: while it's certainly impressive, I'm more drawn to the Southern French wines that rely on traditional varieties and express the regional character more effectively. I'll need to try this one again in another environment. Very good/excellent.

1997 Banyuls, Domaine de la Casa Blanca (£10.95)
A fortified wine from the far south of France. Starling rancio nose. Sweet and well integrated on the palate, with warm southern flavours. Tawnyish and individual. Very good, and good value for money.