Château de Pennautier, AOC Cabardès, France

The village of Pennautier lies just out of reach of Carcassonne’s urban sprawl.  In typical fashion for this part of France, the difference a hundred yards makes is a big one: industrial development yields to vineyards and grey concrete to platane hallways. The transformation is so rapid that, barely five minutes out of the ugly bit of Carcassonne, Pennautier already gains that “in the middle of nowhere” feel, which so charms rural France’s visitors and so bores the younger generation of its long term inhabitants.

Adjacent to the village itself, sits a large Chateau, after which the wines of Penaultier are both named and labeled.  But visiting it requires some pre-planning, without which you will see what I saw:


The gates of greyness

The wines here comes from the small but remarkable Carbardes AOC. Although not exactly equidistant from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean from a geographic point of view, Cabardes producers make their wines from a mixture of both oceans’ favoured varietals. In fact – this is a requirement. Cabardes wines thus feature the Mediterranean’s Syrah and Grenache and the Atlantic’s Merlot and Cabernets.


This could of course lead to un-alluring hodgepodge. Fortunately, at Pennautier at least, it tends not to be. A single family has owned the Chateau for several generations. And although this same family also owns a number of other vineyards throughout the Languedoc, the Chateau comes across as their epicenter. These folks appear to have good business sense too, despite their relatively unknown appellation, the Penaultier wines are easily available throughout Brussels and appear to have some sort of exclusivity deal with Brussels airport where they are almost depressingly, if deliciously, ubiquitous.


Because all of the family’s wines can be bought at the Chateau, there is a lot to choose from. I can recommend three:

Chateau de Pennautier, AOC Cabardès, 2012 

The Chateau’s basic wine comes in around 6-8 euros. A slighlt variation on this theme is the Chateau’s “Terroir d’Altitude” version, which comes from different vineyards and is slightly more expensive. Very nicely balanced with soft tannins and good structure. Although perhaps slightly light on the body, the wine manages to remain relatively long on the palate.

Excellent value for money. Score: 88-90/100 (COW)


Esprit de Pennautier, AOC Cabardès, 2012 

The flagship wine, l’Esprit de Pennaultier, is a little more pricey coming in at around 20-25 euros a bottle, which is relatively expensive for the area. But you do get what you paid for, this is a refined wine, that has the ability (and the desire) to age.

A strong mid-range wine that competes in terms of elegance and complexity with more expensive wines from other parts of France – a nice example of the premium paid on a Bordeaux bottle.  Score: 90-92/100 (COW)


Mas des Montagnes, Côtes-du-Roussillon Villages AOC, 2010

Unlike the two wines above, the Mas des Montages comes from a separate vineyard. It is not a Cabardes – qualifying instead for the Cotes-de-Rousillon village appellation. A high altitude plantation, this is my favorite bang-for-buck wine at the moment.   The varietals here are classically Mediterranean with Grenache and Syrah. And the Mas is a powerful but elegant wine with a strikingly dark color. Elegant and well balanced, it avoids the rustic flavours that can characterize some wines from this area (perhaps due to the high altitude of the vines).

Unrivalled value for money, at eleven euros a bottle (for the high altitude version), this is the best “ten euro” wine I have had this year. Score: 92/100 (COW) 

Further Information: The website for all of these wines is pretty cool, you can check it out here.


Chateau de Valois, 2012, Pomerol

IMG_4341I got hold of this wine through some well-intentioned speculation.  Understandably nervous about receiving her New York bar results, I offered a colleague the opportunity to hedge her results with wine:  If she passed she would have to buy me a bottle of right bank Bordeaux, if she failed I would have to buy one, thereby offsetting the horror of having to resit the bar exam.

She passed – resulting in my coming into possession of a bottle of 2012 Chateau de Valois from the Pomerol area.  Pomerol, sitting just west of the more famous St-Emilion region, is young by Bordeaux standards – with even some of the top vineyards being recent creations.  And the wine is drunk young as well for, unlike in other Bordeaux areas, Cabernet Sauvignon does not feature here, merlot is king.  Less tanic than Cabernet-based neighbours, the wines of Pomerol reach maturity younger (although see below).

The Chateau de Valois itself seems a discreet sort of place.  I’ve struggled to find much info on it.  So we will have to judge it on its wine, which is hardly a ludicrous idea.

Robe:  Very dark red, verging on purple.

Nez:  Not very potent, musty odour, reminiscent of an old closest opened for the first time in a long time.  Would frighten people with allergies

Bouche:   There’s a lot going on here.  And as soon as I sipped it I knew I had messed up. This wine was dramatically too young.  Tightly bound and tannic, the youth made the other  flavours hard to access.  Were the tannic blanket to be peeled back, I do not doubt for a second that something remarkably may lie below.  But whatever that may be it was still largely hidden.  From what was exposed, the wine gave off some dark fruit notes and hinted at the elegance it could one day have had.

This came as something of a surprise – as a merlot heavy wine, with only traces of Cabernet Franc, it was unexpected for it to be so tannic and so tightly bound.


I can’t pronounce it either, 2012, Adelaide Hills, Pinot Noir.


Ngeringa, Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, Australia, 2012

I went to Adelaide once.  It was a bit dull.  What is not dull is Ngeringa’s 2012 Pinot Noir. Ngeringa sits on the far eastern side of the Adelaide hills region, nestled in a non-official sub-region called Mount Barker.

Robe: Lots of color by pinot noir standards: bright red blush.  Airs of blood in water.

Nez: Fantastic, powerful nose.  Deep, wet, lascivious scents of earthy, mossy, vegetable notes.

Bouche: Velvety and so-damn-long.  Bold flavors leap out of the glass.  Great structure, the wine is perfectly balanced and even achieves a slight chewiness.

Impressions of Adelaide redefined.  A magnificent wine 93/94.  You can pick it up at Mig’s wines here in Brussels.

Some rambling & Anderra, Rothschild, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile, 2012.


Wandering home on Place Sablon in Brussels a few weeks ago, I noticed something rather interesting loitering in the window of Nicolas.  Nicolas, a French wine retailer with some forlorn outposts in Belgium, is often a good place to pick-up some interesting wines.  I am especially fond of this particular store for a couple of reasons. Principally because I live – as close to literally as one can imagine without quite qualifying for the use of the term – above it.  Globalization may make proximity to the grower less important – but nearness to the wine itself, ideally within arms’ length, is, of course, crucial.

Back to the wine – sort of.  A while back, a friend and I chatted about big name Bordeaux producers operating vineyards, either in their own name or as part of joint-ventures, in the new world.  Some wholly unscientific internet research leads me to believe that this trend is especially evident in South America.   So I jumped on the chance to sample a prime example of the movement.  The illustrious Rothschild version of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon for ten euros?  Color me dark red with hints of leather.

A quick perusal of the classy Anderra website, reveals this wine to be a clearly commercial proposition.  This is hardly surprising, Rothschild, the man, was a banker; Rothschild, the name, is a bank – largely of the investment variety.  Making a dime and producing good wine do not always rhyme though – especially when big brand names, that will likely help sell the stuff regardless of its quality, are involved.

But the Anderra is a good wine!

R: Dark pourpre colors; a very pretty, largely-monochromatic wine with little bricking

N: Quite a small nose – some mustiness and vegetable notes & perhaps a hint of sweetness?

B: On first tasting, I may have slightly over-decanted the wine as I had expected much youthful exuberance.  It came up  a little flat and musty and I felt it had quite high acidity and was somewhat out of balance.

But on second tasting the next day (How is the wine less decanted on the next day you ask?!  Buy one of these: your cellar, liver, and whatever local baker, purveyor of coffee, or fabricator of blended fruit juices you encounter in the early mornings will thank you. NB: these posts/wines etc. are totally un-sponsored due, in small part, to our thin peel of integrity and, in large part, to no one offering us sponsorship gigs – I’m sure there are lots of other great brands out there; I just use this one.), having decanted the wine for a much shorter period of time, I was much more impressed.  Deeper dark fruit flavors held the balance of the wine well.  After the flatness of the day before, the Anderra now seemed robust and paired nicely with my garlic steak sandwiches.

A very nice and unusually interesting wine for a good price 90-91/100.


Wines From A Trip to France (March 9 – March 13, 2016)

  • Chateau Gardiole, Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape, 2012
  • Domaine Benedetti, Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape, 2010
  • Domaine Eyverine, Cairanne, Cotes-du-Rhone Villages, 2012

BBC Good Food has an excellent recipe for a greek lamb bake. The dish calls for lasagna-esque layering of aubergines, potatos, and tomatoes. Garlic, minute but potent Kalamata olives, and an oregano dusting serve as buffers between the layers. Of course, feta is also bountifully involved. The lamb sits atop, princess of the pea to the potato mattresses, (there are no peas involved – thank god). Two hours in the oven blends the flavors together. The outcome is delicious, full of vegetable flavors and the meatiness of the lamb’s juices, scored with the sharpness of the olives and garlic.

The strength of the flavors in this dish call for a pairing with wines of strong personality. It is always nice to pair a dish with wines that match in one’s mind as well as on one’s palate. If we play by these rules, we need wines that both buy into the rustic feel of the dish, whilst staying true to the Mediterranean basin vibe. Enter the Southern Rhone.

Unlike its colleagues from the Northern Rhone, which tend towards being mono-varietal Syrah wines, the Southern Rhone is a land of blends. Grenache, Carrigan, and Syrah share the honors – mixed in with varietals that are lesser known (except in the Languedoc where some are heavily used in the Corbieres and the Coteaux du Languedoc – often to great effect).

When done right, the blending allows for smoothness and fruit to hang like silky cloth on the muscular body of the underlying Syrah. If left bank Bordeaux is fine Merlot drapery on a beautiful – but slightly underfed – model called Cabarnet, Rhone wines involve the buttocks of an Olympic rower.

Centerpiece Wine: Chateau de la Grande Gardiole, 2012

Robe: A light slightly ochre red, clearer than expected. An elegant and sensitive color that trends towards rose petal pinkness. Very large and clear rim.

Nez: Not hugely developed but, when caught, the wine reveals pleasant flavors of sweet red fruit. The strawberry note was particularly striking – no vegetable scent at all.

Bouche: Light tannins balance out a pleasant sweetness. The wine has a lovely roundness to it, which it manages to maintain for an astounding duration. Each sip demands long moments of attention. The balance feels great – no excessive acidity or strong tannin intercede to tamper the initial, pleasant sweetness.

Superb CdP for the price range. 92/100


The “We Need More Wine” wine: Domaine Eyverine, Cairanne, 2012

Robe: Much darker than the Gardiole. The color is several hues closer to pourpre.

Nez: The vegetable that was noticeably absent from the Gardiole is back with a vengeance.   Accompanying it are forest fruit, but whereas with the Gardiole fresh strawberries were honored, the fruit in the Cairanne seem ripe or even over-ripe. The scent carries no promise of youthful sweetness.

Bouche: For a relatively inexpensive wine, Cairanne provides supple smoothness. The tannic profile is slightly higher than on the CdP but still inoffensive. As in the nose, the Gardiole’s sweetness is mostly gone. Replacing it are deeper and darker flavors. This is a stronger wine – what it gains in forcefulness it looses in elegance and intricacy. But based on the pairing it might actually be a better choice overall on the day.

Excellent for the price. 91/100;  Cairanne is considered one of the very best among the named CdR Villages appellations and this take on it was excellent (especially for six euros).


Domaine Benedetti, 2010

A few days later, a re-organization of my wine fridge revealed four 2010 Domaine Benedetti CdP. The Domaine seems to belong to a smaller producer and boasts of coming third in the Concours des Vignerons Independants, in which smaller producers compete for a prize whose attribution is decided by trained, yet still amateur, wine tasters.

Robe: A strong purple hue. This looked more a like a young Syrah rather than a six year old CdP. From sight alone, it would have been impossible to suspect that this wine and the Grande Gardiole were from the same region. The contrast was all the more surprising as the Domaine Benedetti was from 2010, making it the Gardiole’s senior by two years.

Nez: Strong notes of red fruit – principally cherry – underscored by vanilla. The fruity smells had a slight hint of artificiality.

Bouche: The cherry, recognizable in the wine’s hue and smell, showed up again on the palate. So, unfortunately, did the slight hint of artificiality. This was particularly noticeable here as this CdP comes across very fruit heavy. Despite this sour note, the wine had some very pleasant characteristics on the mouth. Most notably, it displayed a velvety thickness underscored by a lovely long chewy finish and nicely developed tannins.

Nice CdP on the cheaper end of the range. Very interesting contrasts between this Domaine and the Cht Gardiole, perhaps reflecting a difference in vintages? 89/100. Would score higher but for the slightly artificial notes.

Some other wines:

  • Moulin de Citran, Haut Medoc, 2009 (second wine of the Chateau de Citran; excellent Bordeaux for the price range. Lovely structure – drink now / next year)
  • Chateau LeVivier, Medoc, 2005 (starting to taste tired – drink now. Already lost much of the elegance and lustre from when first tasted in the summer of 2015).
  • Intermarché’s Sancerre offering “Whose name I forget (but will update)”, Classic Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc. Very fresh and powerful nose with a strong smell of green apples and well tended lawns. Lovely fresh palate – good minerality and structure with a real sense of freshness. Eaten with Sole mariniere, for which it was a good pairing.
  • La Batisse Rouge, Cairanne, Cote-du-Rhone Villages, 2014, White (Grenache blanc, Roussane). Strong floral notes with a hint of vanilla. Very pleasant wine (which may even have suffered from having been open for a while when I got to it). Both the nose and the palate evoked the wild flowers and long wheat like grass of prairie fields. Was this contrast with the fresh grassiness of the Sancerre due to the varietals or the temperature of the wine?



Noval’s Ten Year Aged Tawny Port

So if I say “smooth” – whats pops into your mind?  I was giving this some thought today while trying to figure out an intro to this piece.  I was thinking about what “smooth” might have evoked in me at different stages of my life.  This exercise pulled together an eclectic little assembly of visualisations.  From the click-clock-click Pharell does on the intro to ‘Drop It Like Its Hot‘ to the small patch on my dog’s aged back where her fur has fallen out due to disease or despair at her canine condition – there was quite a range.  From this day forth however, there shall only be one: Noval’s ten year aged Tawny port – well, at least until I try the twenty year one.

Quinto de Noval by its full name, is one of Porto’s older Port houses.  The estate’s  vineyards, nestled relatively high up the Douro river near the township of Pinhao, have been producing grapes used in the firm’s Ports since 1715.  Today, Noval run two main ranges.  Their “red” ports, briefly aged in casks before bottling, and their “old” ports – Tawny’s – which follow the usual 10,20,30, and 40 year denominations.  They also supply a king of ports – allegedly unblended – reflecting a particular vintage or crop (such ports are called Colheitas).  Noval also make a range of Duoro wines, to which I cannot speak – although, if that changes, I will let you know.

Seeing as Noval do not sell the basic “Age-not-specified Tawny” (the lack of a specified age indicates it has been in a barrel for a minimum of two years and likely not many more), this ten year aged one is actually their entry level in the Tawny range.

Robe:  The wine has remained fairly red, with the suggestion of gently approaching brownness.  This is somewhat surprising because I have seen more unhealthily-dehydrated 10 year olds before.  This may of course simply be due to the varietals in the blend although it would be interesting to see some side-by-side.  As expected, the legs are viscuous.

Nez:  The smell resides on a base of vegetables overlaid with nuttiness.  But on a particularly solid drag, a slight uptick of sweetness drills through: dried fruit – apricots perhaps.

Bouche:  So yeah – smooth.  But also pleasantly complex.  There is a danger with port that the smoothness becomes almost oppressive – levelling flavours with its sickly viscosity.  Noval escapes this in two ways.  First, the nutty flavours are particularly developed and manage to stand out.  While they are perhaps not quite developed enough for the ten year to be truly great, they do provide a semblance of structure rising above the gobbling smoothness.  A city of great elegance, now ruined and half buried in sand.  I understand this is not unusual in ports of a certain quality.  Where this port stands out positively is in the hint of citrus it carries on the after-taste.   The slight orange tang rises up against the smooth flow of the wine and the acidity offsets the threatened sickly sugary smoothness.

This is a solid port.  Drink it to redefine your childhood memories of an oft-used adjective – one you will now associate with an orangey twist.