Saturday, 14 January 2012

France Show, but where is the Languedoc-Roussillon?

The France Show has been an annual early January event at Earls Court in London for some years. It seemed well attended but not heaving, although the offer of free tickets to (presumably) previous attendees like us suggests a numbers boost was sought. The event is essentially for deprived Francophiles and wannabe future French home owners. It splits into two halves physically. A more serious property, finance, legal and business section on the right vs. lifestyle - food, wine, travel, fashion, language, entertainment and the like - on the left.

Now France is pretty big – the Languedoc-Roussillon is one of 22 regions on the mainland. Nevertheless, for a region on the top tier in the expansion and tourism league it had a near zero presence. Just one obvious representation out of 150 exhibitors; a new build specialist based in Narbonne called Villas from Languedoc. Their website URL name is as befits an established business of 28 years.

This is a wine blog so I’ll get back on topic with, on this occasion, much despair. I eyed well over 100 bottles on various stands and only spotted two L-R examples. There were two wine theatres and one was dedicated to Bordeaux. The other admirably featured Alsace and, seemingly forgetting this is January in London, Provence Rosé. The Sud de France logo, which covers food as well as wine, was nowhere to be seen. That said, with one cowboy stall charging £39 a kilo for 24 month old Comté to the uninformed, perhaps disassociation isn't a bad thing. That said, such extreme rip-offs were as rare as bargains.

We chatted to a charming couple who are 3D Wines and operate a vine rental scheme that supports small family operated vineyards. Their portfolio is 33 strong but with zilch from the L-R and just 3 from the Rhône to prop up the south. While they did tell us to "watch this space", we concurred that image and the lack of icon wines remain as L-R challenges.

I'll end on a more positive note. The Languedoc-Roussillon's reputation as a hidden secret is safe for now.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Old Red Wine

My last post touched on a lunch with some special classic wines brought along by a group of disparate wine lovers. I remarked that only 2 of the 14 wines were of this century, including the Mas de L'Écriture 2001 I brought to the party. The other was a Ruchottes Chambertin F Esmonin (Burgundy of course) and was the wine I’d most like to imbibe again. The oldest was 1966 Chateau Palmer (Bordeaux) along with Graham’s port of the same year.
The event prompted me to ponder some fairly deep personal matters – vinous of course. It distils down to this - ‘has my taste changed to favour younger red wine’?

I discovered wine in the early 1980s. In hindsight this could be considered the golden age of wine given that, with the exception of the so called Bordeaux great growths and a few equivalents, icon wines were affordable. A 10 year old Palmer from a modest vintage back then cost me a similar amount after inflation to the L'Écriture. These days Palmer is ×5 and up that of L'Écriture. Of course much has changed in 30 years. Fine wine has become a serious investment and therefore distorts values of course, but most crucial has been the revolution in wine making know-how and equipment. Poor vintages are enjoyable rather than near undrinkable or even a write-off. Often overlooked is that wines back then were usually made to go with food, or more pertinently simply needed food, and traditionally rich food at that. They also possessed less alcohol generally and the fruit seemed to be in a lower key.

Most fine reds needed to be aged. In their youth they seemed tannic monsters, or at least somewhat hard, and most soon withdrew into a comparatively dumb period for several years. With luck, a palatable complex wine would eventually emerge, usually after several disappointing bottles had been broached along the way. Perhaps I exaggerate a to make a point, but this did apply to plenty of well reputed clarets I owned or tasted.

Some wines are still built to age of course, but most have riper tannins and fruit making them more attractive throughout their life. There are also new styles. So called fruit bombs mainly from the new world are one that don’t appeal. Vibrant, expressive, supple and perfectly balanced wines do.

Going back to my analysis of ‘has my taste changed’ then perhaps the answer is not so much ‘yes’, but more ‘my taste has grown to appreciate, and often prefer, certain modern styles’. There are several Languedoc domains making reds (from Mediterranean varieties) that I’m familiar with and with a proven track record of ageing well for 10 years or more. Along with L'Écriture, aged cuvees from Alain Chabanon, Virgile Joly, Mas Jullien, Marfée and Ollier Taillefer have all given great pleasure and, in the future as a treat, will continue to do so. Golden age the 1980s may have been, but with the choice and diversity available today certainly not missed by me.