Memorable Wines to Celebrate the New Year in the South of France

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MEMORABLE WINES TO CELEBRATE THE NEW YEAR IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE – Mainly Rives Pres, my friends’ home in St. Andre de Sangonis, Languedoc (12/26/2007-1/3/2008)

These are the most memorable wines I enjoyed on a delightful, restful and delicious year-end visit to the Languedoc village home of my friends Ida and Philip. Philip and Ida have a wonderful cellar there, as they do at their home in London, since Philip has been collecting well chosen Champagne, Chablis, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhones and Languedoc wines for many years. Unlike me and my South Bay crowd, who revel in long dinners with numerous bottles of wine, Philip buys one or more cases of a wine he really enjoys and then savors one or two of them at length over delicious meals (which he often prepares himself, as he’s a superb cook), knowing that he has many more bottles of the same wonderful wine to check in with again, once a year or so, for many years to come. Whenever I visit these two, I come away with the sense that this is really the way to best enjoy a great wine (especially when Philip’s cellar is handy). I also come away wishing we didn’t live so far apart, and that I could somehow transplant their fabulous butcher, if not all the foodstuff in the south of France, to my own neighborhood. Oh well, at least I get to see them once a year or so . . . .

1st night in Languedoc

Ida and Philip welcomed me with a light supper and one of the most soul satisfying, nurturing bottles of great wine I’ve ever had: the thoroughly stunning ’90 La Chapelle.
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  • 1990 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle – France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage (12/26/2007)
    Perfect fill; black red violet with red violet meniscus; plum, black fruit, bay leaf and bacon fat nose; very youthful, tangy, luscious black fruit, plum, bay leaf palate, with roasted meat edges, that fully opened, after an hour or so, adding pepper and black olives to the palate; long finish (perfect pairing with a rare maigret and fresh haricot vert salad on arrival at my dear friends’ restored farmhouse in the Languedoc) 100+ points

Dinner at Rives Pres 12/27/07

Philip and Ida at Laussel Boucherie:
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With foie gras mousse and roasted quails from my beloved Lasalle Boucherie in Clermont l’Herault, the following two wines were the perfect match to our dinner and a satisfying end to a contemplative day of hiking in the vineyard studded countryside. A ’90 Vieux Telegraphe that we also opened, was, unfortunately, corked.
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  • 1989 Château Suduiraut – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes (12/27/2007)
    Dark golden amber color; lovely, honeyed apricot nose to begin with, that added coconut and butter as it opened; yummy, rich, honeyed apricot and sweet lemon palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish (lovely with foie gras mousse w/fig course) 93+ points
  • 1989 Domaine de Chevalier – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan (12/27/2007)
    Black red violet color; black fruit, tobacco, and smoky nose with a hint of bark; lovely, very youthful, cassis, tart plum palate with sweet beef jus showing toward long finish (went well with roasted quail, stuffed with tarragon, on a bed of leeks, served with savoy cabbage, shallots and poitrine fume) 94 points

Saturday Lunch at Rives Pres 12/29/07

After a fun dinner at an up and coming restaurant in Gignac, where the food was excellent but nothing on the small winelist was memorable, it was great to be able to relax over a leisurely lunch with lovely wines at my friends’ home. The Les Vergers showed better than I could have imagined. It was also great to taste another one of Alain Chabanon’s wines with a little bottle age on it. Alain is a very talented winemaker in Montpeyroux that Philip and Ida introduced me to on my trip the previous year to the Languedoc.
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  • 2000 Domaine Marc Morey & Fils Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Vergers – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru (12/29/2007)
    Solid medium yellow color with faint green tinge; lovely, rich, hazelnut, almond and mineral nose, that changes after 15 minutes or so to simple creamy goodness; delicious, precise, crisp and juicy tart citrus with depth and long, minerally finish (paired with our first course for lunch at home, at Rives Pres: smoked albacore tuna and toasted blinis) 95+ points
  • 2001 Domaine Alain Chabanon Le Merle aux Alouettes – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Vin de Pays d’Oc (12/29/2007)
    Black fruit and white pepper nose; rich, wonderful black fruit, deep plum and chocolate palate with subtle white pepper note; medium-plus finish (70% Merlot, 15% Carignane, 15% Syrah; 30 mos. elevage) (tasty with French cut pork chops with boudon blanc aux truffes from Laussel Boucherie–the best Languedoc butcher) 94+ points

Sunday lunch at Rives Pres 12/30/07

Philip had offered the ’93 Mugnier Musigny if I could manage to make it over for the holidays, and it probably would have provided a memorable afternoon of oenic rapture all on its own, even without the wonderful food, conversation and companionship that accompanied it. Together, however, all those elements made for a truly unforgettable holiday day.
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Our poulet jaune roast with citron confit and leeks:
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  • 2005 Domaine Honoré Audran Vin de Pays du Comté Tolosan Cuvée des Amandiers – France, Southwest France, Vin de Pays du Comté Tolosan (12/30/2007)
    Light medium yellow color; sweet and subtly floral, hyacinth nose; oily textured tart citrus palate with a bit of spice and good acidity; medium finish (went surprisingly well with our Lucques olives) (88 points
  • 1993 Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier Musigny – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Musigny Grand Cru (12/30/2007)
    Dark red garnet color with thin, clear meniscus; gorgeous, perfumey, ripe cherry and dark cherry nose that went through several changes during the course of our Sunday lunch, eventually settling on mainly a rosehips nose; very tasty, tangy, tart and sappy black cherry palate with good body and acidity and rose notes appearing toward the medium-plus finish (nicely paired with our 2nd course: poulet jaune roast with citron confit and leeks, served with oyster mushrooms gravy in a white wine sauce) 98+ points
  • 2000 Moët & Chandon Champagne Grand Vintage Brut Rosé – France, Champagne (12/30/2007)
    Pink orange color; solid tart strawberry nose; rich, tart strawberry and tart raspberry palate with good mousse and acidity; medium finish 92 points

New Years’ Eve Lunch at Rives Pres

Having eaten so much for a few days, a light lunch was all we felt like. This rose was just the perfect match, and kept us feeling light enough to dance away the night with a bunch of British ex-pats at a home situated above the Lac du Salagou.
Ida and I on our way out to celebrate the New Year
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  • 2006 La Sauvageonne Coteaux du Languedoc Les Arbousiers – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Coteaux du Languedoc (12/31/2007)
    Nice, tart red fruit nose; excellent, tart red fruit with refreshing acidity; short finish (perfect with a light salad of poached eggs and crudites) (87 points

Lunch New Year’s Day 2008

After another delightful lunch, with more remarkable meats from the Languedoc’s great butcher, we toasted the first day of 2008 with an 1808 Solera Malmsey. Ida and Philip’s neighbors joined us for the Malmsey and Champagne.
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  • 2002 Domaine Daniel Dampt et Fils Chablis 1er Cru Les Lys – France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru (1/1/2008)
    Bright medium yellow color; light citrus nose; light-medium, slightly oily texture with palate of tart lemon and sea bream; medium finish (served at lunch with salmon mousse and freshwater crayfish in dill gelee) 93+ points
  • 2002 Domaine Honoré Audran Vin de Pays du Comté Tolosan Cuvée Anaïs – France, Southwest France, Vin de Pays du Comté Tolosan (1/1/2008)
    Dark garnet red color; tart plum nose with a hint of sage; good plum and black fruit palate with herbal notes; short-medium finish (50/50 Syrah and Carignane blend) (tasty pairing with boudon aux truffes with confit of onions, braised endive, roseval potatoes and chicken gravy) 92 points
  • 1808 Cossart Gordon & Co. Madeira Malmsey Solera – Portugal, Madeira (1/1/2008)
    Medium tea colored brown with clear meniscus; plum and VA nose; good, rich, buttery, tart raisin palate with great acidity for a Malmsey; long finish (bottled in 1951) 96 points

Carcassonne 1/3/08

I spent another week in the Languedoc and Provence after Ida and Philip returned to London, enjoying more fabulous meals and some good local wines. My most memorable bottle after they left, however, was my first Montus, a baby, that I couldn’t resist when I saw it on the list at a restaurant in Carcassonne.
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  • 1999 Château Montus Madiran Cuvée Prestige – France, Southwest France, Madiran (1/3/2008)
    Black red violet with cherry red meniscus; very tight at first, opening to ripe plum and black fruit nose and cassis, like a plush Napa Cab, then changed, after 2+ hours, to more of a tart meaty nose; initially showed rich, concentrated, ripe plum, black fruit and cassis palate with minerality and elegant iron notes; after 2+ hours, tart red fruit and beef jus came out to join the black fruit; long finish (drank the bottle by myself throughout a 7-course truffle themed meal at Restaurant Robert Rodriguez in Carcassonne) 94+ points
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