Tag Archives: French wines

Lidl Foire Aux Vins 2014

Not to be sniffed at, and well worth a visit!

by Ian Blackshaw

It is that time of the year again in France for the wine fairs – foires aux vins!
Apart from the traditional French Supermarkets of Auchan and Carrefour, this year an announcement by LIDL that they are holding their wine fair from 3 – 6 September, 2014 caught my eye.

Now LIDL is a discount supermarket (‘une supermarche des bonnes affaires’) which is often looked down on and one that my wife and I do not know very well, compared with the other German discount store of ALDI, which we do frequent, from time to time, finding their wide selection of French cheeses very good value for money indeed, including the local ‘sea-salty’ flavoursome cheese of ‘maroilles’.

In their 2014 wine fair, LIDL are offering a wide selection of French wines from the main wine producing regions of France, including Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Alsace, Loire, Cotes de Rhone and the Pays Doc. But, perhaps surprisingly, no Champagne – at least as far as I can see! However, I noticed that the Catalogue includes an interesting ‘Cremant de Bordeaux Brut Rose’, which won a gold medal in the 2014 ‘Concours des Cremants’, and a snip at €4.99 a bottle, and one, therefore, that I shall have to try!
As readers of my wine articles will know, I am particularly fond of the Bordelais reds, and one which caught my eye in the LIDL Catalogue is a 2009 a Graves Chateau Gravaillas, which won a gold medal at the Macon Wine Competition of 2011, selling at €7.39 a bottle.

Of the whites, a 2013 Saint-Veran, from the Cote d’ Or, Burgundy, priced at €7.49 a bottle, is particularly noteworthy, just as good as its more expensive neighbour ‘Pouilly Fuisse’! Likewise, the LIDL 2014 Catalogue features for the first time a 2011 Loupiac pudding wine from the Chateau du Cros.

There is certainly something for everyone in the 2014 LIDL French wines selection and also that will suit all pockets, from the cheap and cheerful (in other words ‘gluggable’), ranging in price from €2.50 to €4 a bottle to the more expensive sophisticated wines, like a 2011 Saint-Estephe Chateau Saint-Gorbian, Cuvee Tradition, which won a bronze medal in the 2013 Bordeaux Wine Competition, on offer at €14.99 a bottle – described as a ‘Coup de Coeur’! In other words, an irresistible bargain! Even more up market is another ‘Coup de Coeur’: a 2009 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classe at €25.99 a bottle from Chateau La Tour Du Pin Figeac.

You can access on line the LIDL 2014 Wine Catalogue which is well illustrated and informative. Readers of this article, with a keen eye for detail, will notice that this is an interactive website and you can also order and buy on line, if you wish!

Better still, readers of ‘Frogsiders’ might like to make a personal visit to their local LIDL supermarket, rather than a virtual one, and see what their 2014 wine fair has to offer them and share their buys and experiences with us!

Madiran Wine:A Good Winter Warmer

by Ian Blackshaw

It is that time of the year, once again, when the major French supermarkets, such as Auchan, Carrefour and Intermarche, have their wine fairs (foire aux vins) and tempt punters in with all kinds of offers. For example, buy two cartons of a particular wine and get the third one free!

It is also that time when, amongst the well-known French wines, such as those from Bordeaux and Burgundy, they often feature less well-known, but also Continue reading “Madiran Wine:A Good Winter Warmer” »

An Exceptional Wine for Easter

by Ian Blackshaw

Two years ago, my wife and I celebrated our Ruby Wedding, and our two boys gave us a 1970 Bottle of Haute-Medoc from the Chateau de Camensac, which is located in Saint Laurent in the Gironde. The wine was accompanied by some tasting notes.

For various reasons, we have not yet drunk it. However, it so happens that, according to the tasting notes, it should be drunk in 2013. So, we are going to drink it with our Easter dinner this year and with the traditional roast lamb served at this season. Our elder son and his wife with be with us to enjoy it, but, unfortunately, our younger son and his wife will not, as they are in Zambia.

The Haut-Medoc wine, which is my favourite of the Bordelais wines, comes from an area which Continue reading “An Exceptional Wine for Easter” »

Blanquette de Limoux: A fine sparkler from the Pays d’Oc

by Ian Blackshaw

Blanquette de Limoux - (photo by Stephanie Watson)

My younger brother-in-law, the wine buff, and his wife have just celebrated their Ruby Wedding. He is not very keen on fizz, although he will take the odd glass of Champagne, if pressed, but his wife is and her favourite sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux from the Languedoc region of south west France, where they have spent many holidays, and this sparkler was much in evidence at their party.

Although, as readers of my wine articles will know, I prefer Champagne, which, as far as I am concerned, is the real thing, but I must say that France produces some exceptional sparklers, including Blanquette de Limoux. This is one of four AOCs of Limoux – three white and one red. Blanquette is not only the local name for the main grape variety used in these white wines, that is, Mauzac, but also means white. In fact, 15% of Mauzac must be used in the production of the wines, but also Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc may also be used. The Mauzac grape, of which there must 90% in the wine, gives Blanquette de Limoux its zesty taste and acidity, which a white wine – and particularly a sparkling one – needs. The wine also has a distinctive apple-peel flavour to it.

Abbaye Saint Hilaire - the birthplace of Blanquette de Limoux

Local wine historians believe that the world’s first sparkling wine was produced in the Languedoc region in 1531 by the Benedictine monks of Saint-Hilaire abbey. There are even claims that sparkling wine was around and traded in Roman times!

The Blanquette methode ancestrale produces a sweetish wine and is made without disgorgement – the process of releasing the yeast from the bottle which has been added to facilitate the second fermentation of the wine. This wine is produced in the same area as Blanquette de Limoux and, according the AOC rules, may only contain the Mauzac grape.

The third AOC sparkler from Limoux is the Crémant de Limoux, which is made according to the methode traditionnelle, which does involve disgorgement, and contains more Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc in the blend, which may not exceed 90%. The other 10% is made up of Mauzac and Pinot Noir. This wine is produced in more than 40 villages around the city of Limoux, which is located in the eastern foothills of the Pyrenees, south of the impressive fortified city of Carcassonne. It is a very satisfying aperitif or dessert wine, owing much its terroir.

Although, in my opinion, they are no substitute for Champagne, French sparkling wines should not be underestimated and this certainly goes for the Limoux sparklers and especially the Blanquette de Limoux, which is a fine example of them.

Champagne: For Good Times And Bad

by Ian Blackshaw

We have just got back from two glorious and sunny days in Champagne country.

We stayed at a rustic and comfortable chambres d’hôtes in the heart of the Champagne vineyards of the mountains of Reims, about 10 miles from Epernay, where we sampled Madame’s delicious jams for breakfast made from the white and red Champagne grapes.

Pierre Paillard ChampagneWe visited our favourite Champagne house – Pierre Paillard – in the appropriately named Champagne wine village of Bouzy to sample and buy his latest offerings. The problem with the Champagne region is that there are hundreds of producers to choose from, ranging from the well-known grand houses of Moet et Chandon and Mercier – a visit to their caves in Epernay, which are 30 metres underground and extend to over 100 kilometres of tunnels, in a laser guided train is a must! – to medium-sized and smaller lesser-known houses. Apart from trial and error, one needs to rely on recommendations from fellow aficionados of Champagne.

At Pierre Paillard, who have been producing Champagne since 1768, we met Antoine Paillard, the eighth generation of the family. He had recently been in Hong Kong for six months to check out the Asian market, which he told us was very different from the European and American markets. It seems that the Chinese, despite their high disposable income, have not yet acquired a taste for Champagne – they prefer French reds, especially well-known clarets from the Bordelais wine region. Apparently, the Chinese palate is not yet used to the acidity of good Champagne.

Caves Champagne Pierre Paillard

We tasted his latest Rose Champagne – a blend of 2006 and 2007 pinot noir (23%) and chardonnay (70%) grapes, to which has been added a small quantity of the famous Bouzy Rouge (7%). The Rose was excellent, with tangy raspberry notes, and we invested in a number of bottles. We also bought some of his 2005 Bouzy Rouge, for which the village is also famous and which has just been released, and which he described as ‘not a bad year’! We also came away with several bottles of his brut-grand cru Champagne, made from a blend of pinot noir (60%) and chardonnay (40%) grapes, again from 2006 and 2007, which is very zesty. Nicely chilled, it is just the sort of tipple to be enjoyed on a warm summer’s evening. We have actually toasted the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee during this past long weekend with this rather special and excellent sparkler!

We asked Antoine about this year’s vintage and he told us that things were going well so far, but that August and September are the critical months weather wise, which could make all the difference between a good and a bad vendange.

Champagne house Pierre PaillardWe also asked him how the Champagne business was going in the current recession and with a Gallic shrug of his shoulders and perhaps typical of his understatement style replied: ‘not bad’. Adding that he was selling more to hotels and restaurants, despite the news that many of the French are having to tighten their belts and, amongst other things, are foregoing holidays this year. But, when it comes to food and wine, the French, generally speaking, are still in the front line and do not hold back!

I, for one, will raise my glass of Champagne to that!

Premieres Cotes De Blaye : An undervalued claret

by Ian Blackshaw

As regular readers of my wine articles will know, I generally prefer red wine to white wine and of the reds I particularly like the Bordelais reds.

Of course, the Bordeaux wine region offers a wide range of red wine, including the famous and, for most of us, unaffordable ones such as Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau La Tour. However, there are some fine Bordelais reds, which are more affordable and also very satisfying if drunk when they are at their best following appropriate bottle ageing. One such are the reds from the Premieres Cotes de Blaye. The town of Blaye is situated on the right bank of the Gironde estuary, some 35 miles north of Bordeaux.

The wines from this Appellation Controlee d’Origine (AOC) are not great wines, like those from St Estephe and St Emilion, but are very good ones. The Premieres Cotes de Blaye wine area extends for some 6,500 hectares and includes 42 communes. The AOC status dates from 2009 and covers all the wines from the vineyards around Blaye.

The other evening, my wife and I enjoyed a 2004 – this vintage is at its best now for drinking – Premieres Cotes de Blaye form the Chateau Borderie les Terres, which went down very well indeed with a hearty pot au feu, cooked on our wood burning stove and served before a blazing log fire, with the snow outside, deep and crisp and even, and a temperature of minus 6 degrees Celsius. All very comforting and satisfying! This Premieres Cotes de Blaye is a typical bordelaise wine, being made from a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The wine was bottled at the Chateau by J P Lambert, viticulteur, of St Ciers sur Gironde, a wine village with a population of around 3,000. This wine is full bodied (12.5% alcohol by volume) with cherry notes from the Merlot grapes in the wine. It also has a clear red robe, which is characteristic of the Premier Cotes de Blaye wines. This clarity is the origin of the name ‘claret’ (French ‘clairet’) used nowadays to denominate the Bordelais wines.

As I said, Premieres Cotes de Blaye wines are not one of the great clarets, but they compare very favourably in quality and price with the great Bordelais growths; so look out for them in the supermarkets and try them for yourselves. You will not, I would suggest, be disappointed!

Gift ideas for Bordeaux wine lovers!

Cotes du Luberon Wines: A tonic for the time of the year

Chateau de Clapier Rouge

by Ian Blackshaw

Since the clocks went back at the end of October, not only are the days shortening but also the nights are distinctly colder. Just the time of the year then to cheer yourself up with some wine from a sunny part of France – Provence in the extreme south east of the Rhone region.

One wine region in this part of France, which I have not yet covered in my wine articles, and one that would fit the bill and raise the spirits, is the Cotes du Luberon. This region only gained its AOC (appellation d’origine controlee) status in 1998, although winemaking in the region goes back some 2,000 years!

The Cotes du Luberon produces white, rose and red wines, and the general recommendation is to drink the wines young, especially the whites. The minimum alcohol by volume of the wines is fixed at 11%.

These wines, it must be said, when compared with wines from other parts of France, are not great wines, but are extremely gluggable, and are produced by some 450 vineyards in the Cotes du Luberon wine region.
The reds are produced mainly from the Grenache Noir and Syrah grapes. The roses are produced from the same grape varieties; whilst the whites come mainly from the Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc and Clairette grapes.

The Cotes du Luberon wines may be drunk as an aperitif, especially the whites and the roses, or with food, especially the reds with grilled fish and meat, and also goats’ cheeses.

One producer to look out for particularly is Thomas Montagne, an independent vigneron, of the Chateau de Clapier, which is located in Mirabeau and, at one time, belonged to the Marquises de Mirabeau, who were successful wine dilettantes in their day. The domaine is not far from Aix-en-Provence, in the heart of Provence, so beloved of Peter Mayle, the author of the best seller, ‘A Year in Provence’, and who lives in Lourmarin in the Luberon.

So, when you drink these wines on a cold evening, think of the warm summers that have produced them; and the reds especially will give you a warm feeling and will help you to forget this rather dreary time of the year!

Wine Fairs and Partying to Celebrate the Wine Harvest

By Ian Blackshaw

Vendange in Burgundy

It is that time of the year again – Autumn, when the leaves are falling and the nights are drawing in. Or, as John Keats, so eloquently put it in 1820 in his poem ‘To Autumn’: ‘the season of gentle mists and mellow fruitfulness’.
As far as wine is concerned, this is the time of the wine harvests (vendanges) and also wine celebrations and wine fairs (foires du vin).

After the dryness of the Spring and the rain of July, by all accounts, 2011 promises to be a good year for French wine in terms of quality and quantity.
The major French Supermarkets, such as Auchan and Carrefour, are offering their wine fairs and, with the help of their own sommeliers to advise customers, they are well worth visiting. One is able to pick up some good buys, especially amongst the reds.

Many wines are on offer: buy two cases and get the third one free, for example. Also, it is the time of the year when earlier vintages of good wines are released – again, at good prices!

There are also good offers on Champagne – my favourite tipple.
Of course, many wine villages and regions in France are also celebrating their wine harvests (fetes des vendanges) and these are also well worth visiting. Not only can you taste the wines, but also join in the celebrations and have a fun time. But be careful – all things, of course, in moderation!


For example, this Saturday and Sunday, the town of Chablis, famous for its delightful grape variety and eponymous wine, celebrates its annual wine festival. On Saturday, there is a competition for local wine growers; and Sunday is given over to a Gallic knees-up to celebrate their fine white wine, with plenty of food and drink. The French like to enjoy themselves, so there is quite a party atmosphere!

Next month, of course, there are the 2011 Beaujolais Nouveau celebrations, beginning on the third Thursday in November, centred on the town of Beaujeu, the capital of the Beaujolais wine region. This town hosts a massive party known as ‘sarmentelles’, named after the French word for cuttings taken from the canes of the vines, ‘sarments’. These are burned in the centre of town before the new barrels are opened. The festival goes on for three days.

Also, Lyon, for example, hosts its own so-called ‘Beaujolympics’ (‘Beaujolympiades’), marking the release of the wine with music and fireworks, followed by two days of tastings!

So, if you are not able to participate in any of these wine festivals, it is the time of year to light the fireplace or the wood burning stove and enjoy a glass of French wine or two and remember nature’s wonderful bounty!

Picpoul De Pinet ~ A Satisfying Languedoc White Wine

by Ian Blackshaw
A bottle of Picpoul de Pinet wine

Picpoul De Pinet (photo: Tomas er)

As readers of my wine articles will know, my younger brother-in-law is a bit of a wine buff and never ceases to surprise or amaze me with his knowledge. During a recent stay with us, he introduced me to a wine and grape variety that, I must confess, I had never previously heard of!

Picpoul de Pinet is a dry white wine from the Languedoc and is a delightful wine for summer drinking, although I am penning these lines in the middle of a terrific thunderstorm and downpour!

The grape variety is Picpoul, which, in Occitan (picque poule) translates as ‘lipstinger’, because of its acidity before fermentation, and is one of the oldest grape varieties for wine production in France. Shame on me for not knowing that! And the wine, Picpoul de Pinet, comes from the picpoul blanc grape grown in the commune of Pinet.

The wine is green-gold in colour, quite spicy and fresh on the palate, with a fresh lemon aftertaste. The wine makes a good aperitif and also a good accompaniment to fish and shellfish, especially oysters and mussels, which are farmed in the Bassin de Thau, south of Sete, near where the wine is produced. Picpoul is generally regarded as the Languedoc’s equivalent of Muscadet.

Picpoul Blanc grapes

The wine belongs to the appellation controlee of ‘Coteaux du Languedoc’, which forms part of the extensive Languedoc-Roussillon wine region – reputedly the world’s biggest wine region – bordering France’s western Mediterranean coast. Like most white wines, it should be drunk young. In fact, the 2010 vintage is very good indeed!

So, look out for this simple – despite its rather complicated name – but very satisfying white wine and enjoy!

Gewurztraminer: a versatile white wine

by Ian Blackshaw

The Alsace Wine region in Eastern France

One of the first French white wines that I was introduced to many years ago by a discerning wine-loving friend of mine was Gewurztraminer, which I very much enjoy to this day – I always keep a stock in my cellar! The wine comes from a wine region in a delightful part of France, which I have not yet covered in my wine articles, Alsace, in the eastern part of France bordering Germany

Gewurztraminer is the most typical of the Alsatian white wines, which, I have to say, are not everyone’s favourites; many wine lovers preferring the more robust white wines of the Burgundy region.
Gewûrz means “spicy” in German and this is the main characteristic of the wine. The Traminer part of the wine name means “coming from Tramin”, which is a small city in the Southern Tyrol of Austria, where the grape originates. Gewurztraminer is not only the name of the grape variety, but also the name of the wine which is made from it! The wine is also known colloquially as Gewûrz!

Gewurztraminer – always rendered in French without the umlaut – was first grown in Alsace in the 19th Century. The grapes now cover around 20% of the vineyards in the region. One of the main vineyards producing Gewurtraminer is located around the delightful town of Riqewihr, which is well worth visiting with its half-timbered houses and picturesque alleyways and squares!

The wine is delightful and fruity with strong aromas of citrus fruits and also lychees; and has a very perfumed and flowery bouquet. Gewurztraminer is sweeter than Riesling, which is a dry wine also grown in Alsace and well worth drinking too. 29 million bottles of Gewurztraminer are produced annually, and the wine thrives on the clayey-limestone soil of the Alsace region and also benefits from its cooler climate.

The wine is very versatile: it may be drunk as an aperitif and goes well with spicy dishes, especially stir fries. It also goes well with certain cheeses, such as


Munster from Alsace, Roquefort from the Aveyron, and Maroilles from our own region of Northern France. It is also a very good desert wine, especially the older vintages, say a 2000 or a 1998, which are now drinking very well. Generally speaking, it should be drunk between 3 and 10 years of its production; and is at its best when served at 10°C (50°F). And, last, but by no means least, it is a wonderful accompaniment to foie gras!

  • What is a vintage wine?

    by Ian Blackshaw

    Most people, when asked what is meant by a vintage in wine usually answer by saying it denotes the age and the quality of the wine concerned. But that is not strictly correct and not the whole story.

    In fact, a vintage, in wine-making terms, is the process of actually picking the grapes and creating the finished product.

    A Vintage in Burgundy

    A vintage wine is one made from grapes that were all, or primarily, grown and harvested in a single specified year. In certain wines, it can, in fact, denote quality, as in Port wine, where Port houses make and declare vintage Port in their best years. From this practice, a common, although as already mentioned, incorrect usage applies the term to any wine that is perceived to be particularly old or of a particularly high quality.

    Most countries, including France, under their wine-making rules, allow a vintage wine to include a small portion of wine that is not from the year denoted on the wine label.

    This is a non-vintage wine, which is usually a blend (cuvee) from the produce of two or more years. This is a common practice for winemakers in many parts of France who wish to produce a consistent style of wine, on a year on year basis.

    Wine expert opinion is divided on the value and significance of a vintage in wine; some wine commentators suggest that vintage wine charts should be Continue reading “What is a vintage wine?” »

    Wine tasting cups

    Tastevin Wine Tasting Cup

    by Ian Blackshaw

    My brother-in-law, who is also something of a wine buff and particularly enjoys French wines, has requested a wine tasting cup for his birthday present.

    By that, he means a ‘tastevin’ which is a historic wine maker and cellarman’s tool to check the maturing process of a wine. The silver dimples on such a wine tasting cup catch and reflect the light, revealing the wine’s true colour and clarity. It is also used by sommeliers to taste and approve the wine before serving it to customers.

    The best kind of such a wine tasting cup is a silver plated one, which will set you back about €30.

    It is also possible to buy a silver plated chain that can be attached to the ‘tastevin’ and worn around the neck leaving your hands free. Together with a black cellarman’s apron, this would complete the sommelier’s outfit. So, perhaps my brother-in-law, if he wants the whole thing, will have to have it for both his birthday and Christmas presents!

    A Standard Tasting Glass which holds 21.5cl

    Furthermore, it is also possible to buy standard wine tasting glasses, which are specifically designed to be used across a wide spectrum of wine styles – including champagne and port, which, incidentally, like all wines should be served in the proper glasses – allowing you to sample, with confidence, all kinds of wines using just the one glass.

    The perfect clear bowl allows the true colour of the wine to shine through, as, remember, wine is to be appreciated also by sight as well as smell and taste; the long stem prevents your hand warming the wine, which is very much to be avoided in the case of white wines; and the tapered top helps to concentrate the aromas (‘bouquet’) of the wine in the glass, all part of the enjoyment of wine.

    In case you may think that my brother-in-law is suffering from delusions of wine grandeur and out to impress his dinner guests, I should perhaps add that he is a very keen member of his local wine tasting group!

    So, there you have it: the complete picture on wine tasting cups and what is available for wine buffs!

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