Posted by: jmbwineblog | April 9, 2011

Escape to France and the world of wine…

My last post, was rather abrupt and in some ways uncouth, well… Not as uncouth as Wayne Rooney bad mouthing into a camera when he had just won an important game.

Back to the matter, despite not really thinking anything of what was happening in Japan as that serious for me, after worried phone calls from family and friends, a bit of scaremongering ;) here and there, and some proper thought about the issues at hand, we decided that the best thing to do would be to leave Japan. not because we feared we would die of radiation sickness or be quarantined for the rest of our lives, but simply because there are currently very real and serious shortages of food, medicine, oil, petrol and electricity in Japan at the moment and whilst my wife, my dog and I have plenty, there are plenty who were dying without. So due to (for want of a better word) “lax” quarantine laws in France, we have moved to the family recluse until we can return to the UK on a more permanent footing. However, when you have views like this but a stone’s throw away, why would we want to move back I here you ask…

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Well, yes, you may be able to guess that the family recluse is in the Alps, very close to the Italian Border… Closer to Turin than to Nice or Marseille, we are in Gap the capital of Les Hautes Alpes in the department known as Les Alpes-Provence-Cote d’Azur. Guess what, the weather is good, the food is cheap and excellent, the local accent is very similar to that of Aoste (Aosta in Italian) and Piemonte (Piedmont in French). We are doing little and learning a lot about the world of wine. Not least wines of value instead of statute that give as much pleasure as those big gun wines that so often frequent these pages

Whilst with my uncle we have drunk a number of good wines, including a 2007 Moulin-a-Vent, a 2002 Chateau Breillan, Cru Borgeouis, plenty of local Côtes du Rhone at a local bistro, a fair amount of Artisanal beer and the pièce de résistance, an absolutely mind blowing bottle of 1985 Krug which was long, broad, mature but balanced and in no way in decline. (a wine that despite it’s vintage and name has got a bad rep from many, and up until now by myself as well, I feel that 85 Krug is simply misunderstood. This was the best bottle of many I have tried and it reminded me of my not quite as good bottle that I enjoyed as my first… This ramped it up a bit, but not in the way one would expect from good bottles of Krug. It wasn’t full on and powerful, it is delicate, subtle, refined, shy if you will? It had an air of superiority but it didn’t want to shout to the world. In many ways it had a finish like a river, nothing that jumps out at first, but calm, soothing, delicate and bewitching. I can only hope that my last remaining bottle is as good. I have come around to 1985 Krug :D ). On our own, we have discovered the wines of the Savoie and will explore those of the Jura as well, as both are very close to where we are. But the biggest surprise for me was the very wine that should but unfortunately does not define Les Hautes-Alpes!

Les Hautes Alpes

There is a long and fabled history, which can be Googled very easily and is too long to post here.

Home to the highest registered community in Europe, a village called Saint Veran (not to be confused with Saint Véran in the Macconais in Burgundy, in the department of Queyras, which has a stunning castle and the village further up sits at 2040m above sea level. And also Marmouths! A sort of Mole like animal that lives in these hills. (I have seen two now!!)

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Wonderful honey, wonderful Samosa type cuisine called Les Tourtons, Italian style nuggets and sweets (well we are close), many a famous skier and also many a world champion boules player! It is also home to a grape, native only to high altitudes called Mollard that used to be planted in their droves along the route from Gap to Embrun and a little bit further south in Théus. The grape takes well to hot drought ridden summers and high altitudes and continues to grow on some very old vines in the area, many of which are abandoned, but still tended to by the small local co-ops of the area.

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At the time of the writings about wine of Mr. Guyot, who wrote favorably of the Mollard grape, there were hundreds and hundreds of hectares of these vines plan, but alas today there are but 20 hectares in total and but two producers out of a handful who have these grapes make 100% Mollard wines. Not least, because they are not thought to be that great. However with modern winemaking improvements and general understanding of how to make this grape shine, two producers are showing the quality that can be produced with it. It is a grape that likes altitude and due to a combination of cooler climate, hot summer and lots of snow, with plenty of sunshine it buds, flowers and ripens later than is usual for most vitis vinifera vines. The wines whether red or Rosé, (most white produced in the Alps is Voignier or Chardonnay with a few other bits and pieces) has a rich, full, plum, cassis, dark fruit character, with a round pebbly mineral character, and a slight herbiness. In many ways, it is similar in flavour profile to Dolcetto from Piemonte, but with less heat and more cool freshness to the wines. They are ripe, and I feel they are better unoaked, but I am of the same opinion for Dolcetto as well.

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The Red and Rosé that I purchased both for in and around €10 a bottle from our local Gapençais wine store called Vins Bertrand (one of the oldest in the whole county) were both produced by Domaine Petit Août as shown in the above picture, and whilst I preferred the red, simply because I prefer my Rosé less rich and powerful are both very well made wine with real character and a sense of place. The wines are produced by Yann de Agostini and his winery is based just to the South of Gap in Théus. All his vines are at least 40 years old. He is one of the producers who are fighting hard in Brussels to have their lowly IGP (formerly Vins de Pays) upgraded to AOP (formerly AOC). I certainly hope they win, and that both the producers can export their vines to other cool mountainous regions and that the grape takes off again in this part of the world, as it is sad to see so many old abandoned vines, many well over 50-60 years old and still producing grapes. I plan to visit soon and will make a proper report when I do so… As I have said, they deserve it.

All this whilst the hype surrounds Bordeaux 2010… ;) don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten or decided to reject Bordeaux. It is just that I would rather not be influenced by others, as I will be their leisurely tasting at 35 different Chateaus without noise and constant harassment from others around me as would happen at the UGC Tastings that finished up yesterday! And I will post my notes when I feel they are ready for human consumption, and my trusty dog will get tired running around the vines!

Until the Happy Drinking,
And remember that it only takes a quick Google to find out about Mollard!

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