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Bandol: Chateau D’Azur

Chateau D’Azur, Bandol, 2009

I have always wanted a Bandol in the pack and now I have one! Karen Frankel (my buddy from San Francisco on this wine sourcing trip in July 2011) and I were incredibly excited about  our little trip to Bandol. We again cut to the chase and found a lovely wine shop in rather a disappointing town centre, sadly, too many tourists shops and headed out of town to discover the delights of the surrounding countryside. The next morning, after much driving around the country roads and getting lost, the art of following signs to vineyards that then suddenly disappear, again being witnessed by ourselves we eventually drove into the unassuming driveway of Chateau D’Azur. Our efforts were not in vain!

This wine is made by up and coming star Gael Cluchier for owner Paul Chavel. Made from 90% Mourvedre and the remaining 10% is made up from small parcels of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah.

Mr whirly says:

“ Juicy and fruit forward yet unlike a lot of Bnadols this wine drinks so well immediately after the cork has been taken out of the bottle.  Great fruit forward wine yet with subtle summer herb aroma’s“

Winemakers notes:

“ The vines were planted in 1990. We do not use chemical products on the vines and we also use Organic fertiliser. Hand picked in small bins. Yield: 30hl/ha. Crushed and de-stemmed. Fermented and Macerated over three weeks and pumped over everyday. Pressed after three weeks and blended with the freely run juice. Malolactic fermentation before the winter. 18 Months in Bordeaux Oak barrels. Blended and bottled in the summer of 2011. Intensely dark colour. This wine is strong. Spicy (pepper, cinnamon and Liquorice) and also Toasty. Decant and leave for one hour. Good ageing potential

Alc vol: 14.0%

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Cairanne, 2009

This wine is now sold out. New Vintage arrives March-April 2014.

It’s a right old Cairanne! And this really is anything but. Not old in anyway and very fresh and exciting, this lesser known Cotes de Rhone Village is very much treading its own path into the new age of wine growing in France, where wines that sell at that optimum price point, £10-14, really are shining through. I tasted this wine with Audrey Armand on that sun blessed evening on the 27th July 2011 and thought it was exactly what I wanted in a top quality Rhone, that doesn’t have the price tag of some of the better known appellations a little further south but most definitely has the quality. This wine is made from older vines, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. If you can, decant and leave for an hour.

Mr Whirly says:

“ A pure delight of joy. I bought this wine from the little village north of more recognised names in Southern Rhone because it provides great quality at a great price. This is a special cuvee and like all their wines, the grapes are picked with meticulous attention and care. Smooth and juicy with hints of tabacco and liquorice as well as a hint of black cherries and white pepper. Fantastic value for the quality of the wine.”

Alc vol: 14.5%

Winemakers notes:

This is a Special cuvée – limited production wine. AOC Côtes du Rhône Villages, Cairanne , Cuvée LOUIS red 2009.

Terroir: hill side limestone. Old vine Grenache, 50%, 25% Syrah, 25% Mourvedre. Hand harvested and selective picking. De-stemming, long maceration, aged in oak barrels that are two years old for 6 months. This wine has a deep red purple colour, the nose is intense and complex, black pepper, mineral and after breathing we discover ripe aromas of cherry and coulis sauce with light toasted notes. In the mouth this wine has a well balanced structure, powerful with fruit flavours and elegant tannins with a long finish with some light vanilla showing through. Can be aged for up to 6 years and drinking beautifully now.

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Rasteau, 2009

Something has always excited me about this name: Rasteau! It evokes a slightly mischievous thought, I guess because the name sounds a little like rascal. Anyway, although not a picturesque as Sablet, up on the hill a few miles away, this little town is just as famous for great wines!

Mr Whirly says:

“  Luscious fruit on this wine. Love it: this is Mr Whirly’s Rasteau! I tasted this wine at a wine dinner with James Rix at the Fox and Hounds in November 2011 and it was incredibly perfumed and scented with violets.  A subtle wine, which is unusual for a Rasteau. Really very impressive.”

Winemakers notes:

“ Terroir: large pebbles and clay. 60% Grenache, 40% Mourvedre. Hand harvested and selective picking. This wine has a nice ruby colour. The nose is complex and intense with some aromas of ripe red fruits, cherry, strawberry. The structure is fleshy, well-balanced with fine tannins and elegant peppery notes. Can be aged for up to 5 years.”

Alc vol:14.5%

Price: sold out until new vintage arrives April 2014

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A.O.C Cote de Rhone, 2009, “ La Combe d’Antide”

Incredibly excited about my first Cote de Rhone! Yeah! We are making giant strides!

I searched one frantic afternoon  in the summer of  2011 for something good and found Audrey and Domaine Armand on a 40 degree centigrade afternoon on the 30th July 2011!

Mr Whirly says:

“ The wine is made from 70 year old vines, grown on sand and limestone, 70% Grenache and 30% Carignan. Small production, 43 hls, lovely fresh fruit structure, all one would want in a Cote De Rhone. I like the fact it has no Shiraz in the wine since the wine is given a fresh without this grape. I hope a winner for restaurants who need a quality Cote de Rhone by the glass.  Hand picked grapes, juicy and ripe fresh fruit that really stands out in the glass. Really exciting wine for the price.”

Winemakers notes:

Terroir: Sandstone and limestone

Hand harvested and selective grape picking. The wine has a deep cherry red colour, brilliant and clear. The nose is very intense with ripped fruit aromas and a note of leather and Kirsch. In the mouth the structure is very round and soft with a very good concentration of spices, liquorice and fruits, with a fresh final finish. Pleasant to drink now or can be aged for 2-3 more years.

Alc vol:14.5%

Sold out: new vintage arrives July 2013

Price: Sold out until new vintage arrives April 2014

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Domaine Armand

I have always found Rhone wines exciting: the complex blending of varietals I imagine has something to do with it. Also, what I like about the Rhone is that generally the quality of the wine is solid. I am very rarely left leaving Rhone feeling disappointed, Cote Rotie, maybe being the one exception. So it was a plan to find some wines that were a little different and as always with a Whirly wine, made with some passion.

I found Domaine Armand on Wednesday 27th July 2011 after a long day hunting in the Rhone for hidden gems. I found some lovely ones, sadly not hidden though, since all were represented in the UK.  I was not about to give up though and I visited Domaine Richaud, where Marie, having told me that their wines were with Liberty, told me that she had a cousin that also made wine. So in the late afternoon of  that day I found Domaine Armand, in the country outside of Cairanne and loved their wines. One can tell they are made by hand and with a little bit of extra attention. I have imported three of their wines, listed below:

Cote de Rhone 2009, “ La Combe De Antibe”

Rasteau 2009

Cairanne 2009

(pictures below were taken when I re-visited the vineyard on the 15th August to get a feel for the soil and land)

History of the vineyard ( winemakers notes)

The estate Armand’s Vineyard exists for more than 80 years.

In 1990, Jean-Paul ARMAND, Rosie ARMAND and their son Patrice set themselves up as the EARL “La Magnaneraie”.

In the course of generations, we have  preserved the vineyard and contributed to its extension. It stretches now over 35 hectares.

We began in 2002 the creation of the chai (cellar). In 2003 we carried out our first vinification, with 200 hectolitres; the rest of the production had to stay in the cooperative, waiting for the shares’ expiry. The production for 2003 was of the order of 12,000 bottles. In 2004 the entire production 1,500 hl is stored in our Chai and we are able to expand our range of wines. The great diversity of the estate’s soil allows us to make wines with different labels and to guarantee our wines typical characteristics. In 2004 the production is of the order of 27,000 bottles, divided in four labels.

The Domain possesses a very diversified soil, that allows us to have a production with various names and to guarantee the typicité ( expression) of our wines. We are the owners of vineyards in Cairanne and Rasteau. In 2005 the winery produced 35,00 bottles




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Emile Balland, Neury-sur-Loire, Coteaux de Giennois, “Les Beaux Jours” Blanc et Rouge, 2011 and 2010 Vintages

Mr Whirly says:

“ I love Emile’s wines since they are made from the heart. Emile’s father was a winemaker in a little town called Bue, just north of Sancerre and the families history of winemaking dates back to 1650. He is putting this lost appellation, that was forgotten about after being destroyed by phylloxera  in the 19th century and Sancerre and Pouilly took the limelight, very much back on the map.  It gained its own Appellation status very recently, in 1998 so its got a lot of catching up to do, but Emile Balland, mark my words, will lead the way.”

We are starting off with Emile’s two benchmark wines that stamp his winemaking skills and expertise onto the UK wine market with a very profound and permanent thud!

“ Les Beaux Jours”; The beautiful days! What could be more apt and positive in a title!

The white wine is hand picked, 100% Sauvignon and is from the youngest vines planted in 2000. On the lee’s ferment: great ample and full mouth feel. Wonderful example of the skill and passion of this young winemaker and a really superb price too for the quality of the wine in the bottle.

The red is 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Gamay.  Again from the youngest vines, Light, fresh and again with a gorgeous mouth feel.  I beg anyone not to like this soft and alluring wine.

Alc vol:12.0%

Emile and Dash, my faithful hound inspect the grapes…

…as well as play stick fetching

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Jean-Michel Sorbe Quincy AOC, ” Les Berry Curiens” 2010

Mr Whirly says:

The “ King of Quincy” wines are here at last!!

I have visited Jean- Michel Sorbe’s vineyard, thanks I  might add to Armelle Poole-Connor , wife of a very old family friend Murray, whose family are cousins of the Sorbes, on two occasions now. On the first occasion I drove to the wrong Preuilly ( there are two in France) with Simon Thomas,  a close friend from my Bibendum days, and rang rather embarrassingly to say that I would not be there for lunch, since I had arrived at the wrong Preuilly, thankfully only 100 kms due west of this pretty little village on the Cher river and there were no vineyards in evidence in the surrounding countryside. I arrived for dinner instead. Good start Whirly! ( the offending map with a 20 franc price tag on it lies abreast “ The Booter” with a light lunch above it, before it had caused such agony in missing madame Sorbe’s lunch)

On the second occasion, in July 2012 I sped over to Preuilly from just south of Sancerre, through the lovely forests and rolling hills to meet “ The King of Quincy” again, very much in  a hurry since I was due back in Sancerre to meet Vincent Gaudry later that day. I tasted with Jean-Michel Sorbe his 2010 “ Les Berry Curiens” and ordered it. Its benchmark Sauvignon and in its way so different to Sancerre. This wine is also made from  some of the oldest vineyards that Mousieur Sorbe owns, over 80 years old.

Why the name?

The “Epicurean berry”, derived from the monks at the Abbaye de Beauvoir and their brotherhood in 1234 is now a group of friends with Jean-Michel at the head and they are following the same lines of work.

The “ King of Quincy” wines are here at last!Jean-Michel Sorbe really is the man that has put this ‘home” of Sauvignon Blanc in the world (this famous grape was originally grown at the Abbaye de Beauvoir just down the road from Preuilly and Quincy). He is recognized as one of the most important figures in Loire winemaking.  This is top Sauvignon blanc, hand-picked from four separate vineyards, fresh yet with loads of zingy depth. This is one of the finest examples of traditional Sauvignon Blanc, out of tank and into the bottle.

Both vineyards are located in the heart of Berry (Approximately 200 km south of Paris), a few kilometres west of Bourges. This is not the Loire proper but south and slightly east, on the banks of the beautiful river Cher.

Alc vol:13.0%


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Vincent Gaudry, Les Petit Chambre, Sancerre. “Constellation du Scorpion”, 2010

Mr Whirly says:

“ I visited Vincent’s little hamlet on the road running west of Sancerre on the 30th July this year. He’s such an unassuming fellow that it took me 90 minutes to find his house and shed where he makes his sublime wines, no signage being present on the little streets of “Les Petit Chambre” at all. He makes wines in a very careful way and indeed secretive. Some of the wines I taste that afternoon I am not allowed to know where their origin is. I did not believe that Sancerre should be oaked before I tasted his Scorpion label wine. Now I am convinced.

Vincent Gaudry is well known throughout the business as one of France’s most secretive winemakers. What is known of him, however, is that he is very much at one with nature. He harvests his crop, ‘when the vines tell him to’ while his vineyard is home to an array of standing stones which he believes his ancestors constructed in an effort to channel energy between earth and heaven. One thing that is common knowledge however, is the sublime quality of his wines, which are among the Loire’s most stunning, surely justification for the unusual methods which Vincent utilises.

On average the vines are 35 years old. Meticulous care and manual harvest. Vincent is there every step of the way, including the several months the wines are aged on the lees before bottling.

Alc vol: 13.0%

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Cote de Bourg, Chateau les Graves de Viaud, 2009, “ Cuvee Prestige.”

I am really proud to present my first Bordeaux to you all. I never thought I would go down this route with my wine  business and source a wine thats a little

“mainstream” shall we say, but you know what, its worth it! It speaks volumes for this wine region, north west of St Emilion and only a few miles across the Garonne from  the famous Chateau’s like Leoville Les Cases in St Julien. Its therefore right up there in terms of terroir and location. This is Phillippe’s first vintage and a stonker it is too!

P1000070The expectant Merlot grapes on the 4th October 2012, the day before they were harvested

P1000072The vineyard and Chateau

P1000075An excited winemaker surveying his wine room the night before the harvest)

Mr Whirly says:

Philippe Betschart, Vigneron

This is Philippe’s first vintage; he bought the vineyard in late 2009 and made the wine himself after the grapes had been harvested. By all accounts its a great start to his new career since prior to this he was in computers! Lucious fruit with hints of tabacco and mushrooms, well integrated oak and a long finish. Bordeaux is a minefield at this price point. Here we really have something worth tasting. Its a pure delight.

Alc vol: 14.0%

Winemakers notes:

The vineyard

  • Total Surface: 11,5 hectares
  • Soil : Gravel, Silt and sand
  • Average age : 27 years

The Wine

  • Available Vintage : 2009, 2010
  • Special name : Grande Cuvée
  • Blend : 70% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% cabernet Franc
  • Vine’s average age : 27 year
  • Yield  : 48 hl/ha
  • Vinification: Stemming Fermentation 21 day in fermentation vats
  • Aging : 6 to 10 month in 1 to 3 years barrels
  • Production (Bottles) : 50 to 60 000
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Cote de Duras: Chateau Molhiere

Cote de Duras is Cote de Duras. This sounds logical but its actually something very important to emphasise. Its right on the border of the Bordeaux appellation, literally a few miles separates them but this region of France could not be more different than its more famous neighbour. There are no pretensions here. The wines are what they are: honest, clean and fresh and cracking value. The Blancheton brothers are the same, Patrick and Francis, once prop forwards in the local rugby side and Francis sports a fantastic moustache to match his physique.

I have been in love with this part of France since a little lad, when we had a house just up the road on the road to Bergerac in a little hamlet called Thenac.

When you think Bordeaux you think wonderful wines from the left bank, Leoville Les-Cases in St Julien being my favourite. But in terms of wines that you can find at a price point that most of us can afford nowadays, forget it, there’s not a chance of finding something decent at £6.95 a bottle. I am delighted with my Cote de Bourg at £11.95 a bottle yes but thats still £11.95.

When I visited the vineyard in October last year the Blancheton brothers were in the midst of vintage. The grapes were bubbling away in the  old tanks that they have here at the vineyard and it was incredibly exciting to witness a family heritage of four generation in full flow.

I have bought over three wines from this lovely little vineyard; A Sauvignon Blanc 2011, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and   Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 and a rose made from the same grapes as the red.

I think these are fabulous every day drinking wines, really easy to drink and wonderful quality for the price.

Tasting notes: ( with the help of friend and client, Sarah Guignard at the French Table in Surbition, South west London.”

P1000137Sauvignon Blanc 2012, “ Terroir de Ducs”:

“ Mineral tones, zippy and balanced grapefruit, lemon and lime. Quite weighty.”

P1000138Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet 2011,“ Terroirs de Ducs”:

“ Earthy, raspberries with a hint of  herbs, soft easy drinking tannins.”

Alc vols: 13.5% for the red and rose, 13.0% for the white