Jane Cuthbertson is a bright, energetic lady who has won all sorts of accolades as an independent wine retailer, even though she only opened her shop, Barrica Wines, less than three years ago. I met her in Argentina earlier this year, when she was spending a week as a guest of Wines of Argentina, having scooped an award from them – and I was with eleven other MWs, judging for Argentina’s annual wine competition. Jane and I got chatting and the result was an invitation to Preston to talk about the Languedoc at a wine dinner for her customers. And what fun it was.

The evening kicked off with bubbles – always a good start to any evening. The choice this time was Blanquette de Limoux from Domaine Rives Blanques. This is one of my favourite Limoux estates. Jan and Caryl Panman, an Irish Dutch couple, have just celebrated their tenth anniversary as wine producers by climbing up the eponymous peak in the Pyrenees. I was invited to join them, but there was a clash with a prior invitation. The faint-hearted part of me was slightly relieved. They are firm enthusiasts of the quality of Mauzac and the originality of Blanquette as a sparkling wine. The method is the same as for champagne with nine months on the lees, and there is a touch of Chardonnay and Chenin in the blend. The taste is soft and creamy, with the slight dustiness characteristic of Mauzac.

The first course was a delicious bouillabaisse soup, with which there were two wines to try – a 2009 Picpoul de Pinet, Hugues de Beauvignac from the cooperative in Pomerols. The name is made up, after a Cathar knight from the Albigensian crusade of the 13th century. And the Picpoul was quite salty with some firm flavours, and good acidity, and went well with the seafood. The other option was a 2009 Muscat Sec, Côtes de Thongue from Domaine Bonian, a small family estate in the village of Pouzolles. This was everything that good Muscat should be, fresh and grapey, with a slightly bitter orange finish.

2009 Le Champ des Grillons, rosé, from Domaine la Croix Belle came next. It is a blend of Syrah and Grenache Noir and was ripe and rounded, with fresh strawberry fruit on the palate. A great example of a rosé, and appreciated even on a wet rainy evening. We can’t be fussy in this country and only drink rosé in warm sunshine.

Next came a spicy pork cassoulet which went brilliantly with 2009 Domaine de Barres, one of the properties of the St. Chinian cooperative. It is a blend of Syrah and Grenache, aged in vat, rather than barrel, and was redolent of summer sunshine. Somebody asked me which wine of the evening was most characteristic of the Languedoc, and it had to be the St. Chinian. You had all the scent of the herbs of the garrigues, juniper, rosemary, thyme and laurel.

Domaine la Croix Belle is one of Jane’s favourites from the Languedoc – see my earlier posting for more about this leading Côtes de Thongue estate. Last night we had No 7 red, so-called for its seven grape varieties which are Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir, Cinsaut, Carignan, from the Midi, and from Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The wine is aged in French oak for a year or so and the flavour is deep and dense, with some ripe oak and notes of tapenade, mouth filling with a good tannin structure and plenty of potential. There's a white NO. 7 too.

La Croix Belle provided further indulgence – their dessert wine La Soulenque, a Côtes de Thongue Doux, a blend of Muscat and Sauvignon blanc, made from raisined grapes, accompanied the cherry clafoutis. It was a lovely golden colour, with a rich honeyed nose and more honey on the palate, with refreshing acidity and an elegant balance.

Jacques Boyer loves making eau de vie, as well as wine, so we finished with Le Coup de Foudre, distilled from Sauvignon and aged for seven years in barrel. It was a grand finale.



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