I first visited Jan and Caryl Panman owners of Château Rives Blanques in 2009 the week I arrived in Languedoc-Roussillon to begin my vineyard tour enterprise. I have bumped into them a few times since but had not re-visited the château until yesterday when I popped along with Rachel and Anthony Pinwell of luxury B&B Maison Laurent who were keen to try the wines as they are always updating their wine list with local wines. The 3 of us regularly work together running food & wine pairing dinners at their delightful chambres d’hotes in Pieusse near Limoux. The snow covered Pyrenees where glinting majestically as I drove over to the area and then up the long twisting lane to be greeted by Caryl who had been working hard on the assemblage of the wines before bottling next week. Blending the wine is a crucial part of the process and although enjoyable it is quite tiring and a little stressful. The Penmans produce top class Limoux wines focussing on the sparkling and the still whites of the appellation plus a little Vin du Pays and Caryl treated us to a superb tasting of everything that was available. The sparkling wines were elegant and interesting and I particularly enjoyed the rosé Cremant du Limoux stained a pretty pink using 5% of Pinot Noir and with a nose of strawberry ice-cream. The sparkling and still whites of this region are made from Mauzac, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc with Mauzac being the local grape which Caryl is a huge fan off. The still wines of the appellation must be handpicked and barrel fermented and many producers major on Chardonnay and Chenin blanc for this role however Caryl has been innovative and also produces a 100% Mauzac wine which she did for the first time some years ago. At first it seemed to be a dismal failure as hardly any sold in the first year of production but Tom Stevenson picked it up, liked it and wrote about it and then one day the top French wine magazine of Le Revue du Vin de France featured it on the front page and the rest is history. The wine has since won the Great Gold Medal of Languedoc-Roussillon. The wine is fermented in old oak barrels so the oak is not dominant and the wine has flavours of apples, pears and a little honey and spice and has a restrained richness and a fabulous dry finish that I think will make it a good food wine. Anthony is planning to experiment with various dishes to find a perfect match for out next food & wine dinner at Maison Laurent. You can buy the wine from the Château at €11.25 a bottle or €10 for a case of 6 and it is available to buy in many countries around the world including the UK at Tanners amongst others.
All the wines were wonderful but always with an eye for the unusual I was drawn to the Sauvignon Blanc which has been dubbed Sauvageon which means ‘the wild one’ named by local people in the south west of France when this grape grew wild on the hillsides a few hundred years ago. I was curious as to why they had named it this and not plain Sauvignon Blanc which is so popular at the moment? The answer came…. the wine spends 7 months maturing in oak barrels which gives it an entirely different character to a typical Sav Blanc such as a Sancerre or a Marlborough. It is richer than a Loire wine but not as tropical and vivacious as a New Zealand Sauvignon. Most of the herbaceous character has gone but you still get the gooseberry flavours which are ripe and tangy. We had it tonight with our meal which my chef friend Kate described as a ‘picnic’ as we enjoyed spicey Asian foods combined with home cured salmon followed by local goats cheeses. With the salmon is was delectable, it worked well with the prawn dumplings but lacked a little something with the pickled ginger and the heat of the chilli. But what a fabulous find it is. Kate had plucked a long forgotten Loire Chenin from the wine rack last night and we decided to finish it and compare it with the Sauvignon which might have been a little unfair – but actually they proved to be an equal team. Each one was a star with different elements of the meal. Rejoice the white wine of France..!