I wish I could send you an ounce or two of this huge, very smooth, very serious wonder to try for yourself, I wrote when I discovered Minervois La Livinière at Vinisud. 

Vinisud 2006 proved to be a treasure trove of fascinating and delicious vinous experiences for this fledgling wine agent and his two willing accomplices.

When I concluded my last contribution to Gentleman’s Portion, I left our thirsty readers with the splendid image of Cousin Robert perched at a table in the crowded food court with an array of fresh oysters spread before him and a large, frosty glass of white wine at his side. This was our first day at the huge Vinisud wine fair and we had stopped for a brief lunch before we resumed our search for wineries that we could represent in Ontario. After lunch the three of us continued roaming from booth to booth sampling marvellous wines and meeting engaging vintners from around the Mediterranean. Hélène and I were having a fine time (she chatting, me tasting) but it was soon apparent that Robert was becoming a little bored with all this slurping and jibber-jabber. Looking up from a saucy little Vacqueyras, I realized that he was no longer with us! Where could he have gone and how would we ever find him amid the vast throng of rapacious revelers?

Franck Léonor, Cousin Robert and André Léonor at Vinisud 2006

Franck Léonor, Cousin Robert and André Léonor at Vinisud 2006

A little while later a cheerful voice called out, “Hey you two, I’m over here. These gracious gentlemen are serving me wondrous elixirs from the Minervois and feeding me fabulous foie gras canapes. Come on over and try some for yourselves.” There he was, a broad grin on his face, comfortably settled in at the Domaine la Rouviole booth, holding a glass of red aloft and with but a single, solitary morsel of foie gras remaining before him. The gracious gentlemen were Franck Léonor and his Uncle André and it turned out that they made very fine wine indeed. One that caught my eye, and taste buds, was the 2002 Cru La Livinière. Here’s what I said about it when we made it available a few months later to our wine club for $32.05 the bottle.

“I wish I could send you an ounce or two of this huge, very smooth, very serious wonder to try for yourself. From the finest part of the Minervois called La Livinière, it is simply spectacular. Made of equal parts Grenache and Syrah from very old vines and low yields (35 hectolitres per hectare) the grapes were selected during two hand harvests to ensure the grapes had reached optimum maturity. The juice was held in fermentation tanks for three to five weeks and the wines were aged in French oak barrels (60 per cent new and 40 per cent used once) for a year. This dark purple wine has a pronounced nose of cassis, raspberry preserve, old leather, minerals and spice. It is massive, round and very smooth in the mouth with a beautiful tannic structure. The taste of black currents continues right through the very long finish. This is a wine for passionate wine-lovers to drink now or hold for many years.”

Lucky Luc and his treasure

Lucky Luc and his treasure

We bade the Léonors farewell, (Robert tearfully) and continued our rounds of the seemingly endless array of booths where vintners implored passersby to try their creations. There were joyous tipplers everywhere and the sweet bouquet of thousands of wines filled the air. Talk about vinous heaven. In time we stumbled (somewhat literally by that point in our day of tasting) upon a charming gentleman by the name of Luc Luyckx, owner (along with Marc Van Antwerpen) of Château Famaey. Luc and Marc, two Flemish expats with a consuming passion for wine, purchased what was then Château Fontaynes located in the Cahors region of south-western France in 2000. They subsequently invested heavily and wisely in all areas of the winery as their wines attest. Known far and wide as Lucky Luc, the affable M. Luyckx introduced us to the wonderful world of Cahors wines, brilliantly represented by those of Château Famaey. The legendary black Cahors were a favourite of the English as well as the Popes of Avignon in the Middle Ages. We had expected big, tannic, behemoths but instead found wonderfully fragrant, elegant, stylish and extremely satisfying wines. Seems those ancient Brits and Popes knew what they were doing, at least on the wine front.

Our welcoming beery oasis in a wine-filled desert

Our welcoming beery oasis in a wine-filled desert

After a few more sips and slurps we realized we could no longer tell a Chardonnay from a Pinot Noir and sensibly decided it was time to call it a day. We retraced our steps across the broad expanse of parking lots (no bread crumbs required) and managed to extricate the Renault Cinq from its mooring. Of course, we were departing at the same time as most of the Vinisud crowd and joining the Montpellier evening rush hour traffic. What a mess! And, to make matters worse, we simply couldn’t find our way back to our inn. There were absolutely no distinguishing land marks, the heavy clouds made it impossible to tell east from west (let alone north from south) and this was well before the blessed advent of the GPS. We were hopelessly lost and deeply mired in the stalled procession of vehicles. So we did what any self-respecting, frustrated and totally lost trio of imbibers would do. We stopped at the first available watering hole. It was called Les 3 Brasseurs  and who knew there was also one in Ottawa back then? Beer in many refreshing guises was precisely what the doctor ordered and the bistro fare wasn’t too shabby either. When we finished supper, our affable waiter pointed us in the direction of our lodging and after emptying the port bottle in the inn’s parlour we all slept the sleep of the dammed (or at least besotted).

Cousin Robert pokes the fatted lamb

Cousin Robert pokes the fatted lamb

We awoke at the break of dawn, refreshed and ready for another arduous day of tasting at Vinisud. After a quick, but delicious breakfast we headed out to the car. On the way, Robert spied a lamb slowly turning on a spit outside the adjacent restaurant. “Oh boy, roast lamb for dinner tonight”, exclaimed Robert as he proceeded to poke the beast in glee.

Our final day at the wine fair went wondrously well. We sampled many more splendid wines and met several vintners who were willing to place their Ontario wine distribution fates in the hands and taste buds of this neophyte agent. And, we met up again with Isabelle Mignot, commercial attaché for Cave de Lavilledieu-du-Temple. We had been invited by the French trade commission in Toronto to meet with Isabelle and sample her stable of wines from this co-op in the southwest of France before we had embarked for Cannes and Montpellier. It was quite the session and I will tell you all about it in a future post.

Hélène with Isabelle Mignot

Hélène with Isabelle Mignot

It was with a good measure of sadness that we left all the fun and excitement of Vinisud 2006 behind and headed back to our inn. It had been a grand success. We learned a great deal about the varied wine making regions that surround the Mediterranean Sea and managed to sign up fifteen of the participating wineries for our fledgling agency. And, we still had that splendid roast lamb to look forward to for dinner. What a joyous feast that was going to be. Robert was drooling at the prospect of the rosemary and thyme-infused delicacy that cried out for a nicely aged Gigondas. When we arrived at the restaurant and placed our order, the waiter said they had no roast lamb on the menu that evening. “But what about that splendid beast that was deliciously rotating on the spit outside this morning?” beseeched Robert. “Ah, that was prepared for the large party in our banquet room next door,” he explained. And, talk about fate … that party was the group we had been with in Cannes! But all was not lost. The waiter kindly smuggled a bit out for us and we washed it merrily down with a hearty 1998 Gigondas from Domaine du Cayron. What a marvellous introduction to the wild and wondrous world of wine our week in the south of France had been.

Oh, I almost forgot: we also met up again with Marie-Pierre Bories, owner of Domaine de Blanes who had some very exciting news for us. She told us that Courtenay Wint, Head of European Wines, General Listings, for the LCBO had told her that the LCBO was prepared to give her a very large order. All her Ontario agent (me) had to do was to contact Claudius Fehr, Head of European Wines, Vintages, and the order would be ours. What could go wrong? Well, I’ll tell you in our next enthralling installment in Gentleman’s Portion. Cheers!

PS: Click here to find out about our current wine club offerings; some tasty treats lie in store!

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