Wayne on Wine travels to France and Luxembourg - Days 10-11, July 22-23

The wines at Chateau Jolys.

By Wayne Crawford

Photos by Wayne Crawford

  Wayne Crawford
  Wayne Crawford

Pau, pronounced Po, is 62 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and 31 miles from the Pyrenees and Spain. It is the native home of Henry IV of France. As the story goes, his mother, Queen of Navarre, crossed into France to ensure her son would be born in France. The baby's lips were moistened with the local Jurancon wine and rubbed with garlic shortly after his birth, December 1553.

Our first visit of the day was to Chateau Jolys in Jurancon. Pierre-Yves Latrille, an agriculture engineer, bought the chateau more than 40 years ago. The estate currently is led by Marion Latrille; the winemaker and marketing director are her nieces, Claire and Camille Bessou.

We were pleased to entertain Claire and Camille the previous evening in Pau. The opportunity to spend quality time enjoying local foods and sharing Jurancon wines with two engaging winery experts was a pleasure and made our visit the next day more convivial.

Jurancon produces wonderful white wines mostly from gros manseng and petit manseng grapes. The weather is a factor in every wine microclimate; Chateau Jolys weather is influenced by the cold and rain of the Pyrenees Mountain, which creates a risk of spring frosts, and the ocean climate, which brings rainfall in the summer. Fortunately, there is less rain at harvest time in the fall. The week prior to our arrival hail struck the vineyards, causing damage.

After a warm linkup in the morning, we began tasting wines.

Our first wine was Chateau Jolys-Jurancon Sec 2012, 40 percent gros manseng and 60 percent petit manseng, It has a yellow hue with green tints and a nose with floral and fruity aromas: honeysuckle, jasmine, grapefruit and citrus. On the palate, the wine is fresh and crisp, very fruit- forward, medium body with a pleasing finish.

Our second wine, Chateau Jolys-Jurancon Sec 2011, Cuvee Pauline, is 100 percent petit manseng. A wonderful white wine, it is fruit-forward, with tropical fruit aromas, peach and pineapples. Crisp acidity, balanced and full-bodied, this wine offers a long, lingering finish. Unfortunately, it is not imported yet into the U.S., but it is a wonderful wine.

The travel team from Atlanta joins Claire and Camille Bessou at dinner, Chateau Jolys.
Following these crisp, fresh white wines we enjoyed two late-harvest wines of the highest quality. Chateau Jolys-Jurancon, late harvest, 100 percent petit manseng and 100 percent juice drop, is vinified in stainless steel tanks and aged in barrels of French oak for 24 months. It has a  very complex nose, which presents candied fruit, pineapple, spices and wood. On the palate, it has a vanilla bouquet from the oak and tropical fruit and a full body with an agreeable long finish.

This was an exceptional wine, but our last wine was extraordinary. Chateau Jolys-Jurancon, late harvest, vintage 2000, Epiphany, is 100 percent gros manseng with an amber color and bright, clear appearance. On the nose, it shows sweet, rich aromas with honey and dried fruit with hints of apricot. On the palate, it offers a luscious mouthfeel, honey and orange peel flavors with apricot. It is full-bodied and has a wonderful, long finish. This was the special wine of the tasting.

The hospitality, friendship, winetasting and information sharing made our visit to the Chateau Jolys team incomparable. I encourage readers to put this winery on a short list of places to visit in southwest France.

Departing Jurancon, we headed a short distance to Gan to visit Cave de Gan Jurancon, Cave means cooperative winery in France. Cave de Gan Jurancon plays a major role in the AOC Jurancon and the AOC Bearn. It is a cooperative committed to and respectful of its terroir, operating 1,853 acres of vineyards, 45 acres of which are tended to by the cooperative’s team.

  Cave de Gan Jurancon.

Founded in 1949, the cooperative brings together nearly 300 winegrowers, producing—on average—978,000 gallons of AOC wine annually. Much as in our visit to Saint Mont, this cooperative maintains a large, well-organized, modern fermentation and bottling facility to support growers. The cave storage cellar was exceptionally well organized and substantial, containing significant bottles and barrels.

After a well-prepared tour of the facility, we enjoyed both white and red wines. Chateau de Navailles Sec 2013, a blend of gros manseng and petit manseng is a pale-yellow wine with green tints and aromas of pear and white peaches. In the mouth it is fresh, fruity, well balanced with minerals and stone fruit flavors with a long finish.

Our second wine was Domaine Lasserre Sec 2012. It bears a straw-yellow color, brilliant and clear with aromas of lemon, grapefruit and peach. It is fresh, crisp and very aromatic, with mango and apricot flavors on the palate and a lingering finish.

Our final white wine was a Grain Sauvage 2013 Gros Manseng. Presented in a Riesling- shaped bottle, it is 100 percent gros manseng with a straw-yellow color and fruit-forward aromas of citrus and pear. Fresh, crisp fruit with light bubbles make this a pleasant wine best enjoyed while it is young.

While the region is dominated by white wines, there were several red wines produced as blends with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and tannat. Oh Biarnesa Rouge 2010 is a deep- red wine with intense black fruit aromas and full-bodied flavor with a long finish.

Our last wine was a Domaine Larribere Rouge 2010, aged in stainless steel vats for 10 months to produce a dark-red wine with purple tints. On the nose, look for black fruit, currant, cherry and fresh mint. On the palate, the wine offers more red fruit flavors and nice tannins with enough acidity to permit the wine to age.

As in Saint Mont, the Cave de Gan Jurancon offers an exceptional view into wine cooperative production in southern France. The facility is visitor-friendly and has an exceptional tasting and sales room. If you are traveling southern France to enjoy wines, don’t pass Cave de Gan Jurancon.

  Cave de Gan storage.
We departed Gan and headed to Salles de Bearn to visit Pascal Lapeyre at Domaine Guilhemas. The Lapeyre family has been making wines in France for more than 100 years. Thirty-two miles from the Atlantic Ocean and a similar distance from the Pyrenees Mountains, the vineyards have flourished on a calcareous, clayey soil for more than a century. Their excellent location provides a special microclimate for the wines. The varietals grown include tannat, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon red grapes; the white grapes include gros and petit manseng, along with an ancient grape variety, raffiat de Moncade.

We enjoyed a selection of Lapeyre wines during a pleasant winetasting. Our first wine was Domaine Lapeyre Bearn 2013, a white wine comprised of 80 percent gros manseng and 20 percent petit manseng. A golden-yellow color, brilliant, clean and fresh with a sweet, citrus nose, it is medium-bodied with a medium finish.

Our second wine was a special raffiat de Moncade, a rare, light-skinned grape with aromas of green apple and pear with floral hints. This wine has a lower acidity than manseng. Remarkably, this is the only winery in France listed as growing this rare wine. One of our journey’s goals was to enjoy the rare wines in France, and this was a special occasion not easily forgotten.

Technology allowed me to search for his wine online and to show he was the only known producer. He was quite pleased to receive this recognition. I was pleased equally to return with one bottle.

We could not leave the winery without enjoying a red wine. Guilhemas Red AOC Bearn, 50 percent tannat, 25 percent cabernet franc and 25 percent cabernet sauvignon, it has garnet-red hues, aromas and flavors of red berry, cherries and spice with a pleasing finish.

Once again, our interaction with winemakers was educational and convivial. That we all care about wines and learning from each other nurtured our love for the wines.

Departing Domaine Guilhemas, we relocated to Domaine Villa Bys. Owned by Thierry Frontere since 1971, it is on high ground in the Basque country, facing the Pyrenees, on 61 acres of which 50 acres are in vine. The local grape varieties are preferred: cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, tannat and merlot.

Arriving in the late afternoon, the winery team greeted us most hospitably, and we were able to share several wines while receiving an informative tour.

Wine aficionados never visit a winery without enjoying the wines; travelling with importer Parks Redwine opened up much of this hospitality. Our first wine was a Villa Bys Rose 2012, a pale-pink, fruit-forward, fresh wine. It is a blend of 80 percent cabernet franc and 20 percent tannat. A refreshing wine, it works as an aperitif and should pair well with fish and Spanish tapas.

Our second wine was Les Hauts De Bys 2012, a blend of merlot, cabernet franc and tannat, served young and fresh in a Nouveau style. It is meant to be enjoyed early.

Our most memorable wine was the Villa Bys 2009, a red wine from PGI Pyrenees Atlantiques. The blend is 60 percent merlot, 25 percent cabernet sauvignon and 15 percent tannat. A garnet-red wine, it is well concentrated with black fruit flavors. It needs time to age, but it is well crafted with a full body and long finish.

The day ended with a return to Pau and dinner at La Table d’Hotel. Having spent considerable time enjoying the wines in southwest France, we prepared to move north through Bordeaux to the Loire Valley.

  Villa Bys Winery.

Day 11, July 23, we began our traveling team’s migration north toward the Saint Pierre Hotel in Saumur in the Loire Valley. This was one of our longest travel days, 400 miles. A special occasion was lunch at Hotel du Gare with Toto and his wife Josy, Parks Redwine’s partner in France, who spent many hours arranging our trip.

Our lunch in the town of Saint-Macaire, positioned on a bend in the Garonne River 25 miles from Bordeaux, gave us the opportunity to thank Toto for his wonderful efforts in coordinating our wine tour and to drink a rare, local Saint-Macaire dark-skinned wine grape, now rarely seen. Apparently, a local wine was not available but the dedication of our support team brought in the same wine from New South Wales, Australia, produced by Calabria Family Wines.

Enjoying a wonderful lunch, we continued our travels north to Saumur and the Saint Pierre Hotel. Saumur is west center on the Loire River in the Anjou-Saumur AOC, known best for its chenin blanc and cabernet franc grapes. The Loire River is 600 miles in length, generally running east to west, and is the longest river in France. Its source is in southeast France, about 60 miles north of the Meditarrean Sea.

The majority of the wines along this river, which has produced Roman wines since the first century, are white with some gamay, cabernet franc and pinot noir. There are several exceptional wine appellations within the Loire, including Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre, which produce a world standard in sauvignon blanc wines. The appellations Tours in Vouvray and Montlouis produce chenin blanc, used in both still and sparkling wines. Further east, the cabernet franc is grown in Chinon and Bourgueil.

You could spend weeks along the Loire River tasting wines. Saumur is the center of sparkling wines in the Loire; chenin blanc is the primary grape, along with chardonnay and cabernet franc. Saumur is a small town on the Loire and the Saint Pierre Hotel served as a great base for our next wine visits.

See the first three articles in this series ...

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