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California Wine Club
Say "goodbye" to Carminello! This month The California Wine Club features two outstanding red wines from a gregarious winemaker in Paso Robles - Pasquale Mastantuono's 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon, plus a 2001 Carminello from vineyards that have since been ripped out for housing development.

In This Issue
 La Sauvageonne is back
 30 Second Wine Advisor Premium Edition: Malmsey ... A wine for love and life

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La Sauvageonne is back

Gavin Crisfield
Chateau la Sauvageonne wine maker Gavin Crisfield.
Chateau la Sauvageonne, a small Languedoc winery that enjoyed a small and slightly cultish following in U.S. in the middle 1990s but then seemed to have faded from view, is showing signs of bouncing back.

Sauvageonne drew attention for its 1992 "Prestige" Syrah blend, which drew a rave (and 92 ratings points) from the critic Robert M. Parker, who likened it to the sought-after La Mouline Cote-Rotie. But following vintages didn't produce similar raves, prompting the U.S. importer David Schildknecht to cease importing it, judging the producer's quality "spotty" under the former owner Geantet Ponce.

But new British ownership since 2001 has given the winery a thorough spring-cleaning, and a new wine maker, Gavin Crisfield, an English sommelier, has brought to market an impressive lineup of reds, a selection of interesting wines that manage to blend rusticity and elegance in an appetizing marriage.

Crisfield visited here yesterday with a group from the Cincinnati-based importer Vintner Select, and it was my pleasure to meet him and sample his wines during a casual dinner at Louisville's excellent L&N Wine Bar and Bistro.

La Sauvageonne, located in the scenic Terrasses du Larzac region of the Coteaux du Languedoc, consists of about 30 hilltop acres of reddish schist soil, growing a combination of traditional Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault grapes along with some not-so-traditional Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The wines showcase them all, in varying proportions.

Chateau la Sauvageonne 2001 "Les Ruffes" Coteaux du Languedoc ($9)
This is the winery's basic bottling, an unoaked blend of 40 percent Syrah, 30 percent Grenache, 15 percent Cinsaut and 15 percent Carignan. Dark cherry-red in color, it offers rustic but appealing scents of plummy fruit and the "garrigues" herbal blend of Southern France with a discreet whiff of "barnyard." Sweet red-fruit and earth over crisp acidity and smooth tannins come together in what may be one of the best under-$10 French reds on the market.

Chateau la Sauvageonne 2002 "Pica Broca" Coteaux du Languedoc ($14)
A blend of Syrah (60 percent) and Grenache (40 percent), made half in tank and half in oak barrels, the wine is dark garnet, with perfumed and pleasantly peppery aromas leading to a mouth full of plummy, structured fruit.

"La Sauvageonne" 2001 Vin de Pays d'Oc ($19)
The winery's "non-traditional" grapes come togethere here in a Bordeaux-style blend of 85 percent Merlot, 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 percent Cabernet Franc that sees 18 months in oak barrels. Very dark garnet in color, it's varietally correct with blackcurrant and red-berry flavors, but you would never mistake it for a Bordeaux - plushy texture and earthy accents provide a distinctly Southern (French) accent. (Curiously - Schildknecht calls it "puckishly" - the producer has chosen a slope-shouldered Burgundy-style bottle to package this Bordeaux blend.)

Chateau la Sauvageonne 2001 "Puech de Glen" Coteaux du Languedoc ($36)
Deep and concentrated, pure black fruit, "sweet" and full, this high-end bottling presents pure essence of fully ripened Syrah fruit.

Red meat is the classic match with these hearty, rustic reds, but their complexity and structural acidity made them more than serviceable with a startling variety of L&N Wine Bar's appetizers, from a wild-mushroom bruschetta to the eatery's signature duck beignets to an unexpectedly good match, fresh steamed Prince Edward Island mussels in a buttery Pinot Noir sauce with a bit of pancetta. Not to mention an eclectic cheese plate ranging from Point Reyes blue to Hudson Valley sheeps-milk cheese to French goat cheeses. All this illustrating the truism that most good wines and most good food will work out OK.

The bad news is that availability of these wines will be problematic for a while in most regions. They're fairly available in the U.K. and France, but distribution in the U.S. (and elsewhere) is limited at this point. Vintner Select will be distributing them in Ohio and at select stores in Kentucky, North Carolina and the District of Columbia. Other regional retailers are likely to pick up the line in other regions, so if you can't find it now, take a note of the name and keep watching.

Also, lists La Sauvageonne at a limited number of international retailers:

Talk about La Sauvageonne, or just about anything else in the world of wine, with the international group of wine enthusiasts in our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, where you're always welcome to participate in online wine conversations. To join in an interactive round-table online discussion on today's article, click to

If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at I'm sorry that the overwhelming amount of mail I receive makes it tough to respond personally every time, but I do try to get back to as many as I can.

30 Second Wine Advisor Premium Edition:
Malmsey ... A wine for love and life

The inaugural issue of The 30 Second Wine Advisor's Premium Edition was E-mailed to subscribers yesterday with an overview of a very fine Malmsey from Madeira, a dessert wine whose luscious sweetness married with intriguing complexity makes it a natural choice for sharing with a loved one on Valentine's Day.

Madeira is surely the world's most long-lived wine, a happy exception to the usual rule that only those who can afford temperature-controlled wine cellars can invest in a wine to lay down to await a newborn child's 21st birthday or a newlywed's 25th anniversary.

In contrast with our regular publications, which are free and will stay that way, the biweekly Premium Edition is available to subscribers for a modest annual charge. It offers the same trustworthy, consumer-oriented wine-buying counsel that you've come to expect from us for wines of value, but it will cover selected wines in the "next tier," giving you the plain-talk advice you need to shop with confidence when you're spending a little more.

Is the Premium Edition right for you? For more information, or to become a charter subscriber, visit
Sign on this week and receive yesterday's Malmsey report immediately as a bonus, with a full year's issues to follow.


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Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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