Inspiring Wines from South West France!


Well, after 23 years writing mostly about Spanish wine, I have to admit that it was a total, though most welcome surprise to be acknowledged by the French, by having a wine named after me! Merci beaucoup, mes amis!

L’idiot, is a red wine from near Narbonne, South West France, made with Merlot, despite the comment of one of the main protagonists of the film, Sideways (referred to on the labels with appropriately placed asterisks!). In fact, the name of the wine actually refers to the character who makes the, less than pleasant, comment, about Merlot, one of the great grape varieties of France, and not about me at all! Not sure if this is a let down or a comfort!

There’s a hint of rebellion about the naming of the wine, as well as its making too. Maison Ventenac ( goes further though, the whole range of several of their wines are known collectively as Les Dissidents, and this makes them all the more attractive for me! The gloves are off, along with the blinkers – these wines don’t conform to the norms of the area, or to those of much of France in general. Most of us love a rascal. I know that when I was teaching I usually got on best with the likeable rogues. I’d like to meet this rebellious team one day, Stéphanie and Olivier Ramé – in the meantime, I’ll just enjoy their wines!

This really tasty, almost succulent wine is fermented in concrete tanks, using natural wild yeasts growing in the vineyard without the addition of sulphites. The cap that forms at the top of the tank, made from the Merlot skins is punched down in the first few days and the juice/wine underneath is pumped over the skins to ensure good extraction of colour, tannins and flavour in the finished product.

After fermentation there is a further maceration with the skins for ten days, followed by malolactic fermentation and three months ageing in concrete. When ready, the wine is then bottled with a light filtration.

A juicy, fruity wine with a little eucalyptus on the nose joining the blackberry and light plum fruit. Its slight ageing gives it some presence on the palate – if drinking this wine without any knowledge of it, it would pause conversation a moment or two as you reflect on it, wondering what it is and where from, rather like a song or a piece of music can stop you in your tracks.

When tasting three of Le Dissident range, I actually started with their Chardonnay, Carole. Again, I liked the seemingly self-critical, risqué opener on the label – ‘Another Chardonnay! Yes, but this one is different.’ I liked the wine as well, for exactly that reason.

The vineyards aren’t far from the Mediterranean and there’s a faint, and pleasant salinity to this fresh, citrus fruit wine, which also has a slight reference to some more exotic fruit, though understated, with a little minerality too. I really liked it – way different from the wonderful Burgundy whites, made of course, with the same variety.

And again, on the label, these likeable rogues have pointed out that some have asked why add some Gros Manseng grapes to the Chardonnay – their answer, simply – ‘Why not?’

Both varieties were harvested at night and then fermented in large, 300 hectolitres, stainless steel tanks, using carbonic maceration for a super-fruit finish. Good wine!

Finally, Le Paria 2019 is made with Grenache, in years gone by the workhorse of both French and Spanish vineyards but these days, being elevated to far higher things, simply by having some respect for a much abused variety. It’s a little lighter in colour, but don’t let that make you think it’s an inconsequential wine – it’s not!

And it’s certainly not the social outcast that the name suggests – this is no pariah, it deserves a place in your cellar for sure! It’s made in a similar way to L’idiot above and comes out as a lovely dark red fruit flavoured wine with presence too.

Really good winemaking at Maison Ventenac, resulting in super wines! I’m definitely in the market to taste their other offerings too!

PS My next radio programme is on Saturday 4th April 12:00 – 13:00 hrs (Spanish Time) – great music, wine chat and some surprises too! Twitter @colinonwine Facebook Colin

Paso Primero


A wren, as a matter of fact! The rather cute emblem of Bodegas Paso-Primero which features on their labels giving a visual clue as to how the name was derived, as well as a sizable hint as the laudable philosophy of this new winery DO Somontano, in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Let’s deal with the name first. Paso Primero translates to First Step, indeed the label of their first wines makes this clear as our friend the wren is on the bottom rung of a ladder, looking upwards. Why? Read on!

For me it’s refreshing to hear a British twist on a Spanish winemaking story that I’ve mentioned several times in Cork Talk. I’m not alone in saying that the Spanish wine scene is one of the most dynamic in the  world – Sara Jane Evans MW writes the same thing in her book, ‘The Wines of Northern Spain’, my review archived here (

There are many young Spanish winemakers, who, with one foot in the traditional winemaking of generations of their family, have stepped with the other, firstly though the doors of higher education at dedicated wine making colleges and/or have taken university degrees in Oenology; and thence into the winemaking of other countries, sometimes including journeying to the southern hemisphere too.

The result is a really comprehensive knowledge of how wine is made, from so many different perspectives, including that of their father, and, in true Monty Python style, that of their Father’s Fathers and so on! Well, our British winemakers, Tom and Emma Holt, once co-workers in Tanners famous wine merchants in Shrewsbury, UK, have, sort of, done the same! Their passion for wine started whilst in the retail trade, took them to Plumpton College, the UK seat of higher wine education which is developing an enviable reputation in the wine world, and then on their travels to New Zealand and Canada to make wine, of course.

Keen on making wine in what was once invariably referred to as ‘the Old World’, in wine terms at least, they finally settled on the idea of making wine here in Spain. To be specific in DO Somontano, where they joined forces in a collaborative project with *Batan de Salas. Paso-Primero was born ( It’s good to hear of such Spanish/British entente cordial (the more so in these difficult times!) – each winery, working within the same buildings, using the same vineyards and equipment, has its own identity, yet each ‘partner’ contributes to the other’s winemaking.   

Their artistically labelled (, Paso-Prima Chardonnay, the first of three wines sent for me to taste on behalf of Cork Talk readers, gives us a heads-up re the philosophy of Paso-Primero. 25% of the profit from the sale of this wine will be donated to the British Trust for Ornithology (, which is wholly compatible with Tom and Emma’s insistence on their project being sustainable, Responsible winemaking, and some!

I spent time thinking about the title of this week’s column – toying with, ‘It’s Chardonnay, Jim, but not as we know it!’ inspired, claro, by my impressions of this, the first wine of the triumvirate, and hoping to add some Trekkies to my weekly readers!

I’m not sure I would have picked this out as a Chardonnay at a blind tasting, and that’s a compliment, not the reverse! I guess a lot of one’s perception of Chardonnay depends upon which generation one belongs to? Baby Boomers like myself (yes, I know, I look a lot younger!) may remember, with splinters, the over oaked, well, disasters, of the 80s, floating on a log raft from Australia and California. Generation X may remember some occasionally too austere examples, made in an effort to redress the balance. And Millennials will hopefully remember Chardonnays where the majority of winemakers got it right!

Perhaps Tom and Emma’s Spanish Chardonnay will be quoted as exemplary by the current Generation Z (who invents this stuff?) in future such discussions? Too high a praise? Well, probably, but it’s certainly a lovely wine, with some fresh citrus notes, a combination of browning and already brown Autumn leaves on the nose and subtle tropical fruit, mango for me, on the palate.

30ºC temperatures are not conducive to tasting red wines with a 15% and 15·5% abv, respectively! However if you chill down Paso-Primero 2018 and its older sister, Paso-Prima 2017 during such hot weather you’ll be surprised how effective it can be! I really enjoyed them both!

Made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo, this wine reflects the best that was possible for the 2018 vintage – again wholly in line with the bodega’s philosophy. Their website explains all – ‘ . . . each vintage being a completely unique snapshot of history. Wine should be a wonderful combination of a sense of place and sense of time . .’ They don’t promise that the following vintage will have the same blend, there won’t be a constant style for this wine, it will depend on the grapes harvested following the year’s growing conditions, which is just right in my book!

A touch of vanilla on the nose, combines with good fruit, though difficult to determine exactly which are the dark berries that come through, plus a pleasing autumnal aroma of browning leaves and already fallen leaves. On the palate the fruit finishes nicely with a little liquorice at the end. UK price under 9 pounds, Spain under 10€ – very good value!  

The Paso-Prima 2017 Vino Artístico is made with Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon and has an aroma of well done wholemeal toast with a touch of black pepper, blending perfectly with brambly blackberry fruit (I’ve just tasted a large juicy blackberry then the wine!). It’s a 6€ or so step up in price, though certainly worth it. Ripe sweet tannins and some acidity will ensure a few more years of fine drinking.

* – watch this space!

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