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November 7, 2010

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Coming home from Chateau Lafite

A writer once said long ago that once you leave home as a young adult you can never truly go home again as home is a place in time and spirit. While that may be true for me, it's certainly not true for Francois Collard of Chateau Mourgues du Gres.

His travels have taken him from the esteemed halls of higher wine education the University of Agriculture in Montpellier to the rarified heights of the wine world as agriculture engineer and oenologist at Chateau Lafite Rothschild and finally brought him home. Before we delve deeper into Francois's story, allow me to make some practical observations from a wine lover's perspective.

We are all in search of the perfect combination of performance and economy. While many of the greatest wines in the world are unique and treasured experiences to taste, they are not necessarily good value.

In the case of Chateau Lafite Rothschild and other first growth reds along with hallowed right bank reds, in general; these wines are quite simply over-priced. They may or may not be the greatest red wines in the world, with people in Burgundy, the Rhone Valley, Piedmont, Tuscany and Ribera del Duero begging to differ, but their quality to price ratio is not the best.

Of course, when I have the chance to savor great Bordeaux reds, I'm one of the happiest guys in Shanghai, but I won't buy them. Instead, I tirelessly search for great wines that don't come with equally great price tags.

This is where I stop my rant on wine prices and we return to the story of Costieres de Nimes in the southern Rhone. In the 17th century the property was home to the nuns of the Convent of Ursulines who like many Catholics of the time most likely cultivated vines to make wines for the holy sacrament.

While I'm unable to comment on the quality of wines made by the nuns centuries ago, I can enthusiastically tell you that since Francois returned home in 1990 and bottled his first wines in 1993 the wines of Chateau Mourgues du Gres are excellent and very reasonably priced. What's better is that they are now available in Shanghai.

Unlike the Cabernet Sauvignon-centric wines he helped make at Chateau Lafite, the wines Francois makes at Chateau Mourgues du Gres reflect the history and tradition of the southern Rhone. There's much more sun that gives the grapes greater ripeness. In fact, the motto and symbol of the winery is Sine Sole Nihil which literally means "nothing without the sun."

The land features a special soil replete with galets or small rounded stones that were formed in the Ice Age as glaciers carved out the Rhone Valley. These stones help keep the soil moist and bring mineral qualities to the wines.

The nearby Rhone River and winds from both the north and south also play important roles. Without getting too technical, these are all positive influences on the vines and their fruit that allow Francois to make wines of generous aromas, flavors and textures.

Two of the best wines from Chateau Mourgues du Gres are the Terre d'Argence 2008 white and Capitelles des Mourgues 2007 red.

The former is a white wine that reflects the best qualities of the region. Made from old-vine viognier and roussanne grapes, this golden-colored wine offers lovely apricot and honey aromas with hints of wild herbs and concentrated elegant fruit flavors and a persistent finish.

The wine makes a wonderful companion to subtle-flavored Chinese fish dishes including Cantonese-style grouper in soy sauce and scallions and more boldly-flavored Shanghai-style sweetened crispy soft bone carp. In both cases the wine augments, without overpowering, the fresh flavors of the fish.

The Capitelles des Mourgues red wine is predominantly made of syrah variety but also has some grenache and carignan and is aged in large 600-liter oak casks.

Again this wine reflects the best characteristics of the southern Rhone with ripe red and black berry aromas with a touch of spice and concentrated dark fruit flavors alone with subtle notes of vanilla and a long smooth finish.

This is a complex wine with aging potential and deserves serious meat companions like Beijing-style roasted lamb or a richly flavored Shanghai-style stewed pork dish. Game is also a great partner with this wine.

Other wines from Chateau Mourges du Gres that deserve mention and can be found in Shanghai are the fruity and cheerful Les Galets series comprised of a white, rose and red wine and the deliciously easy-going entry level La Tour de Beraud that also comes in three colors. The price points may vary, but they are all well-made, excellent value wines.


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