Warm and friendly wines from Château la Villatade, Minervois AOC

Bubble Brothers began with bubbles, but champagne-only wine merchants have a short business life, so the company diversified into still wines while still in the first flush of youth. The first non-champagne items on the list were added as a result of a 'research tour' of the Languedoc-Roussillon area of the south of France, and we've been importing many of those first wines ever since. Specializing in the exciting and affordable wines of the Languedoc, rather than in Bordeaux or Burgundy, helped to reinforce our reputation for doing things a little differently, and we've remained committed to a good selection from the Languedoc ever since. You can usually do worse than choose a Minervois if you see one. Even cheaper wines from the appellation, which is due north of, and about a third the size of, the Corbières, tend to have good, plump fruit and food-friendly structure. Our Minervois wines come from Denis and Sophie Morin, whose estate, Château la Villatade, is half an hour north of the fortified city of Carcassonne. I seem to remember that we first found out about the estate when the Morins were visiting Cork and dropped a card in to our English Market shop.
Denis and Sophie Morin
They're warm and friendly people - not everybody in wine is - and we buy two wines from their range. One is a typical blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, the Château la Villatade. A recent bottle of the 2003 vintage showed itself to be on fine form, with intense aromas, lovely ripe, gently spicy fruit still, and tannins that had mellowed into velvet. This is one of those great bottles that both redeems iffy cooking and inspires the iffy chef to try a bit harder next time. The other wine we buy from Denis and Sophie is slightly unusual, because it's not a blend of grapes but a pure, varietal, Syrah. The Château's vineyards are situated in the north-west of the Minervois, which is slightly less scorchingly hot and dry than the rest of the region, and the late-ripening Syrah in a good vintage can yield wines of considerable complexity and interest in addition to the spicy, herbal fruit characters of the grape. If your only experience of Syrah (aka Shiraz) is from Australia, you should give the Sanguine a try and get the wider picture. The other thing I should mention, while I'm trying to widen the picture, is that the Morins offer some very nice-looking accommodation in gîtes on the estate. You can find out a little more on their website, or drop me a line and I'll pass it on. UPDATE, 14th April: The Morins have a shiny new website, just launched, at http://www.minervois-languedoc.com/