Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Outsiders

The Outsiders is a friendly group of Languedoc producers, who do not originate from the region but from all four corners of the globe and other parts of France.   A group of them were in London earlier this month for what proved to be a great tasting.  I am not going to regurgitate my tasting notes for every single wine, but simply highlight a favourite from each producer.  And apologies, I complete omitted to make a note of prices.  

Domaine Ste Rose   2011 Roussanne Barrel Selection, Pays d’Oc
Ruth and Charles Simpson have made a bit of a speciality of Roussanne.   The wine is still very young and with some quite obvious oak, but it is classy oak, and will, from the experience of previous vintages, tone down nicely with some bottle age.  The wine is rich and textured, with layers of flavour, of white blossom, and will develop beautifully in bottle.

Rives Blanques  2012 Limoux, Dédicace, Chenin blanc.
I realise that I have developed something of soft spot for this wine, and the 2012 did not disappoint.  It is honeyed and nutty on the nose, with dry honeyed fruit on the palate, with balancing acidity and a long rich finish. It is drinking beautifully now, but will also age – see my earlier post about the ageability of white wines from the Languedoc.

Clos du Gravillas  2013 lo Viehl Carignan, Côtes du Brian.
A wine that shows just how good Carignan is, and why it is so deserving of a revival in its reputation.  Treat it properly, as Nicole and John Bojanowski do, and it responds beautifully.  This has a deep colour, with some firm peppery fruit on the nose, and firm but ripe berry fruit on the palate, and with a youthful note of tannin, and the benchmark rustic streak that is classic Carignan.   

Domaine de Cébène, Faugères, 2013 Felgaria
Brigitte Chevalier makes some of the most elegant Faugères and she is particularly enthusiastic about her Mourvèdre based cuvée.  So am I.  She was showing both 2012 and 2013 Felgaria.  2013 has a firm nose, with some ripe fruit and appealing youthful peppery spice on the palate.  The hallmark is elegance.

Château St. Jacques d’Albas, Minervois, 2013 le Garric
Graham Nutter has added a new wine to his range of Minervois, le Garric, made from young vines, and a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre.  It has fresh peppery fruit on both nose and palate, with a youthful streak of tannin, making for some easy drinking.  Le Domaine and le Château de St. Jacques d’Albas are both more serious.   

Le Clos du Serres, 2013 le Saut du Poisson, Languedoc  
A blend of 60% Grenache Blanc with some Roussanne and Vermentino.  A small part of the Grenache is vinified in wood which fills out the palate nicely.  Fresh lemony white flowers on the nose, and an elegantly rounded palate.  Nicely textured with good fruit and fresh acidity. 

Domaine Modat, 2011 Sans Plus Attendre, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Caramany
This is mainly Syrah with a little Grenache Noir and Carignan, of which 60% is aged in demi muids. Philippe Modat began with barriques but has moved on to 500 litre barrels.  Good colour.  Firm and peppery on the nose, with ripe black fruit on the palate.  Ripe and peppery and youthful.  A full bodied mouthful of flavour. .

Domaine Turner-Pageot, 2013 la Rupture, Vin de France – 16.00€
I don’t normally like Sauvignon in the Midi, but there are exceptions to every generalisation and Manu Pageot’s 2013 La Rupture is one of them.   50% of the wine spent seven weeks on the skins and there is lots of firm stony mineral fruit on the nose and palate.  It is youthful, tight knit and structured and firmly mineral on the finish. 

Domaine Ste Hilaire, 2012 Silk Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc   15.00€
I have a soft spot for Ste Hilaire’s Vermentino and their 2014 has some appealing fresh lemony herbal notes on the nose and palate, with good acidity.  However, I was also taken by 2012 Chardonnay Silk, a reference to Jonathan James’career in the legal world.   Silk is lightly buttery on the nose and quite elegant and rounded on the palate, stylish with a good balance of fruit and understated oak. 

Domaine le Madura 2012 Classique Rouge
This is one of my favourite St. Chinian estates and it was difficult to decide whether to enthuse about the Classique or the Grand Vin, or indeed about red or white wine.   I’ve opted for 2012 Classique Rouge, with rounded ripe red fruit on the nose, and an elegant palate, with more red fruit and spice, and a fresh finish.

Château Beauregard Mirouze, Corbières Rosé Tradition – 7.00€
I’ll go for their rosé, partly because I have yet to mention a rosé, and secondly and more importantly because it is fresh and fruity, with notes of strawberries and a little vinosity on the finish.   In other words it is everything that a rosé should be, making perfect summer drinking.   It is a blend of macerated Syrah and pressed Grenache Noir.

Château d’Angles, la Clape, 2013 Classique, blanc – 9.50€
Another difficult choice here, red or white or even rosé.  Good white la Clape always has a fresh salinity and this is no exception.  You immediately sense that the vineyards are close to the sea, with an underlying salinity on both the nose and palate, with firm fruit and texture.  It is wonderfully satisfying.   The sappy, salty character is part of the charm of La Clape. 50% Bourboulenc, with 30% Grenache Blanc and some Marsanne and Roussanne.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Montpeyroux Caveaux Ouverts in 2015

Montpeyroux seems to be very unlucky with its choice of day for the annual caveaux ouverts.   For the third year running, the weather was distinctly unkind, for the third Sunday in April was wet, but happily not cold, and sandwiched by a sunny Saturday and Monday.   Conditions really did not allow for serious tasting.  We scuttled from cellar to cellar, saying hallo to friends, at Villa Dondona, Domaine d’Aupilhac, Mas d’Amile and so one.  Note taking was a tad minimalist. But what really remained in my mind at the end of the day was just how good the white wines are.  There were some real stars:

2013 Espérel from Villa Dondona had lovely herbal notes, reminiscent of ripe fennel, with quite a full palate, rounded with good acidity. and stacks of character. And the 2012 had filled out deliciously and settled down nicely.

Alba from Domaine du Joncas is a pure Grenache Gris, with herbal notes on the nose, and firm acidity and minerality on the palate.  It was fresh and youthful with a long finish and plenty of potential.

Mas d’Amile’s 2014 Terret Blanc is firm and mineral on the nose, with good weight on the palate.  The flavours are firm, with a mineral, volcanic note, and a rounded finish. 

Alain Chabanon had a pair of whites.  First we tried 2013 le Petit Trelans, which is a 70% Vermentino with some Chenin blanc.  It was fresh and herbal with a mineral note and some apricot fruit on the finish.  It spends a year in foudres and some time in vat.   In contrast 2011 Trelans has less Vermentino, with more Chenin blanc in the blend and is given a longer élevage.   The flavours are richer with more weight and texture, with good acidity and an elegant finish.

Sylvain Fadat's Cocalières blanc 2014 at Domaine d'Aupilhac was fresh and mineral with good acidity, while the 2008 – he always shows older vintages – made without any so2 was surprisingly youthful, rounded with a stony note and leesy flavours and softer acidity.  It was an intriguing finale to our tasting.

And then we restored ourselves with some warming Aligot, a wonderful combination of mashed potato and cheese, with a touch of garlic, eaten under the cover of the old market hall, and to the accompaniment of a local band.  I particularly admired a head of dreadlocks in the form of corks, and the agility of a stilt walker who was able to skip, as well as walk.  .  

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

2014 Faugères

The Comité des Vins du Languedoc organises a week of tastings of the new vintage, usually, as far as I am concerned, badly timed to coincide with the annual Decanter World Wine Awards.   This year things worked out slightly better and I was able to attend the Faugères tasting at the beginning of the week.

It was held at a rather draughty venue, a large marquee at Mas du Cheval, outside Lattes.  Not all the producers of Faugères were there, as not everyone was ready to show their 2014s.  Some wines were already in bottle, but not all.  Altogether I tried the wines from 20 estates, totalling some 109 wines. There is no doubt that the best are absolutely delicious with plenty of potential, from a challenging vintage with complicated weather during the harvest.  Highlights included wines from Mas d’Alezon, Ollier Taillefer, Ancienne Mercerie, Cébène and St. Antonin.   And the tasting also included three of the four new wine growers of the year, Mas Lou, Mas Nicolas and Domaine de l’Arbussèle.  Sadly Domaine de l’Epidaure was missing as Jérôme Vialla was suffering from flu. 

However, probably more interesting was a small tasting of Faugères vin de garde, of  wines from the very successful 2005 vintage.  This, with my very English approach to a wine tasting, was a very French affair.  A small core of the audience spent about an hour discussing four wines.  I had thought that we would taste far more wines, and did indeed manage to taste the wines shown at an earlier tasting, so altogether a total of eight 2005s.  Some were delicious and some had not aged well, or had initial winemaking faults.  Ten years less experience of how to use an oak barrel showed.   To my mind, the most pertinent comment of the tasting came from Bernard Vidal of Château la Liquière, when he observed:  the ability to age may be a characteristic of a wine, but is it necessarily an element of quality?   That certainly provoked food for thought. 

Those of us brought up on Bordeaux and Burgundy expect fine wine to age – it is definitely a quality that is an essential part of the appreciation of fine red wine, that it will evolve and develop greater nuances, depth and subtly with bottle age.  However,  in the Languedoc the tradition for ageing red wine in bottle is much less developed.  Quite simply it has not been part of the wine culture of the Midi.  Climatic conditions did not allow for it, unless you had an insulated cellar.  But gradually things are changing.  There is a realisation, especially as élevage in oak barrels is much better understood, that ageing can be a quality factor.  It does not apply to all wines.  Many are those whose youthful charm is their chief virtue, but there are those, with balance and concentration, which will develop with bottle age.   The selection of eight wines included some elegant evolution, such as Ancienne Mercerie’s la Couture, Mas d’Alezon’s Montfalette and Ollier Taillefer’s Castel Fossibus.  They represent yet another aspect of the myriad of flavours of the Languedoc.  

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Vinoteca at King's Cross

I don’t usually consider enthusing about a wine bar within the remit of this blog, but there are exceptions to every rule – and one is the new Vinoteca at King's Cross.   I’ve visited the other Vinoteca, in Farringdon, Beak Street, Marble Arch and Chiswick, for tastings, drinks and dinner, and have always enjoyed them, so was curious to see what they have done at Kings Cross.    Another reason possibly for not writing about Vinoteca is the lack of Languedoc wines on their list – they do have a couple, but only a couple, but there are so many other tempting things.   It is always good to drink outside one’s comfort zone from time to time, and Vinoteca’s ever changing wine list by the glass certainly offered plenty of interest and temptation.  So first we checked out a couple of glasses of fizz, their house champagne from Renard Barnier and  the 209 Gran Reserva Cava from Juve y Camps.

A week earlier in the Farringdon Vinoteca, I did enjoy a glass of white Corbières from the coop of Rocbère, but on this occasion it was a delicious Santorini, a sappy mineral Assyrtiko from a new producer Karamalengos that tempted.  The manager at the King's Cross Vinoteca, Gus Gluck has worked a vintage on Santorini, and is particularly enthusiastic about the island’s wines. And then we tried David Ramonteu’s Dada.  David’s father, Henri at Domaine Cauhape was one of the pioneers of the renaissance of Jurançon, and David went off to New Zealand, for a stage, and met a girl, and is currently making wine there.  He has no vineyards, but buys grapes, and for Dada they are an intriguing blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier and Gewürztraminer.  Even though Viognier and Gewurztraminer are pretty powerful flavours, neither variety dominated the blend.

Vinoteca is open from 7 a.m on weekdays, and 9 a.m. at the weekend, so it occured to my tasting / drinking buddy that if you were travelling to the Languedoc by train, you could set yourself up for the journey with breakfast, as Vinoteca is very conveniently situated for the Eurostar, and in their small shop, which replicates the wine bar list, you could buy a bottle to go with the picnic lunch that you might enjoy en route.  It is almost tempts me to take the train rather than the plane!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

White wines from the Languedoc do age

We had a bit of a crisis, when we arrived in the Languedoc as we discovered that we were in serious danger of running out of Blanquette de Limoux.  Happily that was  a problem that was easily solved, with a quick email to our friends Caryl and Jan Panman at Rives Blanques to arrange to drop in for a quick purchase.    But Caryl and Jan’s hospitality in the tasting room is such, that a quick drop is never works.  ‘We know you’d like some Blanquette, but you must try the Crémant too to make sure’.   We also wanted some white wine, so we checked out their Mauzac, with some dry honey and that characteristic bitter note of Mauzac.  I have always loved their Chenin Blanc, Dédicace, so we compared the 2012 and the 2011, and then Jan asked if we’d like to try the 2013, which they are not yet selling.  What a silly question.  Of course we would.  And we got to talking about how Chenin Blanc develops in bottle.  The 2011 has filled out beautifully, while the 2012 is still quite fresh and honeyed, and 2013 an awkward adolescent.  

And then Jan disappeared, to return with a dusty bottle of 2002 Dédicace, the Chenin Blanc of their very first vintage.   And what a treat it was.   If you need ammunition to prove that white wines from the Languedoc do age, this was it.   It is well known that Chenin Blanc ages well in the Loire Valley, so why not in Limoux too?     I could almost make a comparison with mature Chablis.  The colour was light golden, with no signs at all of oxidation.  There were notes of mousseron, lightly mushroomy notes on the nose that you also find in mature Chablis and the palate was very elegant with lots of nuances, with dry honey and balancing acidity.  It was a lovely mature glass of wine, on its plateau, but certainly not falling off it.   And extraordinary to think that it was a twelve year old white wine from the Languedoc.   

Friday, 10 April 2015

Villa Dondona with the Solicitors’ Wine Society

I had a fascinating evening the other day at The Solicitors’ Wine Society with Jo Lynch and André Suquet from Villa Dondona in  Montpeyroux.  Jo and André were presenting their wines, and I tagged along to add an extra commentary. 

We kicked off with:

2012 Cuvée Espérel, Coteaux du Languedoc Blanc.   -1100€
I’ve always had a soft spot for this wine, since the first vintage, the 2010, came out top in the Concours des Vins de la Vallée de l’Hérault.  It is a blend, mainly of Vermentino and Grenache Blanc, with a little Marsanne and Roussanne.  It always makes me think of the herbs of the garrigues, the crushed herbs of the Languedoc vineyards, with fennel, thyme and bay. It is delicate and fragrant, but not ethereal, with some fresh acidity and a long finish, and shows just how much the white wines of the Languedoc have improved.

2012 Chemin des Cayrades, IGP Hérault – 9.50€
A pure Carignan vinified by carbonic maceration.  A good deep young colour.  Nicely rustic red berry fruit on the nose, and on the palate ripe, rounded fruit, but with a tannic streak.  Kept in a vat so no wood.  Easy drinking.

Next we compared :

2011 Cuvée Dondona with 2011 Cuvée Oppidum

Cuvée Dondona  (12.00€) is a blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache, kept in vat rather than barrel.  Good colour.  Lovely ripe fruit on nose and palate.  Supple and rounded with a tannic streak.  Very harmonious.  It was drinking beautifully.

Cuvée Oppidum  (21.00€) is a blend of Mourvèdre and Syrah which have been aged in barrel for a year.  Deep colour; a firm nose and on the palate a firm structure, with some vanilla notes from the oak.  Youthful and sturdy, with plenty of ageing potential.

Then 2010 Cuvée Dondona, which was described as a recalcitrant, more reticent vintage, with a much firmer nose, and a more closed palate, with some tannic structure and youthful fruit, and possibly more ageing potential than 2011.

Then we compared two 2008s., which again provided another fascinating comparison.

Cuvée Dondona was beginning to age, with a savoury note on the nose and quite an elegant palate, with a hint of orange.  Medium weight and alongside Cuvée Oppidum, it had less depth.  In contrast Cuvée Oppidum  (23.00€) had evolved beautifully.  It had a deeper colour and quite a structured palate, with a tannic streak but the palate was very harmonious and balanced.  A perfect example of the benefit of subtle oak ageing.

2006 Cuvée Dondona had quite a firm nose, with some maturing leathery notes on the palate, which was quite supple.  I think it had reached its plateau and would not benefit from further ageing.

On the other hand 2005 Cuvée Oppidum still had quite a rich nose, with some oak.  There was quite a savoury note on the palate, with a sturdy streak of tannin and some spicy fruit.  Lots of intriguing nuances, possibly with some further ageing potential, and certainly a splendid example of the ability of the wines of the Languedoc to develop in bottle. 2005 was only Jo and André’s second vintage and they had no idea that it would be so successful.  The solicitors were thrilled.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Gérard Bertrand on A South of France Experience: Wine, Moon and Stars

I have reservations about autobiographies, especially when written by someone who has hardly reached middle age.  The cover too is somewhat off-putting – there is no doubt that Gérard Bertrand is immensely photogenic, but the photograph on the cover of his recently published autobiography is un peu trop .....  Actually on second thoughts, autobiography is not really the best description of this book for it is more a series of essays on various aspects of Gérard’s life and work. 

And I have to say that I found the text surprisingly engaging.  It has been very competently translated from the French edition: Le Vin à la belle étoile, by Jane Anson, who is best known for her own writing on Bordeaux.   It cannot have been an easy task, as French wine writing tends towards more poetic flights of fancy than the steady down-to-earth Anglo-Saxon approach.   Some of Gérard’s descriptions would have worked beautifully in French, while in English they have a tendency to cloy.  However, that said, the core of the book is very interesting, and Gérard, himself comes over as a very committed personality, and  not only to his own highly successful wine business, but also to the whole region of the Languedoc.  He writes very fluently about his belief in biodynamic viticulture, citing an example of a struggling vineyard that was transformed by biodynamic methods.    

Gérard not only writes about wine, but also about his early career in rugby.   His father’s sudden death in a car accident obviously made a big impact on his future ambitions.  I actually met Georges Bertrand, probably not long before the accident, and remember him for a highly illuminating tasting, a vertical of early vintages of his Corbières at Domaine de Villemajou, with his first experiments with oak ageing.  Georges was one of the first wine growers of the Midi to put his wine in barrel, back in 1979.  It was a fascinating tasting, illustrating some of the recent history of the Languedoc.  

In conclusion, Wine, Moon & Stars is well worth reading.  Gérard’s experience of the Languedoc, as he has added more estates to his portfolio, covers not only the heart of the business at Château l’Hospitalet, but stretches to Château la Sauvageonne in the Terrasses du Larzac, and Domaine de l’Aigle in Limoux, as well as to La Livinière, the source of his newest wine, Clos d’Oro.  He gives his own personal insight into each of these estates and I certainly found that the book added an extra dimension to my appreciation and understanding of the many facets of the Languedoc.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Domaine du Joncas

I’ve blogged about Domaine du Joncas before but not for a while, and so the Independent Winegrowers tasting was a great opportunity for an update, on what to my mind is one of the rising stars of Montpeyroux.

2014 Mont Baudile, Blanc, Canta  – 19.00€
The grape variety is Riesling, which Pascal informed me has been allowed in the Languedoc since 2008.  He doesn’t know of anyone else making a pure Riesling.  Jean-Louis Denois at Domaine de l’Aigle in Limoux used to make a tiny quantity of Riesling back in the 1990s, but he fell foul of the powers that be of the INAO.  More recently I’ve only ever come across it as a very small part of a blend.   This is certainly intriguing, not your classic Riesling, but with some honeyed notes on the nose and palate, and good acidity, with a certain texture on the palate.

2013 Languedoc Rosé, Nèbla  – 9.00€
Grenache and Syrah.  Pressurage direct.  Quite a vivid colour with some fresh fruit on the nose.  Very intense raspberry fruit on the palate.  Ripe and vinous.

2013 Montpeyroux, Joia – 12.50€
Grenache, Syrah and Cinsaut.  Smokey lightly leathery nose. Quite a fresh ripe palate, with red fruit.  Medium weight and elegant.  A lovely glass of wine.

2013 Terrasses du Larzac, Nèbla – 10.00€
Mourvèdre is the main variety, with Syrah and Grenache.  One third of the wine goes into seven year old barrels.  It is sturdier than the Joia, with a hint of wood, with quite firm fruit, but again with the same elegance.  Nicely crafted.

2013 Terrasses du Larzac, Obra – 25€
A blend of Syrah and Grenache, aged in stainless steel tank, concrete egg and oak barrel, a small foudre.  Quite a firm nose, with ripe fruit, and supple tannins. Nicely structured and beautifully balanced.   Very satisfying. 

And talking of Montpeyroux – a diary date.   The open cellars day in the village is well worth a visit as all the wine growers take part and you can wander round the village glass in hand with a choice of some twenty cellars.  This year the date is Sunday 19th April.  See you there.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Domaine de l’Argenteille

I tasted one of Roger Jeanjean’s wines on the Terrasses du Larzac walk last summer and so the Independent Winegrowers tasting in London provided the opportunity to try the complete range.   Roger Jeanjean – and No, he is not related to the Jeanjean who are one of the largest producers of the Languedoc – has had a varied wine trade career.  He is a qualified oenologist and was director of the cooperative in the Hérault village of Gabian for a number of years and then set up his own négociant business, Millésime Sud, and then he inherited ten hectares of family vines that are situated between Jonquières and St. Saturnin.  So that was the moment to become a vigneron.  His range is en construction, as he put it.  He has pulled up some vines and bought some others.

2014 Languedoc Rosé – 7.00€
A blend of Mourvèdre 80% and Grenache 20% . Pressed grapes.  Light colour.  Fresh light dry fruit.  Nicely refreshing palate.

2014 Languedoc Rouge
A blend of Mourvèdre and Syrah,  Still in vat and intended for bottling in May.  Some attractive fruit on both nose and palate, but still rather adolescent, which is not surprising, but certainly with potential.

2013 Terrasses du Larzac Garric – 12.50€
30% each of Mourvèdre, Syrah and Carignan with 10% Grenache Noir.  20% aged in wood, so the nose is quite oaky and the wine needs to breathe.  The palate is quite solid and ripe with good tannins and a refreshing note that is so characteristic of the Terrasses du Larzac.

2012 Garric,
An identical blend, but quite a different vintage. Quite a firm rounded nose, and on the palate, medium weight, and quite fleshy with some acidity and tannin, and a satisfying balance.

2013 Terrasses du Larzac, les Roches des Fées
30% each of Grenache Noir and Carignan, with 40% Syrah.  A small percentage goes into wood.  This was a vat sample and will be bottled in May or June.  It was very rounded and ripe with a touch of vanilla.  A satisfyingly harmonious palate that promises well. 

I shall look forward to seeing how Roger’s wines develop and evolve. 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Domaine de l'Hortus

Domaine de l’Hortus was one of the pioneering estates of the Pic St. Loup and continues to make some delicious wines.  I had an opportunity to tasted the current releases at their importer’s tasting, Bancroft Wines, in London last month.

2014 Loup y es-tu Blanc, Val de Montferrand
A pure Muscat à petits grains, with lightly grapey fruit on the nose, and even more so on the palate, balanced with good acidity.  Very refreshing.

2013 Bergerie de l’Hortus Blanc, Val de Montferrand
An intriguing blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Viognier, Roussanne, Petit Manseng, Chardonnay and Muscat.  Quite a firm, fresh nose and on the palate lots of nuances, with fresh acidity and youthful fruit.   Very intriguing.  It will be fascinating to see how it develops with bottle age.

2013 Grand Cuvée Blanc, Val de Montferrand
A blend of Viognier, Sauvignon and Chardonnay.   Barrel aged, and indeed quite rich and oaky on the nose, with rich fruit, concentration and texture on the palate.  You can taste the peachy Viognier fruit on the finish. 

2013 Le Loup dans la Bergerie, Val de Montferrand
A blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah and Merlot.  The aim is easy drinking fruit, and that is just what they have achieved, with a fresh nose, and rounded red fruit on the palate, with a refreshing streak of tannin.

2012 Bergerie de l’Hortus Rouge, Pic St. Loup – 11.00€
Two thirds Syrah with Mourvèdre and Grenache.  Quite rounded but firm fruit on the nose, and on the palate, nicely understated red fruit with a firm backbone of youthful structure.   Élevage mainly in vat.

2012 Grande Cuvée Rouge, Pic St. Loup
The same blend as Bergerie, but with a stricter selection of grapes, given eighteen months ageing in barrel.  Quite firm and smoky on the nose, with youthful oaky fruit on the palate.   Should develop well in bottle. 

And last week Yves Orliac sent me a link to a short film that a friendly filmmaker has produced about the estate.   I thought I would share it with you, for some great views of the Pic St. Loup and the meticulous work of planting a vineyard, as well as the discussion that goes into blending a wine.  Personally I thought the film could have done with some severe editing, but it is one man’s view of one estate in the Pic St. Loup, as Yves explains below: 

« Nadim Zeraïa, franco algérien, photographe& cinéaste, parcoure depuis sa tendre enfance les bords la Méditerranée, d’Alger à Montpellier, appareil photo sur l’épaule.
Fils d’ingénieur agronome, Nadim s’intéresse depuis toujours au monde agricole et plus particulièrement au monde viticole.
Suite à une rencontre fortuite avec l’un d’entre nous, il a voulu porter un regard sur l’importance de la viticulture sur les hauteurs de l’arrière pays montpelliérain, à savoir le Pic Saint Loup.
Durant une année entière, 2014, il a suivi les travaux au Domaine de l’Hortus. Il nous a accompagnés dans notre quotidien. Sa présence, son regard nous ont enrichis et grâce à lui, nous avons mis des mots sur nos pratiques. Nous sommes heureux de vous présenter le fruit de son travail et la concrétisation d’une réflexion : bon film !!! »

A brief synopsis explains that Nadim Zeraia has spent his life around the Mediterranean with a camera to hand and is particularly interested in the world of wine, and wanted to explore the hinterland of Montpellier and the Pic St Loup.  So during 2014 he followed the work at Domaine de l’Hortus and this is the result. 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Domaine Toupie

I have often enjoyed the vignerons independents tasting in Paris, but there is also a small version in London every year, which is good for a discovery or two, or an update.   So continuing the Roussillon theme of my previous post, but one, I was delighted to find Jérôme Collas from Domaine la Toupie at the tasting. His wine fared pretty well in Decanter's tasting, so unlike some of his confrères, he was not after my blood.  He explained how 2012 was his first vintage.  He is a trained oenologist, and used to work for the large cooperative, Mont Tauch in Tuchan, which once did so much to promote the wines of the Corbières, but has now fallen on hard times. Dominic George had already introduced me to one of Jérôme’s wines - see my post on Le Wine Shop from November. 

Jérôme has ten hectares, in four different plots, with quite different terroirs, with different soils, variations of limestone and schist,  and different aspects and altitudes, at Latour de France, in Maury behind Mas Amiel, dominated by the Cathar castle of Quéribus, and cooler vineyards at St Paul de Fenouillet, planted with Grenache Blanc, Syrah and Mourvèdre.  So it was a great opportunity to taste the range.

2014 Côtes Catalanes, Petit Salto
80% Grenache Gris, with Macabeu.  Aged in vat.  A pale colour, and quite a delicate nose with rounded white blossom on the palate.   Only recently bottled so needs to develop in bottle.

2013 Côtes du Roussillon blanc, Fine Fleur  – 10.00€
A blend of Grenache Gris, Macabeu and Carignan Blanc.  Spends six months in old wood.   Quite a firm stony nose, with some oak on the palate.  Rounded, textured and youthful.

2013 Côtes Catalanes Rosé Petit Frisson – 8.00€
Grenache Noir and Syrah.  Pressed juice and so a very pale delicate colour.  Delicate nose, but with more weight on the palate. Nicely balanced.

2013 Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Pirouette – 8.10€
A blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah.  Carbonic maceration for the Syrah.  Quite a rounded ripe spicy nose and palate.  Warm but not heavy, with supple tannins.  Ripe and elegant, with a harmonious finish. 

2013 Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Quatuor – 10.00€
Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Carignan.  Medium colour.  Quite firm, slightly leathery nose, and on the palate.  A rounded finish.

2013 Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Volte Face 
33% Mourvèdre,, 25% each Carignan and Syrah and the balance Grenache Noir.  Aged in oak for nine months.  Quite firm and structured, with a youthful oaky palate.  Firm tannins and tight knit with plenty of future potential.

2013 Maury Sec, Sur Un Fil 
70% Grenache with 25% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre.  Aged in vat rather than barrel.  Deep colour.  Quite a sturdy nose.  Ripe rounded fruit on the palate, balanced by a streak of tannin.  Sunny and supple. 

2013 Maury Blanc, Tertio – 8.00€
Pure Macabeu and 15.  Light colour.  A rounded honeyed nose, and a note of pears and more honey on the palate.  Perfect with Roquefort, suggested Jérôme.  I couldn’t disagree.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Biodynamic, Organic and Natural Winemaking by Britt & Per Karlsson.

The Languedoc is one of the fast growing areas for organic viticulture in France, so it seems highly appropriate to review the most recent addition to the growing literature on organic viticulture.  Britt and Per Karlsson are Swedish journalists who are based in Paris; the Swedish version of their book won ‘Best Wine book for Professionals 2012' in Sweden, and last year it was published in English.  

They say in the foreword ‘This book is not meant as an argument for organic (or biodynamic or natural wine production).  Instead we explain what all these concepts mean.’   And that is exactly what they do, and very useful it is too, written in a down to earth manner, with a very straightforward approach.  You may think that sounds rather dry but the text is beautifully lightened by some evocative photographs, including picturesque views of vineyards covered in wild flowers.

The contents page provides a succinct resumé. Farming Today covers the principal types of farming; there is a history of the development of organic viticulture and a survey as to how wide spread it is now – the Languedoc has 16,462 hectares, and that is growing.  They look at disease and pest control by natural means, and explain the steps a wine grower has to take to become organic.  And once I read the chapter on Biodynamic Wine Production, I understood the different preparations for the first time.  Work in the cellar is also considered, as well as additives and there is a useful chapter on labelling.  Natural wines are not ignored, nor is sustainable wine growing. And the book concludes with an overview of some of the environmental issues such as carbon dioxide emissions and packaging, and finally a couple of appendices of recommended wine growers.   There are other names that I could add in the Languedoc.

As Per and Britt say: ‘At the end of the day it is still the individual growers who decide what sort of wine they want to make’.  And they do not say which type of viticulture, organic, biodynamic, natural or sustainable is better.  ‘It is down to the wine growers themselves to convince us’.   And some of Britt and Per’s observations are convincing – and objective.  You cannot but notice that they are very level headed and unemotional about what can be a very emotive subject.   

Like so many wine books, it is not necessarily a book to sit down and read in one go.  However, it makes a very useful reference, providing a comprehensive overview.  I certainly felt that at the end of it I understood rather more about the subject than a few hours earlier.  .

Biodynamic, Organic and Natural winemaking
Britt and Per Karlsson
Floris Books –

Monday, 9 February 2015

Decanter's Roussillon Tasting - The Right of Reply

I was in Mexico for the second half of January so was blissfully unaware of the fallout from the results of Decanter's Roussillon tasting that were published in the magazine in early January, in the February issue.   It had not been a happy tasting.   I was one of three tasters, with fellow Master of Wine, Simon Field, who buys Roussillon, amongst other things, for Berry Bros & Rudd, and Simon Taylor, who set up Stone, Vine & Sun, a company which makes the south of France something of a speciality.  All three of us are therefore very enthusiastic about Roussillon, and had high expectations from the tasting.  But sadly these were simply not met. 

There were 82 wines in all, mainly Côtes du Roussillon and Côtes du Roussillon Villages, but also some Maury,  Collioure and Côtes Catalanes.  None achieved Outstanding status;  there were just five Highly Recommended wines, a large swathe of 47 Recommended wines, and a pretty large swathe of wines that registered merely Fair, including some of the big names of the region, such as Gauby, la Rectorie, Clos des Fées and Matassa. 

I had already been asked to write the introduction to the tasting.  I have always thought it a pity that Roussillon is so often always lumped with the Languedoc, when in fact it is so different.   Roussillon is Catalan.  It did not become part of France until 1659 with the treaty of the Pyrenees.  The viticultural history of the region is based on vin doux made from Grenache, and Grenache is still the principal grape variety of the region, though Syrah has grown in importance and you will also find venerable old Carignan vines, as well as Mourvèdre.   The terroir is a mosaic of soil types, with schist, limestone, clay .....and the sun shines.   There are a growing number of independent producers replacing the village cooperatives as the dominant force in the region.   To my mind the red wines are Roussillon are rich and warm, perhaps with more in common with Châteauneuf du Pape and Gigondas than with the neighbouring Languedoc.   Inevitably but not always they tend to quite high alcohol levels and 14.5  was pretty much the average amongst the wines at our tasting.

We were very shocked and very disappointed and at a loss to explain why the wines had shown so badly.   As the person asked to write the concluding expert summary, I was faced with the challenging task of finding some positive things to say.   I like the wines of Roussillon and in the past have greatly enjoyed other vintages of some of the wines that did not show well.   We all know that tastings notes are not carved in stone.  Tasters can have off days, and so can wines.   Taste buds can easily be influenced by the preceding wine, so that a blockbuster will overwhelm a more elegant wine.   Some believe in the biodynamic calendar and that fruit and flower days are better for tasting rather than root or leaf days.  Also climatic pressure and the prevailing wind can make a significant difference.  Pascal Dalier from Domaine Joncas in Montpeyroux asserts that a change in the barometer has more impact on how a wine tastes, than the change from a flower to a root day. I have not infrequently encountered a wine grower who has observed that their wines were not tasting well that particular day because of climatic pressure.   Another adverse  impact on wine flavour is how recently the wines were bottled.  The majority of the wines we tasted came from the tricky 2013 vintage, and had probably not been that long in bottle. I certainly found quite a few of them to be distinctly adolescent, but like most adolescents, with plenty of potential.

There was also a summary of our immediate impression, written by Christelle Guibert, Decanter's tasting director who was responsible for obtaining the wines in the first place.  Decanter had contacted individual wine growers through the CIVR, the Comité des Vins de Roussillon, the professional body of the region.   

Roussillon seems particularly upset that we said that the wines were not elegant.  I was quoted by Christelle as saying that you do not go to Roussillon for elegance, and that we should have been tasting full-bodied wines that would cheer you up enormously on a winter's day.  And I stand by that.  I do not choose Roussillon for delicate ethereal wines.  I want a punch of flavour, something rich, warming and spicy.  The wines are usually pretty high in alcohol but that does not mean that they are heavy or clumsy.  They should be in harmony, with enough fruit and flavour, and maybe some judicious oak ageing to balance the alcohol. 

I am not going to reiterate the individual results in the magazine.  And while I can appreciate and understand that individual producers might be upset that their wines fared badly in the tasting, they need to remember that it is just one result on one day.   You could well ask: what is the purpose of such tastings?   The newer wine regions tend to place great value on results in a blind wine tasting.  It can be a useful barometer for young wine growers to assess their wines among their peers.   But I also think that all blind tastings need to be taken with a large pinch of salt.  As I observed to Brigitte Verdaguer from Domaine de Rancy in Latour de France, after her Rivesaltes Ambré had won a trophy in Decanter’s world wine awards, you bought a lottery ticket by entering your wine for the competition and you won the jackpot.   Nobody likes to be criticized, but critics are essential in any field where something is presented to a discerning public, and their judgments are open to discussion, and that is healthy.   Life would be awfully boring if we all liked the same things.  I would have thought Roussillon mature and experienced enough a region to rise above the comments of three people in one magazine on one particular day. 

Decanter has conducted other tastings where the results have been equally damning for a particular region, but to my knowledge this is the first time that there had been such a collective outcry from the region in question.  Classed growth châteaux or champagne houses shrug off the blip in their reputations caused by an adverse tasting result, but to suggest as one grower did that the article was mean-spirited with a hidden agenda to show up Roussillon badly against the Languedoc is absolutely unfounded.  That was how the wines showed on the day, and our marks were remarkably consistent.  And I for one will carry on enjoying the wines of Roussillon.   And don't forget that all publicity is good publicity.   The tasting will probably prove to be a storm in a tea cup that may well have brought Roussillon to the attention of people who had previously paid it little attention.

And if you want to exercise your French,  the following two links - one newspaper article leads to a blog - offer some  entertainment value, but what jelly and porridge have to do with wine tasting, I am not quite sure.  We were accused of being old-fashioned in our view of Roussillon, but it is only too apparent that some people still have a very out-dated view of English food!.

And this is a more measured overview of Roussillon by my friend Sylvie Tonnaire in Terre des Vins:

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Tasting for the new cru of Pézenas and Coté Mas.

I was invited to a tasting which was designed to show off the relatively new cru of Pézenas, and also to launch the wine that has been dreamt up by Jean-Claude Mas, a collective communal cuvée, to which several of the growers of Pézenas have contributed wine.   It is called Coté Mas, which is also the name of the restaurant outside Montagnac that showcases the Domaines Mas wines.  I am not really sure of the purpose of the communal cuvée, or whether it fulfilled its promise.  Altogether 42 producers have participated and the first vintage was 2012.  At this tasting the 2013 was on offer.  Coté Mas certainly provides an opportunity for Jean-Claude Mas to exercise his not inconsiderable talent as a marketeer.  However, the wine did not have the same appeal to my taste buds as several of the wines from the smaller, independent wine growers.   I found the oak very perfumed, with a dry palate.  A second taste of another bottle was curiously sweet and sour,  and a third bottle ( I did keep trying) was best of all, more balanced with some fresh spice.  I was concerned by the bottle variation.  It must also be said that tasting conditions were not ideal, as we were outside in front of the tourist office in Pézenas on quite a windy day.  Nor was there a tasting sheet, so in some instances I failed to note the vintage or blend of grape varieties for some of the other wines.   

One of the problems of Pézenas is that it really does not have a specific identity, unlike Faugères with its schist, or the Pic St. Loup with its distinctive peak, or the virtual island of la Clape.   It is quite simply an amalgam of villages around Pézenas, including Caux, Nizas, Magalas, Gabian, and others and the grape varieties are the usual Languedoc quintet.  There is no white Pézenas, nor indeed rosé.  The cru was recognized in 2007, for the 2006 vintage. .

Highlights at the tasting included:

A spicy Clos des Lièvres from Mas Gabriel

Domaine de Monplézy, with Plaisirs and Felicité; one oaked and one rich and warming.  

Domaine la Grange was offering Castalides, with some rich Syrah.

Domaine Nizas. La Réserve 2010 is half and half Mourvèdre and old Carignan, with a little Grenache.   It was quite rich and powerful

Domaine Magellan, a blend of equal parts of Syrah and Grenache, which was nicely rounded and balanced.

The joint coops of Alignan and Neffiès have a rounded supple wine, and la Marquise, a wine from the Pézenas had some soft easy fruit with a tannic streak.  Prince de Conti was firmer and sturdier, and Don Juan displayed some ripe oak.   The Pézenas coop is clearly working well for its cru.    The Fontès coop was doing well too, with Latude, a 90% Syrah, 10% Grenache blend, with some rich fruit and a tannic streak.

Domaine Stella Nova was showing three wines of which I really liked Quid Novi 2011, which is Carignan with a little Grenache. It had some rustic red berry fruit and a smoky note.   Very characterful

My friend Christine from Domaine Ste Cécile du Parc was showing her Notes d’Orphée, which is mainly Syrah with some dense ripe fruit and cedary note and she had also included her Cabernet Franc, Notes Franches, even though it is not Pézenas.  Lovely fruit with some supple tannins and a fleshy note.    Sonatina from her oldest vines is quite firm and structured.

2011 Cousu Main from Allegria is only available in magnums, a blend of 60% Mourvèdre and 40% Syrah, which was still quite tannic and youthful.

La Croix Vanel, Fine Amor 2013 has some fresh fruit, and benefited from no oak.   Ma non troppo is 93% Mourvèdre, with some firm smoky fruit and a fresh elegant finish.  Very stylish.

Villa Tempora was showing a range of 2011s.  Le Demon du Midi was quite sturdy, concentrated but with an elegant finish and some fresh fruit and l’Ange Vin was quite solid and dense and needed some bottle age.  A good note on which to finish.   But I really wasn’t really any the wiser as to the true character of the identité piscenoise.   

And I also tasted wines from Clos Roca, Domaine Bayelle, Domaine Pech Rome and Domaine Condamine Bertrand. 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

A few days in the Languedoc, with Frédéric Brouca and Jean-Michel Alquier.

Our New Year visit to the Languedoc did not go quite as planned as I developed ‘flu the evening we arrived, and spent most of the following week in bed.  I have not had 'flu for nearly thirty years and had failed to realise the effect that a high temperature has on your taste buds, amongst other things.   I toyed with a glass of wine on New Year’s Eve, but without any enthusiasm, and it was a full week before my taste buds were behaving normally again – but then things began to look up, as I had some rather delicious bottles of  Faugères to check out. 

The wines of a new estate, with a first vintage in 2013, are just coming onto the market.  Look out for Domaine Frédéric Brouca.    He has made four quite distinctive cuvées.   

Samsó Seuille, Vin de France 13⁰ - 15€
A pure Cinsaut from a single vineyard La Serre, with forty year old organic bush vines.   Seventy percent whole bunch pressing and the wine has spent ten months on fine lees in a stainless steel tank.    For me it is absolutely classic Cinsaut.  I love the fresh cherry fruit on both nose and palate, with a light streak of tannin and some acidity, with a slightly leathery warm note on the finish.   It is fresh, youthful and fragrant.

Montée la Serre, Faugères 13.5⁰ - 20€
A blend of 40 per cent Syrah, 30 per cent Grenache, 25 per cent Carignan and 5 per cent Cinsaut.  Ten months élevage in two to four year old barrels. This was the wine I liked least, as there was a slightly reductive note on the nose.  However, the palate was better with a slightly warm dusty note, as well as some ripe red fruit and a streak of tannin, which was nicely integrated.

Les Champs Pentus, Faugères 13.5⁰ - 12€
40 per cent Syrah with 30 per cent each of Carignan and Grenache aged for ten months half in tank and half in foudres.   The nose was quite firm with some closed red fruit and on the palate there was depth and more tannin.  The palate was nicely fleshy, rounded and balanced, with a youthful peppery note. 

Clos Sauveplane, Faugères 13.5⁰ - 25€
From two isolated vineyards, on the eastern edge of the appellation, with 50 year old Mourvèdre, planted en echalas with a high density and 30 year old Syrah, aged for thirteen months in foudre.  Deep young colour.  Firm youthful sturdy nose, with some firm red fruit, and on the palate youthful and structure with firm tannins, and fresh red fruit, and an elegant finish.  The wine will develop well with some bottle age.

I also had some bottles from Jean-Michel Alquier to taste. Two went to dinner with friends in the village who produced a delicious tourte de la maisonette – their interpretation of a classic English dish that is a perfect foil for red wine on a chilly winter’s evening.

So with the cottage pie, we enjoyed a pair of Maison Jaune, which is 70 per cent Grenache, with 20 per cent Syrah and 10 per cent Mourvèdre.  The 2011 – 18.00€ - has some cherry spice on nose and palate.  It is medium weight, with a streak of tannin and a little pepper and lots of the ripe cherries, typical of Grenache.  Balanced and harmonious with understated warmth.

2006 was similar in colour, with a more open and rounded nose, and on the palate, it was ripe and warm, but not heavy, with a grip, and some slightly leathery notes, and some satisfying evolution.   Not so dissimilar to a Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

2012 Les Premieres,  14.00€ - drunk with some other friends the next day, is a blend of 50  per cent Syrah and 30 per cent Grenache with 20 per cent Mourvèdre.   Quite a deep young colour.   Quite rounded peppery spice on the nose and on the palate, quite ripe and rounded, with a peppery note and a youthful tannic streak.    Some ageing potential but also drinking nicely already.

2010 les Grandes Bastides d’Alquier
80 per cent Syrah with 15 per  cent Grenache and 5 per cent Mourvèdre.  Some forty year old vines.   This is a much more serious proposition, and at 50€ considerably more expensive.   Deep young colour.  Quite a firm dense peppery nose, and the palate riper and richer, with a hint of vanilla and oak, but nicely integrated and understated.  Layers of flavour; youthful with a firm tannic streak but already drinking nicely, or alternatively would age for several years. 

And then a deviation away from Faugères for 2012 Clos du Prieur which comes from the Orliac family who are better known for Domaine de l’Hortus in the Pic St. Loup.  Clos du Prieur is a Terrasses du Larzac, and very much off the beaten track in St. Jean de Buèges.   15.95€   Medium colour.  Quite fresh and peppery on the nose, with some rounded ripe cassis fruit balanced with a streak of acidity and attractive freshness, as well as some tannin.  Quite perfumed and youthful, and some body.  Drinking nicely already.

And a note of frivolity was provided by my friend Verena Wyss, with a bottle she brought to dinner with another friend in the village.   Vin de Fête, Blanc de Blancs, méthode traditionnelle .  In other words champagne method sparkling wine made from Viognier – 14.00€  I think this is the first time that I have had sparkling Viognier and it worked remarkably well, with a light colour and some soft creamy fruit on the nose, and on the palate soft and rounded and nicely textured.   Verena explained how she made the very first wine for her daughter’s wedding – I have heard about a long engagement in order to plan the wedding, but to give your mother enough time to make the wine..........  Lovely easy drinking and very celebratory. 

And next week I am off to Mexico for two weeks holiday so there will be a bit of a hiatus..... until the beginning of February.