Saturday, 25 July 2015

La Grange de Bouys

It has to be said that my home village of Roujan is really not known for the quality of its wines.  The neighbouring villages of Caux and Gabian are so much more successful, while Roujan is dominated by its cooperative.  But that may all be about to change.  I spent last Thursday morning tasting with Florence and Stéphane Monmousseau from La Grange de Bouys.  They are newcomers to the village; Stéphane has escaped from the rat race of the financial world  in Paris and as well as buying a house, they have bought vineyards and last year made their very first wines, with the help of a local oenologist, Jean Natoli.  

They made two wines from just two hectares, and in 2015 they will make three wines from three hectares, which are all farmed organically.   Their property still retains the wonderful old-fashioned cellar of the Languedoc, with enormous awe-inspiring oak foudres.  Stephane’s stainless steel vats are dwarfed beside them.  This year they used a small basket press; next year they are buying a pneumatic press.  Tasting with Stéphane, you sense his excitement about his new career, and at supper recently, with some young local vignerons, he was very chuffed to be the oldest jeune vigneron at the table.  This is an established category in France, depending not only on your age, but also on your harvest tally.    

2014 Carignan Vieilles Vignes, Pays de l’Hérault – 10.00€
This includes 6% Grenache Noir, and the Carignan is 40 years old.  That is not especially old for Carignan, but there are no specific rules about the age of old vines.   Élevage in stainless steel.  Medium colour.  Some lightly peppery red fruit, cherries, with some fresh tannins.  Quite firm rustic fruit; very Carignan.  Youthful and elegant.   And I would never have thought it was 15˚.  For this 2014 Stéphane destalked the grapes and the wine spent ten days on the skins; in 2015 he plans to try a carbonic maceration.  And the yield was a miserly 5 hl/ha.   He made just 750 cases. 

2014 Cuvée St. Andrieu, Pays de l’Hérault – 15.00€
Mainly Syrah, with some Cinsaut, Carignan and Grenache.  It could be an appellation, but Stéphane did not get his head round the paper work in time.   Élevage in stainless steel tank.  Blended on 12th February and bottled on 13th May.  15˚.  Good colour.  Firm dry cherry fruit, a peppery note and a certain freshness.  Vibrant with rich spiciness and intensive flavours.  Quite firm tannins, so it will age well.   A long finish with depth and complexity and lots of potential.  If you can make that the first time you try your hand at wine making, you will go far.  Watch this space!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Virgile’s Vineyard, A year in the Languedoc Wine Country

Virgile’s Vineyard was first published in 2003, and it has stood the test of time, providing a very accessible introduction to the wine culture of the Languedoc.  Patrick Moon relates a year in the life of a young wine grower, Virgile Joly, who after working elsewhere in France and overseas, has bought a vineyard and is intent on creating his own wine estate.   And Patrick, newly arrived in the Languedoc, is keen to learn about the region’s wines, and so he shadows Virgile’s work for the year, from pruning to harvesting to bottling, and everything else in-between, including covering one of the big issues for any new wine grower in the Languedoc, how and where to sell your wine.    He sympathetically relates the trials and tribulations of a new wine grower, when things go well and not so well.  

Humour is provided by Patrick’s encounters with his neighbour, Manu, a caricature of the archetypal French paysan, who enjoys consuming vast quantities of wine, in sharp contrast to his extremely abstemious wife – I am not sure that we ever learn her name.    Manu is game to be Patrick’s guide for any cellar visits further afield, so appellations other than the immediate surroundings of St. Saturnin are covered, with visits to wine growers who are still important in the region.  And a sense of the long history of the Languedoc is provided by Krystina, an ex-history teacher and  owner of the local château and another caricature, to provide some more humour.   
Since 2003 things have moved on, and the book has been republished, with an Afterword to bring the story of Virgile Joly fully up to date.   And in between Patrick wrote a second book that focused on the food of Languedoc, Arrazat’s Aubergines, Inside a Languedoc Kitchen, about a young chef who started a restaurant near his home village, in which the continuing story of Virgile is also covered.  Sadly Arrazat’s restaurant did not last for long, but the book considers some of the gastronomy of the Languedoc.   And Virgile has now successfully established an international reputation for his wines, most recently with the help of Naked Wines.  

Friday, 17 July 2015

Plan de l'Homme

Rémi Duchemin made his reputation as a wine grower as one of two partners who created Mas Mortiès in the Pic St. Loup.  Between 1993 and 2008 he worked with his brother-in-law, Michel Jorcin, and then it was time to move on, and Mas Mortiès was sold.  Initially Rémi had doubts about staying in wine, and indeed in the Languedoc, as he comes from Grenoble, but circumstances combined and he heard that Plan de l’Om was for sale.  And he made his first wine there in 2009, changing the name from Plan de l’Om to Plan de l'Homme.  For those who know about such things, OM has associations with football.  

The estate consists of 14 hectares at St. Jean de la Blaquière, on a variety of soils, schist, ruffe and grès, with lots of different plots making for interesting blending possibilities.   The altitude is 250 metres and the cooling effect of the Larzac is very noticeable.     The vines are at average age of 50 years old.  There is no Mourvèdre, and for white wine there is Roussanne, with just a little Grenache Blanc.  Rémi observed that it is easier to buy vines rather than replant an unsatisfactory vineyard – the previous owner had neglected the Grenache Blanc.   And he lives in an old maison de vigneron in St. Felix de Lodez, which provides a perfect cellar on the ground floor.  And that is where we tasted.

2013 Omega, Florès Blanc, Coteaux du Languedoc – 9.00€
Roussanne with 10% Grenache Blanc, kept in vat.  Light golden colour.  Nicely understated nose.  Herbal white blossom fruit.  Some attractive freshness with some body, and acidity on the finish.   Rémi has a large plot of Roussanne and realised after a couple of vintages that he obtained better results if he divided the vineyard.  The lower part near the river is quite vigorous with richer soil and more vegetal in character, whereas the higher vines are less productive on poor soil.  So for Florès he picks before full maturity to give freshness to the wine, and the higher part of the vineyard is picked ten days later, making for more body and weight.  Roussanne can be exotic; here it is spicier.

2011 Alpha Blanc, Coteaux du Languedoc - 21.00€
Roussanne with some Grenache Blanc; a little more than in Florès.  Part of the Roussanne is vinified in wood, with a further two to three months ageing in barrel, with a little bâtonnage, and the élevage is finished in vat.  Lovely texture.  Elegant.  Oak very well integrated.  Acidity on the finish.  Satisfying structure.  Will continue to age.  A lovely glass of white wine.  Rémi observed that he is not keen on wines that are aged in wood, and he uses acacia, which is less powerful than oak.  Roussanne stays young for a number of years and then quickly fades.

2012 Carignan.  Khi, Vin de France  - 13.00€
The name is a play on words, Khi or Qui?  Carignan is sometimes not as well-known as it should be, though in some quarters it is becoming quite fashionable.   Rémi is a member of the Carignan Renaissance group – apparently they are considering launching a Carignan Day- and he has three hectares of Carignan.    Deep colour.  Rounded supple tannins, with ripe fruit, but not heavy.  Very good balance, long and characterful.   Part carbonic maceration and part égrappé.  No élevage in wood, with the last few months before bottling spent in a cement egg.    Originally all the Carignan was vinified traditionally but it lacked elegance, so in 2012 he made two vats – one of carbonic maceration and one with a traditional vinification.  The carbonic maceration worked particularly well. 

2013 Omega, Florès rouge, Coteaux du Languedoc – 9.00€
60% Cinsaut – 50 year old vines.  It may in fact be Oeillade.  25% Syrah and 15% Grenache.  Good colour.  Lovely fresh fruit, with ripe spicy cherries.  Fresh with supple tannins.  Medium weight.  Aged in vat.  Syrah gives structure and Grenache rounds out the palate.   It is not Terrasses du Larzac, as at 9.00€ it is considered a little too cheap – 10.00€ should be the entry level price.  And in any case there is too much Cinsaut.  2014 in contrast was a more difficult vintage  as it was less sunny.

2012 Omega  Habilis, Terrasses du Larzac – 14.00€
This won a gold medal in Decanter’s World Wine Awards.  Made from 50 year old Grenache, an isolated vineyard surrounded by garrigues.   Access is difficult and production is tiny, 20 hl/ha in a good year.  It was farmed conventionally, whereas Rémi works organically, and it is impossible to use a tractor so he leaves it enherbé with the grass.  Initially production dropped for the first two years, but has now increased again as the vines have found their balance with the grass.

20% Syrah, 20% Carignan, 60% Grenache, including some younger Grenache.  Kept in vat for 18 months.  Rémi no longer uses cultured yeast, now that his cellar is established.

Deep colour.  Lovely texture, with silky tannins.  Mouth filling but not heavy.  Ripe red and black fruit. A lovely glass of wine, and fully justifying its gold medal.

2012 Omega Sapiens, Terrasses du Larzac – 18.00€
Mainly Syrah 70-80%.  With Grenache and a little Carignan.   Uses barrels but not new ones, whereas in contrast Alpha Rouge, although the blend is similar, but from different plots, has some carbonic maceration, with more new wood.

Deep colour. Quite a rounded rich nose and palate.  Ripe black fruit and spice.  Quite alcoholic on the finish at 14.5˚.  Quite solid, firm fruit.  Quite rich.  Very Syrah.  The terroir is complicated for Syrah.  It can be too dry, and there is quite a high mortality rate because of grafting which does not work well in some soils.

2011 Alpha Rouge, Terrasses du Larzac – 24€
None made in 2012, but produced again in 2013.  Deep colour.  Ripe rounded nose and palate, with silky tannins.  Youthful and fresh, with good fruit.    Another lovely glass of wine.

And projects for the future?  ‘To obtain the best from my vines’, with lots of attention to detail.  Plan de l'Homme should go far.  

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Cave d’Embrès et Castelmaure

I remember visiting this Corbières coop about 20 years ago, and enjoying a vertical tasting of their best wine at the time, Cuvée Pompadour, with the director, Bernard Pueyo.   He still runs the coop, and very successfully too, and their range of wines has moved with the times.    It was high time for an update.

The coop now has 400 hectares, mainly round the village in the heart of the Corbières hills.  There are 65 members, of whom 18 earn their living from their vines and account for 85% of the production of the coop.  They make Corbières, and a little Vin de France, but no vin de pays, and no Fitou.  When the appellation of Fitou was first suggested, the village was not interested.    The coop dates back to 1921 and they still have the original solid concrete vats, which are excellent for fermentation.   

Bernard Pueyo has been there since 1983.  It was his first job, after studies in Toulouse, Montpellier and Bordeaux.   As a student he did stages with the Vignerons Val d’Orbieu and with the oenologist Marc Dubernet, but he has never been tempted to move on.  There has been so much to retain his interest at Embrès.  He quickly realised that their natural handicaps of low yields and a multitude of steep vineyard sites, making mechanisation difficult, could be put to their advantage.  And that they needed to develop their sales in bottle.    The development of the technique of carbonic maceration, a method much favoured by Marc Dubernet, had a fundamental impact on quality.   Back in 1983, Carignan accounted for 90% of the vineyards, but the creation of the appellation led to the planting of more of the so called cépages améliorateurs.  However, for Bernard Pueyo, Carignan is the cépage roi ici, even if it can only account for a maximum of 50% of a blend.   He is an ardent defender of Carignan, and practices carbonic maceration for virtually all his Carignan.    He feels that the technique really improves the variety, but he is not so sure about Syrah, half of which is fermented by carbonic maceration, and the rest is destalked.  Grenache Noir is all destalked: the stalks are too woody and too thick.  It is a complicated variety.  And they have very little Mourvèdre.  It is not a good spot for that tricky grape variety.  Mechanical harvesters are impractical on this terrain, and in any case for carbonic maceration, the bunches must be handpicked.  

Bernard looked back on the development of the cooperative.  In the 1980s they improved their winemaking facilities, and then in the 1990s they looked at their vineyards, examining the terroir.  They have schist towards Fitou, and hard limestone going toward Tautavel, both of which limit yields naturally.  Then in between the two there are the grandes terrasses which are free draining, with cooler soils, making for higher yields.      They practice lutte raisonnée but will never be organic; it is too complicated for a cooperative, but they try to reduce the chemical treatments and encourage their members to till instead.  From 2001 they developed a system of vineyard selection, linking a specific vineyard to a particular wine.  And unusually for a cooperative, their  members are paid by hectare, rather than by weight, so that they are guaranteed their remuneration.  This means that they wait until the grapes are all fully ripe, and resist the temptation to pick too early. And now they are looking again at their facilities, investing in new cooling equipment and in some foudres for élevage, which are especially suitable for Grenache Noir, as well as a new warehouse cellar for storage and élevage with a cooling system that creates evaporation, so that the air is not dry, which is all important in the summer temperatures of the Corbières.   They have 800 barriques, of which a quarter are replaced each year, and they are also trying a couple of eggs, also for élevage, but as yet have reached  no positive conclusions.  They are also realsiing the importance of enotourisme with the quai de reception being turned into a restaurant on weekend evenings during the summer months, with an opportunity for visitors and villagers to enjoy the local wines.

We adjourned to their tasting room which is equipped with an enomatic, to ensure that the wines are served in the best conditions, and at the appropriate temperature.

2014 Blanc Paysan, Corbières – 5.40€
Mainly Grenache Blanc (and Gris) plus Vermentino and Macabeo, with a cheerful  4L, the classic car of the vigneron in the 1980s, on the label.  Very fresh with good acidity, quite crisp and rounded.  Vermentino lightens the Grenache, while Macabeo is relatively neutral.  Grenache can sometimes be too heavy, though this is a light 13.5˚.  Apparently there are moves a foot for recognise Grenache Gris for rosé.

2014 Rosé Agricole – 5.40€
Mainly Grenache, 80%, with a little Carignan, and Cinsaut and a splash of Syrah.  However, Bernard doesn’t really like Syrah for rosé, the aroma doesn’t work.  He also makes a Carignan rosé.  This as some rounded raspberry fruit with a fresh finish. 

They makes about 200 – 300hls of white Corbières and about 500 hls. of rosé, out of a total annual production of 15,000 hectolitres.

2014 was a very late harvest, with rain causing some problems, so the wines are crisper and more aromatic than usual.  And Bernard is generally pleased with them.

La Buvette, Vin de France – 4.10€
The aim here is a fresh fruity red that is easy to drink.  It is based on Grenache with a little Carignan, to give some structure.   The juice is run off the skins after two or three days and then pressed and then left to slowly finish the fermentation.  Medium colour.  Cherry fruit and acidity rather than tannin.  Easy drinking.

2014 Rouge Vigneron – 5.40€
50% Carignan, carbonic maceration and 30% destalked Grenache Noir and 20% Syrah, with an élevage in vat.  Quite firm red fruit with a tannic streak, and a rustic streak.  Medium weight.  Fruit and garrigues.  Easy to drink.

For the last three years they have been working with INRA and the chamber of commerce on the conservation of old vine varieties, creating an inventory of grape varieties, of which there are about 50, including two which are completely unknown.  They are increasing the planting with cuttings, ten cuttings of each.  Carignan has thrown up some 100 different variations, out of which they have selected 20, which are they multiplying, with a view to future development, to consider what to plant in ten years’ time or so.  

2013 la Pompadour, Corbières.  9.00€
This is not named after Mme de Pompadour, but after a family in the village called Pompadour who was there for some 300 years.  The first vintage was made by Bernard’s predecessor in 1978.  It is classic Corbières, with 50%  Carignan, as well as Grenache Noir and Syrah.   They first began experimenting withy carbonic maceration in 1976, to produce Pompadour in 1978.  It comes from some of the best vineyards.  They now produce 170,000 bottles and Bernard observed that it had lost its concentrated extracted quality to become more drinkable and less powerful.  I liked this 2013.  The Carignan gives a fresh drinkability, even though it is 14˚.  It is ripe and rounded with red fruit and tannic streak ,with some supple tannins.  70% of the blend spends 11 months in barrel, and it is bottled in January.

2013 Grande Cuvée – 11.70€
First produced in 1995.  A blend of Syrah and Grenache, and no Carignan.  All destalked, and the ageing includes some new wood.  2013 was a very good year.  The Grenache suffered from coulure, but what remained, ripened beautifully.   Good colour; ripe fruit some tannins and some oak, and a rounded mouthfeel.  Warmer and more supple than Pompadour.

2013 No 3 – 21.00€
Why No 3? The third cuvée, after Pompadour and the Grand Cuvée; made from three grape varieties , and by three people, the coop and Dominique Laurent and Michel Tardieu, two Burgundians, who used to advise them.   40% Syrah with no sulphur; 25% Carignan, destalked rather than carbonic maceration, and 35% Grenache Noir.  The Syrah goes into barrel of which 50% are new, while the Carignan and Grenache goes into older wood, and future vintages will include ageing in foudres. The blending is done after élevage. The wine is firm and structured, quite ripe and rich with a tannic streak and quite a warm powerful finish, at 14.5˚, but nonetheless, it remains harmonious.

We talked about the position of the cooperative in the village.  It has a very important economic role in the fabric of village life.  They now employ ten people as well as  providing an income for the members. Bernard is optimistic for the future.  They sell all the wine they produce, and even run out.  He talked about climate warming, and how that has improved the quality of Carignan.  In 1983 it was difficult to get properly ripe Carignan, even at 12.5˚.  These days it is more likely to be 14.5˚ with the same vintage date, and the flavours benefit from being fully ripened.  And I asked about the cru of Durban.  The INAO has agreed in principle but they need  tom come and look at the vineyards.  The profile of the cru would be Pompadour, with the emphasis on Carignan.  The coops of Cascastel and Tuchan are also involved and some independent producers.

And our tasting finished with 2004, No 3 to show just how well their wines can age.  At 25€ it is a bargain.  Deep colour.  Quite a rich nose, maturing nicely. Lightly leathery, quite rich and concentrated, at 14.5˚ but not heavy.  The label said  No fining or filtered.   And you sense that they are proud to be a cooperative.  It says so on the label: Cooperative since 1921.  

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Domaine Ste Croix – an English estate in the Corbières.


I keep seeing Liz and Jon Bowen from Domaine Ste Croix at various wine fairs, notably Millésime Bio, and on the last occasion at RAW, when I said, I am not going to taste your wines today.  We’ll make a plan for me to visit you in the Corbières, which will be much more rewarding, and fun, And indeed it was. 

First of all Liz explained how an English couple land up making wine in the Corbières.   She did a degree in agriculture and agricultural economics, but nothing particularly related to wine, and that led her to work in finance.  Jon read History and worked in various wine shops, and realised that it was what was in the bottle and how it got there that interested him, rather than selling the stuff.  So in 1996 he did the first full time wine making course at Plumpton College in Sussex  and then went on to spend a number of years dong contract winemaking, in France with various organic wine producers, and also in California and Australia, and after working with Pierre Clavel near Montpellier for a couple of years, they decided the time had come to buy something for themselves.

So they looked for old vines, namely Grenache Noir and Carignan, and limestone, and in the Languedoc as vineyards there are affordable.  The Minervois was a possibility, and also Roussillon, and then someone suggested the Corbières and that is where they found limestone with volcanic outcrops in the village of Fraisses des Corbières.  They bought a going concern.  The previous owner had delivered his grapes to the village coop and then to nearby Durban until that cooperative closed down in 1999.  His son helped him to build a winery, but was not interested in working with his father, so after four years it was time to sell.  So in 2004 Liz and Jon bought 15 hectares of vineyards, which they have reduced to 12, as well as a functioning cellar.   Liz explained that they have been organic right from the beginning, but that can be complicated if your neighbours are not, and no one else is in the village, so over the years they have managed to create about six islands of vines where there are no neighbours, by buying, swopping and selling  vineyards.   Jon is the winemaker, but Liz helps with blending and in the vineyards, and also does the paperwork.

Half their vineyards are old Carignan planted in 1900 and 1905, and they also have some Grenache Noir and Syrah, as well as Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris, from the 1940s, mixed up together, on two distinct vineyards, one of limestone and one of schist.    Illogically Grenache Gris is not recognised in the Corbières; it is deemed to be a mutation of Grenache Blanc, and so not considered a separate variety in the appellation regulations.  Five kilometres further south in Roussillon it is deemed to be a different variety.  Such are the intricacies of French wine legislation. 

Liz enthused about Carignan, which is still very much the grape variety of Corbières, even though the maximum percentage is fixed at 50%.  I also asked her about the putative cru of Durban.  It is really only the cooperatives, Embrès et Castelmaure and Cascastel that are interested in it.   There are not enough independent producers to give it any weight – and they don’t really need it.  And we talked about the market.  Liz observed that curiously it is difficult to sell to the UK – it is almost as though the buyers prefer to deal with French when they are buying French wine.  Happily, however,  Cambridge Wine have just taken them on.  The US market is much more lively, and willing to pay higher prices. 

We talked about organic and natural wine.   They have gradually moved to minimal SO2 for some wines, and no SO2 for another.  They began using cultured yeast as it was safer at the beginning, and then in 2007 tried out natural yeast, and from 2009 everything has been fermented with natural yeast.  They practice minimum intervention in both winery and vineyard.  This entails spending a lot of time in the vineyards checking to see if they need to treat, but not necessarily doing so.  Again in the cellar they are continuously tasting to check the evolution of their wines, and to see what needs to be done.  They may use a little sulphur at harvest, depending on the condition of the grapes and the weather, and maybe a little at bottling, especially for the export market, with uncertain transport conditions.  Liz does not really see a big difference  between organic and natural wines.   You chose and judge a wine by its flavour, not by the principle.  White wine should not look like lemonade, she laughingly observed.  And they are not biodynamic in the vineyard.  She is interested, but there is a lot to learn, and it needs to be done properly and it is very time consuming, with several constraints.    Sulphur dust is one of the cheapest way to treat the vines, used by most people in the village.  Weed control is the most difficult thing; they leave the grass to grow, which encourages the  bees, and they cut it when it is dying down anyway.    And then we did some tasting:

2014 La Serre, Vin de France – 12.00€  
The name comes from a hill in the village.  Grenache Blanc – 54%; Grenache Gris 40% Terret Gris 6% - planted in 1960.  Grown on schist and on limestone.  The wine is fermented ins stainless steel; they picked the grapes before 9 a.m. and keep them cool with dry ice, and then crush and press whole bunches, and the juice goes straight into the vat.  The fermentation temperature is maintained at 17˚ - 18˚C and the wine is left on its lees, and kept in stainless steel vats until it is bottled.  The Terret is made in the same way but kept separately.

Light colour.  The nose initially seemed rather closed, but  evolved beautifully during our tasting with some lovely herbal notes.   Terret adds acidity, proving that you can retain acidity in the white wines éof the area.   They pick one plot relatively early, and the second plot a week later, which adds more complexity.   I loved the firm mineral notes, and the nicely structure palate, with some herbal notes that developed in the glass, making for a long finish.  A lovely glass of wine.

2013 Pourboire Nature, Vin de France – 12.00€
Série électron Libre – their name for describing something a  bit different.  73% Carignan with 27% Syrah.   There is too much Carignan for it to be Corbières and  anyway it is atypical, and contains no sulphur.  They pick quite early to keep the freshness, and the acidity makes the addition of sulphur less necessary.  The grapes are destemmed and fermented in fibre glass vats, and the wine is bottled within 12 months.   It is a very vibrant colour, with a fresh red fruit nose, with some acidity and a streak of tannin on the palate.  It was very appealing, especially lightly chilled, with fresh fruit, and not at all wild or funky!  Liz observed that is no legal definition of natural wine.  It is up to each individual producer.

2012 Le Fournas, Corbières. – 9.00€
A lieu dit in the village relating to the old lime kilns.   45% Carignan with 28% Grenache Noir and 27% Syrah.   This wine accounts for half their production.   Aged in vat.  Quite a deep colour .  Youthful fruit.  Ripe red fruit, especially cherries.  Some tannin, but medium with fresh and rounded.

2012 Magneric, Corbières – 12.00€
After a lieu dit. 42% Carignan, 29% Grenache, 29% Syrah.  The percentages are on their back labels.  This wine is vinified in the same way as Le Fournas, but comes from older vines, so the grapes are destemmed and fermented, and then half of the juice is put into barrel, larger barrels, as they shift toward demi muids, but none are new.  They have a good source of second hand barrels, from Domaine Bertrand Bergé, whose wine they also enjoy drinking!  Firm spice on the palate,with a touch of oak, but nicely integrated, with body and weight, but not heavy.  A rounded finish.

I liked their back labels, with bullet points, to convey the essentials:  living soils – limestone – Carignan – Grenache – terroir – full tannins –elegance – delicious dark fruit – Syrah – 100 year vines – passion – wild herbs

2013 Carignan, Vin de France – 16.00€
92% Carignan, from 1905 with 8% Grenache from 1968.  14.5˚. Destemmed; fermented in tank, and then into wood for 18 months.  Liz explained that the Grenache fills in a couple of holes in the palate.  Deep young colour.  Quite a firm nose.  On the palate red fruit with some rustic tannins and some acidity.  A refreshing appeal. Carignan retains it acidity.  Medium weight.  Youthful and fresh.   A lovely example of the rustic elegance of Carignan.

2011 Celestre, Vin de France  -20€
Mainly Grenache Noir with 20% Mourvèdre.  They have just one plot of Mourvèdre.  20 months élevage.  14.5˚   Deep vibrant colour.  Rich liqueur cherries but with a tannic streak.  Structured and rounded, with youthful  potential.    

La Part des Anges Late Harvest 2010. Vin de France Série électron libre  – 20.00€
Carignan dominant, and not made every year.  it all depends on the weather.  75% Carignan with Syrah.  Picked two or three weeks later than the main harvest.   Half is crushed and fermented immediately, and half dried inside in a ventilated space and then crushed.  The fermentation starts and the two are put together and then spend two years in wood, making just one barrel – 800 bottles of 50 cls.  The juice stays on the skins for some time, but the wine  is not muté; the fermentation is stopped at 15˚ by adding so2 and then filtered, leaving about 90 gms/l of residual sugar. 

On the nose some oak and a touch of volatility.  And on the palate some tannins and some acidity and some ripe red fruit.   Carignan raisins better than Grenache and retains acidity.  They made it first just to see what they do with Carignan.  And suggested drinking it an apéro or with chocolate.  I favour the chocolate.  Liz mentioned that in this area traditionally everyone made a late harvest wine.  
And there were some large glass bonbons in  a corner which prompted the question: Aare you making a rancio.  Yes we are working on it.    That will be fun to try in due course. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Languedoc at The Wine Society

The Wine Society can always be relied upon to come up with interesting and unusual wines.   I may be biased as I joined the wine trade with the Wine Society – blame a glass of champagne at the job interview.     Last week they were taking advantage of the evening AGM, meaning that all the buyers would be in the country, to host a tasting, where each buyer had selected eight or so wines from their particular areas.  I always enjoy their tastings and their South of France buyer, Marcel Orford Williams has a keen nose for an interesting bottle or two.

I was particularly struck by the first natural wine they have put on their list, namely Corbières Le Hameau des Ollieux Nature, from a leading Corbières producer, Château Ollieux Romanis.   £9.25.   Medium depth of colour, with a vibrantly fresh nose, and packed with refreshing red fruit on the palate.  It was lighter and fresher and more elegant than more conventional Corbières, and quite delicious.  However, if there is one thing that I reproach natural wines, it is that they all, irrespective of provenance, have a tendency to a similarity of style.  The best have that delicious mouth-watering freshness, but that somehow seems to mask their origins.   And Marcel agreed with me.

I have long had a soft spot for Corsica and was delighted that Marcel had two wines from Corsica in his line-up.  2012 Domaine Arena from Patrimonio, Biancu Gentile - £22   Not cheap, but wines from Corsica are very rarely cheap.  Vermentino is the more usual grape variety of Corsica, but efforts are being made to revive some of the other varieties that are in danger of disappearing.  This Bianco Gentile has some delicately fragrant fruit on the nose, with more texture and weight on the palate, with an elegantly rounded finish.   Antoine Arena is indisputably one of the leading producers of Patrimonio.

And there was another Patrimonio, from a producer who was unknown to me, 2013 Clos Alivu.  - £12.95.  The grape variety is Nielluccio, otherwise known as Sangiovese, and the wine had some fresh sour cherry fruit on both and palate.   Elegant with a streak of tannin and a fresh finish. 

The final Midi wine came from Domaine du Bosc, a 2011 Petit Verdot, Pays d'Oc.  This estate is owned by Pierre Besinet, who was one of the pioneers of the region in the 1980s – he is now in his 80s.  For £7.50 it makes a jolly nice glass of wine, offering easy drinking, with some rounded fruit and ripe tannins, but not too heavy or sturdy.

And there were all sorts of other delights I could enthuse about, but since they come from elsewhere, I shall refrain.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Foncalieu and Atelier Prestige

Foncalieu, or to give the company its full name, Les Vignobles Foncalieu, was a familiar name to me, and it is certainly an important name in the Languedoc, but I have to admit that I really did not know very much about them.  However, after two days in the Languedoc last week, that has all changed. 

In a nutshell, Foncalieu was created in 1967, with the fusion of several cooperatives and the name comes from:  FONtiès d’Aude; CApendu, ALzonne and MontolIEU

Altogether they work with 5100 hectares of vines in three regions, namely Gascony, the Rhône Valley and the Languedoc and cover 20 appellations and vins de pays.   Two things stood out: they have a very strong quality motive and they are also very innovative.   They were the first to plant Sauvignon Gris in the Languedoc and now make both a white and a rosé from that grape variety.  They also have some Albariňo and Picpoul Noir for rosé, and at dinner on our last evening we drank a rosé that was a blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Viognier; the two grape varieties are co-fermented, with early picked Syrah and late picked Viognier.  To my knowledge I have never drunk that blend in a rosé before.

At the end of 2012 Foncalieu bought Château Haut Gléon in the Corbières near the village of Durban, for the simple reason that they wanted a flagship estate.  Haut Gléon already had a reputation for its white wine, which is unusual in the Corbières, and Foncalieu have continued to build on that.  Domaine Haut Gléon is a blend of Sauvignon, Bourboulenc and Chardonnay, while Château Haut Gléon is made from Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne.  There are two rosés, Domaine Haut Gléon Gris,  an IGP from the poetically named Vallée du Paradis made from Grenache Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc while Château Haut Gléon comes from the Languedoc varieties of Grenache Noir and Syrah.   There are three red wines.  Again the Domaine red is an IGP including some Grenache Noir and Syrah, as well as Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, while Château Haut Gléon is a Corbières from Syrah, Grenache Noir and Carignan, aged in barrel with some firm black fruit.  Notre Dame de Gléon, after the tiny chapel on the estate, is a selection of the best grapes and again a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan.

More unusual is their Atelier Prestige range, which they began in 2008, with the first real vintage in 2009.  The wine maker, Isabelle Pangault, talked about the way they chose the vineyards for these wines.  Obviously the terroir must be good, with vines in particularly good sites, but much also depends on the human approach.  They work with a very small number of winegrowers for each of the four wines, people who are possibly more daring and certainly more willing to take extra care of their vines.   They talked about épamprage – new term for me – when you remove any young buds from the trunk of the vine as they take energy from the shoots.   They also practice ébourgeonage (debudding), effeuillage, (removing leaves that shade the grapes) rebiochage – another new term entailing the removal of shoots between the main shoots, rather as you do for tomatoes, and they also do a green harvest, if necessary.  The aim is to show that it is possible for a cooperative to make high quality wine in the Languedoc.  The wine growers are paid per hectare, so the yield is not a significant issue for them financially. 

First we went to Puicheric in the Minervois where we met Romain Torrecilla who is one of two growers who produce the grapes for Le Lien, Minervois.  He has a plot of Syrah, grown on clay and limestone.  It was a windy spot on a May afternoon, and the Syrah’s fragile shoots certainly needed the support of the wires.    Romain has also planted truffle oaks, ten years ago, but he is still waiting for a crop. 

Marceau Lacombe is one of three growers who contribute to La Lumière, Corbières.  We admired his Mourvèdre, which gives freshness and spice to the Corbières.  They are gobelet vines, with tall upright shoots.  In contrast the adjoining Carignan vines looked much shaggier.  Isabelle talked about the natural low yield on this south facing vineyard, with one cluster per shoot.  The harvest is quite late, usually in mid-October.

I encouraged Marceau to reminisce over lunch.   He began helping with the harvest at the age of 10 and was driving a tractor at 14.  He is now 68, and his vines are his life.  He remembers working with a horse, and they got a caterpillar tractor about 50 years ago.   With a horse one family could live on 10 hectares, but these days you need 30 hectares to justify the machinery.   Also products like bouille bordelaise were much cheaper than those used today.  Officially Marceau is retired but he has a much younger sister and looks after her vines, as well as nurturing his own small plots of Mourvèdre and Carignan.   A day does not go by without being in his vineyard.  Three wines growers contribute to La Lumière, so we also admired Fabrice Oliver’s beautifully tended Syrah vines. However, Marceau was quite adamant:  Syrah is not from here and he doubts its suitability.   People are beginning to replant Carignan. 

Next we went to the Coteaux d’Ensérune, admiring en route the facade of the Languedoc’s oldest cooperative at Maraussan, with its stirring name, Les Vignerons Libres.  Myriam Roussel is one of eight growers who contribute to Les Illustres, Coteaux d’Ensérune, which is a blend of 60% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec.  She has two hectares of Syrah for Les Illustres.   The vineyard is on a small hill, close to Béziers, with views of the cathedral, and you could just glimpse the sea in the distance. 

We finished at Michel Cazevieille’s vineyard in the south east corner St. Chinian where the soil is also clay and limestone.  He contributes three hectares, of Syrah and a little Grenache to Apogée, with a second grower providing a small amount of Syrah.  Michel talked about the soil, explaining that they analyse it every three years and add organic compost as needed.  It is important that the soil has structure and balance.   And he talked about their very finely tuned mechanical harvester which will remove any stray vegetation or shrivelled berries.

And then we tasted the four wines under the shade of a large mulberry tree.

2012 Le Lien, Minervois
A pure Syrah, all of which is aged in oak, of which 25% is new.  The oak treatment is very much adapted to the appellation and to the vintage.   Deep young colour with a rich rounded nose, quite a firm palate with black fruit and youthful tannins.  Quite sturdy and concentrated.   An observation was made that the quality of the harvest in the Minervois depends upon the wind.   I thought that Corbières was even windier, but maybe not. 

2012 Corbières, la Lumière
A blend of 30% Mourvèdre and 70% Syrah.   The fruit is firm and study, mainly black fruit with tight tannins, and a peppery note and some spice.  Youthful with masses of potential, as indeed has the whole range.  The vineyards are not far from the sea as the crow flies and so enjoy both sun and marine influence.    The grapes are given a three to five week maceration, and spend a year in 300 litre barrels, 80% new, with different toasting and from different coopers.

2012 L’Apogée, St Chinian
Two wine growers with a blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache Noir.  Deep young colour.  Firm sense youthful peppery fruit with a hint of vanilla.  A powerful 14 but more supple than the Corbières.  100% new oak – 300 litre barrels rather than barriques.

2012 Coteaux d’Ensérune, Les Illustres
60% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec.  25% in new wood with 75% given an élevage in vat.   Medium weight palate.  Quite tannic but with a fresh note, with some fresh blackcurrant fruit.  Maybe more elegant than the traditional Languedoc appellations.   

The four wines made a fascinating comparison and were certainly fine examples of their appellations  They are intended for the on trade, but would retail at about £25,  or 19€  in France. 

For more information, do visit their website:

Monday, 1 June 2015

2015 Top 100 Languedoc

As a judge for the Top 100, I always appreciate the opportunity to taste the full 100 when the winners are showcased a few weeks later at the London Wine Fair.  It gives the complete overview that you do not see as a judge.   

What follows are some of the highlights

A couple of delicious bubbles, both Crémant de Limoux:
Domaine Delmas, Cuvée Passion, 2010
Lightly nutty, with fresh dry fruit and an elegant finish.

Domaine J Laurens. La Rose No 7, NV
A delicate pretty colour.   Quite rounded ripe and creamy with good acidity. 

The white selection inevitably included several examples of varietal  wines, Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Muscat, with Cave Saint Maurice winning a trophy of its IGP Cevennes, Viognier.  There was another trophy for a Chardonnay Roussanne blend Pays d’Oc, Domaine Larzac,Jeanjean’s Mas Neuf won a trophy for the 2014 Muscat Sec, with some fresh Muscat fruit.   There was trophy for a Limoux, a pure Chenin blanc, 2013 Caretas from Domaine Cathare, with a touch of honey balanced by firm acidity. And I was delighted that here was a Picpoul trophy for Domaine des Lauriers, 204 Picpoul de Pinet Classique with fresh sappy, salty fruit and good acidity. 

The more  rewarding whites came from the various blends   The best white of the competition went to les Domaine Auriol Châtelaine Saint Auriol 2014, a blend of 40% Marsanne and 40%  Roussanne with 10% each of Malvoisie and Grenache Blanc, given some partial oak ageing The nose is lightly rounded and the palate beautifully textured with white blossom fruit.  Nicely understated. 

2012 Le long du Parc, Château Daurion, from an estate near my Languedoc home, which made me think that I should go and visit, is a blend of Grenache blanc and Roussanne, with some oak ageing.  Again it was nicely rounded ,with quite a firm youthful structure and some ageing potential.  2014 Traditional Blanc from Château Viranel in St. Chinian was fresh and herbal

Two white wines from Château Puech Haut showed well, but at a price.  2014 Prestige and 2014 Tête de Belier. At €6 - €7.99 and €8-€11.99 ex cellars respectively they are not giving it away, compared to the wine from Domaines Auriol at an ex cellar price of €3- €3.99. 

There were just four rosés, of which for me the best was:
Domaine la Grange Classique Rose, Pays d’Oc, a blend of  Cinsaut and Syrah.  A pretty pale colour and some fresh fruit on the palate with a rounded finish.  

And now on to red wines.  Again the Bordeaux blends or varietals were sound, but for me unexciting.  The first highlight in the red line up came from les Vins Skalli, Fortant de France, Reserve des Grands Monts Carignan, Pays de l’Hérault.  It was quite rich and structured  on the nose and palate with some rustic red fruit on the palate.  A characterful gutsy Carignan.

The St Chinian coop of Roquebrun often fares well in tasting competitions and this was no exception. They won the trophy for the best red, with their Terrasses de Mayline 2014, with some rich supple balanced fruit, with soft tannins, giving easy drinking.  2014 Col d’Arribat, St Chinian Roquebrun, was another rounded, ripe spicy mouthful, while Terrasses de Balaussan was more solid and rounded, but again with ripe, black cherry fruit.  And a more humble Languedoc, Chemin des Olivettes, provided another characterful glass of wine, with structure and fruit. 

Faugères also showed well.  The coop was represented by 2013 Parfum des Schistes, their best cuvée of Faugères, with some light  spice.  Brigitte Chevalier’s 2012 les Bancels was elegant and spicy, with some depth; Mas Gabinèle was represented by their entry level, with some ripe fruit and rich supple palate, which won the Faugères trophy, while 2013 Rarissime, is more concentrated and textured.  2012 Clos du Fou, is the flagship wine of Château des Estanilles, with quite a solid, structured spicy nose and palate.   2007 Mas des Capitelles no 1 Faugères was quite firm and fresh with a ripe finish. 

A trophy went to the Terrasses du Larzac, to Domaine la Croix Chaptal, le Secret de Gellone, with some ripe rounded spicy fruit.   And there was a La Clape trophy for Château de Marmorières, Commanderie de St. Pierre la Garrigue 2013.  Of the selection of Minervois, I liked Château Tourril, Livia Gold 2013 best, with some firm peppery fruit and quite a structured palate, reminiscent of the Minervois scenery.  And Gerard Bertrand’s Château Laville Bertrou 2013 showed well with body and spice.

There were a handful of Corbières, including Château Pech Latt, 2014 Tamanova, which was structured and youthful.  There was a pair of Fitou, Domaine Bertrand Bergé, Ancestrale 2012, with some gutsy fruit, and Francois Lurton’s Château des Erles, which was rich and spicy.   And the line up finished with a handful of wines from Roussillon, including two trophies, Abbotts & Delaunay Reserve 2013 Côtes du Roussillon with rounded black fruit and some furry tannins, and Mas de la Devèze, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, with some solid fruit and a ripe palate with depth and structure.  Wine No 100 was a Maury Sec from Domaine la Toupie, Sur un Fil Rouge 2013 with quite  solid nose and a rich mouthful of ripe spice and a gutsy finish.   It made a good finale.

600 wines from 178 producers
19 trophies – I hope I mentioned them all
67 producers accounted for the Top 100
65  appellation and 35 IGP wines
68%  red – 27% white and 5% rosé.
30% varietala and 70% blends.

For a  full list of the Top 100 go to:

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 completely 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.