Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Faugères fête, Le Grand St. Jean

The annual Faugères fête is a great occasion for catching up with vignerons - talking of which, have you ever realised that the anagram of vignerons is ivrognes or drunkards???!   I don’t do crosswords, so I tend not to think about anagrams, so it had to be pointed out to me ….so I thought I would share it with you.  This year I was selling my book, The wines of Faugères, so did not do so much tasting, but still managed to check out a few bottles, and have lots of interesting conversations as people came past my table.   

As well as the usual suspects, there were two new estates showing their wines.  My next door table, or rather barrel in their case, was Domaine les Serrals, Chloé Barthet and Frédéric Almazur, who made their first wines last year.  The range will eventually comprise a pink and a white and three reds. At the fête they had the pink and the first red ready for tasting.  I really liked them both.  The rosé is a blend of equal parts of Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre, combining the gourmandise  of the Grenache and the freshness of Mourvèdre, picked early to retain the freshness and made from pressed grapes  The wine remains on its lees and is bottled without any SO2.  It was a pretty colour with some fresh fruit and a nicely balanced palate.  I thought it a promising start.  The first red Sur le zinc is a  blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Carignan, kept in vat.  There is a portion of carbonic maceration for the Syrah and the overall result is some lovely perfumed fruit, with a streak of tannin.  Chloé enthused about doing pigeage, and what fun is it to put your feet in the vat.  I might be able to go and join her next year, if I play my cards right!

The other new label was la Graine Sauvage for a delicious white wine, a lovely blend of  60%  Grenache blanc with some Marsanne and Roussanne with some white blossom on the nose and a beautifully textured palate.  It too promises very well. Sybil Baldassarre explained that she has been making wine since 2000 in various places, but this is her first Faugères.

And there is another new wine grower in the pipeline, Frédéric Desplats, who has rented Frédéric Alquier’s ten hectares and also bought another ten hectares in Roquessels, with a partner, Denis Degros.   He described it as a retirement project and it is all very much in the early stages to the extent that they have yet to decide on the name of the domaine.   But the first wine will be made this year so I am looking forward to visiting in due course.

Another relatively new estate,  Mas Nicolas had a lovely pure Viognier with very convincing varietal fruit, not as rich as a Condrieu but elegantly understated, with good texture and balance.

2016 Allegro from one of the longer established estates, Domaine Ollier-Taillefer was as good as ever, with some fresh herbal fruit, and an elegant depth of flavour.   And my white finale was 2000 Aurièges, from Domaine Clovallon on the other side of the hills outside Bédarieux, with a golden colour and ripe flavours and lots of intriguing notes that keep you guessing, and coming back for more.

And as usual other confréries were visiting and processed through the narrow streets of the village with much fanfare and music and there were also some musicians accompanied by a particularly energetic dancer.  I was full of admiration given the soaring temperatures of the morning and was very relieved that I had a table in the shade.   

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Terrasses du Larzac Circulade Vigneronne

The vigneronnes ballades are proving be something of a climatic challenge this year.  First we sweltered in a heatwave around the Pic St. Loup and three weeks later the weather had changed so that a cold wind was blowing hard for the Terrasses du Larzac walk.   Most of the sensible vignerons were well wrapped up in thick fleeces and puffa jackets - some of the walkers were rather more optimistic - the sun after all was shining in St Saturnin, but up in the hills above the village a 60 kms per hour gale was blowing and many of us shivered.   However, the walk was a stunning route, out of St. Saturnin up into the hills above the village, almost to the foot of the Rocher de la Vierge, with dramatic views of Mt Baudile and in the other direction, we had the valley of the Hérault at our feet.   

We set off from the centre of St. Saturnin, a gentle climb up hill at the start of what they call the poets' walk, with various plaques of Occitan poetry, to the first étape, with a mise en bouche of a delicious crumble with thyme, blue goats cheese and a concassé of summer vegetables.    Olivier Faucon from Mas Combarèla was participating in the ballade for the first time and showing his rosé from his very first 2016 vintage, Des Si et des Mi.  It is a blend of Grenache and Cinsaut, with some fresh fruit, a herbal note and an elegant finish and made a great start.  I also liked the red wine Domaine des Olivèdes, another new producer, up in the hills at St. Jean de Buège, which is one of the most northern parts of the sprawling Terrasses.  And Domaine de Montcalmès 2014 red, with 60% Syrah, some Grenache and some Mourvèdre, was spicy and elegant, supple and youthful.

The track took us through the garrigue, gradually climbing to the next étape for a tartare de magret  fumé garnished with apple and chives.  Here I tried Grand Pas from Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette, a rounded mouthful of Grenache with a little Cinsaut.  Graeme and Alice Angus from Trois Terres in Octon were showing Saut du Diable, with 70% Grenache, and Syrah and Carignan, with some spicy cherry fruit.  Alice explained how they had realised that morning that the original position of the étape was far too windy, and that they had had to move off the brow of the hill for a little shelter.  None the less the wind was still blowing, but the views were magnificent.   Les Vignes Oubliées rouge from Jean-Baptiste Granier was another Grenache dominant wine with some Syrah and Carignan, with some ripe fruit.  I also like Estelle Salles’ Capitelle des Salles, Hommage, with more ripe fruit.   As you will appreciate, conditions did not allow for detailed tasting notes.

The path continued along the ridge and then into a grove of pine trees which provided some welcome shelter.  Here we enjoyed   a delicious calamar à la languedocienne, and some tasty black rice.  I chatted to Marie Chauffray, who was pouring La Reserve d’O, with some spicy fruit - she has handed over the presidency of the Terrasses du Larzac to Eric Ajorque of Mas Conscience and was relishing the freedom of less responsibility.  Charles-Walter Pacaud from Domaine la Croix Chaptal was pouring his Clairette du Languedoc - he is one of the few people to take this old appellation seriously - with rounded texture fruit and a streak of tannin, to compensate for the soft acidity.  The other white wine of the étape was le Clos Rivieral, les Fontanilles, an intriguing blend of Grenache blanc, Roussanne and Viognier aged in a Burgundian barrel, with a full malo.  Although the oak was present, the wine was textured with fresh acidity and a touch of fennel.   Our friends, Paul and Isla from Domaine de Sarabande in Faugères were enthusing about it too.  I also like Carlines from Mas Haut Buis, with some ripe fruit balancing the tannin and Clos Maia 2015, with spice and some structured oak. 

The main course was situated in the absolutely windiest part of walk, which made tasting wine - and also spitting - as witnessed by the spray on my tasting notes - quite a challenge.   However, the cuisse de canette confit and a delicious vegetal mixture helped to warm us, as did the selection of wines.  Vincent Gourmard from Mas Cal Demoura was pouring Terre de Jonquières 2015, from all five Languedoc varieties, with some elegant fruit.  Rémi Duchemin from Plan de l’Homme was showing Sapiens 2014 from 70% Syrah, with Grenache and Carignan, with some black fruit and a sturdy finish.  Mas Conscience l’Eveil, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsaut was young and fresh with ripe fruit and an elegant balance.  I chatted to Jean Natoli who was showing La Villa Romaine from Mas des Quernes.  It is blend of Mourvèdre, Carignan and Grenache - he does not yet have any Syrah - and was firm and structured, with good fruit.  I also tasted Domaine St. Sylvestre, a perfumed wine that was predominantly Syrah, and 2015 Nuit Grave from Mas des Chimères, with some ripe spice and a tannic streak.

It was with relief that the track then took us down hill back into the welcoming square of the village, where there was cheerful music as well as goats cheese and dessert to warm us.   The best accompaniment to the goats cheese was an original wine from Domaine de Brunet, a blend of Roussanne, Vermentino and Viognier which was golden in colour and rich and textured.  Alain Caujolle-Gazet was showing his 2015 La Coulée Douce, with fresh fruit and an elegant finish, and Mas Jullien was offering 2014 Etats d’Ame, with some fresh peppery perfumed flavours.  I also enjoyed Gavin Crisfield’s La Traversée 2015,  a blend of Cinsaut, Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, which was fresh and perfumed, with balancing structure.  Gavin observed that he has participated in all the ballades - this is the 15th - and there has never been one quite like this, for the extraordinary weather.   

And at the dessert end of the square we chatted to Virgile Joly and enjoyed his 2016 St Saturnin rosé, which was only the second vintage of this wine.   It is quite a rounded rich style of rosé and was a good note on which to finish.  Then we headed home to warm up and I have to admit that I succumbed to a wee dram of malt whisky to help the process!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Pic St Loup – la ballade des Vignes Buissonières

 Pic St Loup hosted its annual ballade vigneronne in early June.  I hadn't done this walk for a while and it remains as good as ever, with support from most of the wine growers in the appellation, from one of the smallest with just two hectares to the larger family estates and the coopeatives. This year the walk started at Sauteyrargues in the north eastern part of the appellation.

It is a familiar format - arrive for the allotted departure slot - collect meal tickets, plus cutlery, tasting booklet with pencil,  wine glass and a sunhat.  The driver is also given a breathalyser.  My friend Sandra was spitting assiduously and did not feel that she needed to use it!   In fact, our consumption was modest for the walk was taking place on one of the hottest days of the year, with the thermometer hitting 30°C and more.   Tasting conditions were far from ideal, with red wine in ice buckets, as well as white and pink, but the vignerons remained cheerful and welcoming, despite the testing conditions.  And we took it gently.  The walk began with a welcoming shady track through woods.  Blackboards had been erected along the way with various appropriate sayings and extracts of poems.

The first étape was the mise en bouche, a tasty croustillant of squid, with fennel and black olives.  And for wine, there were rosés and whites.  I tried Château l'Euzière, l'Or des Fous with a touch of oak and some white blossom, and an estate that is new to me, Domaine la Costesse, Premices, also white, but riper and richer, and a blend of 70% Grenache blanc and 30% Roussanne.  Domaine Zumbaum rosé was fresh and crisp, while Château de Valflaunès, Par Hasard, was more structured with good body and acidity.

Next came a raviole de pot au feu, in other words a large ravioli with a meaty filling in a tasty juice.  I couldn't resist trying a wine called Domaine Inebriati, Orea, it was a Vin de France, a pure Terret, with some firm fruit and rounded palate, with intriguing herbal notes.  Terret blanc is making a bit of  a comeback.  Abbaye de Fenouillet was a blend of six different grape varieties, with some ripe white blossom and a dry finish.   Bergerie du Capucin, Dame Jeanne 2015 was ripe and rounded with some notes of black tapenade and supple tannins.  Château de Cazeneuve, les Calcaires was a lovely combination of tapenade and ripe fruit balanced with a streak of tannin.

We wandered through the vineyards with fabulous views of the Pic St Loup and the dramatic cliff face of the Montagne de l'Hortus.  Domaine de l'Hortus, Bergerie de l'Hortus was nicely rounded with white blossom and fresh acidity and drinking beautifully with a filet de loup with some leeks.  This one did get swallowed.  Mas de Farjou, les Hautes Terres, was a blend of Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier and Grenache blanc, with some oak which made it quite firm and dry. 

The main course, a slab of duck breast, was set up by the little Romanesque chapel of Notre Dame d'Aleyrac, where there was a small exhibition by a local artist, Thomas Verny, of pictures focussing on local scenery.   Domaine l'Hortus, Grande Cuvée, was nicely firm and mineral, with stony red fruit. That got swallowed too.  So did another favourite, Mas Bruguière, la Grenadine, which had some youthful red fruit.  2011 most people were showing more recent vintages - Château Lascaux, les Nobles Pierres, was firm and leathery, with some ripe tapenade fruit and nicely evolving.  Château Puech-Haut, a newcomer to Pic St Loup,  was dense and oaky, as was Domaine Christophe Peyrus.  Mas Peyrole, a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache, was nicely rounded with balanced fruit and tannin.  And the cooperative of St. Mathieu de Treviers, les Vignerons du Pic, Tour du Roc was ripe and rounded with a streak of tannin.

The cheese course was at a refreshingly breezy spot by the ruins of an old charcoal burner's home from the 1960s.  Pierre Clavel of Domaine Clavel was pouring his Bonne Pioche, which was ripe and rounded with some tapenade fruit.  And at the neighbouring barrel was Marie-Danielle Brubach who has just two hectares of vines, in four plots, planted with Syrah, Cinsaut and Grenache.  Her wine was fresh and peppery.  She took a roundabout route to wine and the Languedoc from Strasbourg via Paris and has been making wine since 2007.  And there were white wines too.  Château Cazeneuve was rounded and satisfyingly complete.  Château de Valflaunès, Pourquoi Pas? had a stony nose, with a rounded biscuity palate.  In contrast Domaine St. Daumary was based on Vermentino and was firm and fresh.  Domaine la Triballe has benefitted from the extension of the area; their white wine is a blend of Vermentino, Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier, which packed some ripe peachy fruit on the palate.

And the final étape was an elegant dessert, an entremet au chocolat blanc and caramel with fruits rouges.  It has to be said that Pic St Loup is not really the ideal accompaniment to a dessert, so I tasted first. This étape was also less crowded; people were obviously lingering over their meat and cheese courses, as there were many more wines to try than I have described.  Clos Marie blanc, Manon was elegant and structured, made from Roussanne, Marsanne, Clairette and Chardonnay, aged in vat.  Clos Marie really suffered with the hail last year, with 95% of their vineyards affected, so this wine was made from bought grapes.  Mas de Fournel was a blend of Vermentino, Roussanne and Marsanne with some rounded ripe fruit.  Domaine Desvabres was a blend of Chardonnay, Bourboulenc and Vermentino with some firm fruit and crisp acidity.  Château la Roque rosé was pale in colour with red fruit and a soft finish.   And the last wine of the walk, but not of the day, was a red, Domaine les Grandes Costes, which is predominantly Syrah with 15% Grenache and 5% Cinsaut, given 15 months élevage.  It was rounded and ripe with some supple tannins, making a good finale.   Despite the heat, it was a grand day out.  


Friday, 2 June 2017

Languedoc - The Top 100 2017

A chance to taste this year’s selection at the London Wine Fair last week.  As always it was a challenging, interesting and eclectic tasting, with wines I loved and others that were less exciting.   What follows are some of my highlights.  But first a couple of statistics.  There were 780 entries, split between 25% white, 6% rosé, which is an increase on last year, and so 69% red.  83% of the wines retail for over £10 and 4% of them for over £15.

The tasting started with a couple of sparkling Limoux.  Antech Cuvée Eugenie, Crémant de Limoux a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin and Mauzac with some rounded creamy fruit and herbal notes, and Sieur d’Arques, Première Bulle Rosé, which was a pretty pink with delicate rounded fruit and fresh acidity.

Now onto whites:

2015 Mas des Dames, Le Blanc, Pays d’Oc
An oaked Grenache blanc.  The oak is still quite present but will tone down with some bottle age.  There is fruit behind it and some attractive leesy characters with a satisfying mouthfeel.

2016 Vignoble Jeanjean, Mas Neuf, Muscat Sec, Pays d’Oc
A fresh pity Muscat, with grapey fruit on the nose and palate; ripe flavours with a slightly bitter note on the finish, that is characteristic of Muscat.

There were three Picpoul de Pinet.  The first came from les Costières de Pomerols, Beauvignac, in other words one of the leading coops of the appellation, a classic example with fresh saline fruit.  Truly Irresistible Picpoul from Domaines Paul Mas was fresh and lemony and 2016 Château St. Martin de la Garrigue had more depth with some fresh salty fruit, and some texture and weight on the palate. 

Les Vins Philippe Nusswitz, 2016 Duché d’Uzès.  This new appellation is technically part of the Rhône valley for administrative purposes, though to me it feels like the Languedoc.   The blend is Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne, unoaked, and with some peachiness on the nose and texture on the palate, with the intriguing nuances of the blend.   Other white appellations included a Minervois from an estate that is new to me, Château Canet.  It was a blend of Bourboulenc and Roussanne, with no oak and some rich leesy fruit, balanced by herbal notes and good balancing acidity.  

2014 Limoux from Domaine Delmas, Terroir Haute Vallée was a satisfying Chardonnay, with a firm nose and a lightly buttery palate with good acidity and a fresh finish.  It needs to develop a little more in bottle.  And there were examples from la Clape, Corbières and St. Drézery and St. Chinian.

There were five rosés in the line-up, including an IGP Côtes du Lot, in recognition of the extension of the region, so that Languedoc is now part of the much larger Occitanie/Pyrénées/Méditerannée.  However, the Trophy rosé came from the Cave de l’Ormarine, the other coop of Picpoul de Pinet for 2016 Languedoc Préambule.  It was a cheerful blend of Grenache Noir and Syrah, with some rounded fruit and a fresh elegant finish.

With 68 red wines in the line-up, it is difficult to know where to begin.  First came various IGP. I liked a Syrah Grenache from Les Domaines Auriol, with some spicy garrigue fruit.  Château Spencer la Pujade had a very satisfying Carignan Vieilles Vignes with some firm peppery fruit.  Domaine de Nizas also had an old Carignan, with more structure than Spencer la Pujade, but both amply demonstrated how well that grape variety performs in the Languedoc.  Domaine Jones Grenache Noir Côtes Catalanes had some perfumed cherry fruit, with a touch of alcohol on the finish, at 14.5°.

And then onto the appellations.  I was pleased to see the relatively new estate of Château La Font des Ormes in the line-up with their 2013 Languedoc. This is a blend of Grenache Noir Syrah and Mourvèdre, partly oaked with a satisfying depth of spice and fruit and a streak of tannin. Château St. Martin de la Garrigue’s Bronzinelle was riper and more rounded, while Bergerie du Capucin, Dame Jeanne, 2015 Pic St. Loup, an unoaked blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre, was nicely perfumed with fresh spice and garrigue fruit and the elegance of the appellation.  Their oaked Cuvée Larmanela was also in the line-up. The oak was nicely integrated with good fruit and a fresh finish.   Two lovely wines from a relatively new producer.   And the Grande Cuvée of Domaine de l’Hortus is an old favourite from the Pic St. Loup.  The 2014 was showing very well, with ripe perfumed spice and fruit and considerable depth on the palate.

Villa Dondona represented Montpeyroux with the 2013 vintage, an unoaked blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache Noir with quite a solid ripe dense palate that should age well.   La Bastide aux Oliviers, Cuvée Pierre et Bastien is a Terrasses du Larzac from Carignan, Syrah and Mourvèdre, with well integrated oak and some spicy fruit and depth on the palate.    Then there was the new Pézenas estate, Domaine de l’Aster, with their Cuvée Le Hussard Noir with nicely balanced fruit and spice and a streak of tannin.

Faugères was represented by Château des Estanilles, and the once innovative Cuvée Clos du Fou, with ripe spice and oak, and two wines from Mas Gabinèle, Classique with easy spice and a streak of tannin and the more serious Rarissime, with firmer tannins and a richer, riper palate of red fruit.

St. Chinian fared well, with wines from Château Viranel, Château la Dournie and two from Vignoble Belot, Mouleyres and Best of Belot.  Mouleyres was ripe and spicy and Best of Belot quite solidly oaky, but with some good fruit.  There were also three wines from the consistent award winner, the coop at Roquebrun, with les Haut de St. Martin, which I preferred with fresher fruit and peppery notes, while la Grange des Combes and Roches Noires Maceration were both richer with more tapenade.   Laurent Miquel’s Larmes des Fées was redolent of olive tapenade with rich concentration.   Chateau de la Négly La Falaise was a lone  La Clape.  It was intense and rich with 15°.

Minervois fared well, with eight wines, including two from Château de l’Herbe Sainte, both Tradition and Prestige, along with Château Coupe-Roses, Granaxa and Domaine Hegarty Chamans, No 3 la Piboule.  There was an easy drinking example from Gérard Bertrand and Cuvée Arthur from Château Cabezac was quite dense and alcoholic at 15° My vote went for Château l’Herbe Sainte’s Tradition, which was an unoaked blend of Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre with spice and garrigues fruit. 

Corbières was also well represented with eight wines, some familiar names and some new to me.   There was an elegant wine from the Rothschild estate, Blason d’Aussières and Domaine Serres Mazard, Cuvée Henri Serres was my favourite with some rounded fruit on nose and palate, beautifully drinkable with a satisfying finish.  It won the trophy for the best red.

Domaine Jones Fitou, a blend of Carignan, Grenache Noir and Syrah, showed well with some fresh spicy fruit, and was all the better for being lighter than some Fitou.  Domaine de la Rochelierre’s two wines, Cuvée Privilege and Noblesse du Temps favoured the more intense, richer style of wine.

There was a lone Cabardès, Les Années Folles, la Délicatesse from Maison Ventenac, a pure Cabernet Franc, and only 13° which made a refreshing change of register after the more opulent truly southern flavours.   I also liked the lone Malepère, from Domaine la Louvière, la Séductrice, made by the talented Australian wine maker, Jem Harris.  It is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec with some appealing fresh fruit.   It was wine number 94, so there is no doubt that my palate is beginning to flag at this stage. 

And the last six wines also came from Côtes du Roussillon and Côtes du Roussillon Villages, but as it happened, none from any estates that I have ever visited.  Bernard Magrez accounted for two, Si mon pere savait and Domaine de la Franchise.  And sadly there was no sweet wine on which to finish.