Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Domaine Girard

Domaine Girard is an estate on the Massif de la Malepère, to the south of Carcassonne, adjoining the vineyards of Limoux.  The Sunday before last was a spectacularly sunny morning; we drove towards the village of Alaigne, where Philippe Girard has his cellars, enjoying fabulous views of the snow-capped Pyrenees.  

Philippe is the fourth generation of vignerons in the family.  His great grandfather had vines at the beginning of the last century, practicing polyculture, with cattle as well as wheat.  Subsequent generations concentrated on vines alone, with Philippe’s parents selling their wine en vrac. The first bottlings of the estate were the 2000 vintage, by which time Philippe had finished his studies in winemaking and viticulture at Libourne and then spent a year as a stagiaire in Nuits St Georges.   The experience with Pinot Noir has come in very handy.

They have 37 hectares altogether, 32 around the village of Alaigne and a further five at Roquetaillade in the Haute Vallée de l’Aude at an altitude of 450 metres, planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Philippe sees a distinctive difference between the two grape varieties in the two different areas.  At Alaigne the vineyards lie at 350 metres; Roquetaillade is fresher, making for wines with more tension.  Currently Philippe blends the wines from the two areas; ultimately, he would like to separate them.  The first Chardonnay was planted in 1987, and the first Pinot Noir in 1989, by Philippe’s father.  They also have Merlot, the principal grape variety of Malepère, as well as Cabernet Franc and Malbec.

We admired the new cellar, a large functional shed, well-equipped with stainless steel vats. Ultimately Philippe would like smaller vats, allowing him to make more selections of plots and juice.   There is a small barrel cellar, with 500 litres demi-muids.   

Recent vintages have been tricky; they had frost in 2017; hail in 2018 and 2019 was a very small vintage thanks to frost.  On the Massif, they did not suffer from excessive heat, unike the rest of the Languedoc. 

2019 Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc – 7.00€
They have nine hectares of Chardonnay. The grapes come from both Limoux and Alaigne; they are picked early, with a mechanical harvester. Philippe separates the juice, making for four different selections, of pressed juice, the heart or coeur of the pressed juice; the end of the pressed juice, and the free run juice.  And then he blends.   The nose and palate were both lightly buttery, with nicely balanced acidity. There is no malo-lactic fermentation and the wine spends some time on its lees in vat.

2018 Chardonnay élevé sur lies fines, Pays d'Oc – 9.00€
The richest juice is used for this cuvée.  The fermentation begins in stainless steel vats and  is then transferred into oak, of which 40% is new.  The malo takes place in oak and the wine is aged for several months, with regular bâtonnage.  It was much more rounded and richer on both nose and palate than the first wine, and nicely leesy with good balancing acidity, with a fresh finish and a modest 13.5º.  

2016 Limoux Blanc, les Salvios – 13€
Philippe did not produce any white Limoux in 2017, 2018 or indeed 2019, thanks to frost and hail.   The grapes were hand-picked and destemmed and wine has spent ten months in barrel, with a little bâtonnage.  It was nicely rounded, more elegant than the IGPs, with tighter acidity and a gentle note of maturity beginning to develop.   Philippe has some Chenin Blanc too and would like to make that as a pure varietal as well.

2019 Rosé Pays d’Oc, Cabernet Franc, Gariguette – 6.50€  
Gariguette is the lieu-dit of the vineyard.  Saigné after a few hours.  Light colour. A touch of pear drops on the nose but on the palate some ripe rounded fruit. Quite mouth filling, without being heavy or vinous.  A fresh finish.   Still quite young and bottled fairly recently.  I felt the nose needed to settle down.

2019 Pinot Noir, Pays d’Oc – 9.00€
Light colour.  Very fresh red fruit on the nose, with raspberry and liquorice on the palate.  This is a lovely simple Pinot Noir, uncomplicated and refreshing. and even thirst-quenching. Would be delicious lightly chilled for a summer barbecue.

2018 Pinot Noir, Pays d ‘Oc, Pech Calvel – 11.00€
This comes fromjust one vineyard at Alaigne and spends eight months in barrel.   There is a touch of oak on both the nose and palate. The palate is quite rounded, riper with more texture and weight.

All Philippe’s red wines are handpicked; altogether he produces an average of 100,000 bottles, with 300 hls of white and 500 hectolitres of red.

2018 Malepère Tradition – 8.50€
A blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc, kept separately in vat and blended at bottling. Quite a deep colour.  Ripe cassis fruit on the nose, and on the palate, round with ripe almost sweet blackcurrant fruit, with supple tannins.  It was quite soft for a Malepère.

2018 Malepère, Cuvée Neri – 12.00€
A blend of 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc and 10% Malbec, aged in barrel for seven months, and coming from one particular plot.
A more subtle nose than the previous wine.  Some oaky vanilla notes on the palate, balanced with some ripe fruit and a fresh finish. It was bottled in February and will not be put on the market until September.  It would indeed benefit from some bottle age.

NV Confidences, Crémant de Limoux – 11.50€
A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Chenin Blanc and 10% Pinot Noir.  Philippe delivers the grapes to J Laurens in Limoux and they do everything, from grape to bottle, giving the wine 12 months on its lees with 6 gms/l dosage. It was nicely rounded and creamy, with fresh acidity on the finish.

Philippe has projects for the future, Chenin Blanc, Syrah, maybe another cuvée of Malepère.  He thinks it is a shame that Malepère should be dominated by Merlot, when Cabernet Franc also works well in the area.  He may plant some Grenache Noir, and its cousin, Lledoner Pelut, which is allowed in the appellation of Malepère, but few people have it.

And from Alaigne we took the road to Limoux, past Quillan and through the dramatic Gorges de Pierre-Lys, heading for Maury in the Agly valley.  Little did I realise that this would probably be my last cellar visit for quite a while.  I will try and keep this blog going with the occasional profile of a bottle enjoyed in self-isolation with my husband in London.  

Monday, 9 March 2020

Catching up with Domaine Jones

Katie Jones was at her importers’ portfolio tasting the other day, pouring her wines with usual exuberant enthusiasm.   She is somebody who I always enjoy seeing.  

On her table, she had just four wines, and then I found another couple on the free pour tables. Prices are recommended retail prices in the UK. 

2017 Grenache Gris, Côtes Catalanes  - £16.00
The merest hint of colour. Quite a delicate nose, with a rounded, textured palate.  Layered with satisfying mouthfeel.  Rounded with a long finish.

2017 Grenache Noir, Côtes Catalanes – £16.00
Katie was enthusing about changes in her vinification methods, and she now gives the Grenache Noir a cold soak for 48 hours, followed by a 10-day maceration.  The cold soak makes for more fruit and soften the tannins, and this wine certainly had some bright juicy fruit.  It was very fragrant with supple tannins.  Not for nothing is Grenache Noir sometimes called the Pinot Noir of the south.   

2017 Fitou - £16.00
A blend of 40% Carignan, with a five-week maceration; 30% Syrah, and 30% Grenache, again with a cold soak. It was deep in colour, with a rich rounded nose, and on the palate, rich warm fruit, and spice, balanced with some tannin.

2016 Carignan, Vin de France – £24.00
From 110-year-old vines, that managed a 25 hl/h yield.   The label does not say Domaine Jones, as you cannot use a domaine name for a Vin de France; for that it must be IGP, so it simply says Katie Jones.  Quite a solid nose, with rounded fruit.  And on the palate, quite dense with tannin and ripe fruit.   Quite a solid mouthful.  The 2017 vintage is given a long five-week maceration; this was just ten days.  It will be interesting to taste the difference. 

2018 Along Came Jones, Hairy leaf Grenache, or Lledoner Pelut, Vin de France – £16.95
Medium colour. Quite ripe and rounded, with fragrant spicy fruit and liqueur cherries.  A fresh rounded finish.  It would have been interesting to have compared the classic Grenache and its distant cousin side by side, but this was on the free pour table. 

2018 Katie Jones Rosé, Vin de France - £12.00
Pretty pale colour. Rounded dry raspberry nose.  Good weight on the palate, without being too heavy and vinous, with a refreshing dry finish.  

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Gérard Bertrand - an update

Hallgarten’s annual tasting was a great opportunity for an update on Gérard Bertrand’s extensive range of wines.   I have described the wines in their order on the tasting sheet, which was not the order of tasting!  Hence Rivesaltes is sandwiched between Chardonnay and Rosé!  Prices are recommended retail prices in the UK.

NV Code Rouge, Crémant de Limoux - £24.99
60% Chardonnay, 30% Chenin blanc 10% Mauzac
Quite a rounded nose and palate.  Some creamy fruit balanced by a firm finish.

2018 Gris Blanc - £12.49
A rosé made from solely from Grenache Gris.  Very pale colour.  Light fruit, and a rounded palate.   Easy drinking.

2019 Picpoul de Pinet, Terroir - £13.99
Very fresh and youthful. Firm salty fruit on both nose and palate, with a lively note of acidity.

2018 Chardonnay Prima Nature, Pays d’Oc - £13.99
Organic in the vineyard and no sulphur in the cellar.  Quite a rounded nose with some herbal notes, and more herbal leesy fruit on the palate. It did not really say Chardonnay, or is it that I do not particularly like Chardonnay from the south?

1974 Rivesaltes ‘Legend’ Vintage - £157.00 at Hedonism
60% Macabeo, 20% Grenache Gris, 20% Grenache Noir
Amber in colour with a rich nose and quite an intense, rich palate with a firm nutty bite.  Great length on the finish.   Why do we not drink more Rivesaltes?   This is delicious!  Albeit expensive, at one of London’s rather smarter wine shops.  There is better value Rivesaltes  to be found. 

2019 Hampton Water Rosé, AOP Languedoc - £19.99
A blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Cinsault and 10% Mourvèdre.
Pretty pale colour.  Quite a rounded nose, with some raspberry fruit and on the palate, dry fruit with some weight.  Still a tad young and amylic; needs to settle down.  

2018 Clos de Temple, Languedoc, Cabrières - £200.00 at Harrods
40% Cinsault, 35% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 10% Viognier
Very pale colour.  Quite a rounded, mouth filling wine, but the oak is still too obvious for my tastebuds.  It is well made, with some good fruit and body underneath the oak, but for the price, I would muchprefer four bottles of La Villa Rose from Château la Sauvageonne.   See below. 

2018 Domaine de l’Aigle, Chardonnay, Limoux - £23.99
Limoux is one of the rare places in the Languedoc that does produce good Chardonnay, with some acidity and finesse.  This is rounded and nicely leesy on the nose, with buttery fruit and texture on the palate, balanced by refreshing acidity.  

2017 Domaine de l’Aigle, Pinot Noir - £23.99
Not an appellation wine. For illogical, political reasons, Pinot Noir is not included in the red appellation of Limoux, even though it is the most successful red grape of the area. Light colour, with fresh raspberry fruit on the nose and palate.  Medium weight and attractive fruit character. Nicely refreshing.  

2018 Château la Sauvageonne, La Villa Rose, Languedoc - £50
65% Grenache, 25% Mourvèdre, 7% Vermentino. 3% Viognier
From vineyards in the Terrasses du Larzac.   A hint of colour. Elegant fruit on the nose and palate.  Nicely balanced weight with a rounded finish.  The oak is very well integrated.   

2016 Château la Sauvageonne, Grand Vin, Terrasses du Larzac - £28.99
50% Syrah, 35% Grenache, 8% Mourvèdre, 7% Carignan
Not showing as well as I expected.  Dry pepper, but rather flat and charmless.

2018 Domaine de Cigalus, Cigalus Blanc, Pays d’Oc - £31.99 
70% Chardonnay, 20% Viognier, 10% Sauvignon
Quite a rounded nose, with some hints of oak.  A hint of peach on the palate, with some acidity.  I am not wild about Sauvignon Chardonnay blends, even with a little Viognier and the wine did not seem very harmonious to me.  

2018 Cigalus Rouge, Pays d’Oc - £31.99
30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 10% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 5%
Caladoc, a crossing of Grenache and Malbec, and 5% Carignan
A bit of a hotchpotch of grape varieties.  Deep colour. Quite a solid nose and a rounded palate, with dry cassis and firm fruit and firm tannins.  May develop in bottle?

2018 Château l’Hospitalet, Grand Vin Blanc, La Clape - £34.99
40% Bourboulenc, the grape variety of la Clape, 30% Grenache blanc, and 30% Vermentino
Quite a firm solid nose, with some oak, and more oak on the palate, rounded with body.  For me the oak masks the salinity that you should taste in la Clape, from the maritime influence.  

2017 Château l’Hospitalet, Grand Vin Rouge, la Clape - £36.49
60% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre
Deep colour.  Quite a rounded ripe nose, with ripe fruit, spice and tapenade on the palate.  Rich and powerful, especially on the finish.  

2016 Clos d’Ora, Minervois la Livinière - £200.00 at Harrods
Very deep young colour. Solid ripe rounded nose, with intense ripe fruit, with supple tannins.   Very well made.  I gave the same wine quite a high mark in a blind tasting (see my previous post) a couple of weeks ago, but for some reason I cannot get really enthusiastic about it. It is almost as though it is too well made and I wonder about its sense of place.  It does not really say Minervois too me.   And while I admire Gérard Bertrand for having the guts to push to price boundary, it is expensive for what it is.  

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Languedoc Roussillon versus the southern Rhône.

I took part in a fascinating tasting earlier in the week.  The négociant company Calmel & Joseph (see an earlier blog from last summer) organised a blind tasting of twelve wines from Languedoc-Roussillon and twelve wines from the southern Rhône, that had been awarded the highest marks in this year’s two guides. Revue du Vin de France and Bettane & Desseauve.  Amongst the line-up was Calmel & Joseph’s top wine from their own vineyards at La Madone in the Corbières, not far from Trèbes.   

The order of tasting was decided by pulling names out of a hat, so the order was entirely random. The vintages were the current one on sale, in most cases either 2016 or 2017, but there were four exceptions.   We knew that the oldest wine was 2005. And that was all we knew about the origins of the wines.  We tasted under the beady eye of a huissier, a bailiff in French, but I think in England, they would have used a solicitor, to ensure there was no favouritism.    After we had tasted, the marks were added up and averaged out to find the order of ranking.

We were thirteen journalists in all, four English based either in London or France; an American who lives in Bordeaux, a German who has lived in Roussillon for forty years and the others were French, mostly from Paris.  It was all very calm and measured, allowing plenty of time to enjoy each wine.  And they were delicious.  Inevitably there were wines that I liked more or less, but the overall quality was impressive.  I found my marks were in a very close bracket, between 92 and 98 out of 100.  I gave 98   to three wines, two from the southern Rhône and one from the Languedoc.   And looking at the average afterwards, it was apparent that there were some much more severe markers than me, as the average marks ranged from 86.8 to 95.62. Naturally I tried to detect which wines were Languedoc Roussillon, and which were southern Rhône.   The tasting started with a Châteauneuf and then a Rasteau, which was followed by Beaucastel, Hommage à Jacques Perrin, and then came Gérard Bertrand’s rather sturdier Clos d’Ora from the Minervois, which was recognisably Languedoc rather than Rhône.    

There were just four Languedoc wines in the top ten.  The top Languedoc wine was 2017 les Cocalières, from Sylvain Fadat's Domaine d'Auphilac in Montpeyroux.   I gave it 97.  It had a distinctive perfumed nose, and on the palate, was quite fleshy with perfumed fruit, and an elegantly tannic streak on the finish.   The wine comes from a spectacular limestone vineyard at 350 metres above the village of Montpeyroux where Sylvain has planted Syrah and Grenache.    And at 19.00€ it was the cheapest wine of all, and represents amazing value.  And my top Languedoc wine, but only just, and 7thoverall was Cal Demoura’s 2017 les Combariolles, Terrasses du Larzac, with a deep young colour and a rounded harmoniously spicy nose and palate, with good mouthfeel and texture.   26€

The other Languedoc wines included 2009 Cuvée Leone from Domaine Peyre Rose in 6thplace. It was mature and leathery on the nose, with some cedary notes on the palate.  I thought that maybe it was just beginning to start its descent from cruising altitude.   74€. 

Domaine de Montcalmès, 2016, in 9thplace, at 28€, had quite a firm structured nose, with some rounded ripe fruit and a tannic streak, with a satisfying balance and mouthfeel. 

However, I had Languedoc wines in my personal  top ten, such as Mas Champart, 2016 Clos de la Simonette, 22€, which was quite sturdy and characterful, with some rustic tannins and a long finish.  

Mas Jullien, Lous Rougeos 2017, 44€, had a deep, young purple colour, with youthful peppery fruit on the nose and palate and considerable potential.  I felt it needed more time, whereas most of the other wines were ready for drinking.   The same could also be said for 2017 Clos Marie, Simon, 38€, with very youthful fruit; it still tasted a little adolescent but with potential.   

2013 Aurel, from Domaine les Aurelles, 19.00€, showed some evolution with a lightly leathery nose and palate and some dry spice.  It was one of the more mature wines of the tasting.  

And there were just two wines from Roussillon Domaine Gardiès, 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Villages, la Torre,58.00€.  Compared with some of the other wines, it was ripe and dense with firm tannins and some integrated oak.  It was still very youthful and concentrated and needs time.   2016 Muntada from Domaine Gauby was more elegant and retrained with some spicy fruit.  As it happened, I gave them both 95.

And of course, you would like to know which wines came out top.   In third place was Tardieu Laurent’s Vieilles Vignes Gigondas 2017, 37€, with elegantly harmoniously spicy fruit.  Next came a Châteauneuf du Pape from Domaine la Janasse 2014 at 65€ with some spicy red fruit and a balanced steak of tannin.  As it happened it was the very last wine of the flight and a very good note to finish the tasting.   And the board was swept by a 2005 Châteauneuf du Pape from Chateau Rayas at 700€ a bottle.  It would be churlish to suggest this was an uneven playing field, as there is no doubt that the wine had the advantage of maturity.  It was simply drinking beautifully – this is the moment at which I probably indulged in a bit of internal spitting.  It had some sweet perfumed fruit, with some leathery notes, and so many nuances, with an elegant harmonious finish.  There was no doubt that it stood out above all the rest.  

As for our host's wine, Calmel & Joseph’s 2017 la Madone from the Corbières, 54.00€, was a little restrained on the nose, but had some fresh vibrant fruit, balanced with youthful tannins and a spicy peppery finish.  It was showing plenty of potential.  It was not in the top ten, but Laurent Calmel was very philosophical.  That was not the object of the exercise, but to see how the best of the Languedoc compares with the best of the southern Rhône.   I initially thought that I would have preferred to taste just Languedoc, but in fact putting the two regions side by side was very rewarding.   It showed how far the Languedoc has come and how far much further it has to go.   Some of my fellow journalists quite rightly asserted that the Languedoc needs to be able to hold its own and compete with the best of the south of France on the international stage.   A comparative tasting like this shows how much the region has developed over the last few years, and I have no doubt that it will carry on doing so.  

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Vila Voltaire

Stephane Yerle works as a consultant oenologist, but rightly considered that it would give his work much more credibility if he were seen to be making his own wine, so he and his wife Cécile Garidou bought their first vines, just 1.5 hectares of old Carignan in 2000.  They now have 12 hectares, including four hectares of Carignan, both in the IGP of Coteaux d’Ensérune and in the appellation of St. Chinian.   Cécile, who is also a qualified oenologist, works full-time on the estate, while Stéphane continues to travel extensively. Their cellars are hidden away in a back street of Cazouls-lès-Beziers, in the rue Voltaire. They have been certified organic since 2006, and are working on biodynamics and on lowering their sulphur levels.  Stéphane filters his wine quite tightly, and talked about the need for precision and what he called technicity

Earlier in his career Stéphane worked with the Madiran winemaker, Patrick Ducornau, on micro-oxygenation and he talked fluently the outils d’élevage.  He is now working with the only French producer of amphorae, Olivier Beliveau, in Castelnaudary.  Carignan is one of his enthusiasms, but Carignan can be tricky.  It does not like too much wood, which can mask the flavours, so Stéphane keeps his half in amphorae and half in demi-muids.  Carignan works really well in amphorae whereas Syrah and Grenache are less successful. Stéphane used his first amphorae for the 2012 vintage.  They hold 160 litres and they are quite fragile.  They are fired at 1045ºC, but no higher, as otherwise they lose their porosity.  The firing takes two days and the breakage rate during the firing can be as high as 10%.

We were treated to a comprehensive tasting.

2018 Puech Auriol Blanc, Coteaux d’Ensérune - 7.50€
An original blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Carignan Blanc.  Stéphane is looking for freshness  and drinkability.  Half of the blend is aged in barrels, with acacia bottoms, as he likes the refreshing note that acacia can give. The wine usually does a malo and the nose was nicely rounded with a fresh elegant palate.  The acidity in the Carignan offsets any ripeness in the Chardonnay very nicely.   Well balanced with a fresh finish.

2018 Viognier, Je suis tombé par terre.  - 7.50€
Stephane and Cécile are looking for fruit, with some citrus notes.  They want freshness rather than the very ripe flavours of Viognier from the northern Rhône  I liked the balance; it was lightly peachy with some citrus notes, fresh and elegant, and kept only in vat.  As for the name, that is apparently a reference to a character in Les Misérables.   

2019 Rosé, Puech Auriol, Coteaux d'Ensérune  - 7.50€
Made from a large proportion of Aramon with about 20% Cinsault.   They have 1.5 hectares of Aramon; it produces big grapes, like Cinsault.  This was a tank sample, and just filtered.  The juice is saigné, rather than pressed.  A light colour, pink orange, with fresh acidity and crisp fruit.  Very refreshing.   

2018 Gros Grains, Puech Auriol - 7.50€
Stephane described this as ‘our Cuvée Glouglou’ - it is meant to be eminently drinkable, and no sulphur is used in its making. Quite a deep colour. Quite a fruity, leathery nose and palate with a fresh finish.  It is a wine for early drinking.  Freshness is the key.  Stéphane  observed that we have all used sulphur without really knowing why - now is the time to question that.  And he gives the wine quite a tight filter. 

2017 Carignan - 10€
Their first vintage in 2002 was a pure Carignan.  Since 2012 the wine is vinified partly in amphorae and partly in 500 or 600 litre demi-muids.  It has some lovely fresh red fruit, both on nose and palate, with a sympathique note of rusticity that you can often associate with Carignan.  There is a good balance of fruit, garrigues and juniper, and tannin, with a fresh finish.  The vines are 70 - 80 years old and they are continuing to find more old vines, which they bring back to life with the judicious application of compost.  

Stéphane talked about the enemies of Carignan, namely oidium which can be treated with a powder based on sulphur and vers de la grappe for which sexuel confusion is the solution.   Brett can be a problem in the cellar but that is solved by careful cellar hygiene.  A lot is said about old Carignan vines but Stéphane reckons that Carignan performs well once the vines are  10 -15 years old, and mentioned one of his clients who planted some Carignan in 2005 and was obtaining very satisfactory results.  

2016, St Chinian, les Orchis du Mazet - 12.00€
From vineyards on the plateau between Puisserguier and Cazedarnes.  A blend of Carignan and Grenache, with a little Syrah, blended gradually during the élevage, which is in amphorae without a trace of oak.  Good colour. Nicely rounded nose, with fruit and notes of the garrigues.  An elegant palate.  Nicely balanced with restrained fruit.  There is the flesh of the Grenache and what Stéphane called the soul or the âme of the Carignan, while the Syrah add a note of violets and red fruit.

Stéphane talked about the financial viability of a estate.  It is all very well to have low yields, but if you then do not have enough wine to sell, it makes no sense.  He averages 30 hl/ha for St Chinian,  50 hls/ ha for Carignan and 70 hls/ha for his white wine.  He does not want organic wine to be something elitist. You must keep your feet on the ground and your head on your shoulders!

2017 Je suis tombé par terre. - 10.00€
A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Grenache, in equal proportions, and aged in demi-muids.  Again, Stéphane blends gradually during the élevage.  Quite a rounded nose and palate, and quite cassis, with the bordelais varieties, with a balance of tannin.   I have to say, I found it less interesting than their other wines, but I am not a fan of bordelais varieties in the Languedoc.

2016 St. Chinian, La Faute - 19.00€
From 45-year-old Syrah vines.  Originally it was Coteaux de Fontcaude, the IGP named after the nearby ruined abbey. Syrah ages badly in the vineyard; the branches break in the wind and it loses buds.  They have to handpick it as it does not like a mechanical harvester. Yields 25 hl/ha.  All aged in old demi-muids, for sixteen months.  Syrah is a reductive grape variety so it needs élevage. They described as their Cuvée Icône. 

Deep colour, with spicy Syrah fruit, with freshness and some balancing acidity on the palate.  They liked it so much that they did not want to blend it, with its aromas of spice and garrigues.

And our tasting finished with Torments 2016, Coteaux d’Ensérune and a wine that is not made every year.  The previous vintage was 2011.  It comes from Grenache vines that are 60 years old, which account for 90% of the blend, balanced with some Carignan.  Aged in demi-muids for two years.  The flavours are rich and concentrated, with the ripe cherry fruit of Grenache, and some rich spice and balancing tannins. It is concentrated, but not heavy.   And it made a grand finale to an interesting range of wines.   

Stéphane observed that all though he is often tempted by other styles of wine, with the experience of his consultancy work and visits to wine cellars in other countries, they have now established their range.  And as we left, they gave us a couple of large lemons picked straight off the tree; the perfume was quite seductive.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Carignan and Cinsault in Chile

I have just had three wonderful weeks in Chile, first of all some holiday, exploring parts of  the Atacama Desert and the Chilean Lake District, as well as a little time in Valparaiso, which is wonderfully vibrant city with an exciting and quite unexpected culture of street art.   A new series of murals were specifically inspired by wine.   

After the holiday came the work, an intensive week with 29 other Masters of Wine, discovering or re-discovering the main wine regions of the country.   It had been fifteen years since my last visit to Chile and it was fascinating to see how the wine industry has changed and developed.   Vineyards are being planted further north, further south and at higher altitudes, with the boundaries being pushed in all directions.  Cool climate is a catch phrase, with vineyards benefitting from the cooling Pacific Ocean and the cool winds coming off the Andes.   And where Bordeaux grape varieties were once the main focus of Chile, they are now re-discovering old plantings of Carignan and Cinsault.  And that explains how I can write about Chile in a blog on the Languedoc!  Both Cinsault and Carignan were brought Chile by the French in the 19thcentury. 

Another significant change is the development of  smaller  wineries. The Chile wine industry is no longer dominated by the big producers.  There is an organisation called MOVI, the Movement of Independent Wine growers or El Movimiento de Viñateros Independientes,  which groups 34 wineries from all over the country.   Members are invited to join, based on the quality of their winemaking, and I suspect simply how well they fit into the group. They must be hands on wine makers, producing good wines. Essentially, they are a marketing organisation, representing each other at tastings and so on.   And at a tasting of MOVI wines they provided my introduction to some very enjoyable Carignan and Cinsault. 

2016 B. Wines Carae is a dry-farmed Carignan, made from 80-year-old vines in the Maule valley.  Medium colour; with a dry structured nose and the palate some red fruit balanced with tannins, and a nicely rustic note on the finish.  Carignan does not work in irrigated vineyards – it explodes; it must be dry farmed and some people are grafting it on to old Pais vines, which was the original grape variety of Chile, introduced by the Spanish missionaries.  

Other MOVI wines included Dagaz Cinsaut from Itata, from 50-year-old dry farmed bush vines, from the estate of Tierras de Pumanque, set up by Marco Puyo, who had worked for larger companies before starting making wine on his own account estate.  The wine was beautifully fragrant and perfumed with a streak of tannin.

However, it was a seminar on Old Vines that really highlighted the quality and potential of Cinsault and Carignan in Chile.   There is an organisation called Vigno which represents a group of fifteen producers of Carignan.  The vines are mostly in the Maule valley and Vigno insists on a minimum age of 30-year-old vines, dry farmed bush vines, and a minimum of 85% of Carignan in the wine, with two years ageing.  Apparently Vigno began as a lunch club!

Brett Jackson, the winemaker at Valdevieso talked about making Carignan.  He gives the grapes a cold soak for two or three days, and ferments in open top vats, and runs the juice off the skins fairly quickly. Having begun with ageing all the cuvée in barrel, he has now reduced that to just a quarter of the cuvée. With two years ageing, the acidity softens.  He also observed that 20 years ago Carignan was not a recognised grape variety in Chile.

P S Garcia were one the pioneers of Vigno, with 60-year-old vines.  Their 2015 Carignan was deep in colour, with quite dense red fruit and some oak, as well as a touch of acidity.  The wine was structured and need time.  

Gillmore was a new name to me, offering a rounded, harmonious glass of wine, made from 70 – 80-year-old vines, with good structure and some weight on the palate, balanced with ripe fruit.  

Underraga makes a field blend of 92% Carignan, balanced with some Cinsault, from 60-year-old vines.  The nose was quite firm and structured, and the palate rounded with some oak and fruit.

Oldfjell, produces Orzado Carignan from the Cauquenes Valley which is part of the larger Maule valley. They have 100-year-old bush vines, and made the observation that the smaller wine growers are starting to believe n Carignan.  When Oldfjell made their first Carignan in 2001, nobody else was making it and it didn’t sell.  But they persisted.  

And we were told that Marcelo Retamal at the De Martino winery was the first to bottle Cinsault, with a maiden vintage in 2011.  He uses old terracotta amphora as a fermentation vessel and the flavour of the  2016 vintage from cooler Itata was fragrant with fresh cherry fruit and a streak of balancing tannin.

After the seminar on old vines we drove from the outskirts of Concepción into the countryside to Guarilhue, where a group of wine growers hosted a tasting, and also a barbecue.  The countryside of Itata is quite different from other areas, much greener, with rich vegetation and undulating hills, with forests of pines and eucalyptus, as well as vineyards, of mostly ungrafted bush vines.

A wine from Longavi, with the cheerful name of Glup, comes from 40-year-old Cinsault with fresh red fruit and a streak of tannin.  Lovely perfumed cherry flavours.  It had spent eight months in old foudres, with no fining or filtering.

Other wines included Pedro Parra y Familia, Imaginador and Leo Erazo, Hermano Piedra, both from Itata. Indeed, most of the Cinsault in Chile is grown in Itata.  The oldest vines date from the end of the 1930s, and are planted on their own roots. Old vines adapt better to the current drought – which is a prevailing issue in Chile at the moment.   There is no specific definition of old vines. 

More highlights included Cinsault del Cerro, from Pandolfi Price, with six months in barrel, was quite a structured Cinsaut with firm cherry fruit.

Cinsault Tres C was deep in colour, with rounded ripe fruit, fresh and fragrant from 50-year-old vines.

Trifulca, produced a Cinsault from 83-year-old vines, with perfumed fruit and a streak of tannin after eight months in old wood.  

Rogue Wine with a 2018 Cinsault, using an open basket press, with rounded ripe fruit.

Las Curvas, another Cinsaut grown on granite, with delicate fruit.

And the final taste of Cinsault was at Montes, in the Apalta Valley, the opening wine at a lunch cooked by the talented chef, Francis Mullmann.  Made from grapes grown in Itata, it was fresh and fragrant, with 20% carbonic maceration and simply perfect with an empanada. 

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

The Languedoc around the autumn tastings

Out of the Box – Young Importers Tasting  - 
Prices for this tasting are per bottle, duty paid and delivered, ex VAT

The Young Importers are a group of six with an eclectic and original range of wines.  Naturally I concentrated on Languedoc-Roussillon but I did allow myself several deviations, especially to Greece with Maltby and Greek, as a good Assyrtiko is difficult to resist.  

Carte Blanche has recently taken on the agency for my good friend Catherine Roque at Mas d’Alezon in Faugères.

2017 Faugères Presbytère - £13.95
A blend of Cinsault and Grenache.  Medium colour.  Elegant subtle fruit  on the nose, and on the palate, supple spice, with an elegant streak of tannin. Medium weight.  

2017 Faugères, Montfalette - £17.95
A blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache Noir.  Medium colour.  Altogether much more structured, on both nose and palate, with firm fruit and tannins, but always with an elegant finish.  Nicely satisfying.  Drinking well now, but would also age.

Swig were showing:

2015, Château de Durfort, Corbières - £9.65
a blend of Syrah and Grenache Noir.  Medium depth of colour.  A lovely ripe, rounded, spicy nose.  And plenty of spice on the palate, balanced with a backbone of tannin.  Eminently easy-drinking, conjuring up the warmth of the Midi in a glass.  

2018 Domaine de l’Horizon, Côtes Catalanes, Mar y Muntanya - £14.30
A blend of 45% each of Grenache Noir and Carignan with 10% Grenache Noir.  Appealing spice on the nose with fresh red fruit on the palate. Medium weight and an elegant finish. 

266 Wines
This company was started up as recently as March 2019.
2017 Domaine des Enfants, Côtes Catalanes,  Tabula Rasa - £15.63
A blend of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Macabeo and Carignan blanc.  This is a stunning example of just how much the white wines of Roussillon have improved, with a light colour, quite a closed nose and on the palate some elegant floral fruit and a satisfying balance of acidity. 

2017 Domaine des Enfants, le Jouet - £10.39
A blend of Lledoner Pelut, Grenache Noir, Carignan and Syrah.  Medium colour.  Quite a ripe nose, and on the palate good fruit, but I also thought I detected a note of volatility.

2016 Faugères, Domaine Binet-Jacquet, Réserve - £15.26
A blend of all five grape varieties of the appellation, namely Cinsault, Carignan, Syrah, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre.  Good colour; quite a firm nose, tight knit and needing to breathe.  And on the palate a touch reductive, but quite intriguing. 

Ellis of Richmond hosted a tasting that they termed Wines with a Conscience, showing wines that were Biodynamic, Organic or Sustainable.

The sole organic wines from the Languedoc came from Domaine des Trinités, made by Simon Coulshaw, who learnt his winemaking at Plumpton in East Sussex.  He has vineyards in two appellations 

2016 Pézenas, le Pech Mégé - £9.95
A blend of 60% Grenache Noir, 30% Syrah and 10% Carignan.  The label says: élaboré de façon naturelle – in other words, with minimum use of sulphur.  Medium colour, with rich spice on both the nose and palate, but with a slight edge of acidity on the finish.

2015 Faugères, le Portail - £9.95
A blend of 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache Noir and 10% Carignan,  Nicely rounded nose and palate, with some appealing ripe fruit. A balancing streak of tannin.  It tasted more harmonious than the Pézenas, and was drinking beautifully.  

There was also a sustainable wine from Château Pennautier, the main property of the Lorgeril family, in Cabardès, one of the cooler areas of the Languedoc.
Marquis de Pennautier, Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc - £10.25
Lightly buttery nose, and rounded, rich and leesy on the palate with good mouthfeel and texture.  

Waitrose, at their autumn tasting, had a few Languedoc offerings:
2018 Calmel & Joseph Villa Blanche Pinot Noir, Pays d’Oc - £8.99
Quite alight colour. Delicate fresh raspberry fruit on the nose and palate.  Some balancing fresh acidity.  Very refreshing, served slightly chilled.

2017 Corbières, Château de Caraguilhes - £0.99
A blend of  45% Grenache noir, 30% Syrah and 25% Carignan.  One of the several organic estates of the Corbières.  Aged n concrete vat for six months.
Medium colour; lightly spicy nose, and palate.  Nicely harmonious, with a dry leathery note on the finish.   

2018 Château Maris, Minervois, Savoir Vieillir - £16.99
70% Syrah balanced by 30% Grenache Noir.  The wine was aged in 50 hectolitres foudres or in concrete tanks.  Quite a deep colour, with a firm dry nose.  More fleshy on the palate, with some ripe cherry fruit.  Quite savoury.  A tad alcoholic on the finish, and it does register 14.5º.

2016 Château Maris, Minervois la Livinière, les Planels - £17.99
Deep colour. Firm peppery nose and palate, with notes of tapenade and black olive.  Quite firm and structured, youthful and tight knit.  A wine to age, with promising potential.

2018 Voyage du Sud, Vermentino, Pays d’Oc - £5.99
From the Cebazan cooperative in St. Chinian.  Fresh sappy nose and palate; fresh and pithy with a rounded finish.  Good value.

Calmel & Joseph, Villa Blanche Terret Blanc, Pays d’Oc - £8.49
Light colour. Quite firm and stony on the nose and palate.  Firm rather than crisp, with a flinty nose.   This is one of the old grape varieties of the Languedoc, which deserves a revival in its reputation.  

2018 Laurent Miquel Vendanges Nocturnes, Pays d’Oc, Viognier - £9.39
Rounded and peachy on nose and palate.  Exuding ripe fruit.  If you like Viognier, you will love this.  

NV Crémant de Limoux, Cuvée Royale Brut - £11.99
A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 25% Chenin Blanc, 10% Mauzac and 5% Pinot Noir.   Quite ripe and soft on the nose, with a soft fruity palate.  Easy drinking, but a little  too simple for the appellation.  I would have liked more depth.

This is quite a large group of independent wine merchants who work together, to benefit from the economies of scales for marketing and purchasing.  

Paul Gordon from Domaine la Sarabande in Faugères was there, providing a good opportunity for a catch up on his range.

2018 Pink Swine, Vin de France - £12.99
A rosé from Grenache and Cinsault, and just 11.5º.  Medium colour; quite fresh and crisp with some raspberry fruit.

2016 Misterioso - £12.99
A blend of Grenache Noir and Syrah.  Quite rounded on the nose and palate.  Some fresh spicy fruit.  Medium weight with a fresh finish.

2014 les Rabasses - £14.99
Syrah and Mourvèdre. Good colour.  Fruity nose, with some leathery notes.  Very good spicy fruit on the palate.  Rounded and drinking beautifully, with a little bottle age. 

2016 Les Rabasses
Les Rabasses is the name of the vineyard.  It means land that is difficult to work.  Good deep colour.  More elegant on the nose and palate than the 2014, with some elegant spice balanced with quite obvious tannins.  Medium weight.

2017 Bousigue - £24.99
A high proportion of Mourvèdre.  Whole bunches, with no destemming.  Medium colour.  Quite firm and structured.  Good fruit. Elegantly structure, with satisfying length and depth.  

2016 Les Espinasses - £32.99
Based on Syrah.  Whole bunches.  Natural yeast.  Deep colour. Quite concentrated peppery notes on the nose.   Intense fruit on the palate. Some gamey notes.  The fruit is balanced by some fresh acidity as well as tannin.  Very satisfying.  

And the tasting finished with Las Jardins, the name of the vineyard, based on Grenache, aged in barrel. Some lovely spice, with a touch of liquorice and a fresh finish, with elegant cherry notes.  This is a new cuvée made from very ripe Grenache.  

And I also tasted the wines of Domaine les Caizergues, an estate in the Terrasses du Larzac, outside the village of Brissac, near Ganges, that was bought by an English couple a year or two ago.   Pat Middleton was there to show their wine.  Their first vintage was  2017.  Ganges was known for its silk production, and so the names of the various cuvées at Caizergues have a link with the silk industry.  

Les Tisserands were the weavers; les Magnerelles were the people who raised the silk worms and amorier is the Occitan for mulberry trees.

2018 Les Tisserands blanc, IGP St Guilhem-le-Désert - £11.99
A blend of 80% Viognier to 20% Sauvignon.  Rounded and peachy with a note of ginger.  Refreshing, without any oak

2018 Les Magnarelles, Languedoc blanc - £15.99
A blend of 60% Grenache Blanc, and 20% each of Marsanne and Vermentino.  Fresh dry nose, and on the palate quite firm fruit, with some white blossom and good balancing acidity.  

2018 Les Magnarelles Languedoc Rosé - £11.99
A blend of Grenache Noir and Carignan.  Pressed.  Light colour with some dry, rounded fruit on both nose and palate.  Nicely refreshing with good acidity.

2018 Les Magnarelles Rouge, Languedoc Rouge - £15.99
Quite a vivid young colour. Ripe smoky fruit on the nose, with some tannin and ripe confit fruit on the palate.

2016 les Tisserands IGP - £11.50
Quite firm and structured on the nose, with quite a lean edge on the palate.  

2015 Les Amoriers, Terrasses du Larzac - £16.50
Quite a solid, structured mouthful of dry oak and fruit.   These last wines were made by the previous owners and I expect to see some improvement with the newer vintages.  Jean Natoli advises.