Thursday, 21 May 2020

Domaine des Soulanes at Cambridge Wine

Cambridge Wine has one of the best lists of wines from the Languedoc and Roussillon of any independent wine merchant in the country.    Their Languedoc-Roussillon buyer, Stewart Travers, has won the prize of Sud de France specialist, and their list includes many of my favourite estates, too numerous to list here.  

Domaine des Soulanes is one of them, situated in the Agly valley just outside Maury, in the heart of Roussillon.  Daniel Lafitte is a Maurynat, born and bred in the village of Maury.  After a brief career as a Jaguar car mechanic, he worked for the previous owner of his vineyards, Jean Pull, learning from him as well as doing various stages. Jean was already farming organically in 1992, and when he retired in 2002, he sold 17 hectares of his 44 hectares to neighbouring Mas Amiel, and Daniel bought the rest, choosing the plots he particularly wanted to keep. Back in the 1990s, in common with all the wine growers of Roussillon, they made very little table wine or vin sec; the production was 90% fortified vin doux naturel, of which a large part was sold en vrac to Martini.  These days the balance has completely shifted, to 90% vin sec. However, Daniel gleefully remarked that one of his proudest moments, was selling some Maury to a wine shop in Portugal!

2018 Kaya Blanc, Côtes Catalanes - £14.04
30% each of Grenache Gris and Blanc, with 20% each Carignan Gris and Blanc, fermented in oak.  The Carignan adds acidity to the Grenache, and the schist of Maury also makes for a good level of acidity.  Very pale colour.  Youthful lemony notes on the nose, with fresh herbal fruit on the palate. Taut and lemony with juicy acidity, and a streak of oak.

2017 Kaya Blanc, Côtes Catalanes - £14.34
A slightly different blend with 50% each of Grenache, both Blanc and Gris, and 50% Carignan, again both Blanc and Gris.  A little more colour.  Firm stony mineral notes, and on the palate filling out, with long stony fruit, and a salty note, with a background streak of oak, which will disappear with bottle age.  Daniel wants his white wines to have ageing potential, and this does.  

2018 Cuvée Jean Pull, Côtes Catalanes - £10.92
Named after the previous owner.  A blend of Grenache and Carignan, with a little Syrah and a hint of Mourvèdre, fermented in a concrete vat.  A lovely perfumed nose, and on the palate, rounded and fresh with supple tannins.  Cherry liqueur fruit, and ripe without being heavy.  Perfect easy drinking.   

2017 Kaya Rouge, Côtes Catalanes - £12.60
A pure Carignan, with fresh red berry fruit, balanced with a streak of tannin and a fresh finish. Beautifully balanced and harmonious. It does not have the rustic notes that you sometimes find in Carignan.  A really lovely expression of the grape, showing just why the old vines are worth preserving, and why it deserves to be taken seriously. 

2017 Maury Grenat - £18.90
Pure Grenache.  Deep red colour.  Ripe berry fruit on the nose, and palate, with a fresh finish. Ripe and intense without being heavy, with rich fruit and a streak of tannin.  Daniel want the tannins to slip in behind the sugar, as he put it, so the wine is not too sweet. An extra 10 gms of sugar can mask the tannins.  It is all a question of the balance between sugar and alcohol.  And this is beautifully balanced.   Just bring on the dark chocolate!



Saturday, 9 May 2020

Domaine Gardiés and the Wine Society

The Wine Society has a spectacularly good range of wines from Roussillon, including some of the stars of the region, such as Domaine Gauby for vins secs, and wonderful old Rivesaltes from Domaine Rancy.  Other treats include a rich Collioure from Domaine Augustin, from the Parcé family who have done so much for Banyuls and Collioure over the generations.    They have also discovered Domaine Gardiés, whose wines really impressed me the first time I visited them last autumn.  I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours with Vincent Gardiès, including a visit to their vineyards in the hills outside the village of Vingrau.

2018 Côtes du Roussillon Blanc, les Glacières - £13.50 – magnum £29.00

Vincent Gardiés is convinced that Roussillon has enormous unfulfilled potential for white wines.   If this wine is anything to go by, I couldn’t possibly disagree.  A blend of Grenache, both Blanc and Gris, as well as Roussanne, Marsanne and a little Malvoisie de Roussillon, which is also known as Tourbat, all aged in foudres for eight to ten months.  Light colour.  A fresh fragrant nose, with lemony fruit and herbal notes, and on the palate rounded fruit with very good acidity.  It has a wonderful sapid quality, which leaves you wanting more. It is fresh and incisive, firm with a structured finish. And I would be intrigued to see how it ages.   

A pair of reds, demonstrated the contrasts of Roussillon, with a fresher, more elegant wine for earlier drinking, and a rich concentrated wine that would benefit from some bottle age.

2018 les Millères, Côtes du Roussillon Villages - £13.50
Les Millères is the first red wine of their range, which Vincent deems to be representative of the region, with freshness, fruit and structure, made from Syrah and Grenache grown in Vingrau, and Carignan and Mourvèdre from Espira de l’Agly.  Medium colour.  Light red fruit on the nose.  The palate is medium weight, fresh and nicely rounded with red fruit, supple tannins and a fresh finish.

2015 Clos des Vignes, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Tautavel - £17.00
This is more serious, coming from old vines, both Grenache and Carignan, and aged for twelve months in barriques and demi-muids.  Deep colour. Ripe rounded, warm nose, with supple fruit.  Very Grenache, with some cherry liqueur notes.  On the palate lovely depth, with silky tannins, rounded and complete with ripe spice and concentration.  Very harmonious, with a satisfying mouthfeel.    The vines are in a clos, surrounded by small stone walls.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Roc des Anges at Les Caves de Pyrène

Marjorie and Stephane Gallet at Roc des Anges have been making some of the most elegant wines of Roussillon for nearly 20 years now.  Elegance really is the hallmark of their wines.  Their first vintage was 2001. She comes from the northern Rhône and met Stéphane while studying at Montpellier.  After graduation, he went to work at Mas Amiel, so looking for vines in Roussillon was the obvious choice for their own wine estate.  Côte Rôtie would have been much more expensive; 'but here in Roussillon everything is possible. And the schist is the same as in Côte Rôtie, but the climate is different'

Since 2014 they have a smart cellar, close to the village of Latour-de-France, with lots of concrete vats of various sizes, to accommodate their numerous different parcels of vines.  Altogether they have about 100 plots in just 35 hectares, at an altitude between 150 and 350 metres.  60 ares is a big plot for them.  Virtually all their vines are in Montner, with a few in Tautavel and also close to Calce. 

Their UK importers are the wonderfully eclectic company, Les Caves de Pyrène, who were very happy to supply a couple of samples for some research. both wines that really convey the tipicity of the estate.   I don't usually note alcohol levels, but these are worth mentioning as they are significantly lower than the average in Roussillon.

2018, Côtes Catalanes Blanc, Llum, meaning light in Catalan, is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Carignan Blanc and Macabeo, grown on schist and all picked together.  Light colour, with firm stony notes on the nose and palate, with fresh elegance and mineral tension and a long incisive finish.  It develops beautifully in the glass.   £26.49  12.5°

2018 Côtes Catalanes Rouge, Segna de Cor, is a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, from relatively young vines, again grown on schist, and aged in tank, is the epitome of elegance, with fresh peppery red fruit, spice and herbs.  It is beautifully harmonious, with some balancing acidity as well as tannin, with a fresh vibrant finish.   The name is an anagram of Roc des Anges, in case you are wondering.   13.5°  £17.99


Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Domaine de Centernach

What takes a Burgundian to Roussillon?   The short answer is a love of vintage port.   Paul Meunier was fascinated by port, and that led him to do a stage in Maury. And you could describe Maury as France’s answer to port, as the production process is pretty much the same. 

After that first visit as a stagiaire in 2009, Paul returned regularly to the region for holidays, and then bought vineyards and took over a cellar in the village of St Arnac in 2014.    He now produces a delicious range of wines, both vin sec and vin doux.   And I was delighted to discover that one of my local wine shops in London, The Good Wine Shop in Chiswick, had discovered Paul’s wine before me.    They are currently sold out of his white wine, a Côtes du Roussillon, based on Macabeo as well as some Grenache Gris and Grenache blanc, with a drop of Muscat à petits grains, which was quite delicious ….and they have promised to let me know when it is back in stock.

Meanwhile they do have a wine from Paul’s very first vintage, a Côtes du Roussillon Villages, from a specific vineyard, Couillades d’en Paillol, at £26.00.  Carignan, from vines planted in the 1950s,  is the main component with some Grenache Noir and some Syrah.   The wine has a deep young colour, with some rounded red berry fruit on the nose, with notes of cherry liqueur, reminiscent of Grenache.  On the palate it is ripe, but not heavy; there is warming fruit, balanced with some nicely integrated tannins and a certain rustic sturdiness from the predominance of Carignan, combined with a satisfying depth of flavour. A long fresh finish.   Drinking beautifully now, but far from the end of its life.   The alcohol at 13.5°is nicely restrained.   

And they are also selling Paul's answer to a fruity Ruby port, namely Maury Grenat.  

While their shops are obviously closed at the moment, The Good Wine Shop is continuing to operate a mail order business.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Clot de l'Origine

Marc Barriot of Clot de l’Origine has very original take on winemaking.  Quite simply, he has ten hectares of red grapes, and two of white, but 90% of his wines are white!  He thinks nothing of vinifying black grapes like white wine grapes to make white wine, and of blending them with white grapes.  All his wines are Vin de France and he favours minimum use of sulphur.  

He is a relative newcomer to Maury, coming from Bandol where vineyard land is much too expensive to consider creating a wine estate there and he observes the Roussillon wine scene with the dispassionate eyes of an outsider. He is not afraid voice his opinion, and opinionated he is, insisting amongst other things on significantly lower alcohol levels than the average wine from Roussillon.  ‘I make wines I want to drink’, he asserts.   It all makes for a fun cellar visit.  

Back in London, escaping from Roussillon just as President Macron imposed stringent lockdown measures, I needed a couple of samples for a forthcoming article and Marc’s importers, Raeburn Fine Wines in Edinburgh were very happy to oblige.   The prices are their retail price. 

2017 L’Original, Vin de France - £18.55
This is indeed original, a blend of 80% white Macabeo blended with 20% Merlot, vinifié en blanc. The wine is a pale yellow, with quite a firm dry nose, but with some apple notes on the palate.  There was good acidity and it was very refreshing, and a light 12.5°.  I have to admit that chez Marc I tried the 2019 and I found that more incisive, with firm stony fruit.  It was more linear whereas the 2017 was more rounded in the palate. 

2016 Soif de Plaisir, Vin de France - £18.55
A blend of Carignan from 80 year old vines from Calce, with Syrah from young vines, in equal proportions.  Quite a deep young colour and fresh peppery notes on both nose and palate.  It was nicely balanced with an appealing freshness, and maybe just what I would call a natural edge with a hint of volatile acidity, but it was none the worse for that, and went a treat with some sausages.



Monday, 6 April 2020

Tasting Domaine Vaquer with Tiger Vines

I have long had a soft spot for the wines of Domaine Vaquer.  I first came across the estate when I was researching French Country Wines, published in 1990 by Faber & Faber, so that goes back a bit.   We were in a hotel in the Pyrenees, and there was a vin de table on the list that was significantly more expensive than any of the wines from any of the nearby appellations. Curiosity was immediately aroused, and I subsequently visited Fernand Vaquer.  From the point of view of gathering information, it was not the most informative of visits, as every question was countered by: ça dépend, but I tasted two extraordinary wines – he only made one cuvée of each colour – that were quite unlike anything else from Roussillon.     

Fast forward to 2020 with an article to write and the need for some samples, as the planned visit to the estate last month was cancelled, thanks to the coronavirus.  Domaine Vaquer has never had much of a presence on the British market so I was delighted when Fernand’s daughter-in-law, Frédérique, who now runs the estate, told me that she did have a UK importer, namely a relatively new wine company, Tiger Vines, run by James Thomas.  I asked James for a couple of samples, but he generously offered other bottles. The prices are the retail prices on his website. 

2016 Domaine Vaquer, Côtes du Roussillon, Cuvée Bernard - £20.00
This wine is made in memory of Bernard, Frédérique’s husband, who sadly died very suddenly in 2001.  A blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah.   A deep colour, with quite firm, fresh fruit on the nose.  And on the palate, the wine is youthful and peppery, with a streak of acidity as well as tannin, making for quite a firm backbone. I felt it was still quite young and would benefit from some bottle age.  

2017 Carignan, Côtes Catalanes, L’Expression - £22.00
This wine amply demonstrates just why Carignan deserves a better reputation.   In the hands of a talented winemaker, it is simply delicious. Medium colour. With ripe berry fruit on both the nose and palate.   A supple backbone of tannin, with a note of freshness that is typical of Carignan.  Lovely balance and a fresh finish.   Roussillon has plenty of old Carignan vines, often planted together with Grenache Noir, as it balances the lighter colour and riper flavours of the Grenache.

2015 Côtes du Roussillon Villages, les Aspres, l’Exception - £27.00
Les Aspres is a relatively new appellation within the more established Côtes du Roussillon Villages, created in 2017.  It covers 19 villages, mainly south-east of the small town of   Thuir, including Tresserre, where Frédérique has her vines and cellar.   The delimitation is by specific plot; by no means all the vineyards of each village are included.  The blend is the usual trio of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah; Mourvèdre is also allowed. Deep colour, with lovely ripe spice on both nose and palate.  The wine is drinking beautifully, with a rounded palate and some peppery notes, with some structure and tannin, and spicy red fruit, with notes of the garrigues. Satisfying depth of flavour and a wine that evolves gently in the glass.  

Next came two bottles that show just how well these wines age. 

1991 Blanc de Blancs, Macabeo, Vin de Pays Catalan - £40.00
A Vin de Pays Catalan, as Côtes Catalanes did not exist in 1991.  I was initially a little alarmed by the colour, a light amber, which might imply oxidation, but do not be put off by the colour.  The nose was initially quite reticent but developed some herbal notes, with a touch of salinity.  And on the palate, it was quite delicious, rounded with rich herbal notes, with lovely satisfying texture and mouthfeel, and a salty finish, and a hint of fennel.  There was a backbone, but not really much acidity.  Wonderfully original and a shining example, not only of how good the white wines of Roussillon are, but also how well they can age.

1986 Fernand Vaquer Rouge, Vin de Pays Catalan - £40.00
The label says: Conservé dans les Pyrénées à 1300 mètres.  This wine was made by Fernand, one of his last vintages, before his son Bernard, and Frédérique took over.  He had a property high up in the Pyrenees where he could age his wines in very cool conditions.  The colour is evolving, with medium depth, and a light brick red rim.  The nose is elegantly mature, with dry cedary notes and the palate is also elegant, with silky tannins, and a balancing backbone. There was an underlying ripe sweetness, a certain fleshiness.  I would defy anyone not to mistake it for a wine from northern Rhone.  At 34 years old, it was definitely at cruising altitude, drinking beautifully, but certainly not fading yet.   it would have been made by Fernand the year before my first visit; I tasted the 1984 vintage in 1987; he died in 2018 at the ripe age of 89.    

Most of the older established estates in Roussillon make vin doux, and Domaine Vaquer is no exception.

1994 Préface, Rivesaltes Hors d’Age Ambré, 50 cls. - £48
Amber colour.  A nutty nose, walnuts and hazelnuts, and quite rounded and softer than some, and on the palate ripe and nutty, with a bite on the finish, but quite full and rich, with a hint of orange.   

Rivesaltes Hors d’Age Ambré, 30 years solera. - £35.00
The label tells you that it was bottled in January 2018.
Amber colour.  Quite a rich nose, with firm nutty fruit, and a streak of acidity.  Good bite, firm, dry and nutty with a long finish.   Definitely what the Italians so charmingly call a vino da meditazione, a wine to linger over after dinner, and ideal to raise the spirits during these difficult days.   At £35 it is ridiculously good value - where else would you find a wine that is 30 years old for that price?    These old Rivesaltes deserve a much wider appreciation.  



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.