Thursday, 23 June 2016

Languedoc at The Wine Society

I always enjoy the Wine Society’s tastings as their buyers invariably come up with a deliciously eclectic range of wines, and last week was no exception. 

There were three wines from the Languedoc, namely
2015  Pélerin Blanc Pays de Caux, from the Chartreuse de Mougères, between Pézenas  and Roujan.   £6.25.  This comes from a blend of Vermentino and Sauvignon, with a dash of Muscat.   The nose is quite soft and fragrant and the palate combines the pithiness of Sauvignon, and the sappy quality of Vermentino, with the Muscat providing a lift on the finish.  It makes for eminently easy drinking.

2015 la Clape, Arpège from Château Rouquette sur Mer - £10.50
This is altogether a much more serious wine, made from Bourboulenc, which is the characteristic white variety of la Clape, blended with some Roussanne.  To quote Marcel Orford Williams, the Society’s buyer for the Languedoc, the Bourboulenc gives the wine its grip while the Roussanne adds body and flavour.  It has a lovely saline note, stemming from the vineyard’s proximity to the sea, and there is some weight on the palate, with a fresh sappiness and an elegant finish.  A stunning example of how the white wines of the Languedoc are improving with every vintage.

2014 Fitou Origines, Domaine Bertrand-Bergé - £7.95
This comes from the mountainous vineyards of Fitou, as opposed to the coastal vineyards and the p[principal grape variety is Carignan.  Quite simply the wine tastes of the south.  There are smoky leathery notes on the nose and on the palate lots of nuances, with red fruit, garrigues, herbs and spice .  The finish is youthful and sturdy, with some potential for ageing. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Highlights from Stone, Vine & Sun's South of France tasting

Stone, Vine and Sun are one of the few specialist  wine merchants for the South of France, so I always enjoy their annual tasting.  

2014 Domaine J. Laurens Crémant de Limoux Brut Les Graimenous - £13.95

A great start to the tasting with this delicious Crémant de Limoux from an estate that is establishing itself as one of the leading producers of the appellation.  Quite a delicate nose, dry and herbal with a hint of yeast autolysis and on the palate rounded and creamy with an elegant finish.

Domaine Begude is also from Limoux but concentrates on still wines.  There was an unoaked Chardonnay that was lightly buttery   - £9.50 - and richer oaky Limoux - £14.95 - as well as Le Secret du Sud, a very convincing Gewürztraminer with some ripe spice but quite a soft finish, and good varietal character.  And James Kinglake's 2015 Pinot Noir Haute Vallée de l'Aude was light red in colour with delicate fresh raspberry fruit and a streak of tannin on the finish. - £11.50

2015 Creyssels, Picpoul de Pinet £8.95 was firm and salty, just as good Picpoul should be, for £8.85.

Plan de l'Homme is a new wine estate for Stone Vine & Sun and I was delighted to see that Rémi Duchemin's wines are available in the U.K.  2015 Flores Blanc Languedoc with 90% Roussanne and some Grenache Blanc was rounded and textured with depth and body and understated fruit.   It had just been bottled and may have been a. tad inexpressive on the nose. However there is plenty of potential.   £11.95.

Plan de l’Homme also featured amongst the reds with 2014 Flores which is based on Cinsaut with some Grenache and Syrah, with some ripe but refreshing cherry fruit on both nose and palate.  Medium weight, with some structure and restrained ripeness - £11.95.  2013 Plan de l’Homme Habilis rouge Terrasses du Larzac was quite ripe and sturdy with youthful fruit, and a fresh finish. Elegantly mouth filling with ageing potential.   £15.95

There were just three rosés of which my favourite was Domaine du Météore les Léonides, Faugères. A pretty pale colour with a delicate dry nose and some fresh raspberry fruit balanced by good acidity.   Quite firm and structured.  £10.50

Domaine la Croix Belle Caringole Rouge, Côtes de Thongue is a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Carignan with some ripe rounded fruit and a streak of tannin making for undemanding easy drinking at £8.95. 

I enjoyed a couple of wines from Mas des Brousses, from the picturesque village of Puéchabon.  2014 Chasseur des Brousses, Pays d’Oc with a blend of Merlot with some Syrah and Grenache was ripe, rounded and spicy.   £10.50 and Mas des Brousses 2013 Terrasses du Larzac had quite a sturdy leathery nose, with quite a firm tannic youthful palate, balanced with some spicy fruit.  A serious mouthful of wine with plenty of ageing potential - £16.50

There was a pair of wines from Mas d’Amile in Montpeyroux.  2014 Vieux Carignan IGP St. Guilhem le Désert, comes from 70 year old Carignan vines and has some firm red berry fruit on both nose and palate.  The palate is quite structured, ripe and youthful with a fresh finish.  £12.95.
Amelie d’Hurlaborde’s 2014 Montpeyroux had quite a firm tight knit nose, with some ripe fruit on the palate, balanced with some youthful tannins, with ageing potential.   £14.95

2013 Domaine du Météore, Faugères Rouge, Les Léonides  £10.95 was a good example of that appellation, with some rounded spice on the nose and a youthful palate, with a firm freshness on the finish, with some ageing potential.  

And the tasting finished with three lovely vin doux.  2003 Domaine Fontanel Rivesaltes Ambré, with an amber colour, and long lingering walnut fruit on both nose and palate.  The wine was rich but elegant, with good acidity and elegant nutty fruit, and enormous length, and an absolute bargain at £17.95

Domaine Fontanel Maury 2013 was quite different, a lovely example of a youthful fresher style of vin doux, with ripe spicy berry fruit on the nose, and more red berries on the palate, balanced by a firm streak of tannin.   £17.95.

With Domaine du Traginer Banyuls Grand Cru 2006 it was a return to the oxidative style with more rich walnuts on the nose, and on the palate, with a firm spirity bite on the finish. 

Monday, 6 June 2016

Highlights from the 2016 Languedoc Top 100

I did not spend much time at the London Wine Fair this year – blame a book deadline, of which more in due course, but I did taste through the Top 100 Languedoc wines.  I had missed helping with the judging this year, as I was in the Languedoc, so I was keen to see what had been chosen.  684 wines were submitted, with more wines from smaller producers than in previous years,  and what follows are my highlights. 

First off was a pair of lovely sparkling wines from Domaine J. Laurens.  Le Moulin, Blanquette de Limoux and les Graimenous, Crémant de Limoux, both fine examples of their appellation and illustrating the differences between Blanquette and Crémant.  I thought they were both delicious in different ways.

The best of the Picpoul de Pinet  came from Château St. Martin de la Garrigue, with some convincing salty fruit.  I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, Picpoul seems to be turning soft and soapy, when it should have a firm grip of salinity and acidity.  Please don’t lose that.   And there was a firm stony Vermentino from Domaine Saint Hilaire, a property which has recently changed hands, but this wine would have been made by the previous owners. 

Domaine Jones was a Trophy winner with a delicious 2014 Côtes Catalanes from Grenache Gris, with a touch of oak and some lovely rounded textured palate with good depth of fruit.  It was a lovely glass of wine, fully deserving its trophy, and demonstrating the quality of Grenache Gris.  I tasted some more of Katie’s wines the next day; they are well worth looking out for.   A host of Chardonnay and Viognier came next, for which I could not work up much enthusiasm.    Château de Lascaux, a Pic St. Loup estate, had a lovely white Languedoc a blend of Vermentino, Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier with some intriguing herbal notes and a rounded palate.  Château de Gaure  Limoux Blanc, a blend of Chardonnay with Chenin Blanc and Mauzac was elegant and fresh with some dry honeyed fruit.

There was just one rosé, and that won a trophy, La Nuit tous les Chats sont Gris from the Cellier des Chartreux in the Gard, with a pale colour and fresh fruit and an elegant finish.  I was amused by the name, but I know nothing about the producer.

And then on to reds, which accounted for three quarters of the wines.  Domaine Coudoulet Pinot Noir from the Minervois village of Cesseras was light and rounded with a fresh raspberry finish.  Château Viranel, IGP Pays l’Hérault, was an unusual  blend of Alicante Bouschet, Syrah and Cabernet Franc, with some ripe, spicy fruit and supple tannins.  There were a couple of Carignan, with Fortant de France, Réserve des Grands Mont showing fresh red fruit and some structure, while Domaines les Auriols, Côtes Catalanes, was firm and peppery.    Then there was a handful of Syrah Pays d’Oc, from Vignobles Lorgeril, Domaine Aubaï Mema and Domaine les Yeuses.

Next came various AC Languedoc, such 2015 Château de Gaure, with a blend of Syrah, Carignan Noir and Grenache Noir, which was youthful and dense, with tight knit layers of fruit.  Château de Lascaux had a youthful red, a blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre, with some smoky concentrated fruit.  I was also intrigued by an estate that I have not come across before. Château Argenties in Lagrasse, with a Grenache |Noir, Syrah, Carignan blend, with some smoky fruit and a rounded palate.

Other highlights included Domaine de Magellan, again AC Languedoc with some fresh spice and oak; Villa Dondona’s Dame Mourvèdre, with some youthful smoky elegant fruit, Château  de Cazeneuve  les Calcaires, Pic St. Loup with some rounded spice.  Although it was only 2014, it was drinking deliciously, and there was a new, to me, Pic St. Loup, Domaine Mirabel, with some youthful fruit.

2012 Quetton St. Georges, St. Georges d’Orques from the Château de l’Engarran was ripe and spicy with good depth on the palate. A Grès de Montpellier,  Domaine Guizard in Lavérune was fresh and spicy with a good balance.  Les Cocalières 2014 from Sylvain Fadat had elegant spice on the palate with a fresh finish.  

There were four Faugères, Mas Gabinèle, Domaine de Fenouillet, Château des Estanilles and Domaine Montgros.  My favourite of theses on the day was Château des Estanilles 2013 Raison d’Etre, with some elegant fresh fruit and a good balance on the finish.   Les Haut de Saint Martin from the Cave de Roquebrun was rich and smoky, youthful and spicy.  A handful of Corbières followed, of which Lauzina Rouge from Château Beauregard, was my favourite, with fresh but ripe fruit and an elegant balance and the wild note of Corbières.  

And I am sorry to say that I disagreed with the red trophy, a Fitou 2014 Noblesse du Temps from Domaine de la Rochelierre.  It seemed rather ripe and oaky, and not very balanced, but I ought to qualify that by saying that tasting temperatures were not ideal.  The hall at Olympia was heating up in the spring sunshine so that the organisers were faced with a logistical challenge.  I preferred Ancestrale from Domaine Bertrand-Bergé, which was rich with a firm balancing tannic steak. 

And the 100th wine was a new estate to me, Château de Peyssonnie,   a Muscat de Frontignan, with some fresh elegantly grapey fruit.  

Friday, 27 May 2016

Aimé Guibert

I was very sad to read last week that Aimé Guibert had died, at the age of 91.  With the creation of Mas de Daumas Gassac, Aimé was undoubtedly one of the great pioneers of the Languedoc, helping to bring the region into the modern era. The story of how Aimé discovered that he was sitting on a viticultural gold mine is well known; Mas de Daumas Gassac was bought as a holiday home but with advice from the geologist Henri Enjalbert, and from Professor Emile Peynaud, it quickly became one the leading estates of the Languedoc during the 1980s.     

Aimé was an articulate and confident exponent of his wine; he had come to the Languedoc from the tanning industry in Millau, and saw the Languedoc with new eyes, appreciating the possibilities it had to offer.  More importantly he took advantage of them, and even more significantly he had the financial means to do so.   In doing so he has contributed enormously to the dramatic change in the image of the Languedoc that took place towards the end of the last century.  Aimé also set a new level of expectation concerning price, especially for what on the label is a simple vin de pays de l’Hérault.  He showed that the category was irrelevant; it was quality that counted and in the early days Mas de Daumas was able to command consistently higher prices than any other Languedoc estate, and it set an example for others to follow, which they have done.   He demonstrated that the higher, but not excessive prices, gave wine growers the possibility to invest in better cellar facilities and new vineyards.   The Languedoc could move on from cheap wine.    

Aimé is also known for his stand against the incursions of Robert Mondavi into the Languedoc, as recorded in Jonathan Nossiter’s film Mondovino.  Whether Aimé fought for the right cause or not, is open for discussion.   What is in no doubt is the energy and passion with which he applied himself to the cause.  And Mondavi retired from the field.   

Samuel Guibert, who takes over the running of Mas de Daumas Gassac, with his siblings, Roman, Gaël and Basile quotes his father as saying:  One can only give two things to one’s children: roots and wings.   And that is what Samuel strongly feels that his father has done. 

Thursday, 19 May 2016

A Languedoc moment at the Château de Pennautier

Every year the CIVL, or to give it its full name, the Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc, organises a week of tasting and visits for the appellations of the Languedoc, with the main aim to show off the new vintage.  This year everything took place in or around Carcassonne, so I went over for a couple of events.  In the afternoon, I concentrated on La Clape, and in particular on some lovely whites.   I am not going to bore you with a whole lot of tasting notes,  but just highlight a few names, such Mas de Soleilla, Château d’Anglès, Domaine Pech Redon, Mire l’Etang, Sarrat de Goundry.  I love the fresh saline notes of white La Clape, which all of these wines showed.  There were some fine reds too, Mas Soleilla les Bartelles, Domaine Ricardelle, Château d’Anglès, both the Grand Vin and the Cuvée Classique, among others.

And the following morning I checked out some Fitou, which for some reason is an appellation that I don’t often get to taste.  Château de Montmal from Mont Tauch was showing well, as were wines from Domaine Bertrand Bergé, but they did seem to be quite a mixed bag, with some rather drying leathery fruit in some cases, or heavy-handed use of oak.  The best were fresh and peppery with spicy flavours.  There was scope for an in-depth look at Corbières, but by then my taste buds were flagging.  I did however, taste a couple of Minervois, 2014 les Fontanilles from Anne Gros, which was elegantly and spicy, as befits a Burgundian winemaker;  2014 Clos du Gravillas Rendez-Vous sur la Lune was showing well with some fresh peppery fruit, and 2010 C de Centeilles from Picpoul Noir, Ribeyrenc Noir and Oeillade was rounded with some fresh firm flavours, and an intriguing example of an attempt to revive long forgotten grape varieties.  .

But the highlight of the event was undoubtedly the evening at Château Pennautier, a 17th century château that is the property of the de Lorgeril family, in the appellation of Cabardès.   First we had a quick look at the streamlined modern cellar and then the aperitif was served on the terrace so that we could admire the elegant architecture, and fine proportions of the château, and enjoy various rosés from Cabardès.   This was not the moment for detailed tasting notes, and my notebook failed me.   

And then we went inside for a small concert before dinner.  This really was magical, with a string trio, Trio Borsalino, playing Vivaldi’s Spring from the Four Seasons, and then a selection of film music and other tunes.  The château was the perfect setting.  A delicious dinner cooked by Jean-Marc Boyer from the restaurant, Puits du Trésor, was served with more Cabardès.  Cabardès is where the Mediterranean meets the grape varieties of Bordeaux and there is an immediate contrast with the wines of neighbouring Minervois.  My notes were pretty cursory, but highlights included wines from Domaine de Cazaban with Demoiselle Claire, a blend of Syrah and Merlot, with some spice and tannin.   2013 Château Pennautier, Terres d’Altitude was elegant with fresh fruit and balancing tannins.   I found I favoured fruit rather than oaky tannins.  But the real high point of the evening was undoubtedly the music in elegant surroundings, making a memorable Languedoc moment.  

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Montpeyroux Toutes Caves Ouvertes 2016

I always enjoy the Montpeyroux open cellars day but once again, sadly, the weather was not too good, and really not conducive to open air tasting.  And we also had to take a friend to the airport, so our visit was quite short and focused on a few favourites.  I don’t think that there were any new estates this year.

A brief hallo to Jo and André at Villa Dondona.  Jo was enthusing about the ageability of her whites, and showing 2012 Espérel, with some leafy honeyed fruit on the nose, and more herbal notes on the palate, with a good balance of acidity.  And the 2010 Espérel has evolved beautifully, proving Jo's point, with dry herbal notes on the nose, and rounded leafy honeyed fruit on the palate.  It had developed a lovely depth after a couple of years more bottle age.

And her 2010 Montpeyroux was rich and satisfying, with some oak on the nose and some wonderfully rounded ripe black fruit and tapenade on the palate, with balancing freshness of acidity on the finish.   Another lovely glass of wine.

Then we popped in to see Amélie d’Hurlaborde of Mas d'Amile.  Her stand is always very popular, so it was quite difficult to taste in the crush.  2015 Terret Blanc was rich and nutty with firm acidity.  2014 Vieux Carignan was rounded and smoky with some red fruit and a fresh finish, showing just why Carignan deserves its revival in the Languedoc.   2014 Montpeyroux was firm and smoky with youthful fruit and some dry spice on the finish.

I always enjoy Alain Chabanon’s white wines and this year was no exception.  2015 Petit Trelans, was dry and herbal, fresh and sappy, with a slightly dusty note on the finish, and 2012 Trelans, which spends a year in large barrel as well as two in vat, with more Chenin blanc than Vermentino, was beautifully rounded with dry honey, and ripe fruit, and nicely balanced finish.

His 2014 Montpeyroux Campredon was drinking well too, with fresh ripe fruit and a touch of spice, making for some good easy drinking.

And we finished up in Sylvain Fadat’s cellar for 2015 Aupilhac Blanc, with lovely herbal notes and fresh citrus acidity.  2014 Cocalières was rounded, stony and mineral, tight knit with more weight than the Aupilhac.

2015 les Servières Cinsaut was a great expression of that variety, which is becoming increasingly popular for red wine.  This was fresh and perfumed on the nose, and on the palate, ripe and fresh and rounded.

2012 Le Carignan was firm and structured with good fruit, and some rustic charm.  And to show how well Carignan ages, Sylvain had opened three older vintages.  2004 had a surprisingly youthful nose, given its age, and was ripe and rounded with balancing acidity and tannin.  2002 was firm and smoky, with more supple, soyeux, silky  tannins, while the 1998 has some mushroomy sous bois notes on the nose, and elegant fruit on the palate with some acidity and supple tannins.  It was drinking very well, and far from fading.

                                    And the occasion would be incomplete without musicians.

Monday, 2 May 2016

An update on Domaine Monplézy

I always enjoy tasting at Monplézy as Anne Sutra de Germa has a lovely sense of humour, and her wines are good too!   And she has a welcoming tasting caveau by the cellar.  So I went round for an update last week.  Anne’s son, Benoit, is now in charge of the wine-making, though still with the help of his parents, and he has developed some new cuvées.   Anne now has 22 hectares in production, making an average total of 60,000 bottles pa.

2015 Canon Huppé, Viognier, Côtes  de Thongue- 7.50€
The name is a play on words.  All Anne’s labels have a hoopoe, so huppé could be the adjective from hoopoe, but in fact it means chic and a canon is the slang for a glass of wine.   And most of the names of her cuvées play on the meaning of Monplézy, Mont Plaisir or a hill of pleasure.  This was nicely peachy with the characteristics of Viognier, with a dry finish, making for some easy undemanding drinking.

2015 Plaisirs Interdits, Côtes de Thongue – 7.50€
A blend of Vermentino, Sauvignon, Muscat, Grenache Blanc and just a touch of Viognier.  Soft ripe Muscat fruit on the nose, with some balancing acidity on the palate.  Quite rounded with a firm streak on the finish.   Anne observed that making a blend works rather as it does with ingredients in the kitchen, with the aromas all complimenting each other.  But people find it easier to understand single varietals. 

2013 Felicité Blanc, Côtes de Thongue – 14.00€
A blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier, fermented in wood, and then given six months ageing in wood.   You do notice the oak on the nose, and even more so on the palate, but there is good fruit under the oak, which should develop nicely in bottle.  I could certainly detect some peachy notes from the Viognier. 

2014 Emocion, Côtes de Thongue, - 12.00€
A blend of equal parts of Sauvignon, fermented in stainless steel vats, and Viognier, fermented in wood.  Although there is a wood component, the impact on both nose and palate is less obvious than for Felicite.  There is some rich rounded fruit from the Viognier, which the Sauvignon balances with some refreshing vivacity.  Very satisfying texture and mouth feel.

And then onto rosé, with 2014 Plaisirs Interdits  Côtes de Thongue – 6.00€ 
A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsaut.  Mainly Grenache and saigné.  Quite a bright pink colour, with fresh dry strawberry nose and fresh fruit balanced by good acidity on the palate.

2015 Plaisirs Interdits, Côtes de Thongue.
There is less Syrah in this 2015, than in the 2014, which makes for a much lighter gris colour.  In 2014 they had problems with rain, with the grapes bursting before they were properly ripe.  2015 is more balanced, but still very young and needs to fill out a little.  Essentially it is fresh and elegant.

2015 Plaisirs Rosé, Languedoc – 6.50€
Mainly Cinsaut with some Grenache and Syrah.  A light colour; fresh fruit on the nose and palate.  Delicate and rounded.

2014 Emocion, Languedoc – 12.00€
Mainly Grenache with some Cinsaut and Syrah.  Bâtonné and kept in Marsanne barrels for one month.  Quite a firm nose, and on the palate firm fruit with some oak.  A rosé with body and weight.

2015 Emocion
Quite a delicate nose, with firm youthful fruit.  Very good acidity.  Very fresh and youthful on the finish.  Will fill out a little with some bottle age.

2015 Canon Huppé Rouge, Côtes de Thongue – 6.50€
A pure Cinsaut, and the second vintage of this wine.  They made just 5000 bottles of it in 2014, and it disappeared comme des petits pains as the French say; like hot cakes.  It is intended for easy drinking and that is just what it achieves.  Medium colour.  Fresh red fruit.  Rounded with fresh acidity and some appealing perfume.  Serve slightly chilled.

2014 Plaisirs Interdits, Côtes de Thongue
A blend of Merlot, Marselan and Carignan.  Medium colour.  Ripe rounded fruit on nose and palate, with a tannic streak, especially on the finish.  Quite rounded cassis.

2015 Plaisirs Rouge, Languedoc – 8.00€
Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Cinsaut.  With the emphasis on fruit.  Medium colour.  Young spicy fruit on the nose and palate, with balancing tannin and a youthful finish.  Easy drinking, but a little more serious than the Canon Huppé.   Pleasure is its aim, and it succeeds. 

2013 Felicité, Pézenas - 14.00€
Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, with 12 months in wood.  Young colour.  Rounded and ripe, with some oak on the nose, and well integrated oak on the palate, nicely balanced with good fruit.   Very successful.  20% of the wine is kept in vat rather than barrel, making it less oak than previous vintages.  Lovely concentrated spicy fruit.

2013 Emocion, Pézenas – 21.00€
95% Syrah with some Carignan.  In wood for 12 months.  Deep colour.  Solid rich nose, with oak and spice.  Quite a powerful finish.  Very youthful.  Needs time in bottle.

2014 Délice, Vin de France – 22.00€

Pure Grenache Noir picked late October.   Ripe spice, sweet and rich, with notes of cinnamon, cloves and fruitcake.  A delicious finale.  

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Discoveries at the Auberge du Presbytère

An evening at our favourite local restaurant, L’Auberge du Presbytère at Vailhan, where Marine and Baptiste provide not only a friendly welcome and a series of delicious flavours, but also a wine list that leads to new discoveries.  Yesterday evening was no exception.

There were wines from Auprès de Mon Cep at Mons le Trivalle.  This is an estate I have never heard of it, so we agreed to give their white wine a try, with Marine’s encouragement.  The cuvée name is Bling Bling! And the grape variety is Grenache Gris and the method is pretty natural.  The colour was orange, and initially before it was decanted, it has a slightly cidery note, but with air it evolved intriguingly in the glass, to develop some firm acidity and some firm mineral, with a long finish.   It definitely took me out of my comfort zone, but that is always a good thing.    I do not believe in drinking the familar when a restaurant has a good wine list.  

Domaine Ribiera in Aspiran, I have heard of, and have been meaning to visit for a while now.  Their 2013 Terret, Y’a un Terret, Vin de France again had very firm acidity and an almost salty iodine character.  The texture was richer than Bling Bling and the pair provided a fascinating comparison and illustrated the never ending wealth of flavours originating from the Languedoc, not to mention the infinite possibilities for discovery.  

Sunday, 3 April 2016

A Languedoc treat

To dinner with friends who have lived and worked in the Languedoc for over thirty years, and during that time built up a rather fine regional wine cellar.   David is generous with his bottles and we were in for a treat. 

First off was a couple of white 2010s from the two extremes of France, Chablis and the Languedoc.  I would never have thought of that as an obvious pairing, but it worked remarkably well.  The Chablis was a premier cru Forêts from Vincent Dauvissat and the Languedoc came from Olivier Jullien.   I loved them both.  The Chablis had firm mineral fruit and tight acidity, with a satisfyingly textured palate, and a long persistent finish.   Oliver’s Jullien’s wine was richer, with leafy notes, and again some lovely mouthfeel and good balancing acidity.    I had fun trying to decide which I preferred and completely failed to come to any firm conclusion before we had finished the bottles!

Next came 2008 Domaine Tempier Migoua.  I’ve had a soft spot for this Bandol estate, ever since I visited them back in 1986 and met Lucien Peyraud who did so much to revive the fortunes of Bandol  and establish Mourvèdre as the essential grape variety of the appellation.  I remember being taken for a hair-rising drive through the terraced vineyards by Lucien in his rather elderly 2CV!  The wine was still remarkably youthful with some spicy fruit and the elegance of Mourvèdre, with great depth on the palate.

And then we were treated to some Languedoc history, a pair of 1989s from two venerable estates, namely Mas de Daumas Gassac and the Prieuré de St. Jean de Bébian.  At that time, Alain Roux, the maverick winemaker who put his estate firmly on the wine map of the Languedoc, was still making the wine at Bébian.  He had a healthy disrespect for any appellation regulations, boasting that he had all 13 grape varieties of Châteauneuf du Pape, as the soil at Bébian was the same as at Châteauneuf, the characteristic galets roullées,  and when I tentatively suggested that most of those grape varieties were not allowed in the appellation of the Coteaux du Languedoc, he robustly retorted: ‘ça n’a pas d ’importance!’   1991 was Alain’s last vintage at Bébian before he sold to Chantal Lecouty, and now the estate is owned by Russians, with the talented Karen Turner making the wine.  This 1989 was simply lovely, with some spicy black fruit on the nose and a beautifully rounded harmonious palate, with a streak of tannin and some richness and concentration, but it was not heavy, just long and satisfying.  

The Mas de Daumas Gassac had more obvious cassis fruit, with its large Cabernet Sauvignon component and the wine had more acidity with a fresher note, and some underlying elegance.  This of course is the estate that helped put the Languedoc on the international wine map, and raised the bar on price expectation in the 1980s, thanks to the energy and tenacity of Aimé Guibert. 

And by way of a finale, David produce Domaine de la Rectorie, Cuvée Parcé Frères Banyuls, which was rich and rounded, with soft red fruit and spice, making a delicious end to a delicious evening.  

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Languedoc around the London tastings

Yapp Bros, who began life as specialists in Loire and the Rhône Valley, diversified further south quite a while ago and their list now includes some gems.

First off, NV Crémant de Limoux Brut from Domaine Collin - £12.75
Quite a firm, tight nose, with a lightly herbal note on the palate.  Quite fresh and crisp and stony, with fresh acidity.

2015 Picpoul de Pinet, Domaine Gaujal, Cuvée Ludovic Gaujal.   - £10.75
Is it me, or is there a tendency to produce softer Picpoul these days?   Without disparaging Picpoul, I tend to think of it as the Languedoc equivalent of Muscadet, something crisp and refreshing that goes deliciously with an oyster. This example was soft and rounded, with a dry finish, but lacked the salinity that is the hallmark of good Picpoul.

2013 Bellet, Domaine de la Source  - £25.50
A little deviation into Provence to Nice for a tiny and almost forgotten appellation, Bellet.  The white wine is based on Rolle and this was firm and stony, with fresh fruit and good acidity.   It is expensive, as the vineyards are on what could be valuable building land, within the city boundaries of Nice.

2013 Palette, Château Simone - £37.00
Another Provence wine, from another tiny appellation, just outside Aix-en-Provence.  At one time Château Simone was the only producer, but these days there are two or three others.  A wonderful mix of grape varieties, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Bourboulenc and Muscat.  Quite a dry, restrained nose and on the palate some underlying oak, and fresh fruit, with lots of nuances.  This is a white wine that ages well and will develop much greater depth of character with some bottle age.   One of the classics of Provence.

2014 Vin de Corse, Sartène, Domaine Saparale.  Rosé. - £14.95
From Sciacarello, Vermentino and Nielluccio.  Just the thing if you are looking for an original rosé this summer.  Again it is pretty expensive, especially for a rosé, but that is one of the problems of wine production in ‘Corsica, all their dry goods, bottles, corks etc. have to be imported from le continent as Corsicans call mainland France.   A pale colour, and a delicate nose, and on the palate some lovely fruit and depth.  It is fresh and powerful at the same time, and will accompany summer dishes from salade niçoise to barbecued lamb.

2014 Pic St. Loup, l’Arbouse, Mas Bruguière - £13.95
A blend of Grenache Noir and Syrah, from one of my favourite Pic St. Loup producers.  Medium colour, with some elegant spice and red cherries on the nose, and even more spice on the palate.  Quite ripe and rounded, but balanced with a fresh finish.  Good length.

2014 Domaine Richeaume, Tradition, IGP Méditerranée - £18.50
A blend of Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache Noir from an estate in the Bouches du Rhône.  Quite firm youthful fruit on the nose and on the palate tight knit and structured, with red fruit, dry spice and balancing tannins.  A youthful tannic finish and showing some potential.

2005 Domaine de Trévallon, IGP Bouches du Rhône - £60.00
A blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, and not appellation Les Baux de Provence, for its lack of Grenache Noir, which Eloi Durrbach stubbornly refuses to plant.   This makes his wine so much better than many of those of his neighbours in the appellation.   Medium colour, showing a little development.  Some rounded spice and cassis on the nose.  And on the palate it is still quite youthful, with a tannic edge and some rounded fruit, with some intriguing nuances.  Really a wine to savour at table rather than taste quickly in a line up of bottles.

And then on to Lea & Sandeman.

I was delighted to find that they were showing my friend Simon Coulshaw’s lovely Roussanne.

2015 Domaine des Trinites, Pays d’Oc, Roussanne. - £12.95
Deliciously floral nose, and nicely textured palate, with good mouth feel.  I know from experience that this wine develops beautifully with a couple of years of bottle age, so this 2015 is still too young.

2015 Domaine Saint Felix, Rosé - £6.95
A blend of Grenache and Cinsaut.  Very pale colour, and quite a fresh delicate nose, but I found the palate a touch amylic with undertones of boiled sweets, but that may well disappear in a month or  two.

There were also a trio of rosés from Domaine Sainte Lucie in Côtes de Provence.

2015 MIP* Made in Provence Classic Rosé - £11.95
Quite a firm but delicate nose, and on the palate some understated weight, but a touch amylic on the finish.

2015 Made in Provence, Premium Rosé - £19.95
Very pale colour.  Delicate and fresh on the nose, with a fragrant palate, with good acidity and some depth on the finish.

2015 L’Hydropathe, Elite Rosé, Côtes de Provence, Sainte Victoire - £15.95
Quite a delicate fragrant nose with a rounded palate, with more weight than the previous two wines.  A nicely characterful Provencal rosé.

2012 Muscat de Rivesaltes, Domaine Treloar - £9.95
Light golden colour, quite perfumed and peachy on the nose, and on the palate quite soft and ripe.   

And then at O. W. Loeb,  I was thrilled to discover that they were showing Domaine des Chênes,  2006 Rivesaltes Ambré.  This is the style of Rivesaltes that I really enjoy.  It was firm and intense and nutty on both nose and palate, with a very good bite on the finish, and utterly delicious.  

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

An update on Gérard Bertrand

Gérard Bertrand was in town a week or so ago, hosting a tasting and dinner, and providing an agreeable update on his wines, not to mention an opportunity to taste the much vaunted Clos d’Ora. The prices are approximate UK retail prices.  

2015 Prima Nature Chardonnay, IGP Pays d’Oc  - £11.40
This wine is made without the use of any sulphur at all, something they began doing five years ago. The grapes come from vineyards near Béziers; the wine does a malo-lactic fermentation and ageing is in vat.  Light colour.  Quite a firm nutty nose, and a rounded palate with good acidity and some ageing potential.  A good balance.   Southern Chardonnay features amongst my prejudices; this could be an exception to the rule.

2014 Château l'Hospitalet, la Reserve, la Clape - £25.00
A blend of Bourboulenc, Rolle, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne grown on limestone. 20 – 25% of the wine is aged in vat rather than barrel.  A little colour.  Quite a firm nutty nose, from the oak, and on the palate some satisfying mouth feel, a mineral note with good acidity and quite an elegant finish.

2014 Château la Sauvageonne, Grand Vin, Coteaux du Languedoc - £20.99
Mainly Grenache Blanc with some Vermentino and Viognier.  La Sauvageonne is in the Terrasses du Larzac, outside the village of St. Jean de la Blaquière but white wine is not included in that appellation, hence appellation Coteaux du Languedoc.  This is an estate that Gérard bought in 2011, and 80% of the production is red.  The vineyards are on volcanic soil and schist at an altitude of 200-300 metres.   Although the Grenache component is aged in stainless steel vats, I did find the nose rather oaky, and the palate quite tannic, with oak dominating the flavour for the moment.  This may change with some bottle age.

Gérard talked about biodynamics.  They have converted 430 hectares to biodynamic viticulture, which have been registered with Demeter for three years.  Cigalus was the first estate, where they began experimenting with just two hectares in 2002.  And they handpick 90% of their grapes, which requires 250 pickers.

Now onto reds with 2015 Prima Nature Syrah, IGP Pays d’Oc - £11.40
Deep young colour.  Ripe black spice on the nose, ripe and fresh and perfumed with some soft tannins and a youthful finish.  Élevage in vat and bottled in December.  Gérard observed that biodynamic cultivation makes for more acidity in the wine, and enhances the ageing potential as the roots go deeper.   He is convinced that biodynamics provide a better balance in the vineyard, and the grapes are fully ripe at 13 – 14.  It all depends on the cultivation of the soil.

2012 Château la Sauvageonne, Pica Broca, Terrasses du Larzac. - £15.99
Deep young colour.  Quite rich spice and red fruit on the nose.  Quite rounded fleshy spicy fruit balanced with a tannic streak.  Rounded finish.  Medium weight.  The oldest vines are 80 years old, and the youngest 15.  The blend is mainly Syrah and Grenache Noir, with some Mourvèdre, and sometimes there may be a little Carignan.

2013 Château l’Hospitalet, la Réserve, La Clape - £25.00
Mainly Syrah with Grenache and Mourvèdre.  Deep young colour.  Quite a firm nose, with dry spice and quite a tight knit youthful palate, structured with an oaky touch.  A sturdy youthful finish.  Needs time.

2013 Cigalus, IGP Aude Hauterive - £22.75
This entailed a change of register, with Bordeaux grape varieties as well as Mediterranean ones, so with apologies for the list, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Caladoc (a cross between Malbec and Grenache Noir) and since 2014 Mourvèdre.  Deep young colour, with the ripe cassis notes of the Bordeaux varieties.   Very ripe and rounded, with supple tannins.  The previous owner of Cigalus was a Parisian lawyer, who bought the estate for hunting and decided to plant Bordeaux varieties as he had had an argument with the president of the Corbières syndicat!

2013 La Forge, Corbières Boutenac - £45.16
A blend of Carignan and Syrah, vaguely half and half, depending on the vintage.
Deep young colour.  Quite an elegant spicy nose, and on the palate ripe spice, with youthful fruit.  Quite intense and long; hints of tapenade, a touch of minerality.  Quite tannic and powerful. And needs time.

And then it was time for dinner, but first a glass of Crémant de Limoux, Code Rouge, from Gérard’s Limoux estate, Domaine de l’Aigle.  It was rather confusing that the wine was in a red bottle, but was in fact white.  It was rounded and creamy.  - £18.55

2014 Domaine de Cigalus, IGP Aude Hauterive  - £22.75
I found the oak on this quite assertive; it needs time to tone down.  .  A blend of 70% Chardonnay and 25% Viognier in wood, plus 5% Sauvignon, vinified in stainless steel. 

And then came two vintages of Gérard’s new interpretation of Minervois la Livinière, Clos d’Ora.   Syrah dominant with some old Carignan as well as Mourvèdre and Grenache.   Gérard talked about his dream; he had found three hectares of very old Carignan,  with some Syrah, near an old bergerie near the village of  La Livinière  2012 was the first vintage.  The vineyards are on a geological fault with limestone and clay.   The wine is fermented in cement and then aged in barrel.  As for the name:  in Latin ora means prayer, and in Greek time in the future, between alpha and omega.  Both vintages are very polished and subtle.

2013 Clos d’Ora - £159.99
Deep colour; rich tapenade.  Quite oaky on the palate, ripe and intense, with subtle tannins and lots of nuances.  It needs time.

2012 Clos d’Ora - £142.00 
In comparison has ripe tapenade on nose and palate. Rich and intense, but is not heavy, with supple tannins.   Beautifully crafted.  My one doubt: would I think this is Minervois?  It is beautifully made and tastes delicious, but how developed is the sense of real place.  I would expect something with a bit more of an attitude!  But it was a privilege to drink two vintages, with the vigneron!

And we finished with a 1974 Rivesaltes, - £118 - which was amber in colour and elegantly nutty with a bite on the finish, with length and acidity.  Gérard has been building up a collection of old vins doux, old Rivesaltes from 1977 going back to 1875. And this was one of them.  This 1974 had been aged in an old cognac barrel, which gave it an extra bite.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Grenaches du Monde

I was invited to what is now an annual tasting competition of Grenache, Grenaches du Monde.   For the previous three years it has been held in Roussillon, but this year it moved south of the Pyrenees to the region of Campo de Borja, close to the stunning city of Zaragoza.    

The programme began with two winery visits on the first morning.  Unfortunately I missed out Bodegas Aragonesas as I slipped on the cellar steps, and found myself flat on my face, and in need of stitches to my eyebrow.  Not a good start, but I was recovered sufficiently to enjoy the following visit to Bodegas Borsao.   

This is actually a group of three cooperatives, with 2400 hectares of vineyards, and 700 growers producing 9 million bottles.  Essentially they provided an introduction to Campo de Borja, which is a pretty unknown DO for me.  Essentially it covers the vineyards around the town of Borja, at an altitude of 300 – 900 metres.  Grenache is the most important variety, at 80%, but they also have Syrah and Merlot, as well as Viura for white wine.  The vineyards are in the Ebro valley and the dominant climatic characteristic is wind, which can blow for 200 days of the year.  And there is very little rainfall.  The cellars are streamlined.  They have a barrel hall, with 60% French oak to 40% American oak, staked four high, with humidity and temperature control.   We tasted a few wines:

2014 Seleccion
A blend of 85% Grenache. 10% Syrah and 5% Tempranillo.  Deep young colour.  Quite rich and intense. The vines are 15 – 30 years old and the wine is aged in vat rather than barriques, though I thought I smelt oak.  The fruit was very powerful, rich black cherries, with acidity and tannin. And quite alcoholic on the finish. Though it was a fairly modest 14.5.

2014 Tres Picos
A pure Grenache, named after nearby snow-capped mountains, and from 65 – 75 year old vines grown at 900 metres.  The wine enjoys six months of French oak.  Deep young colour, smoky notes on the nose quite a firm oaky streak on the palate with some rich red fruit and a slightly sweet finish  and still very youthful.  15.    

2013 Berola
Deep young colour  - the colour comes from 20% Syrah, with 80% Grenache.  14 months in barrel.  Syrah is a relative newcomer to the region, introduced about fifteen years ago.  It has adapted well to the climate and gives colour and structure, both of which Grenache can lack.  Smokey oak on the nose, with some firm sturdy structure on the palate, balanced by ripe fruit.

And then it was back to Zaragoza for a welcome in the Palacio de Sastiago, in a large hall decorated with murals.  There were wines to taste too, but it was all a tad chaotic and not ideal tasting conditions, but the selection gave an idea of the variety of Spanish wines with Grenache, namely Calatayud,  Somontano, Carineňa, followed by various Campo de Borja, some more elegant than others, and finishing with a nutty Maury Tuilé. 

The afternoon was taken up with a conference, covering various topics, on taste; quality and choice  - we played  games with little bottles containing different aromas relating to Grenache.  There was an interesting account of the development history of Grenache.  It is one of the 16 cultivars that account for 50% of the world’s vineyards – and it has 131 synonyms.  The first written reference was possibly 1513, but a second date of 1791 is considered more reliable.   Its roots lie very much in the Iberian Peninsula, and then it moved to Roussillon and Sardinia under the kingdom of Aragon in the 15th century.   The next speaker talked about Grenache Blanc, which is a mutation of the red.  It was mentioned in Tarragona in 1875.  In recent years it has had a chequered history, with as many as 16,300 hectares in Spain in 1985, falling to 2100 in 2007, and now growing again with 2449 in 2014.   And the final speaker talked about the results of a project Terroir de la Garnacha, and about the work determining suitable soils for Grenache.  And then we finished with another tasting game, entailing three different mistella, grape juice muted with alcohol. 

I opted for room service instead of the more formal dinner, as we had an early start the next morning and dinner in Spain is always late.  The tasting for the competition was held in the beautiful monastery of Veruela, with its fabulous Cistercian church and stunning cloisters.  The competition itself was in what was once the old refectory.  I was on a friendly table, chaired very efficiently by Emmanuel Cazes and there was Victor Jiménez, who has a wine shop La Vinicola in Barcelona and  Joaquin Gálvez who makes wine films.  Check out his website   To enter the competition, a wine needed to be a minimum of 70% Grenache.   As tastings go, it was quite leisurely, with five small flights, namely some French rosés; followed by Campo de Borja, then Cannonau di Sardegna (Cannonau being one of the many synonyms for Grenache) and then Catalayud and finally a small flight of vins doux from Roussillon, of which for me the best was Domaine Vaquer’s Solera depuis 25 ans.   I was delighted to see that she did get a gold medal for this wine. And then it was time for lunch and the opportunity to taste a few more Grenaches as the bottles came past.

And then we were treated to a sport of tourism with a visit to the cathedral of Tarazona.  Compared to the monastery of Veruela, it was much more elaborate with baroque richness, and some elegant Moorish cloisters. And the event finished with what was termed a night of Grenache and an opportunity to taste as many wines as you wanted.   What was immediately striking was the variety of Grenache, from places as diverse as Macedonia and Australia.  Inevitably the greatest concentration came from the eastern Mediterranean, with Spain very well represented.  As far as I could see there was only one gold medal from Priorat, which surprised me, and I tasted an agreeable range of white Empordà, as well as wines from Sardinia, but also the Colli di Trasimeno near Perugia.  The Rhône Valley featured with Châteauneuf du Pape and Gigondas and there were also a couple of Corbières, from Domaine Mandourelle.   

I retired before any of the results were announced, but they are available on the competition website.   On reflection the main thing that struck me about the wines I tasted was their extraordinary diversity, that Grenache Noir, Blanc and Gris and also the related Pelut, can produce an amazing variety of wine styles, through the gambit of flavours of table wines to the vins doux that are either young and fresh, or aged in barrel for years.  It is certainly a grape variety that I shall consider with new eyes.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Domaine Lafage

The owners of the large, 250 hectares estate of Domaine Lafage at Canet-en -Roussillon are Jean-Marc Lafage and his wife Elyane.  I met Ramuntxo Andonegui, their export director.   

Fifteen hectares of the 250 hectares are farmed organically, but more as an experiment.  They do not actually make any organic wine, as they feel that there are some issues with organic viticulture, such as the amount of copper that can be used and the number of times a tractor goes into a vineyard, compacting the soil   They follow lutte raisonnée and wanted to decide for themselves if organic viticulture was better or not.  

They have vines in Canet-en-Roussillon close to their cellar and also some nearer the sea.  The grapes for their white and rosé wines are grown in a territoire maritime, benefiting from la Marinade,  a wind that brings humidity and freshness in the summer.   The difference in temperature between the coast and Maury can be as much as 5⁰C in the summer.

For white wines they have Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Muscat, and Syrah and Mourvèdre for rosé on the limoneux terraces of the Tet, with galets rouléees, totalling about 110 hectares   In Les Aspres they have 50 hectares of Grenache Noir, Carignan and Syrah, grown on terraces of brown schist, marnes schisteux and marble, between Fourques and Montauriol. 

And in Maury they bought the 38 hectare estate of St. Roch in 2007. It is next door to Mas Amiel with marnes schisteux and schistes noires. And in addition they have acquired other plots in Cassagnes and Lesquerde, enjoying the granite of Lesquerde that you also find in Caramany and Cassagnes.   This is no small operation.

And not content with all that, they also have a project in Collioure, not with vines of their own, but a négociant activity whereby they follow specific plots of vines and buy grapes.  The previous director of the Mount Tauch coop makes the wine. 

We wandered around some high tech cellars.  There is a forest of stainless steel vats of different sizes, which always looks impressive.  Egrappage can be done in the vineyard so the grapes go straight into the press by gravity.   There is no fouloir at reception, rather a conquai vibrant which sent the juice one way and gradually separates the grapes, with the aim to keep them as perfect as possible.  They use inert gas for the pink and white juice to prevent any oxidation, and also chill against oxidation.   The harvest in 2015 began on 11th August.  Ramuntxo  (his name is Basque) kept emphasising that they want to preserve the quality of grapes and their new press is equipped with inert gas.

They work with small barrels, with a pre-fermentation à froid in small tank or barrels for 5 – 10 days at 5 - 10C, to give colour, flavour and supple tannins.  2015 was their second vintage in these streamlined cellars.    There is mechanical autopigeage, with compressed air.  As Ramuntxo put it, ‘the strength of man, le force de l’homme is not sufficient’.  They do not do remontages.  And there are also some metal tronconique vats.

And then we adjourned to taste:

2014 Côtes du Roussillon Blanc, Centenaire.  17.00€ 
Ramuntzo said that this wine is emblematique of the estate, representing its philosophy.  There are some old vines, Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc, planted in 1909 – 1913, accounting for 50% of the blend.  And then there is 20% Roussanne planted about 10 years ago.  The vineyards by the cellar are a terroir de blanc, with alluvial soil and galets roulees, on the terraces of the river Têt.   There were fresh herbal notes on the palate and the wine was youthful dry and fresh, with a streak of tannin which gives backbone, and some notes of salinity.  A lovely glass of wine. 

They pick, by hand,  in several tris, beginning in the third week of August, with a potential alcohol of 11.5- 12⁰.  With the second tri, about ten days later, the grapes will have more concentration and that juice is fermented in wood. A third tri depends on the vintage and may be overripe; it goes into vat.    The various tris are blended after fermentation and then the wine is aged in vat and bottled in February or March.   The oak is nicely integrated.

2012 Centenaire
Light colour.  A little richer on the nose than 2014 Centenaire, and filling out on the palate.   Some peachy notes on  the nose.  Quite stony and mineral, with firm fruit and structure on the palate.  Develops nicely in the glass with depth and breadth, and promising potential.   

2014 Coté Rosé, Côtes Catalanes – 6.50€
A blend of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon, pressed.  Jean-Marc’s father planted Cabernet Sauvignon about 25 years ago.  Pale colour.  Delicate nose, with a fuller palate,.  Quite ripe and rounded, easy and mouth filling.

2014 Miraflores, Côtes du Roussillon  Rosé– 9.50€
70% Mourvèdre with 30% Grenache Gris.  Pressed grapes.  Pretty pale pink colour.  Delicate nose.  More structured and quite firm dry fruit.  Quite elegant and stylish. 

2014 La Grande Cuvée Rosé, Côtes du Roussillon – 16.00€
The opposite, with 70% Grenache Gris to 30% Mourvèdre.  Lighter, more gris colour.  The Grenache Gris is grown in the Aspres at 360 – 400 metres altitude.  All handpicked, with a selection of grapes, which are pressed.   The Mourvèdre comes from close by the cellars.  A small amount of barrique élevage.  Quite a delicate, but more rounded nose.  Quite rounded ripe palate.  Soft tannins and some acidity.  Nice depth on the palate and the oak is integrated.  Some citrus notes, balanced by spice and red fruit.  Not a summer rosé

2013 Authentique, Côtes du Roussillon – 9.00€
Carignan, Syrah and Grenache, in vat, both inox and cement, and about 20% in wood, in one or two year old barrels.  The base is Carignan from les Aspres with Syrah from Canet, and Grenache from Maury.  Medium colour.  Quite firm structured nose and palate.  Youthful structured red fruit, with a good balance.  Youthful energy, peppery and cheerful. 

2014 Authentique
Not yet the final blend.  Medium colour. Quite fresh rounded fruit on nose and palate.  Nice youthful spice and furrier tannins that 2013.

2013 Bastide Miraflores, Côtes Catalanes – 12.00€
70% Syrah with 60 – 30 year old Grenache.  In vat.  Quite a firm nose, with red fruit.  Quite rounded and ripe, and quite alcoholic, but balanced.  Ripe black fruit with a tannic streak. Quite youthful but ready.  Syrah from Lesquerde on granite, where the acid soil gives freshness and minerality.

2013 Tessellae Old Vines  - 12.00€
A reference to mosaics and tessera.   40% Grenache from Maury with 40% Syrah from Lesquerde, as well as 15% Mourvèdre and 5% Grenache Gris.  In vat.  Medium colour.  Quite a firm, quite dense nose.  Quite solid rounded and ripe black fruit.  Winter warming and ripe with a streak of tannin.  Quite alcoholic on the finish.

2013 Chimères, Château St Roch, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, - 12.00€   15
From Maury, and mainly Grenache, with 30% Syrah and just 5% Carignan.  Aged in wood; they have moved towards 500 litre barrels.  Quite solid and dense nose, with ripe rounded fruit and solid tannins.  Concentrated and young.  Intense and youthful with some minerality giving  elegance and fruit.  Rich with elegant minerality and alcohol on the finish.  Lots of nuances.

2013 Collioure, Arqueta – 16.00€   15
60% Grenache, with 20% each of Syrah and Carignan, with a drop of Grenache Gris.   8 months élevage in wood.  Quite a light colour.  Quite fresh fruit on the nose and palate.  Quite firm tannins.    Some leathery notes.  Quite firm fruit.  Youthful red fruit.  Stony and mineral and very schist.

An observation from Ramuntxo that terroir of Collioure is is magnificent, but the wine is losing its place internationally, as the terroir needs so much work, making the vines well nigh unaffordable.  Everything has to be handpicked, the cost of which makes Collioure seem too expensive.

2013 Château St. Roch, Kerbuccio, Maury Sec – 23€  - 15
In other words, named after Quéribus, the Cathar castle that towers over the vineyards of Maury.  A blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre, in new barrels.  Very schist noir of Maury.  Very ripe with black fruit and firm mineral note.  Costaud but balanced and rich.  Lovely fruit, but a tad alcoholic on the finish.

2009 Les Onze Terrasses, Côtes du Roussillon, les Aspres - 15 - 70€ - Just 1200 bottles. Nice label but a very heavy bottle.
From vineyards on the edge of the Aspres between Fourques and Montauriol.  50% Grenache with 40% Syrah and 10% Carignan.  Égrappé a la main. Élevage of 24 months in new oak, and also fermented in open top barriques.  Deep colour.  Rich dense and oaky.  Intense nose.  Black fruit and oak.  Very dense.  How will it age?   A côté mineral en fin de bouche, but also very alcoholic.  Somehow the oak seems to emphasise the alcohol?      Un peu too much for my  taste.

And then we adjourned for lunch on the sea front at Canet-en-Roussillon for the fish of the day and a stunning view of the blue Mediterranean in sunshine.  And then it was time to head for the airport.  

Monday, 7 March 2016

Domaine Boucabeille

First we admired Jean Boucabeille’s new cellar, outside the village of Corneilla la Rivière.   It is partially partially underground with a visible rock face.  Altogether Jean has 28 hectares, all of which has been farmed organically, since 2008, with vineyards on the lower slopes of Força Real, so the terroir is grey schist.   Geologically Força Real is in layers, with schist on top, and vineyards going from 150 – 400 metres.  

The historical heart of Jean’s estate consists of 12 hectares of vineyards at high altitude, which have been pulled up and replanted, so that the average age of Jean’s vines is now about 20 years old.  Converting to organic viticulture obliged him to replant, as mechanisation was totally impractical on the higher slopes, making it impossible to control the weeds.  He has now recreated the terraces, making them wide enough for machinery. It has been a very expensive exercise, clearing garrigues, with a lot of work by hand.   And he has another twelve hectares, also on Força Real, that face the Canigou and the village of Millas.  The soil there is deeper, with glacial erosion and lots of stones and finer schist – a terroir de grand cru observed Jean. The Canigou protects the area from the bad weather coming from Spain, but also has a cooling effect.  And on the morning of my visit, at the end of the September, you could see the first snow of the season on the peak.  

Jean has replanted Syrah and also has a lot of Grenache and Mourvèdre as well as some 40 year old Carignan.  He has also planted 600 cork oaks, with the aspiration to produce his own corks in 40 years time.  Catalan cork grows very slowly, with ten to fifteen years between harvests.

Jean began working with his father, whose family came from the Aude, near Narbonne.  They were a family of vine growers, sending grapes to the cooperative and were very much involved in the growers’ unions.  Then his father, Régis, went to work in Benelux, representing the Vignerons Catalans, Sieur d’Arques and the Cellier des Templiers.  So Jean was born into that milieu, but in 1990 he realised the dream of buying his own vineyards,  but he had no cellar.  He made his wine in various coop cellars until his own was built in 2008.   His father has retired and is now a lively 80 year old, helping with the harvest. 

Jean’s range comprises 3 reds, 2 whites and 3 Vin Doux, Tuilé, Ambré Hors d’Age and Rancio Sec.  White wines are developing in importance, and  Jean sees them as the new trend.   

2014 Les Terrasses, Côtes du Roussillon Blanc – 8.00€
Half Grenache Blanc and half Macabeo, kept in vat.  Nicely herbal notes on both nose and palate.  Some pithy fruit and a touch peachy; fresh acidity and a slightly bitter finish.

2013 les Orris, Côtes du Roussillon Blanc– 27.00€
30% Roussanne with 70% Grenache Blanc.  The aim is a white vin de garde.  Jean had considered Chardonnay and Viognier, but realised that Roussanne would be a much better bet, so planted it about seven or eight years ago.  A little colour.  Elegantly herbal notes.  Lightly peachy.  Roussanne gives acidity and freshness. Vinified in oak and élevé for 8 months.  The oak is obvious on the palate, but there is good acidity, with the herbal notes of the garrigues, and quite a dry finish.  Youthful, with considerable potential and length.   There's a bit of bâttonage, but not too much.  Jean does not want the wine to be too fat and he wants to keep the minerality and what he called the côté tranchante of the schist.   Just four barriques make one thousand bottles. Jean selects the best barrels and blends at the last minute.  

2014 Orris, Côtes du Roussillon Rouge - 27€
2014 was a good vintage, but less intense than some, making for elegance. Unusually this cuvée is dominated by Mourvèdre, which performed particularly well in 2014.  In contrast Syrah was less successful.  So the blend is 30% Syrah, 45% Mourvèdre and 25% Grenache with an élevage in fut.  Jean talked about élevage in barrel; he has 25 years experience, having started working with barrels in the 1990s.  Good young colour; youthful fresh peppery fruit.  Quite tight knit.  Dry youthful finish.  Nicely balanced.  Firm black fruit.

And then we continued with a splendid vertical tasting :   Orris can describe a shepherd’s house in Catalan or a capitelle, one of the stone igloo shaped shelters that you find in the vineyards.    

2010 - 60% Syrah, with 40% Grenache.  The percentages changes each year, while Mourvèdre is a more recent arrival. There is quite a high proportion of Syrah, as it was particularly good in 2010, with peppery cassis fruit on the nose and palate.  Quite firm fresh black fruit; medium weight with a youthful balance.  Perfumed, elegant and long, and still with ageing potential.  However it was drinking very well.

2009  - 50% Syrah, with 30% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre.  A very ripe year, with particularly ripe Grenache.  It could be described as typically Roussillon.  Very garrigue, and very dense on both nose and palate.  Rich and quite solid with garrigues fruit, spice and pepper.  .

2008 – The first vinification in the new cellar.  Jean observed that it was not a great year, but a balanced year., and the wine is very characteristic of the vintage.    A more restrained nose than 2009.  Quite a solid, firm palate, with quite dense tannins, which are taking longer than usual to come round.  Some attractive black fruit. 

2007  - The colour is beginning to develop, with a lighter nose and a lighter palate.  The fruit was quite soft, but with a dry finish.  Red ruit, but not quite enough to balance the tannins, and showing some maturity.  For Jean this was not a great vintage; in fact it is the least successful vintage of the 2000s.  

2006 - which Jean described as une année atypique pour moi.  It is not Roussillon!  There was more rain and the grapes are not so ripe, with less alcohol.  He thought it more like a Burgundy, and so for earlier drinking.  Medium colour.  Elegantly spicy nose and palate.  Quite fresh with some firm red fruit and a tannic streak. Medium weight.  I rather liked it. 

2005 – The colour is beginning to evolve.  Quite firm leathery fruit on the nose.  Nice depth on palate.  A little leathery – garrigues – sous bois.  Beginning to mature and drinking very nicely.  Long and nuancé. A great vintage – in fact one of the best.   And a lovely glass of wine.

2004 – No great intensity,  but fluid and balanced.  Medium colour.  Quite a firm leathery nose with quite supple fruit on the palate, which then begins to dry a little on the finish.   It could be criticised for lacking a little depth, but none the less it is a really nice glass wine, even if it has started its descent

2003 - A hot year. Jean picked Syrah at the beginning of September, as usual.  And described the vintage as ‘ le vin qui me surprend.  Toujours, quand je le déguste’.  The colour has evolved a little and the palate has notes of leather and garrigues with depth and complexity.  A rounded palate with some elegance and quite a firm finish.  It has developed and aged beautifully.

Jean considers that there are no bad vintages, but none the less there is the  effet millésime, the vintage effect, which was beautifully illustrated in these wines.

2014 les Terrasses, Régis Boucabeille – 8.00€
Jean’s entry level red wine, with a short maceration of 12 days, compared to about 20 for Les Orris.  Half and half Grenache and Syrah, kept in vat.   Medium colour. Fresh young spice on nose and palate.  Very drinkable with liquorice and raspberry fruit. and fresh tannins.

2014 Monte Nero – 14.00€
Força Real can look like a black pyramid, hence the name.  75% Grenache with 30% Syrah, élevage in wood.  A 15 – 20 day maceration.  Fresh peppery fruit. Medium weight.  Quite tight knit, with structure and depth and a satisfying balance.

And now for Vin Doux with 2012 Rivesaltes Ambré – 17.00€
Pure Macabeo, given three years in wood.   Golden, turning to old gold.  Rounded and rich; honeyed and peachy.  

Hors d’Age – 50€
Kept in old barrels with average age of 20 years.  And bottled into an outsize perfume bottle.  Pure Macabeo.  Amber colour. Lovely walnut fruit on the nose.  Fresh rounded nutty nose and palate, and some red fruit and a note of torrefaction. Figues de fleur, honey and marzipan.  Absolutely delicious. 

2011 Rivesaltes Tuilé
Jean’s first Tuilé, Pure Grenache Noir, bottled a year ago after ageing in wood.  Rounded red fruit and spice. Pain d’épice.  A stony note.  You can see the relation with Jean’s red wines.  Quite youthful stony red fruit and an elegant finish.   In summary, a great tasting.  And a sympa encounter.