Saturday, 16 March 2019

Picpoul de Pinet v. Muscadet

Picpoul de Pinet quite often gets described as the Muscadet of the Midi.  They are both dry wines, without a lot of aroma, and they both go a treat with an oyster.  But how often you do have the chance to compare the two wines side by side?   In my experience, virtually never, but at Genesis Wines’ spring tasting last week, I had the opportunity to do just that. There, side by side, on the tasting table were a Muscadet and a Picpoul de Pinet.

2017 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie, Chantegrolle, Domaine Poiron Dabin  - rrp £10.20

This is not an estate that I am familiar with, but the wine struck me as a classic Muscadet, with a firm backbone of acidity, but with also with some weight, as it has been kept for several months on its lees.  A light colour, with a fresh firm stony nose, and a tight-knit palate with a rounded finish.  It was dry and balanced.

2017 Terre de Roqueloupie, Picpoul de Pinet – rrp £10.50

This is Domaine des Lauriers under another name.  The name is familiar, but I have to admit that I have yet to visit them – on the (never-ending) list!  The nose was quite rounded, with some firm stony fruit, and the palate was slightly softer than the Muscadet, but with a very good saline finish.  You can definitely taste the marine influence in the wine, maybe more than in the Muscadet.   So in a nutshell, they were different, but comparable.  Just bring on the oysters!

And by way of a postscript

2016 La Syrah, Pays d’Oc, Vins sur Yeuses, La famille Dardé – rrp £11.40

This pure Syrah comes from Domaine les Yeuses, with vineyards on the coastal plain near Mèze.  It is partly made by carbonic maceration, and part of the cuvée spends nine months in demi-muids, including 20% new oak.   Syrah from a warm part of the Languedoc runs the risk of turning a tad jammy, but not this wine.  They have managed to retain the freshness, with an appealing spiciness on both nose and palate, making for easy drinking.    

Domaine les Yeuses is another estate that I have yet to visit – also on the list! 

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Women Winemakers in the Languedoc for International Women’s Day

Back from three weeks in New Zealand, with both New Zealand and Californian winemaking friends for dinner on the evening after International Women’s Day, so three quite contrasting wines from the Languedoc seemed the natural choice.

2015 Dame Mourvèdre, Villa Dondona

Not only is Jo Lynch a talented winemaker, but also a talented artist; she designs her own labels.   The wine is pure Mourvèdre, aged in vat rather than barrel.  It was a beautifully balanced combination of elegance and structure, with some red berry fruit and a firm tannic streak, providing a satisfactory backbone. Drinking beautifully now, but with potential to age.

2012 La Perle de Jones, Syrah, from a single vineyard, Falandrin, Vin de France.

Katie Jones’s first vintage was 2009 and judging from my last tasting with her, she no longer makes this wine.   A cousin gave me the bottle a little while ago and it had been in the cellar awaiting the right moment.  The colour was deep and young, and the nose intense with rich black fruit and with a rich oaky palate.   At 14.5°, I could taste alcohol on the finish.   Elegant it was not; rich and powerful it was.  I think Katie’s winemaking has evolved considerably since this earlier vintage and her wines are now much more elegant than this example.

2014 Minervois, les Fontanilles

Made by a Burgundian, Anne Gros, and amply illustrating that the Minervois can indeed to be elegant.  It is a blend of Grenache Noir and Cinsaut kept in tank, and Syrah and Carignan, aged in barrel.  The nose has understated southern spice which develops in the glass and the palate is also elegantly understated, with spicy fruit, silky tannins and a long finish.  

Friday, 8 February 2019

Pays d'Oc - Highlights from the 2019 Ambassador Wines

Each summer the Pays d’Oc organise a tasting to choose the wines that will be their  ‘ambassadors’ for the coming year.   I had a chance to taste them last week at The France Show at Olympia and what follows are the highlights among the nineteen wines. Needless to say, they would not all have been my choice, but amongst them were some bottles that I would drink with great pleasure.

2017 Viognier, Les Vignerons du Sommiérois – 5.90€
Lightly peachy nose, with some elegant fruit on the palate, and a soft peachy finish.  Peachy is my catch word for Viognier and this wine displayed some appealing varietal character, making for easy drinking.    

2017 Domaine d’Aigues-Belles, Cuvée Premier Rolle – 16.90€
In other words, a pure Rolle, or Vermentino. With a little colour, and quite a delicate nose, with a touch of oak, but nothing too obvious.  Quite a textured palate, with some depth and nicely mouth filling and understated.  

2017 Rosé, Grenache Gris, Villa Blanche Calmel & Joseph – 9.00€
A blend of both Grenache Noir and Grenache Gris.  A pretty orange pink colour.  A delicate fresh nose, Nicely rounded fruit on the palate, with a little weight. Good balance of acidity and a soft elegant finish.  

2016 Domaine de la Metairie d’Alon, Pinot Noir – 16.90€
I’ve enthused about this wine before on my blog, and am delighted to do so again.  Medium depth of colour.  Elegantly perfumed fruit on the nose, and on the palate some fresh red fruit, with ripe cherries and raspberries.  Elegant weight and a balancing streak of tannin.  

Domaine Gayda, Figure Libre, Cabernet Franc – 16€
The advantage of Cabernet Franc in the Languedoc is that it often ripens much better than in the Loire Valley.  Quite a deep young colour.  Some lovely fresh berry fruit on the nose, while the palate is ripe, opulent, with rounded succulent fruit, and a streak of balancing tannin on the finish.  Fresh, juicy and delicious.  The wine has spent nine months in barrel.  

2016 Domaine les Yeuses, Syrah, les Epices – 7.00€
Good colour; firm peppery spice on both nose and palate, with some spicy blackcurrant gums – one of my catch words for recognising Syrah.  Nicely rounded ripe fruit, with good depth.

2017 Domaines Paul Mas, Cuvée Pau Mas Estate Mourvèdre - 6.95€
Deep young colour; some spicy fruit and on the palate rounded, with ripe spice and a firm streak of tannin.  Nicely balanced with a certain freshness on the finish.   Six months barrel ageing.  

Monday, 21 January 2019

Domaine de l’Aster and Pézenas

Jacques Bihac was previously a shareholder in the Cabrières estate of Domaine du Temple, and how now taken over his grandparents’ vineyards, 28 hectares of vines, mainly outside the village of Péret, of which he vinifies and bottles the production of just six, the vineyards within the cru of Pézenas and the appellation of the Languedoc.  The rest go to the cooperatives of Péret and Puilacher, which tend to concentrate on IGPs.  Bilhac is a local name; there have been viticulteurs with that name in Péret since the 1640s.  Jacques observed that you can find nearly all the soils of the Languedoc appellation in the hills around Péret, with basalt, from the nearby extinct volcano of Malhubert, villefranchien gravel, marl, Devonian sandstone and clay.  The diversity makes for lots of choices when planting.  Aster is the name of a pretty pink flower, which is usually to be seen at harvest time, and for that reason is often called a vendangeuse.

Jacques has built a neat little cellar and his barrel cellar contains just six barriques.  He is particularly enthusiastic about his cooling equipment, the tool that has allowed the Languedoc to ‘sortir de la masse’, making a real impact on quality.   

Prélude is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Vermentino; pink Angelicae, a variety of Aster, comes from Cinsaut, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre.  Trescol, the name of the plot, is supple and fruity, a blend of Cinsaut, Carignan, Grenache Noir and a little Syrah, intended for early drinking as opposed to the more structured cuvées of Pézenas.  

The first Pézenas is En montant la calade; a caladeis a stone street in a village and Jacques remembers a street like that in the centre of Péret as a school boy.  Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre are given a three-week fermentation and aged in vat to make for some rounded fruit with some depth.  

Le Hussard Noir is a homage to Jacques’s grandfather who was a lay school teacher, orhussard, as opposed to a religious teacher, during the Third Republic. This comes from 50% Mourvèdre with 35% Grenache and some Syrah, given twelve months in oak, and is quite serious and substantial.   With a first vintage in 2015, I felt that Jacques had made a good start and as president of the syndicat of the cru of Pézenas, he also has the challenge of achieving  appellation status for Pézenas. 

The aspiring appellation of Pézenas covers fifteen surrounding villages, of which Nizas and Caux are the most important.   However, it is difficult to see what really accounts for its tipicity.  Jacques suggested the basalt that you see all over the area, but there are other soils too. The vineyards are on gentle hillsides, none higher than 300 metres and there is a climatic unity for this is one of the drier areas of the Hérault.  It is an area of mainly of independent wine growers, with few of any significant size, making a total of 35, with four cooperatives, and as Jacques put it, no big locomotive for the appellation. He suggested that the tipicity of flavour is the finesse of the tannins, with fruit and spice.  

Others consider that there are so many different terroirs that it is difficult to define Pézenas.  It does almost seem to be an amalgam of villages that do not fit anywhere else and are conveniently close enough to Pézenas to be able to take advantage of its name. Christine Bertoli Mouton from Domaine Ste Cécile du Parc is quite dispassionate; ‘there is no tipicity, Pézenas is simply a geographic administrative area, with the advantage of its name, that is well known for Molière’.  

Domaines Paul Mas produce Côté Mas, a blend of wines not only from Domaines Mas, but from other contributing producers.  Jean-Claude Mas himself is optimistic about the future of Pézenas; it is true that they need to create a specific style of wine, with a coherent message, but it has the potential to be a convincing appellation with an excellent image and reputation.   

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Just back from ten days in the Languedoc over New Year, and looking back on some good bottles and some rather bibulous evenings.

Highlights included:

2016 Blanquette de Limoux from Château Rives Blanques, with delicious herbal flavours, making an original sparkling wine.  And also J Laurens Cuvée Demoiselle, Crémant de Limoux, which was rounded and creamy.

White wines amply illustrated the wonderful diversity of the Languedoc and showed just how much the whites of the region are improving.  

Domaine Cabrol, Cuvée Quinze, a Vin de France from a leading Cabardès estate is made from an extraordinarily eclectic blend of  Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Gros Manseng, Chenin Blanc and Semillon, with one third of the blend fermented and aged in barrel.  The wine has herbal notes and hints of honey and layers of nuances. it is one of those wines that keeps you guessing.  

Cascaille Blanc from Domaine Clavel in Pic St Loup is another extraordinary blend, of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Vermentino, Clairette,  Viognier, Marsanne and Muscat à petits grains.  They are all fermented together, with the juice of each grape variety added to the vat as it ripens.  The oak is well integrated and the wine has structure and length with a satisfying depth of flavour and a balanced finish.  

Mas d’Alezon’s Cabretta is a lovely white Faugères made from Clairette and Roussanne, with some intriguing herbal notes and a rounded palate.  

Domaine la Louvière’s la Souveraine, a pure Chardonnay from the cooler Malepère, was nicely balanced, with buttery fruit and well integrated oak, showing Jem Harris’s talent as a winemaker.   

As for reds, my discovery of the week, thanks to a new friend, Emma Kershaw, who lives in a Corbières village is Domaine des Deux Clés, an IGP Vallée du Paradis and a blend of Carignan and Grenache Noir.  It had rounded spice on both nose and palate, with nicely balanced tannins.   I am planning a visit with Emma in the spring.    Meanwhile I do wholeheartedly recommend her cookery book, A Taste of Le Sud, which concentrates on the wonderful Mediterranean ingredients and flavours.  

And on New Year’s Day, I opened some St. Chinian for a group of friends gathering for a post-walk dinner.   Of the six wines, my absolute favourite was Borie la Vitarèle, les Schistes, a satisfying blend of Grenache Noir and Syrah, with some liqueur cherry fruit, balanced by some elegant tannins.  But the others were good too, and much appreciated by the assembled company. There was also Château Coujan, Cuvée Bois Joli, Domaine de la Femme Allongée, a name new to me; Château Prieur des Mourgues, with some well integrated oak, and a pure Carignan Vieillles Vignes Canailles from Domaine les Eminades, with some fresh fruit, and Domaine du Sacré Coeur, Cuvée Jean Madoré.   They all went splendidly with a warming boeuf bourguignon.

And just for fun I opened a trio of Gimblett Gravels from New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay, all variations on a bordelais theme, with a very New World taste.    it is virtually impossible to find any New Zealand wines in the Hérault, so our languedocien friends enjoyed being taken out of their comfort zone!

Dinner with friends who are wine growers always entails a bottle or two of their own wines, so on our last evening we enjoyed a lovely rich spicy Clos des Lièvres with Deborah and Peter Core from Mas Gabriel, and dinner finished with Délice from Domaine de Monplézy, a delicious late harvest Grenache Noir, which was redolent of red fruit and spices.  

Arriving early at Montpellier airport the next day, in order to avoid the gilets jaunes at our usual motorway entrance, we thought we would wash down a winter salad with a half bottle of Picpoul de Pinet.  Not a good idea; I don’t think the wine had been properly stored.   Also it was a 2016, and it tasted tired, and was quite golden in colour, not a good sign.  So we restored our faith in Picpoul de Pinet, by opening a bottle for an aperitif when we finally reached London.  

Monday, 24 December 2018

Languedoc links with South Africa

Bruce Jack, a leading south African winemaker, who made a reputation for himself with Chenin blanc at Flagstone Winery, was in London recently to launch a new project, and a range of own label wines.  And he brought some friends along.  So I was delighted to find Karen Turner pouring a couple of wines from Prieuré de St Jean de Bébian.  She and Bruce were at Roseworthy together.  

2017 Prieuré de St Jean de Bébian Blanc
70% Roussanne with 15% each of Clairette and Grenache Blanc, with both fermentation and élevage in barrel, of which 15% were new.  Whole bunch pressed and not filtered before bottling.    Light colour. Lovely rounded floral white blossom, fleurs blanches on the nose.  And on the palate some weight and rounded fruit; good acidity, which gave the wine an elegant lift on the finish.  A shining example of just how the white wines of the Languedoc are improving.  

2015 Prieuré de St Jean de Bébian Rouge
A blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre.   Most of the vines were planted in the mid-1980s but the wine does include a plot of Grenache Noir, planted in 1925.  The previous owner, Chantal Lecouty, used to refer to them as her vieilles dames, my old ladies.   A long maceration and an élevage in barrel for the Syrah and Mourvèdre and in tank for the Grenache, and then blended before bottling.  Lovely rounded spicy fruit, spicy cherries from the Grenache, and supple tannins.  A lovely elegant balance on the finish.  

There were a handful of examples of pure Syrah, from Bruce, and from Waterkloof in Stellebosch but the other surprise was a lovely example of Clairette Blanche from the Cape, from Daschbosch in the WO of Breedenkloof.   When you think how underrated Clairette is in the Languedoc, it was a discovery to find one in the southern hemisphere.  Apparently the vineyard had been planted in 1977, but then forgotten about and rediscovered about three years ago.  The wine is made very simply with some lees contact and bâtonnage, making for a rounded textured palate and understated fruit on the nose. Intriguing layers of flavour.  

And the same estate also made a Muscat d’Alexandrie, that they would call Hanepoot.  It was fortified like a Rivesaltes and aged in old barrels for twelve months, making for some smooth unctuous fruit, with ripe orange marmalade, and good acidity on the finish.  It would be delicious with Christmas pudding or mince pies.

Happy Christmas!!

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

67 Pall Mall and the Languedoc

Am I the only person to find a wine list on a tablet a complete nightmare?   Generous friends have just taken us to lunch at 67 Pall Mall – and the reputation of its wine list, orchestrated by Ronan Sayburn, goes before it.   I had been told that I had to earn my lunch by choosing our wines – what a pleasure, I thought.   I was looking forward to browsing through a list and finding something unusual and unknown (to me), that perhaps had been overlooked and represented a bit of a bargain. My recent success on that front was a delicious 2010 Madiran from Domaine Brumont at Simpsons.   I always like to drink the unfamiliar when I am out.   

But confronted with a list on a totally unuser-friendly tablet with a mind of its own, I am afraid I gave up the struggle to explore and simply opted for the familiar, the Languedoc section, which provided discoveries for our friends, but not for me and my husband.  Had we been able to browse in the old-fashioned way, I might have alighted upon Croatia, Lebanon, Israel, Santorini, I know not what.  After this experience, my second with a tablet, I strongly feel that a tablet wine list discourages exploration.  We were told that the list changes frequently and that there always new wines, but with the ease of printing these days it should not be a problem to have just one printed list for the Luddites amongst us who like the feel of paper.   Also, I spend a large part of my working day looking at a screen, so it is not something I particularly want to do while I am out enjoying myself.  

So what did we drink?

2015 Petit Trélans, Domaine Alain Chabanon
From a pioneering winemaker outside the village of Montpeyroux.  An unusual and very successful blend of Vermentino and Chenin blanc.  Light dry honeyed nose and more so on the palate.  Beginning to mature and loose its acidity.  Nicely rounded finish.  And went a treat with some crab.  

2015 Minervois, Domaine Anne Gros, les Fontanilles 
From a talented Burgundian winemaker who is also exploring the potential of the south. Young colour. Lovely spicy fruit on both nose and palate, integrated tannins.  Beautifully elegant, long and satisfying and just the thing with succulent roast pheasant. 

Monday, 10 December 2018

Tasting Languedoc at the City Lit

The City Lit, or to give it its full name, the City Literary Institute, in Holborn is celebrating its centenary next year and is planning a series of events to mark that occasion.    I have attended a few courses at the City Lit in my time, in the way of adult education, some languages classes and a public speaking class, which proved to be enormously helpful.   So I will admit to having a bit of a soft spot for the City Lit.   But I had no idea that it had been founded a hundred years ago, particularly to help servicemen returning from the trenches, whose hearing had been severely affected by shelling.   Lessons for the deaf are their main focus, apart from providing a very varied curriculum of adult education.  

A series of circumstances found me giving a small tasting, talking about the wines of the Languedoc, and presenting my book, to quite a sizable group of City Lit students, who had all attended at least one hundred classes.   The idea was to provide an entertaining evening as a thank you to a core of supportive students.   It was quite daunting as I had no idea how much my audience knew or did not know about wine – in fact none of them had attended the City Lit’s wine tasting course.  I just hope they will now.  But quite a lot of them had been to parts of the Languedoc, and some of them had visited a wine cellar or two.  They were a friendly audience.   

So, I gave them a brief lesson on wine tasting and a sketchy outline on how wine is made, and then talked more about the Languedoc, pointing out some highlights and also some less rosy aspects of the region, with four wines to taste, chosen to show just how diverse the choice of wine is from the region.  

Amongst the highlights, I talked about the enormous changes in the region, how it has lost its reputation for cheap wine, and how practices in the vineyards and cellars have improved, and above all how the wine growers are now looking for freshness, and avoiding over-oaked wines.  The development of white wine is an important part of that process.   I touched on the appellations, particularly the new ones like the Terrasses du Larzac, but said very firmly that it was work in progress. The Languedoc is just beginning what it took Burgundy a few centuries to establish.

There is of course much in the Languedoc to attract outsiders, not only from other countries but from other parts of France.  And with the change in a generation, there is often a child who has studied wine-making and therefore keen to make their own wine.   Organic wine is important, and easier than in more northern climes like Chablis.   And there is also a wonderful flexibility of regulations, with the IGPs and even more so, Vin de France, allowing an enormous a diversity outside the appellations. There is an underlying sense that there is much to be achieved.

However, it is not all a bed of roses – there are issues such as climate change.  Compare the two vintages of 2017 and 2018, with frost and drought one year and mildew the next.   Water is another issue – to irrigate or not?  And vine trunk disease, or esca, is making an impact.  And then there are the people who make wonderful wine, but do not have a clue how to sell it.  But in the words of Miren de Lorgeril, the recently elected president of CIVL, when I asked her what was new, she said without hesitation: confidence.  The Languedoc is realising that it does not need to follow Bordeaux or Burgundy.  It is a great region and has come of age.

And now for the four wines that I chose to illustrate my talk :

2014 Crémant de Limoux, J. Laurens, Graimenous
A lovely sparkling wine from Limoux, a blend of Chardonnay with some Chemin Blanc and a little drop of Mauzac and Pinot Noir. It was fresh and creamy with good balancing acidity, illustrating just how good Limoux can be.

2017 Faugères blanc, Domaine du Météore, les Aquarides
Light colour, with some herbal notes on the nose.  The palate is nicely textured and rounded with good weight and a fresh finish.  A blend of Roussanne and Vermentino with some Clairette.

2015 La Clape, Domaine la Combe St. Paul, Grès Rouge
This was everything that a red wine from the south should be, warm spicy sunshine in the glass.  It is a blend of Mourvèdre and Syrah, kept in vat rather than barrel, making for ripe rounded fruit with a balancing streak of tannin.

2014 Maury, Domaine de Fontanel.
Technically this is outside the remit of my book, as it comes from the other side of the hills in Roussillon, but never mind.  It is a Vin Doux Naturel, a fortified wine made principally from Grenache Noir, with spice and fruit, with a streak of alcohol and a sweet finish.   And if we are being seasonal, it is one of the rare wines that would be able to cope with Christmas pudding! 

All four wines came from Stone, vine & Sun in Winchester who make something of a speciality out of the Languedoc.  

Sunday, 25 November 2018

St Chinian - a duo of estates

A pair of St Chinian estates, both visited for my book, but sadly deleted, purely for reasons of space. 

Domaine Pin des Marguerites 

Domaine Pin des Marguerites is in the village of Berlou. Richard Carpena told us the story of the estate.   Like many others in Berlou, his grandfather joined the cooperative when it was founded in 1965, after working independently, and his father stayed in the cooperative.  However, Richard, like many of this generation, wanted to make his own wine, so took the family vines out of the cooperative for his first harvest wine in 2005, from eight hectares.  He has learnt from experience, observing that he knew about vines, but not about winemaking. His oenologist, François Pennequin, has advised from the beginning and he admits that it was all rather daunting initially.  

Our tasting began with a white Vin de France, Blanc de Mathilde, named after his daughter and a blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier and a little Terret.  Terret is not allowed in St Chinian, and Viognier is only a complementary variety, allowed up to 10%, hence Vin de France.  It was fresh and lemony, with a dry finish.  Lou Gabel comes from younger vines, with some ripe black fruit, with the name recalling a small faggot of vine cuttings.  St Chinian, Tradition is from older vines, again Syrah, Grenache Noir, Carignan and Mourvèdre, planted by Richard’s grandfather, with peppery fruit and firmer tannins.  Horizon is a blend of equal parts of Mourvèdre and Grenache, with more powerful flavours, but with a fresh finish from the schist.  Pétale Poupre is a blend of 50% Carignan, with carbonic maceration, with some Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, partly aged in oak, with a more restrained palate and spicy black fruit.   

Then we adjourned to Le Faitout, the village restaurant which is well worth the journey, for some local flavours and a wine list that concentrates on the closest appellations. 

Domaine la Linquière, Villespassans

Pierre Salvestre is a 5thgeneration viticulteur, but only a first generation vigneron.  We tasted his wines in an old cellar, on the outskirts of St. Chinian, that had been his great-grandfather’s in the 1930s, when there were as many as five or six négociants in the town.   It has now been turned into an attractive shop, and welcoming tasting caveau.  The family wine cellar is in the circulade village of Villespassans.  Pierre explained that his grandfather helped found the cooperative of St Chinian, and his father had been its  president for five years, until they decided to create their own domaine based on the great-grandfather’s original vineyard holdings.  This is an ambitious project that has entailed buying back vines, some 25 hectares, from various cousins.   

As well as a Chardonnay IGP Mont de la Grage, they made a white St Chinian, Fleur de Lin from Grenache Blanc and Vermentino, with three months ageing in barrel, to give a hint of oak on the palate.   There are two rosés.  Fleur de Lin, with 80% Grenache, with Syrah given three months in oak, is the more original, with length and depth. Their Tradition St Chinian, a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, grown on schist and kept in vat, is fresh and perfumed, with a streak of tannin.  For Pierre schist gives fruit and concentration; limestone made for tighter tannins, and sandstone, that you find in Villespassans and Pierrerue, makes for elegance.  

Next came an originality, a pure Aramon, from bush vines planted in 1910.  Even at that age it gives a crop of 35 hl/ha, but when the vines were young, they would have produced a 100 hl/ha or more.  The Aramons Centenaires, Vin de France, has some fresh fruit, a streak of acidity as well as tannin and a nicely perfumed note, as well as a hint of sympathique rusticity.   Le Chant des Cigales is what Pierre called the cuvée phare, the flagship of the estate, a blend of 70% Syrah with equal parts of Mourvèdre and Carignan, and a blend of all three soils, aged in barriques for 12 months.  There was black fruit and tapenade on the nose and palate, making a rounded full-bodied palate, with a balancing streak of tannin.  La Sentinelle 310 comes from their highest vineyard, at 310 metres, and comprises 65% Syrah with Mourvèdre grown on schist and given 18 months in oak, of which 50% is new.  The oak is well integrated, and the flavours rich and perfumed, with some firm tannins, and elegant concentration.  Rocher de Notre Dame, from two vineyards by the cross of Notre Dame, with 90% Mourvèdre and some Syrah, with the same élevageas La Sentinelle 310, was firm and oaky, with ageing potential. The last two wines are only made in the best years.   Their range is completed by a Vendange Tardive, made from nine different varieties, all planted together and mixed up with the Aramon.  They were probably originally intended as table grapes.  After three months of ageing in barrels, the wine was ripe and honeyed. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

La Grange de Bouys

I think this post needs to start with an apology.  I have sorely neglected my blog over the last few weeks.  Blame intensive book research in Chablis, and then a recalcitrant computer that sent my blog dashboard off into cyberspace.  I am now re-connecting, with a post that I wrote a while ago, so more apologies to Stéphane Monmousseau for that delay.

I went for an update at la Grange de Bouys, which is the vineyard nearest to our Languedoc home.   First a walk in the vineyards on a hot July morning - difficult to imagine now in chilly autumnal November!   Stephane described Syrah as une bonne fille, as in his vineyard it does not seem to be susceptible to mildew, unlike the Carignan.  However, he is less convinced about its suitability for the region and two years ago grafted some Grenache onto 12 year Syrah vines, and this year he has grafted other varieties, some of the old varieties of the Languedoc such as Aspiran, Monastel, Terret Noir, Aragon and Oeillade.  Just half a hectare and  1900 plants.  You remove the bark and insert a bud, as a T bud and bandage it tightly.  4 Bolivians and 2 Argentineans did the work,  Apparently they work all year in Mendoza and Stéphane observed that France does not have the savoir-faire to do this.  You only lose a year’s crop as the rootstock immediately supplies the necessary sap.   He now has about 6.5 hectares of vines, of which half are Clairette, which he has just increased in area.   

He talked about grafting - the old rate was about 400 plants a day whereas the industrial process used today can clock up 20,000 vines per week.  However if the graft is not really tight, maybe the difference between the hand-cut pointed English graft and the omega shaped mechanical graft, fungus can penetrate the vine, and the result is esca, or vine trunk disease.  It is an obsolescence programme, especially if the pruning is not well done either.   Stéphane’s vineyards will become officially organic this year, incorporating his most recent purchase of vines in 2015.  The conversion process takes three years.   And he is moving towards biodynamic viticulture, using various preparations, but is not seeking the labelle for that.

Lavender is very useful for vers de la grappe, as the worms simply do not like the smell of lavender, but oil is much more effective and longer-lasting than the simple flowers.  You spray three times, in June,  July and August.  Orange is good against mildew and dries it up, as does milk.  Prêle or horsetail is good too, and nettles give iron which promotes growth.  Osier, écorce de chêne and valerian are other treatments, and with achillée millefeuille, or yarrow, you need to use less sulphur.  For white wine even with organic viticulture you are allowed 150 gms/l whereas Stéphane uses just over 30 gm/l.

Back in the cellar, we tasted.   Florence Rosé, Pays de l’Hérault -  8.50€  
We had a already enjoyed a bottle of his rosé earlier in the week.  The 2017 is pale in colour, but ripe and rounded on the palate, and nicely vinous with some weight.  The 2016 was made from 25% Grenache blanc with 75% Syrah, which gave quite a deep colour, even without any skin contact, except during the pressing.  Stéphane talked about a restauranteur who bluntly refused to taste his rosé, simply because the colour was wrong - such is the power of the image of Cotes de Provence.  You can easily eliminate the colour with a carbon filter, but Stephane does not want to do that, even though it is allowed for organic wine making.  His solution is alter the grape variety blend, changing it to 75% Grenache blanc and 25% Syrah, and then it will be a Vin de France rather than an appellation wine.  

2017 Epicure, a pure white Grenache, Pays de l’Hérault - 12.00€
Epicure apparently said that it is nicer to give than to receive.  For the appellation, you need two grape varieties, but Stéphane generally prefers mono-cepages to blends.  He pressed whole bunches gently and put the juice into a stainless steel vat, with added yeast.     He tried natural yeast once, on one vat of Carignan and had to throw it away, so he is not convinced by natural yeast.   This 2017 has a rounded fragrant nose, and a floral palate, with good acidity and freshness. The vines are 30 years old.  Stéphane prefers to pick underripe grapes, to retain their freshness and acidity. picking as much as week earlier than some of his neighbours.   Biodynamic practices tends to retain freshness too, with the slow ripening of the grapes.  The alcohol level was 11.5º.

2017 Confucius, Languedoc - 16.00€
A blend of 80% Grenache Blanc and 20% Clairette, made by what he called la méthode bourguignonne, with an élevage on the lees.  The juice is déboubé and goes into a stainless steel vat, and then into Stockinger demi-muids, for seven months, with a regular weekly bâtonnage.  Stockinger barrels are particularly good for white wine, with the wood seasoned for four years.  They use half Austrian and half Hungarian oak. And the wine is nicely rounded and textured with a firm finish.  There is g good structure and more depth than the Epicure, with nicely integrated oak. Stéphane observed that French coopers usually season their barrels for only two years so that the tannins are much more present than in the Austrian barrels.  However they are 50% more expensive and you have to order them a year ahead.

And why the Confucius for the name of the cuvée.  They lived in Asia for six years and Confucius wrote that he who moves a mountain, begins by moving small stones.  It seemed appropriate for Stéphane’s  wife Florence loves building and repairing dry stone walls.  

2017 Carignan, Pays de l’Herault 12.00€
From old vines that are now  62 year old.  Good colour, deep and bright.  Usually the wine just goes into stainless steel, but this includes 15% ageing in wood. Stephen has tried Carignan in 500 litres barrels but didn’t like the results.   Young nose, with spice and garrigue.  Quite firm and on the palate some ripe fruit with a tannin streak and a fresh finish.  Very good balance with fresh fruit fleshing out the tannins.

The grape are destemmed and go into a closed tank.  Stephane does a délèstage, damping the cap of grape skins with a bucket of wine, but he does not want to extract too much, so the fermentation takes about 18 days.  He doesn’t like carbonic maceration; the taste is a bit too tutti frutti.

2016 St. Andrieu, Languedoc - 15.00€

A selection of plots with three different colours of schist, red, grey and yellow.  85% Syrah, with 10% Grenache and 5% Cinsaut.  One third aged in French oak, and the rest in stainless steel, for one year.   Gradually Stéphane aims to include more Grenache, which he particularly likes.  The nose was quite firm with a steak of oak. and the palate was fresh with good fruit and a nice balance, with the oak well integrated.   A winter warming wine, that needs a bit more time to evolve.  Stopckinger barrels may also be suitable for Grenache noir; Stephane will see what they do.

With the 2018 harvest, Stephane will be making his fifth vintage and it has been fascinating to observe his progress.   I recently named him as a rising star of the Languedoc.  I do hope I am right.  

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Château Capion

 This is an estate that changed hands in 2016.  I first went there in 1988 when Philippe Salesc was making what seemed at the time quite pioneering blends of Cabernet and Merlot.  But the family had financial problems and the estate was sold to Swiss, who spent much of their time in South Africa.  Their focus was varietal vins de pays, and then in 2016, it changed hands again, and is now the property of a genial Russian, Oleg Chirkunov. .   

When we met in late September, he admitted that he had had no intention of buying a wine estate, but when he was told, this was an opportunity not to be missed, he succumbed.    Back in Russia, he has a successful distribution business and also spends time in London.   And although he does not have a wine background, I sense somebody who recognises capable people to employ.   Claude Gros is his consultant oenologist; Claude Bourguignon, the talented soil scientist, advises on the vineyards; Rodolphe Travel runs the estate as the fulltime director, Nikola Zebic is the chef de cave.  Tasting with Rodlphe and Nikola, you sense they make a good team.

First we went for a walk in the vineyards, in summer sunshine, even though it was late September.  The harvest was in full swing, later than some, and all handpicked.  Altogether they have 45 hectares of land, with 33 hectares in production of vines; one of the first things they did was to pull up 12 hectares, the old Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as their strategy is to focus on the Terrasses du Larzac for red wine, so Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsaut.  They do not have any Carignan at the moment, but may plant some - but it is a 30-year project - and they are interested in planting Lledoner Pelut and Morastel, and also, some Carignan Blanc.  The soil is based on clay and limestone, with denser limestone on higher slopes and more sand and clay on lower slopes.  The geology depends on glacial formations.  They will often have more than one vinification of the same grape variety, according to soil type.  Their average age of their vines is about 30 years.  And they are converting the vineyards to organic viticulture.

We tasted a Mourvèdre grape or two. The juice seemed quite ripe and sweet, but the skins were still a little green.   And in the distance were the hills of la Seranne and the Pic de Vissou. 

 Back at the cellar, we admired the dexterity of the team of sorters at the table de trie.  The grapes spend time in a refrigerated lorry, so they go into the fermentation vat at around 10-12°C, and the whites at around 5-6°C.  The reds are given a short maceration pelliculaire à froid.  They use selected yeast but do not add it immediately. There are several small stainless-steel vats, for micro-cuvées. Everything is temperature controlled. And there is one white egg.  However, Rodolphe insisted that the heart  of the estate is its vineyards, ‘pas les casseroles’ or saucepans, as he termed the vats.   There is a neat barrel cellar, with some barriques and also a couple of small foudres, and a small amphora that they use for blending.

We tasted some 2018s from vat and barrel,  and some Roussanne out of the egg, which had been fermented on skins and stalks.  There was a Syrah rosé and some Syrah for a red blend with some peppery fruit.  And in the barrel cellar a blend of 2017 Grenache and Mourvèdre had fruit and perfume.  It was quite delicious and Nikola got very excited: oh la vache, which really does not translate into French.  

Then we adjourned to the rather elegant salon in the château, for more tasting, from bottle. 

2016 les Chemins des Garennes
A blend of 80% Roussanne, and 10% each of Viognier and Bourboulenc.  Élevage mostly in vat, with a quarter of the blend barrel aged.  Two different plots of Roussanne, from the top and the bottom of the slope.

A little colour. Quite buttery on the nose, with some oak and quite a rich palate, with white blossom and buttery notes.  Some peachy hints from the Viognier.  Quite firm acidity on the finish.  Nicely textured mouthfeel and a rounded finish.

2016 Château Capion, Languedoc
Again a blend of Roussanne, Viognier, and Bourboulenc, from a selection of plots.  Twelve months élevage in wood, including some new wood, which was well integrated.  The palate was rounded and textured with some peachy notes and firm acidity on the finish, as well as a streak of tannin from the oak.  2016 was Nikola’s first vintage at the estate; you sense that he is planning future experiments and is very enthusiastic about the terroir of Capion. 

2016 Le Songe Eocene 
Another Roussanne, Viognier, Bourboulenc blend.  A detailed selection of plots, an artist’s palette.  12 months ageing.  Quite a rounded palate with an attractive refreshing quality.  Fresh dry fruit, with good texture and mouthfeel.  One of the things they insist on is that wine used for ouillage, the topping up of barrels, comes from the identical plot

For red wines, having pulled up most of the bordelais grape varieties, they have a lot of Syrah. However they would like to try a pure Mourvèdre.  There are very few in the Languedoc, Domaine Vaisse, le Peira and Domaine Lagamas, but they are convinced that Capion is un terroir à Mourvèdre. Rodolphe admits that while he is very enthusiastic about Mourvèdre; Claude Gros prefers Syrah, and that leaves Nikola as umpire!

2017 Château Capion blanc, 
with Roussanne and Viognier, but no Bourboulenc as it has been pulled up. For an appellation, you need two grape varieties, but Viognier is only considered accessoire.  And if you are using the term château, you cannot be a IGP, such are the intricacies of French wine law.  A little colour.  Youthful fruit, with an attractive life, and a dry finish. The élevage is similar to the 2016, with 500 litre barrels.  It promises well, with a sense of fine-tuning compared to the 2016.

2016 Le Chemin des Garennes – 15.00€
A blend of about 30% Syrah with 20% or more of Grenache, Cinsaut and Mourvèdre, working by selection parcellaire.  Blended shortly before bottling.  Medium colour.   Some ripe spice.  Medium weight, with appealing black fruit on the palate.  Quite elegant.  About 30% aged in wood.   

2016 Château Capion – 35.00€
A blend of 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre, aged for 14 months, in barrel, but as yet no foudres.  They want to vary the containers.  The oak is more apparent, but nicely integrated.  A lot of nuances, with firm tannins, and some good fruit.  Some firm spice and cassis, and an elegant structure. Promises well.

2016 le Songe – 80€ - but not yet on the market, with a very small production of about 2000 bottles.
60% Syrah with Grenache and Mourvèdre.  A sélection parcellaire.  Elevage in barrel. Deeper colour, more concentrated.  Quite solid, dense firm fruit.  Black fruit.  Youthful and ripe and the oak is well integrated.  And promising well for the future.

It will be a fascinating to observe the progress of this estate; the potential is enormous.   

Monday, 1 October 2018

Pézenas at Le Wine Shop

Pézenas is one of the newer crus and potential appellations of the Languedoc, first recognised in 2007, but if you are really honest, it does not have a real identity.  It comprises the vineyards of fifteen villages around the picturesque town of Pézenas.  Nizas and Caux are probably the most important, but the key seems to be their proximity to Pézenas, and the fact that they are not part of any other appellation.  Ask the various wine growers what constitutes the tipicity of Pézenas and they are none too sure.  Some are quite blunt and say there isn’t any. Others suggest soil: with several extinct volcanoes in the area, basalt features, but so too does villefranchien gravel and the galets roulées that you also find in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  The climate is quite warm, so if you compare Pézenas to its neighbour Faugères, you will find the wines are riper and richer, whereas Faugères should always retain an element of freshness.  Most people, when they think of Pézenas, do not even think of wine, but rather of Moliere, or of a colourful local market and an attractive pedestrian old quarter.

However, amongst the wine growers of Pézenas, there are several estates that are well worth seeking out.   Apparently the local syndicat was having a Pézenas promotion during September - I have to admit that had passed me by - but Dominic George (no relation) of Le Wine Shop decided that Pézenas would make a good theme for his customers and that I should present the wines, and in three cases aided by the vigneronnes responsible for the wine.   All the estates in question make a varied range, of which Pézenas is just one small part, but it is usually the best, and indeed most expensive cuvée.

I was intrigued to see if there was a common theme of flavour in the wines. In a way that proved quite challenging as five different grape varieties are allowed in Pézenas, which is only ever red. They are the usual Languedoc quintet, but in very diverse percentages.  Oak ageing and length of élevage also can vary.  Also, in all honesty, tasting conditions were not ideal.   It was a hot evening, the beginning of a five-day heatwave, with unseasonably high temperatures for late September.    The wines would have been less challenged on a cool November night.  The wines were all quite high in alcohol, 14ºor 14.5º, but they were not out of balance.

2015 Domaine Sainte Cécile du Parc, Sonatina - 15€
A blend of 75% Syrah and 25% Cinsaut.  As Saint Cécile is the patron saint of music, all Christine Bertoli-Mouton’s wine names have a musical association.  The Cinsaut gave the wine an appealing refreshing note, nicely balancing the peppery spiciness of the Syrah.  Medium weight with some ageing potential

2015 Mas Gabriel, Clos des Lièvres - 16.00€
Made by Deborah and Peter Core, who learnt their wine-making in New Zealand.  A blend of 75% Syrah and 25% Grenache Noir.   This was quite intense, with some oak ageing and a structured palate, with firm peppery black fruit, with the Syrah dominating the Grenache.  

2016 Domaine Monplézy, Félicité - 15.00€
A blend of 50% Grenache Noir, 30% Syrah and 20% Carignan. made by Anne Sutra de Germa and her son Benoit.  Her father bought vineyards outside Pézenas, sending grapes to the local cooperative, and it was Anne who decided to make her wine.  The estate is off the road to Roujan, with a distinctive sign of a hoopoe on her signpost and labels.  I found a combination of spicy oak, with some savoury notes from the Carignan.  It was quite a solid, youthful wine, with a firm finish, and needing time to develop in the bottle.

2015 Château La Font des Ormes, Basalt - 27.00€
A blend of 40% each of Carignan and Syrah with 20% Syrah.  This is a relative new estate, bought by Guy Cazalis de Fontdouce, who has worked as a child psychiatrist in both France and La Réunion.  He came up with the apt comment that we are méconnu dans une région méconnu - unknown in an unknown region, that is Pézenas, and even the Languedoc.  As the name of the cuvée would imply, it comes from vines grown on basalt, which Guy considers adds elegance to the wine.  I found the wine quite perfumed, with ripe fruit and indeed some elegance.

2015 Prieuré St Jean de Bébian - 30€
70% Grenache Noir, with 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre.  The high proportion of Grenache made the colour lighter than the others, and there was some fresh perfumed fruit, with liqueur cherries and an elegant finish.   This is the longest established estate of the five. I first went there is 1988 when it was the property of a maverick wine maker, Alain Roux, who had planted all thirteen grape varieties of Châteauneuf-du-Pape as he had galets roulées in the vineyard; and when I suggested that did not conform to the appellation of Coteaux du Languedoc, I was told it was of no importance whatsoever.  Then wine journalists, Chantal Lecouty and Jean-Claude Lebrun, owned the estate for a number of years and now it is the property of a Russian family, who have invested seriously in their cellars, and also opened a restaurant.  The talented Australian winemaker, Karen Turner, makes the wine.  

So, in conclusion they were lovely wines, all that I would drink with great pleasure.  They had the flavours of the warm south, but specifically of Pézenas, I am not so sure.