Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Domaine Rouanet Montcélèbre


I was invited to taste for this year’s selection of wines to show off the character and quality of Minervois La Liviniere, so it was an excuse for a visit to the Minervois.  It is apparently the 20th anniversary of the tasting, the first being in 1999.

First we went to see Audrey Rouanet at Domaine Rouanet-Montcélèbre outside the village of Cesseras.  She is the new kid on the block of La Liviniere, making her first wines in 2012, and her first La Liviniere in 2016, which was selected for the La Livinage last year.   Audrey’s father had bought a rundown estate in 1987; he had pulled up vines and replanted and sold his wine en vrac to Val d’Orbieu.  And when he announced in 2002 that he intended to sell the property, Audrey said; that is out of the question.  She had known since the age of 15 that she wanted to be an oenologist and that is what she studied at Bordeaux.  She has then went on to work in the Napa Valley, and also in the Loire Valley, as well as for the research station, INRA, in Colmar.  That was followed by a stage with Beaucastel in Châteauneuf du Pape and then two years with Avignonesi in Montepulciano and then she came home to the Minervois is 2012 in time to make her first vintage that year.    She began with just 3000 bottles, and is gradually increasing her production in bottle.  Altogether she has 12 hectares at Montcélèbre and another ten hectares at Olonzac, with Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsaut, as well as Merlot and Cabernet Franc which are sold en vrac.  And for white wine, there is Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Roussanne, and a little Chardonnay, Colombard and Viognier.   The difference in harvest dates between Olonzac, with vines on the plain and Montceleste with vines in the hills is fifteen days.   Audrey has gradually converted her vines to organic viticulture, and also follows the principles of an organisation called Bee Friendly, but  she does not have any hives of her own yet.   Her small cellar is equipped with open concrete vats for her red wine, which makes them suitable for pigeage.

Audrey has 7.5 hectares which could be classified as La Livinière but for the moment she has only declared 4.5 hectares.  She wanted to start with a very good vintage, so waited until she felt confident, with the 2016 harvest.  Before tasting, we went to admire the dramatic scenery of the gorge of the river Cesse, sheer cliffs with caves in the rock face, taking a track that was once used by miners of the nearly phosphate mines.   Apparently there is a cave on three levels, with paintings that are even older than those of Lascaux.  They are closed; you may only apply to see them if you have an academic reason.  And there is also a large colony of protected vats, which may not be disturbed.    Audrey has a plot of Carignan planted in 1973, but most of the rest of her vineyards were planted in 1987 - 1990.  They lie at about 300 metres, in limestone soil.

Back to the cellar to taste.  We began with her white wine, Alveoline, Minervois Blanc  - 9.20€ - made from Grenache Blanc, Rolle, and Roussanne.  It was fresh and fragrant, with  a rounded palate, and a nice bitterness on the finish.  There is also a range of Pays d’Oc Se Canta, but we were there to taste La Livinière, the wines chosen for the Livinage last year.

2016 Château de Gourgazaud
A blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Mourvèdre, with12 months élevage in barrel, of which a quarter are renewed each year.  Ripe spicy nose, with plummy fruit and a rounded palate with integrated oak.  Medium weight.  Quite firm dry streak on the finish and still quite youthful, with a spicy finish.

2016 Borealis - Audrey’s wine
A blend of 30% Grenache Noir and 70% Syrah.  Fresh dry peppery spice, on nose and palate.  A touch of oak.  Well integrated.  Nicely crafted palate, with firm elegant fruit and a long finish.  A great start.

2015 Ste Eulalie, la Cantilène - sadly this was corked, and there was no second bottle.

2014 Clos des Roques
80% Carignan to 20% Mourvèdre, an unusual blend.  The Carignan was planted in 1955, and the Mourvèdre in 1989.   Vines at an altitude of 180 metres in  small terraces, amounting to about half a hectare and producing enough wine for just four barrels.  The grapes are handpicked, and given some  pigeage.  Medium colour.  Rounded red fruit on the nose and some fresh leathery notes.  Elegant concentration on the palate.  A satisfyingly long finish.

2012 Cuvée Alliance, from the Minervois cooperatives
80% Syrah, 20% Grenache Noir and a littler Carignan.  Good colour.  Ripe spice on the nose and palate.  Quite supple fruit,  with a firm streak of tannin on the finish.   Maturing nicely.   And then a local organic traiteur produced a delicious range of tapas to fortify us for the La Livinage tasting in the afternoon.


Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Domaine Rives-Blanques


I never fail to enjoy my visits to Jan and Caryl Panman at Rives-Blanques.  They always have something different or new to taste.  This time it was the new blend of 2018 Dédicace, their pure Chenin Blanc.  Pierre Roque, who helps with blending, had visited the previous day and they had tasted all the barrels of Chenin, and put together the final wine, prior to bottling later this month.   There is no new oak, but a touch of oak inevitably lingered on the nose and palate, but underneath, there was dry honey and some satisfying texture in the mouth.  I know from experience that this wine will age beautifully .

However, 2018 was a difficult vintage.  They had mildew and hail.  And there are wines they will not make, notably Trilogie and Crémant de Limoux, and there will be very little IGP Chardonnay.  Apparently it was the worst outbreak of mildew for 70 years, with rain until the end of June and then a very hot summer.

Then we were able to enjoy a mini-vertical of Trilogie, their Limoux that is a blend of all three grape varieties.  The bottles had been opened the previous day, for Pierre’s benefit;  we had timed our visit well.

2017 Trilogie, mainly Chardonnay and Chenin with a little Mauzac, was light golden, with some herbal fruit on the palate, lightly rounded and nicely textured with good acidity.  2017 was a difficult vintage because of the frost, which is pretty unusual in the region.  The summer was hot and the grapes ripened quickly.   

2015, was a very dry year, with some heat wave conditions during the summer.  The wine was firm and dry, with a salty note, with a balancing hint of honey.    They observed that Trilogie is always a challenge to blend, as the barrels can vary so much; essentially they are choosing the best of the year.

2013 Quite golden in colour and quite a broad mature palate, with texture and acidity.  Both saline and honeyed flavours.  2013 was a cool year, with a late harvest, at the end of September for still wines.

2017 Occitanie, Mauzac
Light golden colour. A herbal, honeyed nose, with a hint oak.  Rounded and firm, with dry honeyed and acidity.  Rich and concentrated, with rounded texture. They are replanting some Mauzac, choosing several different clones, to make for more diversity.  There is a big difference in harvest dates, for the still and sparkling wine.  They pick for the Blanquette at 10-11º and for the table wine at 13º, about a month later.   Apparently recent DNA analysis has shown that Mauzac is not related to any other variety; you find it in Gaillac and Limoux and no where else.  


Thursday, 2 May 2019

Domaine Hautes Terres



From Domaine Mouscaillo, we wandered up through the village to the top of the hill to Domaine Terres-Hautes, with its cellars just by the château.   Gilles and his compagne, Geneviève, gave us a friendly welcome and tasting.

Gilles now has 13 hectares of vines in ten small plots.  He bought a plot of Mauzac a couple of years ago and so that he has 4 hectares of 47 year old vines.  There are three levels to his range.  Les Autres Terres, both red and white, includes young vines and pressed juice, with an emphasis on fruit, and wines with less acidity.  Then there are the appellations wines, Chardonnay and Chenin, aged in foudres, barriques and demi-muids, and then there are some special cuvées.    Gilles is a creative winemaker.

A Pét Nat, a pure Mauzac, bottled at the harvest with 25 gms/l, so a méthode ancestrale, is in the pipeline.  It was still sur lattes and will be disgorged at the end of April.   

2017 Cuvée Céleste - 26€- is a pure Chenin Blanc, fermented and elevé in foudres, for ten months, followed by ten months in bottle.   It had firm dry honey on the nose, with some lovely fruit on the palate, balanced by good acidity.  Gilles used indigenous yeast, and does not add anything, only sulphur, if absolutely necessary.

2017 Cuvée Louis, a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Chenin Blanc is aged in demi-muids and barrel, and blended together a month before bottling  It was quite firm, with stony fruit, more Chardonnay than Chenin, but an intriguing balance.  

NV Cuvée Josephine - 16.00€ - is his Crémant, a blend of 60% chardonnay, 30% Chenin Blanc and 10% Mauzac, depending on the vintage, a Brut Nature with no added dosage, and disgorged in March 2019.  Gilles observed the it is important to know when the wine is disgorged.  The base wine, from the 2016 vintage,  spent eighteen months in barrel and was ripe and honeyed, with some oak influence, with character and depth.   It was rich and characterful.  

L’Ancestrale a pure Mauzac was quite rounded, with leafy herbal notes and dry honey on the palate.  

The red Cuvée Louis is a blend of Malbec, aged in vat, and Merlot and Cabernet Franc, in barrel.  The vines are 10 - 15 years old, planted on argilo-calcaire, and éboulis calcaires.  Gilles observed that he plants each variety on the best terroir for it - Chardonnay is best on a north facing slope; Mauzac likes poor soil, limestone, and does well in drought.  The wine was a deep young colour, with a rich ripe nose, with rich concentrated fruit and some underlying oak.  

Gilles is also making a pure Mauzac, and commented that other more traditional varieties, such as Terret, Clairette and Macabeo were once grown in Limoux, but disappeared when the region began to concentrate on sparkling wine at the expense of still wine.  

My final question was: what about the idea of a cru for Roquetaillade?  That apparently is on hold, as the powers that be would want a cru for each of the four climatic zones of Limoux, Antan, Oceanique, Mediterrannée and so Roquetaillade would represent the Haute Vallée de l’Aude and encompass a larger area than the village itself.  For the moment it is a question of wait and see.  

Friday, 26 April 2019

Domaine Mouscaillo



On previous visits, I have tasted with Pierre and Marie-Claire, but this time we met the next generation, their son Thomas, and daughter-in-law, Camille.  She is very articulate and gave us a informative account of the creation of the estate.  Pierre was born in the village of Roquetaillade, but his parents’ grapes were sent to the cooperative.   And he went to work elsewhere, first in Buzet and then at the Château de Tracy in the Loire valley for 13 years.  It was Didier Dagueneau, the talented and original Pouilly Fumé producer, who encourage Pierre to return to Roquetaillade, so that Pierre considers Didier to be the godfather of Mouscaillo.   Pierre bought 4 hectares of vines and made his first wine, a Chardonnay,  in 2004; in 2006 he recuperated a hectare of Pinot Noir from the cooperative, and now has six hectares in production.  His wines focussed on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and very successfully.  

However, with the next generation, things are evolving.  They have begun making sparkling wine, with a first vintage in 2010, planting some Chenin and have grafted some Mauzac.  Camille talked about the problems of Mauzac; everyone tends to use the same very productive clone for Blanquette, but happily a conservatoire of Mauzac is being developed, with different clones and rootstocks.  They are planning a still wine.  Both Camille and Thomas studied ecology, before realising that they really wanted to be wine growers, and returning to Roquetaillade at the end of  2016.   The idea of ‘saving’ an old grape variety really appeals to them.  There are apparently as many as 80 different clones of Mauzac in both Limoux and Gallic, and also Mauzac Rose, as well as Blanc.   If you only use one or two clones, this can render the grape variety much more susceptible to disease.  

Camille insisted on Limoux as a terroir d’altitude, at 400 metres, so that you feel the effect of the Pyrenees, with cool nights, making for freshness in the wines.  They do not have the drought problems that can occur elsewhere in the Languedoc, and indeed in warmer part of LImoux.   The village is at a crossroads; they have both Mediterranean garrigues and pine trees.

Our tasting began with 2018 Chardonnay, from barrel, from two plots, south-facing St. Pierre and north facing Mouscaillo, vinified separately and then blended together, with a fermentation and élevage in wood, as is compulsory for the appellation of Limoux.   They use 500 - 600 litre demi-muids, with light toasting to oxygenate rather than boiser the wine.  2018 was a complicated harvest; the ripening process suddenly stopped, and they did not know why, so they stopped picking and then the grapes suddenly ripened.   In 2017 they had finished picking the grapes for their Crémant by the end of August; in 2018 they had barely begun the harvest in early September.  However, the wine had firm acidity and was tight and stony, and still very youthful.

2018 Pinot Noir was light red in colour, with fresh perfumed fruit and a dry finish.  They have just one hectare on a south facing slope, but are planning to plant some Pinot Noir on a north facing slope so they can observe the difference.   

NV Crémant, disgorged in February 2019, comprises 70% Chardonnay, with 10% Chenin Blanc and 20%  Pinot Noir was light and creamy.  They only use the first free run juice and both the alcoholic and malolactic fermentation take place in barrel, which is rare in Limoux, and the wine is given six  months élevage, with some bâtonnage.  It was elegantly rich.  Rather than adding sugar for the prise de mousse,they add grape juice,  some Chenin Blanc, for which the fermentation had been blocked by chilling.  They don’t want to increase the alcohol level, and if you add sugar, you do, by about 1º.  And at disgorgement they top up the bottles with wine.  

Our tasting continued with some more Chardonnay.

2017 was nicely rounded, with good addict and dry elegant fruit.   2017 was a hot dry vintage, and the wine has good tension

2016 was more charmeur, with a more expressive nose and more supple and elegant, while 2015 was quite firm with a touch of wood, more tension and a dry finish.  And the mini-vertical finished with 2004, which was still extraordinarily young, with fine acidity, notes of honey and hazelnuts and almonds, and a long lingering finish.

They insist on the fact that Chardonnay from Limoux will age and have developed a policy of selling a wine that is ten years old, currently the 2008, for 32€ as opposed to 16€ for the current vintage.  

Next came 2017 Pinot Noir - 17.00€ - with lovely fragrant fruit, cherries and raspberries.  It was youthful with supple tannin and elegant weight and a fresh finish.   2016, which had spent 12 months in barrels, again had lovely fresh fruit and length with more integrated tannins.  The grapes are destemmed and the maceration time depends on the vintage.  They don’t want too much tannin or colour.  

And our tasting finished with their first Mauzac, from vat.  They want acidity and the wine certainly had fresh flavour and a certain sapidity, with some appealing herbal notes.  And then we adjourned to their house next door to the cellar for a very convivial lunch and enjoyed the warmth of an open fire on a grey day in Limoux.   Visiting the abbey of St Hilaire afterwards, with its fine church and cloisters proved a very chilly as well as awe-inspiring experience









Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Cellar visits in Limoux - J Laurens


Norwegian friends wanted to visit Limoux, so I arranged to see four of my favourite Limoux producers.  The idea was also to enjoy some good walks between cellar visits, but on two out of three days, the weather decided otherwise.  So our first appointment was with Jacques Clavel at J. Laurens in the village of La Digne d’Aval.

Buying J Laurens in 2001 was a retirement project for Jacques after a successful career in IT; in fact it has taken over his life; he loves it and it is really a second career.  His enthusiasm for Limoux is infectious and he simply could not envisage doing anything else.   And why Limoux?  It is the nearest vineyard to his origins in the Pyrenees.  He now produces 400,000 bottles a year, mainly sold on the export market, from 40 hectares of his own vineyards, supplemented by the purchase of grapes from another 30 hectares of his neighbours’ vines.  The price varies depending on the grape variety.  Chardonnay is 1.00€ a kilo, compared o Mauzac which is 65 cts a kilo; it is more prolific, reaching 75 hl/ha as opposed to 50 hl/ha for Chardonnay.

Jacques has had the same winemaker, Henri, since the beginning, who was trained by the original champenois owner.   He showed us round the cellars; everything is pretty stream-lined.  They like to harvest early, in order to retain the acidity.  The second fermentation adds 1.5 degrees in alcohol, and if you pick too late, the balance in the wine is spoilt.  For sparkling Limoux, everything must be picked by hand.  They have the same team each year, who they feed and lodge.   They use small boxes, with holes, allowing any juice to escape, and they press very gently, and have two presses in case they need to pick quickly.  The potential alcoholic degree can rise very quickly in warm weather.  The temperature of the first fermentation is around 15-16C.   

Blanquette de Limoux requires a minimum of nine months ageing sur lattes, as opposed to 12 months for Crémant de Limoux.  Jacques prefers a longer period for both, and they use giropalettes for remuage.  The process takes just four days.

NV Blanquette de Limoux, Lo Moulin - 9.10€
A blend of 90% Mauzac and 10% Chardonnay, with a light colour and a fine mousse.  it has spent at least fifteen months on the lees of the second fermentation.  The wine has quite rich honeyed nose, with notes of green apples and pears on the palate.  There are also herbal hints, with rounded fruit and good acidity.  Like all good Blanquette, it makes for an original glass of bubbles.

2016 Crémant de Limoux, les Graimenous  - 10.10€
A blend of 60% Chardonnay, with 30% Chenin Blanc and 5% each of Mauzac and Pinot Noir.   Light colour.  with a lightly creamy nose, and some fine creamy fruit, and quite a rich finish.  Jacques like what he calls droiture in his wines, a difficult word to translate in wine terms, and the dictionary says righteousness!  I would suggest a wine that is direct, and incisive, with character.

Crémant de Limoux Rosé, no 7 - 11.10€
A delicate pretty pink.  Made from 60% Chardonnay, 25% Chenin Blanc and 15% Pinot Noir, which not only provides colour but also flavours of red fruit., after 12 hours on the skins.  The nose is elegant with fresh raspberry notes, and the palate is beautifully balanced, with acidity and fruit, and a fine mousse.  

2017 Crémant de Limoux, Clos des Demoiselles - 12.20€
The same blend as for the pink Crémant, but without the same skin contact, and with 20 -24 months sur lattes.  A light colour and a rich nose, with more nuances than les Graimenous, and more structure on the palate, from the higher percentage of Pinot Noir.  There is also an elegant richness.   I asked Jacques about fermenting any of his wine in oak, to which the reply was not yet.  At an age when most people are well past retirement, that is far from his mind, with new projects and possibilities.  



Thursday, 4 April 2019

Around the tastings looking for Languedoc.


Last week started well with Yapp Brothers www.yapp.co.uk celebrating their 50thanniversary.  That is quite a milestone and they included a wine from each decade.  The 1969 Montlouis Demi-Sec from Domaine Berger quite belied its age, with dry honeyed flavours and good acidity.  In the early days Robin and Judith Yapp concentrated on the Rhône and the Loire Valleys, but their sons, Jason and Tom, have diversified, so they now have one of my favourite Pic St Loup, 

2017 Mas Bruguière, l’Arbouse - £17.50
A blend of 60% Syrah, aged for twelve months in large barrels, and 40% Grenache Noir kept in concrete vats, with some elegant dry spice on the nose, with riper notes on the palate.  Balanced with some spicy fruit and considerable depth, and youthful nuances.  A lovely glass of wine that will continue to evolve. 

There were other wines from the south, an elegant Cap Corse rosé from Domaine Pieretti an intriguing blend of Nielluccio, Grenache Noir and Alicante Bouschet.

Yapp Bros have long represented Domaine de Trévallon, a humble IGP but the best estate of Les Baux de Provence, as Eloi Dürrbach has always obstinately refused to plant the Grenache Noir that is needed to make the wine an appellation.   The 2003 vintage exuded character, with spicy cedary fruit, and quite an intense palate with weight and length.

The other offering from the Languedoc came from Domaine de la Grange des Pères in  Aniane, again an IGP, 2015 Pays de l’Hérault blanc, and a blend of Roussanne, Chardonnay, Marsanne and Gros Manseng.  The oak was still quite evident, but underneath there was fruit and plenty of layers of flavour, with some rich leesy notes, a textured palate and some firm acidity.  It was still very youthful and promising to reward some bottle age.  

Tuesday was the 40thanniversary of the shippers, Thorman Hunt.   www.thormanhunt.co.uk
They have an extensive list, including quite a few different Languedoc estates.  

There were a pair of Minervois from J M Cazes.  2016 L’Ostal Minervois Estibals was ripe and spicy with supple tannins and drinking beautifully   The Grand Vin from l’Ostal, also 2016, was much sturdier on the nose, with drier spice, and more opulent on the palate, with some ripe spice and appealing black fruit. It was a rich mouthful of the warm south. 

Next came a pair of Fitou from Domaine Bertrand Bergé. 2016 Cuvée Origines was ripe and spicy on the nose, a wine of the warm south, with distinctly furry tannins on the palate and some dense fruit on the palate.  It was also a tad alcoholic at 14.5°.  2017 Cuvée Mégalithes was also quite dense on the palate, with the concentration that is typical of a ripe Fitou.  

The Fitou contrasted nicely with Château la Bastide, Corbières.  The 2016 Cuvée Tradition is slightly leaner and drier with some firm fruit.  It is a blend of 60% Syrah with 20% each of Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre with quite an elegant finish and some peppery notes.  

2017 Domaine de l’Herbe Sainte from the Minervois was ripe with a rounded palate and a touch of vanilla. 

I always find the red wines of Château de la Négly on la Clape quite ripe and intense.  Cuvée la Cote, Languedoc, was ripe and rounded with a firm tannic streak while Cuvée la Falaise was rounded with intense black fruit and tapenade, with texture and weight in the mouth.  However, the estate’s white wine, Brise Marine, from la Clape is one of my favourites of that appellation, with some lovely fresh saline fruit, good acidity and a dry finish.  

Wednesday saw me at Lea & Sandeman.   They had a couple of varietal wines from Domaine les Yeuses near Mèze, but for me the standout southern wine was the 2018 Domaine Tempier Bandol rosé, with a very pale ethereal colour, and delicate fruit on both nose and palate.  The palate was elegantly concentrated, and at the same time elegantly understated, and beautifully harmonious.  A simply lovely glass of wine; I can’t wait to drink it in some southern sunshine. 

The next day was the turn of The Wine Society where the Languedoc was conspicuous by its absence, even though they have a very strong Languedoc list.   A pity.  I consoled myself with Antoine Arena’s delicious Muscat from Cap Corse, with notes of honey and lemon.  

Next came Field, Morris & Verdin. They were ignoring the Languedoc too, but there was a characterful wine from Le Soula in Roussillon, namely La Macération du Soula No 16, Côtes Catalanes.  It was orange golden in colour, with a firm concentrated nose with some tannin as well as acidity on the palate and some intriguing fruit.  It had a lovely fresh finish with a lift.  

Yesterday saw me at The Theatre of Wine, for an eclectic range of wines.  The Languedoc was represented by a pair of Corbières, from Clos de l’Anhel 2017 Lolo de l’Anhel is a blend of Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, with some ripe spicy fruit, with fleshy notes on the palate, and a firm streak of tannin.  

That was accompanied by their 2015 Corbières les Dimanches, from the same grape varieties.  It was deep in colour, with some firm fruit, but more elegant and stylish on the palate than Lolo de l’Anhel, but both were nicely warming Corbières on a rather chilly morning.

Next to them, very intriguingly, were wines from the only private estate in Algeria, Grands Crus de l'Ouest, a white from Clairette and Ugni blanc that was rounded and leafy, coming from vines in the Coteaux de Mascara.  The rosé, Gris de Sables, was a pure Cinsaut and delicate and fresh on the palate, while the pair of reds, from Grenache, Cinsaut and Alicante formed a nice contrast. Koutoubia Red 2017 was spicy with light fruit and tannins, while Saint Augustin 2014 was more substantial, and structured.  They quite belied any preconceived ideas about wines from North Africa.   And I don't think I have knowing tasted or drunk a a wine from Algeria before.

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.