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.