Saturday, 26 September 2015

Traffic hazards at harvest time

                                                         Slippery road.  Grape harvest

The roundabouts in Pezenas suddenly spawned a series of warning notices in early September.  The Pezenas coop is on a main  road on the  edge of the town so if any of the coop members have leaking trailers, grape juice could indeed be a bit of a traffic problem.   And I seen a similar sign once before, on the island of Cyprus.  In fact a photograph of a warning : 'road slippery with grape juice' was the very first thing I  ever had published in Decanter magazine, back in the autumn of 1977!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Château Guilhem in the Malepère

Malepère tends to get overlooked.  It is a small appellation, of just 500 hectares, covering the hills south west of Carcassonne, around the Massif de la Malepère.   Originally when it was still a VDQS Côtes de la Malepère, the regulations demanded both bordelais and Languedocien grape varieties, but since the creation of the appellation, Bordeaux varieties alone are possible.   

We went to visit Château Guilhem in the village of Malviès, which is one of the older, more established, and also largest estates of the appellation, run and owned these days by Bertrand Gourdou, the 6th generation, with Catherine Montahuc as his winemaker.  She has worked here since 2006, but comes from Burgundy. She showed us round; they have 30 hectares of vines in production, of which 17 are Malepère and the rest produce varietal Pays d’Oc.   Malepère is only ever red or rosé; any white wine is Pays d’Oc. A more recent proposal that a white appellation might be considered was refused by the INAO, with the suggestion that the vignerons of the appellation need first to optimise the production of their red and rosé wines, and that any thoughts of white wine were distinctly premature.

The château itself dates from the 1870s, and on some of their labels they use an old photograph of the family from 1902. Originally the property was called Chateau Malviès, but Bertrand thought that could cause some confusion, and preferred to rename it, after the family name of his grandfather, Guilhem.  In the vineyard they work organically, and the cellar at first sight looks like the classic Languedoc cellar, with old cement vats and some old foudres.  However they have divided the cement vats into smaller sizes, which was not easy, but nonetheless preferable to  removing copious amounts of reinforced concrete.  They also have stainless steel vats; Bertrand’s grandfather was one of the first to use them for wine in the Languedoc, in the mid-1970s, inspired by the example of the dairy industry.   The next project is a proper chai à barriques.  They were also amongst the first to plant Merlot in the area, again at the beginning of the 1970s.  Their oldest Cabernet Franc is 15 years old.   A classic Malepère blend must include at least 50% Merlot with at least 20% Cabernet Franc.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec are also allowed, as well as Syrah, Grenache Noir and so on, but they have none of those.    The vineyards have been organic since 2010.  The soil is clay and limestone with an average altitude of 250 metres.

Our tasting began with:

2014 Sauvignon, Pays d’Oc – 7.00€
Fresh and pithy, with a dry finish.   Easy drinking, with some varietal character, but not too much.  The juice is given a little skin contact, before pressing.  

2014 Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc – 7.00€
In the range of Heritage Famille Guilhem, with the old photo on the label, and the words ‘Esprit de Famille since 1878.  A little colour.  Lightly buttery; lightly rounded and quite elegant.  No oak.  Some 25 year old Chardonnay vines.

2014 Viognier, Pays d’Oc – 8.00€
Light colour; lightly peachy on the nose, and palate.  Nicely rounded.  Fresh with a touch of acidity.  quite elegant.

2014 Grand Vin Blanc, Pays Cathare – 13.00€
Half Chardonnay, fermented in barriques and half Sauvignon, fermented in 500 litre barrels, and then blended after fermentation, and bottled in April.  If there was a white appellation, this would be it.  I detected more Sauvignon than Chardonnay on both nose and palate.  Good acidity and a light streak of tannin from the oak.  Nicely understated.  How might it age?  A good balance of the two varieties.
The characteristic of Malepère are quite different within the appellation.  As Catherine explained, the vineyards on the Carcassonne side of the hill are more Languedocien in character, whereas on southern side of the Malepère, nearer to Limoux, the vineyards are more suitable for the Bordeaux varieties.  Grenache or Syrah simply would not ripen here.

2014 Malepère rosé, Prestige du Château Guilhem  – 10.00€
A blend of 50% each of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  Mostly saigné, using the first free run juice. apart from a plot of young Cabernet Franc.  Pretty pale colour.  Delicate fresh fruit.  Lightly raspberry, and on the palate quite crisp and fresh, with good acidity.  They use a glass stopper for this, which costs ten times more than a cork.   They pick at night.

2014 Pot de Vin, Pays d’Oc Merlot – 6.00€
To be served chilled, for easy summer drinking.  Medium colour. Quite rounded easy fruit, with a streak of tannin.  They use an old label and an old bottle shape from the 1970s. 

2013 Malepère Heritage Famille Guilhem – 7.00
Their entry level Malepère, with the emphasis on fruit.  A blend of Merlot and Cabernets, with an élevage in vat.  Quite rounded, ripe and fleshy, with a tannic streak. Easy drinking.    The yield for Malepère is 50 hl/ha but they usually only manage 40 hl/ha.

2013 Prestige of Chateau Guilhem – 10.00€
50% Merlot with 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec.   Deep colour. Quite rich and rounded with some tannin.  Nicely fleshy with ripe cassis fruit.  Spends eight months in wood, but not new wood.  They vinify single plots and then blend gradually.   The Cabernet Franc gives freshness.  Catherine observed that the last three harvest, 2012 – 2014 have been late and cooler, while 2011 was the last hot year.   And we commented on the heat of this summer; the wind from the Mediterranean was bringing humidity, and oidium loves it!

2013 Grand Vin – 16.00
The blend changes, with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon the dominant varieties with a little Merlot.  However it is not the same every year, but the best of the year, so 2011 was Merlot and Cabernet Franc while in 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon replaced Cabernet Franc.  The wine spends twelve months in old wood, after blending, to provide some oxygenation.   If it is too cool, Cabernet Sauvignon does not ripen, but it does not like hot years either, while Cabernet Franc adapts much better.

Good deep colour.  Firm structured cassis fruit on the nose.  A rounded palate with a good balance of tannin and fruit.  Still very youthful.  It makes you think of Bordeaux,  ‘but with the sunshine’ added Catherine.  

2012 Clos du Blason, en magnum – 50.00€.   Catherine very generously gave us a magnum, as they had no bottles left for us to taste.  2013 had not been successful as the Merlot got coulure, and the 2014 vintage is still in barrel and will not be bottled until 2016, after 18 months in new oak.   It is 90% Merlot, with one barrel of Cabernet Franc and one barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon.   The idea is to show how well Merlot performs in the Malepère, especially when the vines are 40 years old.    We drank the magnum with friends later that evening.  The oak influence is still very strong, with some ripe vanilla and cassis fruit, balanced by a youthful tannic streak.   The key question is: how will it age in bottle?   For sheer drinkability, the Heritage cuvée was hard to beat. 


Monday, 14 September 2015

Domaine de Poujol

The very first post of this blog records a visit to Domaine de Poujol back in 2009, so it was high time for an update.    As it happened,  a month or so ago, Domaine de Poujol  proved a convenient detour on the way to the airport to retrieve my husband from London flight.

It was a warm summer's morning and we sat outside the cellar with Kim, being deafened by the noise of the crickets.   Kim and Robert have been in the Languedoc since their first vintage in 1994.   And it was interesting to see how their wines have evolved over the years.  The label design has changed; and they have converted to screwcaps.   Virtually all their wines are IGP Hérault rather than an appellation. 

2014 Pico, IGP Hérault– 7.00€
A blend of Vermentino, Roussanne and Carignan blanc.  Vinified in tank.  Vermentino works well for them, ripening late.    Fresh herbal notes with good acidity.  A little weight and lightly rounded.   Carignan blanc is not allowed within the appellation and the Vermentino is grown in a vineyard that is too close to the river, hence vin de pays rather than an appellation.   

2014 Rosé, Pays de l’Hérault.  – 7.00€
This accounts for 60% of their production.  A blend of Carignan, Cinsaut and Grenache, but no Mourvèdre in 2014, as it ripened too late.   They had serious weather issues in 2014, with three separate floods.   1000 mms of rain fell in about two weeks, and on 6th October the flow of water was strong enough to pull up vines, so that they lost some Grenache and Mourvèdre.  2002 was another year of floods when they lost their entire Syrah crop. 

The grapes are all pressed, following the practice of Provence, making for a pretty pale orange pink.  Delicate dry raspberry fruit on nose and palate.  Quite crisp and fresh with a touch of raspberry, with a spicy note.  Very appealing.

2013 Pays de l’Hérault blanc, Carignan blanc – 15.00€
From old vines planted in 1961.  Fermented and aged in an acacia barrel.  Light golden.  Quite rounded and fresh with lightly peachy herbal notes and good acidity.  Very intriguing.  Some minerality and stony fruit, but more weight and more fleshy than Pico.  They make just one demi-muid, and use only minimal use of sulphur.

2013 Vin de France, Cinsaut  - 10.00€
Light young red colour.  A bit of cherry fruit.  The Languedoc’s answer to good Beaujolais, making perfect summer drinking if lightly chilled.  Lovely red fruit.  40 year old vines producing 20 hl/ha.   a natural wine.  Kim observed that it is easier to make a natural wine if you ferment in wood, as you retain the carbon dioxide. 

2013 Cinq Ceps, AC Languedoc.   – 7.00€
60% Syrah, 20 % Carignan, 10% Cinsault and 8% Grenache noir and just 2% Mourvèdre.  Quite rounded and ripe cherry fruit with a tannic streak.  Medium weight and youthful

2013 Podio Alto, AC Languedoc – 15.00€
A blend of low yielding Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, from higher vineyards, aged in barrels, demi-muids,  for 12 months.  Deep colour.  Firm red fruit with a touch of oak. Quite ripe with vanilla an cherry and some tannin.  A rich mouthful, but not heavy and it certain does not taste like 14.5˚

Domaine de Poujol lies in something of a crossroads of appellations.  When Kim and Robert bought the estate, they understood that the commune of St. Gély would be included within the Pic St Loup, but no.  Then it was suggested that they could be Grès de Montpellier, but that idea has been dropped.  And in any case the mayor of Montpellier is now getting involved with Grès de Montpellier, suggesting that everyone should use a special bottle, with a logo, and that would necessitate changing the bottle line, and who wants to do that? 

2010 la Bête Noire, Vin de France– 15.00€
90% Cabernet Sauvignon with some Carignan.  Picked at the same time and fermented together.  They have always had a small plot, not even one hectare,  of Cabernet Sauvignon on the estate. Deep colour.  Rounded cassis, ripe fruit with some tannin. Rounded and ripe.  Very harmonious, but not at all Languedoc.  Somehow it tasted of the New World, although the Carignan did add a fresher note.

And then Robert returned hot from the vineyards, saying:  But  you must try our Carignan juice before you leave.   They prevent if from fermenting at all so that it has 186 gms of sugar, with ripe fruit and fresh acidity.  Turn it into a sorbet, suggested Robert, but do add some alcohol. So I did.  My husband thought it tasted of cough medicine – maybe pastis had not been the best choice, but it was all I had to hand - but other friends were more polite!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Alicante Bouschet and Cinsaut at Virgin Wines

Less popular or once decried grape varieties are making a bit of a comeback in the Languedoc, and well done Virgin Wines for picking up on that.

I’ve just enjoyed a bottle of Alicante Bouschet, Escura des Pins, Pays de l’Herault 2013, for £9.99.   It has quite a deep young colour, with some ripe cherry fruit on the nose, and more ripe supple fruit on the palate.  Quite fleshy with some soft tannins, making for easy drinking, but with some depth and length.  A modest 12⁰.   Alicante Bouschet was a grape variety that was definitely frowned upon for contributing to the European wine lake.  .  It produced high yields of thin flavoured wine, and as a teinturier variety it performed the useful function of boosting the colour of high yield anaemic varieties.  There is not much of it left around, but this really shows that when vinified correctly, without an excessive yield, it can make a really nice glass of wine.

Cinsaut tends to be used for rosé wine, but increasingly is making some very appealing red wines.  It features in Gavin Crisfield’s La Traversée along with some Syrah, Carignan and Grenache Noir, but the fragrant perfume of the wine very much comes from the Cinsaut component.  The 2012 vintage at £24.99 has  quite a deep young colour, with fragrant fruit on the nose, and on the palate some ripe very fruit, with balancing acidity and tannin.  The alcohol reaches 14 but the wine tastes much lighter and is in perfect balance.  The vineyards are in the high hills of the cooler Terrasses du Larzac and Gavin’s small cellar is well off the beaten track in the tiny hamlet of les Salses.   Ca vaut le voyage.   

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Mas Sibert

Simon Bertschinger has developed Mas Sibert from scratch and is helped with his wife, Sara Frémine.   He has a delightfully picturesque cellar in the village of Fos, where we tasted, but his vines are near Domaine Bourdic on the Pézenas-Roujan road.  He has just two hectares and makes three reds and a rosé, and is planning to plant vines for a white wine, namely (80%) Petite Arvine and (15%) Albarino as well as (5%) Gewürztraminer, for the côté exotique; just 1300 vines in all which will give him about 1000 litres of wine, but not for another four years,   Simon is Swiss, hence the interest in Petite Arvine.  And for red wines he began with Merlot and Petit Verdot, and planted some Sangiovese and Syrah. And in his vineyard he has three different types of soil, clay and limestone on river terraces, some sandy soil, by the river bank, and some clay, with large stones.  2003 was his first vintage, made from Aramon, which he has subsequently replaced, finally in 2011, with Merlot and Petit Verdot.

Talking about Petite Arvine, Simon said he would pick early to retain the acidity.  The microclimate of his vineyard is quite fresh – and then he observed:  No risk; no fun!  He is biodynamic, but not registered as such.  He makes preparations from various plants, like nettles, bracken, horsetail, and comfrey.  He tries to respect the biodynamic calendar.  He uses a little sulphur at bottling and occasionally tries some wine without sulphur, and neither filters nor fines.  He observed that natural wine can be un peu de tout. 

Simon has taken a devious route to land up in the Languedoc.  He did some commercial studies and then he learnt cake making and patisserie, which he really enjoyed, 'but you do not use your brain'.  So he studied hotel management, and travelled, to Piedmont and California.  And then he realised that it was the production of wine that really interested him, rather than working as a sommelier.  So he came to the Languedoc and worked for four months at Domaine Bourdic with Hans Hurlimann and Christa Vogel in 2000, and then in 2001 settled in France.  He worked for other estates, Ollier Taillefer and Château de Nizas, and started his own estate from scratch, very courageously.  His house in Fos includes a small cellar, with some concrete vats and barrels.

2014 Rosé, Vin de France – 7.00€
Simon shuns French wine legislation;  the tax if you are Vin de France is very much lower than for an appellation.  70% Nielluccio, the grape variety of Patrimonio in Corsica, otherwise known as Sangiovese, with 30% Syrah.  Saigné after three hours.  Débourbage,  Classic fermentation in vat.  , using natural yeast and controlling  the fermentation temperature at 19˚C.  Nielluccio retain acidity and is picked before the Syrah. Quite a deep colour.  With dry raspberry fruit.  Quite fresh with good acidity.  Very juicy.  Some tannin as well as acidity This is a food rose; it would go brilliantly with lamb chops off the barbecue.

2013 Armélot, Vin de France – 8.50€
The name implies lots of Merlot, 40%, with the same amount of Syrah and 20% Petit Verdot.  Simon observed that Petit Verdot ripens badly in Bordeaux but here it produces a good crop, benefiting from the warm autumns.  It needs to be 14 -14.5˚ to be properly ripe, while retaining good acidity, and indeed balances the lack of acidity in the Merlot.  Each variety is vinified separately, in vat, and left to age in tank and bottled 12 months later.  Good deep colour.  Rounded cassis fruit, and on the palate, with a fresh tannic streak.  Evolving nicely.  A fresh finish, ripe and firm.  Almost tastes as though it has been in wood, but no it has not.

2013 Fosénot, Vin de France – 9.50€
70% Syrah, with 10% each of Nielluccio, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  Vinified in concrete vats, with an élevage in stainless steel.  Blended after malo.    Deep colour.  Quite peppery fruit on the nose, and fresh peppery fruit and tannins on the palate.  Youthful with acidity and good fruit.  Quite sturdy with an elegant finish.

2013 Soléno, Vin de France – 14.00€
40% Merlot, 30% Petit Verdot and 30% Syrah.  In old wood for eight months.   Simon buys retoasted barrels, which are less aggressive than brand new barrels.  Deep colour.  Quite a firm nose, with some cassis, and more on the palate, with some tannins.  Quiite fleshy with a peppery note.  Oak nicely intergrated.   Youthful, with an elegant finish. 

It had been a number of years since I last tasted Simon’s wines and I thought that he had progressed enormously.  He observed that he has become more confident.  He does not have an oenologist; he does not need one.  He simply accompanies the wine but does not intervene too much, with some pigeage and a little remontage for his red wines.   He observed: you employ a consultant oenologist and he makes your wine, or you make your own wine with your own hands. 

Simona also has some olive trees, and takes his olives to the mill at Gabian which accepts a minimum of 90 kilos.

And we finished with 2010 Armélot.
Medium colour.  Nicely rounded with ripe plummy fruit and a streak of acidity as well as tannin.  Good cassis fruit and nicely balanced.  Still very youthful, but beginning to mature nicely. 

I asked Simon about projects for the future.  He and Sara are happy to remain small, doing the best they can with their vineyards and respecting the land.  They want to give pleasure to people à table, transmitting their enthusiasm,  so that they passe un moment sympathique.   Sounds good to me.   And on Sundays in the summer they fire up the village bread oven which is just by their cellar; you can bring pizzas to be cooked, and Sara makes bread.  I must go and try some.  

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Wine and Chocolate at Le Wine Shop

A group of friends met at Le Wine Shop in Pézenas for a chocolate and wine tasting.   Chocolate and wine are notoriously difficult to pair, but Dom George and Emmanuel Servant, a maitre chocolatier based in Marseillan, were up to the challenge.  Emmanuel simply said to Dom: Give me the wines, and I’ll make a chocolate to go with each of them, and that is  just what he did.

It proved to be a fascinating and highly instructive tasting, and great fun, not least  for overturning some preconceived ideas.  I had thought red wine usually went pretty well with chocolate, with a streak of tannin balancing the dark chocolate, and some of vin doux, old Rivesaltes or Banyuls would be good too.  

But first Dom gave us some background information.  I had no idea that you could talk about terroir in association with chocolate, and that soil matters, and also aspect.  Drainage is important too.  Most chocolate is produced between 10N and 10S of the Equator.    About three quarters of the world’s chocolate production comes from West Africa, the Ivory Coast and Ghana, whereas the best chocolate originates from Central and South America, notably Ecuador.  And the production of chocolate also entails a fermentation process.  This is not the place for the precise production details, but it was fascinating to realise quite what a complicated process fine chocolate entails. 

The first preconceived idea was overthrown with the first wine.  Who would have thought of pairing chocolate with Chardonnay?   But it worked!   First taste the wine, said Dom, as the flavour of the chocolate is ten times more powerful than the more ethereal flavour of a wine..   2014 Chardonnay from Domaine de Grézan was lightly rounded and buttery with some soft acidity, and the creaminess of ganache of dark and milk chocolate perfectly complimented the creaminess of the chocolate, with the a touch of green aniseed providing a lift on the finish.

Next came 2014 Picpoul Noir from Domaine de la Grangette, paired with palet d’or, a blend of dark and milk chocolate.   The wine had a bright young red colour, with fresh fruit.  It was lightly chilled with some acidity and a little tannin, and here the freshness counterbalanced the creaminess of the chocolate in a very satisfying way.

Domaine de la Clapiere, 2013 Etincelle,  a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Viognier and 10% Petit Manseng was paired with a disc of Ariba, a dark chocolate from a single plantation in Ecuador.  The wine was quite rounded and peachy, with some perfume and acidity, and a touch of spice which complimented the spiciness in the wine. Again another surprise of white wine going with dark chocolate.

2013 Domaine des Arbournières, Syrah, from a new estate in Roujan was quite tannic, with some vanilla sweetness on the finish, and maybe a bit too tannic for the ganache infused with pain d’épice spices.  The idea was that the spices in the chocolate would complement the spice in the wine, but possibly the wine was a little too chilled.   

Domaine des Amiels, 2014 Rosé des Gonzesses, a blend of Carignan, Syrah and Grenache, was paired with a Maralumi milk chocolate from Venezuela.   The wine was rather difficult, a vivid pink colour with fresh acidity and raspberry fruit; it is natural and unfiltered, with some sugar left as the Grenache did not finish fermenting.  The chocolate was soft and creamy with a hint of coffee on the finish and the two seemed to argue with each other.

The final wine came from Clos Mathélisse, a new name for me and was their  2013 l’Autre Vendange, a late harvest Roussanne.  The grapes are dried on the vines, passerillé, with the stem of each bunch twisted, to break and the result is simply delicious, with dry honey on the nose, and even more on the palate, with some ripe apricot fruit and walnuts balanced with and very good acidity.   It did not taste 14.5

It accompanied two chocolates.  First came a non-deodorised white chocolate.  The odour has been removed and the flavour was strong and buttery; the fat of the white chocolate lasts in the mouth and complimented the wine.  Next came a dark chocolate flavoured with confit ginger.  The chocolate was absolutely delicious and it went brilliantly with the wine, with the flavour of the wine emphasising the ginger, or vice versa.  It was all in perfect balance and delicious note on which to finish.     And yet another preconception overthrown.

Emmanuel Servant has a shop in the industrial estate of Marseillan, but fortunately from September Dom will also be selling his chocolate at Le Wine Shop.  

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

A vertical tasting at Mas Gabriel

Deborah and Peter Core at Mas Gabriel are about to make their 10th vintage and they felt the occasion should be marked with a vertical tasting of both their Carignan, the white Clos des Papillons and red Les Trois Terrasses.   I love vertical tastings and this was no exception.

First: Clos des Papillons

2014:  For the first time this included 15 % Vermentino, and the drop of Viognier which had been in earlier vintages has gone, as the vines have been pulled up.   Between 25%  and 50% of the wine is fermented in acacia barrels, which fills out the palate a little, and there is also some lees stirring, but no malo, as they want to retain the fresh acidity.  The Carignan vines, which are nearly 40 years old, are grown on clay and limestone, while the Vermentino, which was planted four years ago, is on galets roulées.    There are just 40 hectares of Carignan Blanc altogether in the Languedoc, of which they have about 50 ares, just half a hectare.   Apparently there are moves to include Carignan Blanc in Faugères Blanc. 

2014 was not an easy vintage.  A very dry winter followed by a very dry spring.  The vines stopped growing until the first rains of the growing season in June.  And the harvest was tricky with some big storms.   Picked on 8th September.   

Light colour.  Delicate nose, lightly nutty, lightly herbal and on the palate very good acidity.  Structured and tightly knit with firm fruit.  They pick to retain acidity.  And they are a few Carignan Gris vines in the plot, which have a light pinkish tinge, but that was not imparted into the wine. 

Initially the yields were derisory, 12 hl/h but by giving the vines lots of TLC and feeding them lots of organic compost, they have raised the yields to a more reasonable 20 – 25 hl/ha.  They have just added to their original vineyard, doubling the size, planting it with cuttings taken from 70 year old vines at Mas Jullien.  The vine nurseries cannot provide Carignan Blanc as there is no recognised clone.    Peter and Deborah admitted that they were inspired by the example of the white wine, Daniel le Conte de Floris, another talented wine grower with vineyards in Caux. 

2013:  A cool year, which started late.  Summer did not arrive until the beginning of July.  A late harvest as a result of the late start to the growing season.   A damp spring, a cool June and also a cool August to made for grapes with good acidity.   Picked on 16th September.  Their largest crop ever. The vats were full.

The nose is beginning to fill out a bit, as is the mouth, but the wine is still very fresh with firm acidity.  Structured and tight knit.  A certain seamlessness and a certain salinity.  Some hints of greengage; a sappy note and a touch of honey. 

2012: Although the autumn of 2011 was very wet, the winter was very dry, so a dry start to the growing season, but spring was also very wet.  However, rainfall for the year turned out to be  40% below normal, but as Peter put it, vines are great survivors.   Picked on 29th August.

A little more colour. Quite rounded with layers of flavour and lots of nuances.  The wine is filling out with riper greengages and a little more alcohol at 13.9.  Some white pepper and spice on the finish.  Good length and nicely rounded.

2011: A dry winter followed by heavy rain in March.  A relatively dry spring, followed by a wet summer.  May was hot, but June, August and September were cool and fresh.   Picked 24th August.  A little colour.  Very firm acidity.  Tight knit and herbal.  Almost Riesling razor-sharp acidity.  Develops some hints of dry honey in the glass.     

2010:  A  wet winter followed by a cool spring.  July and August were hot and dry with cool nights, making for a good concentration of fruit and freshness.  Gentle golden colour.  Rounded dry honey and beeswax, with very good acidity on the palate.  Still very youthful, with dry honey and some weight.

2009 was their first vintage of Clos des Papilloons, but sadly there is none left.

And now for the red, Les Trois Terrasses, which was initially pure Carignan and then more recently has been blended with up to 30% Syrah and Grenache Noir, with blending after the malo.  Kept in vat, not barrel.  Bottled in the July following the harvest. 

2013:  A late harvest, 1st October and lower alcohol 13.8.  Deep young colour.  Firm dry spice on the nose.   Dry red fruit; youthful firm and structured with lively tannins.   

2012:  Young deep colour.  Some ripe spice on the nose, and on the palate youthful tannins, with elegant spicy fruit.  Medium weight.  Lovely fresh fruit, with balancing acidity and tannins.  Picked on 22nd September. 14.3˚

2011 Picked on 19th September.  14.7   Deep colour.  Elegant spice on the nose.  Black fruit on the palate.  Elegantly spicy, and tightly knit.  Still very youthful.  

2010: includes 20% Syrah.  Picked on 21st September. 14.6 good colour.  Rounded black fruit, with the palate filling out, but always with firm peppery fruit, and structure.  Still very youthful .  The question of carbonic maceration was raised; they do some, but not for this wine, but for Clos des Lievres, their other red cuvée.    

2009:  Pure Carignan, 14.9   A cold winter and a very wet April.  Very hot May; Cool nights during June and July and a hot dry August making for an early harvest.  Picked on 18th September.
Very deep colour.   Rounded ripe nose with red fruit.  Quite sturdy but ripe and fleshy.  Fresh tannins.  Red fruit on the nose.  Quite a different style from 2010.  Still very youthful and has evolved beautifully.

2008: The very first Trois Terrasses, picked on 25th September, 14.9˚.   A mild winter.  Warm January and February provoked an early budburst, followed by a wet March.  July and August were hot and dry, and fresh nights in both August and September made for ripe, elegant tannins. 
Very deep colour.  Quite a firm leathery nose.  Structured tight knit firm fruit.  Firm tannins.  Still very youthful. A firm mineral note.  

There was some discussion as to which wine we preferred, and the 2009 pure Carignan generally met with favour, prompting Andrew Jefford to observe:  'I wouldn’t pollute the Carignan with other things'.   I couldn't possibly disagree.  And the wines are all still very young so please could we reconvene in five or ten years’ time to see how they are doing?

Monday, 10 August 2015

La Maison des Vins in St Chinian.

If you want to find out more about St Chinian and have neither time nor inclination to visit a wine cellar, but would simply like to do a bit of tasting, or indeed buy some wine, you should visit the Maison des Vins in St Chinian.  It is in the centre of the town, at the far end of the main square, and is well equipped with an oenomatic, which holds 32 bottles.  And they will happily open anything else that you might be particularly interested in, as they hold a selection of most of the current vintages of most of the growers.  We wandered in, on the off chance, and they gave us a friendly welcome so that we ended up tasting far more wines than we had intended, including several that were unknown to us.   They responded enthusiastically to the question: What’s new?    There are now about 100 or so wine growers in St Chinian, with two or three new estates each year.

First we tried a white, Domaine de Cambis in Berlou, 2014 Kalliopé – and a new name to me.  It is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Vermentino and Roussanne.  And was delicate and fresh with some stony dry fruit.  2014 was the first vintage of this wine. 

I had been hoping to make an appointment with la Grange Léon, a relatively new estate in the village of Berlou. We were told they were away and bottles were opened instead, L’Insolent, L’Audacieux and D’une main à l’autre.  The quality encouraged me not to forget about that cellar visit.

Domaine des Paissels is another fairly new estate run by Vivien Rossignol and Marie Toussaint.  They make two wines, les Paissels and le Banel.    

And while we were talking, Marion Pla came into the Maison des Vins.  I had met her at a tasting in London, but her arrival was the cue to open one of her bottles, Premier Sceau 2012.  She explained that her father had been a member of the Cessenon coop and had gradually developed his vineyards. She did a BTS at Montpellier and is now making her own wine.  2011 Conviction Intime is a homage to her father’s work and a blend of equal parts of Syrah and Grenache, fermented together, with just one barrel for 5% of the wine.   It was quite firm and structured with good length and still quite youthful. 

And we finished with a couple of new names.  There was le Pérarol, from Mas d’Albo in Roquebrun, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan,  with some firm mineral fruit, and then another new name Villa Voltaire, les Orchis du Mazet,.  They admitted to not knowing much about this estate, but the wine promised well, with fruit and concentration.  And then it was time to head for home and the swimming pool.   or for the online shop

Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Roquebrun cooperative

The cave cooperative of Roquebrun in the appellation of St. Chinian consistently wins prizes in the various tasting competitions,  The Top 100 and Decanter’s World Wine Awards, amongst others.  It has been a while since I visited, and time for an update.   A look at the cellar was not possible; they are in the middle of building works, removing asbestos from the original construction.   However, there have been other recent investments in the cellar, concentrating on carbonic maceration, the selection of juice – with three different qualities of Syrah, and also the bottling line.  The director and wine maker, Alain Rogier was much preoccupied, but we were given a very comprehensive tasting by his right hand man, Daniel Marusinski.   Alain has run the cooperative since 1987.

The cooperative is now responsible for 650 hectares, with 80 members.  Forty of them account for 80% of the production and they make three appellations, Coteaux du Languedoc, St. Chinian and St. Chinian Roquebrun, the cru that was recognised in 2005.   The vineyards are mainly lutte raisonnée, with no one doing organic viticulture.  There are four independent producers in the village, Thierry Navarre, Mas d’Albo, Domaine Boissezon-Guiraud and Domaine Marquise des Mures.    The cooperative, not surprisingly, accounts for about 90% of the production of the village. 

Daniel explained that the key characteristics of the cooperative’s wines come from  Syrah, vinified by carbonic maceration, which does indeed give some very distinctive flavours, making for wines with immediate appeal, especially in the context of a competition.    They are very good at making wines for easy drinking, what he called très charmeur.  The carbonic maceration makes for supple tannins, and they also use micro-oxygenation to good effect.  Syrah accounts for the bulk of their vineyards, with 450 hectares, and they have just 50 hectares of Carignan, with the balance Grenache Noir, some Mourvèdre and Cinsaut, and some Roussanne and Grenache Blanc for white wine.  Syrah tends to have much less acidity than Carignan, and responds differently to carbonic maceration.  Daniel talked about their philosphie de Syrah, making wines that are immediately drinkable, with less ageing potential than some.  All their bottles have the distinctive logo of the Cave de Roquebrun, with an outline of the village.  

2014 Coteaux du Languedoc  blanc, Chemin des Olivettes, and in the coop shop Col de Lairole  - 4.50€
60% Grenache Blanc, with Roussanne.  Classic vinification with no oak, but some skin contact and a long fermentation.  The Roussanne gives more depth of character.  Quite closed white blossom nose.  Nicely textured palate with good acidity and a slightly bitter finish.  

2014 St Chinian blanc, Col de la Serre – 6.60€
Again Grenache Blanc with some Roussanne.  Quite rounded and nicely textured with soft acidity.  More weight than the Coteaux du Languedoc and a harmonious finish.

2014 Chemin des Olivettes.  Coteaux du Languedoc  Rosé.
50% Syrah, 35% Grenache Noir, 15% Cinsaut.  Saigné after four to six hours.  Prefermentation maceration à froid for five or six days; débourbage, and then some bâtonnage during fermentation to develop the aromas.  Quite a deep orange pink colour.  Rounded nose; but I found the palate quite heavy and solid, though not especially alcoholic.  13˚.  Dry finish, a bit flat.   

2014 St. Chinian Rosé, Clos de l’Orb
65% Syrah, 35% Grenache Noir. All saigné.  Quite a light colour.  A rounded nose and a satisfying rounded palate, with not a lot of acidity.  Harmonions finish.

2014 Chemin des Olivettes Rouge, Coteaux du Languedoc. – 4.50€
30% Grenache Noir, 20% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre, 35% Carignan.  Medium colour.  Young spicy fruit.  Quite rounded ripe easy spicy fruit, balanced with a streak of tannin.  Rounded but not heavy, and vinified mainly by carbonic maceration.

2014 St Chinian Rouge, Terrasses de Mayline – 6.30€
30% Syrah, 30% Grenache Noir, 10% Mourvèdre and 30% Carignan.  Good deep young colour.  Some ripe spice on nose and palate.  Medium weight but good depth.  Supple tannins.  A dry finish, but easy appeal.

2014 St. Chinian Col de la Serre – 6.50€
Deep colour.  Deeper than Terrasses de Mayline.  A little more structure with a firmer nose and palate.  A tannin streak and dry finish, and less immediate spiciness.

2013 St Chinian-Roquebrun, la Grange des Combes – 8.60€
50% Syrah, made by carbonic maceration, with 30% Grenache Noir and 20% Mourvèdre, aged in vat.  Deep colour.  Ripe dry spice on the nose.  Rounded fruit and spice with a streak of tannin.  Medium weight.  Youthful rounded and complete, with good depth.   The difference between Roquebrun and St Chinian is the higher percentage of Syrah.   And the wines must be kept until January 1st two years after the harvest, so the 2014s will be sold in 2016.

2013 St Chinian-Roquebrun,  Terrasses de la Rocanière – 9.70€  Also known as Roches Noires
60% Syrah with 20% Grenache Noir and 20% Mourvèdre, aged in vat.   Good deep young colour.  Some dry spice on nose and palate. Quite firm with structure and depth.  Ripe spicy black fruit with a balancing tannic streak, and a youthful finish. 

2012 Grand Canal – also known Fiefs d’Aupenac, after a seigneur of the village. – 12.90€
60% Syrah, with 20% each of Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre.  Aged in barriques.  Deep colour.  A nose of black fruit and tapenade and on the palate ripe and rich with plenty of spice.  Quite alcoholic at 14.5.  Quite intense.  Some tannin and hints of vanilla, with a dry finish.

2012 Golden Vines, St Chinian-Roquebrun – 16.30€
65% Syrah, a selection of the best plots.   With 20% Grenache Noir and 15% Mourvèdre.  Made for the first time in 2011.  Includes some 60 – 70 year old vines.  14 months ageing in wood.  Very deep colour. Rich spicy and intense.  Black fruit and tapenade with some tannin, and again a very intense palate, with quite a firm finish. 

But not all their wines are Syrah dominant.  We finished with 2011 Sir de Roc Brun – 12.90€
60% Mourvèdre, with 20% Syrah and 20% Grenache Noir, aged in wood, and blended after élevage.  Quite a deep colour, with a firmer nose and more structure.  It tasted cooler and fresher than the Syrah dominant wines, with a satisfying finish. 

I was left with an impression of a cooperative that was working very well for its appellation and its village.    And then we adjourned to the Cave St. Martin for lunch.    This is another reason for visiting Roquebrun.   It describes itself as an épicerie, bar à vin nature, with a small restaurant, in the summer on a terrace overlooking the Orb.  The owners have recently employed a new chef, who concentrates on local produce.   We shared entrées, enjoying  some Spanish ham, home-made paté, marinated mackerel and a rice and tuna salad, washed down with a glass of Ribeyrenc Blanc from Thierry Navarre, followed by a glass of Temps des Cerises, made by Axel Prűfer, who as coincidence would have it, walked into the restaurant just as we enjoying his wine. 

Saturday, 25 July 2015

La Grange de Bouys

It has to be said that my home village of Roujan is really not known for the quality of its wines.  The neighbouring villages of Caux and Gabian are so much more successful, while Roujan is dominated by its cooperative.  But that may all be about to change.  I spent last Thursday morning tasting with Florence and Stéphane Monmousseau from La Grange de Bouys.  They are newcomers to the village; Stéphane has escaped from the rat race of the financial world  in Paris and as well as buying a house, they have bought vineyards and last year made their very first wines, with the help of a local oenologist, Jean Natoli.  

They made two wines from just two hectares, and in 2015 they will make three wines from three hectares, which are all farmed organically.   Their property still retains the wonderful old-fashioned cellar of the Languedoc, with enormous awe-inspiring oak foudres.  Stephane’s stainless steel vats are dwarfed beside them.  This year they used a small basket press; next year they are buying a pneumatic press.  Tasting with Stéphane, you sense his excitement about his new career, and at supper recently, with some young local vignerons, he was very chuffed to be the oldest jeune vigneron at the table.  This is an established category in France, depending not only on your age, but also on your harvest tally.    

2014 Carignan Vieilles Vignes, Pays de l’Hérault – 10.00€
This includes 6% Grenache Noir, and the Carignan is 40 years old.  That is not especially old for Carignan, but there are no specific rules about the age of old vines.   Élevage in stainless steel.  Medium colour.  Some lightly peppery red fruit, cherries, with some fresh tannins.  Quite firm rustic fruit; very Carignan.  Youthful and elegant.   And I would never have thought it was 15˚.  For this 2014 Stéphane destalked the grapes and the wine spent ten days on the skins; in 2015 he plans to try a carbonic maceration.  And the yield was a miserly 5 hl/ha.   He made just 750 cases. 

2014 Cuvée St. Andrieu, Pays de l’Hérault – 15.00€
Mainly Syrah, with some Cinsaut, Carignan and Grenache.  It could be an appellation, but Stéphane did not get his head round the paper work in time.   Élevage in stainless steel tank.  Blended on 12th February and bottled on 13th May.  15˚.  Good colour.  Firm dry cherry fruit, a peppery note and a certain freshness.  Vibrant with rich spiciness and intensive flavours.  Quite firm tannins, so it will age well.   A long finish with depth and complexity and lots of potential.  If you can make that the first time you try your hand at wine making, you will go far.  Watch this space!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Virgile’s Vineyard, A year in the Languedoc Wine Country

Virgile’s Vineyard was first published in 2003, and it has stood the test of time, providing a very accessible introduction to the wine culture of the Languedoc.  Patrick Moon relates a year in the life of a young wine grower, Virgile Joly, who after working elsewhere in France and overseas, has bought a vineyard and is intent on creating his own wine estate.   And Patrick, newly arrived in the Languedoc, is keen to learn about the region’s wines, and so he shadows Virgile’s work for the year, from pruning to harvesting to bottling, and everything else in-between, including covering one of the big issues for any new wine grower in the Languedoc, how and where to sell your wine.    He sympathetically relates the trials and tribulations of a new wine grower, when things go well and not so well.  

Humour is provided by Patrick’s encounters with his neighbour, Manu, a caricature of the archetypal French paysan, who enjoys consuming vast quantities of wine, in sharp contrast to his extremely abstemious wife – I am not sure that we ever learn her name.    Manu is game to be Patrick’s guide for any cellar visits further afield, so appellations other than the immediate surroundings of St. Saturnin are covered, with visits to wine growers who are still important in the region.  And a sense of the long history of the Languedoc is provided by Krystina, an ex-history teacher and  owner of the local château and another caricature, to provide some more humour.   
Since 2003 things have moved on, and the book has been republished, with an Afterword to bring the story of Virgile Joly fully up to date.   And in between Patrick wrote a second book that focused on the food of Languedoc, Arrazat’s Aubergines, Inside a Languedoc Kitchen, about a young chef who started a restaurant near his home village, in which the continuing story of Virgile is also covered.  Sadly Arrazat’s restaurant did not last for long, but the book considers some of the gastronomy of the Languedoc.   And Virgile has now successfully established an international reputation for his wines, most recently with the help of Naked Wines.  

Friday, 17 July 2015

Plan de l'Homme

Rémi Duchemin made his reputation as a wine grower as one of two partners who created Mas Mortiès in the Pic St. Loup.  Between 1993 and 2008 he worked with his brother-in-law, Michel Jorcin, and then it was time to move on, and Mas Mortiès was sold.  Initially Rémi had doubts about staying in wine, and indeed in the Languedoc, as he comes from Grenoble, but circumstances combined and he heard that Plan de l’Om was for sale.  And he made his first wine there in 2009, changing the name from Plan de l’Om to Plan de l'Homme.  For those who know about such things, OM has associations with football.  

The estate consists of 14 hectares at St. Jean de la Blaquière, on a variety of soils, schist, ruffe and grès, with lots of different plots making for interesting blending possibilities.   The altitude is 250 metres and the cooling effect of the Larzac is very noticeable.     The vines are at average age of 50 years old.  There is no Mourvèdre, and for white wine there is Roussanne, with just a little Grenache Blanc.  Rémi observed that it is easier to buy vines rather than replant an unsatisfactory vineyard – the previous owner had neglected the Grenache Blanc.   And he lives in an old maison de vigneron in St. Felix de Lodez, which provides a perfect cellar on the ground floor.  And that is where we tasted.

2013 Omega, Florès Blanc, Coteaux du Languedoc – 9.00€
Roussanne with 10% Grenache Blanc, kept in vat.  Light golden colour.  Nicely understated nose.  Herbal white blossom fruit.  Some attractive freshness with some body, and acidity on the finish.   Rémi has a large plot of Roussanne and realised after a couple of vintages that he obtained better results if he divided the vineyard.  The lower part near the river is quite vigorous with richer soil and more vegetal in character, whereas the higher vines are less productive on poor soil.  So for Florès he picks before full maturity to give freshness to the wine, and the higher part of the vineyard is picked ten days later, making for more body and weight.  Roussanne can be exotic; here it is spicier.

2011 Alpha Blanc, Coteaux du Languedoc - 21.00€
Roussanne with some Grenache Blanc; a little more than in Florès.  Part of the Roussanne is vinified in wood, with a further two to three months ageing in barrel, with a little bâtonnage, and the élevage is finished in vat.  Lovely texture.  Elegant.  Oak very well integrated.  Acidity on the finish.  Satisfying structure.  Will continue to age.  A lovely glass of white wine.  Rémi observed that he is not keen on wines that are aged in wood, and he uses acacia, which is less powerful than oak.  Roussanne stays young for a number of years and then quickly fades.

2012 Carignan.  Khi, Vin de France  - 13.00€
The name is a play on words, Khi or Qui?  Carignan is sometimes not as well-known as it should be, though in some quarters it is becoming quite fashionable.   Rémi is a member of the Carignan Renaissance group – apparently they are considering launching a Carignan Day- and he has three hectares of Carignan.    Deep colour.  Rounded supple tannins, with ripe fruit, but not heavy.  Very good balance, long and characterful.   Part carbonic maceration and part égrappé.  No élevage in wood, with the last few months before bottling spent in a cement egg.    Originally all the Carignan was vinified traditionally but it lacked elegance, so in 2012 he made two vats – one of carbonic maceration and one with a traditional vinification.  The carbonic maceration worked particularly well. 

2013 Omega, Florès rouge, Coteaux du Languedoc – 9.00€
60% Cinsaut – 50 year old vines.  It may in fact be Oeillade.  25% Syrah and 15% Grenache.  Good colour.  Lovely fresh fruit, with ripe spicy cherries.  Fresh with supple tannins.  Medium weight.  Aged in vat.  Syrah gives structure and Grenache rounds out the palate.   It is not Terrasses du Larzac, as at 9.00€ it is considered a little too cheap – 10.00€ should be the entry level price.  And in any case there is too much Cinsaut.  2014 in contrast was a more difficult vintage  as it was less sunny.

2012 Omega  Habilis, Terrasses du Larzac – 14.00€
This won a gold medal in Decanter’s World Wine Awards.  Made from 50 year old Grenache, an isolated vineyard surrounded by garrigues.   Access is difficult and production is tiny, 20 hl/ha in a good year.  It was farmed conventionally, whereas Rémi works organically, and it is impossible to use a tractor so he leaves it enherbé with the grass.  Initially production dropped for the first two years, but has now increased again as the vines have found their balance with the grass.

20% Syrah, 20% Carignan, 60% Grenache, including some younger Grenache.  Kept in vat for 18 months.  Rémi no longer uses cultured yeast, now that his cellar is established.

Deep colour.  Lovely texture, with silky tannins.  Mouth filling but not heavy.  Ripe red and black fruit. A lovely glass of wine, and fully justifying its gold medal.

2012 Omega Sapiens, Terrasses du Larzac – 18.00€
Mainly Syrah 70-80%.  With Grenache and a little Carignan.   Uses barrels but not new ones, whereas in contrast Alpha Rouge, although the blend is similar, but from different plots, has some carbonic maceration, with more new wood.

Deep colour. Quite a rounded rich nose and palate.  Ripe black fruit and spice.  Quite alcoholic on the finish at 14.5˚.  Quite solid, firm fruit.  Quite rich.  Very Syrah.  The terroir is complicated for Syrah.  It can be too dry, and there is quite a high mortality rate because of grafting which does not work well in some soils.

2011 Alpha Rouge, Terrasses du Larzac – 24€
None made in 2012, but produced again in 2013.  Deep colour.  Ripe rounded nose and palate, with silky tannins.  Youthful and fresh, with good fruit.    Another lovely glass of wine.

And projects for the future?  ‘To obtain the best from my vines’, with lots of attention to detail.  Plan de l'Homme should go far.  

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Cave d’Embrès et Castelmaure

I remember visiting this Corbières coop about 20 years ago, and enjoying a vertical tasting of their best wine at the time, Cuvée Pompadour, with the director, Bernard Pueyo.   He still runs the coop, and very successfully too, and their range of wines has moved with the times.    It was high time for an update.

The coop now has 400 hectares, mainly round the village in the heart of the Corbières hills.  There are 65 members, of whom 18 earn their living from their vines and account for 85% of the production of the coop.  They make Corbières, and a little Vin de France, but no vin de pays, and no Fitou.  When the appellation of Fitou was first suggested, the village was not interested.    The coop dates back to 1921 and they still have the original solid concrete vats, which are excellent for fermentation.   

Bernard Pueyo has been there since 1983.  It was his first job, after studies in Toulouse, Montpellier and Bordeaux.   As a student he did stages with the Vignerons Val d’Orbieu and with the oenologist Marc Dubernet, but he has never been tempted to move on.  There has been so much to retain his interest at Embrès.  He quickly realised that their natural handicaps of low yields and a multitude of steep vineyard sites, making mechanisation difficult, could be put to their advantage.  And that they needed to develop their sales in bottle.    The development of the technique of carbonic maceration, a method much favoured by Marc Dubernet, had a fundamental impact on quality.   Back in 1983, Carignan accounted for 90% of the vineyards, but the creation of the appellation led to the planting of more of the so called cépages améliorateurs.  However, for Bernard Pueyo, Carignan is the cépage roi ici, even if it can only account for a maximum of 50% of a blend.   He is an ardent defender of Carignan, and practices carbonic maceration for virtually all his Carignan.    He feels that the technique really improves the variety, but he is not so sure about Syrah, half of which is fermented by carbonic maceration, and the rest is destalked.  Grenache Noir is all destalked: the stalks are too woody and too thick.  It is a complicated variety.  And they have very little Mourvèdre.  It is not a good spot for that tricky grape variety.  Mechanical harvesters are impractical on this terrain, and in any case for carbonic maceration, the bunches must be handpicked.  

Bernard looked back on the development of the cooperative.  In the 1980s they improved their winemaking facilities, and then in the 1990s they looked at their vineyards, examining the terroir.  They have schist towards Fitou, and hard limestone going toward Tautavel, both of which limit yields naturally.  Then in between the two there are the grandes terrasses which are free draining, with cooler soils, making for higher yields.      They practice lutte raisonnée but will never be organic; it is too complicated for a cooperative, but they try to reduce the chemical treatments and encourage their members to till instead.  From 2001 they developed a system of vineyard selection, linking a specific vineyard to a particular wine.  And unusually for a cooperative, their  members are paid by hectare, rather than by weight, so that they are guaranteed their remuneration.  This means that they wait until the grapes are all fully ripe, and resist the temptation to pick too early. And now they are looking again at their facilities, investing in new cooling equipment and in some foudres for élevage, which are especially suitable for Grenache Noir, as well as a new warehouse cellar for storage and élevage with a cooling system that creates evaporation, so that the air is not dry, which is all important in the summer temperatures of the Corbières.   They have 800 barriques, of which a quarter are replaced each year, and they are also trying a couple of eggs, also for élevage, but as yet have reached  no positive conclusions.  They are also realsiing the importance of enotourisme with the quai de reception being turned into a restaurant on weekend evenings during the summer months, with an opportunity for visitors and villagers to enjoy the local wines.

We adjourned to their tasting room which is equipped with an enomatic, to ensure that the wines are served in the best conditions, and at the appropriate temperature.

2014 Blanc Paysan, Corbières – 5.40€
Mainly Grenache Blanc (and Gris) plus Vermentino and Macabeo, with a cheerful  4L, the classic car of the vigneron in the 1980s, on the label.  Very fresh with good acidity, quite crisp and rounded.  Vermentino lightens the Grenache, while Macabeo is relatively neutral.  Grenache can sometimes be too heavy, though this is a light 13.5˚.  Apparently there are moves a foot for recognise Grenache Gris for rosé.

2014 Rosé Agricole – 5.40€
Mainly Grenache, 80%, with a little Carignan, and Cinsaut and a splash of Syrah.  However, Bernard doesn’t really like Syrah for rosé, the aroma doesn’t work.  He also makes a Carignan rosé.  This as some rounded raspberry fruit with a fresh finish. 

They makes about 200 – 300hls of white Corbières and about 500 hls. of rosé, out of a total annual production of 15,000 hectolitres.

2014 was a very late harvest, with rain causing some problems, so the wines are crisper and more aromatic than usual.  And Bernard is generally pleased with them.

La Buvette, Vin de France – 4.10€
The aim here is a fresh fruity red that is easy to drink.  It is based on Grenache with a little Carignan, to give some structure.   The juice is run off the skins after two or three days and then pressed and then left to slowly finish the fermentation.  Medium colour.  Cherry fruit and acidity rather than tannin.  Easy drinking.

2014 Rouge Vigneron – 5.40€
50% Carignan, carbonic maceration and 30% destalked Grenache Noir and 20% Syrah, with an élevage in vat.  Quite firm red fruit with a tannic streak, and a rustic streak.  Medium weight.  Fruit and garrigues.  Easy to drink.

For the last three years they have been working with INRA and the chamber of commerce on the conservation of old vine varieties, creating an inventory of grape varieties, of which there are about 50, including two which are completely unknown.  They are increasing the planting with cuttings, ten cuttings of each.  Carignan has thrown up some 100 different variations, out of which they have selected 20, which are they multiplying, with a view to future development, to consider what to plant in ten years’ time or so.  

2013 la Pompadour, Corbières.  9.00€
This is not named after Mme de Pompadour, but after a family in the village called Pompadour who was there for some 300 years.  The first vintage was made by Bernard’s predecessor in 1978.  It is classic Corbières, with 50%  Carignan, as well as Grenache Noir and Syrah.   They first began experimenting withy carbonic maceration in 1976, to produce Pompadour in 1978.  It comes from some of the best vineyards.  They now produce 170,000 bottles and Bernard observed that it had lost its concentrated extracted quality to become more drinkable and less powerful.  I liked this 2013.  The Carignan gives a fresh drinkability, even though it is 14˚.  It is ripe and rounded with red fruit and tannic streak ,with some supple tannins.  70% of the blend spends 11 months in barrel, and it is bottled in January.

2013 Grande Cuvée – 11.70€
First produced in 1995.  A blend of Syrah and Grenache, and no Carignan.  All destalked, and the ageing includes some new wood.  2013 was a very good year.  The Grenache suffered from coulure, but what remained, ripened beautifully.   Good colour; ripe fruit some tannins and some oak, and a rounded mouthfeel.  Warmer and more supple than Pompadour.

2013 No 3 – 21.00€
Why No 3? The third cuvée, after Pompadour and the Grand Cuvée; made from three grape varieties , and by three people, the coop and Dominique Laurent and Michel Tardieu, two Burgundians, who used to advise them.   40% Syrah with no sulphur; 25% Carignan, destalked rather than carbonic maceration, and 35% Grenache Noir.  The Syrah goes into barrel of which 50% are new, while the Carignan and Grenache goes into older wood, and future vintages will include ageing in foudres. The blending is done after élevage. The wine is firm and structured, quite ripe and rich with a tannic streak and quite a warm powerful finish, at 14.5˚, but nonetheless, it remains harmonious.

We talked about the position of the cooperative in the village.  It has a very important economic role in the fabric of village life.  They now employ ten people as well as  providing an income for the members. Bernard is optimistic for the future.  They sell all the wine they produce, and even run out.  He talked about climate warming, and how that has improved the quality of Carignan.  In 1983 it was difficult to get properly ripe Carignan, even at 12.5˚.  These days it is more likely to be 14.5˚ with the same vintage date, and the flavours benefit from being fully ripened.  And I asked about the cru of Durban.  The INAO has agreed in principle but they need  tom come and look at the vineyards.  The profile of the cru would be Pompadour, with the emphasis on Carignan.  The coops of Cascastel and Tuchan are also involved and some independent producers.

And our tasting finished with 2004, No 3 to show just how well their wines can age.  At 25€ it is a bargain.  Deep colour.  Quite a rich nose, maturing nicely. Lightly leathery, quite rich and concentrated, at 14.5˚ but not heavy.  The label said  No fining or filtered.   And you sense that they are proud to be a cooperative.  It says so on the label: Cooperative since 1921.