Wednesday, 1 July 2020

2019 Mas d’Alezon, Presbytère

A bottle turned up unexpectedly in the post one morning a couple of weeks ago.  My good friend Catherine Roque had sent me her latest Faugères, the 2019 Cuvée Presbytère, complete with a smart new label.  And the wine was delicious, with a deep, young colour and ripe spicy nose, that was wonderfully opulent.   A rounded ripe palate, with fruit and spice, with a streak of tannin providing balanced structure.   Even though it is less than a year old, it is remarkably ready to drink, with immediate appeal, and a modest 12.5°.

The blend is 40% each of Cinsault and Grenache, including its cousin, Lledoner Pelut.  There is also 10% Carignan for some structure and 10% Syrah for some spice.   Catherine favours a gentle infusion of whole bunches for about four weeks in cement vat or concrete egg; there is no pigeage or any other extraction.  Then the wine is aged in either a chestnut foudre, or in oak barrels for eight to nine months.

I asked Catherine about the weather conditions in 2019.  She said that the year was marked by the wind.  The winter was fairly dry and cold.  March was dry and mild and the vines started to grow.  Cooler than average April and May slowed down their growth, with dry windy weather.  Flowering was around June 15th.  The summer was dry, with little wind and on occasion some very high temperatures which blocked the ripening process.   The harvest took place in September in dry windy conditions.  In short, the grapes were concentrated by the north wind and ripened in good conditions.  And 2020 so far is marked by water.

The new label was designed by Delphine, Catherine’s third daughter who is an architect, as her mother was, before she came to wine.  Delphine found an old plan of Faugères in the departmental archives of Montpellier and they were able to use it to make a very effective label.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Mas Gabriel – a webinar and zoom tasting with Winefunding

Planting a new vineyard is an expensive undertaking and an investment for the future.   Happily there is an organisation called WineFunding, which helps small wine growers to fund that kind of investment.   In return, the investors become part of a select club of supporters, and receive wine at an advantageous price.  It’s bit like the theatrical angels investing in a future production.   So the other day Deborah Core presented her wines to some of the people who had supported them through WineFunding and asked me if I would like to join the zoom meeting.     

First she explained that they had particularly wanted to plant their new vineyards using massal selection, taking cuttings from their existing vineyards, rather than buying clones from a nursery.   Massal selection makes for greater variety of flavour and complexity in a vineyard, not to mention greater resistance to disease.   Vines selected by clonal selection  tend to be very consistent, so that they react in identical fashion to any problem in the vineyard, whereas massal selection vines are much more diverse.  A vine nursery took the cuttings and grafted the vines.  They are gobelet, bush vines, each with its own supporting post – making 3500 posts for 3500 vines; with 50 ares of Cinsault and 25 ares of Grenache Noir.

And then we tasted some wines, which had been sent out to the attendees ahead of the zoom meeting.  

2019 Champs des Bluets, Languedoc Blanc -16.00€
A blend of 80% Vermentino with 10% each of Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris.    2014 was the first vintage of this second cuvée of white wine. 30% of the blend has been aged in acacia, rather than oak, which Deborah considers to be more gentle than oak. The barrels are not new and they do not mark the wine in the same way as oak.  The colour is pale, and the nose delicate, with a hint of pear.  On the palate there is fresh fruit, balanced by good acidity and what the French call ‘un joli amer’, a refreshing bitterness that is typical of Vermentino.   The palate is nicely rounded with some satisfying weight on the finish.

2018 Les Trois Terrasses, Pays de l’Hérault - 12.00€
So called as the grapes come from three adjacent terraces.   The principal variety is Carignan, blended with some Syrah and Grenache. The Carignan vines are at least fifty, if not 65 years old.   The wine is aged in a cement vat.  Deep young colour.  Fresh spice and red fruit on the nose, with more fresh fruit on the palate.  There is a firm fresh streak of tannin, which gives the wine structure, balanced by some flesh from the Grenache.    I love the fresh finish of the Carignan, making it a very refreshing wine.   Carignan is often criticised for being a tad rustic; this belies that generalisation with an elegant finish.   And it illustrates just how much Carignan is improving, and how it deserves to be taken seriously.  

2017 Clos des Lièvres, Pézenas - 17.50€
A blend of 75% Syrah, with 25% Grenache.  Aged for 12 months in 5000 litres demi-muids.  15% new oak.  Deep young colour.   An intriguing contrast with Trois Terraces.  The palate is richer and fleshier, with a touch of pepper from the Syrah.  There is rounded weight and youthful fruit. Although it was drinking well on the night – we subsequently finished the bottle with a coq au vin – it is definitely a wine that will develop with bottle age.



Sunday, 21 June 2020

Château d’Anglès – the latest vintages

Château d'Anglès has enjoyed a considerable revival in its fortunes over the last few years, since the Fabre family arrived there from Bordeaux in 2002.   Eric Fabre had been the technical director of Château Lafite but he wanted to do his own thing and he chose to come to La Clape as he was particularly interested in the potential for Mourvèdre in the area, seeing similarities with Bandol.  Eric has reunited the two estates of Château Rivière Haute and Château Rivière Basse, and called them Anglès after a local landowner, Barthélèmy Etienne d’Anglès, whose family owned both estates for over a hundred years after the French RevolutionTheir vineyards are less than two kilometres from the sea so you always have some cooling sea breezes.  The cellars have been modernised and streamlined and you can sense a bordelais approach.  For their red and white wines, they make a Cuvée Classique and a Grand Vin. 

Vianney, Eric’s son, who is now working with his father, very kindly sent me bottles of the most recent vintages.   So this is what I tasted.

2019 La Clape Classique Blanc - 12.90€
A blend of 50% Bourboulenc, 30% Grenache Blanc and 20% Roussanne. Some lees stirring in concrete vats for four to five months. A little colour.  A salty tang on both the nose and palate, with firm fresh fruit.  A nicely rounded finish.  A touch of exotic fruit on the palate, but essentially there are the refreshing salty notes from the maritime influence.

2017 La Clape Grand Vin Blanc - 22.50€
A blend of 40% Bourboulenc, 30% Grenache, and 30% Marsanne.  The Bourboulenc vines are 80 years old.   Fermented and aged in wood, with some lees stirring for 5 – 6 months.  A little more depth of colour than the Cuvée Classique. A nicely buttery, oaky nose – I don’t usually like overt oak, but this is classy oak and it has made for a very appealing nose. There is oak on the palate too, but with considerable depth of flavour.  The wine is rich and youthful, with a good long finish.  Very stylish.   Anglès usually hold back a white vintage to release ten years later, proving indisputably the ageing potential of white La Clape.

2019 Classique Rosé, AOC Languedoc - 12.90€
Rosé is not part of the appellation of La Clape, hence the appellation Languedoc for this very elegant rosé.  A blend of 40% Mourvèdre, 30% Cinsault and 30% Syrah. Direct pressing and some lees stirring, in concrete vats, for three months.  Very pale colour, almost white, but not quite.  A hint of raspberry on the nose.  Some ripe raspberry fruit on the palate, but dry, structured and youthful, with a fresh finish.  A serious food rosé that will evolve a little more in the bottle.  

2018 La Clape, Classique Rouge - 12.90€
A blend of 40% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre.   Aged in vat for eighteen months.   Quite a deep young colour.  Rounded spice and garrigues notes on the nose, and a hint of orange.  A fresh, spicy palate.  Medium weight with a refreshing streak of tannin, and some peppery notes.  Rounded red fruit.  Easy drinking with good depth, and length.

2017 La Clape Grand Vin Rouge - 22.50€
A blend of 55% Mourvèdre and 25% Syrah, which are aged in oak for 12 months and 20% Grenache, aged in cement vat.  Deep colour. On the nose a subtle veneer of oak, with some spicy fruit.   The palate is rounded, with good depth and length, with more weight and body than the Classique Cuvée.  There are youthful tannins; the wine is drinking well with a substantial dish – ours was coq au vin – but it also has ageing potential.  A very satisfying finish.   And a lovely range of wines.  

Friday, 12 June 2020

Domaine Lafage - a small selection

Domaine Lafage is based at Mas Miraflors, outside Canet-en-Roussillon.   Altogether the business includes three estates, the largest near the sea, as well as 20 hectares in les Aspres, and in 2007 they have bought the estate of St Roch in Maury, which has its own cellar.  In addition, there is a recent purchase of 17 hectares in St. Paul-de-Fenouillet for white wine, and another acquisition in Rivesaltes is being converted to organic viticulture, making a total of 260 hectares.   Their beginnings were small.  1995 was Jean-Marc and Eliane’s first vintage, just 1000 bottles of a Muscat de Rivesaltes.  Then in 2001 Jean-Marc took over the family vineyards and acquired Mas Miraflors in 2006.   The Lafage family came from Maury; Jean-Marc’s grandfather was one of four brothers, three of whom settled in Canet, and one stayed in Maury at Domaine du Dernier Bastion.  

They make an extensive range of wines, from the simple entry level to the more complex.  A few came my way recently.    

2019 Côté Est, Pay d’Oc – 7.90€
A blend of 50% Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris, with 30% Chardonnay and 20% Roussanne.   The Grenache are 60 years old and the vines are planted east /west, which helps maintain a cooler temperature and some freshness.  Each grape variety is fermented separately, and given some ageing on the fine lees.  The aim is easy drinking, as it partners Côté Rose and the red Côté Sud, as the entry level to the range, but even at that level it demonstrates the success of Roussillon for producing white wine.  The colour is light and the nose is fresh and pity, with the same pithiness on the palate, and some stony fruit.  It is nicely rounded, with what the French call un joli amer on the finish – a nice bitterness.   There are moments in French wine tasting when bitterness can be a quality, which of course it never is in English.   Appealing and refreshing.

2018 Authentique, Côtes du Roussillon – 9.60€
A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan from different terroirs, and the aim is a wine that is truly representative of Roussillon.   Most of the wine is aged in vat, but about 20% spends twelve months in French oak.   Deep colour. Ripe black fruit on the nose, and on the palate a hint of vanilla and a streak of tannin, with ripe rounded fleshy fruit.  14.5° but it carries its alcohol well and does not taste alcoholic or heavy; on the contrary.   Quite simply, it is a jolly nice glass of wine that is authentically Roussillon.  

2019 Le Rétro, Vin de France – 10.00€
Carignan, Lledoner Pelut, Grenache Noir and Grenache Gris.  There is a story on the website about a wine made from the grapes picked at the end of the harvest in early October.  They were not suitable for vin doux, and instead served to make a refreshing everyday wine.  Bright light red in colour, with perfumed fresh fruit.  A touch of acidity and tannin with good fruit and a fresh finish.  Quite light in the mouth and indeed a modest 12.5°.  Served slightly chilled, it could be termed Roussillon’s answer to Beaujolais, and I say that, liking Beaujolais.


Saturday, 6 June 2020

Taronja – an orange wine from Roussillon

Taronja is a joint project between Jean- Marc Lafage of Domaine Lafage, outside Perpignan, and Justin Howard-Sneyd MW of Domaine of the Bee.  Justin has vineyards, but no cellar, and so he makes his wine chez Lafage. And in 2017 they had the idea of producing an orange wine.  Taronja, which means orange in Catalan, comes mainly from Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc, with a little Muscat and even less Viognier.   In 2018 there were four barrel fermentations, two with whole bunches, one carbonic maceration and one with destemmed grapes.  The fermentation took place in open top 500 litres barrels and then the juice was left to macerate on the skins and stalks for two weeks after afterwards.  The wine was protected from oxidation with dry ice and then aged in neutral barriques for eight months.  There was a light filtration, but no fining before bottling.

Thanks to bottles arriving from Jean-Marc in Roussillon and Bibendum in London, I was able to compare the 2018 and the 2019 vintages.    They made an intriguing comparison.   

2019 : The colour was a light pink, with the colour coming from the Grenache Gris which turns slightly pink as it ripens.  The nose was fresh and rounded, and on the palate there were hints of the peachiness of the Viognier and the perfume of Muscat.  There was a youthful freshness, balanced by some dry tannins, and some pithy fruit with a refreshing finish.  14°

2018 : More orange pink in colour, with a firmer, dryer nose and a firm but fresh palate, with some tannic notes.  The wine had lost the youthful peachy notes of the 2019 and developed more complexity and other nuances.   It was an appealing combination of freshness and fruit, with some elegant tannins. And it proved its versatility, by answering the conundrum of what to drink with a pasta sauce with egg and home-grown asparagus, two notoriously difficult things to accompany any wine.  Taranja simply came up trumps!


Friday, 29 May 2020

Domaine Danjou-Banessy with Cambridge Wine

This is a new Roussillon estate for me, run by two brothers, Sébastien and Benoît, who follow biodynamic methods.  One or two people had already recommended it as an interesting estate to visit, and then Stewart Travers at Cambridge Wine very kindly offered some samples.   I enjoyed what I tasted, so they are now on the wish list for a visit the next time I get to Roussillon, whenever that will be.  Meanwhile here are my tasting notes.  The wine names are the names of the specific vineyards.

2017 Côtes Catalanes Blanc, Coste - £17.40
A pure Macabeo, grown on clay and limestone in a plot called Les Terres Rouges.  The vines are between 10 and 30 years old, which is quite young for Macabeo vines.  Aged in old oak for ten to fourteen months.  Light colour. Fresh stony, lemony nose with firm acidity on the palate.    Very fresh and elegant, and nicely incisive on the finish.   A modest 11.5°

2017 Côtes Catalanes Blanc, Clos Escounils - £24.18
This comes from one plot, of just one hectare, a complantation of 100-year-old Grenache vines, Noir, Gris and Blanc.  Obviously the Grenache Noir is not used for this wine.  However, there is some depth in the colour.  The wine was fermented in large oak barrels, and aged for two years in the foudres. Quite a rounded nose, with some well integrated oak on both nose and palate, balanced with some firm fruit.  A nicely textured palate with some satisfying mouthfeel and some potential for ageing in bottle.

2017 Côtes Catalanes Rouge. Roboul - £17.46
A blend of 60% Mourvèdre with 40% Grenache.  Aged in old oak for twelve months.  Fairly light colour, with quite a fresh nose.  Initially it had what I call a natural edge, but that blew off with some air. On the palate the wine is fresh and juicy, with appealing ripe cherries and a balance of light tannin and acidity.

2017 Côtes Catalanes, la Truffière - £21.18
From 60-year-old vines, half Grenache and half Carignan, grown on schist. Medium colour.  Very perfumed, with red cherries on the nose. The palate is elegantly rounded, with ripe fragrant fruit, and a concentration of flavour, but without being heavy.  Nicely balanced, with a fresh finish.

2016 Côtes Catalanes, la Truffière - £24.99
An interesting vintage comparison.  Deeper colour.  More black fruit, rather than red fruit on the nose, with more concentration on the palate.  Ripe and rounded with a tannic streak.  Ripe black fruit, with balanced tannins and a long finish.  Probably longer lasting.

.  .  
2016 Côtes Catalanes, les Myrs  - £26.58
Pure Carignan.  The vines are over ninety years old, grown on black schist and the wine is aged for 20 months in old oak barrels.  Quite a deep colour.  An initial natural edge on both the nose and palate, which disappears with air. Fresh red fruit on the nose and on the palate, it is quite tannic and structured, with an initial dryness. However, the wine evolves in the glass and the ripe fruit comes to the fore, with an elegant finish.   12.5°.   One of those wines that keeps you guessing. 


Thursday, 21 May 2020

Domaine des Soulanes at Cambridge Wine

Cambridge Wine has one of the best lists of wines from the Languedoc and Roussillon of any independent wine merchant in the country.    Their Languedoc-Roussillon buyer, Stewart Travers, has won the prize of Sud de France specialist, and their list includes many of my favourite estates, too numerous to list here.  

Domaine des Soulanes is one of them, situated in the Agly valley just outside Maury, in the heart of Roussillon.  Daniel Lafitte is a Maurynat, born and bred in the village of Maury.  After a brief career as a Jaguar car mechanic, he worked for the previous owner of his vineyards, Jean Pull, learning from him as well as doing various stages. Jean was already farming organically in 1992, and when he retired in 2002, he sold 17 hectares of his 44 hectares to neighbouring Mas Amiel, and Daniel bought the rest, choosing the plots he particularly wanted to keep. Back in the 1990s, in common with all the wine growers of Roussillon, they made very little table wine or vin sec; the production was 90% fortified vin doux naturel, of which a large part was sold en vrac to Martini.  These days the balance has completely shifted, to 90% vin sec. However, Daniel gleefully remarked that one of his proudest moments, was selling some Maury to a wine shop in Portugal!

2018 Kaya Blanc, Côtes Catalanes - £14.04
30% each of Grenache Gris and Blanc, with 20% each Carignan Gris and Blanc, fermented in oak.  The Carignan adds acidity to the Grenache, and the schist of Maury also makes for a good level of acidity.  Very pale colour.  Youthful lemony notes on the nose, with fresh herbal fruit on the palate. Taut and lemony with juicy acidity, and a streak of oak.

2017 Kaya Blanc, Côtes Catalanes - £14.34
A slightly different blend with 50% each of Grenache, both Blanc and Gris, and 50% Carignan, again both Blanc and Gris.  A little more colour.  Firm stony mineral notes, and on the palate filling out, with long stony fruit, and a salty note, with a background streak of oak, which will disappear with bottle age.  Daniel wants his white wines to have ageing potential, and this does.  

2018 Cuvée Jean Pull, Côtes Catalanes - £10.92
Named after the previous owner.  A blend of Grenache and Carignan, with a little Syrah and a hint of Mourvèdre, fermented in a concrete vat.  A lovely perfumed nose, and on the palate, rounded and fresh with supple tannins.  Cherry liqueur fruit, and ripe without being heavy.  Perfect easy drinking.   

2017 Kaya Rouge, Côtes Catalanes - £12.60
A pure Carignan, with fresh red berry fruit, balanced with a streak of tannin and a fresh finish. Beautifully balanced and harmonious. It does not have the rustic notes that you sometimes find in Carignan.  A really lovely expression of the grape, showing just why the old vines are worth preserving, and why it deserves to be taken seriously. 

2017 Maury Grenat - £18.90
Pure Grenache.  Deep red colour.  Ripe berry fruit on the nose, and palate, with a fresh finish. Ripe and intense without being heavy, with rich fruit and a streak of tannin.  Daniel want the tannins to slip in behind the sugar, as he put it, so the wine is not too sweet. An extra 10 gms of sugar can mask the tannins.  It is all a question of the balance between sugar and alcohol.  And this is beautifully balanced.   Just bring on the dark chocolate!



Saturday, 9 May 2020

Domaine Gardiés and the Wine Society

The Wine Society has a spectacularly good range of wines from Roussillon, including some of the stars of the region, such as Domaine Gauby for vins secs, and wonderful old Rivesaltes from Domaine Rancy.  Other treats include a rich Collioure from Domaine Augustin, from the Parcé family who have done so much for Banyuls and Collioure over the generations.    They have also discovered Domaine Gardiés, whose wines really impressed me the first time I visited them last autumn.  I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours with Vincent Gardiès, including a visit to their vineyards in the hills outside the village of Vingrau.

2018 Côtes du Roussillon Blanc, les Glacières - £13.50 – magnum £29.00

Vincent Gardiés is convinced that Roussillon has enormous unfulfilled potential for white wines.   If this wine is anything to go by, I couldn’t possibly disagree.  A blend of Grenache, both Blanc and Gris, as well as Roussanne, Marsanne and a little Malvoisie de Roussillon, which is also known as Tourbat, all aged in foudres for eight to ten months.  Light colour.  A fresh fragrant nose, with lemony fruit and herbal notes, and on the palate rounded fruit with very good acidity.  It has a wonderful sapid quality, which leaves you wanting more. It is fresh and incisive, firm with a structured finish. And I would be intrigued to see how it ages.   

A pair of reds, demonstrated the contrasts of Roussillon, with a fresher, more elegant wine for earlier drinking, and a rich concentrated wine that would benefit from some bottle age.

2018 les Millères, Côtes du Roussillon Villages - £13.50
Les Millères is the first red wine of their range, which Vincent deems to be representative of the region, with freshness, fruit and structure, made from Syrah and Grenache grown in Vingrau, and Carignan and Mourvèdre from Espira de l’Agly.  Medium colour.  Light red fruit on the nose.  The palate is medium weight, fresh and nicely rounded with red fruit, supple tannins and a fresh finish.

2015 Clos des Vignes, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Tautavel - £17.00
This is more serious, coming from old vines, both Grenache and Carignan, and aged for twelve months in barriques and demi-muids.  Deep colour. Ripe rounded, warm nose, with supple fruit.  Very Grenache, with some cherry liqueur notes.  On the palate lovely depth, with silky tannins, rounded and complete with ripe spice and concentration.  Very harmonious, with a satisfying mouthfeel.    The vines are in a clos, surrounded by small stone walls.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Roc des Anges at Les Caves de Pyrène

Marjorie and Stephane Gallet at Roc des Anges have been making some of the most elegant wines of Roussillon for nearly 20 years now.  Elegance really is the hallmark of their wines.  Their first vintage was 2001. She comes from the northern Rhône and met Stéphane while studying at Montpellier.  After graduation, he went to work at Mas Amiel, so looking for vines in Roussillon was the obvious choice for their own wine estate.  Côte Rôtie would have been much more expensive; 'but here in Roussillon everything is possible. And the schist is the same as in Côte Rôtie, but the climate is different'

Since 2014 they have a smart cellar, close to the village of Latour-de-France, with lots of concrete vats of various sizes, to accommodate their numerous different parcels of vines.  Altogether they have about 100 plots in just 35 hectares, at an altitude between 150 and 350 metres.  60 ares is a big plot for them.  Virtually all their vines are in Montner, with a few in Tautavel and also close to Calce. 

Their UK importers are the wonderfully eclectic company, Les Caves de Pyrène, who were very happy to supply a couple of samples for some research. both wines that really convey the tipicity of the estate.   I don't usually note alcohol levels, but these are worth mentioning as they are significantly lower than the average in Roussillon.

2018, Côtes Catalanes Blanc, Llum, meaning light in Catalan, is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Carignan Blanc and Macabeo, grown on schist and all picked together.  Light colour, with firm stony notes on the nose and palate, with fresh elegance and mineral tension and a long incisive finish.  It develops beautifully in the glass.   £26.49  12.5°

2018 Côtes Catalanes Rouge, Segna de Cor, is a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, from relatively young vines, again grown on schist, and aged in tank, is the epitome of elegance, with fresh peppery red fruit, spice and herbs.  It is beautifully harmonious, with some balancing acidity as well as tannin, with a fresh vibrant finish.   The name is an anagram of Roc des Anges, in case you are wondering.   13.5°  £17.99


Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Domaine de Centernach

What takes a Burgundian to Roussillon?   The short answer is a love of vintage port.   Paul Meunier was fascinated by port, and that led him to do a stage in Maury. And you could describe Maury as France’s answer to port, as the production process is pretty much the same. 

After that first visit as a stagiaire in 2009, Paul returned regularly to the region for holidays, and then bought vineyards and took over a cellar in the village of St Arnac in 2014.    He now produces a delicious range of wines, both vin sec and vin doux.   And I was delighted to discover that one of my local wine shops in London, The Good Wine Shop in Chiswick, had discovered Paul’s wine before me.    They are currently sold out of his white wine, a Côtes du Roussillon, based on Macabeo as well as some Grenache Gris and Grenache blanc, with a drop of Muscat à petits grains, which was quite delicious ….and they have promised to let me know when it is back in stock.

Meanwhile they do have a wine from Paul’s very first vintage, a Côtes du Roussillon Villages, from a specific vineyard, Couillades d’en Paillol, at £26.00.  Carignan, from vines planted in the 1950s,  is the main component with some Grenache Noir and some Syrah.   The wine has a deep young colour, with some rounded red berry fruit on the nose, with notes of cherry liqueur, reminiscent of Grenache.  On the palate it is ripe, but not heavy; there is warming fruit, balanced with some nicely integrated tannins and a certain rustic sturdiness from the predominance of Carignan, combined with a satisfying depth of flavour. A long fresh finish.   Drinking beautifully now, but far from the end of its life.   The alcohol at 13.5°is nicely restrained.   

And they are also selling Paul's answer to a fruity Ruby port, namely Maury Grenat.  

While their shops are obviously closed at the moment, The Good Wine Shop is continuing to operate a mail order business.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Clot de l'Origine

Marc Barriot of Clot de l’Origine has very original take on winemaking.  Quite simply, he has ten hectares of red grapes, and two of white, but 90% of his wines are white!  He thinks nothing of vinifying black grapes like white wine grapes to make white wine, and of blending them with white grapes.  All his wines are Vin de France and he favours minimum use of sulphur.  

He is a relative newcomer to Maury, coming from Bandol where vineyard land is much too expensive to consider creating a wine estate there and he observes the Roussillon wine scene with the dispassionate eyes of an outsider. He is not afraid voice his opinion, and opinionated he is, insisting amongst other things on significantly lower alcohol levels than the average wine from Roussillon.  ‘I make wines I want to drink’, he asserts.   It all makes for a fun cellar visit.  

Back in London, escaping from Roussillon just as President Macron imposed stringent lockdown measures, I needed a couple of samples for a forthcoming article and Marc’s importers, Raeburn Fine Wines in Edinburgh were very happy to oblige.   The prices are their retail price. 

2017 L’Original, Vin de France - £18.55
This is indeed original, a blend of 80% white Macabeo blended with 20% Merlot, vinifié en blanc. The wine is a pale yellow, with quite a firm dry nose, but with some apple notes on the palate.  There was good acidity and it was very refreshing, and a light 12.5°.  I have to admit that chez Marc I tried the 2019 and I found that more incisive, with firm stony fruit.  It was more linear whereas the 2017 was more rounded in the palate. 

2016 Soif de Plaisir, Vin de France - £18.55
A blend of Carignan from 80 year old vines from Calce, with Syrah from young vines, in equal proportions.  Quite a deep young colour and fresh peppery notes on both nose and palate.  It was nicely balanced with an appealing freshness, and maybe just what I would call a natural edge with a hint of volatile acidity, but it was none the worse for that, and went a treat with some sausages.



Monday, 6 April 2020

Tasting Domaine Vaquer with Tiger Vines

I have long had a soft spot for the wines of Domaine Vaquer.  I first came across the estate when I was researching French Country Wines, published in 1990 by Faber & Faber, so that goes back a bit.   We were in a hotel in the Pyrenees, and there was a vin de table on the list that was significantly more expensive than any of the wines from any of the nearby appellations. Curiosity was immediately aroused, and I subsequently visited Fernand Vaquer.  From the point of view of gathering information, it was not the most informative of visits, as every question was countered by: ça dépend, but I tasted two extraordinary wines – he only made one cuvée of each colour – that were quite unlike anything else from Roussillon.     

Fast forward to 2020 with an article to write and the need for some samples, as the planned visit to the estate last month was cancelled, thanks to the coronavirus.  Domaine Vaquer has never had much of a presence on the British market so I was delighted when Fernand’s daughter-in-law, Frédérique, who now runs the estate, told me that she did have a UK importer, namely a relatively new wine company, Tiger Vines, run by James Thomas.  I asked James for a couple of samples, but he generously offered other bottles. The prices are the retail prices on his website. 

2016 Domaine Vaquer, Côtes du Roussillon, Cuvée Bernard - £20.00
This wine is made in memory of Bernard, Frédérique’s husband, who sadly died very suddenly in 2001.  A blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah.   A deep colour, with quite firm, fresh fruit on the nose.  And on the palate, the wine is youthful and peppery, with a streak of acidity as well as tannin, making for quite a firm backbone. I felt it was still quite young and would benefit from some bottle age.  

2017 Carignan, Côtes Catalanes, L’Expression - £22.00
This wine amply demonstrates just why Carignan deserves a better reputation.   In the hands of a talented winemaker, it is simply delicious. Medium colour. With ripe berry fruit on both the nose and palate.   A supple backbone of tannin, with a note of freshness that is typical of Carignan.  Lovely balance and a fresh finish.   Roussillon has plenty of old Carignan vines, often planted together with Grenache Noir, as it balances the lighter colour and riper flavours of the Grenache.

2015 Côtes du Roussillon Villages, les Aspres, l’Exception - £27.00
Les Aspres is a relatively new appellation within the more established Côtes du Roussillon Villages, created in 2017.  It covers 19 villages, mainly south-east of the small town of   Thuir, including Tresserre, where Frédérique has her vines and cellar.   The delimitation is by specific plot; by no means all the vineyards of each village are included.  The blend is the usual trio of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah; Mourvèdre is also allowed. Deep colour, with lovely ripe spice on both nose and palate.  The wine is drinking beautifully, with a rounded palate and some peppery notes, with some structure and tannin, and spicy red fruit, with notes of the garrigues. Satisfying depth of flavour and a wine that evolves gently in the glass.  

Next came two bottles that show just how well these wines age. 

1991 Blanc de Blancs, Macabeo, Vin de Pays Catalan - £40.00
A Vin de Pays Catalan, as Côtes Catalanes did not exist in 1991.  I was initially a little alarmed by the colour, a light amber, which might imply oxidation, but do not be put off by the colour.  The nose was initially quite reticent but developed some herbal notes, with a touch of salinity.  And on the palate, it was quite delicious, rounded with rich herbal notes, with lovely satisfying texture and mouthfeel, and a salty finish, and a hint of fennel.  There was a backbone, but not really much acidity.  Wonderfully original and a shining example, not only of how good the white wines of Roussillon are, but also how well they can age.

1986 Fernand Vaquer Rouge, Vin de Pays Catalan - £40.00
The label says: Conservé dans les Pyrénées à 1300 mètres.  This wine was made by Fernand, one of his last vintages, before his son Bernard, and Frédérique took over.  He had a property high up in the Pyrenees where he could age his wines in very cool conditions.  The colour is evolving, with medium depth, and a light brick red rim.  The nose is elegantly mature, with dry cedary notes and the palate is also elegant, with silky tannins, and a balancing backbone. There was an underlying ripe sweetness, a certain fleshiness.  I would defy anyone not to mistake it for a wine from northern Rhone.  At 34 years old, it was definitely at cruising altitude, drinking beautifully, but certainly not fading yet.   it would have been made by Fernand the year before my first visit; I tasted the 1984 vintage in 1987; he died in 2018 at the ripe age of 89.    

Most of the older established estates in Roussillon make vin doux, and Domaine Vaquer is no exception.

1994 Préface, Rivesaltes Hors d’Age Ambré, 50 cls. - £48
Amber colour.  A nutty nose, walnuts and hazelnuts, and quite rounded and softer than some, and on the palate ripe and nutty, with a bite on the finish, but quite full and rich, with a hint of orange.   

Rivesaltes Hors d’Age Ambré, 30 years solera. - £35.00
The label tells you that it was bottled in January 2018.
Amber colour.  Quite a rich nose, with firm nutty fruit, and a streak of acidity.  Good bite, firm, dry and nutty with a long finish.   Definitely what the Italians so charmingly call a vino da meditazione, a wine to linger over after dinner, and ideal to raise the spirits during these difficult days.   At £35 it is ridiculously good value - where else would you find a wine that is 30 years old for that price?    These old Rivesaltes deserve a much wider appreciation.  



Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Domaine Girard

Domaine Girard is an estate on the Massif de la Malepère, to the south of Carcassonne, adjoining the vineyards of Limoux.  The Sunday before last was a spectacularly sunny morning; we drove towards the village of Alaigne, where Philippe Girard has his cellars, enjoying fabulous views of the snow-capped Pyrenees.  

Philippe is the fourth generation of vignerons in the family.  His great grandfather had vines at the beginning of the last century, practicing polyculture, with cattle as well as wheat.  Subsequent generations concentrated on vines alone, with Philippe’s parents selling their wine en vrac. The first bottlings of the estate were the 2000 vintage, by which time Philippe had finished his studies in winemaking and viticulture at Libourne and then spent a year as a stagiaire in Nuits St Georges.   The experience with Pinot Noir has come in very handy.

They have 37 hectares altogether, 32 around the village of Alaigne and a further five at Roquetaillade in the Haute Vallée de l’Aude at an altitude of 450 metres, planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Philippe sees a distinctive difference between the two grape varieties in the two different areas.  At Alaigne the vineyards lie at 350 metres; Roquetaillade is fresher, making for wines with more tension.  Currently Philippe blends the wines from the two areas; ultimately, he would like to separate them.  The first Chardonnay was planted in 1987, and the first Pinot Noir in 1989, by Philippe’s father.  They also have Merlot, the principal grape variety of Malepère, as well as Cabernet Franc and Malbec.

We admired the new cellar, a large functional shed, well-equipped with stainless steel vats. Ultimately Philippe would like smaller vats, allowing him to make more selections of plots and juice.   There is a small barrel cellar, with 500 litres demi-muids.   

Recent vintages have been tricky; they had frost in 2017; hail in 2018 and 2019 was a very small vintage thanks to frost.  On the Massif, they did not suffer from excessive heat, unike the rest of the Languedoc. 

2019 Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc – 7.00€
They have nine hectares of Chardonnay. The grapes come from both Limoux and Alaigne; they are picked early, with a mechanical harvester. Philippe separates the juice, making for four different selections, of pressed juice, the heart or coeur of the pressed juice; the end of the pressed juice, and the free run juice.  And then he blends.   The nose and palate were both lightly buttery, with nicely balanced acidity. There is no malo-lactic fermentation and the wine spends some time on its lees in vat.

2018 Chardonnay élevé sur lies fines, Pays d'Oc – 9.00€
The richest juice is used for this cuvée.  The fermentation begins in stainless steel vats and  is then transferred into oak, of which 40% is new.  The malo takes place in oak and the wine is aged for several months, with regular bâtonnage.  It was much more rounded and richer on both nose and palate than the first wine, and nicely leesy with good balancing acidity, with a fresh finish and a modest 13.5º.  

2016 Limoux Blanc, les Salvios – 13€
Philippe did not produce any white Limoux in 2017, 2018 or indeed 2019, thanks to frost and hail.   The grapes were hand-picked and destemmed and wine has spent ten months in barrel, with a little bâtonnage.  It was nicely rounded, more elegant than the IGPs, with tighter acidity and a gentle note of maturity beginning to develop.   Philippe has some Chenin Blanc too and would like to make that as a pure varietal as well.

2019 Rosé Pays d’Oc, Cabernet Franc, Gariguette – 6.50€  
Gariguette is the lieu-dit of the vineyard.  Saigné after a few hours.  Light colour. A touch of pear drops on the nose but on the palate some ripe rounded fruit. Quite mouth filling, without being heavy or vinous.  A fresh finish.   Still quite young and bottled fairly recently.  I felt the nose needed to settle down.

2019 Pinot Noir, Pays d’Oc – 9.00€
Light colour.  Very fresh red fruit on the nose, with raspberry and liquorice on the palate.  This is a lovely simple Pinot Noir, uncomplicated and refreshing. and even thirst-quenching. Would be delicious lightly chilled for a summer barbecue.

2018 Pinot Noir, Pays d ‘Oc, Pech Calvel – 11.00€
This comes fromjust one vineyard at Alaigne and spends eight months in barrel.   There is a touch of oak on both the nose and palate. The palate is quite rounded, riper with more texture and weight.

All Philippe’s red wines are handpicked; altogether he produces an average of 100,000 bottles, with 300 hls of white and 500 hectolitres of red.

2018 Malepère Tradition – 8.50€
A blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc, kept separately in vat and blended at bottling. Quite a deep colour.  Ripe cassis fruit on the nose, and on the palate, round with ripe almost sweet blackcurrant fruit, with supple tannins.  It was quite soft for a Malepère.

2018 Malepère, Cuvée Neri – 12.00€
A blend of 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc and 10% Malbec, aged in barrel for seven months, and coming from one particular plot.
A more subtle nose than the previous wine.  Some oaky vanilla notes on the palate, balanced with some ripe fruit and a fresh finish. It was bottled in February and will not be put on the market until September.  It would indeed benefit from some bottle age.

NV Confidences, Crémant de Limoux – 11.50€
A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Chenin Blanc and 10% Pinot Noir.  Philippe delivers the grapes to J Laurens in Limoux and they do everything, from grape to bottle, giving the wine 12 months on its lees with 6 gms/l dosage. It was nicely rounded and creamy, with fresh acidity on the finish.

Philippe has projects for the future, Chenin Blanc, Syrah, maybe another cuvée of Malepère.  He thinks it is a shame that Malepère should be dominated by Merlot, when Cabernet Franc also works well in the area.  He may plant some Grenache Noir, and its cousin, Lledoner Pelut, which is allowed in the appellation of Malepère, but few people have it.

And from Alaigne we took the road to Limoux, past Quillan and through the dramatic Gorges de Pierre-Lys, heading for Maury in the Agly valley.  Little did I realise that this would probably be my last cellar visit for quite a while.  I will try and keep this blog going with the occasional profile of a bottle enjoyed in self-isolation with my husband in London.