Monday, 20 October 2014

Domaine Henry at St. Georges d’Orques.

I first met François and Laurence Henry when they were at Domaine St. Martin de la Garrigue outside Montagnac.  Since then the family property has been sold and they have gone on to create a new estate of their own. Domaine Henry in St. Georges d’Orques, with a first vintage in 1993.  They bought vines from a coop member,  eleven hectares, planted with what François called the usual quintet Occitan,  as well as Chardonnay, and some Terret, with Terret Noir,  Gris and Blanc all in the same vineyard.   In 1998 they built a  simple functional cellar. The soil in St. Georges is a mixture of jurassic limestone, flint and some villefranchien galets roullées.

This year, 2014, the harvest started with Chardonnay on 3rd September, Terret was picked on the 4th, and the reds waited another week.       François talked about modifying the  terroir for they stopped using all fertiliser and weed killer in 1998 and are unofficially organic.   As François observed ; mon luxe est dans les vignes.  Ce n’est pas la casserole qui fait le plat; in other words it is not the saucepan, ie the cellar, which makes the dish.  We first tasted some rather murky juice of the first pressing of Terret; it seems ripe and sweet.   François uses very little wood; he prefers fruit, the true expression of the terroir. 

Then we tasted bottles, while their fox terrier Curtis provided diversionary activity.    They talked about the seal on the label which comes from a document found in the departmental archives, an acte de vente de St. Georges in 1738, with the brand used to mark barrels.  St. Georges d’Orques was well known in northern Europe at the time, as the wine travelled along the Canal du Midi to Bordeaux and further north.  No one else was interested in using the seal, so François and Laurence have adopted it as their logo on their labels.  It features St. George, but without the dragon.  

2012 Blanc, Pays des Collines de la Moure  – 10.00€
Chardonnay and Terret.  The percentage depends on the vintage, but usually Chardonnay accounts for about 70-80%.  Quite golden in colour. Quite firm, dry and nutty on both nose and palate.    Chardonnay is on villefranchien and the Terret on limestone.  It was planted in the 1950s.  Good acidity.  Quite firm dry structure, on fine lees, in vat for 6 – 10 months.  Nicely fresh sappy finish.

2013 Vin Vermeil, St. Georges d'Orques– 12.00€
Rosé de saigné –24 hours on the skins at the most.   All five varieties  Quite a bright red.  Quite solid cherry fruit with an  aniseed touch. Quite firms and structured.  A food rosé  

Altogether there are about 15 – 20 producers of St. Georges d'Orques, of varying sizes and importance.  In the village of St. Georges itself, now virtually a suburb of Montpellier, they are the only ones apart from the coop.  Other big estates include Fourques, l’Engarran and Guizard at Lavérune.     An observation about Domaine de la Rime, which was created when Domaine de la Prose sold some vines – it’s a paradox, la vigne s’échappe, the vines are escaping from those who really live from them.  Domaine de la Rime has been created by somebody who wanted some vines for his retirement and  Bertrand de Mortillet at Domaine la Prose makes the wine for him.  

2010 St. Georges d'Orques– 17.00€
A good vintage.   Mainly Grenache, plus some Syrah and Mourvèdre, with a little Cinsaut.  Élevage in vat, with 15% in wood.  Good colour.  Quite rounded leathery nose.  Quite firm. Quite tannic, leathery red fruit.  With tapenade and black fruit.  Francois observed that 2001 has been the most exceptional vintage over 30 years.

2011 Villefranchien, St. Georges d’Orques – 25€
90% Grenache planted  in 1920  and 1947   Light red colour, almost like Pinot Noir.  Fresh liqueur cherries, with acidity and tannin.  Medium weight.  No wood.  François does not make each wine every year.  If you think in terms of the Burgundian classification, St. Georges is his village wine and Villefranchien the premier cru.

2009 le Mailhol, Vin de France – 36.00€
To replicate the wine of St. Georges that was famous in 18th century and mentioned by Thomas Jefferson in 1780, François has planted Morastel noir à jus blanc, Ribeyrenc noir, Aspiran gris, Terret noir and gris, Oeillade gris and noir.  The vineyard was planted in 1998 to make a very first vintage in 2000.  It is just 60 ares, which give 15 hls or 2000 bottles.  François researched in the archives, and obtained cuttings from the Conservatoire de Vassal.  Obviously he had no experience of any of these varieties which are blended in the vineyard.  And the wine was quite different from anything else I have ever tasted in the Languedoc, with the possible exception of C de Centeilles, which is also made from lost varieties.  Medium colour.  Quite rounded nose, with some red fruit, a ripe freshness on the palate, of dry cherries.  Medium weight, very intriguing.   Very elegant.  Quite a dry finish with some tannin.  Youthful.  Griotte cherries.  Very intriguing. 

And then François opened the 2003 Mailhol.  The colour is evolving a little, with notes of sous bois and mousseron the nose, and a hint of thyme.  Quite mature, elegant fruit and some leathery notes. Very intriguing.  Francois admitted to being agreeably surprised as to how well it had aged; he hadn’t been sure what to he hadn't tasted it for a while. 

He commented that in the 1700s, the ban de vendange was usually in the middle of October as these old grape varieties ripened much later than those of today.   He is looking for the roots of the region; il faut savoir d’où on vient.  I wondered about other wine growers with these old varieties – Patricia and Daniel Domergue come  to mind, at Clos Centeilles in the Minervois, and also Thierry Navarre in Roquebrun.   Villeveyrac apparently was known for its vins de Morastel, and Langlade for Aspiran and Ribeyrenc.

And then we finished on a sweet note; 2011 Passerillé.  12˚, mainly Grenache, and vin de table,  No added alcohol. Élevage in vat.  Very fresh red fruit. Ripe and rich with balancing acidity.  It went deliciously with some Roquefort.  A great finale to a friendly visit. 

Monday, 13 October 2014

Puglia - A comparison with the Languedoc

I've just had a break from the Languedoc and spent four days in the heel of Italy discovering the delights of Puglia's indigenous grape varieties, Negroamaro, Nera di Troia and Primitivo.  You   may well be forgiven for asking what Puglia has to do with the Languedoc, but I believe that there are interesting parallels to be drawn.

There is a similarity of history.  Both regions were despised, and both produced enormous quantizes of basic wine with no distinguishing features.   The wines of the Languedoc provided sustenance for the miners of northern France.  Those of  Puglia traveled the length of Italy to provide colour and alcohol for wines that were lacking those two key attributes of a red wine. The early DOCs allowed for a percentage of wine from elsewhere, but happily things began to change.  However, until Chianti became a DOCG - guaranteed as well as controlled - it was perfectly possible and legal to include a generous dollop of Primitivo in your Chianti.  When the laws changed, Puglia lost its key market and the more forward looking producers realised that something had to be done.  

And the change in the wines of Puglia has been dramatic.   I remember my first visit to Puglia, some 20 years ago; it was virtually impossible to find a bottle labeled Primitivo.   It originates in Croatia across the Adriatic - it is a short hop across the water.   Rather longer is the journey to California and the transformation into Zinfandel, which paved the way for the international recognition of Primitivo.

These days there is an abundance of choice, and styles.  Primitivo is a wonderfully versatile variety; you may make it white, pink, novello, firmly dry and with varying degrees of sweetness.  Even some of the drier wines have a little residual sugar.   It is all a question of balance, that the alcohol and ripe fruit should be in harmony.   Negroamaro is also rich and powerful with ripe brambly fruit, while Nero di Troia, a late ripening variety retains freshness with lower levels of alcohol. 

As in the Languedoc the wine growers are learning to master the use of oak for ageing, with barriques, both French and American, and larger barrels and even larger casks.    They realise that they must take care not to mask the intrinsic fruit, but as in the Languedoc they don't always get it quite right.   Some of the most delicious Primitivo come Polvanera.  They are refreshingly unoaked  redolent with cherry liqueur fruit and quite belying their 14, 15 or 16 degrees of alcohol.  Helpfully Filippo Casaro names each cuvée according to its alcohol level.

And in the vineyard there are other parallels.   Puglia boasts some wonderful old vines, old albarello vines, which are similar to the gobelet bush vines of the Languedoc.  These too were disappearing, being pulled up, like Carignan and others, with the encouragement of EU subsidies.  Happily, as in the Languedoc, there has been a realisation of the wonderful quality of these venerable old vines.   And like the Languedoc they are discovering other varieties that were also in danger of disappearing.  Bombino Nero makes delicious rosato,  Susumaniello can be pink, fizzy or red.   They have realised that Fiano Minutolo has nothing to do with the Fiano of Campania, but is a variety all of its own, with some intriguing Muscat notes, not unlike Torrontes from Argentina.   There is Aglianico, which is usually blended, and also Montepulciano, at its best blended with Nero di Troia in Rivera’s inspiring Il Falcone.   Other good Nera di Troia comes from Torrevento, Cefalicchio and Spagnoletti Zeuli.  

Nor has Puglia escaped from international varieties, I won't go as far as to say the curse of international varieties, but Chardonnay in Puglia has to be harvested in early August as opposed to Bombino Bianco which waits happily until the end of September.  And the blends of Negroamaro or Nero di Troia with Cabernet Sauvignon seemed muddily international and lacking a sense of place compared to the intrinsic italianness of a pure Nero di Troia.   It is all a question of confidence.   Tuscany thought it needed international varieties, so did the Languedoc, and so does Puglia, but as it comes of age, so will come the realisation that Nero di Troia, Primitivo and Negroamaro can stand alone.  Do go and try and them. You will be richly rewarded. 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Antech in Limoux

The harvest was in full swing, but we were lucky, Françoise Antech was very willing to take time out and give us a tasting.  But first we did venture into the cellars and watched the arrival of some grapes.   Chardonnay is picked first, then Pinot Noir, and then maybe a little Mauzac.  Chenin comes next, followed by more Mauzac, with the very last Mauzac, the ripest, being kept for the Cuvée Ancestrale.  They are thrilled with 2014.  The grapes are magnificent with very good acidity.  However, Françoise’s father, who  is 80, apparently reckons that 2013 was his best year ever.     We tasted some juice, some Chardonnay, which did indeed have good acidity, and some notes of bananas.  A second vat seemed more delicate and elegant, with notes of apples and pears, and of course some fermentation aromas.  Chenin was more lively, with very good acidity, and some citrus notes.  The Mauzac had not yet started to ferment; the juice had ripe apply fruit.

Françoise explained that they work with 22 grape growers, but also have 70 hectares of vines of their own, which account for 40% of their needs, at St Hilaire, which her sister Michèle and brother-in-law run, following the precepts of Terra Vitis for lutte raisonnée. St Hilaire comes within the Mediterranean zone of Limoux, with an earlier harvest, and grapes that are generally riper with a lot of aroma.  So to compliment thee, they buy mostly from the Haute Vallée de l’Aude, with its higher acidity and freshness, and also a little Oceanic.  It is the blending that gives the variety and character of the Antech wines.  with the ability to buy grapes adding balance to the wines.  

Françoise is in charge of the commercial side of things. The two sisters are the 6th generation and it was their grandfather Edmond Antech who founded the company.  And the succession is looking good.  Michele has two daughters, and Françoise two boys.  So far they have worked on the bottling wine, and are learning to taste.

Blanquette de Limoux, Brut Nature – 8.00€  (2012 vintage, but no vintage mentioned on the label) Our tasting began with Brut Nature.  ‘You can really see the work of wine grower, without any dosage in the wine’, enthused Françoise.  90% Mauzac, with 5% each of Chardonnay and Chenin.   The ‘dusty’ notes that are typical of Mauzac.  Rounded and characterful.  ‘Mauzac is our identity’.  It gives good acidity when it is picked early.  The wine has no dosage, and has spent eighteen months on the lees.  It was quite juicy and crunchy, with notes of green apple and a slightly bitter finish, typical of Mauzac.

(2012) Crémant de Limoux rosé Brut Nature  Emotion – 10.00€
Chardonnay, Chenin blanc and a little Pinot Noir.  Very pale, delicate colour. Quite  firm, dry and nutty with some body.  Limoux does not need dosage.

(2012) Blanquette de Limoux Reserve Brut – 8.00€
Their classic Blanquette.  90% Mauzac.  They do not add older wine to the blend, as in Champagne. They have tried, but it just doesn’t work, as the wines do not have enough acidity, and age better in bottle than in vat.  Essentially this is the same wine as the Brut Nature, but with 9 gms/l dosage.  There was a taste of crunchy apple, and some pear.  The dosage makes the wine more rounded on the palate.  Satisfyingly mouth filling.  A jolly nice glass of bubbles.

(2012) Crémant de Limoux. La Grande Cuvée – 10.00€
Lots of Chenin (40%)  in this, giving some citrus notes, along with 50% Chardonnay and a little (10%) Mauzac. Nicely creamy nose.  Rounded and elegant , with fresh acidity and a touch of honey.  18-24 months on lees.

Crémant de Limoux, Eugenie – 10.00€
70% Chardonnay with 20% Chenin and 10% Mauzac.  Eugenie was Françoise’s great great aunt.  Both her brother and her fiancée were killed in 1914 and she was one of the first women in the Languedoc  to work in the wine trade.  She never married, and it was her sister, Françoise’s grandmother, who married Edmond Antech, who started the business.   Edmond was a prisoner of war in Germany, in a wine village, so learnt his winemaking that way.  Eugenie died at the age of 96. As for the wine, it was light and creamy with some attractive nutty depth, showing the evolution of  the Chardonnay, into notes of brioche and pain grillé, which sounds better than plain toast! 

These days they make about half and half Crémant and Blanquette, but originally they produced much more Blanquette.    Blanquette characterises the terroir, while Crémant is more elegant.  The first vintage of Crémant was 1988, and for rosé 2008.

2011 Heritage 1860  - 12,00€
The name of this cuvée refers to the date of the family papers of Eugenie.   60% Chardonnay, with 20% Chenin and 10% each of Mauzac and Pinot Noir.  A selection of the best vats.  Two and a half years of élevage.  7000 bottles.  Light colour, with a delicate nose.  Good body on the palate; quite rich and rounded, quite sturdy with more body than the preceding wines.   It’s a food fizz; and you could envisage it being an enjoyable drink without the bubbles. 

Crémant de Limoux rosé, Emotion – 10.00€
4% Pinot Noir, 10% Mauzac, 20% Chenin blanc and 66% Chardonnay. Very pale colour.  Delicate fruit, fruits rouges, fine and elegant.  For the 2012s the dosage was a consistent, 9 gms/l.  For the 2013 wines, however, the dosage may be higher as the base wines have higher acidity.  They decide at disgorging, with three experiments at 8gms/l,   10gms/l and 12 gms/l.

2013 L’Ancestrale, Doux et Fruité – 8.00€
100% Mauzac.  The ripest grapes and the last to be picked, from plots selected for both their ripeness and acidity levels.  The wine must not be heavy.  It ferments to 5˚ and then they stop the fermentation and bottle the wine, without adding any sugar.  The wine starts to ferment again in bottle, and reaches about 6˚. Then the wine is disgorged, but no dosage is added.  There is no ageing sur lattes.   It is quite complicated to make properly. .Light colour. A ripe honeyed nose, reminiscent of tarte tatin, an apple tart with caramel. Honey and acidity.  Ripe apples. Fresh and youthful. It would be delicious with a galette des rois, the traditional French dessert that is eaten for Twelfth Night.

Antech also produce a Doux and Demi Sec, but we skipped those, and Françoise gave us a bottle of the final wine, to enjoy with friends later.  Elixir. – 25€   This is the last cuvée that they have created.  She explained that Limoux has always had a complex about the fact that it is not champagne.  ‘But we shouldn’t have.  The terroir is magnificent and we have a real identity, producing wines with fruit and freshness.  We are our own worst enemies.  We daren’t do something different’.  So in 2010 they decided to do a cuvée autrement, differently, just 2000 bottles, and to do the absolute best they possibly could, irrespective of the cost.  They selected plots, with a very small yield, from well exposed vines, with grapes with good acidity.  The grapes were weighed and they took just the first 25 cls of the press.  Normally 1.5 kilos gives you a litre of juice.  The wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin and Pinot Noir.   They fermented it in a stainless steel vat, with carefully temperature control, and they also used a barrel procured a barrel from Château d’Yquem.   It spends three years on lattes, on its lees and is bottled into a very smart black bottle, with an elegant presentation box.   And they use the best, expensive corks and a smart muselage.  They have made Elixir again in 2012 and 2013, and the Chardonnay and Chenin for 2014 have already selected. 

And for the taste ; very good mousse with a  fine bead; a delicate nose, very elegant. And on the palate some nuttiness, and depth with a fresh finish.  If I were nit-picking, it is a teensy bit short on the finish.  And of course it is also considerably more expensive than their classic Crémant.  Is it worth three times the price?  But then this is the first vintage, and it is work in progress with the next vintages to follow.    Thank you Françoise for giving us the opportunity to enjoy the bottle.  It was a great tasting. 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Domaine la Condamine l’Evêque

It has been a while since I have visited Domaine la Condamine l’Evêque.  Guy Bascou was one of the pioneers of the Languedoc, involved in the region for some forty odd years, and amongst other things president of the new appellation of Picpoul de Pinet.  While waiting for Guy, I had a brief conversation with his son, Guilhem.  Naturally the immediate topic of conversation was this year’s vintage.   There has been a winter drought between Beziers and Montpellier, with an inevitable impact on quantity – down at least 30%, but some areas are even worse.   They started picking on 23rd August, which is about the average, but this year they will finish earlier; he anticipated about 17th September.   In contrast last year they started on 6th September and did not finish until 24th October.    Picpoul is usually ripe at the end of September,  but this year they picked it on 4th September. Guy arrived, with the observation that sales of Picpoul de Pinet are exploding.  The appellation now produces 7 million bottles, mostly bottled in the distinctive tapered bottle.  And 240 different clones of Picpoul have been identified.

Condamine means champ du maître.  All the wines are named after former bishops of Agde, who had a palace in Lézignan l’Evêque.  They preferred to live inland, because of the danger of malaria on the coast. There is also a Domaine Condamine Bertrand in Nézignan la Cèbe.  

At Condamine l’Evêque they have always grown an enormous variety of different grapes.  Viognier, Sauvignon blanc, Muscat, Picpoul and for red, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Marselan, which is a Grenache Noir Cabernet Sauvignon cross, and Cinsaut and also some Petit Manseng.   Altogether the estate totals 65 hectares. 

And we settled down in the welcoming tasting room – you can buy free range eggs, tomatoes and table grapes there, as well as wine.  The tasting caveau is open every morning from 9 – 12.30.  The small barrel room is next door. 

Guy is un fils de vigneron from Pomerols, and it was his grandfather who created the coop of Pomerols, which is today one of the key producers of Picpoul de Pinet.  Guy keeps his Picpoul vines with the coop.  The vineyards around Lézignan l’Evêque are on villefranchien terraces, with fossilised shells.  

A nugget of local history.  They have an an old stencil in the cellar, depicting the old maison bourgeoise, which is now the Hotel St. Alban.  The stencil shows the building with towers; in fact the hotel has none.  
And now to taste:

2013 Sauvignon, Sophrose, Côtes de Thongue – 5.50€
Quite a fresh firm nose.  Firm and stony with a mineral note.  Fresh and youthful.  The vinification process is  what Guy called modern but classic; maybe modern has now become classic,  with a cool fermentation at 16-18˚C. It is Guilhem who is now in charge of the winemaking.    He studied in Montpellier and has a BTS in oenology.  He has spent six months with Roederer in California and also worked in Robertson in South Africa and came back to the family estate in 1997.

2013 Muscat à petits grains, Fronime – 5.50€
Very pithy grapey nose.  Rounded and pithy with a lightly bitter note.  Fresh Muscat flavour. And good fruit.

2013 Picpoul de Pinet, with Guy’s signature.  5.50€  Guy explained the coop at Pomerols lets him chose his own cuvée, even though his grapes from his 6 hectares of Picpoul go into the communal vat..  Quite a discreet nose with quite a fresh salty sappy tang and good acidity.  A touch of iodine and some white flowers and good weight.

2013 Viognier – 6.50€
Light colour.  A hint peachy.  Nicely balanced,  Guy observed that hygiene and cooling equipment, le froid, have made an enormous difference to the Languedoc wine making, as well understanding how to protect the wines  from oxidation.

2013 Mourvèdre, Georges – 4.50€
Medium colour.  Quite firm nose.  Dry red fruit.  Élevage in vat.  From vines that are 30 years old or more.  Quite firm with some fresh fruit.  Light tannins and still youthful.  A hint of leather and some spice.

2012 Syrah, Vermiste - 4.50€
A denser, slightly confit nose.  Some good peppery notes on the palate.  Quite ripe, with a fresh finish.  Élevage in vat. Once upon a time there was talk of an appellation for the Côtes de Thongue, but that idea has been quietly dropped.  ‘The great advantage is that we can do what we like, and we would lose that with the appellation’, not to mention that the yield for the AC would be 50 hl/ha as opposed to 80 hl/ha.   .  Altogether there are about 50 – 60 producers of Côtes de Thongue, making it one of the livelier vin de pays, with a distinct identity.  

2013 Syrah – Mourvèdre.  Côtes de Thongue. 
Good colour. Some confit notes on the palate.  Quite rounded and ripe, with good spice.  ‘C’est le Midi’, observed Guy.

2013 Merlot - Cabernet Sauvignon.  
Medium weight.  Fresh but ripe cassis.  Supple tannins.  Nice weight.  Very easy drinking.

2012 Mourvèdre, Georges
Deep colour. Filled out elegantly compared to the 2013.  Supple fruit.  Good balance.  Mourvèdre needs time.

2011 Béticus, Languedoc – 6.50€
Syrah, Mourvèdre.  A touch of oak.  Quite a sweet confit nose, quite a rounded ripe palate.  A touch of sucrosity on the finish, from new barrels  Easy drinking.

2010 Château la Condamine l’Evêque, Languedoc - 10.00€
A selection of the best plots of Syrah and Mourvèdre – vines that are forty years old.  Three weeks on the skins.  20% in wood.  Deep colour.  Good weight, with fruit and body and some lovely ripe spice. Very satisfying – and delicious.

1999 Folie Douce
Petit Manseng. Harvested in December.   Bottled about five years ago.  It goes into demi-muids, with no sulphur and ferments very slowly for two or three years, stopping naturally when the yeast are exhausted.  The dessert wine d’autre fois, observed Guy.  .  Golden amber and very bright.  Notes of orange, dried figs, walnuts, orange marmalade. With refreshing acidity and a slightly burnt toffee  finish.   Petit Manseng is naturally acidic.  You could say a Mediterranean version of Jurançon.  Very intriguing.  Sweet but with acidity. 14˚ alcohol + 5˚ equivalent sugar.

And then we tasted the 2002 from barrel, which was more caramel with less acidity, and a little more oak on the palate. Riper and softer;  smooth and unctuous, with a bite of acidity.  And the 2000, also from barrel, was amber gold with more of a bite on the palate, as well as a touch of Bovril.   

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Villa Symposia

It is not just foreigners who come to the Languedoc to make wine, but also wine growers from other parts of France.  Eric Prissette made his reputation in Bordeaux, in St. Emilion,  where he created the tiny estate of Château Rol Valentin.   But by 2003 he was beginning to buy plots of land outside the village of Aspiran.  A cellar was built and in 2008 he left St. Emilion, but not Bordeaux, as he has also bought Château Roc in the Côtes de Castillon. 

Eric was not around the afternoon I visited, but his assistant,  Elizabeth, was very welcoming and I also met the Bulgarian winemaker, Nenko Dunev, who has made the wine at Villa Symposia since the beginning.   He learnt his wine-making in France   Most of their vineyards are within the cru of Pézenas, but as yet they feel that there is very little effective communication about the cru.    
The name symposia recalls the Gallo-Roman origins of Aspiran, and  the Roman idea of sharing wine.  On the label is a dragonfly, which is the symbol of aerien elegance, which is how Eric would like his wines to be perceived. 

Altogether there are 20 hectares of vines, with 18 hectares in production, planted on argilo-calcaire and villefranchien, with galets roullées.  There are the usual five red varieties of the Languedoc, as well as some experimental Merlot.  And for white wine they have Terret, Carignan and Grenache blanc.    They have been organic since 2012 and are moving towards biodynamic viticulture.   The cellar is well organised and functional with the usual shining stainless vats.   And there are nine 30 hls foudres;  they began with bordelais barriques, but realised that larger wood gave more supple tannins to the red wines of the Languedoc, and for white wine they use demi-muids

We tasted some juice from the Syrah that had been picked the previous day; it was ripe and sweet with some acidity.  I enjoy tasting juice, but feel that I lack the parameters really to know what I am tasting, but it is always fun to try.  A tank of Grenache picked a week early also displayed ripe fruit with acidy and tannin and good colour.  They are pleased with the harvest; the grapes are small, but ripe and healthy. 

2013 Rosé, la Petite Sieste   - 9.00€
70% Cinsaut with 30% Mourvèdre.  Both saigné and pressed juice.   Fermented in vat and bottled after six or seven months.    Pale gris colour.  Quite a delicate nose, but with a certain weight.  Quite rounded and vinous on the palate, with dry fruit and some acidity.  Usually it is almost pure Cinsaut, but the Mourvèdre adds tannins and vinosity.

2012 L’Amphora, Languedoc – 9.00€
A wine to drink young and fresh within two or three years.  Young colour.  Attractive spice on the nose and palate, with some fresh fruit and supple  tannins.  No wood.  Cinsaut is the dominant variety with some Carignan, and also some fruit from young Syrah vines.  

2011 Equlibre, Languedoc – 12.00€
60% Syrah, using older vines.  30% Carignan and some Grenache Noir and a little Mourvèdre.  The Syrah and Mourvèdre go into wood.    Good colour  Quite a firm smoky nose, with a touch of oak. Quite structured and youthful, with good fruit; rounded and fresh with a good balance and well integrated oak.    Opens up nicely in the glass.

2010 l’Origine, Pézenas. – 24€
From the oldest Syrah that are 47- 48 years old, grown on the best terroir, villefranchien, with a little Grenache.  Aged in foudres for 18 months.   The blend has varied – in 2012 the Syrah was blended with Carignan and the élevage has lasted two years. 

Deep colour; some oak on the nose; quite firm and structured; tight knit with firm tannins.  Quite elegant.  A dry finish.  Youthful.  Need to develop in bottle.   Elizabeth observed that they have moved away from riper heavier Syrah.

2012 Blanc, Vin de France  - 13.00€
One third each of 70 year old Terret, 45 year old Carignan and 30 year old Grenache blanc.  They had a problem with the labelisation tasting in 2011, when the panel deemed the wine to be too oxidative, so it was  declassified into Vin de France, and so in 2012 it remained Vin de France.  Light golden.  Leafy honeyed nose, which open up  nicely.  Good acidity on the palate. Some floral notes, with satisfying texture, from minerality and acidity.  It is aged in old demi muids for nine months, without any bâtonnage.  It is nicely understated with a satisfyingly long finish. 
And we finished with a tasting of 2013 Mourvèdre en plein élevage.  The vines are now seven years old.  Nenko observed that Mourvèdre is capricious  -neither 2011 nor 2012 were so good, but he is particularly pleased with the 2013, and I could see why.  There was ripe rounded fruit and a very good balance of tannin, with some spice, and explosion of fruit, with an elegant finish.   Nenko has also tried making a pure Carignan in 2012, observing that it is good  to make and taste mono-cépages as that helps you understand the blends.

The world is full of coincidences.  As it happened, I had just finished writing this post a week or so ago, when I received an email from Alexandra Level, first  telling me about her new business, and when I asked what she was doing in the Languedoc, the reply was: my next offer is Villa Symposia.  No one sells their wines in the UK, but for the first  week of October they are available from :

So do check the website of this bright new company.  

and for more on Villa Symposia:  both for wine and holiday gites:

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Domaine Clavel

I kept bumping into Pierre Clavel at wine fairs earlier this year.  And he kept asking: when are you going to come and see me au domaine?  Finally  earlier this month the opportunity presented itself.  He had started picking, the whites, and so far so good.  And he has also picked some grapes for his rosé and the red harvest will get going next week, that is to say the week of 8th September. 

Pierre’s very first vintage in his old cellar at La Méjanelle was 1986; his first vintage at Assas was 2001 and he has been working organically since 2007. 

First we had a look at his cellar.  Over the last five years he has shifted away from barriques to foudres – and mentioned that Boutes, the cooper in Narbonne, has bought the foudrerie garonnaise in Marmande.   And he also has a couple of concrete eggs which he has used for both red and white wine; he likes the fact that there are no angles and there is a mouvement de convection.   He admits to being influenced by Gavin Crisfield’s enthusiasm for eggs.  See an earlier blog about Gavin and la Traversée.   

And then we moved into the tasting room, followed by a friendly black and white border collie, answering to the name of Garrigue.  There is a magnificent piece of equipment for weighing barrels to determine the amount of wine, first full and then empty.  Barrels were never an exact size.

2013 Cascaille, Coteaux de Languedoc - 13.50€
From Roussanne and Grenache.   Other varieties, Rolle and a little Marsanne, as well as some Clairette are being harvested for the first time this year.   The Rolle is looking particularly good this year, de toute beauté, observed Pierre.  He also has some Viognier, but very little, and quite often he blends it with his Syrah.   One third in egg; one third in tonneaux and one third in vat.   Blending at the harvest and a gentle pressing.  

Light colour. Lots of nuances on the nose. Quite floral, white blossom.  Good acidity.  Very youthful satisfying texture.  And tension.  Will develop nicely.   Cascaille used to be more opulent in style, but the age of the vines, now 25 years old, has come into play, and there is a trend toward more elegance.  Pierre explained that he likes heavier wines very much less than he used to.  Most of the white grapes are from Méjanelle, where the soil is galets roulées.  A big difference of picking dates between this year and last year – 26.8,2014 as opposed to 12.9.2013.  And then Pierre launched into an explanation of the translation of cascaille in Occitan.  Ca cascaille – old men chatting; cascailler – a rolling stone clinking against another; or it could refer to birds singing in the plane trees.

2013 Mescladis, Pic St. Loup rosé – 7.00€
A blend of Syrah and Grenache.  Light orange pink.  Nicely rounded, fragrant nose.  Good raspberry fruit and a certain weight and body on the palate.  Very harmonious.  A food rosé.  The vinification is simple :  you take good grapes and press them.  -  Mescladis means mélange  or mesclin, with the expression Che mescadis in Occitan meaning quel bazar, or what chaos.   And on the subject of meanings of words, clavel is a clou – and Pierre’s grandparents did indeed produce clou or nails, at Camplong near Bousquet d’Orb.   It is nails that provide the theme for Pierre’s labels.  And on his labels he describes himself as a vigneron, winemaker and wine lover.

2013 Rosé à Rougir, Vin de France– 10.00€
Pure Grenache Noir.  Saigné after quite a few hours, so quite a deep colour. Ripe raspberry fruit on the nose and palate.  Fresh fruit with acidity, and nicely mouth filling.

2013 Le Mas, Coteaux du Languedoc – 7.00€
Includes grapes from all three parts of the estate, Méjanelle, Pic St. Loup and next to the cellar at Assas.  The emphasis is on fruit, from Carignan Syrah and Grenache.  I found it a touch reductive on the nose – it just needed some air, but on the palate there was some lovely black fruit, balanced with  tannin and acidity.  It is still very young.  Pierre observed that 2013 was a great vintage between Béziers and Nimes. 

2012 Les Garrigues, Coteaux du Languedoc– 10.00€
Syrah – 55%; Carignan 25% and Grenache Noir 20%.  Élevage in vat.  Mainly from Méjanelle.  A closed note and a slightly viandé palate, medium weight, with some warm sunshine, but also a slightly bretty edge. 

2012 Pic St. Loup, Bonne Pioche.   – 12.00€
Elegant red fruit, on both nose and palate.  Aged in foudres for 12 months,  Nicely rounded, with ageing potential, and avoids the rich opulence of some Pic St. Loup  I liked it so much that I had to follow my own advice and buy some.  The percentages in the vineyard are 65% Syrah with 20% Mourvèdre and 15% Grenache.  Pierre talked about Pic St. Loup.  He sees it as his future.    He has been renting vines, 13 hectares,  at St. Jean de Cuculle for eighteen years – we went to see them later.  The soil is deep and stony. with varied colours, blonde, brune and rousse.  Brune gives more structured wines.     The vines come from the old estate of Domaine de la Salade, whose owner has retired, and not to be confused with Domaine de la Salade St. Antoine.  Pierre is working on a top cuvée for Pic St. Loup.  He commented on how he likes the freshness and elegance of the Pic St. Loup.  It is wetter than other parts of the Languedoc.   And he is doing some experimenting with micro-cuvées of it. 

2012 Copa Santa, Méjanelle – 16.00€
83% Syrah with Grenache aged in foudres, tonneaux and an egg.  Good young colour.  Quite rounded, solid and dense, ripe and confit.  Sunnier and less elegant than the Pic St. Loup.  Riper and from a hotter terroir.   At 7 a.m. in the morning in early September there can be as such as 6˚C difference,  with 10˚C in the Pic St. Loup and 16˚C in Méjanelle.    And our visit finished with a look at the vineyards, and a bunch of juicy ripe Muscat grapes to enjoy. 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Château St. Preignan – or finding a bargain.

Friends asked me come along and help chose wines for a party.  They thought they might have found a bargain. Did I agree?  So we headed off to Château St. Preignan, which is an elegant building at the end of an alley of plane trees just outside the village of Pouzolles.  The château was built in 1850 and Jean-Claude Pastor bought the property in 1978.  However, his great grandfather was making wine in Pouzolles in 1908.  They have 100 hectares of land altogether with 80  hectares of vines in production; 45 hectares of Coteaux du Languedoc in Roujan and 35 hectares of Côtes de Thongue at Pouzolles.

We settled down at a large table outside.  There is one snag to tasting outside; the wind.   You go to sniff a glass and a mini Mistral whisks between the glass and your nose.  But we managed.    And Jean-Claude produced a large selection of bottles.   The prices are those at the cellar door, ‘for those who take the trouble to come and see us au domaine’.   They are not great wines, but as Jean-Claude kept emphasising, we want drinkability and there was no doubt that the best were eminently drinkable.

Here are my impressions:

2013 Le Mas des Cigales – the mas is outside Roujan, on the road to Neffiès, - a pure Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc. 2.00€ at the cellar door.  Perfectly pleasant and easy to drink. With some fresh acidity.  Again Jean-Claude emphasised the drinkability.

2013 St. Preignan Chardonnay 2.70€  
This was ripe and more rounded, having been picked ten days later. The vinification was the same, a simple process of harvesting early in the morning and cooling the grapes down for a cool fermentation.

2013 Viognier, Pays d’Oc – 2.70€  A hint plastic on the nose, but a lightly peachy palate. Medium weight.  Good acidity and a touch of apricot.  Not especially expressive, but what do you expect for 2.70€

2013 Cuvée Lise    Sauvignon with a touch of Muscat.  Very Muscat on the nose, but on the palate really neither one thing or the other.   The pure Muscat à petits grains was rather more successful with good varietal character, perfumed fruit and some floral notes.

2013 Synthèse – A blend of Viognier, Roussanne, Vermentino Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Muscat.  Light golden.  More depth texture and weight.  No wood. And some quite intriguing nuances. 

2010 St. Preignan – 4.00€  Mainly Roussanne, with some Chardonnay and Viognier.  Quite ripe, rounded and textured.  Possibly not enough acidity.  25% of the wine is given a six months élevage in  new wood. 

2013 Mas de Cigales rosé – 2.00€   Cinsaut; saigné. Delicate and fresh on the nose and palate, and sufficient body.

2013 Rosé from Grenache – 2.70€   Saigné.  More of a pink orange colour.  Quite ripe and rounded.  More weight than the Cinsaut and from 80 year old vines. 
2013 Mas des Cigales red, Pays d’Oc – 2.00€   50/50 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon.  Quite ripe but a bit jammy on the nose, and bit stalky on the palate,  But easy drinking.

2013 Merlot, Pays d’Oc – 2.00€   Quite ripe and plummy.  Easy drinking with good fruit and a streak of balancing tannin.  An absolute bargain at 2.00€

Cabernet Sauvignon. Pays d’Oc   - 2.00€  
Dry cassis fruit ; more structured than the Merlot, with some good fruit.  A touch of green pepper and blackcurrant.

2013 Grenache - 2.70€
From 70 year old vines.  Lighter red; liqueur cherries on the nose.  Ripe fruit and nicely balanced.

2013 Syrah – 2.70€
Not as successful as the previous reds.  A bit unbalanced; edgy and confit and quite alcoholic.   I much preferred the Grenache.

2013 Carignan, from 70 – 80 year old vines - 2.70€
Medium colour.  A nice expression of Carignan. Quite fresh red fruit; medium weight and nicely rustic.  I thought this was great value.

2012 Coteaux du Languedoc – 3.70€
Mainly Syrah with some Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre, kept in vat.  Quite sturdy and a bit confit and ripe.  Lacked charm. 

I don't actually know what my friends chose in the end, so I am looking forward to finding out at the party.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Château Moyau on La Clape.

It has been a while since I had visited Château Moyau on La Clape.  Actually the estate is very close to the sea, rather than up in the hills of the massif.  It is one of a row of estates bordering the evocatively named Etang de Pissevaches, with Négly, Anglès, and Mire l’Etang.  Bernard Köhler is the German owner, and although he is passionate about his wine and his estate, he tends to be an absentee vineyard owner, leaving the full responsibility of the everyday running of the estate to my friends Peter and Susan Munday.   He bought the estate in 2004, for a first vintage in 2005, which was made by Stephanie Chanot who has now gone on to pastures new.  Mr Köhler restored a ruin, and an estate that sent its grape to the local cooperative.   Peter and Susan arrived at Moyau in November 2009, so 2010 was their first full vintage there.    It was not an easy year; there was a storm at the end of September when 240 mm rain fell in 24 hours, so the deciding quality factor was: picked before or after the storm?  Both 2009 and 2008 were very good vintages.

First we had a chat about the weather this season.  The quantity is not enormous; another weird year, muttered Peter.  They had a very dry winter, and since June there have been regular weekly showers.  Then for a week at the end of August there was a north wind blowing and it was wonderfully sunny.   Surprisingly perhaps they usually have one small snow fall each year; it usually melts by lunch time.

Château Moyau comprises 23 hectares of vines, with a total of 60 hectares of land.  The rest is garrigues.  There are vines at sea level and more up in the middle of the garrigues behind the cellar.   And 2013 was a difficult year for them too.  They had a vent marin, a wind coming off the sea throughout September and October into November, so that they were harvesting in 90% humidity, in warm fog.  Usually this happen perhaps one day in five, but in 2013 it persisted.  And the effect on the grapes was pretty devastating.  They went from being ripe to rotten in a matter of hours.  So the quantity was well down.  And they had already been severely affected by a fire in the garrigues behind them, with grapes so badly tainted by smoke taint that they could not be used. 

The cellar is a simple functional building, with some barrels, and stainless steel and concrete vats.  We chatted in the welcoming tasting caveau. 

2013 La Mer blanc, Coteaux du Languedoc  – 7.50€
Bourboulenc, Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Vermentino and also a drop of Viognier which is not allowed in white la Clape.  It was planted when there was a possibility that it might be included.  Light colour.  Quite fresh salty, lemony nose.  Light and fresh with a salty, slightly almondy palate.  Good acidity.  They have a plot of Grenache blanc and Bourboulenc, planted mixed up altogether, that are 70 years old, while the other varieties are much more recent additions.   Bourboulenc and Grenache give structure and the other varieties the aroma.   The soil is dry and sandy.

2009 L’Unique, la Clape – 14.00€
A blend of Grenache blanc and Bourboulenc. Quite rounded and buttery and lightly oaky with a hint of toffee.  About 45% was fermented in oak.  2009 was the last vintage of this cuvée as these grapes now go into La Mer.  It was ageing nicely for a Midi white that was five years old.

2013 Le Flamant, la Clape, rosé  – 6.30€
Cinsaut and Grenache, saigné.  Mourvèdre is usually included but not in 2013, because of the fire damage, but Peter was aiming for a similar style to previous vintages  Pink orange colour. Quite herbal and rounded.  A certain juicy note.  Some weight.  A long finish.  Definitely a food rosé.

2013 Le Soleil, Languedoc – 6.00€
A blend of Grenache and Cinsaut.  Medium colour.  Quite perfumed on the nose, and a touch confit.  This is a summer red, ripe and easy with a streak of tannin, and benefits from chilling.

2009 Sauvage, la Clape – 9.50€
Grenache, Syrah and at least 50% Carignan.  No oak.  Quite a deep colour; sunshine and herbs in a glass, on both nose and palate.  Some herbal notes and also some leathery notes.  Nicely intriguing.  From the higher vineyards.  A slightly rustic edge, appropriate to Carignan.

2009 Terre de Pierres, la Clape – 13.50€
Grenache Noir, Carignan – 10%, Mourvèdre – 15%, Syrah.   40% élevage in oak for 12 months, and then a further 12 months in tank. Good deep colour.  Nose refined by the oak, but some garrigues fruit too.  Nicely balanced fruit with a certain warmth.   Supple tannins.  Peter explained that they are gradually shifting way from oak, moving from 225 litre barriques to 300 and now 500 litre demi-muids.  And when I asked him about the tipicity of la Clape, he ventured that it was more aromatic and less tannic than neighbouring Corbières
2009 1792 la Clape – 23.50€
Almost pure Grenache, with 70% spending two years in wood, old barrels including a 60 hectolitre foudre.     Keep Grenache away from barriques, observed Peter.  Medium colour.  Quite warm ripe sweet cherry liqueur fruit on the nose.  A tannic edge from the oak on the palate, with ripe cherry fruit.  A touch alcoholic on the finish.   And why 1792?  It refers to a document dated 1792 in which Moyau, or Mautyau as it was spelt then, is mentioned.

2007 Enfin la Clape – 30€
Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre.  Good colour.  Quite a rich leathery oaky nose.  Quite firm and sturdy on the palate.  Rich ripe and oaky. The big brother of Terre de Pierres.  The best barrels of Terre de Pierres are given a second year of élevage.   The finish is solid and gutsy, warm and rich. 
Susan alked about living on La Clape, obersing that it is a site classé,  a protected site. Consequently no new buildings are allowed, not even a swimming pool, and you also have to observe la loi du littoral, and the regulations designed to protect the coast line. 

2008 Hallucinant, la Clape – 60€
A pure Mourvèdre that spends two years in wood; the entire cuvée in 500 litre barrels.  And just 2000 bottles were made.  Good colour.  Quite firm and solid and on the palate, quite rich and dense, and some of the viandé notes of Mourvèdre.  It is still very young, and should develop more in bottle, but I have to admit a preference to the lighter, more elegant wines.

We talked about sales, for most of the wines on sale are quite mature.  Peter explained that he has increased the yields, from 20 hls / ha to a more reasonable 35 hl / ha.  But this has meant that there is more wine  to sell, and that is Mr. Köhler’s responsibility, to expand the market in Germany.    And after the tasting, Peter took me to look at the vineyards, and I realised how close the fire had come.  Vines provide an effective firebreak; the other vegetation is returning, but it will take time.  And then we adjourned for lunch, which included a delicious tomato salad, and Peter enthused abiout the 33 different varieties of tomato that he grows!