Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Ten days in the Languedoc

I feel that I have been neglecting my blog, but ten days in the Languedoc  seemed to have whizzed past,  with various vinous highlights.    A bottle of Château Rives-Blanques 2010 Dédicace, their pure Chenin Blanc, restored our spirits after a traffic jam on the motorway the evening that we arrived.   Chenin really performs well in the Languedoc, with beautifully honeyed ripe fruit and acidity. Thank you Jan and Caryl.

The next afternoon saw me at a small organic wine fair at Domaine de la Tour outside Nébian.   A fun afternoon with some old friends and also some new discoveries.  More on that anon, as soon as I write up my notes.

Friends for dinner the next evening.  Always an excuse to open several bottles.  We kicked off with Domaine Delmas Crémant de Limoux, Cuvée Audace.  Lovely rounded fruit and a creamy texture.   Rives Blanques featured again, this time Trilogie their blend of Chenin, Chardonnay and Mauzac.   And with the meat course we had 2009 Château Trillol, Corbières, their cuvée prestige, which was everything that good Corbières should be.  Drink that and you can feel  the warmth of the south and see the rugged countryside of the vineyards.

On Monday we found ourselves hosting a 167th birthday lunch.  A good friend from Cognac was 70 earlier in the month, and her aunt was 97 earlier in the year.   2005 Mercier Champagne provided  a deliciously nutty, nicely mature glass of bubbles for an aperitif.  We continued with  white la Clape from  Château Rouquette sur Mer,  Cuvée Arpège, which  was fresh and mineral and  Les Trois Terres, Cuvée la Minérale, from the Terrasses du Larzac, which was firm and spicy.  Domaine de Ravanès,  L’Ille, from late harvest Ugni Blanc was rich and honeyed and perfect with a compote of figs. 

More friends to dinner on Easter Saturday, for an eclectic collection of bottles.  More bubbles from Domaine Delmas in Limoux, this time their Blanquette de Limoux, Cuvée Mémoire, which was fresh and lemony and nicely rounded.  Catherine Roque’s 2011white Faugères Mas d’Alezon Cabretta  was ripe and peachy on the nose, with perfumed fruit and a rounded palate.  And then we drank Mas d’Alezon’s 2006 Montfalette, which had matured beautifully, with a rich leathery nose and a perfumed palate, with a hint of vanilla.  And followed that with 2009 Château de l’Engarran, Grès de Montpellier, with a rich tapenade nose, and more tapenade on the palate with a balancing streak of tannin.  And we finished with 2007 Soulenque,  the lovely dessert wine  from Domaine la Croix Belle.  The nose was intense with some notes of caramel and burnt sugar.

The next morning I was at the Montpeyroux fête of caves ouvertes and spent a  damp, chilly day – the Languedoc sunshine had disappeared – wandering from cellar to cellar.   More on that in due course.   And the last wine of our stay
also came from Montpeyroux.  Amelie Hurlaborde from Mas d’Amile did not have her white wine for tasting at the fête, but I did happen to have a bottle in the cellar, her first vintage, the 2012, made from Terret Blanc, which was elegantly restrained, and nicely balanced with some fresh fruit and a firm finish.   And showing just why grape varieties like Carignan Blanc and Terret Blanc deserve serious consideration.       

Thursday, 10 April 2014

More Faugères at the Dame Jane

I've been back to the Dame Jane, this time for a Faugères tasting.  Alix Roque, daughter of Catherine from Mas d’Alezon, welcomed us, explaining about the association of producers.  It includes wine growers from Faugeres and the Orb valley, as well as producers of honey, olive oil, a baker, who are mostly organic.  And then she introduced Michel Salette who is a local wine communicator, who gave a general introduction, talking about terroir, and the possible hierachisation of the wines of the Languedoc .He observed that 80% of wines  sold in French supermarkets cost less than 5.00€ a bottle. 

Then Camille Chauvin, the bright young winemaker at the new estate of Domaine des Champs Pentus – she has just made her first vintage - gave us an introduction to Faugères.   Some pertinent figures included the colour breakdown of the appellation – 80% red, one third under organic viticulture, with 59 independent wine growers as well as the cooperative.   She talked about the different schists.  Schist is not just schist, but it can be grey, blue, yellow or ochre.  It is schist gives the appellation its homogeneity.  One of its great characteristics is that it retains water and heat.  It is not an exaggeration to say that the grapes ripen at night.  Wind plays an important part in the climate; the north Tramontane is a drying wind, while the vent Marin brings humidity, and potentially disease. 

As for grape varieties, Faugères includes the usual five of the Languedoc.  Cinsaut is not obligatory, but you must have all the other four in your vineyards.   And at least two must be in each wine.   The possible white grapes are Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Roussanne, Marsanne, Clairette and Viognier.  Again there is minimum of two varieties in the wine.   Yields are fixed at 45 hl/ha for white and red wine, and 50 hls/ha for rosé, but rare is the vigneron who achieves that amount.    Another observation was the average age of the wine growers is relatively young, and includes a fair number of women. 

Michel then gave some thoughts on tasting, talking particularly about minerality and what that might mean, and he encouraged us to spit.  This seemed a bit of a challenge to some people present!    And caused a bit of merriment.  We tasted six wines, as follows:

2012 Château Haut Lignières rosé
Light colour, a pretty pale pink.  Dry raspberry fruit, on the nose.  Oo the palate good acidity, with nicely rounded fruit.  Good balance and a rounded finish.  In short a jolly nice glass of rosé.

2012 Domaine Frédéric Alquier Blanc – NB the Christian name is important here; Frédéric is the brother of Jean-Michel and often referred to as the other Alquier.  He keeps a lower profile than his brother.  His white is a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne, with no oak ageing.  It was quite delicate on the nose, and on the palate quite dry and stony, but with no great depth.

2012 Domaine Cottebrune, le Cairn
This wine was presented by Maxime Sécher, the young regisseur of the estate, which is owned by Pierre Gaillard of Côte Rôtie fame.  2010 was the first vintage of this wine.  The vines were planted in 2006, en echalas, a Côte Rôtie technique where by each vine has a supporting post.  The blend is equal parts of Roussanne, Vermentino and Grenache Blanc.   It was wonderfully characterful after a fermentation and élevage in barrel, lightly golden colour, with quite a resinous oaky nose and on the palate very good acidity, balancing dry honey and some weight and body and satisfying mouth feel.  The wine undergoes regular bâttonage until Maxime feels it has enough weight and body.  It developed beautifully in the glass and was textured and long.

2012 Le Parfum des Schistes, from the coop and a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan.  The Syrah is vinified by carbonic maceration and the Carignan comes from older vines.  Some spice on the nose and quite firm tannins on the palate with some spice.  A touch confit on the finish.  Some peppery notes with a stony finish.

2012 les Novices, Abbaye de Sylva Plana.  
Quite a deep young colour.  Rounded ripe sweet nose, and on the palate some spice with a firm streak of tannin.  Some quite rugged tannins.  This is Sylva Plana’s entry level wine and intended for easy drinking.

2011 Domaine de Cébène, les Bancèls was presented by Brigitte Chevalier, the owner of the estate.  Deep colour with a rich concentrated youthful oaky nose.  Brigitte explained that Cebena is the goddess of the Languedoc and gave her name to the Cevennes.  The palate was youthful and intense, with lots of nuances, smoky, peppery, tapenade, with some youthful tannins and balancing acidity.  It is a combination of four varieties.  Brigitte observed that the 2012 vintage produced des vins charmeurs, whereas 2011 was more powerful.  Initially it was very closed and is now beginning to open up.  

And then some delicious tapas appeared, various dips, hummus and bagna calda, and a glass of your favourite red or white wine of the evening.  I opted for les Bancels. 

This was the first such evening at la Dame Jane, and it was deemed to be a great success.  More evenings are planned, including one in English, but no dates announced yet.  For more information email damejeanfaugeres@gmail.com   And the website address is  www.damejean.fr  but there is not yet much information on it.   

Monday, 7 April 2014

Faugères and the Dame Jane

Faugères has a new eatery, La Dame Jane, on the main road running past the village, opposite the car park and the mairie.  An association of local producers, of both wine and food, have restored some old vaults, to make a welcoming café and small shop.  There are bottles, not just from Faugères, but also a little further afield, and local cheeses, honey, and charcuterie.   I popped in for lunch last week, between a couple of cellar visits.   The plat du jour was a tasty meatloaf accompanied by a  colourful pumpkin purée and some green salad, and my friend Alex opted for the other choice, an hachis parmentier, or shepherd’s pie to you and me, but not with beef or lamb, but duck, and that was very good too, and just the thing after a morning’s wine tasting.   There was a wine of the week, by the glass, 2011 Domaine Binet-Jacquet Faugères, which was fresh, elegant and spicy.  And we finished our meal with a small plate of local cheeses, goat’s cheese, and some sheep’s cheese, pieces of tomette and a more mature tomme.   And the espresso coffee was one of the best I’ve had in the region.     At this time of the year the Dame Jane is open from 10 am to 2 p.m.

The Bel Air restaurant at the top of the hill in Faugères has apparently recently changed hands, so we checked that out earlier in the week.   The food was perfectly edible, but nothing more.  As for wine, the only choice by the bottle was the coop’s basic Mas Olivier, and as for the red wine en pichet, it was frankly a disgrace for a wine producing village, with a flat bitter finish.  I assume it was some dregs from one of the coop's vats.

At Sylva Plana in Laurens you have no choice but to drink the wines of the estate, either Abbaye Sylva Plana Faugères, or Domaine des Henrys Côtes de Thongue.   The best thing on the menu is the tapas of Spanish ham.  My salade de tempura was quite tasty but the déclinaison de canard failed to deliver.  The cold slices of magret were good – you can’t do much with that – but the cuisse had been jogging, and the pâté had recently come out of the freezer, and I couldn’t possibly tell you what it looked like.    So the Dame Jane is a very welcome addition to the lunch possibilities in the Faugerois. 

And on a previous occasion I had a very acceptable plate of charcuterie with a fresh salad in the cafe in Autignac, with an eminently drinkable carafe of wine, so that is worth checking out too. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

Alicante Bouschet – its changing fortunes.

Isn’t it curious how perceptions change?  When I was first writing about the Languedoc, Alicante Bouschet was castigated and despised as one of the grape varieties that contributed to the European wine lake.  It produced high yields of thin flavoured wine, and as a teinturier variety it also performed the useful function of boosting the colour of lighter varieties.  But there has been an perceptible change in its fortunes.
When I visited Domaine Crès Ricards, back in 2006 before it was sold to Domaine Paul Mas, Gerard Foltran gave me a pure Alicante Bouschet to taste.  He sold it as Vin de Pays du Mont Baudile - you are not allowed Alicante in Pays d’Oc – and called it Cousin Cousine.  The 2005 vintage characterised its key attributes, with some lovely fresh ripe berry fruit and a firm streak of tannin.  There was some acidity, which gave it freshness, with an engaging rustic note and a lovely deep colour.   Since then I’ve encountered it in various blends, at Domaine de Fabregous, and at Mas des Dames, and then more recently at Château de Viranel in St. Chinian.   Look back at my post last summer and you will find some enthusiastic tastings notes about a pure Alicante Bouschet, Arômes Sauvages, and Gourmandise, a delicious cartagène.  But it is still not a grape variety that you encounter often in the Languedoc. 

So it was a surprise to attend the large annual Portuguese trade tasting in London and to meet Portuguese producers from the Alentejo, the main region of southern Portugal who were enthusing about Alicante Bouschet.

Julio Bastos of Dona Maria Wines in Estremoz in the Alentejo grows his Alicante Bouschet at 1300 feet.  The grapes are not irrigated, so the yield does not exceed 30 hl/ha and the vines are over 50 years old.  His 2007 Julio B Bastos, a pure Alicante, had rich berry fruit with spice and depth, and some refreshing acidity, as well as a streak of tannin.  It was a revelation.

Sam Davies, the young New Zealand winemakers at Herdade dos Grous blends Alicante Bouschet to good effect with other Portuguese varieties such as Aragonez, Tinta Miuda and Touriga Nacional as well as Syrah.  At Quinta do Mauro they also favour blends with Trincadeira, Aragonez and Touriga Nacional, as well as a drop of Cabernet Sauvignon.   2007 Quinta Da Mauro was stylishly ripe with smoky cedary fruit, with an elegant but rich finish.

Howard’s Folly made by David Baverstock is a blend of Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Nacional, with a medium weight palate, with some firm red berry palate, with some smoky notes. 

Herdade do Mouchão is credited with introducing Alicante Bouschet to the Alentejo in the middle of the 19th century.  And their red wines are all based on Alicante Bouschet, with Trincadeira and Aragonez, or maybe Syrah and Touriga Nacional in the blend.  They are given some oak ageing and the results are characterful with rich berry fruit and an intensity of flavour, balanced by freshness and acidity.   And I finished the tasting with Mouchão Licoroso, a fortified Alicante Bouschet, made like port.  It was ripe with rich berry fruit and spice, with a streak of acidity and a firm finish, and well integrated spirit, and not unlike the Gourmandise of Château Viranel.   It certainly made me look anew at Alicante Bouschet.

Monday, 17 March 2014

The Languedoc at Caves 41

The success of Vinisud and its size has spawned lots of off, as the French so elegantly call fringe events.  Hugo Stewart from les Clos Perdus in the Corbières suggested that I attend the tasting organised by Caves 41.  This is one of Montpellier’s best wine shops and they had virtually all their Midi producers on hand, pouring their wines,  so it was very definitely worth the detour to the Château de la Blanquière in Mauguio.   There were some of the great names of the Languedoc, as well as some new names, to me.   It was a slightly unnerving tasting in that each grower had a table with a couple of chairs, so you found yourself playing musical chairs.  Was it etiquette to ask to taste if somebody else was already tasting?  Would there always be a chair free, or was it like the party game?  Whatever, it was a great morning and here are some of the highlights.  In fact,  as you will realise, there were a lot of highlights.

I kicked off with Jean-Baptiste Granier and 2012 les Vignes Oubliées
Lovely deep colour, a rich young nose, ripe with red berry fruit, and some firm tannins and acidity, but with that benchmark freshness of the Terrasses du Larzac.  A long finish and very good balance, with some body and youthful structure.  This is going to be a lovely glass of wine. The blend is 60% Grenache, with 20% each of Syrah and Carignan.  Jean-Baptiste is very pleased with his 2012s; they have a little less alcohol than the 2011.  And in 2013 he is planning a new cuvée based on Cinsaut.

Pierre Quinonero from Domaine de la Garance had a pair of wines –
2012 Claviers Blanc, from 80% Ugni Blanc, which he preferred to call Trebbiano, with 20% Grenache Gris, from vines planted in 1907.  The wine was fermented in oak, with natural yeast, with 11 months on the lees.  It was very rich, with very good acidity, an intriguing combination of honey and freshness.

2011 les Armières, from 90% Carignan and 10% Syrah, was deep in colour, with quite a solid firm nose.  The palate was dense, with fury tannins.  The Carignan was not destemmed and the malo had taken place on the skins.  Just 10% of the wine went into wood; the rest was aged in concrete vats.   It was solid and stocky, rather like Pierre.

Domaine Caujolle-Gazet 

Alain Caujolle has sold his estate in Montpeyroux and taken over some vines at le Pas de  l‘Escalette.   As well as Syrah, Carignan and Grenache, he has Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  I thought his 2013 Pinot Noir was absolutely delicious.  This is the first vintage and a great start, with a perfumed nose and some fresh elegant raspberry fruit balanced with a streak of tannin and acidity. 

2013 Rosé from Merlot was fresh and crisp; a white 2013 Orfran was half Grenache half Chardonnay and rounded and fresh.  Coulée Douce from 80% Merlot, Syrah and Carignan, had ripe fruit and some Midi spice, with some youthful tannins and fresh finish.

Gerard Gauby’s daughters were pouring the wines from this stellar estate from Roussillon.

2012 Calcinaires.
Medium colour, with a firm nose, a hint viandé,  and on the palate some dry leathery spice with elegant tannins, and a fresh finish and un bel longeur.

2012 Vieilles Vignes
From the oldest Syrah, Grenache and Carignan.  Quite firm dry spice on the nose.  Lovely perfumed fruit on the palate, with very good acidity and tannin.  A certain structure, with a youthful balance.  The wine has been aged in vat, foudres and barriques.

2011 La Muntada
The best plots of Grenache, Syrah and a little Carignan.  Medium colour.  An intriguing perfumed nose and a wonderfully elegant palate.  Some perfumed red fruit, mainly raspberries, and an elegant tannic streak.  Very stylish.

2012 Muntada which has just been bottled, from Grenache and old Carignan.  Youthful and fresh with some leathery notes on the nose, and fresh fruit, and good balance, and great potential on the palate

2012 la Roque blanc.
From Muscat à petits grains and Muscat d’Alexandrie grown on schist.  Made like a red wine, with a fermentation on the skins, and then an élevage in new foudres.  Quite golden in colour, with perfumed dry spice on the nose.  Lovely texture and body, with very good acidity.  Very intriguing with a lovely long finish.

Mas d’Espanet
This was a name I knew, but I can’t remember tasting the wines before.  Denys Armand introduced his wines, explaining that he has 20 hectares. L’Eolienne blanc is AC Languedoc, a blend of Grenache blanc with a little Picpoul and Viognier vinified in old barrels.  It was lightly peachy, with good texture and fresh acidity.

A pure Chenin blanc, 2012, Chacun son Chenin, Pays d’Oc had some refreshing dry honey, with good balancing acidity and some ripe fruit. 

2012 L’Eolienne red, with Carignan and 5% Syrah and 25% Grenache with eight months in old wood.  The Carignan and Grenache are both from 60 year old vines.  Rounded nose; some leathery, slightly viandé fruit.  Quite mineral with certain freshness on the finish.

And then another delicious Pinot Noir.  From the 2013 vintage, with medium colour.  It was very perfumed, with raspberry freshness, very elegant and fine.  From vines planted in 2008.

Marlene Soria from Domaine Peyre Rose has just bottled her 2005s.  She says that 2005 is a good vintage, She really does believe in a long élevage, and her wines have a stylish originality of their own.

2005 Cistes
Medium colour. Ripe spicy Syrah, with a perfumed nose and a ripe rounded palate.  Ready, but also with ageing potential.

2005 Leone
Syrah with less than 10% Mourvèdre.  Quite rich and leathery on the nose and on the palate rounded and powerful with rich leathery fruit, and quite a dense texture.

2005 No 3
Syrah with about 25 – 30% Grenache. An attractive perfumed nose, with a rounded rich palate.  Quite intense and powerful, but also with an elegant note.

2003 Leone
Quite perfumed, and a touch viandé on the nose.  A solid youthful palate, rich and dense, with plenty of potential to develop.  It has the concentration of the vintage.

Françoise Julien was pouring the wines of Clos Marie in the Pic St. Loup.   She wanted to practice her English, which was already pretty good, so I obliged. 

2012 Manon, a blend of Roussanne, Clairette,  Grenache blanc, Grenache gris and Macabeu fermented in barrel, foudres from Stockinger, the classy Austrian cooper, that keeps coming to my notice.  The nose was closed and the palate fresh and tight knit, almost austere and very mineral.  You could say almost Chablisesque!

2012 Olivette is Grenache dominant, with Syrah and a touch of Cinsaut.  Élevage half in tank and half in foudres.   The nose was rather closed, but in contrast the palate was ripe and opulent, with a firm tannic streak and a long finish.

2011 Métairies du Clos Vieilles Vignes40% each of Carignan and Grenache, with some Syrah, and élevage in foudres.   All quite restrained, on nose and palate, with dry spice and some red fruit.  Quite tannic and youthful, with potential.

2011 Glorieuse.
Half Grenache and half Syrah, with two to three years élevage in foudres.  Firm peppery fruit on the nose, and on the palate even more fresh peppery fruit.  Medium weight; youthful, and the streak of freshness typical of a cooler region.

Domaine de Gournier was a new name to me.  The estate is in Ste Anastasie, between Nimes and Alès and makes IGP Cevennes.  The Sauvignon was fresh and pithy with good varietal fruit; the Chardonnay was lightly buttery with 30% fermented in wood.  A Merlot Cabernet Syrah blend was rounded and ripe with gouleyant fruit and a tannic streak and les Templiers, again from Cabernet Merlot and Syrah, was firmer with some élevage in oak.

I jumped at the chance to taste Geraldine Laval’s wines from Clos Maïa.  This is a relatively new estate and she has nearly four hectares at the Pas de l ‘Escalette, but sadly was not there to pour her wines.    

2012 Vin de Pays de l’Hérault Blanc.  A vat sample
Roussanne with a little Terret.  Fermented and aged in wood, with minimal use of sulphur.   There was fresh lemony fruit on the nose and palate, but it was also still a bit adolescent, which is entirely understandable given that it was not yet in bottle.

2012 Le Petit Clos Maïa, Pays de l’Hérault
Grenache and Syrah, and about to be bottled.  Élevage in concrete vats.  Medium colour. Lovely perfumed fruit on both nose and palate.  Medium weight, fresh and rounded with a nice balance of tannin.  Promises to be a delicious bottle.

2012 Clos Maïa
Almost all Grenache, with a little Carignan.  Fermented in concrete and then aged in 20 hls Stockinger foudres.  Quite a deep colour.  Very elegant spicy nose.  Perfumed fruit with more weight on the palate.  A lovely balance of fruit and tannin.

And I was delighted to catch up with Alain Chabanon from Montpeyroux.  It is always a pleasure to taste his wines.   

2009 Trelans, Pays d‘Oc
A blend of Vermentino (about 55%) with Chenin blanc, with three years élevage, one in foudres and two in vat.  Lightly golden colour.  Quite a firm dry nutty nose.  Quite rounded, and ripe with the dry honey of the Chenin.  Very satisfying texture and mouth feel.

2012 Campredon
50% Syrah with Grenache and Mourvèdre, and an élevage in vat.   A modest 12 - how refreshing.   Medium colour.  Very fresh perfumed nose, and on the palate fresh red fruit balanced with some tannin.  Very appealing.

2009 Esprit de Font Caude
55% Mourvèdre with some Syrah.  Quite a solid dense nose, and on the palate rounded with good fruit and balancing tannins.  A more serious wine.

2010 Saut du Côte, Coteaux du Languedoc
Mainly Mourvèdre with a touch of Syrah, grown on one plot near Lagamas.  2008 was the first vintage of this wine, and it spends three years in concrete eggs.  Firm fruit on the nose; quite sturdy and rounded on the palate, with ripe fruit and a firm tannic streak.  Still very youthful, and promising.

Chateau de Jonquières
Charlotte de Béarn, with her husband Clément, has taken over responsibility for the wine estate from her parents, François and Isabelle de Cabissole.   She explained that they have rationalised the range of wines, Lansade for three wines in vat, and la Baronnie for two barrel aged wines.

2013 Lansade blanc from 70% Chenin blanc and 30% Grenache blanc is fresh with good acidity, and some dry honey, while la Baronnie from equal parts of Grenache blanc and  Chenin blanc is nicely buttery, rounded with good mouth feel.

Lansade rosé is Pays de l’Herault, as the plot of Cinsaut with 10% Carignan is not classified in the appellation.  It was fresh with some dry raspberry fruit.

Both their red wines are Terrasses du Larzac.  2013 Lansade from equal parts of Carignan, Cinsaut and Syrah was quite closed with some underlying fruit.  In contrast  2011 la Baronnie from Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, with 18 months élevage was quite solidly sturdy and needs time. 

 I always enjoy the wines of Chateau Mourgues du Grès so was delighted to have the chance of an update, as it had been a while since my last visit.

2012 Galets Dorés, from Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, a little Viognier and a touch of Clairette was lightly herbal with a fresh finish.

2011 Terre d’Argence is given a longer élevage with 25% in wood. It is a  blend of Viognier Petit Manseng and Roussanne, and was rounded and ripe with some leesy notes , with balancing acidity and some dry honey on the finish.  An intriguing blend.

2011 Galets Rouges, from 60% Syrah, with 30% Grenache and a touch of Marselan and Mourvèdre.  Deep colour.  Very ripe red fruit on the nose, and rounded supple ripe fruit on the palate.  Very gouleyant.

2011 Terre d’Argence.  80% Syrah with Grenache and Carignan.  Part aged in cement, part in small barrel and part in large wooden casks.  Quite firm and sturdy, rounded and rich with good mouth feel and texture, and also ageing potential.

My tasting with Robert Creus from Terre Inconnue was a bit curtailed, as my taxi was very punctual.  His vineyards are at St. Séries, between Lunel and Sommières, four hectares of Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Tempranillo and Merlot.  All his wines are Vin de France.

We kicked off with Guilhem 2011 a blend of 40% each of Grenache and Merlot, and 10% each of Carignan and Tempranillo.  The wine has spent two months in old wood and had some attractive smoky notes.

2011 Los Abuelos.  Robert’s family came from Barcelona, so in memory of his grandparents. 100% Grenache aged in vat.  There were some spicy notes, and also a slight acetate note, which Robert assured me will disappear as the wine develops.   He uses virtually no sulphur.

Leone 2011 comes from 70 year old vines, and was quite solid and dense, again with a slight acetate note, and quite a sweet edge.  Intriguing.

And the final wine was 2010 Sylvie, half Syrah and half Serine, which he told me was an old form of Syrah.  I consulted Jancis,  Julia and José’s tome Wine Grapes, which indicates that it is a synonym for Syrah, but there are other associations as well, including Durif and a variety or two in Albania.  As for the wine, it has spent two years in old wood, and had some nicely rounded red fruit, and was more harmonious than the previous two.  I hope I can manage a cellar visit before too long.

And then it was back to Vinisud.

And although I did not taste the wines from les Clos Perdus that morning, I did taste them at Millésime Bio, and so it only seems fair to include them in this line up, as it was thanks to Hugo that I was there in the first place.

2012 L’Extrème, Côtes Catalanes blanc
Mainly Grenache gris with 30% Macabeo.  Partly fermented in wood, and partly in tank. Quite rounded, ripe and oaky on nose and palate, with a hint of sweetness.  It was a very cold winter, and a trace of residual sugar remained in the Grenache Gris, but the Macabeo balances things out.

2011 Cuvée 91 Corbières
50%  Carignan with some Grenache and Mourvèdre.  Mainly in stainless steel, and also some old wood.  A touch of brett, I thought, but nicely so.  With leathery notes on the nose and palate and some good fruit and an intriguing edge on the finish.

2011 Prioundo, Corbières
70%  Grenache, with some Cinsaut.  Élevage in tank.   I wasn’t sure about the nose of this, but here was some lovely ripe fruit on the palate.  A rounded supple subtle  palate, with a good balance of fruit and tannin.

2011 Mire la Mer, Corbières
Mainly Mourvèdre, with some 100 year old Carignan and some Grenache.  Part fomented in new 500 litre barrels, and the rest fermented in tank, and then aged in wood.  Quite a deep colour with a firm meaty nose.  Quite solid red fruit on the palate, with a firm backbone.  Tight knit, structured and youthful.

2010 L’Extrème Côtes Catalanes, 75% Lledoner Pelut and 25% Syrah.  Part fermented in wood, and part in stainless steel tanks.  Ripe and rounded, the cherry liqueur notes of the Lledoner Pelut and the peppery fruit and tannin of the Syrah.  Good structure.  Very youthful.  Needs time. 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The 2013 vintage in the Languedoc

2013 was not a straightforward year – what vintage ever is?  But compared with the rest of France, the Languedoc has fared very well, escaping most of the major climatic hazards that have beset other regions.  The one exception is Limoux which suffered from hail at the end of July.   Hail is always very localised; some people escaped without any damage at all; others lost a significant part of their crop.  

The key climatic factors of 2013 were the wet spring and the late arrival of summer.   St. Chinian had the coldest May since 1950, and that slowed the development of grapes down by at least two weeks.   There was also a lot of rain, making it the wettest spring for about thirty years, but that meant that there was no danger of water stress during the summer.   Bad weather at flowering in June reduced yields, though Pic St. Loup fared better here.  Grenache Noir is particularly susceptible to coulure, when the grapes fail to form properly, so most people are complaining of very small yields for their Grenache.   The late arrival of summer meant a late harvest.  Sometimes the grapes catch up, but this year they did not.  My friends at Rives Blanques in Limoux started their harvest two days after the end of the harvest in 2012, on 1st October and reckon they picked the last white grapes of the Languedoc on 17th October.   And friends in the Minervois and Corbières were still picking the later ripening grapes, notably Mourvèdre in mid-October.  St. Chinian finished about 12th October, and Faugères around 15th.   Vignerons get nervous when the harvest threatens to be late, but happily September was bright and sunny, and the rain that did fall, did not harm the grapes.  The grapes have ripened well, with supple tannins and some freshness; and the whites are nicely aromatic and fresh.   Certainly the 2013s that I tasted at Vinisud showed plenty of promise.

However, the Comité des Vin du Languedoc which works hard to promote the wines of the Languedoc is very aware that the preconception of 2013 in the Languedoc risks being tainted by the problems that beset the vintage of  more prestigious areas such as Bordeaux,  Burgundy and the Rhone Valley.   These are regions where the weather really was not kind in 2013, giving severe problems with rain, rot and hail.  So the CIVL has produced an eye-catching badge saying: Millésime 2013 en Languedoc - 320 jours de soleil comme nulle part ailleurs!   2013 in the Languedoc -320 days of sunshine, unlike anywhere else.  'Please spread the word', said my friend, Christine, from the CIVL, so I am.   

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Jeanjean by helicopter

Jeanjean is one of the largest vineyard owners in the Languedoc with properties scattered between Faugères and the Camargue, including a new estate in the Terrasses du Larzac.  It was a chance encounter with Ian Munson, one of their winemakers, at Millésime Bio which led to me accepting an invitation for a helicopter ride during Vinisud.   And what a treat that was.

We set off from Montpellier airport heading towards the estuary of the Rhone  and Domaine le Pive, where Jeanjean produce a vin gris, Sable de Camargue.  But the first thing you see is the spectacular medieval town of Aigues Mortes, with its fortifications.  

Nearby there was the marshes and lagoons of the Camargue, with green patches of vineyards.  

We circled over the estate and then the helicopter turned north towards the hills of the Larzac, heading for the newly acquired Domaine du Causse d’Arboras above the village of Arboras.    The scenery quickly changes as you leave the coastal plain.  There are hillsides covered with garrigues and dramatically higher altitudes.  It was not the finest of the days, so grey cloud hung above the hills.  I might have expected a more dramatic skyline, with the silhouette of the Pic St. Loup but that seemed to merge with the other hills, though I did spot the stark lines of the Pic de Vissou.  None the less the difference in terrain was startling.   You could see the path of the Hérault, with its narrow gorges above Aniane. 

And then we turned south again heading for two neighbouring estates,  le Devois des Agneaux and Mas de Lunès.  This is when you realise how difficult it can be to identify things from the air.  Devois des Agneaux has a distinctive green tiled tower, but could we see it?  After turning over the Aumelas plateau at least three times we finally spotted it.   And Mas de Lunès. is a little further down the valley.  

And then we landed at Mas Neuf, the estate within Muscat de Mireval, for a tasting of the wines of Domaine du Causse d’Arboras, followed by lunch with several more wines to taste or drink.

Jeanjean have only recently acquired the fifteen hectare estate of Domaine du Causse d’Arboras, so that 2013 was their first vintage, while they blended the 2012s. 

2013 white, a blend of Roussanne, Vermentino and Marsanne.  Vineyards planted at a density of 7000 vines per hectares.  The winemaker, Mathieu Carliez, explained that Marsanne give spice and peppery flavours, Roussanne floral fruit and Vermentino some rondeur and volume.  They use an old basket press which gives very clean juice.  The wine was fresh with delicate white blossom of the palate, and elegant with some weight.

2012 La Sentinelle, with mainly Mourvèdre and Grenache and some Syrah. I hadn’t realised that Terrasses du Larzac must include three grape varieties.  For other Languedoc appellations it is usually two.  No oak ageing.  Medium colour, with red fruit on the nose, and fresh spice and fruit on the palate, with supple tannins.  The touch of Syrah adds more structure to the wine.

2012 la Faille, which is Syrah dominant, with 20% Grenache and 10% Mourvèdre, given an élevage in demi-muids.  Good deep colour.   Quite a firm youthful nose, and a more structured firm palate, with a long fresh finish.

2011 Cuvée 320 which refers to the altitude of the estate is also Syrah dominant with Grenache and Mourvèdre, and aged in newer wood.  It had a rounded nose, with some vanilla, and some firm structure and good fruit on the palate.

And with lunch the highlights included :

2013 Mas de Lunès white, a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne aged in 500 litres barrels.  The oak was light and the wine rounded and mouth filling.   And it accompanied an oeuf poché with lardons and an emulsion de parmesan.   I don’t think parmesan emulsion sounds very appetising in English, but it was absolutely delicious. 

2013 white Faugères from Domaine de Fenouillet was fresh and fragrant with white flowers and satisfying fruit.   This came with piece of cod à la sétoise, with capers, celery and olives.  A lovely combination.

2011 Mas de Lunès Grès de Montpellier  was nicely spicy with rounded fruit.  

2011 Faugères Rouge Grande Réserve was rich and rounded, with supple warm fruit.  You could immediately taste the contrast with the wines from the higher Causses, with their freshness compared to the warmth of Faugères.  This was served with a chocolate pudding but I am not sure how well that worked. 

And we finished with Mas Neuf l’Incompris, which was rich and honeyed, with a fresh finish.  It was an IGP d'Oc, rather than a Muscat de Mireval, for the simple reason that it was late harvest rather than muted with alcohol.

And after that it was a quick hop back to the airport and the hurly burly of Vinisud, flying above the coastal lagoons and spotting pink flamingos. 

Monday, 3 March 2014

Vinisud 2014

Three days at Vinisud, the Mediterranean wine fair, can only be described as challenging to both stamina and taste buds, but it is also great fun, as you never know who you might meet, or what you might get to taste.  The fair has grown enormously since the very first fair, back in 1994 when it filled just one hall.  These days there are eight halls.   And you can taste wines from all around the Mediterranean, and even from parts of France and Portugal that have no Mediterranean seaboard.  Naturally I concentrated on Languedoc Roussillon, and indeed hardly strayed out of the Languedoc   I was there to catch up with some old friends and to make some new discoveries.

Sunday evening kicked off with the Vinifilles tasting at Mas de Saporta.  They had decorated the large barn with colourful balloons and streamers so that there was more a party atmosphere than serious tasting.  However, there were some lovely wines to try. My highlights included 2011 Les Tarrasettes from Clos de lAnhel in the Corbières and 2012 Lilith from Mas Seren near Anduze.  I had to miss out on the aligot and the Vinifilles song as I was then bidden to Domaine de Verchant, a rather elegant hotel in the outskirts of Montpellier.  Philippe Modat of Domaine Modat in Roussillon had invited me to an evening of fifteen wine growers from Roussillon, each showing one wine, accompanied by a small dish, created by a chef of their choosing.  The chefs were given full range and their creativity was unrestrained, which in some instances resulted in too many complicated flavours in one tiny dish.   As it happened, my favourite combination was Philippe's,    his white De-ci, De-là with a croquant de crevette asiatique.  Frédérique Vaquer spoilt us with her 1988 red wine which was an elegant but mature blend of Carignan and Grenache, with some spicy fruit.  The accompanying dish was described as aiguillettes de canard catalan et sa réduction laquée, with navets de cerdagne, or more prosaically some duck in a sauce and a slice of turnip!

The next morning I started off with Château la Baronne, thanks to a chance encounter with Paul Lignières.  I do believe in letting serendipity determine some of my tasting programme,  and Pauls wines were showing very well. Then I had an appointment with a helicopter, courtesy of Jeanjean - more on that experience anon.  Back on terra firma in the afternoon, my friend Patricia Domergue was showing several vintages of Clos Centeilles and in the evening I discovered, thanks to Graham Nutter of  Chateau St. Jacques d'Albas, a new restaurant in Montpellier, l'Alliance des Plaisirs.  It is run by a husband and wife team; he cooks and she is front of house.  The kitchen is open plan so you can watch Vincent Valat in operation.  Graham brought along a couple of magnums, so the evening promised well!   .Vincent cooks a set menu each evening, so the only decision to be made was fish or meat.   And we compared Château St. Jacques dAlbas from his first vintage, 2001, with Chapelle de St Jacques 2003, the first vintage of that particular cuvée.  It was a fascinating comparison; both were delicious, but the 2001 was the more elegant of the pair, while the 2003 was still rich and concentrated.

Tuesday morning saw me at an off, as the French call fringe events.   One of the regions better cavistes, Caves 41 had put on a tasting of their Languedoc suppliers at the Château la Blanquière in Mauguio.  Hugo Stewart from les Clos Perdus had suggested that I attend, and what a good tasting it was.  More details in due course. 

Back at the fair, I wandered round the St. Georges d'Orques stand, tasting some promising 2013s as well doing an update on the wines of Domaine la Prose. Bertrand de Mortillets white wines are particularly delicious.  Diane Losfelt at Château lEngarran has made a late harvest Grenache, Caprice, in 2013, the first vintage since 2008.  It smells of chocolate and tastes of chocolate cherry liqueurs, with a refreshing streak of tannin.  And then I had a long overdue catch up with François and Laurence Henry from Domaine Henry, also in St. Georges, and promised a cellar visit.  

Other highlights included some Pic St. Loup, notably Bergerie du Capucin and the latest wines from Domaine Mouscaillo in Limoux who were celebrating their tenth vintage.  Gavin Crisfields 2013 La Traversée Cinsaut is to die for what a pity he has sold it all even before it is bottled, and his 2011 La Traversée is wonderfully elegant with an explosion of fruit.  On the Domaine Ravanès stand I compared 2012 Petit Verdot with dense solid ripe fruit, with 2002 Le Prime Verd, also pure Petit Verdot, but you werent allowed to say so back then.   It was rich and cedary and mature and had not lost any intensity. Clement Mengus wines from Domaine de Cabazan in Cabardès continue to delight.  He made his first white wine in 2012, from Chenin blanc, Grenache Gris and Roussanne, with a touch of honey and some satisfying mouth feel and length.

And by way of relaxation that evening, thanks to my friends Catherine and Bernard, I was introduced to yet another restaurant, this time with a wine shop attached, De lArt et du Cochon.  There isnt a wine list; you just wander round the shop and chose a bottle off the shelf.  So we enjoyed some refreshing glasses of Laurens Graimenous Crémant de Limoux and then strayed hors region as fair as the Loire valley for a delicious Saumur rouge, Clos de la Cerisaie, from Domaine  Mélaric. 

And the next morning I just had time for one quick visit to the fair before whizzing off to the airport.    There were some older vintages on the Faugères stand including a beautifully elegant 2005 Domaine Peyregrandes.  And my final bonne bouche was Domaine de la Rencontres new wine, Poète, a late harvest Muscat with no added alcohol.  It was rich and honeyed, and elegantly concentrated, with a long lingering finish.    

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Vignerons Independents come to London

A small group of French Independent Wine Growers came to London earlier in the month, so I checked out those from the Languedoc.

First stop was Julie and Pierre Viudes from Domaine de la Rencontre who make delicious Muscat de Mireval and drier Pays de l’Hérault.   2012 Rencontre was fresh and pithy, with a touch of honey and grapey fruit; Philosophe,  which Julie described as Entre Deux, with 28 gms /l residual sugar was lightly honeyed with fresh acidity.  Eclat comes from young vines and was honeyed with weight and body on the palate, while l’Hédoniste from older vines was rounded and grapey with fresh honey, and surprisingly less concentrated and explosive than Eclat. 

Constance Rerolle was pouring a selection of the wines of the Château de l’Engarran, Grès de Montpellier.  I particularly liked the 2011 Château de l’Engarran, a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre.   Deep colour; a rounded nose and on the palate quite rich with good matière, weight and fruit, and well integrated oak after 18 months in wood.

Next I saw Philippe Modat from Domaine Modat in Roussillon.   It had been a while since I tasted his wines, so a good opportunity for an update.

2012 Côtes du Roussillon blanc, De-ci –de-là .  13.00€
Grenache Maccabeu.  Partly vinified in new oak.  Light nose.  Nicely textured palate, with rounded fruit.  A hint of fennel and a fresh finish.

2011 Côtes du Roussillon, Caramany, Comme Avant -13.00€
Syrah, Grenache, Carignan.  Medium colour. Quite firm spice on nose.  A ripe palate, with some tarry fruit and tannins.  Youthful   Two years ageing in old wood.

2011 Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Caramany,  Sans plus attendre.  16.00€
Grenache, Syrah Carignan,  45% aged in wood.  Rich spicy nose and on the palate, rich and sweet. Riper and fleshier than Comme Avant

2010 Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Caramany, le Plus Joli.  – 38€
Syrah 85% with Carignan planted in 1930.  Élevage in barrique. Quite solid with vanilla on the nose.  Youthful ripe and rich, and balanced.  Lots of fruit, and weight.

Things are evolving.  Philippe has been organic since 2007, but will not actually be registered as organic until this year.  And then it takes a further year to register as biodynamic with Demeter.  He has given up using new wood on this red wine and enthused about the Austrian cooper, Stockinger, who I recently came across for the first time in Faugères.

There was a Malepère producer, Domaine Rose et Paul.   I liked a simple Pays d’Oc Merlot best, with some ripe plummy fruit making for easy drinking at 5.50€

Rémi Duchemin was one of two partners who created Mas Mortiès in the Pic St. Loup and is now making wine in the Terrasses du Larzac at Le Plan de l’Homme.  He has vineyards in St. Jean de la Blaquière.  His first vintage was 2009.

2012 Florès, Languedoc  - 9.00€
Roussanne  10% Grenache  Quite rounded herbal fruit, with notes of fennel on both nose and palate.  Quite intriguing.

2011 Alpha, Languedoc  - 21.00€
Roussanne with 20 % Grenache – picked 10 to 14 days later than for Florès.  Uses an acacia barrel Light colour.  Quite solid nose, with a wood impact.   Good acidity, with quite a fresh palate. 

2012 Florès red, Languedoc - 9.00€
Oeillade, rather than Cinsau.t with Syrah and Grenache, aged in vat.   Medium colour.  Quite fresh perfumed fruit and ripe cherry fruit on the palate.  Very refreshing.

Habilis, Terrasses du Larzac – 14.00€
Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, old vines and very low yields.  Medium colour.  Quite firm red fruit, on the palate, structured, red fruit and a fresh finish.

2011 Sapiens, Terrasses du Larzac – 18€
75% Syrah, Grenache and Carignan   In two to three year old wood.  Deep colour.  Firm nose.  Quite solid rounded ripe and rich, with well integrated oak.

2011 Alpha, Terrasses du Larzac – 24€
70% Syrah, Grenache and Carignan.  A proportion of  carbonic maceration and some new oak.  Deep colour.  Quite solid and rounded, with ripe fruit.  Very good body, but not heavy.  Lovely fruit.

Rémi is keen on Syrah, so it dominants his  two top cuvées.  A note to go and visit.

Chateau de Lancyre in the Pic St. Loup
There was a  perfumed white wine, a blend of Roussanne 80% with some Marsanne and Viognier.  The rosé was crisp and fresh and there were four different reds, which were mostly quite soft and perfumed.  I liked the 2012 Pic St. Loup best, with a deep colour and rounded harmonious fruit on nose and palate and some appealing spice.  The blend was two thirds Syrah to one third Grenache, from vines planted in the 1970s, and aged in vat.   9.80€

Domaine St. Martin in the village of Leuc makes IGP  Cité de Carcassonne and Pays d’Oc.  There was a pure Chasan that was lightly peachy, and a Marselan Merlot blend that was too oaky for my taste buds.  Another unusual blend was Chenanson Caladoc, and a Merlot Caladoc blend was fruity and easy.

Marie Fabre Teisserenc was pouring fines from the family estates, Famille Fabre in Boutenac.  There were some quite gutsy Corbières, but best of all was a Pays d’Oc Sauvignon, with good minerality and acidity and pungent Sauvignon fruit.  and for just 5.40€  I don’t usually like Sauvignon from the Midi, but it was refreshing to have my prejudices upset.

Domaine la Provenquière in Capestang produces a large range of Pays d’Oc   There was a sympathique 2011 Syrah; a Cabernet Franc Merlot had some rounded fruit and a  rosé from Cinsaut, Syrah and Grenache was fresh and crisp with a touch of raspberry, and there was a lightly sappy Vermentino, to mention just a few of the many wines that Brigitte Robert was showing.  This is a large estate with 150 hectares.

And after that I allowed myself a deviation or two to Corsica, the Jura and Beaujolais.  

Friday, 21 February 2014

A vertical tasting of Le Soula

I love vertical tastings, and when they finish with a jeroboam, that is even better.   Le Soula is one of the estates that has helped create the reputation of the Agly valley.   When the first wine made in 2001, the vin de pays, Côtes des Fenouillèdes still existed; sadly it has since been incorporated into the much larger and less distinctive Côtes Catalanes, which covers most of Roussillon.  The name Fenouillèdes was particularly appropriate as wild fennel is a significant part of the vegetation of the garrigues, and it is no coincidence that many of the white wines have more than a hint of fennel and aniseed on the nose.   The estate of Le Soula comprises 23 hectares, with the vineyards at an altitude of 350 – 600 metres.   Le Soula is an Occitan term, meaning south, sun, or south facing slope, as the translator fancies.   However, the nights are always cool at that altitude.  The estate has been organic since the beginning and is now biodynamic, with the observation biodynamics help develop a resistance to oxidation in the wine.

It was Gérard Gauby who first discovered these abandoned vineyards back in the late 1990s and in 2001 he formed a partnership with his British importers Richards Walford  to create a new estate.   Gérard made the first wine, and then Thomas Lubbe took over, and since 2007, the winemaker has been Gerald Stanley.

I followed Mark Walford’s advice to taste the red wines first, kicking off with

2010 Le Soula 
We were given very precise blends, which I will share with you.  71% Carignan, 25% Syrah and 4% Grenache Noir.  Yield 13 hl/as.  20 months élevage in tank, new and old French 500 litre barrels.   Medium colour.  Quite a firm nose; with some garrigues and a touch of balsamic.  The wine is still very youthful.  A hint of oak.  Some firm tannins and some acidity.  Quite peppery;  a certain rustic note, and a touch of elegance on the finish.   The alcohol level is always around 13 – 13.5.

67% Carignan, 30% Syrah and 3% Grenache Noir.   18 h/ha.  Twenty months in tank, foudres and old French 500 litre barrels.  Medium colour.  I found a slightly viandé animal note on the nose which slightly disturbed me, and also on the palate.  But there was also some red fruit and some supple tannins.  Medium weight and an elegant finish.

55% Carignan, 35% Syrah 10% Grenache.  14 hl/ha  21 months ageing in tank, new and old 500 litre barrel.  Medium colour.  Quite a firm nose.  Quite a tight knit firm palate.  Some peppery spicy fruit.  Quite structured with some tannin.  Medium weight.

41% Syrah, 40% Carignan. 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cabernet Sauvignon was in the original vineyard but has since been pulled up as it was considered too domineering in the blend, nor is it indigenous to Roussillon viticulture.   18 hl/ha.  21 months ageing in foudres and 500 litre French oak barrels.   Medium colour.  Quite firm fruit on the nose, while the palate has filled out.  Quite sturdy, Medium weight, A fresh finish. 

45% Carignan, 20% Grenache Noir, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah.  17 hl/ha.  Fourteen months in foudres and 500 litre French oak.  Medium colour.  Quite rounded ripe fruit on the nose ,and on the palate some nicely evolved ripe fruit, with some furry but soft tannins.  Medium weight.

2002 in jeroboam.  Mark explained.  ‘This was our worst year ever, it rained heavily, but now the wine has come round from what initially seemed a very unpromising start. Quite a deep colour.  Quite a solid dense furry confit nose.  And on the palate quite solid and surprisingly tannic, but with some rounded ripe fruit, and some attractive evolution.   In fact this served to illustrate how much more elegant the wines have become over the years.

And now for the whites:

2010 Le Soula
59% Macabeu, 18% Sauvignon blanc, 13% Grenache blanc, 6% Chardonnay, 3% Malvoisie du Roussillon (otherwise known as Torbato) and just 1% Vermentino.  21 hl/ha  21 months ageing in tank and new and old French 500 litre barrels.  Light golden, quite rounded, quite herbal and leesy with a hint of fennel.  On the palate quite textured and rounded with ripe fruit balanced with fresh acidity.  Lots of nuances.  Still very young.

54% Sauvignon blanc, 27% Macabeu, 10% Grenache 6% Chardonnay, 3% Grenache Gris, Vermentino, Marsanne and Roussanne.  20 hl/ha.  Eight months in tank and new and old oak.  Light golden,  Elegant herbal and fennel notes.  Quite rounded.  Soft oaky notes.  Quite textured and layered palate.  Youthful.

38% Sauvignon, 35% Macabeu, 19% Vermentino 6% Grenache Blanc and Gris, 2% Marsanne, Roussanne, Malvoisie du Roussillon and Chardonnay.  15 hl/h.  Fifteen months élevage.  Light golden, quite a firm slightly resinous nose, and also on the palate, quite solidly so, with some oaky leesy notes, and quite a honeyed finish.

45% Sauvignon blanc, 15% Grenache blanc, 15% Marsanne and Roussanne 15% Macabeu, 5% Grenache Gris 5% Malvoisie.  20 hl/ha  Fifteen months ageing in new and old French oak 500 litre barrels.  Light golden colour.  Quite perfumed, rich and oaky on the nose, and on the palate, quite rounded leesy.  Ripe honeyed balanced with very good acidity.  Quite textured.

30% Sauvignon blanc, 25% Grenache blanc, 25% Marsanne and Roussanne, 10% Macabeu and 10% Malvoisie.  19 hl/ha.  Ten months in new and old French 500 litre barrels.  In a magnum  Quite golden.  Quite a rich ripe nose.  Characterful palate.  Quite leesy and rich with firm acidity and quite a powerful finish.

No details of the blend.  A very intriguing nose.  Quite firm and fresh.  Very slatey, mineral and tight knit palate.  Very good acidity.  Quite youthful, yet with a note of maturity.  Very intriguing and absolutely delicious.

L10 : La macération du Soula,  Terroir d’altitude, Vin des Fenouillèdes.  A white wine, but with no details of the blend.  The winemaking entailed two weeks on the skins, which gives it a bit of colour, making a lightly orange colour.  Minimal use of sulphur.  Very intriguing, with lots of nuances.  An orange note on the nose.  Quite perfumed, with firm acidity on the palate.   An opportunity for Gerard to experiment.   And a grand finale to the tasting.  

Monday, 17 February 2014

Carignan: la Belle Endormie se réveille – or The Sleeping Beauty awakes.

That was the title of a conference organised by wine writer, and Carignan enthusiast, Michel Smith, at Millésime Bio.   I have a soft spot for old Carignan, so I was delighted to have the chance to listen to various people enthusing about Carignan, and lots of good points were made, and then there was a tasting opportunity afterwards.

Michel kicked off by observing that when he was writing his book about Corbières, published by Jacques Legrand in 1996, the best wines were dominated by Carignan.  The problem is that a lot of Carignan is not planted in good sites, nor are the best clones used.  However, there has been a distinct renaissance of Carignan, so that a lot of old vineyards have been saved, with a growing number of pure Carignan cuvées produced in Languedoc Roussillon.  He thought as many as 300. 

The origins of Carignan are Spanish, and it is found all round the Mediterranean, in Sardinia, Israel and even Egypt, and was extensively planted in the Midi with the redevelopment of the vineyards after the phylloxera crisis.   At one time there would have been 300,000 hectares in France, responsible for what was rudely known as le gros rouge, with yields on the fertile coastal plans reaching 150 – 160 hl/ha.

These days Carignan is at its best in places like the Agly valley, Montpeyroux and around Pézenas, where it produces much more modest yields.  There are currently about 5 – 6000 hectares in production, and it is being replanted.   

Next speaker was Sylvain Fadat from Domaine d’Aupilhac in Montpeyroux.  He was been producing Carignan for 30 years, as his first vineyard was a vineyard of Carignan, and he did not have enough money to replant it with Syrah.  And he came to recognise its qualities. It is all a question of balance.  It can suffer from an excessive of oak, and from yields that are too high, or too low.  And the vines do not necessarily have to be old to make good wine.   Carignan is benefitting from improvements in viticulture.  These days Sylvain sell his Carignan for more than his Montpeyroux! 

Marjorie Gallet from Roc des Anges in Roussillon has old Carignan on her estate, that was planted in 1903, for vin doux.  Her village Montner produced base wine for Byrrh.   At first nobody wanted old Carignan vines, but these days if there is some Carignan for sale, at least three or four people are competing for it.    She called it the cépage identitaire of the Midi.  It retains freshness, and can resist wind, which is significant in an area where the wind blows hard.   It also adapts well to a variety of soils.

Bernard Vidal from La Liquière in Faugères described himself as a Carignanist on the schist of Faugères.  He has continued to plant Carignan. When the appellation of Faugères was created, people thought improvements would come with the so-called cépages améliorateurs such as Syrah and Mourvèdre.  In fact that has proved the wrong path, because ‘we did not modify our work in the vineyard and the cellar to improve Carignan’.  Consequently a lot of Carignan was pulled up, and replaced with Syrah, with the result that ‘we began to lose our identity’.   He was adamant. ‘Carignan is our originality in Faugères’; it loves the schist, the acidity, the altitude, and the strata of schist allow its deep roots to reach water.   ‘Carignan is part of our identity’.

Jean Natoli has worked as a consultant oenologist for 30 years.  ‘At once time it seemed that all the malheurs came from Carignan, and that it should be eradicated.  The appellation regulations still continue to limit Carignan, whereas in some areas it is ridiculous to do that.  We should preserve as much diversity as possible, or else we shall run the risk of losing it.   However, Carignan should not be planted just anywhere. It is not uniformly good’.   He also mentioned Carignan blanc.  ‘Do not forget it.  It is easier than Carignan Noir to understand, and has aroma and acidity’.   And there is also Carignan Gris.  ‘Communication about Carignan is what is needed’.

And since this was a French conference, naturally food featured, with a chef, Bruno, giving us serving suggestions.  Carignan Blanc, with its ageing potential, would be delicious with white meat and cream sauces, and mushroom.  And for Carignan Noir, which encompasses several different styles, you need to consider the age of the wine.  More powerful meat dishes would favour a young Carignan.   Personally one of my favourite combinations is unoaked Carignan with barbecued sausages.

So it was all very positive, and there was no devil’s advocate to point out the defects and disadvantages of Carignan.  I think of my friend Daniel Domergue who used to make delicious old Carignan, called Carignanissme at Clos Centeilles, who observed rather disparagingly:  ‘if you can make good wine from Carignan, just think how much better wine you can make from another grape variety.’ 

And the proceedings concluded with a small tasting of various Carignan.

Mas Gabriel Clos des Papillons, with some herbal fruit.

 Clos du Gravillas 2011 Lo Viehl, was rich and ripe with supple tannins and fresh red fruit.

2013 1903 Carignan was a vat sample with sweet ripe fruit.

Sylvain 's 1997 Le Carignan showed its ageing potential with some smoky vegetal notes on the nose and cedary fruit on the palate. 

Bernard Vidal’s Nos Racines 2012 was fresh with ripe fruit and supple tannins, while 2011 Stella Nova was firm and gutsy, as was Domaine Sainte Croix 2012 from the Corbières.

For more on Carignan, go to www.les5duvin.wordpress.com  and look for Carignan Story

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Le St. Georges in Palavas les Flots

An invitation to a wine growers’ dinner was a great opportunity to discover a new restaurant.   Paul Courtaux was one of the two partners who ran L’Entre-Pots in Pézenas for a number of years, during which time they established a reputation as the best restaurant in the town.  And then it was time to move on.  And Paul has resurfaced at Le St. Georges in Palavas les Flots. . 

The amuses –bouches were delicious,  a tart of octopus, a bowl of télines, a local oyster in some delicately flavoured jelly, and a samosa, its stuffing a take on a tielle, from Pézenas, accompanied by Entre Deux Vins, a blend of Sauvignon and Petit Manseng.  In the crowd, I never found out who the producer was.  It was refreshing with the nibbles, but nothing more.
Then we sat down to enjoy some bellota ham with anchovy toast, razor clams, and a rillette of sardines, accompanied by 2011 Clos des Vignes blanc, a blend of Grenache blanc and Grenache Gris from Domaine Gardiés in the Côtes du Roussillon.  It was rich and rounded, with some lovely texture and went very well with the powerful flavours of the hors d’oeuvre.     (www.domaine-gardies.fr)

The fish course was an intriguing combination, a langoustine with a small piece of quail, with some spinach in a broth flavoured with Banyuls.  And to go with that we drank. 2012 Cuvée les Claviers from Domaine de Garance, Vin de France.  It is a blend of Ugni Blanc and Grenache Gris, with some rich nutty fruit and a certain resinous quality, with a firm dry finish.  www.domainelagarance.com

Next came a tournedos of pork, with a Roseval potato and Jerusalem artichoke mash, and very tasty it was too, beautifully complimented by Nathalie and François Caumette’s Faugères from Domaine de l’Ancienne Mercerie. 2011 Les Petits Mains, with its high percentage of Carignan was youthful and smoky, with that appealing rustic note that Carignan can so nicely impart.  However, if I were being hyper-critical, it was a tad too young, and the 2010 would have been even better.  www.anciennemercerie.fr)

And then I have to admit that I skipped dessert and a 1981 Rivesaltes Ambré from Domaine Gardiés as a lift back into Montpellier called, and after a long day at Millésime Bio, it was too tempting an offer to refuse.   But based on that one experience, I would certainly make another  journey to Palavas to eat at Le Saint Georges.  

Le Saint Georges,
4 Bd du Maréchal Foch,
34250 Palavas les Flots.
Tel : 04 67 68 31 38.