Friday, 10 August 2018

Domaine Ollieux-Romanis

Domaine Ollieux-Romanis is one of the leading wine estates of the Corbières cru of Boutenac, with the owner, Pierre Bories, playing an important role in helping to establish the cru.  The estate did not feature in Wines of the Languedoc for the simple reason that I could not write about everyone, and preferred to concentrate on newer estates.   Wine has been produced at Ollieux-Romanis since the 1820s, with the estate passing through the females of the family.  Pierre is the exception, taking over from his mother when she retired 18 years ago.  His father was a lawyer.   Ollieux-Romanis covers 60 hectares, all farmed organically at the foot of the Massif de la Pinède, with vineyards looking south east towards the sea.  The maritime influence is significant for the terroir of Boutenac.  Then there is a second property Domaine Champs du Muraillet at nearby Fabrezan.

Ollieux was originally one property in the 1820s and then it was divided between two sisters, and stayed that way, as Château Ollieux, and Château Ollieux-Romania until 2006, when Pierre bought out his neighbours.   Romanis originates from a lieu-dit, the name of a valley on the property.

We looked at the vineyards which are in one enormous plot around the property, on grès or sandstone; in contrast most of Boutenac which iis clay and limestone,.  Neighbouring Fontsainte and Ollieux-Romanis are alone in having grès, which is an advantage as it does not retain the heat during cooler nights, and makes for fresher wine, with less concentration.   Pierre admitted that when he first started making wine, he looked for concentration, but no longer.   We admired his 60 year Carignan vines at the foot of the Massif.  The dominant wind is the drying north wind, but they get the Marin at night coming from the sea, making for a cooling effect.  The appellation of Boutenac is in the pipeline, but not yet finalised, with the commission visiting the region imminently.  

The weather this spring has been a problem, as for everywhere in the Languedoc.  The annual rainfall is usually about 530-400 mm rain; this year they have already had 800 mm, which has caused mildew, noticeable for the brown stains on the leaves and dried up bunches that have barely formed.  Pierre was not too unhappy, as the flowering went very well, with une belle sortie, so he can afford to lose a small amount of his crop.  Carignan and Syrah have been particularly affected by the mildew.  However, he would be treating for the 11th time, in the middle of July, as opposed to the sixth time at the same stage of a normal year.  His average crop is about 35 hl/ha; 40 hl/ha would be even better.    Three quarters of his grapes are handpicked and this year he envisages starting the harvest about  3rd September, ten days later than last year which was a particularly early harvest.   He observed that maturity or ripeness is the result of an accumulation of temperature.

We looked at his cellar, in one of the traditional old Languedoc buildings, so typical of the wine industry. and built in 1896.  A new cellar is planned, with the building permit just agreed, not to mention the bank loan!  There is a large pneumatic press and plenty of stainless steel vats,  all with emperatures control, and double skins, which are very easy to clean, just ten minutes with hot water, as opposed to an hour and a half or two hours for a concrete vat.  The building is insulated as well as having very thick walls, and part of it goes into the hillside.   Pierre is insistent on the importance of temperature; it can speed up or slow down the fermentation.   He uses natural yeast and as little sulphur as possible and he prefers slow fermentations, what he calls an infusion, at a low temperatures of 17º - 19ºC.   He observed that 'we are recreating the character of Corbières'.  20 years ago it was a vin costaud that went with wild boar; these days he hopes people drink it with things other than sanglier.

Carignan is the backbone, with at least 40% in the blend.  But for Pierre, Corbières has fruit and elegance - it is no longer massive.   Pierre explained how alcohol makes for the extraction of matière; with a slower extraction at a lower temperature, whereas it will obviously be faster at a higher temperature.  2017 was the longest fermentation - 35 days - whereas it usually 25 days, and when he first began making wine, only about 12 or 13 days.  
If he can, he uses nitrogen to protect the wine against oxygen, instead of sulphur,  but he does not want to be labelled vin nature.  

He favours 600 litres barrels, as they give a good balance and surface ratio between wood and wine.   He began using them about 7 years ago, and still has some of the demi-muids he first bought; they give interesting results, and for his white wine he uses as much as 70%, as opposed to 40% for red wine.  He favours Stockinger, and also the Tonnellerie de Mercurey, Vallaurine in Beaujolais  and Boutes in Narbonne.   

And we tasted in the original house of the estate, built in the 1800s, with a pretty double staircase outside leading to the first floor.   At that time the ground floor was the servants’ quarters, where the tasting room is today.

2017 Cuvée  Classique Blanc - 9.00€
A blend of 30% each of Marsanne and Roussanne, 25% Grenache Blanc and 15% Macabeo. The fruit of young vines and blended in January.  A very perfumed nose, with lemon and herbs, and a rounded palate, with refreshing acidity.  Pierre picks his whites quite early to retain the acidity.  There is an élevage in vat on the fine lees and some skin contact for 48 hours.   After pressing, the juice is stabilised at 0ºC and Pierre works on the lees, extracting flavour for  about a week, but without any alcohol.  He then starts the fermentation with some lees and the temperatures rises, unto about 20ºC over five or six days.  The wine stays in vat on its lees until bottling, which gives some appealing mouthfeel.    Pierre’s white vineyards account for 10 out of a total of 60 hectares.

2017 Corbières rosé - 9.00€
A blend of Grenaches, 15% Blanc, and 30% Gris and Noir, with 15% Cinsaut.  All pressed grapes with a four hour maceration on the skins.  Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris make for a lighter colour.  If possible all the grapes are picked together, depending on their ripeness, so blending can be immediate, or else they are picked separately and blended later.  But ideally they all fermented together and the vinification is essentially the same as for the white wine.

Very pale colour.  Delicate nose.  Very fresh with very good acidity.  Quite firm stony dry fruit.  Elegant and fresh.  

2017 Cuvée Prestige Blanc - 21.00€
A blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, from 25 year old vines.  All aged in demi-muids for about ten months.  Some bâtonnage and work on the lees.  A little colour.  Lightly oaky nose and a ripe rounded palate with good acidity.  A long buttery finish, but still not yet really knit together as it was only bottled ten days previously.  Lots of potential  and complexity.  Pierre’s mother planted Marsanne and Roussanne as she wanted to compete with the Rhône Valley.

They also make a cuvée nature for The Wine Society, Le Blanc, from 30% each of Carignan blanc and Macabeo and 20% each of Grenache Gris and Blanc, vinified in old barrels, but it was sold out.  So I was out of luck. 

2017 Lo Petit Fantet d’Hippolyte - 9.00€
Fantet is a child in Occitan and the wine is a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah, about one third each, but with Carignan the dominant variety.  Lovely spicy red fruit, balanced with some tannins and best served chilled.   The idea was something completely different; what Pierre called modern Corbières, and very fresh. and fruity  The grapes are destalked with several pigeages and remontages.  

2016 Corbières Cuvée Classique - 9.00€  - not Boutenac, as that must be a minimum of 10€ a bottle.

45% Carignan with Grenache Noir and Syrah, fermented and then aged in vat, blended in January, and bottled in November.  Very deep purple red colour.   Very garrigue on the nose, with more Carignan.  Sturdier.  Very good spice and fruit.    The freshness and structure of Carignan -''le cépage que je préfère'.  It is very adapted to the region, giving tannin, structure and fruit.  About 40% of the cuvée is vinified by carbonic maceration, a process that Pierre likes for its interesting fruit , but he admitted that he likes it less than before, as the fruit is quite obvious and now he favours more restraint.   He also called it a vinification de fenéant, as there is nothing to do while it is fermenting.

2016 Corbieres Boutenac Rouge Prestige - 15.60€
with a lot of Carignan and some Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre, kept in wood for about 11-12 months.   Deep young colour.  solid rounded ripe fruit; ripe berry flavours and nicely mouth filling with a fish finish.  And all very harmonious and beautifully knit together.  ‘As Pierre put it, 'pas de combat’ as nothing is fighting on the palate.  For Boutenac the proportion of Corbières is a minimum of 35%, and there is an obligatory élevage of 12 months, including in bottle.

2015 Atal Sia - 23.00€
Bottled in November 2016.  Atal Sia means in Occitan, ainsi soit-il. or so be it.  It is a sélection parcellaire and usually comes from the same plots, with a lot of Carignan, as much as 50%, as well as Grenache and Mourvèdre and just 3% Syrah, and no élevage in wood, but rather an élevage in bottle.  Syrah is not suitable for the top of the range, as it is too généreux or generous.  

And this is fresh, but concentrated, with fresh ripe cassis and spice.  It is quite rich and seemed quite high in alcohol.   Almost 100% carbonic maceration, except for the Syrah, making it ripe and subtle but with a fresh note on the finish.   

2016 Cuvée Or
This comes from the same terroir, with the same sélection parcellaire as Atal Sia, and is made 80% by carbonic maceration, with the malo in wood.  It is a blend of Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre, with a little more Syrah, possibly 10%, all vinified together.   Very intense with rich black fruit; very round ripe, with firm tannins, quite fleshy.  The oak is present but not aggressively so.

OR is not gold, as you might think, but the initials of Ollieux Romanis, and ollieux refers to oliviers or olive trees.  Pierre observed that 2015 was a year of sunshine, whereas 2016 made for wines with more tension.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Mas Nicolas

Nicolas Maury is one of the newer younger vignerons of Faugères, albeit the 5th generation on the estate at Coudigno and it had been a while since my last visit to his cellar, so it was high time for an update.  It was really encouraging to see how he and his wines had evolved over the last couple of years.  He is very articulate and sensitive and talks about his work with great perception.   The cellar had progressed since my last visit too, with more barrels, vats and new flooring.   And he has employed his sister, Lise, as his administrative assistant, which makes life very much easier.   His father is president of the Faugères cooperative and has never actually made wine, preferring to care for his vines.  

Nicolas is still using his grandfather’s old basket press, which was originally bought to make a little Muscat.  It takes about 10 hectos, and works very slowly and gently, giving good results, but it is time-consuming.   There is a small cool barrel cellar, now with 11 barrels: Nicolas started with just two for his first harvest.  He favours a chauffe moyenne for his barrels and prefers finer grained oak.  He is trying François Frères and Seguin Moreau among others and working out what suits his wines best.

Having started with 4 hectares for his first harvest, which his father took out of the cooperative, he now has 7 hectares, increasing gradually, to ten hectares, with two plots of Syrah and some Carignan,   You really need to about 10 - 20 hectares to make a decent living.  Fortunately there is another building next to his cellar into which he can expand, as necessary.  He has some Carignan that was planted in 1901, as well as some Syrah that is amongst the very first Syrah planted in Faugères 40 or 45 years ago, and some Cinsaut that his grandfather planted 60 years ago. The Mourvèdre is a mere 20 - 25 years old.   His vines are farmed organically, but as yet not certified;  2017 was the first year of conversion to organic viticulture, which takes three years, so his vines will officially be organic  in 2020.

The other development since my last visit is two more donkeys.  The original donkey was lonely, so they found him a lady friend, but without realising that she was already in foal.   So the new young donkey is called Hazard and Nicolas is having him trained to work in the vineyard.  So far he is just getting used to carry a couple of baskets across his back.  I do hope he is not too fond of grapes. And then we tasted the latest wines, which demonstrate a very satisfactory evolution.  

2017 Viognier Pays d’Oc - 8.50€
With a picture of a quince flower on the label.  The name of the property coudigno refers to quinces in Occitan. A 50 ares vineyards, on slopes towards the village of Lenthéric.  The yield is a meagre 20 hl/ha. The grapes are handpicked  and not destalked.  It is given a classic white wine vinification, with débourbage, selected yeast and a fermentation in  stainless steel vats.  Nicolas is working on reducing his sulphur levels, so minimal use of sulphur.  The élevage on the lees, with a bâtonnage every 4 - 6 weeks, by injecting gas into the vat,  The lees take one day to settle down again.  The nose is delicate with some firm peachy fruit.   Initially Nicolas used some wood for his Viognier, but that is no longer the profile of wine he wants; he prefers to seek more freshness.   And eventually he would like to make a white Faugères, as his father has the relevant grape varieties, namely Vermentino, Marsanne and Roussanne.    The family estate totals 45 hectares in all.  As president of the Faugères cooperative, things can be a little tricky, with his father saying that je ne jeux pas dire non àmon fils, but he also has the cooperative's interests to consider. A tricky diplomatic path to follow.  

2017 Cidonia Faugères rosé  - 7.50€
this time with a quince tree on the label.     A blend of 60% Cinsaut and 40% Syrah.  The grapes are pressed so no skin contact.  A very pretty pale colour.  Delicate fresh nose.  Fresh acidity. Light fruit with a certain structure.  A food rosé.  Nicely balanced with a little weight.  Very harmonious.  Nicolas observed that he makes a rosé that he likes to drink himself.

2017 Cidonia Faugères rouge - 9.00€
40% each of Grenache and Carignan.  10% each of Syrah and Mourvèdre.  Blended in March and bottled in September.  Good young colour.  Very garrigue with red fruit.  Good balance with the fleshiness of Grenache offsetting the structure of the Carignan.  Syrah and Mourvèdre add finesse.  Medium weight, with a fresh finish

2017 Coingcidence - 14.50€
Coing is a quince in French.  Includes very old Carignan, vinified on its own, with a tiny yield of 15-20 hls/ha.  Originally the old Carignan was blended into Coing Secret but is now in a separate cuvée, on the advice of his oenologist, Gwenaël Thomas from Jean Natoli’s laboratory. The blend has evolved into 80% Carignan with 20% Syrah, which is actually not acceptable for Faugères, as there is too much Carignan.   In 2017 the wine was particularly concentrated.  The plot, a vineyard between Laurens and Caussinionjouls, was nearly pulled up as the yields were so minuscule but now it is being given a second chance.   There is no oak ageing, only a vinification in stainless steel vats.   Deep colour.  Very fresh dark black fruit, with a certain richness and structure.   A fairly heady 14º.  Solid, rounded and youthful, with concentration.   Quite powerful, especially on the finish.

2016 Le Coing Secret, Faugères 14.50€
The opposite blend, with 80% Syrah and 20% Carignan, with 30% of the cuvée spending 12 months in oak.  Blended just before bottling in March.  Deep colour. Quite firm peppery fruit on both the nose and palate.  Tight knit,  Quite alcoholic and a bit confit.   For the first vintage, the 2014, as much as 70%, was aged in oak; none was made in 2015 and for this 2016, the oak has a nicely rounding effect.  

So in short, an interesting, in the best sense of the term, range of wines, which promise very  well for the future development of the estate.  Nicolas deserved to do well.  

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Domaine Florence Alquier

There is a new wine grower in Faugères, with an old established name.   Gilbert Alquier was one of the pioneering wine growers of the appellation, one of the first to bottle his wine, rather than selling it en vrac, and one of the first to experiment with an élevage in small oak barrels.  When he died, his two sons took over the family vines, and then went their separate ways, with two estates, Domaine Jean-Michel Alquier, and Domaine Frédéric Alquier.  Sadly Frédéric died a a couple of years ago, and now his widow, Florence, has rented her vines to Frédéric Desplats, who has taken Florence’s name for the name of his estate.   He has also bought some vines of his own from a retiring cooperative member in Roquessels, so that he is farming twenty hectares in all, with two partners. 

I met Frédéric Desplats at the welcoming wine bar, le Picamandil, in Puissalicon for a tasting of his very  first vintage, which was 2017.   In a previous career, Frédérique was a heating engineer; he was brought up in Lille and has always loved wine.  A friend in the Rhône Valley suggested vineyards there, but the price of vines in Faugères is more much attractive 15-20,000€ a hectare, as opposed to 40,000€ in the southern Rhône  I think he has made the right choice, irrespective of price.  Faugères is a much more distinguished and individual appellation than Côtes du Rhône.   As Frédéric has no experience of wine making, he has employed the very able Jean Natoli as his consultant oenologist, and the vines are being converted to organic viticulture.    2017 was a good year to start the conversion, with dry conditions.  In contrast the spring of 2018 proved much more problematic with unusual attacks of mildew, thanks to the unseasonal wet weather.    

2017 Faugères Blanc, le Village -  9.20€
A blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and a little Grenache Blanc, from a vineyard just close to the southern edge of the village of Faugères.  Light colour with quite  fresh delicate nose. Not yet very expressive, but with a nicely rounded palate, with some white blossom and balancing acidity.  Still very youthful.  A touch of not unpleasing bitterness on the finish.    The élevage is in vat without any skin contact, and the grapes are not destalked, which makes pressing easier.   Minimum use of SO2.

2017 Faugères Rosé, Plô des Figues - 9.20€
Mainly Cinsaut and pressed to make for a delicate pale colour,  and vinified just like a white wine,  Quite a delicate rounded nose, with some dry fruit on the palate.  Elegantly vinous and lightly mouth-filling, to make more of a food than an aperitif rosé.

2017 Renaissance Faugères - 9.70€
This is the entry level red, mainly from Grenache Noir with Carignan, Mourvèdre and Syrah.  The name refers to the renaissance of the old domaine and Frédéric is not sure that he will use the same name again this year.   Nor is the wine likely to be the same, as the Grenache Noir this year is a ‘catastrophe’ as it has succumbed badly to mildew, with the uncharacteristically wet spring of the Languedoc.  Frédéric is far from being alone with this. problem  The wine is rounded on the nose and palate, with red fruit and spice, and a balancing streak of tannin.   It is eminently easy to drink.  

2017 Puech Mourié, Faugères - 13.50€
Puech Mourié is the lieu-dit of the vineyard and the blend is mainly Carignan, mainly vinified by carbonic maceration, with some Grenache Noir and Syrah, and with an élevage in vat.  The nose is quite firm and structured, with some firm tannins on the palate, balancing the fruit, with good depth and length.   It needs time.

There is a third red wine in the pipeline, with 12 barriques and a further 90 hectolitres in a vat, in his cellar in the village of Faugères, destined to be the top of the range.  The final blend will be done next winter.  

You immediately sense that Frédéric is thrilled by his change in profession, and at the same time fully aware and philosophically accepting of the problems that unseasonal weather can cause.   And he is delighted to have settled in the south.   He has made great start and deserves to do well.  

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

The Languedoc’s finest whites

The Languedoc’s finest whites

There is no doubt that the white wines of the Languedoc are improving enormously, making for some really exciting drinking.  So I was thrilled when Decanter magazine asked me to choose my top 30 Languedoc whites.   However, in some ways this is something of a poisoned chalice, for the selection of wines will only be as good as the wines offered for tasting.   Decanter always requires UK stockists for these kinds of tastings, so it was not possible for me to simply select the wines I had enjoyed most while doing my book research over the last twelve  months or so.   So I asked the very helpful people at the Maison du Languedoc, or the Maison de l’Occitanie, as it is now called, with the enlargement of administrative region, to organise a tasting, to enable me to choose 30 wines.   Altogether I tasted just over 100 wines to make my final selection.    And I was delighted to find that some of my favourites whites were in the tasting and showed well on the day.

The wines  covered a considerable range of provenance and grape variety.   The three key white appellations, Limoux, Picpoul de Pinet and la Clape were well represented.  Two wines, Chenin Blanc, Dédicace and Mauzac, Occitania from Domaine Rives-Blanques accounted for the majority Limoux selection.  Château d’Anglès had contributed both their Classique and their Grand Vin, both of which showed well.  There was also Cuvée Arpège from Chateau Rouquette sur Mer, and Château de Marmorières from La Clape.   The Picpoul selection was slightly more problematic, with an estate, with which I am not familiar showing best of all, namely Domaine Petit Roubia.  In an ideal world I would also have liked to have included Domaine Félines-Jourdan and Château St Martin de la Garrigue, to name but a couple of other Picpoul.  

There were some original grape varieties and blends, with a Côtes de Brian Mosaique de Centeilles made from obscure and almost forgotten varieties like Araignan Blanc and Ribeyrenc Blanc.  Mas Champart with a blend of Terret and Grenache Gris was a firm favourite, as was Borie la Vitarèle, le Grand Mayol, from Bourboulenc, Clairette and Vermentino.   Simon Coulshaw’s  intriguing Roussanne, which is given some skin contact, showed well.   Other southern blends came from  the Pic St. Loup with Domaine de l’Hortus,  and from Faugères with Château de la Liquière, Cistus, and Mas d’Alezon’s Cabretta, made from Roussanne, Clairette and Grenache Blanc, while Domaine La Croix Chaptal represented the Languedoc’s oldest appellation, Clairette du Languedoc.  And although I tend not to enthuse about Chardonnay in the Languedoc, the example from Mas la Chevalière from a high altitude vineyard near Lunas proved a very convincing exception.  

So what was missing?  I would have liked more examples of La Clape and Limoux, and also of the growing number of white wines from other parts of the Languedoc, including wines from some of the acknowledged stars.    Obvious omissions included Mas Jullien, with Olivier  Jullien’s wonderful blend of Carignan Blanc and Chenin Blanc.   It ages beautifully and I have drunk both the 2012 and 2008 recently with enormous pleasure.  What about the white wines of  Daniel le Conte de Floris, who is another enthusiast for Carignan blanc, inspired by Olivier Jullien?   Domaine des Aurelles, another Pézenas estate, makes some wonderfully age-worthy Roussanne.   

I would have liked to have included Clos du Papillon from Mas Gabriel, but their importers, namely The Wine Society chose not to submit samples.  I have always enjoyed the white wines of Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette, from one of the more northern vineyards of the Terrasses du Larzac, along with Le Saut du Poisson from Clos du Serres in the village of St. Jean de la Blaquière.   Alain Chabanon in Montpeyroux makes a delicious pair of wines, Petit Trélans from Vermentino alone and Trélans from equal parts of Chenin Blanc and Vermentino.   Ollier-Taillefer's Allegro is another favourite.  And I love Pierre Clavel’s Cascaille Blanc from seven different varieties, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Vermentino, Muscat a petits grains, Marsanne and Clairette, which illustrates the diversity of the white grape varieties of the Languedoc.   And I have not mentioned Viognier, Albarino or Muscat.   One thing is for certain;  the choice will only continue to grow.  

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Domaine Ollier-Taillefer - an update

Alain Ollier, father of Françoise, at the Faugères fête in his splendid confrere robes 

Thirsty house guests were the reason for our visit to the Faugères estate of Domaine Ollier-Taillefer in Fos where Françoise Ollier always gives you a warm welcome.   They have opened a smart new tasting caveau since my last visit a year ago.  This is an estate that has evolved nicely with the next generation, converting to organic viticulture. and developing new wines.

Our tasting began with :

2017 Faugères Rosé, 7.30€ - which is just what is needed in the high summer temperatures of the Languedoc.  A blend of Cinsaut and Grenache, with the fruit of young vines of Syrah and Mourvedre.  The wine is firm and fresh, nicely rounded with some raspberry fruit.  Beautifully refreshing and undemanding.  

2015 Faugères, Les Collines - 7.60€
This wine for me is sunshine in a glass.   A mouthful of this and I see the garrigue-covered hills of the Languedoc, and road between Gabian and Faugères.  It is rounded and ripe, with spice and fruit, and a balancing streak of tannin.

Next came a trio of Grande Réserve, 11.00€  their unoaked cuvée from older vines.   The 2015 immediately made a good contrast with les Collines, with more depth, spice and weight.  2015 was a warm year, but nonetheless the wine retains a fresh finish.   2014 was a complicated harvest, with a couple of serious storms, but this Grande Réserve has turned out very well.  it is currently Françoise’s favourite of the three, with some rich rounded fruit, and an elegant streak of tannin of the finish, with some considerable depth.   2013 was another warm year, with ripe fruit and firmer, more structured tannins than the 2014.

A pair of the oaked cuvée, Castel Fossibus, 16.50€, displayed the same vintage differences.  It is blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, aged for twelve months in barrels, varying in age from one to seven years, with just 15% new.  The 2014 had hints of eucalyptus and garrigue, with quite a firm finish. while the 2013 was more closed initially, with some firm tannins, balanced with ripe fruit.  A with the Grande Reserve, the 2014 vintage is drinking more easily.  

Last of the reds was the newest addition to the range, Rêve de Noé, 25.50€, a blend of Syrah and Mourvedre in equal parts, all aged in new oak.   2013 was the first vintage; none was made in 2014, and this 2015 has recently been bottled.  The colour is deep and young, with sturdy red fruit on the nose, and some oak.  The oak on the palate is well integrated and there is a pleasing freshness to the wine, with fruit and spice.  However, there is something about it that is less languedocien than the other wines, possibly the impact of the new oak.

And our tasting finished with 2017 Faugères Blanc Allegro, 11.00€, which is one of my favourite white Faugères, and a blend of Roussanne and Vermentino, with some fresh herbal fruit on both nose and palate, with good acidity and a satisfying mouthfeel.  It made a lovely finale to a tasting.   

Françoise has kindly agreed to sell copies of my book, Wines of the Languedoc,  in her caveau, so give yourself a treat - go and taste and buy some wine, and a book as well!   And their open day on Sunday 29th July is well worth the journey.  

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Two La Clape estates, new and old

Firstly many apologies to my regular readers for neglecting my blog for the last few weeks.  Blame concentrated book research for three weeks in Chablis, so it was difficult to think about the Languedoc..  However, I will be back in the south at the end of next week for the month of July, so things should look up, with various cellar visits planned.  

Meanwhie here are a couple of La Clape estates which failed to make the cut for Wines of the Languedoc.

Domaine la Combe de St. Paul

I first met Paul Maury on a Sentiers Gourmands walk around the vineyards of Château Rouquette-sur-Mer and greatly enjoyed his very first wine, and then our paths crossed again at a Stars and Découverts tasting in Paris, where Christophe Bousquet had invited him to share a tasting table.  He works in the village of Salles d’Aude on the edge of the appellation of La Clape from a cellar that is a hundred years old.  It is equipped with enormous concrete vats, one as big as 1200 hectolitres, which now houses Paul’s barrels.  The other vats dwarf his more modest-sized tanks.  Paul currently has 25 hectares of vines, of which 5.5 hectares are la Clape, on gentle hills between the villages of Salles and Fleury d’Aude.   Elsewhere he makes IGP and AOP Languedoc.  He first worked at Sylva Plana and Château de Grézan, both Faugères estates, and then made rosé to sell en vrac, so that 2008 was his first serious vintage.   His white wine is a Languedoc AOP, a blend of Roussanne and Vermentino, with some fresh white blossom and a touch of residual sugar making for easy drinking.  Languedoc les Amandiers rosé is based on Cinsaut and he makes two red La Clape.  For the first, Grès Rouge, Syrah is the dominant variety, with 15% each of Grenache and Mourvèdre kept in vat, so that there are some appealing notes of the garrigues, with black fruit and tapenade.  It is a lovely elegant glass of wine.  L’Insoupçonée is Syrah with 15% Mourvèdre, fermented in open top stainless steel vats and manual pigeage. The grapes are handpicked, sorted and destalked and the wine is aged in 350 litres barrels, which Paul prefers to smaller barriques.  There is oak, but also very good fruit on both nose and palate, with elegance, spice and a streak of tannin.   Paul comes over as a very thoughtful and measured winemaker with understated talent.  He deserves to do well.  

Château Mire l’Etang

Château Mire l’Etang is appropriately named for the vineyards outside St. Pierre sur Mer do indeed do just that, look out on the étang. Philippe Chamayrac explained that his father had bought the estate in 1972 and he began working there in 1981, and his daughter, Pauline, is set to follow her father.  This is quite a traditional estate with 50 hectares of vine, in about 40 plots, all grouped together so than none is further than about 800 metres from the cellar, including just 7.5 hectares of white grapes. They make twocuvéesof white, one very traditional with élevageon lees and no oak, while Aimée de Cogny is given longer lees ageing.  She was the mistress of the local landowner, the Duc de Fleury, whose name is given to a red cuvée.   Philippe sees Bourboulenc as the backbone of the appellation, you need the other varieties to fill out the wine, Roussanne for aroma, and Grenache for weight and minerality.    

There are also two cuvéesof rosé, a Gris and a Cuvée Corail, with deeper colour and sturdier fruit, and again twocuvéesof red.  Tradition is their classic la Clape, made from Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre kept in vat. They have pulled up their Carignan.   Duc de Fleury is Syrah with 20% each of Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre, with 12 months in oak, making for some rich black fruit and the Réserve du Château given a longer ageing in new wood and comes from the oldest Syrah vines.   Things may change when Pauline arrives.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Domaine la Rouviole

Another property, that sadly did not make the cut, as I had to cull words for Wines of the Languedoc.    And tomorrow I am off to Chablis for three weeks, so apologies, there will be a bit of a lull in the Languedoc.

Domaine la Rouviole is the next-door neighbour to Clos Centeilles, - Rouviole is the name of the stream that separates the two properties - where Franck Léonor has been making wine since 1998.  He has 16 hectares of which just two and a half are La Livinière – it is a question of having the right proportions of the various grape varieties. They are all cultivated organically.   His cellar is in what was once the old bergerie, which housed 200 sheep as well as several chickens.   Franck was first a school teacher, and he does have the air of an absent-minded professor as he talks about his wine.  Syrah is his main variety and he enjoys its aromatic complexity with notes of black fruit; Grenache Noir gives balance and drinkability and should not be too heavy.  It resists drought much better than Syrah.  Essentially Franck makes a Minervois and a Minervois La Livinière, choosing the best barrels for the cru. Usually the blend is about 75% Syrah to 25% Grenache Noir, with some firm oak, initially balanced by fresh fruit. On my last visit Franck demonstrated just how well his wines age, when our tasting included 2012 and 2011 and finished with a 2004, that was just reaching its plateau in the autumn of 2016.

Monday, 21 May 2018

The Big Fortified Tasting

The Big Fortified Tasting has become an annual event and is a great occasion for an update on all manner of fortified wines, not just the classics, Port, Sherry and Madeira,  but also luscious liqueur Muscats from Australia, distinctive Moscatel de Setúbal, and other curiosities.  Sadly the South of France was poorly represented, with just two wines from Roussillon, a lovely pair of Banyuls, from Coume del Mas.

NV Coume del Mas Banyuls Tradition 
Medium red colour, turning tawny, with a rounded ripe spicy fruit on the nose, with more ripe spice on the palate.  Nicely balanced and very satisfying.   A lovely glass of wine.

2016 Banyuls Rouge, Galatea.
This contrasted beautifully with the previous wine, with much fresher, more youthful flavours, again with spice on both nose and palate, but with a fresh lift on the finish.    A satisfying comparison, showing the diversity of Banyuls. 

More original and very unexpected, with a southern French link, were some fortified wines made from Alicante Bouschet, but not from the south of France, but from the Alentejo in southern Portugal.  I’ve encountered Alicante Bouschet from the Alentejo before, but never as a fortified wine, and very intriguing it is too, with three vintages to compare.  I was told that the Reynolds family had brought the vines from France in the 1880s.   

2008 Alicante Bouschet, Robert Reynolds
Medium red colour. Quite ripe and sweet nose, with berry fruit.  Rich and ripe with chocolaty notes.  Very intriguing.   The wine is aged in French 225 litres barrels for three years and then spends about seven years in bottle before being released for sale.   

A cooler vintage, with medium colour. More notes of fig on the nose. Quite a smooth ripe palate, with a later harvest, at the end rather than at the beginning of September, making more concentration.  A touch ‘medicinal’ on the finish, but none the worse for that.

Rich herbal fruit on the nose. They only used free run juice, never pressed juice.  Ripe spicy fruit on the palate, with a supple streak of tannin, with ripe chocolatey flavours.  It would be great with a piece of dark chocolate.

They are imported by LWC Drinks Ltd, who told me that they are destined mainly for the on trade, with a price comparable to a 20-year-old tawny.    In conclusion, an original curiosity.   

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Simpsons - From the Languedoc to the Garden of England

Ruth and Charles Simpsons already run a very successful winery in the Languedoc, Domaine Ste Rose, in the Hérault village of Servian, which concentrates particularly on varietal wines, as Charles would say, Old World wines using New World methods.  But  family reasons, such as their daughters’ education, have brought them back to England and to the village of Barham, near Canterbury, where they have planted 30 hectares, of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.   Their first vines came into production in 2016, for a Chardonnay, Roman Road.  The vineyard is indeed on the old Roman road.

I went to visit a couple of weeks ago.  It was one of those gloriously sunny days when  the weather is almost too good to be true, and it made a grand day out from London.   First, we admired a piece of equipment sitting in the yard that is designed to protect the vines from frost by causing the air over the vineyards to circulate.  An arm goes up and oscillates, blending the cold air with less cold air, and causing a constant movement.  They had used it the previous week, after suffering severe frost damage in 2017. As Ruth said, we simply cannot afford not to do something about the frost.   I have yet to see anything like this in Chablis.  

First of all, Ruth took us to look at their oldest vineyard, on a chalk slope outside the village. They have several clones, twelve for Chardonnay, and seven each of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, making for diversity in the vineyard and planted either on Fercal or 41B rootstock, which are the only choice, with such a high calcium content in the soil.  The composition of the first  vineyard is 50% Chardonnay with 30% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier, but in the second vineyard the balance will shift to 50% Pinot Noir. They prefer Pinot based sparkling wine.    They are not aiming for organic viticulture, but do want to be as sustainable as possible.

The land had been farmland for a long time, first arable and then more recently used for pigs. The Pinot Meunier, which buds later, is planted in the more frost prone pocket at the bottom of the slope and they had left what they called a ‘sacrificial arm’, a third arm, in case of frost damage, which is then removed after the risk of frost has passed.  There is grass between the rows, and they use weed killer between the vines.  Ruth talked about the planting which took three days in 2014, but in 2016 was much quicker with GPS guidance.   Rabbits are the main pest; they love green shoots, so they protect the vines with netting.  Pheasants are another problem.  The local shoot feeds the pheasants until harvest time, and then the pheasants come scavenging in the vineyards,  but happily then the shooting season opens shortly afterwards.   And we could see the second vineyard, Railway Hill,  in the distance, above the village of Barham.    Here they have planted wind breaks, of fast growing Italian alder.

Back in the village we looked at the cellar, constructed from two large barns, in time for the 2016 harvest.  They will be disgorging some rosé in June, but otherwise it will be another year before there is sparkling wine available.  They have not invested in neither a bottling line – they prefer to bottle everything at once, to avoid any bottle variations - nor in a disgorging machine   The cellar is well equipped with stainless steel vats of varying sizes.   They are planning a dedicated press room, explaining that they have a two-week window of opportunity get everything picked and pressed; in contrast at Ste Rose, it takes six to eight weeks, with so many different grape varieties.  Three pressings are the absolute maximum you can achieve in one day.    They had initially thought there would be a break between the two harvests, but with climate change, that is becoming less obvious.

A new piece of equipment to me was a large bag that allows for oxygen-free pressing.  A bag that Is identical in size to the bag in the press replaces the oxygen with nitrogen as the press operates.  With oxygen-free Chardonnay, you obtain citrus notes, but with some contact with oxygen you obtain more tropical notes.  Charles would like to combine the two.  With the standard champagne press, you do not actually know to what extent the juice is oxygenating, but with the bag you can control the oxidative process, and it is all enclosed, including the juice tray under the press.  It is called the Inertys system.  The nitrogen can be sucked back into the bag so that there is a constant exchange.   Charles is convinced that this adds to the complexity of the wine.

And there is a very smart tasting room, with a helter skelter slide to take you down into the cellar, with wine tourism in mind. I have to admit that I was chicken and declined to be one of the first Masters of Wine to try it out.   We tasted the 2017 Roman Road, (£22.95) which is certainly a very convincing Chardonnay, maybe a Chablis lookalike, but with a note of England.  Thirty per cent of the blend spent four months in 2-year-old barrels, that had previously been used for Roussanne at Domaine Ste. Rose.  It was lemony and floral, rounded with balancing acidity and a stony note and had only recently been bottled.   It promises well and I will look forward to enjoy the Simpsons’ sparkling wine in due course.   

We also talked about wine tourism and the development of a group called The Garden of England, consisting of seven local wine estates, namely  Simpsons, Gusbourne, Chapel Down, Hush Heath, Squerries, Bidenden and Domaine Evremond, the Taitinger estate.  Charles explained that they would like to encourage local tourism; the neighbouring  population is enthusiastic in a way that simply does not happen in the Languedoc. An initial order to the Barham village stores sold out in minutes, causing Charles to observe that it may be easy making wine in the south of France, but it is a lot more difficult to sell, whereas the opposite is true of England.

And for more on English wines do consider A Celebration of English Wines by Liz Sagues, just published by Robert Hale in Chichester.  Cover price £16.99.  It captures the essence of English  wines, combined with some evocative photographs.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Mas de Novi

Mas de Novi is a rather smart domaine outside Montagnac, in the Grés de Montpellier  It has been quite a few years since my last visit and I have to say the wines have improved significantly.  One reason for that is a change of winemaker.  The estate is owned by Jean-Claude Palu and his wife Michèle, who bought it for a song over 20 years ago, and then spent a considerable amount of money restoring the property and streamlining the cellar.  In M. Paul’s absence, Mas de Novi now run by Thierry Thomas, who deeply committed to the estate, for his very first job was at Mas de Novi, and then he went onto work elsewhere before returning to Mas de Novi in 2012.  One of the first things he did was to convert the vineyards  to organic viticulture.  They now have 42 hectares in production, all around the cellars, as well as another 5.5 hectares coming into production. The terroir is argilo-calcaire, clay and limestone.  

The cellars are well equipped, with stainless steel vats, as well as some cement and stone vats that are useful for blending, and a small barrel cellar for white wine, and a larger one for red wines, with barriques and demi-muids.  Sulphur is used as little as possible, at the end of the fermentation for white wine, and after the malo-lactic fermentation for red wine.  And hygiene is meticulous.

There was originally a Roman villa on the site and then it became a dépendence of the lovely Cistercian abbey of nearby Valmagne, from 11th century until the Revolution.   I was taken for a drive through the vineyards up to a viewpoint that looks towards the Mont Ste Claire in Sète, the abbey of Valmagne and the village of Villeveyrac.  And then we adjourned to the welcoming tasting caveau. 

2017 Lou Rosat, Languedoc AOP - 9.00€
A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsaut and Carignan.  However Thierry is not very keen on Carignan, observing that it performs better on schist.  It is also better with a carbonic maceration, but then you have to drink it quite quickly.  I begged to differ.  The grapes for the rosé are pressed  so quite a pale colour.  The 2016 was even paler, following the fashion for the palest of rosés.  I was quite surprised to learn that a powder made from garden peas can provide an effective  fining agent to remove colour.   The palate was crisp and fresh, with a dry finish.  

2017 Lou Blanc, Pays d’Oc, Chardonnay - 11.00€
A pure Chardonnay given an élevage on its lees in stainless steel vats, as well as three to four hours of skin contact.   The skin contact was the consequence of a press breaking down when it was full of Chardonnay grapes and they found they liked the result, so now do that regularly.  The nose was rounded and lightly nutty, with a ripe palate and fresh acidity.  There is no malo-lactic fermentation; they want to retain acidity, and also in the rosé.

2014 Chardonnay Pays d’Oc - 17.00€
with the fermentation and 12 months ageing in barrel.  Lightly golden colour. Firm nutty nose; quite rounded, with ripe fruit and some texture and firm acidity on the finish.  

2015 Chardonnay - 17.00€
The same wine, but with quite a vintage difference, in that it tasted much more structured with a tighter palate and fruit.  I much preferred it. 

2016 Lou Mazet, Pays d’Oc - 9.00€
From of equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, kept in vat.  All destemmed as they harvest by machine, and the machine has an optical sorting device, a tri optique, which eliminates a lot of unwanted grapes, leaves, insects and so on in the vineyard, before the fruit gets to the cellar.  Deep young colour.  Quite rounded with some  firm tannins.  Pretty easy drinking.

2015 Le Chemin de Novi, Grés de Montpellier - 11.00€
A blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache.  in stainless steel vats.  Good colour.  Quite a rounded nose, with some dry leathery notes on the nose, and on the palate some ripe fruit and a certain warmth on the finish.   

2015 Ô de Novi, Grés de Montpellier - 17.00€
From 40 year old vines, 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache.  Average yield 25 hl/ha as opposed to 40 hl/ha for le Chemin de Novi. Aged in stainless steel vat.  A deep colour.  Quite firm nose; nicely concentrated dry spice, with firm fruit.  Well integrated tannins.  Nicely youthful, with ageing potential

2014 Prestige, Grés de Montpellier - 13.00€
85% Syrah with 12% Grenache and just 3% Mourvèdre, the salt and pepper, observed Thierry.   You really miss  the Mourvèdre if it is not included.  12 months élevage in fut. Quite substantial and rounded on the nose and palate, with ripe spicy fruit and a fresh lift on the finish.  Well made with ageing potential and fresher than the O de Novi, perhaps because of the Mourvèdre.

Then to show how well their wines age, Thierry explained that they have a policy of keeping back some bottles, 15,000, to release when they are ten years old.

2008 Novi, Grés de Montpellier - 21.00€
with 85% Syrah, 12% Grenache and Mourvèdre, from 40 year old vines, with some élevage in vat, and also in barriques and demi-muids. The colour is beginning to evolve, as is the nose with some cedary notes, making for a pleasing maturity with rounded cedary fruit on the palate.  Thierry described  2008 as a classic vintage

2009 is a sunnier vintage, with the same blend, but is not yet on sale.  The wine is more solid and rounded, denser with more tannin than the 2008.  I preferred the 2008.  The 2009 also seemed more alcoholic on the finish.

And then I spotted a sign on the wall of the tasting room - Alcohol because no great story ever started with somebody eating a salad!

Our tasting finished with 2011 N de Novi,  Grés de Montpellier at 55.00€  A pure Syrah that was planted after a fire in the garrigue nearby in 1994.  The first vintage was 2008.  The density is 6000 pieds per hectare, with a yield of a natural 15 hl/ha, without resorting to a green harvest.  The wine spends 18 months in new demi-muids.  The palate is rounded and spicy, with supplie tannins and some satisfying texture.  Thierry admitted that for 2012 he has included some Viognier, so that will be interesting to taste in due course.