Chai Christine Cannac is a friendly wine bar in Bédarieux, which specialises in organic wines. And on the first sunny Saturday in April, Christine persuaded most of her vignerons to participate in a mini-organic wine fair. This is not the moment to discuss the pros and cons of organic viticulture. I just want to highlight some of the original and characterful wines that were available for tasting.
Clos Fantine, with Oliver Andrieu in Faugères. I first visited this estate about ten years ago, not so long after his first vintage in 1995. His wines hadn’t come my way since, so this was a great opportunity to catch up.
2002 Tradition : A great start to the tasting, with warm fruits rouges on the nose, and ripe supple fruit on the palate. Layers of flavour, with a firm mineral streak on the finish.
2006 Courtiol : A touch reduced on the nose, but nothing that a bit of aeration wouldn’t solve. Much more concentrated on the palate than the cuvee Tradition, but refreshingly without any oak. Again a firm, stony, mineral finish. Should develop well in the bottle. 12.80€ 16/20
François Aubry at Domaine la Fontude
2005 Entremond, Vin de Pays du Lac de Salagou from Carignan, Aramon and Grenache Noir is rounded and stony, with lovely fresh fruit and a long finish. 16/20 7€
Francois Aubry’s white is a pure Terret blanc which does not conform to any vin de pays regulations, so is simple vin de table, and none the worse for that. Most organic wine growers seem to have a rather cavalier approach to French bureaucracy. The wine is light golden in colour, with a fresh nose, and intriguing layers of herbal fruit on the palate, with dry finish and fresh acidity. One of those wines that leaves you wondering….. 16/20 7€
Le Temps des Cerises with Axel Prüfer, another wine grower with vineyards in the hills of the upper reaches of the Orb valley.
2008 Avanti Popolo is pure Carignan grown on granitic quartz in Colombiers sur Orb. It has lovely refreshing mineral streak, with ripe fruit and a refreshing lift on the finish – one of those wines that definitely encourages a second glass. 17/20 8€
2008 Le Fou du Roi, a vin de table and a blend of equal parts Grenache Noir, Cinsaut and Carignan with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is wonderfully perfumed, redolent of cherry fruit, beautifully elegant, with a tannic streak on the finish. 17/20 13€
Le Petit domaine de Gimios with Mme. Lavaysse in St. Jean de Minervois. She is a smiley lady who makes three styles of Muscat, from just three hectares of centenarian vines and she also has one hectare for red wine, planted with an extraordinary sixteen different varieties.
2006 Muscat Sec, vin de table. Fresh grapey fruit ; Muscat is the one grape variety that really tastes of grapes. Fresh acidity and the slightly bitter finish, characteristic of dry Muscat. 14/20 19€
2006 Muscat moelleux, Slightly sweet with 28 gms/l residual sugar. Quite a dry nose with a lightly honeyed, grapey palate, and fresh fruit. 14/20 21€
2001 Muscat St Jean de Minervois this is quite mature for a Vin doux naturel, with quite a solid rich concentrated honeyed flavour and a long finish. 14/20 21€
Domaine Navarre with Thierry Navarre in Roquebrun, St. Chinian. The vineyards of Roquebrun are dominated by the cave cooperative which works well for its village, but Thierry’s wines have so much more character. He is an ardent supporter of endangered grape varieties, so we began with 2007 Terret blanc, vin de table. The colour is tarnished old gold. The nose is quite solid, with a touch of ginger, and also on the palate, with some firm fruit and good acidity. It has been in old Burgundian pieces for 12 months. 8.20€ 14/20
2008 Vin d’Oeillades, again a vin de table. Œillade is related to Cinsaut and this is beautifully perfumed, with fresh cherry fruit, with a touch of spice. The French word gourmand sums it up beautifully, a wine that is eminently easy to drink. 16/20 6.40€
2007 Le Laouzil, St. Chinian. Roquebrun is recognised as a cru of St. Chinian, but Thierry doesn’t consider this to be a good idea. So what? It detracts from St. Chinian. This is a blend of Grenache Noir, Carignan, Syrah and Cinsaut, in other words the key grape varieties of the Midi. There is fresh spice on the nose, and even more on the palate, with a touch of pepper on the finish. Really what St. Chinian is all about – a wine that conveys the warmth of the sun-soaked hills of the Midi. 17/20 8€
2007 Cuvée Olivier, St. Chinian. His best cuvée, named after his son. Deep colour, with a warm leathery nose. More structured, with more weight and depth of flavour . Ripe spicey and rounded. Twelve months ageing in oak has filled out the palate.
Mas Lumen with Pascal Perret in Gabian, a village in the Coteaux du Languedoc, adjoining Faugères, and the Prieuré de Cassan.
2004 Prélude, Coteaux du Languedoc. Carignan is the principal variety, with some Syrah, a little Cinsaut and a drop of Grenache, grown on schist. Quite a solid rounded nose, with ripe fruit and a firm stony finish. 11€ 15/20
2001 Orphée, Vin de Pays de Cassan. 2001 was Pascal’s first vintage and this is pure Terret, which is permitted for this particular vin de pays. The colour is light golden and there is a slight tarry resinous note on the nose and palate. The oak still masks the fruit even though the wine is now eight years old. Will it ever come round? 13/20 11€
Mas d’Agalis at Nébian with Lionel Maurel, who explained that the villages around Clermont l’Hérault traditionally produced table grapes, and therefore were not included in the Coteaux du Languedoc. He makes vin de table and vin de pays du lac de Salagou.
Yo no puedo mas VII vin de table. Currently you are not allowed to put a vintage on a vin de table, though this is about to change, but no prizes here for guessing that VII indicates 2007. The blend is 50 per cent Syrah, 40 per cent Grenache Noir and just 10 per cent of Mourvèdre. And why vin de table? His first vintage, the 2004, was declassified because of a problem with acetic acid, and so he has just left it as vin de table. ‘That way you can do what you like.’ And the wine was delicious; lovely fresh spicey fruit on both nose and palate. Nicely rounded and not too heavy. 40 per cent was aged in old barrels, and the rest in vat. 18/20 7.40€
2006 Navis, Coteaux du Salagou comes from equal parts of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. Two thirds of the blend spent eighteen months in old barriques. It has more body, but the same ripe spicey fruit. Also very appealing. 16/20 13.20€
Bruno Duchêne in Banyuls.
2008 La Lune, vin de Pays de la Côte Vermeille. Smokey, spicey fruit on the nose. Medium weight palate, with rounded spicey fruit, and some intriguing nuances. One of those wines that leaves you guessing. 15/20 14€
2007 La Pascole Collioure. Quite solid rounded leathery nose, with a full quite dense, almost raisiny palate. Solid and characterful, with a warm finish. For a cold winter’s evening. 15/20
2007 Corral Nou Collioure. Medium colour. Lightly leathery fruit on nose and palate. Lighter than la Pascole, but with a long warm finish. M. Duchêne was not around to enquire about the differences between his two wines.
Maxime Magnon. Villeneuve des Corbières
2008 La Démarrante, Vin de pays de la Vallée du Paradis. Who can resist a wine with a name like that ? The blend is 70 per cent Carignan with 30 per cent Grenache. It is very gouleyant, with fresh acidity and fresh raspberry and cherry fruit on the nose and palate.
Very easy to drink, but without the weight of Corbières. 14/20 9€
2007 Rozeta, Corbières From 60 per cent Carignan and 20 per cent each of Grenache and Cinsaut. Rounded and perfumed, but again lacks the weight of Corbières . Atypical. 14/20 12€
Domaine Léon Barral. Didier Barral is one of the recognised stars of Faugères.
2007 Le Blanc, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault Light golden in colour. Quite a herbal nose, with lightly tarry hints. An intriguing palate with herbal notes and layers of flavour, from Terret gris and blanc, Viognier and Roussanne. Multi-faceted.
2006 Faugères, from Carignan Grenache and Cinsaut Medium colour. Quite a solid smokey oaky nose. Ripe fruit with granitic mineral streak. Rich and concentrated wit great ageing potential
2006 Jadis From Carignan, Syrah and Grenache. Aged in barriques. Medium colour with an intense mineral nose. Quite solid, dense palate, with firm fruit. Full-bodied, or more elegantly in French, beaucoup de matière. Very ripe, with mineral notes and a long finish. 19€
2005 Valinière 80 per cent Mourvèdre, with Syrah. Two years ageing in barriques. A deep colour, with a solid dense nose. Full-bodied with weight and flavour and a dense firm palate. Just bottled and still very adolescent but with a long life ahead of it. 33€
Domaine Yannick Pelletier
2006 St. Chinian Oiselet From Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan and Syrah aged in vat. Some nicely texture fruit with dry spice. Medium weight and undemanding. 14/20 9€
2006 St. Chinian Coccigrue. Apparently a coccigrue is an imaginary animal that features in Rabelais, with associations with Gargantua This was more serious, and more expensive, with a firm nose and ripe perfumed fruit, mediumweight with a spicey finish.
Domaine Fontedicto with Bernard Belhasen. He is the one vigneron I have met in the Midi, who uses a horse rather than a tractor, and he was one of the pioneering biodynamic estates of the Midi. When I met him about ten years ago, I felt very much that he was a lone voice, but happily no longer today. There were two wines to taste, but unfortunately he was not around to explain them.
2006 Pirouette vin de table 10.50€ 16/20
Medium colour. Some lovely dry leathery fruit; nicely structured with some body and weight, with an elegant finish. Very satisfying.
2002 Promise Coteaux du Languedoc. This was an oaked cuvee and for my tastebuds, the oak simply overpowered the fruit. As it is already seven years old, I couldn’t see any way that the oak was going to tone down. But if you like oak, this could be for you. 12/20 23€