Saturday, 29 August 2009
We arrived early to do a bit of tasting before the crowds descended. This was the chance to catch up with François Pottier’s wines from Domaine la Croix Ronde in La Tour-sur-Orb, in the Haute Vallée of the Orb. It was quite a while since I had been for a cellar visit.
I’ve always liked his Cuvée Jade Chardonnay. The 2007 is lovely and fresh with good acidity, and gives the impression of just a hint of oak, but Francois assured me that there was none.
In contrast 2004 Chardonnay Topaze, which has spent twelve months in wood, is rich and buttery, ripe and rounded with a note of maturity on the finish.
His 2007 rosé is a curious blend of Syrah and Chardonnay grapes. I am not sure about this. You are not allowed to blend red and white wine to make rosé, but you can blend the grapes. The colour was an orange pink and the palate had some body, but lacked acidity
2005 Cuvee Améthyste is a blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Sauvignon has been in wood, which you can taste on the palate, with some smokey oak, rounded fruit and a tannic backbone.
Simon, Catherine Roque’s enthusiastic young stagiaire at Domaine de Clovallon, just outside Bédarieux, was concentrating on the 2001 vintage, as that was the year of the very first Cuisines dans la rue. 2001 Aurièges in a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Petite Arvine, Petit Manseng , Roussanne and Clairette. It was quite delicious, with some peachy fruit, acidity and layers of texture and flavour. A real treat. And alongside that was the 2001 Pinot Noir. The colour was quite developed with vegetal notes of sous bois on the nose and the palate was now quite frail, with a tannic streak, but very intriguing. You would not expect a Pinot Noir of that age from the Midi to survive so well.
Château des Peyresgrandes in Roquessels was showing their Faugères Tradition, a blend of Carignan, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache Blanc; it was quite perfumed, in contrast to the Prestige, for which the Syrah had been in oak, so that the wine had more depth and concentration.
And the cooperative in Hérépian, le Cellier de Capimont, was showing a very pleasant, easy to drink Chardonnay, and a fresh rosé, with light acidity. Françoise Ollier from Domaine Ollier-Taillefer in Faugères was also there, but I had tasted her wines the previous day. Comments coming soon. And the same applies to Domaine de l’Arjolle in Pouzolles.
By this time the chefs were getting going. We found a space on a plank our dishes and went back for more Aurièges. The presentation of the food was fun, with dishes presented on small wooden planks or slates. And the flavours were delicious. The Auberge de l’Abbaye in Villemagne produced a papillotte of mackerel with some spring rice; the Château de Lunas offered a velouté of green asparagus with a brochette of prawns. La Forge in Bédarieux had made cannelloni stuffed with quail and herbs, and the Relais de Ceilhes provided a mouselline of smoked trout.
We decided that we would prefer to sit down for our cheese course, so we went home for St. Nectaire and more Faugères, and also missed the dessert from l'Auberge du Presbytère which was described as an Opera chocolate asperges.
Friday, 21 August 2009
Vincent’s enthusiasm and commitment are instantly engaging. He studied commerce and management, going to that most demanding of business schools, INSEAD, and worked for Arthur Anderson. And then it was time for a change, so it was back to school, for oenology in Beaune and Dijon. And why the Languedoc? He has no obvious connections with the Midi. His parents are from Charente and Saumur and he had worked in Paris. The reply was immediate: the quality of life; it’s a magical place; the quality of the different terroirs, at affordable prices. The Languedoc is in the middle of its revolution; Burgundy is too constrained. And it is open to outsiders. He was made president of the new cru Terrasses du Larzac after just three years as a wine grower in the area.
This was a wise move on the part of the growers of the Terrasses du Larzac. Vincent is utterly committed to the cause and fervent about the need for all the wine growers to work together. Languedoc as such has no real image or identity, with so many different areas and terroirs, nor does Vin de Pays d’Oc have a particularly good image, so they need to create one for the Terrasses du Larzac. The collective quality image is essential. Vincent does not lack for words; he is very articulate and there is no doubt that the Terrasses du Larzac is destined for great things under his leadership.
He took us to see his vineyards. He has nine hectares just outside Jonquières, planted with the usual five red varieties of the Languedoc, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir, Carignan and Cinsaut. And there are another two hectares, including white varieties – Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Muscat, Grenache Blanc, and Roussanne, not to mention a little Petit Manseng, close to Lagamas. Altogether he has eleven plots of red and five of white, each of which is vinified separately. The Mont Baudile dominates the skyline. And the dominant north wind brings the necessary freshness to the climate, retaining acidity in the wines. Vincent is looking for balance, elegance and ageing ability.
He explained that he rarely invites people into his cellar, so we were privileged, and treated to a tasting of barrels samples of the 2008s. He is very pleased with the vintage and it shows considerable potential, with elegance, finesse and supple tannins. There was a perfumed Grenache, a structured Mourvèdre; a Cinsaut with fruit that simply exploded in the mouth; a Syrah with peppery fruit that could have come from the Rhone Valley. They promise well.
And then onto bottles:
2008 QU'ES AQUO, COTEAUX DU LANGUEDOC - 8.50€
The name translates as qu’est-ce que c’est? or what’s that? A rosé, but with personality. It is very perfumed and very ripe, so very mouth filling. Grenache and Syrah dominate the blend,. 80 per cent is saigné and 20 per cent pressed. Pure saigné can be too powerful; the pressed wine adds some freshness.
2008 L'ETINCELLE BLANC, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault - 14.50€.
This is a vin de pays as most of the grape varieties are not allowed in the appellation. The base is Chenin Blanc, with Viognier, Muscat, Grenache blanc, Roussanne and a drop of Petit Manseng. About one third of it is fermented in oak, but no new barrels, and no oak for the Viognier or the Muscat. It is multi-faceted with many layers of flavour and some lovely fruit. For Vincent there is the freshness of the Chenin Blanc, while the Muscat and Viognier add weight, with some fresh peachy flavours. It is drinking deliciously now but also has ageing potential and is a shining example of the improvement in white wine from the Languedoc.
The red wines were all from 2006. I had tasted the 2005s in Paris about six months ago and enjoyed those more, as 2005 is undoubtedly a better vintage. The 2006s in comparison seemed less elegant.
2006 L'INFIDELE TERRASSES DU LARZAC 13€
A blend of 30 % Syrah, 25% Grenache Noir, 20% Mourvèdre, 15% Carignan and 10% Cinsaut. This is their biggest cuvée, and a blend of their two terroirs, the limestone and clay of Jonquières, and the poor stony soil of Combariolles near Lagamas. The wine is quite firm and structured, and not yet very expressive.
2006 LES COMBARIOLLES, TERRASSES DU LARZAC 20€
A blend of equal parts of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. This is tighter and firmer than L’Infidèle and also richer, with greater depth. A combination of elegance, concentration and youthful freshness.
2006 FEU SACRE, TERRASSES DU LARZAC 35€
This comes from old Grenache, topped up with a drop of l’Infidele, with eighteen months ageing in 500 litre wood.. It is ripe and rich and concentration, with chocolate and coconut. More Roussillon than Languedoc.
In conclusion, this is an estate that will definitely go far.
Monday, 17 August 2009
Anne and Christian from Domaine Monplezy
Those of us, who live not too far from the village of Vailhan in the hills outside Pézenas in the heart of the Languedoc, are lucky in that we have one of the best restaurants of the region on our doorstep. The auberge in Vailhan has had a chequered history; and it is now on its third proprietor in almost as many years. However, with the last change of ownership, there has been a quantum leap in quality and what the French call accueil. Three friends arrived from Paris in early 2008. Yannick Savioz Fouillet was cooking for the Georges V in Paris and Guillaume Becker ran the directors’ dining room for a large pharmaceutical company, Servier. Sylvia Cascone comes from Tuscany; she is a qualified sommelier and has worked for various smart Paris restaurants. The menu changes every fortnight, using original and creative combinations of fresh, local ingredients and the wine list is small and selected from local wine growers, all of whom are keen to support this young business, which like any restaurant, especially in these days of credit crunch, has its slack evenings. So a series of wine evenings was arranged by local growers.
We went to the evening hosted by Anne Sutra de Germa and Christian Gil from Domaine Monplézy, just outside Pézenas, so that they make Vin de Pays des Côtes de Thongue as well as Coteaux du Languedoc Pézenas, which is the new cru of the appellation. Anne welcomed us over our apéro of 2008 Plaisirs Rosé, (4.80€) a blend of Grenache Noir, Cinsaut and Syrah, with ripe, raspberry fruit. It was rounded and vinous and slipped down a treat, with an amuse-bouche, in the form of an anchovy quenelle.
The starter was a delicious concoction of green asparagus, with a seafood fricassée, which complimented Plaisirs Interdits Blanc, 2008. (6.40€) This Côtes de Thongue is an original blend of Roussanne, Viognier, Muscat and Vermentino. Viognier dominates the nose with some peachy hints and the flavours is intriguing, with white flowers and fresh acidity.
Saddle of veal, with baked aubergine and parmesan, was the main course to accompany Plaisirs Rouge 2007, and then Felicité 2005. Plaisirs Rouge, Coteaux du Languedoc, Pézenas, 2007 is a blend of Grenache, Carignan, Cinsaut and Syrah (6.40€). For me it represents the epitome of the Languedoc with lovely spicy fruit, while Felicité, Côtes de Thongue (12.00€) mainly from Grenache and Carignan, has been aged in barrel, some new, for twelve months, and is more serious and structured. It will develop with time, but on the night Plaisirs had the edge.
The pre-dessert was an elegant mouthful of pear clafoutis, followed by a delicious gaspacho of strawberries, accompanied by a biscuit that was delicately flavoured with wild fennel, an intriguing and successful combination. This was the moment for the dessert wine, a Vendange Tardive of Grenache Noir, Délice (20€). Unlike Rivesaltes or Maury, it is not fortified. The alcohol level reaches a natural 16º, and the yield is just 8 hl/ha. The palate is redolent of red fruit and chocolate and it made a delicious finale to the evening.
L’Auberge du Presbytère – Tel : 04 67 24 76 49
Domaine de Monplézy : www.domainemonplezy.fr
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
Newcomers to the Languedoc abound; they may come from overseas or from other parts of France. Pierre Gaillard is one of the leading names of Côte Rôtie in the northern Rhone and also one of the three partners of Vins de Vienne, the association that is reviving the lost vineyards of Seyssuel above Vienne. And not content with that, he has vineyards in Banyuls and an estate in Faugères. The vineyards in Faugères were originally planted by the three associates of Vins de Vienne, but since 2007 Pierre has owned them alone. He visits at least once a month, but in his absence the estate is run by young Arnaud Barthes.
We met on a hot sunny day and Arnaud took us to see the sun-soaked vineyards. They bought garrigues and cleared the scrubland, so we admired steep, stony vineyards. The influence of the northern Rhône was very evident, with a very high density of 9000 plants per hectare, planted en echalas for the white varieties, with a single supporting post, while the Syrah, with its more fragile shoots is supported by wires. They have a total of ten hectares, with Syrah, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre and Carignan for the reds, and Roussanne, Vermentino and Grenache Blanc for the whites. The vineyards are so steep that they need to work with a caterpillar, rather than a conventional tractor. Arnaud explained how they are paying attention to leaf area, in relation to yield. They are aiming for a yield of 30 hl/hl and normally you would calculate that one square metre of leaf area would ripen one kilo of grapes; instead they are aiming for two square metres. They leaf pluck on the side of the row that receives the morning sun and carry out a small green harvest in July. They also tend to pick later than is usual for Faugères, around 26th, rather than 10th – 15th September.
The cellar is a functional warehouse in the village of Laurens, acquired from a Burgundian, who had been producing Faugères, but no more. They vinify plot by small plot, with lots of small batches. Each variety is kept separately, with separate élevage in barrel. In 2006 just one wine was made, Transhumence, but in 2007 they added Parole de Berger, which is a selection of the ten best barrels from the steepest slopes. Arnaud explained the idea behind the names. Transhumence usually refers to the journey sheep take from one grazing pasture to another; Pierre Gaillard instead has travelled from one vineyard area to another, and the shepherd’s word, like the gentleman’s bond, is absolutely reliable.
Arnaud studied in Montpellier and has worked in New Zealand in Sherwood Estate in Canterbury, and also at Château Lastours in the Corbières. He has been in Faugères since the beginning of 2008, so did not make most of the wines that we were about to taste. However, his 2008 vat samples showed great potential, with ripe Grenache Noir; more structured Mourvèdre and some intensely perfumed Syrah. . He talked about pre-fermentation maceration in order to extract fruit rather than tannins; he does some pumping over and plunging down, and lets the temperature rise to 30º– 35ºC. The malolactic fermentation takes place in barrels and the wine stays in wood for 12 – 15 months. The Syrah usually goes into new wood, while older barrels work better for Grenache; and some of the wine is aged in vat. You sense a meticulous attention to detail in both cellar and vineyard.
2007 Faugères, Transhumence - 13€
A blend of 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache Noir and 10% Mourvèdre. 20% was aged in vat, and a quarter of the barriques were new. The oak was quite firm, with a touch of vanilla and on the palate the flavours are rounded and mouth filling, with lovely spicy notes. It is wonderfully rich, what the French call gourmand.
2007 Faugères, Parole du Berger – 18.00€
80% Syrah, 20% Mourvèdre, all aged in oak; 30% new. The colour is deep, and the nose redolent of vanilla, spice and coconut. The palate is more structured and also richer than Transhumence, with finer, more elegant flavour, and a slightly sweet finish. How will it age, I wondered? Both wines make for enjoyable drinking now, but may be they will have more to say in four or five years.
And projects for the future? A white wine, as the white vines are not yet in production; a new cellar of their own design. Maybe another red wine, and some more vineyards. This is definitely an estate to follow.