First stop was LA PEIRA, an estate created by the Australian composer, Rob Dougan. He is best known for the music in The Matrix. As he spends more time in London than the Languedoc, his vineyards are managed for him by Jérémie Depierre, a young guy with an impressive CV of wine studies and viticulture experience, in Dijon, Colmar, Reims and Bordeaux. Rob bought his vines – 11.5 hectares, planted with the usual Midi assortment of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsaut, Carignan and Mourvèdre, and also Viognier and Roussanne – at the end of 2004, in time to prune for the 2005 vintage. Jérémie began working for him in June 2005. And a new cellar was built, outside St. Saturnin, in time for the 2008 vintage. It’s a well-organised functional shed, surrounded by well-tended vineyards.
So why did Rob choose the Languedoc? There are no set rules, which makes it so much more interesting. In Bordeaux everyone is doing the same; you are not allowed to deviate. And while vineyard and cellar techniques have improved enormously in the Languedoc, there is still much to learn about élevage, the ageing of wines. For a start there are virtually no coopers in the region.
First we tasted barrel samples from the 2008 vintage. Cinsaut with some Carignan displayed ripe raspberry fruit; a Syrah was restrained and peppery, a Mourvèdre structured and firm, all promising well for future drinking.
And then onto bottles:
2007 Les Obriers, 10.00€
Predominantly Cinsaut and Carignan. A lovely spicy nose, with hints of cinnamon and cloves. Acidity and supple tannins, and some opulent fruit, balanced by the characteristic freshness of the Terrasses du Larzac. The most accessible of the three wines.
2007 Las Flors de la Pèira - 24€
Based on Grenache, with some Syrah and a little Mourvèdre. This is quite dense and solid, with rounded youthful fruit. A satisfying combination of concentration and elegance, with a long finish.
2007 La Pèira - 64€
Syrah dominates, with some Grenache. This is dense and youthful, rich and intense with rich spicy, chocolate notes. It is still very young and needs at least five years, if not ten. Testosterone charged, observed the friend I was tasting with.
And they also make a little white wine, but in such tiny quantities that there was none left for us to taste. It is called Deusyls, or two islands, and comes from two vineyards, with two varieties, Viognier and Roussanne.
Their UK agents are Berry Bros & Rudd – www.bbr.com
Next stop was CAPITELLE DES SALLES, in the village of St. Jean de la Blaquière, with Estelle Salles. She explained how she has taken over a couple of hectares of her in-laws’ vines – her husband Frédéric is the 6th generation in the village, and the family vines were with the village cooperative. But things are not good at the coop and she wants to do something with the vines. She is bright and lively and has got off to a good start, with her first vintage in 2007. She works in the tiny cellar under her mother-in-law’s solid stone house on the edge of the village. We sat and tasted in the rather sombre dining room.
First was 2008 Caminaire, Vin de Pays de Mont Baudile, named after the peak which dominates the village. 6.50€
It’s a blend of Cinsaut and Syrah. Medium depth of colour, with fresh raspberry fruit on nose and palate. Light and refreshing.
2007 Caractère, AC Languedoc. 8.00€
Again a blend of Grenache and syrah, aged in vat, with a good colour and spicy fresh fruit. Grenache Noir does well here as it resists any drought conditions well. It is more tannic and substantial than Caminaire.
2008 Hommage, Terrasses du Larzac -12.00€
Again Syrah and Grenache, with Grenache the dominant variety, and aged in vat. This tastes fresh and youthful with some red fruit, and needs some time in bottle to fill out. 2007 Hommage was more satisfying with some lovely spicy flavours and an elegant finish.
Finally there was Goè 2007, also a Terrasses de Larzac, but a blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache, aged in barrel. She has made just one barrel. There was some spicy fruit, but the oak is still quite obvious with some notes of vanilla, and needs to tone down. My usual prejudices about oaked wine came into play here.
Estelle enthused about the geological diversity of the area; in her vineyards, she has four capitelles, the lovely old stone shelters that look like stone igloos, but sadly there was no time to see them, as the next appointment called.
Estelle came with us to see Olivier Bellet at CLOS RIVERAL in the next village of Loiras. He is another young vigneron who has just taken some family vineyards out of the village coop, just 2.5 hectares, but planted with Chardonnay, Viognier, Grenache blanc, and for reds, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsaut. He doesn’t have Mourvèdre, as it doesn’t ripen properly here. His first vintage was 2008.
He makes a white wine as a vin de table. The 2008 is a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 40 % Viognier and 20% Grenache blanc, which are fermented in oak. There is some perfumed peachy fruit, with a streak of oak and some fresh acidity on the finish. The Grenache Blanc provides some welcome freshness and also some texture in the mouth. And he planning to ferment the 2009 in an egg-shaped cement vat; apparently this will keep the lees in constant suspension and thereby avoid the need for bâtonnage. The cement makes for less micro-oxygenation than in a barrel. And why vin de table? Too much bureaucratic hassle and paperwork, and not enough wine to bother to ask for vin de pays. 7.50€
Next came a 2008 Vin de Pays d’Oc, la Cuvée Infinie, from Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and Cinsaut. 5.00€ The grapes are blended together from the beginning, and part of the Syrah is fermented by carbonic maceration. There are fresh spicy notes, with some red fruit, and what Olivier described as fruit balsamique, balanced with some supple tannins. A rounded mouthful of flavour.
2008 Les Fontanilles Terrasses du Larzac. 7.50€ Mainly Grenache, partly from some 40 year old vines, blended with some Syrah, made by carbonic maceration. This has some lovely spicy fruit on the nose, with some body and tannin, making a nicely crafted glass of wine.
2007 Les Souls blanc Vin de Pays d’Oc 22€ We tasted this from vat; it will not be bottled until next March. The blend is Chardonnay, with just 10% Roussanne. Dare I say it, as the author of two books on Chablis, that this had certain mineral notes that reminded me of Chablis, with some firm acidity, and the oak is beautifully integrated. And now onto red wines: 2007 Clara, Terrasses du Larzac – 10€ M. Almeras’ entry level red wine is usually called Mission, except in the years when a grandchild is born, so 2007 is called Clara. It is a blend of 40 % Grenache and 60% Syrah, that are aged in vat. The nose is quite confit and concentrated, with some spice and on the palate there is firm youthful fruit, with dry spice, some tannin and the characteristic acidity of the region. All the labels are distinguished by a woodcock feather, for hunting woodcock is his other passion.
2006 Les Souls, Terrasses du Larzac – 22€
This is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. It is more concentrated on the nose, with more depth of fruit and weight on the palate, balanced with some supple tannins and a ripe finish. Half the blend has spent eighteen months in wood, and the oak is well-integrated. You sense that there is a meticulous attention to detail here, which shows in the wines.
And we finished with a late harvest Vendange Tardive Lumière d’Automne, vin de table – 25€ It is made from Viognier with just ten percent of Petit Manseng, a grape more commonly found in Jurançon in the Pyrenees, which are picked in early November. M. Almeras explained that the same Viognier vines can give you grapes with botrytis, grapes that are passerillé or raisined, and grapes that are neither. He aims for a balance of acidity, so that the wine is not too sweet. There are 71 gms/l of residual sugar, with an alcohol level of 14.9˚ and it has spent over two years in old barrels to round it out. I thought it was delicious, very honeyed with notes of beeswax and some very good acidity, so that the finish was almost dry, and very elegant.