I had a treat yesterday afternoon. I was asked by the people at the Maison du Languedoc in Cavendish Square to conduct a Sommelier Masterclass of Great Wines from Languedoc-Roussillon. This meant I got to choose the wines; it was tough call, whittling the list down from thirty possibles to just eight – and they were all delicious. And I could have easily chosen another eight – all equally delicious.
This begs the question: what constitutes great wine, and from a region where innovation is the order of the day. I favoured estates with a track record of more than a few years; ideally even a second generation, but that is rare. Ageability is another factor, and then quite simply talented winemaking.
We started with 2008 Mas de Daumas Blanc. You can’t talk about the great wines of the Languedoc without mentioning Mas de Daumas Gassac. It was the creation of Aimé Guibert who set a pioneering example for quality and price in the days when viticulture in the Midi tended to function very much at a subsistence level.
The white Mas de Daumas Gassac is a wonderfully eclectic blend of grape varieties – there is Viognier, Chardonnay, Petit Manseng, Chenin Blanc and tiny quantities of other varieties like Sercial and Petite Arvine. Viognier dominates, with some lovely peachy flavours on nose and palate. It is mouth filling and satisfying, with a slightly sweet finish.
Next came Domaine Gauby Vieilles Vignes Blanc 2007. Gérard Gauby was one of the pioneers of Roussillon, taking his grandfather’s vines out of the coop back in the late 1980s. His white wine is a blend of Macabeu, Grenache Blanc and Carignan Blanc, Grenache Gris and Chardonnay. The Chardonnay vines are only 30 years old, but the others are anything between 50 and 100 years old. There is a hint of oak on the nose, with some firm minerality and fresh acidity on the palate. The wine is still very youthful and will definitely develop with some bottle age.
The reds got off to a brilliant start with a magnum of Domaine de Clovallon, les Pommarèdes 2006. This is Catherine Roque’s best cuvée of Pinot Noir, grown in cool vineyards in the upper reaches of the Orb valley around Bédarieux. It is given some gentle oak ageing and comes from her older vines. It was absolutely delicious, with lovely ripe silky fruit; beautifully balanced and very harmonious, with a freshness on the finish.
Next came Chateau de la Négly, la Falaise 2006, from one of the newer estates of La Clape, the mountainous area near Narbonne that was once an island, until the Aude changed course in the Middle Ages. La Falaise is a blend of Syrah, which is aged in 300 litre barrels, and Grenache Noir, which is kept in a 55 hectolitres wooden vat. The result is very successful; sunshine in a glass, with spice and fruit in equal balance.
Domaine Jean-Michel Alquier, les Bastides 2005. Jean-Michel Alquier’s father, Gérard was one of the pioneers of the Languedoc, planting Syrah in the 1960s and experimenting with barriques in the 1980s. Sadly he died in 1989, and it is his son Jean-Michel who has taken on his father’s mantle of quality, and not to be confused with his brother Frédérique. Les Bastides is a blend of Syrah with some Grenache and a little Mourvèdre and comes from the higher vineyards of the property Jean-Michel maintains that the acidity in the schist of Faugères enables you to fully ripen your grapes and yet retain freshness in your wine. This had some firm leathery spicy fruit on both noise and palate. There is a wonderful depth of flavour on the palate, with a long finish. It needs time, with a long life ahead of it.
Domaine Alain Chabanon, L’Esprit de Font Caude. 2004 This is Alain’s top cuvée, a blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre and Carignan. The percentages vary with the vintage and the wine spends two years in barrel and a further year in vat. It is still young, with an edge of oak and tannin, There are some wonderful leathery notes, with layers of flavour, and it should continue to age beautifully. Alain aims to combine elegance with balance and I think he has achieved that here.
Clos Centeilles, Capitelle de Centeilles 2000 The Domergues at Clos Centeilles in the Minervois are enthusiastic exponents of the quality of Cinsaut. So often Cinsaut is deemed to be merely suitable for rosé, but treated appropriately – fully ripe grapes, a long cuvaison and no oak – and it will reward you amply. It was a surprise to realise that this wine is ten years old. True, there was a note of maturity on the nose, but with some ripe elegant fruit and an edge of tannin on the finish. Maybe it was beginning to fade a little on the finish, but was delicious none the less.
And we finished with a vin doux, a Maury from the village cooperative, their best cuvée Maury Chabert de Barbera 1985, named after the last defender of the nearby Cathar castle of Quéribus. Its ruins dominate the hillside behind the village. This was everything that good Maury should be, with some intense walnut flavours, with hints of coffee and chocolate. A comparison with fine old tawny port would not be out of place.