I had a treat on Thursday evening – another one. The Solicitors’ Wine Society invited me to come and help with a tasting of Domaine de Clovallon and Mas d’Alézon with Catherine Roque. I first met Catherine back in 1999 when I was researching The Wines of the South of France, and since we have had our house in the Languedoc, we have become firm friends, and without paying her any gratuitous compliments, I would rate her as one of the very best wine makers of the Languedoc. The vineyards of Clovallon are situated in the Haute Vallée of the Orb, outside the town of Bédarieux and the other side of the hill from Faugères, so that they are much cooler than most of the Languedoc. Consequently Catherine fits into two camps; as a producer of vins de pays she enjoys the liberty that allows you to plant almost anything you might like, in her case, Petite Arvine and Petit Manseng, not to mention Viognier, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. And in Faugères she makes the classic blends of the Languedoc, with Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache. Faugères is on schist, while Clovallon is limestone and clay.
2007 Jolie Cantel.
A blend of Chardonnay with a little Roussanne, with a small amount aged in oak. It is beautifully rich and textured, ripe and rounded. You initially think Chardonnay and then realise that there is another dimension from the Roussanne. A lovely, long finish.
2008 Viognier les Aires
Viognier in the Midi can either be over oaked, or horribly confected and cloying. Catherine gets it just right, with the peachy flavours that are the benchmark of good Viognier. It is beautifully balanced and elegantly unctuous, with a fresh finish. A small part is aged in wood, which you do not detect, while the rest is vinified in stainless steel.
And then we were treated to four vintages of les Aurièges. This is a shining example of just how dramatically white wine in the Midi has improved. Les Aurièges is a blend of Chardonnay, Clairette, Petit Manseng, Viognier, Roussanne and Petite Arvine, which apparently is a cousin of Viognier. A tiny part of the blend is aged in barrel.
This is fresh and youthful; Viognier dominated the nose, with some pithy notes of citrus fruit and a fresh elegant finish. A wine to keep.
2006 les Aurièges
Light golden in colour, with a hint of oak on the nose. The flavour is intriguing. I tried to decide which grape variety dominates the blend. In fact none of them do. There were peachy hints from the Viognier and a flavour of white flowers, with a youthful rounded finish.
2003 was the year of the heat wave and although the effects were less marked in the Midi, than in, say, Chablis, it does not have as much acidity as the other vintages. There were almonds on the nose and the palate was rich and textured.
2000 This was the surprise of the evening, a white wine from the south of France that was almost ten years old and drinking beautifully. There were notes of hazelnuts on the nose, with some rich nutty, almost honeyed flavours on the palate. Maturing beautifully, with a nutty, honeyed finish.
2008 Pinot Noir
Medium young colour. A rich nose with some plummy fruit, spice and liquorice. On the palate there is red fruit, with a ripeness that has more in common with New Zealand than classic Burgundy. It is very appealing, with a long elegant finish.
2007 Le Palagret
This is predominantly Syrah, with 25% Pinot Noir, which is intended to soften the Syrah. To her knowledge Catherine is the only person to produce this particular blend. The Pinot Noir does indeed soften the Syrah. There are fresh peppery notes on the nose, with a more rounded palate, some peppery hints and some ripe red fruit. It is surprisingly successful.
And we finished with one of Catherine's two Faugères. Unfortunately the bottles of le Presbytère, which is predominantly Grenache Noir with a little Mourvèdre, had gone walk about, but the other cuvée 2006 Mas d’Alézon Montfalette was showing beautifully. It is a blend of Mourvèdre and Syrah, with a little Grenache Noir which links the other two varities. It has youthful peppery fruit on the nose, with lovely leathery, spicy mineral flavours on the palate. It is drinking beautifully now, but will continue to develop.
And the next day we went to visit two English wine producers, Denbies and Ridgeview. Catherine is now looking at English wine in a new light!