Château de la Peyrade stands by the large roundabout on the outskirts of Sète. You could almost miss the imposing conical tower amidst the sprawl of the town, but it is well worth a deviation for a welcoming tasting caveau and a shop with a wide range of wines from other appellations of the Midi. The property belongs to Pastourel family, two brothers, Bruno and Rémi, and their father Yves. They have 24 hectares of vineyards, including eight around the château itself, on the western edge of the appellation. The appellation of Muscat de Frontignan totals 650 hectares of vineyards in production and is dominated by its cooperative, which accounts 80 per cent of the wine. There are six or seven private producers of which Château la Peyrade is one of the biggest, and also one of the more experimental. The soil here is a mixture of clay and limestone, and the climate is influenced by the proximity to the sea and the étang de Thau. The permitted yield currently stands at 28 hl/ha and hand-picking is obligatory.
Our tasting began with:
2009 Muscat Sec, Cuvée des Lilas, Vin de Pays d’Oc - 5.00€
The nose explodes out of the glass, with the intense grapey perfume of Muscat. The palate is a little more discreet, with perfumed Muscat fruit, a good balance of acidity, and a hint of saltiness, with a fresh finish. This is simple winemaking, no malo-lactic fermentation and a temperature controlled fermentation in vat.
2008 Muscat Doux, Cuvée des Patrodou, Vin de Pays d’Oc - 6.00€
Just say the name of the cuvée out aloud and you will understand the name. The taste is just that, not too sweet. The nose is more discreet and understated than for the dry wine, with a rounded, lightly honeyed palate, and what Alexandre, who runs the shop, described as un douceur rafraichissant, in other words a refreshing sweetness, on the finish. It is both fresh and ripe. The fermentation is stopped by chilling, with a dose of SO2 and then filtered.
Muscat de Frontignan Tradition – 7.40€
And available also in a BIB, as the French call a Bag in Box. Here the aim is maximum fruit. The nose is lightly honeyed, while the palate is more intense and unctuous. It’s all a question of balance, of the sugar, the grapes and the alcohol level. Everything must be in harmony, and the alcohol from the fermentation must balance the alcohol of the mutage. The total is 15˚, as the appellation demands.
2008 Muscat de Frontignan Prestige - 8.50€
This comes from the best vineyards, from vines growing in dry soils, with 20 metre deep roots. Just the first pressings of juice are used. It is more elegant than the Tradition; the honeyed palate is more subtle, with more richness and depth and a lovely harmonious finish. They consider this their flagship Muscat de Frontignan.
Muscat de Frontignan Cuvée Sol Invictus - 9.50€
This is a more recent addition to the range, first made in 2000. The aim is for a lighter, fresher Muscat, but still a fortified wine. They work on the acid and sugar structure, choosing the most acidic juice so that the sugar does not overwhelm the fruit. There are white peaches and some notes of exotic fruit on the nose, and the palate is quite floral and a little spicy, with a hint of wild mint. It is quite full in the mouth, but with an elegant freshness on the finish.
2005 Vendanges d’automne, Vin de Pays d’Oc - 8.00€
As the name implies, this is a late harvest wine, with the grape picked at the beginning of October, usually about six weeks later than the normal harvest, so that the grapes are nicely raisined. Muscat skins are too thin for noble rot, and in any case the climatic conditions are not suitable for it. The yield is just 10 hl/ha. The wine is fermented in vat and bottled in the spring, and has a residual sugar of 80 gms/l, while Muscat de Frontignan must have a minimum of 115 gms/ l. It was described as the predecessor of Muscat de Frontignan, the style of wine that would have been made before Arnaud de Villeneuve discovered in the 14th century that adding alcohol to a fermenting vat brought the fermentation process to an abrupt halt. The wine is quite golden in colour, with some roasted notes on the nose, with honeyed confit flavours on the palate. It is quite rich with a firm finish.
2003 Vendanges d’automne, Vin de Pays d’oc – 12.00€
They would like to make a vendange tardive every year, but the climatic conditions do not always permit it. This 2003 was kept in barrel, with the aim of toning down some of the intense sugar from the very ripe vintage. The colour was deeper and the flavours reminiscent of barley sugar, rich and honeyed, with more weight and just a touch of tannin on the finish.
Barriques Oubliées – 9.00€ for 50 cls.
This is the same wine as Muscat de Frontignan Tradition, except that it has spent two years in old barrel. The colour is golden, with a spicy perfumed note. The palate is rounded and honey, with hints of orange, and an elegant finish. It is beautifully balanced with an elegant structure, and quite delicious. This is sold without a vintage, but the first year they made this cuvée was 1989.
YP No. 1, Vin de Pays d’Oc – 22€ for a 50cl bottle in a wooden presentation box .
They made just 800 bottles of this, for a first vintage, in 2005, from a selection of the very best late harvested grapes. Alexandre described this as the crème de la crème. They use two barrels, a Taransaud oak barrel, and an acacia barrel, in which the wine spends two years. The flavours intrigue, they are very ripe and redolent of orange marmalade. You are slightly aware of the oak, but there is a fresh finish, with hints of quince and considerable length on the palate.
And we finished with Bulles de Lilas, demi sec – 8.50€
A traditional method sparkling wine. They made the vin clair and have the wine champenised in Marseilles. It was soft and frothy, not unlike a dryish Clairette de Die. Somehow the Muscat character was less pronounced that you might expect.