La Clape is one of my favourite parts of the Languedoc. It is an extraordinarily scenic area, just outside the city of Narbonne, a rocky outcrop that was once an island, until the river Aude changed its course in the Middle Ages. Today an appropriate description is a montagne vallonnée, a mountain that reaches 214 metres at its highest point, and crossed by several valleys. Some of the vineyards are firmly inland, while others border the coast. The road round the mountain is spectacular as the scenery changes sharply from mountain to sea, the blue water contrasting vividly with the rough scrub-covered hillsides.
La Clape is in line for its own appellation, separate from the all-embracing Coteaux du Languedoc. It is a contained homogenous area, with a concentration of serious producers, with several properties that have changed hands in recent years, making for a energetic dynamic amongst the growers. However, the only one present at the London Wine Trade Fair last week was Arnaud Fabre from Château d’Anglès.
Anglès is one of the historic estates of La Clape. I first visited it in the mid-1980s when it was known as Domaine de la Rivière Haute and was owned by Jean Ségura. He was one of the great inspirational winemakers of the Midi, making extraordinary white wine at a time when most white offerings from the Languedoc were barely drinkable. Sadly when M. Ségura died, things took a turn for the worse; his daughter simply did not have her father’s talent or ability and she sold the estate. It was up for sale again in 2002 when Eric Fabre arrived from Bordeaux; he had been the technical director at Chateau Lafite and now looking for a challenge of his own. And it is safe to say that in his expert hands, the property is back on stream. He also bought the adjoining property, la Rivière Basse and has re-united the two estates under their original name of Chateau d’Anglès. It is a haunting spot – you are very close to the sea shore, but with the wild garrigue and hillsides behind you, really conveying the atmosphere of this unique terroir. And the wine has an originality of its own.
2008 La Clape Classique Rouge - £9.99
From Syrah, Grenache and a splash of Mourvèdre. This is the Midi at its most accessible. Lovely deep colour, Ripe concentrated fruit on the nose, with fresh spicy fruit on the palate, with hints of liquorice and a dry streak of tannin on the finish. Aged only in vat.
2007 La Clape Grand Vin Rouge - £13 - £15
Note the bordelais influence in the title. 40% each of Syrah and Mourvèdre, with 20% Grenache and a hint of Carignan. This was the first vintage that included Mourvèdre. The Syrah and Mourvèdre have spent ten months in two to five year old barrels. As you would expect there is a firmer backbone, with tighter tannins, with rich stylish flavours and a satisfying bordelais subtlety. Arnaud Fabre, Eric’s son, explained that their aim is the elegance of Bandol – with the Mourvèdre – with spice and length
2008 La Clape Classique blanc - £9.99
A blend of 50% Bourboulenc, with Grenache blanc and Roussanne, and a drop of Marsanne. It has spent four to five months on the lees, with regular bâttonage, but no fining of filtering. You could almost think that it has been in wood as there is a certain mouth feel and structure; the grapes are picked pretty late, the Bourboulenc as late as the end of October. Arnaud described it as a rustic grape, almost the white equivalent of Mourvèdre, as it gives some tannic structure to the white wine, while the Grenache provides body and fruit, and as for Marsanne and Roussanne, they provide ‘the salt and pepper’, a touch of spice
2006 La Clape Grand Vin, blanc - £13 - £15
From 40% Bourboulenc, 60 year old vines and fermented in vat, with 20% each of Grenache, Roussanne and Marsanne, fermented in wood. The oak is very well integrated, and the wine has wonderful texture, with layers of flavours and concentration. I found a touch of fennel on the palate, and a lovely intriguing finish.
2009 La Clape Rosé Classique - £9.99
From Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Grenache, mainly pressed juice, rather than saigné, so that it is a pretty pale colour, with some lovely fresh fruit, and good body on the palate.. A lovely refreshing, but satisfying summer drink.
And then we finished with something very intriguing. Oorain-Vintage 2006. 19.00€ Eric gave it to me to taste, admitting that it was not made purely from grapes. I detected figs, dates, dried apricots – it was lower in alcohol and more elegantly refreshing than a Vin Doux Naturel – and absolutely delicious, and I was totally bemused – and confused. Arnaud explained. His cousin Oliver Orain works in Paris and has a luxury brand for coffee, chocolates and maple syrup – and he wanted a wine that would go with his chocolates, so they came up with this creation, a vin de table aromatisé, made from Syrah with little Grenache, with some maple syrup. Of course, once I knew it was maple syrup, I could taste it – I would have to say that, wouldn’t I? but it was remarkably successful, extremely more-ish and totally unexpected.