I am not usually in the Midi during the second half of July, but this year is an exception, and so I had the chance to go to the annual wine salon in Aniane that groups together about thirty producers from the immediate surrounding area, namely Montpeyroux, St Saturnin and some Terrasses du Larzac estates. This year it took place in the Chapelle des Pénitents, a large airy deconsecrated chapel, which made a surprisingly good tasting space.
There were familiar names amongst the thirty growers and some that were quite unknown to us – I was with my friend Lits Philippou, who is as keen on discovering new wine growers as I am. He helps run a welcoming chambres d’hôtes at Domaine de Broussan in La Tour-sur-Orb and is very much involved in wine education, introducing wine lovers to the delights of the Languedoc, and elsewhere. See www.vinetude.com My husband, who enjoys drinking wine, but is less keen on large tastings, had elected to remain by the swimming pool with his book.
So Lits and I decided to concentrate on new (to us) wine growers – and that tactic resulted in two exciting discoveries.
DOMAINE FONS SANATIS at St. Jean de Fos. Benoit Braujou labels all his wine as vin de table and is disparagingly dismissive of the legal controls of the French wine industry. He created his cellar in 2003 and now has seven hectares of vines. With vin de table, no vintage is allowed on the label, but he overcomes that problem with a lot number, 20.08 and so on. He is in the process of converting to biodynamic viticulture.
20.09 B…d’Aniane is a pure Vermentino, and quite resinous on the nose and palate as it is made in an oxidative style. It has spent six months in oak. It was quite intriguing, but not for those wanting a fresh dry wine. 20€
20.08 Couderen - 10.00€ Pure Merlot, with 18 months in wood. This is quite solid, dense and ripe, with good supporting fruit. The tannins are quite furry and the wine almost sweet on the finish, with plumy cassis fruit. A bordelais grape variety can sometimes seem quite out of place in a tasting of southern French, but I thought that it had plenty of potential and needed bottle age.
20.08 Witiza – 12€ A pure Carignan with 18 months barrel ageing. The oak dominates the palate, so that it is quite tannic, but there is good ripe fruit underneath, with a rich finish. Again bottle ageing is essential.
20.08 Gren’H - 14€ Medium colour. A rich spicy fruit on the nose and palate, ripe and rounded, with a tannic streak. This has been both vinified and aged in wood, in a tronconique vat. And I thought it very successful.
20.08 Senescal, L’Art Amont, in other words the much decried Aramon grape variety, which I am not sure that I have ever tasted before, and certainly not one of this stature. The wine does not spend any time in wood as it is already tannic enough with some firm berry fruit and a rounded spicy note on the nose. Again lots of potential, and an appealing originality. 16€
Definitely an estate to visit. Tasting conditions were not ideal as the ambient temperature was warming the wines, but they came across as having some intriguing originality, and made by someone with passion and flair.
Our other discovery was Les Chemins de Carabotte in Saint André-de-Sangonis. Jean-Yves Chaperon made his first wine in 2005; he has six hectares in six different plots, three of Syrah, one Grenache and two Carignan.
2006 Vin de Pays de la Mont Baudile – 6.50€
A pure Carignan with some rounded, dry cherry fruit on the palate. In contrast the nose was a little closed, and less expressive. It has been aged in vat and is an appealing example of Carignan, showing why that grape variety deserves better recognition, and appreciation.
2006 Coteaux du Languedoc – 11€ A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, again without oak. The palate is quite firm and dense with peppery fruit, and an elegant finish. Plenty of potential and finely crafted.
2005 Terrasses du Larzac, 19.00€ From 50% Syrah with Grenache and Carignan. This has spent eighteen months in oak, and is still quite solidly dense and tannic, but with good underlying fruit. I would like to see how it develops in bottle.
(2006)Promenade en Novembre, from Grenache that was left to dry on the vines and picked in November. It is a vin de table, so again no vintage allowed. The nose has slight hints of Bovril, with some sweet ripe fruit, hints of chocolate, and a touch of oak, and a fresh dry finish. It was appealingly original – think a Midi Amarone. 14.€ for 50cl.
There were other highlights.
On Virgile Joly’s stand, there was the first wine of his associate, Christopher Johnson Gilbert, an English solicitor, namely a 2009 rosé, a blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah, made by Virgile. It was ripe and rounded, redolent of strawberries on the palate, with some refreshing acidity, and a touch of sweetness on the finish. 7.00€
I also enjoyed Virgile’s two whites too, Saturne blanc, with some herbal notes and the fuller richer, Virgile white.
Domaine Familongue’s pure Cinsaut, Mas des Vignals 2009 had some lovely fresh cherry fruit; it was supple and spicy and eminently drinkable. Very gourmand.
Whether it was something to do with the ambient temperature on a warm summer’s day, I found that many of the wines that had been aged in oak were much less appealing than those that had escaped barrel ageing. It seems that there is a tendency to put the so-called better cuvées in wood, without any consideration as to whether there is enough fruit to balance the oak. Many of the so-called cuvées prestiges seemed over-oaked and leached of fruit. More appealing were wines made for immediate appeal. The same comment would also apply to some of the white wines. I found that some whites that I have enjoyed in the past seemed to have been given more oak treatment in recent vintages, to the detriment of the fruit, and the intriguing blends that abound in the Midi.
However, lighter reds that I enjoyed, include: Domaine Puech Anger, les Faïsses de St. Jean in Montpeyroux is a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and a little Grenache – 5.80€ It had some fresh perfumed fruit on the palate and nose, lovely red fruit, principally cherries and was supple and gourmand.
Again 2008 Cuvée Jean from Domaine des Orjouls in St. Jean de Fos benefited from the lack of oak-ageing. It was quite soft with some dry spice. A blend of 60% Grenache Noir, 30% Syrah and 10% Carignan. 6.50€
Bernadette Rouquette from Domaine des Tremières in Nébian was showing a delicious Vin de Pays des Coteaux de Salagou, Rigoletto, a blend of Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsaut and Grenache. 5.60€ It was redolent of fresh young fruit, medium weight with spicy cherries and a fresh finish.
From Domaine des Conquêtes there was Guillaumette 2009, 6.00€ - a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Marselan, with fresh red fruits on the nose and ripe rounded fruit on the palate, a touch of spicy cherries and a streak of tannin. Just the thing on a summer’s day, when lightly chilled.
And for excellent value for money, the coop in Aniane was offering a Vin de Pay du Pont du Diable which provided simple easy drinking with a touch of pepper, for just 3.00€.
Cal Demoura were showing their range, a lovely ripe 2009 Qu’es Aquo rosé; 2009 L’Etincelle, 14.00€, a white vin de pays de l’Herault, with intriguing herbal notes, from Chenin blanc, with some Grenache blanc, Roussanne, and a little Muscat, Viognier and Petit Manseng. 2008 Paroles de Pierre was a variation on the blend with more weight and honey after a year in oak, with a richer mouth feel. 18.00
As for their reds, L’Infidèle 2007 was fresh, spicy and peppery with an elegant finish for 17.00€, while 2008 les Combariolles, Terrasses du Larzac, 21.00€, was more solid and tighter knit with some oak ageing. Feu Sacré, from old Grenache is not made every year, but the 2007 had some solid, concentrated fruit, with ripe flavours and a balance of tannin.
And to finish with a cautionary tale – if you are looking for lunch in Aniane, do avoid the café on the main street. Their idea of a palate of crudités in the middle of July is some limp lettice scattered with yesterday’s rice and some mayonnaise out of a bottle. As Virgile Joly observed, they are taking the tourists for a ride, and as for the idea of listing a local wine or two, apart from the coop’s carafe wine, forget it. A missed opportunity.