I had an immersion in Faugères on Tuesday morning – I had missed a tasting earlier in the year of current vintages, as well as the Fete de Faugeres the previous week, and luckily for me, two leading French journalists, Michel Smith and André Domine had requested a re-play, so I tagged along too, along with a couple of visiting New Zealand friends, Ivan and Chris Donaldson, who were pioneer producers in Waipara in the mid-1980s. Ivan made the very first vintage of Pegasus Bay in his garage in 1985well before the term garagiste was coined in Bordeaux. But back to Faugères.
The first session of the morning was in the beautifully restored cellars of the Château de Chenaie in the pretty village of Caussiniojouls
Brigitte Chevalier from Domaine de Cebène was showing:
2008 Bancels – mainly Syrah with Grenache and Mourvèdre, aged in vat. Good colour; ripe spicy fruit on the nose. And on the palate there were rounded, supple tannins providing a good structured backbone, balanced with ripe fruit.
2009 Felgaria – Mourvèdre is the dominant variety here, with Syrah and Grenache. 2009 was a very healthy but small vintage. This has some lovely perfumed fruit. It was riper and more fleshy than Bancels, and was bottled just two weeks ago, so is packed with potential.
2008 Felgaria. I was more aware of the oak here, not that it was overdone, as the wine spent from November to July in 500 litre barrels. The firm tannins were balanced by lovely perfumed fruit, with an elegant finish.
Domaine la Borie Fouisseau in Laurens was new to me. Véronique Vaquer Bergan explained that she took over the estate in 2004. It was already organic and she has kept it that way.
2007 Salamandre, a blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Cinsaut and 10% each of Carignan and Syrah, was aged in vat. The nose was solid and dense, almost chocolatey in its intensity. And on the palate the flavours were ripe, with a balancing edge of tannin and a satisfying mouth feel.
2007 Garance, from Mourvèdre with just 15% Carignan was aged in wood for 12 months. I thought this had good potential, with a rich powerful nose, and some ripe fruit, as well as an oaky streak on the palate. The oak was well-judged, so that the wine had an elegant finish. Plenty of potential.
Highlights from Chateau Chenaie, made by Eric Chabert included his 2009 Conviction blanc, a blend of 70%- 80% Roussanne, with some Rolle. It was fresh and elegant, with some herbal notes and hints of white flowers. The wine is still very young and will fill out after a year’s bottle ageing.
The 2008 Conviction rouge is a blend of Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, aged in vat. It has some spicy fruit with a touch of leathery and a balancing streak of tannin. Nicely judged.
His other red wines are aged in oak; Les Douves 2006 is dense and structured and needs time: L'Oblivia 2004, mainly Mourvèdre with a drop of Syrah, had more integrated oak on the palate, after some bottle age. It is dense and rounded. Les Ceps d’Emile, after his grandfather, who planted the vineyard, which is mainly 80 year old Carignan, was also dense and oaky but promises well. This is a serious estate, with meticulously crafted wines.
I have long had a soft spot for the wines of Domaine Ollier-Taillefer and it is always fun to taste with Françoise Ollier. They were badly hit by hail the week before the vintage in 2008 and this shows in the wines. Françoise explained that they left the fruit on the vines to benefit from the sunshine that came afterwards, but that concentrated not only the sugars, but also the acidity. Consequently I did not find Les Collines as harmonious as in other vintages. In contrast 2007 Castel Fosibus, from 50% Syrah with Grenache, and Mourvèdre was showing delicious, with some peppery notes on the nose and a rounded ripe palate, with a youthful tannic structure. And the white 2009 Allegro, from Roussanne and Rolle was everything that it should be with intriguing herbal flavours and lots of different nuances on the palate. We drank the 2008 for dinner later that evening, and it had filled out beautifully in the mouth.
Château des Peyresgrandes is the property of Marie-Geneviève Boudal. Her 2009 rosé from Syrah and Grenache has spent three months in oak, with some lees stirring, which fills out the mouth beautifully, so that you are simply not aware of the oak. It was beautifully balanced and very satisfying. I loved her rosé, but was less taken with her reds.
Jean-Michel Mege from Domaine de la Reynardière was showing three red wines; Tradition, Cuvée Prestige and Cuvée Fût de Chêne, but I found these lacked fruit and body and in the case of the last cuvée, the oak overwhelmed the fruit.
And then we headed off to the tasting caveau of the Faugères cooperative, for the next session of the morning. Here there were some more estates that were new to me. First off was François Claudette from Domaine de l’Ancienne Mercerie, with a full-bodied rosé, mainly from Cinsaut with 20% Mourvèdre. 2008 les Petits Mains was a touch reduced on the nose, with a riper palate, while 2008 Couture, to continue the sewing theme, as a mercerie is a haberdashers, was rounded and ripe with a touch of oak.
Domaine Balliccioni is another new (to me) estate – André Balliccioni’s first vintage was in 1998, and he is based in Autignac. His rosé is easy and ripe; his 2008 Tradition – he escaped the hail – makes for easy drinking ,with ripe fruit and a touch of pepper. Kalliste – a blend of Syrah and Carignan with 10 % Grenache has been partially aged in 500 litre barrels. The oak is well integrated, with ripe fruit and a balanced finish. The name recalls M. Balliccioni’s Corsican origins.
Pierre Jacquet from Domaine Binet-Jacquet was showing a couple of red wines. His first vintage was 2001. I found his wines less harmonious than some, with quite dense oak on the Reserve and not quite enough fruit to balance it.
Cedric Saur was showing the wines of his own estate. His father Jean Luc Saur of Château Haut-Fabregues was one of the pioneers of Faugères, who I visited back in the mid-1980s. Since 2004 Cedric has been making his own wine, from 13 hectares at Lentheric and Caberolles under the name La Grange de l’Aïn, which is the name of a spring.
2009 was his first vintage for white, La Combe du Prunier, a blend of Vermentino, Marsanne and Roussanne, which he had fermented in oak. It was ripe and round and texture, with a good balance of acidity and well-integrated oak.
2008 Le Cedre, from Grenache with 20 % Carignan, had been aged in 400 litre barrels for 8 months. It was quite solid and dense, with a fresh edge, and need time.
2007 Le Penchant du Cerisier, the opposite blend of the previous wine, with 80% Carignan to 20% Grenache has spent two years in barrels. It is dense and ripe, with some solid oak, and an intense finish. It needs time to soften its edges.
I was delighted to have the chance of an update on Domaine Cottebrune. Arnaud Barthe, who I met last summer, is now working for Château des Estanilles and Maxime Secher is now running Cottebrune for Pierre Gaillard.
The 2009 rosé is a blend of all five varieties of the appellation. The Carignan and Cinsaut are pressed and the rest run off the vat. The colour is quite deep with some ripe mouth filling strawberry fruit.
2007 Transhumence from Grenache and Syrah, with 14 months barrels aging, is solid and dense with ripe fruit and a concentrated palate. It is youthful and needs time, but promises well with a long harmonious finish.
2007 Parole du Berger, from Syrah with 20 % Grenache and Mourvèdre, has spent 12 months in wood, with more new wood, than for Transhumence.. It is ripe and rich, with youthful spicy fruit. Again it demands bottle ageing. They will produce their first white wine in 2010.
Of the four wines that Alexandre Fouque from La Tour Penedesses was presenting, I liked his Coteaux du Languedoc Pézenas, Montée des Grès,best. It was quite intriguing as it is made from raisined grapes, rather like an Amarone, only the grapes were dried on the vine, rather than in the cellar. They are Grenache Noir, with 10% Counoise, and the wine is fermented and aged in barrel. It was ripe and rounded, full and rich, with hints of chocolate, and quite original for the south of France.
I’ve not tasted the wines from Mas Gabinelle before. Their first vintage was in 1998 and the cellar is in the village of Faugères. The 2008 white is pure Grenache Gris, and a Vin de Pays de l’Hérault, rather than a Faugères. A third of the grapes are fermented in oak; the flavour is full and herbal, with some nicely integrated oak and a streak of fresh acidity.
Thierry Rodriguez also makes a pure Cinsaut, again a vin de pays. Medium colour ,with ripe spicy cherries on nose and palate, with ripe rounded, easy fruit. He only gives it a short maceration, in order to retain the fruit. I preferred his 2008 to his 2007 Faugères; it was quite firm and structure, and 2008 Rarissime which has been in new oak for 16 months was quite dense and solid, with enough fruit to balance the rather furry tannins. It needs time.
Mas d’Alézon is one of my favourite Faugeres, the wine of Catherine Roque who had already created a reputation for finely crafted Pinot Noirs at Domaine de Clovallon. Her 2008 Monfallette is a blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache, with some appealing spicy rounded fruit, making an elegant harmonious whole.
It’s been a while since I’ve tasted the wines of Château la Liquière. The 2009 rosé les Amandiers, is mainly Cinsaut with some Grenache and Mourvèdre. It is ripe and rounded.
The 2009 les Cistes blanccomes from Grenache, Roussanne and Rolle, of which 30% is fermented in oak. There is a touch of oak in the palate, but enough balancing fruit, with a nicely rounded finish. The 2009 les Amandiers rouge, 25% each of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre, is ripe and rounded, just lovely supply fruit, what the French call gourmand.
2007 Nos racines, is mainly Carignan, that is almost centenaire, plus some Grenache and Mourvèdre, all aged in vat, to give some intense smoky fruit, with notes of the garrigues and a touch of chocolate. It is very supple, but also packs a punch of flavour. And 2007 Les Cistes rouge, is mainly Syrah, a third of which has been in oak. It has a firm backbone, with a tannic streak, and is balanced with rounded perfumed fruit.
And finally the cooperative of Faugeres, les Crus Faugères, which has recently amalgamated with the coop of Laurens, was showing a small selection of its 40 odd different wines. They seemed to favour the oakier wines of their range. The white, Terrasses de Rieutor, from Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache, has ginger notes on the nose and palate. Mas Olivier rose was ripe and easy. 2007 Baron Ermengaud was quite dense and solid with some spice, while Mas Olivier 2008 had some dry oak on the palate. 2007 L’Expression Mas Olivier, from a selection of grapes, was richer and denser, with the oak filling out the palate quite successfully. As they were on the day, Les Fonts de Caussiniojouls, Ch. Roch de Laurens and Terrasses du Rieutor, were all well made, but the fruit was largely overwhelmed by the use of oak. Of course time may well sort that out.
So in conclusion a fascinating range of different Faugeres, of all three colours. Some very successful wines – the best depend upon the lovely fruit of the garrigues; the least successful suffer from an ill-judged use of excessive oak.