If you have not come across The Wine Gang, you should remedy that omission. They are a lively group of five wine writers – they rightly describe themselves as some of the UK’s most experienced wine critics, who issue a monthly report on the tastings that they have all attended during the month, with an editorial on whatever they consider to be the burning issue of the moment. Annual membership is £19.99. And they are Anthony Rose, Joanna Simon, Tom Cannavan and two new recruits to replace two resignations, Jane Parkinson and David Williams.
And at the end of November, they hold a Christmas fair which is well worth attending, as it is well supported by some of the leading merchants, generic bodies and importers, along with a series of tastings and seminars. I went along to listen to Jean-Claude Mas, who has been a key player in the Languedoc over the last decade or so. He is also a keen observer, and always has pertinent things to say about his region. This time he wanted to enthuse about the diversity of the Languedoc, likening it to a Rubik cube, in that there are so many factors that contribute to make the one successful whole.
He talked of the climate, the different winds, the grape varieties – they have as many as twenty-five in their vineyards, while thirty-three are allowed in the Pays d’Oc. The key is finding the perfect grape variety for the site, to make the perfect wine. Soil is a significant variable. You need to know your soil ‘and its life’; you must consider water, aspect, altitude, suitability of rootstock. Vineyard management and the age of the vines are other factors, while the excessive use of chemicals over the last fifty years provides an additional challenge. Jean-Claude suggested that different parts of the Languedoc are suited to different grape varieties, which is a determining factor, as well as market demand. Blending is another variant - and for that, there is no mathematical model. The accompanying tasting illustrated the diversity of the flavours of Syrah throughout the Languedoc; from pepper, to blackcurrant, to tapenade, and ripe fruit.
A selection of highlights, in no particular order:
2007 Corbières, Vieux Parc Selection - £11.25 Great Western Wine
Carignan dominates the blend. Quite firm fruit, leathery, ripe. olive tapenade. Very intriguing. Good depth of flavour.
2008 Corbières, Château Les Ollieux Romanis, Cuvée Pierre Bories - £8.50 R.S. Wines Ltd.
Good deep colour. Quite a firm dry leathery nose; a warm rugged palate, with dry warmth on the finish. Conjures up that wild Corbières countryside in a glass.
2006 Corbières, les Clos Perdus, Mire la Mire - £9.50 www.lescloseperdus.com
Firm stony mineral nose, and on the palate. Quite sturdy and tannic, with a stony minerality. Characterful.
2008 La Clape, Château d’Anglès, Classique Blanc - £9.99
This is one of my favourite wines from La Clape, 50% Bourboulenc, three traditional variety of the region, with fresh pithy salty fruit on both nose and palate. The vineyards are close to the sea, and you can taste the marine influence in the wine. A rounded finish and very appealing.
2007 la Clape, Chateau d’Anglès, Grand Vin Rouge - £15.99
A blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache. This is serious; a touch of oak on the nose, with a rounded concentrated palate, and a warm leathery note. Still very youthful, with plenty of ageing potential.
2009 Château Paul Mas, Clos des Mûres, Vin de Pays d’Oc, SyrahDeep colour; quite a perfumed nose, with some peppery notes on both nose and palate. Quite firm with some tannin and a touch of oak. Medium weight.
2008 St. Chinian Château la Dournie – Majestic £7.99
Lovely perfumed easy fruit – ripe and supple; easy drinking.
2009 Domaine Lafage, Cuvée Centenaire, Côtes du Roussillon blanc. – Bibendum - £10.74
Intriguing white, showing just how the white wines of the Midi are improving apace. Quite a structured palate, with body, weight and texture. Lots of depth, some floral fruit.
2008 Domaine Matassa Côtes Catalanes blanc. - £28.99 – les Caves de Pyrène
A structured oaky nose, and on the palate. Tight knit, mineral notes and firm acidity. It will be fascinating to see how this develops with bottle age.
2007 Bandol, Domaine Tempier - The Wine Society - £20
I couldn’t resist straying into Provence, as Tempier is one of my favourites, and this did not disappoint. Medium colour; quite a rounded nose, quite perfumed, with Mourvèdre viandé fruit. Very harmonious, elegant with supple tannins. Beautifully balanced, with ageing potential.
2009 Domaine de Simonet, Côtes de Pérignan, -£7.50 – The Wine Society.
With vineyards on La Clape. Pure Bourboulenc, with some fresh nettley, herbal fruit on both nose and palate. Fresh acidity and a rounded finish.
And I had better apologise for neglecting my blog over the past few days - I am embarrassed to realise that my last posting was two weeks ago. What can I blame - pressure of other deadlines; the snow; pre-Christmas chaos...... And with Christmas looming at the end of the week, I doubt that I shall post again until the New Year so may I wish you lots of good bottles from the Languedoc and elsewhere over the festive season.