Tuesday, 27 July 2010

A WORLDWIDE SYNCHRONISED TASTING

Some one in the Maison du Languedoc had the bright idea of holding a “worldwide synchronised tasting”, so on a Monday morning in late June half a dozen of us were bidden to Cavendish Square to taste six wines that Dominique Laporte, one of France’s better known (but not to me) sommeliers considers to be amongst the best of the Languedoc. Things got off to a slow start as the direct TV link with Montpellier was proving a bit problematic. We were told that some 90 journalists from 24 countries, from Shanghai to Rio, would also be tasting the same wines, at 11 a.m. local time.

I am always intrigued to see what is suggested for ‘best’. It’s a problematic term, as much depends on your mood, not to mention tasting conditions, weather, place, time. On a grey summer morning in London the following acquitted themselves pretty well.

First off was 2007 Crémant de Limoux, Grande Cuvée 1531, Sieur d’Arques, a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc and just 10% Mauzac, given 24 months on lees. This is one of the best cuvées of the large Limoux coop, which has been in the press recently for all the wrong reasons. 1531 is the date of the first written mention of sparkling wine in Limoux, and predates Dom Pérignon by several years. The colour was light, with a fine bead. It was delicately creamy on the nose, and more so on the palate, with good acidity and a fresh elegant finish. There was not much evidence of yeast autolysis. There is a lot to be said for sparkling Limoux, Blanquette or Crémant. I would far rather drink it than indifferent champagne. For a start the grapes are much riper than in northern France so you should always get some nice creamy fruit on the palate, while avoiding any sharp edges of acidity. £8.99 from The Wine Company in Colchester.

Onto a white blend. 2008 Cigalus from Gérard Bertrand, a Vin de Pays d’Oc produced from his vineyards in Corbières. He is one of the big, relatively new players in the Languedoc. His father was one of the first to age his wine in barriques in the 1970s, a step that was quite revolutionary at the time. Gérard is a rugby player turned vigneron and now one of the largest vineyard owners of the region, with Château de l’Hospitalet in la Clape outside Narbonne, and other estates scattered throughout the region.

The wine is mainly Chardonnay, with 15 – 20% Viognier, and just 5% of Sauvignon. The nose was quite fresh, with a touch of oak, and more on the palate, which was ripe and rounded, with a dry streak on the finish. Both the Chardonnay and Viognier were aged in oak and spend five or six months on the lees. We were told that the aim was very ripe fruit. We were only given an ex cellar price of 20€, but no retail price. So the wine is not cheap.

Next was a rosé 2009 Fruité Catalan, a Côtes du Roussillon from the Vignerons Catalans in Perpignan. Again there are no retail UK stockists, and the retail price in France would be 4.00€. The blend is 60% Syrah, with Grenache and Carignan and the wine is saigné. The colour was quite deep, as you would expect, with strawberry and raspberry fruit; the palate was quite rounded with some ripe fruit and sufficient balancing acidity. So both refreshing and mouth filling – a food rosé.

I was pleased to see that for the red wine, there was an estate that I had never heard of, namely Domaine Dromadaire, from Aigues Vives, in the Gard, with the postal code of 30670, which the Goellner and Redon families use on their labels. We tasted 30670 Cuvée 2006, Vin de Pays d’Oc, a blend of 60% Syrah and 40 % Grenache, with a retail price in France of 8.60€. And pretty good it was too. I was less convinced by the nose which was a touch viandé, while the palate had some berry fruit, with some firm leathery notes, a touch of minerality and a firm streak of tannin. The finish was warm and sturdy. Not the best red wine I have had from the Languedoc, but a intriguing and original wine from a little known estate.

We finished with a dessert wine, a 2006 Muscat de Frontignan from Mas de Madame, which was also new to me. It was light golden in colour, with an elegant, lemony Muscat nose and the palate was rich, honeyed and intense, with the slightly bitter finish that is characteristic of Muscat. This is a family estate, with 45 hectares of vines, all of them Muscat, which makes them the largest independent producer of the appellation, with a first vintage in bottle as recently as 2006. Apparently they make several different styles of Muscat, a late harvest with noble rot, as well as dry and sparkling Muscat.

In conclusion, a sympa way to spend an hour or so, and it is always good to discover a new producer or two.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

THE ANNUAL WINE SALON IN ANIANE

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.

Friday, 23 July 2010

AN OVERVIEW OF FAUGERES

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.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

AU FIL DU VIN

Those of us who are within easy reach of Clermont l’Hérault are spoilt in having access to one of the best wine shops in the Languedoc – Au Fil du Vin – on the main esplanade of the town. Mokhsene Diouf is a charming Senegalese with a devastating smile and an astute palate. He is also a close and attentive follower of the Languedoc wine producers and invariably a good source of new discoveries. The first time we visited his shop, we popped in for a bottle of rosé for lunch, and emerged half an hour later with two cases of wine for our house warming party. We have been regular customers ever since and have never been disappointed in his selection.

Wednesday is market day in Clermont l’Hérault and a visit to Mokhsene after the market has become something of a ritual. He is always generous with offering a taste of a new wine and yesterday was no exception. Our aperitif was a glass of Domaine de Fabregues, Vin de Pays d’Oc l’Orée, a blend of Clairette and Grenache Blanc. The nose was delicate, and palate nicely rounded, with some intriguing notes of white fruit in an understated way – Clairette never packs a punch of flavour – and there was a touch of ripeness, rather than sweetness, on the finish. It was beautifully harmonious – and just 6.00€ a bottle. It was to be said that Mokhsene is the consummate salesman, in the nicest possible way – inevitably we came away with some bottles.

He has now turned part of his shop into a wine bar, offering tapas as well as wine by the glass and bottle, and with the arrival of summer, has taken over his part of the esplanade in front of the shop, so that you can now sip your wine under the shade of the large plane trees.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

SUNDAY AT DOMAINE DE LA CLAPIERE



There is no shortage of splendid wine entertainment in the Languedoc during the summer months, and countless opportunities to taste and discover new estates. So on Sunday, at a friend’s suggestion, we found ourselves at Domaine de la Clapière, a lovely old property just outside Montagnac, that was bought four years ago and substantially restored by Sophie and Xavier Palatsi. The occasion was a small gathering of wine producers, organised by Dominic George (no relation) who runs a wine club called Languedoc Select, selling the wines from some sixty growers in the Hérault, Gard and Aude. Visit www.languedoc-selection.com for more information. Dominic is an enterprising guy and also organises wine tours – www.languedoc-wine-tours.com

Sophie Palatsi at Domaine de la Clapière provided her lovely old barn – except that is not quite the right word as on one side it is open to a shady courtyard with mature plane trees. The wine growers were at one end, with wines for tasting and the rest of the barn was taken up with tables for a delicious buffet lunch.





It seemed polite to taste our host’s wine first All her wines are vins de pays, as her vineyards fall outside the appellation of the Languedoc, which seems rather illogical, given that Montagnac is one of the villages of Picpoul de Pinet. Her Rose Jalade 2009 was everything that good rosé should be; it is mainly Cinsaut, with a little Syrah and Carignan and a drop of Cabernet Sauvignon. The colour is a delicate pink, with some rounded ripe strawberry fruit. At 4.50 € I thought it fantastic value.

I liked her red 2009 Jardin de Jules too, also 4.50€, and asked who Jules was, to be told it was the name of the plot of vines, not her father or son. The wine is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Carignan, with some ripe cassis hints on the nose, and supple tannins and ripe fruit on the palate. It was aged in vat, which makes it engagingly supple on the palate.

2007 Gatefer, a Merlot - Cabernet Sauvignon blend was too oaky on the palate for my taste, and 2006 Etincelle, a pure Syrah, was dense and concentrated. She made just 3000 bottles, with a yield of 15 hl/ha. The wine was rich and oaky after a good year in barrel, with ripe rounded fruit, so that it promised well after some bottle ageing.

Domaine Jordy was another new estate for me, at Loiras, a village between Clermont l’Herault and Lodève. M. Jordy’s 2009 Viognier Vin de Pays de l’Herault is lightly peachy, with fresh acidity for 6.20€ I also liked the 2009 rosé, a Coteaux du Languedoc, blend of 80% Syrah, with some Grenache and Carignan. It was quite mouth filling with ripe strawberries and fresh acidity on the palate. And we finished with the Tentation red, Terrasses du Larzac 2008, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan at 7.20€. The nose was ripe and spicy with certain freshness on the palate. It is drinking beautifully now.

Jorge Masiakiewicz from Domaine St. Ferréol at Nizas was showing a pair of Viognier and disproving a theory that Viognier does not age well. His 2007 Viognier Vin de Pays d’Oc was ripe and peachy with some integrated oaky notes and a rounded finish. 8.00€ His 2006 Viognier had filled out so that the palate was much richer and fuller. The effect of an extra year’s bottle age was quite dramatic.

Simon Coulshaw from Domaine des Trinités in Roquessels was there too, and also Deborah and Peter Core from Mas Gabriel in Caux, but as I am doing cellar visits with them next week, we said hallo, but I didn’t taste. Watch this space for another posting.

Monday, 19 July 2010

THE TERRASSES DU LARZAC WALK around St. Jean de Fos

I think the Languedoc sunshine is sapping my energy levels, or at least making me put my blog rather low down on the list of urgent things to do, such as dip in the pool, open a bottle of rosé, have another swim; visit local market to buy goodies for dinner; see friends ….. both from here and elsewhere. Tomorrow promises an invasion of New Zealanders.

However, on the first Saturday of the month we did find the energy to participate in the Terrasses du Larzac walk. This is an annual event, held in early July, in a different part of the appellation each year. This year we walked round the village of St. Jean de Fos, which is also known for its pottery. The walking was gentle, less scenic than last year, as you never completely lost sight of the village, which has spawned an overly generous amount of ugly new housing. The church dominates the historic centre of the circulade village.

There were two chefs sharing the six courses, Fabienne Perret from Mas Cambounet in Gignac and Calixte Rousse from La Pourpre et les Oliviers in St. Jean de Fos – and we were certainly well fed, as well as enjoying numerous wines. As always this is a great way to see a large number of wine growers, each manning a barrel. Tasting conditions are not ideal – we set out at 7 o’clock and it was a warm sultry evening – but those who had thought to chill their red wines, as well as their whites and roses, offered some enjoyable drinking and tasting.

At the first stop we enjoyed a tartine de fricandeau du mas et pain paysan and the vinous highlights included:

2008 Enfant Terrible from Domaine d’Archimbaud. Based on Mourvèdre with some Syrah and Grenache Noir, with some ripe fresh fruit, after two years ageing in vat.

2007 Mas des Chimères, Terrasses du Larzac, made Guilhem Dardé, who has the best moustache on the French side of the Channel. This had some firm oak on the nose, with youthful tannins balanced by ripe fruit on the palate. It is young and needs time.

2008 Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette, les Clapas, made by Julien Zernott, was firm and structured with some mineral fruit. It is a blend of Carignan and Grenache, combining the best of both varieties.

It was a gentle stroll on to a tulipe de légumes, with tapenade and brebis. Mas Fabregous was showing Le Rosé de Juliette 2009, mainly from pressed Grenache grapes. It was a pretty delicate colour, fresh with herbal hints, elegant with a certain weight on the finish, and quite delicious on a warm summer’s evening. Mas de l’Erme is new to me, I liked their Mourvèdre, Cinsaut Grenache blend for their rosé. Again the colour was delicate, with appealing weight and fruit on the palate. And for reds, La Reserve d’O 2008 caught my attention, with some peppery fruit and firm young tannins.

Aspic de lapereau à la coriandre et aux condiments was the next stop. Domaine des Tremières outside Nébian was showing their 2009 rosé Allegresse, a blend of Syrah and Grenache, with full ripe fruit. The vat is bled so the colour is quite rich, and the wine fills the mouth.

Capitelles des Salles, 2008 Hommage, made by Estelle Salles – see my posting of last summer - was ripe and rounded, with a firm oaky streak, promising some future potential.

Fricassée de veau fermier, légumes croquants, médaillon de riz aux lentilles corail was our next course. And the star wine was Mas Cal Demoura l’Infidele 2007, with some refreshing elegance. It was beautifully balanced and very harmonious, with some appealing fresh red fruit.

I also enjoyed le Clos du Serres La Blaca 2008 from Sébastien Fillon, with its deep colour, rich oaky fruit on the nose, with ripe fruit on the palate, and a long finish and plenty of promise.

2007 Domaine de Familongue Trois Naissances, a blend of all five Midi grape varieties, was ripe and rounded, with some spicy fruit, and a touch of oak on the nose.

The walk ended in the Place de la Mairie in the heart of village where the last two courses were served. The cheese course was some pélardons des chevriers de l’Hérault. 2009 Domaine de Malavieille Alliance from Roussanne went very well with the goats cheese, with some appealing herbal notes. Domaine Sauvageonne Pica Broca 2008 had some fresh spicy red fruit and an attractive mouthfeel.

And to accompany the Gazpacho de fruits rouges, pain d’epices au romarin and chocolate there were just two dessert wines. Mas Jullien’s La Méjanne 2006 from passerillé grapes was the star, with fresh lemon and honeyed fruit, with fresh acidity. Olivier Bellet from Le Clos Riveral drew the short straw, as his rich red Le Rocher des Cistes 2008 was paired with the dessert. It is mainly Syrah and was rich, ripe and dense, and promised beautifully, but not with pudding. By now the light was falling, to the extent that it was impossible to appreciate the wares of the local potters and the wind was getting up, so it was time to turn for home.

Friday, 2 July 2010

ROC D'ANGLADE



First of all apologies for having neglected my blog for the best part of a month. What can I say? I was confronting a new decade and seemed to spend a large part of the month in a state of distraction and celebration. But now life has returned to normal and we are back in the Languedoc, enjoying the summer sunshine, and cooling wine cellars.

Roc d’Anglade in the village of Langlade between Nimes and Montpellier came onto my radar a while ago, but it was only recently that I got the chance to visit the estate. Rémy Pedreno is an intriguing guy; unusually for someone who is now so enthusiastic about wine, he did not touch a drop for the first 22 years of his life, even though his parents were regular consumers. His first job was in IT, with a project for the Maison des Vins in Tavel and it was a bottle of Vacqueyras les Amouriers that sparked off his enthusiasm, his first grande emotion, as he put it.

He made his very first wine in 1996 from some bunches of Carignan, just enough for one barrel. The following year he rented 30 ares of Syrah and produced four barrels, in his parents’ garage. And in 1999 he went into partnership with René Rostaing from Côte Rôtie who was looking for vines with which to improve his vin de table, which he makes in addition to his appellation wines. The solution was four hectares in the village of Langlade, and the two worked together, with Rostaing giving Pedreno carte blanche for four vintages. Meanwhile Pedreno started buying vineyards, and in 2002 made his first wine from his own vines. He now has ten hectares, six in the village of Langlade and four nearby, in ten plots, broken down into 40 per cent Syrah, and 20 per cent each of Carignan, Grenache and Mourvèdre. In 2001 he constructed a simple cellar adjoining his house outside the village.

Technically Langlade is now part of the Languedoc terroir of Sommières, but nobody bothers to put it on the label. However it has a long history of wine production and a reputation for quality. In 1868 there were 625 inhabitants and 600 hectares of vineyards; it became a VDQS in 1945, but that did not transfer into a cru of the Coteaux du Languedoc in 1985. However, along with Roc d’Anglade there is a handful of serious wine producers around the village.

Remy Pedreno is a combination of modesty and confidence, and displays commitment and dedication. He has studied, ‘so that I know what not to do’. He never analyses his grapes, only tastes them and he states very firmly that he makes wine according to his own taste. And he only makes one red wine from his vines, taking time to get the right blend each year. His vines are on a mosaic of different terroirs, with sand, clay, alluvial soil and some vines face north. The main thing is enjoyment; he is not looking for concentration in his wines, but sheer drinking pleasure. Wine is after all made to be drunk and enjoyed.

His vineyards are organic, but not biodynamic; everything is handpicked; he uses natural yeast and keeps the sulphur levels as low as possible. And the wines are aged in barrel, but in larger wood, rather than small barriques. He considers the wines of the Languedoc too rich for barriques; barriques are better for less ripe wines, with less concentration. I think he has a point. And he enthused about Carignan; ‘it’s the Pinot Noir of the Languedoc, a fabulous variety’. His Carignan vines are quite old, between 60 and 30 years. There are no rules in the final blend; he observes how each variety evolves, but may begin blending in the fermentation vat, with the final blend after about twelve months.




Our tasting began with
2009 Rosé, Vin de Pays du Gard
60% Mourvèdre, 30% Carignan, with some Grenache and Syrah. The grapes are pressed and the colour is a delicate pelure d’oignon, or onion skin pink.. The wine is elegant but powerful, nicely rounded in the palate, but not too heavy, and very satisfying.

Then we tried the 2006, with the same blend. It was very intriguing, with a little more colour and quite a nutty nose, and on the palate, hints of almonds, citrus fruit and honey, with some refreshing acidity.

Some barrel samples came next – a perfumed Syrah, with fresh peppery flavours; a Carignan blended with a little Mourvèdre, with some mineral notes and lively red fruit. 2009 is a very good vintage in Langlade. A pure Carignan had the elegant rusticity that I associate with the variety.

And then we tried the 2008 Coteaux du Languedoc – 31€
It had just been bottled so the nose was quite closed. It was firm and peppery, with an elegant balance of tannin and acidity, with minerality and fruit and a refreshing finish, with 12.5º alcohol. Pedreno observed that 2008 is the coolest vintage since 1996 and declared adamantly that he does not like overripe flavours.
Next we tried the 2007, with some viandé hints on the nose, and a rounded palate. The Syrah contributed some Syrah spice and the Carignan adds some white pepper. There were some mineral notes and an elegant balance and finish. Then we were treated to 2003. Picking for this began on 26th August. There were some warm notes, but it was certainly not heavy or overly rich. In fact it was delicious. This was the first vintage for which Pedrono used no barriques at all, just demi-muids. My notes mention elegance, herbal, leathery, white pepper – lovely and long.

He related his experience in Gigondas with Yves Gras from Domaine Santa Duca. They agreed to make a wine together in 2008, so he went over to Gigondas on 10th September to select the grapes. After a day of tasting grapes, the choice was made and Yves said: when shall we pick? In a month’s time, as usual? ‘No, tomorrow’ was Pedreno’s response. The wine was already at a potential 14 º. It was fermented in a concrete vat and then matured in 40 hls foudres and is a blend of 60 % Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre with some Syrah and Cinsaut. It had just been bottled, so the new wood was still quite apparent, but there was also fresh raspberry fruit, with an elegant balance of acidity and tannin. As it happened we had been with friends in Gigondas the previous week, and the difference was palpable. Here was an elegant Gigondas. A week earlier I would have thought that an oxymoron. 28€

Pedreno also has access to some Chenin blanc that was planted in the mid-80s by Henri Arnal, one of the pioneering wine growers of Langlade. It is fermented in demi-muids, just 20 % new, and spends 18 months in wood. There is a touch of oak on the nose of the 2008, with hints of orange peel and citrus fruit and some dry honey. It was very intriguing. 25.50€

And in 2003 he made a dessert wine, a vin de table called Mitis, from raisined Chenin grapes, which were picked a month later, with the intention of making a soft wine, not liquoreux, with 60 gms/l of residual sugar. It was very intense with notes of barley sugar and quince paste and rounded on the finish, with an elegant balance of sugar and fruit, and some refreshing acidity. It was so good that I found myself unable to spit. Vous avez craché dedans – spat internally –or swallowed, Pedreno observed.