As you may know, the powers that be of the Languedoc are introducing a system of grand vin and grand cru. You may well ask: what’s the difference? And which is better? I tried my husband out on that one – for a mere consumer, rather than a member of the wine trade, he knows quite a lot about the Languedoc. His answer was grand vin. Wrong. It’s grand cru. And you may well wonder what the difference is when you see that the relatively new Terrasses du Larzac is a grand cru, whereas Faugères, which was an appellation before the Coteaux du Languedoc, is a mere grand vin.
Apparently it is all to do with price and the amount of wine, or percentage of wine, sold in bulk, as opposed to bottle. So Faugères fails to meet the criteria for grand cru as its production is dominated by its cooperative, even though it also has lots of independent, dynamic and talented wine growers, but the cooperative ensures that the average price is too low for a grand cru. In contrast the Terrasses du Larzac has few cooperatives and lots of independent wine growers with high price aspirations. St. Chinian Roquebrun is another anomaly – at the tasting of grands crus that I have just attended, all five wines from Roquebrun came from the cooperative, but the price points are at the right level. Sadly there was no sign of any independent wine growers, such as Thierry Navarre.
So the list of grands crus is:
Minervois la Livinière,
St. Chinian Roquebrun
St. Chinian Berlou,
Terrasses du Larzac,
Grès de Montpellier
Pic St. Loup
the still white and some of sparkling wines of Limoux.
Grand vin covers Cabardès, Corbières, Faugères, Malepère, Minervois, St. Chinian, red and some sparkling wines from Limoux, all the sweet Muscats and some of the Coteaux du Languedoc terroirs or appellations – namely Picpoul de Pinet, Clairette du Languedoc, Sommières, Terrasses de Beziers, Quatourze, Cabrières, St. Saturnin, Montpeyroux, la Méjanelle, St. Georges d’Orques, St. Christol, St. Drézery and Verargues. And plain AC Languedoc remains at the bottom of the pyramid.
So this begs the question: do these new crus have particular distinguishing characteristics? The Comité des Vins du Languedoc organised a tasting in London last week to show some of these wines. It has to be said that they were a mixed bag – some areas – Pézenas, Terrasses du Larzac, Minervois la Livinière - acquitted themselves much better than others. I had serious doubts about some of the Pic St. Loup, and the wines from Grès de Montpellier were a hotch potch of flavours without any particular typicity.
But rather than dwelling on the dull, indifferent and boring – what did I actually like?
There was an intriguing range of wines from PEZENAS presented by Basile St. Germain who had also brought along some extra wines from his own estate, Domaine les Aurelles. His wines are finely crafted. And when I asked him what represented the tipicity of Pézenas he said, he didn’t know! That comment belied a shrewd response. Pézenas consists of 15 different villages and five different terroirs, villefranchien, basalt on villefranchien, grès, clay and limestone, and schist. If anything, Basile observed, the tipicity comes from the climate; it’s much drier around Pézenas during harvest time that in the Pic St. Loup, for instance. Really they are still looking for their tipicity and with the creation of the grands crus, they are trying to create something in the Languedoc, which it took Bordeaux 150 years or so to achieve. Whatever, it getting people tasting the wines and talking about the region, and that is no bad thing.
Carignan dominant with some Grenache. Medium colour. Quite an elegant nose, with ripe cherry fruit and a certain elegant maturity on the palate.
Quite dry firm fruit, matured and leathery on the palate. Quite a sturdy finish.
65% Mourvèdre, 20% Syrah and 15% Grenache. Medium colour. An elegant nose and quite a rounded palate with a combination of elegance and power. Quite sturdy and youthful, and still to develop.
2007 Aurel blanc
Pure Roussanne. Lovely elegant white blossom fruit on the nose, with considerable depth of flavour on the palate. Wonderfully satisfying. This is one of the great white wines of the Languedoc.
2008 Domaine de Nizas
50% Mourvèdre, 26% Grenache noir and 24% Carignan. Firm nose, a touch meaty and on the palate some rounded ripe fruit, with some tannin and quite a dense finish.
2007 Domaine Pech Rome
50% Grenache, 38% Syrah, 12& Carignan Quite a rounded red cherry nose. Medium weight, ripe fruit with some spice, and a touch confit, and concentrated on the finish.
2008 Domaine Turner Pageot, Charmina Major
70% Syrah and 30% Mourvèdre. Medium colour. Quite ripe fruit, with some oak on the nose. Youthful peppery notes on the palate, with some nicely crafted tannin, and some balancing oak. Quite an elegant long finish.
MINERVOIS LA LIVINIERE When I asked Isabelle at Château Ste Eulalie and Frank from Domaine la Rouviole for three words on tipicity they said: Freshness, complexity; altitude. And then added red and black fruit; ripe grapes; ageing potential. La Livinière is quite a compact area, contained in eight villages centred on La Livinière.
2009 Château Maris, la Touge
85% Syrah, 15% Grenache Noir. Quite ripe spice on the nose. Quite a rounded meaty leathery palate. Good fruit with a fine balance of tannin. A satisfying mouthful
£12.75 - Vintage Roots
2008 La Cantilène, Château Sainte Eulalie
55% Syrah, 25% Greanche, 20% Carignan The Wine Society - £11.50
Medium colour; quite firm elegant nose. Lightly smoky, closed palate. Youthful. Need to develop. A certain vigour on the finish. Very Minervois. – think of those wild hills.
2008 Château de Cesseras
77% Syrah, 12% Grenache, 11% Carignan Waitrose - £12.34; Berry Bros & Rudd £14.80
Medium colour; quite ripe confit, dense nose with some oak. Solid ripe fruit, with a certain sweet richness. Quite a chunky finish. Quite long.
Equal parts Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache. Terroir du Languedoc - £14.95
Medium colour; quite sold dense spicy nose. Some ripe peppery spice on the palate. Characterful. Quite dense and tannin. A good mouthful.
2007 Domaine des Aires Hautes, Clos de l’Escandil
50% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 30% Mourvèdre Deep young colour. Quite dense ripe tapenade nose, and on palate. Rounded, solid dense fruit and tannin with a chunky finish. Youthful.
2007 Domaine du Petit Causse, Cuvée Andréa
50% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 25% Carignan Quite a rounded nose with easy ripe fruit and a tannin steak. Less chunky than some. Nice balance.
2006 Domaine la Rouviole
75% Syrah, 25% Grenache Medium colour; quite solId ripe dense nose. Ripe spicy fruit with firm tannin, a solid mouthful, with tannin and freshness.
Tipicity in La Clape was described as power and freshness, thanks to the proximity of the sea. It is a dry windy climate, but the vines benefit from cool nights.
2007 Château d’Anglès blanc
40% Bourboulenc, 20% Grenache, Roussanne and Marsanne A lovely refreshing glass of white in a sea of reds. Firm nettly fruit and palate, a hint herbal. Good acidity; satisfying mouth feel and a refreshing finish.
2008 Château de Camplazans Premium
70% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 10% Carignan. Deep colour; ripe dense solid tapenade and oak on the nose. A very ripe warm palate with notes of tapenade and a firm tannic streak. Youthful and powerful
2008 Mas du Soleilla, les Bartelles
75% Syrah, 25% Grenache Medium colour. Some smoky oak. Nicely mouth filling; confit and concentrated without being over ripe. Rounded, with a smoky finish.
2009 Château l’Hospitalet réserve
40% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre Medium colour. Rounded spicy fruit on the nose, with more spice and cherries on the palate. Medium weight, with quite a sweet finish.
2008 Chateau des Karantes
50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre Deep colour; rounded ripe dense fruit, on nose and palate. Solid, dense, tannic and oaky. Needs time.
TERRASSES DU LARZAC - Here Béatrice and Sébastien Fillon emphasised the motto of the region – the generosity of the Languedoc combined with the freshness of the wine. The difference between day and night time temperatures makes for complexity, fruit and balance. It is also an area with many relatively new and highly motivated wine growers.
Domaine de Familongue, Les 3 Naissances
41% Syrah, 12% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache, 15% Carignan, 5% Carignan carbonic maceration, 7% Cinsaut. Good colour. Ripe nose; ripe rounded black fruit with a supple tannin bite. Supple, easy and accessible.
2008 Domaine de Montcalmès
60% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre The Wine Society - £19.00
Medium colour. Quite firm oak on the nose. Rich structured fruit with youthful tannins. Quite solid and tannic, with black fruit on the finish.
2009 Domaine le Clos du Serres, les Maros
61% Grenache, 22% Cinsaut 17% Carignan Stone Vine & Sun - £12..50
Medium colour; light cherry fruit. Very gouleyant. Elegant fruit, with light cherry fruit and a ripe finish. Nicely crafted, with the freshness of the Larzac. An absolute contrast with the richer warmer wines of La Clape.
2008 La Jasse Castel, les Combariolles
85% Grenache, 15% Syrah
Medium colour; quite a rounded ripe nose. Smoky fruit, with some cherry notes. Quite a firm tannin streak.
2008 Mas Cal Demoura, L’Infidèle
30% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, 15% Carignan, 10% Cinsaut £215 per case of 12 www. everywine.co.uk
Medium colour. Rounded nose, a touch of smoky oak. Elegant rounded fruit, and nicely crafted. Very satisfying
2008 Mas de la Séranne, Clos des Immortelles
30& Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, 20% Syrah, 20% Carignan Tanners of Shrewsbury- £14.20
Quite ripe black fruit and tapenade on the nose. Some firm tannins balancing the ripe palate. Quite concentrated and youthful. To develop.
2008 Mas Julien
Imported by Richards Walford. 30% Carignan, 40% Mourvèdre, 25% Syrah, 5% Grenache
Young colour. Quite a fresh closed nose. A youthful edge on the palate. More discreet than some, with elegant youthfulness and fresh fruit and acidity. Understated.
2008 Mas de Chimères
20% each of Cinsaut, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan Medium colour; quite a ripe rounded nose. Ripe tapenade palate, quite chewy with good fruit and body. Long finish.
And finally LIMOUX – the range here was dominated by the cooperative, with a couple of exceptions.
2009 Rives Blanques, Cuvée Occitanie
A pure Mauzac. £12.95 from Great Western Wine
Fresh fruit, with the characteristic bitter note of Mauzac. Some ripe pithy fruit. Lots of character, and much more original than yet another Chardonnay, which is the usual variety of white Limoux.
But having said that I did also enjoy:
2008 Domaine du Mouscaillo, Chardonnay
Light nose with a touch of oak. Nicely integrated oak on both nose and palate. Some attractive leesy fruit. Good depth of flavour. Finely crafted.
The various crus are gradually developing their distinguishing characteristics, but what the winemaker does also has an important impact, and for me that is really the crux of any buying decision: who made the wine, rather than La Clape or Pézenas. And then I flew down to Montpellier the following day, where a very well-informed source told me that there is no way that the INAO, which has the ultimate say on these matters, will contemplate the use of grand cru in the Languedoc........! We shall see.