Thursday, 31 March 2011

A PRUNING LESSON


It’s been a wet month of March in the Languedoc. We got down to our house last Saturday and apparently missed some monsoon conditions a week or so ago. Opinions varied as to whether 200 or 300 mls of water had fallen in three or four days. Whatever, that’s an awful lot of rain in a short space of time. In some places the rain was very violent and elsewhere more gentle, but still persistent. The vines are happy, and so are the vignerons, with water reserves looking good for the summer. But the rain also meant that everyone is behind with their pruning, so we had the chance of a pruning lesson with our friends, Deborah and Peter, at Mas Gabriel.




I might have answered a question on pruning for the MW exams, but it has certainly never made any sense. There is nothing quite like looking at a vine and working out just what you are doing to do to it. We were let loose, well, closely supervised on a small vineyard of old gobelet vines, Carignan with a few interloping Cinsaut. You can tell the difference; Cinsaut has a much straighter trunk and the shoots were thinner and more fragile than Carignan, which has wonderfully gnarled, twisted trunks. I looked at a vine, which needed a drastic prune and Deborah explained: you need to leave four shoots; if there are two side by side, you go for the lower shoot, but it also depends on its position in the vine and how other shoots will be affected; the shoots need to be spaced out, with at least a fist between each shoot, and then you cut, leaving just two buds per shoot. And after a while, I found I did get my eye in, and it did begin to make sense.




Some shoots are remarkably tough and resistant to normal secateurs, but Peter and Deborah also have electric secateurs. These cut through the thickest shoots with consummate and effortless ease, but they are potentially lethal. The first rule is: keep your left hand, if you are right-handed, firmly behind your back…….I was also surprised by the amount of sap the vines produce when cut; you really could see tears of sap.





It was a lovely sunny morning, instead of the rain that had been forecast. Deborah and Peter favour organic viticulture, ploughing between the rows, so their vineyards are a carpet of white rocket and field marigolds. And spring was in the air.




Then we went over to their vineyard of young Syrah vines. This year is their 4me feuille and two shoots need to be tied down onto wires, for cordon royat. These are the shoots which will be the base for growth in years to come. You choose the two lowest and strongest shoots and cross them over leaving four buds per shoot. The bark on the shoot creeks alarmingly and worse still is the sharp sound of a branch cracking. I fear I was guilty – but so was Deborah. You have to bend the shoot very gently, almost massaging it, to persuade it to lie horizontal to the wire. And as budbreak is beginning, you have to be careful not to inadvertently damage a young fragile bud. I was found guilty again. However, it was surprisingly satisfying work, and the morning passed in no time at all.

Friday, 25 March 2011

ST CHINIAN V. FAUGERES, AGAIN




Continuing to explore the similarities, or otherwise, between Faugères and St. Chinian, I found myself at a tasting of the wines of the largest Cabardès producer, Château Pennautier. The Lorgeril family have expanded their vineyard holdings considerably in recent years and now own Château de Ciffre, the property that includes both St. Chinian and Faugères. They make a selected cuvée, Terroirs d’Altitude, in both appellations and they did taste true to form, with the Faugères more supple and perfumed, while St. Chinian was more structured, with vines grown on schist, as well as clay and limestone soil.

2009 Château de Ciffre, Classic St.Chinian
A blend of 40 % Syrah, 30% Carignan 20% Grenache and 10% Mourvèdre, with no oak ageing. Medium colour; dry spice with quite a firm spicy palate. Medium weight; rounded with a dry finish.

They do not make a Faugères Classic, as they have less vineyards of Faugères than St. Chinian.

2008 Faugères, Terroirs d’Altitude
70% Syrah, 20% Grenache Noir (old vines) and 10% Mourvèdre, grown on schist. 20% of the wine is aged in 600 litre demi-muids for 12 months. Quite a perfumed nose, from the high proportion of Syrah, with fresh fruit and spice. Medium weight and not obviously oaky

2008 St. Chinian Terroirs d’Altitude.
60% Syrah; 40% Grenache, grown on schist as well as clay and limestone.
Medium colour. Quite firm nose,; a touch leathery. More structured that the Faugères, with more obvious oak. Quite firm and structured. Just what you would expect from St. Chinian. However I preferred the Classic cuvée. And loved the Faugères Terroirs d’Altitude.

They also make several cuvées of Cabardès. Here my favourites were :

2009 Cabardès Classic
A blend of 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% each of Cabernet Franc and Malbec, with no oak ageing. Medium colour; quite firm fruit on the nose, with some rounded cassis and a touch of spice on the palate, with a tannic streak.

2008 Cabardès Terroirs d’Altitude
A blend of 30% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Grenache Noir and 5% Malbec. Some oak ageing. Riper and more rounded than the Classic, with some smoky notes from the oak and some quite supple tannins.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

PICPOUL DE PINET - THE CAVE DE L'ORMARINE AT PINET

One of the highlights of the search for my book, The Wines of the South of France, was dinner at the restaurant La Côte Bleue outside Bouzigues on the Bassin de Thau. Bouzigues is known for its oysters and from the restaurant dining room you look out over a broad expanse of oyster beds, eating molluscs that were in the water a few hours earlier. And the wine was Picpoul de Pinet. It was a perfect combination, the refreshing acidity of the wine simply complementing an oyster like a squeeze of lemon. And all seemed right with the world.

Picpoul de Pinet is a vivid illustration of just how dramatically white wine from the south of France has improved over recent years. Not so long ago all the white wine produced around the Bassin de Thau was destined for the vermouth, Noilly Prat, which is made in nearby Marseillan. As herbs and spices feature largely in the production process, the flavour of the base wine was a very secondary consideration, and an oxidised golden colour was acceptable, and even desirable. But production of Noilly Prat has dropped and another outlet was necessary for the wine; an improvement in quality was the only way forward.

Quite simply, the grape variety is Picpoul, or Piquepoul, which is grown around the village of Pinet, and other nearby villages, Florensac, Pomerols. Castelnau de Guers, Mèze and Montagnac. The vineyards form a surprising oasis of white wine in a sea of red wine. The terroir, or soil, explains the reason for this unexpected oasis of white wine. Quite simply the soil is too generous for red wine. It is mainly limestone, which suits white wine, with some clay, sand and appropriately a scattering of fossilised oyster shells. The climate is very much influenced by the sea, with a cooling effect during the nights of the hot summer months, and the vines benefit from maritime breezes.

Comparisons can be odious but I think it is fair to suggest that Picpoul de Pinet is the southern French equivalent of Muscadet. Neither packs a punch of flavour, but they provide brilliant accompaniments to the local seafood, and when finely crafted, have deliciously subtle flavours. The cooperative at Pinet, with its brand name L’Ormarine, and striking logo conveying the blue sea, green vines and yellow sun, are amongst the pacesetters of the appellation. They dominate the production, accounting for 45 per cent, with the nearby cooperative of Pomerols responsible for 30 per cent. There are two other smaller cooperatives – that of Florensac has a good restaurant, but unfortunately the quality of the wine does the cooking a disservice – and 26 independent wine growers account for fifteen per cent of the 1050 hectares of Picpoul de Pinet.

I met the director Cyril Payon on the penultimate day of the harvest. He looked tired, as he hadn’t had much sleep over the past few weeks for they pick at night by mechanical harvester, so the cellars had been open from midnight every night since the middle of August. But things had gone well; the vintage was looking good, with healthy ripe grapes, even though quantity is down a little. We were shown an efficient stream-lined cellar, with modern equipment, allowing for a gentle pressing. Chilling the juice and wine is an essential part of the process and cellar hygiene is a paramount consideration.

Like Muscadet, Picpoul is a grape variety is that can be short on flavour. What was fascinating to see at L’Ormarine was the range of tastes they are able to extract from a subtle grape variety. We began with Préambule, bottled with a screwcap, which is still a pretty revolutionary step for the south of France. This was light and delicate with some fresh acidity, but not much flavour. Move onto Carte Noire, their main brand, with an annual production of 600,000 bottles and you have a wine that is riper, more rounded, with more depth of flavour; there are citrus notes and a hint of iodine from the sea. Next up the scale comes Duc de Morny. The vinification is identical, but they have selected grapes from older vines and better vineyards, and it shows in the wine, with more weight and a sappy freshness. The Duc de Morny was Napoleon III’s Minster of the Interior – and apparently Picpoul was one of his favourite wines.
Next came a cuvée prestige, with a slight different winemaking technique, using juice from the filtered lees of the juice, making for a richer wine with more depth, but again with fresh salty acidity. And they have also make a sparkling Picpoul – which I could happily leave. It’s a bit earthy for my taste.

More exciting was a late harvest wine, called Vendange de Novembre, made from grapes which have been left to dry on the vines. And finally there was an expression of a typical Languedoc drink, Carthagène. You take the juice from one year’s production, and stop the fermentation by the addition, in this case, of eau de vie de Piquepoul, so that you have a fresh grapey drink, with hints of aniseed, and a lightly alcoholic kick on the finish. So instead of one dry white wine, I was impressed by the astonishing versatility of a grape variety that I could, so mistakenly, have dismissed as neutral.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

DOMAINE JEAN-MICHEL ALQUIER



Following on from the St. Chinian Faugeres tasting, here is a article that was published in the Quarterly Review of Wines, a year or so ago. I thought I might as well recycle it!

The surge in quality amongst new estates over the last decade or two in the Languedoc has been nothing short of breathtaking. Much rarer, however, are the estates where quality, rather than quantity, has been the main focus for more than a single generation. Gilbert Alquier was one of the pioneers of the small appellation of Faugères. He was the first to plant Syrah in the area, back in 1960and one of the first to bottle his own wine, rather than selling it in bulk to local merchants. When I met Gilbert in 1986, he had begun ageing his wine in small oak barriques, rather than the large foudres that were traditional to the Midi. 1983 was the first vintage of his cuvée prestige, aged for a year in new Tronçais barriques. Again this was another revolutionary step, in a wine region where change was slow to come.

Gilbert Alquier had two sons, Jean-Michel and Frédéric, who worked together with their mother, after Gilbert’s death. When she retired in 1996, they decided to part company, dividing up the family vineyards into two separate estates, and it is now Jean-Michel Alquier who is generally considered to have taken his father’s place, making some of the most stylish of Faugères. The appellation of Faugères takes its name from a tiny village, nestling at the Languedoc hills.

Like all the appellations of the Languedoc, Faugères has benefited from the introduction of the so-called cépages améliorateurs or improving grape varieties, Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre, which served to enhance the flavour of the sometimes diluted Carignan and Cinsaut, and replaced undesirable varieties such as Alicante Bouschet and Aramon. The soil is schist, with the vineyards lying between 150 and 400 metres, with the vineyard area totalling some 2000 hectares. White Faugères is a more recent development, recognised since 2004, and made from Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache blanc and Rolle.





I tracked down Jean-Michel in a large house on the edge on the edge of the village. There is an elegant brass plaque telling you the opening time of the bureau, but no indication of a name to reassure you that you are at the correct front door. “Je suis anti-marketing” laughed Jean-Michel, who greeted me warmly and immediately suggested a look at the vineyards. It was late August and he was preparing to harvest his white grapes in a couple of weeks, and the reds a week after that.. Altogether he has ten hectares, including just one of white, all within in the commune of Faugères itself, on south-facing slopes. I admired rows of neatly trimmed vines. Jean-Michel favours lutte raisonnée, which translates rather clumsily into English as integrated viticulture. He is sceptical about organic viticulture, but he uses no pesticides or insecticides and very little weedkiller. In some plots the weeding is done by hand, as the terrain is so stony to make the use of a tractor impossible, and in other plots he keeps grass between the rows of vines. If you enjoy wild hills, with scrubby vegetation, you will find the scenery breathtaking. There is a ruined house hidden in the trees, with an old dovecot; Jean-Michel would love to restore it. And no Faugères vineyard is without a capitelle, one of the dry stone shelters shaped like an igloo. A pair of partridges scuttled past us, and Jean-Michel asserted that he is not a hunter, unlikely so many of the local wine-growing community. And in the warm sunshine, the scent of garrigues was intoxicating, with wild mint, fennel, thyme, rosemary and cistus.





Back in the cool barrel cellar, with its pebbled floor, Jean-Michel talked about his wine making, as we tasted, from bottle and barrel. We began with a Sauvignon. Jean-Michel has just fifteen rows of this variety, planted for the simple reason that he and his wife like it. And he makes an elegantly understated interpretation of the variety, that is fermented in oak and then put in vat in December.
His other white wine does not yet qualify for the appellation of Faugères. There was much discussion as to which varieties would be allowed; Viognier was discussed and rejected for being too aromatic; Muscat likewise. Jean-Michel has Grenache blanc and Marsanne, but also needs some Roussanne, which he only planted only three years and so it is not yet in production. The wine spends a total of fourteen months in wood, with one third of the barrels replaced each year. The flavour is beautifully textured and amply demonstrates the wonderful, but often overlooked potential for white wine in the Languedoc.

Next came the red wines from barrel. Maison Jaune is a blend of about 70 per cent Grenache Noir, with 20 percent Syrah and a little Mourvèdre. The three varieties are blended after the malo-lactic fermentation and age together in barrel for about eighteen months. This barrel sample of 2007 will be bottle in April 2009. Already it conveyed the sense of place that is essential to all the great wines of the Languedoc, conjuring up the warmth and herbs of the garrigues, with flavours of black and red fruit, blackberries, cherries. Jean-Michel is really pleased with his 2007s, which are not unlike 2005s, with more freshness than the
2006s.




Les Bastides is made from grapes from the higher vineyards, including the oldest Syrah vines, which account for 70 per cent of the blend, as well as Grenache Noir and just a drop of Mourvèdre. The wine is denser and rich, more concentrated and chocolate, with some hints of new oak. This is a wine for keeping, as was illustrated by the final wine of our tasting, 1996 Les Bastides, with its flavours of game, leather, and garrigues. 1996 was a good year, with a hot summer, and the wine did reach 14º, but was in perfect balance, with lovely ripe fruit.

And how would Jean-Michel describe the tipicity of Faugères? He explained that the soils of Faugères are lightly acidic, so that you can have really ripe grapes, while retaining freshness in the wine, while the schist gives a slightly animal note, adding something a little wild to the blend. Above all Faugères is an association of elegance and power.

2007 Pierres Blanches Vin de Pays de l’Hérault SauvignonNicely rounded with good stony fruit. The hint of oak fills out the palate, which finishes with good acidity. Good mineral character.

2006 Vin de Pays de l’Hérault – the future Faugères Blanc, a blend of Marsanne and Grenache blanc. Elegantly understated oak, beautifully textured, with layers of flavour. Rich and rounded, with a long finish and ageing potential.

2006 Faugères la Maison Jaune.
Deep colour; spicy leathery notes on the nose. Lovely spicy fruit, with a firm streak of tannin. Very harmonious.

2005 Faugères les Bastides d’AlquierDeep colour; quite firm oak, and again on the palate, with fine textured fruit; depth of flavour, rich fruit, leathery notes, and balancing tannins. Good ageing potential.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

TASTING ROUSSILLON IN SAN GIMIGNANO




I spent a week in Tuscany in the middle of last month. And you could be forgiven for wondering what that has to do with the Languedoc. Quite a lot as it happens. As well visiting Florence, Montepulciano and Montalcino for lots of Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile and Brunello, I spent some time in the lovely hilltop town of San Gimignano, which produces one of the few white wines of Tuscany, Vernaccia di San Gimignano. And in order to draw attention to their Vernaccia, the wine growers have audaciously taken to comparing their wine with a French appellation. The first time they did this, five years ago, they chose Chablis and acquitted themselves honourably. Two years ago their choice was the white wines of the Rhone Valley and this year they opted for the village of Calce in the heart of the Roussillon hills.




The tasting took place in the Sala Dante in the Palazzo del Popolo in the centre of San Gimignano, where Dante came in 1299 as ambassador from the city of Florence, to make an appeal to the people of San Gimignano. Only in Italy would you have such a historic setting for a tasting. You could not fail to be awe-inspired by the surroundings, with the walls covered in magnificent frescoes, dating from 13th and
14th centuries.

The choice of Calce was determined by two young Italian wine journalists, Antonio Boco and Paolo de Cristofaro, who had set out to look at Roussillon as a possible comparison with Vernaccia di San Gimignano and then come to realise that so much was centred on the village of Calce. Listening to them, you sensed that it was a really exciting discovery; their enthusiasm was infectious. They talked about the landscape, the winds, the luminosity and the scents of the countryside. The grape varieties of Calce are Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Macabeo, which like Vernaccia are fairly neutral, and not particularly aromatic. They are varieties that express terroir. And there are some wonderful old vines, fifty years and more, with centenarians not at all unusual. They talked about three micro-zones, with schist in the south, in vineyards looking towards the Pyrenees. On the north side of the village there is limestone or calcaire, which is the origin of the name of the village, providing wines with firm minerality. And then there are grey marnes, which allows for very deep root systems. Calce is in fact further south than San Gimignano, which momentarily took me by surprise. The population of the village is 200 people, and there are 400 hectares of vines.




Four wine growers from Calce were present.

First off was Thomas Teibert from Domaine de l’Horizon, with his 2008 Côtes Catalanes. A blend of 50% Macabeo with Grenache Gris and a touch of Grenache Blanc, from 85 years old vines and older, grown on limestone soil. Thomas is German and worked in the Alto Adige before coming to Calce. And why Calce? He came to visit, and met Gérard Gauby who is THE pioneering wine grower of the village, and fell in love with the area, and stayed when he realised that there were vines to be bought from retiring coop members.

2008 was quite a cool year, with cooling nights and cool weather at the vintage. The wine has a little colour, with a firm dry nose. On the palate there is a firm minerality with an intriguing hint of fennel. There is a lot of wild fennel in the region, giving its name to a now defunct Vin de Pays Côtes des Fenouillèdes. And there is firm streak of minerality. Altogether very satisfying.

Next came Thomas Lubbe. He is not a native of Calce either; he was born in South Africa and brought up in New Zealand. He came to do a stage chez Gauby, and ended up by marrying Gérard’s sister Nathalie. And has created Domaine Matassa, with his partner, Sam Harrop. He explained how he was struck by the minerality; even though the summers can be hot, the wines always have a refreshing minerality, with a firm natural acidity. That is why he has put down roots in Calce, apart from meeting Nathalie, of course. His 2007 Côtes Catalanes is a blend of Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc. The colour was light golden, with a rich perfumed nose. Again I found fennel, and on the palate there was a mineral saltiness, a rich texture, a certain sappy character and lovely satisfying mouth feel.




Then there were two wines from Olivier Pithon. Sadly he could not be present and a colleague spoke for him. His roots are in the Loire Valley, where his brother Jo Pithon has an estate. His first vintage in Calce was 2001 – again Gérard Gauby has some responsibility, for Oliver visited him without knowing anything about the terroir of Calce. Both wines are aged in oak for 12-16 months, including some new barrels, and fermented in small wooden vats, with a gentle pressing and natural yeast.

The first wines was Côtes Catalanes 2008 D18, named after the road that leads to the village. Calce is not on the way to anywhere; you have to want to go there, and as this tasting showed, there are indeed plenty of reasons for going there. Again this is a blend of Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc, grown on grey schist. Light colour; with a firm stony nose, and on the palate, with firm minerality and acidity and nicely textured.

2005 D18 – A warmer vintage than 2008. A slightly tarnished colour and a hint of maderisation on the nose, while the palate was fresher, with rounded herbal nutty notes. Quite ripe and board, but with a good streak of acidity.





And to finish with Calce there were two wines from Domaine Gauby. When I first met Gérard in the late 1990s, he had been making wine for about fifteen years, and I asked him about the history of the area and his estate, to which the reply was quite simple: L’histoire, c’est moi. He had removed the family vines from the village coopand there is no doubt that his initial work has had a dramatic effect on the fortunes of Calce, and its viticultural reputation. Gérard is helped by his wife Ghislaine, and now his son Lionel, who was present in San Gimignano.



2008 Coume Gineste Côtes Catalanes, a blend of 45% Grenache Blanc, and Grenache Gris, with 10% Macabeo. Grown on grey schist and argilo-calcaire, on north facing vineyards. The wine spends twelve months in new and one year barrels. Otherwise the wine making is very simple.

Light colour; closed mineral stony nose, and wonderful minerality on the palate. Some weight and some herbal hints, more fennel again. Rounded, youthful and fresh, with ageing potential.

2002 Coume Gineste A little colour; quite mature almondy notes, on the palate some intriguing texture, and some firm salty mineral flavours. Textured and structured with very good acidity. A firm long finish. 2002 was a cooler and also wetter vintage.




The six wines provided a wonderful bird’s eye view of the flavours of Calce, and then we moved onto Vernaccia di San Gimignano, when it became clear that the comparison was certainly not as far-fetched as you might have initially expected. The first wine, 2009 Tenuta la Calcinaie – again another name related to chalk – calcinaires in French – was delicate and herbal, with some fresh minerality.

2008 Mattia Barzaghi was quite heavy and textured; it was fermented in stainless steel and had spent just one month in oak.

2008 La Lastra was quite delicate and understated with light almondy notes. Half was fermented in oak and left on the fine lees, and half was fermented in stainless steel vats.

Cesani is one of my favourite Vernaccias, with their 2007 Sanice, which is part fermented in oak and part in stainless steel. Quite a deep colour, Herbal hints on the nose and quite a rich, textured layered palate; the oak is nicely integrated, with a rounded, sappy quality on the finish. Nicely crafted. Again some salty minerality.

2006 La Castellaccio. Aged on the lees but not in oak. Quite herbal, fennel notes, with very good acidity. We were told that Vernaccia should stay on the fine lees, to help maintain its acidity.

2001 Panizzi riserva, from one of the estates that has created a reputation for aged Vernaccia. The wine had spent 12 months in barrel. Light golden colour. An intriguing mature nose, with some rounded textured herbal flavours on the palate, and just a hint of oak. Nicely rounded. And a great finale to a fascinating comparative tasting.

The afternoon continued at the modern art museum in San Gimignano for a tasting of Vernaccia from several other producers. The views out of the window over the roof tops of the town were rather more appealing than the exhibits on the walls, and I did enjoy the wines.

Friday, 4 March 2011

ZESTERDAILY.COM

http://www.zesterdaily.com



I’ve just started writing for an American website: http://www.zesterdaily.com It’s a wonderful compendium on food and wine, with some great writers, including my good friends, Elin McCoy, author of The Emperor of Wine, all about Robert Parker, and Carlo Capalbo, who is an authority on Italy, with three books on Tuscany, Campania and most recently, Collio, which covers the wine and food of Italy's north eastern corner and won the Andre Simon award last year. So I am in very good company. My first piece has just been posted and it is on – you’ve guessed it – The Lure of the Languedoc. Go take a look at the website.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

FAUGERES V. ST. CHINIAN



I had a great time on Monday afternoon, comparing St. Chinian with Faugères for a tasting at the Maison du Languedoc. There were five wines from each appellation and the idea was to see if there was a common thread to each appellation. My audience was a group of young sommeliers, from The Fat Duck and the Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, amongst others, and an actor who works as a sommelier between plays. They were not shy about voicing their opinions and we had a good discussion, but I do have to say that we did not come to any great conclusions. The two appellations are too similar, and too varied.

Consider what determines the taste of a wine .... First take the grape varieties. You find Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Greanche and Cinsaut in both appellations, but in varying proportions, depending on each wine grower’s preference. The climate of both appellations is pretty similar, with the hills of the Caroux and the Espinouse protecting them from north winds. The soil is more complicated – Faugères is schist


and perceived wisdom has it that the appellation of St. Chinian is split in half by the Vernazobre river, with schist in the north and limestone and clay in the south, but there is also some sand, and some growers have all three soil types in their vineyards, so that it is much more complicated than you might think. Limestone and clay are generally deemed to make wines with structure and body, while wines from schist may lack acidity, but have some lovely supple fruit. So you might expect some St. Chinian to be more structured, and Faugères riper and softer, but not necessarily so. The wine grower also makes their mark and here individual preferences really come into play, with numerous permutations in the blend, not to mention ageing techniques, as well as the minutiae of details in vineyard and cellar.

We may not have worked out how to tell the difference between St. Chinian and Faugères, but the wines were delicious, so a good time was had by all. We tasted them in five pairs:

Prices are per bottle, ex VAT

1. 2008 Domaine de Cébène, Felgaria, Faugères - £15 - £18. Leon Stolarski
This is a new estate in Faugères. Brigitte Chevalier had worked in Bordeaux for twenty years and arrived in Faugères to make her first wine in 2008. She specifically looked for cool north facing vineyards on schist and that is what she found, in a wonderful site.




Blend: 50% Mourvèdre, 30% Syrah, 20% Grenache. She uses some 500 litre barrels for part of the fermentation and the wine is aged in old barriques. She favours meticulous but simple winemaking.
Medium colour; lovely spicy rich fruit and quite opulent, but tempered with a touch of oak. Nicely balanced and elegant

2009 Clos Bagatelle, Donnadieu Matthieu and Marie, St. Chinian This is one of the old estates of St. Chinian, passed mainly from mother to daughter since 1623 and now run by the vivacious Christine Deleuze. This cuvée is named after her two children. Her vineyards are on both limestone and schist.
50% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre, 15% Carignan
Very perfumed on the nose, and lovely perfumed spicy fruit on the palate, with a touch of fresh acidity on the finish. Very easy drinking and immediately appealing.

2. 2008 Mas d’Alezon, Presbytère, Faugères £8.95 Terroirs Languedoc
This is Catherine Roque’s (of Clovallon fame)Faugères estate. At Soumatre she has some the highest and coolest vineyards of the appellation, at 450 metres. Some spice and liquorice, with a fresh finish, but a slightly inharmonious edge. I wondered if it had been affected by the hail of 2008.

2007 Domaine la Madura, Classique, St. Chinian. £6.95 Terroir Languedoc
Another relatively new estate. Madura means maturité or ripeness in Occitan. Cyril Bourgne also worked in Bordeaux and 1998 was his first vintage in St. Chinian. He has 14 hectares of vines, on all three soil types, so a veritable patchwork. He is particularly enthusiastic about Mourvèdre, and dismisses the idea that it needs to see the sea, as une jolie histoire. 36% Grenache noir, 38% Carignan, 15% Mourvèdre, 11% Syrah. The Grenache grows on schist and the Carignan on limestone. Both the Mourvèdre and Syrah are aged in wood, while the Grenache and Carignan are kept in vat. He is aiming for balance. This was lovely; quite firm fruit on the nose; rounded smoky and spicy with good body. Quite mouth filling and very harmonious

3. 2007 Léon Barral, Tradition £12 - £14 Cave de Pyrene
Didier Barral has 25 hectares around the village of Lentheric, on south facing slopes. He is a very intense, very committed winemaker. His vineyards are biodynamic and he favours very simple winemaking. The grapes are hand-picked, triage is important; he may include the stalks, and he always uses natural yeast and favours long cuvaison and oak ageing.
50% Carignan, 40% Grenache Noir and 10% Cinsault Quite a deep colour; some fruit but with a slightly sweet ‘n’ sour edge. I found it rather puzzling. It did not have as much weight and body as I expected.

2007 Chateau Pech Menel. St. Chinian This was a new estate for me, run by two sisters, with 20 hectares in one large plot near the village of Quarante.
70% Syrah, destalked and 30% Carignan, vinified by carbonic maceration..
Quite sweet and perfumed, easy supple fruit and some ripe spice. I sensed the influence of the garrigues in this wine.

4. 2006 Domaine Ollier Taillefer, Grande Reserve. Faugères £7-8 Amphora Wines
Anyone who reads my blog with any regularity, will know that this is one of my favourite Faugères producers. This is their middle quality of Faugères, a selection of old vines, but no oak. 35% Grenache Noir; 15% Carignan, plus 35% Syrah and 15% Mourvèdre, Nicely balanced, with ripe concentration fruit. An elegant palate and drinking deliciously

2007 Terres Falmet, l’Ivresse des Cîmes, St. Chinian £8 Vine Trail
Again another new estate for me. Yves Falmet used to be a flying winemaker, but wanted to do his own thing and bought his vineyard, 20 hectares on limestone, near Cebazan, in 1996, He favours very simple winemaking, wanting to make wine as naturally as possible, following bio-dynamic practices, and wine qui sort de l'autoroute du vin. 40% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache Noir, 30% Syrah. No oak. Quite a light nose, quite fresh with good fruit and a tannic streak. Nicely balanced.

This pair offered the most convincing contrast, between the spice of the schist of Faugères and the limestone of St. Chinian, which gives more structure and weight.

5. 2005 Domaine Jean-Michel Alquier, les Bastides d’Alquier
£10 - £11 Richards Walford
Jean Michel Alquier, not to be confused with his brother Frederique, who has his own separate estate, is one of the best wine growers of Faugères. His father Gilbert was one of the pioneers of the appellation, he planted Syrah back in 1960 and was one of the first to bottle his own wine and to age it in barrel, with a cuvée prestige in 1983. I wrote a profile of Jean –Michel a year or so ago for an American magazine, Quarterly Review of Wines, so I will post that shortly, for more information about him.
60% Syrah; 30% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre. Quite a restrained nose with a touch oak. A ripe palate, again with some well-integrated oak. Nicely structured; good body and still very youthful

2004 Mas Champart, Clos de la Simonette, St. Chinian £10-£11 Richards Walford
Matthieu and Isabelle Champart come from northern France and first came to the Midi on holiday in 1976, and decided to stay, and created a 16 hectare estate, on limestone. These days they are rated amongst the leading producers of St. Chinian. 30% Grenache Noir, 70% Mourvèdre. Their Mourvèdre vines came by massal selection from Domaine Tempier in the Bandol. Four to five week maceration on the skins. The wine spends 18 months in demi-muids; new ones for the Mourvèdre and older barrels for the Grenache.
Quite a rounded nose with some dry spice. A touch of maturity, with good fruit, tannins and depth.

This pair was the most similar, even though Mas Champart is produced from limestone and les Bastides from schist; they were both quite structured with lovely spicy southern fruit, and both remarkably youthful for their vintages. I certainly would not have bet any money, let alone serious money, as to which was the St. Chinian and which Faugères!