Tuesday, 26 April 2011

GRANDS CRUS DU LANGUEDOC

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,
Corbières Boutenac,
St. Chinian Roquebrun
St. Chinian Berlou,
Terrasses du Larzac,
Grès de Montpellier
Pic St. Loup
Pézenas
La Clape
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.

2007 Solen
Carignan dominant with some Grenache. Medium colour. Quite an elegant nose, with ripe cherry fruit and a certain elegant maturity on the palate.

2005 Solen
Quite dry firm fruit, matured and leathery on the palate. Quite a sturdy finish.

2007 Aurel
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.

2007 Clos.Centeilles
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.

LA CLAPE
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.

Monday, 11 April 2011

DOMAINE D'AUPILHAC




When I first visited Montpeyroux in the mid-1980s, the choice of wine was the coop, or the coop. There were no private estates until the end of the 1980s. Sylvain Fadat at Domaine d’Aupilhac was one of the first pioneers, along with Domaine du Plô, which no longer exists, Domaine d’Aiguelière, and Mas Jullien in nearby Jonquières. I first met Sylvain in the early 1990s, and have watched his progress over the years, as the estate has grown – he now has 29 hectares - and the wines have evolved. Montpeyroux too has grown, so that there are now about 20 estates. Montpeyroux holds a wine fair every two years – this year it takes place on Sunday 17th April – which provides a great opportunity for some serious tasting, with all the producers showing off their wines.

A visit to Montpeyroux last week was a great chance for a catch up. First we tasted wines from vat that were just about to be bottled, literally later that day

Lou Maset white, Vin de Pays du Mont Baudile – 8.00€
A blend of Ugni Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Chardonnay. Although Sylvain essentially has created his estate himself, he did start with some family vines, including a small vineyard of Chardonnay, planted by his grandfather, and kept for sentimental reasons. The wine is fresh and rounded, offering easy drinking.

Les Cocalières blanc, Coteaux du Languedoc 16.00€
A blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Rolle. Montpeyroux does not have an appellation for white wine; there are too few producers – the INAO would say insufficient representation, so it will become Languedoc in due course, as Coteaux du Languedoc disappears The wine is fermented in 600 litre barrels and the grapes come from new plantings up in the hills above Montpeyroux, a cooler site and a fabulous spot, where Sylvain has cleared garrigues. The oak is very well integrated, with some white blossom fruit, minerality and textured layers of flavour. Very satisfying.

2010 Montpeyroux Rosé - 7.00€
A blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsaut. Quite a deep bright colour. Closed nose, with firm fruit and some body. A food rosé. Je ne sais pas faire des rosés mode, observed Sylvain.

2010 les Servières, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault 8.50€
A pure Cinsaut, from some very old vines. Quite a deep colour, with fresh raspberry fruit. A lovely example of the appealing fruit of Cinsaut, with acidity and tannin and a streak of minerality on the finish.

2010 Lou Maset rouge, Coteaux du Languedoc – 7.00€
A blend of Cinsaut and Grenache. Deep young colour. Ripe fruit with some peppery notes. Young and fresh.

We tried a few barrels, some Syrah, and some Carignan, and the components of the future 2009 Montpeyroux. Sylvain used to make a Cocalières rouge and an Aupilhac rouge, but has decided that they make a much better wine blended together, definitely a case of 1+ 1 = 3. Cocalières is a cooler site, with fresher wines, while the wine from the original Aupilhac vineyard is denser, warmer and more tannic. Together they combined fresh perfume and richness.

And then for some tasting from bottle: in his little tasting caveau under his house in the rue du Plô in the centre of Montpeyroux.

2009 Lou Maset, Coteaux du Languedoc – 7.00€
A blend of Grenache, Cinsaut with a little Carignan, Syrah and Mourvèdre. This is ripe and easy, with supple fruit, and nicely rounded. All the wine spends six months in foudres.

2009 Le Carignan, Vin de Pays du Mont Baudile - 14.40€
Sylvain has long been an enthusiastic proponent of Carignan; he had some in his first vineyard, and people said ça ne vaut rien, but he didn’t want to pull it up, partly as he had so few vines at the time. And his 2009 shows how right he was to keep it. It was aged in foudres and has a lovely brambly nose, with quite rounded, concentrated fruit on the palate, some tannin and a spicy note on the finish.

2008 Montpeyroux, Coteaux du Languedoc - 13.30€
A blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan from the Aupilhac vineyard, aged in barrels and demi-muids and then in foudres, so that it spends two winters in wood. Quite firm solid fruit, with some brambly notes on the nose. On the palate some leathery notes and some supple tannins, with dry spice on the finish. A serious mouthful.

2008 Les Cocalières, Coteaux du Languedoc 15.50€
The last vintage of this particular cuvée, from Syrah 65%, with 25% Grenache and some Mourvèdre. Quite a rounded nose; leathery and perfumed, with a nice texture and freshness and minerality on the palate. Lovely nuances of flavour.

2005 la Boda, Coteaux du Languedoc, Montpeyroux – 24€
Sylvain described this as a blend of two terroirs, Syrah from les Cocalières and Mourvèdre from Aupilhac. He whole bunch ferments in a demi muid and ages the wine in new oak. It is solid and dense with notes of chocolate and leather, a concentrated mouthful, but it doesn’t have the charm of the others. Sylvain ruefully observed that ‘le moins bon est le plus cher!’ Well he does have to pay for that new oak!

And then we were treated to some older bottles

2005 les Cocalières, with a fresh nose and quite rounded, maturing leathery notes on the palate.

1999 Le Carignan – quite a meaty nose, but nicely balanced palate, with intriguing red fruit and notes of maturity. Very satisfying.

1996 Montpeyroux – Lovely leathery fruit, quite elegantly leathery fruit on the palate. Mineral notes, with some smoky fruit. Layers of flavour, and a great example of how well the red wines of the Languedoc develop in bottle.

Monday, 4 April 2011

DOMAINE LA SARABANDE




Faugeres is a relatively small and compact appellation, compared to neighbouring St. Chinian. There are now nearly fifty estates, half of which have been developed in the last ten years. Sometimes it is a new generation of a local family; sometimes French from elsewhere, and increasingly so, there is an influx of foreigners, English, Belgium, Australian. …..

So how does an Australian meet a girl from Ireland and land up in the village of Laurens? Paul Gordon had discovered wine while working in London for Terence Conrad; he comes from Sydney and when he went back to Australia, he found a job with the Australian Oddbins and studied wine-making through a correspondence course at Charles Sturt University. He then worked a vintage at various estates, Brokenwood, Domaine Chardon and Hardys, and then as a flying winemaker in the Gard and in Spain, and also in New Zealand, at Isabel Estate in Marlborough. Isla was backpacking in New Zealand at the time, and turned up at Isabel estate to earn some money in order to continue travelling….. they spent five years in New Zealand and then it was time to come to Europe – Spain was the first possibility – Priorat perhaps. ‘the wines are fantastic but it is simply too expensive. Land costs too much. An entry level wine would have to retail at 20€’. And so they started looking in France. They wanted to grow Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, and someone advised Roussillon, Montpeyroux, Pic St. Loup or Faugères. And they realised that Faugères ticked all the boxes : ‘it’s close to the mountains; close to the sea; has very good soil and great wines; nice villages and it is not too busy’. They looked for vineyards to rent and someone offered them 5.5 hectares, in two blocks just outside the village of Autignac. And they found a house, in Laurens, with a large garage, that was perfect for some small vats and a few barrels.

Paul and Isla took on their first vines in March 2009, just in time to prune them. At the end of 2009 they bought a small vineyard of Syrah, five year old vines on grey schist, and they have also bought half a hectare of Mourvèdre and acquired some 60 year old Carignan. They now have about six hectares, the classic five varieties of the Languedoc, as well as some Aramon, and are eventually aiming for ten hectares, and maybe some white varieties.

The production is tiny. They have virtually sold out of their first harvest. In 2009 they made 6000 bottles, and in 2010 13,000. They very generously opened some of their few remaining bottles for me to taste..


2010 Faugères Rosé,
A blend of Cinsaut, Grenache and Mourvèdre, all pressed immediately in a basket press, which gives more colour than a pneumatic press. Paul was quite blunt. It’s a cash cow.’ It is quite a deep coloured rosé, a good food rosé, with rounded ripe mouth filling fruit – you might also say a winter rosé, with body and texture. Paul gives it a long slow fermentation. He has a very efficient refrigeration system. ‘You mustn’t let rosé get too hot’. The Mourvèdre was tricky in 2010, with rain at the end of the season causing problems with ripening, but this had the effect of lowering the overall alcohol level to 12.5°

2009 Faugères –
A blend of 60% Grenache grown on a cooler, north west facing slope, with 25% Carignan, 12% Syrah and a drop of Mourvèdre. The Carignan is aged in a new 500 litre barrel. Good colour. Quite peppery, spicy fruit, with some ripe cherries from the Grenache. A lovely freshness, with some spice. Quite furry tannins, which will fade with time. ‘You must get your Grenache skins absolutely ripe’ or else you can get some unwelcome acidity.

There is no filtering, no fining; Paul uses natural yeast and as little sulphur as possible. The work in the vineyard – this is Isla’s domaine – is organic, with minimum use of sulphur and copper. Powdery mildew is the main problem.

Their aim is to make serious wines with ageing potential, but Paul is not afraid to experiment. So next came:

(2009) Vin de France, essentially from Syrah and Aramon. Aramon is very thick skinned; with large juicy bunches of grapes. It gives what one could only describe as a funky note to the wine. The colour is deep, and the nose quite solid and dense, with ripe berry fruit, some firm acidity and some furry tannins and a dry finish. There are some peppery notes too

2009 Les Espinasses - Named after the vineyard in Autignac, and mainly Syrah, 30 year old vines, grown on a south facing slope in schist and surrounded by garrigues. The crop is 15 hl/ha. Good colour. The nose is quite rich and ripe, with smoky oak and berry fruit on the palate. Paul described this as ‘very handmade’, he uses a basket press and the wine has spent 14 months in a medium toasted 500 litre barrel. The grapes are virtually selected by hand, rejecting any shrivelled berries, and there is a low juice to skin ratio.

And then we adjourned downstairs for some tasting from vat and barrel, beginning with
2010 Misterioso Vin de Pays d’Oc. It is due for bottling next week. A blend of Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre, but the blend may vary from year to year. Medium colour; young ripe fruit, quite perfumed, with medium body. It needs a little time to settle down, but promises well.

And next some barrel tasting:

Grenache with a little Carignan. The Carignan had not been pruned for at least one, if not two years when they took over the vineyard. This had some smoky cherry fruit and a lovely freshness and perfume.

2010 Carignan – again some lovely fruit, raspberry rather than cherries, and the wine did not seem to have taken up too much oak. Fresh acidity and tannin, and an elegant finish.

2010 The Syrah component of Les Espinasses. Deep colour; ripe and intense – the oak is quite present, but the wine is still a baby. Paul gave it a four week post-fermentation maceration, and kept 15 – 20% as whole bunches, with the stems.

Clavelle vineyard, Syrah with 15% Mourvèdre. Again he kept 15 – 20% of the stems. Deep colour; quite dense and perfumed, with ripeness and freshness. Good structure.

I suddenly realised that this was the first time that I had tasted every single barrel in somebody’s cellar.

And next year Paul wants to try a fermentation of Grenache Noir, all as whole bunches, following the example of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate. Domaine du Pégaü. Nothing is going to stand still here and I sense that Domaine la Sarabande has far to go.