Thursday, 30 June 2011

DOMAINE DES QUATRE AMOURS




It was a wine from Domaine des Quatre Amours, their Cuvée Louis, which won the top prize at this year’s competition of the Vallée de l’Hérault, and since I had been on the jury for the competition – see an earlier posting - I thought I should go and visit them.

So why four loves? Michel Siohan-Cuny explained that his wife France is the fourth generation of her family in the village of Bélarga. Her great-grandfather had vineyards; her grand father had made wine but it was sold to a merchant and her father had sent his grapes to the village cooperative. They took the decision to put their wine in bottle for the first time in 2007. And they have four children, each with a cuvée named after them. Their vineyards are at Bélarga, for vins de pays, and in nearby Aspiran, for appellation wine, totalling 18 hectares in all. And they are now planning a new cellar, which hopefully will be functioning for the 2012 vintage.

2010 Pays d’Oc blanc – 7.50€
A blend of 70% Sauvignon and 30% Chardonnay, Kept in vat. Light colour; quite a fresh nose. This is not my favourite blend of grape varieties, but the palate was fresh and simple, with some fruit and acidity.

2010 Cuvée Olga – after their first daughter. – 10.50€
A blend of 70% Roussanne, fermented in barrel, with four months élevage and 30% Chardonnay, kept in vat. Light golden, quite a solid rounded nose, with a touch of dry oak. The palate is quite rounded, with white blossom and some texture, with fresh acidity.

2010 Pays d’Oc rosé - 7.50
A blend of Syrah and Grenache – 25 / 75. Hand-picked at night and pressed to give a pretty colour. Blended after settling. A delicate fresh nose. They aim for a pale colour and a delicate palate with fresh acidity and some fruit. They are wondering about planting some Cinsaut for their rosé and may be also some Mourvèdre, which they don’t have either.

2010 Perle de Rose - 7.50€ after their youngest daughter. This is the same blend, but slightly sparkling, with some CO2 added at the end of the fermentation. Very pale colour; a dry nose, and on the palate a faint prickle, some fruit and a touch of sweetness on the finish.

2009 Pays d’Oc – 7.50€
A blend of 45% each of Merlot and Grenache, with 10% Carignan made by carbonic maceration. All kept in vat. Quite fresh and peppery, with a rustic note from the Carignan. Medium weight with ripe fruit.

2010 Le Carignan de Paul – who is their oldest son. Pure carbonic maceration. The vines were planted in 1958, by France’s grandfather. Deep colour; quite perfumed nose, rounded spice on the palate; youthful with a tannic streak with a tannic streak on the finish. . 10.50€

2009 Cuvée Louis, Coteaux du Languedoc – 15€
75% Syrah, vinified by carbonic maceration and put in wood for the male-lactic fermentation, and 25% Grenache which was kept in vat; blended after 15 months.
Quite spicy confit fruit. Quite warm and ripe, with the supple spicy flavours of carbonic maceration. Easy drinking.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

VILLA TEMPORA




As well as making wine, Serge Schwartz runs a chambres d’hôtes with his wife, so we tracked him down at the Villa Juliette in Pézenas, in an elegant house behind a high wall and a big iron gate. He is a newcomer to the world of wine. He comes from northern France, from Lorraine, and went to hotel school in Strasbourg, and has gently gravitated towards wine. ‘One of these days’, he said to himself. And why the Midi? He was looking for sunshine and light. The chambres d’hôtes came first; and he met a group of local vignerons from Caux, people like Daniel le Conte de Floris, as well as Jean-Pierre Vanel from Domaine la Croix Vanel and Philippe Richy from Stella Nova, who all shared a viticulturalist, Jean-Pierre Sanson. And then in 2007 Jean-Pierre Vanel has a plot of Carignan that he was not going to pick, so Serge bought a vat, picked it and made 500 bottles. And in 2008 he teamed up with Jean-Pierre Sanson, and Villa Tempora was born. He now has six hectares, Carignan, Syrah, Grenache as well as a hectare of Bourboulenc, mainly in Caux, as well as a small plot in nearby Neffiès. The vineyards are being converted to organic viticulture and will be certified for the 2011 harvest. And he has found a cellar in the centre of Caux, which has not been used for about thirty years. His barrels have just been relocated. And with his six hectares, he has six different plots, with different soils – there are villefranchien, galets roulées; argilo-calcaire, gravel and basalt. And although he is a newcomer to winemaking, he has a formation ‘de cuisine’ and he reckons that has helped a lot. It’s very close; you can envisage a future taste.

We sat and tasted at the kitchen table.

First came 2009 Un temps pour elle. AC Languedoc. 11.80€
From twenty-five year old Bourboulenc vines, as well as some Marsanne. Bourboulenc is the key grape variety for white la Clape. Serge uses natural yeast and described his wine making as a vinification bourguignonne with lees stirring in barrel and fourteen months élevage. He uses 400 litres and 228 litres barrels; none of them are new. He has a good source of secondhand barrels.

The wine is lightly golden, with some oak and hints of iodine on the nose, a hint of the sea and oysters, with some firm fruit and structure on the palate. It is quite textured with a hint of fennel and herbs and some mineral notes. And with a long finish, it was very satisfying.

2009 Villa Tempora Pézenas AC - 7.80€
A blend of 40% Carignan, 30% Syrah and 30% Grenache Noir. 85% of the blend is kept in vat, a 30 hectolitre vat per grape variety, and the remaining fifteen percent is a blend of all three grape varieties which stays in barrel. Deep colour; some smoky fruit with quite a firm mineral palate. Medium weight. Good stony notes, with some red fruit. Youthful tannins. The wine is blended as late as possible, about a month before the next harvest. Serge finds blending ‘la partie la plus excitante’. He considers organic viticulture to provide freshness and a lift on the finish. Serge is aiming for what he calls vin droit – a wine that is true to itself, with good fruit, from the terroir to the bottle.

2009 Le Démon du Midi, Pézenas - 11.80€
I didn’t know that the French expression, le démon du midi, describes a mid-life crisis, so the name is a play on the concept. The blend is 70% Syrah with 15% each of Grenache Noir and Carignan, of which 85% is kept in two to three year old wood for 16 months. Good colour, with a delicate note. A hint of orange. Quite a rounded palate, with elegant oak and some tannin. Medium weight; balanced and youthful, with a fresh finish. It needs time. Serge observed that freshness is one of the most difficult things to achieve in the Midi.

And asked about projects for the future, he said he would like some Mourvèdre and he has two hectares to plant, probably Grenache Noir, and some white varieties, Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. And of course he is looking forward to his new cellar. He comes across as a thoughtful wine maker. The decision of when to pick is the work of a whole year. ‘C’est un bel aventure’.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

DOMAINE DE MONTAZELLIS



I never cease to admire people who have the courage to give up everything to follow their dream. Take Dhanya and Nova Collette at Domaine de Montazellis, between Alignan-le-Vent and Abeilhan in the Côtes de Thongue. Dhanya is a musician and Nova worked in the fashion world, and then with one young child, and another on the way, they decided to leave the London rat race and buy a rundown property outside Pézenas. Their experience of wine, apart from drinking it, was zilch. But they were not deterred. Dhanya is eminently practical, as well as musical; he has restored their house and cellar. He has, however, kept a drum kit and an old piano in the cellar, and they are planning musical evenings. The previous owner had sent his grapes to the coop and the house had not been lived in for years. And so Dhanya took a course in Pézenas to learn the rudiments of viticulture and winemaking and 2007 was their first vintage.

They have nine out of twelve hectares in production, with Mourvèdre, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Cinsaut, Carignan and Alicante Bouschet, which they are planning to graft with something else. They’d like to plant some Grenache, and may be Rolle and Viognier.

2008 Chardonnay, Côtes de Thongue 8.00€
As I love Chablis, I am not usually particularly thrilled by Chardonnay from the Midi, but it always good to have one’s prejudices upset. This Chardonnay is nicely satisfying; lightly buttery and rounded, with good acidity, giving a nice balance and a dry finish. Twenty per cent of the blend was vinified in new oak, which filled out the edges.

2008 Merlot, Côtes de Thongue – 5.50€
This is another grape variety that I am not mad about it when it comes from the south, but here again, I was very pleasantly surprised. Medium colour; lovely spicy red fruit, with soft tannins and fresh finish, and a lift on the finish. The wine is given a long, five to six week, maceration, with some remontages at the beginning and some pigeage at the end, and they also use some fresh oak chips (not toasted ones) during the fermentation, which adds an extra layer of flavour. Yields are low, about 30 hl/ha. The Merlot is grown on north facing sandy slopes and was planted nearly 30 years ago.

2008 Syrah, Côtes de Thongue - 6.50€
Good colour; some rounded fruit, with a touch of peppery spice. Supple tannins and a hint of orange pain d’épice on the finish. The vineyards are south facing on semi-coteaux.

2007 Cuvée Etienne – named after their son, and Dhanya’s very first wine. 11.00€
A selection of Syrah, aged in oak. Deep colour; some orange confit notes, quite ripe spicy and rounded, with some tannin. I could criticise it for being a bit jammy on the finish, but it was his first vintage. I, for one, could certainly do no better.

2008 Kaiya – after their daughter. 12.00€ for a 50 cl. bottle
The name means ocean in Japanese. And the wine is made from Sauvignon, half from raisined gropes and half from grapes with botrytis, picked at the end of October, with 22˚ potential alcohol, and 80 gms/l residual sugar. They made just 300 litres in a tiny stainless steel vat. The taste is lightly honeyed and lemony on the nose, with good acidity and fresh honey fruit on the palate, and an elegant finish.

And Dhanya and Nova are full of projects for the future. They deserve to do well.

CONVERSATION AT BEZIERS AIRPORT

My husband had to fly back to London last week, and opted for Ryanair from Béziers. As it happened, a couple of friends were on the same flight so they drove to the airport together, in good time for a glass of rosé before going through security. They felt like a second glass, but on being reassured that the tiny bar beyond security had some rosé, they went through passport control and so on. So the following conversation was a bit of a surprise.

Please may I have three glasses of rosé?

No, sorry.

But I can see a bottle in the fridge.

Yes, but I don’t have a corkscrew.

Why not?

I did have one, but I lost it

Can’t you borrow a corkscrew from the other bar? (meaning the one before security)

No, we are not allowed a corkscrew this side of security as it has a knife on it (presumably a frustrated passenger might run amok).

Have you thought about having wine with a screw cap?

Wine in screw cap bottles isn’t any good.

Or how about getting some wine opened the other side and bringing it through?

But we might not sell it all – (and open bottles would be wasted)

Words failed them…….

Monday, 27 June 2011

DOMAINE DE LA PROSE



Domaine de la Prose is one of about ten estates that produce the Coteaux du Languedoc cru of St. Georges d’Orques. Note, I do not say grand cru. With the new system of grands vins and grands crus, no one seems to quite know what will happen to some of the existing crus of the Coteaux du Languedoc. The wines of St. Georges d’Orques come from around the eponymous village. It is in danger of being sucked into the suburbs of Montpellier and is now part of the more recently recognised area of Grès de Montpellier. It is all rather confusing and consequently Bertrand de Mortillet at Domaine de la Prose uses both St. Georges d’Orques and Grès de Montpellier on his labels. St. Georges d’Orques has a much longer and historic reputation for its wine, dating back to the 17th century. Amongst others, Thomas Jefferson appreciated the wines of St. Georges d’Orques when he was ambassador for the newly independent United States in Paris.

Although Domaine de la Prose is so close to the urban sprawl of Montpellier, the vineyards are wonderfully isolated. You take a narrow track off the road between the villages of St. Georges d’Orques and Pignan and gently climb, praying that nothing is coming into the other direction, as there would be a distinct possibility of one of you landing up in the ditch. I was lucky; a large lorry delivering bottles was still unloading as I arrived….. Had I been ten minutes later ….

Bertrand de Mortillet is a bright young man who studied at Bordeaux and worked at Château Montrose and in Corsica, and when his father bought Domaine de la Prose in 1989, he gave Bertrand a small share of the property, as well as the responsibility of creating its reputation. Basically he was starting from scratch; previous wines from the estate had been sold in bulk. A simple cellar was built; vineyards were replanted and 1995 was the first vintage. The vineyards are all relatively close together, 13 hectares at about 110 metres in altitude, on the first hills facing the sea, and they have been registered as organic since 2004. Bertrand is lucky that he does not have any close neighbours to contend with, and he tries to follow the biodynamic calendar ‘as it makes you think’. He mentioned how his winemaking style has evolved. Initially he favoured a lot of élevage in oak; now he uses barrels much less.

2010 Cadières blanc, St. Georges d’Orques – 8.50€
A blend of 40% Vermentino and 60% Grenache blanc, which are fermented separately and then blend at the first racking and left in vat until February when the wine was bottled. On the nose I found the slightly sappy, herbal notes of Vermentino, while on the palate there was the weight of Grenache, with white blossom and a ripe rounded finish. Cadières means cailloux or stones in Provençal and there is indeed a lot of white limestone in the vineyard.

2010 Embruns blanc, Grès de Montpellier – 13.00€
A blend of Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, and with just two barrels blended with a 25hectolitre vat, there is a touch of oak on the nose and palate, but it is nicely done, so that it adds body and weight, and a hint of honey. It should age well.

2009 Cadières rouge, St. Georges d’Orques – 8.50€
A blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah and Cinsaut. Medium colour, with fresh cherry fruit on the nose, and some acidity as well as tannin. Bertrand explained that he likes to pick his grapes relatively early to avoid high alcohol levels – this is a modest 13˚ - and this year with everything so advanced, he anticipates the harvest starting in mid-August. And when I asked about the typicity of St. Georges d’Orques – and he emphasised fraicheur and finesse. I certainly couldn’t disagree, based on 2009 Cadières.

2008 Embruns rouge, Grès de Montpellier – 13.00€
Embruns describes the marine mist and cloud, rather like the weather on the morning of my visit. The wine is a blend of 85% Syrah, with old vine Cinsaut and a little Carignan. The Syrah, and also Carignan, is kept in vat and the Cinsaut in barrel. Deep colour. Quite firm and closed on the nose, with a more expressive palate. 2008 was a cooler vintage, and this is quite elegant, with some appealing cherry fruit and rounded body. Bertrand emphasises that he looking for elegance, not weight, and he wants wines that will emphasise his terroir. And for this reason he no longer uses any new wood.

And our tasting finished with 2007 la Grande Cuvée, St. Georges d’Orques – 22.00€
Half Syrah aged in vat, and half Mourvèdre aged in barrel. Good colour; elegantly smoky oak and on the palate. Quite firm and structured with good tannins and some spicy fruit. Nicely balanced. Should age well.

And then it was time to head for Montpellier airport to meet my husband. Fortunately there was nothing coming up the hill.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Saturday, 25 June 2011

DOMAINE DE SAPORTA

The wine shop at Domaine de Saporta hides its light under a bushel. It is run by the Comité des Vins du Languedoc, and consequently does not advertise itself, but depends on the snowball effect to make itself known – and it is most certainly worth the detour, as M. Michelin would say, for any amateur of Languedoc wines. It probably has one of the best selections of Languedoc wines in the region, well laid out by appellation, with spacious bins and shelving, but it concentrates solely on the appellations of the region. There are no vins de pays here; no wines from the neighbouring department of the Gard either, and you might find the odd bottle from Roussillon.

I had met Bernard Bardou, the genial caviste, at a friend’s lunch table the other day and accepted an invitation to visit. What do you want to taste? What’s new? was my reply, so he put on a small tasting of some of their new discoveries. He explained how they select their wines. Anyone producing appellation wine in the region may submit wines for their tastings, with a small panel of local experts. They taste not by appellation but by price, with the key criterion of value for money. A wine that may be good at 8€ may also be deemed too expensive, and if your wine is selected one year, it does not automatically mean that your wine will be on their list the following year. The prices are the same as at the cellar door.

2009 Carignena, Corbières, from Peyriac-sur-Mer. 5.00€
From old Carignan vines, vinified by carbonic maceration with the aim of a fruity wine for easy summer drinking. And that was just what was achieved. Good colour. Some spicy fruit, with a rugged edge on the nose – what you might call typical Carignan. There was ripe fruit on the palate, with an attractive freshness on the finish. And great value at 5€

2010 L’Insolent, la Grange Léon, St. Chinian.
This is a new estate (2009 was the first vintage) in St. Chinian, with vineyards on the schist of Berlou. A blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah. Young colour. The classic flavours of schist, neither too sauvage, nor too animal, with a touch of minerality. The fruit leaped out of the glass. On the palate there was spicy red fruit, a streak of minerality and quite a long finish. Again there was a fresh finish to the medium weight palate. Another great summer red – for 6.30€

2010 Domaine du Temple, Cuvée Jacques de Molay. – 5.00€
Domaine du Temple is one of the few independent producers of Cabrières, a village that is dominated by its successful coop. This is a blend of predominantly Grenache and Syrah with a little Mourvèdre and a drop of Carignan. Again you have the effect of the schist, so the fruit is fresh, with hints of raspberry, some acidity and a streak of tannin and a fresh appealing finish. Again another bargain at 5,00€ I had been less than enamoured when I last visited Domaine du Temple about three years ago, and on the strength of this wine, it would certainly warrant another visit.

2010 le Clos Riveral, les Fontanilles, Languedoc – the vineyards are in the Terrasses du Larzac near St. Jean de la Blaquière - 8.10€
A blend of 60% Grenache, with 30% Syrah and 10% old Carignan. Part of the wine is aged in oak for a few months. Good colour; lovely fresh fruit, very gourmand with lots of red fruit. I couldn’t detect the oak at all. And on the palate nicely rounded fruit, medium weight, with a touch of tannin and a fresh finish. I blogged about Olivier Bellet, the young vigneron who made this wine, a while ago, and it was good to see that he continues to do well.

2008 Domaine Reine Juliette, Grange de Fredol - 9.50€
This estate is at Pomerols and the name has an association with a certain queen who travelled along the nearby Via Domitia, the Roman road that links Spain and Italy. A blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache, with some oak ageing. The wine was very perfumed, with a leathery note on the nose, with rounded perfumed fruit and a touch of leather on the palate and rather an alcoholic finish, with notes of liqueur cherry that I associate with Grenache Noir. Bernard and I both agreed that from the taste we would have expected the blend to be the other way round, with Grenache, not Syrah, the dominant variety.

2009 Cuvée l’Infernale, Corbières, from les Celliers d’Orfée, other wise known as the coop at Ornaisons. 7.90€
A blend of Syrah and Grenache. This was a bit sweet and sour on the nose, and quite alcoholic on the finish. It had some of the gutsiness that I associate with Corbières, but also some quite supple fruit and a warm finish.

2009 Domaine des Anges de Bacchus, Angélique, 8.00€
A new estate at Montarnaud, owned by David Mouysset. A blend of Syrah and Grenache. Deep colour; quite a perfumed nose, with a touch of garrigues, with supple ripe cherry fruit and a tannic streak on the palate. Quite a warm finish.

Then Bernard gave me a blind bottle and said what do you think this is? My tasting notes mentioned spice and fruit on the nose, a touch of garrigues. Medium weight, quite gouleyant, rounded and ripe. And it turned out to be 2010 Carline, Pic St. Loup made by Quentin Leenhardt, who is Andre Leenhardt’s son at Domaine de Cazeneuve, one of the leading estates of Pic St. Loup. We both agreed that although the wine is delicious, it was too supple for a Pic St. Loup and that we expected a bit more tannin and structure.

2009 Les Yeuses, les Epices – 6.90€
A pure Syrah. Les Epices mean spices, and the wine was just that. Ripe, with supple fruit and a rounded finish and eminently easy to drink, with notes of tapenade and sufficient balancing tannin.

Domaine de Saporta is a large complex on a country lane between exits 31 and 30 on the A9, at Lattes, just outside Montpellier. At one stage the road takes you parallel to the busy motorway. And it is well signed-posted. There is also a restaurant with a reasonable list of Languedoc wines. And they give visitors a warm welcome, so do drop in. And there is always something available for tasting.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

LIMOUX - part 3 - DOMAINE DE MOUSCAILLO



Domaine de Mouscaillo is one of the few independent wine growers in the small village of Roquetaillade, which is situated in the Haute Vallée de l’Aude. Pierre Fort explained how it is a region of contrasts; you have the influence of the Mediterranean, and of the Pyrenees. The grapes ripen well, but the Pyrenees bring cool winds, which enhances the acidity in the wine. He took us to see his main vineyard – he has just four ectares – and then showed us a spot where you can see quite clearly two different types of vegetation. To the east was the scrubby garrigue of the Mediterranean and to the west the pines of a cooler Pyrenean climate.

Unlike most wine growers in Limoux, Pierre makes no sparkling wine – just Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. His first vintage was in 2004, and with just four hectares, three of Chardonnay and one of Pinot Noir, he is very much his own man, with a vineyard that he can manage without any extra hands. Although he was born in Roquetaillade, he has worked in other vineyards, notably spending ten years at Chateau de Tracy in the Loire valley. There he made friends with the iconic winemaker, Didier Dageneau, who encouraged him to make his own wine. He acknowledges the debt – 'without Didier I wouldn’t be here'. There were already vines in the family, his father’s, but they belonged to the village coop.



He has two plots; the oldest, Chardonnay, was planted in 1970; it is south-facing and the other, Chardonnay and Pinot, which is north facing, is 16 years old. There is a difference of at least two weeks between the harvest dates. Pierre explained that having worked in the Loire, he liked acidity. He is quietly ambitious: 'I wanted to do something better than the others, and I couldn’t do that with sparkling wine'. He is articulate on the subject of organic viticulture – refusing to accept its dogma. 'It’s easier to sell bio. The environment is very complicated; you can’t have the same rules for France as for Australia'. Essentially he works the soil as little as possible, but you must remove the grass. His soil is quite deep, and packed with lots of minute fossils. The vines never suffer from drought.



And then we adjourned to his cellar for some barrel tasting. It almost seemed as though I was in a cellar in the Côte d’Or. The Chardonnay from the south facing slopes was riper and richer than that from the north-facing slope, but none the less with good acidity. The wine from the north facing slope seemed more concentrated with firm intensity and tightly knit fruit. And samples of 2010 Pinot Noir displayed some lovely varietal character, with liquorice and raspberry fruit and a firm streak of tannin. The most difficult thing is to manage the tannins – observing that a neighbour picks his Pinot Noir three weeks later.



And then we tasted some bottles:

2009 Pinot Noir, Vin de Pays de la Haute Vallée de l’Aude– NB the appellation of Limoux rouge does not include Pinot Noir, which seems a complete aberration to my mind, given that Limoux is one of the best places of the Languedoc for Pinot Noir, but apparently the political clout of one or two of the bigger producers influenced that decision. Pierre’s Pinot Noir was delicious. It has spent a year in barrel and following some bottle age has some dry raspberry fruit, with quite firm tannins and underlying silky elegance.

2008 Pinot Noir – 17€
Lovely elegant liquorice fruit; firm tannins, but nicely enrobe. Notes of griottes cherries. Beautifully balanced, with a fresh finish. Very stylish.

2008 Chardonnay, Limoux - 15€
Elegantly buttery, with good acidity and firm fruit. Still very youthful.

2007 Chardonnay
Again, lightly nutty and buttery, with a hint of maturity coming into play. Appealing leesy nose, a hint of minerality, and very acidity balancing an attrractive mouthfeel. Altogether very satisfying,

And we finished with a 2004 Chardonnay, Pierre’s first wine, made when he was still working in Sancerre. It was still fresh and elegant, with good acidity, and a hint of fennel on the palate. And that was the end of a great day in Limoux.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

LIMOUX - Part 2 - CHATEAU RIVES-BLANQUES



I’ve tasted Rives-Blanques and visited Caryl and Jan Panman regularly over the last ten years, since their first vintage in 2001. They are a Dutch-Irish couple, with successful careers in other fields, and then it was time for a change and they settled outside Limoux, buying their vineyards from Eric Vialade, who has stayed on as their winemaker. It seems a very happy arrangement and the range of wines has evolved over the years. So my visit last week was a good opportunity for a catch-up; Caryl and Jan are the most welcoming of hosts, not to mention their three dogs Bruno, Bacchus and Mauzac.

Normally you can enjoy the most spectacular view of the Pyrenees from the tasting room at Rive Blanques, but not that day. And their estate is named after the mountain that usually dominates that view.

2008 Blanquette de Limoux – 9.50€
The appellation regulations dictate a minimum of 90% Mauzac, and here it is blended with 10% Chenin Blanc. You may also use Chardonnay, but not Pinot Noir. The dosage is 4 gm/l – and Caryl admitted that they were tempted by a zero dosage.
Quite a rounded nose, with light herbal notes. Quite crisp acidity; light and elegant. It is deliciously and fresh, and eminently drinkable, as I know, all too well!

2008 Crémant de Limoux, Blanc de Blancs – 9.70€
A blend of 60% Chardonnay, with 40% Chenin Blanc. In theory there ought to be 10% Mauzac as well. The wine has spent at least eighteen months, if not 24 months on the lees. It is ripe and rounded, with some attractive fruit and a creamy finish. An elegant, creamy mouthful.

2008 Crémant de Limoux, Rosé – 10.55€
Essentially two thirds Chardonnay to one third Chenin Blanc, with 5% Pinot Noir. A very pretty pink, with dry herbal fruit. Delicate and powerful at the same time. You sense the presence of the Pinot Noir, which gives structure and fruit, but the overall effect is delicate and ethereal like the mountain air. Beautifully balanced.




And now on to the still wines:

2010 Vin de Pays d’Oc, Chardonnay / Chenin – 5.80€
The blend is 90% Chardonnay to 10% Chenin Blanc. The grapes are machine harvested in the middle of the night, around 3 a.m. and then sorted and pressed and the wine bottled after a short élevage in vat. In contrast the appellation regulations for white Limoux demand an élevage in barrel. This is light and buttery, with some understated rounded fruit, a herbal hint and some fresh acidity.

2010 Limoux Cuvée Occitanie – 10.85€
A pure Mauzac, from grapes that are picked at the end of the harvest, so three weeks than for the sparkling wine. Caryl is very enthusiastic about Mauzac; she loves it and people had stopped making it. ‘It’s a real Cinderella’, and not really appreciated, so they decided to have a go at a still Mauzac back in 2003 and it has now become a regular part of their repertoire, but so far only one other producer has followed their example. The wine has only just been bottled, so oak does dominate the palate for the moment, but with a satisfying mouthful, with good acidity, a herbal hint and some nutty notes. It will be intriguing to see how it develops.

2008 Limoux Dédicace, Chenin Blanc – 10.85€
Dédicace as they dedicate the wine to a different person each year. 2008 says Pour MM – Monica Murphy who was their Irish importer. The 2010 vintage is for George Pauli, who was the technical director of Chateau Gruard Larose and has helped with their blending for the last eight years.

This 2008 is light golden in colour, with some honeyed leafy notes and good fruit on the palate, with some underlying oak. The 2010 has only just been bottled – they will leave it in the cellar for at least 12 -1 8 months before releasing it. Again there was a touch of oak with some dry honey and a satisfying mouth feel with good acidity. It promises well, with good ageing potential. I have enjoyed mature vintages of this in the past.

2009 Limoux Trilogie - 17.20€
No prizes for working out that Trilogie means all three white grape varieties of Limoux. The proportions vary with the vintage, but Mauzac accounts for about half the blend in 2009, while the 2010 includes more Chardonnay. Quite rounded; quite textured palate, youthful with layers of flavour and depth and a hint of honey on the finish.

2010 Limoux Odyssée - 10.85€
Pure Chardonnay, with 20% new oak. Ripe, buttery and youthful, with some fresh fruit. The oak is well integrated and quite restrained.

2009 Vin de Pays d’Oc, Sauvageon – 10.00€
Sauvageon is the clue that it is Sauvignon, but they didn’t want to put Sauvignon on the label. 2009 was the second vintage, after a very small crop in 2008, for the vines were planted in 2005. As for Limoux, the wine is fermented in barrel and the oak is nicely integrated, with some restrained Sauvignon fruit and good body and texture with balancing acidity. A harmonious mouthful, promising well with some bottle age.

2006 Lagremas d’Aur, Vendange d’Hiver, Vin de Table de France 13€ - 50cl bottle
This is late harvest Chenin Blanc and Mauzac, harvested in January. There is a little botrytis, but the grapes are mostly raisined. The name means tears of gold, and you could say, that it is what the wine looks like, with quite a deep golden colour, with fresh honey and barley sugar on the nose, and more on the palate, with some fresh fruit and some roasted hints of botrytis. 70 gms/l residual sugar remains. It is absolutely delicious, and perfect with fruit puddings.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

A DAY IN LIMOUX - Part One - DOMAINE J. LAURENS




Limoux is one of the coolest parts of the Languedoc, and so it is ideal for the production of sparkling wine. On a clear day you can see the dramatic skyline of the Pyrenees; on Wednesday it was conspicuous by its absence. And this is where the vegetation of the Mediterranean meets that of the Atlantic. I needed to collect some wine for a party, so that seemed a good excuse to whizz down the motorway from the sunnier Hérault and spend a day tasting, rediscovering my old favourites Château Rive-Blanques and visiting two estates that were new to me.

First stop was Domaine J. Laurens in the little village of La Digne d’Aval. Jacques Calvel explained how he had bought the estate some ten years ago from a champenois, Michel Dervin who had developed the vineyards back in 1980 and established the style of J. Laurens. Laurens is an old family name. M. Calvel has had a career in computers – he described Laurens as his retirement job. And in my mind I made a comparison with Mike Roberts of Ridgeview in Sussex, who also sold a computing business and planted vineyards. It is clearly not retirement.

There are 30 hectares of vines; more than half are planted with Chardonnay, with a bit over 5 hectares each of Chenin Blanc, and Mauzac, the traditional variety of Limoux, as well as four hectares of Pinot Noir. Their own vineyards provide 90% of their requirements.

Limoux is divided into four zones, as there is such a diversity of microclimate and terrain. J. Laurens is in the area called Autan, which is quite cool, but wetter than the Mediterranean area. And M. Calvel, true to the champenois founder, makes only sparkling wine, which is quite rare – most people do produce still wine as well. And he produces four different cuvées. It’s all very simple. The cellar is small and neat, with vats and giro palettes and the equipment for dégorgement. However, you sense that great attention is paid to detail. Mr. Calvel talked about the harvest. They have a team of Portuguese pickers – the harvest usually starts in the middle of August and takes three weeks. They pick into 25 – 30 kilo boxes, handling the grapes as carefully as possible, but nonetheless the boxes are designed to allow any juice that might result from any squashed grapes, to escape so that it does not go into the press and spoil the wine. And when I asked M. Calvel to describe the typicity of his wine, he talked of finesse, elegance, fraicheur. He want to continue to the style of the former owner and he wants to make what he called vins droits droit in this context is tricky to translate – I would almost suggest wines that are true to themselves and their place, that are not complicated by external influences. And on tasting his wines I would consider that he succeeds.

NV Le Moulin Blanquette de Limoux 7.50€
A very fine bead. Quite a rounded, lightly honeyed nose, with a herbal hint. A rounded palate with a fresh finish. The dosage has 10 gms/l residual sugar. The blend is 90% Mauzac with a little Chardonnay, and the wine spends a minimum of nine months on the lees; but if possible they prefer 15 months. Initially they didn’t make any Blanquette but with the drop in the obligatory percentage of Mauzac in the Crémant, there was a surplus of Mauzac to be used up. And remember that the reputation of Limoux was based on Mauzac; Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, and also Pinot Noir came later.

2009 Crémant de Limoux, Les Graimenous – a lieu dit; apparently it means l’herbe folle, or mad grass! 8.50€
A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Chenin Blanc with 10% of Pinot Noir and Mauzac. These days you can make Crémant de Limoux without a drop of Mauzac. The wine must spend 12 months on lees, but again they prefer longer if possible, up to 18 months.

Elegance was the first word that came to mind, with a fine bead, a delicate creamy bouquet and an elegant palate. There was an appealingly creamy palate, with depth and a long finish. It was very harmonious and understated, and simply delicious.

Next came 2007 Crémant de Limoux La Rose No 7. – 9.50€ Why No. 7? Mr. Calvel referred to Chanel’s No 5 and then said that 7 is a lucky number. It is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin blanc and Pinot Noir, but no Mauzac. I noticed that my French colleague Michael Smith has described this wine as ‘cette enchanteresse cuvée’ – this bewitching cuvée. What more can I say? It is a delicate pale pink colour – they obtain the colour by vinifying the Pinot Noir part as still wine and then blending, and you can detect the influence of the Pinot Noir. There is a certain structure on the palate, with some hints of raspberry fruit, and a little more weight than the Crémant, but still with the hallmark of elegance. I was indeed enchanted.

And our tasting finished with 2008 Crémant de Limoux, Les Clos des Demoiselles – 10.50€

This also contains no Mauzac and is a selection of the best juice, with a longer time on the lees. Why Demoiselles? A story about the former owner. His father-in-law and friends had helped him buy him the vineyards. Among them was a Belgium wine merchant with three daughters, or demoiselles. This was immediately richer on the nose, partly the effect of longer ageing, and also an older vintage. It was ripe and rounded, with a herbal note, creamy, with more weight, and longer and fuller in the mouth.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

TWO VERY FRENCH EXPERIENCES




Every wine area of France has its own wine brotherhood or confrérie, and so do many of the regional gastronomic specialities. The objective seems to be promotional, an opportunity to sing the praises of the wine or dish, and to consume lots of it, and it also provides an opportunity for otherwise sensible men and women to besport themselves in medieval robes. And you have to remember that it is an honour to be invited to join a confrérie. So last Thursday I found myself being made a member of the Très Noble et Très Gourmande Confrérie du Petit Pâté de Pézenas. There is quite a hierarchy, with a grand maitre and a chamberlain, and the lower orders enjoy the title of Chevalier. I learnt that ladies are addressed as Madame le Chevalier. I am not a chevalière.





The ceremony itself was great fun – it was pouring with rain in Pézenas that morning, so it was an agreeable way of passing the time. We were six to be gonged; another English woman, who came from Market Drayton – more of the significance of that later – a chocolatier; a local traiteur or caterer; the owner of one of town's better restaurants, le Pré St. Jean; the director of the Pézenas coop, la Cave de Molière, - so no prizes for guessing what we drank with lunch.





The ceremony took place in the rather charming museum, l’Hôtel Vulliod de St. Germain, which houses various artefacts dating back to the time of Molière. We each had a godfather who made a charming little speech explaining why we should be members of this august organisation, and then we were required to swear to do everything in our power to extol the praises of the petits pâtés and then eat one ourselves, and wash it down with a glass of the coop’s Chardonnay. And then we adjourned for lunch.


So you may well ask – what is a petit pâté. It all goes back to Lord Clive of India, who spent a winter in Pézenas in 1768. He brought with him his Indian cook, who concocted a recipe for a little pie, filled with mutton, and seasoned with spices, a touch of curry, brown sugar and citrons confits. No self-respecting baker in Pézenas is now without petits pâtés. Lord Clive was born in Market Drayton and consequently Pézenas is twinned with it and maintains strong associations with the town.




And as this chapître or meeting marked the 20th birthday of the confrérie, lunch concluded with a birthday cake, along with a model cake, incorporating the various ingredients of a petit pâté, complete with fireworks. There were also a couple of musical interludes; between the fish and the meat course, we were treated to extracts of La Traviata, while the songs between cheese and birthday cake finished with Maria from Westside Story. And a good time was had by all.



And yesterday I noticed a short paragraph in our local paper, le Midi Libre, entitled Les Femmes et le Vin. The coop at Pomérols, and one of the leading producers of Picpoul de Pinet was hosting a conference about women and wine, and also offering a tasting of its award winning wines. The wines were really the main focus of the evening, and excuse for a party for the village. The conference turned out to be short and sweet, and did not offer any new insights; the president of the cave welcomed us all; a journalist from the Midi Libre eloquently introduced the various speakers – a couple of women who are members of the cooperative, who said how helpful their male colleagues were – and an oenologist who emphasised that the work of an oenologist goes from vine to bottle, and does not just concentrate on wine-making; she conducts a lot of tastings and enthused about the quality of the female palate. They agreed that they ‘shared the passion of our work’. There was a local artist and a local poet who read a poem about Picpoul, finishing with a line exhorting us to enjoy it in moderation.

And that was the cue for the tasting. I was the lone person to use a spittoon and the Picpoul, 2010 Cuvée Hugues de Beauvignac, boasting its gold medal from Paris, was indeed very good – with some lovely stony salty mineral fruit. I was less struck by the sparkling version and the moelleux was not a good idea. Moral : Picpoul should be dry and still – and then it can be delicious.