Liberty Wines celebrated their 15th anniversary this week with a mega tasting at the Oval Cricket ground. In my mind, they are known above all for what was a ground-breaking range of Italian, and especially Tuscan wine, when they first started up, but these days their list covers the world and includes some stars from the Languedoc, namely:
2011 Château la Tour de Bérard, Costières de Nîmes blanc
This is the sister property of the better known Château Mourgues de Grès. A blend of 40% Grenache Blanc with 30% each of Roussanne and Vermentino. Still very young with some pithy fruit with hints of white blossom and some good acidity. Nicely understated and plenty of potential for further development.
2010 Château la Tour de Bérard, Costières de Nîmes rouge
A blend of Syrah and Grenache, with some Mourvèdre and Carignan. Quite a deep colour. Very perfumed sunny fruit. Rounded ripe and spicy, with supple tannins. Lovely easy drinking.
2011 Domaine la Croix Gratiot, Picpoul de Pinet.
Quite a fresh stony nose, but more rounded and perfumed on the palate. Not the saline minerality that I expect for Picpoul or whether that will develop with a bit more bottle age. A slightly sweet finish.
There was also a 2011 Roussanne, IGP Pays d’Oc
Quit rounded, with white flowers and some perfume and a dry finish. Very pleasant easy drinking.
There were a couple of wines from Mas la Chevalière, the Domaine Laroche property outside Beziers. 2010 Chardonnay was a tank sample and was quite fresh without much real character. Nor was the 2010 Viognier particularly expressive. More satisfying was 2008 Vignoble Peyral, a blend of 85% Chardonnay and 15% Viognier, grown in vineyards at 200 metres. Quite solid, rounded and nutty, with a peachy hint from the Viognier.
Emmanuel Cazes, from Domaine Cazes in Rivesaltes, was at the tasting with a couple of wines:
2011 Le Canon du Maréchal Blanc, a blend of Muscat with 20% Viognier. Lovely grapey varietal character. Very Muscat, but with the potential bitterness of the Muscat on the finish softened by the peachiness of the Viognier. Easy drinking for an apéro.
2010 Marie Gabrielle, Côtes du Roussillon
60% Syrah, with 40% Grenache. Quite rounded and ripe, with a leathery tannic note. Ripe and spicy with a firm finish. Youthful, characterful and satisfying.
2009 Château Saint Roch, Chimères, Côtes du Roussillon Villages
Quite firm with some leathery fruit and some oak on the palate, which slightly overwhelms the fruit. I preferred the Cazes wine.
However, the real surprise of the tasting was the very first wine I have ever tasted from Armenia. Estate name Zorah, made by Zorik Gharibian with the help of Italian oenologist Alberto Antonini. The grape is an indigenous variety, Areni. No, I had never heard of it either. It is ungrafted – there is no phylloxera in the southern part of Armenia. The wine fermented in stainless steel and then undergoes a malo-lactic fermentation, partly in amphora – the mention karasi on the label indicates this – and also in French and Armenian oak. Armenian oak is apparently denser than French oak. And how did it taste? I had no idea what to expect. Elegance was the dominant characteristic; medium colour; quite a firm nose. Cherry fruit – not so dissimilar to Sangiovese, with a streak of tannin and freshness on the finish. A really lovely surprise.
The other extreme at the tasting were wines from England – a couple of sparkling wines from new producers Coates & Seely a blanc de blancs from Chardonnay and a rosé, with some ripe fruit. And then I spotted two wines from Stopham in West Sussex. This is a village that I associate with brass-rubbing in the church more years ago than I care to remember. Simon Woodhead was showing a Pinot Blanc and a Pinot Gris – I had no idea that these were planted anywhere near the South Downs. The 2010 Pinot Blanc was light and delicate with some fresh fruit, and while the 2010 Pinot Gris had a touch of residual sugar to round it out a bit, balanced with some spice and good acidity.
And to complete the unexpected flavours of the day, friends came to dinner bearing a bottle that their son-in-law had procured in the duty free shop at Adis Abeba airport – yes, it was an Ethiopian wine. A dry white wine, labelled Awash Cristal, from a possible appropriately named producer, Awash Wineries. The back label gave no clues about grape varieties, simply saying that it is ‘made from early grapes and produced with particular methods’. It would be kind to say that it was short on flavour – but it got full marks for originality of provenance.