Wednesday, 7 March 2012

GREAT WHITE WINES FROM THE LANGUEDOC

That was the theme of the tasting that the Maison du Languedoc asked me to present last week, and they got together ten lovely examples. There were plenty of contenders and it was difficult to stick to just ten, thereby demonstrating just how much the white wines of the Languedoc have progressed in recent years.

There are various reasons for that transformation. There was has been an enormous development in wine-making techniques, the same improvements that you find everywhere else in the world, not just in the Languedoc, but the impact of better cellar hygiene, more efficient temperature control, insulated cellars and more subtle use of oak has been considerable.

The other significant change in the development of unusual blends – the best red wines of the Languedoc are based on blends, so why not the white wines? And grape varieties from elsewhere have been introduced to the region, such as Roussanne, Marsanne, Vermentino. Viognier, Chenin Blanc. And the traditional varieties have been reassessed – such as Carignan blanc, Grenache blanc, Terret, Bourboulenc and so on. It all makes the potential truly exciting.

I’ve already blogged about most of these estates – the two exceptions being Domaine Gauby and Domaine le Conte des Floris, omissions which will be rectified shortly. So for more background information look at my earlier postings.

Domaine J. Laurens, Blanquette de Limoux Le Moulin
Light colour. Quite soft, slightly nutty, slightly herbal nose. Quite rounded, creamier on the palate, with a herbal note and good acidity. This is a very convincing example of the traditional sparkling wine of Limoux.

Château St. Martin de la Garrigue, 2011 Picpoul de Pinet
Quite a soft, ripe nose and palate. Soft acidity with a nice herbal note and a salty tang. The new vintage is showing very nicely. And a great example of how white wine making has improved in the region.

Domaine de la Madura 2010 Classique Pays d’Oc
This is Cyril Bourgne’s unoaked Sauvignon. It was firm and mineral on the nose, with good stony minerality and understated fruit on the palate. Cyril finds notes of fennel, which initially surprised him. To my mind Cyril is one of the rising stars of St. Chinian. Although he comes from Bordeaux, he did not choose to plant Sauvignon, but inherited it in his vineyard and decided to do the best with it, and very good that is too. He finds the main problem is deciding when to pick, not too early and not too late. He has now planted some Picpoul which he thinks will go well with Sauvignon, so look out for an unusual blend in due course.

Mas Cal Demoura, L’Etincelle, 2010 Pays de l’Herault

A wonderfully intriguing blend of Chenin, Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Muscat and Petit Manseng. There is more Chenin in the Languedoc than you might expect. I asked Vincent Goumard about this and he explained that Chenin was first found in the Aveyron, and from there it went to the Loire Valley and to the Languedoc. Twenty years ago the INAO decided to experiment with it and encouraged various growers to plant Chenin in an attempt to find grape varieties that would give more freshness and minerality. But they then rejected the experiment as giving results that were ‘pas typique’ but most of the growers such as Ollier Jullien and Alain Chabanon decided to keep their Chenin and make vins de pays instead. Vincent wonders whether Chenin might eventually be allowed in the appellation in twenty years time.

Vincent’s wine was rich rounded and textured. There was dry honey from the Chenin, a touch of peachiness from the Viognier and a little grapiness from the Muscat, with the Roussanne and Grenache providing body and weight. As you might expect, with such a blend, there were lots of intriguing nuances and layers of flavour. It was still quite young.

Domaine le Conte des Floris, 2010 Coteaux du Languedoc, Lune Blanche
This is pure Carignan from an innovative estate in the village of Caux outside Pézenas. Daniel le Conte des Floris much prefers varietal wines to blends, and he is interested in working out which grape variety expresses itself best in which terroir. He has three different terroirs, basalt which is good for Carignan, as well as schist for Syrah and villefranchien for Grenache.

The wine has a firm dry nutty note, with good structure, balance and depth on the palate. The great advantage of Carignan blanc is that it retains acidity, so the palate did indeed have some firm acidity. And Daniel works organically in the vineyard.

Domaine la Tour Vieille, 2010 Collioure, les Canadells

Another intriguing blend, of Grenache blanc, Grenache gris, Roussanne, Maccabeu and Vermentino.
Light colour; quite a rounded nose with hints of fennel, and on the palate rounded and textured, with good balancing acidity. Lots of layers and still very youthful.

Château d’Anglès, 2009 La Clape
Bourboulenc is the essential grape variety for la Clape and here it was blended with Grenache blanc and Roussanne. Chateau d’Anglès was originally known as Domaine la Rivière-Haute, and was owned by one of the pioneers of white wines from the Languedoc. Back in the mid-1980s Jean Ségura was making white wine quite unlike anything else you could find in the region, wines with character and depth. And following a difficult period after his death, it is great to see that this estate is now back on track. It was bought by Eric Fabre, who was the technical director of Château Lafite for eight years. He also bought the adjoining property of Domaine Rivière le Bas and amalgamated the two into Château d’Anglès.

Quite pithy and herbal, with salty notes of the sea, appropriately as you can see the sea from the vineyards. Good fruit, body and texture. And a fitting succession to the work of Jean Segura.

Château Rives-Blanques, 2009 Limoux, Trilogie

As you would expect from the name, a blend of three grape varieties, Chardonnay, Chenin and Mauzac. Quite a delicate nose, with light oaky fruit. Good acidity and lightly buttery notes with a herbal hint on the palate. Nicely understated oak. Limoux in the one appellation of the Languedoc that insists on oak ageing for its white wines, and this wine showed the suitability of Limoux, with its cool climate, for white wines.

Domaine Gauby, Vieilles Vignes, Côtes Catalanes
Another intriguing blend, Maccabeu, Grenache Blanc, Carignan Blanc, Grenache Gris and Chardonnay. The Chardonnay is unexpected but Mme Gauby inherited a small vineyard from her uncle. The vines are between 45 and 85 years old and the wine illustrates the merit of reassessing some of the traditional varieties like Grenache and Maccabeu. A very intriguing palate. Quite a firm nutty nose. Some herbal hints on the palate, with very good acidity. Mineral, tight knit. Youthful with a firm edge on the finish.

Château de la Peyrade. 2005 Vendanges d’Automne.
From one of the leading estates of Muscat de Frontignan, but a vin de pays, rather than an appellation as this wine comes from overripe raisined grapes and has not been muté. The grapes were picked at the beginning of October, so six weeks later than the main harvest. There is no botrytis as the climate is not suitable and Muscat skins are too thin.

It was a lovely golden colour, with ripe honeyed notes on the nose and on the palate. A lot of depth, with nuances of flavour, with orange and apricots. And more subtle than the classic Muscat de Frontignan. A lovely example of the suitability of the Languedoc for sweet wines, and a grand finale to a great tasting.

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