Three days at Vinisud, the Mediterranean wine fair, can only be described as challenging to both stamina and taste buds, but it is also great fun, as you never know who you might meet, or what you might get to taste. The fair has grown enormously since the very first fair, back in 1994 when it filled just one hall. These days there are eight halls. And you can taste wines from all around the Mediterranean, and even from parts of France and Portugal that have no Mediterranean seaboard. Naturally I concentrated on Languedoc Roussillon, and indeed hardly strayed out of the Languedoc I was there to catch up with some old friends and to make some new discoveries.
Sunday evening kicked off with the Vinifilles’ tasting at Mas de Saporta. They had decorated the large barn with colourful balloons and streamers so that there was more a party atmosphere than serious tasting. However, there were some lovely wines to try. My highlights included 2011 Les Tarrasettes from Clos de l’Anhel in the Corbières and 2012 Lilith from Mas Seren near Anduze. I had to miss out on the aligot and the Vinifilles’ song as I was then bidden to Domaine de Verchant, a rather elegant hotel in the outskirts of Montpellier. Philippe Modat of Domaine Modat in Roussillon had invited me to an evening of fifteen wine growers from Roussillon, each showing one wine, accompanied by a small dish, created by a chef of their choosing. The chefs were given full range and their creativity was unrestrained, which in some instances resulted in too many complicated flavours in one tiny dish. As it happened, my favourite combination was Philippe's, his white De-ci, De-là with a croquant de crevette asiatique. Frédérique Vaquer spoilt us with her 1988 red wine which was an elegant but mature blend of Carignan and Grenache, with some spicy fruit. The accompanying dish was described as aiguillettes de canard catalan et sa réduction laquée, with navets de cerdagne, or more prosaically some duck in a sauce and a slice of turnip!
The next morning I started off with Château la Baronne, thanks to a chance encounter with Paul Lignières. I do believe in letting serendipity determine some of my tasting programme, and Paul’s wines were showing very well. Then I had an appointment with a helicopter, courtesy of Jeanjean - more on that experience anon. Back on terra firma in the afternoon, my friend Patricia Domergue was showing several vintages of Clos Centeilles and in the evening I discovered, thanks to Graham Nutter of Chateau St. Jacques d'Albas, a new restaurant in Montpellier, l'Alliance des Plaisirs. It is run by a husband and wife team; he cooks and she is front of house. The kitchen is open plan so you can watch Vincent Valat in operation. Graham brought along a couple of magnums, so the evening promised well! .Vincent cooks a set menu each evening, so the only decision to be made was fish or meat. And we compared Château St. Jacques d’Albas from his first vintage, 2001, with Chapelle de St Jacques 2003, the first vintage of that particular cuvée. It was a fascinating comparison; both were delicious, but the 2001 was the more elegant of the pair, while the 2003 was still rich and concentrated.
Tuesday morning saw me at an off, as the French call fringe events. One of the region’s better cavistes, Caves 41 had put on a tasting of their Languedoc suppliers at the Château la Blanquière in Mauguio. Hugo Stewart from les Clos Perdus had suggested that I attend, and what a good tasting it was. More details in due course.
Back at the fair, I wandered round the St. Georges d'Orques stand, tasting some promising 2013s as well doing an update on the wines of Domaine la Prose. Bertrand de Mortillet’s white wines are particularly delicious. Diane Losfelt at Château l’Engarran has made a late harvest Grenache, Caprice, in 2013, the first vintage since 2008. It smells of chocolate and tastes of chocolate cherry liqueurs, with a refreshing streak of tannin. And then I had a long overdue catch up with François and Laurence Henry from Domaine Henry, also in St. Georges, and promised a cellar visit.
Other highlights included some Pic St. Loup, notably Bergerie du Capucin and the latest wines from Domaine Mouscaillo in Limoux who were celebrating their tenth vintage. Gavin Crisfield’s 2013 La Traversée Cinsaut is to die for – what a pity he has sold it all even before it is bottled, and his 2011 La Traversée is wonderfully elegant with an explosion of fruit. On the Domaine Ravanès stand I compared 2012 Petit Verdot with dense solid ripe fruit, with 2002 Le Prime Verd, also pure Petit Verdot, but you weren’t allowed to say so back then. It was rich and cedary and mature and had not lost any intensity. Clement Mengus’ wines from Domaine de Cabazan in Cabardès continue to delight. He made his first white wine in 2012, from Chenin blanc, Grenache Gris and Roussanne, with a touch of honey and some satisfying mouth feel and length.
And by way of relaxation that evening, thanks to my friends Catherine and Bernard, I was introduced to yet another restaurant, this time with a wine shop attached, De l’Art et du Cochon. There isn’t a wine list; you just wander round the shop and chose a bottle off the shelf. So we enjoyed some refreshing glasses of Laurens Graimenous Crémant de Limoux and then strayed hors region as fair as the Loire valley for a delicious Saumur rouge, Clos de la Cerisaie, from Domaine Mélaric.
And the next morning I just had time for one quick visit to the fair before whizzing off to the airport. There were some older vintages on the Faugères stand including a beautifully elegant 2005 Domaine Peyregrandes. And my final bonne bouche was Domaine de la Rencontre’s new wine, Poète, a late harvest Muscat with no added alcohol. It was rich and honeyed, and elegantly concentrated, with a long lingering finish.