After tasting one of Fabien Azema’s wines at the Maison des Vins in St. Chinian, I was keen to visit the estate, which is just outside the village of Roquebrun. The name comes from his great grandfather, who was called Albo, and the estate now totals 11 hectares, in 22 different plots, at an altitude of 350 metres, all in the hamlet of Ceps outside Roquebrun.
As for grape varieties, they have the usual reds of the Languedoc, but no Cinsaut, and for white wine Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne, but those vineyards are not classified St Chinian. An error when the appellation was created in 1982 and the comment was made that if all such errors were rectified, the appellation would increase by 300 hectares.
The vines have been in the family for several generations. Fabien’s grandfather was a member of the cooperative, and his father bottled his first wine in 2004 and removed the vines from the coop. Fabien officially took over the estate when his father retired in 2014, but judging from a brief appearance, retirement is the last thing on his father’s mind. Fabien had initially worked in education, with children with special needs, and then returned to wine. Part of their production is sold to the négoce, as they gradually attempt to increase the percentage sold in bottle. We settled down in their welcoming tasting room, to taste through the range. There is an interesting display of sundry items that they have found in their vineyards, fossils and other artefacts.
2014 Languedoc Blanc, Louis – 7.00€
Roussanne, with a drop of Grenache Blanc. You do need two grape varieties to make appellation Languedoc. The vines are on schist, but are not not St. Chinian, and the grapes are handpicked. Some lees stirring in vat gives some weight and body to the wine. Mineral nose, with firm tight knit fruit on the palate. Some white flowers and a hint of honey on the finish. Louis is Fabien’s nephew, born on the last day of the harvest in 2014.
2014 Viognier, Pays d’Oc – 8.00
Similar vinification to the Roussanne, with some lees stirring, but a lower yield of 20-25 hls/ha, as opposed to 30 hl/ha. A little peach and apricot on the nose. Good acidity, delicate peachy fruit with some weight, from the bâtonnage, on the palate and a fresh finish. Fabien wants wines with length.
Asked about viticulture, he replied 'lutte raisonnée plus'. Their vineyards are very stony, and it is impossible to use an intercep, the machine used to weed between the vines. Also they have lots of small plots, and if the neighbours are not organic too, it can be problematic But they till the vines as much as possible.
2014 Or Blanc, Languedoc – 12.00€
A blend of Viognier, Roussanne and Grenache blanc. The Roussanne is given three months élevage in wood. A little colour. Quite a rounded nose, with a touch of oak and on the palate quite rich and mouth filling,with some weight and satisfying texture. And a long finish. It is bottled soon after blending.
2014 St. Chinian rosé -5.50€
A blend of 40% each of Syrah and Grenache Noir, with 20% Mourvèdre. All pressed. A delicate pretty pink, with a delicate nose. Quite a rounded palate, quite full with raspberry and strawberry fruit. A little weight on the finish. The wine develops nicely in the glass.
2012 St. Chinian, Cuvée Augustin – 7.50€
Named after another nephew. One third each of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, blended at the beginning of December after the malo. A little carbonic maceration on the Syrah and 18 months élevage in vat. Good colour. Fabien wants spice and freshness and that is what he has achieved with some ripe spice on the nose, with firm fruit on the palate. Medium weight. He observed that the Mourvèdre gives some peppery notes. Quite a long finish.
2012 St. Chinian Le Pérarol – 7.50€
A traditional blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The name of the plot, and an attractive label with the silhouette of the Caroux that dominates the vineyards of St. Chinian. 18 months élevage, including a little oak for the Carignan, for 12 months, to patiner un petit peu. It is well integrated. Medium colour. Quite a firm nose, with some mineral fruit on the palate, with good balance. ‘Very schist’ observed Nelly from la Maison des Vins. Nicely rounded and elegant with a long finish. I really liked this and it is great value. A relatively short maceration of 15 – 20 days.
2010 St Chinian Or Brun – 14.00€
A play on words. It could be Roquebrun, but is not. The Orb is the river that flows through Roquebrun, so Or Brun. Mainly Syrah with a drop of Carignan and Mourvèdre. 12 months in older barriques. Good deep colour. Quite a firm sturdy nose and palate, quite a solid, dense palate, but with good fruit and the oak is well integrated. Quite a firm sturdy youthful finish. Needs time. 13.5˚ The Syrah is given three weeks carbonic maceration and the Carignan and Mourvèdre enjoy a classic fermentation. The carbonic maceration makes the wine more volouté. The soil is quite acid, so they add lime to balance the pH.
2012 St. Chinian Or Brun
A longer maceration and the oak is more present,. Quite solid and rounded, with firmer oak and more weight on the palate. On the day the 2010 was showing better, Obviously there is also a question of age.
And then we tasted a couple of 2013s, a fresher and later vintage than 2012. The whites were picked on 15th September, and the reds on 21st.
Fresh red fruit; very supple and very aromatic. A touch confit on the finish. The aim of this wine is an emphasis on the fruit. And that is exactly what there is.
2013 Le Pérarol
Quite a firm youthful nose, with fresh red fruit and spice. An elegant backbone of tannin. A certain mineral finish and very good balance.
And we finished with 2013 Moelleux Vin de France
And we finished with 2013 Moelleux Vin de France
A blend of Grenache blanc and Muscat, picked when they were very ripe, a potential 15˚, with the finished wine 13˚. The fermentation is stopped by chilling, leaving 50 gms/l residual sugar. Very perfumed Muscat fruit on both nose and palate, rounded sweetness, with a slightly bitter hint and also a hit of fennel.