Sunday, 22 July 2018

Domaine Florence Alquier

There is a new wine grower in Faugères, with an old established name.   Gilbert Alquier was one of the pioneering wine growers of the appellation, one of the first to bottle his wine, rather than selling it en vrac, and one of the first to experiment with an élevage in small oak barrels.  When he died, his two sons took over the family vines, and then went their separate ways, with two estates, Domaine Jean-Michel Alquier, and Domaine Frédéric Alquier.  Sadly Frédéric died a a couple of years ago, and now his widow, Florence, has rented her vines to Frédéric Desplats, who has taken Florence’s name for the name of his estate.   He has also bought some vines of his own from a retiring cooperative member in Roquessels, so that he is farming twenty hectares in all, with two partners. 

I met Frédéric Desplats at the welcoming wine bar, le Picamandil, in Puissalicon for a tasting of his very  first vintage, which was 2017.   In a previous career, Frédérique was a heating engineer; he was brought up in Lille and has always loved wine.  A friend in the Rhône Valley suggested vineyards there, but the price of vines in Faugères is more much attractive 15-20,000€ a hectare, as opposed to 40,000€ in the southern Rhône  I think he has made the right choice, irrespective of price.  Faugères is a much more distinguished and individual appellation than Côtes du Rhône.   As Frédéric has no experience of wine making, he has employed the very able Jean Natoli as his consultant oenologist, and the vines are being converted to organic viticulture.    2017 was a good year to start the conversion, with dry conditions.  In contrast the spring of 2018 proved much more problematic with unusual attacks of mildew, thanks to the unseasonal wet weather.    

2017 Faugères Blanc, le Village -  9.20€
A blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and a little Grenache Blanc, from a vineyard just close to the southern edge of the village of Faugères.  Light colour with quite  fresh delicate nose. Not yet very expressive, but with a nicely rounded palate, with some white blossom and balancing acidity.  Still very youthful.  A touch of not unpleasing bitterness on the finish.    The élevage is in vat without any skin contact, and the grapes are not destalked, which makes pressing easier.   Minimum use of SO2.

2017 Faugères Rosé, Plô des Figues - 9.20€
Mainly Cinsaut and pressed to make for a delicate pale colour,  and vinified just like a white wine,  Quite a delicate rounded nose, with some dry fruit on the palate.  Elegantly vinous and lightly mouth-filling, to make more of a food than an aperitif rosé.

2017 Renaissance Faugères - 9.70€
This is the entry level red, mainly from Grenache Noir with Carignan, Mourvèdre and Syrah.  The name refers to the renaissance of the old domaine and Frédéric is not sure that he will use the same name again this year.   Nor is the wine likely to be the same, as the Grenache Noir this year is a ‘catastrophe’ as it has succumbed badly to mildew, with the uncharacteristically wet spring of the Languedoc.  Frédéric is far from being alone with this. problem  The wine is rounded on the nose and palate, with red fruit and spice, and a balancing streak of tannin.   It is eminently easy to drink.  

2017 Puech Mourié, Faugères - 13.50€
Puech Mourié is the lieu-dit of the vineyard and the blend is mainly Carignan, mainly vinified by carbonic maceration, with some Grenache Noir and Syrah, and with an élevage in vat.  The nose is quite firm and structured, with some firm tannins on the palate, balancing the fruit, with good depth and length.   It needs time.

There is a third red wine in the pipeline, with 12 barriques and a further 90 hectolitres in a vat, in his cellar in the village of Faugères, destined to be the top of the range.  The final blend will be done next winter.  

You immediately sense that Frédéric is thrilled by his change in profession, and at the same time fully aware and philosophically accepting of the problems that unseasonal weather can cause.   And he is delighted to have settled in the south.   He has made great start and deserves to do well.  

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

The Languedoc’s finest whites

The Languedoc’s finest whites

There is no doubt that the white wines of the Languedoc are improving enormously, making for some really exciting drinking.  So I was thrilled when Decanter magazine asked me to choose my top 30 Languedoc whites.   However, in some ways this is something of a poisoned chalice, for the selection of wines will only be as good as the wines offered for tasting.   Decanter always requires UK stockists for these kinds of tastings, so it was not possible for me to simply select the wines I had enjoyed most while doing my book research over the last twelve  months or so.   So I asked the very helpful people at the Maison du Languedoc, or the Maison de l’Occitanie, as it is now called, with the enlargement of administrative region, to organise a tasting, to enable me to choose 30 wines.   Altogether I tasted just over 100 wines to make my final selection.    And I was delighted to find that some of my favourites whites were in the tasting and showed well on the day.

The wines  covered a considerable range of provenance and grape variety.   The three key white appellations, Limoux, Picpoul de Pinet and la Clape were well represented.  Two wines, Chenin Blanc, Dédicace and Mauzac, Occitania from Domaine Rives-Blanques accounted for the majority Limoux selection.  Château d’Anglès had contributed both their Classique and their Grand Vin, both of which showed well.  There was also Cuvée Arpège from Chateau Rouquette sur Mer, and Château de Marmorières from La Clape.   The Picpoul selection was slightly more problematic, with an estate, with which I am not familiar showing best of all, namely Domaine Petit Roubia.  In an ideal world I would also have liked to have included Domaine Félines-Jourdan and Château St Martin de la Garrigue, to name but a couple of other Picpoul.  

There were some original grape varieties and blends, with a Côtes de Brian Mosaique de Centeilles made from obscure and almost forgotten varieties like Araignan Blanc and Ribeyrenc Blanc.  Mas Champart with a blend of Terret and Grenache Gris was a firm favourite, as was Borie la Vitarèle, le Grand Mayol, from Bourboulenc, Clairette and Vermentino.   Simon Coulshaw’s  intriguing Roussanne, which is given some skin contact, showed well.   Other southern blends came from  the Pic St. Loup with Domaine de l’Hortus,  and from Faugères with Château de la Liquière, Cistus, and Mas d’Alezon’s Cabretta, made from Roussanne, Clairette and Grenache Blanc, while Domaine La Croix Chaptal represented the Languedoc’s oldest appellation, Clairette du Languedoc.  And although I tend not to enthuse about Chardonnay in the Languedoc, the example from Mas la Chevalière from a high altitude vineyard near Lunas proved a very convincing exception.  

So what was missing?  I would have liked more examples of La Clape and Limoux, and also of the growing number of white wines from other parts of the Languedoc, including wines from some of the acknowledged stars.    Obvious omissions included Mas Jullien, with Olivier  Jullien’s wonderful blend of Carignan Blanc and Chenin Blanc.   It ages beautifully and I have drunk both the 2012 and 2008 recently with enormous pleasure.  What about the white wines of  Daniel le Conte de Floris, who is another enthusiast for Carignan blanc, inspired by Olivier Jullien?   Domaine des Aurelles, another Pézenas estate, makes some wonderfully age-worthy Roussanne.   

I would have liked to have included Clos du Papillon from Mas Gabriel, but their importers, namely The Wine Society chose not to submit samples.  I have always enjoyed the white wines of Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette, from one of the more northern vineyards of the Terrasses du Larzac, along with Le Saut du Poisson from Clos du Serres in the village of St. Jean de la Blaquière.   Alain Chabanon in Montpeyroux makes a delicious pair of wines, Petit Trélans from Vermentino alone and Trélans from equal parts of Chenin Blanc and Vermentino.   Ollier-Taillefer's Allegro is another favourite.  And I love Pierre Clavel’s Cascaille Blanc from seven different varieties, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Vermentino, Muscat a petits grains, Marsanne and Clairette, which illustrates the diversity of the white grape varieties of the Languedoc.   And I have not mentioned Viognier, Albarino or Muscat.   One thing is for certain;  the choice will only continue to grow.  

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Domaine Ollier-Taillefer - an update

Alain Ollier, father of Françoise, at the Faugères fête in his splendid confrere robes 

Thirsty house guests were the reason for our visit to the Faugères estate of Domaine Ollier-Taillefer in Fos where Françoise Ollier always gives you a warm welcome.   They have opened a smart new tasting caveau since my last visit a year ago.  This is an estate that has evolved nicely with the next generation, converting to organic viticulture. and developing new wines.

Our tasting began with :

2017 Faugères Rosé, 7.30€ - which is just what is needed in the high summer temperatures of the Languedoc.  A blend of Cinsaut and Grenache, with the fruit of young vines of Syrah and Mourvedre.  The wine is firm and fresh, nicely rounded with some raspberry fruit.  Beautifully refreshing and undemanding.  

2015 Faugères, Les Collines - 7.60€
This wine for me is sunshine in a glass.   A mouthful of this and I see the garrigue-covered hills of the Languedoc, and road between Gabian and Faugères.  It is rounded and ripe, with spice and fruit, and a balancing streak of tannin.

Next came a trio of Grande Réserve, 11.00€  their unoaked cuvée from older vines.   The 2015 immediately made a good contrast with les Collines, with more depth, spice and weight.  2015 was a warm year, but nonetheless the wine retains a fresh finish.   2014 was a complicated harvest, with a couple of serious storms, but this Grande Réserve has turned out very well.  it is currently Françoise’s favourite of the three, with some rich rounded fruit, and an elegant streak of tannin of the finish, with some considerable depth.   2013 was another warm year, with ripe fruit and firmer, more structured tannins than the 2014.

A pair of the oaked cuvée, Castel Fossibus, 16.50€, displayed the same vintage differences.  It is blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, aged for twelve months in barrels, varying in age from one to seven years, with just 15% new.  The 2014 had hints of eucalyptus and garrigue, with quite a firm finish. while the 2013 was more closed initially, with some firm tannins, balanced with ripe fruit.  A with the Grande Reserve, the 2014 vintage is drinking more easily.  

Last of the reds was the newest addition to the range, Rêve de Noé, 25.50€, a blend of Syrah and Mourvedre in equal parts, all aged in new oak.   2013 was the first vintage; none was made in 2014, and this 2015 has recently been bottled.  The colour is deep and young, with sturdy red fruit on the nose, and some oak.  The oak on the palate is well integrated and there is a pleasing freshness to the wine, with fruit and spice.  However, there is something about it that is less languedocien than the other wines, possibly the impact of the new oak.

And our tasting finished with 2017 Faugères Blanc Allegro, 11.00€, which is one of my favourite white Faugères, and a blend of Roussanne and Vermentino, with some fresh herbal fruit on both nose and palate, with good acidity and a satisfying mouthfeel.  It made a lovely finale to a tasting.   

Françoise has kindly agreed to sell copies of my book, Wines of the Languedoc,  in her caveau, so give yourself a treat - go and taste and buy some wine, and a book as well!   And their open day on Sunday 29th July is well worth the journey.  

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Two La Clape estates, new and old

Firstly many apologies to my regular readers for neglecting my blog for the last few weeks.  Blame concentrated book research for three weeks in Chablis, so it was difficult to think about the Languedoc..  However, I will be back in the south at the end of next week for the month of July, so things should look up, with various cellar visits planned.  

Meanwhie here are a couple of La Clape estates which failed to make the cut for Wines of the Languedoc.

Domaine la Combe de St. Paul

I first met Paul Maury on a Sentiers Gourmands walk around the vineyards of Château Rouquette-sur-Mer and greatly enjoyed his very first wine, and then our paths crossed again at a Stars and Découverts tasting in Paris, where Christophe Bousquet had invited him to share a tasting table.  He works in the village of Salles d’Aude on the edge of the appellation of La Clape from a cellar that is a hundred years old.  It is equipped with enormous concrete vats, one as big as 1200 hectolitres, which now houses Paul’s barrels.  The other vats dwarf his more modest-sized tanks.  Paul currently has 25 hectares of vines, of which 5.5 hectares are la Clape, on gentle hills between the villages of Salles and Fleury d’Aude.   Elsewhere he makes IGP and AOP Languedoc.  He first worked at Sylva Plana and Château de Grézan, both Faugères estates, and then made rosé to sell en vrac, so that 2008 was his first serious vintage.   His white wine is a Languedoc AOP, a blend of Roussanne and Vermentino, with some fresh white blossom and a touch of residual sugar making for easy drinking.  Languedoc les Amandiers rosé is based on Cinsaut and he makes two red La Clape.  For the first, Grès Rouge, Syrah is the dominant variety, with 15% each of Grenache and Mourvèdre kept in vat, so that there are some appealing notes of the garrigues, with black fruit and tapenade.  It is a lovely elegant glass of wine.  L’Insoupçonée is Syrah with 15% Mourvèdre, fermented in open top stainless steel vats and manual pigeage. The grapes are handpicked, sorted and destalked and the wine is aged in 350 litres barrels, which Paul prefers to smaller barriques.  There is oak, but also very good fruit on both nose and palate, with elegance, spice and a streak of tannin.   Paul comes over as a very thoughtful and measured winemaker with understated talent.  He deserves to do well.  

Château Mire l’Etang

Château Mire l’Etang is appropriately named for the vineyards outside St. Pierre sur Mer do indeed do just that, look out on the étang. Philippe Chamayrac explained that his father had bought the estate in 1972 and he began working there in 1981, and his daughter, Pauline, is set to follow her father.  This is quite a traditional estate with 50 hectares of vine, in about 40 plots, all grouped together so than none is further than about 800 metres from the cellar, including just 7.5 hectares of white grapes. They make twocuvéesof white, one very traditional with élevageon lees and no oak, while Aimée de Cogny is given longer lees ageing.  She was the mistress of the local landowner, the Duc de Fleury, whose name is given to a red cuvée.   Philippe sees Bourboulenc as the backbone of the appellation, you need the other varieties to fill out the wine, Roussanne for aroma, and Grenache for weight and minerality.    

There are also two cuvéesof rosé, a Gris and a Cuvée Corail, with deeper colour and sturdier fruit, and again twocuvéesof red.  Tradition is their classic la Clape, made from Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre kept in vat. They have pulled up their Carignan.   Duc de Fleury is Syrah with 20% each of Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre, with 12 months in oak, making for some rich black fruit and the Réserve du Château given a longer ageing in new wood and comes from the oldest Syrah vines.   Things may change when Pauline arrives.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Domaine la Rouviole

Another property, that sadly did not make the cut, as I had to cull words for Wines of the Languedoc.    And tomorrow I am off to Chablis for three weeks, so apologies, there will be a bit of a lull in the Languedoc.

Domaine la Rouviole is the next-door neighbour to Clos Centeilles, - Rouviole is the name of the stream that separates the two properties - where Franck Léonor has been making wine since 1998.  He has 16 hectares of which just two and a half are La Livinière – it is a question of having the right proportions of the various grape varieties. They are all cultivated organically.   His cellar is in what was once the old bergerie, which housed 200 sheep as well as several chickens.   Franck was first a school teacher, and he does have the air of an absent-minded professor as he talks about his wine.  Syrah is his main variety and he enjoys its aromatic complexity with notes of black fruit; Grenache Noir gives balance and drinkability and should not be too heavy.  It resists drought much better than Syrah.  Essentially Franck makes a Minervois and a Minervois La Livinière, choosing the best barrels for the cru. Usually the blend is about 75% Syrah to 25% Grenache Noir, with some firm oak, initially balanced by fresh fruit. On my last visit Franck demonstrated just how well his wines age, when our tasting included 2012 and 2011 and finished with a 2004, that was just reaching its plateau in the autumn of 2016.

Monday, 21 May 2018

The Big Fortified Tasting

The Big Fortified Tasting has become an annual event and is a great occasion for an update on all manner of fortified wines, not just the classics, Port, Sherry and Madeira,  but also luscious liqueur Muscats from Australia, distinctive Moscatel de Setúbal, and other curiosities.  Sadly the South of France was poorly represented, with just two wines from Roussillon, a lovely pair of Banyuls, from Coume del Mas.

NV Coume del Mas Banyuls Tradition 
Medium red colour, turning tawny, with a rounded ripe spicy fruit on the nose, with more ripe spice on the palate.  Nicely balanced and very satisfying.   A lovely glass of wine.

2016 Banyuls Rouge, Galatea.
This contrasted beautifully with the previous wine, with much fresher, more youthful flavours, again with spice on both nose and palate, but with a fresh lift on the finish.    A satisfying comparison, showing the diversity of Banyuls. 

More original and very unexpected, with a southern French link, were some fortified wines made from Alicante Bouschet, but not from the south of France, but from the Alentejo in southern Portugal.  I’ve encountered Alicante Bouschet from the Alentejo before, but never as a fortified wine, and very intriguing it is too, with three vintages to compare.  I was told that the Reynolds family had brought the vines from France in the 1880s.   

2008 Alicante Bouschet, Robert Reynolds
Medium red colour. Quite ripe and sweet nose, with berry fruit.  Rich and ripe with chocolaty notes.  Very intriguing.   The wine is aged in French 225 litres barrels for three years and then spends about seven years in bottle before being released for sale.   

A cooler vintage, with medium colour. More notes of fig on the nose. Quite a smooth ripe palate, with a later harvest, at the end rather than at the beginning of September, making more concentration.  A touch ‘medicinal’ on the finish, but none the worse for that.

Rich herbal fruit on the nose. They only used free run juice, never pressed juice.  Ripe spicy fruit on the palate, with a supple streak of tannin, with ripe chocolatey flavours.  It would be great with a piece of dark chocolate.

They are imported by LWC Drinks Ltd, who told me that they are destined mainly for the on trade, with a price comparable to a 20-year-old tawny.    In conclusion, an original curiosity.   

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Simpsons - From the Languedoc to the Garden of England

Ruth and Charles Simpsons already run a very successful winery in the Languedoc, Domaine Ste Rose, in the Hérault village of Servian, which concentrates particularly on varietal wines, as Charles would say, Old World wines using New World methods.  But  family reasons, such as their daughters’ education, have brought them back to England and to the village of Barham, near Canterbury, where they have planted 30 hectares, of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.   Their first vines came into production in 2016, for a Chardonnay, Roman Road.  The vineyard is indeed on the old Roman road.

I went to visit a couple of weeks ago.  It was one of those gloriously sunny days when  the weather is almost too good to be true, and it made a grand day out from London.   First, we admired a piece of equipment sitting in the yard that is designed to protect the vines from frost by causing the air over the vineyards to circulate.  An arm goes up and oscillates, blending the cold air with less cold air, and causing a constant movement.  They had used it the previous week, after suffering severe frost damage in 2017. As Ruth said, we simply cannot afford not to do something about the frost.   I have yet to see anything like this in Chablis.  

First of all, Ruth took us to look at their oldest vineyard, on a chalk slope outside the village. They have several clones, twelve for Chardonnay, and seven each of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, making for diversity in the vineyard and planted either on Fercal or 41B rootstock, which are the only choice, with such a high calcium content in the soil.  The composition of the first  vineyard is 50% Chardonnay with 30% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier, but in the second vineyard the balance will shift to 50% Pinot Noir. They prefer Pinot based sparkling wine.    They are not aiming for organic viticulture, but do want to be as sustainable as possible.

The land had been farmland for a long time, first arable and then more recently used for pigs. The Pinot Meunier, which buds later, is planted in the more frost prone pocket at the bottom of the slope and they had left what they called a ‘sacrificial arm’, a third arm, in case of frost damage, which is then removed after the risk of frost has passed.  There is grass between the rows, and they use weed killer between the vines.  Ruth talked about the planting which took three days in 2014, but in 2016 was much quicker with GPS guidance.   Rabbits are the main pest; they love green shoots, so they protect the vines with netting.  Pheasants are another problem.  The local shoot feeds the pheasants until harvest time, and then the pheasants come scavenging in the vineyards,  but happily then the shooting season opens shortly afterwards.   And we could see the second vineyard, Railway Hill,  in the distance, above the village of Barham.    Here they have planted wind breaks, of fast growing Italian alder.

Back in the village we looked at the cellar, constructed from two large barns, in time for the 2016 harvest.  They will be disgorging some rosé in June, but otherwise it will be another year before there is sparkling wine available.  They have not invested in neither a bottling line – they prefer to bottle everything at once, to avoid any bottle variations - nor in a disgorging machine   The cellar is well equipped with stainless steel vats of varying sizes.   They are planning a dedicated press room, explaining that they have a two-week window of opportunity get everything picked and pressed; in contrast at Ste Rose, it takes six to eight weeks, with so many different grape varieties.  Three pressings are the absolute maximum you can achieve in one day.    They had initially thought there would be a break between the two harvests, but with climate change, that is becoming less obvious.

A new piece of equipment to me was a large bag that allows for oxygen-free pressing.  A bag that Is identical in size to the bag in the press replaces the oxygen with nitrogen as the press operates.  With oxygen-free Chardonnay, you obtain citrus notes, but with some contact with oxygen you obtain more tropical notes.  Charles would like to combine the two.  With the standard champagne press, you do not actually know to what extent the juice is oxygenating, but with the bag you can control the oxidative process, and it is all enclosed, including the juice tray under the press.  It is called the Inertys system.  The nitrogen can be sucked back into the bag so that there is a constant exchange.   Charles is convinced that this adds to the complexity of the wine.

And there is a very smart tasting room, with a helter skelter slide to take you down into the cellar, with wine tourism in mind. I have to admit that I was chicken and declined to be one of the first Masters of Wine to try it out.   We tasted the 2017 Roman Road, (£22.95) which is certainly a very convincing Chardonnay, maybe a Chablis lookalike, but with a note of England.  Thirty per cent of the blend spent four months in 2-year-old barrels, that had previously been used for Roussanne at Domaine Ste. Rose.  It was lemony and floral, rounded with balancing acidity and a stony note and had only recently been bottled.   It promises well and I will look forward to enjoy the Simpsons’ sparkling wine in due course.   

We also talked about wine tourism and the development of a group called The Garden of England, consisting of seven local wine estates, namely  Simpsons, Gusbourne, Chapel Down, Hush Heath, Squerries, Bidenden and Domaine Evremond, the Taitinger estate.  Charles explained that they would like to encourage local tourism; the neighbouring  population is enthusiastic in a way that simply does not happen in the Languedoc. An initial order to the Barham village stores sold out in minutes, causing Charles to observe that it may be easy making wine in the south of France, but it is a lot more difficult to sell, whereas the opposite is true of England.

And for more on English wines do consider A Celebration of English Wines by Liz Sagues, just published by Robert Hale in Chichester.  Cover price £16.99.  It captures the essence of English  wines, combined with some evocative photographs.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Mas de Novi

Mas de Novi is a rather smart domaine outside Montagnac, in the Grés de Montpellier  It has been quite a few years since my last visit and I have to say the wines have improved significantly.  One reason for that is a change of winemaker.  The estate is owned by Jean-Claude Palu and his wife Michèle, who bought it for a song over 20 years ago, and then spent a considerable amount of money restoring the property and streamlining the cellar.  In M. Paul’s absence, Mas de Novi now run by Thierry Thomas, who deeply committed to the estate, for his very first job was at Mas de Novi, and then he went onto work elsewhere before returning to Mas de Novi in 2012.  One of the first things he did was to convert the vineyards  to organic viticulture.  They now have 42 hectares in production, all around the cellars, as well as another 5.5 hectares coming into production. The terroir is argilo-calcaire, clay and limestone.  

The cellars are well equipped, with stainless steel vats, as well as some cement and stone vats that are useful for blending, and a small barrel cellar for white wine, and a larger one for red wines, with barriques and demi-muids.  Sulphur is used as little as possible, at the end of the fermentation for white wine, and after the malo-lactic fermentation for red wine.  And hygiene is meticulous.

There was originally a Roman villa on the site and then it became a dépendence of the lovely Cistercian abbey of nearby Valmagne, from 11th century until the Revolution.   I was taken for a drive through the vineyards up to a viewpoint that looks towards the Mont Ste Claire in Sète, the abbey of Valmagne and the village of Villeveyrac.  And then we adjourned to the welcoming tasting caveau. 

2017 Lou Rosat, Languedoc AOP - 9.00€
A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsaut and Carignan.  However Thierry is not very keen on Carignan, observing that it performs better on schist.  It is also better with a carbonic maceration, but then you have to drink it quite quickly.  I begged to differ.  The grapes for the rosé are pressed  so quite a pale colour.  The 2016 was even paler, following the fashion for the palest of rosés.  I was quite surprised to learn that a powder made from garden peas can provide an effective  fining agent to remove colour.   The palate was crisp and fresh, with a dry finish.  

2017 Lou Blanc, Pays d’Oc, Chardonnay - 11.00€
A pure Chardonnay given an élevage on its lees in stainless steel vats, as well as three to four hours of skin contact.   The skin contact was the consequence of a press breaking down when it was full of Chardonnay grapes and they found they liked the result, so now do that regularly.  The nose was rounded and lightly nutty, with a ripe palate and fresh acidity.  There is no malo-lactic fermentation; they want to retain acidity, and also in the rosé.

2014 Chardonnay Pays d’Oc - 17.00€
with the fermentation and 12 months ageing in barrel.  Lightly golden colour. Firm nutty nose; quite rounded, with ripe fruit and some texture and firm acidity on the finish.  

2015 Chardonnay - 17.00€
The same wine, but with quite a vintage difference, in that it tasted much more structured with a tighter palate and fruit.  I much preferred it. 

2016 Lou Mazet, Pays d’Oc - 9.00€
From of equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, kept in vat.  All destemmed as they harvest by machine, and the machine has an optical sorting device, a tri optique, which eliminates a lot of unwanted grapes, leaves, insects and so on in the vineyard, before the fruit gets to the cellar.  Deep young colour.  Quite rounded with some  firm tannins.  Pretty easy drinking.

2015 Le Chemin de Novi, Grés de Montpellier - 11.00€
A blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache.  in stainless steel vats.  Good colour.  Quite a rounded nose, with some dry leathery notes on the nose, and on the palate some ripe fruit and a certain warmth on the finish.   

2015 Ô de Novi, Grés de Montpellier - 17.00€
From 40 year old vines, 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache.  Average yield 25 hl/ha as opposed to 40 hl/ha for le Chemin de Novi. Aged in stainless steel vat.  A deep colour.  Quite firm nose; nicely concentrated dry spice, with firm fruit.  Well integrated tannins.  Nicely youthful, with ageing potential

2014 Prestige, Grés de Montpellier - 13.00€
85% Syrah with 12% Grenache and just 3% Mourvèdre, the salt and pepper, observed Thierry.   You really miss  the Mourvèdre if it is not included.  12 months élevage in fut. Quite substantial and rounded on the nose and palate, with ripe spicy fruit and a fresh lift on the finish.  Well made with ageing potential and fresher than the O de Novi, perhaps because of the Mourvèdre.

Then to show how well their wines age, Thierry explained that they have a policy of keeping back some bottles, 15,000, to release when they are ten years old.

2008 Novi, Grés de Montpellier - 21.00€
with 85% Syrah, 12% Grenache and Mourvèdre, from 40 year old vines, with some élevage in vat, and also in barriques and demi-muids. The colour is beginning to evolve, as is the nose with some cedary notes, making for a pleasing maturity with rounded cedary fruit on the palate.  Thierry described  2008 as a classic vintage

2009 is a sunnier vintage, with the same blend, but is not yet on sale.  The wine is more solid and rounded, denser with more tannin than the 2008.  I preferred the 2008.  The 2009 also seemed more alcoholic on the finish.

And then I spotted a sign on the wall of the tasting room - Alcohol because no great story ever started with somebody eating a salad!

Our tasting finished with 2011 N de Novi,  Grés de Montpellier at 55.00€  A pure Syrah that was planted after a fire in the garrigue nearby in 1994.  The first vintage was 2008.  The density is 6000 pieds per hectare, with a yield of a natural 15 hl/ha, without resorting to a green harvest.  The wine spends 18 months in new demi-muids.  The palate is rounded and spicy, with supplie tannins and some satisfying texture.  Thierry admitted that for 2012 he has included some Viognier, so that will be interesting to taste in due course.   

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Why write a book on the wines of the Languedoc?

Why write about the Languedoc now?  Quite simply, and without exaggeration, it is the most exciting wine region of the whole of France.  The pace of change in the last few years has been breath-taking, and for that reason I wanted to concentrate on the Languedoc of the 21stcentury and describe the many changes in the region and the new wine growers who are behind those changes.  In a nutshell, the region has become, in the words of one grower, more confident and another suggested, more sage,wiser and more grown up.   It is not only that work in the vineyard and cellar have improved dramatically, but that the atmosphere has changed, with a buoyancy and optimism.  While it is true, that there are still problems, and indeed dull wines, there is the underlying realisation that the Languedoc has so much to offer.  The lure of the Languedoc for outsiders, and newcomers to wine, is very strong, and many said that it was more welcoming than other regions they explored.  The newcomers have brought ideas from elsewhere and that all adds to a vibrant melting pot of dynamic attitudes.   There is an extraordinary enthusiasm and energy amongst the wine growers.  I have lost count of the times somebody said:c’est ma passion.  Life may be hard; their vines may be frosted or hailed, but they simply could not imagine doing anything else, and they are all making the very best wine that they can.  They enjoy the liberty that the Languedoc offers; if you make an appellation, you must conform to its regulations, but if you make an IGP, the rules are much more flexible, and if you make Vin de France, the restrictions are minimal.  For this reason, the Languedoc is a hotbed of experimentation, with a wonderful choice of grape varieties.  The appellations retain the established varieties, but the producers of IGP and Vin de France may experiment virtually to their heart’s content. 

There has been much to discover.   As a local wine merchant observed, the new estates are popping up like mushrooms. The newest appellation of the Languedoc, the Terrasses du Larzac, has absorbed 25 new estates since 2011; Faugères had four new wine growers in 2014, and a further four since then.   There are new arrivals at every vintage, and those are the people on whom I wanted to concentrate for this book, for they are the people who are creating the Languedoc of the 21stcentury. Of course, I could not ignore the long-established estates, and indeed some of the cooperatives, where they continue to perform well for their appellation, but my focus is on the new developments and the newcomers of the past 17 years.   There are well over 2,500 estates in the Languedoc, so selection was essential and I apologise for all the omissions, of which there are doubtless numerous, but I also hope that I have paved the way to new discoveries, in the 200 or so estates covered in the book. 


Sunday, 29 April 2018

Face B

I was in the Roussillon village of Calce a week or two ago, having lunch in the cheerful village restaurant, le Presbytère, and as it happened, some of the village wine growers were there too, Jean-Philippe Padié and Olivier Pithon and they introduced me to the newest arrival in Calce, Séverin Barioz of Face B.   He made his second vintage in 2016 and has had a varied career before arriving in Calce   As I was between two cellars visits, Roc des Anges and Gérard Gauby, there was not time for a proper cellar visit, but we did manage a quick conversation and tasting,

Why Face B - It’s the B side of a vinyl record; also what Séverin called the crise de la quarantaine, and in Catalan fet bé means fait bien….. Séverin has done various things in the wine industry, including working for the interprofession in Burgundy and then Jean-Philippe Padié introduced him to Calce and he came and worked there, liked for he saw and stayed, and completed his second harvest last year.   He has four hectares of vines, in five different plots and make two whites, two reds and a little Muscat, an orange wine, called Yoshi, and some rosé.   

2017 Makéba, Côtes Catalanes is a pure Macabeu, with firm stony fruit on the nose. On the palate it is fresh, with firm acidity and some salty notes, and a fresh finish.

2017 Engrenaches, Côtes Catalanes, is a blend of 50% Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc with 50% Macabeu.  It too has firm acidity, balanced with fresh fruit, and a tight structure with good tension.   Both wines are lovely examples of just how successful white wine is in this part of Roussillon.

We also tried a pure Carignan, Karignan, Côtes Catalanes   The 2017 is still very young, with a deep purple colour and fresh youthful fruit, balanced with tannin and acidity on the palate.   It needs time to settle down, but promises to be a lovely example of Carignan.   Séverin’s second red is called Peau Rouge and is a blend of equal parts of Syrah and Grenache.    

I thought he had made a brilliant debut and I can’t wait to go back for a more detailed and leisurely cellar visit.  

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Wines of the Languedoc - My new book!!

Please may I blow my own trumpet?   Copies arrived yesterday and publication is set for Monday week, 30th April.  Available from Amazon or direct from the publishers, Infinite Ideas at

Monday, 16 April 2018

Corbières - A pair of cooperatives

Terroirs de Vertige, Talairan

The Talairan cooperative is one of nine cooperatives that form Terroirs du Vertige which covers an area of higher altitude vineyards from Lagrasse to Cucugnan.  It is run by Benjamin Andrieu, who studied oenology at Toulouse and arrived in Talairan in 2016.  I sense he will be a refreshing breathe of fresh air and bring new ideas to the cooperative.    The Talairan cooperative covers several villages, from Thézan at 100 metres to Cucugnan at 400 metres, taking in the Cathar castles of Peyrepertuse and Quéribus.  The altitude brings advantages and disadvantages, allowing for a diversity of grape varieties and wines styles.   The Pyrenees have a strong influence so that the harvest can last six or seven weeks, usually beginning at the end of August and in 2016 it finished on 16thNovember.  Benjamin cited the example of Merlot, that can be picked in mid-September, or delayed until the end of the month, if it is at a higher altitude. 

Asked about their tipicity, Benjamin said they were working on wines for longer keeping, using less maceration carbonic and as for flavour, he talked of tapenade for Syrah and minerality and freshness for Carignan. He wants elegance rather than concentration.  The higher altitude is good for white wines, with Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Roussanne, and Macabeo.   Vestiges, which he called the flagship of the cellar, comes from 80% Syrah with 20% Grenache Noir, with a 30 days cuvaison and elevate in vat.  The emphasis is on fruit;  that is what people really want and the wine is ripe and peppery.  Other cuvées such as Talarius and Guilhem l'Hérétique include higher proportions of Carignan and some elevate in oak.  Although they want to increase the percentage of the production that is bottled, they are also very aware that quality is a keen consideration for their bulk wines. 

Les Celliers d’Ornaisons, Ornaisons

Les Celliers d’Ornaisons is based at Ornaisons and run by Christophe Groppi, who is bright and perceptive.  Again, this is a group of cooperatives from the surrounding villages, accounting for 1000 hectares including 470 hectares of Corbières, as well as IGP.  They have known how to grow with the times.  In the 1980s they carried out a lot of replanting; in the 1990s they invested in technology, equipping the whole cellar with a cooling plant. In the 2000s they have concentrated on sélection parcellaire anfor Christophe, that is now the basis of everything, with lots of selection, with at least six different qualities of Syrah.  They have a new barrel cellar and a stream-lined vinification cellar, with a pneumatic press.  The bulk of their business is wine en vrac for the négoce,with their own wines in bottle accounting for a quarter of their turnover, but only 8% of their volume.   

L’Infernale is a blend of two thirds Grenache Noir to one third Syrah, from lower yielding vineyards, resulting in some supple spicy fruit.  B de Boutenac, for which they have seven growers, is the top of their range, from Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, with the spicy cherry fruit, characteristic of Grenache. Christophe enthused: ‘j’adore le Grenache; it is a wonderful grape variety, but alcohol can be a problem with it’.  Unlike so many cooperatives, they have not been lured by the cheapest, firmly avoiding Corbières at 1.75€ a bottle, but have built up a well-conceived range.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Four Corbières estates

Four Corbières estates, all of which produce some delicious wine, failed to make the cut for my Corbières chapter.  Here they are.


Château Grand Caumont, Lézignan-Corbières 

Château Grand Caumont is an old historic property.  You approach the property along a driveway that is lined with solid stones, that were once used to support enormous old foudres in the cellar. There was a Roman villa on the site and in the 9thcentury, Charles the Bald gave the land to his nephew. The château was burnt at the French Revolution, leaving just one tower from which there are views over the surrounding countryside.    In 1906, it was bought by the Rigal family who produced Roquefort cheese and when their cheese business was sold, they concentrated on wine.    However, they still have  a model of the town of Roquefort and an original poster advertising Rigal Roquefort.  The estate is now run by Laurent Rigal, with her loyal cellar master, Patrick Blanchard, who arrived at the property back in 1988.  Altogether they have 90 hectares in production.  The Orbiel river divides the estate, with 15 hectares of IGP on flatter land to the north of the river and the core of the estate for Corbières to the south, including some 80-year-old Carignan, all farmed by lutte raisonnée.  It was Laurent’s mother who first bottled their wine, in 1985, while her father had been content with sales en vrac.   
We tasted in the dining room, with murals from the 19thcentury.  The range comprises a Cuvée Tradition in all three colours, Cuvée Spéciale, mainly from Syrah and Carignan, with some carbonic maceration, but no oak ageing, making for spicy ripe fruit.  Réserve de Laurence is based on Syrah with some Carignan and Grenache, with a small percentage of élevagein oak, with some firm fruit.  Impatience includes 40% barrel ageing, including a proportion of new oak, and Cappus Monti comes from 60% Syrah with 40% old vine Carignan, all kept in oak for 10 months.  Impatience Blanc is mainly Grenache Blanc, with 20% Vermentino, with some oak and buttery notes on the nose, balanced by good acidity and sappy fruit on the palate.   For the moment, they do not produce Boutenac, but they have bought a five-hectare plot which includes 1.80 hectares classified as Boutenac but not yet planted.  They are considering Carignan and Mourvèdre.


Château Étang des Colombes, Lézignan-Corbières

Christophe Gualco is the 5thgeneration of his family at Château Étang des Colombes.  The property was bought at the end of the 19thcentury and encompasses 117 hectares of vines, including some IGP as well as Corbières.  Christophe’s father, Henri, was a pioneer in the region, bottling his first wine in 1973, when Corbières was still a VDQS, and during the 1980s he developed a solid range of different wines and built a Bordeaux style barrel chai in 1986.  Christophe is following in his father’s footsteps.  He is energetic and enthusiastic and has done the Etudes de l’OIV which entails work experience in Chile, Britain, at Davis in California and Mendoza in Argentina.  He wanted a vision that was different, especially for marketing.  

We tasted in a large caveau with various old foudres and vinous artefacts.  There was a machine that was once used against phylloxera that pumped water into the vineyards.   Étang des Colombes’ vineyards on the necessary fairly flat land.   An enormous chunk of tartrate crystals looked just like volcanic lava.  Our tasting included a lightly peachy Viognier, a rosé, which Christophe described as their produit phare,  of which they produce 60,000 bottles of Gris Colombes in an attractive and distinctive serigraphic bottle, from Cinsaut, Grenache Noir and a little Syrah, with some delicate fruit.  Bois des Dames Blanc is mainly old Grenache Blanc, with some Bourboulenc and aged, but not fermented in oak for eight months, while Bois des Dames rouge is based on old vine Carignan, with some Syrah and Grenache, with a rounded chunky palate. The Cuvée Tradition from equal parts of Syrah and Grenache, with 20% Mourvèdre, aged in cement vats, has tapenade, spice and a streak of tannin, making a solid mouthful.  Bicentenaire was created for the 200thanniversary of the property as a wine estate in 1981.  It comes from 40 – 55-year-old Grenache and Carignan and a little Mourvèdre, with six months ageing oak and is a ripe, rounded mouthful of wine.  


Château Grand Moulin, Lézignan-Corbières 

This is a large property on the outskirts of Lézignan.  We were greeted warmly not only by Frédéric Bousquet, who nicely opinionated,  but also by his black Labrador, Manique.  I think he worked hard to live up to his name!   Frédéric’s father, Jean-Noël, began working with one hectare of vines aged 17, and has consistently bought vineyards on good land, so that they now have 130 hectares in some 250 plots, in five villages around Lézignan.  Pierre Vialard has been the winemaker since 2006, while Frédéric studied agriculture in Toulouse and then did stages in California and Ribera del Duero and finally worked in Canada.  They lost their original cellars in the floods of 1999 and then took over this old spacious négociant cellar.  Frederic observed that they never use carbonic maceration;  when his father arrived, ‘les places étaient prises,  all the places were taken’, so he looked for a different orientation and bought an égrappoir, so that all their grapes are destalked.   55 of their 130 hectares are Syrah, as it give elegance and rondeur and they also have some old Carignan.  They aim to keep the authenticity of each terroir with their wine-making and only use pigeage for extracting flavours.  Notre richesse is our vineyard, but it is complicated to have so many plots.  

Their range is logical, an entry level, Grandes Vignes, in all three colours, that they described as modern Corbières; Vieilles Vignes and a more traditional style, and Terroirs, with three different terroirs, Terres Rouges. Grès de Boutenac et Fleur Elysée, and finally two varietal wines, Carignan and Cinsaut.   As you might imagine, an extensive tasting followed and the highlights included la Pège, a Vin de France and pure Carignan, vinified without any wood.  The palate was firm and spicy with a sympathique rustic note.  Terres Rouges, which Frédéric described as la patte, the footprint,of Grand Moulin, come from a vineyard where the soil is really red and the wine is 80% Syrah with Grenache Noir, of which one third is given 12 months in oak, making for rounded spicy fruit.  He looks for elegance, buvabilité and matière.  Grès de Boutenac is 60% Mourvèdre with 40% Carignan, both late ripening varieties that perform well in the terroir of Boutenac.  One third of the cuvée spends twelve months in oak and the firm is structure and tight knit with a fresh finish.  Fleur Elysée is also a Boutenac, a selection of the best Carignan, Syrah and Grenache, vinified in demi-muids with regular pigeage.  It is not made every year and the young wine promises well with ripe fruit.  Lastly there was a pure Cinsaut le 49.3, - the vines were planted in March 1949 - and the wine was beautifully fresh and rounded and a lovely note on which to finish.


Château la Bastide, Escales

The Chinese have arrived in the Corbières.  Château la Bastide was bought in 2015 by Min Yu and in his absence, is very efficiently managed by the bright and vivacious Mme Nan-Ping Gao.  She has lived in France most of her life, run a restaurant in Montpellier for a number of years and speaks impeccable French.  First, we talked about the history of the estate. The château was built in 1770, and the property originally housed 100 people, as well as 40 horses, with last horse leaving in 1967.  These days they are very proud of their mechanical harvester.  It was always a viticultural domaine, an autonomous bastide, with its own forge and provided the livelihood of several families.  They still have the original stone vats as well as the enormous traditional foudres that are no longer used.   Claude Gros has been the oenologist for the last  18 years.  

There are sixty hectares of vines all around the château, on terraces and the former riverbed of the Aude.   All the vineyards have been replanted, so they have none of the very old vines on which other estates pride themselves.   I really enjoyed the simple Tradition, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, aged in vat, making for an appealing balance of dry spice and fresh fruit, with a fresh note on the finish.  Other cuvées include Exubérance from equal parts of Grenache and Mourvèdre, L’Optimée which is 80% Syrah with 20% Grenache, with ripe cherry fruit and Eidos which is the opposite, coming from the best plots of Syrah, with peppery fruit.