Thursday, 11 October 2018

Château Capion

 This is an estate that changed hands in 2016.  I first went there in 1988 when Philippe Salesc was making what seemed at the time quite pioneering blends of Cabernet and Merlot.  But the family had financial problems and the estate was sold to Swiss, who spent much of their time in South Africa.  Their focus was varietal vins de pays, and then in 2016, it changed hands again, and is now the property of a genial Russian, Oleg Chirkunov. .   

When we met in late September, he admitted that he had had no intention of buying a wine estate, but when he was told, this was an opportunity not to be missed, he succumbed.    Back in Russia, he has a successful distribution business and also spends time in London.   And although he does not have a wine background, I sense somebody who recognises capable people to employ.   Claude Gros is his consultant oenologist; Claude Bourguignon, the talented soil scientist, advises on the vineyards; Rodolphe Travel runs the estate as the fulltime director, Nikola Zebic is the chef de cave.  Tasting with Rodlphe and Nikola, you sense they make a good team.

First we went for a walk in the vineyards, in summer sunshine, even though it was late September.  The harvest was in full swing, later than some, and all handpicked.  Altogether they have 45 hectares of land, with 33 hectares in production of vines; one of the first things they did was to pull up 12 hectares, the old Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as their strategy is to focus on the Terrasses du Larzac for red wine, so Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsaut.  They do not have any Carignan at the moment, but may plant some - but it is a 30-year project - and they are interested in planting Lledoner Pelut and Morastel, and also, some Carignan Blanc.  The soil is based on clay and limestone, with denser limestone on higher slopes and more sand and clay on lower slopes.  The geology depends on glacial formations.  They will often have more than one vinification of the same grape variety, according to soil type.  Their average age of their vines is about 30 years.  And they are converting the vineyards to organic viticulture.

We tasted a Mourvèdre grape or two. The juice seemed quite ripe and sweet, but the skins were still a little green.   And in the distance were the hills of la Seranne and the Pic de Vissou. 

 Back at the cellar, we admired the dexterity of the team of sorters at the table de trie.  The grapes spend time in a refrigerated lorry, so they go into the fermentation vat at around 10-12°C, and the whites at around 5-6°C.  The reds are given a short maceration pelliculaire à froid.  They use selected yeast but do not add it immediately. There are several small stainless-steel vats, for micro-cuvées. Everything is temperature controlled. And there is one white egg.  However, Rodolphe insisted that the heart  of the estate is its vineyards, ‘pas les casseroles’ or saucepans, as he termed the vats.   There is a neat barrel cellar, with some barriques and also a couple of small foudres, and a small amphora that they use for blending.

We tasted some 2018s from vat and barrel,  and some Roussanne out of the egg, which had been fermented on skins and stalks.  There was a Syrah rosé and some Syrah for a red blend with some peppery fruit.  And in the barrel cellar a blend of 2017 Grenache and Mourvèdre had fruit and perfume.  It was quite delicious and Nikola got very excited: oh la vache, which really does not translate into French.  

Then we adjourned to the rather elegant salon in the château, for more tasting, from bottle. 

2016 les Chemins des Garennes
A blend of 80% Roussanne, and 10% each of Viognier and Bourboulenc.  Élevage mostly in vat, with a quarter of the blend barrel aged.  Two different plots of Roussanne, from the top and the bottom of the slope.

A little colour. Quite buttery on the nose, with some oak and quite a rich palate, with white blossom and buttery notes.  Some peachy hints from the Viognier.  Quite firm acidity on the finish.  Nicely textured mouthfeel and a rounded finish.

2016 Château Capion, Languedoc
Again a blend of Roussanne, Viognier, and Bourboulenc, from a selection of plots.  Twelve months élevage in wood, including some new wood, which was well integrated.  The palate was rounded and textured with some peachy notes and firm acidity on the finish, as well as a streak of tannin from the oak.  2016 was Nikola’s first vintage at the estate; you sense that he is planning future experiments and is very enthusiastic about the terroir of Capion. 

2016 Le Songe Eocene 
Another Roussanne, Viognier, Bourboulenc blend.  A detailed selection of plots, an artist’s palette.  12 months ageing.  Quite a rounded palate with an attractive refreshing quality.  Fresh dry fruit, with good texture and mouthfeel.  One of the things they insist on is that wine used for ouillage, the topping up of barrels, comes from the identical plot

For red wines, having pulled up most of the bordelais grape varieties, they have a lot of Syrah. However they would like to try a pure Mourvèdre.  There are very few in the Languedoc, Domaine Vaisse, le Peira and Domaine Lagamas, but they are convinced that Capion is un terroir à Mourvèdre. Rodolphe admits that while he is very enthusiastic about Mourvèdre; Claude Gros prefers Syrah, and that leaves Nikola as umpire!

2017 Château Capion blanc, 
with Roussanne and Viognier, but no Bourboulenc as it has been pulled up. For an appellation, you need two grape varieties, but Viognier is only considered accessoire.  And if you are using the term château, you cannot be a IGP, such are the intricacies of French wine law.  A little colour.  Youthful fruit, with an attractive life, and a dry finish. The élevage is similar to the 2016, with 500 litre barrels.  It promises well, with a sense of fine-tuning compared to the 2016.

2016 Le Chemin des Garennes – 15.00€
A blend of about 30% Syrah with 20% or more of Grenache, Cinsaut and Mourvèdre, working by selection parcellaire.  Blended shortly before bottling.  Medium colour.   Some ripe spice.  Medium weight, with appealing black fruit on the palate.  Quite elegant.  About 30% aged in wood.   

2016 Château Capion – 35.00€
A blend of 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre, aged for 14 months, in barrel, but as yet no foudres.  They want to vary the containers.  The oak is more apparent, but nicely integrated.  A lot of nuances, with firm tannins, and some good fruit.  Some firm spice and cassis, and an elegant structure. Promises well.

2016 le Songe – 80€ - but not yet on the market, with a very small production of about 2000 bottles.
60% Syrah with Grenache and Mourvèdre.  A sélection parcellaire.  Elevage in barrel. Deeper colour, more concentrated.  Quite solid, dense firm fruit.  Black fruit.  Youthful and ripe and the oak is well integrated.  And promising well for the future.

It will be a fascinating to observe the progress of this estate; the potential is enormous.   

Monday, 1 October 2018

Pézenas at Le Wine Shop

Pézenas is one of the newer crus and potential appellations of the Languedoc, first recognised in 2007, but if you are really honest, it does not have a real identity.  It comprises the vineyards of fifteen villages around the picturesque town of Pézenas.  Nizas and Caux are probably the most important, but the key seems to be their proximity to Pézenas, and the fact that they are not part of any other appellation.  Ask the various wine growers what constitutes the tipicity of Pézenas and they are none too sure.  Some are quite blunt and say there isn’t any. Others suggest soil: with several extinct volcanoes in the area, basalt features, but so too does villefranchien gravel and the galets roulées that you also find in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  The climate is quite warm, so if you compare Pézenas to its neighbour Faugères, you will find the wines are riper and richer, whereas Faugères should always retain an element of freshness.  Most people, when they think of Pézenas, do not even think of wine, but rather of Moliere, or of a colourful local market and an attractive pedestrian old quarter.

However, amongst the wine growers of Pézenas, there are several estates that are well worth seeking out.   Apparently the local syndicat was having a Pézenas promotion during September - I have to admit that had passed me by - but Dominic George (no relation) of Le Wine Shop decided that Pézenas would make a good theme for his customers and that I should present the wines, and in three cases aided by the vigneronnes responsible for the wine.   All the estates in question make a varied range, of which Pézenas is just one small part, but it is usually the best, and indeed most expensive cuvée.

I was intrigued to see if there was a common theme of flavour in the wines. In a way that proved quite challenging as five different grape varieties are allowed in Pézenas, which is only ever red. They are the usual Languedoc quintet, but in very diverse percentages.  Oak ageing and length of élevage also can vary.  Also, in all honesty, tasting conditions were not ideal.   It was a hot evening, the beginning of a five-day heatwave, with unseasonably high temperatures for late September.    The wines would have been less challenged on a cool November night.  The wines were all quite high in alcohol, 14ºor 14.5º, but they were not out of balance.

2015 Domaine Sainte Cécile du Parc, Sonatina - 15€
A blend of 75% Syrah and 25% Cinsaut.  As Saint Cécile is the patron saint of music, all Christine Bertoli-Mouton’s wine names have a musical association.  The Cinsaut gave the wine an appealing refreshing note, nicely balancing the peppery spiciness of the Syrah.  Medium weight with some ageing potential

2015 Mas Gabriel, Clos des Lièvres - 16.00€
Made by Deborah and Peter Core, who learnt their wine-making in New Zealand.  A blend of 75% Syrah and 25% Grenache Noir.   This was quite intense, with some oak ageing and a structured palate, with firm peppery black fruit, with the Syrah dominating the Grenache.  

2016 Domaine Monplézy, Félicité - 15.00€
A blend of 50% Grenache Noir, 30% Syrah and 20% Carignan. made by Anne Sutra de Germa and her son Benoit.  Her father bought vineyards outside Pézenas, sending grapes to the local cooperative, and it was Anne who decided to make her wine.  The estate is off the road to Roujan, with a distinctive sign of a hoopoe on her signpost and labels.  I found a combination of spicy oak, with some savoury notes from the Carignan.  It was quite a solid, youthful wine, with a firm finish, and needing time to develop in the bottle.

2015 Château La Font des Ormes, Basalt - 27.00€
A blend of 40% each of Carignan and Syrah with 20% Syrah.  This is a relative new estate, bought by Guy Cazalis de Fontdouce, who has worked as a child psychiatrist in both France and La Réunion.  He came up with the apt comment that we are méconnu dans une région méconnu - unknown in an unknown region, that is Pézenas, and even the Languedoc.  As the name of the cuvée would imply, it comes from vines grown on basalt, which Guy considers adds elegance to the wine.  I found the wine quite perfumed, with ripe fruit and indeed some elegance.

2015 Prieuré St Jean de Bébian - 30€
70% Grenache Noir, with 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre.  The high proportion of Grenache made the colour lighter than the others, and there was some fresh perfumed fruit, with liqueur cherries and an elegant finish.   This is the longest established estate of the five. I first went there is 1988 when it was the property of a maverick wine maker, Alain Roux, who had planted all thirteen grape varieties of Châteauneuf-du-Pape as he had galets roulées in the vineyard; and when I suggested that did not conform to the appellation of Coteaux du Languedoc, I was told it was of no importance whatsoever.  Then wine journalists, Chantal Lecouty and Jean-Claude Lebrun, owned the estate for a number of years and now it is the property of a Russian family, who have invested seriously in their cellars, and also opened a restaurant.  The talented Australian winemaker, Karen Turner, makes the wine.  

So, in conclusion they were lovely wines, all that I would drink with great pleasure.  They had the flavours of the warm south, but specifically of Pézenas, I am not so sure. 

Monday, 24 September 2018

Chateau Trillol

It had been a while since my last visit to Châeau Trilllol in Cucugnan, so an invitation from Charles Sichel provided the excuse for a grand day out.    We didn’t just visit Trillol, but we also bought bread from the one of the best bakers in the whole of France, Le Moulin et Fourril de Cucugnan,  and afterwards we went to the awe-inspiring Cathar castle of Peyrepertuse.  

Charles explained how his father had first  bought a bergerie, along a winding road outside the village of  Rouffiac-des-Corbières, which we went to see later.  It is a wonderful isolated spot, with vines surrounded by garrigue.  You can see them quite clearly from the top of Peyrepertuse.   The grapes were looking very healthy, with no mildew.  Originally the grapes went to the cooperative but the previous owner had no one who was interested in taking over his vines, so was happy to sell to Peter Sichel.   And at Cucugnan, the estate of Domaine du Reverend was up for sale. This was the period of the European wine lake when many vineyards were being pulled up.  Happily the Sichels managed to restructure things so that the best vines were kept, and the worst eliminated.  These days lack of yield is the biggest problem - they are lucky to get 35 hl/ha whereas in Bordeaux they have to work to reduce the yield to 45 hl/ha.  

We drove through the vineyards, along the valley heading west out of the village, towards Duilac-sous-Peyrepertuse.  In some vineyards they have increased the number of vines per hectare to 8000, as opposed to the more common   Languedoc density of 4000.  Double the number of vines increases the quantity by 25% but the quality is quite different, with the competition of the roots, making for less bunches per vine.  I asked which works better, and Henri Guiot who runs the estate, answered diplomatically ça dépend des années.  This year, with plenty of water, 8000 is working well.  Carignan and Grenache are planted on the slopes and the soil is a mixture of clay and limestone.  They are also planting  some Grenache Blanc and Vermentino,  Roussanne is the basis of their white wine, and the Macabeo is being pulled up.   Weeds are controlled mechanically, but this year that has been complicated.   Altogether they have 47 hectares in 65 different plots. mostly around Cucugnan, and also towards Duilac,  including four hectares cultivated organically.  Most of the vineyards face south, but there is some north facing Syrah outside Cucugnan.   It is a wonderfully dramatic spot with Peyrepertuse in one direction - you can hardly distinguish the castle from the rock face, and another Cathar castle, Quéribus, in the other direction.  Henri talked about maintaining good relations with the hunters, who keep the wild boar under control, but they also feed them, to ensure that they have plenty to hunt   It is a delicate balance.     And back at the cellars, we tasted.

2016 Corbières Blanc, la Dame d’Argent - 9.40€
Roussanne with 15% Macabeo.  A little colour.  Lightly herbal, white blossom on the nose.  Three months on fine lees in vat.  They used to have Marsanne but no longer.  Good acidity, fresh and elegant with good depth.  White wine accounts for just 3% of their production.

2017 Corbières Blanc
Lightly lemon colour.  Very perfumed, ripe, rounded nose.  Very fresh with good acidity.  Intriguing weight, texture and mouthfeel. Lots of nuances.  No malo. Bottled at the beginning of April. and needs time to settle.

2013 Corbières Rouge - 9.40€
The mainstay of the range.A blend of 39% Grenache, 29% Syrah and  32% Carignan.  60% of the blend is aged in new and older wood for  ten months and gradually blended with some wine kept in vat, to obtain the desired balance.  Deep colour.  Fresh spicy fruit.  Quite rounded, lightly leathery.  A complicated vintage as the  summer only arrived in early July.  Black fruit. with rounded fresh elegant tannins.  A fresh finish.

A relatively normal vintage, with nothing exceptional.  About 30 hl/ha.  A year for Grenache, with it accounting for 50% of the blend.   Deep colour.  The same élevage as 2013.  Selected yeast - Henri does not want to take the risk with natural yeast.  Deep colour.  Red fruit, cherries.  Rounded spice. Quite fleshy, with more weight.  Fresh finish.   Henri mentioned the effect of altitude - the vines at la Bergerie de Trillol are higher, at 450metres, and there is a nearby village, appropriately called  Dernacueillette at 750 metes, where indeed they are the last to pick. 

A pretty normal year.  Deep young colour.  Youthful fresh red fruit.  Quite fleshy and youthful, ripe and harmonious.  Nicely balanced tannins.  Medium weight.

2014 Corbières Prestige - 16.00€

For this cuvée they chose the barrels that are able to cope with a longer élevage of 12 months, including some new oak. The wine is much more concentrated and dense.  The blend changes a little with each vintage, but not significantly, so that it usually about 50% Syrah and a quarter each of Grenache and Carignan.  Integrated oak, but with obvious vanilla notes.  It was quite sturdy and young.  Dense, but with silky tannins,  and very good fruit.

2013 Prestige
Deep young colour. Ripe rounded oaky nose.  On the palate, more fleshy initially, than 2014 with riper red fruit with a fresh finish, but maybe a little more austere on the finish.  Average 13º alcohol.  Charles observed that Bordeaux tends to worry as to whether the grapes will ripen; whereas here the grapes always do ripen.  However, initially they did not take altitude into account, which can delay the ripening.   

And then we adjourned to a cheerful restaurant in the village appropriately named l’Auberge du Vigneron.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

A day with Laurent Delaunay of Badet Clement

Badet Clement has long been a familiar name, with its brand, les Jamelles, and the Languedoc arm of Abbotts Delaunay, so I was very pleased to accept an invitation from Laurent Delaunay to come and taste his wines and visit his recently acquired Limoux estate.   I had already tasted his first vintage of Limoux in London, but there is nothing like trying wines sur place especially when you get to see the vineyards on the same day.  Everything suddenly makes sense.

But first a bit of background.   Laurent is a Burgundian, from Nuits St Georges, and the fifth generation of a family négociant business that was bought by the large Burgundy company, Boisset, which he has subsequently bought back, everything but the vineyards.  He worked for Boisset for a time, including a a year in Napa at villa Mount Eden, learning to make wines in a warm climate, and observed the development of the big brands in California.   His wife, Catherine, is also an oenologist.  Then in 1995 it was the moment to leave Boisset; they wanted a change of scene and came to the Languedoc.   It was the time of the rise in popularity of vins de cépages, and they worked as flying winemakers around Béziers and Nîmes, for small cooperatives and wine growers.   It was an exciting time, with new grape varieties, and everyone very open to experiments and interested in the Languedoc.  And their brand Les Jamelles, based on single varieties, was born, named after the very first vineyard used for the brand.    As for the name Badet Clement, it comes from an old négociant house that Laurent’s grandfather had bought in the 1930s, which had long since ceased to trade, but the name remained as a sentimental link.    

So for ten years Laurent and Catherine worked as flying winemakers making wines in different cellars, and then in 2005 they bought their own cuverie in Marseillette, namely the old cellars of the Australian winemakers, Nigel Sneyd and Nerida Abbott.  Laurent talked about a period of transition.  Nigel Sneyd had made wines with a quite an obvious Australian touch, while Laurent’s style is very much more Burgundian.  This meant that they were able to make their own wines, chez eux, but by 2013, the had outgrown Marseillette and heard that the old cooperative buildings of the village of Monze were available. 

As well as sizeable and beautifully well-equipped and modernised cellars in Monze, Laurent now has two wine estates, Domaine du Trésor in Ouveillan, bought in 2015, for IGPs, including a brand le Trésor.  The vineyards are on the plain by the canal du Midi.  In addition he bought some of Jean-Louis Denois’s vineyards in Limoux, Domaine de la Metairie d’Alon, in 2014.   And he is continuing to look for vineyards, maybe something small in the Corbières.   We looked round the cellars in Monze.  The original building is the classic 1930s Languedoc cooperative, but everything has been renovated, from the roof downwards.   Laurent described Monze as his wine hub, where all the blending is done, and everything is stored.  He has the capacity for 5 million litres,     The barrel cellar, dedicated to his father Jean-Marie Delaunay, contains 700 barriques and demi-muids, from four or five coopers such as Seguin Moreau and a name that was new to me, Chassin.  Laurent explained that he favours a short élevage in wood, twelve months at the most,  for his wines as he wants to keep the freshness.

We then adjourned to a rather elegant tasting room.

2017 Les Jamelles, Marsanne   7.00€
The range Les Jamelles covers 23 varieties altogether, and we certainly did not taste them all!  Laurent talked of the excitement of discovering so many grape varieties in the Languedoc both local and international.  Gewürztraminer is the latest addition to the range and he is now working on Lledoner Pelut and also Macabeo.
Light colour.   Good mouthfeel and weight, with rounded fruit and quite a delicate nose.  There is a touch of salinity on the finish with a firm slightly bitter note.  Laurent explained that he is looking for fruit and freshness, fermenting at a low temperature and protecting the juice against oxidation.  There is no wood ageing.  Marsanne has been part of his repertoire for fifteen years.  

2017  Les Jamelles Viognier  - 7.00€
I  was surprised to learn that Laurent is the largest producer of Viognier in the Languedoc, apparently accounting for 20% of the region’s production of that grape variety.  I had always thought that position might belong to Laurent Miquel, with his varied range of different Viognier.  The wine is lightly peachy, fresh and rounded and avoids being heavy and overripe.   Laurent explained that you have to take great care of over the harvest date, as Viognier can very quickly become too ripe.  This is picked at 13º.      

Next in the range come some wines under the evocative brand name A Tire de l’Aile, conjuring up the image of a flock of birds taking off from a vineyard of ripe grapes.  

2016  A Tire de l’Aile Languedoc Blanc - 12.00€
A blend of  50% Grenache blanc, 30% Marsanne and 20% Vermentino, each vinified separately.  30% of the blend spends four or five months in wood. The palate is nicely rounded, with lots of nuances, with some white blossom, herbal notes, some salinity and both length and depth, and nicely balanced acidity.  A very satisfying bottle of wine.   The Grenache and Marsanne come from near Monze and the Vermentino from near Mèze.     

But while Laurent has enjoyed discovering the grape varieties of the Languedoc, he was also looking for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, returning to his first love, and convinced of the potential for this varieties in Limoux.   He had identified three villages that he thought would be particularly suitable for Pinot Noir, namely Magrie, Roquetaillade and Antugnac, in the Haute Vallée of the Aude.   And he found 25 hectares, that were farmed organically, and made his first wines in 2014, following the Burgundian concept of a village wine and a cru, or two, from particularly favourable vineyards.   In contrast to Les Jamelles these are very much vins de terroir.

2016 Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc  - 16.00€
Hand picked and whole bunch pressed, with a strict selection of the juice, keeping the heart of the press and eliminating the first and last juice.   40% of the cuvée spends six months in old barrels of one to three wines,  What about bâtonnage Ça dépend.  Not for  the village wine as he wants freshness.   In Limoux the grapes must not be  too ripe; even one day can make a difference.   The Village Chardonnay is understated and restrained, nicely mouth-filling with an underlying richness.  Laurent is sparing with sulphur, adding a little after the malo, and again at bottling.   He talked about the importance of le travail du sol and is moving towards biodynamic viticulture, feeling that it can bring more freshness and acidity.

2017 Le Palajo, Chardonnay Limoux - 28.00€
A wine that is appellation Limoux must be vinified in Limoux, so this was made in Jean-Louis Denois’s old cellars, rather than at Monze.   The grapes are gently pressed and the juice racked off into barrels, both pièces and demi-muids, of which 10% or less are new.   Limoux must spend a minimum of six months in barrel to meet the appellation requirements.   Maybe there is some bâtonnage.  That depends on each individual barrel

The wine has lovely texture, with elegance and length and considerable  depth.   A lovely satisfying mouthful.   A Chassagne-Montrachet, maybe mused Laurent, but comparisons are odious.   We talked about the differences between his methods and some of the local wine growers.   The date of the harvest is significant;  his neighbour Gérard Bertrand picks very much later.  `As  Laurent observed, he  was brought up in Burgundy and he is very lucky in that he has drunk a a lot of Burgundy, so he knows what he is looking for.  However, you must also adapt to the local conditions.  In Burgundy you push for maximum ripeness.  In Limoux you stop - the enemies are overripeness and over extraction.   There might be a little pigeage for the Pinot Noir, but essentially the colour and body are there naturally.   Clones can have an effect too, slowing down the ripening and making for more acidity, so he favours champenois rather than Burgundian clones.   The average age of the vines is about 25 years old and he has reduced the height of the feuillage, observing that less leaves makes for slower ripening.  

And then back to les Jamelles, for 2017 Gewurztraminer 
This is the newest addition to the range, with a first vintage in 2016, from half a hectare grown at Domaine de Trésor.  I found it very aromatic without being cloying, with hints of lychees, and nicely rounded and spicy with good weight on the palate, and no cloying residual sugar.  

2017 Mourvèdre rosé Les Jamelles - 7,00€
Another new addition to the range with the first vintage in 2017.  They consider themselves specialists of Mourvèdre in the  Languedoc, and are the largest producer of that variety, for the simple reason that they like it.  Seeing Mourvèdre as their signature, it seemed obvious to develop the range with a rosé as well as some wines from selected plots.

The grapes are pressed and vinified like a white wine.  The colour is delicate, but the flavour firm and structured with good fruit.  There is some élevage on the lees making for a satisfying depth of flavour.  

2017 Clair de Gris
In other words a Gris de Gris, with Grenache Gris the key grape variety.  Again 2017 was the first vintage.  The colour is very pale, pelure d’oignon after a two or three days maceration on the skins.   Th wine is ripe and rounded, with more weight than the Mourvèdre, with quite a different structure and weight.

2017 Pinot Noir Rosé
This comes from the same vineyard as the red Le Village but from grapes picked ten days earlier, and most suitable for rosé.  It has firm acidity and fresh acidity, with light raspberry fruit and a slightly smokey quality.  A very refreshing finish.  I wondered whether there were any other Pinot Noir rosé in Limoux. 

2016 Mourvèdre, les Jamelles
The grapes are vinified in Monze, in concrete vats, with regular remontages and quite a long maceration.  The temperature is kept relatively high and then 10-15% of the wine spend some time in old barrels.  It is ripe and rounded; quite smokey; quite tannic, with good concentration, but with a certain sweetness and ripeness on the palate.   Good depth with a balance of tannin, and a spicy vanilla note on the finish.  

In 2017 the range was extended with what Laurent described as les Sélections Parcellaires, with more of an emphasis on terroir.  They are able to find particularly  good plots of Mourvèdre and other varieties, such as Syrah and Carignan, which they keep separate from the mass.  

2017 Mourvèdre, le Beillon

From vineyards at Pouzolles-en-Minervois, with 25 year old south-facing vines. About half the wine is aged in wood, after a long maceration.  The barrel sample was quite solid, rich and young, and very ripe and dense, and needing plenty of time in bottle.

2017 Syrah
This comes from Monze, from a vineyard about 300 metres from the cellars.   They have bought the grapes of this particular vineyard for a number of years.  Very deep colour.   Half vinified traditionally, and half by what Laurent called an Australian vinification.  The juice is run off into a barrel before the fermentation is finished.  It makes for a very ripe, rich wine, rounded solid and dense.   The alcohol level was only 13.5º, but it tasted richer.

And then we moved onto Pinot Noir.

2015 Le Village

This is a blend of several plots.  The grapes are picked a little earlier than for the cru and 20% of the wine is whole bunch pressed, with a cool pre-fermentation maceration, and a fermentation in concrete tanks, with remontages, maintaining the temperature at 27º - 28ºC for three or four days.  The wine is racked, half into vat and half into barrel, but none new.  Elegance is the first word that comes to mind, with lovely subtle raspberry fruit, very good mouthfeel and a balancing streak of tannins.  As it happened, we had drunk 2015 Domaine du Clovallon Pinot Noir, from the Haute Vallée de l’Orb the previous evening and the difference was intriguing, with the Clovallon displaying more fresh fruit and less texture.  Laurent’s was definitely more Burgundian!

A vat sample of  2017 Le Village followed, which had some lovely ripe red fruit, with a streak of tannin.  

And then there were two crus, from the very best plots, Solaire, which is less than one hectare and Metairie a little more than one hectare.  Solaire comes from lowers vineyards, with more concentration of flavour.  For Laurent it is ‘more Burgundian', whereas Metairie is ‘more pure’. 

2017 Metairie
The malo-lactic fermentation takes place later in Burgundy, whereas in the Languedoc it is much quicker, and usually finished by November, so the wine here can be bottled sooner, at the beginning of the summer, but still with the same nine months of élevage.    it is all fermented in cuves tronconiques, with 40% whole bunches, and maybe more in future vintages, as they give more finesse.   A  cool pre-fermentation maceration  and a little pigeage, with the fermentation taking about seventeen days.  All the wine is aged in fut.  It was the first time Laurent had tasted it after bottling and he was very happy with it.  I thought it was absolutely delicious, with wonderfully elegant ripe fruit , with depth and freshness and a long finish.

2016 Solaire
This is more powerful as the vintage was warmer.  it was quite solid, round and rich, ripe with good length and depth.  I loved its texture, with richness and length, with subtle nuances.

2014 Solaire - the first vintage
A much fresher, cooler vintage.  Laurent remembered that they had to heat the vats.  Lighter colour, with the nose beginning to mature a little, evolving elegantly, with texture and subtlety.  Laurent observed that he would like to refaire the 2014 every year.  

And then onto a couple more traditional Languedoc reds, to conclude our tasting:

2014 Alto Stratus, Vin de France, from Carignan planted in 1905, in the Haut Minervois at La Caunette.  A 1.5 hectare plot producing less than 30 hl/ha.  It is very sunny, very windy and very arid and the soil is very stony, so that the grapes ripen late.  Half are whole bunch pressed  and given a ten day maceration and half de-stalked with a week's maceration.   About  two thirds is aged in oak, in Chassin barrels, and the rest in vat and bottled about a year later.

An immediate impression of layers of flavours, with lots of fruit and firm tannins.  The wine is rich and solid, with some sturdy tannins, and quite full-bodied.  Still very youthful and needs time.

2014 Faugères, Boreas  - 24.00€
About a quarter each of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, with more Grenache than the others.  The grapes are bought from three different growers, and all destalked, with a traditional vinification and three and half weeks on skins, with regular remontages.  The élevage is mainly in barrel, with about 20% in vat.  There is an attractive spice on the nose and palate; medium weight with good tannins and a fresh finish.  Quite rich liquorice notes.

And then we adjourned for a relaxed lunch on the canal at Trèbes, before heading to Magrie to explore well-tended vineyards, bathed in warm summer sunshine. 

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Mas Combarèla

I first met Olivier Faucon a year or so ago, before he had put any wine in bottle and while he was still renting cellar space.   Things have moved on; he has just bottled his second vintage, and has almost completed his new cellar outside St Jean de Fos, in the lieu-dit of Combarèle.   He is not yet connected to water and electricity, but vats and barrels were in place and it was all taking shape very nicely, after various logistical hiccups over obtaining planning permission in the first place.   The cellar is surrounded by vines, and indeed he had to pull up 40 ares of old Carignan to make space for it.  

We had a quick look round, admiring the barrel cellar, with just two barriques and two demi-muids, by  torch light.  The building bricks, with hollow parts, like a honey comb, said Olivier, allow for some natural insulation, keeping the air in layers, retaining freshness.  As well as stainless vats, and tronconic wooden vats for élevage, he has come concrete eggs, about which he is very enthusiastic, after some experiments comparing Cinsaut in an egg and in vat.  Even after three weeks, the wine in the egg had gained in complexity; the lees are all over the surface of the egg, not just at the bottom, as with a vat.   

And we walked in the vineyards accompanied by his lively sheep dog, Muffin.  Yields are be down. There was bad weather at the flowering, and like everyone else he has suffered from mildew.  There were views of the Castellas above Montpeyroux and Rocher des Vierges.  He has seven hectares altogether, at Combarèle, at Arboras and at St Jean de Fos near the  chapel of  St. Geniès.  There are old Carignan vines, between 60 and 75 years old, and some Grenache that is 30 years old,and young Cinsaut  Two old mazets give their name to the Carignan cuvée, and the vineyard of Cinsaut, le Clos Secret, is just that.  You take a hidden path through evergreen oaks to come out into an isolated vineyards surround by garrigue.  Oliver has done some field grafting.  He was missing Mourvèdre, so grafted some onto some 15 year old Grenache, and as he only had Grenache Blanc for white wine he has added Carignan Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Vermentino.  You need to keep some of the leaves of the original vine to encourage the sap to rise.  The greffeurs came from Narbonne; they apparently have 40 years of experience and are very skilled.  And the Mourvèdre is promising well for this year.

Olivier's tasting room is not yet operational so we adjourned to his house in Montpeyroux to taste the latest vintage.

2017 Des Si et des Mi, Languedoc - 13.00€
60% Grenache Noir, with 20 % Syrah and some Cinsaut and Carignan,  An élevage mainly in vat, except for the Syrah that goes into old demi-muids,  and carbonic maceration for the Syrah and Carignan.  The élevage is shorter, eight months, making it a AOC Languedoc as opposed to Terrasses du Larzac, which requires twelve months.  The aim of the wine is easy drinking, and it achieves just that.  It is ripe and fruity with a streak of tannin, red fruit, balanced but some spicy and nicely rounded on the finish.   I suggested that it was quite expensive as an entry level at 13.00€ and Oliver countered that he was working on a range of wines between 10-20.00€, which seemed fair enough. His yields are small; he has to fund his investment and he is pricing his wine at what he thinks it is worth, thinking it better to start high rather than raise prices quickly after an initial sale.  His yields are tiny  - an average of  22 hl/ha in 2016; 20 hl/ha in 2017 thanks to frost damage, and now in 2018 he is affected by mildew

The labels have the striking logo of a gecko, one of the images of the south. He has them in the house.    And the expression des Si et des mi, means a bit of this and that, or nothing much, conjuring up the relaxed atmosphere of the south, especially on a summer’s day. 

2016 Le Clos Secret, Cinsaut, Pays de St Guilhem-le-Désert - 16.00€
The Cinsaut is fermented in stainless steel vats and elevé in eggs for 12 months.  It has a lovely spicy cheery nose, and palate, with some supple tannins.  There is plenty of spice, cinnamon, loves and pepper on the palate.  Olivier believes the eggs retain the fruit more effectively.   He is interested in the local varieties that deserve a revival, such as Cinsaut and also Carignan.  

2016 les Deux Mazets, Carignan, St.Guilhem-le-Désert - 16.00

Olivier much prefers the local IGP, to the more much extensive and less individual Pays d’Oc.  St Guilhem is close by and is recognised as one of the great tourist destinations of the Languedoc.  It is also the most expensive of all the IGP en vrac, and more expensive than AOC Languedoc as it covers the more prestigious two appellations of Pic St Loup and Terrasses du Larzac.  The wine is aged either in the tronconic vats or in demi-muids.  Quite a deep colour.  A more structured nose than the Cinsaut with spicy fruit, and acidity as well as tannin and a fresh finish.  

Olivier talked about removing the black plastic from the vineyard, left from when the vines were planted 45 years ago, and beginning to work the soil and how the vines are now thriving.   He particularly likes Carignan, for its acidity and was inspired by the Carignanissime of Clos Centeilles.

2016 Ode aux Ignorants, Terrasses du Larzac - 19.00€

Deep colour.   Quite rounded ripe spicy fruit.  Medium weight palate with spice and harmonious tannins.  A blend of 50% Syrah, 25% Carignan, about 22% Grenache and a drop of Cinsaut,all grown on his vineyard in Arboras, up in the hills, with very stony soil.  The élevage is half in eggs, and a quarter in demi-muids and one quarter in a newer barrique, all blended together after about six months, and given about 20 months élevage in total.  

2016 Rosé  - 10.00€
A pretty light pink and on the nose some firm herbal nose,  A rounded palate with good fruit and fresh acidity.  A blend of equal parts of Cinsaut and Grenache, from higher vineyards, that give freshness.  The grapes are picked early in the morning and given a gentle pressing.

And we compared the 2017 vintage, with the same vinification and blend, but picked a little earlier than 2016.  The colour was lighter and the wine young and fresh, more  lively and tauter, with a rounded finish.   The 2016 belied the idea that you should always drink the youngest rosé available; I thought it has benefitted from an extra year’s bottle age.  It was more structured, while the 2017 was easier.

2017 Blanc  - 14.00€

Pure Grenache Blanc.  Quite a golden colour.  The 2016 vintage was picked a week late as the vats had not arrived in time!   Rounded with good acidity and some herbal and a fresh finish.  About 10%, in other words just one barrel, is given some bâtonnage, which fills out the palate, without adding any oak flavour. Nice length and a good finale to the tasting.   It all promises well.  

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Domaine de l'Horte

It has been a while since my last visit to Domaine de l’Horte so an update was called for.  We sat in a cool shady courtyard and André Alingrin produced bottles, and opinions, some more scurrilous than others.   He said nothing much had changed since the last visit.  I sense he is a confident winemaker who knows what he wants to achieve.   He has 22 hectares, and 8 hectares of fields.  

2017 Rosé, Côtes de Thongue - 5.20€
Pure Cinsaut, saigné after two hours.  Fresh  dry raspberry fruit on nose and palate.  A little weight, with some rounded fruit.  what André called ‘simple et sympathique’.

2017 Blanc, Côtes de Thongue - 6.20€
A  pure Marsanne.  Elegant white blossom fruit.  Nicely rounded with some herbal grassy notes, and a hint of grapefruit and a fresh bitterness on the finish.  Some potential to develop in bottle. 

2017 Malgré Moi, Coteaux de Béziers - 7.40€
This comes from Andre’s father’s original vineyard outside Béziers.  I have not really come across Coteaux de Béziers, before, but it encompasses the villages immediately around Béziers.  The wine is Chardonnay, and was originally called Destin Croisé.  André wanted to stop making it, but his customers insisted he continue, which he did, malgré moi. He uses interstaves to give the wine a touch of elegant vanilla and to round out the palate.    It is nicely mouth filling, quite elegant and not too heavy..  André observed that philosophiquement he prefers Marsanne, to Chardonnay.  I rather agree.

2016 Cuvée H, Vin de France - 12.00€
About two thirds Vermentino to one third Roussanne, fermented together and given 12 months in new wood.  Satisfying mouthfeel with texture and depth and plenty of nuances.  It will continue to develop beautifully in bottle.

Andre has a healthy disrespect for officialdom and did observe that if you do not make either an appellation or an IGP, it is well nigh impossible to go to a wine fair, as they do not accept you as they do not where to put you.  His H rouge, tasting note coming, was Languedoc for the first vintage, and ils sont revenus me contrôler, which even though everything was in order and it took less than an hour, he deemed to be totally unacceptable, so he made AOP Languedoc for the first and last time.  

2015 Simplement, Vin de France - 5.20€
His entry level red, a blend of Syrah and Grenache, with good colour and fresh fruit on both nose and palate.   Served lightly chilled, to bring out the acidity.  A perfect summer red.

2015 Emilie, Côtes de Thongue, Syrah - 7.40€
Named after his father, Emile,  who helped with the creation of the estate, and his grandmother, who was Emilie.  Fermented in a tank, with no barrels but rather interstaves, or planks.  What my friend Lizzie succinctly termed 'tank and plank!'   Better a good quality interstave - Andre reckons one small plank for 2 hectolitres works nicely - than a bad quality barrel.  A light touch of vanilla from the oak and some ripe spice - smooth and rounded.  A winter warmer

2017 H Rouge - Vin de France - 12.00€
From vineyards in the garrigue outside Magalas near the chapel of St Croix. It was originally AOP Languedoc but no more.  A blend of  20% Cinsaut and equal parts of Grenache and Syrah, all fermented together in a vat.  Rounded ripe nose, with some fresh spice on the palate.  Youthful fruit and tannins.  It needs time in bottle.

2014 Jeu de Patience Côtes de Thongue - 17.00€
A blend of 80% Syrah and  20% Grenache, which spends twelve month in barrel, with the final blend just before bottling.  Deep young colour.  Rounded, ripe and some oak on the nose; a winter warmer with rich fruit and some alcohol on the finish, but quite serious and concentrated.  The label is a pun; wine is above all a game of patience, and there are three jigsaw pieces, with André’s name and his two wine-making friends who have helped and advised him, namely Gilles Barrot and Pierre Dubrion.  

Friday, 10 August 2018

Domaine Ollieux-Romanis

Domaine Ollieux-Romanis is one of the leading wine estates of the Corbières cru of Boutenac, with the owner, Pierre Bories, playing an important role in helping to establish the cru.  The estate did not feature in Wines of the Languedoc for the simple reason that I could not write about everyone, and preferred to concentrate on newer estates.   Wine has been produced at Ollieux-Romanis since the 1820s, with the estate passing through the females of the family.  Pierre is the exception, taking over from his mother when she retired 18 years ago.  His father was a lawyer.   Ollieux-Romanis covers 60 hectares, all farmed organically at the foot of the Massif de la Pinède, with vineyards looking south east towards the sea.  The maritime influence is significant for the terroir of Boutenac.  Then there is a second property Domaine Champs du Muraillet at nearby Fabrezan.

Ollieux was originally one property in the 1820s and then it was divided between two sisters, and stayed that way, as Château Ollieux, and Château Ollieux-Romania until 2006, when Pierre bought out his neighbours.   Romanis originates from a lieu-dit, the name of a valley on the property.

We looked at the vineyards which are in one enormous plot around the property, on grès or sandstone; in contrast most of Boutenac which iis clay and limestone,.  Neighbouring Fontsainte and Ollieux-Romanis are alone in having grès, which is an advantage as it does not retain the heat during cooler nights, and makes for fresher wine, with less concentration.   Pierre admitted that when he first started making wine, he looked for concentration, but no longer.   We admired his 60 year Carignan vines at the foot of the Massif.  The dominant wind is the drying north wind, but they get the Marin at night coming from the sea, making for a cooling effect.  The appellation of Boutenac is in the pipeline, but not yet finalised, with the commission visiting the region imminently.  

The weather this spring has been a problem, as for everywhere in the Languedoc.  The annual rainfall is usually about 530-400 mm rain; this year they have already had 800 mm, which has caused mildew, noticeable for the brown stains on the leaves and dried up bunches that have barely formed.  Pierre was not too unhappy, as the flowering went very well, with une belle sortie, so he can afford to lose a small amount of his crop.  Carignan and Syrah have been particularly affected by the mildew.  However, he would be treating for the 11th time, in the middle of July, as opposed to the sixth time at the same stage of a normal year.  His average crop is about 35 hl/ha; 40 hl/ha would be even better.    Three quarters of his grapes are handpicked and this year he envisages starting the harvest about  3rd September, ten days later than last year which was a particularly early harvest.   He observed that maturity or ripeness is the result of an accumulation of temperature.

We looked at his cellar, in one of the traditional old Languedoc buildings, so typical of the wine industry. and built in 1896.  A new cellar is planned, with the building permit just agreed, not to mention the bank loan!  There is a large pneumatic press and plenty of stainless steel vats,  all with emperatures control, and double skins, which are very easy to clean, just ten minutes with hot water, as opposed to an hour and a half or two hours for a concrete vat.  The building is insulated as well as having very thick walls, and part of it goes into the hillside.   Pierre is insistent on the importance of temperature; it can speed up or slow down the fermentation.   He uses natural yeast and as little sulphur as possible and he prefers slow fermentations, what he calls an infusion, at a low temperatures of 17º - 19ºC.   He observed that 'we are recreating the character of Corbières'.  20 years ago it was a vin costaud that went with wild boar; these days he hopes people drink it with things other than sanglier.

Carignan is the backbone, with at least 40% in the blend.  But for Pierre, Corbières has fruit and elegance - it is no longer massive.   Pierre explained how alcohol makes for the extraction of matière; with a slower extraction at a lower temperature, whereas it will obviously be faster at a higher temperature.  2017 was the longest fermentation - 35 days - whereas it usually 25 days, and when he first began making wine, only about 12 or 13 days.  
If he can, he uses nitrogen to protect the wine against oxygen, instead of sulphur,  but he does not want to be labelled vin nature.  

He favours 600 litres barrels, as they give a good balance and surface ratio between wood and wine.   He began using them about 7 years ago, and still has some of the demi-muids he first bought; they give interesting results, and for his white wine he uses as much as 70%, as opposed to 40% for red wine.  He favours Stockinger, and also the Tonnellerie de Mercurey, Vallaurine in Beaujolais  and Boutes in Narbonne.   

And we tasted in the original house of the estate, built in the 1800s, with a pretty double staircase outside leading to the first floor.   At that time the ground floor was the servants’ quarters, where the tasting room is today.

2017 Cuvée  Classique Blanc - 9.00€
A blend of 30% each of Marsanne and Roussanne, 25% Grenache Blanc and 15% Macabeo. The fruit of young vines and blended in January.  A very perfumed nose, with lemon and herbs, and a rounded palate, with refreshing acidity.  Pierre picks his whites quite early to retain the acidity.  There is an élevage in vat on the fine lees and some skin contact for 48 hours.   After pressing, the juice is stabilised at 0ºC and Pierre works on the lees, extracting flavour for  about a week, but without any alcohol.  He then starts the fermentation with some lees and the temperatures rises, unto about 20ºC over five or six days.  The wine stays in vat on its lees until bottling, which gives some appealing mouthfeel.    Pierre’s white vineyards account for 10 out of a total of 60 hectares.

2017 Corbières rosé - 9.00€
A blend of Grenaches, 15% Blanc, and 30% Gris and Noir, with 15% Cinsaut.  All pressed grapes with a four hour maceration on the skins.  Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris make for a lighter colour.  If possible all the grapes are picked together, depending on their ripeness, so blending can be immediate, or else they are picked separately and blended later.  But ideally they all fermented together and the vinification is essentially the same as for the white wine.

Very pale colour.  Delicate nose.  Very fresh with very good acidity.  Quite firm stony dry fruit.  Elegant and fresh.  

2017 Cuvée Prestige Blanc - 21.00€
A blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, from 25 year old vines.  All aged in demi-muids for about ten months.  Some bâtonnage and work on the lees.  A little colour.  Lightly oaky nose and a ripe rounded palate with good acidity.  A long buttery finish, but still not yet really knit together as it was only bottled ten days previously.  Lots of potential  and complexity.  Pierre’s mother planted Marsanne and Roussanne as she wanted to compete with the Rhône Valley.

They also make a cuvée nature for The Wine Society, Le Blanc, from 30% each of Carignan blanc and Macabeo and 20% each of Grenache Gris and Blanc, vinified in old barrels, but it was sold out.  So I was out of luck. 

2017 Lo Petit Fantet d’Hippolyte - 9.00€
Fantet is a child in Occitan and the wine is a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah, about one third each, but with Carignan the dominant variety.  Lovely spicy red fruit, balanced with some tannins and best served chilled.   The idea was something completely different; what Pierre called modern Corbières, and very fresh. and fruity  The grapes are destalked with several pigeages and remontages.  

2016 Corbières Cuvée Classique - 9.00€  - not Boutenac, as that must be a minimum of 10€ a bottle.

45% Carignan with Grenache Noir and Syrah, fermented and then aged in vat, blended in January, and bottled in November.  Very deep purple red colour.   Very garrigue on the nose, with more Carignan.  Sturdier.  Very good spice and fruit.    The freshness and structure of Carignan -''le cépage que je préfère'.  It is very adapted to the region, giving tannin, structure and fruit.  About 40% of the cuvée is vinified by carbonic maceration, a process that Pierre likes for its interesting fruit , but he admitted that he likes it less than before, as the fruit is quite obvious and now he favours more restraint.   He also called it a vinification de fenéant, as there is nothing to do while it is fermenting.

2016 Corbieres Boutenac Rouge Prestige - 15.60€
with a lot of Carignan and some Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre, kept in wood for about 11-12 months.   Deep young colour.  solid rounded ripe fruit; ripe berry flavours and nicely mouth filling with a fish finish.  And all very harmonious and beautifully knit together.  ‘As Pierre put it, 'pas de combat’ as nothing is fighting on the palate.  For Boutenac the proportion of Corbières is a minimum of 35%, and there is an obligatory élevage of 12 months, including in bottle.

2015 Atal Sia - 23.00€
Bottled in November 2016.  Atal Sia means in Occitan, ainsi soit-il. or so be it.  It is a sélection parcellaire and usually comes from the same plots, with a lot of Carignan, as much as 50%, as well as Grenache and Mourvèdre and just 3% Syrah, and no élevage in wood, but rather an élevage in bottle.  Syrah is not suitable for the top of the range, as it is too généreux or generous.  

And this is fresh, but concentrated, with fresh ripe cassis and spice.  It is quite rich and seemed quite high in alcohol.   Almost 100% carbonic maceration, except for the Syrah, making it ripe and subtle but with a fresh note on the finish.   

2016 Cuvée Or
This comes from the same terroir, with the same sélection parcellaire as Atal Sia, and is made 80% by carbonic maceration, with the malo in wood.  It is a blend of Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre, with a little more Syrah, possibly 10%, all vinified together.   Very intense with rich black fruit; very round ripe, with firm tannins, quite fleshy.  The oak is present but not aggressively so.

OR is not gold, as you might think, but the initials of Ollieux Romanis, and ollieux refers to oliviers or olive trees.  Pierre observed that 2015 was a year of sunshine, whereas 2016 made for wines with more tension.