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.  

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