I was invited to taste for this year’s selection of wines to show off the character and quality of Minervois La Liviniere, so it was an excuse for a visit to the Minervois. It is apparently the 20th anniversary of the tasting, the first being in 1999.
First we went to see Audrey Rouanet at Domaine Rouanet-Montcélèbre outside the village of Cesseras. She is the new kid on the block of La Liviniere, making her first wines in 2012, and her first La Liviniere in 2016, which was selected for the La Livinage last year. Audrey’s father had bought a rundown estate in 1987; he had pulled up vines and replanted and sold his wine en vrac to Val d’Orbieu. And when he announced in 2002 that he intended to sell the property, Audrey said; that is out of the question. She had known since the age of 15 that she wanted to be an oenologist and that is what she studied at Bordeaux. She has then went on to work in the Napa Valley, and also in the Loire Valley, as well as for the research station, INRA, in Colmar. That was followed by a stage with Beaucastel in Châteauneuf du Pape and then two years with Avignonesi in Montepulciano and then she came home to the Minervois is 2012 in time to make her first vintage that year. She began with just 3000 bottles, and is gradually increasing her production in bottle. Altogether she has 12 hectares at Montcélèbre and another ten hectares at Olonzac, with Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsaut, as well as Merlot and Cabernet Franc which are sold en vrac. And for white wine, there is Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Roussanne, and a little Chardonnay, Colombard and Viognier. The difference in harvest dates between Olonzac, with vines on the plain and Montceleste with vines in the hills is fifteen days. Audrey has gradually converted her vines to organic viticulture, and also follows the principles of an organisation called Bee Friendly, but she does not have any hives of her own yet. Her small cellar is equipped with open concrete vats for her red wine, which makes them suitable for pigeage.
Audrey has 7.5 hectares which could be classified as La Livinière but for the moment she has only declared 4.5 hectares. She wanted to start with a very good vintage, so waited until she felt confident, with the 2016 harvest. Before tasting, we went to admire the dramatic scenery of the gorge of the river Cesse, sheer cliffs with caves in the rock face, taking a track that was once used by miners of the nearly phosphate mines. Apparently there is a cave on three levels, with paintings that are even older than those of Lascaux. They are closed; you may only apply to see them if you have an academic reason. And there is also a large colony of protected bats, which may not be disturbed. Audrey has a plot of Carignan planted in 1973, but most of the rest of her vineyards were planted in 1987 - 1990. They lie at about 300 metres, in limestone soil.
Back to the cellar to taste. We began with her white wine, Alveoline, Minervois Blanc - 9.20€ - made from Grenache Blanc, Rolle, and Roussanne. It was fresh and fragrant, with a rounded palate, and a nice bitterness on the finish. There is also a range of Pays d’Oc Se Canta, but we were there to taste La Livinière, the wines chosen for the Livinage last year.
2016 Château de Gourgazaud
A blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Mourvèdre, with12 months élevage in barrel, of which a quarter are renewed each year. Ripe spicy nose, with plummy fruit and a rounded palate with integrated oak. Medium weight. Quite firm dry streak on the finish and still quite youthful, with a spicy finish.
2016 Borealis - Audrey’s wine
A blend of 30% Grenache Noir and 70% Syrah. Fresh dry peppery spice, on nose and palate. A touch of oak. Well integrated. Nicely crafted palate, with firm elegant fruit and a long finish. A great start.
2015 Ste Eulalie, la Cantilène - sadly this was corked, and there was no second bottle.
2014 Clos des Roques
80% Carignan to 20% Mourvèdre, an unusual blend. The Carignan was planted in 1955, and the Mourvèdre in 1989. Vines at an altitude of 180 metres in small terraces, amounting to about half a hectare and producing enough wine for just four barrels. The grapes are handpicked, and given some pigeage. Medium colour. Rounded red fruit on the nose and some fresh leathery notes. Elegant concentration on the palate. A satisfyingly long finish.
2012 Cuvée Alliance, from the Minervois cooperatives
80% Syrah, 20% Grenache Noir and a littler Carignan. Good colour. Ripe spice on the nose and palate. Quite supple fruit, with a firm streak of tannin on the finish. Maturing nicely. And then a local organic traiteur produced a delicious range of tapas to fortify us for the La Livinage tasting in the afternoon.