Thursday, 31 December 2009
2008 Vin de Pays d’Oc – 5.20€
A blend of Viognier, Roussanne and Vermentino.
Lovely fresh fruit on both nose and palate. No one grape variety dominates, so that there is a harmonious mouthful of fruit, with balancing acidity, and a refreshing lift on the finish.
2008 St. Chinian rosé – 6.30€
A blend of Cinsaut, Syrah and Grenache Noir
Light pink colour, with a firm dry nose. Rounded fruit on the palate. Medium weight, fresh and easy drinking for a summer’s day.
2008 Vin de Pays d’Oc – 5.20€
A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc
Medium depth of colour. A touch of dry spice; easy fruit and not especially bordelais in character. Just a supple undemanding glass of wine.
2007 St. Chinian – 6.80€
Mainly Syrah with some Grenache Noir and Carignan, aged in vat.
A lovely rounded spicy nose. This is very Midi, with spicy fruit and sunshine in a glass, balanced with supple tannins.
2006 Chateau Etienne la Dournie – 10.50€
The same blend of grape varieties but with a year’s élevage in wood. This shows. The nose is much firmer and more structured, with more depth and concentration on the palate, but still an underlying suppleness, making for satisfying drinking.
2007 Cuvée Elise, St Chinian – 13.50€
This is the top cuvée which always comes from the same plots. A blend of Grenache Noir and Syrah, aged mainly in barriques, with 40 per cent new oak. Some of the Syrah is vinified by carbonic maceration, and some traditionally. It is ripe, with some good fruit. The oak is present, but not overpowering, and it should age well, but I have to admit to preferring the other two St. Chinians.
Wednesday, 30 December 2009
2008 Picpoul de Pinet, Cuvée Prestige de l’Ormarine from the cooperative at Pinet
This coop works really well for its appellation, with a great range of Picpoul. Picpoul is not necessarily the world’s most exciting grape variety, but when vinified properly, it has some lovely salty notes, with a light herbal lift and good acidity. It’s just the thing for a New Year oyster. We actually had it as an apéro, and it went down very nicely.
Then we moved on to un coup de rouge, - 2007 Faugères, les Collines from Domaine Ollier-Taillefer. This is their entry level Faugères, but it is none the worse for that. This encapsulates the charm of Midi, with some lovely spicy fruit. We finished the bottle at lunch today – sitting outside on our sheltered terrace in almost warm sunshine – on 30th December. All seemed very right with the world.
Thursday, 24 December 2009
Tuesday, 22 December 2009
2008 Muscat Sec, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes - 5.85€
This is fresh and spicy, redolent of fresh, pithy Muscat with some bitter orange fruit, with a little body and weight resulting from lees stirring. Great for an apéro!
2008 Les Terres Grillées, Côtes du Roussillon blanc - 9.70€
Quite rounded and leesy, with a touch of oak and a slightly resinous note. You find the same characteristics on the palate, with some good acidity. Quite fresh and nutty on the finish. Another example of the dramatic improvement in white wines from the south.
2006 Côtes du Roussillon Tradition 7.15€
A blend of equal parts of Carignan, Grenache Noir and Syrah. Medium colour. Quite firm stony mineral notes on the nose. Rounded and ripe on the palate, but with that underlying minerality.
2006 Le Chant des Frères, Côtes du Roussillon - 8.05€
Again a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah. Quite a stony mineral nose, developing riper berry characteristics. Ripe rounded spicy fruit on the palate, with a good backbone. Just the thing for a cold winter’s day – like London today.
2005 Les Terres Grillées, Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 9.35€
Grenache Noir 35%; old Carignan fermented by carbonic maceration 35% and 30% Syrah aged in oak. Good colour, with ripe spicy fruit on the nose. The touch of oak is nicely integrated, giving body and weight, but nothing more, so that the palate is ripe and rounded, and very satisfying.
2005 La Colline Oubliée, Côtes du Roussillon Villages - 9.35€
Aged in wood for 12 months – Mourvèdre 40%; Syrah 30%; Grenache Noir and old Carignan both 15%. Deep colour with firm, dense spicy notes on the nose and palate. A rounded substantial mouthful with some lovely spicy fruit.
2007 Galatée, Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 14.65€
Grenache Noir 70%; 25% Syrah and 5% Carignan, grown on schist, and fermented in vat. Unfiltered, so richly dense, rounded and ripe. A heady 14º.
2006 Pygmalion Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 14.65€
Syrah dominates here, at 70%, with Grenache 25% and 5% Carignan. Just 10% is aged in oak and the rest in vat. Deep colour. There are some sweet oaky notes on the nose, with a ripe rounded, almost sweet palate. To be honest, for my taste buds it was almost too much, to the extent that it lacked grip. Again a heady 14.5º.
Pierre also makes a fine range of Vin Doux Naturels which I had every intention of tasting at the end of day, but somehow that never happened. I finished the day at Aisle R and he was somewhere nearer Aisle A. Sorry Pierre.
Sunday, 20 December 2009
Château de Flaugergues is situated outside Montpellier, within the terroir of Méjanelle, which is now being incorporated into Grès de Montpellier. It is the vineyards of Méjanelle that you can see as you land at Montpellier airport. Flaugergues is a handsome 17th century château set in fine gardens, with vineyards all around, which are fighting a rearguard action against encroaching urbanisation. The soil here is a mixture of limestone and clay, covered with the heavy galets that you also find in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Pierre has a more modern approach than his father, while maintaining the intrinsic quality of Flaugergues. For a start all his wines are bottled with a screwcap, even the most expensive. He also makes a range of low alcohol wines, with the help of Vincent Puygibet from Domaine la Colombette, near Beziers. And he is planning to open a restaurant at the château for spring 2010.
2008 Cuvée Foliae, Coteaux du Languedoc blanc, la Mejanelle - 7.00€
Mainly Rolle with a generous splash of Grenache blanc. It is fresh with light fruit and light herbal notes, with sufficient acidity. Nicely rounded and easy to drink, and an example of how much even quite simple white wines from the south of France have improved in recent years.
2008 Cuvée Sommelière, la Méjanelle. 9.00€
This is more serious, a blend of Rolle, Grenache blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. The enigma is to work out which of the five varieties dominates the blend, and it is impossible to decide. There are rich herbal notes, with floral hints and a certain peachiness on the palate, which led me to Viognier, but on the nose it was impossible to say which. It was rounded and satisfying, a jolly nice glass of wine.
2008 Cuvée de l’Oncle Charles, Vin de Pays d’Oc 3.50 €
This is intended for easy drinking. There is light dry cassis fruit on nose and palate, with a fresh youthful finish.
2007 Cuvée les Comtes, Coteaux du Languedoc 6.00€
A blend of Grenache, with 15% each of Mourvèdre and Syrah, aged in vat. It was a tad stalky on the nose; I liked the palate much better with rounded ripe fruit. It was eminently drinkable, what the French would call gouleyant, with a satisfactory tannic hint on the finish.
2006 Cuvee Sommelière, la Méjanelle. 9.00€
Again Grenache is the dominant grape variety, as in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with Syrah and Mourvèdre. The wine has a lovely deep colour, with quite a closed dense nose. The palate is dense and ripe too, and at the moment a touch clumsy, probably just a trifle adolescent.
2006 Cuvée Colbert, Grès de Montpellier. 12.00€
A blend of 60% Syrah with 30% Mourvèdre and 10% Grenache Noir, which have been aged in 400 litre barrels for 12 months. It was rich, youthful and concentrated on both nose and palate, promising good things for the future.
Definitely time for another visit, was my concluding thought.
Friday, 18 December 2009
This is a new estate to me – it was highlighted in Révue des Vins de France. Madame explained that the vineyards had previously been in the village coop, until her father-in-law opted for independence in 1993. Her husband, Jean-Marie Fabre, took over the family’s 13.5 hectares in 1998.
Fitou does not a white appellation. Any white wine produced in the area is vin de pays, or in this instance vin de table. Cuvée Camille is a blend of 60% Vermentino, 10% Grenache and 30% Roussanne, which were aged in wood for three months, with some lees stirring. The nose has resinous, oaky overtones, but the palate is very intriguing, slightly fruitcakey, with good acidity and considerable length. As a vin de table, there is no vintage. 7€
2008 Fitou Tradition - 7.50€
A blend of Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, with aging in vat. Deep colour, with ripe fruit on the nose. Medium weight with some acidity and tannin. Nicely balanced with a firm mineral finish.
2008 Fitou Privilège – 9.50€
The same blend, but with eleven months ageing in oak. The wine was only just bottled and the oak was still was obtrusive. I wondered if there was enough fruit for the oak. Probably., but it needs time to settle down.
2008 Fitou Noblesse des Temps – 18.50€
A blend of 505 Mourvèdre, 30% Carignan and 20% Grenache, aged in new oak for 13 months, using only free run juice and with the malolactic fermentation taking place in barrel. If you like oaky wines, you will love this. I am less enamoured of oak, but I have to admit that this was very well made. The palate was a rich, rounded oaky mouthful, with good tannins, but nicely integrated, or englobé, as the French would say. Madame said this was the effect of the Mourvèdre. An estate to watch out for.
Another completely new estate for me was DOMAINE DELEUZE-ROCHETIN which produces Vin de Pays du Duché d’Uzès and also some Vin de Pays d’Oc from 23 hectares near the town of Uzès. The first vintage that Catherine and Jean-Michel Cathonnet bottled was 2004. Their wine maker is Bertrand Salzes who trained in Montpellier and has worked for Domaine Drouhin in Oregon and at Château Montus in Madiran.
2006 Chardonnay Sorcier, Vin de Pays d’Oc – was rounded and lightly leafy with some soft fruit, while 2006 Chardonnay Arpellus had been partially fermented in oak, and was firmer and nuttier, but nicely crafted, for 8.00€
2006 Saba, Vin de Pays d’Oc, is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with ripe rounded cassis fruit and a supple palate. Aurelius, also Vin de Pays d’Oc, from 70% Merlot with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc had good colour, a rounded nose, and quite a solid, dense palate. It was quite structured, with some nicely balanced tannins. 8.00€
2007 La Sarrazine Vin de Pays du Duché d’Uzès, 95% Syrah with just 5% Grenache. Deep in colour, with quite a sweet nose, with peppery hints. On the palate there was rich peppery fruit, with good texture and depth. This promised well. Definitely another estate to watch out for.
Wednesday, 16 December 2009
The other attraction is a foie gras baguette at lunchtime. Only at a French wine fair would you find such an indulgence. True, there is nowhere to sit down and eat it, apart from a quiet corner on the floor. But it tastes all the better for that, and soaks up all the tastes of the morning and prepares your palate for the afternoon’s onslaught.
It’s also a wonderful opportunity to observe the French wine drinking public, for this is not a trade fair. I encountered a man who absolutely refused to contemplate a screwcap; there were a couple of guys who were limbering up for what sounded like a very serious wine tasting competition. From the way they described it, it almost made the MW exams sound easy! Rather you than me, I said. Some refuse to countenance anything as obscure as the Languedoc; others are more broad-minded. The parisiens come with trolleys, rucksacks and even suitcases on wheels, with the express purpose of buying wine for Christmas and stocking up their cellars, or cupboards. Some go straight to their favourite growers of previous years; others are more adventurous. Considerable quantities of wine are sold over the five days. I usually attend the first two days, Thursday and Friday, when it is a little less crowded. Avoid the weekend, for then you will also be avoiding babies in pushchairs, and even the occasional dog! And by Monday the best growers have sold out.
So in the interests of re-energising my blog, I am proposing to cover some of my highlights and favourites over the next few days, before I head back to the Languedoc itself after Christmas.
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
CLOS DU GRAVILLAS, in St. Jean de Minervois
John Bojanowski is an engaging, enthusiastic American, who, with his wife, Nicole, runs six hectares of vines, with thirteen different grape varieties. Carignan has always been a particular enthusiasm, ever since they started their estate with just one hectare of old vines. The UK agents are those wonderfully quirky and original wine importers, and organic specialists, Les Caves de Pyrène. If a wine grower is represented by them on the British market, I know the wines will be rewarding. I may not like them, but they will certainly engage my attention.
2007 L’Inattendu, Minervois. A blend of Grenache Blanc, Macabeu and Terret. Light golden in colour. Herbal hints on the nose. The palate is rounded and textured with a firm streak of acidity. Good mouthfeel and an intriguing finish.
2008 Sous les Cailloux des Grillons, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Brian. A blend of Syrah, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Counoise. Good colour. A warm, but stony nose, with a touch of berry fruit. Medium weight, with some warm leathery notes on the palate, plus some berry fruit and a stony finish.
2006 Rendez-vous du soleil, Côtes de Brian. A blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Counoise. Good young colour. A warm, slightly meaty nose, which repeats on the palate. Nicely rounded fruit, with some supple tannins. Quite textured, with a leathery finish.
2005 Lò Vielh, Côtes de Brian. Pure Carignan. Good colour. A firm, dry nose. The palate is initially tight knit with some berry fruit developing in the glass. Medium weight and youthful.
2008 Douce Providence Muscat de St. Jean-de-Minervois
Light colour; quite a rounded honeyed palate, with fresh grapey fruit. Fresh and rounded and very appealing.
I’ve driven through the pretty village of Puéchabon on numerous occasions and noticed the sign for Domaine Coston, but have never been able to stop, so I was very pleased to have the opportunity to taste Jean-Marc Coston’s wines. He farms 12 hectares with his brother Philippe, and they have just bought another 24 hectares, the very same plot that the Mondavis had hoped to buy, and caused all that rumpus around Aniane. The two brothers are planning to clear the scrub and plant a further eight hectares. This is definitely an estate to watch.
2007 les Garigoles Blanches, Terrasses du Larzac. Grenache Blanc and Roussanne 17.00€ TTC Quite a resinous quality on both nose and palate, but also quite intriguing, with herbal notes and a rounded finish.
2008 Vin de pays de St. Guilhem le Désert. A blend of Grenache, Carignan and Cabernet France. 6.50€ TTC Medium colour. Soft rounded spicy nose. Medium weight. Very drinkable and gouleyant, with soft spicy fruit, but sufficient tannin to provide a backbone.
2007 Terrasses du Larzac, from Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre. Elevage in vat. 9.00€ Quite a deep colour. A rich spicy nose, with more depth than the previous wine. Eminently drinkable but again with more texture than the vin de pays. A lovely ripe finish.
Les Garigoles, Terrasses du Larzac, Grenache and Syrah. A little élevage in barrel. 16.00€ Medium colour. Quite a firm smoky nose, with a hint of oak. More depth and body, with good rounded fruit, and a streak of tannin. Medium weight.
My friend. Virgile Joly was there – see my earlier blog about picking grapes for him. This was the chance to taste the new vintage of Le Joly Rouge, 2008. A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsaut and Carignan. AC Languedoc. This could almost be the Languedoc’s answer to Beaujolais, a wine that is fresh and easy to drink, with peppery cherries on nose and palate, just a streak of tannin and a fresh fruity finish. Quite delicious.
2008 Saturne blanc, Languedoc AC Grenache blanc Also a new vintage. Quite a delicate nose, with round fresh herbal notes and a rounded palate with fresh acidity and good texture. .
LES CHEMINS DE BASSAC Isabelle and Rémi Ducellier make Côtes du Thongue and are based in the village of Puimisson. They have fifteen hectares of vines.
2008 Isa blanc, Côtes de Thongue from Viognier and Roussanne - 6.00€ Light colour, a delicate nose. Good fruit on the palate, slightly floral, what the French would call fleurs blanches. Nice rounded body.
2007 Isa Rouge, Côtes de Thongue, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cabernet, Pinot 5.70€
Medium colour. Rounded, restrained nose. Nicely balanced palate, with some rounded fruit, and a streak of tannin. A harmonious finish.
2008 Pinot Noir, Côtes de Thongue. 7.00€
This was a surprise. I had forgotten that they produce Pinot Noir and this was extremely drinkable. It is very simple, with fresh raspberry fruit, a touch of varietal character, but no great depth, nor any barrel ageing. Just a lovely fresh fruity glass of wine.
MAS DE JANINY in St. Bauzille de la Sylve was another new name for me. Of the four wines, they showed, I liked best 2007 La Famille, AC Languedoc and a blend of Grenache Syrah, Mourvèdre, with a little oak ageing was firm and spicy.
DOMAINE VAL AUCLAIR is based in the Corbières at Fontjoncouse, but produces Vin de Pays de la Vallée du Paradis.
2008 Notre Passion from 100 year old Carignan. 12 months ageing in two year old barrels. 13.00€ TTC Ripe and rounded with well-integrated oak. Ripe cherry fruit and a harmonious finish. I liked this a lot.
Notre Passion from 70 year old Macabeu, harvested in mid-October. This was quite intriguing, with some firm oak and a resinous note, and firm acidity on the palate. I wondered where it was going.
2008 Notre Histoire, from 70 year old Carignan and 18 year old Syrah. Although, or maybe because it had only spent three months in oak, the oak seem to dominate any fruit in the wine. The least successful of their range.
2008 Notre Délire. 7.50€ From 60 year old Grenache. Refreshingly no oak. Rounded spicy cherry fruit on the nose, with some texture fruit and spice on the palate. Quite rich, with a dry finish.
DOMAINE DE BASSAC. The Delhon brothers have been producing organic wine since 1990, so could be considered one of the pioneers of the Languedoc.
2008 Armonia Rouge, Vin de Pays d’Oc 470€ A blend of Merlot, Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. A bit of a mixture of grape varieties making an easy to drink wine, with ripe spicy cherry fruit. No great depth, but an enjoyable drink.
2008 Cabernet Franc Côtes de Thongue. Some varietal character with fresh cherry fruit and a streak of tannin to give it backbone.
2008 Petit Grain de Bassac, Côtes de Thongue, moelleux A late harvest Muscat. - 7.50€ Muscat à petits grains, to be precise. Light colour; fresh pithy, grapey fruit, with good acidity and a fresh honeyed finish.
And finally there were a handful of wines from Les Domaines Auriol, which is run by Claude Vialade. She is one of the most energetic and dynamic wine producers of the Languedoc and was once the export director of the large organisation, Les Vignerons Val d’Orbieu. These days she produces wines, both as grower, and as a négociant from the Spanish border to the Costières de Nîmes
2008 Domaine la Chapelle, Vin de Pays d’Oc, a blend of Grenache and Syrah was easy, ripe and spicy. As was 2008 Le Bistro, a Vin de Pays de l’Hérault, from Grenache, Merlot, Carignan and Syrah, providing simple, uncomplicated drinking, with rounded fruit. What more do you want?
Thursday, 22 October 2009
CORNEY & BARROW were showing a small selection of French Regional wines at their tasting at the Tower of London. They represent Chateau Léoube, an up-and coming Côtes de Provence estate, near Bormes-les-Mimosa, where Romain Ott is making the wine.
2008 Chateau Léoube Blanc, Côtes de Provence - £12.71
This has a rounded, herbal nose with a beautifully textured palate, with some leafy herbal notes, and what the French call fleurs blanches. The English translation of white flowers does not really do it justice, nor does the adjective floral. Think of white blossom, and more so. The grape variety mix is equal proportions of Rolle and Sémillon.
2008 Château Léoube Rosé, Côtes de Provence - £9.56
This is a blend of 40 per cent each of Grenache and Cinsaut, with10 per cent each of Syrah and Mourvèdre. The colour is a delicate pink and on the nose there is creamy raspberry fruit, which repeats on the palate, with some fresh acidity. Beautifully harmonious and balanced, displaying talented wine making.
I remembered enjoying the red enormously when I visited the estate last November, but sadly they were not showing it in London this week.
2008 Château la Nielle, Coteaux du Languedoc, La Clape – £6.77
This was a new name to me, but the small print revealed the name Boscary. Jacques Boscary is the owner of the award winning estate of Château la Rouquette-sur-Mer, which is one of the historic properties of this extraordinary part of the Languedoc. The wine was very perfumed on the nose, with lovely supple, ripe fruit and soft tannins on the palate, conjuring the herbs and spices of the garrigues of the Massif of la Clape, outside the city of Narbonne. However, there was enough tannin to provide the necessary backbone.
Next a new discovery at CLARK FOYSTER’S portfolio tasting, namely Mas Cristine, from Roussillon, which owns the last vineyards before you reach the tiny appellation of Collioure. The soil is clay, as opposed to the schist of Collioure.
2008 Cotes du Roussillon Blanc – Recommended retail price - £11.71
A blend of Macabeu, Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Gris. Quite a rich herbal nose, with good ripe fruit on the palate, rich and leafy with good acidity. A successful combination of freshness and weight.
2007 Mas Cristine Rouge – £11.71
A blend of Syrah and Grenache. Medium colour; rich stony mineral fruit on the nose. Rich and spicy on the palate, with a lovely warm finish. A real winter warmer.
Coume del Mas is a Banyuls estate that is a familiar name, but I don’t think I have ever tasted the wines before and I was impressed. The estate was created by Philippe Gard, who began buying small plots of land back in 2000 and he subsequently took over Mas Cristine about five years ago.
2008 Folio, Collioure Blanc - £17.30
Grenache Gris, all barrel fermented but with no bâtonnage. Lightly oaky nose; nicely integrated oak and a rounded palate. Very good mouth feel, texture and weight, all balanced with good acidity.
2008 Schistes, Collioure - £17.41
Pure Grenache Noir. I thought Collioure needed to be a blend of grape varieties, but apparently not. Medium colour. Firm leathery fruit on the nose. Ripe. rounded and satisfying, with a good firm tannic streak and a generous finish.
2006 Quadratur, Collioure - £22.25
A blend of Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre. Deep colour, with dry leathery notes on the nose and rounded fruit on the palate; firm with youthful tannins and excellent depth of flavour.
2006 Banyuls Blanc - £15.87
Light golden colour; lightly biscuity on the nose. A soft, rounded palate, with biscuity notes and an alcoholic bite on the finish.
2006 Galateo Banyuls Rouge - £17.47
Pure Grenache Noir. Bright young red. Fresh spicy liquorice on the nose. The aim is for fresh fruit, and not the oxidative style of Banyuls. It works brilliantly well, with ripe red fruit, with some liquorice – think good ruby port, maybe an LBV, but the alcohol is well integrated, so no spirity finish.
2006 Quintessence Banyuls Rouge - £25.45
Again pure Grenache Noir. Quite a deep colour and more leathery, smokey notes on the nose and palate. The vineyards for this are at 300-400 metres, so the grapes are picked a month later than for Galateo, which comes from vines close to the sea. Here the aim is tannin and power, with a six week maceration allowing for maximum extraction of fruit. Lots of concentration and weight on the finish.
Some new wines from MAJESTIC were shown at their recent Winter Press tasting
2008 Domaine les Yeuses, Muscat à Petits Grains, Vin de Pays d’Oc - £7.99 or Buy two bottles and save £4 = £5.99
From an estate near Mèze and the étang de Thau. Fresh pithy, grapey fruit on the nose. Ripe and blowsy, with a fresh finish. It really tastes of grapes!
2007 Domaine Les Yeuses, Les Epices, Syrah, Vin de Pays d’Oc - £8.99 or £6.99 a bottle if you buy two.
This is benchmark Syrah, with a meaty spicy nose, with similar spice on the palate. Rounded and mouth-filling, with a leathery finish.
2007 Château la Dournie, St. Chinian - £7.99 and £6.99 if you buy two bottles
This is what the Midi is all about, redolent with Languedoc spice with lovely supple fruit and the appealing sun soaked scents of the garrigues. Just the thing for a winter’s evening in London.
2008 Château de Pennautier, Cabardès - £6.99 or buy 2 bottles and save £3 = £5.49. Or buy between 24th November and 4th January, and the price come down to £4.99. Cabardès is original, but not unique in including both bordelais and Midi varieties in the blend and Pennautier is the most prominent producer of this small appellation. And should you find yourself hungry and in the vicinity, the winery restaurant offers good local fare for lunch. This Cabardès is ripe and spicy, with some easy fruit, but finishes with a firm streak of tannin, more reminiscent of Bordeaux.
And now I am off to New Zealand for the best part of a month, so no more postings until my return in mid-November. I’ll be at the Organic wine tasting at the Maison du Languedoc in London on 19th November, so look out for a posting on that in due course.
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
The chocolate was supplied by Isabelle Alaya from The Melange Chocolate Shop in Pieckham Rye, London SE15 and Stefan Gorda, the sommelier at the Hotel du Vin in Bristol took me through the various pairings. Isabelle makes delicate wafer thin chocolates with different flavourings and Stefan had selected the one he thought most appropriate to the wine.
We began with Domaine Bonian, 2007 Carignan Vieille Vigne. The wine was nicely rounded with soft tannins, a touch of acidity and some red fruit. A milk chocolate flavoured with coriander and grapefruit seemed to soften any tannins, while the tang of grapefruit added a little acidity.
2004 Grenache from Domaine du Bourdic, élevé en fûts de chênes, tasted quite firmly of oak, which masked the fruit. However, a dark chocolate with a hint of bergamot miraculously calmed down the oak, making a rounded enjoyable mouthful of flavour.
2005 Emocion from Domaine Monplezy, from old Carignan has some rounded red fruit, ripe flavours and nicely balanced tannins. The accompanying milk chocolate was flavoured with coffee and fennel, which seemed to favour the tannins. I started to think that black chocolate works better than milk chocolate.
2007 Merlot from Domaine Coste Rousse was quite rounded and jammy, with a slightly bitter finish. The dark basil flavoured chocolate masked the touch of bitterness, but didn’t really enhance the wine.
More successful was 2007 Synthèse from Domaine de l’Arjolle, another pure Merlot. This was accompanied by a milk chocolate, flavoured with lemon and lavender. The wine had some smokey, cassis fruit, and here the chocolate seemed to add a streak of tannin and some depth to the palate.
And the final combination was 2005 le Pinnacle from Domaine St. Rose, a pure Syrah. Here the black chocolate was flavoured with five spices, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger cloves and fennel, as well as some lemongrass. The wine was quite rounded with soft fruit, and again the chocolate seemed to add depth to the flavour.
Saturday, 17 October 2009
We were there last Tuesday, for cabillaud (or more prosaically, cod) in a creamy sauce, with a morille des pins as an accompaniment. It was succulent. And the wine was 2008 Mas Conscience, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault blanc, Cuvée L’In. This is yet another shining example of how much white wine from the Languedoc has improved. The grape variety blend is Bouboulenc, Marsanne and Roussanne. Dare I say that it was almost like young Chablis, with some firm acidity and minerality, but with more weight. There was good structure and body, with dry herbal notes on the nose. Mas Conscience also produces some lovely reds, notably their Cuvée l’As which is based on old Carignan.
Le Bistrot d’Ariane, 5 rue Chevaliers de Malte, Lattes. - Tel: 04 67 20 01 27 Take the Lattes exit from the A9 motorway and follow signs for Port Ariane. Bon appetit!
Friday, 9 October 2009
DOMAINE DE L’ORVIEL at St. Jean de Serres, with Jean-Pierre Cabane.
I‘ve met Jean-Pierre previously at the annual Salon des Vignerons Indépendants in Paris and have enjoyed his wines, but this was the first time that I had visited his cellar. It has to be said that he has a very smart tasting caveau, which welcomes visitors. Often there is an art exhibition, and this time there was an extraordinary sculpture at the entrance.. His spacious, modern cellar is underneath, to accommodate the production of 23 hectares. He grows a number of different grape varieties, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache Noir, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cinsaut. Upto the 1980s, there had been a bit of everything, including hybrids, but rationalisation came with replanting, after he inherited most of his vineyards from his grandfather in 1980. Until 2002 he was a member of the two nearby village cooperatives, but then it was the moment to go it alone.
The local vin de pays for this part of the Gard is Duché d’Uzès. They are hoping for an appellation in 2010, or maybe even for this vintage, if they are lucky. The red will be based on Syrah and Grenache, just like the Coteaux du Languedoc, leaving the Bordeaux varieties for Vin de Pays d’Oc or Vin de Pays des Cévennes. The white varieties will be Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne.
Jean-Pierre treated us to an extensive tasting. For the most part I like his wines. They are elegant and understated, and finely crafted. Highlights included :
2008 Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d’Oc 5.50€
Light fruit on nose and palate, with fresh acidity. There’s a hint of oak to give some body, but it’s very nicely integrated.
2008 Viognier Vin de Pays d’Oc - 6.00€
Lightly peachy apricot palate, and a slightly dumb nose
2008 Sauvignon, Vin de Pays D’Oc – 5.00€
Good fresh fruit, with firm minerality on nose and palate. A really good example of a Midi Sauvignon. I liked this a lot, and I am not usually impressed by Sauvignon from the south.
2008 Les Trois Blancs Vin de Pays des Cévennes – 5.50 €
As the name implies, from three grape varieties, mostly Sauvignon, blended with some Viognier and Chardonnay. Quite a firm mineral Sauvignon nose, with some peachy fruit from the Viognier on the palate. The Chardonnay wasn’t particularly obvious, but I think it serves to link the other two varieties, and the wine works remarkably well.
2008 Vin de Pays du Duché d’Uzès. – 6.00€
Apparently there is a Duke of Uzès. This comes from 80 per cent Viognier, 8 per cent Roussanne and 12 per cent Grenache Blanc. You must have some Grenache Blanc in a white Duché d’Uzès. The three varieties are fermented together. Jean-Pierre considers that Viognier on its own would be too floral, whereas Roussanne adds some weight and the three varieties compliment each other, with some peachy, rounded fruit.
2008 Gris, Vin de Pays d’Oc - 4.50€
From Cinsaut and Grenache. A pale colour, resulting from a short time in contact with the skins before pressing, The palate is delicate too, with fresh acidity and light fruit.
2008 Le Petit Verdot, Vin de Pays des Cévennes – 5.50€
This is the last variety to be picked. It was quite firm and peppery with some leathery notes and a firm streak of tannin, and hints of liquorice, but also a slightly green note. Aged only in a concrete vat, with no wood
2007 Cuvée de l’Arche, Vin de Pays d’Oc – 5€
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache Noir, with Merlot the dominant variety. They are all blended together at the end of the fermentation. This was eminently easy to drink, with some rounded fruit. It was soft and harmonious without being jammy.
2007 Vin de Pays du Duché d’Uzès – 6.00€
Syrah dominant with some Grenache, and aged in vat. Quite firm, dry spicy fruit on the nose, with appealing peppery fruit on the palate. Medium weight.
Then followed a couple of oaked cuvées, including Cuvée de la Peyrière - 7.00€ A pure Cabernet Sauvignon Vin de pays d’Oc, with some firm cassis fruit.
And then onto late harvest wines, with:
2006 Barriques Oubliées, Vendange Tardive Vin de Pays d’Oc - 12.00€
A blend of Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Viognier made from grapes that are either raisined or passerillé on the vine, or that have developed noble rot, picked in late October. The colour is lightly golden and the palate has some dry honey with balancing acidity. It is very intriguing, leaving you wondering, and wanting a second glass. With just 14 gm/l residual sugar remaining, it is not really a dessert wine, but you could drink it at the end of a meal, instead of a pudding.
We finished with Orvieux de l’Orviel – 13.00€, also a Vendange Tardive, with 40 gm/l residual sugar. Jean-Pierre made just 600 bottles of this from one hectare of Chardonnay and Viognier with a yield of 10 hl/ha. It was fermented very slowly and then spent three years in wood. Again it is very intriguing, with a biscuit honeyed note, some acidity and a dry and sweet finish. It is a vin de table, and without a vintage date.
After that we thought we deserved lunch and adjourned to the cheerful village restaurant in the centre of St. Jean de Serres, which came up trumps with a copious salade niçoise and a coup de rosé in the sunshine.
Our next stop was DOMAINE ORENIA with Philippe Nusswitz outside the village of Durfort. He hails from Alsace and arrived here in 2002, after working for Seagram’s in Canada. He knew that the Languedoc was the place for him; the vines are cheapest; the potential enormous and the climate is great. He looked between Nîmes and Carcassonne, dismissing some areas for too much wind. Aniane, Montpeyroux or the Pic St. Loup attracted him initially, and he lived in St. Mathieu de Tréviers, close to the Pic St. Loup, for twelve months, but found it a very closed community ‘like an oyster’ and there was nothing for sale. And then chance brought him to this corner of the Gard and he fell in love with the old mas that he has bought for chambres d’hôtes. He also realised that there was great wine potential, although there were very few independent growers here. His first proper vintage was 2004.
His cellar belongs to an old château at Vibrac. It was abandoned when the local cooperative was created, and still has the enormous concrete vats and an earth floor. Once the building would have been used for rearing silk worms, for Durfort was an important centre of the silk worm industry. He has open top concrete vats for fermentation; they are as wide as they are high, and he uses natural yeast, with several pigeages and favours a long maceration, and then uses a basket press. “The less I do, the better the wine” describes his wine-making philosophy.
All his wines are Vin de Pays du Duché d’Uzès.
We tasted :
2008 Orénia blanc – 7.00€
Mainly Viognier, with Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. Philippe explained that you have the bitterness of the Marsanne and the rondeur of the Viognier. I found some peachy notes, with good weight and a rounded palate, balanced with some acidity and a ripe finish
2007 Orénia rouge – 6.00€
From Syrah blended with 20 per cent Grenache Noir, and no oak. Some spicy fruit, supple tannins and medium weight body, and an appealing freshness. Philippe explained that here in the foothills of the Cévennes, you get cool nights, when the days are as hot as 30ºC. He was looking for a vin gourmand and 2007 was a rich vintage.
He also made a 2007 Orénia réserve 9.00 € with a firm spicy, leathery nose and ripe black fruit on the palate. It was quite rich and layered with supple tannins and liquorice fruit.
Then we went on to:
2006 Miratus, which comes from his own vineyards. It is a blend of 60 per cent Syrah, 20 per cent Grenache Noir and 20 per cent Mourvèdre, blended when Philippe feels like it. There are no rules. He keeps some back so that he can fine tune the blend six months before bottling and the wine spends twelve months in wood. There was lots of black fruit, blackberries, blackcurrant and cherries, with the herbs of the garrigues and some fine tannins, and a rich, but quite alcoholic finish. The ageing potential is promising.
And Miratus blanc 2008 was a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache blanc and a little Vermentino that have been aged in oak. There was good acidity and some nicely textured fruit and oak on the palate.
Philippe’s enthusiasm was palpable. He has a need to create – ‘ça m’amuse; you can be a pioneer in this region. There is total liberty here.’
And from there we went on to PUECHCAMP, a small estate lost in the byways around the village of Vabres, and off very much of the beaten track. The name translates literally as the field on the mountain, or le champ sur le montagne. Daniel Faure gave us a warm welcome. He is another wine grower whose wines I have enjoyed at the Salon des Vignerons Indépendents in Paris.
His first career was freelance photography, but he wanted to return to his roots with a house in the country. And the house came with five hectares of vines, planted with Syrah, Grenache, Cinsaut and for whites, Viognier, Roussanne, Vermentino and Grenache blanc. 2001 was his first vintage.
Two of his wines are Duché d’Uzès and all the rest Vin de Pays des Cévennes; he is more phlegmatic about the potential appellation – on verra.
Our tasting began with 2007 Fontanalbe, Vin de Pays des Cévennes - 6.90€
It is a blend of Grenache noir and Cinsaut, with some lovely, spicy red fruit, a hint of nutmeg, with supple tannins. The suggestion was to drink it slightly chilled.
2007 La Vigne de Gaspard, recalling a great-uncle Vin de Pays de Cévennes 8.90€
A blend of 80 per cent Cinsaut and 20 per cent Grenache Noir. It is Vin de Pays des Cévennes, as there is too much Cinsaut for anything else, but Daniel loves Cinsaut, so this is not a problem. If the yield is low, it makes lovely wine, with fruit and spice and supple tannins.
2006 Gasparissime – 10.50€
60 per cent Cinsaut, 30 per cent Grenache and 10 per cent Syrah, and like the previous two wines, not a hint of oak. With a deep colour and dry spice and a touch viandé on the nose. With rounded spice and quite powerful flavours on the palate, with an elegant finish.
2006 Antarès. Duché d’Uzès - 14€
70 per cent Syrah, with 30 per cent Grenache, given eighteen months élevage in oak, but no new oak. The oak is nicely integrated, with a touch of coconut. There was more depth and structure, so that the wine was powerful, but retained its elegance, with a long finish.
And we finished with 2004 Galaad, Vin de Pays des Cévennes. -20.00€
This first vintage of this cuvée was 85% Syrah with 15% Grenache Noir, with some intensive fruit and good tannins and plenty of personality. With the 2007 vintage, it is virtually pure Syrah, and a Vin de Pays du Duché d’Uzès. We tasted a barrel sample so the oak was still quite obvious, with some firm leathery fruit and structured tannins. It will be bottled before the end of the year.
Before leaving, we had a quick look at Daniel’s vineyards, in the middle of garrigues, near the village of Monoblet, enjoying views of the Pic St. Loup and the Montagne de l’Hortus. The soil was deep red, and very stony; the 60 year old Cinsaut looks magnificent and the noise of the crickets was deafening.
Friday, 2 October 2009
Lidewij van Wilgen is a bright, young Dutch woman who has, almost single-handedly, developed a new estate outside the village of Murviel-lès-Béziers on the edge of the appellation of St. Chinian. Her first vintage was 2002, which represented a complete career change, from life as an advertising executive in Amsterdam. Each time I see Lidewij, I am filled with admiration for her energy and courage. Life as a vigneronne on your own, in what is still a man’s world in the Languedoc, is not always easy. An invitation for an aperitif was also the excuse for an update on her wines.
2008 Mas des Dames Blanc, Vin de Pays d’Oc – 8.95€
From old Grenache Blanc vines. This has quite a rich golden colour. There are rich herbal notes on nose and palate, with some lovely texture and mouthfeel and very good acidity. Maybe there is a hint of oak but it is nicely integrated and understated.
2008 Coteaux du Languedoc Rosé – 6.50€
Made from Grenache Noir, a little Syrah and some new Mourvèdre vines. The grapes are pressed after a little skin contact, so that the colour is a rich orange pink. There is some fresh herbal fruit on the palate, with good acidity. This is a food rosé, with some structure and body. It is quite delicious, but sadly it is virtually all sold out, so we shall have to wait for the 2009, which promises to be as good.
2008 La Dame, Coteaux du Languedoc - 7.50€
This comes mainly from Grenache, with some Syrah, and a small amount of the Syrah is aged in barrel. Quite a deep red colour. A firm nose, with dry red fruit and hints of liquorice and spice, with a peppery freshness on the finish. It is still quite closed, with an underlying elegance.
2007 Côte Rouge, Vin de Pays des Coteaux de Murviel - 9.95€
This is mainly Syrah, with some Grenache Noir and 20 per cent of 90 year old Alicante Bouschet vines. It has been aged in barrel, but discreetly so. There is rounded red fruit, with some spice and oak on the palate, as well as a firm streak of tannin. The finish is quite rich and mouth-filling, but still retaining the hallmark of elegance that always characterises Lidewij’s wines.
Lidewij is very pleased with the quality of her 2009s. My experience of tasting wines that have barely finished fermenting is limited, but a taste of very young Grenache showed lovely ripe fruit. The snag is that the quantity is down by 30 per cent, thanks to the dry summer conditions.
Her UK importers are Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com and Robersons www.roberson.co.uk
Monday, 28 September 2009
First stop was LA PEIRA, an estate created by the Australian composer, Rob Dougan. He is best known for the music in The Matrix. As he spends more time in London than the Languedoc, his vineyards are managed for him by Jérémie Depierre, a young guy with an impressive CV of wine studies and viticulture experience, in Dijon, Colmar, Reims and Bordeaux. Rob bought his vines – 11.5 hectares, planted with the usual Midi assortment of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsaut, Carignan and Mourvèdre, and also Viognier and Roussanne – at the end of 2004, in time to prune for the 2005 vintage. Jérémie began working for him in June 2005. And a new cellar was built, outside St. Saturnin, in time for the 2008 vintage. It’s a well-organised functional shed, surrounded by well-tended vineyards.
So why did Rob choose the Languedoc? There are no set rules, which makes it so much more interesting. In Bordeaux everyone is doing the same; you are not allowed to deviate. And while vineyard and cellar techniques have improved enormously in the Languedoc, there is still much to learn about élevage, the ageing of wines. For a start there are virtually no coopers in the region.
First we tasted barrel samples from the 2008 vintage. Cinsaut with some Carignan displayed ripe raspberry fruit; a Syrah was restrained and peppery, a Mourvèdre structured and firm, all promising well for future drinking.
And then onto bottles:
2007 Les Obriers, 10.00€
Predominantly Cinsaut and Carignan. A lovely spicy nose, with hints of cinnamon and cloves. Acidity and supple tannins, and some opulent fruit, balanced by the characteristic freshness of the Terrasses du Larzac. The most accessible of the three wines.
2007 Las Flors de la Pèira - 24€
Based on Grenache, with some Syrah and a little Mourvèdre. This is quite dense and solid, with rounded youthful fruit. A satisfying combination of concentration and elegance, with a long finish.
2007 La Pèira - 64€
Syrah dominates, with some Grenache. This is dense and youthful, rich and intense with rich spicy, chocolate notes. It is still very young and needs at least five years, if not ten. Testosterone charged, observed the friend I was tasting with.
And they also make a little white wine, but in such tiny quantities that there was none left for us to taste. It is called Deusyls, or two islands, and comes from two vineyards, with two varieties, Viognier and Roussanne.
Their UK agents are Berry Bros & Rudd – www.bbr.com
Next stop was CAPITELLE DES SALLES, in the village of St. Jean de la Blaquière, with Estelle Salles. She explained how she has taken over a couple of hectares of her in-laws’ vines – her husband Frédéric is the 6th generation in the village, and the family vines were with the village cooperative. But things are not good at the coop and she wants to do something with the vines. She is bright and lively and has got off to a good start, with her first vintage in 2007. She works in the tiny cellar under her mother-in-law’s solid stone house on the edge of the village. We sat and tasted in the rather sombre dining room.
First was 2008 Caminaire, Vin de Pays de Mont Baudile, named after the peak which dominates the village. 6.50€
It’s a blend of Cinsaut and Syrah. Medium depth of colour, with fresh raspberry fruit on nose and palate. Light and refreshing.
2007 Caractère, AC Languedoc. 8.00€
Again a blend of Grenache and syrah, aged in vat, with a good colour and spicy fresh fruit. Grenache Noir does well here as it resists any drought conditions well. It is more tannic and substantial than Caminaire.
2008 Hommage, Terrasses du Larzac -12.00€
Again Syrah and Grenache, with Grenache the dominant variety, and aged in vat. This tastes fresh and youthful with some red fruit, and needs some time in bottle to fill out. 2007 Hommage was more satisfying with some lovely spicy flavours and an elegant finish.
Finally there was Goè 2007, also a Terrasses de Larzac, but a blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache, aged in barrel. She has made just one barrel. There was some spicy fruit, but the oak is still quite obvious with some notes of vanilla, and needs to tone down. My usual prejudices about oaked wine came into play here.
Estelle enthused about the geological diversity of the area; in her vineyards, she has four capitelles, the lovely old stone shelters that look like stone igloos, but sadly there was no time to see them, as the next appointment called.
Estelle came with us to see Olivier Bellet at CLOS RIVERAL in the next village of Loiras. He is another young vigneron who has just taken some family vineyards out of the village coop, just 2.5 hectares, but planted with Chardonnay, Viognier, Grenache blanc, and for reds, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsaut. He doesn’t have Mourvèdre, as it doesn’t ripen properly here. His first vintage was 2008.
He makes a white wine as a vin de table. The 2008 is a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 40 % Viognier and 20% Grenache blanc, which are fermented in oak. There is some perfumed peachy fruit, with a streak of oak and some fresh acidity on the finish. The Grenache Blanc provides some welcome freshness and also some texture in the mouth. And he planning to ferment the 2009 in an egg-shaped cement vat; apparently this will keep the lees in constant suspension and thereby avoid the need for bâtonnage. The cement makes for less micro-oxygenation than in a barrel. And why vin de table? Too much bureaucratic hassle and paperwork, and not enough wine to bother to ask for vin de pays. 7.50€
Next came a 2008 Vin de Pays d’Oc, la Cuvée Infinie, from Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and Cinsaut. 5.00€ The grapes are blended together from the beginning, and part of the Syrah is fermented by carbonic maceration. There are fresh spicy notes, with some red fruit, and what Olivier described as fruit balsamique, balanced with some supple tannins. A rounded mouthful of flavour.
2008 Les Fontanilles Terrasses du Larzac. 7.50€ Mainly Grenache, partly from some 40 year old vines, blended with some Syrah, made by carbonic maceration. This has some lovely spicy fruit on the nose, with some body and tannin, making a nicely crafted glass of wine.
2007 Les Souls blanc Vin de Pays d’Oc 22€ We tasted this from vat; it will not be bottled until next March. The blend is Chardonnay, with just 10% Roussanne. Dare I say it, as the author of two books on Chablis, that this had certain mineral notes that reminded me of Chablis, with some firm acidity, and the oak is beautifully integrated. And now onto red wines: 2007 Clara, Terrasses du Larzac – 10€ M. Almeras’ entry level red wine is usually called Mission, except in the years when a grandchild is born, so 2007 is called Clara. It is a blend of 40 % Grenache and 60% Syrah, that are aged in vat. The nose is quite confit and concentrated, with some spice and on the palate there is firm youthful fruit, with dry spice, some tannin and the characteristic acidity of the region. All the labels are distinguished by a woodcock feather, for hunting woodcock is his other passion.
2006 Les Souls, Terrasses du Larzac – 22€
This is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. It is more concentrated on the nose, with more depth of fruit and weight on the palate, balanced with some supple tannins and a ripe finish. Half the blend has spent eighteen months in wood, and the oak is well-integrated. You sense that there is a meticulous attention to detail here, which shows in the wines.
And we finished with a late harvest Vendange Tardive Lumière d’Automne, vin de table – 25€ It is made from Viognier with just ten percent of Petit Manseng, a grape more commonly found in Jurançon in the Pyrenees, which are picked in early November. M. Almeras explained that the same Viognier vines can give you grapes with botrytis, grapes that are passerillé or raisined, and grapes that are neither. He aims for a balance of acidity, so that the wine is not too sweet. There are 71 gms/l of residual sugar, with an alcohol level of 14.9˚ and it has spent over two years in old barrels to round it out. I thought it was delicious, very honeyed with notes of beeswax and some very good acidity, so that the finish was almost dry, and very elegant.
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
I almost embarrassed to admit that I had managed to work with wine for thirty-five years before I ever picked grapes. It was a big gap in my wine education, and an omission that I finally remedied a couple of years ago, thanks to our friend, Virgile Joly, a young wine grower in the village of St. Saturnin. Virgile hosts a grape picking day towards the end of each harvest, as a kind of harvest festival. He invites his friends for a morning in the vineyards; we are expected to work, but our reward is lunch, French style. Last time we escaped lightly, two hours, if that, of grape picking for a four hour lunch. This year things were a bit more serious, with rather more vines to tackle.
We were summoned to meet outside his old cellar in the village square of St Saturnin. It is well-placed between the church and the mairie, and a chalk sign above the door, tells you that he has been a vigneron since 2000. Most wine growers in St. Saturnin are members of the village cooperative, which demanded a fifty year commitment from its members, when it was founded in 1950. Consequently independent growers in the village are few and far between. We were bidden for 8.45 a.m; the British contingent took that to mean 9 a.m. so that we were still waiting for most of the French at 9.30 a.m. and we eventually made it out into the vineyard closer to 10 a.m. Our target was a block of old Grenache Noir, planted in 1972. The vines have thick gnarled trunks; some were laden with grapes; some had barely a bunch, let alone two. The grapes for the most part looked very healthy, with no sign of disease, but you could see the effects of the hot summer, with quite a few dehydrated and shrivelled grapes. We were firmly told not to pick the grapillons, the secondary, smaller bunches of grapes. But then Virgile’s sister-in-law, Martha, began to berate us for missing bunches. She is Polish, but has just completed a winemaker’s course.
The morning passed, initially pleasantly, with gentle conversation as you went down the rows. Christopher Johnson-Gilbert, the latest newcomer to the wine scene of St. Saturnin, explained how he came to wine, after reading law at Oxford. He is still a lawyer, but wine is becoming a growing commitment, as he has bought 10 hectares of vines in the hills behind St. Saturnin, and is sharing a cellar with Virgile just outside the neighbouring village of Arboras. Virgile is thrilled by this arrangement as it means that they can share equipment and costs.
One of the hazards of grape picking is the possibility of snipping your own fingers or indeed the fingers of the person on the other side of the vine. Grapes bunches don’t just hang loose, so that you can see where to cut them. They have an irritating habit of intertwining their stalks. I managed to avoid damaging anybody’s fingers, but my husband self-inflicted two injuries, happily both fairly minor. However we learnt that a squeeze of sweet grape juice on the bleeding finger staunches the flow of blood; sugar is sticky and helps the blood to coagulate. How about that for an efficient old wives’ remedy?
There is also the natural temptation to sample a grape or two. These small Grenache grapes seemed beautifully ripe, with lovely sweet juice, but of course, rather tough skins. I was also surprised by the overwhelming aroma of fennel and aniseed - the vineyard was full of wild fennel plants, which gave off quite a heady scent if you crushed them underfoot.
French vineyard workers usually break for lunch at midday on the dot, but thanks to our collective tardiness, we were expected to carry on until we had finished the block. The midday sun was getting warmer; bottles of water were running out and the last row of vines seemed to stretch on for ever. And then secateurs were downed with a sigh of relief. And we adjourned to the new cellar in Arboras for refreshment. Never has a bottle of beer been so welcome. And I don’t usually drink beer.
Back at the new cellar, revelling in the space, compared with the cramped conditions of the St. Saturnin cellar, Virgile was master-minding operations. The grapes arrived in large boxes on a trailer; the contents were emptied into the destemmer and the berries were vibrated along the table de trie, or sorting table, for the removal of any inferior grapes or bits of leaf or stalk. It was a surprisingly challenging operation; the grapes are sticky and the vibrations of the table de trie made me feel surprisingly seasick after more than a few moments concentration.
Meanwhile lunch was being prepared; an array of salads, while large hunks of beef were sizzling on the barbecue. And there was an opportunity for a quick update on current vintages. Virgile’s colleague, Jean Denoy, who does the sales – we had last met in Chablis - was cheerfully pouring large tasting samples;
2007 Saturne blanc Vin de Pays de l’Hérault - 11.00€
Pure Grenache blanc, and not a trace of oak. Fleurs blanches (or white flowers) and delicately satisfying herbal notes on the palate, and fresh acidity. Very elegant, especially on the finish.
2004 Virgile blanc, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault 21€
This is rather more serious, quite a rich oxidative style, with honeyed notes on the palate, but none the less with a dry finish and good acidity.
2007 Le Joly Rouge, Coteaux du Languedoc. 5€
This is Virgile’s entry level, a fresh cheerful easy to drink wine, from Grenache Noir, Cinsaut and Syrah. It has a fresh spiciness, some leathery notes and soft tannins, and makes a great barbecue wine when slightly chilled. Generous quantities would be consumed later.
2006 Saturne rouge, St. Saturnin, Coteaux du Languedoc - 13€
From Grenache Noir, Syrah, Carignan and Cinsaut, with élevage in vat, not barrel. This needed to breathe a bit, as it was quite closed and peppery, with a firm freshness and good fruit.
2003 Virgile rouge, St. Saturnin, Coteaux du Languedoc 29€
A barrel-aged blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. Good deep colour. Quite a warm raisiny nose, from the effects of the heatwave vintage. The palate is firm and cedary, with some rich sturdy fruit and firm tannins. Youthful, but already drinking well.
If you have been driving around the roads of the Languedoc in the last few days, you are more than likely to have found yourself sitting behind a large mechanical harvester, or a trailer full of grapes heading for a nearby cellar. The harvest is in full swing, which begs the question: how is it looking? In a nutshell: Good, but not uniformly so. We had a wet spring – remember the deluge of Easter – so that there are good water reserves, but some vineyards have suffered more than others from the dry, hot summer. Vines like warm sunshine, but they need a bit of rain too, or else they begin to suffer from stresse hydrique or drought and the ripening process slows down. This year there were none of the usual storms around the middle of July and the middle of August and the whole of August has been hot, with mutterings about a canicule, similar to that of 2003.
The harvest has started earlier than usual. One friend, Jacques Boyer from Domaine la Croix Belle, in the Côtes de Thongue, picked his Sauvignon on 11th August and now in early September most wine growers have started their harvest. Most people I have spoken to are relatively happy about quality; some even very happy, but winegrowers tend to be cautious in their judgements, and will not commit themselves until the harvest is finished. But most are lamenting the lack of quantity, for the grapes are small and tending to lack juice, and in some cases even shrivelled and sunburnt, so that yields are down, and by as much as one third in some cases. Chardonnay for some reason seems particularly affected. Also although sugar levels are good, some people are expressing doubts about phenolic or flavour ripeness. But on the whole, if the sunshine continues, there is every reason for optimism and we can look forward to some delicious bottles of Languedoc wine from 2009.
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
Saturday, 29 August 2009
We arrived early to do a bit of tasting before the crowds descended. This was the chance to catch up with François Pottier’s wines from Domaine la Croix Ronde in La Tour-sur-Orb, in the Haute Vallée of the Orb. It was quite a while since I had been for a cellar visit.
I’ve always liked his Cuvée Jade Chardonnay. The 2007 is lovely and fresh with good acidity, and gives the impression of just a hint of oak, but Francois assured me that there was none.
In contrast 2004 Chardonnay Topaze, which has spent twelve months in wood, is rich and buttery, ripe and rounded with a note of maturity on the finish.
His 2007 rosé is a curious blend of Syrah and Chardonnay grapes. I am not sure about this. You are not allowed to blend red and white wine to make rosé, but you can blend the grapes. The colour was an orange pink and the palate had some body, but lacked acidity
2005 Cuvee Améthyste is a blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Sauvignon has been in wood, which you can taste on the palate, with some smokey oak, rounded fruit and a tannic backbone.
Simon, Catherine Roque’s enthusiastic young stagiaire at Domaine de Clovallon, just outside Bédarieux, was concentrating on the 2001 vintage, as that was the year of the very first Cuisines dans la rue. 2001 Aurièges in a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Petite Arvine, Petit Manseng , Roussanne and Clairette. It was quite delicious, with some peachy fruit, acidity and layers of texture and flavour. A real treat. And alongside that was the 2001 Pinot Noir. The colour was quite developed with vegetal notes of sous bois on the nose and the palate was now quite frail, with a tannic streak, but very intriguing. You would not expect a Pinot Noir of that age from the Midi to survive so well.
Château des Peyresgrandes in Roquessels was showing their Faugères Tradition, a blend of Carignan, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache Blanc; it was quite perfumed, in contrast to the Prestige, for which the Syrah had been in oak, so that the wine had more depth and concentration.
And the cooperative in Hérépian, le Cellier de Capimont, was showing a very pleasant, easy to drink Chardonnay, and a fresh rosé, with light acidity. Françoise Ollier from Domaine Ollier-Taillefer in Faugères was also there, but I had tasted her wines the previous day. Comments coming soon. And the same applies to Domaine de l’Arjolle in Pouzolles.
By this time the chefs were getting going. We found a space on a plank our dishes and went back for more Aurièges. The presentation of the food was fun, with dishes presented on small wooden planks or slates. And the flavours were delicious. The Auberge de l’Abbaye in Villemagne produced a papillotte of mackerel with some spring rice; the Château de Lunas offered a velouté of green asparagus with a brochette of prawns. La Forge in Bédarieux had made cannelloni stuffed with quail and herbs, and the Relais de Ceilhes provided a mouselline of smoked trout.
We decided that we would prefer to sit down for our cheese course, so we went home for St. Nectaire and more Faugères, and also missed the dessert from l'Auberge du Presbytère which was described as an Opera chocolate asperges.
Friday, 21 August 2009
Vincent’s enthusiasm and commitment are instantly engaging. He studied commerce and management, going to that most demanding of business schools, INSEAD, and worked for Arthur Anderson. And then it was time for a change, so it was back to school, for oenology in Beaune and Dijon. And why the Languedoc? He has no obvious connections with the Midi. His parents are from Charente and Saumur and he had worked in Paris. The reply was immediate: the quality of life; it’s a magical place; the quality of the different terroirs, at affordable prices. The Languedoc is in the middle of its revolution; Burgundy is too constrained. And it is open to outsiders. He was made president of the new cru Terrasses du Larzac after just three years as a wine grower in the area.
This was a wise move on the part of the growers of the Terrasses du Larzac. Vincent is utterly committed to the cause and fervent about the need for all the wine growers to work together. Languedoc as such has no real image or identity, with so many different areas and terroirs, nor does Vin de Pays d’Oc have a particularly good image, so they need to create one for the Terrasses du Larzac. The collective quality image is essential. Vincent does not lack for words; he is very articulate and there is no doubt that the Terrasses du Larzac is destined for great things under his leadership.
He took us to see his vineyards. He has nine hectares just outside Jonquières, planted with the usual five red varieties of the Languedoc, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir, Carignan and Cinsaut. And there are another two hectares, including white varieties – Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Muscat, Grenache Blanc, and Roussanne, not to mention a little Petit Manseng, close to Lagamas. Altogether he has eleven plots of red and five of white, each of which is vinified separately. The Mont Baudile dominates the skyline. And the dominant north wind brings the necessary freshness to the climate, retaining acidity in the wines. Vincent is looking for balance, elegance and ageing ability.
He explained that he rarely invites people into his cellar, so we were privileged, and treated to a tasting of barrels samples of the 2008s. He is very pleased with the vintage and it shows considerable potential, with elegance, finesse and supple tannins. There was a perfumed Grenache, a structured Mourvèdre; a Cinsaut with fruit that simply exploded in the mouth; a Syrah with peppery fruit that could have come from the Rhone Valley. They promise well.
And then onto bottles:
2008 QU'ES AQUO, COTEAUX DU LANGUEDOC - 8.50€
The name translates as qu’est-ce que c’est? or what’s that? A rosé, but with personality. It is very perfumed and very ripe, so very mouth filling. Grenache and Syrah dominate the blend,. 80 per cent is saigné and 20 per cent pressed. Pure saigné can be too powerful; the pressed wine adds some freshness.
2008 L'ETINCELLE BLANC, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault - 14.50€.
This is a vin de pays as most of the grape varieties are not allowed in the appellation. The base is Chenin Blanc, with Viognier, Muscat, Grenache blanc, Roussanne and a drop of Petit Manseng. About one third of it is fermented in oak, but no new barrels, and no oak for the Viognier or the Muscat. It is multi-faceted with many layers of flavour and some lovely fruit. For Vincent there is the freshness of the Chenin Blanc, while the Muscat and Viognier add weight, with some fresh peachy flavours. It is drinking deliciously now but also has ageing potential and is a shining example of the improvement in white wine from the Languedoc.
The red wines were all from 2006. I had tasted the 2005s in Paris about six months ago and enjoyed those more, as 2005 is undoubtedly a better vintage. The 2006s in comparison seemed less elegant.
2006 L'INFIDELE TERRASSES DU LARZAC 13€
A blend of 30 % Syrah, 25% Grenache Noir, 20% Mourvèdre, 15% Carignan and 10% Cinsaut. This is their biggest cuvée, and a blend of their two terroirs, the limestone and clay of Jonquières, and the poor stony soil of Combariolles near Lagamas. The wine is quite firm and structured, and not yet very expressive.
2006 LES COMBARIOLLES, TERRASSES DU LARZAC 20€
A blend of equal parts of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. This is tighter and firmer than L’Infidèle and also richer, with greater depth. A combination of elegance, concentration and youthful freshness.
2006 FEU SACRE, TERRASSES DU LARZAC 35€
This comes from old Grenache, topped up with a drop of l’Infidele, with eighteen months ageing in 500 litre wood.. It is ripe and rich and concentration, with chocolate and coconut. More Roussillon than Languedoc.
In conclusion, this is an estate that will definitely go far.
Monday, 17 August 2009
Anne and Christian from Domaine Monplezy
Those of us, who live not too far from the village of Vailhan in the hills outside Pézenas in the heart of the Languedoc, are lucky in that we have one of the best restaurants of the region on our doorstep. The auberge in Vailhan has had a chequered history; and it is now on its third proprietor in almost as many years. However, with the last change of ownership, there has been a quantum leap in quality and what the French call accueil. Three friends arrived from Paris in early 2008. Yannick Savioz Fouillet was cooking for the Georges V in Paris and Guillaume Becker ran the directors’ dining room for a large pharmaceutical company, Servier. Sylvia Cascone comes from Tuscany; she is a qualified sommelier and has worked for various smart Paris restaurants. The menu changes every fortnight, using original and creative combinations of fresh, local ingredients and the wine list is small and selected from local wine growers, all of whom are keen to support this young business, which like any restaurant, especially in these days of credit crunch, has its slack evenings. So a series of wine evenings was arranged by local growers.
We went to the evening hosted by Anne Sutra de Germa and Christian Gil from Domaine Monplézy, just outside Pézenas, so that they make Vin de Pays des Côtes de Thongue as well as Coteaux du Languedoc Pézenas, which is the new cru of the appellation. Anne welcomed us over our apéro of 2008 Plaisirs Rosé, (4.80€) a blend of Grenache Noir, Cinsaut and Syrah, with ripe, raspberry fruit. It was rounded and vinous and slipped down a treat, with an amuse-bouche, in the form of an anchovy quenelle.
The starter was a delicious concoction of green asparagus, with a seafood fricassée, which complimented Plaisirs Interdits Blanc, 2008. (6.40€) This Côtes de Thongue is an original blend of Roussanne, Viognier, Muscat and Vermentino. Viognier dominates the nose with some peachy hints and the flavours is intriguing, with white flowers and fresh acidity.
Saddle of veal, with baked aubergine and parmesan, was the main course to accompany Plaisirs Rouge 2007, and then Felicité 2005. Plaisirs Rouge, Coteaux du Languedoc, Pézenas, 2007 is a blend of Grenache, Carignan, Cinsaut and Syrah (6.40€). For me it represents the epitome of the Languedoc with lovely spicy fruit, while Felicité, Côtes de Thongue (12.00€) mainly from Grenache and Carignan, has been aged in barrel, some new, for twelve months, and is more serious and structured. It will develop with time, but on the night Plaisirs had the edge.
The pre-dessert was an elegant mouthful of pear clafoutis, followed by a delicious gaspacho of strawberries, accompanied by a biscuit that was delicately flavoured with wild fennel, an intriguing and successful combination. This was the moment for the dessert wine, a Vendange Tardive of Grenache Noir, Délice (20€). Unlike Rivesaltes or Maury, it is not fortified. The alcohol level reaches a natural 16º, and the yield is just 8 hl/ha. The palate is redolent of red fruit and chocolate and it made a delicious finale to the evening.
L’Auberge du Presbytère – Tel : 04 67 24 76 49
Domaine de Monplézy : www.domainemonplezy.fr
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
Newcomers to the Languedoc abound; they may come from overseas or from other parts of France. Pierre Gaillard is one of the leading names of Côte Rôtie in the northern Rhone and also one of the three partners of Vins de Vienne, the association that is reviving the lost vineyards of Seyssuel above Vienne. And not content with that, he has vineyards in Banyuls and an estate in Faugères. The vineyards in Faugères were originally planted by the three associates of Vins de Vienne, but since 2007 Pierre has owned them alone. He visits at least once a month, but in his absence the estate is run by young Arnaud Barthes.
We met on a hot sunny day and Arnaud took us to see the sun-soaked vineyards. They bought garrigues and cleared the scrubland, so we admired steep, stony vineyards. The influence of the northern Rhône was very evident, with a very high density of 9000 plants per hectare, planted en echalas for the white varieties, with a single supporting post, while the Syrah, with its more fragile shoots is supported by wires. They have a total of ten hectares, with Syrah, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre and Carignan for the reds, and Roussanne, Vermentino and Grenache Blanc for the whites. The vineyards are so steep that they need to work with a caterpillar, rather than a conventional tractor. Arnaud explained how they are paying attention to leaf area, in relation to yield. They are aiming for a yield of 30 hl/hl and normally you would calculate that one square metre of leaf area would ripen one kilo of grapes; instead they are aiming for two square metres. They leaf pluck on the side of the row that receives the morning sun and carry out a small green harvest in July. They also tend to pick later than is usual for Faugères, around 26th, rather than 10th – 15th September.
The cellar is a functional warehouse in the village of Laurens, acquired from a Burgundian, who had been producing Faugères, but no more. They vinify plot by small plot, with lots of small batches. Each variety is kept separately, with separate élevage in barrel. In 2006 just one wine was made, Transhumence, but in 2007 they added Parole de Berger, which is a selection of the ten best barrels from the steepest slopes. Arnaud explained the idea behind the names. Transhumence usually refers to the journey sheep take from one grazing pasture to another; Pierre Gaillard instead has travelled from one vineyard area to another, and the shepherd’s word, like the gentleman’s bond, is absolutely reliable.
Arnaud studied in Montpellier and has worked in New Zealand in Sherwood Estate in Canterbury, and also at Château Lastours in the Corbières. He has been in Faugères since the beginning of 2008, so did not make most of the wines that we were about to taste. However, his 2008 vat samples showed great potential, with ripe Grenache Noir; more structured Mourvèdre and some intensely perfumed Syrah. . He talked about pre-fermentation maceration in order to extract fruit rather than tannins; he does some pumping over and plunging down, and lets the temperature rise to 30º– 35ºC. The malolactic fermentation takes place in barrels and the wine stays in wood for 12 – 15 months. The Syrah usually goes into new wood, while older barrels work better for Grenache; and some of the wine is aged in vat. You sense a meticulous attention to detail in both cellar and vineyard.
2007 Faugères, Transhumence - 13€
A blend of 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache Noir and 10% Mourvèdre. 20% was aged in vat, and a quarter of the barriques were new. The oak was quite firm, with a touch of vanilla and on the palate the flavours are rounded and mouth filling, with lovely spicy notes. It is wonderfully rich, what the French call gourmand.
2007 Faugères, Parole du Berger – 18.00€
80% Syrah, 20% Mourvèdre, all aged in oak; 30% new. The colour is deep, and the nose redolent of vanilla, spice and coconut. The palate is more structured and also richer than Transhumence, with finer, more elegant flavour, and a slightly sweet finish. How will it age, I wondered? Both wines make for enjoyable drinking now, but may be they will have more to say in four or five years.
And projects for the future? A white wine, as the white vines are not yet in production; a new cellar of their own design. Maybe another red wine, and some more vineyards. This is definitely an estate to follow.