Friday, 31 July 2009


During the summer months various appellations organise walks through the vineyard, accompanied by wine and food. You may be forgiven for thinking that one will not help the other, but it works remarkably well as a formula. The walk is usually not too long, nor too taxing, about five or six kilometres, and every kilometre or so, there is a refreshment stop, with several wines to taste as well as something to eat. Last year we did the Pic St. Loup walk; this year it was the turn of the Terrasses du Larzac.

This is a large area, stretching from Octon and the lac de Salagou, on past Montpeyroux and St. Saturnin, towards the Pic St. Loup. Currently it is part of the Coteaux du Languedoc, recognised as a cru in 2004, but has aspirations to a separate appellation. The soil is quite varied, but there is a unifying factor, the cooler climate with a big diurnal exchange of night and daytime temperatures, determined by the plateau of the Larzac.

The walk was an opportunity for some 39 wine growers to get together to show off their wines. It makes for a great tasting opportunity, admittedly not in ideal conditions, but there is a great atmosphere of conviviality with an opportunity to meet some of the wine growers. And the food is taken seriously too.

This year’s walk started at St. Felix de Lodez. We met at the village cooperative and were issued with tasting list, sunhat, glass and cutlery. We had already been thoughtfully supplied with a breathalyser at the car park. A bus service was provided to take us to the start of the walk, thereby avoiding what would have been a tedious trail along a tarmac road. The walk began with a sharp ascent up to 300 metres to the Chemin des Crêtes, where an amuse-bouche of red mullet brandade awaited us.

Tasting highlights here were:
Domaine de Granoupiac 2008 Coteaux du Languedoc Blanc Le Chant des Cigales which seemed appropriate for a summer’s day. It is a blend of Rolle (or Vermentino) with Grenache Blanc and Roussanne, with some delicate fruit on the nose, and some lemony herbal fruit on the palate.
Mas Fabregous 2008 Le rosé de Juliette Mainly Grenache with a touch of Syrah, with some fresh fruit and good acidity. I forgot to ask Philippe Gros who Juliette is.

Domaine des Tremières 2007 Longueur de Temps, which is a blend of two thirds Grenache to one third Syrah, and quite delicious served chilled, with some ripe spicy fruit.

The path took us along the Chemin de Crêtes, with views towards Montpeyroux and St Saturnin, with dark clouds threatening on the hills across the valley. The next course was a vegetable concoction; described as a barbacane, whatever that may be. Sébastien Fillon from Le Clos du Serres was showing his 2007 Les Maros with some lovely, supple, supple fruit.

2007 Domaine Sauvageonne Pica Broca, also from the village of St. Jean de la Blaquière, where Gavin Cresfield is making some finely crafted wines. This is rich and spicy, with lovely supple fruit, redolent of the herbs and warmth of the Languedoc garrigues.

The storm clouds looked even more threatening, so we elected to take the shorter route down to the church on the edge of the village of St. Guiraud. Here we were given a tarte forestière, with a small piece of roast lamb.

And the vinous highlights at this étape included:
2006 Domaine de Montcalmès A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, with youthful peppery fruit. This was really infanticide as the wine will be so much more satisfying in a year or three after some bottle age.

2007 Mas Conscience L’As This is a spicy blend of Syrah and Grenache, with a streak of tannin. Again it promises well for future drinking.

2007 Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette les Clapas from some of the most northern vineyards of the Languedoc, above Lodève. A blend of Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Cinsaut, with a good tannin structure and the hallmark of fresh red fruit.

The route took us through St. Guiraud, past one of the good tables of the area, Le Mimosa, but we resisted the temptation to read the menu, and then on to another meat course, which was the highlight of the meal, a simply delicious pork (or porcelet) tagine, with légumes oubliés, honey and sweet spices. To accompany it, Guilhem Dardé was showing his 2006 Mas des Chimères, a blend of the five red varieties of the south, namely Carignan, Cinsaut, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache, with some sturdy ripe fruit, which balanced the spice flavour of the tagine..
Mas Julien was on form with 2007 Etat d’Ame, with fresh fruit on the nose, and a nicely structured palate, with a firm streak of minerality.

And then came two new producers (to me)– Capitelles des Salles 2007 Hommage. This is another new estate in St. Jean de la Blaquière, and the wine had some deliciously fresh fruit, with a spicy palate, and a supple finish. A blend of Grenache and Syrah.

Les Chemins de Carabotte produced its first wines in 2005 and was showing its top wine of three reds which had spent eighteen months in oak. It was ripe, with some rich fruit, underlying the still quite obvious oak. A bit of time is needed here.

The rain clouds were still obligingly keeping their distance, despite our misgivings and the path took us back to St. Felix for nuggets of local goats cheese. There were some white wines to go with it, but I preferred the reds on offer – all new estates to me. Yet another from St. Jean de la Blaquière, Mas Plan de l’Oum was showing a 2007 red Paysage, mainly from Carignan with just 15 per cent Syrah. It had firm minerality, with a touch of spice. Domaine les Souls, with vineyards in Pegairolles was mainly Syrah, with 10 per cent Mourvèdre and 20 per cent Grenache, making for a solid rounded wine, with quite dense oak. And Domaine du Causse d’Arboras, with vineyards at 300 metres, above the village of Arboras, was showing 2006 Les Cazes, from Grenache Noir, with some Syrah and Carignan, and some élevage in wood. Despite the oak ageing, it had a refreshing fruitiness and freshness and was quite the best accompaniment to the cheese.

For the finale, we wandered through the village backstreets to another square, for pudding, a cake flavoured with rosemary and accompanied by apricot compote, and a small selection of dessert wines. The best of these came from Domaine des Crès-Ricards. Their Oenothera d’automne is a late harvest Marsellan, with some spice and fruitcake flavours, not unlike a lighter Rivesaltes. It was a delicious and original finish to the evening.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Le Clos du Serres

Sebastien Fillon

One of the great things about visiting wine estates in the Languedoc is the new, and sometimes unexpected. A friend had said: do go and see Le Clos du Serres, so I did – at St. Jean de Blaquière, in the hinterland of the Languedoc just below the plateau of the Larzac.

New estates and new producers abound in the Languedoc these days. What is fascinating is how people arrived there. Sébastien Fillon studied chemistry and worked in computers but soon realised that was not for him. So he returned to college, this time for viticulture and oenology, and after a brief spell working in the Beaujolais, he realised that he wanted vines of his own. So he and his wife Béatrice started looking, anywhere, provided it was south of Valence and their search took them from Vinsobres in the southern Rhône down to Banyuls close to the Spanish border. Their criteria were quite simple; they had to really like the wine of the area; it had to be a good quality area, and somewhere they would enjoy living, so not too isolated. And of course it had to be feasible economically. That ruled out Châteauneuf-du-Pape for a start, as vineyard prices there are now extortionate. And in 2006 it led them to St. Jean de Blaquière in one of the up-and-coming sub-zones of the Coteaux du Languedoc, the Terrasses du Larzac, which includes all the vineyards below the Larzac plateau, stretching from the village of Octon to beyond St. Saturnin and Montpeyroux. The soil is quite varied, but the area is linked by the excellent diurnal exchange of cool nights and warm days during the weeks before the harvest. The difference can be as much as 15ºC - 20ºC and the grapes love it.

Altogether Sébastien has twelve hectares in fifteen different plots, planted with Carignan. Grenache, Syrah and Cinsaut, but no Mourvèdre, as that does not do so well further from the sea. He also planted some white varieties last year – a bit of mixture in a quest to find out what will work best – namely Roussanne, Vermentino, Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and he is also considering some Grenache Gris and Carignan blanc.

His small cellar is in a back street in the village – we arranged to meet in the village café in the main square, as he doubted our ability to find our way through the maze of narrow alleys. However, he is planning a new cellar outside the village. And this is what we tasted.

2008 Le Clos, Coteaux du Languedoc – 7.00€
Cinsaut is the base, with 25 per cent of Syrah and Grenache, as well as 10 per cent Carignan. Sébastien explained how his old Cinsaut vines include some Oeillade. This is one of the almost lost vines of the Languedoc, which is closely related to Cinsaut, but can be trickier to handle in both cellar and vineyard, and consequently has tended to disappear. However, vinified separately, it can be more complex and peppery. These days it is impossible to buy it from a nursery; you have to take cuttings from somebody else’s vineyard. Fortunately Sébastien is not alone in his enthusiasm for Oeillade; others in the region are also helping in its revival.
With Le Clos, Sébastien explained that he was looking for the ‘gourmand’, an adjective that best describes sheer drinkability and pleasure. It is very ripe with fruits noirs, mainly black cherries, with a rounded palate, with tannin and acidity, and that hallmark freshness of the Larzac terraces. There was an attractive peppery note on the finish

2007 Les Maros, Terrasses du Larzac – 11.00€
The base is Grenache, as much as 80 per cent, with some Syrah and Carignan. It is mostly aged in vat, with just four barrels contributing to the blend. Sébastien commented that he is learning about wood ageing; you have to treat it like salt and pepper and never overdo it. The fruit is wonderfully exuberant, ripe Grenache, with a streak of tannin and the characteristic freshness on the finish.
2008 La Blaca, Terrasses du Larzac – 11.00€

Blaca is the Occitan word for a white oak, the classic oak, as opposed to the green oak of the Mediterranean, which is its limit at St. Jean de Blaquière. This is virtually all Syrah, with a splash of Grenache, and again mostly aged in vat. There is some lovely peppery fruit, with an elegant structure and good length.

2007 Première Audace Vin de Pays de l’Hérault. – 20€
It could have been under the more precise delimitation of Vin de Pays du Mont Baudile but Sébastien explained that he prefers the broader denomination of the Hérault, as he is proud of his department. The wine is a wonderful example of the renaissance of Carignan. Again the élevage is in vat; the fermentation is classic, no carbonic maceration here, and the flavour is ripe and rounded with elegant tannins. Carignan illustrates its terroir; here it is supple with a tannic streak and some spice and a hint of prunes.

The name begs the question, what will your next audace be? Maybe a white wine. What is in no doubt is Sébastien and Beatrice’s commitment and enthusiasm for their adopted part of the Languedoc. ‘We are writing the history of the Terraces du Larzac’

Tuesday, 14 July 2009


I’ve been regularly tasting, not to mention drinking and enjoying, the wines at Domaine la Croix-Belle in Puissaliçon for some ten years now. This is one of the leading estates of the Vin de Pays des Côtes de Thongue, in itself one of the more rewarding vins de pays of the Languedoc. Apart from Vin de Pays d’Oc, most areas of the Languedoc have a smaller, regional vin de pays, but few have much of a reputation outside their own immediate area. However, the Cotes de Thongue, as there is no parallel appellation in the area, has created a real identity of its own. All the wines of La Croix-Belle are Côtes de Thongue, rather than the more anonymous Vin de Pays d’Oc. Jacques Boyer took over his father’s estate in 1977 and has worked steadily at improving and developing his wines, supported by his friendly wife, Francoise. You immediately sense their immense commitment to their particular corner of the Languedoc.

2008 LE CHAMPS DES LYS - 5.90€
Mainly Grenache blanc, with a little Viognier, some élèvage on the lees, but no oak. Françoise is delighted that this wine made it into the Top 100 Vins de Pays this year. It has peachy notes on the nose, from the Viognier and hints of white flowers, with a rounded body and good acidity. They are reluctant to include the grape varieties on the label considering ‘grape varieties to be impersonal. It’s our cuvée.’ But they make an exception for their UK importer, Lea & Sandeman.

2008 CHARDONNAY - 5.00€
Lightly buttery on the nose, with lightly herbal hints. A light touch of oak, which is nicely integrated, just giving a little body on the palate. Quite firm acidity on the finish. I tend to prefer my Chardonnays from much further north, but this is a very acceptable example of a Midi one.

2008 MUSCAT SEC – 6.00€
This is classic Muscat, with some lovely grapey fruit. Muscat is the one grape variety that really does smell of grapes. There are some fresh pithy notes, with a hint of bitter orange and good acidity on the finish. ‘This is great with melon and ham’ observed Françoise. We proved her right the next day, but it is the wrong season to check out her other suggestion of asparagus.

2007 NUMERO 7 - 12.90€
No 7 for its seven grape varieties – which are: Chardonnay, Viognier, Muscat, Grenache blanc, Sauvignon, Carignan blanc and Chasan. The wine is all fermented and aged in oak, and then blended before bottling. The 2008 is being blended at the moment. It is nicely crafted, with some delicate oak and a rounded palate. The oak dominates the palate for the moment; but there is plenty of fruit underneath. It just needs time to develop.

2008 Rosé LE CHAMPS DES GRILLONS - 5.90€
Strawberries on both nose and palate. Very ripe and rounded, with balancing acidity. Very refreshing as a rosé should be.

2007 LE CHAMPS DU COQ – 5.90€
The name of an actual vineyard, rather than a fantasy name, and a blend of Grenache, Syrah and a little Merlot. Good colour and quite a firm nose, with a hint of oak. Less than 10%, Jacques said. The oak gives it a slight sweetness. For me this is one of their less successful wines, possibly because I have reservations about Merlot in the Midi. Or maybe the oak is just a touch too intrusive.

2008 SYRAH – 5.00€
This was new to me - the first vintage was 2007 – and it is simply delicious, classic Syrah with a firm peppery nose, with fresh spicy fruit on the palate. Wonderfully easy drinking and the discovery of the afternoon.

2006 LES CALADES – 7.00€
A blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, of which just 10% has been in oak. Deep colour, with a firm, dry cassis nose. Youthful, with firm tannins on the palate, a blend of cassis and pepper. Nicely crafted, and needing time.

2005 NUMERO 7 – 12.90€
For the red No. 7 the seven varieties are Syrah, Grenache, Carignan Cinsaut, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, in other words the classics of the Midi, with the two mainstays of Bordeaux. It has a deep colour, with a youthful, intense nose and palate, with firm tannins. The oak dominates the palate for the moment, but that will fade with bottle age. 1997 was the first vintage of red No 7.

2006 CASCAILLOU - 13.90€
Mainly Grenache, with 20% Syrah and Mourvedre, to provide some structure. Normally this cuvée is one of my favourites from la Croix Belle, but this particular afternoon it was not showing so well, with slightly jammy, ripe flavours. Maybe it was feeling the heat, or maybe we were, though the tasting caveau was nice and cool, in sharp contrast to the outdoor temperatures.

I've now had a chance to taste the 2007 Cascaillou - in September This is delicious, with a deep colour and quite firm peppery fruit on both nose and palate. There is some lovely spicy fruit, and the wine is so much more elegant than the 2006, and although it is based on Grenache, it tastes more of Syrah at the moment.

And no tasting at La Croix Belle is complete with Soulenque, their luscious dessert wine.

2006 SOULENQUE – 15€
The grapes – Muscat, Sauvignon and a little Viognier - are picked at the end of October, rather than early September. There is usually some noble rot, while some of the grapes are just passerillé and raisin-like after drying on the vines. The juice is fermented in wood, very slowly, which can take as long as six months. And the result is simply delicious, honeyed and rich, but with refreshing acidity on the finish.

The tasting caveau at Domaine la Croix Belle is open every day during the summer and if Françoise is not there to receive you, an Irish friend, Jane, helping out, and you are assured of a warm welcome.

Monday, 13 July 2009


Faugères is usually a rather sleepy little village, with little to disturb its peace, but not on the morning of the annual wine fair. The narrow street that runs through the centre of the village is filled with up-ended barrels, each with a vigneron eager to offer you wine to taste. OK – the tasting conditions are not ideal. It’s the middle of July and the thermometer is climbing steadily, and not everyone has thought to bring an ice box with them. Spittoons are not always in evidence either, and as well as keen tasters, there are pushchairs and dogs, as well as members of the local wine confrerie progressing in their heavy robes and velvet hats, accompanied by a fanfare of music, not to mention some ‘maidens’ sporting white tunics and leafy wreaths round their heads, serenading the crowds. The purists might also complain that the fête has been diluted by other distractions; for not only are there regional products, cheeses, pâtés and olive oil to buy, but you can also succumb to African jewellery and even teddy bears. A vigeronne friend muttered that the mayor of Faugères fails to realise just how important wine is to the reputation of the village. Indeed without wine, Faugères would have no international recognition at all.

But treat the fête as an opportunity for a discovery or two, and you may be well rewarded. I was. First stop was LES FUSIONELS, a new name to me. And indeed a new producer, with a first vintage in 2007. The name illustrates the context – what happens when a girl from Champagne meets a guy from Adelaide. They look for somewhere to make wine and Faugères is the answer, and a fusion of New World and Old World.

2008 Coeur de Fraises rosé – Lovely fresh raspberry fruit, with a firm finish and refreshing acidity.

2007 Le Rêve, a blend of 75% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 5% Carignan. Immediately spicey nose and palate, with ripe fruit, smokey notes and a touch of leather. Medium weight and very drinkable. And great with a barbecue later that evening.

2007 Intemporelle. This is more serious. From equal parts Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache, all aged in old wood, but the oak is beautifully integrated, giving more weight and substance to the wine, but without overwhelming the fruit.

Further up the street, FREDERIC ALQUIER , brother of the better known Jean-Michel, was manning a stand. His white wine is a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne. The 2007 is quite delicate on the nose, with some rounded fruit on the palate. He was badly hit by hail the week before the harvest last year, and didn’t make any white wine at all in 2008.

His Tradition 2006, a blend of equal parts of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Mourvedre, is rounded with some furry tannins, while his haute de gamme, a selection of better plot, is rather solidly oaky. I have to admit that I do prefer his brother’s wines, but they were not to be tasted at the fete.

Across the street was a selection of wines from DOMAINE DE REYNARDIERE , which lacked fruit and depth, so I moved on quickly to MAS D’ALEZON . Catherine Roque’s eager stagiaire, Simon, was offering the 2008, which has just been bottled. It was still rather adolescent and the blend of 80 per cent Grenache with 15% Syrah and just 5% Mourvedre needs to settle down. The 2007 was beginning to show its quality, but again needs time. These are definitely wines to age with some firm structure.

Next stop was Geneviève Libes-Costes at DOMAINE DU METEORE . This estate in Cabrerolles is aptly named, taking its name from a meteor crater outside the village, at the bottom of which they have 70 ares of vines.

2008 Faugères blanc A blend of Roussanne and Marsanne, with some delicate herbal notes on nose and palate and a streak of fresh acidity. Very appealing.

2008 rosé Quite a solid rounded rosé with good fruit and a fresh finish.

And next came a range of reds:

2006 Les Léonides from equal parts of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan. A firm nose, with sturdy mineral fruit. Quite a robust finish. 5.70€

2005 Orionides, from 50 % Syrah, 30 % Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre and just 5 % Carignan. Aged in oak for 12 months. You can taste the family likeness with firm mineral notes and some quite solid oak on the palate. 7.80€

2005 les Perséides – 60% Syrah and 40% Mourvèdre with eighteen months ageing in oak, 90 per cent of rich is new. Solid rounded oak on the nose, with a substantial full-bodied palate. The oak is very obvious on the palate, but there is plenty of fruit underneath to support it. The wine just needs time and will amply reward patience. 11.50€

2006 Les Lyrides. A new wine made for the first time in 2006. Virtually pure Syrah – Faugères should not be a single variety - with 22 months ageing in new wood. This is serious, solid rounded dense, with elegant tannins and ripe fruit. It promises very well and could take Faugères to new heights. 19.00€

2008 St. Chinian. Clos de Bijou. This is new too. They have taken their St. Chinian vines out of the cooperative, and the style is quite different to Faugères, with fresh fruit and ripe spicy flavours. In comparison Faugères has much more structure. It is rare for a wine grower to have both St. Chinian and Faugères; the other exception is Moulin de Cifre whose vineyards astride the boundary of the two appellations. 7.80€

Note to self – go back and taste at the cellar. So watch this space for further developments.

DOMAINE DE CHENAIE is another estate whose wines I had not tasted for sometime. Two brothers, Cyril and Eric run it. Today it was Eric offering their wines for tasting. We began with the white Faugères, 2008 Conviction, a Roussanne Rolle blend, with some firm spicey fruit and good acidity, with a slightly bitter finish, characteristic of Roussanne. Nicely mouthfilling.
Next came a white Coteaux du Languedoc 2006, a blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Rolle, which was fermented in oak so that it was lightly oaky on both nose and palate, with a textured palate, and a hint of peachy honey from the Viognier.

2008 rosé Conviction, made from Cinsaut, Grenache and Syrah had delicate fruit, with attractive herbal notes and good acidity. A lovely refreshing glass of rosé.

2006 red Conviction, from Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Carignan in equal part was ripe and rounded, with some lovely spice and ripe fruit. Very supple and appealing.

2005 Les Ceps d’Emile, named after their grandfather, comes mainly from the 80 year old Carignan vines that he planted, with a little Syrah. It is firm and structured, with mineral fruit and a touch of oak.

2003 Loblivia comes mainly from Mourvedre and is a wine to forget about. ‘Il faut l’oublier’ – hence the name. It is solid, dense and ripe, with shoulders, as the French say, and definitely need time.

Tasting stamina was beginning to fade by this point, so the wines of M. Saur at the Château de Haut-Fabrègues did not get the attention they might deserve. And the wines of Domaine Ollier-Taillefer deserve a separate posting too.

Organic Wine Fair at Bedarieux

Chai Christine Cannac is a friendly wine bar in Bédarieux, which specialises in organic wines. And on the first sunny Saturday in April, Christine persuaded most of her vignerons to participate in a mini-organic wine fair. This is not the moment to discuss the pros and cons of organic viticulture. I just want to highlight some of the original and characterful wines that were available for tasting.

Clos Fantine, with Oliver Andrieu in Faugères. I first visited this estate about ten years ago, not so long after his first vintage in 1995. His wines hadn’t come my way since, so this was a great opportunity to catch up.
2002 Tradition : A great start to the tasting, with warm fruits rouges on the nose, and ripe supple fruit on the palate. Layers of flavour, with a firm mineral streak on the finish.
8.40€ 16/20

2006 Courtiol : A touch reduced on the nose, but nothing that a bit of aeration wouldn’t solve. Much more concentrated on the palate than the cuvee Tradition, but refreshingly without any oak. Again a firm, stony, mineral finish. Should develop well in the bottle. 12.80€ 16/20

François Aubry at Domaine la Fontude
2005 Entremond, Vin de Pays du Lac de Salagou from Carignan, Aramon and Grenache Noir is rounded and stony, with lovely fresh fruit and a long finish. 16/20 7€

Francois Aubry’s white is a pure Terret blanc which does not conform to any vin de pays regulations, so is simple vin de table, and none the worse for that. Most organic wine growers seem to have a rather cavalier approach to French bureaucracy. The wine is light golden in colour, with a fresh nose, and intriguing layers of herbal fruit on the palate, with dry finish and fresh acidity. One of those wines that leaves you wondering….. 16/20 7€

Le Temps des Cerises with Axel Prüfer, another wine grower with vineyards in the hills of the upper reaches of the Orb valley.
2008 Avanti Popolo is pure Carignan grown on granitic quartz in Colombiers sur Orb. It has lovely refreshing mineral streak, with ripe fruit and a refreshing lift on the finish – one of those wines that definitely encourages a second glass. 17/20 8€

2008 Le Fou du Roi, a vin de table and a blend of equal parts Grenache Noir, Cinsaut and Carignan with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is wonderfully perfumed, redolent of cherry fruit, beautifully elegant, with a tannic streak on the finish. 17/20 13€

Le Petit domaine de Gimios with Mme. Lavaysse in St. Jean de Minervois. She is a smiley lady who makes three styles of Muscat, from just three hectares of centenarian vines and she also has one hectare for red wine, planted with an extraordinary sixteen different varieties.

2006 Muscat Sec, vin de table. Fresh grapey fruit ; Muscat is the one grape variety that really tastes of grapes. Fresh acidity and the slightly bitter finish, characteristic of dry Muscat. 14/20 19€

2006 Muscat moelleux, Slightly sweet with 28 gms/l residual sugar. Quite a dry nose with a lightly honeyed, grapey palate, and fresh fruit. 14/20 21€

2001 Muscat St Jean de Minervois this is quite mature for a Vin doux naturel, with quite a solid rich concentrated honeyed flavour and a long finish. 14/20 21€

Domaine Navarre with Thierry Navarre in Roquebrun, St. Chinian. The vineyards of Roquebrun are dominated by the cave cooperative which works well for its village, but Thierry’s wines have so much more character. He is an ardent supporter of endangered grape varieties, so we began with 2007 Terret blanc, vin de table. The colour is tarnished old gold. The nose is quite solid, with a touch of ginger, and also on the palate, with some firm fruit and good acidity. It has been in old Burgundian pieces for 12 months. 8.20€ 14/20

2008 Vin d’Oeillades, again a vin de table. Œillade is related to Cinsaut and this is beautifully perfumed, with fresh cherry fruit, with a touch of spice. The French word gourmand sums it up beautifully, a wine that is eminently easy to drink. 16/20 6.40€

2007 Le Laouzil, St. Chinian. Roquebrun is recognised as a cru of St. Chinian, but Thierry doesn’t consider this to be a good idea. So what? It detracts from St. Chinian. This is a blend of Grenache Noir, Carignan, Syrah and Cinsaut, in other words the key grape varieties of the Midi. There is fresh spice on the nose, and even more on the palate, with a touch of pepper on the finish. Really what St. Chinian is all about – a wine that conveys the warmth of the sun-soaked hills of the Midi. 17/20 8€

2007 Cuvée Olivier, St. Chinian. His best cuvée, named after his son. Deep colour, with a warm leathery nose. More structured, with more weight and depth of flavour . Ripe spicey and rounded. Twelve months ageing in oak has filled out the palate.

Mas Lumen with Pascal Perret in Gabian, a village in the Coteaux du Languedoc, adjoining Faugères, and the Prieuré de Cassan.

2004 Prélude, Coteaux du Languedoc. Carignan is the principal variety, with some Syrah, a little Cinsaut and a drop of Grenache, grown on schist. Quite a solid rounded nose, with ripe fruit and a firm stony finish. 11€ 15/20

2001 Orphée, Vin de Pays de Cassan. 2001 was Pascal’s first vintage and this is pure Terret, which is permitted for this particular vin de pays. The colour is light golden and there is a slight tarry resinous note on the nose and palate. The oak still masks the fruit even though the wine is now eight years old. Will it ever come round? 13/20 11€

Mas d’Agalis at Nébian with Lionel Maurel, who explained that the villages around Clermont l’Hérault traditionally produced table grapes, and therefore were not included in the Coteaux du Languedoc. He makes vin de table and vin de pays du lac de Salagou.

Yo no puedo mas VII vin de table. Currently you are not allowed to put a vintage on a vin de table, though this is about to change, but no prizes here for guessing that VII indicates 2007. The blend is 50 per cent Syrah, 40 per cent Grenache Noir and just 10 per cent of Mourvèdre. And why vin de table? His first vintage, the 2004, was declassified because of a problem with acetic acid, and so he has just left it as vin de table. ‘That way you can do what you like.’ And the wine was delicious; lovely fresh spicey fruit on both nose and palate. Nicely rounded and not too heavy. 40 per cent was aged in old barrels, and the rest in vat. 18/20 7.40€

2006 Navis, Coteaux du Salagou comes from equal parts of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. Two thirds of the blend spent eighteen months in old barriques. It has more body, but the same ripe spicey fruit. Also very appealing. 16/20 13.20€

Bruno Duchêne in Banyuls.
2008 La Lune, vin de Pays de la Côte Vermeille. Smokey, spicey fruit on the nose. Medium weight palate, with rounded spicey fruit, and some intriguing nuances. One of those wines that leaves you guessing. 15/20 14€

2007 La Pascole Collioure. Quite solid rounded leathery nose, with a full quite dense, almost raisiny palate. Solid and characterful, with a warm finish. For a cold winter’s evening. 15/20

2007 Corral Nou Collioure. Medium colour. Lightly leathery fruit on nose and palate. Lighter than la Pascole, but with a long warm finish. M. Duchêne was not around to enquire about the differences between his two wines.

Maxime Magnon. Villeneuve des Corbières
2008 La Démarrante, Vin de pays de la Vallée du Paradis. Who can resist a wine with a name like that ? The blend is 70 per cent Carignan with 30 per cent Grenache. It is very gouleyant, with fresh acidity and fresh raspberry and cherry fruit on the nose and palate.
Very easy to drink, but without the weight of Corbières. 14/20 9€

2007 Rozeta, Corbières From 60 per cent Carignan and 20 per cent each of Grenache and Cinsaut. Rounded and perfumed, but again lacks the weight of Corbières . Atypical. 14/20 12€

Domaine Léon Barral. Didier Barral is one of the recognised stars of Faugères.
2007 Le Blanc, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault Light golden in colour. Quite a herbal nose, with lightly tarry hints. An intriguing palate with herbal notes and layers of flavour, from Terret gris and blanc, Viognier and Roussanne. Multi-faceted.

2006 Faugères, from Carignan Grenache and Cinsaut Medium colour. Quite a solid smokey oaky nose. Ripe fruit with granitic mineral streak. Rich and concentrated wit great ageing potential
2006 Jadis From Carignan, Syrah and Grenache. Aged in barriques. Medium colour with an intense mineral nose. Quite solid, dense palate, with firm fruit. Full-bodied, or more elegantly in French, beaucoup de matière. Very ripe, with mineral notes and a long finish. 19€

2005 Valinière 80 per cent Mourvèdre, with Syrah. Two years ageing in barriques. A deep colour, with a solid dense nose. Full-bodied with weight and flavour and a dense firm palate. Just bottled and still very adolescent but with a long life ahead of it. 33€

Domaine Yannick Pelletier

2006 St. Chinian Oiselet From Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan and Syrah aged in vat. Some nicely texture fruit with dry spice. Medium weight and undemanding. 14/20 9€

2006 St. Chinian Coccigrue. Apparently a coccigrue is an imaginary animal that features in Rabelais, with associations with Gargantua This was more serious, and more expensive, with a firm nose and ripe perfumed fruit, mediumweight with a spicey finish.

Domaine Fontedicto with Bernard Belhasen. He is the one vigneron I have met in the Midi, who uses a horse rather than a tractor, and he was one of the pioneering biodynamic estates of the Midi. When I met him about ten years ago, I felt very much that he was a lone voice, but happily no longer today. There were two wines to taste, but unfortunately he was not around to explain them.

2006 Pirouette vin de table 10.50€ 16/20
Medium colour. Some lovely dry leathery fruit; nicely structured with some body and weight, with an elegant finish. Very satisfying.

2002 Promise Coteaux du Languedoc. This was an oaked cuvee and for my tastebuds, the oak simply overpowered the fruit. As it is already seven years old, I couldn’t see any way that the oak was going to tone down. But if you like oak, this could be for you. 12/20 23€

Domaine du Poujol

Kim and Robert Cripps have been making wine at Domaine du Poujol at Vailhauquès close to the outskirts of Montpellier for fifteen years, which makes them one of the earlier ex-pat – he is British; she is American - wine estates in the region. They have a dispassionate and robust approach to the vagaries and challenges of French wine bureaucracy and are seriously considering labelling all their wines plain vin de table rather than Coteaux du Languedoc or vin de pays, as they are at the moment. They could even use the newer appellation of Grès de Montpellier, but they don’t like that either.

Altogether they have seventeen hectares of vines. I was taken to admire a new planting of Grenache. Well, at this time of the year, the vineyard looked a bit like a field of dry sticks, but Robert enthused: there are 6000 vines per hectare, higher than average in the Languedoc; planted on a rootstock that is not usually recommended for the Languedoc, and on the best day in the biodynamic calendar. The field had been fallow for nine years and has never been treated with herbicides or fertiliser, and the vines are flourishing.

And then we tasted, first a couple of 2008 barrel samples, both with lovely ripe fruit, while their large fluffy cat, Ed, provided a very voluble background commentary. He’s in a bad mood this morning, observed Robert, we don’t know why. And then onto some bottles:

2007 Pico Vin de Pays de l’Herault 6€ 15/20
A blend of Carignan blanc, Vermentino and Roussanne, with some fresh sappy fruit, with hints of white flowers and fresh acidity. Vermentino is good for acidity and they try not to pick the Roussanne too ripe, while Carignan blanc is a late ripener and also good for keeping freshness. NB It’s bottled with a screwcap, which is still unusual for the Languedoc.

2008 Rosé, Coteaux du Languedoc 6€ 18/20
This is absolutely delicious rosé. I love the colour which is very delicate pink, more like a rosé from Provence than the Languedoc. Robert explained that they grow the grapes specifically for rosé, rather than bleeding a tank of red, which only serves to unbalance your red wine. The juice has a few hours skin contact, and the wine is fresh and delicate, with elegant raspberry fruit, and refreshingly low in alcohol at 12.4°

2008 Jazz (because we like jazz) Coteaux du Languedoc. 6€ 16/20
Syrah is the main variety and it is not yet bottled. It has ripe, spicey fruit, with a certain peppery note on the nose, and youthful ripe fruit on the palate, with easy appeal, promising enjoyable drinking once it is bottled.

2006 Proteus Vin de Pays de l’Hérault 6€ 15/20
This is Merlot dominant, with some Carignan and Cinsaut, with some ripe plummy fruit on the nose and palate and a freshness on the finish.

2007 Podio Alto Coteaux du Languedoc 11€
A blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache with a touch of Cinsaut, aged in some old barrels. The palate has some southern spice, but remains elegant with nicely balanced tannins. A satisfying finish to a tasting.

The Parameters - appellations - grape varieties

What do we mean by the Languedoc? It is an all-embracing term used to describe the largest vineyard area of France, which stretches from the Spanish border and the foothills of the Pyrenees, all the way around the Mediterranean to the estuary of the Rhône. Sometimes it is called Languedoc-Roussillon. Roussillon, which equates to the department of the Pyrénées-Orientales, was part of the Spanish region of Catalonia until the treaty of the Pyrenees returned it to France in 1659. In some ways it is quite distinctive from the Languedoc, which traditionally encompasses the departments of the Aude, Hérault and Gard. Modern French bureaucracy also lumps the department of the Lozère into the Languedoc, but this is not a wine-producing department of any note and quite different in traditions, culture and climate. Another all-embracing term used to described the region is the Midi, and in wine terms this tend to mean Languedoc-Roussillon rather than Provence and the Côte d’Azur. However, the regional organisations are currently concentrating their marketing and promotional efforts on the term Le Sud de France or The South of France. Of course, to Anglophone ears this expression more readily conveys the Côte d’Azur, the smart jet-setting aspect of the south of France, rather than what one English friend in our village referred to as ‘the real south of France’. For a start the Languedoc is further south than Nice, and to those of us, who think of it as our own special corner of France, it is more authentically southern, wilder, less populated and built-up, with dramatic countryside, and a pace of life of its own.

Côtes du Roussillon
Côtes du Roussillon Villages – with the addition of the villages of Tautavel, Latour de France, Caramany and Lesquerde
Languedoc – a new AC which will eventually supersede the Coteaux du Languedoc. Look upon it as the base of the pyramid.
Coteaux du Languedoc –with numerous sub-zones, namely
La Clape
St. Chinian
Terrasses du Larzac
St. Saturnin
Pic St. Loup
Grès de Montpellier
St. Georges d’Orques
St. Drézery
St. Christol
Terres de Sommières
Costières de Nîmes
Clairette de Bellegarde

Most but not all of the above red appellations produce white wine too. There is no white Côtes du Roussillon Villages, nor Collioure. St. Chinian and Faugères are recently created white appellations. The white wines, without a parallel red wine, are Picpoul de Pinet, which is part of the Coteaux du Languedoc, and Clairette du Languedoc and Clairette de Bellegarde.
Limoux blanc came before Limoux rouge, but Limoux is much better known for its sparkling wine, Crémant de Limoux, based on Mauzac and increasingly Chardonnay, Chenin blanc and even Pinot Noir.

Muscat de Rivesaltes
Muscat de St. Jean-de-Minervois
Muscat de Frontignan
Muscat de Lunel
Muscat de Mireval

VINS DE PAYS are as important as the appellations. Vin de Pays d’Oc is the largest. Next come the departmental vins de pays, namely Pyrénées Orientales, Aude, Hérault and Gard and then there are numerous local vins de pays, some much important than others. Look out for Côtes de Thongue in the Hérault and Côtes Catalanes in Roussillon amongst others.

For red and rosé appellations, the key grape varieties are Carignan, Cinsaut, Syrah, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre. In the bad old days, the Midi was largely planted with high yielding Aramon and Alicante Bouschet. Carignan was also much decried. Then plantings of the so-called cépages améliorateurs were encouraged, namely of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache Noir. Syrah now dominates many of the appellations, while Mourvèdre performs well nearer the coast. Grenache Noir is particularly found in the vineyards of Roussillon. Meanwhile there has been something of a revival of interest in Carignan, with a new realisation of its qualities, particularly from old vines, either as part of an appellation or as a varietal vin de pays. Cinsaut is particularly favoured for rosé, but also has its place amongst the red wines. Essentially the appellations of the Languedoc are blends, with the various permutations depending on the wine grower’s preference. Some may admit to almost a pure varietal – of Syrah in particular – though in theory there should be a drop of something else. Ultimately it depends on what you have in your vineyard, and if there is more than just Syrah in the vineyard, no one is going to ask any questions.
The so-called international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and also white varieties such as Sauvignon and Chardonnay must not feature in the appellations, only in vins de pays, most significantly in Vins de Pays d’Oc, the vin de pays that covers the entire region, and concentrates on varietal wines, as France’s riposte to the competition from the New World.
The composition of white wines has also improved dramatically, as have vinification methods, with the introduction of temperature controlled fermentations have a vital impact on quality. Where once varieties like Bourboulenc, Macabeo and Ugni Blanc were the order of the day, nowadays Marsanne, Roussanne and Rolle or Vermentino also contribute to the white appellations. There is also a new realisation of the quality yof varieties like Grenache Blanc and Gris, and also Carignan blanc. Viognier too is growing in importance, but for vins de pays, rather than as part of an appellation, in which the flavours would be too intrusive. And amongst the vins de pays, you may also Chenin Blanc and dry Muscat.
Muscat is important for sweet Vin Doux Naturel, or VDN, a fortified wine that retains the fresh sweetness of the grape. These are produced throughout the Midi, in the appellations of Muscat de Rivesaltes, Muscat de St. Jean de Minervois, Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat de Mireval and Muscat de Lunel. The red VDN, namely Banyuls, Maury and Rivesaltes are made principally from Grenache Noir.