Tuesday, 27 April 2010


Picpoul de Pinet is a bit like Muscadet; when it is bad, it is dull and boring, but when it is vinified with talent and care, it is absolutely delicious. Such is the case at Domaine Félines-Jourdan, which is the largest private producer. Claude Jourdan explained that her family has a total of 110 hectares of vineyards, with Picpoul accounting for 45 of them. Her vineyards are situated in three specific terroirs, outside Mèze on the Etang de Thau, at Félines, where the vines are exposed to the sea breezes; outside Montagnac, where the terrain is quite hilly, and the soil red and stony, and near Pomerols, on a windy plateau.

Picpoul de Pinet is in line for its own appellation to separate it from the vast new appellation of Languedoc, but things are moving slowly. At Félines-Jourdan they also make Vin de Pays des Coteaux de Bessiles from varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and so on, as well as red and rosé appellation Languedoc.

There is a large modern cellar, equipped as you would expect with stainless steel vats and temperature control. Mme Jourdan makes just one Picpoul, rather than several different cuvées. It is a blend of Picpoul from all three vineyards. The 2009 Picpoul de Pinet – 5.50€ - has a salty, sappy tang on both nose and palate, with a certain weight on the palate. The grapes are picked later and riper than some, but she is adamant that Picpoul should always have freshness and acidity. With riper, fuller flavours, it doesn’t just go with oysters, from the nearby Etang de Thau, which is the classic combination, but will accompany other richer fish dishes. The fermentation is long and slow, taking about six weeks; the wine is left on the lees over the winter, but without any lees stirring, and prepared for bottling sometime at the beginning of the year.

I also tried a 2009 Roussanne, Languedoc – 6.50€ - which is blended with just 5% Picpoul, as you are not allowed a single grape variety for Languedoc AC. It was rounded and lightly peachy, with white flowers, and touch of exotic fruit, with a fresh finish on the palate, making a lovely example of the vast improvement in white wines from the Languedoc.

Monday, 19 April 2010


We are regular customers at Domaine de Nizas for their Vieux Carignan, which for me is one of the best examples of the grape variety. It goes so well with our local butchers’ sausages on the barbecue. So a quick visit to replenish the reserves was a good opportunity for a catch up with Arnaud Deville who runs the estate for its American owners.

2007 Vieux Carignan, Vin de Pays de Caux – 11.80€
It has that benchmark rustic berry fruit, with an edge of acidity and tannin and a rounded finish. The vines are 60 years old, with a low yield, 35 hl/ha, and the grapes are mainly vinified by carbonic maceration which brings out the fruit in Carignan so effectively. However I was devastated to find out that 2009 will be the last vintage of Vieux Carignan and that in future wine from that vineyard will be included in the new cuvée of Pézenas.

So I consoled myself with a taste of Rosé, 2009 Languedoc – 8.00€
This is a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache. The first rule of rosé is that the colour should be pretty and enticing, and this is, a deliciously pretty pink. The palate is ripe and rounded, with some strawberry fruit, a creamy finish and a good mouth feel.

They take their rosé very seriously at Nizas; this is not a by-product of red wine. Most of the grapes are pressed rather than saigné, and then given six to twelve hours skin contact. And the grapes are intended specifically for rosé, so that work in the vineyard has been adapted accordingly. They are grown on lighter villefranchien soil, with larger yields than for red wine and a slightly earlier harvest. They aim for a lower alcohol level. And they have also experimented with yeast, but Arnaud is adamant that they do not want a technological wine, with the telltale aromas of bonbons anglais, from an excess of amylic acid.

And then we finished with 2006 Coteaux du Languedoc – 13.20€
This is a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache. The colour is deep and the nose solid and leathery, with fresh red fruit on the palate, some firm mineral notes and a lovely elegant finish.

In future, from the 2008 vintage, Domaine de Nizas will be producing the Languedoc cru of Pézenas, which is characterized by the minerality from the basalt soil. There is a large basalt quarry outside the village of Nizas. The blend will be one third each of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan, with unusually, no Syrah. Part is being aged in tank and part in wood, and it will not be available for tasting until it is bottle in June 2010, for release at the end of 2011.

They are also planning an appellation white wine to replace their vin de pays that is a blend of Sauvignon, with a little Viognier and Vermentino. Roussanne and Marsanne are coming into production for the appellation wine, the Vermentino will be included, and the Viognier and Sauvignon are being pulled up.

Arnaud was philosophical about the cold winter; at the beginning of April the vegetation was two weeks late, but it must be catching up now, fast, with the arrival of spring and some warm sunshine. However they have had 330 mms of rain since the beginning of October, when the usual average rainfall for the year is 450- 500 mms.

Saturday, 17 April 2010


Château de la Peyrade stands by the large roundabout on the outskirts of Sète. You could almost miss the imposing conical tower amidst the sprawl of the town, but it is well worth a deviation for a welcoming tasting caveau and a shop with a wide range of wines from other appellations of the Midi. The property belongs to Pastourel family, two brothers, Bruno and Rémi, and their father Yves. They have 24 hectares of vineyards, including eight around the château itself, on the western edge of the appellation. The appellation of Muscat de Frontignan totals 650 hectares of vineyards in production and is dominated by its cooperative, which accounts 80 per cent of the wine. There are six or seven private producers of which Château la Peyrade is one of the biggest, and also one of the more experimental. The soil here is a mixture of clay and limestone, and the climate is influenced by the proximity to the sea and the étang de Thau. The permitted yield currently stands at 28 hl/ha and hand-picking is obligatory.

Our tasting began with:

2009 Muscat Sec, Cuvée des Lilas, Vin de Pays d’Oc - 5.00€
The nose explodes out of the glass, with the intense grapey perfume of Muscat. The palate is a little more discreet, with perfumed Muscat fruit, a good balance of acidity, and a hint of saltiness, with a fresh finish. This is simple winemaking, no malo-lactic fermentation and a temperature controlled fermentation in vat.

2008 Muscat Doux, Cuvée des Patrodou, Vin de Pays d’Oc - 6.00€
Just say the name of the cuvée out aloud and you will understand the name. The taste is just that, not too sweet. The nose is more discreet and understated than for the dry wine, with a rounded, lightly honeyed palate, and what Alexandre, who runs the shop, described as un douceur rafraichissant, in other words a refreshing sweetness, on the finish. It is both fresh and ripe. The fermentation is stopped by chilling, with a dose of SO2 and then filtered.

Muscat de Frontignan Tradition – 7.40€
And available also in a BIB, as the French call a Bag in Box. Here the aim is maximum fruit. The nose is lightly honeyed, while the palate is more intense and unctuous. It’s all a question of balance, of the sugar, the grapes and the alcohol level. Everything must be in harmony, and the alcohol from the fermentation must balance the alcohol of the mutage. The total is 15˚, as the appellation demands.

2008 Muscat de Frontignan Prestige - 8.50€
This comes from the best vineyards, from vines growing in dry soils, with 20 metre deep roots. Just the first pressings of juice are used. It is more elegant than the Tradition; the honeyed palate is more subtle, with more richness and depth and a lovely harmonious finish. They consider this their flagship Muscat de Frontignan.

Muscat de Frontignan Cuvée Sol Invictus - 9.50€
This is a more recent addition to the range, first made in 2000. The aim is for a lighter, fresher Muscat, but still a fortified wine. They work on the acid and sugar structure, choosing the most acidic juice so that the sugar does not overwhelm the fruit. There are white peaches and some notes of exotic fruit on the nose, and the palate is quite floral and a little spicy, with a hint of wild mint. It is quite full in the mouth, but with an elegant freshness on the finish.

2005 Vendanges d’automne, Vin de Pays d’Oc - 8.00€
As the name implies, this is a late harvest wine, with the grape picked at the beginning of October, usually about six weeks later than the normal harvest, so that the grapes are nicely raisined. Muscat skins are too thin for noble rot, and in any case the climatic conditions are not suitable for it. The yield is just 10 hl/ha. The wine is fermented in vat and bottled in the spring, and has a residual sugar of 80 gms/l, while Muscat de Frontignan must have a minimum of 115 gms/ l. It was described as the predecessor of Muscat de Frontignan, the style of wine that would have been made before Arnaud de Villeneuve discovered in the 14th century that adding alcohol to a fermenting vat brought the fermentation process to an abrupt halt. The wine is quite golden in colour, with some roasted notes on the nose, with honeyed confit flavours on the palate. It is quite rich with a firm finish.

2003 Vendanges d’automne, Vin de Pays d’oc – 12.00€
They would like to make a vendange tardive every year, but the climatic conditions do not always permit it. This 2003 was kept in barrel, with the aim of toning down some of the intense sugar from the very ripe vintage. The colour was deeper and the flavours reminiscent of barley sugar, rich and honeyed, with more weight and just a touch of tannin on the finish.

Barriques Oubliées – 9.00€ for 50 cls.
This is the same wine as Muscat de Frontignan Tradition, except that it has spent two years in old barrel. The colour is golden, with a spicy perfumed note. The palate is rounded and honey, with hints of orange, and an elegant finish. It is beautifully balanced with an elegant structure, and quite delicious. This is sold without a vintage, but the first year they made this cuvée was 1989.

YP No. 1, Vin de Pays d’Oc – 22€ for a 50cl bottle in a wooden presentation box .
They made just 800 bottles of this, for a first vintage, in 2005, from a selection of the very best late harvested grapes. Alexandre described this as the crème de la crème. They use two barrels, a Taransaud oak barrel, and an acacia barrel, in which the wine spends two years. The flavours intrigue, they are very ripe and redolent of orange marmalade. You are slightly aware of the oak, but there is a fresh finish, with hints of quince and considerable length on the palate.

And we finished with Bulles de Lilas, demi sec – 8.50€
A traditional method sparkling wine. They made the vin clair and have the wine champenised in Marseilles. It was soft and frothy, not unlike a dryish Clairette de Die. Somehow the Muscat character was less pronounced that you might expect.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010


Bernard Cazes gave us a warm welcome. He is the third generation of his family to produce wine in Rivesaltes. His grandfather, Michel, planted the family’s very first vines – just 20 ares – back in 1895. His father Aimé, whose life spanned almost the whole of the 20th century, dying a few weeks off his 100th birthday at the end of 2000, acquired a further seven hectares in 1927. When Bernard joined the family business in 1970, following in the footsteps of his brother André, they owned 40 hectares of vineyards, as well as orchards of apricot trees. And today they have a total of 228 hectares, including 180 hectares in one enormous plot, making them the largest biodynamic producers in France.

The conversion to biodynamic viticulture began gradually in 1997. From the start Bernard was adamant that they had to change their methods for the entirety of their vineyards. If you believe in biodynamics, half measures are unacceptable. It was all or nothing. He talked of his father, who had known vineyard work with a horse, before the advent of tractor. He himself had enjoyed the comfort of chemistry but had also observed the damage it can cause, rendering the soil unfit for cultivation. And now the soils of their vineyards are full of life. The vineyards are impressive to see – the longest row measures 1.7 kilometres, which must be daunting when you are faced with rows of vines to prune or grapes to pick. Bernard expounded on the principles of biodynamics, referring to the three Rs – reason, rigour and respect. A plant produces a certain amount of grapes and you must be reasonable and not force that quantity. You must be rigorous in observing the biodynamic calendar, treating the vines as is necessary and at the appropriate moment. – ce qu’il faut, comme il faut, quand il faut. And finally you must respect the plant and its surroundings, including the bugs which will feed off other bugs, in the food chain. It is all a question of balance.

Domaine Cazes are located in the back streets of Rivesaltes. They have a welcoming tasting room and shop where Bernard showed us their current vintages.

2009 Le Canon du Maréchal rosé Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes 4.70€
A 50/50 blend of Syrah and Merlot. Bernard was emphatic; this is a vin de soif, a vin de plaisir. I couldn’t agree more. It was a delicate pink orange colour, from pressing the grapes, rather than any maceration, with some fresh fruit and herbal notes on the nose. The palate was full and rounded with a dry finish. The name le Canon du Maréchal refers to the fact that Rivesaltes was the birthplace of Maréchal Joffre – there is an imposing statue in the main square – and the Cazes family subsequently bought his property.

2009 Le Canon du Maréchal blanc. Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes – 4.70€
This is an appealing blend of Muscat, both d’Alexandrie and petits grains, with 20% Viognier. The Viognier adds more aromatic complexity to the Muscats and the wine is fresh and perfumed with honeyed peachy notes and a herbal hint. Just the thing to drink with asparagus, observed Bernard.

2008 Le Canon du Maréchal rouge, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes – 4.70€
Also a blend of Merlot and Syrah. Medium depth in colour, and with rounded fruit on the nose and palate. It is lightly plummy and easy to drink.

2006 Ego, Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 7.50€
A blend of 40% Grenache Noir and Syrah with 20% Mourvèdre, aged in vat. Deep colour, with a firm leathery nose, with some rounded warming fruit and a dry finish on the palate.

2007 Ego Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 7.50€
This was a more difficult year, giving very small yields. You get some of the animal, viandé notes of the Mourvèdre, and maybe a touch of brett. It needs to breathe to develop its full potential.

2003 Alter, Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 11.00€
The blend is the same as for Ego, but the wine is aged in oak barrels, one third new, for twelve months. There are sweet tannins from the oak, and some dense fruit, which is characteristic of the warm vintage. It tastes younger than 2003.

2008 Notre Dames des Anges, Collioure – 14.00€.
This for a Collioure seemed ripe and easy, with red fruit, and eminently drinkable, rather than the sturdier flavours I tend to associate with Collioure. Bernard’s son Emmanuel manages the vineyards here, in association with their owners, and the profits from the wine are used to maintain the numerous stone walls and terraces that characterize the vineyard scenery of Collioure. Collioure is a work of art, affirmed Bernard.

2003 Credo, Vin de Pays de Côtes Catalanes
The first vintage of Credo was 1993, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, representing a protest against the restrictive attitude of French bureaucracy and its application of the rules of the appellations. This 2003 was elegant and stylish, with smoky oak on nose and palate, and an attractive tannic edge on the finish.

2007 Credo, Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 36€
This is the new Credo, a blend of 30% each of Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre, with 10% Carignan, so very much the grape varieties of the south. There is a selection not only of vineyard plots, but also of vines, and even bunches and individual berries. The wine is fermented in new 500 litres barriques, with hand plunging, and then spends another 18 months in more new barriques. This is a serious mouthful of wine. There is a touch of oak on the nose, with some attractive fruit, and much more oak on the palate, so that it currently masks the spice of the grapes. The youthful tannins are balanced by an elegant finish, and it all promises for the future. They make just 4000 bottles.

And then we moved onto the Vins Doux Naturels. These are the wines on which the Cazes family established their initial reputation, and until the end of the 1980s, accounted for two thirds of their production. These days the vins secs, as they call table wines in Roussillon, are more important.

1996 Rivesaltes Ambré – 15€
From Grenache Blanc, which has spent eight years in wood, in old barrels. This is the traditional apéro des grandes mères observed Bernard. He thought it would be better with dessert and explained that the key to matching vin doux with dessert is the colour. Choose a dessert of the same colour as the wine. So with this ambré, something like a crème caramel would be delicious. There were honeyed nutty notes on the palate, with hints of orange, and it was slightly sweet with a fresh finish.

2005 Rivesaltes Grenat – 9.90€
This is made from Grenache Noir, muté sur grains; the maceration with alcohol helps extract the maximum from the grapes, with the alcohol dissolving colour and tannins. This 2005 vintage was bottled in 2006, so that there is none of the oxidation that is traditional to vins doux, and the wine will continue to age in bottle. On the palate there is an explosion of red fruit, with ripe concentrated flavours. So working on the colour principle, this is the wine for a strawberry tart or a blackcurrant sorbet.

1990 Rivesaltes Tuilé – 19.00€
This also comes from Grenache Noir, vinified in the same way as the Grenat, but the difference is that it has spent twelve months in a vat, gradually softening and loosing its colour. Think tawny port, so it would go with blue cheeses, and it is also delicious with chocolate. It is rounded and nutty, beautifully elegant with a long lingering finish. Aged Rivesaltes is one of the great wines of the Midi, sadly underrated and ignored, and deserving of a revival.

2006 Muscat de Rivesaltes. – 9.70€
A 50/50 blend of Muscat d’Alexandrie and Muscat à petits grains. The important thing here is to get the right balance, with neither too much alcohol nor sugar. The vinification process entails some skin contact and some maceration with alcohol after mutage. Usually Muscat de Rivesaltes is drunk when it is young and fresh, but there are exceptions to every rule; this is rich and honeyed, with more weight and body; there are notes of bitter oranges, and a rich finish, but it is not cloying or sugary.

1978 Cuvée Aimé Cazes – 68.00€
Named after Bernard’s father. It is a blend of 80% Grenache Blanc and 20% Grenache Noir, which has been aged in old foudres for 22 years. Grenache Blanc turns amber in colour after 22 years in wood, and the evaporation is such that 100 litres reduce to 30 litres, a rate of 7% per year, which is much greater than the angels’ share in Cognac. This is fabulous, with an elegantly dry walnutty nose, and long lingering nutty flavours on the palate. As Bernard observed: It’s the wine to drink by the fireside, with your favourite music and a purring cat.

1996 Muscat de Rivesaltes.
This was bottled in 1997 and is quite different from the classic Muscat de Rivesaltes. It has a light amber colour, and the flavours have turned to orange marmalade as they have evolved in bottle. There is no hint of oxidation, just intense bitter oranges, with some herbal notes and good acidity.

1991 Muscat de Rivesaltes.
Again aged in bottle. Bernard explained that Muscat will retain its fruit for the first seven or eight years, and then it closes up for two or three years, like a sulky adolescent, before opening up again, with more intense flavours, orange and treacle, with a certain unctuousness. It just slipped down the throat.

And then we adjourned to their recently opened restaurant, La Table d’Aimé where you can enjoy their wines with some creative cooking. This is the only restaurant of any note in Rivesaltes. And if you are looking for somewhere to stay, I can recommend a friendly chambres d’hôtes, L’Orangerie, 3 rue Ludovic Ville. Tel: 04 68 73 74 41 The bedrooms are quite individual in style, according to the name. We slept in the Oriental room, decorated in rich reds and purples, with a taste of the east.

Thursday, 8 April 2010


France loves its wine competitions. And they can be fun to judge. Last week, I was invited to take part in an all female jury, of writers, not necessarily specialists in wine, but enthusiasts for the written word. Our task was far from onerous. We simply had to select our favourite wines from a range of wines from the cooperatives of the Languedoc that had already won a gold medal. As you might imagine, the quality was pretty high, and amply demonstrated just how well a good cooperative can work for its region.

The cooperative at Baixas in the Pyrenées-Orientales was our host. I was on the rosé panel, with four tasters, and just eight wines to sample. And our decision was virtually unanimous. The key question was: how do you like your rosé? I had two possible winners, one light and delicate, the other fuller and riper, but both delicious. My fellow panellists much preferred the riper wine, which turned out to come from the cooperative of Vinça in the Pyrenées-Orientales near Prades. So that was our coup de Coeur.
Pop Frutti Syrah Grenache, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes 2009, from Les Vignerons des Terres Romanes.
I got to present a trophy to the jolly director of the coop, Serge Siffre, who was as pleased as punch to win. I had to read out our joint tasting note, which made references to strawberries and cream and finished with the exhortation ‘à consommer sans modération’.

The other winners were the Cave de Pomerols in the appellation of Picpoul de Pinet, for their 2009 Viognier Vin de Pays d’Oc, sold under their Beauvignac label. It had some convincing peachy varietal character. The cooperative at Hérépian, les Coteaux de Capimont in the Haute Vallée de l’Orb won the red trophy for its 2009 Merlot. I didn’t get a chance to taste this, for the simply reason that the judging had been so close, and much debated, that there was none left. However, I do remember being very agreeably surprised by the coop’s wines when I tasted them last summer at Cuisine dans la Rue in Bédarieux. There were two trophies for vin doux naturel. Fittingly our hosts won a prize for their Muscat de Rivesaltes, 2009 Dom Brial, which was deliciously fresh and aromatic, with lovely grapey fruit. The second trophy went to Les Vignobles de Constance et du Terrassous at Terrats in the Pyrenées-Orientales for their Rivesaltes Grenat 2007, which had some lovely ripe red fruit. Think young ruby port.

No event of this kind happens in France without the opportunity to spend some time around a table and the Baixas coop did us proud with an array of charcuterie, salads and local specialities. They produce Côtes du Roussillon Villages and a range of Rivesaltes, as well as vin de table and vin de pays. And they used the occasion to show off some mature Rivesaltes, all amber in colour and made from Grenache, with some Maccabeu which had been aged in old foudres and possibly topped up, a little like a solera system. The 1989 was rich and nutty with some honeyed notes and a long rich finish. The 1979 was mellow and drier, with lovely concentration. The 1969 was turning drier and nuttier, with a long satisfying finish, and the 1959 was long and dry with elegantly restrained flavours of walnuts. I could have spent a long time deciding which I liked best. They were all delicious. And afterwards they took us to see their new vineyards up in the hills behind the village. The Canigou, the highest mountain of this end of the Pyrenees was now shrouded in cloud, with rain threatened later in the evening.