Saturday, 21 August 2010


Jane Cuthbertson is a bright, energetic lady who has won all sorts of accolades as an independent wine retailer, even though she only opened her shop, Barrica Wines, less than three years ago. I met her in Argentina earlier this year, when she was spending a week as a guest of Wines of Argentina, having scooped an award from them – and I was with eleven other MWs, judging for Argentina’s annual wine competition. Jane and I got chatting and the result was an invitation to Preston to talk about the Languedoc at a wine dinner for her customers. And what fun it was.

The evening kicked off with bubbles – always a good start to any evening. The choice this time was Blanquette de Limoux from Domaine Rives Blanques. This is one of my favourite Limoux estates. Jan and Caryl Panman, an Irish Dutch couple, have just celebrated their tenth anniversary as wine producers by climbing up the eponymous peak in the Pyrenees. I was invited to join them, but there was a clash with a prior invitation. The faint-hearted part of me was slightly relieved. They are firm enthusiasts of the quality of Mauzac and the originality of Blanquette as a sparkling wine. The method is the same as for champagne with nine months on the lees, and there is a touch of Chardonnay and Chenin in the blend. The taste is soft and creamy, with the slight dustiness characteristic of Mauzac.

The first course was a delicious bouillabaisse soup, with which there were two wines to try – a 2009 Picpoul de Pinet, Hugues de Beauvignac from the cooperative in Pomerols. The name is made up, after a Cathar knight from the Albigensian crusade of the 13th century. And the Picpoul was quite salty with some firm flavours, and good acidity, and went well with the seafood. The other option was a 2009 Muscat Sec, Côtes de Thongue from Domaine Bonian, a small family estate in the village of Pouzolles. This was everything that good Muscat should be, fresh and grapey, with a slightly bitter orange finish.

2009 Le Champ des Grillons, rosé, from Domaine la Croix Belle came next. It is a blend of Syrah and Grenache Noir and was ripe and rounded, with fresh strawberry fruit on the palate. A great example of a rosé, and appreciated even on a wet rainy evening. We can’t be fussy in this country and only drink rosé in warm sunshine.

Next came a spicy pork cassoulet which went brilliantly with 2009 Domaine de Barres, one of the properties of the St. Chinian cooperative. It is a blend of Syrah and Grenache, aged in vat, rather than barrel, and was redolent of summer sunshine. Somebody asked me which wine of the evening was most characteristic of the Languedoc, and it had to be the St. Chinian. You had all the scent of the herbs of the garrigues, juniper, rosemary, thyme and laurel.

Domaine la Croix Belle is one of Jane’s favourites from the Languedoc – see my earlier posting for more about this leading Côtes de Thongue estate. Last night we had No 7 red, so-called for its seven grape varieties which are Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir, Cinsaut, Carignan, from the Midi, and from Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The wine is aged in French oak for a year or so and the flavour is deep and dense, with some ripe oak and notes of tapenade, mouth filling with a good tannin structure and plenty of potential. There's a white NO. 7 too.

La Croix Belle provided further indulgence – their dessert wine La Soulenque, a Côtes de Thongue Doux, a blend of Muscat and Sauvignon blanc, made from raisined grapes, accompanied the cherry clafoutis. It was a lovely golden colour, with a rich honeyed nose and more honey on the palate, with refreshing acidity and an elegant balance.

Jacques Boyer loves making eau de vie, as well as wine, so we finished with Le Coup de Foudre, distilled from Sauvignon and aged for seven years in barrel. It was a grand finale.

Thursday, 12 August 2010


The appellation of Faugères seem to attract more than its fair share of foreigners, with a considerable amount of investment in the area by outsiders. Vineyards have changed hands, and new estates have been developed. One of the rising stars amongst the newcomers is Domaine des Trinités in Roquessels. Simon Coulshaw is British, and his wife, Monika, comes from Barcelona. Simon has always enjoyed wine; he was brought up in Paris, so wine was an everyday occurrence. He did quite a bit of wine-making early on, and then worked in IT, until in 2004 it was time for a career change and he elected to do the two year course at Plumpton in East Sussex. He even thought about buying land in Sussex, but southern reds are his real passion, and so he began the search for vineyards and a cellar in the Mediterranean, looking in Spain as well as in the Midi. The Rhône valley was out of the question; he couldn’t afford anything more than Côtes du Rhône, but in the Languedoc good vineyard land is still affordable. However he had very precise ideas as to what he wanted, and found it with the 107th property! In the village of Roquessels, in the heart of Faugères. He was so excited that he completely forgot, to Monika’s dismay, to look at the house which came with the cellar. And why so many rejects – above all, he wanted a interesting terroir, not vineyard land on the plain. And he was looking for unrealised potential. If you buy an estate that is already doing well, there is nowhere to take it. What is now called Domaine des Trinités fulfilled these criteria. The vineyards comprise 15 hectares of Faugères, around the village of Roquessels and nine hectares of the newer cru of the Languedoc, Pézenas, around the village of Montesquieu. The previous owner had produced much more bulk than bottled wine, so there was enormous scope for development. The cellar was already well-equipped, with stainless steel vats and a very efficient basket press from 1928!

Simon and Monika arrived at Domaine des Trinités in April 2007 and had a very successful 2007 vintage. Simon made ten different wines, with various experiments, broadly two entry levels, two middle range, a rosé, and a top end Pézenas. He also has some Viognier and some Roussanne for white vins de pays. 2008 was significantly more problematic as most of his vineyards were affected by a severe hailstorm a week before the harvest. Consequently all his 2008s were sold off in bulk. Happily things looked up for the 2009 vintage and that is what I tasted last week.

2009 Viognier Vin de Pays d’Oc – 4.95€
Light colour ; quite a delicate, dry, peachy nose. Fresh acidity; herbal notes and a touch of minerality. Quite refreshing acidity. No strong varietal character, but none the worse for that.

2007 Roussanne, Vin de Pays d’Oc
– 4.75€
Light colour. Some herbal notes and white flowers on the nose. Quite a floral palate, again with herbal notes and a streak of minerality. Good acidity with a fresh finish and a satisfying mouth feel. A certain weight on the palate.

2009 Faugères rosé – 5.50€
A blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Carignan, given two to three hours skin contact. A pretty pale colour. Delicate and fresh on nose and palate. Fresh raspberry fruit with balancing acidity. Very appealing.

Simon now makes two Pézenas wines, but in 2007 they had to be called Coteaux du Languedoc or Langeudoc tout court. Blame French bureaucracy.

2007 Languedoc Tradition 4.95€ 70% Grenache, 20 % Syrah and 10% Carignan. Medium colour. Garrigues and spice on the nose. Quite a leathery palate. Medium weight. Easy leathery fruit and some supple tannins. Medium weight. The wine is given two weeks pre-fermentation maceration, which extracts colour and flavour. Grenache is thin skinned, so if you do a post-fermentation maceration, it is apparently very easy to over-extract.

2009 Pézenas Tradition.- 5.50€
Good colour; quite closed perfumed spice on the nose, but much more forthcoming on the palate. Some lovely savoury notes and supple tannins.

2007 La Dèves – 7.60€ A single vineyards, that will be Pézenas for the 2009 vintage. 50% Grenache Noir, 20% each of Carignan and Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre. Given a longer cuvaison. Medium colour; more complex flavours, medium weight and some lovely, firm fruit.

2009 Faugères, le Portail – 5.95.
The entry level Faugères, with some lovely ripe spice on the nose. Fresh youthful red cherries on the palate. Ripe, supple and gourmand, with freshness coming from the schist of Faugères. The blend is 60 % Syrah, 30% Grenache, and 10% Mourvedre.

2007 Faugères, les Maurels – 8.50€
This has been a favourite since we first tasted, or rather drank it in January 2009. It is a single vineyard of 70% Syrah and 30% Mourvèdre. 20 % of the wine is aged in oak. There is dry leathery spice on the nose, with a subtle spicy palate, with some balancing tannins. Medium weight, still very youthful and satisfying mouth feel.

And we finished with a barrel sample of a 2009, from a bio-dynamic vineyard, a blend of one third each of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Simon harvested just 700 kilos of grapes from one hectare. The nose is young and firm, with some lovely fruit. There is a firm streak of tannin on the palate, with weight and body, and an element of sucrosity or richness. It displays enormous potential, but Simon doesn’t know when he will bottle it. And he also has a Syrah Viognier blend up his sleeve.

Definitely an estate to watch, and great fun for a cellar visit

Domaine des Trinites, 6 chemin de l’Aire, 34320 Roquessels.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010


A brief sortie out of the Languedoc into the southern Rhône, to Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Perceived wisdom has it that the terroir of Châteauneuf-du Pape-depends upon the galets roulées which cover the vineyards, and on that terroir alone. Not so, as I found out when I visited Ogier’s cellars in the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape last month. They have a small vineyard outside their cellars, really more of a garden, consisting of four small plots of vines, with four quite different and distinctive soils.

Didier Courturier, the winemaker at Ogier and the man behind the quality of their flagship vineyard, Clos de l’Oratoire, was eloquent with his explanation. Much is made of the galets roulées and the thirteen different grape varieties, but usually without any mention of the other terroirs, which also have an impact on yield and flavour.

First he talked about the éclats calcaires, or limestone fragments, the oldest terroir that comes from marine sediments. Châteauneuf lies at 200 metres and the land was covered by the sea about 150-200 million years ago. These are the same soils that you find at the top of the Mont Ventoux – from distance it looks like snow, even in the height of summer. They are generally in the eastern part of the appellation and count for about 20 per cent of the total.

Next was a type of fine, fravelly sand, that was about 15 – 30 million years old. The geological term in French is molasses, but the local name in Châteauneuf-du-Pape is safres. You will find safres in the western part of Châteauneuf and they account for about 20 per cent of the area.

Grès rouges, or redstone, is the third variation, again formed from an inland sea, but with rocks and stones, often containing fossilised shells. This account for just three per cent, but the quality impact is undeniable.

And finally there were the famous galets, which were brought from the Alps by the waters of melting glaciers. But there is not just one type of galet, but two. The best are those on the coteaux, the slopes in the northern half of the appellation, where they are mixed with clay, which allows for the retention of water. The pebbles absorb the heat, but the soil does not dry out. Then there are larger galets, but with very little clay, in the southern part of the appellation. Here the lack of clay is detrimental to quality, as the vines can suffer from lack of water.

A broad generalisation would suggest that Grenache Noir performs best on the galets; Mourvèdre likes the calcaire, while Cinsaut does well on safres and Syrah on grès rouge. And Ogier readily admit that they do not have all thirteen varieties, but prefer to concentrate on Grenache, along with Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsaut.

But it is all very well to discuss soil types. What really matters is the impact on taste and they have made produced a wine from each soil type, with the same blend, vinified and aged in the same way, so that it is possible to discern the variations of flavour.. The blend is 75 per cent Grenache Noir, with 15 per cent Syrah and some Mourvèdre and Cinsaut, aged in wooden vats. All four wines came from the 2007 vintage, a year that was quite wet until the end of August, and then saved by a warm and dry September.

2007 Eclats Calcaires Medium young colour. Ripe berry fruit with some spice on the nose. On the palate there was some dry spice, with some leathery notes. The tannins were quite firm and fresh, with a warm, mouth filling finish. There was an underlying stony minerality, and maybe also a hint of eucalyptus.

2007 les Safres Medium colour. The nose was riper and more rounded, with a richer palate and more supple tannins. Didier observed that there is a view that sand makes for lighter wines, with less concentration. In fact he thought it gave more elegant and aromatic wines, with more finesse on the palate. Château Rayas, for example, comes purely from safres, and that ages beautifully.

2007 Grès Rouges Medium colour. Firm, dry spice on the nose, with some leathery notes, with more substance and body on the palate, more leathery, with a mineral note. It was warmer on the palate, with quite an alcoholic finish. The tannins were more concentrated with some red fruits. Didier thought it a great blending component.

2007 Galets Roulées The colour was deeper and you sensed the heat of the galets in the wine, with riper more rounded fruit and supple tannins and very good concentration. There was some lovely rich spicy red fruit on the palate. The clay protects against water stress, and the stones absorb the heat during the day to release it at night. It’s a great team effort, to the benefit of the vines.

And our tasting finished with Ogier’s flagship wine, 2007 Clos de l’Oratoire. That comprises two thirds eclats calcaires, along with some safres and some galets roulées and the blend is 80 per cent Grenache, with 8 per cent Syrah, 7 per cent Mourvèdre and 5 per cent Cinsaut, which are very old vines, grown on safre. This was delicious. Medium colour. Lovely elegant leathery notes on the palate, rounded with some ripe spice on the palate, with a supple tannic backbone and a warm long finish. It was a satisfying reflection of three terroirs.

Thursday, 5 August 2010


I never fail to be impressed by the courage of the people who embark on a new venture, with no previous experience. Deborah and Peter Core both had high-powered jobs in London and then for various reasons decided that it was time for a change and that they would learn how to make wine – in New Zealand. You can’t get much further away than that. They thought about staying on, but Europe called, and in particular the south of France. They now have a five hectare block in three terraces outside the village of Caux, in the heart of the Hérault, and make a convincing range of wines under the name of Mas Gabriel.

I’ve tasted and drunk their wines a few times over the last couple of years, and earlier this week went round for an update cellar visit.

We started with 2009 rosé, Les Fleurs Sauvages, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault. 6.00€ It is a blend of Cinsaut, Oeillade and Carignan. Although the vineyards are classified in appellation Languedoc, you need to have Grenache as well in the blend, if you also have Carignan, hence the vin de pays. But so what. The grapes are all pressed so that the wine is a pretty delicate pink, with quite a broad dry nose, with fresh fruit on the palate, and a dry finish. I would call it a food rosé. Very little rosé is made in New Zealand, so pink wine making was not covered at all in their course, so that Peter and Deborah admit to being self-taught.

2009 Clos du Papillon Vin de Pays de l’Hérault blanc. 10.00€ A pure Carignan Blanc, from old vines. In 2009 they produced just 500 bottles. It is light golden in colour, with a firm, nutty nose. A third of the wine was fermented in an acacia barrel and left on the lees for two months. The rest was kept in vat. This has some lovely rounded nutty notes on the palate, with mouthfilling texture and a hint of honey on the finish. The wood is very well-integrated, giving a touch of spice to the wine. They are planning to plant more Carignan Blanc, and also some Vermentino.

2008 Trois Terraces, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault 9.00€ is a pure Carignan, with no oak, This has a lovely vibrant colour, with some smoky berry fruit on the nose and some enticing cherry fruit, and peppery notes, with a fresh finish on the palate. There is a touch of acidity, as well as tannin, and the elegant rusticity that I associate with Carignan. A lovely long cherry fruit finish. The wine is fermented in vat, a classic fermentation and no carbonic maceration.

2009 Trois Terraces was bottled about six weeks ago. This too has a fresh cherry pepperiness on the nose, with quite a dense texture on the palate, with good tannins, some acidity and good balance. There is some lovely brambly fruit on the finish and the wine will develop with some bottle age.

2008 Clos des Lièvres, Coteaux du Languedoc 13.00€ is a blend of 60% Syrah, and 20% each of Carignan and Grenache. The Syrah and Grenache are aged separately in demi-muids of 500 litres and the Carignan in tank, and everything is blended together after a year and then spends six months in tank. It was bottled in the middle of June. The nose is quite solid and spicy, with peppery notes on the palate, with some tannin and oak, giving weight and concentration. A fresh, peppery finish, medium weight with quite a long finish, and plenty of ageing potential.

2007 Clos de Lièvres – 13.00€ I was much more aware of the oak on this, for the simple reason that it was aged in a newer barrel. The oak was more integrated on the palate than the nose; it needs decanting if you were to drink to now and it will certainly continue to develop in bottle.

And then they opened their very first wine, Clos Gabriel, vin de table. For all sorts of logistical reasons they failed to even register it as vin de pays , let alone as an appellation. They made just one wine in their first vintage, 2006, a blend of 65% Carignan, 25% Syrah, and 10% Grenache Noir. The Syrah and Grenache were aged in new demi-muids. It has some firm tannin and some concentrated fruit on the palate, but lacked the harmony of the later vintages, indeed demonstrating just how much their wine making has improved, as they have got to know their vineyards better.

They practice organic viticulture – using 30 tonnes of cow manure every year. And their yields are tiny 20 – 25 hls /ha, especially for the Languedoc, so they do not need to green-harvest. Their progress will be fascinating to observe and I am delighted that I met them so soon after their first vintage. And they deserve to go far.