Wednesday, 27 October 2010


John and Nicole Bojanowski are wine growers in the village of St. Jean-de-Minervois at Clos du Gravillas. The village is known for its sweet Muscat but they prefer to make an intriguing range of table wines. I’ve mentioned them a few times over the last year or so, but it had been a while since I had tasted the complete range of their wines. They have 8 hectares of vineyards, having just bought another two hectares, of old Terret and other varieties. The cellar is a cramped space next to their house in the village; each vat has a name; the largest is called Shakespeare; next down in size is Chabal, a ferocious French rugby player. John and Nicole have a healthy disrespect for the niceties of appellation laws so most of their wines are the local vin de pays Côtes de Brian – Brian being a small river.

2008 L’Inattendu, Minervois, 16.00€
A blend of Grenache blanc, Grenache gris and Macabeo. In theory Grenache gris is not part of the appellation, but John considers that it is much better than Grenache blanc. I’ve already enthused about this at the Absolutely Cracking French Wine tasting, but here my notes say the Chablis of the Midi. If you knew how much I love Chablis, you would realise that really is a compliment. The vineyards are on white limestone rock, and you can really taste the minerality, with firm acidity, and also some dry honeyed notes.

2009 L’InattenduIn September we tasted a finished vat sample, which would be bottled this October. Quite rounded and fuller on the nose and palate; lightly herbal, creamy, with good minerality and acidity on the finish.

2009 Emmenez moi au bout de la Terret, a play on words, after a Charles Aznavour song. From both Terret blanc and gris. I didn’t know that there was a Terret gris. Quite a firm dry stony nose, with a hint of apricots. Good acidity and minerality. Terret ripens late, and is ripe with only 12º alcohol. 10.00€

2009 Sous les Cailloux, des Grillons – 8.00€
Contains six different varieties, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Grenache, Counoise and Mourvèdre. Deep colour; ripe berry fruit with lovely acidity and fresh fruit and spice. A touch of tannin and some firm minerality. You may remember this wine was the solution to my dilemma of what to drink after 1921 d’Yquem. And what I did not know then was that the name is a reference to 1968, Sous les Pavés, la Plage. The Parisian paving stones, the pavés, and the favoured missile of the rioting students, were set in sand.

2007 Le Rendez-Vous du Soleil – 11.00€
A blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan – 27 months aging, in barrels for the Syrah and Cabernet.
Quite deep colour; quite ripe berries on nose and palate. Fresh acidity and tannin; medium weight with spicy leathery cherry notes on the palate.

2007 Coté obscur – 10.00
Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan
This is very wild, with meaty leathery notes, definitely a coté sauvage, very animal as the French might, almost too much, with some tannin on the finish.

2006 Lo Vièhl Carignan. 16.00€
The old Carignan vines were planted in 1911. 14 months in 400 litres old barrels. Needs to breathe for the nose to develop. The palate is much more forthcoming, with some fresh spicy notes and a certain appealing rusticity and elegant concentration. John has a website which extols the virtue of old Carignan; he is one of the Midi’s most enthusiastic exponents of this underrated grape variety.

2009 Un peu de tendresse, Côtes de Brian moelleux. Named after a Jacques Brel song and a blend of Muscat and Viognier 9.00€
Fresh, grapey peach nose, with acidity and soft pithy orange fruit on the palate. Soft honeyed finish, with 20 gms/l residual sugar. You could almost consider it the Languedoc’s answer to Moscato d’Asti but drier.

2008 Douce Providence, Muscat de St. Jean de Minervois. This is the first year John and Nicole has made Muscat de St. Jean – the name of the wine implies that the grapes fell from heaven, and there is indeed a story behind it. The wine was fresh, honeyed and grapey and quite delicious.

Monday, 25 October 2010


It has been a while since I have visited Damien Coste of Domaine Belles Pierres outside the village of Murviel-les-Montpellier. He has had a well-deserved reputation for his white wines for a number of years, going back to the time when white wine was not really taken very seriously in the Languedoc. His first vintage was 1992. Before that his grapes went to the village coop, but he quickly realised that was not the way forward.

Damien now has 17 hectares of vines. His red vines are the Midi classics, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsaut, whereas the whites are an original mixture – Sauvignon, Viognier, Roussanne, and Vermentino, Muscat à petit grains, Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng, Grenache blanc and Marsanne. Also unusually white wine account for 40 % of his production.

2009 Cuvée Mosaïque, Vin de Pays d’Oc – 5.00€
Named because they found a mosaic nearby in a Roman oppidum. The name of the village Murviel means vieux murs or old walls in Occitan and the church dates back to the 11th century. This wine is a blend of Sauvignon, principally, with Viognier, Muscat and Grenache. The nose is quite peachy and perfumed, with intriguing nuances; the Muscat gives a lift on the palate, with the Grenache provides body and Sauvignon the fresh acidity, with some peachy fruit from the Viognier. It is nicely mouth filling and very good value. Damien observed that he prefers making white wines, as you have so many more choices with blending than with reds, and white wine is a growing trend all over the Languedoc.

2009 Latino d’Oc, IGP d’Oc. 6.00€
2009 was the first vintage of this pure Viognier. It is lightly peachy, with some rounded textured fruit and fresh acidity, and maybe a touch alcoholic on the finish. It comes from vines that are only eight years old. The name is a reference to the fact that Damien’s wife comes from Colombia, and since you ask, they met in Venezuela. He was visiting a friend there, and so was she.

2009 Les Clauzes de Jo, Coteaux du Languedoc 9.00€
A blend of 60% Roussanne and 40% Viognier, with some Grenache Blanc, fermented in barrel and left on the lees for twelve months. There is a touch oak on the nose, with some lightly buttery fruit and a streak of tannin. Quite rounded and mouth filling. It had just been bottled and needs time to settle down. Damien mentioned that he was one of the pioneers of barrel fermented white wine in the Languedoc; this is le vin de reference of the estate, which he has been making since 1994.

2008 Chant des Ames, St. Georges d’Orques – 15.00€
Barrel aged for 18 months. 10% new, with a preference for 500 litre barrels, rather than 225 litre barriques. A blend of 60% Roussanne, 30% Viognier and 20% Grenache Blanc. It was quite golden in colour, with peachy oak on the nose, with a rich, rounded palate. It is quite textured and long.

(2007) Ineptie, vin de table, - 12.00€
From Gros and Petit Manseng, Roussanne, Grenache blanc and Viognier, picked mid-October, rather than early September. Quite golden in colour, almost old gold and on the palate, honeyed barley sugar going to dry honey on the finish, with some acidity on the finish. Hints of dried apricots. 15 gm/l residual sugar.

On September 8th, the date of my visit, Damien had picked all his white grapes; and the first fermentations were looking good; the summer was warm, but the nights were not too hot, which is beneficial to the acidity levels.

Damien made Ineptie for the first time in 1996, by accident. He had some very ripe Roussanne which was refused its agrément for an appellation at analysis – a typical example of French wine bureaucracy - so he sold the it as vin de table, but he doesn’t make it every year.

And then on to reds:
2008 Cuvée Mosaïque, Coteaux du Languedoc – 5.00€
A blend of Cinsaut, Grenache and Syrah, kept in vat, with two to three week maceration.
Medium red colour; quite firm mineral nose. More supple ripe palate, with some tannin. Quite an elegant finish.

2007 Latino D’Oc, Languedoc – 6.00€
A 50/50 blend of Syrah and Grenache, fermented in vat, with just 10% in barrel. Quite a firm nose with some dry spice. Medium weight – he doesn’t want it too extracted. Sufficient tannin, and tasted slightly cool, it is very refreshing.

2008 Les Clauzes de Jo, St. Georges d’Orques – 8.00€
A blend of Syrah and Grenache wit h20% Mourvèdre, and twelve months in oak, no new barrels, with a four to five week maceration. Damien’s father is Jo, and clauzes are the dry stones walls surrounding many of the vineyards.

Quite a firm nose, with a nicely structured palate. There is fruit, with well-integrated oak underneath and a streak of fine tannin. Good balance with an elegant finish.

2007 is a more supple vintage, whereas 2008 enjoyed a hotter summer, so the wines are more structured and deeper in colour.

2008 Chant des Ames, St. Georges d’Orques – 15.00€
A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, with 18 months in wood; 10% new. Elevé en fût de chêne.Quite a deep colour. A firm structured nose, with some well integrated oak on the palate. The tannins are elegant, and the wine will benefit from further bottle age. It is a selection of his best plots, which are usually the same ones each year. His 17 hectares are divided into about 30 plots all round the village.. St. Georges d’Orques was one of the original crus of the Coteaux du Languedoc and is now trying to differentiate itself from the appellation of Grès de Montpellier to become one of the grands crus of the Languedoc. It includes the villages of Montarnaud and St. Paul-et-Valmalle, as well as Murviel. Asked about its tipicity, Damien referred to Burgundy, for its elegant tannins, making for reds that are quite fresh. Historically it is red rather than white, but Damien thinks that whites are successful in his vineyards as the soil provides good acidity.

And we finished with the sweet wines:

(2005) Monica, El Encuentro, vin de table de France -15.00€ for 50cl - NB in theory a table wine should not mention a vintage on the label. A blend of 90% Mourvèdre and 10% Grenache, late harvested, with two years in wood. And you might guess that Monica is the name of Damien’s wife. There is 35 gml/l of residual sugar, with a potential alcohol of 18º; the fermentation stopped at 14º. Medium colour, with some sweet spicy cherry notes on the nose and palate. It reminded me of cherries preserved in alcohol, and was potentially rather more-ish.

(2006) Passidore vin de table – 17.00€ for 50cls.
A blend of Gros and Petit Manseng with a little Viognier and Muscat – two or three tries during November and December, a lottery of fighting the birds, the weather and the wild boar. He doesn't make it every year Deep golden in colour. Rich and honeyed o the nose; very smooth and unctuous on the palate, barley sugar and balancing acidity. The name is a play on words, passerillé, which the grapes are, and his great grandfather was called Isidore

And by way of conclusion we went to listen to a fermenting barrel of Roussanne, gently whispering in the cellar.

Friday, 22 October 2010


I should have been driving to Chablis today, but given the stories about barricaded power stations; lengthy queues at petrol stations and operations escargot by lorry drivers, we decided that prudence should prevail and that we would remain this side of the Channel. Instead I got to go to a tasting at the Maison du Languedoc of award winning wines, that is to say, some from the Top 100 Vins de Pays; as well trophies and gold and silver medals from the International Wine Challenge and Decanter’s World Wine Awards. This year I helped chair Italy for Decanter, and in the past have chaired New Zealand, without a taste of the Languedoc, so I was intrigued to see just what had been chosen. And I did help with the Top 100 Vins de Pays. It has to be said that they were a mixed bunch; some I loved and some I had difficulty in discerning their award winning characteristics.

A note about prices, we were given an ex cellar price, which I have doubled to give a French retail price. The UK agents generally seemed to be rather lackadaisical about supplying a retail price here.

My white highlights:

2009 Les Salices Sauvignon Blanc, Vin de Pays d’Oc, Domaine François Lurton – 4.88€ Top 100
Quite rounded leesy fruit on the nose; a characterful palate, packing a punch of flavour with good acidity and a mouth filling finish.

2009 Muscat Sec, Vin de Pays des Coteaux d’Ensérune. Enseduna Grand Réserve, Les Vignobles Foncalieu – 6.10€ Silver IWC
Pale colour. Fresh pithy Muscat nose, with a fresh grapiness, and on the palate you really taste the grape; very juicy and full-flavoured.

2009 Domaine St. Roch, Viognier Vin de Pays d’Oc – 5.90€ Top 100
A little colour. A touch of peachy Viognier on the palate, and quite a pungent, fresh peachy palate, with some texture and mouth feel. Very appealing. Good varietal character and nicely balanced.

2009 Château Camplazens, Viognier, Vin de Pays d’Oc. – 9.00€ Decanter Silver
Camplazens is an estate on the Massif of la Clape owned by Peter and Susan Close. They have developed a successful range of vins de pays as well La Clape over the past few years. This Viognier contrasts with the previous wine, with some lightly toasted oaky notes on the palate, with some peachy toasted fruit and an oaky streak on the finish. There were more wines from Camplazens in the red line up.

2009 Collioure, L’Abbé Rous (the Banyuls coop). Decanter Gold £9.90 at Marks & Spencer. A blend of Grenache gris and Grenache blanc. Rounded white blossom and herbal notes on the nose and palate. Sufficient acidity and a rounded palate. Some depth of flavour.

There were three rosés, of which the best was:
2009 Isa, Les Chemins de Bassac, Côtes de Thongue – 6.00€ Top 100
A delicate orange pink colour, with a touch of raspberry fruit on nose and palate, and fresh acidity on the finish.

And now for reds

2008 Château de Sérame, Vin de Pays d’Oc - Recommended retail price £6.99. IWC Silver
Medium young colour. Attractive leathery notes on nose and palate; quite a ripe rounded palate, with soft tannins. Medium weight and very accessible. Easy drinking.

Domaine de Familongue in Saint André de Sangonis seemed to be on a winning streak, with four wines in the line up..
2009 Mas des Vignals, Vin de Pays de Mont Baudile, Cinsaut – 4.60€ - Top 100
This is lovely and fresh, with ripe cherry fruit, with some acidity as well as tannin. Perfect summer drinking if lightly chilled. I like this a lot.

There was also 2009 Puech Cremat, a Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot blend, which was well made, but not my favourite grape varieties from the Languedoc. Top 100 5.30€

2008 Domaine de Familongue, l’Envol de Familongue, Coteaux du Languedoc, 6.36€ is a blend of Grenache Noir and Carignan with quite a sweet nose, with a rounded palate and a little warm spice on the finish. Silver Decanter.

2008 L’Ame de Familongue, Terrasses du Larzac, Grenache noir and Carignan – 8.30€ - Silver Decanter.
Medium colour; quite dense and leathery, some firm fruit with a rounded palate. Supple with a balancing edge of tannin.

2009 Les Garrigues Grande Réserve Grenache Noir, Vin de Pays de la Vallée du Paradis – who can resist a name like that ? 5.50€ Decanter Silver
Medium colour; fresh cherry fruit on nose and palate, with some acidity and a little tannin. A light refreshing rendition of Grenache, rather than a warm version, and none the worse for that.

2008 La Grange des Combes, St. Chinian Roquebrun, Cave de Roquebrun. – 6.62€ A blend of Syrah and Grenache. Some leathery spicy fruit on the nose ; black olive tapenade on the palate, rich and mouth filling with a warm finish. Trophy IWC

The Roquebrun coop also managed some other awards:

2009 Col de la Serre, St. Chinian.- 6.82€ Decanter Silver
Mourvèdre and Grenache Noir, Young colour, a rounded nose with rounded easy spice on the palate, with a streak of tannin to provide some backbone.

2008 Les Fiefs d’Aupenac, St. Chinian Roquebrun, also from the Roquebrun coop achieved a silver from Decanter.. A blend of Syrah and Grenache Noir – 10.64€
Medium colour; quite a solid tapenade nose; quite rounded fleshy ripe fruit; easy spicy; rich and dense. A bit alcoholic on the finish, but with some lovely southern fruit.

Château Camplazens also featured in the Top 100 for their 2009 Grenache, - 6.40€ Easy sweet spicy fruit with a warm finish. And I was less enthusiastic about their 2008 Garrigue la Clape. 8.00€ There was an edgy streak of tannins so that it did not seem very harmonious. Decanter however gave it a silver. I preferred Camplazens 2008 Premium la Clape, 11.00€ with a Silver from both the IWC and Decanter, which was more sturdy with some oak ageing. The oak was nicely integrated giving the wine some body and weight, with a ripe finish.

2008 Château L'Hospitalet, La Clape, La Réserve £10.99 won a Decanter Trophy, and deservedly so. This is serious, with a rounded oaky nose, and quite dense fruit on the palate, with a peppery lift and a youthful tannic structure. A wine to develop in bottle. A blend of Syrah and Mourvèdre. This was my favourite of the various Gérard Bertrand wines in the line up.

Another la Clape estate won an IWC Trophy, Château Rouquette sur Mer, for their 2009 L’Esprit Terroir – 8.80€ This was rich and perfumed on the nose; with lovely rounded supple fruit and also most succulent spice, but not too heavy.

And it was certainly rather better value than 2008 L’Absolu de Château Rouquette, a blend of Syrah and Mourvèdre. The owner, Jacques Boscary, gives this lots of TLC, and the fruit is delicious, with perfumed spicy, some weight. It is rounded, but lacks depth, and with an ex cellar price of 38€ will be a hard sell, despite a IWC Gold and a Decanter Silver.

2008 Pica Broca, Domaine la Sauvageonne, Terrasses du Larzac - £11.99 Decanter Silver
A blend of Syrah and Grenache. Medium colour with some stony mineral fruit on the nose. The palate has the freshness of the Larzac, combined with the warmth of the vineyards site, in the hills outside the village of St. Jean de la Blaquière. A combination of dry warmth and supple fruit.

It’s always good when some of the newer names come out well, so I was pleased to see
2008 Cuvée Dondona from Villa Dondona in Montpeyroux, made by my friends Jo Lynch and Andre Suquet. She is also a talented artist. 10.50€ Decanter Silver
Quite a perfumed nose, with perfumed spicy ripe fruit on the palate. Supple and easy and nicely mouth filling and satisfying.

2008 Domaine de Cebène, les Bancèls – 13.00€ From a relatively new Faugères estate created by Brigitte Chevalier. Medium colour. Quite an appealing perfumed nose, with some ripe fruit and balancing body and weight. Nicely balanced and harmonious. IWC Silver

2008 Domaine du Petit Causse, Griotte de Ventajou, Minervois was new to me. 15.00€ IWC Gold A blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir and Carignan, with quite a stony mineral nose, and rounded supple fruit, with a firm mineral streak.

Also from the Minervois was Château St. Jacques d’Albas, La Chapelle St. Jacques 2006, which was firm and sturdy, some dense oak on both nose and palate, with underlying fruit, but at the moment intense and tannic. It should develop in bottle. Decanter Silver 20.00€

2008 Château le Bouis, Cuvée Roméo, Corbières. An estate in Gruissan, just on the edge of the Massif of La Clape, but for bureaucratic reasons Corbières rather than la Clape. Rounded peppery nose, with some spicy fruit on the palate. A firm tannic streak within some supple fruit. Quite full-bodied, nicely balanced and harmonious. Decanter Gold 30.00€

And we finished with three Vins Doux Naturel

2008 Domaine de Blanes, Maury, 16.00€ Silver medal from both IWC and Decanter
Pure Grenache noir, a vintage style with ripe berry fruit, a sweet rounded palate with a streak of tannin. Think good ruby port.

1982 Rivesaltes Hors d’Age from the Rivesaltes coop, under their Arnaud de Villeneuve label. – 26.50€ IWC Silver
Made from Muscat d’Alexandrie and Grenache blanc. Amber colour, wonderfully rich walnut nose, with liquid prunes on the palate. Quite sweet and absolutely delicious. I like prunes! Have you ever tried prune and port ice cream?

1998 Castell des Hospices, Banyuls Grand cru, from L’Abbé Rous, the coop in Banyuls. Decanter Gold. Grand cru these days does not mean much in the context of the quality of Banyuls – it denotes 75% Greanche Noir and a minimum of 30 months ageing. This has had significantly more. Medium colour, with an amber edge, walnut and fruitcake fruit on nose and palate, with a refreshing streak of acidity. A long nutty liquorice finish. Decanter Gold. 56€

Thursday, 21 October 2010


I couldn’t resist an invitation to dinner at the Galvin Bistro on Baker Street, as a guest of Lionel Lavail from Domaine Cazes, especially when the invitation mentioned 1978 Cuvée Aimé Cazes Rivesaltes. Domaine Cazes have just changed importers in London and are now represented by one of the most energetic of shippers, Liberty Wines. See my April posting for more on Domaine Cazes

How often you get the opportunity to drink rather than taste Rivesaltes, and with the appropriate food? To my mind, Rivesaltes is one of the most underrated wines of the Languedoc, or more precisely of Roussillon. We are told how well Rivesaltes will go with foie gras foie gras is regularly suggested as an appropriate accompaniment to all sorts of wines, even mature Chablis – but here was the chance to find out just how delicious this particular combination is. The foie gras came with a red onion terrine, which did not enhance the dish, but the foie gras itself was delicious and the dilemma was to decide which of two Rivesaltes went best.

The first option was 1996 Muscat de Rivesaltes. No that is not a typing mistake; we were served a 14 year old Muscat de Rivesaltes, when normally it is a wine that is best drunk in its youthful freshness. This has matured beautifully; it was amber golden in colour, with notes of orange marmalade, and it had completely lost any hint of Muscat grapiness.

I think however that the other choice, 1996 Ambré Rivesaltes, from barrel aged Grenache Blanc, had the edge. It had developed wonderfully nutty aromas, with some elegant sweetness and a freshness which complimented the foie gras perfectly.

We were then served two red wines to accompany a venison daube

2008 Marie Gabrielle Côtes du Roussillon, a blend of French, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre, aged in vat rather than barrel. It had ripe mineral fruit on the nose and an attractive freshness and peppery fruit on the palate.

2009 Collioure Notre Dame des Anges was ripe and perfumed, rounded with some spicy berry fruit and remarkably drinkable for such a young wine, especially as it had spent some time in oak. Both went very well with the daube, with its accompaniment of trompette mushrooms, quince and celeriac purée.

Next came another combination that you often hear about, but one which I do not think I have ever tried before, Muscat de Rivesaltes with a blue cheese, Bleu des Causses. The Muscat was 2006, so past its first flush of youth. I found it quite heavy as well as ripe, with a slightly bitter finish, and would suggest that it was a bit adolescent. However the saltiness of the blue cheese softened its edges very effectively.

And dessert was a chocolate délice, with milk ice cream, so very creamy milk chocolate, with a delicate ice-cream, and that was accompanied by the legendary 1978 Cuvée Aimé Cazes Rivesaltes, a white Grenache that has spent thirty years in barrel enjoying a slow and gentle oxidation, turning an amber colour. It was everything that great Rivesaltes should be, with walnuts and hazelnuts, a richness and sweetness, not cloying, but long and lingering. I wondered if I might have preferred a darker chocolate to accompany it, but really the wine stood alone.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


What’s the oldest wine you’ve ever tasted or drunk? I can claim a few elderly Madeiras – it is after all the most long-lived of all wines and virtually indestructible. I’ve also enjoyed a bottle of 1846 Chablis, which had never left Bouchard Père et Fils cellars in Beaune until it crossed the road to the dining table in their offices –it was extraordinary; possibly more like amontillado sherry than Chablis, but certainly very much alive. This was no tiring, oxidised wine, but a wine with life and history.

And then yesterday I got to taste, indeed to sip a tiny glass of a port from 1855 – the year of the Bordeaux classification, when Napoleon III was governing France; Queen Victoria was in the 18th year of her long reign and Palmerston became Prime Minister of England. The occasion was a tasting hosted by Adrian Bridge of Taylors, to illustrate how they blend and make a twenty year old tawny. The build up was fascinating, beginning with a three year old, then five, seven eleven, fifteen, nineteen years old wines, working up to the next twenty year old to be released. You could see the progression in colour and flavour, from youthful liquorice berry fruit to matured wood aged nutty flavours. Then we tasted the 10 year old, 20, 30 and 40 year old, which provided another fascinating progression of flavours.

And the invitation also promised the newly released pre-phylloxera port Scion. Adrian explained. Taylors keep a look out for old wines that they can use in their blends, as they cannot make these from their own vineyards alone. They were aware of an elderly lady who had a stock of old pipes and when she died,wihtou any immediate heirs, this particular wine became available for sale. They knew that it had been kept in good conditions, cellared in the basement of an old stone house north of Regua in the Douro valley. There were just four pipes available; that translates into 1400 bottles, which they are proposing to sell for a mere snip of £2500 a bottle. But it does come in a stylish wooden box and decanter, with a decorative old seal. And the wine is called Scion.

The flavour was fabulous. It was the colour of Madeira rather than tawny port, with a distinctive yellow green rim and a mahogany middle. And the nose was dense and concentrated, more like a searing dry old oloroso. And the flavour was simply intense, with acidity as well as sweetness, with length and power and a long, long lingering finish. It was simply memorable and awe-inspiring.

And I wondered if there were any really old casks of Rivesaltes lurking forgotten in a cellar, but I suspect not. I’ve racked my brains but I cannot come up with anything from the Languedoc older than the 1970s. There was simply no tradition for ageing wine, with no suitable cellars.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010


What do the Languedoc and Chile have in common? Answer: – they both have old Carignan vines. I would not immediately associate Chile with Carignan, that is, until yesterday afternoon, when I went to a tasting of Old Vines organised by the energetic promotional body, Wines of Chile. There were seventeen wines, claiming a vine age of fifty years or more, and ten of them were either pure Carignan or a blend in which Carignan was the main variety. And very good some of them were too.

Excessive oak can be a bit of a problem. Chile still tends to favour an enthusiastic use of oak for its better quality wines, whereas I preferred the wines with more subtle oak and think that Carignan should have enough flavour to stand alone, with a touch of oak to add a bit of extra structure and refinement, but nothing too overpowering. And could I see a similarity of taste between Carignan from Chile and Carignan from the Languedoc? I would be lying if I immediately said yes, but there were wines with some of the rustic berry flavours that I associate with the Carignan from the Languedoc. Overall they were good, providing enjoyable but youthful drinking. And they should develop in bottle too.

These are the wines I liked best in the line up.:

2008 Underraga TH Maule Carignan – average vine age 50. - £11.99 from The Wine Society and Flint Wines
Quite a deep colour. Rounded red berry fruit and nicely integrated oak on the palate. Medium weight and nicely balanced.

2005 Odfjell Orzada Carignan, Cauquenes-Maule - £13.49. Imported by Alliance Wine. This comes from vines that are 100 years old. Medium colour; quite solid oak on the nose, with a hint of red cherries. Some spicy cherry fruit and oak on the palate. Quite rounded with a ripe, sweetish finish.

2008 Santa Carolina Carignan, Cauquenes – Maule - £13.99
60 - 70 year old vines. Imported by Percy Fox & Co
Quite deep young colour. Firm oak on the nose, but quite a fresh palate, with some berry fruit to balance the oak. Medium weight palate, with a bottle that would serve for weight lifting exercises in the gym.

2008 Canepa Genovino Carignan. Maule - £13.99
70 year old vines. This was very dense and oaky on both nose and palate. Very solid, tannic and youthful.

2008 Oveja Negra Single Vineyard. - £9.99 Imported by Hallgarten. 40 year old vines; 92% Carignan with some Carmenere

This has the rustic berry fruit that I associate with Carignan, with some fresh fruit flavours; medium weight and if there was any oak, it was refreshing unobtrusive. My favourite in the line up. And the best value.

2008 Gillmore Carignan Reserve, Loncolmilla – 80 year old wines.
This vineyard must be near eucalyptus trees as the nose was redolent of sweet mint, which repeats on the palate. There was tannin and some ripe fruit, but the mint was a touch overpowering.

2005 Las Lomas Reserva Carignan Maule
The label said that this was unfiltered. The nose was pretty dense and concentrated and the palate had some firm, tightly crafted tannins, with some berry fruit amidst the oak and tannins. Quite a solid, dense mouthful. I like my Carignan more accessible. Maybe it will develop with bottle age.

Monday, 18 October 2010


The autumn tasting season is in full swing.

The Languedoc was conspicuous at Sainsbury’s by its absence.

Marks and Spencer were not showing anything new – a perfectly drinkable but unexciting Grenache Blanc; a Sauvignon from an old favourite, Domaine Mandeville and a couple of reds, a Minervois and a Corbières from Gerard Bertrand, which didn’t sing for me. And I wondered whether Jean-Claude Mas, creator of The Arrogant Frog label, would consider le Froglet Shiraz an encroachment on his toes – the wine is quite sweet and peppery, but too oaky for me.

I seem to have fallen off Tesco’s guest list, so didn’t get to admire the view from the top of Centre point, so that leaves Majestic and Waitrose.

Let’s cover Majestic first. Best was a white Corbières, Château Mont Milan 2009 - £5.99 – or £4.99 if you buy two. This comes from one of the better coops of the Corbières, the Cave de Rocbère. It’s a blend of Rolle and Grenache blanc. Rounded white blossom fruit; nicely textured palate and a soft finish. The red 2007 Château Mont Milan was lightly peppery, with a little tannin, but lacking guts for a Corbières

2009 Picpoul de Pinet, Rocs Blanc, from the coop in Pomerols lacked the salty tang that good Picpoul should have. It was a bit too broad and heavy. And of the two Paul Mas white wines, I much preferred the Sauvignon to the Vermentino. 2009 Paul Mas Pépinière Vineyard PGI Pays d’Oc - £8.99 or £6.49 if you buy two - was rounded with a fresh pithy nose, and some fresh acidity and punchy Sauvignon fruit on the palate. Very successful, especially for a Sauvignon from the Midi.

2009 Pinot Noir from Domaine de l’Aigle in Limoux, PGI Pays d’Oc – £7.99 had a hard time as it came after four juicy New Zealand Pinot Noir. It has some fresh raspberry fruit on the nose, with quite a dry palate, but a harmonious balance of fruit and tannin.

2008 Chateau la Dournie, St Chinian - £7.99 – or £6.99 if you buy two – was ripe and spicy with the easy garrigues fruit of the Midi ; medium weight with a ripe finish. Easy drinking.

And then on to Waitrose. They were showing a slightly larger selection, again some I liked and some with less appeal. Spot on was Château Calage, la Méjanelle 2008 from a small area outside Montpellier, which is now part of the broader Grès de Montpellier, and fighting a rearguard action against the encroaching city. Chateau Flaugergues is a near neighbour. I’ve not tasted Château Calage before, but this has some lovely soft spice on nose and palate, with an appealing touch of warm, and some well integrated oak. Nicely harmonious and warming. - £7.99

2008 Château Cazeneuve, les Calcaires, Pic St. Loup - £13.99 from one of the more established estates of this area. A blend of 45% Syrah, 25% Grenache 20 % Cinsaut and 10% Carignan, and partly aged in wood. The palate was firm and structure,d with some of the freshness and tannins of the Pic St. Loup. It needs more bottle age.

2009 Balthazar Syrah, PGI Pays d’Oc - £9.99
A pure Syrah, from the coop of the village of Neffiès. This has long been one of the good coops of the Languedoc, but sadly it has suffered severe financial problems after a devastating hail storm just before the harvest two years ago. The solution was to join forces with the nearby coop of Alignan du Vent. Neffiès makes good reds, and Alignan sound whites. This Syrah is deep in colour, with a rich dense spicy nose, and mouth filling ripe fruit and southern spice. A winter warmer

2009 Fontaine du Roy Costières de Nîmes - £6.49. The 2008 vintage of this was at The Absolutely Cracking French Wine tasting earlier in the week. Very much in the same style, with wonderful soft succulent spicy warm fruit. Easy drinking.

Red Also-rans were:

2008 Reserve de Courtal, Fitou from the coop of Mont Tauch. I usually like their wines a lot, but this somehow was too soft and supple for a Fitou.

2008 La Clape, L’Hospitalet had too much oak for my taste buds, and Domaine Combes, St. Chinian from the coop of Cebazan was soft and jammy.

And 2009 Chat-en Oeuf Pays d’Oc has a witty label – cat sitting on egg – and the flavours from the bottle are soft and spicy; easy fruit and medium weight palate – for £4.99. It’s a blend of Syrah and Grenache.

There’s a white version too, a blend of 60% Grenache Blanc, 30% Marsanne with Roussanne and a touch of Vermentino completing the blend. This is soft and lightly buttery, with some mouth-filling white blossom fruit. Good value at £4.99

And more whites included: 2009 Domaine Félines-Jourdan, Picpoul de Pinet. - £7.49
This is one of my favourite Picpoul and the 2009 does not disappoint. Fresh sappy salty fruit with good acidity. Fresh and appealing. For more info. see a posting earlier this year.

Laurent Miquel’s Viognier Vendanges Nocturnes 2009 was showing well with some textured peachy fruit – 7.99. Again see an earlier posting.

And Domaine Sainte Rose 2008 Roussanne Barrel Selection was also performing well, for the second time this week, with some nutty fruit on the nose, white flowers and a textured palate with layers of oak and fruit. This is basically the same wine as the Selection, la Nuit Blanche that was at the Absolutely Cracking French tasting earlier in the week.

Thursday, 14 October 2010


This is a great tasting as it shows some of the best of France for sheer enjoyable drinkability. Each year Sopexa asks about twenty of us writers to suggest some of our favourite wines, in three price brackets – under £6; under £10 and above £10, and this year they added an extra category, for Christmas drinking. For some reason – I’m not sure why - I stayed away from the Languedoc with a rosé from Gascony; a scrummy Beaujolais from a new producer in Moulin à Vent, Richard Rottiers and a Marcillac, one of the more unusual wines of the south west, from a quirky grape variety, Braucol.

However, the Languedoc was well represented and what follows are wines that I could very well have chosen myself.

2008 La Nuit Blanche, Sélection Roussanne, Domaine Sainte Rose - £8.99 Majestic
Ruth and Charles Simpson are making Roussanne a bit of a speciality and very successfully so. The wine is vinified in oak, but the oak is well integrated, with a rounded palate, with white blossom and nicely textured mouth feel. Rounded and satisfying.

There were a couple of Viognier, one from Château Pennautier in Cabardès, which was easy, rounded and peachy - £8.99 Majestic. The other was from Laurent Miguel, his 2009 Nord Sud Viognier - £8.99 Majestic. This has more weight and depth than the Pennautier with fresh acidity and some dry peachy fruit. See my earlier posting.

2008 Le Roc des Anges, Iglesia Vella, Vin de Pays des Pyrénées Orientales - £34.49 – Les Caves de Pyrène. This estate is on my list of cellars to visit. The wine was intriguing, with white blossom on nose and palate, very textured and layered, complex and satisfying, and difficult to pin down. It comes from old Grenache Gris vines.

2006 Le Soula blanc, Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes - £20.00 Uncorked.
This has a firm nutty nose and on the palate there is fresh acidity, some well-integrated oak, but also some almost salty, mineral notes. Again layers of flavour and great length.

2008 Clos de Gravillas, L’Inattendu - £21.50 Les Caves de Pyrène.
This is not the first time that this estate has appeared on my blog – see my dilemma of what to drink after 1921 d’Yquem. This white Minervois has wonderfully minerality, with a rich textured palate, rounded white blossom fruit and layers of flavour and great length.

2009 Château la Liquière, les Amandiers, Coteaux du Languedoc. £7.00 The Wine Society. From one of the pioneering Faugères estates. A herbal peachy note on the palate; maybe I detected a touch of Viognier. Very fragrant with good acidity. Nicely rounded finish.

2009 Mas de Daumas Gassac blanc, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault - £28.99 Les Caves de Pyrène. From a wonderful fruit salad of different grape varieties. I definitely prefer the white to the red at Mas de Daumas Gassac these days. The white illustrates just how good the white wines of the Languedoc have become. This has peachy notes on the nose, with full ripe peachy fruit on the palate, and a lovely textured mouth feel and a rounded finish, with good length.

2009 Domaine Lafarge, Côtes du Roussillon Cuvée Centenaire. £10.94 Bibendum.
A blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Roussanne, with lovely textured flavours. A rich nose and palate, and a hint of oak. Rounded and mouth filling and very satisfying. This is another estate on my list to visit.

And in the Christmas list there was another wine from Le Roc des Anges, 2008 Vieilles Vignes, Vin de Pays des Pyrénées Orientales. £20.49 les Caves de Pyrène.
Rounded nose with a hint of oak, with a ripe rounded textured palate, with layers of flavour and a long finish. Again wonderfully satisfying.

And now for the reds, which were generally less exciting for some reason, but with an exception or two.

2008 Domaine les Yeuses, les Epices Syrah, Vin de Pays d’Oc - £8.99 Majestic.
Black fruit on the nose, with the spices and scents of the garrigues. And on the palate rich spicy dense black fruit and tapenade. Quite powerful and mouth filling

2007 Minervois la Livinière, Château Cesseras - £12.99 Waitrose
Medium colour; quite firm fruit on the nose, with a touch of oak and some smoky spicy fruit on the palate. Nicely structured. Medium weight.

NV The Society’s Full French Red – Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes. £4.95 The Wine Society
Easy undemanding spicy fruit on nose and palate. A touch of tannin. Easy and gluggable. The Midi at its least demanding and most accessible.

2008 Costieres de Nimes, Fontaine du Roy - Waitrose - £5.99 I've enthused about this before. It coems from one of the leading estates of the appellation, Chateau Mourgues de Gres - see an earlier posting - and has lovely easy spicey, succulently juicey berry fruit. Again eminently gluggable and enjoyable.

And from the Christmas line up :

2007 Collioure, Puig Oriol, Domaine la Tour Vieille – Yapp Bros - £14.95. This is one of my favourite estates in Collioure – see a posting from earlier this year. Firm spicy mineral fruit on the nose. A sturdy stony palate, rounded with dry spicy notes. Intriguing and complex. Drinking nicely but would also develop further in bottle.

2005 Les Clos Perdus, L’Extrème, Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes - £46 Artisan & Vine
Deep colour ; quite solid sturdy oaky nose. A dense spicy palate, with ripe fruit under the quite intrusive oak. Powerful oak and spice; seriously mouth filling, but short on elegance.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


Mas Fabregous is one of the northernmost estates of the Terrasses du Larzac. It is well signposted out of the village of Soubès, with vineyards on steep hillsides outside the village, as well as a magnificent capitelle. Philippe Gros took us on a bumpy muddy ride round his vines – fortunately he has a sturdy four wheel drive vehicle, as otherwise I had visions of getting firmly stuck in the mud and the rain. But despite the inclement weather conditions you could still appreciate the stunning aspect of the vineyards.

More rewarding on a damp afternoon was tasting in the comfort of the cellar, with Corinne Gros.

2009 Le rosé de Juliette, Coteaux du Languedoc. Named after Philippe’s mother – 5.50€
Mainly Grenache and Syrah. Very delicate colour, with some soft rounded fruit.

2009 Croquignol, Coteaux du Salagou – 5.30€
Mainly Alicante Bouschet, with some Syrah and Grenache. They press the Alicante immediately, as for a rosé, otherwise it would give too much colour. Good deep colour. Quite firm dry rustic berry fruit. Medium weight. Ripe spicy fruit with a touch of sweetness and a soft finish. A slightly rustic note, but none the worse for that.

2008 Cuvée Jardin de Grégoire, Coteaux du Salagou – 7.00€
60% Œillade, with some Syrah, Carignan, and Grenache.
Fairly light colour; spicy nose with soft easy fruit and the scents of the garrigues. Light and fresh. Serve slightly chilled as a summer red.

2006 Cuvée Trinque-Fougasse, Coteaux du Salagou – 9.30€
A blend of Merlot – 70%, with 30% Grenache. Half of the wine is aged in wood. This is much denser, more solid, with dry cassis on the nose and a sturdy plate, with rounded fruit and a tannic backbone.

2006 Cuvée Sentier Botanique, Terrasses du Larzac – there is a botanical walk just outside the village of Soubès, close to Philippe’s vineyard - 12.50€ A blend of Syrah 60%; Grenache 30% and Carignan 10% Half aged in oak
Firm fruit on nose and palate. Quite dense solid confit fruit with some firm tannins. The oak is not yet completely integrated.

When I visited in early September, they were anticipating their first harvest of white grapes, from just 2.60 hectares, including one hectare of Grenache blanc, as well as some Roussanne, Vermentino and Viognier, which will make the first white Sentier Botanique next year.

Then we tried a barrel sample of some Cabernet Franc – it had lovely fruit, with some intense cedary notes and quite a solid impact of oak. The vines were planted in 2004 and Philippe is very enthusiastic about Cabernet Franc in this cooler part of the Languedoc. He is not quite sure yet what he is doing to do with it – maybe blend it – or a single varietal. On verra.

And we finished with a barrel sample of 2009 Late harvest Grenache Noir, which smelt of rich alcoholic cherries, with a fresh sweetness on the palate, with acidity and some tannin on the finish. A potential 20º. And quite delicious.

Friday, 8 October 2010


A chance encounter with Françoise Géraud on the Top 100 Vins de Pays stand at the London Wine Trade Fair led me to visit Domaine les Filles de Septembre in the village of Abeilhan. Their Cuvée Delphine de St. André, a PGI Cotes de Thongue, was in the line up, and very good it was too, with some lovely spicy fruit.

Vins de Pays are supposed to be called PGI or Protected Geographical Identity these days. The Cotes de Thongue is one of the more individual ones of the Midi, with aspirations to becoming an appellation in tis own right. It encompasses about thirty producers with vineyards in the villages of the valley of the Thongue, including Puissalicon and Magalas to Pézenas and adjoins the appellations of Faugères and Pézenas. All their vineyards of Les Filles de Septembre are around the village of Abeilhan; the soil is clay and limestone and the altitude relatively low, at 70 metres.

The first question was: why the name of the estate? The simple reply was: daughters born in September. Francoise and her husband Roland explained that they are the fifth generation of a family estate, but the first to put any wine in bottle. When they took over in 1995, they bottled just two wines, a red and white, and about 2000 or 3000 bottles of each. They now bottle about a third of their production, some 60,000 bottles, and make eleven different wines. The rest they sell en vrac to local négociants and further afield.

We tasted our way through most of the range, with Francoise and Roland providing a cheerful commentary.

2009 Sauvignon, Vin de Pays d’Oc – 4.00€ Quite fresh pithy fruit, on both nose and palate. Medium weight with some hints of minerality

2009 Viognier, Vin de Pays d’Oc – 8.90€
Elegantly perfumed peachy nose with some ripe fruit on the palate. Medium weight with refreshing acidity. Lovely varietal character.

2009 Muscat, Vin de Pays d’Oc
– 5.90€
Quite pithy, grapey Muscat fruit on both nose and plate. The slightly biter orange finish that is typical of Muscat. Medium weight and refreshing

2008 Clos Marine, Cotes de Thongue, - 6.50€
This is named after a daughter and is a blend of 50% Sauvignon, 30% Viognier and 20% Chardonnay, each aged separately in new wood for just three months up to Christmas. They do a regular bâttonage, and then the blend is kept in vat for a few months before bottling. I discerned Sauvignon the nose with Viognier dominating the palate, with a buttery edge of Chardonnay. It was textured and vinous and quite mouth filling.

2009 Rosé, Cotes de Thongue – 4.00€
A blend of equal parts of Syrah, Grenache Noir, Cinsaut and Cabernet Sauvignon, mostly pressed almost immediately, with minimal time on the skins. The colour is pretty and pale, with fresh dry raspberry fruit on the nose, with a fresh palate. It was appealing and elegant.

And then onto reds;
2009 Rouge Tradition, Cotes de Thongue
From Merlot, with a little Grenache and Carignan.
Quite deep colour; quite rich and plumy on the nose, with rounded fruit. Quite dense and tannin, with a slightly sweet finish.

2008 Danae, Cotes de Thongue, - 5.40€
A blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot, with élevage in vat. This is named after another daughter. Medium colour; some cassis on the nose, but also a hint green. Quite a fresh perfumed palate. Medium weight and fairly easy drinking.

2007 Cuvée Delphine de St. André, Cotes de Thongue. 7.00€
Syrah blended with 20% Carignan that is made by carbonic maceration, It is all given 12 months barrel ageing, and the oak is well integrated. There are peppery notes on the nose and palate, with hints of oak underneath the fruit, with quite a firm finish. Some ageing potential but good drinking now, especially with a warming winter daube.

2005 Manon des Vignes, Cotes de Thongue – 15.00€
This is original, predominantly Petit Verdot, with just a little Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon, with two years ageing in wood. Deep colour; solid dense dry cassis fruit on nose and palate; a sturdy tannic mouthful, which needs time to soften.

Vendange d’Automne vin de table – 14.50€
A blend of Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Viognier; they leave half a hectare of grapes until the end of October; for the dry wine, the grapes are picked in the middle of August. The late harvested grapes have a potential alcohol of 22 – 23 so they are nicely raisined. Golden colour; quite fresh and honey, with hits of quince paste and a refreshing acidity on finish.

They also make a red Vendange d’Automne from Syrah and Grenache, again leaving half a hectare of grapes. 10.00€ for 50 cls. Medium colour, with dry cherries and spice on the nose; quite fresh with a slight concentrated, confit finish. This would be perfect with chocolate enthused Francoise.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

MAS DE L'ECRITURE - a wine to age

Pascal Fulla from Mas de l’Ecriture did not have a good day yesterday. He was in London for the tasting of his new agents, Dudley & de Fleury Wines, but unfortunately his wines were stuck in Lille, thanks to an inefficient transporter. But all was not lost. A quick ring around some restaurants and Roussillon came up trumps with three bottles of 2001 L’Ecriture, Pascal’s top cuvée from one of the best vintages of the decade.

Pascal makes three red wines in all, L’Emotion, La Pensée and L’Ecriture. He is a lawyer turned winemaker, with vines outside the village of Jonquières, which is part of the up and coming area of the Terrasses du Larzac. L’Ecriture is a blend of 70% Syrah, 25% Mourvèdre and 5% Grenache Noir, given twelve months in élevage in barriques.

The 2001 L’Ecriture had aged beautifully, developing what the French so elegantly called arômes tertiaires, or tertiary aromas. Medium depth of colour, with rounded spicy notes on the nose. The palate was beautifully elegant, subtle, with nicely integrated tannins, quite silky with notes of Mourvèdre, as well as some Syrah spiciness, with a long finish. Pascal said that one of his aims, when he began to make wine was to disprove the preconceived idea that the wines of the Midi do not age. On the contrary they age beautifully and this was a shining illustration of how rewarding it is to keep them.

One of the prevailing problems of the Midi has been the lack of suitable cellars for keeping wine, both for élevage in barrel and also for storage in bottle. To do this, you need an insulated cellar, and the traditional cellar of the Midi tended to be a large barnlike building, rather than the underground cellars of Bordeaux or Burgundy. With the building of new cellars, not to mention the considerable improvement in wine-making techniques, the ageing of wine in barrel and bottle is now more feasible than it has ever been. And now there are umpteen examples of age worthy wines, both red and white, in the Languedoc.


Saturday, 2 October 2010


I went back to Mas Gabriel later in the week, for some more wine-making experiences. This time it was my introduction to the art of pigeage or the pumping down the cap of skins into the juice. They have some Syrah quietly sitting in a concrete vat, which is given a daily pigeage, with an implement which looks a bit like a six-legged spider on a long metal stalk. You just push it into the cap, which breaks up relatively easy, but the repetitive movement becomes quite strenuous. Who needs to go to pilates if you can punch down a wine cap every day, I thought. The difficult bit is the fact that the ceiling of the cellar is rather closer to the top of the vat than you would like, so it requires a certain amount of dexterity to reach every point of the cap. 'If I win the lottery, I’ll lower the cellar floor', observed Peter.

We were just about to start a remontage on another vat, when Peter and Deborah's oenologist arrived. He is Sébastien Pardaille from Jean Natoli’s laboratory in St. Clement de Rivière. He was running late, but the samples had already been drawn off the tanks and he immediately focussed on the wines in front of him. The white was rounded, with some fresh acidity, and still retaining a prickle from the fermentation. There is still about 15 gms/l sugar left. He advised a remontage and some bâtonnage, and he liked the aroma, a note of pears.

The rosé is a pretty pale pink, think pink grapefruit juice, as it is obviously still quite cloudy. Again it has some fresh acidity and attractive fruit.
Then he tried the free run juice of Monday’s Syrah – see previous posting. It is relatively supple, with some attractive peppery fruit, and good acidity. In contrast, the pressed wine, that I had helped press, was more tannic. Sébastien doesn’t want it to harden the free-run Syrah and advised keeping the two separate for the moment. It tastes quite ripe and confit.

The Syrah on which we had just done a pigeage got the thumbs up – c’est excellent ça, with some lovely firm peppery fruit, and a deep colour. The grapes had been picked two weeks ago. Sébastien advised a pigeage every other day, and simply to wet the cap on the other days, to avoid any excessive extraction. And the temperature should be maintained at 25 - 27C°. You want to extract the matière gently, he said.

You could see immediately that the Grenache is lighter in colour and it has lovely berry fruit, but also has some sugar left, and needs some aeration, with some remontages, so that the oxygen helps the yeast to finish the fermentation.

And then Peter took the lid of the vat of Carignan that is being fermented by carbonic maceration. C’est bon, ça, enthused Sébastien. I thought the juice had a rustic chocolatey note on the nose, with some fresh acidity and raspberry fruit on the palate, and almost a refreshing juicy character. I peered into the vat; you could see a dense mass of whole bunches and stalks. And then a bunch of grapes was extracted for tasting. I would not have known that the grapes were actually fermenting – they looked extraordinarily in tact. I tasted one and it had a distinct prickle and still tasted quite sweet. And Sébastien reminded us that it is a fermentation of enzymes, not yeast – and that the grapes do not become dehydrated.

In contrast the Carignan with a traditional fermentation was more tannic, with some chocolate notes on the nose, and blackberry jam on the palate, and a little menthol, Sébastien suggested. He advised a daily remontage, enthusing c’est joli.

At this time of year he does anything from ten to sixteen cellar visits a day. Peter and Deborah only have seven different ferments to taste, while a large cooperative may have as many as fifty different vats. I was impressed by his speed and concentration, and perceptive tasting.

When he left we turned our attention to a remontage for the Grenache. This entails letting some wine out of the vat into a large bucket, and then feeding the pump with wine, so that it will pump wine on to the cap of skins. I went up the ladder and attempted to direct wine from quite a heavy plastic pipe all over the cap. This was easier said than done, as my arms were not long enough to reach the furthest corner of the cap. I was quite relieved when the long- armed stagiaire, Tom, took over, but it was fun to have tried. We finished by washing all the equipment with a high pressure hose – they say you need 100 litres of water to make ten litres of wine – and then it was time for lunch.

Peter and Deborah have acquired the relaxed rhythm of the Midi, so lunch was leisurely, some barbecued salmon and monkfish kebabs with garlicky tzatziki, accompanied by a delicious Swiss wine from the Vaud. And now what? A siesta? Yes, but we do have two visits this afternoon. The first group arrived as we were finishing our coffee.

Friday, 1 October 2010


I had great fun one afternoon earlier this week, helping my friends Deborah and Peter, with their first décuvage of the harvest. It was Syrah from some three year old vines, so their first year of production. The fermentation had taken about five days, and then the juice was left on the skins for another five days or so, with some gentle pumping over and pigeage. The juice had been running gently off the skins all morning, so we were left with a half full vat of pretty wet grape skins, and even some whole berries. But it certainly didn’t occur to me that they would be quite so compacted and difficult to shift. We attacked them with a shovel and a long pronged rake, and Tom, their long-armed stagiaire tapped the mass from above, so that it gradually crumbled to the bottom of the vat.

And we gradually filled the small basket press and Peter ran it at a low pressure, just one bar; the level sank so that there was room to add more grapes. It was all very slow and measured; I realised that you cannot rush wine-making procedures; everything takes its time.

You also need to be aware of the presence of carbon dioxide; there was still a bit sugar left in the berries, so that there was carbon dioxide lingering in the vat, which in any quantity can have a stupour inducing effect, and indeed in large quantity can be lethal. Another experience never to be repeated is to sniff the bung hole of a fermenting barrel; the back of your nostrils feel as though they are being attacked by several very sharp needles.

Needless to say when we filled the press up again, there were just two large buckets of berries left to fit in – rather than setting the press going again, it was a question of: Tom, off with your boots, a quick rinse of feet and on to the top of the press. After a couple of minutes of treading the level of grapes had sunk satisfactorily by a few inches and the remaining berries were added. Peter set the press going again and juice flowed out at a very satisfactory rate. It was being pumped into a small (3 hectolitres) vat, which Peter suddenly realised was too small; fortunately he had another even smaller bright blue vat to hand to accommodate the overflow.

And the juice tasted good; you could taste a trace of sweetness, and it had more tannin and depth of flavour than the free run juice. Deborah and Peter felt confident that they would be able to add it to the free run juice, but the final decision depended on their oenologist, and also on the analysis.

Meanwhile Angel from the Pézenas wine shop, Le Nez dans la Verre, appeared to pass the time of day and taste some of the fermenting juice, white and rosé, and then a barrel sample of the 2009 Clos des Lièvres, which will be bottled shortly. And then I had to leave. My elderly pink shorts were covered in splashes of wine that had turned the colour of blue ink – I had thought that the stains would have been red – and my hands were stained blue too. Lemon juice is the solution, but I felt rather proud to have les mains d’une vigneronne, if only for a couple of hours.