Saturday, 31 December 2011


The first evening in our Languedoc home for three months and friends coming to dinner – so a good opportunity to open a bottle or two.

First was Villa Dondona’s 2010 Esperel,Coteaux du Languedoc Blanc, a blend of Vermentino and Grenache Blanc with a touch of Marsanne and Roussanne. Light colour, with some herbal notes on the nose. Some white blossom and a herbal note on the palate, balanced with refreshing acidity. Nicely understated. It made a good apéro. I first tried this in the spring when it won a trophy in the Vallée de l’Hérault competition and it was gratifying to find it just as good nine months on.

Next came 2009 Les Clauzes de Jo from Domaine des Belles Pierres. Damien Coste is a particularly talented white winemaker. And this was delicious, with a light colour and a slightly honeyed note on the nose. There was more honey on the palate, with a ripe flavour and a satisfying mouth feel, balanced with good acidity and a rounded finish. A blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier.

And then we compared a pair of Carignan. First was 2009 Vieux Carignan, Cuvée Paul from Mas d’Amile in Montpeyroux, so an IGP Mont Baudile. Medium young colour. Some berry fruit on the nose, and even more on the palate with a streak of tannin. An elegant edge of rusticity. Nicely balanced fruit and tannins. Still quite youthful but drinking well now.

2004 Carignan from Jean-Louis Denois in Limoux, so a more mature wine from cooler vineyards. Medium colour. Quite a dry leathery quality on the nose, and also on the palate, with some dry fruit. A certain sturdy quality; a more masculine wine than Mas d’Amile. Quite rustic with dry warmth and very satisfying.

So two shining examples of the dramatic improvement in white wine making in the Languedoc, and two lovely examples of a once despised grape variety.

And for a quiet ‘this is not a New Year’s Eve dinner’, I am contemplating a bottle of Crémant de Limoux Rosé from Domaine Rives Blanques, and a bottle of Domaine de Clovallon’s best Pinot Noir, 2006 les Pomarèdes to accompany a guinea fowl.

Bonne Année to all lovers of Languedoc wines!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

MAS GABRIEL at the Solicitors' Wine Society

Christmas deadlines seem to have taken over and I’ve neglected my blog for the last week or three - apologies – I’m not sure where the days have gone, which is a pretty feeble excuse. But with the grey dank weather in London this morning, my thoughts turned to Languedoc sunshine. Earlier in the month I was invited by the Solicitors’ Wine Society to help with a tasting of the wines from Mas Gabriel. Those of you who read my blog with any regularity will know that Mas Gabriel is one of my favourite local estates and this tasting provided a great overview of their wines since their very first vintage in 2006. Deborah Core was a solicitor in a former life, so it was only fitting that she should present her wines to the solicitors.

The prices given below are those of specialist Languedoc importer Terroirs du Languedoc

2010 Les Fleurs Sauvages Rosé - IGP Hérault - £11.50
A blend of Carignan and Cinsaut with 10% Grenache, made from pressed grapes. Light colour. Quite a rounded nose with a hint of strawberry and raspberry fruit. Quite a firm palate, with a streak of tannin and acidity, and balanced with a nicely vinous ripe finish. What I would call a food rosé – bring on the salade niçoise.

2010 Clos des Papillons Blanc IGP Hérault - £14.95
A great example of the revival of a lost white variety, Carignan Blanc. A little colour. Quite a perfumed herbal nose, with some intriguing fruit, length and depth on the palate. Lots of nuances. And there is a reason why Carignan Blanc performs so well in the Midi – its high level of acidity, so that it retains its freshness and does not develop the flabbiness of some northern varieties in the south.

Next came a mini vertical of Les Trois Terrasses, IGP Hérault – their pure Carignan

2010 – A vat sample. Very deep young colour. Firm mineral nose and quite closed. And on the palate, ripe black berry fruit; ripe and rounded with the rustic streak of Carignan. The blend includes one third of carbonic maceration, which softens the sometimes harsh tannins of Carignan. Peter and Deborah like to try something new each vintage.

2009 - £11.95
Deep young colour; firm and youthful on the nose. Quite a ripe dense palate, with more tannins than in the 2010. That may be a reflection of the vintage conditions, and also the vinification, as there is no maceration carbonic in this wine.

Good young colour. Quite a closed nose. The wine is beginning to develop, some cedary hints, with some berry fruit. Nicely balanced, with an attractive rustic, tannic streak. Really quite elegant, especially for a Carignan. Fermented in a concrete tank, so not a hint of oak anywhere.

2006 Mas Gabriel, Coteaux du Languedoc
A blend of 63% Carignan, 28% Syrah and 9% Grenache. Their very first wine. Quite a deep colour; some oak on the nose. The palate is quite firm and tannic, dense and solid, and quite extracted, with what I call furry tannins. For a first vinification from vineyards that they did not know, it is pretty good, but it also shows how much Peter and Deborah’s winemaking has improved in subsequent vintages, as they got to know their vineyards and with more experience of the conditions of the Midi.

2008 Clos des Lièvres, Pézenas - £12.50
60% Syrah with 20% each of Grenache and Carignan. Deep colour. Quite a closed firm nose. Good fruit. Quite dense and rounded on the palate with a firm ripe streak of tannin. Youthful. Needs time to develop.

Clos des Lièvres 2009, Pézenas
A traditional fermentation. The same blend as the 2008. In 2010 the blend is Syrah with Grenache and no Carignan, which went into Les Trois Terrasses Good colour. A more elegant nose, with some berry fruit. Quite rounded and brambly, quite rich with a tannic streak. In fact, absolutely delicious and a great finale to the tasting.

Thursday, 1 December 2011


The autumn organic tasting at the Maison du Languedoc in Cavendish Square seems to have become an annual event. This year there were 18 producers, some from last year; some newcomers; some old friends; some new discoveries. What follows are some of the highlights. Most people were looking for some UK distribution, so no retail prices were available.


Jean-Francois Izarn is a short, stocky guy, and somehow his wines follow his physique. They are ripe and rounded, rich and characterful. The estate is in the tiny village of Causses et Veyran, which is part of the appellation of St. Chinian. Jean-Francois explained that he has three different terroirs.

2010 Les Terres Blanches, St. Chinian
45% each of Grenache and Syrah, with 10% Mourvèdre, grown on limestone.
Deep colour; lots of ripe fruit on both nose and palate, very gourmand, ripe with supple tannins. A glass of sunshine.

2010 les Schistes, St. Chinian
Mainly Syrah and Grenache with a little Carignan. Aged in old 600 litres barrels, so that the oak is well integrated on the palate, with a fresh nose and some supple peppery notes on both the nose and palate.

2009 Les Cres St. Chinian
70% Syrah with 30% Mourvèdre, aged in 600 litre barrels of three wines. Grown on galets, not dissimilar to those of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. A more substantial nose, with a ripe, rounded palate. This wine has charpente or shoulders, with body and weight and a hint of ripe cherries. It needs time.

2009 Midi Rouge, St. Chinian
60% Syrah, 45% Mourvèdre, 5% Grenache. This is a new cuvée made for the first time in 2008. The idea is to take the best of each terroir, depending on the year and blend them together. The wine is fermented in open top demi muids and spends 18 months in barrel. It is quite solid and dense on the nose, with a ripe intense tannic palate, with good fruit and an edge of oak. Youthful tannins and a lot of matière and weight. Needs time

2009 La Combe, Coteaux de Murviel
70% Cabernet Sauvignon with 30% Syrah.
Quite ripe cassis – you immediately detect the presence of Cabernet Sauvignon after the flavours of the south. Quite a rounded palate, and not too tannic and quite full-bodied.

At Lézignan-Corbières

2010 Corbières, based on Syrah.
Medium colour; quite spicy fruit on the nose. Medium weight, easy drinking with a touch of spice and supple tannins on the palate.

From the village of Antugnac in Limoux

NV Cuvée Tradition Blanquette de Limoux
A blend of Mauzac with 10% Chardonnay Their Blanquette spends 18 – 24 months on the lees, as opposed to the nine months dictated by the AC regulations.
Ripe creamy nose, with a ripe rounded palate, and a nice touch of creaminess on the finish.

2008 Crémant de Limoux, Cuvée Passion,
60% Chardonnay , with 10% Pinot Noir, 15% Chenin and 15% Mauzac. Again 18 – 24 months on lees, as opposed to 12 months in the AC regulations.
Quite rounded with a touch of maturity on the nose. Again a rounded palate, with some depth and a creamy finish.

2008 Crémant de Limoux, Cuvée des Sacres
The same blend as the previous wine, but a selection of the juice, in other words, the first juice out of the press, with 5% fermented in oak.
Generally riper, fuller, and more rounded on nose and palate. Good body with a fine harmonious balance.

Clair de Lune, Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale
The traditional style of sparkling Limoux, a pure Mauzac, and made by stopping the fermentation, and then allowing it to start again in the spring. In lateral drinking terms, this could a French Asti Spumante, as it is quite sweet with grapey fruit. Light nose. Rounded palate, ripe and honeyed, with an appley touch on the finish that is characteristic of Mauzac.

And they have a new wine in the pipe line – all fermented in oak, with no dosage and two years on the lees. Sounds very intriguing. I can’t wait to try it.

An estate that covers Fitou, Corbières as well as Rivesaltes.
The Fitou are all called Les 4 Nids - apparently it brings you good luck for the next harvest if you find a bird’s nest (nid) in your vines.

2007 Les 4 Nids, Fitou
47% Carignan, 37% Grenache, 14% Syrah, 2% Mourvèdre
Quite ripe and rounded, with good leathery fruit. In contrast, the 2008 vintage was more closed on the nose, with a warm leathery palate, and some firm tannin.

Rivesaltes Rancio
A blend of all three colours of Grenache. Lovely walnut fruit on the nose and palate. Beautiful balance with a certain bite on the finish. Just what it should be. Rivesaltes Rancio is one of the great drinks of the Midi, grossly underrated and overlooked, and usually quite delicious. .

Manuel Jorel has just seven hectares at St Paul de Fenouillet in the Agly valley, close to Maury. I visited him a few years ago – I remember dramatically situated vineyards on one of those February days in the south that are too good to be true.

2007 Cuvée Un, IGP Pyrénées-Orientales
50 / 50 Grenache and Carignan Medium colour. Quite a firm cherry nose, with some liquorice and spice on the palate. Medium weight. Lovely spicy fruit.

And I liked the 2008 even more. The vines, sixty to eighty year old, are grown on granite and schist. The wine has more structure than the 2007, with some spicy brambly fruit and an edge of tannin. Deep colour.

2010 Pésquiès, IGP Pyrénées-Orientales
Pure Grenache grown on schist in Maury.
Quite a firm nose with ripe liqueur cherries on the palate. Ripe and rounded with a tannic edge

2009 Pétaillat IGP Pyrénées-Orientales
Old Grenache grown on limestone. With the ripe liqueur cherry fruit, that is typical of Grenache, but balanced with good acidity and tannin.

2008 Côtes du Roussillon Villages
A blend of Syrah, Carignan and Grenache. Part of the Syrah has been aged in old wood, for twelve months, after a four week maceration on the skins. Firmer more structured fruit on nose and palate. Quite dry leathery spice, with a peppery edge of Syrah. Quite ripe and full on the finish.

2008 Maury
A blend of Grenache and Carignan. Three years in barrel.
Young colour. The ripe rounded berry fruit of vintage Vin Doux. A streak of tannin. Well integrated alcohol. A youthful balance and fresh fruit.

See a previous posting about Anne’s s wines. But she did want me to taste the 2011 rosés, which were of course both vat samples

Plaisirs Rosé, a blend of Grenache, Cinsaut and Syrah.
Pale pink; fresh youthful fruit, a touch of raspberry and good acidity

2011 Plaisirs Interdits Rosé
From the same grape varieties, but with a deeper colour and a fuller riper palate.


A 15 hectare estate, bought ‘in a moment of madness’ by John Hegarty of advertising fame, with his wife Philippa. He is applying his broader vision to his wines, with some success. And he feels very strongly that he wants to put something back into the land, leaving it in a better condition than how they found it. I also liked his concept that wine needs to lose its mystery, but still maintain its magic. The wines are sold by Adnams in Southwold.

2008 No 2, Minervois
70% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, 10% Cinsaut 12 months in oak
Warm spicy nose with a touch of oak. Quite warm ripe and rich cherry fruit. Nice spice with a lift on the finish.

2008 Open Now, Minervois
50/50 Mourvèdre and Syrah- the latest addition to the range.
Advertising humour comes in to play here The cork sports the words ‘Well Done! congratulating you on the successful manipulation of the corkscrew. 20% of the Syrah is aged in wood, and the rest in tank. Some cherry spice on the nose with ripe fruit and a rounded, textured palate. An appealing entry level wine.

2008 les Chamans Blanc, Minervois
50/50 Roussanne / Marsanne fermented in oak and blended before élevage/ No fining or filtering.
Quite a rounded, textured palate. Well integrated oak with good depth of flavour and layers of nuances. Still quite young. Should develop more intriguing character, with some more bottle age.

2005 No 1 Minervois
60% Syrah and 40% Carignan, blended and aged for 16 months in barrel and then a further year in tank. Good young colour; quite firm leathery notes on both nose and palate. Good fruit. Quite sturdy with tannin and concentration. Dry peppery notes. The warm south with a sturdy edge on the finish.

A 15 hectares estate in the Côtes de Thongue. Isabelle Ducellier was pouring her wines. I liked the white best 2010 Isa blanc, a blend of Roussanne and Viognier, with some rounded fruit and peachy hints, and a touch of honey. Medium weight.

2010 le Joly Rouge
A blend of 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 10% Cinsaut
This was drinking deliciously on the day. Medium weight. Fresh ripe fruit on the nose, and lots of ripe cherries on the palate. Easy drinking, just as it is intended to be.

2009 Saturne blanc, Coteaux du Languedoc
Pure Grenache blanc.
Lovely leafy ripe fruit. Textured palate with layers of flavour. Nicely balanced. I prefer Saturne to the oakier Virgile Blanc.

A 7 hectare estate based in Banyuls.

2007 Cuvée Vieille Foudre, Collioure

25% each Grenache, Carignan Mourvèdre and Syrah, with some old vines and ageing in barrel.
Medium colour. Quite a light nose, with leathery notes. Quite a rounded ripe palate, with some weight and ripe leathery fruit. Quite powerfully elegant with a fresh finish.

2005 Cuvée d’Octobre, Collioure
Same percentages of the same four grape varieties as the previous wine, but a later harvest and 14 months in barrel.
Medium colour. Some leathery spice, and more leather, spice and oak on the palate. Medium weight.

2001 Ey Single Vineyard Banyuls
Grenache Noir. Quite a tawny colour. Some rounded nutty fruit on the palate. Nicely balanced and very satisfying.

A large, 54 hectare property, with vineyards near Vingrau, making a range of different Côtes du Roussillon, with different blends and ageing.

2007 La Pinède, Côtes du Roussillon
A blend of 70% Syrah, 20% Grenache Noir and 10% Carignan, aged in barrel
Quite deep colour. Rounded oaky leathery nose and palate.

2009 La Crinyane, Côtes du Roussillon Villages
Crinyane apparently means Carignan in Catalan, and that is the main grape variety, if not the only grape variety in the wine, though of course in theory Côtes du Roussillon Villages should be a blend of grape varieties. 13 months ageing in wood.
Quite a solid dense nose; solid rounded oaky palate, with ripe fruit, and a touch of alcohol on the finish.

2007 Arrels, Côtes du Roussillon Villages.
Predominantly Grenache Noir with a serious ex cellar price A selection of their four best barrels of Grenache Noir, so very limited quantity.
Quite a deep colour. Solid, dense and spicy oak on the nose, and on the palate intense fruit and oak. How will it age? Last week it packed a punch of flavour, but at the moment lacks subtlety for really enjoyable drinking.

Friday, 25 November 2011


This figures came my way earlier in the week:

Compare 1980 with 2010:

Thirty years ago there were seven appellations, Fitou, Blanquette de Limoux, Clairette du Languedoc, and the Muscats of Frontignan, Mireval, Lunel and St. Jean de Minervois – now there are 21, or even more if you count each colour as an appellation.

And look how the cooperatives have changed:

In 1980 there were 550 coops, which produced 32 million hectolitres of wine.
In 2010 240 coops produced 12 million hectolitres.

In both instances they account for 70% of the wine production of the Languedoc.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


This is an attempt, probably a vain attempt, to throw some light on the fluctuating classification system of the Languedoc

The INAO, the organisation that decides such matters, has said Non; the Languedoc’s aspirations to some wines of grand cru status are premature. Even though it originally made positive noises when the idea was first mooted. And it does not mean that the idea has been completely shelved. However, crus are fine, and there are indeed four existing Crus du Languedoc, namely Minervois la Livinière, Corbières Boutenac, St. Chinian Berlou and St. Chinian Roquebrun.

Other areas of the Languedoc have already asked for Cru du Languedoc status. La Clape and Pic St. Loup should be recognised as such very shortly, maybe within the next month or so. Others that were also in line for potential Grand Cru status are applying for Cru du Languedoc status, namely Montpeyroux, Saint Georges d’Orques, Saint Drézery, Grès de Montpellier, Terrasses du Larzac, Pézenas and Limoux Blanc. There are various technical and economic criteria that have to be met. This is the reason why Faugères is not on the list. Its cooperative is responsible for a large percentage of the production, with the result that the average retail price is lower than that considered desirable for a cru.

Meanwhile the following are currently recognised as Grand Vin du Languedoc:

- Minervois
- Corbières
- Saint Chinian
- Faugères*
- Cabardès
- Limoux *
- La Clape*
Picpoul de Pinet
- Pic Saint Loup*
- Terrasses du Larzac*
- Grès de Montpellier*
- Pézenas*
- Montpeyroux*
- La Méjanelle
- Saint Georges d’Orques*
- Saint Drézery *
- Saint Christol
- Quatourze
- Sommières

I have my good friend Christine, who works for the CIVL (Comité Interprofessionel des Vins du Languedoc) to thank for that list. She hopes she has not missed anyone out!

And the observant amongst you will have noticed an asterisk or two. Christine tells me that they are creating a new marketing status, between Grand Vin du Languedoc and Cru du Languedoc, namely Terroir d’exception du Languedoc. The asterisked areas have applied for that and will able to use the term to communicate about their area, but you will not see Terroir d’exception on a label.

I do hope you are still with me……. Really what it comes down to is that French appellations are very class conscious and like to put everything in an ordered hierarchy, which the hapless consumer does not always follow ……. My drinking decisions are based on the reputation of an estate, and maybe an area, but quite frankly whether it is a cru or a grand vin, is pretty irrelevant. Some of the most delicious wines of the Languedoc are Vins de Pays, Ooops, I mean IGP, or even Vin de France.

And another change – the appellation of Coteaux du Languedoc was set to disappear in April 2012, but it has now been given a stay of execution until May 2017.

Monday, 7 November 2011


Another new tasting caveau, this time at Notre Dame de Mougères. And as well as wine, you can buy delicious local honeys and various other flavours of the region. The vineyards, 32 hectares, outside Caux, belong to the sisters of the Chartreuse and the wine estate is run by Nicolas de St. Exupéry whose family also own Domaine Pech Céleyran in La Clape. There are family connections with Toulouse Lautrec and with Antoine de St. Exupéry, the author of Le Petit Prince.

Unusually for a Languedoc estate, they produce more white than red wine, with six different whites. I’ve always like their fresh pithy Muscat, which is a favourite in our village, but sadly they were sold out, and of the Sauvignon too.

So we tasted:
2010 Vermentino, Pays d’Oc – 5.00€
Quite rounded with a bit of acidity, and some fruit, but lacks the vivacity I normally associate with Vermentino

2010 Macabeo, Pays d’Oc – 5.00€
Quite rounded and pithy with some fruit and body on the palate. Quite satisfying, with some weight. A pure Macabeo is pretty unusual; it is usually part of a blend, but apparently a pure Macabeo is traditional to the estate.

2010 Le Pèlerin, Vin de Pays de Caux – 4.00€
A blend of Sauvignon and Vermentino. Some pithy Sauvignon fruit on the nose, which also dominates the palate. A touch of residual sugar on the finish. I almost thought that there was a hint of Muscat in the wine, but I was told not.

2009 Clos de l’Abbaye blanc, Pays d’Oc – 9.00€
Vermentino vinified in vat and given twelve months ageing in oak. A touch of oak on the nose and more so on the palate. Quite buttery and with notes of bananas. Will the oak fade with time? Quite a long finish.

2010 le Pèlerin Rose Vin de Pays de Caux - 4.00€
Cinsaut and Grenache – pressed. Pretty delicate colour, dry fresh fruit on the nose. Quite a crisp palate with some hints of ripe strawberry fruit.

2009 Languedoc Pérennité Rosé - 6.00€
Pure Mourvèdre. Saigné and fermented in vat. Light colour. A firmer, more vinous palate. More rounded with good acidity. Fresher than I would have expected from a 2009.

2010 le Pèlerin rouge, Vin de Pays de Caux - 4.00€
A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Merlot. Medium colour; quite a stalky nose. And quite a firm palate, with some fruit. Fairly simple and one dimensional.

2009 Pérennité, Languedoc. 6.00€
A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Medium colour; quite firm fruit, with a peppery note and some spice, and a tannic streak. Dry spice on the finish.

2009 Clos de l’Abbaye rouge – 9.00€
A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and aged I oak. Quite a firm nose, and a touch of oak on the palate. Quite a rounded palate with fruit and tannins. Still quite youthful, but the oak is well-integrated. A winter wine, or more poetically in French, un vin du coin de la cheminée.

The church, which was built in 1794, is open to visitors – it has lovely simple lines in cool grey stone, and the sisters sing Vespers, that anyone may attend, usually at about 5.15 p.m. most afternoons.

Monday, 31 October 2011


It can take something dramatic to prompt a grape grower to start making their own wine. For Eric Morot it was the devastating hail storm that took place just one week before the harvest in 2008. I was at our house in the Languedoc and I remember it well; friends had come for supper and we were comfortably settled around the dining table, glass in hand, when suddenly the sky darkened; the rain began to fall and quickly turned to hail, making the most horrendous nose as golf balls hit the paving stones of our terrace. And the next morning we saw the damage to the nearby vines. Where the previous day there had been a full canopy of leaves and almost ripe grapes, the vineyards looked as though a herd of goats had rampaged through them; there were leaves and twigs on the ground and shredded leaves and split grapes on the vines. I had never seen hail damaged vines before, and it was shocking.

Eric has vines six hectares of vines in five plots around Vailhan and Neffiès, the worst affected villages. When he saw the devastation in his vineyards – the crop of 95% of them was totally destroyed, he was physically sick, but that very same evening, his courageous spirit took over. He decided that the next year he would make his own wine – and he did. He withdrew his vineyards from the cooperative. And 2009 saw his first cuvée – I have written about this wine in an earlier blog, but recently I went to visit Eric in his cellar and taste his 2010s.

He has a small cellar attached to his house just off the main street in Roujan. It is all very simple, some red steel vats and a press. There are no oak barrels, yet, but he is planning a pure Syrah, which he would like to age in oak. It was a friendly visit; we chatted and tasted and there was music playing in the background. Eric explained how he went back to studying at the age of 38 and did a BEP in agriculture and bought his first vines in 2006. He worked at the Abeilhan cooperative to get some experience, and with some other small wine growers, and then set up a partnership with his friend, Pierre. Nor would he be able to do all this without the support of his wife, Babette.

2010 L ‘Ampiéric is a blend of Syrah and Mourvèdre. Mainly carbonic maceration with an élevage in vat. Deep colour. Quite a ripe spicy nose. Quite a soft, rounded body, as carbonic maceration can soften the tannins. Medium weight, with some peppery red fruit and a rounded finish. 6.00€ The grapes are handpicked, by friends and family – I have yet to join the gang of pickers, but I am reliably informed that they are fortified with pâté and red wine mid-morning. Next year perhaps. Eric enjoys making up names for his wine, based on family and friends, so Ampiéric, comes from his daughter Ambre, Pierre his partner, and Eric.

Next we tried L’Ambrin 2010, a blend of Syrah and Grenache, again with carbonic maceration, with fresh tannins and nice peppery fruit and a touch of cassis. Roujan does not come within the new cru of Pézenas, so the wines are simple appellation Languedoc. Again the name is a play on words and names; his daughter Ambre and his son Marin, and embruns are sea breezes. And in 2011 he has made a Grenache rosé. For the moment it does not have a name. I left full of admiration for Eric’s courage and passion. He deserves so much to succeed.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


My friend Anne Sutra de Germa has just opened a neat little tasting caveau at Domaine de Monplézy, just outside Pézenas, so we went to check it out, which provided an opportunity for an update on her recent wines. The very first time we visited Anne we tasted round her kitchen table, interrupted by her daughter making chocolate cake. She made the mistake of saying that she really like English cooking – so I invited her to dinner and we have been good friends ever since. The tasting caveau is open most of the time during the summer - obviously a phone call does not hurt, to be sure of an appointment. She has 20 hectares of vines, five in the Côtes de Thongue and the rest in the recently created cru of Pézenas. It is an old family estate that came from her grandfather. Her labels have a distinctive hoopoe, as do the signs giving you directions off the road between Pézenas and Roujan.

2010 Plaisirs Interdits blanc. Côtes de Thongue – 7.00€
A wonderful blend of Vermentino, Muscat a petits grain, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier. I found the nose quite Muscaty, with a pithy, grapey note. And on the palate, the Muscat was again quite pronounced, but balanced by the white blossom of the Roussanne. Nice fresh fruit.

2010 Félicité blanche, Côtes de Thongue
– 13.00€
Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. This is altogether more serious as it is fermented and aged in oak. And the nose and palate are still very oaky, with some white blossom fruit underneath, and a fresh finish. It is still much too young and oaky for my taste, but there is good mouthful which will make for an attractive evolution. Anne had recently drunk the 2005 and said it was delicious – and I believe her!

2010 Plaisirs Rosé, Languedoc - 6.00€
Pretty pale colour. Ripe raspberry and strawberry fruit on nose and palate. Lovely ripe rounded palate, with good acidity. Quite vinous. A blend of Grenache, Cinsaut and Syrah. Just as we were enthusing about it, Anne announced that it was all sold out, and we would have to wait for the 2011, which would not be available until February.

2010 Plaisirs Interdits. Côtes de Thongue – 6.00€
Very bright vivid colour – a bit bonbons anglais. There is more Syrah, which makes for a deeper colour and a slightly longer maceration. Rounded fresh fruit on the nose and palate, and a slightly sweet finish. Anne admitted to a little residual sugar. Essentially it is made for easy drinking.

2009 Plaisirs Rouge, Pézenas – 7.00€
A blend of Carignan, Grenache, Cinsaut and Syrah. Medium colour; young. Quite ripe spice and fresh fruit on the nose. Some black fruit on the palate, balanced with a tannic streak with an edge of acidity. Fresh and youthful, with some lovely fruit. Lives up to its name. Sheer pleasure in the glass.

2006 Félicité – The 2006 is Côtes de Thongue; more recent vintages are Pézenas, as some of Anne’s vineyards were reclassified when the cru was created. – 13.00€
A blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah. Medium colour. Quite a rounded oaky nose and palate, with some good fruit and body, and peppery notes underneath the oak. Also a touch of chocolate. Nicely mouth filling with a long finish. Still very young, but with ageing potential.

2006 Emoción, Côtes de Thongue – 19.00€
95% Carignan with a drop of Syrah. Spends twelve months in oak. A deep, young colour. Quite a firm solid nose, with some oak. On the palate, firm fruit and structured tannins. Quite solid, dense and concentrated, with that underlying rustic note of Carignan. A gutsy mouth filling winter wine.

2007 Délice – 22.00€
A sweet note on which to finish. Late harvested Grenache Noir - a vin de table with the long-winded phrase about the grapes being partially fermented and coming from a vendange passerillé. It was delicious, some sweet spicy chocolate fruit. A taste of black chocolate and liqueur cherries, and just the thing to go with a chocolate pudding.

I didn't manage to take a photo of Anne with bottles or in her cellar, so instead here is one of her with her donkey Biscuit and two goats.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


I first visited Bernard Bellahsen when I was researching The Wines of the South of France, when he was a lone pioneer of organic and bio-dynamic viticulture in the Languedoc. He was the first vigneron that I ever encountered who tilled his vineyards with a horse. Her name was Cassiopé. He now has a handsome Ardennais horse called Prince. We met again at the Natural Wine Fair in London earlier this year and I followed up that encounter with a cellar visit. Bernard is very much his own man; he is dismissive and highly critical of the various organisations that control organic viticulture, such as Demeter and Ecocert, and these days he does not have much time for the Comité des Vins du Languedoc, preferring to label his wine simply Vin de France.

His vineyards, 4.50 hectares, in one plot are well placed between the villages of Neffiès and Fontès on the slopes of an old volcano. There is some basalt and some limestone rock, with barely 10-20 centimetres of actual earth. The vineyards are north facing, at an altitude of 150 metres, with woods behind, and surrounded by garrigues, so no neighbours, and therefore no pollution from neighbouring sprays. Bernard, and his dog Vasco, gave us a friendly welcome. And we adjourned to the cellar for some tasting. Bernard had classical music playing; he has always played music in his cellar. It was lovely, but slightly distracting, as I kept trying, unsuccessfully, to recognise operatic extracts from a medley intriguingly his cellar is insulated with cork on the outside walls, which maintains the temperature at around 20˚C.

Bernard comes from Tunisia, his mother was Italian and he arrived in Perpignan in 1961 and studied history at Montpellier, but he realised that he wanted to work out of door, and spent fifteen years producing organic grape juice. Then it was time to buy another vineyard and make the transition from grape juice to wine. He is self-taught, and initially had doubts about making wine until he realised that grape juice is far more difficult than wine, as you must not let it ferment. His first vintage at Fontedicto was in 1994 and he gave up grape juice in 1998.

His winemaking is very thoughtful; everything is done slowly and must take its time.

First we tasted 2008 Coulisses, 18.00€
a blend of about 50% Carignan with equal parts of Syrah and Grenache, and just a touch of Aramon. Deep young colour; dense young berry fruit, and on the palate it is ripe and dense with acidity and some quite firm tannins, and youthful concentration. The different varieties are fermented together- the fact that they ripen at different times is not important - and the wine is aged in vat and this 2008 was bottled in June. There is a lot of fruit and concentration, but with length and finesse on the finish. He never uses any sulphur and protects his wine with carbon dioxide. Coulisse is not made every year – it is all depends on the Carignan. Coulisse has more Carignan, which gives the wine generosité and structure.

2006 Promise – 20.00€ - This has more Carignan than Coulisses, with some Grenache, Syrah and a touch of Aramon. 2006 was a warmer vintage than 2008. Good colour; very perfumed, very fresh, elegant and rich, and yet with an underlying freshness. Lovely ripe fruit, hints of raspberry and strawberry. Rounded and satisfying.

2005 Promise, Coteaux du Languedoc – his last wine to have an appellation label. The same blend, with a deep colour, and rich leathery, viandé notes on the palate. Quite rounded, and just beginning to evolve, with some hints of maturity. Elegant. Length and freshness, despite the power. For me, this was undoubtedly a vino da meditazione, as the Italians so eloquently say.

Bernard enthused about the satisfaction of working with a horse. For him it is essential if you are going to practice true organic agriculture. The respect for the soil comes with working with an animal. There is a natural rhythm, the balance between l’homme, l'animal, le vegetal et le mineral. He is completely anti-machines, and very happy that more young people are beginning to work with horses.

He also has fifty ares of Terret for white wine, which he had picked and pressed the day before our visit. Half a hectare has produced just 80 litres of juice; last year he made 105 bottles, and there was none left to taste. He has finished the 2011 harvest and is generally pleased with the quality.

And as we finished our tasting his wife Cecile arrived. She had been delivering bread, and then we discovered that Bernard also has six hectares of wheat, as well as some olive trees, and that he has built a bread oven adjacent to the cellar. I shall be looking out for his stall in the Marché Bio in Pézenas on Saturday morning.

Friday, 14 October 2011


The wine competition named after St. Aphrodise, the patron saint of Béziers, concentrates on the white wines of the region. Not a trace of red or pink here. And earlier this week some of the recent winners were available for tasting in London, at a rather fine cheese emporium in South Kensington, la Cave à Fromage on Cromwell Place. However, tasting conditions were not ideal so my notes are a bit skimpy, but better than nothing ....

The wines were divided up as to their suitability with different cheeses. I have to admit that I was concentrating so much on the wines that I completely forgot to try any cheese, so I cannot on any suggested pairings..... All the wines come from the 2010 vintage. And varietal vins de pays tend to dominate the selection.

Domaine de l’Yole, Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc
Lightly oaky and rounded – perfectly pleasant, but with no great depth or character. As a Chablis enthusiast, I am often a little dubious about Chardonnay from the Languedoc, and this rather confirmed my fears.

Picpoul de Pinet, Prestige, Cave de l’Ormarine
A lovely example of Picpoul de Pinet from the Pinet coop. Everything that good Picpoul should be, fresh, herbal and pithy, with a hint of the sea. Bring on the oysters.

Muscat Sec, Pays d’Oc, Cave de Sérignan
Fresh pithy Muscat fruit. Quite grapey on the palate, and quite sweet on the finish. Sound varietal character.

Domaine la Croix Belle, Muscat Sec, Côtes de Thongue.
This is one of my favourite Muscats of the region. Lovely pithy fruit, quite dry with a rounded finish. Really good varietal character.

Picpoul de Pinet, Hugues de Beauvignac, Cave de Pomerols
Another lovely Picpoul de Pinet, though on the night l’Ormarine had the edge. This was a little crisper, with a fresh finish.

Domaine de la Colombette, Plume Chardonnay, Coteaux du Libron
One of the range of relatively low alcohol wines developed by the Puygibet family. This is soft and innocuous, and makes for easy drinking

Domaine de Preignes le Neuf. Chardonnay Prestige, Coteaux du Libron
The oak on this flattened any fruit, so I found it rather dull.

Cave de Richemer, Cuvée Henri de Richemer, Viognier, Côtes de Thau
Lightly peachy nose; quite soft, rounded palate

Domaine des Deux Ruisseaux, Muscat Sec, Pays d’Oc
Quite fresh and pithy on the nose; a touch of sweetness on the palate, balanced with a slightly bitter note on the finish, which can be typical of Muscat.

Cave de Pomerols, Sauvignon, Pays d’Oc
Soft Sauvignon nose; quite rounded; easy drinking; no great depth or pronounced varietal character.

Cave de Cers Portiragnes, Cuvée Fascination, Sauvignon Pays d’Oc
Quite ripe pithy fruit, with a stony mineral note on the palate.

Cave de Roquebrun, Viognier, Haute Vallée de l’Orb
This comes from one of the key coops of St. Chinian. Quite soft peachy apricot fruit on the nose and palate. Good varietal character.

Les Filles de Septembre, Viognier, Côtes de Thongue
Nice understated dry peachy fruit on the nose. Quite a firm peachy palate. Medium weight. Good varietal character.

Cave de Richemer, Cuvée Terre Mer, Terret, Côtes de Thau
Quite a firm fresh nose; crisp fresh palate. Not a lot of flavour, but good balance of acidity. Quite refreshing, making a good apéro.

Domaine des Terres Rousses, Pays d’Oc, Colombard Chardonnay
Quite a soft rounded nose. Soft acidity and some herbal fruit. Pleasantly innocuous.

Château le Thou, Coteaux du Languedoc
A blend of Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache blanc. Quite rounded and buttery on both nose and palate. Some oak and some acidity. Youthful. May develop in bottle.

Domaine de l’Arjolle, Côtes de Thongue, Sauvignon
Light colour. Quite rounded with good mineral notes on the nose. Quite a ripe rounded palate, with good varietal character, in a warmer southern style. Nicely satisfying.

Cave de Cers Portiragnes, Cuvée Inspiration, Viognier, Pays d’Oc
A touch of dry peaches on the nose, and even more on the palate. Quite ripe and rounded, with dry peachy fruit, and a hint of oak on the finish.

Domaine St Martin des Champs, Pays d’Oc, Viognier
Quite a rounded peachy nose and palate. Good ripe fruit; more opulent than the previous wine.

Domaine la Colombette Coteaux du Libron, Sauvignon
Fresh crisp Sauvignon, on nose and palate. Possibly a hint of reduction on the nose, but that would disappear with air.

Domaine de la Yole, Muscat, Pays d’Oc, Moelleux Euphorie
Lightly grapey nose and palate. Quite rounded and ripe on the palate with a herbal hint, and a slightly cloying finish. Short on elegance.

Domaine de l’Arjolle, Côtes de Thongue, Equinoxe
A blend of Sauvignon, Viognier and Muscat à petits grains. Oak dominates the nose and palate, but that will disappear with some bottle age. Nicely ripe and rounded, with good body and mouth feel. The crispness of the Sauvignon balances the peachiness of the Viognier.

Château Trillol, Corbières – not sure how that sneaks into a tasting based on Béziers but never mind – the wine was good. A blend of Roussanne and Macabeo. Light colour. Quite leesy and herbal on the nose. A hint of oak on the palate, rounded and textured, and balanced by acidity. Nice depth.

Domaine des Terres Rousses, Pays d’Oc, Chardonnay
Lightly butter y nose. Quite a light rounded palate, with some fresh acidity. Nicely balanced,

Cave de Pomerols, Picpoul de Pinet, Cuvée Prestige
Cuvee Prestige implies oak and that is just what they have done, so there is firm oak on both nose and palate. A structured palate, but for my taste buds, the oak is inappropriate.

Domaine Piccinini, Minervois, Clos l’Angely
A blend of Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Macabeo, Bourboulenc and Muscat. Quite an intriguing blend. On the palate there is a hint of Muscat and also a hint of oak. The nose is quite appealingly leesy, with a pithy fresh palate, which I suspect will develop more depth with some bottle age.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


Who has ever met a three legged goat? Not unless it has had a horrible accident. The name apparently is a parody on a wine called le mouton à cinq pattes, and the official trade mark for a cheap claret sold in local supermarkets in the Languedoc. It has never come my way. Wim Wagemans obviously has a sense of humour, as well as a small wine estate in the Orb valley beyond Lamalou les Bains at Mons-la-Trivalle. He and his wife Katya come from Belgium; in 2005 they began looking for a nice place to live and grow some vines. He was a civil servant and she worked in the travel business, with Thomas Cook, and through a chapter of accidents they arrived at Mons-la-Trivalle in 2006. They sensed that the valley would be a good place for growing grapes; the nights are cooler than much of the rest of the Languedoc, but there were not that many vineyards here. And the coop in Mons la Trivalle had closed, so there were vineyards available.

And why the Languedoc? It’s more fun from a winemaking point of view. There are lots of different grape varieties, both red and white and it is the one place in France where you have a similar freedom as in the New World. Wim was looking for liberty, for an opportunity for creativity and there is no doubt that in his wines he is exploring every opportunity. Blends can vary from year to year. Sometimes he destems; sometimes he does not. Maceration times car vary; he uses cultured yeast, but tries to limit his use of sulphur to an absolute minimum. He is organic, but has not bothered with a certificate.

Altogether they have five hectares, in about ten plots, mostly around Mons, including a plot of 60 year Carignan just by the old barn, once a goat shed, which is now their cellar. There is also some Chardonnay, in an even cooler site at Taussac-la-Billiere in the hills above Lamalou. That is their only white. And for reds they have Carignan, Tempranillo, Grenache, Cinsaut and Syrah, in vineyards that they have either bought or rented, and in 2009 they have planted some red Muscat. The cellar is small and neat, and pretty cramped, with fibre glass vats and a row of barrels. Nor is it easy to find, unless you already know the way. Fortunately I was with my tasting buddy Lits, who had been there before. so knew the way.

Wim is pretty much self-taught; he has done some stages, with Luc Ollier at Ollier Taillefer and a couple in Burgundy, which accounts for his enthusiasm for Chardonnay; 'the Chablis style', observed Wim. The vineyard is quite high, at 305 metres, on clay and limestone; there is a lot of clay, so the soil is cold, and the vines are exposed to a cold north wind. The 2010 was sold out, and the 2011 en pleine fermentation. Tasting fermenting grape juice that is still full of sugar is not my forte so I declined that particular invitation and kept to the finished wines. But it sounded tempting. I must go back when there is some to taste.

All their wines are Vin de Pays de la Haute Vallée de l’Orb.

2010 Rosé – 6.50€
A pure Syrah, pressed immediately. Quite a deep colour, with a firm dry nose. Some dry raspberries on the palate, a touch of tannin and a dry finish. A food wine. It is half fermented in wood, and half in vat, and was altogether quite sturdy and serious.

2009 Sous le Tilleul – 6.50
60% Carignan, 30% Syrah and intriguingly, 10% Chardonnay. Medium young colour. Some fresh dry berry fruit on nose and palate, and a touch of oak. All the wine has been in oak, none new, at some stage, over about eighteen months. They begin with the Carignan, which is quite fat, and then added some Syrah, which gives some tannin. And the Chardonnay went in at the end, to give some acidity, which they had felt was lacking. The final blend is done after about 15 – 16 months élevage, and is bottled after another couple of months or so. Officially the Chardonnay should have been fermented with the red grapes …. But who knows? And would you make it again? Yes.

2009 le Carrosse, Lot No 2 – 8.50€ -
Lot No. 1 was fermented in oak and is all sold out. 65% Syrah, 15% Grenache, 15% Carignan and a little Cinsaut. Co-fermented, with the élevage all in tank. Deep young colour. Very black fruit, cherries and damsons. Some tannin balancing the ripe fruit, making for a fresh tannic edge. Quite rounded and mouth filling. I warmed to Wim when he said that he did not like wines when the oak was too obvious. The blend of le Carrosse varies but the constant factor is the Cinsaut. In the 2010 there is as much as 40%. They are 100 year old vines, and initially gave very low yields as they had not been well tended by the previous owners – now they are doing much better.

2009 Tempranillo Vieilles Vignes – that is to say 40 years old – 8.50€
None of the vin de cépages have any oak. Deep young colour. Quite rounded, with a ripe fleshy palate, with a firm streak of tannin. Quite fresh and youthful; quite gutsy with a tannic finish. The maceration lasts five to six weeks and the grapes are not destemmed.

2009 Syrah – 8.50€
Deep young colour; a dry nose with quite firm peppery fruit. Solid and rounded, with a more opulent and aromatic palate. Ripe almost sweet fruit, with a firm stony streak. The vines are young, and 2008 was the first vintage of this wine.
Next came some vat samples. 2010 Syrah was deep in colour, with some smoky tannins and quite a ripe tannic palate. I thought it could have been in oak, but no. It is part grown on schist and part on limestone, and had a sturdy mineral nose. It was all destemmed. Schist was the main contributor to the flavour.

2010 Tempranillo. Destemmed. Good colour; some berry fruit, quite ripe with fleshy berry notes and a firm tannic streak.

2010 Pure Grenache Medium colour. Quite perfumed liqueur cherries with some spice. Ripe and perfumed on the palate, with spicy liqueur fruit. Good tannin. Medium weight. Not destemmed.

2011 Grenache. The fermentation began about three weeks earlier on 29th August. Vivid colour but not as sweet as you might have expected, as the fermentation was nearly finished. Some lovely ripe, juicy fruit, redolent of cherries. This was destemmed and he has added 10% Syrah. I was in a Châteauneuf mood, Wim laughingly observed.

Pink Muscat 2011 – just finished its fermentation. Quite a vivid pink. A perfumed nose, with a pithy edge. Pithy and grapey and very Muscat. Wim said that he was inspired to plant it after a trip of Australia in 2004, when he had enjoyed liqueur Muscats. This is obviously quite different, but very original. And when will he bottle it? He didn’t know. When it’s done its malo. I shall look forward to tasting the finished version in due course.

Friday, 7 October 2011


The ASDW tasting - in other words The Association of Small Direct Wine Merchants and an eclectic band of small specialists in Italy, Australia, Champagne, Spain and Georgia, not to mention Bordeaux, Burgundy and of course the Languedoc. You can read more about them on

I had fun, tasting some old favourites and discovering some new producers. Prices are UK retail prices. caught my eye as Stefanie Steil was showing only wines from the Languedoc and Roussillon.

For a start she had my favourite Cabardès, from Domaine de Cazaban, 2007. - £15.99. This is a relatively new estate, created by Clément Mengus, who has moved down from Alsace, where his family also have vineyards. Cabardès is one of the appellations close to Carcassonne where the grape varieties of Bordeaux and the south west meet those of the Mediterranean. The 2007 vintage is a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Syrah. Deep colour. Lovely ripe spice on the nose, and on the palate, the plumy fruit of Merlot balanced with Mediterranean spice. A balanced tannic backbone and a long finish.

2009 Domaine Notre Dame le Plô. Le Grenache du Plô, Pays d’Oc - £9.25
Medium colour. Ripe liqueur cherry fruit on both nose and palate. Ripe and rounded and a benchmark Grenache.

2006 Château Planères, Côtes du Roussillon. La Romanie Blanc - £12.20
This is new to me, Their white is a blend of Malvoisie and Rolle Quite a deep colour. Rounded white blossom. A touch of oak on the palate and some almond notes and a touch of maturity. Ripe and rounded; mouth filling and satisfying.

2001 Château Planères, Côtes du Roussillon, La Roumanie Rouge. - £13.30
A blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache. Good colour. Ripe and rounded with a leathery nose, warm ripe spice on the palate, mouth filling and warming. This is a winter wine, and needs a rich gamey dish or a daube. It also tastes quite youthful for a wine that is 10 years old. A lovely discovery. .

2005 Les Verrières de Montagnac, Clos Soutyeres, Coteaux du Languedoc. - £12.35
70% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 10% Carignan. Aged in oak. This is new to me too. Deep colour; quite a firm structured nose. Solidly tannic palate, balanced with some ripe fruit. A gutsy mouth filling wine and still very youthful. Another for a winter’s evening.

Stefanie’s final offering was Domaine Pech Menel, St. Chinian 2007 - £10.25 Another estate that I had not encountered before. A blend of 35% Mourvèdre, 30% Cinsaut, 20% Grenache Noir and 15% Carignan. . I found this a bit inky, and the palate lacked definition. specialise not only in the Languedoc and Roussillon, but also Corsica.

I really enjoyed their offering of 2010 Picpoul de Pinet, le Jade from Les Vignerons de Pomerols - £5.50. It was everything that good Picpoul should be, a rounded nose with herbal fruit, and a nice balance of acidity. Very drinkable.

2010 Muscadellu, Muscat Pétillant from les Vignerons Corsicans. - £10.00
Soft and frothy, lightly sweet and grapey, with some honey on the finish. This is France’s answer to lightly sparkling Asti Spumante. is another Languedoc specialist. Ian Webb worked spent a year or so working at L’Ermitage du Pic St. Loup, an experience which has given him an enormous enthusiasm for the region.

2007 Le Chemin des Rêves, Utopie 3, Pays de l’Herault - £15.79
This was a lovely discovery, a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah and Grenache and the final 10% includes a bit of Carignan and some old varieties like Terret Noir, Aramon and Alicante. Good colour. Quite a closed nose, with some intriguing nuances. The palate has fruit and spice and a balance of tannin – it’s one of those wines that makes you think that here is a lot going on – what the Italians would call a vino da meditazione. I could have lingered longer over it , but other wines called. It sounds a very interesting estate, situated at Grabels just outside Montpellier, so straddling the Pic St. Loup and the Grès de Montpellier.

2007 Plan de l’Om, Roucan, Terrasses du Larzac - £19.79.
2007 was the last vintage made by the previous owner, Joel Foucou. He has since sold the estate to Remy Duchemin, who was instrumental in creating the reputation of Domaine de Mortiès in the Pic St. Loup. The vineyards are near St. Jean de la Blaquière. Deep colour; good fruit on the nose, with spice and leather. A very intriguing palate, with more leather and spice and a touch viandé. Great depth and character. Again another wine to linger over.

Ian’s offerings also included a cheerful Viognier from Domaine la Fadèze, with some varietal character and 2009 Bronzinelle Rouge Coteaux du Languedoc, from Château St. Martin de la Garrigue. See an earlier posting for more about St. Martin de la Garrigue. And there was also Cuvée Charles from Domaine de la Croix Chaptal, and an easy to drink Domaine Jordy, Tradition. But they were dwarfed by le Chemin des Rêves and Plan de l’Om.

And last but not least was Fingal Rock from Monmouth.

Tom Innes concentrates on Burgundy - we share an enthusiasm for Chablis - but he is now extgending his horizons further south.
Domaine Puech-Berthier, Pays d'Oc, Sauvignon - £7.95

This comes from vineyards near the enchanging town of Uzes. It has beautifully understated varietal character, with a freshness that is uncharacteristic of the Languedoc. Quite a pithy nose, with frim stony mineral fruit and good acidity. A lovely discovery

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


I have tasted and enjoyed Xavier de Franssu's wines a couple of times at the Salon des Vignerons Indépendents in Paris, and so asked if I could visit. It is much more fun to see a vigneron in his cellar; it gives you the sense of place, which contributes so much in the appreciation of a wine. Xavier makes St. Chinian. He has a small cellar surrounded by twelve hectares of vines, planted on sandstone, with another 2.50 hectares on a limestone plateau. His first vintage was in 2004, three vats fermented in his garage, while most of his grapes went to the coop. The 2005 was vinified in his own cellar; the walls were in place, but it was open to the sky. He comes from the north, from Picardie, and studied in Montpellier, and spent two years looking for his vineyards. He had a very precise idea of what he wanted. He had fixed on an appellation of the southern Rhône or the Languedoc, and wanted somewhere that was bit isolated, where he could live on the estate, not in a village, and preferably with buildings already in existence. The previous owner had sent his grapes to the coop and had starting building a cellar, with a view to making his own wine, but then discovered that his daughter was not interested in helping, so he sold his vines instead.

Xavier has some 100 year old Carignan, as well as thirty year old Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Yields are low, 20 hl/ha, around the cellar. The soils are deeper on the plateau, with less drought effect. He has been converting to organic viticulture and was certified in 2009, and he has planted white varieties, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Vermentino – he already had one hectare of 60 years old Grenache, both Blanc and Gris. And more unusually he has also planted half a hectare of Albariňo, as well as Viognier and Petit Manseng for a vin de pays. This vineyard should come into production in 2013. And why Albariňo? He did a stage in Galicia, which is the home of Albariňo.

The cellar is simple and functional, with cement vats and barrels, and is part underground, to provide some natural insulation. And why Cynanque? It is a type of Clematis that you can find in the mountains, with white or pink flowers.

2010 Fleur de Cynanque, St. Chinian, Rosé 5.50€
70% Cinsaut, grown on limestone, and sandstone, pressed; 15% each Carignan and Grenache that are saigné. No malo – he doesn’t want it. Quite fresh and crisp with firm acidity. Dry raspberry fruit, with a certain weight and a delicate finish.

2008 Fleur de Cynanque, St. Chinian - 6.50€
Old Carignan dominates the blend, with 70%. 20% Grenache and 10% Syrah. Fermented and aged in cement. Some spicy fruit on the nose, red fruit, with the rustic quality of Carignan. Carignan needs at least four week maceration to enrober the tannins. Medium weight. Fresh fruit with a streak of tannin.

For St. Chinian the maximum percentage, in your vineyard, for Carignan is 30%, and for Cinsaut too, while Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, must make up a minimum of 70%. You must have 20% Grenache, but Syrah is not obligatory.

2008 St. Chinian, Plein Grès – 8.20€
The vines for Fleur de Cynanque are at a lower altitude, whereas those for Plein Grès come from higher plots – For Xavier, the wine expresses the sandstone in the appellation.

30% each of Syrah and Mourvèdre, and 20% each of Carignan and Grenache. The Syrah, Carignan and Grenache fermented together in a concrete vat, and were then blended with overripe Carignan and Mourvèdre at the end of the harvest. 2008 was a drawn out harvest. The wine is quite ripe and rich, quite dense and rounded, a touch confit, with some hints of chocolate, and some rounded tannins. It should develop well.

2008 St. Chinian, Acutum – 12.00€
Acutum is the Latin name for the Cynanque family – I think I have got that right. A botanist out there can correct me. And the blend is 60% Syrah, which spends twelve months in wood, with 20% each of Grenache and Mourvèdre, aged in vat. Deep colour; quite solid and dense, firm and rounded, quite ripe. A hint of new wood, good body, youthful, ripe and rounded, and nicely englobé (another word that is impossible to translate into English) tannins. Xavier thinks that the Syrah responds well to wood.

2009 St. Chinian Amicytia – 16.00€
Mainly from Grenache grown on the limestone plateau, and just three old barriques, which amount to 1000 bottles. The name is a blend of amitié, typicité and Cynanque. The yield Is tiny, just 15 hl/ha. Xavier laughingly suggested that this was the Châteauneuf du Pape of St. Chinian. Twelve months in old wood, after a long cuvaison. Some lovely ripe cherry fruit, very perfumed, alcoholic cherries. Balanced by a mineral note.

2008 St. Chinian, Nominaris – 25.00€
The name is all to do with his family crest, – Fais bien et tu sera consideré; nomnaris means will be considered. A pure Syrah, which has spent two years in wood, including new wood. Overripe grapes. Deep colour. Solid dense nose; solid oak on the nose. Less obvious oak on palate. It all tasted a bit adolescent and needs time. I am not sure how long.

2010 Carignan, fermented in small open tonneaux - and tasted from a demi-muid. Grown on limestone. Good colour. Some cherry fruit and very ripe, but nicely integrated oak. Fraicheur, elegance, very gourmand; powerful but not heavy. A streak of acidity as well as tannin. Very intriguing.

2009 St. Chinian blanc, Althéa – 11.50€
Althéa was a Greek goddess, and the wife of Oenè, whence oenology. 40% Roussanne, with 30% Grenache Blanc – Grenache gris is not allowed, in theory in the appellation, but there is a little in the vineyard, and 30% Vermentino. Yield just 15 hl/ha
Quite a resinous nose, with a touch of fennel. Quite characterful, rounded white blossoms. Nice weight and body. The Vermentino gives some citrus notes and good acidity.

2008 Hesperides, a late harvest wine, made from raisined grapes, Grenache Blanc and Gris – 18.00€ for a 50 cl. bottle. They leave two or three bunches per vine and pick in early November, a couple of months after the main harvest. Xavier made just two small barrels. He just leaves it to ferment slowly; laughingly saying ça discute, for you can hear the wine murmuring if you put your ear to the barrel, and it stays in wood for a year or more. No sulphur. Filtered. A light golden, a touch of botrytis. Elegantly honeyed. Lovely fruit with acidity and honey, and a hint of orange. And a delicious finale to a lovely tasting.

Saturday, 1 October 2011


Isabelle Champart and her husband Matthieu arrived in St. Chinian in 1976, from the north of France. They slowly developed their vineyards, and until 1988 they sent their grapes to the coop. Isabelle took us for a short drive. Altogether they have fifteen hectares, in about 20 small plots, mainly on clay and limestone, some south facing vines on red clay, and they also have some sandstone, but no schist. And their grape varieties are the usual five from the Midi, namely Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsaut, and also some Cabernet Franc, for Vins de Pays d’Oc, and some experimental Morastel. And for whites they have Terret Blanc and Gris, Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc and Gris, Roussanne, Marsanne and a little Viognier. You are now allowed a very small percentage of Viognier in white St. Chinian, unlike Faugères.

The Mourvèdre is planted on clay and limestone, as it drains well. Some Syrah is in deep soil, in cooler clay, which makes for later ripening. There is Carignan on the plateau, as well as several plots of Syrah and Grenache. We saw crumbling dry stone walls, with a handsome capitelle. Usually the vines are tilled, unless they are especially steep, and they practice integrated viticulture. The oldest vines are Carignan and Terret, both centenarian vineyards. Their cellar is near the village of Villepassans. It includes a nice barrel ageing cellar, with barriques and some demi-muids on gravel. Syrah and Grenache are aged in barriques and the demi-muids are used for Mourvèdre and also some Grenache. Any new barrels are used for Syrah or for their white wine.

Isabelle treated us to a wonderfully comprehensive tasting. I’ve always enjoyed their wines and it had been quite a while since my last cellar visit.

2009 St. Chinian Blanc – 11.50€
Light colour; quite a rich white blossom nose, with a touch of oak. Lovely texture on the palate, with some ripe fruit and good acidity. Hints of fennel. The blend is mainly Grenache, both Gris and Blanc, and Bourboulenc, which have spent nine months in wood. And there is also some Roussanne and Marsanne.

2010 St. Chinian Blanc -11.50€
A larger proportion of Grenache, and a later harvest, and less oak maturation, although I found the nose quite oaky. It also includes 5% Viognier. Quite strong hints of fennel on the palate; ripe and rounded with good acidity. Nicely texture and youthful.

2010 Terret
An experiment with Terret, both Gris and Blanc, the oldest vines of the village, that were planted in 1900. Tasted from vat, after it had spent time in barriques, both a new Austrian barrel, and an older French barrique. A little Grenache was added to the vat. Picked late, just before the October rain. Quite herbal, with hints of fennel and almond. Intriguing and characterful. A lovely example of a grape variety that is threatening to disappear.

St. Chinian Rosé – 6.50€
55% Mourvèdre, 35% Cinsaut and some Syrah, pressed. It underwent a malo-lactic fermentation, which is rare for a rosé in the Midi. Pretty colour, not too dark. Quite a rounded nose. Raspberry and strawberry fruit; quite textured rounded and ripe. Good mouth feel. Isabelle was adamant that their rosé is a not a by-product of the red wine.

2009 Pays d’Oc - 7.50€
A blend of 70% Cabernet Franc and 30% Syrah, although the label tells you nothing, and the blend indeed varies from year to year. Vines grown on cool clay and sandstone. The vineyard is not on appellation land, so they decided to try out a non-appellation grape variety, namely Cabernet Franc. Quite a deep colour; fresh fruit on the nose, and a ripe palate, with some blackcurrant fruit, balanced by some tannin. Quite a fresh finish.

2009 St. Chinian, Côte d’Arbo – 7.70€
The name comes from the previous owner of the vineyard. A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and a little Mourvèdre, fermented and aged in vat. Grown on quite a cool site, not from their best vineyards. Young, fresh and closed initially on the nose. Some red fruit, with some spice, a touch of pepper, and a fresh finish. Medium weight and youthful.

2008 St. Chinian, Causse du Bousquet – 11.60€
A blend of 65% Syrah, 12% Grenache, 23% Mourvèdre, with an élevage part in vat, and part in barrel. This is their biggest volume wine, with 12,000 bottles. Deep colour. Quite a closed nose, some dry leathery notes. Fresh spicy fruit on the palate, with some leathery notes, firm tannins and a certain weight. Quite structured and tight knit. The oak is well integrated. A long finish. Nicely harmonious and satisfying.

Isabelle observed that 2008 and 2009 are very different vintages. 2008 was later, slower ripening and resulted in more extract. The spring was wet and the summer was not very hot. In contrast 2009 was riper, so that 2009 has more fruit and 2008 more vivacity

2008 St. Chinian, Clos de la Simonette - 18.00€
30% Grenache grown on limestone, and 70% Mourvèdre grown on clay. Aged in demi-muids of different ages, including some new ones for the Mourvèdre. Older barrels are used for the Grenache, and they begin blending in November in the year following the vintage, to produce the final blend in May, and then the wine goes into vat, making for a total of 18 months élevage. Deep colour. Quite closed, but with some attractive fruit on the nose. Quite spicy. Good balance of youthful fruit and structured tannins. Quite elegant, tight knit and long, with ageing potential

2009 Clos de la Simonette – tasted from vat.
Quite firm, quite dense, a certain freshness, with some red fruit. More accessible than 2008 as there is less acidity, so that the 2008 probably has more ageing potential.

In conclusion, a lovely tasting from one of the stars of St. Chinian.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


First of all, apologies for a two week silence. Blame technical problems with a new computer …….

Wine growing friends came to dinner, I originally wrote 'last night', but with the technical hiccup, it was in fact 17th September. I had an assortment of Syrah from New Zealand’s Gimblett Gravels that I thought would be fun to try with some Languedociens. Actually that is not a very accurate description of the group, as they included an Australian, an American and a Dutch woman, as well as some French, who are not especially languedocien, even if they make wine just up the road. And you can guess the inevitable topic of conversation. How’s the vintage going?

Karen and Manu arrived first. They were demob happy as they had finished picking that morning. And all was looking good, both for quantity and quality. But Karen still had another week to go at St. Jean de Bébian. And she had got to bottle on Monday, wine for her Russian boss’s son’s wedding next month. I’ve never ever bottled during vintage before….. Next to arrive was Catherine. I am ‘vers le fin du milieu’ towards the end of the middle, for she has vines in both Faugères and the Haute Vallée de l’Orb, with a mixture of grape varieties which makes for quite a drawn out harvest. And she was very excited as she has bought a tronconique oak vat for her Pinot Noir.

Then Lidewej appeared – she agreed with Catherine, she was also 'vers le fin du milieu’. She had picked all her white and pink grapes, and then had needed to keep her team of pickers waiting until the red grapes were fully ripe. It was going well, but hard work. Tom, our American friend, is doing a stage with Didier Barral – he had begun work at 7 a.m. that morning, and Didier had let him out of the cellar at 8 p.m. The others agreed that Didier was a hard task master ….. And Amélie has a small plot of Carignan in Montpeyroux. Carignan is a late ripener and that would not be ready to pick until next week, but it was looking good.

The general consensus was optimistic – of course it’s too early to say, but the quality is good, and so is the quantity, which is a relief after the more meagre harvest of last year. And the wines have an appealing freshness, again more so than last year. And as for the New Zealand Syrahs, 2008 Trinity Hill came out trumps.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


Cyril Bourgne is one of the more thoughtful and analytical wine makers of St. Chinian, and very committed and very focused. It may be something to do with his background. He does not come from the Languedoc and worked in Bordeaux, running Château Fieuzal for a number of years, before developing his own estate in St. Chinian. He now has 13 hectares of vines, and made his first vintage in 1999. He has a compact cellar on the outskirts of the town of St. Chinian.

Perceived wisdom often has it that St. Chinian is split in two – schist to the north, and clay and limestone to the south, as the result of a geological fault. Reality is rather more complicated. Cyril has what he called four ‘grands ilots’ which are all quite different. There is a plot of Syrah in the north; he has grès, or sandstone, near the village of Pierrerue, and two different plots of argilo-calcaire, limestone éboulis, or rocks, near St. Chinian, and closer to Assignan his vineyards are on a limestone plateau, with very white stones. And with each grape variety grown on all four terroirs he has a veritable artist’s palette for blending.

For Cyril there is no doubt about it: the specificity of St. Chinian is the variety of terroirs, that complement each other, as well as the effect on each grape variety. There is a world of difference between Grenache grown on argilo-calcaire and Grenache on schist. With argilo-calcaire the wine has more colour and tannin, with less exuberance on the nose, while on schist it is very aromatic, but with less colour and acidity. And you will find the same differences with Syrah. Cyril was also adamant that he wanted four cépages; he admits that he is frightened by what he called the ‘uniformisation’ of Syrah, so also has sizeable holdings of Grenache and Carignan, as well as Mourvèdre. He likes the freshness of Carignan and Mourvèdre. You have to be careful as both Grenache and Syrah can be too heavy. Elevage is important too. New wood here is an aberration; it’s maquillage or make up and adds to uniformity. The grape varieties here have sufficient expression and character not to need extra maquillage.

He talked about his work in the vineyard. The deeper the roots, the more freshness you obtain. He wants maximum aeration, and maximum leaf exposure, so that the vines are less sensitive to rot and disease. If the leaves are in the shade, they consume energy, and create a negative effect. And he limits treatments. Work in the vineyard pays off in difficult years, but it is rare to have a week of bad weather. We then got on to the subject of bio, organic viticulture. Cyril questions some of the treatments – with bio you may not use synthetic chemicals, but you can use copper and sulphur, which are also harmful He would rather use synthetic products, but in the tiniest quantities – in any case prevention is better than treatment. He is a bit cynical about the commercial value of bio – it’s marketing and politically correct. ‘I am against political correctness. There are people who don’t want to hear the truth about bio, as it disturbs them.

First we wandered round the cellar tasting 2010s from vat and barrel. Cyril makes two whites and two reds, rather in the bordelais manner. His red Classic is predominantly Carignan and Grenache with a little Syrah and Mourvèdre, aged more in vat than barrel. Medium colour; restrained perfume; subtle spice some lovely rounded spice and supple tannins. Good body. It was to be bottled shortly. A fresh finish, with fruit noirs, and some scent from the garrigues. Average yield in 2010 was 23 hls/ha.
2010 produced concentrated wines; the weather was dry was the grapes were ripening, making for small berries with thick skins.

A barrel of pure Mourvèdre that will go into the Grand Vin was structured and fresh with good colour. It comes from two plots of Mourvèdre; one of grès and the other argilo-calcaire. Cyril observed that people here are afraid of Mourvèdre; he uses it for his Grand Vin with Syrah, as the two complement each other. Whereas Carignan gives freshness to the Grenache in the Classic.
He usually has two different batches of Syrah, from schist and from argilo-calcaire, but in 2010 blended them both together. Deep colour; quite a firm closed, restrained nose. Very perfumed fresh palate; peppery with a real explosion of fruit, with some fresh tannins. He has tried Syrah in new wood and feels strongly that it would be a shame to put it in new wood. I wondered about the typicity of St. Chinian – for Cyril it’s very difficult to define typicity – there isn’t any; the appellation is sandwiched between Faugères and the Minervois- and the wines give pleasure.

He then took us to look at his vineyards. The countryside is breathtaking, with bird song and the scent of cistus in the air. And the variations in soil were all too apparent. Cyril was adamant – it is diversity which counts. He leaf plucks – on the side of the rising sun. And aims for good air circulation. His method of pruning, he described as ‘creation maison. He does not like the cordon method, which is widely used in St. Chinian as it makes the vines age badly. Gobelet is better, but you can’t do use wires with gobelet, so his pruning is a compromise between the two, a short pruning, with five arms.

And then we returned to his house in the centre of the town to taste wines in bottle.

2010 Sauvignon, Classic vin de France 8.40€
Light colour, delicate mineral nose. Richer and more obviously mineral on the palate. Vinification and élevage in vat, on the lees to enhance the richness. He wants freshness, so picks relatively early, but not too early, as he certainly does not want any pipi de chat. And if Sauvignon is too ripe, the flavours are heavy. I enjoyed the minerality which developed in the glass, becoming a little more exotic, with some white blossom.

He has also planted a little Picpoul as he wanted a local white variety, that is as fresh as Sauvignon and ripe at the same time.

2009 Sauvignon Grand Vin – 14.40€
From the same plot, but fermented in old barrels with a ten month élevage on lees, with regular bâtonnage. The decision as to which juice will become which wine is made after débourbage. 2009 was a good year, but with a small yield. The wine has a little more colour than the Classic, with some restrained, understated oak. It is quite rounded, with good acidity, and has a certainly bordelais style – not surprising really considering what Cyril was making at Fieuzal. I also found a hint of fennel, which grows wild around the vineyards. And it will age well, as would a white Graves.

2007 Classic Red St. Chinian - 8.40€
A blend of 40% Carignan and Grenache, with 10% each Syrah and Mourvèdre. Usually the Syrah and Mourvèdre are aged in wood, and maybe a little Carignan. Cyril equated 2007 to 2001 – an easy vintage, that was ripe quite early and has produced supple velouté or velvety wines.
I found it quite firm and structured, with a fresh finish. There was good fruit on nose and palate, with a lovely mouth feel and good body. It was all very harmonious with lots of nuances and hints of the garrigues, but with a certain pleasing restraint. Still very young, with lots of potential. The grapes are destalked and the vin de presse was used in the Classic, but it doesn’t make the wine heavier or richer.

2007 Grand Vin St. Chinian - 14.40€
A blend of Mourvèdre and Syrah with a little Grenache and Carignan. It spends twelve months in wood and then the second winter in vat. A lovely understated nose, but richer and more concentrated on the palate. Some hints of oak. Quite solid and rounded with good fruit. Would benefit from decanting.

2008 Grand Vin
2008 was a later vintage, and the Carignan was picked at the beginning of October. They escaped the hail that crossed the region just before the harvest. Quite a deep colour; quite ripe, with black fruit, very young’; very satisfying mouth feel. Lots of nuances and potential. Altogether very satisfying. Cyril is convinced of the ageing potential of St. Chinian, but not if it is made with carbonic maceration.

To my mind Domaine Madura deserves a much greater recognition and acknowledgement. Why do they not have an importer in the UK?