Tuesday, 31 May 2011


Balades gourmandes are becoming increasingly popular in the Languedoc, as a way of showing off not only the wines of a village or appellation, but also possible gastronomic combinations. The food is considered to be as important as the wine - and they make a great day out. One of the newest walks is at Maury, in the Agly valley, in the heart of Roussillon. Last Sunday was just the second time that it has been organised, and it was magnificent, well worth the early start and the drive from the Hérault. The scenery is awe-inspiring. The ruined Cathar castle of Quéribus dominates the village and the hillsides are a patchwork of small vineyards, on grey schist.

Vines are the only cultivated plants that will grow in these arid conditions, but there is also the scrubby vegetation of the garrigue, cistus, thyme, rosemary, as well as pine trees and holm oaks.

The scent of the vegetation was heady in the unseasonal warm sunshine. Butterflies flitted in the sunlight and the birdsong was enchanting.

Twenty three wine growers, all with vineyards in Maury, as well as the cooperative of Maury itself and the combined cooperative of the nearby villages of Tautavel and Vingrau, were participating in the balade. Maury may have an appellation for its fortified vin doux naturel, but it also has a fine reputation for what the wine growers call their vins secs, either vins de pays or Côtes du Roussillon Villages. Grenache, be it blanc, gris or noir, is the dominant grape variety, with some Carignan, both noir and blanc, and some occasional Mourvèdre and Syrah, while for white wine there is also Macabeo. Some of the growers’ names were known to me; others were quite new, so this was a great opportunity for some discoveries.

Equipped with glass, cutlery, sun hat and wine list, we were bussed to the start of the balade and then walked a very short distance to the first étape, for a tartare d’asperges garnished with chives. All the wine here were white; and often with quite obvious oak, as most growers favour a fermentation in oak, but not new, for their white wines. All the wines were either 2010 or 2009, so they had plenty of ageing potential. So what follows are some of the highlights amongst the 37 wines available for tasting.

2010 Messieurs from Les Vignes d’Elodie, a vin de pays, from Grenache Gris. 8.50€ There was a touch of oak, but not too much, with good acidity, and satisfying mouth feel, with flavours of white blossom.

2010 Coume Marie, Côtes du Roussillon from La Préceptorie de Centernach, 11.00€ A blend of Grenache Gris, and Blanc, as well as Macabeo and Carignan Blanc. Quite rounded and buttery, with oaky undertones, but with good acidity, weight and underlying fruit. Potential for development.

2009 Le Sud, a vin de pays from Mas de Lavail, 11.50€ and a blend of Grenache Gris and Blanc, was broader and richer, quite full and buttery with a rounded finish

We enjoyed some fabulous views as we walked on to our entrée, which was a rather curious piece of pig, described as croustillant de cochon, au poivre de Penja fumé. I couldn’t taste anything smoky or peppery about it – our friend’s dog Milly enjoyed it enormously, while we were less enthusiastic. However, the wines more than compensated.

2010 Mas Camps Éclat de Rose Côtes du Roussillon Villages, 6.00€ A blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre, was ripe and rounded with strawberry fruit. This is not a region for delicate rosé, but for full-flavoured mouth filling wines.

2008 Clos des Vins d’Amour 1+1=3, Côtes du Roussillon, 8.75€ A blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir and Carignan had some fresh spicy fruit and was served at a refreshingly chilled temperature. That is one of the problems of tasting wine in the middle of the countryside – serving conditions may be far from ideal, and not every vigneron has thought to bring sufficient ice to chill all their wines, when even the reds benefit from chilling on a warm summer’s day.

At the fish course, a morsel monkfish cooked in a reduction of red Maury, I enjoyed the white vin de pays from Domaine Semper, 2009 Regain, 10.00€ A blend of Carignan Blanc, Grenache Gris and Blanc and Macabeo, from vines that are at least seventy years old, all planted together in the same vineyard. There was a distinctive touch of fennel, with good balancing acidity and a rounded body. It was very satisfying.

2010 Le Cirque, Vin de Pays from les Vignerons Tautavel-Vingrau from old Grenache Gris was refreshingly unoaked, and also with a hint of fennel on the palate. 4.90€

And most intriguing pairing with the fish was a Maury Tradition Grenat 2009 from Domaine de la Coume du Roy, a fresh young vin doux. The wine was chilled, with spicy liquorice notes and ripe fruit, and a touch of sweetness on the finish. It worked well, with the sweetness enhancing the fish, whereas anything tannic would have simply jarred. 11.00€

At the next étape a rather uninspiring piece of lamb, with herbes du maquis conspicuous by their absence, provided the partner for a delicious selection of red wines. Meanwhile our canine companion dined well.

2007 Désiderade, Cotes du Roussillon Villages from Mas de Lavail, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan from 100 year old vines was ripe and spicy, with rounded fruit and a dry leathery tannic note on the finish. Somehow it tasted of the wild rugged countryside, soaked in warm sunshine. 10.50€

Again Mas Camps showed well with 2009 Ronde des Vents, a Côtes du Roussillon Villages, a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache Noir, with twelve months oak ageing. It had youthful potential, with a good balance of ripe fruit and young oak. 9.00€

2007 Les Dentelles, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, from Domaine Thuvenin-Calvet, one of the new producers of the village, with an impressive looking new cellar on the outskirts. The Calvet family come from Maury and began their association with the Thuvenin family from Bordeaux in 2001. The wine was dense and solid, with ripe fruit and oak – and a heady 15˚. 19.00€

2006 Un Baiser from Clos des Vins d’Amour, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, a pure Grenache Noir, from 100 year old vines, of which half had spent 12 months in old 400 litre barrels, was dense and ripe, but with a balancing fresh streak of tannin. 2004 was the first vintage of this estate and the wine promises well. 14.50€

The cheese course came from Fromages Juliette in the town of Rivesaltes. Our friends knew this as a superlative cheese shop in the old part of Rivesaltes. We were offered old Salers and some Roquefort, and a selection not only of vins secs, but also some Maury. Of the vins secs, I liked 2007 Grains de Velour Cotes du Roussillon Vilalges from Domaine Majoral best, A blend of Grenache Noir, with Carignan and Syrah. It was rounded and spicy, with a satisfying tannic edge. However, tasting at this etape was slightly problematic as we were encroaching on the space of the village barbecue area, and local families were doing just that, so it required great concentration not to find smoky aromas in all the wines.

2007 Le Tiradou, a Côtes du Roussillon Villages from Domaine Francois Lurton had some warm fruit, with a warm stony minerality and quite a tannic backbone. 12.50€

Monhectare was offering both red and white Maury – Odile Pontillo has just one hectare of vines – she explained that not only is she the smallest producer of Maury, but also the only one to make more white than red Maury. She makes 1000 bottles of each and sells them together, as le Duo de Monhectare. Her white Maury is sweet and biscuity with a note of fennel, which the red has some ripe spicy fruit. It’s all very simple – she keeps her wine in vat – and she wryly observed that she does not know how to make vin sec. 10.00€

The path to the last étape took us past more vineyards and though the back streets of the Maury, where we discovered some wonderful murals and trompe l’oeil on otherwise dull walls. They certainly enhanced the atmosphere of this little village. And dessert, the best course of all by far, was a sumptuous chocolate macaroon, and just the thing to show off a range of young Maury. Amongst the stars were:

Viatge, Maury Grenat, 2009 from Domaine Semper, with ripe cherry fruit, prunes and figs, with well integrated alcohol, beautifully balanced with a harmonious finish. 11.00€

2009 Maury Grenat Cuvée Diabolique from Domaine des Terres Cathares was quite oaky on the nose with some black cherry fruit and a firm tannic finish. I prefer my Maury a little softer, but if you think young vintage port……13.00€

Luc Charlier who made Cuvée Jolo at Domaine de la Coume Majou explained how he had learnt his wine making in the Douro, with Portuguese rather than British houses. He picks ripe and late, adds minimal alcohol and uses no wood; nor does he filter or fine. I thought his wine had a distinctive touch of orange; it was sweet and ripe, with some orange spice, and a touch of tannin, and a fresh finish. 22.80€

Mas Amiel’s 2008 Grenat was ripe and rounded, with an elegant balance and good fruit. 15.50€

And Les Vignerons de Maury excelled themselves with their 1990 Tuilé, with a long nutty palate, with a touch of figs, and a smooth finish. A grand finale to a magnificent walk.

Friday, 20 May 2011


It’s been a busy few days – firstly, a tasting at the Maison du Languedoc to help select the best 40 wines from the Languedoc to show on the Sud de France stand at the London Wine Trade Fair. That was followed by two mornings of tasting Languedoc for Decanter Magazine, concentrating on Faugères, St. Chinian, Cabardès and Minervois – and in between my local friendly merchant Roberson’s hosted a tasting of their portfolio, with wines from Mas des Dames, Domaine Peyre Rose and Mas Coutelou, which was a new name for me. And this week I spent an afternoon at the Natural Wine Fair, which was organised by Isabelle Legeron M.W., along with importers Les Caves de Pyrène, Aubert & Mascoli, Dynamic Vines, The Wine Story and Yapp Brothers. There were wines from all over the world, but of course I gravitated towards the Languedoc, with a little detour into Tuscany for my friends in Montalcino, at Paradiso di Manfredi. And I have just emerged from two days at the London Wine Trade Fair, where amongst many other things, I tasted our final selection of ‘Prestige Wines from Languedoc-Roussillon’ and also the complete range of the Top 100 Vins de Pays.

Full reports on all these tastings will have to go on hold until the end of the month as we are setting off for the Languedoc tomorrow morning, with a detour into Switzerland to discover the wines of the Valais. So more anon.

Friday, 13 May 2011


Wine competitions are a great way of promoting interest amongst consumers and wine growers alike. They can provide an enormous boost of confidence for a new wine grower and help establish reputations. However, they also need to be taken with a generous pinch of salt, as I found out a couple of weeks ago in the Hérault.

The competition that focuses on the valley of the Hérault has now been going for 25 years and it has established its credentials over that time. It covers wine growers from 42 villages, around Clermont l’Herault, Gignac and Aniane, an area that includes Montpeyroux, St. Saturnin and some Terrasses du Larzac villages, as well as part of the Grès de Montpellier. The number of entrants has grown steady, over the years, and this year there were 240 wines from 69 cellars, with 123 jurors to taste them all.

The organisation of the judging begins quite seriously – wine growers are allowed to be judges, but they certainly may not judge their own wine. I was on a table with Bernard Pallisé from the Montpeyroux coop; Jacques Beauclair who runs a mobile bottling company; Pierre Rossignol, a young man who is working for the cooperative of Pomerols while studying viticulture, and one of the directors of Millésime Bio, Thierry Duchenne. We had a dozen wines to taste and we were expected to give some sort of medal to about one third of them. The gold medals would go forward for the trophy tasting. All we knew about our range was that the vintage was 2008 and all had spent some time in oak – the wines could have been vin de pays or appellation, and from any of the permitted grape varieties of the region, so Cabernet Sauvignon alongside Syrah. I was more severe than my co-tasters, and only found one wine that I really liked, and happily gave that a gold medal, while my fellow tasters found a silver and a couple of bronze medals.

We were then expected to decide between us who should go on to the super jury that would judge the gold medals. Most of my fellow tasters had previous engagements for later in the morning, so haphazardly by process of elimination I found myself on one of three tables of the super jury, with half a dozen red wines to taste. We were six tasters, and three of us liked one wine, and three of us another. Somehow we reached a decision; I am not sure quite how. Most of the wines were pretty good, but I was rather shocked that one of the gold medals reeked of brett.

My table then decided that I should represent the table for the super super jury – we were three, plus the president of the competition, Guillaume Biau, with Philippe Cabrit from the Syndicat des Vins du Coteaux du Languedoc, and Bernard Agay, a retired director from the ICV, l’Institut Coopératif du Vin, and we had three wines to taste. A white wine – did it or did it not deserve a trophy? – and we had to make a decision between two red wines. The white was delicious, everything that a white Languedoc wine should be, with some lovely understated fruit, delicate white blossom, and no overpowering oak. And of the two reds, one was richer and spicier than the other, and so that was the winner.

And then the bottles were unveiled - 26 bronzes, 30 silvers, 20 golds. And two trophy winners. I was thrilled about the white wine. I had had a conversation during the coffee break with my friends Jo and André from Villa Dondona in Montpeyroux and Jo was telling me how excited she was about their white wine, made for the first time last year. And that was the winner – Cuvée Espérel, a delicious blend of Grenache blanc, Vermentino, Marsanne and Roussanne in descending order. Jo was stunned; André smiled and both were thrilled. It was a great recognition of their first white wine.

And the red came from Domaine Les Quatre Amours in Belarga. 2009 Cuvée Louis A blend of 75% Syrah vinified by carbonic maceration and aged in oak for 15 months, with the balance a traditional vinification of Grenache Noir. This estate is completely new to me and I shall certainly be going to visit. The wine was rich and spicey; sunshine in a glass.

And there is more information about the results on www.vins-vallee-herault.fr