Friday, 29 July 2011


Marlène Soria’s directions were very precise. You take the dirt track by the fire station in St. Pargoire, and follow the telephone wires. And that is just what we did. And after about four kilometres along a bumpy dusty track, we reached a magical spot, a haven of flowers, with a small house and cellar, nestling in the hillside.

Marlène and her husband bought their property back in 1973 as a holiday home. They planted a small vineyard in the mid-70s, pour s’amuser, and in the early 1980s began to plant more seriously, Syrah mainly, with a little Grenache and Mourvèdre. By the end of 1987 she had 17 hectares of vines, and then stopped for planting for a while, and then she developed another vineyard of white, Roussanne and Rolle, and bought some nearby vines, to reach a total of 26 hectares, all in the commune of St. Pargoire. Altogether she has 70 hectares of land; the rest is garrigues, so that her vineyards are surrounded by shrubs, and do not run the risk of spray contamination from neighbours’ vines. She has been organic since the beginning. The vines are at an average of 220 metres, and the clay is clay and limestone, often red, with lots of stones.

It has not always been easy. Marlène built a new cellar in 1997, and then discovered that she had a problem with vats that were contaminated by bad resin. Consequently no wine was made in 1999, 2000 and 2001, and the issue with the suppliers of the vats is not yet resolved. We chatted as we tasted. You sense that Marlène is very much her own woman; she has a strong but not flamboyant personality. She is self-taught and she has a very clear idea of the style of wine she wants to make. Her wines enjoy a long fermentation; with a bit of temperature control, but as she observed, she does not have any great technical resources.

2003 Clos des Cistes
Syrah with 15% Grenache. Deep colour; quite a rounded, rich nose, quite evolved. Lots of fruit of the garrigues. On the palate, rich and rounded, quite dense, tannins bien enrobés, - I am not quite sure how to say that in English – well fleshed out maybe? Quite leathery, Seamless with tannic streak. Depth and complexity. It was bottled two years ago. Marlène favours a long slow ageing. As she organic, rather than biodynamic, she says that she sees her wines changing according to the season, rather than the biodynamic calendar.

2003 Cuvée Leone
This is named after the former owner of the property. Marlène explained that a lot of Spanish had arrived here in 1936, and first lived up here in the hills and then settled in the village of St. Pargoire in the 1960s. Consequently there are several ruined buildings in the garrigues. The blend is Syrah, with 10% Mourvèdre. Originally all her wine was aged in vat, but she now has some foudres for Cuvée Leone. This is fuller, richer and denser, with lots of fruit noirs and garrigues notes. It is quite tannic, with a firm finish

2003 Marlène No. 3
2003 was the first vintage of this cuvée; there is a little more Syrah than Grenache, and also a little Carignan. She blends as she picks, so that the assemblage is done at the harvest. Quite a smoky note on the nose. More red fruit; quite rich cherries on the palate, and quite a tannic finish. About a quarter of the blend is kept in a small foudre – 35 hls – for a couple of years or so. You sense that Marlène’s wine making is very empirical, with a finely attuned attention to detail, determined by a sensitive palate.

2002 Cuvée Schiste
Syrah is the dominant grape variety, with a touch of Grenache. And the wine has been given a long élevage. Medium colour. A certain meaty leathery note on the nose. More ready on the palate; quite supple with garrigues notes; drinking well now, with length, elegance and complex nuances of subtle flavours.

2002 Cuvée Leone
Quite a deep colour. A viandé note on the nose. This is the first year that Marlène used her foudres. Lovely elegance, garrigues and spice. Very rounded, complex, rich and elegant.

Marlène does not sell from the cellar door, but her wines are available at the Cellier de la Vigneronne in Faugeres and from Caves du 41 in Nimes. She suggested a price of 58€ for the 2002s, and 54€ for the 2003s.

Postscript - The current edition of La Revue du Vin de France features 100 Grands Vins from the Mediterranean - not just from France but from Italy and all points east, to Cyprus and the Lebanon. Domaine Peyre-Rose is third in the French list, after Domaine Gauby and Domaine Tempier, and in 7th place overall.

Thursday, 28 July 2011


We nearly had a domestic crisis here on Monday morning as we realised that we were down to the last bottle of our favourite local white, Picpoul de Pinet. But that was a problem easily solved by a visit to Château St. Martin de la Garrigue, just outside Montagnac. We’ve been buying the Picpoul from there regularly over the last few years, and the 2010 is as good as ever. We were lucky, the wine maker, Jean-Claude Zabalia was in the office (you can buy wine without making an appointment during office hours) and had some time to spare to give us a tasting.

2010 Picpoul de Pinet – 8.20€
Lovely salty fruit on both nose and palate. Good Picpoul should convey the sea and this does, with good acidity and a fresh pithiness.

2009 Bronzinelle, Coteaux du Languedoc – 9.30€
This is a new white cuvée, a blend of predominantly Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache, with a little Picpoul, Terret and Viognier. The Roussanne and the Viognier are fermented in oak, and kept in barrel for a couple of months, so that they can work on the lees. The Picpoul and Terret add some acidity and the Viognier some aroma. There certainly was an underlying peachiness on both nose and palate, with rounded fruit and good acidity. Very appealing.

2010 Rosé – 6.30€
Made from Cinsaut, which is pressed, and Syrah and Grenache which are saigné. Quite a bright colour; a touch amylic on the nose, but with some ripe fruit on the palate, strawberries, balanced with good acidity; a combination of elegance and body. Jean-Claude emphasized that the picking date is decided with rosé, rather than red wine in mind.

2009 Rouge Tradition – 6.30€
Mainly Carignan, made by maceration carbonic, with some Syrah and Grenache. Some of the Syrah is also fermented by carbonic maceration. Quite a deep colour; a certain peppery rusticity on both nose and palate. Quite firm and peppery with very good fruit. Carignan at its simplest, and most appealing.

2009 Bronzinelle – 9.30€
A blend of vaguely equal parts of Carignan, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache. In hot years there is more Mourvèdre and Carignan, and in cooler years Syrah and Grenache dominate the blend. All the wine is aged in old wood. I found a certain confit note on the palate and nose, and a hint of orange. It was quite rounded with some supple tannins and a leathery note on the finish. 2009 was a dry year.

2009 Grès de Montpellier – 13.50€
There is a new bottle for this part of the Languedoc, with an embossed neck, that proudly proclaims its providence. The blend is the usual four grape varieties, but with a lot of Mourvèdre, and longer ageing in oak. It promises well. Deep colour; quite a firm oaky nose, with hints of vanilla, and on the palate, quite a solid, rounded oaky flavour. Very youthful. The oak is pretty much in evidence, but it is classy oak and the wine should develop nicely with some bottle age.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


Last Sunday was the annual open cellar day at Domaine Ollier-Taillefer in the pretty little village of Fos. It is always an animated occasion, with wines to taste, cheese and charcuterie to nibble, and a singer, who sounded a little like Juliette Greco to enhance the atmosphere on a sunny afternoon.

The big draw this year was a vertical tasting of Castel Fossibus, literally the château of Fos, which is their oak-aged cuvée. I have to admit to a sneaky preference for the unoaked Grand Reserve, but I certainly was not going to pass up the opportunity of a vertical tasting. The blend is approximately 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre, but obviously varies a little from year to year. They include some Carignan in exceptionally hot years like 2003.

1999 - Medium colour; beginning to develop an orange rim. Mature nose, but the oak is not completely integrated. Quite a rounded palate, quite meaty and cedary with a dry finish. And certainly still very much alive for a wine that is 12 years old, and their first élevage in oak.

No 2000 or 2001 left, so straight on to 2002

2002 – Medium colour, with a little development. Delicate spice and a touch of oak on the nose. Medium weight, with some fruit and oak, and quite an elegant finish.

2003 – This was the heat wave year, but the effects were less marked in the Midi than in other parts of France. The nose is firm and structured, with some vanilla notes. And the palate is solid and rounded. with firm tannins; quite a sturdy wine, but not especially hot.

2004 – Deep young colour. Quite firm oak on the nose, but more fondu or integrated on the palate. I felt they were beginning to master the oak better with this vintage. Quite a cedary palate; some elegant spice and nicely balanced tannins. Medium weight with a fresh finish.

2005 – Medium depth, young colour. Quite a firm smoky nose, with an elegant palate. Medium weight; some firm tannins, with youthful fruit, and a touch of spice. Good balance and length. Still has ageing potential though also drinking very well now, with a daube or another winter dish.

2006 – Quite a young colour. Quite firm closed nose. Some ripe cherry fruit on the palate, with some pepper and spice, and a youthful streak of tannin and oak, with a hint of vanilla. Youthful potential.

2007 - Medium colour; quite a rounded closed nose. Elegant fruit on the palate, with subtle tannins and a fine balance. Still very youthful, with a certain vivacity especially on the finish.

2008. Young colour. Quite a hard nose, with a curious balance. Tannin and fruit, but here is an edge to the wine. This is the year of the hail storm and it does show in the wine.

2009 – First I tried a bottle that had already been open for three hours. Youthful colour, with perfumed raspberry fruit and a touch oak. More obvious oak on the palate; ripe, youthful and rounded, with a firm backbone of tannin.

And a second 2009, opened a few minutes earlier, tasted more closed, with fresh cherry fruit, and youthful elegant tannins. Both fine bottles showing the style of Castel Fossibus and how the wine has progressed over the decade.

I have a soft spot for their entry level red, les Collines. The 2010 is back on form, after the hail of 2008. Lovely fresh cherry fruit on the nose, and easy spice on the palate. Light and fresh.

2009 Grande Reserve is rounded and lightly spicy. Medium weight but with more depth than les Collines, as you would expect.

Monday, 25 July 2011


I spent most of last Saturday at the annual wine fair in Aniane. It is held in the old Chapelle des Pénitents in the old part of the town, which is a surprisingly successful venue, comfortably accommodating thirty exhibitors from the surrounding villages, Puechabon, St. Jean-de-Fos, Gignac, St André-de-Sangonis, Montpeyroux, St. Saturnin, as far as Clermont l’Hérault, as well as Aniane itself.

I was with my tasting buddy, Lits, and we agreed our plan – to taste the red entrée de gamme or entry level wine for each exhibitor. Quality varied, and so did the price. We might have expected to taste 2010s and 2009s, but there were also 2006 and 2005s lurking – I realised that many of the visitors had come specifically to buy wine, and so some wine growers were hoping to off load some older vintages. And then if we liked the entry level, we went back for more, depending on our mood. It has to be said that we did get a bit discouraged half way round the room, confronted by several wines that seemed to lack fruit, or were clumsily inky. And in some instances, the entry level wine was the best of the range, for being nicely unadulterated by the infelicitous use of oak.

So wines I could happily have drunk for dinner that evening included:

2009 les Chemins de Carabotte, IGP Mont Baudile, Carignan - 7.00€
Good colour; quite dense ripe fruit. Some spice. Quite a sturdy mouthful, with some supple tannins. Characterful.

2010 Mas Laval, les Pampres – 9.00€
A blend of 60% Syrah, with Mourvèdre, and Grenache. Ripe fruit, quite concentrated palate, and quite fleshy, with a nice balance.

2010 Domaine de Familongue, Mas des Vignals, Mont Baudile, Cinsaut – 5.50€
Medium colour; a bit stalky on the nose, but with much more fruit on the palate. Quite fresh and easy.

2009 Domaine Puech-Auger, Montpeyroux, les Faïsses de Jean – 5.00€
Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Good colour; quite a solid nose; quite rounded and ripe on the palate, a hint of orange and some good spice, with a touch of minerality. Great value.

2007 Domaine des Trémières, Cabernet Franc, Pays d’Oc - 5.70€
Quite rounded fruit, but with a tannic edge of Cabernet Franc, with acidity as well as tannin. Medium weight.

2009 Domaine Virgile Joly, Joly Rouge – 7.00€
Medium colour; a touch stalky on the nose, with some fruit on the palate. Medium weight. Drink slightly chilled.

2010 Domaine Jordy, Tradition - 4.60€
60% Grenache, with Syrah and Cinsaut. Some garrigues fruit on the nose, and more ripe fruit on the palate. Quite gouleyant, a slightly sweet perfumed note.

2010 Domaine Coston, IGP San Guilhem-le-Desert- 6.50€
Grenache, Carignan, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cinsaut. Medium weight; some rounded fruit on nose and palate. Some appealing spice; nice balance and easy drinking.

Other people didn’t really have an entry level wine. Take Mas de Daumas Gassac, once one of the stars of the Midi, but these days I find the red wines unremarkable, while I still enjoy the whites.

2010 white Mas de Daumas Gassac – 30€ - is ripe and peachy, with good acidity. Satisfying texture and mouth feel, with some delicate white blossom fruit.

2010 rose Frizant – 12.00€ - A rather curious colour, and a flavour reminiscent of what the French so aptly call bonbons anglais, or boiled sweets.

There was a cask sample of 2010 and a bottle sample of 2008 (32.00€) which left me feeling that my taste buds must have missed something, for both I described both as lean.

Another estate that is best avoided is l’Esprit de la Fontaine – 32€
This is a blend of Syrah, with Grenache and Carignan. Unfortunately the person pouring the wine was not up to answering basic questions, so I think he thought the wine was aged in tronconique concrete vats for eighteen months. Whatever, the 2007 vintage tasted rather stalky and lean; the 2008 has a little more fruit, with a peppery note, but was still rather lean, and the 2009, which was a vat sample, was rather light, with a curious sweet note. The back label mentioned Gerard Dépardieu, and Philippe Salasc, whose family once owned Château de Capion, as well as some unfamiliar names. It all seemed rather a waste of effort, and was certainly not worth the price.

But on to more expensive wines that were worth drinking….

To my mind Mas Cal Demoura consistently produces elegant, finely crafted wines, and Saturday was no exception.

2010 Etincelle, IGP Hérault – 14.00€
40% Chenin with Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Muscat and a touch of Petit Manseng, which is new to the blend. Some exotic fruit on the nose; nicely rounded fruit, with lots of intriguing nuances on the palate. Fruit and acidity and complexity.

2009 Paroles de Pierres, vin de table 19.00
70% Chenin Blanc, with Roussanne and a little Petit Manseng, 2009 is the second vintage of this wine. It enjoys a year longer ageing than l’Etincelle, and in older oak. Quite textured, with dry honey and good acidity. Some minerality and a note of quince on the palate. Again very intriguing. Two lovely examples of how well the white wines of the Languedoc are developing.

2010 Rosé Qu’es Aquo, Coteaux du Languedoc – 8.50€
Quite bright pink. Very fresh acidity. Rounded cherry fruit.

2009 L’Infidèle, Terrasses du Larzac - 14.50€
Quite rounded but firm leathery fruit on the nose. A touch of oak, but nicely fondu. Good fruit with depth of flavour and length on the palate.

2009 Les Combariolles – Terrasses du Larzac – 22.00€
Firm structured oak on the nose and palate. Quite firm leathery fruit. There is more Mourvèdre and less Grenache in this wine, to achieve the desired balance in quite a warm sunny year. Structured; stony minerality on the finish.

2009 Feu Sacré – 35€
80% Grenache, with Syrah. Quite solid and rounded, ripe and dense. Warm leathery Grenache fruit. Youthful. Solid and charpenté; needs time.

Domaine Puech Auger was one of two estates from Montpeyroux, and well worth a taste.

2007 Montpeyroux, les Dolomies – 9.00€
50% Syrah, with Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan. Quite firm stony mineral fruit, with some oak and a dry finish. Nose a bit unforthcoming.

2007 Elegance – 13.00
50% Grenache, with Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan. Solid and rounded and too oaky for my taste buds.

In fact I preferred Didier Crezegut’s whites and rosé – and he also let slip that he has truffles on his land …..

2010 rosé – 5.00€
Syrah, Cinsaut and Mourvèdre. Orange pink colour. Quite fresh and ripe with fresh acidity and good fruit.

2009 l’Envie, Mont Baudile, Chenin blanc – 100% - 6.00€
Quite rounded with dry honey and soft acidity. Good balance.

2009 les Dolomies – 7.00€
A blend of Roussanne and Rolle, aged in oak, but nice oak, making for rounded ripe, and also oaky wine. How will it age?

I also enjoyed les Chemins de Carabote on the same occasion last year – and the wines did not disappoint this year. On the list for a cellar visit.

2007 Coteaux du Languedoc – 11.00€
50% Syrah, 35% Grenache, 15% Carignan
Quite rich and rounded, with some leathery fruit on the palate. Medium weight. Good texture.

2007 Terrasses du Larzac – 18.00€
Again 50% Syrah, 35% Grenache and 15% Carignan, with 18 months élevage. Quite rounded with spicey fruit. Good balance. Oak nicely fondu.

Rosé, Languedoc – 6.00€
Syrah, with a little Grenache. Pressed grapes, so quite a pale colour. Quite mouth filling with good body and a certain weight. A satisfying food rosé.

Domaine Lacoste Germane also caught my eye for a cellar visit, with:

2006 Oeillade, Coteaux du Salagou. 8.00€
I expressed surprise at an Oeillade of that age – normally you think of it as a wine to drink young and fresh, but M. von Braun makes a point of ageing his wines. It was very intriguing. It had spent three years in vat, on fine lees, with no filtering or fining. It was quite rounded and perfumed, with some body and depth.

Next came two vintages of Faïsses, which means terraces in Occitan.
The 2004 vintage (12.00€) was bottled in 2007, after an élevage in vat. Medium colour; elegant cassis; ripe fruit, quite rounded with harmonious tannins.

2002 Faïsses – 18.00€ - was quite a deep colour, with rounded mature cedary notes on the nose and palate. Medium weight. Beautifully balanced.

I enjoyed the wines of Fons Sanatis last year, and was not disappointed this year.

(2009) Witiz – 100% Carignan, vin de table. 12.00€
Medium colour. Quite a solid nose; a touch confit, and on the palate quite concentrated with spicey fruit and quite dense furry tannins. Characterful.

(2009) Gren – in other words a pure Grenache, that has spent 18 months in vat. Vin de table. - 14.00€
Quite a ripe fresh nose, reminiscent of liqueur cherries, and even more so on the palate, with some leathery fruit. Quite firm and rounded with some depth.

2009 Senescal, vin de table, Aramon – 16.00€
A touch viandé on the nose, but some intriguing fruit on the palate. Quite furry tannins. Not very harmonious, but it left you wondering.

Then onto Domaine de Familongue for Les Trois Naissances
first the 2010 rosé – 6.40€ - from Grenache and Syrah, saigné and vinified in wood, which gives more weight and a satisfying mouth feel; nicely rounded on the palate, with spicy ripe fruit.

2008 Les Trois Naissances red – 15.00€
Syrah and Mourvèdre makes up 70% of the blend, with Grenache, Cinsaut and Carignan. Medium colour; lightly smoky nose; nicely rounded spicey fruit, with a dry leathery finish.

A white also caught our attention:
2009 Domaine des Conquêtes, IGP Hérault – - 9.70€ It is an intriguing blend of Vermentino, Chenin, Grenache and Chardonnay, vinified in oak. A hint of oak on the palate, with youthful fruit. Nicely crafted. And it will age; we’ve just enjoyed the 2007, which was a tad oaky in its youth, but it has evolved beautifully into a very satisfying bottle with rounded fruit and texture.

And a couple of sweet wines to finish:

Domaine de Familongue, Clairette. Vin de raisins surmûris and botrytised. Quite a deep golden colour rounded with rich honey unctuous notes on the palate. Quite smooth, with the gout de rôti that is characteristic of noble rot. The vintage is 2005, but you are not allowed to say so on the label. 14€ for 50 cl. bottle.

Chemins de Carabotte Promenade en novembre (2006) Vin de France. 14.00€ for a 50cl. bottle. From overripe Grenache grapes, picked in November. Very intriguing; lovely elegantly sweet liqueur cherry fruit with a streak of tannin. Medium weight.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


I had tasted a couple of Jean-François Coutelou’s wines in London chez Roberson’s and liked them enough to plan a cellar visit. Little did I know that I had a real treat in store. A couple of friends came with me, to his cellar in Puimisson. But first we went for a drive around the vineyards in Jane-Francois’s little white van. Alex was lucky, she got the passenger seat; Lits and I sat in the back on two large boxes, with two dogs competing for the space around our feet. – Jean-François’s Héro and Lits’ Milly. Fortunately they seemed to like each other.

Jean-François explained that he has 14 hectares of vines, as well as 400 olive trees. His father planted his oldest vines back in 1966 and the estate has been organic since 1987. He was one of the pioneers of organic viticulture in the Hérault, when there were just seven organic wine growers in the department, with a total of just 40 hectares, registered with Nature et Progrès. We looked at various plots of vines – there was a wonderful fig tree, laden with fruit which would ripen in three stages – figues de fleur in June; another crop in August and the final crop in September – Jean-François explained that fig trees are an indication of underground water. The soil in his vineyards is mainly clay and limestone – some very red. It is all tilled and beautifully tended. He has Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Cinsaut, and for whites Sauvignon, Muscat, a little Viognier – he has also planted some Grenache Gris, Macabeo, and grafted some Clairette musqué and Carignan blanc, as well as just 120 plants of Castet, a rare red variety which you also find at Château Simone in Palette.

Jean-François made pertinent observations about some of the neighbouring vineyards – he is surrounded by cooperative members – one has rows that are 800 plants long ….. Most of them use weed killer, ‘un petit coup de Round Up’. Another puts the effluent of the local sewage works on his vines, by way of fertiliser – you could not avoid noticing the smell in the breeze. Jean-François criticised another for practicing chemical defoliation, as opposed to manual leaf-plucking. Someone else produces Sauvignon with yields of 100 hl/ha. Another is converting to organic viticulture, but as Jean-François observed; in practice he is just after the subsidies; he is not looking after his vines properly; they were a forest of weeds and potential disease and in five years time when the subsidies come to an end, he will simply pull them up, and get another subsidy for replanting….He called it ‘la chasse aux primes’. It was quite an eye opener, and in contrast Jean-Francois’s vines were a picture of health, alive with insects and birds, and a hare running between the vines.

And back at the cellar in the village, glasses were produced. How many wines do you make? That depends on the year. First came a white; his whites tend to be ripe, but balanced with good acidity. Acidity is affected by the work in the vineyard and how you treat your soil. The wine was full and perfumed, with a hint of Muscat and some lovely textured fruit and good acidity.

2010 7 rue de la Pompe (his address in Puimisson) rosé - 6.00€
A blend of Cinsaut, Grenache and Mourvèdre. The Mourvèdre was saigné and the other two varieties pressed. It was quite a deep coloured pink, with ripe strawberry fruit and good acidity; ripe and rounded with a dry finish. Jean-François follows the precepts of the Association des Vins Natures and does not use any sulphur. If the grapes are healthy, the sulphur comes naturally.

2010 red 7 rue de la Pompe was still in vat. It is a blend of 80% Syrah, with some Carignan and Grenache. It will be bottled by gravity on the last day of the descending moon in a month or two, without fining or filtering. And he has a barrel with a glass end so that he can see how troubled or otherwise the wine is – at that moment in the lunar cycle there should be very little lees in suspension in the wine.

Deep colour; firm dry spice on the nose. Lovely, peppery fruit. Very characterful and appealing . The price will be 5.50€

2010 Vin des Amis – 7.50€
A blend of Syrah and Grenache; sometimes there is also some Cinsaut and Mourvèdre. Good colour; some lovely fruit, reminiscent of liqueur cherries, which makes me think of Grenache. Pure, fresh fruit.

2010 A Touch of Class in a Glass – 60% Carignan and 40% Syrah. Another vat sample which had just been racked, but left on its fine lees.. Jean-François tries to avoid racking as it takes away the natural protection of carbon dioxide. This was a touch reduced on the nose, but the palate was delicious, with some peppery fruit and that rusticity that is the bench mark of Carignan.

2010 Le Vigne Haute – 11.00€ but tasted from vat.
A pure Syrah. Very perfumed; lovely fresh spice, peppery; more northern Rhône than southern. Lovely, long palate. Jean-François explained how he plays with macerations times – this wine had ten days. He uses whole bunches, if the stalks are ripe – they were in this instance – and does pigeage.

NV L’Oubliée – from demi muids. 15.00€ Half Carignan from the 2001 and 2007 vintages, and half Syrah 2009. In other words, a solera of red wine. Quite a perfumed palate; quite sturdy and very intriguing. Jean-François explained that he had been wanting to try a solera of table wine for some time – the reason will become apparent in a moment. It was quite unexpected and very original. He considers demi muids – 500 litres barrels – to be a good size for the Midi.

And then when we thought we had finished tasting, he said, ‘but you haven’t seen the other cellar’. Little did we know that he is a master of soleras for dessert wine, making the most deliciously matured Grenache, but without any mutage, or addition of alcohol.

We began with a 2007 Grenache, which has spent three years in barrel. It had a nutty orange nose with an intriguing palate, long and nutty with notes of biscotti di Prato, not unlike Vin Santo, with good acidity. It will be added to the solera system.

And then we carried on to taste a series of delicious barrels and my notes, for some reason, became less and less intelligible.

The next sample was amber in colour, quite sweet with some firm walnut fruit. The water evaporates and the flavours concentrate, with very good acidity. Beautiful length.

Next was a Grenache that was an average of 25 – 30 years old – with a firm nutty note; and a firm but rich palate.

The next barrel was fabulously concentrated, rich and rounded, quite sweet, with backbone, and wonderfully complexity.

The next barrel was amber coloured; quite sweet rich and nutty, rounded with great length and balancing acidity. Wonderfully nutty fruit. Average age about 25 – 30 years. I felt that I was beginning to run out of adjectives, and certainly superlatives.

The next barrel was an average of 50 years old, dry but rich, with very good acidity. Jean François suggested that it was like an old Armagnac or Cognac; I was tending towards old oloroso. It was the result of a traditional solera.

Faced with the next wine, I have scrawled: words fail me. Wonderful nuances; acidity length; very concentrated. .

And then we tried some Muscat aged in chestnut – called Hors d’Age and more like a PX or sweet Pedro Ximenez. Picked when it was very ripe so that it was unctuous and smooth, but with acidity.

And the final wine was a fifty year old Pedro Ximenez - it was a deep chocolate colour, very rich and unctuous and chocolaty on the palate, rich and sweet with concentration and a streak of acidity.

And the cellar itself was a treasure trove of old wine artefacts, with walls covered with old vineyard equipment. As we left Jean-Francois showed us an old box that was used for sending a small sample of wine in the post. You put the stamp directly onto the box. And the taste of wonderful mature Grenache lingered in my mouth, almost all the way home.

Thursday, 21 July 2011


When a bottling line gets mentioned on a press trip, I tend to take a rather jaundiced view – been there; seen that, umpteen times before. A bottling line is a bottling line, but when you find yourself a participant, rather than audience, it takes on quite a different aspect. And that is just what happened to us yesterday. Our friends, Deborah and Peter, at Mas Gabriel, were bottling their red wines, Les Trois Terrasses and Clos des Lièvres, 8500 bottles in all.

The bottling lorry was booked months ago and Deborah and Peter were praying for fine weather, well at least for no rain. The gods were relatively kind; it did rain but only first thing in the morning. By the time everything was set up, the rain clouds had gone. However emergency tarpaulin had been procured, just in case. The bottler, Daniel, works on his own, so it is up to Deborah and Peter to find the team for a smooth operation – twelve of us in all.

We had house guests so could not arrive till mid-morning, by which time a good part of the Trois Terrasses was bottled. I joined my friends, Tuk and Sharon, at the carton preparation end of the line. Cartons to be marked, folded and handed up to the packers, as quickly as the bottles came down the line. Then there was technical hitch – not enough dividers – berceaux or cradles as they are more poetically called in French. A frantic phone call to the supplier – it was nearly midday – please would they stay open while Peter broke the speed limit on the motorway for a quick dash to Servian – and so a lunch break was declared. Deborah had spent most of the previous day cooking , delicious salads and cold cuts – a bottle or two of rosé, and some homemade ice cream – and at one o’clock we were back on the line. I was promoted from carton marking to passing them up to the packers – you have to stay alert and avoid the temptation to day dream, and then my shoulders started to ache, so Tuk took over, and Sharon and I chatted while folding cartons.

The Trois Terrasses was all bottled, and we had a changed of carton size for the Clos des Lièvres – and a pause. Deborah checked the new wine and we were off again. Meanwhile my husband, Christopher’s help was enlisted to hand bottle twelve bottles straight from the vat. Deborah and Peter’s oenologist is cautious; he thinks Clos des Lièvres needs a light filter before bottling; Peter and Deborah would like to prove him wrong, or at least justify their conviction that the wine would taste even better without filtering. So twelve bottles were put on one side to follow their evolution, and to compare with the filtered wine.

Out in the street our main problem was the wind – a sudden gust scattered cartons down the road. And another hazard was traffic – the lorry was parked out in the street – no room in the cellar; most drivers slowed down and indeed stopped to pass the time of day, but one or two maniacs behaved as though we did not exist.

And then another interruption – the sellotape that sealed the bottom of the cartons got caught up and need disentangling – and off we set again, keeping up the pace. And the cartons were piled up on pallets. Christopher appeared with an enormous roll of heavy duty clingfilm, to wrap the pallet. This was a sight for sore eyes; he can’t manage clingfling in a kitchen, but cellarsize it seemed to prove no problem.

And suddenly Peter emerged from the cellar with the end of the hose; we were almost done.

And the last pallet was squeezed into the cellar. And then it was time for tea time, chocolate cake – and the tea was quickly followed by a delicious glass of Château Peyrade’s Muscat de Frontignan. It went well remarkably well with the chocolate cake. And Deborah and Peter relaxed as the initial stress of the day evaporated - bottling is stressful for it is the culmination of your year’s work.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


Our local caviste observed recently that new estates are spawning like mushrooms around here, and how right he is. They seem almost impossible to keep up with. Driving between Fontès and Neffiès the other day, we spotted a brand new cellar, an elegant construction in pine, and quite unlike any traditional Languedoc cellar. Further investigation revealed it to be Allegria, a new venture set by Ghislain and Delphine d’Aboville, with an Argentinean partner, Roberto de la Mota, who in the coincidences of a small world, I had met on a trip to Argentina last year, at his own estate, Mendel, in Mendoza.

Ghislain explained that he had worked for LVMH in Geneva for eight years and had met Roberto as they market Bodega Terrazzas de los Andes, the estate that Robert created with Pierre Lurton. Hence the Argentine connection. And in 2003 Ghislain decided that the time was ripe to fulfil his ambition to turn wine maker, so he studied in Montpellier and worked vintages in the Pic St. Loup and Argentina, and then took the decision to settle in the Languedoc. And why the Languedoc? In his words; it is easier de se faire connaitre. Burgundy is inaccessible. He likes the culture, the Mediterranean climate, the diversity of grape varieties and the style of wine. Everything is much more open. His first vintage was 2008, made at the nearby AXA property, Domaine des Belles Eaux, as were the 2009 and 2010 vintages, as the new cellar was only completed this year. It is built in the middle of his vines, following ecological precepts, in a contemporary design. The wood is Douglas fir which resists heat and humidity. And the inside is the essence of simplicity with unlined concrete vats – Ghislain considers a resin lining to be a possible source of contamination. He wanted to able to do manual pigeage – it’s softer than remontages – and you need enough space above the vats.

Altogether he has nine hectares, in the neighbouring villages of Caux, Neffiès and Fontès, in one large block at the foot of the le volcan des Baumes – the soil is quite varied, with clay, basalt and gravel. He has Roussanne and Marsanne for white wine, and is planting Vermentino, with Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsaut and Carignan, but no Grenache for the red wines. The vineyards are undergoing conversion to organic viticulture and should be certified later this year.

We tasted his first vintages.

2008 Tribu d’A Blanc – 10.00€
A blend of Marsanne and Roussanne. The Marsanne is fermented and aged in barrique and the Roussanne in vat. Light colour, delicate white blossom on the nose. The freshness of the Roussanne and a touch of wood on the palate, but nicely integrated. Rounded with some fruit, hints of fennel and a slightly bitter finish. Nicely balanced, and satisfyingly intriguing. It is labelled Coteaux du Languedoc and Ghislain observed that the Comité des Vins du Languedoc is now considering keeping the appellation Coteaux du Languedoc. I had thought that it was set to disappear next year. On verra.

I asked about the name. Ghislain explained that Allegria is a project between two families and that it is a name of the south, for joy, la joie. They wanted to convey the sense of une aventure humaine.

2009 Cinsaut – Abuelo, Vin de Pays de Caux – 9.00€

They made just 1000 bottles of this. It has some lovely fresh cherry fruit, on both nose and palate. Classic Cinsaut, redolent of fruit, with a fine balance of tannin and acidity. Enormously appealing and beautifully fresh. No sulphur was used in the wine-making. Ghislain observed that the alcoholic fermentation produces sulphites naturally, and that for un vin naturethe maximum sulphur level is 10 gm/l.

2008 Tribu d’A - Allegria, Pézenas – 9.00€
70% Syrah and 30% Mourvèdre Good colour; quite firm and peppery on nose and palate. Some attractive fresh fruit, with cherries and pepper. Good structure and youthful, with a streak of oak. One third of the blend was aged in barrel, so the wine needs a little time. Good balance and potential.

2008 Carignan Vin de pays de Caux - 14.00€
Classic vinification, with the aim of a wine to age. Élevage in oak for all the cuvée, over two winters, in barrels of one fill. Bottled in March 2010.
Medium colour; closed nose. Quite firm and structured on the palate. Some underlying fruit, but I found the oak slightly flattened the fruit, whereas Ghislain was aiming to soften the underlying rusticity of the Carignan. Maybe the next vintage will include a percentage in vat.

The full range consists of two entry levels wines called Petits Bonheurs, a rosé from Cinsaut and Syrah, and a red from Syrah with a little Mourvèdre. Then there are the two Tribu d’A wines, and some experimental single vineyards, currently the Cinsaut and the Carignan. And finally there is Cousu Main, meaning hand made, a finely crafted Coteaux du Languedoc that only comes in a magnum or double magnum. Ghislain is very insistent that recevoir, giving visitors and clients a warm welcome, will be part of the philosophy of the estate. They are planning a restaurant, and also developing a two day programme whereby people can come and create their own blend. Ghislain has a keen sense of marketing, which can be rare in the Midi, and deserves to go far.

For more information, look on their website:

Sunday, 17 July 2011


I do like wine in magnums – to my mind a magnum is serious declaration of intent to enjoy the evening. It simply adds to the conviviality.

So last night we opened 2009 St. Chinian, Domaine des Jougla, Cuvée Ancestrale. What can I say? It was absolutely delicious, the Midi sunshine in a glass, with flavours of the garrigues soaked in summer warmth, and lovely supple tannins and a long gouleyant finish. The blend is 40% Mourvèdre, grown on clay and limestone, and 30% each of Syrah and Grenache Noir, grown on schist. And the wine is aged in vat, so that it retains fresh youthful fruit. A lovely example of how immediate the flavours of the Midi can be – it could age for a year or three, but is drinking deliciously now. Domaine des Jougla is one of the old established St. Chinian estates and on my list for a posting in the near future.

And a week ago we enjoyed 2001 Domaine Virgile Joly, Virgile Rouge, a blend of Carignan, Grenache Noir and Syrah. Virgile was the pioneering independent wine grower of St. Saturnin, a village dominated by its cooperative, making his first wine in 2000. His original little cellar is in the centre of the village, on the square, between the church and the mairie. This is a shining example of how well wines from the Languedoc can age, and it still tasted very young, even at ten years old. The wine was aged in barrel for twelve months and then in tank. There is some firm ripe fruit on the nose, with a structured palate, with good concentration and youthful tannins, and a warm finish. One of Virgile’s very best wines, and all the better for being in a magnum.

Monday, 11 July 2011


This is always a great opportunity to catch up with some old favourites, and discover some new wine growers.

Domaine Clamouse – Jacques Clamouse made his first wines in 2010 – a rosé and a red. This is his retirement project and he has just two hectares of vines. His red was delicious, some fresh peppery fruit and lovely balance.

I by no means tasted wines from all the producers – there were nineteen in all, each showing a few wines. And conditions were far from ideal. By the time I reached Domaine Valambelle at the bottom of the street, temperatures were rising and the wines were warming up, with the result that they simply tasted over alcoholic. Well done those who had thought to bring an icebox such as Château Chenaie, with some lovely elegant wines. I particularly enjoyed their 2009 Les Ceps d’Emile, from vines planted 80 years ago, and also a slightly lighter 2009 red Conviction, while the 2010 rosé Conviction was fresh and delicate.

Les Fusionels – as good as I remembered them from a cellar visit a couple of years ago. Intemporelle has some lovely fruit, with a supple tannic edge. Elegant balance.

Domaine des Trinités – a delicious rose and some intriguing Roussanne. I didn’t try Simon’s reds.

Domaine de Cebène – Brigitte Chevalier’s wines are stylish and elegant. Ex Arena, 90% Grenache, with some ripe cherry fruit, and a leathery finish, along with a spicy 2009 Bancels and more sturdy 2008 Felgaria.

Brigitte is also involved with a new property, Domaine de Saint Martin d’Agel, but I was not taken with that, and indeed Brigitte didn’t think that it was showing as it should be

I have never visited Domaine de l’Ancienne Mercerie - Nathalie Caumette has just taken over as the new president of the syndicat of Faugères and she has ambitions for her appellation. And I liked her wines too, Les Petites Mains and Couture, and promised to return for a cellar visit.

Frederic Alquier – For me, his white wine, a His Roussanne Marsanne blend is his best wine.

Domaine Bois de Rose was new to me, but I did not feel that I needed to continue the acquaintance.

Château de Grézan was disappointing – some rather pedestrian wine-making, and Château des Adouzes also failed to inspire.

Domaine Ollier Taillefer remains an old favourite and Domaine de Sarabande is one of my new favourites.

And the finale was a vertical tasting of ten vintages of Mas d’Alézon. The first three vintages were not Faugères, but Coteaux du Languedoc. You need a minimum of 5% Mourvèdre to make Faugeres, and Catherine did not have it until 2004. However I was hard pushed to decide whether I preferred the 2000 or the 2002. Both had aged beautifully; the 2002 was more elegant with some spicy garrigues fruit, with length and complexity, while the 2000 was more sturdy, with warm leathery fruit and some lovely notes of mature Syrah. Who says wines from the Languedoc do not age?

Friday, 8 July 2011


There were some interesting statistics and comparisons in our local paper, the Midi Libre, yesterday morning, which I thought I would share with you. We are in the Hérault, the department that covers most of the Coteaux du Languedoc, except La Clape and Quatourze, and also includes a small part of the Minervois, not to mention the IGP Côtes de Thongue and vast swathes of Pays d’Oc.

The Hérault ranks as the second viticultural department of France, presumably after the Gironde, but the paper didn’t say so, so that is just a guess. 288 of the 343 communes or villages of the Hérault produce wine, with 86,166 hectares of vines in production, which I was fascinated to learn, as somebody who has never watched a football match in her life, equates to 170,000 football pitches. There are 73 wine cooperatives in the Hérault, which account for 70% of the production, balanced by 1300 independent cellars. Viticulture is responsible for 63% of the agricultural turnover of the department, and 48% of the agricultural land, and 15% of the total area of the Hérault.

There are 8500 exploitants viticoles – I guess this means wine growers, both independent and coop members, as opposed to 500 bakers; 900 chemists and 400 cafés, along with 1400 hairdressers.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


It is always exciting to visit a new estate at the beginning of its story, so I was keen to accept an invitation from our friend, Arnaud Deville. He has already helped put Château de Nizas, the revitalized Pézenas property of the American John Goelet, on the map, and then it was time to move on. And Jean-Claude Albret, the owner of the franchise for Carrefour in Narbonne, was looking for somebody to market his brand new estate, les Bugadelles, which he had bought in 2004. The vineyards are new. Earlier vineyards had been abandoned and the land had not produced any grapes since the beginning of the 20th century – in fact although it is in the heart of the Massif of la Clape, with Château de Camplazens its next-door neighbour, it does not qualify for the appellation, for the simple reason that there was nobody to claim the classement back in the early 1980s. Consequently the wines are all vins de pays, or IGP d'Oc

M. Albret has ambitious projects and Arnaud took us for a drive through the vineyards to show us the domaine. The property totals 400 hectares, of which about 40 are planted with vines, the varieties of La Clape in red, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan, with Carignan blanc, Roussanne and Viognier, for white, but no Bourboulenc. He has also planted olive trees, 25 hectares of mature vines that were bought from Spain, as well as five hectares of fruit trees and three hectares of truffle oaks. And there are also sheep, for wool, and maybe cheese, with their own rather smart stone bergerie, and with a view to maintaining the traditional agriculture of the region. Everything is farmed organically. Arnaud took us to a marvelous view point, where you could see the land all around, with a view of Mont Tauch, and the Pyrenees to the south, the mouth of the Aude and the town of Valras and beyond, Cap d’Agde and the Mont St. Claire. And it was windy. The wind is a great help to viticulture on La Clape, quickly drying any rainfall.

And then we went to Château Auris, which has had a slightly chequered recent history. It was the property of a local négociant, Paul Herpe and then briefly a restaurateur, before M. Albret bought it in 2005, with the aim of giving it a new lease of life. It is just up the road from the Cistercian abbey of Fontfroide and the other near neighbour is the Rothschild property of Château les Aussières. While the cellar at les Bugadelles is still an enormous hole in the ground with a huge crane, the cellar at Auris is the traditional Languedoc barn with large cement vats, which have been modernised, as well as a cuverie of small stainless steel vats. Everything here is done by gravity. There are 40 hectares of vines, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsaut, but no Mourvèdre. The climate is much cooler than nearby Narbonne, at least 2˚C difference, so that the area is one of the cooler parts of the Corbières, with a long ripening period, and vineyards on north-facing slopes.

2010 Château Auris blanc 80% Marsanne, 20% Grenache blanc – 7.50€
All élevage in vat, and blended soon after fermentation. Light colour. Quite full white blossom on the nose. Good acidity on the palate with some herbal notes. Leaner than the nose would lead to expect, with some sappy fresh fruit.

2009 les Bugadelles blanc – 13.00€ Grenache blanc 70% and 15% each of Roussanne and Viognier. All fermented in barrique.
Some colour. Quite a resinous oaky nose. Rounded palate, good texture and weight. Quite leesy. The oak dominates the palate, but in a nice way, and the wine is still young, and so are the vines. Lots of potential. The white wines of la Clape also benefit from the tempering marine influence.

2010 les Bugadelles blanc – a tank sample.
They used less oak than in 2009 and the oak is nicely integrated. Quite fresh with tight knit fruit and some weight. Some herbal hints. Quite characterful and more elegant than 2009.

2010 les Bugadelles, rosé de Grenache – 6.00€
Pure Grenache. Pressed. Pale gris orange colour. Quite a delicate nose. With more weight on the palate. Good acidity. Refreshingly dry, with firm fruit. A food rosé

2010 Château Auris rosé - 7.50€ 55% Grenache, 34% Syrah, 11% Cinsaut –
Quite deep colour for a pressed rosé. More pink than gris. Dry strawberries on the nose with solid rounded ripe fruit, with a dry finish. More body than la Clape.

2010 les Bugadelles, L’Esprit Rouge - 5.50€ 39% Grenache Noir, 37% syrah 24% Mourvèdre. About to be bottled
Quite deep colour. Very garrigue on the nose. You can smell the vegetation of la Clape in the glass. With leathery notes on the palate, and herbal hints. Medium weight and a fresh finish

2010 Domaine Saint-Julien d’Auris – about 6.00€ but not available at the cellar door.
Syrah 42%, Carignan 34% Grenache 24%
Good young colour. Rounded nose, red fruit with a touch of leather. Some fresh crunchy fruit. Cherries and spice; medium weight.

2008 Château Auris , Corbieres– 8.50€ - 50% Syrah, 27% Grenache, 22% Carignan
Deep colour. Quite firm, leathery nose on the palate, quite elegant dry spicy fruit. Quite rich and leathery, long and subtle. A touch of wood.

2009 Chateau Auris , Corbieres - 60% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 15% Carignan, still in tank.
Very deep colour; quite solid garrigue nose. Quite ripe and rounded, with dry leathery fruit. A certain structure.

2009 les Bugadelles – 80% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre and 5% Carignan – 7.50€ About to be bottled.
Deep colour; some spicy peppery Syrah. No wood, but a smoky quality. Very spicy, good minerality, garrigues, restrained tapenade and stony notes. NB the vines are only four years old. The first crop was 2007. 2009 was a hot vintage, but benefited from the proximity to the sea.

So I look forward to following the progress of les Bugadelles, and also Châateau Auris. The start is certainly promising.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

A BURGUNDIAN IN THE MINERVOIS - Domaine Anne Gros and Jean-Paul Tollot

I spent a happy afternoon in the Minervois last week with Anne Gros. Normally you would associate the name Gros with Vosne Romanée – there are several members of the family making elegantly refined Burgundy on the Côte d’Or, but Anne and her husband Jean-Paul Tollot, who are each involved with their own family estates, also wanted to make wine together. And they looked for vineyards in the south, first in the Var, and then they considered the Costières de Nimes; they fell for the hills around Aniane, but couldn’t find what they wanted; there was a property for sale in Cruzy, in St. Chinian, but that wasn’t right either; nor was one in Boutenac and then they arrived here, in the hills of the Minervois outside the hamlet of Cazelles. It is not even a village – the population is just 30 people. Anne enthused; they felt une énorme emotion, but it was so far from Burgundy, a five hour drive – and there was also a cellar for sale, but what a horror. So although they found their vineyards in 2006, they did not actually take possession of them until 2008, as their purchase depended on planning permission for a smart new cellar. 2008 was their first vintage in the Minervois.

I always enjoy seeing vineyards – that way you really get a sense of place and terroir. Anne began with eight hectares, which have grown to twelve, with a further purchase of land to plant. They have Cinsaut, Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, but no Mourvèdre. They had wondered about planting Mourvèdre, but it doesn’t ripen –‘it would be idiotic’. It ripens three weeks later than Carignan, and that is already a late ripener. They also wonder about white grapes, as the climate is assez rude, and the altitude is the same as Vosne Romanée, at 220 metres. Maybe Chardonnay; maybe not.

We admired various plots of vines, all beautifully tended, with barely a weed in sight. ‘Grass provides competition for water, a concurrence hydrique, which will detract from the quality’. They use no weedkiller, but they are not organic. ‘Copper is even worse than chemicals', which will degrade. Copper doesn’t. The main problem is vers de la grape, and they can also get oidium. It was cool at flowering, so some of the vines have coulure, but that doesn’t matter as they aim for low yields – 35 hl – 40 hls /ha. Anne enthused about Cinsaut – she finds its elegance comparable with Pinot Noir – it is much easier than Syrah, which needs a lot of work. Cinsaut can develop very large grapes, they look like tiny footballs, but they don’t have a lot of juice, unless it rains heavily. They work on keeping the vines well ventilated; good aeration is essential - they do an ébourgeonnage in May, which is usual in Burgundy, but not in the Languedoc. They remove leaves, and tiny grapillons. You sense that the vines are given an enormous amount of TLC.

And she enthused about the diversity of soils, c’est ça qui nous a plu. This is the continuation of everything that we have learnt in Burgundy. And she loves Carignan – that is what is keeping us here - with its structure. She has some very old Carignan, a vineyard with stone walls on three sides, and vines that are a venerable 104 years old, and another plot that is 102 year old, while her youngest vines are 10 year old Grenache, south facing on very stony soil. Three of her wines are named after plots of vines, and as a Burgundian she is particularly excited that they have bought a plot called les Combettes. Everything is handpicked, by a team from Béziers, who are paid by the hectare, rather than by the weight of the grapes, which is the usual practice in the Midi.

We soaked up the sunshine, and the noise of cicadas was deafening. And then we returned to taste around her kitchen table, first the 2009s and then their first vintage, 2008. She does not sell from the cellar door so prices are the recommended retail price for a wine shop.

2009 La 50/50 Anne Gros / Jean Paul Tollot, vin de table 11-13€
The name is simple – they are sharing the adventure. And for reasons of grape variety mix, only ten of their twelve hectares are classed as Minervois – two are vin de table, as they have no Mourvèdre, and a lot of Carignan and Cinsaut. This is a blend of Grenache, Cinsaut and the younger Carignan vines, which are thirty years old. All are destemmed, and the élevage is in vat, with no wood. The wine is elegant, with almost a Burgundian silkiness. There was freshness, minerality, dry spice, some red fruit, elegance and a lovely balance.

2008 La 50/50 - This is a cooler vintage than 2009. Medium colour. Quite firm, fresh peppery fruit. Good acidity as well as tannin on the palate and less body than 2009. A certain austerity, but none the worse for that.

2009 Minervois, Fontanilles 14 -16€ Fontanilles is a place where there is water, maybe a spring or fountain. A quarter each of Cinsaut, Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. All the Syrah is aged in wood, and most of the Carignan, which amounts to about 30 per cent of the cuvée. The vines for this are north facing and there is a definite freshness to the wine, with some tannin and an elegant lift on the finish. It is very harmonious and rounded.

2008 Fontanilles Quite a closed nose, Medium weight. Some peppery spice on the palate, with an attractive tannin edge and very good fruit. Youthful and fresh.

2009 Minervois la Ciaude – 20- 23€
This is a south-facing plot, on clay and limestone, including Syrah, old Carignan and young Grenache. The stones give heat, while the clay stays fresh, so although, as the name implies, it is very hot, the vines do not suffer from water stress. The Carignan and Syrah all go into wood, making a total of about 60% oak élevage. There is a hint of vanilla on the nose, with some firm fruit, with a rounded palate, with firm tannins. Youthful and fresh, with fine potential.
Anne mused: perhaps la Ciaude could be a monopole, as in Burgundy, 'mon petit Clos Vougeot'. There is more clay in Clos Vougeot, and more limestone here.

2008 Minervois la Ciaude Good colour; silky nose with hints of tapenade. A certain freshness, combined with spice, and a lift of acidity as well as tannin. Long rounded finish.

2009 Minervois les Carrétals -27€
In theory Minervois should be a blend of at least two varieties, but this comes from the 104 year old Carignan, and for obvious reasons there is no mention of Carignan on the label. It is all aged in wood. The nose is quite firm with some oak and red fruit and on the palate there is a peppery edge, with some firm fruit. It is youthful, with enormous potential. I was fascinated that a Burgundian was giving Carignan, once a much decried grape in the Languedoc, so much love and attention.

2008 Les Carrétals Quite deep colour; smoky oak nose with quite a firm tannin palate, balanced with red fruit. Quite spicy. Elegance oak that is nicely integrated, but the wine is still youthful and fresh. Definitely worth ageing in bottle, as are all these wines. Most ready to drink is the 50/50. And both the labels and the plaster of the cellar walls are a warm orange – as Anne observed, the colour of the Carignan leaves in autumn.