Wednesday, 31 August 2011


First stop – Clos Centeilles outside the village of Siran. I always enjoy seeing my good friend, Patricia Domergue. She and her husband, Daniel, developed their estate in the 1990s and these days it is Patricia who makes the wine, and their daughter Cecile is showing signs of wanting to follow in her parents’ footsteps. Daniel and Patricia are passionate about old grape varieties and particularly about Cinsaut. Unwisely I asked her about the regulations for percentages of grape varieties in Minervois to which her reply was: I can’t possibly tell you; hardly any of my wines conform to the rules.......! Their vineyards are around the little chapel of Centeilles, which is worth a visit for its unusual medieval mural of the pregnant virgin.

2009 Cotes de Brian Blanc. 13.20€
Brian is the name of one of the small rivers that runs through the Minervois. And this comes from three grape varieties of 18th century origin, which have almost been lost from the Languedoc, namely Ribeyrenc Blanc and Gris and Araignan. Patricia is also planning to plant Clairette rose and Picpoule rose. A yield of 20 hl/ha. 2007 was the first vintage of this wine.

Some colour; quite a herbal nose with a resinous hint. Nice texture on the palate, with good acidity. Some herbal notes and again a slightly resinous note. No wood – I thought there might have been some from the taste. Some white blossom. White Châteauneuf du Pape is Patricia’s inspiration.

2007 Carignanissime – 8.60€
I’ve always had a soft spot for this pure Carignan, even though Daniel is sometimes quite dismissive of the grape variety. If you can make good wine from Carignan, just think how much better your wine would be from another variety! Medium colour, with red cherry fruit. Medium weight; fresh fruit, with an appealing rustic edge. Patricia, however, asserts that the Languedoc; c’est la terres des assemblages. Her vineyards are in the cru of La Livinière, with slightly lower yields than for Minervois, 45 as opposed to 50 hls and a mandatory élevage of twelve months. 440 hectares are declared currently as La Livinière.

2007 Campagne de Centeilles – 9.60
Cinsaut with just 5% Syrah. That certainly doesn’t conform to the regulations, but hitherto it has depended upon what you have in your vineyard, but things are threatening to change. Medium colour. Quite warm dry spice on the nose. Elegant supple fruit. Dry cherries and dry spice.

2006 C de Centeilles – 11.65€
Some more old varieties here, namely Ribeyrenc rouge, Oeillade, Picpoule, Morastel, which are all fermented together. Some dry cherry fruit and some intriguing spice; more leathery, with a touch of pepper. Good structure and quite intriguing. Patricia observed that on its own Morastel is very tannic and needs blending. This wine was long and elegant.

2002 Clos de Centeilles – 15.20€
This is classic Minervois la Livinière, a blend of equal parts of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, with 10% of the blend aged in barriques. Patricia starts the assemblage at vintage and always ferments at least two of the grape varieties together. Her vineyards are all in the cru of La Livinière, which demands slightly lower yields than for Minervois, 45 as opposed to 50 hls and a mandatory élevage of twelve months. 440 hectares are declared currently as La Livinière.

Medium colour. Some sous bois – the Mourvèdre comes out on the nose. A note of maturity, nicely evolved, with lovely fruit, and some vegetal notes. Long and fresh; lingers on the palate with a cedary finish. An example of just how well Minervois can age.

2003 Capitelle de Centeilles – 17.00€
Pure Cinsaut. 55 year old vines. Some dry cassis on the nose and a certain ripeness and warmth. Spice and cherries, a touch of liqueur cherries. The warmth of the heat wave year, but not excessively so, as there is freshness behind the warmth. A long finish.

A lovely range of wines. Clos Centeilles deserves to be much better known than it is.

Then we went to see the next door neighbours at La Rouviole, where Franck Léonor makes the wine. His grandparents came from Portugal and bought the estate in 1956. They made just 400 litres that first year, and until 2000 the family sold everything to the négoce in bulk and also delivered grapes to the village cooperative. 2000 was the first vintage they bottled themselves. They have Syrah, Grenache, Cinsaut and Carignan but no Mourvèdre. Franck admits to being self-taught; he came to wine after an earlier career as a teacher of history and geography. He gave us a comprehensive tasting. His Cuvéee Classique la Rouviole is mainly Cinsaut and Syrah with a little Carignan and Grenache and is refreshingly unoaked, so this was the wine that I liked best, with some spicy peppery fruit.

2008 Sélection, a blend of Syrah and Grenache with a little Cinsaut spends time in oak, with the Syrah in new barrels. The oak and vanilla dominate the palate. Franck observed: this is the sort of wine I was brought up on, as his early wine drinking years were spent in Bordeaux and for him it was not too oaky, but it was for me. His years in Bordeaux lead him to favour a strong oaky flavour, with a long élevage, and he has also planted some Cabernet Sauvignon.

He then very generously opened the 2000 vintage of the same wine. It had some cedary maturity with a touch of tapenade and some leathery notes, and had aged well.

Franck also likes making micro-cuvees each year – he doesn’t want to get bored, he said.

2008 Le Revenant – 10.90€
A pure Carignan initially and then he felt that a bit too experimental and added 20% Syrah. I actually thought that it had more of a taste of Cinsaut, but with an edge of oak, including some American oak.

2009 Coup de Théâtre – 11.00€
90% Cinsaut and 10% Grenache. Medium colour; some garrigues notes – some ripe cherries and a touch alcoholic on the finish.

2008 Minervois la Livinière – 15.00€
A blend of Syrah 75% and Grenache 25% Oak aged, including some new barrels for the Syrah. Sorry, Franck, but the oak was too much for me, with solid rounded flavours. Tannic and youthful.

And the oak was even more apparent in the 2007 vintage, with dense oaky fruit, and some tapenade notes. And in 2006 there was vanilla, as well as dense oak. I did feel that the wine had not even begun to digest the oak.

And we finished with the 2001, the first vintage of La Livinière, which had been made by Franck’s uncle. Deep colour, with some herbal notes. Nicely evolved, with some tannin and some tapenade. In conclusion, the wines were well made, but not to my taste.

And then we adjourned to Les Meulières, the friendly village restaurant in the square in the centre La Livinière, for some more solid refreshment.

Monday, 22 August 2011


Alain Chabanon is one of the more established vignerons independents of Montpeyroux. He arrived here in 1990 and made his first wine in 1992 – just 2500 bottles. The rest of his grapes went to the coop. So he is coming up to his 20th vintage, anticipating 50,000 bottles from 17 hectares. In 2010 his yield averaged 24 hl/ha. He has not used any fertiliser of any kind for the last twelve years, and he has been registered organic for nine years and is now converting to biodynamic viticulture. Apparently 8% of the Languedoc vineyards are now registered organic. And before settling in the Languedoc, Alain studied in both Montpellier and Bordeaux and then worked in Madiran with Alain Brumont, in Corsica at Domaine Peraldi, as well at the cooperative of Sommières near Nimes.

2010 Rosé Trémier, Montpeyroux – 9.00€

The name is a play on words – a rose tremière is a hollyhock in French. 42% Mourvèdre and 10% Grenache which are bled after one night, and 48% Carignan which is pressed immediately. Quite a bright colour; quite a solid rounded dry nose; good acidity; very fresh palate; quite herbal and long. The acidity will round out. Alain believes in making rosés that age and this is definitely a food wine. And he is very pleased with 2010 as a vintage and 2009 was better than 2008.

2009 Le Petit Merle aux Alouettes, Pays d’Oc – 11.50€
82% Merlot, with 10% Syrah and 8% Mourvèdre, kept in vat for 12 months.
Medium colour; quite ripe plummy nose and more plumy fruit on the palate. A certain freshness and acidity as well as tannin. Youthful. Alain wants his wines to have elegance and finesse. And why Merlot? Quite simply, it was already planted, on clay soil, so not his choice, but he has gone on to do good things with it.

2009 Campredon, Montpeyroux
48% Syrah, 22% Mourvèdre, 16% Grenache and 14% Carignan. Aged in vat. I think Campredon is my absolute favourite of Alain’s wines. It has just the right balance of fruit, spice and structure. Medium young colour; ripe plummy nose, with garrigues and spice. More spice on the palate, balanced with tannins. Rounded with a fresh finish.

2006 Les Boissières, Coteaux du Languedoc – 22.50€
In theory there is 10% Syrah with the Grenache, to conform to the AC regulations for Coteaux du Languedoc. In practice the percentage of Syrah is significantly less...... And the wine spends three years in vat, with the aim of it being perfect for drinking when it is ten years old. Medium colour; dry liqueur cherries on the nose – absolutely classic Grenache. Ripe and rounded spicy cherry fruit with supple tannins. Quite ripe with a touch of alcohol 14.5º - on the finish and already drinking well for my taste buds. The vines are 30 years old, giving a low yield. Boissières describes a round field but was also his mother’s maiden name.

2006 L’Esprit de Font Caude, Montpeyroux – 24.50€
Half Syrah and half Mourvèdre, blended at the beginning of the élevage, with 24 months in wood, followed by 12 months in vat. 2006 was quite a warm vintage. Very deep colour. Quite solid and dense on the nose; some oak on the palate still quite in evidence. Solid and firm. Good substance and body. A winter wine – bring on the daube!

2007 la Merle aux Alouettes, Pays d’Oc – 23.50€
90% Merlot with 10% Carignan Again 36 months of élevage of which 24 are in wood. Deep colour; very cassis on the nose. And on the palate ripe cassis fruit with a touch of spice and some oak. Supple silky tannins. Elegant and stylish. It would be intriguing to slip this into a row of Pomerol.

2007 Trélans – Pays d’Oc – 23.90€
57% Vermentino and 43% Chenin Blanc. Alain bought the vineyard of Chenin and planted the Vermentino himself. 12 months ageing in wood, followed by 18 months in vat. And the 2008 was given 36 months ageing. The aim is a white wine that will last. Yields are tiny – 10-12 hl/ha for the Chenin and about 20 hl/ha for the Vermentino. Dry honey with a fresh pithiness on both nose and palate. Some firm acidity. Beautifully balanced concentration, with dry honey on the finish. Very intriguing. Apparently some thirty years ago the coop of nearby St Saturnin was looking into other grape varieties and considering new wines, and an agricultural consultant from Anjou suggested Chenin blanc. So the vines have some age.

In short a great range of wines confirming Alain's place as one of the leading wine growers of Montpeyroux. His cellar is just outside the village of Lagamas.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011


The village of Montpeyroux attracts more than its fair share of newcomers to the wine industry. One example is Villa Dondona, created by a talented English artist, Jo Lynch, and her French husband, Andre Suquet, whose previous career was in medicine. Back in 1998 they bought fifteen hectares of garrigues, just outside Montpeyroux, above the little hamlet of Le Barry. And in 2000 they decided to plant vines, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. André particularly likes Syrah, and Jo Mourvèdre. Their first harvest was 2004, with just a tiny amount of wine, but none the less and much to their surprise, they won a gold medal. Jo asserts that they were not originally thinking of making wine, and then they looked for an estate that they could improve, and instead they have created something new. Then five years ago they planted vines for white wine, Vermentino and, Roussanne and acquired small plots of Grenache blanc and Marsanne that were going to be pulled up. The first vintage of l’Espérel, the 2010, won a trophy at this year’s Concours de la Vallée de l’Herault. (see a posting earlier this year)

A drive through the vineyard reveals a dramatic site, with the ruined castle of le Castellas above. The plot is shaped like a fan, with several different soil types, including marnes, and red clay, which is better. The vines are trained low, and planted close together, with 8000 vines per hectare, and 70 cms between the vines in each the row. The Vermentino is grown on a pergola, to protect the grapes from the sun, and the direction of the rows is determined by the dominant wind.

They have a small cellar carved out of the hillside, with stainless steel vats and some barrels of 300 litres, and also 270 litres, which apparently is the traditional size for the Languedoc. They come from a cooper in Paulhan.

We sat outside the cellar, tasting, in uncertain summer sunshine, defying some threatening clouds.

2010 Montpeyroux Rosé, Esquisse – 5.50€
Pale orange pink, gris in other words. Delicate nose. Very fresh with good acidity. Delicately rounded but firm palate. A hint of dry raspberries. Pure Cinsaut. The grapes are picked early and pressed immediately; they use carbonic snow in the press to avoid any oxidation. Fermented in stainless steel at a cool temperature.

2010 Espérel Coteaux du Languedoc – 11.00€
Light colour and delicate fruit on the nose; white blossom. Good acidity, rounded with a slightly sappy note and intriguing complexity. A blend of Vermentino, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Marsanne. A very pretty floral label, designed by Jo.

2005 Dame Mourvèdre – 18.00€
As the name might imply, a pure Mourvèdre. The bottle shape is unusual, a medieval shape, said Jo and she has designed a very clever label, with a line that you could interpret as a line of hills, or maybe a female nude, depending on when you look at it horizontally or vertically. My atempt to photograph that label failed completely.

The wine is kept in vat rather than barrel. This 2005 was bottled in 2007. They have only made it twice in 2005 and 2007, because the Mourvèdre was particularly good those two years. Mourvèdre must see the sea and from their vineyard you can just make out Cap d’Agde in the distance. Medium colour. Smoky red fruit, but no oak. A tannic streak; quite a sturdy palate. Ripe cherry fruit. Medium weight. A slight viandé note. Still very young.

2008 Villa Dondona, Montpeyroux
- 9.50€
A blend of 40% each of Mourvèdre and Syrah with 20% Grenache. Kept in vat rather than barrel. Medium colour. Very perfumed nose with a smoky note on the palate. Perfumed pepper palate, with firm tannins, ripe fruit and a rounded finish.

2006 Villa Dondona – the same vines and assemblage, but 2006 was a warmer vintage, while 2008 enjoyed a cooler than average August.
Medium young colour. Heavier nose, more confit. Quite a perfumed palate; balsamic notes. Quite tannic with some savoury fruit. I preferred the freshness of 2008.

2008 Oppidum Montpeyroux – 15.00€
60% Mourvèdre, 40% Syrah and one year in wood, one third new.
Medium colour; some smoky oak, a hint of vanilla on the nose and palate. Quite chewy oak, rounded, and quite dense and powerful. Some tapenade fruit, and still very young.

And our tasting finished just minutes before the heavens opened.

Monday, 8 August 2011


Philippe Modat is a Catalan who has returned to his roots. His grandfather had vines and Philippe’s legal studies in Bordeaux triggered his own interest in wine. Several years on, he now works two thirds of the month in Paris, and the rest of the month in the village of Cassagnes in the heart of Roussillon. He bought land and vines in 2007, in partnership with his father, from a coop member in Cassagnes and the following year built a streamlined cellar, with stone walls and solar panels, outside the village, surrounded by eight hectares of vines. Altogether they have 23 hectares but the rest are still with the coop, but will gradually be withdrawn as they develop a market for their wines. Philippe is converting the vineyards to biodynamic viticulture, observing that his neighbours use weed killer, so that there is no life in their vineyards – you might just as well be on the moon. His in contrast look radiantly healthy.

He has a small tasting area in a gallery above his cellar, so that we looked down on stainless steel tanks and concrete tanks. First came:

2010 Côtes du Roussillon Blanc >– De-ci-de-là - 12.00€
A blend of Carignan blanc, Macabeo, Grenache Gris and Grenache blanc in other words a bit of this and a bit of that. There were small plots of white vines mixed up in the vineyards of red grapes. The Carignan Blanc always gives wonderful acidity, even when very ripe. The nose is reminiscent of fennel, and typical of that part of Roussillon, known for obvious reasons as the Fenouillèdes. Sadly the appropriately named Vin de Pays des Fenouillèdes no longer exists and has been incorporated into Côtes Catalanes. And with the acidity of the Carignan, there is gras, weight and more fennel on the palate, as well as ripe fruit. It was fermented in stainless steel, with no malo-lactic fermentation and spent five months in oak. The oak is beautifully integrated, giving body rather than obviously vanilla and oak notes to the wine.

2009 Côtes du Roussillon Rosé St. Martin - 9.00€
Named after a nearby 13th century Romanesque chapel. Philippe explained that this was his third rosé, that each year he has done something different. He is aiming for quite a powerful rosé, a food wine. This was quite a deep orange pink and a blend of Grenache, Cinsaut and Syrah that were macerated for twelve hours and then pressed. For his first vintage he macerated the juice on the skins for 18 hours, which made more of a light red wine than a rosé, and the second year the maceration time was just four hours which was much too light. This wine was ripe and rounded, dry and mouth filling, with good acidity. There were hints of strawberry and a touch of spice on the finish – and certainly no bonbons anglais here.

2009 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Caramany, Comme Avant – 12.00€
The three classic grape varieties of Roussillon – 30% each of Carignan and Grenache and 40% Syrah. Handpicked and destalked. The grapes are checked on a vibrating sorting table, and go into stainless steel vats, and chilled for a two or three day pre-fermentation maceration in order to extract fruit. Philippe wants powerful flavours, but a lighter texture and not over-extracted wines, a balance that is not always easy to achieve. He favours pigeage. And this was beautiful rounded with some berry fruit, and a leathery notes, and some spice especially on the finish. It is not yet ready. A finely crafted wine which should evolve beautifully.

2008 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Caramany, Comme AvantMedium weight. Spicy leathery notes, more extraction and more pigeage. In comparison the 2009 is more mineral. This is rounded with some leathery tannins, and lots of nuances and depth. The blend was different too, with 50% Carignan – Philippe’s oldest vines are Carignan planted in 1905 – with 30% Grenache and 20% Syrah. Philippe is very enthusiastic about Carignan, when it is ripe and the yields are low. All the 2008 was kept in stainless steel, whereas 20% of the 2009 spent time in second fill barrels.

2008 Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Caramany, Sans Plus Attendre – 14.50€
Syrah is the dominant variety, and this is intended as a wine for ageing, but as Philippe observed, you don’t really need to wait. 70% Syrah and 15% each of Carignan and Grenache. Half aged in vat and half in wood. Youthful fresh pepper on the nose, with some exotic spice on the palate. Quite a sturdy plate, rounded and youthful. I think it would benefit from some bottle age.

2008 Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Caramany, Le Plus Joli – 38€
Philippe blind tasted all his barrels, looking for the most elegant, to chose the best for a cuvée of just 1500 bottles. Initially he chose six barrels, but just three worked best together, two of Syrah and one Carignan, from vines planted in 1905 and 1930. Medium colour. Elegant nose and palate. Very stylish, elegant red fruit. Spicy. Some acidity as well as tannins. Sixteen months ageing in barrel.

And the 2009 vintage will come from two barrels of Syrah, one of Carignan and one of Grenache. And 2010 has not yet been decided.

And afterwards we went and had a look at the underground barrel cellar and tasted some 2010 Carignan from barrel, with some elegant berry fruit and nicely balanced tannins and elegant finish.. Philippe was very enthusiastic, that is what you can do with Carignan. He favours Saury and Seguin Moreau as coopers – ‘it’s a question of the width of the grain; the narrower the grain, the less obvious the oak flavour’. He is also considering a barrel made from oak, but with acacia ends.

So in conclusion some beautifully crafted wines. I sense this new estate will go far.

Thursday, 4 August 2011


Simon Coulshaw at Domaine des Trinités is one of the new rising stars of Faugères, an appellation that is attracting more than its fair share of newcomers and outsiders. Simon worked in IT for 20 years, often abroad, but maintained his interest in wine, which had been encouraged by his father. Then it was time for a career move and in 2004 he began a two year wine-making course at Plumpton in East Sussex and did seriously consider buying land in Sussex. However, his passion is for southern red wine, so he began looking in the Midi, as well as in Spain as his wife comes from Barcelona. Altogether he visited 107 properties before finding what he was looking for, in the village of Roquessels. Why so many rejects? Sometimes the terroir was not interesting – there is no point in buying vineyards on the plain. Or if an estate was already doing well, there was nowhere to take it; he wanted to create a reputation of his own. Essentially he was looking for unrealised potential. And so he arrived in Roquessels in April 2007, with 15 hectares of Faugères and 9 hectares of what is now the cru of Pézenas, after its reclassification. The cellar is neat and well-equipped; and for his first vintage he made ten different wines. Last Saturday I tasted some of the current wines, but not all. Simon loves trying out new things – he is working on a Syrah, with a little Viognier, like Côte Rôtie. You may be able to do that in the northern Rhône, but you can’t in the Languedoc, unless your wine is an IGP.

2010 Rosé Faugères – 5.50€
Pale colour; very fresh; good acidity. Light raspberry fruit. A nice fresh finish. Beautifully balanced. In fact delicious!

2010 Roussanne, IGP Pays d’Oc – 5.25€
Lightly rounded nose. Understated. Lovely white blossom fruit on the palate, rounded with good texture, balanced with fresh acidity.

2008 Roussanne, IGP Pays d’Oc
Quite a deep colour; more tropical fruit, pineapple and also dry honey on the palate. Quite a dry palate, with firm acidity and quite different from the 2010 as it was aged on the lees in tank for three months, with lees stirring. Richer and textured. Lots of character,

2010 Viognier, IGP Pays d’Oc – 5.98€
Very good peachy fruit on nose and palate. Benchmark Viognier character. Balanced with good acidity. Ripe, with lovely texture. The vines benefit from a north facing aspect, on schist.

2007 Viognier, IGP Pays d’Oc
Much more colour; broader palate with notes of maturity. Quite intriguing but lacks the essential peachy apricots notes that I associate with Viognier.

2009 Pézenas – 5.25€
A blend of 35% Syrah and 65% Grenache. Some lovely perfumed fruit on the nose; medium weight, with some youthful furry tannins, providing a firm backbone. Spicy fruit, with a fresh finish. Needs a few more months in bottle to show at its best.

2007 Coteaux du Languedoc
The same blend as the 2009 Pézenas, but the vineyards have been given a new status in the interim. Lighter colour. Lightly perfumed nose. Quite a rounded palate, with some smoky notes, and a touch of leather. Very gouleyant with an appealing hint of maturity. Drinking beautifully.

2010 – Pézenas, Le Pech Mégé – meaning the hill of M. Mégé
Again the same blend. Youthful fresh fruit, with some lovely spice on the plate. Medium weight with youthful tannins. Only just bottled and showing great potential

2007 Faugères, les Mourels – 9.50€
70% Syrah and 30% Mourvèdre. This was the very first wine of Simon’s that I ever tried, thanks to some friends bringing a bottle for supper one evening, and it has remained a firm favourite ever since. The nose is fading a little now and the palate is quite cedary and leathery. Medium weight, with smoky spicy fruit. Simon criticises Faugères in general for having too much Carignan and too much oak. Les Mourels has neither.

2009 les Mourels
Medium colour. Quite fresh peppery nose. More weight and more rounded than 2007. Some supple spicy fruit. Youthful with furry tannins. Not yet released and certainly not yet ready.

2009 Faugères Cuvée 42 – 45€
Equal parts of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, with a very low yield, and co-fermented. This is Simon pushing out the boundaries; the vineyards are biodynamic and he has not used any sulphur in the wine-making. The élevage took place in 500 litre barrels for 16 months. He has made just 2000 bottles, and very generously opened one for us, which we then enjoyed over dinner later. The alcohol level is a heady 15.1º.

Youthful oak on the nose, with the oak nicely integrated on the palate, with a youthful tannic streak. Rounded, ripe and harmonious. Masses of concentration. Needs time. Simon thought it would be drinking nicely in 2016.

And why Cuvée 42? Anyone who remembers The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will know instantly. 42 was the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything.