Wednesday, 28 September 2011


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 12 September 2011


Last Tuesday in London was one of the wettest days of a dismal summer …… However, I braved the elements to attend Dudley & De Fleury’s trade tasting, and was well rewarded, as Katie Jones from Domaine Jones was taking a short break from the harvest in Maury and showing four wines, including her new Fitou.

2011 Muscat Sec - 6.00€
Light colour. A lightly perfumed nose, with a slightly bitter, pithy note that is typical of dry Muscat. Fresh grapey fruit on the palate, a lovely balance of honey and fruit. More honeyed than the nose would indicate. Pure Muscat à petits grains. 3.4 gm/l residual sugar.

2009 Domaine Jones Blanc – 15.00€
Grenache Gris, with just a hint, 3%, Muscat. Quite leesy and a touch of oak on the nose. A dry resinous note, balanced by a rounded textured palate, with some dry honey on the finish. Very intriguing. However, the wine is sold out and the 2010 about to be shipped to London.

2009 Domaine Jones red – 15.00€
I have tasted components of this wine before, but not the finished item. See earlier postings). Medium colour. Some fresh vibrant fruit on the nose. Nicely rounded palate with good spicy, berry fruit and Roussillon sunshine – much appreciated on a grey day in London. Beautifully balanced and very accessible. A blend of 95% Grenache, with 5% Carignan.

2010 Fitou - 16.00€
Katie has just 50 ares in the village of Tuchan at an altitude of 300 metres, planted with Carignan 50%, Grenache Noir, 30% and Syrah 20%. The total production filled four oak barrels, which were together blended in May. And the result was delicious. Good colour. Quite a solid concentrated nose, with some oak. Well integrated oak on the palate. Quite rounded, peppery, leathery youthful fruit. Quite gutsy. A winter wine, conveying warm sunshine.

And I can’t begin to describe the relief of arriving in Montpellier the following day to find the sun shining. No need to look for Languedoc sunshine in a bottle. And over dinner with friends in the evening, sitting outside till nearly midnight, we enjoyed Domaine Ollier Taillefer’s Allegro, followed by Jean-Francois Coutelou’s fresh peppery No 7 rue de la Pompe. See earlier postings about those two estates. Coming next will be a series of St. Chinian producers.

Monday, 5 September 2011


To Château Ste. Eulalie near Félines-Minervois with Isabelle Coustal – and a brief hallo to her husband Laurent. First a drive through the vineyards; they have 35 hectares in one large block, mainly argilo-calcaire and very stony. There is an old river bed, with fossils. The highest vines are at 260 metres, and there are some great views of the Montagne d’Alaric in the distance. These are some of the most northern vineyards of Minervois, with the Montagne Noir not too far away. The Pic de Nore rises to 1200 metres; apparently the fact that Montagne Noir is covered with trees, which makes it look very sombre, hence the name.

Isabelle practices lutte raisonnée, and uses weed killer under the vines, but not between the rows. Their first vines were bought in 1996 – first 25 hectares, and then they acquired another ten hectares the following year. Carignan accounts for 30%. Everything is mechanically harvested; Isabelle considers it to be much ‘cleaner’.

The old cellar, dating from 1868, has some old stone vats that are buried below ground; the cellar walls are thick, nearly one metre thick. For their barrels, they favour the Burgundian cooper Cadus, and replace a quarter of their barrels each year. They work by gravity – and do no carbonic maceration and they do use their vin de presse, but don’t press too hard. You sense that Isabelle is a thoughtful winemaker.

2010 Minervois Rosé, Printemps d’Eulalie - 4.80€
50% Syrah, 40% Cinsaut and 10% Grenache and Carignan. Saigné.
A little colour; a reddy pink. Quite ripe, rounded strawberry fruit. Fresh, with good acidity. They begin with Cinsaut and then add the Syrah juice, and finally Carignan and Grenache and the slow fermentation takes about a month. The grapes for rosé are picked first but the fermentation finishes last.

2009 Minervois, Plaisir d’Eulalie – 4.80€
40% Carignan, 30% Syrah, 30% Grenache – fermented in cement vats. About a ten day maceration and bottled after about 12 months
Medium colour. Spicy red fruit and also some black fruit. The côte garrigue of Carignan. A lightly tannic edge, with dry spicy fruit. Medium weight . Serve slightly chilled for easy drinking. And a bargain at 4.80€

2008 Prestige d’Eulalie
40% Carignan, 30% Grenache Noir and 30% Syrah. Twelve months in old wood and then into vats, so this would be bottled in July 2011

Good colour; notes of tapenade and a hint of orange. A hint of oak on the nose, and nicely integrated on the palate. Quite finely crafted tannins. Rounded fruit and some tapenade and black cherries. Medium weight.

Isabelle explained that the soil is very calcaire so not very acidic, but that will make for wines with a certain fraicheur. They don’t want over ripe grapes or ‘super extraction’. They do some remontages and délèstages, and follow their taste buds. The grapes are destemmed; the stalks of the Grenache are very fragile, and they don’t want any green tannins from the stalks. The harvest date is decided according to the maturity of the tannins.

2008 Minervois la Livinière la Cantilène – 11.80€
55% Syrah, 25% Carignan, 20% Grenache
12 months in wood – 25% new. La Cantilène de St. Eulalie was a troubadour song; the first poem of the Languedoc, written in 881AD about a martyr and saint.

Medium colour, a touch of oak, quite a firm nose; quite dry with a hint of warm tapenade. Nicely rounded palate; quite elegant and balanced some tannins and a certain structure. Good ageing potential. A certain freshness. 2008 was a cooler vintage than 2009.

2009 Minervois, la Livinière, Grand Vin -16.00€
Isabelle explained that they were ‘dreaming of a cuvée like the wine their ancestors made’, so they took their oldest plots of vines, some 35 year old Syrah, 80 year old Grenache and 100 year old Carignan, fermented each variety separately and blended them just before bottling in April 2010. They wanted everything to be very simple, so that they would keep the purity of the fruit. I think they succeed. Good colour; lovely perfumed red and black fruit. Medium weight. Elegant tannins; quite concentrated but with finesse and elegance. A long elegant finish, with apologies for too many elegants, but they are deserved. And a great finale to a lovely visit.

And then we took a winding road to the village of Felines to find Domaine du Petit Causse. This is a relatively new estate in that Philippe and Maguy Chabbert only began bottling their wine in 2003. They had been members of the Félines coop, but it closed in 2002, so that was the cue for them to start making their own wine in their own cellar.

Maguy gave us quite an extensive tasting, a white, a rosé, a vin de pays Merlot and four different Minervois. I found the style of the wines quite sweet and soft, with generally not as much grip as you might expect from such wild terroir. A case of work in progress.