Monday, 31 October 2011


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 14 October 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 7 October 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And last but not least was Fingal Rock from Monmouth.

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

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

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 1 October 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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