Sunday, 27 May 2012


Calce is a small village close to the Agly valley, on the way to nowhere.  You take a winding narrow road out of the village of Baixas, and if you carry on through Calce, you will eventually reach  Estagel.  In short nobody takes the D18 unless they want to go to Calce, and there are plenty of reasons to go there – several very good wine growers for a start, and also a sympa village restaurant, le Presbytère   So last Saturday we set off with a firm sense of purpose.  The vignerons were hosting their annual tasting with open cellars – an event they cheekily call Les Caves Se Rebiffent – the cellars fight back.  And they had each invited a wine  grower  from another region or country, so not only were there delicious wines from the Fenouillèdes to taste, but also Sancerre, Priorat and Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence.  The wines from Calce are either Côtes Catalanes or Côtes du Roussillon Villages, or maybe Vin de France.  I am afraid I failed to note that detail, but it is of course the name of the wine grower that counts.   And they are all organic or biodynamic. 

We began with Domaine Lafforgue, which was the new name for me, and proved to be a good discovery.  Noel Lafforgue has 22 hectares in the villages of Calce and also Corneilla.  He is the fourth generation, and took over the estate from his uncle in 2001.

2011 K-ré  Rosé  - 6.00€
From old Grenache.    Light colour.  Ripe and rounded, for easy drinking, with an elegant finish.

2011 Syrah Rosé, Côtes Catalanes – 6.00€
Deeper, brighter colour, following some skin contact.  Ripe and rounded, and more vinous, with more body and texture.  I preferred the elegance of the K-ré.

2010 Les Feches Blanc, - 11.00€ 
A blend of Grenache and Macabeo.  Feches means terraces, of which there are a lot in the vineyards of Calce.  The fermentation begins in vat and then the wine is transferred into 400 litre barrels for nine months.    Quite solidly oak y on both nose and palate, but a lot of body balanced by good acidity under the oak.  Should develop very well.

2010 Muscat Sec – 6.00€
Very perfumed, very grapey; pithy orange fruit.  A mineral note and a rich impact of flavour.   Very characterful.

2010 Vieux Porche – 6.00€  
Grenache and Syrah, élevage in vat. Ripe raisiny nose.  Rounded ripe palate.   Generous and ripe with a streak of tannin.  The warmth of Roussillon.  The wines have markedly different texture compared to the Faugères we were drinking the previous evening.

2010 Quatre Vents – 8.00€
Grenache and Syrah; the Syrah is kept in wood.  Deep colour.  Initially closed nose, with a ripe palate, and a streak of supple tannin.  Good balance and quite mouth filling. 

2009 Autres Terres – 10.00€
80% Carignan with 20% Syrah.  Good colour.  Quite a rich nose, with some oak.  Quite a sturdy palate.  The oak is beginning to integrate – the French would say fondre or melt, which seems very apt, and there is some good fruit underneath the oak.

2010 Autres Terres – 10.00€
For the 2010 vintage the wine is half and half Carignan and Grenache.  Deep colour.  Quite a dense nose.  Quite a solid ripe palate, with some oak.  Quite sturdy, with good body.  Depth and good balance. 
Later in the afternoon we returned for the vins doux:

2011 Muscat de Rivesaltes – 8.50€
Some wonderfully intense perfume.  Very ripe spicy oranges on the palate.  Ripe and smooth with the typical slightly bitter finish of Muscat.

2010 Rivesaltes, Grenat. – 10.00€
Deep colour, ripe spicy nose.  Lots of cherry spice on the palate, and lovely intensity; chocolaty notes and also a fresh cherry finish.

2004 Rivesaltes, Ambré – 15.00€
Amber colour. Quite dry nutty fruit on nose, not unlike a sherry.  Lovely nutty and elegant fruit on  the palate, with a rich finish.  Quite delicious. 

Then onto Jean-Philippe Padié:

2011 Fleur de Cailloux, Côtes Catalanes  - 14.50€
A blend of Grenache blanc, Macabeo and Grenache blanc, grown mainly on limestone.  80 year old vines.  Two thirds aged in old 300 litre barrels; one third in stainless steel, on the lees, but with no bâtonnage.  No débourbage either.  No sulphur, except for a tiny amount at bottling. 
Light colour; quite textured and mineral.  Very good acidity.  Tight knit, fresh mineral and stony.  Great potential.

2011 Ad Libitum – 9.50€
Mourvèdre on schist and Carignan on red clay.  Aged in demi-muids.   Light orange red colour.  Quite a leesy nose, with a vinous palate and an edge of acidity.  Quite intriguing but I’m not sure I really appreciated it.

2011 Calice – 9.50€
40 year old Carignan.  Quite a deep colour.  Youthful closed nose, but with a more expressive palate.  The berry fruit of Carignan, with a tannic streak.  Youthful and fresh and very expressive of the grape variety.

2010 Petit Taureau – 13.00
The name comes from a Claude Nougaro song.  And iJean-Philippe described it as a wine of extremes, with young Syrah grown on schist, and 100 year old Carignan grown on limestone.  One year in concrete and 6 months in wood.   Medium colour.  Quite a firm leathery nose.  Lovely ripe fruit, with spice on the palate, and a leathery tannin streak.  Medium weight.  Possibly slightly drying on the finish.

2007 Ciel Liquide – 21.00€
A selection of the best plots of Grenache and Carignan, ten plots altogether, with four years élevage, two years in old demi-muids, one year in vat and one year in bottle, before sale.  Jean-Philippe has 14 hectares altogether, in 40 different parcelles.  Quite a deep colour. Quite solid dense and concentrated on both nose and palate.  A youthful dense palate, with some furry tannins.  Still very young.   And poured out of a carafe that was the shape of a teapot, but made of glass!

OLIVIER PITHON was further down the street.   He has 15 hectares.

2011 Mon P’tit Pithon – 8.20€
A blend of Grenache blanc and Macabeo.  Quite soft nose.  Rounded soft easy fruit, with some ripe herbal notes and a streak of acidity.

2011 Cuvée Laïs blanc, Côtes Catalanes – 15.50€
Macabeo and Grenache Blanc, élevage in oak.  Some herbal oaky notes on the palate.  Very good structure on the palate.  Tight knit.  The oak is very well integrated with a steak of tannin.  Firm mineral stony fruit from the schist. 

2011 Mon P’tit Pithon rouge – 8.20€
A blend of Syrah and Grenache.  Some spicy fruit.   Quite ripe rounded supple palate.  Easy drinking.

2010 Cuvée Laïs rouge – 15.50€
40% each of Carignan and Grenache and 10% each of Syrah and Mourvèdre.  Aged in concrete vats.  Young colour.  Firm youthful ripe nose, and on the palate.  A touch raisiny with a dense finish.

2009 Le Pilou – 32.00
Old Carignan grown on clay and limestone.   18 months in foudres.  Attractive perfume on the nose.  Quite ripe and rounded on the palate, with supple tannins.  A ripe leathery note and good depth of flavour.  Very appealing.  A lovely example of the grape variety. 

DOMAINE  MATASSA  with Tom Lubbe, who was sporting a T shirt with the logo  Vins bus et approvés

2010 white – 24.00€
70% Grenache Gris and 30% Macabeo; 20 months in old oak.  Unfiltered and unfined.  Some fermentation notes on the nose.  Quite firm acidity on the palate.   Layered and textured with some firm minerality.  How will it age?

2010 El Sarrat, Vin de France – 20€
Pure Mourvèdre.  Quite rounded perfumed fruit.  Some spicy ripe flavours on the palate.  Hints of orange.  A rounded finish. 

2009 El Sarrat – 20€
Young colour.  Young fruit on nose.  Fresh fruit; ripe flavours balanced with a streak of acidity and some supple tannins.   Good balance.

2009 Matassa Rouge – 24€
Tom described this as ‘impure Carignan’.  It is Carignan, but there is some Grenache mixed up with it in the vineyard – in fact he said there are about ten different varieties altogether in the vineyard, and the wine is given 20 months of élevage.  Quite supple ripe fruit on nose and palate, with some smoky leathery notes on the palate.  Medium weight, but quite a ripe finish.   Very satisfying. 

And Tom had invited a newcomer to the village, to pour his wines alongside him.   So I got to meet James Eden – despite the name, he is a Frenchman, but he grew up in Birmingham.    He’s a qualified engineer, and worked in the coop in Gignac, what he called a wine factory, and learnt what not to do.    And fate brought him to Calce, where he has bought a vineyard – initially just 80 ares.   2011 was the first vintage of Clos Eden.  And he will have four hectares for the 2012 vintage.

2011 Nostromo – 13€  There are just 600 bottles of this.    You’ve got to start somewhere
Half Grenache, half Syrah.  Just bottled.    Eight months in barrique.  Minimal intervention and minimal so2  And he used a Burgundian basket press dating from 1905.  Deep colour.  Perfumed orange fruit.  Supple with a tannic streak.   Medium weight. 

2011 Perfide Albion – 10.00€
James made just 300 bottles of this.  25% each Grenache and Syrah, and 50% Carignan.  8 months in wood.   Again some orange notes on the nose, with a certain freshness and a stony finish.  Medium weight and youthful.   

And for 2013 James is promising a white and two new reds. 

As you might expect, Domaine Gauby was a very popular stand, with a dense crowd in front of it.  So we were  very grateful to be invited into the cellar for some more solid sustenance, and a calmer tasting – it was a bit like going into the royal enclosure at Ascot, which  I did once, thanks to a friend who moves in rather more elevated circles than me.   I think Lionel Gauby understood the concept when I tried to explain.

2011 Calcinaires blanc– 14.00€  - 12˚ - which is lighter in alcohol  than most.
Minimal intervention.  Bottled a month ago.  Lemony freshness on nose and palate.  Very mineral very firm acidity and delicate fruit.  Lots of potential.

2010 Vieilles vignes – 30.00€  - 12.5˚
19 months élevage.  Lovely stony mineral fruit on nose and palate.  Length, minerality and complexity. 

2009 Coume Gineste
Grenache Gris and Blanc – 13.5˚ - 2009 was a hot year.  Lionel explained that a long élevage reduces the heat.  This had 26 months élevage.  And the wine did taste very fresh.  Quite rounded with lots of nuances; fresh and complex.

2011 la Roque
Muscat with a very long maceration, so more subtle than a conventional Muscat.    Just bottled.  Orange colour from some skin maceration, and orange notes on the nose.  Very fresh acidity.   Tight knit and intriguing. 

2011 Calcinaires Rouge – 14.00
Mainly Syrah and Mourvèdre, with a little Carignan and Grenache.  Deep colour.  Lovely fruit on nose. 
Fresh fruit on the palate, balanced with acidity and tannin.  Medium weight.  Depth, length, freshness and potential.

2010 Vieilles Vignes
Bright colour.  Quite solid leathery notes with ripe fruit on the nose.  Quite firm fruit on the palate.  Some well integrated tannins.  Fresh fruit, with a youthful edge.   Nice depth.  Long finish.

2010 Muntada.  A blend of Carignan and Grenache,  grown on schist, marnes and limestone.  Solid and leathery on nose.  Good concentration on the palate, but not heavy.  An orange note.  Quite firm tannins.  Very youthful and masses of potential. 

And last but not least was the Château de Calce, the village coop with 40 members running 220 hectares.  We tasted with Valerie Balmigere, who explained that Calce has one of the smaller coops of the region.    It was founded in 1932.

2011 Côtes du Roussillon blanc – 4.20
A blend of Macabeo and Grenache.  Light and fresh, with a touch of Muscat.

2011 Calcidoine, Côtes du Roussillon blanc  -15.00€
Aged in oak.  Old vines, Grenache and Macabeo. Quite solidy oak – too much for me. 

2011 Muscat Sec  - 4.00€
Quite fresh, pithy orange and acidity, a fresh finish.

2011 Côtes du Roussillon rosé – 4.20€
Light nose, light fresh fruit and nice acidity.  Quite delicate

2006 Côtes du Roussillon red. – 3.95€
Quite rounded and easy, but no depth. 

2008 Côtes du Roussillon Villages - 5.00 €
Quite rounded, leathery raisiny fruit. Quite concentrated. 

Calcidoine, Cotes du Roussillon Villages -  15.00€
Élevage in vat.  Solid rounded; quite dense and raisiny, with some oak. 

And then came the Vin Doux:

2010 Muscat de Rivesaltes – 7.00€
Ripe concentrated, spicy Muscat fruit.  Nice acidity balance

Ambré Hors d’Age – 12.00€
Grenache blanc, Gris and Macabeo.  2 years in wood, in 10 year old barrels
Amber golden colour.  Quite soft nose; some acidity, biscuity fruit. 

2006 Tuilé – 5.00€
Tuilé requires more ageing than Grenat.  Light red; quite ripe rounded berry fruit.  Medium weight.  A tannic streak.  Quite fresh, with cherry and chocolaty notes.  Quite delicious.    A lovely finish to the day. 

There were some delicious  wines too, to be enjoyed from the visiting domaines.  Domaine Alphonse Mellot, chez Gauby,  was pouring a 2007 Sancerre les Romains en magnum, with some beautifully mature Sauvignon fruit.  Lovely minerality and acidity.

Peter Fischer from Château Revelette in the Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence was the guest of Jean-Philippe Padié.  I  prefer Peter’s unoaked entry level white wine to his Grand Vin made from Chardonnay. 
Pur blanc, PUR standing for Produit uniquement des raisins !  A blend of 90% Ugni Blanc with some Sauvignon was delicate fresh and understated with a nice balance.

Pur red is 100% Grenache, with rounded ripe fruit, spicy fruits confits on both  nose and palate, with a touch of acidity on the finish.    And his Château de Revelette pink was delicate and fresh, with an elegant finish. 

2010 Grand Rouge is a blend of 40% Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon with 15% Grenache and 5% Carignan.  Deep colour.  Rounded rich and concentrated with ripe cassis and spice on the palate.  A tannin streak and a firm finish.

I also enjoyed Pierre Michelland’s wines from Domaine de la Realtière, also in the Coteaux d’Aix.
2011 Blanc Publique, from Ugni blanc had a delicate nose, with a touch of fruit.  Nicely understated.

Pastel rosé -  a light colour and touch of raspberry on the nose.  Rounded delicate fruit on the palate.  A blend of Grenache, Cinsaut and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

2011 Cul-Sec – 90% Carignan with some Syrah.  Deep colour  frim young fruit.  Still quite tannin and a bit adolescent – to develop.

2008 Juliette   A blend of Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Quite deep colour.  Quite a fleshy nose, with a ripe youthful palate and a touch of cassis. 

The Château de Calce had invited Domaine J. Laurens from  Limoux – see an earlier posting – and  how lovely to have a refreshing glass of bubbles after some serious red wines.  Tom Lubbe’s guest was a Priorat, Terroir al Limit and Chateau Lehoul from the Graves was in Noel Lafforgue’s cellar.

Altogether a great day out.  I’ll be back next year!

Monday, 21 May 2012


I had heard that Philippine de Rothschild had bought vineyards in Limoux, and had even tasted a couple of vintages a few years ago. And then suddenly I had a spare morning in Limoux and the opportunity for a cellar visit with Vincent Montigaud, who runs the Domaine de Baron Arques. He moved to Limoux from Bordeaux in 2001, so that he has played a significant part in the development of the estate.

Vincent explained that Philippine had bought the property with her two sons back in 1998 – the estate had originally been known as Domaine Lambert and comprises 47 hectares near the village of St Polycarpe. The domaine dates back to the 17th century and there is a château that was built at the end of the 19th century, in what Vincent called le style Biarritz. The vineyards had been much neglected, so many were pulled up and replanted. I was intrigued by the Rothschild interest in Limoux. Vincent explained that their am was to make a great red wine, like Opus I in California or Almaviva in Chile. And why Limoux? They wanted to play a part in the redémarrage of the Languedoc; there is some great terroir in the Languedoc, which needs to be mis en valeur. Limoux was not known for its reds; that appellation was only created in 2003, and yet the potential is enormous, situated as it is on the climatic crossroads of the Atlantic and the Pyrenees, with the advantage of relatively high altitudes and cool vineyards. Nearby Malepère and Cabardès produce convincing wines from both Mediterranean and Bordeaux varieties, which distinguish them from the rest of the Languedoc, so why not Limoux too? Initially they formed a company with the Limoux Coop, le Sieur d’Arques, to give themselves time to learn about Limoux, and in 2003 it was time to go it alone, so the connection was terminated as the brand name Baron Arques became Domaine de Baron Arques, with a first vintage in 2003.

Vincent took us on a tour of the vineyards – there are some beautiful slopes, especially in the spring sunshine. The altitude is between 250 and 350 metres, and they are at the junction of three terroirs, Mediterranean, Antan and Haute Vallée. He explained how they pulled up Mauzac, Carignan, Chardonnay and Merlot, while keeping Syrah and some Merlot, and replanted more Merlot, as well as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec and Grenache, in other words the principal varieties of the appellation.  the oldest  vines were planted in 1974.   Usually their blend is approximately 50% Merlot, with 17% each of Cabernet Franc and Syrah, 11% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2 % Grenache, but of course there are vintage variations. Initially they made only red wine, but since 2009 they have produced a pure Chardonnay. They grafted Chardonnay on to Grenache, in the vineyards where it is too cool for Grenache, either by T-budding or a technique using two buds called en fente. The first seven years were years of restructuration, with wine that was sold off as vin de cépage, as they got to understand their vineyards.

There is some detailed work in the vineyard. The have planted some high density vineyards, with 7500 plants per hectare in deeper soil. They practice lutte raisonnée and have a weather station on the estate. Most of the pruning is simple or double guyot, with some long baguettes. They practice ebourgeonnage in order to spread out the bunches. There is effeuillage at the end of June, on the shady side of the vines, and then on the sunny side, just before the harvest, to provide better aeration and avoid the development of botrytis. And they will do a green harvest if necessary.

Vincent described the work as adapting the savoir faire of Mouton Rothschild to the character of the Languedoc. There are some bordelais practices that might work in the Languedoc, and others that do not. In Bordeaux there has been a trend towards higher vines, but that is unnecessary in the Languedoc. They leave grass between every other row and switch the rows every three or four years. There is an attention to detail in the cellar too, with a table de trie, destemming of the grapes and work by gravity. They are guided by tasting, assessing the ripeness of tannins, skins and pips, as they are at Mouton. The cellar is neat, with thermo-regulated stainless steel vats of several different sizes, as well as concrete vats. Vincent remembered the earth floor and the old foudres of the previous owners.

The harvest usually takes place between about 25th September and 25th October. They do a pre-fermentation cold maceration for 24 – 48 hours. The alcoholic fermentation does not reach too high a temperature, a maximum of 29˚ - 30˚C and then they drop the temperature down to 25 - 26˚C.   They don’t want to extract excessive tannins, so the maceration time depends on the grape variety, and is determined by tasting. It is usually longer,  two to three weeks,  for Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, and shorter, about ten days, for Syrah, Grenache and Malbec. Their objective is to preserve the fruit. The malo usually takes place in tank, though they are experimenting with malo in barrel. They begin blending in mid-December and finalise the blend in early January before putting the wine into barriques, for six months for the second wine, La Capitelle and 12 months for the Grand Vin. They use 25% new wood for the Grand Vin, and one year old barrels for the second wine. There is some serious selection in the cellar. They only bottle two thirds of their production, either as the Grand Vin or as Capitelle, with the bulk of the wine going into a vin de cépages range that is marketed from Bordeaux.

And now for some tasting – impeccably organised, with bordelais efficiency, tasting sheet and a glass for each wine - In the main salon of the chateau.

2008 la Capitelle du Domaine Baron Arques
Good young colour. Elegant oak on nose and palate. Some delicate vanilla notes. Some supple tannins and some dry spicy fruit on the palate. The nose was more bordelais, with some elegant Mediterranean spice on the palate. Capitelle has more Syrah than the Grand Vin, so seems more Mediterranean. Nice balance. A late harvest, from 6th – 29th October, following quite a cool summer.

2009 La Capitelle – 16€
Deeper young colour. More intense, more cassis on the nose. Quite firm peppery fruit on the palate. Youthful and tight knit initially, developing quite rounded spicy fruit. Good length and balance. This vintage has less Merlot and more Syrah than the 2008 and seemed more flattering on the palate.

And then onto a mini vertical of the Grand Vin

2003: Quite a deep young colour, with a little development. Quite a warm nose, some vegetal notes and a touch of chocolate. Quite rounded, raisiny and ripe on the palate. Almost a touch port-like. This was the year of the heat wave, and the wine has less acidity than some vintages. There were some leathery tannins, with an animal note on the palate, which was quite evolved with a certain warmth. Quite a long finish. Harvest from 15th September to 31st October. 14.5˚

2006: Picking started on 26th September. No Grenache in the blend and they are increasing the amount of Cabernet Franc, finding that it performs well, on limestone, and also appreciates the big difference between day and night time temperatures. Medium colour. Quite a firm nose; quite sturdy. Some firm cedary notes on the palate, as well as a touch of pepper. Quite firm tannins. Needs more time in bottle. The summer was hot with temperatures reaching 35˚C at the end of July.

2007: This was the vintage with the highest proportion of Cabernet Franc. Medium young colour. Quite an elegant cassis nose. More supple tannins. Good structure and fruit. Elegant, long and youthful. The harvest began on 2nd October. The 2007 shows a very definite leap in quality from 2006.

2008: No Grenache. Harvest began on 6th October. Medium young colour. Quite a rounded nose, not especially intense. Youthful cedary notes. Tighter more austere than 2007. Elegant tannins, and a certain freshness on the palate. Quite stylish with very good potential. Similar to 2007, but more restrained.

2009: - 30€
The highest percentage - 61%- of Merlot, and more Cabernet Sauvignon - 13% - than usual, as the vines get older. . Harvest began on 25th September. Deep young colour. Quite a ripe rounded nose and palate. Elegant with a very good balance of tannin and fruit. Silky tannins. Harmonious finish. And I was surprised to find that it was a heady 15˚. You certainly would not have thought so from the taste.

We then had a discussion about barrels; they use some of the same coopers as for Mouton, but for Limoux ask for medium chauffe, whereas for Mouton they want a higher chauffe. And here they rack less, every six months, as opposed to every three months, to add more gras to Limoux.

2010 Chardonnay – 32€.
Their second vintage. The Chardonnay is fermented and aged in wood for eight to nine months. The barrels are half new and half one year old. Just over half - 54% - is pressed immediately, and the rest given twelve hours of skin contact. 24% underwent a malo-lactic fermentation. Quite a rich leesy nose with some oak, and on the palate with good acidity and satisfying texture. A certain weight from the malo. The oak is well integrated and the palate rich and rounded. Vincent said that for 2011 they gave it less malo in order to increase the tension in the wine.

As for projects for the future; they want to continue to develop the Chardonnay, and also have a plan for a large barrel cellar – currently their barrels are scattered in various small cellars. But they are not tempted by sparkling wine, nor by Pinot Noir. I have to admit that the wines were a revelation. I have always been rather critical of the fact that Pinot Noir is not included in the appellation of Limoux – Limoux is after all one of the coolest parts of the Languedoc – but certainly the wines of Baron Arques showed that the climate also suits the Bordelais varieties.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

GIROFLET - A postscript to Domaine Begude

James Kinglake’s winemaker is Laurent Girault, who has his own small vineyard in Abeilhan, Domaine de Péras, so James very generously included Laurent’s wines in our tasting. Laurent has also worked further afield, spending a vintage at Rippon Vineyards on Lake Wanaka in Central Otago. I was immediately intrigued by his wine. He explained that he planted his white vineyard in 2004, with a high density, on the limestone and clay plateau between the villages of Abeilhan and Alignan-du-Vent. He has just 63 ares of white grapes – Chardonnay, Roussanne, Viognier – Petite Arvine –‘because I like it’, Chenin Blanc and Petit Manseng. 7000 vines in total. Giroflet is the name of a local flower.

The 2010 vintage was quite golden in colour; it was kept in vat and bottled in May 2011. There were herbal notes, and nutty nuances on the palate. It was all very intriguing and unexpected. I don’t think my tasting notes really do justice to the complexity.    Just 2000 bottles.

And the red wine comes from vines planted in 1925, sixteen different varieties, all mixed up. The most important are Grenache Noir, Cinsaut, Syrah and Counoise, but there is also Aramon, Carignan, Grand Noir de la Calmette, with some white interlopers, Muscat and Macabeo. Laurent couldn’t remember them all and explained that he had replaced missing vines by sélection massale, taking his own cuttings. In 2008 he made the wine from all 16 varieties, but for 2009, he selected the best for his wine. The élevage is half in vat and half in barrel for twelve months, followed by a further twelve months in vat, with minimum use of sulphur. One hectare of vines has given him just 1500 bottles. We tasted the 2008. Quite a firm nose, with fresh youthful cherry fruit. And more spicy cherries on the palate. A lovely balance. Some tannin; fresh and youthful; delicious liquorice perfume. And wonderfully original and unexpected. Just another example of the never-ending surprises of the Languedoc.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012


Back to Limoux.   As it happened, the next estate that I went to visit in Limoux also concentrates on still wines, though James Kinglake admits that he is beginning to experiment with a sparkling Limoux. He and his wife Catherine bought Bertie Eden’s old estate of Begude in 2004 and since then have concentrated on producing still wines for an international market, with some considerable success.

And what brought him to Limoux? He looked at about 40 estates between there and Italy. Provence appealed, but then he realised he would be too dependent on the tourist trade. He loves Burgundy, but he certainly couldn’t afford a vineyard in Burgundy, and the terroir in Limoux is great for the grape varieties of Burgundy.  So he bought 22 hectares, pulled six and planted seven, and now has 29 hectares in production. He concentrates on Chardonnay, but has also played with Sauvignon and Chenin blanc, and made his first vintage of Pinot Noir in 2010, having in 2006, planted both Burgundian and champagne clones.

Domaine Begude is a stunning spot outside the village of Sépie just north of Limoux. You travel hopefully along a winding road, which apparently forms the boundary between Malepère and Limoux. It is a windy spot, with undulating vineyards at about 300 metres altitude. James has planted some Viognier in the warmest plot at 260 metres, and he has also planted some Gewurztraminer, with a first vintage anticipated for this year. He finds that he is making less and less appellation wine. You get more sunshine here than in Limoux itself as it is in the warmer Mediterranean terroir of Limoux. The altitude however compensates for the warmth, giving you fruit and acidity as well. James practices organic viticulture and he has the genial Australian winemaker, Richard Osborne as his consultant.  He also produced the interesting figures that Limoux has 24 independent wine growers, as well as the enormous Sieur d’Arques coop and the smaller Anne de Joyeuse coop.  The two coops account for a massive 90% of the production of Limoux.

We did a bit of barrel tasting, a couple of Chardonnay and some Pinot, and then adjourned to a rather smart tasting room. A caveat however, James may have a tasting caveau, but you do have to make an appointment first if you would like to come and taste – the number is 06 86 05 73 74  - as he does not welcome casual callers. But once you’ve made the appointment, you can be sure of a warm welcome.

2011 Le Bel Ange Chardonnay, with 14% unoaked Chenin. Pays d’Oc. 5.95€
With 14% of a second variety you can declare a monocépage; with 15% you must put both varieties on the label. Ripe rounded fruit, for easy drinking.

2011 Sauvignon Blanc - 7.18€
Quite fresh pithy nose. Some minerality. Good fruit balanced with acidity and some weight. Some skin contact. Dry finish.

2011 Pinot rosé Pays d’Oc – 7.18€
Picked at the end of August and pressed immediately. Pale pink. Quite dry on the nose, but with a riper, fuller palate. Quite broad with some strawberry fruit.

2011 L’Exotique – 8.37€
James has grafted a plot of Chenin Blanc, with Grűner Veltliner. This was a revelation. The cuttings came from a friend in Austria, Marcus Huber in Traisendal near Krems. He has blended it with 20% Chardonnay and the results of very intriguing. There is a herbal note and a definite hint of Grűner Veltliner, with some nice weight and texture and a certain pithy fruit.

He has also tried Riesling, which didn’t ripen, and has high hopes for his hectare of Gewurztraminer, aiming eventually to make a range of three Exotiques – Grűner Veltliner, Viognier and Gewurztraminer.

And then we went on to Chardonnay:

Terroir 11300 – which is the postal code for Limoux. Pays d’Oc – 7.18€
It was AC Limoux but for that you have to handpick and all the wine must be fermented in barrel. This instead is only partially oaked - 25 – 30% - in 600 litre wood, and is machine harvested at night. James finds that 600 litre barrels respect the fruit, so that the wine is not overoaked.  Quite ripe and rounded, buttery, quite textured. James said that he was looking for the freshness you would want for an aperitif, but with sufficient body to go with food. I thought he had succeeded. A nice long finish,

2008 L’Etoile - 10.76€
The top Chardonnay cuvee from two particular plots, Le Puits and le Cerisier. The first is more elegant and mineral, and the second fruitier. A selection of fruit and a selection of barrels. This in contrast is all oaked, and hand-picked. Quite a deep colour. Ripe fleshy fruit. A certain lactic quality. Ripe and oaky.

And then we went onto Pinot Noir:
2011 Pinot Noir – 8.37€
Picked a little riper than the 2010. No oak. Medium colour. Ripe spice on nose and palate, with a touch of tannin, enough to balance the lovely red fruit. Very accessible and youthful.

2010 Esprit de Begude – just 280 bottles from one barrel.
Quite a serious nose. A bit of oak on the palate. Quite substantial, smoky fruit. Firm structured and texture and very youthful. James decided to experiment in 2011, with some handpicking and pigeage. And the 2011 tasted from barrel promised well too.

And then we concluded with la Folie de Begude, a Blanc de Blancs from Chardonnay alone. Not an appellation, as a monocépage is not allowed for sparkling Limoux, so a Vin Mousseux de Qualité. James makes the vin clair and then sends it away to be turned into sparkling wine. It was rounded with soft easy fruit. An interesting figure: it costs 4€ a bottle to turn a still wine into sparkling wine.

And suddenly it was the moment for an aperitif, before we all headed further down the track to our friends at Rives Blanques for dinner.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

STONE, VINE AND SUN and the Languedoc

Another deviation from Limoux.   The Winchester based wine merchants, Stone Vine and Sun, have always made the Languedoc a bit of a speciality. Indeed their name conjures up the key ingredients of the Languedoc, stony vineyards in warm sunshine. So I was delighted to have the opportunity to taste some of their offerings from the Languedoc at a recent press tasting at the Maison du Languedoc. They showed 34 wines altogether. What follows are some highlights – and the prices are their retail prices.

Beginning with white wines:

2011 Creyssels, Picpoul de Pinet - £8.25
A new name for me, and an estate based in Mèze. A firm salty nose, which good Picpoul should have, with a pithy salty palate, with a good balance of acidity. The only thing that was missing was an oyster.

2010 Château La Grave, Minervois, Expression - £7.95
Possibly a hint of oak, with nicely rounded textured fruit on the palate. Good balance of weight and acidity, and an understated fresh finish.

2010 Domaine la Croix Belle, le Champ des Lys, Côtes de Thongue - £8.95
A blend of Grenache Blanc and Viognier. Peachy lemony notes on the nose. Quite rounded and ripe on the palate, with some peachy fruit. Medium weight and nicely perfumed.

2011 Domaine du Météore, Faugères blanc, les Léonides - £10.50
A blend of Marsanne and Roussanne. Light colour and quite a delicate nose. Some white blossom on the palate, but quite delicate. Still very young and understated. Should fill out with some age

2010 Domaine Belle Pierres, Coteaux du Languedoc, Clauzes de Jo - £11.75
A blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier. Quite rounded nose, with some peachy hints on the palate. Quite rounded with some body and intriguing layers of flavour, with a dry finish.

And now onto a couple of rosés:

2011 Château la Grave, Minervois Rosé, Expression - £7.95
Light colour, with a touch of strawberry on the nose. Quite rounded, ripe fruit on the palate. Quite fresh and mouth filling, balanced with good acidity. A food rosé.

2011 Domaine du Météore, Faugères Rosé, la Tour Fabienne - £8.75
Light orange pink colour. A light, dry nose, with some herbal hints. And the palate, more notes of the garrigues. Good body with a dry finish.

And then some reds:

2010 Domaine la Croix Belle, Caringole Rouge, Côtes de Thongue - £7.95
A blend of Merlot, Syrah and Carignan. Quite a firm dry nose, and on the palate, rounded, ripe fruit. Very easy drinking, simple pleasure and sunshine in a glass, with a ripe finish.

2009 Terres Falmet, Cinsaut, Vin de France - £7.75
Medium colour. Dry cherry fruit on the nose, with a touch of spice. A fresh spicy palate, with quite a firm finish. Medium weight. Lovely example of an underrated grape variety.

2009 Domaine des Trinités, Faugères, le Portail - £9.25
Medium colour – quite rounded ripe fruit. Rounded ripe fruit on the nose with lovely ripe spice on the palate. Easy and rounded with good depth. Classic Faugères at its sunniest.

2009 Domaine Belles Pierres, Coteaux du Languedoc, les Clauzes de Jo – £11.25
Medium colour. Quite firm leathery fruit on the nose and palate. Quite a dense solid palate, with ripe leathery flavours. Still very youthful.

2009 Domaine Fontanel, Côtes du Roussillon - £9.95
Medium colour. Ripe, rounded and warm, and almost a touch raisiny on both nose and palate. Good depth of flavour, with ripe fruit and a firm backbone. Nicely balanced, with the satisfying warmth of Roussillon.

2008 Domaine du Météore, Faugères, les Orionides - £11.75
 Deep young colour. Quite firm dry leathery notes on the nose, and on the palate good firm leathery fruit, with a warm note on the finish. They must have missed the hail that affected so many estates in Faugères in 2008.

2010 Domaine du Grand Arc, Corbières, En Sol Majeure - £14.50
Quite a deep colour. Solid ripe leathery nose. Ripe and rounded on the palate, with a firm tannic streak and some leathery notes. Good depth of flavour. Nicely mouth-filling and satisfying.

And now a couple of vins doux to finish with:

1999 Domaine Fontanel, Rivesaltes Ambré - £14.95
Light amber red colour. Delicious liquid walnuts on nose and palate, with a hint of bitter orange. Quite ripe. Some honey and unctuously smooth fruit with a bite on the finish. Lovely length. Rivesaltes at its most delicious. These wines are grossly underrated.

2006 Domaine du Traginer, Banyuls, Rimage - £17.95
Medium red colour. Spicy red fruit on the nose, and more liquorice on the palate, with a tannic streak. Youthful and ripe, with a slightly spirity finish.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012


I’ve not finished with Limoux, but here’s small deviation into Roussillon. The Big Fortified Tasting or the b.f.t. as it is commonly called is now in its third year and took place last week in the Glaziers Hall. What a tasting. I had missed the previous two years. There were fortified wines from all over the place, not just the obvious Port, Sherry and Madeira, but also Marsala, fabulous liqueur Muscat and Topaque from Australia, Moscatel de Setubal, and offerings from South Africa and California, and of course Languedoc-Roussillon. I must admit that I was expecting more from the Languedoc, but what there was, was delicious. I am of course already converted to these wines, ever since I first went to Rivesaltes twenty years or so ago, when I was researching French Country Wines.

Wine importers, Richards Walford, were responsible for the wines from Roussillon, as follows:

Domaine de la Rectorie 2010 Banyuls, Cuvée Parcé Frères Deep ruby colour. Quite an intense spicy nose, with some red fruit. More intensity on the palate. Lovely rich spices, with well-integrated alcohol and an underlying sweetness. A tannic streak which will disappear with age. Still very youthful and will definitely benefit from some bottle age.

2008 Banyuls, Cuvée Léon Parcé This comes from slightly different vineyards, and is riper and sweeter, and even more intense. Great concentration of ripe fruit, with spicy cassis and cherries, and absolutely delicious.

Les Vignerons de Maury – the village coop of Maury which works well for its appellation and retains a stock of old wines. The individual casks are numbered, and only about a third of the wine is taken from the cask for bottling. And the cask is then topped up and left to age and develop these wonderful, rancio flavours.

Maury Solera 1928 – Amber red colour. Lovely nutty nose. Liquid walnuts. Elegantly nutty fruit on the palate, with very good balancing acidity. Makes it more Madeira than Port-like. Great intensity of sweetness and richness. Wonderfully original.

Domaine de Rancy, in the village of Latour de France.  
1993 Rivesaltes  Amber colour; elegantly dry nutty nose. And on the palate great intensity, with walnut fruit and balancing acidity. And considerable depth and length. And a long dry nutty finish. Delicious! I could drink these instead of an old tawny port any day, though I did go on to enjoy some beautiful mature 20 year old tawnies.

Thursday, 3 May 2012


I had another reason to visit Antugnac, namely the wines of the Château d’Antugnac. Various people had mentioned them to me and I had tasted them some years ago at Vinisud. So it was definitely the moment for further investigation. The property was bought by two Burgundians, Christian Collovray and Jean-Luc Terrier, in 1997 and these days it is David Serrodes who runs the estate and makes the wine.
First he took us for a drive through the vineyards. This is Limoux countryside at its best, the cooler landscape of the Haute Vallée de l’Aude, with vines at 330 metres, going as high as 500 metres. They now have 93 hectares, which makes them the largest private cellar in Limoux. The oldest vines go back to the late 1960s, a vineyard of Chardonnay. Cabernet and Pinot Noir followed soon afterwards. Essentially the soil is clay and limestone; clay gives you fruit, and clay, what David called droiture. He comes from Nimes and studied in Montpellier, but has taken on the Burgundian attitudes of the owners. They take time over the élevage of the wines; you mustn’t be in a hurry. Some of the vines are planted very close together, with 10,000 vines; others have wider rows to accommodate a farm standard tractor. Chardonnay is their principal grape variety, with Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. And they are converting to organic viticulture.
The cellars are spacious and well run. There is a sorting table, and as they have lots of different plots, there are stainless vats of different sizes, and also some large cement vats. The barrel cellar is neat, with that evocative aroma. Blind-folded you could only be in a wine cellar.
And then we tasted; David explained that that for vin de pays they must use the term domaine, whereas for an appellation château is permitted.
2011 Les Grand Penchants, Haute Vallée de l’Aude, Chardonnay – 7.40€
This was fermented in two horizontal tanks, 1.40 metres high by 3 metres wide, to facilitate bâtonnage, and bottled at the end of March. All the wine did its malo. Light golden colour; lightly buttery nose; a touch musqué – David has explained that they had used some of the Chardonnay musqué clones from the Maconnais, which although they are definitely Chardonnay, do have just a hint of a Muscat aroma. There was a note of honey too, with some fresh acidity balancing the ripeness on the palate. No oak and a nice long finish.
2010 Château d’Antugnac, Terres Amoureuses. AC Limoux – 10€
85% Chardonnay with 15% Mauzac. Fermented and aged in oak. 10% new. Blended before bottling, as there is a month’s difference in the ripening time of Chardonnay and Mauzac, between 15th September and 15th October.
Light golden; light leesy nose. Quite rich and buttery. Quite broad with a hint of acidity. Quite textured. There was something quite Burgundian about it, even though as David observed ‘we don’t have the minerality of the Maconnais’.

2010 Château d’Antugnac, Chardonnay, las Gravas, Limoux - 15€
25-30% new wood, Burgundian pièces of 228 litres rather than bordelais barriques. They have experimented with some larger tonneaux of 300 litres. The appellation decree originally specified a maximum of 300 litres, but no longer.
Very golden colour. Quite firm structured nose; tight knit and leesy. Good acidity on the palate. More mineral and more oak, but integrated oak, with a rich leesy malo-lactic note. Good matière. A rich textured mouthful of wine; well-made but a bit too heavy for my taste buds, given that my favourite Chardonnay is Chablis.

And now for some Pinot Noir. David explained that they determine the harvest date according to the taste and visual appearance of the grapes. The alcohol level is around 12.5˚ - 13˚ and above all they want to show each variety at its best.

2011 Domaine d’Antugnac, Pinot Noir Haute Vallée de l’Aude – 6.70€
40- 50% élevage in wood, 10% new, with some punching down or pigeage. Medium colour. Fresh nose with raspberry fruit and a touch of oak. Quite dry fruit; elegant raspberries with a touch of oak. The vines are still quite young. And above all they want is drinkability, and I think they have certainly achieved that.
2010 Domaine d’Antugnac, Côté Pierre Lys, IGP Haute Vallée de l’Aude. – 10.00€
10 months of élevage in pièces for all the wine.
Medium colour. Quite rounded, quite closed nose with a touch of oak. Quite ripe silky tannins on the palate, with a certain amount of body. Good depth and length. Some acidity and tannin, balanced with some fresh raspberry fruit. David observed that it was difficult to control acidity and tannin, but I think he managed pretty well with this wine. He then mentioned that there are now 2000 hectares of Pinot Noir in the Languedoc; back in 2002 there were 80 hectares, of which they had 8.

2009 Château d’Antugnac, Limoux Aux Bons Hommes – 8.40€
Why the name? David explained that Bons Hommes was another name for the Cathars, the heretics of the 12th century, and that there is a Cathar tower nearby. The wine is a blend of 70% Merlot with 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Syrah. The blending is done before élevage and 10% of the wine is given a long élevage in wood. David talked of une vinification integrale whereby whole grapes are put into new wood.
Quite a fresh nose, with some dry cassis, and on the palate. A balance of acidy, tannin and red fruit, with an attractive fresh finish. Nicely balanced and elegant. And amply illustrating Limoux’s success with still wine. Even so, still wine only accounts for about 12% of the production of the appellation. Limoux for most people equals fizz.