Friday, 31 August 2012

Chateau de la Negly

An estate on the Massif of la Clape that has created a fine reputation over the last ten years or so.  It is owned by Jean Paux-Rousset.  He inherited it from his mother in 1992, and until then Négly had simply produced bulk wine, mainly rosé, from Carignan, Aramon, Alicante, Terret – this how the Languedoc used to be.   And there were just three hectares of Syrah.  From fifty hectares the property has now grown to 65 hectares, which is pretty big for La Clape.   First the vineyard was renovated, with a lot of replanting, and then they developed the cellar and now the third phase is underway to restore the chateau and also set up their own bottling line.

We met Didier Lacreu, the young cellar master, who has been making the wine at Négly since 2007.  He has a welcoming smile and is passionately committed to his work in the cellar.  Claude Gros is their consultant oenologist.  Didier explained how the vineyards at Négly constitute a mosaic of different soils.  Syrah is their main variety with 25 hectares and they have 15 of Grenache, eight of Carignan and seven of Mourvèdre, as well as some white varieties, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Marsanne and Clairette.  

2011 Domaine de Négly l’Oppidum, Pays d’Oc, Sauvignon. – 6.60€
The grapes come from a rented vineyard at Colombiers, planted on sables calcaires.  Quite ripe, pithy Sauvignon nose.  Quite firm green pea fruit.  Very explosive fruit.  Very good acidity.  Handpicked and brought to Négly for vinification.  The grapes are sorted and chilled for 48 hours as they arrive at about 27ºC, even if they are picked in the very early morning, in late August.  Fermented in stainless steel, and bottled in December.

2011 La Brise Marine, la Clape – 8.50€
Didier described this as Négly’s classic.  70% Bourboulenc and 30% Roussanne  Quite a salty nose, with some white blossom.   Also an intriguing honey perfume nose, with some hints of lemon.  ça citronelle, said Didier.  This wine is vinified in the same way as their Sauvignon, and was picked on 20th August. A fresh pithy finish.

2011 La Falaise Blanche – 15.00€
Tasted from barrel; will be bottled before the vintage.  A touch of oak and fennel on the nose; some oak influence on the palate and very good acidity.  With a fresh sappy quality.  You have to give the wine tension, apporter la tension observed Didier.  And he admitted that this particular barrel was pure Petit Manseng, which had been planted ten years ago.  Again it was picked in August, on 25th

Next came a second barrel of Petit Manseng – a 500 litre barrel, with some intriguing fennel notes, and then a barrel of Marsanne, which was rich and buttery, and seemed quite heavy after the Petit Manseng, with a good streak of acidity and touch of honey.   Officially la Falaise is Roussanne and Marsanne, in practice it is 60% Petit Manseng and 40% Marsanne.

2011 Rosé l’Ecume, - 5.00€
60% Syrah – 40% Grenache – picked early September, to reduce the yield for their red wines down to 25 / 30 hl/has and treated like their white grapes, cooling them before fermentation.  Pale orange pink colour.   A bit too bonbons anglais for my taste.  Some acidity on the palate.

2011 Les Embruns, rosé – 8.00€
95% Syrah with some Grenache.  A selection of the better juice.  Pale orange pink.  A more delicate nose with a touch of raspberry.  Quite firm and dry on the palate, with fresh acidity.  More elegant than l’Ecume.

2010 La Côte, Languedoc – 8.00€
Deep colour.  Rounded rich nose ; perfumed, leathery, quite sweet fruit, a touch of cassis and other black fruit.  A leathery note on the finish. 50% Carignan, made by carbonic maceration, with 25% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 15% Mourvèdre. Carignan provides the base; Syrah the structure with some spice from the Mourvèdre and body from the Grenache. 

2010 La Falaise, la Clape – 15.00€
This represents the bulk of their production with 70,000 bottles.  55% Syrah aged in 300 litre barrels, with 45% Grenache fermented in a 55 hls oak vat.  Grenache does not like the oxidation that comes from a barrel.  Good colour.  Quite a ripe tapenade nose. Ripe sweet fruit.  Rounded, cassis and black fruit.  Very rich, multi-layered and quite a ripe alcoholic finish.  Didier called it the soul of Négly.

2007 l’Ancely – the old name for Négly.
85% Mourvèdre which spends 24 months in demi-muids with with 5% Grenache and 10% Syrah.  Including some 50 year old vines.  Each vinified separately.   Very ripe viandé and spicy notes on the nose.  A palate with lots of layers and texture.  Quite perfumed, a smoky note; elegant tannins.  A lot of character.  Quite a dry leathery note on the finish.  The Mourvèdre was not picked until 27th – 28th October.

2008 L’Ancely – 55.00€
Deep colour.  Quite dry chocolate notes. And some smoky notes.  Very chocolatey, sweet, ripe and oaky on the palate.   Very intense, dense and smoky with a tannic streak.  How will it age?   A different blend fro the 2007 – 50% Mourvèdre, with Syrah from two different vineyards, half la Porte du Ciel, and half Clos des Truffiers, neither of which la Clape.

2008 la Porte du Ciel, Coteaux du Languedoc – 82€
Almost pure Syrah, with a splash of Grenache.  The block was planted in 1993, but yields are very low – 15 hl/ha as the vines have court noué, which affects the yield but not the quality of the fruit.  The vines are close to Negly, but their altitude is too low for them to be part of the appellation of la Clape.  Very deep colour. Very intense, firm ripe palate.  A certain tannic steak.  Lot of nuances and depth.   The grapes are cooled for 48 hours before fermentation, and  sorted grape by grape,  and the wine goes into  new barrels for 30 months.  1997 was the first vintage of la Porte du Ciel;.  The wine developed in the glass; it is rich and powerful, very intense, with acidity and tannin, as well as a leathery note. Didier explained that they work with their cooper to obtain a chocolate, mocha, coffee effect.  Their usual cooper is Darnajou in Montagne St. Emilion.  They admit to 15º on the label.   I wondered how it would age – and frankly, although it is made with immense attention to detail, and in its way you cannot deny that it is a fine wine, I really felt that it was not for me.

2009 La Porte du Ciel.
Again pretty much pure Syrah, with 30 months oak ageing.  Once the wine is in barrel, they top up, but do not rack.  I found this fresher, more restrained, and more elegant, with some firm tannins.  Didier explained that they also have a new cooper from Austria, whose oak adds tension to the wine.

2008 Clos des Truffiers, Coteaux du Languedoc92€
This is a plot of Syrah, planted in1963 by M. Paux-Rousset’s father near St. Pargoire, to the north east of Pézenas.  Yields are tiny, a fraction of what they were when the vines were first in production.  Didier said 25 tons per hectare as opposed to 3 – 5 hl/ha nowadays.    The grapes went to the village coop for 30 years.  And then in 1992 Mr. Rousset decided to do something with his father’s plot, beginning by restoring the vines to optimum condition, so that the first vintage was 1997.  The soil here is argilo-calcaire and very stony, and the vineyard is at 250 metres altitude.  They use the same barrels as for la Porte du Ciel.  Very deep colour. Solid dense chocolate nose; very intense solid tannins.  Lots of nuances and layers of flavour. Great depth.  Clos des Truffiers is more austere than la Porte du Ciel, and is there a taste of truffle on the finish.  There is a chêne truffier in the vineyard.

2009 Clos des Truffiers
Deep colour. Concentrated but drier nose.  The effect of the oak.  Quite a sweet note on the palate, with some firm tannins.  Just bottled and not yet very harmonious.  Needs to knit together.  A lot of body and weight.

2010 La Porte du Ciel, tasted from barrel.  Will be bottled in a year’s time.
Ripe fruit.  Very perfumed.  Good body with tannins.  Very opulent, with a dry streak. 

2010 Clos des Truffiers.
Very deep colour.  Quite a sweet perfumed nose, the sweetness of young wine.  Ripe and sweet, with firm tannins and a smoky note.

2011 La Porte du Ciel
This went into wood in December.  Very deep colour. Ripe fruit and a tannic edge,  Sweet very obvious fruit. 

2011 Clos des Truffiers
Very intense, smoky youthful.  Ripe sweet and fresh on the nose; rich concentrated and intense with sweet fruit on the palate.  

And then Didier mentioned that they were working on a new cuvée, something even better to push the bar even further.  It would be Mourvèdre, with some Syrah, a blend of the vineyards of l’Ancely, La Porte du Ciel and Clos des Truffiers.  We were given a tasting of the potential 2011, which had even more depth, richness and intensity....

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Chateau des Hospitaliers

I first went to see Serge and Sylviane Martin-Pierrat at Château des Hospitaliers in the village of St. Christol, when I was researching The Wines of the South of France. Our paths have crossed a few times since, most recently earlier this year in London.  When are you going to come and see our (now not so new) cellar?  Sylviane wanted to know.  I said; give me a date.  So she did.  The cellar was worth the journey, as M. Michelin would say.  And it is a bit of a journey as we are in the western half of the Hérault, and St. Christol is almost in the Gard.  However, I could quite see why they wanted to show it off.  For a start Serge built it, having designed it with an architect’s help.   They wanted a cellar that would be easy to run and to work in – a cellar that would keep the wines at a correct temperature, especially during the summer, so that they can now age their wines correctly, and they also wanted a cellar that would not consume too much energy.  And that is just what they have.   They have used pierre du Gard, stone from the department of the Gard, and the same stone  that the Romans used to build the Pont du Gard.   The cellar is built into a small hillside, so that it is partly underground and cooling air is provided by a system of puits canadiens  (does that translate as Canadian wells?) – six pipes; 60 metres long;  3 metres deep, that bring cool air into the cellar, take advantage of the tempering effect of the earth’s temperature, a fairly constant 13ºC .  There is a corridor around the main body of the cellar, which also helps provide insulation.   The first stone was laid on 14th June 2004 and they were able to use it for the harvest which started at the beginning of September.

Everything works by gravity, so with minimal pumping and minimal sulphur.  All their grapes are handpicked; they have a sorting table and everything is destemmed.  The white grapes spend a night in a cold chamber, as it can still be very hot at harvest time.  Waste water is pumped into a pond of bamboos, as there is something about bamboos that helps with the re-cycling of used water.  Please don’t ask me to explain the scientific details, but I’ve seen this at another cellar.  Pigeage is automatic, with the necessary equipment on a rail above the vats. And they have a wonderful courtyard, in the heart of the cellar, as they wanted some natural light – it is a shaded garden, with the walls covered with plants, des murs vegetaux which help maintain a constant temperature and absorb the heat.  The roots are in the felt that is fixed to the walls; the plants transpire and help prevent hot air from affecting the cellar walls.  There is a pond in the middle of the courtyard with fish, which will eat any mosquito larvae.  Sylviane apologised that it was not looking as luxuriant as it had been – some of the vegetation had been badly affected by hard frosts in the spring. 

Their first vines were bought by Serge’s father, just four hectares. He was a teacher.  And they now have 32 hectares, around the village of St. Christol.  It is an attractive spot, with a view of the Pic St. Loup from the windows of the cellar shop.  And beyond are the hills of the Lozère and Mont Aigoual.  Fruit trees and olive trees break up the landscape of vineyards.  1981was their first vintage.   And altogether they make nineteen different wines, with about 21 different grape varieties at the final count .  Sylviane kept thinking of more –  here goes:  Roussanne, Vermentino, Grenache blanc, Viognier, which is now allowed in the appellation of Languedoc, but with a maximum of 10% -and for reds, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Cinsaut.  They have just planted some Picpoul Noir and Morastel, which are allowed in the appellation, in the interests of diversity.  Serge observed that we don’t know what the climate will be like in 20 years and both are resistant to heat.  They also have Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Ugni blanc, Merlot, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir,  And then there are three Muscats – petits grains, Alexandrie and Ottonel.  With that diversity of grape varieties they produce a lot of vins de pays, but maybe Vin de France will become more important.  The appellation, Languedoc, or the cru St. Christol, which will probably be incorporated into Grès de Montpellier, account for 30% of their production.

And they are wondering about planting Aleatico, as a dry wine, rather than making a passito as they do in Elba, and Serge would also like to try Touriga Nacional, but that is definitely not allowed.  But he thinks it would cope with climate warming, observing that the average temperature in the area has increased by 1.5ºC since 2003.  The amount of rain has not changed, but there is now more rain during the growing season.  2012 had a very dry winter.  Normally rain should fall in the winter and autumn, and you could count on a storm around 14th July and again on 15th August, to relieve any water stress, but not anymore.  It rained in June this year and then has turned into a very dry summer.  A heat wave is declared when the temperature reaches 35ºC for more than two consecutive days, as it did in 2003, 2006, 2006 and 2008.

And then we adjourned for a tasting, for a selection of their wines, not the complete range, but an interesting selection:

2011 Prestige blanc, Languedoc. – 5.00€
St. Christol is red and rosé.  The authorities reluctantly allowed rosé as part of St. Christol, but  as they are the only producers of white in the village, any white wine is Languedoc rather than St. Christol. A blend of Vermentino, Grenache blanc and Roussanne – all fermented in vat.  Light colour.  Delicate nose.  Light hints of white blossom.  Lightly rounded.  A slightly bitter note, but nicely so.  Delicate and harmonious.

2011 Gewurztraminer – Viognier  40% / 60% Vin de France.  6.00€
Gewürztraminer is now allowed in the Languedoc – not so long ago it was absolutely prohibited and any growers using it were very discreet about it, if you can be discreet with Gewurztraminer. Light colour; perfumed, spicy nose, some orange notes.  Quite peachy ripe and rounded on the palate.  Nice spice. Quite mouth filling.  Texture of Gewürztraminer , with a dry finish.  Serge observed that although the two varieties are quite different, they do compliment each others.  .

2010 Muscat – 6.00€
Muscat à petits grains is the main variety.  Delicate Muscat nose.  Pure petits grains would be more explosive.   Quite dry honeyed notes; fermented to dry.  Some orange notes.  Could also make a Vendange Tardive.  Five months in vat and élevage in bottle.  Some fresh Muscat fruit.

2008 Coteaux du Languedoc, Reserve. 7.70€
Mainly Roussanne, vinified in wood and blended with Grenache blanc and Vermentino, both  fermented in vat, and then all the wine spends 12 months in barrel.   Light golden; herbal oaky notes and a touch of maturity.  Also notes of evolution on palate.  Rounded with good acidity.  Good balance with satisfying mouth feel.  Crushed citrus fruit.  Serge observed that Grenache does not like drought; it can cope with heat, but it does need water.

2006 Coteaux du Languedoc – a vintage comparaison.  2006 was a hot year.  The Roussanne vines are 25 years old.  The nose is more evolved and more exotic, with good acidity on the palate with a touch of petrol, almost Riesling like.  Serge observed that people don’t really believe in white wines from the Languedoc; he thinks that the whites can keep better than the reds. I think he may have a point.

2011 Pinot Noir –Cinsaut  50/50 – 6.00€  
Could this be the Midi’s answer to Pinotage?!  Both grape varieties picked at the same time; in this instance on 18th August and ferment together.  Élevage in vat.  Medium colour. Quite soft fruit on the nose, and a streak of tannin on the palate.  Can be served chilled.  Supple raspberry fruit and very gouleyant.    A summer wine.  Cinsaut gives freshness to the Pinot Noir, which can become a touch jammy and concentrated, while the Cinsaut makes for some elegance.

Serge observed how the creation of the appellations had resulted in the disappearance of many grape varieties– not so long ago there were as many as 74 different grape varieties in the region.  Instead the appellations gave credibility to the soil, or terroir.   Serge explained how complicated the soil is around St. Christol.  Theirs is alluvial soil, but two types, deposited at two different times.  The most recent is villefranchien, red clay with small stones, and then there are much larger stones that have comes from the Durance river, galets much more like those that you find in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 

2011 Sangiovese Syrah – 75% - 25%  - 6.00€ 
Fermented and élevage in vat.  Quite peppery, with rounded ripe fruit.   Fresh cherry fruit.  Ripe with supple tannins.  Sangiovese is complicated as although its bud break is early, it ripens late.  Serge has also tried Nebbiolo but that was difficult, even more complicated than Pinot Noir, and very tricky in the vineyard.  And he has planted Nielluccio, which is related to Sangiovese and grown on Corsica, especially for the appellation of Patrimonio.

2008 St. Christol – 7.70€
A hot vintage.  Mainly Syrah, with some Grenache, Mourvèdre and a little Carignan. 15 months in wood. Blended before élevage.  Quite ripe and supple with a streak of oak.  Quite soft fruit.

2007 – St. Christol. – 7.70€   A cooler vintage
Again mainly Syrah, with some Grenache.  Rounded nose; more smoky palate with a touch of liquorice.  More structured with a rounded finish and more depth of flavour.

2008 Selection – 10.30€
A blend of 3 different soils in their vineyards; the two kinds of alluvial as well as some sandstone with marl.  Mainly Mourvèdre with Grenache and Syrah.  Two years in wood.  Deep colour.  Quite a firm nose.  Tight with an oaky streak.  Quite solid and rounded with some soft tannins and nice fruit.  Needs some ageing.
I asked about the tipicity of St. Christol.  To which the reply was vivacity; a natural acidity in the wine.  You always get a low pH in an analysis.

There are four producers in the village, namely the coop which accounts for 20 – 30% of the production;  Domaine la Coste, which is quite a big estate owned by Luc Moynier, Domaine Guinand – he is also president of the coop,  and Domaine Bort, owned by an ex-president of the coop, as well a few small producers, but nothing very serious.  Serge called them vins de garage, but I don’t think he was comparing them with the bordelais garagistes!   Domaine Lacoste-Bellevue in Lunel also has some vineyards in St. Christol and there are quite a lot of people looking for vineyards.  St. Christol is a small village, with not even 1000 inhabitants.

And by now we had earned our lunch.  A delicious clafoutis aux olives, some brandade and home grown apricot tarte .....

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Le Clos du Serres

I saw Béatrice and Sébastien Fillon on the Terrasses du Larzac walk the other day.  You must come and see our new cellar; they said.  So we did, and very smart it is too – and discreet.   You cannot see it from the road; there is no sign, so you need to know which turning to take, by which baby cypress tree.   And they are enjoying the luxury of space, after their old village cellar.  Sébastien now has four large concrete tronconique tanks.  He observed that he has never really liked oak for his red wines and is gradually giving up using it altogether.  Some people – he suggested Cal Demoura, Olivier Jullien, Montcalmès – manage it very well, but he doesn’t think that he does.  And he is very excited by the concrete vats.  They are very good for élevage, as the temperature remains very stable. 

And then we went back to their house for some leisurely tasting and a spot of lunch.  They have produced their first white wine since my last visit.

2010 Le Blanc – 13.00€
80% Grenache Blanc, with  20% Roussanne.  They planted the Roussanne and are renting the vineyard of Grenache Blanc, and they made just 1200 bottles of this 2010. A quarter of the wine – just one barrel -  was vinified and élèvé in barrel, until May.  Quite rounded white blossom fruit.  Very good acidity, with a satisfying mouth feel and texture, and a hint of quince.    They take care not to make it too heavy, and bottle quite early.

2011 Le Saut du Poisson – the lieu dit of the vineyard of Grenache, and now the name of their white wine.  There is a waterfall nearby, with fish.  The fermentation was rather slow this year, so they only bottled the wine in July.  And made 3000 bottles.  It was richer, but also more elegant, with very good acidity.  Similar in style but with more depth, with some elegant, herbal notes and lovely fruit.  The oak is very well integrated.  For 2011 they used one new barrel and one barrel of one wine.    And they have also planted some Vermentino.

And then we went onto red wines – ‘our first ever vertical tasting’, Beatrice observed.  I felt rather honoured. 

Les Maros, a blend, mainly of Grenache, with some Cinsaut and Carignan.  The Cinsaut lightens the Grenache and the Carignan provides acidity.  Sometimes there is some Syrah too, but it depends on the vintage. And the wine is aged in vat, not in barrel.  

2011 Good colour.  Lovely ripe fruit, with ripe spice, silky tannins and a rounded palate.  Very appealing.    Beatrice explained that 2011 was a complicated year as the grapes ripened very unevenly.  They picked Syrah at the end of August, and Grenache at the end of September so that the harvest took six weeks.   A severe triage was essential, but the wine has come out better than expected.  I thought it was delicious.  13.00€

2010 – This was much more homogeneous vintage.  More restrained nose, with a touch of liqueur cherries.  More structured palate.  More restrained, but with ripe fruit and good length. 

2009 – A sunny vintage.  Rounded ripe nose, and more confit fruit on the palate.  Much riper with furrier, less refined  tannins.

2008 – More like 2010, in that it is a nicely balanced year.  Good spice, and some Syrah, but no Cinsaut in the blend.  Quite dense solid and ripe, with some cassis fruit.  More structured.   And a fine finish.

2007 - Their first vintage.  Again Syrah, and no Cinsaut.  Medium colour.  Quite firm leathery fruit on the nose, and appealing leathery notes on the palate, with good cassis fruit.  Nice tannin balance. Drinking very nicely

2007 la Blaca – Syrah is the dominant variety, with 10% aged in barrel. Quite rounded, ripe and mature with ripe tapenade fruit. Very rich finish, and quite different in style. 

And we also tried a new wine, 2011 under the Mollard & Fillon label which is a joint project with their brother- in-law, Nicolas Mollard, from bought grapes, which they vinify, with a little élevage in oak.  It is a Terrasses du Larzac, with Carignan, Cinsaut, Syrah and Grenache in more or less equal quantity.  Deep colour.  Very good red and black fruit.  Nice tannic balance.  Very fresh and rounded. - 14.00€

It was fascinating lovely to see the development of Les Maros over five vintages. The wine is very characteristic of the Terrasses du Larzac, with lovely fruit and freshness.   It is undoubtedly one of the wines responsible for the growing reputation of Les Terrasses du Larzac.  And then it was time for lunch, for some magret de canard with a potato purée au truffe – Beatrice’s parents have a tree in their garden that produces truffles ……..Need I say more?

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Impressions from the Aniane Salon

The annual tasting in Aniane is always a  good showcase for the wines of the Terrasses du Larzac, as well as Montpeyroux and Saint Saturnin.   There were some new discoveries and some old favourites, and also some disappointments.  I went with my tasting buddy Lits and we shared our impressions.

Mas Genista
A new name to me, with some attractive wines, BUT very expensive for what they were.     Generally soft fruit, supple tannins and easy drinking, but somehow lacking depth and grip, even though they said their yields were low – 15 hl/ha. 

Mas de Daumas Gassac
The 2011 white was peachy on the nose, with sweet sugar fruit on the palate.  Very confected, especially at 30€ a bottle
2011 Frizant – 12.00€
Cabernet Sauvignon saigné.  Smelt of rhubarb, a bright pink.  Easy drinking but a rather heavy finish.
2010 MDG red – closed nose, rounded and youthful.  More body than the previous couple of vintages, but still expensive at 30.00€
2008 Cuvée Emile Peynaud – always the same plot of the oldest vineyard of Cabernet Sauvignon, now 40 years old.  120€  Nicely rounded with good depth, but again the price is out of proportion to the quality of the wine, which tasted how the basic cuvée should taste.  Nice depth, but nothing very special.   What has happened at Mas de Daumas Gassac?  The wines no longer fulfil their early promise of  the 1980s.

Domaine Coston. 2010 Terrasses du Larzac.  9.00€
A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre.  Rounded spicy on nose and palate.  Fruity garrigues.  With ripe fruit and a nice balance.  Quite elegant.

A chat with Magda Joly – I don’t know why but I don’t enjoy Virgile’s wines as much I used to.  I had really wanted to taste new Cuvee Joly Blanc, but it was not available.  And Magda was also pouring their associate, Christopher Johnson-Gilbert’s wine from Domaine Cinq Vents.  He is one of the newer producers in Montpeyroux.  His rosé is ripe and vinous and his 2009 red wine expensive at 18.00€, with a hefty nose of new oak and some tapenade notes.  The oak dominates the palate. 

Domaine Fons Salitis I liked less than in previous year.  The label carries the mention  irreductible vigneron.    This year the wines seemed rather weird and inharmonious.

Les Chemins de Carabote, remembered with enthusiasm from previous tastings, and lived up to expectations.
2011 Rosé – 6.00€
Cinsaut, Grenache and a little Syrah.  Light colour; fresh fruit; nice acidity, a hint of strawberry and a refreshing finish.
2009 Mont Baudile 100% Carignan. – 7.00€
Deep colour.  Some rounded spice ; nice fleshy fruit.  Good bite and balance.  Supple tannins and a touch of tapenade.
2008 Coteaux du Languedoc – 11.00€
A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan.  Quite deep colour. Rounded spice.  Good fruit.  Supple, nice weight and balance and an elegant finish.  A touch of tapenade.
2008 Terrasses du Larzac – 19.00€
Syrah, Grenache and Carignan – 12 – 14 months in barrique.  Good colour.  A touch of oak on the nose.  Quite rounded palate, quite rich, oaky, with tapenade and spice.  Mouth filling and almost too much of a good  thing!

Mas Laval.  Here I really enjoyed the white wines under the label of Les Souls made by Roland Almeras from cool vineyards up near the Pas d’Escalette.  He has also moved his cellar from Salasc  to Soubès.  His associate Joel Laval makes their red wines from vineyards in Aniane. 
2011 les Pampres Blancs – 6.50
40% Chardonnay, 20% each Viognier, Roussanne and Chenin.  Nicely rounded nose and palate.  Only in stainless steel.  White blossom fruit and texture.  Lovely fruit and  very satisfying.
2010 – The same assemblage, with less Chenin.  Viognier in vat and the rest in oak – 15.00€
Some colour; almondy; oaky leesy texture.  .
2010 Lumières d’automne – 85% Viognier, 15% petit Manseng.  Élevage in old wood.  Grains entiers – Passerillé and botrytis.   Picked on 29th November and bottled on 18th May this year.   Golden .  Quite an intense nose.  Dry honey and sweet fruit. Acidity on the finish. 74 gm/l residual sugar.   14.6˚

Domaine Puech Auger – I  was supposed to be going for a cellar visit the following week, but was stood up, thanks to a broken down tractor.  I preferred the white wines to the red.
2011 Mount Baudile a pure Chenin – 7.00€
Quite nicely rounded honeyed fruit with acidity.  Lovely ripe Chenin.
Château de Jonquières – lovely property on the edge of the village of Jonquières.
2009 Pays d’Hérault – 14.00€
Grenache blanc and Chenin.  10 months in 500 litre wood.  Quite a herbal nose.    Quite rich and leesy with some dry honey.  Some weight and body, with hints of fennel.   Good acidity.  Lots of nuances and intriguing.
 2011 Rosé, Pays l’Hérault.  90% Cinsaut (pressed) with some Carignan (saigné)  Plot not in the appellation, hence IGP.  Lightly herbal notes, with some depth.  Nicely rounded fruit.  And fresh acidity
2010 Terrasses du Larzac – 11.00€
All five varieties.  In vat.  Medium colour.  Nice spicy fruit.  Very ripe and gouleyant with a satisfying balancing streak of tannin.
2009 Lansade.  The family name – 11.00€
10 months in wood.  Carignan, with Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache.  Quite firm fruit, with more structure and weight.  The oak adds depth.
2008 La Baronnie  – 15.50€
Dominant Syrah and Mourvèdre. 12 months in oak.  Quite rounded, quite solid and dense.  Firm youthful and concentrated, but just a touch lacking in depth.

2007 L’Esprit de la Fontaine. – 25.00€
I didn’t like this wine last  year and I liked it even less this year.  Apparently it spends 24 months in a  tronconique oak vat.  Lacking in fruit with a green edge.  And the 2008 was no better.  I am reliably informed that the property is now up for sale.   So probably the less said the better. 

Mas des Brousses
Xavier Peyraud is the grandson of the legendary Lucien Peyraud from Domaine Tempier in Bandol.  I remember a first vintage now several years ago of delicate light rosé, but sadly for my taste buds, he has not fulfilled his early promise.  His rosé is quite deep in colour and the red wines are rather chunky.  A pure Mourvèdre, label Mataro, simply did not perform. 

Domaine de Familongue
As usual Martine and Jean-Luc were showing an eclectic range
2010 L’Envol de Familongue – 5.70  A blend of Grenache, Clairette,  Roussanne Marsanne, Viognier and Vermentino was delicately herbal with some light fruit.  Easy drinking and no great depth. 
A rosé, made in memory of their son Bastien who died, was a  blend of Mourvèdre and Grenache with some ripe fruit and an elegant finish.
I enjoyed their 2011 Mas des Vignals, Cinsaut  -5.50€
Nicely spicy on nose and palate.  Supple rounded fruit.  Easy to drink. 
And 2008 L’Esprit de Familongue was ripe and supple. 

Domaine de Pelican in Gignac was a new name.  They were showing various Pays d’Oc, Chardonnay, Marsanne, a rose and red blends, both from Bordeaux and Languedoc varieties, but somehow they failed to excite. 

We moved onto Cal Demoura to chat with Isabelle.  Their wines, as expected, were performing beautifully.   Delicious rosé; fresh L’Etincelle.  And more substantial Parole de Pierre; 2010 L’Infidele, Terrasses du Larzac has a lovely balance of fruit.  And les Combariolles 2010 had more depth and structure.  Nicely crafted.   And Feu Sacré again had more structured and the weight of 60 year old Grenache.   Their wines of Cal Demoura have an elegant consistency. 

Domaine Lacoste Germane.
These wines did not excite me as much as in previous years.  M. von Braun  was showing older vintages, 2008 l'Oeillade has dry cherry fruit and some furry tannins.  2005 Faisses had lost its grip and the 2007 Merlot was probably not tasted at the correct temperature – a hazard of summer wine tastings.  It seemed rather sweet.

Domaine des Conquêtes.
I have always liked their white wine.   2010 A blend of Vermentino, Chardonnay, Chenin and Grenache blanc with 12 months separate élevage in wood before blending.  10.00€   Elegant ripe herbal.  Nice body and balance.  Oak well integrated.  Good depth.

And then we had a chat with Bernadette Rouquette from Domaine des Tremières in Nébian.  She makes Coteaux du Salagou, with various blends.  Her white is Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon; the rose, Rigoletto, from Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre was quite sweet.  A Cabernet Franc was typical of the variety, and 2008 Patience from Syrah and Grenache, Coteaux du Languedoc, easy to drink., while Longeur de Temps – 65% Grenache and35% Syrah, Terrasses du Larzac had more depth. 

Reserve d’O
I’ve tasted Marie Chuaffray’s wines in the scrum of the Vinifilles tasting in Montpellier, so was ready for another look.  She has 12.5 hectares in Arboras at 400 metres, and 2005 was her first vintage.  She makes a white and a rosé and three reds.
2011 white – 11.40€
A blend of Chenin, (just ripe)  Grenache (over ripe)  and Roussanne (even riper)  A proportion goes into wood.  All picked together.  Quite a funky nose – for want of a better word.  Some firm acidity and intriguing fruit. And very mineral. 
2011 Rosé – 8.50€
Saigné. Cinsaut with a little Grenache and Syrah.  Light pink.  Lightly herbal; rounded dry fruit.  Very good acidity.  A mineral note and an elegant finish.
2011 Sansoo, St. Saturnin – 10.00€
Syrah and Cinsaut.   Some fresh but confit fruit.  Nice balance and depth.   Rounded with good mouthfeel.  A wine for early drinking.
2008 La Reserve d’O, Terrasses du Larzac – 11.40€
24 months in vat.  Syrah, Grenache, Cinsaut.  Colour evolving.  Elegantly maturing cedary spicy nose.  Quite firm and mineral.  Lots of nuances.  Some leathery notes.  Elegance and depth.
2008 Hissez O – 18.00€
Demi muids for 30 months.  Low yielding Syrah – 15 hl/ha with Grenache and Cinsaut.  Medium colour. Quite rounded oak, but nice oak.  Quite confit fruit; ,quite concentrated with the edge of freshness typical of the Terrasses du Larzac.  How will it evolve.
2010 Doux d’O  Late harvest Grenache,  35 gml/l residual sugar.  15.00€
Medium colour.  Rich sweet cherry liqueur, with good acidity and lots of spice.  Sadly there is none in 2011 as the wild boar got to the grapes first.

And we carried on with a couple more sweet wines.
Les Chemins de Carabote, Grenache noir.  Bright young colour.  Ripe sweet fruit,  Medium weight and a touch of spice, Quite elegant, but a touch hollow.  90 gms/l residual sugar. 
2008 La Croix Chaptal rancio.  Clairette 3 years in fut.  8 – 10 hl/ha.  Quite brown in colour.  Very concentred, very honey with very good acidity.  Quite a honeyed finish.  Not unlike a vin de paille in taste.  A good note on which to finish.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The 2012 Terrasses du Larzac walk

The balade vigneronne organised by the syndicat of the Terrasses du Larzac is one of summer highlights of the tasting calendar.  The venue changes each year, and this year it was the turn of the village of Aniane to play host.   As usual, some forty vignerons were participating from all over the area so it was a chance to catch up with some friends and make some new discoveries.   And the food was supplied by Fabienne Perret from Mas Cambounet in Gignac.

We were bussed to the point of departure just north of the village and equipped with the essentials; sun hat, tasting list, cutlery, meal tickets, wine glass and off we set, down a shady stony track to our first étape, in an olive grove, for the mise en bouche, a selection of verrines,  I opted for brebis with some chives.    And the wine highlights included:

2011 Plan de l’Homme, Alpha, Blanc – 21.00€
80% Roussanne and 20% Grenache.  Quite rounded, textured, with good weight and body. White blossom fruit and a touch of oak.  Very satisfying.

2009 La Croix Chaptal Clairette – 9.00€
A pure Clairette.  Quite golden, with a ripe nose and a rounded palate, with good texture.  Clairette is a rather understated grape variety, and does not pack a punch of flavour.  Charles-Walter explained that 30% was aged in barrel with bâtonnage, and 70% was left in vat on its lees, and then they were blended and aged for a further six months.   

The track continued through vines to an entrée, a tatin de lentilles verts with foie gras mi-cuit.  This was absolutely delicious. 

And with it, we tried:
2011 Rosé, Les Chemin de Carabote – Délicate colour.  Quite firm and solid, with a tight knit palate, with some firm raspberry fruit.  
2011 Rosé, Montpeyroux coop.  Delicate colour.  Nicely rounded  with some ripe fruit and a fresh finish.
2009 Domaine Montcalmès, rouge
60% Syrah, 20% each Grenache and Mourvèdre.  Two years élevage in old wood.  The oak is very well integrated, with harmonious tannins and fresh red fruit.  Structured and elegant.  More on Montcalmès in due course, as I have subsequently been for a cellar visit.

2009 Mas de la Séranne, Clos des Immortelles,
Medium colour.  Perfumed spicy nose.  medium weight with some tannins and black fruit and tapenade.
2009 La Bastides aux Oliviers, l’Esprit.
Medium colour.  Quite meaty perfumed fruit on nose,  with ripe rounded supple red fruit on the palate.  Very gouleyant.
2009 Château de Jonquières, la Baronnie.
This was serious, structured and oaky, with some ripe fruit.

The fish course was at a magnificent view point, with the Languedoc hills stretched out before us, with the Pic de Vissou and the Caroux in the distance.   We enjoyed a tartare de Saint-Pierre, with some chard in olive oil.  

And for wine:
2010 Mas Brunet, Tradition blanc. 
Roussanne, Viognier and Vermentino. Quite rounded rich and peachy with some acidity on the finish.  Viognier dominates the palate.
2011 Mas Jullien rosé
A little colour.  A touch of herbs, thyme.  Quite rounded and fresh with good acidity.

2011 Mas Cal Demoura, Qu’es Aquo
Quite rounded and ripe, with hints of crushed thyme.  A fresh finish.  Mainly Cinsaut and Grenache grown on clay and limestone.  Vincent explained that for his rosé he is tending toward more pressed grapes, which gives minerality, whereas saigné makes for more weight.
2011 La Réserve d’O, Rosé
A touch of wood.  Quite rounded, herbal notes.  Minimum s02, a smoky note from the limestone.  Mainly Cinsaut with some Grenache and Syrah.
2010 Clos du Serres, En  Terrasses Rose 
Quite rounded and ripe with good acidity and a fresh finish. 
2009 Domaine d’Archimbaud, L’Enfant Terrible Rouge
60% Mourvèdre with 20% Carignan and Grenache. Quite rounded and ripe with a fresh edge, and some red fruit.

The meat course was a barbecue, and delicious it was too, with Aubrac beef and lamb from Sisteron, with lots of red wines to try.  The highlights were:
2010 la Traversée.  Delicious beautifully elegant, firm minerality and a fresh finish.
2009 Domaine la Péira, les Obriers de la Peira.  
A blend of Cinsaut and Carignan.  Very attractive spicy fruit with ripe red fruit.  Hints of liquorice.  An elegant finish.
2009 Domaine les Souls
80% Syrah, 20% Grenache.  Quite firm palate, with a meaty nose and some firm tannins and a peppery finish.  Definitely benefitted from being served chilled.

2009 Cave de Pégairolles, l’Astie,
From the smallest coop of the Languedoc. Quite firm and structured with youthful fruit and a nice balance  Aged in old wood.
2009 Domaine Alexandrin, Alex
Equal parts of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan.  Fresh elegant nose.  Quite a rounded ripe palate, with red and black fruit.  Medium weight.
2009 Mas des Chimères, Caminarèm
From equal parts of the five grapes of the appellation .  Quite a firm nose, with slightly  meaty notes.  Firm palate with fresh spicy fruit. Medium weight. 

And then our path took us back into Aniane, to the square outside the abbatiale for some goats cheese, and both red and white wines. 
The highlight here was
2010 les Vignes Oubliées. With Jean-Baptiste Granier.  Medium colour.  Fresh spice, on nose and palate.  Medium weight lovely cherry fruit.  75% Grenache with 25% Syrah. 10% aged in wood.  Definitely on the list for a cellar visit.
2009 Domaine d’Anglas, Face au Château, blanc.  Marsanne and Roussanne, fermented in oak with bâtonnage.  Quite nutty leesy note.  Rounded and characterful.  Quite full-bodied.    A new name to me, and a  discovery.
2011 Mas Haut Buis blanc
From one of the most northern vineyards of the Terrasses du Larzac.  Roussanne with a little chardonnay.  Lightly leesy, well integrated oak.  Quite rounded, with nutty notes and a touch of agrumes, and an elegant finish.
2009 Capitelle des Salles, Hommage  rouge.  Grenache, Syrah and Carignan, grown on schist at 300 metres.   Good fruit and an elegant balance.  My tasting notes are becoming increasingly illegible by this stage!

And the walk finished in front of La Chapelle des Penitents for some dessert wine and a visiting Limoux producer.
Crémant de Limoux, Bulles d’Aval was rounded and creamy with a refreshing balance.
2011 Clos Rivieral, Vendanges Tardives Viognier – Quite concentrated and oaky.  Honeyed and peachy.  Quite intriguing but a tad clumsy.
And the Montpeyroux coop was showing a late harvest Chenin, 2009 Le Vionus.  Amber in colour; quite rich with nutty fruit and acidity.  I guess it had been sitting in a barrel for a while.    Maybe the dessert wines were a bit of an anti-climax at the end.   But none the less it was all enormously good fun.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Domaine de l'Arjolle

One of my favourite local estates is Domaine de l’Arjolle, and it had been a while since I had tasted with Louis-Marie Teisserenc.    This omission was remedied last Monday.   The suggestion was to meet at the cellar and then go onto our local restaurant in Vailhan for some older vintages over dinner – an invitation that I could not possibly refuse.  The wines are all either Côtes de Thongue, or Pays d’Oc,  or maybe Vin de France. 

2011 Sauvignon  - 7.30€
Includes 25% Sauvignon Gris, which they had first planted in 2002.  Louis-Marie has always enthused about Sauvignon, influenced by a friend who used to work for Ladoucette in the Loire Valley.   He talked about the experiments that are being conducted to determine the right moment to pick Sauvignon so that you obtained minerality and avoid over ripeness.  Colour is all important.    And this Sauvignon was beautifully mineral with a firm stony finish and good acidity – and quite unlike most Sauvignon from the Midi.

2011 Equilibre– 7.30€
A blend of Sauvignon 60% and 40% Viognier.  He planted Viognier later than Sauvignon, in about 1980.  I don’t think I’ve ever come across a Sauvignon / Viognier blend before – has anyone else?  This combined the best of both grape varieties, with some ripe peachy fruit, balanced by quite fresh pithy acidity.  Very intriguing.

2010 Chardonnay, Delphine de Margon – 7.30€
Light nose.  Quite a leesy, oaky nose.  30% fermented in wood, including a little American oak, to give slightly toasted character.  Fresh acidity.   Good balance.    Louis-Marie observed that he was making more white wine these days, with 40 hectares out of 100 devoted to white varieties.

2011 Muscat à petits grains – 8.60€
The Muscat grapiness leaps out of the glass.  And very grapey pithy fruit on the palate.  Firm acidity with the dry finish typical of Muscat.

2010 Equinoxe – 11.50€
40% Viognier and Sauvignon, with 20% Muscat.  60% fermented in  barrel.  Some malo; some without malo.  Some French oak and some American oak.   Light golden.  Quite leesy oak.  Intriguing.  Layers of flavour on the palate.  A touch of oak and potential to age.  Nicely mouth filling.

2009 Dernière Cueillette.  Chardonnay.  – 12.00€
They begin the Chardonnay harvest in the middle of August – two thirds of the crop goes for a sparkling wine.  Most of the rest is destined for Delphine de Margon, and some is left until late October.  That is picked and left in a barrel, outside, until the following September, so that it becomes a bit rancio and oxidised, and then it is blended with some more conventionally barrel-aged Chardonnay.  The result is a bit like a vin jaune from the Jura.  Golden colour.  Dry nutty notes, like vin jaune, but not quite so powerful.  Very intriguing.  Notes of walnut and hazelnut and some dry toffee.   Long with a lift on the finish.  15˚

2011 Allégria – 5.50€    
Muscat, with a touch of CO2 and some residual sugar.  Soft with a touch of honey and some pithy grapey Muscat notes.  Good acidity on the finish and very lightly fizzy.  This is intended for popular appeal, for the new younger drinker.   10˚

2010 Méridienne – 11.50€ 
40% Syrah and Cabernet Franc with 20% Grenache.  An élevage en fut, so that it is quite a substantial rosé,  ‘a rosé de repas, for people who don’t really like rosé’.  Lightly nutty notes on both nose and palate.  Nicely toasted.  Good acidity and quite nicely mouth filling.

2011 Delphine de Margon – 7.30€
40% Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Carignan.   Grown on argilo-calcaire in Margon.   Good colour.  Ripe fruit. Some peppery notes and some fresh tannins.  Nice fruit and slightly rustic note, in the best sense of the word. 

2010 Cabernet- Merlot  45% / 55% - 7.30€
Louis-Marie has sold this cuvée to the Wine Society for over 20 years.  12 months in wood.  Quite a firm nose.  I preferred the palate, which was fresh with some cassis notes.  It was more Cabernet Franc than Cabernet Sauvignon.

K – 100% Carménère, Vin de France – 12.00€
They have just 1.12 hectares of Carménère and are planning to plant some more.  I am not aware of any other producers of Carmen in the Midi.  Good colour.  Quite peppery with a ‘green ‘note that was reminiscent of Cabernet Franc.  Riper palate than nose suggests.  Good balance with a fresh finish. 

2008 Z  - Zinfandel de l’Arjolle, Vin de France - 12.00€
Deep colour.  A raisiny nose, ripe and rich.  Quite tannic and gutsy.  Rounded ripe palate balanced with some firm tannins.  Quite characterful.  Again no one else grows Zinfandel, to my knowledge.

2010 Synthèse, Merlot – 11.50€
12 months barrel ageing – 40% new.  Good colour; quite rounded smoky nose.  Ripe fruit.  Picked about 12 days later than the Merlot for other cuvées.  Long and ripe, with balancing tannins.

2009 Cabernet – 11.50€ 
30% Cabernet Franc to 70% Cabernet Sauvignon.  12 months in oak.  Quite rounded and youthful with cassis and oak on nose and palate.  Quite firm tannins and still very youthful, but with good balance and body.  They do a careful tri at the harvest to remove any unripe berries so that they avoid any green notes

A lovely selection of wines.  And then we adjourned to Le Presbytère in Vailhan, which changed hands earlier this year.  The view is that the food is even better, and Madame has a winning smile.  Louis-Marie had prepared an icebox  - in consideration of the summer temperatures - of older bottles:

2005 Equinoxe -   Quite a deep golden colour, with a mature nose and lovely ripe nutty fruit, balanced with good acidity.  Rich mouth feel and texture.

2000 – Equinoxe  -  Amber colour; intriguingly mature  but not maderised.   Honeyed with acidity on the finish.   Rounded body and weight, with balancing acidity

2003 Cabernet
Deep colour.  Smoky cedary fruit.  Lovely balance.  Still very young and fresh, especially for a 2003.  A lovely surprise.  It had aged beautifully, and was delicious with the boeuf de l’Aubrac that was our main course.

2000 Cabernet.  This was even better, with some lovely cedary notes on nose and palate.  A certain freshness, and very elegant.

2002 Paradoxe
40% Syrah, 20% each Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Grenache.  Spicy fruit.  Tannins fondu.  Still very youthful, with acidity behind the fruit.  Fresh with some furry tannins.  Good depth.  And some rounded spice.

2002 Lyre  Vendanges tardives de Muscats à petits grains.  Passerillé grapes.  In oak for 10 months.  Acidity, apricots and marmalade.  And quite delicious.

2008 Merlot muté sur grains.  Fruit and freshness.  Balanced sugar and acidity.  Lovely red fruit with a tannic note. Very intriguing and original and delicious with our rich, dark chocolate dessert.

Louis-Marie has been making wine for over thirty years and you sense that his curiosity is boundless – he will never stop trying something new, and he succeeds and manages a wide range of wines extraordinarily well.  A talented  winemaker, with a great sense of humour.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The St. Chinian Fete

St. Chinian celebrated its 30th birthday this year, for it was made an appellation, along with Faugères, three years before the creation of the all-embracing appellation of the Coteaux du Languedoc, in 1982.  Every year on the penultimate Sunday in July, they organise a wine fair under the shade of the plane trees on the Esplanade in the centre of the town.  The wine growers jostle for place alongside the regular Sunday market – some forty of them altogether, along with producers of cheese, tapenades, saucisson, honey and so.  And the square was crammed visitors.  It was well nigh impossible to taste anything, but I did manage to say hallo to a couple of wine growers, Christine from Clos Bagatelle, who created me with a cheerful bise on both cheeks, and Nadia and Cyril from Domaine de Madura.  As luck would have it, there was nobody else at their stand, so it was possible to taste their wines in relative peace, and remind myself just how good they are. 

But my presence has also been requested by the Confrérie de des Chevaliers de St. Chinian.   They wanted to make me a Chevalier.  Just about every French appellation worth its salt has a confrérie, and not only for wine.   The St. Chinian confrérie arrived from church,  accompanied by other confréries; there was St. Andrieu from Beziers, rosé  de Bessan, Muscat de Frontignan, St. Saturnin, Faugères, and pink garlic from Lautrec and tartes tatins – I am not sure where they were based, but they had brought some for lunch, and I was also able to buy a beautiful string of garlic.   Everyone was wearing heavy velvet robes, more suited for a winter’s day, and they would have been deemed incomplete without a floppy hat of medieval design.

Any occasion like this demands speeches, so the mayor of St. Chinian had his say, as well as the president of the appellation, and there was another local politician adding weight to his words, reviewing the progress of the appellation and exhorting us to drink more of it.  A local band added to the jollity.  And there was country dancing.  

And then it was time to go up on the podium.  I was in good company, with a local restauranteur from nearby Cruzy, and four vignerons who were being made chevaliers in recognition of their services to the appellation – Alain Jougla from Domaine des Jougla was the most familiar name to me, and we greeted each other warmly.  

My parrain, Jean Lacugue from Domaine Milhau Lacugue introduced me, turning my rather basic CV into something much more eloquent and I was given a glass of wine to taste – and then dubbed on both shoulders with a large vine souche in the name of Noah, St. Vincent (the patron saint of wine growers) and St. Aniane, hence the name St. Chinian.  And then it was the turn of the restaurateur. 

And of course no event like this is complete without lunch, so we adjourned to the cool cloisters of the old abbatiale.  The bottles flowed, rather like a Burgundian paulée.  Alain Jougla’s white les Tuileries was deliciously subtle and flowery; Chateau Cazal Viel’s rosé was delicate and fresh with rounded vinous fruit; 2008 Château Milhau Lacugue had some rich tapenade fruit; Mas de Cynanque was ripe and spicy with supple tannins and then my tasting notes seem to disintegrate completely.  We certainly did not have the energy to return to the fray of the fete.