Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Chateau Camplazens in La Clape

Last week seemed to bring lots of French wine growers to London.  First there was the Vignerons Independents tasting and then a whole host of them gathered at Lord’s Cricket Ground for a tasting called French Wine Discoveries.   As it happened, there was not that much to discover from the Languedoc – one possible exception being a small St. Chinian producer, Domaine de Pech Lune -  but my friends Susan and Peter Close from Château Camplazens in la Clape were there.    I’ve visited them a couple of times, but for some reason I’ve never blogged about them, and now is the moment to make amends for that omission.

They are an interesting couple and part of that new breed of wine growers who have had successful careers in other fields, which always provides a broader view of things, with an underlying energy.  Peter had his own chemical engineering company, and they were based in New Orleans, until he retired from it in 1999.  He and Susan came back to Europe and spent eighteen months looking for a wine estate, and serendipity led them to la Clape.   They made their first wines in 2001.   I first became aware of them when their Syrah started to feature regularly in the Top 100 Vins de Pays tasting, a competition which sadly is now defunct. 

Camplazens now comprises 50 hectares of vines in 112 hectares of land.   It is a wild spot, with some terrific views towards the coast and the Montagne Noir.  Over the last ten years they have done a lot of work on the vineyards, planting more Grenache and Syrah, and also Marselan, a Cabernet Sauvignon Grenache cross, as part of an INRA experiment, to see if it would be suitable for the appellation.  The short answer is that it is not.  In retrospect they would not have planted so much, but nevertheless they use it for a cheerful vin de pays, and they have pulled up the Mourvèdre.  Syrah is now their principal variety. 

La Clape is an extraordinary area, one of the driest and sunniest part of the Languedoc, with 3000 sunshine hours per year, and an annual average of 600 ml of rain.  Their land was once a seabed 300 million years ago and they find fossils in the vineyards.   And there is a menhir near the house – human remains from 5000 years ago have been found on la Clape

They also have done a lot of work on the cellar, rebuilding the old cement vats and the current building project is almost finished.

I asked Peter how he described the tipicity of the area.   The wind is a key factor, with the maritime influence.  La Clape can be in the clouds thanks to the vent marin.   And the herbs of the garrigues must influence the flavour, and there is good minerality in the wines, stemming from the clay and limestone soil.

Our tasting last week began  with

2010 Viognier Pays d’Oc.  It was quite delicate and peachy on the nose, with a ripe palate and more pronounced peachiness on the palate.  Nicely textured and layered, with a hint of oak.

2011 Syrah – Pays d’Oc
Ripe spice on the nose, with more rich tapenade fruit on the palate.  Supple and spicy.  It is a warm climate Syrah, and nicely mouth filling.  No oak.

They also make a pure Grenache – the last vintage I tasted had some ripe cherry fruit, with supple tannins. it was very Grenache.   And the 2009 Marselan had some dark fruit, and some smoky notes, with a warm finish.  A good barbecue wine, but you could quite see why it  is not deemed appropriate for la Clape.

And next came four different red la Clape.  They don’t make a white la Clape as you need Bourboulenc for that, and they do not particularly like Bourboulenc, but they do have some experimental rows of Muscat and Vermentino, to see if they are suitable for their terroir.

2010 la Clape, la Garrigue
This is their entry level, a blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache, of which 20% is oaked.  There is indeed a touch of oak on the nose, with some ripe spicy fruit.  The palate is quite broad and mouth filling, with a tannic streak on the finish.

2010 la Clape Reserve
60% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 10% Carignan, and some oak ageing.   Some spicy fruit, with more concentration and depth, with some oak and tannin.  An appealing leathery streak and a good balance of tannin and fruit.

2009 la Clape Premium
Syrah and Grenache with some oak.  Quite ripe and intense on both nose and palate.  The nose is quite oaky, but the palate is more supple, and supple, rich and balanced.

And finally Julius 2010, their top la Clape.
70% Syrah and 30% Grenache, made from the best eight barrels.  I first tried the 2009, which I found slightly overpowering, oaky and dense, while this 2010 was toned down a little, with more elegance and structure, and some dry leathery fruit.  Julius was named for the Roman associations with la Clape.  Julius Caesar was there in 44BC and gave land on la Clape to the 10th legion. There is a claim that Caesar favoured the red wines of la la Clape, which cannot be verified, but as Peter observed: why let authenticity spoil a good story?  And the name Camplazens means camp of pleasure in Latin  it is the only la Clape estate with a Roman name.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Tasting at Great Western Wines

If you live in Bath, you are lucky as you have what is generally considered the best wine merchant of the south west of England on your doorstep, namely Great Western Wines.  Fortunately for those of us who live elsewhere, they do have a website and sell on the net, and last week they brought a great selection of their wines up to London for the benefit of the wine press. 

There were all sorts of delicious things on offer, but as it happens only a couple from the Languedoc, namely

2010 Le Limoux, Château Rives Blanques - £11.95
This comes from my good friends Jan and Caryl Panman and is a blend of 42% Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay 40% and Mauzac 18%, in other words the three white varieties that you find in sparkling Limoux, Blanquette or Crémant.   And they make for delicious still wine.  Light colour.  Some intriguing herbal notes on the nose, and on the palate a touch of oak and good acidity and some intriguing dry honeyed notes.  It should age beautifully and become richer and fuller in the palate.

And for red wine there was 2007 Faugères, Domaine de Prés Lasses, Castel Viel - £21.00  This is a blend of Carignan 40%, Grenache 40% and 10% each of Mourvèdre and Syrah.  Great Western provided commendably detailed information on grape varieties.  £21 is a bit steep for a Faugères, but the wine had lots of character.  Deep young colour; quite a rounded nose with dry spice.  On the palate plenty of fruit, with more spice and some furry tannins on the palate, and was warm and gutsy on the finish. I realised afterwards that I had tasted wines from this estate at the Salon des Vignerons Independents in Paris last autumn and had been a little hesitant about them as they struck me as being quite alcoholic.  Indeed this weighs in at 14.5º.   In Paris I tried the 2008 vintage of this cuvée, and was told that  the Carignan was at least 60 years old, if not 70 or 80 years old.  And the wine had spent 20 months in oak, at least one  third new barrels, and was unfiltered.  I had found the 2008 rich and characterful, as indeed is the 2007.   The producer, Boris Feigal, comes from Alsace, so this is yet another example of the many newcomers to Faugères

A final note that has nothing to do with the Languedoc.  I love weird and unusual grape varieties, and Braucol comes into that category; it is grown in various appellations of south west France and is also known as Mansois and Fer Servadou – or if you look it up in the magnificent tome on grape varieties produced by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz, you will find a host of other synonyms that I have never heard of.  Anyway the wine in question was a Côtes de Tarn from Domaine Vigné-Laurac in the village of Cahuzac-sur-Vère, which is part of the Gaillac appellation.  Medium young colour, with quite firm berry fruit on the nose.  And on the palate it was ripe and juicy with lovely red fruit and some acidity as well as tannin.  A lovely refreshing glass of wine that would be delicious slightly chilled on a summer’s day – so sorry not really an appropriate recommendation for today, when I am watching the snow coming down – and for just £8.95.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Vignerons Independents come to London

The beginning of the year started well with lots of sunshine and wine in the Languedoc, but old favourites rather than new discoveries, so nothing of note for a blog - hence my silence.  And then back to London a week into the year for a complete immersion in the 2011 Burgundies – 2011 Chablis tends to pale alongside the razor sharp minerality of the  2010s, while many of the red wines are deliciously forward and fruity and almost ready for drinking – and then yesterday there was the London version of the Vignerons Independents tasting,  with a healthy representation from the Languedoc, providing an opportunity to discover some new names. 

But first I said hallo to friends:

Constance Rerolle from Château l’Engarran outside Montpellier was there with a new vintage of her Cuvée La Lionne.  The 2011 is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Grenache.  Deep colour; a rich concentrated nose.  The palate is quite perfumed with ripe spice and nicely integrated oak, with a satisfying streak of tannin on the finish.

Christine Mouton Bertoli from Domaine Sainte Cécile du Parc, a new estate outside Pézenas, was there too, so an opportunity for a quick update.

2011 Notes Pures, Sauvignon is quite golden, with ripe rounded nose and a textured leesy palate and some lovely depth.  Dry and mouth filling.

2012 Rosé, Notes Frivoles, A blend of Grenache, Cabernet Franc and Carignan was a vat sample, and still fresh and crisp with a rounded ripe finish.  It promises well.

Christine’s red wines from the 2009 and 2010 vintages were ageing very nicely, with some smoky understated oak and rich tapenade notes on the palate.  See an earlier posting from last summer for more details

Pic St. Loup was represented by:

Château de Lancyre, owned by the Valentin and Durand families.  I’ve not tasted these wines since I was researching The Wines of the South of France at the end of the 1990s..

2011 Languedoc – a blend of Roussanne, with 10% each of Marsanne and Viognier.  Ripe and perfumed; with Viognier peachiness and some white blossom.

They were showing three reds, Coste d’Aleyrac, Clos des Combes and Vieilles Vignes, from Syrah and Grenache planted in the early 1970s – so not that old.  The style of the reds was ripe and supple, with spicy fruit.  Coste d’Aleyrac was very gourmand, and Clos des Combes quite warm on the finish, with more concentration.  None were aged in oak, so fruit dominated the palate.

I had a jolly conversation with Guillaume Granier from Domaine les Grandes Costes, another Pic St. Loup estate at Vacquières on the edge of the appellation. It is his brother Jean-Christophe who makes the wine, and according to Guillaume, looks for rounded tannins, with an élevage in older barrels.  They have Coteaux du Languedoc, or Languedoc  too. 

2007 Sarabande, Languedoc, from Cinsaut, Grenache, Syrah and Carignan had some nice evolving fruit with tapenade notes and some dry spice on the finish.   

2010 Pic St. Loup from Syrah and Grenache, was sturdy and more concentrated, with ripe fruit and a firm streak of tannin. A satisfying contrast with the Languedoc.   And the 2009 had some ripe spice and tannin, and was nicely balanced and mouth filling.

Frederic Mezy from Clos des Augustins in the Pic St. Loup made his first vintage in 2003 from 3 hectares.  He now has 32 hectares. He is a friendly young guy, with some engaging enthusiasm who deserves to do well.

I particularly like d his 2011 Pic St. Loup, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre.  Deep colour. Quite solid, ripe and rounded with a tannic streak.  Youthful with some fresh fruit. Good balance.

Then there were some wine growers from the Minervois.

Domaine Saint Michel Archange,  in Bize-Minervois   Charles Janbon used to be a professor of medicine, before he joined the family estate in 2005, in retirement, so we had a reassuring conversation about how good for you wine is – phew .....

He was showing two wines, Cuvée La Tour de Boussecus, one third each of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, with some spicy fruit and a certain sweetness.  Élevage in vat and vinification by carbonic maceration for the Grenache and Carignan.

Cuvee Joséphine was a Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre blend, with 12 months élevage in oak, which I found a bit drying.

Domaine du Bosc-Rochet in Aigues Vives was also an unknown (to me) Minervois estate. 
2010 Minervois Carpe Diem from Syrah and Carignan, including some very old Carignan, planted in 1901, was rounded and spicy with well integrated oak, making for a supple finish.

Nor had I come across Domaine Terres Georges before. Roland Coustal’s father was called Georges, and the vines came from him.  They are in Castelnau d’Aude, close to the Canal du Midi.  There were two cuvées, Et Cetera, with some ripe spicy fruit and a streak of tannin, and Quintessence which had spent eight months in three year old wood, with some more structured spice and a steak of tannin.  Both easy drinking.

René-Henry Guéry of Chateau Guéry in the village of Azille explained how he is the 8th generation of his family to own the vineyards, but his father had sold grapes to the négoce.  He bottled his first wine in 1998.  And as well as Minervois he makes various varietal wines.  I liked his 2010 Minervois Grès, a blend of Grenache , Syrah and Mourvèdre, with an élevage in vat.  Quite a firm nose; rounded structured palate with firm fruit, and  a sturdy streak that is the benchmark of good Minervois.

He has a Cuvée les Eolides, named after a piece by César Frank, who composed the work in the village of Azille.  It also recalls the importance of the wind in the area.  The 2010 vintage was rounded and ripe, with some solid oak and firm tannins and a solid youthful finish.

There was also a pure Petit Verdot, a more unusual varietal of the Languedoc, which he made for the first time in 2004.  12 months in wood.  Ripe and rounded with good fruit and tannins and some acidity.  Youthful balance.

The pioneer of Petit Verdot in the Languedoc was Bernard Jany at Château Condamine Bertrand in Paulhan.  His son-in-law, Bruno Andreu, explained how 40 years ago he had planted just one hectare in the middle of a plot of Merlot – so that it was always declared as Merlot.  Now that Petit Verdot is allowed, since 2000, they have planted a second hectare.  And the wine is fresh and tannic with some perfumed fruit.

I also liked their 2011 Coteaux du Languedoc Tradition with quite a deep colour and some firm leathery notes on both nose and palate, with a tannic streak and a sunny finish.

Sylvie Ellul was the directrice of the Vin de Pays d’Oc syndicat before she became involved in the family vineyard of Domaine Ellul-Ferrières outside Castries.  She explained how they are hoping to extend the zone of St. Drézery, to include eight wine growers.  Currently Domaine Puech Haut is the best known estate of St. Drézery. Inevitably these things take time, and for  the moment they are within the terroir of Grès de Montpellier – I suggested that Grès de Montpellier might provide a more obvious identity than St. Drézery.   At least the mention of Montpellier gives you a clue as to where the wine might come from, unlike St. Drézery, but Sylvie did not seem convinced.

1997 was their first vintage and they have six hectares, and make two styles of red wine, les Romarins, which is given a long élevage in vat, and is a blend of Syrah and Grenache, with no fining or filtering.  The wines are ripe and harmonious and very gourmand, with some lovely red fruit.  The alcohol levels are quite generous, but you do not taste it.

Grande Cuvée is given twelve months élevage in oak and again is a blend of Syrah and Grenache.  The wine is solid and intense, with ripe fruit and firm tannic steak, with ageing potential.

And there was one lone estate from Roussillon, with Marie Claude Mathieu, from Château de Lacroix in Cabestany.   She makes a range of Côtes du Roussillon, both red and white.  Cuvée Louise was perfumed and supple, with a small amount of oak élevage, while the Réserve was more intense and concentrated with ripe fruit and oak.

There was a characterful Muscat Sec, les Petits Grains, Côtes Catalanes, and an elegantly grapey Muscat de Rivesaltes, and best of all was a Rivesaltes Ambré.  Hazelnut on the nose and a taste of sherry trifle.   Have you ever tried explaining sherry trifle to a French woman?