Friday, 22 February 2013

Chateau d'Angles

This is one of my favourite la Clape estates.  Eric Fabre was the technical director of Château Lafite for eight years and then decided that what he really wanted to do was make Mourvèdre in the south of France.  However, he still retains his bordelais approach to wine-making.   But firstly a bit of background, for this was one of the old historic estates of the Languedoc, when it was Château la Rivière-Haute and owned by Jean Ségura, who was one of the pioneers of white wine in the Languedoc.  I visited him in 1987 and at that time he was making white wine that was a revelation, with a depth of flavour that was unique in the region.  Sadly his heirs had neither his interest nor talent and the property went through a difficult few years, until Eric arrived from Bordeaux, to make his first vintage here in 2002. He has also bought the neighbouring estate of Château la Rivière-Basse and reunited the two properties under the name of Anglès.   A Monsieur Barthélémy Etienne d’Anglès had bought the land after the French Revolution.

Eric, and his son Vianney,  talked about what makes la Clape so special.  First of all there is the climate.   In spring the temperature warms up earlier, because of their proximity to the sea, compared to much of the rest of the Languedoc.   Consequently you can plant later ripening grape varieties, and be sure that they will indeed ripen.  This explains why Bourboulenc is so successful on la Clape, as it ripens even later than Mourvèdre, during the second half of October.  The maritime influence also moderates the temperature.  When it is 27ºC on a summer’s day in la Clape, it will be at least 30º – 31ºC in Narbonne, and they will always have a light sea breeze.  And even in summer, they get dew on the vines – we were standing on the grass outside the château, and I did suddenly realise that my sandaled feet were damp with morning dew.   Eric was adamant that it was not salty – they once had a storm that brought salt onto the vines and burnt the leaves.

The name La Clape derives from clapas, which means cailloux or stones in Occitan, and that is what the soil is.  The massif of La Clape is a masse calcaire of hard limestone, 17 kilometres by 7 kilometres, a compact area of vineyards, crossed by valleys that were carved out by water.  At Anglès they are two kilometres away from the sea.   Rain limits yields, with semi-arid conditions, and an annual average of  350 mm as opposed to 800 mm in Bordeaux.

And with his bordelais background, you might expect Eric to be interested in Cabernet Sauvignon, but he was adamant; ‘it was Mourvèdre that brought us here’.  Friends from Bandol had introduced him to the charms of Mourvèdre and so he set out to look for a good vineyard for Mourvèdre.  Cabernet Sauvignon ripens much too quickly in the Midi.  Altogether they have 36 hectares of wine, in one large block, including one third planted for white wine, when only about 10% of la Clape is white wine.  Other good white wine estates include Mire l’Etang, Rouquette-sur-Mer and Négly.  The appellation regulations demand a minimum of 40% Bourboulenc, with Grenache Blanc to make a minimum of 60% and they also have Marsanne and Roussanne.  Viognier is allowed up to 10% and other varieties are tolerated, Grenache Gris, Terret, Picpoul, Carignan Blanc, and also Rolle.  And for reds, they have Mourvèdre,   with Syrah and Grenache, and you can also have Cinsaut and Carignan, for which the permitted maximum is 30%.   Altogether la Clape consists of 1000 hectares of vines, with 38 producers, including two cooperatives that account for 20 percent of the appellation.  There are about 25 producers who sell their wine seriously, with another ten that are small family concerns. 

La Clape is on the way to becoming an appellation in its own right, retrospectively for the 2012 vintage, and it will also be a cru of the Coteaux du Languedoc.  An appellation naturally entails stricter regulations.  The delimitation parcellaire has been done.  For the moment La Clape is red and white, with rosé under discussion for the appellation.  There is also an issue about the village of Gruissan, which is situated on the edge of the Massif, and logically part of la Clape, but historically it has been included within the appellation of Corbières, and Corbières does not want to give up Gruissan.  It sounds like an histoire de clocher,  as the French call local politics.

Eric still uses the same cellar as Jean Ségura, but he has modernised it, and only makes the red wines here; the whites are made at Rivière Basse.  The vats have drapeaux for temperature control; there are stainless steel as well as cement vats, and everything works by gravity. 

And then it was time to open some bottles, and we continued talking as we tasted.   In the bordelais way, Eric makes a Classique for each colour, and a Grand Vin for red and white.  Classique accounts for 65% of the production , and the Grand Vin 35%, making an annual average of around 180,000 bottles.

2009 Classique Rouge – 8.90€

40% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre.  Medium colour.  Quite an elegant nose, with a leathery note and a touch of white pepper.  For Eric white pepper from Syrah accounts for some of the tipicity of La Clape.  It is fresh with elegant tannins, while the Grenache Noir gives red fruit.   Quite firm and leathery, with peppery notes on the palate, with a certain freshness on the finish.  2009 was a good vintage, and quite  a warm vintage.   Eric observed that ‘we were fascinated by the tannins here; and you can ripen the grapes properly here’ – the inference being that that is not always so in Bordeaux.  They decide the picking date according to the taste of the grapes.

Vianney studied oenology in Bordeaux and then did business studies in Champagne.  He has worked with his father, helping make the wine since the 2010 vintage, and looks for elegance and length in his wines.  The maceration lasts three or four weeks for the younger Classique red, compared to six or seven weeks for the Grand Vin.  

 2008 Grand Vin Rouge – 14.90€
55% Mourvèdre, with 25 – 30% Syrah and 15-20% Grenache.  A touch of Carignan – they have one hectare of it.  And the wine spends nine to ten months in barrels, 20% of which are new.  Apart from the Grenache that sees no oak.  Deep colour.  Quite a ripe oaky nose.  Quite black tapenade fruit.  Ripe sweet fruit on the palate, with good depth.  Still young oaky vanilla flavours.  Rounded silky tannins.  You need the tannin structure to enable the wine to age.  The Mourvèdre adds depth to the wine.  They have grafted some onto older 30 or 40 year old wines.  It likes to see the sea, and the vines must be old.     
2011 Rosé Classique – 8.90€
80% Mourvèdre, with Syrah and Grenache.   Pressed grapes,  a delicate orange pink.  Delicate nose.  Very elegant, but with concentration.  The picking time is critical; for rosé they pick the Mourvèdre at the beginning of October, as opposed to the end of the month for the red.   Elegant dry rosé, with raspberry fruit.

2010 Classique Blanc
One year of élevage in vat.  50% Bourboulenc, 30% Grenache blanc with 10% Marsanne and Roussanne.  They are interested to see what the Viognier will produce; the wines would be five years old for the 2012 vintage, which is minimum age for vines for la Clape.

Light colour; salty mineral nose.  Eric equates Bourboulenc to a Mourvèdre blanc.  The acidity is low with salty mineral fruit, fresh stony notes and good depth.  Grown on calcaire coteaux, with galets roulées.  No skin contact;  the grapes are quickly pressed and the juice cooled to keep its aroma.  Bourboulenc is almost tannic, with a certain structure from the thickness of the skins, which enable it to resist the sun and also the humidity from the sea.  It is ripe when the skin is becomes more fragile.  The Marsanne and Roussanne are picked at the beginning of September.

2008 Grand Vin
40% Bourboulenc, with 20% each of Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache blanc.  Fermented in wood, mainly 2 year old barrels, followed by élevage with some bâtonnage.  The Grenache, Marsanne and Roussanne go into wood together, while the Bourboulenc, which is picked a month later, is kept in vat.   There are three hectares of 80 year old Bourboulenc vines; it is a cousin of Malvoisie from Italy.  The final assemblage is done at the end of the élevage.  Hints of honey on the nose, with  iodine, garrigues, fennel and celery.  A certain matière, with a hint of vanilla.  Some weight, with an appealing freshness on the finish.

2003 Grand Vin blanc

Light golden, rich and iodé.  Very good matière with a hints of fennel and a fresh finish.   Very intriguing.  And showing just how well the white wines of La Clape age.

2009 Grand Vin Rouge– ex barrel vat – no filtering or fining. Quite firm and structured plate, with very good tannins.  A reticent nose.  Rounded youthful palate.  Similar blend to 2008, though a warmer vintage.

A great visit, and an estate that is going far.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Les Terroiristes du Languedoc

I missed the first showing of Ken Payton’s much hailed film les Terroiristes du Languedoc.  I was having too good a time tasting with the Vinifilles, so arrived 15 minutes before the start to find that the cinema was already packed to bursting point.  But a chance encounter with Ken the next morning and an apology on my part resulted in my very own DVD, so I was able to watch the film from the comfort of my own sitting room, with my tasting buddy, Lits, accompanied by some appropriate liquid refreshment – well actually here I must confess, that it was a bottle of Prosecco rather than Limoux, which just happened to come to hand.

So the twelve terroiristes are:

John and Nicole Bojanowski at Clos du Gravillas in St. Jean de Minervois – an American French couple, who delight in breaking the rules.   I always enjoy tasting with them, most recently at Millésime Bio.

Jon and Liz Bowen at Domaine Ste Croix in the Corbières -  I’ve met Liz a couple of times in London, and then was introduced to Jon at Millésime Bio.   Jon learnt his wine-making at Plumpton.

Emmanuel Pageot and Karen Turner at Domaine Turner-Pageot in Gabian – they are up the road from our French home.  He is French and she is Australian, and they met in Alsace, chez Hugel.

Virgile and Magda Joly of Domaine Virgile Joly in St. Saturnin.  Virgile created the first new wine estate in St. Saturnin for 50 years.  He has a small cellar in the main square between the church and the mairie, with the sign above the door saying, vigneron depuis 2000.

Cyril and Nadia Bourgne at Domaine la Madura in St. Chinian.  Cyril ran an estate in Bordeaux and now produces stylish wine in St. Chinian, including a white wine that nothing at all to do with the appellation.

Brigitte Chevalier of Domaine de Cébène in Faugères.  She comes from Bordeaux and has created her own small estate in Faugères, with some great vineyard sites.

André Leenhardt of Château de Cazeneuve in the Pic St. Loup – He was one of the pioneers of Pic St. Loup, arriving there in 1988 and was one of the first to put his wine in bottle.

Francois and Louis Adrien Delhon at Domaine Bassac in Puissalicon in the Cotes de Thongue.  I met their father Louis at the end of the last century, when he was very much one of the lone pioneers of organic viticulture in the Languedoc.

Eric and Vianney Fabre at Château d’Anglès in la Clape.  Yet more Bordelais.  Eric was the technical director of Château Lafite, but he was captivated by Mourvèdre.

Frédéric and Marie Chauffray at Réserve d’O  in Arboras – I have tasted Marie’s wines at the various Vinifilles tastings and very good they are too, but I have yet to do a cellar visit.

Jean-Pierre Vanel of Domaine Lacroix-Vanel in Caux – One of the new growers in Caux. 

Thierry Rodriguez of Mas Gabinèle in Faugères – The one unknown,  to me.

As you can see, they cover the whole of the Languedoc from the Pic St. Loup to Corbières and La Clape, ranging over a wide diversity of terroirs, though there are gaps, with nobody from the Minervois, nor from Limoux, or neighbouring Malepère or Cabardès .   And they are all supremely articulate.   Ken makes no secret of the fact that he chose them for their ability to express their challenges and talk about their work and their preoccupations – not just the quality of the next harvest, but also the future of their vineyards – will their children want to carry on?   For some that decision has already been made; for others it is too soon.  They talk about their terroir – and you will see some wonderful shots of different soils and rocks in weathered hands.

But I have two criticisms – at two and a half hours, the film is much too long.  It could do with an efficient pair of scissors to cut out some moments of longeur – you do not necessarily need to see some of the minute details.   And although the wine growers talked about their own individual terroirs, I felt that the film did not really explain how they all linked together.   Each presented a vignette, without really showing how they fitted into the overall terroir of the Languedoc.   The relationship between La Clape and the Pic St. Loup, or St. Chinian, and the differences, for example,  were not really explained.  Maybe a map was needed, showing the position of each vigneron at the beginning of each section, or indeed a short introduction and overview of the Languedoc to set the scene.  But there is no doubt Ken does capture some of the dramatic scenery of the Languedoc, with shots of the Pic St. Loup and the Montagne de l’Hortus, and the hills behind St. Saturnin, but at Château d’Anglès, you are given no clue as to the proximity of the sea

I loved seeing people I knew – there only one vigneron who I had not met before – and several of them I would count as friends, and it is always great fun to see your friends on the screen – but I wondered how much the interest would be retained of the average wine lover who does not have such detailed knowledge of the Languedoc.   But if you are hankering after some Languedoc sunshine on a cold winter’s evening in London, this could be the next best thing.   

A DVD will be available shortly for purchase on line, and various showings are planned. mainly in the Languedoc  at the various wine estates, with a tasting, during May.  

Three of Ken's photos from the cover of the DVD

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Clos Fantine

Clos Fantine is a Faugeres estate that is owned by three siblings, Carole, Corinne and Olivier Andrieu.  We met the two sisters, who spark off each other very nicely.  They have 28 hectares of vineyards, planted with Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsaut and a little Syrah, as well as some Aramon and Terret.  All the vines are gobelet or bush vines.   They explained the division of labour; Corinne makes the wine; she studied oenology at Montpellier.  Carole does the paper work, having gone to business school, and Olivier looks after the vines.  But they all help with pruning and they do not need to employ any extra help.

Carole explained that their grandmother was born here and inherited three hectares.  Their father, Jacques,  worked in Paris and then came back to the land and invested in his patrimoine and developed  the estate.  He was a coop member, at Autignac, one of the now defunct coops of Faugères,  which has disappeared with the current cooperative crisis.  He also started cultivating his vines organically;  like all good vignerons, his philosophy was to respect the vine.  And his children have taken this further and are now ardent supporters of the movement for natural wine.  They build a cellar in 2000, three years after their father’s death.

We sat outside in the courtyard and tasted on a warm July afternoon.  It is a peaceful spot, just outside the village of Lenthéric.  The sisters observed that 2011 had been very difficult to make, and not all the vats had finished fermenting.  2010 was easier.  Their vines are all within about seven kilometres of the cellar, several different plots, with different aspects and problems.  They vinify by cépages, rather than by plot – space is a problem – and then the wines are blended fifteen months later.  They use no wood at all.

2011 Terret blanc, Valcabrières, Vin de France – 16.00€
80 – 90 year old Terret, but mixed up with other varieties.  For the sisters the essential characteristic of vin nature is no S02,  and natural yeast.  Part pressed and part whole bunch fermentation.   This was quite orange, amber golden in colour.  Quite a firm dry nose, and on the palate a certain leesy, stony note with some acidity and a touch of bitterness. .   Good depth of flavour.  Bottled in March.

2011 La Lanterne Rouge, Vin de France. 9.00
Half and half  Aramon and Cinsaut  The Cinsaut is destemmed and the fermentation starts and then they add whole bunches of Aramon, and press it all a couple of days later.   This was very intriguing, quite tannic with some berry fruit and a certain rustic note.  Quite ripe on the finish.  Élevage in vat, to keep the fruit and the salinity.  Corinne explained that they search for purity, so they keep the wine in a closed environment and they do not rack the wine, so that gas remains to protect it.

2010 Clos Fantine, Faugères – 9.00€
A blend of Carignan, Cinsaut, Syrah and Grenache, but mainly Carignan and Grenache.  75% destemmed and 25% whole bunches; several délestages for the first five days, and then they do nothing.  The carbon dioxide  helps the extraction.  Bottled in April 2012 after an élevage in concrete vats.  Quite solid, rounded fruit; black fruit; quite tannic and ripe, with that volatile edge that can be characteristic of natural wine.  But quite intriguing, with lots of nuances.

2010 Cuvée Courtiol, Faugères -  15.00€
A wine that is made each year from the most expressive cépages of that particular vintage; in 2010 that was Mourvèdre,  with 10 – 15 % Syrah and Carignan.  Aged in vat and bottled in April 2012.  The 2009 was also Mourvèdre dominant, but some years it is Carignan.  Quite ripe and rounded on the nose; a textured palate, some tannins, with a certain freshness, as well as some ripe notes.

And we finished with a quick look at their simple cellar, full of concrete vats.  They play Gregorian chants, observing that without any music, the wine was très nerveux.  I was not sure that Gregoian chants would necessarily be the most soothing of music..... but you never know.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Domaine de l'Ancienne Mercerie

I’ve met Nathalie and François Caumette at various tastings, both in London and Faugères, but there is nothing as good as visiting wine growers chez eux, to get an impression of their work.  They live and work in a house on the edge of the village of Autignac, that was indeed once the old village haberdashers, hence the name of the estate and the theme of the names of their two cuvées.   

Natalie is now president of the Faugères growers.  The family history is probably not dissimilar to many others.   François’ grandfather was brought up in the Aveyron, but came south and bought vines.  He joined the village coop, partly as he had no experience of wine making and also because he firmly believed in the socialist philosophy of the cooperative movement.  He had bought vines on the poor land of the hillsides, and dreamt of having vines on the plain.  It was hard work; yields were low from the hillsides of schist, and yet the coop members were paid the same, for quantity, regardless of provenance.  François’s father was an anaesthetist – it would have been a punishment to stay on the land.   And when the grandfather died in 1986, they could not sell the hillside vines; some were pulled up and some were kept as by then François was studying agriculture at Montpellier and specialising in viticulture.   Nathalie, meanwhile, came from Paris and studied in Montpellier, and that is how they met.  They quickly realised that keeping their vines with the coop, in this case,  the one in Laurens, was not a viable economic option, especially as the coop went bankrupt, so the only thing to do was to make their own wine.  And they now have 16 hectares of vines in the villages of Autignac and Laurens. 2000 was their first vintage.

We sat and tasted in what had been Francois' grandmother’s atelier de couture, or sewing workshop.   They spoke of how they learnt sur place.   Irrigation is not forbidden,  but there is no water.  The normal annual rainfall in Faugeres is between 500 and 600 mm, compared to Pic St. Loup with 900mm.  There really is a lot of variation in weather and soil   Nathalie gave me some figures for Faugères – 55 independent wine growers, or caves particulières, with 100 coop members, that account for half the surface of the appellation.  2000 hectares are planted, although 5000 hectares are delimited, in seven villages around Faugeres itself.   Apparently the eau de vie de Faugères was recognised before the appellation of  Faugères.

The cellar at the back of the house was very simple and functional, with stainless steel vats, and some cement vats, and barriques and demi muids.   And in the vineyard they are organic.   

2011 Au Bonheur des Dames, - 7.20€
40% Mourvèdre with 60% Grenache.    Faugères must have at least 5% Mourvèdre in the vineyard, but not necessarily in the wine.  Aged in vat.  All handpicked and destalked.  Quite deep colour.  Quite alcoholic on the nose, quite rich and fleshy on the palate.  Some cherry liqueur spice from the Grenache and some supple tannins.  Very gourmande.

2011 Les Petites Mains, Faugeres 
50% Carignan, 25% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre.  No oak ageing for Les Petits Mains.  Deep colour. Quite ripe spicy fruit.  A touch leathery.  Lots of ripe red fruit with a streak of tannin and some acidity.  Ripe and fresh on the finish.  Nathalie observed that they have a lot of Carignan in their vineyards and it is Carignan that marks the wine.

2010 Les Petites Mains, Faugeres – 8.70€
A slight variation in the blend, with 50% Carignan, 20% each of Syrah and Grenache, and 10% Mourvèdre.  Quite a deep colour.  Ripe spicy on the nose.  A nice rustic note from the Carignan, with furrier tannins and more concentration, than the 2011.  Some black fruit.  Quite sturdy with a ripe finish.  Beginning to evolve nicely.

2009 Couture, Faugeres  – 14.80€
Majority of Carignan with Syrah and Grenache, but no Mourvèdre.  A trial of 24 months in barrel, in old wood, and 5% new.  Deep colour.  Quite edgy, some ripe cherry liqueur and some dry straw on the nose.  Quite ripe and dense and oaky on the palate.  Quite sturdy firm fruit.

A discussion about élevage.  They reckon they will aim for 12 months rather than 24.  Is oak really necessary? I wondered.  Yes, oak polishes the wine, IF  it is done well.  That of course can be the problem. Sadly it is not always well done.  

2010 Couture, Faugeres
40% Carignan, 35% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre.  With 12 months élevage.
Quite intense nose, intense spice.  And a concentration palate, with lots of black fruit, mainly black cherries. Quite firm tannins, but not obviously oaky.  And still very young.  For my taste buds, twelve months was definitely better than 24 for the élevage.  This 2010 was definitely 'well done'. 

2005 Couture, Faugeres
Deep colour.  Quite intense, dense and beginning to mature, but still youthful with acidity and freshness, as well as rich fruit.  A lot of Carignan in the blend.  Very intriguing to see how it has aged.

2001 Couture, Faugeres
Medium colour.  Maturing smoky nose.  A cedary note, and on the palate.  Elegantly rich.  Still quite tannin but not drying.  12 months in barrel.  Elegant concentration on the finish.   A privilege to taste one of their first wines.

And then we drove over the village of Lenthéric, stopping to look at various vineyards on the way.  The soil is quite mixed; there is clay, sand, schist and grès.  The schist crumbles into clay, and the grès forms pebbles.  The schist of Faugeres is different from that of St. Chinian, and less acid.  The soil is very stony and drains well, thanks to the stones.   And we admired a capitelle by a cypress tree outside Lenthéric.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Chateau Massamier la Mignarde

A chance encounter led to a visit to this Minervois estate outside the village of Pépieux, that was hitherto unknown to me, even though the top wine, Domus Maximus has won prizes in London.  It is the property of Frantz Vènes.  The origins of the estate are Roman.  Massamier comes from Maximus, and in the 18th century two properties were bought by a M. Mignarde, from whom Frantz is indirectly descended.  He took over the estate from his parents in 1998.  There are 70 hectares of vines, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsaut, but no Mourvèdre.  And there is also some Cabernet  Sauvignon, and for whites, Sauvignon, Grenache blanc and Roussanne.  All the vines are all close by and lie at an altitude of 75 – 140 metres.

We were treated to a comprehensive tasting in a lovely old cellar, with the traditional foudres of the Languedoc.  They are magnificent to admire, even if they are no longer used.   And as an example of the growing Asian interest in wine, Frantz had a stagiaire from Korea, Yongnam Shin, who was helping to open bottles.   I was impressed by her command of French and her knowledge of wine.

2011 Cuvée des Oliviers, Coteaux de Peyriac – 4.70€
90% Sauvignon with Grenache Blanc.  Discreetly pithy.  Quite a rounded palate, with dry pithy fruit.  Medium weight.  Some skin contact in the press and a slow fermentation  lasting about a month at 15 - 17ºC

2011 Minervois,  Grenache Blanc – 7.40€
Some skin contact in the press for about a day, and élevage in vat.  Frantz will add some Roussanne when it comes into production.  A slightly resinous nose.  Quite intriguing.  Good acidity, with some hints of aniseed and a little honey on the finish.

Frantz was excited; he had just signed a contract to purchase the adjoining wine estate of La Croix Martelle from Boisset.  ‘The house is in ruins, but the 20 hectares vineyard is 'magnificent’, and already converted to organic viticulture.    The negotiations were protracted, but Frantz in had already started looking after the vines.   His vineyards at Massamier la Mignarde are lutte raisonée.   He had already picked his white grapes on 12th September, and would be picking the grapes for rosé the following weekend, and the red grapes the following week.   He observed that some people, including most of the local coop members, had already finished their harvest; ‘they work by alcoholic degree rather than flavour’.  So far 2012 was looking good – they had had spring rain, and a wet end of August which had resulted in less drought stress than in some years.

2011 Domaine la Croix Martelle, Capfinada, Minervois rosé 11.00€
Capfinada means elegance in Occitan.  One third each of Grenache, Cinsaut and Mourvèdre. Saigné, but quite a delicate colour.  Quite a rounded,  ripe nose and palate.  Quite vinous, and supple with a backbone.

2011 Cuvée des Oliviers rosé, Coteaux de Peyriac  – 4.70€
80% Cinsaut with 10% each of Grenache and Syrah.  Not picked too ripe, as they do not want an overripe rosé.  And they work with whole berries.  Harvesting is both by hand and machine, depending on the wine.  Quite supple with some strawberry fruit and a slightly stalky finish.

2011 Minervois Rosé Tradition – 7.40€
50% Cinsaut, 25% Grenache and 25% Syrah.  Saigné.  A deeper colour than the previous rosés and Frantz admitted that the maceration had been a couple of hours longer than intended.  Syrah is rich in colour, and makes for deeper coloured rosés. Some cherry fruit on the nose. Ripe and rounded, with more substance and body than the preceding two wines.

2011 Cuvée des Oliviers, Coteaux de Peyriac – 4.70€
A blend of 30% each of Carignan, Cinsaut and Cabernet Sauvignon with a little Grenache and Syrah.   Some cherry fruit on the nose, and a touch stalky.  Quite fresh cherry and cassis fruit on the palate.  Aged in vat and pretty easy simple drinking.

2011 Minervois Tradition.  – 7.40€
Nearly 50% Carignan with a quarter each of Syrah and Grenache, with a drop of Cinsaut.   Blending starts after the malo-lactic fermentation, and is fine tuned after élevage in vat.   Quite ripe with tapenade notes and black fruit on the palate.  A sturdy streak of tannin; structured with some ageing potential.  Quite a gutsy Minervois, as it should be.

2009 Expression, Cinsaut, Coteaux de Peyriac, 14.10€
A pure Cinsaut.  Quite a deep colour.  Quite structured, but with some appealing perfumed fruit, and a touch of spice.  Medium weight , with balanced tannins.  Frank explained that he works on remontages, (pumpng over) with some délestages, (untranslatable in English)  but no pigeage   (punching down).  Some wine terms are extraordinarily clumsy in English.   Fermentation takes place in cement vats, with a month’s maceration on the skins.  Cinsaut is very well suited to drought conditions so Frantz has planted more of it.   

2008 Expression, Carignan, Coteaux de Peyriac  – 14.10€
Whole bunches are picked so that the grapes are fermented by carbonic maceration.  Élevage in vat. and then kept for a year in the cellar in bottle before sale.  Deep colour.  Perfumed, smoky tapenade notes on the nose and palate.   Quite ripe and perfumed, with some black fruit; quite a gutsy mouthful, but not tough.  The opposite of Cinsaut.  You work on the fruit, with carbonic maceration and aim for supple tannins. 

2007 lo Molin, Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 is the last vintage of this wine.  Destalked grapes.  Three weeks cuvaison.  Some remontages.   Deep colour.  Quite a sweet cassis nose, but also with a green note.  Quite sweet and confit on the palate.  Cabernet Sauvignon had been planted by Frank’s grandparents in quite light soil, in plots where there was no water stress, and it is picked late, in October.   Personally I much prefer Midi grape varieties in the Midi.             

2009 Cuvée Aubin, Minervois – 11.10€
Grenache dominant, with Syrah and Carignan.  12 months in second or third fill barrels.  Medium colour.  Quite a dry tarry nose.  The palate was more forthcoming, quite sturdy with some spice.  Quite a youthful vigorous wine.  Some potential. 

2009 la Croix Martelle, Minervois la Livinière, l’Onoviva – 13.14€
60% Grenache and 40% Syrah.   Aged in vat.  Medium colour; ripe more rounded nose.  Quite dry spice; quite firm fruit and tannin, with a touch of sweetness on the finish from the Grenache.

2009 la Croix Martelle, Belaya, Minervois la Livinière – 25€
Belaya is a contraction of bellaroya which means joyau or jewel in Occitan.  Grenache with Syrah and Mourvèdre.  The Mourvèdre was fermented in a wooden tronconique vat, and given some pigeage.   Quite a ripe rounded nose with ripe spice and a tannic streak on the palate.  Still very youthful and needing time.  An elegant finish.

2009 Domus Maximus, Minervois la Liviniere – 40€
75% Syrah 25% Grenache.  12 months ageing, half in new oak and half in one year old wood.  Deep colour. Quite a sold ripe nose.  Lots of tapenade and black fruit on the palate.  Sturdy dense and ripe, and quite confit.  Quite chunky tannins.   And a hefty 15º

This is the flagship of the estate, made for the first time in 1998; yields are low 30 hl/ha or less.  Frantz talked about the need to find the right balance.   They vinify by maceration carbonic, putting both varieties together.   The Syrah goes at the bottom of the vat, and the Grenache is never completely ripe, when the Syrah is fully ripe.   2009 was not necessarily a hotter year, but there was a lack of rain, resulting in some drought conditions.

2007 Domus Maximus – 58€
This was a cooler year, with less water stress and some rain at the harvest slowing things down a little.  Deep colour. Quite oaky on the nose; very leathery on the palate with some ripe fruit and more depth than the 2009.  Again 15º

2005 Domus Maximus – 84€  - 14.5º
A deep colour.  Closed nose.  Quite solid and rounded on the palate, with ripe fruit; quite sweet fruit, and a touch confit, but with some good balancing tannins.  Has started to evolve nice and should develop well.

2009 Tènement des Garouilhas  60€  - 16º!
60% Syrah with 20% each of Grenache and Carignan.   Vinified partly by maceration carbonique and partly fermented in barriques, and then 18 months élevage in wood, including the malo-lactic fermentation. Deep colour.  Quite dense and smoky on the nose.  Quite sweet ripe oak balanced with firm tannins.   Very young; very oaky very dense; very sweet and confit, and at 16º just a bit too heady for my taste buds.....Too much of a good thing!

2008 Gorgée de Soleil
Grenache Gris, picked in November.  Fermented half in vat and half in barrel, slowly during the winter, and bottled in the spring with 55 gms/l of residual sugar and 14.5º alcohol.  Amber orange colour.  Subtle notes of sherry trifle on nose and palate,  with some balancing acidity.  

After that mammoth tasting, we were treated to a barbecue lunch, cooked by a couple of visiting Serbs, who were helping out in the vineyards.  We sat outside in the courtyard of the chateau.   First there were various Serbian saucisson to try and they proudly showed off their expertise with the barbecue coals, and talked of a special barbecue festival in Leskovac in Serbia.  Nor could we escape their Serbian Slivovitz or pear spirit - ça chauffe was French comment..........And further entertainment was supplied by the antics of Frantz’ young children.