Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Chateau de Camplazens in La Clape

What follows is my article on Chateau de Camplazens that was a victim of the closure of the American magazine, Quarterly Review of Wines - and then there will be a pause, as I fly to Athens on Friday for an intensive week of vineyard visiting with 19 other Masters of Wine, finishing with two nights on the island of Santorini.   I've no doubt that I will find a way of blogging about Greece on a Languedoc blog!?

Susan and Peter Close at Camplazens in the heart of the Massif of la Clape are relative newcomers to the Languedoc and a classic example of the new breed of wine growers in the region.  They have had a successful career in another field and they are now energetically applying their expertise to their new enterprise, bringing a breath of fresh air and questioning established practices.

Although they are British born, they lived in New Orleans, where Peter ran his own company, a consulting business specialising in chemical engineering, which was successfully listed on the stock market in 1997, and then in 1999 he retired, and they decided to return to Europe and buy a vineyard.   They spent eighteen months looking, in Spain and even considered Mexico as well, and then somebody suggested the Languedoc.  They based themselves in the port of Sète, and on the Massif of la Clape, they found Camplazens outside the village of Armissan.  And everything fell into place.  The property had had a rather chequered history during the previous few years.  It had belonged to a M. Greffier, who was an eccentric inventor, who went bankrupt, and it was then bought by a Dutchman, who already owned another property near Montpellier.  Unfortunately the vineyards had been rather neglected, with many of the vines seriously diseased and needing to be replaced, so that there was much to be done.  The cellar too, an enormous barn and a typical Languedoc cellar, that was built in the 1880s, also needed renovation.   But Susan and Peter were ready for the challenge.

They made their first vintage, in 2001, from just 13 hectares.  Altogether the entire estate comprises 112 hectares, with 43 hectares of vines, as well as hillsides of garrigues, the typical scrubland of the Languedoc.  Syrah forms the backbone of their wines, and they also have Grenache Noir, Carignan and a little Viognier, and also more Marselan than they would really like.  This is a crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache Noir, which they were encouraged to plant by the local viticultural research station.  Marselan was thought to resist disease and drought well and produce good yields.  This may be so, but any idea that it might become a permitted grape variety for La Clape has proved unfounded, so it used as a vin de pays, or IGP.   And with future planting in mind, they also have some experimental vines, such as Muscat and Vermentino.  For la Clape white, they also need Bourboulenc, but Peter doesn’t like it.

A drive through the vineyards takes in some dramatic scenery.   La Clape is a rocky outcrop north west of the city of Narbonne.  It was once an island and only became part of the mainland when the river Aude silted up and changed course.  The Massif, often described as une montagne vallonnée, a mountain with several valleys between the hills and rocks, reaches 214 metres at its highest point.  The scenery is wild, with hillsides covered with garrigues and vines, and from the highest point there are views of the coastline, the inland lagoons, and the Mont Ste Claire outside Sète in the distance.  The scenery changes sharply from mountain to sea, the blue water contrasting vividly with the rough scrub-covered hillsides.  The maritime influence, with the wind coming in from the sea can have a dramatic effect on climate.  However, the prevailing wine is north west and it can be violent, but this is also one of the sunniest parts of the south of France with about 3000 hours of sunshine, balanced by an average of 600 mls. of rain per year.  The soil is a mixture of clay and limestone.   

The traditional Languedoc cellar has been renovated.   Peter has added new tanks, double tanks that allow for the fermentation on the top, and for storage below.  These are also very efficient for pumping over and make for flexibility with the cellar work.  Peter also favours some mechanical punching down and is equipped for that.  And there is a barrel cellar with about 200 barriques, which are generally kept for about three wines.  Usually it is the Syrah component that is aged in oak, and also part of their Viognier crop.

They make both vins de pays, or IGP Pays d’Oc, with single varietals, Viognier, Grenache, Marselan and Syrah, and appellation La Clape, with four different la Clape, with variations in style.  Susan and Peter have given a lot of thought to their range of wines, something that you can do when you are starting afresh. While it is true that your choices are determined by your vineyard, the flexibility of the Languedoc regulations can make for more creativity.  Peter and Susan describe their Viognier, as being à la façon de Condrieu and I would not disagree.  About a third of the blend is fermented in wood, and the wine is rich, peachy and textured with good balancing acidity.   The Grenache Noir is unoaked, with ripe spicy cherries and the Syrah has some satisfying varietal fruit.  The Marselan is quite simple – its flavours are not particularly distinguished, but its warm fruit makes for a good barbecue wine.

More satisfying for my taste buds are the various interpretations of la Clape.  The appellation regulations demand a minimum of 70% of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, and a maximum 30% of Carignan and Cinsaut.  There is no Cinsaut or Mourvèdre at Camplazens, so that their la Clape mainly comprises Syrah with Grenache.  They have sixteen different plots of Syrah, and the style of Syrah also varies according to the élevage, in oak or not.    Their entry level wine is La Garrigue, a blend of 60% Syrah with Grenache Noir, of which 20%, and only Syrah, is aged in oak.  The name is appropriate; I found the wine redolent of the herbs that cover the hillsides of the Mediterranean, with a touch of sunshine and spice.  

Next comes the Réserve la Clape which includes a little Carignan, as well as Syrah and Grenache. There are spices and tapenade (olive pâté) and a little more oak, which is well integrated, with a fresh finish.  Premium is a blend of their best vats of Syrah and Grenache, with still more oak ageing, and more tannin and structure, and finally there is Julius, an almost pure Syrah, and so called for the region’s associations with Julius Caesar.  It is said that his favourite wine was la Clape, to which he added honey.  This story cannot be verified, but as Peter observed, ‘why let authenticity spoil a good story?’  It is certainly known that the Romans invaded this part of France, or Gaul as it was then, in 118BC, and that Caesar came here in 44BC and gave away land to the 10th legion. Camplazens means a camp of pleasure in Latin, and it is the only vineyard on la Clape with a Roman name.  Consequently all the labels at Camplazens bear a Roman chariot to maintain the association.   With Julius they wanted to produce an expensive wine that has exuberance, power and elegance.  They only make it in the very best years, so far 2006 and 2009, and just 1500 bottles.
I left with the feeling that Susan and Peter will not stand still.  Each year they try something new that will improve their quality. 2010 saw them using micro-oxygenation for the first time and Peter is certain that this has enhanced the elegance of their wines.  And asked about the tipicity of la Clape, which is one of the most homogeneous parts of the Languedoc, contained as it is in a montagne vallonée, Peter replied ‘minerality, the herbs of the garrigues and the influence of the sea’, and that is what you can taste in a glass of Camplazens.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Natural Wine at Bedarieux

It poured with rain in the Languedoc last Saturday so my tasting buddy, Lits, and I drowned our sorrows at the lack of spring sunshine with an afternoon at the Natural Wine Fair, organised by Christine Cannac who runs the wine bar in Bédarieux.  This is the fifth year that she has held this event, and I have to say that it was not a totally happy experience.  There were some lovely wines, but there were also some that should never have been put in bottle, and by people who should have known better.  Here I will concentrate on the highlights.

First stop was Thierry Navarre

2012 L'Oeillade, Vin de France - 7,50
Lovely perfumed fruit; Oeillade is related to Cinsaut and this had the same appealing fragrant fruit.  It was rounded and fresh, a lovely vin de soif on a summer's day.

2010 Laouzil - 9.00
Carignan, Grenache, Syrah.    Deep colour.  Quite leathery with some tapenade fruit and supple tannins.  A lovely glass of St. Chinian.

2010 Cuvée Olivier - 12.00
Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, including some 90 year old vines.  Firmer nose, more structured and on the palate quite solid and rounded, with a tannic streak, but no wood ageing.  A slightly rustic note on the finish.

2009. La Conque - 10.00
Syrah and Merlot grown at 500 metres.  Thierry was not happy with the nose, and neither was I,  but the palate had the elegance and freshness of higher altitude vines.

Axel Prűfer from Le Temps des Cerises was there with a couple of his wines

2011 Un pas de coté – 14.00€.
Grenache and Merlot.  Some perfumed fruit on the nose, and on the palate the flavour were fresh and ripe, but with what I am increasing calling  a natural edge on the finish.

2011 Les Lendemains qui chantent 20.00
This was much better - a pure Grenache, with perfumed fruit and silky tannins.   A lovely  balance .

Ivo Ferreira from Domaine de l'Escarpolette was not there as he has just become a father for the second time - congratulations Ivo!  And a friend was pouring his wines.

2012 Blanc  - 19.00
Half Terret and half Muscat, given a ten days maceration on  the skins, but not stems.  It was very orange in colour,  and very intriguing on the nose and palate, with some orange fruit and firm acidity.

2011 La Petite Crapule 13.00
From ten year old Carignan vines and made by maceration carbonique, with six months ageing in vat.  Quite rounded and ripe with cherry fruit, but also a natural edge.

2010 LEscarpolette 14.00
70%. Syrah with 30% Carignan.  12 months in demi-muids.  The oak was still quite obvious and needing to tone down, so that it slightly overwhelming the fruit.

Domaine Hautes Terres
From the village of Roquetaillade in Limoux.  Gilles Azams wines were the star of the tasting for both of us. 

2012 By Azan Blanc, Vin de France 7.80
Mainly Chardonnay with a little Chenin and Mauzac. No oak.  And Vin de France to emphasise that it is the entrée de gamme,  a term which sounds so much more elegant than the English entry level  - Quite elegantly understated fruit, lightly buttery and rounded.

2011 Limoux, Cuvée Louis 11.80
80%  Chardonnay  and 20% Chenin with some ageing in old barrels, as the appellation dictates.  More rounded and lightly buttery and nutty.  Lightly leesy, with a nice balance of freshness with some body.  Nice depth.

Crémant de Limoux, Brut nature, Cuvée Joséphine 12.00
Chardonnay  with some Chenin and Mauzac.  Lightly creamy with a fine mousse. . A little nuttiness on the palate, the result of nine months in wood and two years on the lees in bottle.  Finesse and depth.  A lovely glass of bubbles.

.2012 Rosé, Vin de France 7.80
The grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were pressed, so the colour was a very pale pretty pink.  Quite rounded and ripe with fresh acidity on the palate.

Definitely the highlight of the whole tastiing.  We began making plans for a cellar watch this space. 

Domaine La Fontude with François Aubry
2011. Un Jour de Fête 8.00
Pure Terret grown on basalt. Quite mineral, but with edgy acidity on the finish. . 

2012 Fortitude 8.00
Pure Cinsaut made in what François called a semi-carbonique method. He makes a pied de cuve of Aramon and Grenache and gradually incorporates the Cinsaut by means of a gentle pigeage.  It sounded a bit like making mayonnaise!  It had some perfumed spicy fruit, with some fresh tannins and acidity, and a lovely fresh finish.  We agreed that Cinsaut is the Languedocs answer to Beaujolais - c'est notre Gamay - with an appealing drinkability

2010 Entremonde 9.00
Carignan and Aramon with some Cinsaut  and Grenache..  12 months in vat followed by 12 months in bottle before sale.  Deep colour; quite a firm nose, with some black cherry fruit.  The wine has the freshness of the terroir, and was long and fresh. A sympa glass of wine.

I always enjoy seeing Jean-François Coutelou
2012 7 rue de Pompe was showing nicely.  Quite a deep colour, ripe and fresh with some peppery fruit.   Medium weight .  Nice fresh fruit on the finish.   Mainly Syrah with a touch of Grenache.  6.40

2012 le Vin des Amis 8.40
75% Grenache with 25%  Syrah  and just a drop of Cinsaut . Quite rounded and ripe with some cherry fruit and spice.  Medium weight.  Youthful tannins

2012 Paf la Syrah  - 14.00
A pure Syrah, kept in vat.  Jean-François only uses oak for his dessert wines. Some fresh spice and pepper.  Medium weight.  Some rain diluted the grapes, just before the harvest when the grapes were already ripe and ready to pick, but that was no bad thing as it  made the wine more elegant.

2011 Classe 9.60
Syrah 40% Grenache 40%  and Carignan 20%.  A touch of class in a glass said the label.  Jean-François has some great labels - I regretted not bringing a camera. The wine was more solid, with a more rounded palate.  Quite ripe and mouth filling, with a hint of  a natural edge on the finish,

Next was Mas d'Agalis in Nébian, with Lionel Maurel, who is young and bright.  We asked him about his sulphur levels, a question which we should have been asking since the beginning of the tasting.   No sulphur at all was the reply. We were tasting his 2011 Le Grand Carré which is half Terret with some Vermentino, Chenin and Chardonnay.  It was a bit eggy on the nose.  Would a touch of sulphur make it more restrained and less blowsy? . He conceded that was probably so and pointed out that he had been pouring from the bottle in question since the beginning of the tasting three or so hours ago.  The palate was better, fresher with some rounded fruit. 8.40

2011 Yo ne puedo  mas. Vin de France 9.00
60% Carignan, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre. 30% aged for twelve months in old barrels. Quite deep colour.  Quite a ripe nose, with lots of black fruit.   Ripe and spicy with supple tannins on the palate.

Navis. Coteaux du Salagou 14.20
One third each of Carignan , Grenache, Syrah.  18 months élevage.  Deep colour, quite rounded and ripe.  Quite supple tannins, but with an edge on the finish.

Yannick Pelletier was showing a range of vins de France and St. Chinian.  The best was
L'Engoulevent, St Chinian  half Grenache with Carignan and Syrah.  Deep young colour, rounded ripe spice on nose and palate. Nice fruit and less natural than his other wines which all seemed to have a volatile edge.  14.00

Thomas Rouanet in Creissan, in the appellation of St. Chinian has just five hectares.  Bombadilom, apparently a  reference to Tolkien, is a blend of Carignan and Grenache, grown on clay and limestone soil. He studied in Montpellier and worked with Jean Viennet at Château de Raissac, learning 'what not to do'.  The Carignan is vinified by carbonic maceration, and no sulphur  is added.  The colour was good, with a ripe rounded palate and some lovely black fruit, and supple tannins, but with an edge on the finish.   

There were growers from Roussillon too. 
In Maury La Petite Baigneuse,
2011 Trinquette  - 10.20
Grenache 60% and  Carignan 40%  A short élevage in a foudre and a little SO2 at bottling.  Medium weight, rounded and ripe but with fresh fruit, and quite a sweet finish. 

2010 La Grande Largue 15.20
Lladoner Pelut and. Carignan.  12 months in foudres.  Rounded with a touch of oak and vanilla.  Quite ripe with some tannin on the finish.

Domaine Rivaton
The first vintage of this estate was 2004, and Frederic Rivaton has practiced biodynamic viticulture from 2010.  He has stylish labels showing different silhouettes of the skyline of the village of. Latour de France. His young daughter was doing the pouring and carefully answering our questions about the composition of the wine - she had learnt her lesson well.

Blanc Bec was is a blend of Macabeo, Grenache Gris and. Carignan Blanc. All three varieties are fermented together and given 12 months élevage in wood.  A little so2 is used at fermentation.  The wine was quite rounded and leesy with an edge, but also quite a fresh finish. 13.00

2009 Vieilles Vignes 12.00
70% Carignan, with some Syrah and Grenache.  Aged in vat for two years.  Rounded, with some firm leathery fruit.  A certain warmth on finish.

2009 Gribouille. after a  character from a Georges Sand novel.  The same blend as the Vieilles Vignes but grown on schist.  12 months ageing in foudres, and 12 months in concrete. I liked this a lot, with some ripe rounded fruit, and some dry leathery notes on the palate.  Medium weight.  A nice mouthful.  Some mineral notes from the schist.  17.00

Le Casot des Mailloles in Trouillas with Alain Castex
2012 Tir à blanc 17.40
Macabeo, Grenache blanc and Muscat, fermented altogether.  No so2
Quite rounded orange notes, with full orange fruit on the palate.

Le blanc 35.00
Grenache blanc, grenache gris and Vermentino.  Quite rounded. Lightly oaky, quite textured.  Fermented in wood, which fills out the palate. But I am not sure how the price is justified.

Rosé Canta Manana 16.20
Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache Blanc and Gris and Macabeo, all fermented together and saigné. Orange pink colour. A touch eggy.  Better palate.  Quite rounded and ripe with a natural finish.

Poudre d'Escampette 15.20
Same cépages as for the rosé, as well as Carignan, in foudre. The rest is vinified in vat. Quite rounded and ripe.  Some spice and quite a supple finish .

This tasting certainly left me with very mixed feelings about natural wine.  I can appreicate that sulphur levels need to be modest, and would like them to be modest, but sulphur has been used since the Romans.  We have to accept that wine is not a natural product - whether we like it or not, without human intervention and left to its own devices, the end result is vinegar.  A little sulphur ensures that a vat filled with a delicious fruity liquid that we want to enjoy, stays that way.   As it happened, the day after this tasting an email popped into my inbox - a circular letter from Jean-Louis Denois who is not known to mince his words.  And he was holding forth on the subject of vins natures, except that he refuses to call his wines nature, when the word has been spoilt by products coming from another planet other than that of good wine.  He argues 'that there is no point in offering customers natural wines if they are oxidised, acetic and defective.  Quite simply it is suicide.   And there is no excuse for not using the tools that are at our disposal; it's like refusing to use a fridge to keep meat fresh'. 

He elaborates various points -

'So2 remains the only toxic additive allowed in wine making - if its use were requested for the first time today, it would be refused':

'Organic viticulture does not forbid chaptalisation, which is an aberration as that entails the introduction of something that does not come from grapes'.

'Organic viticulture does not change the taste of wine, but vinification without sulphur does.   However the bad tastes in natural wine are not due to the absence so2 but the result of a lack of hygiene and professional 
discipline'   That to me seems to be the key point.  The best wines of this tasting showed that it was possible to make something delicious without any sulphur or with minimum sulphur, but the attention to detail in the cellar must be absolutely meticulous as far as hygiene is concerned. There is no room for anything less.     And for Jean Louis Denois, the quality of raw materials, ie his grapes, is primordial - if they are ripe and healthy and handled with care in the cellar, he should not need sulphur.  As he concludes, I want to make natural wine that is guided by man.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Mas de Daumas Gassac

Mas de Daumas Gassac seemed to come my way quite a few times during the last week or so.   They were exhibiting at the Real Wine Fair and I so enjoyed the opportunity to taste with Véronique Guibert. 

2012 Rosé Frizant
Very bright vivid pink colour. Quite rounded and ripe on nose and palate, with some sweet fruit and a streak of acidity.  I forgot to ask how much residual sugar is left, but it is certainly off dry, and slightly fizzy.

2012 Blanc
Just bottled.  Quite a herbal nose, with dry honey on the palate.  Medium weight with balancing acidity. 

2011 Rouge
Fresh peppery fruit on the nose.  And a nicely rounded palate, with elegant fruit.  Obviously still very youthful, and charming rather than powerful.   I liked this a lot.  It is certainly the first vintage for some time that I have felt really enthusiastic about at this stage in its life.

2010 Rouge
In contrast I found this quite firm and sturdy, rather closed and tight.  And wondered how it would age.  It did open up a bit at dinner later in the day.

2005 Rouge
The colour has begun to develop a little.  The nose was quite firm and smoky, and I found the palate quite closed and tight knit and not very expressive.   Doug Wregg did mention that last Monday was a root day, which, if you follow the biodynamic tasting,  is generally not considered the best day for tasting, so maybe that had something to do with it.

2008 Cuvée Emile Peynaud
This is the wine that is made in the best vintages, in memory of the eminent oenologist who helped and encouraged Aimé Guibert so much in the beginning.   It is a pure Cabernet Sauvignon, and comes from the very best plots of vines, in that particular vintage.  The colour is dark and the nose firm and concentrated, with ripe dry cassis fruit on the palate.  There is a concentrated sturdy feel to the wine, with some firm tannins.  Above all it needs time.

And the tasting finished with 2011 Vin de Laurence Moelleux, which was rich and honeyed, with some intriguing nuances.  A lovely glass of wine. 

And that evening I was invited to a Mas de Daumas Gassac dinner at Galvin la Chapelle.  The setting is splendid as this restaurant is housed in St. Botolph’s Hall in Spital Square in the East End that was built in the 1890s as part of a girl’s school.  So it has a wonderful sense of space.    And the food was delicious, but the order of the wines was slightly curious.

We began with a lasagne of Dorset crab, accompanied by Réserve de Gassac Blanc.  The blend is mainly Viognier, with some Chardonnay, Marsanne and Muscat and the grapes are not grown at Mas de Daumas Gassac.  I liked this; it was understated, with some peachy herbal notes, with a fresh finish.

For Risotto of Périgord truffle we had 2010 Mas de Daumas Gassac Rouge.  The truffles encouraged the wine to open up a little from the morning, with dry red fruit, but none the less it was still quite tight and tannic.

Next came a Filet of sole véronique, accompanied by 2011 Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc.  It was ripe and sweet and peachy, with no oak, and no malo.  I did wonder how much residual sugar there was, as it lacked the grip and acidity of the 2012.

And for the Denham Estate venison, we were served 1998 in magnums.  A magnum is always a treat; it is a declaration of a serious intent of enjoyment.  It was deep in colour, with quite a dense rich nose, and on the palate there was dry cassis, with some smoky notes and quite a firm finish.  It was still relatively young and I wondered how it would continue to develop.

Curiously, with the Roquefort, which came with some delicious caramelised walnuts, we were served the Rosé Frizant, which we had already enjoyed as an aperitif. I thought it performed better first time around.

And the finale was an apple tarte tatin, with the 2011 Vin de Laurence.  The main grape varieties are Sercial, Muscat and Petit Manseng and it went perfectly with the tarte, with some lovely rich honeyed flavours, balanced with acidity.  Very harmonious and a perfect balance and a delicious finale to a delicious evening.

You may have noticed that my tasting notes for the various red wines lack total enthusiasm.   Of the reds that I tasted or drunk a couple of Mondays ago -  a bit of a delay with  this post -  the wine with the most immediate appeal was the 2011.   So undeterred, the following Saturday evening, I opened a bottle of the 2000 Mas de Daumas Gassac rouge, with a Californian friend, who had just flown in from South Africa.   And this was delicious, supporting Mas de Daumas Gassac’s claim to be the first ‘grand cru of the Languedoc’.  

The colour was deep, but beginning to age.   And on the nose the wine was rich and smoky, with notes of maturing cedary cassis and cherry fruit. On the palate it was beautifully harmonious, with supple tannins and some smoky cassis fruit.  There was a ripeness that you would never find in Bordeaux.  The wine had length and depth and was still quite young. 

And of out idle curiosity I have just looked to see which vintage of Mas de Daumas Gassac features in The 1001 Wines to Drink Before you die – which was published in 2008.  The answer was the 1990, which I drank about a year ago, and did not enjoy as much as the 2000.  It was rich and concentrated, and powerful, without the elegance of the 2000.

The very first vintage of Mas de Daumas Gassac was the 1978 and in the early days Mas de Daumas Gassac was an exciting illustration of just what could be achieved in the Languedoc with ability and talent as well as money.  Luck and imagination have helped too.  And the Languedoc is indebted to Aimé Guibert for showing the way and breaking down barriers.   Thirty years ago Mas de Daumas Gassac commanded consistently higher prices than any other Languedoc wine, and set an example for others to follow.  For when we are prepared to pay a sensible price for  a wine, which means one that is not only not too expensive, but not too cheap either, we are giving its producers the possibility of investing some money in better cellar facilities and new vineyards.    And Aimé Guibert showed that that was possible, at a time and in a region where cheap wine was the order of the day.   And now many others have overtaken Mas de Daumas Gassac in both quality and price.  But nonetheless its place as a pioneer in the Languedoc remains unchallenged.

A PS  to this post - as it happened, we had lunch yesterday with a friend in the Langfuedoc, who opened the 2007.  On first taste, just opened it seemed lean and thin, so we suggested decanting it, and half an hour later the wine had begun to open up and made a very enjoyable accompaniment to some roast lamb, wth some nicely balanced tannins and fruit.  It was still youthful with an elegant finish. 

Friday, 5 April 2013

Domaine Le Comte des Floris

The first time I tasted with Daniel Le Comte des Floris, , it was in a tiny cellar in Caux.  Barrels were squeezed into every available space, and you could hardly move between them.  This time we met in his new cellars in Pézenas, in an old building that used to be a wine cellar some forty years ago. – he is in the process of moving barrels from Caux and was revelling in the space.  The first vintage of the estate was 2001, with seven hectares, of Marsanne, and Carignan Blanc for whites, and Grenache, Syrah and Carignan for reds, and subsequently Daniel has planted small plots of Roussanne and Mourvèdre.

First we tried some barrel samples of the 2012 vintage.   Daniel learnt his winemaking in Burgundy so very much follows the classic Burgundian practices of fermentation and élevage in oak, with a malo-lactic fermentation and some bâtonnage.  And he experiments with different picking dates.  For his Marsanne, there were two pickings, four days apart in 2012, and for the old Carignan vines three pickings, spread out between 10th and 25th September.    It has been as late as mid-October, but to no great effect.    However, Daniel is adamant that you must not do the same thing every year.  It must not become routine.   The cask sample of Marsanne was subtle and textured with white blossom while the Carignan was fresh with some herbal notes and good acidity, which is a benchmark characteristic of Carignan, and explains its renewed success in the Midi.   The Roussanne was full of nuances and with layered flavours, and more acidity than the Marsanne.

A pure Grenache grown on Villefranchien pebbles was quite discreet on the nose, with some cherry liqueur fruit, and a long silky palate, but with a structured finish.  Daniel wants less extraction and more drinkable wines. The tannins were quite firm, but not immediately obvious.   The cuvée also included 20% Carignan, which would lower the alcoholic degree.  He has also made a cuvée of whole bunches, with a little Syrah and Carignan as well as the Grenache.  It was more expressive on the nose, with a sturdier palate, more peppery with firmer tannins, and some freshness.

Next came some Syrah, Cuvée Carbonifère which was quite closed and peppery, and even more so on the palate.  Daniel explained that the vineyard was in the hills outside Gabian, so in a cooler, windier site, resulting in a harvest fifteen days later than around Pézenas.  The wine had structure and length, with a fresh finish.  

Daniel used to make a Carignan Noir, Cuvée Basaltique, but has so little Carignan that it is now included in his Syrah.  

2011 Mourvèdre, again a barrel sample, from an old barrel,  was quite perfumed, with red fruit, but powerful, with some elegant tannins.  It included 20% Grenache Noir,  And 2011 Grenache Noir, with 15% Carignan, which will probably be bottled just before or after Christmas, was quite deep in colour, with cherry fruit, and a certain grip.  It has spent a year in barrel and is now in vat.  Lovely fruit and great length.   Daniel used to add Syrah to his Grenache, but it tended to dominate the cuvée which he does not want.
2011 Syrah, Cuvée Carbonifère, with 15% Carignan, was quite deep in colour.  It smelt riper and more perfumed, with more tapenade notes than the 2012, and was more tannic and fuller in the mouth. 2011 and 2012 were fairly similar years for Daniel, whereas most people had a much smaller crop in 2012, as the weather was bad at flowering.

Daniel then talked about his top cuvée, Homo Habilis and we tried the 2010, which is given three years ageing, two in barrel and one in vat.  It is a blend of 40%  Syrah, with equal parts of Grenache and Mourvèdre.  It was made for the first time in 2005, but not put on the market until 2009 – the succeeding vintages have been 2006, 2009 and 2010.  This 2010 was deep in colour, and firm and structured – Daniel was adamant that the oak must not dry the fruit - it was long and powerful, but for my taste buds less original, with less of a sense of place.  He then made an interesting observation about buying barrels, which he now gets second hand from a vigneron friend in Burgundy – and the barrels are better quality than those he was buying new, even though he was asking the cooper for the same specification.  Conclusion: the coopers decide who they sell their better barrels to – and Bordeaux and Burgundy are definitely higher up the pecking order than the Languedoc.

And then we adjourned to Daniel’s cheerful wine bar on the avenue Jean Jaurès for some tasting from bottle.  And here we were in for a  treat as he had pulled out some older vintages.

2011 Arés Blanc, Coteaux du Languedoc – 15.00€
Two parts Marsanne to one part Carignan A little colour.  Some herbal hints of the nose and a touch of oak.  White flowers on the palate, some acidity.  Quite rounded herbal notes with lots of nuances.  Not quite ready.

2010 Arés blanc.  
A little more golden in colour.  A more restrained but fuller nose,  and a much fuller palate.  Richer and more rounded, and ready.

2011 Lune Blanche, Coteaux du Languedoc – 21.00€
Pure Carignan Blanc   - A little colour.  Restrained nose; more mineral and floral than the Arés.  And an explosion of fruit in the palate.  Rounded ripe and floral, with a firm streak of acidity. 

2010 Lune Blanche
A little more colour.  Some herbal, mineral notes  on the nose, and even more so on the palate, with lovely minerality.  Firm and structured with good acidity, but a rich palate with lots of nuances and depth.  Evolving  beautifully.

2008 Lune Blanche
A little deeper colour. Quite a honey nose, with some herbal notes.  Layers of flavour on the palate.  Honeyed with a dry finish.  A touch of maderisation, but nicely so.

2003 Lune Blanche – The year of the heat wave  - Rich colour.  Rich and herbal, with mature notes that made me think of white Graves , or even Australian Semillon, with lanolin notes.  Very good acidity, with lovely body; rich and mature with lots of nuances.

2002 Lune Blanche 
A wet year, Daniel reminded us. Mature colour.  Herbal mineral notes.  Lot of acidity.  Lovely mature toasted notes, very Burgundian with pronounced acidity.  Very intriguing.  Lots of nuances.  Mature, stony and mineral .   Who says white wines from the Languedoc cannot age?  This was a shining example of just how well they do age.

And then we finished the whites with a googly – a magnum without any label or clue to provenance.  I thought it had a chablisien note and Daniel decided that it was an experimental wine that he had made in his bathtub when he was learning his winemaking in Beaune in 1996! It definitely tasted Burgundian rather than Languedocien.

And now for the reds:

2011 Six Rats Noirs – 10.00€
Mainly Syrah, 70%, with some Grenache and Carignan.  Daniel explained that he makes two cuvées of this wine, one with some sulphur and one without.  Neither is fined or filtered, and a tiny amount of sulphur is added to one vat after the malo is finished.  We tried the one that is given a couple of grames of sulphur after the malo, to make it more stable.  I found it quite confit, heavy and solid. 

2010 Cuvée Carbonifère,  Coteaux du Languedoc - 15.00€
Syrah grown on schist.   Deep colour; quite solid, rounded and rich on the nose, and on the palate quite dense, confit  and sturdy,  but with some supple tannins and a warm finish.  

2007 Cuvée Carbonifère
This has evolved beautifully, with quite a firm elegant nose, and tight knit peppery fruit, with an underlying richness.  Quite firm and intense, with layers of flavour and character.  Lots of nuances.

2002 Cuvée  Carbonifère
Deep but developed colour; quite dry and leathery on nose and palate, a hint of oxidation, but an underlying richness.  It was beginning to decline but was by no means dead.

2010 Cuvée Villefranchien, Coteaux du Languedoc  – 15.00€
Grenache with 20% Carignan.  Daniel described 2010 as une belle année, and balanced like 2007.  Bright colour. Ripe cherry fruit on both nose and palate,  Ripe fruit with some lovely spicy fruit.  A streak of tannin and nicely textured.

2005 Cuvée Villefranchien
Grenache, with 10 % each of Syrah and Carignan.  Deep colour;  a hint of reduction on the nose.  Quite rounded ripe cherry fruit on the palate.  Quite dense rich and ripe.  The blend includes 70% whole bunches, which gives a certain chunkiness to the wine, with some tannin.  It had quite a rich finish, tasting more than 14˚.

2002 Cuvée Villefranchien
Grenache with a little Syrah and Carignan.  Surprisingly this was not as evolved as the 2005 and I much preferred it.  A little colour development.  Quite a closed nose.  Rich but elegant on the palate, with some red fruit and hints of sous bois.  A delicious mouthful of flavour, with nuances of flavour and a lovely evolution and length.     A beautifully example of the ageability of the Languedoc.

2009 Homo Habilis, Coteaux du Languedoc  – 22.00€
Syrah – 50%; Mourvèdre 25% Grenache 25% - and bottled just three weeks ago.  Quite a firm tight knit youthful nose – firm tannins on the palate; structured and needing time. A vin de garde.

2006 – Homo Sapiens, Coteaux du Languedoc
This is Grenache dominant – hence the different name.  One day Daniel is planning Homo Erectus, which will be based on Mourvèdre.  Deep colour; quite a solid nose, quite firm; and on the palate quite rich and chocolatey, with some red cherries, with both tannin  and acidity.  Still very young and needing time.  I also found it more ‘international’ with quite positive oak.

It was a great tasting, but time was running out, so we declined offers of Cartagène, for which Daniel is developing a solera system over ten years.  That would be delicious.   And Catherine Le Conte des Floris will be showing their white wines at a tasting of white Languedoc wines at the Maison du Languedoc in London next week.  Sadly I shall have to miss it.   But if you are going to that tasting, please don't miss the opportunity to try Daniel’s wines.  His white wines are particularly original. 

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Back to the Languedoc

It was a relief to turn our backs on the freezing conditions in London, but today I am not sure that things are that much better in the Languedoc.  True, it is warmer, and Easter Sunday was simply glorious, but today the rain is coming down, as it only can in the Languedoc, unremittingly and relentlessly.  I can usually see a clear outline of the Pic de Vissou from our bedroom window when I open the shutters; this morning it was shrouded in cloud.   And if you believe the local paper, Midi Libre, the Hérault has had the wettest March since 1960, with 168 mm.  You have to go back to 1946 for the next highest rainfall, with 215mm.  And the water table is at its highest level for 13 years, so there should be no problems with stressed vines this summer.   But for the moment the vines are distinctly dormant – usually the end of March they are bursting into leaf, but not this year.   And the reason is quite simply lack of sunshine – a local website,  www.heraultwhatson showed the comparative hours of sunshine between this year and last year in mid-March.  Last year the Hérault had clocked up 239 hours, while this year the figure is just 82.

So what did we open on our first evening to make ourselves at home?  First up for an apéro was 2011 Muscat Sec, Pays d’Oc from the Chartreuse de Mougères.  Muscat is the one grape variety that really smells of grapes, and this did.  It was fresh and grapey, on both nose and palate, with a hint of sweetness and that typical slightly bitter finish.   And was just the thing to whet the palate for a glass or two of red wine.  

I have a soft spot for old Carignan.  The one from Château de Nizas used to be my favourite, but sadly they have pulled up their old Carignan vines, so I have transferred my allegiance to Mas Gabriel and Les Trois Terrasses.   Andrew Jefford this morning was writing about old Carignan from Chile on and mentioned how the Carignan of the Languedoc has an ascerbic spikiness;  I know what he means but I wouldn’t go as far as that.  For me old Carignan can have an elegant rusticity.    2009 Les Trois Terrasses has a deep colour colour, and ripe black cherry and confit fruit on the nose, and more so on the palate.  It is ripe and concentrated, with rich fruit, but with a rustic edge of acidity as well as tannin, with a youthful but balanced finish.   In short a lovely example of the grape variety.

And the following evening we treated ourselves to a la Clape from Château Rouquette sur Mer, their  Cuvée le clos de la Tour, 2005.  It was quite a deep colour, with some tapenade and red fruit on the nose.  And on the palate it was beautifully mouth filling, but not too heavy, at a modest 13˚. There were layers of flavour, with some lovely black fruit and supple tannins and an elegant lift on the finish.  It was drinking beautifully. 

The Midi Libre can usually be relied on for an April Fool or poisson d’avril, and this year was no exception, at least I don’t think so.  There was a convincing article entitled Du vin en poudre servi à la prochaine Feria, which enthused about une petite revolution which would save enormous quantities of empty bottles, and describing the quality of  the resulting wine, a blend of equal parts of water and powder,  as being  as not far from that of the best crus of the region ……

Monday, 1 April 2013


I had a great day last Monday and headed off to a totally unfamiliar bit of London, the old docks of the East End and in particular Tobacco Dock for the Real Wine Fair.   The first thing you see, once you have found the entrance to a rather austere building, is an old clipper in a dry dock – and the space is great for a large tasting, with natural light and a high ceiling.  So it felt busy, without being overcrowded.   The Real Wine Fair is the brainchild of Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrène, but the exhibitors included wine growers with other importers.  Doug is passionate about real wine – And I asked him what the criteria for the exhibitors are.  

They are reasonably straightforward:

 Growers should work without chemicals in the vineyards and be as environmentally sensitive as they can.

Winemaking should involve indigenous yeasts as far as possible as these yeasts are the signature of the vineyard and the vintage.

 Ideally there should no additions to the grape juice during the winemaking process other than a little sulphur.
 Within this range there are some who work entirely without additions and others who use what is necessary (although in a minimal fashion) to make a stable and decent tasting. We saw a wide spectrum of styles at the Real Wine Fair.

What unites the growers is that although they may have different approaches they all strive to make wines that respect the environment and the terroir, wines that taste more "natural" (less extraction, less oak, less oenological manipulation).’

And there you have it.

There were wines from Languedoc Roussillon to try, but only one estate that I have never mentioned in my blog, so no new discoveries.    

Lidewej van Wilgen from Mas des Dames had some new vintages.  She is particularly pleased with her white wine in 2012, as she has treated herself to a brand new oak barrel – it must be a particularly high quality barrel, as it gave her wine a lovely rich rounded quality, while retaining a fresh balance of acidity.  The wine has only just been bottled and promises well.

Her new rosé was looking good too, with some fresh herbal notes and hints of the garrigues.

John Bojanowski from Clos du Gravillas was there, with his delicious wines – see earlier postings for more details.

Carole Andrieu at Clos Fantine  was showing two wines, Faugères Tradition and Valcabrières Blanc, from Terret Blanc, which were very natural in flavour.  The Valcabrières is an extraordinary orange colour, with some wild flavours,  and the Faugères has a fresh acidity as well as a hint of volatility that I quite often find in a natural wine.    See my earlier blog. 

I was less familiar with the wines of Zélige-Caravent, a Pic St. Loup estate created by Luc and Marie Michel in the village of Corconne.  As well as being very natural, the wines were not very conventional Pic St. Loup, with Syrah conspicuous by its absence .

2011 Jardin des Simples was pure Cinsaut, with the perfumed cherry fruit of that variety, with a touch of VA on the finish.

2010 Ellipse was a blend of 40% each of Grenache and Cinsaut,  with 20% Carignan.   It was fairly light with ripe cherry fruit, and no great depth.

2010 Manouches, Vin de France rather than Pic St. Loup,  was 80% Aramon with 20% Cinsaut, and tasted ripe and inky, with quite a dense finish.

Tom Lubbe was pouring his wines from Domaine Matassa, in the village of Calce.  He also makes the wines of Domaine de Majas, higher up in the Fenouillèdes hills at 500 metres.   Those vineyards are not only cooler, but they also get three times as much rainfall as Calce, which is at a lower altitude.

Domaine de Majas Blanc is a blend of Macabeo, Rolle and Carignan Blanc.   Refreshingly no oak, with some herbal hints, and a rounded body.

And the red wine from Domaine de Majas is a pure Cabernet Franc, which lovely ripe cherry fruit and a sappy finish.

As for Domaine de Matassa, Tom was showing two white wines:

Cuvée Marguerite is a blend of Muscat d’Aléxandrie and Muscat à petits grains, with Viognier and Macabeo.  A ripe peachy nose and palate, with some herbal notes and good acidity.

The second white, a Côtes Catalanes Blanc was rounded and herbal with some concentration and a resinous note from some ageing in wood. 

2011 Côtes Catalanes red:  medium colour; quite firm and leathery nose and palate, with good depth and a natural edge.

And the other Languedoc estate was Mas de Daumas Gassac – more on them in due course.    

The unexpected excitement of the Real Wine fair was the group of twelve producers from Georgia – there were orange wines galore and a host of unfamiliar grape varieties, Georgia apparently has 525 indigenous grape varieties, so there was an opportunity to taste, not only Rkatsiteli and Saperavi, but also Chinuri, Kisi, Mtsvane, Tavkvevri and Shavkapito, amongst others.  Earthenware jars, qvevri, are used for fermentation and most of the white wines spend a month or maybe as long as six months, not just on the skins, but with stalks and pips as well.  The flavours are intriguingly different and unusual, with quite firm tannins, which you do not normally find in white wine.  They may be an acquired taste, but were none the worse for that.  Some of the reds enjoyed a long skin contact too, but their flavours are more conventional or recognisable, with Saperavi producing some lovely peppery flavours, but sometimes with quite austere tannins.  And I think this is the first time that I have ever been served wine by a monk at a tasting.  He came from the Alaverdi monastery in Kakheti, one of the principal wine growing regions to the east of Tbilisi.

I also ventured to Santorini for the wines of Hatzidakis, with another unfamiliar grape variety,  Aidani, with some fresh herbal notes.  There were some lovely wines from Sicily. Anna Martens’ wines from Etna were fragrantly mineral and the Marsalas  from the estate of Marco de Bartoli, now made by his son, are always a treat.  I finished the tasting with my good friend, Elisabetta Fagiuoli, from Montenidoli in San Gimignano.  Her Vino Fiore Vernaccia di San Gimignano was as delicious as ever.