Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Domaine d Rancy and Rivesaltes Ambre


One of my dessert island wines would be Rivesaltes Ambré, wonderful old Rivesaltes that has been matured in barrel and bottle for years and turned a golden amber brown colour, with flavours of walnuts and honey and figs and other delicious things.  These wines are grossly underrated, and are more than overdue for a revival in their popularity. They need to be saved for posterity, savoured and treasured.   And one way to do that is to buy them – they represent extraordinarily good value for money.

The  Rivesaltes Ambré from Domaine de Rancy has won a trophy in the Decanter World Wine Awards this year, so that provided a good excuse for a visit.  Brigitte Verdaguer gave us a friendly welcome in her little tasting room in the village of Latour de France.  She has series of small cellars scattered around the village where the Rivesaltes matures in old barrels. The aroma is intoxicating and delicious.  They are the oldest wine estate in the village, with wines going back to 1919.  She and her husband Jean-Hubert took over his parents’ vineyards in 1989, and in 2001 they began producing red wine as well as vin doux.  These days it is their daughter, Delphine,  who actually makes the wine.

They have 17 hectares, 12 hectares of Macabeu for the Rivesaltes Ambré, and five hectares of red vines, Carignan, and Grenache that are both nearly 100 years old, and Mourvèdre that is 35 years old.   Their yields average a meagre 15 – 18 hl/ha. The vineyards are on the schist of the Latour de France.  Brigitte explained that they work organically, and were officially labelisé in 2010, but only for their red wines.  If your vin doux is organic, the alcohol that you use to stop the fermentation must also be organic, and organic alcohol is five times more expensive than ordinary alcohol,. And they simply cannot afford it, or justify the significantly higher price to their customers.     For the vins doux a long élevage is critical.  Their youngest wine is 4 years old, and their oldest wine in bottle is 1948.   Brigitte talked of how people did not believe in vin doux; personne ne s’y croyait.  And how difficult it is to sell; at times it is certainly an uphill struggle.

I was amused by the notice in the tasting room – il vaut mieux boire du vin d’ici que de l’eau de la.  It is better to drink the wine from here, than the water from over there.  

2011 Mourvèdre, Côtes Catalanes – 8.20€
Élevage in vat, with no wood, and just bottled.  Good young colour. Quite a firm sturdy nose and still quite closed.  On the palate, also quite firm and tannic with youthful fruit,  and hints of liquorice and violets and some dry spice.  Needs time and promises well.

2011 Grenache Noir Côtes Catalanes – 8.20€
From 80 years and older vines, grown on schist.  With an emphasis on fruit,. a long cuvaison of three to four weeks. Medium young colour.  Liqueur cherry fruit on the nose, and even more so on the palate.  A warm finish, with some lovely rich flavours.  Very drinkable.

2011 Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 8.20€
Equal parts Mourvèdre and Carignan.   Deep young colour, rounded, warm and sturdy on the nose, with very good fruit on the palate.  A firm tannic streak, some richness and also some freshness on the palate. Warming but not heavy.  It tastes as though it might have been in oak, but Brigitte assured me not.

2008 Le Carignan, Côtes Catalanes – 10.00€
This was bottled in 2012 after a long élevage in concrete vats, and then it is left to mature in bottle.  The vines are centenarian.  Quite a solid nose, warm and confit.  Some lovely fruit on the palate, very concentrated, red fruit and the warmth of Roussillon on the finish  A certain rugged quality, with lots of nuances.

2003 Rancio Sec Macabeu  17º   - 13.50€
Currently labelled vin issu de raisins surmuris, but from the 2011 vintage it can be called Côtes Catalanes Rancio Sec, but that wine will not be on sale for ten years ... But maybe they will be able to come to an agreement with the INAO about the earlier vintages.

As for the wine, it was simply delicious and very intriguing.  The vines are 70 years old and the grapes are the last to be picked when they are overripe at the end of September.  It’s a traditional vinification with natural yeast, and the fermentation in a cement vat stops naturally when all the sugar has gone, with an alcohol level of 17º, so no added alcohol.  This may take two years, depending on the weather.  They check the VA levels and once the fermentation is finished, the wine is transferred into old barrels where it remains for ten years.  The colour is golden amber, with a dry nutty nose.  The palate is quite austere, and yet quite rich, firm and dry and powerful and very long.  With the oxidative wine making, you could compare this to vin jaune, or is it the French equivalent of fine old oloroso sherry?.  Brigitte said that her father- in-law had always made wine like this and they have been fighting for its legal recognition for 20 years.   We wondered what to eat with it – I suggested Cantal cheese; Brigitte countered with a salade catalane and mentioned that there were recipe ideas on their website.  

And next came a range of what for me were sublime Rivesaltes, all made from Macabeu.

Rivesaltes Ambré, 4 ans d’Age – 13.50€
This is the result of a solera system; the youngest wine is four years old.  Amber colour..  A dry nutty nose.  Rounded biscuity palate,  quite soft  and rounded, with some nutty notes.  Wonderful depth of flavour and originality  

1993 Rivesaltes Ambré – 19.50€
This was Decanter’s trophy winner – and well deserved.   Yellow green rim.  Firm dry nutty nose.  Slightly sweeter than the rancio, richer on the palate, with lovely depth and length and lots of nuances of flavour.

1982 Rivesaltes Ambré – 40€
1982 was their daughter’s birth year.  A yellow green rim and brown colour.  More austere on the nose.  Firmer darker and also rich and concentrated.  Quite a sweet finish.  Very long and rich with lots of nuances.  Lovely walnut flavours

1973 – 60€
Bottled January 2013.  Quite a brown colour with a yellow green rim.  Firm and dry and nutty on the nose, with underlying richness.  Wonderful dry and nutty, with length and complexity and depth.   As you can see, I am running out of adjectives that even attempt to do this justice.

1959 – 150.00€ 
Bottled 4 years ago, just 800 bottles. Deep amber green yellow rim.  Smells like wonderful Madeira, with a subtle burnt quality.  Very intense, the rich and dry character of Madeira with very good acidity and great length.

1948 – 200€  and just 500 bottles.  This is my husband’s birth year, so it turned out to be rather an expensive morning, but the wine is fabulous.  Deep chocolate colour, with the distinctive yellow green rim.  A very dry nutty nose.  Lots of nuances.  And on the palate, firm and dry and nutty, with very good balancing acidity.  Very intense and concentrated and long.    A magnificent finale to a memorable visit. 


Monday, 24 June 2013

Domaine Costes-Cirgues

I never cease to admire people who turn to making wine in mid-life.   Béatrice Althoff is one such example; she and her husband, bought Domaine Costes-Cirgues in 2003.  They are German speaking Swisscouple and he actually works as a barrister in Alsace, so not the simplest of arrangements, but their son, David now makes the wine.  And very good it is too.

The estate is just outside the lovely town of Sommières, with its arcaded streets.  They looked for two or three years before they found it, 60 hectares of land with 10 hectares of vines, and a lot of neglected olive trees.  As Béatrice observed, it was a sleeping beauty, une belle endormie.  Indeed driving down the track through the woods to the cellar, you could almost imagine that you were in a set for the fairy tale.  Initially most of their vineyards were still committed to the local cooperative, so they did not make their first wine until 2005, and finally removed their vines from the coop the following year.  They have pulled up vineyards and bought some more vines and now have eighteen hectares,. There is Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, some old Carignan and some Merlot, and for whites, Grenache blanc, and a plot of five varieties, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Vermentino and Muscat, and they still have a hectare of old Ugni blanc from which they sometimes make a sparkling wine.  A cellar was built in 2007.   With impeccable timing the builders finished the day before the harvest started in 2007.  It is a fine building, built into the rock, with the stone, pierre du Gard coming from a nearby quarry.   Inside everything is modern and streamlined, operating by gravity.  The hygiene is meticulous.  ‘We use lots of water, and check everything for bacteria’.

The key feature of the wine-making is that they use no sulphur at all.  In other words this is absolutely natural wine-making, but they do use cultured yeast rather than natural yeast, for the simple reason that indigenous yeast are not always very good.  Béatrice observed that natural yeast can be lazy, and that they can cause problems with brett.  If you use cultured yeast you know what you are getting.  Jean-Francois Vrinat advises; he also consults for some nearby Pic St. Loup estates..  And Béatrice  feels that by not using sulphur the flavours of her wines are smoother and more supple and that the fruit is different.  ‘It’s closer to the grape, as sulphur can combine with the flavours of the wine and make it drier’.  They follow the biodynamic calendar.  This year everything is late, at least three weeks late, with the flowering only just beginning in early June.  So far everything is very healthy, and despite the rain there is no mildew, as it has simply not been hot enough.

There’s a nice tasting area, where Béatrice  opened some bottles and we chatted with her and David.

2012 Font de Marinas, IGP Oc – 8.00€
A blend of 60% Grenache Blanc, 30% Viognier and 10% Vermentino.  There was no Muscat last year as that was eaten by the wild boar   Ageing in vat, and blending just before bottling.
Peachy nose, and ripe rounded peachy fruit on the palate.  Fresh with good acidity, but a curious note on the finish that slightly perturbed me, that I couldn’t quite identity.   

2012 Le Point du Jour, Rosé, Languedoc  – 8.00.    
Equal parts Syrah and Grenache.   The grapes are picked earlier than for their red wine, and pressed quickly, taking care to avoid any oxidation.  The palate is ripe and rounded, and nicely vinous and mouth filling, but with an elegant finish.  

They are within the terroir of Sommières, but as yet there is no definite style of wine for Sommières.  The area encompasses about 13 villages, and touches the Costières de Nimes, but not the nearby Pic St. Loup.  For the moment about twenty producers who put Sommières on their  labels, but I suspect it lacks what the French call a locomotive.

2011 Montplaisir, Pays d'Oc  – 7.80€     
40% Carignan, 25% each of Grenache and Mourvèdre and 10% Merlot.  Aged in a concrete vat.  Medium young colour.  I thought it was very Carignan, with some fresh red fruit, and certain rustic character.  Nicely peppery on the finish.  A lovely glass of wine.

2011 St. Cyr, Languedoc, - 11.00€
80%  Grenache, 20% Syrah  Kept in a stainless steel vat for six months.  Ripe cherry liqueur fruit and very Grenache. Rich and expressive, and ripe and fresh, with acidity and some tannin, and the fruit of the garrigues.  Although it was 15º, it certainly did not taste heavy and alcohol.  Béatrice observed that when the grapes are ripe, you automatically get a natural balance.

2010 Bois du Roi, Languedoc  – 14.00€
A cooler year than 2011, with less concentration and better balance.  One third each of Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Grenache.   18 months in vat, and just 5% in barrel, 400 litres barrels from the Tonnellerie de Mercurey.  This had lots of spicy peppery fruit and was fresh and elegant, with some lovely red fruit, and a satisfying balance of tannin and acidity and a lovely long finish.

2010 Château Costes-Cirgues, Languedoc – 18.50€
80% Syrah and 20% Grenache.  Only six months in oak, as the barrels were new.  And only about 60-70% of the wine went into barrel.  Since then they have taken to longer ageing,15 -18 months.  Deeper colour than the Bois du Roi.  Rounded, rich and spicy with a tannic streak, but you don’t taste the new wood.  They aim for a very gentle extraction, with some maceration and a soft pigeage.  The oak is very well integrated.   For the moment the wine is Languedoc rather than Sommières as what they consider to be their best plot of Syrah is not accepted as Sommières.

So in short, a lovely discovery and visit, prompted by their success at Signature Bio.


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Coups de coeurs des journalistes feminines

Another competition.  This one is fun.   Michèle Solans, a bright and lively PR girl invites women journalists, but not necessarily specialists in wine, to taste the medal winners from various competitions amongst the cooperatives of Languedoc-Roussillon.  I’ve participated in this competition before,  a couple of years ago.  This time it was held at the Pont du Gard and the previous evening we were invited to an olive oil tasting, with examples of olive oil from the various oil coops of the region.  Helene Pages and Jean-Marie Etienne from the olive coops of Clermont l’Herault and Beaucaire respectively conducted the tasting and it was fascinating.  We were told about various varieties of olives, Olivière, Rougette, Bouteillan, Picholine and Lucques and instructed in the differences between fruité vert – fresh and peppery  and fruité mûr – softer and more supple -  and then they produced a fruité noir that was rich and unctuous and un peu too much, as the French sometimes say.

And the next morning we gathered at the conference centre of the Pont du Gard.  I was on a table of red wines, with  the arduous task of nine wines to taste, from which we had to choose our two favourite wines.   They were then tasted against the two favourites of the other red table, and the winner was chosen.  There was a table of rosé and a table for whites tasting at the same time.   It was all very amicable and relaxed.   My table went for a red wine from the coop of Fontès, la Fontésole in the Hérault, a Languedoc AC Prieuré Saint-Hippolyte, with some spicy peppery fruit, And a surprisingly fresh and lively Merlot from St. Quentin-la-Poterie in the Gard.  And from the other table came a Corbières, Cuvée Sextant,  from Ornaisons,  I found it rather oaky and ill-judged but some of my fellow judges liked it a lot so I was greatly relieved when the prize winner, which came from the other table, won by a whisker.   It was another wine from the Fontès coop, namely 2012 Fontésole, Les Larmes du Volcan.  The name is a reference to the extinct volcanoes of the area, with the scenery dominated by the Pic de Vissou.  Locally Fontès has a reputation for its rosés, but this competition proved that the technical director, Olivier Plut, has a knack for red wine as well as pink.

And the prize winning white and rosé came from the same coop, les Coteaux de Capimont at Hérépian.   Philippe Coste collected his rosé prize, thanked us profusely and observed that as he had won the red trophy a year or two ago, so all he needed now was the white trophy.  Little did he realise that he would be back up on the podium to collect a second trophy for the white wine a few minutes later.   The rosé was a Cabernet Sauvignon, Vallée des Arômes, Haute Vallée de l’Orb 2012 and the white 2012 Chardonnay, with again their evocative brand name, Vallée des Arômes, Haute Vallée de l’Orb.  Both amply illustrated the potential of the cooler Haute Vallée de l’Orb for fragrant refreshing wines, with aroma

And there were just three wines competing for the sweet wine trophy – three quite different in style, so really it was a question of stylistic preference – fresh young Muscat; richer more mature Muscat or a mature Ambré style.  I preferred the Ambré, but the vote went for the 2012 Dom Brial Muscat, which came from the coop at Baixas.

And then we adjourned for a leisurely lunch.  I was in good company, with Sharon Nagel who is writing a much-needed book on the Pic St. Loup – for more details see  And Claire Vuillemin, who runs a website   She was enthusing about a recent visit to London where she stayed at the newly opened Great Northern Hotel by St. Pancras Station.   Her site is definitely worth a look.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Languedoc-Roussillon Top 100

My flight back from Montpellier last week arrived on time, so I was able to get to the big annual trade tasting of Languedoc-Roussillon before the end of the day.  Apart from saying hallo to a few friends, I concentrated on the Top 100 tasting.  Time was not on my side, so some of my notes are inevitably a bit cursory.  My friend and colleague Tim Atkin had chaired the panel.  Unfortunately for me, the date selected for the tasting was during the week that I was away in Greece, but at least I got to taste the final results.  And what follows are my highlights, with apologies for brevity in some instances.

It seems inevitable that the ‘big boys’ dominated the line up.  There were some very competent wines from the likes of Domaines Paul Mas, Laurent Miquel, Gérard Bertrand and Fortant de France, but I preferred to concentrate on smaller, more off the beaten track wine growers.  

Domaine de la Rencontre, IGP Pays de l’Hérault, Muscat à petits grains.
A new producer in the appellation of Muscat de Mireval.  Pale colour;  orange peel fruit on the nose, and fresh grapey varietal character on the palate, with the classic bitter Muscat finish.   

Les Vins Philippe Nusswitz, Orenia 2011, Duché d’Uzès 
A blend of Viognier, Roussanne and Grenache blanc.  Light rounded nose;  lightly peachy, with dry fresh fruit and some character.

Les Cave Richemer, Terre et Mer Sec blanc 2012, Côtes de Thau, Terret
In other words, the coop in Marseillan.  This was delicately  light and fresh.  An undemanding and enjoyable example of an overlooked grape variety, that,  like Carignan blanc, should enjoy a revival in its fortunes.

Costières de Pomerols, 20102 Finest Tesco, Picpoul de Pinet
From one of the key coops of Picpoul de Pinet.  Fresh and salty with firm fruit and acidity.

Cave de l’Ormarine Carte Noire 2012
From the other main coop producing Picpoul de Pinet.  Light and fresh, again with salty notes and good acidity.

Château Bas Aumelas, 2011 Classique, Grès de Montpellier
A blend of Grenache Roussanne and Viognier.  Light nose with light fruit. Quite delicate and fresh and lightly ethereal. 

Mas du Soleilla, Reserve blanc 2010, la Clape
Roussanne and Bourboulenc, Light nose with a textured palate.  Some white blossom.  Quite characterful; good depth and length.

Château d’Agel, les Bonnes 2012, Minervois
A blend of Macabeu, Grenache and Roussanne.  Rounded fruit, textured, but without any oak.  Appealing layers of flavour and a refreshing finish.

Château de l’Engarran, Sainte Cécile, 2011, Languedoc. 
A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan.  Light red colour; some soft spicy fruit on nose and palate.  Medium weight with an elegant finish.

Château de Cazeneuve, Cynarah 2011,  Pic St. Loup. 
Syrah, Cinsaut and Grenache.  Medium weight; spicy fruit on nose and palate.  Nicely ripe and rounded. 

Domaine de Familongue, 3 Naissances, 2009. Terrasses du Larzac,
Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache.  Some fruit on the nose, and quite a solid dense peppery palate.  

La Jasse Castel, La Jasse 2011, Terrasses du Larzac
Syrah, Grenache and Carignan.  Ripe and concnetrated, with oak on fruit on nose and palate.  Youthful potential.

Clos du Serres, les Maros 2011, ~Terrasses du Larzac
Grenache, Cinsaut Carignan.  Medium colour.  Rounded spicy fruit on nose and plate,  Lovely balance.

Villa Dondona, 2011 Dondona, Montpeyroux. 
A blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache.  Deep colour.  Quite solid.  Dense and rich on the palate with good fruit and a rounded finish.

Domaine du Joncas, 2011 Obra.  Montpeyroux. 
Medium colour.  Elegant fruit on the nose.  Medium weight palate, again with lovely fruit.

Domaine de Cébène, Felgaria 2011, Faugères 
Mourvèdre and Syrah.  Firm leathery fruit on the nose and on the palate, ripe with rich fruit and very characterful.

Château Milhau-Lacugue, les Truffières 2010, St Chinian.  
Syrah and Grenache.  Deep colour.  Some fruit on nose and palate.  Medium weight.  Elegant spicy fruit and beautifully balanced.  Very satisfying.

Cave de Roquebrun.  Terrasses de Mayline 2012, St. Chinian
Syrah, Grenache and Carignan.  Rounded ripe and spicy on both nose and palate.  From one of the best coops of the Languedoc.

Cave de Roquebrun, La Grange des Combe 2012, St. Chinian Roquebrun
Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre .  Fresh ripe fruit and notes of tapenade on nose and palate.  A lovely satisfying ripe finish.

Château Fontenelles, Cuvée Notre Dame 2012, Corbières
Syrah, Grenache , Mourvèdre.  Quite ripe and sweet on both nose and palate.  A ripe rounded finish.  Easy drinking.

Château Pech-Latt, Tamanova 2011, Corbières
Carignan, Grenache and Syrah.  Firm dry spice on nose and palate.  Medium weight with satisfying fruit.

Calmel & Joseph, Caramany 2011, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Caramany
A classic Roussillon blend of 50% Grenache Noir, 40% Carignan and just 10% of Syrah.  The wine was rounded, with dry warm leathery fruit.  Medium weight with quite an elegant finish for the warm south.

Abbé Rous,  Reynal 2000 Banyuls Grand Cru. 

Grenache Noir, turned amber with some age. Quite sweet and rich with an alcoholic edge, and a dry nutty finish.  

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Tasting at Rives Blanques

A summer party always provides the excuse to go and see our friends Caryl and Jan Panman at Chäteau Rives-Blanques and to stock up on Blanquette de Limoux.   We were pretty sure we wanted Blanquette rather than Crémant, but Caryl insisted that we should taste both before loading up the car.  And a fascinating comparison it was too.

2011 Blanquette de Limoux.  10.50€
It was very Blanquette, with that distinctive slightly bitter flavour of Mauzac.  The nose was quite rich with some honeyed notes and the palate provided a mouthful of flavour, some rich fruit and firm acidity.  It was packed with character and flavour, showing just how good Blanquette can be.  .

2010 Crémant de Limoux. – 11.00€
This spends longer on the lees and is essentially Chardonnay with Chenin, without any Mauzac and is altogether more demure.  The nose is soft and creamy and the palate rounded and subtle.   2010 was a very good vintage, while 2011 was difficult, but the sparkling wine grapes were picked before the rain.  And 2012 was a textbook vintage, with the weather behaving just as it should.

2010 Crémant de Limoux rosé – 12.00€
Might as well try all three, Caryl suggested.  This contains just 4% Pinot Noir, making for a delicate pretty pale pink colour.   The nose is nicely rounded and ripe, with some hints of raspberry, and even more so on the palate.  It is more powerful than a white Crémant, with richer fruit, and yet an underlying elegance.  Another lovely glass of wine.   But we stuck with our first choice of Blanquette.

Now, how about trying some Chenin?  Jan suggeste.  We could do a vertical tasting of Dedicace.   That was an irresistible suggestion as I love vertical tastings, and Caryl and Jan were dead chuffed as their 2012 had just been classified as a Grande Réussite by Revue des Vins de France.   We tasted from old to young, beginning with:

2008 Dédicace.  It was all fermented in oak, usually 5 – 10% new, and kept in barrel for about seven months.  Chenin is very sensitive to oak, so they start tasting the wine in January to see how it is developing.  There is no malo-lactic fermentation.  They have also experimented with Chenin in just stainless steel vats and loved the wine that they made that way  in 2011, but without oak, it is not Limoux, and so was demoted to vins de pays.  Stupid really.   Chenin is always the last grape to be picked, usually during the second half of September, into early October.    The yield is around 45 hl/ha.   2008 enjoyed a long flowering, with regular rainfall from March to June, and fine weather at the harvest.

This 2008 has a touch of oak on the nose, as well as some honey, making a lovely mouthful of flavour, with good acidity and a dry finish.   Quite rich, maturing fruit, with lovely texture.

Fermented in oak, followed by seven months élevage.  8% new oak barrels.  A cool start to the year with 300 mms rain between January and April.  The yield was low as there was a lack of water in August, but the weather was good at the  harvest.

Light golden  colour.  Oak nicely integrated on the nose.  Quite a firm palate, rounded with dry honey.  Long and textured with good acidity.

2010 – 11.25€   The current vintage on sale
Quite a delicate nose; dry youthful dry honey; tight knit with a firm grip.  Good depth and length.

2011 – A difficult year.  Dry youthful honey, and the oak still quite apparent.   Almost a hint of grapefruit on the palate.  Very good acidity.   Fresh and pithy.  Some honey to develop, but lighter in body than the others.

Jan remembered how they were ready for a perfect vintage and then on 3rd September 100 mm of rain fell in just one day.  The grape initially looked healthy and then after about ten days they suddenly realised that the rot was about to hit – so they quickly machined harvest and most of the Chenin went into their vin de pays.  Altogether it was a challenging year, with a capricious spring.  A warm April made for early flowering which was followed by a cool summer, so everything slowed down.


We were lucky; the wine had come out of barrel the previous day, and was due to be fined the next day, so a window of opportunity for a taste.  It will be bottled in June.  And I could quite see why Revue des Vins de France rated it so highly. It was rich and honeyed, fresh and youthful, with lots of intriguing nuances.  Very long with very good texture, good acidity  and a hint of oak,   It needs a year or so in bottle before showing at its best, and at this stage promises very well.

In short a great tasting. And why the name Dédicace?  Quite simply each vintage is dedicated to someone who has helped them in some way.   Le Bon Voisin in 2009 was their neighbour James Kinglake at Domaine Bégude, who came to the rescue with a piece of machinery at a critical moment.   George Pauli in 2010 was their consultant in the early days and 2011 is for the Vinifilles, the group of women winemakers, of whom Caryl is an enthusiastic member.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Tasting at Signature Bio

I was invited to take preside at an wine competition last week, namely Signature Bio, the 25th organic wine competition for the wines of Languedoc Roussillon.   Organic wines are becoming increasingly important in the Languedoc; after all the region has a fantastic climatic advantage over the rest of France, with more hours of sunshine, and also winds that will dry up any lingering humidity after the rain.   However, this year might prove problematic if the weather continues to be as cool and temperamental as it has been over the last few weeks.     And the figures speak for themselves, in 2001 there were 279 producers registered as organic, with 3764 hectares, and by 2011 the figures had risen to 1199 estates with 19.907 hectares.  And at Millésime Bio earlier this year I spoke to several people for whom 2012 was their first year of production as organic wine growers. 

We were 60 ‘wine professionals’ including two other local MWs, Matthew Stubbs from Vinécole, and Juliet Bruce-Jones, but no wine growers, judging 234 wines.  I was on a friendly table, with Alex Francis, who I first met at a wine fair in Chablis more years ago than either of us care to remember; he now runs Vins y Vinos.  There was Jacqueline Bonnet, whom I know from tasting the wines of Château Perdiguier; she is an oenologist and has tasted at almost every competition over the past 25 years.  Sam Stratham is an Australian who grows organic grapes, at Rosnay estate in New South Wales, but has yet to make his own wine, and the fifth member of the table was Alban Marjotte from the Gruissan tourist office.   And our wines were  2012 reds.  We were told that if they were not yet been bottled, they were ready for bottling.  The first few wines were ripe and fruity and in some cases quite alcoholic.  Roussillon I thought, ripe Grenache, so when the wines were unveiled I was somewhat thrown to find that they were Côtes du Rhone, and that there was also a Lirac.  But those are not in the Languedoc, I remonstrated.  Oh yes, they are, I was told.  They are in the Gard, and that department is part of the Languedoc …… I gave up protesting.  I know when I am losing a  battle in the face of French bureaucracy, but I did feel that including Côtes du Rhone created a misleading  impression alongside more structured Languedoc wines.

I have tasted for Decanter’s World Wine Awards for the last  ten years, and that is undoubtedly one of the most professionally organised competitions around.  So I am always quite intrigued to see how other competitions work – my table had 18 wines to taste, so not an arduous morning, by any means.  And we were told that we could not award more than six medals.  In fact that was not an issue – we only wanted to give five, a gold, a silver, and three bronzes.    The recommended marks for medals also perturbed me.  Gold started at 16 out of 20, whereas for Decanter it is 18.5 out of 20.  In fact that was not an issue either; we just marked: category of medal or no medal. 

A small group of us then had to retaste the seventeen wines that had been awarded a gold medal and pick out two wines for a special mention.   Fortunately I did not have to exercise any great powers of diplomacy here – we were pretty unanimous and would have liked to have awarded three special mentions.   One of them was an absolutely delicious Costières de Nimes that came from my table – Terres des Chardons, Marginal and the other was a Rivesaltes Grenat 2010 from Domaine la Rourède.   And the third wine that missed a special mention by a whisker was a Languedoc AC Domaine de Costes-Cirgues.    I am not sure if I am supposed to mention that, but the wine did stand out above the other gold medals.   In fact I liked it so much that I have arranged a cellar visit, so more anon.

I feel strongly that allowances should not be made because a wine is organic.  A wine is good, or it is not.   And I found the same faults in organic wines as in non-organic wines.  There were wines which suffered from an excess of oak, with drying fruit, or an excess of alcohol, and even some green flavours, but the best had lovely fruit and typified the best of the Languedoc, confirminged the exciting potential for organic wines in Languedoc-Roussillon.