Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Château Haut Lignières

I’ve tasted Jérôme Rateau’s wines at the Faugères fête a couple of times and promised myself a visit.   Haut Lignières was initially created by a Swiss woman, Elke Kreutzfeldt, who sold an insurance business and bought vineyards in Faugères when her daughter married a local wine grower’s son.   Her first vintage was in 1995, and the wine was initially made at the nearby Château de Grézan, until she bought her own cellar, at the top of the village of Faugères, on the main road by the petrol station in 1997.  Subsequently, she acquired a second cellar, where Jérôme now makes his wine.   Then after a spell of ill-health, she decided to sell, and in 2007 Jérôme bought the property with its two cellars, and  twelve hectares of vines.  

He comes from Normandy, from the Perche, and had no connections with wine at all, other than a grandfather who had a small plot of vines in champagne, and a father who loved wine.  He remembers helping with his grandfather’s harvest as a small boy, but certainly had no ambitions to make wine.  He had initially planned a career in sport, but was forced to rethink following an injury.   He also enjoyed science, particularly biology, and that led to a degree in oenology at Bordeaux.   His first job was to work for a large Bordeaux estate on the right bank, which produced 10,000 hls a year.  There he learnt a lot, mainly what not to do, and then he worked as a consultant oenologist, and is quite entertaining about how people respond to an oenologist’s advice, and whether they take it or not.  And often they employ an oenologist as what they really want to know what their neighbours are up to!  And then Jérôme realised that what he really wanted to do was to make his own wine.   He wrote a business plan and enlisted support from his parents, and after a lot of looking, initially in Bordeaux, and then extending his horizons, he eventually came to Faugères and bought Haut Lignières in time to help with the 2007 harvest.    He was taken by the terroir, the slopes of Faugères and the schist soil.     

The estate consists of twelve hectares in Cabrerolles, in one large block, planted with the usual five varieties of the Languedoc, and Jérôme has also taken on another three hectares en fermage.   The lieu dit of the plot is Bas Lignières, so for the Swiss the name Haut Lignières was a natural corollary.  And he has planted just 36 ares of white varieties, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Vermentino but has yet to produce any white wine.  The vines are taking their time to get established.

We tasted in his cheerful tasting caveau at the top of the village street. 

2012  Faugères, Rosé  - 6.50€
A blend of Cinsaut, 60% Grenache 30% and 10% Syrah, all free run juice.  The juice gets darker depending on how long it spends on the skins.  If you are running off juice, saigné, to concentrate your red wine, you should never run off more than 20% but as this for rosé, 50% is run off, and the Cinsaut is picked earlier than it would be for red wine.  The nose is very fresh, and the wine very refreshing, with good acidity and some minerality and a dry finish.   Jérôme observed that it is very easy to make a rosé that smells of raspberries and bonbons anglais.  It is all to do with the volatile esters, and depends on the cultured yeasts and the fermentation temperature.  That sort of rosé doesn’t usually have any staying power.

2011 Faugères, le ler - 6.50€
All five varieties of Faugères, about 20% each.  Usually blended in March and bottled in July, after an élevage in vat.  A simple vinification and a short maceration.  Medium colour with ripe black cherry fruit.  The most representative of his Faugères.    Supple ripe fruit, with a lightly tannic streak.   'This is what Faugères gives me', he said; 'with the other cuvées  I try to see what I can make from Faugères'.

2011 Faugères, Romy – 8.50€
The blend in 2011 was 50% Grenache and 35% Mourvèdre, with 15% Carignan. The Carignan was aged in barrel for ten months, with the rest in vat.  In contrast in 2012 the blend is one third Syrah to two thirds Grenache, with no Carignan, and all aged in vat.  In 2012 the Mourvèdre was disappointing.   Jérôme is guided by the character of the vintage, while retaining the style of the wine.  That is the advantage of having five grape varieties to play with.  The 2011 has a good colour, with rich spice and fruit with a good backbone and a harmonious balance.   He wants something that is rounded, silky and elegant.  The oak gives an extra touch of spice and is beautifully integrated.

2011 Faugères, Carmine Butis. – 13.50€
60% Syrah, 35% Grenache and 15% Mourvèdre.  70% aged in barriques for about 15 months.  He has lots of barriques of individual grape varieties and then blends after the first racking and keeps the blended wine in barrel for a further twelve months or so.  There is a vanilla touch on the nose, with a sturdier denser more youthful palate, and a rich finish.

2009 Faugères, Grande Réserve – 18.00€
Half Syrah / half Grenache.  This is not made every year.  And it is made with great attention to detail and a lot of work by hand.    The berries are individually destemmed, entailing  a meticulous sorting.  Fermented in a barrel, with a daily pigeage and a long slow gentle extraction of two months. Twenty barriques give 3000 bottles. Run off by gravity and not pressed.  Quite rounded by powerful, mouth filling with spice, very harmonious.  Well integrated tannins and oak and with good depth.   Great future potential.

In 2011 Jérôme had a stagiaire who was particularly interested in natural wine, so the stagiaire was allowed to experiment – the result was that one barrel was brilliant, and two were sent to the distillery!  So 280 bottles will be bottled as Empreinte Carbone, a pure Syrah, the result of lots of TLC in an 18 are plot of vines.  Jérôme is dispassionate about natural wine observing the problem of the uncertainty with them – they are simply not reliable, and also people are tolerant of their defects because they are natural.  He doesn’t fine his wine and his only filters the Faugères le ler and the rosé, as they are bottled earlier.  Nor is he organic.  He may use a small amount of a systemic product, which then reduces the amount of copper and sulphur he would have to use.  And he only treats if absolutely necessary.

And then we talked about the future.  He has no ambitions to grow much bigger, maybe twenty hectares at the most, or  maybe fewer vineyards might be better, so that he could look after them better.  And he also wants to make a white wine.

And then he finished with a cautionary tale.   He has been the victim of a scam with fake bottles of Haut Lignières being sold on line.  So check the small print on the label, or stop off in Faugères and buy some from his welcoming tasting caveau.   

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Domaine Senti Kreyden

A chance encounter over dinner led to new discovery just down the road in the next village.  Erna Senti Kreyden has a tiny cellar in the back streets of Gabian.   She comes from Switzerland; her parents made wine, Pinot Noir and Riesling, in the Graubünden or Grisons region of Switzerland, but she worked in the financial industry, before rediscovering her viticultural roots.  She explained how she and her husband would come on holiday to Marseillan Plage with her sister’s family, but they didn’t want to spend all day on the beach, so they explored the countryside and one thing led to another, in the form of some olive trees and a tiny vineyard of old Counoise, which they bought in 2005.  That is one of the thirteen grape varieties of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but is found less often in in the Languedoc.   And things have taken off from that.  Erna made her first two vintages in Verena Wyss’ cellar and studied, and in 2008 gave up the day job to concentrate on wine.  

She now has six hectares, in eight tiny plots.  She wants to remain small.  You sense that she pays great attention to detail; everything is finely handcrafted; she believes that if you work hard in the vineyards, the work in the cellar will be much easier.   However, for the moment, space is a problem; her courtyard was full of new barrels the day I visited, but she is hoping for planning permission for a new cellar on a hill outside the village.   The mayor in Gabian has said yes; and then the proposal has to go to Béziers, and then to Montpellier, so with a bit of luck, she might be in her new cellar for the 2014 vintage.   

We sat in the courtyard and tasted under the shade of a large umbrella.  First was:

2012 Clair Courage rosé, Pays de Cassan – 9.00€
A pure Cinsaut, but this is the last vintage from this vineyard, as the vines are elderly and no longer very healthy, so sadly she is pulling them up.  The grapes are pressed and the colour is a pale orange pink.  And the nose is dry and stony, with a hint of raspberry; it is quite vinous with good body, with a fresh savoury finish.  It does a malo-lactic fermentation, which is unusual for rosé In the Languedoc.  Erna explained that she wants to use as little sulphur as possible.

2011 Aramon, Vin de France – 12.00€
This wine was a surprise.   Aramon is one of the despised varieties of the Languedoc.  Erna's vineyard was planted in 1960.  In the bad old days it produced enormous bunches of large grapes in enormous quantities. Erna keeps her Aramon under control, with only a couple of bunches per vines.  It has quite a deep colour, with rich spicy fruit, savoury, with black cherries and supple tannins and a dry finish.   The tannins on the palate were quite silky, almost like a Pinot Noir only richer.  Very intriguing, and unexpected.   She has a photograph of the previous owner of her cellar, as a little girl holding a very large and obviously heavy bunch of Aramon.   This is part of the history of the Languedoc.

2009 Counoise, Octopus, Pays de Cassan – 15.00€
12 months in new wood.  For the rest of her wines Erna favours ageing in oak, in 500 litre barrels.  She feels that the process is more natural than keeping her wine in stainless steel vats.    She just uses her small vats for fermentation.  And she favours pigeage, by hand, with what she called a Stampel – I am not sure how that would translate in either French or English.  See photo!  Good colour.  Some smoky oaky fruit on the nose.  On the palate medium weight, a streak of tannin and some perfumed fruit with an elegant finish.  The oak is present, but nicely integrated. 

2008 Clos d’Eve, Pays de Cassan – 15.00€
The vineyard is surrounded by terraces and walls and there is a fig tree, hence the name of the wine.   A pure Grenache, 35 years old, and again 12 months in barrel.  Medium colour.  Richer and riper than the Counoise, with some cedary notes on the nose and even more so on the palate.  Both elegant and rich, and beginning to mature.

2009 Carignano, a pure Carignan.  -18.00€
She has just 60 ares of Carignan, with a yield of 25 hl/ha.  And Carignano was the name of the now defunct coop in Gabian, and the Occitan name for Carignan.  Again twelve months in oak.  Quite a punchy oaky nose, and a sturdy gutsy palate, with tannins and fruit.  A tannic oaky streak but with good fruit underneath.  Youthful with plenty of potential.  The label is a face made of layers of schist. 

2009 Syrah,  Amada, Pays de Cassan – 18.00€
The youngest vines, 18 years old.  Quite a deep young colour, with dense smoky fruit on nose and palate, and a solid oaky streak.  I did not find it very expressive at the moment, and suspect that it is going through an adolescent phase, but will turn into a stylish adult.  The label portrays a marble sculpture of a lady’s head, with grapes in her hair.

And then Erna took us to see some of her vineyards in the hills behind Gabian.  She is experimenting with her Carignan.  Carignan has lots of leaves, which are usually left to flop around like an unruly hairstyle, but she has trained hers high on wires. 

The Aramon already has large bunches of grapes, at the end of July; and we stopped at the site of her potential cellar, and the very first vineyard of Counoise, and saw the Syrah grown on bauxite with a view of the chateau de Cassan in the distance.


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Domaine de la Rencontre

Domaine de la Rencontre  is a new estate in the appellation of Muscat de Mireval.  Enthusiasm is infectious.  If I were starting a new venture in the Languedoc, I am not sure that one based on Muscat would be my first choice, but that is what Julie and Pierre Viudes have done, making their first wine in 2010.  I spent a couple of hours talking and tasting with them a week or so ago, and came away convinced that they are going to succeed.

Neither of them have any immediate links with wine.  They met in Mexico, and that is one reason for the name of their estate.  It also relates to the painting by Gustave Courbet called la Rencontre, or the meeting, which is said to have been painted close to their vineyards, in 1854, with a view of the Mont St. Clair in the background.  There is a Route Courbet, which covers seven paintings in seven villages and la Rencontre is set between Vic la Gardiole and Mireval, the villages of the appellation of Muscat de Mireval.  But back to Pierre and Julie.  She was working for a Swiss company in London and had colleagues who keen wine enthusiasts.  Pierre had worked in prêt a porter and had also been an actor – he observed that this is a useful skill in salons; he has learnt to play to his audience very effectively.  And he was looking for a change, and went to Mexico and that is how he met Julie, who happened to be travelling there too. 

And why Mireval rather than anywhere else?  Pierre in fact comes from Sète, so in a way he has come back to his roots.  They had also looked in Sigean, for Fitou, Limoux, Minervois and the Costières de Nimes, but meanwhile Pierre’s parents had a friend with vineyards in Frontignan, so he went to work for him.  So at the beginning of 2005, he became a viticulteur, working for a member of the coop, who really knew how to convey his love of vines, and the next step was to sign up for a course at the Lycée Agricole, on viticulture and oenology, three days a week.   And Julie found herself spending her weekends pruning.   They talked of their own wine estate; Pierre was hesitant, feeling that the time was not yet right, but Julie was certain it was, and she convinced Pierre, who realises that she will encourage him to go further than he might ever have imagined.   ‘Our vines are our children’, she observed.

So in 2008 they bought 7.5 hectares, one plot in the garrigues overlooking the sea.   At the they did not even own a bucket or a pair of secateurs.  And in 2010 they bought a house, with an adjacent building for a cellar.  The 7.5 plot is committed to the coop until 2014, so in 2009 they took on 5 hectares en fermage, and made their first wine in 2010, just 6000 bottles.   Their harvest in 2011 totalled 10,000 bottles, and in 2012, 13,500 bottles.   And they make several wines, a Muscat Sec, Entre Deux, a neat name for the moelleux, with 30 gms/l of residual sugar, and two classic Muscat de MIreval, a cuvée from young vines, and a cuvée from older vines. They are also planning a sparkling méthode champenoise. 

They have a neat cellar, with stainless steel tanks, and cooling equipment.  A gentle pressing, avoids any herbaceous notes.  They chill the juice down from about 25C to 5 - 6C in 10 hours, and then rack it and let it ferment.  They felt they were losing a lot of aroma by throwing away the bourbes, the big lees, so now they have a new filter which enables them to filter the lees and include them in the blend.  You sense that they are continuously searching to improve their wines, and that nothing will ever stand still.

And then we tasted:

2011 Rencontre, Muscat Sec, Pays de l’Herault – 9.50€
They prefer Pays de l’Herault to Pays d’Oc, which has a more restrictive cahier de charge.  With Oc you cannot make Vin Doux from the same vineyards as a Muscat Sec whereas the Pays de l’Herault allows you to keep some grapes back for a dry wine.  ‘We impose our own constraints’, they said.   Light colour, quite a delicate note.  Fresh,  dry and grapey and the nose, and on the palate, dry and pungent with some depth.  A nice bite; herbal and pithy.

2012 Rencontre
Light colour; quite fresh and youthful and less evolved, still quite closed with a firm mineral note.  The soil of Mireval is clay and limestone, and there is also some sandy silt.

2012 Philosophe, l’Entre Deux, Pays de l'Herault   - 10.00€
In other words between the dry and the vin doux in sweetness, with 30 gms/l of residual sugar.  Light colour, a hint of honey, and more so on the nose.  Quite rounded and ripe, with some fresh honey.  It is a blend of dry Muscat, picked a little later and blended with just 15% some late harvest Muscat that was fermented in oak, from the previous harvest.  With just 15% they can put the current vintage on the label.

2011 Philosophe, l’Entre Deux
Light colour, drier nose.  Lighter honey; less concentrated, but good sweetness.    20 gms/l residual sugar.

2012 L’Hédoniste, Muscat de Mireval, Vieilles Vignes – 14.00€
From 75 year old vines.  Elegantly honeyed; rounded, concentrated, with balancing acidity.  Elegant and ethereal with a nice lift on the finish.

2011 Hédoniste
Light colour; quite a lemony nose and more concentrated palate.  Ripe and rounded with quite a rich finish.

2010 Hédoniste.
Light colour, with citrus notes on the nose.  And on the palate rich and honeyed, rounded and maturing nicely, though still tastes quite youthful with a certain concentration.

2012 Éclat, Muscat de Mireval,
From 25- 30 year old vines.   The two vineyards are side by side, but give quite different results, even though they are treated exactly the same way.  Not only is the vine age different, but also the rootstock.  Quite lemony, with fresh honey and good acidity.  Nicely rounded and elegant.  Hédoniste is fresher with lower sugar; this is richer, but certainly not cloying.

2011 Éclat
A touch of caramel, and more so on the palate., and generally heavier than the 2012

2010 Éclat
Light colour; quite a lemony nose.  Quite intense honey, with a certain note of maturity.  Rich honeyed finish, with some weight.  This was their very first wine and it was given 2 stars in the Guide Hachette, so an exciting debut.

And we finished with some experimental barrel samples, some more successful than others.   It became apparent that Muscat is going to be aged in oak, it should be fermented in oak, to enable the wine to marry properly with the oak.  

Muscat de Mireval is a small appellation, covering the vineyards of Mireval, Vic la Gardiole and also Maguelonne, with just nine independent producers and the coop in Mireval, with 170 hectares.  However, there is a sense of energy; the coop is much less important than in Frontignan and new people are coming into the appellation.  It was in danger of being swallowed up by Frontignan, and does need somebody to put it more effectively on the map.   And as I have said before, Muscat, particularly sweet Muscat, is not easy to sell, but I came away with the feeling that Pierre and Julie are undeterred and that they will go far.  I do hope I am right. 

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Les Trois Terres

Graeme Angus leads a double life; he works as a GP and as a vigneron.   No prizes for guessing which he prefers.     Over ten years ago he took the decision to leave the rat race of the London medical world and settle in a little village in the Languedoc, so 2004 was his first vintage.  He now has four hectares of vines, with nine different parcelles in three villages, Cabrières, St. Jean de la Blaquière and Octon.   

At St. Jean de la Blaquière, most of his vineyards are Grenache, planted at 180 metres, so benefitting from the freshness of the altitude.  In Cabrières, Syrah on schist is the main variety, so that makes for two different cuvées, a Terrasses du Larzac based on Grenache and a Coteaux du Languedoc based on the Syrah, with the grapes from Octon providing extra blending options.   And sometimes he makes a  bit of rosé.  Yields are tiny, 20 hl/ha,  so he is lucky if he makes 10,000 bottles in a year.   His tiny cellar is underneath their house in Octon, just along the road from Mas des Chimères.  You sense that Graeme is quietly passionate about he does, questioning it with a scientific mind, and he is ably supported by his wife Alice.

We went along for a catch up tasting –

2010 le Saut du Diable, Terrasses du Larzac. – 10€
Grenache, with some Carignan, Syrah and a little Cinsaut.  The Grenache vines are 45 years old.  2010 is a vintage to keep.  Graeme considers his keeping vintages to be 2005 and 2010, while 2011 and 2012 are earlier maturing wines.  And this 2010 spent about 12 months in barrel.  That varies with the quality of the vintage; 2007 was a fruitier year and was only given 8 months, where 2008 was a much more closed year and got 18 months in wood.  The vinification was very simple, natural yeast and some sulphur.  Graeme used to keep each variety and plot separately but now that he knows his wines and vines better, he tends to blend earlier.   A deep colour.  The lovely ripe fruit of Grenache with some firm spice and freshness from the altitude.  The tannins are still pretty furry, with good mouth feel.  Definitely a wine to forget about. 

Then Graeme remembered his rosé, 2012, from a Syrah grown in St. Jean de la Blaquière.  It comes from a particularly vigorous part of the vineyard that gives large juicy grapes.  And was trod by foot.   Very perfumed fruit with good acidity.  Ripe strawberries balanced by acidity.  And is Vin de France to avoid any bureaucratic hassle.  7.00€

2009 la Minérale, Coteaux du Languedoc – 9.00€
80% Syrah from Cabrières, with some Cinsaut and Grenache.  2009 was a hot vintage and Graeme found it a difficult vintage, but he has certainly pulled it off.  Deep young colour. Quite solid and dense, some perfumed fruit and quite firm tannins.  Quite a solid confit note on the finish.

2006 la Minérale
The first vintage of this cuvée  was vin de pays d’Oc as it is pure Syrah.   Deep young colour.  Firm and concentrated.  Some perfumed Syrah fruit.  Youthful and peppery and still quite tannic.  Apparently this has taken ages to come round; 12 months ago it was still overwhelmingly tannic, but it now very satisfying, with fruit as well as tannin.

2011 le Saut du Diable
Not yet bottled.  The nose is a bit reduced, and the wine needs racking, but there is nothing wrong with that; it is just having an adolescent grunt.  And the palate has ripe cherry fruit, with some freshness.

2010 la Minérale has just been bottled.  This was a great year for Syrah.  Deep young colour.  Quite a firm nose, with some black fruit.  And on the palate it is solid and rounded with perfumed fruit and tannin.  Very youthful with freshness on the finish.  It just needs time.  And Graeme likes to give his wine some bottle age.

2012 barrel sample – the future Saut du Diable, with some lovely ripe fruit and fresh cherries.  And some supple tannins.  This had a shorter, ten day, maceration to make it readier earlier.  In the past Graeme has gone for long macerations, gradually reducing from eight weeks down to three or four.

2012 La Minérale, Syrah with some Grenache and Cinsaut.  Another barrel sample.  Fresh fruit on nose and palate, with a tannic streak, but very fruit driven, with some lovely perfume. 

And we finished with a barrel sample of some Syrah from St. Jean de la Blaquière.  Graeme is particularly pleased with it, but is not sure what to do with it, as he does not want to add it to la Minérale.  I could see why he likes it so much – it was beautifully perfumed, with ripe fruit, liquorice and black cherries and some tannin, and a harmonious finish.   A great finale to our tasting.  And afterwards we were invited to lunch under the shade of a large mulberry tree.