Friday, 27 September 2013

Languedoc-Roussillon classification in the Revue du Vin de France

The October issue of la Revue du Vin de France makes interesting reading for lovers of the wines of the Languedoc.  They have compiled their classification of the 40 top producers of the region. Unlike the Bordeaux classification of 1855, price was not a criterion.  Here they have taken only red wine, with a current vintage and a wine that is ten years old, thereby removing some possible contenders from amongst the younger estates.   It makes for fascinating reading.  Some names I absolutely agreed with; others I am less enthusiastic about. Some, in my opinion, are actually better at white than red, and there are a small handful of estates with which I am not sufficiently familiar to comment.  .

The three premiers crus classes are Mas Jullien, Domaine Gauby and Domaine de la Grange des Pères.  There is nothing contentious there; these three estates have been consistently producing great wine for a number of years.  

Next followed a total of ten second growths:

Domaine Peyre Rose for Clos des Cistes – I agree; some wonderful wines, but when you go and visit Marlene Soria only gives you wines to taste that are ten years old.  I do wonder what her more recent wines are like. 

Domaine Jean-Michel Alquier – a great Faugères estate.  Jean-Michel has successfully carried on his father’s pioneering work.

Domaine Leon Barral – More contentious.  I have very mixed feelings about Didier Barral’s wines, and sometimes wonder if this is not a case of the Emperor’s new clothes.  I have liked some of his wines in the past, but more recent tastings have been a less happy experience. 

Domaine de Montcalmès – I have visited a couple of times, and found the wine-making and approach thoughtful and the wines elegant. No flamboyance here. .

Domaine Alain Chabanon for l’Esprit de Fontcaude.   For me Alain is one of the great wine growers of Montpeyroux.   And his Campredon always offers simple pleasure.

Domaine Gardiés in Roussillon.  I never visited – note to put them on the list – so really cannot form an opinion.

Clos Marie in Pic St. Loup – I had slightly mixed feelings on my last visit; I loved the wines in barrels, and was for some reason less excited by the vintages in bottle.

Domaine les Aurelles – Basil St. Germain is for me, one of the great white wine makers of the Languedoc.  I like his red wines, but it is his white wines that really sing.

Château la Baronne.   One of the great Corbières estates.  Subtle elegant wines, and with a track record.  I met Paul Lignières’ parents in the mid-1980s when la Baronne was a pioneering estate.

Mas Champart – One of the great St. Chinian estates.  Elegantly, finely crafted wines.

And now for the third growths, which form the bulk of the classification.

At no 14 comes Domaine Canet –Valette – I visited that estate last summer and left with a sadly disappointing impression, especially as I had remember Marc Valette as pioneering  and creative, from my book research ten years earlier.

Mas Cal Demoura – Undoubtedly one of the stars of the rising Terrasses du Larzac.  Vincent Goumard produces some finely crafted elegant wines, both red and white. 

Ermitage du Pic St. Loup.  It’s  a while since I visited this estate, so I think an update is overdue.

Mas Daumas –Gassac – Its position as a pioneer of the Languedoc is unassailable, but these days I find myself less enthusiastic about the wines.   I’ve been disappointed with some recent vintages, and then pleasantly surprised by others.

Roc d’Anglade in the village of Langlade in the Gard.  – Remy Pedreno is self-taught and an extraordinary talented and thoughtful winemaker.

Prieuré Saint Jean de Bébian – The new Russian owners are allowing the Australian wine maker Karen Turner her freedom, so that this pioneering estate continues to improve and develop.  The wines age beautifully.

Clos du Rouge Gorge – Côtes Catalanes.   A vaguely familiar name, but I have no experience of it.  No doubt an omission to remedy.

Domaine de la Garance – There are wines that I like better from the village of Caux.  These tend to be quite rich and heady, high on impact and short on elegance, but that said, Pierre Quinonero is an interesting and provocative winemaker. 

Domaine Olivier Pithon - One of the talented gang of wine growers in the Roussillon village of Calce.

Domaine Jean-Baptiste Senat in the Minervois- A slightly familiar name, but I have never visited.

Domaine de la Grange de Quatre Sous – Hildegaard Horat makes some intriguingly creative and original wines.

Domaine du Clos des Fées -  I have done a cellar visit with Herve Bizeul and tasted his wines a few times, but tend to find them a little too rich and heady for my taste buds.  Alcohol levels can be a problem in Roussillon.

Domaine les Mille Vignes in Fitou.  I do not know at all. Obviously worth a visit.

Domaine d’Aupilhac – Sylvain Fadat is behind one of my favourite estates in Montpeyroux.

Domaine de la Rectorie – A wonderfully creative and pioneering estate in Collioure.  Also makes fabulous white wines.

Domaine Borie-la-Vitarele – Rich heady style; wines that make an impact.

Domaine Matassa – Tom Lubbe is another of the Calce band – with some lovely wines.

Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette – one of the newer estates of the Terrasses du Larzac.  I like Julien and Delphine’s white wines even more than their reds.

Domaine le Roc des Anges – in deepest Roussillon and on my list for a visit

Domaine Sarda-Malet – I first met an elderly M. Malet in the mid-80s when he produced the most wonderful Rivesaltes, and although I have tasted the wines since, I  am insufficiently familiar with their red wines to comment.

Domaine le Conte des Floris.  For my taste buds, Daniel le Conte des Floris makes even finer white than reds.

Domaine la Cazenove  in Roussillon - I remember enjoying Etienne Montès’ wines when I was book researching in the mid-90s.  And I am obviously overdue another  visit

Domaine Bertrand-Berge – I’ve tasted and enjoyed their wines from time to time at the Salon des Vignerons Independents in Paris.  A cellar visit is on the cards.

Château Ollieux-Romanis – Makes some lovely rich Corbières.

Domaine le Soula – One of the pioneering estates of the Côtes Catalanes.  Possibly even better whites than reds.

Mas de Martin – The name is vaguely familiar, but I have no actual experience of the wines.

And coming in at no. 40 is Coume del Mas in Collioure.  I’ve tasted their wines from time to time, but have no firm impression.

A classification like this obviously begs the question: who else would you include?  RVF were clever to impose a ten year old wine as that eliminated a whole raft of newer names, and such is the pace of change in the Languedoc that there are newer names that you might consider for inclusion in a classification.    A few that come to mind, in no particular order, and with apologies for a list are :  Domaine Cazes in Roussillon, Ollier Taillefer and  Cébène in Faugères,  Trillol and Grand Crès in Corbières,  Cabrol in Cabardès, Clos Centeilles and Ste. Eulalie in the Minervois, Rouquette-sur-Mer, Anglès and Mas de Soleilla in La Clape, Clos du Serre and Mas de l’Ecriture in the Terrasses du Larzac, Clovallon in the Haut Vallée de l’Orb for Pinot Noir and in the Pic St. Loup  l’Hortus and  Valflaunès.  Has anyone any other suggestions?  

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Languedoc in Decanter's 2013 World Wine Awards

A fat magazine thudded through my letterbox.  It  was the October issue of Decanter with all the results of this year's World Wine Awards.   And naturally I turned to Languedoc Roussillon to remind myself just which wines had won what.  

There were four regional trophies from the Languedoc, namely :  

Red Under £15 went to 2008 Château Trillol in the Corbières - see my earlier blog on this lovely estate

Red over £15 was won by 2011 Château Camplazens, Premium, la Clape .  Also see an early posting.

And the trophy for the Fortified White over £15 went to Domaine de Rancy for a fabulous 1993 Rivesaltes Ambré.  These wines are so under-rated; they deserve a serious revival.  Again see an earlier post. 

And that left Fortant de France Réserve des Grands Mont Carignan, Vin de Pays de l’HéraultAs a panel we were thrilled to give a trophy to a Carignan, as it demonstrated just how good Carignan can be when it comes from low-yielding old vines and is carefully vinified.  And this was a lovely example.  

The Fortant de France brand was launched by Robert Skalli in 1988, with a pioneering range of varietal Vins de Pays d’Oc. Then in 2011 it was bought by Boisset of Burgundy, and the decision was taken to redevelop the brand from scratch, with an emphasis on the varied terroirs of the Languedoc.    They see Carignan as the emblematic grape variety of the Languedoc.  The grapes come from the high hills of Minervois and Corbières, which provide some of the most challenging terroir of the Languedoc.  These are old vines grown on clay and limestone, with low yields.  The wine-making is meticulous, and entails some carbonic maceration in vat, as well as a more conventional fermentation, and some ageing in 600-litre barrels, in preference to smaller barriques. A small part of the blend is also kept in concrete eggs, in order to achieve a very natural and slow bâtonnage.  2011 is the first vintage of this wine, and it really is a stunning example of the current revival in the fortunes of Carignan.

And now the Gold medals.  There was a totally unknown (to me) Blanquette de Limoux, called Manny O, Celebrus Brut.   I have never heard of this label and have been quite unable to find out any more about it.  All leads result in a blank .....

I really enjoyed the two silver medals from Limoux, both from Domaine J Laurens, one of my favourite producers, with Le Moulin, Blanquette de Limoux and les Graimenous, Crémant de Limoux 2011.   Both delicious and stylish.

Another red wine made Gold, namely Château la Sauvageonne, Cuvée les Ruffes.  This is a Terrasses du Larzac property that has recently been taken over by Gérard Bertrand. 

Sadly no white wine was quite good enough for a Gold, but there were three very convincing silvers, namely L’Impertinent from Château des Estanilles in Faugères.  This was a pioneering estate under the ownership of Michel Louison, and recently sold to Julien Seydoux.  So it looks as though he is achieving good things.

Domaine Belles Pierres has a good reputation for finely crafted white wines in the hands of Damien Coste, and his 2011 les Clauzes de Jo is a lovely blend of Roussanne, Viognier and a splash of Grenache Blanc.  .

And finally a Picpoul de Pinet from Domaine Delsol, which is part of Vignobles Foncalieu,  This was everything that good Picpoul should be, salty and sappy.

There was just two Silver rosés, from Château des Karentes in la Clape and from Domaine de Montrose in the Côtes de Thongue.

And you might expect, there was a solid raft of silver reds.  Highlights included several St. Chinian from the excellent coop at Roquebrun.  Château Ste Eulalie in the Minervois achieved two silvers for la Cantilène and for their Grand Vin. Gérard Bertrand and Domaines Paul Mas were in the line up, as well as smaller estates, Mas Gabriel for les Trois Terrasses, Mas du Soleilla, les Fusionels in Faugères, Chateau Rouquette sur Mer and Domaine de l’Arjolle.  And there were three estates that were completely unknown to me, Clos des Vins d’Amour and Domaine de Venus from Roussillon, and Château Portal in the Minervois.

And the final silver was for a fortified wine,  a delicious 2011 red Banyuls from Abbé Rous, otherwise known as the coop in Banyuls.  So all in all,  some good results, and some delicious drinking.     

Friday, 20 September 2013

The MWs' 60 anniversary celebrations

The Masters of Wine celebrated their 60th anniversary this week, for the Institute was created in 1953 and the first MWs passed the exam in 1955.   And what a week it was.   Celebrations kicked off on Monday evening with a sparkling wine reception in the gardens of Fitzroy Square, the elegant Georgian square in the heart of Fitzrovia, where the Institute happens to have its offices. Fortunately Monday evening was one of the drier evenings of the week as we were under an open sided marquee.  And the wines are all English, and quite delicious.  Who would ever have thought when the Institute was first created, that 60 years later we would be celebrating with English sparkling wine.   Highlights included 2009 Nyetimber Tillington Single Vineyard and Ridgeview’s Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs 2000, as well as Gusbourne, Coates & Seely and several others.   But it was an occasion for drinking rather than tasting.  .

The following afternoon there was a German tasting, concentrating on new classification for dry wine, so we had some lovely examples of Riesling and also Spätburgunder, including some older vintages..  My favourites included   the 2002 Scharzhofberger from von Kesselstatt and two fabulous and more traditional wines from J. J. Prűm, a 1981 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett and a 1983 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese, which was still extraordinarily youthful.  

And the evening saw the 60th anniversary dinner, in the fabulous surroundings of the Banqueting Hall on Whitehall with its magnificent Rubens ceiling.   Vinous highlights included generous quantities of Bollinger, Grüner Veltliner, from Loimer, 1999 Château Margaux and 1955 Graham.   And the best speech of all was made by Sarah Morphew, who was the very first woman to pass the exam back in 1970.

The following morning we were all a bit bleary eyed for a seminar on Old Vines, with highlights such as Assyrtiko from Santorini, old Grenache from Spain, South Africa and Australia.   It was a surprise to learn that the New World has more old vines than the Old World.  One key reason for this was phylloxera, and economics have also had an impact.  Old vines inevitably produce smaller yields.

Thursday was a concentrated day, beginning with Italy and the Association of Grandi Marchi, which groups nineteen of the key winemaking families of Italy, the likes of Antinori, Gaja, Masi, Biondi Santi, Pio Cesare and Jermann, amongst others and the tasting covered the length of the country, from Prosecco to Pantelleria. 

And the week finished with an Anniversary Fortified tasting, with some wonderful mature examples of wines from Jerez, Madeira and Oporto, not forgetting Marsala and Liqueur Muscats from Australia. There was a wine the Greek island of Samos, appropriately called Nectar.  The ports included Graham’s Colheita 1935 and Graham’s Diamond Jubilee Colheita, produced for the Queen’s Jubilee, some 60 year old Tawny from Ramos Pinto and Taylors 1955.  

And this  is where the Languedoc, or rather Roussillon, finally got a look in with:

1978 Cuvée Aimé Cazes from Rivesaltes.  I’ve enthused about this particular old Rivesaltes before and it was once again simply delicious, with rich nutty honeyed notes on the nose and palate, and still wonderfully fresh, with a long finish.   And more than holding its own in august company.

And Maury was represented by Mas Amiel, Vintage, Charles Dupuy 2009.  This is pure Grenache Noir, bottled when it is young and fresh.  The nose was redolent of blackberries with ripe fruit and fresh tannins. 
Domaine de la Rectorie, Banyuls l’Oubliée   
This was another wonderfully original and distinctive wine, a blend of Grenache Noir and Carignan that has been in a solera for at least a decade.  It almost reminded me of old oloroso sherry.  It was much drier than the Cuvée Aimé Cazes, with  a rich nuttiness and firm acidity on the finish, and yet also amazingly concentrated and mature.  Another of the great original wines of the Midi and a perfect note on which to conclude a memorable week..

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Wine LR

Wine LR describes itself as the first iPad application dedicated to the wines and wine growers of the Languedoc.   Each month they produce a series of mini films – one featuring a wine grower from the region; a second considers an aspect of wine making or viticulture and the third is an interview with somebody who is involved with the region.  And that is how it came to my notice, with an email de la part de I can’t quite remember who – please may we come and talk to you.   For the moment the application is only in French, and I was rather bemused to hear myself translated into French.  It seemed to give my words more gravitas, much to my amusement!   And as well as talking about my enthusiasm for the Languedoc and other things vinous, I was asked to choose two coups de coeur amongst the local wines.   Not an easy decision, but I plumped for Ollier-Taillefer’s Faugères Les Collines as it is quite simply Languedoc sunshine in a glass, and Mas Gabriel’s Clos des Papillons, because it is made from Carignan blanc, which is one of the original grape varieties of the Languedoc,  that is currently undergoing a much deserved revival of interest.   Also in the August edition of Wine LR was Brigitte Chevalier from Domaine de Cébène, one of my favourite Faugères producers.  You see her walking through her wonderfully scenic vineyards and talking in her small cellar and the piece really brought the Languedoc to life in a way that plain words cannot.  

So do look for Wine LR on your iPad

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Introducing the Languedoc

Friends from Alsace came to stay.  They worked in wine, first in Burgundy and then in Alsace, and are now happily retired in Colmar.  This was their very first visit to the Languedoc, so they provided a great excuse to open a few bottles.  The dilemma was; what to choose, to give them a good overview of the region. 

The first evening we kicked off with a bottle of Domaine de Clovallon, les Aires, Viognier.  It was beautifully textured and peachy, just what good Viognier should be, with a very satisfying mouth feel.

2009 Allegro, Domaine Ollier Taillefer’s white Faugères, was quite mature and rich.  Probably just beginning to slide off its plateau.

And then we tackled a trio of Carignan.  
First off was 2010 le Carignan from Domaine Aupilhac.  Sylvain Fadat makes his Carignan with a view to some ageing potential.  This was young in colour, with a fresh berry nose and some firm tannin and acidity on the palate.  There was a rustic youthful edge that will soften with some bottle age.  

Next was 2009 Mas d’Amile, which spends some time in old oak.  It had a pleasing freshness, with some berry fruit and an elegant finish, combining tannin and acidity.  It was a touch more refined than Sylvain’s

And the third wine 2009 Domaine de Nizas, which had some satisfyingly, rounded berry fruit and supple tannins.  It was ripe and rounded with supple tannins and good length and depth, and our favoruite of the three.

The next day saw us visiting two contrasting estates, Mas des Chimères in Octon with Guilhem Dardé, and then Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette, with Delphine Rousseau.  More on those anon.  

And for dinner we went to our favourite local restaurant, le Presbytère in Vailhan.  But first we enjoyed a glass of refreshing Vermentino from Domaine St. Hilaire.  It had that lovely sappy freshness of Vermentino, with a good balance of acidity.   Our white wine at Le Presbytère was Mas d’Agalis Grand Carré, a blend of Terret, Clairette, Vermentino and Chenin Blanc.  This is a natural wine – I realised afterwards that I had tasted it before, at the natural wine fair in Bédarieux earlier in the year,  and it was quite edgy on the palate.  Maybe it needed to breathe.   And our red choice took us into Roussillon with 2011 les Calcinaires from Domaine Gauby.  It was rich and textured, with some leathery notes and red fruit, and still very youthful with plenty of potential.

For dinner the next day we were at home, with no wine visits during the day.   White Carignan had come up in conversation, so Mas Gabriel’s Carignan Blanc was an obvious choice to illustrate the grape variety.  It was rounded and ripe with some herbal notes, and nicely mouthfilling.

And after our visit to Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette it seemed appropriate to try a mature version of Delphine and Julien’s white wine.   2007 Les Clapas  is a blend of Carignan Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Terret, aged in barrel.  It was rounded and buttery, combining elegance and weight, with a hint of nuttiness and a note of maturity on the finish.  A wonderful example of just how well the white wines of the Languedoc can age.  I wondered where I would have put it, given it blind.  I don’t think the Languedoc would have immediately come to mind.  There was almost a Burgundian note about it. 

And for reds, we tried Domaine de la Croix Belle’s 2007 Cascaillou, their predominantly Grenache blend. There was some lovely ripe liqueur cherry fruit on both nose and palate, with soft tannins and good length.

2002 Prieuré de St. Jean de Bébian amply demonstrated just how well the red wines of the region can age.  The colour was still deep red, with some rich leathery notes on the nose and palate, combined with some red fruit.  Again there was length and depth making a satisfying and harmonious mouthful.  A really lovely glass of wine.

Bertrand had expressed an interest in Clairette du Languedoc.   This is an old appellation which tends to be overlooked.  I’ve not had any dry wines recently that I can really enthuse about, but the sweet wines are more much intriguing, so we opened Domaine de Clovallon’s, 1995 Clairette du Languedoc Rancio, which has been aged in an old barrel.  It has been sitting in our cellar for a while, waiting for the right moment.  The colour was amber orange and the nose redolent of dry orange marmalade.  On the palate there is good acidity, with rich honeyed fruit and a refreshing finish.  It was delicious with the figs straight from our tree.

And the finale at lunch the next day, before our friends caught their train, was Château Moyau, La Clape rosé, a refreshing pink, with raspberry fruit and hints of garrigues, and the sunshine of the south. 

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Claret & Cabs; The Story of Cabernet Sauvignon by Benjamin Lewin M.W.

A large tome thudded through my letterbox the other day, a new book on Cabernet Sauvignon.  My fellow MW Benjamin Lewin had picked my brains about Cabernet Sauvignon in the Languedoc, so I immediately skipped the chapters on Bordeaux and the Napa Valley and turned to Mediterranean Blends.  My initial reaction was that this is a great read. It is well researched; Benjamin has an academic background but he also makes his information immediately accessible.   You quickly learn that Cabernet Sauvignon is a latecomer to the Mediterranean and that today it has once again become an important grape in the Languedoc, growing a third of France’s Cabernet Sauvignon.  He is amusing about the bordelais reaction to Cabernet in the Languedoc.  Ranging from ‘It’s big mistake’ to ‘there isn’t any.’  He observes that the rise of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Languedoc is a relatively recent development.  Mas de Daumas Gassac inevitably features for is pioneering work, but he has also visited some less well known exponents of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Verena Wyss is given a sympathetic and perceptive appreciation, and Marc Benin at Domaine de Ravanès pleads the cause for Petit Verdot, while Domaine de Perdiguier illustrates the virtues of a blend.   And of course it was Eloi Durrbach who pioneered the modern blending of Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah at Domaine de Trévallon in the Alpilles of Provence.   And then Benjamin asks the question: where is all the Cabernet Sauvignon going, while observing that the Languedoc has the potential to produce almost as much Cabernet Sauvignon as Bordeaux.  The answer is: into the big brands of Vin de Pays d’Oc that are sold at prices roughly comparable to basic Bordeaux Rouge.

And the second half of the chapter on the Mediterranean focuses on the Tuscany and the wines of Bolgheri.  I have also dipped into Southern Challenge, Chile and Argentina, and promising myself a leisurely read of the rest.  There is also a serious wodge of tasting notes, but Benjamin states clearly that the notes are intended to illustrate the themes of text, and that ‘they are representative rather than encyclopaedic’   In short Claret and Cabs is a very fine addition to any library of wine books.