Friday, 29 November 2013

Domaine des Trinités

Friends came to stay from Provence, who very sensibly wanted to stock up on the Languedoc's finest.   They are not very francophone, so we opted for an English wine grower, and fortunately. Simon Coulshaw was at home.  First he wanted to show off his new pneumatic press, which had set him back about 15,000, the price of a new BMW, he observed.   It is all highly computerised, and will maintain the same pressure throughout the pressing.    Apparently with other less streamlined presses, the pressure diminishes as the grapes become less juicy. 

Ive been a bit tardy in posting notes on September cellar visits, so this visit was just before the harvest was about to begin,  and the grapes were looking good.  There would only be a small crop of Grenache, thanks to rain at flowering.  It's been a funny season, commented Simon.  I have since heard from him that he is very pleased with his Syrah.

We kicked off with:

2012 Viognier - 6.50
Grown on a north facing basalt slope.  Whole bunch pressing.    A cool débourbage, followed by a cool fermentation.    Initially dumb, it develops beautifully in the glass, with peachy notes. And the palate is quite elegant and peachy, with some texture and length.  However, Simon favours quite a crisp style, asserting that he did not want to make Condrieu.

2012 Roussanne - 6.50
Stayed on the lees with regular bâtonnage for about a month.  It never sees any oak.  Some white flowers on the palate.  Quite rounded, with some acidity. Youthful and restrained with nice mouth feel.

2011 Roussanne
Light golden.  White flowers and weight on the nose, with more depth than 2012.  Quite rich and leesy, white blossom texture and depth.   A herbal note, and elegant evolution.  Roussanne does age well, and I have since drunk the 2010 which was a lovely glass of wine.

2012 Faugères Rosé - 6.25
Some colour.  Simon agreed that it was darker than usual as a reaction to the anaemic pale wines that smell of bonbons anglais, or boiled sweets.  This was more like a Tavel from the southern Rhône.  Quite a solid rounded dry nose, and on the palate, quite firm and gutsy.  Usually it is a blend of Mourvèdre and Cinsaut, but 2012 has some Syrah, so that the blend is 60% Syrah, 10% Cinsaut and 30% Mourvèdre. Quite garrigues, herbal and peppery.  The Syrah has spent two to three hours on the skins.  Good dry finish, with Faugères minerality.  A food rosé.  And it is also available en magnum, for the first time.  I do so like a magnum.

2010 Le Portail, Faugères -  6.50
Syrah 65%, Mourvèdre 10% and Grenache 25%.   Medium colour.  Lots of black fruit, with rounded ripe spicy notes.  Medium weight palate.  Ripe silky fruit.  Soft tannins, peppery with a stony mineral finish.  Fresh and elegant.  And since this visit I have also had an opportunity to compare 2011 and 2012.  The 2011 is very ripe and opulent, while 2012 is more restrained with a firmer structure, and more ageing potential.  I preferred 2012 but Simon said that on his last trip to England, the 2011 was the star of the trip. 

2010 Le Pech Mégé, Pézenas - 6.00
70% Grenache, 25% Syrah.    Two week pre-fermentation cold soak to extract the maximum fruit.  Élevage in vat.  Fresh red fruit on the nose.  Ripe cherry liqueur fruit and soft tannins on the palate.  Simon suggested serving this chilled.

2009 La Devèze, Pézenas - 8 .95
85% Carignan, from vines that are 120 years old. 15% Grenache Noir.  The Carignan was so delicious that Simon really did not want to blend it with anything else.  It is just 1.30 hectares, that yielded 15 hl/ha.  No oak.  More structured than Le Pech Mégé.  Red fruit on the  nose, with a hint of animal from the Carignan.  A certain ripeness.  Some rustic spicy tannins.  Medium weight.  A leathery note on the finish.

209 les Mourels, Faugères  - 9.50
70% Mourvèdre with 30% Syrah.   The Mourvèdre was particularly good in 2009.  It can be a very difficult grape to get ripe.  Medium young colour.  No oak.  Quite a firm nose. Firm berry notes on the palate.  Quite full, dry ripe spice, with a rich finish.  A touch alcoholic on finish, at   14.5˚.  Quite tannic and still very youthful.

2010 Cuvée 42 - 35
This comes from just three hectares, that is to say, one hectare each of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, aged in 2 year old 500 litre barrels, for two years.  The yield was just 8 hl/ha  and the vineyard is cultivated biodynamically.  All the grapes are fermented together. The earlier ripening Syrah and Grenache grapes are kept cool till the Mourvèdre is ready for harvesting.  No so2.

Quite deep young colour. Very spicy and oaky.  On the palate rounded oak and dense spice.  Quite sweet with ripe vanilla.  Quite tannic.  Rounded and rich.  Quite alcoholic on the finish.  Needs time to settle down.  And needs decanting if you are planning to drink it soon.   Simon is pushing the boundaries, seeing just what he can do, giving a small plot a lot of TLC.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Bettane & Desseauve Wine Experience in London

Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve are two of France’s leading wine writers and for the third year running they brought a road show to London.  There were a host of interesting producers from all around the world, but needless to say I concentrated on the Languedoc, but did allow myself the odd deviation into Tuscany, Greece, China and even England.  Bettane and Desseauve themselves were conspicuous by their absence.

Château de Lascaux.
This is a leading Pic St. Loup estate that I have not visited for a while, so it was a good opportunity for a quick update.  They make the basic appellation of Languedoc for their entry level wines, as well as Pic St. Loup. 

2012 Languedoc, Classique Rouge
Medium colour.  Youthful fresh nose, and on the palate some ripe black fruit and some leathery tannins, but with an attractive freshness on the palate, as you would expect from the Pic St. Loup.  Medium weight.

2011 Languedoc Classique Blanc
Vermentino 50%; Roussanne and Marsanne 20% each and 10% Viognier   A delicate nose; quite a rounded nose, with some dry honey. And on the palate some leafy ripe fruit.  Nicely rounded and textured, with lots of nuances from the grape variety mix.

2012  Languedoc Classique Rosé
Pale pink.  Fresh dry fruit on nose, and on the palate quite crisp and refreshing with some dry raspberry fruit.  50% Cinsaut, with 30% Grenache and 20% Syrah.

2008 Pic St. Loup, les Pierres Nobles
80% Syrah with 20% Grenache.  Quite a deep colour.  Ripe and spicy on nose and palate, with some rounded oak, giving some structure.  The soil is gravel and limestone, and rich in iron.

2010 Languedoc, Les Pierres d’Argent
40% each Marsanne and Roussanne, and 20% Vermentino.  Quite a firm tight knit nose.  Some well-integrated oak, with a rounded textured palate.  Satisfying balance.

Domaine D’Aigues-Belles
This is a new name for me.  Although the property at Brouzet les Quissac in the Gard has been in the same family since 1870, the first bottling of their wine was only in 2000.  They have 12 hectares of vines near the Pic St. Loup,

They make Pays d’Oc, blends using both Bordeaux and Midi grape varieties, such as a Grenache and Merlot blend with a touch of Cabernet, and a Syrah with some Cabernet and Merlot.  There is a Chardonnay, which I liked a lot more than I expected, and a blend of Roussanne, Sauvignon and Chardonnay, which was remarkably successful.    Definitely worth further investigation, so I will save detailed tasting notes for another time. 

Vignobles Jeanjean were there, pouring 2012 Mas de Lunès blanc, Coteaux du Languedoc.  A blend of Marsanne and Roussanne.  Lightly leafy and rounded, with white flowers.  A supple palate, with a slightly bitter hint on the finish.

And from Domaine Cazes, 2011 Muscat de Rivesaltes which was rich and honeyed and grapey.  Everything that a good Rivesaltes should be.

Pays d’Oc had a large stand.  Christophe Felez explained that these were the wines that had won a competition to represent Pays d’Oc at tastings like this for the following 12 months.  So I was intrigued to see just what had been selected;  So here goes.

2012 Domaine St Hilaire Advocate  Chardonnay
A mouthful of ripe leesy buttery fruit. 

2012 Domaine Rives Blanques
Chenin and Chardonnay, with leafy fruit on the nose and dry honey and good acidity with a touch of butter on the palate.

2012 Gérard Bertrand H de l’Hospitalet white
Chardonnay, Viognier and Sauvignon.  Rounded leesy nose.  Ripe and rounded on the palate with a touch of oak and a flat finish.

2012 Les Vignes de l’Arque, Alexia, white
A blend of Muscat and Sauvignon from the Gard.  Quite fresh and pithy on the nose, and some pithy fruit on the palate

2012 Domaine Terres en Couleurs, Envie de  l’Année
Roussanne and Vermentino.  Quite soft,  fresh and rounded.  Easy acidity on the palate, and a refreshing bitter finish.

2012 Les Vignerons de Sommièrois, Viognier
Delicate peachy nose and on the palate, no great weight but a sympa glass of wine. 

2012 Domaine du Grand Chemin, l’Incroyable, rosé.
Cinsaut and Pinot.  Pale colour.  Pressed. Very fresh nose with ripe rounded fruit on the palate and an elegant finish. A jolly nice glass of rosé.   One of my favourites in the range, and not an estate I know.

2011 Domaine Gayda, Figure Libre Cabernet Franc
Quite a deep young colour.  Fresh but ripe fruit on nose and palate.  Good balance.  Another   jolly nice glass of wine.

2011 Domaine de Bachellery, Grenache fût de chêne
Medium colour.  Quite a firm nose, with sweet oak, on both nose and palate.  A bit soupy on the finish.

2012 Les Vins Skalli, Fortant de France, Terroir de Collines, Malbec
Medium colour.  Quite firm and youthful fruit on the palate.  Red fruit.  A tannic edge with structure.  Youthful.

2009 Blb Vignobles,  Tète de Cuvée Montlobre
100% Merlot in barriques.  Deep colour.  Solid firm oaky nose on nose and palate.  No sense of place.

2012 Domaine les Terrasses de Gabrielle,  Pour Une Poignée de Raisins
Nielluccio, as in Corsica, or the Sangiovese of Tuscany.  From an estate near Capestang.  Medium colour.  Quite a dry nose, with a ripe confit palate.  Ripe cherries with a dry finish.  Yes, I could taste Sangiovese, knowing that was what it was.

2012 Domaine Paul Mas, Da Pinot Noir Reserve
Quite deep colour.  Rounded nose.  Quite soft and jammy fruit, quite rich but with a tannic streak.  

2012 Les Vins Skalli, Fortant de France, Terroirs de Collines, Syrah
Deep colour.  Rich spicy nose and palate.  Very harmonious, rich rounded and supple. But a touch cloying on the finish.

2011 Domaine Camplazens, Syrah
Deep colour, peppery black fruit on nose and palate.  Quite rich and dense and solid, and a touch alcoholic at 15.

2011 Les Vignerons de la Méditerranée, la Cuvée Mythique
This used to be Vignerons Val d’Orbieu’s flagship.  A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan.  Quite a deep colour.  A rounded nose and a ripe solid palate.  Some oak.  A warming mouthful.  An edge of youthful tannin.  Still very young

Monday, 25 November 2013

Clos Romain

Clos Romain had come to my attention as a new producer in Cabrières. The estate is off the road north of the village of Cabrières, heading towards Villeneuvette and Clermont lHérault.  I realised that I had driven past it umpteen times without noticing a discreet sign by a closed gate. 

Romain Cabanes has had an indirect journey to wine. He was born in Paris and studied law.  Meanwhile his father, who was born in Clermont lHérault,  had bought some vineyards and olive trees, as well as garrigues, which contained some Roman remains, just outside Cabrières.  .The property was rented, but not very satisfactorily, and the final result was that Romain took over the running of the farm.  It was either that, or sell.  Romain admits that he is un peu sauvage de caractère;  the place suits him well.  At the beginning he had no water, no electricity, no tracks through the property, and some very steep vineyards.  The vines were committed to the local Cabrières coop and that is where they stayed until 2007.   It was a problem of treatments in the vineyard.  Romain wanted to be organic, which did not fit in with the coop.  Nor do small quantities suit a coop.  It took three years to convert the vines to organic viticulture.  Everything takes longer, a whole week with a mower, rather than four hours with some weed killer.

He has 200 hectares of land, with just six hectares of olive trees, and four hectares of vines, and lots of garrigues, with sheep.  It is a windy hilly spot, going up to 320 metres.  His cellar is a 100 year old barn at the bottom of the hill.   The soil is the schist of Cabrières. 

Romain made his first wine in 2008 and now works with his wife, Céline Beauquel.   She has studied in Pézenas and he observed that she was more technically minded than him.  They only make red wine; Romain said for the simple reason that they prefer red, but there are also economic and ecological reasons.   Making rosé consumes much more energy, and Romain would prefer to work by gravity, and use the wind for energy. But maybe he would like to try a white. He has planted some Viognier and currently adds it to his Syrah.  And for red varieties he has Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsaut, which are about 35 - 40 years old,. And he also admits to a planting of Pinot Noir, because he likes that variety, but it is not yet in production.  That will be interesting in due course.  He aims for minimal intervention in the cellar, and uses as little sulphur as possible.  He has stainless steel vats, as well as barriques, some of which are used for fermentation with a top removed,  and then there are amphora. 

2012 Parenthèse, Cabrières,   10.00
A Syrah Viognier blend, co-fermented, as in Côte Rôtie.  Deep colour.   Spicy nose with ripe black fruit.   An appealing freshness, with ripe fruit on the palate, some acidity and soft tannins.  Rounded and supple.  Lovely balance and very harmonious.  Romain suggested serving it chilled.  The élevage is in stainless steel.

2010 Rêves Enclos, Cabrières
Mainly Carignan with some Syrah and Grenache, vinified and aged in stainless steel.  Quite a deep young colour, with rich black fruit on the nose. A rustic fruity note on the palate, from the Carignan, I think. Quite a concentrated palate.

Soir d'hiver , Cabrières - 10.00
60% Cinsaut, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah.  Blended in the vineyard and then into vat.  Ripe with smoky notes and a silky finish.  Quite alcoholic at 14.5⁰; I was aware of the alcohol on the finish

2011 Patience, Cabrières - 12.00€
Syrah, Grenache and a little Viognier, in barrel, for both the alcoholic and malo- lactic fermentation.   However, Romain has never bought new barrels and wants any oak effect to be discreet.  These come from Mas de l'Ecriture, so a good address.   Romain likes those from Seguin Moreau best.  The palate is intense and ripe with a firm tannic streak, and again quite alcoholic on the finish at 14.5, but the oak is nicely integrated, but with quite an intense and concentrated finish.

2011 Phidias.  -15.00€
After a Greek sculptor and also the name of his dog, who kept his company and boosted his morale when times were tough right at the beginning. A blend of Syrah and Grenache Noir,  blended in the vineyards and fermented in amphora

Deep colour.  A certain spicy note.  Medium weight with fresh fruit on the palate, balanced with some lovely rich spice, and a lightly tannic steak.  A rich but elegant finish.  Drinking very well now but will also keep.  A wonderfully original wine.

Does anyone know of anyone else who uses amphora in the Languedoc?  The amphora come from Castelnaudary.  Romain believes that they allow for the micro-oxygenation of the wine, for élevage without using a barrique, making a very viable alternative to wood, and also making the wine more resistant to oxygen.  He thinks that the wine evolves quicker than when the élevage is in wood.  The assemblage is the same as for Patience, but the two wines tasted quite different, and I found Phidias fresher and noticed the alcohol less, even though it was the same. 

And there was one last wine that was not available for tasting, La Soliste, which was made in 2012.  It is a blend of three different vineyards of Syrah and promises to be very rich and powerful. 

A fascinating example of a thoughtful wine grower, who with his wife is challenging preconceived ideas, with the refreshing approach of a newcomer to wine. All Romains wines are sold by vente directe and the Marché Bio in Villeneuvette on Tuesday evenings in the summer  between 5 and 8 p.m is a good source. 

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Domaine de Cadablès

A chance email from Bernard Izarn inviting me a musical soirée led to a cellar visit and a new discovery.  I had never heard of this estate, which is just outside the village of Gabian.  It is a lovely spot, up in the hills above the village.  Bernard explained how he and his wife Christine had been very successful potters in Corsica, working near Ajaccio, for about ten years, but they had actually got married in Faugères, and wanted to return to the Languedoc.  They didn’t really know anything about making wine but they fell in love with a ruined mas and bought it in 2004.

We went for a walk through the vineyards while Bernard told the story of the estate.  They bought 27 hectares of land around the mas, all on old terraces, with five or six hectares of vines, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Terret and Cinsaut.  They vines had been pretty neglected; there were trees growing in the middle of vineyards. And for the first couple of years they sent their grapes to the Neffiès coop, and the first summer they camped, while making the mas habitable.  

The vineyards are clay and limestone, with some volcanic basalt.  They have old gobelet vines of Cinsaut, and Carignan, both red and white, and Terret Blanc, and some Syrah which is trained on wires.  They believe in lutte raisonée, and use some weed killer once a year, as well as some organic products, and no insecticides, and till the soil. The chemin de l’aquaduct runs near the village of Fouzilhon.  You can see it from their vineyards, an old aqueduct that took water to Beziers, and so there is plenty of water in the subsoil, and no problems with water stress.

But they what they really wanted to do was to make their own wine.  And as it happened, they met Karen and Manu from Domaine Turner Pageot, who encouraged them and allowed to use their cellar in Gabian for the 2008 and 2009 vintages of Cadablès.  By 2010 the cellar at Cadablès was renovated and useable –‘the fulfilment of our dreams’ enthused Bernard.    ‘C’est mystique’.  Their first vintage comprised 15,000 bottles, which they began selling in 2011, focusing on vente directe, but their wines are also be found at that fine Paris emporium, Fauchon.  

And then it was back to the cellar to taste. They make four wines:

2012 Pays de l’Hérault Blanc – 7.00€
Two thirds Terret to one third Carignan.  All fermented in vat.  The wine stays on its lees until December to give it some weight.  It had quite a rich nutty apply nose, quite intriguing with good weight and firm acidity, and a rustic note.   There were apple notes, floral notes, some minerality and a stony finish.

2012 Pays de l’Hérault Rouge – 6.00€
90% Cinsaut with 10% Grenache.  Quite a deep colour, with ripe raspberry fruit on the nose.  Dry herbal and stony mineral notes on the palate.  Lots of nuances. The grapes are picked quite late and Bernard uses minimal sulphur. Fresh and characterful.

2011 Les Chemins à l’envers, Pays de l’Hérault Rouge - 8.00€
Bernard talked of when he was in the coop; he was told that he should pull up some vines which were worthless, mais je prends le chemin a l’envers, and did not follow the advice.   The blend is Syrah 50%; Grenache 30% and 20% Carignan, made by carbonic maceration.  12 months ageing in old barrels from St Jean de Bébian, an impeccable source.
Good colour.  Rounded nose.  Herbal notes.  Quite dry fruit with supple tannins on the palate, and some garrigues notes.  Sturdy tannins, but nicely fleshy palate and the oak is well integrated.  A satisfying long finish.

2011 Champ de Pierre, Pays de l’Hérault  – 12.00
90% old Carignan with 10% of the best Syrah, kept in wood for 12 months.  Deep colour.  Smoky leathery notes on both nose and palate.  More depth with more oak than the previous wine.  More youthful and more potential.  Good concentration, but not heavy.  Good length.   Satisfying tannin on the finish.  Nicely rounded.

My overall impression was one of characterful wines.   And asked about the future,  Bernard said he wanted to make this beautiful place live in, and to plant more vines, and recreate a pottery.   I couldn’t resist buying a jug.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Mas des Chimères

I first visited Guilhem Dardé when I was researching The Wines of the South of France, back in the late 1990s, and I have tasted his wines on several occasions since, most recently on the Terrasses du Larzac balade.    When I saw him in mid-September, he began by observing that he was about to embark on his 40th harvest.   And the grapes were looking good.  Ideally he would like a little rain to refresh everything, and that has since come, and hopefully not too much.    It is a late harvest; much later than what has been the norm in recent years.

Guilhem has lived in Octon all his life.  He talked about life in the village and compared it with neighbouring Salasc.  There is a big difference; Salasc is a richer village as it has water, so that agriculture is more successful.  People there could grow wheat.  Octon does not have the fine houses of Salasc.   It has suffered from rural depopulation; the school almost closed down.  It was a village of polyculture; as well as vines, they had sheep.   Roquefort cheese was actually made in the village, and transported to Roquefort for ageing.    Guilhem reminisced.  His father was the first to buy a tractor in Octon in 1968 and two years later they sold their horse.  They acquired a mechanical harvest and used it until Guilhem decided to leave the village coop, in 1993.  He has twenty three hectares of vines, all around the village of Octon, but he has no idea exactly how many small plots.  They are all on the terres rouges around the lac de Salagou.   The smallest is 17 ares, and the soil is quite clayey, with basalt.   Happily his daughter Maguelone is interested in following in her father’s footsteps.

We talked about irrigation.  Guilhem is not against irrigation, and he prefers aspersion to goutte à goutte or drip irrigation.   A good spray is like the equivalent of a storm, and washes the leaves, removing dust and any residue of treatments and is best done at night, whereas drip irrigation simply maintains the humidity and keeps the soil damp so that the vine does not search for water.  It also encourages the vine to produce too much vegetation.   Guilhem observed that we bless the sky for a storm and damn somebody who sprays water.  You apparently can get subsidies for installing drip irrigation.    We also talked about sulphur levels.  You are allowed up to 100 mg/l free sulphur even in organic wines, and the label must mention sulphur once there is  as much 10 mg/l.  Guilhem’s levels are very low, 10 – 20 mgs/l.  He uses as little as possible.  And the best bottling weather is with the north wind.  They use a mobile bottling machine and consult the lunar calendar; fruit days are best, but it depends on the wine.  And they produce 60,000 bottles per year.

And then Guilhem’s wife, Palma, appeared, and said: you haven’t even got the glasses out yet.   Aren’t you going to give them a taste? So bottles were opened and glasses charged.

N.V. Salagou Rouge, Vin de France  - 5.80€
A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Terret Noir, intended for easy drinking.  Medium colour; quite rounded, a touch of tannin and acidity.  Dry cherry fruit, with a fresh note on the finish.

2012 l’Oeillade, Coteaux du Salagou – 7.00€
Quite a light red.  Delicate cherry fruit.  Quite a light palate with fresh liqueur cherries.  A streak of acidity and tannin with a fresh finish.   There is confusion about the name Oeillade; is it the same as Cinsaut or not?  Guilhem is interested in other grape varieties that have almost disappeared, such as Picpoul Noir and Ribeyrenc, and he has planted some Counoise, which is now allowed in the Terrasses du Larzac. 

2012 Cuvée Marie et Joseph, Coteaux du Salagou, Carignan – 7.00
Named after Guilhem ‘s parents.  Good colour.  Rounded ripe berry fruit on the nose and palate, with a characteristic rustic note.  Spicy fruit and a tannic streak on the finish.  No carbonic maceration, just a straightforward fermentation in vat, with destemmed grapes.

2010 Nuit Grave, Terrasses du Larzac – 10.00€
Syrah dominant, with some Mourvèdre and Grenache.  Guilhem planted his first Mourvèdre in 1995.  Medium colour.  Quite rounded smoky nose; quite ripe with a tannin streak on the palate and a fresh finish.  Still very youthful, with ageing potential.  It is aged in 400, 500 and 600 litre barrels; Guilhem buys older barrels.

2011 Nuit Grave
This was a good vintage, Same assemblage and élevage.   Some spicy cherry fruit.  Blended in March, and drinking very well; Guilhem observed that the older vintage fades, s’efface, for the new vintage, and then returns.  Very fragrant and elegant fresh fruit. 

2004 Coteaux du Languedoc
The same wine, but not yet Nuit Grave, or Terrasses du Larzac.  50% Syrah, 30% Mourvèdre and 20% Grenache.  2005 was the first vintage of Terrasses du Larzac, and 2004s could use the appellation retrospectively, but Guilhem didn’t bother.  Deep colour with notes of maturity.  Smoky leathery nose, with mature note.  Some fresh cherry, griottes on the palate.  Quite mature and elegant, with a good balance.  On its plateau.  And a lovely example of mature wine from the Languedoc.

2010 Caminarèm  Terrasses du Larzac – 13.00€
20% each of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsaut.  And named after a novella by Claude Marti and Jean-Pierre Chabrol.  Medium colour. Fresh nose with red fruit.  More structured, firmer and drier than Nuit Grave.  Very youthful with good length. 

2011 l’Hérétique, Coteaux de Salagou. – 8.50€
Mainly Merlot and Cabernet, with just a touch (4%) Syrah.  Guilhem remembers when subsidies were paid to pull up Carignan and replace it with Cabernet and Merlot.  Deep colour.  Quite firm dry fruit, dry cassis on the palate, with some firm tannins, and a certain freshness on the finish.  Quite leathery with some body and weight.   I prefered Caminarèm. 

And our tasting finished with some white wine:

2011 Coteaux du Salagou blanc.
An intriguing blend of Viognier, Terret, Grenache Blanc Chardonnay, Carignan Blanc, Clairette and Roussanne.  Rounded and textured with some dry herbal notes and white flowers and balancing acidity.  Lots of nuances. With depth and length and a touch of oak, with a rich dry finish.  It has spent time on the lees, but without any bâtonnage, and is gradually blended.  The Chardonnay goes into barrel, and some Viognier might too.  

2011 Muscat à petits grains – 6.00€
Very perfumed nose.  Very Muscat, you can almost crunch the grapes.    A hint of honey and very perfumed with some weight and a fresh finish.  A hint of the bitterness that is typical of Muscat on the finish.

And then we went to almost deserted village of Celle, which was drowned when the la de Salagou was created as a reservoir, and found a shady spot for a picnic on the lake shore. 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Les Grands Buffets

How often do you come across a restaurant where all the wines on the list are available by the glass?  I fear the usual answer to that question is: very rarely.    But it happened to me last night when I was invited to dinner at Les Grands Buffets in Narbonne.  This restaurant provides an extraordinary example of just what can be done to encourage customers to experiment, and to buy.   They have a list of seventy wines covering the whole of the Languedoc – a map at the beginning of the wine list shows the geographical breakdown, and symbols give you an idea of flavour, whether the wines are light and fruity, or rich and full-bodied.   Astonishingly perhaps, the wines are the same price as in the wine grower’s cellar, and if you buy a case of six bottles of the wine you have drunk with your meal, that bottle is offered free of charge.  What could be better than that?

Les Grands Buffets  is in a large sports complex in Narbonne, very close to the motorway exit for Narbonne Est.  First we went down into the basement, where  there is a wine bar that looks like an old fashioned English pub, with appropriate artefacts, including a boat hanging from the ceiling that might have been used in the Oxford and Cambridge boat race.  Maybe the Georges Brassens songs  were slightly out of context, but they were hugely enjoyable none the less.  The sommelier, Sophie Veyrat,  has a selection of a dozen wines or so by the glass;  you can taste just 2 cl. of something you might not know, to see whether you like it or not.  It certainly encourages experimentation.  In the course of half an hour or so we enjoyed sips of Clos des Paulilles Collioure – quite rich and oaky; Haut Terres’ Limoux – lightly buttery – rosés from Roc d’Anglade,  and also Milles Vignes – that was a new name for me.  I didn’t know Enfants Sauvages Carignan either nor Clos des Fées Images Dérisoires.  Other reds, unknown to me, caught my eye, an oaky Minervois la Pradi Mari and a perfumed la Clape from Domaine Sarrat de Goundry.  And you could help yourself to nibbles of tapenade and thinly sliced Spanish ham.    

Then we went upstairs to the main restaurant.  My intention is not to write about the food, just to observe that the choice is overwhelming.  It is just what it says it is – a huge buffet.  Entrées included three different variations of foie gras, umpteen things from the sea, fish soup, salads – and for main courses there were the classics, traditional dishes like daube and blanquette de veau, as well as roasted and barbecued meats.   The choice of cheeses and dessert were equally varied and tempting.   The price is extraordinarily good value at 29.90€  per head.  And I was allowed to play with the wine list.  Each glass arrives with a label on the stem telling you what the wine is, to avoid confusion.   

Roc des Anges, Cuvée Llum was rich and weighty; les Murailles blanc from Domaine de la Ramade in la Clape was fresh and sappy; la Butinière from Anne de Joyeuse in Limoux was elegantly buttery.  I did not know Clos des Fées, white Vieilles Vignes, which proved to be beautifully mineral, from Grenache blanc and Grenache gris.   And the red discovery of the evening was Mas des Armes, an estate in Aniane, next to Mas de Daumas Gassac and la Grange des Pères.  We had two different wines from this estate, Grains de Sagesse which was very fresh, with some lovely red fruit and Cuvée 360, which rich and powerful with some oak ageing.   And to round the evening off there was a small selection of dessert wines, so I opted for the Cave de Maury’s Cuvée Centenaire, with some rich walnut fruit.  Louis Privat talks about his wine list with great enthusiasm; he wants above all to highlight the wine growers of the Languedoc, both newer and more established growers.   And he certainly succeeds.   So do go and experiment, and be warned, booking is essential.  It’s a large restaurant and it was packed out on a Monday evening in November. 

Les Grands Buffets, Rond Point de la Liberté, Narbonne 11100   Tel : 04 68 42 20 01

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Languedoc and Majestic

Majestic put on one of their mammoth tastings last week.  It’s impossible to taste everything – I certainly don’t have the stamina, so I chose carefully and on the whole was rewarded with some sympa bottles from the Languedoc.

Majestic do lots discounts on second bottles so the first price is the price for just one bottle, and the second price is when you buy two bottles.

2012 Picpoul de Pinet, Villemarin - £7.99 -  £6.99 or even £6.49, depending on timing.    This comes from the Pinet coop and is up to their usual standard, with some dry salty notes on the nose, and a fresh vibrant palate with good acidity.

2012 Striking French Viognier, Pays d’Oc - £9.99  - £7.99
This comes from Domaine Paul Mas, and is partly fermented in French and American oak.  The oak is nicely integrated, so that the nose is perfumed and peachy and the palate is rich and textured, with good depth and weight.   Great value, especially when you consider the price of Condrieu.

2012 Croix Saint Adel Blanc, Coteaux du Libron  - £9.99 - £7.99
This is a blend of 60% Chardonnay with 20% each of Sauvignon and Viognier and comes from the Cers –Portiragnes coop.  Light colour with some herbal hints on the nose, and a touch of oak on the palate.  Maybe the wine is still too young;  I didn’t find the oak very integrated, or the palate very satisfying.

2011 Limoux, L’Etoile de Bégude Chardonnay - £17.99 - £12.99
Quite a firm nutty nose, and rich nutty fruit on the palate.  I found it a touch heavy and alcoholic on the finish.   It would make a great alternative to white Burgundy, but my problem is that I am not really a fan of Chardonnay in the Languedoc, and much prefer Chablis, to Meursault.    The  Petit Chablis from Louis Moreau alongside it was much more my style of Chardonnay.   Sorry James.  

2012 Striking French Merlot, Pays d’Oc - £9.99 - £7.99
Also from Jean-Claude Mas.  I also have problems with Merlot in the Languedoc, and found this rather sweet and oaky.  

2011 Château de Pennautier, Cabardès  £7.49 - £6.99
From the appellation that includes both Bordeaux and Mediterranean grape varieties.  Medium colour, and quite a firm nose, with a structured palate, as you would expect.   Still quite young and tasting a bit adolescent.

2012 Domaine de Montval Syrah, Pays du Gard  - £9.99 –£6.66 or £6.99, depending on timing.
Medium colour.  Soft easy nose, and some fresh peppery fruit and spice.   An undemanding simple glass of wine for a cold winter’s evening.

2011 St. Chinian Roquebrun, la Grange des Combes -  £12.99  - £9.99
This comes from the very successful Roquebrun coop.  Medium colour.  Some firm spice on the nose, and on the palate a touch of smoky bacon, and some peppery fruit and a balancing streak of  tannin.  Lovely and characterful.  A blend of 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre.

2011 Château l’Hospitalet, la Clape, Grand Vin, Gérard Bertrand - £19.99 - £16.99

A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre aged in 12 -1 6 months in oak.  Good deep colour.  Some smoky bacon and oak on the nose and a solid youthful palate, with tannin and oak and rich black fruit.  Plenty of ageing potential underneath the oak.  Good depth.  Needs time.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Domaine Vinci

A chance meeting chez some neighbours led to tasting of Domaine Vinci yesterday evening.  Simon Stoye is a shareholder in Domaine Vinci, a Roussillon estate run by Olivier Varichon.   The name may be familiar from the sparkling wine producers of Savoie, Varichon & Clerc. And why do you move to Roussillon from Savoie?  Simple; the weather is so much better.  Olivier has vines between the villages of Estagel and Espira, and also at a higher altitude of 600 metres at Eus, near Prades.   He works organically and always relies on natural yeast and uses a minimum amount of sulphur in the cellar.  The name of the estate  comes from his wife Emmanuelle’s surname.  The very first vintage was 2002, when they made just 1000 bottles, and 2004 was their first commercial vintage, but quantities are still pretty small.  The geology of Roussillon is very mixed, so there is granite in the vineyards, as well as clay and limestone, and schist. 

2012 Cuvée Roc, Côtes Catalanes 
Olivier treats this cuvée as a second wine, but with the precise blend depending on the vintage.  There is always 50% Carignan, to which Grenache was added in 2012.  This has wonderful ripe fruit on both nose and palate.  It was really succulent with spicy fruit and supple tannins, and very ready to drink, even though it is still quite young.  The elevage is in vat rather than barrel. 

2011 Cuvée Roc, Côtes Catalanes
Mourvèdre and Carignan. This is quite different.  Although Carignan always constitutes 50% of the blend, the final mix varies from year to year.  This was firmer on nose, more viandé, from the Mourvèdre, with drier firmer spice, and on the palate a tannic steak, with some firm fruit.  It was much more youthful on the palate than the 2012.

2010 Cuvée Rafalot, Côtes Catalanes
Pure Carignan.  The vines are 125 years old. The fermenting juice spends three to five weeks in cement vats on the skins, and then 18 to 24 months in barriques.  Deep young colour.  Rich, ripe and dense with some leathery notes on the nose.  More perfumed on the palate, but also quite tannic and leathery. 

2008 Cuvée Rafalot, Côtes Catalanes
Deep young colour.  Ripe, dense and rich.  A bit leathery on the nose, and again more perfumed on the palate. Quite firm tannins and some leathery notes.  Also a touch of sweetness and a slight prickle.  NOt as harmonious as the 2010. 

2007 Cuvée Rafalot, Côtes Catalanes
Deep colour.  Some rounded ripe fruit on both nose and palate.  A hint of sweet chocolate. Ripe fruit balanced by firm tannins.  Despite the richness there was also a note of elegance.

2004 Cuvée Rafalot, Côtes Catalanes
Deep young colour. Quite an elegant understated nose, with some black fruit, and also on the palate, with a sweet note.  Quite ripe and rounded, very characterful, with an elegant finish.  I think I liked this best of the four, possibly because it was also the oldest.   

2005 Cuvée Coste, Côtes Catalanes
A blend of Mourvèdre and Carignan.  Deep colour.  Some spice on the nose, and some meaty viandé notes from the Mourvèdre.  Quite a structured palate, quite rich and dense, but with a certain mineral freshness.  Quite firm and structured with ripe fruit.  Needs more ageing.  How will it develop?

2009 Cuvée Inferno, Côtes Catalanes
Pure Grenache.  Deep young colour.  Very dense ripe rich nose.  Very concentrated and ripe, with supple tannins.  Lots of chocolate fruit, and almost port like with a sweet finish.  14.5.

2008 Cuvée Inferno, Côtes Catalanes
Again pure Grenache.  Quite a dense rich nose, with some sweet rich fruit on the palate.  Dense and ripe; supple and rich.  Again almost port-like, but this is the region that produces France’s answer to port.  But I think I prefer my table wines drier. 

2008 Cuvée Coyade, Côtes Catalanes Blanc
Macabeu, Grenache Blanc and Carignan Blanc.  A little colour. Quite a full resinous nose.  Quite rich with herbal and mineral notes on the palate.  Good acidity and firm minerality, with a dry oxidative note.

2007 Cuvée Coyade, Côtes Catalanes Blanc
Again Macabeu, Grenache Blanc and Carignan Blanc.  I thought this was more elegant, with quite firm minerality on both nose and palate.  And some lovely long fruit with good acidity on the palate.  Very intriguing, with some ageing potential.  What a pity there is virtually none left.

The wines are available Enmore Wine, the company that Simon Stoye has set up in the UK in able to sell the wines. 

Monday, 4 November 2013

Syrah from New Zealand - Vidal's Reserve Syrah

What does New Zealand have in common with the Languedoc?   The answer  is simple.  They both grow Syrah.  Syrah has becoming increasingly important in New Zealand, most notably in Hawke’s Bay, and in particular in the sub-region of Gimblett Gravels.  

Hugh Crichton, the winemaker from Vidal’s, was in London recently.  Vidals is one of New Zealand’s oldest wineries, for it goes back to 1905, and is now part of the family owned Villa Maria group that was created by George Fistonich in tandem with the rise of the New Zealand wine industry.    Hugh presented four vintages of Vidal’s Syrah at a small tutored tasting.   Villa Maria owns about a third of the 800 hectares that comprise Gimblett Gravels.  And Gimblett Gravels is unique in New Zealand terms for it is the only recognised region that is defined by soil alone.  Essentially it is a dried up river bed; once it was deemed poor farming country as it fed just one sheep per acre, but as vineyard land it is now highly rated.  That was not always the case.  It narrowly avoided being quarried, thanks to pioneers like Alan Limmer from Stonecroft and Chris Pask from C. J. Pask, who saw the vineyard potential and protested successfully.   The stones provide a thermal blanket of heat, making for an early start in the growing season.   Altogether there are about 28 members of the Gimblett Gravels Association; all landowners, but not all wine growers.

Hugh took us through four vintages:

2005 Vidal Reserve Syrah
This was a coolish year, with 1375 growing degree days, and quite a lot of rain – 150 mm in the key months of March and April.  The colour was quite young.  The nose was ripe with sweet spice and a touch of oak.  I found the palate perfumed, with some sweet fruit, but there was also quite a green edge of acidity on the finish, which I attributed to the cool summer.

2006 Vidal Reserve Syrah. 
A warmer year, with 1470 growing degree days, and 195 mm of rain in March and April.  Quite a deep colour.  Quite a firm peppery nose.  And the palate was rounded, with dry peppery fruit, and supple tannins.  It was much more harmonious than the 2006, with drier fruit on the finish, and a Rhonish note.

2007 Vidal Reserve Syrah  
1385 growing degree days and 75 mm of rain in March and April.  A dry warm year, but with cool nights which retained the acidity.  Good young colour.  Quite rounded, dry peppery notes on the nose with a touch of oak.  Quite a rounded palate, with slightly denser, more textured and layered fruit than the 2006.  Fine grained tannins.  Good fruit with youthful harmony.

2010 Vidal Legacy Syrah.   
Legacy Syrah replaces the Reserve Syrah as their top Syrah.  The first vintage was 2009 and it is not made every year. They realised that part of their vineyard gave even better results, so decided to separate the grapes.   1245 growing degree days with 55 mms rain.   The early part of the growing season was wet, but it finished with a very dry March and April.   Good colour.  Quite smoky ripe oaky nose; some newer oak maybe.  And more cedary notes.  Rounded ripe smoky palate. Rich almost sweet young fruit.  Rounded spice; youthful but harmonious and long.  This needs a bit of time and will make a lovely glass of wine.

Hugh talked about the changes over the years.  He now aims for lower alcohol levels, 2005 was 14 plus, while the 2010 was barely 13.5.  He is moving away from new oak; the challenge is to integrate the oak and he thinks it can run the risk of dumbing down the wine.  He only uses French oak.  Other things to consider are canopy managemen and picking times.  And of course he is inspired by the Rhone, but is trying not to emulate it.  He looks for freshness and acidity, as well as fruit, and that is certainly what he has achieved in these wines.

And to complete the picture, in the main Hatch Mansfield tasting, there were:

2010 Reserve Syrah. 
Deep young colour.  Firm structured nose.  Firm dry fruit with peppery flavours with good depth and textured, but with not quite the weight and depth of the Legacy.

And there was also the very first Legacy Syrah 2009
Medium colour.  Closed firm structured nose.  Youthful with a fresh peppery palate.  Medium weight more elegant than the 2010.  Good acidity with a certain fragrance and a youthful finish.

In short some lovely wines – so if you are looking from Syrah from elsewhere other than the Rhone or the Languedoc, try New Zealand.