Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The Languedoc and Tesco’s

Tesco’s last press tasting included a few wines from the Languedoc. 

2011 finest Blanquette de Limoux. - £9.99
This comes from the Sieur d’Arques in Limoux.  90% Mauzac with 5% each of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.  Fresh lemony nose, with a touch of honey, and a rounded,  honeyed palate, with good acidity.  A refreshing glass of bubbles

2012 finest Picpoul de Pinet. - £7.99
From the Pomérols coop.  I found it quite soft and creamy, rather than salty, with a slightly bitter finish.

2011 finest Limoux Chardonnay - £8.99
Also from the Sieur d’Arque coop. Lightly buttery on nose and palate.  A nicely rounded palate, with some elegantly buttery fruit.

Tesco French Red, Vin de France - £3.75
Comes from les Grands Chais de France. A blend of 50% Grenache, 25% Carignan and 25% Merlot.  Rounded nose with dry tannins and some fruit on the palate.  Basic, but honest good value drinking.     And for 4p more they have a Vineyards Côtes du Rhône, with some ripe spicy fruit.  This is brilliant value.

2012 Lucien Marcel Pays de l’Hérault - £5.99
Also from Grands Chais de France.  80% Carignan and 20% Grenache Noir.  Fresh, ripe fruit.  Easy drinking with no pretensions.

£4.49 Tesco Corbières - £4.49
This was a bit stalky and rustic.  And too cheap for decent Corbières.  You can do better than that, Tesco’s.

2012 Marselan Rare, Pays d’Oc, Petites Ballades - £5.99
Quite rounded supple fruit, on both nose and palate.  Easy red berries.   Undemanding drinking

2012 Fontenoi Fitou
A blend of 60% Carignan, and 20% each of Grenache and Syrah. Medium colour.  Initially a touch stalky, but a certain punch on the palate, with some firm fruit and a steak of tannin.  Midweight, and quite rugged.  Produced by the coop of Mont Tauch in Tuchan.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Tasting Roussillon

A recent tasting in London highlighted the variety of Roussillon, showing some serious red wines and some simply delicious Vins Doux Naturels.   However, of the forty odd wines, only about nine had a UK importer.  Nor were we given any indication of price in France, so I have no idea what constituted value for money, or not.  The wines were chosen by the official body of Roussillon, the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Roussillon, as a representative selection of what Roussillon produces. 

First a small handul of whites:

2012 Domaine Boudau Muscat sec, Côtes Catalanes - £10.40 from Tanners 
This was everything that a Muscat should be ripe, honeyed and grapey, and actually not especially dry, apart from a slightly bitter note on the finish, that is absolutely typical of Muscat.

2012 Les Clos de Paulilles, Collioure
A blend of Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris.  This estate has recently changed hands and now belongs to Domaine Cazes in Rivesaltes.  Light, rounded nose, and on the palate some white flowers, with some soft acidity, but also a streak of tannin and good texture.  Medium weight and satisfying.

2012 Hautes Vignes, Collioure – Cave Tambour
Grenache Blanc.  This was fresh and lemony on the nose, with supple fruit on the palate, with more acidity.  A lighter and more elegant wine, than the preceding Collioure, but with less depth.  An interesting comparison of two styles.

Roussillon reds tend to be richer and riper than those of the Languedoc.  Grenache is often the dominant variety and that makes for warmer flavours and more alcohol.  Most of these averaged about 14.5 so some pretty heady flavours.

2010 Côtes du Roussillon, St Roch - £6.99 Morrisons
Ripe red fruit and spice on the nose.  Supple tannins with ripe easy black fruit.  Easy drinking and great value.

2011 Domaine de Bila-Haut Occulum Lapidem - £17.00 Swig, Hedonism, R & B Wines.
This is Chapoutier’s Roussillon estate.  Quite a firm structured nose and on the palate rich and leathery.  There is oak and some firm tannins, with rich powerful flavours.  This and the previous wine provide a great contrast of styles from Roussillon; one ripe and accessible and other much more concentrated, and also expensive, and requiring some bottle ageing.

2011 Domaine la Tour Vieille, Collioure, la Pinède
A blend of Grenache and Carignan.  Medium colour; some dry spice on the nose, and much riper and juicier on the palate.  A leathery note and a touch of animal.  Ripe spice and a certain warmth.  Vincent Cantié and Christine Campadieu are a pair of talented winemakers, and I can’t think why their wines are not represented in the UK.

2011 Domaine Pietri Géraud, le Moulin de la Cortine, Collioure
A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.  Medium colour.  Ripe red fruit on the nose, with some liqueur cherries.  And quite a firm palate, drier and more leathery, again with some red fruit

2011 Domaine Vaquer, Côtes du Roussillon  l’Exception
50% Grenache, with 25% each of Carignan and Syrah.  Quite a deep colour.  A firm leathery note and on the palate some ripe cherry fruit.  Rounded, warm and supple, but with a backbone of tannin.  Wonderfully warming on a cold winter’s day.    Another estate that really deserves UK representation.   Fernand Vaquer was one of the pioneers of table wine in Roussillon and it is his daughter-in-law Frédérique who now runs the estate

2011 Domaine de l’Edre, Côtes du Roussillon Villages
Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre.  A deep young colour.  Quite solid oak and vanilla on the nose and palate, but rich ripe fruit as well, with a firm streak of tannin.  Needs some bottle age.

2012 Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Réserve Roude Carmin, Les Vignerons de Caramany
A blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Carignan.  The village coop in Caramany was one of the pioneers of the technique of carbonic maceration in the 1960s.  And I suspect that this wine may well have included some carbonic maceration.  Deep young colour.  Firm leathery and peppery notes on the notes, and a very peppery palate, with good structure.    A touch of oak balancing the fruit.    Good potential.  Not as warm as some.

2011 Domaine Majoral, Clos d’en Coloum, Maury Sec
100% Grenache.  This is an example of the new appellation for table wine from Maury ; Maury Sec as opposed to the vin doux naturel, Maury.  Deep young colour.  Quite a ripe nose with a certain freshness on the palate.  Red fruit with a streak of tannin.

2011 Nature des Schistes, Maury Sec, from Les Vignerons de Maury
The Maury village coop does a good job for its appellation.  This is a cheerful red wine.  Medium colour.  Light cherry fruit on the nose, and on the palate more fresh cherry fruit, but also liqueur cherries, and a streak of tannin.   A touch of alcohol on the finish, but it is 14.5.

And now for some Vins Doux Naturels.  Highlights only.

2010 Mas Amiel Maury Vintage Blanc - £21.99  The Perfect Cellar, Lea & Sandeman, les Caves de Pyrène
A light colour.  Quite a leesy resinous nose with some oak, and on the palate quite a contrast, not what the nose leads you to expect, with some rounded sweet grapey honeyed fruit

2012 Domaine Piquemal, Muscat de Rivesaltes, les Larmes d’Helyos   £15.76  www.lebonvin.co.uk
30% Muscat d’Aléxandrie to 70% Muscat a petits grains,  Fresh lemony honey on nose and palate.  Ripe fruit and a slightly bitter note on the finish.

2009 Mas Amiel Maury Grenat Vintage - £21.99  The Perfect Cellar, Lea & Sandeman, les Caves de Pyrène
Quite a deep young colour.  Quite powerful ripe cherry fruit.  Liqueur cherries on the palate.  Quite opulent with ripe spice, cinnamon and cloves.  Youthful with a fresh finish.

1928 Maury Solera Cask 851, Les Vignerons de Maury  The Sampler - £19.80
Tawny colour, with an amber rim.  Firm dry nutty nose, with some red fruit and on the palate rich nutty fruit.  Lots of nuances and great depth.  Finishes quite dry.  It’s a vino da meditazione, a wine to meditate over, as the Italians say.  You can’t really do it justice at a tasting.

Domaine Vial Magnères Rancio Cio. Côte Vermeille
Grenache blanc and Grenache gris that have spent six years in barrels that were not topped up, so a classic rancio.  Light golden colour.  Quite a dry firm nose with a bite that makes you think of fino sherry.  Firm tight knit dry nutty palate, with very good acidity.  Very intriguing.

2001 Deux Mille Un Muscat de Rivesaltes.
Intriguingly a 12 year old Muscat.  It had developed an amber colour.  Quite ripe sweet orange marmalade on the nose.  And on the palate rich and concentrated with notes of oranges again.  Quite atypical and delicious.

2011 Domaine Deveza, Rivesaltes Grenat
Medium depth young colour.  Liquorice spice on both nose and palate.  Quite ripe and intense red fruit, with a sweet finish balanced by the alcohol. 

2008 Domaine St. Sebastien, Banyuls Grand Cru. Inspiration Ardente
Red tawny colour.  On the nose light red fruit, with hints of walnut and on the palate, more walnuts, with some depth and length.  I don’t know this estate, but I did like the wine.

Domaine de Rancy, Rivesaltes Ambre 4 ans d’Age
Macabeu with some Grenache Noir and Grenache Gris.  Dark amber colour.  Quit a firm nose; almost rancio with some firm dry nutty fruit.  But on the palate richer and sweeter than the nose would suggest. But with a bite on the finish.  A lovely glass of wine.  This estate makes wonderful wine.  See an earlier post.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Domaine Magellan

Last Monday was one of those magical winter days in the Languedoc, which make you think that spring is on the way.  We went to see Bruno Lafon at Domaine de Magellan in the village of Magalas, and he immediately took us to see his vineyards.   He has two large plots on the hillside off the road to Fouzilhon, as well as some smaller plots scattered around the village, making a total of 32 hectares altogether.  
Bruno talked about his search for vineyards,and how he arrived in the Languedoc.  He comes from Meursault and initially worked on the family estate.   A complete change of direction saw him working with in sister-in-law, Sylvie Legros,  in her family business, and now they have both come back to wine.  They looked all over the south of France.   Provence was too expensive; Bruno couldn’t find anything he liked in the Rhône valley, and then he saw these vineyards and had a coup de coeur.  In the winter light I could quite see why.   The vines are at an altitude of about 180 metres.  You can see Cap d’Agde and just make out the sparkling Mediterranean, and even the Pyrenees, and in the other direction there is a backdrop of the Montagne Noire and the Caroux. 

The terroir is mixed; one plot is grès or sandstone, with good drainage and the vine roots can go deep so that there is never a problem of water stress.   It gives wines similar to those from schist.  The acidity is not high, but the wines are fresh, with good minerality.  Another plot is villefranchien, clay with small stones, including quartz.   It is a terroir de rivière, more recent than the sandstone and can be quite compact, which can make it difficult to work.  Like sandstone, it has no calcaire, chalk or limestone.  Bruno’s oldest vines are 60 years old, and their average age is over 30 years.    He has worked organically since the beginning.  For white wine he has Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Muscat and for red wine Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsaut, as well as Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.    Initially most of his wines were Côtes de Thongue, but some of the appellation boundaries have changed, so he now has land within Pézenas - the commune of Fouzilhon is part of Pézenas, but Magalas isn’t – and he also makes Pays de l’Hérault and Languedoc, and just one Côtes de Thongue for the Canadian market.   He no longer feels that he has the same objectives as the Côtes de Thongue , considering that the Côtes de Thongue concentrates more on Cabernet and Merlot, which he likes less.

Bruno's cellar is a classic Midi cellar, a large barn with a high ceiling with cement tanks, and some barrels and a few stainless steel vats.    And his vinifications are classic.  Two things he insists on are handpicking – everything is handpicked and he also tends to pick earlier than some of his colleagues.  He uses a tapis to fill the vats, so that there is no pumping of the grapes, and he destalks most of his grapes.   He likes to chill the must down to 12˚C  for a cool pre-fermentation maceration and he only uses natural yeast.  He favours remontages.  It is all ‘assez soft’, as he said.   And he buys second hand three year old white  Burgundy barrels.  From your brother, I suggested, as Dominique Lafon is a leading Meursault producer.  ‘Good heavens, no; he’s much too expensive’, was the reply.  Champy’s Corton Charlemagne barrels suit him nicely.  But Bruno insists that the barrels are never left standing empty, except for the journey to Magalas.

The range of Domaine de Magellan comprises an entry level Fruit Défendu, Pays de l’Hérault and then there is Domaine de Magellan, appellation Languedoc, and then the flagship wines which include Pézenas, Alta and Le Grenache.  This was going to make for an extensive tasting, especially as Bruno had also prepared some vat samples of 2013. 

2013 Domaine de Magellan, Languedoc
A blend of Grenache Blanc and Roussanne.  Still in barrel.  Bâtonnage until the end of January, and due for bottling in April 2014.   Sulphur will only be used at bottling and the wine has done its malo.  Obviously it is still very youthful but promised well, with fresh acidity and satisfying mouth feel, but it was not heavy.  Bruno emphasised the early picking; his Grenache Blanc is usually being picked at the same time that other people are picking their Chardonnay.  

2012 Domaine de Magellan, Languedoc – 10.00€
75% Grenache Blanc and 25% Roussanne.   A slightly different blend from 2013 as the Grenache suffered from coulure in 2013.   It is a richer vintage than 2013.  Elegant white blossom on the nose and on the palate fresh acidity, and some dry nutty notes, and a firm backbone.  The Grenache gives a tannic streak and some weight or gras, and the Roussanne the floral notes.   Bruno works reductively to retain the freshness, and he favours a malo which is unusual for white wines in the Languedoc, but it makes the wines more stable.  Very good ageing potential.   Without the malo, the wines are initially more aromatic, but also more fragile.

2013 Le Fruit Défendu Rosé, Pays de l’Hérault – 6.50€
An early bottling for Christmas, and pure Cinsaut, from free run juice that has spent minimal time on the skins.  So a pale colour.  Opulent raspberry and strawberry fruit on the nose and palate.  Ripe with fresh acidity. 

2013 Domaine de Magellan Rosé, Languedoc  – 10.00
This was made for the first time in 2013, just 3000 bottles.  It is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsaut, made from the first free run juice, and then all blended and fermented altogether.   The grapes are then pressed and used for Fruit Défendu red.  The wine has a little more colour than le Fruit Défendu rosé, and is rounded and more vinous on the palate, but not heavy.  The grapes are picked later than for Le Fruit Défendu.

2013 Le Fruit Défendu Blanc, Pays de l’Hérault   - 6.50€
A blend of 60% Grenache Blanc and 40% Muscat à petits grains.  Co-fermented in vat.  Bruno likes fermenting different grape varieties together – he feels that they marry better, and that the practice of blending just before bottling is driven by the oenologists, who work to minimise any errors.  Fresh grapey nose and palate.  Fresh and aromatic, with a slightly bitter Muscat finish.  Intended for easy drinking, and that is just what it achieves.  But personally I much prefer the depth and subtlety of the Domaine de Magellan.

2013 Le Fruit Défendu red, Pays de l’Hérault.
A vat sample; the blend is not quite complete. Medium colour, with easy fresh fruit and some weight.  Difficult to judge. But promises nicely.

2012 Le Fruit Défendu red, Pays de l’Hérault  – 6.50€
Quite a ripe fresh nose, with supple tannins. Ripe and rounded.  Would be lovely served slightly chilled in the summer.  A bistro wine.  Only 12˚.  A blend of Cinsaut, Grenache Syrah and Carignan.

We then tried some vat samples of single varieties.  The Grenache was very Grenache, with ripe confit cherries on nose and palate.  The Syrah was fresh peppery and perfumed, with a tannic streak.  It will be going into a barrel tomorrow. Bruno is pleased with his 2013s.  They have an attractive freshness.   He talked of the difference between puissance and density, and dislikes wines that are too heavy.  For this reason he did not participate in the collective Pézenas cuvée that was the idea of Jean-Claude Mas as he felt that the wine was not characteristic of Pézenas, and was going to be too alcoholic and heavy.    Bruno’s 2013 Pézenas would be a blend of this Syrah and Grenache, with some pressed wine.  It was ripe and rounded, but also elegant and fresh, with some depth.  2013 Carignan would be part of Domaine Magellan with some Grenache.  The Carignan is destalked, but then Bruno adds the stalks back into the vat.  He does not do carbonic maceration.  The flavour was fresh and mineral, rich and structured with some fresh fruit.  The addition of the stalks can reduced the alcohol level by at least l˚.

2012 Domaine de Magellan red, Languedoc
Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, which are blended together as soon as possible.  A blend of two terroirs, grès and villefranchien and a blend of three cépages, from each terroir, so six components.  This wine has the generosity of 2012.  Some ripe fruit with spice body and backbone.  Structured youthful fruit with a tannic edge and lots of potential.   All the wine has spent some time in barrel, but necessarily the same length of time for each component.   2012 was a small vintage, as was 2010.  2013 was better for quantity, apart from the Grenache.

2010 Domaine de Magellan red – 9.00€
Approximately 50% Grenache, 30% syrah and 20% Carignan.  Assembled gradually so the precise proportions are impossible to say. Deep colour; perfumed fruit. Quite spicy; balanced.  Drinking very well.  A tannic streak, but the oak is very well integrated.  You simply do not notice it.  Fresh red fruit.  A lovely glass of wine.

2012 Pézenas
Minus two barrels of pressed wine.  Slightly more Grenache than Syrah.  Vinified together.  Half égrappé and half not. Will be bottled in April.  Ripe rounded, with more depth and spice than the Languedoc.   Pézenas is grown only on grès, and the Syrah is facing north, so that it can be picked at the same time as the Grenache.

2011 Pézenas – 12.00€
Deep colour.  Fresh red fruit, with a leathery note.   Lots of nuances on the palate.  Plenty of ageing potential Good structure; frim fruit, dry red fruit.  A lovely glass of wine.   Bruno favours lower alcohol levels; considering the current fashion for phenolic ripeness to be a fantasme or fantasy.   'Ca n’existe pas'.  You need to retain freshness in the Midi.  Richer more powerful wines are not better wines.   He laughingly referred to two types of wine – those you drink sitting down, and those you drink standing up!

2011 Le Grenache de Magalas, Pays de l’Hérault – 7.50€
From a vineyard of old Grenache that is not classified within the appellation.  Good colour.  I detected liqueur cherries; Bruno proffered blood oranges with a citrus note.  Supple fruit with an edge of tannin and acidity and the rondeur of Grenache.  14˚.

2010 Alta, Pays de l’Hérault – 19.00€
A blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet, first made in 2001. The Tempranillo is 40 years old and grown on villefranchien.    Initially it was made with Syrah and Grenache blended with the Tempranillo but Bruno gave up making that, and then in 2010 decided to add Cabernet to the Tempranillo, and give it 14 months in wood.   Although it is more expensive than his other wines, it is not really intended as a top cuvée.
Deep colour. Rounded firm fruit.  A tannic streak.  Some dry spice.  Dry cassis from the Cabernet; quite structured with underlying spice. An intriguing glass of wine.   Bruno considers Hérault to be neutral as a vin de pays denomination, and the Languedoc AC does not have a very precise definition, and that suits him.

It had been a while since I had tasted with Bruno and I think his wines are better than ever.  The three Domaine de Magellan Languedoc and the Pézenas are elegant and stylish examples of the Languedoc. Maybe Bruno’s Burgundian origins have an impact.         

Thursday, 2 January 2014

New Year in the Languedoc

Fish was on the menu for our first evening in the Languedoc, so the obvious choice was a bottle of 2010 Allegro from Domaine Ollier Taillefer.  I’ve written notes about this wine before.  Suffice it to say that it is one of my favourite Languedoc whites.   The combination of Vermentino and Roussanne gives some lovely texture, with white blossom, acidity and length.

The best bottles are never quite big enough – and this was the case.  We needed a little something else, and a bottle of 1998 Maury Blanc fitted the bill, for a glass or two with some fig compote.  Blanc was not really an accurate description of the colour; it was more ambré, tawny in colour – I almost wondered whether it had been mislabelled - with quite rich nutty fruit on both nose and palate.  There was a hint of dry honey and some balancing acidity, and some notes of fruits confits, so just the thing to go with figs.   The bottle came from the Maury coop which works very well for its appellation.   

On New Year’s Day we have a bit of a tradition, a good walk through the garrigues, with a group of friends, followed by Alice’s signature dish, an Irish stew.  I get to provide the wine and as it happened I had some bottles of mature Minervois la Livinière that were calling for attention.  

2007 Gérard Bertrand, le Viala.
Deep colour, just beginning to age.  Quite a ripe sweet vanilla nose, with integrated oak and some black fruit.  On the palate the tannins had matured, and were rounded and supple, and the fruit rich and evolved, with some dry leathery notes on the finish.  It was a touch alcoholic on the finish.  But in short a lovely example of how well Languedoc reds can age.  2007 was a good vintage in the Languedoc, faring much better than elsewhere in France.

2007 Château Massamier la Mignarde, Domus Maximus
This is the top cuvée of this estate.   Quite a deep young colour.  Quite intense black fruit; ripe with some vanilla and on the palate more smooth black fruit, balanced with supple tannins.  There was underlying oak, but it was well integrated, so that the palate was harmonious and rounded with a long finish.  A delicious bottle of wine that had undoubtedly benefitted from some bottle age.    Who says wines from the Languedoc do not age?  This was another shining example that they do.

2002 Château Faiteau.
Not one of the great vintages of the last decade , but actually surprisingly successful in the Minervois.   Deep colour that was beginning to evolve.   Dry leather and spice on the nose, and palate.  Lighter body than the two 2007s, but quite elegant, with an attractive note of maturity.  Maybe it was beginning to dry out just a little on the finish, and slithering off its plateau of optimum drinking, but it was none the worse for that, with a bit of cheese.  There was underlying elegance.  A jolly nice bottle.

Margot had made a tarte tatin, which called out for a bottle of Muscat de Rivesaltes.   The prize winning Dom Brial from the coop at Baixas was just the thing,  with rich honey and grapey fruit complimenting the caramel notes of the tarte.

And all it remains for me to say is Happy New Year – Bonne Année, with lots of good bottles from the Languedoc!