Saturday, 26 April 2014

Tasting for the Top 100 Wines from Languedoc-Roussillon

I had a fascinating day yesterday, busy and intense, tasting for what is now an annual competition, The Top 100 wines from Languedoc-Roussillon.  The competition covers the whole spectrum of Languedoc Roussillon, so a broad spread of flavours ranging from sparkling wine to dessert wines, via all three colours of vins de pays and appellations.  Altogether there were about 650 entries and our job was to choose the Top 100.  We were divided into six teams, three tasters per team.   I was with Ana Sapungi from Oddbins and Christine Parkinson from Hakkasan and we operated on the thoroughly democratic principle, deciding yes, no or maybe by a majority vote.   The chairman of the tasting panel, Tim Atkin, re-tasted all the maybes and added them back into the competition, or eliminated them, as he saw fit.   By the end of the morning we had about 200 contenders for the Top 100.  And in the afternoon, each team tasted a different set of wines to eliminate some, and to propose the best for trophies.   More tasting; more discussion; a choice of trophies, rosé, Faugères, St. Chinian, dessert wine,  and several others, and a democratic vote on best red and best white of the competition from the trophies.   

I cannot of course say anything about the winners – that is firmly embargoed until the results are announced at the London Wine Trade Fair in early June.  But general impressions from what I tasted would include an appreciation of the quality and diversity of the white appellation wines.  One of our best flights was white, from St. Chinian, Minervois and Faugères, offering some lovely complex flavours with plenty of depth and fruit.  It makes me think that the whites of the Languedoc are too often overlooked and under-appreciated, and really should be taken much more seriously.  They stand very happily alongside the reds.  

The most striking thing about our rosé flight was the colour.  All were very delicate and pale, keenly following the fashion set by the Côtes de Provence.    And amongst the reds, our best reds came from a flight of characterful St. Chinian and some gutsy Corbières, with the best amply demonstrating the quality and character of those two appellations.  More will be revealed in June when the complete Top 100 wines will be available for tasting and I will have the opportunity to see what my follow tasters chose from their flights.     

And my days next week will be devoted to chairing the Languedoc-Roussillon panel for Decanter’s World Wine awards, so apologies in advance for my silence.  

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Ten days in the Languedoc

I feel that I have been neglecting my blog, but ten days in the Languedoc  seemed to have whizzed past,  with various vinous highlights.    A bottle of Château Rives-Blanques 2010 Dédicace, their pure Chenin Blanc, restored our spirits after a traffic jam on the motorway the evening that we arrived.   Chenin really performs well in the Languedoc, with beautifully honeyed ripe fruit and acidity. Thank you Jan and Caryl.

The next afternoon saw me at a small organic wine fair at Domaine de la Tour outside Nébian.   A fun afternoon with some old friends and also some new discoveries.  More on that anon, as soon as I write up my notes.

Friends for dinner the next evening.  Always an excuse to open several bottles.  We kicked off with Domaine Delmas Crémant de Limoux, Cuvée Audace.  Lovely rounded fruit and a creamy texture.   Rives Blanques featured again, this time Trilogie their blend of Chenin, Chardonnay and Mauzac.   And with the meat course we had 2009 Château Trillol, Corbières, their cuvée prestige, which was everything that good Corbières should be.  Drink that and you can feel  the warmth of the south and see the rugged countryside of the vineyards.

On Monday we found ourselves hosting a 167th birthday lunch.  A good friend from Cognac was 70 earlier in the month, and her aunt was 97 earlier in the year.   2005 Mercier Champagne provided  a deliciously nutty, nicely mature glass of bubbles for an aperitif.  We continued with  white la Clape from  Château Rouquette sur Mer,  Cuvée Arpège, which  was fresh and mineral and  Les Trois Terres, Cuvée la Minérale, from the Terrasses du Larzac, which was firm and spicy.  Domaine de Ravanès,  L’Ille, from late harvest Ugni Blanc was rich and honeyed and perfect with a compote of figs. 

More friends to dinner on Easter Saturday, for an eclectic collection of bottles.  More bubbles from Domaine Delmas in Limoux, this time their Blanquette de Limoux, Cuvée Mémoire, which was fresh and lemony and nicely rounded.  Catherine Roque’s 2011white Faugères Mas d’Alezon Cabretta  was ripe and peachy on the nose, with perfumed fruit and a rounded palate.  And then we drank Mas d’Alezon’s 2006 Montfalette, which had matured beautifully, with a rich leathery nose and a perfumed palate, with a hint of vanilla.  And followed that with 2009 Château de l’Engarran, Grès de Montpellier, with a rich tapenade nose, and more tapenade on the palate with a balancing streak of tannin.  And we finished with 2007 Soulenque,  the lovely dessert wine  from Domaine la Croix Belle.  The nose was intense with some notes of caramel and burnt sugar.

The next morning I was at the Montpeyroux fête of caves ouvertes and spent a  damp, chilly day – the Languedoc sunshine had disappeared – wandering from cellar to cellar.   More on that in due course.   And the last wine of our stay
also came from Montpeyroux.  Amelie Hurlaborde from Mas d’Amile did not have her white wine for tasting at the fête, but I did happen to have a bottle in the cellar, her first vintage, the 2012, made from Terret Blanc, which was elegantly restrained, and nicely balanced with some fresh fruit and a firm finish.   And showing just why grape varieties like Carignan Blanc and Terret Blanc deserve serious consideration.       

Thursday, 10 April 2014

More Faugères at the Dame Jane

I've been back to the Dame Jane, this time for a Faugères tasting.  Alix Roque, daughter of Catherine from Mas d’Alezon, welcomed us, explaining about the association of producers.  It includes wine growers from Faugeres and the Orb valley, as well as producers of honey, olive oil, a baker, who are mostly organic.  And then she introduced Michel Salette who is a local wine communicator, who gave a general introduction, talking about terroir, and the possible hierachisation of the wines of the Languedoc .He observed that 80% of wines  sold in French supermarkets cost less than 5.00€ a bottle. 

Then Camille Chauvin, the bright young winemaker at the new estate of Domaine des Champs Pentus – she has just made her first vintage - gave us an introduction to Faugères.   Some pertinent figures included the colour breakdown of the appellation – 80% red, one third under organic viticulture, with 59 independent wine growers as well as the cooperative.   She talked about the different schists.  Schist is not just schist, but it can be grey, blue, yellow or ochre.  It is schist gives the appellation its homogeneity.  One of its great characteristics is that it retains water and heat.  It is not an exaggeration to say that the grapes ripen at night.  Wind plays an important part in the climate; the north Tramontane is a drying wind, while the vent Marin brings humidity, and potentially disease. 

As for grape varieties, Faugères includes the usual five of the Languedoc.  Cinsaut is not obligatory, but you must have all the other four in your vineyards.   And at least two must be in each wine.   The possible white grapes are Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Roussanne, Marsanne, Clairette and Viognier.  Again there is minimum of two varieties in the wine.   Yields are fixed at 45 hl/ha for white and red wine, and 50 hls/ha for rosé, but rare is the vigneron who achieves that amount.    Another observation was the average age of the wine growers is relatively young, and includes a fair number of women. 

Michel then gave some thoughts on tasting, talking particularly about minerality and what that might mean, and he encouraged us to spit.  This seemed a bit of a challenge to some people present!    And caused a bit of merriment.  We tasted six wines, as follows:

2012 Château Haut Lignières rosé
Light colour, a pretty pale pink.  Dry raspberry fruit, on the nose.  Oo the palate good acidity, with nicely rounded fruit.  Good balance and a rounded finish.  In short a jolly nice glass of rosé.

2012 Domaine Frédéric Alquier Blanc – NB the Christian name is important here; Frédéric is the brother of Jean-Michel and often referred to as the other Alquier.  He keeps a lower profile than his brother.  His white is a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne, with no oak ageing.  It was quite delicate on the nose, and on the palate quite dry and stony, but with no great depth.

2012 Domaine Cottebrune, le Cairn
This wine was presented by Maxime Sécher, the young regisseur of the estate, which is owned by Pierre Gaillard of Côte Rôtie fame.  2010 was the first vintage of this wine.  The vines were planted in 2006, en echalas, a Côte Rôtie technique where by each vine has a supporting post.  The blend is equal parts of Roussanne, Vermentino and Grenache Blanc.   It was wonderfully characterful after a fermentation and élevage in barrel, lightly golden colour, with quite a resinous oaky nose and on the palate very good acidity, balancing dry honey and some weight and body and satisfying mouth feel.  The wine undergoes regular bâttonage until Maxime feels it has enough weight and body.  It developed beautifully in the glass and was textured and long.

2012 Le Parfum des Schistes, from the coop and a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan.  The Syrah is vinified by carbonic maceration and the Carignan comes from older vines.  Some spice on the nose and quite firm tannins on the palate with some spice.  A touch confit on the finish.  Some peppery notes with a stony finish.

2012 les Novices, Abbaye de Sylva Plana.  
Quite a deep young colour.  Rounded ripe sweet nose, and on the palate some spice with a firm streak of tannin.  Some quite rugged tannins.  This is Sylva Plana’s entry level wine and intended for easy drinking.

2011 Domaine de Cébène, les Bancèls was presented by Brigitte Chevalier, the owner of the estate.  Deep colour with a rich concentrated youthful oaky nose.  Brigitte explained that Cebena is the goddess of the Languedoc and gave her name to the Cevennes.  The palate was youthful and intense, with lots of nuances, smoky, peppery, tapenade, with some youthful tannins and balancing acidity.  It is a combination of four varieties.  Brigitte observed that the 2012 vintage produced des vins charmeurs, whereas 2011 was more powerful.  Initially it was very closed and is now beginning to open up.  

And then some delicious tapas appeared, various dips, hummus and bagna calda, and a glass of your favourite red or white wine of the evening.  I opted for les Bancels. 

This was the first such evening at la Dame Jane, and it was deemed to be a great success.  More evenings are planned, including one in English, but no dates announced yet.  For more information email   And the website address is  but there is not yet much information on it.   

Monday, 7 April 2014

Faugères and the Dame Jane

Faugères has a new eatery, La Dame Jane, on the main road running past the village, opposite the car park and the mairie.  An association of local producers, of both wine and food, have restored some old vaults, to make a welcoming café and small shop.  There are bottles, not just from Faugères, but also a little further afield, and local cheeses, honey, and charcuterie.   I popped in for lunch last week, between a couple of cellar visits.   The plat du jour was a tasty meatloaf accompanied by a  colourful pumpkin purée and some green salad, and my friend Alex opted for the other choice, an hachis parmentier, or shepherd’s pie to you and me, but not with beef or lamb, but duck, and that was very good too, and just the thing after a morning’s wine tasting.   There was a wine of the week, by the glass, 2011 Domaine Binet-Jacquet Faugères, which was fresh, elegant and spicy.  And we finished our meal with a small plate of local cheeses, goat’s cheese, and some sheep’s cheese, pieces of tomette and a more mature tomme.   And the espresso coffee was one of the best I’ve had in the region.     At this time of the year the Dame Jane is open from 10 am to 2 p.m.

The Bel Air restaurant at the top of the hill in Faugères has apparently recently changed hands, so we checked that out earlier in the week.   The food was perfectly edible, but nothing more.  As for wine, the only choice by the bottle was the coop’s basic Mas Olivier, and as for the red wine en pichet, it was frankly a disgrace for a wine producing village, with a flat bitter finish.  I assume it was some dregs from one of the coop's vats.

At Sylva Plana in Laurens you have no choice but to drink the wines of the estate, either Abbaye Sylva Plana Faugères, or Domaine des Henrys Côtes de Thongue.   The best thing on the menu is the tapas of Spanish ham.  My salade de tempura was quite tasty but the déclinaison de canard failed to deliver.  The cold slices of magret were good – you can’t do much with that – but the cuisse had been jogging, and the pâté had recently come out of the freezer, and I couldn’t possibly tell you what it looked like.    So the Dame Jane is a very welcome addition to the lunch possibilities in the Faugerois. 

And on a previous occasion I had a very acceptable plate of charcuterie with a fresh salad in the cafe in Autignac, with an eminently drinkable carafe of wine, so that is worth checking out too.