Friday, 30 May 2014

Yapp Bros and the Languedoc

Once upon a time Yapp Brothers in Mere were pioneers in the Rhone and Loire Valleys, but these days they have greatly extended their expertise to cover the whole of the south of France, not just the Languedoc.    A couple of weeks ago they hosted a tasting of rosés and other summer wines, held very bravely outside, in a restaurant courtyard,  fortunately on a much sunnier day than today.  There were several delicious highlights, which illustrated the diversity of good rosés. .

2013 Les Filles de Septembre, Côtes de Thongue rosé,  - £9.75
A blend of Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Grenache and Cinsaut.  Pretty pale orange pink.  Quite ripe and rounded on the nose.  Nicely mouth filling.  Elegant with some vinosity.  Understated.  A food wine.

2013 Domaine Pieretti, Coteaux du Cap Corse - £15.50
From Nielluccio, Alicante and Grenache Noir. Delicate colour, pale orange pink, with light  fruit on the nose.  Fresh and fragrant, but with a firm backbone.  More of a food rosé, with a good balance of acidity.

2013 Domaine Saparale, Vin de Corse Sartène Rosé - £14.95
From one of the leading estates of Sartène.  A blend of Sciacarello, Nielluccio and Vermentino.  A very pretty pale pink.  Light dry nose.  Delicate and fresh on the palate. Lightly salty and sappy, with an elegant concentration of fruit.

2013 Clos Sainte Magdeleine, Cassis Rosé - £19.95
Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsaut.    Cassis may be better known for its white wines, but if this is anything to go by, the rosés are good too.  Pale orange pink colour.  A light nose, with delicate fruit on the palate, with a certain concentration and weight.  Fresh and fragrant, with an elegant finish.

2011 Domaine de la Source,  Bellet Rosé -  £25.50
I have a soft spot for Bellet.   The vineyards are part of the commune of Nice, up in the hills behind the city centre.  The wines are expensive, as the wine growers are fighting a battle with urban developers.  The grape variety is Braquet.  Orange pink colour.  Ripe herbal fruit and on the palate, with some firm acidity.  Quite rich and textured.   A food rosé.

2013 Château la Canorgue, Côtes du Luberon Rosé  - £13.95
Grenache and Syrah.  Quite a vivid pink.  Ripe rounded strawberry fruit on both nose and palate, with firm acidity.  Quite ripe and vinous, with a rounded finish.

2013 Château Roubaud, Costières de Nimes - £11.50
Syrah and Grenache.  Quite a vivid bright pink.  A rounded nose.  Raspberry fruit on both nose and palate, with a dry rounded vinous finish.  Not as elegant as some.

2013 Mas de la Rouvière, Bandol Rosé – £18.50
Mourvèdre, Cinsaut and Grenache.  A very palate pretty colour.  A delicate nose.  Quite a rounded palate, and quite powerful and ripe.  A good balance, with some body.

There were also a couple of whites:
2012 Domaine Camp Galhan, Cuvée Amalie, Duché d’Uzès  - £12.25
A blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne.  Light colour.  A delicate nose, with some perfumed peachy Viognier, making a rounded textured palate, with a touch of bitterness on the finish.

2012 Clos Sainte Magdeleine Cassis Blanc,  - £19.50
A blend of Marsanne, Clairette, Ugni Blanc.  Light colour.  Quite a rich leesy nose.  Characterful palate, with good acidity, with herbal notes and a salty tang.  Nicely intriguing.   Cassis is not cheap either, for the same reason as for Bellet.  Land is valuable around this pretty sailing village.

As for red wines, there was a Corbières estate that I have not come across before:
2012 Domaine Py, Cuvée Mondière, in the village of Douzens.  - £10.25
A blend of Carignan, Syrah and Grenache.  Medium colour.  A rounded nose.  Dry spice on the palate, with some fresh fruit.   And quite a gutsy characterful finish, that makes you think of the wild Corbières hills.

And a sweet note with which to finish:

2012 Domaine Pieretti, Muscat du Cap Corse.
Pure Muscat à petits grains, and lightly fortified to 15.5.  Light golden.  Very perfumed Muscat nose.  Rounded grapey Muscat fruit on the palate, with well integrated alcohol and a slightly bitter finish.

Friday, 16 May 2014

The 2014 Montpeyroux fete

I always enjoy the annual Montpeyroux fete.  It's a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and also to see what is new.  This year it was held on Easter Sunday.  After a brilliantly sunny warm week, the weather broke overnight and we awoke to a cold wind and rain, but undeterred, I donned my new waterproof jacket and set off to Montpeyroux.   This year there were twenty-two wine growers, just from this one small village.  

The newest, Mas de la Fée Nomène, comprises just 90 ares.  Nany Taverna is a true garagiste, operating out of her garage on the edge of the village and she made  just 3000 bottles for her first vintage in 2012.   Her wine is a blend of Carignan, Syrah and Grenache, pressed with a small basket press and aged in a stainless steel vat.  It has some lovely fresh fruit on the nose and on the palate, a firm tannic streak, with ripe, youthful fruit and a fresh finish.  A lovely debut, and for 12 a bottle.

Another new estate, for me was le Petit Domaine with Aurélien Petit, except that I had encountered him  a week earlier at the bio fair at Domaine de la Tour, but it was sympa to renew the acquaintance.   And in any case my tasting buddy, Lits, was keen to try his wines.   There's a great  Chenin, with rich dry honey, given 24 hours of skin contact and fermented and aged in wood until February. Aurélien makes just two barrels from 25 ares.   It has lovely texture and satisfying mouth feel.  18.00

He makes his Syrah  three different ways.  There is a long maceration lasting about three weeks, a short five days maceration and some carbonic maceration, for three weeks before pressing the grapes.  Each is given a separate élevage and then either blended altogether to make a peppery wine with fresh fruit, 12.00 or the different components are blended with other varieties as Aurélien sees fit. 

So 2013 Cyclops consists of Carignan, without wood ageing and blended with the short maceration Syrah that has spent a couple of months in oak.  It is rounded and ripe, with that appealing touch of rusticity that you get from Carignan, combined with a firm streak of tannin. 12.00

2012 Rhapsody  is mainly Carignan, made by carbonic maceration, with a little of the carbonic maceration Syrah.  It was not as satisfying as Cyclops, especially at nearly twice the price. 21.00.

And we finished with Titan, Syrah with a little Carignan, given 12 months ageing in oak, with solid red fruit and a firm structured palate, requiring some bottle age.  24.00

I renewed my acquaintance with Pascal Dalier from Domaine Joncas.  His white wine from Grenache Gris, made in concrete eggs, is rich and satisfying, with white blossom and fresh fruit. 18.00.  There are just 492 bottles

Then Pascal proffered a mystery wine.  What do you think this?  I was stumped.  It was very intriguing; there were herbal notes, and a slight bitterness on the finish, but some good acidity.  The answer was Riesling, which you certainly do not expect to find in the Languedoc.

2012 Joia is a blend of 65% Grenache and 35% Syrah, with fresh fruit and some leathery notes, a nice balance of fruit and tannin and an elegant finish.  And we finished with Nebla, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, with fresh red fruit and firm leathery notes, and more depth than Joia.    Pascal now has 8.5 hectares, and a new cellar that I have yet to visit.

Jo Lynch and André Suquet's wines from Villa Dondona were drinking / tasting very well that day.  The white Esperel was fresh and leafy; pink Esquisse was delicate and herbal, 2012 Carignan was quite perfumed with a tannic streak; 2012 Villa Dondona was youthful and tight knit, with good fruit, but needing some bottle ageing, and 2011 Oppidum was rounded and oaky with a youthful gutsy finish.

Then Jo sent us off to see her oenologist, Jean Natoli, who is not yet officially Montpeyroux and I am not really meant to write about him in the context of the fete, as he wasn't supposed to be there, so I will save him for a cellar visit - he makes his own wine at Mas des Quernes, as well as running a very efficient oenology cabinet.

Amélie d'Hurlaborde was offering a treat, all three vintages of her old Carignan.  2012 is solid and rounded, quite dense and textured, with ripe fruit and soyeux tannins making for a rounded mouthful of flavour.

2011 has great depth with smoky fruit; it was dense and ripe and like the 2012 will repay bottle ageing.  And 2010, her very first vintage has firm fruit with an elegant balance of tannin and a fine finish.  And she has her very first vintage of Montpeyroux, from Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, in vat.  I can't wait to taste it.

Other delights included Alain Chabanon's Campredon, and 2010 Trélans with some elegant dry honeyed Chenin. 

Christine Commeyras from Domaine l'Aiguelière was showing older vintages of Côte Dorée and Côte Rousse, 2009, 2008 and 2006 with my good friend Bernard Bardou helping her on her stand.   I've always found these wines quite heavy and solid, but Bernard's enthusiasm was quite catching, so I was prepared to give them a fresh look.  They certainly taste younger than the vintages might indicate, with some intense use of oak and notes of black fruit and firm tannins.

We briefly checked out Clos d'Aven.  Their first vintage was 2005 and they have just 1.5 hectares.  Le Petit Clos is ripe and rounded with dense fruit while 2009 le Clos d'Aven was dry and leathery and 2010 Balzac Noir had ripe vanilla fruit with a firm tannic streak and an intense finish.  I liked le Petit Clos best.

Le Mas de Bertrand was another new name, to me, and is associated with Domaine  de la Malavieille.  A general favourable impression but by this time my notes are getting a little illegible There is an intriguing white wine,  a Vin de France, a blend of Chenin blanc and Petit Manseng,that is more commonly found in Jurancon, which had some dry honey with balancing acidity.  9.80.

Cuvée Louise is a Carignan blanc, with a touch of honey and firm acidity, with an élevage in concrete  eggs.   The rosé, a blend of seven different varieties Syrah, Grenache, Cinsaut, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre and Portan (a cross of Grenache Noir and Blauer Portugieser)  is rounded with some ripe strawberry fruit.

Le 5 is  a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre with some rounded fruit and a firm, but harmonious streak of tannin.   A nice Montpeyroux. 

And we briefly dived into Sylvain Fadat's cellar where he was offering older vintages  By this time, we were beginning to suffer from palate fatigue, but nonetheless we still managed to appreciate  2006 Cocalières blanc which was herbal with resinous notes and very intriguing.  2004 Montpeyroux was  firm and leathery  and 2003 l'Authentique a blend of Mourvèdre and Carignan was firm and intense, with the weight of that warm vintage.

There were other estates that I did taste that were not showing so well on the day.  Domaine de Grécaux was not very expressive.   Ive liked Ivo Ferreiras wines from Domaine lEscarpolette on previous occasions, but on Easter Sunday they just didnt sing.  Domaine de Clementine, I didnt know and dont feel inclined to know better.  And I expected better from Christopher Johnson Gilberts Domaine Cinq Vents.  His first vintage of red, 2010 was very oaky for my taste, and the 2012 rosé was a bit stalky.

And then it was time for some restorative barbecued saucisse with aligot.  We sat in the market square, trying to keep dry, and warm.  A bare chested man was bravely be sporting himself as Bacchus and there were other musical antics for our entertainment.  And then it was time to go home, and warm up! 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Jean-François Izarn from Domaine Borie la Vitarèle

Wine growing can be a hazardous, indeed a dangerous occupation.  A sobering note in the Midi Libre a vintage or two ago warned wine growers that they had seconds, not even a minute to escape, should they fall into a fermenting vat of juice, before they would be overcome by carbon dioxide.  

Equally dangerous can be the hazards of driving a high tractor on a steep slope.  If your tractor topples over, your only chance is to leap to safety and that requires presence of mind and agility.  So it was with great sadness that I read of the death of Jean-François Izarn from Domaine Borie la Vitarèle in St. Chinian in just such circumstances.   I first visited Jean-François for The Wines of the South of France back in 1999.  I embarrassed him hugely by insisting on drinking a cup of tea in his local café in Causse-et Veyran by way of a palate refresher after a previous tasting.  No self-respecting French vigneron wants be seen anywhere near tea.  And then we adjourned to his cellar for various barrels samples of the 1998 vintage, and some bottles of 1997, and then Jean-François cooked dinner.  His father was a chef and he loved cooking almost as much as wine-making.   And a delicious meal it was too. 

Since that visit, our paths have crossed at tastings in London and Montpellier, most recently at Millésime Bio earlier this year.   As fate would have it, a cellar visit had been suggested, but the timing was wrong, and so it was to be postponed until the summer.  Sadly that will never be.

Jean-François’s wife, Cathy, is planning to carry on his work.  She is brave and I wish her good luck and great courage.  And for a more eloquent appreciation and a more recent tasting, do read Andrew Jefford on on 12th May.

Meanwhile my notes from Millésime Bio include:

2012 Le Grand Mayol, a blend of Clairette, Bourboulenc and Vermentino.  Some firm herbal notes on both nose and palate; tight knit with a firm grip, good acidity and minerality.  A lovely original glass of white wine. 

2012 les Terres Blanches, from Syrah and Grenache, grown on limestone soil, was perfumed on the nose, with ripe perfumed red fruit on the palate.  It was beautifully supple with a fresh finish.  A vat sample of the 2013 promised wonderful fruit, with Jean-François enthusing about the vintage.

2012 les Schistes a blend of Syrah and Grenache, grown on schist and aged in demi-muids, had ripe fruit and a more solid structure

Les Cres, comes from the third terroir of St. Chinian, villefranchien soil with galets roulées. It is a blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Mourvèdre, aged in older barrels and demi-muids.  The 2012 was quite dense and rounded with ripe fruit and a great depth of flavour.

2010 Midi Rouge, a blend of Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre, from a selection of vineyards, and vinified and aged for 18 months in demi-muids.  It was solidly oaky on the nose, with very serious, smoky spicy oaky fruit, and needs to evolve in the bottle.

There is no doubt that over the years Jean-François’s wines have become much more elegant and polished, making him one of the stars of St. Chinian.  I am so sad that I will never have that cellar visit.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Tasting Languedoc Roussillon for Decanter’s World Wine Awards

It was a great week, challenging, demanding and stimulating, with several highlights.   A few statistics – 220 judges assessed over 15, 000 wines, of which 681 came from Languedoc-Roussillon, in the 11th DWWA, and we apparently consumed 25 kilos of cheese each day, and very good cheese it was too.  Sarah Kemp, who runs Decanter, believes in keeping her judges happy so we are talking Montgomery, rather than supermarket cheddar.   This year we were in a new venue, Tobacco Dock, which was airy and spacious and entailed a pleasant walk from Tower Hill tube station, past the Tower, through St. Katherine’s Dock where the royal barge is moored, and along the canal.  I was amused to see that my very elderly A-Z still marked the space as London Docks (disused).  And the fun of the week was the international mix of judges, so I could catch up with friends from New Zealand, Australia, Toronto, Vancouver, Friuli, Paris and Nice. 

Tastings panels varied from day to day, but the Languedoc team included Simon Taylor from Stone Vine & Sun, Elizabeth Gabay MW who is based outside Nice, wine writer Isabelle Bachelard from Paris, Arabella Woodrow MW, Justin Howard-Sneyd MW from Domaine of the Bee in Roussillon and Matt Walls, who is one of the new generation of wine writers.  He won a prize last year from the Vins de Pays d’Oc people and you can read him on

The full results will be published in the July issue of Decanter, which of course appears at the beginning of June.   But I can tell you that there were several gold medals, significantly more than last year.  A gold went to a delicious Blanquette de Limoux, This year, in sharp contrast to last year,  there were several golds for white wine.  There seems to be some real progress with the Languedoc whites, both blends and varietals.   And some of the red appellations really shone.   A flight of Faugères was sheer pleasure to taste, and produced two golds.  Other highlights included Minervois la Livinière, Terrasses du Larzac, Corbières and Côtes du Roussillon, all with wines of real character with a true sense of place.  And there were some delicious Vins Doux Naturels, including three gold medals, which were heaven to taste.   These wines are an endangered species, and they deserve to be preserved.  See Andrew Jefford’s article for on Monday 28th April.   .