Thursday, 28 August 2014

A mural at Château Camplazens

La Clape is one of my favourite parts of the Languedoc.  It is a world apart, close to the sea but set away from the hurly burly of beach.  The scenery is wild and dramatic, with limestone cliffs.  And I am always ready for an excuse to visit, so when Susan and Peter Close suggested that we come and see the wonderful murals that Simon Fletcher has painted for their new tasting room and barrel cellar, I accepted with alacrity. If you know about water colours, you will know that Simon has an international reputation.  I am not so well-informed.  For me he is a local friend whose work I enjoy enormously.   His use of colour is wonderful and his portrayal of la Clape in Susan and Peter’s cellar is breathtakingly evocative.  My photos really do not justice to his work; they may just convey a meagre impression and hopefully tempt you to go and see for yourself, as it covers all four walls of the new tasting room. 

And of course we could not visit without a tasting, so here is quick update. 

2012 Viognier – 10.00€
Light golden; rich peachy nose, and on the palate.  Good acidity and balancing texture.  No oak.  Some bâtonnage and élevage in vat.  And a couple of days later we enjoyed the 2010 Viognier, which had evolved beautifully with richer peachy fruit and more weight and body.

2011 Livia, Viognier, Pays d’Oc – 20€
Another interpretation of Viognier.  Quite golden.  Unobtrusive oak on the nose, but more on the palate, plus some peachy texture.  More body, with some nutty and even leesy notes.  Good weight.  Very intriguing with lots of nuances and a long finish.  This isn’t made every year; there was none in 2013.

2013 Grenache – 9.00€
Good colour. Ripe plummy fruit.  Soft and supple with cherry liqueur fruit and spice.  Lovely easy drinking.

2013 Marselan – 9.00€
I’ve remembered this in the past as being a bit of the jammy side, but this vintage is absolutely delicious.  Rounded ripe with sweet spice and ripe garrigues and a refreshing streak of tannin.  Good balance, and satisfying depth of flavour

2013 Syrah – 9.00€
Good young colour. Quite a firm nose, with some peppery fruit.  A firm streak of tannin, even a touch green, with an inharmonious edge.  Peter admitted that 2013 was a difficult harvest.  Sea mists came in for dour days at the end of September when they were hoping to harvest the Syrah, and consequently the grapes developed some rot. 

And now on to La Clape with:

2011 Garrigue – 10.00€
A blend of Syrah and Grenache./  Very perfumed nose, with black fruit and tapenade on the palate.   25% given an élevage in wood.  Spice and complexity and a touch of oak.

2011 Reserve – 14.00€
60% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 10% Carignan.  50% in barrels of three wines.  Good deep colour.  Ripe spicy fruit; black fruit and tapenade ,with a firm tannic steak.  Youthful and characterful.

2012 Premium  - 20€
Again 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 10% Carignan, essentially a barrel selection from the Reserve.  About 200 barrels.   Quite firm and structured with more tannin and more oak.  Some sweet black fruit on the finish, but quite a youthful tannic  streak.  Needs time.

2011 Julius – 40€
90% Syrah with 10% Grenache.  This is their flagship wine, which is not made every year; there was none in 2012, and probably will be none in 2013.  So make the most of this 2011.  Deep colour.  Firm dense spice on the nose.  Quite solid oak. Rich tapenade with a tannic streak.  Youthful and sturdy with some leathery notes.  Needs time. It is significantly more expensive than their other wines, but Peter feels that it is essential to push the boundaries.  It is important for the image.    I’d like to try this again in about ten years’ time.


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Pic St. Loup - La Bergerie du Capucin

Next stop was la Bergerie du Capucin, to see Guillaume Viau, who is president of the syndicat of the Pic St. Loup.  However we were there to taste his wines, rather than to discuss local wine politics.  He explained that the vineyards come from this wife’s family.  A great great grandmother had been a sheep farmer,  hence the name of the estate.  His father-in-law had bought the vines in 1970s, and sent his grapes to the coop.   Guillaume began working with him in 1995, and until 2008 they were members of the coop.  But the coop in St. Mathieu is sufficiently imaginative not to insist on a total commitment of vineyards, so Guillaume was able to extract 12 hectares from the coop, while his father-in-law continued to send them his grapes.

It is an attractive spot, a typical Languedocien farm, with a maison de maître dominating the courtyard, and farm buildings and stables around the courtyard.   Guillaume has a  tiny cramped cellar; he does a lot of things outside.  He has resin vats for his red wines and two insulated stainless steel vats for his whites and rosé.  Altogether he produces 5500 bottles.    Guillaume explained how he was studying science at Montpellier and came here to do a vintage, as a holiday job, and met his wife and stayed.

Interestingly he has one hectare of Cabernet Sauvignon that goes to the coop.  There are plots within the appellation area  that are non-appellation land and those are planted for vin de pays.   And the area has a strong tradition of coops that work well for their appellation, notably at St. Mathieu de Treviers – I remember being impressed on a visit there as far back as 1987 – and at Corconne.  Jacques Gravegeal who is president of the syndicat of the Pays d’Oc also has vines in Pic St. Loup. 

Guillaume talked about his work;  he has practiced lutte raisonnée since 2001.   In the cellar he favours macerations of two to three weeks.  And then he began opening bottles.

2013 Les 100 Pas, Pays d’Oc – 7.00€
A pure Chardonnay.   Élevage in vat.  Light colour.  Fresh and delicate with good acidity.   Not all bad for a Languedoc Chardonnay.  Guillaume explained that it comes from a cool vineyard at Valflaunès, with the vines grown on rich soil, and facing north, and protected from the south by a small hill.   There is a lot of Chardonnay planted  within the Pic St. Loup, as well as more traditional Languedoc varieties.  Guillaume talked about the delimitation;  the area is delimited, so that a village is recognised as part of the appellation, and then within that village a délimitation parcellaire is made, with strict criteria, technical, geological and microclimate.  This means that within a Pic St. Loup village, there are plots that are not appellation, but vin de pays and therefore planted with vin de pays varieties, such as Chardonnay.

2013 Dame Jeanne, Val de Montferrand - 9.80€
80% Chardonnay with 20% Viognier.   There is more to this wine than the previous Chardonnay.  For a start there are two different types of Chardonnays; one is picked earlier to retain its acidity and freshness.  The second is picked four to eight days later so that it has more weight.   For this wine the Chardonnay and Viognier are aged separately in vat and then blended.  The Viognier adds richness and seemed to dominate the palate.  Guillaume admitted that Viognier is difficult in a blend  and he thinks that he has added too much.  The method of vinification is very simple: press; débourbage and ferment around  15⁰C for three weeks; élevage in vat and blend in the spring, before bottling.

2013 Dame Jeanne rosé, Pic St. Loup – 9.50€ Quite a pale orange pink.  Light fresh fruit medium weight and rounded palate, with a dry finish and good balance.  Delicate and fresh.  Jeanne was the sheep farmer, so it is fitting that her name lives on, as an inspiration in the estate

Then the conversation moved on to percentages of grape varieties and the rules for Pic St. Loup.  Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre are the principal grape varieties and must make up at least 90% of the blend, while Carignan and Cinsaut are complimentary varieties, for which the maximum percentage of both together is just 10%.  There is no precise percentage for the principal varieties, but no one principal variety must account for more than 80% of the blend.   And you must include at least two principal varieties.  Syrah tends to be the dominant variety as it performs so well in the cooler climate of the Pic St. Loup.  Élevage is a minimum of twelve months, including two months in bottle, so the 2013 vintage can be sold from 1st September 2014.  This means that you have to stock the wine in bottle within the appellation, which creates what Guillaume called a garde feu or a firebreak or security barrier. 

2012 Dame Jeanne Pic St. Loup – 11.50
70% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 20% Grenache, a very classic Pic St Loup blend.  Aged in vat.  Good colour.  Ripe red fruit with a touch of tapenade.  Rounded with good depth, silky tannins making for a fine balance.

2011 Larmanela – 19.80€
Named after the lieu dit opposite the original bergerie.  There are still sheep up there, with a shepherd who rents it from Guillaume’s father –in-law.  Monoculture is relatively recent in the Languedoc.  100 years ago vines were planted in poor soil; wheat in richer soil and the garrigues were used for grazing sheep for meat and Roquefort cheese.  The blend here is 90% Syrah with some Grenache, from a selection of plots.including some old vines at Lauret, giving a low yield of 15 hl/ha.  There is an 16-18 months élevage in 400 litre barrels.  Guillaume vinifies each plot separately and puts it in wood until the spring; then blends it and puts into mainly new barrels.   The oak was still very present, but some rich fruit and notes of vanilla and quite sold tannins.  He then produced a second bottle opened a day or two earlier.  It had become more tapenade with black fruit and less obvious vanilla.

Now how about an older vintage or two?  An invitation that I can never refuse.
2011 Dame Jeanne.  Good colour.  Elegant fruit.  Red fruit with a smoky note and the benchmark freshness of the Pic St. Loup.  Some gentle evolution and an elegant finish.  A lovely glass of wine.

2008, which was actually Guillaume's first vintage.  At this stage he had done a winemaking course, but this was his first actual vintage.   He did a lot of pigeage, too much he thinks.  The colour beginning to evolve.  Very black fruit.  Tapenade, solid fruit and solid tannins.  Some prunes; pruneaux sounds better in French.    A fascinating evolution.   In fact it was lovely to observe how Guillaume’s winemaking has evolved, and that now he favours and achieves elegance. 

And then it was time for lunch, at a very cheerful restaurant, le Bistrot du Vinaigrette in Prades-de-Lez just north of Montpellier.    We sat in a shaded courtyard outside and enjoyed a fresh rosé from Château la Roque, and a salade gourmande.    I was a little disappointed by the last cellar visit of the day, so would prefer not to blog about it.  Instead I shall remember  the wonderful drive back along the foot of the Pic St. Loup.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

A day in the Pic St. Loup - Mas Bruguière

My new friend, Sharon Nagel, who has just published a wonderful book on the Pic St. Loup,  suggested coming to explore the area with her, and arranged a great day out.      If you don’t know the Pic St. Loup, the dramatic views of the Pic itself are alone is the worth the detour.  The scenery along the road from St. Martin de Londres to St. Mathieu de Treviers is simply breath-taking and on a July morning, there was a slight heat haze and Pic St. Loup and the Montagne de l’Hortus presented a dramatic silhouette, with the vineyards in between the two hills.

Xavier Bruguière is the seventh generation on the estate.  The family have been making wine here since  the Revolution.  They have 20 hectares altogether with the hub of the estate at the foot of the Pic, where their cellar is.  At the beginning of the 19th century this was an area of polyculture and the wine was sold to a broker, and then when the coop was created in 1920, a grandparent took the easy route.   Xavier’s father, Guilhem,  took over in 1974, and was a member of the coop of St. Mathieu,  but then in 1986 became one of the first independent producers to begin bottling his  wine.   He then bought a further ten hectares in the northern part of the appellation, which he has gradually replanted since 1999.  And that is when Xavier started working on the family estate.

For red wine they have Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, but no Carignan, or Cinsaut, but they are planning to plant some Cinsaut next year.  and for white wine, which is Coteaux du Languedoc, not Pic St. Loup, they have Marsanne, Roussanne and Vermentino.   Xavier observed that if you plant Carignan these days, you are planting for your children.    He studied at Béziers and worked for a couple of years at La Liquière in Faugères under a system whereby you alternate studies with practical cellar and vineyard work.   And from 1999 he worked with his father, until Guilhem retired in 2004.

The relatively new cellar is well conceived.  Everything works by gravity, so that the grapes are filled from above.  Xavier uses natural yeast, and has cement fermentation vats for his red wine and large tronconique oak vats for élevage, as well as some 600 litre barrels.  Generally he favours large containers rather than barriques.  However, like most good winemakers he believes that 80% of the wine is made in the vineyard and he works organically. 

First we tasted some 2013 vat and barrel samples.  They promise deliciously well.
We kicked off with Grenache   Xavier said it came from old vines, but they were only 38 years old, the same age as him,  He explained that his grandfather had replanted his vineyards in 1958, after the big freeze of 1956, but for table grapes, not wine, so his father had started again.  These vines were on limestone just below the cliff of Hortus.  The Grenache was delicious; perfumed liqueur cherries with some acidity and tannin and minerality.  It stays in vat, as Xavier believes that  Grenache tires in wood.  And you certainly couldn’t  taste the 15˚

Next came some Syrah.  The first wine was from 14 year old vines on red clay and hard limestone at Lauret.  They ripen fifteen days later than the vines around the cellar.  The altitude is the same but the soil is cooler.   Élevage in  a tronconique vat.   There was peppery fruit, and the wine was nicely taut, firm, structured and elegant.

Another Syrah, from vines planted in 1982, by the cellar on white clay and soft limestone on cooler north facing slopes    Deep colour.  More closed on the nose and more structured with more tannin.  Fresh and closed and more powerful. Will need longer ageing.

2013 was the year of the late harvest.  Xavier described the spring as impitoyable, but the summer was very  good, with rain just when you needed it.   And the harvest went well.  They started picking fifteen days later than usual, but finished at the same time as 2012.  It took two weeks rather than four.    So far 2014 has been dry, until a few days ago.  But  there is some pressure from oidium, and they have had a touch of hail, but nothing as serious as in the Minervois or la Clape.

A third Syrah had a firm smoky nose and palate.  It came from a tronconique vat.  With good acidity and tannins and a certain freshness, making for an elegant red wine.  I needed to be reminded that 50% is the minimum percentage for Syrah in the Pic St. Loup.  We are talking about the coolest and wettest part of the Languedoc. 

And the finale barrel sample was some Mourvèdre, grown just below l’Hortus.  Xavier described it as a un cépage ingrate – it is black or white.  They are at the northernmost limit for Mourvèdre.   You can’t plant it  just anywhere, and you need to work in the vineyard.  There was some rounded fruit, with firm but silky tannins, with elegance and length and the freshness of the hills.  It promises very well  for the  2013 Cuvée le 7me.  It will probably be bottled in the spring of 2015, depending on its evolution in barrel.

And then we adjourned to his tasting caveau for some bottles:

2013 Coteaux du Languedoc blanc  Les Muriers  – 12.00€
Guilhem Bruguière planted the white varieties in 1992 and the blend comprises 70% Roussanne, 20% Marsanne, and 10% Vermentino, which is a more recent addition to the blend, planted in 2008.  Xavier had wanted to broad the aromatic palate.  He observed that later ripening varieties do better, and 30% of the blend is vinified in small foudres of  12 hls.  He uses just the free run juice and very first pressings.  However you wouldn’t notice any wood impact at all.  The nose was redolent of white blossom and the palate rounded and herbal, with very good acidity and a fresh finish.   There are apparently moves towards a white Pic St. Loup; for the moment any white wines from the area are Val de Montferrand, after the nearby ruined castle, or indeed Pays d’Oc or Hérault, or plain Languedoc or Coteaux du Languedoc. 

2013 Rosé Pic St. Loup, L’Arbouse – 8.50€
50% Syrah and 50% Mourvèdre.  10% saigné and all the rest pressurage direct.  Xavier keeps two hectares, especially for rosé, as it is a cooler vineyard site.  The colour is a delicate orange pink and the palate rounded with some weight.  It is ripe with balancing acidity, and very satisfying. 

As we broached his red wines , the subject of the appellation came up.  How it that the Terrasses du Larzac are already is recognised as an appellation when they are much younger and with less visibility than the Pic St. Loup?   Pic St. Loup has been working on its dossier since 2001.   The answer lies with local politics.    There is a move to include vineyards from three communes that were not part of the original area of Pic St. Loup, namely Assas, Guzargues and Vailhauquès.    And that has provoked much friction.  The geology is similar, but the producers in those villages have not actually worked to create the appellation.  They would simply benefit from the new delimitation of the appellation, which has been carried out by the INAO.  Some long-standing producers of Pic St. Loup have actually had their vineyards reduced with the new delimitation.   As you can appreciate, it is a wonderful histoire de clochers.  

2013 Calcadiz, Coteaux du Languedoc – 8.50€
Syrah and Grenache – 60%  aged in vat.  This is only sold at the cellar door, and makes a great red for summer drinking.  It is fresh and perfumed, with some acidity and tannin.  Fresh cherries was the main fruit flavour.

2012 l’Arbouse, Pic St. Loup.  12.00€
L’Arbouse is the fruit of the strawberry tree, or arbousier.    60% Syrah with some Grenache.  Part aged in cement vat and part in tronconique vats.   Medium colour.   Ripe spice on the nose and palate, and very perfumed red fruit, with the herbs of the garrigues, and a stony mineral nose, as well as a nice streak of tannin.  Elegant but easy drinking.  Asked his typicity, Xavier replied :  Fruit, Fraicheur et Finesse and you certainly found that in this first Pic St. Loup.

2011 La Grenadine – 19.00€
80% Syrah with a little Grenache and Mourvèdre.   Medium colour.  Firmer more structured nose.  Quite rounded and ripe with a touch of oak, which is nicely integrated.  Élevage in tronconique vats and demi-muids for 12 months, followed by six months in concrete vats.  Long and balanced.  Xavier observed that 2011, 2012 and 2013 were all three ‘beaux millésimes.

I observed that Faugères is generally much cheaper.   Apparently it all depends on the bulk price – 100€ per hl for Faugères and up to 180-200 € per hectolitre for Pic St. Loup.   The appellation covers 1500 hectares currently over 13, but soon to be 16 communes, from Corconne to St. Gely du Fesc.

And our tasting concluded with
2007 le 7me – 35€
Named for the seventh generation.  This is a pure Mourvèdre given  24 months  élevage.  Deep colour.  A rich nose and palate, with lots of depth and nuances.  Rich but elegant; both supple and subtle.  A supple tannic streak.  Xavier observed that 2009 was a hot vintage, but the freshness of the Pic St. Loup helped.  2003 was the very first vintage of 7me.  A great tribute to a long line of dedicated vignerons.      

For more information on Sharon’s book :                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Monday, 4 August 2014

Domaine la Grange

Domaine la Grange is yet another example of outside investment in the Languedoc.   The property was bought in 2007 by Rolf Freund, who already had a successful business in Germany as a wine shipper.   The previous owner has stayed on as chef de culture, relieved that he no longer has full responsibility for a family estate.  And in Mr. Freund’s absence the estate is capably managed by Sandrina Hugueux.     You will find it on the road out of Gabian going towards Fouzilhon.  Currently a large crane marks the site, for a new cellar is under construction, but will not be ready until October, just too late for this year’s harvest.   And they have recently changed wine makers.  I tasted wines made by Sebastien Louge, who has moved on to create his own estate in Faugères, where he will make his first wines this coming vintage.  He has been replaced by Thomas Raynaud, who has an impressive CV and has worked largely in Roussillon at Domaine Lafage. 

Altogether Domaine la Grange comprises  32 hectares, half in appellation Languedoc or Pézenas, and half Pays d’Oc, divided into about 25  different plots..  The soil is quite varied, un peu de tout, as Sandrina said.  There are extinct volcanos close by, and plenty of underground water, so their vines do not suffer from any water stress.   This is the area that supplied water to the Roman city Betarra or Baeterrae, as  Beziers was then called.   In the same plot of vines you have red and yellow soil, limestone and clay, basalt and even a little schist for they are on the edge of the appellation of Faugères.  There is some Carignan from 1956; Cabernet Sauvignon was planted in the 1980s, and they have other international grape varieties, especially Sauvignon and Chardonnay for white wines.   In the vineyard they follow the principles of lutte raisonnée with a minimum of products, and are members of Terra Vitis.   The key to lutte raisonnée is observation, rather than action, with minimal chemical intervention, using organic products wherever possible.

There are three levels to their range of wines.  Their entry level is Classique; then there are  five different varietal  Terroirs, based on different soils, and best of all is the Castalides range.  What follows is what I tasted.   They had sold out of the Reserve in the Castalides range – it had just been Parkerised!  

Terroir 2013 Sauvignon - 5.95€
2013 is their first vintage of Sauvignon, from a two hectare plot that they have just bought.   The vineyard needs some work.   Pale colour delicate nose.  A touch of minerality and quite fresh with good acidity, but lacking a little in real flavour.  Next year they are aiming for a lower yield.

Terroir 2013 Chardonnay – 5.95€
Light colour. Quite a delicate nose.  Lightly rounded and buttery, with some acidity. Quite fresh and easy.   These vines were planted in 2007.

Classique 2013 Rosé  - 5.50€
Mainly Cinsaut with some Syrah.  Saigné.  Pale colour.  Quite a rounded nose.  Quite ripe with a touch of spice.  Quite vinous with a touch of sugar on the finish, in fact 7 gms/l, just to soften it.  I found it went slightly cloying.  It is intended for the German market.

2013 Classique Rouge
A blend of Syrah and Mourvèdre.  Young colour.  Medium depth.  Quite soft red fruit, soft and rounded with a streak of tannin, and again a touch of residual sugar, 6 gms/l, to make for easy drinking.

I didn’t  taste the Classique Blanc as that comes from bought in grapes, and is a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon.

Terroir Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Pabiro – 8.95€
Pabrio is the name of the vineyard.  Élevage in vat.  Deep colour.  Quite a rounded nose with a touch of cassis.   Quite a rounded wine, with a ripe finish and soft tannins, and a streak of freshness, characteristic of the vintage.

Terroir 2013 Merlot – 8.95€
From both new and old vines.  Élevage in vat.  Good colour. Quite a firm nose, with firm fruit on the palate and some dry cassis.  Not my favourite grape variety from the Midi, but this successfully avoids the common fault among Merlots from the Midi of jamminess.   

Les Vins Castalides, 2012 Edition, Pézenas – 14.90€
I needed to be told that Castalides were water nymphs, who lived in a well, and inspired a poet who drank the water from that well.  We are of course meant to be inspired by the wine.  It is a selection of the best plots of Syrah and Grenache on slopes at 250 metres.   Each plot is vinified and aged separately.  They favour several different coopers, Seguin Moreau, Boutes and François Frères amongst others.   Deep colour.  Quite ripe dense solid oak on the nose.  A firm oaky streak on the palate, balanced with a very good concentration of fruit.  Good length.  An explosion of flavour in the mouth, rich and tannic with black fruit, tapenade and garrigues and chocolate on the finish.  Lots of character.   I’d love to try it again when it is ten years old.

Sandrina talked about how their work has evolved in the vineyard.  The former owner accepts their ideas and since 2007 they have really focussed on the vineyard, reducing yields.  The palissage has changed; canopy management has improved and they analysed the soil carefully before any replanting.  Mr. Freund may be an absentee owner, but he does visit every six weeks or so.

2012 Icône, Pézenas    – 26.90€
Equal parts of Syrah and Mourvèdre.  The best Mourvèdre they have, and Syrah is grown on a slope – most of their vineyards are on undulating rather than steep slopes.  The wine spends 18 months in oak.  Good deep colour.  A touch of oak on the nose, but fresher spice than for Edition.  More structured.  Rounded and ripe, with notes of tapenade from the Syrah, while the Mourvèdre gives backbone and notes of the garrigues.   Sandrina observed that Mr. Freund likes concentrated wines.  The fruit must dominate the flavour, not the wood, and there must be some freshness too.  And she summed up the style of the wines of La Grange, by describing them as modern wines, with fruit.      They certainly illustrate some of the current trends of the Midi.