Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Château Beauregard-Mirouze in the Corbières,

I have met Karine Mirouze a few times at various wine fairs in London and France and enjoyed tasting her wines, so she encouraged me to come and visit.  She is actually breathtakingly efficient and did not forget that I said that I would be in the Languedoc in September and a date was in the diary by early August.

The property comes from her husband, Nicolas’s family and wine has been made here since the 1880s.  It is close to the wonderful Cistercian abbey of Fontfroide, which is more than worth the detour.   Close by is the château of St. Martin de Toque, to which Beauregard once belonged, but these days there are different owners.   On a Monday morning of uncertain weather, it was shrouded in mist.  In the 1960s the vineyards were run by Nicolas’ grandmother, evidently une femme formidable in the best sense of the word.    She planted some Syrah as early as 1967, but never bottled any wine, and otherwise did not renew the vineyards much.   Her children were not interested in the estate,  So Nicolas is the first member of his family in seven generations to live there and run the estate as his principal occupation.  It is a choice that he made, and he is clearly passionate about his vineyards.   ‘We know our vineyards;  we are in them 365 days of the year’. 

Karine explained that she and Nicolas met in Paris; she comes from Bordeaux and  they were both studying agriculture.   Nicolas’s father was in medicine, so Beauregard was his childhood holiday home.  They went to see his grandmother, and the seeds for the adventure were sown.   La passion est née de la rencontre, as Karine put it.  It was a question of starting from scratch, and Nicolas’s  grandmother,  who is now in her 80s, was thrilled.   Karine described her as a visionary in her time, and although she now lives in Montpellier, she comes to Beauregard for the harvest.

First Karine took us on a tour of the vineyards.   They have 25 hectares of vines, including 14 hectares of Corbières, and altogether about 300 hectares of land, with vineyards surrounded by garrigues  and pine trees,  which is very good for organic viticulture as it avoids the problems of neighbours’ sprays.      There is Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, but no Carignan, and for white wine, they have Marsanne, Roussanne, and Vermentino.   The old Carignan vines didn’t ripen properly, neither did the Bourboulenc; it proved as difficult as Carignan.  The eleven hectares of vins de pays are planted with Viognier, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and also Syrah.    The soil is stony sandstone, with north facing vineyards, making for cooler nights at 200 metres altitude.  And the soil is acid, as witnessed by the presence of heather, and some of it is red, indicating the presence of iron. Wild boar are a problem, so they install electric fences when the grapes are ripening.  Altogether there are eleven plots of Corbières,  and six for vin de pays, much of which they sell to the négoce.  

The cellar is a standard Languedoc cellar, with natural air conditioning as it is partly underground, with large concrete vats, which they can fill by gravity.  At one time it processed 5000 hls from 50 hectares; these days their annual crop is about 800 hls.  The old foudres have long since gone.  Some of the original concrete vats are enormous, 312 h – 276 hls – they prefer smaller vats with chapeaux flottants.  The barrel cellar is built in to the rock, with 600 litre tonneaux and barriques, usually from the forests of the Vosges and Tronçais.
The first grapes, Viognier, were picked on 6th September, mechanically at 3 a.m. The juice was chilled, this year it is very clear, a reflection on the health of the grapes.

We sat round a large table in the family house and tasted. 

2013 Corbières, Tradition Blanc – 7.00€
30% Roussanne, Marsanne 50% plus and the rest is Vermentino.  A simple vinification and bottled at the end of January.  2013 is only the second vintage of  this wine.  These are young vines.  Light colour.  Quite a fresh sappy nose.  Good acidity.  Some stony refreshing fruit. With a touch of minerality.  Medium weight.  Fresh and youthful.

2012 Corbières Blanc Lauzine – 12.00€
Lauzine is the name of the plot.  Auze is a chêne verte in Occitan.   From the same three grape varieties, but fermented in barrel.  Light golden.  A rather flat nose, with a touch of oak.  Much  more depth in the palate.  Quite elegant and buttery., with some oak    Karine observed that the vent marin which was blowing that particular morning can sometimes flatten the wines.  2001 was their first vintage, and they talked about learning about their wines. You need  to find the right cooper; they had tried American and Bulgarian oak and have opted for light toasting.  Mathieu Dubernet, son of Marc,  is their oenologist.

2013 Corbières Tradition Rosé – 7.00€
Mainly Syrah, which is pressed, and some Cinsaut which is saigné.  Vines specifically destined for rosé.  A little colour.  Very red fruit, particularly strawberries.  Very ripe, rounded juicy and vinous, with fresh acidity. 

2012 Corbières Tradition Rouge – 7.00€
Half Syrah, half Grenache; élevage in vat for nine to twelve months.   Medium colour.  Some berry fruit on nose.  On the palate lots of nuances, a leathery note, some garrigues, some spice.  Supple tannins.  Medium weight with a fresh finish.

Nicolas talked about the côté réducteur, when the new wine needs some aeration.  Pigeage is good to balance that, rather than délèstages.  They destem all their red grapes and the maceration lasts about ten to fifteen days.  They do not want long extractions, and like to blend, beginning at the beginning of the fermentation.
There has been talk of various terroirs for Corbières as it is a very large appellation.  Boutenac has emerged as a cru, but none of the others, but I wondered about the identity of the vineyard around Fontfroide.  Nicolas suggested finesse, rather than power.  The climate is cooler than some parts of the Corbières, and white wine does well here.

2011 Corbières Lauzine – 12.00€
70% Syrah with some Grenache Noir.  A longer cuvaison, with some pigeage.  About 60% élevage in barrel, depending on the vintage, and not all new wood,  and the rest in vat.  Medium colour.  Delicately oaky.  Quite firm fruit on the nose.  More depth on the palate.  Quite elegant with some garrigues notes, liquorice and mint.  Supple tannins, Nicely balanced, but with no great concentration.

2010 Corbières Fiaire – 20.00€
The name of the hill and a selection of the best grapes. They chose two or three of the best barriques from Lauzine and keep them for longer.  So all aged in wood, and predominately Syrah, as well as some Mourvèdre.  Deeper colour. Quite solid and dense and the nose, but quite an elegant perfumed palate, with some tapenade notes.  Nicely nuanced with supple tannins.  Ready for drinking and a long finish.

2010 Corbières  Fiaire blanc. – 20.00€
Again from the best barrels from Lauzine.  They do a malo-lactic fermentation, and allow for some oxygenation.   Bâtonnage simply by turning the barrels – bâtonnage protects against oxidation.  12 months on the lees.  No sulphur during vinification, only at the harvest and at bottling.  Quite a deep golden colour. Quite rich and leesy. Very rich palate; smooth characterful, buttery notes.  Good depth.   Notes of fennel and aniseed. Rich and quite opulent.  Long and very satisfying.

And we finished with a taste of the Viognier that had been picked two days earlier.  It was already very clear, with honeyed notes and soft acidity. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Domaine Henry at St. Georges d’Orques.

I first met François and Laurence Henry when they were at Domaine St. Martin de la Garrigue outside Montagnac.  Since then the family property has been sold and they have gone on to create a new estate of their own. Domaine Henry in St. Georges d’Orques, with a first vintage in 1993.  They bought vines from a coop member,  eleven hectares, planted with what François called the usual quintet Occitan,  as well as Chardonnay, and some Terret, with Terret Noir,  Gris and Blanc all in the same vineyard.   In 1998 they built a  simple functional cellar. The soil in St. Georges is a mixture of jurassic limestone, flint and some villefranchien galets roullées.

This year, 2014, the harvest started with Chardonnay on 3rd September, Terret was picked on the 4th, and the reds waited another week.       François talked about modifying the  terroir for they stopped using all fertiliser and weed killer in 1998 and are unofficially organic.   As François observed ; mon luxe est dans les vignes.  Ce n’est pas la casserole qui fait le plat; in other words it is not the saucepan, ie the cellar, which makes the dish.  We first tasted some rather murky juice of the first pressing of Terret; it seems ripe and sweet.   François uses very little wood; he prefers fruit, the true expression of the terroir. 

Then we tasted bottles, while their fox terrier Curtis provided diversionary activity.    They talked about the seal on the label which comes from a document found in the departmental archives, an acte de vente de St. Georges in 1738, with the brand used to mark barrels.  St. Georges d’Orques was well known in northern Europe at the time, as the wine travelled along the Canal du Midi to Bordeaux and further north.  No one else was interested in using the seal, so François and Laurence have adopted it as their logo on their labels.  It features St. George, but without the dragon.  

2012 Blanc, Pays des Collines de la Moure  – 10.00€
Chardonnay and Terret.  The percentage depends on the vintage, but usually Chardonnay accounts for about 70-80%.  Quite golden in colour. Quite firm, dry and nutty on both nose and palate.    Chardonnay is on villefranchien and the Terret on limestone.  It was planted in the 1950s.  Good acidity.  Quite firm dry structure, on fine lees, in vat for 6 – 10 months.  Nicely fresh sappy finish.

2013 Vin Vermeil, St. Georges d'Orques– 12.00€
Rosé de saigné –24 hours on the skins at the most.   All five varieties  Quite a bright red.  Quite solid cherry fruit with an  aniseed touch. Quite firms and structured.  A food rosé  

Altogether there are about 15 – 20 producers of St. Georges d'Orques, of varying sizes and importance.  In the village of St. Georges itself, now virtually a suburb of Montpellier, they are the only ones apart from the coop.  Other big estates include Fourques, l’Engarran and Guizard at Lavérune.     An observation about Domaine de la Rime, which was created when Domaine de la Prose sold some vines – it’s a paradox, la vigne s’échappe, the vines are escaping from those who really live from them.  Domaine de la Rime has been created by somebody who wanted some vines for his retirement and  Bertrand de Mortillet at Domaine la Prose makes the wine for him.  

2010 St. Georges d'Orques– 17.00€
A good vintage.   Mainly Grenache, plus some Syrah and Mourvèdre, with a little Cinsaut.  Élevage in vat, with 15% in wood.  Good colour.  Quite rounded leathery nose.  Quite firm. Quite tannic, leathery red fruit.  With tapenade and black fruit.  Francois observed that 2001 has been the most exceptional vintage over 30 years.

2011 Villefranchien, St. Georges d’Orques – 25€
90% Grenache planted  in 1920  and 1947   Light red colour, almost like Pinot Noir.  Fresh liqueur cherries, with acidity and tannin.  Medium weight.  No wood.  François does not make each wine every year.  If you think in terms of the Burgundian classification, St. Georges is his village wine and Villefranchien the premier cru.

2009 le Mailhol, Vin de France – 36.00€
To replicate the wine of St. Georges that was famous in 18th century and mentioned by Thomas Jefferson in 1780, François has planted Morastel noir à jus blanc, Ribeyrenc noir, Aspiran gris, Terret noir and gris, Oeillade gris and noir.  The vineyard was planted in 1998 to make a very first vintage in 2000.  It is just 60 ares, which give 15 hls or 2000 bottles.  François researched in the archives, and obtained cuttings from the Conservatoire de Vassal.  Obviously he had no experience of any of these varieties which are blended in the vineyard.  And the wine was quite different from anything else I have ever tasted in the Languedoc, with the possible exception of C de Centeilles, which is also made from lost varieties.  Medium colour.  Quite rounded nose, with some red fruit, a ripe freshness on the palate, of dry cherries.  Medium weight, very intriguing.   Very elegant.  Quite a dry finish with some tannin.  Youthful.  Griotte cherries.  Very intriguing. 

And then François opened the 2003 Mailhol.  The colour is evolving a little, with notes of sous bois and mousseron the nose, and a hint of thyme.  Quite mature, elegant fruit and some leathery notes. Very intriguing.  Francois admitted to being agreeably surprised as to how well it had aged; he hadn’t been sure what to he hadn't tasted it for a while. 

He commented that in the 1700s, the ban de vendange was usually in the middle of October as these old grape varieties ripened much later than those of today.   He is looking for the roots of the region; il faut savoir d’où on vient.  I wondered about other wine growers with these old varieties – Patricia and Daniel Domergue come  to mind, at Clos Centeilles in the Minervois, and also Thierry Navarre in Roquebrun.   Villeveyrac apparently was known for its vins de Morastel, and Langlade for Aspiran and Ribeyrenc.

And then we finished on a sweet note; 2011 Passerillé.  12˚, mainly Grenache, and vin de table,  No added alcohol. Élevage in vat.  Very fresh red fruit. Ripe and rich with balancing acidity.  It went deliciously with some Roquefort.  A great finale to a friendly visit. 

Monday, 13 October 2014

Puglia - A comparison with the Languedoc

I've just had a break from the Languedoc and spent four days in the heel of Italy discovering the delights of Puglia's indigenous grape varieties, Negroamaro, Nera di Troia and Primitivo.  You   may well be forgiven for asking what Puglia has to do with the Languedoc, but I believe that there are interesting parallels to be drawn.

There is a similarity of history.  Both regions were despised, and both produced enormous quantizes of basic wine with no distinguishing features.   The wines of the Languedoc provided sustenance for the miners of northern France.  Those of  Puglia traveled the length of Italy to provide colour and alcohol for wines that were lacking those two key attributes of a red wine. The early DOCs allowed for a percentage of wine from elsewhere, but happily things began to change.  However, until Chianti became a DOCG - guaranteed as well as controlled - it was perfectly possible and legal to include a generous dollop of Primitivo in your Chianti.  When the laws changed, Puglia lost its key market and the more forward looking producers realised that something had to be done.  

And the change in the wines of Puglia has been dramatic.   I remember my first visit to Puglia, some 20 years ago; it was virtually impossible to find a bottle labeled Primitivo.   It originates in Croatia across the Adriatic - it is a short hop across the water.   Rather longer is the journey to California and the transformation into Zinfandel, which paved the way for the international recognition of Primitivo.

These days there is an abundance of choice, and styles.  Primitivo is a wonderfully versatile variety; you may make it white, pink, novello, firmly dry and with varying degrees of sweetness.  Even some of the drier wines have a little residual sugar.   It is all a question of balance, that the alcohol and ripe fruit should be in harmony.   Negroamaro is also rich and powerful with ripe brambly fruit, while Nero di Troia, a late ripening variety retains freshness with lower levels of alcohol. 

As in the Languedoc the wine growers are learning to master the use of oak for ageing, with barriques, both French and American, and larger barrels and even larger casks.    They realise that they must take care not to mask the intrinsic fruit, but as in the Languedoc they don't always get it quite right.   Some of the most delicious Primitivo come Polvanera.  They are refreshingly unoaked  redolent with cherry liqueur fruit and quite belying their 14, 15 or 16 degrees of alcohol.  Helpfully Filippo Casaro names each cuvée according to its alcohol level.

And in the vineyard there are other parallels.   Puglia boasts some wonderful old vines, old albarello vines, which are similar to the gobelet bush vines of the Languedoc.  These too were disappearing, being pulled up, like Carignan and others, with the encouragement of EU subsidies.  Happily, as in the Languedoc, there has been a realisation of the wonderful quality of these venerable old vines.   And like the Languedoc they are discovering other varieties that were also in danger of disappearing.  Bombino Nero makes delicious rosato,  Susumaniello can be pink, fizzy or red.   They have realised that Fiano Minutolo has nothing to do with the Fiano of Campania, but is a variety all of its own, with some intriguing Muscat notes, not unlike Torrontes from Argentina.   There is Aglianico, which is usually blended, and also Montepulciano, at its best blended with Nero di Troia in Rivera’s inspiring Il Falcone.   Other good Nera di Troia comes from Torrevento, Cefalicchio and Spagnoletti Zeuli.  

Nor has Puglia escaped from international varieties, I won't go as far as to say the curse of international varieties, but Chardonnay in Puglia has to be harvested in early August as opposed to Bombino Bianco which waits happily until the end of September.  And the blends of Negroamaro or Nero di Troia with Cabernet Sauvignon seemed muddily international and lacking a sense of place compared to the intrinsic italianness of a pure Nero di Troia.   It is all a question of confidence.   Tuscany thought it needed international varieties, so did the Languedoc, and so does Puglia, but as it comes of age, so will come the realisation that Nero di Troia, Primitivo and Negroamaro can stand alone.  Do go and try and them. You will be richly rewarded. 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Antech in Limoux

The harvest was in full swing, but we were lucky, Françoise Antech was very willing to take time out and give us a tasting.  But first we did venture into the cellars and watched the arrival of some grapes.   Chardonnay is picked first, then Pinot Noir, and then maybe a little Mauzac.  Chenin comes next, followed by more Mauzac, with the very last Mauzac, the ripest, being kept for the Cuvée Ancestrale.  They are thrilled with 2014.  The grapes are magnificent with very good acidity.  However, Françoise’s father, who  is 80, apparently reckons that 2013 was his best year ever.     We tasted some juice, some Chardonnay, which did indeed have good acidity, and some notes of bananas.  A second vat seemed more delicate and elegant, with notes of apples and pears, and of course some fermentation aromas.  Chenin was more lively, with very good acidity, and some citrus notes.  The Mauzac had not yet started to ferment; the juice had ripe apply fruit.

Françoise explained that they work with 22 grape growers, but also have 70 hectares of vines of their own, which account for 40% of their needs, at St Hilaire, which her sister Michèle and brother-in-law run, following the precepts of Terra Vitis for lutte raisonnée. St Hilaire comes within the Mediterranean zone of Limoux, with an earlier harvest, and grapes that are generally riper with a lot of aroma.  So to compliment thee, they buy mostly from the Haute Vallée de l’Aude, with its higher acidity and freshness, and also a little Oceanic.  It is the blending that gives the variety and character of the Antech wines.  with the ability to buy grapes adding balance to the wines.  

Françoise is in charge of the commercial side of things. The two sisters are the 6th generation and it was their grandfather Edmond Antech who founded the company.  And the succession is looking good.  Michele has two daughters, and Françoise two boys.  So far they have worked on the bottling wine, and are learning to taste.

Blanquette de Limoux, Brut Nature – 8.00€  (2012 vintage, but no vintage mentioned on the label) Our tasting began with Brut Nature.  ‘You can really see the work of wine grower, without any dosage in the wine’, enthused Françoise.  90% Mauzac, with 5% each of Chardonnay and Chenin.   The ‘dusty’ notes that are typical of Mauzac.  Rounded and characterful.  ‘Mauzac is our identity’.  It gives good acidity when it is picked early.  The wine has no dosage, and has spent eighteen months on the lees.  It was quite juicy and crunchy, with notes of green apple and a slightly bitter finish, typical of Mauzac.

(2012) Crémant de Limoux rosé Brut Nature  Emotion – 10.00€
Chardonnay, Chenin blanc and a little Pinot Noir.  Very pale, delicate colour. Quite  firm, dry and nutty with some body.  Limoux does not need dosage.

(2012) Blanquette de Limoux Reserve Brut – 8.00€
Their classic Blanquette.  90% Mauzac.  They do not add older wine to the blend, as in Champagne. They have tried, but it just doesn’t work, as the wines do not have enough acidity, and age better in bottle than in vat.  Essentially this is the same wine as the Brut Nature, but with 9 gms/l dosage.  There was a taste of crunchy apple, and some pear.  The dosage makes the wine more rounded on the palate.  Satisfyingly mouth filling.  A jolly nice glass of bubbles.

(2012) Crémant de Limoux. La Grande Cuvée – 10.00€
Lots of Chenin (40%)  in this, giving some citrus notes, along with 50% Chardonnay and a little (10%) Mauzac. Nicely creamy nose.  Rounded and elegant , with fresh acidity and a touch of honey.  18-24 months on lees.

Crémant de Limoux, Eugenie – 10.00€
70% Chardonnay with 20% Chenin and 10% Mauzac.  Eugenie was Françoise’s great great aunt.  Both her brother and her fiancée were killed in 1914 and she was one of the first women in the Languedoc  to work in the wine trade.  She never married, and it was her sister, Françoise’s grandmother, who married Edmond Antech, who started the business.   Edmond was a prisoner of war in Germany, in a wine village, so learnt his winemaking that way.  Eugenie died at the age of 96. As for the wine, it was light and creamy with some attractive nutty depth, showing the evolution of  the Chardonnay, into notes of brioche and pain grillé, which sounds better than plain toast! 

These days they make about half and half Crémant and Blanquette, but originally they produced much more Blanquette.    Blanquette characterises the terroir, while Crémant is more elegant.  The first vintage of Crémant was 1988, and for rosé 2008.

2011 Heritage 1860  - 12,00€
The name of this cuvée refers to the date of the family papers of Eugenie.   60% Chardonnay, with 20% Chenin and 10% each of Mauzac and Pinot Noir.  A selection of the best vats.  Two and a half years of élevage.  7000 bottles.  Light colour, with a delicate nose.  Good body on the palate; quite rich and rounded, quite sturdy with more body than the preceding wines.   It’s a food fizz; and you could envisage it being an enjoyable drink without the bubbles. 

Crémant de Limoux rosé, Emotion – 10.00€
4% Pinot Noir, 10% Mauzac, 20% Chenin blanc and 66% Chardonnay. Very pale colour.  Delicate fruit, fruits rouges, fine and elegant.  For the 2012s the dosage was a consistent, 9 gms/l.  For the 2013 wines, however, the dosage may be higher as the base wines have higher acidity.  They decide at disgorging, with three experiments at 8gms/l,   10gms/l and 12 gms/l.

2013 L’Ancestrale, Doux et Fruité – 8.00€
100% Mauzac.  The ripest grapes and the last to be picked, from plots selected for both their ripeness and acidity levels.  The wine must not be heavy.  It ferments to 5˚ and then they stop the fermentation and bottle the wine, without adding any sugar.  The wine starts to ferment again in bottle, and reaches about 6˚. Then the wine is disgorged, but no dosage is added.  There is no ageing sur lattes.   It is quite complicated to make properly. .Light colour. A ripe honeyed nose, reminiscent of tarte tatin, an apple tart with caramel. Honey and acidity.  Ripe apples. Fresh and youthful. It would be delicious with a galette des rois, the traditional French dessert that is eaten for Twelfth Night.

Antech also produce a Doux and Demi Sec, but we skipped those, and Françoise gave us a bottle of the final wine, to enjoy with friends later.  Elixir. – 25€   This is the last cuvée that they have created.  She explained that Limoux has always had a complex about the fact that it is not champagne.  ‘But we shouldn’t have.  The terroir is magnificent and we have a real identity, producing wines with fruit and freshness.  We are our own worst enemies.  We daren’t do something different’.  So in 2010 they decided to do a cuvée autrement, differently, just 2000 bottles, and to do the absolute best they possibly could, irrespective of the cost.  They selected plots, with a very small yield, from well exposed vines, with grapes with good acidity.  The grapes were weighed and they took just the first 25 cls of the press.  Normally 1.5 kilos gives you a litre of juice.  The wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin and Pinot Noir.   They fermented it in a stainless steel vat, with carefully temperature control, and they also used a barrel procured a barrel from Château d’Yquem.   It spends three years on lattes, on its lees and is bottled into a very smart black bottle, with an elegant presentation box.   And they use the best, expensive corks and a smart muselage.  They have made Elixir again in 2012 and 2013, and the Chardonnay and Chenin for 2014 have already selected. 

And for the taste ; very good mousse with a  fine bead; a delicate nose, very elegant. And on the palate some nuttiness, and depth with a fresh finish.  If I were nit-picking, it is a teensy bit short on the finish.  And of course it is also considerably more expensive than their classic Crémant.  Is it worth three times the price?  But then this is the first vintage, and it is work in progress with the next vintages to follow.    Thank you Françoise for giving us the opportunity to enjoy the bottle.  It was a great tasting.