Sunday, 30 November 2014

Domaine de la Triballe

A quick whizz to Montpellier to taste for the annual competition of Sudvinbio gave me an opportunity to visit an organic estate to the east of the city.  Somehow Montpellier is a bit of barrier, if you are based in the western part of the Hérault, whereas Domaine de la Triballe is only twenty minutes from the airport, outside the village of Guzargues.   And Olivier Durand very kindly provided taxi service.  . 

First a look at his vineyards. It was a murky November afternoon, with rain in the air and low clouds, so you could barely make out the silhouette of the Pic St. Loup and the Montagne de l'Hortus in the gloom.    As the locals say, the Pic St Loup has put its hat on;  il a mis son chapeau.  And there is another local saying:  Mer claire, Montagne obscure,Pluie sure.

Potentially Olivier has vineyards in two appellations, Grès de Montpellier and the Pic St. Loup.  However, Guzargues is one of the villages involved in the extension of the appellation of the Pic St. Loup.   It is still up for discussion, but looking at Olivier’s vineyards, you can detect a very perceptible difference between the two terroirs.  The soil is quite different, so that you can see the fault line. Grès de Montpellier is based on grès, on sandstone, with galets roulées, while the Pic St Loup is more limestone. 

Olivier explained that the unifying factor of the Grès de Montpelier is in fact its climate.  The appellation stretches from Montagnac to the west of Montpellier as far as Lunel in the east, in a crescent, covering a twelve kilometre band that follows the coastline of the Golfe du Lion.  The maritime influence means the days are not so hot, nor are the nights as cool as further inland.  The lack of extremes of temperature makes for a more gentle ripening.  Grenache is the main grape variety of the Grès de Montpellier while the Syrah there is more soyeux, with elegant tannins and finesse.  In contrast the Pic St. Loup is sheltered from the maritime influence.  Altitude in the Grès de Montpellier varies considerably, with Méjanelle at barely 30 metres, whereas Guzargues is more undulating and Olivier has vineyards at 146 metres.    Olivier is president of the Grès de Montpellier; I suspect that he makes a very effective president as he obviously cares passionately about his appellation.   He also insisted that the presidential term should be delimited to three years, in the interests of democracy.

Domaine de la Triballe - the name means three valleys - comprises 17 hectares altogether.  This is a family estate, with Olivier  the 7th generation.  The vineyards have always been organic.  Olivier laughingly explained that his grandfather was very religious but he was terrified of going to meet his Maker so when he saw the warning skull and crossbones on the packaging of the new wave weed killers and pesticides of the 1960s, he adamantly refused to use them.  He lived to the age of 96 and Domaine de la Triballe was one of the very first estates to be registered as organic, back in 1974.  There are about thirty estates all over France that have never used chemical weed killer or pesticides.  Olivier's vines are in three main ilôts, but he has lots of small plots within those, with hedges of pine trees, creating an individual eco system for each vineyard.
Olivier has been running the estate, with his wife Sabine,  since 1995.  He built the functional, and relatively spacious cellar, which is partly underground, with natural insulation, and then the tasting caveau.  He makes both appellation wines and vins de pays, explaining that he is getting rid of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that his father planted in the 1970s, when they were deemed to be the best option for improving your vineyards.  Some of his vineyards are too low-lying for an appellation but he still prefers Languedoc varieties for his vins de pays.   And there is a range of different appellation wines, all with a striking label, a rainette, or tiny frog across the T.  They have a lot of rainettes, but Olivier couldn't find one just then for me to admire. 

2013 Coteaux du Languedoc Blanc  Aphyllanthe - 12.00€
70 % Rolle and 30% Roussanne.  Light colour.  Quite a broad biscuity nose. A fresher palate, with citrus notes and good acidity and a certain body.  Quite elegant and fresh.  Nice texture.  White flowers.  Olivier works on the lees with bâtonnage, and a small amount is aged in oak, just three barrels.  The oak gives a little more texture.  Assemblage in January and bottling in June.  It was Olivier who planted the white varieties.  He likes the vivacity of Rolle, and generally does not like oak, but thinks he has found the appropriate balance, with just a little oak.

2013 Toutes Aures, Coteaux du Languedoc  Rosé. - 7.00€
Aures, meaning gold or or or is a reference to the colour of the soil. Half Grenache, half Syrah with a little Cinsaut.  The Grenache is pressed and Syrah,  from young vines, saigné.   Light pink. Quite a rounded nose.  A hint of strawberry on palate.  Rounded ripe fruit. Medium weight.  Good acidity.  Quite mouth filling

2013 Rosé. Vin de Pays de Montferrand – 5.00€
40%  each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan, with 20% Cinsaut. Slightly lighter colour. More lively on the palate, even a touch of tannin as well as acidity. A different balance; Olivier called it un vin de salade.

And then onto reds:

2013 Toutes Aures, Coteaux du  Languedoc  7.00€
70% Carignan 30% Syrah.  For the appellation the blend should really be 50% Carignan, 30% Syrah and 20% Grenache, but never mind.  Slightly rustic nose, with red fruit. Medium weight.  More red fruit on the palate with a lightly tannic streak. Good balance.    I really enjoyed this.

An interesting observation that people practicing organic viticulture for more than ten years tend to get better acidity levels in their wine. 

2013 was a very good vintage.  A very good summer with refreshing storm on 23rd August.  Not an especially late vintage in this part of the Languedoc.

2012 La Capitelle, Grès de Montpellier.  12.00€
60%  Grenache, 40%  Syrah. Élevage in vat.  Bottled June 2014  Good young colour. Cerises en liqueur and the spice of the garrigues. A streak of tannin with some fleshy fruit.  Ripe cherries with a streak of tannin.  Medium weight.

2011 En Attendant Que .  Currently Coteaux du Languedoc, but Pic St Loup in waiting. 13.00€
The mistral blew in 2011, resulting in drier tannins.  Just 3000 bottles.  60% Syrah aged for eight months in oak. 40%  Grenache in vat.  Blended after ageing in barrels and then further ageing in vat and bottled at the end of August 2014.  Deep young colour.  More garrigues on the nose.  Quite firm tannins.  Quite full and rounded on the palate. A confit touch from the Syrah.   

2013 Cinsaut, Vin de Pays de Montferrand6.00€
Light red, with a short maceration.  Oliver described this as un vin de soif,  de grillade et de pétanque. If chilled. Ripe cherries, a trace of tannin and acidity.  Very refreshing, especially if served chilled. 

Olivier who is very articulate with a good sense of humour produced the idea of an indice de la picolabilité (which might roughly translate as a Richter scale for inducing tipsiness,  with picoler meaning to tipple, to get drunk, but in a nice way) It is very high with Cinsaut, he observed.   

So a sympa finale to a friendly visit and well worth the journey to the other side of Montpellier.  

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Le Wine Shop - Pézenas

Not to be confused with Le Wine Shop, Greenwich, Connecticut, which is the first thing that comes up when you google Le Wine Shop, without a specific location.   Pézenas has a new wine shop, the brainchild of Dominic George, no relation, and it is well worth a visit.  It opened a couple of months ago, and I popped in yesterday as I am making a flying visit to the Languedoc this week, and Dominic showed me round. 

Le Wine Shop is well situated, at 65 avenue de Verdun.    Come off D13 as you approach Pézenas, and at the first roundabout turn right for Pézenas centre, and then, almost immediately, turn right into a parking area, and Le Wine shop is on your left.   It is cheerful and welcoming, and encourages you to browse, and buy. No surprise that Dominic is specialising in the Languedoc with a strong concentration of local wines – Turner-Pageot,  Ste. Hlaire, Sarabande are but a few names that I spotted, but Dominic has also ventured further afield, and found estates that were new to me – such a cheerful Côtes du Roussillon Villages,  Domaine la Toupie, that I enjoyed for dinner last night, with lots of warm spicy fruit, and just the thing on a  chilly autumn evening.  There was a Corbières, Domaine Aonghusa and a Minervois, Domaine des Maels too.  And there are wines from further afield, the Loire Valley and champagne.  At the moment a further reason to visit is an exhibition of Affordable Art, with  four local artists exhibiting and selling their paintings.   The white washed walls make a perfect hanging space.    Dominic, and his associate Colin, are planning tastings and other events – next will be wine and mince pies on 7th December.

So do go and visit, and if you want to be put on their mailing list, send them an email at:      where you will find the full list of wines. 

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Maury at

It seems that Maury Sec, the newly created appellation for the table wines of Maury, as opposed to the fortified vins doux, is starting to make waves.   A sample bottle arrived the other day, from a new mail order company,  which has been set up by wine enthusiast, Philip Morton, who has encouraged a handful of wine growers to make their absolute favourite wine, with no expense or effort spared.   And so Thomas Raynaud, who is the winemaker at Château St. Roch in Maury has produced a Maury Sec from the 2011 vintage.  It arrived in a beautiful box, a handsome bottle with a dramatic label.   I have to admit that I was a bit nervous.  It looked like the sort of bottle that could easily blow your head with an assault of new oak  and over extracted tannins, but appearances can be highly deceptive.  This wine has style.  The blend is 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 10% Mourvèdre.  A deep young colour, and a discreet structured nose.   And the palate was beautifully balanced.  Despite the 22 months of ageing in barriques, the oak is very well integrated, with an elegant balance of spicy fruit and tannins, a streak of freshness, that can be rare in Roussillon, and a long finish.  The alcohol, which can sometimes be a problem in Roussillon, was well integrated too.  The wine had sufficient weight and fruit to support 14.5.   It is still very young – an optimum drinking time was given of 2015 to 2017, but we decanted it to allow it to breathe, and it was simply delicious with sausage and mash on a damp autumn evening.   At £35 it is expensive, well above the average offering from Roussillon, but the quality is also well above average, making a fair rapport qualité prix.  

Monday, 17 November 2014

Clos de l'Anhel in the Corbières

The heavens opened just as we reached the little village of Montlaur and the narrow streets quickly turned to gushing streams.  I’ve never seen quite so much water fall out  of the sky  quite so quickly.    Finding Sophie Guiraudon’s cellar was not easy.   Montlaur seems to economise on street signs, and Sophie on cellar signs.  But eventually we tracked her down, and it proved well worth persevering.    

Sophie was reflective about the rain.  It was not forecast and she was planning to pick later in the week.   It will all depend on the weather over the next three days.  If things dry up and the sun comes up, all will be well.

She talked about the creation of Clos de l’Anhel, with Philippe Mathias.  Their first vintage at Clos l’Anhel was 2000. He was and still is the manager or régisseur at Château Pech Latt, a nearby Corbières estate, but is no longer involved with Clos de l’Anhel.  They took over six hectares from a coop member, with vines in the villages of Ribaute and Lagrasse, and converted them to organic viticulture.  Sophie’s first solo vintage was in 2009 and she now has nine hectares.  She studied oenology at Toulouse, and worked at the Dubernet laboratory in Narbonne, but she really wanted to do her own thing, to follow the entire viticultural cycle, and in the cellar, and not have a boss.  For the moment she only has red grape varieties, and will have made her first rosé this year, in 2014.

Our tasting began with 2013 Cuvée les Autres,  Vin de France - 7.70€  a wine that was created in 2007, to thank friends, whose names are on the label.  Each name has a story.   The grapes, half Syrah and half Grenache, from forty years old vines, are from her newer vineyards that are being converted to organic viticulture.  Élevage in vat.    Good colour.  Red fruit and understated spice.  Some liquorice and leather.  Quite a firm palate; quite sturdy and ripe, with youthful tannins.   Immediately appealing fruit on the palate.  Sophie called it a vin de copain.  Low yields, less than 30 hls/ha.   
Sophie talked of the vagaries of the weather.  Last year, 2013, on 15th September, the grapes were looking magnificent, but were not quite ripe, and then the vent Marin, blew in from the sea, bringing a week of sea mist, and 60 mms of rain. The result was botrytis and the need for a severe triage, à la main, resulting in her losing 30% of her crop.  She eventually started the harvest on  1st  October 2013, and finished on 10th.  This year she expected to start the harvest with her rosé on 7th October. 

2013 Corbières, Lolo de l’Anhel  - 7.70€
I am always intrigued by wine names.  Lolo is the milk for a baby, and anhel is a  lamb or agneau. Sophie said she liked velours dans la bouche, velvet in the mouth, and sometimes finds the tannins of Corbières a little rustic.  She wants elegant  tannins.   She keeps her  vin de presse  separate and does not mix it with the free run juice, so that all her pressed juice goes into Lolo, and there is none in her other wines.   Consequently Lolo is very perfumed and less elegant.  I found it quite solid and sturdy, with ripe fruit and fresh tannins, and some youthful acidity; ‘the character of pressed wine’,  observed Sophie.   

She talked about a technique for extracting juice from the cap, using mats for an olive press in several layers.  The circular press is sealed, and then the juice sucked out, aspiré over three or four hours, very gently
2012 Corbières, Les Terrassettes – 10.50€
This is her principal cuvée, mainly from Carignan, with Grenache and Syrah and a little Mourvèdre.  Deep young colour.  Quite firm sturdy fruit on the palate, with rich concentrated flavours.  Acidity as well as tannin and a long  finish.  It developed in glass, revealing fresh red fruit.  2012 was not a hot year and the vineyards are at a certain altitude, between 200 – 300 metres, which also helps retain the freshness.    The élevage is in vat; Sophie only uses wood for a Rancio.  

2011 Corbières, les Terrassettes
Un beau millésime’, Sophie enthused.  More Syrah than in the 2012.  Quite rich and spicy, full and ripe, smoky.  Eight months in vat.  Much richer and more rounded than 2012.

2013 Corbières, les Dimanches – 15.50€
From 80 year old Carignan accounting for 80% of the wine. A small yield of just 20 hl /ha.   For this cuvée she uses the best wine of the year, and she might not make it every year.  Another year it might be Syrah, but she does like Carignan.  Good deep colour.  Quite a firm sturdy nose.  Very concentrated.  Youthful sturdy red fruit. Tannic with elegant concentration.  Nicely mouth filling. It used to be aged in barrel, but no longer.

2011 Envie  - 25.00€
90% Mourvèdre.  She had wanted to do a pure Mourvèdre.  Usually it ripens and goes into Terrassette, but 2011 was a particularly good year, so she wanted to do something different with the Mourvèdre, so added a little Carignan ad Syrah and made just 1000 bottles.  Deep young colour. .  Quite smoky; quite rich ripe fruit. Quite fleshy; youthful .  14˚

As  we drove through the dramatic gorges de Congoust at the southern foot of the Montagne d’Alaric , the clouds cleared, and we stopped for a quick look at Sophie’s vines outside Lagrasse.  She was going to make a more detailed inspection, while we headed into Lagrasse to admire the Roman bridge and the old market square.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Discovering German Switzerland

One of the great things about the DWCC is the opportunity to go on a post-conference trip in the host country.   I was lucky enough to join the three day exploration of the vineyards of German Switzerland, covering the north eastern part of the country.  The two main grape varieties are Műller-Thurgau which the Swiss prefer to call Riesling Silvaner, and Pinot Noir, which was a revelation.  Of the 15,000 hectares of vineyards in Switzerland, German Switzerland accounts for just 2600 hectares, or 17% of the total.   As we discovered, the vineyards are very scattered. 

After a two hour drive north east from Montreux past Freiburg and Bern, our first destination was Wehrli Weinbau in Kűttigen, within the appellation of Aargau.  Susie Wehrli greeted us with a welcome glass of sparkling wine, Perle Blanc, made from Riesling Silvaner and introduced the family estate.  Several constant themes immediately became apparent; vineyards holdings are small.  You can make a living from four or five hectares; Susie’s family have 12 hectares.  But production coast are high – they calculate an annual 25,000 € or 30,000 CHF per hectare, which in particularly hilly terrain, could rise to 50,000 CHF.   And within four or five hectares, you are likely to find an extraordinary variety of different grape varieties, so that production quantities are usually tiny.   Susie showed us round her cellar and then gave us a very diverse tasting including two variations of Riesling Silvaner from two different soils; one more delicate and one rich fuller and richer.   A Sauvignon was fresh and sappy.  There was also Pinot Gris, Merlot, Malbec and the most successful red was a barrel aged Pinot Noir.  And we finished with a dessert wine made by cryo-extraction, so that the Pinot Noir grapes spent three days in a freezer to concentrate their juice.  It was very intense but not very balanced.   

After lunch at a welcoming family restaurant, Hirschen,
 in a neighbouring village, there was another long drive past Zurich, Winterthur and St. Gallen to the village of Berneck, right in the north east corner of Switzerland, very close to the Austrian border and not far from Germany either.  Our destination was Schmid Wetli where Matthias Wetli and his father, Kaspar, greeted us with a glass of Riesling Silvaner from  the appellation of Appenzell.  This is another family wine estate, with 18 hectares.   They explained that the region is known above all for Pinot, Noir, Gris and Blanc.  Pinot enjoys the contrast of day and night time temperatures, which is one of the defining climatic conditions of the region.  They also have Freisamer, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, as well as Diolinoir and Gamaret, which are two crossings that are traditional to Switzerland.    Pinot Gris 6tus was elegantly spicy, while the Chardonnay was over-oaked for my taste buds.  Burgwein, a blend of Zweigelt – more commonly found in Austria - with Pinot Noir and Merlot, was ripe and spicy, and over dinner at Burg in the village of Au, I really enjoyed their Pinot Noir.  It was elegantly textured with some fresh fruit and an underlying touch of oak. And very intriguing was Fortuna t6tus, a “port” from Diolinoir, for which the fermentation was stopped, as for port and then the wine spent two years in Swiss oak barrels.  It was surprisingly port-like, with some rich fruit. 

The next day we headed to the canton of Graubűnden, and the village of Malans, one of the four villages of Graubünden Herrschaft wine area.   First we made a small scenic deviation into Lichtenstein, and then stopped at the memorial to Heidi outside the village of Mariafeld.   The autumn colours were at their finest in the sunshine, with the backdrop of dramatic mountain scenery.

First stop was Donatsch, where we were welcomed by Martin Donatsch who is the 5th generation of the family.   He told us how his father had been a great pioneer in the region.  He was the first to use small barrels for his Pinot Noir back in the early 1970s, when André Noblet from Domaine de la Romanée Conti had given him two used La Tache barrels.  He was also the first to plant Chardonnay in the area and to make both sparkling and sweet wine.   Martin explained that it is a small region of just 400 hectares, with about 60 different wine growers.  And the lion's share of the vineyards – 80% - is Pinot Noir, for the soil is limestone, similar to that of Burgundy.  There is however a difference in altitude, with vineyards here at 500 – 600 metres, and the defining wind is the föhn, a warm wind from the south, which blows up the valley.   The Donatsch family have just six hectares, from which they make 14 different wines, including three versions of Chardonnay and three versions of Pinot Noir, Tradition, Passion and Unique, which they equate to the village wine, premier cru and grand cru of Burgundy. 

1975 was their first vintage of Chardonnay.  Martin told us how it was illegal to plant Chardonnay at the time, and they were even fined, but several government officials were drinking it......   We got to taste the 2012 Passion, which was finely crafted, with some fermentation in oak.   2012 Unique Chardonnay is all fermented in new oak, just two barrels. 

Martin is one of just eight producers retaining the tradition of Completer, a grape variety that had nearly disappeared.  One of its key characteristics is high acidity; in the past it was aged for several years in an attempt to reduce the acidity, but Martin has created a new style, based on a late harvest, in late November, of grapes with a high sugar level, that are vinified to leave a little residual sugar.  The 2012 had dry honey with balancing acidity, as well as some well integrated oak.  It is a tricky variety to grow, producing big bunches, but the föhn helps to concentrate the flavours in the vineyard.  Martin enthused – it has everything you want in a white wine, minerality, fruit, elegance and alcohol.  It certainly did not taste of 14, and was beautifully balanced.   They have just 50 ares of it and are planting more, using cuttings from their own vineyard.   In the next cellar we heard the 2014 Completer fermenting noisily and later went to see the vineyard, with high trellised vines, with golden leaves, basking in the autumn sunshine.

Three expressions of Pinot Noir followed.  2013 Tradition was perfumed and fragrant with delicate raspberry fruit.  2011 Passion, with some new wood, was richer and more intense, with a firm tannic streak balancing some lovely red fruit and finally 2011 Unique from a single vineyard was more structured and concentrated, again with lovely fruit, making a beautiful expression of Pinot Noir.  Martin observed that Swiss wines do age, but they are often drunk far too young.  The label for the Unique is original; each bottle is different, with a fragment of a painting, either by Martin or his father.

And our tasting finished with two sweet wines, a lovely Pinot Gris Föhn Beerenauslese, with fresh spicy honeyed fruit, and then a rather spirity port style from Pinot Noir.   And the family also have a wine bar, Winzerstube zum Ochsen, serving traditional cold meats, where we enjoyed a magnum of 2009 Completer with lovely notes of maturity, and to prove, once again, that Pinot Noir ages, the 2008 Passion followed, with elegant fruit, and silky tannins.

And then it was a short walk to Georg Fromm.  I was particularly pleased to see Georg, as I am much more familiar with his delicious Pinot Noirs from Marlborough in New Zealand, so Switzerland was the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle, so to speak.    Georg has 4.5 hectares in Malans and made his first wine there in 1970.  Meanwhile he still owns a share of the Clayvin vineyard in Marlborough and his daughter runs a restaurant, Passione, in Kaikoura.   He explained that Pinot Noir has been grown in this region for at least 300 years; it goes back to the 30 Years War.  His grandfather had Completer, but Georg is not so keen on that variety.  It is Pinot Noir that does well here, enjoying the marginal climate, with cool nights and a long ripening period, and a soil that comes from glacial deposits. 

Georg has four different Pinot Noir vineyards and he treated us to a comprehensive tasting of those, as well as an elegant Chardonnay.  First came barrel samples of the 2013 vintage.   There are subtle differences in each.  Selfi was planted half with Swiss clones which are late ripening and half with Burgundy clones.  The wine spends two winters in oak, of which one quarter is new.  There is a week long cold maceration before the fermentation, and a fermentation that last five to seven days, and then a post fermentation maceration of seven to fourteen days, depending on how the tannins evolve.   Selfi also included 25% whole bunches, but usually the Pinot Noir is destemmed.   Fidler is all Swiss clones, and no whole bunches, while Schopfi includes 50% new wood, and 25% while bunches and finally Spielmann which is all Burgundian clones, with small bunches, and no whole bunch pressing.  It accounts for just two barrels.   There were subtle nuances of difference but overall the style was beautifully restrained with a lovely expression of fruit, and silky tannins. 

Georg explained that he used to blend everything together, but the Burgundian influence has resulted in the development of the individual vineyards.   He also makes a village wine, which accounts for half his production of Pinot, which is aged in larger wood, with a simpler vinification.  Quizzed about the tipicity of Pinot Noir, he talked about limestone and schist and the marginal climate.  And then the 2012s followed, and then 2011 Selfi and finally 2008 Selfi, again to show how beautifully the wines age.  The 2008 had a lovely depth of flavour with supple tannins.  It was drinking beautifully, on its plateau. 

And then Georg could not resist giving us some New Zealand Pinot Noir to try.  It was a fascinating contrast.  I have always thought of his Pinot Noir amongst some of the more restrained interpretations of New Zealand Pinot Noir, in the hands of his talented winemaker Hätsch Kalberer, but the contrast with Switzerland was quite dramatic, with a 1997 La Strada richer and more textured.  And we finished with a New Zealand Riesling with fresh limey fruit and notes of honey and slate.  What a treat!

The next morning saw us heading towards Zurich, past the Walensee and on to the village of Uetikon on the northern side of Lake Zurich, to Weingut Erich Meier.   Erich explained that there are about 140 hectares of vines in the area.  There used to be a lot more, but the proximity to Zurich has put pressure on the use of land for building.   The lake makes everything more temperate and the föhn also blows here, but not as fiercely as in Graubünden.   Hail can be a big problem, but not frost.  Erich has 7 hectares, and we saw his biggest vineyard, which is just on the edge of the village.  He has Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, a little Riesling Silvaner, and just 40 ares of another endangered species. Rauschling.  However, his main focus is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  The soil is clay and limestone and the altitude about 500- 550 metres.   To illustrate how little Swiss wines travel, 85% of his wine is sold within 5 kilometres, to private customers.  However, unlike the other producers we met, he does export a little, to Germany, New Zealand, Boston and San Francisco.  And from his seven hectares he makes fourteen different wines. 

Our tasting started with 2013 Rauschling. Half of it is fermented in oak, and half in tank, with six months élevage and regular lees stirring.  It was nicely rounded with a touch of well integrated oak and good acidity, with a salty finish and a modest 13.   Next came examples of Viognier and Chardonnay – curiously Erich felt that a pure Chardonnay was too much, and includes a little Viognier in the blend, and again in his Viognier he adds a drop of Chardonnay.  I preferred his Sauvignon Blanc which was nicely restrained with some stony fruity and a good balance of acidity.  And his Pinot Noir was very stylish, fresh and fragrant and perfumed with a balancing streak of tannin.  The soil is different from Malans.  The wine is aged in wood for twelve months, and with the 2014 vintage he has started using a  tronconique oak vat for fermentation.  The wine is given a two week pre-fermentation maceration and after a fermentation with 20 % whole bunches, it goes into barrel for twelve months.  It was a great finale to a three days voyage of discovery.

And then it was a short drive into Zurich for a final lunch at Didi’s Frieden,   where we enjoyed Erich's sparkling wine and also his lightly spicy Pinot Gris.   And the final taste of the trip was a fresh peppery Syrah from the Valais, from Domaine Cornulus.  The diversity of Switzerland is infinite.   It is just a pity that there is not enough wine to round. 

Friday, 7 November 2014

DWCC 2014 or the Digital Wine Communicators’ Conference in Montreux.

I am just back from the DWCC, or bloggers’ conference, as I still think of it.   And what a great time I had.   The venue in Montreux provided a wonderful opportunity for all sorts of tasting opportunities, including a total immersion in Swiss wines. I was also intrigued to visit Montreux again.  I was last there more years ago than I care to remember, on a family holiday, and it rained solidly for two whole weeks.   This time the sun shone brilliantly and the lake sparkled, making the morning walk to the conference centre past the statue of Freddy Mercurey a daily treat.  

The conference kicked off with the traditional BYO evening.   Where else would you be able to taste / drink – fortunately there were plenty of spittoons - sherry, English sparkling wine, Switzerland, Sweden, Chablis, Minnesota, Germany, Hungary, Austria, Languedoc, Turkey, Oregon, Holland, Tokay, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Palette and Priorat, all in one evening?  Sadly my contribution, not from the Languedoc for a change, but an Irancy from Clotilde Davenne of Domaine des Temps Perdus was corked .......

The next morning, while waiting for the first keynote speech from the inventor of Coravin, there were wines from Greece to try, including a cheerful sparkling rosé and some Malagousia.  Greg Lambrecht talked about the invention of Coravin.  And then there was more tasting, exploring flavour biases, with a series of wines that had been doctored, with oxygen, residual sugar, brett and TCA.  I didn’t like the bretty wines, but completely failed to recognise that the reason was brett, but the lowest TCA level was glaringly obvious for me. At lunchtime there were various Spanish wines to try, including a delicate Pazo Senorans Albariňo.   The afternoon sessions were dry, talking about wine communications and blogging.   But afterwards there were wines from Georgia on offer, with more weird and wonderful grape varieties, such as white Tsolikouri and Tsitsqua and red Aladasturi.  And there was also some splendid Carignan from Chile, rich powerful wines from old dried farmed vineyards, with old bush vines.

And in the evening to prove that no visit to Switzerland is complete without fondue, we were treated to just that in the old covered market of Montreux, with the additional entertainment of Swiss horns and cow bells, which did make conversation a trifle challenging at times.

The second day was rich with tasting opportunity.  Wine Mosaic kicked off with a tasting of almost lost grape varieties., such as Obeidy from the Lebanon,  Jadoga from Serbia, Areni from Armenia, Papakarasi from Turkey and several others, that I had never ever heard of, each presented by the wine grower responsible for its revival in each country.   And that was followed by a tasting of wines from Northern Greece, making for a highly enjoyable amble through the flavour profiles and appellations of that part of the country, with examples of Assyrtiko, Malagousia and plenty of Xinomavro.  I relived the Master of Wine trip of last year,

The afternoon was devoted to yet more tastings.  It began with Simon Woolf presenting wines out of context, to illustrate just how our perceptions can be influenced by circumstance, context and indeed a glimpse at the label.   It was a fascinating experience and my comfort zone was definitely challenged by an elderflower wine, not to mention some weird flavours from Sicily and Austria. 

And then Switzerland came into its own, with several growers pouring their wines in a walk around tasting.  I enjoyed wines from Marie-Therese Chappaz and Vincent Chollet among others.  Then Jancis Robinson and Jose Vouillamoz, two of the three authors of the definitive tome, Wine Grapes,  conducted a tasting of Swiss wines, concentrating on examples of Chasselas, Petite Arvine, Pinot Noir and Merlot.  A 2002 Petite Arvine from Chateau Lichten in the Valais demonstrated just how well Petite Arvine can age, and the younger wines were delicious too. And the Pinot Noir flight provided a preview of the quality of that variety, that I would never have expected.  More anon in my next post on German Swiss wines. 

That tasting was followed by a Masterclass from Jose of rare Swiss varietals, most of which I had never heard of, and for most of which the number of hectares in production is in single figures.  We had Rauschling (23 has);  Rèze (2.5 ha);  Humagne Blanche  (30 has); Completer (3 has between ten producers):   Plant Robert (7.5 has divided amongst 15 producers) and Lafnetscha (1.5 ha), amongst others.  There was not a vine among them that did not deserve a better recognition, and indeed later in the week Completer was promoted to the status of my new favourite grape variety.    And of course no conference is complete without a gala dinner, but that is the moment for drinking rather than tasting.  And the next morning saw a group of us setting off to discover the vineyards of German Switzerland, about which more anon. 

You may of course wonder what all this has to do with the Languedoc.  The simple answer is: absolutely nothing at all.  Try as I may, I have failed to find any parallel or link between Switzerland and the Languedoc, other than the fact that the wines of Switzerland deserve to be much better known.   The problem lies partly with the Swiss who drink most of them themselves, and partly with the unavoidable fact that there is simply not enough to go around.  With just 15,000 hectares in production, export sales are negligible. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Domaine de Fabrègues

A chance encounter at Vinisud earlier this year.  I was just about to leave the fair for the airport as I passed the Domaine de la Garance stand and Pierre Quinonero waylaid me.  You must taste my neighbour’s wines.   He was so insistent that I could not possibly refused, and I was so glad that I didn’t,  as I really enjoyed discovering the wines of Domaine de Fabrègues. Obviously wine fairs are not the best places to taste properly, so I promised to visit, and finally did, with impeccable timing in the middle of the harvest.  Carine Pichot was laughing that the Nouvelle Observateur had described her the previous week as the tornado of Aspiran, and her prowess with a VTT certainly displayed tornedo qualities.  But more to the point, you sense that she is someone with a very firm sense of purpose, and commitment.

She talked about how she arrived at this estate in the Languedoc, between the villages of Aspiran and Péret.  She was brought up in St. Etienne – the nearest vineyards are the Côtes de Forez and the family business was a butchers.  She did business studies in Montpellier, and then went to Paris where she met ‘mon moitié’, her other half,  Sébastien,  who is the grandson of a champenois, but there are no longer vines in the family.  In 2004, Sebastien started Domaines les Verrières in  Montagnac, with two friends, including with Olivier Gros, a fellow rugby enthusiast who used to be  the wine maker at Château Lascombes in Bordeaux. They bought several parcels of vines.  Meanwhile Carine wanted to do her own thing.  Altogether she looked at some thirty different estates, going as far as La Clape, and with her father’s help, in December 2005, took over the rundown estate of Fabrègues, and learnt  the ropes working alongside the previous owner for a year.  He had sold all his wine to the négoce, but his son didn’t want to take over, and in any case had no idea how  to sell the wines.  The vines were generally in good condition, but Carine has pulled up some old Carignan, replacing it with Syrah and Grenache.  And now she wants to develop sales in bottle. 

Altogether there are  40 hectares at Fabrègues, in Aspiran and Péret – some at Adissan are too far away and being sold - and Carine makes one cuvée per plot.  She plays with the blends afterwards.    I wondered about the meaning of Fabrègues, you encounter it in other wine names.  It may be a reference to a forge or forgeron, so a blacksmith for the pilgrims going to St. Jacques de Compostella.  And it can also mean fabrique, a stable.   Fabrègues was once a very large estate, with 250 hectares of land, and they have found a kiln for wine amphora. The soil is mainly clay and limestone, and once there was water here, for  they have found a lot of marine fossils.

There are several levels to the wine range.   

2013 l’Orée blanc, Pays d'Oc– 6.00€
30% Grenache blanc – 70% Vermentino.  Light colour.  Carine looks for fresh easy fruit in this cuvée and that is just what she has achieved, with a light delicate nose, and a supple fruity palate with good acidity.  A straightforward white wine vinification

2013 Le Mas  Blanc– 10€
70% Grenache Blanc and 30% Vermentino.  One barrique of 30 hls in which the wine is kept for four to six months.  Skin contact for all the Grenache and for part of the Vermentino.  Light colour.   A touch of oak on the nose which fills out the mouth.  Lightly buttery and nicely mouth filling. 

2012 le Moulin de Vissandre – 6.00€
A name used by the previous owner, and now their  entrée de gamme.  Grenache – Carignan. Vinification and élevage in vat.  Deep colour.  Quite a rugged note.  A little rustic.  Quite gutsy fruit.  A bit of tapenade, Medium weight.   Quite characterful.

2012 L’Orée Rouge, Pays d'Oc - 6.00€
Mourvèdre, Cinsaut and a little Syrah.  Carine aims to extract the maximum fruit.  Easy drinking.  ‘What our friends like’.  Red fruit, fresh and quite elegant.  A touch of peppery.  Rounded finish.  Chill lightly.  No wood – Karine insists that any oak has to bring something to the wine.

2011 Le Mas Rouge – 10€
60% Grenache, with Syrah and Carignan and 5% Cinsaut.  No wood.  Ripe rounded red fruit on the nose, and on the palate quite a youthful sturdy streak.  Grenache makes for rounded cherry flavour, while Syrah gives some cassis.  Refreshing tannins.  Quite full bodied with some ageing potential.  The vines are within the cru of Pézenas and so from the 2012 vintage Le Mas will be Pézenas.

2009 Le Cœur, Coteaux du Languedoc– 15.00€
80% Syrah with 20% Carignan.  18 months in wood ; one  third tronconique vat, one third 225 litres barriques and one third 500 litre barrels. Quite fresh red fruit, with some sturdy oak.  Perfumed fruit, with some youthful tannins and peppery notes.

And then we tasted the wines from Domaine les Verrières, where they only make red wine.
2009 Les 7 Fontaines,  Languedoc.  – 10.00€
45% Syrah, with 25% Grenache, 15% Carignan and 5% Cinsaut.  There were once seven springs  on the property.   Carine commented on the  three rugger players gradually becoming more elegant.  A small percentage of élevage in old wood to soften the tannins.  Quite a firm nose; quite rounded palate but quite solid and dense, with some tannin.   Ripe and rounded.

2010 les 7 Fontaines
Quite rounded, dense and chocolaty, and more gutsy on the palate than the 2009.  The effect of the vintage.  More sturdy with a tannic finish, and ripe fruit.  Needs time to tone down.

2009 Clos des Soutyères, Languedoc – 15.00€
Soutyères means sous terres. 70% Syrah with Grenache and Carignan.  Two years in wood; one third new.  Deep colour.  Quite solid and rounded ; dense ripe and robust.  Quite tannic with ripe fruit. And quite an alcoholic finish.

2008 Pierres Pentées – 20€
90% Syrah with 10% Grenache.  Two years in wood.  Handpicked and trié; the other wines are mostly mechanically harvested, except for the grapes for some experimental carbonic maceration, to see how it evolves.  This has very ripe Syrah, an explosion of flavours.  From the best plots, which promise some longevity.  A thought that carbonic maceration is no longer simply for early drinking.   Solid ripe and dense.  Perfumed fruit.  Orange notes on the nose.  Rounded and rich.  14˚

2013 L’Orée Rosé  - 6.00€
At the end of the tasting and now nicely chilled and refreshing. 70% Cinsaut with 15% Syrah and 15% Grenache.  All pressed.  Quite a light pink, with delicate fresh dry raspberry fruit.  Nicely balanced, fresh and juicy.

The harvest was in full swing so we didn’t see the cellar.  And projects for the future?   To get some continuity with customers on export market.  I sense that Carine has had some bad luck with bad payers on one or two markets.  And she would like to develop an haute de gamme, une pépite or nugget of really fine red wine.  It all promises well.