Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Château de Cesseras in the Minervois

Château de Cesseras won the Rhône varietal trophy  in Decanter magazine’s world wine awards for 2014.  So I was curious to go and visit.   Pierre-Andre Ournac and his nephew Guillaume gave us a friendly welcome.  Their oenologist was just finishing checking the first wines of the vintage, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and they were looking good.

This is an old family estate.  Pierre-André is the 7th generation at Cesseras, but no wine was put in bottle until 1989.  Pierre André studied law, leaving his brother to run the property, and when he returned to Cesseras in 1989, they decided to take their vines, mainly Aramon and Carignan out of the coop at Azilanet.  80 hectares of vineyards have been replanted, with eighteen different cépages.  They have 18 hectares of Minervois la Livinière, planted with Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, but no Cinsaut, as they find it very sensitive to eutypiose.   And for vins de pays, they have some eight different varieties, with apologies for a list, but it illustrates the diversity of the Languedoc – Alicante Bouschet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, Marselan, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, Marsanne, Muscat à petits grain and Durif – phew!  Pierre-André had a bit of trouble remembering them all – I’m not surprised.    He uses Pays d’Oc rather than a more individual and localised vin de pays, for marketing reasons.  Viognier is particularly important, and he also talked about the commercial significance of Pinot Noir. 

We had a look at the cellar – there are stainless steel vats and barrels from the Tonnelerie de Mercurey.  The vins de pays are sold under the name of Domaine Coudoulet and the Minervois under the Château de Cesseras label, as he uses the old cellars of the château for his barrels.   Coudoulet means galets roulées in Occitan.  Apparently the Perrin brothers of Château Beaucastel were not very happy about the name Coudoulet, but since its use in the region dates back to 1400, there was nothing they could do about it.    

Pierre-André's son, Olric, is doing a stage with Avignonesi in Montepulciano – this seems appropriate, seeing that they have Sangiovese.   'Il faut prévoir la suite' observed Pierre-André. 

2013 Viognier – 6.00€
Light colour. Lightly peachy, soft and rounded on he nose, with peachy fruit on the palate, but not much acidity. Quite fresh.  A simple vinification, with a little skin contact.   And they have a new system for clearing the juice;  Once the juice is pressed they inject a gelatine fining into the must and stir up some  nitrogen under pressure for two or three hours, so that the bourbes float to  the surface and can be run off, leaving clear juice.  It has the advantage that it is very quick and also economises on energy as you do not need to cool the juice to so low a temperature, and you lose less juice.  With classic débourbage you would have 10 hectolitres of bourbes to filter from a 100 hls of juice, but with this system it is only 2 or 3 hls. 

2013 Pinot Gris. – 6.00€
Who else has Pinot Gris in the Languedoc, I wondered.  Light colour and lightly mushroomy on the nose, and softly spicy.  Some varietal character.  Medium weight with nice texture.  They wanted something different,  rather than just another Chardonnay, and it complements the Pinot Noir nicely. 

2013 Sangiovese. – 6.00€
Élevage in wood.  this is  their second harvest of this variety.  They were inspired by a Sangiovese that they had tasted at the Seigneurie de Peyrat outside Pézenas.  I remember that Sangiovese from a couple of years ago, and delicious it was too.    Sangiovese is not officially authorised in the Languedoc, so they needed permission to plant it, which they did in 2006, without any planting subsidies, and then it was authorised the following year.   I really enjoyed the wine.  It had the classic ripe sour cherries of Sangiovese, some lovely fresh fruit, with supple tannins.  No great depth, or complexity, but would be delicious with a plate of pasta.  Pierre André observed that it was quite a productive variety. 

2013 Pinot Noir – 6.00€
Quite a light colour. Quite a firm nose.  A touch of liquorice. A bit of tannin.  Quite fresh.  You could drink it chilled.  Simple vinification. Pierre André observed that there is a big demand for Pinot Nor en vrac.  The négoce pay twice the price of Syrah for it.  Obviously something to do with Gallo’s Red Bicyclette cuvée

2013 Syrah – 6.00€
Élevage in vat.  Good colour.  Tapenade and black olives on the nose. Ripe rounded spicy fruit on the palate.  Medium weight, with supple tannins.  Classic Midi

And then onto Minervois :

2011 Minervois, Cuvée Olric   – 7.00€
40% Mourvèdre, 40% Carignan vinified by carbonic maceration  and 20% Syrah.  All in vat. For about twelve months.    Deep colour. Quite firm spice and tapenade on the nose.  Firm tannins and a sturdy tannic backbone.  A ripe mouthful..  Youthful with ageing potential.  14.5˚

2011 Minervois la Livinière – 15.00€
The trophy winner.  70% Syrah, with 10% each of Carignan, Grenache and Mourvèdre which were vinified by carbonic maceration, while the Syrah was given a classic vinification.  Pierre-André, on his oenologist’s advice, feels that carbonic  maceration rounds out the flavour.  Élevage in barrels for 60-70% of the blend for 12 months, and then blended with the vat component.  The wine then spends another 12 months in vat before bottling.

Medium colour. Quite fresh and peppery on the nose, with some black fruit.  And on the palate, rounded, rich and with ripe tannins and a firm backbone.  A lot of weight  and body, with depth and complexity and lots of nuances of flavour.  Supple and drinking well now, but with some ageing potential.  Rich and rounded.  1998 was the first vintage of this cuvée.

We talked about the future. Guillaume is wondering about other grape varieties, but is not sure what.  And maybe he would like another Minervois cuvée.  His uncle  observed, je suis vigneron avant tout.  I do my best with both vins de pays and Minervois.  The problem is the two  separate syndicats  who se tirent dans les pattes, or shoot themselves in the foot.  For  Pierre André it is the vins de pays that allowed them  to develop Minervois.  ‘And Minervois is a produit phare, a flagship,  of which we are very proud’.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Domaine Puech-Haut

Domaine Puech Haut is just outside the attractive village of St. Drézery, with its friendly café.  You approach the property along a driveway lined with olive trees and lavender bushes, and at the end there is a stylish visitors’ area where anyone is welcome to pop in and taste.   And adjoining the cellar is a house that was built in 1991, but confusingly it looks at least a hundred years or so older as it is built from old materials.  From the visitors’ centre you can look down on the barrel cellar, including  a whole collection of barriques painted by various artists, some more well-known than others.   The first barrique was painted by Hervé de Rosa, and in return he received 150 bottles of wine.

Alain Asselin is director of oenotourisme and is a very articulate ambassador for the estate.   He explained that it was created by Gérard Bru in 1985, when Gérard decided to plant 25 hectares of vines, half red and half white.   The first wines were made in the mid-1990s. Gradually the estate has been extended to include 40 hectares in the Pic St. Loup, for which 1999 was the first vintage.   At St.  Drézery the vineyards are planted with Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, on undulating hillsides, with vines of different ages, and differing yields and therefore different expressions of flavour.  Altogether there are 90 different plots, with one vat per plot, to enable a very detailed sélection parcellaire.    Michel Rolland used to consult here, but these days it is Philippe Cambié.  They have some concrete fermentation tanks, made in Italy, of a shape that I have never seen before, designed to keep the châpeau emerged during fermentation, so that you obtain better extraction. The bottom is square, with a tapered top.  Alain  described them as Le Rolls de la cave.   

For coopers they favour Damy in Meursault, Taransaud in Beaune and Seguin Moreau in Cognac, and they have barrels of varying ages for their wine.   Alain talked of the second revolution in winemaking, temperature control, and in particular the ability to cool things, which has changed everything, giving you complete control over your grapes and the fermentation.   As for the vineyards, the harvest was due to start the following week, the second week of September.  They carry out a green harvest in July and August, reducing the yield for the Syrah to 20 hl/ha.   

And then we tasted:

2013 La Closerie du Pic rosé– 14.50€
A blend of Cinsaut, Syrah and Grenache.  Light colour. Quite a fresh nose, but a touch amylic. Quite fresh raspberry fruit on the palate, but again an edge of amylic acid and bonbons anglais.   We had a conversation about translating acidulé into English,  my dictionary says: acid drops.  I prefer my rosé without acid drops.

2013 Tête de Belier rosé –  20.00€
The name of this rosé originates from a Roman sculpture of a ram or belier that was found in the vineyard.  And they have reproduced it to sit at the foot of several barrels.    98% Mourvèdre, and the other two per cent is a secret.  Quite rounded.  More solid than the previous wine, with firm acidity.  Quite sturdy and needs to fill out a little. 

2012 Prestige rouge, Coteaux du Languedoc , St. Drézery – 16.70€
St. Drézery fits into the Grès de Montpellier and the wine is equal parts Syrah and Grenache.  Medium colour.  Quite solid black fruit on nose and palate.  Oaky, vanilla and tapenade.  Some garrigue notes.  The wine spends six months in barrel, none new, but slightly toasted.   Medium weight.    38 hl/ha.  I felt the wine was still quite closed and needed to evolve in both bottle and glass.    

2012 Tête de Belier rouge – 26..60€
Two thirds Syrah, with some Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan.   The aim is un grand vin du Languedoc.  Young colour.  Quite ripe vanilla and some tapenade.  On the palate ripe fruit with supple tannins.  Quite sweet long fruit.  Quite a supple but gutsy rounded mouthful.  Élevage 18 months; two thirds new oak.  Ten years potential, and they are inevitably very proud of some pretty high marks from Mr. Parker.    For some reason the French expression : coute les yeux de la  tête came to mind.

2011 Clos du Pic, Pic St. Loup – 41.70€
24 months élevage in barrels- two thirds new and a blend of 60% Mourvèdre with Syrah. Quite a deep colour.  Chocolate on the nose.  Quite sweet dense and sturdy.  I thought of Pierre Clavel’s comment about opulent Pic St. Loup.  15˚.  Ripe sweet and dense and lacking in elegance.  All upfront and dominated by the oak. I wondered how it would age?

Asked about the tipicity of St. Drézery, Alain replied: There isn’t any.  St. Drézery has lots of galets roulées, but essentially it is a question of the style of individual vignerons.  He was rather vague about other wine growers in the area.   And M. Bru came here for family reasons, as it is close to his childhood home.

2011 le 40ème, St. Drézery – 88.00€
This cuvée has been made five times,- 2001, 2002, 2007, 2010 and 2011 so by no means every year.  A natural wine, with no added sulphur.  Crushed by foot.  One vat of handpicked grapes, producing 1500 – 1800 bottles à l’ancienne.  From one plot of Syrah and one plot of old Grenache, that are 65 years old vines.   Élevage of 24 months in new oak.  Fermented by carbonic maceration, which really surprised me as I had always assumed that carbonic maceration was used when you wanted to soften the tannins  rather than enhance the longevity of the wine.  Alain explained that they put whole grapes in the vat and then add carbon dioxide.  Quite a rounded palate, with ripe chocolate and vanilla and soft tannins.  Leaves a sweet taste.  15˚   They are aiming for fresh fruit;  I am not sure that they found it.

And asked about the typicity of the domaine, Alain replied 'chaleureux, aromatique, with a touch of elegance.  Wines with personality'.

And we finished our tasting with the white wines:

2013 Prestige – 16.70€
Vinified in vat.  80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne.  Pale golden, quite rounded peachy nose, and on the palate quite full and textured with some acidity.  Fills the mouth.

2013 Tête de Belier – 14.50€

20% Viognier with 80% Grenache Blanc and a little Roussanne.  Vinified 'à la bourguignonne,'  in wood, with bâtonnage for eight months.  Quite golden.  Quite oaky.  Leesy oaky palate.  Textured with a dry finish.  Very Burgundian style so that the method masks any flavour of the grape varieties.   Youthful and textured.   14˚.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Chateau Maris in Minervois la Livinière

Come and see my vegetal roof, or toit végétal  was an invitation, that I could not possibly refuse!    It came from Bertie Eden of Chateau Maris in the village of la Livinière.   He has built a brand new cellar on the outskirts of la Livinière  off  the road  to Caunes-Minervois.  Not only is the roof green, but the bricks are made of hemp straw and the whole cellar, apart from the concrete floor,  could be recycled.

Bertie talked about the bricks, made from the straw of hemp.  Building material in France must be authorised, so that their parameters are recognised, as to how much weight they can bear and so on.  Hemp is not, but wood is, so there had to be a wooden frame joining the bricks, which are made from straw mixed with lime, which is put in a mould and dried.   

The bricks are extraordinarily  light.   Ordinary straw is very similar to hemp straw, but with one big difference, hemp straw can breathe, so it redistributes air and consumes CO2, at the rate of 44 kilos per square metre per year.  Altogether there are 4000 square metres of wall.  And there is no temperature control in the cellar; that happen naturally.   The floor is concrete for reasons of hygiene and weight.   An alternative would have been lime, that that can crack, which would give problems with bacteria.     As for the vegetal roof, you buy it in rolls by the metre like a lawn.  And Bertie is also considering a vegetal covering for the outside walls. 

Bertie’s barrels come from a cooper in Burgundy, Grenier, which is a family business. It also made his  tronconique vats, equipped with a chapeau flottant, so that they have a dual purpose, for fermentation and for élevage.   And there are unlined cement vats, and concrete eggs.  Bertie had wanted concrete vats without metals supports, and the way to achieve that is with eggs.   He had  compared Grenache from a barrel and from an egg; and found the egg to be is more lively and fresher.

He was expecting to start the harvest the following day, 10th September, picking some Grenache to make rosé.  He has a good crop of Grenache, so this will be a first passage, leaving the rest of the grapes to ripen more for the red wine.   They were a week away from picking the first Syrah.  This was not  going to be a deckchair year, observed Bertie. They have already done a lot of leaf-plucking to aerate the grapes and they will need to do a lot of triage, first some in the vineyard and then again in the cellar.   The uncertain weather since will not have helped.

Bertie now has 47 hectares of vines all around La Livinière.  His first vintage here was 1997.  He has had vineyards in other parts of the Languedoc, but these days is just concentrating on the Minervois.   And when did you know that you wanted to be a winemaker?  When I got kicked out of school (the rather smart public school, Stowe)  for making beer.   He then went to Australia to work for Len Evans at Rothbury; spent time at Castello di Rampolla in Chianti Classico, and with Becky Wassermann in Burgundy and Christopher Canaan  and Spain.   And then he came to the point when he wanted to be his own boss and make his own wine.   He looked in the Languedoc and really liked what he saw in the Minervois.  La Livinière has a reputation for the quality of its Grenache, with some splendid  old vines.  Bertie’s vineyards range in altitude between 250 – 180 metres and he has been certified biodynamic since 2004. 

And now to taste:

2013 Grenache Gris. Vin de France -24.00€
Tasted from the barrels,  and fermented in wood.  Will be bottled after the harvest.   Quite rounded textured palate.  Some floral notes, elegant with good acidity.  Grenache Gris really is well adapted to the south.  Good length.

2012 La Touge, Minervois la Livinière  – 10<00 span="">
About to be bottled.  60% Syrah, 40% Grenache Noir, with a drop pf Carignan.  Mainly élevage in vat, but a small amount in foudre.  Deep colour; rich ripe nose.   Very supple tannins, silky tannins.  Rounded black fruit.  Yield about 38 hl/ha.

And when I asked about the tipicity of La Livinière, Bertie suggested that was a delicate subject, and a difficult question to answer.  Every vineyard is individual.   It depends on the wine grower.

2012 les Anciens, Minervois la Livinière   - 16.00€
Mainly Carignan  aged in 50 hl foudres for 15 months.  We enthused about Carignan.  'It is a noble variety here, and it can stand up to the seasons'.    This had the elegant rusticity that is the benchmark of good Carignan, with some firm red fruit.  Medium weight, and really quite elegant, especially for Carignan.  A delicious glass of wine.  Bertie is very enthusiastic about 2012 as a vintage; it is lighter and fresher than 2011, which was a very hot vintage. 

2012 las Combes, Minervois la Livinière  – 16.00€
Grenache is the dominant variety,  80 years old vines, élevage in 50 hls foudres and some concrete.  The nose was quite  closed, with a more open palate, with ripe cherry fruit, perfumed with an elegant tannic streak.

2010 las Combes, Minervois la Livinière
This has spent four years in an egg.  From the same vineyard as 2012 la Combes.  More open nose, rounded fruit, but a little dense, riper and more mature, with a leathery note on the finish.  2010 was a hotter vintage than 2012.  Essentially Bertie didn’t do anything to the wine, but  just let it happen, with no racking, and adding just a little SO2 at bottling.  He made 999 bottles, 199 magnums and 99 jeroboams, and is selling it at 100.00€ a bottle.  The idea was to aim high and produce something exceptional, and it certainly stood out, but maybe, perversely I prefer the 2012.

And we finished with a taste of 2012 Grenache Gris, which was bottled at the end of 2013.  Light golden.  Nicely nutty, with very good acidity.  Curiously it tasted more oaky than the 2013.  Structured with very good length.   And a great finale to a fine tasting, before clambering up a ladder to look at the toit vegetal, which needed watering.  It will certainly have had plenty since my visit.