Sunday, 21 June 2015

Languedoc at The Wine Society

The Wine Society can always be relied upon to come up with interesting and unusual wines.   I may be biased as I joined the wine trade with the Wine Society – blame a glass of champagne at the job interview.     Last week they were taking advantage of the evening AGM, meaning that all the buyers would be in the country, to host a tasting, where each buyer had selected eight or so wines from their particular areas.  I always enjoy their tastings and their South of France buyer, Marcel Orford Williams has a keen nose for an interesting bottle or two.

I was particularly struck by the first natural wine they have put on their list, namely Corbières Le Hameau des Ollieux Nature, from a leading Corbières producer, Château Ollieux Romanis.   £9.25.   Medium depth of colour, with a vibrantly fresh nose, and packed with refreshing red fruit on the palate.  It was lighter and fresher and more elegant than more conventional Corbières, and quite delicious.  However, if there is one thing that I reproach natural wines, it is that they all, irrespective of provenance, have a tendency to a similarity of style.  The best have that delicious mouth-watering freshness, but that somehow seems to mask their origins.   And Marcel agreed with me.

I have long had a soft spot for Corsica and was delighted that Marcel had two wines from Corsica in his line-up.  2012 Domaine Arena from Patrimonio, Biancu Gentile - £22   Not cheap, but wines from Corsica are very rarely cheap.  Vermentino is the more usual grape variety of Corsica, but efforts are being made to revive some of the other varieties that are in danger of disappearing.  This Bianco Gentile has some delicately fragrant fruit on the nose, with more texture and weight on the palate, with an elegantly rounded finish.   Antoine Arena is indisputably one of the leading producers of Patrimonio.

And there was another Patrimonio, from a producer who was unknown to me, 2013 Clos Alivu.  - £12.95.  The grape variety is Nielluccio, otherwise known as Sangiovese, and the wine had some fresh sour cherry fruit on both and palate.   Elegant with a streak of tannin and a fresh finish. 

The final Midi wine came from Domaine du Bosc, a 2011 Petit Verdot, Pays d'Oc.  This estate is owned by Pierre Besinet, who was one of the pioneers of the region in the 1980s – he is now in his 80s.  For £7.50 it makes a jolly nice glass of wine, offering easy drinking, with some rounded fruit and ripe tannins, but not too heavy or sturdy.

And there were all sorts of other delights I could enthuse about, but since they come from elsewhere, I shall refrain.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Foncalieu and Atelier Prestige

Foncalieu, or to give the company its full name, Les Vignobles Foncalieu, was a familiar name to me, and it is certainly an important name in the Languedoc, but I have to admit that I really did not know very much about them.  However, after two days in the Languedoc last week, that has all changed. 

In a nutshell, Foncalieu was created in 1967, with the fusion of several cooperatives and the name comes from:  FONtiès d’Aude; CApendu, ALzonne and MontolIEU

Altogether they work with 5100 hectares of vines in three regions, namely Gascony, the Rhône Valley and the Languedoc and cover 20 appellations and vins de pays.   Two things stood out: they have a very strong quality motive and they are also very innovative.   They were the first to plant Sauvignon Gris in the Languedoc and now make both a white and a rosé from that grape variety.  They also have some Albariňo and Picpoul Noir for rosé, and at dinner on our last evening we drank a rosé that was a blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Viognier; the two grape varieties are co-fermented, with early picked Syrah and late picked Viognier.  To my knowledge I have never drunk that blend in a rosé before.

At the end of 2012 Foncalieu bought Château Haut Gléon in the Corbières near the village of Durban, for the simple reason that they wanted a flagship estate.  Haut Gléon already had a reputation for its white wine, which is unusual in the Corbières, and Foncalieu have continued to build on that.  Domaine Haut Gléon is a blend of Sauvignon, Bourboulenc and Chardonnay, while Château Haut Gléon is made from Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne.  There are two rosés, Domaine Haut Gléon Gris,  an IGP from the poetically named Vallée du Paradis made from Grenache Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc while Château Haut Gléon comes from the Languedoc varieties of Grenache Noir and Syrah.   There are three red wines.  Again the Domaine red is an IGP including some Grenache Noir and Syrah, as well as Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, while Château Haut Gléon is a Corbières from Syrah, Grenache Noir and Carignan, aged in barrel with some firm black fruit.  Notre Dame de Gléon, after the tiny chapel on the estate, is a selection of the best grapes and again a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan.

More unusual is their Atelier Prestige range, which they began in 2008, with the first real vintage in 2009.  The wine maker, Isabelle Pangault, talked about the way they chose the vineyards for these wines.  Obviously the terroir must be good, with vines in particularly good sites, but much also depends on the human approach.  They work with a very small number of winegrowers for each of the four wines, people who are possibly more daring and certainly more willing to take extra care of their vines.   They talked about épamprage – new term for me – when you remove any young buds from the trunk of the vine as they take energy from the shoots.   They also practice ébourgeonage (debudding), effeuillage, (removing leaves that shade the grapes) rebiochage – another new term entailing the removal of shoots between the main shoots, rather as you do for tomatoes, and they also do a green harvest, if necessary.  The aim is to show that it is possible for a cooperative to make high quality wine in the Languedoc.  The wine growers are paid per hectare, so the yield is not a significant issue for them financially. 

First we went to Puicheric in the Minervois where we met Romain Torrecilla who is one of two growers who produce the grapes for Le Lien, Minervois.  He has a plot of Syrah, grown on clay and limestone.  It was a windy spot on a May afternoon, and the Syrah’s fragile shoots certainly needed the support of the wires.    Romain has also planted truffle oaks, ten years ago, but he is still waiting for a crop. 

Marceau Lacombe is one of three growers who contribute to La Lumière, Corbières.  We admired his Mourvèdre, which gives freshness and spice to the Corbières.  They are gobelet vines, with tall upright shoots.  In contrast the adjoining Carignan vines looked much shaggier.  Isabelle talked about the natural low yield on this south facing vineyard, with one cluster per shoot.  The harvest is quite late, usually in mid-October.

I encouraged Marceau to reminisce over lunch.   He began helping with the harvest at the age of 10 and was driving a tractor at 14.  He is now 68, and his vines are his life.  He remembers working with a horse, and they got a caterpillar tractor about 50 years ago.   With a horse one family could live on 10 hectares, but these days you need 30 hectares to justify the machinery.   Also products like bouille bordelaise were much cheaper than those used today.  Officially Marceau is retired but he has a much younger sister and looks after her vines, as well as nurturing his own small plots of Mourvèdre and Carignan.   A day does not go by without being in his vineyard.  Three wines growers contribute to La Lumière, so we also admired Fabrice Oliver’s beautifully tended Syrah vines. However, Marceau was quite adamant:  Syrah is not from here and he doubts its suitability.   People are beginning to replant Carignan. 

Next we went to the Coteaux d’Ensérune, admiring en route the facade of the Languedoc’s oldest cooperative at Maraussan, with its stirring name, Les Vignerons Libres.  Myriam Roussel is one of eight growers who contribute to Les Illustres, Coteaux d’Ensérune, which is a blend of 60% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec.  She has two hectares of Syrah for Les Illustres.   The vineyard is on a small hill, close to Béziers, with views of the cathedral, and you could just glimpse the sea in the distance. 

We finished at Michel Cazevieille’s vineyard in the south east corner St. Chinian where the soil is also clay and limestone.  He contributes three hectares, of Syrah and a little Grenache to Apogée, with a second grower providing a small amount of Syrah.  Michel talked about the soil, explaining that they analyse it every three years and add organic compost as needed.  It is important that the soil has structure and balance.   And he talked about their very finely tuned mechanical harvester which will remove any stray vegetation or shrivelled berries.

And then we tasted the four wines under the shade of a large mulberry tree.

2012 Le Lien, Minervois
A pure Syrah, all of which is aged in oak, of which 25% is new.  The oak treatment is very much adapted to the appellation and to the vintage.   Deep young colour with a rich rounded nose, quite a firm palate with black fruit and youthful tannins.  Quite sturdy and concentrated.   An observation was made that the quality of the harvest in the Minervois depends upon the wind.   I thought that Corbières was even windier, but maybe not. 

2012 Corbières, la Lumière
A blend of 30% Mourvèdre and 70% Syrah.   The fruit is firm and study, mainly black fruit with tight tannins, and a peppery note and some spice.  Youthful with masses of potential, as indeed has the whole range.  The vineyards are not far from the sea as the crow flies and so enjoy both sun and marine influence.    The grapes are given a three to five week maceration, and spend a year in 300 litre barrels, 80% new, with different toasting and from different coopers.

2012 L’Apogée, St Chinian
Two wine growers with a blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache Noir.  Deep young colour.  Firm sense youthful peppery fruit with a hint of vanilla.  A powerful 14 but more supple than the Corbières.  100% new oak – 300 litre barrels rather than barriques.

2012 Coteaux d’Ensérune, Les Illustres
60% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec.  25% in new wood with 75% given an élevage in vat.   Medium weight palate.  Quite tannic but with a fresh note, with some fresh blackcurrant fruit.  Maybe more elegant than the traditional Languedoc appellations.   

The four wines made a fascinating comparison and were certainly fine examples of their appellations  They are intended for the on trade, but would retail at about £25,  or 19€  in France. 

For more information, do visit their website:

Monday, 1 June 2015

2015 Top 100 Languedoc

As a judge for the Top 100, I always appreciate the opportunity to taste the full 100 when the winners are showcased a few weeks later at the London Wine Fair.  It gives the complete overview that you do not see as a judge.   

What follows are some of the highlights

A couple of delicious bubbles, both Crémant de Limoux:
Domaine Delmas, Cuvée Passion, 2010
Lightly nutty, with fresh dry fruit and an elegant finish.

Domaine J Laurens. La Rose No 7, NV
A delicate pretty colour.   Quite rounded ripe and creamy with good acidity. 

The white selection inevitably included several examples of varietal  wines, Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Muscat, with Cave Saint Maurice winning a trophy of its IGP Cevennes, Viognier.  There was another trophy for a Chardonnay Roussanne blend Pays d’Oc, Domaine Larzac,Jeanjean’s Mas Neuf won a trophy for the 2014 Muscat Sec, with some fresh Muscat fruit.   There was trophy for a Limoux, a pure Chenin blanc, 2013 Caretas from Domaine Cathare, with a touch of honey balanced by firm acidity. And I was delighted that here was a Picpoul trophy for Domaine des Lauriers, 204 Picpoul de Pinet Classique with fresh sappy, salty fruit and good acidity. 

The more  rewarding whites came from the various blends   The best white of the competition went to les Domaine Auriol Châtelaine Saint Auriol 2014, a blend of 40% Marsanne and 40%  Roussanne with 10% each of Malvoisie and Grenache Blanc, given some partial oak ageing The nose is lightly rounded and the palate beautifully textured with white blossom fruit.  Nicely understated. 

2012 Le long du Parc, Château Daurion, from an estate near my Languedoc home, which made me think that I should go and visit, is a blend of Grenache blanc and Roussanne, with some oak ageing.  Again it was nicely rounded ,with quite a firm youthful structure and some ageing potential.  2014 Traditional Blanc from Château Viranel in St. Chinian was fresh and herbal

Two white wines from Château Puech Haut showed well, but at a price.  2014 Prestige and 2014 Tête de Belier. At €6 - €7.99 and €8-€11.99 ex cellars respectively they are not giving it away, compared to the wine from Domaines Auriol at an ex cellar price of €3- €3.99. 

There were just four rosés, of which for me the best was:
Domaine la Grange Classique Rose, Pays d’Oc, a blend of  Cinsaut and Syrah.  A pretty pale colour and some fresh fruit on the palate with a rounded finish.  

And now on to red wines.  Again the Bordeaux blends or varietals were sound, but for me unexciting.  The first highlight in the red line up came from les Vins Skalli, Fortant de France, Reserve des Grands Monts Carignan, Pays de l’Hérault.  It was quite rich and structured  on the nose and palate with some rustic red fruit on the palate.  A characterful gutsy Carignan.

The St Chinian coop of Roquebrun often fares well in tasting competitions and this was no exception. They won the trophy for the best red, with their Terrasses de Mayline 2014, with some rich supple balanced fruit, with soft tannins, giving easy drinking.  2014 Col d’Arribat, St Chinian Roquebrun, was another rounded, ripe spicy mouthful, while Terrasses de Balaussan was more solid and rounded, but again with ripe, black cherry fruit.  And a more humble Languedoc, Chemin des Olivettes, provided another characterful glass of wine, with structure and fruit. 

Faugères also showed well.  The coop was represented by 2013 Parfum des Schistes, their best cuvée of Faugères, with some light  spice.  Brigitte Chevalier’s 2012 les Bancels was elegant and spicy, with some depth; Mas Gabinèle was represented by their entry level, with some ripe fruit and rich supple palate, which won the Faugères trophy, while 2013 Rarissime, is more concentrated and textured.  2012 Clos du Fou, is the flagship wine of Château des Estanilles, with quite a solid, structured spicy nose and palate.   2007 Mas des Capitelles no 1 Faugères was quite firm and fresh with a ripe finish. 

A trophy went to the Terrasses du Larzac, to Domaine la Croix Chaptal, le Secret de Gellone, with some ripe rounded spicy fruit.   And there was a La Clape trophy for Château de Marmorières, Commanderie de St. Pierre la Garrigue 2013.  Of the selection of Minervois, I liked Château Tourril, Livia Gold 2013 best, with some firm peppery fruit and quite a structured palate, reminiscent of the Minervois scenery.  And Gerard Bertrand’s Château Laville Bertrou 2013 showed well with body and spice.

There were a handful of Corbières, including Château Pech Latt, 2014 Tamanova, which was structured and youthful.  There was a pair of Fitou, Domaine Bertrand Bergé, Ancestrale 2012, with some gutsy fruit, and Francois Lurton’s Château des Erles, which was rich and spicy.   And the line up finished with a handful of wines from Roussillon, including two trophies, Abbotts & Delaunay Reserve 2013 Côtes du Roussillon with rounded black fruit and some furry tannins, and Mas de la Devèze, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, with some solid fruit and a ripe palate with depth and structure.  Wine No 100 was a Maury Sec from Domaine la Toupie, Sur un Fil Rouge 2013 with quite  solid nose and a rich mouthful of ripe spice and a gutsy finish.   It made a good finale.

600 wines from 178 producers
19 trophies – I hope I mentioned them all
67 producers accounted for the Top 100
65  appellation and 35 IGP wines
68%  red – 27% white and 5% rosé.
30% varietala and 70% blends.

For a  full list of the Top 100 go to: