Thursday, 27 August 2015

Wine and Chocolate at Le Wine Shop

A group of friends met at Le Wine Shop in Pézenas for a chocolate and wine tasting.   Chocolate and wine are notoriously difficult to pair, but Dom George and Emmanuel Servant, a maitre chocolatier based in Marseillan, were up to the challenge.  Emmanuel simply said to Dom: Give me the wines, and I’ll make a chocolate to go with each of them, and that is  just what he did.

It proved to be a fascinating and highly instructive tasting, and great fun, not least  for overturning some preconceived ideas.  I had thought red wine usually went pretty well with chocolate, with a streak of tannin balancing the dark chocolate, and some of vin doux, old Rivesaltes or Banyuls would be good too.  

But first Dom gave us some background information.  I had no idea that you could talk about terroir in association with chocolate, and that soil matters, and also aspect.  Drainage is important too.  Most chocolate is produced between 10N and 10S of the Equator.    About three quarters of the world’s chocolate production comes from West Africa, the Ivory Coast and Ghana, whereas the best chocolate originates from Central and South America, notably Ecuador.  And the production of chocolate also entails a fermentation process.  This is not the place for the precise production details, but it was fascinating to realise quite what a complicated process fine chocolate entails. 

The first preconceived idea was overthrown with the first wine.  Who would have thought of pairing chocolate with Chardonnay?   But it worked!   First taste the wine, said Dom, as the flavour of the chocolate is ten times more powerful than the more ethereal flavour of a wine..   2014 Chardonnay from Domaine de Grézan was lightly rounded and buttery with some soft acidity, and the creaminess of ganache of dark and milk chocolate perfectly complimented the creaminess of the chocolate, with the a touch of green aniseed providing a lift on the finish.

Next came 2014 Picpoul Noir from Domaine de la Grangette, paired with palet d’or, a blend of dark and milk chocolate.   The wine had a bright young red colour, with fresh fruit.  It was lightly chilled with some acidity and a little tannin, and here the freshness counterbalanced the creaminess of the chocolate in a very satisfying way.

Domaine de la Clapiere, 2013 Etincelle,  a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Viognier and 10% Petit Manseng was paired with a disc of Ariba, a dark chocolate from a single plantation in Ecuador.  The wine was quite rounded and peachy, with some perfume and acidity, and a touch of spice which complimented the spiciness in the wine. Again another surprise of white wine going with dark chocolate.

2013 Domaine des Arbournières, Syrah, from a new estate in Roujan was quite tannic, with some vanilla sweetness on the finish, and maybe a bit too tannic for the ganache infused with pain d’épice spices.  The idea was that the spices in the chocolate would complement the spice in the wine, but possibly the wine was a little too chilled.   

Domaine des Amiels, 2014 Rosé des Gonzesses, a blend of Carignan, Syrah and Grenache, was paired with a Maralumi milk chocolate from Venezuela.   The wine was rather difficult, a vivid pink colour with fresh acidity and raspberry fruit; it is natural and unfiltered, with some sugar left as the Grenache did not finish fermenting.  The chocolate was soft and creamy with a hint of coffee on the finish and the two seemed to argue with each other.

The final wine came from Clos Mathélisse, a new name for me and was their  2013 l’Autre Vendange, a late harvest Roussanne.  The grapes are dried on the vines, passerillé, with the stem of each bunch twisted, to break and the result is simply delicious, with dry honey on the nose, and even more on the palate, with some ripe apricot fruit and walnuts balanced with and very good acidity.   It did not taste 14.5

It accompanied two chocolates.  First came a non-deodorised white chocolate.  The odour has been removed and the flavour was strong and buttery; the fat of the white chocolate lasts in the mouth and complimented the wine.  Next came a dark chocolate flavoured with confit ginger.  The chocolate was absolutely delicious and it went brilliantly with the wine, with the flavour of the wine emphasising the ginger, or vice versa.  It was all in perfect balance and delicious note on which to finish.     And yet another preconception overthrown.

Emmanuel Servant has a shop in the industrial estate of Marseillan, but fortunately from September Dom will also be selling his chocolate at Le Wine Shop.  

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

A vertical tasting at Mas Gabriel

Deborah and Peter Core at Mas Gabriel are about to make their 10th vintage and they felt the occasion should be marked with a vertical tasting of both their Carignan, the white Clos des Papillons and red Les Trois Terrasses.   I love vertical tastings and this was no exception.

First: Clos des Papillons

2014:  For the first time this included 15 % Vermentino, and the drop of Viognier which had been in earlier vintages has gone, as the vines have been pulled up.   Between 25%  and 50% of the wine is fermented in acacia barrels, which fills out the palate a little, and there is also some lees stirring, but no malo, as they want to retain the fresh acidity.  The Carignan vines, which are nearly 40 years old, are grown on clay and limestone, while the Vermentino, which was planted four years ago, is on galets roulées.    There are just 40 hectares of Carignan Blanc altogether in the Languedoc, of which they have about 50 ares, just half a hectare.   Apparently there are moves to include Carignan Blanc in Faugères Blanc. 

2014 was not an easy vintage.  A very dry winter followed by a very dry spring.  The vines stopped growing until the first rains of the growing season in June.  And the harvest was tricky with some big storms.   Picked on 8th September.   

Light colour.  Delicate nose, lightly nutty, lightly herbal and on the palate very good acidity.  Structured and tightly knit with firm fruit.  They pick to retain acidity.  And they are a few Carignan Gris vines in the plot, which have a light pinkish tinge, but that was not imparted into the wine. 

Initially the yields were derisory, 12 hl/h but by giving the vines lots of TLC and feeding them lots of organic compost, they have raised the yields to a more reasonable 20 – 25 hl/ha.  They have just added to their original vineyard, doubling the size, planting it with cuttings taken from 70 year old vines at Mas Jullien.  The vine nurseries cannot provide Carignan Blanc as there is no recognised clone.    Peter and Deborah admitted that they were inspired by the example of the white wine, Daniel le Conte de Floris, another talented wine grower with vineyards in Caux. 

2013:  A cool year, which started late.  Summer did not arrive until the beginning of July.  A late harvest as a result of the late start to the growing season.   A damp spring, a cool June and also a cool August to made for grapes with good acidity.   Picked on 16th September.  Their largest crop ever. The vats were full.

The nose is beginning to fill out a bit, as is the mouth, but the wine is still very fresh with firm acidity.  Structured and tight knit.  A certain seamlessness and a certain salinity.  Some hints of greengage; a sappy note and a touch of honey. 

2012: Although the autumn of 2011 was very wet, the winter was very dry, so a dry start to the growing season, but spring was also very wet.  However, rainfall for the year turned out to be  40% below normal, but as Peter put it, vines are great survivors.   Picked on 29th August.

A little more colour. Quite rounded with layers of flavour and lots of nuances.  The wine is filling out with riper greengages and a little more alcohol at 13.9.  Some white pepper and spice on the finish.  Good length and nicely rounded.

2011: A dry winter followed by heavy rain in March.  A relatively dry spring, followed by a wet summer.  May was hot, but June, August and September were cool and fresh.   Picked 24th August.  A little colour.  Very firm acidity.  Tight knit and herbal.  Almost Riesling razor-sharp acidity.  Develops some hints of dry honey in the glass.     

2010:  A  wet winter followed by a cool spring.  July and August were hot and dry with cool nights, making for a good concentration of fruit and freshness.  Gentle golden colour.  Rounded dry honey and beeswax, with very good acidity on the palate.  Still very youthful, with dry honey and some weight.

2009 was their first vintage of Clos des Papilloons, but sadly there is none left.

And now for the red, Les Trois Terrasses, which was initially pure Carignan and then more recently has been blended with up to 30% Syrah and Grenache Noir, with blending after the malo.  Kept in vat, not barrel.  Bottled in the July following the harvest. 

2013:  A late harvest, 1st October and lower alcohol 13.8.  Deep young colour.  Firm dry spice on the nose.   Dry red fruit; youthful firm and structured with lively tannins.   

2012:  Young deep colour.  Some ripe spice on the nose, and on the palate youthful tannins, with elegant spicy fruit.  Medium weight.  Lovely fresh fruit, with balancing acidity and tannins.  Picked on 22nd September. 14.3˚

2011 Picked on 19th September.  14.7   Deep colour.  Elegant spice on the nose.  Black fruit on the palate.  Elegantly spicy, and tightly knit.  Still very youthful.  

2010: includes 20% Syrah.  Picked on 21st September. 14.6 good colour.  Rounded black fruit, with the palate filling out, but always with firm peppery fruit, and structure.  Still very youthful .  The question of carbonic maceration was raised; they do some, but not for this wine, but for Clos des Lievres, their other red cuvée.    

2009:  Pure Carignan, 14.9   A cold winter and a very wet April.  Very hot May; Cool nights during June and July and a hot dry August making for an early harvest.  Picked on 18th September.
Very deep colour.   Rounded ripe nose with red fruit.  Quite sturdy but ripe and fleshy.  Fresh tannins.  Red fruit on the nose.  Quite a different style from 2010.  Still very youthful and has evolved beautifully.

2008: The very first Trois Terrasses, picked on 25th September, 14.9˚.   A mild winter.  Warm January and February provoked an early budburst, followed by a wet March.  July and August were hot and dry, and fresh nights in both August and September made for ripe, elegant tannins. 
Very deep colour.  Quite a firm leathery nose.  Structured tight knit firm fruit.  Firm tannins.  Still very youthful. A firm mineral note.  

There was some discussion as to which wine we preferred, and the 2009 pure Carignan generally met with favour, prompting Andrew Jefford to observe:  'I wouldn’t pollute the Carignan with other things'.   I couldn't possibly disagree.  And the wines are all still very young so please could we reconvene in five or ten years’ time to see how they are doing?

Monday, 10 August 2015

La Maison des Vins in St Chinian.

If you want to find out more about St Chinian and have neither time nor inclination to visit a wine cellar, but would simply like to do a bit of tasting, or indeed buy some wine, you should visit the Maison des Vins in St Chinian.  It is in the centre of the town, at the far end of the main square, and is well equipped with an oenomatic, which holds 32 bottles.  And they will happily open anything else that you might be particularly interested in, as they hold a selection of most of the current vintages of most of the growers.  We wandered in, on the off chance, and they gave us a friendly welcome so that we ended up tasting far more wines than we had intended, including several that were unknown to us.   They responded enthusiastically to the question: What’s new?    There are now about 100 or so wine growers in St Chinian, with two or three new estates each year.

First we tried a white, Domaine de Cambis in Berlou, 2014 Kalliopé – and a new name to me.  It is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Vermentino and Roussanne.  And was delicate and fresh with some stony dry fruit.  2014 was the first vintage of this wine. 

I had been hoping to make an appointment with la Grange Léon, a relatively new estate in the village of Berlou. We were told they were away and bottles were opened instead, L’Insolent, L’Audacieux and D’une main à l’autre.  The quality encouraged me not to forget about that cellar visit.

Domaine des Paissels is another fairly new estate run by Vivien Rossignol and Marie Toussaint.  They make two wines, les Paissels and le Banel.    

And while we were talking, Marion Pla came into the Maison des Vins.  I had met her at a tasting in London, but her arrival was the cue to open one of her bottles, Premier Sceau 2012.  She explained that her father had been a member of the Cessenon coop and had gradually developed his vineyards. She did a BTS at Montpellier and is now making her own wine.  2011 Conviction Intime is a homage to her father’s work and a blend of equal parts of Syrah and Grenache, fermented together, with just one barrel for 5% of the wine.   It was quite firm and structured with good length and still quite youthful. 

And we finished with a couple of new names.  There was le Pérarol, from Mas d’Albo in Roquebrun, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan,  with some firm mineral fruit, and then another new name Villa Voltaire, les Orchis du Mazet,.  They admitted to not knowing much about this estate, but the wine promised well, with fruit and concentration.  And then it was time to head for home and the swimming pool.   or for the online shop

Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Roquebrun cooperative

The cave cooperative of Roquebrun in the appellation of St. Chinian consistently wins prizes in the various tasting competitions,  The Top 100 and Decanter’s World Wine Awards, amongst others.  It has been a while since I visited, and time for an update.   A look at the cellar was not possible; they are in the middle of building works, removing asbestos from the original construction.   However, there have been other recent investments in the cellar, concentrating on carbonic maceration, the selection of juice – with three different qualities of Syrah, and also the bottling line.  The director and wine maker, Alain Rogier was much preoccupied, but we were given a very comprehensive tasting by his right hand man, Daniel Marusinski.   Alain has run the cooperative since 1987.

The cooperative is now responsible for 650 hectares, with 80 members.  Forty of them account for 80% of the production and they make three appellations, Coteaux du Languedoc, St. Chinian and St. Chinian Roquebrun, the cru that was recognised in 2005.   The vineyards are mainly lutte raisonnée, with no one doing organic viticulture.  There are four independent producers in the village, Thierry Navarre, Mas d’Albo, Domaine Boissezon-Guiraud and Domaine Marquise des Mures.    The cooperative, not surprisingly, accounts for about 90% of the production of the village. 

Daniel explained that the key characteristics of the cooperative’s wines come from  Syrah, vinified by carbonic maceration, which does indeed give some very distinctive flavours, making for wines with immediate appeal, especially in the context of a competition.    They are very good at making wines for easy drinking, what he called très charmeur.  The carbonic maceration makes for supple tannins, and they also use micro-oxygenation to good effect.  Syrah accounts for the bulk of their vineyards, with 450 hectares, and they have just 50 hectares of Carignan, with the balance Grenache Noir, some Mourvèdre and Cinsaut, and some Roussanne and Grenache Blanc for white wine.  Syrah tends to have much less acidity than Carignan, and responds differently to carbonic maceration.  Daniel talked about their philosphie de Syrah, making wines that are immediately drinkable, with less ageing potential than some.  All their bottles have the distinctive logo of the Cave de Roquebrun, with an outline of the village.  

2014 Coteaux du Languedoc  blanc, Chemin des Olivettes, and in the coop shop Col de Lairole  - 4.50€
60% Grenache Blanc, with Roussanne.  Classic vinification with no oak, but some skin contact and a long fermentation.  The Roussanne gives more depth of character.  Quite closed white blossom nose.  Nicely textured palate with good acidity and a slightly bitter finish.  

2014 St Chinian blanc, Col de la Serre – 6.60€
Again Grenache Blanc with some Roussanne.  Quite rounded and nicely textured with soft acidity.  More weight than the Coteaux du Languedoc and a harmonious finish.

2014 Chemin des Olivettes.  Coteaux du Languedoc  Rosé.
50% Syrah, 35% Grenache Noir, 15% Cinsaut.  Saigné after four to six hours.  Prefermentation maceration à froid for five or six days; débourbage, and then some bâtonnage during fermentation to develop the aromas.  Quite a deep orange pink colour.  Rounded nose; but I found the palate quite heavy and solid, though not especially alcoholic.  13˚.  Dry finish, a bit flat.   

2014 St. Chinian Rosé, Clos de l’Orb
65% Syrah, 35% Grenache Noir. All saigné.  Quite a light colour.  A rounded nose and a satisfying rounded palate, with not a lot of acidity.  Harmonions finish.

2014 Chemin des Olivettes Rouge, Coteaux du Languedoc. – 4.50€
30% Grenache Noir, 20% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre, 35% Carignan.  Medium colour.  Young spicy fruit.  Quite rounded ripe easy spicy fruit, balanced with a streak of tannin.  Rounded but not heavy, and vinified mainly by carbonic maceration.

2014 St Chinian Rouge, Terrasses de Mayline – 6.30€
30% Syrah, 30% Grenache Noir, 10% Mourvèdre and 30% Carignan.  Good deep young colour.  Some ripe spice on nose and palate.  Medium weight but good depth.  Supple tannins.  A dry finish, but easy appeal.

2014 St. Chinian Col de la Serre – 6.50€
Deep colour.  Deeper than Terrasses de Mayline.  A little more structure with a firmer nose and palate.  A tannin streak and dry finish, and less immediate spiciness.

2013 St Chinian-Roquebrun, la Grange des Combes – 8.60€
50% Syrah, made by carbonic maceration, with 30% Grenache Noir and 20% Mourvèdre, aged in vat.  Deep colour.  Ripe dry spice on the nose.  Rounded fruit and spice with a streak of tannin.  Medium weight.  Youthful rounded and complete, with good depth.   The difference between Roquebrun and St Chinian is the higher percentage of Syrah.   And the wines must be kept until January 1st two years after the harvest, so the 2014s will be sold in 2016.

2013 St Chinian-Roquebrun,  Terrasses de la Rocanière – 9.70€  Also known as Roches Noires
60% Syrah with 20% Grenache Noir and 20% Mourvèdre, aged in vat.   Good deep young colour.  Some dry spice on nose and palate. Quite firm with structure and depth.  Ripe spicy black fruit with a balancing tannic streak, and a youthful finish. 

2012 Grand Canal – also known Fiefs d’Aupenac, after a seigneur of the village. – 12.90€
60% Syrah, with 20% each of Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre.  Aged in barriques.  Deep colour.  A nose of black fruit and tapenade and on the palate ripe and rich with plenty of spice.  Quite alcoholic at 14.5.  Quite intense.  Some tannin and hints of vanilla, with a dry finish.

2012 Golden Vines, St Chinian-Roquebrun – 16.30€
65% Syrah, a selection of the best plots.   With 20% Grenache Noir and 15% Mourvèdre.  Made for the first time in 2011.  Includes some 60 – 70 year old vines.  14 months ageing in wood.  Very deep colour. Rich spicy and intense.  Black fruit and tapenade with some tannin, and again a very intense palate, with quite a firm finish. 

But not all their wines are Syrah dominant.  We finished with 2011 Sir de Roc Brun – 12.90€
60% Mourvèdre, with 20% Syrah and 20% Grenache Noir, aged in wood, and blended after élevage.  Quite a deep colour, with a firmer nose and more structure.  It tasted cooler and fresher than the Syrah dominant wines, with a satisfying finish. 

I was left with an impression of a cooperative that was working very well for its appellation and its village.    And then we adjourned to the Cave St. Martin for lunch.    This is another reason for visiting Roquebrun.   It describes itself as an épicerie, bar à vin nature, with a small restaurant, in the summer on a terrace overlooking the Orb.  The owners have recently employed a new chef, who concentrates on local produce.   We shared entrées, enjoying  some Spanish ham, home-made paté, marinated mackerel and a rice and tuna salad, washed down with a glass of Ribeyrenc Blanc from Thierry Navarre, followed by a glass of Temps des Cerises, made by Axel Prűfer, who as coincidence would have it, walked into the restaurant just as we enjoying his wine.