Saturday, 26 September 2015

Traffic hazards at harvest time

                                                         Slippery road.  Grape harvest

The roundabouts in Pezenas suddenly spawned a series of warning notices in early September.  The Pezenas coop is on a main  road on the  edge of the town so if any of the coop members have leaking trailers, grape juice could indeed be a bit of a traffic problem.   And I seen a similar sign once before, on the island of Cyprus.  In fact a photograph of a warning : 'road slippery with grape juice' was the very first thing I  ever had published in Decanter magazine, back in the autumn of 1977!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Château Guilhem in the Malepère

Malepère tends to get overlooked.  It is a small appellation, of just 500 hectares, covering the hills south west of Carcassonne, around the Massif de la Malepère.   Originally when it was still a VDQS Côtes de la Malepère, the regulations demanded both bordelais and Languedocien grape varieties, but since the creation of the appellation, Bordeaux varieties alone are possible.   

We went to visit Château Guilhem in the village of Malviès, which is one of the older, more established, and also largest estates of the appellation, run and owned these days by Bertrand Gourdou, the 6th generation, with Catherine Montahuc as his winemaker.  She has worked here since 2006, but comes from Burgundy. She showed us round; they have 30 hectares of vines in production, of which 17 are Malepère and the rest produce varietal Pays d’Oc.   Malepère is only ever red or rosé; any white wine is Pays d’Oc. A more recent proposal that a white appellation might be considered was refused by the INAO, with the suggestion that the vignerons of the appellation need first to optimise the production of their red and rosé wines, and that any thoughts of white wine were distinctly premature.

The château itself dates from the 1870s, and on some of their labels they use an old photograph of the family from 1902. Originally the property was called Chateau Malviès, but Bertrand thought that could cause some confusion, and preferred to rename it, after the family name of his grandfather, Guilhem.  In the vineyard they work organically, and the cellar at first sight looks like the classic Languedoc cellar, with old cement vats and some old foudres.  However they have divided the cement vats into smaller sizes, which was not easy, but nonetheless preferable to  removing copious amounts of reinforced concrete.  They also have stainless steel vats; Bertrand’s grandfather was one of the first to use them for wine in the Languedoc, in the mid-1970s, inspired by the example of the dairy industry.   The next project is a proper chai à barriques.  They were also amongst the first to plant Merlot in the area, again at the beginning of the 1970s.  Their oldest Cabernet Franc is 15 years old.   A classic Malepère blend must include at least 50% Merlot with at least 20% Cabernet Franc.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec are also allowed, as well as Syrah, Grenache Noir and so on, but they have none of those.    The vineyards have been organic since 2010.  The soil is clay and limestone with an average altitude of 250 metres.

Our tasting began with:

2014 Sauvignon, Pays d’Oc – 7.00€
Fresh and pithy, with a dry finish.   Easy drinking, with some varietal character, but not too much.  The juice is given a little skin contact, before pressing.  

2014 Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc – 7.00€
In the range of Heritage Famille Guilhem, with the old photo on the label, and the words ‘Esprit de Famille since 1878.  A little colour.  Lightly buttery; lightly rounded and quite elegant.  No oak.  Some 25 year old Chardonnay vines.

2014 Viognier, Pays d’Oc – 8.00€
Light colour; lightly peachy on the nose, and palate.  Nicely rounded.  Fresh with a touch of acidity.  quite elegant.

2014 Grand Vin Blanc, Pays Cathare – 13.00€
Half Chardonnay, fermented in barriques and half Sauvignon, fermented in 500 litre barrels, and then blended after fermentation, and bottled in April.  If there was a white appellation, this would be it.  I detected more Sauvignon than Chardonnay on both nose and palate.  Good acidity and a light streak of tannin from the oak.  Nicely understated.  How might it age?  A good balance of the two varieties.
The characteristic of Malepère are quite different within the appellation.  As Catherine explained, the vineyards on the Carcassonne side of the hill are more Languedocien in character, whereas on southern side of the Malepère, nearer to Limoux, the vineyards are more suitable for the Bordeaux varieties.  Grenache or Syrah simply would not ripen here.

2014 Malepère rosé, Prestige du Château Guilhem  – 10.00€
A blend of 50% each of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  Mostly saigné, using the first free run juice. apart from a plot of young Cabernet Franc.  Pretty pale colour.  Delicate fresh fruit.  Lightly raspberry, and on the palate quite crisp and fresh, with good acidity.  They use a glass stopper for this, which costs ten times more than a cork.   They pick at night.

2014 Pot de Vin, Pays d’Oc Merlot – 6.00€
To be served chilled, for easy summer drinking.  Medium colour. Quite rounded easy fruit, with a streak of tannin.  They use an old label and an old bottle shape from the 1970s. 

2013 Malepère Heritage Famille Guilhem – 7.00
Their entry level Malepère, with the emphasis on fruit.  A blend of Merlot and Cabernets, with an élevage in vat.  Quite rounded, ripe and fleshy, with a tannic streak. Easy drinking.    The yield for Malepère is 50 hl/ha but they usually only manage 40 hl/ha.

2013 Prestige of Chateau Guilhem – 10.00€
50% Merlot with 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec.   Deep colour. Quite rich and rounded with some tannin.  Nicely fleshy with ripe cassis fruit.  Spends eight months in wood, but not new wood.  They vinify single plots and then blend gradually.   The Cabernet Franc gives freshness.  Catherine observed that the last three harvest, 2012 – 2014 have been late and cooler, while 2011 was the last hot year.   And we commented on the heat of this summer; the wind from the Mediterranean was bringing humidity, and oidium loves it!

2013 Grand Vin – 16.00
The blend changes, with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon the dominant varieties with a little Merlot.  However it is not the same every year, but the best of the year, so 2011 was Merlot and Cabernet Franc while in 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon replaced Cabernet Franc.  The wine spends twelve months in old wood, after blending, to provide some oxygenation.   If it is too cool, Cabernet Sauvignon does not ripen, but it does not like hot years either, while Cabernet Franc adapts much better.

Good deep colour.  Firm structured cassis fruit on the nose.  A rounded palate with a good balance of tannin and fruit.  Still very youthful.  It makes you think of Bordeaux,  ‘but with the sunshine’ added Catherine.  

2012 Clos du Blason, en magnum – 50.00€.   Catherine very generously gave us a magnum, as they had no bottles left for us to taste.  2013 had not been successful as the Merlot got coulure, and the 2014 vintage is still in barrel and will not be bottled until 2016, after 18 months in new oak.   It is 90% Merlot, with one barrel of Cabernet Franc and one barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon.   The idea is to show how well Merlot performs in the Malepère, especially when the vines are 40 years old.    We drank the magnum with friends later that evening.  The oak influence is still very strong, with some ripe vanilla and cassis fruit, balanced by a youthful tannic streak.   The key question is: how will it age in bottle?   For sheer drinkability, the Heritage cuvée was hard to beat. 


Monday, 14 September 2015

Domaine de Poujol

The very first post of this blog records a visit to Domaine de Poujol back in 2009, so it was high time for an update.    As it happened,  a month or so ago, Domaine de Poujol  proved a convenient detour on the way to the airport to retrieve my husband from London flight.

It was a warm summer's morning and we sat outside the cellar with Kim, being deafened by the noise of the crickets.   Kim and Robert have been in the Languedoc since their first vintage in 1994.   And it was interesting to see how their wines have evolved over the years.  The label design has changed; and they have converted to screwcaps.   Virtually all their wines are IGP Hérault rather than an appellation. 

2014 Pico, IGP Hérault– 7.00€
A blend of Vermentino, Roussanne and Carignan blanc.  Vinified in tank.  Vermentino works well for them, ripening late.    Fresh herbal notes with good acidity.  A little weight and lightly rounded.   Carignan blanc is not allowed within the appellation and the Vermentino is grown in a vineyard that is too close to the river, hence vin de pays rather than an appellation.   

2014 Rosé, Pays de l’Hérault.  – 7.00€
This accounts for 60% of their production.  A blend of Carignan, Cinsaut and Grenache, but no Mourvèdre in 2014, as it ripened too late.   They had serious weather issues in 2014, with three separate floods.   1000 mms of rain fell in about two weeks, and on 6th October the flow of water was strong enough to pull up vines, so that they lost some Grenache and Mourvèdre.  2002 was another year of floods when they lost their entire Syrah crop. 

The grapes are all pressed, following the practice of Provence, making for a pretty pale orange pink.  Delicate dry raspberry fruit on nose and palate.  Quite crisp and fresh with a touch of raspberry, with a spicy note.  Very appealing.

2013 Pays de l’Hérault blanc, Carignan blanc – 15.00€
From old vines planted in 1961.  Fermented and aged in an acacia barrel.  Light golden.  Quite rounded and fresh with lightly peachy herbal notes and good acidity.  Very intriguing.  Some minerality and stony fruit, but more weight and more fleshy than Pico.  They make just one demi-muid, and use only minimal use of sulphur.

2013 Vin de France, Cinsaut  - 10.00€
Light young red colour.  A bit of cherry fruit.  The Languedoc’s answer to good Beaujolais, making perfect summer drinking if lightly chilled.  Lovely red fruit.  40 year old vines producing 20 hl/ha.   a natural wine.  Kim observed that it is easier to make a natural wine if you ferment in wood, as you retain the carbon dioxide. 

2013 Cinq Ceps, AC Languedoc.   – 7.00€
60% Syrah, 20 % Carignan, 10% Cinsault and 8% Grenache noir and just 2% Mourvèdre.  Quite rounded and ripe cherry fruit with a tannic streak.  Medium weight and youthful

2013 Podio Alto, AC Languedoc – 15.00€
A blend of low yielding Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, from higher vineyards, aged in barrels, demi-muids,  for 12 months.  Deep colour.  Firm red fruit with a touch of oak. Quite ripe with vanilla an cherry and some tannin.  A rich mouthful, but not heavy and it certain does not taste like 14.5˚

Domaine de Poujol lies in something of a crossroads of appellations.  When Kim and Robert bought the estate, they understood that the commune of St. Gély would be included within the Pic St Loup, but no.  Then it was suggested that they could be Grès de Montpellier, but that idea has been dropped.  And in any case the mayor of Montpellier is now getting involved with Grès de Montpellier, suggesting that everyone should use a special bottle, with a logo, and that would necessitate changing the bottle line, and who wants to do that? 

2010 la Bête Noire, Vin de France– 15.00€
90% Cabernet Sauvignon with some Carignan.  Picked at the same time and fermented together.  They have always had a small plot, not even one hectare,  of Cabernet Sauvignon on the estate. Deep colour.  Rounded cassis, ripe fruit with some tannin. Rounded and ripe.  Very harmonious, but not at all Languedoc.  Somehow it tasted of the New World, although the Carignan did add a fresher note.

And then Robert returned hot from the vineyards, saying:  But  you must try our Carignan juice before you leave.   They prevent if from fermenting at all so that it has 186 gms of sugar, with ripe fruit and fresh acidity.  Turn it into a sorbet, suggested Robert, but do add some alcohol. So I did.  My husband thought it tasted of cough medicine – maybe pastis had not been the best choice, but it was all I had to hand - but other friends were more polite!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Alicante Bouschet and Cinsaut at Virgin Wines

Less popular or once decried grape varieties are making a bit of a comeback in the Languedoc, and well done Virgin Wines for picking up on that.

I’ve just enjoyed a bottle of Alicante Bouschet, Escura des Pins, Pays de l’Herault 2013, for £9.99.   It has quite a deep young colour, with some ripe cherry fruit on the nose, and more ripe supple fruit on the palate.  Quite fleshy with some soft tannins, making for easy drinking, but with some depth and length.  A modest 12⁰.   Alicante Bouschet was a grape variety that was definitely frowned upon for contributing to the European wine lake.  .  It produced high yields of thin flavoured wine, and as a teinturier variety it performed the useful function of boosting the colour of high yield anaemic varieties.  There is not much of it left around, but this really shows that when vinified correctly, without an excessive yield, it can make a really nice glass of wine.

Cinsaut tends to be used for rosé wine, but increasingly is making some very appealing red wines.  It features in Gavin Crisfield’s La Traversée along with some Syrah, Carignan and Grenache Noir, but the fragrant perfume of the wine very much comes from the Cinsaut component.  The 2012 vintage at £24.99 has  quite a deep young colour, with fragrant fruit on the nose, and on the palate some ripe very fruit, with balancing acidity and tannin.  The alcohol reaches 14 but the wine tastes much lighter and is in perfect balance.  The vineyards are in the high hills of the cooler Terrasses du Larzac and Gavin’s small cellar is well off the beaten track in the tiny hamlet of les Salses.   Ca vaut le voyage.   

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Mas Sibert

Simon Bertschinger has developed Mas Sibert from scratch and is helped with his wife, Sara Frémine.   He has a delightfully picturesque cellar in the village of Fos, where we tasted, but his vines are near Domaine Bourdic on the Pézenas-Roujan road.  He has just two hectares and makes three reds and a rosé, and is planning to plant vines for a white wine, namely (80%) Petite Arvine and (15%) Albarino as well as (5%) Gewürztraminer, for the côté exotique; just 1300 vines in all which will give him about 1000 litres of wine, but not for another four years,   Simon is Swiss, hence the interest in Petite Arvine.  And for red wines he began with Merlot and Petit Verdot, and planted some Sangiovese and Syrah. And in his vineyard he has three different types of soil, clay and limestone on river terraces, some sandy soil, by the river bank, and some clay, with large stones.  2003 was his first vintage, made from Aramon, which he has subsequently replaced, finally in 2011, with Merlot and Petit Verdot.

Talking about Petite Arvine, Simon said he would pick early to retain the acidity.  The microclimate of his vineyard is quite fresh – and then he observed:  No risk; no fun!  He is biodynamic, but not registered as such.  He makes preparations from various plants, like nettles, bracken, horsetail, and comfrey.  He tries to respect the biodynamic calendar.  He uses a little sulphur at bottling and occasionally tries some wine without sulphur, and neither filters nor fines.  He observed that natural wine can be un peu de tout. 

Simon has taken a devious route to land up in the Languedoc.  He did some commercial studies and then he learnt cake making and patisserie, which he really enjoyed, 'but you do not use your brain'.  So he studied hotel management, and travelled, to Piedmont and California.  And then he realised that it was the production of wine that really interested him, rather than working as a sommelier.  So he came to the Languedoc and worked for four months at Domaine Bourdic with Hans Hurlimann and Christa Vogel in 2000, and then in 2001 settled in France.  He worked for other estates, Ollier Taillefer and Château de Nizas, and started his own estate from scratch, very courageously.  His house in Fos includes a small cellar, with some concrete vats and barrels.

2014 Rosé, Vin de France – 7.00€
Simon shuns French wine legislation;  the tax if you are Vin de France is very much lower than for an appellation.  70% Nielluccio, the grape variety of Patrimonio in Corsica, otherwise known as Sangiovese, with 30% Syrah.  Saigné after three hours.  Débourbage,  Classic fermentation in vat.  , using natural yeast and controlling  the fermentation temperature at 19˚C.  Nielluccio retain acidity and is picked before the Syrah. Quite a deep colour.  With dry raspberry fruit.  Quite fresh with good acidity.  Very juicy.  Some tannin as well as acidity This is a food rose; it would go brilliantly with lamb chops off the barbecue.

2013 Armélot, Vin de France – 8.50€
The name implies lots of Merlot, 40%, with the same amount of Syrah and 20% Petit Verdot.  Simon observed that Petit Verdot ripens badly in Bordeaux but here it produces a good crop, benefiting from the warm autumns.  It needs to be 14 -14.5˚ to be properly ripe, while retaining good acidity, and indeed balances the lack of acidity in the Merlot.  Each variety is vinified separately, in vat, and left to age in tank and bottled 12 months later.  Good deep colour.  Rounded cassis fruit, and on the palate, with a fresh tannic streak.  Evolving nicely.  A fresh finish, ripe and firm.  Almost tastes as though it has been in wood, but no it has not.

2013 Fosénot, Vin de France – 9.50€
70% Syrah, with 10% each of Nielluccio, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  Vinified in concrete vats, with an élevage in stainless steel.  Blended after malo.    Deep colour.  Quite peppery fruit on the nose, and fresh peppery fruit and tannins on the palate.  Youthful with acidity and good fruit.  Quite sturdy with an elegant finish.

2013 Soléno, Vin de France – 14.00€
40% Merlot, 30% Petit Verdot and 30% Syrah.  In old wood for eight months.   Simon buys retoasted barrels, which are less aggressive than brand new barrels.  Deep colour.  Quite a firm nose, with some cassis, and more on the palate, with some tannins.  Quiite fleshy with a peppery note.  Oak nicely intergrated.   Youthful, with an elegant finish. 

It had been a number of years since I last tasted Simon’s wines and I thought that he had progressed enormously.  He observed that he has become more confident.  He does not have an oenologist; he does not need one.  He simply accompanies the wine but does not intervene too much, with some pigeage and a little remontage for his red wines.   He observed: you employ a consultant oenologist and he makes your wine, or you make your own wine with your own hands. 

Simona also has some olive trees, and takes his olives to the mill at Gabian which accepts a minimum of 90 kilos.

And we finished with 2010 Armélot.
Medium colour.  Nicely rounded with ripe plummy fruit and a streak of acidity as well as tannin.  Good cassis fruit and nicely balanced.  Still very youthful, but beginning to mature nicely. 

I asked Simon about projects for the future.  He and Sara are happy to remain small, doing the best they can with their vineyards and respecting the land.  They want to give pleasure to people à table, transmitting their enthusiasm,  so that they passe un moment sympathique.   Sounds good to me.   And on Sundays in the summer they fire up the village bread oven which is just by their cellar; you can bring pizzas to be cooked, and Sara makes bread.  I must go and try some.