Saturday, 28 November 2015

Mas Coris

I really enjoyed my encounter with Jean Attard at Mas Coris.  His is a new estate, and for some reason, in my mind, I was expecting to encounter a young vigneron, but instead met a man of a certain age – his email address includes the figure 54, which might provide a clue – for whom a wine estate is complete change of career.   Jean has worked as a journalist, and still does; he wrote his university thesis on the lobsters of the St. Laurence River and spent two years in Canada.    His website is well thought out, answering the questions that people ask: such as why the name Coris and why Cabrières.

Jean wanted a name with a link to the sea – he spent 25 years writing for diving magazine and Coris or to give its full name Coris julis is a girelle or rainbow fish.  It also has a satisfyingly memorable ring about it.   And then he talked about how he came to wine – ten years ago, it was a vague idea; let’s buy a vineyard, but nothing very concrete.  However Jean Natoli has been a good friend for 40 years, and he bought his own estate in St. Jean de Fos and invited friends to a picnic in the vineyard, and the idea came back.  Could we do the same?  Why not?  His wife, Véronique agreed.  He Jean related how Jean Natoli had told him that you need three conditions:

A small area

You need to be highly motivated

And you must find a beautiful spot.   

And Jean Natoli helped, sending emails to all his clients asking them if they had or knew of vineyards to sell, and they found land in Cabrières, less than two hectares in three plots belonging to Clos Romain.  Jean lives in Montpellier, but as it happens, he has an elderly uncle in Cabrières.  So they made their first wines in 2010, and in 2011 found a cellar in the village – it had been a cellar sometime earlier, and they also bought more vines, and even more in 2014 and 2015, so that they now have 5.2 hectares.  Those that are not already bio are being converted. And the grape varieties are Syrah, Cinsaut and Grenache Noir, for red and rosé and Clairette, and also a small plot of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier and Vermentino which they planted in 2011.  Their vineyards are all fairly close together off the road to Clermont l’Hérault at the foot of the Pic de Vissou.

We tasted in the small cellar.  And I felt that Jean was in his element, talking about his wines with great enthusiasm and conviction, warming to his subject with an intelligent and perceptive slant.

2014 Atout Pic, Cabrières – Languedoc – 10.00€
Syrah with 30 – 40% Cinsaut.  Medium colour.  Very appealing with a ripe spicy nose.    Fresh cherry fruit, very easy, very gourmand.  No oak.  Ripe peppery flavours.  A slightly tannic streak makes for a good balance  13˚.

Jean explained that all his grapes are handpicked, with the help of friends and his labels acknowledge this with a very sympathique mention Jean et Véronique et leurs amis.   He uses a small basket press, and sorts in the cellar, after éraflage, so that only perfect grapes go into the press.   He does one délestage, some pigeage and some remontages, and tastes the fermenting wine regularly.

2012 Bouteilles à la Mer – 12.50€
This is his principal cuvee accounting for 3 -4000 bottles.  Syrah, Cinsaut and Grenache, including about 5% Syrah élèvé in wood.  Quite a deep young colour; fresh spicy nose, with a leathery note, and on the palate quite ripe, good cherry fruit. Medium weight.  

2013 Bouteilles à la mer
Less Grenache in this, thanks to coulure.  Quite a deep colour and firm youthful tight knit nose.  More structure and more tannin, with firm fruit- the difference of a year’s age.

2012 Pic de Vissou – 25.00€
Good deep colour.  Élevage en fût, but with 15% of wine from the following vintage added to ensure that the end result is not too oaky.  This is allowed, as the vintage on the label implies a minimum of 85% from that year. Jean finds that his tempers the oak, and indeed it does, thought the wine is still quite dense, solid and rounded with a touch of oak.  But put that down to its youth.   Grenache and Syrah.  – just 1200 bottles. He uses chauffe moyen, which is not too aggressive. 

And the final red was Tethys – 50.00€ - with just 250 bottles.  Half aged in vat and half in barrel.  35% Cinsaut with 30% Syrah and 35% Grenache Noir.  Jean is very enthusiastic about Cinsaut.  This had some firm spicy leathery notes.  It was very intriguing, quite structured, with youthful fruit, a lot of body and a lot of potential.  It is not made every year; it all depends on the quality of the Cinsaut.  Jean considers Cinsaut to be magnificent.  To use it just for rosé, is to do it a gross disservice.  14˚ makes it quite powerful but it is elegant too, with a long finish.  Lots of potential and to borrow a phrase from my friend Christopher Cannan at Clos Figueras in Priorat, not yet at cruising altitude.

And we finished   with a Cartagène de Clairette, Cartagène No 1, Parfum du Sud  16.00€ for a 50 cl. bottle
As a
Surprise by Coris
You are only allowed to use the term Mas if you are making an appellation, and Cartagène does not have an appellation.   From late harvested Clairette – a day of picking with friends to produce 250 bottles from 180 kilos of grapes.  Very fruity, honeyed with raisins.  Very concentrated, with a spirity note on the finish.  And a fun finale to a friendly encounter.



Monday, 23 November 2015

La Maison du Vin – A new wine shop in Pézenas

Pézenas is increasingly well served for good wine shops.  Just up the road from Le Wine Shop at 59 avenue de Verdun is la Maison du Vin, which opened its doors in mid-August.  I was passing the other day, and popped in for a browse.  The first thing I saw was an Oenomat in which Aurélien Carron offers a choice of some 20 different wines.  Depending on the bottle price of the wine, a tasting sample  will cost you 90cts or 1.80€.   I think this is a great idea for a wine shop; you could just go for a  tasting, and it would certainly save you from buying something you turned out not to like, and would most certainly encourage a new discovery or two.   Naturally Aurélien is focusing on the Languedoc, including some pretty upmarket names such Domaine la Peyre Rose and Borie-la Vitarèle; not for him the cheaper end of the region.    And there also wines from hors region.  He had just taken delivery of a small grower’s champagne, and was planning on some Chablis from Domaine Grossot, and maybe Billaud-Simon.   I usually find it hard to resist buying something in a wine shop,  and this time was no exception.  I came away with a bottle labelled very simply and intriguing:  Vin de Table, and then in small print Vin de France, made by Catherine Bernard in the village of Castelnau de Lez.  Aurélien explained that it is a pure Carignan; with part of the cuvée made like a red wine, and the other half as a rosé, with the two components blended together.  Drink it slightly chilled, he suggested, so we did and found it to be fresh and fruity, with some original flavours. 


Thursday, 19 November 2015

Tasting at Le Wine Shop in Pézenas

The theme of a recent tasting at Le Wine Shop in Pézenas was St. Chinian to Roussillon, with Dom and Colin doing a very congenial double act presenting eight wines that amply illustrated the diverse characteristics of the western appellations of the Languedoc.  In fact we did not travel from St. Chinian to Roussillon; our route was more devious as they decided it would be best to taste wines with softer tannins first, and progress to wines with more sturdy tannins.   So we kicked off in Roussillon with:

2013 Maury Sec, Domaine La Toupie Sur un Fil – 10.90€
A blend of 70% Grenache Noir, 25% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre, grown at 300 metres on schist.  Aged in vat on the fine lees of the fermentation for eight months. Handpicked with a meagre yield of 18 hl/ha.   Medium colour.  Ripe soft spice and red fruit on the nose, with some liqueur cherries, and on the palate ripe spice with full, fleshy red fruit, balanced by a light streak of tannin.  Very Grenache.  Quite an alcoholic finish at 15˚, but also quite long.   From a relatively new wine estate, and a new appellation.

2014 Collioure, Domaine la Rectorie, Côté Mer – 17.50€
Carignan with some Grenache Noir aged in wood for eighteen months.  Intense deep young colour.  Ripe but firm peppery red fruit.  And intense young fruit on the palate, peppery with firm tannins.  Again quite high in alcohol at 14˚, but with plenty of youthful potential.  This is one of my favourite estates from Collioure, with the most spectacular vineyards. 

2012 La Clape, Château Camplazens, Reserve – 12.00 €
A blend of 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache Noir and 10% Carignan.  Quite a deep young colour, with ripe blackberry fruit on the nose, and some spice and pepper from the high percentage of Syrah.  A rounded ripe spicy palate; some tannins giving structure, with lots of black fruit, garrigues and sunshine.  14˚.  Long and ripe and drinking well now.

2012 Minervois la Livinière, Domaine Piccinini, Clos l’Angély – 9.50€
From vineyards above the village of La Livinière.  70% Syrah and 15% each of Carignan and Grenache Noir, aged in oak for 12 months.  Deep young colour.  Pepper with some hints of chocolate on the nose.  Some peppery fruit;  firm and structured; youthful and tight knit. Nicely integrated tannins.  Balanced with a long finish.  13.5˚. 

2013 St. Chinian, Mas Champart, Côte Arbo.  – 9.00€
A blend of 40% Syrah, 30% Grenache Noir, 5% Mourvèdre, 25% Carignan, grown on the southern clay and limestone vineyards of St. Chinian.  Indigenous yeast.  Aged in vat for two winters.  Quite a deep colour.  Intense youthful nose; dry garrigues notes, with leathery notes and some red fruit and spice, and on the palate quite firm tannins with good length and a youthful finish.

2010 Fitou, Château Wiala, Harmonie – 9.45€
A new name for me, from the village of Tuchan, in the high hills of Fitou.  22% Syrah, 39% Grenache Noir and 38% Carignan.  12 months in oak.  Deep colour, just beginning to develop on the rim.  The Grenache Noir comes out on the nose with some rounded cherry spice and on the palate there is some ripe spicy fruit and quite a fleshy texture, from the ripe Grenache, with a tannic streak.  And a rich peppery finish.  Quite rounded and long.  14˚.  Drinking well now. 

2011 Corbières, Domaine Aonghusa, Laval - 7.80€
An Irish owned estate in Fontjoncouse. And a blend of 30% Grenache Noir and  70% Carignan, including some Carignan planted in 1903, on steep south facing slopes.  There was some Syrah in the adjoining vineyard, but it simply could not cope with the extreme conditions.  An example of why Carignan is so suitable for the Midi.   Quite a deep young colour.  Quite a firm sturdy nose, with youthful spice, and some mineral notes, and on the palate red fruit and some firm tannins.  Good depth and length.  A characterful wine that you will either love or hate.  And Dom explained how that it changes with the seasons.  In the summer heat it was not showing at all well, but with cooler temperatures  it makes a wonderfully satisfying and characterful glass of wine.

And last but not least came 2014 Malepère, Château de Cointres, Tradition – 4.75€
It had a hard act to follow, but is so different from all the other wines, that somehow it did perform, proving especially good value for money.  Malepère can be pure bordelais varieties, but this in fact is 50% Merlot with 20% each of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, and just 10% of Grenache Noir.  Medium colour, with some plummy Merlot fruit on the palate, and a touch of earthy cherries from the Cabernet Franc.  Some structure and fresh fruit.  A very drinkable example of an often overlooked appellation. 

So altogether a great tasting.  Next year Dom and Colin are planning on a closer look at individual appellations, so do get yourself added to their mailing list to keep abreast of what they are up to.  

Monday, 9 November 2015

Domaine la Grange

Domaine le Grange has a new cellar.  I missed the official opening and instead dropped in a little while ago  to admire a smart building in pierre de Beaulieu and a host of shiny stainless steel tanks.   There is also a welcoming tasting area by the entrance. 

This was also the opportunity to meet Rolf Freund, and his wife, the owners of Domaine la Grange.  They spend quite a lot of their time in Germany where Rolf has a wine business, but are in Gabian at key moments of the year.   Once Rolf had decided that he wanted to buy a wine estate, he spent a year looking, from the Côtes du Rhône to Roussillon.  Jean Natoli, who is now his oenologist, helped and saw the potential at la Grange.  The  vineyards have some altitude and the proximity to the Cevennes provides a good diurnal contrast.  In short it was a site with masses of potential.  And the new winemaker, Thomas Raynaud was there too.   He has an impressive and varied CV; he studied in Montpellier and has worked in  the Côtes du Rhône, South Africa, Beaujolais, Australia, Corsica and most recently for Domaine Lafage in Roussillon.  So after admiring the new cellar, we settled down for some tasting, my first opportunity to look at Thomas’s wines, and also an update on the changes in the range.

Rolf is quietly enthusiastic.   He talked about the origins of the estate and the history of the region.  There are three extinct volcanoes nearby, Cadablès, St Hilaire and St. Marthe, which created a mixture of different soils when they erupted.   The estate originally had sheep, for Roquefort, and they again have some sheep on the estate.  The Roman head on the label of their Classique range is a reference to the Roman origins of the area.  There was a spring nearby that supplied water to Béziers, with a 12 kilometre aquaduct. 

We tasted the various white wines, beginning with:

2014 Classique Blanc,   Pays d’Oc - 5.90€
50% Chardonnay – 50% Sauvignon.   Light colour.  Ripe fresh nose ; quite ripe and buttery, with some Sauvignon pithiness on the palate, with the Chardonnay providing some body.  Firm pithy fruit.  Vinification in stainless steel; no frills. 

2014 Terroir Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc - 6.90€
Lightly buttery, with a rounded nose, and on the palate good acidity with some weight and fruit.  Nicely balanced.   And when I made a comment about liking Chardonnay, particularly Chablis, that ages.  Rolf said this does, and produced the 2011 vintage.  It was a pretty golden colour and had developed a very intriguing nose, with notes or maturity and stony minerality.  It seemed firm a dry, but there were also some buttery notes and also a hint of honey on the finish.  I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: white wines from the Languedoc do have ageing potential,  maybe not as much as Chablis, but nevertheless….. In this instance the 2011 was a much more satisfying and characterful wine than the 2014.

2014 Terroir Sauvignon, Pays d’Oc - 6.90€
This was their first vintage of a pure Sauvignon and they readily admitted that there was room for improvement.  It was quite fresh and pithy, but did not have much varietal character.  Definitely work in progress.

2014 Tradition Grande Cuvée Blanc, Pays d’Oc – 9.90
A blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon.  A little depth of colour.  Quite a restrained nose, with some oak, and on the palate more oak, giving a touch of vanilla as well as some tannin.  It was bottled in February and was still quite oaky for my taste buds, but I think it has potential to develop in the bottle.  Think white Graves by way of comparison, with Chardonnay instead of Semillon.

Then on to some rosés :

2014 Classique Rosé, Pays d’Oc– 5.90€
A blend of Cinsaut and Syrah.  All pressed.  A pretty pale pink.  Quite fresh, dry fruity nose, while the palate fills out a little, with some ripe raspberry fruit, and a little weight.  Balanced with good acidity and quite a long finish.  Fresh and easy drinking.

2014 Grande Cuvée Rosé,  Pays d’Oc – 9.90
The labels for the Grande Cuvée range are fun, with sheep walking across both the front and back labels. This is a blend of Syrah and Mourvèdre, pressed.  (fermented at 12˚) A deeper colour.   Quite firm and dry on the nose, and some weight on the palate, from riper grapes than the Classique Rosé.  I wondered if there was some barrel ageing, but no.  However, it is definitely a food rosé, with some weight and body.  A reflection on the quality of Mourvèdre for rosé.   Think Bandol.

And now for the reds, with four quality levels, beginning with:

2014 Classique Rouge, Pays d’Oc – 5.90€
Backbone Syrah, with some Mourvèdre and a little Carignan and Merlot.  Screwcap.  The French apparently are becoming more accepting of screwcaps.  Medium young red.  Soft spicy red fruit, and on the palate.  A slightly sweet soft ripe finish.  The aim is drinkability, and that they have achieved.

2014 Terroir Merlot, Pays d’Oc – 6.90€
The labels for the Terroir range are illustrated with different stones, indicative of a different terroir.
Quite ripe and plummy on the nose.  Some fruit on the palate, with a streak of tannin and a slightly green finish.  Rolf observed that it ‘is different from other Merlots from around here’  and I agreed as I tend to find a lot of southern Merlot a tad too raisiny for my taste buds, but this was not.

2014 Terroir Syrah,  Pays d’Oc - 6.90€
Slightly closed (reductive) nose.  Quite a fresh peppery palate.  Medium weight.  Quite restrained. 

2014 Terroir Cabernet Sauvignon, Pays d’Oc - 6.90€
Deep colour. Quite ripe cassis; quit rounded on the palate with supple tannins giving some backbone.  I preferred it to the Merlot.

 Next in quality order came Tradition, with :

2013 Prat Bibal, Languedoc – 8.90€
A blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache noir.  No oak.  Deep colour.  Quite a supple nose.  Medium weight.  Quite firm tannins, with dry spicy; quite youthful and closed and good potential.  Prat Bibal is the name of a nearby amphitheatre of vines.   A more traditional expression of the Midi, compared to Sélection, for which they want an expression of fruit.

2014 Sélection, Pays d’Oc – 8.90€
Syrah and Merlot.  Quite a firm nose; and on the palate some weight.  Firmer and fuller and youthful, and a year younger.  I preferred Prat Bibal.

Castalides is the top of the range: a reference to water nymphs, with 
2013 Réserve, Languedoc. – 11.90€
A blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre, bottled November 2014.  About 30% of the blend,  both Grenache and Mourvèdre, is aged in barrel.  Good deep colour. Rounded ripe spicy fruit.  Oak well integrated.  Dry spice.  Youthful tannins, and not aggressive.  Rolf and Thomas are looking for soft tannins.  A long finish, and a wine to develop.

2013 Edition, Pézenas – 16.90€
A blend of Syrah and Grenache Noir.  Deep young colour.  Quite firm and tight knit on the nose and the palate some ripe fruit, with a touch of discreet oak and vanilla.  Most of the wine is aged in oak.  Good body and weight.  Very balanced. Their aim is elegance, and that they have achieved.

2013 Icône, Pézenas  – 27.50€
70% Syrah to 30% Mourvèdre. Élevage in barrel.  Blended in December 2014 and bottled a couple of months later.  Deep young colour.  Quite solid ripe fruit on the nose, with some vanilla and cassis.  On the palate, rich and ripe with body and balanced.  Some tannin.  Lots of nuances and lots of potential.  It will be fascinating to see how it ages.   

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Mas de la Fée Nomène

Nany Taverna of Mas de la Fée Nomène is the smallest and newest producer of Montpeyroux.  I tasted her first wine at the Montpeyroux fête a couple of years ago and have been promising myself a cellar visit ever since, which finally happened earlier this autumn.

Nany explained how her husband, Yann, has 15 hectares in the Montpeyroux coop, which is one of the most successful cooperatives of the Midi, but she actually wanted to make some wine, while her husband is content to concentrate on his vines.  So she has just 96 ares, not even a hectare, all in Montpeyroux, that she has either rented or bought.   She ruefully admitted that eight years ago she barely knew what a vine was, and certainly knew absolutely nothing about making wine.  She comes originally from Albi and was living in Montpellier when she met Yann, her second husband, and she  has fifteen year old twins from a first marriage.  Marc Escarmonde is her oenologist and guides her in the cellar.  It is a complete change from her previous job as a nursery school teacher, and her original qualifications in commerce.   

So she makes just one wine, from her small vineyard, which she sees as her garden, pour la passion.  And Yann and the twins are thrilled.  One of the twins particularly enjoys helping in the cellar and vineyard.  2012 was her very first vintage, a blend of Syrah, Carignan and Grenache Noir, from vines that are 15 – 20 years old.   And the name of the estate is a bit of a joke.  As  a child, she never behaved like the others, and was termed une petite phénomène. 

She treated us to a mini vertical, beginning with 2014: - 12.00€
Usually a dominance of Carignan, as there is more of it in her vineyards.  Deep colour; aged in vat.  She has no oak barrels, and does not want any, as she seeks to emphasise the fruit in her vines.  Each variety is fermented separately, blended in May and bottled at the end of June. All handpicked.  Quite firm tannins.  Slightly bitter dark chocolate notes.  Hints of liquorice.  Dry youthful finish.   The vineyard is organic and she uses minimal SO2.  The winemaking is quite simple, taking place in a small cellar attached to their house on the outskirts of Montpeyroux.

2013 – 12.00€
Quite a deep young colour.  Quite firm solid nose.  Sour cherry, griottes fruit.  And some liquorice as well.  Balanced of fruit and tannins, quite elegant, with a slightly rustic note from the Carignan.  

Nicely rounded with supple tannins.  Spicy red fruit and satisfying balanced. Has evolved very nicely.  Attractive depth of flavours.  A brilliant debut.

We talked about organic viticulture.  The Montpeyroux coop now makes an organic cuvée, as there are two members who are organic.  However, half of them are members of Terra  Vitis, the organisation for lutte raisonée.

Nany wants to stay small; maybe she might produce 250 bottles of a single varietal, but maybe not.  She enjoys working in the vineyards, looking after her vines, like a vegetable garden.   Her annual yield is about 20 hl/ha.  And she joking observed that she makes wine instead of jam from her garden.   I enjoyed her spirit and her enthusiasm.

And our visit ended with a quick look at her small cellar.  Some of the 2015 harvest was in a vat, the Carignan,  looking remarkably like a large cauldron of blackcurrant jam.    And the Syrah and Grenache were going to be picked in the following couple of days, as it happened, before the rain that came in the middle of September.