Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Languedoc around the London tastings

Yapp Bros, who began life as specialists in Loire and the Rhône Valley, diversified further south quite a while ago and their list now includes some gems.

First off, NV Crémant de Limoux Brut from Domaine Collin - £12.75
Quite a firm, tight nose, with a lightly herbal note on the palate.  Quite fresh and crisp and stony, with fresh acidity.

2015 Picpoul de Pinet, Domaine Gaujal, Cuvée Ludovic Gaujal.   - £10.75
Is it me, or is there a tendency to produce softer Picpoul these days?   Without disparaging Picpoul, I tend to think of it as the Languedoc equivalent of Muscadet, something crisp and refreshing that goes deliciously with an oyster. This example was soft and rounded, with a dry finish, but lacked the salinity that is the hallmark of good Picpoul.

2013 Bellet, Domaine de la Source  - £25.50
A little deviation into Provence to Nice for a tiny and almost forgotten appellation, Bellet.  The white wine is based on Rolle and this was firm and stony, with fresh fruit and good acidity.   It is expensive, as the vineyards are on what could be valuable building land, within the city boundaries of Nice.

2013 Palette, Château Simone - £37.00
Another Provence wine, from another tiny appellation, just outside Aix-en-Provence.  At one time Château Simone was the only producer, but these days there are two or three others.  A wonderful mix of grape varieties, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Bourboulenc and Muscat.  Quite a dry, restrained nose and on the palate some underlying oak, and fresh fruit, with lots of nuances.  This is a white wine that ages well and will develop much greater depth of character with some bottle age.   One of the classics of Provence.

2014 Vin de Corse, Sartène, Domaine Saparale.  Rosé. - £14.95
From Sciacarello, Vermentino and Nielluccio.  Just the thing if you are looking for an original rosé this summer.  Again it is pretty expensive, especially for a rosé, but that is one of the problems of wine production in ‘Corsica, all their dry goods, bottles, corks etc. have to be imported from le continent as Corsicans call mainland France.   A pale colour, and a delicate nose, and on the palate some lovely fruit and depth.  It is fresh and powerful at the same time, and will accompany summer dishes from salade niçoise to barbecued lamb.

2014 Pic St. Loup, l’Arbouse, Mas Bruguière - £13.95
A blend of Grenache Noir and Syrah, from one of my favourite Pic St. Loup producers.  Medium colour, with some elegant spice and red cherries on the nose, and even more spice on the palate.  Quite ripe and rounded, but balanced with a fresh finish.  Good length.

2014 Domaine Richeaume, Tradition, IGP Méditerranée - £18.50
A blend of Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache Noir from an estate in the Bouches du Rhône.  Quite firm youthful fruit on the nose and on the palate tight knit and structured, with red fruit, dry spice and balancing tannins.  A youthful tannic finish and showing some potential.

2005 Domaine de Trévallon, IGP Bouches du Rhône - £60.00
A blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, and not appellation Les Baux de Provence, for its lack of Grenache Noir, which Eloi Durrbach stubbornly refuses to plant.   This makes his wine so much better than many of those of his neighbours in the appellation.   Medium colour, showing a little development.  Some rounded spice and cassis on the nose.  And on the palate it is still quite youthful, with a tannic edge and some rounded fruit, with some intriguing nuances.  Really a wine to savour at table rather than taste quickly in a line up of bottles.

And then on to Lea & Sandeman.

I was delighted to find that they were showing my friend Simon Coulshaw’s lovely Roussanne.

2015 Domaine des Trinites, Pays d’Oc, Roussanne. - £12.95
Deliciously floral nose, and nicely textured palate, with good mouth feel.  I know from experience that this wine develops beautifully with a couple of years of bottle age, so this 2015 is still too young.

2015 Domaine Saint Felix, Rosé - £6.95
A blend of Grenache and Cinsaut.  Very pale colour, and quite a fresh delicate nose, but I found the palate a touch amylic with undertones of boiled sweets, but that may well disappear in a month or  two.

There were also a trio of rosés from Domaine Sainte Lucie in Côtes de Provence.

2015 MIP* Made in Provence Classic Rosé - £11.95
Quite a firm but delicate nose, and on the palate some understated weight, but a touch amylic on the finish.

2015 Made in Provence, Premium Rosé - £19.95
Very pale colour.  Delicate and fresh on the nose, with a fragrant palate, with good acidity and some depth on the finish.

2015 L’Hydropathe, Elite Rosé, Côtes de Provence, Sainte Victoire - £15.95
Quite a delicate fragrant nose with a rounded palate, with more weight than the previous two wines.  A nicely characterful Provencal rosé.

2012 Muscat de Rivesaltes, Domaine Treloar - £9.95
Light golden colour, quite perfumed and peachy on the nose, and on the palate quite soft and ripe.   

And then at O. W. Loeb,  I was thrilled to discover that they were showing Domaine des Chênes,  2006 Rivesaltes Ambré.  This is the style of Rivesaltes that I really enjoy.  It was firm and intense and nutty on both nose and palate, with a very good bite on the finish, and utterly delicious.  

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

An update on Gérard Bertrand

Gérard Bertrand was in town a week or so ago, hosting a tasting and dinner, and providing an agreeable update on his wines, not to mention an opportunity to taste the much vaunted Clos d’Ora. The prices are approximate UK retail prices.  

2015 Prima Nature Chardonnay, IGP Pays d’Oc  - £11.40
This wine is made without the use of any sulphur at all, something they began doing five years ago. The grapes come from vineyards near Béziers; the wine does a malo-lactic fermentation and ageing is in vat.  Light colour.  Quite a firm nutty nose, and a rounded palate with good acidity and some ageing potential.  A good balance.   Southern Chardonnay features amongst my prejudices; this could be an exception to the rule.

2014 Château l'Hospitalet, la Reserve, la Clape - £25.00
A blend of Bourboulenc, Rolle, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne grown on limestone. 20 – 25% of the wine is aged in vat rather than barrel.  A little colour.  Quite a firm nutty nose, from the oak, and on the palate some satisfying mouth feel, a mineral note with good acidity and quite an elegant finish.

2014 Château la Sauvageonne, Grand Vin, Coteaux du Languedoc - £20.99
Mainly Grenache Blanc with some Vermentino and Viognier.  La Sauvageonne is in the Terrasses du Larzac, outside the village of St. Jean de la Blaquière but white wine is not included in that appellation, hence appellation Coteaux du Languedoc.  This is an estate that Gérard bought in 2011, and 80% of the production is red.  The vineyards are on volcanic soil and schist at an altitude of 200-300 metres.   Although the Grenache component is aged in stainless steel vats, I did find the nose rather oaky, and the palate quite tannic, with oak dominating the flavour for the moment.  This may change with some bottle age.

Gérard talked about biodynamics.  They have converted 430 hectares to biodynamic viticulture, which have been registered with Demeter for three years.  Cigalus was the first estate, where they began experimenting with just two hectares in 2002.  And they handpick 90% of their grapes, which requires 250 pickers.

Now onto reds with 2015 Prima Nature Syrah, IGP Pays d’Oc - £11.40
Deep young colour.  Ripe black spice on the nose, ripe and fresh and perfumed with some soft tannins and a youthful finish.  Élevage in vat and bottled in December.  Gérard observed that biodynamic cultivation makes for more acidity in the wine, and enhances the ageing potential as the roots go deeper.   He is convinced that biodynamics provide a better balance in the vineyard, and the grapes are fully ripe at 13 – 14.  It all depends on the cultivation of the soil.

2012 Château la Sauvageonne, Pica Broca, Terrasses du Larzac. - £15.99
Deep young colour.  Quite rich spice and red fruit on the nose.  Quite rounded fleshy spicy fruit balanced with a tannic streak.  Rounded finish.  Medium weight.  The oldest vines are 80 years old, and the youngest 15.  The blend is mainly Syrah and Grenache Noir, with some Mourvèdre, and sometimes there may be a little Carignan.

2013 Château l’Hospitalet, la Réserve, La Clape - £25.00
Mainly Syrah with Grenache and Mourvèdre.  Deep young colour.  Quite a firm nose, with dry spice and quite a tight knit youthful palate, structured with an oaky touch.  A sturdy youthful finish.  Needs time.

2013 Cigalus, IGP Aude Hauterive - £22.75
This entailed a change of register, with Bordeaux grape varieties as well as Mediterranean ones, so with apologies for the list, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Caladoc (a cross between Malbec and Grenache Noir) and since 2014 Mourvèdre.  Deep young colour, with the ripe cassis notes of the Bordeaux varieties.   Very ripe and rounded, with supple tannins.  The previous owner of Cigalus was a Parisian lawyer, who bought the estate for hunting and decided to plant Bordeaux varieties as he had had an argument with the president of the Corbières syndicat!

2013 La Forge, Corbières Boutenac - £45.16
A blend of Carignan and Syrah, vaguely half and half, depending on the vintage.
Deep young colour.  Quite an elegant spicy nose, and on the palate ripe spice, with youthful fruit.  Quite intense and long; hints of tapenade, a touch of minerality.  Quite tannic and powerful. And needs time.

And then it was time for dinner, but first a glass of Crémant de Limoux, Code Rouge, from Gérard’s Limoux estate, Domaine de l’Aigle.  It was rather confusing that the wine was in a red bottle, but was in fact white.  It was rounded and creamy.  - £18.55

2014 Domaine de Cigalus, IGP Aude Hauterive  - £22.75
I found the oak on this quite assertive; it needs time to tone down.  .  A blend of 70% Chardonnay and 25% Viognier in wood, plus 5% Sauvignon, vinified in stainless steel. 

And then came two vintages of Gérard’s new interpretation of Minervois la Livinière, Clos d’Ora.   Syrah dominant with some old Carignan as well as Mourvèdre and Grenache.   Gérard talked about his dream; he had found three hectares of very old Carignan,  with some Syrah, near an old bergerie near the village of  La Livinière  2012 was the first vintage.  The vineyards are on a geological fault with limestone and clay.   The wine is fermented in cement and then aged in barrel.  As for the name:  in Latin ora means prayer, and in Greek time in the future, between alpha and omega.  Both vintages are very polished and subtle.

2013 Clos d’Ora - £159.99
Deep colour; rich tapenade.  Quite oaky on the palate, ripe and intense, with subtle tannins and lots of nuances.  It needs time.

2012 Clos d’Ora - £142.00 
In comparison has ripe tapenade on nose and palate. Rich and intense, but is not heavy, with supple tannins.   Beautifully crafted.  My one doubt: would I think this is Minervois?  It is beautifully made and tastes delicious, but how developed is the sense of real place.  I would expect something with a bit more of an attitude!  But it was a privilege to drink two vintages, with the vigneron!

And we finished with a 1974 Rivesaltes, - £118 - which was amber in colour and elegantly nutty with a bite on the finish, with length and acidity.  Gérard has been building up a collection of old vins doux, old Rivesaltes from 1977 going back to 1875. And this was one of them.  This 1974 had been aged in an old cognac barrel, which gave it an extra bite.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Grenaches du Monde

I was invited to what is now an annual tasting competition of Grenache, Grenaches du Monde.   For the previous three years it has been held in Roussillon, but this year it moved south of the Pyrenees to the region of Campo de Borja, close to the stunning city of Zaragoza.    

The programme began with two winery visits on the first morning.  Unfortunately I missed out Bodegas Aragonesas as I slipped on the cellar steps, and found myself flat on my face, and in need of stitches to my eyebrow.  Not a good start, but I was recovered sufficiently to enjoy the following visit to Bodegas Borsao.   

This is actually a group of three cooperatives, with 2400 hectares of vineyards, and 700 growers producing 9 million bottles.  Essentially they provided an introduction to Campo de Borja, which is a pretty unknown DO for me.  Essentially it covers the vineyards around the town of Borja, at an altitude of 300 – 900 metres.  Grenache is the most important variety, at 80%, but they also have Syrah and Merlot, as well as Viura for white wine.  The vineyards are in the Ebro valley and the dominant climatic characteristic is wind, which can blow for 200 days of the year.  And there is very little rainfall.  The cellars are streamlined.  They have a barrel hall, with 60% French oak to 40% American oak, staked four high, with humidity and temperature control.   We tasted a few wines:

2014 Seleccion
A blend of 85% Grenache. 10% Syrah and 5% Tempranillo.  Deep young colour.  Quite rich and intense. The vines are 15 – 30 years old and the wine is aged in vat rather than barriques, though I thought I smelt oak.  The fruit was very powerful, rich black cherries, with acidity and tannin. And quite alcoholic on the finish. Though it was a fairly modest 14.5.

2014 Tres Picos
A pure Grenache, named after nearby snow-capped mountains, and from 65 – 75 year old vines grown at 900 metres.  The wine enjoys six months of French oak.  Deep young colour, smoky notes on the nose quite a firm oaky streak on the palate with some rich red fruit and a slightly sweet finish  and still very youthful.  15.    

2013 Berola
Deep young colour  - the colour comes from 20% Syrah, with 80% Grenache.  14 months in barrel.  Syrah is a relative newcomer to the region, introduced about fifteen years ago.  It has adapted well to the climate and gives colour and structure, both of which Grenache can lack.  Smokey oak on the nose, with some firm sturdy structure on the palate, balanced by ripe fruit.

And then it was back to Zaragoza for a welcome in the Palacio de Sastiago, in a large hall decorated with murals.  There were wines to taste too, but it was all a tad chaotic and not ideal tasting conditions, but the selection gave an idea of the variety of Spanish wines with Grenache, namely Calatayud,  Somontano, Carineňa, followed by various Campo de Borja, some more elegant than others, and finishing with a nutty Maury Tuilé. 

The afternoon was taken up with a conference, covering various topics, on taste; quality and choice  - we played  games with little bottles containing different aromas relating to Grenache.  There was an interesting account of the development history of Grenache.  It is one of the 16 cultivars that account for 50% of the world’s vineyards – and it has 131 synonyms.  The first written reference was possibly 1513, but a second date of 1791 is considered more reliable.   Its roots lie very much in the Iberian Peninsula, and then it moved to Roussillon and Sardinia under the kingdom of Aragon in the 15th century.   The next speaker talked about Grenache Blanc, which is a mutation of the red.  It was mentioned in Tarragona in 1875.  In recent years it has had a chequered history, with as many as 16,300 hectares in Spain in 1985, falling to 2100 in 2007, and now growing again with 2449 in 2014.   And the final speaker talked about the results of a project Terroir de la Garnacha, and about the work determining suitable soils for Grenache.  And then we finished with another tasting game, entailing three different mistella, grape juice muted with alcohol. 

I opted for room service instead of the more formal dinner, as we had an early start the next morning and dinner in Spain is always late.  The tasting for the competition was held in the beautiful monastery of Veruela, with its fabulous Cistercian church and stunning cloisters.  The competition itself was in what was once the old refectory.  I was on a friendly table, chaired very efficiently by Emmanuel Cazes and there was Victor Jiménez, who has a wine shop La Vinicola in Barcelona and  Joaquin Gálvez who makes wine films.  Check out his website   To enter the competition, a wine needed to be a minimum of 70% Grenache.   As tastings go, it was quite leisurely, with five small flights, namely some French rosés; followed by Campo de Borja, then Cannonau di Sardegna (Cannonau being one of the many synonyms for Grenache) and then Catalayud and finally a small flight of vins doux from Roussillon, of which for me the best was Domaine Vaquer’s Solera depuis 25 ans.   I was delighted to see that she did get a gold medal for this wine. And then it was time for lunch and the opportunity to taste a few more Grenaches as the bottles came past.

And then we were treated to a sport of tourism with a visit to the cathedral of Tarazona.  Compared to the monastery of Veruela, it was much more elaborate with baroque richness, and some elegant Moorish cloisters. And the event finished with what was termed a night of Grenache and an opportunity to taste as many wines as you wanted.   What was immediately striking was the variety of Grenache, from places as diverse as Macedonia and Australia.  Inevitably the greatest concentration came from the eastern Mediterranean, with Spain very well represented.  As far as I could see there was only one gold medal from Priorat, which surprised me, and I tasted an agreeable range of white Empordà, as well as wines from Sardinia, but also the Colli di Trasimeno near Perugia.  The Rhône Valley featured with Châteauneuf du Pape and Gigondas and there were also a couple of Corbières, from Domaine Mandourelle.   

I retired before any of the results were announced, but they are available on the competition website.   On reflection the main thing that struck me about the wines I tasted was their extraordinary diversity, that Grenache Noir, Blanc and Gris and also the related Pelut, can produce an amazing variety of wine styles, through the gambit of flavours of table wines to the vins doux that are either young and fresh, or aged in barrel for years.  It is certainly a grape variety that I shall consider with new eyes.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Domaine Lafage

The owners of the large, 250 hectares estate of Domaine Lafage at Canet-en -Roussillon are Jean-Marc Lafage and his wife Elyane.  I met Ramuntxo Andonegui, their export director.   

Fifteen hectares of the 250 hectares are farmed organically, but more as an experiment.  They do not actually make any organic wine, as they feel that there are some issues with organic viticulture, such as the amount of copper that can be used and the number of times a tractor goes into a vineyard, compacting the soil   They follow lutte raisonnée and wanted to decide for themselves if organic viticulture was better or not.  

They have vines in Canet-en-Roussillon close to their cellar and also some nearer the sea.  The grapes for their white and rosé wines are grown in a territoire maritime, benefiting from la Marinade,  a wind that brings humidity and freshness in the summer.   The difference in temperature between the coast and Maury can be as much as 5⁰C in the summer.

For white wines they have Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Muscat, and Syrah and Mourvèdre for rosé on the limoneux terraces of the Tet, with galets rouléees, totalling about 110 hectares   In Les Aspres they have 50 hectares of Grenache Noir, Carignan and Syrah, grown on terraces of brown schist, marnes schisteux and marble, between Fourques and Montauriol. 

And in Maury they bought the 38 hectare estate of St. Roch in 2007. It is next door to Mas Amiel with marnes schisteux and schistes noires. And in addition they have acquired other plots in Cassagnes and Lesquerde, enjoying the granite of Lesquerde that you also find in Caramany and Cassagnes.   This is no small operation.

And not content with all that, they also have a project in Collioure, not with vines of their own, but a négociant activity whereby they follow specific plots of vines and buy grapes.  The previous director of the Mount Tauch coop makes the wine. 

We wandered around some high tech cellars.  There is a forest of stainless steel vats of different sizes, which always looks impressive.  Egrappage can be done in the vineyard so the grapes go straight into the press by gravity.   There is no fouloir at reception, rather a conquai vibrant which sent the juice one way and gradually separates the grapes, with the aim to keep them as perfect as possible.  They use inert gas for the pink and white juice to prevent any oxidation, and also chill against oxidation.   The harvest in 2015 began on 11th August.  Ramuntxo  (his name is Basque) kept emphasising that they want to preserve the quality of grapes and their new press is equipped with inert gas.

They work with small barrels, with a pre-fermentation à froid in small tank or barrels for 5 – 10 days at 5 - 10C, to give colour, flavour and supple tannins.  2015 was their second vintage in these streamlined cellars.    There is mechanical autopigeage, with compressed air.  As Ramuntxo put it, ‘the strength of man, le force de l’homme is not sufficient’.  They do not do remontages.  And there are also some metal tronconique vats.

And then we adjourned to taste:

2014 Côtes du Roussillon Blanc, Centenaire.  17.00€ 
Ramuntzo said that this wine is emblematique of the estate, representing its philosophy.  There are some old vines, Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc, planted in 1909 – 1913, accounting for 50% of the blend.  And then there is 20% Roussanne planted about 10 years ago.  The vineyards by the cellar are a terroir de blanc, with alluvial soil and galets roulees, on the terraces of the river Têt.   There were fresh herbal notes on the palate and the wine was youthful dry and fresh, with a streak of tannin which gives backbone, and some notes of salinity.  A lovely glass of wine. 

They pick, by hand,  in several tris, beginning in the third week of August, with a potential alcohol of 11.5- 12⁰.  With the second tri, about ten days later, the grapes will have more concentration and that juice is fermented in wood. A third tri depends on the vintage and may be overripe; it goes into vat.    The various tris are blended after fermentation and then the wine is aged in vat and bottled in February or March.   The oak is nicely integrated.

2012 Centenaire
Light colour.  A little richer on the nose than 2014 Centenaire, and filling out on the palate.   Some peachy notes on  the nose.  Quite stony and mineral, with firm fruit and structure on the palate.  Develops nicely in the glass with depth and breadth, and promising potential.   

2014 Coté Rosé, Côtes Catalanes – 6.50€
A blend of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon, pressed.  Jean-Marc’s father planted Cabernet Sauvignon about 25 years ago.  Pale colour.  Delicate nose, with a fuller palate,.  Quite ripe and rounded, easy and mouth filling.

2014 Miraflores, Côtes du Roussillon  Rosé– 9.50€
70% Mourvèdre with 30% Grenache Gris.  Pressed grapes.  Pretty pale pink colour.  Delicate nose.  More structured and quite firm dry fruit.  Quite elegant and stylish. 

2014 La Grande Cuvée Rosé, Côtes du Roussillon – 16.00€
The opposite, with 70% Grenache Gris to 30% Mourvèdre.  Lighter, more gris colour.  The Grenache Gris is grown in the Aspres at 360 – 400 metres altitude.  All handpicked, with a selection of grapes, which are pressed.   The Mourvèdre comes from close by the cellars.  A small amount of barrique élevage.  Quite a delicate, but more rounded nose.  Quite rounded ripe palate.  Soft tannins and some acidity.  Nice depth on the palate and the oak is integrated.  Some citrus notes, balanced by spice and red fruit.  Not a summer rosé

2013 Authentique, Côtes du Roussillon – 9.00€
Carignan, Syrah and Grenache, in vat, both inox and cement, and about 20% in wood, in one or two year old barrels.  The base is Carignan from les Aspres with Syrah from Canet, and Grenache from Maury.  Medium colour.  Quite firm structured nose and palate.  Youthful structured red fruit, with a good balance.  Youthful energy, peppery and cheerful. 

2014 Authentique
Not yet the final blend.  Medium colour. Quite fresh rounded fruit on nose and palate.  Nice youthful spice and furrier tannins that 2013.

2013 Bastide Miraflores, Côtes Catalanes – 12.00€
70% Syrah with 60 – 30 year old Grenache.  In vat.  Quite a firm nose, with red fruit.  Quite rounded and ripe, and quite alcoholic, but balanced.  Ripe black fruit with a tannic streak. Quite youthful but ready.  Syrah from Lesquerde on granite, where the acid soil gives freshness and minerality.

2013 Tessellae Old Vines  - 12.00€
A reference to mosaics and tessera.   40% Grenache from Maury with 40% Syrah from Lesquerde, as well as 15% Mourvèdre and 5% Grenache Gris.  In vat.  Medium colour.  Quite a firm, quite dense nose.  Quite solid rounded and ripe black fruit.  Winter warming and ripe with a streak of tannin.  Quite alcoholic on the finish.

2013 Chimères, Château St Roch, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, - 12.00€   15
From Maury, and mainly Grenache, with 30% Syrah and just 5% Carignan.  Aged in wood; they have moved towards 500 litre barrels.  Quite solid and dense nose, with ripe rounded fruit and solid tannins.  Concentrated and young.  Intense and youthful with some minerality giving  elegance and fruit.  Rich with elegant minerality and alcohol on the finish.  Lots of nuances.

2013 Collioure, Arqueta – 16.00€   15
60% Grenache, with 20% each of Syrah and Carignan, with a drop of Grenache Gris.   8 months élevage in wood.  Quite a light colour.  Quite fresh fruit on the nose and palate.  Quite firm tannins.    Some leathery notes.  Quite firm fruit.  Youthful red fruit.  Stony and mineral and very schist.

An observation from Ramuntxo that terroir of Collioure is is magnificent, but the wine is losing its place internationally, as the terroir needs so much work, making the vines well nigh unaffordable.  Everything has to be handpicked, the cost of which makes Collioure seem too expensive.

2013 Château St. Roch, Kerbuccio, Maury Sec – 23€  - 15
In other words, named after Quéribus, the Cathar castle that towers over the vineyards of Maury.  A blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre, in new barrels.  Very schist noir of Maury.  Very ripe with black fruit and firm mineral note.  Costaud but balanced and rich.  Lovely fruit, but a tad alcoholic on the finish.

2009 Les Onze Terrasses, Côtes du Roussillon, les Aspres - 15 - 70€ - Just 1200 bottles. Nice label but a very heavy bottle.
From vineyards on the edge of the Aspres between Fourques and Montauriol.  50% Grenache with 40% Syrah and 10% Carignan.  Égrappé a la main. Élevage of 24 months in new oak, and also fermented in open top barriques.  Deep colour.  Rich dense and oaky.  Intense nose.  Black fruit and oak.  Very dense.  How will it age?   A côté mineral en fin de bouche, but also very alcoholic.  Somehow the oak seems to emphasise the alcohol?      Un peu too much for my  taste.

And then we adjourned for lunch on the sea front at Canet-en-Roussillon for the fish of the day and a stunning view of the blue Mediterranean in sunshine.  And then it was time to head for the airport.  

Monday, 7 March 2016

Domaine Boucabeille

First we admired Jean Boucabeille’s new cellar, outside the village of Corneilla la Rivière.   It is partially partially underground with a visible rock face.  Altogether Jean has 28 hectares, all of which has been farmed organically, since 2008, with vineyards on the lower slopes of Força Real, so the terroir is grey schist.   Geologically Força Real is in layers, with schist on top, and vineyards going from 150 – 400 metres.  

The historical heart of Jean’s estate consists of 12 hectares of vineyards at high altitude, which have been pulled up and replanted, so that the average age of Jean’s vines is now about 20 years old.  Converting to organic viticulture obliged him to replant, as mechanisation was totally impractical on the higher slopes, making it impossible to control the weeds.  He has now recreated the terraces, making them wide enough for machinery. It has been a very expensive exercise, clearing garrigues, with a lot of work by hand.   And he has another twelve hectares, also on Força Real, that face the Canigou and the village of Millas.  The soil there is deeper, with glacial erosion and lots of stones and finer schist – a terroir de grand cru observed Jean. The Canigou protects the area from the bad weather coming from Spain, but also has a cooling effect.  And on the morning of my visit, at the end of the September, you could see the first snow of the season on the peak.  

Jean has replanted Syrah and also has a lot of Grenache and Mourvèdre as well as some 40 year old Carignan.  He has also planted 600 cork oaks, with the aspiration to produce his own corks in 40 years time.  Catalan cork grows very slowly, with ten to fifteen years between harvests.

Jean began working with his father, whose family came from the Aude, near Narbonne.  They were a family of vine growers, sending grapes to the cooperative and were very much involved in the growers’ unions.  Then his father, Régis, went to work in Benelux, representing the Vignerons Catalans, Sieur d’Arques and the Cellier des Templiers.  So Jean was born into that milieu, but in 1990 he realised the dream of buying his own vineyards,  but he had no cellar.  He made his wine in various coop cellars until his own was built in 2008.   His father has retired and is now a lively 80 year old, helping with the harvest. 

Jean’s range comprises 3 reds, 2 whites and 3 Vin Doux, Tuilé, Ambré Hors d’Age and Rancio Sec.  White wines are developing in importance, and  Jean sees them as the new trend.   

2014 Les Terrasses, Côtes du Roussillon Blanc – 8.00€
Half Grenache Blanc and half Macabeo, kept in vat.  Nicely herbal notes on both nose and palate.  Some pithy fruit and a touch peachy; fresh acidity and a slightly bitter finish.

2013 les Orris, Côtes du Roussillon Blanc– 27.00€
30% Roussanne with 70% Grenache Blanc.  The aim is a white vin de garde.  Jean had considered Chardonnay and Viognier, but realised that Roussanne would be a much better bet, so planted it about seven or eight years ago.  A little colour.  Elegantly herbal notes.  Lightly peachy.  Roussanne gives acidity and freshness. Vinified in oak and élevé for 8 months.  The oak is obvious on the palate, but there is good acidity, with the herbal notes of the garrigues, and quite a dry finish.  Youthful, with considerable potential and length.   There's a bit of bâttonage, but not too much.  Jean does not want the wine to be too fat and he wants to keep the minerality and what he called the côté tranchante of the schist.   Just four barriques make one thousand bottles. Jean selects the best barrels and blends at the last minute.  

2014 Orris, Côtes du Roussillon Rouge - 27€
2014 was a good vintage, but less intense than some, making for elegance. Unusually this cuvée is dominated by Mourvèdre, which performed particularly well in 2014.  In contrast Syrah was less successful.  So the blend is 30% Syrah, 45% Mourvèdre and 25% Grenache with an élevage in fut.  Jean talked about élevage in barrel; he has 25 years experience, having started working with barrels in the 1990s.  Good young colour; youthful fresh peppery fruit.  Quite tight knit.  Dry youthful finish.  Nicely balanced.  Firm black fruit.

And then we continued with a splendid vertical tasting :   Orris can describe a shepherd’s house in Catalan or a capitelle, one of the stone igloo shaped shelters that you find in the vineyards.    

2010 - 60% Syrah, with 40% Grenache.  The percentages changes each year, while Mourvèdre is a more recent arrival. There is quite a high proportion of Syrah, as it was particularly good in 2010, with peppery cassis fruit on the nose and palate.  Quite firm fresh black fruit; medium weight with a youthful balance.  Perfumed, elegant and long, and still with ageing potential.  However it was drinking very well.

2009  - 50% Syrah, with 30% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre.  A very ripe year, with particularly ripe Grenache.  It could be described as typically Roussillon.  Very garrigue, and very dense on both nose and palate.  Rich and quite solid with garrigues fruit, spice and pepper.  .

2008 – The first vinification in the new cellar.  Jean observed that it was not a great year, but a balanced year., and the wine is very characteristic of the vintage.    A more restrained nose than 2009.  Quite a solid, firm palate, with quite dense tannins, which are taking longer than usual to come round.  Some attractive black fruit. 

2007  - The colour is beginning to develop, with a lighter nose and a lighter palate.  The fruit was quite soft, but with a dry finish.  Red ruit, but not quite enough to balance the tannins, and showing some maturity.  For Jean this was not a great vintage; in fact it is the least successful vintage of the 2000s.  

2006 - which Jean described as une année atypique pour moi.  It is not Roussillon!  There was more rain and the grapes are not so ripe, with less alcohol.  He thought it more like a Burgundy, and so for earlier drinking.  Medium colour.  Elegantly spicy nose and palate.  Quite fresh with some firm red fruit and a tannic streak. Medium weight.  I rather liked it. 

2005 – The colour is beginning to evolve.  Quite firm leathery fruit on the nose.  Nice depth on palate.  A little leathery – garrigues – sous bois.  Beginning to mature and drinking very nicely.  Long and nuancé. A great vintage – in fact one of the best.   And a lovely glass of wine.

2004 – No great intensity,  but fluid and balanced.  Medium colour.  Quite a firm leathery nose with quite supple fruit on the palate, which then begins to dry a little on the finish.   It could be criticised for lacking a little depth, but none the less it is a really nice glass wine, even if it has started its descent

2003 - A hot year. Jean picked Syrah at the beginning of September, as usual.  And described the vintage as ‘ le vin qui me surprend.  Toujours, quand je le déguste’.  The colour has evolved a little and the palate has notes of leather and garrigues with depth and complexity.  A rounded palate with some elegance and quite a firm finish.  It has developed and aged beautifully.

Jean considers that there are no bad vintages, but none the less there is the  effet millésime, the vintage effect, which was beautifully illustrated in these wines.

2014 les Terrasses, Régis Boucabeille – 8.00€
Jean’s entry level red wine, with a short maceration of 12 days, compared to about 20 for Les Orris.  Half and half Grenache and Syrah, kept in vat.   Medium colour. Fresh young spice on nose and palate.  Very drinkable with liquorice and raspberry fruit. and fresh tannins.

2014 Monte Nero – 14.00€
Força Real can look like a black pyramid, hence the name.  75% Grenache with 30% Syrah, élevage in wood.  A 15 – 20 day maceration.  Fresh peppery fruit. Medium weight.  Quite tight knit, with structure and depth and a satisfying balance.

And now for Vin Doux with 2012 Rivesaltes Ambré – 17.00€
Pure Macabeo, given three years in wood.   Golden, turning to old gold.  Rounded and rich; honeyed and peachy.  

Hors d’Age – 50€
Kept in old barrels with average age of 20 years.  And bottled into an outsize perfume bottle.  Pure Macabeo.  Amber colour. Lovely walnut fruit on the nose.  Fresh rounded nutty nose and palate, and some red fruit and a note of torrefaction. Figues de fleur, honey and marzipan.  Absolutely delicious. 

2011 Rivesaltes Tuilé
Jean’s first Tuilé, Pure Grenache Noir, bottled a year ago after ageing in wood.  Rounded red fruit and spice. Pain d’épice.  A stony note.  You can see the relation with Jean’s red wines.  Quite youthful stony red fruit and an elegant finish.   In summary, a great tasting.  And a sympa encounter. 

Friday, 4 March 2016

Domaine Vial- Magnères.

My previous visit to Domaine Vial-Saperas was with Bernard Saperas at the end of the last century.  This time I met his son, Olivier, in his spacious cellar under his house in a side street of Banyuls, with an amusing mural.     

Olivier related a bit of family history, explained how his great grandfather was the first in the family to make wine.   His father came from the Ariège and observed that  ‘I make wine, like others play music’.   There was a scientific side too; Bernard Saperas was a chemical engineer and so is Olivier.  And Bernard was one of the first to produce a white Banyuls.  Olivier’s grandfather had a lot of Grenache Blanc in his vineyards, which made the wines too light in colour if it was blended with Grenache Noir, so his son vinified the white grapes separately, and in 1986 made his first vintage of a white wine, as a bit of a mistake, beginning solera of Banyuls Blanc.   And it was Olivier’s mother who initiated the fête des vendanges.   

Bernard Saperas made rancio with a voile – we peered into a barrel.  There were also barrels for rancio outside, and a solera of barrels of Banyuls in the tasting room.  Olivier observed somewhat sadly that ‘the hardest thing for me will be to follow my father, with the Banyuls Blanc and other wines’.  Ithink he is doing rather well. 

2013 Collioure, le Petit Couscouril  – 12.00€
The name originates from Ariegois patois, meaning stalks of sweet corn. and was his father’s nickname The blend is 90% Grenache Blanc and Gris, with Vermentino, Muscat d’Aléxandrie, Roussanne and Torbato, with a classic vinification.  A delicate nose, with a touch of fennel. Nicely understated, rounded fruit on the palate, balanced by good acidity with satisfying texture, making for quit a full palate, with a touch of bitterness on the finish.  

2014 Collioure Rosé – 9.50€
Grenache Noir with 20-30% Syrah.  Saigné.  Quite delicate and fresh dry cherries and acidity and some citrus notes. Fresh dry fruit.

2013 Armenn, Collioure Blanc – 17.00€
The name of a Breton lighthouse.  Olivier related a story about his great grandfather who was a light house keeper.  The same grape varieties as for le Petit Couscouril and kept in barrel for ten months.  Quite firm structured nose and palate.  Rounded and buttery with some herbal notes.  Some fennel. Some minerality and an iodé note.  The oak is well integrated.  Nice rounded finish

2012 Le Petit Couscouril, Collioure Rouge – 11.00€
Percentages vary as the  vines are co-planted. Essentially Grenache with about 30% Syrah.  A little élevage in barriques, but mainly in mainly vat.  Rounded fruit with a touch of oak.  Medium weight.  Quite easy drinking, and supple from a short maceration.  This is Collioure côté  mer.

2012 Collioure les Espérades – 15.00€
Another côté mer, and the name of the vineyard recalls the sailors’ wives waiting for their husbands. ‘L’espoir et l’attente’.  This had just been bottled in September 2015.  Medium colour.  Quite a rounded nose, with some confit notes.   Medium weight palate; quite smoky with some good fruit, but still very young   The blend is the same as for Le Petit Couscouril, but with more barrel ageing, as well as in large concrete vats. 

Domaine Vial-Magnères is really known for its vin doux; Oliver produces 30% vin sec to 70% vin doux

2012 Banyuls Blanc Rivage.- 19,,00€
A blend of 70% Grenache Blanc to 30% Grenache Gris.  The Grneache Blanc is picked first.  Unusually, half of Olivier’s vineyards are white varieties.  Banyuls Blanc must be bottled within 36 months of the harvest. Light golden, quite a soft and peachy nose and palate.  For Olivier it is too young to be Banyuls Blanc, which should be a cross between freshnss and confit maturity.  However, it will develop in bottle.     

2004 Banyuls Grand Cru, André Magnères.  – 32.00€
Named after Olivier’s grandfather.  It is pure Grenache Noir. Grand Cru Banyuls requires a minimum of 30 months in barrel.   However, they bottled this 2004 in 2014.   They don’t make a grand cru every year; the same grapes could equally well be used for vin sec, though the grand cru usually comes from the same vineyard.     Kept in tiny barrels in the ambient temperature of the cellar.  Brick rim, and quite deep red in the middle.  Rounded palate with figs, mocha and liquorice and some dates and a hint of chocolate..   Very good balance, with a bite.  Ripe fruit as they pick at a potential of 15-16, so almost overripe.  The 2015 was still being picked at the end of September.  Really a lovely old tawny with a long finish.   Olivier didn’t know his grandfather, and this particular wine was made by his father, but he rightly very proud of it.  What a treat it was. 

Banyuls Blanc Rivage Ambré – 29.00€
Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc, turning amber in colour as 20% is kept in barrel.  A mini solera of three levels.   It was begun in 1986 and the barrels have never been emptied.  Very smooth, with dry nutty fruit and a streak of tannin and acidity.  Quite powerful and intense.  I was allowed to choose a barrel at random to taste from.

1988 Banyuls Rancio, Al Tragon – 49.00€
The name means just a few drops.  A striking Art Deco label,  Rancio.  Bottled in 2012, and now as needed.  1988 was the last vintage made by Olivier’s grandfather.   Light amber edge.  Light tawny colour.  Very dry firm fruit, dry liquorice and figs.  Very intense and concentrated.  And a grand finale.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Coume del Mas and Mas Cristine

Coume del Mas and Mas Cristine with Philippe Gard and Andy Cook

Coume del Mas has cellars up in the hills outside Banyuls with a great view of the sea, and a vineyard called Amathus..   Philippe Gard began my visit by introducing the estate,  explaining that he had been brought up in Paris and had worked in Bordeaux and Burgundy and that his parents have a house in Banyuls.   His first vintage at la Coume del Mas was 1997.  He has twelve hectares divided into about 35 plots, in three different zones of Banyuls.  His aim is to stay small, to retain la taille humaine.

He is also associated with Mas Cristine, situated between Collioure and Argelès, working with Julien Grill.  They took it over from the Dauré family in 2006.   It complements the range, with different soils, but the same philosophy.  However,  there are differences; Philippe observed that Mas Cristine ‘easier and more technical’.

Andy Cook, Philippe’s colleague, arrived from New Zealand in 2007 to do a stage at Coume del Mas, and stayed on, so that he now makes the wine at Mas Cristine.  And they also have Terrimbo, a small organic estate in Collioure.  Altogether they make about 30 different wines including vins de cépages at Mas Cristine, and also have a small négociant activity called Tramontane for varietal vins de pays, Macabeo and Grenache Noir 

Then I was treated to a very comprehensive tasting followed:

2014 Mas Cristine Blanc, Côtes du Roussillon.  11.30€
The property adjoins Collioure, with some schist, while some of the vineyards are more mixed, with stone and clay, gneiss from the Albères and grey schist.  Some of the vineyards are tilled.  As for greapes, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Gris and Macabeo, in other words the three classics.  Roussanne was already there, and they planted Vermentino six years ago.   The first plantings of Vermentino, Roussanne and Marsanne began in 1985, with the idea of including them in the appellation of Côtes du Roussillon Blanc; this finally happened in 1998.  The first white wines were made Grenache Blanc, and then Grenache Gris.  Originally those varieties had been used for Vin Doux and then it was realised just how good Grenache is good for vin sec.

This wine is very much sur le fraicheur with no new wood.  One third of it goes into old wood, for the richer varieties, whereas Macabeo stays in vat to retain the mineral notes.  A tight knit palate; firm and structured with some weight.  Five months élevage and bottled before the summer.  A touch of oak on the nose, which also gives some structure.
2014 Collioure Blanc, Coume del Mas Folió  - 17.50€
Mainly Grenache Gris;  old vines, planted in the 1960s, with a little Grenache Blanc, Carignan Blanc and Terret Blanc.  Rounded white peachy fruit, and white blossom.  Nicely textured, agrumes, fennel, zest.  Lots of nuances.  Fresh with good acidity.  Some saline notes, stemming from the proximity to the sea.  The oak is nicely foudu.   15% new barrels and a yield of about 23 – 25 hl/ha.  They press 500 kilos at a time, débourbe and then the juice goes into barrel for the fermentation. 

So what is the tipicity of Grenache Gris?  For Eric Araucil from the CIVR, mineral, agrumes, salinity but not so much structure.  The appellation of Côtes du Roussillon allows for more Roussanne and Vermentino, but not much is actually made.  

And then we tried a few tank samples of the 2015 vintage.  They began the harvest on 17th August. The Grenache Gris, côté mer was picked about 23rd August and the last whites on 7th September.   The more précoce areas were blocked in June by the heat, but the later areas caught up and were picked earlier.  Some rain in August in Banyuls helped with the balance of the grapes.  They would not need to lees stir this year.

2014 Terrimbo, Collioure Rosé  - 12.00€
A lieu-dit between Banyuls and Collioure.  A blend of Syrah and Grenache.  They make rosé from the vines on the edge of the vineyards, because of the neighbours’ sprays.   Fermentation and élevage in wood.  Bottle in June.  Pressed.  Bottled in May, which is pretty late for a rosé

Orange pink colour.  Quite rounded; quite solid, un bel fruité.  Dry red fruit, raspberries with tannin and acidity.   Some body and weight.  A food rosé.  

2014 Mas Cristine, Côtes du Roussillon – 11.30€
This will become Côtes du Roussillon Villages les  Aspres.  50% Syrah, with 40% Grenache Noir and 10% Carignan.  Two weeks on the skins.  The Grenache is kept in tank to retain the fruit, with the Syrah and Carignan in wood, but none new.   In Collioure, however, the Grenache happily goes in to wood.   They buy 5 or 6 one year old barrels each year.  2014 was a cool year. Medium colour. Quite ripe dry cherry fruit with some pepper.  Medium weight.  Youthful and fresh.  

2014 saw the  opening of a new winery at Mas Cristine, making for better control of everything.   Léon Cristine was mayor of Collioure at the beginning of the 20th century and this was his family property, a holiday house.  He had a big négociant business, before the cooperative was set up, buying juice that was muted, so that the wine growers paid for the alcohol.  

2013 Terrimbo, Collioure – 21.00€
Maritime influence.  Syrah and Grenache, from the plot surrounded by rosé.   Syrah in large wood, and Grenache in vat.  Terrimbo comprises 1.5 hectares of very poor soil, certified by Ecocert.  A lot done by hand, as it is difficult to use a tractor, but they can plough with a horse.  The cellars for Terrimbo are near Mas Cristine.

Quite a solid, rounded nose, with some weight on the palate.  Quite firm and tannic.  Youthful sturdy fruit.

Coume del Mas is a different style.  Philippe described it as more classic, and more tendu, or taut, needing time in bottle, whereas Mas Cristine has a different élevage and tannins and tastes more accessible.    

At Coume del Mas they do as little as possible.  There is very little disease pressure though they are obliged to treat officially twice a year.  The main problem is oidium for which they use sulphur.  Also some of the later ripening varieties are more susceptible to vers de la grappe.    Climatic conditions have never forced them to pick; they have always been able to choose their harvest date, with the harvest taking about six weeks.

2014 Coume des Mas, Schistes  - 17.50€
Old vine Grenache Noir, from a vineyard close to the sea and a low (for Collioure) altitude of 120 metres.  It enjoys the influence of the sea, with sea breezes in the afternoon bringing some humidity.   Average yield 20 hl/ha.   They are not sure of the age of their vines, but the vineyard includes a hectare planted at a density of 10,000 vines to the hectare, and that practice stopped during the 1930s. 

In vat only, on lees and bottled in June.  Elegant cherry fruit.  Kirsch.  Medium weight.  Elegant seamless and quite ready, but with ageing potential.  I liked this a lot. 

2011 Coume del Mas
A hotter year, so we could taste the influence of the vintage.  Identical vineyard and vinification methods, but quite a different character, relating to earlier and later ripening grapes. More weight, but still quite fresh and quite tannic, but more alcohol on the finish. 

2013 Coume del Mas
A very hot year.  Began later with a bad spring but a lovely autumn, with a hot August and September.  Some perfumed fruit, More body.  Very cherry with supple tannins and a long finish.

And the 2015 from a vat, which had not yet done its malo.  Some lovely cherry fruit, with plenty of  promise. . 

2013 Quadratur  - 25.00€
From a vineyard without any maritime influence, in a valley behind the Tour de la Madeloc, facing east.  3 hectares with 50% Grenache, 20% Carignan, and 30% Mourvèdre,which Philippe planted. They are picked separately, and spend a year in wood, before blending.     

Quite a deep young colour.  Firm cherry fruit with spice.  Quite ripe fleshy spice and structure.  Youthful.  Great potential.

They destem, using two sorting tables, to remove anything that is imperfect.  ‘It allows us a long maceration’.  An observation that for côté  mer the vintage influence is strong, whereas the côté montagne is more regular.

2014 Quadratur
It had just been blended, but not yet bottled, and was quite firm and sturdy, with youthful, ripe fruit.  Lots of potential. 

2013 Abysses Collioure – 29.00€

Half Syrah and half Grenache, given one year’s ageing with 50% new oak.  They make just 1200 bottles.   Ripe spicy oak. Rounded and fleshy, Denser drier, black fruit, more alcohol. Drinking well.

And now for Vin Doux:
2014 Banyuls Blanc Folió
South southwest facing vines.  Pick early, at the same time as Folió Collioure, but the grapes are riper.  Muted in barrique, with an élevage in barrique.  Bottle in June.   2014 a very classic vintage.  Very rounded, quite ripe and nutty.  Quite soft but with a bite and quite a hot finish.

White Banyuls does not even represent 5% of the appellation.    It was created by Vial Magnères in the 1990s and requires an élevage in barrique, but no oxidation is allowed.  There is now a distinction between reductive and oxidative Banyuls.

2013 Galateo Banyuls Rimage. – 16.00€
Sélection parcellaire.  This is a traditional rimage, and quite a complicated system.  The wine is pure Grenache Noir, aged in 225 litre barrels, which are regularly topped up, and then bottled six months after the harvest.    Rounded, ripe, rich cherries on the nose, and on the palate some lovely ripe fruit, with a tannic balance.  It really is quite a different balance from port, with a lower alcohol, 16, and more refreshing, although the sugar level is similar.  Somehow Banyuls seems more harmonious than ruby port, and with a difference of extraction.

2014 Galateo.
Same alcoholic degree; same mutage and same vinification, but a different vintage.  Very fresh and ripe, with fresh cherry fruit.  Very juicy.

Banyuls Hors d’Age – 60.00€
Wine from 2002 and 2003.  Aged in small barrels for 10 years, under the roof.  No ouillage. Pure Grenache.  Bottled in 2013.  18.  Tawny rim with light red colour.  Figs and liquorice and red fruit. Quite firm and concentrated.  Youthful and quite powerful.  They made  just 600 bottles.

And what is the tipicity of Collioure?  Philippe thinks it is taut, tendu, closer to the terroir, with small volumes.  And we finished the visit with a very cheerful selection of cold meats and cheeses.