Saturday, 29 October 2016

Rising Languedoc stars in 2016

I always enjoy the annual rising stars tasting at what is now called the Maison de la Région Occitanie / Pyrenées Mediterranée in Cavendish Square.   There are usually new discoveries to made, or in some instances I have already discovered them, or indeed they are stars that have already risen.  

Domaine de l'Aster in the village of Péret produced its first wine in 2014 from seven hectares.  There were four wines to taste, a couple of AC red and white Languedoc and then a couple of Pézenas; one unoaked, with some ripe fleshy fruit and a warm finish, and the other oaked with some dry spice.

Domaine des Capriers is in the village of Puissalicon and produces a range of Côtes de Thongue.  First came an unusual blend of Sauvignon and Muscat, Rêve de Louis, for easy drinking.  Larmes d'Ema,  a blend of Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon had some understated peachy fruit. There was a light Chardonnay, a rosé from Grenache Noir and four different reds, of which I liked Larmes d'Ema, which was predominantly Syrah with a little Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. 

Next came a completely new Limoux estate, La  Coume-Lumet, dating from 2013.  For Luc Abadie, it represents a complete change of career; he looked for vineyards between Collioure and Pézenas and liked the cooler climatic conditions of Limoux.  He makes two still red and two still white, a Limoux and an IGP Haute Vallée de l'Aude.  Both whites are based on Chardonnay and Chenin blanc; the appellation red is a blend of Merlot, Grenache noir and Syrah, and the IGP Cot (or Malbec) and Syrah. All four illustrated the characteristic freshness of Limoux and there were also two vintages of Crémant de Limoux to try, with 60% Chardonnay, 30% Chenin and 10% Mauzac.  The difference between the two was eighteen months on the lees, for 2014, as opposed to twelve months for 2013, which Luc considered to be an improvement.  I agreed with him and have made a note to visit. 

In my mind Pascal Dallier of Domaine du Joncas in Montpeyroux has already risen, but he is looking for a UK importer and that was his main reason to be at the tasting. From 9.5 hectares he produces a varied range of wines.  I began with the two whites, Canta, IGP Mont Baudile, a pure Riesling and not what you would normally associate with the Languedoc or indeed with Riesling; cooked pineapple came to mind, and some very firm acidity and a hint of honey.  Alba, also IGT Mont Baudile, is a pure Grenache Gris, with some stony fruit on nose and palate.    Nebla rosé is AC Languedoc, a blend of Syrah, and Grenache Noir, while Nebla rouge Terrasses du Larzac includes Mourvèdre and Cinsaut as well as Syrah and Grenache Noir.  The rosé is quite rich and vinous and the red is structured with some spice.  Another Terrasses du Larzac Obra has been fermented and aged in concrete eggs - Pascal now has six eggs.  It has elegant fruit with some structure, which is Pascals objective with his wine-making. And the final wine, Joia, a Montpeyroux, and predominantly Grenache Noir, with some Syrah and a drop of Cinsaut has the ripe cherry fruit of the Grenache on the palate, tempered with an elegant streak of tannin.  

Domaine Mandourelle in the Corbières in the village of Villeseque-des-Corbières has recently changed hands.  I tasted a rosé from Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre which was fresh with some crisp acidity, and then compared the 2014 and 2015 vintages of Corbières.  Both had the rugged tannins of good Corbières, with the 2014 inevitably a bit more supple on the finish.

There was a second Corbières estate, Château Maylandie.   Delphine Maymil took over her grandfather's vineyards in 2007 and now makes quite an extensive range of wines from 27 hectares.  Exquises Esquisses blanc is a pure Grenache blanc, with some ageing in oak; it is quite rounded and textured.  Next came Le Cabanon in three colours; the white a delicate herbal blend of Grenache blanc, Bourboulenc, Vermentino, Roussanne and Marsanne, while the rosé from Grenache Noir, Syrah and Cinsaut, was fresh and rounded, and the red, a blend of Carignan and Cinsaut was fresh and peppery, and designed for easy early drinking. Corbières Les Ferrals, 70% Grenache with 30% Syrah, was quite firm and sturdy with some good fruit, and Villa Ferrae Corbières Boutenac, from Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, was even sturdier and more structured with good depth.

Julie Viudes from Domaine de la Rencontre was showing her range of IGP Hérault Muscats, as well as the sparkling Esprits Libres, a cheerful grapey wine with a fresh finish.  Based as she and Pierre are,  in Mireval, their appellation wines are fortified Muscats but they have diversified to make various unfortified Muscats, namely Rencontre, a rich grapey wine with good acidity; Poète is fresh and perfumed with some sweetness and Philosophe is rounded and ripe, the result of some late harvested grapes and a touch of oak. 

Domaine Rouanet Montcélèbre is an estate in the Minervois village of Cesseras.  Audrey Rouanet took over from her father who had been content to sell his wine en vrac. She now makes a pair of Minervois; Montcélèbre white comes from Grenache blanc, Rolle or Vermentino and Roussanne, with some fresh white blossom on both nose and palate, while  the red comes from Syrah with some Grenache noir, with some peppery fruit.  RM Pays d'Oc is made in three colours; the white from Chardonnay with some Grenache and Colombard, makes for easy drinking; the pink is pure Cinsaut and fresh and delicate and the red, from Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre was fruity, but a tad stalky on the finish.

In my book Manu Pageot from Domaine Turner Pageot is already an established star; he just needs to find a UK importer.  And it had been a while since I had tasted his wines, so this was a good opportunity for a catch up.   Le Blanc is a blend of Roussanne and Marsanne with some fresh stony fruit and some saline notes.  Les Choix is pure Marsanne and possibly Manu's most original wine. It is an orange wine, fermented on the skins with some tannic notes and firm concentrated fruit.

Le Rouge is 80 % Grenache with 20% Syrah, with some rounded fresh cherry fruit and a streak of tannin.  Carmina Major is half Syrah, half Mourvèdre with some rounded, sturdy rich tannic fruit, providing quite a contrast with le Rouge and R815 is also predominantly Grenache with some Mourvèdre, with some ripe spicy fruit and a steak of supple tannin.

Domaine de la Garance was showing a couple of wines, but Pierre Quinonero was nowhere to be seen.  Les Claviers blanc,  a blend of Grenache Gris and Ugni Blanc with some oak ageing, could be described as restrained natural,  with some sturdy fruit, while les Armières was a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah, with some solid rounded fruit and sturdy tannins and some alcohol on the finish.

There were three other estates about whom I have blogged about recently, namely Domaine de la Cendrillon in the Corbières, Domaine La Font des Ormes outside Pézenas and Château St. Martin de la Garrigue with Picpoul de Pinet and Grès de Montpellier, which vaut la visite to taste their wines.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Domaine des Abournières

I am always thrilled to make a new discovery, and in this instance, one in my own village of Roujan. We tracked down Philippe Gallart in a modern house, on a hillside outside Roujan, just opposite the chapel of St.  Nazaire.   The vintage had finished two days earlier and he was busy washing beines, which probably translates best as the large boxes, or buckets, used for carrying grapes.     Philippe has a welcoming smile, but comes over as quite reserved, and yet he is a man of many talents.  It turned out that he has played rugby for France - there is a photo of him at Cardiff in his cellar - and why is there a saxophone on the label?   Simple; the tenor sax is his instrument.   In an earlier career he worked for IBM and then began buying vines in 2000.   Initially his grapes went to the Neffiès coop, but once he had built his cellar, he began making wine.  He was inspired by the wines of nearby. Domaine de Brescou, but has not followed any formal courses.  He also said that he owes a lot to David Astruc of Domaine de la Resclauze in Neffiès. 

Altogether he has four hectares, in eight different plots, by the chapel and in Neffiès.   Grenache has been hitherto been used for rosé, but he will make a red Grenache next year. And then there is a Merlot and a Syrah; both monocépages - and Vin de France - he does not like blends.  Nor does he like wood; everything is fermented and stored in fibre glass vats.  Arbournières is the lieu-dit around the chapel; it means terries faceless, or easy land in Occitan.  Philippe explained how he was advised to plant Syrah; the coop members didn't plant it - it was too complicated, and also susceptible to disease and not very productive.

2014 Merlot,  Vin de France
Some ripe cassis fruit on the nose and ripe fruit on the palate with a youthful streak of tannin.
It was fresh and ripe with good varietal character.   Philippe explained that he favours a long maceration, four to six weeks.

2015 Syrah, Vin de France 
Another long maceration with some firm peppery fruit on the nose. Quite a sturdy firm peppery palate, with a hint of vanilla as though it might have been in oak.  But there was not a barrel in sight.  It was still very young.  All the grapes are destalked, with a classic vinification. No carbonic maceration here.  A very good balance, ripe but not confit and an appealing peppery note.

Philippe enthused; wine music and rugby are three great vectors of communication.  He has no
problem in selling his wines.  You have to go to Le Wine Shop in Pézenas for the Syrah, which is sold for 7.50€.  For the moment they do not have the Merlot.  And we finished with a promising taste of 2016 Syrah, which just finished fermenting with some ripe peppery notes and a harmonious balance of fruit and tannin.

I was left with an impression of a man who is content with his lot - bien dans son peau as the French would say, knowing where he is going, and achieving it.  

Friday, 14 October 2016

Château La Font des Ormes

La Font des Ormes is off the road between Nizas and Caux; I have driven past it many times, but one day last month,  thanks to a good friend’s recommendation, I turned up the drive to meet Guy Cazalis de Fondouce.   Guy is one of the many people in the Languedoc who have come to wine after a successful career in another field, in his case child psychiatry, in both France and La Réunion.  His family comes from the Languedoc, with a family estate near Villeveyrac, but he wanted land of his own, and bought La Font des Ormes in 2002, since when he has gradually bought more vineyards, replanting some and retaining old vines of Carignan and Terret.  He began working with the soil specialist, Claude Bourguignon early on and Claude advised on the purchase of a particularly fine plot of old Carignan on basalt. In fact most of Guy’s appellation vineyards are on basalt for there is an extinct volcano nearby.  As well as Carignan, Guy has Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, and is replanting some Cinsaut, and there is Merlot and Marselan  for vin de pays, grown in sandier soil, as well as Terret, for a first white wine with this vintage.   There was a lot of work to do at the beginning - the grapes were fit for the coop, but not much more - these days Guy makes a range of three red wines, and has a flexible arrangement with the coop in Adissan who will take any grapes, such as those from young vines, that he does not want.   The property now comprises 20 hectares, with 17 hectares of vineyards and 14 currently in production.  The first serious vintage that he put in bottle was 2011.  

The cellar is a splendid old Languedoc barn, dating from 18th century.  Originally there were several 200 hectolitre concrete vats - these days one functions as a small office - and the others have been replaced by stainless steel and smaller tronconique cement vats.  They are a handsome dark grey.  And three enormous stone vats have been knocked into one and now function as a barrel cellar - it is well insulated.    We adjourned to a large room that had once been the grain store under the roof of the barn to taste:

2014 Pays de Caux - 8.00 €
A blend of 45% Marselan  and 55% Grenache.  Quite deep colour. A ripe nose of red fruit, with a touch of spice and a lightly smoky note.  Quite a fresh palate with easy fruit and a streak of supple tannin.   Marselan above all makes for easy drinking; Guy admitted that he was surprised by its quality

2013 Languedoc - 14.00€
45% Grenache, with 25% Mourvèdre, 15% Syrah and 15% Carignan.  The wine has spent a year in vat, followed by a year in demi-muids and then some ageing in bottle.  The blending is a gentle process, an initial pre-assemblage six months after the harvest and the the final blending before the wine is put in to barrel.  Good colour.  Quite a firm, tight peppery nose; and on the palate quite elegant fruit balanced with elegant tannins.  Guy asserted that basalt gives elegance to a wine; and elegance is what he is looking for in his wine.  The finish was fresh and lively.  For his wine making, Guy is advised by Jean Natoli and he favours short extractions, with quick remontages and above all does not want what he called ‘violent’ tannins.   He had first bought barriques, but has moved onto demi-muids, for that reason.

2011 Languedoc - 12.00€
The first proper vintage, with a slightly different blend, but still dominant Grenache Noir with 30% Mourvèdre, 15% Syrah and 10% Carignan.  Quite a deep colour, with the nose beginning develop some notes of maturity, and a slightly meaty note.  Some rounded fruit on the palate, with more weight and opulence than the 2013, but still with the same fresh finish on the palate.

2014 Pézenas - 20.00€.
This is the first vintage of Pézenas; once again Grenache dominant with 30% each of Syrah and Carignan.  This is given a longer ageing in demi-muids.  Good colour.  Nicely rounded nose with some spicy fruit.   And on the palate more depth than the Languedoc, with more structured and weight.  Good balance and some lovely spicy fruit, but still very young.   The oak is well-integrated.  And it promises well for the future.

We talked about this year’s harvest.  Some Carignan for carbonic maceration was being picked later in the day.  2016 has been particularly difficult for Syrah, with small berries and high alcohol levels.  The average yield is 20 - 30 hl/ ha.  The year is marked by a lack of water - and Guy observed that  Claude Bourguignon has been advising him on rootstock that send out deep roots in search of water, so that his vines have not suffered from water stress.   The vineyards were certified as organic in 2016, but ‘that is not complicated enough’ or challenging enough so now they are working on biodynamics.  A viticulturist  who worked with Anne Leflaive in Burgundy,  advises them.

And then we discussed sales opportunities, with Guy making the pertinent observation that ‘we are méconnu dans un region méconnu - an unknown estate in an unknown region’.  But that is sure to change.  The wines will be shown at the Rising Stars tasting in London at the end of October.