Saturday, 19 November 2016

Domaine St. Martin de la Garrigue

Back in the 1980s, St. Martin de la Garrigue was one of the pioneering estates of the Languedoc and the property of the Henry family.  Since then François Henry has gone on to make wine very successfully in St. Georges d'Orques. (See an earlier post) and St. Martin was owned for a while by an Italian,  Umberto Guido, with the talented winemaker Jean-Claude Zabalia, and then in 2011 the property was sold to a Russian, Boris Pukhunov.  Now, in his absence the estate is run by Jean-Luc Paret. Mr. Pukhunov already has extensive vineyards in Stavropol and in Bulgaria, and also owns one of Russia's oldest distilleries, that was established before the Revolution, as well as several wine shops in Russia.  And in the Languedoc he is also the owner of Château de St. Louis in the Corbières cru of Boutenac.  As for Jean-Luc, he has had a varied career, including 20 years in Moscow.

Mr. Pukhunov is investing considerably in the property.  The château itself which dates back to the 16th century, with its own chapel, has been extensively renovated and now provides a stylish, and expensive holiday rental.  The cellars were already fairly streamlined but there is now a new barrel hall that would not be out of place in Bordeaux, as well as a welcoming tasting caveau.

Jean-Luc and his winemaker, Jean-François Farinet took us through the range of wines. Jean-François has previously worked in Burgundy and in the Rhône valley, with Delas.

2015 Picpoul de Pinet - 9.10
Jean-François explained how they pick about two weeks later than the average, as they want really ripe grapes.  Picpoul is a fragile grape that can easily suffer from rot in the moist sea breezes of the area.  They also give it some skin contact and ferment at a low temperature, which makes for more aroma.  Picpoul should always have a lemony note and also some salinity; the skin contact can give a slightly bitter finish, which is desirable.  They want a wine of complexity and character, even for a relatively simple mono-cépage. The result is quite rich, with satisfying mouthfeel and texture, especially for a Picpoul, but with good tension from the acidity.

Bronzinelle Blanc, Languedoc - 10.00
A blend of 55% Grenache Blanc, which gives some weight, with 15% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne for aroma, and just 10 % Picpoul to give some citrus and iodé notes.  The blend is made immediately after fermentation, and the wine now longer aged in oak, as it was previously.  The nose is elegant and the palate rounded with some attractive floral flavours.  For Jean-François the interest of the Languedoc is above all the ability to blend. 

Bronzinelle Rosé, Languedoc - 6.90
A blend of Cinsaut and Grenache, both pressed, so given minimum skin contact, and essentially made like a white wine.  Delicate raspberry fruit on the nose; quite ripe and rounded with fresh acidity and a long finish.

2013 Bronzinelle, Languedoc  - 10.00
50-year-old Syrah, made by carbonic maceration, and also some old Carignan.  A traditional vinification for younger Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre.  They blend after the malolactic fermentation and make final blend after élevage.  70% of the wine spends 12 months in wood, and they are gradually shifting from 220 to 500 litre barrels.  Medium colour.  Fresh spice on the nose and palate, with black fruit and garrigues and supple tannins.  They consider it to be the most representative of the terroir of St. Martin.  And it is a wine that I remember enjoying when François Henry made it in the 1980s and I do not think that it has really changed in style, fine-tuned yes, but it still retains the appealing spicy fruit of the Languedoc.

Next came their Grès de Montpelier which represents our savoir faire, and comes from older vines with lower yields.  They now have 18 hectares classified as Grès de Montpellier, making it the most western point of the zone.  It is s separated from the cru of Pézenas by the Hérault river.  The soil throughout the Grès de Montpellier is similar, namely grès, or sandstone, but there are climatic differences.  Lunel on the eastern limit is much warmer.

2013 Grès de Montpellier - 16.00
Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache, older vines, and with a traditional vinification, but with quite a short maceration.  They want silky tannins and to avoid any over-extraction.  The wine is aged for 12 months in 500 litre barrels, of one to five fills, but none new.  Jean-François does not like new wood.  And the wine is very supple, with some rich fruit, but retaining its elegance, with a rounded finish.  The Mourvèdre gives freshness, and finesse, especially on the finish.  It was youthful and already drinking well, but also with some ageing potential.

And then we tasted their first vintage, the 2014, of Château de St. Louis in the Corbières.  The estate totals 120 hectares with 24 hectares of vines, including three of Boutenac.  The estate apparently needs a lot of work, especially in the vineyards, and they are building a new cellar. 

2014, Corbieres, Boutenac 16.00
The blend is 55% Carignan, 35% Syrah and 10% Grenache.  The profile was quite different; the Corbières was more Rhône-like, with more Syrah.  It was sturdier, more powerful and structured, with red fruit and rounded harmonious tannins.   It was a good start, and I subsequently tasted the Prestige red and white at the Rising Stars tasting in London.

2014 Corbières Prestige white 6.60
40% Grenache blanc, 40% Marsanne, 20% Bourboulenc.  Medium colour. Quite rounded nose with some white flowers on both nose and palate. And a salty bitter note on the finish.  Quite intriguing.

2014 Corbières Prestige red 6.60
40% Grenache, 35% Syrah and 25% Carignan.   Medium depth of colour.  Some easy spicey fruit on both nose and palate with a streak of supple tannin.  Medium weight.  Winter warming, easy drinking. 

Monday, 14 November 2016

Stars and Discoveries in Paris

I recently spent a day at this tasting, in the splendid venue of the brasserie of the large department store, Printemps, which is on the top floor under a spectacular glass dome of shades of blue.  I wish I had thought to bring a camera; the colours were simply magnificent, even on a grey October day.  The theme covered established stars, proven by their ratings in various tastings over the last year and then they can each suggest a discovery, a newer estate, with some potential. 

I concentrated on discoveries in anticipation of some exciting new wines and I was not disappointed; there were some very good wines amongst the newcomers and some old friends amongst the stars.  The tasting covered most but not all of the appellations of the Languedoc - there were new producers who have only recently begun making wines and others that are more established, but not especially in the public eye.  Corbières and Minervois were well represented but there were very few Terrasses du Larzac or Grès de Montpellier.  Sometimes I really appreciated one but not the other in the pair. 

One particularly convincing duo came from Fitou with the star Château Champs des Soeurs, and the new estate of Domaine Sarrat d'en sol - a name which translates literally in Occitan as 'a small hill in the sunshine'.  They made their first Fitou in 2015 - a sturdy gutsy glass of wine from Carignan with some Syrah and Grenache, with some dry spice, from just four hectares in the village of Fitou itself.  Château Champs des Soeurs is also in the village of Fitou and they make three different wines, Tradition, Bel Amant and La Tina.  All were very convincing with varying degrees of structured fruit.  

Christophe Bousquet from Château Pech-Redon had brought La Combe St Paul, an estate I remembered tasting as Domaine Maury at the annual vigneron ballade a few years ago.  Paul Maury has six hectares of la Clape along with vineyards for vins de pays in the Coteaux d'Ensérune.  On the day Grès Rouges was the star, a blend of Syrah with 30% Mourvèdre.   It was rounded and spicy, with some supple fruit and a streak of tannin. 

And l'Epervier blanc, a blend of Grenache blanc and Bourboulenc from Château Pech-Redon was fresh and mineral with white blossom on the finish.  And the red wines showed plenty of depth of character too.  

Thanks to Clos Marie there was a new Pic St. Loup estate, Clos de la Matane, in the village of  Claret.  The 2014 was atypical as it contained 70% Grenache when Pic St Loup is usually based on Syrah.  It had some ripe cherry fruit with a fresh tannic streak  - so not classic Pic St. Loup but nonetheless a jolly nice drink.   A Coteaux du Languedoc with 70% Syrah with Grenache and Mourvèdre was nicely spicy but with less depth. 

And the stars did include some serious players.  I always enjoy the wines of Château Rouquette-sur-Mer, in la Clape, especially Jacques Boscary's white wine.  Cuvée Arpège is a blend of Bourboulenc and. Roussanne, with some fresh herbal fruit while Cuvée Henri Lapierre is richer, and more textured and concentrated. 

For me Basil St. Germain at Domaine des Aurelles in Caux makes one of the best white wines of the Languedoc.  His Cuvée Aurel, a pure Roussanne is astonishing, a wine of depth and elegant intensity, rich and textured and long, and one of those wines which keep you guessing.    Manon from Clos Marie in the Pic St. Loup also intrigues with its blend of Macabeo, Grenache Gris and Blanc and a touch of Muscat.  There is some firm minerality and youthful fruit.   And I also enjoyed the whites of the Prieuré de St. Jean de Bébian.

I had not tasted the wines from Domaine Mouscaillo in Limoux for a while.  They now make some Crémant; the 2014 was quite fresh and crisp without any dosage, with some fermentation in oak to give a touch of weight.  The still Chardonnay was elegantly rounded but with some firm structure - I likened it to ripe Chablis, much to Marie-Claire Fort's amusement.  And then I was given a treat, the 2004, their very first vintage which was drinking well, with some intriguing notes of sous bois and some maturity.  And the 2014 Pinot Noir was fresh with elegant red fruit.  Their discovery was their nephew,  Etienne Fort, but I did not taste his wines as I am due for a visit shortly. 

Isabelle Champart from Mas Champart was showing her range of St. Chinian with a delicious white, an intriguing blend of Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Bourboulenc and Clairette, with some herbal notes balanced with refreshing acidity.   I liked her Causse de Bousquet too, with 70% Syrah as well as some Grenache and Carignan, with a satisfying balance of fruit and spice, with an elegant finish.

I always enjoy Vincent Goumards wines at Cal Demoura and this occasion was no exception, with a white LEtincelle based on Chenin Blanc with dry herbal honey,  and then a pair of reds,  L'Infidèle with some spice and Combariolles with more concentration, but always with some satisfying spicy fruit.  Vincent's discovery was Laure Gasparotto who is a wine writer as well as a new winemaker at Domaine la Lauzeta.  Earlier this year she published an evocative book, La Mécanique des Vins, in which she is in conversation with Olivier Julien, one of the leading producers of the Terrasses du Larzac.  Cal Demoura originally belonged to Olivers father, Jean-Pierre. I found Laure's wines rather young and adolescent, possibly explained by the fact that they were 2015s, and not all yet in bottle.

Domaine de Montcalmès is a well-established star.  Their 2013 Coteaux du Languedoc blanc is a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne, with some oak and some satisfying texture on the palate, and the 2013 Terrasses du Larzac was elegantly rounded with smooth tannins.  With those two wines they undoubtedly maintained their place amongst some of the most refined of the Languedoc.   And there were others I could mention, some favourites from Faugères, and more from the Minervois and Corbières.  And I finished the day with a refreshing glass of Françoise Antechs Crémant de Limoux.   In short it was well worth the journey to Paris!!