Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Domaine Gregory White

A friend said, you must go and meet the father of my son’s school friend; he makes rather good wine, so I did and found myself tasting in a large barn in the middle of the village of Aspiran. 

Gregory, despite his name is very firmly French; his father is English, but his mother is French and he was born in Paris and was brought up in France, so speaks French rather than English.  Wine for him was a complete change of direction; he was working as a sports journalist in Paris, but his wife’s family comes from the Médoc, and he had what he called his Damascus moment in a vineyard in Bordeaux and realised that he wanted to change direction.  Initially he worked as a sommelier and in a wine shop, but he was selling wines that he did not choose and realised that he was really interested in the plant, so he studied oenology in Beaune and worked for Yannick Pelletier in St. Chinian while he looked for vineyards, and chance led to a meeting with somebody in Aspiran who had five hectares for sale, two plots of old vines, red and white, Grenache, Syrah, Cinsaut and Carignan, and Terret blanc and Grenache blanc, with an average of 50 years.  There is half a hectare of 70 year old Carignan and Cinsaut and some 85 year old Grenache, the oldest Grenache in the village, and the Syrah is a bit younger.  It sounded as though Gregory had really struck lucky.  

When we met, he had just completed his 4th harvest, for he had acquired his vines just before the 2013 vintage.   He was delighted to find that no products had been used in the vineyard for fifteen years; the soil was really alive.  Gregory favours the natural school of winemaking with a natural yeast and as little so2 as possible, preferable not even at bottling, but has he observed, it is not a dogma.  He aims for the best possible grapes – and the work is very hands on.  He shares cellar space in a large barn with a couple of other small wine growers.

Aspiran comes within the cru of Pézenas, but all Gregory’s wines are Vin de France.  The soil is alluvial, sand with galets, and good drainage, which gives suppleness to his wines.  His labels are fun.   Who else could have a label saying white is blanc, let alone white is rouge?

2015 White is blanc -12.00€
A blend of two third Terret to one third Grenache blanc, blended at the harvest.  Élevage in vat, and  bottled in April. Initially a bit cidery on the nose but that goes with the air to turn firm and stony, with good acidity.  Structured and tight knit, and not very southern.  Terret has rather restrained aromas, and Grenache blanc gives drinkability

2015 White is rosé.
A pure Cinsaut – saigné after a few hours.  Pale orange pink. Quite an exotic nose.  Rounded palate, dry and perfumed.

2015 Jamais Pas Soif – 9.00€
40% Grenache, and 30% each of Cinsaut and Carignan, all destalked, and given a classic vinification. Deep young colour.  Spicy red fruit.  Quite firm – a rustic note of Carignan – tannin and acidity and good fruit.  Needs to settle down a bit.

2015 White is rouge – 10.50€
Based on Syrah and the oldest Grenache, with a little Carignan and Cinsaut.  Classic vinification with a two week maceration.  Good colour.  Quite firm and peppery and structured, with quite a tight youthful palate.

2014 White is rouge
30% each of Syrah, Cinsaut and Carignan with 10% Grenache.  Blended before the winter.  Gregory had made two versions, with and without sulphur – I tried the one without.  Gregory observed that he thought sulphur closed the nose – I found some spicy fruit but also what I call a slightly natural animal nose, with some tannin on the palate.  It was quite intriguing –  and I wondered if some oak would round out the wine.  For the moment he does not use oak barrels.  And I was left in admiration of his courage in changing direction in that way, and of his commitment.  He deserves to go far.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Clos de l’Amandaie

I’ve always had rather a soft spot for Clos de l’Amandaie as we quite by chance drank their wine for our house warming party when we bought our Languedoc house now over 12 years ago.  We had wandered into the wine shop in Clermont L’Hérault looking for a bottle of rosé for lunch, and three cases of wine later …. So I am ashamed to admit that it has taken me so long to actually go and visit the estate. 

The very first vintage of Clos de l’Amandaie was the 2002, and that is what we drank for our party.   The estate  is in a wonderfully lost part of the Languedoc near Aumelas.  I took the narrow road that runs parallel to the A750 from St. Paul-et-Valmalle, with dramatic views and then headed south towards Aumelas, which is not really a village, but more a series of hamlets.  Philippe Peytavy explained how his grandfather had made wine, but then his father elected to join the coop of nearby Le Pouget.  Philippe, after working for a négociant, realised that he really wanted to make his own wine.  He began with 8 hectares, and now has 17, producing Grès de Montpellier, some IGP and an original Vin de France.   The cellar is modern and functional.

His range of Pays d’Oc is called Chat Pitre, a play on words, pitre in fact means daft or stupid – I could not resist observing that the adjective suited our cat perfectly. 

2015 Chat Pitre blanc, Pays d’Oc – 6.00€
A blend of 80% Vermentino, with some Grenache blanc, aged in vat.  Soft and rounded and easy to drink.    A touch of honey and some acidity.

2015 Chat Pitre rosé – 6.00€
One third each of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsaut, all saigné. Light orange pink colour.  A touch of boiled sweets on the nose, and a mouth filling vinous palate.

2015 Clos de l’Amandaie blanc, Languedoc – 11.00€
Based on Grenache blanc and Roussanne; all kept in vat.  Philippe does two pickings of Grenache blanc, one when the grapes are just ripe, at 13° and a week or so later when the alcohol level has reached 14.5°.  The two are blended together and given an élevage on lees, and then blended with the Roussanne component.  Quite a rounded palate, textured and ripe with some weight and white flowers.

2014 Huit Clos, Languedoc – 17.00€
Roussanne aged in barrel and a little Grenache blanc, with some lees.  The ageing depends on the vintage, usually about ten months, with lees stirring until the winter chill.  The oak is integrated on the nose, and more obvious on the palate, with a nutty tannic streak and a slightly sweet buttery finish.  Satisfying texture on the middle palate.

2015 Chat Pitre Rouge – 6.00€
One third each of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsaut.  Classic vinification.  Medium young colour.  Fresh red fruit and little pepper on both nose and palate.  Easy drinking – and the sort of red wine that you can chill in the summer.

2014 Clos de l’Amandaie, Grès de Montpellier – 11.00€
Philippe made his first Grès de Montpellier in 2013.  Before that it was Coteaux du Languedoc, or Languedoc.  Equal parts of Syrah, Grenache Noir and Carignan, with 15% Cinsaut.  All aged in vat, apart from the Syrah which spends 12 months in wood.  Deep colour.  Rounded ripe peppery nose, with a fresh streak on the palate.  Black olives and tapenade, rich and rounded with youthful tannins and a ripe finish.  Supple spice and garrigues.  In short a lovely glass of wine.  I know why I liked it so much all those years ago. 

2014 Huit Clos, Grès de Montpellier – 17.00€
Equal parts Syrah and Grenache Noir.  All aged in wood for 12 months after blending, immediately after the fermentation has finished.  Lots of garrigues and black fruit, and some furry tannins.   A ripe mouthful balanced with a steak of freshness.

The 2011 from a warmer vintage, was deep in colour, with more cassis and spice and some leathery and peppery notes, as it was beginning to mature.  Rich and long.

And our tasting finished with Vin De France, les Menades, Petit Manseng – 25€ for 50 cls.

Petit Manseng is a grape variety that you find more commonly in Jurançon in the Pyrenees.  Philippe picks the grapes sometime between mid- November and mid-December so that they are nicely dried, but without any rot, noble or otherwise.  He then tries to press them, slowly in whole bunches and then the juice is put in vat, with some natural yeast.  It is all very temperamental.   The 2015 was still fermenting the following September, and then it goes into an acacia barrel.   The 2014 was very intense and honeyed with very good acidity, very smooth, with balancing acidity and utterly delicious.  Philippe explained that he has just 30 ares, which he planted in 2002, which gives him an average of 7 hectolitres, most years.  He observed that the partridges eat more of the grapes than the wild boar!   It was a delicious finale and the taste lingered with me as I drove away. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Domaine de Roquemale

Valerie Tabariès at Domaine de Roquemale is a welcoming hostess in her tasting caveau right in the centre of the village Villeveyrac.   She talked about the early beginnings of the estate, which they started in 2001.  She and her husband, Dominique Ibanez, are both children of viticulteurs for their parents belonged to the nearby coop of Poussan.   They began with 7 hectares and now have 12, and left the cooperative in 2005 and converted to organic viticulture.  They found a maison de vigneron in the village, with quite a sizeable cellar.  Their first vintage at Villeveyrac was 2006.

Like all good vignerons, they attach enormous importance to their work in the vineyard, keeping plots separate and making as many as ten different wines.  They find Mourvèdre difficult; it is only good one year in four.  And for white wine, they are shifting from Marsanne and Roussanne to Picpoul and Clairette.   And they also have a lot of Alicante Bouschet.  Their vineyards are in an isolated valley outside the village. You go under the railway line that was used for transporting bauxite, which was mined nearby.   And Roquemale means mauvaises roches, in other words, a very stony place, and the lieu-dit of the vineyard.

Our tasting began with:

2015 Roc Blanc, Languedoc – 11.00€
An intriguing blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Gris, Vermentino and Viognier, all in the same plot and all picked over three days.   20% of the blend is fermented in oak and then spends a further four months in oak.  They buy just two new barrels a year. I found the nose in the young wine quite oaky, but it was very intriguing with other nuances and Valerie explained that it had ageing potential.  She wants a balance of weight and freshness, and is considering fresher, more acidic grape varieties.

2015 Méli-Melo, Pays de Hérault – 7.00€
An unusual blend of 80% Alicante Bouschet with a little Cinsaut and Syrah.  The Alicante Bouschet is macerated on its skins for just one day as they do not want it to be too hard or rustic. It is less than 12° so quite light in the mouth.  It is fermented and kept in vat until bottling in June and was pleasantly perfumed with some easy fruit and a streak of tannin.  And an original note on the finish. 

2015 Les Terrasses, Languedoc – 8.00€
A blend of Syrah, Cinsaut and Mourvèdre, with an emphasis on the fruit, making an easy to drink wine with some rounded dry spice.  Medium weight.

2014 Les Grès (de Montpellier) – 11.00€
Villeveyrac is within the area of Grès de Montpellier and this is the traditional cuvée that really represents the estate and what they are doing.  The blend is 90% Syrah to 10% of Grenache Noir, and the soil is based on bauxite.  There is plenty of appealing spice, making a classic Languedoc and for easy drinking.

2014 Lema, Grès de Montpellier – 14.00€
This is mainly Grenache, with some Syrah and a little Cinsaut, from three plots on terraces and including some 50 year old vines.   Some of the Syrah is aged in barrel, but not new, one to six years old.  The palate is structured with some firm ripe fruit, with a sturdy balance of tannin and fruit.  There was a refreshing energy about the wine.

2013 Mâle, Grès de Montpellier – 20.00€
This comes from a plot of Syrah which they allow to get really ripe.  It is fermented by carbonic maceration and then spends twelve months in wood.  I found the palate quite rich and sweet, balanced with a firm tannic streak.  Valerie enthused about the 2013 vintage.  A very good vintage, ‘we got what we needed when we needed it, both sun and rain’.  The harvest was later than usually, only beginning on 15th September.  She explained that their valley is very hot, but the nights are cool. And it is much dryer there than in the Terrasses du Larzac.

And then she asked me if I could like to try a vieux Mâle – the 2010.  Could I resist!  The wood was more obvious as it was newer and the nose quite leathery with some rich spicy fruit on the palate, and some satisfying texture.  And the 2014 Mâle included a little Mourvèdre, with less obvious oak and some ripe spicy fruit.  It was supple and rich, with a fresh tannic streak and a good note on which to finish our tasting.    And then we went to look at the vineyards where Dominique was hard at work.