Monday, 24 December 2018

Languedoc links with South Africa

Bruce Jack, a leading south African winemaker, who made a reputation for himself with Chenin blanc at Flagstone Winery, was in London recently to launch a new project, and a range of own label wines.  And he brought some friends along.  So I was delighted to find Karen Turner pouring a couple of wines from Prieuré de St Jean de Bébian.  She and Bruce were at Roseworthy together.  

2017 Prieuré de St Jean de Bébian Blanc
70% Roussanne with 15% each of Clairette and Grenache Blanc, with both fermentation and élevage in barrel, of which 15% were new.  Whole bunch pressed and not filtered before bottling.    Light colour. Lovely rounded floral white blossom, fleurs blanches on the nose.  And on the palate some weight and rounded fruit; good acidity, which gave the wine an elegant lift on the finish.  A shining example of just how the white wines of the Languedoc are improving.  

2015 Prieuré de St Jean de Bébian Rouge
A blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre.   Most of the vines were planted in the mid-1980s but the wine does include a plot of Grenache Noir, planted in 1925.  The previous owner, Chantal Lecouty, used to refer to them as her vieilles dames, my old ladies.   A long maceration and an élevage in barrel for the Syrah and Mourvèdre and in tank for the Grenache, and then blended before bottling.  Lovely rounded spicy fruit, spicy cherries from the Grenache, and supple tannins.  A lovely elegant balance on the finish.  

There were a handful of examples of pure Syrah, from Bruce, and from Waterkloof in Stellebosch but the other surprise was a lovely example of Clairette Blanche from the Cape, from Daschbosch in the WO of Breedenkloof.   When you think how underrated Clairette is in the Languedoc, it was a discovery to find one in the southern hemisphere.  Apparently the vineyard had been planted in 1977, but then forgotten about and rediscovered about three years ago.  The wine is made very simply with some lees contact and bâtonnage, making for a rounded textured palate and understated fruit on the nose. Intriguing layers of flavour.  

And the same estate also made a Muscat d’Alexandrie, that they would call Hanepoot.  It was fortified like a Rivesaltes and aged in old barrels for twelve months, making for some smooth unctuous fruit, with ripe orange marmalade, and good acidity on the finish.  It would be delicious with Christmas pudding or mince pies.

Happy Christmas!!

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

67 Pall Mall and the Languedoc

Am I the only person to find a wine list on a tablet a complete nightmare?   Generous friends have just taken us to lunch at 67 Pall Mall – and the reputation of its wine list, orchestrated by Ronan Sayburn, goes before it.   I had been told that I had to earn my lunch by choosing our wines – what a pleasure, I thought.   I was looking forward to browsing through a list and finding something unusual and unknown (to me), that perhaps had been overlooked and represented a bit of a bargain. My recent success on that front was a delicious 2010 Madiran from Domaine Brumont at Simpsons.   I always like to drink the unfamiliar when I am out.   

But confronted with a list on a totally unuser-friendly tablet with a mind of its own, I am afraid I gave up the struggle to explore and simply opted for the familiar, the Languedoc section, which provided discoveries for our friends, but not for me and my husband.  Had we been able to browse in the old-fashioned way, I might have alighted upon Croatia, Lebanon, Israel, Santorini, I know not what.  After this experience, my second with a tablet, I strongly feel that a tablet wine list discourages exploration.  We were told that the list changes frequently and that there always new wines, but with the ease of printing these days it should not be a problem to have just one printed list for the Luddites amongst us who like the feel of paper.   Also, I spend a large part of my working day looking at a screen, so it is not something I particularly want to do while I am out enjoying myself.  

So what did we drink?

2015 Petit Trélans, Domaine Alain Chabanon
From a pioneering winemaker outside the village of Montpeyroux.  An unusual and very successful blend of Vermentino and Chenin blanc.  Light dry honeyed nose and more so on the palate.  Beginning to mature and loose its acidity.  Nicely rounded finish.  And went a treat with some crab.  

2015 Minervois, Domaine Anne Gros, les Fontanilles 
From a talented Burgundian winemaker who is also exploring the potential of the south. Young colour. Lovely spicy fruit on both nose and palate, integrated tannins.  Beautifully elegant, long and satisfying and just the thing with succulent roast pheasant. 

Monday, 10 December 2018

Tasting Languedoc at the City Lit

The City Lit, or to give it its full name, the City Literary Institute, in Holborn is celebrating its centenary next year and is planning a series of events to mark that occasion.    I have attended a few courses at the City Lit in my time, in the way of adult education, some languages classes and a public speaking class, which proved to be enormously helpful.   So I will admit to having a bit of a soft spot for the City Lit.   But I had no idea that it had been founded a hundred years ago, particularly to help servicemen returning from the trenches, whose hearing had been severely affected by shelling.   Lessons for the deaf are their main focus, apart from providing a very varied curriculum of adult education.  

A series of circumstances found me giving a small tasting, talking about the wines of the Languedoc, and presenting my book, to quite a sizable group of City Lit students, who had all attended at least one hundred classes.   The idea was to provide an entertaining evening as a thank you to a core of supportive students.   It was quite daunting as I had no idea how much my audience knew or did not know about wine – in fact none of them had attended the City Lit’s wine tasting course.  I just hope they will now.  But quite a lot of them had been to parts of the Languedoc, and some of them had visited a wine cellar or two.  They were a friendly audience.   

So, I gave them a brief lesson on wine tasting and a sketchy outline on how wine is made, and then talked more about the Languedoc, pointing out some highlights and also some less rosy aspects of the region, with four wines to taste, chosen to show just how diverse the choice of wine is from the region.  

Amongst the highlights, I talked about the enormous changes in the region, how it has lost its reputation for cheap wine, and how practices in the vineyards and cellars have improved, and above all how the wine growers are now looking for freshness, and avoiding over-oaked wines.  The development of white wine is an important part of that process.   I touched on the appellations, particularly the new ones like the Terrasses du Larzac, but said very firmly that it was work in progress. The Languedoc is just beginning what it took Burgundy a few centuries to establish.

There is of course much in the Languedoc to attract outsiders, not only from other countries but from other parts of France.  And with the change in a generation, there is often a child who has studied wine-making and therefore keen to make their own wine.   Organic wine is important, and easier than in more northern climes like Chablis.   And there is also a wonderful flexibility of regulations, with the IGPs and even more so, Vin de France, allowing an enormous a diversity outside the appellations. There is an underlying sense that there is much to be achieved.

However, it is not all a bed of roses – there are issues such as climate change.  Compare the two vintages of 2017 and 2018, with frost and drought one year and mildew the next.   Water is another issue – to irrigate or not?  And vine trunk disease, or esca, is making an impact.  And then there are the people who make wonderful wine, but do not have a clue how to sell it.  But in the words of Miren de Lorgeril, the recently elected president of CIVL, when I asked her what was new, she said without hesitation: confidence.  The Languedoc is realising that it does not need to follow Bordeaux or Burgundy.  It is a great region and has come of age.

And now for the four wines that I chose to illustrate my talk :

2014 Crémant de Limoux, J. Laurens, Graimenous
A lovely sparkling wine from Limoux, a blend of Chardonnay with some Chemin Blanc and a little drop of Mauzac and Pinot Noir. It was fresh and creamy with good balancing acidity, illustrating just how good Limoux can be.

2017 Faugères blanc, Domaine du Météore, les Aquarides
Light colour, with some herbal notes on the nose.  The palate is nicely textured and rounded with good weight and a fresh finish.  A blend of Roussanne and Vermentino with some Clairette.

2015 La Clape, Domaine la Combe St. Paul, Grès Rouge
This was everything that a red wine from the south should be, warm spicy sunshine in the glass.  It is a blend of Mourvèdre and Syrah, kept in vat rather than barrel, making for ripe rounded fruit with a balancing streak of tannin.

2014 Maury, Domaine de Fontanel.
Technically this is outside the remit of my book, as it comes from the other side of the hills in Roussillon, but never mind.  It is a Vin Doux Naturel, a fortified wine made principally from Grenache Noir, with spice and fruit, with a streak of alcohol and a sweet finish.   And if we are being seasonal, it is one of the rare wines that would be able to cope with Christmas pudding! 

All four wines came from Stone, vine & Sun in Winchester who make something of a speciality out of the Languedoc.  

Sunday, 25 November 2018

St Chinian - a duo of estates

A pair of St Chinian estates, both visited for my book, but sadly deleted, purely for reasons of space. 

Domaine Pin des Marguerites 

Domaine Pin des Marguerites is in the village of Berlou. Richard Carpena told us the story of the estate.   Like many others in Berlou, his grandfather joined the cooperative when it was founded in 1965, after working independently, and his father stayed in the cooperative.  However, Richard, like many of this generation, wanted to make his own wine, so took the family vines out of the cooperative for his first harvest wine in 2005, from eight hectares.  He has learnt from experience, observing that he knew about vines, but not about winemaking. His oenologist, François Pennequin, has advised from the beginning and he admits that it was all rather daunting initially.  

Our tasting began with a white Vin de France, Blanc de Mathilde, named after his daughter and a blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier and a little Terret.  Terret is not allowed in St Chinian, and Viognier is only a complementary variety, allowed up to 10%, hence Vin de France.  It was fresh and lemony, with a dry finish.  Lou Gabel comes from younger vines, with some ripe black fruit, with the name recalling a small faggot of vine cuttings.  St Chinian, Tradition is from older vines, again Syrah, Grenache Noir, Carignan and Mourvèdre, planted by Richard’s grandfather, with peppery fruit and firmer tannins.  Horizon is a blend of equal parts of Mourvèdre and Grenache, with more powerful flavours, but with a fresh finish from the schist.  Pétale Poupre is a blend of 50% Carignan, with carbonic maceration, with some Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, partly aged in oak, with a more restrained palate and spicy black fruit.   

Then we adjourned to Le Faitout, the village restaurant which is well worth the journey, for some local flavours and a wine list that concentrates on the closest appellations. 

Domaine la Linquière, Villespassans

Pierre Salvestre is a 5thgeneration viticulteur, but only a first generation vigneron.  We tasted his wines in an old cellar, on the outskirts of St. Chinian, that had been his great-grandfather’s in the 1930s, when there were as many as five or six négociants in the town.   It has now been turned into an attractive shop, and welcoming tasting caveau.  The family wine cellar is in the circulade village of Villespassans.  Pierre explained that his grandfather helped found the cooperative of St Chinian, and his father had been its  president for five years, until they decided to create their own domaine based on the great-grandfather’s original vineyard holdings.  This is an ambitious project that has entailed buying back vines, some 25 hectares, from various cousins.   

As well as a Chardonnay IGP Mont de la Grage, they made a white St Chinian, Fleur de Lin from Grenache Blanc and Vermentino, with three months ageing in barrel, to give a hint of oak on the palate.   There are two rosés.  Fleur de Lin, with 80% Grenache, with Syrah given three months in oak, is the more original, with length and depth. Their Tradition St Chinian, a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, grown on schist and kept in vat, is fresh and perfumed, with a streak of tannin.  For Pierre schist gives fruit and concentration; limestone made for tighter tannins, and sandstone, that you find in Villespassans and Pierrerue, makes for elegance.  

Next came an originality, a pure Aramon, from bush vines planted in 1910.  Even at that age it gives a crop of 35 hl/ha, but when the vines were young, they would have produced a 100 hl/ha or more.  The Aramons Centenaires, Vin de France, has some fresh fruit, a streak of acidity as well as tannin and a nicely perfumed note, as well as a hint of sympathique rusticity.   Le Chant des Cigales is what Pierre called the cuvée phare, the flagship of the estate, a blend of 70% Syrah with equal parts of Mourvèdre and Carignan, and a blend of all three soils, aged in barriques for 12 months.  There was black fruit and tapenade on the nose and palate, making a rounded full-bodied palate, with a balancing streak of tannin.  La Sentinelle 310 comes from their highest vineyard, at 310 metres, and comprises 65% Syrah with Mourvèdre grown on schist and given 18 months in oak, of which 50% is new.  The oak is well integrated, and the flavours rich and perfumed, with some firm tannins, and elegant concentration.  Rocher de Notre Dame, from two vineyards by the cross of Notre Dame, with 90% Mourvèdre and some Syrah, with the same élevageas La Sentinelle 310, was firm and oaky, with ageing potential. The last two wines are only made in the best years.   Their range is completed by a Vendange Tardive, made from nine different varieties, all planted together and mixed up with the Aramon.  They were probably originally intended as table grapes.  After three months of ageing in barrels, the wine was ripe and honeyed. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

La Grange de Bouys

I think this post needs to start with an apology.  I have sorely neglected my blog over the last few weeks.  Blame intensive book research in Chablis, and then a recalcitrant computer that sent my blog dashboard off into cyberspace.  I am now re-connecting, with a post that I wrote a while ago, so more apologies to Stéphane Monmousseau for that delay.

I went for an update at la Grange de Bouys, which is the vineyard nearest to our Languedoc home.   First a walk in the vineyards on a hot July morning - difficult to imagine now in chilly autumnal November!   Stephane described Syrah as une bonne fille, as in his vineyard it does not seem to be susceptible to mildew, unlike the Carignan.  However, he is less convinced about its suitability for the region and two years ago grafted some Grenache onto 12 year Syrah vines, and this year he has grafted other varieties, some of the old varieties of the Languedoc such as Aspiran, Monastel, Terret Noir, Aragon and Oeillade.  Just half a hectare and  1900 plants.  You remove the bark and insert a bud, as a T bud and bandage it tightly.  4 Bolivians and 2 Argentineans did the work,  Apparently they work all year in Mendoza and Stéphane observed that France does not have the savoir-faire to do this.  You only lose a year’s crop as the rootstock immediately supplies the necessary sap.   He now has about 6.5 hectares of vines, of which half are Clairette, which he has just increased in area.   

He talked about grafting - the old rate was about 400 plants a day whereas the industrial process used today can clock up 20,000 vines per week.  However if the graft is not really tight, maybe the difference between the hand-cut pointed English graft and the omega shaped mechanical graft, fungus can penetrate the vine, and the result is esca, or vine trunk disease.  It is an obsolescence programme, especially if the pruning is not well done either.   Stéphane’s vineyards will become officially organic this year, incorporating his most recent purchase of vines in 2015.  The conversion process takes three years.   And he is moving towards biodynamic viticulture, using various preparations, but is not seeking the labelle for that.

Lavender is very useful for vers de la grappe, as the worms simply do not like the smell of lavender, but oil is much more effective and longer-lasting than the simple flowers.  You spray three times, in June,  July and August.  Orange is good against mildew and dries it up, as does milk.  Prêle or horsetail is good too, and nettles give iron which promotes growth.  Osier, écorce de chêne and valerian are other treatments, and with achillée millefeuille, or yarrow, you need to use less sulphur.  For white wine even with organic viticulture you are allowed 150 gms/l whereas Stéphane uses just over 30 gm/l.

Back in the cellar, we tasted.   Florence Rosé, Pays de l’Hérault -  8.50€  
We had a already enjoyed a bottle of his rosé earlier in the week.  The 2017 is pale in colour, but ripe and rounded on the palate, and nicely vinous with some weight.  The 2016 was made from 25% Grenache blanc with 75% Syrah, which gave quite a deep colour, even without any skin contact, except during the pressing.  Stéphane talked about a restauranteur who bluntly refused to taste his rosé, simply because the colour was wrong - such is the power of the image of Cotes de Provence.  You can easily eliminate the colour with a carbon filter, but Stephane does not want to do that, even though it is allowed for organic wine making.  His solution is alter the grape variety blend, changing it to 75% Grenache blanc and 25% Syrah, and then it will be a Vin de France rather than an appellation wine.  

2017 Epicure, a pure white Grenache, Pays de l’Hérault - 12.00€
Epicure apparently said that it is nicer to give than to receive.  For the appellation, you need two grape varieties, but Stéphane generally prefers mono-cepages to blends.  He pressed whole bunches gently and put the juice into a stainless steel vat, with added yeast.     He tried natural yeast once, on one vat of Carignan and had to throw it away, so he is not convinced by natural yeast.   This 2017 has a rounded fragrant nose, and a floral palate, with good acidity and freshness. The vines are 30 years old.  Stéphane prefers to pick underripe grapes, to retain their freshness and acidity. picking as much as week earlier than some of his neighbours.   Biodynamic practices tends to retain freshness too, with the slow ripening of the grapes.  The alcohol level was 11.5º.

2017 Confucius, Languedoc - 16.00€
A blend of 80% Grenache Blanc and 20% Clairette, made by what he called la méthode bourguignonne, with an élevage on the lees.  The juice is déboubé and goes into a stainless steel vat, and then into Stockinger demi-muids, for seven months, with a regular weekly bâtonnage.  Stockinger barrels are particularly good for white wine, with the wood seasoned for four years.  They use half Austrian and half Hungarian oak. And the wine is nicely rounded and textured with a firm finish.  There is g good structure and more depth than the Epicure, with nicely integrated oak. Stéphane observed that French coopers usually season their barrels for only two years so that the tannins are much more present than in the Austrian barrels.  However they are 50% more expensive and you have to order them a year ahead.

And why the Confucius for the name of the cuvée.  They lived in Asia for six years and Confucius wrote that he who moves a mountain, begins by moving small stones.  It seemed appropriate for Stéphane’s  wife Florence loves building and repairing dry stone walls.  

2017 Carignan, Pays de l’Herault 12.00€
From old vines that are now  62 year old.  Good colour, deep and bright.  Usually the wine just goes into stainless steel, but this includes 15% ageing in wood. Stephen has tried Carignan in 500 litres barrels but didn’t like the results.   Young nose, with spice and garrigue.  Quite firm and on the palate some ripe fruit with a tannin streak and a fresh finish.  Very good balance with fresh fruit fleshing out the tannins.

The grape are destemmed and go into a closed tank.  Stephane does a délèstage, damping the cap of grape skins with a bucket of wine, but he does not want to extract too much, so the fermentation takes about 18 days.  He doesn’t like carbonic maceration; the taste is a bit too tutti frutti.

2016 St. Andrieu, Languedoc - 15.00€

A selection of plots with three different colours of schist, red, grey and yellow.  85% Syrah, with 10% Grenache and 5% Cinsaut.  One third aged in French oak, and the rest in stainless steel, for one year.   Gradually Stéphane aims to include more Grenache, which he particularly likes.  The nose was quite firm with a steak of oak. and the palate was fresh with good fruit and a nice balance, with the oak well integrated.   A winter warming wine, that needs a bit more time to evolve.  Stopckinger barrels may also be suitable for Grenache noir; Stephane will see what they do.

With the 2018 harvest, Stephane will be making his fifth vintage and it has been fascinating to observe his progress.   I recently named him as a rising star of the Languedoc.  I do hope I am right.  

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Château Capion

 This is an estate that changed hands in 2016.  I first went there in 1988 when Philippe Salesc was making what seemed at the time quite pioneering blends of Cabernet and Merlot.  But the family had financial problems and the estate was sold to Swiss, who spent much of their time in South Africa.  Their focus was varietal vins de pays, and then in 2016, it changed hands again, and is now the property of a genial Russian, Oleg Chirkunov. .   

When we met in late September, he admitted that he had had no intention of buying a wine estate, but when he was told, this was an opportunity not to be missed, he succumbed.    Back in Russia, he has a successful distribution business and also spends time in London.   And although he does not have a wine background, I sense somebody who recognises capable people to employ.   Claude Gros is his consultant oenologist; Claude Bourguignon, the talented soil scientist, advises on the vineyards; Rodolphe Travel runs the estate as the fulltime director, Nikola Zebic is the chef de cave.  Tasting with Rodlphe and Nikola, you sense they make a good team.

First we went for a walk in the vineyards, in summer sunshine, even though it was late September.  The harvest was in full swing, later than some, and all handpicked.  Altogether they have 45 hectares of land, with 33 hectares in production of vines; one of the first things they did was to pull up 12 hectares, the old Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as their strategy is to focus on the Terrasses du Larzac for red wine, so Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsaut.  They do not have any Carignan at the moment, but may plant some - but it is a 30-year project - and they are interested in planting Lledoner Pelut and Morastel, and also, some Carignan Blanc.  The soil is based on clay and limestone, with denser limestone on higher slopes and more sand and clay on lower slopes.  The geology depends on glacial formations.  They will often have more than one vinification of the same grape variety, according to soil type.  Their average age of their vines is about 30 years.  And they are converting the vineyards to organic viticulture.

We tasted a Mourvèdre grape or two. The juice seemed quite ripe and sweet, but the skins were still a little green.   And in the distance were the hills of la Seranne and the Pic de Vissou. 

 Back at the cellar, we admired the dexterity of the team of sorters at the table de trie.  The grapes spend time in a refrigerated lorry, so they go into the fermentation vat at around 10-12°C, and the whites at around 5-6°C.  The reds are given a short maceration pelliculaire à froid.  They use selected yeast but do not add it immediately. There are several small stainless-steel vats, for micro-cuvées. Everything is temperature controlled. And there is one white egg.  However, Rodolphe insisted that the heart  of the estate is its vineyards, ‘pas les casseroles’ or saucepans, as he termed the vats.   There is a neat barrel cellar, with some barriques and also a couple of small foudres, and a small amphora that they use for blending.

We tasted some 2018s from vat and barrel,  and some Roussanne out of the egg, which had been fermented on skins and stalks.  There was a Syrah rosé and some Syrah for a red blend with some peppery fruit.  And in the barrel cellar a blend of 2017 Grenache and Mourvèdre had fruit and perfume.  It was quite delicious and Nikola got very excited: oh la vache, which really does not translate into French.  

Then we adjourned to the rather elegant salon in the château, for more tasting, from bottle. 

2016 les Chemins des Garennes
A blend of 80% Roussanne, and 10% each of Viognier and Bourboulenc.  Élevage mostly in vat, with a quarter of the blend barrel aged.  Two different plots of Roussanne, from the top and the bottom of the slope.

A little colour. Quite buttery on the nose, with some oak and quite a rich palate, with white blossom and buttery notes.  Some peachy hints from the Viognier.  Quite firm acidity on the finish.  Nicely textured mouthfeel and a rounded finish.

2016 Château Capion, Languedoc
Again a blend of Roussanne, Viognier, and Bourboulenc, from a selection of plots.  Twelve months élevage in wood, including some new wood, which was well integrated.  The palate was rounded and textured with some peachy notes and firm acidity on the finish, as well as a streak of tannin from the oak.  2016 was Nikola’s first vintage at the estate; you sense that he is planning future experiments and is very enthusiastic about the terroir of Capion. 

2016 Le Songe Eocene 
Another Roussanne, Viognier, Bourboulenc blend.  A detailed selection of plots, an artist’s palette.  12 months ageing.  Quite a rounded palate with an attractive refreshing quality.  Fresh dry fruit, with good texture and mouthfeel.  One of the things they insist on is that wine used for ouillage, the topping up of barrels, comes from the identical plot

For red wines, having pulled up most of the bordelais grape varieties, they have a lot of Syrah. However they would like to try a pure Mourvèdre.  There are very few in the Languedoc, Domaine Vaisse, le Peira and Domaine Lagamas, but they are convinced that Capion is un terroir à Mourvèdre. Rodolphe admits that while he is very enthusiastic about Mourvèdre; Claude Gros prefers Syrah, and that leaves Nikola as umpire!

2017 Château Capion blanc, 
with Roussanne and Viognier, but no Bourboulenc as it has been pulled up. For an appellation, you need two grape varieties, but Viognier is only considered accessoire.  And if you are using the term château, you cannot be a IGP, such are the intricacies of French wine law.  A little colour.  Youthful fruit, with an attractive life, and a dry finish. The élevage is similar to the 2016, with 500 litre barrels.  It promises well, with a sense of fine-tuning compared to the 2016.

2016 Le Chemin des Garennes – 15.00€
A blend of about 30% Syrah with 20% or more of Grenache, Cinsaut and Mourvèdre, working by selection parcellaire.  Blended shortly before bottling.  Medium colour.   Some ripe spice.  Medium weight, with appealing black fruit on the palate.  Quite elegant.  About 30% aged in wood.   

2016 Château Capion – 35.00€
A blend of 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre, aged for 14 months, in barrel, but as yet no foudres.  They want to vary the containers.  The oak is more apparent, but nicely integrated.  A lot of nuances, with firm tannins, and some good fruit.  Some firm spice and cassis, and an elegant structure. Promises well.

2016 le Songe – 80€ - but not yet on the market, with a very small production of about 2000 bottles.
60% Syrah with Grenache and Mourvèdre.  A sélection parcellaire.  Elevage in barrel. Deeper colour, more concentrated.  Quite solid, dense firm fruit.  Black fruit.  Youthful and ripe and the oak is well integrated.  And promising well for the future.

It will be a fascinating to observe the progress of this estate; the potential is enormous.   

Monday, 1 October 2018

Pézenas at Le Wine Shop

Pézenas is one of the newer crus and potential appellations of the Languedoc, first recognised in 2007, but if you are really honest, it does not have a real identity.  It comprises the vineyards of fifteen villages around the picturesque town of Pézenas.  Nizas and Caux are probably the most important, but the key seems to be their proximity to Pézenas, and the fact that they are not part of any other appellation.  Ask the various wine growers what constitutes the tipicity of Pézenas and they are none too sure.  Some are quite blunt and say there isn’t any. Others suggest soil: with several extinct volcanoes in the area, basalt features, but so too does villefranchien gravel and the galets roulées that you also find in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  The climate is quite warm, so if you compare Pézenas to its neighbour Faugères, you will find the wines are riper and richer, whereas Faugères should always retain an element of freshness.  Most people, when they think of Pézenas, do not even think of wine, but rather of Moliere, or of a colourful local market and an attractive pedestrian old quarter.

However, amongst the wine growers of Pézenas, there are several estates that are well worth seeking out.   Apparently the local syndicat was having a Pézenas promotion during September - I have to admit that had passed me by - but Dominic George (no relation) of Le Wine Shop decided that Pézenas would make a good theme for his customers and that I should present the wines, and in three cases aided by the vigneronnes responsible for the wine.   All the estates in question make a varied range, of which Pézenas is just one small part, but it is usually the best, and indeed most expensive cuvée.

I was intrigued to see if there was a common theme of flavour in the wines. In a way that proved quite challenging as five different grape varieties are allowed in Pézenas, which is only ever red. They are the usual Languedoc quintet, but in very diverse percentages.  Oak ageing and length of élevage also can vary.  Also, in all honesty, tasting conditions were not ideal.   It was a hot evening, the beginning of a five-day heatwave, with unseasonably high temperatures for late September.    The wines would have been less challenged on a cool November night.  The wines were all quite high in alcohol, 14ºor 14.5º, but they were not out of balance.

2015 Domaine Sainte Cécile du Parc, Sonatina - 15€
A blend of 75% Syrah and 25% Cinsaut.  As Saint Cécile is the patron saint of music, all Christine Bertoli-Mouton’s wine names have a musical association.  The Cinsaut gave the wine an appealing refreshing note, nicely balancing the peppery spiciness of the Syrah.  Medium weight with some ageing potential

2015 Mas Gabriel, Clos des Lièvres - 16.00€
Made by Deborah and Peter Core, who learnt their wine-making in New Zealand.  A blend of 75% Syrah and 25% Grenache Noir.   This was quite intense, with some oak ageing and a structured palate, with firm peppery black fruit, with the Syrah dominating the Grenache.  

2016 Domaine Monplézy, Félicité - 15.00€
A blend of 50% Grenache Noir, 30% Syrah and 20% Carignan. made by Anne Sutra de Germa and her son Benoit.  Her father bought vineyards outside Pézenas, sending grapes to the local cooperative, and it was Anne who decided to make her wine.  The estate is off the road to Roujan, with a distinctive sign of a hoopoe on her signpost and labels.  I found a combination of spicy oak, with some savoury notes from the Carignan.  It was quite a solid, youthful wine, with a firm finish, and needing time to develop in the bottle.

2015 Château La Font des Ormes, Basalt - 27.00€
A blend of 40% each of Carignan and Syrah with 20% Syrah.  This is a relative new estate, bought by Guy Cazalis de Fontdouce, who has worked as a child psychiatrist in both France and La Réunion.  He came up with the apt comment that we are méconnu dans une région méconnu - unknown in an unknown region, that is Pézenas, and even the Languedoc.  As the name of the cuvée would imply, it comes from vines grown on basalt, which Guy considers adds elegance to the wine.  I found the wine quite perfumed, with ripe fruit and indeed some elegance.

2015 Prieuré St Jean de Bébian - 30€
70% Grenache Noir, with 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre.  The high proportion of Grenache made the colour lighter than the others, and there was some fresh perfumed fruit, with liqueur cherries and an elegant finish.   This is the longest established estate of the five. I first went there is 1988 when it was the property of a maverick wine maker, Alain Roux, who had planted all thirteen grape varieties of Châteauneuf-du-Pape as he had galets roulées in the vineyard; and when I suggested that did not conform to the appellation of Coteaux du Languedoc, I was told it was of no importance whatsoever.  Then wine journalists, Chantal Lecouty and Jean-Claude Lebrun, owned the estate for a number of years and now it is the property of a Russian family, who have invested seriously in their cellars, and also opened a restaurant.  The talented Australian winemaker, Karen Turner, makes the wine.  

So, in conclusion they were lovely wines, all that I would drink with great pleasure.  They had the flavours of the warm south, but specifically of Pézenas, I am not so sure. 

Monday, 24 September 2018

Chateau Trillol

It had been a while since my last visit to Châeau Trilllol in Cucugnan, so an invitation from Charles Sichel provided the excuse for a grand day out.    We didn’t just visit Trillol, but we also bought bread from the one of the best bakers in the whole of France, Le Moulin et Fourril de Cucugnan,  and afterwards we went to the awe-inspiring Cathar castle of Peyrepertuse.  

Charles explained how his father had first  bought a bergerie, along a winding road outside the village of  Rouffiac-des-Corbières, which we went to see later.  It is a wonderful isolated spot, with vines surrounded by garrigue.  You can see them quite clearly from the top of Peyrepertuse.   The grapes were looking very healthy, with no mildew.  Originally the grapes went to the cooperative but the previous owner had no one who was interested in taking over his vines, so was happy to sell to Peter Sichel.   And at Cucugnan, the estate of Domaine du Reverend was up for sale. This was the period of the European wine lake when many vineyards were being pulled up.  Happily the Sichels managed to restructure things so that the best vines were kept, and the worst eliminated.  These days lack of yield is the biggest problem - they are lucky to get 35 hl/ha whereas in Bordeaux they have to work to reduce the yield to 45 hl/ha.  

We drove through the vineyards, along the valley heading west out of the village, towards Duilac-sous-Peyrepertuse.  In some vineyards they have increased the number of vines per hectare to 8000, as opposed to the more common   Languedoc density of 4000.  Double the number of vines increases the quantity by 25% but the quality is quite different, with the competition of the roots, making for less bunches per vine.  I asked which works better, and Henri Guiot who runs the estate, answered diplomatically ça dépend des années.  This year, with plenty of water, 8000 is working well.  Carignan and Grenache are planted on the slopes and the soil is a mixture of clay and limestone.  They are also planting  some Grenache Blanc and Vermentino,  Roussanne is the basis of their white wine, and the Macabeo is being pulled up.   Weeds are controlled mechanically, but this year that has been complicated.   Altogether they have 47 hectares in 65 different plots. mostly around Cucugnan, and also towards Duilac,  including four hectares cultivated organically.  Most of the vineyards face south, but there is some north facing Syrah outside Cucugnan.   It is a wonderfully dramatic spot with Peyrepertuse in one direction - you can hardly distinguish the castle from the rock face, and another Cathar castle, Quéribus, in the other direction.  Henri talked about maintaining good relations with the hunters, who keep the wild boar under control, but they also feed them, to ensure that they have plenty to hunt   It is a delicate balance.     And back at the cellars, we tasted.

2016 Corbières Blanc, la Dame d’Argent - 9.40€
Roussanne with 15% Macabeo.  A little colour.  Lightly herbal, white blossom on the nose.  Three months on fine lees in vat.  They used to have Marsanne but no longer.  Good acidity, fresh and elegant with good depth.  White wine accounts for just 3% of their production.

2017 Corbières Blanc
Lightly lemon colour.  Very perfumed, ripe, rounded nose.  Very fresh with good acidity.  Intriguing weight, texture and mouthfeel. Lots of nuances.  No malo. Bottled at the beginning of April. and needs time to settle.

2013 Corbières Rouge - 9.40€
The mainstay of the range.A blend of 39% Grenache, 29% Syrah and  32% Carignan.  60% of the blend is aged in new and older wood for  ten months and gradually blended with some wine kept in vat, to obtain the desired balance.  Deep colour.  Fresh spicy fruit.  Quite rounded, lightly leathery.  A complicated vintage as the  summer only arrived in early July.  Black fruit. with rounded fresh elegant tannins.  A fresh finish.

A relatively normal vintage, with nothing exceptional.  About 30 hl/ha.  A year for Grenache, with it accounting for 50% of the blend.   Deep colour.  The same élevage as 2013.  Selected yeast - Henri does not want to take the risk with natural yeast.  Deep colour.  Red fruit, cherries.  Rounded spice. Quite fleshy, with more weight.  Fresh finish.   Henri mentioned the effect of altitude - the vines at la Bergerie de Trillol are higher, at 450metres, and there is a nearby village, appropriately called  Dernacueillette at 750 metes, where indeed they are the last to pick. 

A pretty normal year.  Deep young colour.  Youthful fresh red fruit.  Quite fleshy and youthful, ripe and harmonious.  Nicely balanced tannins.  Medium weight.

2014 Corbières Prestige - 16.00€

For this cuvée they chose the barrels that are able to cope with a longer élevage of 12 months, including some new oak. The wine is much more concentrated and dense.  The blend changes a little with each vintage, but not significantly, so that it usually about 50% Syrah and a quarter each of Grenache and Carignan.  Integrated oak, but with obvious vanilla notes.  It was quite sturdy and young.  Dense, but with silky tannins,  and very good fruit.

2013 Prestige
Deep young colour. Ripe rounded oaky nose.  On the palate, more fleshy initially, than 2014 with riper red fruit with a fresh finish, but maybe a little more austere on the finish.  Average 13º alcohol.  Charles observed that Bordeaux tends to worry as to whether the grapes will ripen; whereas here the grapes always do ripen.  However, initially they did not take altitude into account, which can delay the ripening.   

And then we adjourned to a cheerful restaurant in the village appropriately named l’Auberge du Vigneron.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

A day with Laurent Delaunay of Badet Clement

Badet Clement has long been a familiar name, with its brand, les Jamelles, and the Languedoc arm of Abbotts Delaunay, so I was very pleased to accept an invitation from Laurent Delaunay to come and taste his wines and visit his recently acquired Limoux estate.   I had already tasted his first vintage of Limoux in London, but there is nothing like trying wines sur place especially when you get to see the vineyards on the same day.  Everything suddenly makes sense.

But first a bit of background.   Laurent is a Burgundian, from Nuits St Georges, and the fifth generation of a family négociant business that was bought by the large Burgundy company, Boisset, which he has subsequently bought back, everything but the vineyards.  He worked for Boisset for a time, including a a year in Napa at villa Mount Eden, learning to make wines in a warm climate, and observed the development of the big brands in California.   His wife, Catherine, is also an oenologist.  Then in 1995 it was the moment to leave Boisset; they wanted a change of scene and came to the Languedoc.   It was the time of the rise in popularity of vins de cépages, and they worked as flying winemakers around Béziers and Nîmes, for small cooperatives and wine growers.   It was an exciting time, with new grape varieties, and everyone very open to experiments and interested in the Languedoc.  And their brand Les Jamelles, based on single varieties, was born, named after the very first vineyard used for the brand.    As for the name Badet Clement, it comes from an old négociant house that Laurent’s grandfather had bought in the 1930s, which had long since ceased to trade, but the name remained as a sentimental link.    

So for ten years Laurent and Catherine worked as flying winemakers making wines in different cellars, and then in 2005 they bought their own cuverie in Marseillette, namely the old cellars of the Australian winemakers, Nigel Sneyd and Nerida Abbott.  Laurent talked about a period of transition.  Nigel Sneyd had made wines with a quite an obvious Australian touch, while Laurent’s style is very much more Burgundian.  This meant that they were able to make their own wines, chez eux, but by 2013, the had outgrown Marseillette and heard that the old cooperative buildings of the village of Monze were available. 

As well as sizeable and beautifully well-equipped and modernised cellars in Monze, Laurent now has two wine estates, Domaine du Trésor in Ouveillan, bought in 2015, for IGPs, including a brand le Trésor.  The vineyards are on the plain by the canal du Midi.  In addition he bought some of Jean-Louis Denois’s vineyards in Limoux, Domaine de la Metairie d’Alon, in 2014.   And he is continuing to look for vineyards, maybe something small in the Corbières.   We looked round the cellars in Monze.  The original building is the classic 1930s Languedoc cooperative, but everything has been renovated, from the roof downwards.   Laurent described Monze as his wine hub, where all the blending is done, and everything is stored.  He has the capacity for 5 million litres,     The barrel cellar, dedicated to his father Jean-Marie Delaunay, contains 700 barriques and demi-muids, from four or five coopers such as Seguin Moreau and a name that was new to me, Chassin.  Laurent explained that he favours a short élevage in wood, twelve months at the most,  for his wines as he wants to keep the freshness.

We then adjourned to a rather elegant tasting room.

2017 Les Jamelles, Marsanne   7.00€
The range Les Jamelles covers 23 varieties altogether, and we certainly did not taste them all!  Laurent talked of the excitement of discovering so many grape varieties in the Languedoc both local and international.  Gewürztraminer is the latest addition to the range and he is now working on Lledoner Pelut and also Macabeo.
Light colour.   Good mouthfeel and weight, with rounded fruit and quite a delicate nose.  There is a touch of salinity on the finish with a firm slightly bitter note.  Laurent explained that he is looking for fruit and freshness, fermenting at a low temperature and protecting the juice against oxidation.  There is no wood ageing.  Marsanne has been part of his repertoire for fifteen years.  

2017  Les Jamelles Viognier  - 7.00€
I  was surprised to learn that Laurent is the largest producer of Viognier in the Languedoc, apparently accounting for 20% of the region’s production of that grape variety.  I had always thought that position might belong to Laurent Miquel, with his varied range of different Viognier.  The wine is lightly peachy, fresh and rounded and avoids being heavy and overripe.   Laurent explained that you have to take great care of over the harvest date, as Viognier can very quickly become too ripe.  This is picked at 13º.      

Next in the range come some wines under the evocative brand name A Tire de l’Aile, conjuring up the image of a flock of birds taking off from a vineyard of ripe grapes.  

2016  A Tire de l’Aile Languedoc Blanc - 12.00€
A blend of  50% Grenache blanc, 30% Marsanne and 20% Vermentino, each vinified separately.  30% of the blend spends four or five months in wood. The palate is nicely rounded, with lots of nuances, with some white blossom, herbal notes, some salinity and both length and depth, and nicely balanced acidity.  A very satisfying bottle of wine.   The Grenache and Marsanne come from near Monze and the Vermentino from near Mèze.     

But while Laurent has enjoyed discovering the grape varieties of the Languedoc, he was also looking for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, returning to his first love, and convinced of the potential for this varieties in Limoux.   He had identified three villages that he thought would be particularly suitable for Pinot Noir, namely Magrie, Roquetaillade and Antugnac, in the Haute Vallée of the Aude.   And he found 25 hectares, that were farmed organically, and made his first wines in 2014, following the Burgundian concept of a village wine and a cru, or two, from particularly favourable vineyards.   In contrast to Les Jamelles these are very much vins de terroir.

2016 Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc  - 16.00€
Hand picked and whole bunch pressed, with a strict selection of the juice, keeping the heart of the press and eliminating the first and last juice.   40% of the cuvée spends six months in old barrels of one to three wines,  What about bâtonnage Ça dépend.  Not for  the village wine as he wants freshness.   In Limoux the grapes must not be  too ripe; even one day can make a difference.   The Village Chardonnay is understated and restrained, nicely mouth-filling with an underlying richness.  Laurent is sparing with sulphur, adding a little after the malo, and again at bottling.   He talked about the importance of le travail du sol and is moving towards biodynamic viticulture, feeling that it can bring more freshness and acidity.

2017 Le Palajo, Chardonnay Limoux - 28.00€
A wine that is appellation Limoux must be vinified in Limoux, so this was made in Jean-Louis Denois’s old cellars, rather than at Monze.   The grapes are gently pressed and the juice racked off into barrels, both pièces and demi-muids, of which 10% or less are new.   Limoux must spend a minimum of six months in barrel to meet the appellation requirements.   Maybe there is some bâtonnage.  That depends on each individual barrel

The wine has lovely texture, with elegance and length and considerable  depth.   A lovely satisfying mouthful.   A Chassagne-Montrachet, maybe mused Laurent, but comparisons are odious.   We talked about the differences between his methods and some of the local wine growers.   The date of the harvest is significant;  his neighbour Gérard Bertrand picks very much later.  `As  Laurent observed, he  was brought up in Burgundy and he is very lucky in that he has drunk a a lot of Burgundy, so he knows what he is looking for.  However, you must also adapt to the local conditions.  In Burgundy you push for maximum ripeness.  In Limoux you stop - the enemies are overripeness and over extraction.   There might be a little pigeage for the Pinot Noir, but essentially the colour and body are there naturally.   Clones can have an effect too, slowing down the ripening and making for more acidity, so he favours champenois rather than Burgundian clones.   The average age of the vines is about 25 years old and he has reduced the height of the feuillage, observing that less leaves makes for slower ripening.  

And then back to les Jamelles, for 2017 Gewurztraminer 
This is the newest addition to the range, with a first vintage in 2016, from half a hectare grown at Domaine de Trésor.  I found it very aromatic without being cloying, with hints of lychees, and nicely rounded and spicy with good weight on the palate, and no cloying residual sugar.  

2017 Mourvèdre rosé Les Jamelles - 7,00€
Another new addition to the range with the first vintage in 2017.  They consider themselves specialists of Mourvèdre in the  Languedoc, and are the largest producer of that variety, for the simple reason that they like it.  Seeing Mourvèdre as their signature, it seemed obvious to develop the range with a rosé as well as some wines from selected plots.

The grapes are pressed and vinified like a white wine.  The colour is delicate, but the flavour firm and structured with good fruit.  There is some élevage on the lees making for a satisfying depth of flavour.  

2017 Clair de Gris
In other words a Gris de Gris, with Grenache Gris the key grape variety.  Again 2017 was the first vintage.  The colour is very pale, pelure d’oignon after a two or three days maceration on the skins.   Th wine is ripe and rounded, with more weight than the Mourvèdre, with quite a different structure and weight.

2017 Pinot Noir Rosé
This comes from the same vineyard as the red Le Village but from grapes picked ten days earlier, and most suitable for rosé.  It has firm acidity and fresh acidity, with light raspberry fruit and a slightly smokey quality.  A very refreshing finish.  I wondered whether there were any other Pinot Noir rosé in Limoux. 

2016 Mourvèdre, les Jamelles
The grapes are vinified in Monze, in concrete vats, with regular remontages and quite a long maceration.  The temperature is kept relatively high and then 10-15% of the wine spend some time in old barrels.  It is ripe and rounded; quite smokey; quite tannic, with good concentration, but with a certain sweetness and ripeness on the palate.   Good depth with a balance of tannin, and a spicy vanilla note on the finish.  

In 2017 the range was extended with what Laurent described as les Sélections Parcellaires, with more of an emphasis on terroir.  They are able to find particularly  good plots of Mourvèdre and other varieties, such as Syrah and Carignan, which they keep separate from the mass.  

2017 Mourvèdre, le Beillon

From vineyards at Pouzolles-en-Minervois, with 25 year old south-facing vines. About half the wine is aged in wood, after a long maceration.  The barrel sample was quite solid, rich and young, and very ripe and dense, and needing plenty of time in bottle.

2017 Syrah
This comes from Monze, from a vineyard about 300 metres from the cellars.   They have bought the grapes of this particular vineyard for a number of years.  Very deep colour.   Half vinified traditionally, and half by what Laurent called an Australian vinification.  The juice is run off into a barrel before the fermentation is finished.  It makes for a very ripe, rich wine, rounded solid and dense.   The alcohol level was only 13.5º, but it tasted richer.

And then we moved onto Pinot Noir.

2015 Le Village

This is a blend of several plots.  The grapes are picked a little earlier than for the cru and 20% of the wine is whole bunch pressed, with a cool pre-fermentation maceration, and a fermentation in concrete tanks, with remontages, maintaining the temperature at 27º - 28ºC for three or four days.  The wine is racked, half into vat and half into barrel, but none new.  Elegance is the first word that comes to mind, with lovely subtle raspberry fruit, very good mouthfeel and a balancing streak of tannins.  As it happened, we had drunk 2015 Domaine du Clovallon Pinot Noir, from the Haute Vallée de l’Orb the previous evening and the difference was intriguing, with the Clovallon displaying more fresh fruit and less texture.  Laurent’s was definitely more Burgundian!

A vat sample of  2017 Le Village followed, which had some lovely ripe red fruit, with a streak of tannin.  

And then there were two crus, from the very best plots, Solaire, which is less than one hectare and Metairie a little more than one hectare.  Solaire comes from lowers vineyards, with more concentration of flavour.  For Laurent it is ‘more Burgundian', whereas Metairie is ‘more pure’. 

2017 Metairie
The malo-lactic fermentation takes place later in Burgundy, whereas in the Languedoc it is much quicker, and usually finished by November, so the wine here can be bottled sooner, at the beginning of the summer, but still with the same nine months of élevage.    it is all fermented in cuves tronconiques, with 40% whole bunches, and maybe more in future vintages, as they give more finesse.   A  cool pre-fermentation maceration  and a little pigeage, with the fermentation taking about seventeen days.  All the wine is aged in fut.  It was the first time Laurent had tasted it after bottling and he was very happy with it.  I thought it was absolutely delicious, with wonderfully elegant ripe fruit , with depth and freshness and a long finish.

2016 Solaire
This is more powerful as the vintage was warmer.  it was quite solid, round and rich, ripe with good length and depth.  I loved its texture, with richness and length, with subtle nuances.

2014 Solaire - the first vintage
A much fresher, cooler vintage.  Laurent remembered that they had to heat the vats.  Lighter colour, with the nose beginning to mature a little, evolving elegantly, with texture and subtlety.  Laurent observed that he would like to refaire the 2014 every year.  

And then onto a couple more traditional Languedoc reds, to conclude our tasting:

2014 Alto Stratus, Vin de France, from Carignan planted in 1905, in the Haut Minervois at La Caunette.  A 1.5 hectare plot producing less than 30 hl/ha.  It is very sunny, very windy and very arid and the soil is very stony, so that the grapes ripen late.  Half are whole bunch pressed  and given a ten day maceration and half de-stalked with a week's maceration.   About  two thirds is aged in oak, in Chassin barrels, and the rest in vat and bottled about a year later.

An immediate impression of layers of flavours, with lots of fruit and firm tannins.  The wine is rich and solid, with some sturdy tannins, and quite full-bodied.  Still very youthful and needs time.

2014 Faugères, Boreas  - 24.00€
About a quarter each of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, with more Grenache than the others.  The grapes are bought from three different growers, and all destalked, with a traditional vinification and three and half weeks on skins, with regular remontages.  The élevage is mainly in barrel, with about 20% in vat.  There is an attractive spice on the nose and palate; medium weight with good tannins and a fresh finish.  Quite rich liquorice notes.

And then we adjourned for a relaxed lunch on the canal at Trèbes, before heading to Magrie to explore well-tended vineyards, bathed in warm summer sunshine.