Sunday, 29 April 2018

Face B

I was in the Roussillon village of Calce a week or two ago, having lunch in the cheerful village restaurant, le Presbytère, and as it happened, some of the village wine growers were there too, Jean-Philippe Padié and Olivier Pithon and they introduced me to the newest arrival in Calce, Séverin Barioz of Face B.   He made his second vintage in 2016 and has had a varied career before arriving in Calce   As I was between two cellars visits, Roc des Anges and Gérard Gauby, there was not time for a proper cellar visit, but we did manage a quick conversation and tasting,

Why Face B - It’s the B side of a vinyl record; also what Séverin called the crise de la quarantaine, and in Catalan fet bé means fait bien….. Séverin has done various things in the wine industry, including working for the interprofession in Burgundy and then Jean-Philippe Padié introduced him to Calce and he came and worked there, liked for he saw and stayed, and completed his second harvest last year.   He has four hectares of vines, in five different plots and make two whites, two reds and a little Muscat, an orange wine, called Yoshi, and some rosé.   

2017 Makéba, Côtes Catalanes is a pure Macabeu, with firm stony fruit on the nose. On the palate it is fresh, with firm acidity and some salty notes, and a fresh finish.

2017 Engrenaches, Côtes Catalanes, is a blend of 50% Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc with 50% Macabeu.  It too has firm acidity, balanced with fresh fruit, and a tight structure with good tension.   Both wines are lovely examples of just how successful white wine is in this part of Roussillon.

We also tried a pure Carignan, Karignan, Côtes Catalanes   The 2017 is still very young, with a deep purple colour and fresh youthful fruit, balanced with tannin and acidity on the palate.   It needs time to settle down, but promises to be a lovely example of Carignan.   Séverin’s second red is called Peau Rouge and is a blend of equal parts of Syrah and Grenache.    

I thought he had made a brilliant debut and I can’t wait to go back for a more detailed and leisurely cellar visit.  

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Wines of the Languedoc - My new book!!

Please may I blow my own trumpet?   Copies arrived yesterday and publication is set for Monday week, 30th April.  Available from Amazon or direct from the publishers, Infinite Ideas at

Monday, 16 April 2018

Corbières - A pair of cooperatives

Terroirs de Vertige, Talairan

The Talairan cooperative is one of nine cooperatives that form Terroirs du Vertige which covers an area of higher altitude vineyards from Lagrasse to Cucugnan.  It is run by Benjamin Andrieu, who studied oenology at Toulouse and arrived in Talairan in 2016.  I sense he will be a refreshing breathe of fresh air and bring new ideas to the cooperative.    The Talairan cooperative covers several villages, from Thézan at 100 metres to Cucugnan at 400 metres, taking in the Cathar castles of Peyrepertuse and Quéribus.  The altitude brings advantages and disadvantages, allowing for a diversity of grape varieties and wines styles.   The Pyrenees have a strong influence so that the harvest can last six or seven weeks, usually beginning at the end of August and in 2016 it finished on 16thNovember.  Benjamin cited the example of Merlot, that can be picked in mid-September, or delayed until the end of the month, if it is at a higher altitude. 

Asked about their tipicity, Benjamin said they were working on wines for longer keeping, using less maceration carbonic and as for flavour, he talked of tapenade for Syrah and minerality and freshness for Carignan. He wants elegance rather than concentration.  The higher altitude is good for white wines, with Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Roussanne, and Macabeo.   Vestiges, which he called the flagship of the cellar, comes from 80% Syrah with 20% Grenache Noir, with a 30 days cuvaison and elevate in vat.  The emphasis is on fruit;  that is what people really want and the wine is ripe and peppery.  Other cuvées such as Talarius and Guilhem l'Hérétique include higher proportions of Carignan and some elevate in oak.  Although they want to increase the percentage of the production that is bottled, they are also very aware that quality is a keen consideration for their bulk wines. 

Les Celliers d’Ornaisons, Ornaisons

Les Celliers d’Ornaisons is based at Ornaisons and run by Christophe Groppi, who is bright and perceptive.  Again, this is a group of cooperatives from the surrounding villages, accounting for 1000 hectares including 470 hectares of Corbières, as well as IGP.  They have known how to grow with the times.  In the 1980s they carried out a lot of replanting; in the 1990s they invested in technology, equipping the whole cellar with a cooling plant. In the 2000s they have concentrated on sélection parcellaire anfor Christophe, that is now the basis of everything, with lots of selection, with at least six different qualities of Syrah.  They have a new barrel cellar and a stream-lined vinification cellar, with a pneumatic press.  The bulk of their business is wine en vrac for the négoce,with their own wines in bottle accounting for a quarter of their turnover, but only 8% of their volume.   

L’Infernale is a blend of two thirds Grenache Noir to one third Syrah, from lower yielding vineyards, resulting in some supple spicy fruit.  B de Boutenac, for which they have seven growers, is the top of their range, from Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, with the spicy cherry fruit, characteristic of Grenache. Christophe enthused: ‘j’adore le Grenache; it is a wonderful grape variety, but alcohol can be a problem with it’.  Unlike so many cooperatives, they have not been lured by the cheapest, firmly avoiding Corbières at 1.75€ a bottle, but have built up a well-conceived range.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Four Corbières estates

Four Corbières estates, all of which produce some delicious wine, failed to make the cut for my Corbières chapter.  Here they are.


Château Grand Caumont, Lézignan-Corbières 

Château Grand Caumont is an old historic property.  You approach the property along a driveway that is lined with solid stones, that were once used to support enormous old foudres in the cellar. There was a Roman villa on the site and in the 9thcentury, Charles the Bald gave the land to his nephew. The château was burnt at the French Revolution, leaving just one tower from which there are views over the surrounding countryside.    In 1906, it was bought by the Rigal family who produced Roquefort cheese and when their cheese business was sold, they concentrated on wine.    However, they still have  a model of the town of Roquefort and an original poster advertising Rigal Roquefort.  The estate is now run by Laurent Rigal, with her loyal cellar master, Patrick Blanchard, who arrived at the property back in 1988.  Altogether they have 90 hectares in production.  The Orbiel river divides the estate, with 15 hectares of IGP on flatter land to the north of the river and the core of the estate for Corbières to the south, including some 80-year-old Carignan, all farmed by lutte raisonnée.  It was Laurent’s mother who first bottled their wine, in 1985, while her father had been content with sales en vrac.   
We tasted in the dining room, with murals from the 19thcentury.  The range comprises a Cuvée Tradition in all three colours, Cuvée Spéciale, mainly from Syrah and Carignan, with some carbonic maceration, but no oak ageing, making for spicy ripe fruit.  Réserve de Laurence is based on Syrah with some Carignan and Grenache, with a small percentage of élevagein oak, with some firm fruit.  Impatience includes 40% barrel ageing, including a proportion of new oak, and Cappus Monti comes from 60% Syrah with 40% old vine Carignan, all kept in oak for 10 months.  Impatience Blanc is mainly Grenache Blanc, with 20% Vermentino, with some oak and buttery notes on the nose, balanced by good acidity and sappy fruit on the palate.   For the moment, they do not produce Boutenac, but they have bought a five-hectare plot which includes 1.80 hectares classified as Boutenac but not yet planted.  They are considering Carignan and Mourvèdre.


Château Étang des Colombes, Lézignan-Corbières

Christophe Gualco is the 5thgeneration of his family at Château Étang des Colombes.  The property was bought at the end of the 19thcentury and encompasses 117 hectares of vines, including some IGP as well as Corbières.  Christophe’s father, Henri, was a pioneer in the region, bottling his first wine in 1973, when Corbières was still a VDQS, and during the 1980s he developed a solid range of different wines and built a Bordeaux style barrel chai in 1986.  Christophe is following in his father’s footsteps.  He is energetic and enthusiastic and has done the Etudes de l’OIV which entails work experience in Chile, Britain, at Davis in California and Mendoza in Argentina.  He wanted a vision that was different, especially for marketing.  

We tasted in a large caveau with various old foudres and vinous artefacts.  There was a machine that was once used against phylloxera that pumped water into the vineyards.   Étang des Colombes’ vineyards on the necessary fairly flat land.   An enormous chunk of tartrate crystals looked just like volcanic lava.  Our tasting included a lightly peachy Viognier, a rosé, which Christophe described as their produit phare,  of which they produce 60,000 bottles of Gris Colombes in an attractive and distinctive serigraphic bottle, from Cinsaut, Grenache Noir and a little Syrah, with some delicate fruit.  Bois des Dames Blanc is mainly old Grenache Blanc, with some Bourboulenc and aged, but not fermented in oak for eight months, while Bois des Dames rouge is based on old vine Carignan, with some Syrah and Grenache, with a rounded chunky palate. The Cuvée Tradition from equal parts of Syrah and Grenache, with 20% Mourvèdre, aged in cement vats, has tapenade, spice and a streak of tannin, making a solid mouthful.  Bicentenaire was created for the 200thanniversary of the property as a wine estate in 1981.  It comes from 40 – 55-year-old Grenache and Carignan and a little Mourvèdre, with six months ageing oak and is a ripe, rounded mouthful of wine.  


Château Grand Moulin, Lézignan-Corbières 

This is a large property on the outskirts of Lézignan.  We were greeted warmly not only by Frédéric Bousquet, who nicely opinionated,  but also by his black Labrador, Manique.  I think he worked hard to live up to his name!   Frédéric’s father, Jean-Noël, began working with one hectare of vines aged 17, and has consistently bought vineyards on good land, so that they now have 130 hectares in some 250 plots, in five villages around Lézignan.  Pierre Vialard has been the winemaker since 2006, while Frédéric studied agriculture in Toulouse and then did stages in California and Ribera del Duero and finally worked in Canada.  They lost their original cellars in the floods of 1999 and then took over this old spacious négociant cellar.  Frederic observed that they never use carbonic maceration;  when his father arrived, ‘les places étaient prises,  all the places were taken’, so he looked for a different orientation and bought an égrappoir, so that all their grapes are destalked.   55 of their 130 hectares are Syrah, as it give elegance and rondeur and they also have some old Carignan.  They aim to keep the authenticity of each terroir with their wine-making and only use pigeage for extracting flavours.  Notre richesse is our vineyard, but it is complicated to have so many plots.  

Their range is logical, an entry level, Grandes Vignes, in all three colours, that they described as modern Corbières; Vieilles Vignes and a more traditional style, and Terroirs, with three different terroirs, Terres Rouges. Grès de Boutenac et Fleur Elysée, and finally two varietal wines, Carignan and Cinsaut.   As you might imagine, an extensive tasting followed and the highlights included la Pège, a Vin de France and pure Carignan, vinified without any wood.  The palate was firm and spicy with a sympathique rustic note.  Terres Rouges, which Frédéric described as la patte, the footprint,of Grand Moulin, come from a vineyard where the soil is really red and the wine is 80% Syrah with Grenache Noir, of which one third is given 12 months in oak, making for rounded spicy fruit.  He looks for elegance, buvabilité and matière.  Grès de Boutenac is 60% Mourvèdre with 40% Carignan, both late ripening varieties that perform well in the terroir of Boutenac.  One third of the cuvée spends twelve months in oak and the firm is structure and tight knit with a fresh finish.  Fleur Elysée is also a Boutenac, a selection of the best Carignan, Syrah and Grenache, vinified in demi-muids with regular pigeage.  It is not made every year and the young wine promises well with ripe fruit.  Lastly there was a pure Cinsaut le 49.3, - the vines were planted in March 1949 - and the wine was beautifully fresh and rounded and a lovely note on which to finish.


Château la Bastide, Escales

The Chinese have arrived in the Corbières.  Château la Bastide was bought in 2015 by Min Yu and in his absence, is very efficiently managed by the bright and vivacious Mme Nan-Ping Gao.  She has lived in France most of her life, run a restaurant in Montpellier for a number of years and speaks impeccable French.  First, we talked about the history of the estate. The château was built in 1770, and the property originally housed 100 people, as well as 40 horses, with last horse leaving in 1967.  These days they are very proud of their mechanical harvester.  It was always a viticultural domaine, an autonomous bastide, with its own forge and provided the livelihood of several families.  They still have the original stone vats as well as the enormous traditional foudres that are no longer used.   Claude Gros has been the oenologist for the last  18 years.  

There are sixty hectares of vines all around the château, on terraces and the former riverbed of the Aude.   All the vineyards have been replanted, so they have none of the very old vines on which other estates pride themselves.   I really enjoyed the simple Tradition, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, aged in vat, making for an appealing balance of dry spice and fresh fruit, with a fresh note on the finish.  Other cuvées include Exubérance from equal parts of Grenache and Mourvèdre, L’Optimée which is 80% Syrah with 20% Grenache, with ripe cherry fruit and Eidos which is the opposite, coming from the best plots of Syrah, with peppery fruit.  

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Château de Gaure in Limoux

Pierre Fabre is yet another producer who has come to wine from quite a different field.  Although his father had vineyards near Sommières, in the eastern Languedoc, he ran a packaging factory in Belgium for a number of years    Then it was the moment to move on and he found the Château de Gaure outside the village of Cépie in the heart of the appellation of Limoux in 2004, and made his first wines in 2006.  It is a large property with an old château and cellar; the vines were in the cooperative. And not content just to make Limoux, Pierre has also bought vines in Roussillon, which he can sell as AOP Languedoc, rather than Côtes du Roussillon.   He has very precise ideas about his wine-making, aiming to be as natural as possible, using indigenous yeast and very little sulphur and in the vineyard, he works organically.    Philippe is also an artist and has designed some very colourful labels for his wines. 

He concentrates on still wines.  His entry level wines, both red and white are Vin de France as they are blends of Limoux and Roussillon, Chardonnay and Macabeo for the white, and Syrah and Merlot for the red.    The first Limoux Blanc, a blend of 80% Chardonnay with some Chenin Blanc, is rich and honeyed, and almost sweet on the finish.  Pierre likes really ripe grapes and these were picked at the end of October. Oppidum, a reference to the Roman origins of the property, includes a little Mauzac as well as Chenin Blanc with the Chardonnay and is a selection of the best barrels.  Best of all was a mature Mauzac, from the 2009 vintage, with dry honey and herbal notes.  The remaining two wines, both red, come from Roussillon, and are rich and warming, making a sharp contrast with the fresher flavours of red Limoux.