Monday, 30 July 2018

Mas Nicolas

Nicolas Maury is one of the newer younger vignerons of Faugères, albeit the 5th generation on the estate at Coudigno and it had been a while since my last visit to his cellar, so it was high time for an update.  It was really encouraging to see how he and his wines had evolved over the last couple of years.  He is very articulate and sensitive and talks about his work with great perception.   The cellar had progressed since my last visit too, with more barrels, vats and new flooring.   And he has employed his sister, Lise, as his administrative assistant, which makes life very much easier.   His father is president of the Faugères cooperative and has never actually made wine, preferring to care for his vines.  

Nicolas is still using his grandfather’s old basket press, which was originally bought to make a little Muscat.  It takes about 10 hectos, and works very slowly and gently, giving good results, but it is time-consuming.   There is a small cool barrel cellar, now with 11 barrels: Nicolas started with just two for his first harvest.  He favours a chauffe moyenne for his barrels and prefers finer grained oak.  He is trying François Frères and Seguin Moreau among others and working out what suits his wines best.

Having started with 4 hectares for his first harvest, which his father took out of the cooperative, he now has 7 hectares, increasing gradually, to ten hectares, with two plots of Syrah and some Carignan,   You really need to about 10 - 20 hectares to make a decent living.  Fortunately there is another building next to his cellar into which he can expand, as necessary.  He has some Carignan that was planted in 1901, as well as some Syrah that is amongst the very first Syrah planted in Faugères 40 or 45 years ago, and some Cinsaut that his grandfather planted 60 years ago. The Mourvèdre is a mere 20 - 25 years old.   His vines are farmed organically, but as yet not certified;  2017 was the first year of conversion to organic viticulture, which takes three years, so his vines will officially be organic  in 2020.

The other development since my last visit is two more donkeys.  The original donkey was lonely, so they found him a lady friend, but without realising that she was already in foal.   So the new young donkey is called Hazard and Nicolas is having him trained to work in the vineyard.  So far he is just getting used to carry a couple of baskets across his back.  I do hope he is not too fond of grapes. And then we tasted the latest wines, which demonstrate a very satisfactory evolution.  

2017 Viognier Pays d’Oc - 8.50€
With a picture of a quince flower on the label.  The name of the property coudigno refers to quinces in Occitan. A 50 ares vineyards, on slopes towards the village of Lenthéric.  The yield is a meagre 20 hl/ha. The grapes are handpicked  and not destalked.  It is given a classic white wine vinification, with débourbage, selected yeast and a fermentation in  stainless steel vats.  Nicolas is working on reducing his sulphur levels, so minimal use of sulphur.  The élevage on the lees, with a bâtonnage every 4 - 6 weeks, by injecting gas into the vat,  The lees take one day to settle down again.  The nose is delicate with some firm peachy fruit.   Initially Nicolas used some wood for his Viognier, but that is no longer the profile of wine he wants; he prefers to seek more freshness.   And eventually he would like to make a white Faugères, as his father has the relevant grape varieties, namely Vermentino, Marsanne and Roussanne.    The family estate totals 45 hectares in all.  As president of the Faugères cooperative, things can be a little tricky, with his father saying that je ne jeux pas dire non àmon fils, but he also has the cooperative's interests to consider. A tricky diplomatic path to follow.  

2017 Cidonia Faugères rosé  - 7.50€
this time with a quince tree on the label.     A blend of 60% Cinsaut and 40% Syrah.  The grapes are pressed so no skin contact.  A very pretty pale colour.  Delicate fresh nose.  Fresh acidity. Light fruit with a certain structure.  A food rosé.  Nicely balanced with a little weight.  Very harmonious.  Nicolas observed that he makes a rosé that he likes to drink himself.

2017 Cidonia Faugères rouge - 9.00€
40% each of Grenache and Carignan.  10% each of Syrah and Mourvèdre.  Blended in March and bottled in September.  Good young colour.  Very garrigue with red fruit.  Good balance with the fleshiness of Grenache offsetting the structure of the Carignan.  Syrah and Mourvèdre add finesse.  Medium weight, with a fresh finish

2017 Coingcidence - 14.50€
Coing is a quince in French.  Includes very old Carignan, vinified on its own, with a tiny yield of 15-20 hls/ha.  Originally the old Carignan was blended into Coing Secret but is now in a separate cuvée, on the advice of his oenologist, Gwenaël Thomas from Jean Natoli’s laboratory. The blend has evolved into 80% Carignan with 20% Syrah, which is actually not acceptable for Faugères, as there is too much Carignan.   In 2017 the wine was particularly concentrated.  The plot, a vineyard between Laurens and Caussinionjouls, was nearly pulled up as the yields were so minuscule but now it is being given a second chance.   There is no oak ageing, only a vinification in stainless steel vats.   Deep colour.  Very fresh dark black fruit, with a certain richness and structure.   A fairly heady 14º.  Solid, rounded and youthful, with concentration.   Quite powerful, especially on the finish.

2016 Le Coing Secret, Faugères 14.50€
The opposite blend, with 80% Syrah and 20% Carignan, with 30% of the cuvée spending 12 months in oak.  Blended just before bottling in March.  Deep colour. Quite firm peppery fruit on both the nose and palate.  Tight knit,  Quite alcoholic and a bit confit.   For the first vintage, the 2014, as much as 70%, was aged in oak; none was made in 2015 and for this 2016, the oak has a nicely rounding effect.  

So in short, an interesting, in the best sense of the term, range of wines, which promise very  well for the future development of the estate.  Nicolas deserved to do well.  

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Domaine Florence Alquier

There is a new wine grower in Faugères, with an old established name.   Gilbert Alquier was one of the pioneering wine growers of the appellation, one of the first to bottle his wine, rather than selling it en vrac, and one of the first to experiment with an élevage in small oak barrels.  When he died, his two sons took over the family vines, and then went their separate ways, with two estates, Domaine Jean-Michel Alquier, and Domaine Frédéric Alquier.  Sadly Frédéric died a a couple of years ago, and now his widow, Florence, has rented her vines to Frédéric Desplats, who has taken Florence’s name for the name of his estate.   He has also bought some vines of his own from a retiring cooperative member in Roquessels, so that he is farming twenty hectares in all, with two partners. 

I met Frédéric Desplats at the welcoming wine bar, le Picamandil, in Puissalicon for a tasting of his very  first vintage, which was 2017.   In a previous career, Frédérique was a heating engineer; he was brought up in Lille and has always loved wine.  A friend in the Rhône Valley suggested vineyards there, but the price of vines in Faugères is more much attractive 15-20,000€ a hectare, as opposed to 40,000€ in the southern Rhône  I think he has made the right choice, irrespective of price.  Faugères is a much more distinguished and individual appellation than Côtes du Rhône.   As Frédéric has no experience of wine making, he has employed the very able Jean Natoli as his consultant oenologist, and the vines are being converted to organic viticulture.    2017 was a good year to start the conversion, with dry conditions.  In contrast the spring of 2018 proved much more problematic with unusual attacks of mildew, thanks to the unseasonal wet weather.    

2017 Faugères Blanc, le Village -  9.20€
A blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and a little Grenache Blanc, from a vineyard just close to the southern edge of the village of Faugères.  Light colour with quite  fresh delicate nose. Not yet very expressive, but with a nicely rounded palate, with some white blossom and balancing acidity.  Still very youthful.  A touch of not unpleasing bitterness on the finish.    The élevage is in vat without any skin contact, and the grapes are not destalked, which makes pressing easier.   Minimum use of SO2.

2017 Faugères Rosé, Plô des Figues - 9.20€
Mainly Cinsaut and pressed to make for a delicate pale colour,  and vinified just like a white wine,  Quite a delicate rounded nose, with some dry fruit on the palate.  Elegantly vinous and lightly mouth-filling, to make more of a food than an aperitif rosé.

2017 Renaissance Faugères - 9.70€
This is the entry level red, mainly from Grenache Noir with Carignan, Mourvèdre and Syrah.  The name refers to the renaissance of the old domaine and Frédéric is not sure that he will use the same name again this year.   Nor is the wine likely to be the same, as the Grenache Noir this year is a ‘catastrophe’ as it has succumbed badly to mildew, with the uncharacteristically wet spring of the Languedoc.  Frédéric is far from being alone with this. problem  The wine is rounded on the nose and palate, with red fruit and spice, and a balancing streak of tannin.   It is eminently easy to drink.  

2017 Puech Mourié, Faugères - 13.50€
Puech Mourié is the lieu-dit of the vineyard and the blend is mainly Carignan, mainly vinified by carbonic maceration, with some Grenache Noir and Syrah, and with an élevage in vat.  The nose is quite firm and structured, with some firm tannins on the palate, balancing the fruit, with good depth and length.   It needs time.

There is a third red wine in the pipeline, with 12 barriques and a further 90 hectolitres in a vat, in his cellar in the village of Faugères, destined to be the top of the range.  The final blend will be done next winter.  

You immediately sense that Frédéric is thrilled by his change in profession, and at the same time fully aware and philosophically accepting of the problems that unseasonal weather can cause.   And he is delighted to have settled in the south.   He has made great start and deserves to do well.  

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

The Languedoc’s finest whites

The Languedoc’s finest whites

There is no doubt that the white wines of the Languedoc are improving enormously, making for some really exciting drinking.  So I was thrilled when Decanter magazine asked me to choose my top 30 Languedoc whites.   However, in some ways this is something of a poisoned chalice, for the selection of wines will only be as good as the wines offered for tasting.   Decanter always requires UK stockists for these kinds of tastings, so it was not possible for me to simply select the wines I had enjoyed most while doing my book research over the last twelve  months or so.   So I asked the very helpful people at the Maison du Languedoc, or the Maison de l’Occitanie, as it is now called, with the enlargement of administrative region, to organise a tasting, to enable me to choose 30 wines.   Altogether I tasted just over 100 wines to make my final selection.    And I was delighted to find that some of my favourites whites were in the tasting and showed well on the day.

The wines  covered a considerable range of provenance and grape variety.   The three key white appellations, Limoux, Picpoul de Pinet and la Clape were well represented.  Two wines, Chenin Blanc, Dédicace and Mauzac, Occitania from Domaine Rives-Blanques accounted for the majority Limoux selection.  Château d’Anglès had contributed both their Classique and their Grand Vin, both of which showed well.  There was also Cuvée Arpège from Chateau Rouquette sur Mer, and Château de Marmorières from La Clape.   The Picpoul selection was slightly more problematic, with an estate, with which I am not familiar showing best of all, namely Domaine Petit Roubia.  In an ideal world I would also have liked to have included Domaine Félines-Jourdan and Château St Martin de la Garrigue, to name but a couple of other Picpoul.  

There were some original grape varieties and blends, with a Côtes de Brian Mosaique de Centeilles made from obscure and almost forgotten varieties like Araignan Blanc and Ribeyrenc Blanc.  Mas Champart with a blend of Terret and Grenache Gris was a firm favourite, as was Borie la Vitarèle, le Grand Mayol, from Bourboulenc, Clairette and Vermentino.   Simon Coulshaw’s  intriguing Roussanne, which is given some skin contact, showed well.   Other southern blends came from  the Pic St. Loup with Domaine de l’Hortus,  and from Faugères with Château de la Liquière, Cistus, and Mas d’Alezon’s Cabretta, made from Roussanne, Clairette and Grenache Blanc, while Domaine La Croix Chaptal represented the Languedoc’s oldest appellation, Clairette du Languedoc.  And although I tend not to enthuse about Chardonnay in the Languedoc, the example from Mas la Chevalière from a high altitude vineyard near Lunas proved a very convincing exception.  

So what was missing?  I would have liked more examples of La Clape and Limoux, and also of the growing number of white wines from other parts of the Languedoc, including wines from some of the acknowledged stars.    Obvious omissions included Mas Jullien, with Olivier  Jullien’s wonderful blend of Carignan Blanc and Chenin Blanc.   It ages beautifully and I have drunk both the 2012 and 2008 recently with enormous pleasure.  What about the white wines of  Daniel le Conte de Floris, who is another enthusiast for Carignan blanc, inspired by Olivier Jullien?   Domaine des Aurelles, another Pézenas estate, makes some wonderfully age-worthy Roussanne.   

I would have liked to have included Clos du Papillon from Mas Gabriel, but their importers, namely The Wine Society chose not to submit samples.  I have always enjoyed the white wines of Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette, from one of the more northern vineyards of the Terrasses du Larzac, along with Le Saut du Poisson from Clos du Serres in the village of St. Jean de la Blaquière.   Alain Chabanon in Montpeyroux makes a delicious pair of wines, Petit Trélans from Vermentino alone and Trélans from equal parts of Chenin Blanc and Vermentino.   Ollier-Taillefer's Allegro is another favourite.  And I love Pierre Clavel’s Cascaille Blanc from seven different varieties, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Vermentino, Muscat a petits grains, Marsanne and Clairette, which illustrates the diversity of the white grape varieties of the Languedoc.   And I have not mentioned Viognier, Albarino or Muscat.   One thing is for certain;  the choice will only continue to grow.  

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Domaine Ollier-Taillefer - an update

Alain Ollier, father of Françoise, at the Faugères fête in his splendid confrere robes 

Thirsty house guests were the reason for our visit to the Faugères estate of Domaine Ollier-Taillefer in Fos where Françoise Ollier always gives you a warm welcome.   They have opened a smart new tasting caveau since my last visit a year ago.  This is an estate that has evolved nicely with the next generation, converting to organic viticulture. and developing new wines.

Our tasting began with :

2017 Faugères Rosé, 7.30€ - which is just what is needed in the high summer temperatures of the Languedoc.  A blend of Cinsaut and Grenache, with the fruit of young vines of Syrah and Mourvedre.  The wine is firm and fresh, nicely rounded with some raspberry fruit.  Beautifully refreshing and undemanding.  

2015 Faugères, Les Collines - 7.60€
This wine for me is sunshine in a glass.   A mouthful of this and I see the garrigue-covered hills of the Languedoc, and road between Gabian and Faugères.  It is rounded and ripe, with spice and fruit, and a balancing streak of tannin.

Next came a trio of Grande Réserve, 11.00€  their unoaked cuvée from older vines.   The 2015 immediately made a good contrast with les Collines, with more depth, spice and weight.  2015 was a warm year, but nonetheless the wine retains a fresh finish.   2014 was a complicated harvest, with a couple of serious storms, but this Grande Réserve has turned out very well.  it is currently Françoise’s favourite of the three, with some rich rounded fruit, and an elegant streak of tannin of the finish, with some considerable depth.   2013 was another warm year, with ripe fruit and firmer, more structured tannins than the 2014.

A pair of the oaked cuvée, Castel Fossibus, 16.50€, displayed the same vintage differences.  It is blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, aged for twelve months in barrels, varying in age from one to seven years, with just 15% new.  The 2014 had hints of eucalyptus and garrigue, with quite a firm finish. while the 2013 was more closed initially, with some firm tannins, balanced with ripe fruit.  A with the Grande Reserve, the 2014 vintage is drinking more easily.  

Last of the reds was the newest addition to the range, Rêve de Noé, 25.50€, a blend of Syrah and Mourvedre in equal parts, all aged in new oak.   2013 was the first vintage; none was made in 2014, and this 2015 has recently been bottled.  The colour is deep and young, with sturdy red fruit on the nose, and some oak.  The oak on the palate is well integrated and there is a pleasing freshness to the wine, with fruit and spice.  However, there is something about it that is less languedocien than the other wines, possibly the impact of the new oak.

And our tasting finished with 2017 Faugères Blanc Allegro, 11.00€, which is one of my favourite white Faugères, and a blend of Roussanne and Vermentino, with some fresh herbal fruit on both nose and palate, with good acidity and a satisfying mouthfeel.  It made a lovely finale to a tasting.   

Françoise has kindly agreed to sell copies of my book, Wines of the Languedoc,  in her caveau, so give yourself a treat - go and taste and buy some wine, and a book as well!   And their open day on Sunday 29th July is well worth the journey.