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.