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.