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.