Monday, 24 December 2018

Languedoc links with South Africa

Bruce Jack, a leading south African winemaker, who made a reputation for himself with Chenin blanc at Flagstone Winery, was in London recently to launch a new project, and a range of own label wines.  And he brought some friends along.  So I was delighted to find Karen Turner pouring a couple of wines from Prieuré de St Jean de Bébian.  She and Bruce were at Roseworthy together.  

2017 Prieuré de St Jean de Bébian Blanc
70% Roussanne with 15% each of Clairette and Grenache Blanc, with both fermentation and élevage in barrel, of which 15% were new.  Whole bunch pressed and not filtered before bottling.    Light colour. Lovely rounded floral white blossom, fleurs blanches on the nose.  And on the palate some weight and rounded fruit; good acidity, which gave the wine an elegant lift on the finish.  A shining example of just how the white wines of the Languedoc are improving.  

2015 Prieuré de St Jean de Bébian Rouge
A blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre.   Most of the vines were planted in the mid-1980s but the wine does include a plot of Grenache Noir, planted in 1925.  The previous owner, Chantal Lecouty, used to refer to them as her vieilles dames, my old ladies.   A long maceration and an élevage in barrel for the Syrah and Mourvèdre and in tank for the Grenache, and then blended before bottling.  Lovely rounded spicy fruit, spicy cherries from the Grenache, and supple tannins.  A lovely elegant balance on the finish.  

There were a handful of examples of pure Syrah, from Bruce, and from Waterkloof in Stellebosch but the other surprise was a lovely example of Clairette Blanche from the Cape, from Daschbosch in the WO of Breedenkloof.   When you think how underrated Clairette is in the Languedoc, it was a discovery to find one in the southern hemisphere.  Apparently the vineyard had been planted in 1977, but then forgotten about and rediscovered about three years ago.  The wine is made very simply with some lees contact and bâtonnage, making for a rounded textured palate and understated fruit on the nose. Intriguing layers of flavour.  

And the same estate also made a Muscat d’Alexandrie, that they would call Hanepoot.  It was fortified like a Rivesaltes and aged in old barrels for twelve months, making for some smooth unctuous fruit, with ripe orange marmalade, and good acidity on the finish.  It would be delicious with Christmas pudding or mince pies.

Happy Christmas!!

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

67 Pall Mall and the Languedoc

Am I the only person to find a wine list on a tablet a complete nightmare?   Generous friends have just taken us to lunch at 67 Pall Mall – and the reputation of its wine list, orchestrated by Ronan Sayburn, goes before it.   I had been told that I had to earn my lunch by choosing our wines – what a pleasure, I thought.   I was looking forward to browsing through a list and finding something unusual and unknown (to me), that perhaps had been overlooked and represented a bit of a bargain. My recent success on that front was a delicious 2010 Madiran from Domaine Brumont at Simpsons.   I always like to drink the unfamiliar when I am out.   

But confronted with a list on a totally unuser-friendly tablet with a mind of its own, I am afraid I gave up the struggle to explore and simply opted for the familiar, the Languedoc section, which provided discoveries for our friends, but not for me and my husband.  Had we been able to browse in the old-fashioned way, I might have alighted upon Croatia, Lebanon, Israel, Santorini, I know not what.  After this experience, my second with a tablet, I strongly feel that a tablet wine list discourages exploration.  We were told that the list changes frequently and that there always new wines, but with the ease of printing these days it should not be a problem to have just one printed list for the Luddites amongst us who like the feel of paper.   Also, I spend a large part of my working day looking at a screen, so it is not something I particularly want to do while I am out enjoying myself.  

So what did we drink?

2015 Petit Trélans, Domaine Alain Chabanon
From a pioneering winemaker outside the village of Montpeyroux.  An unusual and very successful blend of Vermentino and Chenin blanc.  Light dry honeyed nose and more so on the palate.  Beginning to mature and loose its acidity.  Nicely rounded finish.  And went a treat with some crab.  

2015 Minervois, Domaine Anne Gros, les Fontanilles 
From a talented Burgundian winemaker who is also exploring the potential of the south. Young colour. Lovely spicy fruit on both nose and palate, integrated tannins.  Beautifully elegant, long and satisfying and just the thing with succulent roast pheasant. 

Monday, 10 December 2018

Tasting Languedoc at the City Lit

The City Lit, or to give it its full name, the City Literary Institute, in Holborn is celebrating its centenary next year and is planning a series of events to mark that occasion.    I have attended a few courses at the City Lit in my time, in the way of adult education, some languages classes and a public speaking class, which proved to be enormously helpful.   So I will admit to having a bit of a soft spot for the City Lit.   But I had no idea that it had been founded a hundred years ago, particularly to help servicemen returning from the trenches, whose hearing had been severely affected by shelling.   Lessons for the deaf are their main focus, apart from providing a very varied curriculum of adult education.  

A series of circumstances found me giving a small tasting, talking about the wines of the Languedoc, and presenting my book, to quite a sizable group of City Lit students, who had all attended at least one hundred classes.   The idea was to provide an entertaining evening as a thank you to a core of supportive students.   It was quite daunting as I had no idea how much my audience knew or did not know about wine – in fact none of them had attended the City Lit’s wine tasting course.  I just hope they will now.  But quite a lot of them had been to parts of the Languedoc, and some of them had visited a wine cellar or two.  They were a friendly audience.   

So, I gave them a brief lesson on wine tasting and a sketchy outline on how wine is made, and then talked more about the Languedoc, pointing out some highlights and also some less rosy aspects of the region, with four wines to taste, chosen to show just how diverse the choice of wine is from the region.  

Amongst the highlights, I talked about the enormous changes in the region, how it has lost its reputation for cheap wine, and how practices in the vineyards and cellars have improved, and above all how the wine growers are now looking for freshness, and avoiding over-oaked wines.  The development of white wine is an important part of that process.   I touched on the appellations, particularly the new ones like the Terrasses du Larzac, but said very firmly that it was work in progress. The Languedoc is just beginning what it took Burgundy a few centuries to establish.

There is of course much in the Languedoc to attract outsiders, not only from other countries but from other parts of France.  And with the change in a generation, there is often a child who has studied wine-making and therefore keen to make their own wine.   Organic wine is important, and easier than in more northern climes like Chablis.   And there is also a wonderful flexibility of regulations, with the IGPs and even more so, Vin de France, allowing an enormous a diversity outside the appellations. There is an underlying sense that there is much to be achieved.

However, it is not all a bed of roses – there are issues such as climate change.  Compare the two vintages of 2017 and 2018, with frost and drought one year and mildew the next.   Water is another issue – to irrigate or not?  And vine trunk disease, or esca, is making an impact.  And then there are the people who make wonderful wine, but do not have a clue how to sell it.  But in the words of Miren de Lorgeril, the recently elected president of CIVL, when I asked her what was new, she said without hesitation: confidence.  The Languedoc is realising that it does not need to follow Bordeaux or Burgundy.  It is a great region and has come of age.

And now for the four wines that I chose to illustrate my talk :

2014 Crémant de Limoux, J. Laurens, Graimenous
A lovely sparkling wine from Limoux, a blend of Chardonnay with some Chemin Blanc and a little drop of Mauzac and Pinot Noir. It was fresh and creamy with good balancing acidity, illustrating just how good Limoux can be.

2017 Faugères blanc, Domaine du Météore, les Aquarides
Light colour, with some herbal notes on the nose.  The palate is nicely textured and rounded with good weight and a fresh finish.  A blend of Roussanne and Vermentino with some Clairette.

2015 La Clape, Domaine la Combe St. Paul, Grès Rouge
This was everything that a red wine from the south should be, warm spicy sunshine in the glass.  It is a blend of Mourvèdre and Syrah, kept in vat rather than barrel, making for ripe rounded fruit with a balancing streak of tannin.

2014 Maury, Domaine de Fontanel.
Technically this is outside the remit of my book, as it comes from the other side of the hills in Roussillon, but never mind.  It is a Vin Doux Naturel, a fortified wine made principally from Grenache Noir, with spice and fruit, with a streak of alcohol and a sweet finish.   And if we are being seasonal, it is one of the rare wines that would be able to cope with Christmas pudding! 

All four wines came from Stone, vine & Sun in Winchester who make something of a speciality out of the Languedoc.