Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Carignan and Cinsault in Chile

I have just had three wonderful weeks in Chile, first of all some holiday, exploring parts of  the Atacama Desert and the Chilean Lake District, as well as a little time in Valparaiso, which is wonderfully vibrant city with an exciting and quite unexpected culture of street art.   A new series of murals were specifically inspired by wine.   

After the holiday came the work, an intensive week with 29 other Masters of Wine, discovering or re-discovering the main wine regions of the country.   It had been fifteen years since my last visit to Chile and it was fascinating to see how the wine industry has changed and developed.   Vineyards are being planted further north, further south and at higher altitudes, with the boundaries being pushed in all directions.  Cool climate is a catch phrase, with vineyards benefitting from the cooling Pacific Ocean and the cool winds coming off the Andes.   And where Bordeaux grape varieties were once the main focus of Chile, they are now re-discovering old plantings of Carignan and Cinsault.  And that explains how I can write about Chile in a blog on the Languedoc!  Both Cinsault and Carignan were brought Chile by the French in the 19thcentury. 

Another significant change is the development of  smaller  wineries. The Chile wine industry is no longer dominated by the big producers.  There is an organisation called MOVI, the Movement of Independent Wine growers or El Movimiento de Viñateros Independientes,  which groups 34 wineries from all over the country.   Members are invited to join, based on the quality of their winemaking, and I suspect simply how well they fit into the group. They must be hands on wine makers, producing good wines. Essentially, they are a marketing organisation, representing each other at tastings and so on.   And at a tasting of MOVI wines they provided my introduction to some very enjoyable Carignan and Cinsault. 

2016 B. Wines Carae is a dry-farmed Carignan, made from 80-year-old vines in the Maule valley.  Medium colour; with a dry structured nose and the palate some red fruit balanced with tannins, and a nicely rustic note on the finish.  Carignan does not work in irrigated vineyards – it explodes; it must be dry farmed and some people are grafting it on to old Pais vines, which was the original grape variety of Chile, introduced by the Spanish missionaries.  

Other MOVI wines included Dagaz Cinsaut from Itata, from 50-year-old dry farmed bush vines, from the estate of Tierras de Pumanque, set up by Marco Puyo, who had worked for larger companies before starting making wine on his own account estate.  The wine was beautifully fragrant and perfumed with a streak of tannin.

However, it was a seminar on Old Vines that really highlighted the quality and potential of Cinsault and Carignan in Chile.   There is an organisation called Vigno which represents a group of fifteen producers of Carignan.  The vines are mostly in the Maule valley and Vigno insists on a minimum age of 30-year-old vines, dry farmed bush vines, and a minimum of 85% of Carignan in the wine, with two years ageing.  Apparently Vigno began as a lunch club!

Brett Jackson, the winemaker at Valdevieso talked about making Carignan.  He gives the grapes a cold soak for two or three days, and ferments in open top vats, and runs the juice off the skins fairly quickly. Having begun with ageing all the cuvée in barrel, he has now reduced that to just a quarter of the cuvée. With two years ageing, the acidity softens.  He also observed that 20 years ago Carignan was not a recognised grape variety in Chile.

P S Garcia were one the pioneers of Vigno, with 60-year-old vines.  Their 2015 Carignan was deep in colour, with quite dense red fruit and some oak, as well as a touch of acidity.  The wine was structured and need time.  

Gillmore was a new name to me, offering a rounded, harmonious glass of wine, made from 70 – 80-year-old vines, with good structure and some weight on the palate, balanced with ripe fruit.  

Underraga makes a field blend of 92% Carignan, balanced with some Cinsault, from 60-year-old vines.  The nose was quite firm and structured, and the palate rounded with some oak and fruit.

Oldfjell, produces Orzado Carignan from the Cauquenes Valley which is part of the larger Maule valley. They have 100-year-old bush vines, and made the observation that the smaller wine growers are starting to believe n Carignan.  When Oldfjell made their first Carignan in 2001, nobody else was making it and it didn’t sell.  But they persisted.  

And we were told that Marcelo Retamal at the De Martino winery was the first to bottle Cinsault, with a maiden vintage in 2011.  He uses old terracotta amphora as a fermentation vessel and the flavour of the  2016 vintage from cooler Itata was fragrant with fresh cherry fruit and a streak of balancing tannin.

After the seminar on old vines we drove from the outskirts of Concepción into the countryside to Guarilhue, where a group of wine growers hosted a tasting, and also a barbecue.  The countryside of Itata is quite different from other areas, much greener, with rich vegetation and undulating hills, with forests of pines and eucalyptus, as well as vineyards, of mostly ungrafted bush vines.

A wine from Longavi, with the cheerful name of Glup, comes from 40-year-old Cinsault with fresh red fruit and a streak of tannin.  Lovely perfumed cherry flavours.  It had spent eight months in old foudres, with no fining or filtering.

Other wines included Pedro Parra y Familia, Imaginador and Leo Erazo, Hermano Piedra, both from Itata. Indeed, most of the Cinsault in Chile is grown in Itata.  The oldest vines date from the end of the 1930s, and are planted on their own roots. Old vines adapt better to the current drought – which is a prevailing issue in Chile at the moment.   There is no specific definition of old vines. 

More highlights included Cinsault del Cerro, from Pandolfi Price, with six months in barrel, was quite a structured Cinsaut with firm cherry fruit.

Cinsault Tres C was deep in colour, with rounded ripe fruit, fresh and fragrant from 50-year-old vines.

Trifulca, produced a Cinsault from 83-year-old vines, with perfumed fruit and a streak of tannin after eight months in old wood.  

Rogue Wine with a 2018 Cinsault, using an open basket press, with rounded ripe fruit.

Las Curvas, another Cinsaut grown on granite, with delicate fruit.

And the final taste of Cinsault was at Montes, in the Apalta Valley, the opening wine at a lunch cooked by the talented chef, Francis Mullmann.  Made from grapes grown in Itata, it was fresh and fragrant, with 20% carbonic maceration and simply perfect with an empanada. 

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

The Languedoc around the autumn tastings

Out of the Box – Young Importers Tasting  - 
Prices for this tasting are per bottle, duty paid and delivered, ex VAT

The Young Importers are a group of six with an eclectic and original range of wines.  Naturally I concentrated on Languedoc-Roussillon but I did allow myself several deviations, especially to Greece with Maltby and Greek, as a good Assyrtiko is difficult to resist.  

Carte Blanche has recently taken on the agency for my good friend Catherine Roque at Mas d’Alezon in Faugères.

2017 Faugères Presbytère - £13.95
A blend of Cinsault and Grenache.  Medium colour.  Elegant subtle fruit  on the nose, and on the palate, supple spice, with an elegant streak of tannin. Medium weight.  

2017 Faugères, Montfalette - £17.95
A blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache Noir.  Medium colour.  Altogether much more structured, on both nose and palate, with firm fruit and tannins, but always with an elegant finish.  Nicely satisfying.  Drinking well now, but would also age.

Swig were showing:

2015, Château de Durfort, Corbières - £9.65
a blend of Syrah and Grenache Noir.  Medium depth of colour.  A lovely ripe, rounded, spicy nose.  And plenty of spice on the palate, balanced with a backbone of tannin.  Eminently easy-drinking, conjuring up the warmth of the Midi in a glass.  

2018 Domaine de l’Horizon, Côtes Catalanes, Mar y Muntanya - £14.30
A blend of 45% each of Grenache Noir and Carignan with 10% Grenache Noir.  Appealing spice on the nose with fresh red fruit on the palate. Medium weight and an elegant finish. 

266 Wines
This company was started up as recently as March 2019.
2017 Domaine des Enfants, Côtes Catalanes,  Tabula Rasa - £15.63
A blend of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Macabeo and Carignan blanc.  This is a stunning example of just how much the white wines of Roussillon have improved, with a light colour, quite a closed nose and on the palate some elegant floral fruit and a satisfying balance of acidity. 

2017 Domaine des Enfants, le Jouet - £10.39
A blend of Lledoner Pelut, Grenache Noir, Carignan and Syrah.  Medium colour.  Quite a ripe nose, and on the palate good fruit, but I also thought I detected a note of volatility.

2016 Faugères, Domaine Binet-Jacquet, Réserve - £15.26
A blend of all five grape varieties of the appellation, namely Cinsault, Carignan, Syrah, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre.  Good colour; quite a firm nose, tight knit and needing to breathe.  And on the palate a touch reductive, but quite intriguing. 

Ellis of Richmond hosted a tasting that they termed Wines with a Conscience, showing wines that were Biodynamic, Organic or Sustainable.

The sole organic wines from the Languedoc came from Domaine des Trinités, made by Simon Coulshaw, who learnt his winemaking at Plumpton in East Sussex.  He has vineyards in two appellations 

2016 Pézenas, le Pech Mégé - £9.95
A blend of 60% Grenache Noir, 30% Syrah and 10% Carignan.  The label says: élaboré de façon naturelle – in other words, with minimum use of sulphur.  Medium colour, with rich spice on both the nose and palate, but with a slight edge of acidity on the finish.

2015 Faugères, le Portail - £9.95
A blend of 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache Noir and 10% Carignan,  Nicely rounded nose and palate, with some appealing ripe fruit. A balancing streak of tannin.  It tasted more harmonious than the Pézenas, and was drinking beautifully.  

There was also a sustainable wine from Château Pennautier, the main property of the Lorgeril family, in Cabardès, one of the cooler areas of the Languedoc.
Marquis de Pennautier, Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc - £10.25
Lightly buttery nose, and rounded, rich and leesy on the palate with good mouthfeel and texture.  

Waitrose, at their autumn tasting, had a few Languedoc offerings:
2018 Calmel & Joseph Villa Blanche Pinot Noir, Pays d’Oc - £8.99
Quite alight colour. Delicate fresh raspberry fruit on the nose and palate.  Some balancing fresh acidity.  Very refreshing, served slightly chilled.

2017 Corbières, Château de Caraguilhes - £0.99
A blend of  45% Grenache noir, 30% Syrah and 25% Carignan.  One of the several organic estates of the Corbières.  Aged n concrete vat for six months.
Medium colour; lightly spicy nose, and palate.  Nicely harmonious, with a dry leathery note on the finish.   

2018 Château Maris, Minervois, Savoir Vieillir - £16.99
70% Syrah balanced by 30% Grenache Noir.  The wine was aged in 50 hectolitres foudres or in concrete tanks.  Quite a deep colour, with a firm dry nose.  More fleshy on the palate, with some ripe cherry fruit.  Quite savoury.  A tad alcoholic on the finish, and it does register 14.5º.

2016 Château Maris, Minervois la Livinière, les Planels - £17.99
Deep colour. Firm peppery nose and palate, with notes of tapenade and black olive.  Quite firm and structured, youthful and tight knit.  A wine to age, with promising potential.

2018 Voyage du Sud, Vermentino, Pays d’Oc - £5.99
From the Cebazan cooperative in St. Chinian.  Fresh sappy nose and palate; fresh and pithy with a rounded finish.  Good value.

Calmel & Joseph, Villa Blanche Terret Blanc, Pays d’Oc - £8.49
Light colour. Quite firm and stony on the nose and palate.  Firm rather than crisp, with a flinty nose.   This is one of the old grape varieties of the Languedoc, which deserves a revival in its reputation.  

2018 Laurent Miquel Vendanges Nocturnes, Pays d’Oc, Viognier - £9.39
Rounded and peachy on nose and palate.  Exuding ripe fruit.  If you like Viognier, you will love this.  

NV Crémant de Limoux, Cuvée Royale Brut - £11.99
A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 25% Chenin Blanc, 10% Mauzac and 5% Pinot Noir.   Quite ripe and soft on the nose, with a soft fruity palate.  Easy drinking, but a little  too simple for the appellation.  I would have liked more depth.

This is quite a large group of independent wine merchants who work together, to benefit from the economies of scales for marketing and purchasing.  

Paul Gordon from Domaine la Sarabande in Faugères was there, providing a good opportunity for a catch up on his range.

2018 Pink Swine, Vin de France - £12.99
A rosé from Grenache and Cinsault, and just 11.5º.  Medium colour; quite fresh and crisp with some raspberry fruit.

2016 Misterioso - £12.99
A blend of Grenache Noir and Syrah.  Quite rounded on the nose and palate.  Some fresh spicy fruit.  Medium weight with a fresh finish.

2014 les Rabasses - £14.99
Syrah and Mourvèdre. Good colour.  Fruity nose, with some leathery notes.  Very good spicy fruit on the palate.  Rounded and drinking beautifully, with a little bottle age. 

2016 Les Rabasses
Les Rabasses is the name of the vineyard.  It means land that is difficult to work.  Good deep colour.  More elegant on the nose and palate than the 2014, with some elegant spice balanced with quite obvious tannins.  Medium weight.

2017 Bousigue - £24.99
A high proportion of Mourvèdre.  Whole bunches, with no destemming.  Medium colour.  Quite firm and structured.  Good fruit. Elegantly structure, with satisfying length and depth.  

2016 Les Espinasses - £32.99
Based on Syrah.  Whole bunches.  Natural yeast.  Deep colour. Quite concentrated peppery notes on the nose.   Intense fruit on the palate. Some gamey notes.  The fruit is balanced by some fresh acidity as well as tannin.  Very satisfying.  

And the tasting finished with Las Jardins, the name of the vineyard, based on Grenache, aged in barrel. Some lovely spice, with a touch of liquorice and a fresh finish, with elegant cherry notes.  This is a new cuvée made from very ripe Grenache.  

And I also tasted the wines of Domaine les Caizergues, an estate in the Terrasses du Larzac, outside the village of Brissac, near Ganges, that was bought by an English couple a year or two ago.   Pat Middleton was there to show their wine.  Their first vintage was  2017.  Ganges was known for its silk production, and so the names of the various cuvées at Caizergues have a link with the silk industry.  

Les Tisserands were the weavers; les Magnerelles were the people who raised the silk worms and amorier is the Occitan for mulberry trees.

2018 Les Tisserands blanc, IGP St Guilhem-le-Désert - £11.99
A blend of 80% Viognier to 20% Sauvignon.  Rounded and peachy with a note of ginger.  Refreshing, without any oak

2018 Les Magnarelles, Languedoc blanc - £15.99
A blend of 60% Grenache Blanc, and 20% each of Marsanne and Vermentino.  Fresh dry nose, and on the palate quite firm fruit, with some white blossom and good balancing acidity.  

2018 Les Magnarelles Languedoc Rosé - £11.99
A blend of Grenache Noir and Carignan.  Pressed.  Light colour with some dry, rounded fruit on both nose and palate.  Nicely refreshing with good acidity.

2018 Les Magnarelles Rouge, Languedoc Rouge - £15.99
Quite a vivid young colour. Ripe smoky fruit on the nose, with some tannin and ripe confit fruit on the palate.

2016 les Tisserands IGP - £11.50
Quite firm and structured on the nose, with quite a lean edge on the palate.  

2015 Les Amoriers, Terrasses du Larzac - £16.50
Quite a solid, structured mouthful of dry oak and fruit.   These last wines were made by the previous owners and I expect to see some improvement with the newer vintages.  Jean Natoli advises.  

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Domaine du Météore,

This leading Faugères estate changed hands in 2017 when it was sold to two London doctors, Paul Jenkins and Paul Jarman, who have long had a dream to own a wine estate.  And they have employed Vincent Balansa as their winemaker.  His previous career includes time at Clos Marie in Pic St Loup, where Christophe Peyruis gave him inspiration for white wine, as well as at Domaine Gauby, Clos des Fées and Le Soula in Roussillon, after studies in Montpellier.    And there really is a meteor crater on the estate in the pretty Faugères village of Cabrerolles with a 70 ares vineyard in the bottom.  Another unusual aspect of Domaine de Météore is that it is one of only two wine estates to have vineyards in the adjoining appellations of Faugères and St. Chinian.  The other is Moulin de Ciffre, where the vineyards are side by side, and you can see the actual fault line that represents the boundary between the two appellations.  

A recent tasting in London showed the new wines.  Vincent’s first complete vintage was only last year, but he was there in time to blend earlier vintages, making subtle changes in the style.

2018 Léonides Blanc, Faugères Blanc – sold out!
Ablend of Roussanne, Vermentino and Viognier, with some nicely rounded herbal fruit, mouth-filling with a slightly bitter finish.  

2018 Lyrides Blanc, Faugères Blanc - £28.50
A barrel sample.  A demi-muid of Vermentino blended with a demi-muid of Roussanne, given 12 months in barrel, with very little bâtonnage.  The wine will be bottled very shortly.  The oak is still very present on the nose, but the palate has some rich fruit and good balancing acidity.  There is some satisfying texture and mouthfeel with a long finish.  It promises well, and in 2019, the blend will include some Clairette.

2016 Léonides Rouge, Faugères Rouge - £13.30
Blended rather than vinified by Vincent.  Aged in vat rather than barrel.  A blend of Syrah Grenache Noir and Cinsault.  The Cinsault makes for a more elegant palate, changing the original blend slightly.  Deep young colour.  Quite a firm nose with a rich leathery note.  And on the palate ripe and rounded with spicy  fruit.  Nicely balanced. 

2017 Carignides, Vin de France  - £17.50
No prizes for guessing that this is a pure Carignan, and a very elegant example of that sometimes rather rustic grape variety.  The grapes come from both St. Chinian and Faugères, from 55-year-old vines, so Vin de France is the simplest category for a blend of appellations.  Deep young colour.   Quite a firm nose, with some red fruit.  And on the palate nicely balanced fruit and silky tannins.   It is a classic vinification, with no carbonic maceration, with some ageing in vat.  Drinking beautifully.

2016 Perséides, Faugères Rouge - £15.50
There is a high percentage of Grenache Noir, with some Syrah, in this wine, which has two and a half years in demi-muids.  At the moment, the oak is quite obvious on the palate,  and there is also a firm oaky streak on the palate, but with plenty of fruit underneath, which will develop in bottle as the oak fades.  Good potential.  Definitely a wine to age.

2016 Lyrides Faugères Rouge - £28.50
A sélection parcellaire, of 80% Syrah with some Mourvèdre, and also aged in demi-muids for two and a half years.  A long maceration of seven to eight weeks.  The nose is quite firm and solid, and on the palate, there is a certain spiciness and a firm structure.  There is concentrated elegance, and indeed I found it more elegant than Perséides.

2015 Parangon St Chinian Roquebrun  - £25.50
This is essentially the same blend of Syrah and Mourvèdre, but with a drop of Grenache Noir and the same long maceration and ageing.  The vineyards are eight kilometres apart, and although the method is the same, the taste is different, as although the soil of Roquebrun, like Faugères, is based on schist, the schist is different, with more clay. There were firm tannins, with some peppery fruit, and the wine seemed to have more body and weight.   The Faugères was more elegant, while the St Chinian was denser, making a fascinating comparison.  And of course, with the year’s difference in vintage, it is not an exact comparison.  

Monday, 4 November 2019

The Terrasses du Larzac’s 5th birthday celebration.

When I was first writing about the Languedoc 30 years ago, no one had ever heard of the Terrasses du Larzac.  In my book, The wines of the South of France, published in 2001, I gave it a fleeting mention.   Now look how things have changed.  The Terrasses du Larzac is today one of the most exciting regions of the Languedoc, opening up a host of vineyard sites, some of which were initially deemed too cool for viticulture when the appellation of the Coteaux du Languedoc was first created in 1985.   And in October the appellation celebrated its 5thanniversary with a Soulenque, a harvest festival, at the beautiful Château de Jonquières.    Jonquières is no upstart pinardier château from the 19thcentury, but a stunningly elegant château with a history that goes back to the 12thcentury, and always in the hands of the same de Cabissole family.  The central courtyard boasts a stylish Renaissance staircase.   I was lucky; I was staying the night and was offered a cosy room in one of the medieval towers.   

The Soulenque provided a fantastic opportunity to taste the Terrasses du Larzac, and there was more besides, with white and rosé wines, so also IGP and AOP Languedoc.   Some 60 or so wine growers took part out of a possible 104 wine estates, and four cooperatives.  Another figure worth noting is that 58% of the area of the appellation is farmed organically.

The tasting took place over two days.  It would be tedious to write (and read!) tasting notes for each of the 60 plus wine growers who were showing their wines, even though I did manage to taste most of them over two full days.  Instead I would like to mention various selected highlights, namely those wine estates who have been making wine for a number of years, with a fine quality track record.   Nor do I want to ignore the newcomers, with some people who were relatively unknown to me.  The Terrasses du Larzac certainly attracts more than its fair share of newcomers, and people new to wine-making, who have often had careers in other fields, and bring a broader vision to the region. The numbers are growing apace, with every vintage.

The two villages of St Saturnin and Montpeyroux come within the appellation and indeed are aspiring crus of the Terrasses du Larzac.  However, there were very few wine growers from those two villages, namely Domaine la Jasse Castel and Mas d’Amile from Montpeyroux and Domaine d’Archimbaud from St Saturnin

The new president of the syndicat is Sébastien Fillon from Clos du Serres in St. Jean de Blaquière. He and his wife Béatrice bought their first vines in the region in 2006 and have established a very convincing range of wines, based on sélections parcellaires, emphasising the variety of different soils in their vineyards.  

One of the longest standing and original pioneering wine growers is undoubtedly Olivier Jullien, who was showing his delicious white wine, based on Chenin with elegantly honeyed flavours, as well as a lovely range of red wines. 

Vincent Goumard at Cal Demoura is someone else who has rapidly established a fine reputation for his wines.  He bought his vineyards from Jean-Pierre Jullien, Olivier’s father, in 2004. Terres de Jonquières, including grapes from each of his different vineyards, is elegantly balanced.

Frédéric Pourtalié of Domaine de Montcalmès, was showing just one wine, his red 2016, with elegant and harmonious fruit.

Pascal Fulla of Mas de l’Ecriture is lawyer turned winemaker and he is now working with his daughter Léa. 2015 Les Pensées, based on Grenache – you need three varieties for Terrasses du Larzac – was elegantly spicy, with flavours of cherry liqueur 

I have always enjoyed the white wine of Mas Haut Buis, a delicious blend of Roussanne, Chardonnay and Grenache blanc, with firm fruit and fresh acidity after ageing, part in barrel and part in a concrete egg.  The red Costa Caoude 2017 was showing very well too.

 Geraldine Laval makes a lovely range of wines at Clos Maia.  I particularly like her white wine from Grenache Gris, Chenin blanc and a little Terret blanc and Roussanne, with notes of honey, and a fresh finish.   

Gavin Crisfield was showing his 2017 vintage of La Traversée, with its elegant fragrant fruit.

Mas des Chimères is one of the oldest estates of the Terrasses du Larzac, with vineyards around the lac de Salagou with its distinctive iron rich red soil    Guilhem Dardé’s white wine is an intriguing blend of seven different grape varieties, namely, with apologies for the list, Viognier, Grenache blanc, Terret blanc, Carignan blanc, Clairette, Roussanne and Chardonnay.  The flavours are ripe and leafy.

Xavier Peyraud at Mas des Brousses is a grandson of Lucien Peyraud, who takes credit for the revival of the appellation of Bandol, that is based on Mourvèdre.  Xavier has Mourvèdre in his genes so that grape variety features significantly in his wines, notably in la Cuvée Mataro, with 70% Mourvèdre, or Mataro.  

Domaine la Croix Chaptal is the one estate that really takes Clairette du Languedoc seriously.  There was a lovely Late Harvest Clairette made from grapes picked in November with botrytis, as well as a dry Clairette, made from Clairette Rose, which is quite a different grape variety from Clairette Blanche, with rounded perfumed flavours.  

And now for the newcomers, or relative newcomers, or estates that are new to me. 

Mas Conscience is a well-established estate, which changed hands in 2012.  Eric Ajorque makes a very convincing range of wine, with the names of the cuvées an amusing play on words with conscience.   L’In, a blend of Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Vermentino and a little Viognier was a very good beginning to the tasting of their wines. 

Clos de la Barthassade in Aniane was completely new to me, with some original wines, including Pur C, a pure Cinsault; K Libre a Carignan vinified in egg and vat and les Cargadous, a satisfying blend of Chenin blanc and Roussanne.  

Domaine les Olivèdes is a lone estate in the lovely village of St Jean de Buèges in the northern Hérault. Stéphane Canaguie makes two vines, and almost pure Carignan with fresh fruit, and more rounded Terrasses du Larzac, with appealing spice.  His first vintage was 2014.

Domaine de l’Eglisette at Murles-et-Baucels was set up in 2015.  I particularly enjoyed 2017 Nuit Blanche, a blend of Grenache Blanc with some Roussanne and a touch of Viognier with some rounded fruit

Matthieu Dibon of Le Chemin was showing vat samples from his very first vintage, 2018.   They promised very well, including some peppery Syrah, a potential Terrasses du Larzac blend of predominantly Grenache with some Syrah and Carignan, and an AOP Languedoc blend of Grenache and Syrah, with satisfyingly spicy flavours.

Krystel Brot at Domaine du Clos Rouge is one of the new wine growers at St Jean de la Blaquière.  I really liked her pure Cinsault, Piccolo, with fresh perfumed fruit

Domaine Nova Solis in the village of Jonquières had a first vintage in 2017.   Crépuscule 2018, a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan, kept in vat, was fresh and spicy with elegant tannins and rounded fresh fruit.  

I had enjoyed a visit to Les Chemins de Carabotte for my book research so was pleased to see Jean-Yves Chaperon again and to taste his Carignan, with its lovely berry fruit and fresh tannins.  A late harvest Cinsaut, picked in November was a very indulgent wine with ripe berry fruit and a balanced finish of sweetness and acidity. 

Jean-Baptiste Granier from Les Vignes Oubliées, another estate based in St Jean de la Blaquière, is now producing white wine, and elegant blend of Grenache blanc, Clairette and Roussanne, aged part in oak and part in vat.  An AOP Languedoc, based on Cinsault, was very appealing, with spicy fresh fruit. 

And tomorrow evening I am flying to Santiago and hoping to discover some Chilean Carignan and Cinsult, by way of a Chilean link to the Languedoc.   More anon in three of so weeks time.


Monday, 28 October 2019

Terre des Dames

Lidewej van Wilgen at Terres des Dames, a wine estate outside Murviel-lès-Béziers, on the road to Causse-et-Veyran tells her story very eloquently.   She was working as an advertising executive in Amsterdam, when it was time for a change.   She and her husband enjoyed fine wine, and had what she called ‘a classical romantic idea about Bordeaux’, but realised that it was not right for them.  They heard talk of the Languedoc, as the New World of wine in France, and came and visited and loved what they saw.  And found an 18th mas with vineyards near by, fourteen hectares of vines, surrounded by garrigues.  it is a magical spot.

And Lidewej was captivated; when her husband returned to Holland, she stayed with her three daughters, making the shift from life in a capital city to the countryside, learning to be a winemaker, studying viticulture and winemaking.  She finished her studies in 2005 and then she had to find her own way, and develop her own individual style.  Recognition from The Wine Spectator in 2008 helped.

She talked about this year’s harvest.  The strangest year ever.  A very dry summer and the vines are stressed,making for irregular ripening, but then a little rain just as the harvest was about to begin, woke the vineyard up.  When I saw her, she had picked her white grapes, in the dark, starting at 5.30 a.m. when the grapes are still cold, only 10C.  She talked about playing poker with the rain;  you mustn’t panic.   She now hires a team of Poles to harvest for her; unlike other local options, they are reliable and work hard.    More rain was forecast and she was hoping to get the Syrah picked before it came, as the skins are thin and can split;  Grenache is thicker, and the rain would give it a bit more welcome juice.

And then we went for a walk through the vineyards, which are farmed organically.  She has a vineyard of Mourvèdre, and talked about problems of choosing the correct rootstock.  161/49 was fashionable when she planted, but the sap does not rise properly.   And she had problems with the nursery selling her inferior vines.  She has some 70 year old Carignan that belonged to a cooperative member, who sprayed systematically, with the spray coming into her garden.  The only way to stop that was to buy the vineyard , which now giving good results.   There was a vineyard of very young vines; they are still fragile and need a lot of work by hand.  You cannot use an intercep, and with the dry summer they have needed watering, every couple of weeks, using a tractor with a water tank on the back.  The oldest vineyard is Alicante Bouschet, which gives her just  15 h/ha.  She was initially advised to pull it up, but she likes it, considering that it does add something to one of her wines.   Her pruning system is cordon royal, rather than guyot which is used for high production on the plains.  She keep the yield low and does some de-budding.   

In the cellar, we saw her sorting table.  As Lidewej observed, you wouldn’t use rotten apples to make an apple tart, so why use mouldy grapes in your wine.  Last year, 2018, she rejected as much as 20% because of mildew; this year she has rejected almost nothing.  She destems her red grapes and leave the juice for longer on the skins, maybe as much as four weeks.  There is a large tronconic concrete tank and some standard concrete vats, painted red.  She has just bought a couple of amphora, but has never tried an egg.  She also has barrels, moving from small barriques to larger demi-muids.   A barrel costs 1500€ so she cannot afford a new one every year.

And then we adjourned to the terrace overlooking the vines to taste, observed by her large ginger cat, Louis.   

2018 La Diva Blanche, Pays d’Oc - 18.50€
Lidewej favours a single varietal for her white wine, namely Grenache Blanc; she has tried blends but doesn’t like them. It is all fermented in oak, and stays in oak for a further six months.  The colour is light golden and the nose delicate, with a hint of well-integrated oak.  There is good acidity and some satisfying mouthfeel and texture, and a long finish.  Still very youthful, but with ageing potential. 

There is also La Dame Blanche, with a smaller percentage of oak, but Lidewej had run out.  

2018 Diva Rosé, Languedoc AOP - 11.00€

Lidewej admitted that before she became a winemaker, she had not been a lover of rosé, but she has changed her mind, making what she called a real wine.  For this is no ordinary rosé, but has been kept in a barrel for three months, which gives it weight and structure.  The grapes are pressed, a blend of 50% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache and 20% Syrah.  the Mourvèdre ripens later so is fermented separately, while the Grenache and Syrah are fermented together, and all are blended together are fermentation and a small percentage put into oak.  

The colour is orange pink, with a note of oak on the nose.  The palate is ripe, with some notes of vanilla, a rounded palate, with a firm tannic streak and a youthful finish.  It is a rosé with a difference, demanding food with it.  

2017 La Dame Rouge, Languedoc - 10.50€
Grenache is the principal grape, with some Syrah and Carignan.   Lidewej hadn’t realised, but this wine could be St Chinian - Murviel-lès-Béziers is on the edge of the appellation - but she prefers not to get involved in local politics.  She wants a red wine that is juicy; she works gently in the cellar, avoiding harsh tannins.  Just 20%, part of the Syrah is aged in barrel.  Young colour, with fresh spicy fruit, and fresh red fruit.  Medium weight,  Long and fresh.  And served chilled on a rather hot afternoon.  

2015 La Diva Rouge, Pays d’Oc - 13.50€
Future vintages are likely to be Coteaux de Murviel;  Mainly Syrah, with some Grenache and the old Alicante.   Medium colour.  All aged in oak.  Nicely evolved with some leathery notes and maturing fruit.  Some spice and a firm finish, with some tannin.  Lidewej observed that her winemaking has evolved, away from too much oak and too much extraction.   She favours a lighter touch.

2016 l’Unique, AOP Languedoc - 23.00€

A blend of equal parts of Grenache and Syrah.  which have spent three years in barrel.  Lidewej wanted to see what happened if you gave a wine from the Languedoc a much longer period for being in wood.  The colour was deeper than I might have expected and it still tasted very young, with red fruit balanced with some acidity as well as tannin.  There was potential for ageing; I would say powerful but elegant.   And a fitting finale to a convivial visit.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Clos de Nines

Clos des Nines has long been a familiar name, but it is only recently that I have managed a cellar visit with Isabelle Mangeart.

Isabelle talked about her now not so new venture.  Her first vintage was in 2003, and she taught me a new expression, je commence d’avoir un peu de bouteille, or some experience!.  She came to wine gradually.  She initially studied at the London Business School, where she met her husband, Christian, and he went onto work in the wine trade, with Bouchard Père et Fils in Burgundy, and Skalli and Gérard Bertrand in the Languedoc.  Their three daughters were each born in a different city, Paris, Beaune and Montpellier, as they gradually moved south.  Isabelle had always wanted to run her own business, and as she discovered wine, she decided to take a viti-oenology course in Montpellier.  First she worked for other estates, the Abbaye de Valmagne, Mas Mortiès and Domaine de la Prose, while she looked for her own vineyards.   She would have liked Pic St Loup, but it is a very closed community, and not easy to broach as an outsider.  She had quite strict criteria, the vineyards all in one block, in an appellation  and near a large town.   She was brought in the country, in champagne, and she wanted her daughters to have some of the advantages of city life.   

And after a two and a half years search she found ten hectares near Villeveyrac, in the Collines de la Moure, a protected site lost in the garrigues, with two hectares of olive trees.  It is about 7 kilometres from the sea as the crow flies, opposite the étang de Thau, and the hill of La Gardiole protects the vineyards from any sea breezes.  The soil is mixed, some argilo-calcaire, and the Grenache is planted on sand, Cinsault on bauxite. The vineyards had belonged to a cooperative member who was retiring and were planted with Carignan, Alicante, Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah; half has been pulled up and replanted, introducing Mourvèdre, and also white varieties Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Vermentino and Viognier.  Isabelle’s smart new cellar, built five years ago, is close to Gigean - she could not get planning permission near her vineyards, but here she has water and electricity and good communications.  It is only a 20 minutes tractor drive from the vineyards.    Isabelle cheerfully admitted that she is not mechanically minded and so employs a prestateur to do her vineyard work; however she tells him what do.  She has got to know her vines and her terroir; at the beginning she was very raisonnée and is now organic.

When I saw, Isabelle had just harvested her white grapes, but not yet her red.  So we tasted some fermenting juice, already blended, 40% Grenache Blanc, 30% Roussanne, 20% Vermentino and 10% Viognier, which promised well.  A small proportion, five out of 35 hectolitres will go into barrel, to continue its fermentation, and will be blended, after regular lees stirring,  with the vat aged wine in 8 months time.  Isabelle suffered from the heatwave, with sunburnt grapes, especially Mourvèdre and Carignan, on the poorer soils, where there is less vegetation.  The white grapes were burnt on the west side, by the hotter afternoon sun.  But the quality is good.

Isabelle is great fun to taste with.  She is bright and vivacious and nicely opinionated.  She is also a  member of the Vinifilles, a group of Languedoc vigneronnes with a great range of wine estates between them, from all over the region.  

2017 Obladie, Pays d’Oc - 16€
I had to be reminded that the name comes from the Beatles song. Obladie, Oblada……. 
A hint peachy on the nose and rounded satisfying mouthfeel on the palate.  A hint of vanilla and some white blossom.  Nicely rounded finish. Isabelle has just 90 ares of white varieties and makes just 4000 bottles.  She also has a négociant white wine, Pulp des Nines from Viognier, Vermentino and Muscat.

2018 Niño, AOP Languedoc - 9€
The name Nines, comes from their three daughters - nine being an affectionate term for a little girl.  And their last child is a boy, hence Niño for the rosé.  It is 80% Cinsault with 20% Grenache, pressed, with a pale colour, and on the palate, raspberry fruit, rounded and delicate, with a slightly salty notes.  It is a food rosé rather than a rosé de piscine.  

2018 le Pulp rouge, Pays d’Oc  - 9€
A percentage of this came from bought grapes, as 2018 was a small crop.  Usually Isabelle has enough not to have to do that.  but she lost 50% of her crop to mildew last year.  The blend is Carignan with a little Syrah and Grenache, making a fruity wine, with a little tannin for easy drinking.  A cheerful pizza, pasta BBQ wine.

2017 L’Orée, Grès de Montpellier - 15.00€
A blend of Grenache with some Syrah and Cinsault, kept in vat and bottled in June 2018.  Medium colour.  A lovely garrigue nose, with spice and herbs.  Very fresh with an elegant finish.  A modest 13.5º.  Isabelle observed that she choses the harvest date so that her grapes are ripe, but the wine must not be heavy.  it is a question of balance.  She favours minimum intervention in the cellar, and a light hand as regards extraction.  

2018 le Mour, Vin de France - 14.00€
An unusual blend of 70% Mourvèdre and 30% Carignan.  Isabelle planted Mourvèdre, just for pepper, seasoning in the blend, as she put it, but with no intention of making a wine from it, but it was so good…. and she blended it with some Carignan vinified by carbonic maceration for some soft fruit.  Medium colour. Quite a solid, rounded nose, with notes of the garrigues.  Black fruit on the palate.  Quite dense and rounded with body, and a fresh finish.  

And then she opened the 2016, expecting to be able to show us how well the wine aged.  2016 was a very hot year and contrary to expectations - Isabelle had not tried it for a while - the wine tasted younger, with a deep colour and more intense fruit, a richer palate and firmer tannins.  Tasted blind, I would certainly have thought the 2018 the more mature of the pair, and the more ready to drink, and indeed it was.

2016 O du Clos,  AOP Languedoc - 26€
Mainly Syrah with some Grenache, aged in barrel.   From her oldest 30 year old vines.  The Grenache vines are ageing well, but the Syrah has missing plants and is beginning to feel its age.   The wine was rounded with some oak and tapenade, with notes of vanilla and a fresh finish.

2015  O3 Grès de Montpellier  - 48€
From three new barrels of Syrah, with a little Grenache, and not made every year - in fact just four times in 17 years, in 2005, 2007 2009 and this 2015.  It all depends on the quality of the Syrah  Good colour.  Rounded and rich; the barrel does not mark too much, with good fruit on the palate, balanced with some notes of vanilla.

2017 Ouate, Raisins Surmûries  - 20€ for 50cl. bottle
Ouate is a phonetic interpretation of What!  From late harvest Marselan - just 350 vines, from grapes picked at the end of October, with 22º potential alcohol.  The fermentation, in a small vat, is stopped at 16º, by chilling, leaving 70 gms/ sugar.  It is all quite labour intensive, but well worth it.  The nose reminded me of a Recioto della Valpolicella with rich, rounded flavours of ripe black fruit, sweet, but with a dry finish.   It was a grand finale to our tasting.  

But then came a taste of the olive oil, a peppery blend of lucques and picholines.   The olives are suffering in the drought - Isabelle has had just 80 mms of rain since March - and she made the interesting comparison that an olive tree protects itself, shedding its fruit in a drought, whereas a vine thinks of the future and does ripen its fruit, and then may keel over ……