Friday, 26 April 2019

Domaine Mouscaillo

On previous visits, I have tasted with Pierre and Marie-Claire, but this time we met the next generation, their son Thomas, and daughter-in-law, Camille.  She is very articulate and gave us a informative account of the creation of the estate.  Pierre was born in the village of Roquetaillade, but his parents’ grapes were sent to the cooperative.   And he went to work elsewhere, first in Buzet and then at the Château de Tracy in the Loire valley for 13 years.  It was Didier Dagueneau, the talented and original Pouilly Fumé producer, who encourage Pierre to return to Roquetaillade, so that Pierre considers Didier to be the godfather of Mouscaillo.   Pierre bought 4 hectares of vines and made his first wine, a Chardonnay,  in 2004; in 2006 he recuperated a hectare of Pinot Noir from the cooperative, and now has six hectares in production.  His wines focussed on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and very successfully.  

However, with the next generation, things are evolving.  They have begun making sparkling wine, with a first vintage in 2010, planting some Chenin and have grafted some Mauzac.  Camille talked about the problems of Mauzac; everyone tends to use the same very productive clone for Blanquette, but happily a conservatoire of Mauzac is being developed, with different clones and rootstocks.  They are planning a still wine.  Both Camille and Thomas studied ecology, before realising that they really wanted to be wine growers, and returning to Roquetaillade at the end of  2016.   The idea of ‘saving’ an old grape variety really appeals to them.  There are apparently as many as 80 different clones of Mauzac in both Limoux and Gallic, and also Mauzac Rose, as well as Blanc.   If you only use one or two clones, this can render the grape variety much more susceptible to disease.  

Camille insisted on Limoux as a terroir d’altitude, at 400 metres, so that you feel the effect of the Pyrenees, with cool nights, making for freshness in the wines.  They do not have the drought problems that can occur elsewhere in the Languedoc, and indeed in warmer part of LImoux.   The village is at a crossroads; they have both Mediterranean garrigues and pine trees.

Our tasting began with 2018 Chardonnay, from barrel, from two plots, south-facing St. Pierre and north facing Mouscaillo, vinified separately and then blended together, with a fermentation and élevage in wood, as is compulsory for the appellation of Limoux.   They use 500 - 600 litre demi-muids, with light toasting to oxygenate rather than boiser the wine.  2018 was a complicated harvest; the ripening process suddenly stopped, and they did not know why, so they stopped picking and then the grapes suddenly ripened.   In 2017 they had finished picking the grapes for their Crémant by the end of August; in 2018 they had barely begun the harvest in early September.  However, the wine had firm acidity and was tight and stony, and still very youthful.

2018 Pinot Noir was light red in colour, with fresh perfumed fruit and a dry finish.  They have just one hectare on a south facing slope, but are planning to plant some Pinot Noir on a north facing slope so they can observe the difference.   

NV Crémant, disgorged in February 2019, comprises 70% Chardonnay, with 10% Chenin Blanc and 20%  Pinot Noir was light and creamy.  They only use the first free run juice and both the alcoholic and malolactic fermentation take place in barrel, which is rare in Limoux, and the wine is given six  months élevage, with some bâtonnage.  It was elegantly rich.  Rather than adding sugar for the prise de mousse,they add grape juice,  some Chenin Blanc, for which the fermentation had been blocked by chilling.  They don’t want to increase the alcohol level, and if you add sugar, you do, by about 1º.  And at disgorgement they top up the bottles with wine.  

Our tasting continued with some more Chardonnay.

2017 was nicely rounded, with good addict and dry elegant fruit.   2017 was a hot dry vintage, and the wine has good tension

2016 was more charmeur, with a more expressive nose and more supple and elegant, while 2015 was quite firm with a touch of wood, more tension and a dry finish.  And the mini-vertical finished with 2004, which was still extraordinarily young, with fine acidity, notes of honey and hazelnuts and almonds, and a long lingering finish.

They insist on the fact that Chardonnay from Limoux will age and have developed a policy of selling a wine that is ten years old, currently the 2008, for 32€ as opposed to 16€ for the current vintage.  

Next came 2017 Pinot Noir - 17.00€ - with lovely fragrant fruit, cherries and raspberries.  It was youthful with supple tannin and elegant weight and a fresh finish.   2016, which had spent 12 months in barrels, again had lovely fresh fruit and length with more integrated tannins.  The grapes are destemmed and the maceration time depends on the vintage.  They don’t want too much tannin or colour.  

And our tasting finished with their first Mauzac, from vat.  They want acidity and the wine certainly had fresh flavour and a certain sapidity, with some appealing herbal notes.  And then we adjourned to their house next door to the cellar for a very convivial lunch and enjoyed the warmth of an open fire on a grey day in Limoux.   Visiting the abbey of St Hilaire afterwards, with its fine church and cloisters proved a very chilly as well as awe-inspiring experience

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Cellar visits in Limoux - J Laurens

Norwegian friends wanted to visit Limoux, so I arranged to see four of my favourite Limoux producers.  The idea was also to enjoy some good walks between cellar visits, but on two out of three days, the weather decided otherwise.  So our first appointment was with Jacques Clavel at J. Laurens in the village of La Digne d’Aval.

Buying J Laurens in 2001 was a retirement project for Jacques after a successful career in IT; in fact it has taken over his life; he loves it and it is really a second career.  His enthusiasm for Limoux is infectious and he simply could not envisage doing anything else.   And why Limoux?  It is the nearest vineyard to his origins in the Pyrenees.  He now produces 400,000 bottles a year, mainly sold on the export market, from 40 hectares of his own vineyards, supplemented by the purchase of grapes from another 30 hectares of his neighbours’ vines.  The price varies depending on the grape variety.  Chardonnay is 1.00€ a kilo, compared o Mauzac which is 65 cts a kilo; it is more prolific, reaching 75 hl/ha as opposed to 50 hl/ha for Chardonnay.

Jacques has had the same winemaker, Henri, since the beginning, who was trained by the original champenois owner.   He showed us round the cellars; everything is pretty stream-lined.  They like to harvest early, in order to retain the acidity.  The second fermentation adds 1.5 degrees in alcohol, and if you pick too late, the balance in the wine is spoilt.  For sparkling Limoux, everything must be picked by hand.  They have the same team each year, who they feed and lodge.   They use small boxes, with holes, allowing any juice to escape, and they press very gently, and have two presses in case they need to pick quickly.  The potential alcoholic degree can rise very quickly in warm weather.  The temperature of the first fermentation is around 15-16C.   

Blanquette de Limoux requires a minimum of nine months ageing sur lattes, as opposed to 12 months for Crémant de Limoux.  Jacques prefers a longer period for both, and they use giropalettes for remuage.  The process takes just four days.

NV Blanquette de Limoux, Lo Moulin - 9.10€
A blend of 90% Mauzac and 10% Chardonnay, with a light colour and a fine mousse.  it has spent at least fifteen months on the lees of the second fermentation.  The wine has quite rich honeyed nose, with notes of green apples and pears on the palate.  There are also herbal hints, with rounded fruit and good acidity.  Like all good Blanquette, it makes for an original glass of bubbles.

2016 Crémant de Limoux, les Graimenous  - 10.10€
A blend of 60% Chardonnay, with 30% Chenin Blanc and 5% each of Mauzac and Pinot Noir.   Light colour.  with a lightly creamy nose, and some fine creamy fruit, and quite a rich finish.  Jacques like what he calls droiture in his wines, a difficult word to translate in wine terms, and the dictionary says righteousness!  I would suggest a wine that is direct, and incisive, with character.

Crémant de Limoux Rosé, no 7 - 11.10€
A delicate pretty pink.  Made from 60% Chardonnay, 25% Chenin Blanc and 15% Pinot Noir, which not only provides colour but also flavours of red fruit., after 12 hours on the skins.  The nose is elegant with fresh raspberry notes, and the palate is beautifully balanced, with acidity and fruit, and a fine mousse.  

2017 Crémant de Limoux, Clos des Demoiselles - 12.20€
The same blend as for the pink Crémant, but without the same skin contact, and with 20 -24 months sur lattes.  A light colour and a rich nose, with more nuances than les Graimenous, and more structure on the palate, from the higher percentage of Pinot Noir.  There is also an elegant richness.   I asked Jacques about fermenting any of his wine in oak, to which the reply was not yet.  At an age when most people are well past retirement, that is far from his mind, with new projects and possibilities.  

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Around the tastings looking for Languedoc.

Last week started well with Yapp Brothers celebrating their 50thanniversary.  That is quite a milestone and they included a wine from each decade.  The 1969 Montlouis Demi-Sec from Domaine Berger quite belied its age, with dry honeyed flavours and good acidity.  In the early days Robin and Judith Yapp concentrated on the Rhône and the Loire Valleys, but their sons, Jason and Tom, have diversified, so they now have one of my favourite Pic St Loup, 

2017 Mas Bruguière, l’Arbouse - £17.50
A blend of 60% Syrah, aged for twelve months in large barrels, and 40% Grenache Noir kept in concrete vats, with some elegant dry spice on the nose, with riper notes on the palate.  Balanced with some spicy fruit and considerable depth, and youthful nuances.  A lovely glass of wine that will continue to evolve. 

There were other wines from the south, an elegant Cap Corse rosé from Domaine Pieretti an intriguing blend of Nielluccio, Grenache Noir and Alicante Bouschet.

Yapp Bros have long represented Domaine de Trévallon, a humble IGP but the best estate of Les Baux de Provence, as Eloi Dürrbach has always obstinately refused to plant the Grenache Noir that is needed to make the wine an appellation.   The 2003 vintage exuded character, with spicy cedary fruit, and quite an intense palate with weight and length.

The other offering from the Languedoc came from Domaine de la Grange des Pères in  Aniane, again an IGP, 2015 Pays de l’Hérault blanc, and a blend of Roussanne, Chardonnay, Marsanne and Gros Manseng.  The oak was still quite evident, but underneath there was fruit and plenty of layers of flavour, with some rich leesy notes, a textured palate and some firm acidity.  It was still very youthful and promising to reward some bottle age.  

Tuesday was the 40thanniversary of the shippers, Thorman Hunt.
They have an extensive list, including quite a few different Languedoc estates.  

There were a pair of Minervois from J M Cazes.  2016 L’Ostal Minervois Estibals was ripe and spicy with supple tannins and drinking beautifully   The Grand Vin from l’Ostal, also 2016, was much sturdier on the nose, with drier spice, and more opulent on the palate, with some ripe spice and appealing black fruit. It was a rich mouthful of the warm south. 

Next came a pair of Fitou from Domaine Bertrand Bergé. 2016 Cuvée Origines was ripe and spicy on the nose, a wine of the warm south, with distinctly furry tannins on the palate and some dense fruit on the palate.  It was also a tad alcoholic at 14.5°.  2017 Cuvée Mégalithes was also quite dense on the palate, with the concentration that is typical of a ripe Fitou.  

The Fitou contrasted nicely with Château la Bastide, Corbières.  The 2016 Cuvée Tradition is slightly leaner and drier with some firm fruit.  It is a blend of 60% Syrah with 20% each of Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre with quite an elegant finish and some peppery notes.  

2017 Domaine de l’Herbe Sainte from the Minervois was ripe with a rounded palate and a touch of vanilla. 

I always find the red wines of Château de la Négly on la Clape quite ripe and intense.  Cuvée la Cote, Languedoc, was ripe and rounded with a firm tannic streak while Cuvée la Falaise was rounded with intense black fruit and tapenade, with texture and weight in the mouth.  However, the estate’s white wine, Brise Marine, from la Clape is one of my favourites of that appellation, with some lovely fresh saline fruit, good acidity and a dry finish.  

Wednesday saw me at Lea & Sandeman.   They had a couple of varietal wines from Domaine les Yeuses near Mèze, but for me the standout southern wine was the 2018 Domaine Tempier Bandol rosé, with a very pale ethereal colour, and delicate fruit on both nose and palate.  The palate was elegantly concentrated, and at the same time elegantly understated, and beautifully harmonious.  A simply lovely glass of wine; I can’t wait to drink it in some southern sunshine. 

The next day was the turn of The Wine Society where the Languedoc was conspicuous by its absence, even though they have a very strong Languedoc list.   A pity.  I consoled myself with Antoine Arena’s delicious Muscat from Cap Corse, with notes of honey and lemon.  

Next came Field, Morris & Verdin. They were ignoring the Languedoc too, but there was a characterful wine from Le Soula in Roussillon, namely La Macération du Soula No 16, Côtes Catalanes.  It was orange golden in colour, with a firm concentrated nose with some tannin as well as acidity on the palate and some intriguing fruit.  It had a lovely fresh finish with a lift.  

Yesterday saw me at The Theatre of Wine, for an eclectic range of wines.  The Languedoc was represented by a pair of Corbières, from Clos de l’Anhel 2017 Lolo de l’Anhel is a blend of Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, with some ripe spicy fruit, with fleshy notes on the palate, and a firm streak of tannin.  

That was accompanied by their 2015 Corbières les Dimanches, from the same grape varieties.  It was deep in colour, with some firm fruit, but more elegant and stylish on the palate than Lolo de l’Anhel, but both were nicely warming Corbières on a rather chilly morning.

Next to them, very intriguingly, were wines from the only private estate in Algeria, Grands Crus de l'Ouest, a white from Clairette and Ugni blanc that was rounded and leafy, coming from vines in the Coteaux de Mascara.  The rosé, Gris de Sables, was a pure Cinsaut and delicate and fresh on the palate, while the pair of reds, from Grenache, Cinsaut and Alicante formed a nice contrast. Koutoubia Red 2017 was spicy with light fruit and tannins, while Saint Augustin 2014 was more substantial, and structured.  They quite belied any preconceived ideas about wines from North Africa.   And I don't think I have knowing tasted or drunk a a wine from Algeria before.