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 …… 

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Bonfils, Vins et Châteaux

I have to admit to an initial confusion.  I had assumed that the Bonfils estate of St Pierre de Serjac, near Magalas, was linked with a négociant company that I had once visited in Sète.  But no, they are quite different.  As it happens the négociant, like so many négociants, stopped trading a few years ago.   

This family company began its Languedoc story in 1962 when Jean-Michel Bonfils arrived in France from Algeria.  His family had had vines there.  He began by working for Domaine Lirou outside Béziers, and from that small beginning Bonfils has grown to include 1600 hectares with 17 estates.  The core of the vineyards are around Béziers and produce varietal IGP, notably Pays d’Oc as well as Côtes de Thongue, and they also own estates on la Clape, in  Corbières and the Minervois, and also in the appellation of Côtes du Roussillon.   Jean-Michel’s three sons, Laurent, Olivier and Jérôme,  now run the business, each with a particular skill, commerce, wine-making and viticulture, respectively.   And the third generation is starting to play its part.   

They pride themselves that they control everything du cep au verre; from the vine to the glass.   There is a large wine-making facility in Narbonne and a large bottling plant in Mèze, with smaller cellars on some of the estates.  Altogether they produce 13 million bottles, with 40% sold in France.  

I was invited to visit St Pierre de Serjac, partly to taste some wine, and partly to see the other side of the business, namely oeno-tourism. In conjunction with a company called Domaines Demeures they are developing three châteaux in the Languedoc, offering facilities for conferences, some hotel rooms and also flats and houses for rent or purchase.   St Pierre de Serjac was one of the chàteaux pinardiers of the late 19th century, designed by the bordelais architect, Louis-Michel Garros.  To the English eye, it looks like a rather large ugly, Victorian pile.   It is a large complex, an extensive estate, with 80 hectares of vines, with 13 different grape varieties,  but also offering facilities for the tourist, including a restaurant,  spa, bicycles and vineyard walks.   It was bought in 2014 and was opened in 2016.   I was amused to find that the dairy company, Lactel, was hosting a conference there on the morning of my visit. 

A  tasting illustrated some of the extensive range of wines that Bonfils produce

2017 Les Carrasses, la Serre, Languedoc - 25.00€
Château les Carrasses is a property close to the appellation of St Chinian, where they make IGP wines.  The name of the cuvée comes from a large greenhouse - serve being the French for greenhouse - on the property, designed by Gustav Eiffel.  The blend is Vermentino, Viognier, with a little Marsanne and some Grenache Blanc.  Each grape variety is fermented and aged separately.  There is some elevage in oak, for six to eight months, but never for all the wine.  Fermentation takes place in stainless steel vat.   

Lightly oak on the nose.  Some floral notes with white blossom.  good acidity.  Nicely rounded on the finish.  

2016 Château Capitoul, Oros, la Clape blanc - 15.00€
Bonfils have recently bought this la Clape estate and are working on turning it into another hospitality centre.  The white wine is a blend of Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Grenache blanc and Marsanne.  It was quite golden in colour, with a rich nose, with some salty notes and good acidity on the palate.  Half the wine had been kept in oak for a couple of months. 

2018 Capitoul rosé, Languedoc - 12.00€ 
A blend of Grenache and Syrah, pressed.  Orange pink colour, with a dry nose.  Quite fresh and rounded with some weight and an elegant finish.  13º.

2018 Capitoul Oros Rosé, Languedoc - 15.00€
A new cuvée made for the first time this year from 80% Grenache with 20% Syrah.  A little colour;  orange pink.  Quite a firm palate with tight acidity and some raspberry fruit.  Although the grape varieties were the same, they said the different was more concentration and lower yields.  12.5º
I preferred the first wine.

2017 Les Carrasses, la Serre, AC Languedoc - 25.00€
A blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache. 11 months in barrel, but never for all the wine, and always with each grape variety separate.  Medium colour.  Nicely rounded.  No great depth but easy drinking, but expensive for that.

The wine making is controlled by a technical director, not a member of the family, and they have five permanent oenologists.

2016, Château Capitoul, Oros, la Clape - 15.00€
A blend of Grenache, 58% with Syrah 28% and Carignan 18%, with half the wine aged in barrel for three to six months.  Quite a light colour.  Quite a firm nose.  The liqueur cherry notes of Grenache.  Rounded with a steak of tannin and quite a rich finish.   La Clape is now recognised as nature reserve, Natura 2000, with a requirement to protect the fauna and flora.   Bonfils prefer culture raisonnée to organic viticulture and working towards Haute Valeur Environmental.  

2016 Château Millegrand, Cuvée Aurore, Minervois - 20.00€
From a Minervois estate on the banks of the canal du Midi at Trèbes.  In the 12th century, it belonged to the abbey of Lagrasse.  Bonfils bought it in 2003.   The blend is 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 5% each of Carignan and Mourvedre.  Medium colour.  Fresh spicy nose. Medium weight.  A touch of oak.  Rounded with youthful tannin on the finish.

2016 Château Villerambert Julien, Opéra, Minervois - 10.00€
The nearby quarry at Caunes-Minerovis supplied marble for the steps of the Opera Garnier in Paris, and for that reason the previous owners of this property named the wine Opéra.  It is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre.  Quite a deep colour. Quite firm structured nose. with dry spice and structure on the palate.  A tannic streak and a leathery note on the finish.  In purchasing the vineyards of Villerambert Julien, Bonfils have reunited the two estates of Villerambert Julien and Villerambert Moreau.  However the château remains in the hands of the two families.   

2016 Château Villerambert, Incarnat, Minervois - 18.00€.  
A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan with twelve months in wood.   Quite deep colour.  Denser oakier nose, and quite solid and rounded with ripe fruit on the palate..  Quite firm structure with the weight of the oak.  A rich finish, 14.5º.

2017 Château Vaugelas, Cuvée 140, Corbières - 18.00€
Their Corbières estate is at the foot of the Montagne d’Alaric, at Camplong d’Aude.   A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre.  Deep colour.  Quite firm black fruit and tapenade on both nose and on palate.  Quite solid and rounded; quite intense. rich flavours from the oak, with a firm tannic streak.  14º.

2016 Château Vaugelas, Corbières, Excellence - 40.00€
Blend of Syrah, 55% with Grenache and a little Carignan and Mourvedre.   Deep colour; rich and intense and oak.  Solid and ripe, and certainly needing time.

Essentially the Bonfils range is in three tiers - 
IGP varietals with the name of an estate
Appellation wines and then for the three estates of Villerambert Julien, l'Esparrou and Vaugelas, they have what they call a cuvée excellence, from the best plots, with some serious élevage in oak.

Château l’Esparrou is their Roussillon estate, which is very close to the étang, north of Canet-en-Roussillon.  Apparently it is surrounded by water, and in its previous history has attracted painters and artists, Dufy, Picasso, Cocteau, Maillot to name but a few.

2017 Cuvée Léone.  Côtes du Roussillon - 12€
Quite a deep colour.  A mixture of warmth and freshness. with acidity and some supple tannins. Medium weight.

2015 Château l’Esparrou, Cuvée Excellence, Côtes du Roussillon - 39€
Again from the best plots, of Syrah and Grenache.  Deep colour.  Solid ripe nose, with quite firm tannins and oak on the palate. A heady 14.5º.  Bonfils bought the estate in 2010, and this is their first Cuvée Excellence from the estate.

And over an elegant lunch we tasted a Chardonnay, le Jardin,  from Domaine de Cibadiès, the head office, near Béziers, which was rounded and oaky, and a Pinot Noir from the same estate, with some red fruit.  2017 Château L’Esparrou le Castell was rounded and ripe, with tannin on the finish.  The estate also makes a Muscat de Rivesaltes and a Rivesaltes Tuilé.