Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Maury Tuilé for some Christmas cheer


I have spent much of this year thinking and writing about Roussillon, rather than the Languedoc, researching a book on the region that is due to appear in the spring.    One of the delights of Roussillon is the vin doux naturel, the delicious fortified wines of Maury, Banyuls and Rivesaltes. And one of the enigmas is: why are these wines not more popular, when they are so delicious?   And they are perfect for this time of the year, providing warmth and spice on a grey day.  They go with mince pies and Christmas pudding, with Stilton and walnuts, or are perfect for sipping on their own.   And they represent extraordinary value.   Berry Bros are selling Maury 1928 Solera, produced by the village cooperative of Maury for £19.95 for a 50 cl bottle.    The wine comes from a solera that was started in 1928.   The grape variety is Grenache Noir, which will have been aged in barrel for over number of years so that the colour evolves and become tuilé or tawny and the wine develops a wonderful dry nutty nose, reminiscent of walnuts, with some rounded rich red fruit, balanced with a firm bite on the finish, and a streak of alcohol.   


Vin doux comes in various forms and colours.  There are younger fresher wines, Grenat or Rimage, made without any contact with oxygen, which you might equate to a ruby port.   And then there are the oxidative wines that spend several, even many years in barrel which are often left outside so that they are exposed to the elements and extremes of temperature, both heat and cold.   Alternatively, they might be left in an attic, again subjected to extremes of temperature, so that the flavours concentrate, as the angels take their share, with the gentle evaporation of the wine.    If made from white grapes, they will turn ambré or amber with age, and if made from red grapes, they will become tuilé or tawny.  So if you are looking for an original Christmas drink, do try a vin doux.  You will not be disappointed.   


This will be my last post of the year, so may I take this opportunity to wish you a Happy Christmas with some good bottles, and followed by a very much better 2021 than 2020.

Friday, 4 December 2020

Domaine de l’Argenteille


I had tasted Roger Jeanjean’s wines a while ago, in fact a number of years ago, at a wine fair in London, but had never managed to visit his estate, and then suddenly, out of the blue in the summer, an email arrived, asking if I would like to try his wines  again.  Of course, the answer was yes, and bottles duly arrived. 


Roger Jeanjean – and No, he is not related to the Jeanjean family who are one of the largest producers of the Languedoc – has had a varied wine trade career.  He is a qualified oenologist and was director of the cooperative in the Hérault village of Gabian for a number of years and then set up his own négociant business, Millésime Sud.  Then he inherited ten hectares of family vines that are situated between Jonquières and St. Saturnin, in the appellation of the Terrasses du Larzac.  So that was the moment to become a vigneron.  In his recent email, Roger told me that his son Victor is now taking over the wine-making, while he is concentrating on the commercial side of things.


So this is what I tasted:

 2019 Rosé Ostrea, Languedoc St Saturnin - 8.00€

A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.   A pale pink orange colour.  A rounded nose and palate, with some dry fruit and some satisfying weight.  Very nicely balanced, making this a good food rosé, with some substance and staying power. 


2018 Le Canyon du Diable, Languedoc  - 7.00€

A blend of Syrah, Carignan and Grenache Noir.   Good young colour.  Ripe spicy red fruit on the nose, and quite sweet ripe fruit on the palate, with a streak of tannin and a fresh finish.  I thought there might have been a hint of oak, but no.  However, I was slightly put off by the heavy bottle. If I were wanting to do some weight lifting, I would rather go to the gym! 



2018 Garric, Terrasses du Larzac – 13.00€

A garric is a kermes oak, an evergreen oak, which grows in the garrigues.  Good colour.  Rounded ripe nose and palate.  A nicely harmonious palate, elegant and rounded with some sweet fruit and a fresh finish, characteristic of the Terrasses du Larzac, balanced by a streak of tannin


2018 Tramontane, Terrasses du Larzac – 11.00€

A blend of 45% Syrah, 30% Grenache Noir, 25% Carignan

Deep colour. Firmer, spicier nose, and drier on the palate, a tighter palate, more knit together.  More structured, with more obvious tannins but also more elegant. Youthful with plenty of potential.  My favourite of the three Terrasses du Larzac.

 2017 Les Secrets du Rocher, Terrasses du Larzac, élevé en fût – 16.00€

A blend of 40% Syrah and 30% each of Grenache and Mourvèdre, aged in medium toasted barrels for 12 months, and then finished off in an egg shaped Flextank, which is made of neutral plastic, which allows for the same level of oxygenation as a barrel, but without any oak effect.   Deep colour.  Quite a firm structured nose, with noticeable oak.  On the palate, some vanilla, as well as fruit.  Quite full-bodied with some weight, and ageing potential.  Well-made.  The oak will tone down with some bottle development.


2018 103 Carignan Vieilles Vignes, IGP St Guilhem-le-Désert - 9.00€

From vines planted in 1950.  The grapes were picked on 29th September, and the wine racked off the skins on 10th December, in other words, a maceration of 103 days, hence the name of the wine, ensuring that the cap of grape skins rests emerged for the whole time.  The malo-lactic fermentation takes place on the skins.  Quite a deep colour, with fresh red fruit on the nose.  However, the palate seemed quite lean in comparison to the nose, and on first taste, I thought there might have been some oak, but no.  The only wine Roger ages in oak is Les Secrets du Rocher.  A touch rustic on the finish, but I like my Carignan with a touch of rusticity.  


A very interesting range of wines that certainly made me want to visit the estate.  I would love to see Roger’s vineyards and meet Victor and have a conversation about his wine-making, and the use of the Flextanks, just as soon as it is possible to return to the Languedoc and cellar visits are feasible once again.  

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Tasting at the Abbaye de Valmagne


It has been twenty years since my last cellar visit to the wonderful abbey of Valmagne, when I met Diane d’Allaines, and her son Philippe, while researching The Wines of the South of France.  Philippe has now retired and his son Roland has taken over the winemaking, so it was time for a well overdue update.


2018 was Roland’s first complete vintage at Valmagne when he worked the whole annual cycle.  He studied agriculture and then business studies and then travelled to broaden his horizons, working in Bordeaux, and in Chile, and for a wine distributor in Paris. He returned to Valmagne with projects, notably to convert the vineyards, which have been organic since 1999, to biodynamic viticulture.  We talked about the two key preparations, namely 500-P which is based on cow dung matured in a cow horn buried in the ground, and sprayed twice a year in the vineyard.  500-1 is based on quartz and sprayed onto the leaves; the aim is to enhance the effect of the sun on the vines.  However, it must be done properly or it can burn the vines.


Roland now has 30 hectares in production.  Originally it was 57 hectares, but he has pulled up the less than satisfactory varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.   He would love to plant olive trees in their place.   For his white wine, he has Viognier, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc and he has planted Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc, using massal selection rather than a clonal selection.  Massal selection is more expensive, 3€ per vine, but the results are better.  For red wine, Roland has Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault, and one hectare of Carignan planted in 1948, and another planted in 2019.  There is also some Morastel which his father planted 20 years ago, but it is very susceptible to mildew.


Roland explained that there are three different soils.  There is some richer, deeper and more fertile soil, which provides the grapes for their entry level wine, Vitrail sur l’Abbaye.   Then there are limestone coteaux or hillsides, and then behind the abbey some very poor pink sandstone.  Sandstone makes for lighter tannins, whereas clay gives more power.  On 19th September, they still had about 10% left to pick, namely Carignan and Mourvèdre.  Virtually all the vineyards are machine-harvested, as machines are so much more efficient these days.

We tasted through the range:  


2019 Vitrail sur l’Abbaye Blanc, Pays d’Oc- 7.50€

A blend of 60% Viognier, 30% Grenache Blanc and 10% Chardonnay, fermented with natural yeast and kept in a stainless steel vat.   Blended in December and bottled in February.   They buy organically grown Chardonnay from a nearby wine grower.    Light colour.  Lightly floral with a hint of peach. Elegant finish, what the French call a joli amertume, an attractive bitterness.  


2019 Portalis, Languedoc AOP  - 11.00€

A blend of 80% Roussanne and 20% Grenache, fermented in vat with a little bâtonnage.  Grown on limestone.  A little colour.  Quite fragrant wine; neither too heavy nor too sunny and very elegant.   Roland explained that they do two tries through the vineyard, picking the Roussanne first at 11.9° for acidity and then at 13° for fruit, and then blend the two.  A blend of minerality and southern aromas, very elegant and nicely crafted.  We later enjoyed it for lunch in the abbey restaurant


2019 Turenne Blanc, Languedoc AOP - 16.00€

A blend of 80% Roussanne grown sandstone with 20% Grenache Blanc from the coteaux, fermented in oak, with six months ageing.   Roland uses neutral barrels, and is also trying a terracotta amphora from Spain.  Last year he bought a demi-muid.  A little colour.  Some integrated oak on the nose. Quite a firm structured palate, with some firm acidity and even a touch of tannin.  It should develop with some bottle age.  Roland admitted to an enthusiasm for Burgundy, and Puligny Montrachet in particular. 


2019 Vitrail sur l’Abbaye Rosé - 7.50€

Cinsault with a little Grenache; pressed grapes.  Pale pink orange colour.  Dry raspberry fruit on the nose, and palate.  Nicely rounded with a fresh finish. 


2019 Nicolaÿ Rosé - 12.00€

Saigné after 8 to 12 hours.  A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Quite rounded with some depth, some weight and some complexity.  For Roland, a rosé de saigné portrays the terroir better than a rosé from pressed grapes.  This was certainly a more serious wine with some depth and mouthfeel.  


They do make a red Vitrail sur l’Abbaye, but the 2018 was sold out and they had only bottled the 2019 the previous day.


2018 Portalis Rouge, Languedoc  AOP - 11.00€

A blend of 60% Syrah with 30% Grenache and 10% Mourvèdre.  All fermented and kept in stainless steel vats. Blended in December and then bottled 12 months later.  The maceration can last between five days and two weeks; ça depend!  Deep colour.  Rounded red fruit with some spice and on the palate a tannic streak.  Medium weight.  Nicely balanced.   Youthful fresh finish, with some ageing potential.


2016 Turenne, Grés de Montpellier - 16.00€

A blend of Syrah and Grenache with a little Morastel and Mourvèdre.   Aged in barrels of three or four wines for 12 months.  A deep colour.  A richer nose. and on the palate rounded ripe fruit, with some depth.  Black fruit and well integrated tannins.  It doesn’t taste as though it has 14° alcohol.  Roland enthused about Mourvèdre.  They are not too far from the sea at Valmagne, so he does get the sea influence in his vineyards, with a temperate climate.  Roland blended this wine, but did not ferment it.


2015 Cardinal de Bonzi, Grés de Montpellier - 24€

This wine was made by Philippe, rather than Roland.  Deep colour.  Quite a firm nose and palate, with some fruit underneath, but the oak is still quite dominant.  Quite structured.  


I quizzed Rolland about changes he has made.  For the wine making, he thought, less extractions.  He dampens the cap of grapes for two or three minutes rather than doing remontages.  He is working with natural yeast and in the vineyard on biodynamics and massal selection.  A flock of sheep spend February to April into vineyards.  You sense that Rolland is very enthusiastic about his vineyards; that is where he feels most at home.


The wine names all convey a sense of the family history.  It was the Count of Turenne who bought Valmagne in 1838 and it has been in the hands of the family ever since.  Suzanne de Nicolaÿ was his granddaughter, who married the Marquis de Nicolaÿ. and she is the great-grandmother of Roland’s grandmother Diane, and mother of Jean-Baptiste Portals built the cellar in 1920, applying the principal of gravity to his wine-making.   Cardinal Pierre de Bonzi was governor of the Languedoc under Louis XIV and Valmagne was his main place of residence; he turned the abbey into a home.  Two new plots of vines pick up the names of the new generation, L’Enclos de Ninon, after Ninon, Roland’s daughter, and Le Petit Moine for Oliver, his nephew, whose father is English and very aptly with the surname of Monk.  Each child has a plot of massal selection vines from which Roland has yet to make wine. then We then repaired to the Auberge de l’Abbaye for a very convivial lunch. 



Monday, 9 November 2020

Maison Lafon


It has been a while since I did a cellar visit with Bruno Lafon of Domaine Magellan.   Things have moved on; his sister-in-law Sylvie, with whom he ran Domaine Magellan, has sadly died and now he has a lot less vineyards.   He has recently remarried, to Sharon, who he met at a wine fair in Hong Kong, and they are now working together, with Bruno’s daughter, Alice, to develop the label, Maison Lafon.


Bruno now runs nine hectares and he also buys grapes from a neighbour, Jean Couderc of Domaine des Trois Puechs in Fouzilhon.  First, we tasted a few 2020s, my first of the year.    See an earlier post for Bruno’s view of the harvest.  All Bruno’s vineyards are farmed organically, and he is working on biodynamics. 


Our tasting started off in the cellar, with a vat sample of one third Roussanne to two thirds Grenache Blanc was the colour and density of grapefruit juice.  Part of the cuvée is in barrel and Bruno also has some Grenache Gris and Piquepoul in barrel.  The wine will do a malo; as a Burgundian, he likes a malolactic fermentation, and all his white wines have undergone a malo since 2011.  I am not very experienced at tasting very young wine from vat, but this struck me as nicely textured with some refreshing acidity.   


A blend of Syrah and Grenache followed, a future AOP Pézenas, with a deep colour and ripe cassis fruit.  It was very intense, with some peppery tannins, and the yield from 2.5 hectares was just 63 hectolitres.   Too small a yield can be problematic economically. Bruno thinks the area around Magellas is getting drier; it can rain heavily in Montpeyroux when there is hardly a drop here.   We talked about the mortality rate of Syrah with vines of 20 years old dying before their time.   It may be linked to the type of graft, but nobody really knows.   Vers de la grappe is another problem that is becoming more common.


Next came a blend of Syrah, Cinsault and Grenache, from grapes bought from M. Couderc, which they harvest themselves, thus controlling the harvest date. A deep colour, with ripe fruit, firm tannins and a juicy finish.  Buying grapes gives them flexibility.   However, Bruno would like to find some Cinsault vines to buy.  Twenty years ago, Cinsault had a bad reputation and Bruno replanted five hectares of Cinsault, for which he had paid just the price of the land, without the vines. But he now thinks that Cinsault is a grape for the future, like Piquepoul.   Cinsault grows slowly and is more resistant to climatic difficulties.    


Then we adjourned to the shade of large plane tree in the courtyard and considered some bottles.  Bruno explained that the label Maison Lafon began in 2016, but it only really got going in 2019.  


2016 Cuvée Reserve, AOP Languedoc - 18.00€

 A blend of a high amount of Grenache grown on sandstone, with some Carignan and a little Syrah. Sandstone makes for less powerful Syrah.  About a 15 months élevage in barrels and then in cement vat, and bottled late, in the summer of  2019.  Medium colour.  Rounded, perfumed fruit on nose and palate, with an elegant streak of tannin. Elegant red fruit.  Still very youthful.  Bruno enthused about 2016; it has the richness of 2017, but the balance of 2014.


2017 Grenache, Vieilles Vignes - 18€

From 60 year old vines, grown on sandstone.  Medium colour.  Very elegant fruit on the nose, with a tannic streak.  Fresh and youthful.  Some mineral stony notes.  Grenache at its best.  Bruno observed that you can find aromas in Grenache that you would normally find in white wine, such as the mineral stoniness. 


2018 Syrah, Les Temps Changen

Inspired by the Bob Dylan song, Times, They are a-changin’.   The last vintage from this particular vineyard, that faces NW, with a terroir of villefranchien clay and limestone.  Deep colour with firm youthful peppery fruit on the nose. Very fresh with a streak of tannin.  A more northern style of Syrah with some restraint.


2018 Deja Vu

A blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Carignan vinified together.   Both varieties are in the same vineyard. Quite a deep colour.  Elegant red fruit and spice.  Grenache makes for quite soft fruit while Carignan provides a firm streak of tannin.  Very nicely balanced, with an underlying ripeness.    Aged in Burgundian barrels for 12 months.  


2019 Syrah, a barrel sample, with some firm spicy fruit, and blackcurrant gums on the nose. Quite a rounded palate.  Quite intense with some cassis fruit.  Promises well. 


2019 Mourvèdre 80% / Carignan 20% blend

The two varieties are aged separately.  Firm youthful nose, and firm red fruit on the palate.   The Carignan gives freshness, with red fruit and tight tannins, and a ripe finish.  Aged in Burgundian pièces, but Bruno is considering demi-muids, and even small 20 hectolitres foudres.  He is not into eggs or amphora, Terracotta is too porous; though he might consider a ceramic amphora.  And he prefers barrels that have been used in Puligny rather than Meursault, observing that in Puligny they bottle before the harvest, whereas in Meursault they keep their wine in barrel for longer, so that there is a moment in the year when the barrels are empty, and Bruno does not like that.  He also laughingly observed that his brother’s barrels were much too expensive!   You don’t need the support of wood; it is the micro-oxygenation that is beneficial and gives stability to the wine.


Next came 2013 Coteaux du Languedoc, Pézenas.  A blend of Syrah and Grenache - 50/50 in the vineyard but not necessarily in the wine.  Rounded maturing nose and palate, with supple ripe fruit and a firm finish.  Some leathery notes, and the intriguing nuances of a maturing wine.  with a long finish.


The next treat of the day was a vertical tasting of Domaine de Magellan Blanc. We began with 2008.    The wine is a blend of  2/3 Grenache Blanc to 1/3 Roussanne.  Half of the Grenache and all the Roussanne was aged in barrel, and the rest of the Grenache in vat.  A little malo, but not 100%.  The wine was kept in barrel until February and then racked and returned to vat, and bottled about a month later.    The only difference in the wine making over the years is the malo-lactic fermentation. Bruno likes 2008 as a vintage and the wine had rounded fruit with good texture and a certain note of maturity, with layers of flavour.


2013 - Some coulure in 2013 so the proportions of Grenache and Roussanne were 50 /50.  Some reductive notes so quite a tight nose and palate, with some elegant fruit. Very complete and harmonious.


2014 - Quite a resinous nose, with some notes of maturity.  Rounded, ripe and rich on the palate, with subtle fruit. 


2015 - Rounded and concentrated, rich and rounded, with some balancing acidity.  


Bruno has planted more white varieties, Grenache Gris, and a little Grenache Blanc, Vermentino and Piquepoul.


2018 - I really enjoyed the more youthful 2018, with round floral fruit, with texture and mouthful and a youthful finish.  It was drinking very nicely.


Next came a couple more reds:   2016 Pézenas with fresh fruit on the nose, and more red fruit on the palate, with a streak of tannin.  Nicely youthful and it was tasted alongside a more mature 2012, a vintage that Bruno really likes.  It was nicely elegant, again with fresh fruit.   There is more Grenache and Carignan than Syrah in the blend.  Youthful tannin and nicely balanced, and young for its years.


In short, a great tasting, showing what a Burgundian approach can achieve in the south of France. 






Monday, 2 November 2020

Mas Lou in Faugères - an update. .

I spent a happy hour, one morning in late September tasting Oliver and Adèle’s current vintages in their little village cellar in the heart of Faugères. They now have eight hectares of vines. They had finished picking, and the wines had mostly finished fermenting, but were still sur marc, on the skins, for a three-week maceration.  However, there had been a cold snap a couple of days earlier, and Olivier was concerned to keep the wines warm, at 25°C.  As Adèle put it, they have put their winter coats on, in other words, an insulating cover.   If the temperature drops too low, it makes for bitter flavours.


This year they started the harvest at the end of August, with the Viognie for their white Côtes de Thongue.   For Faugères itself they started on 7th September, a little earlier than usual, and had finished by 18th.  On 2019, they were still picking on 9th October.  This year everything was ripe all at once, and they also hurried as the weather forecast had announced a downpour, that never came in the end.  The quantity is satisfactory and the quality very good.

The other problem this year was the wild boar.  They were thirsty and consumed about 70% of one plot of Mourvèdre, and also a large amount of Syrah.  You can install electric fences but they are expensive and not always 100% effective.  it is best to work with your neighbours and fence larger plots, but you have to do that quite early in the season, and that can cause problems with using tractors.

2019 Angaco - 10.00€

60% Carignan, with some Grenache and Lledoner Pelut, all aged in vat. Medium colour; fresh cherry nose, from the Grenache, with some firm tannins from the Carignan.  Some lovely fruit and an elegant balance.


2019 Jalka - 15.00€

This was a new cuvée for me, based on 70% Cinsault, grown at 400 metres, with some Grenache.  They are kept in vat and blended in March just before bottling.  It was quite delicious. Cinsault is my current enthusiasm.  A light bright colour.  Very fresh red fruit on the nose - the Cinsault makes for very appealing perfume. Delicately fragrant palate with lovely fresh fruit.


Adele explained that it is a micro-cuvée, they make just 10 hls, or 1500 bottles, from one small plot of 40 ares. All their cuvée names have a link with their time in South America.  Jalka are the Bolivian women who weave the local materials, which are illustrated on their labels.


2018 Aksou - 13€

Mainly Syrah, grown in a vineyard at around 250 - 300 metres, with some Grenache and Carignan, kept in vat, while the small amount of pressed juice is put in an old barrel, to round it out with some micro-oxygenation.   Adèle described it as their cuvée référence for schist. The nose was quite rich with black fruit and a hint of tapenade.  Fresh peppery fruit on the palate.  Medium weight.


2016 Tio - 20€

Mainly from Syrah, 90%, with some Grenache and Carignan, with an élevage in wood, including a little new oak.  2016 was a very hot year, with some drought and a small yield.   The oak immediately adds a different register of flavour and the wine is quite firm and structured with some underlying fruit. It should age well.  Though Adèle said: on cherche.  They are not sure that they have got it right yet; they are wondering about giving up on oak, and maybe trying a terracotta amphora.  They think that people like oak less than they used to, especially with the other possibilities available for élevage. Concrete vats are so good for both fermentation and élevage.


Their next project is a new cellar, outside Roquessels.  They hope to get planning permission early next year; the village mayor is supportive.  Their cellar in Faugères is simply too impractical.  Getting a bottling machine to them is well-nigh impossible and they have nowhere to store any wine, which precludes an impromptu purchase if somebody stops to taste. 


Their 2019 Côtes de Thongue, Ïnti, a pure Viognier, was all sold out and the 2020 will be kept in a for the next six months. 


I liked the way that their labels say jeunes vignerons.  Adèle explained that you are allowed to use that term until you are 35.  They still have a few years to go!

Monday, 26 October 2020

Tasting at Le Wine Shop

Dom George (no relation) of Le Wine Shop has changed his business model.  Being forced to close his shop in Pézenas, due to Covid, prompted a re-think of his business and now he concentrates on mail order and hosts small tastings (a maximum of six) for customers, either in the cellar of his house in Nézignan l’Evêque or he goes to peoples’ homes.  And business is thriving.  Dom knows his customers and their price range - they want value for money between 6 -10€ a bottle, what Dom called pépites or nuggets, just what the Languedoc does best.  He is always nosing out new wines, so I asked if I could come for a tasting of some of his new discoveries.  And this is what he gave me to taste, including a couple of the estates I had not even heard of, let alone tasted before!


2018 Domaine Monthelys, Languedoc - 11.00€

 A blend of 50% Grenache Blanc and 50% Marsanne.  Kept in vat.  Attractive herbal notes on the nose and a firm palate with fresh acidity, and what the French would call a joli amertume.  Bitterness can be good in French tasting notes, but I think not in English.  The wine was fresh and youthful with a little body. This apparently is a small estate based in Cabrerolles, run by a Parisian who has retired to the Languedoc. 


2019 Bastide des Songes, Gewurztraminer, Pays d’Oc - 8.00€

Another new name for me.   And an unusual grape variety for the Languedoc.  There are the occasional examples, but at one time it was a grape variety that was not permitted in the region, only in Alsace.  Gewurztraminer can be quite blowsy but this is much more restrained, with some elegant spice on the nose and palate.  Medium weight with a firm finish.


2019 Domaine St Georges d’Ibry, Closerie d’Ibry, Côtes de Thongue - 9.50€

A blend of Chardonnay and Viognier.  The Chardonnay has spent about six months in oak barrels.  I have to admit that this is not my favourite style of white wine from the Languedoc, but it is well made.  The nose is quite rounded with some lightly peachy notes from the Viognier and the palate has some weight.  The Chardonnay tones down the perfumed fruit of the Viognier, and there is some acidity on the finish.  


2018 Domaine de Cadablès, rosé, Vin de France - 8.00€

A blend of Grenache and Cinsault, saigné rather than pressed, so a deeper colour than the ethereal rosés of Provence, and none the worse for that.  Quite a dry nose with some raspberry fruit.  And on the palate, rounded, ripe and mouth filling, with some acidity and a hint of tannin.  Quite a long finish.  This is a food rosé rather than a rosé de piscine.

Now onto some reds:

2018 Le Soif des Hommes, Château Montana, Côtes Catalanes - 9.00€

Here we have strayed into Roussillon to the village of Banyuls-les-Aspres.   A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. No oak.  Deep colour.  Ripe cassis fruit on the nose and palate, with a tannic streak on the finish.  It is youthful and fresh with ripe fruit.  I like the flavours, but for the food of the Languedoc, I do so much prefer the spicy flavours of the local grape varieties, rather than interlopers from Bordeaux. 


2015 Domaine Coste Rousse, Côtes de Thongue - 9.50€

A blend of Syrah and Carignan, a little élevage in barrel.  Good colour with spicy fruit, and a note of the garrigues on the nose.  Nicely rounded and ripe with a tannic streak.  No great depth or subtlety but a jolly nice glass of wine.


2018 Domaine St Hilaire, Pays d’Oc - 18.00€

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.   Good colour.  Ripe juicy nose, with ripe fruit and cassis on the palate.   More expensive than Château Montana, and you could see why, with more depth and nuances on the palate.  


2017 Château des Nouvelles, Carignan, Vin de France  - 10.00€

A pure Carignan, from old vines.  From a long established Fitou estate in the village of Tuchan. Medium colour.  Rounded red fruit on the palate with good acidity and tannin.  Medium weight with refreshing red fruit.  Another lovely glass of wine.  And it went a treat with Dom’s wife, Ine’s home made tapenade.


 Domaine St Hilaire, Pays d’Oc, Late Harvest Viognier - 14.00€ for a 50 cl. bottle

We finished with a sweet wine, a late harvest Viognier, picked in the middle of October.  Golden colour, with ripe, peachy fruit on the nose.  With the sweetness, the palate loses the obvious peachiness of the Viognier and is simply ripe and rounded, with some lovely honeyed notes and a fresh finish.   A tasty bonne bouche with which to finish our tasting. 






Monday, 19 October 2020

Terre Ensems - a new estate in Berlou

One good thing leads to another.   We had dinner in August at the wonderful pop up restaurant in the crater at Domaine du Météore and by chance found ourselves in conversation with a fellow guest, Michel Bouisseren, who happened to mention that he made wine in Berlou, and so we arranged a cellar visit.


It turned out that Michel had just completed his second harvest.   He explained that he had spent 30 years selling Speedo swimwear and then it was time for a change.  He wanted to monter une domaine and had hoped to buy an existing estate in Gabian, but the owner changed his mind.  Michel didn’t know the village of Berlou but found himself having lunch at Le Faitout, the village restaurant, which is well worth the journey.  He had a coup de foudre for the place; it is a lost corner, on the way to nowhere, and there are vineyards on schist, not to mention vines for sale at an affordable price.  Michel gave us some figures - an average of 12-14,000€ per hectare, and even as low as 7000€ if the vines require a lot of work, with many missing, as opposed to 40,000€ in the Terrasses du Larzac.   He has bought two plots of vines, a total of 12 hectares of land, with 7 hectares in production.   He has all five red varieties of the Languedoc, but Carignan is the most important, with lots of old vines that are 80 and even 105 years old.  He is also planning a hectare of white wine, concentrating on Chenin Blanc, which he loves, with some Bourboulenc, Marsanne, Roussanne and maybe Macabeo.  The vineyards are being converted to organic viticulture and eventually will become biodynamic.  

 He took possession of his vines in 2018 and worked the vineyards, giving him a chance to get to know them, but sold the grapes sur pied, so that he did not harvest them himself.   He talked about the innocence of inexperience. 


He has a small cellar, well situated in the centre of village almost next door to the mairie.  His methods are natural, using indigenous yeast, no fining, no filtering and a minimum of SO2. The cellar is neat and compact, well equipped with a small modern basket press - you can regulate the pressure so that it is very slow - Cinsault is very juicy and quick to press; Syrah in contrast takes longer as the skins are thicker.  There are small stainless-steel vats, with temperature control, an egg, a demi-muid and a couple of amphorae.   The egg, made from some form of plastic, has the micro-porosity of a barrel of two fills. Michel uses for it for fermentations, and finds it gives more volume than a fermentation in a stainless-steel vat.  His amphorae are sandstone, and made in Bordeaux; which he prefers to amphorae from terracotta, which is much more porous. He is not very keen on oak; he had put some Carignan in the demi-muid, but found it too oaky.  In an amphora there is a continual movement of the lees.  He finds that amphorae give freshness and what he called droiture to the wines.  Two more are on order - a 5hls amphora costs 2300€, but they are very easy to clean.    He works by gravity and talked about filling the vats a bucket at a time, going up and down a ladder, but he plans to be better organised next year.  This year the harvest began on 26th August with Syrah and finished on 9th September with Carignan.   He bottles with the waning moon, when the wine is less disturbed.

I asked about the name of the estate.  Ensems means ensemble, or together, in Occitan and it is a joint project, between Michel and his compagne, even though she works full time as a chartered accountant.  Michel explained that he is doing this for his quality of life; a change of career at the age of 57.


In 2019 Michel made four wines, all Vin de France.  He does not want to bother with the appellation, which would be St. Chinian - Berlou.  “There are too many constraints, with the number of grape varieties and minimum and maximum percentages.  And the IGPs are almost as bad”.

2019 Histoire de Carignan - 13€

Vinified by carbonic maceration, taking the CO2 from a fermenting vat to put it in an empty vat, and then adding whole bunches for a maceration that lasts about three weeks.   Good colour. Fresh red fruit on nose and palate. A certain density on the palate, but not heavy   A fresh finish with some acidity and tannin.   I will be intrigued to see how this develops in the bottle. 


2019 Sans Rien C’est Bien - 17.00€

Destemmed Carignan, vinified in an egg.   Slightly lighter colour.  A different plot of vines.  More restrained fruit and less dense on the palate.   Fresh and youthful.  After the egg, the wine goes into vat and is then bottled in April.


2019 Toute Première Fois - 19.00€

70% Grenache with some Syrah, fermented and aged in vat, and bottled at the beginning of April.  Medium colour.  Quite a firm nose, with a nicely rounded palate, with the sucrosité or richness of the Syrah and the cherry fruit of Grenache.  Supple tannins, a rounded finish, and still very young.


L”Amphoiré - 21.00€

A blend of 90% Mourvèdre with 10% Syrah.  Each plot and grape variety is vinified separately, and blended in February, and then bottled in June.  The Mourvèdre will have spent six months in an amphora.  Quite firm fresh fruit, with a nicely rounded palate, ripe fruit, spice and elegant tannins.  A potentially lovely glass of wine, but still very young.


As for 2020, Michel may try a different cuvée or two.  He does not want things to become repetitive, and is clearly enjoying himself.  Asked about future projects, he talked about getting a prestateur de cheval, renting a man with a horse, to come and work the vineyards of old Carignan, for which a tractor is well-nigh impossible.  He has also six sheep in the vineyards during the winter to keep the grass and weeds at bay.  He does not want any more vines. Six hectares is small enough for him to do it all himself and to really know what is happening in his vineyards. You must keep your connection with your vines; he knows all his vines; you simply have to spend time in the vineyards.  


As a past salesman, Michel pertinently observed that the Languedoc still has a complex about its wines, and about selling them.  Wines can be priced too low.  It is something that the Languedoc has to overcome.  Indeed, many is the times that I have lamented a delicious wine made by somebody who clearly has no idea how to sell it.   Michel clearly does.