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.  





Monday, 12 October 2020

The 2020 vintage in the Languedoc – some initial thoughts as the harvest draws to a close.

Official figures say a large harvest in Languedoc Roussillon - 13 million hectolitres and 7% up on last year.  However, that was not borne out by anyone I talked to; low quantity but good quality was how they summed it up in a nutshell.   

For Deborah and Peter Core at Mas Gabriel, it was a slightly smaller yield, especially for Vermentino and Grenache, but great quality, with clean fruit and nicely balanced wines.   As for the weather, there were good reserves of water from last autumn and winter – their village of Caux was actually cut off for two days last October due to flooding. The spring was quite cool, and there was quite a bit of rainfall in late April early May, while London was enjoying summer weather during lockdown. The summer temperatures were quite warm but thankfully without the extremes of 2019.   High summer did of course warm up and was dry as usual, but the August nights were quite fresh, giving a day/night difference of over 10°C, which is great for the ripening of the grapes and flavour development.   Now in the cellar, the wines are looking very promising.


At the Abbaye de Valmagne, in the Grés de Montpellier Roland d’Allaines described 2020 as correct for quantity, especially for those who were able to control the mildew and oidium.   However, he found the ripening complicated.   You really had to wait for the right moment for each parcel.   But then the balance between aroma, acidity and freshness is superb, for both red and white wines.


The year was characterised by its very wet spring, followed by a dry summer. No great heatwave, and only one day, August 1stwith a heatwave temperature.  September was initially quite fresh, and then warm, with some welcome rain at the beginning of the month.  ‘The climate was with us’.    


Caryl Panman at Château Rives Blanques in Limoux said that it is difficult to give an overview.  “The quality was good with us as with many people I’ve spoken to, but the quantity was unexpectedly low.  I’ve heard the same complaint from others... but then again, there are some who had a bumper year, even in Limoux.  People point to the unusually wet spring, the unusually dry, hot summer.  Our flowering was textbook perfect, and our lab reports show absolute zero evidence of any water stress”.  So nobody knows why the quantity is low.   Caryl is still asking.  However, it was also their earliest harvest ever, with picking beginning on 21stAugust, to finish on 13thSeptember 


Bruno Lafon in Magellas was more circumspect, saying that it is difficult to have an opinion about the vintage.  Rain in spring made for mildew.  Then it was very dry.  His crop is small - 20-30% down – with an average yield of about 28 hl/ha.  Ideally, he would like 35 hl/ha but he hasn’t had that for a long time.   His Grenache suffered from mildew, and he had expected higher yields from his Syrah, as some of his vineyards are quite vigorous, but some suffered from drought, and the long-term effect of several dry years.   There is a high mortality rate amongst Syrah.  However, his vat samples tasted very promising.   


At Domaine Ollier Taillefer, they began the harvest on 31stAugust, a few days earlier than usual.  The quality is very promising, with very healthy grapes, benefitting from cool nights, making for refined tannins and flavours.   Ideal weather!  


At Mas Lou they started on 7th September, a little earlier than usual, and had finished by 18th.  On 2019, in comparison, 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!  The quantity is correct 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.  


Simon Coulshaw at Domaine des Trinités summed it up; “Low yields but very good quality”.   His yields are down on last year.


Grenache is susceptible to downy mildew; he lost 15 tons to mildew.  Simon stops treating six weeks before the harvest, so mid-July when the weather was heavy and humid and consequently the Grenache suffered.   However, it is a perfect mushroom year, and there were some wonderful looking girolles in the market as we left at the beginning of October.   Other varieties, the white varieties and his Carignan and Cinsault are fine.   Syrah did not set very well, but is absolutely delicious - Simon is very excited.


Apart from mildew the other problem is the wild boar.  This year the hunting season finished earlier than usual because of confinement.  You can apparently get compensated for loss of fruit, but it is a bureaucratic hoop, and not worth the trouble.


However, there is no doubt that Simon is happy about the quality, quantity is 35- 40% down on 2019, which was a great year for him, after a disastrous 2018.  



Domaine de Roquemale in the Grés de Montpellier.  

The vintage started on 20th August and was finished by 14 September, the first time that they have ever finished so early.  And everything had finished fermenting by the end of September except for a couple of vats of Grenache and Syrah.   So a beautiful vintage, with less quantity than anticipated but very good quality with beautifully balanced juice in the cellar.  


It all promises well.  I am looking forward to tasting some during my next stay in the Languedoc.  



Sunday, 4 October 2020

Chateau Rives Blanques - some highlights

2016 Saphir, Crémant de Limoux 15.00€ 

A special Crémant, made for Jan and Caryl’s 45th wedding anniversary. A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Chenin blanc and 10% Mauzac. 17% of the blend is fermented and aged in French oak barrels. The wine spends 40 months on the lees of the second fermentation. No added dosage, which makes it something of an acquired taste, compared to some softer Crémants I found this very restrained and elegant. Without any dosage, it lacks the usual rounded creaminess of the average Crémant, and has a firm backbone of acidity and quite a tight knit palate, with good depth on the finish. There are some yeasty brioche notes on the nose. A Crémant to linger over; a wine that gradually reveals itself.
2019, Occitanie, Mauzac - 13.65€ 

We shared this bottle with friends, and it was delicious. A light colour. A fresh herbal note. And on the palate, some herbal notes and some saline hints, with some fresh acidity and juicy note. Jan and Caryl are one of the few estates to make a pure Mauzac, which is a shame as it is an important part of the heritage of Limoux, and if it is as good as this, it certainly deserves a much better reputation. The vines are 60 years old and the wine is fermented and aged in old oak barrels. with some occasional lees stirring.
2019, Dédicace, Chenin Blanc 13.65€ 

This has long been one of my favourite white wines from the Languedoc, even though Chenin Blanc is not a typical variety in the region. However, introduced to Limoux, to add flavour to Blanquette, it now makes some lovely still wine. Light golden in colour, with some hints of dry honey on the nose, and more honey on the palate, with good acidity. Elegantly mouth filling. The flavours are still quite restrained, so there is plenty of ageing potential.
2016 Lagremas d’Aur, Pays d’Oc - 16.50€ for a 50cl. bottle 

A late harvest Chenin blanc, with the grapes picked in November. Only made in years when the weather allows for the development of noble rot, as it did in October 2016. And again in October 2019. Fermented and aged on the lees in a stainless steel tank. Light golden in colour, with some roasted notes on the nose, typical of noble rot. Dry honey balanced by firm acidity. Elegantly honey with a fresh finish. Quite delicious. As good as the best Bonnezeaux or Coteaux du Layon. And very similar in style. Try detecting the difference in a blind tasting.