Monday, 29 March 2021

Château Montfin – a new discovery via zoom

An invitation via Millésime Bio to meet resulted in an hour’s conversation on zoom with Jérôme Estève of Château Montfin in the village of Peyriac-de-Mer in the appellation of Corbières.   

Jérôme reminded me that I had tasted his wines in London a while ago, but also explained that the range and style had changed significantly, with the 2018 vintage.  His first harvest was in 2002.  He comes from Toulouse, and in 2002 bought a bankrupt wine estate.  He began with ten hectares, and now 20 hectares of vines on the massif of Fontfroide at an altitude of 100 metres.   Old Carignan dominates his vineyards, accounting eight hectares, with vines aged between 60 and 90 years old.  There is also Grenache, and some Syrah and Cinsault and a little Mourvèdre.  For white wine Jérôme has Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Roussanne and a little Clairette and Macabeo.  He has replanted some Cinsault and Carignan, but finds that Syrah does not work well as it copes badly with the wind and drought.


First of all, Jérôme described his range – tantalisingly, as there was of course no wine to taste.  All his wines are Corbières. He makes four red wines.  First is Sur Pilotis from Carignan with some Grenache and a little Syrah, that is aged in vat, with an emphasis on fruit.


Vincent, a wine without any sulphur and a play on words vin sans …..this conversation proved to be a sharp learning curve as far as my skills in French dictation were concerned and I was definitely found wanting…… Grenache is the main variety in Vincent, with some old Carignan and a little Syrah with a classic vinification and a long cuvaison, with the wine kept in vat and bottled in the spring.


Les Fées de l’Etang – another play on words, the fairies, or l’effet or the effect of the lagoon, which makes for freshness and salinity, with a gentle maritime breeze.  A selection of plots, Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and a little Mourvèdre, aged in old barrels, and also amphorae.  Jérôme commented that they have had more rain and humidity in the last couple of years.  He has worked with amphorae since 2018, and prefers sandstone amphorae, from Italy rather than terra cotta, which is too porous and much more difficult to clean. He uses them mainly for Carignan and puts the Syrah in barrel and Grenache in vat.


The final red wine was l’Une – rather than Lune… from two old plots of Carignan and Grenache with very low yields, just 15 hl/has.  The grapes are picked at the end of the harvest – the wild boar can be a problem – and the fermenting vat is a mixture of destemmed grapes and whole bunches, with some pigeage and a long cuvaison.  It is not made every year with 2016 the most recent vintage.  Jérôme observed that he is aiming for softer tannins and a more gentle extraction.


As for whites, there are two.  Sur Pilotis from Roussanne, Vermentino and Grenache Blanc with a little Clairette and Macabeo.  And Cuvée St Jacques, from 40-year-old Roussanne, with some Grenache Blanc, which are picked very ripe and vinified in wood.    The Rosé, L’Etang Danse, comes from Cinsault and Grenache, and is mainly pressurage direct, with a little saignée to give some vinosity and weight.  The label apparently shows a flamingo with a dancing shoe!


Jérôme talked about his work. He has been farming organically for ten years now and uses some of the biodynamic treatments.  He favours natural yeast for his red wines, but finds they are not so successful for white wines, and has had problems with stuck fermentations, so he prefers neutral cultured yeast for white wine.


In the vineyard, he is working on cover crops, which add nitrogen to the soil and prevent erosion and ravinement, and allow for better water penetration, making the soil live.  He is very interested in agriculture forestière and has planted over 2000 trees over the last six or seven years, mainly fruit trees such as pomegranate and almonds.  At Peyriac-de-Mer, all the wine growers are already organic, or converting to organic viticulture.  They are very aware that they are in a protected zone, with the nearby national park.


Jérôme also talked about what he called la taille douce, whereby you try to understand the functioning of the vine, and prune where you will least disturb the flow of the sap, and avoid a large cut in the vine, which can cause disease and tire the vine. The pruning is usually higher up the vine, which may also entail a need to debud later.   He first started this method in 2019 and has seen a difference in the change of the behaviour of the vines.


And our last topic of conversation was what Jérôme called a DGC- Délimitation Geographique Complémentaire - for an area within the appellation of Corbières to the south of Narbonne.  This has been under discussion since 2017, and Jérôme is involved with an area that covers a handful of villages south of Narbonne, which are limited by the Massif of Fontfroide, namely Bages, Peyriac-de-Mer, Sigean, Portal-des-Corbières and Roquefort-des-Corbières, including about 30 estates and a couple of cooperatives.   Essentially, they form an amphitheatre, with the Massif de Fontfroide behind them, facing east and the sea, so that they enjoy a maritime influence.  They do not want the cahier des charges to be too restrictive.  It is a collective project, and Jérôme has, as he put it, taken up the challenge, the baton or the stick for his area. The appellation of Corbières is one of the biggest, with considerable variations, and there are other DGCs in the pipeline, namely Durban, Lagrasse, Alaric, the Terrasses de Lézignan, but as yet nothing settled.   Boutenac is already recognised as a cru.  They would like the name for the coastal area to be Peyriac-de-Mer, which really identifies the area, but there is a problem, there is an IGP Coteaux de Peyriac in the Minervois, and you cannot have the same or a similar name for an appellation and for an IGP.  And inevitably confusion would arise. 


These things take time and at the moment they are in discussion with the INAO in Narbonne and are preparing what Jérôme called a pre-dossier.  The next step would be a dossier to submit to the INAO.  They do not want it to be too restrictive; they may limit the percentage of Syrah, but they would prefer not to have a délimitation parcellaire, and it would include all three colours.   They would also like to impose organic viticulture.   And when might this actually come into effect?  Jérôme thought it would take at least two or three years, so maybe for the 2025 vintage.    So a question of watch this space.  


Monday, 15 March 2021

New Zealand Syrah - an overview

February would normally see New Zealand winemakers in London for the annual New Zealand trade tasting, but not this year, so instead the New Zealanders organised a series of webinars.   Some brave souls braved a very uncivilised 4 a.m. alarm call to be able to talk to England at the very civilised hour of 5 p.m. all about new developments in New Zealand and then there was a webinar on Pinot Noir, with a different cast, the next day.   And a  Syrah tasting was conducted by Rebecca Gibb MW, who is based in Yorkshire, with miniature samples sent out ahead of time.   


I know that New Zealand has absolutely nothing with the Languedoc, but Syrah is grown in the Languedoc as a cepage améliorateur and so I think it is interesting to put Syrah in context and compare it in other parts of the world.  In fact, there is very little Syrah grown in New Zealand, just 437 hectares, which accounts for one percent of the country’s vineyard area.  The first commercial planting of Syrah in New Zealand was as recent as 1984, by Alan Limner of Stonecroft Winery in Hawke’s Bay.   Hawkes Bay is the most important region for Syrah, with four wines in the tasting, plus one from Waiheke Island and perhaps unexpectedly, a wine from Marlborough.  There are all of 11 hectares of Syrah in Marlborough.

So this is what we tasted, with plenty to enthuse about, showing how New Zealand is a delicious alternative to the Rhone Valley and the Languedoc as a source of Syrah.

Prices are recommended UK retail prices, but we were not given stockists.


2018 Te Mata Syrah - £19.99

I have always had a soft spot for Te Mata, ever since I went there on my very first visit to New Zealand thirty years ago.   At that time Te Mata had not even considered growing Syrah.   This wine is a blend of two areas within Hawke’s Bay, Bridge Pa and the Woodthorpe Terraces.  2018 was a very hot summer, with some heavy rain in early March, which did cause problems at the harvest.  The wine spent five months in oak and has a fresh peppery nose and palate, with gentle tannins and an underlying freshness. I liked it a lot and it represents good value. Bullnose Syrah is their top cuvée for Syrah.  


2019 Paritua - £31.99

This also comes from Bridge Pa and is a much richer style than the Te Mata.  There is some perfumed peppery red fruit on the nose, and on the palate the wine is much fleshier, with oaky notes and supple tannins.  Half the wine is aged in new French oak. This was fermented at under 30°C, illustrating a current  trend to ferment at lower temperatures in order to avoid excessive extraction and tannins.  


2018 Trinity Hill, Gimblett Gravels - £24.99

Gimblett Gravels is further inland and warmer than the coastal area of Hawke’s Bay. The gravels retain the daytime heat during the night.  The grapes were picked earlier than they would have liked, thanks to the rain in March.  And they use 25% whole bunches, and also add some Viognier skins to the ferment.  The wine then spends 14 months in French oak.   The colour is deep and the nose redolent for black fruit.  The palate is firm and structured, with dark fruit and a long finish.   It needs time and in due course will be delicious.


2019 Craggy Range, Gimblett Gravels - £25.00

2019 was a very dry vintage. There were some whole bunches in the ferment – 18% to be precise, and the wine spent fourteen months in oak, 25 % new.  The colour is deep with a firm dense nose, with black fruit and pepper.  The palate is tight knit again with firm fruit and a certain juiciness of the finish. There are peppery notes with tannin and black fruit, and a long finish.


2017 Man o’ War Dreadnought Syrah - £37.50

Man o’ War is one of the leading estates of Waiheke Island, and also the largest estate on the island, with an extensive vineyard at the eastern end of the island.  Conditions on Waiheke are warmer than in Hawke’s Bay. 


Deep colour.  Red fruit with a very perfumed nose.  Some quite firm tannins and oak on the palate, with fleshy red fruit.  Medium weight.  Rebecca explained that as well as being warmer, the soils are richer and the wine had a higher alcohol level at 14° than the wines from Hawke’s Bay, averaging 13°.  2017 was quite a wet vintage.  


2016 Fromm Vineyard, Marlborough - £42.50

Marlborough is of course better known for Sauvignon, and also Pinot Noir.  This Syrah was planted in 1992 and it ripens a month later than Pinot Noir, with the talented winemaker at Fromm, Hätsch Kalberer, agreeing that Marlborough is marginal for Syrah.   Marginal or not, this was delicious.  Good deep colour.  Quite a perfumed fragrant nose, beginning to evolve a little, as the oldest wine of the tasting.  Again, the palate was beautifully balanced, with a tight structure and some spice and pepper.  Hätsch includes just 2% of Viognier juice.  All the grapes are destemmed and he uses indigenous yeast and ages the wine in barrel for eighteen months.  And he made just six barrels in 2016.  It was a delicious finale to the tasting.   And Rebecca concluded with the observation that 80% of the Syrah drunk in New Zealand comes from Australia!   




Monday, 8 March 2021

Women in Wine - International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, so it seemed an appropriate moment to look back on nearly 50 years in wine.  When I joined the wine trade in July 1972, it was very much a man’s world.   Answering the phone at the Wine Society, I was one morning greeted with the words:  I want to speak to somebody who knows about wine!  There were very few women working in the wine trade who did anything other than secretarial work, or if they were a wine grower’s wife, they kept the books and looked after the paperwork, but they certainly did not go into the cellar.   How things have changed.

When I passed the MW in 1979 with a friend, Aileen Trew, we doubled the female content of the Institute of Masters of Wine overnight.   Sarah Morphew was the first female MW, in 1970, 25 years after the foundation of the Institute and Serena Sutcliffe followed her in 1977.   And then a steady flow of women began.   The Institute now numbers over 400 members, world-wide, of whom a good third are women, and the majority of whom passed the exam in this century.


Then consider work in a cellar.  When I wrote my first book on Chablis, published in 1984 I mentioned two women winemakers, Madeleine Coquard and Lyne Marchive.  Things were not much better in my second edition, published 25 years later. The pioneers were still Lyne Marchive of Domaine des Malandes and also Clotilde Davenne of Domaine des Temps Perdus.   Fast forward to my third edition, published in 2018, and there has been a veritable explosion of women making wine in Chablis, with a tsunami of daughters rather than sons.   Some of the most talented of the new generation are women, 


One of the most famous estates, Domaine Raveneau, now has Isabelle Raveneau in charge.   When we met, she observed that her grandfather, François, who established the reputation of the family estate, simply did not believe in women in the cellar.  Had she been speaking English she might have said that he would be turning in his grave at the thought of his granddaughter in his cellar.   She also mentioned that with the mechanisation of so many pieces of equipment, you now longer need the strong shoulders of the earlier generation. 


Other estates with women primed to take over, include Charlene at Domaine Pinson, Camille at Domaine Besson who recently won a Jeunes Talents competition for young winemakers in Burgundy and Julie at Domaine Gilles and Nathalie Fèvre.  Cécilia Trimaille runs Domaine Long Depaquit, after a stint as chef de culture at Château Margaux.  Lucie Dupuydt is in charge of J. Moreau & Fils.  Virginie Moreau makes the wine at Domaine Moreau-Naudet and Marie-Ange Robin at Domaine Robin.  There is Athenaïs de Béru at the Château de Béru in the eponymous village, Nathalie and Isabelle Oudin in Chichée and Eléonore Moreau in Poilly-sur-Serein.  I know I have missed some names, not to mention other examples in the surrounding villages of the Yonne. 


In the Languedoc, there is an organisation called the Vinifilles, which is primarily for sharing marketing and communications.  Not all the women in the group are winemakers, but they all play an important part in their family business.    And with the Languedoc’s openness to outsiders, there are perhaps more women making wine there than in other more traditional parts of France.  To name but a few, there is Catherine Roque at Mas d’Alezon in Faugères, with her daughter Alix running Domaine du Clovallon in Bédarieux.   Brigitte Chevalier created Domaine de Cébène in Faugères.   In the Minervois, Patricia Domergue runs Clos Centeilles, with her daughter Cecile and there is Isabelle Coutale at Domaine Eugénie and Anne Gros from Burgundy has also come south.  Nicole rather than John Bojonowski is the winemaker at Clos du Gravillas in St Jean-de-Minervois; Estelle rather than Pierre makes the wine at Domaine Clavel. Jo Lynch shares the winemaking with her husband André Suquet at Villa Dondona in Montpeyroux.   Emmanuelle Schoch created her own estate of Mas de Seren outside Anduze.


Researching my next book In Roussillon, I have recently enjoyed cellar visits with Frédérique Vaquer at Domaine Vaquer; Wendy Wilson at Domaine le Soula, and Carrie Summers at Domaine de l’Enfant and Laetitia Pietri-Clara at Domaine Pietri-Giraud in Banyuls


I could carry on, but lists become boring.  So I just wanted to say that it is just so gratifying to see how the balance is being corrected and continues to be corrected.   The wine trade is no longer a man’s world, but it is still a white world, and that now needs to be addressed.  



Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Château Beauregard-Mirouze in the Corbières – a zoom with Karine Mirouze

Following on from a contact via the Millésime Bio website, Karine MIrouze and I arranged to talk on Zoom.    It has been quite a while since my last visit to Château Beauregard-Mirouze in the Corbières so it was time for an update.

Karine talked about their work in the vineyard and how it has evolved since my visit.   They have worked organically since 2010, but that was not enough.   She explained the need for what she called a global ecological approach, that encompasses everything in the vineyard, and also entailed the transition to biodynamics.   They are planting more trees and working to protect the birds.  They work with a shepherd and a flock of 70 sheep that graze on the property all the year around, with extra lucerne grown for their winter diet.  Essentially, they consider the whole environment of the vineyard.

They are also working more à la parcelle, and taking a more detailed look at their various plots.  For instance, they realised that a vineyard planted in 1973 and declared as Syrah actually included a significant amount of Carignan!   They now pick when the Syrah is ripe, and the Carignan not quite ripe, so that it adds freshness and character to the wine.  


And there have been additions to their range and some experiments in the cellar.  Some have worked; some have not.   There is a Pét Nat, Rouze, based on Cinsault, and light red in colour, to which they add some Mourvèdre.   It is left to ferment in the bottle and disgorged at the beginning of January.  Pétouze, meaning a petit oiseau or little bird, is a red pétillant, which Karine said was a little refined than Rouze. 


They are also experimenting with a white vin de macération, made oxidatively, so that it is rancio in character.  Karine admitted that the first attempt in 2017, for which the grapes were not destalked, and the wine given a long élevage, was undrinkable!  In 2018, they destemmed and gave the juice a week’s maceration before pressing, and that was much better.  They used Roussanne, and then aged the wine in oak for 12 months, and now it is in vat.  They want to accentuate the rancio character.    And in 2019 the juice spent three weeks on the skins.  You get more tannins, and then what Karine called the gras or weight and richness takes over, and that was ready earlier and worked well.  But then in 2020 their white wine harvest was too small, to allow for any experiments.


Karine explained how in 2019 the cool weather at flowering in June, followed by the heatwave had impacted on the flowering and the crop for 2020.  On the other hand, 2019 was the biggest crop that they had had in 20 years.


And I promised to visit just as soon as we are able to travel again.   Château Beauregard-Mirouze is close to the wonderful abbey of Fontfroide, so that provides another reason to venture into the Corbières.