Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Biodynamic, Organic and Natural Winemaking by Britt & Per Karlsson.

The Languedoc is one of the fast growing areas for organic viticulture in France, so it seems highly appropriate to review the most recent addition to the growing literature on organic viticulture.  Britt and Per Karlsson are Swedish journalists who are based in Paris; the Swedish version of their book won ‘Best Wine book for Professionals 2012' in Sweden, and last year it was published in English.  

They say in the foreword ‘This book is not meant as an argument for organic (or biodynamic or natural wine production).  Instead we explain what all these concepts mean.’   And that is exactly what they do, and very useful it is too, written in a down to earth manner, with a very straightforward approach.  You may think that sounds rather dry but the text is beautifully lightened by some evocative photographs, including picturesque views of vineyards covered in wild flowers.

The contents page provides a succinct resumé. Farming Today covers the principal types of farming; there is a history of the development of organic viticulture and a survey as to how wide spread it is now – the Languedoc has 16,462 hectares, and that is growing.  They look at disease and pest control by natural means, and explain the steps a wine grower has to take to become organic.  And once I read the chapter on Biodynamic Wine Production, I understood the different preparations for the first time.  Work in the cellar is also considered, as well as additives and there is a useful chapter on labelling.  Natural wines are not ignored, nor is sustainable wine growing. And the book concludes with an overview of some of the environmental issues such as carbon dioxide emissions and packaging, and finally a couple of appendices of recommended wine growers.   There are other names that I could add in the Languedoc.

As Per and Britt say: ‘At the end of the day it is still the individual growers who decide what sort of wine they want to make’.  And they do not say which type of viticulture, organic, biodynamic, natural or sustainable is better.  ‘It is down to the wine growers themselves to convince us’.   And some of Britt and Per’s observations are convincing – and objective.  You cannot but notice that they are very level headed and unemotional about what can be a very emotive subject.   

Like so many wine books, it is not necessarily a book to sit down and read in one go.  However, it makes a very useful reference, providing a comprehensive overview.  I certainly felt that at the end of it I understood rather more about the subject than a few hours earlier.  .

Biodynamic, Organic and Natural winemaking
Britt and Per Karlsson
Floris Books – www.florisbooks.co.uk

Monday, 9 February 2015

Decanter's Roussillon Tasting - The Right of Reply

I was in Mexico for the second half of January so was blissfully unaware of the fallout from the results of Decanter's Roussillon tasting that were published in the magazine in early January, in the February issue.   It had not been a happy tasting.   I was one of three tasters, with fellow Master of Wine, Simon Field, who buys Roussillon, amongst other things, for Berry Bros & Rudd, and Simon Taylor, who set up Stone, Vine & Sun, a company which makes the south of France something of a speciality.  All three of us are therefore very enthusiastic about Roussillon, and had high expectations from the tasting.  But sadly these were simply not met. 

There were 82 wines in all, mainly Côtes du Roussillon and Côtes du Roussillon Villages, but also some Maury,  Collioure and Côtes Catalanes.  None achieved Outstanding status;  there were just five Highly Recommended wines, a large swathe of 47 Recommended wines, and a pretty large swathe of wines that registered merely Fair, including some of the big names of the region, such as Gauby, la Rectorie, Clos des Fées and Matassa. 

I had already been asked to write the introduction to the tasting.  I have always thought it a pity that Roussillon is so often always lumped with the Languedoc, when in fact it is so different.   Roussillon is Catalan.  It did not become part of France until 1659 with the treaty of the Pyrenees.  The viticultural history of the region is based on vin doux made from Grenache, and Grenache is still the principal grape variety of the region, though Syrah has grown in importance and you will also find venerable old Carignan vines, as well as Mourvèdre.   The terroir is a mosaic of soil types, with schist, limestone, clay .....and the sun shines.   There are a growing number of independent producers replacing the village cooperatives as the dominant force in the region.   To my mind the red wines are Roussillon are rich and warm, perhaps with more in common with Châteauneuf du Pape and Gigondas than with the neighbouring Languedoc.   Inevitably but not always they tend to quite high alcohol levels and 14.5  was pretty much the average amongst the wines at our tasting.

We were very shocked and very disappointed and at a loss to explain why the wines had shown so badly.   As the person asked to write the concluding expert summary, I was faced with the challenging task of finding some positive things to say.   I like the wines of Roussillon and in the past have greatly enjoyed other vintages of some of the wines that did not show well.   We all know that tastings notes are not carved in stone.  Tasters can have off days, and so can wines.   Taste buds can easily be influenced by the preceding wine, so that a blockbuster will overwhelm a more elegant wine.   Some believe in the biodynamic calendar and that fruit and flower days are better for tasting rather than root or leaf days.  Also climatic pressure and the prevailing wind can make a significant difference.  Pascal Dalier from Domaine Joncas in Montpeyroux asserts that a change in the barometer has more impact on how a wine tastes, than the change from a flower to a root day. I have not infrequently encountered a wine grower who has observed that their wines were not tasting well that particular day because of climatic pressure.   Another adverse  impact on wine flavour is how recently the wines were bottled.  The majority of the wines we tasted came from the tricky 2013 vintage, and had probably not been that long in bottle. I certainly found quite a few of them to be distinctly adolescent, but like most adolescents, with plenty of potential.

There was also a summary of our immediate impression, written by Christelle Guibert, Decanter's tasting director who was responsible for obtaining the wines in the first place.  Decanter had contacted individual wine growers through the CIVR, the Comité des Vins de Roussillon, the professional body of the region.   

Roussillon seems particularly upset that we said that the wines were not elegant.  I was quoted by Christelle as saying that you do not go to Roussillon for elegance, and that we should have been tasting full-bodied wines that would cheer you up enormously on a winter's day.  And I stand by that.  I do not choose Roussillon for delicate ethereal wines.  I want a punch of flavour, something rich, warming and spicy.  The wines are usually pretty high in alcohol but that does not mean that they are heavy or clumsy.  They should be in harmony, with enough fruit and flavour, and maybe some judicious oak ageing to balance the alcohol. 

I am not going to reiterate the individual results in the magazine.  And while I can appreciate and understand that individual producers might be upset that their wines fared badly in the tasting, they need to remember that it is just one result on one day.   You could well ask: what is the purpose of such tastings?   The newer wine regions tend to place great value on results in a blind wine tasting.  It can be a useful barometer for young wine growers to assess their wines among their peers.   But I also think that all blind tastings need to be taken with a large pinch of salt.  As I observed to Brigitte Verdaguer from Domaine de Rancy in Latour de France, after her Rivesaltes Ambré had won a trophy in Decanter’s world wine awards, you bought a lottery ticket by entering your wine for the competition and you won the jackpot.   Nobody likes to be criticized, but critics are essential in any field where something is presented to a discerning public, and their judgments are open to discussion, and that is healthy.   Life would be awfully boring if we all liked the same things.  I would have thought Roussillon mature and experienced enough a region to rise above the comments of three people in one magazine on one particular day. 

Decanter has conducted other tastings where the results have been equally damning for a particular region, but to my knowledge this is the first time that there had been such a collective outcry from the region in question.  Classed growth châteaux or champagne houses shrug off the blip in their reputations caused by an adverse tasting result, but to suggest as one grower did that the article was mean-spirited with a hidden agenda to show up Roussillon badly against the Languedoc is absolutely unfounded.  That was how the wines showed on the day, and our marks were remarkably consistent.  And I for one will carry on enjoying the wines of Roussillon.   And don't forget that all publicity is good publicity.   The tasting will probably prove to be a storm in a tea cup that may well have brought Roussillon to the attention of people who had previously paid it little attention.

And if you want to exercise your French,  the following two links - one newspaper article leads to a blog - offer some  entertainment value, but what jelly and porridge have to do with wine tasting, I am not quite sure.  We were accused of being old-fashioned in our view of Roussillon, but it is only too apparent that some people still have a very out-dated view of English food!.

And this is a more measured overview of Roussillon by my friend Sylvie Tonnaire in Terre des Vins:

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Tasting for the new cru of Pézenas and Coté Mas.

I was invited to a tasting which was designed to show off the relatively new cru of Pézenas, and also to launch the wine that has been dreamt up by Jean-Claude Mas, a collective communal cuvée, to which several of the growers of Pézenas have contributed wine.   It is called Coté Mas, which is also the name of the restaurant outside Montagnac that showcases the Domaines Mas wines.  I am not really sure of the purpose of the communal cuvée, or whether it fulfilled its promise.  Altogether 42 producers have participated and the first vintage was 2012.  At this tasting the 2013 was on offer.  Coté Mas certainly provides an opportunity for Jean-Claude Mas to exercise his not inconsiderable talent as a marketeer.  However, the wine did not have the same appeal to my taste buds as several of the wines from the smaller, independent wine growers.   I found the oak very perfumed, with a dry palate.  A second taste of another bottle was curiously sweet and sour,  and a third bottle ( I did keep trying) was best of all, more balanced with some fresh spice.  I was concerned by the bottle variation.  It must also be said that tasting conditions were not ideal, as we were outside in front of the tourist office in Pézenas on quite a windy day.  Nor was there a tasting sheet, so in some instances I failed to note the vintage or blend of grape varieties for some of the other wines.   

One of the problems of Pézenas is that it really does not have a specific identity, unlike Faugères with its schist, or the Pic St. Loup with its distinctive peak, or the virtual island of la Clape.   It is quite simply an amalgam of villages around Pézenas, including Caux, Nizas, Magalas, Gabian, and others and the grape varieties are the usual Languedoc quintet.  There is no white Pézenas, nor indeed rosé.  The cru was recognized in 2007, for the 2006 vintage. .

Highlights at the tasting included:

A spicy Clos des Lièvres from Mas Gabriel

Domaine de Monplézy, with Plaisirs and Felicité; one oaked and one rich and warming.  

Domaine la Grange was offering Castalides, with some rich Syrah.

Domaine Nizas. La Réserve 2010 is half and half Mourvèdre and old Carignan, with a little Grenache.   It was quite rich and powerful

Domaine Magellan, a blend of equal parts of Syrah and Grenache, which was nicely rounded and balanced.

The joint coops of Alignan and Neffiès have a rounded supple wine, and la Marquise, a wine from the Pézenas had some soft easy fruit with a tannic streak.  Prince de Conti was firmer and sturdier, and Don Juan displayed some ripe oak.   The Pézenas coop is clearly working well for its cru.    The Fontès coop was doing well too, with Latude, a 90% Syrah, 10% Grenache blend, with some rich fruit and a tannic streak.

Domaine Stella Nova was showing three wines of which I really liked Quid Novi 2011, which is Carignan with a little Grenache. It had some rustic red berry fruit and a smoky note.   Very characterful

My friend Christine from Domaine Ste Cécile du Parc was showing her Notes d’Orphée, which is mainly Syrah with some dense ripe fruit and cedary note and she had also included her Cabernet Franc, Notes Franches, even though it is not Pézenas.  Lovely fruit with some supple tannins and a fleshy note.    Sonatina from her oldest vines is quite firm and structured.

2011 Cousu Main from Allegria is only available in magnums, a blend of 60% Mourvèdre and 40% Syrah, which was still quite tannic and youthful.

La Croix Vanel, Fine Amor 2013 has some fresh fruit, and benefited from no oak.   Ma non troppo is 93% Mourvèdre, with some firm smoky fruit and a fresh elegant finish.  Very stylish.

Villa Tempora was showing a range of 2011s.  Le Demon du Midi was quite sturdy, concentrated but with an elegant finish and some fresh fruit and l’Ange Vin was quite solid and dense and needed some bottle age.  A good note on which to finish.   But I really wasn’t really any the wiser as to the true character of the identité piscenoise.   

And I also tasted wines from Clos Roca, Domaine Bayelle, Domaine Pech Rome and Domaine Condamine Bertrand. 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

A few days in the Languedoc, with Frédéric Brouca and Jean-Michel Alquier.

Our New Year visit to the Languedoc did not go quite as planned as I developed ‘flu the evening we arrived, and spent most of the following week in bed.  I have not had 'flu for nearly thirty years and had failed to realise the effect that a high temperature has on your taste buds, amongst other things.   I toyed with a glass of wine on New Year’s Eve, but without any enthusiasm, and it was a full week before my taste buds were behaving normally again – but then things began to look up, as I had some rather delicious bottles of  Faugères to check out. 

The wines of a new estate, with a first vintage in 2013, are just coming onto the market.  Look out for Domaine Frédéric Brouca.    He has made four quite distinctive cuvées.   

Samsó Seuille, Vin de France 13⁰ - 15€
A pure Cinsaut from a single vineyard La Serre, with forty year old organic bush vines.   Seventy percent whole bunch pressing and the wine has spent ten months on fine lees in a stainless steel tank.    For me it is absolutely classic Cinsaut.  I love the fresh cherry fruit on both nose and palate, with a light streak of tannin and some acidity, with a slightly leathery warm note on the finish.   It is fresh, youthful and fragrant.

Montée la Serre, Faugères 13.5⁰ - 20€
A blend of 40 per cent Syrah, 30 per cent Grenache, 25 per cent Carignan and 5 per cent Cinsaut.  Ten months élevage in two to four year old barrels. This was the wine I liked least, as there was a slightly reductive note on the nose.  However, the palate was better with a slightly warm dusty note, as well as some ripe red fruit and a streak of tannin, which was nicely integrated.

Les Champs Pentus, Faugères 13.5⁰ - 12€
40 per cent Syrah with 30 per cent each of Carignan and Grenache aged for ten months half in tank and half in foudres.   The nose was quite firm with some closed red fruit and on the palate there was depth and more tannin.  The palate was nicely fleshy, rounded and balanced, with a youthful peppery note. 

Clos Sauveplane, Faugères 13.5⁰ - 25€
From two isolated vineyards, on the eastern edge of the appellation, with 50 year old Mourvèdre, planted en echalas with a high density and 30 year old Syrah, aged for thirteen months in foudre.  Deep young colour.  Firm youthful sturdy nose, with some firm red fruit, and on the palate youthful and structure with firm tannins, and fresh red fruit, and an elegant finish.  The wine will develop well with some bottle age.

I also had some bottles from Jean-Michel Alquier to taste. Two went to dinner with friends in the village who produced a delicious tourte de la maisonette – their interpretation of a classic English dish that is a perfect foil for red wine on a chilly winter’s evening.

So with the cottage pie, we enjoyed a pair of Maison Jaune, which is 70 per cent Grenache, with 20 per cent Syrah and 10 per cent Mourvèdre.  The 2011 – 18.00€ - has some cherry spice on nose and palate.  It is medium weight, with a streak of tannin and a little pepper and lots of the ripe cherries, typical of Grenache.  Balanced and harmonious with understated warmth.

2006 was similar in colour, with a more open and rounded nose, and on the palate, it was ripe and warm, but not heavy, with a grip, and some slightly leathery notes, and some satisfying evolution.   Not so dissimilar to a Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

2012 Les Premieres,  14.00€ - drunk with some other friends the next day, is a blend of 50  per cent Syrah and 30 per cent Grenache with 20 per cent Mourvèdre.   Quite a deep young colour.   Quite rounded peppery spice on the nose and on the palate, quite ripe and rounded, with a peppery note and a youthful tannic streak.    Some ageing potential but also drinking nicely already.

2010 les Grandes Bastides d’Alquier
80 per cent Syrah with 15 per  cent Grenache and 5 per cent Mourvèdre.  Some forty year old vines.   This is a much more serious proposition, and at 50€ considerably more expensive.   Deep young colour.  Quite a firm dense peppery nose, and the palate riper and richer, with a hint of vanilla and oak, but nicely integrated and understated.  Layers of flavour; youthful with a firm tannic streak but already drinking nicely, or alternatively would age for several years. 

And then a deviation away from Faugères for 2012 Clos du Prieur which comes from the Orliac family who are better known for Domaine de l’Hortus in the Pic St. Loup.  Clos du Prieur is a Terrasses du Larzac, and very much off the beaten track in St. Jean de Buèges.   15.95€   Medium colour.  Quite fresh and peppery on the nose, with some rounded ripe cassis fruit balanced with a streak of acidity and attractive freshness, as well as some tannin.  Quite perfumed and youthful, and some body.  Drinking nicely already.

And a note of frivolity was provided by my friend Verena Wyss, with a bottle she brought to dinner with another friend in the village.   Vin de Fête, Blanc de Blancs, méthode traditionnelle .  In other words champagne method sparkling wine made from Viognier – 14.00€  I think this is the first time that I have had sparkling Viognier and it worked remarkably well, with a light colour and some soft creamy fruit on the nose, and on the palate soft and rounded and nicely textured.   Verena explained how she made the very first wine for her daughter’s wedding – I have heard about a long engagement in order to plan the wedding, but to give your mother enough time to make the wine..........  Lovely easy drinking and very celebratory. 

And next week I am off to Mexico for two weeks holiday so there will be a bit of a hiatus..... until the beginning of February. 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Château de Cesseras in the Minervois

Château de Cesseras won the Rhône varietal trophy  in Decanter magazine’s world wine awards for 2014.  So I was curious to go and visit.   Pierre-Andre Ournac and his nephew Guillaume gave us a friendly welcome.  Their oenologist was just finishing checking the first wines of the vintage, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and they were looking good.

This is an old family estate.  Pierre-André is the 7th generation at Cesseras, but no wine was put in bottle until 1989.  Pierre André studied law, leaving his brother to run the property, and when he returned to Cesseras in 1989, they decided to take their vines, mainly Aramon and Carignan out of the coop at Azilanet.  80 hectares of vineyards have been replanted, with eighteen different cépages.  They have 18 hectares of Minervois la Livinière, planted with Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, but no Cinsaut, as they find it very sensitive to eutypiose.   And for vins de pays, they have some eight different varieties, with apologies for a list, but it illustrates the diversity of the Languedoc – Alicante Bouschet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, Marselan, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, Marsanne, Muscat à petits grain and Durif – phew!  Pierre-André had a bit of trouble remembering them all – I’m not surprised.    He uses Pays d’Oc rather than a more individual and localised vin de pays, for marketing reasons.  Viognier is particularly important, and he also talked about the commercial significance of Pinot Noir. 

We had a look at the cellar – there are stainless steel vats and barrels from the Tonnelerie de Mercurey.  The vins de pays are sold under the name of Domaine Coudoulet and the Minervois under the Château de Cesseras label, as he uses the old cellars of the château for his barrels.   Coudoulet means galets roulées in Occitan.  Apparently the Perrin brothers of Château Beaucastel were not very happy about the name Coudoulet, but since its use in the region dates back to 1400, there was nothing they could do about it.    

Pierre-André's son, Olric, is doing a stage with Avignonesi in Montepulciano – this seems appropriate, seeing that they have Sangiovese.   'Il faut prévoir la suite' observed Pierre-André. 

2013 Viognier – 6.00€
Light colour. Lightly peachy, soft and rounded on he nose, with peachy fruit on the palate, but not much acidity. Quite fresh.  A simple vinification, with a little skin contact.   And they have a new system for clearing the juice;  Once the juice is pressed they inject a gelatine fining into the must and stir up some  nitrogen under pressure for two or three hours, so that the bourbes float to  the surface and can be run off, leaving clear juice.  It has the advantage that it is very quick and also economises on energy as you do not need to cool the juice to so low a temperature, and you lose less juice.  With classic débourbage you would have 10 hectolitres of bourbes to filter from a 100 hls of juice, but with this system it is only 2 or 3 hls. 

2013 Pinot Gris. – 6.00€
Who else has Pinot Gris in the Languedoc, I wondered.  Light colour and lightly mushroomy on the nose, and softly spicy.  Some varietal character.  Medium weight with nice texture.  They wanted something different,  rather than just another Chardonnay, and it complements the Pinot Noir nicely. 

2013 Sangiovese. – 6.00€
Élevage in wood.  this is  their second harvest of this variety.  They were inspired by a Sangiovese that they had tasted at the Seigneurie de Peyrat outside Pézenas.  I remember that Sangiovese from a couple of years ago, and delicious it was too.    Sangiovese is not officially authorised in the Languedoc, so they needed permission to plant it, which they did in 2006, without any planting subsidies, and then it was authorised the following year.   I really enjoyed the wine.  It had the classic ripe sour cherries of Sangiovese, some lovely fresh fruit, with supple tannins.  No great depth, or complexity, but would be delicious with a plate of pasta.  Pierre André observed that it was quite a productive variety. 

2013 Pinot Noir – 6.00€
Quite a light colour. Quite a firm nose.  A touch of liquorice. A bit of tannin.  Quite fresh.  You could drink it chilled.  Simple vinification. Pierre André observed that there is a big demand for Pinot Nor en vrac.  The négoce pay twice the price of Syrah for it.  Obviously something to do with Gallo’s Red Bicyclette cuvée

2013 Syrah – 6.00€
Élevage in vat.  Good colour.  Tapenade and black olives on the nose. Ripe rounded spicy fruit on the palate.  Medium weight, with supple tannins.  Classic Midi

And then onto Minervois :

2011 Minervois, Cuvée Olric   – 7.00€
40% Mourvèdre, 40% Carignan vinified by carbonic maceration  and 20% Syrah.  All in vat. For about twelve months.    Deep colour. Quite firm spice and tapenade on the nose.  Firm tannins and a sturdy tannic backbone.  A ripe mouthful..  Youthful with ageing potential.  14.5˚

2011 Minervois la Livinière – 15.00€
The trophy winner.  70% Syrah, with 10% each of Carignan, Grenache and Mourvèdre which were vinified by carbonic maceration, while the Syrah was given a classic vinification.  Pierre-André, on his oenologist’s advice, feels that carbonic  maceration rounds out the flavour.  Élevage in barrels for 60-70% of the blend for 12 months, and then blended with the vat component.  The wine then spends another 12 months in vat before bottling.

Medium colour. Quite fresh and peppery on the nose, with some black fruit.  And on the palate, rounded, rich and with ripe tannins and a firm backbone.  A lot of weight  and body, with depth and complexity and lots of nuances of flavour.  Supple and drinking well now, but with some ageing potential.  Rich and rounded.  1998 was the first vintage of this cuvée.

We talked about the future. Guillaume is wondering about other grape varieties, but is not sure what.  And maybe he would like another Minervois cuvée.  His uncle  observed, je suis vigneron avant tout.  I do my best with both vins de pays and Minervois.  The problem is the two  separate syndicats  who se tirent dans les pattes, or shoot themselves in the foot.  For  Pierre André it is the vins de pays that allowed them  to develop Minervois.  ‘And Minervois is a produit phare, a flagship,  of which we are very proud’.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Domaine Puech-Haut

Domaine Puech Haut is just outside the attractive village of St. Drézery, with its friendly café.  You approach the property along a driveway lined with olive trees and lavender bushes, and at the end there is a stylish visitors’ area where anyone is welcome to pop in and taste.   And adjoining the cellar is a house that was built in 1991, but confusingly it looks at least a hundred years or so older as it is built from old materials.  From the visitors’ centre you can look down on the barrel cellar, including  a whole collection of barriques painted by various artists, some more well-known than others.   The first barrique was painted by Hervé de Rosa, and in return he received 150 bottles of wine.

Alain Asselin is director of oenotourisme and is a very articulate ambassador for the estate.   He explained that it was created by Gérard Bru in 1985, when Gérard decided to plant 25 hectares of vines, half red and half white.   The first wines were made in the mid-1990s. Gradually the estate has been extended to include 40 hectares in the Pic St. Loup, for which 1999 was the first vintage.   At St.  Drézery the vineyards are planted with Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, on undulating hillsides, with vines of different ages, and differing yields and therefore different expressions of flavour.  Altogether there are 90 different plots, with one vat per plot, to enable a very detailed sélection parcellaire.    Michel Rolland used to consult here, but these days it is Philippe Cambié.  They have some concrete fermentation tanks, made in Italy, of a shape that I have never seen before, designed to keep the châpeau emerged during fermentation, so that you obtain better extraction. The bottom is square, with a tapered top.  Alain  described them as Le Rolls de la cave.   

For coopers they favour Damy in Meursault, Taransaud in Beaune and Seguin Moreau in Cognac, and they have barrels of varying ages for their wine.   Alain talked of the second revolution in winemaking, temperature control, and in particular the ability to cool things, which has changed everything, giving you complete control over your grapes and the fermentation.   As for the vineyards, the harvest was due to start the following week, the second week of September.  They carry out a green harvest in July and August, reducing the yield for the Syrah to 20 hl/ha.   

And then we tasted:

2013 La Closerie du Pic rosé– 14.50€
A blend of Cinsaut, Syrah and Grenache.  Light colour. Quite a fresh nose, but a touch amylic. Quite fresh raspberry fruit on the palate, but again an edge of amylic acid and bonbons anglais.   We had a conversation about translating acidulé into English,  my dictionary says: acid drops.  I prefer my rosé without acid drops.

2013 Tête de Belier rosé –  20.00€
The name of this rosé originates from a Roman sculpture of a ram or belier that was found in the vineyard.  And they have reproduced it to sit at the foot of several barrels.    98% Mourvèdre, and the other two per cent is a secret.  Quite rounded.  More solid than the previous wine, with firm acidity.  Quite sturdy and needs to fill out a little. 

2012 Prestige rouge, Coteaux du Languedoc , St. Drézery – 16.70€
St. Drézery fits into the Grès de Montpellier and the wine is equal parts Syrah and Grenache.  Medium colour.  Quite solid black fruit on nose and palate.  Oaky, vanilla and tapenade.  Some garrigue notes.  The wine spends six months in barrel, none new, but slightly toasted.   Medium weight.    38 hl/ha.  I felt the wine was still quite closed and needed to evolve in both bottle and glass.    

2012 Tête de Belier rouge – 26..60€
Two thirds Syrah, with some Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan.   The aim is un grand vin du Languedoc.  Young colour.  Quite ripe vanilla and some tapenade.  On the palate ripe fruit with supple tannins.  Quite sweet long fruit.  Quite a supple but gutsy rounded mouthful.  Élevage 18 months; two thirds new oak.  Ten years potential, and they are inevitably very proud of some pretty high marks from Mr. Parker.    For some reason the French expression : coute les yeux de la  tête came to mind.

2011 Clos du Pic, Pic St. Loup – 41.70€
24 months élevage in barrels- two thirds new and a blend of 60% Mourvèdre with Syrah. Quite a deep colour.  Chocolate on the nose.  Quite sweet dense and sturdy.  I thought of Pierre Clavel’s comment about opulent Pic St. Loup.  15˚.  Ripe sweet and dense and lacking in elegance.  All upfront and dominated by the oak. I wondered how it would age?

Asked about the tipicity of St. Drézery, Alain replied: There isn’t any.  St. Drézery has lots of galets roulées, but essentially it is a question of the style of individual vignerons.  He was rather vague about other wine growers in the area.   And M. Bru came here for family reasons, as it is close to his childhood home.

2011 le 40ème, St. Drézery – 88.00€
This cuvée has been made five times,- 2001, 2002, 2007, 2010 and 2011 so by no means every year.  A natural wine, with no added sulphur.  Crushed by foot.  One vat of handpicked grapes, producing 1500 – 1800 bottles à l’ancienne.  From one plot of Syrah and one plot of old Grenache, that are 65 years old vines.   Élevage of 24 months in new oak.  Fermented by carbonic maceration, which really surprised me as I had always assumed that carbonic maceration was used when you wanted to soften the tannins  rather than enhance the longevity of the wine.  Alain explained that they put whole grapes in the vat and then add carbon dioxide.  Quite a rounded palate, with ripe chocolate and vanilla and soft tannins.  Leaves a sweet taste.  15˚   They are aiming for fresh fruit;  I am not sure that they found it.

And asked about the typicity of the domaine, Alain replied 'chaleureux, aromatique, with a touch of elegance.  Wines with personality'.

And we finished our tasting with the white wines:

2013 Prestige – 16.70€
Vinified in vat.  80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne.  Pale golden, quite rounded peachy nose, and on the palate quite full and textured with some acidity.  Fills the mouth.

2013 Tête de Belier – 14.50€

20% Viognier with 80% Grenache Blanc and a little Roussanne.  Vinified 'à la bourguignonne,'  in wood, with bâtonnage for eight months.  Quite golden.  Quite oaky.  Leesy oaky palate.  Textured with a dry finish.  Very Burgundian style so that the method masks any flavour of the grape varieties.   Youthful and textured.   14˚.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Chateau Maris in Minervois la Livinière

Come and see my vegetal roof, or toit végétal  was an invitation, that I could not possibly refuse!    It came from Bertie Eden of Chateau Maris in the village of la Livinière.   He has built a brand new cellar on the outskirts of la Livinière  off  the road  to Caunes-Minervois.  Not only is the roof green, but the bricks are made of hemp straw and the whole cellar, apart from the concrete floor,  could be recycled.

Bertie talked about the bricks, made from the straw of hemp.  Building material in France must be authorised, so that their parameters are recognised, as to how much weight they can bear and so on.  Hemp is not, but wood is, so there had to be a wooden frame joining the bricks, which are made from straw mixed with lime, which is put in a mould and dried.   

The bricks are extraordinarily  light.   Ordinary straw is very similar to hemp straw, but with one big difference, hemp straw can breathe, so it redistributes air and consumes CO2, at the rate of 44 kilos per square metre per year.  Altogether there are 4000 square metres of wall.  And there is no temperature control in the cellar; that happen naturally.   The floor is concrete for reasons of hygiene and weight.   An alternative would have been lime, that that can crack, which would give problems with bacteria.     As for the vegetal roof, you buy it in rolls by the metre like a lawn.  And Bertie is also considering a vegetal covering for the outside walls. 

Bertie’s barrels come from a cooper in Burgundy, Grenier, which is a family business. It also made his  tronconique vats, equipped with a chapeau flottant, so that they have a dual purpose, for fermentation and for élevage.   And there are unlined cement vats, and concrete eggs.  Bertie had wanted concrete vats without metals supports, and the way to achieve that is with eggs.   He had  compared Grenache from a barrel and from an egg; and found the egg to be is more lively and fresher.

He was expecting to start the harvest the following day, 10th September, picking some Grenache to make rosé.  He has a good crop of Grenache, so this will be a first passage, leaving the rest of the grapes to ripen more for the red wine.   They were a week away from picking the first Syrah.  This was not  going to be a deckchair year, observed Bertie. They have already done a lot of leaf-plucking to aerate the grapes and they will need to do a lot of triage, first some in the vineyard and then again in the cellar.   The uncertain weather since will not have helped.

Bertie now has 47 hectares of vines all around La Livinière.  His first vintage here was 1997.  He has had vineyards in other parts of the Languedoc, but these days is just concentrating on the Minervois.   And when did you know that you wanted to be a winemaker?  When I got kicked out of school (the rather smart public school, Stowe)  for making beer.   He then went to Australia to work for Len Evans at Rothbury; spent time at Castello di Rampolla in Chianti Classico, and with Becky Wassermann in Burgundy and Christopher Canaan  and Spain.   And then he came to the point when he wanted to be his own boss and make his own wine.   He looked in the Languedoc and really liked what he saw in the Minervois.  La Livinière has a reputation for the quality of its Grenache, with some splendid  old vines.  Bertie’s vineyards range in altitude between 250 – 180 metres and he has been certified biodynamic since 2004. 

And now to taste:

2013 Grenache Gris. Vin de France -24.00€
Tasted from the barrels,  and fermented in wood.  Will be bottled after the harvest.   Quite rounded textured palate.  Some floral notes, elegant with good acidity.  Grenache Gris really is well adapted to the south.  Good length.

2012 La Touge, Minervois la Livinière  – 10<00 span="">
About to be bottled.  60% Syrah, 40% Grenache Noir, with a drop pf Carignan.  Mainly élevage in vat, but a small amount in foudre.  Deep colour; rich ripe nose.   Very supple tannins, silky tannins.  Rounded black fruit.  Yield about 38 hl/ha.

And when I asked about the tipicity of La Livinière, Bertie suggested that was a delicate subject, and a difficult question to answer.  Every vineyard is individual.   It depends on the wine grower.

2012 les Anciens, Minervois la Livinière   - 16.00€
Mainly Carignan  aged in 50 hl foudres for 15 months.  We enthused about Carignan.  'It is a noble variety here, and it can stand up to the seasons'.    This had the elegant rusticity that is the benchmark of good Carignan, with some firm red fruit.  Medium weight, and really quite elegant, especially for Carignan.  A delicious glass of wine.  Bertie is very enthusiastic about 2012 as a vintage; it is lighter and fresher than 2011, which was a very hot vintage. 

2012 las Combes, Minervois la Livinière  – 16.00€
Grenache is the dominant variety,  80 years old vines, élevage in 50 hls foudres and some concrete.  The nose was quite  closed, with a more open palate, with ripe cherry fruit, perfumed with an elegant tannic streak.

2010 las Combes, Minervois la Livinière
This has spent four years in an egg.  From the same vineyard as 2012 la Combes.  More open nose, rounded fruit, but a little dense, riper and more mature, with a leathery note on the finish.  2010 was a hotter vintage than 2012.  Essentially Bertie didn’t do anything to the wine, but  just let it happen, with no racking, and adding just a little SO2 at bottling.  He made 999 bottles, 199 magnums and 99 jeroboams, and is selling it at 100.00€ a bottle.  The idea was to aim high and produce something exceptional, and it certainly stood out, but maybe, perversely I prefer the 2012.

And we finished with a taste of 2012 Grenache Gris, which was bottled at the end of 2013.  Light golden.  Nicely nutty, with very good acidity.  Curiously it tasted more oaky than the 2013.  Structured with very good length.   And a great finale to a fine tasting, before clambering up a ladder to look at the toit vegetal, which needed watering.  It will certainly have had plenty since my visit. 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Domaine de la Triballe

A quick whizz to Montpellier to taste for the annual competition of Sudvinbio gave me an opportunity to visit an organic estate to the east of the city.  Somehow Montpellier is a bit of barrier, if you are based in the western part of the Hérault, whereas Domaine de la Triballe is only twenty minutes from the airport, outside the village of Guzargues.   And Olivier Durand very kindly provided taxi service.  . 

First a look at his vineyards. It was a murky November afternoon, with rain in the air and low clouds, so you could barely make out the silhouette of the Pic St. Loup and the Montagne de l'Hortus in the gloom.    As the locals say, the Pic St Loup has put its hat on;  il a mis son chapeau.  And there is another local saying:  Mer claire, Montagne obscure,Pluie sure.

Potentially Olivier has vineyards in two appellations, Grès de Montpellier and the Pic St. Loup.  However, Guzargues is one of the villages involved in the extension of the appellation of the Pic St. Loup.   It is still up for discussion, but looking at Olivier’s vineyards, you can detect a very perceptible difference between the two terroirs.  The soil is quite different, so that you can see the fault line. Grès de Montpellier is based on grès, on sandstone, with galets roulées, while the Pic St Loup is more limestone. 

Olivier explained that the unifying factor of the Grès de Montpelier is in fact its climate.  The appellation stretches from Montagnac to the west of Montpellier as far as Lunel in the east, in a crescent, covering a twelve kilometre band that follows the coastline of the Golfe du Lion.  The maritime influence means the days are not so hot, nor are the nights as cool as further inland.  The lack of extremes of temperature makes for a more gentle ripening.  Grenache is the main grape variety of the Grès de Montpellier while the Syrah there is more soyeux, with elegant tannins and finesse.  In contrast the Pic St. Loup is sheltered from the maritime influence.  Altitude in the Grès de Montpellier varies considerably, with Méjanelle at barely 30 metres, whereas Guzargues is more undulating and Olivier has vineyards at 146 metres.    Olivier is president of the Grès de Montpellier; I suspect that he makes a very effective president as he obviously cares passionately about his appellation.   He also insisted that the presidential term should be delimited to three years, in the interests of democracy.

Domaine de la Triballe - the name means three valleys - comprises 17 hectares altogether.  This is a family estate, with Olivier  the 7th generation.  The vineyards have always been organic.  Olivier laughingly explained that his grandfather was very religious but he was terrified of going to meet his Maker so when he saw the warning skull and crossbones on the packaging of the new wave weed killers and pesticides of the 1960s, he adamantly refused to use them.  He lived to the age of 96 and Domaine de la Triballe was one of the very first estates to be registered as organic, back in 1974.  There are about thirty estates all over France that have never used chemical weed killer or pesticides.  Olivier's vines are in three main ilôts, but he has lots of small plots within those, with hedges of pine trees, creating an individual eco system for each vineyard.
Olivier has been running the estate, with his wife Sabine,  since 1995.  He built the functional, and relatively spacious cellar, which is partly underground, with natural insulation, and then the tasting caveau.  He makes both appellation wines and vins de pays, explaining that he is getting rid of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that his father planted in the 1970s, when they were deemed to be the best option for improving your vineyards.  Some of his vineyards are too low-lying for an appellation but he still prefers Languedoc varieties for his vins de pays.   And there is a range of different appellation wines, all with a striking label, a rainette, or tiny frog across the T.  They have a lot of rainettes, but Olivier couldn't find one just then for me to admire. 

2013 Coteaux du Languedoc Blanc  Aphyllanthe - 12.00€
70 % Rolle and 30% Roussanne.  Light colour.  Quite a broad biscuity nose. A fresher palate, with citrus notes and good acidity and a certain body.  Quite elegant and fresh.  Nice texture.  White flowers.  Olivier works on the lees with bâtonnage, and a small amount is aged in oak, just three barrels.  The oak gives a little more texture.  Assemblage in January and bottling in June.  It was Olivier who planted the white varieties.  He likes the vivacity of Rolle, and generally does not like oak, but thinks he has found the appropriate balance, with just a little oak.

2013 Toutes Aures, Coteaux du Languedoc  Rosé. - 7.00€
Aures, meaning gold or or or is a reference to the colour of the soil. Half Grenache, half Syrah with a little Cinsaut.  The Grenache is pressed and Syrah,  from young vines, saigné.   Light pink. Quite a rounded nose.  A hint of strawberry on palate.  Rounded ripe fruit. Medium weight.  Good acidity.  Quite mouth filling

2013 Rosé. Vin de Pays de Montferrand – 5.00€
40%  each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan, with 20% Cinsaut. Slightly lighter colour. More lively on the palate, even a touch of tannin as well as acidity. A different balance; Olivier called it un vin de salade.

And then onto reds:

2013 Toutes Aures, Coteaux du  Languedoc  7.00€
70% Carignan 30% Syrah.  For the appellation the blend should really be 50% Carignan, 30% Syrah and 20% Grenache, but never mind.  Slightly rustic nose, with red fruit. Medium weight.  More red fruit on the palate with a lightly tannic streak. Good balance.    I really enjoyed this.

An interesting observation that people practicing organic viticulture for more than ten years tend to get better acidity levels in their wine. 

2013 was a very good vintage.  A very good summer with refreshing storm on 23rd August.  Not an especially late vintage in this part of the Languedoc.

2012 La Capitelle, Grès de Montpellier.  12.00€
60%  Grenache, 40%  Syrah. Élevage in vat.  Bottled June 2014  Good young colour. Cerises en liqueur and the spice of the garrigues. A streak of tannin with some fleshy fruit.  Ripe cherries with a streak of tannin.  Medium weight.

2011 En Attendant Que .  Currently Coteaux du Languedoc, but Pic St Loup in waiting. 13.00€
The mistral blew in 2011, resulting in drier tannins.  Just 3000 bottles.  60% Syrah aged for eight months in oak. 40%  Grenache in vat.  Blended after ageing in barrels and then further ageing in vat and bottled at the end of August 2014.  Deep young colour.  More garrigues on the nose.  Quite firm tannins.  Quite full and rounded on the palate. A confit touch from the Syrah.   

2013 Cinsaut, Vin de Pays de Montferrand6.00€
Light red, with a short maceration.  Oliver described this as un vin de soif,  de grillade et de pétanque. If chilled. Ripe cherries, a trace of tannin and acidity.  Very refreshing, especially if served chilled. 

Olivier who is very articulate with a good sense of humour produced the idea of an indice de la picolabilité (which might roughly translate as a Richter scale for inducing tipsiness,  with picoler meaning to tipple, to get drunk, but in a nice way) It is very high with Cinsaut, he observed.   

So a sympa finale to a friendly visit and well worth the journey to the other side of Montpellier.  

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Le Wine Shop - Pézenas

Not to be confused with Le Wine Shop, Greenwich, Connecticut, which is the first thing that comes up when you google Le Wine Shop, without a specific location.   Pézenas has a new wine shop, the brainchild of Dominic George, no relation, and it is well worth a visit.  It opened a couple of months ago, and I popped in yesterday as I am making a flying visit to the Languedoc this week, and Dominic showed me round. 

Le Wine Shop is well situated, at 65 avenue de Verdun.    Come off D13 as you approach Pézenas, and at the first roundabout turn right for Pézenas centre, and then, almost immediately, turn right into a parking area, and Le Wine shop is on your left.   It is cheerful and welcoming, and encourages you to browse, and buy. No surprise that Dominic is specialising in the Languedoc with a strong concentration of local wines – Turner-Pageot,  Ste. Hlaire, Sarabande are but a few names that I spotted, but Dominic has also ventured further afield, and found estates that were new to me – such a cheerful Côtes du Roussillon Villages,  Domaine la Toupie, that I enjoyed for dinner last night, with lots of warm spicy fruit, and just the thing on a  chilly autumn evening.  There was a Corbières, Domaine Aonghusa and a Minervois, Domaine des Maels too.  And there are wines from further afield, the Loire Valley and champagne.  At the moment a further reason to visit is an exhibition of Affordable Art, with  four local artists exhibiting and selling their paintings.   The white washed walls make a perfect hanging space.    Dominic, and his associate Colin, are planning tastings and other events – next will be wine and mince pies on 7th December.

So do go and visit, and if you want to be put on their mailing list, send them an email at:


www.lewineshop.fr      where you will find the full list of wines. 

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Maury at m-wines.com

It seems that Maury Sec, the newly created appellation for the table wines of Maury, as opposed to the fortified vins doux, is starting to make waves.   A sample bottle arrived the other day, from a new mail order company, www.m-wines.com.  which has been set up by wine enthusiast, Philip Morton, who has encouraged a handful of wine growers to make their absolute favourite wine, with no expense or effort spared.   And so Thomas Raynaud, who is the winemaker at Château St. Roch in Maury has produced a Maury Sec from the 2011 vintage.  It arrived in a beautiful box, a handsome bottle with a dramatic label.   I have to admit that I was a bit nervous.  It looked like the sort of bottle that could easily blow your head with an assault of new oak  and over extracted tannins, but appearances can be highly deceptive.  This wine has style.  The blend is 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 10% Mourvèdre.  A deep young colour, and a discreet structured nose.   And the palate was beautifully balanced.  Despite the 22 months of ageing in barriques, the oak is very well integrated, with an elegant balance of spicy fruit and tannins, a streak of freshness, that can be rare in Roussillon, and a long finish.  The alcohol, which can sometimes be a problem in Roussillon, was well integrated too.  The wine had sufficient weight and fruit to support 14.5.   It is still very young – an optimum drinking time was given of 2015 to 2017, but we decanted it to allow it to breathe, and it was simply delicious with sausage and mash on a damp autumn evening.   At £35 it is expensive, well above the average offering from Roussillon, but the quality is also well above average, making a fair rapport qualité prix.     


Monday, 17 November 2014

Clos de l'Anhel in the Corbières

The heavens opened just as we reached the little village of Montlaur and the narrow streets quickly turned to gushing streams.  I’ve never seen quite so much water fall out  of the sky  quite so quickly.    Finding Sophie Guiraudon’s cellar was not easy.   Montlaur seems to economise on street signs, and Sophie on cellar signs.  But eventually we tracked her down, and it proved well worth persevering.    

Sophie was reflective about the rain.  It was not forecast and she was planning to pick later in the week.   It will all depend on the weather over the next three days.  If things dry up and the sun comes up, all will be well.

She talked about the creation of Clos de l’Anhel, with Philippe Mathias.  Their first vintage at Clos l’Anhel was 2000. He was and still is the manager or régisseur at Château Pech Latt, a nearby Corbières estate, but is no longer involved with Clos de l’Anhel.  They took over six hectares from a coop member, with vines in the villages of Ribaute and Lagrasse, and converted them to organic viticulture.  Sophie’s first solo vintage was in 2009 and she now has nine hectares.  She studied oenology at Toulouse, and worked at the Dubernet laboratory in Narbonne, but she really wanted to do her own thing, to follow the entire viticultural cycle, and in the cellar, and not have a boss.  For the moment she only has red grape varieties, and will have made her first rosé this year, in 2014.

Our tasting began with 2013 Cuvée les Autres,  Vin de France - 7.70€  a wine that was created in 2007, to thank friends, whose names are on the label.  Each name has a story.   The grapes, half Syrah and half Grenache, from forty years old vines, are from her newer vineyards that are being converted to organic viticulture.  Élevage in vat.    Good colour.  Red fruit and understated spice.  Some liquorice and leather.  Quite a firm palate; quite sturdy and ripe, with youthful tannins.   Immediately appealing fruit on the palate.  Sophie called it a vin de copain.  Low yields, less than 30 hls/ha.   
Sophie talked of the vagaries of the weather.  Last year, 2013, on 15th September, the grapes were looking magnificent, but were not quite ripe, and then the vent Marin, blew in from the sea, bringing a week of sea mist, and 60 mms of rain. The result was botrytis and the need for a severe triage, à la main, resulting in her losing 30% of her crop.  She eventually started the harvest on  1st  October 2013, and finished on 10th.  This year she expected to start the harvest with her rosé on 7th October. 

2013 Corbières, Lolo de l’Anhel  - 7.70€
I am always intrigued by wine names.  Lolo is the milk for a baby, and anhel is a  lamb or agneau. Sophie said she liked velours dans la bouche, velvet in the mouth, and sometimes finds the tannins of Corbières a little rustic.  She wants elegant  tannins.   She keeps her  vin de presse  separate and does not mix it with the free run juice, so that all her pressed juice goes into Lolo, and there is none in her other wines.   Consequently Lolo is very perfumed and less elegant.  I found it quite solid and sturdy, with ripe fruit and fresh tannins, and some youthful acidity; ‘the character of pressed wine’,  observed Sophie.   

She talked about a technique for extracting juice from the cap, using mats for an olive press in several layers.  The circular press is sealed, and then the juice sucked out, aspiré over three or four hours, very gently
2012 Corbières, Les Terrassettes – 10.50€
This is her principal cuvée, mainly from Carignan, with Grenache and Syrah and a little Mourvèdre.  Deep young colour.  Quite firm sturdy fruit on the palate, with rich concentrated flavours.  Acidity as well as tannin and a long  finish.  It developed in glass, revealing fresh red fruit.  2012 was not a hot year and the vineyards are at a certain altitude, between 200 – 300 metres, which also helps retain the freshness.    The élevage is in vat; Sophie only uses wood for a Rancio.  

2011 Corbières, les Terrassettes
Un beau millésime’, Sophie enthused.  More Syrah than in the 2012.  Quite rich and spicy, full and ripe, smoky.  Eight months in vat.  Much richer and more rounded than 2012.

2013 Corbières, les Dimanches – 15.50€
From 80 year old Carignan accounting for 80% of the wine. A small yield of just 20 hl /ha.   For this cuvée she uses the best wine of the year, and she might not make it every year.  Another year it might be Syrah, but she does like Carignan.  Good deep colour.  Quite a firm sturdy nose.  Very concentrated.  Youthful sturdy red fruit. Tannic with elegant concentration.  Nicely mouth filling. It used to be aged in barrel, but no longer.

2011 Envie  - 25.00€
90% Mourvèdre.  She had wanted to do a pure Mourvèdre.  Usually it ripens and goes into Terrassette, but 2011 was a particularly good year, so she wanted to do something different with the Mourvèdre, so added a little Carignan ad Syrah and made just 1000 bottles.  Deep young colour. .  Quite smoky; quite rich ripe fruit. Quite fleshy; youthful .  14˚

As  we drove through the dramatic gorges de Congoust at the southern foot of the Montagne d’Alaric , the clouds cleared, and we stopped for a quick look at Sophie’s vines outside Lagrasse.  She was going to make a more detailed inspection, while we headed into Lagrasse to admire the Roman bridge and the old market square.