Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Domaine la Condamine l’Evêque



It has been a while since I have visited Domaine la Condamine l’Evêque.  Guy Bascou was one of the pioneers of the Languedoc, involved in the region for some forty odd years, and amongst other things president of the new appellation of Picpoul de Pinet.  While waiting for Guy, I had a brief conversation with his son, Guilhem.  Naturally the immediate topic of conversation was this year’s vintage.   There has been a winter drought between Beziers and Montpellier, with an inevitable impact on quantity – down at least 30%, but some areas are even worse.   They started picking on 23rd August, which is about the average, but this year they will finish earlier; he anticipated about 17th September.   In contrast last year they started on 6th September and did not finish until 24th October.    Picpoul is usually ripe at the end of September,  but this year they picked it on 4th September. Guy arrived, with the observation that sales of Picpoul de Pinet are exploding.  The appellation now produces 7 million bottles, mostly bottled in the distinctive tapered bottle.  And 240 different clones of Picpoul have been identified.




Condamine means champ du maître.  All the wines are named after former bishops of Agde, who had a palace in Lézignan l’Evêque.  They preferred to live inland, because of the danger of malaria on the coast. There is also a Domaine Condamine Bertrand in Nézignan la Cèbe.  

At Condamine l’Evêque they have always grown an enormous variety of different grapes.  Viognier, Sauvignon blanc, Muscat, Picpoul and for red, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Marselan, which is a Grenache Noir Cabernet Sauvignon cross, and Cinsaut and also some Petit Manseng.   Altogether the estate totals 65 hectares. 

And we settled down in the welcoming tasting room – you can buy free range eggs, tomatoes and table grapes there, as well as wine.  The tasting caveau is open every morning from 9 – 12.30.  The small barrel room is next door. 

Guy is un fils de vigneron from Pomerols, and it was his grandfather who created the coop of Pomerols, which is today one of the key producers of Picpoul de Pinet.  Guy keeps his Picpoul vines with the coop.  The vineyards around Lézignan l’Evêque are on villefranchien terraces, with fossilised shells.  




A nugget of local history.  They have an an old stencil in the cellar, depicting the old maison bourgeoise, which is now the Hotel St. Alban.  The stencil shows the building with towers; in fact the hotel has none.  
 
And now to taste:

2013 Sauvignon, Sophrose, Côtes de Thongue – 5.50€
Quite a fresh firm nose.  Firm and stony with a mineral note.  Fresh and youthful.  The vinification process is  what Guy called modern but classic; maybe modern has now become classic,  with a cool fermentation at 16-18˚C. It is Guilhem who is now in charge of the winemaking.    He studied in Montpellier and has a BTS in oenology.  He has spent six months with Roederer in California and also worked in Robertson in South Africa and came back to the family estate in 1997.

2013 Muscat à petits grains, Fronime – 5.50€
Very pithy grapey nose.  Rounded and pithy with a lightly bitter note.  Fresh Muscat flavour. And good fruit.

2013 Picpoul de Pinet, with Guy’s signature.  5.50€  Guy explained the coop at Pomerols lets him chose his own cuvée, even though his grapes from his 6 hectares of Picpoul go into the communal vat..  Quite a discreet nose with quite a fresh salty sappy tang and good acidity.  A touch of iodine and some white flowers and good weight.

2013 Viognier – 6.50€
Light colour.  A hint peachy.  Nicely balanced,  Guy observed that hygiene and cooling equipment, le froid, have made an enormous difference to the Languedoc wine making, as well understanding how to protect the wines  from oxidation.

2013 Mourvèdre, Georges – 4.50€
Medium colour.  Quite firm nose.  Dry red fruit.  Élevage in vat.  From vines that are 30 years old or more.  Quite firm with some fresh fruit.  Light tannins and still youthful.  A hint of leather and some spice.

2012 Syrah, Vermiste - 4.50€
A denser, slightly confit nose.  Some good peppery notes on the palate.  Quite ripe, with a fresh finish.  Élevage in vat. Once upon a time there was talk of an appellation for the Côtes de Thongue, but that idea has been quietly dropped.  ‘The great advantage is that we can do what we like, and we would lose that with the appellation’, not to mention that the yield for the AC would be 50 hl/ha as opposed to 80 hl/ha.   .  Altogether there are about 50 – 60 producers of Côtes de Thongue, making it one of the livelier vin de pays, with a distinct identity.  

2013 Syrah – Mourvèdre.  Côtes de Thongue. 
Good colour. Some confit notes on the palate.  Quite rounded and ripe, with good spice.  ‘C’est le Midi’, observed Guy.

2013 Merlot - Cabernet Sauvignon.  
Medium weight.  Fresh but ripe cassis.  Supple tannins.  Nice weight.  Very easy drinking.




2012 Mourvèdre, Georges
Deep colour. Filled out elegantly compared to the 2013.  Supple fruit.  Good balance.  Mourvèdre needs time.

2011 Béticus, Languedoc – 6.50€
Syrah, Mourvèdre.  A touch of oak.  Quite a sweet confit nose, quite a rounded ripe palate.  A touch of sucrosity on the finish, from new barrels  Easy drinking.

2010 Château la Condamine l’Evêque, Languedoc - 10.00€
A selection of the best plots of Syrah and Mourvèdre – vines that are forty years old.  Three weeks on the skins.  20% in wood.  Deep colour.  Good weight, with fruit and body and some lovely ripe spice. Very satisfying – and delicious.

1999 Folie Douce
Petit Manseng. Harvested in December.   Bottled about five years ago.  It goes into demi-muids, with no sulphur and ferments very slowly for two or three years, stopping naturally when the yeast are exhausted.  The dessert wine d’autre fois, observed Guy.  .  Golden amber and very bright.  Notes of orange, dried figs, walnuts, orange marmalade. With refreshing acidity and a slightly burnt toffee  finish.   Petit Manseng is naturally acidic.  You could say a Mediterranean version of Jurançon.  Very intriguing.  Sweet but with acidity. 14˚ alcohol + 5˚ equivalent sugar.

And then we tasted the 2002 from barrel, which was more caramel with less acidity, and a little more oak on the palate. Riper and softer;  smooth and unctuous, with a bite of acidity.  And the 2000, also from barrel, was amber gold with more of a bite on the palate, as well as a touch of Bovril.




www.condamineleveque.com   



Thursday, 25 September 2014

Villa Symposia




It is not just foreigners who come to the Languedoc to make wine, but also wine growers from other parts of France.  Eric Prissette made his reputation in Bordeaux, in St. Emilion,  where he created the tiny estate of Château Rol Valentin.   But by 2003 he was beginning to buy plots of land outside the village of Aspiran.  A cellar was built and in 2008 he left St. Emilion, but not Bordeaux, as he has also bought Château Roc in the Côtes de Castillon. 

Eric was not around the afternoon I visited, but his assistant,  Elizabeth, was very welcoming and I also met the Bulgarian winemaker, Nenko Dunev, who has made the wine at Villa Symposia since the beginning.   He learnt his wine-making in France   Most of their vineyards are within the cru of Pézenas, but as yet they feel that there is very little effective communication about the cru.    
  
The name symposia recalls the Gallo-Roman origins of Aspiran, and  the Roman idea of sharing wine.  On the label is a dragonfly, which is the symbol of aerien elegance, which is how Eric would like his wines to be perceived. 




Altogether there are 20 hectares of vines, with 18 hectares in production, planted on argilo-calcaire and villefranchien, with galets roullées.  There are the usual five red varieties of the Languedoc, as well as some experimental Merlot.  And for white wine they have Terret, Carignan and Grenache blanc.    They have been organic since 2012 and are moving towards biodynamic viticulture.   The cellar is well organised and functional with the usual shining stainless vats.   And there are nine 30 hls foudres;  they began with bordelais barriques, but realised that larger wood gave more supple tannins to the red wines of the Languedoc, and for white wine they use demi-muids

We tasted some juice from the Syrah that had been picked the previous day; it was ripe and sweet with some acidity.  I enjoy tasting juice, but feel that I lack the parameters really to know what I am tasting, but it is always fun to try.  A tank of Grenache picked a week early also displayed ripe fruit with acidy and tannin and good colour.  They are pleased with the harvest; the grapes are small, but ripe and healthy. 




2013 Rosé, la Petite Sieste   - 9.00€
70% Cinsaut with 30% Mourvèdre.  Both saigné and pressed juice.   Fermented in vat and bottled after six or seven months.    Pale gris colour.  Quite a delicate nose, but with a certain weight.  Quite rounded and vinous on the palate, with dry fruit and some acidity.  Usually it is almost pure Cinsaut, but the Mourvèdre adds tannins and vinosity.

2012 L’Amphora, Languedoc – 9.00€
A wine to drink young and fresh within two or three years.  Young colour.  Attractive spice on the nose and palate, with some fresh fruit and supple  tannins.  No wood.  Cinsaut is the dominant variety with some Carignan, and also some fruit from young Syrah vines.  

2011 Equlibre, Languedoc – 12.00€
60% Syrah, using older vines.  30% Carignan and some Grenache Noir and a little Mourvèdre.  The Syrah and Mourvèdre go into wood.    Good colour  Quite a firm smoky nose, with a touch of oak. Quite structured and youthful, with good fruit; rounded and fresh with a good balance and well integrated oak.    Opens up nicely in the glass.




2010 l’Origine, Pézenas. – 24€
From the oldest Syrah that are 47- 48 years old, grown on the best terroir, villefranchien, with a little Grenache.  Aged in foudres for 18 months.   The blend has varied – in 2012 the Syrah was blended with Carignan and the élevage has lasted two years. 

Deep colour; some oak on the nose; quite firm and structured; tight knit with firm tannins.  Quite elegant.  A dry finish.  Youthful.  Need to develop in bottle.   Elizabeth observed that they have moved away from riper heavier Syrah.

2012 Blanc, Vin de France  - 13.00€
One third each of 70 year old Terret, 45 year old Carignan and 30 year old Grenache blanc.  They had a problem with the labelisation tasting in 2011, when the panel deemed the wine to be too oxidative, so it was  declassified into Vin de France, and so in 2012 it remained Vin de France.  Light golden.  Leafy honeyed nose, which open up  nicely.  Good acidity on the palate. Some floral notes, with satisfying texture, from minerality and acidity.  It is aged in old demi muids for nine months, without any bâtonnage.  It is nicely understated with a satisfyingly long finish. 
 
And we finished with a tasting of 2013 Mourvèdre en plein élevage.  The vines are now seven years old.  Nenko observed that Mourvèdre is capricious  -neither 2011 nor 2012 were so good, but he is particularly pleased with the 2013, and I could see why.  There was ripe rounded fruit and a very good balance of tannin, with some spice, and explosion of fruit, with an elegant finish.   Nenko has also tried making a pure Carignan in 2012, observing that it is good  to make and taste mono-cépages as that helps you understand the blends.




The world is full of coincidences.  As it happened, I had just finished writing this post a week or so ago, when I received an email from Alexandra Level, first  telling me about her new business, and when I asked what she was doing in the Languedoc, the reply was: my next offer is Villa Symposia.  No one sells their wines in the UK, but for the first  week of October they are available from :


So do check the website of this bright new company.  

and for more on Villa Symposia:  both for wine and holiday gites:  

www.vignoblesprissette.com




Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Domaine Clavel



I kept bumping into Pierre Clavel at wine fairs earlier this year.  And he kept asking: when are you going to come and see me au domaine?  Finally  earlier this month the opportunity presented itself.  He had started picking, the whites, and so far so good.  And he has also picked some grapes for his rosé and the red harvest will get going next week, that is to say the week of 8th September. 

Pierre’s very first vintage in his old cellar at La Méjanelle was 1986; his first vintage at Assas was 2001 and he has been working organically since 2007. 





First we had a look at his cellar.  Over the last five years he has shifted away from barriques to foudres – and mentioned that Boutes, the cooper in Narbonne, has bought the foudrerie garonnaise in Marmande.   And he also has a couple of concrete eggs which he has used for both red and white wine; he likes the fact that there are no angles and there is a mouvement de convection.   He admits to being influenced by Gavin Crisfield’s enthusiasm for eggs.  See an earlier blog about Gavin and la Traversée.   




And then we moved into the tasting room, followed by a friendly black and white border collie, answering to the name of Garrigue.  There is a magnificent piece of equipment for weighing barrels to determine the amount of wine, first full and then empty.  Barrels were never an exact size.


2013 Cascaille, Coteaux de Languedoc - 13.50€
From Roussanne and Grenache.   Other varieties, Rolle and a little Marsanne, as well as some Clairette are being harvested for the first time this year.   The Rolle is looking particularly good this year, de toute beauté, observed Pierre.  He also has some Viognier, but very little, and quite often he blends it with his Syrah.   One third in egg; one third in tonneaux and one third in vat.   Blending at the harvest and a gentle pressing.  

Light colour. Lots of nuances on the nose. Quite floral, white blossom.  Good acidity.  Very youthful satisfying texture.  And tension.  Will develop nicely.   Cascaille used to be more opulent in style, but the age of the vines, now 25 years old, has come into play, and there is a trend toward more elegance.  Pierre explained that he likes heavier wines very much less than he used to.  Most of the white grapes are from Méjanelle, where the soil is galets roulées.  A big difference of picking dates between this year and last year – 26.8,2014 as opposed to 12.9.2013.  And then Pierre launched into an explanation of the translation of cascaille in Occitan.  Ca cascaille – old men chatting; cascailler – a rolling stone clinking against another; or it could refer to birds singing in the plane trees.




2013 Mescladis, Pic St. Loup rosé – 7.00€
A blend of Syrah and Grenache.  Light orange pink.  Nicely rounded, fragrant nose.  Good raspberry fruit and a certain weight and body on the palate.  Very harmonious.  A food rosé.  The vinification is simple :  you take good grapes and press them.  -  Mescladis means mélange  or mesclin, with the expression Che mescadis in Occitan meaning quel bazar, or what chaos.   And on the subject of meanings of words, clavel is a clou – and Pierre’s grandparents did indeed produce clou or nails, at Camplong near Bousquet d’Orb.   It is nails that provide the theme for Pierre’s labels.  And on his labels he describes himself as a vigneron, winemaker and wine lover.




2013 Rosé à Rougir, Vin de France– 10.00€
Pure Grenache Noir.  Saigné after quite a few hours, so quite a deep colour. Ripe raspberry fruit on the nose and palate.  Fresh fruit with acidity, and nicely mouth filling.

2013 Le Mas, Coteaux du Languedoc – 7.00€
Includes grapes from all three parts of the estate, Méjanelle, Pic St. Loup and next to the cellar at Assas.  The emphasis is on fruit, from Carignan Syrah and Grenache.  I found it a touch reductive on the nose – it just needed some air, but on the palate there was some lovely black fruit, balanced with  tannin and acidity.  It is still very young.  Pierre observed that 2013 was a great vintage between Béziers and Nimes. 

2012 Les Garrigues, Coteaux du Languedoc– 10.00€
Syrah – 55%; Carignan 25% and Grenache Noir 20%.  Élevage in vat.  Mainly from Méjanelle.  A closed note and a slightly viandé palate, medium weight, with some warm sunshine, but also a slightly bretty edge. 

2012 Pic St. Loup, Bonne Pioche.   – 12.00€
Elegant red fruit, on both nose and palate.  Aged in foudres for 12 months,  Nicely rounded, with ageing potential, and avoids the rich opulence of some Pic St. Loup  I liked it so much that I had to follow my own advice and buy some.  The percentages in the vineyard are 65% Syrah with 20% Mourvèdre and 15% Grenache.  Pierre talked about Pic St. Loup.  He sees it as his future.    He has been renting vines, 13 hectares,  at St. Jean de Cuculle for eighteen years – we went to see them later.  The soil is deep and stony. with varied colours, blonde, brune and rousse.  Brune gives more structured wines.     The vines come from the old estate of Domaine de la Salade, whose owner has retired, and not to be confused with Domaine de la Salade St. Antoine.  Pierre is working on a top cuvée for Pic St. Loup.  He commented on how he likes the freshness and elegance of the Pic St. Loup.  It is wetter than other parts of the Languedoc.   And he is doing some experimenting with micro-cuvées of it. 

2012 Copa Santa, Méjanelle – 16.00€
83% Syrah with Grenache aged in foudres, tonneaux and an egg.  Good young colour.  Quite rounded, solid and dense, ripe and confit.  Sunnier and less elegant than the Pic St. Loup.  Riper and from a hotter terroir.   At 7 a.m. in the morning in early September there can be as such as 6˚C difference,  with 10˚C in the Pic St. Loup and 16˚C in Méjanelle.    And our visit finished with a look at the vineyards, and a bunch of juicy ripe Muscat grapes to enjoy. 




Thursday, 18 September 2014

Château St. Preignan – or finding a bargain.



Friends asked me come along and help chose wines for a party.  They thought they might have found a bargain. Did I agree?  So we headed off to Château St. Preignan, which is an elegant building at the end of an alley of plane trees just outside the village of Pouzolles.  The château was built in 1850 and Jean-Claude Pastor bought the property in 1978.  However, his great grandfather was making wine in Pouzolles in 1908.  They have 100 hectares of land altogether with 80  hectares of vines in production; 45 hectares of Coteaux du Languedoc in Roujan and 35 hectares of Côtes de Thongue at Pouzolles.




We settled down at a large table outside.  There is one snag to tasting outside; the wind.   You go to sniff a glass and a mini Mistral whisks between the glass and your nose.  But we managed.    And Jean-Claude produced a large selection of bottles.   The prices are those at the cellar door, ‘for those who take the trouble to come and see us au domaine’.   They are not great wines, but as Jean-Claude kept emphasising, we want drinkability and there was no doubt that the best were eminently drinkable.



Here are my impressions:

2013 Le Mas des Cigales – the mas is outside Roujan, on the road to Neffiès, - a pure Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc. 2.00€ at the cellar door.  Perfectly pleasant and easy to drink. With some fresh acidity.  Again Jean-Claude emphasised the drinkability.

2013 St. Preignan Chardonnay 2.70€  
This was ripe and more rounded, having been picked ten days later. The vinification was the same, a simple process of harvesting early in the morning and cooling the grapes down for a cool fermentation.

2013 Viognier, Pays d’Oc – 2.70€  A hint plastic on the nose, but a lightly peachy palate. Medium weight.  Good acidity and a touch of apricot.  Not especially expressive, but what do you expect for 2.70€

2013 Cuvée Lise    Sauvignon with a touch of Muscat.  Very Muscat on the nose, but on the palate really neither one thing or the other.   The pure Muscat à petits grains was rather more successful with good varietal character, perfumed fruit and some floral notes.

2013 Synthèse – A blend of Viognier, Roussanne, Vermentino Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Muscat.  Light golden.  More depth texture and weight.  No wood. And some quite intriguing nuances. 

2010 St. Preignan – 4.00€  Mainly Roussanne, with some Chardonnay and Viognier.  Quite ripe, rounded and textured.  Possibly not enough acidity.  25% of the wine is given a six months élevage in  new wood. 

2013 Mas de Cigales rosé – 2.00€   Cinsaut; saigné. Delicate and fresh on the nose and palate, and sufficient body.

2013 Rosé from Grenache – 2.70€   Saigné.  More of a pink orange colour.  Quite ripe and rounded.  More weight than the Cinsaut and from 80 year old vines. 
 
2013 Mas des Cigales red, Pays d’Oc – 2.00€   50/50 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon.  Quite ripe but a bit jammy on the nose, and bit stalky on the palate,  But easy drinking.

2013 Merlot, Pays d’Oc – 2.00€   Quite ripe and plummy.  Easy drinking with good fruit and a streak of balancing tannin.  An absolute bargain at 2.00€

Cabernet Sauvignon. Pays d’Oc   - 2.00€  
Dry cassis fruit ; more structured than the Merlot, with some good fruit.  A touch of green pepper and blackcurrant.

2013 Grenache - 2.70€
From 70 year old vines.  Lighter red; liqueur cherries on the nose.  Ripe fruit and nicely balanced.

2013 Syrah – 2.70€
Not as successful as the previous reds.  A bit unbalanced; edgy and confit and quite alcoholic.   I much preferred the Grenache.

2013 Carignan, from 70 – 80 year old vines - 2.70€
Medium colour.  A nice expression of Carignan. Quite fresh red fruit; medium weight and nicely rustic.  I thought this was great value.

2012 Coteaux du Languedoc – 3.70€
Mainly Syrah with some Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre, kept in vat.  Quite sturdy and a bit confit and ripe.  Lacked charm. 

I don't actually know what my friends chose in the end, so I am looking forward to finding out at the party.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Château Moyau on La Clape.

It has been a while since I had visited Château Moyau on La Clape.  Actually the estate is very close to the sea, rather than up in the hills of the massif.  It is one of a row of estates bordering the evocatively named Etang de Pissevaches, with Négly, Anglès, and Mire l’Etang.  Bernard Köhler is the German owner, and although he is passionate about his wine and his estate, he tends to be an absentee vineyard owner, leaving the full responsibility of the everyday running of the estate to my friends Peter and Susan Munday.   He bought the estate in 2004, for a first vintage in 2005, which was made by Stephanie Chanot who has now gone on to pastures new.  Mr Köhler restored a ruin, and an estate that sent its grape to the local cooperative.   Peter and Susan arrived at Moyau in November 2009, so 2010 was their first full vintage there.    It was not an easy year; there was a storm at the end of September when 240 mm rain fell in 24 hours, so the deciding quality factor was: picked before or after the storm?  Both 2009 and 2008 were very good vintages.



First we had a chat about the weather this season.  The quantity is not enormous; another weird year, muttered Peter.  They had a very dry winter, and since June there have been regular weekly showers.  Then for a week at the end of August there was a north wind blowing and it was wonderfully sunny.   Surprisingly perhaps they usually have one small snow fall each year; it usually melts by lunch time.



Château Moyau comprises 23 hectares of vines, with a total of 60 hectares of land.  The rest is garrigues.  There are vines at sea level and more up in the middle of the garrigues behind the cellar.   And 2013 was a difficult year for them too.  They had a vent marin, a wind coming off the sea throughout September and October into November, so that they were harvesting in 90% humidity, in warm fog.  Usually this happen perhaps one day in five, but in 2013 it persisted.  And the effect on the grapes was pretty devastating.  They went from being ripe to rotten in a matter of hours.  So the quantity was well down.  And they had already been severely affected by a fire in the garrigues behind them, with grapes so badly tainted by smoke taint that they could not be used. 

The cellar is a simple functional building, with some barrels, and stainless steel and concrete vats.  We chatted in the welcoming tasting caveau. 



2013 La Mer blanc, Coteaux du Languedoc  – 7.50€
Bourboulenc, Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Vermentino and also a drop of Viognier which is not allowed in white la Clape.  It was planted when there was a possibility that it might be included.  Light colour.  Quite fresh salty, lemony nose.  Light and fresh with a salty, slightly almondy palate.  Good acidity.  They have a plot of Grenache blanc and Bourboulenc, planted mixed up altogether, that are 70 years old, while the other varieties are much more recent additions.   Bourboulenc and Grenache give structure and the other varieties the aroma.   The soil is dry and sandy.

2009 L’Unique, la Clape – 14.00€
A blend of Grenache blanc and Bourboulenc. Quite rounded and buttery and lightly oaky with a hint of toffee.  About 45% was fermented in oak.  2009 was the last vintage of this cuvée as these grapes now go into La Mer.  It was ageing nicely for a Midi white that was five years old.

2013 Le Flamant, la Clape, rosé  – 6.30€
Cinsaut and Grenache, saigné.  Mourvèdre is usually included but not in 2013, because of the fire damage, but Peter was aiming for a similar style to previous vintages  Pink orange colour. Quite herbal and rounded.  A certain juicy note.  Some weight.  A long finish.  Definitely a food rosé.

2013 Le Soleil, Languedoc – 6.00€
A blend of Grenache and Cinsaut.  Medium colour.  Quite perfumed on the nose, and a touch confit.  This is a summer red, ripe and easy with a streak of tannin, and benefits from chilling.

2009 Sauvage, la Clape – 9.50€
Grenache, Syrah and at least 50% Carignan.  No oak.  Quite a deep colour; sunshine and herbs in a glass, on both nose and palate.  Some herbal notes and also some leathery notes.  Nicely intriguing.  From the higher vineyards.  A slightly rustic edge, appropriate to Carignan.

2009 Terre de Pierres, la Clape – 13.50€
Grenache Noir, Carignan – 10%, Mourvèdre – 15%, Syrah.   40% élevage in oak for 12 months, and then a further 12 months in tank. Good deep colour.  Nose refined by the oak, but some garrigues fruit too.  Nicely balanced fruit with a certain warmth.   Supple tannins.  Peter explained that they are gradually shifting way from oak, moving from 225 litre barriques to 300 and now 500 litre demi-muids.  And when I asked him about the tipicity of la Clape, he ventured that it was more aromatic and less tannic than neighbouring Corbières
2009 1792 la Clape – 23.50€
Almost pure Grenache, with 70% spending two years in wood, old barrels including a 60 hectolitre foudre.     Keep Grenache away from barriques, observed Peter.  Medium colour.  Quite warm ripe sweet cherry liqueur fruit on the nose.  A tannic edge from the oak on the palate, with ripe cherry fruit.  A touch alcoholic on the finish.   And why 1792?  It refers to a document dated 1792 in which Moyau, or Mautyau as it was spelt then, is mentioned.

2007 Enfin la Clape – 30€
Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre.  Good colour.  Quite a rich leathery oaky nose.  Quite firm and sturdy on the palate.  Rich ripe and oaky. The big brother of Terre de Pierres.  The best barrels of Terre de Pierres are given a second year of élevage.   The finish is solid and gutsy, warm and rich. 
Susan alked about living on La Clape, obersing that it is a site classé,  a protected site. Consequently no new buildings are allowed, not even a swimming pool, and you also have to observe la loi du littoral, and the regulations designed to protect the coast line. 

2008 Hallucinant, la Clape – 60€
A pure Mourvèdre that spends two years in wood; the entire cuvée in 500 litre barrels.  And just 2000 bottles were made.  Good colour.  Quite firm and solid and on the palate, quite rich and dense, and some of the viandé notes of Mourvèdre.  It is still very young, and should develop more in bottle, but I have to admit a preference to the lighter, more elegant wines.

We talked about sales, for most of the wines on sale are quite mature.  Peter explained that he has increased the yields, from 20 hls / ha to a more reasonable 35 hl / ha.  But this has meant that there is more wine  to sell, and that is Mr. Köhler’s responsibility, to expand the market in Germany.    And after the tasting, Peter took me to look at the vineyards, and I realised how close the fire had come.  Vines provide an effective firebreak; the other vegetation is returning, but it will take time.  And then we adjourned for lunch, which included a delicious tomato salad, and Peter enthused abiout the 33 different varieties of tomato that he grows!





Friday, 5 September 2014

Château les Deux Rocs





I never refuse an opportunity to visit vineyards, especially if they are as dramatic as those of Château les Deux Rocs.   You take the road for Crozes out of the village of Cabrières.   As you leave the village there is a sign warning you of bends for four kilometres and a little while afterwards an encouraging sign for Château les Deux Rocs, and then you reach the hamlet of Mas Rouch where Jean-Claude Zabalia has his cellar.   He has bought his property from Guy Mathieu who was originally involved with Domaine du Temple, the historic estate of Cabrières.  That property is now for sale.



Jean Claude has vineyards in three spots.  First we headed further into the hills, through the pretty little village of Crozes with its tiny medieval church and then on up to an altitude of 400 metres.  The vegetation changes.  There are oak trees and sweet chestnuts, and also hunters and mushrooms.  Mushrooms are not so good, as they are a warning of mildew.   Here Jean-Claude has cleared land to plant Grenache blanc, Grenache Gris, Vermentino and Roussanne this coming winter, two and a half hectares altogether.   He already has some Viognier, and he is very excited at the prospect of white varieties at a high altitude.  He will of course have to be patient.   The plan is to pick all four grape varieties together, and vinify  them together, so that  they achieve a natural balance of freshness and aroma.  The vineyards are exposed south, south east.  He pulled up some old Carignan, sadly,  but Carignan really is not good at this altitude; the clones were no good and the yield too high and the grapes simply did not ripen.  The views were breathtaking.  On a clear day you would be able to see the Pyrenees, and in the foreground were the two dramatic rocky outcrops that give the estate its name.  



Jean-Claude explained how the schist of Cabrières is quite different to that of Faugères.   Schist is usually acid, but here it is more alkaline with an almost neutral pH.  It is not in sheets like the schist of Faugères, but looks almost like weathered wood, with holes, and indeed it has been worn by the weather and is very friable.   Apparently it is more like the schist of the Moselle or Priorato.  Its origins are to do with the Pic de Vissou.   The tannins from schist are never hard, if the grapes are ripe.  There is a lot of minerality, and a côté fumé.  The land here is dotted with old volcanoes.  Schist is something new for Jean-Claude.  2012 was the first time that he vinified grapes grown on schist.  'You have to learn about your vineyards.'.   Here there are no neighbours, so no risk of vers de la grappe, but there are wild boar and you have to protect the vineyards. 



Altogether Jean-Claude has 18 hectares and he could plan another four, and in addition he has two hectares of Picpoul that he rents, and another 2.5 hectares in Aniane, with another 1 hectare to plant.    There is a lot of work to do; the previous owner was very conventional in his methods, using weed killer and chemical fertilisers.   It is all about the paysage and the terroir.  The challenge is to work the vines and to maitriser le terroir.  He wants to become organic as soon as possible, but it does take time.



We admired a vineyard of Syrah, with a view of the Pic de Vissou; the colour of the schist changes, with some grès. And we passed an old vineyard that was a complete mixture of vines, with Carignan Noir and Carignan Blanc, Aramon, Alicante, Grenache.   Then we went to a vineyard of Syrah, with a wonderful old capitelle, and some stone terraces that have been carefully restored.  And then we drove round the vineyard below the Deux Rocs.  And Jean-Claude talked about the work they had done cleaning up the environment; there is a hedge where he wants to plant more cherry trees, and he has pruned the old olive trees.  



And then it was back to the cellar to taste the 2013s.  His cellar is very functional and is only ten years old.  Ideally he would have chosen concrete rather than fibre glass vats, but everything works well.    He took over the vineyards in August 2012, so made the wine, but had done nothing in the vineyards, so  a lot of selection was necessary and he sold off wine he did not want off en vrac. 



2013 Rosé les Deux Rocs, Cabrières  is redolent of ripe strawberry and raspberry fruit.


2013 Picpoul de Pinet.  A late vintage so that the grapes have a good concentration of flavour but have kept their natural acidity.  There is a fresh salty tang that all good Picpoul should have.

2013 Premises, Cabrières  
Syrah, Grenache and a little Cinsaut.  Elegantly perfumed nose, with fresh acidity and a streak of tannin and minerality.  Stony finish.  Nicely crafted.  For Jean-Claude the tipicity of Cabrières is minerality, soft tannins and a flinty note from the schist.    Elegantly perfumed with a long finish.  Will be bottled at the end of September. 7.95€

Cuvée Château des Deux Rocs is 70% Syrah, the highest Syrah at 400 metres, with an élevage in foudres and barrels.  The principal criterion for ageing in wood is that there is sufficient matière for it not to be overwhelmed by the wood.    The wine was dense but elegant, with perfumed fruit.  It was rounded and harmonious, and the oak was nicely in balance with the fruit and some weight. Elegant tannins.  9.90€  Jean-Claude has modest ideas about pricing.  He wants everyone to be able to afford to buy his wine, even those on student grants. 

2013 Bergerie d’Aniane.  Terrasses du Larzac
One third each of Syrah, Carignan and Grenache,  Élevage en foudre.  Rounded nose with ripe fruit and a fresh finish;  quite sturdy, quite firm and needing time.  You can sense the côté rustique  of the Carignan.  15.00€  It will be on sale next summer. 




Thursday, 28 August 2014

A mural at Château Camplazens



La Clape is one of my favourite parts of the Languedoc.  It is a world apart, close to the sea but set away from the hurly burly of beach.  The scenery is wild and dramatic, with limestone cliffs.  And I am always ready for an excuse to visit, so when Susan and Peter Close suggested that we come and see the wonderful murals that Simon Fletcher has painted for their new tasting room and barrel cellar, I accepted with alacrity. If you know about water colours, you will know that Simon has an international reputation.  I am not so well-informed.  For me he is a local friend whose work I enjoy enormously.   His use of colour is wonderful and his portrayal of la Clape in Susan and Peter’s cellar is breathtakingly evocative.  My photos really do not justice to his work; they may just convey a meagre impression and hopefully tempt you to go and see for yourself, as it covers all four walls of the new tasting room. 



And of course we could not visit without a tasting, so here is quick update. 

2012 Viognier – 10.00€
Light golden; rich peachy nose, and on the palate.  Good acidity and balancing texture.  No oak.  Some bâtonnage and élevage in vat.  And a couple of days later we enjoyed the 2010 Viognier, which had evolved beautifully with richer peachy fruit and more weight and body.



2011 Livia, Viognier, Pays d’Oc – 20€
Another interpretation of Viognier.  Quite golden.  Unobtrusive oak on the nose, but more on the palate, plus some peachy texture.  More body, with some nutty and even leesy notes.  Good weight.  Very intriguing with lots of nuances and a long finish.  This isn’t made every year; there was none in 2013.



2013 Grenache – 9.00€
Good colour. Ripe plummy fruit.  Soft and supple with cherry liqueur fruit and spice.  Lovely easy drinking.



2013 Marselan – 9.00€
I’ve remembered this in the past as being a bit of the jammy side, but this vintage is absolutely delicious.  Rounded ripe with sweet spice and ripe garrigues and a refreshing streak of tannin.  Good balance, and satisfying depth of flavour



2013 Syrah – 9.00€
Good young colour. Quite a firm nose, with some peppery fruit.  A firm streak of tannin, even a touch green, with an inharmonious edge.  Peter admitted that 2013 was a difficult harvest.  Sea mists came in for dour days at the end of September when they were hoping to harvest the Syrah, and consequently the grapes developed some rot. 



And now on to La Clape with:

2011 Garrigue – 10.00€
A blend of Syrah and Grenache./  Very perfumed nose, with black fruit and tapenade on the palate.   25% given an élevage in wood.  Spice and complexity and a touch of oak.



2011 Reserve – 14.00€
60% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 10% Carignan.  50% in barrels of three wines.  Good deep colour.  Ripe spicy fruit; black fruit and tapenade ,with a firm tannic steak.  Youthful and characterful.



2012 Premium  - 20€
Again 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 10% Carignan, essentially a barrel selection from the Reserve.  About 200 barrels.   Quite firm and structured with more tannin and more oak.  Some sweet black fruit on the finish, but quite a youthful tannic  streak.  Needs time.



2011 Julius – 40€
90% Syrah with 10% Grenache.  This is their flagship wine, which is not made every year; there was none in 2012, and probably will be none in 2013.  So make the most of this 2011.  Deep colour.  Firm dense spice on the nose.  Quite solid oak. Rich tapenade with a tannic streak.  Youthful and sturdy with some leathery notes.  Needs time. It is significantly more expensive than their other wines, but Peter feels that it is essential to push the boundaries.  It is important for the image.    I’d like to try this again in about ten years’ time.



  

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Pic St. Loup - La Bergerie du Capucin


Next stop was la Bergerie du Capucin, to see Guillaume Viau, who is president of the syndicat of the Pic St. Loup.  However we were there to taste his wines, rather than to discuss local wine politics.  He explained that the vineyards come from this wife’s family.  A great great grandmother had been a sheep farmer,  hence the name of the estate.  His father-in-law had bought the vines in 1970s, and sent his grapes to the coop.   Guillaume began working with him in 1995, and until 2008 they were members of the coop.  But the coop in St. Mathieu is sufficiently imaginative not to insist on a total commitment of vineyards, so Guillaume was able to extract 12 hectares from the coop, while his father-in-law continued to send them his grapes.



It is an attractive spot, a typical Languedocien farm, with a maison de maître dominating the courtyard, and farm buildings and stables around the courtyard.   Guillaume has a  tiny cramped cellar; he does a lot of things outside.  He has resin vats for his red wines and two insulated stainless steel vats for his whites and rosé.  Altogether he produces 5500 bottles.    Guillaume explained how he was studying science at Montpellier and came here to do a vintage, as a holiday job, and met his wife and stayed.

Interestingly he has one hectare of Cabernet Sauvignon that goes to the coop.  There are plots within the appellation area  that are non-appellation land and those are planted for vin de pays.   And the area has a strong tradition of coops that work well for their appellation, notably at St. Mathieu de Treviers – I remember being impressed on a visit there as far back as 1987 – and at Corconne.  Jacques Gravegeal who is president of the syndicat of the Pays d’Oc also has vines in Pic St. Loup. 

Guillaume talked about his work;  he has practiced lutte raisonnée since 2001.   In the cellar he favours macerations of two to three weeks.  And then he began opening bottles.



2013 Les 100 Pas, Pays d’Oc – 7.00€
A pure Chardonnay.   Élevage in vat.  Light colour.  Fresh and delicate with good acidity.   Not all bad for a Languedoc Chardonnay.  Guillaume explained that it comes from a cool vineyard at Valflaunès, with the vines grown on rich soil, and facing north, and protected from the south by a small hill.   There is a lot of Chardonnay planted  within the Pic St. Loup, as well as more traditional Languedoc varieties.  Guillaume talked about the delimitation;  the area is delimited, so that a village is recognised as part of the appellation, and then within that village a délimitation parcellaire is made, with strict criteria, technical, geological and microclimate.  This means that within a Pic St. Loup village, there are plots that are not appellation, but vin de pays and therefore planted with vin de pays varieties, such as Chardonnay.

2013 Dame Jeanne, Val de Montferrand - 9.80€
80% Chardonnay with 20% Viognier.   There is more to this wine than the previous Chardonnay.  For a start there are two different types of Chardonnays; one is picked earlier to retain its acidity and freshness.  The second is picked four to eight days later so that it has more weight.   For this wine the Chardonnay and Viognier are aged separately in vat and then blended.  The Viognier adds richness and seemed to dominate the palate.  Guillaume admitted that Viognier is difficult in a blend  and he thinks that he has added too much.  The method of vinification is very simple: press; débourbage and ferment around  15⁰C for three weeks; élevage in vat and blend in the spring, before bottling.

2013 Dame Jeanne rosé, Pic St. Loup – 9.50€ Quite a pale orange pink.  Light fresh fruit medium weight and rounded palate, with a dry finish and good balance.  Delicate and fresh.  Jeanne was the sheep farmer, so it is fitting that her name lives on, as an inspiration in the estate

Then the conversation moved on to percentages of grape varieties and the rules for Pic St. Loup.  Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre are the principal grape varieties and must make up at least 90% of the blend, while Carignan and Cinsaut are complimentary varieties, for which the maximum percentage of both together is just 10%.  There is no precise percentage for the principal varieties, but no one principal variety must account for more than 80% of the blend.   And you must include at least two principal varieties.  Syrah tends to be the dominant variety as it performs so well in the cooler climate of the Pic St. Loup.  Élevage is a minimum of twelve months, including two months in bottle, so the 2013 vintage can be sold from 1st September 2014.  This means that you have to stock the wine in bottle within the appellation, which creates what Guillaume called a garde feu or a firebreak or security barrier. 

2012 Dame Jeanne Pic St. Loup – 11.50
70% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 20% Grenache, a very classic Pic St Loup blend.  Aged in vat.  Good colour.  Ripe red fruit with a touch of tapenade.  Rounded with good depth, silky tannins making for a fine balance.

2011 Larmanela – 19.80€
Named after the lieu dit opposite the original bergerie.  There are still sheep up there, with a shepherd who rents it from Guillaume’s father –in-law.  Monoculture is relatively recent in the Languedoc.  100 years ago vines were planted in poor soil; wheat in richer soil and the garrigues were used for grazing sheep for meat and Roquefort cheese.  The blend here is 90% Syrah with some Grenache, from a selection of plots.including some old vines at Lauret, giving a low yield of 15 hl/ha.  There is an 16-18 months élevage in 400 litre barrels.  Guillaume vinifies each plot separately and puts it in wood until the spring; then blends it and puts into mainly new barrels.   The oak was still very present, but some rich fruit and notes of vanilla and quite sold tannins.  He then produced a second bottle opened a day or two earlier.  It had become more tapenade with black fruit and less obvious vanilla.



Now how about an older vintage or two?  An invitation that I can never refuse.
2011 Dame Jeanne.  Good colour.  Elegant fruit.  Red fruit with a smoky note and the benchmark freshness of the Pic St. Loup.  Some gentle evolution and an elegant finish.  A lovely glass of wine.

2008, which was actually Guillaume's first vintage.  At this stage he had done a winemaking course, but this was his first actual vintage.   He did a lot of pigeage, too much he thinks.  The colour beginning to evolve.  Very black fruit.  Tapenade, solid fruit and solid tannins.  Some prunes; pruneaux sounds better in French.    A fascinating evolution.   In fact it was lovely to observe how Guillaume’s winemaking has evolved, and that now he favours and achieves elegance. 

And then it was time for lunch, at a very cheerful restaurant, le Bistrot du Vinaigrette in Prades-de-Lez just north of Montpellier.    We sat in a shaded courtyard outside and enjoyed a fresh rosé from Château la Roque, and a salade gourmande.    I was a little disappointed by the last cellar visit of the day, so would prefer not to blog about it.  Instead I shall remember  the wonderful drive back along the foot of the Pic St. Loup.