Saturday, 28 November 2015

Mas Coris

I really enjoyed my encounter with Jean Attard at Mas Coris.  His is a new estate, and for some reason, in my mind, I was expecting to encounter a young vigneron, but instead met a man of a certain age – his email address includes the figure 54, which might provide a clue – for whom a wine estate is complete change of career.   Jean has worked as a journalist, and still does; he wrote his university thesis on the lobsters of the St. Laurence River and spent two years in Canada.    His website is well thought out, answering the questions that people ask: such as why the name Coris and why Cabrières.

Jean wanted a name with a link to the sea – he spent 25 years writing for diving magazine and Coris or to give its full name Coris julis is a girelle or rainbow fish.  It also has a satisfyingly memorable ring about it.   And then he talked about how he came to wine – ten years ago, it was a vague idea; let’s buy a vineyard, but nothing very concrete.  However Jean Natoli has been a good friend for 40 years, and he bought his own estate in St. Jean de Fos and invited friends to a picnic in the vineyard, and the idea came back.  Could we do the same?  Why not?  His wife, Véronique agreed.  He Jean related how Jean Natoli had told him that you need three conditions:

A small area

You need to be highly motivated

And you must find a beautiful spot.   

And Jean Natoli helped, sending emails to all his clients asking them if they had or knew of vineyards to sell, and they found land in Cabrières, less than two hectares in three plots belonging to Clos Romain.  Jean lives in Montpellier, but as it happens, he has an elderly uncle in Cabrières.  So they made their first wines in 2010, and in 2011 found a cellar in the village – it had been a cellar sometime earlier, and they also bought more vines, and even more in 2014 and 2015, so that they now have 5.2 hectares.  Those that are not already bio are being converted. And the grape varieties are Syrah, Cinsaut and Grenache Noir, for red and rosé and Clairette, and also a small plot of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier and Vermentino which they planted in 2011.  Their vineyards are all fairly close together off the road to Clermont l’Hérault at the foot of the Pic de Vissou.

We tasted in the small cellar.  And I felt that Jean was in his element, talking about his wines with great enthusiasm and conviction, warming to his subject with an intelligent and perceptive slant.

2014 Atout Pic, Cabrières – Languedoc – 10.00€
Syrah with 30 – 40% Cinsaut.  Medium colour.  Very appealing with a ripe spicy nose.    Fresh cherry fruit, very easy, very gourmand.  No oak.  Ripe peppery flavours.  A slightly tannic streak makes for a good balance  13˚.

Jean explained that all his grapes are handpicked, with the help of friends and his labels acknowledge this with a very sympathique mention Jean et Véronique et leurs amis.   He uses a small basket press, and sorts in the cellar, after éraflage, so that only perfect grapes go into the press.   He does one délestage, some pigeage and some remontages, and tastes the fermenting wine regularly.

2012 Bouteilles à la Mer – 12.50€
This is his principal cuvee accounting for 3 -4000 bottles.  Syrah, Cinsaut and Grenache, including about 5% Syrah élèvé in wood.  Quite a deep young colour; fresh spicy nose, with a leathery note, and on the palate quite ripe, good cherry fruit. Medium weight.  

2013 Bouteilles à la mer
Less Grenache in this, thanks to coulure.  Quite a deep colour and firm youthful tight knit nose.  More structure and more tannin, with firm fruit- the difference of a year’s age.

2012 Pic de Vissou – 25.00€
Good deep colour.  Élevage en fût, but with 15% of wine from the following vintage added to ensure that the end result is not too oaky.  This is allowed, as the vintage on the label implies a minimum of 85% from that year. Jean finds that his tempers the oak, and indeed it does, thought the wine is still quite dense, solid and rounded with a touch of oak.  But put that down to its youth.   Grenache and Syrah.  – just 1200 bottles. He uses chauffe moyen, which is not too aggressive. 

And the final red was Tethys – 50.00€ - with just 250 bottles.  Half aged in vat and half in barrel.  35% Cinsaut with 30% Syrah and 35% Grenache Noir.  Jean is very enthusiastic about Cinsaut.  This had some firm spicy leathery notes.  It was very intriguing, quite structured, with youthful fruit, a lot of body and a lot of potential.  It is not made every year; it all depends on the quality of the Cinsaut.  Jean considers Cinsaut to be magnificent.  To use it just for rosé, is to do it a gross disservice.  14˚ makes it quite powerful but it is elegant too, with a long finish.  Lots of potential and to borrow a phrase from my friend Christopher Cannan at Clos Figueras in Priorat, not yet at cruising altitude.

And we finished   with a Cartagène de Clairette, Cartagène No 1, Parfum du Sud  16.00€ for a 50 cl. bottle
As a
Surprise by Coris
You are only allowed to use the term Mas if you are making an appellation, and Cartagène does not have an appellation.   From late harvested Clairette – a day of picking with friends to produce 250 bottles from 180 kilos of grapes.  Very fruity, honeyed with raisins.  Very concentrated, with a spirity note on the finish.  And a fun finale to a friendly encounter.



Monday, 23 November 2015

La Maison du Vin – A new wine shop in Pézenas

Pézenas is increasingly well served for good wine shops.  Just up the road from Le Wine Shop at 59 avenue de Verdun is la Maison du Vin, which opened its doors in mid-August.  I was passing the other day, and popped in for a browse.  The first thing I saw was an Oenomat in which Aurélien Carron offers a choice of some 20 different wines.  Depending on the bottle price of the wine, a tasting sample  will cost you 90cts or 1.80€.   I think this is a great idea for a wine shop; you could just go for a  tasting, and it would certainly save you from buying something you turned out not to like, and would most certainly encourage a new discovery or two.   Naturally Aurélien is focusing on the Languedoc, including some pretty upmarket names such Domaine la Peyre Rose and Borie-la Vitarèle; not for him the cheaper end of the region.    And there also wines from hors region.  He had just taken delivery of a small grower’s champagne, and was planning on some Chablis from Domaine Grossot, and maybe Billaud-Simon.   I usually find it hard to resist buying something in a wine shop,  and this time was no exception.  I came away with a bottle labelled very simply and intriguing:  Vin de Table, and then in small print Vin de France, made by Catherine Bernard in the village of Castelnau de Lez.  Aurélien explained that it is a pure Carignan; with part of the cuvée made like a red wine, and the other half as a rosé, with the two components blended together.  Drink it slightly chilled, he suggested, so we did and found it to be fresh and fruity, with some original flavours. 


Thursday, 19 November 2015

Tasting at Le Wine Shop in Pézenas

The theme of a recent tasting at Le Wine Shop in Pézenas was St. Chinian to Roussillon, with Dom and Colin doing a very congenial double act presenting eight wines that amply illustrated the diverse characteristics of the western appellations of the Languedoc.  In fact we did not travel from St. Chinian to Roussillon; our route was more devious as they decided it would be best to taste wines with softer tannins first, and progress to wines with more sturdy tannins.   So we kicked off in Roussillon with:

2013 Maury Sec, Domaine La Toupie Sur un Fil – 10.90€
A blend of 70% Grenache Noir, 25% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre, grown at 300 metres on schist.  Aged in vat on the fine lees of the fermentation for eight months. Handpicked with a meagre yield of 18 hl/ha.   Medium colour.  Ripe soft spice and red fruit on the nose, with some liqueur cherries, and on the palate ripe spice with full, fleshy red fruit, balanced by a light streak of tannin.  Very Grenache.  Quite an alcoholic finish at 15˚, but also quite long.   From a relatively new wine estate, and a new appellation.

2014 Collioure, Domaine la Rectorie, Côté Mer – 17.50€
Carignan with some Grenache Noir aged in wood for eighteen months.  Intense deep young colour.  Ripe but firm peppery red fruit.  And intense young fruit on the palate, peppery with firm tannins.  Again quite high in alcohol at 14˚, but with plenty of youthful potential.  This is one of my favourite estates from Collioure, with the most spectacular vineyards. 

2012 La Clape, Château Camplazens, Reserve – 12.00 €
A blend of 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache Noir and 10% Carignan.  Quite a deep young colour, with ripe blackberry fruit on the nose, and some spice and pepper from the high percentage of Syrah.  A rounded ripe spicy palate; some tannins giving structure, with lots of black fruit, garrigues and sunshine.  14˚.  Long and ripe and drinking well now.

2012 Minervois la Livinière, Domaine Piccinini, Clos l’Angély – 9.50€
From vineyards above the village of La Livinière.  70% Syrah and 15% each of Carignan and Grenache Noir, aged in oak for 12 months.  Deep young colour.  Pepper with some hints of chocolate on the nose.  Some peppery fruit;  firm and structured; youthful and tight knit. Nicely integrated tannins.  Balanced with a long finish.  13.5˚. 

2013 St. Chinian, Mas Champart, Côte Arbo.  – 9.00€
A blend of 40% Syrah, 30% Grenache Noir, 5% Mourvèdre, 25% Carignan, grown on the southern clay and limestone vineyards of St. Chinian.  Indigenous yeast.  Aged in vat for two winters.  Quite a deep colour.  Intense youthful nose; dry garrigues notes, with leathery notes and some red fruit and spice, and on the palate quite firm tannins with good length and a youthful finish.

2010 Fitou, Château Wiala, Harmonie – 9.45€
A new name for me, from the village of Tuchan, in the high hills of Fitou.  22% Syrah, 39% Grenache Noir and 38% Carignan.  12 months in oak.  Deep colour, just beginning to develop on the rim.  The Grenache Noir comes out on the nose with some rounded cherry spice and on the palate there is some ripe spicy fruit and quite a fleshy texture, from the ripe Grenache, with a tannic streak.  And a rich peppery finish.  Quite rounded and long.  14˚.  Drinking well now. 

2011 Corbières, Domaine Aonghusa, Laval - 7.80€
An Irish owned estate in Fontjoncouse. And a blend of 30% Grenache Noir and  70% Carignan, including some Carignan planted in 1903, on steep south facing slopes.  There was some Syrah in the adjoining vineyard, but it simply could not cope with the extreme conditions.  An example of why Carignan is so suitable for the Midi.   Quite a deep young colour.  Quite a firm sturdy nose, with youthful spice, and some mineral notes, and on the palate red fruit and some firm tannins.  Good depth and length.  A characterful wine that you will either love or hate.  And Dom explained how that it changes with the seasons.  In the summer heat it was not showing at all well, but with cooler temperatures  it makes a wonderfully satisfying and characterful glass of wine.

And last but not least came 2014 Malepère, Château de Cointres, Tradition – 4.75€
It had a hard act to follow, but is so different from all the other wines, that somehow it did perform, proving especially good value for money.  Malepère can be pure bordelais varieties, but this in fact is 50% Merlot with 20% each of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, and just 10% of Grenache Noir.  Medium colour, with some plummy Merlot fruit on the palate, and a touch of earthy cherries from the Cabernet Franc.  Some structure and fresh fruit.  A very drinkable example of an often overlooked appellation. 

So altogether a great tasting.  Next year Dom and Colin are planning on a closer look at individual appellations, so do get yourself added to their mailing list to keep abreast of what they are up to.  

Monday, 9 November 2015

Domaine la Grange

Domaine le Grange has a new cellar.  I missed the official opening and instead dropped in a little while ago  to admire a smart building in pierre de Beaulieu and a host of shiny stainless steel tanks.   There is also a welcoming tasting area by the entrance. 

This was also the opportunity to meet Rolf Freund, and his wife, the owners of Domaine la Grange.  They spend quite a lot of their time in Germany where Rolf has a wine business, but are in Gabian at key moments of the year.   Once Rolf had decided that he wanted to buy a wine estate, he spent a year looking, from the Côtes du Rhône to Roussillon.  Jean Natoli, who is now his oenologist, helped and saw the potential at la Grange.  The  vineyards have some altitude and the proximity to the Cevennes provides a good diurnal contrast.  In short it was a site with masses of potential.  And the new winemaker, Thomas Raynaud was there too.   He has an impressive and varied CV; he studied in Montpellier and has worked in  the Côtes du Rhône, South Africa, Beaujolais, Australia, Corsica and most recently for Domaine Lafage in Roussillon.  So after admiring the new cellar, we settled down for some tasting, my first opportunity to look at Thomas’s wines, and also an update on the changes in the range.

Rolf is quietly enthusiastic.   He talked about the origins of the estate and the history of the region.  There are three extinct volcanoes nearby, Cadablès, St Hilaire and St. Marthe, which created a mixture of different soils when they erupted.   The estate originally had sheep, for Roquefort, and they again have some sheep on the estate.  The Roman head on the label of their Classique range is a reference to the Roman origins of the area.  There was a spring nearby that supplied water to Béziers, with a 12 kilometre aquaduct. 

We tasted the various white wines, beginning with:

2014 Classique Blanc,   Pays d’Oc - 5.90€
50% Chardonnay – 50% Sauvignon.   Light colour.  Ripe fresh nose ; quite ripe and buttery, with some Sauvignon pithiness on the palate, with the Chardonnay providing some body.  Firm pithy fruit.  Vinification in stainless steel; no frills. 

2014 Terroir Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc - 6.90€
Lightly buttery, with a rounded nose, and on the palate good acidity with some weight and fruit.  Nicely balanced.   And when I made a comment about liking Chardonnay, particularly Chablis, that ages.  Rolf said this does, and produced the 2011 vintage.  It was a pretty golden colour and had developed a very intriguing nose, with notes or maturity and stony minerality.  It seemed firm a dry, but there were also some buttery notes and also a hint of honey on the finish.  I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: white wines from the Languedoc do have ageing potential,  maybe not as much as Chablis, but nevertheless….. In this instance the 2011 was a much more satisfying and characterful wine than the 2014.

2014 Terroir Sauvignon, Pays d’Oc - 6.90€
This was their first vintage of a pure Sauvignon and they readily admitted that there was room for improvement.  It was quite fresh and pithy, but did not have much varietal character.  Definitely work in progress.

2014 Tradition Grande Cuvée Blanc, Pays d’Oc – 9.90
A blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon.  A little depth of colour.  Quite a restrained nose, with some oak, and on the palate more oak, giving a touch of vanilla as well as some tannin.  It was bottled in February and was still quite oaky for my taste buds, but I think it has potential to develop in the bottle.  Think white Graves by way of comparison, with Chardonnay instead of Semillon.

Then on to some rosés :

2014 Classique Rosé, Pays d’Oc– 5.90€
A blend of Cinsaut and Syrah.  All pressed.  A pretty pale pink.  Quite fresh, dry fruity nose, while the palate fills out a little, with some ripe raspberry fruit, and a little weight.  Balanced with good acidity and quite a long finish.  Fresh and easy drinking.

2014 Grande Cuvée Rosé,  Pays d’Oc – 9.90
The labels for the Grande Cuvée range are fun, with sheep walking across both the front and back labels. This is a blend of Syrah and Mourvèdre, pressed.  (fermented at 12˚) A deeper colour.   Quite firm and dry on the nose, and some weight on the palate, from riper grapes than the Classique Rosé.  I wondered if there was some barrel ageing, but no.  However, it is definitely a food rosé, with some weight and body.  A reflection on the quality of Mourvèdre for rosé.   Think Bandol.

And now for the reds, with four quality levels, beginning with:

2014 Classique Rouge, Pays d’Oc – 5.90€
Backbone Syrah, with some Mourvèdre and a little Carignan and Merlot.  Screwcap.  The French apparently are becoming more accepting of screwcaps.  Medium young red.  Soft spicy red fruit, and on the palate.  A slightly sweet soft ripe finish.  The aim is drinkability, and that they have achieved.

2014 Terroir Merlot, Pays d’Oc – 6.90€
The labels for the Terroir range are illustrated with different stones, indicative of a different terroir.
Quite ripe and plummy on the nose.  Some fruit on the palate, with a streak of tannin and a slightly green finish.  Rolf observed that it ‘is different from other Merlots from around here’  and I agreed as I tend to find a lot of southern Merlot a tad too raisiny for my taste buds, but this was not.

2014 Terroir Syrah,  Pays d’Oc - 6.90€
Slightly closed (reductive) nose.  Quite a fresh peppery palate.  Medium weight.  Quite restrained. 

2014 Terroir Cabernet Sauvignon, Pays d’Oc - 6.90€
Deep colour. Quite ripe cassis; quit rounded on the palate with supple tannins giving some backbone.  I preferred it to the Merlot.

 Next in quality order came Tradition, with :

2013 Prat Bibal, Languedoc – 8.90€
A blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache noir.  No oak.  Deep colour.  Quite a supple nose.  Medium weight.  Quite firm tannins, with dry spicy; quite youthful and closed and good potential.  Prat Bibal is the name of a nearby amphitheatre of vines.   A more traditional expression of the Midi, compared to Sélection, for which they want an expression of fruit.

2014 Sélection, Pays d’Oc – 8.90€
Syrah and Merlot.  Quite a firm nose; and on the palate some weight.  Firmer and fuller and youthful, and a year younger.  I preferred Prat Bibal.

Castalides is the top of the range: a reference to water nymphs, with 
2013 Réserve, Languedoc. – 11.90€
A blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre, bottled November 2014.  About 30% of the blend,  both Grenache and Mourvèdre, is aged in barrel.  Good deep colour. Rounded ripe spicy fruit.  Oak well integrated.  Dry spice.  Youthful tannins, and not aggressive.  Rolf and Thomas are looking for soft tannins.  A long finish, and a wine to develop.

2013 Edition, Pézenas – 16.90€
A blend of Syrah and Grenache Noir.  Deep young colour.  Quite firm and tight knit on the nose and the palate some ripe fruit, with a touch of discreet oak and vanilla.  Most of the wine is aged in oak.  Good body and weight.  Very balanced. Their aim is elegance, and that they have achieved.

2013 Icône, Pézenas  – 27.50€
70% Syrah to 30% Mourvèdre. Élevage in barrel.  Blended in December 2014 and bottled a couple of months later.  Deep young colour.  Quite solid ripe fruit on the nose, with some vanilla and cassis.  On the palate, rich and ripe with body and balanced.  Some tannin.  Lots of nuances and lots of potential.  It will be fascinating to see how it ages.   

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Mas de la Fée Nomène

Nany Taverna of Mas de la Fée Nomène is the smallest and newest producer of Montpeyroux.  I tasted her first wine at the Montpeyroux fête a couple of years ago and have been promising myself a cellar visit ever since, which finally happened earlier this autumn.

Nany explained how her husband, Yann, has 15 hectares in the Montpeyroux coop, which is one of the most successful cooperatives of the Midi, but she actually wanted to make some wine, while her husband is content to concentrate on his vines.  So she has just 96 ares, not even a hectare, all in Montpeyroux, that she has either rented or bought.   She ruefully admitted that eight years ago she barely knew what a vine was, and certainly knew absolutely nothing about making wine.  She comes originally from Albi and was living in Montpellier when she met Yann, her second husband, and she  has fifteen year old twins from a first marriage.  Marc Escarmonde is her oenologist and guides her in the cellar.  It is a complete change from her previous job as a nursery school teacher, and her original qualifications in commerce.   

So she makes just one wine, from her small vineyard, which she sees as her garden, pour la passion.  And Yann and the twins are thrilled.  One of the twins particularly enjoys helping in the cellar and vineyard.  2012 was her very first vintage, a blend of Syrah, Carignan and Grenache Noir, from vines that are 15 – 20 years old.   And the name of the estate is a bit of a joke.  As  a child, she never behaved like the others, and was termed une petite phénomène. 

She treated us to a mini vertical, beginning with 2014: - 12.00€
Usually a dominance of Carignan, as there is more of it in her vineyards.  Deep colour; aged in vat.  She has no oak barrels, and does not want any, as she seeks to emphasise the fruit in her vines.  Each variety is fermented separately, blended in May and bottled at the end of June. All handpicked.  Quite firm tannins.  Slightly bitter dark chocolate notes.  Hints of liquorice.  Dry youthful finish.   The vineyard is organic and she uses minimal SO2.  The winemaking is quite simple, taking place in a small cellar attached to their house on the outskirts of Montpeyroux.

2013 – 12.00€
Quite a deep young colour.  Quite firm solid nose.  Sour cherry, griottes fruit.  And some liquorice as well.  Balanced of fruit and tannins, quite elegant, with a slightly rustic note from the Carignan.  

Nicely rounded with supple tannins.  Spicy red fruit and satisfying balanced. Has evolved very nicely.  Attractive depth of flavours.  A brilliant debut.

We talked about organic viticulture.  The Montpeyroux coop now makes an organic cuvée, as there are two members who are organic.  However, half of them are members of Terra  Vitis, the organisation for lutte raisonée.

Nany wants to stay small; maybe she might produce 250 bottles of a single varietal, but maybe not.  She enjoys working in the vineyards, looking after her vines, like a vegetable garden.   Her annual yield is about 20 hl/ha.  And she joking observed that she makes wine instead of jam from her garden.   I enjoyed her spirit and her enthusiasm.

And our visit ended with a quick look at her small cellar.  Some of the 2015 harvest was in a vat, the Carignan,  looking remarkably like a large cauldron of blackcurrant jam.    And the Syrah and Grenache were going to be picked in the following couple of days, as it happened, before the rain that came in the middle of September.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Domaine de l’Horte

Friends' dinner tables can often be a good source of interesting bottles, and so it was with Domaine de l’Horte.  Lizzie and Ali had had a lousy meal at a local restaurant, but the wine was delicious, and it came from Domaine de l’Horte, so further investigation was required.  So off we went to visit, André and Marie-Victoire kindly accepting to see us one Monday morning towards the end of the harvest, when they were not too overwhelmed by grapes.  

We wandered round the cellar with André - he was in the middle of a remontage and we watched wine gushing out of the tank at one level, and then being sprayed onto the cap on the top of the tank, in the attic of the barn.   He explained how he came to Domaine de l’Horte; his father did market gardening outside Béziers, especially vegetables, but also had a few vines.  André studied viticulture and oenology at Montpellier and in 1991 he bought Domaine de l’Horte, really he admitted, without realising its potential.  The previous owner was an absentee landowner who employed one workman to produce bulk wine, just one wine from the property.  André does still produce wine for the bulk market, but he has also developed a range of characterful wines in bottle, both Côtes de Thongue and Languedoc that are sold mainly at the cellar door.   The main vineyards are in a large plot by the cellar close to Magalas and by the chapel of Ste Croix and the grape varieties are Roussanne, Vermentino, Marsanne, Chardonnay, Grenache Noir, Syrah and Cinsaut, and a little Petit Verdot.  Unusually André has no Carignan; it wasn’t very good and he has pulled it up.  In fact he has replanted most of his vineyards. 

The cellar is the classic old cellar of the Languedoc, dating from the end of the 19th century but with cement vats rather than old foudres, and André has added some smaller vats but done little to modernise it.  He still uses a continuous press, but he does have cooling equipment, and enjoys the luxury of space.   He observed that it took time to learn about his vines and he has an oenologist who he described as his frère de coeur.  And for his top red cuvée for which he does pigeage rather than remontages, he uses the old lavoir – he was talking about buying a new vat, and it was a visiting Australian wine maker who observed that he already had just what he needed.

Andre went back to his remontages and we settled down to a tasting in the courtyard with Marie-Victoire.   She is fun and lively and has worked in international banking.  So how do you meet a vigneron in the Languedoc if you come from Picardie in the north and work in Paris?  Simple answer - at a wedding.  Her assistant was from the Languedoc so Marie-Victoire went to her wedding and met André who was a friend of the bridegroom.

2014 Rosé, Côtes de Thongue – 5.00€
A blend of Cinsaut and Grenache.  Saigné. Pretty colour.  Delicate fruit on the nose.  Quite rounded with good acidity.  Very fresh.  A crisp sappy note on the finish.

2014 Domaine de l’Horte, Côtes de Thongue blanc – 6.00€
A ripe fruity nose with lots of white blossom and herbal notes.  Good acidity balancing a textured palate.  André picks very ripe.  A good long finish.  The grape variety is Marsanne, but André prefers to sell Domaine de l’Horte, rather than the grape variety.   Youthful fresh fruit.

2013 Destins Croisées, Coteaux du Libron – 7.00€
Lightly oaked; fermented in oak and spends a few weeks in oak.  A bit of bâtonnage.  From vines in the suburb of Béziers on river gravel.  A little colour.  A touch oak on the nose, but not too much.  A rounded palate, with firm acidity and quite a dry firm finish.  And why the name?  André has been about to give up on Chardonnay when he encountered, il a croisé,  a friend who told him to carry one with it.

2013 H, Languedoc – 11.00€
A blend of 60% Vermentino and 40% Roussanne; they are planted together in the same vineyard and picked together.  The Vermentino is a little more productive than the Roussanne.  On the garrigues of Magalas.  30% vinified in oak, and co-fermented, with some bâtonnage.   Light colour.  Lovely intriguing herbal notes on the nose.  Herbal, pithy fruit, with good balancing acidity.  A delicious glass of wine. 

Simplement!  Vin de France – 5.00€
They don’t bother with a vintage for this wine as it is intended for easy and early drinking.  70% Syrah and 30% Petit Verdot.  Light red fruit, with cassis notes.  Medium body, fresh fruit , balanced with a fresh streak of tannin.

2012 Emilie, Côtes de Thongue – 7.00€
Pure Syrah and a homage to André’s parents, Emile and Emilie who helped him with the purchase of the estate.   Fresh peppery fruit on both nose and palate.  Supple and fresh, spicy red fruit.   Drinking beautifully.  

2013 H Rouge Languedoc – 12.00€
A blend of Cinsaut, Syrah and Grenache. Elevage in vat.  2013 was the first vintage of this cuvée, and they made none in 2014 and there will none either in 2015, thanks to a very small crop of Grenache Noir.  Light nose and on the palate easy peppery fruit.  More structured than Emile, but not aggressively so.  Well balanced palate making for refreshing drinking but without any great depth. 

2012 Jeu de Patience – 17.00€
Just 1200 – 1600 bottles.   Hand-picked; so also is H.  They usea  mechanical harvester for the other cuvées.  The first vintage of this was 2002. A blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache Noir, yielding 20 – 25 hl/ha.  Green harvest in July.  Fermented in the old lavoir, with regular pigeage and a long cuvaison of 4 – 6 weeks and then a 12 – 18 months élevage depending on the vintage.  In French oak, one  third new.  Quite firm fruit, with well integrated oak.  Quite rounded and spicy, with some ageing potential.

Marie-Victoire explained that the name is a game between three friends, with the patience to make good wine, namely André; his oenologist, Pierre Dubrieu, who runs a winery for Jean-Claude Mas in Limoux, and Gilles Barrow, who is involved with their label design.  The three names are on the label.  

André  comes across as a bit of a rebel; he tried working with Terra Vitis, but prefers to do his own thing. He works organically most of the time, but may use a chemical if absolutely necessary, when it is a question of saving the crop.  And he really wants to try working with a horse.

Les Elucubrations de l’Horte, Vin de Liqueur – 12.00€
The name means a mad idea, and the wine is made from Grenache that has been muté like a vin doux, and then aged in wood, in an old Cognac barrel.  16˚.  Ripe fresh Grenache fruit, ripe cherries, rounded and spicy and not too spirity on the finish.  A sympathique finale to a very friendly tasting.

They also want to sell more in bottle, which they do mostly in wine salons or at the cellar door, so do go and visit them.  Ca vaut le detour.  Their website tells you how to find them.


Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Château de Jonquières

Château de Jonquières, in the village of Jonquières, has been in the same family since the 12th century.  The family name may have changed, but the property has never been sold, and it has been an agricultural property since the 13th century, always with vines and sometimes wheat.   It is well placed, on the road to the Col du Vent at Arboras, connecting the north to the southern half of the Hérault.  Nor has it ever been fortified, but retains stylish Italian Renaissance architecture from Bernardin de Latude, who was a pageboy to the mother of Louis XIV.  There is a long family history, too complicated to give the exact details here.   They have a price list for Canada dating from 1870, including a  wine from Jonquières, and a Muscat de Frontignan was the same price as a Sauternes, and they won a silver medal at the Paris Exhibition of 1889, the year the Eifel Tower was built.  The chapel of the château is still used by the villagers of Jonquières and the original statues of the lions at the bottom of the grand  staircase were destroyed at the Revolution, but the villagers defended the château itself.

The viticultural part of the estate is now run by Charlotte de Cabissole, with her husband, Clément de Béarn.   Charlotte is the third child of François and Isabelle de Cabissole, who took over the family estate in the 1980s and began developing sales in bottle in 1992.   Charlotte studied economics and English at Reims, where she met Clément.  They spent the summer of 2011 running a table d’hôte at the château, for her parents’ guests, and realised that they would really like to make wine.   Her siblings were not interested; so in 2014 after viticulture and wine-making studies in Pézenas, they officially took over the wine production of  Jonquières,    Isabelle and François still run chambres d’hôte - and it would be a wonderful place to stay.

They have a very logical range of five wines, three colours of Lansade, and a red and a white oak aged La Baronnie.

2014 Lansade Blanc,  Pays de l’Hérault - 11.50€
70% from 30 year old Chenin Blanc vines and 30% Grenache Blanc.  A simple vinification in vat, and blending during fermentation.  The Chenin is picked a little earlier than the Grenache.  A dry honeyed nose that is very characteristic of Chenin Blanc.  Elegant palate; the Grenache adds weight, but good acidity and dry honey and potential for ageing in the bottle, with some structure. 

We talked about the reasons for Chenin Blanc in this area, when of course it is usually found in the Lorie Valley.  Apparently the coop in the adjourning village of St. Saturnin asked for Chenin Blanc as an experiment some 30 years ago, as they were looking for varieties that would retain acidity in the white wine, but Chenin was never accepted in the appellation.  However, as a result other growers have it too, Alain Chabanon, Domaine de Pountil  and Cal Demoura; Olivier Jullien has replaced his with Carignan Blanc.

2014 Lansade rosé, Pays de l’Hérault – 8.50€
90% Cinsaut with 10% Carignan, planted by Charlotte’s great grandmother, 70 years ago.  The Cinsaut is pressed and the Carignan saigné, adding some body.  Orange pink colour.  Nice rounded palate, and quite ripe and mouth filling.  A food rosé.

2014 Lansade rouge, Terrasses du Larzac – 11.50€
A typical Languedoc blend with the usual five varieties.  As much as 40% Carignan, with a high proportion of Cinsaut and just 10% Mourvèdre.  Blended in December and given an élevage of 12 – 15 months in vat.  Carignan is now considered a principal, rather than a secondary variety for the Terrasses du Larzac.  Medium colour.  Quite a firm stony mineral character.  Dry spice.  Medium weight.  A certain freshness, with good fruit.  14˚ but does not taste heavy.

2013 La Baronnie Rouge, Terrasses du Larzac – 16.50€
40% Mourvèdre, 30% Syrah, 20% Grenache Noir and 10% Carignan.  Blended in December before élevage in oak, but no new barrels.  Bottled in August 2015. Firm youthful fruit, with structure potential and balance.  The oak is well integrated.  Youthful red fruit.  Firm stony notes.   Elegant with aging potential.

I asked about other wine growers in the village of Jonquières – they include some good names:  Mas Jullien, Cal Demoura, Mas de l’Ecriture, Mas Pountil, Le Peira, and two that I did not know, namely Mas de l’Erme and Le Clos du Lucquier.  They see themselves at the heart of the Terrasses du Larzac.

2013 La Baronnie Blanc, Pays de l’Hérault – 16.50€
A blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Chenin Blanc, vinified in barrel, and given a little bâtonnage, and then ten months ageing on the lees, without any more bâtonnage.  Light colour.  Quite a firm nose.  A touch of oak, but nicely integrated, and again on the palate, the oak is present but not intrusive.  Nicely mouth filling, with good acidity, good body and a long finish.    A lovely glass of wine, with ageing potential.

Jonquières is well worth a visit, not only for its wines, but also for the architecture.  They organise guided visits twice a week on Wednesday and Friday mornings, between April and September, which include some history as well as tour of the cellars and a tasting.  It would be worth a journey, and most certainly a detour.


Sunday, 18 October 2015

A bonne bouche from Sainsbury’s

I spent much of last Wednesday tasting Sainsbury’s autumn offerings.  They seem to favour Jean-Claude Mas for quite a few of their wines from the Languedoc;  in fact the most original dry white with a southern flavour came from a South African Roussanne, namely 2015 Bellingham The Bernard Series, with white blossom and satisfying texture for £10.00.  The red pair to this was a ripe oaky Syrah for £12.00 which came in a very heavy bottle, so I was less enthused.   

And then almost at the end of the tasting, amongst the tiny selection of dessert wines was a delicious bonne bouche, a half bottle of Muscat de St Jean de Minervois, for just £5.00.  It was everything that good Muscat should be, with soft honeyed grapy fruit and a nice balance of acidity.   St. Jean de Minervois is a tiny appellation adjoining the eastern edge of the Minervois and a couple of wine growers in St. Chinian also make it, but the main producer is the village cooperative, which, I suspect, was the source of this wine.   

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Tasting with Jean-Louis Denois

Tasting with Jean-Louis is always an exciting experience.  You never quite know what to expect; he has an ability to surprise,  and enjoys some confrontation.  The very first time we met, back in the last century, he sprang a blind tasting on me.  This time was much more relaxed; we were  six around a table in the coolest part of his cellar in Limoux, down two stories, on a very hot afternoon.    He originates from Champagne, studied in Burgundy  and has made sparkling wine in South Africa, helping to develop Cap Classique.  When he first came to Limoux, he owned Domaine de l’Aigle which he sold to the Burgundians Antonin Rodet – it is now part of Gérard Bertrand’s empire, and he fell foul of the French authorities for planting Riesling and Gewurztraminer.   These days he has vines  outside the village of Roquetaillade, as well as a vineyard in Roussillon,  and operates in Ets. Babou’s old cellars on the edge of the town of Limoux.   And his current bone of contention is the fact that you cannot make any sparkling wine in Limoux other than Limoux, so there is no possibility of making a quality sparkling wine or indeed a cuve close wine that does not conform to the Limoux regulations.    Jean-Louis considers this to be too prohibitive.  They produce Kriter in Burgundy and Veuve du Vernay near Bordeaux, so why not ……. He also complains about the restrictive percentages of grape varieties in Limoux, that Pinot Noir should not exceed 20%.   And somehow he seems to find a way around these various restrictions. 

We settled down to taste.  First came variations on his Crémant Blanc de Blancs,  Brut Nature sans sulfites, (10.00€) from 80% Chardonnay and 20% Chenin.  There should be some Mauzac too, but never mind. The wine has spent two years on the lees, without a dosage, and was disgorged in front of us.  It was very fresh and pure with a good mousse.    Then to show the effect of dosage Jean-Louis added  6gm/l of residual sugar, which fills out the palate very nicely.   The next sample had been disgorged in June and had had time to become more integrated and creamy with some weight.  And the final wine of the flight, disgorged in May 2014, had more depth on the nose and palate, with some notes of brioche and honey, with depth and balance.

Next came a flight centred on Tradition. (11.00€)  Essentially this is the wine that Jean-Louis has always made,  first under the label of Charles de Fère and then at Domaine de l’Aigle.  The current release from the 2010 vintage is quite firm and dry, with a little body and some bottle age.  The wine from the 2012 which is not yet released in youthful and fresh with a hint of dry honey.  The Pinot Noir (50%) gives some structure and length.

Bulles d’Argile, Crémant de Limoux. Extra Brut (17.00€)  disgorged in March, with 5 gm/l residual sugar, is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Some barrel fermentation in old wood, and no sulphur.  During the second fermentation the yeast absorbed the oxygen, making for a wine with a little colour, some rounded, lightly toasted elegant fruit with good depth.  In contrast the Brut Nature disgorged in 2014, without any dosage, was firm and fresh, structured and quite austere on the finish.  If you don’t use sulphur, you have to be meticulous about hygiene, but carbon dioxide helps too.  With that advantage more champenois ought to make sulphur free wines, observed Jean-Louis.

And then we were treated to three quite different wines from the same vineyard, a seven hectares  plot in St. Paul de Fenouillet in the Haute Vallée d’Agly, so one of the cooler parts of Roussillon.
Brut de Syrah, Blanc de Noirs, Brut Nature disgorged in 2014 – 12.00€.  it was quite firm and structured with good acidity and some depth.

Bulles de Syrah Rosé d’une Nuit, from grapes picked ten days later.  The grapes spend one night on the skins, making for a pretty pink.  Jean-Louis stops the fermentation leaving some natural sugar for the second fermentation, which makes for more fruit and less acidity in the wine, so that it was quite overtly fruity, but nicely rounded with an elegant finish, and it went deliciously with my New Zealand friend, Lynne’s, pavlova later that evening.

2013 Mes Vignes de St. Paul, Vin de France   The remaining Syrah is picked three weeks later,   No sulphur. It is a classic Syrah, with a deep colour, and sturdy youthful  peppery fruit, with a rounded finish, and quite restrained for Roussillon.   It was simply amazing to consider that all three wines came from the same vineyard. 

Limoux is one of the few places in the Languedoc where you can make really fine Pinot Noir.  Jean-Louis has a vineyard in the village of Magrie, and makes two cuvées, which he would call his village wine (12.00€) and his grand vin (20.00€).  The 2014 village wine is unwooded and has some fresh red fruit; it is medium weight and youthful with supple silky fruit.  The Grand Vin, les Bougats is altogether more serious, with ageing in wood, but none new.  With a deeper colour, it is more structured and again with some elegant fruit.  2014 was a very balanced vintage.    And then we compared the village wine of 2013 with the Grand Vin of 2012.  The 2013 village wine was youthful and fresh with a tannic streak and has yet  to open up, while the 2012 Grand Vin, a warmer vintage,  developed beautifully in the glass, with rich fruit, texture and depth.   Jean-Louis observed that the quality of Pinot Noir from the Languedoc still has to be recognised, but that will come.  And in the context of Pinot Noir, the ripest vintage is not always the best.

And then we moved onto bordelais grape varieties.  First came 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Haute Vallée de l’Aude.  This is the first time that Jean-Louis has made Cabernet Sauvignon without any wood ageing.  It had a deep colour, with some solid cassis fruit on the nose and on the palate was ripe and rounded, with firm youthful tannins and ageing potential.  This was a vat sample, as was the Cabernet Franc that followed.  Again it was made without any oak, with fresher fruit than the Cabernet Sauvignon, and more acidity and tannin.  And then we looked at Merlot, Chloé Vieilles Vignes, from forty year old vines.  Some oak ageing.  A ripe plummy nose, with fleshy ripe black fruit.  Youthful with lovely fruit and firm tannins.

According to the tasting sheet, our tasting was going to finish there, but it didn’t!  Next Jean-Louis opened a 2013 Cabernet Franc.  A little ageing in old oak makes the wine heavier.  In comparison 2014 has more acidity, but there was fresh fruit and textured palate.  The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon had also been in old wood, and was firm and structured with dry cassis and some slightly drying tannins.  I much preferred the unoaked wines.  

And then we got onto the subject of eggs.  Jean-Louis snorted ‘bullshit’.  The wine doesn’t breathe in an egg.  He is much more interested in amphora; something in the clay of an amphora prevents the development of volatile acidity, whereas there is something in wood that can encourage it.  He has found a source of amphora, a local company in nearby Castelnaudary and is discovering amphora.   Nothing stands still, even if he is considering slowing down and wondering whether his son might like to take over.  And I later read that he has sold the 25 hectare estate of Métairie d'Alon to Clément Badet, a company with quality aspirations in the Languedoc.

And later that evening as we enjoyed the Brut de Syrah, I read the back label: Attention: vous allez déguster un vin singulier, identi-terre, une création bien loin de la standardisation du gout.  Buveurs  d’étiquettes et de cuvées prestiges; s’abstenir.    There is a ram on several of Jean-Louis’ labels  – his star sign is Aries – prompting him to observe that ‘ I am following my star, not the herd’.    And on his labels he describes himself as an artisan vigneron, which sums him up very nicely.



Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Domaine Gayda

Domaine Gayda is an old wine estate outside Limoux, dating back to 1749.  Technically it is within the appellation of Malepère, but instead they produce some highly original vins de pays.   The current history began in 2000 when Anthony Record bought the property as a holiday house. However, as an energetic entrepreneur he was not going to neglect his land, and so the wine estate is the result of an association of four people, Anthony Record, Tim Ford who had run a large business exporting roses grown in Kenya and Zimbabwe,  until he was expelled by Mugabe; Mark Kent, a South African winemaker who runs Boekenhoutskloof in Franschhoek and Vincent Chansault, the wine maker.  All four have some link with the Cape.  

Vincent arrived here in 2003, after working a number of years in  South Africa  and examined the soil and the climate, totally disregarding the fact the land was appellation Malepère.  Instead he chose to plant Cabernet Franc – for Malepère he should have opted for Merlot.   There was a spot by a stream where he thought there was the potential for pourriture noble, where he has planted Chenin blanc, and he also  planted Sauvignon, and some Syrah in some particularly poor soil.  And they built a cellar, and also opened a restaurant.  The concept of oenotourism is particularly strong in South Africa, and that is something that they wanted to develop.  I was amused to find a collection of old black and white photographs in the ladies’ loo featuring various film stars inelegantly eating spaghetti, Sean Connery, Charles Aznavour, Marcello Mastroianni and others.  And there is also a wine school, Vinécole,  run by fellow Master of Wine Matthew Stubbs.   

Vincent showed us round.  He explained that Malepère means mauvais pierre, in other words stones that are not good for construction, but are very soft and friable, and therefore make for good agricultural land.  And 10 kilometres west there is the partage des eaux.  The climate is unique as the Pyrenees block the influence of the Mediterranean, and so it is much cooler here than anywhere else in the Languedoc.

Vincent exudes enthusiasm and you sense that he is very competent and focussed.   First he showed us a small plot of vines, just 50 ares planted close to the winery.  They had used selection massale, from vines originally planted in 1920.  He explained that if he were to start again, he would plant their vineyards in smaller plots, not in the long rows to which he was accustomed in South Africa. This particular plot was planted en echalas, each with a supporting pole, in a triangular format so that there is no shading between the vines, and they are just allowed to grow at will and often latch on to their neighbours forming an arch.  Domaine Gayda has been farmed organically since the beginning and now they are moving towards biodynamics.  The soil here is very hard, with a high pH and very little microbiological life, and they want to improve that through biodynamics.

In addition to the vineyards at Gayda, they buy lots of grapes, particularly from Roussillon, at Opoul near the coast, Calce, Latour de France and St. Martin de Fenouillet.  Vincent enthused about the extraordinary complexity of the terroir of Roussillon, with granite, gneiss and schist.  They use a refrigerated lorry to bring the grapes back to Gayda.  Their  harvest lasts about two months from about 20th August to 20th October.   Vincent was also particularly taken with Minervois La Livinière and there they have bought vineyards, which now total 10 hectares.  They now have a cellar there too, which means that they can sell the wine as Minervois La Livinière, under the name La Villa Mon Rêve,  which is the name of a little house in the middle of the vines.

The modern cellar is well equipped, with lots of small stainless steel vats, for different vineyard sizes, and 500 barrels, with an oxaline system for easy manoeuvrability.  They replace 50 barrels each year, and use different coopers with different toasting, and place more importance on the tightness of the grain, rather than on the particular forest.  Sometimes they want as long as five years seasoning for their oak.  They use natural yeast, and Vincent talked about a study on the DNA of yeast, examining the yeast on Syrah from three different vineyards, la Livinière, Gayda and Roussillon and each was quite different, illustrating that the indigenous yeast do indeed contribute to the character of a wine.  Temperature control is manual rather than computerised, so that everything is regularly checked, with the necessary remontages and pigeages.    And then there are experiments, eggs, for Grenache Gris and Chenin blanc, foudres for élevage, and also demi-muids, which are good for Grenache, while Syrah does better in barriques.  Vincent observed that tradition is an experiment that worked, and that they are creating their own history.

And then it was time to taste:

2014 Viognier, Pays d’Oc – 6.95€
From three terroirs, the schist of Roussillon, limestone from the Minervois and Gayda and granite from Roussillon.  Vinified in vat.  Light golden. Delicately peachy, a delicate nose, lightly floral with peaches and apricots.  No bitterness on the palate.  Elegant and balanced with a fresh finish.  A blend of terroirs.  Each is vinified separately and then gradually blended.

2013 Figure Libre, Freestyle, Pays d’Oc– 10.00€
A blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Macabeo, Chenin Blanc grown on granite.  The back label gives very detailed information about exact provenance and percentages.  Suffice it to say that Grenache Blanc accounts for over half.  Vinified plot by plot; nine months in wood and blended at the last moment.  13˚.  Intriguing white blossom, a hint of oak and on the palate a nicely rounded texture and lots of nuances.  Very good acidity, a saline quality and some minerality.  .  Quite a dry finish. Minimum sulphur and no cultured yeast.  Understated weight.  Still very young. Give it 5 – 7 years. 

2013 Chenin Blanc, Figure Libre, Pays d’Oc – 14.00€
Vincent enthused about how Savennières is one of his favourite wines.  And he wants the Chenin Blanc at Gayda to have some noble rot; sometimes it is as much as 100%.  This 2013 was light in colour, with some dry honey on the nose and very good acidity on the palate, balanced with ripe honeyed fruit.  Elegant, balanced and lots of nuances and a long finish.  A lovey glass of wine.  It has been kept in an egg and was bottled a year ago. 

2014 Grenache Gris, Sélection -20.00€
A selection of Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc from three different vineyards at Opoul.  Vincent commented that there is a difference in the ripening time between Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc even in the same plot. Again vinified and kept in an egg.  And bottled in late June.  Light colour; lightly rounded with a rich textured palate and good acidity and length.  Full but not heavy.  They made just 2000 bottles of this.

2013 Syrah, Vin de Pays d’Oc – 7.00€
From vineyards of limestone schist and granite.  No wood.  Deep young colour. Lightly peppery.  A fresh dry peppery palate.  Just 13˚.  Crozes-Hermitage is Vincent’s inspiration here.  He wants lightly grained tannins, with some of the spice of the garrigues, observing that altitude has an important impact on aroma, favouring 200- 300 metres. And he limits the yield to 50 hl, observing that the vignerons do have to make a living.  It’s mon vin de pétanque

2013 Figure Libre Freestyle, Pays d’Oc – 10.00€
A blend of 45% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache Noir and 20% Carignan.  20 to 80 year old vines.  Medium colour.  Quite a firm nose.   A rounded fresh palate, with lovely garrigues fruit and spice.   Nicely integrated tannins and a fine balance.    Elegant red fruit.  They have retained freshness in the wine.  As négociants, they have access to some very good grapes.

2013 Figure Libre, Pays d’Oc – 14.00€
100% Cabernet Franc from the Malepère.  Élevage in barriques, as well a tronconique vat and a foudre.  And Vincent wants to try out an egg too.  Twelve months élevage.  This was bottled last November.    2013 was a tricky vintage for grapes that ripened late, as it was hot and humid just as the grapes were ripening and they had to pick very quickly or else they would have lost everything to rot.    The wine has lovely fresh fruit, with supple tannins.  Youthful.  Medium weight.   A beautifully ripe Cabernet Franc.

2012 Chemin du Moscou, Pays d’Oc  - 20.00€
This is  their address and also the name of the air corridor for the aero-poste after it left Toulouse, in the early days of s flying postal service.    A blend of Syrah,(62%)  Grenache (32%) and Cinsaut (6%).  They are aiming to increase the percentage of Cinsaut, and planting more at La Livinière.  12 months élevage separately and then another 12 months in barrique together.   14˚.  Rich and intense on the palate, but not heavy.  Rounded with supple tannins and black fruit and a peppery note.  Youthful with lots of potential.

2012 Villa Mon Rêve, Pays d’Oc, - 45.00€
Pays d’Oc as it was not made in La Livinière.  The 2013 vintage will be Minervois La Livinière.   They made just 2500 bottles.  Pure Syrah.  13.5˚  Two years ageing in small foudres.   A lovely interpretation of Syrah, rich but supple, garrigues fruit.  Lots of nuances.  Elegant a fresh finish and masses of potential.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Traffic hazards at harvest time

                                                         Slippery road.  Grape harvest

The roundabouts in Pezenas suddenly spawned a series of warning notices in early September.  The Pezenas coop is on a main  road on the  edge of the town so if any of the coop members have leaking trailers, grape juice could indeed be a bit of a traffic problem.   And I seen a similar sign once before, on the island of Cyprus.  In fact a photograph of a warning : 'road slippery with grape juice' was the very first thing I  ever had published in Decanter magazine, back in the autumn of 1977!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Château Guilhem in the Malepère

Malepère tends to get overlooked.  It is a small appellation, of just 500 hectares, covering the hills south west of Carcassonne, around the Massif de la Malepère.   Originally when it was still a VDQS Côtes de la Malepère, the regulations demanded both bordelais and Languedocien grape varieties, but since the creation of the appellation, Bordeaux varieties alone are possible.   

We went to visit Château Guilhem in the village of Malviès, which is one of the older, more established, and also largest estates of the appellation, run and owned these days by Bertrand Gourdou, the 6th generation, with Catherine Montahuc as his winemaker.  She has worked here since 2006, but comes from Burgundy. She showed us round; they have 30 hectares of vines in production, of which 17 are Malepère and the rest produce varietal Pays d’Oc.   Malepère is only ever red or rosé; any white wine is Pays d’Oc. A more recent proposal that a white appellation might be considered was refused by the INAO, with the suggestion that the vignerons of the appellation need first to optimise the production of their red and rosé wines, and that any thoughts of white wine were distinctly premature.

The château itself dates from the 1870s, and on some of their labels they use an old photograph of the family from 1902. Originally the property was called Chateau Malviès, but Bertrand thought that could cause some confusion, and preferred to rename it, after the family name of his grandfather, Guilhem.  In the vineyard they work organically, and the cellar at first sight looks like the classic Languedoc cellar, with old cement vats and some old foudres.  However they have divided the cement vats into smaller sizes, which was not easy, but nonetheless preferable to  removing copious amounts of reinforced concrete.  They also have stainless steel vats; Bertrand’s grandfather was one of the first to use them for wine in the Languedoc, in the mid-1970s, inspired by the example of the dairy industry.   The next project is a proper chai à barriques.  They were also amongst the first to plant Merlot in the area, again at the beginning of the 1970s.  Their oldest Cabernet Franc is 15 years old.   A classic Malepère blend must include at least 50% Merlot with at least 20% Cabernet Franc.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec are also allowed, as well as Syrah, Grenache Noir and so on, but they have none of those.    The vineyards have been organic since 2010.  The soil is clay and limestone with an average altitude of 250 metres.

Our tasting began with:

2014 Sauvignon, Pays d’Oc – 7.00€
Fresh and pithy, with a dry finish.   Easy drinking, with some varietal character, but not too much.  The juice is given a little skin contact, before pressing.  

2014 Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc – 7.00€
In the range of Heritage Famille Guilhem, with the old photo on the label, and the words ‘Esprit de Famille since 1878.  A little colour.  Lightly buttery; lightly rounded and quite elegant.  No oak.  Some 25 year old Chardonnay vines.

2014 Viognier, Pays d’Oc – 8.00€
Light colour; lightly peachy on the nose, and palate.  Nicely rounded.  Fresh with a touch of acidity.  quite elegant.

2014 Grand Vin Blanc, Pays Cathare – 13.00€
Half Chardonnay, fermented in barriques and half Sauvignon, fermented in 500 litre barrels, and then blended after fermentation, and bottled in April.  If there was a white appellation, this would be it.  I detected more Sauvignon than Chardonnay on both nose and palate.  Good acidity and a light streak of tannin from the oak.  Nicely understated.  How might it age?  A good balance of the two varieties.
The characteristic of Malepère are quite different within the appellation.  As Catherine explained, the vineyards on the Carcassonne side of the hill are more Languedocien in character, whereas on southern side of the Malepère, nearer to Limoux, the vineyards are more suitable for the Bordeaux varieties.  Grenache or Syrah simply would not ripen here.

2014 Malepère rosé, Prestige du Château Guilhem  – 10.00€
A blend of 50% each of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  Mostly saigné, using the first free run juice. apart from a plot of young Cabernet Franc.  Pretty pale colour.  Delicate fresh fruit.  Lightly raspberry, and on the palate quite crisp and fresh, with good acidity.  They use a glass stopper for this, which costs ten times more than a cork.   They pick at night.

2014 Pot de Vin, Pays d’Oc Merlot – 6.00€
To be served chilled, for easy summer drinking.  Medium colour. Quite rounded easy fruit, with a streak of tannin.  They use an old label and an old bottle shape from the 1970s. 

2013 Malepère Heritage Famille Guilhem – 7.00
Their entry level Malepère, with the emphasis on fruit.  A blend of Merlot and Cabernets, with an élevage in vat.  Quite rounded, ripe and fleshy, with a tannic streak. Easy drinking.    The yield for Malepère is 50 hl/ha but they usually only manage 40 hl/ha.

2013 Prestige of Chateau Guilhem – 10.00€
50% Merlot with 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec.   Deep colour. Quite rich and rounded with some tannin.  Nicely fleshy with ripe cassis fruit.  Spends eight months in wood, but not new wood.  They vinify single plots and then blend gradually.   The Cabernet Franc gives freshness.  Catherine observed that the last three harvest, 2012 – 2014 have been late and cooler, while 2011 was the last hot year.   And we commented on the heat of this summer; the wind from the Mediterranean was bringing humidity, and oidium loves it!

2013 Grand Vin – 16.00
The blend changes, with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon the dominant varieties with a little Merlot.  However it is not the same every year, but the best of the year, so 2011 was Merlot and Cabernet Franc while in 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon replaced Cabernet Franc.  The wine spends twelve months in old wood, after blending, to provide some oxygenation.   If it is too cool, Cabernet Sauvignon does not ripen, but it does not like hot years either, while Cabernet Franc adapts much better.

Good deep colour.  Firm structured cassis fruit on the nose.  A rounded palate with a good balance of tannin and fruit.  Still very youthful.  It makes you think of Bordeaux,  ‘but with the sunshine’ added Catherine.  

2012 Clos du Blason, en magnum – 50.00€.   Catherine very generously gave us a magnum, as they had no bottles left for us to taste.  2013 had not been successful as the Merlot got coulure, and the 2014 vintage is still in barrel and will not be bottled until 2016, after 18 months in new oak.   It is 90% Merlot, with one barrel of Cabernet Franc and one barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon.   The idea is to show how well Merlot performs in the Malepère, especially when the vines are 40 years old.    We drank the magnum with friends later that evening.  The oak influence is still very strong, with some ripe vanilla and cassis fruit, balanced by a youthful tannic streak.   The key question is: how will it age in bottle?   For sheer drinkability, the Heritage cuvée was hard to beat.