Thursday, 27 August 2015

Wine and Chocolate at Le Wine Shop

A group of friends met at Le Wine Shop in Pézenas for a chocolate and wine tasting.   Chocolate and wine are notoriously difficult to pair, but Dom George and Emmanuel Servant, a maitre chocolatier based in Marseillan, were up to the challenge.  Emmanuel simply said to Dom: Give me the wines, and I’ll make a chocolate to go with each of them, and that is  just what he did.

It proved to be a fascinating and highly instructive tasting, and great fun, not least  for overturning some preconceived ideas.  I had thought red wine usually went pretty well with chocolate, with a streak of tannin balancing the dark chocolate, and some of vin doux, old Rivesaltes or Banyuls would be good too.  

But first Dom gave us some background information.  I had no idea that you could talk about terroir in association with chocolate, and that soil matters, and also aspect.  Drainage is important too.  Most chocolate is produced between 10N and 10S of the Equator.    About three quarters of the world’s chocolate production comes from West Africa, the Ivory Coast and Ghana, whereas the best chocolate originates from Central and South America, notably Ecuador.  And the production of chocolate also entails a fermentation process.  This is not the place for the precise production details, but it was fascinating to realise quite what a complicated process fine chocolate entails. 

The first preconceived idea was overthrown with the first wine.  Who would have thought of pairing chocolate with Chardonnay?   But it worked!   First taste the wine, said Dom, as the flavour of the chocolate is ten times more powerful than the more ethereal flavour of a wine..   2014 Chardonnay from Domaine de Grézan was lightly rounded and buttery with some soft acidity, and the creaminess of ganache of dark and milk chocolate perfectly complimented the creaminess of the chocolate, with the a touch of green aniseed providing a lift on the finish.

Next came 2014 Picpoul Noir from Domaine de la Grangette, paired with palet d’or, a blend of dark and milk chocolate.   The wine had a bright young red colour, with fresh fruit.  It was lightly chilled with some acidity and a little tannin, and here the freshness counterbalanced the creaminess of the chocolate in a very satisfying way.

Domaine de la Clapiere, 2013 Etincelle,  a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Viognier and 10% Petit Manseng was paired with a disc of Ariba, a dark chocolate from a single plantation in Ecuador.  The wine was quite rounded and peachy, with some perfume and acidity, and a touch of spice which complimented the spiciness in the wine. Again another surprise of white wine going with dark chocolate.

2013 Domaine des Arbournières, Syrah, from a new estate in Roujan was quite tannic, with some vanilla sweetness on the finish, and maybe a bit too tannic for the ganache infused with pain d’épice spices.  The idea was that the spices in the chocolate would complement the spice in the wine, but possibly the wine was a little too chilled.   

Domaine des Amiels, 2014 Rosé des Gonzesses, a blend of Carignan, Syrah and Grenache, was paired with a Maralumi milk chocolate from Venezuela.   The wine was rather difficult, a vivid pink colour with fresh acidity and raspberry fruit; it is natural and unfiltered, with some sugar left as the Grenache did not finish fermenting.  The chocolate was soft and creamy with a hint of coffee on the finish and the two seemed to argue with each other.

The final wine came from Clos Mathélisse, a new name for me and was their  2013 l’Autre Vendange, a late harvest Roussanne.  The grapes are dried on the vines, passerillé, with the stem of each bunch twisted, to break and the result is simply delicious, with dry honey on the nose, and even more on the palate, with some ripe apricot fruit and walnuts balanced with and very good acidity.   It did not taste 14.5

It accompanied two chocolates.  First came a non-deodorised white chocolate.  The odour has been removed and the flavour was strong and buttery; the fat of the white chocolate lasts in the mouth and complimented the wine.  Next came a dark chocolate flavoured with confit ginger.  The chocolate was absolutely delicious and it went brilliantly with the wine, with the flavour of the wine emphasising the ginger, or vice versa.  It was all in perfect balance and delicious note on which to finish.     And yet another preconception overthrown.

Emmanuel Servant has a shop in the industrial estate of Marseillan, but fortunately from September Dom will also be selling his chocolate at Le Wine Shop.  

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

A vertical tasting at Mas Gabriel

Deborah and Peter Core at Mas Gabriel are about to make their 10th vintage and they felt the occasion should be marked with a vertical tasting of both their Carignan, the white Clos des Papillons and red Les Trois Terrasses.   I love vertical tastings and this was no exception.

First: Clos des Papillons

2014:  For the first time this included 15 % Vermentino, and the drop of Viognier which had been in earlier vintages has gone, as the vines have been pulled up.   Between 25%  and 50% of the wine is fermented in acacia barrels, which fills out the palate a little, and there is also some lees stirring, but no malo, as they want to retain the fresh acidity.  The Carignan vines, which are nearly 40 years old, are grown on clay and limestone, while the Vermentino, which was planted four years ago, is on galets roulées.    There are just 40 hectares of Carignan Blanc altogether in the Languedoc, of which they have about 50 ares, just half a hectare.   Apparently there are moves to include Carignan Blanc in Faugères Blanc. 

2014 was not an easy vintage.  A very dry winter followed by a very dry spring.  The vines stopped growing until the first rains of the growing season in June.  And the harvest was tricky with some big storms.   Picked on 8th September.   

Light colour.  Delicate nose, lightly nutty, lightly herbal and on the palate very good acidity.  Structured and tightly knit with firm fruit.  They pick to retain acidity.  And they are a few Carignan Gris vines in the plot, which have a light pinkish tinge, but that was not imparted into the wine. 

Initially the yields were derisory, 12 hl/h but by giving the vines lots of TLC and feeding them lots of organic compost, they have raised the yields to a more reasonable 20 – 25 hl/ha.  They have just added to their original vineyard, doubling the size, planting it with cuttings taken from 70 year old vines at Mas Jullien.  The vine nurseries cannot provide Carignan Blanc as there is no recognised clone.    Peter and Deborah admitted that they were inspired by the example of the white wine, Daniel le Conte de Floris, another talented wine grower with vineyards in Caux. 

2013:  A cool year, which started late.  Summer did not arrive until the beginning of July.  A late harvest as a result of the late start to the growing season.   A damp spring, a cool June and also a cool August to made for grapes with good acidity.   Picked on 16th September.  Their largest crop ever. The vats were full.

The nose is beginning to fill out a bit, as is the mouth, but the wine is still very fresh with firm acidity.  Structured and tight knit.  A certain seamlessness and a certain salinity.  Some hints of greengage; a sappy note and a touch of honey. 

2012: Although the autumn of 2011 was very wet, the winter was very dry, so a dry start to the growing season, but spring was also very wet.  However, rainfall for the year turned out to be  40% below normal, but as Peter put it, vines are great survivors.   Picked on 29th August.

A little more colour. Quite rounded with layers of flavour and lots of nuances.  The wine is filling out with riper greengages and a little more alcohol at 13.9.  Some white pepper and spice on the finish.  Good length and nicely rounded.

2011: A dry winter followed by heavy rain in March.  A relatively dry spring, followed by a wet summer.  May was hot, but June, August and September were cool and fresh.   Picked 24th August.  A little colour.  Very firm acidity.  Tight knit and herbal.  Almost Riesling razor-sharp acidity.  Develops some hints of dry honey in the glass.     

2010:  A  wet winter followed by a cool spring.  July and August were hot and dry with cool nights, making for a good concentration of fruit and freshness.  Gentle golden colour.  Rounded dry honey and beeswax, with very good acidity on the palate.  Still very youthful, with dry honey and some weight.

2009 was their first vintage of Clos des Papilloons, but sadly there is none left.

And now for the red, Les Trois Terrasses, which was initially pure Carignan and then more recently has been blended with up to 30% Syrah and Grenache Noir, with blending after the malo.  Kept in vat, not barrel.  Bottled in the July following the harvest. 

2013:  A late harvest, 1st October and lower alcohol 13.8.  Deep young colour.  Firm dry spice on the nose.   Dry red fruit; youthful firm and structured with lively tannins.   

2012:  Young deep colour.  Some ripe spice on the nose, and on the palate youthful tannins, with elegant spicy fruit.  Medium weight.  Lovely fresh fruit, with balancing acidity and tannins.  Picked on 22nd September. 14.3˚

2011 Picked on 19th September.  14.7   Deep colour.  Elegant spice on the nose.  Black fruit on the palate.  Elegantly spicy, and tightly knit.  Still very youthful.  

2010: includes 20% Syrah.  Picked on 21st September. 14.6 good colour.  Rounded black fruit, with the palate filling out, but always with firm peppery fruit, and structure.  Still very youthful .  The question of carbonic maceration was raised; they do some, but not for this wine, but for Clos des Lievres, their other red cuvée.    

2009:  Pure Carignan, 14.9   A cold winter and a very wet April.  Very hot May; Cool nights during June and July and a hot dry August making for an early harvest.  Picked on 18th September.
Very deep colour.   Rounded ripe nose with red fruit.  Quite sturdy but ripe and fleshy.  Fresh tannins.  Red fruit on the nose.  Quite a different style from 2010.  Still very youthful and has evolved beautifully.

2008: The very first Trois Terrasses, picked on 25th September, 14.9˚.   A mild winter.  Warm January and February provoked an early budburst, followed by a wet March.  July and August were hot and dry, and fresh nights in both August and September made for ripe, elegant tannins. 
Very deep colour.  Quite a firm leathery nose.  Structured tight knit firm fruit.  Firm tannins.  Still very youthful. A firm mineral note.  

There was some discussion as to which wine we preferred, and the 2009 pure Carignan generally met with favour, prompting Andrew Jefford to observe:  'I wouldn’t pollute the Carignan with other things'.   I couldn't possibly disagree.  And the wines are all still very young so please could we reconvene in five or ten years’ time to see how they are doing?

Monday, 10 August 2015

La Maison des Vins in St Chinian.

If you want to find out more about St Chinian and have neither time nor inclination to visit a wine cellar, but would simply like to do a bit of tasting, or indeed buy some wine, you should visit the Maison des Vins in St Chinian.  It is in the centre of the town, at the far end of the main square, and is well equipped with an oenomatic, which holds 32 bottles.  And they will happily open anything else that you might be particularly interested in, as they hold a selection of most of the current vintages of most of the growers.  We wandered in, on the off chance, and they gave us a friendly welcome so that we ended up tasting far more wines than we had intended, including several that were unknown to us.   They responded enthusiastically to the question: What’s new?    There are now about 100 or so wine growers in St Chinian, with two or three new estates each year.

First we tried a white, Domaine de Cambis in Berlou, 2014 Kalliopé – and a new name to me.  It is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Vermentino and Roussanne.  And was delicate and fresh with some stony dry fruit.  2014 was the first vintage of this wine. 

I had been hoping to make an appointment with la Grange Léon, a relatively new estate in the village of Berlou. We were told they were away and bottles were opened instead, L’Insolent, L’Audacieux and D’une main à l’autre.  The quality encouraged me not to forget about that cellar visit.

Domaine des Paissels is another fairly new estate run by Vivien Rossignol and Marie Toussaint.  They make two wines, les Paissels and le Banel.    

And while we were talking, Marion Pla came into the Maison des Vins.  I had met her at a tasting in London, but her arrival was the cue to open one of her bottles, Premier Sceau 2012.  She explained that her father had been a member of the Cessenon coop and had gradually developed his vineyards. She did a BTS at Montpellier and is now making her own wine.  2011 Conviction Intime is a homage to her father’s work and a blend of equal parts of Syrah and Grenache, fermented together, with just one barrel for 5% of the wine.   It was quite firm and structured with good length and still quite youthful. 

And we finished with a couple of new names.  There was le Pérarol, from Mas d’Albo in Roquebrun, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan,  with some firm mineral fruit, and then another new name Villa Voltaire, les Orchis du Mazet,.  They admitted to not knowing much about this estate, but the wine promised well, with fruit and concentration.  And then it was time to head for home and the swimming pool.   or for the online shop

Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Roquebrun cooperative

The cave cooperative of Roquebrun in the appellation of St. Chinian consistently wins prizes in the various tasting competitions,  The Top 100 and Decanter’s World Wine Awards, amongst others.  It has been a while since I visited, and time for an update.   A look at the cellar was not possible; they are in the middle of building works, removing asbestos from the original construction.   However, there have been other recent investments in the cellar, concentrating on carbonic maceration, the selection of juice – with three different qualities of Syrah, and also the bottling line.  The director and wine maker, Alain Rogier was much preoccupied, but we were given a very comprehensive tasting by his right hand man, Daniel Marusinski.   Alain has run the cooperative since 1987.

The cooperative is now responsible for 650 hectares, with 80 members.  Forty of them account for 80% of the production and they make three appellations, Coteaux du Languedoc, St. Chinian and St. Chinian Roquebrun, the cru that was recognised in 2005.   The vineyards are mainly lutte raisonnée, with no one doing organic viticulture.  There are four independent producers in the village, Thierry Navarre, Mas d’Albo, Domaine Boissezon-Guiraud and Domaine Marquise des Mures.    The cooperative, not surprisingly, accounts for about 90% of the production of the village. 

Daniel explained that the key characteristics of the cooperative’s wines come from  Syrah, vinified by carbonic maceration, which does indeed give some very distinctive flavours, making for wines with immediate appeal, especially in the context of a competition.    They are very good at making wines for easy drinking, what he called très charmeur.  The carbonic maceration makes for supple tannins, and they also use micro-oxygenation to good effect.  Syrah accounts for the bulk of their vineyards, with 450 hectares, and they have just 50 hectares of Carignan, with the balance Grenache Noir, some Mourvèdre and Cinsaut, and some Roussanne and Grenache Blanc for white wine.  Syrah tends to have much less acidity than Carignan, and responds differently to carbonic maceration.  Daniel talked about their philosphie de Syrah, making wines that are immediately drinkable, with less ageing potential than some.  All their bottles have the distinctive logo of the Cave de Roquebrun, with an outline of the village.  

2014 Coteaux du Languedoc  blanc, Chemin des Olivettes, and in the coop shop Col de Lairole  - 4.50€
60% Grenache Blanc, with Roussanne.  Classic vinification with no oak, but some skin contact and a long fermentation.  The Roussanne gives more depth of character.  Quite closed white blossom nose.  Nicely textured palate with good acidity and a slightly bitter finish.  

2014 St Chinian blanc, Col de la Serre – 6.60€
Again Grenache Blanc with some Roussanne.  Quite rounded and nicely textured with soft acidity.  More weight than the Coteaux du Languedoc and a harmonious finish.

2014 Chemin des Olivettes.  Coteaux du Languedoc  Rosé.
50% Syrah, 35% Grenache Noir, 15% Cinsaut.  Saigné after four to six hours.  Prefermentation maceration à froid for five or six days; débourbage, and then some bâtonnage during fermentation to develop the aromas.  Quite a deep orange pink colour.  Rounded nose; but I found the palate quite heavy and solid, though not especially alcoholic.  13˚.  Dry finish, a bit flat.   

2014 St. Chinian Rosé, Clos de l’Orb
65% Syrah, 35% Grenache Noir. All saigné.  Quite a light colour.  A rounded nose and a satisfying rounded palate, with not a lot of acidity.  Harmonions finish.

2014 Chemin des Olivettes Rouge, Coteaux du Languedoc. – 4.50€
30% Grenache Noir, 20% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre, 35% Carignan.  Medium colour.  Young spicy fruit.  Quite rounded ripe easy spicy fruit, balanced with a streak of tannin.  Rounded but not heavy, and vinified mainly by carbonic maceration.

2014 St Chinian Rouge, Terrasses de Mayline – 6.30€
30% Syrah, 30% Grenache Noir, 10% Mourvèdre and 30% Carignan.  Good deep young colour.  Some ripe spice on nose and palate.  Medium weight but good depth.  Supple tannins.  A dry finish, but easy appeal.

2014 St. Chinian Col de la Serre – 6.50€
Deep colour.  Deeper than Terrasses de Mayline.  A little more structure with a firmer nose and palate.  A tannin streak and dry finish, and less immediate spiciness.

2013 St Chinian-Roquebrun, la Grange des Combes – 8.60€
50% Syrah, made by carbonic maceration, with 30% Grenache Noir and 20% Mourvèdre, aged in vat.  Deep colour.  Ripe dry spice on the nose.  Rounded fruit and spice with a streak of tannin.  Medium weight.  Youthful rounded and complete, with good depth.   The difference between Roquebrun and St Chinian is the higher percentage of Syrah.   And the wines must be kept until January 1st two years after the harvest, so the 2014s will be sold in 2016.

2013 St Chinian-Roquebrun,  Terrasses de la Rocanière – 9.70€  Also known as Roches Noires
60% Syrah with 20% Grenache Noir and 20% Mourvèdre, aged in vat.   Good deep young colour.  Some dry spice on nose and palate. Quite firm with structure and depth.  Ripe spicy black fruit with a balancing tannic streak, and a youthful finish. 

2012 Grand Canal – also known Fiefs d’Aupenac, after a seigneur of the village. – 12.90€
60% Syrah, with 20% each of Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre.  Aged in barriques.  Deep colour.  A nose of black fruit and tapenade and on the palate ripe and rich with plenty of spice.  Quite alcoholic at 14.5.  Quite intense.  Some tannin and hints of vanilla, with a dry finish.

2012 Golden Vines, St Chinian-Roquebrun – 16.30€
65% Syrah, a selection of the best plots.   With 20% Grenache Noir and 15% Mourvèdre.  Made for the first time in 2011.  Includes some 60 – 70 year old vines.  14 months ageing in wood.  Very deep colour. Rich spicy and intense.  Black fruit and tapenade with some tannin, and again a very intense palate, with quite a firm finish. 

But not all their wines are Syrah dominant.  We finished with 2011 Sir de Roc Brun – 12.90€
60% Mourvèdre, with 20% Syrah and 20% Grenache Noir, aged in wood, and blended after élevage.  Quite a deep colour, with a firmer nose and more structure.  It tasted cooler and fresher than the Syrah dominant wines, with a satisfying finish. 

I was left with an impression of a cooperative that was working very well for its appellation and its village.    And then we adjourned to the Cave St. Martin for lunch.    This is another reason for visiting Roquebrun.   It describes itself as an épicerie, bar à vin nature, with a small restaurant, in the summer on a terrace overlooking the Orb.  The owners have recently employed a new chef, who concentrates on local produce.   We shared entrées, enjoying  some Spanish ham, home-made paté, marinated mackerel and a rice and tuna salad, washed down with a glass of Ribeyrenc Blanc from Thierry Navarre, followed by a glass of Temps des Cerises, made by Axel Prűfer, who as coincidence would have it, walked into the restaurant just as we enjoying his wine. 

Saturday, 25 July 2015

La Grange de Bouys

It has to be said that my home village of Roujan is really not known for the quality of its wines.  The neighbouring villages of Caux and Gabian are so much more successful, while Roujan is dominated by its cooperative.  But that may all be about to change.  I spent last Thursday morning tasting with Florence and Stéphane Monmousseau from La Grange de Bouys.  They are newcomers to the village; Stéphane has escaped from the rat race of the financial world  in Paris and as well as buying a house, they have bought vineyards and last year made their very first wines, with the help of a local oenologist, Jean Natoli.  

They made two wines from just two hectares, and in 2015 they will make three wines from three hectares, which are all farmed organically.   Their property still retains the wonderful old-fashioned cellar of the Languedoc, with enormous awe-inspiring oak foudres.  Stephane’s stainless steel vats are dwarfed beside them.  This year they used a small basket press; next year they are buying a pneumatic press.  Tasting with Stéphane, you sense his excitement about his new career, and at supper recently, with some young local vignerons, he was very chuffed to be the oldest jeune vigneron at the table.  This is an established category in France, depending not only on your age, but also on your harvest tally.    

2014 Carignan Vieilles Vignes, Pays de l’Hérault – 10.00€
This includes 6% Grenache Noir, and the Carignan is 40 years old.  That is not especially old for Carignan, but there are no specific rules about the age of old vines.   Élevage in stainless steel.  Medium colour.  Some lightly peppery red fruit, cherries, with some fresh tannins.  Quite firm rustic fruit; very Carignan.  Youthful and elegant.   And I would never have thought it was 15˚.  For this 2014 Stéphane destalked the grapes and the wine spent ten days on the skins; in 2015 he plans to try a carbonic maceration.  And the yield was a miserly 5 hl/ha.   He made just 750 cases. 

2014 Cuvée St. Andrieu, Pays de l’Hérault – 15.00€
Mainly Syrah, with some Cinsaut, Carignan and Grenache.  It could be an appellation, but Stéphane did not get his head round the paper work in time.   Élevage in stainless steel tank.  Blended on 12th February and bottled on 13th May.  15˚.  Good colour.  Firm dry cherry fruit, a peppery note and a certain freshness.  Vibrant with rich spiciness and intensive flavours.  Quite firm tannins, so it will age well.   A long finish with depth and complexity and lots of potential.  If you can make that the first time you try your hand at wine making, you will go far.  Watch this space!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Virgile’s Vineyard, A year in the Languedoc Wine Country

Virgile’s Vineyard was first published in 2003, and it has stood the test of time, providing a very accessible introduction to the wine culture of the Languedoc.  Patrick Moon relates a year in the life of a young wine grower, Virgile Joly, who after working elsewhere in France and overseas, has bought a vineyard and is intent on creating his own wine estate.   And Patrick, newly arrived in the Languedoc, is keen to learn about the region’s wines, and so he shadows Virgile’s work for the year, from pruning to harvesting to bottling, and everything else in-between, including covering one of the big issues for any new wine grower in the Languedoc, how and where to sell your wine.    He sympathetically relates the trials and tribulations of a new wine grower, when things go well and not so well.  

Humour is provided by Patrick’s encounters with his neighbour, Manu, a caricature of the archetypal French paysan, who enjoys consuming vast quantities of wine, in sharp contrast to his extremely abstemious wife – I am not sure that we ever learn her name.    Manu is game to be Patrick’s guide for any cellar visits further afield, so appellations other than the immediate surroundings of St. Saturnin are covered, with visits to wine growers who are still important in the region.  And a sense of the long history of the Languedoc is provided by Krystina, an ex-history teacher and  owner of the local château and another caricature, to provide some more humour.   
Since 2003 things have moved on, and the book has been republished, with an Afterword to bring the story of Virgile Joly fully up to date.   And in between Patrick wrote a second book that focused on the food of Languedoc, Arrazat’s Aubergines, Inside a Languedoc Kitchen, about a young chef who started a restaurant near his home village, in which the continuing story of Virgile is also covered.  Sadly Arrazat’s restaurant did not last for long, but the book considers some of the gastronomy of the Languedoc.   And Virgile has now successfully established an international reputation for his wines, most recently with the help of Naked Wines.  

Friday, 17 July 2015

Plan de l'Homme

Rémi Duchemin made his reputation as a wine grower as one of two partners who created Mas Mortiès in the Pic St. Loup.  Between 1993 and 2008 he worked with his brother-in-law, Michel Jorcin, and then it was time to move on, and Mas Mortiès was sold.  Initially Rémi had doubts about staying in wine, and indeed in the Languedoc, as he comes from Grenoble, but circumstances combined and he heard that Plan de l’Om was for sale.  And he made his first wine there in 2009, changing the name from Plan de l’Om to Plan de l'Homme.  For those who know about such things, OM has associations with football.  

The estate consists of 14 hectares at St. Jean de la Blaquière, on a variety of soils, schist, ruffe and grès, with lots of different plots making for interesting blending possibilities.   The altitude is 250 metres and the cooling effect of the Larzac is very noticeable.     The vines are at average age of 50 years old.  There is no Mourvèdre, and for white wine there is Roussanne, with just a little Grenache Blanc.  Rémi observed that it is easier to buy vines rather than replant an unsatisfactory vineyard – the previous owner had neglected the Grenache Blanc.   And he lives in an old maison de vigneron in St. Felix de Lodez, which provides a perfect cellar on the ground floor.  And that is where we tasted.

2013 Omega, Florès Blanc, Coteaux du Languedoc – 9.00€
Roussanne with 10% Grenache Blanc, kept in vat.  Light golden colour.  Nicely understated nose.  Herbal white blossom fruit.  Some attractive freshness with some body, and acidity on the finish.   Rémi has a large plot of Roussanne and realised after a couple of vintages that he obtained better results if he divided the vineyard.  The lower part near the river is quite vigorous with richer soil and more vegetal in character, whereas the higher vines are less productive on poor soil.  So for Florès he picks before full maturity to give freshness to the wine, and the higher part of the vineyard is picked ten days later, making for more body and weight.  Roussanne can be exotic; here it is spicier.

2011 Alpha Blanc, Coteaux du Languedoc - 21.00€
Roussanne with some Grenache Blanc; a little more than in Florès.  Part of the Roussanne is vinified in wood, with a further two to three months ageing in barrel, with a little bâtonnage, and the élevage is finished in vat.  Lovely texture.  Elegant.  Oak very well integrated.  Acidity on the finish.  Satisfying structure.  Will continue to age.  A lovely glass of white wine.  Rémi observed that he is not keen on wines that are aged in wood, and he uses acacia, which is less powerful than oak.  Roussanne stays young for a number of years and then quickly fades.

2012 Carignan.  Khi, Vin de France  - 13.00€
The name is a play on words, Khi or Qui?  Carignan is sometimes not as well-known as it should be, though in some quarters it is becoming quite fashionable.   Rémi is a member of the Carignan Renaissance group – apparently they are considering launching a Carignan Day- and he has three hectares of Carignan.    Deep colour.  Rounded supple tannins, with ripe fruit, but not heavy.  Very good balance, long and characterful.   Part carbonic maceration and part égrappé.  No élevage in wood, with the last few months before bottling spent in a cement egg.    Originally all the Carignan was vinified traditionally but it lacked elegance, so in 2012 he made two vats – one of carbonic maceration and one with a traditional vinification.  The carbonic maceration worked particularly well. 

2013 Omega, Florès rouge, Coteaux du Languedoc – 9.00€
60% Cinsaut – 50 year old vines.  It may in fact be Oeillade.  25% Syrah and 15% Grenache.  Good colour.  Lovely fresh fruit, with ripe spicy cherries.  Fresh with supple tannins.  Medium weight.  Aged in vat.  Syrah gives structure and Grenache rounds out the palate.   It is not Terrasses du Larzac, as at 9.00€ it is considered a little too cheap – 10.00€ should be the entry level price.  And in any case there is too much Cinsaut.  2014 in contrast was a more difficult vintage  as it was less sunny.

2012 Omega  Habilis, Terrasses du Larzac – 14.00€
This won a gold medal in Decanter’s World Wine Awards.  Made from 50 year old Grenache, an isolated vineyard surrounded by garrigues.   Access is difficult and production is tiny, 20 hl/ha in a good year.  It was farmed conventionally, whereas Rémi works organically, and it is impossible to use a tractor so he leaves it enherbé with the grass.  Initially production dropped for the first two years, but has now increased again as the vines have found their balance with the grass.

20% Syrah, 20% Carignan, 60% Grenache, including some younger Grenache.  Kept in vat for 18 months.  Rémi no longer uses cultured yeast, now that his cellar is established.

Deep colour.  Lovely texture, with silky tannins.  Mouth filling but not heavy.  Ripe red and black fruit. A lovely glass of wine, and fully justifying its gold medal.

2012 Omega Sapiens, Terrasses du Larzac – 18.00€
Mainly Syrah 70-80%.  With Grenache and a little Carignan.   Uses barrels but not new ones, whereas in contrast Alpha Rouge, although the blend is similar, but from different plots, has some carbonic maceration, with more new wood.

Deep colour. Quite a rounded rich nose and palate.  Ripe black fruit and spice.  Quite alcoholic on the finish at 14.5˚.  Quite solid, firm fruit.  Quite rich.  Very Syrah.  The terroir is complicated for Syrah.  It can be too dry, and there is quite a high mortality rate because of grafting which does not work well in some soils.

2011 Alpha Rouge, Terrasses du Larzac – 24€
None made in 2012, but produced again in 2013.  Deep colour.  Ripe rounded nose and palate, with silky tannins.  Youthful and fresh, with good fruit.    Another lovely glass of wine.

And projects for the future?  ‘To obtain the best from my vines’, with lots of attention to detail.  Plan de l'Homme should go far.  

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Cave d’Embrès et Castelmaure

I remember visiting this Corbières coop about 20 years ago, and enjoying a vertical tasting of their best wine at the time, Cuvée Pompadour, with the director, Bernard Pueyo.   He still runs the coop, and very successfully too, and their range of wines has moved with the times.    It was high time for an update.

The coop now has 400 hectares, mainly round the village in the heart of the Corbières hills.  There are 65 members, of whom 18 earn their living from their vines and account for 85% of the production of the coop.  They make Corbières, and a little Vin de France, but no vin de pays, and no Fitou.  When the appellation of Fitou was first suggested, the village was not interested.    The coop dates back to 1921 and they still have the original solid concrete vats, which are excellent for fermentation.   

Bernard Pueyo has been there since 1983.  It was his first job, after studies in Toulouse, Montpellier and Bordeaux.   As a student he did stages with the Vignerons Val d’Orbieu and with the oenologist Marc Dubernet, but he has never been tempted to move on.  There has been so much to retain his interest at Embrès.  He quickly realised that their natural handicaps of low yields and a multitude of steep vineyard sites, making mechanisation difficult, could be put to their advantage.  And that they needed to develop their sales in bottle.    The development of the technique of carbonic maceration, a method much favoured by Marc Dubernet, had a fundamental impact on quality.   Back in 1983, Carignan accounted for 90% of the vineyards, but the creation of the appellation led to the planting of more of the so called cépages améliorateurs.  However, for Bernard Pueyo, Carignan is the cépage roi ici, even if it can only account for a maximum of 50% of a blend.   He is an ardent defender of Carignan, and practices carbonic maceration for virtually all his Carignan.    He feels that the technique really improves the variety, but he is not so sure about Syrah, half of which is fermented by carbonic maceration, and the rest is destalked.  Grenache Noir is all destalked: the stalks are too woody and too thick.  It is a complicated variety.  And they have very little Mourvèdre.  It is not a good spot for that tricky grape variety.  Mechanical harvesters are impractical on this terrain, and in any case for carbonic maceration, the bunches must be handpicked.  

Bernard looked back on the development of the cooperative.  In the 1980s they improved their winemaking facilities, and then in the 1990s they looked at their vineyards, examining the terroir.  They have schist towards Fitou, and hard limestone going toward Tautavel, both of which limit yields naturally.  Then in between the two there are the grandes terrasses which are free draining, with cooler soils, making for higher yields.      They practice lutte raisonnée but will never be organic; it is too complicated for a cooperative, but they try to reduce the chemical treatments and encourage their members to till instead.  From 2001 they developed a system of vineyard selection, linking a specific vineyard to a particular wine.  And unusually for a cooperative, their  members are paid by hectare, rather than by weight, so that they are guaranteed their remuneration.  This means that they wait until the grapes are all fully ripe, and resist the temptation to pick too early. And now they are looking again at their facilities, investing in new cooling equipment and in some foudres for élevage, which are especially suitable for Grenache Noir, as well as a new warehouse cellar for storage and élevage with a cooling system that creates evaporation, so that the air is not dry, which is all important in the summer temperatures of the Corbières.   They have 800 barriques, of which a quarter are replaced each year, and they are also trying a couple of eggs, also for élevage, but as yet have reached  no positive conclusions.  They are also realsiing the importance of enotourisme with the quai de reception being turned into a restaurant on weekend evenings during the summer months, with an opportunity for visitors and villagers to enjoy the local wines.

We adjourned to their tasting room which is equipped with an enomatic, to ensure that the wines are served in the best conditions, and at the appropriate temperature.

2014 Blanc Paysan, Corbières – 5.40€
Mainly Grenache Blanc (and Gris) plus Vermentino and Macabeo, with a cheerful  4L, the classic car of the vigneron in the 1980s, on the label.  Very fresh with good acidity, quite crisp and rounded.  Vermentino lightens the Grenache, while Macabeo is relatively neutral.  Grenache can sometimes be too heavy, though this is a light 13.5˚.  Apparently there are moves a foot for recognise Grenache Gris for rosé.

2014 Rosé Agricole – 5.40€
Mainly Grenache, 80%, with a little Carignan, and Cinsaut and a splash of Syrah.  However, Bernard doesn’t really like Syrah for rosé, the aroma doesn’t work.  He also makes a Carignan rosé.  This as some rounded raspberry fruit with a fresh finish. 

They makes about 200 – 300hls of white Corbières and about 500 hls. of rosé, out of a total annual production of 15,000 hectolitres.

2014 was a very late harvest, with rain causing some problems, so the wines are crisper and more aromatic than usual.  And Bernard is generally pleased with them.

La Buvette, Vin de France – 4.10€
The aim here is a fresh fruity red that is easy to drink.  It is based on Grenache with a little Carignan, to give some structure.   The juice is run off the skins after two or three days and then pressed and then left to slowly finish the fermentation.  Medium colour.  Cherry fruit and acidity rather than tannin.  Easy drinking.

2014 Rouge Vigneron – 5.40€
50% Carignan, carbonic maceration and 30% destalked Grenache Noir and 20% Syrah, with an élevage in vat.  Quite firm red fruit with a tannic streak, and a rustic streak.  Medium weight.  Fruit and garrigues.  Easy to drink.

For the last three years they have been working with INRA and the chamber of commerce on the conservation of old vine varieties, creating an inventory of grape varieties, of which there are about 50, including two which are completely unknown.  They are increasing the planting with cuttings, ten cuttings of each.  Carignan has thrown up some 100 different variations, out of which they have selected 20, which are they multiplying, with a view to future development, to consider what to plant in ten years’ time or so.  

2013 la Pompadour, Corbières.  9.00€
This is not named after Mme de Pompadour, but after a family in the village called Pompadour who was there for some 300 years.  The first vintage was made by Bernard’s predecessor in 1978.  It is classic Corbières, with 50%  Carignan, as well as Grenache Noir and Syrah.   They first began experimenting withy carbonic maceration in 1976, to produce Pompadour in 1978.  It comes from some of the best vineyards.  They now produce 170,000 bottles and Bernard observed that it had lost its concentrated extracted quality to become more drinkable and less powerful.  I liked this 2013.  The Carignan gives a fresh drinkability, even though it is 14˚.  It is ripe and rounded with red fruit and tannic streak ,with some supple tannins.  70% of the blend spends 11 months in barrel, and it is bottled in January.

2013 Grande Cuvée – 11.70€
First produced in 1995.  A blend of Syrah and Grenache, and no Carignan.  All destalked, and the ageing includes some new wood.  2013 was a very good year.  The Grenache suffered from coulure, but what remained, ripened beautifully.   Good colour; ripe fruit some tannins and some oak, and a rounded mouthfeel.  Warmer and more supple than Pompadour.

2013 No 3 – 21.00€
Why No 3? The third cuvée, after Pompadour and the Grand Cuvée; made from three grape varieties , and by three people, the coop and Dominique Laurent and Michel Tardieu, two Burgundians, who used to advise them.   40% Syrah with no sulphur; 25% Carignan, destalked rather than carbonic maceration, and 35% Grenache Noir.  The Syrah goes into barrel of which 50% are new, while the Carignan and Grenache goes into older wood, and future vintages will include ageing in foudres. The blending is done after élevage. The wine is firm and structured, quite ripe and rich with a tannic streak and quite a warm powerful finish, at 14.5˚, but nonetheless, it remains harmonious.

We talked about the position of the cooperative in the village.  It has a very important economic role in the fabric of village life.  They now employ ten people as well as  providing an income for the members. Bernard is optimistic for the future.  They sell all the wine they produce, and even run out.  He talked about climate warming, and how that has improved the quality of Carignan.  In 1983 it was difficult to get properly ripe Carignan, even at 12.5˚.  These days it is more likely to be 14.5˚ with the same vintage date, and the flavours benefit from being fully ripened.  And I asked about the cru of Durban.  The INAO has agreed in principle but they need  tom come and look at the vineyards.  The profile of the cru would be Pompadour, with the emphasis on Carignan.  The coops of Cascastel and Tuchan are also involved and some independent producers.

And our tasting finished with 2004, No 3 to show just how well their wines can age.  At 25€ it is a bargain.  Deep colour.  Quite a rich nose, maturing nicely. Lightly leathery, quite rich and concentrated, at 14.5˚ but not heavy.  The label said  No fining or filtered.   And you sense that they are proud to be a cooperative.  It says so on the label: Cooperative since 1921.  

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Domaine Ste Croix – an English estate in the Corbières.


I keep seeing Liz and Jon Bowen from Domaine Ste Croix at various wine fairs, notably Millésime Bio, and on the last occasion at RAW, when I said, I am not going to taste your wines today.  We’ll make a plan for me to visit you in the Corbières, which will be much more rewarding, and fun, And indeed it was. 

First of all Liz explained how an English couple land up making wine in the Corbières.   She did a degree in agriculture and agricultural economics, but nothing particularly related to wine, and that led her to work in finance.  Jon read History and worked in various wine shops, and realised that it was what was in the bottle and how it got there that interested him, rather than selling the stuff.  So in 1996 he did the first full time wine making course at Plumpton College in Sussex  and then went on to spend a number of years dong contract winemaking, in France with various organic wine producers, and also in California and Australia, and after working with Pierre Clavel near Montpellier for a couple of years, they decided the time had come to buy something for themselves.

So they looked for old vines, namely Grenache Noir and Carignan, and limestone, and in the Languedoc as vineyards there are affordable.  The Minervois was a possibility, and also Roussillon, and then someone suggested the Corbières and that is where they found limestone with volcanic outcrops in the village of Fraisses des Corbières.  They bought a going concern.  The previous owner had delivered his grapes to the village coop and then to nearby Durban until that cooperative closed down in 1999.  His son helped him to build a winery, but was not interested in working with his father, so after four years it was time to sell.  So in 2004 Liz and Jon bought 15 hectares of vineyards, which they have reduced to 12, as well as a functioning cellar.   Liz explained that they have been organic right from the beginning, but that can be complicated if your neighbours are not, and no one else is in the village, so over the years they have managed to create about six islands of vines where there are no neighbours, by buying, swopping and selling  vineyards.   Jon is the winemaker, but Liz helps with blending and in the vineyards, and also does the paperwork.

Half their vineyards are old Carignan planted in 1900 and 1905, and they also have some Grenache Noir and Syrah, as well as Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris, from the 1940s, mixed up together, on two distinct vineyards, one of limestone and one of schist.    Illogically Grenache Gris is not recognised in the Corbières; it is deemed to be a mutation of Grenache Blanc, and so not considered a separate variety in the appellation regulations.  Five kilometres further south in Roussillon it is deemed to be a different variety.  Such are the intricacies of French wine legislation. 

Liz enthused about Carignan, which is still very much the grape variety of Corbières, even though the maximum percentage is fixed at 50%.  I also asked her about the putative cru of Durban.  It is really only the cooperatives, Embrès et Castelmaure and Cascastel that are interested in it.   There are not enough independent producers to give it any weight – and they don’t really need it.  And we talked about the market.  Liz observed that curiously it is difficult to sell to the UK – it is almost as though the buyers prefer to deal with French when they are buying French wine.  Happily, however,  Cambridge Wine have just taken them on.  The US market is much more lively, and willing to pay higher prices. 

We talked about organic and natural wine.   They have gradually moved to minimal SO2 for some wines, and no SO2 for another.  They began using cultured yeast as it was safer at the beginning, and then in 2007 tried out natural yeast, and from 2009 everything has been fermented with natural yeast.  They practice minimum intervention in both winery and vineyard.  This entails spending a lot of time in the vineyards checking to see if they need to treat, but not necessarily doing so.  Again in the cellar they are continuously tasting to check the evolution of their wines, and to see what needs to be done.  They may use a little sulphur at harvest, depending on the condition of the grapes and the weather, and maybe a little at bottling, especially for the export market, with uncertain transport conditions.  Liz does not really see a big difference  between organic and natural wines.   You chose and judge a wine by its flavour, not by the principle.  White wine should not look like lemonade, she laughingly observed.  And they are not biodynamic in the vineyard.  She is interested, but there is a lot to learn, and it needs to be done properly and it is very time consuming, with several constraints.    Sulphur dust is one of the cheapest way to treat the vines, used by most people in the village.  Weed control is the most difficult thing; they leave the grass to grow, which encourages the  bees, and they cut it when it is dying down anyway.    And then we did some tasting:

2014 La Serre, Vin de France – 12.00€  
The name comes from a hill in the village.  Grenache Blanc – 54%; Grenache Gris 40% Terret Gris 6% - planted in 1960.  Grown on schist and on limestone.  The wine is fermented ins stainless steel; they picked the grapes before 9 a.m. and keep them cool with dry ice, and then crush and press whole bunches, and the juice goes straight into the vat.  The fermentation temperature is maintained at 17˚ - 18˚C and the wine is left on its lees, and kept in stainless steel vats until it is bottled.  The Terret is made in the same way but kept separately.

Light colour.  The nose initially seemed rather closed, but  evolved beautifully during our tasting with some lovely herbal notes.   Terret adds acidity, proving that you can retain acidity in the white wines éof the area.   They pick one plot relatively early, and the second plot a week later, which adds more complexity.   I loved the firm mineral notes, and the nicely structure palate, with some herbal notes that developed in the glass, making for a long finish.  A lovely glass of wine.

2013 Pourboire Nature, Vin de France – 12.00€
Série électron Libre – their name for describing something a  bit different.  73% Carignan with 27% Syrah.   There is too much Carignan for it to be Corbières and  anyway it is atypical, and contains no sulphur.  They pick quite early to keep the freshness, and the acidity makes the addition of sulphur less necessary.  The grapes are destemmed and fermented in fibre glass vats, and the wine is bottled within 12 months.   It is a very vibrant colour, with a fresh red fruit nose, with some acidity and a streak of tannin on the palate.  It was very appealing, especially lightly chilled, with fresh fruit, and not at all wild or funky!  Liz observed that is no legal definition of natural wine.  It is up to each individual producer.

2012 Le Fournas, Corbières. – 9.00€
A lieu dit in the village relating to the old lime kilns.   45% Carignan with 28% Grenache Noir and 27% Syrah.   This wine accounts for half their production.   Aged in vat.  Quite a deep colour .  Youthful fruit.  Ripe red fruit, especially cherries.  Some tannin, but medium with fresh and rounded.

2012 Magneric, Corbières – 12.00€
After a lieu dit. 42% Carignan, 29% Grenache, 29% Syrah.  The percentages are on their back labels.  This wine is vinified in the same way as Le Fournas, but comes from older vines, so the grapes are destemmed and fermented, and then half of the juice is put into barrel, larger barrels, as they shift toward demi muids, but none are new.  They have a good source of second hand barrels, from Domaine Bertrand Bergé, whose wine they also enjoy drinking!  Firm spice on the palate,with a touch of oak, but nicely integrated, with body and weight, but not heavy.  A rounded finish.

I liked their back labels, with bullet points, to convey the essentials:  living soils – limestone – Carignan – Grenache – terroir – full tannins –elegance – delicious dark fruit – Syrah – 100 year vines – passion – wild herbs

2013 Carignan, Vin de France – 16.00€
92% Carignan, from 1905 with 8% Grenache from 1968.  14.5˚. Destemmed; fermented in tank, and then into wood for 18 months.  Liz explained that the Grenache fills in a couple of holes in the palate.  Deep young colour.  Quite a firm nose.  On the palate red fruit with some rustic tannins and some acidity.  A refreshing appeal. Carignan retains it acidity.  Medium weight.  Youthful and fresh.   A lovely example of the rustic elegance of Carignan.

2011 Celestre, Vin de France  -20€
Mainly Grenache Noir with 20% Mourvèdre.  They have just one plot of Mourvèdre.  20 months élevage.  14.5˚   Deep vibrant colour.  Rich liqueur cherries but with a tannic streak.  Structured and rounded, with youthful  potential.    

La Part des Anges Late Harvest 2010. Vin de France Série électron libre  – 20.00€
Carignan dominant, and not made every year.  it all depends on the weather.  75% Carignan with Syrah.  Picked two or three weeks later than the main harvest.   Half is crushed and fermented immediately, and half dried inside in a ventilated space and then crushed.  The fermentation starts and the two are put together and then spend two years in wood, making just one barrel – 800 bottles of 50 cls.  The juice stays on the skins for some time, but the wine  is not muté; the fermentation is stopped at 15˚ by adding so2 and then filtered, leaving about 90 gms/l of residual sugar. 

On the nose some oak and a touch of volatility.  And on the palate some tannins and some acidity and some ripe red fruit.   Carignan raisins better than Grenache and retains acidity.  They made it first just to see what they do with Carignan.  And suggested drinking it an apéro or with chocolate.  I favour the chocolate.  Liz mentioned that in this area traditionally everyone made a late harvest wine.  
And there were some large glass bonbons in  a corner which prompted the question: Aare you making a rancio.  Yes we are working on it.    That will be fun to try in due course. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Languedoc at The Wine Society

The Wine Society can always be relied upon to come up with interesting and unusual wines.   I may be biased as I joined the wine trade with the Wine Society – blame a glass of champagne at the job interview.     Last week they were taking advantage of the evening AGM, meaning that all the buyers would be in the country, to host a tasting, where each buyer had selected eight or so wines from their particular areas.  I always enjoy their tastings and their South of France buyer, Marcel Orford Williams has a keen nose for an interesting bottle or two.

I was particularly struck by the first natural wine they have put on their list, namely Corbières Le Hameau des Ollieux Nature, from a leading Corbières producer, Château Ollieux Romanis.   £9.25.   Medium depth of colour, with a vibrantly fresh nose, and packed with refreshing red fruit on the palate.  It was lighter and fresher and more elegant than more conventional Corbières, and quite delicious.  However, if there is one thing that I reproach natural wines, it is that they all, irrespective of provenance, have a tendency to a similarity of style.  The best have that delicious mouth-watering freshness, but that somehow seems to mask their origins.   And Marcel agreed with me.

I have long had a soft spot for Corsica and was delighted that Marcel had two wines from Corsica in his line-up.  2012 Domaine Arena from Patrimonio, Biancu Gentile - £22   Not cheap, but wines from Corsica are very rarely cheap.  Vermentino is the more usual grape variety of Corsica, but efforts are being made to revive some of the other varieties that are in danger of disappearing.  This Bianco Gentile has some delicately fragrant fruit on the nose, with more texture and weight on the palate, with an elegantly rounded finish.   Antoine Arena is indisputably one of the leading producers of Patrimonio.

And there was another Patrimonio, from a producer who was unknown to me, 2013 Clos Alivu.  - £12.95.  The grape variety is Nielluccio, otherwise known as Sangiovese, and the wine had some fresh sour cherry fruit on both and palate.   Elegant with a streak of tannin and a fresh finish. 

The final Midi wine came from Domaine du Bosc, a 2011 Petit Verdot, Pays d'Oc.  This estate is owned by Pierre Besinet, who was one of the pioneers of the region in the 1980s – he is now in his 80s.  For £7.50 it makes a jolly nice glass of wine, offering easy drinking, with some rounded fruit and ripe tannins, but not too heavy or sturdy.

And there were all sorts of other delights I could enthuse about, but since they come from elsewhere, I shall refrain.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Foncalieu and Atelier Prestige

Foncalieu, or to give the company its full name, Les Vignobles Foncalieu, was a familiar name to me, and it is certainly an important name in the Languedoc, but I have to admit that I really did not know very much about them.  However, after two days in the Languedoc last week, that has all changed. 

In a nutshell, Foncalieu was created in 1967, with the fusion of several cooperatives and the name comes from:  FONtiès d’Aude; CApendu, ALzonne and MontolIEU

Altogether they work with 5100 hectares of vines in three regions, namely Gascony, the Rhône Valley and the Languedoc and cover 20 appellations and vins de pays.   Two things stood out: they have a very strong quality motive and they are also very innovative.   They were the first to plant Sauvignon Gris in the Languedoc and now make both a white and a rosé from that grape variety.  They also have some Albariňo and Picpoul Noir for rosé, and at dinner on our last evening we drank a rosé that was a blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Viognier; the two grape varieties are co-fermented, with early picked Syrah and late picked Viognier.  To my knowledge I have never drunk that blend in a rosé before.

At the end of 2012 Foncalieu bought Château Haut Gléon in the Corbières near the village of Durban, for the simple reason that they wanted a flagship estate.  Haut Gléon already had a reputation for its white wine, which is unusual in the Corbières, and Foncalieu have continued to build on that.  Domaine Haut Gléon is a blend of Sauvignon, Bourboulenc and Chardonnay, while Château Haut Gléon is made from Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne.  There are two rosés, Domaine Haut Gléon Gris,  an IGP from the poetically named Vallée du Paradis made from Grenache Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc while Château Haut Gléon comes from the Languedoc varieties of Grenache Noir and Syrah.   There are three red wines.  Again the Domaine red is an IGP including some Grenache Noir and Syrah, as well as Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, while Château Haut Gléon is a Corbières from Syrah, Grenache Noir and Carignan, aged in barrel with some firm black fruit.  Notre Dame de Gléon, after the tiny chapel on the estate, is a selection of the best grapes and again a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan.

More unusual is their Atelier Prestige range, which they began in 2008, with the first real vintage in 2009.  The wine maker, Isabelle Pangault, talked about the way they chose the vineyards for these wines.  Obviously the terroir must be good, with vines in particularly good sites, but much also depends on the human approach.  They work with a very small number of winegrowers for each of the four wines, people who are possibly more daring and certainly more willing to take extra care of their vines.   They talked about épamprage – new term for me – when you remove any young buds from the trunk of the vine as they take energy from the shoots.   They also practice ébourgeonage (debudding), effeuillage, (removing leaves that shade the grapes) rebiochage – another new term entailing the removal of shoots between the main shoots, rather as you do for tomatoes, and they also do a green harvest, if necessary.  The aim is to show that it is possible for a cooperative to make high quality wine in the Languedoc.  The wine growers are paid per hectare, so the yield is not a significant issue for them financially. 

First we went to Puicheric in the Minervois where we met Romain Torrecilla who is one of two growers who produce the grapes for Le Lien, Minervois.  He has a plot of Syrah, grown on clay and limestone.  It was a windy spot on a May afternoon, and the Syrah’s fragile shoots certainly needed the support of the wires.    Romain has also planted truffle oaks, ten years ago, but he is still waiting for a crop. 

Marceau Lacombe is one of three growers who contribute to La Lumière, Corbières.  We admired his Mourvèdre, which gives freshness and spice to the Corbières.  They are gobelet vines, with tall upright shoots.  In contrast the adjoining Carignan vines looked much shaggier.  Isabelle talked about the natural low yield on this south facing vineyard, with one cluster per shoot.  The harvest is quite late, usually in mid-October.

I encouraged Marceau to reminisce over lunch.   He began helping with the harvest at the age of 10 and was driving a tractor at 14.  He is now 68, and his vines are his life.  He remembers working with a horse, and they got a caterpillar tractor about 50 years ago.   With a horse one family could live on 10 hectares, but these days you need 30 hectares to justify the machinery.   Also products like bouille bordelaise were much cheaper than those used today.  Officially Marceau is retired but he has a much younger sister and looks after her vines, as well as nurturing his own small plots of Mourvèdre and Carignan.   A day does not go by without being in his vineyard.  Three wines growers contribute to La Lumière, so we also admired Fabrice Oliver’s beautifully tended Syrah vines. However, Marceau was quite adamant:  Syrah is not from here and he doubts its suitability.   People are beginning to replant Carignan. 

Next we went to the Coteaux d’Ensérune, admiring en route the facade of the Languedoc’s oldest cooperative at Maraussan, with its stirring name, Les Vignerons Libres.  Myriam Roussel is one of eight growers who contribute to Les Illustres, Coteaux d’Ensérune, which is a blend of 60% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec.  She has two hectares of Syrah for Les Illustres.   The vineyard is on a small hill, close to Béziers, with views of the cathedral, and you could just glimpse the sea in the distance. 

We finished at Michel Cazevieille’s vineyard in the south east corner St. Chinian where the soil is also clay and limestone.  He contributes three hectares, of Syrah and a little Grenache to Apogée, with a second grower providing a small amount of Syrah.  Michel talked about the soil, explaining that they analyse it every three years and add organic compost as needed.  It is important that the soil has structure and balance.   And he talked about their very finely tuned mechanical harvester which will remove any stray vegetation or shrivelled berries.

And then we tasted the four wines under the shade of a large mulberry tree.

2012 Le Lien, Minervois
A pure Syrah, all of which is aged in oak, of which 25% is new.  The oak treatment is very much adapted to the appellation and to the vintage.   Deep young colour with a rich rounded nose, quite a firm palate with black fruit and youthful tannins.  Quite sturdy and concentrated.   An observation was made that the quality of the harvest in the Minervois depends upon the wind.   I thought that Corbières was even windier, but maybe not. 

2012 Corbières, la Lumière
A blend of 30% Mourvèdre and 70% Syrah.   The fruit is firm and study, mainly black fruit with tight tannins, and a peppery note and some spice.  Youthful with masses of potential, as indeed has the whole range.  The vineyards are not far from the sea as the crow flies and so enjoy both sun and marine influence.    The grapes are given a three to five week maceration, and spend a year in 300 litre barrels, 80% new, with different toasting and from different coopers.

2012 L’Apogée, St Chinian
Two wine growers with a blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache Noir.  Deep young colour.  Firm sense youthful peppery fruit with a hint of vanilla.  A powerful 14 but more supple than the Corbières.  100% new oak – 300 litre barrels rather than barriques.

2012 Coteaux d’Ensérune, Les Illustres
60% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec.  25% in new wood with 75% given an élevage in vat.   Medium weight palate.  Quite tannic but with a fresh note, with some fresh blackcurrant fruit.  Maybe more elegant than the traditional Languedoc appellations.   

The four wines made a fascinating comparison and were certainly fine examples of their appellations  They are intended for the on trade, but would retail at about £25,  or 19€  in France. 

For more information, do visit their website: