Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Le Wine Shop - Pézenas

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

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

So do go and visit, and if you want to be put on their mailing list, send them an email at:      where you will find the full list of wines. 

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Maury at

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

Monday, 17 November 2014

Clos de l'Anhel in the Corbières

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 10 November 2014

Discovering German Switzerland

One of the great things about the DWCC is the opportunity to go on a post-conference trip in the host country.   I was lucky enough to join the three day exploration of the vineyards of German Switzerland, covering the north eastern part of the country.  The two main grape varieties are Műller-Thurgau which the Swiss prefer to call Riesling Silvaner, and Pinot Noir, which was a revelation.  Of the 15,000 hectares of vineyards in Switzerland, German Switzerland accounts for just 2600 hectares, or 17% of the total.   As we discovered, the vineyards are very scattered. 

After a two hour drive north east from Montreux past Freiburg and Bern, our first destination was Wehrli Weinbau in Kűttigen, within the appellation of Aargau.  Susie Wehrli greeted us with a welcome glass of sparkling wine, Perle Blanc, made from Riesling Silvaner and introduced the family estate.  Several constant themes immediately became apparent; vineyards holdings are small.  You can make a living from four or five hectares; Susie’s family have 12 hectares.  But production coast are high – they calculate an annual 25,000 € or 30,000 CHF per hectare, which in particularly hilly terrain, could rise to 50,000 CHF.   And within four or five hectares, you are likely to find an extraordinary variety of different grape varieties, so that production quantities are usually tiny.   Susie showed us round her cellar and then gave us a very diverse tasting including two variations of Riesling Silvaner from two different soils; one more delicate and one rich fuller and richer.   A Sauvignon was fresh and sappy.  There was also Pinot Gris, Merlot, Malbec and the most successful red was a barrel aged Pinot Noir.  And we finished with a dessert wine made by cryo-extraction, so that the Pinot Noir grapes spent three days in a freezer to concentrate their juice.  It was very intense but not very balanced.   

After lunch at a welcoming family restaurant, Hirschen,
 in a neighbouring village, there was another long drive past Zurich, Winterthur and St. Gallen to the village of Berneck, right in the north east corner of Switzerland, very close to the Austrian border and not far from Germany either.  Our destination was Schmid Wetli where Matthias Wetli and his father, Kaspar, greeted us with a glass of Riesling Silvaner from  the appellation of Appenzell.  This is another family wine estate, with 18 hectares.   They explained that the region is known above all for Pinot, Noir, Gris and Blanc.  Pinot enjoys the contrast of day and night time temperatures, which is one of the defining climatic conditions of the region.  They also have Freisamer, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, as well as Diolinoir and Gamaret, which are two crossings that are traditional to Switzerland.    Pinot Gris 6tus was elegantly spicy, while the Chardonnay was over-oaked for my taste buds.  Burgwein, a blend of Zweigelt – more commonly found in Austria - with Pinot Noir and Merlot, was ripe and spicy, and over dinner at Burg in the village of Au, I really enjoyed their Pinot Noir.  It was elegantly textured with some fresh fruit and an underlying touch of oak. And very intriguing was Fortuna t6tus, a “port” from Diolinoir, for which the fermentation was stopped, as for port and then the wine spent two years in Swiss oak barrels.  It was surprisingly port-like, with some rich fruit. 

The next day we headed to the canton of Graubűnden, and the village of Malans, one of the four villages of Graubünden Herrschaft wine area.   First we made a small scenic deviation into Lichtenstein, and then stopped at the memorial to Heidi outside the village of Mariafeld.   The autumn colours were at their finest in the sunshine, with the backdrop of dramatic mountain scenery.

First stop was Donatsch, where we were welcomed by Martin Donatsch who is the 5th generation of the family.   He told us how his father had been a great pioneer in the region.  He was the first to use small barrels for his Pinot Noir back in the early 1970s, when André Noblet from Domaine de la Romanée Conti had given him two used La Tache barrels.  He was also the first to plant Chardonnay in the area and to make both sparkling and sweet wine.   Martin explained that it is a small region of just 400 hectares, with about 60 different wine growers.  And the lion's share of the vineyards – 80% - is Pinot Noir, for the soil is limestone, similar to that of Burgundy.  There is however a difference in altitude, with vineyards here at 500 – 600 metres, and the defining wind is the föhn, a warm wind from the south, which blows up the valley.   The Donatsch family have just six hectares, from which they make 14 different wines, including three versions of Chardonnay and three versions of Pinot Noir, Tradition, Passion and Unique, which they equate to the village wine, premier cru and grand cru of Burgundy. 

1975 was their first vintage of Chardonnay.  Martin told us how it was illegal to plant Chardonnay at the time, and they were even fined, but several government officials were drinking it......   We got to taste the 2012 Passion, which was finely crafted, with some fermentation in oak.   2012 Unique Chardonnay is all fermented in new oak, just two barrels. 

Martin is one of just eight producers retaining the tradition of Completer, a grape variety that had nearly disappeared.  One of its key characteristics is high acidity; in the past it was aged for several years in an attempt to reduce the acidity, but Martin has created a new style, based on a late harvest, in late November, of grapes with a high sugar level, that are vinified to leave a little residual sugar.  The 2012 had dry honey with balancing acidity, as well as some well integrated oak.  It is a tricky variety to grow, producing big bunches, but the föhn helps to concentrate the flavours in the vineyard.  Martin enthused – it has everything you want in a white wine, minerality, fruit, elegance and alcohol.  It certainly did not taste of 14, and was beautifully balanced.   They have just 50 ares of it and are planting more, using cuttings from their own vineyard.   In the next cellar we heard the 2014 Completer fermenting noisily and later went to see the vineyard, with high trellised vines, with golden leaves, basking in the autumn sunshine.

Three expressions of Pinot Noir followed.  2013 Tradition was perfumed and fragrant with delicate raspberry fruit.  2011 Passion, with some new wood, was richer and more intense, with a firm tannic streak balancing some lovely red fruit and finally 2011 Unique from a single vineyard was more structured and concentrated, again with lovely fruit, making a beautiful expression of Pinot Noir.  Martin observed that Swiss wines do age, but they are often drunk far too young.  The label for the Unique is original; each bottle is different, with a fragment of a painting, either by Martin or his father.

And our tasting finished with two sweet wines, a lovely Pinot Gris Föhn Beerenauslese, with fresh spicy honeyed fruit, and then a rather spirity port style from Pinot Noir.   And the family also have a wine bar, Winzerstube zum Ochsen, serving traditional cold meats, where we enjoyed a magnum of 2009 Completer with lovely notes of maturity, and to prove, once again, that Pinot Noir ages, the 2008 Passion followed, with elegant fruit, and silky tannins.

And then it was a short walk to Georg Fromm.  I was particularly pleased to see Georg, as I am much more familiar with his delicious Pinot Noirs from Marlborough in New Zealand, so Switzerland was the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle, so to speak.    Georg has 4.5 hectares in Malans and made his first wine there in 1970.  Meanwhile he still owns a share of the Clayvin vineyard in Marlborough and his daughter runs a restaurant, Passione, in Kaikoura.   He explained that Pinot Noir has been grown in this region for at least 300 years; it goes back to the 30 Years War.  His grandfather had Completer, but Georg is not so keen on that variety.  It is Pinot Noir that does well here, enjoying the marginal climate, with cool nights and a long ripening period, and a soil that comes from glacial deposits. 

Georg has four different Pinot Noir vineyards and he treated us to a comprehensive tasting of those, as well as an elegant Chardonnay.  First came barrel samples of the 2013 vintage.   There are subtle differences in each.  Selfi was planted half with Swiss clones which are late ripening and half with Burgundy clones.  The wine spends two winters in oak, of which one quarter is new.  There is a week long cold maceration before the fermentation, and a fermentation that last five to seven days, and then a post fermentation maceration of seven to fourteen days, depending on how the tannins evolve.   Selfi also included 25% whole bunches, but usually the Pinot Noir is destemmed.   Fidler is all Swiss clones, and no whole bunches, while Schopfi includes 50% new wood, and 25% while bunches and finally Spielmann which is all Burgundian clones, with small bunches, and no whole bunch pressing.  It accounts for just two barrels.   There were subtle nuances of difference but overall the style was beautifully restrained with a lovely expression of fruit, and silky tannins. 

Georg explained that he used to blend everything together, but the Burgundian influence has resulted in the development of the individual vineyards.   He also makes a village wine, which accounts for half his production of Pinot, which is aged in larger wood, with a simpler vinification.  Quizzed about the tipicity of Pinot Noir, he talked about limestone and schist and the marginal climate.  And then the 2012s followed, and then 2011 Selfi and finally 2008 Selfi, again to show how beautifully the wines age.  The 2008 had a lovely depth of flavour with supple tannins.  It was drinking beautifully, on its plateau. 

And then Georg could not resist giving us some New Zealand Pinot Noir to try.  It was a fascinating contrast.  I have always thought of his Pinot Noir amongst some of the more restrained interpretations of New Zealand Pinot Noir, in the hands of his talented winemaker Hätsch Kalberer, but the contrast with Switzerland was quite dramatic, with a 1997 La Strada richer and more textured.  And we finished with a New Zealand Riesling with fresh limey fruit and notes of honey and slate.  What a treat!

The next morning saw us heading towards Zurich, past the Walensee and on to the village of Uetikon on the northern side of Lake Zurich, to Weingut Erich Meier.   Erich explained that there are about 140 hectares of vines in the area.  There used to be a lot more, but the proximity to Zurich has put pressure on the use of land for building.   The lake makes everything more temperate and the föhn also blows here, but not as fiercely as in Graubünden.   Hail can be a big problem, but not frost.  Erich has 7 hectares, and we saw his biggest vineyard, which is just on the edge of the village.  He has Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, a little Riesling Silvaner, and just 40 ares of another endangered species. Rauschling.  However, his main focus is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  The soil is clay and limestone and the altitude about 500- 550 metres.   To illustrate how little Swiss wines travel, 85% of his wine is sold within 5 kilometres, to private customers.  However, unlike the other producers we met, he does export a little, to Germany, New Zealand, Boston and San Francisco.  And from his seven hectares he makes fourteen different wines. 

Our tasting started with 2013 Rauschling. Half of it is fermented in oak, and half in tank, with six months élevage and regular lees stirring.  It was nicely rounded with a touch of well integrated oak and good acidity, with a salty finish and a modest 13.   Next came examples of Viognier and Chardonnay – curiously Erich felt that a pure Chardonnay was too much, and includes a little Viognier in the blend, and again in his Viognier he adds a drop of Chardonnay.  I preferred his Sauvignon Blanc which was nicely restrained with some stony fruity and a good balance of acidity.  And his Pinot Noir was very stylish, fresh and fragrant and perfumed with a balancing streak of tannin.  The soil is different from Malans.  The wine is aged in wood for twelve months, and with the 2014 vintage he has started using a  tronconique oak vat for fermentation.  The wine is given a two week pre-fermentation maceration and after a fermentation with 20 % whole bunches, it goes into barrel for twelve months.  It was a great finale to a three days voyage of discovery.

And then it was a short drive into Zurich for a final lunch at Didi’s Frieden,   where we enjoyed Erich's sparkling wine and also his lightly spicy Pinot Gris.   And the final taste of the trip was a fresh peppery Syrah from the Valais, from Domaine Cornulus.  The diversity of Switzerland is infinite.   It is just a pity that there is not enough wine to round. 

Friday, 7 November 2014

DWCC 2014 or the Digital Wine Communicators’ Conference in Montreux.

I am just back from the DWCC, or bloggers’ conference, as I still think of it.   And what a great time I had.   The venue in Montreux provided a wonderful opportunity for all sorts of tasting opportunities, including a total immersion in Swiss wines. I was also intrigued to visit Montreux again.  I was last there more years ago than I care to remember, on a family holiday, and it rained solidly for two whole weeks.   This time the sun shone brilliantly and the lake sparkled, making the morning walk to the conference centre past the statue of Freddy Mercurey a daily treat.  

The conference kicked off with the traditional BYO evening.   Where else would you be able to taste / drink – fortunately there were plenty of spittoons - sherry, English sparkling wine, Switzerland, Sweden, Chablis, Minnesota, Germany, Hungary, Austria, Languedoc, Turkey, Oregon, Holland, Tokay, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Palette and Priorat, all in one evening?  Sadly my contribution, not from the Languedoc for a change, but an Irancy from Clotilde Davenne of Domaine des Temps Perdus was corked .......

The next morning, while waiting for the first keynote speech from the inventor of Coravin, there were wines from Greece to try, including a cheerful sparkling rosé and some Malagousia.  Greg Lambrecht talked about the invention of Coravin.  And then there was more tasting, exploring flavour biases, with a series of wines that had been doctored, with oxygen, residual sugar, brett and TCA.  I didn’t like the bretty wines, but completely failed to recognise that the reason was brett, but the lowest TCA level was glaringly obvious for me. At lunchtime there were various Spanish wines to try, including a delicate Pazo Senorans Albariňo.   The afternoon sessions were dry, talking about wine communications and blogging.   But afterwards there were wines from Georgia on offer, with more weird and wonderful grape varieties, such as white Tsolikouri and Tsitsqua and red Aladasturi.  And there was also some splendid Carignan from Chile, rich powerful wines from old dried farmed vineyards, with old bush vines.

And in the evening to prove that no visit to Switzerland is complete without fondue, we were treated to just that in the old covered market of Montreux, with the additional entertainment of Swiss horns and cow bells, which did make conversation a trifle challenging at times.

The second day was rich with tasting opportunity.  Wine Mosaic kicked off with a tasting of almost lost grape varieties., such as Obeidy from the Lebanon,  Jadoga from Serbia, Areni from Armenia, Papakarasi from Turkey and several others, that I had never ever heard of, each presented by the wine grower responsible for its revival in each country.   And that was followed by a tasting of wines from Northern Greece, making for a highly enjoyable amble through the flavour profiles and appellations of that part of the country, with examples of Assyrtiko, Malagousia and plenty of Xinomavro.  I relived the Master of Wine trip of last year,

The afternoon was devoted to yet more tastings.  It began with Simon Woolf presenting wines out of context, to illustrate just how our perceptions can be influenced by circumstance, context and indeed a glimpse at the label.   It was a fascinating experience and my comfort zone was definitely challenged by an elderflower wine, not to mention some weird flavours from Sicily and Austria. 

And then Switzerland came into its own, with several growers pouring their wines in a walk around tasting.  I enjoyed wines from Marie-Therese Chappaz and Vincent Chollet among others.  Then Jancis Robinson and Jose Vouillamoz, two of the three authors of the definitive tome, Wine Grapes,  conducted a tasting of Swiss wines, concentrating on examples of Chasselas, Petite Arvine, Pinot Noir and Merlot.  A 2002 Petite Arvine from Chateau Lichten in the Valais demonstrated just how well Petite Arvine can age, and the younger wines were delicious too. And the Pinot Noir flight provided a preview of the quality of that variety, that I would never have expected.  More anon in my next post on German Swiss wines. 

That tasting was followed by a Masterclass from Jose of rare Swiss varietals, most of which I had never heard of, and for most of which the number of hectares in production is in single figures.  We had Rauschling (23 has);  Rèze (2.5 ha);  Humagne Blanche  (30 has); Completer (3 has between ten producers):   Plant Robert (7.5 has divided amongst 15 producers) and Lafnetscha (1.5 ha), amongst others.  There was not a vine among them that did not deserve a better recognition, and indeed later in the week Completer was promoted to the status of my new favourite grape variety.    And of course no conference is complete without a gala dinner, but that is the moment for drinking rather than tasting.  And the next morning saw a group of us setting off to discover the vineyards of German Switzerland, about which more anon. 

You may of course wonder what all this has to do with the Languedoc.  The simple answer is: absolutely nothing at all.  Try as I may, I have failed to find any parallel or link between Switzerland and the Languedoc, other than the fact that the wines of Switzerland deserve to be much better known.   The problem lies partly with the Swiss who drink most of them themselves, and partly with the unavoidable fact that there is simply not enough to go around.  With just 15,000 hectares in production, export sales are negligible. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Domaine de Fabrègues

A chance encounter at Vinisud earlier this year.  I was just about to leave the fair for the airport as I passed the Domaine de la Garance stand and Pierre Quinonero waylaid me.  You must taste my neighbour’s wines.   He was so insistent that I could not possibly refused, and I was so glad that I didn’t,  as I really enjoyed discovering the wines of Domaine de Fabrègues. Obviously wine fairs are not the best places to taste properly, so I promised to visit, and finally did, with impeccable timing in the middle of the harvest.  Carine Pichot was laughing that the Nouvelle Observateur had described her the previous week as the tornado of Aspiran, and her prowess with a VTT certainly displayed tornedo qualities.  But more to the point, you sense that she is someone with a very firm sense of purpose, and commitment.

She talked about how she arrived at this estate in the Languedoc, between the villages of Aspiran and Péret.  She was brought up in St. Etienne – the nearest vineyards are the Côtes de Forez and the family business was a butchers.  She did business studies in Montpellier, and then went to Paris where she met ‘mon moitié’, her other half,  Sébastien,  who is the grandson of a champenois, but there are no longer vines in the family.  In 2004, Sebastien started Domaines les Verrières in  Montagnac, with two friends, including with Olivier Gros, a fellow rugby enthusiast who used to be  the wine maker at Château Lascombes in Bordeaux. They bought several parcels of vines.  Meanwhile Carine wanted to do her own thing.  Altogether she looked at some thirty different estates, going as far as La Clape, and with her father’s help, in December 2005, took over the rundown estate of Fabrègues, and learnt  the ropes working alongside the previous owner for a year.  He had sold all his wine to the négoce, but his son didn’t want to take over, and in any case had no idea how  to sell the wines.  The vines were generally in good condition, but Carine has pulled up some old Carignan, replacing it with Syrah and Grenache.  And now she wants to develop sales in bottle. 

Altogether there are  40 hectares at Fabrègues, in Aspiran and Péret – some at Adissan are too far away and being sold - and Carine makes one cuvée per plot.  She plays with the blends afterwards.    I wondered about the meaning of Fabrègues, you encounter it in other wine names.  It may be a reference to a forge or forgeron, so a blacksmith for the pilgrims going to St. Jacques de Compostella.  And it can also mean fabrique, a stable.   Fabrègues was once a very large estate, with 250 hectares of land, and they have found a kiln for wine amphora. The soil is mainly clay and limestone, and once there was water here, for  they have found a lot of marine fossils.

There are several levels to the wine range.   

2013 l’Orée blanc, Pays d'Oc– 6.00€
30% Grenache blanc – 70% Vermentino.  Light colour.  Carine looks for fresh easy fruit in this cuvée and that is just what she has achieved, with a light delicate nose, and a supple fruity palate with good acidity.  A straightforward white wine vinification

2013 Le Mas  Blanc– 10€
70% Grenache Blanc and 30% Vermentino.  One barrique of 30 hls in which the wine is kept for four to six months.  Skin contact for all the Grenache and for part of the Vermentino.  Light colour.   A touch of oak on the nose which fills out the mouth.  Lightly buttery and nicely mouth filling. 

2012 le Moulin de Vissandre – 6.00€
A name used by the previous owner, and now their  entrée de gamme.  Grenache – Carignan. Vinification and élevage in vat.  Deep colour.  Quite a rugged note.  A little rustic.  Quite gutsy fruit.  A bit of tapenade, Medium weight.   Quite characterful.

2012 L’Orée Rouge, Pays d'Oc - 6.00€
Mourvèdre, Cinsaut and a little Syrah.  Carine aims to extract the maximum fruit.  Easy drinking.  ‘What our friends like’.  Red fruit, fresh and quite elegant.  A touch of peppery.  Rounded finish.  Chill lightly.  No wood – Karine insists that any oak has to bring something to the wine.

2011 Le Mas Rouge – 10€
60% Grenache, with Syrah and Carignan and 5% Cinsaut.  No wood.  Ripe rounded red fruit on the nose, and on the palate quite a youthful sturdy streak.  Grenache makes for rounded cherry flavour, while Syrah gives some cassis.  Refreshing tannins.  Quite full bodied with some ageing potential.  The vines are within the cru of Pézenas and so from the 2012 vintage Le Mas will be Pézenas.

2009 Le Cœur, Coteaux du Languedoc– 15.00€
80% Syrah with 20% Carignan.  18 months in wood ; one  third tronconique vat, one third 225 litres barriques and one third 500 litre barrels. Quite fresh red fruit, with some sturdy oak.  Perfumed fruit, with some youthful tannins and peppery notes.

And then we tasted the wines from Domaine les Verrières, where they only make red wine.
2009 Les 7 Fontaines,  Languedoc.  – 10.00€
45% Syrah, with 25% Grenache, 15% Carignan and 5% Cinsaut.  There were once seven springs  on the property.   Carine commented on the  three rugger players gradually becoming more elegant.  A small percentage of élevage in old wood to soften the tannins.  Quite a firm nose; quite rounded palate but quite solid and dense, with some tannin.   Ripe and rounded.

2010 les 7 Fontaines
Quite rounded, dense and chocolaty, and more gutsy on the palate than the 2009.  The effect of the vintage.  More sturdy with a tannic finish, and ripe fruit.  Needs time to tone down.

2009 Clos des Soutyères, Languedoc – 15.00€
Soutyères means sous terres. 70% Syrah with Grenache and Carignan.  Two years in wood; one third new.  Deep colour.  Quite solid and rounded ; dense ripe and robust.  Quite tannic with ripe fruit. And quite an alcoholic finish.

2008 Pierres Pentées – 20€
90% Syrah with 10% Grenache.  Two years in wood.  Handpicked and trié; the other wines are mostly mechanically harvested, except for the grapes for some experimental carbonic maceration, to see how it evolves.  This has very ripe Syrah, an explosion of flavours.  From the best plots, which promise some longevity.  A thought that carbonic maceration is no longer simply for early drinking.   Solid ripe and dense.  Perfumed fruit.  Orange notes on the nose.  Rounded and rich.  14˚

2013 L’Orée Rosé  - 6.00€
At the end of the tasting and now nicely chilled and refreshing. 70% Cinsaut with 15% Syrah and 15% Grenache.  All pressed.  Quite a light pink, with delicate fresh dry raspberry fruit.  Nicely balanced, fresh and juicy.

The harvest was in full swing so we didn’t see the cellar.  And projects for the future?   To get some continuity with customers on export market.  I sense that Carine has had some bad luck with bad payers on one or two markets.  And she would like to develop an haute de gamme, une pépite or nugget of really fine red wine.  It all promises well.    

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Château Beauregard-Mirouze in the Corbières,

I have met Karine Mirouze a few times at various wine fairs in London and France and enjoyed tasting her wines, so she encouraged me to come and visit.  She is actually breathtakingly efficient and did not forget that I said that I would be in the Languedoc in September and a date was in the diary by early August.

The property comes from her husband, Nicolas’s family and wine has been made here since the 1880s.  It is close to the wonderful Cistercian abbey of Fontfroide, which is more than worth the detour.   Close by is the château of St. Martin de Toque, to which Beauregard once belonged, but these days there are different owners.   On a Monday morning of uncertain weather, it was shrouded in mist.  In the 1960s the vineyards were run by Nicolas’ grandmother, evidently une femme formidable in the best sense of the word.    She planted some Syrah as early as 1967, but never bottled any wine, and otherwise did not renew the vineyards much.   Her children were not interested in the estate,  So Nicolas is the first member of his family in seven generations to live there and run the estate as his principal occupation.  It is a choice that he made, and he is clearly passionate about his vineyards.   ‘We know our vineyards;  we are in them 365 days of the year’. 

Karine explained that she and Nicolas met in Paris; she comes from Bordeaux and  they were both studying agriculture.   Nicolas’s father was in medicine, so Beauregard was his childhood holiday home.  They went to see his grandmother, and the seeds for the adventure were sown.   La passion est née de la rencontre, as Karine put it.  It was a question of starting from scratch, and Nicolas’s  grandmother,  who is now in her 80s, was thrilled.   Karine described her as a visionary in her time, and although she now lives in Montpellier, she comes to Beauregard for the harvest.

First Karine took us on a tour of the vineyards.   They have 25 hectares of vines, including 14 hectares of Corbières, and altogether about 300 hectares of land, with vineyards surrounded by garrigues  and pine trees,  which is very good for organic viticulture as it avoids the problems of neighbours’ sprays.      There is Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, but no Carignan, and for white wine, they have Marsanne, Roussanne, and Vermentino.   The old Carignan vines didn’t ripen properly, neither did the Bourboulenc; it proved as difficult as Carignan.  The eleven hectares of vins de pays are planted with Viognier, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and also Syrah.    The soil is stony sandstone, with north facing vineyards, making for cooler nights at 200 metres altitude.  And the soil is acid, as witnessed by the presence of heather, and some of it is red, indicating the presence of iron. Wild boar are a problem, so they install electric fences when the grapes are ripening.  Altogether there are eleven plots of Corbières,  and six for vin de pays, much of which they sell to the négoce.  

The cellar is a standard Languedoc cellar, with natural air conditioning as it is partly underground, with large concrete vats, which they can fill by gravity.  At one time it processed 5000 hls from 50 hectares; these days their annual crop is about 800 hls.  The old foudres have long since gone.  Some of the original concrete vats are enormous, 312 h – 276 hls – they prefer smaller vats with chapeaux flottants.  The barrel cellar is built in to the rock, with 600 litre tonneaux and barriques, usually from the forests of the Vosges and Tronçais.
The first grapes, Viognier, were picked on 6th September, mechanically at 3 a.m. The juice was chilled, this year it is very clear, a reflection on the health of the grapes.

We sat round a large table in the family house and tasted. 

2013 Corbières, Tradition Blanc – 7.00€
30% Roussanne, Marsanne 50% plus and the rest is Vermentino.  A simple vinification and bottled at the end of January.  2013 is only the second vintage of  this wine.  These are young vines.  Light colour.  Quite a fresh sappy nose.  Good acidity.  Some stony refreshing fruit. With a touch of minerality.  Medium weight.  Fresh and youthful.

2012 Corbières Blanc Lauzine – 12.00€
Lauzine is the name of the plot.  Auze is a chêne verte in Occitan.   From the same three grape varieties, but fermented in barrel.  Light golden.  A rather flat nose, with a touch of oak.  Much  more depth in the palate.  Quite elegant and buttery., with some oak    Karine observed that the vent marin which was blowing that particular morning can sometimes flatten the wines.  2001 was their first vintage, and they talked about learning about their wines. You need  to find the right cooper; they had tried American and Bulgarian oak and have opted for light toasting.  Mathieu Dubernet, son of Marc,  is their oenologist.

2013 Corbières Tradition Rosé – 7.00€
Mainly Syrah, which is pressed, and some Cinsaut which is saigné.  Vines specifically destined for rosé.  A little colour.  Very red fruit, particularly strawberries.  Very ripe, rounded juicy and vinous, with fresh acidity. 

2012 Corbières Tradition Rouge – 7.00€
Half Syrah, half Grenache; élevage in vat for nine to twelve months.   Medium colour.  Some berry fruit on nose.  On the palate lots of nuances, a leathery note, some garrigues, some spice.  Supple tannins.  Medium weight with a fresh finish.

Nicolas talked about the côté réducteur, when the new wine needs some aeration.  Pigeage is good to balance that, rather than délèstages.  They destem all their red grapes and the maceration lasts about ten to fifteen days.  They do not want long extractions, and like to blend, beginning at the beginning of the fermentation.
There has been talk of various terroirs for Corbières as it is a very large appellation.  Boutenac has emerged as a cru, but none of the others, but I wondered about the identity of the vineyard around Fontfroide.  Nicolas suggested finesse, rather than power.  The climate is cooler than some parts of the Corbières, and white wine does well here.

2011 Corbières Lauzine – 12.00€
70% Syrah with some Grenache Noir.  A longer cuvaison, with some pigeage.  About 60% élevage in barrel, depending on the vintage, and not all new wood,  and the rest in vat.  Medium colour.  Delicately oaky.  Quite firm fruit on the nose.  More depth on the palate.  Quite elegant with some garrigues notes, liquorice and mint.  Supple tannins, Nicely balanced, but with no great concentration.

2010 Corbières Fiaire – 20.00€
The name of the hill and a selection of the best grapes. They chose two or three of the best barriques from Lauzine and keep them for longer.  So all aged in wood, and predominately Syrah, as well as some Mourvèdre.  Deeper colour. Quite solid and dense and the nose, but quite an elegant perfumed palate, with some tapenade notes.  Nicely nuanced with supple tannins.  Ready for drinking and a long finish.

2010 Corbières  Fiaire blanc. – 20.00€
Again from the best barrels from Lauzine.  They do a malo-lactic fermentation, and allow for some oxygenation.   Bâtonnage simply by turning the barrels – bâtonnage protects against oxidation.  12 months on the lees.  No sulphur during vinification, only at the harvest and at bottling.  Quite a deep golden colour. Quite rich and leesy. Very rich palate; smooth characterful, buttery notes.  Good depth.   Notes of fennel and aniseed. Rich and quite opulent.  Long and very satisfying.

And we finished with a taste of the Viognier that had been picked two days earlier.  It was already very clear, with honeyed notes and soft acidity. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Domaine Henry at St. Georges d’Orques.

I first met François and Laurence Henry when they were at Domaine St. Martin de la Garrigue outside Montagnac.  Since then the family property has been sold and they have gone on to create a new estate of their own. Domaine Henry in St. Georges d’Orques, with a first vintage in 1993.  They bought vines from a coop member,  eleven hectares, planted with what François called the usual quintet Occitan,  as well as Chardonnay, and some Terret, with Terret Noir,  Gris and Blanc all in the same vineyard.   In 1998 they built a  simple functional cellar. The soil in St. Georges is a mixture of jurassic limestone, flint and some villefranchien galets roullées.

This year, 2014, the harvest started with Chardonnay on 3rd September, Terret was picked on the 4th, and the reds waited another week.       François talked about modifying the  terroir for they stopped using all fertiliser and weed killer in 1998 and are unofficially organic.   As François observed ; mon luxe est dans les vignes.  Ce n’est pas la casserole qui fait le plat; in other words it is not the saucepan, ie the cellar, which makes the dish.  We first tasted some rather murky juice of the first pressing of Terret; it seems ripe and sweet.   François uses very little wood; he prefers fruit, the true expression of the terroir. 

Then we tasted bottles, while their fox terrier Curtis provided diversionary activity.    They talked about the seal on the label which comes from a document found in the departmental archives, an acte de vente de St. Georges in 1738, with the brand used to mark barrels.  St. Georges d’Orques was well known in northern Europe at the time, as the wine travelled along the Canal du Midi to Bordeaux and further north.  No one else was interested in using the seal, so François and Laurence have adopted it as their logo on their labels.  It features St. George, but without the dragon.  

2012 Blanc, Pays des Collines de la Moure  – 10.00€
Chardonnay and Terret.  The percentage depends on the vintage, but usually Chardonnay accounts for about 70-80%.  Quite golden in colour. Quite firm, dry and nutty on both nose and palate.    Chardonnay is on villefranchien and the Terret on limestone.  It was planted in the 1950s.  Good acidity.  Quite firm dry structure, on fine lees, in vat for 6 – 10 months.  Nicely fresh sappy finish.

2013 Vin Vermeil, St. Georges d'Orques– 12.00€
Rosé de saigné –24 hours on the skins at the most.   All five varieties  Quite a bright red.  Quite solid cherry fruit with an  aniseed touch. Quite firms and structured.  A food rosé  

Altogether there are about 15 – 20 producers of St. Georges d'Orques, of varying sizes and importance.  In the village of St. Georges itself, now virtually a suburb of Montpellier, they are the only ones apart from the coop.  Other big estates include Fourques, l’Engarran and Guizard at Lavérune.     An observation about Domaine de la Rime, which was created when Domaine de la Prose sold some vines – it’s a paradox, la vigne s’échappe, the vines are escaping from those who really live from them.  Domaine de la Rime has been created by somebody who wanted some vines for his retirement and  Bertrand de Mortillet at Domaine la Prose makes the wine for him.  

2010 St. Georges d'Orques– 17.00€
A good vintage.   Mainly Grenache, plus some Syrah and Mourvèdre, with a little Cinsaut.  Élevage in vat, with 15% in wood.  Good colour.  Quite rounded leathery nose.  Quite firm. Quite tannic, leathery red fruit.  With tapenade and black fruit.  Francois observed that 2001 has been the most exceptional vintage over 30 years.

2011 Villefranchien, St. Georges d’Orques – 25€
90% Grenache planted  in 1920  and 1947   Light red colour, almost like Pinot Noir.  Fresh liqueur cherries, with acidity and tannin.  Medium weight.  No wood.  François does not make each wine every year.  If you think in terms of the Burgundian classification, St. Georges is his village wine and Villefranchien the premier cru.

2009 le Mailhol, Vin de France – 36.00€
To replicate the wine of St. Georges that was famous in 18th century and mentioned by Thomas Jefferson in 1780, François has planted Morastel noir à jus blanc, Ribeyrenc noir, Aspiran gris, Terret noir and gris, Oeillade gris and noir.  The vineyard was planted in 1998 to make a very first vintage in 2000.  It is just 60 ares, which give 15 hls or 2000 bottles.  François researched in the archives, and obtained cuttings from the Conservatoire de Vassal.  Obviously he had no experience of any of these varieties which are blended in the vineyard.  And the wine was quite different from anything else I have ever tasted in the Languedoc, with the possible exception of C de Centeilles, which is also made from lost varieties.  Medium colour.  Quite rounded nose, with some red fruit, a ripe freshness on the palate, of dry cherries.  Medium weight, very intriguing.   Very elegant.  Quite a dry finish with some tannin.  Youthful.  Griotte cherries.  Very intriguing. 

And then François opened the 2003 Mailhol.  The colour is evolving a little, with notes of sous bois and mousseron the nose, and a hint of thyme.  Quite mature, elegant fruit and some leathery notes. Very intriguing.  Francois admitted to being agreeably surprised as to how well it had aged; he hadn’t been sure what to he hadn't tasted it for a while. 

He commented that in the 1700s, the ban de vendange was usually in the middle of October as these old grape varieties ripened much later than those of today.   He is looking for the roots of the region; il faut savoir d’où on vient.  I wondered about other wine growers with these old varieties – Patricia and Daniel Domergue come  to mind, at Clos Centeilles in the Minervois, and also Thierry Navarre in Roquebrun.   Villeveyrac apparently was known for its vins de Morastel, and Langlade for Aspiran and Ribeyrenc.

And then we finished on a sweet note; 2011 Passerillé.  12˚, mainly Grenache, and vin de table,  No added alcohol. Élevage in vat.  Very fresh red fruit. Ripe and rich with balancing acidity.  It went deliciously with some Roquefort.  A great finale to a friendly visit. 

Monday, 13 October 2014

Puglia - A comparison with the Languedoc

I've just had a break from the Languedoc and spent four days in the heel of Italy discovering the delights of Puglia's indigenous grape varieties, Negroamaro, Nera di Troia and Primitivo.  You   may well be forgiven for asking what Puglia has to do with the Languedoc, but I believe that there are interesting parallels to be drawn.

There is a similarity of history.  Both regions were despised, and both produced enormous quantizes of basic wine with no distinguishing features.   The wines of the Languedoc provided sustenance for the miners of northern France.  Those of  Puglia traveled the length of Italy to provide colour and alcohol for wines that were lacking those two key attributes of a red wine. The early DOCs allowed for a percentage of wine from elsewhere, but happily things began to change.  However, until Chianti became a DOCG - guaranteed as well as controlled - it was perfectly possible and legal to include a generous dollop of Primitivo in your Chianti.  When the laws changed, Puglia lost its key market and the more forward looking producers realised that something had to be done.  

And the change in the wines of Puglia has been dramatic.   I remember my first visit to Puglia, some 20 years ago; it was virtually impossible to find a bottle labeled Primitivo.   It originates in Croatia across the Adriatic - it is a short hop across the water.   Rather longer is the journey to California and the transformation into Zinfandel, which paved the way for the international recognition of Primitivo.

These days there is an abundance of choice, and styles.  Primitivo is a wonderfully versatile variety; you may make it white, pink, novello, firmly dry and with varying degrees of sweetness.  Even some of the drier wines have a little residual sugar.   It is all a question of balance, that the alcohol and ripe fruit should be in harmony.   Negroamaro is also rich and powerful with ripe brambly fruit, while Nero di Troia, a late ripening variety retains freshness with lower levels of alcohol. 

As in the Languedoc the wine growers are learning to master the use of oak for ageing, with barriques, both French and American, and larger barrels and even larger casks.    They realise that they must take care not to mask the intrinsic fruit, but as in the Languedoc they don't always get it quite right.   Some of the most delicious Primitivo come Polvanera.  They are refreshingly unoaked  redolent with cherry liqueur fruit and quite belying their 14, 15 or 16 degrees of alcohol.  Helpfully Filippo Casaro names each cuvée according to its alcohol level.

And in the vineyard there are other parallels.   Puglia boasts some wonderful old vines, old albarello vines, which are similar to the gobelet bush vines of the Languedoc.  These too were disappearing, being pulled up, like Carignan and others, with the encouragement of EU subsidies.  Happily, as in the Languedoc, there has been a realisation of the wonderful quality of these venerable old vines.   And like the Languedoc they are discovering other varieties that were also in danger of disappearing.  Bombino Nero makes delicious rosato,  Susumaniello can be pink, fizzy or red.   They have realised that Fiano Minutolo has nothing to do with the Fiano of Campania, but is a variety all of its own, with some intriguing Muscat notes, not unlike Torrontes from Argentina.   There is Aglianico, which is usually blended, and also Montepulciano, at its best blended with Nero di Troia in Rivera’s inspiring Il Falcone.   Other good Nera di Troia comes from Torrevento, Cefalicchio and Spagnoletti Zeuli.  

Nor has Puglia escaped from international varieties, I won't go as far as to say the curse of international varieties, but Chardonnay in Puglia has to be harvested in early August as opposed to Bombino Bianco which waits happily until the end of September.  And the blends of Negroamaro or Nero di Troia with Cabernet Sauvignon seemed muddily international and lacking a sense of place compared to the intrinsic italianness of a pure Nero di Troia.   It is all a question of confidence.   Tuscany thought it needed international varieties, so did the Languedoc, and so does Puglia, but as it comes of age, so will come the realisation that Nero di Troia, Primitivo and Negroamaro can stand alone.  Do go and try and them. You will be richly rewarded. 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Antech in Limoux

The harvest was in full swing, but we were lucky, Françoise Antech was very willing to take time out and give us a tasting.  But first we did venture into the cellars and watched the arrival of some grapes.   Chardonnay is picked first, then Pinot Noir, and then maybe a little Mauzac.  Chenin comes next, followed by more Mauzac, with the very last Mauzac, the ripest, being kept for the Cuvée Ancestrale.  They are thrilled with 2014.  The grapes are magnificent with very good acidity.  However, Françoise’s father, who  is 80, apparently reckons that 2013 was his best year ever.     We tasted some juice, some Chardonnay, which did indeed have good acidity, and some notes of bananas.  A second vat seemed more delicate and elegant, with notes of apples and pears, and of course some fermentation aromas.  Chenin was more lively, with very good acidity, and some citrus notes.  The Mauzac had not yet started to ferment; the juice had ripe apply fruit.

Françoise explained that they work with 22 grape growers, but also have 70 hectares of vines of their own, which account for 40% of their needs, at St Hilaire, which her sister Michèle and brother-in-law run, following the precepts of Terra Vitis for lutte raisonnée. St Hilaire comes within the Mediterranean zone of Limoux, with an earlier harvest, and grapes that are generally riper with a lot of aroma.  So to compliment thee, they buy mostly from the Haute Vallée de l’Aude, with its higher acidity and freshness, and also a little Oceanic.  It is the blending that gives the variety and character of the Antech wines.  with the ability to buy grapes adding balance to the wines.  

Françoise is in charge of the commercial side of things. The two sisters are the 6th generation and it was their grandfather Edmond Antech who founded the company.  And the succession is looking good.  Michele has two daughters, and Françoise two boys.  So far they have worked on the bottling wine, and are learning to taste.

Blanquette de Limoux, Brut Nature – 8.00€  (2012 vintage, but no vintage mentioned on the label) Our tasting began with Brut Nature.  ‘You can really see the work of wine grower, without any dosage in the wine’, enthused Françoise.  90% Mauzac, with 5% each of Chardonnay and Chenin.   The ‘dusty’ notes that are typical of Mauzac.  Rounded and characterful.  ‘Mauzac is our identity’.  It gives good acidity when it is picked early.  The wine has no dosage, and has spent eighteen months on the lees.  It was quite juicy and crunchy, with notes of green apple and a slightly bitter finish, typical of Mauzac.

(2012) Crémant de Limoux rosé Brut Nature  Emotion – 10.00€
Chardonnay, Chenin blanc and a little Pinot Noir.  Very pale, delicate colour. Quite  firm, dry and nutty with some body.  Limoux does not need dosage.

(2012) Blanquette de Limoux Reserve Brut – 8.00€
Their classic Blanquette.  90% Mauzac.  They do not add older wine to the blend, as in Champagne. They have tried, but it just doesn’t work, as the wines do not have enough acidity, and age better in bottle than in vat.  Essentially this is the same wine as the Brut Nature, but with 9 gms/l dosage.  There was a taste of crunchy apple, and some pear.  The dosage makes the wine more rounded on the palate.  Satisfyingly mouth filling.  A jolly nice glass of bubbles.

(2012) Crémant de Limoux. La Grande Cuvée – 10.00€
Lots of Chenin (40%)  in this, giving some citrus notes, along with 50% Chardonnay and a little (10%) Mauzac. Nicely creamy nose.  Rounded and elegant , with fresh acidity and a touch of honey.  18-24 months on lees.

Crémant de Limoux, Eugenie – 10.00€
70% Chardonnay with 20% Chenin and 10% Mauzac.  Eugenie was Françoise’s great great aunt.  Both her brother and her fiancée were killed in 1914 and she was one of the first women in the Languedoc  to work in the wine trade.  She never married, and it was her sister, Françoise’s grandmother, who married Edmond Antech, who started the business.   Edmond was a prisoner of war in Germany, in a wine village, so learnt his winemaking that way.  Eugenie died at the age of 96. As for the wine, it was light and creamy with some attractive nutty depth, showing the evolution of  the Chardonnay, into notes of brioche and pain grillé, which sounds better than plain toast! 

These days they make about half and half Crémant and Blanquette, but originally they produced much more Blanquette.    Blanquette characterises the terroir, while Crémant is more elegant.  The first vintage of Crémant was 1988, and for rosé 2008.

2011 Heritage 1860  - 12,00€
The name of this cuvée refers to the date of the family papers of Eugenie.   60% Chardonnay, with 20% Chenin and 10% each of Mauzac and Pinot Noir.  A selection of the best vats.  Two and a half years of élevage.  7000 bottles.  Light colour, with a delicate nose.  Good body on the palate; quite rich and rounded, quite sturdy with more body than the preceding wines.   It’s a food fizz; and you could envisage it being an enjoyable drink without the bubbles. 

Crémant de Limoux rosé, Emotion – 10.00€
4% Pinot Noir, 10% Mauzac, 20% Chenin blanc and 66% Chardonnay. Very pale colour.  Delicate fruit, fruits rouges, fine and elegant.  For the 2012s the dosage was a consistent, 9 gms/l.  For the 2013 wines, however, the dosage may be higher as the base wines have higher acidity.  They decide at disgorging, with three experiments at 8gms/l,   10gms/l and 12 gms/l.

2013 L’Ancestrale, Doux et Fruité – 8.00€
100% Mauzac.  The ripest grapes and the last to be picked, from plots selected for both their ripeness and acidity levels.  The wine must not be heavy.  It ferments to 5˚ and then they stop the fermentation and bottle the wine, without adding any sugar.  The wine starts to ferment again in bottle, and reaches about 6˚. Then the wine is disgorged, but no dosage is added.  There is no ageing sur lattes.   It is quite complicated to make properly. .Light colour. A ripe honeyed nose, reminiscent of tarte tatin, an apple tart with caramel. Honey and acidity.  Ripe apples. Fresh and youthful. It would be delicious with a galette des rois, the traditional French dessert that is eaten for Twelfth Night.

Antech also produce a Doux and Demi Sec, but we skipped those, and Françoise gave us a bottle of the final wine, to enjoy with friends later.  Elixir. – 25€   This is the last cuvée that they have created.  She explained that Limoux has always had a complex about the fact that it is not champagne.  ‘But we shouldn’t have.  The terroir is magnificent and we have a real identity, producing wines with fruit and freshness.  We are our own worst enemies.  We daren’t do something different’.  So in 2010 they decided to do a cuvée autrement, differently, just 2000 bottles, and to do the absolute best they possibly could, irrespective of the cost.  They selected plots, with a very small yield, from well exposed vines, with grapes with good acidity.  The grapes were weighed and they took just the first 25 cls of the press.  Normally 1.5 kilos gives you a litre of juice.  The wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin and Pinot Noir.   They fermented it in a stainless steel vat, with carefully temperature control, and they also used a barrel procured a barrel from Château d’Yquem.   It spends three years on lattes, on its lees and is bottled into a very smart black bottle, with an elegant presentation box.   And they use the best, expensive corks and a smart muselage.  They have made Elixir again in 2012 and 2013, and the Chardonnay and Chenin for 2014 have already selected. 

And for the taste ; very good mousse with a  fine bead; a delicate nose, very elegant. And on the palate some nuttiness, and depth with a fresh finish.  If I were nit-picking, it is a teensy bit short on the finish.  And of course it is also considerably more expensive than their classic Crémant.  Is it worth three times the price?  But then this is the first vintage, and it is work in progress with the next vintages to follow.    Thank you Françoise for giving us the opportunity to enjoy the bottle.  It was a great tasting.