Thursday, 18 September 2014

Château St. Preignan – or finding a bargain.



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




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



Here are my impressions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 15 September 2014

Château Moyau on La Clape.

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



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



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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Friday, 5 September 2014

Château les Deux Rocs





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



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



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



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



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



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



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


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

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

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

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




Thursday, 28 August 2014

A mural at Château Camplazens



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



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

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



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



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



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



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



And now on to La Clape with:

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



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



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



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



  

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Pic St. Loup - La Bergerie du Capucin


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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Sunday, 10 August 2014

A day in the Pic St. Loup - Mas Bruguière


My new friend, Sharon Nagel, who has just published a wonderful book on the Pic St. Loup,  suggested coming to explore the area with her, and arranged a great day out.      If you don’t know the Pic St. Loup, the dramatic views of the Pic itself are alone is the worth the detour.  The scenery along the road from St. Martin de Londres to St. Mathieu de Treviers is simply breath-taking and on a July morning, there was a slight heat haze and Pic St. Loup and the Montagne de l’Hortus presented a dramatic silhouette, with the vineyards in between the two hills.



Xavier Bruguière is the seventh generation on the estate.  The family have been making wine here since  the Revolution.  They have 20 hectares altogether with the hub of the estate at the foot of the Pic, where their cellar is.  At the beginning of the 19th century this was an area of polyculture and the wine was sold to a broker, and then when the coop was created in 1920, a grandparent took the easy route.   Xavier’s father, Guilhem,  took over in 1974, and was a member of the coop of St. Mathieu,  but then in 1986 became one of the first independent producers to begin bottling his  wine.   He then bought a further ten hectares in the northern part of the appellation, which he has gradually replanted since 1999.  And that is when Xavier started working on the family estate.

For red wine they have Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, but no Carignan, or Cinsaut, but they are planning to plant some Cinsaut next year.  and for white wine, which is Coteaux du Languedoc, not Pic St. Loup, they have Marsanne, Roussanne and Vermentino.   Xavier observed that if you plant Carignan these days, you are planting for your children.    He studied at Béziers and worked for a couple of years at La Liquière in Faugères under a system whereby you alternate studies with practical cellar and vineyard work.   And from 1999 he worked with his father, until Guilhem retired in 2004.

The relatively new cellar is well conceived.  Everything works by gravity, so that the grapes are filled from above.  Xavier uses natural yeast, and has cement fermentation vats for his red wine and large tronconique oak vats for élevage, as well as some 600 litre barrels.  Generally he favours large containers rather than barriques.  However, like most good winemakers he believes that 80% of the wine is made in the vineyard and he works organically. 



First we tasted some 2013 vat and barrel samples.  They promise deliciously well.
We kicked off with Grenache   Xavier said it came from old vines, but they were only 38 years old, the same age as him,  He explained that his grandfather had replanted his vineyards in 1958, after the big freeze of 1956, but for table grapes, not wine, so his father had started again.  These vines were on limestone just below the cliff of Hortus.  The Grenache was delicious; perfumed liqueur cherries with some acidity and tannin and minerality.  It stays in vat, as Xavier believes that  Grenache tires in wood.  And you certainly couldn’t  taste the 15˚

Next came some Syrah.  The first wine was from 14 year old vines on red clay and hard limestone at Lauret.  They ripen fifteen days later than the vines around the cellar.  The altitude is the same but the soil is cooler.   Élevage in  a tronconique vat.   There was peppery fruit, and the wine was nicely taut, firm, structured and elegant.

Another Syrah, from vines planted in 1982, by the cellar on white clay and soft limestone on cooler north facing slopes    Deep colour.  More closed on the nose and more structured with more tannin.  Fresh and closed and more powerful. Will need longer ageing.

2013 was the year of the late harvest.  Xavier described the spring as impitoyable, but the summer was very  good, with rain just when you needed it.   And the harvest went well.  They started picking fifteen days later than usual, but finished at the same time as 2012.  It took two weeks rather than four.    So far 2014 has been dry, until a few days ago.  But  there is some pressure from oidium, and they have had a touch of hail, but nothing as serious as in the Minervois or la Clape.

A third Syrah had a firm smoky nose and palate.  It came from a tronconique vat.  With good acidity and tannins and a certain freshness, making for an elegant red wine.  I needed to be reminded that 50% is the minimum percentage for Syrah in the Pic St. Loup.  We are talking about the coolest and wettest part of the Languedoc. 

And the finale barrel sample was some Mourvèdre, grown just below l’Hortus.  Xavier described it as a un cépage ingrate – it is black or white.  They are at the northernmost limit for Mourvèdre.   You can’t plant it  just anywhere, and you need to work in the vineyard.  There was some rounded fruit, with firm but silky tannins, with elegance and length and the freshness of the hills.  It promises very well  for the  2013 Cuvée le 7me.  It will probably be bottled in the spring of 2015, depending on its evolution in barrel.



And then we adjourned to his tasting caveau for some bottles:

2013 Coteaux du Languedoc blanc  Les Muriers  – 12.00€
Guilhem Bruguière planted the white varieties in 1992 and the blend comprises 70% Roussanne, 20% Marsanne, and 10% Vermentino, which is a more recent addition to the blend, planted in 2008.  Xavier had wanted to broad the aromatic palate.  He observed that later ripening varieties do better, and 30% of the blend is vinified in small foudres of  12 hls.  He uses just the free run juice and very first pressings.  However you wouldn’t notice any wood impact at all.  The nose was redolent of white blossom and the palate rounded and herbal, with very good acidity and a fresh finish.   There are apparently moves towards a white Pic St. Loup; for the moment any white wines from the area are Val de Montferrand, after the nearby ruined castle, or indeed Pays d’Oc or Hérault, or plain Languedoc or Coteaux du Languedoc. 

2013 Rosé Pic St. Loup, L’Arbouse – 8.50€
50% Syrah and 50% Mourvèdre.  10% saigné and all the rest pressurage direct.  Xavier keeps two hectares, especially for rosé, as it is a cooler vineyard site.  The colour is a delicate orange pink and the palate rounded with some weight.  It is ripe with balancing acidity, and very satisfying. 

As we broached his red wines , the subject of the appellation came up.  How it that the Terrasses du Larzac are already is recognised as an appellation when they are much younger and with less visibility than the Pic St. Loup?   Pic St. Loup has been working on its dossier since 2001.   The answer lies with local politics.    There is a move to include vineyards from three communes that were not part of the original area of Pic St. Loup, namely Assas, Guzargues and Vailhauquès.    And that has provoked much friction.  The geology is similar, but the producers in those villages have not actually worked to create the appellation.  They would simply benefit from the new delimitation of the appellation, which has been carried out by the INAO.  Some long-standing producers of Pic St. Loup have actually had their vineyards reduced with the new delimitation.   As you can appreciate, it is a wonderful histoire de clochers.  

2013 Calcadiz, Coteaux du Languedoc – 8.50€
Syrah and Grenache – 60%  aged in vat.  This is only sold at the cellar door, and makes a great red for summer drinking.  It is fresh and perfumed, with some acidity and tannin.  Fresh cherries was the main fruit flavour.



2012 l’Arbouse, Pic St. Loup.  12.00€
L’Arbouse is the fruit of the strawberry tree, or arbousier.    60% Syrah with some Grenache.  Part aged in cement vat and part in tronconique vats.   Medium colour.   Ripe spice on the nose and palate, and very perfumed red fruit, with the herbs of the garrigues, and a stony mineral nose, as well as a nice streak of tannin.  Elegant but easy drinking.  Asked his typicity, Xavier replied :  Fruit, Fraicheur et Finesse and you certainly found that in this first Pic St. Loup.

2011 La Grenadine – 19.00€
80% Syrah with a little Grenache and Mourvèdre.   Medium colour.  Firmer more structured nose.  Quite rounded and ripe with a touch of oak, which is nicely integrated.  Élevage in tronconique vats and demi-muids for 12 months, followed by six months in concrete vats.  Long and balanced.  Xavier observed that 2011, 2012 and 2013 were all three ‘beaux millésimes.

I observed that Faugères is generally much cheaper.   Apparently it all depends on the bulk price – 100€ per hl for Faugères and up to 180-200 € per hectolitre for Pic St. Loup.   The appellation covers 1500 hectares currently over 13, but soon to be 16 communes, from Corconne to St. Gely du Fesc.

And our tasting concluded with
2007 le 7me – 35€
Named for the seventh generation.  This is a pure Mourvèdre given  24 months  élevage.  Deep colour.  A rich nose and palate, with lots of depth and nuances.  Rich but elegant; both supple and subtle.  A supple tannic streak.  Xavier observed that 2009 was a hot vintage, but the freshness of the Pic St. Loup helped.  2003 was the very first vintage of 7me.  A great tribute to a long line of dedicated vignerons.      
         




For more information on Sharon’s book : www.terroirs-dexception.com                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Monday, 4 August 2014

Domaine la Grange


Domaine la Grange is yet another example of outside investment in the Languedoc.   The property was bought in 2007 by Rolf Freund, who already had a successful business in Germany as a wine shipper.   The previous owner has stayed on as chef de culture, relieved that he no longer has full responsibility for a family estate.  And in Mr. Freund’s absence the estate is capably managed by Sandrina Hugueux.     You will find it on the road out of Gabian going towards Fouzilhon.  Currently a large crane marks the site, for a new cellar is under construction, but will not be ready until October, just too late for this year’s harvest.   And they have recently changed wine makers.  I tasted wines made by Sebastien Louge, who has moved on to create his own estate in Faugères, where he will make his first wines this coming vintage.  He has been replaced by Thomas Raynaud, who has an impressive CV and has worked largely in Roussillon at Domaine Lafage. 

Altogether Domaine la Grange comprises  32 hectares, half in appellation Languedoc or Pézenas, and half Pays d’Oc, divided into about 25  different plots..  The soil is quite varied, un peu de tout, as Sandrina said.  There are extinct volcanos close by, and plenty of underground water, so their vines do not suffer from any water stress.   This is the area that supplied water to the Roman city Betarra or Baeterrae, as  Beziers was then called.   In the same plot of vines you have red and yellow soil, limestone and clay, basalt and even a little schist for they are on the edge of the appellation of Faugères.  There is some Carignan from 1956; Cabernet Sauvignon was planted in the 1980s, and they have other international grape varieties, especially Sauvignon and Chardonnay for white wines.   In the vineyard they follow the principles of lutte raisonnée with a minimum of products, and are members of Terra Vitis.   The key to lutte raisonnée is observation, rather than action, with minimal chemical intervention, using organic products wherever possible.

There are three levels to their range of wines.  Their entry level is Classique; then there are  five different varietal  Terroirs, based on different soils, and best of all is the Castalides range.  What follows is what I tasted.   They had sold out of the Reserve in the Castalides range – it had just been Parkerised!  

Terroir 2013 Sauvignon - 5.95€
2013 is their first vintage of Sauvignon, from a two hectare plot that they have just bought.   The vineyard needs some work.   Pale colour delicate nose.  A touch of minerality and quite fresh with good acidity, but lacking a little in real flavour.  Next year they are aiming for a lower yield.

Terroir 2013 Chardonnay – 5.95€
Light colour. Quite a delicate nose.  Lightly rounded and buttery, with some acidity. Quite fresh and easy.   These vines were planted in 2007.

Classique 2013 Rosé  - 5.50€
Mainly Cinsaut with some Syrah.  Saigné.  Pale colour.  Quite a rounded nose.  Quite ripe with a touch of spice.  Quite vinous with a touch of sugar on the finish, in fact 7 gms/l, just to soften it.  I found it went slightly cloying.  It is intended for the German market.

2013 Classique Rouge
A blend of Syrah and Mourvèdre.  Young colour.  Medium depth.  Quite soft red fruit, soft and rounded with a streak of tannin, and again a touch of residual sugar, 6 gms/l, to make for easy drinking.

I didn’t  taste the Classique Blanc as that comes from bought in grapes, and is a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon.

Terroir Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Pabiro – 8.95€
Pabrio is the name of the vineyard.  Élevage in vat.  Deep colour.  Quite a rounded nose with a touch of cassis.   Quite a rounded wine, with a ripe finish and soft tannins, and a streak of freshness, characteristic of the vintage.

Terroir 2013 Merlot – 8.95€
From both new and old vines.  Élevage in vat.  Good colour. Quite a firm nose, with firm fruit on the palate and some dry cassis.  Not my favourite grape variety from the Midi, but this successfully avoids the common fault among Merlots from the Midi of jamminess.   

Les Vins Castalides, 2012 Edition, Pézenas – 14.90€
I needed to be told that Castalides were water nymphs, who lived in a well, and inspired a poet who drank the water from that well.  We are of course meant to be inspired by the wine.  It is a selection of the best plots of Syrah and Grenache on slopes at 250 metres.   Each plot is vinified and aged separately.  They favour several different coopers, Seguin Moreau, Boutes and François Frères amongst others.   Deep colour.  Quite ripe dense solid oak on the nose.  A firm oaky streak on the palate, balanced with a very good concentration of fruit.  Good length.  An explosion of flavour in the mouth, rich and tannic with black fruit, tapenade and garrigues and chocolate on the finish.  Lots of character.   I’d love to try it again when it is ten years old.

Sandrina talked about how their work has evolved in the vineyard.  The former owner accepts their ideas and since 2007 they have really focussed on the vineyard, reducing yields.  The palissage has changed; canopy management has improved and they analysed the soil carefully before any replanting.  Mr. Freund may be an absentee owner, but he does visit every six weeks or so.

2012 Icône, Pézenas    – 26.90€
Equal parts of Syrah and Mourvèdre.  The best Mourvèdre they have, and Syrah is grown on a slope – most of their vineyards are on undulating rather than steep slopes.  The wine spends 18 months in oak.  Good deep colour.  A touch of oak on the nose, but fresher spice than for Edition.  More structured.  Rounded and ripe, with notes of tapenade from the Syrah, while the Mourvèdre gives backbone and notes of the garrigues.   Sandrina observed that Mr. Freund likes concentrated wines.  The fruit must dominate the flavour, not the wood, and there must be some freshness too.  And she summed up the style of the wines of La Grange, by describing them as modern wines, with fruit.      They certainly illustrate some of the current trends of the Midi.




Saturday, 26 July 2014

Château Haut Blanville



To Château Haut Blanville, which was created by Bernard and Beatrice Nivollet.  Bernard’s  vineyards are scattered around the commune of St. Pargoire; some are Grès de Montpellier;  some are simple Languedoc and some Pays du Vicomte d’Aumelas.    The first vineyards were bought in 1997, and they now have 30 hectares of vines altogether, and made their first wine in 1998.



It was a wonderful autumn day, with brilliant sunshine, a perfect morning to look at vineyards, and Bernard knows his vineyards intimately.  There were carpets of golden Syrah, and russet-coloured Carignan leaves. They have nearly finished building a new cellar in the middle of one plot of vines.  We saw old Grenache with gnarled trunks; there was a view of Sète with the sparkling Mediterranean and in the other direction a view of the Pyrenees, with the Canigou.  The soil varies, some is very stony; some much sandier or with more clay; some red with iron, some more yellow.  Bernard likes to keep each plot of vine separate in the cellar, and in the bottle; he feel that each vineyard is quite distinctive and if you blend it, you dilute it.



We tasted in the barrel cellar attached  to the actucal building that is the Château de Haut Blanville, which they no longer own.



2012 Pays de la Vicomte d’Aumelas
Chardonnay and Viognier 45% each; Sauvignon and Grenache Blanc 5% each.  Fermented in barrique.  Nine months élevage with regular bâtonnage.  Quite a golden colour.  Quite a buttery nose, the Chardonnay seemed to dominate the nose, with some acidity on the palate.  Quite textured, with a firm finish.  Quite rich and full-bodied.  Not very Midi.

2008 Black Pearl, Pays de la Vicomte d’Aumelas.
Cabernet Sauvignon with 10 – 20% Syrah.  Deep colour. Rich cassis nose and on the palate, quite firm tannins.  Some vanilla from the oak.  Rich and concentrated.  Needs time.

2008 Clos des Poètes
From Mourvèdre, grown on very stony soil, making for minerality in the wine.  Élevage in old barriques.  This vineyard is close enough to the sea to get some maritime influence, which Mourvèdre enjoys.    The nose was not very forthcoming initially, but the palate was quite rich and mouth filling, with an elegant finish.  It was quite different from Bandol, with more weight.

2008 Plénitude
Mainly Grenache.  Vines planted in 1970, on very stony soil on the plateau des Pérals.  Deep colour; some liqueur cherry notes on the nose.  Quite leathery plate, with some cherry fruit and a steak of minerality.  Firm tannins.  With a fresh finish.  Lots of nuances as it develops in the glass.  They don’t make this wine every year as Mourvèdre can be tricky, and stop ripening, as it did in 2013.

2009 Grande Cuvée, Grès de Montpellier
85% Syrah, with a little Carignan, Grenache and Mourvèdre.  A selection of barrels. This is a blend,  rather than from a specific vineyard. Deep colour; firm nose, with a rich peppery palate.  Rich and concentrated, with peppery black fruit on the palate.  A tannic streak.  Youthful and rich.

2009 Clos des Légendes, Grès de Montpellier
About 90% Syrah, with some Mourvèdre and Grenache.  Two years in new wood.  Bernard favours the cooper, Radoux, for his barrels.  I did find the oak on this wine rather intense and overwhelming.  The palate is very solid and young.   And the flavour not very Languedocien.  Though you could not complain that it was not well made.  It was just not what you expect from the Midi.

2006 Clos des Légendes, Grès de Montpellier
Bernard opened this to show how the wine aged.  The colour is deep and young, and the palate dense and confit with solid black fruit.  In fact it was still very youthful, concentrated and dense. Though only a modest 13.5˚

And we finished with a vat sample of Syrah, grown on bauxite.  It was elegant and fresh with some perfumed fruit and a touch of pepper.



So to sum up, some characterful wines.  My reservation is that some of the wines had too much oak for my taste, but nonetheless an estate with potential.