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30 April 2007

Languedoc & Roussillon: top reds over €10

Languedoc & Roussillon: top reds over €10

In brief: "Difficult to turn down author Michel Smith's invitation to taste "over 50 of the region's best red wines..." But were all the wines worth the money and deserve their reputation? Michel had already done an "under €10" tasting, where he found plenty of winners... What's particularly noticeable is the amount of favourites falling between €10-€15. Beyond that, we found some great wines but also more vacuous, frankly less enjoyable ones overloaded with flash new oak or heavy winemaking..." My top 15 red winemakers: Rouaud, Ollieux Romanis, Mazelet, Rimbert, Borie Blanche, Amiel, Liquière, Etoile Matin, Balmettes, St-Antonin, Alezon, Grandes Costes, Augustins, Bagatelle, Bizeul.

Difficult to turn down author and journalist Michel Smith's invitation to taste "over 50 of the region's best red wines." Michel writes for numerous wine and food publications and his latest book "Les Grands Crus du Languedoc et du Roussillon" (go to vins-languedoc-roussillon.fr for more info and buy a copy: commission free, honest!) is the culmination of 20 years' travelling around southern France's vineyards.

But were all the wines in the tasting worth the money and deserve their reputation? Michel had already done an 'under €10' tasting, where he found plenty of winners. "Producers here have the right to charge high prices, but there's no point in having ideas above your station," he commented. "Languedoc and Roussillon offer very rewarding and drinkable wines. That's the problem with some of the Bordeaux-owned estates: too much, too Pauillac! They haven't yet understood the region's unique characters...it's one of the most complicated."

What is particularly noticeable from my comments and scores, is the amount of favourites falling between €10-€15. Beyond that, we found some great wines but also more vacuous, frankly less enjoyable ones overloaded with flash new oak or heavy winemaking. So my 'top reds' were, in no particular order: Clavel, Singla, Bizeul, Rouaud, Ollieux Romanis, Mazelet, Rimbert, Borie Blanche, Tour Boisée, Lignon, Amiel, Liquière, Silène, Henry, Etoile Matin, Balmettes, Prés-Lasses, Sylva Plana, St Antonin, Alezon, Grandes Costes, Aussières, Lacroix-Vanel, Augustins and Bagatelle. By the way, a few of these cost less than €10, just to throw the cat among the pigeons. NB: most of the bottles were opened one day or more beforehand.

2005 Domaine Singla Alby, vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes (Grenache Syrah 13.5% organic) - a bit closed on the nose, moves on to nice light tobacco and rich black cherry, attractive pure fruit showing depth, freshness and bite of tannins; good now yet should round out nicely after 6-12 months. €7 88-90
2003 Château de Pennautier, Cabernet Collection Privée - been open a little too long but still has attractive mix of smoky and rich fruit v tarter cassis and firm texture. 87-89

2005 Domaine Rouaud Têt Pourpre, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (organic) - youthful spicy and rich with tobacco, blackberry and black cherry; deliciously drinkable and refreshing v tight firm finish. €10 92-94
2004 Château des Estanilles Tradition, Faugères (14%) - nice maturing fruit offering spicy liquorice and dark chocolate v ripe and rustic tones; quite soft with light grip, drinking well now. €6 87-89

2005 Marie & Frédéric Chauffray La Réserve d'O, Coteaux du Languedoc Terrasses de Larzac (14%) - aromatic peppery and rustic black cherry fruit, quite rich yet floral palate; a tad extracted on the finish but has nice fruit and length. €10 88
2004 Château Ollieux Romanis cuvée Prestige, Corbières (Carignan Grenache Mourvèdre Syrah 14%) - quite wild 'garrigue' notes, earthy and aromatic; attractive concentrated yet soft fruit and tannins, quite elegant and well balanced with lovely textured leather tannins. €10 91-93
2005 Marie & Guy Taboulay Mas du Mazelet, vin de pays d'Oc (Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon Grenache Mourvèdre 13.5% organic) - perfumed earthy Syrah fruit with tarter cassis notes, savoury palate showing ripeness v firmness, light leather and spice; quite big and structured yet has nice rounded fruit. €10 90-92
2004 Château Belles Eaux Ste-Hélène, Coteaux du Languedoc (14.5%) - toasted coco oak with spicy ripe black cherries, nice fruit and elegance, pity about the Bordeaux styled oak. I've previously rated it better. 87-89
2004 Domaine Rimbert Mas au Schiste, Saint-Chinian (Carignan Syrah Grenache 13%) - delicious complex nose, perfumed Syrah fruit v savoury side; elegant spicy ripe fruit v lovely freshness, maturing finish with subtle length. Drinking well now onwards. €10 92-94
2004 Domaine Rimbert, Saint-Chinian Berlou (Carignan Grenache Syrah) - lovely floral spice, elegant ripe v minty fruit; firm and leathery needing to open up a bit, classy structured wine with pure fruit finish, very nice indeed. Worth €5 more than the above (which therefore looks good value). €15 92-94
2003 Domaines Lorgeril Les Hauts de la Borie Blanche, Minervois la Livinière (13.5%) - savoury leather tones with scented wild herbs, quite rich and firm with nice substance and tight length. 89-91
2004 Domaine Borie de Maurel La Féline, Minervois la Livinière (Syrah Grenache 14%) - attractive perfumed Syrah nose with spicy cherry; fairly elegant and maturing fruit with dry bite, a bit short after that promising start and lacks charm in the end. €10 87

2003 Domaine Borie de Maurel Cuvée Maxime, Minervois (100% Mourvèdre 14%) - fairly animal with wild black olive notes, quite rich and powerful; sexy start turning a bit heavy-handed, firm v ripe finish though. €13 87-89

2004 Jean-Louis Poudou Château Tour Boisée, Minervois (14%) - light herbal complexity v richer meatier side, tasty palate v firm tight structure; promising. €11 88-90
2005 Clos des Fées les Sorcières, Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache Carignan Syrah 14%) - touch of sulphide on the nose? Much nicer palate with juicy black cherry and firm fresh bite, lively v restrained fruit. €11 87-89

2004 Clos des Fées vieilles vignes, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache Carignan) - a bit closed on the nose, moving on to a leathery palate with rich blackberry fruit, concentrated and firm, tobacco v lush fruit. €25 90+
2004 Clos des Fées de Hervé Bizeul, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre  Carignan 15%) - this bottle had been open for a week: showing lovely rich liquorice spice and leather Grenache fruit, ripe and extracted with quite a lot of new oak; nevertheless, it has delicious depth of complex fruit underneath, firm fresh and long; balanced despite high alcohol, stylish despite the power and extraction. Difficult to score this in context of its cult price! €50 92-94
2002 Domaine Lignon Les Vignes d'Antan, Minervois (13.5%) - rustic old style but attractively rich and ripe, weighty and quite firm; nice drinkable finish, really quite good for the difficult 02 vintage (wet). 88-90
2005 Mas Amiel Notre Terre, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache Carignan Mourvèdre Syrah 14.5%) - odd nose (wood?) moves on to a very nice palate, rich ripe tar and chocolate tones v very firm and fresh; powerful length yet balanced, spicy with layered tannins. €11.20 92-94
2005 Château La Liquière Nos Racines, Faugères (Carignan Grenache 14%) - black cherry and wild herbs, a tad animal too; smoky and rich with sexy drinkable quality, power and grip v seductive rounded fruit. €11.40 89-91

2004 Château La Liquière Cistus, Faugères (70% Syrah + Grenache Mourvèdre Carignan 14%) - spicy and floral v meatier depth, quite big Syrah styled fruit with rather firm grip v lingering ripeness too. €14.30 88
2003 Robert Skalli Domaine du Silène des Peyrals, Coteaux du Languedoc (Syrah Grenache 13.5%) - oaky very ripe nose, better palate with quite rich 'tar' fruit v choco oak bite, quite tight and fresh actually (for a 2003); touch of oak on the finish but nice balance and style, modern v traditional. €12 90
2004 Domaine Henry St-Georges d'Orques, Coteaux du Languedoc (Grenache Mourvèdre Syrah Carignan 14%) - light red pepper, spicy liquorice and farmyard undertones, complex pungency; quite rich and funky v freshness and grip, needs time to open up; interesting, technically faulty perhaps but attractive. €12 90
2003 Domaine de Haut Gléon, vin de pays de la Vallée du Paradis (13%) - mature smoky rustic leather characters, rather dry finish lacking depth; nice enough but overpriced. €12 85
2004 L'Ostal Cazes Estibals, Minervois (Syrah Grenache Carignan 14.5%) - touch of wood with simple juicy fruit, dry and straightforward finish. €12! 80
2004 L'Ostal Cazes, Minervois la Livinière - rather Bordeaux in style, attractive elegant wild fruits v new wood, well balanced and quite concentrated; lacks real depth and class at €20, although much better than the above. 88
2005 Clos des Nines L'Orée, Coteaux du Languedoc (Grenache Syrah Cinsault 13.5%) - a bit reduced/sulphide? Aromatic black fruits and liquorice in the mouth, appealing spice and elegant depth, well balanced. Perhaps lacks complexity at this level, fine at half the price. €12 87

2004 L'Etoile du Matin, Corbières (Syrah Grenache Carignan 13.5% organic) - aromatic spicy and meaty, quite concentrated and firm v attractive liquorice and pepper fruit; tightly structured and long with freshness and lovely 'garrigue' notes. We'll be hearing more about Geoffroy Marchand I think. €12 92-94
2004 Domaine de la Prose Embruns, St-Georges d'Orques (13%) - quite simple and rustic start rolls on to lively pure fruit, nice coating of tannins and length; needs a bit of time to open up. €12 89


2004 Domaine des Balmettes Les Figuiers, vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes (100% Syrah 14%) - touch of sulphide but it goes leaving nice meaty nose with sexy dark fruit, lively fresh fruit and tannins, tasty and lush v firm and extracted; powerful long delicious finish, not so Syrah in character. €12 94-96
2005 Domaine des Balmettes Les Amandiers, vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes (100% Grenache 14%) - very ripe with lots of liquorice and leather, rather volatile towards almost acetic; strange 'natural' style nevertheless, rich and powerful, bit of a one-off. 89+?
2005 Domaine des Balmettes Les Oliviers, vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes (100% old vine Grenache 14%) - lovely ripe liquorice and leather, dense and smoky on a very firm structure; less volatile than above, very long and complex, those tannins bring freshness and balance; delicious although it needs a few years to calm down! €16 94 2003 Domaine des Prés-Lasses Les Tabernolles, Coteaux du Languedoc (Grenache Syrah Cinsault 13.5%) - ripe and smoky, nice juicy v meaty mouth-feel, rich and very firm yet balanced, powerful cooked fruit finish. €12 88-90

2003 Domaine des Prés-Lasses Le Castel Viel, Faugères (Carignan Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre 13.5%) - pure peppery v rustic aromas, lush and extracted with a touch of wood; nice bite v richness although very dry tannins. €16 88
2005 Sylva Plana Le Longe de l'Abbé, Faugères (Syrah Carignan Grenache Mourvèdre 13.5%) - violet and cassis aromas in a northern Rhone way, vibrant perfumed fruit v firm structure, quite elegant with chocolate undertones. €12.50 90
2003 Château Moulin de Ciffre Eole, Faugères (14%) - hints of oak on the nose, extracted cherry and tobacco palate, chunky and spicy; that wood does melt in on the finish, a bit overdone but still good. €13 87-89
2004 Domaine St-Antonin Magnoux, Faugères (50% Syrah 14%) - funny nose, burnt chocolate and matches with floral perfumed cherry notes; however, the palate offers nice raspberry fruit, soft and fresh with light grip; long and stylish finish with freshness and floral fruit. €13 89-91
2005 Mas d'Alezon Montfalette, Faugères (Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre 12.5%) - ripe floral berry and cassis fruit with subtle chocolate texture, nice light touch v depth and purity of fruit; juicy yet firm with elegant length. Grown at altitude. €13 92-94

2004 L'Ancienne Mercerie Cuvée Couture, Faugères (14.5%) - a little burnt and rustic, powerful and rich mouth-feel, quite firm v smoky; impressive start but lacks a bit of class in the end. €13.50 89
2004 Domaine les Grandes Costes Les Grandes Costes, Coteaux du Languedoc (13.5%) - complex floral red pepper notes, pure fruit palate with lovely drinkability, elegant and soft v rich and impressive; nice length with wild floral fruit, chocolate oak and freshness. €13.50 92-94
2004 Château d'Aussières (Rothschild), Corbières (Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre Carignan 13%) - seductive 'sweet' floral Syrah fruit enriched with meaty complexity, ripe yet firm mouth-feel, quite elegant with lightly rustic tones; very nice style although a bit dear at €14 (that's bankers/top Bordeaux chateaux owners for you). 88-90

2004 Domaine Clavel Copa Santa, Coteaux du Languedoc 'Terroir de la Méjanelle' (14%) - a touch of disjointed wood leads on to attractive liquorice and black olive fruit, very firm v black cherry richness; slightly oak dominated at the moment? Not very revealing, although does show potential class. €14.50 89-91
2001 Enclos de la Croix, vin de pays d'Oc - rustic v herbaceous nose moves on to nice maturing lush fruit, the tannins are a bit hard though. 87-89
2004 Domaine Lacroix-Vanel Mélanie, Coteaux du Languedoc (70% Syrah + Grenache Mourvèdre 14%) - quite Syrah dominated in style, floral v odd rustic edges; better palate, rich and solid, a bit soupy but it closes up on its firm finish. €15 89+?
2004 Domaine Lacroix-Vanel Ma Mon troppó, Coteaux du Languedoc (90% Mourvèdre + Grenache Syrah 14%) - the nose is a bit closed and reduced; black olive fruit with liquorice and leather overtones, lush then firm and tight yet has vibrant wild herbal fruit; needs time, could be very good. €16 90+?
2004 Clos des Augustins Sourire d'Odile, Coteaux du Languedoc (Syrah Grenache 13%) - violets chocolate and black cherry, nice fruit purity and firm coat of tannins, balanced and fresh too; good but €15... 89+

2003 Clos des Augustins L'Ainé, Coteaux du Languedoc Pic St-Loup (mostly Syrah 12.5%) - more choc and spice with attractive meaty character, rich fruit and underlying purity; nice depth and character despite the oak. €25 90-92
2004 Clos Bagatelle La Gloire de Mon Père, Saint-Chinian (13%) - very rich tar v floral Syrah? notes, chunky and lush v firm tannins; coffee and liquorice flavours linger on an earthy v 'sweet' finish, long and full. €20 92-94
2004 La Boda d'Aupilhac, Coteaux du Languedoc Montpeyroux (Mourvèdre Syrah Grenache Cinsault 13.5%) - smoky and spicy, nice nose and start to the palate with lush and peppery fruit, but finishes rather extracted and dry. €22 87-89

2004 Château St-Roch Kerbuccio, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre 14.5%) - closed nose leads to liquorice and black olive fruit in the mouth, extracted and firm; rather oaky at the moment, not sure. €23 88-90.

Updates, profiles and latest vintages from many of these wineries can be found via the links in the Winery A to Z on the right.

Apparently 'top' cuvées (from €15 to €40) from these estates were disappointingly over-oaked and/or heavily handled/extracted: St-Jean Noviciat, Auzières, Lastours, Estanilles, Nines, Vernède, Caladroy and Massamier Mignarde.

RMJames April 2007

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