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20 April 2008

Languedoc: Château Guilhem, Malepère

Son Bertrand Gourdou-Guilhem has now taken over at the winemaking helm at this well-known property found on the southern side of the Malepère appellation, on the edge of the quiet village of Malviès (southwest of Carcassonne, northwest of Limoux). The old family château, built in Revolutionary times, is charming and timeless although a little flaking perhaps. Future renovation plans - the recent focus has been on upgrading vineyards and cellar - could include converting it into up-market 'chambres d’hôte' offering rooms and meals. The Malepère region itself isn't very well known and a bit of a final frontier ("to boldly go" etc...) for wine in the Languedoc, stretching out on its western side towards Castelnaudary almost. Growers were crowned with full AOC status in 2007, if that really makes any difference, and like Cabardès they've decided to base their wines on a mixture of Med/Southwest/Bordeaux varieties, although leaning more towards the latter as Merlot is central to their red wines. Guilhem is making some good reds crafted from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec; a lively dry rosé as well as decent Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. As part of a charity event, every year one parcel is left unharvested until October, after the other 30-odd hectares have been gleaned, to celebrate the Fete des Vendanges when customers and friends are invited to pick the remaining grapes, taste fermenting musts, play games, stick a couple of Toulouse sausages on the Barbie and contribute to local good causes, of course. I sampled these wines at Vinisud Montpellier, February 2008, and/or in situ when I visited in April 2008:

2007 Cuvée Tradition rosé, Malepère (Cabernet Franc Merlot 13%) - lovely zingy red fruits and roses style, crisp intense and elegant in a Provence kinda way. 87
2006 Cuvée Tradition rouge, Malepère (Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon) - nice mix of sweet and sour fruit with lightly rustic edges, creamy cooked cassis v tart tangy plum with lingering spicy black cherry on the finish. 85-87
2007 Cuvée Tradition rouge, Malepère (Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon) - more fragrant and spicier than the 06, showing good depth of black cherry and plum with tarter edges and grip on the finish. UK retail approx £7.99. 87+
2006 Cuvée Prestige, Malepère (Merlot Cabernets Malbec) - richer nose and palate, not too toasty on the coconut oak front; good depth of fruit and textured tannins, interesting mixed style towards Bordeaux but with more power and/or sunshine. 87-89
2006 Clos du Blason (Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon) - one selected parcel fermented in barrel: showing quite a lot of new oak at the moment but it has rich fruit as well; not sure, will have to taste it again later down the line.
2006 Grande Cuvée (Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon) - chunky fruit and tannins again with those spicy coconut flavours and texture but not too much; rounded, richer and more powerful yet has nice bite and a touch of elegance in the end. 89-91
2007 Sauvignon Blanc, vin de pays d'Oc - attractive fresh citrus tones, crisp yet soft mouth-feel with elegant zesty finish. 85
2007 Chardonnay, vin de pays d'Oc - juicy pear and white peach style, light yeast lees notes and a touch of cream adding extra dimension, then fresh and zippy. 87

Guilhem's UK importer/agent is Stevens Garnier, Oxford.

Le Château, 11300 Malviès. Tel: 04 68 31 14 41, www.chateauguilhem.com.

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