WineWriting.com & French Mediterranean Wine
Richard Mark James' wine and travel blog

29 July 2009

Roussillon: Domaine de Majas, Caudiès-de-Fenouillèdes

Agnès and Alain Carrère's 20 ha (50 acre) property nestles in the rugged countryside around the blink-and-miss-it village of Caudiès; the most far-flung north-western corner of Roussillon vineland, before crossing into green hills and sliced gorges of neighbouring Aude country. With certain vineyard parcels at 350 metres altitude (1000+ feet) the microclimate is cooler here, hence why they have to wait until the end of September to pick the best Syrah plots and haven't so far risked temperamental Mourvèdre. It also means drought (the soil's deep too) and vine heat-stress are less common, increasingly problematic for growers in the south of France. By the way, they have a few Alicante and Morrastel (=Graciano) vines in addition to the usual suspects.
The Carrère's make half appellation wines and half vin de pays from Cabernet, Chardy and Merlot (stifle that yawn please, the wines are pretty decent: see below), good cash-cows especially in big bag-in-box. They bought and refitted their old cellar in 1992, the year the domaine was established. "It's a lot of work for two people," Alain said philosophically, "in the long term we hope we'll earn a good living." UK stockists are Terroir Languedoc and Easy Wine / Wine of Course (north London).

Tasted 4th Sept 2006:
2005 Chardonnay cuvée Alexandra - nice gentle peachy fruit with fresh aromas, light acidity v elegant juicy mouth-feel. €5 80+
2005 Côtes du Roussillon rosé (Syrah Grenache) - appealing subdued aromatic red fruits, lighter and more refreshing than some. €4 83-85
2005 Merlot cuvée Lucie - attractive fragrant plum and light red pepper notes, meaty v 'sweet' v tangy finish. €3.90 85
2004 Cabernet - Merlot Clos la Grave - nice cassis and liquorice flavours, quite full in the mouth turning tighter and fresher on the finish, firm v fruity. €5 85-87
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon cuvée Gaëtan - upfront black cherry fruit, fairly tight and tangy on the palate though showing some richness v firm tannins; should round out a little in bottle. €5 87
2003 les Hauts de Majas Côtes du Roussillon (13%) - scented vanilla and coconut, quite full mouth-feel with riper black fruit profile, again tight and fresh finish (especially for 2003) with attractive texture; personally, just a bit too much oak to hit 90 points. €8
87-89
Tasted July 2007
2006 Côtes du Roussillon rosé (Syrah Grenache 12.5%) - attractive enough aromatic redcurrant and strawberry fruit, quite light and refreshing; keep it cold as it gets a bit boring when it warms up. Usually €3.50, Auchan did a bargain buy 6 for the price of 4 promo (= €2.50).
83
Tasted July 2009
2006
Côtes du Roussillon red - attractive uncomplicated style, quite soft and fruity with dark berry fruits, a bit of spice and minty touches; turning more savoury on its dry vs rounded finish. About €3 on promotion. 83-85


21 Rue de la Bartasse, 66220 Caudiès-de-Fenouillèdes. Tel: 04 68 59 94 41, mobile 06 21 61 38 74. domainedemajas.wixsite.com/domaine-de-majas

20 July 2009

Languedoc: Vignerons du Mont Tauch, Fitou

The Mont Tauch
A serene daytrip back in late September 2006 (read on for 2009 and 2011 updates), taking in the wine villages of western Fitou country, set the scene ruggedly for discovering three wineries, one big (below) and two small (Dom. Bertrand-Bergé here & Domaine Lerys here)...
Just a few years off its 100th birthday, Vignerons du Mont Tauch is one of the most progressive co-operative cellars in southern France. It's grown bigger over the years combining 4 cellars & 250 growers in and around Tuchan, Paziols, Villeneuve and Durban, giving them 2000 hectares (nearly 5000 acres) to play with. And this year they formed a partnership with the united co-ops in Fitou itself and La Palme, near the coast. The massive stainless steel winery would look a little ugly set anywhere else but, jutting out underneath mighty Mount Tauch itself (picture above), it creates a pretty dramatic contrast.
The co-op has implemented a comprehensive vineyard management system that tracks each parcel, and the growers are helped at every stage to improve the quality of their grapes and environment. They're paid on a graded scale - and can be 'demoted' if necessary - that takes into account vine age, pruning, yields, disease, picking, ultimate wine type etc. So, for Les Douze (see below) I'm told you can actually trace the grapes to those 12 growers, who might not be the same ones every year. Les Quatre is sourced from four growers' (Robert, Christophe, Juliette and Jean-Régis) best plots in a high altitude vineyard near Paziols. 120 core growers (over ¾ of the vineyard area) have now taken the plunge into sustainable viticulture aiming to reduce chemical treatments "significantly": hopefully the others will too.



MT wines are widely available in the UK, Sweden, Belgium and Canada. Le Village du Sud (scroll down to 'OLN' article July 2006) fun range of vin de pays d'Oc varietals - click to see the cartoon pic of the label. The Merlot, Chardonnay and Rosé are available in the UK at Co-op stores for £3.99:
2005 Chardonnay - (a bit cold to taste) simple clean style, dry and crisp with light peach and citrus fruit; lacks a bit of character but it's OK.
2005 Rosé (Grenache) - zingy and dry with light red fruits, a bit stripped perhaps.
2005 Merlot - plum and currant notes showing a touch of Merlot character, fruity with dry tannins; a bit lean but OK.
2005 Syrah - nice peppery black cherry style, has more substance and grip. 82-84
2005 Mont Tauch Corbières (50-50 
Carignan Grenache) - appealing berry and liquorice style, light fruit v a bit of grip. 82-84
2005 Mont Tauch Fitou (Carignan Grenache 
Syrah) - a bit richer and spicier with light tobacco tones, attractive firmness v fruit.83-85
2004 Les Douze Fitou (Carignan Grenache Syrah, 14%) - nice smoky ripe fruit, good weight v light tannins; subtle background oak and earthiness v 'sweetness'. 85-87
2004 Les Quatre Fitou (Carignan Grenache Syrah, 14.5%) - perfumed coconut oak but not overdone, good depth of fruit v power and grip, quite long. 87-89
2004 L'Exception Fitou (Syrah Grenache
 Carignan selected from Tuchan and Paziols) - aromatic liquorice and black fruits with light layer of chocolate oak, concentrated powerful and structured finish; better than when first launched (previously too oaky). 89-91


The 3V range - Vins Vents Vignerons (wine wind grape-growers: blustery climate rather than local eating habits) - consists of small batch high quality cuvées, so far only available in France in restaurants and wine shops; but I'd be surprised if they don't crop up in Britain or elsewhere sooner rather than later. Tasted Oct-Nov 06:
2004 Montmal Fitou (Syrah Carignan Grenache, 14%) - closed up and unrevealing at first, better with a bit of air: touch of oak turning black cherry then more savoury, quite elegant tight mouth-feel; underwhelming in a positive way, quite like it in the end. 87+
2001 Château de Montmal Fitou (Syrah Carignan Grenache, 14.5%) - 12 ha (30 acre) vineyard in Villeneuve: rich and smoky with savoury leather notes, powerful and structured v maturing fruit, complex and well-integrated on the finish. Yum. 90-93
See link at the bottom to latest vintage, 2009.

2004 L'Esprit de Montmal Fitou (Syrah Carignan Grenache, 13.5%) - lightly volatile complex aromas, ripe and smoky v herbal and white pepper, moving to blackcurrant black cherry and fig on the palate; elegant concentration and weight with firm long finish, fresh acidity even v power and alcohol. Gets better with aeration. 88-90
2005 Merlot-Carignan vin de pays de la Vallée du Paradis (13%) - nice aromatic inky yet juicy red and black berry fruit with smoky liquorice backdrop; lush v tarter side, fruity and soft v dry bite and length. 87-89
2005 La Coucante Corbières white (Grenache blanc Muscat, 13%) - subtle oats and coconut on the nose lead to enough floral fresh fruit with aniseed bite, crisp and dry v a bit of weight. Try with salmon in a dill sauce. 85-87

2005 Domaine de Coucante Corbières red (Carignan GrenacheSyrah, 13.5%) - attractive more modern style with juicy black fruit and light oak, turns more rustic and chunky yet with relatively soft tannins. 87
Tasted July 2007:
MT Muscat de Rivesaltes - classic Vin Doux Naturel style with aromatic grape, citrus peel and pear-drop notes; quite full and sweet v fresher punchier finish. £5 in the UK. 87


Mont Tauch update summer 2009
The village's annual Fête du Vin bash on 17th-19th July provided a lively platform (I think the entire village was out on Saturday night for the big dinner and watching the live band afterwards) to check out the co-op's swanky new visitor centre and wine shop, as well as catch on new wines and vintages...
2008 Les Garrigues Grenache blanc vin de pays (13%) - honeyed & oily vs floral, mineral and "stony" aromas/flavours; juicy and refreshing with aniseed notes, turns fatter with very light wood (?) spice and yeast-lees edges. €5.50 £6.99 (same price for all four of these varietals I think). 85
2008 Grenache noir (13.5%) - nice creamy vs spicy black cherry and liquorice with cassis and blueberry undertones; crunchy vs richer mouthfeel, fruity finish with lightly bitter twist. 85+
2008 Carignan - attractive fruity wild berry nose with spicy notes and a touch more vanilla; a tad tart on the palate although has appealing freshness too, then creamier on the finish. Quite good, perhaps less charming than above (maybe why there's more oak?) although has fair length and it was over-chilled anyway, as they all were at first. 85
2008 Marselan (13.5%) - riper jammier fruit with spicy dark backdrop and light vanilla wood; enticingly full-bodied, rounded and "sweet" vs dry bite and lively finish. 87+
2006 Fitou "Les Trois" (14%) - maturing savoury aromas with peppery vs dried fruits; nice bit of grip and integrated blob of oak vs rounded maturing resiny fruit flavours/textures. 87+
2007 Fitou "Les 12" (CarignanGrenacheSyrah 14%) - big fruit and pepper on the nose, juicy attractive palate although ends up a little disappointing despite its nice dry vs "sweet" finish. Tried again the next day: perhaps richer and gutsier with appealing pure "sweet" liquorice & black cherry fruit; a touch of background oak, grip and power to finish. Majestic £6.99. 85-87
Muscat de Rivesaltes (15.5%) - classic piercing grapey honeysuckle Muscat and orange peel notes; sweet and tasty vs quite well-balanced and refreshing. £6.29 half-bottle Morrison's.85
2004 Fitou "Tuchan" (CarignanGrenacheSyrah 14%) - developing smoky tobacco notes with dried red & black fruits and a touch of spice; mature savoury palate with very light dusting of oak and dry texture, nice subtle warm finish. Drink now. 87(+)
2006 Fitou "Villeneuve" (CarignanGrenacheSyrahLladonerPelut 14%) - nice fresh berry and cherry fruit; attractive mouthful with fruity minty finish, although lacks a bit of depth and real character. 85+
2006 Corbières "Durban" (CarignanGrenacheSyrah,
Mourvèdre 13.5%) - a bit too vanilla coconut oaky although it does have quite appealing & vibrant fruit and "sweet" vs dry texture. 85
2008 Corbières white - fresh and clean showing a bit of character and floral honeyed juicy fruit. 83+
2008 Corbières rosé - lightly creamy red fruity style with crisp vs oily finish. 83+
2008 Chardonnay Le Dog de Charlotte vin de pays d'Oc (13%) - aromatic and a touch peachy and exotic with gummy citrus palate and clean attractive finish. 80+
2008 Le Village du Sud Chardonnay (12.5%) - a touch more yeast-lees notes and butter, moving on to fresh crisp bite vs a touch of weight. The Co-Op £4.49. 80-83
2008 Le Village du Sud rosé (Grenache) - juicy boiled sweet nose with crunchy red fruits underneath; attractive enough fruity vs crisp style. The Co-Op £4.49. 80+
2008 Merlot Le Dog de Jean Marc (13%) - herbal plummy and spicy, turning firmer in the mouth with fresh bite; not bad style.80+
2008 Le Village du Sud Merlot (13%) - plummier still with a hint of soy sauce, turning to cassis with a tad of liquorice; juicier and lusher than above. The Co-Op £4.49 83-85
2007 Growers' Reserve Fitou - gets better with aeration showing creamy cassis and liquorice with wild herb undertones; a bit confected, jammy and simple although has quite nice dry texture vs crunchy fruit on the finish. Tesco £5.99. 83
2007 MT Corbières (CarignanGrenache 13.5%) - similar style but a bit richer and more concentrated, dark fruity vs herby underneath; quite nice style and texture. 83-85
2007 MT Fitou (CarignanGrenacheSyrah 13.5%) - more peppery on the nose plus nice liquorice, more interesting and gutsier than it used to be. Asda/Booths £5.99. 85
2006 Fitou "Les 4" (CarignanGrenacheSyrah 14%) - up-front vanilla and coconut oak but also has nice ripe & resiny wild fruits vs herbs; attractive grip, coating and weight with concentrated spicy punchy finish, well-handled oak in the end. Waitrose £8.99. 89(+)
2006 Fitou "L'Exception" (Syrah Grenache Carignan 14%) - that dusty spicy oak is quite strong on the nose at first; however, this has lovely depth of dark fruit vs a touch of cedar on the finish, but it's concentrated enough to soak up that wood combined with maturing tobacco notes, nice grip and bite. Needs 1 or 2 years to mellow. Majestic £10.99. 88-90?


2011 update: click here for a tasty note on MT's latest single-vineyard Fitou available at M&S (on-line): 2009 Château de Montmal...
Or HERE for my Fitou report 2012 featuring their latest vintages...


2 Rue de la Coopérative, 11350 Tuchan. Tel: 04 68 45 44 73, caveau@mont-tauch.comwww.mont-tauch.com.

16 July 2009

Châteauneuf-du-Pape: Ogier & Clos de l'Oratoire

Ogier has been part of the quietly mammoth Languedoc-based JeanJean Group since 1994 and bought the famous Clos de l'Oratoire estate in 2000. However, the family behind Ogier, currently headed up by Jean-Pierre  Durand, has deep roots in Châteauneuf (founded in 1859) and further afield in the Rhône valley: their Caves des Papes, Oratorio and Notre Dame de Cousignac (goes to feature on the southern Ardeche: scroll down to Côtes du Vivarais) ranges also include wines from the northern Rhône (e.g. Crozes-Hermitage) as well as other vineyards in the south (e.g. Gigondas). The company exports about two-thirds of their wines with both the UK (Mistral Wines is their main distributor with a good presence in restaurants too) and USA (Canon Wines, San Francisco) being important markets for them, so it should be easy enough to track down a bottle or two.
Ogier is also a major sponsor of Les Chorégies, the annual series of serious opera held during the Avignon festival at the spectacular Roman amphitheatre in Orange; hence the special cuvée they make for it from Clos de l'Oratoire (see below). They've also given their premises and cellars in Châteauneuf itself a major overhaul incorporating an impressive wine tourism complex, which is even open until 6.30pm on Saturdays, pretty radical in France! There's a cute little garden where you'll find four of the main vine varieties planted in four different plots/types of soil. The omnipresent, Hollywood-studio-style castle turrets look ever-so-slightly tacky but distinctive for sure, reminding you where you are after all! Inside the chapel-like tasting room & shop, there are samples of different soils/stones on display alongside a wine from each of these sites, which you can taste informally or during one of the tutored tastings they organise.
Their new barrel cellar (stifle that yawn) adjoining the shop and old cellar is now split into cask-size capacity. Hence the 300 litre barrels you run into first (mix of French, American and Russian oak, by the way, for those interested in techno-geeky facts) used for "our new 'international' Côtes du Rhône wines," as head winemaker Didier Couturie explained, then the 600 litre casks next door for "top of the range wines," which have a longer life span here. And yet another doorway takes you through to the huge old tuns "used constantly for storing and blending." There's actually a well embedded innocently in the winery floor filled from a natural spring that runs underground here, which is handy as "there's not a lot of water in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and it also helps increase humidity levels in the cellar," I was informed, which improves the storage and ageing environment (i.e. not too dry).
Finally, a couple of restaurants worth mentioning gleaned from this trip in July 2009: firstly, Le Verger des Papes perched up the hill from the village next to the remains of the "Château des Pape" (obviously not looking so "new" nowadays, ho ho), where we had a very pleasant lunch out on the patio under the shade of olive trees (reasonable menus for €19 and €29: www.vergerdespapes.com, 04 90 83 50 40). And the swanky famous (and very expensive: about €100 for dinner) hotel & restaurant La Mirande in central Avignon (www.la-mirande.fr, 04 90 14 20 20), which also has a cookery school called Le Marmiton held in a spacious, pots-and-pans-filled, slightly underground kitchen. In both senses of the word: we had a nose around and came across a lively crowd, who'd cooked their own dinner including Jean-Paul Gaultier merrily noshing away and Paul Belmondo (son of...).

Anyway, over to those wines:
2008 Clos de l'Oratoire white Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Grenache blanc, Clairette, Roussanne & Bourboulenc 13.5%) - oily "mineral" tones with floral, spicy and honeyed fruit; nice weight with juicy texture and a touch of yeast-lees bite, surprisingly fresh and gummy with juicy pear notes too then full and rounded finish. Gets more interesting after being open for a bit with distinctive aniseed flavours as well, well-handled blend and stylish. Winemaking: all varieties fermented in stainless steel and left for three months on the lees except the Roussanne, which was barrel-fermented (300 litre size) and stirred for three months too. 87-89
2006 Clos de l'Oratoire red Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre & Counoise 14.5%) - delicious Grenache nose with liquorice, very ripe dark cherries and cinnamon spices; quite firm at first but not too, pretty powerful underpinned by attractive concentrated "sweet" fruit, rich aromatic finish vs a bitter twist adding a little bite. Gets softer and quite approachable now with a little air vs underlying structure and elegance too. 89+
2007 Clos Oratoire red - much more closed up and less fruity to start with (although it was over-chilled), spicy with more obvious alcohol and tight framework; opened up (and warmed up) over lunch revealing lovely dark cherry and liquorice fruit and lush lively mouthfeel, nice concentrated chunky style showing solid dry texture, closes up on the big finish. Promising although again actually quite attractive now after some aeration. 90+
2005 Clos Oratoire red - smokier with more tobacco, leather and savoury notes vs rich dried cherry and liquorice; lush vs spicy with nice balanced grip, again powerful but it holds it well thanks to its underlying concentrated "sweet & savoury" fruit. Very enjoyable now but it has a longer life ahead of it (5+ years). 92+
2007 Les Chorégies CNdP (2/3 Grenache + Syrah) - a tad closed up and 'reductive' at first, turning creamier with liquorice vs cassis notes; vibrant and punchy with quite tight tannins adding firm texture vs "sweet" peppery and meaty undertones. A touch awkward at the moment but should be good in 2 to 3 years time. 88+
2005 Les Chorégies CNdP (mostly Grenache + Syrah & Mourvèdre) - "sweeter" with more tobacco and savoury notes and spicy earthy edges; lush and concentrated vs firm palate, good balance though with fairly thick tannins and big mouthfeel supported by lovely fruit. 90+
More info @ www.ogier.fr.

11 July 2009

Roussillon: Vins Pujol - Domaine La Rourède, Fourques

Vins Pujol - Domaine La Rourède
Certified for organic viticulture in 2000 to "protect the countryside and honour the true character of our terroir," Josiane and Jean Luc Pujol practise their way of life on 65 ha (160 acres) around the village of Fourques, south of Thuir and west of Argeles. They're planting more Syrah and Mourvèdre while maintaining the old vine Grenache and Carignan, and also plan to produce organic vinegar and grape juice. Wines tasted in Jan 2006.
2003 Côtes du Roussillon tradition (Grenache, Carignan, Syrah & Carignan) - attractive ripe smoky leather and spice nose, quite rich and concentrated, displaying maturing fruit with earthy blackcurrant and mint notes on a soft long finish. €4 87
2003 Cuvée La Montadella (Carignan & Mourvèdre) - leaner style needing time to open up and express itself, this has a touch of background oak on a quite austere palate with firm grip and powerful finish. €9.20 89+
2005 Muscat de Noel - lovely pure grape and citrus fruit, long and fresh in the mouth balancing out the sweetness. €8 87
2002 Rivesaltes Ambré - complex amontillado-like nose of coffee and pecan nuts, soft and sweet palate showing good balance and bite. €7 89
2002 Rivesaltes Grenat - more toffee and date than above with plenty of ripe blackberry and spice, dry grip of tannins v sweetness on the finish. €8
88
Bought this bottle in a supermarket in July 2009:
2006 Côtes du Roussillon (13%) - nice in an old-fashioned, rustic, leathery and slightly
volatile way; nevertheless, it's quite lush with rounded tannins and peppery vs savoury finish. About €4. 85


3 rue de la Rourède, 66300 Fourques. Tel: 04 68 38 84 44, fax 04 68 38 88 86;
vins.pujol@wanadoo.fr.