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

31 July 2010

Some posh old Bordeaux

Has moved HERE...

Some posh old Bordeaux


Tasted, savoured and gently quaffed at the Circle of Wine Writers' 50th anniversary dinner at the National Café, London WC2, on May 17th 2010 ("Flaunt it baby, flaunt it," as Zero Mostel said in "The Producers"): my notes got a bit lost in a pile of paper until now...

These three reds served with rack of spring lamb or wild mushroom risotto:
1996 Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac Grand Cru Classé - smoky maturing nose with savoury tobacco vs liquorice even; rich mouth-feel and depth vs still quite firm tannins, although I like its seductive chewy roundness; complex maturing finish with "sweet/savoury" and tobacco tones again vs underlying grip indicating there's still life in it yet. 92-94
1998 Château Branaire-Ducru Saint-Julien Grand Cru Classé - leafy cedary blackcurrant aromas vs maturing savoury edges; lighter palate with fresher acidity, attractive crunchy cassis fruit vs sweeter/savoury texture; gets richer and more open with air, probably very good for this tricky vintage. 88-90
2001 Château Canon La Gaffeliere Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé - ripe black fruits even with quite rustic smoky profile, intricate and "cheesy" (like old Rioja) too; still showing a touch of dry grip vs "sweet" texture and oomph (13.5% ?); lush, seductive and soupier too (bretty even?) but difficult not to like it! Tastes older than the other two. 90-92
With apple tarte tatin:
2002 Château Guiraud Sauternes Premier Cru Classé - delicious actually, even if not very rich and exotic; shows classy spicy nose with dried fruits, honey and marmalade; fine cut and bite vs oily texture, lovely balance. 88-90
Oh, we also enjoyed a wee glass of Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champers with nibbles beforehand to set the scene nicely. Afterwards, back to reality to catch a late tube. Ho hum. Picture from www.lynchbages.com

30 July 2010

Languedoc: Château de Campuget, Costières de Nîmes

Château de Campuget
Campuget is a much larger property than Pastouret (see winery A to Z, right) and actually borders it on one side, although you have to go quite a long way round country lanes to get from one to the other. Anyway, there is a genuine and rather cute old Château in classic French bourgeois style, which you can rent out for functions apparently! Owned by the Dalle family, who makes quite a big range of appellation wines and vins de pays also including the ones from their other nearby estate Château de L'Amarine. They can all be tasted in their comfy, former old barn of a tasting room & shop next to the chateau, which is found more or less in the middle of a forest although well signposted from approaching roads. I visited and tasted these in June 2009 with son Franck-Lin Dalle (approx retail prices €5 to €12):
2008 Invitation Costières de Nîmes white (Roussanne/Grenache blanc/Viognier) - aromatic oily and zesty, turning more exotic in the mouth with a bit of weight then crisp and mouth-watering. 80+
2008 Invitation Costières de Nîmes rosé (13%) - zingy and crisp palate, tasty light-ish style, nice quaffer. 80+
2008 Invitation Costières de Nîmes red (13.5%) - peppery bright black cherry style, ripe and juicy vs touch of grip then darker "sweeter" liquorice flavours; again tasty and quite easy-going although has a bit of oomph too. 85-87
2005 La Sommelière Costières de Nîmes red (100% Syrah) - a bit more austere and serious, spicy with a touch of chocolate/coconut oak; firmer framework vs maturing tobacco notes and attractive textured tannins. 87+
Campuget's wines are available from www.wineman.co.uk in the UK (Kevin O'Rourke) and www.dreyfusashby.com in New York City.

Update summer 2010: I recently bought their 2009 white and rosé from a supermarket (€3.50 each), which were both enjoyable, well-made and easy-drinking in line with my reviews of the 08s.

30129 Manduel. Tel: 04 66 202 015, campuget@wanadoo.fr, www.campuget.com / www.chateaulamarine.com.

29 July 2010

Languedoc: Domaine du Grand Arc, Corbières

Bruno and Fabienne Schenck set up domain in 1995 in beautiful middle of nowhere near Cucugnan at the bottom end of the Corbières, before the meandering climb down into Maury and beneath the awesome Chateau Quéribus (just to throw in a hint of cliché touristy and dramatic Cathar ambience - the castle is a must-see though)... although they already had and worked vineyards before then and used to deliver their grapes to the local co-op cellar. The estate now comes to 23 ha (57 acres) with vines planted from around 250 to 400 metres altitude (over 1000 ft on average).
When I called in at Grand Arc in late July 2010, Bruno expressed their philosophy as "agriculture non-violente," meaning, although not strictly organic, "sometimes we don't interfere... and take a little risk, we might lose a bit but you get better balance and we always have enough crop." He also said: "We no longer green-harvest and do very little de-budding and leaf-removal," the idea being that "it's all well thought out to try and understand everything around us. So, we make a range that reflects all our terroirs... The climate is very even here, we try to use that." And on the winemaking front, he claims to have experimented with not using sulphur for wines made in 2008 and 2009, except adding a very low quantity at bottling to "guarantee stability and ageing potential." I tasted their range at the same time as some eager Belgian tourists, who promptly drove off with a few cases, so obviously a hit! I'm inclined to agree, as no doubt does UK wine merchant Stone, Vine & Sun who stocks some of these wines:

2009 Veillée d'Equinoxe white (Grenache Blanc Roussanne Maccabeu 14%) - aromatic floral & banana-y nose; fatter fuller palate vs crisp and quite mineral, attractive light bitter twist too. €5.30 / £8.50. 80-85
2009 La Tour Fabienne rosé (Grenache Syrah Carignan Mourvèdre Cinsault 14%) - has plenty of creamy strawberry/raspberry fruit to start; juicy vs quite chunky style with bite and subtle bitter twist, rounded & fairly powerful too vs crisp and fresh. A foodie rosé, good value too @ €4.80 / £8.25. 85
2009 Nature d'Orée red (Grenache Syrah Carignan MourvèdreCinsault) - nice lively fruity style showing a touch of grip vs liquorice and black cherry, spicy and punchy too; drinking well now although quite serious, value too @ €5. 85
2008 Réserve Grand Arc red (Carignan Grenache Mourvèdre) - tighter and fresher style with crunchy vs ripe blue/black fruits; good bite vs weight and very light touch of oak. €6 / £8.75. 85-87
2008 Quarante red (Carignan Grenache Syrah) - more closed up with subtle concentration of blue fruits, spicier and grippier too; nice tight length showing refreshing side vs oomph and again a deft touch of oak (?), long and quite fine. €7.60 / £10.50. 87-89
2008 En Sol Majeur red (Grenache Syrah) - richer and more powerful, a touch more oak too adding coco spice and texture; concentrated and tight, again not very expressive at the moment with toasty/grainy finish; lush fruit underneath though vs solid mouth-feel and punch. Promising. €10.80 89-91
2008 Aux Temps d'Histoire red (mostly very old Carignan) - spicy and grainy and closed up to start; gets more aromatic and very intense, attractive blue/black/red fruit combo adding rich vs crunchy profile; fresh acidity on the finish too with pure intense fruit vs coconut grain texture, long and tight. Wow. €12.90 90-92
A couple of previous DGA vintages here (Fenouilledes road trip 2005) and 2009 reds 'en primeur' here.
Le Devez, 11350 Cucugnan. Tel: 04 68 45 01 03, www.grand-arc.com

25 July 2010

Hot southern French winey summer, part 3: unknown Rhone

The southern Ardeche to be precise, or "Ardèche méridionale" in French which has a "sexier south" ring to it somehow. It's difficult not to be wowed by the stunningly varied and wild countryside in the southern chunk of this huge "département," which spans out from the Rhone river itself (the eastern flank stretches along almost the entire length of those more familiar northern to southern Rhone valley wine areas) way out west into the Cévennes hills on the edge of the Massif Central mountain range; marked by the winding Ardeche river and those spectacular gorges it's carved out over time and dotted with myriad hilltop villages teetering with history.
Wine producers, along with the tourist board, restaurant & hotel owners, museums & sites etc. have really got their act together in this neck of the woods. There's a comprehensive programme of winey and other things to do on this site: lesvinsdardeche.com. And a resumé below of my findings and feelings gleaned from a flying visit to the area last month.
Update: a full-monty wine travel feature on the Ardeche has been published here, packed with nice wineries to check out (40 reds, whites and rosés recommended) and places to go, eat & stay. A taster:
"One of a handful of emerging Rhone valley wine areas but still not well known outside of France, the southern Ardeche is nurturing some surprising good, and great value, fruity peppery Grenache and Syrah based reds and rosés, as well as tasty contemporary whites (made from Viognier, Marsanne, Grenache blanc in particular)." There are three distinct wine appellations:
Cotes du Rhone and CdR Villages around Bourg-Saint-Andéol in the southeast corner (northwest of Orange) - a few recommended estates here (generally, the southern Ardeche is dominated by sometimes well-run, now amalgamated co-op cellars) include Domaine de Couron, Mas de Libian, Domaine Nicolas Croze, Domaine du Chapitre (his sublime 1999 CdRV shows how well some of the reds can age), Domaine Coulange and the St-Just St-Marcel co-op.
Heading to the west and north: Cotes du Vivarais - names to look out for include Clos de L'Abbé Dubois, Vignerons Ardechois, Domaine Notre Dame de Cousignac, Mas de Bagnols and Cave d'Orgnac l'Aven. This region is also home to the fragrant Lavender Museum surrounded by rolling lavender fields, where they still produce their own addictive lavender oils and other products.
Keep going west and north: vins de pays des Coteaux de l'Ardeche and the new IGP ("indication géographique protégée") Ardeche zone - very good value varietals and blends from e.g. Domaine de Peyrebrune, Domaine du Colombier, Domaine de Cassagnole, Cave d'Alba La Romaine, Domaine de Pecoulas, Domaine du Grangeon. And not forgetting Cave Co-op La Cévenole, "passionate defenders" of (drum roll)... the Chatus variety! An obscure local red grape, which seems capable of making long-lived structured reds and is being gradually replanted on certain terraced hillside sites...
My full article on WW.com also features a couple of restaurant and hotel recommendations; and, in addition to the Ardeche gorges being canoeing heaven by the way, there are several well-organised "wine routes" and some of the producers mentioned above lay on tailor-made mini-tours and tastings for small groups, as well as offering holiday gite or B&B accommodation. Another wine event to pencil in in the meantime: Sunday 8th August, the Fête des Vignerons Ardéchois in Ruoms with entertainment, tastings and live music.
Picture = "Chèvre chaud rôti aux amandes et à la farine de châtaigne" (baked goats' cheese with almonds and chestnut flour (chestnuts, in many different guises, are a huge local speciality) with a nice white wine from www.lesvinsdardeche.com

23 July 2010

sweet Cadillac not pink

Carrying on the "French winey summer" wine travel theme started below, there's plenty going on in "sweet Bordeaux" country at the moment to boost your blood sugar levels. Apart from art exhibitions at a few chateaux in Sauternes (1chateaupour1artiste.org), why not head for the more evocatively named village and appellation of Cadillac (and often less expensive wines too), where less arty discovery tours are being organised throughout July and August, called "Routes, vins et patrimoine." You'll find details @ the handsome Maison des vins de Cadillac, open Monday-Friday (avoid lunchtime) plus special summer tasting sessions with the winemakers at the weekend. It's on Rue Cazeaux-Cazalet, 33410 Cadillac. 05 57 98 19 20, maisondesvins@closiere.com. Photo: Tour Maudan 2005 taken from vinconnexion.free.fr (Sweet Bordeaux Collection summer 2010).

21 July 2010

Long hot southern French winey summer

A few wine & food goings-on in the Languedoc & Roussillon, and further afield, that have come my way and might be worth checking out if you're in French wine country this (rather hot) summer:
12th "salon des vins" in Aniane (northwest of Montpellier) this Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 July: all you need to know @ salondesvinsdaniane.com (Mas Daumas Gassac country among others e.g. Domaine Coston. More on them here).
Maury (northern Roussillon): 21 July (tonight!) "apéritif de terroir, tapas and Swing manouche" (Will Trio, a band presumably); 17 August "Nuit des étoiles et dégustation," (night under the stars tasting) from 8pm; 19 August another "apéritif de terroir, tapas and music" night. More info from the tourist office at the "Maison du Terroir" avenue Jean JAURES, 66460 Maury. Tel: 04 68 50 08 54, maisonduterroir@hotmail.com or maury-village.com
Until September: the tourist offices in 19 towns and villages throughout the Roussillon = Pyrénées Orientales or number "66" (as in the "département" system not an extra from the Prisoner) will also be offering an "aperitif du terroir" - once you get your pass and tasting glass, it's €3 for a wine & food tasting in the company of some of the local producers. More on the tourismedeterroir.fr website or at 19 avenue de Grande-Bretagne, 66006 Perpignan, 04 68 51 59 99.
Also showing "in a cinema near you soon" in the Roussillon (well, in a wine cellar or vineyard to be exact): "une Cave, un Jour, un Soir…" throughout July and August. Choose either an organised picnic lunch with wine tasting and vine tour (€15) or the full monty evening BBQ with the winegrower including coach transport from different pick-up points (€29). Book @ Cars verts Voyages: 10 rue Jeanne d’Arc, 66001 Perpignan Cedex, 04 68 51 19 47; or contact as per the Perpignan address/number above or see vins-du-roussillon.com
More summer wine events will be posted here shortly, in the southern Ardeche and Bordeaux among other places (see latest posts in fact).
And for regular wine tourism updates, check out Wink Lorch's blog:
blog.winetravelguides.com

18 July 2010

Languedoc: Domaine Bertrand-Bergé, Fitou

A serene daytrip back in late September 2006 (keep reading for updates), taking in the wine villages of western Fitou country, set the scene ruggedly for discovering three wineries, one big (Cave Mont Tauch) and two small (this one and Dom. Lerys)... Jérôme and Sabine Bertrand revitalized this old 30 ha (75 acre) property in 1993 to start making "real wine" again. The family had stopped producing wine in the 1960s becoming co-operative growers; now they prefer the personal touch to shape quality and styles of wine by doing everything themselves. It shows too: these are arguably among the best in the area. If you're looking to stay in the Fitou highlands / southern Corbieres, have a look at the website where you'll find details on their holiday house in the village and nearby "camp site" (a piece of rugged land actually)...

Le Méconnu Cabernet Sauvignon - Carignan, vin de pays Côtes de Torgan - nice liquorice and tobacco notes on a blackcurrant/cherry backdrop, fairly chunky and concentrated actually. €4.20 85
2004 Fitou Tradition - lovely herbal blackberry fruit aromas lead to very fruity palate turning savoury and leather, easy start v more serious finish. €6.40 87+
2004 Fitou les Mégalithes (mostly old Carignan) - maybe a touch corked as it seems a little stripped? Anyway, much tighter and firmer than above v 'sweet' liquorice fruit, powerful length. €9.30 89+
2003 Fitou Ancestrale (Carignan Grenache Syrah) - delicious ripe fruit then chunky structured mouth-feel, firm tannins v 'sweet' coating. €8.50 89-91
2004 Fitou Ancestrale (Carignan Grenache Syrah) - similarly attractive black fruits with light cedar oak, more closed up than above, tight fine finish shows class and potential. €8.50 90-92
2004 Fitou Jean Sirven - spicy wood v lush fruit, nice balance of power and concentration v elegance and length, dry grip v coating mouth-feel. €30 90-92
Rivesaltes Ambré Grande Réserve - complex Madeira and whisky notes layered with pecan nut sweetness, nice bite giving drier nutty finish. €8.80 50cl 88-90
2003 Rivesaltes Tuilé Ma-ga (Grenache) - delicious ripe oxidising plum and tobacco nose, quite powerful alcohol (which should integrate as it's young) but lovely sweet spice and earthy fruit; wow. €18 90+ 


Update summer 2010
Jérôme told me they've been "converting over to organics step by step, using less and less treatments... now more "natural" products and an "intercept" (a clever but simple tool attached to a tractor for removing weeds under the vine rows). We've noticed a difference... we'll be fully certified from 2013, although in fact some plots have been for longer anyway."
2009 Le Méconnu white vin de pays Torgan (Muscat) - nice aromatic grapey floral style, clean and crisp with zesty citrus and mineral finish. 80+
2009 Le Méconnu rosé (Syrah) - crisp and zesty with gentle red cherry fruit, elegant and mouth-watering. 80+
2008 Le Méconnu Merlot - attractive plummy vs leafy style, touches of tobacco and "inky" spice too; juicy and soft palate with a bit of oomph and grip underneath, convincing varietal style.80+
2008 Origines Fitou (Carignan Grenache) - perfumed fruity blackcurrant and blueberry notes; more liquorice and spice in the mouth with nice tannins, subtle concentration and quite elegant length. 85-87
2007 Les Mégalithes Fitou (95% old Carignan) - complex herbal vs red pepper nose underpinned by richer cassis and black olive notes even; again shows that subtle concentration vs firmer and more solid backdrop, nicely textured tannins too with closed up and fairly fine finish. About €10 89+
2007 Ancestrale Fitou (Carignan Grenache Syrah) - different aromatic profile with more cherry, richer and hints of tobacco; "sweet vs savoury" mouth-feel, concentrated yet elegant with rounded vs dry tannins; grippier finish with dark vs crunchy fruit, still youthful really. About €10 88-90
2007 Jean Sirven - lots of smoky bacon oak swamping it; it does add nice coconut texture and it's certainly concentrated, but can't really get anything else!
2008 Muscat de Rivesaltes (Muscat petits grains) - piercing citrus and honey aromas, sweet grapey marmalade vs lively fresh bite and lighter touch in the end. 85+
2008 Proposition Tardive (Muscat, 14%, 140 g/l residual sugar) - toasted notes plus caramelised orange and lemon, pretty sweet to start but shows nice cut and rounded coconut palate; closes up on the finish, quirky and promising. 87+
2007 Rivesaltes Tuilé Ma-ga (Grenache 17.5% alc.) - serve chilled: nice dark plum, liquorice and tobacco nuances; touch of chocolate oak vs lush and spicy, appealing grip and oomph vs sweet cherry fruit. 89+


2012 update - Fitou report featuring their 2009  Ancestrale.


Avenue du Roussillon, 11350 Paziolswww.bertrand-berge.com


Quirky Languedoc "sweetie of the moment"

Further to my post below about "Signature Bio" and wine competitions, I discovered this little gem while judging at this year's "Concours des Grands Vins du Languedoc Roussillon." Our table tasted a line-up of varied/varying white wines (blends from memory: oaked and unoaked, dry and sweet); this one was easily my favourite and considered the best of a mixed bunch by the other judges, which we awarded a silver medal.
2006 "La Soulenque" Domaine la Croix Belle vin de pays Cotes de Thongue Doux (14.5%) - nice spicy and exotic "botrytis-like" nose with rich marmalade and honey; lush mouth-feel vs orange peel twist, quite good balance of sugar vs bite; probably needs a touch more acidity to cut through the finish, but this is a very attractive sweetie. Made from Muscat and Sauvignon with 85g/l residual sugar (natural). Price approx. €15.
La Croix Belle is found not far north of Béziers and west of Pézenas, if you're ever in that neck of the woods. More @ croix-belle.com


Quirky Languedoc "sweetie of the moment"

Further to my post below about "Signature Bio" and wine competitions, I discovered this little gem while judging at this year's "Concours des Grands Vins du Languedoc Roussillon." Our table tasted a line-up of varied/varying white wines (blends from memory: oaked and unoaked, dry and sweet); this one was easily my favourite and considered the best of a mixed bunch by the other judges, which we awarded a silver medal.
2006 "La Soulenque" Domaine la Croix Belle vin de pays Cotes de Thongue Doux (14.5%) - nice spicy and exotic "botrytis-like" nose with rich marmalade and honey; lush mouth-feel vs orange peel twist, quite good balance of sugar vs bite; probably needs a touch more acidity to cut through the finish, but this is a very attractive sweetie. Made from Muscat and Sauvignon with 85g/l residual sugar (natural). Price approx. €15.
La Croix Belle is found not far north of Béziers and west of Pézenas, if you're ever in that neck of the woods. More @ croix-belle.com

15 July 2010

'Larging it in the Languedoc' Vignobles Jeanjean and Mas La Chevalière

'Large' in the traditional rather than popular sense (or perhaps not...) but, hey, it amuses me thinking up an in-your-face title. It occurred to me one day that my focus in the Languedoc has perhaps been a bit biased towards small, and sometimes rather "chi-chi" or "trendy" estates, while partly neglecting the big boys (although not entirely e.g. GBertrand, JCMas, Mont Tauch). There's been a noticeable amount of acquisition stuff going on chez Jeanjean over the past few years; the latest major development being the merger with Michel Laroche's already mini-empire (Chablis, Punto Alto in Chile, L'Avenir in South Africa and Mas La Chevalière in the Languedoc) last year and creation of a 'new' wine group, maybe France's largest of its kind, called Advini (I'll say nothing about Romans, although the new slogan "des vignobles et des hommes" sounds a tad macho even if best translated as 'people' rather than 'men': that's the French language for you!). So, their winery line-up now includes Ogier (Chateauneuf-du-Pape), Cazes (Roussillon), Rigal (Cahors), Gassier (Provence) and A. Moueix (St-Emilion) in addition to those mentioned above.
Anyway, we're not going to delve into their corporate strategy blah blah in this piece (you'll be happy to hear); and I've been following La Chevalière for years (I was first invited there back in the late 90s, I think, or maybe 2000) yet realised I knew nothing about Jeanjean's Languedoc properties, except no doubt having quaffed one of their inexpensive own-labels bought at random in a French supermarket. The opportunity cropped up in late April 2010 for a little re-visit to and re-tasting of MLC, combined with an energetic day-out touring no less than five different estates spread across the central/eastern Languedoc in these areas: Faugères, Coteaux du Languedoc, Mireval (sweet and dry Muscat) and the "Sables du Golfe du Lion" on the sandy edges of the Camargue.
Michel Laroche's son Renaud is marketing director of the company's Laroche portfolio, based in Chablis, who was my host at Mas La Chevalière, which lies on the leafy lofty outskirts of west Béziers, or "Béziers Hills" as Renaud affectionately calls it. We were accompanied by production manager Xavier Tamborero on a stroll around their "Roqua Blanca" vineyard, a 30 hectare (75 acre) hillside site nearby, not far from Murviel-les-Béziers. This was completely replanted with red varieties in the late 90s - I realised when we got there that it looked familiar, although back then the whole site had been freshly bulldozed. 2008 was "the first year we got Terra Vitis here (sustainable farming status)," Renaud explained, and that "we started to convert over to organics in 2009... it's an ideal spot..." as the curving vineyards form a kind of natural amphitheatre surrounded by wild scrubland ("garrigue") and trees.
Xavier believes that "the highest lying plots of Syrah are the best..." implanted on strikingly red soils with big chalk stones on top. The other side is dominated by grey stones, and the varietal rows, facing west or east, switch from Syrah to Merlot to Mourvèdre as you move down the slopes, with Grenache and Marselan lower down. They installed a clever drip irrigation system here buried into the earth, which allows them to be very accurate about how much water the plants need, or don't, as it measures humidity levels in the soil and air. "Vignoble Peyroli" is their other, 10ha (25 acre) vineyard reserved for white varieties, lying at higher altitude (450m/1450 feet) up in the hills towards Bédarieux on the edge of the Massif Central range. And there are vines in front of the Mas (an elegant Med-style manor house) itself, planted after Michel Laroche bought it back in the mid 90s; the rest of their fruit is sourced from contract growers. See notes and reviews below.
The next day, I was promptly whizzed off by the "Jeanjean people": Matthieu Carliez, group vineyard manager and winemaker who oversees all their estates, and marketing manager Agnes Boeuf. Our mission ("should you choose to accept it..."): to tour all five properties spread across the Languedoc in one day. And to have a nice barbecue lunch in the middle of picturesque nowhere, of course, to break up the driving (back to that in a minute). Matthieu and Agnes seemed a little dubious we'd manage it; not so much because of the distance we had to cover, but it'd mean having to battle through the Montpellier and Béziers "by-pass" traffic at rush hour later on. So, let's go for it and see how far we get...
First stop, the Faugères hills. Domaine de Fenouillet is found in (the cellar) and around (the vineyards) the tricky-to-pronounce village of Caussiniojouls, between Faugères itself and Cabrerolles. Their man on the ground here is jovial down-to-earth Thierry Roques, who happens to be mayor of Caussiniojouls (that might come in handy) and took us on an entertainingly hairy spin around a few of the superb isolated blocks that make up Dom. Fenouillet, which Jeanjean acquired in 1993. The terrain is very tight, steep and inaccessible here with so much chunky schist in it, that even Thierry's old faithful 4x4 (a proper country one too, not one of these namby-pamby city four wheel drives) was struggling in places. The highest point is called "Combe rouge" (hence the corresponding cuvée tasted below), and there are some more recent plantings of white varieties nearer the "road" below. Also worth noting, by the way, that Thierry organises vineyard tours and events with other local growers, especially in the summer: details from the town hall!
Back on the road heading a good bit east to Mas de Lunès, which really is in the middle of nowhere roughly between Pézenas and Montpellier and the A75 and A9 motorways. Not that you can hear any cars or anything around here... it's a spectacular stone Languedoc farmhouse set among a vast 1000 ha estate (2500 acres) with a mere 80 under vine: no neighbours, no village, one tiny meandering road. The family bought it in 1936, and today it's the seat of Philippe and Frédéric Jeanjean as well as other members of the clan who live there. A quick spin around part of the vineyards revealed "lots of sandstone and big pebbles," as Matthieu explained, "planted mostly with Syrah, old Carignan and Grenache, a bit of Mourvèdre and a parcel of Pinot Noir," with some whites on the other side of the hill.
Unlike Devois des Agneaux (has a certain "perfect with liver and fava beans" ring about it, replacing the "nice little Chianti" with a chunky Languedoc red obviously...), which lies half a km away yet has a "totally different terroir," Matthieu continued, "with hard limestone..." Although both properties are in the "Grès de Montpellier" sub-appellation: arguably the Languedoc's most confusing and, well, bizarre sub-zone, as it stretches out on either side of Montpellier in fact but can hardly be based on the same geology and micro-climate, despite its name... The geographical divide between these two estates is literally that: you can actually see the fault line along a wide gully as you go from one to the other, which marks two different geological periods apparently.
Anyway, enough of the rant on appellation vs terroir vs terrain. Time for a tasting followed by lunch, barbecued side of beef, in the peaceful surroundings of Devois des Agneaux d'Aumélas: its full poetic title meaning "lamb pastures of Aumélas," the hamlet's name. Brigitte and Elizabeth Jeanjean turned this mediaeval barn into a mini-winery in 1999, as well as clearing and planting 15 ha nearby. A couple of throwaway comments: tasting them in a line-up like this (what "normal" person would: see below), their Coteaux du Languedoc reds arguably seemed a bit samey - they're all based on that old reliable (majority) Syrah plus Grenache combo - nevertheless, there are some very attractive wines here and a couple of really good ones showing more complex or "structural" distinction. Once again, my tasting notes below point out how promising white wines are when in the right sites. Matthieu certainly agrees: "I'd like more, it's a great spot for whites... in those white clay soils and less stoney." They already have a fair bit of Grenache blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier and Chardonnay.
I was told "all the properties are being converted over to organic farming... no herbicides have ever been used anyway since the Jeanjean family bought them (Lunès and Devois) in 1936." Domaine Le Pive, "a sandy wilderness" as their press pack accurately describes it, is actually in the second year of conversion, which must be harder work as the climate is much more humid here. It's the latest property to join the fold, located on the sandy edges of the watery wildlife area of the Camargue near Aigues-Mortes. There are "about 2000 to 2500 ha of vines between here and Sainte-Marie," much of it destined for that famous pale rosé called "vin gris." Le Pive is right next to a handsome old chapel called Moncalm bordering rice fields, and has mostly red and "grey" Grenache planted alongside Cinsault, although Merlot and Cabernet are now replacing the traditional Carignan. "Especially Merlot," Matthieu enthused, "as it grows well here at high yields with no disease, but we only use the free-run juice (for the rosés) as otherwise it gives too much colour." They also pick early to avoid getting too much colour in the skins, and "leave grass cover under the vines, otherwise the wind blows the fine sand into dunes!"
Mas Neuf, added to the family empire in 1994, is basically an idyllic Muscat farm: 70 ha (175 acres) of just Muscat surrounded by fenced-off Mediterranean pine forest, which lies between the Gardiole massif and those huge lagoons along the sea between Montpellier and Frontignan. However, the soil here is clay and limestone not sand, as demonstrated by the fine-looking, chalky/stoney and low-yielding 80 year-old parcel used to make their very tasty late-picked Muscat called "L'Incompris" = "misunderstood one," something to do with it originally not fitting into one category or another. Mas Neuf also has on-site holiday gites, and the people running it do bed & breakfast too; you'd be hard-pressed to find a quieter spot on this stretch of overpopulated coastline.
Pictures taken from jeanjean.fr and mas-la-chevaliere.com where you'll find more info on all their estates and wines.
All rights reserved © Richard Mark James July 2010.

Mas La Chevalière - Laroche 'south of France'

Tasted with winemaker Stéphanie Marquier, all "vin de pays d'Oc":
2009 La Chevalière Sauvignon Blanc - pretty typical soft citrus style with grassier edges; attractive zesty length and dry yet juicy fruity finish. 83-85
2009 La Chevalière Chardonnay (blend of Chardy from the hills north of Nimes and coastal sites) - lovely fruity nose with pear and peach notes; zingy mouth-feel and bite vs light leesy creamy flavours/texture, well-made with balanced mix of fruit, weight and crisp finish. 85+
2009 La Chevalière Viognier - enticing and exotic pineapple / apricot aromas; nice "fat" tropical palate with citrus peel twist, zestier "chalky" finish and lively length. 87
2007 Mas La Chevalière white "Vignoble Peyroli" (Chardonnay, Viognier) - toasty milky notes with developing oily creamy profile and exotic edges; still lively vs oily texture, good balance of fruit vs honeyed and nutty vs lightly steely touch. Again well made and attractive, still looking good and fresh yet rounded and creamy. 88+
2009 La Chevalière rosé (Syrah, Merlot, Grenache) - appealing juicy fruity style with lots of raspberry drops; very drinkable fruity mouthful with light, crisp and refreshing finish. 85
2008 Mas La Chevalière red "Roqua Blanca" (Syrah, Merlot) - a bit closed up and toasty/grainy to start; turning more savoury on the palate with spicy coconut, attractive "sweet" fruit and textured tannins; again closes up on the finish (it had just been bottled when I tried it), could be quite fine though. 87+
2007 La Croix Chevalière red (Syrah, Merlot, Grenache) - sexy maturing savoury and tobacco tones, complex developing nose; spicy and chunky mouth-feel with subtle concentration, nice grip although rounded tannins; surprisingly elegant and not overdone, length and style. 90+
Click here for a note on the 1998 (first vintage) Croix Cheval (goes to a blog post).
2009 Grenache (vat sample) - very white pepper vs liquorice and ripe berries, tobacco and herby edges too; meatier palate and quite powerful finish vs "sweet" fruit, attractive style. 87+
2009 Syrah (vat sample) - invitingly smoky dark cherry nose with minty edges; quite concentrated / extracted vs nice spicy juicy fruit, again grippy vs rounded tannins. 87
Previous MLC vintages and words here.

Vignobles Jeanjean

2009 Domaine Le Pive Gris vin des sables (Grenache gris, Grenache noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc 11.5%) - aromatic and elegant with light red fruits and juicy citrus, nice crisp bite and easy juicy finish. 80+
2009 Mas de Lunès white Coteaux du Languedoc (Roussanne, Marsanne 13.5%) - attractive honeysuckle aromas with peachy apricot notes and lightly creamy/oily edges; similar flavour profile on the palate, lively vs richer mouth-feel with nice fresh bite too vs a bit of rounded weight. 87+
2009 Mas de Lunès rosé Coteaux du Languedoc (Grenache, Syrah) - lively and zingy with subtle creamy strawberry / raspberry; attractive and refreshing with crisp finish, nice fruit and again a bit of plumpness too. 85+
2007 Bergerie de Lunès red Coteaux du Languedoc (Syrah, Grenache 12.5%) - lovely "sweet" black cherry and liquorice fruit vs wild floral and peppery tones; ripe and lush vs attractive dry bite and light bitter twist, finishing with a flourish of liquorice. Nice style. 85-87
2007 Mas de Lunès red Coteaux du Languedoc (Syrah, Grenache 12.5%) - similar but more intense, enticing crunchy berry/cherry fruit with sweeter liquorice edges; a bit more structured and firmer textured vs lingering spicy fruit, quite elegant and more mineral actually. 87+
2007 Mas de Lunès Réserve Coteaux du Languedoc (Syrah, Grenache 13%) - still has that attractive aromatic dark cherry and spice on the nose with a deft touch of spicy coconut oak; juicy and concentrated with rounded tannins, hints of dark choco oak on the finish but has tasty "sweet" fruit vs crunchy berries and "garrigue" undertones; firmer finish and bitter twist (these samples were cold though) vs smoother "vinous" feel. 88+
2009 Devois des Agneaux d'Aumélas white Coteaux du Languedoc (Roussanne, Marsanne 12.5%) - similar floral vs exotic profile to the Lunès white above with milky lees edges; fatter spicier palate with nice juicy and zesty length vs a touch oily and apricot/peach flavours. 87
2007 Devois des Agneaux d'Aumélas red Coteaux du Languedoc (Syrah, Grenache 13%) - more of those perfumed wild herb aromas and peppery dark cherry too; satisfying dried fruits with subtle concentration vs grippy mouth-feel and a touch of power, then firmer and tighter finish. 87-89
2007 Grand Devois (more Syrah, Grenache 13.5%) - similarly charming "sweet/savoury" fruit mix, "garrigue" tones and black cherry/liquorice profile; richer and more intense probably, pretty solid and tight though vs ripe floral fruit with chewy edges too, nice body vs depth vs balance. 89-91
2008 Domaine de Fenouillet Faugères (Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan, Mourvèdre 13%) - "sweet" perfumed black/red fruits and "garrigue" notes; dark berry and cherry flavours vs crunchier fruit edges, touch of dark chocolate and spicy liquorice adding lush feel vs firm tannins, punch then tight finish; very nice. 87-89
2008 Domaine de Fenouillet "Combe Rouge" Faugères (mostly Syrah, Grenache) - less accessible and charming now (although again it was cold) with somewhat firm tight and solid mouth-feel vs underlining ripe "sweet" scented blackberry fruit; promising though and also has lively crunchy fruit finish, showing more on that finish than at the start. Needs 2-3 years to express itself. 89-91
2006 Domaine de Fenouillet "Grande Réserve" Faugères (mostly Syrah, Grenache 13%) - more savoury and resin/dried fruit tones; grippier with more choco oak on its lush vs dry texture, complex maturing notes too; a touch extracted perhaps vs power and maturing fruit, certainly has plenty of mouth-feel although it's less charming than the 2007s and 08s probably. 88+
2008 Mas Neuf L'Incompris (late picked Muscat petits grains, 13-14% alc. 60g/l residual sugar) - fermentation stops naturally in barrel. Enticing floral grapey nose; rich and sweet palate vs zestier citrus bite vs rounded, quite punchy and spicy vs delicious sweet grapey Muscat vs tangy and zesty. Very enjoyable style. 89

13 July 2010

Signature Bio: organic wine competition winners

"Bio" as in short for organic in French ("biologique") rather than hazard or biography, this anuual competition for Languedoc and Roussillon wines "made from organically grown grapes" (using the Brussels speak, who by the way have just rejected a motion to sanction the term "organic wine," as obviously that would make it too easy for people to understand label terminology...) widened its reach this year by including other local organic produce/products such as fruit juice, jam and yoghurt.
On the wine front - I didn't take part in the judging in the end as I had an annoying intrusive cough - but I tasted a few of the winners at the press conference where I talked to a couple of the winemakers. There were two trophy-winning bottles: Jérôme Chardon's (who's been doing organics for 20 years and biodynamics since 2002) Bien Luné 2009 red (Syrah & Grenache) from Domaine Terre des Chardons in Costières de Nîmes (fairly priced at €8) - nice peppery and ripe dark cherry nose; lovely rich liquorice fruit with "tar" notes, quite soft tannins and a bit of weight; peppery vs savoury finish and rounded mouth-feel. 88-90. Yum, will have to go and see him sometime: UPDATED June 2013 - new profile HERE.
And Pierre Gabison, owner of Chateau de Caraguilhes in the Corbières, for their top red "Solus" 2008 (€19), which wasn't available for tasting on this occasion but I tried a cask sample of it back in January at the property with winemaker Etienne Besancenot: a serious Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache blend that I rated as a very promising 90-92. Their lovely rosé 2009 (€7 or £9.20 at Waitrose in the UK) also got a gold medal, plus a silver for the 2009 Corbières "classique" rouge (€7, also at Waitrose £7.59): more notes and info on Caraguilhes via the Languedoc Winery A to Z (right-hand column).
I also liked Domaine de Tavernel's vin de pays du Gard rosé 2009: nice chunky fruity rounded and dry style (85), although hardly gold-medal material (you'll find other comments here and there on my experience of French wine competitions, i.e. too many medals); still, a bargain at €3.50. And same goes for Domaine Costeplane's tasty well-made vin de pays d'Oc Chardonnay 2009 (€5). Among the silvers, I've picked out this wine as one I already knew and worth seeking out: Domaines Petit Roubié Picpoul de Pinet white 2009 (€5.20).
As for the crowned jams, this one is a must-try if you like figs: "Confiture de Figues entières" (whole) made by François Fabre in Espira de l'Agly. And from the soft drinks I had a slurp of: Syllvette Serre's delicious varietal apple juices from her orchard in Ponteilla, and "Nectar d'abricot" from Véronique Dajon in Los Masos, all three in the Roussillon by coincidence.
A few "interesting" stats on organic farming in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. It's now 2nd nationally in terms of "usable farming surface area" devoted to organics - 6.4% of the total area (and about 3% of vineyards) - with the fatest growth-rate for converting over to organic farming in France (+27.5% in 2009) and likely to be over 2000 certified organic producers in the region by the end of the year (with probably over 10,000 hectares or 25,000 acres of vines).
Photo by Alain REYNAUD. More info: www.millesime-bio.com and www.agribio-languedoc-roussillon.fr

Signature Bio

"Bio" as in short for organic in French ("biologique") rather than hazard or biography, this anuual competition for Languedoc and Roussillon wines "made from organically grown grapes" (using the Brussels speak, who by the way have just rejected a motion to sanction the term "organic wine," as obviously that would make it too easy for people to understand label terminology...) widened its reach this year by including other local organic produce/products such as fruit juice, jam and yoghurt.
On the wine front - I didn't take part in the judging in the end as I had an annoying intrusive cough - I tasted a few of the winners at the press conference where I talked to a couple of the winemakers. There were two trophy-winning bottles: Jérôme Chardon's (who's been doing organics for 20 years and biodynamics since 2002) Bien Luné 2009 red (Syrah & Grenache) from Domaine Terre des Chardons in Costières de Nîmes (fairly priced at €8) - nice peppery and ripe dark cherry nose; lovely rich liquorice fruit with "tar" notes, quite soft tannins and a bit of weight; peppery vs savoury finish and rounded mouth-feel. 88-90. Will have to go and see him sometime.
And Pierre Gabison, owner of Chateau de Caraguilhes in the Corbières, for their top red "Solus" 2008 (€19), which wasn't available for tasting on this occasion but I tried a cask sample of it back in January at the property with winemaker Etienne Besancenot: a serious Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache blend that I rated as a very promising 90-92. Their lovely rosé 2009 (€7 or £9.20 at Waitrose in the UK) also got a gold medal, plus a silver for the 2009 Corbières "classique" rouge (€7, also at Waitrose £7.59): more notes and info on Caraguilhes here.
I also liked Domaine de Tavernel's vin de pays du Gard rosé 2009: nice chunky fruity rounded and dry style (85), although hardly gold-medal material (more comments here and here on my experience of French wine competitions, i.e. too many medals); still, a bargain at €3.50. And same goes for Domaine Costeplane's tasty well-made vin de pays d'Oc Chardonnay 2009 (€5). Among the silvers, I've picked out this wine as one I already knew and worth seeking out: Domaines Petit Roubié Picpoul de Pinet white 2009 (€5.20).
As for the crowned jams, this one is a must-try if you like figs: "Confiture de Figues entières" (whole) made by François Fabre in Espira de l'Agly. And from the soft drinks I had a slurp of: Syllvette Serre's delicious varietal apple juices from her orchard in Ponteilla, and "Nectar d'abricot" from Véronique Dajon in Los Masos, all three in the Roussillon by coincidence.
A few "interesting" stats on organic farming in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. It's now 2nd nationally in terms of "usable farming surface area" devoted to organics - 6.4% of the total area (and about 3% of vineyards) - with the fatest growth-rate for converting over to organic farming in France (+27.5% in 2009) and likely to be over 2000 certified organic producers in the region by the end of the year (with probably over 10,000 hectares or 25,000 acres of vines).
Photo by Alain REYNAUD. More info: www.millesime-bio.com and www.agribio-languedoc-roussillon.fr

06 July 2010

Serious Languedoc and Roussillon

There's a whole host of new "profiles" now live on FMW.com, featuring several great estates and wineries with lots of tasty Med wine recommendations from these Domaines / Mas / Chateaux: Magellan, Conscience, Cave Embres et Castelmaure, Gayda, Faiteau, Hauterive le Haut, Ollieux Romanis, Meunier St. Louis, Haut-Gléon, Maria Fita, Sainte-Croix, Collin, Rives Blanques, Ecriture (all Languedoc). And from the Roussillon: Clos Perdus, Laguerre, Ch. de Rey, Vinci, Schistes. Click here to go to FrenchMedWine.com...
Plus a new feature: "Larging it in the Languedoc," focus on Vignobles Jeanjean and Mas La Chevalière. More...
Picture = "Flowering" from masdelecriture.fr/blog-vignoble