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

23 December 2013

Roussillon and Languedoc: "festive sweeties and reds, with or without chocolate" (part 2)

Further to these recent words of wisdom on my WineWriting.com blog: Spain v Australia: festive sweeties and reds, with or without chocolate (goes there naturally), which also includes a little insight into fine chocolate making and the different types... Here are some more "festive sweeties and reds, with or without chocolate," this time sourced from the Languedoc and the Roussillon. When talking about "wine with chocolate," many people - okay, wino people rather than normal people at least - think of rugged Roussillon country and its sometimes sublime red vins doux naturels or fortified sweet reds based on Grenache, especially Banyuls from the southeastern corner bordering Spain or Maury in the region's northern flank nudging up against the Corbières hills.

Those famous demijohns, slightly predictable target for a photo, outside at Mas Amiel: mostly empty as this type of traditional 'oxidative' ageing is now only used for a small proportion of their Vin Doux Naturel (VDN) production. Photo: Vi Erickson.
Mas Amiel is arguably the most famous name in the Maury area (with suitably celeb prices to match, you might be tempted to add) and particularly well known for its old vintages. We were treated to their 1980 (in magnum no less, a special millennium bottling aged for nearly 20 years in demijohns and large casks beforehand; 16.5% abv) at the 'wine with chocolate' tasting event featured in the post mentioned at the top of the page (follow that link for more info). I've tasted this vintage before in situ (goes to profile and notes on MA penned in 2007, 2009, 2010 and updated earlier this year), although not sure if it's exactly the same wine, as that 1980 had one of their regular 'Millésime' labels, implying vintage style i.e. aged for a relatively short time in cask and the rest in bottle. In any case, the 1980 "millennium" was delicious and a fine match for the Co Couture chocs in front of us, especially the chilli flavour actually. Browning in colour with intriguing meat gravy vs liquorice nose, rich and concentrated with lush mouth-feel vs nice bite and developing savoury flavours; still alive with complex long maturing finish. Yum. £85 magnum.
Also from Maury, made by the worth-visiting Vignerons de Maury co-op winery found in the village, comes their Cuvée Centenaire (specially brewed in 2010 to celebrate 100 years, obviously; 16% abv), which was quite orangey brown with 'volatile' red-Madeira notes and sweet dried fruits vs meaty mature cheesy palate; particularly good with the ginger chocolate. About £23. More of their wines are HERE (St-Bacchus Awards) and probably elsewhere on the blog too. Banyuls was well represented by one of its top VDN producers Domaine du Mas Blanc with their 2000 Vieilles Vignes label (old vines; 16.5% abv): oxidised intricate mature-cheesy nose, lush vs savoury palate with complex toffee and dried raspberry flavours, long smooth finish. The plain choc and sea salt flavoured one almost freshened up the wine, not so good with the ginger though funnily enough. £27 approx. More on DMB HERE.
Moving on to a few 'regular' Roussillon and Languedoc reds, not deliberately tasted with chocolate (but might have been unintentionally) in recent weeks. Firstly, a pair from Naked Wines. Benjamin Darnault's 2012 La Cuvée Réservée Cotes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache, Syrah; 14.5% abv, bottled in the Aude though?) is deep purple black in colour, a 'modern' style big fruity and spicy red; peppery blackberry with firm grip vs 'sweet' rounded palate, nice dry texture vs ripe berry fruit, liquorice and spice with punchy alcohol on its lively finish. Attractive good+ co-op level red, okay at £8.49 ('Angel' price) but not worth £11.49 ('normal': more here about Naked's pricing). Same could perhaps be said about their 2012 Le Petit Train Syrah (£8.25 or £10.99) made by Katie Jones, although this wine was apparently specially commissioned by Naked after Katie was sabotaged by some jealous thug, who broke in and poured away an entire vintage of her white wine. So, there's an "investment in people" type story behind it (as is Naked's self-acclaimed style generally). Anyway, it's a very nice red showing touches of sweet coconut oak layered with really ripe black cherry/olive even, soft fruity and rounded mouth-feel with a hint of herby spice vs a light bitter twist of tannins/acidity and blast of warmth. Kept well after opening too, turning softer with the oak less obvious and nice sweet black cherry/olive fruit vs light grip.
Finishing off in Saint-Chinian in the Languedoc back-lands, I've picked out just a few of my favourites from a trip last month, which were winners in a "Grand Cru selection" competition I was on the tasting panel for. CLICK HERE for my full-monty St-Chinian special supplement, which costs £3 (about €4/$4.50) as it's not viewable on this blog (emailed as a PDF). Features several leading estates (and places to eat and stay), including Domaines Canet Valette, Cambis, Jougla, Cazal Viel, La Madura, La Femme Allongée, Boissezon Guiraud, Milhau-Lacugue and more! In the meantime then...
Laurent Miquel Bardou 2008 (100% Syrah) – still quite toasty coconut with spicy dark fruit vs nice meaty edges, the oak melts into it adding a touch of chocolatey texture/flavour, nice tannins and concentration for a 2008; still quite young and structured with substance. Good stuff. €19
La Grange Léon D'une main à l'autre 2011 (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache) - herbal red pepper, liquorice and perfumed white pepper; quite lush with ripe berry fruit, soft and approachable with bit of weight, freshness and length. Nice now. €16

Domaine la Linquière 310 La Sentenelle 2011 - lovely wild garrigue notes (= reminds of heathland flora!) plus sweet liquorice vs peppery fruit, soft tasty and quite elegant finish. €18
Borie la Vitarèle Les Crès 2005 (Mourvèdre, Syrah) - savoury touches vs dark cherry, nice 'chalky' tannins with a touch of freshness, tight and elegant, still relatively young really, lovely savoury vs liquorice and spice finish. €18.50

Above prices are cellar door in France, so these are all towards dear wines although among the producers' top cuvées; or would be in the UK, Ireland or US once you slap on eye-watering taxes!

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