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28 February 2008

Languedoc: Laroche 'South of France' - Mas La Chevalière

Part of the Michel Laroche wine empire (Chablis, Chile, South Africa... next stop Corsica following in the footsteps of an earlier well-known emperor?!), Mas de la Chevalière is now part of the mighty - and quite impressive, it has to be said, looking at the different wineries they own - Languedoc-based JeanJean group (link goes to latest feature on them, summer 2010). The estate smartly combines tastefully refurbished Mediterranean manor house with striking metal and glass winery, and produces upmarket Vin de Pays d’Oc varietals and blends. Vineyard manager and winemaker Richard Lavanoux runs a tight ship (NB Richard is no longer with them: see update link at the bottom), whether on their own estate or working with a handful of contracted growers. Their best wines include the flagship Croix Chevalière red (Syrah, Cabernet, Mourvèdre and/or Merlot depending on the vintage), the Mas whiteChardonnay / Viognier blend and another single vineyard, red wine calledRoqua Blanca (see notes below, wines sampled at Vinisud Montpellier February 2008. Followed by latest notes added in July 2010 tasted at the winery).

The property/winery can be found on the outskirts of the attractive (in its own southern way) Languedoc town of 
Béziers, which still has a bit of a rough-diamond reputation – mostly unjustified although there are certain areas where you might not feel so comfortable walking at night – but is slowly undergoing urban redevelopment in its own, casual way. Scruffier and less lively than Montpellier, this historic city (one of Europe’s oldest) is becoming popular with young people, who can’t afford to live in the region’s capital. The nicest parts for sightseeing include the magnificent Gothic cathedral (Saint Nazaire) perched up above the old town; the ancient bridge down below across the River Orb; and the elegant, tree-lined Allées Paul Riquet, a sort of pedestrian ‘road’ adjacent to an inviting square, the inevitably named Place Jean Jaurès (who was an important 19th Century politician by the way). This area reveals a few shops, restaurants and evidence of a burgeoning wine bar scene, such as nearby Le Chameau Ivre (Drunken Camel) which is a recommended stop.

2007 Sauvignon Blanc de la Chevalière (12%) - lovely piercing grassy v ripe citrus aromas and flavours, crisp bite but not harsh with it. 85
2006 Mas la Chevalière Vignoble Peyroli (Chardy Viognier) - from a vineyard in the high Aude country. Very fresh and aromatic v very subtle toasted oak, rounded tropical fruit v attractive refreshing acidity as well. 87-89
2007 Rosé de la Chevalière (mostly Syrah) - very tasty, classic style showing creamy red fruits then crisp lively finish. 87
2007 Viognier - floral apricot notes move on to an attractive, quite lively palate and not too heavy (as Viognier can be). 87
2007 Chardonnay - appealing benchmark juicy fruity style. 87
2006 Syrah - a touch of chocolate oak on the nose with red pepper and black cherry overtones, firm mouth-feel yet nice and rounded too. 87
2006 Merlot - more attractive than previous vintages (I wasn't much of a fan of their straight Merlot until now) offering plenty of plummy fruit and full body v fresh and dry bite, well made. 87
2005 Mas la Chevalière Vignoble Roqua Blanca (Merlot Syrah Cabernet sauvignon) - from a 400-metre altitude vineyard. Smoky rustic tones v lightly herbal complexity, very concentrated berry fruit v chunky tannins and background oak. 90
2003 La Croix Chevalière (Mourvèdre Syrah Cab sauv) - pretty oaky to start but it's peppery and rich with black cherry, cassis and a twist of black olive; stonking tannins v concentration and well-handled oak undercoat; lovely textures and flavours, although closing up a little on its long finish, still youthful and a touch un-together with much more to come. 92+ 

UPDATE 2010click here for details of a new feature including the latest from MLC plus a profile of Jeanjean's other Languedoc estates. I've also included my tasting notes on new vintages below.
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" (ChardonnayViognier) - 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 (SyrahMerlotGrenache) - 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" (SyrahMerlot) - 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 (SyrahMerlotGrenache) - 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+
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

Route de Murviel, 34500 Béziers. Tel: 04 67 49 88 30, www.larochewines.com.

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