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01 February 2009

Languedoc: Domaine Clavel, La Méjanelle / St-Christol

Pierre Clavel’s name often crops up among those estates considered as leading lights in the Languedoc; and when you taste his wines, it’s not hard to see why. But they aren’t showy, like the people behind them (a laid-back welcome to this attractive neck-of-the-woods, just north of Montpellier, is part of their style by the way); showing in fact purity, depth and balance as a hallmark across the range. Pierre is Jean Clavel's son: a long-time Languedoc winegrower, activist and historian who has an info-packed blog dedicated to the region's wines and the fate of its growers, past (especially the 1907 Revolt) and future (e.g. news and views on EC wine reforms); and who was a great help for an article I did in Decanter magazine (December 2007 issue) - more on that by clicking here (page down to "CRAV - 100 years of protest").

Back to Domaine Clavel, having worked more or less organically for many years, Pierre will be officially certified (or rather the vines will, not meaning to imply he's certifiable!) from the 2008 vintage; a particularly cracking one too from evidence of the tank and barrel samples I tried, see below. They recently replanted a very stony chalky and sloping vineyard at Mas de Périé with Syrah and Muscat (possibilities of a Languedoc-style Cote Rotie perhaps?), and have also leased some plots in the nearby Pic Saint-Loup appellation, whose official ‘border’ is actually only a few hundred metres away from here. Otherwise the bulk of Pierre's older vineyards are located in ‘Grés de Montpellier’ country on the highly rated terroirs of La Méjanelle and around Saint-Christol.

My favourites include Le Marteau and Copa Santa, both of which need a few years to open up and express themselves fully. Next time you're in Montpellier, why not try them in the comfort of their neat spacious and large-windowed tasting room opposite the cellar? To get there, drive through the village of Assas heading north, following the sign for Sainte-Croix, then take a left down the tree-lined track (second left a few minutes out of the village) that leads up to the winery buildings. They also have a family holiday gite on site or do B&B outside of the summer season - see website for details. Pierre's top reds might be on the pricey side - Copa Santa €14.50 and Des Clous €26 - but his Le Mas red and rosé start at €5.60: "you have to eat and keep things ticking over," as he put it.

These wines tried and tested at Millésime Bio wine show (Montpellier January) and/or at the domaine in February 2009:
2008 Cascaille Coteaux du Languedoc '
La Méjanelle' (Roussanne,Grenache blancVermentino & splash of Viognier) - lean mineral edges v pear and citrus fruit, layered with light yeast-lees notes and finishing with nice elegant bite. 85+
2007 Cascaille (13%) - lightly exotic and aromatic with subtle lees undertones, fresh mineral bite v gently creamy finish. 85+
2008 Les Garrigues (
Grenache Mourvèdre) - lovely perfumed herbal nose v rich liquorice too, thick fruit and tannins yet relatively light and juicy; concentrated dark fruits, liquorice and spice lead the charge on the finish. 89(+)
Les Garrigues (Syrah Mourvèdre Grenache) - nice smoky ripe black fruits; fine grained soft-ish tannins, quite elegant and tasty length. 87(+)
Le Marteau (Syrah Grenache Carignan from St-Christol) - delicious spicy wild herbs and black cherry Syrah style; again concentrated yet juicy fruity with solid v fresh finish. 91+
2007 Le Marteau - closed nose at first, moving on to spicy minty black cherry fruit, quite rich and seductive; firm tannins but not very, attractive lively undercurrent as well. 90+
2006 Le Marteau - rather cold but showing a slightly richer nose v herbal cassis complexity; firm structured and powerful v spicy dark fruit and bitter chocolate on the finish (no wood though); needs a few months and warmer environment to open up, as it's beginning to taste well. 89+
2008 Copa Santa (Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre from La Méjanelle) - slightly reduced on the nose to start (unfinished sample remember), turning cassis;
 much firmer and tighter v lush liquorice, big grip and concentration; very promising, please don't swamp it in too much oak! 92-94
Copa Santa - again rather cold with coconut oak quite prominent; thick coating of tannins and fruit, tight and long finish; needs 1-2 years. Next day: the oak has merged in more, revealing denser 'sweeter' fruit v thick layer of dry yet nicely grained tannins; dark cherry, chocolate and spice lurking in the background. 90-92
Copa Santa 2004 here ("Languedoc & Roussillon reds over €10" tasting).

Mas de Périé, Route de Sainte-Croix, 34820 Assas. Tel: 04 99 62 06 13, info@vins-clavel.frwww.vins-clavel.fr.

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