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15 June 2010

Languedoc 2009 vintage report

Languedoc 2009 vintage tasting report

"Following hot in the footsteps of their inaugural 2008 vintage showcase last year (see report  on the 2008s following this one), the Languedoc wine people held a marathon week of 
"en primeur" tastings of the 2009 vintage in March 2010. With all the frenzied talk in Bordeaux of yet another vintage of the century (I didn't/don't go to these tastings there, by the way, however much I do like the fair city of Bordeaux and some of the region's wines), it was enlightening to try a solid cross-section of samples from pretty much all areas of the Languedoc in all three colours. Even if they were very much work-in-progress examples taken from vat or barrel in the case of most of the reds, for example... And talking of prices, is the Languedoc getting just too trendy given how expensive some of these wines are?"
Read on for my full-monty commentary... You'll also find notes and reviews below of my 100 favourite 2009 Languedoc rosés, whites and reds from these wine areas: La Clape, Picpoul de Pinet, Limoux, Malepère, Minervois La Livinière, Corbières & Boutenac, Faugères, Saint-Chinian & Berlou, Terrasses du Larzac, Montpeyroux, St-Georges d'Orques, Saint-Drézéry (who what where?)... And here's the "top-30" producers at a glance: Hospitalet, Mire Etang, Félines Jourdan, Lauriers, Rives Blanques, Antugnac, Astruc, Belvèze, Sainte Eulalie, Laville-Bertrou, Aussières, Lastours, Trillol, Sainte Croix, Saint-Esteve, Fontsainte, Liquière, Estanilles, Grange Ain, Bagatelle, Pin Marguerites, Borie Vitarèle, Grange Leon, Cazal Viel, Jullien Olivier, Brousses, Thérons, Villa Dondona, Puech-Haut, Guizard...

A similar historical theme was adopted for the setting for the tastings this year: Fontfroide and Valmagne abbeys, although this time with a radically different backdrop: tons of snow! Monday 8 March saw a freak snowstorm in the south (the weather was warm and spring-like the week before and afterwards), which weirdly made Fontfroide in the Corbières almost inaccessible (pic. above) whereas not one snowflake fell at Valmagne, near Pézenas in the Hérault to the east (although it did snow in Montpellier)!
To kick off gently, I ploughed my way through a handful of attractive rosés although, like anywhere else, a few dreary ones too. Moving on to that rugged peninsular mini-appellation La Clape: probably better known for its red wines yet there were several delicious whites on show actually, which are definitely worth seeking out. And, as ever, a few high-standard and very attractive dry whites from this writer's favourite Picpoul de Pinet. Elsewhere on the white front, expect plenty of quite fine wines from Limoux, more full-bodied than 08 although less tautly structured perhaps. As for reds from the latter, some nice ones although nothing too exciting - at the moment, AOC rules are based on Merlot, Cabs etc. but not Pinot Noir, which is surely the most promising red variety? Same could be said about that "neither-one-thing-nor-the-other" appellation next door, Malepère: disappointing (apologies to that small handful of actually quite good estates here, but little evidence of it from the samples I tasted!)
How do you be tactful, and not misunderstood at the same time, about Minervois La Livinière: that darling of the so-called "cru" appellations with fancy prices to match? Somewhat predictably consistent quality across the board with high scores - hardly a criticism as such - and difficult not to be seduced by most of these wines. Although I just can't help thinking that making good Syrah here, which dominates the area's plantings and their AOC agenda, is just too easy (you can't blame them!) and arguably results in a certain style uniformity ("discuss with examples in under 100 words...")
Whereas, I was struggling to limit the number of Corbières reds I've included, as there were plenty of enticing wines; hence there are more featured below than the others (though I did taste more of them as well, to be honest) at more reasonable prices. Although likewise, some of the Corbières-Boutenac producers (a relatively new sub-zone) are in cloud-cuckoo land on the pricing front (see below too)! And looking superficially at "scores", while there are a few charming wines, they aren't noticeably "superior" to my top wines from elsewhere in the Corbières. By the way, one evening we ate at Le Marie-Jean restaurant in Sète (that link goes to another post/review on this blog), where we took part in a for-fun Boutenac vs La Livinière taste-off: we didn't all try all of the wines and were in groups of three working by quick process of elimination. And the "winner" (drum roll)... Boutenac. See "other wines tasted" below for my favourite, a 2007 Boutenac... 
My hopes were high for Faugères, and there were several reds that came up to expectations - I'm increasingly tempted to say it's one of the most exciting Languedoc appellations from what I've tasted and where I've visited. But there were quite a few charmless samples at the tasting as well: early days, I know, and they might well yet metamorphose into handsome swans... As for neighbouring, and much bigger Saint-Chinian, I also stuck to reds (although you certainly shouldn't overlook some of the exciting whites emerging from both AOCs), including a couple from another new subzone called Berlou (centred on that village), and finishing with a handful of refreshing rosés. St-Chinian is perhaps more of a minefield in terms of number of producers (mind you, you could say that about Minervois or Corbieres...), but undeniably worth persevering with and getting to know the best ones; especially this vintage.
This time, I decided to ignore certain zones on all sides of Montpellier that I tasted last year, e.g. Sommières, Pic-St-Loup, Grès de Montpellier and Pézénas (links go to winery profiles in those areas), in favour of unearthing a few gems from the Terrasses du Larzac, Montpeyroux, St-Georges d'Orques and Saint-Drézéry (who what where, you might well ask...)
The 2009 T du L reds confirm this arguably better thought-out "terroir" - although probably still too sweeping with swathes of vineyards not exactly on those famous terraces - has serious potential with some serious wines (several harder to taste than those Faugères even at this stage) and correspondingly serious prices! e.g. "natural wine" idol Jullien Olivier. The unassuming village of Montpeyroux is obviously keeping a bit hush-hush about its handful of quite exciting wineries (as you'll see from my notes below) where, along with Larzac and St-Chinian, Mourvèdre is performing a celebratory role in many of their red blends. Saint-Drézéry was a complete mystery to me: yet another fledgling "cru" lying roughly between Pic-St-Loup and Sommières heading east, which seems to be an exclusive sub-appellation for chi-chi estate Château Puech-Haut, given the four wines on tasting were theirs (impressive but pricey). And St-Georges, on the west side of Montpellier close to the city limits, appears to have a couple of stars in the making...
To cut a long story short, I've featured my selection of 100 favourite 2009 Languedoc rosés, whites and reds below: maximum 10 wines per appellation or style to keep it focused (except Corbières & St-Chinian for reasons stated above). They were tasted "blind," although with reference to tech sheets as some kind of useful quick guide (so not very blind in fact), as there were just too many bottles lined up to get through the whole lot. Thus, many wines were simply overlooked as I opted to taste somewhat at random (even numbers one side, odd the other; this appellation rather than that one, etc...). Or, with inevitably lots of unfinished samples on the table, some weren't showing at their best so swiftly moved on. 
By the way, an "O" (following grape varieties in brackets) = organic/biodynamic producer, and the €€€ quoted are cellar door prices. Talking of which, is the Languedoc getting just too trendy given how expensive some of these wines are? Especially certain producers in certain areas - the nearer Montpellier (where most of the region's money is), the dearer perhaps! I'm certainly not someone to knock success, but there was a time when we used to talk about great value in the Languedoc...

Languedoc rosé
Château de Valflaunès "par Hasard" (Syrah/Grenache) - juicy tight style, lively palate with elegant fruit then crisp steely finish. €6 85+
Domaine de Daurion "Poète" (Syrah/Grenache) - attractive crunchy vs creamy red fruits, juicy and crisp mouthfeel; quite structured actually for a rosé. €4.65 85+
Château Mire L'Etang "cuvée Corail" La Clape (Syrah/Grenache/Cinsault) - perfumed red fruity nose and palate; juicy and crisp with "estery" aromatics, lightly creamy finish. €6.40 85

Domaine de Villeneuve "Les Verriers" Pic St-Loup (Syrah/Grenache) - nice juicy vs oily style, subtle red fruits plus a bit of weight vs crisp finish. €6 85

Languedoc whiteChâteau l'Hospitalet La Clape (BourboulencVermentinoGrenache blanc) - sherbet and coconut notes, oily and honeyed vs green fruit edges; nice weight vs juicy leesy bite, good balance and intense finish. €10 88+
Château Mire L'Etang "Aimée de Coigny" La Clape (RoussanneBourboulencGrenache blanc) - lively aromatic and crisp vs leesy and gummy mouthfeel; again shows attractive rounder palate with floral tones and very crisp finish. 87+
Domaine Ferri-Arnaud "Fleurs Blanches" La Clape (BourboulencGrenache blanc) - lovely floral citrus aromas/flavours; zesty and mineral mouthfeel vs fatter "sweeter" finish. Good value @ €5.80 87
Château Capitoul "Rocaille" La Clape (RoussanneMarsanneViognier) - aromatic and zesty vs oily hazelnut notes; has fair oomph lending rounder framework vs fresh bite. €8.60 85+
Allegria "Tribu d'A" Pézenas (RoussanneMarsanne O) - quite rich and honeyed with coconut and cream edges, subtle oak spices; zesty citrus and crisp bite vs power and more exotic honeysuckle flavours. €10 87+

Picpoul de Pinet (all 100% Picpoul or Piquepoul) 
Mas Saint Laurent - gummy and oily with juicy "sweet" melon fruit; quite fresh acidity with mineral vs rounded finish. €6 85+
Cave Costières de Pomerols "Beauvignac" - tight and zingy style; gummy mineral palate vs citrus and melon fruit, intense crisp finish. €4.10 87
Domaine Félines Jourdan - wow: more concentrated vs zippy chalky mineral texture; crisp bite with juicy lees and delicate fruit. €5.50 89
Cave L'Ormarine "Duc de Morny" - attractive style with oily vs crisp palate, intense citrus fruit and lively chalky finish. €4.70 87+
Vinipolis (Cave de Florensac) "Bessac" - steely vs leesy style, lively tight and long finish. €4 87
Vignobles Montagnac "les Terres Rouges" - softer juicy mouthfeel with chalky edges; gets more interesting with lees notes and steely finish. €4.45 85+
Domaine des Lauriers - plumper ripe melon vs citrus fruit, zesty mineral chalky palate vs a touch of richness then crisp bite; classy. 89+

Limoux white (all Chardonnay unless stated) 
Domaine Astruc JC Mas - aromatic pear fruit with toasty spicy edges; quite lush mouthfeel vs a touch of crisp acidity. 87
Domaine Jean Louis Denois "Ste Marie" - nice juicy pear and lees notes vs crisp bite and lively length. 87+
2008 Domaine de Mayrac "Millésime" (no 2009) - hazelnut aromas/flavours, attractive depth and oily vs steely texture. 90+
Gérard Bertrand "Aigle Royal" - pears and yeast lees on the nose, good intensity finishing with creamy vs quite crisp and salty profile. 87+
"Domaine de l'Aigle" - similar to above with better balance of juicy leesy and steely vs power and a touch more oak, although nicely done. 89+
More GB here.
Aimery Sieur d'Arques "Terroir Haute Vallée" - richer and finer than their "Med" cuvée with pear fruit and leesy vs mineral edges. 87
Château de Gaure "Oppidum" - oily and nutty, towards lush mouthfeel with lees and mineral tones; quite developed actually (another 2008 perhaps?). 90+
Château Antugnac "Gravas" - showing fair depth with juicy finish vs very crisp and long, quite classy. 89+
Château Rives Blanques "Dédicace" (Chenin Blanc) - quite tight and unrevealing, steely mineral and promising though. 87+
Château Rives Blanques "Odyssée" - richer and a tad toastier, nice buttery vs crisp palate, a bit of oomph too vs fine intense mineral finish. 89+
More Rives Blanques here. Much more Limoux here.

Limoux red 
Domaine Astruc - quite chocolate oaky with underlying lively blackberry fruit, attractive tannins too; could be good. 87+
Domaine Jean Louis Denois "Grande Cuvée Merlot" - fairly meaty and grippy vs reasonable depth of lush damson fruit; the tannins are a bit heavily done, otherwise it's good. 87
Château Antugnac "aux bons hommes" - aromatic soy sauce and plum notes; chunky palate with quite rounded tannins vs "sweet/savoury" profile. 85+

Malepère red
Château Belvèze "élevé en fut" (Merlot/Cabernet Franc) - more depth/extracted than their regular wine, with touches of chocolate oak vs richer rounder palate. €6.80 85+
Château Guilhem "Tradition" (Merlot/Cabernet Franc) - pity it was undergoing its malo-lactic fermentation (a bit smelly), as it shows good depth of fruit vs firm yet layered tannins. Will have to try the finished wine.
2008 Domaine Girard "cuvée Neri" (Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Malbec) - as I found their 09 a bit lean. Bright red peppery style with plummy undertones vs lively grip and fresher side. €10 85+
Domaine de la Sapiniere - leafy red pepper notes vs lusher plum fruit; fair grip although quite well balanced with "sweeter" finish. 85

Minervois La Livinière
Clos Centeilles (1/3 each Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre) - dark fruity aromas/flavours with meaty and peppery edges; tight palate and subtle length. €15 87+
Ostal Cazes "Grand Vin" (mostly Syrah + Grenache/Carignan) - better than previous vintages (I've never been very impressed by their over-hyped wine) showing spicy black cherry fruit, nice tannins and good balance. Far too expensive though at €20. 87
Château Laville Bertrou (2/3 Syrah + Grenache/Carignan) - attractive and lively, juicy Syrah style; dark and meaty with "chalky" tannins adding nice grip vs good depth of violet and cherry flavours to finish. €9.40 89
Laville Bertrou "Le Viala" (60% Syrah + Grenache/Carignan) - a single-site cuvée from the above: tighter and firmer wine vs lusher and more concentrated, solid yet rounded mouthfeel with dark cherry and mint notes; yum. €35! 92+
Clos des Roques (Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre/Carignan) - tight, firm and extracted although concentrated for sure; lively black cherry and liquorice underneath, those tannins get finer on its tasty finish. €9 90?
More seductive now than their completely different, and a bit awkward to taste, "Mal Pas" cuvée (80% Carignan), which is definitely worth mentioning.
Domaine Combe Blanche "La Chandel
ière" (3/4 Syrah/Grenache) - also more seductive (that's Syrah for you, too easy!) and spicy on the nose; chunky palate with dark fruit and violet tones, powerful spicy and firm vs lush and rounded finish. Ambitious pricing again @ €19.50. 90
Château Sainte Eulalie "La Cantilene" (1/2 Syrah + Grenache/Carignan) - very attractive, rich vs chunky style with spicy minty undertones; solid structured mouthfeel but well balanced with liquorice and mint on the finish. €11.35 90+
Domaine des Aires Hautes "Clos de l'Escandil (Syrah/Mourvèdre/Grenache) - lush black cherry and chocolate aromas/flavours; firm yet smooth tannins, nice chunky spicy style with restrained power. €16.80 89
Domaine Coudoulet (mostly Syrah + Grenache/Mourvèdre/Carignan) - plump juicy Syrah style with minty overtones; quite grippy and intense with fair depth of fruit. 88
Domaine Aucley "Les Vignes Oubliées" (Syrah) - floral peppery cherry fruit vs commanding grip and fairly elegant finish. €14 88

Scroll through the Languedoc winery A to Z for more Minervois La Livinière producer profiles.

Corbières red 
Clos de l’Anhel "les Terrassettes" (2/3 Carignan + Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre O) - intense fruit with a touch of sweet "vanilla" too (not oak though as this wine doesn't see any!); nice thick ripe texture vs oomph and bite, a bit awkward at the moment although concentrated with underlining blueberry/blackcurrant and liquorice. €8.90 89+
Château Prieuré Borde-Rouge "Ange" (60% Syrah + Grenache/Carignan) - delicious lush vs spicy and juicy black cherry and liquorice with smoky edges; firm and powerful with good depth and purity, long and intense. Yum. €15 90
Their "Carminal" cuvée is also recommended (€7.80).
Domaine Ledogar "la Compagnon" (Carignan/Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre O) - lively Carignan-led style, grippy vs "sweet/savoury" palate with spicy blueberry fruit and tight long finish. €9 89+
Château Pech-Latt "Vieilles Vignes" (Syrah/Mourvèdre/Grenache/Carignan O) - lovely depth of black cherry and cassis with tobacco tones; firm and intense with fair oomph, quite a mouthful. Promising. €9 90
Château de Lastours "Réserve" (Carignan/Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre) - quite tight and firm with brooding dark fruit backdrop; good concentration vs balance, should be excellent (I'd hope so too at €18) 90+
Château de Lastours "Simone Descamps" (Carignan/Grenache/Syrah) - similarly taut and quite fine too showing nice tobacco edges vs blue/black fruits; solid and powerful vs lively and long. €9.40 90
Domaine Sainte Croix "Magnéric" (Grenache/Syrah/Carignan O) - spicy minty and intense showing lovely concentration; dry firm texture vs underlying lush dark fruit, should be good. €12 90
Domaine du Trillol "Château Trillol" (50-50 Grenache/Syrah) - a bit closed at first, slowly revealing perfumed violet and cherry vs richer liquorice and tobacco tones; attractive depth of fruit vs grip, well handled. €7 90
Château Beauregard Mirouze "Lauzina" (70 Syrah/30 Grenache) - very Syrah in style with spicy, floral, dark cherry notes; fair concentration with firm tannins vs enticing perfumed minty fruit. €10 89
Domaine du Grand Arc "Quarante" (Carignan/Grenache/Syrah) - spicy and "sweet/savoury" fruit vs tight and solid palate; closes up, promising. €7.60 89

Also worthwhile: Grand Arc's "en sol majeur" (€10.80). Tasting notes on their whole range here (visit July 2010).
Aussières "Château d'Aussières" (Syrah/Mourvèdre/Grenache/Carignan) - similar profile to their lively "Blason" cuvée (€10 89), although the extra Syrah here comes through nicely adding peppery floral notes; lovely depth with fine balance between grip and power. €18 92+

Others worth mentioning (quality or value or both): Château Auris, Domaine Bouysse "Roc Long", Domaine Longue Roche "Aurelieu", Domaine 2 Anes, Rouire-Ségur "Air du Temps", Grain de Fanny "Rouge Palabrer", Prieuré Sainte Marie Albas "Roches Grises", Château Sérame "Réserve", Vignoble Vialade "Régalade", Domaine Py "Antoine", Domaines Auriol "Château Cicéron", Abbaye Fontfroide "oculus", Château Vieux Moulin "vox dei".

Domaine de Villemajou (Carignan/Grenache/Syrah) - gorgeous nose and flavours, wild and minty with "sweet/sour" fruit; intense rich and smoky vs tight and long finish. €10.50 88-90   White Villemajou tasted below.
Château Hauterive le Haut "Averal" (50-50 Carignan/Grenache) - perfumed herby aromas, leading on to tobacco tones and blue/black fruits; crunchy vs ripe palate with lively length. €13.50 88+   More Hauterive wines below.
Château Saint-Esteve "Ganymede" (Carignan/Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre) - vibrant floral and spicy with liquorice and tobacco edges; quite fine and long, very firm and fresh with lush vs crunchy mouthfeel. €13 90
Pasquier-Meunier "Exégèse" (Syrah/Carignan/Grenache) - smoky bacon oak with ripe fruit and wild herb undertones; dry vs rounded tannins with minty finish. Good but far too expensive at €32! 87+   More Meunier wines below.
Château Aigues Vives (Syrah/Carignan/Mourvèdre) - more elegant, subtle and closed up although has enticing "sweet/savoury" panache. €7 87
Château Aiguilloux "Anne-Georges" (Carignan/Grenache/Syrah) - peppery and intense, crunchy vs ripe blueberry fruit with "chalky" tannins; firm and refreshing finish. €15 89
Domaine Fontsainte "Clos Centurion" (Carignan/Syrah/Mourvèdre) - dark berry notes, fresh and floral too; concentrated and quite fine, tense tannin/acid combo with attractive fruit lurking underneath. €12.50 88-90
Château Ollieux Romanis "Atal Sia" (Carignan/Grenache/Mourvèdre/Syrah) - lively grippy and quite concentrated, very intense tight fine finish; promising although leaner than say the 07? €17 89+   More Ollieux Romanis below.
Also promising but the sample wasn't showing well: Clos Pacalis "Agape".

Faugères red
Domaine de Cébène "les Bancèls" (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre O) - lively fruit on the nose; more austere palate with power and bite, although again attractive tannins. €13 87
La Grange d'Ain "le Penchant du Cérisier" (mostly Carignan/Grenache O) - perfumed and spicy, blue/black fruits; "sweet" liquorice flavours vs "chalky" tannins and spicy minty finish; good balance of grip, weight and fruit. €14 89+Equally good from Grange d'Ain: "Le Cèdre" (€12 88+).
Domaine St-Martin d'Agel (Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre) - subtle perhaps as it's quite austere, although has aromatic spicy fruit underneath and not overly dry tannins (like some). We'll see. €6.50 87
Château des Estanilles "Clos du Fou" (Syrah) - similar to their seductive vibrant "grande cuvée" (€16.50 87+) but riper and richer; violet notes too vs tight and firm palate, well-balanced finish. €24 90
L'Ancienne Mercerie "Couture" (Carignan/Grenache/Syrah O) - tight and crunchy mouthfeel vs floral liquorice flavours; again not very revealing but could be good. €14.50 87
Domaine Bénézech-Boudal "Marie-Laurence" (Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre) - pretty austere, firm and chunky vs nice "sweet" fruit; refreshing bite and good weight, closes up on the finish. €12.50 87-89?
Château de la Liquière "Cistus" (70 Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre) - lovely pure peppery minty nose with black cherry and liquorice; big grip and power on the palate vs ripe fruit, nice lingering menthol notes. €14 90+
Also recommended by La Liquière: "Vieilles Vignes" (and better value too at €8.50 88+).
Domaine du Météore "les Leonides" (Syrah/Mourvèdre/Grenache/Carignan) - quite attractive for the price: spicy with ripe cherry touches then firm/dry tannins although not too. €5.70 85+

Les Amants de la Vigneronne "de chair et de sang" = "from flesh and blood"! (60 Mourvèdre + Syrah) - difficult to say as it wasn't tasting brilliantly but potential is there I think: the vanilla choc oak was rather swamping it, although showed nice balance of concentration vs power. One to come back too. €12.50 ?

Saint-Chinian red 
Domaine Pin des Marguerites "Pétale Pourpre" Saint-Chinian-Berlou (Carignan, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah) - peppery 'garrigue' tones with "sweet" blackberry and olive; minty floral blueberry mouthful with "chalky" tannins, fresh bite and quite elegant finish. €11 90
Borie La Vitarèle "Les Cres" (Syrah/Mourvèdre O) - closed up and a bit awkward, although meaty with chunky tannins vs ripe dark fruit and black olive; austere finish but promising. €17.40 87-90. Similarly reserved yet promising: Les Terres Blanches (€8.30).
Clos Bagatelle "Terre de mon Père" (Syrah/Mourvèdre/Grenache) - similar profile to their floral, sweet cherry and cassis laden "Mathieu et Marie" (better value too at €6.20 and 88+) but chunkier and grippier; still has that delicious intense minty thing vs rich and long dry finish. €20 90+
Domaine Bastide Rousse "Tradition" (50-50 Grenache, Syrah) - minty with lively black cherry vs liquorice (classic Syrah vs Grenache blend I'd say); pretty solid mouthfeel and big structure with oomph vs attractive spicy menthol finish. Finally good value @ €6! 89
Château Bousquette "Pruneyrac" (70 Mourvèdre/Grenache O) - nice dark vs lightly savoury fruit with peppery undertones; firm yet quite rounded palate and touch of elegance too. €7.80 88+
Domaine de Pech Ménel "Château Vallouvières" (80 Mourvèdre, Grenache, Carignan) - similar in spicy savoury style to their "Pech Ménel" wine (89) with black cherry/olive; gripping structure vs lively "sweet/savoury" fruit and long mineral finish. 88-90
Château Milhau-Lacugue "les Curées" (Grenache) - lush jammy liquorice style, very ripe and spicy; firm framework vs lingering "sweet" fruit and punch. €23 89
Domaine La Grange Leon "Audacieux" Berlou (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre) - "Black Forest gateau" nose with violet and liquorice notes; concentrated lively mouthfeel with appealing bite, tannins and lingering menthol flavours. €8 90+
Château Coujan "Gabrielle de Spinola" (70 Syrah/Mourvèdre) - spicy floral ripe cherry tones; quite concentrated and solid vs good length with "sweet" vs spicy vs savoury flavours. €6.70 88+. Also worthwhile: "Picoque" (€5.30).
Mas Champart "Clos Simonette" (70 Mourvèdre/Grenache) - closed on the nose with very tight, firm palate; however, this was powerful and very intense with aromatic liquorice fruit on the finish. One to come back to. €18 88+
Others worth mentioning (quality or value or both): Château La Dournie, Château Jougrand, Domaine La Madura "Grand Vin", Domaine Les Eminades "Pieue Plantée", Domaine de Montplo "Louise", Domaine Sacré Coeur.

Saint-Chinian rosé
Château St-Martin des Champs "Caucitte" (50-50 Grenache, Syrah) - nice juicy mouthful, oily texture vs elegant and crisp. Expensive at €7.50. 85+
Domaine Maurine Rouge "Rachel" (Mourvèdre) - leesy and juicy with red fruit cocktail, quite chunky vs oily vs crisp. €5.30 85+
Domaine Pla "Petit Bonheur" (Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah) - a touch yeasty on the nose still, but has attractive crisp zesty style and gummy mouth-watering finish. €5 85+
Cazal Viel "vieilles vignes rosé" (Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah) - fair substance to it vs gummy and zesty mouthfeel; creamier red fruit finish vs crisp and fresh. €7.60 87

Terrasses du Larzac 
Plan de l'Homme "Habilis" (Grenache/Syrah/Carignan) - attractive juicy fruit with rich liquorice; dry texture vs dark chocolate and cherry, powerful then closes up; could be good. €14 87+
Château de Jonquières "La Baronnie" (Syrah/Mourvèdre/Grenache) - more seductive now than their "Domaine" cuvée (worth watching too: €10), because of the oak perhaps although it's subtle; enticing vibrant cherry and liquorice fruit with solid vs rounded finish. €15 87+
Domaine du Causse d'Arboras "les Cazes" (Grenache/Syrah/Cinsault/Mourvèdre) - alluring ripe vs herby fruit, moving on to a savoury vs liquorice palate with well-handled tannins. €9 87+
Mas des Brousses (60 Syrah/Mourvèdre) - pure Syrah aromas with violets and black cherries; meatier dark olive side on the palate with attractive tannins and lovely length. €12.80 90+
Mas Jullien (1/3 each Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre) - meaty, extracted and firm although lots going on here; chunky fruit with "sweet/savoury" finish, powerful and tight. €25 87-90
Domaine la Croix Chaptal "Charles" (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan) - "sweet" vs smoky nose; "chalky" vs liquorice and crunchy vs ripe profile, power and bite; a bit odd but kinda like it. €12 87+
Also promising although difficult to assess: Mas Chimères "Sans", Mas Pountil "le Mas", Vignoble 2 Terres "Jacques Arnal", Clos du Serres "maros", Bastide aux Oliviers/Familongue "Esprit", Mas Haut Buis.

Domaine d'Aupilhac "la Boda" (50-50 Syrah/Mourvèdre O) - powerful chocolate vanilla oak at this stage; good depth and concentration though, more complex than their "Localieres" with nice oomph vs dark fruit. €25 87+
Domaine Alain Chabanon "Esprit de Font Caude" (50-50 Syrah/Mourvèdre O) - concentrated and spicy with nice "sweet/savoury" profile, solid mouthfeel although quite subtle too vs tighter commanding finish. €25 87+
Cave de Montpeyroux "Or Prestige" (mostly Carignan + Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah) - attractive juicy easy style with firmer and more powerful finish. Value @ €5.50 85
Domaine Les Thérons "grande réserve" (Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre) - juicy ripe cherry fruit vs "chalky" tannins and "sweet" perfumed finish; taut and punchy yet again well balanced. €9.50 88-90
Villa Dondona (60 Mourvèdre/Syrah) - herby spicy notes vs dark chocolate and black olive; attractive dry vs "sweet" and meaty texture, nice weight and interesting lingering flavours. 90

St-Georges d'Orques
Consorts Guizard "Prestige" (60 Syrah/Mourvèdre) - dark cherry, mint and pepper with meaty edges; fair oomph with big but nicely textured tannins, lovely "sweet/savoury" finish. €12 90-92
Château de l'Engarran "Quetton" (mostly Syrah + Grenache/Mourvèdre) - inky spicy violet notes layered with black cherry; Syrah-shaped style although has attractive rich dark fruit vs meaty undertones, firm vs lush and powerful. €20 88-90. Plus the chewier, blue-fruited and "cheaper" (€11.50) regular cuvée (87).

Château Puech-Haut "Prestige" (60 Syrah + Grenache, Carignan) - pure spicy floral Syrah nose; chunkier and "sweeter" vs solid tannins, well balanced though with peppery vs grainy vs ripe finish. €15.50 89+
Château Puech-Haut "Clos du Pic" (Syrah/Mourvèdre/Grenache) - intense and meaty start; very firm mouthfeel vs a tad of sweet choco oak, pretty solid to finish too but there's delicious depth of fruit underneath, big vs intense. €34 90+

Other wines tasted

Here's a selection of favourites worth seeking out, tried over dinner (9+10th March 2010) with their winemakers (mostly Corbières and Minervois):
This one was my "winner" of the Boutenac vs La Liviniere taste-off: 2007 Sainte-Lucie d'Aussou "Ladybird" Corbières-Boutenac, Jean-Paul Serres - seductive yet delicate nose with berry fruit and smoky savoury edges; silky ripe mouth-feel with subtle tannins, quite concentrated and freshly structured with elegant maturing "sweet/savoury" finish.
2009 Château Hauterive le Haut Corbières rosé (Cinsault/Syrah/Grenache) - raspberry fruity and quite chunky style with juicy and crisp finish.
2007 Hauterive le Haut Corbières-Boutenac (old Carignan/Grenache) - very nice smoky savoury touches vs vibrant cherry and berry fruit, a tad of oak adding rounded texture vs quite concentrated palate. Profile on Hauterive here.
2008 Ollieux Romanis
 "cuvée prestige" white Corbières (
Grenache blanc Marsanne Roussanne) - quite toasty and grainy, perhaps too much although it did open up with food getting fatter and tastier vs still quite tight and mineral.
2007 Ollieux Romanis "Atal Sia" Corbières-Boutenac (mostly 
Carignan Grenache Mourvèdre Syrah) - delicious nose showing perfumed blue/black fruits; nice "chalky" tannins with rich yet crunchy mouth-feel, herby minty vs savoury flavours on the finish. Ollieux profile with older vintages here.
2009 Château Meunier St-Louis "Prestige" Corbières rosé (SyrahGrenache, Carignan) - elegant and very crisp, attractive and versatile style.
2009 Meunier St-Louis "Prestige" Corbières white (Grenache blancBourboulencMarsanneRolle = Vermentino) - aromatic banana/pineapple notes with gummy lees-tinged intensity; nice rounded mouth-feel vs light bitter twist, "sweet" fruit vs mineral bite.
2005 Meunier St-Louis "Exégèse" Corbières-Boutenac (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan) - quite oaky, sturdy and extracted with lush spicy fruit vs grainy wood; not sure at first, in the end the fruit comes out more although it's still pretty chunky, firm and tight for an 05. Profile on Pasquier-Meunier here.
2009 Domaine Coudoulet Viognier - very citrus in style with enticingly crisp palate, not very Viognier (as in not very "exotic" fruit) but a good dry white.
2008 Blanc de Villemajou - very tight and steely actually with light toasted butter undertones, dry and crisp finish needing 6-12 months to develop. Lots more GB wines and info here.
2006 Château Faiteau Minervois La Livinière - quite coconut spicy at the moment but has nice dark fruit and liquorice flavours; punchy palate with pretty grippy tannins although attractive grainy/rounded texture, tight spicy finish. Needs 6 months to open up a bit, promising. Profile & older vintages of Faiteau.
2007 Château Cesseras Minervois La Livinière - attractive rich & smoky cherry fruit with minty edges; pretty firm tannins still vs lush chocolate textured palate, good balance of grip and fruit in the end.
2008 Domaine Barroubio Muscat de St-Jean-de-Minervois - textbook style with lively aromatic Muscat fruit; not so sweet in the mouth thanks to its refreshing bite, nice with a light dessert such as raspberry mousse.
2001 Château Bonhomme "Les Alaterres" red Minervois - lovely smoky meaty and "cheesy" notes with red pepper edges; rich powerful and firmly structured still vs classy savoury maturing fruit.
2007 Château Tourril cuvée Philippe red Minervois - smoky and ripe with dark spicy fruit and herby peppery undertones; rounded and fruity with attractive tannins.
2007 Cuvée Tourril red Minervois - a touch of chocolate oak vs appealing depth of ripe cherry and liquorice fruit; smoky and chunky mouth-feel with solid closed up finish; could be good, needs a year or so.
The four wines above were enjoyed at La Distillerie restaurant in the Aude region, appropriately found on the edge of Minervois country (link goes to another post on my blog with details).

Text all rights Richard Mark James, published June 2010. Photos by Clair de Lune.

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