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27 April 2011

Languedoc: Limoux

You've guessed it: yet more insane ramblings squeezed out of the “Languedoc Millésimes” mega tasting week (21-25 March 2011); this time, lavish Limoux whites and fizz sampled amid the appropriately historic(al) setting of Château de Pennautier (profile to follow) near Carcassonne. I’ve again used my ‘new’ scoring system of one, two or three ‘ticks’ (good, very good, fabulous); or just plain 1 to 3 below. Euro prices are cellar door per bottle inc. taxes and were added after the event. There were mostly 2009 whites up for tasting, which generally are looking very good, along with the one 2010 lurking 'arrogantly' at the end of the table (see pic and note below!), and rather confirm that Limoux is possibly the most exciting place in the Languedoc for finding white wines with real depth of character and class. The single 2008 sample was in line with comments I made last year about this vintage being quite fine and more structured, even if a little less 'generous' than 07, 09 and probably 10.

As I also commented last year, not so sure about the reds; admittedly I only tried a couple (over-oaked/extracted) this time over dinner, but heard other tasters say the same thing earlier that day: disappointing, don't get it... Which leads me to reiterate what I've said before about the red Limoux appellation, based on Merlot, the two Cabs etc.: perhaps the future is Pinot Noir? There are already a few good ones made by some of the names you'll see below, e.g. Mouscaillo, L'Aigle, Mas that are classified as vin de pays, as PN isn't currently allowed in AOC wines. You could venture whether it matters a damn about 'classification' and the best wines will eventually take the limelight anyway, whatever it says on the label. One Limoux winemaker, who probably wouldn't want me to quote him so will remain anonymous, was talking about this on our table over dinner one evening and admitted that "we really screwed up there," and perhaps the 'rules' for the red Limoux AOC were a little premature, as, a few years down the line, it seems that Pinot could really be Limoux's star on the red front. That's not to say that all wines made from PN are good or all wines made from the existing red blends aren't. And Pinot has already found its place in some of the excellent Crémant de Limoux sparklers being made (see below below). "When all's said and done," I look forward to following developments on this front...

Château Arrogant Frog:
sense of humour but serious wine.

White Limoux (all 100% Chardonnay unless specified)
Domaine de Mouscaillo 2008 (98% Chardy, 1% each Mauzac & Chenin) – quite elegant with light toast and butter vs citrus fruit too, gets more exotic oily and nutty, subtle concentration and refreshing length vs weight too. 2 €15
Château Antugnac "Gravas" 2009 - toasty and buttery nose and palate, some exotic fruit too on a quite rich rounded palate, still quite toasty vs big vs touch of refreshing bite. 1-2 €15
Rives-Blanques "Odyssée" 2009 - aromatic ripe and zingy, subtle leesy toasty touches vs creamy vs crisp, more elegant than "impressive". 1-2 €10.85
Rives-Blanques "Dédicace" 2009 (100% Chenin blanc) - oilier with more melon then toasty tones, grainy texture and taste, quite tight and mineral too, closes up, less obvious at the moment. 1-2 €10.85
Rives-Blanques "La Trilogie" 2009 (50% Mauzac, 25 Chenin, 25 Chardy) - closed nose, grainy oak notes and tight palate, again not very revealing but it's concentrated and has nice crisp length. 2 €17.20
Domaine de Baron'Arques "Le Chardonnay" 2009 - full-on oak and cream, quite blowsy with rich buttery vs toasty finish vs punchy; is some freshness there but not enough. Impressive but perhaps trying too hard to be great Burgundy. 1+? Dear too at €30.
Domaine de Cassagnau "Les Sarments d'Hippocrate" 2009 - grainy nose, creamy vs greener edges, quite subtle with a bit more zest vs weight and milky side. 1-2
Domaines Paul Mas "DA" 2009 (Chardy + 5% Mauzac) - quite woody to start vs nice juicy and quite concentrated fruit, gets more buttery vs less toasty, bit of power on the finish vs crisper bite vs nice creamy side. 2 €8.50
Aimery Sieur d’Arques “Terroir Autan” 2009 – leesy and buttery, toasty nose and palate, nice balance of fat and quite crisp though, not too toasty on its nutty vs creamy vs mineral finish. 1-2 €11
Aimery Sieur d’Arques “Terroir Haute Vallée” 2009 – toasty but more citrus too, gets more buttery and rounded vs nice bite and bit of oomph on good length. More subtle though. 2 €11
Oustal Anne de Joyeuse “La Butiniere” 2009 – grainy cedary vs oily exotic and creamy, again more subtle and has quite tight and crisp bite, subtle length and tasty too. 1-2 €9.95
2007 “La Butiniere” - quite toasty but it's well done, oily and fairly fat too vs still crisp underneath vs buttery nutty development. 1-2
Alain Cavailles “Clocher Saint Julien” 2009 (50/50 Chardy/Chenin; converting to organic) – not much on the nose, bit sweet vs grainy, OK. €8
Gérard Bertrand L’Aigle Royal 2009 – toasty and creamy, nice hazelnutty buttery vs citrus, mix of fruit vs oak, bit of oomph and freshness too. 2
GB Domaine de l’Aigle 2009 – richer and more interesting although less up-front too, quite exotic fruit vs buttery and nutty, again fresher underbelly vs fat vs oomph. Classy. 2-3
Château Antugnac “Terres Amoureuses” 2009 – lovely oily buttery nose, grainy toasty notes vs rich vs nutty and crisp. Good stuff. 3
Château Arrogant Frog 2010 – aromatic pear and peach vs light toasty undercurrent, gets creamier and touch toastier but nice balance and style. 2

Crémant de Limoux (trad method sparkling: mostly Chardy and/or Pinot and/or Chenin)
Domaine J Laurens “Les Graimenous” 2009 – nice aromatic bready nose, lively vs toasty, good crisp bite and length vs yeasty vs oily. 1-2
Taudou Brut – not much nose, more honeyed vs yeasty palate, gets richer and breadier vs greener edge. 1
Antech “Grande Cuvée” Brut 2009 – elegant bready nose, richer more honeyed and tasty vs yeasty vs nice and crisp, softer too in the end. 1-2
Antech “Cuvée Eugenie Antech” Brut 2009 – finer vs toastier, quite intense vs oily and cakey, tight and fresh vs honeyed. 2
Antech “Cuvée Heritage” Brut 2009 – tight and steely almost vs toasty and tasty, showing less well but probably finer still, nice leesy intensity bite and bready coating. 2-3
Antech “Cuvée Emotion” rosé brut – subtle bready toasty with red fruits and roses, delicious cakey oaty fruit vs crisp and steely. Yum. 2-3
Antech Brut Nature – a bit lean and lacking excitement, I've had better BN Cava.
Taudou rosé – tastes a bit lean after the above but OK in style.

Click here for my Limoux report 2012.

26 April 2011

Languedoc: Domaine de l’Hortus, Pic Saint Loup

The Hortus cliff-face from vignobles-orliac.com
Jean Orliac set up Domaine de l’Hortus in the 1970s, so has a lot of experience under his belt and is considered one of the pioneers in this area, helped along the way by the Orliac family team: Marie-Thérèse, Marie, François and Yves. The estate now comes to 60 ha (150 acres) extending from the Montagne de la Seranne to Pic Saint Loup itself. There are in fact two properties, Domaine l’Hortus and 'C du Prieur', supplemented by grapes sourced from neighbours to fill out their Bergerie de l’Hortus and Loup dans la Bergerie labels. I first went there in 2005 and talked to Jean about the Mourvèdre variety in particular (he has planted quite a bit), for some research (yawn) I was doing at the time. See blurb at the bottom for detail on that, if you're so inclined, which does also shed some light on characteristics of PSL's terrain and climate. And a group of us called in at his amazing wooden winery in March 2011, after a walk on the wild side along part of the PSL heights to view and understand the lie of the land better, and tasted these two wines:
2010 Bergerie de l'Hortus white (Roussanne, Viognier, Sauvignon blanc, Sauvignon gris, Chardonnay) - exotic fruit salad of a white, juicy vs fairly honeyed, crisp vs rounded texture; nice "commercial" style. 1 €10
2008 "Grande Cuvée" red (Mourvèdre, Syrah, splash of Grenache) - vanilla notes are quite strong to start with vs sweet berry and nice juicy cherry fruit, fresh 'mineral' side vs choco oak texture, a bit too much of the latter perhaps vs substance; attractive though for a 2008 (= lighter vintage here), balanced and stylish in the end with subtle length vs that layer of oak. 1-2 €20

And I sampled these wines, also in situ, back in 2005, as the intro says (originally posted on WineWriting.com):
"In further pursuit of Mourvèdre, but not forgetting Grenache and Syrah of course... A few wines discovered on a day trip to Château La Roque, Mas de Mortiès and Domaine de l’Hortus (4/3/2005)... all dotted here and there in the wild terrain north of Montpellier, watched over by the eponymous peak (650 metres high)..."
2002 Grande Cuvée (55% Mourvèdre, 35% Syrah, 10% Grenache) - Quite light and forward (pretty typical for the wet 2002 vintage) yet shows reasonable fruit and ripeness v a firmer edge, attractive drinking now. 85+
2003 Grande Cuvée
(50% Mourvèdre, 40% Syrah, 10% Grenache tasted from barrique) - spicy and toasty at the moment (should be bottled soon) with textured tannins and tight finish; should be good. 87-89
And finally, a touch more detail taken from notes made at that time, which echo what Jean told us a few weeks ago about 'what, where and why,' when he established his vineyards in PSL:
Pic Saint Loup – thirteen villages to the north of Montpellier, 25 km long from north to south, 10 km wide east-west. 800 ha (out of 1500 demarcated) planted between ‘garrigues’ and limestone cliffs, the highest being the eponymous peak.
Domaine de l’Hortus (Valflaunès), Jean Orliac – 11 ha Mourvèdre (and increasing) out of a total estate of 55 ha (not all cultivated), the vineyard is located at an elevation of 120-200 m sitting between Pic St. Loup and Mont de l’Hortus. Planted in the early 80s, the Mourvèdre is now on the highest slopes facing south/southeast. Previously, this spot was occupied by olive trees with vines on the other side (north/northeast facing hence cooler) and wheat etc. on the flat areas.
Orliac thought Mourvèdre could be interesting here but was advised against it by a professor of viticulture, who believed the cooler damp Mediterranean microclimate to be at the limit for ripening of this variety requiring higher average temperatures. He then consulted another expert, who had carried out studies on the best terroirs for particular varieties in the Aude, who argued a better indicator, rather than waiting for ten years of research, was to look at the wild vegetation. He noticed the plants on this side were very Mediterranean and, on the other side, more typical of a mountain climate. So, thanks to its southerly exposure, the slope (10 to 20%) and cliff formation, Orliac planted Mourvèdre here and Syrah on the other side, the microclimate being closer to the northern Côtes du Rhône.
“Mourvèdre has a very long growing cycle but it gets by on the available light here, as it’s used to a Mediterranean climate. So temperature isn’t the only criteria – it’s important but so is exposure – as we sometimes have a difference of 5°C here. You also have to consider the movement of the sun: the other side gets more light early AM and late PM; here, because of the effect the cliff has, the day is slightly shorter but hotter at midday equating to a small difference in latitude.”
“Mourvèdre needs a good water supply; if it suffers from stress, it won’t ripen and the leaves dry out. c.f. Bandol is more humid because it's nearer the sea – here the north wind is very dry...”

Dom. Hortus wines are available in London from Berry Bros, Lea & Sandeman, Roberson; and on-line @ Slurp, Everywine, Joseph Barnes Wines Direct and Terroir Languedoc; and in the USA from European Cellars and Beaune Imports.

23 April 2011

Languedoc: Pic Saint Loup

This time, I only tasted red Pic Saint Loup wines (there are PSL rosés too; the whites are classed as AOC Languedoc or vin de pays, don't ask why…) starting with a very mixed bag of half-a-dozen 2008s, which all lacked charm and/or ripeness or substance or were overdone oak-wise, except one wine by usually star winery Château La Roque: their "Cupa Numismae" 2008. And these reds are mostly expensive too, which brings out the cynic in me regarding PSL's perceived trendy status and convenient location close to Montpellier, i.e. where all the money is in the Languedoc! Moving on to 2009, well, this tasting table included a couple more attention-grabbing reds and, overall, this vintage was looking better although also more difficult to taste with a few of the line-up not showing much at all, as I noticed with the 2009s from other areas. As for 2010, taking a flyer on three samples noted here, it looks like one to watch; looking forward to trying many more 2010s next year!

RMJ lurking behind Lincoln S in the bush hat, pretending to do some exercise. Photo by Ryan O from facebook.com/lovethatlanguedoc
This is the next instalment in a continuing series of reports and winery profiles drawn from five intensive days spent at the “Languedoc Millésimes” tastings in the region (21-25 March 2011). We also met and talked to a few PSL winemakers and tried the odd bottle of their older vintages too. Jean Orliac of Domaine de l’Hortus led our merry band on a well-earned, hearty and occasionally verging on dangerous hike out in the field (see photo with yours truly lurking in the background). We trekked a little up and along the edge of part of the eponymous peak itself and the Hortus massif on the other side of the valley, where you get an inspiring view of a meandering slice of the PSL appellation and the lie of the land, sandwiched as it is between these two extended wild rocky limestone cliff-faces. It’s a beautiful spot for a concerted bit of ‘wine tourism’, with several good wineries packed into this rugged landscape lying less than 20km to the north of Montpellier. There are also organised walking trails and food & wine events, as well as a directory of places to stay and eat in the area on www.pic-saint-loup.com

I’ve used my ‘new-fangled’ scoring system of one, two or three ‘ticks’ (good, very good, fabulous); or just plain 1 to 3 for the wines below. Euro prices are cellar door per bottle inc. taxes, added after the event.
Château La Roque "Cupa Numismae" 2008 (65% Syrah, 35% Mourvèdre; converting to organic/biodynamic) - maturing savoury notes on a dark cherry backdrop, quite subtle although has a cetain lush side vs grainy texture and light grip, elegant length vs power. Nice 2008. 2 €15
Château La Roque "En Garde" 2008 (85% Mourvèdre, 15% Grenache) - light grainy oak vs maturing 'sweet & savoury', lightly leafy / cedary; bit more extracted than above, is quite concentrated but just less charming. €28
Domaine les Grandes Costes 2008 (Syrah/Grenache) - red pepper dominates the nose and palate, unripe or reductive? Bitter finish. €17.50
Bergerie du Capucin "Larmanela" 2008 (Syrah/Grenache) - complex maturing herby cherry nose, again very firm and heavy-handed on the palate. €17.80
Domaine Desvabre "Prestige" 2008 (Syrah/Grenache/Carignan) - a bit lean. €8
Mas de L'Oncle "Les Amours" 2008 (Syrah/Grenache/Cinsault) - oak masking a rather lean and hard wine. €11
Domaine Saint Daumary "Asphodele" 2008 (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre) - has a bit more to it but still oak heavy. €15 
Château de Lancyre "Vieilles Vignes" 2009 (65% Syrah/35% Grenache) - dark and brooding nose, delicious sweet herbs and black cherry, minty and peppery too, pretty firm vs lush depth of fruit. 2-3. Much better value too at €9.50 vs the quality.
Château de Lascaux 2009 (60% Syrah/40% Grenache; organic) - nice pure fruit and spicy notes, firm mouth-feel but quite nice tannins, dry vs sweet profile, power and good length. 1-2 €9
Château de Lascaux 2009 ?? (no more info available) - mintier perhaps, firmer grip, more difficult to taste.
Vignerons de la Gravette "Tourtourel" 2009 (65% Syrah/35% Grenache) - quite simple fruity then grippy.
Bergerie du Capucin 2009 "Dame Jeanne" (55% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre) - quite savoury/meaty nose, turns sweeter with black cherry, again firm tannins vs bit of punch. 1 €9.80
Domaine Desvabre 2009 (80% Syrah/20% Grenache) - not much nose, quite nice fruit with minty edges, some oily texture vs firm but rounded, quite nice fruit flourish to finish. 1 €6
Domaine de la Salade Saint Henri 2009 "Aguirre" (SGM) – gets the prize for most entertainingly bizarre producer name, but the wine was too oaky and extracted for me. €15
Château L'Euzière 2009 - sweetish fruit vs oak and solid tannins, lacks charm. Disappointing for them.
Domaine de Villeneuve "Fol Envie" 2009 (80% Syrah/20% Grenache) - heavy bottle, heavy oak! Bit charred, probably is some rich fruit underneath but at the moment it’s not expressing itself... 

Les Coteaux du Pic "Les Déesses Muettes" 2010 - attractive enough fruit vs grip and nice texture, lacks a bit of flavour perhaps but is young and closed up. 1 €6
Ermitage du PSL "Guilhem Gaucelm" 2010 - nice perfumed pure spicy black cherry Syrah nose, juicy and chunky with attractive tannins vs seductive ‘sweet/savoury’ fruit. 1
La Roque 2010 - perfumed, quite concentrated and structured, power grip and lush dark fruit, closes up. Promising. 2-3
Other vintages/wines
Ermitage du PSL "Guilhem Gaucelm" 2003 red – rich smoky maturing truffle-y nose and palate, mature now really and a bit soupy/leathery, but nice enough old-fashioned style. 1
Ermitage du PSL “Sainte-Agnes” 2008 white – milky and toasty showing light oak although well done; quite fat, rich, honeyed and weighty, lacks a bit of freshness but quite attractive food white anyway. 1
Mas de Martin “Cuvée Ultreia” 2004 (14.5%) – not convinced they’re in PSL but pretty close to it anyway, this was a rather classy 2004 (an overlooked/shadowed vintage at first, now beginning to show well in a classic way, balanced and tasty rather than “great” or “impressive”). Lovely nose, maturing vs inky/leafy tones, nice liquorice vs crunchier fruit and firmer fresher finish vs drinking well now. 2

Languedoc: La Clape

I've already done that 'joke' to death, so moving on quickly to the next in my continuing series of reports and winery profiles drawn from five intensive days spent at the “Languedoc Millésimes” tastings in the region (21-25 March 2011), where I had the chance to taste mostly 2010, 2009 and 2008 vintages. As well as, more importantly perhaps and certainly more fun, meet and talk to a couple of La Clape winemakers and enjoy some of their older wines too. Once again this year, I found the whites from this wild-terrain almost-island appellation, found near Narbonne falling into the sea, had real character and class. Maybe it’s the often high proportion of the Bourboulenc variety, in particular, and white Grenache or Roussanne, say, in many of these wines? Apart from the well-suited maritime climate etc; so well done anyway, La Clape winemakers, for being brave enough to decide to give it a focus in the appellation 'rules' even though nobody's heard of it (that's clever marketing for you too). Mind you, some of them are rather expensive though even if very good.

What I don't get, with all the admittedly still on-going changes to the essentially overly complicated Languedoc appellation 'hierarchy', is why La Clape isn't called a "Grand Vin du Languedoc" (like the vast sprawling and much more variable Corbieres, for e.g.), if this actually means something, or why La Clape white wines aren't now classified under "Grand Cru du Languedoc" like their reds appear to be (are they?)? Certainly can't be on quality grounds or lacking distinctiveness. Oh well... As for those "great growth" reds, well, some of them are and do have a distinctive roasted "garrigue", and sometimes "tar" even, side (sun-dried wild herbs, earthy vs sweet thing going on underneath) to their soft ripe fruit; although others are just swamped in heavy new oak and over-extracted tannins, like they can be anywhere else, especially on the 2008s, which was obviously a vintage to go easy on the winemaking front. I could only find one 2010 red up for tasting so can't comment on potential of that vintage, although this one (Château des Monges) was very good. And if the also solitary old-vintage 1998 Château de Negly is anything to go by, then, yes, some of the best producers' wines really can age sublimely.
I’ve used my ‘new’ scoring system of one, two or three ‘ticks’ (good, very good, fabulous); or just plain 1 to 3 here, if you get my drift. Euro prices are cellar door per bottle inc. taxes, added later so didn’t influence my notes.


2009 Château d'Anglès "Classique" (50% Bourboulenc, 40% Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne) - slightly closed on the nose, moves on to quite rich and honeyed mouth-feel with light butter and toast notes; some oily development then a touch of toasty wood on the finish, although it falls a bit flat perhaps. 1 €8.90
2009 Mas du Soleilla "Réserve" (55% Roussanne, 45% Bourboulenc; estate converting over to organic) - toasty oak and hazelnut nose, quite rich like the palate too; creamy and nutty with toasty edges, much fuller and more concentrated though, then finishing with light bitter twist vs power and some underlying lemony bite. 2 €21
2009 Château Moyau "L'Unique" (50% Bourboulenc, 50% Grenache blanc) - more floral and lees-y vs subtle buttery hazelnut undertones, starts off a bit shy and finishes quite tight still, interesting ‘mineral’ intensity and bite vs fat. 2 €16
2009 Château Capitoul "Rocaille" - complex maturing Riesling-like notes with oily, toasty and buttery touches vs greener undertones; subtle fresh acidity vs fat mouth-feel and quite toasty vs powerful finish. 2
2010 Château Abbaye des Monges (80% Bourboulenc, 15% Roussanne, 5% Rolle) - yeasty and floral, quite zingy and ‘mineral’ vs fairly concentrated and ‘chalky’ undercurrent, tight and fresh finish. Lacks a bit of weight perhaps but quite promising. 1 €6.40
2010 Château Rouquette sur Mer "Arpège" (60% Bourboulenc, 40% Roussanne) – again has youthful gummy and lees-y style, floral and melon then more honeyed, tight and crisp length. 1-2 €8.40
2010 Château de Marmorières "Les Amandiers" (40% white Grenache, 20% Bourboulenc, 30% Roussanne, 10% Viognier) - chalky and crisp vs light oily texture, tight and not showing much. Not sure. Would like to try again. 1 €8
2010 Château l'Hospitalet "Art de Vivre" - toasty vs oily nose, quite concentrated and honeyed with buttery undertones, still quite toasty but plenty underneath, fresh undercurrent keeps it focused. 2-3


2008 Château de Marmorières "Les Amandiers" (50/50 Syrah, Grenache; 14% alc.) - delicious perfumed heather and lavender nose with ripe strawberry and cassis, quite mature and attractive palate with fresh bite vs light grip and lots of that sweet berry fruit and wild herbs vs weight. Subtle length too. 2 €8
2008 Domaine Maury "L'Insoupconné" (80/20 Syrah, Grenache; 14.5% alc.) - similar but riper and toastier, oak rather dominates with extracted tannins. €14.50
2008 Château Abbaye des Monges "Réserve" (30% each Syrah/Grenache/Carignan, 10% Mourvèdre) - smoky/rustic development plus perfumed garrigue, again tannins a bit dry on the finish vs needs bit more weight. €9.20
2008 Château Ricardelle "Closablieres" (Grenache/Syrah/Carignan) - less obvious nose with vanilla oak notes, some of that wild herb thing going on and maturing oily texture, again tannins perhaps a bit heavy vs the rest but quite commanding. 1 €11
2008 Château Ricardelle "Blason" - too oaky and firm. €15
2008 Mas du Soleilla "Les Bartelles" - quite rich and jammy, dark cherry and perfumed herby tones, bit of vanilla oak but adds texture rather than flavour, grippy with fair depth. 1
2008 Mas du Soleilla "L'Intrus" (50% Carignan, 25/25 Grenache/Syrah; converting over to organics) - sweeter fruit, vibrant tasty palate with nice tannins, light choco texture but much better balance than above, weight vs concentration. 2 €18
2008 Château Rouquette sur Mer "Henry Lapierre" (Syrah/Mourvèdre) - herbs and tar, developing 'sweet & savoury' style, touch of vanilla on the palate adds flavour and texture, perhaps a bit too much vs the rest, although there's some depth. 1 €19
2009 Château Abbaye des Monges "Augustine" (40% Syrah/30% Grenache/20%Carignan/10% Mourvèdre) - rich ripe fruit, dark with herby undertones, pretty firm and extracted vs some lush fruit underneath, tight and closed. 1 €7.20
2009 Château de Marmorières "Marquis de Raymond" (40% Syrah/30% Grenache/10%Carignan/20% Mourvèdre) - pretty oaky and firm, lacks charm; maybe it's in a rut. €11
2009 Château l'Hospitalet "Art de Vivre" - wild herbs and rich cassis, tangy vs concentrated fruit, bit of underlying oak adding texture vs grip vs sweet perfumed fruit. Needs a couple of years too. 2
2009 Château Rouquette sur Mer "L'Absolu" (Syrah/Mourvèdre) - toasty oak vs dark perfumed fruit, oak a bit intrusive still but quite well structured vs depth of fruit underneath. 1 €68! A typo?
2010 Château des Monges "Les Pins" - nice scented vs dark cherry and tar, structured and big vs concentrated lush fruit + subtle oak, floral herby too on finish. 2

Older vintages (well, two at least...)
1998 Château de Negly "La Falaise" – wow! That wild Clape nose comes through loud and clear, like burnt lavender plus lovely smoky mature fruit, delicious wine. 3
2007 Domaine Mont Redon "Les Eperviers" - wild herby & earthy notes vs ripe cherry and liquorice, firm vs maturing mouth-feel. 1

Lots more Clape wineries and wines here:

Gérard Bertrand update

15 April 2011

Languedoc: Picpoul de Pinet 2010

Well, what can I say? Picpoul de Pinet, that reliably tantalising 100% varietal (Picpoul or Piquepoul) appellation lying between Pézenas, Mèze and Marseillan (centred on the village of Pinet) just inland from the watery ‘Bassin de Thau’, is usually one of my favourite dry whites from the south. As you’ll see if you take a look at my report on the 2009 and 2008 vintages; but, on evidence of (admittedly only) nine 2010s up for tasting, I was very disappointed this year. Many of the wines just seemed to lack that real zesty crisp bite you’d expect or corresponding depth of fruit and character. So, I guess 2010 wasn’t a great vintage here then? Very generally, this appears to be the case for white wines across the region? Answers on a postcard please (preferably featuring plump oysters from the Thau lagoon or touristy pics of nearby Sète)…

"You'll need plenty of Picpoul de Pinet to get all those oysters down." From www.languedoc-wines.com
The sampling occasion was the “Languedoc Millésimes” marathon tasting week (21-25 March) in the splendid setting of Château de Flaugergues (profile to follow) in Montpellier. I’ve used my ‘new’ scoring system of one, two or three ‘ticks’ (good, very good, fabulous); or just plain 1 to 3 here. Euro prices are cellar door per bottle inc. taxes.
Les Costières de Pomerols "Cap Cette" - gummy lemony notes with lees edges and intensity on the palate, juicy and crisp vs oily touches; not very long or complex but nice enough.
Les Costières de Pomerols "Beauvignac" (12.5%) – similar profile with melon tones, more honeyed and concentrated too with crisper bite and longer finish; still lacks a bit of real zing though. 1 €4.15
Château St. Martin de la Garrigue – a bit flabby, it is rich I guess and that lees bite comes back but... €8.20
Château de Pinet / Vignobles Gaujal de Saint Bon - livelier nose and palate, already turning oily and again a tad flabby vs lack of refreshing acidity? €6.90
Château de Pinet – again it’s disappointingly dilute and lacking character. Usually a star producer. €6.30
Domaine Félines Jourdan - aha. Nice gummy melon and lemon nose, quite full vs juicy mouth-feel, chalkier finish than the others although lacks that real zip I associate with this top producer. Fair length though and good value. 1+ €5.50
Mas des Mas – zestier with lemony and yeast-lees intensity on nose and palate, attractive crisp bite and chalky finish. The best one in this line-up. 2
Les Vignerons de Florensac "Lessac" – a little green and lean vs palate weight. Zingy though.
Les Costières de Pomerols "Prestige Beauvignac" (12.5%) - toasty oak and rich honeyed fruit, far too charred in character though. Not sure about this barrel-fermenting trend for P de P?

14 April 2011

Languedoc: Clos Bagatelle, Saint-Chinian

Updated September 2013 - click here to read - featuring their delicious 2000 vintage La Gloire de Mon Père...

Clos Bagatelle, originally the name ("lieu-dit") of a smaller plot of land here, now stretches to around 60 hectares (150 acres) on the outskirts of St-Chinian 'town' itself and some vines in St-Jean de Minervois as well presumably, as they also appear to make a sweet fortified Muscat from this lesser-known appellation lying a little to the west. I’ve tried their wines on three occasions in the last four years and have been consistently impressed; and tasted the first three wines noted below over lunch with Christine Deleuze in Montpellier in March this year during the “Languedoc Millésimes” marathon tasting week. Christine runs the estate with her brother Luc Simon, whose family has been here since the 17th Century apparently.

I’ve used my ‘new’ scoring system of one, two or three ‘ticks’ (good, very good, fabulous); or just plain 1 to 3 here. Euro prices below are cellar door per bottle inc. taxes. More info @ closbagatelle.com (currently "under construction"). Some CB wines are available in the UK from terroirlanguedoc.co.uk (£12-£20), redrobewines.co.uk (£6.95-£8.50) and gauntleys.com (£8.50-£9.50); and tedwardwines.com in New York City.

Donnadieu "Camille et Juliette" rosé 2010 (Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre 13%) - again a pale "rosé de presse" style (they’ve stopped doing saignée rosé), subtle and crisp with red vs creamy fruit, tight and quite steely finish. 1+ €6.50
Bagatelle white 2010 (Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Carignan blanc, Vermentino, Chenin) - milky leesy edges with light toast vs juicy and quite rich mouth-feel, attractive mineral/celery/aniseed tones vs weight on the finish. 2
Veillée d’Automne red 2008 (13.5%) - a tad baked with nice cherry/berry fruit though and wild herby edges; quite rich vs freshness underneath adding an elegant touch vs a bit of power too, turning mature/savoury vs sweet strawberry/cherry. 1+

And tasted in March 2009: Terre de mon Père 2009 (Syrah/Mourvèdre/Grenache) - similar profile to their floral, sweet-cherry and cassis-laden Mathieu et Marie 09 (better value too at €6.20 and 2) but chunkier and grippier; still has that delicious intense minty thing vs rich and long dry finish. €20 2+
And April 2007: La Gloire de Mon Père 2004 (13%) - very rich tar v floral Syrah? notes, chunky and lush v firm tannins; coffee and liquorice flavours linger on an earthy v 'sweet' finish, long and full. €20 3

13 April 2011

Languedoc: Domaine La Croix Chaptal, Terrasses du Larzac

Charles-Walter Pacaud makes some fairly classic high-ground Med reds up in the blink-and-miss-it old-as-time “village” of Cambous found not far from slightly better known Saint André de Sangonis (about 30km northwest of Montpellier). But he has another somewhat unusual trump up his sleeve in the form of a white wine: the Clairette variety and old ones too. There’s actually a separate appellation for dry whites in this area made from 100% Clairette; Charles told me that, when he bought this 25 hectare (60 acre) property, he was tempted to remove and replace this old-vine Clairette, which locally was mostly used to produce drink-young whites in a light refreshing style that often lacked a bit of character. And people offering advice at that time weren’t very enamoured with it suggesting he pulled it up to replant more red varieties.

Well, he didn’t and good job too. From the four vintages of his Clairette I tried with him at Chez Boris restaurant in Montpellier on 20 March 2011, this neglected variety can turn out something rather inspiring and age-worthy too, if treated right in the vineyard (planted in chalky pebbly soils, restricted yields) and cellar (e.g. judicious lees-ageing). La Croix Chaptal also makes a range of red, white and rosé Coteaux du Languedoc wines, three very different and more selected Terrasses du Larzac reds and a trio of quirky late-picked botrytised whites / a red even… Their wines are distributed in the UK, USA, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium and elsewhere in Europe; and "maybe soon" in the Far East. See www.lacroixchaptal.com for importer/retailer contact details.

2003 Cuvée Charles (Carignan, Syrah, Grenache) – still looking good with maturing savoury side, has an elegant touch actually for a hot-vintage 03 with attractive sweet/savoury finish vs a tad of grip and fresh bite keeping it alive. 2
2001 Cuvée Charles (Carignan, Syrah, Grenache) – more savoury and complex nose vs lighter and more mature palate, long and tasty finish though; very good but the 03 could outlast it. 2
2009 Clairette du Languedoc – a touch reductive on the nose, light bitter/aniseed twist in the mouth vs nice nutty Burgundy character, tightens up on the finish. Needs a few months to express itself. 1+
2008 Clairette – reductive/mineral notes again, turning fresher vs quite rich mouth-feel actually with leesy/nutty/creamy side, well balanced and stylish. 1-2
2007 Clairette – developing complex aromas with toasty edges even, quite full vs still zesty underneath, lovely style. 2
2006 Clairette – oxidising cider-y tones yet it’s still interesting, fatter palate but again has that attractive nutty side. (1)

09 April 2011

Wine of the mo: Ancien Comté white Grenache

L’Ancien Comté Grenache blanc 2010 (13%) - very nice mix of “estery” pear and exotic pineapple with milky yeast-lees edges, zesty lively finish vs attractive bit of weight. Round of applause to Mont Tauch co-op winery in the Fitou highlands for understanding oak fermentation/ageing and a dry white wine that doesn’t taste of it. Great with fish & chips too. 2 (see below for explanation of my "new" rating system.) £7.95 Jeroboams, London.

08 April 2011

Languedoc: Saint-Chinian 2010 vintage

This is another in a series of reports and winery profiles from five intensive days spent at the “Languedoc Millésimes” tastings in the region (21-25 March 2011), where I had the chance to taste mostly 2010, 2009 and 2008 vintages. As well as, more importantly and more fun, meet and talk to a couple of St-Chinian winemakers and try (drink/enjoy even; woops, not v. pc) some of their older wines too. I’ve used my ‘new’ scoring system of one, two or three ‘ticks’ (good, very good, fabulous); or just plain 1 to 3 here, if you get my drift. Euro prices are cellar door per bottle inc. taxes, added later so didn’t influence my notes.

Based on a hardly comprehensive/definitive sampling below, 2010 appears to have produced some good but not great white wines and lacklustre to good rosés. Quite a few of the red samples were looking a bit fragile or dumb or ugly-duckling, which is always a risk when raw and unfinished wines are left open to the air. However, certain bottles were already showing very well with similar hallmarks to other Languedoc regions: rich and concentrated with solid fruit and structure yet appealing-textured tannins. Mind you, I said stuff like that last year and the year before about the two previous vintages; and now 2008 is generally looking a bit of a mixed bag (for reds anyway, actually pretty sound for white and rosé) and 2009 can either really impress or rather disappoint.

2010 was a rollercoaster year of weather with a long cold winter, snow in early March in certain places (and not necessarily just on the hills), an awkward hesitant spring with warm weather then rainy and colder again, followed by a very hot and very dry summer, isolated storms in August/September although, generally, very warm right through till early October. Net result: vibrant high-quality reds, as described above, but low on the quantity front thanks to that challenging growing season. Further comments on these three vintages to follow, as I post more blurbs like this on other areas of the Languedoc.

Rugged St-Chinian wine-lands, from www.borielavitarele.fr

Saint-Chinian 2010 vintage


Domaine des Soulié - estery fresh pear and grapey vs intricate aniseed/fennel tones, crisp and mineral bite. 1
Domaine La Croix Sainte Eulalie "tradition" (1/3 Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Vermentino) - similar although more perfumed and exotic/flowery, zesty/chalky mouth-feel, nice and zingy with that underlying flowery peach/apricot fruit. Acid/alcohol a bit hard at the moment although shows attractive oily vs crisp profile. 1+ €5.60
Domaine Rimbert (Clairette, Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Vermentino) - flowery and peachy, more intricate and interesting though on the nose; ends up a tad flat/dilute compared with above, although there's fresh acidity and nice bitter twist vs banana fruit. 1 €6.50
Cave de Roquebrun "Col de la Serre" (Grenache blanc, Roussanne) - milky/lightly toasty with quite rich exotic honey and apricot; subtle oak grain, fatter pineapple fruit vs mineral undertones. Touch clunky perhaps but attractive style overall and good value. 1 €4.50
Domaine du Sacré Coeur (Grenache blanc, Roussanne) - juicy fruity pineapple vs grapey floral tones, crisper palate and zesty finish. 1 €5.20
Cave des Vignerons St-Chinian "Secret des Capitelles" (Grenache blanc, Roussanne) - yeast-leesy buttery and full-on vs cut of acidity, fair mouthful although a bit flabby and simple. 0.5 €6.60
Domaine La Linquière "Fleur de Lin" (Grenache blanc, Vermentino) - ripe and honeyed with milky edges, rounded vs zingy with quite intense mineral side vs that quite exotic fruit. 1.5-2 €9
Clos Bagatelle (Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Carignan blanc, Vermentino, Chenin) - milky leesy edges with light toast vs juicy and quite rich mouth-feel, attractive mineral/celery/aniseed tones vs weight on the finish. 2


Château Cazal Viel "Vieilles Vignes" (Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah) - elegant pink colour, rose petal and light red fruit notes, zingy crisp palate with subtle biter twist; fair class. 1-2 €7.60
Château Creissan "Cort d'Amor" (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre) - pale pink, similar style to above although much less intense. OK at €4.
Domaine Moulinier (Syrah, Grenache) - quite delicate and tight, subtle creamy red fruits, lacks bit of zest perhaps but it’s OK. 0.5 €5.80
Domaine des Mathurins "Petite Fantaisie" (Syrah, Cinsault) - fuller orangey colour, oily/fruity style, more "vinous" and chunky, quite nice although lacks bit of class. 0.5 €4.50
Clos Bagatelle Donnadieu "Camille et Juliette" (Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre 13%) - again a pale "rosé de presse" style (they’ve stopped doing saignée rosé), subtle and crisp with red vs creamy fruit, tight and quite steely finish. 1+ €6.50
Château La Dournie (1/3 Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah) - quite elegant and zesty, nice crunchy redcurrant/cranberry then "sweeter" finish. 1 €5.70
Domaine La Linquière (Grenache, Syrah) - juicy fruity boiled sweetie, has a bit of leesy bite and creamier finish. €5
Domaine Rimbert "Le Rosé réussi" (Cinsault, Syrah) - oilier style with rounder strawberry fruit, bit of zing although ends tad bland maybe. 0.5 €5.80

RED - unfinished vat/cask samples

Château La Dournie "Elise" (Syrah, Grenache) - lovely minty wild spicy black cherry, peppery and punchy vs rich and fruity, quite a kick and nice firm/round tannins. 2 €13.50
Mas Champart "Causse du Bousquet" (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache) - somewhat closed and awkward, a tad malo-lactic on the nose; nice fruit though and again soft-ish tannins. 1+? €11.60
Borie La Vitarele "Terres Blanches" (biodynamic) - again shows lovely fruit, pure vibrant dark cherry and liquorice with peppery edges; juicy vs concentrated, attractive coated tannins vs ripe black fruits vs wild herby touches. 2
Château La Madura "Grand Vin" (Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan) - bit awkward and firm, not showing well. €17
Domaine de Pech Ménel (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre) - malo notes but rich and chunky underneath, again fine tannins and concentrated mouthful. 2 €6-€7
La Croix Sainte Eulalie "Armandelis" (Syrah, Mourvèdre) - minty and wild flowers/herbs, nice fresh cherry fruit then spicier liquorice side, firmer palate vs solid depth. 2.5 €7.70
Domaine du Sacré Coeur - not showing much, taste it again in a few months.
Château Belot "Les Mouleyres" (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache) - oak dominated, obviously, and structured vs rounded, could be promising if they don't keep it much longer in that new? oak. 1
Not sure who made these two, they had just one mysterious word stuck onto the bottle. Will find out and add producer's name:
Chant - lovely lavender and black cherry, nice tannins, darker vs more savoury finish with grip and tight elegant flourish. 2.5
Esprit - lots of new oak, fair substance underneath and very firm, difficult to taste but would like to come back to it.

Saint-Chinian red, other vintages

Le Prieuré des Mourgues Grande Réserve 2007 (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, 14%) - well balanced with solid tannins vs sweet fruit and developing savoury/animal notes, quite rich and spicy (paprika) vs attractive black cherry and length; maturing vs structured finish with firm vs rounded texture and lively flourish too. 2+ €12
Borie La Vitarèle Les Terres Blanches 2009 - lush black cherry with earthy peppery edges, solid vs appealing rounded palate finishing with sweet fruit and power. 2 €8.50
Mas de Cynanque L’Acutum 2008 (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Carignan; estate converting over to organic) - powerful with grainy texture vs rich cherry fruit, has a touch of freshness about it although it’s a bit “hot” too, attractive depth of fruit though. 1 €12 

Profile on Clos Bagatelle. Scan down the Languedoc winery A to Z for more, right hand column or do a search using "Saint Chinian."

04 April 2011

Languedoc: Domaine de Cébène, Faugères

Brigitte Chevalier purchased a few parcels of lofty vineyards in 2006 in the northern reaches of the Faugères appellation, which give their name to three different wines reflecting terrain and grape variety. Les Bancèls, the name traditionally coined by the locals for high schist terraces on the Cévennes foothills, is a blend of east- and north-facing Syrah, north-facing Grenache and Mourvèdre, which Brigitte believes is particularly at home on her highest south-facing slopes. Felgaria is a barrel-selection cuvée based on at least half of the latter variety plus the other two, with less Grenache in it. However, for those hardcore G-aficionados out there, she also makes another red called “Ex Arena” from 85% Grenache sourced from sandy pebbley deposits in a different spot.

The estate has been converted over to organic winegrowing from the beginning with “official” status granted when the 2010s are released. Overall, on evidence of three vintages (see below), Brigitte’s wines look very promising, even if a touch dear; well, for me anyway, and no more than many other small-production hand-crafted wineries. These five reds were sampled at the “Languedoc Millésimes” tastings in the region (21-25 March 2011), where I met and talked to Brigitte one evening. I’ve used my ‘new’ scoring system of one, two or three ‘ticks’ (good, very good, fabulous); or just plain 1 to 3 here, if you get my drift. Euro prices are cellar door per bottle inc. taxes, added later so didn’t influence my notes (if it makes any difference).

Les Bancèls 2009 (50% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 25% Mourvèdre) - sweet cherry fruity nose with aromatic wild herbs, strawberry and peppery edges; solid grippy palate vs lovely fruit and nice rounded tannins. 1.5-2 €14
Tasted one year previously: Les Bancèls 2009 - lively fruit on the nose; more austere palate with power and bite, although again attractive tannins. €13 87
Les Bancèls 2008 (similar blend) - similar nose, nicer fruit palate with maturing oily touches, peppery and black cherry; quite punchy/hot on finish vs firm vs bit of sweet & savoury. 1 €14
Les Bancèls 2010 (cask/vat sample, will be the first certified organic vintage) - delicious black cherry/berry fruit with some earthy savoury edges, quite chunky palate and tannins but nice balance. Promising. 2
Cuvée Felgaria 2009 (50% Mourvèdre, 35% Syrah, 15% Grenache) - wild herb and tobacco notes, lovely spicy fruit and intensity, nice rounded vs dry tannins and plenty of that peppery vs sweet fruit. Yum. 2-3 €30
Cuvée Felgaria 2008 (similar blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache) - lovely intricate nose, herby and minty even vs developing sweet & savoury fruit; subtle oak texture and choc vs cherry fruit, concentration and oomph vs elegance (although a tad hot in the end maybe). 2 €30

01 April 2011

Languedoc: Domaine Alquier, Faugères

Established by pioneering dad Gilbert more than 40 years ago (there weren't many grape-growers making their own wines at that time), this 12 ha / 30 acre estate is run nowadays by charming couple Frédéric (son of) and Florence Alquier. They make traditional lush smoky reds from Syrah, Mourvèdre and old Carignan & Grenache; and, as I've seen elsewhere in the region, an increasingly good white Faugères fashioned from those star Rhone varieties Roussanne and Marsanne, as demonstrated by the forthcoming 2009 vintage (see notes below). Mind you, there won't be much of it as yields in 09 for whites were "down to 15 hl/ha instead of 40 to 50 usually," Frédéric told me as we tasted in his cellar in November 2009. By the way, I couldn't help noticing one of those newfangled basket presses (wooden slats on the outside with automated plungey screw bit) - not that I get so excited about winery equipment, but these are becoming very de rigueur as they seem to be "much better for reds than the old ones like Vaslin," as Frédéric explained.
So, if you're touring around this pretty area (definitely wild-pretty rather than pretty-pretty), why not go and taste in the Alquier's cosy on-site tasting room, which joins on to the office at the back of their house across the yard from the more visible new cellar. More details of where to find them etc. are on their website: follow the signs heading for Pézènes off to the left on the way out of the village. Alquier's wines are imported into the UK by Richards Walford (a bit of an estate-Languedoc specialist who sell to many well-known London restaurants).

2007 white Faugères (Roussanne, Marsanne) - honeyed and lightly toasted with attractive colourful spicy fruit; peppery and quite powerful palate showing mature creamy notes then mineral finish, drinking now. 83-85
2009 white (Roussanne Marsanne vat sample) - delicious citrus vs exotic fruit, floral and peppery too; juicy and crisp vs subtle roundness and weight, already very nice. 87+
2006 Faugères "tradition" (Syrah Grenache Carignan) - not so open on the nose, develops nice dark cherry fruit with herbal red pepper tones; juicy and lightly smoky with liquorice flavours, softish tannins saying drink me now although it will keep a couple of years longer. 85
2005 Faugères "tradition" - resiny mature fruit with spicy touches, again quite elegant and drinking now, although this has more weight and tannins than the 06, then "sweet" liquorice on the finish. 85-87
2005 Eugènie Faugères (mostly Syrah) - slightly toasty oak and chocolate coating enhanced by spicy black cherry fruit; shows more depth, concentration and structure with layered tannins adding grip and closing it up a little on the finish. 89
2004 Eugènie - more perfumed even with smokier fruit too, softer and more elegant with attractive dry texture vs "sweet/savoury" fruit and grainy edges. 87
Tasted from vat or cask:
2007 "tradition" - nice crunchy berry fruit vs darker liquorice, spicy and juicy with sexy tannins. 87
2008 "tradition" - more floral violet aromas, pure peppery black cherry too; liquorice flavours again, more concentrated and grippier than the 07, promising. 87-89
2006 Eugènie - menthol notes with light coconut/cedar spice; appealing lush mouthfeel with dark fruit vs firm and spicy finish, complex and well-balanced. 89-91

Update - a couple of latest Alquier vintages here:

Clos Timothée, 6 Route de Pézènes-les-Mines, 34600 Faugères. Tel: 04 67 95 15 21, www.gilbert-alquier.fr.


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