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01 April 2011

Languedoc: Faugères focus

Photo by Bernard VIDAL
A load of old schist?

French wine-growers and -makers sometimes get rather excited about soil and its place at the root of wine appellations, although many of these are so large and sprawling with such a variation in/variety of soil types (especially across vast wine-lands like the Languedoc), that it can get a little too geological, tiresome even, to follow/swallow all that "terroir" talk narrowly focusing on this aspect alone. Ever read one of those not-very-helpful traditional back labels (you’re lucky if there is one for a start) on a bottle of French wine? “…Clay, limestone, big pebbles, millions of years, Romans (aah!) blah blah…” What’s it actually made from then (call me new-fashioned, but grape variety does impart some character to a wine, surely?) and, erm, taste like? Oh, that’s a secret of the “terroir”…
Anyway, Faugères, a relatively small wine region covering approx. 2000 hectares (5000 acres) lying to the north of Béziers, is fairly unique in this respect, as a sort-of "cru" appellation or ‘newly’ coined and rather meaningless “Grand Vin du Languedoc,” as it's mapped out across an area largely dominated by schist soils. Hence, the Faugères appellation is neatly hemmed in by the villages of Cabrerolles (including the hamlets of Aigues Vives, La Liquière & Lenthéric) and Caussiniojouls to the west, Faugères itself in the north, Fos and Roquessels to the east and Laurens and Autignac in the south.
Geologists aside, English speakers don’t usually understand what you mean when you say “schist” - I guess as there isn’t any in the UK or US, for example (could be wrong there but no desire at all to delve deeper)? In this Languedoc neck of the woods, the distinctive soil - can be quite big lumps of layered flaky ‘rock’, looks a little like slate but much softer and crumblier as it’s essentially a kind of compacted dried-out clay - is mostly brownish orange with grey/blue veins deeper down. Whereas the schist you see around Collioure and Banyuls-sur-mer, for instance, is often redder still and it’s grey or black even in the northern Roussillon. They’re well-schisted too in parts of Corsica, the Valais region of Switzerland and Priorat in Catalonia. Something to do with the formation and collapse of the Pyrenees, which once (100s of millions of years ago…) swept right across the Mediterranean and beyond. So I’m told.
Does all this really matter? Well, there is sometimes something distinctive about Faugères’ wines, flavour and structure-wise, and the quality level is generally quite high. It also gives you an excuse to come and see their bold, beautiful and schist-laden wine-lands for yourself, with its spectacular vine-contoured hillsides, especially around pretty Cabrerolles and Caussiniojouls. And the idea of bringing together a like-minded band of winegrowers, as they have done in the guise of a schisty association to promote themselves, sounds like a good one. More info on the Faugères wine trail, called “nature schiste” in French, and other wine & food events in the area at faugeres.com. By the way, interesting to note the number of wineries below that are organic or in the process of, which probably isn’t a coincidence: if soil matters, don’t kill it, as they say...
This post is the first 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 Faugères 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 a week later so didn’t influence my notes (if it makes any difference).

FAUGERES white 2010

Domaine Ollier-Taillefer “Allegro” (Roussanne & Rolle=Vermentino, estate converting over to organic) – milky vs estery with yeasty edges, gets cleaner and more mineral/crisp vs some fat and medium weight. Bit at sorts but potential? 1 €9.40
Domaine du Meteore “Les Léonides” (Roussanne & Marsanne, estate converting over to organic) – aromatic and lightly peachy/apricot, chalky/zesty mouth-feel with nice crisp/bitter touch vs juicy fruity. Not bad length. Bit reductive still but does last. 1 €6.90
Château de la Liquière "Cistus" (Roussanne, Grenache blanc & Vermentino; estate converting over to organic) - more perfumed vs oily and fat vs greener side, very light toasted backdrop vs nice fruit and crisp intensity/length. 1-2 €11.40
Cave Coop du Cru Faugères "Terrasses du Rieutor" (Roussanne, Grenache blanc & Marsanne) - toasty/creamy notes vs quite zesty, some exotic fruit vs chalky texture, finishes a bit clunky and "hot". €6.90
Les Amants de la Vigneronne "Soif de Toi" (Grenache blanc & Roussanne) - pretty oaky, some attractive juicy underneath but... €8.50

FAUGERES rosé 2010

Domaine du Meteore “Les Léonides” (Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre) - a tad yeasty but nice rose petal aromas + red fruits, closes up on itself with crisp bite. Not sure? 1 €6
Domaine du Rouge Gorge (Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah) - lively raspberry redcurrant and strawberry style, zingy and fresh vs juicy fruit. 1 €4.75
Domaine Esteve (Grenache, Cinsault) - weightier style with a touch of oily texture vs nice pink fruit and crispness, fairly intense finish. 1 €5

Mandatory vineyard outfits in wacky Faugères schist country, from faugeres.com

Mas Anjel "Prestige" 2009 (1/3 Grenache, Syrah, Carignan; organic) - up-front jammy fruity nose with perfumed liquorice, nice fruit vs subtle dry tannin backdrop, attractive mix of drink now and more serious grip and length. 1+ €14
Domaine de Cébène 2009 “Les Bancèls” (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre; estate converting over to organic) - 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
Domaine Saint-Martin d'Agel “Cuvée Faugères” 2009 (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan) - bit reduced and lean, tannins tad dry vs fruit but could just be not showing well. Kick too. €6.50
Cave Coop "Parfum de Schistes" 2009 (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan) - quite simple sweet fruit vs tobacco touches, tannins bit clumsy but it's OK. €6.50
Domaine Cottebrune "Parole de Berger" 2009 (Syrah, Grenache) - scented oak but not too much, blackberry fruit underneath, oak textured tannins add smoother finish vs fair concentration. 1 €18
Domaine Cottebrune "Transhumance" 2009 (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre) - closed nose, similar oak but more ingrained adding nice texture vs more concentrated and grippy, closes up. Could be good. 1.5 €13
Les Amants de la Vigneronne "Le Rouge aux Levres" 2009 (Grenache, Syrah) - vanilla oak notes, quite a lot actually vs fair depth and grip and some sweet fruit. Tad forced perhaps but good power and concentration. 1.5 €8.50
Les Amants de la Vigneronne "de Chair et de Sang" 2009 (Mourvèdre, Syrah) - oakier still and tad extracted. €12.50
Domaine de Cébène "Cuvée Felgaria" 2009 (Mourvèdre, Syrah, 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
Mas des Capitelles "Vieilles Vignes" 2009 (Mourvèdre, Syrah, Carignan; estate converting over to organic) - herbal/reductive tones although some nice perfumed herby and liquorice and black cherry, good depth and grip in the end. 1+ €7.60
Château des Peyregrandes "Marie Lacreusie" 2009 (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan; estate converting over to organic) - bit glue-ish on nose, lacks charm? €12.60
Domaine Balliccioni "Kalliste" 2009 - bit closed, again hard-ish finish and not v. charming at the moment.

Domaine des Prés Lasses "Chemin de Ronde" 2008 (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, Mourvèdre; estate converting over to organic) - spicy perfumed liquorice with underlying savoury leather tones, fair grip and fresh bite vs nice ripe dark fruit. 2 €9.50
Domaine de la Reynardière "Tradition" 2008 (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre) - maturing oily sweet perfumed and herby fruit, liquorice pepper and black cherry too; nice tannins vs turning sweet & savoury fruit, quite elegant and crunchy/refreshing too. 1.5-2 €5.10
Domaine de la Reynardière "Prestige" 2008 (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre) - similar profile yet more intense and richer even, very attractive sweet vs peppery fruit and firm vs ripe tannins, long finish. 2 €7.20. Great value for money too, this guy.
Domaine Thibault/Esteve et Fils 2008 (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan) - dirty/reduced character? Something underneath but a bit hard too... Would like to try it again. €5.50
Château de la Liquière "Vieilles Vignes" 2008 (Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Mourvèdre) - tangy blackcurrant, reductive or unripe even? Complex though with sweet herbs and spice, touch of vanilla oak vs nice depth berry fruit and firm vs round tannins. 2? €9.60
Domaine de Cébène "Cuvée les Bancèls" 2008 - 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
Domaine Ollier-Taillefer "Grande Reserve" 2008 (Grenache, Carignan, Syrah) - resin-y maturing raisin nose and palate, rounded texture fruit/tannins, drinking well now although has bit of punch and grip on its fair length. 1.5-2 €8.60
Calmel+JJoseph 2008 (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache) - quite complex reductive?/herbal/garrigue nose, liquorice and raspberry with sweet & savoury notes; nice fruit vs elegant touches, quite grippy though vs oily softening fruit. 1.5 €8
Château de la Liquière "Cistus" 2008 (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre) - again enticing perfumed wild herby notes plus rich sweet fruit and pepper, chunky dark cherry depth vs fine tannins; overall very nice wine and lasts too. 2.5-3 €15.20
Domaine de Cébène "Cuvée Felgaria" 2008 (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
Domaine Ollier-Taillefer "Castel Fossibus" (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre) 2008 - cassis and herbal tones with subtle concentration, underlying fresh acidity even and firm but nice tannins. Somehow lacks a bit of charm though. 1.5? €13
Domaine de Fenouillet/Jeanjean 2008 (Syrah, Grenache) - enticing sweet berry and spice on the nose, quite chunky cherry and choc palate with attractive texture, peppery vs liquorice on the finish with a touch of tannin/acid bite. 2 €4? Value!
Cave Coop "Mas Olivier Expression" 2008 (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre) - quite big and soupy mouthful, fruity vs grippy, nice enough although hardly fine. 0.5 €8.95
Château de Ciffre "Grand Vin" 2008 (SGM) - grainy oak aromas move on to OK fruit, bit lean. €15.60
Château de Ciffre "Terroirs d'Altitude" 2008 (SGM) - maturing and sweet-ish, okay although lacks character. €9.90
Domaine des Prés Lasses "Castel Viel" 2008 (Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Mourvèdre) - subtle fruit vs underlying oak, a bit closed up but it's concentrated and quite fine, tight finish. 2 €17

Unfinished cask/vat samples:
Domaine de Cébène 2010 “Les Bancèls” - delicious black cherry/berry fruit with some earthy savoury edges, quite chunky palate and tannins but nice balance. Promising. 2
Domaine Alquier 2010 - nice juicy fruity style, fairly straightforward but attractively chunky and rich. 1
Cave de Faugères “Parfum de Schistes” 2010 - choco barrique edged vs lush and spicy dark fruit, grippy and structured (and a tad extracted) but again concentrated with lingering sweet herby notes. 2
L'Ancienne Mercerie "Petites Mains" 2010 - tight and structured vs lovely lush ripe oily fruit, power and grip vs sweetness and wild spice edges. 2
Les Fusionets - bit baked (happens with cask samples + air) vs chunky black and savoury edges, closes up, quite firm vs concentrated again. Try it again.
Mas des Capitelles 2010 "La Catiede"? - sweet berry fruit and herbs tinged with vanilla oak, grippy and structured with fair concentration though. Again try it again.
Domaine Balliccioni "Kalliste" 2010 - oak dominated (obviously), quite extracted and punchy with lush dark underbelly. Not sure. 1+


  1. There were quite a few 2008s on show which is surprising since Faugeres was hardest hit by the violent early September hail storm. It seems from your notes that many of the 2008s seemed to be faulty or disappointed and perhaps should have been declassified (as was all the red at Domaine des Trinites for example).

  2. I'm surprised that the disaster of the 2008 hail at vintage time isn't mentioned - some estates lost 80% of their red harvest (or had to sell it in bulk). I've not put your "marks" in a spreadsheet, but it appears that the 2008 reds are a relative disappointment to the 2009s. Few domaines seemed to be showing both years, an exception is Cébène there the 2009 “Les Bancèls” fares better than the 2008.
    As always thanks for your observations.

  3. Didn't mean two comments - assume the first had disappeared somewhere.

  4. Dear Richard,
    We are a small and very new winery in Faugeres. Drop me a line if you would like to come and visit and try our wines. www.sarabandewines.com

    Paul Gordon



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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.