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21 November 2011

Languedoc: Château de Caraguilhes, Corbières

UPDATE: the latest vintage release of one of their top Corbières reds, Solus 2009, crossed my tasting path a couple of months ago in London, which is available in the UK via Les Producteurs et Vignerons de France retailing for a wallet-thinning £16.99...
2009 Solus (60% Syrah, 25% Mourvèdre, 15% Carignan) - vibrant black cherry fruit with chocolate oak tones, structured palate still although has attractive texture with long spicy finish. Very good, needs a few months more to open up.
Click here for a glimpse of the 2010 Solus, an unfinished sample tasted in Montpellier six months ago. And read on for a profile of Caraguilhes with some previous vintages reviewed from 2006 to 2010...

Pierre Gabison, previously a shareholder in this vast picturesque estate and Pech-Latt, bought out Caraguilhes entirely in 2005 and has spent a fortune on restoring the chateau, looking at the sumptuous pictures on their website. He's also continuing a long-standing 'tradition' (true in this case) of organic farming and philosophy, apparently pioneered by the previous owner in the 50s and 60s, which was virtually unheard of back in the golden age of newfangled nasty synthetic sprays and fertilisers. The sizeable 100+ ha (250 acres) of vineyards have been organically certified since 1992, which must be hard work. They lie on pretty rolling hills at slight altitude (up to 180m / 550 feet) surrounded by huge tracts of forest and scrubland, in the middle of nowhere: it's about 30 km (20 miles) from the sea, 15km south of Lézignan and 25 km southwest of Narbonne. Pierre's team includes young Etienne Besancenot, the new-ish "technical director" (senior winemaker I guess in "Anglo-Saxon" speak, as the French love to say as a put-down) who I first bumped into at Chateau de Pibarnon in Bandol back in 2004 (he was working the vintage as part of his studies); and Bruno Averseng in the field, literally.

I tasted these wines at Millésime Bio 2009 in Montpellier:
2008 Domaine de l'Olivette Vin de Pays des Coteaux de la Cabrerisse (Grenache blanc, Marsanne) - nice crisp zesty style with floral and honeyed aromas / flavours. 80-85
2008 Caraguilhes white Corbières (Grenache blanc & Marsanne) - more intense with enticing citrus, honey and exotic fruits; crisp bite and length on the palate. 87

2008 Corbières rosé (50/50 Grenache & Syrah) - delicious, juicy and zesty rose petal and red fruit cocktail; quite big mouth-feel then very crisp to finish. 87+
2007 red Corbières (Carignan Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre) - attractive crunchy cassis and blueberry fruit; very vibrant and tasty with firm v fruity finish. 87+
2007 Solus Corbières (Carignan Grenache Syrah) - richer and more concentrated with a touch of chocolate oak texture, but it's mostly the lush v crunchy fruit that shines through; solid firm tannins countered by lots of liquorice and black cherry. Very nice. 90-92
2005 Prestige Corbières (Carignan Syrah Grenache) - oilier aromas and texture with maturing edges, still quite firm and dry with a touch of wood on the palate; big mouth-feel although has some rich dark fruit underneath, less seductive perhaps. 87+

Update: I paid Etienne a visit in late January 2010 and hence had the opportunity to tread some of the soil on this sizeable and handsome estate, found up a track off the main road between Thézan and St-Laurent. He's been overseeing a bit of ripping up and replanting including some Carignan, which is quite rare nowadays as most people only seem interested in (re)planting Syrah and Grenache. Etienne's pretty excited at being at the helm at Caraguilhes as he thinks "there's huge potential here." We tasted the latest vintages and a couple of experimental wines, which certainly confirm this:
2008 white (60% Marsanne + Grenache blanc) - quite exotic and rich with floral apricot and banana aromas underlined by yeast-lees notes; full and rounded vs crisp biter twist, nice clean vs fruity finish. 87
2008 Grenache blanc (barrel-fermented) - rounded and "sweet" mouthfeel vs quite crisp, vanilla notes but not too toasty overall; perhaps needs more bite and fat, although it's an interesting experiment.
2008 rosé (Syrah Grenache Carignan 13.5%) - very appealing strawberry / raspberry on the nose; weighty / oily palate then refreshing finish. Yum. UK: Waitrose stores. 87
2007 classique red - wilder "garrigue" tones vs very spicy black cherry fruit, ripe liquorice aromas too; quite concentrated with dry vs rounded tannins and lovely fruit too. Waitrose 88+
2007 prestige red (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre) - more complex nose with its almost animal, meaty and savoury tones; less open on the palate, but it's a more exciting wine underneath showing subtle spicy finish; less charm now but give it a year or two. 89-91
2008 Solus red (more Mourvèdre and Syrah, less Grenache; cask sample) - estery aromas with wild black fruits; quite vanilla-coated adding "sweetness" countered by lovely depth of fruit, again good balance of dry and firm mouthfeel vs lush and ripe; carries the 15% weight well as it's surprisingly elegant and not overworked, finishing with tight bite. Needs 1 to 2 years to round out. 90-92
Caraguilhes reds are priced €6.90, €9.90 and €15 cellar door.

And previously at Millésime Bio organic wine fair in 2006:
2005 Corbières rosé - very appealing strawberry fruit and weight, then fresh crisp and long. 87+
2004 Corbières rouge - nice depth of youthful cherry fruit with tobacco edges, well handled tannins on the finish. 88-90

11220 Saint Laurent de la Cabrerisse. Tel: 04 68 27 88 99, www.caraguilhes.fr

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