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30 November 2007

Languedoc: Domaine Siméoni, Saint-Chinian

Domaine Siméoni

Cordial couple Sylvie and Franck Siméoni plunged themselves into running their domaine organically right from the start: they set up shop in the region in 2001, after leaving jobs in the north to try and make a living in Saint-Chinian wine country. Out of the several cuvées they make, their La Toure (mostly 100+ year-old Carignan from this namesake vineyard) and L'Ame des Schistes (usually Syrah and Mourvèdre) stand out in particular for this scribbler's palate. They also do some tasty and fun Vin de Pays varietals, quirkily labelled with a sense of humour: a stripy Mourvèdre red and rosé, a Syrah called La Tête à l'Envers ('head inside out' or 'wrong way round') and a Carignan Vin de Crise ('crisis wine')! Click here for notes on some of these, tasted at Millésime Bio in 2006.
Commendably and bravely (purely because it might be perceived as un-trendy or down-market by toasted plank fans), they stopped using any wood for ageing their wines in 2002. Other 'house secrets' include "preferring to pick everything very ripe then do less extraction during vinification," as Franck explained his non-rocket-science approach. This year (2008) sees the launch of a new chunky Syrah rosé (see below); and the Siméonis have purchased a further 5 ha of vineyard, which is gradually being converted to organics. If you're in the area, it's best to make an appointment as their time is divided between Prades-sur-Vernazobre (home/office), the cellar in Cazouls-lès-Béziers and vineyard plots found here and there between the two.


I tasted these 2007 samples from the vats in Cazouls on a sunny but chilly (especially in that cellar, not surprisingly) late November day, 2007:
2007 
Rosé de Syrah, St-Chinian (14%) - delicious fruit on a crisp and zingy yet weighty palate, very drinkable and stylish foodie rosé. 87
2007 
Aramon - attractive juicy boiled sweet aromas lead on to tangy redcurrant and strawberry flavours, fresh and gluggable.
2007 
Cinsault - delicious black cherry, rounded tasty and fresh.
2007 
Grenache – gorgeous fruit and ripe rounded mouth-feel, fair grip too with the 15%+ alcohol not so obvious (this will be blended anyway). Very promising.
2007 
Syrah + 10% Carignan – spicy and vibrant showing very ripe dark cherry fruit. Good stuff.
2007 La Toure (1 ha/2.5 acres of 1898 
Carignan) – incredible colour with superb spicy blackberry and perfumed violets, concentrated and powerful with fresh elegant length. Wow, should be stunning after it settles down a little.
2007 the remaining 
Carignan – crisper and more closed up but again shows nice fruit and style.
2007 
Mourvèdre – black olive with lively almost citrus tones, austere tannins yet it's very fruity with chunky concentrated finish. Another future star probably.
2001 Domaine Siméoni rouge (their first vintage blend aged in American oak) – maturing savoury edges with leather and dried cherry fruit, quite sumptuous and savoury on the finish. 
89

Route de Berlou, 34360 Prades-sur-Vernazobre. Tel/fax: 04 67 93 78 92, mobile: 06 99 40 66 62, simeoni5@aol.comwww.domainesimeoni.com

24 November 2007

Languedoc: Mas Champart, Saint-Chinian

LATEST HERE (St Chinian special Jan. 2014)

Isabelle and Matthieu Champart, who bought their first vineyard here over 30 years ago, craft an unimpeachable range of mostly reds (although I'm not that keen on their white - see below - but it's early days for this kind of style, given that white wines have only really been coming on-stream for a few years) at this secluded 16 ha (planted out of 25), or 40 acre, Saint-Chinian estate. It's located on the rapid climb, at 200m to 300m altitude (650-950 feet), to the south of the town just before the hamlet of Cazo; and is essentially a patchwork of about twenty distinct plots. Their star reds are 'Clos de la Simonette' (mostly south-facing vineyard on steep terraces, although one parcel has a more northerly exposure: the fruit from here is used for rosé, Matthieu told me in 2005) with at least 70% Mourvèdre and Grenache; and Causse du Bousquet, a more classic Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Carignan blend. By the way, their Mourvèdre was originally selected from Domaine Tempier in Bandol and Château de Beaucastel, that slightly well-known CNDP property. They have plans to build a better visitor reception area at some point (the cellar is appealingly small), so you can taste and chat in comfort. For US distribution, try Kermit Lynch in California.

I visited Mas Champart in late Nov. 2007 and opened these two bottles shortly afterwards:
2005 Causse du Bousquet, St-Chinian (50-60%
Syrah plus Grenache Mourvèdre Carignan 14%) - quite fine mix of ripe v earthy black cherry with very light cinnamon oak spice; lush concentrated and full v tight firm framework, restrained finish showing weight and elegance too. £12.50 terroirlanguedoc.co.uk. 89-91
2006 Saint-Chinian blanc (
Marsanne Roussanne Bourboulenc Grenache blanc) – toasty coconut nose with some creamy yeasty notes, full and rounded with submerged aromatic fruit but overall the oak's a bit heavy-handed, finishing too overtly woody. 80+


Plus a few notes on more Champart wines sampled at Vinisud trade fair in 2006:

"Isabelle and Matthieu Champart's lovely reds have long been among my favourite St-Chinian wines, especially their Mourvèdre rich Clos Simonette..."
2004 St-Chinian blanc
(Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache blanc & Bourboulenc) - fresh and exotic fruit then turns zesty and mineral, nice clean elegant finish. 85

2003 Côte d'Arbo St-Chinian (Syrah, Grenache & Carignan) - wild and spicy with attractive pure fruit, quite elegant with ripe soft-ish finish. 87-89
2003 Causse du Bousquet (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache & Carignan) - more liquorice and black cherry, again shows softness v concentration, grip v elegance. 90
2003 Clos de la Simonette (70% Mourvèdre & Syrah) - firmer structure and style, again displays lovely fruit and rounded tannins. 90-92


And previously these reds at a wine fair in Montpellier in 2005:
2002 Clos de la Simonette (70% Mourvèdre + Grenache) - Displays pretty good balance of firmness and forward fruit, tight elegant finish too. 87-89
2003 Clos de la Simonette (vat sample, 70% Mourvèdre + Grenache) - Shows promising classic mix of firm yet rounded tannins and lovely ripe sweet fruit within a chunky framework. 89-91
2002 Causse de Bousquet (Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre Carignan) - Also shows some of the nice concentrated black fruits of the C d'A but this has firmer leaner structure. 85-87
2003 Côte d'Arbo (vat sample Syrah Grenache Carignan) - Offers youthful chunky black cherry fruit, not finished or together but shows promise.

Bramefan, Route de Villespassans, 34360
Saint-Chinian. Tel: 04 67 38 20 09 (cellar), 04 67 38 05 59 (office), mas-champart@wanadoo.fr.

01 November 2007

1907 Revolt 2007 Roussillon

From Jean Clavel's
1907 Winegrowers' Revolt
The Roussillon 100 years on!

"An evening event orchestrated by Roussillon Wines and the Mayor of Saint-Estève November 2007... informative and commemorative, as we shouldn't forget that people died in that tragic historic year..." Plus: my pick of a tasting of award-winning wines selected for the annual Saint-Bacchus competition 1997-2007...

Eyebrow-raising title perhaps: this evening event was orchestrated by Roussillon Wines and the Mayor of Saint-Estève, the host, in November 2007. It was both informative and commemorative, as we shouldn't forget that people died in that tragic historic year. To find out more, read the feature I wrote for Decanter magazine (page down to "100 Years of Protest"), which summarises what happened and discusses its lingering relevance today. They screened a fascinating film about the 1907 crisis called 'Vendanges Amères' (bitter harvest) followed by commentary from a panel of specialists on the subject: Jean-Louis Roure, Jean Sagnes, Pierre Dauga, Thérèse Tarrieux and Jean Clavel (actually he couldn't make it but was a great source for my article). Afterwards we were treated to a tasting of award-winning wines selected for the annual Saint-Bacchus competition from 1997-2007; enhanced by delicious tit-bits created by leading caterer Christian Segui and other locally starred chefs (called Les Toques Blanches du Roussillon). Here are my notes and comments on a few of these wines, some of them now quite rare I'd imagine. I focused on reds and sweet Vins Doux Naturels (listed separately, youngest to oldest); not sure why they decided to put ten year-old rosés out for tasting...

2005 Domaine Fontanel 'Prieuré', Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel – quite oaky and wood spicy yet it shows intense fruit too, closes up a bit with a structured finish v supple tannins. A little youthful and unrevealing at the moment. 87-89
2002 Cave Abbé Rous? 'Cyrcée', Collioure – sweet herbs tinged with liquorice and leather, very ripe and floral even with a rich coating, maturing yet still chunky. 90-92
2001 Coume del Mas 'Schistes', Collioure – oily tarry maturing fruit; I think it's a bit corked as it's rather stripped and bitter on the finish? Having tried recent vintages of this great wine, difficult to believe it's knackered especially 2001, a superb year in general in the region.
2000 Domaine Piquemal 'cuvée Justin Piquemal', Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes – smoky and spicy with rich tar and meaty edges, concentrated v maturing finish. 90-92
1999 Domaine Gardiès, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel – quite dense and structured v maturing savoury fruit, fresh tannins still keeping it very alive. Yum. 92-94
1999 Château Aymerich 'Général Joseph Aymerich', Côtes du Roussillon Villages – perfumed red pepper with spicy cherry and pepper tones, elegant and long again showing some freshness. 92-94
1998 Domaine Mounié, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel – liquorice leather and garrigue notes, resiny fruit v still firm tannins although not hard. 88
1996 Terrassous (Cave de Terrats) 'Les Pierres Plates', Côtes du Roussillon – interesting mature 'sweet & savoury' fruit with a vanilla oak coating, attractive and elegant. 87
1996 Domaine Cazes 'Credo', Vin de Pays d'Oc (Cabernet sauvignon Merlot) - herbal v meaty tones, complex 'sweet & savoury' characters on the palate, mature and intriguing. 89

Vins Doux Naturels

1999 Domaine Rossignol, Rivesaltes ambré – walnut and orange aromas, lively palate although the alcohol's still a bit strong and obvious, quite complex nevertheless. 87+
1996 Domaine Pouderoux, Maury – lovely liquorice and tar with leather tones, lush v lively palate showing intricate 'sweet & savoury' fruit; fantastic with strawberries dipped in melted chocolate sauce! 93-95
1994 Cave Abbé Rous? 'Christian Reynal', Banyuls Grand Cru – stimulating although a bit too old style for me, nevertheless it's quite complex with nutty length; Tawny-like in fact. 87-89
1990 Mas Amiel, Maury – toffee plum and coffee notes proceed cooked cherries, mature v solid palate with complex fruit development; nice with foie gras de canard! 92-94
1982 Arnaud de Villeneuve (Caves de Rivesaltes/Salses) 'Hors d'Age', Rivesaltes ambré – perfumed v lush offering plenty of dried apricot, intense fruit v mature and mellow, delicious finish. 94
1976 Domaine Cazes 'cuvée Aimé Cazes', Rivesaltes ambré – extraordinary length and complex rich fruit, can't believe it's over 30 years old; lingering tangy roasted pecan nut finish. Difficult to give it a silly score – 95 I guess.

Find profiles and more wines reviewed from many of these wineries by following the red links in the Roussillon A to Z, on the right (down a bit).

13 October 2007

Languedoc: Château La Roque, Pic-Saint-Loup

Updated Dec 2012 - see below.

The elegantly imposing country château is the first thing that hits you coming up the dusty gravelly drive: it is indeed made from rock, although the estate's actually named after an eponymous 13th Century noble family. Old rock too: the tasting cellar vault is part of a restored, former Medieval post-house, I'm told. La Roque is a long-standing ambassador for the Pic-Saint-Loup appellation, which is found not far north of Montpellier scattered around its namesake peak (650 metres/2000 feet high), although the Languedoc capital feels a long way off given how quickly the terrain transforms into untamed scrub-land and pointy cliff-faces.

La Roque's specialities include their often superb Cuvée Mourvèdre, a challenging variety in this area but rewarding in certain sites in the right hands*; Syrah-based Cupa Numismae and Clos des Bénédictins, an unusual barrel fermented white. The property was taken over by Jacques and Marion Figuette in late 2006 (I didn't have the cheek to ask them how much €...), who sensibly appear happy not to make any major changes and have kept prices fairly reasonable, for such a sought-after name: €7 to €13 a bottle across the range.
*Previous owner Jack Boutin planted 9 ha/22 acres (out of 42) of Mourvèdre, which faces due south on steep pebbly terraces at approx. 200 m/650 ft altitude. Another local Mourvèdre fan is Jean Orliac at Domaine de l’Hortus (Valflaunès), who has 11 ha ("and increasing" as he told me back in 2005) in one similarly elevated vineyard sitting smack-bang between Pic St-Loup and Mont de l’Hortus.*

I tasted these Ch. La Roque wines with Marion Figuette in October 2007:
2005 Tradition blanc (Rolle Roussanne Marsanne) – oily honeysuckle tones, nice texture and maturing fruit v lightly crisp elegant finish. 85-87
2006 Clos des Bénédictins blanc (Rolle Roussanne Marsanne) – toastier and creamier yet very floral with exotic white peach tones; zingy v fat with attractive balance and style. 87-89
2004 Tradition rouge (Syrah Mourvèdre Grenache) – tangy cassis and cherry fruit, lightly creamy palate with firm fresh bite, drinking well now in fact. 85-87
2005 – a touch richer and more concentrated than above with attractive cherry and liquorice fruit, followed by dry grip and good length. 87-89
2003 Cupa Numismae (60% Syrah 40% Mourvèdre) – smoky and slightly animal showing lush dark cherry and blackberry/olive notes, a bit of spicy oak adds texture to a solid firm palate; good balance of ripe v structured and maturing v a few years ahead of it. 89-91
2004 – more fragrant floral and spicy (the Syrah comes out more), more delicate mouth-feel yet still juicy lush and firm with elegant length. 89-91
2005 – closed and chunky, attractive concentration and rounded fruit, powerful tannins at the moment which should unfurl nicely.89-91
2003 Cuvée Mourvèdre (90% plus 10% Grenache) – 'sweet' herbs liquorice and black olive, ripe with resiny development, quite delicate actually (considering the hot vintage) v dry tannins and lovely length. 90-92
2005 – smokier and a tad toastier yet still 'sweet' herbal and liquoricey, delicious fruit concentration and fine tannins on a commanding, mouth-coating finish; yum, give it a couple of years to really shine. 92-94

UPDATE: latest La Roque wines here (PSL report April 2011). 

UPDATE 2012

34 ha (85 acres) of vineyards are now certified organic since vintage 2011, hence these wines below are their first 'official' samples aired and tasted earlier this year at Millésime Bio wine show in Montpellier.

Languedoc Pic Saint Loup
2011 white - nice creamy yeasty edges with exotic fruit notes, aromatic and floral too then crisp fresh finish. Good.
2011 rosé - rose petal aromas with creamy red fruits, quite full and rounded with oily notes and nice fruity vs crisp finish.
2011 red (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) - enticing aromatic spicy minty fruit, fairly rich and fruity with a meatier side too, concentrated vs softer mouth-feel. Should be good.

Older vintages in this post including 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003 Cuvée Mourvèdre; from a visit in 2005.

Château La Roque, 34270 Fontanès. Tel: 04 67 55 34 47, contact@chateau-laroque.eu, www.chateau-laroque.fr

05 October 2007

Languedoc: Château l'Euzière, Pic-Saint-Loup

Château L'Euzière

Brother and sister Michel and Marcelle Causse run this charming, old family property found on the main road through Fontanès. Or rather their mini-manor house and winery at least: the 23 ha/55 acres of vineyard spread out around the village, a mixture of older vines and more recent plantings as they continue to improve quality in the field. The top red cuvée, les Escarboucles, is based mostly on Syrah; L'Almandin is an earlier-drinking, 'SGM' blend but still quite serious with aromatic pure fruit; and they also make a very nice white called Grains de Lune. One to watch and relatively reasonably priced (
Pic-Saint-Loup commands higher prices than other parts of the Languedoc) at €6 to €12.50 across their range. These wines sampled in their cellar and handsome vaulted stone tasting room in October 2007:


2006 Almandin (tank sample, 
Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre) – lovely perfumed black cherry with gamey edges developing into liquorice and violets, firm and fresh showing nice elegance with a touch of weight and length too. 89
2006 Escarboucles (barrel sample, more 
Syrah + Grenache Mourvèdre) – quite a bit of spicy coconut at the moment (12 to 14 months in one year-old casks) but again has that delicious black cherry fruit, more structured with firmer tannins; closed finish with dry texture v underlying 'sweetness'. 89-91
2005 – quite smoky with blackberry and cassis, a little closed up offering light spice and liquorice tones with gamey edges, rounded v soild mouth-feel although again it's quite elegant. 
90+

More of their wines here (Vinisud 2006).

Ancien Chemin d’Anduze, 34270 
Fontanès. Tel: 04 67 55 21 41, leuziere@chateauleuziere.frwww.chateauleuziere.fr


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