"Buy my book about the Roussillon on Amazon UK in paperback or eBook or black & white version, and Amazon USA: paperback or eBook or black & white. OR BUY IT DIRECT FROM ME (UK & EU only). Also available in the US from Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback or eBook. For other countries, tap on the link above the cover photo (below right)." Richard Mark James

21 January 2008

Languedoc: Domaine de Malavieille, Terrasses du Larzac

Domaine de Malavieille

This 44 hectare (100 acre) organically grown Languedoc estate - certified in 2000 and now following the path to biodynamic enlightenment (or rather mystery perhaps) - is owned and run by Mireille and André Bertrand, who sell most of their wines in France but do also export a bit (Belgium, Spain, Japan, Sweden, Netherlands, Germany), so that gives you English-speakers a good excuse to go and discover them for yourselves. Their vineyards are mostly located within the very promising Languedoc sub-appellation called 
Terrasses du Larzac (meaning there are several very good producers in the area, who appear to have justified claims that it merited being delimited in its own right), heading towards Faugères in one direction and the outskirts of country town Clermont-l'Hérault in the other (so, a good bit west of Montpellier). Surrounding the ruins of the 14th-Century Chateau de Malavieille, there are also parcels that stretch into Montpeyroux and Saint-Saturnin, two other neighbouring Languedoc 'terroirs' staking a claim to making individual wines.
Overall, the Bertrands make an inspiring range of reds fashioned from nine different varieties, although with the region's famous-five at their heart (see below); plus a few surprises such as La Boutine, a rich dry white made from Chenin Blanc - a variety you don't see much of in this area and one of seven white varieties planted here. 
I tasted this, probably their flagship red at Millésime Bio in Perpignan, January 2008. Click here: Millésime Bio 2006 and here: MB 2005 for notes on other wines including the very nice 2001 vintage of Permien.

2005 Permien rouge, Terrasses du Larzac (
Carignan Grenache Cinsault Mourvèdre Syrah) - lovely floral spicy black cherry nose, leading on to soft ripe liquorice fruit v firm tannins adding a refreshing, bitter/sweet twist. Good value too at €7. 90

Latest here...

Malavieille, 34800 Mérifons. Tel: 04 67 96 34 67, domainemalavieille.merifons@wanadoo.fr,www.domainemalavieille.com.

01 December 2007

Languedoc: Mas Belles Eaux

Revamped by the might, money and know-how of the AXA Millésimes group (assurance / insurance / property investment: owner of Château Pichon-Longueville in Pauillac, Disznókő in Tokaj and Quinta do Noval Port among others), who combined two vineyards - Château Ste. Hélène and Château Belles Eaux - to form a 90 hectare (220 acre) estate. Here you'll find Syrah (some grafted onto underperforming Carignan), Grenache, Mourvèdre (4 ha replanted) and parcels of old vine Carignan on the gravel/clay slopes of Caux in the central Languedoc, lost (and I mean lost, without the mysterious imaginary monsters though: they're improving the signposting) between Pézenas and Montpellier. The stately 16th to 19th Century buildings (from the original barrel cellar to handsome chateau added later) are being renovated, part of which houses the remodelled and re-equipped winery.
Stockists in the UK include independent wine merchants such as the splendid PW Amps in Peterborough, Ipswich Fine Wines, JH Logan of Edinburgh, Topsham Wines near Exeter, crammed-with-lovely-bottles Wimbledon Wine Cellars and direct e-tailer fromvineyardsdirect.com. For more info on their UK and US distribution, contact Marie Louise Schÿler:
mlschyler@chateauxassocies.com. They also launched a bag-in-box red a couple of years ago in France, which doesn't, in retrospect, really seem to fit in with their 'premium-positioning' plans (to use the marketing babble), but I haven't heard anything about that since then.
Tasted August 2006:
2003 Fûts de Chêne (Syrah Grenache Carignan 14.5%, 12 months in French 20% new oak) - rich purple turning red/brown at the edges, ripe plum and black cherry notes, smoky and rustic with very light cedar and spice undertones; quite concentrated, nice soft rounded palate v grip and power, drinking fairly well now. Better balance than the Ste-Hel in terms of alcohol, extraction etc. £7.99 88-90
2003 Sainte-Hélène (same varieties plus Mourvèdre, from selected plots) - delicious earthy plum and black cherry/olive, very ripe and aromatic with subtle background oak; lush and forward, rich and soft with textured tannins and light oak; pity about that 14.5% alcohol (at least I'd say), which throws a very nice wine out of kilter. A victim of heatwave 2003? Look forward to the 2004. £15 87 (because of its overly hot finish).
Update: I visited the winery in October 2006 and re/tasted the following:
2004 Chardonnay fûts de chêne (no new oak) - creamier and fatter than the basic Chardy with nice oat character v light peachy fruit; more power and texture, rounded with well judged oak. 85-87
Muscat vendanges d'automne (13.5% 80 grams/litre residual sugar) - made "for fun" from sun-shrivelled berries: gorgeously exotic, slightly
botrytis aromas lead to lovely citrus and peach fruit; quite fresh acidity actually v lush sweetness. 89
2003 Fûts de Chêne - nice ripe spicy black cherry with light liquorice, beginning to develop; fairly soft texture v quite powerful alcohol v dry rounded tannins, attractive fruity length with well integrated wood. 89
2003 Sainte-Hélène - a little woodier but not much (from the 05 vintage they're only using 1 year old barrels, by the way), richer more intense dark fruit aromas and palate; firmer and tighter yet still rounded tannins, pretty concentrated v slightly hot alcohol. 89
2004 Fûts de Chêne (10% more Syrah than the 03, 13.5%) - a touch more vanilla, the fruit's a little subdued on the nose; however the palate launches into attractive black cherry intensity, firm tight and fresher than the 03, shows greater elegance and promise. 89-91
2004 Sainte-Hélène (20% more Syrah, more Mourvèdre, Carignan, less Grenache; 14.5%) - light coconut notes v rich liquorice and cherry fruit, firm grip with good texture and weight; fine length with alcohol much better integrated, needs 6-12 months to open out and the oak to merge into the fruit.

Update 2007/08: for a start, they've relaunched the estate and its top reds as Mas Belles Eaux with the promising 2005 and 06 vintages. Cédric Loiseau, the winery & vineyard manager placed in situ by AXA, has overseen replanting of over 20 ha and upgrading parcels of Syrah with "top-grafting and retraining," as their blurb says (meaning young Syrah was grafted directly onto old Syrah or a different variety more likely, then the trellising was redone accordingly). In addition, the "two-level winery" is nearly finished and fitted out with small temperature-controlled concrete vats (very de rigueur). Big boss Christian Seely commented: "This was a departure from our normal policy of restoring great vineyards to their former glory. This time we are creating one instead. I truly believe that Mas Belles Eaux is capable of producing some of the great red wines of the Languedoc." Mind you, they'll have to be given the high prices they're aiming for - see below.
Tasted December 2007:
2006 MBE Vieux Carignan, Vin de Pays de Caux (100% 60 year-old Carignan, 13.5%) - light coconut oak lifts off to reveal fragrant cassis, damson and liquorice fruit; intense and tangy v ripe and full palate, attractively tight grip with concentration and chocolate cherry length. 89-91
2005 MBE Les Coteaux, AOC Languedoc (70% Syrah 20% Grenache 10% Mourvèdre 14.5%) - similar to the Sainte-Hélène, below, but a touch quirkier (maybe it's the Mourvèdre?) and less overtly oaky-smooth, showing vibrant black cherry and chocolate with earthy undertones; fresh tannins v rounded ripe mouth-feel, in the end the alcohol is pretty well integrated too. 90 £12.99
2005 MBE Sainte-Hélène, AOC Languedoc (80% Syrah 10% Grenache 10% Carignan 14.5%) - impressive and lush with ripe concentrated black cherry v coconut oak texture, underlying spicy smoky liquorice notes too, rounded and structured with tighter bite to finish. It's almost a bit too Bordeaux, oak-textured and seamless; yet those rich vibrant Mediterranean edges, which might develop over time, carry it. 90+? £21.99

Mas Belles Eaux, 34720 Caux. Tel: 04 67 09 30 96 / 95 (the latter Cédric Loiseau's direct line),
contact@mas-belleseaux.com,  www.mas-belleseaux.com

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:
Rosé de Syrah, St-Chinian (14%) - delicious fruit on a crisp and zingy yet weighty palate, very drinkable and stylish foodie rosé. 87
Aramon - attractive juicy boiled sweet aromas lead on to tangy redcurrant and strawberry flavours, fresh and gluggable.
Cinsault - delicious black cherry, rounded tasty and fresh.
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.
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.
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. 

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).


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