"Buy my book about the Roussillon wine region (colour paperback or eBook) on Amazon UK HERE or Amazon USA HERE. Or order it direct from me (UK & EU only). Also available in the US from Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback or eBook. For other countries, tap/click on the link over the cover photo (below right)." Richard Mark James

15 March 2008

28 February 2008

Languedoc: Laroche 'South of France' - Mas La Chevalière

Part of the Michel Laroche wine empire (Chablis, Chile, South Africa... next stop Corsica following in the footsteps of an earlier well-known emperor?!), Mas de la Chevalière is now part of the mighty - and quite impressive, it has to be said, looking at the different wineries they own - Languedoc-based JeanJean group (link goes to latest feature on them, summer 2010). The estate smartly combines tastefully refurbished Mediterranean manor house with striking metal and glass winery, and produces upmarket Vin de Pays d’Oc varietals and blends. Vineyard manager and winemaker Richard Lavanoux runs a tight ship (NB Richard is no longer with them: see update link at the bottom), whether on their own estate or working with a handful of contracted growers. Their best wines include the flagship Croix Chevalière red (Syrah, Cabernet, Mourvèdre and/or Merlot depending on the vintage), the Mas whiteChardonnay / Viognier blend and another single vineyard, red wine calledRoqua Blanca (see notes below, wines sampled at Vinisud Montpellier February 2008. Followed by latest notes added in July 2010 tasted at the winery).

The property/winery can be found on the outskirts of the attractive (in its own southern way) Languedoc town of 
Béziers, which still has a bit of a rough-diamond reputation – mostly unjustified although there are certain areas where you might not feel so comfortable walking at night – but is slowly undergoing urban redevelopment in its own, casual way. Scruffier and less lively than Montpellier, this historic city (one of Europe’s oldest) is becoming popular with young people, who can’t afford to live in the region’s capital. The nicest parts for sightseeing include the magnificent Gothic cathedral (Saint Nazaire) perched up above the old town; the ancient bridge down below across the River Orb; and the elegant, tree-lined Allées Paul Riquet, a sort of pedestrian ‘road’ adjacent to an inviting square, the inevitably named Place Jean Jaurès (who was an important 19th Century politician by the way). This area reveals a few shops, restaurants and evidence of a burgeoning wine bar scene, such as nearby Le Chameau Ivre (Drunken Camel) which is a recommended stop.

2007 Sauvignon Blanc de la Chevalière (12%) - lovely piercing grassy v ripe citrus aromas and flavours, crisp bite but not harsh with it. 85
2006 Mas la Chevalière Vignoble Peyroli (Chardy Viognier) - from a vineyard in the high Aude country. Very fresh and aromatic v very subtle toasted oak, rounded tropical fruit v attractive refreshing acidity as well. 87-89
2007 Rosé de la Chevalière (mostly Syrah) - very tasty, classic style showing creamy red fruits then crisp lively finish. 87
2007 Viognier - floral apricot notes move on to an attractive, quite lively palate and not too heavy (as Viognier can be). 87
2007 Chardonnay - appealing benchmark juicy fruity style. 87
2006 Syrah - a touch of chocolate oak on the nose with red pepper and black cherry overtones, firm mouth-feel yet nice and rounded too. 87
2006 Merlot - more attractive than previous vintages (I wasn't much of a fan of their straight Merlot until now) offering plenty of plummy fruit and full body v fresh and dry bite, well made. 87
2005 Mas la Chevalière Vignoble Roqua Blanca (Merlot Syrah Cabernet sauvignon) - from a 400-metre altitude vineyard. Smoky rustic tones v lightly herbal complexity, very concentrated berry fruit v chunky tannins and background oak. 90
2003 La Croix Chevalière (Mourvèdre Syrah Cab sauv) - pretty oaky to start but it's peppery and rich with black cherry, cassis and a twist of black olive; stonking tannins v concentration and well-handled oak undercoat; lovely textures and flavours, although closing up a little on its long finish, still youthful and a touch un-together with much more to come. 92+ 

UPDATE 2010click here for details of a new feature including the latest from MLC plus a profile of Jeanjean's other Languedoc estates. I've also included my tasting notes on new vintages below.
All "vin de pays d'Oc":
2009 La Chevalière Sauvignon Blanc - pretty typical soft citrus style with grassier edges; attractive zesty length and dry yet juicy fruity finish. 83-85
2009 La Chevalière Chardonnay (blend of Chardy from the hills north of Nimes and coastal sites) - lovely fruity nose with pear and peach notes; zingy mouth-feel and bite vs light leesy creamy flavours/texture, well-made with balanced mix of fruit, weight and crisp finish. 85+
2009 La Chevalière Viognier - enticing and exotic pineapple / apricot aromas; nice "fat" tropical palate with citrus peel twist, zestier "chalky" finish and lively length. 87
2007 Mas La Chevalière white "Vignoble Peyroli" (ChardonnayViognier) - toasty milky notes with developing oily creamy profile and exotic edges; still lively vs oily texture, good balance of fruit vs honeyed and nutty vs lightly steely touch. Again well made and attractive, still looking good and fresh yet rounded and creamy. 88+
2009 La Chevalière rosé (SyrahMerlotGrenache) - appealing juicy fruity style with lots of raspberry drops; very drinkable fruity mouthful with light, crisp and refreshing finish. 85
2008 Mas La Chevalière red "Roqua Blanca" (SyrahMerlot) - a bit closed up and toasty/grainy to start; turning more savoury on the palate with spicy coconut, attractive "sweet" fruit and textured tannins; again closes up on the finish (it had just been bottled when I tried it), could be quite fine though. 87+
2007 La Croix Chevalière red (SyrahMerlotGrenache) - sexy maturing savoury and tobacco tones, complex developing nose; spicy and chunky mouth-feel with subtle concentration, nice grip although rounded tannins; surprisingly elegant and not overdone, length and style. 90+
2009 Grenache (vat sample) - very white pepper vs liquorice and ripe berries, tobacco and herby edges too; meatier palate and quite powerful finish vs "sweet" fruit, attractive style. 87+
2009 Syrah (vat sample) - invitingly smoky dark cherry nose with minty edges; quite concentrated / extracted vs nice spicy juicy fruit, again grippy vs rounded tannins. 87

Route de Murviel, 34500 Béziers. Tel: 04 67 49 88 30, www.larochewines.com.

Roussillon: Domaine du Mas Rous, Montesquieu-des-Albères

Domaine du Mas Rous
Mas Rous stretches across 38 hectares (95 acres) in a beautiful spot snuggling up to the Albères hills along the border with Spain, roughly between Le Boulou and Collioure. Tender loving care of vines and winemaking is provided by José Pujol, aided by his wife, who took over this family-owned estate some thirty years ago. I tasted these three wines at this year's Vinisud wine show (Montpellier, Feb. 2008); more stuff to follow when I get round to visiting them.
Tradition Côtes du Roussillon (Syrah Carignan Mourvèdre Grenache 13.5%) - lovely liquorice and black cherry fruit, peppery and lively mouth-feel set on a backdrop of chunky tannins. 87+
2003 Cuvée Côtes du Roussillon (Syrah Mourvèdre Carignan 13%) - nice mature leather-tinged fruit with 'sweet' v savoury edges; ripe and rounded palate v smoky meaty tones, well-balanced dry grip v fullness to finish. 89
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes (13.5%) - not bad actually (considering Cabernet isn't always very successful in this region): a bit stalky to start yet becomes more savoury and cassis in flavour, quite concentrated too. 87
Mas Rous, 66740 Montesquieu des Albères. Tel: 04 68 89 64 91.

27 February 2008

Roussillon: Clos Saint Georges, Trouillas

Dominique and Claude Ortal from www.clos-saint-georges.comClaude and Dominique Ortal's extensive 60 hectare (150 acre) estate lies tucked away in the open rolling countryside between the villages of Trouillas and Pollestres (south of Perpignan), not far from Château La Casenove. The initial, slightly alarming 'alterations' to the landscape, caused by nearby work on the new Perpignan to Barcelona TGV line, have now grown back and settled in while providing Saint Georges with a new road, signpost and large roundabout to conveniently slow people down so they notice it!
Saint Georges makes quite a big range of different local styles - including rosé, vins de pays varietals, traditional fortified Muscat and Rivesaltes - out of which their cru red Les Aspres cuvée is a real highlight (see below), which they don't make very much of. This Roussillon sub-appellation has its critics and supporters (
click here and scroll down to "Straining at the Leash...", or browse through other estates in this area on these Roussillon pages for more on that): the Ortals are vociferously in the latter camp and it shows in their wines. I talked to and tasted with Claude at this year's Vinisud wine show (Montpellier, Feb. 2008), this is what he said: "We talked about it (Les Aspres) and did research for ten years parcel by parcel. Renou (the former head of France's AOC regulatory watchdog who sadly died a couple of years ago) thought it was the only AOC that fitted his new ideas on appellations. Things might change as we'd felt left out of the whole cru thing. It's a shame some aren't supporting it."
2003 Cuvée de Pierre Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres (2/3 Syrah 1/3 Grenache) - attractive mix of rustic and inky fruit v lush and vibrant flavours; nice grip of textured tannins layered with maturing fruit richness. 89+
2005 Cuvée de Pierre Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres (2/3 Syrah 1/3 Grenache) - richer and riper fruit than the 03, less smoky and developed too with more minty spicy characters; very nice wine, shows promise. 90+

Clos Saint Georges, 66300 Trouillas. Tel: 04 68 21 61 46,
clortal@wanadoo.fr, www.clos-saint-georges.com.

26 February 2008

Languedoc: Les Caves de Sieur d'Arques, Limoux

Les Caves de Sieur d'Arques

One of the biggest and most enterprising co-op cellars in the Languedoc (for example, they supply the wine for Gallo's hit US brand called Red Bicyclette, although they did allegedly get their fingers burnt over a certain "Pinot Noir" cum Merlot wine!), who produce very nice examples despite the substantial volume of the whole variety of Limoux styles. Recommended sparkling wines include their Bulle de Blanquette Brut, aged in bottle on the yeast lees for 24 months, and stylish Crémant de Limoux rosé (see tasting notes below, sampled at Vinisud Montpellier February 2008). They also do guided tours around their enormous factory-like winery and show a touristy film, which is nevertheless interesting to see how the local fizz is produced on a large scale compared to the family-run estates featured in this guide. See below under Domaine Fourn for a bit of blurb on the production of the different Limoux sparklings. Caves Sieur's still Limoux wines come from four separate vineyard areas and are also worth a taste: the best ones are arguably from La Haute Vallée, higher altitude plantings that help express more finesse perhaps.

Bulle de Blanquette Brut (Mauzac Chenin Chardy 12.5% alc, 24 months lees ageing) - elegant toasty/yeasty aromas, quite rich honeyed mouth-feel with crisp backdrop and a bit of class too. 89-91
2005 Crémant de Limoux Brut (15 months ageing) - finer in a way and more floral, less textured though with light honeyed fruit then subtle refreshing finish. 87-89
Bulle de Crémant rosé (same plus a bit of Pinot Noir) - touches of red fruits with toasted-bready undercurrents, nice mouth-feel with crisp intense length. 89+
Méthode Ancestrale tradition (100% Mauzac 6.5%) - quite sweet yet refreshing with oily developing fruit, a bit odd although nice. 85+

UPDATE: latest Sd'A wines and vintages are here (Limoux report, April 2011).

Avenue de Carcassonne, 11303 Limoux. Tel: 04 68 74 63 00, www.sieurdarques.com.

Languedoc: Domaine Stella Nova, Pézenas

A winemaking consultancy team called Natolix headed up by Jean Natoli, who created the well-regarded www.oenoconseil.frhad a stand at this year's Vinisud wine show in Montpellier, where they lined up a wide selection of their clients' wines on tasting. They work with some of the leading estates in the Languedoc, and I've picked one of my favourites below with a bit of info about this equally well-known estate winery. It may or may not be worth adding that I found a few others, which didn't exactly set the world alight or were a bit heavy-handed on the winemaking front with some of the wines swamped in chocolatey new oak. And one particular white was corked but already sampled, rather inexcusable considering the stand was full of highly qualified winemakers who should have checked every bottled opened...
Anyway, enough of the cheeky telling-off, here's one of their seductive reds from Domaine Stella Nova plus a bit of blurb about them:

Philippe Richy is yet another refugee Paris businessman who packed his bags and headed south, learned about vines and wine and in 2002 purchased vineyards near Caux, in the new Pézenas subzone. He's also converting the estate over to biodynamic farming methods, man.

2004 Les Pléiades rouge Coteaux du Languedoc (Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre) - very lush and extracted but it has lovely ripe resiny fruit on top of those BIG tannins and powerful finish. €13.50 90

546 Route d’Usclas, 34230 Paulhan. Tel:, www.stellanova.fr.


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