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20 February 2009

Languedoc: Château Pech-Latt, Corbières

Pech-Latt is a little off the beaten track, lying in an idyllic spot the other side of the tiny village of Ribaute and surrounded by nothing but vines (around 100 ha / 250 acres), although it’s quite well signposted whichever way you approach it from. Regarded as one of the leading lights in the Languedoc for organic viticulture and producing top-notch Corbières, their range is as handsome and complete as the fading old château itself. The reds in particular show the kind of depth and excitement you can achieve from well-looked after and highly expressive terrain typical of the Lagrasse area. Vineyards and winemaking are overseen by Philippe Mathias, who with his partner Sophie Guiraudon have a small domaine of their own called Clos de l’Anhel (see winery A to Z, right).

Tasted October 2008 - February 2009:

2007 Corbières white (mostly Marsanne 13%) - honeysuckle and white peach, lightly floral with oily and quite full mouth-feel v reasonably fresh and relatively light; quite nice although turns a bit bland when it warms up (second tasting). 80-85
Corbières rosé (13.5%) - tasted in situ: quite punchy with yeast-lees notes, crisp dry palate with light red fruits. Second bottle at home: a bit blander and flatter, I wonder if the plastic cork is to blame for that variation (premature oxidation, so to speak)? 80-85
Corbières vieilles vignes (Carignan Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre 14.5%) - a tad closed up, awkward and 'reductive' on the nose to start; however, moving on quickly to distinctly delicious lush dark fruit with a bitter chocolate twist, tobacco v violet edges too; very firm with big texture, closes up on the finish needing a good year to express itself fully, I'd say. Very nice though. 90-92
2006 Tamanova (Syrah Carignan Grenache Mourvèdre 14%) - also not very revealing at first, hinting at dark fruits; quite extracted and solid with chocolate texture although plenty of fruit buried underneath. We'll see. Another bottle another time: indeed, its rich spicy fruit is now more to the fore and the oak is melting into its generous rounded texture. 90+
1995 Les Pi
èces Nobles Vin de Liqueur (Grenache 15.5%) - jammy fruit with mature meaty edges, sweet v nutty oxidised flavours with a touch of grip too helping to balance out the sugar. 87-89

More Pech-Latt wines here (Millésime Bio 2006).

Ribaute, 11220 Lagrasse. Tel: 04 68 58 11 40, 

14 February 2009

Languedoc: Château Saint-Esteve, Corbières-Boutenac

Château Saint-Esteve

Saint-Esteve is an alluring estate forlorn among old pine trees, wild shrubs and expansive vineyards (doh, what else), found up a track off the D611 between Montséret, Thézan and Portel. Eric and Sylvie Latham took it over, including 55 ha of vines (140 acres), in the mid-80s and are now making some attractive chunky reds from SyrahGrenacheCarignan and Mourvèdre. Their 2006s, selected and noted below, are showing especially well. Eric and Sylvie also have a big five-bedroom gîte available to rent in the summer: see website for info. Links to updates at the bottom.

Tasted in Oct. 08 and Feb. 09:
2005 Corbières - smoky ripe nose, a tad oxidised but has some depth with that old-fashioned style; firm yet quite rich, beginning to fade a bit although shows attractive savoury cheesy mature notes, drinking now. €4.50 85-87

Corbières - livelier than the 05 with spicy menthol fruit and cherry & liquorice notes; attractive rounded fruit v grip on the finish. 87+
2006 Ganymède Boutenac - I found the 2005 Ganymède a bit too firm, rustic and lacking charm. However
, the 2006 is spicier showing good depth of black cherry and olive with  liquorice edges; firm-textured and powerful with chocolate hints and nice lingering fruit. Needs a couple of years. 89

Latest updates: here (2009 vintage report, June 2010) and here (Boutenac & 2010 vintage report, May 2011).

11200 Thézan-des-Corbières. Tel: 04 68 43 32 34, www.chateau-saint-esteve.com.

04 February 2009

Languedoc: Domaine Saint Andrieu, Montpeyroux

Domaine Saint Andrieu

The Giner family is a big fan of the Mourvèdre and Carignan varieties (and not forgetting Grenache and Syrah of course); for example, their meaty smoky Les Marnes Bleues contains around three-quarters of the former and one-quarter the latter. Other traditional-styled, slightly rustic yet elegantly balanced red blends include La Séranne and L'Yeuse Noire; all sourced from a variety of plots totalling 17 ha planted at between 130 and 330 metres (425 to over 1000 feet). Charles Giner made his first vintage in 1995, although has been growing grapes since replanting new land with his wife in 1980 and taking over much older family vineyards at that time (now 50 to 70 year-old Carignan).
Their wines age very well and start to show real complexity after about five years; the charming Charles takes great pleasure in tasting and talking about them with you in their cave-like old cellar (as we did in February
 2009: see my notes below). It’s worth driving - or better still walking - around the Montpeyroux area, by the way, to take in its remote beauty, with vineyards mixed in among swathes of wild herbs, flowers and bushes; as well as visiting other estates such as Domaine Boisantin (Charles’ daughter Anne Jeffroy actually); and the village co-op also makes good everyday wines.

2005 Vallongue Coteaux du Languedoc Montpeyroux (mostlyCarignan) - aromatic blueberry and cassis aromas, interesting herbal tones too; quite soft and savoury with maturing dried fruits v a bit of grip, quite elegant with subtle tannins. 85
2003 La Séranne (CarignanMourvèdreGrenacheSyrah) - smokier and more leather tinged with cooked fruit notes; weightier (14%) with more solid tannins yet nice mature fruit and still quite fine, despite it being a hot-vintage 2003. 87-89
2002 Les Marnes Bleues (MourvèdreCarignan) - shades of animal and dried black olives but also enticing 'sweet' fruit, complex smoky and mature; firmer and tighter, very attractive now yet still alive for a 2002 (less good vintage). 87+
2001 L'yeuse noire (45% Mourvèdre + Syrah, Carignan, Grenache) - more intricate and toasted/rustic with fig, dried cherry and liquorice notes; elegant, concentrated and mature with rounded v firm structure, power v finesse. 89-91
2002 Domaine Boisantin L'Embellic (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan) - developing 'volatile' meaty balsamic nose with 'sweet' berries, mint and liquorice; similar balance and style, firm v fruity, drinking now as it won't get much better. 87

Earlier vintages here ("Meet the winegrowers tasting," Montpellier 2005: scroll down to Montpeyroux).

La Dysse, 1 Chemin d’Aigues Vives, 34150 Montpeyroux.
Tel: 04 67 96 61 37; giner.charles@wanadoo.frwww.montpeyroux.typepad.com.

01 February 2009

Languedoc: Domaine Clavel, La Méjanelle / St-Christol

Pierre Clavel’s name often crops up among those estates considered as leading lights in the Languedoc; and when you taste his wines, it’s not hard to see why. But they aren’t showy, like the people behind them (a laid-back welcome to this attractive neck-of-the-woods, just north of Montpellier, is part of their style by the way); showing in fact purity, depth and balance as a hallmark across the range. Pierre is Jean Clavel's son: a long-time Languedoc winegrower, activist and historian who has an info-packed blog dedicated to the region's wines and the fate of its growers, past (especially the 1907 Revolt) and future (e.g. news and views on EC wine reforms); and who was a great help for an article I did in Decanter magazine (December 2007 issue) - more on that by clicking here (page down to "CRAV - 100 years of protest").

Back to Domaine Clavel, having worked more or less organically for many years, Pierre will be officially certified (or rather the vines will, not meaning to imply he's certifiable!) from the 2008 vintage; a particularly cracking one too from evidence of the tank and barrel samples I tried, see below. They recently replanted a very stony chalky and sloping vineyard at Mas de Périé with Syrah and Muscat (possibilities of a Languedoc-style Cote Rotie perhaps?), and have also leased some plots in the nearby Pic Saint-Loup appellation, whose official ‘border’ is actually only a few hundred metres away from here. Otherwise the bulk of Pierre's older vineyards are located in ‘Grés de Montpellier’ country on the highly rated terroirs of La Méjanelle and around Saint-Christol.

My favourites include Le Marteau and Copa Santa, both of which need a few years to open up and express themselves fully. Next time you're in Montpellier, why not try them in the comfort of their neat spacious and large-windowed tasting room opposite the cellar? To get there, drive through the village of Assas heading north, following the sign for Sainte-Croix, then take a left down the tree-lined track (second left a few minutes out of the village) that leads up to the winery buildings. They also have a family holiday gite on site or do B&B outside of the summer season - see website for details. Pierre's top reds might be on the pricey side - Copa Santa €14.50 and Des Clous €26 - but his Le Mas red and rosé start at €5.60: "you have to eat and keep things ticking over," as he put it.

These wines tried and tested at Millésime Bio wine show (Montpellier January) and/or at the domaine in February 2009:
2008 Cascaille Coteaux du Languedoc '
La Méjanelle' (Roussanne,Grenache blancVermentino & splash of Viognier) - lean mineral edges v pear and citrus fruit, layered with light yeast-lees notes and finishing with nice elegant bite. 85+
2007 Cascaille (13%) - lightly exotic and aromatic with subtle lees undertones, fresh mineral bite v gently creamy finish. 85+
2008 Les Garrigues (
Grenache Mourvèdre) - lovely perfumed herbal nose v rich liquorice too, thick fruit and tannins yet relatively light and juicy; concentrated dark fruits, liquorice and spice lead the charge on the finish. 89(+)
Les Garrigues (Syrah Mourvèdre Grenache) - nice smoky ripe black fruits; fine grained soft-ish tannins, quite elegant and tasty length. 87(+)
Le Marteau (Syrah Grenache Carignan from St-Christol) - delicious spicy wild herbs and black cherry Syrah style; again concentrated yet juicy fruity with solid v fresh finish. 91+
2007 Le Marteau - closed nose at first, moving on to spicy minty black cherry fruit, quite rich and seductive; firm tannins but not very, attractive lively undercurrent as well. 90+
2006 Le Marteau - rather cold but showing a slightly richer nose v herbal cassis complexity; firm structured and powerful v spicy dark fruit and bitter chocolate on the finish (no wood though); needs a few months and warmer environment to open up, as it's beginning to taste well. 89+
2008 Copa Santa (Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre from La Méjanelle) - slightly reduced on the nose to start (unfinished sample remember), turning cassis;
 much firmer and tighter v lush liquorice, big grip and concentration; very promising, please don't swamp it in too much oak! 92-94
Copa Santa - again rather cold with coconut oak quite prominent; thick coating of tannins and fruit, tight and long finish; needs 1-2 years. Next day: the oak has merged in more, revealing denser 'sweeter' fruit v thick layer of dry yet nicely grained tannins; dark cherry, chocolate and spice lurking in the background. 90-92
Copa Santa 2004 here ("Languedoc & Roussillon reds over €10" tasting).

Mas de Périé, Route de Sainte-Croix, 34820 Assas. Tel: 04 99 62 06 13, info@vins-clavel.frwww.vins-clavel.fr.

Languedoc: Les Sabots d'Hélène, Corbières

Les Sabots d'Hélène

Amiable Alban Michel established Les Sabots d’Hélène in 2005. Apart from being his girlfriend's name, this refers to a title of a George Brassens' song, I'm reliably informed from a Google search, the cult French 'folk' singer - songwriter (for want of a better word, his lyrics are often more poetic and cutting than what you might usually refer to as 'folk'). So Alban is now the other new winegrower (along with Geoffroy Marchand at L'Etoile de Matin) in the blink-and-miss-it village of Feuilla, bringing their number to a grand total of two (not much more room there for another cellar anyway). Alban is originally from the northeast, French Mosel country, and landed here after working in the southern Rhone and over the hills in the Roussillon. He talked about "the gold mine" this area represents and how the locals had missed the point, with its inexpensive vineyard land, fine old vines and climate so suitable for organic and biodynamic growing (he does). His domaine comes to a slender 4.5 hectares / 12 acres of (mostly Carignan) vines lying at altitude along the vividly wild southern chunk of the craggy Corbières hills. But he isn't very interested in expanding in size as he can do everything himself this way.

Alban's wines are priced between €9 and €14, I tasted these in Jan/Feb 2009:
2006 La LiberTerre Vin de Pays Coteaux du Littoral Audois (100% Carignan 13.5%) - 1. very cold when I tried it in his cellar: a bit dominated by woody notes at first, lush v aromatic cassis fruit underneath then tight firm length. Needs a year or so in bottle I suspect.
2. Less obvious oak when warmer and aerated a little, although still has light coco spice, texture and flavour; similarly dense and powerful with aromatic cassis & blueberry, turning more liquoricey and meaty after left open for a day; nice dry v sweet texture, chunky pure fruit and spice; beginning to turn savoury, well-balanced and tasty finish. 89+?
2007 L'Abus d'ange heureux Vin de Liqueur de Carignan - delicious raspberry, liquorice and treacle flavours / aromas balanced by spicy intensity (17%) and dry tannins; very nice and unusual too. (60 g/l residual sugar)
2006 La Mauvaise Réputation Vin de Pays Coteaux du Littoral Audois (100% Carignan 14% alc. unfiltered) - quite coconut oaky at first, but when it warmed up plus with a bit of air (in fact it was better after being open for 2 days), it had appealing aromatic cassis, black cherry & blueberry fruit; thick-textured dry tannins, concentrated pure fruit with that oak moving into the background; powerful and firm v lush, pure and tasty. 89+?
2006 Pas de Bla Blah Corbières (Syrah Carignan 13.5%) - quite intense and aromatic showing attractive lush fruit with funky edges, black cherry spice and liquorice; ripe v very dry textured, concentrated rich and spicy although a touch grainy / gritty. Full of character but again there's perhaps something slightly intrusive about those barrels, in terms of texture on the finish? 88(-90)

11510 Feuilla Tel : 04 68 64 94 20 / 06 32 88 44 63, www.sabotshelene.com.


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