Some reflections on a trip around the Corbieres and Limoux
I have often said that Pic Saint Loup is one of my favourite wine growing areas, and that I have rarely had a disappointing wine from there. Domaines such as Mas Bruguiere, Hortus and Foulaquier are some of my personal favourites. It is also a beautiful area to visit with stunning scenery.
I was delighted to see, therefore, that the village of Valflaunès was holding its Festa De La Vendemia. It was a great opportunity to go along and try out more PSL domaines.
What we found when we got there was so much more than a wine festival though. There were lots of great food stalls selling everything from cheese, honey and bread to chestnut tapenade and vegetable pakoras. This made it easy for people to put together picnics or choose from local cafés or the village restaurant.
There were some really well put together exhibitions on a range of subjects such as how the region was involved in World War 1, 19thC local dress, what a vigneron’s cave would have looked like in 1930, local wildlife and so on. Street musicians, folklore dancing, choirs and other street animations meant that the whole village was full of life and activity and it seemed like everyone who lives there was involved in the events. Top class organisation, a real model of how a village can show itself at its best.
Of course, wine was our principal reason for being there and there were plenty of domaines represented. I could not get round them all especially in the afternoon when the crowds around the stalls became larger. These are some impressions from the tastings I did.
White wines were rather disappointing to be honest. They were not ideal conditions for serving white wine of course, temperatures in the low to mid 20s and wines standing on stalls for a while. However, many white wines seemed a little flabby and almost sweet. Roussanne and Marsanne (the main grapes used in the area) would be expected to produce drier, fresher wines than most of those I found here. The exception was Chateau Lancyre’s La Rouvière 2012 which did offer the elusive freshness I personally want in white wine. Otherwise, the best two whites I tasted included a Sauvignon Blanc, not something I expected, and a Chardonnay/Viognier/Roussanne blend from Hortus. I honestly was not tempted to buy any white wine that I tasted. At around 10€ I expected better. Perhaps the conditions were to blame but …
Red wines were much better though there were few outstanding wines. All wines were variations of Syrah and Grenache usually blended with other varieties such as Mourvedre and Carignan. Hortus and Bruguiere showed their entry level wines and neither really shone. My preferred wines were Domaine Mortiès’ classic Pic St Loup 2012 and Chateau de Moucheres’ Tradition 2012 both wines I would happily buy, again priced around 10€. Hats off to Domaine Zumabum Tomasi for showing a 2006 wine, it is rare to be offered older vintages and this wine showed how well PSL can age. I was less impressed by one producer who ignored visitors, not just me!, so that she could chat with a friend, I shan’t give a name but I wouldn’t go back. There were a number of quite thin wines from other domaines too, so I now know that Pic St Loup, like every area, has its good and weaker producers.
Top of the class was an easy choice. Domaine Saint Daumary is in the village of Valflaunès itself and was recommended to me by one of the Rugbymen. Thank you for the recommendation Romain, you were right. Julien Chapel is a young producer and I thought the two reds he offered for tasting were both delicious; full, satisfying wines with the silkiness I associate with my favourite Pic St Loup wines. I was especially taken by the Syrah dominant wine Troisième Mi-Temps. I returned to buy some of the wine but Julien was surrounded by large numbers of people wanting to taste his wine. I shall definitely make a return journey to buy.
Overall, a really enjoyable day out. The wine kept me happy but there was so much going on that children, families and non wine drinkers would be entertained. Well done to Valflaunès and thank you.
In a previous post on October 1st (Fin de Vendanges a Mas Coutelou, One Day Like This) I described the hugely enjoyable day spent harvesting Grenache Noir grapes in the company of the Rugbymen of Béziers. Well, the grapes were placed in tank and left to ferment using carbonic maceration. After 3 weeks it was time to press the grapes and the Rugbymen were back.
The grapes tasted wonderful, full of fruit but with added layers of strength and alcoholic sweetness from fermenting within their skins. Then it was time for the Rugbymen to show the results of all that training.
The juice ran freely even as the cage was being loaded and then the press began its work.
The wine was put into bidons (bonbonnes) of glass wrapped in straw for safe keeping and to avoid light damaging the wine. Each bonbonne was carefully marked to ensure that it will be possible to taste the different stages of the wine pressing, from the first freely flowing juice to the last of the pressed wine. It was interesting to taste the wine as it appeared through these stages, there were distinct differences. Various Rugbymen, Jeff and myself all had their own,differing preferences. It will be fascinating to monitor their evolution.
Once again thanks to the Rugbymen, they really are good fun, warm hearted and top men!
It was also a good opportunity to taste the wine from Castets, the rare variety which is grown by Jeff as one of only two producers in the world.
WOW! This is already something special. Fruit, light at first just grows in flavour and depth as it coats the mouth and lingers there for a long time. It is amazing and with time in tank and then in bottle (magnums are the likely future) this is a wine I really want to drink when it is mature.
Remember the photo above from the last post? Well, I was delighted to see this post on Facebook from a wine merchant called La Nature Du Vin showing the arrival of some of the cases we packed and the evident delight of the merchant as well as customers. So, I thought I’d complete the picture. The Cave is at 3 route des Vignes, Saint Julien en Genevois, Rhone-Alpes, near the Swiss border. I would definitely call off there if in the area as they have an excellent range of wines.
No you haven’t missed Parts 1 & 2! It is widely acknowledged that the work of a vigneron involves three locations; the vineyard, the cellar and the office. The first two parts are the most well known of course and what people like me think of first when we think about the ‘glamorous’ lifestyle of winemakers. However, if you don’t sell the wine and get it delivered safely to merchants, restaurants etc then it is pointless trying to make wine.
Now that harvest is done and the wines are stored in tanks, either fermenting or maturing, the more mundane, but equally important, aspect of a winemaker’s job comes to the fore. Wines have to be bottled, packaged, sent to market and, above all, sold. Jeff said to me that this was not especially interesting but, for me, it was.
Jeff has built a strong demand for his wines both in France and abroad. Our recent visit to Paris and the fact that his wines are sold out there proved the case. Visitors to the cellars call on a regular basis looking for wine, merchants phone wanting to place orders – his mobile phone is never far from Jeff’s ear.
On Friday last week a new ‘toy’ arrived to help the packaging. It seals the cardboard cartons and prints the name of the wine on the side, speeding up the packaging process. Nonetheless teamwork and humour keep that process very human.
The job is hard, repetitive, physical work. In the video you will see Jeff at one point to place 4 bottles in the box at a time, routines and practice are everything. But without the boxes of wine the rest of the business cannot happen. It is less attractive but it is as important as harvesting or winemaking.
Two new wine treats came to the fore this week. Firstly, a slightly sparkling white wine, blanc frisant made from Macabeu and Grenache Gris. Secondly a cuvée made for the first time since 2003, Copains, made mostly from Cinsault but with Grenache and Syrah grapes vinified all together – truly delicious with the latter grapes adding body and depth to the Cinsault and giving the bottle longevity I would think.
Parts 1 & 2 of winemaking are still very strong, Part 3 too and I shall investigate more about commercial decisions in future.
I seem to be developing a link between wines and songs. I am cheating a little, as 10CC sang about One Night In Paris on their album The Original Soundtrack.
I digress. As well as being mad about wines I am a passionate horse racing fan, a turfiste. Following my retirement it is now possible for me to attend race meetings I have always longed to visit. Top of the list was a trip to Paris to the Arc De Triomphe race meeting at Longchamp. So we booked 4 nights in Paris for a little sightseeing and an art gallery as well as the races on Saturday and Sunday. The racing was excellent (and, happily, profitable), highlighted by the victory of Treve in the big race following up her success in 2013.
We stayed in the 11e arrondissement which was a new area to me and it proved to be upcoming and trendy with a buzzy café and restaurant culture. The Canal St Martin for example was a pleasant surprise with Parisians enjoying the warm evening looking over the water.
We ate at a number of good restaurants, especially those based around wine. The trend of wine bars serving excellent food is one I love. Paying around 7€ for corkage it means that good wines are affordable to accompany the food rather than the usual restaurant mark ups. Two strong wine bar/ restaurant recommendations:
Le Verrre Volé beside the Canal was excellent. They had sold out of Coutelou wines (as had everyone in Paris!) and we wanted to drink something non Languedoc in any case. The natural wine movement is strong in Beaujolais so I chose Jean Paul Thévenet’s Morgon 2012 which was excellent. I don’t write good tasting notes so I won’t start here but well worth a try, available in UK here
La Cave De L’Insolite was just around the corner from our apart-hotel and was a chance discovery in some ways as it was one of the few places open on Sunday evening. I loved this place and would return in a heartbeat. It soon filled up and had a warm, welcoming and was far more trendy than I am! The food was excellent, seriously good. We drank a white wine to accompany perfectly cooked pollock. It was Clos Des Grillons Cotes Du Rhone Blanc 2013, organic and very good. Interesting to read in Midi Libre that the vigneron Nicolas Renaud is a History teacher, as I was for 33 years. How could he not produce good wine. If you are in the area go to La Cave De L’Insolite for a meal, it’s a terrific place.
On Monday we walked around the Marais, Ile De La Cité and central Paris before lunch at Glou in the Marais. A very good menu fixe included a vegetable main course so I was happy to go there and it was very good too. To accompany we chose another of the Beaujolais natural wine big four producers, Guy Breton and his wine, Le P’tit Max. This was delicious too, perhaps less typically Beaujolais than the Thévenet but a memorable wine. I can’t find an English merchant for Breton or Grillons sadly but there is information about Breton on this well known US website
The other welcome visit was to Philippe Cuq owner of Le Lieu Du Vin on Avenue Gambetta next to Pere Lachaise cemetery. A great wine shop with a tremendous range including Mas Coutelou of course. What a friendly man Philippe is and if I hadn’t been travelling by plane I’d have been buying too many bottles for my credit card. One of his recommendations was a Vin De Pays du Puy De Dome called Badoulin from Stéphan Elziere, the only organic producer in Cantal apparently. I was unaware of any wine producers in Cantal! It was an unusual but inspired suggestion by Philippe as I asked for a wine to drink with light food back in our hotel. I think it is Gamay (again – the weekend was a true Gamay celebration) and it was full and spicy, a real surprise. No English links here but an article from Le Figaro on Philippe showing his Classe, and Elziere
So Group 1 racing, top food and wine and some lovely people, it all left me with a smile on my face almost as wide as: