Félicitations Faugères AOC on your fortieth birthday. I have stated many times on here that of the regions of Languedoc, Faugères would be my favourite for consistently good wines across a number of producers, for its wild landscape, altitude and soils of schist and granite as well as the usual clay and limestone. The Terrasses Du Larzac might be more celebrated with producers such as Grange Des Pères and Daumas Gassac but Faugères has its own star names, Cébène, Barral, Alquier, Fantine, Graine Sauvage, Peira Levada to name but a few.
In 1982 the Faugères producers achieved AOC status for its red wines, followed in 2005 by its white wines. My profiles of Clos Fantine and Cébène have included descriptions of the complexity of the soils in the region, the schist in particular adds a fascinating dimension to the region and was what attracted Brigitte Chevalier to establish Cébène. The altitude and proximity to the Mediterranean also mean that winds keep the air fresh and help to combat disease such as mildew. In 2021 this area was one of the few in the Languedoc not to be badly hit by the April frosts. The wildness of the area is perhaps what has encouraged well over half the producers to be certified organic with many more in conversion. There is so much to admire but what about the wines? Well, last month the producers decided to organise a tasting at Chateau de Grézan to show off their wines and celebrate the anniversary.
It was a fine venue for a tasting in a large parkland area with plenty of shade as we were on the tail end of a canicule or heatwave with temperatures in the high 30s. Unfortunately my natural producer friends were not present which was a shame but that created time to meet up with some old friends as well as try one or two new producers.
Mas Lou is one of the latter, a young domaine midway through the three year organic conversion process at present. Situated near Fos this is classic Faugères terroir with a mix of soils and altitude of 200-300m, factors bringing freshness to the wines if they are well made. Happily, there was every indication that Mas Lou is making good wines from its predominantly Syrah and Carignan vines with others available to bring character. For example Angacio has Carignan but with some Grenache and a little of the local grape Lledoner Pellut. The sum of these grapes was a fresh, lively and easy drinking red wine, a good introduction. Aksou showed off Syrah and the schist helps to give direct, fresh fruit and length. Perhaps my favourite of the wines was Jalka, made from old Cinsault vines with 400m of altitude, instantly recognisable as Cinsault with its juicy, light red fruit notes. I look forward to finding out more about Mas Lou in future.
I first met Jérôme Rateau at a Faugères tasting in Montpellier in 2015, a young winemaker based at the top of the village of Faugères itself, Chateau Haut Lignières. His wines are always good value and both white and red offer classic regional character. He makes two ranges one under the domaine name and one under his own. I tend to prefer the latter and enjoyed Empreinte Carbone 19, Syrah and Grenache aged in old barrels for 22 months with only a small addition of SO2 and Petites Plumes Blanc 21 a refreshing blend of equal parts Vermentino, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. However, my favourite wine, indeed possibly my favourite wine of the day, was Aramon 19. Yes you read that right, Aramon. The grape which was grown so widely to produce low alcohol, everyday plonk (served up to French troops in World War 1 for example) and has a dreadful reputation. Well, Jérôme has hundred year old vines and they are producing a cracking light, fruity red with a dusting of tannin and real length. Unfortunately, the vines are slowly dying off and needing to be replaced so buy some of this now. Bravo Jérôme for making such an unfashionable but excellent wine.
Another good friend in the area is another Jérôme, this time Jérôme Py of Domaine Causse Noir, midway between Cabrerolles and Caussiniojouls, which means high altitude and healthy winds. Jérôme started his domaine in 2011 and makes no compromises with his big, powerful wines, given plenty of time to mature and reach their peak, look at the vintages he was showing here. Certified organic, his harvests often starts when most are nearly finished lower down in the region. He is a gentle giant and a lovely man, I want his wines to be good and, happily, they always are. 3,14 2017 is a wordplay on his surname of course. It is a lovely red blending Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre full of red and black fruit flavours and yet fresh and easy to drink. Caius 2016 blends Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre and has barrel age to produce a deep, elegant and balanced wine with good fruit and tannin. Matthias 16 with more Mourvedre and then Syrah and Grenache feels lighter at first but the wine is very deep and concentrated, the Mourvedre brings real power but is balanced, fine winemaking skills in evidence to control the power.
The most underrated domaine in Faugères for me is Mas Des Capitelles, situated near the start of the village on the road from Roujan. The Laugé family are behind this domaine, they have been winemakers for many generations and Cédric and Brice are currently at the helm. Certified organic and biodynamic their vines are on schist and the wines are classic examples of the Appellation with lovely freshness and generous fruit. Faugères 20 and Primus 20 are the introductory wines and if you want a wine to typify Faugères then either would serve you well, lovely bottles. However, the real stars reveal the restless experimentation of the brothers. Vintage 2015 made from old Carignan vines whose grapes are barrel aged with Mourvedre before a final addition of Grenache to the bottle. Fresh raspberry fruit with underlying structure and elegance, I wrote the word ‘beautiful’ in my tasting notes. Crescendo 19 is a similar blend with minimal SO2 and is spicy, lighter than Vintage but long lasting. Two special cuvées made from the very best grapes were called simply #3 (Mourvedre, Syrah) and #4 (Mourvedre, Carignan). In my enthusiasm I forgot to note vintages but these are wines tended for a long time, left to mature. Both were powerful yet balanced and a joy to drink. I have a lot of time for the Laugé family, they really are working to get the best from their soils and vines and I urge you to seek them out.
Two more domaines to mention both run by excellent women winemakers. Mas D’Alezon, based in the village itself, is run by Catherine Roque who set the ball rolling at the excellent Domaine Clovallon in Bédarieux now run by her daughter Alex. Catherine concentrates on Alezon, with three main vineyards all certified organic and biodynamic, and the wines are made with minimal or no use of sulphites. I have tasted and bought Alezon wines many times and it is always a pleasure to discover new vintages of such high quality wines. The white Cabretta 21 is made from Roussanne, Clairette and Grenache Blanc near the village, the wine fermented in concrete egg and barrel. Delicious, refreshing with generous white fruit notes and mouth filling round flavours. And Presbytère 21 made from Cinsault on slate soils with small additions of Lledoner Pellut and Carignan. Full of that lovely Cinsault character of juicy, red fruit with a clean, refreshing acidity too. Perfect wines for a hot day.
Finally to Domaine de Cébène. Regular readers know that this is one of my favourite wine domaines anywhere, run by the exceptional Brigitte Chevalier and about whom I wrote last year here. It was good to catch up with Brigitte again, taste new vintages and chat. I won’t add much to what I wrote last year, the domaine is organic and biodynamic, based high in the hills between Faugères and Caussiniojouls. Brigitte has transformed and revived old vineyards as well as adding new plantings. Praised by Jancis Robinson and many others, I can only agree. A La Venvole 20 is the newish addition (2nd vintage) designed to be lighter and easier drinking and successfully achieves its goal without compromising on quality. Ex Arena 21 made from Grenache primarily and from outside the Faugères area, hence its name and IGP status. Very low yields but an elegant, savoury wine, complexity too and the most beautiful aromas swirling in the glass.
Les Bancels 20, the definitive Faugères wine for me. I chose the 2019 version as my wine of the year in 2021. The 20 is delightful too, fresh, direct Syrah but backed up by light tannins and lengthy flavours. It felt lighter than the 19 version but still captivating. Belle Lurette 20 is made largely from very old Carignan vines on schist, which Brigitte loves with a passion. This needs time but is already just lovely, a noticeable herby, garrigue influence on the red and black fruits. Elegant. Felgaria 17 brings Mourvedre to the fore backed up with some Syrah and Grenache, all taken from the best plots at 320m altitude. There is so much depth and power in here, balanced of course and so many different flavours emerging, blackcurrant for example. Having spent time in oak it is weighty and needs even more time to reach its peak, a true vin de garde. Brigitte pours so much of herself into her vines and wines, restless to improve at all times, experimenting now with amphorae and eggs. Must buy wines.
So, a worthy event to celebrate the fortieth anniversary. I wish I had time to try other domaines whose reputations are growing fast. Faugères is making great strides with old and new winemakers bringing innovation to the traditional winemaking and vineyards. From Aramon and Lledoner Pellut to concrete eggs and biodynamics there is so much to admire and enjoy.