amarchinthevines

Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc


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Tasting the 2017s

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Last weekend I should have been in the Languedoc with Jeff and attending a wine tasting at Latour De France. Sadly, a 48 hour bug put a stop to that.

Instead I reflected on a tasting we did at Jeff’s on October 3rd of all the 2017 wines in cuve. Regular readers will recall that they vintage is of high quality but low quantity. Quantities will be in short supply of what will be seriously good wines. There was a tinge of sadness about that as we tasted through the range.

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These were my notes on the evening.

  • Maccabeu / Grenache Gris – still some residual sugar. Fresh nose, Fruity, pears. Slight sweetness which will disappear. Clean and lovely.
  • Sauvignon Blanc – fresh apple, bright and zesty. A true Sauvignon character, refreshing.
  • Carignan Blanc – lovely, full, clean, direct – fresh and fruity. Very good.
  • Rosé – very pale, flowery aroma, fresh and clean, exactly what you’d want from a rosé.
  • Syrah (Ste Suzanne) – whole bunch, red fruit, round tannins, good finish, full, very good.
  • Cinsault – lovely, fresh and juicy red fruit, cherry, 13,5% but tastes lighter. Good.
  • Syrah (Segrairals) – amazing passion fruit nose which carries into taste. Fresh, citrus and lovely red fruit, a real star.
  • Syrah (La Garrigue) – La Vigne Haute (fingers crossed). Terrific, direct full tannnins, splendid fruit, full, long – stunner.
  • Flower Power – Maccabeu, Syrah (St Suz), Grenache (St Suz), Grenache Gris, Cinsault, Terret Noir and Flower Power – Despite the different assemblage this has the character of previous Flower Power – fruity, silky tannin and very appealing. Lovely.
  • Grenache – blend of Ste Suzanne / La Garrigue – 2015 St Suz provided 80hl, this year the 2 vineyards made 60hl. Lovely, fresh cherry flavours with a spicy finish.
  • Mourvėdre – crunchy, spicy good tannins and dark fruits. Very true to the grape. Good.
  • Carignan – top of the class. Lovely fresh red and black fruits, excellent balance of freshness and complexity. Star yet again.
  • Merlot – lovely fruit nose, fresh, touch of wildness which should settle. Nice.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon – still some sugar, plenty of fruit, easy to drink with classic blackcurrant notes.

We went on to drink a couple of the 2016 wines which were still in cuve, a very floral and spicy Syrah and an assemblage of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre which had good fruits with a soft tannin finish.

Reflections on the evening? The quality of 2017 is clear it is up there with the 2015s, just such a shame that fewer people will get to drink them. The whites are very good but the reds shine especially the future La Vigne Haute and Flambadou. The wines had all fermented beautifully causing few worries. A vintage to cherish, can’t wait until it is in bottle.


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The ageing process

A few weeks ago I wrote about some wines from 2009 and how good they were. Ageing wines is a tricky business for a number of reasons:

  • Storing wines is fraught with risk; temperature, light, vibration and humidity (or lack of it) can all spoil bottles so care must be taken.
  • Some wines benefit from keeping, others are designed to be drunk fairly early.
  • How long to keep them so that they are at their best? Some people prefer younger wines when fruit is more upfront, others prefer more flavours from age; leathery, earthy, more complex perhaps.

If possible it can be interesting to have a few bottles of the same wine and drink some early, some over time. I have done this with 1990 Bordeaux wines and still have a couple of bottles of cases I bought all those years ago. It has been interesting to watch their development from tough and tannic, through balanced and fruitful with classic cigar box notes to the dry, mushroom and port like flavours when tasted this year. The colour too changed from purple/red to claret and ruby to orange brown. The last bottles need drinking now, they are less pleasurable perhaps than even 2-3 years ago though they are still enjoyable and pleasing in a more academic manner.

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However, buying a case is not always possible or desirable. Some wines are intended to be aged for a few years, certainly the more expensive bottles from classic regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhone. Sweet wines too age well and develop richer flavours (I generalise of course). Wines from grapes such as Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan can age very well because of the levels of tannin in the wine, Italian grapes such as Nebbiolo likewise. Back labels might offer advice about how long to keep the wines, otherwise search vintage charts or the producer’s website. Some like Domaine Treloar offer clear advice on each vintage of each wine.

I bring this all up because this week I opened two bottles of Languedoc wines from 2007. Both were excellent and were perfect examples of the advantages of ageing wines.

Domaine D’Aupilhac in Montpeyroux is one of the most famous of Languedoc wine producers. Sylvain Fadat has long produced a range of very good wines. Les Cocalières 2007, a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache it was still fruity but had aromas of herbs and the age had developed leathery, earthy notes. Very good, the flavours lingered long.

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Even better, one of the best wines I have tasted this year was Domaine La Marfée’s Les Vignes Qu’On Abat 2007. Pure Carignan made by this domaine on the outskirts of Montpellier by Thierry Hasard. If you need proof of how good Carignan can be (other than Flambadou) then make a beeline for this wine. Brambly, liquorice flavours with almost citrus freshness, the wine improved over the course of several hours, developing yet more flavours and aromas. This would have kept for many more years, the colour was still bright ruby and there was no sign of tiredness. Truly excellent.

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I am sure these wines would have been excellent a few years ago, though would have needed to be opened for a while to allow their flavours to open up, perhaps by decanting which can be an alternative to keeping bottles for a long time and is something I do with many, even most, wines.

 

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Faugères, Le Grand Saint-Jean

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The annual wine event in the village of Faugères took place last weekend and I duly went along on Sunday for the tasting. Twenty five vignerons with stands along the streets and corners of the medieval village, all sharing their finest products, what is not to like? I have said many times before on these pages that Faugères is my favourite appellation in the region. The schist based vines produce deep flavours and a final twist of refreshment which leaves you wanting to taste more of the wine. I am looking for clean fruit, depth and compexity and that enjoyable palate cleansing finish.

Some of my favourite domaines were not present at the event, Barral, Clos Fantine, Domaine des Capitelles but that meant the opportunity to try other domaines as well as reacquainting myself with other favourites. * Rosemary George was present signing copies of her authoritative book on Faugères and asked me whether I had discovered anything new, happily I had.

(plus Mas Sibert based in Fos but whose wines are more Pézenas and not strictly appellation wines either)

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Domaine De L’Ancienne Mercerie is one I have tasted previously and is a firm favourite of my friend Graham Tigg whose palate I trust implicitly. These wines wee certainly on good form today; a refeshing Blanc 16, a big oaky Couture 13 but best for me was the Petites Mains 15. This is a classic Faugères full of long flavours of dark fruits with an earthy note and that lick of acidity to cleanse the mouth. An assemblage of Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre Petites Mains would be a excellent introduction to the Languedoc and to Faugères.                                                                                             Website

Chateau Des Peyregrandes is based in Roquessels. With 25ha this is a large domaine and there were multiple bottles on taste. These ranged from a good Blanc 16 to big oaky reds. Personally two wines stood out for me. The Rosé 16 was much darker than many rosés, the Syrah had given it colour. Nice red fruits and a long textured finish, this would be a good aperitif or match many foods. I also liked Prestige 13 with good character and complexity from Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre.                                                        Website

Domaine Valambelle was new to me though it is a well established, independent producer in Laurens since 2002. Another large domaine with many cuvées I tried a handful. Millepeyres 15 offered a classic Carignan with red fruits, an earthiness too. I also liked the Mourvèdre led Caprice 15 (well named for this grape) with plummy fruits. Keenly priced, good wines.                                                                                            Website

 

Domaine Du Causse Noir is the Cabrerolles domaine of Jérome Py and he always greets me with a big smile and firm handshake. His wines are regulars on my table and firm favourites, indeed I had opened a bottle two nights before. It was good to meet this great guy again and share his wines with some Arbroath converts who were at the stand at the same time. Low yields of 20-25 hl/ha give a rich full bodied fruit profile in the cuvées. 3,14 (a pun on π) 2015 is so complex for an entry wine, full of fruit and life. Caius 14 was even fresher and Mathias 13, serious and lovely. Favourites again.                                    Website

Jérome Rateau makes wines under his own name as well as his domaine Haut Lignières. Based at the top of the village of Faugères Jérome’s wines are always good. New to me this year was a premium white Empreinte Carbone (same name as the prestige red). Made with the same juice as the Petites Plumes white but given 9 months in a very lightly charred new barrel with acacia top and bottom. The effect was certainly impressive, very little oak flavour surprisingly but lots of nutty complexity.          Website 

Domaine De Cébène was one of the first Languedoc domaines I visited and remains a favourite. Brigitte Chevalier has made a name for herself and her wines through hard work and skill, she has lovely vines high on the hills around Caussiniojouls along with a brand new chai. Brigitte showed the wines of her partner who makes St. Martin D’Agel whose traditional red I like very much. Brigitte was showing the excellent Carignan Belle Lurette 15 with fruit, complexity and a long life ahead. She explained that the schist soils mean the vines send out very long roots to fins nourishment and their contact with the soils adds complexity. My personal favourite of the Cébène wines is Les Bancels, classic combination of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. The 14 was expressive, round with full fruits and the classic Faugères refreshing finish. Brigitte kindly opened a 15 to compare, and it will be great. Still a little reticent it packs flavour and, yes, that finish.     Website

Mas Angel / La Graine Sauvage  is the domaine of Alexandre Durand and Sybil Baldassarre also based in Caussiniojouls. Sybil is, first and foremost, an oenologue and I have been privileged to meet her and Alexandre numerous times at Mas Coutelou and various events. They have ventured into winemaking for themselves and the results are impressive. The white Rocalhas was star of the day. Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne grapes blended to give a gorgeous fruit nose with soft, peachy fruit and a nice sharp finish. Very drinkable, very good. A lovely red fruits and textured Prestige 15 red (Carignan/Grenache) and very deep, complex Syrah Marius 15 converted me completely. These are very good Faugères wines, very good natural wines. If you want proof that natural wines can express terroir then here you are.                                      Facebook

A very enjoyable morning, lots of parades, stalls, music and fun. But most of all, a reminder that Faugères is so good. Incidentally all of these domaines are organic, other than Haut Lignières, this really is a pioneering appellation.

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Dégustation, Bédarieux

 

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It was good to be able to attend a local tasting after being in NE England for so long, I’m afraid they are rare in my home region. Christine Cannac runs a wine bar, which offers good food too, in Bédarieux. These sort of caves/restos are to be found all over France and are my favourite eating places of my time in France. Places such as Christine’s,  Cave St Martin (Roquebrun), Pas Comme Les Autres (Béziers) and Picamandil (Puissalicon) offer good wines with quality food in the Languedoc. Not to mention Verre Volé and Cave Insolite in Paris, Aux Crieurs in Troyes and the peerless Papilles Insolites in Pau. Highly recommended.

Christine organised a dégustation of some of her producers as she regularly does. There were 9 winemakers present and they offered a high standard of wine.

Domaine Léonine (Roussillon) had some very good red wines with my favourite the Bottle Neck, a full, complex combination of Grenache and Syrah with plenty of fruit and power.

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Bernard talking with my friend Vincent

Domaine Plageoles (Gaillac) is a domaine rightly renowned for its quality, pioneering work and championing of local and old grape varieties. Bernard Plageoles was present and it was good to chat with him. The Mauzac Nature 16 seems richer than usual and truly delicious. However, his Contre Pied 16, made from Duras was my highlight. Made to be drunk young it is refreshing, light, fruity with typicity of the grape and its dusty aromas.

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Domaine Mosse (Anjou) offered bright, clear Chenin wines. The highlight was the Rouchefert with round, full apple and honey notes, a wine which will develop for many years.

Yannick Pelletier (St Chinian) is a regular on these pages. His wines are always good, often excellent with concentrated fruits, local character and very drinkable. As so often Engoulevent was my favourite, classic St Chinian notes of dark fruit and lovely depth.

Mas D’Agalis (Hérault) is a long term favourite too, Lionel Maurel offered Yo No Puedo, perhaps his most famous wine. Largely Carignan but with Syrah,Grenache and Cinsault it is classic Languedoc and the 2016 has really come together from when I tasted it in Montpellier in January.

Domaine Yoyo (Roussillon) with yields of less than 10hl/ha in places has serious wines and features one of my favourite grapes, Grenache Gris. However, it is made into a light and darker red by maceration on skins. Both are very good but the lighter La Vierge Rouge is a favourite, lots of red fruits with power and a refreshing finish.

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Léonine (left), Foulards Rouges served by Laurence Manya Krief who makes Yoyo wines

Les Foulards Rouges (Roussillon) is another well known producer. I really like Glaneurs, pure Grenache with dark, complex fruits and a clean, refreshing finish.

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Justifiably proud Vincent

Domaine De Pélissols (Bédarieux), the local boy done good. Vincent Bonnal has really upped his game and these were very good wines. I liked everything, would happily drink his Luna Novela red at any time. However, star was the clairet style rosé. 36 hours maceration gives the Grenache (and tiny amount of Syrah) time to extract a deep colour with a depth of flavour to match. Lots and lots of fruit, not many wines will be more suited to the Languedoc summer, a real success.

Champagne Jacques Lassaigne (Montgueux near Troyes). I first tasted Lassaigne champagnes at the aforementioned Aux Crieurs in Troyes and have sought them out since. Pure Chardonnay they are wines of pure fruit, concentration, complexity and sunshine in a glass. Jacques was present and I loved his Blanc De Blancs from 10 parcels, La Colline with added complexity from the barrel ageing and the blend of 2010, 2011 and 2012. Star though was the vintage 2008. Such power, fruit; pleasure for the palate and mind. I have been lucky enough to enjoy some fantastic champagnes this year and these rank as high as any.

So, a small friendly tasting with a lovely mussel brasucade to add to the pleasure. If you are in the Bédarieux area seek out Chai Christine Cannac.


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Brief return to Mas Coutelou

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After my sojourn in Alsace it was great to return to the Languedoc. Sadly I was already aware that due to a bereavement I would have to leave within a couple of days to return to the UK. However, I was able to spend one of my two days there with Jeff and amongst those vines which I had missed so much.

It was a great time to be there, the vines were in full flower, many already past that stage showing the new grapes, firstly with their brown hoods and then just the green baby berry itself.

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The vines were looking very healthy, plentiful rain in the winter and a sharp frost in early spring had allowed the vines to rest, to gather their strength for the season ahead – a sharp contrast to 2016. Greenery aplenty, wild flowers blooming and, during my visit to Peilhan, I saw a young deer running through the vines and a pheasant. Clearly the Coutelou vines attract wildlife to its oasis amongst the surrounding desert of chemically treated soils.

During the previous weeks the soils of Peilhan had been ploughed, by a horse. Gentler on the soils Jeff asked a local man to till.

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He himself was giving the soil a light rotivation that afternoon, turning the plants and flowers amongst the vines into the soil, a natural composting. Icare, with an injured paw, and I watched on in the sunshine.

 

The only real problem this year has been the return of the snails. Last year they ravaged Font D’Oulette (the Flower Power vineyard) so that only a few cases of grapes could be picked. Fortunately, that vineyard has been spared this year but they are out in force in the largest vineyard, Segrairals. It was there that I also found Michel, Julien and Vincent working, tightening the wires of the palissage and removing side shoots etc from the vines.

In the afternoon we tasted through the 2016 vines and, they are so different even from February when I tasted them last. The whites are splendid, highlight a hugely successful long maceration Muscat. The reds such as the Carignan were very good and the top wine of the year will be the Mourvèdre, a silky, complex wine with huge depth of flavour – a treat for the short and long term. 2016 was a difficult year but Jeff has still produced some great wines.

So, I look forward to getting back to Puimisson as soon as possible, to follow the vintage further and see the latest progress. There is bottling to be done and plenty more besides.

The cellar is transformed, painted with the new office and floor and the stainless steel cuves plumbed in for temperature control. And perhaps, most interesting of all, there is an amphora. This is the trendy method of vinification around the world. However, very few winemakers have an amphora dating from the time of Julius Caesar with which to make wine. Jeff plans to use it this year, connecting his wine to those made 2,000 years ago. Wines with links to the past, present and future, Mas Coutelou has soul!

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Ode to joy

 

This weekend was Real Wine Fair time in London. I did not attend as I am travelling to France in the next few days and didn’t fancy a long round trip followed by another. I would have loved to attend and taste more great wines from around the world, with an organic, biodynamic and natural core. I have already seen some interesting reports but as so often it was Jamie Goode’s which caught my attention because he touches on one very important aspect of wine tasting – pleasure.

I have attended many tastings over the years and very often they are held in hushed, reverent surroundings. Nothing wrong with that, it is easy to appreciate the wines and concentrate upon their strengths or weaknesses. However when I have attended tastings such as RAW, RWF, La Remise or Les Affranchis there is a much more boisterous atmosphere. People enjoy the wines and are not afraid to show that. There is laughter and pats on the back. As Goode says it must drive some natural wine haters nuts “to see consumers having such fun drinking these natural wines. The future of wine is bright, I reckon.”

He goes on to discuss the term ‘natural’ and how it has become divisive and argues that SO2 levels are a moot point. I don’t wholly buy the last point as I know it matters a great deal to many natural producers and I respect their choices and philosophy. Nonetheless, as I have said many times in these pages, the influence of natural wine on others is now clear.

However, Goode’s point about the sheer pleasure which people take from these wines is what I think deserves repeating. Wine is meant to be enjoyed, the younger crowds at natural wine fairs are not afraid to do just that. Good on them.


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Decanter’s first natural wine tasting

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A sign of acceptance in the mainstream wine world? Decanter magazine held its first tasting of natural wines recently. Simon Woolf, Andrew Jefford and Sarah Jane Evans were charged with the tasting and I think that is a very fair minded trio of experienced tasters.

The first issue they faced was how to classify a selection of natural wines and Simon explained on his very good blog themorningclaret.com how they adopted the rules of RAW, the natural wine fairs organised by Isabelle Legeron. That means organic/biodynamic production (preferably certified), hand harvesting, no modern techniques such as reverse osmosis, no fining or filtration and no cultured yeasts. Of course the issue of sulphites was central to discussion, as it so often is, and RAW’s rules allow up to 70mg/l so this tasting allowed the same. When I attended and reported on RAW this spring I made it clear that I view this as too high but that was the rule laid down here.

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122 wines were tasted mainly based on bottles provided by UK retailers. Interestingly, and inevitably, the three tasters produced very different results. Being a Decanter tasting they were required to give marks (which I increasingly dislike) but the comments and selections are well worth reading. The results and top ten wines for each of the tasters is available on Simon’s blog here along with a link for a pdf of the Decanter article. The full list of wines tasted is here.

I have obviously been drinking too much wine as I know the vast majority of these 122 bottles. Their top wine turned out to be La Stoppa’s Ageno 2011 and I have praised this domaine before as well as that wine, so no argument from me. My own views would differ from all three but that is the nature of tasting (and why marks make little sense to me). Kreydenweiss, COS, Occhipinti, Haywire, Meinklang, Muster, Sainte-Croix and Testalonga are all firm favourites of mine so, in fact, I would agree with many of the selections.

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I highlight this event because I think it is a landmark in that a very conservative magazine (I didn’t renew my subscription many years ago because of its very traditional bias) has brought natural wine on board. I believe natural wine should be willing to accept constructive criticism from such fair minded critics and so this is an important step in the right direction.

Also worth noting is the sheer spread of producers from all corners of the globe, natural wine is not going away it is growing in popularity with consumers and producers. Note too that some big producers are making  versions of natural wine, a trend mentioned on these pages before. Whilst I personally may not regard them too sympathetically at least it is a sign that the philosophy behind natural wine is winning support.

So, well done Decanter, and Simon Woolf in particular, for promoting this tasting.

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Wonderful wines which definitely pass muster with me