amarchinthevines

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


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Vinisud 2017

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En francais

January and February see wine fairs, or salons, appearing regularly including some of the bigger events. For some reason best known to themselves two of the larger fairs, Millésime Bio and Vinisud, fell out and decided to hold their events simultaneously, meaning that Millésime Bio moved to Marseilles from its usual Montpellier home. However as Many of the offline events remained in Montpellier I decided to attend those and Vinisud. (It was announced on Feb. 4th that a rapprochement has been found and next year will see both events back in Montpellier).

Vinisud is a huge event, 900+ producers from all around the Mediterranean gather and professional wine buyers, cavistes, restaurateurs and journalists make appointments with them, it is big business. For someone like me, who cannot offer to buy thousands of bottles it is a little daunting so I prefer to attend some of the help yourself areas such as the sparkling zone which is self- explanatory. Sadly, there was little of any real interest for me in this zone, some neutral Limoux and Proseccos which offered nothing exciting. Sadly neither did the Picpoul zone really offer much of interest.

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There was also the Palais Méditerranéan where hundreds of bottles from some of the producers are available to serve yourself. If a bottle appeals then you can always pop along to the stand of that producer. I tasted almost a hundred wines here. Some decent white wines from:

  • Crouseilles co-op (Pacherenc du Vic Bilh)
  • Chateau Estanilles (Faugères), Inverso 2015, nice use of wood to add complexity
  • Jacques D’Albas (Minervois), Blanc 2013, fresh and zesty
  • Frères Laffitte, Côtes De Gascogne 2016, really well balanced demi-sec
  • Domaine Barreau (Gaillac), Caprice D’Automne 2014, nice clean, sweet wine

And reds from:

  • Dondona, ‘Chemin Des Cayrades’ 2014, a nice, fresh pure Carignan (Montpeyroux)
  • Cébène, ‘Ex Arena 2015’, (IGP Pays D’Oc from Faugères), fresh, full fruits
  • Mas Champart, ‘Causse Du Bousquet’ 2015 (St. Chinian), soft red fruits

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My favourite area was that of Wine Mosaic, an organisation which promotes rare and unusual grape varieties. Again, you can serve yourself wines from unusual and rare grapes from Turkey, Greece, France etc. A real opportunity to try something different and to promote the growth of these cépages oubliés. Mollard, Viosinho, Sidalan, Kotsifali were just some of the cépages I had never even heard of before. Ironically, it was the very familiar Carignan which provided my favourite wine produced by Domaine Nizas near Pézenas.

I did also attend some producer stands notably Mas Des Capitelles, the Faugėres domaine which I really like. The Laugé family have converted to organic production in the last couple of years but they have been making classic Faugėres for many years. They reward patience in bottle developing real complexity and maintaining an admirable freshness. They are big, well-structured wines but they remain balanced between fruit and power ensuring you can enjoy them in the short or long term. My particular favourite is the Carignan based Loris 2013 but other older bottlings of special vintages (cuvées such as No.1 and No.2) are a real treat and deserve the multiple awards they garner.

Corvezzo is another domaine which captured my attention and admiration at the 2016 event, like Capitelles. This large Prosecco producer (125 hectares of vines) is again organic and, unlike any other Prosecco I have tried, these cuvées have depth, fruit, freshness and length. They hold their own against many champagnes. The Extra Dry, for example, has lovely spice and lemongrass notes, very good. They also produce some lovely white wines such as Manzoni and their Pinot Grigio Ramato full of fresh fruit flavours.

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Even better was an amazing red, Rosso Riserva, produced in Amarone style with dried Robosa grapes and had great flavours and aromas of dark fruits along with a leathery complexity and which built in the mouth long after drinking the wine. A truly excellent wine.

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The other stand of interest for me was Les Beaux Nez Rouges, a group of natural wine producers under the umbrella of oenologue Hervé Chabert. I declare an interest as I know some of these producers quite well, eg, Regis and Christine Pichon of Domaine Ribiera, Grégory White, David Caer (Clos Mathélisse) and Lionel Maurel (Mas D’Agalis). Hervé kindly gave up half an hour to lead me through tastings from Ribiera, Domaine Henry (St Georges D’Orques) and his own wines, Wine Drop.

Ribiera is a favourite of mine and wines such as Causse Toujours 2015 shows lovely fruit with some complexity. The Cartagène was also dangerously drinkable. Top on the day though was La Vista 2016 a pure Cinsault of lovely sweet fruit with a touch of tannin too. Lovely.

Domaine Henry was new to me and I really liked wines such as the fruity Paradines 2015 (not yet bottled for sale). Fascinating was a cuvée called Vermeille (pictured top left) which is a saignée from all the cuves of the year, ie they run some of the juice from each tank – sounds mad but it is an old practice in the region and Vermeille was light, fruity and delicious. Equally of interest was Le Mailhol 2015, a complantation of old Languedoc cépages which gave lovely fruit with a touch of raisin to add complexity.

Hervé’s own Wine Drop bottles were good, Cuvée No.5 2014 had lovely Cinsault red fruits with a touch of body from some Grenache. Grenache to the fore in No.6 2014 which had lovely aromas and a touch of spice and fruit. The 2013 No.4 had more structure and shows how well natural wines can develop with time, good balance of fruit, power and complexity.

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Vinisud offered a very interesting day for me after the offline events I had visited the previous two days. There is much to offer the visitor from classic wines to natural, wines from all around the Mediterranean, business opportunities, masterclasses, seminars and the chance to match wine and food amongst others. A valuable day in my wine education.


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Vinisud – the Languedoc

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And so, to the Languedoc and I visited a number of domaines, some I knew already some were names I wanted to follow up. I am glad to report that the region more than held its own against the others represented. The Languedoc, and Roussillon, are sources of great wines.

Chateau Maris is in the Minervois area, I enjoyed their wines at Millésime Bio last year and was pleased to taste the new vintages. Some were brut de cuve (straight from the tank so immature) and still a little young for me to really appreciate but there were some good bottles especially Las Combes 2014, 100% Grenache with ripe, round fruit balanced with soft tannins. Lovely now, better in a couple of years.

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Domaine Gros-Tollot produce Minervois wines as well as other wines which are made outside the appellation rules. I confess to some bias against the domaine at first, two top Burgundy producers with a side project in the Languedoc? Surely this can’t be honest Languedoc wines. I was proved completely wrong. The wines are excellent, soft fruits with structure and complexity behind them, often from an outstanding use of oak which really does melt into the wine, adding to its aromas and flavours. I liked all the wines such as 2014 La 50/50, Fontanilles 14, and Combettes 14 which is produced from Marselan grapes, very much a Languedoc wine. Best of the bunch for me was La Ciaude 14 made from one vineyard of Syrah, Carignan and a little Grenache.

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Mas Gabriel is a firm favourite of mine, almost a  neighbour in the village of Caux. We enjoyed a chat with Deborah Core as well as tasting the new vintages of some of my favourite Languedoc wines such as the Carignan Blanc Clos Des Papillons. Special mention though for Les Fleurs Sauvages 2015, the rosé is medium coloured, clear though delicate red fruits and scents of those wild flowers. Very clean and dry it is a top quality rosé, which deservedly sells out very quickly.

Le Conte Des Floris comes next, also based in Caux, though the new cellar is in Pézenas. I love the wines of this domaine, I can’t remember a dull one. Driving forces behind the Wine Mosaic project Daniel and Catherine Conte Des Floris make a great Carignan Blanc Lune Blanche, the 13 was excellent. I really liked Carbonifère 12 and Homo Habilis 12 but my favourite was the Carignan Noir wine Basaltique 2014. Classic Carignan red fruits with an earthy, dark side adding complexity and, undoubtedly, longevity. Amazingly long, very fresh, full of flavour – one of my favourite wines of the whole event. This is one of the very best Languedoc domaines.

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Alain Chabanon is a renowned Languedoc producer, I am told he takes no prisoners but it was his wife who presented the wines. I have tasted them before, eg at last year’s Montpeyroux Portes Ouvertes, but they were on better form here. Campredon 14 and Saut De Côté 12 were both very good but my star was Les Boissières 2012. A classic Languedoc blend of Grenache/ Syrah/ Mourvèdre there was a depth of red fruits on the nose and in the mouth with complexity from 24 months of maturing before bottling. I preferred these three wines with classic Languedoc cépages to the more famous Merlot based wines which he makes. Incidentally his website is terrific with a short video of him presenting each of the cuvées and good technical detail.

Domaine De La Marfée is another which I would consider to be one of the very best Languedoc producers, and another I know thanks to Leon. I highlighted every single one of the wines in my notebook, from the lovely Blanc 13 to the most structured of their wines Champs Murmures 12. Complex, full, fruity, Della Francesca 12 and Les Vignes Qu’On Abat 12 were equally good but I actually chose the simplest of their red wines as my star on this occasion. Les Gamines 2013 is Mourvèdre/ Syrah and a little Grenache with a lighter structure than the other reds but no less complexity and fruit. I liked it so much that when we went out to eat at Trinque Fougasse in Montpellier that night I chose this wine to accompany the excellent food. Rare to find a whole range which is outstanding but Domaine De La Marfée achieves it.

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Domaine Canet Valette is yet another Languedoc star name, this time from the St. Chinian area. The reds are the stand out wines, Marc Valette described Antonyme as a vin de soif, his beaujolais, and it is a good everyday wine. I have often bought bottles of Une Et Mille Nuits in the past and the 2013  has delicious soft red fruits. The most famous name here though is Maghani and with reason. Marc served three vintages, 08, 10 and 14 and though the older vintages showed just how well it ages it was the Maghani 14 which I liked most. Concentrated and tannic still (this was a bottle made just for the event) there is an enormous depth of red fruits and real power, yet beautifully balanced.

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With Marc Valette

Mas Des Capitelles is a Faugères producer whose Carignan, Loris, was a wine which I really liked at a Millésime Bio offline where tasting reds was difficult. I wondered how in better conditions their wines would hold up and I am delighted to say they were even better. Catiède is classic Faugères from a vineyard under biodynamic conversion, 13 and 14 were good. The Vieilles Vignes 13 and 14 were even better, nice gentle use of oak to add complexity and extra depth from the greater use of Mourvèdre. Loris was good again, a new favourite of mine. Then we came to a series of three wines which the Laugé family make only in special years when they have an exceptional crop of one grape. Collection no. 1 2007 was made from Mourvèdre (with a small amount of Carignan and Syrah), and was chosen by the magazine Terre De Vins as one of their top 12 Languedoc wines. And for once I agree with a magazine! Complexity in a bottle, still fresh and youthful after all these years, great wine in short. Collection No. 2 is from 2011 and this time it was the Syrah which was exceptional and so dominates this wine. And no spitting this wine, I drank my glass. The Syrah leaps from the glass with its dark and red fruit aromas, the flavours match up and are deep and long. Great Syrah, great Faugères. I was also treated to a sample of the Collection No. 3 which will again be Mourvèdre led and it didn’t disappoint. Hard to choose just one wine but Collection No. 2  and that memorable Syrah just edges it for me.

Faugères is, in my opinion, the Languedoc’s star region and I enjoyed meeting up with other favourite producers in their area of Vinisud (incidentally it was very useful to have the producers from one region all in on area). My friend and top class producer Brigitte Chevalier of Domaine De Cébène was there; Jérôme Py of Causse Noire whose wines are getting better and better including a lovely Mathias 2011; and Jérôme Rateau of Haut Lignières as well as his eponymous range including an excellent Sur Le Fil 14 which is not yet bottled.

Finally it was a pleasant surprise to run into one stand just as I was preparing to leave Vinisud. Les Beaux Nezs Rouges was a group of natural wine producers sharing the stand. Amongst them were three very good producers from Aspiran, David Caer (Clos Mathélisse), Grégory White and Régis Pichon (Domaine Ribiera). I like the wines of all three and it was good to finish the salon on a high with a just a hint of the new style of winemaking. (More on David Caer on my wine of the week page.)

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Régis and Grégory beneath their red nose images

A very enjoyable salon, lots of good wines and a range of food stalls, wine accessories and various wine related activities. This is a salon for the trade and lots of business was being done all around. At the heart though is the wine and, happily, it remained the star of the show.

Part 1 of my Vinisud experience is here.


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Off notes

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Before and during the salon of Millésime Bio I attended six offline events. They are proliferating, probably too many of them in all honesty. Yet during those six events I tasted some of the best wines of the whole week, just as I did at the offs last year. So, I am torn – are the offs good for Millésime Bio?

Well, they do distract and take away attention from the growth of organics and the benefits of organic viticulture as well as the very good wines in the salon itself, some of which I described in the last article. Would I have tasted more good wines in the salon if I hadn’t attended the offs?

On the other hand, I’d be less tempted to go along to the whole event and spend four days in Montpellier if it were not for the offs and the chance to taste wines not to be found in the main salon. Last year wines from the likes of Huët and Zind-Humbrecht were major attractions for me. This year there were a lot of natural producers especially whose wines I wanted to try. The offs create a buzz around the main event, drawing people to it. It can stand the opposition, producers such as Kreydenweiss (père et fils!) and Pittnauer were at least the equal of anything tasted at the offs.

As there were so many events and so many good wines I have decided to split the report on them in two parts. In the next article I shall deal with those centred more around the natural movement. So here I shall be describing Outsiders, Carignan vs Grenache and Biotop.

Outsiders

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Jon Bowen (right) talking to photographer Ken Payton

Louise Hurren does a great job in promoting the Outsiders group of vignerons, producers in the Languedoc-Roussillon who originated outside the region. Held at La Panacée on the eve of the salon this was very well organised in a bright, modern space with excellent food served as a bonus. I am a fan of many of the producers in the group, some of whom I think of as friends. I have described the wines of Turner Pageot and Cébène many times in these pages. Both are sources of outstanding wines. Manu Pageot was in discomfort having cracked some ribs but it was good to catch up with him. Brigitte Chevalier’s wines were well on form across the whole range, Bancels 13 was especially good here.

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It was especially pleasing to see present Simon and Sara from Mas Sibert as guest producers. I first wrote about Mas Sibert last February and hope that I have helped to spread their name a little in the following year. They now have a UK importer and higher profile and I couldn’t be more pleased. The wines have a freshness and depth of fruit which is rare. New planting of white grapes (as ever unusual cépages) will widen the range and I can’t wait. I would drink these wines happily every day. Incidentally, their rosé, Saramon (mainly Sangiovese!), is amongst the very best in the Languedoc.

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Talking to Simon in animated form

I also enjoyed the Pouilly Fumé wines of guest Jonathan Pabiot. They are classic wines from the appellation but with extra steeliness and minerality. I have had the good fortune to visit the domaine in the past and recommend them heartily. Especially good were the Pouilly Fumé 15 and the excellent Aubaine 14 grapes selected from special parcels, matured in gentle oak, more concentration and white fruit flavours.

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Finally, Domaine Modat in the Roussillon produces very good wines. Lucioles 14, the white wine from mainly Grenache Gris was lovely, fresh and fruity with a little texture. Comme Avant and Le Plus Joli 11 were rich, spicy and clean from classic Roussillon grapes varieties. Great website too.

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Hats off to Louise for such a well run event.

Bataille Carignan – Grenache

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I like the idea of this, pitting two great cépages against each other. The venue was good, Salle Pétrarque, a 14thC building with beautiful vaulting. However, truth be told I didn’t really enjoy the event. The room was packed, it was hard to get around the tables, there was (very) loud hip-hop music playing some of the time which made it hard to talk. It was also difficult to taste the red wines, most came across as heavy and tannic. I was not alone in thinking so from the conversations I had.

I went mainly to meet up with my friend Jonathan Hesford of Domaine Treloar in the Roussillon. You will have to trust me that when I say his wines were amongst the best that evening that I am not saying so out of loyalty. Le Maudit is the Treloar Carignan dominated wine and was spicy, fresh and very good. Jonathan also had his One Block Grenache on tasting, a proper interpretation of the event’s title.

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Another which came out well from the evening was Domaine Sainte Croix, coincidentally one of the Outsiders producers. Jon and Elizabeth Bowen produce very good wines in the Corbières, I have enjoyed them many times. Tonight the Carignan was very good, cherry fruits and spice. Star of the night though was La Part Des Anges, a late harvest Carignan with deep fig, coffee and chocolate notes. Lovely, a little sweetness matched by freshness on the finish.

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Incidentally, I met Jon during the main salon as he visited various other stands to taste, his search for wider wine experience clearly promotes his winemaking knowledge. This was also true of Jonathan Hesford who went to the salon simply to taste. It wa she who tipped me off to go and taste Pittnauer wines, one of my stars of the show. I am sure many vignerons do the same but it seemed no coincidence that their wines emerge so well when I see them learning elsewhere, always seeking to improve their understanding.

The other wine I enjoyed at the event was from Mas des Capitelles. A Faugères wine this was 95% Carignan with a touch of Mourvèdre and it was delicious, lots of fruit and spice and very drinkable. I shall look out for Capitelles in the future.

Biotop

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The Phare, home of Biotop

Fifty vignerons gathered in the lighthouse at Palavas. Organised by Isabelle Jomain, Biotop was one of my favourite events in 2015 and no doubt it will be one of my highlights this year. Once again time caught up with me and I was unable to get to the tables of many vignerons I would have liked to visit. My friend, sommelier Sandra Martinez from La Table 2 De Julien near Uzès, accompanied me round some of the tables and it was good to learn from her expertise. Incidentally for a different account of Biotop have a look at the blog of Michel Smith.

Highlights included the champagnes of Fleury and Franck Pascal. Michel was underwhelmed by Fleury but I enjoyed the range, especially the Pinot Noir dominated wines Nature and Bolène 05 both marked by round, fresh fruit and the latter, more expensive of course, having real depth and gravity. The Sonates Nº9 was especially good, delicate fruit, fresh, long. Pinot Noir 100% and no added sulphur. Sorry Michel, I enjoyed these wines.

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Franck Pascal’s champagnes were an eye opener for me last year, I selected the cuvée Quintessence as my favourite sparkling wine tasted last year. Not surprisingly it was once again a favourite here, beautifully aromatic from the Pinot domination (Noir and Meunier) this was fuller than the Fleury wines, still structured and yet fresh and fruity. This was the 2005 rather than 04 but the quality is undiminished. I also loved the Sérénité 2010, sulphur free Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, dry, clean with lingering delicate fruits. The price tag of 120€ is a bit of an issue however.

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From champagne to dessert wine. Domaine Juchepie‘s Coteaux Du Layon wines are just lovely. The dry wine is good but it with moelleux and liquoureux wines that they shine brightest. The word ‘lovely’ reappears through my tasting notes for every wine. The 2011 and 2014 moelleuxs have a light touch whilst being rich, mouth filling pleasure. Take a wine like Quintessence 05 (yes the same name as the champagne above). Yields of 5-10 hectolitres per hectare are miniscule, the grapes hand picked with great care and vinified with enough acidity (pH 3.84) to cut through the 223 grammes of residual sugar. In other words it is a sticky, sweet, explosion of flavours with a refreshing finish. And those flavours go on and on, stunning.

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Saskia van der Horst is another familiar name on this site with her Domaine Les Arabesques. I tasted her wines first at Labande de Latour in November 2014 and they have been favourites ever since. Yet even within the last year those wines have improved in quality and, as the work in the vines done by Saskia and her partner bears fruit, they will continue to improve. The refreshing white Elianon 14 is good but the reds are the stars. The pure Syrah Lou Pal 14 had lovely raspberry notes; Champs d’Andrillou 13 (Grenache and Carignan) plummy and spicy; Les Arabesques 100% Grenache with rich tannins and chocolate flavours. All very good wines. Saskia is 8 months pregnant, I wish all concerned well and congratulate them on their wines and personal futures.

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Old photo of Saskia’s wines

And so to the Rhone Valley. One of my wines of the year for 2015 was Cornas Brise Cailloux of Domaine Coulet made by Matthieu Barret. It was Sandra Martinez who introduced me to it. So, I was delighted when Matthieu was present at Biotop and was rewarded by the range of his wines. The structured, fresh and elegant Crozes Hermitage 2014 was very good, the 2013 Brise Cailloux spicy, aromatic and fresh (every bit as good as the 2012), the Cornas Billes Noires was darker, spicier with fresh, dusty tannins. Even simple wines like the Mourvèdre 15 were elegant. Matthieu is a very skilled winemaker, these were top wines by any standard. Thanks Sandra.

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I was unfamiliar with the Brézème region south of Valence though I must have driven through it many times. I can only say that the wines of Domaine Lombard will make me stop off in future. Julien and Emmanuelle Montagnon are making superb wines. From the dry, textured Viognier 14 to the top of the Brézème range Eugène de Monicault 13 every cuvée was clear, full of character and a pleasure to taste. Marked by fruit and freshness they reflect their terroir and the Syrah in particular is classic Rhone Valley, as good as it gets. Whether whole bunch fermented such as Grand Chêne 14 or made from old vines like that top cuvée they are wines to please the palate and the brain. I would imagine their Hermitage wines are very special. I really loved these wines, thanks again to Sandra for introducing me to them.

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From the Yapp Brothers website, Lombard’s UK importer

So many great wines, so many domaines which deserve more space and time devoted to them. And there were other lovely wines too. And that is why the offs are a valued part of the whole Millésime Bio experience. They are separate but I feel they add more choice and more experience of good wines.


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Exploring the 7Cs – Day 7

Carignan

Since moving down to Margon it has been evident to me that many of my favourite bottles have been based around Carignan. A variety which received so much scorn for many years is now fighting back. The excellent wine writer Michel Smith has been in the vanguard by writing a series of articles called Carignan Story on the les5duvin blog, championing the variety and the people who produce great bottles of it. Moreover he is producing some himself in the Roussillon. (The blog is a must follow incidentally).

I shall start with Mas Coutelou this time as Flambadou is the star of the 2013 vintage at the domaine and is a wine which ages brilliantly as a memorable 2007 testified during a vendange lunchtime. If you opened the link to Michel’s Carignan Story you will have already seen his support for this wine too.

A magnum (even better!). From Amicalementvin website

Jeff himself rates Cyril Fahl’s Clos du Rouge Gorge as one of the outstanding Carignan wines and based on my tasting in November (see Day 5) I would not argue. Domaine d’Aupilhac in Montperoux is another which has championed Carignan, blended in some cuvées or on its own in Le Cargnan which is a lovely wine showing the leathery, dark fruit flavours of the grape.

I must mention the wine ‘Les vignes qu’on abat’ of Domaine La Marfée produced in Murviel lès Montpellier, a deep, dark joyful wine which needs a little patience in cellaring.

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Other lovely Carignan bottles tasted include Cébene‘s Belle Lurette and Treloar‘s Le Maudit, plus the cuvées Les Premiers Pas and Fontanilles from Les 2 Anes. Domaine Sainte Croix (see Corbieres, Day 3) produces a couple of Carignan – led wines Magneric and Le Carignan, both express the wild garrigue of the Corbieres hillsides, lovely wines. In the Minervois, Chateau Maris also produces lovely Carignans such as Anciens and (again) Le Carignan.

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Finally, I should mention a domaine close to me in Gabian, Cadablès run by Bernard Isarn is starting to produce some really good wines not least the Carignan led Champ de Pierres.

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These are all wines I would heartily recommend, but that’s not the end of the story.

Carignan Blanc is fairly unsual in the region but two of my favourite white wines come from this grape and both from Caux where we started. Mas Gabriel‘s Clos Des Papillons is dry, fruity and clean, with a rich texture that fills the mouth, simply delicious. Le Conte De Floris produces Lune Blanche which is just as good and I was happy to find some bottles in the wine bar in Pézenas recently. So Carignan, red and white, is a variety to investigate. Dare I mention that Jeff produces another very good example of Carignan Blanc? Well I did leave him out of my 7Cs so I think it’s only fair.

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So those are my 7Cs, villages, areas and grapes which are all a source of great wine pleasure. I could have added more with St Chinian as just one example. Proof that Languedoc Roussillon is a region of great variety, a region of great excitement as winemakers rediscover and redevelop the character of wine in this fabulous part of France. Any feedback is always welcome.


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Exploring the 7Cs – Day 4

Excellent map of Languedoc Roussillon wine areas by Quentin Sadler whose blog can be found at https://quentinsadler.wordpress.com/

Cabrerolles, Caussiniojouls

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OK this is a bit of a cheat but I wanted to fit Faugeres into this post and these are two of the central villages to the AOP. As it happens the domaines I have really enjoyed recently are based in the communes of the two Cs. There is little doubt that Faugeres is on the march, a caviste I spoke to a few weeks ago was telling me he can charge at least an extra euro or two for Faugeres compared to wines of similar quality from other AOPs.

I should start with the wines of Didier Barral (based in Lentheric a hamlet in the commune of Cabrerolles) whose domaines is called Leon Barral, I believe named in honour of Didier’s grandfather. It was Jeff Coutelou who told me that Didier is “a star” and I finally tasted a couple of the wines and the judgement is accurate. These are great wines by any standards, produced in a natural way on a domaine where Didier grows other crops too and has cows pastured on the vineyards over the winter period. They are relatively expensive but not compared to wines of lesser quality from regions such as Bordeaux or Burgundy.

Domaine de Cébène  has been a favourite for many years, again after buying some from Leon Stolarski. Brigitte Chevalier was based in Caussiniojouls when I first visited her domaine though now has a new cellar in Faugeres. These are complex wines which age beautifully but are lovely to drink young too if you can’t wait. Brigitte has quickly earned herself a lot of top awards together with wide recognition. I remember a lovely afternoon touring her vineyards 4 years ago and she was planning how to improve the quality of the vineyards, a plan which is certainly bearing fruit. A book about the working of the domaine is being written by Janice Macdonald, I am sure it will be well worth reading, as you drink a Cébène wine, eg my personal favourite Les Bancels.

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Brigitte talking to me in January

The other domaine which has captured my attention is Clos Fantine also based in Lentheric. This family run domaine works organically and produces delicious natural wines, fruity, long and complex. These are wines I shall be buying increasingly and I hope to be visiting the domaine next month.

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Faugeres is an exciting area with its soils of schist and granite as well as basalt and limestone. So many good wines from the AOP are available but these three are my selections from the ‘C’ villages. Look out elsewhere for the likes of Alquier, Mas Sibert (read more), Trinités and Ollier Taillefer.


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Millésime Bio Offlines

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Millésime Bio is the world’s largest wine event for organic wine producers. There were around 800 producers at this year’s event in Montpellier, most in the main salon across 3 huge halls. Each was given the same size table on which to present their wines so that there were no big displays, a nod to equality which I find refreshing. In addition there are a number of ‘offline’ events rather like the Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival. Even over 3 days of tasting I did not get to sample wines from all the producers I wanted to visit.

I attended 4 offline events though sadly missed some I would have liked to attend such as ‘Vin de mes amis’ with producers such as Didier Barral, Yannick Pelletier and Maxime Magnon. However, I greatly appreciated those I did attend and thank those responsible for organising them.

Biodyvin was held next to the Etang des Moures, a lovely location and featured an excellent buffet. The event is based around biodynamic producers and some of the very best wine domaines of France were represented. There were some stunning wines on offer, these were amongst my favourites;

 Zind Humbrecht (Alsace) – Olivier Humbrecht was present to explain 5 fantastic wines including a very good Muscat Goldert 2012, a stunning Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2011 and equally stunning Pinot Gris Rangen Clos St Urbain 2011 all of which are Grand Crus and worthy of the name. Brilliant wines.

Talking with Olivier Humbrecht, great winemaker, nice man

Talking with Olivier Humbrecht, great winemaker, nice man

Huet (Vouvray) – a good range of styles with a Le Mont Sec, 2005 Clos Du Bourg Demi Sec, 2008 Le Haut Lieu Moelleux and 2005 Le Mont Premiėre Trie. All were excellent with thrilling minerality and great balance between richness and freshness.

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Other great white wines came from:

  • Marc Kreydenweiss (Alsace) with his Riesling Grand Crus, Wiebelsberg and Kastelberg from 2008
  • German estate Bȕrklin Wolff with Guisburg Grand Crus from 2012 and 2005 IMG_0912
  • Roussillon producer Olivier Pithon’s Cuvée Lais and La D18 (both largely Grenache Gris based)
  • Marcel Deiss Burg 2012

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Strangely I enjoyed the whites much more than reds. My favourite reds came from Domaine La Marfée especially Les Gamines and Della Francesca both 2012.

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One final recommendation would be the champagnes of Domaine Françoise Bedel, especially the vintage cuvees especially the 2003 and 2004.

Les Affranchis saw a collection of winemakers from around Europe brought together, many of whom were biodynamic or natural producers. My friend Jeff Coutelou of Mas Coutelou (Languedoc) was present though I have not included him in these favourites on the grounds of impartiality!

Chatting with Jeff

Chatting with Jeff

I enjoyed many excellent wines here including:

Weingut Werlitsch (Ewald Tscheppe) an Austrian producer who makes excellent white wines based around Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, the cuvées called Ex Vero I, II and III depending on the soil. They were all excellent plus a natural wine made with maceration on skins which was very complex and elegant, named Werlitsch.

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I would also add recommendations for another Austrian producer, Weingut Strohmeier another very good range.

Champagne Barbichon offered a series of excellent bottles which brought complexity, richness and freshness to their cuvées of which my favourites were based around Pinot Noir.

Hausherr (Alsace) produce wines with the same philosophy as Marcel Deiss, ie preferring their wines to reflect the terroir rather than just grape varieties as most Alsace producers do. They do have single varietals but also like to blend different grapes from one vineyard. A wine such as Colline Céleste 2012 was delicious, complex and mineral.

Domaine des Bodines (Jura) some lovely white wines including a classic Jura Savagnin 2013 and also a lovely red, Poulsard 2013.

Lemasson Les Vins Contés (Loire) – I am a fan of Loire white wines and have a real difficulty with reds from the region especially those based on Cabernet Franc. However, here there were two reds which appealed particularly, R13 a blend of Grolleau, Gamay and Cot and Cheville De Fer a pure Cot, both 2013.

La Ferme St Martin (Beaumes De Venise, Rhone) had a good range especially the reds Les Romains and two vintages of Les Terres Jaunes mainly Grenache and Syrah based wines. I enjoyed their whole range but these stood out.

Domaine de la Ramaye (Gaillac) showed some lovely wines, again the reds appealed most with the Duras grape offering variety to most reds tasted over the three days. La Pech De La Tillette 2013 and La Combe d’Aves 2009 were excellent wines of power and elegance.

Philippe Tessier (Loire) I particularly enjoyed the Cour Cheverny wines based on Romorantin grapes.

The Outsiders is a group of Languedoc Roussillon producers whose origins are outside of the region. I have enjoyed many of their wines in the past and there are two of my favourite Languedoc producers involved. Held in a very hip and lively venue with good food this was a very enjoyable evening.

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Domaine de Cébėne (Faugères), run by Brigitte Chevalier, produces wines with power and freshness. I have enjoyed all of her wines over many years and this evening was especially by the Carignan dominated Belle Lurette 2013 and the classic Languedoc blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre in Les Bancels 2012.

Brigitte tells me how it is

Brigitte tells me how it is

Turner Pageot (Pézenas) is run by Emmanuel Pageot and his Australian wife Karen Turner, winemaker at the Prieuré St Jean de Bébian. Manu is a terrific winemaker, restless in his search to improve his wines and explore his terroir. Every one of his wines is a pleasure to drink, personal favourites were La Rupture 2013, a unique Sauvignon Blanc vinified not to taste of the standard varietal flavours and also Carmina Rouge 2012 a powerful, spicy fresh wine which needs time to develop but is already excellent. I tasted more of the range at the main salon including a new orange style wine which I found stunning and a new Grenache based wine which was profund.

Manu Pageot, winemaker extraordinaire and wearing the same colour jumper as I was!

Manu Pageot, winemaker extraordinaire and wearing the same colour jumper as I was!

I also enjoyed the wines of Domaine Sainte Croix from Corbières, powerful yet refreshing and complex. Big wines with a touch of wildness reflecting the Corbieres countryside. Other wines came from guests of the group including some good Pouilly Fumés from JD Pabiot.

Finally I attended Biotop another collection of winemakers sharing a belief in organic, biodynamic and natural ideals. Held in the Phare at Palavas with stunning views along the coast. Three wine ranges really caught my imagination here along with many other wines.

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Champagne Franck Pascal is a small domaine which produces a range with a light, floral touch and yet long lasting flavours. Much more complexity than most marque champagnes I have tasted. Non vintage wines were lovely, the vintage wines such as Quintessence 2004 and 2005 were deep, refreshing and rich in flavour and simply delicious. Other bottles included a lovely natural champagne, Serenité. If I was looking for top class champagne this is where I would look first.

Juchepie (Coteaux du Layon, Loire) produces Chenin Blanc wines ranging from dry to vins liquoreux . The dry Anjous were excellent, the Moelleux wines showed brilliance with richness and acidity and long long long lasting flavour. The two cuvées were Les Churelles and Les Quarts, both 2011. Then came two vins liquoreux which were both wines which will stay in my memory forever. They had such depth, such complexity and were just beautiful. I like sweet wines but these were very special. The unctuous sweetness was balanced by a clear line of acidity making the wines lovely to drink. Such wines make you stop and think, wow.

Le Conte De Floris (Languedoc, Pézenas). These are wines which remind me of Burgundy, especially the reds. They contain minerality and freshness and, despite having a light appearance in the glass compared to most Languedoc wines, they have real power and depth. The whites were clean, direct, long and mineral with the 100% Carignan Blanc Lune Blanche 2013 the star wine. The reds are based mainly on blends of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan and carry powerful aromas of strawberries, red fruits and spice with a clean, direct approach which grows in complexity as the wine fills the mouth. Cuvées such as 6 Rats Noirs, Villefranchien and Carbonifère are wines to seek out and enjoy.

I also enjoy the wines made by Les Arabèsques in Roussillon which are full, powerful and show great freshness. Le Roi Pecheur and Les Champs d’Andrillou are excellent wines and will develop beautifully with time.

Saskia van der Horst talks me through her wines. It was good to taste even more of them than I had at Latour De France in November.

Saskia van der Horst talks me through her wines. It was good to taste even more of them than I had at Latour De France in November.

Pierre Frick is another excellent Alsace producer, he showed a huge range of wines, many natural. The Grand Crus Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris wines were especially good and showed again that the Grand Crus vineyards of Alsace do indeed stand out in the right hands.

Part of the extensive range of Pierre Frick, a major tasting in itself

Part of the extensive range of Pierre Frick, a major tasting in itself

More lovely Austrian wines from Meinklang including a lovely 2012 Zweigelt red, a very refreshing St Romain 2013 from Emmanuel Giboulot and more good Chenins from La Grange Tiphaine helped to make this another very enjoyable tasting.


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Wines

 

   mascoutelou2

 

As you may have noticed from the first post the areas we stayed in around France were wine regions. Not a coincidence.
I became interested in wine when I visited Germany as a young teacher who was asked to accompany a trip to the Rhine valley. A very generous hotel keeper in Bacharach insisted on sharing bottles and the different types of wine produced. This was news to me as I knew nothing about wine and assumed it was either white and light or red and sturdy.
From there to the Australian invasion of Wyndhams and Penfolds and then on to France. I still love the wines of Alsace, Burgundy and Beaujolais as well as the white wines of the Loire. Some terrific holidays and tastings spring readily to mind. Sadly the price of Burgundy and Bordeaux has long since outstripped the bank balance of a teacher.
However, good fortune struck. Alongside a growing liking for heat and the Languedoc was the rise of new, exciting winemakers in the region. Inspired by the writing of Rosemary George, Paul Strang and the admirable Andrew Jefford I began to explore their wines and I am hooked by their quality and sheer drinkability. Winemakers such as Jeff Coutelou, Turner Pageot, Mas Gabriel, Domaines Treloar and Cébene, amongst many others, have set  standards for me which help me to judge the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon.
Happily I now have the opportunity to explore more deeply and to spend more time with some of these winemakers, find out about their work and produce and seek out more top notch wines. This blog will, hopefully, narrate this adventure and share my discoveries. It may not be original but it will be the honest words of a wine amateur seeking to deepen his understanding of that passion.