amarchinthevines

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


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Orange Is Not The Only Wine

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Orange wine (this was over extracted and medicinal)

Version francaise

Orange wine is very, very fashionable. Often associated with the natural wine movement that is not strictly true as many conventional winemakers are experimenting with orange wines too. Perhaps the fact that they have both emerged into the spotlight in recent years has brought the two such an association. I must say I like the idea but I have not always been convinced by the wines themselves, so here are some recent experiences.

First of all we should clarify what orange wine means. They are made from white wine grapes which are left on the skins for an extended period in order to extract more flavour. This long maceration also adds tannin and colour to the wine just as happens with red grapes when making red wine. The length of time for skin contact and the type of grapes will add more or less colour, flavour and texture to the wine.

This was how wines were made many years ago, the current trend is a revival of ancient practices. Some countries such as Georgia have always made wines like this. I have had the opportunity to taste such wines from all over the world including Georgia. Mostly I find them pleasing the mind and appreciating the technique rather than pleasing my palate. Academic rather than pleasurable. Often they lack charm, taste very dry and with no fruit, perhaps the result of overlong maceration.

However I have recently tasted some very attractive orange wines. Les Choix 2014 came from Turner Pageot in Gabian, a very well judged wine as there was still plenty of apricot fruit as well as being dry and textured, made from Marsanne grapes. Very good. Ora(n)ge Sur Les Canilles 2016 is made by Domaine Ribiera in Aspiran. Régis and Christine Pichon make this delicious wine from Clairette and Terret grapes, again they have extracted good texture and dry flavours as well as white fruit flavours. Both wines have the slightest note of Fino sherry which really appealed to me.

At Mas Coutelou in 2015 and 2016 Jeff used white grapes such as Muscat Petits Grains to make orange wines, usually supervised by our two Australian assistants Cameron in 2015 and James in 2016. The result in 2015 went to make OW1, a blend of eight grape varieties macerated for a couple of weeks. It is a bright colour, has good texture and plenty of fruit along with a herbal note. The following year James made the Muscat based wine and this is a real success, the muscat notes are there but restrained to give white fruit flavours which linger with good spicy notes and a dry finish.

Orange, skin contact, long maceration. Whatever name you give this style these are wines requiring judgement and skill from the winemaker. I encourage you to try them but select ones from winemakers you trust.

For more information from someone who knows orange wines much beter than me I would recommend this website from Simon J Woolf.


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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.