amarchinthevines

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


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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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Over the first hurdle

IMG_2179Friday was a warm up, today (August 27th) was the real beginning. White grapes, mainly Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah from La Garrigue vineyard were picked and pressed.

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 My first bucket full of Sauvignon Blanc

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Back to the cellar, straight into the press.

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The Syrah looks especially good this year with a good balance of acidity and sugars. Some were ready and so in they came today. Great quality, 2015 is looking good, let’s hope the next month confirms it.

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Coincidentally it was the official celebrations for the start of harvest in the Faugères appellation this evening with a ceremonial cutting of the first grapes. Good fun, especially getting to taste the wines of Clos Fantine again.
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Clos Fantine – I Dreamed A Dream

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Version française

I have visited hundreds of vineyards over the years but very few have stirred the same excitement and admiration as those of Clos Fantine, run by the Andrieu family of Corine, Carole and Olivier. With a helping hand from their New York importer Camille Rivière, who also imports Mas Coutelou wines, Corine asked me to visit on May 21st and I returned on June 11th.

There are around 30ha of vines around their base in La Liquière high in the Faugères hills. The soil is schist, Corine told me of 3 types, grey, blue and pink. This slaty soil makes it difficult for vines to send their roots down into the bedrock as it ends to lie horizontally, so they must seek fissures and faults for their roots to penetrate as the topsoil is meagre. This undoubtedly adds to the qualities of freshness and energy which mark so many of the best Faugères wines and certainly those of Clos Fantine. Corine explained that they do not try to fight this natural acidity but rather they work with nature, a philosophy which is fundamental to every aspect of the domaine. Nature rules, the Andrieus guide it perhaps.

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Schist soils

The three siblings took over the running of Clos Fantine from their father in 1997 and continued to work conventionally until 2000 when they began to use the natural yeasts of their terroir and then, in 2004, more confident of their vineyards and of themselves and of their ideas and beliefs, they stopped adding sulphites. This was no trendy whim on their part, they were certainly not riding a natural wine bandwagon. Corine is a qualified oenologue who reads widely around viticulture and agronomy. She used, and still uses, her scientific background to guide her winemaking as well as the philosophy about nature which she shares with her family. As she said to me, “You have 3 core tenets; the use of science, faith in what you are doing and the art in creating the wine.”

As we drove around the vineyards with their stunning setting there was a true feeling of well being. We met Olivier who was hard at work in one parcel strimming grass between the vines. The Andrieus do not plough the soil as they feel that this upsets the balance of it, and that the hot Languedoc sunshine and strong winds would dry the soil out too much if ploughed, leading to erosion of the already thin topsoils. Sunshine is not a problem in the region, water is and by not ploughing the family also help to preserve the water in the soil. Grass, flowers and other plants grow naturally and when the grass is fully grown and starts to seed they strim it to add organic matter to the soils and seed for the following year.

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Olivier strimming the grass

The grass also provides shelter for insects and spiders which in turn will help the vines by attacking grape parasites such as ver de la grappe. These are real living vineyards, illustrated by the discovery of two separate partridge nests, both filled with eggs, at the base of vines in that one parcel.

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Partridge eggs in their nest below one of the vines

Corine talked about how they see the land as between 3 stages, farm/grassland, garrigue and forest. They are seeking to keep their vines on the edge between the first two stages so that the vines are having to work a little to compete with flora and fauna without being overstressed. Meanwhile, Olivier also spoke about keeping good quality air around the vines, eg allowing the air to circulate freely around the vines to keep disease at bay and also about using the flowers and grass.

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The fresh air of La Liquiere

 

Disease, of course, is an issue at the domaine despite their hard work to minimise it. This is true of all vineyards. Mildew had hit when I was there in May, nothing too serious but a reminder that nature can also be cruel. Natural treatments available to them include the use of sulphur and copper which had been used for the first time in a few years. However, the vines were not in any danger, the mildew had been contained.

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Marcottage vine training, in fact this mother vine was attached to two offshoot vines

All the vines are gobelet, low to the ground. Corine described how they had recently bought a parcel of vines and their first action was to remove the palissage, the stakes and wires used to train the vines. The vines flopped and spread out as if relaxing, in Corine’s words, like a woman released from her corsets in Victorian times. Gobelet is the traditional method of growing vines in the Languedoc. The bushy vines have plenty of foliage to shelter the grapes from the sun but also have space to fan out allowing the air inside to stop humidity and defend against disease. The gobelets did give the impression of a vineyard which could have been from any period of the last few centuries, ageless.

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Gobelet vines

Corine used the word ‘energy’ a lot whilst I was there. She was referring to the soils and the vineyards. The nurturing of the soil and the vines is about channelling the energy of nature into those vines and ultimately the grapes and the wines through their management of soil and air. However, energy also describes the work of Corine, Olivier and Carole. They are relentless in their quest to improve the vineyards and the wines.

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Energy!

They read widely, for example Corine is an admirer of Jean Marie Pelt and his writings on plants and nature. She quotes science, history and nature readily and compares her wines to others in the region but also to wines and vineyard practices from the rest of France and internationally. Corine seeks to learn from these and we talked about viticulture in Australia and Chile, as there are little things done there which might help to improve wines, “we may never be perfect but we can try to be the best we can be.” This awareness of learning and the outside world is more widespread than it used to be in France but I have not come across that many vignerons who are so keen to learn from various sources.

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Corine, happy in her vines

At the start of this blog article I mentioned how happy and at ease I felt in the vineyards of Clos Fantine. The location, its touch of wildness and nature together with the philosophy of the Andrieus all rubbed off on me too.

At that point a wagon arrived to collect some palletts of wine to take to Belgium. As the domaine is up a narrow road Corine was going to have to transport the wines using the forklift down to the wagon in the village. I was actually quite pleased as it gave me the opportunity to return a few weeks later to visit the cellars and to taste the wines.

As a storm broke over La Liquière on June 11th it was a dramatic backdrop in which to return. The cellar has been designed to allow the grapes to be moved by gravity rather than pumping after being harvested by hand and gathered in small cagettes. The cement vats we tasted from were full of single variety wines busy fermenting. Corine uses no pigeage or remontage in the vats, something which was new to me, and as the weather cools down in autumn and winter the cellar doors are opened to allow the temperatures to drop and halt the fermentations naturally. These resume in spring as temperatures rise again. The result is a gentle, long and cool maceration with as little intervention as possible.

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Doors lead over the vats meaning the grapes can be moved by gravity

And the results… Well we tasted Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre from the vats and each was clear, direct, mineral and oh so fresh with fruit singing out. They were also classic in their cépage typicity, it was relatively straightforward even for me to identify each one. They were excellent as was a Terret from a barrel which contained wines from a number of vintages, in other words in a solera type system. Complex, long, mineral and the slight oxidative notes were refreshing and interesting.

We then retired to the kitchen and tasted from bottle. The Terret, Valcabrières, was a delight. Great depth of flavour with zesty refreshment and white fruits such as notes of pear. Long in the mouth it was delicious. Recently bottled it was already very good but will improve as it settles in bottle. Lanterne Rouge is Aramon and Cinsault, very much Languedoc varieties and a wine I have described on here a few times as it is a favourite with lively fruit aromas and a deceptively light first taste which grows more complex in the mouth. The Clos Fantine Tradition is mainly Carignan and Grenache and has real depth of dark fruit flavours and great complexity and a refreshing, clean finish. It is classic Languedoc red wine but with added zest and liveliness. Finally Cuvée Courtiol is made from the best grapes of the millésime. Ripe, full and delicious with length and soft tannins that will marry into the wine with age. I really love these wines and when Corine said there was no obligation for me to buy any wines when I asked if I could, I hastened to reassure her that I felt no obligation, I wanted to buy some and will certainly want to do so again!

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I learned so much in my time at Clos Fantine with the Andrieu family and I admire and respect their work, their philosophy, their passion for learning and nature and, of course, their wines. I implore you to seek out their wines and drink them.


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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

Version francaise

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.