This weekend I head down to London for RAW and will have lots of wine to report back so I thought I should mention some wines I have enjoyed over the last few weeks before they were forgotten amidst all those RAW discoveries.
Let’s start with my birthday which I spent in the company of family and friends, it doesn’t get better than that. A number of bottles were opened of course. Let’s start with the Coutelou wines, how could I celebrate without Jeff? The Blanc 2016 is a blend of many white grapes such as Maccabeu, Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Muscat which were aged in barrel for a year. That oak age gives a richness which is different to many of the previous Blanc/PM wines. There’s an unctuousness rather than a taste of wood but the wine remains clean and satisfying. Lovely.
The magnum of Flower Power 2015, a blend of Syrah with the Flower Power (Font D’Oulette) vineyard of so many varieties. Still youthful and fresh with bright red fruits there is also a growing power and complexity. The other bottles will be kept for a few years. And no celebration of mine would be complete without La Vigne Haute. This was 2017, turning into an exceptional vintage. The Syrah is generous with red fruit but has a streak of fine tannin and a firm edge still, hard to resist now but with discipline I shall keep some bottles for the future. My desert island wine.
Along with those gems other bottles went down well too, there were many of us! Jordi Llorens’ Blankafiorti 17 is a blend of Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in the Tarragona region. A definite sense of Spanish warmth with a richness but plenty of fresh dark and red fruits, however, maybe one to keep for a couple more years to be at its best. Valette Macon Villages 15 is a lovely wine, a lovely example of Chardonnay with a citric edge to the Chardonnay richness, well balanced and delicious. Tollot Beaut’s 2006 Chorey les Beaune was classic Burgundy, the age adding smoky, vegetal notes to good Pinot fruit.
Other wines on other occasions. Testalonga wines from South Africa are becoming a firm favourite with me as mentioned on here recently. Stay Brave 18 is a Chenin Blanc matured on skins for 11 days, a relatively light maceration, giving a golden colour and very fine texture but plenty of fruit and pleasure. This made a real impression on me, a wine I will remember for a long time. La Bufarella 17 from La Salada comes from further along the coast from Tarragona towards Barcelona in the Penedes region. The Xarel.Lo grape has good acidity (it’s the main Cava grape) so stands up well to the 6 months maceration here. Much more orange in colour than Stay Brave and with more complexity and tannin. Also from Xarel.Lo was the Clot De Les Soleres 15, light, fresh with a touch of sparkle, a good aperitif wine.
Red wines included Andrea Calek’s À Toi Nous, a lovely blend of Grenache and Syrah from the Ardeche. Rich fruit but plenty of freshness, this is one of my favourite domaines in France, the labels aren’t bad too. Domaine La Marfée Della Francesca 2007 comes from near Montpellier. The age has allowed the 80% Mourvèdre to develop plummy, leathery notes, the Syrah adding more direct fruit still. Certainly its age has made this biodynamic wine more complex, this was my wife’s favourite wine of recent weeks. By contrast the 2018 50-50 Gamay – Pinot Noir blend from the Auvergne producer Domaine Miolanne, Volcane Rouge, was light and fresh. The Gamay dominates, this is very like a young Beaujolais and the Pinot adds a little richness. I liked this a lot, a food wine for sure. La Paonnerie is in the Ancenis area of the Loire. Jacques and Agnès Carroget plant various crops such as oats and clover amongst the vines to add nitrogen to the soils amongst many other organic, environmentally sound practices. Simplement Gamay 16 is very enjoyable on a drinkability level but there is some complexity in the bottle with sharp raspberry fruit.
Different altogether was one of my favourite sherry wines, the Palo Cortado Cayetano Del Pino which offers the freshness of a manzanilla with the complex nutty notes of an amontillado. It is a great wine, I’d sneak some onto that desert island with La Vigne Haute.
There have been a couple of duds along the way but the last few weeks have provided some excellent wines, I hope you have enjoyed sharing my thoughts. On to RAW and more new wines.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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 Marféeproduced in Murviel lès Montpellier, a deep, dark joyful wine which needs a little patience in cellaring.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Roussillon producer Olivier Pithon’s Cuvée Lais and La D18 (both largely Grenache Gris based)
Marcel Deiss Burg 2012
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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
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.