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


Latour De France


                    Portes ouvertes, well most

Latour not Le Tour. It is a village in the Pyrénées-Orientales with an unusual profile in terms of winemaking as nearly all the vignerons make natural wine. La Bande de Latour is their open day and it was such a fun event last year that we decided to return again, the date was in the diary for a long time.

Unbelievably the event took place on the only bad day’s weather in the last 3 weeks, low cloud, mist and dampness prevailed though the event was far from spoiled and more than compensated for the weather. The vignerons of Latour invite others from around the Languedoc Roussillon and further afield, but there is a common bond of natural wine. In recent weeks there has been much discussion in the world of wine about whether natural wines should be certificated and what direction the wines should take. I intend to address these issues in the next articles but it was a good opportunity to see what lessons could be learned at such a gathering of producers.


The first thing to say is that there were wines which did not appeal and which seemed a little lacking. I believe that natural wines are moving on and that with more experience of not using sulphites, for example, winemakers are learning how to tackle the process of making clean, fresh and healthy wines with a minimum of faults despite not having the safety net of additives, interventionist winemaking etc. However, there were some winemakers present who, in my view, are either new to the approach, haven’t learned or have not moved on. I won’t name names here but would share my thoughts if anyone wants to get in touch.

However, I felt that the majority of wines were of at least good quality, with fruit, freshness, balance and complexity – all that you would want from any wine but certainly the features which make natural wines appeal to me. There were wines which really were top class and I put my money where my mouth is by buying some.


Top of the podium was undoubtedly Cyril Fhal of Clos Rouge Gorge. His vineyards are high in the hills, gobelet and exposed to the elements. Cyril is a master of Carignan and his wines are relatively expensive though not by comparison with the likes of Burgundy or Bordeaux, and his wines do bear comparison with top class wines. The Carignan was very good indeed, long, fresh, deep and balanced. However, it was the Blanc, made from Maccabeu which really captured my imagination, one of the best wines I have tasted in 2015. It starts zesty and fresh and then the oak adds a little roundness, coating the mouth with spicy notes but always clean and refreshing. Beautiful wine, brilliant winemaking. I happily bought both wines.



Other top performers from the village included Domaines Rivaton, Mathouans and Trbouley.

Frédéric Rivaton presented a very good white wine, Blanc Bec 2014 which was full flavoured, fresh and balanced the Carignan Blanc, Grenache Gris and Maccabeu beautifully. The rosé was mainly Grenache and the best of his wines today, lovely aromatics of red fruits matched by full, almost textured, flavours. Very good. I liked the red Gribouille too, showing a lot of depth and complexity. I liked Rivaton wines when I have tasted them before but they seemed to be much more complex and interesting today, more purchases.


I don’t remember tasting Domaine Mathouans wines before, I certainly have no notes, and that is my loss. These wines were very well made with lots of fruit but also much more complexity behind the fruit. Light tasting but structured, easy to drink but with real depth and interest. The orange wine Mine De Rien 2014 made from Muscat Petits Grains had lovely muscat aromatics (plus a little reduction which disappeared in glass), but was dry, clean and not overly concentrated as some orange wines can be. Fresh and clean, very well made. Assureté is a blend of red grapes which are complanted in the vineyard and vinified together. Full, fruity and very good – my question is why on earth did I not buy some? My mistake. And again with Le Bon, Le Brut et Le Carignan which was aromatic, red fruits with deeper black fruits behinid, very complex but always fresh and balanced. Aline Hock is clearly a very talented winemaker, I intend to find out more about the domaine.


Renaud of Domaine Mathouans, a convincing advocate for the wines

Jean-Louis Tribouley‘s wines have always appealed to me. Today we only tasted the red wines, which was a shame as I love his Grenache Gris. They were all good wines, however, I have to single out Mani 2012 made from young vine Grenache, Syrah and Carignan which was sweet, ripe and very good. Another I wish I had bought.


My other favourite wines came from outside the area.

I was taken by the wines of Domaine Hausherr when I met them in Montpellier in January. Despite their long journey to Latour the wines were equally good today. Hausherr like to express their vineyards rather than single varieties as most Alsace producers do. Therefore, wines such as Altengarten are a blend, in this case Riesling and Gewurztraminer. They are wines with full, ripe aromatics hinting at sweetness but in fact they are very dry and expressive, really delicious. La Colline Celeste 2012 was my favourite of the dry wines and I also really liked Roc Et Porcelaine 2011 which was made from the same vineyard but with more residual sugar kept to add a touch of sweetness. Sungass 2003 was also very interesting, the hot summer of 12 years ago but the wine was fresh and dry, pure Riesling with petrolly notes.



                    Talking to Heidi Hausherr

L’Ostal is in Cahors, a small and youthful domaine run by Louis Pérot. The Malbec grape can be tough and often needs aging but Louis has made different styles of wine using, for example, carbonic maceration. There is still a classic Cahors, Plein Chant (2013 bigger than 2014) but I really enjoyed Anselme 2014 which was full, rich but velvety and very good. Similarly Le Tour (not Latour) was bigger than many of the wines but retained a freshness and fruit character. I was happy to buy both of these and enjoyed the other wines too. Particular thanks to Louis who replaced a bottle I broke on the way out, my fault and he didn’t need to, it was much appreciated.


I’d also like to add Axel Prufer of Temps Des Cerises to my recommendations. The Chardonnay Peur De Rouge 2013 was very good, this is a wine which is coming into its own and Axel confirmed it needs a year or two to do so. His red Fou du Roi 13 was also very good but the Chardonnay was a real treat.

So a great day, lots of music, choices of food (including vegetarian!) and a good atmosphere despite the gloomy weather.  There were my favourite wines, there were others too from Domaine Sabbat and the very promising new domaine of La Bancale.


Enjoyed talking to Bastien Baillet of La Bancale, a domaine to watch

I do think natural wines are moving on and improving still further and La Bande de Latour provided me with plenty of evidence to support me. As I said I shall be coming back to the whole natural wine debate soon.



Latour-De-France – Portes Ouvertes

When Jeff suggested that I should attend Latour De France I was rather surprised as I was unaware of his love of cycling. A quick correction of gender and I was patiently told that it was a village in the Pyrenées Orientales where 12 of 13 winemakers are organic producers and several make natural wines. An opportunity not to be missed. Combined with visits to one of my favourite French villages, Banyuls, and also to Collioure this made for a great weekend.

Saturday by the coast proved to be a lovely, sunny day – unbelievably warm for November.

Vineyards in Banyuls stretching down to the Mediterranean Sea

Vineyards in Banyuls stretching down to the Mediterranean Sea











Sunday was cooler and grey but a great day for wine tasting. We arrived before the start of the event and the car park was already pretty full. Despite this the crowds were never too large and there was every opportunity to get round the various caves without much hassle. Each of the village organic producers had their cellar open and each also contained invitees from Roussillon but also from Fitou and Burgundy. This spread out the crowds as we walked through the streets between caves. In addition to the wines there were street entertainers and various food outlets including, to my delight, a vegetarian outlet. So, all in all, a very well organised event catering for everyone (sorry about the pun).

I am not a professional wine journalist and I am not great at writing tasting notes so I won’t! Instead I offer overall impressions and suggest some of my favourites from the 120 or so wines which I tasted (it was hard but someone has to do it on your behalf dear reader).

What struck me most was how much I enjoyed the white wines, I had expected the reds to be the outstanding wines, and some were, but the whites were much more consistent and interesting overall. One Carignan Blanc stood out (Clos Du Rouge Gorge, Cyril Fahl of whom more later) but what emerged was the splendour of Grenache Gris. Often combined with  Maccabeu it was Grenache Gris which provided a series of fresh, deep, long lasting and flavourful wines with hints of minerality, sweetness and fruits of all kinds depending on the producer. Excellent examples from Padié (very expensive though), Calimas, Tribouley, Rivaton and  Deux Chateau. There was also a very nice Maccabeu based white from Troullier. I would happily seek out and drink any of these and would advise anyone to do so.

There were also a few strange white wines ranging from cloudy and sulphury to the downright sharp and tooth decaying.

Talking with Nikolaus Bantlin of Les Enfants Sauvages

Talking with Nikolaus Bantlin of Les Enfants Sauvages

There were some excellent red wines on offer.

Cyril Fahl (Clos Du Rouge Gorge) produces a high class range of (quite expensive) wines based mainly on Carignan and Grenache. Tasting Cyril’s wines proved that his reputation and garnered praise were well merited, his Carignan based wines were delicious, nothing more to add to that. Top winemaker.

As with Grenache Gris in the white wines there was an outstanding red grape which stood out in many of the top wines and it was, as with Cyril, the Carignan. Time and again the wines with fruit, flavour and long finish were based around Carignan or had a large proportion of it in the assemblage. Not long ago Carignan was being grubbed up around the region and dismissed as a variety of little potential. La Bande de Latour showed how nonsensical that was. Carignan is a great and noble variety, again seek it out from good producers.

Other favourite reds which I tasted came from Domaine du Possible (C’est Pas La Mer A Boire), Opi D’Aqui (from Clermont L’Hérault) and Maramuta.

The problem with a number of red wines, in my view, was the use of oak. This may be a personal thing as I really do not like obvious oaky flavours. It can add complexity and structure to wines when used carefully but a lot of winemakers seem to rush to use barrels so that they can be seen as ‘serious’ winemakers. And add many euros to the price of their ‘special’ cuvées. Sadly I felt a number of wines were spoiled by injudicious use of oak. The wines appeared thin and dry with their fruit stripped out.

I would like to mention 3 other winemakers whose bottles I enjoyed.

Les Enfants Sauvages is the wine domaine of Nikolaus and Carolin Bantlin, a German couple based in Fitou. I enjoyed talking to Nikolaus and warmed to his passion for his wines and I could understand that passion when I tasted them. I liked all of the wines, white and red, but especially Roi Des Lézards, which is, you guessed it, 100% Carignan. I would definitely like to visit the Domaine in future.

The range of Les Enfants Sauvages

The range of Les Enfants Sauvages

Domaine De La Chappe is a Burgundy domaine run by Vincent Thomas a young winemaker who has built on the work of his father and used natural methods as well as biodynamic practices. He is based in Tonnerre and offered Bourgogne Pinot Noir and Petit Chablis amongst other wines. The prices were very reasonable for Burgundy, around the 10-12€ mark. The wines were far more rewarding than many Burgundies I have tasted at much higher prices. I would love to try these wines again when I have more time to devote to them. You can read more about Vincent from an article on the very good louisdressner website.

Listening to Vincent Thomas of Domaine De La Chappe

Listening to Vincent Thomas of Domaine De La Chappe

Saskia van der Horst runs Les Arabesques in Montner not far from Latour. She was a sommelier in London at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant at Claridge’s and also ran a wine bar there. She returned to France to make wine rather than just sell it and drink it. These were amongst my favourite wines of the day, all 3 were rich, full and refreshing. What amazed me was that these were Saskia’s first wines, the 2013 vintage was her first. Saskia can certainly be proud as her wines were as high in quality as most of those I tasted at Latour.

It was a great day. I liked the way the event was run, I loved the focus of organic and natural wines and the enthusiasm of the winemakers for their work and their wines. I tasted some excellent wines and discovered plenty of new winemakers whose work I look forward to sampling in future.