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


Off notes


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


Hats off to Louise for such a well run event.

Bataille Carignan – Grenache


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 5

Cotes de Roussillon, Cotes Catalanes

The Roussillon is a region which is producing some elegant, complex and very enjoyable wines. It is a large area stretching from the edges of the Corbieres down to the Spanish border and including areas such as Calce, Latour De France, Maury, Banyuls and the foothills of the Pyrenees. A wide variety of wines match the rich variety of landscapes from coast to mountains. Fortified dessert wines such as Banyuls, crisp whites especially those based around Grenache Gris and rich, elegant reds. Established producers such as Gauby and Pithon have raised the bar and there are many new producers in the region picking up that challenge to make Roussillon one of the great wine regions of the world.


Vineyards with the Pyrenees as background

In November I attended a very good Portes Ouvertes event at Latour De France, a showcase of natural wines (report here) and was really taken by the wines of Cyril Fahl at Domaine Rouge Gorge. His wines are to be found in many top restaurants and deserve their excellent reputation. Wines which reflect the beauty and also the ruggedness of the area.

I also met Saskia van der Horst of Domaine Les Arabesques and was happy to taste her wines again at Biotop at Millésime Bio. Saskia is a relatively new winemaker running a small domaine but is already producing lovely, well balanced wines. I look forward to following her career. Look out for her at RAW in London in May.

Saskia van der Horst produit une excellents gamme de Roussillon. Viticultrice a suivre

Saskia van der Horst talking to me

Domaine Treloar is in Trouillas and run by Jonathan and Rachel Hesford. I have mentioned them many times and I love their wines, the white Terre Promise is one of my favourite white wines of any region and the reds are just as good, cuvées such as Tahi and Le Maudit, (not forgetting a beautifully balanced Muscat de Rivesaltes).

Jpeg Picture

I look forward to returning to Roussillon soon as it is a hugely exciting area of established and upcoming producers who are transforming the region’s wines.

(Update: already met a number of new Roussillon producers today March 29th in Arles who confirm my opinion that this is a region producing exciting wines,more to follow 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.