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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Case of 2015 – white wines

 

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After my everyday case it is time to select my case of wines representing my favourite wines tasted (and drunk) in 2015. It has been a fantastic year for me, I love my life in the Languedoc and the opportunity to spend time alongside someone I consider to be a truly great winemaker and, I am fortunate to say, my friend. Through various tastings, meals and purchases I have also been fortunate to discover many top class wines. So here is my final selection of twelve. I have omitted Jeff’s wines as that will form the next article and they would fill much of this case. It should also be said that my choice would probably vary day to day, I was torn between a number of great wines.

The Languedoc Roussillon is perhaps best known for its red wines and yet looking through my notes it was often white wines which excited me most in 2015. Indeed I will start with two wines from the region.

Mas Gabriel, Clos Des Papillons 2013. No surprises here, this also featured in my everyday case. It has been a favourite wine of mine for many years, I love the Carignan Blanc grape with its freshness and white fruits and Peter and Deborah Core have mastered a wine which brings out its best. Every vintage from 2010 to 2014 tasted at the Domaine’s tenth anniversary dinner was excellent but the 2013 stole the show for me.

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The 5% Viognier adds a little mystery but it is the Carignan Blanc which gives the fruitiness, freshness and longevity. The reds of Mas Gabriel are lovely too but this remains my favourite and I’m also looking forward to the development of the new white wine Champ Des Bleuets. It is not just loyalty which earns Clos Des Papillons its place here though, the wine genuinely thrills me no matter how often I drink it. It claims first place ahead of another exciting Carignan Blanc from Caux, Lune Blanche of the Conte De Floris.

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Clos Du Rouge Gorge, Sisyphe 2014. Cyril Fhal produces great red wines especially his Carignans in Latour De France in the Roussillon. However, this year it was his white wine Sisyphe which really captured me. Grenache Gris is the cépage behind most of my favourite wines in the region and this wine adds a clean, fruity yet racy edge. A wine you could drink alone or with food and one which leaps out as something special from the first sniff to the last sip.

Domaine Montesquiou, Terre De France 2014. I could probably include every wine made by Montesquiou, so high is the quality of this Jurancon domaine. It was a thrill to visit Fabrice and Sébastien in Monein and to tour the vineyards and cellars, I had long been a great fan of their wines. The excitement and enjoyment found in the wines is so obviously a reflection of the land and the family, the brothers are passionate about their vines and restless in seeking to make their wines even better. The raciness of the dry wines, the skilful use of oak, the tightrope balance of the sweet wines, every bottle offers a treat. I chose this wine as it walks that fine tightrope with lime, lemon and white fruits just offset by a trace of sweetness. Masterful.

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With Olivier Humbrecht

Zind Humbrecht, Clos Windsbuhl Riesling 2011. I love Riesling, I love Alsace wines. Most of my favourite Rieslings are from the Mosel, others from Australia but this wine blew me away, apt on a day when gales were threatening the tent where the tasting took place near Montpellier for Biodyvin. I had tasted some Zind Humbrecht wines before and enjoyed them but this was one of those moments when the lightbulb lit above my head. Classic fresh aromas, so clean tasting and those flavours of fruit with a thrilling edge of acidity and, yes I know it makes no sense, minerality. There really is a texture and saltiness which reminds me of minerals. It is a very young wine, it will age for decades I would think but it is already packed with so much complexity and pleasure. It is everything I would ever want from a white wine.

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Domaine Huët, Clos Du Bourg Demi-Sec 2005. At the same tasting as the Zind Humbrecht I tasted this beauty. I admit to some bias as Vouvray was my first wine village visited in France and long a favourite. The sweeter style moelleux which I tasted that day were excellent, a 2008 Haut Lieu for example but I love the demi-sec style which balances the dry appley side of Chenin Blanc with its capacity to produce a sweet side with hints of honey balancing the zestiness. This Clos Du Bourg was so deep and complex and so long lasting, it was like tasting several different wines in one glass. This will again age for a long time, I’d imagine it will develop more sweetness but right now I love this balance of dry and sweet. I often resist the big names of a region but this Huët just stood out as an example of great winemaking.

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Pierre De Sisyphe of Joe Jefferies

Other dry white wines close to selection included Pierre De Sisyphe 2014 from Bories Jefferies (again from Caux!), the Greco 2013 from Giardino (Campania, Italy), Casa Pardet’s Chardonnay 2013 (Costers del Segre, Spain), Loin D’Oeil 2014 from De Brin (Gaillac) and a lovely Chenin Blanc from Testalonga (Swartland, Soith Africa), tasted on a beach in Marseillan, called El Bandito but no vintage noted whilst there I’m afraid.

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I’m including Champagne Franck Pascal Quintessence 2004. Long, yeasty, rich but with a great freshness which cleansed the palate and left me wanting more. Yet another biodynamic producer, I loved all the wines I tasted but this vintage champagne with its Pinot Noir dominance had the extra complexity and depth which marks great wine of any type. The 2005 was almost as good but this 2004 was extra clean and long. I tasted a lot of very good champagnes this year, Barbichon, Leclerc Briant, Drappier, Lassaigne being some, but Quintessence was special.

So, six white wines which have given me great pleasure in 2015. Next the reds.

 


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The twelve wines of Christmas

I read an article recently by renowned wine writer Eric Asimov in the New York Times in which he outlined the twelve wines he would always want to have around, his everyday case of wine. As I read it I naturally began to consider which wines I would include in such a case.

Issues to consider included the balance of red and white, sweet and fortified as well as sparkling wines. I could make a case just from the Languedoc, even from Mas Coutelou alone. In the end I went for a balance of wines. As an everyday case I have chosen still wine over £15 (€20) and sparkling / fortified wine less than £25 (€33).

I decided on a balance of white and red together with one example each of sparkling wine, sherry, port and sweet wine.

I have to start with Riesling, my ultimate white grape. I like Alsace examples a great deal but nothing surpasses the Mosel for me and the Kabinett / Spätlese styles in particular. JJ Prum or Bürklin Wolff Kabinetts would fit the bill nicely, easily within the price bracket, I shall go with the former.

The last few years have given me a great love of Jurancon dry white wines, heightened by a recent visit. In particular Domaine Montesquiou strike me as amongst the great white wines of the world. The balance of fruit, acidity, hint of sweetness enriched by the lightest oak influence is just my thing. I loved the new Vin De France and L’Estela is a favourite (unoaked) but will stick with Cuvade Préciouse for that extra complexity of oak.

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Vouvray was the first wine village I visited in France and remains a favourite for its mix of dryness and hints of sweetness in the demi-sec style. The Loire is a centre of natural winemaking and I shall opt for Vincent Carême’s Vouvray Le Clos, though not all his his cuvées are sulfite free . Champalou would be an alternative.

I would love to include a white Burgundy but price makes it difficult, I was close to choosing a Grenache Gris from Roussillon. Instead I shall opt for Mas Gabriel’s Clos Des Papillons. A firm favourite for many years I was fortunate enough to attend the 10th anniversary dinner of the Domaine this summer and to taste through a number of brilliant vintages of this superb Carignan Blanc and it is a wine which gives me so much pleasure and a reminder of how great the Languedoc can be.

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Red wines and the choice becomes even harder. I have to include a Languedoc – Roussillon wine because I love it and there is no better value for quality wine. How to choose? There are so many wins I love but how could I not include a Mas Coutelou? A week without one is too long so there has to be one in my everyday case. Vin Des Amis was the wine which hooked me, Copains and Flambadou would be amongst my favourites. La Vigne Haute and its pure Syrah with drinkability and complexity combined is the choice though. If I had to choose one bottle to drink for a final meal this would be it and yet I can fit it into this everyday price bracket, great.

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I love lighter structured red wines and I would definitely want one in the case. Beaujolais is a favourite but my preferences are, sadly, above the price bracket. Just fitting it however, my choice would be a Sicilian Frappato from the excellent producer COS. I really fell for this on a trip to the island in 2014 and its fruit, complexity yet light touch fits the bill perfectly.

My favourite red wine grape is Pinot Noir. I was lucky enough to visit Burgundy when prices were high but not stratospheric. I soon learned that one memorable bottle would be followed by a number of disappointments but that one bottle was so good that it made me keep searching for more, very addictive. No New World Pinot can match Burgundy though there are some very good ones. But at less than €20? Well there are good Bourgogne Rouges available and villages such as Fixin offer better prices but even they push that limit. One producer whose wines I really like is Guillot-Broux in the Maconnais. The wines are much more serious than you’d expect from that area, equal to many Côte D’Or producers. I notice the Macon Pierreclos is £15.95 with the excellent Leon Stolarski so maybe he will do a discount for a bulk order. Cheat? Probably, but I have to include a Burgundy.

Other than Sicily my choices have been all from France and I want to remind myself that good wine comes from around the world. Te Mata Coleraine was the first new world red to really make me realise how good it could be but the price has risen way too high. Australian reds were a staple for so many years though I find so many too heavy these days, especially in this price range, much as I love some Penfolds, Wakefield and Tim Adams. Spain is a source of good value wines though I find too many overoaked. Casa Pardet (Costers del Segre) was a great discovery this year but too expensive for this. Instead I have opted for another Italian wine, Le Carline Refosco which is sulphite free and has great freshness and fruit, a great food wine. And a reminder of how unusual cépages have been a great interest for me this year.

Daniele explaining his terrific wines

         Daniele explaining his Carline wines

Sparkling wine means champagne to me. I love some Pet Nats such as that of Vincent Carême, I appreciate some crémants and sparkling wines such as the Nyetimber I tasted recently but nothing quite matches Champagne for quality. I have always liked Roederer and nothing has been better than Charles Heidsieck in recent years but they are too pricey for this case. Barbichon, Lassaigne and Franck Pascal are all producers which pleased me through the year and I could buy wines from all three in France for under €30 so I shall opt for the Quatre Cépages of Barbichon, with its Pinot character adding some extra weight.

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                             Barbichon 

Sherry is a must, nothing beats its variety from the clean dry fino or manzanilla to the intense sweetness of pedro xinenez. I am a fan of them all but a Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado really caught my attention this month with a real balance of dryness with a touch of sweetness and great complexity. Like many sherries it is great value too.

Port is another wonderful wine style and I love its variety, from tawny to vintage. At this price I would choose Late Bottled Vintage and probably Niepoort just above Warres, it is more in a vintage style, not quite so rich.

Finally, a sweet wine. The Jurancons of Montesquiou and Nigri were a delight, great wines from Huet too. Natural sweet wines from De Brin and Clos Mathélisse would fit the bill too but in the end one range of sweet wines stood out this year and they were the Coteaux Du Layon from Juchepie and I would select Les Quarts for the case.

At a push I would merge the port and sweet wine choice and opt for another red wine but I would be very happy with my case. Feedback and your own selections would be very welcome.


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Mas Gabriel – 10 / 10

Deborah and Peter Core have been making wine in Caux (34) for 10 years, a cause for celebration. I was truly honoured to be invited to share their celebration evening with a vertical tasting of their Carignan led wines and a dinner held in their cave and garden. Present were luminaries such as Rosemary George, Michel Smith, Andrew Jefford, Catherine Roque of Domaine Clovallon, Gary Voss and Annette Atkins of Voss Estate in Martinborough, New Zealand along with Helen Deneuve who works for Coteaux Du Languedoc and other wine groups and is a good friend of Deborah’s, as well as Wendy Gedney, owner of Vins en Vacances, a wine tours company, Christopher Gallaway, wine expert and Bernard Degioanni, wine and food journalist, so it was a true privilege to be amongst their company.

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l-r Christopher, Gary, Annette and Wendy

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Michel, Andrew and Rosemary at work whilst Peter pours

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l – r: Bernard (just), Peter, Catherine and Helen

Mas Gabriel has long been one of my top Languedoc wine domaines and I have purchasing from there over many vintages. I have huge respect for the Cores who gave up successful careers in London in law and finance to follow their dream of making wine. Having trained and studied in New Zealand and France, they decided on the Languedoc as the region which would offer them what they were seeking in making their wines. Land was bought around Caux and the work began. What courage to embark on such a venture and the going must have been immensely difficult at times in the ten years which have followed. Learning about your vineyards, making wine in different vintages, mastering the bureaucracy in a second language and, not least, finding markets. That they remain so passionate about their land and wines whilst being the most courteous and charming people is testament to two people of strength, determination and talent. Their wines are produced organically, indeed biodynamically, and are marked by freshness and fruit.

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We gathered in the cave for the tasting and began with a flight of 5 vintages of Clos Des Papillons, the white wine of the domaine (though joined by a new white cuvée in 2014, Champ Des Bleuets). Papillons has long been one my favourite white wines of the region so this was a special treat for me.

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Until 2014 the Carignan was given a small 5% addition of Viognier but in 2014 the Cores changed this to 15% Vermentino. Around a third of the Carignan Blanc is aged in acacia barrels to add a little complexity without oak flavours. There is no malolactic fermentation as they seek to reflect the freshness and natural acidity of Carignan Blanc. When the wine was first made yields were tiny at 12 hl/ha but much work and even more cow manure has helped to boost yields to 20-25 hl/ha. There are only around 0,4ha of the vines (more have been planted) and this is a variety with only about 40ha in the Languedoc so Mas Gabriel has around 1% of them all. Peter and Deborah actively sought out the parcel after tasting the Carignan Blanc of neighbour Conte De Floris, who does make excellent wines also. The parcel they found is made up of 40 year old vines in gobelet on a sandy, limestone soil.

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So, the wines:

2014 – The first Clos Des Papillons with 15% Vermentino, which is grown in soil with galets, large round flat stones. The wine is very young still and a fresh, lively aroma is matched by a dry, very mineral initial taste. Fresh, fleshy fruits then fill the mouth to round out the dry core of the Carignan, like a peach with the fruit around the stony centre. The Vermentino certainly appears to provide that fruity roundness though the Carignan was slightly less acidic than usual in 2014 too. The wine comes together to form a lovely, refreshing, clean taste. It is very young, it will fill out further and I really like it.

2013 – A big rush of freshness leaps from the glass. Green and yet apricotty. It settles down quickly and lovely fruity, dry aromas emerge. The harvest was quite late in 2013, September 16th, so the nights were fresher as the grapes reached the optimum ripeness, and this is reflected in the fruit itself. Huge flavours of yellow and white fruits mixed with fresh acidity – always in balance, always with a delicious tension. Lovely, a very good wine.

2012 – Yellow, almost light golden in colour. I could detect a little more evidence of wood on the nose but nothing out of balance and it provided yet more complexity, there was no obvious taste of wood. The acidity appeared less obvious, though it was actually a lower pH than usual, the result of an extra year in bottle? Juicy, yellow fruits, with an edge of citrus and agrume. Stony, clean and delicious. I smiled in relief that I have resisted temptation and kept a bottle or two of this vintage, excellent.

2011 – Woh, what a nose, almost ‘Riesling’ in character with hints of kerosene. Happily, Wendy Gedney agreed with me, it’s not just me! Full flavours, lingering lime and lemon fruit flavours add that delicious freshness, definitely more so than 2012. Long, refreshing, balanced, poised! This was the earliest picked vintage (August 24th). It has years of life ahead if anyone still has a bottle (sadly, not me). I loved this.

2010 – Lively, this is certainly not on a downward slope, far from it. Still a yellow/green Starburst citrus edge. the highest acidity of any of the Carignan vintages yet the wine has rounded out a little. There is a saline, mineral edge in there too but then as you drink (and I did drink some!) an almost waxy, oily finish which helps to coat the mouth with the yellow and white fruit flavours. Lingering, clean and lovely.

Clos Des Papillons ages well, no question about it. The freshness and acidity surely help this and whilst difficult to resist drinking in a year or two I am now determined to hold back some bottles. Interestingly, Andrew Jefford was slightly less in agreement with most and would welcome some malolactic fermentation to round out the flavours more. For me, I love it as it is. To choose one vintage? I really like them all, there is nothing here to which I would not give at least 4/5 on my personal scale. 2011 perhaps but maybe 2013 just wins with the freshness, sorry Andrew.

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In the Trois Terrasses vines with Peter in 2012

So to Trois Terrasses, the first of two red wines made at the domaine, the other being Clos Des Lièvres, a Syrah led wine which is bigger and more powerful, and also excellent I hasten to add (deserved Gold Medal winner at Millésime Bio this year). The first two vintages in 2008 and 2009 were 100% Carignan but in 2010 came a change with 20% Syrah  and afterwards up to 30% of the wine is Syrah and Grenache. These are vinified separately in cuves, the Carignan cuve being cement the others fibreglass. Peter explained that yields of the Carignan were only 10 hl/ha at first but they have built this up, with more hard work and cow manure, to 25 to 30 hl/ha on average. This is reflected in gradually lowered alcohol levels in the Carignan with slightly higher acidity.

2013 – Slightly reductive at first but that blew away within a few seconds to leave a torrefacted nose with plummy, dark fruits which carried over into the flavours along with those coffee notes. There was an almost citrus freshness on the finish refreshing the palate. Spicy, peppery notes developed too and though this needs a little time yet, it is already good and will grow into something very good in a couple of years.

2012 – Rounder, darker, deeper. Complex nose of dark fruit with freshness evident even on the nose. Full in the mouth, rounding out with lots of fruit and minerality and always the trademark freshness which I love so much in Mas Gabriel wines. It is a characteristic which reminds me so much of biodynamic and organic wines, dare I say natural wines too! It certainly appeals to me.Still youthful, this is a wine which has been a big hit with friends and family when I have shared a bottle with them. Very good.

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Here’s one I shared earlier

2011 – Rounder aromas, hints of cassis. Perfumed and fruity, very heady in a pleasing manner. It tastes round and full too, ripe plums and a raspberry fresh note. Liquorice with pepper sprinkling the range of flavours too. As the wine evolved in the glass there were even smoky notes emerging. Very complex, but all working well together, always lovely to drink and, yes, that fresh finish. Very good.

2010 – The year in which Syrah was first added to the Carignan. Fruit aromas spring out from the glass, cassis, blackberry and red fruits too, lively acidity. Ironically, given the blending, Carignan characters emerge, a slightly leathery, wild edge to add to the complexity. Plummy but not too fruity. No sign of being old, still very much a wine reaching its peak with a long time to enjoy it. Harmony despite all the complexity, balance and freshness, of course. Very good.

2009 – 100% Carignan. Almost restrained on the nose, the wine colour is garnet and fresh, no signs of starting to age. A wine reaching its prime but still plenty of life ahead. Pure, direct, lovely fruit with some dusty, round tannins. The acidity is still fresh but beautifully balanced with fruit profiles such as raspberry, cassis, blackberry, plums – round, ripe and delicious. Deep, complex, full. Superb. There was a noticeable lull in conversation as we tasted this wine, it stopped us in our tracks and we had to simply stop and admire, hallmark of very, very good wine.

2008 – The first ever Trois Terrasses, pure Carignan. I detected a little more alcohol on the nose but nothing off putting. Soft, easy to drink with black fruits and a little gaminess, tannins still present but soft and supportive to the wine. Very much alive and kicking, it will continue to grow. I liked it, a lot, though perhaps overshadowed by the previous glass of 2009.

My favourite, most peoples’ favourite, was the 2009. Joyful wine, the sort of glass which makes you realise why you find wine so fascinating and rewarding.  Of the blends, I particularly like the 2010 and the 2012 but I am happy to have some bottles of all of them left.

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At dinner in the garden with a refreshing breeze

An interesting discussion followed as we compared favourites. Andrew Jefford had chosen the 08 and 09 and suggested a return to pure Carignan. Much thought for Peter and Deborah but they must have been delighted at how well the wines all performed, worthy of anyone’s cellar, certainly in the top rank of the Languedoc. I was so pleased for them, they deserve every little bit of credit and praise. I gather the thought of a pure Carignan was already in their heads, maybe this evening will influence them.

And so to dinner, made by Deborah and her friend Helen Deneuve. They even provided me with a superb vegetarian main course which was one of the best I have eaten in a long time. To accompany dinner the Cores served their Carignan rosé, Fleurs Sauvages, so popular that it disappears very rapidly out of the cellar every year, and justifiably. Various bottles of Clos Des Papillons and Trois Terrasses also appeared on the table to be drunk not just tasted. A fitting end to a fantastic evening. The conversation flowed, Michel entertained us royally (am I allowed to use that adjective for a Frenchman?) and then provided a beautiful Banyuls Mas Blanc 2003 to accompany a delicious chocolate gâteau.

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Deborah, Michel and a photo of Rosemary taking a photo

Thank you so much for the invitation Deborah and Peter, it was such a privilege to be present. There was talk of reassembling in another 5 years for ten vintages and that would be a dream. So raise your glass to Mas Gabriel, and make sure it is filled with one of their wines, you deserve nothing but the best, and so do they.

Mas Gabriel website including where to buy the wines around Europe.

Michel Smith’s blog

Rosemary George’s blog

Andrew Jefford weekly on Decanter 

Wendy Gedney’s company through which you can visit Mas Gabriel

Books by Bernard Degioanni


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Exploring the 7Cs – Day 7

Carignan

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.

A magnum (even better!). From Amicalementvin website

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 Marfée produced in Murviel lès Montpellier, a deep, dark joyful wine which needs a little patience in cellaring.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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Exploring the 7Cs (Day 1)

Excellent map of Languedoc Roussillon wine areas by Quentin Sadler whose blog can be found at https://quentinsadler.wordpress.com/

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After 6 months in the Languedoc Roussillon I have been thinking through my experiences and impressions about the wines of the region. I shall be publishing them one at a time over the next seven days. I have had a few conversations about wines recently centred around some villages, areas and grape varieties and I noticed they had one thing in common, all 7 began with the letter C. I shall be posting one each day over the next week.

Caux

This village in the fairly new AOP of Coteaux du Languedoc – Pézenas seems to be the centre of some very good winemaking. I have mentioned Mas Gabriel, owned and run by Peter and Deborah Core, several times in the past as it has long been one of my favourite domaines in the region.

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A recent Gold medal at Millésime Bio for Clos des Lievres 2012 was richly deserved and a sign of the improvement they are making to both their vineyards and wines.

Their property was once part of Domaine La Garance, whose wines also have an excellent reputation, though I have thus far only drunk the white vin de table which was delicious in a natural style. I know that the Cores and Leon Stolarski rate them highly, and I trust their judgements.

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The wines of the Conte De Floris were amongst the highlights of Millésime Bio (see my notes) seemingly light in body but powerful and long lasting, delicious wines. I was delighted to find some of the domaine’s wines in Le Vintage, a wine bar in Pézenas to stock up.

I have also enjoyed a couple of wines from Lacroix Vanel based in the village. The estate whose wines I really want to get to know are those of Fontedicto a natural wine domaine whose owner uses horses to plough. I am told they are very good wines. So this small village is home to a number of very good domaines, Caux is a centre of excellence.

Caux


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Diversity and debate

 

 

 

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(Version française)

 

My last post about the organic control stirred up a few reactions from a number of people. I don’t set out to upset people but I recognise the debate about organic status. This website from Domaine du Garinet in the Lot summarises the debate quite well, have a look at what it says about viticulture.  Organic viticulture allows the use of some chemicals which many feel are damaging to soils and their ecosystem, eg the use of copper is allowed yet remains in the soil for many years and is damaging to potentially beneficial animals such as earthworms. Other winemakers feel that there are now alternative treatments which they can use which do less damage to the biodiversity of their vineyard but are not allowed by official organic certification.

Instead these winemakers use a system called lutte raisonnée or agriculture raisonnée. Jonathan Hesford runs Domaine Treloar in Trouillas, Roussillon with his wife Rachel using this approach. They make excellent wines across a wide range, white, red, rosé and different wines such as a Rivesaltes Muscat and a Rancio. I have visited the domaine several times and bought more in the UK and will continue to do so. Jonathan is one of a number of winemakers who have moved into the Languedoc Roussillon from outside the region and have brought new ideas and a fresh approach. Jonathan and Rachel lived within a few hundred metres of the World Trade Centre in September 2001 and witnessed 9/11. That shocking event influenced them to live differently. Wine study and time working in wineries in New Zealand (Rachel’s native country) gave them the confidence to establish their own domaine in Trouillas.

   

Jonathan and Rachel put as much dedication, thought and passion  into their wines as any winemaker. Jonathan was quick to point out  to me after my last post that many, if not most, artisanal  winemakers nowadays care about their terroir and minimise  chemical use, whether organic or not. Jonathan says, “My decisions are based on on what, scientifically, are best for the vines, the soils, the environment and me, the guy spraying. In many cases the organic product is more dangerous or more environmentally damaging that the synthetic product I have chosen.” He does not seek organic certification as he does not welcome the bureaucracy and feels it is often a marketing tool. I have spoken to other French winemakers recently who have said exactly the same thing. For further information on Jonathan’s approach look at his own website page.

The wines are testament to his skills and beliefs. They shine with the freshness which I love in wine and reflect the healthy fruit which he produces. Particular favourites from my visit in early November were the white La Terre Promise (Grenache Gris dominant) and the red Three Peaks (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) but I can honestly recommend all the wines.

Mas Gabriel is run by Deborah and Peter Core an English couple. The domaine is based in Caux, not far from us and is run along organic and biodynamic practices. Their reasons for doing so are explained far better by themselves on their website than I could do so please have a look. There are many parallels with Jonathan and Rachel in that the Cores left successful jobs in a big city to follow a dream to be winemakers. Both Peter and Deborah studied winemaking in New Zealand and worked in wineries there and then in Bordeaux before settling in Caux.

It is interesting that despite similarities they took a different view about winemaking to Domaine Treloar by pursuing organic and biodynamic practices. Deborah and Peter spend many hours in their vines debudding them when necessary to allow more aeration and therefore less risk of humidity leading to mildew. They, like Jeff Coutelou, are allowed to use copper and sulphur but in fact use less than one third of the permitted level of copper, treating only when necessary. A recent survey by a botanist found over 40 plant varieties in their vineyards, a sign of health and diversity.

With Peter in the vines

With Peter in the vines

Again the proof of their hard work and passion is in the bottle. Mas Gabriel produce 4 wines, a white (Carignan Blanc dominated), rosé, and two reds. The white, Clos Des Papillons, is one of my favourite white wines from Languedoc Roussillon, dry with fruit and body it is a wine which makes you contemplate and smile as you drink it. The reds from 2012 and 2013 which I tasted during a visit at the end of October were also fresh and fruity yet contain complexity and depth. No doubt in my mind that the range of wines is all getting better and better, a testament to their growing skills and experience both in the cellar and in the vineyard.

So there we are, two excellent domaines. They all work incredibly hard and give everything they  have to produce the best, most healthy fruit from their soils. Yet in different ways. Both produce superb wines which I would strongly recommend without hesitation. Both have different views about the way to look after their terroir and I have compared them here for the sake of my debate about organic winemaking not in terms of quality. That would be unfair and impossible as they are two of my favourite domaines in France as my own wine collection would attest. Incidentally I say that not because of their English & New Zealand origins but because of the quality of their wines. I will be posting soon about some of the diversity of winemakers in the Languedoc Roussillon.

I attended a conference last Thursday where the famous vineyard analysts the Bourgignons (advisers to Romanée Conti amongst others) set out the chemical, geological and agricultural make up of healthy soil. Amongst the interesting points to emerge was that the vine takes over 90% of its needs from the air and about 6% from the soil but that 6% is what can make the difference in quality of a wine. It is certainly produced by passionate, artisanal producers. But is it best achieved through agriculture which is organic, biodynamic, natural or raisonnée? I have a lot still to learn.

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