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


dRAW conclusions

Vionnet (RAW link)


I had heard good reports about Karim Vionnet’s wines and I enjoyed the lighter non-oaked versions in particular. Du Beur Dans Les PInards 2015 had well balanced fruit and depth, very good Beaujolais. The light, straightforward Chiroubles ‘Vin De KaV’ 2015 would please anyone, though added sulfites seemed unnecessary.

Riberach (RAW link)

The Roussillon is home to many excellent winemakers and I had seen some rave reviews about Riberach so it was good to taste their wines at last. Riberach is a collection of grower, winemakers and others with 20ha of vines certified by Ecocert. I liked the wines in general especially the white wines. Hypothèse Rouge 2011 had good fruit and mineral mouthfeel but top for me was the Hypothèse Blanc 2014. The red is based on Carignan Noir, the white on Carignan Gris – a Carignan whitewash for me.

Château Massereau (RAW link)

The highlights of the Montpellier tastings in January included Chateau Meylet from St. Émilion and, perhaps, Bordeaux based wines are making a comeback in my affections as Chateau Massereau based in Barsac was a favourite here. Certainly the Sauternes wines were a real delight (La Pachère lighter than Cuvée M) but the reds were the core wines, I liked them all but especially the Cuvée Socrate 2009, picked early for freshness which shone in the glass. A word too for a really good Clairet 2015, weightier than a rosé with 48 hours of skin contact, fruity, light and delicious.

Gut Oggau (RAW link)


Another Austrian producer makes my list, it really is a source of some of the best wines at present. I presume Eduard Tscheppe is somehow related to the excellent Andreas whose wines I have praised so often on here. Together with his partner Stephanie they make very attractive and drinkable wines. So popular that they ran out of wine early on the Sunday so I made a bee line for them on Monday morning. The Theodora (weiss) 2015 was very mineral but plenty of fruit too, complex and good. my other favourite was Emmeram 2015 made from Gewurztraminer, not everybody’s favourite grape but this was long, fruity, exotic and just a touch of residual sugar to add a pleasurable finish.

Meinklang (RAW link)


Tasting with my good friend David Crossley

More from Austria and amongst the best of its producers, another to run out of wine early. Delicious Foam White 2015, a petnat with superb freshness and depth after 15 months on lees. Graupert Pinot Gris 2015 had chewy fruit (2 weeks on skins) and a lovely clean finish. The two Konkret wines (raised in concrete eggs) were particularly good, proof that ageing wines in this style does work well. The white had lovely peachy aromas and long fruit, the red was clear, direct and long. The Zweigelt 2015 was a highlight, beautiful precise fruit and a mineral, clean finish. I should also praise the delicious Foam Cider.


So much did I like the wines and cider from Meinklang that I immediately ordered some.

Batic (RAW link)


I tried wines from quite a few East European producers and was a bit disappointed by them. However, Batic, a Slovenian producer, was outstanding. A lovely 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon but the real star was Angel 2011 a blend of 7 varieties complanted in the vineyard, 31 days on skins and 4 years in barrel. How does that make such a light, fruity, pleasurable wine? I don’t know but it was a terrific wine.

I Mandorli (RAW link)

Excellent Italian wine based on Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Freshness was the hallmark of the wines. Particular favourites were Vigna Alla Sughera Rosso 2013, lovely sharp cherry flavours. The Vigna Al Mare 2013 had real Cabernet profiles of blackcurrant. Vino Rosso Base 2014 was a light blend of the 2 grapes and very drinkable.


A very good tasting offering the opportunity to taste wines from many countries. Natural wines are on the up, producers emerging not just in the traditional hotspots of France and Italy. One well-known wine writer recently suggested in a description of one wine that natural wine is a fashion. Apparently she is unaware that they have been made for almost 40 years, they are no fad. More producers, more customers, more restaurants – the demand for natural grows every month.

I remain unconvinced by amphorae, some producers are mastering the technique but there is a lot of clumsy, inexperienced use at present. Concrete eggs on the other hand do seem to be more sympathetic to the wine.

Most producers at RAW were certified organic or biodynamic. It is important that consumers should be confident that their wine is really natural. The wine described by the critic was made SO2 free but not organic, to my mind (and in RAW’s charter) that would not be a natural wine. I also did wonder why some producers continue to feel the need to add sulfites to the wine.


Natural wines are here to stay, they will hopefully become known as simply very good wines. The wines described in the last 3 articles should help to provide many examples of such very good wines. And that is without covering the wines of such illuminati as Cornelissen, Gravner and Texier.

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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)


A walk in the vines

(En français)

The Languedoc Roussillon region was struck by huge storms on November 28th. Lightning and thunder which lasted almost a whole day, torrential rain all day (over 210mm at Bédarieux), hail for half an hour, winds well over 100kph. Even local people were surprised by the storm. There are some scary pictures on Midi Libre.

Outside our door in Margon

Outside our door in Margon

Puimisson, the stream in the background reached the height of the tree branches

Puimisson, the stream in the background reached the height of the tree branches


Jeff pointing to debris from the stream in the tree branches

Jeff pointing to debris from the stream in the tree branches












A walk around Margon, our home village, 3 days later showed that many vineyards had been damaged. At this time of the year the vines themselves are not so vulnerable of course, there are no grapes left on there. However, the soils themselves were damaged in many places by erosion.

Water standing in the vines

2. Water standing in the vines

Clay (argile) run off on the road

1. Clay (argile) run off on the road










Much of our area has clay soils which are not the easiest to drain. However, many modern agricultural practices exacerbate this problem. Using heavy machinery such as tractors, harvesting machines and large sprayers means that the soils become compacted and, therefore, even more impermeable (photo 2). Inappropriate use of herbicides and weed killers to get rid of grass and other plants means that the soil has nothing to bind it together and, consequently, heavy rain will cause erosion as we see in photo 1. Overploughing will combine both problems.

I remember when I first visited French vineyards 30 years ago that most were like this. Times have changed though and more artisanal, more environmentally aware viticulturists have realised that the soil has to be treated with respect. In a previous post I mentioned that the soil experts Claude and Anne Bourguignon gave a talk recently which I attended. They explained that the soil is what gives a crucial 6% of the vine’s needs which can make all the difference in terms of flavour and quality. Vine roots need to reach down into the soil to extract the water and minerals which they require to grow and to fruit. They confirmed that the best practice is what many winemakers have been doing in recent years. Allowing grass and other plants to grow amongst the vines brings many benefits:

  • binding the soil, making it stronger and less prone to erosion
  • stronger soil makes it easier to withstand machinery
  • competition for nutrients drives the vine roots deeper where more of the species which benefit the plants live
  • retaining moisture in summer which can also be used by the vines
  • providing shelter to other wildlife which eat the insects that damage vines and grapes
Covered vineyard with no sign of erosion

Covered vineyard with no sign of erosion

Ruts developing between vines

Ruts developing between vines










The photos above show how two parcels of vines just metres apart responded to the storms. The difference is obvious.

Vines with shallow roots do not access the deeper minerals and ecosystem. The roots also overheat being nearer to the surface and this can mean that they shut down some of their work and grapes will not ripen so well or evenly.

Yet there are vignerons in the area who have installed or are installing irrigation. This can only compound the problem in a region where there are occasional droughts but not on the scale of Australia for example.

Jeff Coutelou reported to me that there had been no erosion in his vines unlike those of some of his neighbours, the reason may be seen in the photos below.

A stark contrast between the Mas Coutelou vineyard and that of his neighbour

A stark contrast between the Mas Coutelou vineyard and that of his neighbour

Irrigation pipes run along the vines. Look closely at the channel which has been cut into the soil by the rain.

Irrigation pipes run along the vines. Look closely at the channel which has been cut into the soil by the rain.

Water flowing off vineyards which have had the grass removed

Water flowing off vineyards which have had the grass removed



The run off from the vines has caused a new stream and channels

The run off from the vines has caused a new stream and channels




Meanwhile Jeff's vines have drained and there is no damage to soil below

Meanwhile Jeff’s vines have drained and there is no damage to soil below







Vine roots washed into the new stream next to the neighbours' land

Vine roots washed into the new stream next to the neighbours’ land






Biodiversity - analysis showed over 30 types of grass in one square metre of Jeff's vineyard.

Biodiversity – analysis showed over 30 types of grass in one square metre of Jeff’s vineyard.











One sad casualty of the storms was the tree with a bat shelter installed by Jeff. Bats are good friend to vines as they eat many insects which might damage them or their grapes. Encouraging them and other friendly wildife, such as wagtails and hoopoes, helps to keep the grapes in good health. Unfortunately the tree, which was dead, was uprooted and so a new bat home will be established soon.

Bat shelter

Bat shelter

And finally how to control that grass and plant life? Ploughing or working the soil is needed at times but there are some novel alternatives. At Mas Gabriel a local farmer brings his sheep into the vineyard at this time of year. And then, as I was driving to Cabrieres the other day I came across this.



Being in the vines is always interesting!



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.