amarchinthevines

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


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Off notes

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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.

Outsiders

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hats off to Louise for such a well run event.

Bataille Carignan – Grenache

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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.

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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.

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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.

Biotop

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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February

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The Romans were late to add February as a month to their calendar having previously put together December, January and February as one long winter month. When it did become a distinct month February was seen as a month of purification, the end of winter feasting and preparation for the year ahead (February was actually seen as the last month of the year for a long time). In the Christian calendar the beginning of Lent and the tradition of Mardi Gras reflect this Roman influence.

Similarly, in the vineyard the work reflects the calendar. The Languedoc vineyards are still dormant. White vans are dotted amongst them containing the workers and their tools seeking to prune and to palisade their vines in preparation for the growing season ahead. I have described this work in detail recently so I won’t repeat myself but la taille proceeds all around us. (See here and here)

 

Vans and cars parked amongst the vines

Vans and cars parked among the vines

Sauvignon Blanc vines grafted short to reduce the yield and concentrate flavour

Sauvignon Blanc vines (at Turner Pageot) grafted short to reduce the yield and so concentrate flavours

The month began with very cold northerly and easterly winds and even one morning of snow (Feb 3rd).

February 3rd - the view from our back window

February 3rd – the view from our back window

The cold was needed to remind the vines not to start to emerge from their hibernation too soon. Early budding (bourgeonnement) can be disastrous as frosts can hit for a couple of months yet, traditionally it is mid May when the risk of frost is said to be over in the region. Those who pruned early run more risk as budding can sometimes happen sooner. Whether there was enough cold weather remains to be seen as by February 9th we were enjoying temperatures between 15C and 18C. I have heard of almond trees budding already, the mimosas were out for the festival in their name at Roquebrun on the 8th and so the vines may well be stirring already.

The mimosa is out to the left of the tower at Roquebrun

The mimosa is out to the left of the tower at Roquebrun

At Mas Coutelou there was also work to be done in preparing new vine canes to be grafted onto older vine stocks. Jeff is trying to establish some parcels with a mix of grape varieties as these cross pollinate during flowering and help to protect each other in resisting disease. He wants to bring older varieties (cépages) into his vineyards such as Aramon (noir and gris) and the Castets I wrote about in October. These are already producing great results in the quality of wine produced so far, even if it is in small quantity so far. Therefore, some old Cabernet Sauvignon vines are being removed from a vineyard such as Peilhan and being replaced by these more traditional Languedoc cépages.

Michel, Renaud and Jeff work amongst the wild rocket

Michel, Renaud and Jeff work amongst the wild rocket

Believe it or not it was quite warm despite Jeff's attire

Believe it or not it was quite warm despite Jeff’s attire

The grafting itself will not take place until around May time. For those who are interested in the technical side of this I can highly recommend this article which raises some interesting points and questions about grafting, vines and terroir. Steve Slatcher has a very good blog, well worth reading.

February also continues to bring lots of paperwork, customs and taxes for example. Many hours of such work are certainly unglamorous. Selling wine is also vital and Jeff took some cases to Gabian on the 13th to Domaine Turner Pageot to form a groupement (a pallet of wines made up from different producers) to head to Leon Stolarski, a very good merchant based in Nottingham. I have sung the praises of Turner Pageot many times on here and so it was a pleasure to see two of my favourite winemakers come together and visit Manu’s vineyards as well as tasting his wines.

Jeff and Manu study the grass which Manu has sewn between vines. This will retain moisture in summer, strengthen the structure of the soil and attract helpful insects amongst other advantages

Jeff and Manu study the grass which Manu has sewn between vines. This will retain moisture in summer, strengthen the structure of the soil and attract helpful insects amongst other advantages

There is also a belief that February is named after Febris the Latin for fever. Jeff has been suffering from flu, there is an epidemic in the Hérault at present, and Manu too was far from well. Fortunately their passion for their vines and wines shone through, a reminder that February also has its other big date on the 14th.

A warm, sunny birthday for me on February 9th but snow in the mountains still lingers

A warm, sunny birthday for me on February 9th but snow in the mountains still lingers

 

 


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Millésime Bio Offlines

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Millésime Bio is the world’s largest wine event for organic wine producers. There were around 800 producers at this year’s event in Montpellier, most in the main salon across 3 huge halls. Each was given the same size table on which to present their wines so that there were no big displays, a nod to equality which I find refreshing. In addition there are a number of ‘offline’ events rather like the Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival. Even over 3 days of tasting I did not get to sample wines from all the producers I wanted to visit.

I attended 4 offline events though sadly missed some I would have liked to attend such as ‘Vin de mes amis’ with producers such as Didier Barral, Yannick Pelletier and Maxime Magnon. However, I greatly appreciated those I did attend and thank those responsible for organising them.

Biodyvin was held next to the Etang des Moures, a lovely location and featured an excellent buffet. The event is based around biodynamic producers and some of the very best wine domaines of France were represented. There were some stunning wines on offer, these were amongst my favourites;

 Zind Humbrecht (Alsace) – Olivier Humbrecht was present to explain 5 fantastic wines including a very good Muscat Goldert 2012, a stunning Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2011 and equally stunning Pinot Gris Rangen Clos St Urbain 2011 all of which are Grand Crus and worthy of the name. Brilliant wines.

Talking with Olivier Humbrecht, great winemaker, nice man

Talking with Olivier Humbrecht, great winemaker, nice man

Huet (Vouvray) – a good range of styles with a Le Mont Sec, 2005 Clos Du Bourg Demi Sec, 2008 Le Haut Lieu Moelleux and 2005 Le Mont Premiėre Trie. All were excellent with thrilling minerality and great balance between richness and freshness.

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Other great white wines came from:

  • Marc Kreydenweiss (Alsace) with his Riesling Grand Crus, Wiebelsberg and Kastelberg from 2008
  • German estate Bȕrklin Wolff with Guisburg Grand Crus from 2012 and 2005 IMG_0912
  • Roussillon producer Olivier Pithon’s Cuvée Lais and La D18 (both largely Grenache Gris based)
  • Marcel Deiss Burg 2012

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Strangely I enjoyed the whites much more than reds. My favourite reds came from Domaine La Marfée especially Les Gamines and Della Francesca both 2012.

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One final recommendation would be the champagnes of Domaine Françoise Bedel, especially the vintage cuvees especially the 2003 and 2004.

Les Affranchis saw a collection of winemakers from around Europe brought together, many of whom were biodynamic or natural producers. My friend Jeff Coutelou of Mas Coutelou (Languedoc) was present though I have not included him in these favourites on the grounds of impartiality!

Chatting with Jeff

Chatting with Jeff

I enjoyed many excellent wines here including:

Weingut Werlitsch (Ewald Tscheppe) an Austrian producer who makes excellent white wines based around Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, the cuvées called Ex Vero I, II and III depending on the soil. They were all excellent plus a natural wine made with maceration on skins which was very complex and elegant, named Werlitsch.

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I would also add recommendations for another Austrian producer, Weingut Strohmeier another very good range.

Champagne Barbichon offered a series of excellent bottles which brought complexity, richness and freshness to their cuvées of which my favourites were based around Pinot Noir.

Hausherr (Alsace) produce wines with the same philosophy as Marcel Deiss, ie preferring their wines to reflect the terroir rather than just grape varieties as most Alsace producers do. They do have single varietals but also like to blend different grapes from one vineyard. A wine such as Colline Céleste 2012 was delicious, complex and mineral.

Domaine des Bodines (Jura) some lovely white wines including a classic Jura Savagnin 2013 and also a lovely red, Poulsard 2013.

Lemasson Les Vins Contés (Loire) – I am a fan of Loire white wines and have a real difficulty with reds from the region especially those based on Cabernet Franc. However, here there were two reds which appealed particularly, R13 a blend of Grolleau, Gamay and Cot and Cheville De Fer a pure Cot, both 2013.

La Ferme St Martin (Beaumes De Venise, Rhone) had a good range especially the reds Les Romains and two vintages of Les Terres Jaunes mainly Grenache and Syrah based wines. I enjoyed their whole range but these stood out.

Domaine de la Ramaye (Gaillac) showed some lovely wines, again the reds appealed most with the Duras grape offering variety to most reds tasted over the three days. La Pech De La Tillette 2013 and La Combe d’Aves 2009 were excellent wines of power and elegance.

Philippe Tessier (Loire) I particularly enjoyed the Cour Cheverny wines based on Romorantin grapes.

The Outsiders is a group of Languedoc Roussillon producers whose origins are outside of the region. I have enjoyed many of their wines in the past and there are two of my favourite Languedoc producers involved. Held in a very hip and lively venue with good food this was a very enjoyable evening.

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Domaine de Cébėne (Faugères), run by Brigitte Chevalier, produces wines with power and freshness. I have enjoyed all of her wines over many years and this evening was especially by the Carignan dominated Belle Lurette 2013 and the classic Languedoc blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre in Les Bancels 2012.

Brigitte tells me how it is

Brigitte tells me how it is

Turner Pageot (Pézenas) is run by Emmanuel Pageot and his Australian wife Karen Turner, winemaker at the Prieuré St Jean de Bébian. Manu is a terrific winemaker, restless in his search to improve his wines and explore his terroir. Every one of his wines is a pleasure to drink, personal favourites were La Rupture 2013, a unique Sauvignon Blanc vinified not to taste of the standard varietal flavours and also Carmina Rouge 2012 a powerful, spicy fresh wine which needs time to develop but is already excellent. I tasted more of the range at the main salon including a new orange style wine which I found stunning and a new Grenache based wine which was profund.

Manu Pageot, winemaker extraordinaire and wearing the same colour jumper as I was!

Manu Pageot, winemaker extraordinaire and wearing the same colour jumper as I was!

I also enjoyed the wines of Domaine Sainte Croix from Corbières, powerful yet refreshing and complex. Big wines with a touch of wildness reflecting the Corbieres countryside. Other wines came from guests of the group including some good Pouilly Fumés from JD Pabiot.

Finally I attended Biotop another collection of winemakers sharing a belief in organic, biodynamic and natural ideals. Held in the Phare at Palavas with stunning views along the coast. Three wine ranges really caught my imagination here along with many other wines.

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Champagne Franck Pascal is a small domaine which produces a range with a light, floral touch and yet long lasting flavours. Much more complexity than most marque champagnes I have tasted. Non vintage wines were lovely, the vintage wines such as Quintessence 2004 and 2005 were deep, refreshing and rich in flavour and simply delicious. Other bottles included a lovely natural champagne, Serenité. If I was looking for top class champagne this is where I would look first.

Juchepie (Coteaux du Layon, Loire) produces Chenin Blanc wines ranging from dry to vins liquoreux . The dry Anjous were excellent, the Moelleux wines showed brilliance with richness and acidity and long long long lasting flavour. The two cuvées were Les Churelles and Les Quarts, both 2011. Then came two vins liquoreux which were both wines which will stay in my memory forever. They had such depth, such complexity and were just beautiful. I like sweet wines but these were very special. The unctuous sweetness was balanced by a clear line of acidity making the wines lovely to drink. Such wines make you stop and think, wow.

Le Conte De Floris (Languedoc, Pézenas). These are wines which remind me of Burgundy, especially the reds. They contain minerality and freshness and, despite having a light appearance in the glass compared to most Languedoc wines, they have real power and depth. The whites were clean, direct, long and mineral with the 100% Carignan Blanc Lune Blanche 2013 the star wine. The reds are based mainly on blends of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan and carry powerful aromas of strawberries, red fruits and spice with a clean, direct approach which grows in complexity as the wine fills the mouth. Cuvées such as 6 Rats Noirs, Villefranchien and Carbonifère are wines to seek out and enjoy.

I also enjoy the wines made by Les Arabèsques in Roussillon which are full, powerful and show great freshness. Le Roi Pecheur and Les Champs d’Andrillou are excellent wines and will develop beautifully with time.

Saskia van der Horst talks me through her wines. It was good to taste even more of them than I had at Latour De France in November.

Saskia van der Horst talks me through her wines. It was good to taste even more of them than I had at Latour De France in November.

Pierre Frick is another excellent Alsace producer, he showed a huge range of wines, many natural. The Grand Crus Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris wines were especially good and showed again that the Grand Crus vineyards of Alsace do indeed stand out in the right hands.

Part of the extensive range of Pierre Frick, a major tasting in itself

Part of the extensive range of Pierre Frick, a major tasting in itself

More lovely Austrian wines from Meinklang including a lovely 2012 Zweigelt red, a very refreshing St Romain 2013 from Emmanuel Giboulot and more good Chenins from La Grange Tiphaine helped to make this another very enjoyable tasting.


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Wines

 

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As you may have noticed from the first post the areas we stayed in around France were wine regions. Not a coincidence.
I became interested in wine when I visited Germany as a young teacher who was asked to accompany a trip to the Rhine valley. A very generous hotel keeper in Bacharach insisted on sharing bottles and the different types of wine produced. This was news to me as I knew nothing about wine and assumed it was either white and light or red and sturdy.
From there to the Australian invasion of Wyndhams and Penfolds and then on to France. I still love the wines of Alsace, Burgundy and Beaujolais as well as the white wines of the Loire. Some terrific holidays and tastings spring readily to mind. Sadly the price of Burgundy and Bordeaux has long since outstripped the bank balance of a teacher.
However, good fortune struck. Alongside a growing liking for heat and the Languedoc was the rise of new, exciting winemakers in the region. Inspired by the writing of Rosemary George, Paul Strang and the admirable Andrew Jefford I began to explore their wines and I am hooked by their quality and sheer drinkability. Winemakers such as Jeff Coutelou, Turner Pageot, Mas Gabriel, Domaines Treloar and Cébene, amongst many others, have set  standards for me which help me to judge the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon.
Happily I now have the opportunity to explore more deeply and to spend more time with some of these winemakers, find out about their work and produce and seek out more top notch wines. This blog will, hopefully, narrate this adventure and share my discoveries. It may not be original but it will be the honest words of a wine amateur seeking to deepen his understanding of that passion.