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

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Grapes and climate change

Jeff forwarded me an interesting article from Le Figaro this week. The subject was research published in the journal Nature, Climate, Change focusing on the effects of climate change on viticulture and the likely need for change.


Some, such as Trump, deny such change of course but those of us in the real world can consider evidence. Vendanges in France now take place on average 2-3 weeks before they used to around 1970. The long history of wine writing means that we know that in Burgundy, for example, harvests are at their earliest in 700 years. Extreme weather in all seasons is more common, made worse by some agricultural practices such as soil impaction from machinery as well as the effects of herbicides which discourage rain from soaking into the soils.

As average temperatures rise seemingly year on year and water shortages occur more frequently in the Languedoc and other regions then viticulteurs face the problem that traditional grape varieties ripen earlier and earlier and struggle in drought conditions such as those shown in the map below indicating ’emergency’ zones in summer 2017.


The researchers, such as Elizabeth Wolkovich from the Harvard University Centre for the Environment, suggest that testing different grape varieties will be necessary. At present many of the world’s leading wine producing countries are dominated by 12 ‘international varieties’ such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Riesling and Pinot Noir.* The list at the bottom of the page shows how much these vineyards are dominated by the international varieties.

France is more varied with 43.5% planted with these grapes (though 85% under the top 20 grapes). Altogether more than 300 grape varieties are planted around France. Organisations promoting rare and forgotten grapes, eg Wine Mosaic, are gaining traction and the researchers believe that by finding grapes with longer growing seasons and later ripening then regions badly affected by climate change might find ways to preserve their vineyards and traditions.


I have reported many times how Jeff Coutelou has been planting many different cépages. He believes that not only do they provide variety in the vineyard and bottle but that the mix of different grapes in vineyards helps to prevent disease spreading. Castets, Piquepoul Noir, Terret Blanc, Morastel, and even an Inconnue (unknown) are grapes planted int he last few years and he is looking at others such as Picardan which is related to Clairette and Mauzac. Great wines such as Flower Power have resulted from these plantings, more will follow.

This is the way forward, experimenting to find grapes which make good quality wine and which can stand the climatic changes which we face.


* % area of vineyards under the 12 varieties

China – 93 (almost 75% Cabernet Sauvignon)

New Zealand 91.6

Australia 84.5

Chile 77.6

USA 70




Vinisud 2017


En francais

January and February see wine fairs, or salons, appearing regularly including some of the bigger events. For some reason best known to themselves two of the larger fairs, Millésime Bio and Vinisud, fell out and decided to hold their events simultaneously, meaning that Millésime Bio moved to Marseilles from its usual Montpellier home. However as Many of the offline events remained in Montpellier I decided to attend those and Vinisud. (It was announced on Feb. 4th that a rapprochement has been found and next year will see both events back in Montpellier).

Vinisud is a huge event, 900+ producers from all around the Mediterranean gather and professional wine buyers, cavistes, restaurateurs and journalists make appointments with them, it is big business. For someone like me, who cannot offer to buy thousands of bottles it is a little daunting so I prefer to attend some of the help yourself areas such as the sparkling zone which is self- explanatory. Sadly, there was little of any real interest for me in this zone, some neutral Limoux and Proseccos which offered nothing exciting. Sadly neither did the Picpoul zone really offer much of interest.


There was also the Palais Méditerranéan where hundreds of bottles from some of the producers are available to serve yourself. If a bottle appeals then you can always pop along to the stand of that producer. I tasted almost a hundred wines here. Some decent white wines from:

  • Crouseilles co-op (Pacherenc du Vic Bilh)
  • Chateau Estanilles (Faugères), Inverso 2015, nice use of wood to add complexity
  • Jacques D’Albas (Minervois), Blanc 2013, fresh and zesty
  • Frères Laffitte, Côtes De Gascogne 2016, really well balanced demi-sec
  • Domaine Barreau (Gaillac), Caprice D’Automne 2014, nice clean, sweet wine

And reds from:

  • Dondona, ‘Chemin Des Cayrades’ 2014, a nice, fresh pure Carignan (Montpeyroux)
  • Cébène, ‘Ex Arena 2015’, (IGP Pays D’Oc from Faugères), fresh, full fruits
  • Mas Champart, ‘Causse Du Bousquet’ 2015 (St. Chinian), soft red fruits


My favourite area was that of Wine Mosaic, an organisation which promotes rare and unusual grape varieties. Again, you can serve yourself wines from unusual and rare grapes from Turkey, Greece, France etc. A real opportunity to try something different and to promote the growth of these cépages oubliés. Mollard, Viosinho, Sidalan, Kotsifali were just some of the cépages I had never even heard of before. Ironically, it was the very familiar Carignan which provided my favourite wine produced by Domaine Nizas near Pézenas.

I did also attend some producer stands notably Mas Des Capitelles, the Faugėres domaine which I really like. The Laugé family have converted to organic production in the last couple of years but they have been making classic Faugėres for many years. They reward patience in bottle developing real complexity and maintaining an admirable freshness. They are big, well-structured wines but they remain balanced between fruit and power ensuring you can enjoy them in the short or long term. My particular favourite is the Carignan based Loris 2013 but other older bottlings of special vintages (cuvées such as No.1 and No.2) are a real treat and deserve the multiple awards they garner.

Corvezzo is another domaine which captured my attention and admiration at the 2016 event, like Capitelles. This large Prosecco producer (125 hectares of vines) is again organic and, unlike any other Prosecco I have tried, these cuvées have depth, fruit, freshness and length. They hold their own against many champagnes. The Extra Dry, for example, has lovely spice and lemongrass notes, very good. They also produce some lovely white wines such as Manzoni and their Pinot Grigio Ramato full of fresh fruit flavours.


Even better was an amazing red, Rosso Riserva, produced in Amarone style with dried Robosa grapes and had great flavours and aromas of dark fruits along with a leathery complexity and which built in the mouth long after drinking the wine. A truly excellent wine.


The other stand of interest for me was Les Beaux Nez Rouges, a group of natural wine producers under the umbrella of oenologue Hervé Chabert. I declare an interest as I know some of these producers quite well, eg, Regis and Christine Pichon of Domaine Ribiera, Grégory White, David Caer (Clos Mathélisse) and Lionel Maurel (Mas D’Agalis). Hervé kindly gave up half an hour to lead me through tastings from Ribiera, Domaine Henry (St Georges D’Orques) and his own wines, Wine Drop.

Ribiera is a favourite of mine and wines such as Causse Toujours 2015 shows lovely fruit with some complexity. The Cartagène was also dangerously drinkable. Top on the day though was La Vista 2016 a pure Cinsault of lovely sweet fruit with a touch of tannin too. Lovely.

Domaine Henry was new to me and I really liked wines such as the fruity Paradines 2015 (not yet bottled for sale). Fascinating was a cuvée called Vermeille (pictured top left) which is a saignée from all the cuves of the year, ie they run some of the juice from each tank – sounds mad but it is an old practice in the region and Vermeille was light, fruity and delicious. Equally of interest was Le Mailhol 2015, a complantation of old Languedoc cépages which gave lovely fruit with a touch of raisin to add complexity.

Hervé’s own Wine Drop bottles were good, Cuvée No.5 2014 had lovely Cinsault red fruits with a touch of body from some Grenache. Grenache to the fore in No.6 2014 which had lovely aromas and a touch of spice and fruit. The 2013 No.4 had more structure and shows how well natural wines can develop with time, good balance of fruit, power and complexity.


Vinisud offered a very interesting day for me after the offline events I had visited the previous two days. There is much to offer the visitor from classic wines to natural, wines from all around the Mediterranean, business opportunities, masterclasses, seminars and the chance to match wine and food amongst others. A valuable day in my wine education.


Vinisud highlights



I thought Millésime Bio was big, Vinisud is almost double the size. It showcases wines from around the Mediterranean. 1380 producers were listed as being present though as some shared stands there were probably more. Unlike Millésime Bio where all the producers are given a bare table to present their wines, Vinisud allows producers to pay for different size stands with full publicity displays. Thus some of the big producers such as Chapoutier, Paul Mas and Gérard Bertrand had huge stands with displays of wine, tables to meet and greet clients and various PR offerings. To be honest that’s not my thing and I prefer the more egalitarian approach.


One of the big commercial stands

It was interesting to note some regions club together to create big stands to rival the big commercial outfits, Pic St. Loup was one example. There were also some very interesting areas, the Palais Mediterranée for example, where hundreds of bottles were available to taste without the producers so I was free to taste at leisure. It was there that I tasted some very big names from the Languedoc and other regions whose wines were not very good at all. Conversely, there were some nice discoveries and good bottles.


Palais Méditerranée

Even better was the Wine Mosaic area, perhaps my favourite part of the whole event. Wine Mosaic is a group of producers and wine enthusiasts who promote more obscure grape varieties, an objective which matches one of my wine enthusiasms. Again we were left to taste freely and I experienced amongst others, Brachetto, Bouchalès, Agiorgitiko, Aleatico, Obeidi and Mavrodaphne as well as others more familiar to me such as Aramon, Carignan and Nerello Mascalese. There were grapes to represent almost every letter of the alphabet, and the Greek alphabet too!  I found it fascinating, some interesting flavours and good bottles such as a Ghisolfi Barolo 2012, Passopisciaro 2012 Nerello Mascalese from Sicily and  Montirius Mineral Bourboulenc 2014 from the Rhone.


Most relevant and interesting was a Piquepoul Noir blended with Morastel and Terret Noir which is most of the same blend as the new plantation established at Mas Coutelou last March, a foretaste of things to come perhaps.


Piquepoul Noir

So to my favourite wines. In such a huge event it is impossible to cover more than a smattering of the wines, so my experiences would be completely different to anyone else. I read one review which said that the writer was taken by the number of wines being aged in concrete eggs, I never came across one. I did so at Millésime Bio but none at Vinisud. Therefore, if I missed out on some great wines I regret doing so.

My plan was to taste more from the Languedoc than I had at Millésime Bio, to follow up the great Rhone wines I tasted there and to experience some individual producers whom I knew of or who were recommended to me. I tasted some 400 wines and more so these are just a few highlights. Part two of my report will focus on the Languedoc.

Chateau D’Estoublon in Provence is a producer I know from buying their wines from Leon Stolarski in the UK. A very smart stand shows that this is a serious domaine and I apprciated some new cuvées such as a 100% Mourvèdre. Their most famous wine Mogador was shown from different vintages and is very good but my highlight was the Blanc, IGP Alpilles. I tasted both the 12 and 13 of this Roussanne/ Marsanne/ Grenache Blanc blend and the 12 was my favourite, more restrained and delicate with waxy, clean white fruits.

Domaine Brana from Irouléguy next. I tasted a couple of their wines when I visited Biarritz last October. They seem to be a big concern and I wasn’t taken by all their wines but the Irouléguy Blanc 2014 was lovely. Fresh and zesty with a slight hint of oak but the Gros Manseng/ Petit Courbu/ Petit Manseng acidity keeps this clean and long.

The Rhone provided many of my Millésime Bio highlights and so I wanted to compare those wines with some of the top domaines from the region such as Mont Redon, Chapoutier and Cuilleron. I would still choose Kreydenweiss, Lombard and Barret to be honest. The following producers did provide some very good wines though.

Domaine Brusset offered a large range and I very much liked their basic Côtes Du Rhone 15 and Cairanne 14. However, their star wines are very much the Gigondas wines. The Gigondas Tradition 14 was generous Grenache (70%) with spice and fruit, clear and direct though still youthful and with soft tannins. Unusually I preferred the bigger wine Gigondas Les Hauts De Montmirail 14, more Mourvèdre in the blend, fuller and rounder.


With the Graillots

Alain Graillot was the first Rhone producer that I visited, many years ago and I was pleased to taste them again. I liked the Crozes Hermitage Blanc and Rouge both 2014s very fresh and plenty of fruit. Best was the Crozes La Guiraude 13 with lovely aromas of red fruit with a chewy, texture balanced with lots of those red fruits. It needs a year or two yet but it was very good.


Domaine Du Pégau is a producer of big, sturdy Chateauneuf Du Pape wines amongst others. The white Chateauneuf A Tempo 15 was very full, complex and yet fresh and clean. The reds were quite tannic, built for the long term but the Chateauneuf Réserve 13 with 80% Grenache had plenty of fruit and a soft tannins to balance. Best, for me, was Chateauneuf Cuvée Laurence 2011, aged in a big foudre (large barrel) used just for this cuvée. Again 80% Grenache I liked the full round spicy flavours with a red fruit finish.

Alain Voge was probably my favourite of the Rhine producers at Vinisud. From the white wines to the sparkling Bulles d’Alain they were all good. I particularly liked the 100% Marsanne St. Péray Fleur Du Crussol 14, concentrated apple and yellow fruit flavours with a rich texture but very clean. The Côtes Du Rhone Les Peyrouses 14 had a freshness which appealed with bright red fruits and a definite mineral note. My favourite though was the Cornas Vieilles Vignes 13, very concentrated Syrah with new oak which should not be my style of wine. Yet it was. There was a good fruit profile as well as a hallmark freshness and though built for the future it was already a wine which could be enjoyed now.

I tasted some Spanish and Corsican wines, I was a little disappointed by the latter. It was disappointing to see the Italian area of the halls fairly quiet and I wish I had spent more time there myself. As it happened a chance visit to Azienda Corvezzo was well rewarded. It was their organic Prosecco 15 which caught the eye of my wife in its attractive packaging. Lightly cloudy in appearance it was much more textured than most Proseccos (including the others in their range) it had lots of pear flavour, was very clean and refreshing, a gentle sparkle, certainly the best Prosecco I have tasted. The cloudiness results from the second fermentation taking place in bottle. I also liked their Manzoni Bianco 15, made from Manzoni grapes which are a cross of Riesling and Pinot Blanc. It was Riesling in character but with a softer rounder profile than most Rieslings.


In the second part of my report on Vinisud I shall report on my home region, the Languedoc.