Friday, 27 November 2009

french wines at Wine Future Rioja - and guess who?

I spent a fun few days in Rioja earlier this month attending a wine industry conference entitled Wine Future Rioja. It was organised by the dynamic wine academy of Spain, headed by Pancho Campo MW. All in all, an impressive event attended by some of the wine world's shining stars: Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson, Gary Vaynerchuk, Miguel Torres, Paul Pontallier (Ch Margaux), Robert Joseph, Mel Dick etc etc etc. As the name suggests, the theme of the conference was the future of wine. This was addressed by some speakers, but not all. Some excellent speakers - Tim Hanni MW, Gary Vaynerchuk, Jeremy Benson, Justin Howard Sneyd, Robert Joseph all stood out. But also quite a few speakers just plugging their particular product or program which was tedious. Hopefully the speakers will be better briefed next time.

The highlight of the conference was a swanky tasting of 20 Grenache based wines, tutored by the man himself, E Robert Parker Jr (see grainy photo). Actually he seemed like a nice guy - not at all arrogant. Over 500 people attended the tasting and used 10,600 glasses. I should know as muggins here helped to clear them up! No L-R in the line up unfortunately.

There was a mini salon going on throughout the conference with about 50 wineries there. Only one from the Languedoc, Domaine O vineyards in Cabardes (of which more later). I was pleased to see a good showing from the Sud de France export guys. There were over 50 wines in all, accompanied by a handy little booklet with some background on each wine, contact details and a guide price. I didn't taste them all but highlights were Mas Jullien '99 in magnum, 2006 Fitou from Bertrand Bergé and a star from the Roussillon, Clos des Fées 2007. Also Gerard Bertrand's upmarket Corbières La Forge.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc v Eminades Silice

The most recent of our many visitors this year was my cousin, a wine-buff who has a good cellar of Bordeaux, port and white Burgundy. This has its advantages - he arrived bearing a bottle of Chateau Palmer 1990 - but, by his own admission, he knew very little about Languedoc wine. We opened quite a few bottles of local wines, purely in the interest of broadening his education you understand.

Two of the most interesting wines were white, both from 2006. The first was Silice, a barrel fermented and matured Sauvignon Blanc from Domaine Les Eminades. I confess that I am not a great fan of oak and sauvignon blanc as they are flavours that are more often at war with each other than not. And tasting this wine when newly bottled only confirmed this opinion. However, with a bit of bottle age, this wine is transformed. It has an intriguing smoky, floral nose and a finely structured, minerally palate with flavours of citrus, toast, smoke. Very pure flavours with an elegant seam of acidity and a long finish. Very good now but has the freshness and concentration to develop over the next couple of years. About 12 euros retail I think.

The 2006 Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc was another wine that had disappointed in its first youth. I first tasted it about 15 months ago and it was unremarkable. Again, a bit of bottle age has transformed it. It has a gorgeously scented floral, peachy, musky nose and a broad, complex palate of apricot, vanilla, lime. Good balancing acidity and a long finish. Like the Silice, this is a Vin de Pays but it is a blend of Viognier, Chardonnay, Petit Manseng and Chenin Blanc.

On balance, the Mas de Daumas Gassac was the better of the two wines. The nose is lovely and it had more complexity on the palate. But it is more expensive - 35 euros (although half the price en primeur).

harvest time languedoc - cute

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

La Foire aux Vins 2009

I'm not a big shopper. The thought of rummaging through sales racks with hundreds of other frenzied shoppers or queuing for the latest 'must have' hand bag leaves me cold.

But I did indulge in an orgy of spending today at the Foire aux Vins in Carrefour. Every September, all the major supermarkets have their big, annual wine promotion where some of the big names in the French wine world are for sale at, supposedly, knock down prices.

Given that 80% of what I drink is from the Languedoc, I was looking for wines from further afield. And mostly white. Although Bordeaux is centre stage at most supermarkets' F aux Vins I managed to avoid buying a single bottle of Claret. My cellar is full of the stuff, mostly bought in the UK where I paid silly duty, and then repatriated back to France when I moved here. And we hardly ever drink it.

Instead, my chariot was bursting with white burgundy. A dozen bottles of Jean-Marc Brocard's flinty, unoaked Chablis and a selection of his Bourgogne Blanc from different soil types. At 5,95€, worth a try. I'm looking forward to trying the Macon Villages from Verget too. From elsewhere in France, I got some cheap and cheerful Alsace Gewurztraminer, plus some Pinot Gris. Sancerre is so overpriced these days but I couldn't resist a few bottles of Gitton 2008. We'll see whether it's worth it. A few bottles of Beaujolais, some of Lurton Carmenère from Chile, a Jumilla from Spain and 3 bottles of my favourite Chianti from Fonterutoli. The latter is probably the wine I'm looking forward to trying most. I managed to resist the Yellowtail Oz reds - prefer my red wine without a hefty dose of residual sugar.

Overall, the selection in Carrefour is good, even in provincial Narbonne, but the prices weren't amazing. I was there with my shopping head on so bought anyway and came away happy with the selection but not feeling that I'd nabbed some real bargains.

A gripe or two about Carrefour. There is noone around to ask about anything. No wines available for tasting (at a wine promotion - perish the thought!)And no empty cartons to put in loose bottles of wine. Apparently they dismantle them and throw them away immediately. So I had to drive home with them rolling around in the back of the car.

Oh I did buy a few bottles of Languedoc wine. Just couldn't resist it. Some very cheap Jean Jean Picpoul for the masses, La Chapelle de Bebian from the famous Prieuré de Bebian near Pezenas and a promising Corbières from Ch Ollieux Romanis.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Vendanges 2009

It certainly feels like peak holiday time here at the moment with soaring temperatures, busy beaches, traffic jams and cars with 'foreign' numberplates - including those from other Departements in France. But most winemakers are heading back from their hols now to gear up for the 2009 harvest.

Today I spoke to 2 producers in St Chinian and Minervois who tell me they will begin harvesting their white varietals next week.

Alain Clerbout of Domaine Lou Colombier will be harvesting his chardonnay on Monday. At 3am to be precise. When it is cool so as to preserve freshness in the grapes and to limit the mechanical cooling that needs to be done in tank once the grapes are pressed. This is one of the clear advantages of machine harvesters - they can pick at night whereas human harvesters have to wait until dawn.

Luc Bettoni of Domaine Les Eminades will be picking his Sauvignon Blanc sometime next week. Unusually for SB this will be fermented in barrel rather than tank.

So the harvest 2009 is beginning. Lets hope it's a good one!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Marselan and Chateau Complazens

Marselan is a relatively recent crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache which was authorised for Vin de Pays in 1990. It was developed specifically for the Languedoc and copes well with both wet and dry conditions and is resistant to fungal diseases. It also produces good colour which is sometimes lacking in Grenache.

There are smatterings of Marselan throughout the Languedoc and I have tasted maybe 10 examples. Most of those have been unimpressive (and a couple downright horrid!) and the best by far is from Chateau de Complazens in La Clape. Susan and Peter Close have 5 hectares of Marselan and are so convinced by the quality of the grape that they are lobbying to have it authorised for the production of AOC Coteaux du Languedoc La Clape. It is currently a Vin de Pays d'Oc and the 2007 vintage was deep coloured with attractive black fruit with a spicy (slightly hard) edge and ripe, supple tannins. A pleasant everyday drinking wine.

Yes it was a very good example of Marselan but it's not my favourite of the Complazens wines. I prefer their Syrah (again vin de pays) which is full of intense, creamy black fruit balanced by grippy but ripe tannins. A classy wine. They also do a simply fruity Grenache which has oodles of simple cherry fruit and soft tannins. Up a notch in quality and price is the Complazens premium 2006 which is blend of 75% Syrah with Grenache. It has excellent concentration of dark plum and blackcurrant fruit with well balanced oak. Ripe smooth tannins and a long finish. Still very young - ideally keep for another year.

Friday, 19 June 2009

I've been browsing through Graham's blog on Languedoc wines (see the list of blogs I follow) and enjoying his post on dry whites. It's 30°C out there which doesn't do red wine many favours, particularly if the alcohol is on the hefty side. So I am drinking much more white and rosé wine at the moment. I've particularly enjoyed the following white wines.

In a previous post I mentioned the delicously fragrant Viognier from Domaine Murettes in La Livinière. The 2008 is at least as good as the 2007 and well worth €6,50. There isn't much made of this wine and I've only ever seen it at the domaine itself. Another excellent Viognier is from Domaine Coudoulet in Cesseras. A flowery, peachy, elegant brew for under €6 a bottle. Berry Brothers sell it in the UK for a curious £6.74/bottle.

Chateau de la Negly in La Clape make a stylish Coteaux du Languedoc called La Brise Marine. Made from Bourboulenc with Roussanne and some Marsanne, this is rich without being showy with stylish flavours of lemon and peach kernel with a minerally edge . And all for 8 euros a bottle.

A terrific Minervois Blanc comes from Chateau Canet in Rustiques. Again, Bourboulenc and Roussane are the grape varieties here, vinified cool but then given the slightest touch of oak to add richness but not oaky flavours. €8,95/bottle

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

18 vintages of Mas de Daumas Gassac

The story of the success of Mas de Daumas Gassac is an extraordinary one. Aimé Guibert, a prosperous businessman, owned a glove factory near Millau but also had an unassuming farmhouse near the Languedoc village of Aniane. It had land but no vineyards and he did not intend to make wine. However a visit by one of France's leading geologists, Henri Enjalbert, convinced him that the red, glacial soil was perfect for viticulture and for making top quality red wine. He planted Cabernet Sauvignon and employed Emile Peynaud, the celebrated Bordeaux winemaker, as consultant.

The first vintage was 1978 and the wine was (and still is) a mere Vin de Pays as Cabernet Sauvignon is forbidden in Languedoc AOC wine. The 1978 eventually attracted the attention of the French and International press who acclaimed it as a Grand Cru of the Languedoc. Its reputation was made.

This success was important, not just for the Guibert family, but also for Languedoc wine as a whole. Mas de Daumas Gassac showed that the Languedoc was capable of making great wine and this inspired other producers to follow suit. Today there is no shortage of independent producers in the Languedoc who are making excellent quality wines which express their terroir.

Last week, I was lucky enough to taste 18 vintages of this legendary red wine. This was thanks to David Gilmour who was the first to import Mas de Daumas Gassac into the UK. Also tasting were David's wife Sheena, Paul and Jeanne Strang, authors of, respectively, 'Languedoc Roussillon - the wines and winemakers' and 'Goosefat and Garlic'. And Languedoc based chef Peter Shaw and his wife Sally. And my multi-talented husband Simon.

This was a fascinating tasting as it showed how well this wine can age - and also how approachable it can be in its youth. The 2006 was surprisingly accessible and elegant. Highlights of the tasting for me were the lusciously ripe 2005, the stylish 2001 and the quite delicious 1994 which is drinking beautifully now. The 2004 and 2000 were also good but not quite as beguiling. The 1998 was the most butch in the line -up and would be magnificent with game. Of the older vintages the 1983 was excellent and just right now. The 1980 was also surprisingly sprightly with soft, sweet fruit flavours. And as for that legendary first vintage, it was beginning to show signs of age but had attractive sweet berried fruit mid palate and elegant tannins. Initial vintages were 100% Cabernet Sauvignon but gradually other weird and wonderful grape varieties have been introduced so most recent releases are 80% Cabernet and 20% 'other'.

On the strength of this tasting, it would seem that there is some truth in the legend on the back label 'ce grand vin puissant, complexe, original, peut se boire en fruit de 3 à 5 ans, en maturité de 10 à 15 ans, en majesté de 15 à 25 ans'.

Thank you David for so generously sharing your wines with us.

If you would like to see full tasting notes, contact me. Or tell me how to attach a word document to a blog post!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Old carignan - Domaine les Eminades

In my last post I started off by talking about some 107 year old Carignan vines but then got distracted and veered off into a history lesson. Where I meant to end up was talking about the wine made from said Carignan vines and the producer responsible for it, Luc Bettoni of Domaine Les Eminades in Cebezan.

I have to declare a personal and professional interest here. Luc and his wife Patricia are friends of mine and I have in the past sold their wines in the UK. So I may be a little biased. But everything that the Bettonis do is aimed at producing individual, concentrated, complex wines that express their terroir. Quality rather than quantity. Yields are kept low, they are currently in conversion to organic production, hand harvesting, barrel ageing for their top reds and white. 

Luc has just over 10 hectares of vines around the village of Cebezan in the heart of the St Chinian appellation. His first vintage was in 2002 and he makes a small but focussed range of St Chinian and Vin de Pays wines (including a sought-after barrel aged sauvignon blanc).  Their reds are not fruity, glugging wines. They reward bottle ageing, particularly Sortilege, their top St Chinian red which needs time to unfurl and reveal smoky, lingering dark fruit flavours. Also, as Luc does not fine or filter his wines, they are best decanted too.

But, back to the old Carignan. The age of the vines and the poor soil on the hillside means that yields are naturally low - a measly 28hl/ha. Hand picking, long maceration before pressing and 18 months in barrel have resulted in a big, rich wine (14,5%) with brooding flavours of plums and black cherry with hints of tar and a beguiling edge of vanilla. The tannins are present (this is carignan after all) but there is so much fruit here that they are balanced and the finish is long long long. The wine is aptly named 'vieilles canailles' or 'old rascal' which refers to the difficulty in tending gnarled old vines on the top of a steep hill. At 24 euros a bottle it is not cheap but it is very very good.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

107 year old Carignan vines - a lesson in history

Last week I took a group of winelovers on a day tour round some producers in St Chinian and Minervois. We started the day with a gentle walk to a beautiful vineyard in the heart of the St Chinian appellation. This is a very special vineyard and not just for the beautiful views and the abundance of wildflowers surrounding it. The vines are Carignan and they must be some of the oldest in the Languedoc as they were planted in 1902. 

The beginning of the 20th century was a turbulent time for vignerons in the Languedoc. Following phylloxera in around 1870, vineyards were replanted on American rootstocks which were resistant to the pest.  Demand for cheap wine was high but the newly replanted vineyards struggled to meet demand and so cheap imported wine from Algeria plugged the gap. Fraud was rife. 

Vineyards were replanted with high yielding Alicante and Aramon although some better quality varieties such as Carignan and Grenache were also planted. As the new vineyards reached peak production the problem changed to overproduction and so prices crashed. This led to mass protests by the vignerons culminating in the riots of 1907. This is an important date in Languedoc history, not just for the social unrest. It also prompted a series of reforms aimed at preventing fraud, reducing the area under vine and planting better quality, lower yielding varieties.

100 years on, what has changed? Well on the face of it, not alot. The Midi today is in the grips of a viticultural crisis. Prices are at record lows - a wine producer would be lucky to get 40 cents a litre for a decent vin de pays - and grape growers are faced with falling prices for their grapes at the co-operatives. The financial incentives for ripping up vines have persuaded many and sorry fields of dead or ripped up vines are common place. And while the social unrest may not be at the same intensity as in 1907, there are frequent demonstrations. Wine is most definitely a political issue.

There are clearly no easy answers to the crisis and many more vineyards will be ripped up before an equilibrium between supply and demand is reached. It will take far longer for small, rural communities to adjust to an economy where grapes are not the main source of income. 

However unlike the Midi of 100 years ago, there are a significant number of producers in the Langueodoc today whose focus is on quality rather than quantity. Aramon and Alicante are disappearing fast while planting of high quality varieties such as Syrah and Mourvedre and on the up. Yields are falling and the quality of Languedoc wine is better now than it has ever been.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Springtime in the Languedoc - at last!

This picture was taken last Sunday just north of Beziers. You can just about see some young vines peeking through the sea of poppies.

Spring is a beautiful time in the Languedoc as it is still so green and there is a huge variety of wild flowers. It is particularly green this year as it has been an exceptionally wet spring. It was the wettest April for years and May has had its fair share of rain too. After 2 very dry winters the vines were in desperate need of rain to stock up reserves for the summer. But the dry weather over the last few days has been welcome, and not just so we can finally get out the Tshirts and shorts! Producers have been desperate to get into the vineyards to treat the vines against oidium and they needed dry, still weather to do so.  The dry weather is here .... but not necessarily to stay.

Friday, 24 April 2009

La Jasse Castel, Montpeyroux

One of my favourite wines at the moment comes from Montpeyroux, one of the Languedoc's quality hotspots. The village of Montpeyroux has its share of top producers - Domaine Aupilhac, Alain Chabanon and Domaine Aigueliere are the best known. La Jasse Castel is a fairly recent arrival to Montpeyroux. Pascale Marcillaud and her husband Laurent made their first vintage in 1998 and have just 8 hectares of prime, low yielding vineyards on the slopes of Mount Baudile. 

Pascale's 2006 Coteaux du Languedoc is a deep, inky purple colour and has an explosively fruity nose of blackberries, cherries and juniper. There's a definite whiff of the garrigue here. It tastes similarly luscious and fruity with black cherries, licquorice, and tarry flavours nicely framed by ripe yet grippy tannins. This wine couldn't come from anywhere but the Languedoc and I love it for that. 9 €/bottle.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Saint Aphrodise - white wine awards

Good red wines abound in the Languedoc but it is trickier to find a really good white. The Saint Aphrodise concours, held in Beziers every year, aims to address this as it is a wine competition for white wines only. I was part of a 4 strong MW team who was invited along to help judge nearly 200 white wines which came from all over the Languedoc. 

There were several prizes awarded and, although we didn't always agree with our fellow judges, here are a couple of the winners worth seeking out.

The MW prize went to a 2008 Viognier Vin de Pays d'Oc from Domaine St Martin des Champs in Murviel les Beziers. This had an enticing minerally nose and a lovely rich mouthfeel with flavours of peach and clove. It also won the gong for the best vin de pays d'oc.

An lively, nettle and passion fruit Sauvignon Blanc from Domaine la Madeleine St Jean in Marseillan was selected by the Tables Gourmandes panel as a great restaurant wine.

The top prize for the St Aphrodise trophy is selected at public tastings around Beziers this week. The kick off is between Chardonnay 2008 from Domaine de la Croix Belle in Puissalicon and the Cuvée Point du Jour Chardonnay Viognier from Domaine Izard in Montady. So head on over to Beziers (La Maison des Vins, Beziers or Les Caves Paul Riquet) toot sweet to have your say!

photo courtesy of

Friday, 3 April 2009

French wine in figures

The latest stats from the International Wine Organisation predict that world wine production will be 260.4 million hectolitres in 2008. However the french harvest will be one of the lowest for 16 years at a mere 44 million hl. Part of the explanation behind this drop in production is the grubbing up of vineyards in France. 23,000 hectares of vines were ripped up between 2004 and 2008, many of them in the Languedoc. 

Just drive through the countryside for a few kilometres and you will see abandoned vineyards or piles of ripped up vines, waiting to be burnt in the fields or taken away for fires or barbecues.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

USB wine - the solution for the Midi wine lake!

 I've just been reading a student essay on how the internet has changed the wine world and it made me think about what the internet is (or could be) capable of. So here it is folks. USB Wine, a revolutionary new wine concept which could one day be yours for only €9,95

It is truly amazing. USB wine cuts out the middle man (or woman) and delivers wine straight to your computer. To see the video click here

Or view it on Youtube with subtitles and read the comments.

Thanks to Gee who sent me the link in the first place.

Back to serious wine reviews next post, I promise.

Friday, 27 March 2009

French wine with an English accent

There are no shortage of Brits in the Languedoc, and quite a few of them have followed their dream of making their own wine in the south of France and bought wine domaines.

Jim and Sarah Pearce of Domaine de la Souterrane make wine but their initial interest was in farming rather winemaking. Jim had a farming background in England and in 2005 he and his wife bought a fruit farm near Argeliers in the Minervois which was mainly peach trees but also included some vines.  Their first year was a baptism of fire when the jam factory which had bought all the peaches went out of business and they were stuck with plenty of fruit but no market. This enterprising couple quickly put up a sign advertising 'pick your own' peaches in an effort to salvage at least some of the fruit. 'Pick your own' farms are not well known in this part of France but locals loved it and the Pearces now have extended the concept to raspberries, strawberries, melons, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and sweetcorn. And branched into pig farming as the pigs gorge themselves on the surplus peaches which fall to the ground.

As regards the grapes, these were all sold to the cave co-operative in Argeliers but prices were so low that Jim and Sarah felt they would get a better return if they bottled the wines themselves. Luckily, they had inherited well-tended vineyards with good quality varieties; the fashionable Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot and some 50 year old Carignan. With the advice of Australian flying winemaker David Morrison, they have developed a small but sound range of varietal Vin de Pays wines.

Their 2007 Chardonnay-Viognier is a rich, peachy, simple wine with a touch of spice which is still drinking well. They have just bottled their first straight Viognier from the 2008 vintage. Partially barrel-fermented this is very aromatic and exotic on the nose with good rich, apricot, fruit flavours and fresh acidity to balance the richness and alcohol. It has only just been bottled so needs a couple of months to come round but is an excellent example of Viognier. 

I also liked the 2007 Merlot. I'm not a huge fan of Languedoc Merlot but this had lots of rich, cherry and blackcurrant fruit with grippy but not aggressive tannins. Not a subtle wine but very appealing. The old vine Carignan is the top of the range. The nose was slightly grubby but there was oodles of sweet, ripe black fruit on the palate and a long, sweet finish.

Overall, impressive, fruit-forward wines which offer excellent value for money. The Pearces have only just started and with Syrah vines coming into production next year, things can only get better.


Thursday, 19 March 2009


Hiding amongst the dusty bottles in my attic was this bottle of 1957 Carthagène.

Carthagène (or Cartagène) is a languedoc speciality, a vin de liqueur or mistelle which is made by mixing grape spirit with grape juice and so the wine does not ferment. The alcohol comes purely from the grape spirit and because the juice never ferments it retains all the sugar from the grapes. Pineau de Charente is made in the same way and is the Cognac region's version of a vin de liqueur.

Carthagène was normally made by winemakers for their own use. A couple of old barrels or whatever container that was lying around would be filled with grape juice (whatever grapes they had - grenache, carignan, aramon etc) and spirit and then forgotten for a few months or even years. And then gradually consumed by the family. It is still made this way today with the difference that producers may bottle it for sale, either at the cellar door or via local restaurants. Very little is exported.

The best Carthagène I have tried recently is made by my neighbours, the Frances family of Domaine Camberaud. Made of 100% Grenache, it is a deep red with enticing aromas of cherries and kirsch. It has gorgeous sweet plum/cherry flavours and is slightly chocolatey and spicy. There is a slight spiritiness but this is well balanced by the generous fruit. I showed this to a group of Australians on board the Athos barge on the canal du mid and they loved it.

Locals drink Carthagène as an aperitif but it would also go well with blue cheese and rich chocolate puddings.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Does Languedoc wine age well?

When we bought our house 2 years ago, we inherited a collection of about 100 dusty bottles in various shapes and sizes. Most are label-less and contain a liquid of an indeterminate mid brown colour, together with a fair quantity of muddy deposit. There are a few labels remaining which provide clues as to the contents.`1954 Maccabeu``1964 Carthagene`Èau de Vie`.

Over the last few days I've been opening a few bottles each day in an effort to free up some space. And, yes, not surprisingly the wines are pretty disgusting and completely past it. With a burnt, madeira like smell too which comes from the estufa conditions in our attic - 40°C in summer and 2°C in winter.

But it got me thinking about how well Languedoc wines age. Obviously not the ones in my attic but in the 1950s there were hardly any serious wines coming out of the Languedoc. It wasn't until the late 70s, early 80s that more producers, old and newly established, started bottling wines that had the stuffing to age. I've tasted some excellent 1998s recently which still taste youthful and have at least 5 years more life in them. And the 1982 Mas de Daumas Gassac is, by all accounts, still very sprightly. I'd be interested to hear of any good, old bottles that readers have come across.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Judging Minervois - again

This Thursday was the last day of tastings for selection for the Chai at Homps. Yet again I was tasting mid to up-market Minervois, which covered a wide price range from €5 - 15 a bottle.  There was a huge range of styles within this range and a couple of the wines were marked down for showing high volatile acidity.

The best wine in the flight was from a domaine I knew little about, Chateau Canet. The helpful back label explained that it was made by a Dutch/ New Zealand couple who settled in the Languedoc after 17 years in Burgundy. Their website is very helpful. L'Evangile is their top wine, made from 90% low-yielding Syrah and aged in new; 1 year and 2 year old oak. It was deep coloured with an appealing oak and garrigue nose with appealing bramble and cassis fruit on the palate. The tannins are ripe and although the oak is very dominant now, it has the fruit to support it. Estimated drinking time 2010-15+

I also liked 2007 Minervois from Vincent Enaud at Domaine Monastrel in Pouzols Minervois. I first came across this domaine a couple of years ago and was impressed by the concentration and balance of the wines. The 2007 was very richly fruity with a distinct oakiness and licquorice character which, together with the alcohol, gave an overall impression of sweetness.  Still young, this will improve over the next 5 years. 

For sheer fruitiness, Nuit Noire from Domaine de Parazols, stood out from the crowd. It was just brimming with summer fruits with an appealing mid-palate richness. Very drinkable. This domaine also makes good Cabardes.

Other wines of note included a good honest Minervois from Chateau de Calamiac. Good value at €5 a bottle. The Cuvée Tradition from Rouviole was a classic, garrigue scented Minervois at 7,50. And slightly more expensive at €8,50 was a robust, leathery brew from Chateau de Vergel, Cuvée Costebelle.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Judging Minervois

The Chai Port Minervois, beside the canal du midi in Homps, is an excellent shop window for Minervois wines. Its manager Laurent de Roulhac, is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about local wines and each year he organises as series of tastings to select the best wines for the Chai.

The tastings are held at the Maison du Minervois in Siran and involve tasting various flights blind and rating them in terms of quality and value for money. I tasted a flight of upmarket Minervois reds, ranging in price from €6 - €11. It was a respectable line-up with no real mingers. My favourite was 2006 Chateau du Donjon, a beautifully balanced, elegant Minervois with fine tannins and good depth of black fruit with hints of tea and smoke. Well worth €9/bottle. I also enjoyed the Cuvée Vincent Minervois from Domaine Festiano in Tourouzelles. It was brimming with ripe blackerry and raspberry fruit and good value at €7.10. I liked the Minervois from Domaine Entretan, finding it concentrated and long with a lovely garrigue nose. Sadly, my co-tasters disagreed with me. The 1997 Chateau Maris had attractive depth of black fruits on the palate, framed by youthful but smooth tannins, and an impressively long finish. It lost points from me for an overly reductive nose.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Pinot Noir exports don't add up

An investigation is ongoing into alleged fraud of wine which was sold as Pinot Noir when it wasn't in fact made from pinot. The discrepancy first came to light in Spring 2008 when a vinous fraud squad did a spot check at SAS Ducasse de Carcassonne, a well known negociant in the region. Sieur d'Arques in Limoux is also involved in the investigation. 

The Languedoc Roussillon's annual production of Pinot Noir is around 53,000 hectolitres but it is estimated that since 2005 more than 100,000 hectolitres of Pinot Noir was exported to the USA each year. 

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Faugères facts

My last post talked about schist and a couple of producers of note. Here are a few more facts about Faugères, courtesy of the Faugères Appellation Press Dossier.

- The appellation consists of 2075 hectares of vines
- There are 7 villages in the Faugères appellation
- Faugères was awarded the appellation for red and rosé wine in 1982
- They had to wait until 2005  for it to be extended to white Faugères
- the average altitude in Faugères is 250 metres
- the average yield for AOC Faugères in 2007 was 34 hectolitres per hectare. The maximum yield permitted by the AOC regs is 50 hl/ha
- 11% of Faugères is exported

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Faugères - all about schist

Yesterday afternoon I toddled off to Faugères for a tasting of the 2008 vintage. 35 producers presented their wines in the appropriately named Salle de Bacchus, under large posters displaying the region's new artwork and strapline ' Faugères, l'appellation Nature schiste.`

This striking new poster captured the essence of Faugères. Schist. For the record, schist is a metamorphic rock which can be easily split into thin layers. The french word 'schiste' also means slate, which is a type of schist, as well as the broader term, schist.

All the vineyards within the Faugères appellation are grown on schist - in fact it is the only appellation in the Languedoc to be based on one homogenous terroir. Vineyards with a high proportion of schist are  naturally low yielding and they force the vine to send its roots deep down in search of water and nutrients. This stands the vine in good stead in times of drought. In addition, the stones act as mini heat stores. They absorb the heat during the day and radiate it back to the  grapes at night, so promoting grape maturity.

So what of the wines? I particularly enjoyed the 2003 Grande Cuvée from Chateau des Estanilles, which had oodles of dark,  brooding fruit and was just beginning to develop and reveal tantalising hints of tea, dark chocolate, tar and smoke.  Soon after I moved to the Languedoc I tasted the 1998 vintage of this wine which was (and no doubt still is) staggeringly good.

In complete contrast, but just as good, were the wines of Domaine Cottebrune. This domaine is small, only 10 hectares and is owned by Pierre Gaillard, an accomplished and celebrated winemaker in the Rhone. He is best known for his Cote Rotie, which is also based on schist.  Pierre's sure touch is in evidence in these impeccably made, stylish wines. The 2007 Transhumance is concentrated yet elegant, with a deft touch of oak. The 2007 Parole de Berger is the top wine, a masterly blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache. Cold maceration pre-fermentation, malolactic in barrel and 12 months ageing in barrel, of which 30% were new are the points to note in the vinification. The resulting wine is brimming with plum and black cherry fruit with hints of smoke and coffee. The oak is well  balanced and it has a lovely long finish. A classy wine with a good future ahead of it.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

White Corbières anyone?

Corbières is known for its rugged, full-throttle reds so it is unusual to come across a producer who has built a reputation on the quality of its white wines. Domaine Roque Sestière is a small, family domaine, owned by Roland and Isabelle Lagarde, who make approximately 60,000 bottles a year, of which 70% is white. It was Isabelle’s father who created the domaine’s reputation for white wine and it has been proudly carried on by his daughter and son-in-law since taking over the domaine in 1994. 

The wine was first made in Ouveillan but the Lagardes have built a small but perfectly formed chai next to their house in the neighbouring village of Luc St Orbieu. The vineyards are still in Ouveillan but Roland has dramatically reduced the hectarage from 30 to 15 which gives him much more control over production and means he only needs to employ one worker.

When I visited in mid December, Roland was very preoccupied getting ready for bottling his 2008 whites. As I tasted the 2008 whites from tank he was anxiously pacing the floor to check that the bottling line would fit his small cellar. Nevertheless, he and Isabelle were very welcoming and one senses that they have a loyal clientele who appreciate, not only the quality and fair prices of their wines, but the passion and care of the people who make them.  

2008 Corbières Blanc, Carte Noire (tank sample)Appealing, fresh, zesty nose. Similarly fresh, peachy fruit with a hint of peach kernel; Good balancing and acidity and medium length. 15/20

2008 their biggest vintage ever and they are very happy with the quality.

 2008 Blanc Vieilles Vignes (tank sample). Similar (to previous wine) peach, nutty fruit on nose and palate but with more breadth and slight leesiness. Good acidity and long finish. Very promising. 16/20

 2007 Corbières Vieilles Vignes

leesy nose, apricot kernel. Attractive nutty, yeasty palate. Medium depth, balanced. Slightly hot finish. 14/20

Corbières Tradition Rouge 2006 €5

Upfront aromas of cherry and tar. Explosively fruity palate – cherry – almost jam – hint of bitter chocolate, firmness to tannins, slightly rustic, but essentially a very fruity, appealing wine which represents excellent value. 14/20



Monday, 9 February 2009

Apremont - the perfect wine on the piste.

It's fair to say that most wines consumed on ski holidays are best forgotten. So during a ski holiday in the Alps last week, I particularly enjoyed rediscovering a cracking Alpine wine, Apremont.
Apremont  is from the Savoie region, near Chambery and is made from the little-known Jacquère grape. As far as I know, Jacquère is only found in the Savoie and northern Rhone. Apremont is pale coloured and delicately scented with fresh, citrussy fruit flavours and a slightly minerally edge. Basically it is beautifully fresh and uplifting, a bit like the mountain air.  Domaine Les Rocailles make an excellent example, and it is widely distributed.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Garrigue - what is it?

Tasting notes of southern french red wines often include the intriguing descriptor 'garrigue'. So, what is it exactly? Garrigue is the name given to the Mediterranean scrubland which is made up of low growing, bushy plants including holm oak, juniper, broom and wild herbs such as rosemary and thyme. In Provence it also includes lavender although I have never seen this in the wild in the Languedoc. 

Walking amongst the garrigue on a warm day, crushing herbs underfoot, releases a fabulous aroma of warm thyme and rosemary. When used to describe a wine, garrigue refers to these green herby aromas. It can also be used to describe flavours too although I find it more evocative as a descriptor for aroma.

Thanks for the picture Loulou.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009


Is it a bird? Is it a plane? An unpleasant disease?
No it's a grape variety! And one I have to confess I'd never heard of until I tasted an example from Domaine de Brau at the Millesime-Bio wine fair in Montpellier last week.
Egiodola is a cross between Fer Servadou and Arbouriu. Fer Servadou is a characterful black grape found in south west France, particularly the Aveyron where is the main ingredient in Marcillac. It hitched up with Arbouriou (a variety which hails from the Lot originally) in the 1950s and the resulting Egiodola crops up occasionally in south west France and, curiously, in Brasil.
Egiodola means 'pure blood' in Basque.
The lady at Domaine de Brau explained that the wine combines up-front fruitiness with extreme tannins. Which it did.
So now you know!

Friday, 30 January 2009

Go organic - wine fair in Montpellier

This week over 300 producers of organic wine converged on Montpellier for the annual 'Millésime Bio' wine fair. This event was created in 1993 by a small group of organic wine producers in the Languedoc Roussillon. The original goal was to promote L-R wines to potential purchasers and although it is still geared towards international buyers, the event has expanded each year and now attracts exhibitors from 13 different countries. 

All exhibitors must produce wine from grapes which are certified as being organically grown (or be 'in conversion' ie well on the way to full certification). Confusingly, there are several different organisations which regulate certification of organic wine. To name a few - AIAB, Bio Alsace, Biodyvin, Bio-Inspecta (sounds scary!), Bios, Bureau Veritas, CCIAA (even scarier), OPABA, Nature et Progrès and the two main organic organisations in Europe, Demeter and FNIVAB. Phew!

Organisers are keen to stress the friendly spirit of the exhibition and encourage discovery of different wines by arranging exhibitors' tables randomly, rather than by origin. While this 'friendly spirit' is all well and good, it must make it alot more difficult for serious buyers to find what they are looking for. That said, I've always enjoyed this wine fair and it certainly is very friendly and relaxed. So relaxed in fact that it was almost deserted between 12 and 2 as exhibitors and visitors alike enjoyed a good, long lunch!

So, what of the wines? I was only there for a few hours so barely scratched the surface. From the Languedoc, I particularly enjoyed an elegant Roussanne and fragrant Pinot Noir from Les Chemins des Bassac, a full-throttle Syrah from Chateau Maris in Minervois La Livinière and the excellent range of wines from Alain Chabanon, one of the most talented winemakers in the Languedoc. Also good are the innovative reds from Domaine de Brau in the Cabardes, and the tasty new releases from Englishwoman Catherine Wallace at Chateau de Combebelle in St Chinian.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

That fabulous fungi

These little beauties were waved under my nose when I popped round to the neighbours, Didier and Marie Pierre Frances, for supper last weekend. 

The pungent, earthy smell and flavour of truffles is unforgettable and is what makes them so highly desirable. These truffles were found near St Chinian - dug up by a dog that belongs to Marie-Pierre's uncle. M-P washed and dried them and chopped them finely before scrambling them with eggs that had been stored with the truffles for a couple of days so as to absorb some of the truffley character. 

This scented, simple dish was undoubtedly the best scrambled eggs I have ever tasted. And all washed down by a deliciously fresh, fruity rosé from the Frances family property, Domaine Camberaud.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Bottle talk: La Clape v St Chinian and a gorgeous Viognier

One of the joys of having a few good bottles in the cellar is being able to share them with friends. Barrie (quite the perfect guest and a serious wine nut) has been visiting from the UK for a few days, bearing fabulous vinous gifts which include classic Bordeaux in the shape of Cissac 1982, top notch Rhone Beaucastel 1994 and a stonking Barossa Shiraz from master winemaker Dave Powell (ex Torbreck).  These have  been carefully put away for another day but we did open some rather nice bottles of local hooch as Barrie was eager to expand his knowledge of Languedoc wine.

We had great fun comparing two Languedoc heavyweights. Firstly, La Centaurée 2002, the top wine from Pech Redon which is my favourite estate in La Clape and a very special place to visit. 2002 is often written off as a poor year but this wine proved how misleading such generalisations can be.  After a couple of hours in the decanter it smelt of sweet berried fruit, with a heady whiff of the garrigue (wild herbs - rosemary/thyme), tar and a hint of coffee. Excellent concentration of dark blackberry and plum fruit with lots of other flavours in there too: licquorice, smoked meat, hint of rosemary. Very rich mid palate which balances the firm yet round tannins. Good long finish. Decant in advance and drink now to 2018. 
18.5/20. Approx €15

Drunk alongside this was the 2004 Vin Maghani from top St Chinian producer Canet-Valette.  I have enjoyed the 2001 vintage of this wine and the 2004 is very good but still young. It needs time to come together as the acidity and tannins stand apart and are not yet harmonised with the fruit. Nonetheless, there is much to admire in the meaty, smoky nose and spicy black fruit flavours with notes of olive, herbs and game. Lovely long finish. Drink 2011-18.
16/20. €22

A local white wine which blew us all away was a textbook example of the Viognier grape from Domaine Les Murettes in La Livinière. At €7 a bottle this is great value and a real charmer with a 'come hither' nose of ripe peaches and honeysuckle and oodles of exotic fruit on the palate. As it is a mere table wine, the vintage could not printed on the label but presumably it is the 2007. I'm tasting there next Tuesday so will report back.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Picpoul de Pinet and seafood

This sumptuous display is at La Brasserie Barba, a spectacular fish shop and restaurant in a somewhat unprepossessing location oposite Casino supermarket in Beziers. Their best-selling white wine to compliment this yummy seafood is a local speciality, Picpoul de Pinet, the languedoc's equivalent to Muscadet. Like Muscadet, Picpoul de Pinet is made from grapes grown near the sea, just inland from the Bassin de Thau, south of Sete. 

The grape is Picpoul (or Pique poule) which translates as 'lipstinger' in Occitan, referring to the acidity in the grape must before it is fermented. This acidity translates into freshness in the finished wine which, when balanced by pure fruit flavours of lemon, apple or pear, mineral and sometimes even brine, provides a perfect partner to the oysters farmed in the Bassin de Thau. I love the whistle-clean freshness of good Picpoul and plan to visit there in the next couple of months to try the 2008s. Producers of note include the cave co-operative at Pomerols, Domaine Ludovic Gaujal/Domaine Peyreficade, Domaine Gaujal de St Bon, Chateau St Martin de la Garrigue and, last but not least, Domaine Felines Jourdan.

A word about labelling - the full appellation name is AOC Coteaux du Languedoc, Picpoul de Pinet.  Picpoul de Pinet is only for white wine and is a named cru within the sprawling Coteaux du Languedoc appellation. A rather complicated name for a wine whose main attraction is its simplicity.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Domaine Moulinier, St Chinian

I have come across this estate many times over the last few years. As a frequent visitor to Espace Vin, a good wine merchant in St Chinian which is owned by the Moulinier family, I've tasted their wines several times. And is hard to miss their smart new winery as it is in full view as you drive over the pass into the beautiful St Chinian valley. However my first visit to the actual estate was not until this week, on  a freezing January day, and for an appointment that (for various reasons) I had rearranged several times. Stéphane Moulinier, an amiable, chatty young man with a rugby-player physique was there to meet me and he could not have been more welcoming and generous with his time.

The story of the estate starts in 1981 when Guy Moulinier, Stéphane's father, abandoned a career in the civil service to return to his Languedocienne roots. He took over 8 hectares of vines from his maternal grandfather which had been providing fruit for the local co-op , ripped out the vines(mainly Aramon and Carignan) and commenced on a planting programme which focused firmly on Syrah, with some Grenache and Mourvèdre. In fact he was the first in St Chinian to plant syrah in 1981 and it now accounts for 70% of the vineyard at Moulinier.  Today the estate encompasses 20ha of vines, 4ha of olives (Moulinier means ‘olive grower’ in Occitan) and a shiny new wine cave which was built in 2001.

There are 3 terroirs on the estate. On the other side of the valley, near the road towards Berlou, the terroir is schist. Right next to the winery there is more sandstone, with some flint whilst the other side of the domaine is limestone. There is attention to detail at all stages: all the grapes are handharvested, destemmed, lightly crushed and fermented in stainless steel tanks. Fermentation is controlled to about 25°C and instead of pumping over, they practice delestage which extracts maximum fruit and colour without overworking the grapes and extracting bitter tannins. Their impressive barrel cellar contains barrels only from the Vicard cooperage - if it works, why change it?- and their top wine, Les Terrasses Grillées, typically spends 15 months in oak, a third of it new.

The range of wines (all AOC St Chinian) chez Moulinier is succinct. My notes are equally so as it was so cold I could barely hold a pen!

A pale pink, fruity, quaffing rosé - exactly as rosés should be - provides cash flow. 50/50 Grenache/Syrah. 

The Tradition red both in tank and bottle is abundant in berried fruit, a hint of spice and nicely managed tannins. Properly priced at €6.

Les Sigillaires 2005 . Sigillaires means 'plant fossil' and there are many examples of these, as well as dinosaur eggs and bronze age arrow heads, in the estate's tasting room. 

Slight licquorice, almost medicinal nose. Attractive round fruit on palate. Good balance of fruit and oak, round tannins, good length.

Les Terrasses Grillées 2006. From schistous soils.

Smoky nose, oak. Very concentrated, pure peppery fruit. Grip to tannins. Lovely length. Very pure.

2003 Terrasses Grillé

Broad, leathery fruit, grippy tannins, good length. Quite butch but good balance. Perfect for drinking now.

Terrasses Grilleé 2000

n. Olive, green pepper, licquorice

Very good concentration of leathery, gamy fruit. Smoke, pepper. Needs time to evolve. Fine grained tannins. Good length. Classy stuff.

There is clearly much attention to detail here and an unwillingness to compromise on wine quality. And the Mouliniers are not afraid to experiment with different projects, such as their fruity `Homo Erectus`red and the wine merchant in St Chinian. Stéphane was reluctant to talk about these and I sensed that he felt they were distractions from the real job. Which is making bloody good wine.



Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Frost in St Chinian this morning

It's been pretty parky this week in the Languedoc. It's a beautiful sight seeing the vineyards rimed with frost against the backdrop of beautiful blue skies. This pruned gobelet vine was snapped on the way to Domaine Moulinier (of which more later). 

Friday, 9 January 2009

Vines everywhere to keep Languedoc wine lover happy

Languedoc wine lover

As this is my first ever post on a Blog, I'd better start by setting out my stall. 

As the name suggests, this blog is (mainly) about Languedoc wine. 

For the past four and a half years I have been lucky enough to live in the Languedoc and during that time I have visited countless wine producers, chatted to them about what they do and why and made notes on their wines. And consumed rather more than my fair share of their production! But this blog is not intended to be merely a record of tasting notes. I love this region and its wines and I hope to be able to communicate some of this passion to you and inspire you to visit this wonderful region. Or at least to consider reaching for a bottle of Languedoc wine the next time you're at the off-licence!

But I don't work as a PR consultant for Languedoc wine (honest - although I'm open to offers) and so from time to time I will talk about wines from elsewhere, what's in the news, food and wine matching, hot topics in the wine world, wine trivia etc etc.

Talking of wine trivia, did you know that the Languedoc is the biggest wine region in the world, producing more wine than the whole of Australia? More than enough to keep this Languedoc wine lover happy.