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.