Monday, 22 November 2010

Is it snow? No, it's terroir!

At first glance, it seems like there is a light scattering of snow over these vineyards. But in fact it is a graphic demonstration of terroir.

We are in St Jean de Minervois where the 'snow' is the chalky white soil the covers this small section of vineyards on the plateau in the north east corner of the Minervois. The altitude here is over 200 metres above sea level and so the climate is cooler and grapes ripen later than on the plains. So the Muscat grapes need all the help they can get to achieve their heady, perfumed ripeness. That's where the soil comes in. It reflects sun and heat back on to the grapes and promotes ripening. The Muscat vines are pruned low, close to the ground, so as to maximise the effect.

These recently pruned Muscat vines are at Barroubio, producer of my favourite Muscat de St Jean de Minervois. Their black label Muscat is a classic and a staple in my cellar, particularly during the summer. It is full of grapy, perfumed aromas and delicately sweet without being cloying. It effortless supports its 15 % alcohol.

A visit to the Miquel family at the hamlet of Barroubio is always a pleasure. And tasting through their range of Muscats - dry, late harvest, fortified, late harvest with lees contact etc is a lesson in sweet wine-making.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Outsiders Rocking the Languedoc

I wasn't able to make the 'Outsiders' tasting in London last week. Judging by the comments on Outsiders Facebook page, Ryan at LovethatLanguedoc and the excellent reviews from fellow bloggers Graham and Leon Stolarski, the event was a success. Tasters commented on the 'family feel' of the tasting, the passion and humility of the winemakers. And also on the impeccable organisation, mostly due to the effort of that 'Languedoc powerhouse' (I'm quoting Ryan here), the enthusiastic and delightful Louise Hurren. Well done Louise.

But why focus just on those Languedoc wines made by expats? Why are they different? Well I guess the point is not that the wines are any better or worse than wines from independent producers who were born and raised here.

It's because Outsiders have a different perspective. For a start, for many it is a second (or third) career. Passion is an overused word when it comes to wine but it's difficult to see what else could justify giving up a well-paid desk job to scrape by making wine in rural France. Any romantic dreams vanish after weeks of pruning in January's biting winds. So they have made a conscious decision to move country and careers, as opposed to inheriting a domaine. Starting from scratch means having to learn quickly, not be afraid to ask lots of questions and to ask for advice. And just, well, give it a go.

Being an Outsider also brings an understanding of the market and wines from elsewhere. And, hopefully, contacts in one's native country that can provide an foothold in the export market.

And anyway, why NOT get together and promote their wines and the Languedoc region in general? It's good publicity.

There are 12 producers listed on the Facebook page but there are many more Outsiders making wine in the Languedoc. It'll be interesting to see if it all snowballs and there are 3 times that number by next year.