Friday, 11 August 2017

Two restaurant wine lists in the Languedoc.

Le Presbytère

An evening at the Presbytère in Vailhan is always a treat.  In the summer you eat on the terrace with a view of the surrounding hills and the menu is elegant and seasonal, with delicious fish that calls for white wine.   Their list is small and focuses on the Languedoc, but with deviations outside the region.  However, the list changes frequently, with offerings of new bottles to try.  On our last visit a couple of weeks ago we drank a delicious Picpoul de Pinet, Brechallune, from Domaine la Croix de Gratiot, an estate that is making great strides in improving its quality.   This has spent six months on the lees with regular bâtonnage and was firm and salty with weight as well as acidity and made a great aperitif, as well as accompanying our first course.  

And then we went onto 2015 Manon, from Clos Marie in the Pic St. Loup, a lovely blend of Roussanne, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeo, with layers of flavour in a textured palate.  Sadly, Clos Marie was particularly hit by the severe hail storm of last August and consequently there is no Manon in 2016.  Instead they have made a Cuvée Les Trois Saisons, for one season is missing, which includes about 15% of their own grapes, but they have also bought in the same varieties as for Manon, from various wine growers mainly from the Terrasses du Larzac, who had grapes to spare and were unaffected by the frost.  The wine is made in the same way as Manon, vinified in concrete and spent nine months in a tronconique vat with some bâtonnage and a malo lactic fermentation.  It is AOP Languedoc, and has lovely acidity and freshness, with textured nuances and a nicely rounded finish. 

La Terrasse de Mimosas

This restaurant and wine shop is well placed in the central square of the village of Montpeyroux, giving you a view of the church tower and the market square, with tables outside.  And the wine list is impressive, concentrating on the Languedoc, and on the Terrasses du Larzac in particular, with the wine estates listed by village.   Their policy is to charge the shop price plus 10€ which makes for some very attractive pricing and they have several vintages of some wines, so offer plenty of temptation amongst older vintages. We were there for a pre-concert meal, so did not have the time to linger, but none the less managed to enjoy a delicious bottle, or two, of Alain Chabanon’s Petit Trélans, a pure Vermentino.  We drank 2015, but we could have tried an older vintage of Trélans, which is a blend of Chenin Blanc and Vermentino.   And then we went onto Cal Demoura’s L’Infidèle 2014.  Vincent Goumard has renamed this cuvée Terres de Jonquières, - L’Infidèle came from the previous owner - to focus on the roots of his estate and emphasise the sense of place.   The wine itself has not changed.  It includes a little from each plot of the estate and all five red grape varieties of the Languedoc, grown on two different soils, stony limestone and limestone with clay.  This for Vincent is the wine that is really representative of the domaine, with some rounded spicy fruit, supple tannins and a subtle palate, in short a delicious bottle of wine.  All was right with the world, as the evening continued with some wonderful music.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

The diversity of Picpoul de Pinet

 Picpoul de Pinet has enjoyed an enormous wave of popularity in recent years.  There is hardly a restaurant in London that does not offer a Picpoul de Pinet and we do tend to simply ask for a glass of Picpoul without any consideration of the producer’s name.   In fact, although it comes from one relatively small area by the étang de Thau around the village of Pinet and from just one grape variety, it can be remarkably varied in flavour, from the simplest of wines to something with more weight and complexity.  You may also find oak-aged versions, but I don’t think those are to be encouraged, and you may also find sparkling and sweet versions which are more successful.   The two cooperatives of Pinet and Pomerols produce the bulk of the appellation and they both work well for their appellation.  

I visited the coop in Pinet, the Cave de l'Ormarine, last month and was very impressed with what I tasted.  They have a welcoming shop, so do go and check it out if you are in the vicinity.

2016 Carte Noire – 4.45€
This is Picpoul de Pinet at its simplest and most refreshing.  The aim is a wine that is fresh with some lemony fruit and good acidity.  It is made from grapes that are less ripe and has a dry stony nose and a fresh lemony palate with good acidity on the finish.  Picpoul never undergoes a malo-lactic fermentation as they want above all to retain the acidity

2016 Duc de Morny – 5.35€
This comes from older vines with riper grapes and is given six hours’ cool skin contact before fermentation.  There is a salty note on the nose and the palate has more weight, so that it is dry and flinty with more concentration.  Definitely a step up in extra depth and weight.

2016 Picpoul sur lees – 5.75€
This is given lees stirring until February and comes from a selection of grapes from better vineyards, with lower yields.  It has the firm salty nose that is the hallmark of good Picpoul and the palate is very saline, very mineral with length and characterful.   It will also develop in bottle.  I also subsequently tried a magnum from the 2015 vintage and it had evolved beautifully with more depth and salinity.

2016 l’Effet Mer – 8.80€
This is mainly intended for the seaside restaurants.  It comes in a pretty transparent bottle with a blue design and is a blend of 80% Picpoul sur lees tempered with 20% Duc de Morny with some fruit and a fresh sappy palate with good acidity. 

In 2016 they also tried making a wine without sulphur, Esprit Libre.  However, it turned out rather atypical, with quite a golden colour and a riper rounded, more solid nose and palate with a streak of tannin.  An interesting experiment but I would prefer the Picpoul sur lees.

The sparkling wine, Vin Mousseux de Qualité, méthode traditionnelle Extra Brut 100% Piquepoul, as the grape variety is usually spelt, has improved considerably since the last time I tried it.   The wine spends eighteen months on the lees.  The bottles are disgorged by a competent sparkling wine producer in Burgundy, without any dosage.   The wine is light golden in colour and a combination of dry honey with a tang of saltiness, with some fresh fruit on the palate.   8.30€ a bottle. 

Unfortunately, they had run out of their Vendange Tardive – none was made in 2016.  It would come from grapes that have been dried on the vines and picked two months later.   That will be for another time. 

Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Faugères fête, Le Grand St. Jean

The annual Faugères fête is a great occasion for catching up with vignerons - talking of which, have you ever realised that the anagram of vignerons is ivrognes or drunkards???!   I don’t do crosswords, so I tend not to think about anagrams, so it had to be pointed out to me ….so I thought I would share it with you.  This year I was selling my book, The wines of Faugères, so did not do so much tasting, but still managed to check out a few bottles, and have lots of interesting conversations as people came past my table.   

As well as the usual suspects, there were two new estates showing their wines.  My next door table, or rather barrel in their case, was Domaine les Serrals, Chloé Barthet and Frédéric Almazur, who made their first wines last year.  The range will eventually comprise a pink and a white and three reds. At the fête they had the pink and the first red ready for tasting.  I really liked them both.  The rosé is a blend of equal parts of Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre, combining the gourmandise  of the Grenache and the freshness of Mourvèdre, picked early to retain the freshness and made from pressed grapes  The wine remains on its lees and is bottled without any SO2.  It was a pretty colour with some fresh fruit and a nicely balanced palate.  I thought it a promising start.  The first red Sur le zinc is a  blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Carignan, kept in vat.  There is a portion of carbonic maceration for the Syrah and the overall result is some lovely perfumed fruit, with a streak of tannin.  Chloé enthused about doing pigeage, and what fun is it to put your feet in the vat.  I might be able to go and join her next year, if I play my cards right!

The other new label was la Graine Sauvage for a delicious white wine, a lovely blend of  60%  Grenache blanc with some Marsanne and Roussanne with some white blossom on the nose and a beautifully textured palate.  It too promises very well. Sybil Baldassarre explained that she has been making wine since 2000 in various places, but this is her first Faugères.

And there is another new wine grower in the pipeline, Frédéric Desplats, who has rented Frédéric Alquier’s ten hectares and also bought another ten hectares in Roquessels, with a partner, Denis Degros.   He described it as a retirement project and it is all very much in the early stages to the extent that they have yet to decide on the name of the domaine.   But the first wine will be made this year so I am looking forward to visiting in due course.

Another relatively new estate,  Mas Nicolas had a lovely pure Viognier with very convincing varietal fruit, not as rich as a Condrieu but elegantly understated, with good texture and balance.

2016 Allegro from one of the longer established estates, Domaine Ollier-Taillefer was as good as ever, with some fresh herbal fruit, and an elegant depth of flavour.   And my white finale was 2000 Aurièges, from Domaine Clovallon on the other side of the hills outside Bédarieux, with a golden colour and ripe flavours and lots of intriguing notes that keep you guessing, and coming back for more.

And as usual other confréries were visiting and processed through the narrow streets of the village with much fanfare and music and there were also some musicians accompanied by a particularly energetic dancer.  I was full of admiration given the soaring temperatures of the morning and was very relieved that I had a table in the shade.   

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Terrasses du Larzac Circulade Vigneronne

The vigneronnes ballades are proving be something of a climatic challenge this year.  First we sweltered in a heatwave around the Pic St. Loup and three weeks later the weather had changed so that a cold wind was blowing hard for the Terrasses du Larzac walk.   Most of the sensible vignerons were well wrapped up in thick fleeces and puffa jackets - some of the walkers were rather more optimistic - the sun after all was shining in St Saturnin, but up in the hills above the village a 60 kms per hour gale was blowing and many of us shivered.   However, the walk was a stunning route, out of St. Saturnin up into the hills above the village, almost to the foot of the Rocher de la Vierge, with dramatic views of Mt Baudile and in the other direction, we had the valley of the Hérault at our feet.   

We set off from the centre of St. Saturnin, a gentle climb up hill at the start of what they call the poets' walk, with various plaques of Occitan poetry, to the first étape, with a mise en bouche of a delicious crumble with thyme, blue goats cheese and a concassé of summer vegetables.    Olivier Faucon from Mas Combarèla was participating in the ballade for the first time and showing his rosé from his very first 2016 vintage, Des Si et des Mi.  It is a blend of Grenache and Cinsaut, with some fresh fruit, a herbal note and an elegant finish and made a great start.  I also liked the red wine Domaine des Olivèdes, another new producer, up in the hills at St. Jean de Buège, which is one of the most northern parts of the sprawling Terrasses.  And Domaine de Montcalmès 2014 red, with 60% Syrah, some Grenache and some Mourvèdre, was spicy and elegant, supple and youthful.

The track took us through the garrigue, gradually climbing to the next étape for a tartare de magret  fumé garnished with apple and chives.  Here I tried Grand Pas from Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette, a rounded mouthful of Grenache with a little Cinsaut.  Graeme and Alice Angus from Trois Terres in Octon were showing Saut du Diable, with 70% Grenache, and Syrah and Carignan, with some spicy cherry fruit.  Alice explained how they had realised that morning that the original position of the étape was far too windy, and that they had had to move off the brow of the hill for a little shelter.  None the less the wind was still blowing, but the views were magnificent.   Les Vignes Oubliées rouge from Jean-Baptiste Granier was another Grenache dominant wine with some Syrah and Carignan, with some ripe fruit.  I also like Estelle Salles’ Capitelle des Salles, Hommage, with more ripe fruit.   As you will appreciate, conditions did not allow for detailed tasting notes.

The path continued along the ridge and then into a grove of pine trees which provided some welcome shelter.  Here we enjoyed   a delicious calamar à la languedocienne, and some tasty black rice.  I chatted to Marie Chauffray, who was pouring La Reserve d’O, with some spicy fruit - she has handed over the presidency of the Terrasses du Larzac to Eric Ajorque of Mas Conscience and was relishing the freedom of less responsibility.  Charles-Walter Pacaud from Domaine la Croix Chaptal was pouring his Clairette du Languedoc - he is one of the few people to take this old appellation seriously - with rounded texture fruit and a streak of tannin, to compensate for the soft acidity.  The other white wine of the étape was le Clos Rivieral, les Fontanilles, an intriguing blend of Grenache blanc, Roussanne and Viognier aged in a Burgundian barrel, with a full malo.  Although the oak was present, the wine was textured with fresh acidity and a touch of fennel.   Our friends, Paul and Isla from Domaine de Sarabande in Faugères were enthusing about it too.  I also like Carlines from Mas Haut Buis, with some ripe fruit balancing the tannin and Clos Maia 2015, with spice and some structured oak. 

The main course was situated in the absolutely windiest part of walk, which made tasting wine - and also spitting - as witnessed by the spray on my tasting notes - quite a challenge.   However, the cuisse de canette confit and a delicious vegetal mixture helped to warm us, as did the selection of wines.  Vincent Gourmard from Mas Cal Demoura was pouring Terre de Jonquières 2015, from all five Languedoc varieties, with some elegant fruit.  Rémi Duchemin from Plan de l’Homme was showing Sapiens 2014 from 70% Syrah, with Grenache and Carignan, with some black fruit and a sturdy finish.  Mas Conscience l’Eveil, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsaut was young and fresh with ripe fruit and an elegant balance.  I chatted to Jean Natoli who was showing La Villa Romaine from Mas des Quernes.  It is blend of Mourvèdre, Carignan and Grenache - he does not yet have any Syrah - and was firm and structured, with good fruit.  I also tasted Domaine St. Sylvestre, a perfumed wine that was predominantly Syrah, and 2015 Nuit Grave from Mas des Chimères, with some ripe spice and a tannic streak.

It was with relief that the track then took us down hill back into the welcoming square of the village, where there was cheerful music as well as goats cheese and dessert to warm us.   The best accompaniment to the goats cheese was an original wine from Domaine de Brunet, a blend of Roussanne, Vermentino and Viognier which was golden in colour and rich and textured.  Alain Caujolle-Gazet was showing his 2015 La Coulée Douce, with fresh fruit and an elegant finish, and Mas Jullien was offering 2014 Etats d’Ame, with some fresh peppery perfumed flavours.  I also enjoyed Gavin Crisfield’s La Traversée 2015,  a blend of Cinsaut, Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, which was fresh and perfumed, with balancing structure.  Gavin observed that he has participated in all the ballades - this is the 15th - and there has never been one quite like this, for the extraordinary weather.   

And at the dessert end of the square we chatted to Virgile Joly and enjoyed his 2016 St Saturnin rosé, which was only the second vintage of this wine.   It is quite a rounded rich style of rosé and was a good note on which to finish.  Then we headed home to warm up and I have to admit that I succumbed to a wee dram of malt whisky to help the process!