Monday, 26 September 2016

Domaine de Nizas

It had been a while since my last visit to Domaine de Nizas in a tiny hamlet between the villages of Caux and Nizas, so it was high time for an update.  This estate belongs to two Californians, John Goelet and Bernard Portet, of Clos du Val in the Napa Valley.  Nathalie Arnaud-Bernard has been the winemaker since 2011.  These days they have 40 hectares of vines on various different soils, basalt, clay and limestone, and galets roulées, and their range of wines has been rationalised into three levels, namely Le Mazet, Mosaique and Expression.  

2015 Le Mazet de Sallèles, Pays d’Oc - 6.00 euros
A blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Viognier which are blended in December for bottling in January.  Light golden colour; quite a rounded peachy nose, with some pithy notes from the Sauvignon.  The nose was more Sauvignon and the palate more Viognier, with some peachy fruit and some texture, with some acidity on the finish.  No malolactic fermentation, but some élevage  on lees to fill out the palate. 

Mosaïque Blanc:  2014 Les Terres Noires, Languedoc  - 9.00 euros
46% Roussanne - 36% Vermentino and 18% Viognier.  The black stones refer to the basalt soil and there is also some clay and limestone, and some galets.  The Roussanne component is fermented in oak and aged in barrel for nine months.  Light golden.  White flowers and peachy notes on the nose, and also a touch of fennel, of which there is plenty in and around the vineyard.  Quite rounded with some weight and depth.

Mosaique Rosé : 2014 Les Pierres Blanches, Languedoc   7.00 euros
A blend of 40% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre.  The grapes may be either saigné or pressed.  A light pink colour.  Fresh dry nose, with dry raspberry fruit. Quite a crisp palate, fresh and firm with a dry finish.  

Le Mazet Rouge, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, features in the range, but there was none available for tasting as it was all sold out.   So we went onto: 

Mosaique Rouge: 2014 Les Galets Dorés, AC Languedoc - 9.00 euros
Grenache Noir 60%, 25% Carignan and 15% Syrah.  They use their younger vines for this, with an average age of 7 years.  Medium young colour; quite spicy on the nose with some ripe, rounded fruit on the palate, with a firm tannic streak.  

Expression:  2013 Le Clos, Languedoc - 13.00 euros
60% Syrah, 35% Mourvèdre and 5% Grenache Noir. The average age of these vines is 20 years.  The Syrah spends 12 - 18 months in wood, of which 25% is new.  Deep young colour.  Young rounded spice on the nose.  Supple rounded fruit on the palate with a streak of tannin.  The oak is nicely integrated.  Youthful with ageing potential.  The cuvaison lasts at least three weeks.

Expression:  2013 La Réserve, Pézenas  - 17.00 euros
50% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache Noir and 25% Carignan.  Their first Pézenas cuvée was made in 2008, as the top of their range, and just 3000 bottles.  The whole cuvée is aged in wood for 18 months, of which half is new.  And the blend is done after élevage.  Medium young colour.  Ripe black fruit on the nose, with black cherries and a ripe palate.  Quite intense, with some smoky fruit and firm tannins. 

And then by way of comparison, and to illustrate ageing potential 2009 Le Clos
50% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache Noir and 25% Carignan again.  A little development of colour.  Quite dry leathery nosed on the palate, showing notes of maturity.  Quite a rounded palate with some spice.  Quite solid and structured.  They see Le Clos as the historic cuvée of the estate, as it has been made since 1998.  

And I was please to hear that they are planning start producing their Carignan cuvée again, from 60 year old vines; the Carignan had been used for their Pézenas cuvée over the last few years.  And then we had time for a quick look at the vineyards, with a view of the church tower of Caux in the distance and a rather handsome mazet in the middle of the vines.   The harvest was in full swing; the rosé had been picked that morning.  And they seemed pretty pleased with how the vintage was going, despite some complicated climatic conditions, heat, drought and then rain. 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Cave des Oliviers

I came across a new wine shop the other day.  I had been tasting wine in Cabardès and on my last cellar visit, chez Guilhem Barré, he mentioned that Adrian Mould, a cheerful Englishman, who used to run the syndicat for the wines of Cabardès, now has a shop in the little village of Montolieu.  So we went to investigate.  Fortunately Adrian does not keep French hours; his shop was still open at 1 p.m. but when we accepted the offer of a tasting, he turned the sign on the door to ‘Fermé’ and we adjourned to his tiny cellar that is crammed with bottles.  

Let’s stay local, he suggested.  I had visited a few Cabardès producers in the preceding two days, but had omitted a couple of Adrian’s favourites, so that oversight needed to be remedied.  First we tried Château  Jouclary’s 2015 Sauvignon - 5.40 euros.    It was fresh and pithy, a bit stalky, but with some pungent fruit.  A simple glass of Sauvignon.  Next came Château Jouclary’s 2014 Cabardès Cuvée Tradition, a blend of more or less equal parts Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache. I thought this was brilliant value for 6.00 euros with some ripe spicy supple fruit on both nose and palate, with some cedary notes and a nicely harmonious finish.  2014 Château Jouclary, les Amandiers a blend of Merlot, Syrah, Grenache Noir and a little Cabernet Franc, for 8.80 euros, was more serious and structured,with firmer tannins and youthful fruit.  Another good glass of wine.

Château la Bastide Rouge Peyre was a new  name for me.  It belongs to Dominique de Lorgeril, the brother of Nicolas who owns the large estate of Château Pennautier.  The 2014 vintage was firm and oaky on nose and palate, with some cedary notes and youthful structure    In contrast 2011 Château Salitis, a blend of more or less equal parts of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache, was riper and more rounded, but with an almost sweet finish and some Mediterranean warmth.   Adrian observed that 2011 is a much warmer vintage than 2014.  2010 Château Salitis, Cuvée des Dieux had some rather dominant oak on the nose, but less so on the palate, which was ripe and concentrated.

And then we checked out a pair of Malepère, namely 2014 Domaine Girard - 6.90 euros - a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France and Malbec.  Unlike Cabardès, you do not need the Mediterranean component.  Deep young colour, with and rounded cassis fruit and oak on the nose with quite firm fruit and a tannic streak on the palate.  There was a slight vegetal note that is typical of Malepère.   And we finished with 2011 Domaine de la Sapinière, Cuvée Archibald, with quite a firm oaky nose and palate; it was more tannic and also more acidic, and I found that the oak jarred slightly, even though the palate was more solid.   But all in all, a fun encounter.  And Adrian’s shop is well worth a visit, especially if you enjoy talking to somebody who has a perceptive appreciation of the Languedoc and its many foibles.  And he is sure to have a bottle or two available for tasting.  

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Seigneurie de Peyrat

The old estate of Seigneurie de Peyrat, just outside Pézenas, is rather like a sleeping giant that is beginning to wake up.    It has long been in the hands of the Viennet family and these days it is Cécile Viennet who makes the wines.  Her aunt, Beatrice, is a good friend and she invited me for a tasting, which proved a good opportunity for a catch up, both with the new wines, and with Beatrice, as we hadn’t seen each other for a while.   They have already started picking - Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on 30th August.

The property dates back to the 17th century and is built round a large courtyard, with tall plane trees providing welcome shade.   There is a cool tasting caveau and shop,where we went through the current range of wines.  Most of the wines are Côtes de Thongue.   We began with:

2015 Chardonnay - normally 5.50 euros but currently on special offer at 3.50 euros, which is an absolute bargain.   It has quite a delicate nose, with touch of oak.  The palate is lightly buttery and rounded, with a touch of acidity on the finish.  It is nicely understated.  

2015 Viognier, Côtes de Thongue - 5.50 euros
Some peachy notes and a touch of oak on the palate.  Nicely rounded palate,with lightly peachy fruit and a streak of structure and tannin.  Quite a delicate finish.

2014 Tradition - 8.00 euros
A blend of Chardonnay  and Viognier.  A lightly golden colour with a touch of oak on the nose.  Quite a ripe rounded palate,with some peachy notes.  Nicely understated and accessible.  

2015 Rosé d’une Nuit - 4.50 euros
A blend of Grenache and Cinsaut.  A pretty pale pink.  Even the Languedoc favours the palest of pink these days for rosé.  Delicate fruit on the nose and palate.  Hints of raspberry and some fresh acidity.  Very refreshing.  

2015 Rosé Prestige - 8.50 euros
Again a pale pink.  A touch of oak son the nose and quite a firm structured palate with more body and rounded fruit, balanced with good acidity.  A food wine, if the first is more of an apéro.

2015 Pinot Noir - 5.50 euros
Medium colour.  Quite rounded ripe cherry fruit on the nose, and a rounded fruity palate, with a streak of tannin and the basic characteristics of Pinot Noir. The wine is supple with some fresh fruit making a nice drink, but without any complexity.  Pinot Noir at its simplest. and most accessible. 

2015 Grenache, - 5.50 euros 
Medium colour.  Ripe spicy fruit on the nose and palate; rounded supple fruit on the palate, making a delicious summer red, especially if lightly chilled. This is the wine I drank with my picnic later.  

2014 Tradition - 8.00 euros
A blend of Merlot and Syrah.  Medium colour.  Quite rounded dry cassis on the nose and on the palate some tannins and some pepper.  A balance of tannin and fruit, making for some quite sturdy drinking

2015 Les Lucquiers, Pays d’Oc - 11.00 euros
This is the first vintage of a new cuvée.  Deep young colour, with some oak on the nose, that is not yet very well integrated.  I found the palate quite sweet and ripe and oaky, making for quite a powerful mouthful of flavour.  It has only just been bottled, so probably has not settled down yet.  And it was a hot day, so the tannins seemed a touch strident.

And then we adjourned for a picnic under the plane trees.  Most days during the summer, until the end of September, you can come for what they call le Pic-Nique Chic. For 15 euros, you taste wines with three small courses, of local goats’ cheese from Mas Rolland, with various jams, fig, quince and grape, to go with Chardonnay, and then there are some ripe tomatoes and you can make your own bruschetta with olive oil, garlic and basil to accompany a rosé and finally there is some local saucisson to show off the red wine.  Tables are set out under the shade of the plane trees in the courtyard.  It is the perfect setting for a summer’s day and all feels right with the world.  

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Domaine la Cendrillon

This estate came to my notice following its success in this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards, with a gold medal for their Corbières Cuvée No. 1.  Robert Joyeux explained how it has been in his family since 1750.  He is the 7th generation; his father was not particularly interested in the vineyards  and only ever sold his wine en vrac, whereas Robert realised that he really wanted to make wine, indeed great wine. Robert initially worked in management, so he knows how to organise things.  He began working on the estate in 1993 and his father ‘gave him the keys’ soon afterwards. After a lot of work improving the vineyards and modernising the cellar, he bottled his  first vintage, the 2008.   

The estate totals 50 hectares, of which 40 are vineyards, planted mainly with red varieties, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and a little Carignan, Cinsaut, Marselan and Merlot.  There are just two and a half hectares of white, but Robert is planning  more, with Grenache Blanc and Gris, Marsanne, Roussanne, and more unusually Verdejo and Albariño.  His first white vintage was 2014.  Robert enthused about the region, the variety of soils, with an old river bed and several terraces, with quartz and limestone.  The Languedoc is a region of assemblage, of blending with variations in terroir and grape variety.   His winemaker, Julien, is encourage to do  lots of micro-vinifications, identifying the characteristics of the various different plots.   The average of the vines is between 20 and 30 years old; about fifteen hectares were replanted over the last ten years, and white varieties, Albariño, Petit Manseng and Verdejo were added about seven or eight years ago.  Most of their grapes are picked by hand, ands they have an implement that measures the flavour development of the grapes, from fresh fruit, neutral ripe and overripe. Great attention is paid to sorting the grapes, first mechanically to remove bits of rubbish, leaves, stones etc. and then by hand to remove any imperfect grapes.

As you might expect the cellar is modern and streamlined.  There are lots of stainless steel vats of varying sizes, as well as some wooden tronconique vats.   And there are also traditional cement vats, that are lined, and equipped for temperature control.  They favour microbullage to soften the tannins, and facilitate the élevage.  You sense that there is a lot of very detailed work and not least, observation.  And in the barrel cellar they favour the Austrian cooper Stockinger as well as the local one, Boutes.

And then we settled down to taste:

2015 Nuance, Vin de France - 12.00€
An original blend of all their white varieties, namely Petit Manseng, Albariño, Verdejo, Grenache Gris and Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne.  One third of the blend is fermented and aged in demi-muids,  mainly the Petit Manseng and Grenache Blanc component.  The nose is exotic and intriguing, with honey, pineapple and citrus notes.   The palate has fresh acidity, and is still tight knit, with some saline mineral notes.  It should evolve beautifully; I’d give it five years, but it is already a lovely glass of wine.

2015 Minuit, Corbières Rosé - 9.00€
A blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsaut that are pressed straightaway.  The colour is delicate, and so is the nose, and the palate is rounded with a fresh finish balanced with some body or matière.   

2013 Corbières Cuvée Classique  - 13.00€
A blend of 40% Syrah and 30% each of Grenache and Carignan, with quite a long élevage in vat rather than barrel.  They do a first blend after the malo-lactic fermentation and then adjust the blend later in the year.  Medium colour, with some dry leathery spice on the nose and palate.  Integrated tannins, rounded with medium weight.  Julien observed that 2013 was quite a light vintage, and quite supple.  This is their main line, accounting for about 50,000 bottles.  

2012 Corbières Cuvée Classique 
From a riper year.  There are firm tannins, but the wine is fleshier and riper.  An intriguing difference.

2012 Corbières Inédite - 20.00€
The blend is 50% Syrah, with 40% Grenache and just 10% Mourvèdre and some of the wine is fermented in the large tronconique vats.  The grapes comes comes from slightly higher vineyards and 50% of the blend spends 18 months in foudres.  Quite a deep young colour, with some firm peppery fruit.  A tight knit structured palate, with some weight and some firm peppery youthful fruit.  The oak is well integrated.  It promises well.

2011 Corbières Inédite
Another fascinating comparison, with a slightly different blend, predominantly Grenache and Syrah with 5% each of Carignan and Mourvèdre.  Good colour.  A fresh peppery nose, with rounded ripe cherry fruit.  Lots of nuances develop in the glass as you taste.  Some lovely fruit and an elegant palate. This is the first vintage that they used foudres and they are pleased with the results.  Robert talked about their new investments in 2015; with Julien they are considering a development in style, making for fresher wines with less extraction and tannins.  It all hinges on better work in the vineyards.

2012 Corbières, No 1 - 40.00€
This is the wine that won a gold medal from Decanter.  And I could quite see why.  It is a blend of 60% Mourvèdre with some Grenache and Syrah from higher vineyards. and all vinified in tronconique vats and blended after a 24 months élevage.  From 2013 the ageing time has increased to three years, and this particular blend is only made in the best years.  2008 was the first vintage, 2010 and 2011 followed and 2014 and 2015  are in the pipeline.  

Medium colour.  Quite a firm nose, with dry red fruit and spice and on the palate the wine is rounded and elegant.  The oak is integrated and balanced by some lovely fruit.  Again there are lots of nuances of flavour; the tannins are supple with some of the leathery notes of Corbières, and a restrained finish. 

2011 Corbières, No 1
This is from a hotter year, with a more concentrated palate.  The Mourvèdre ripens later than the other grapes.   The palate is riper and fleshier with furrier tannins, making a rounded concentrated mouthful of flavour.  The wine is still very young with a long life ahead of it.

So in conclusion, a lovely discovery with some delicious wines.

And then we adjourned to a local restaurant, La Table du Château in the neighbouring village of Bizanet.  I can warmly recommend it.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The Wines of Faugères - my new book

Will you allow me to blow my own trumpet?  Yesterday, 29th August, was the official publication date of my latest book. The Wines of Faugères. My publishers, Infinite Ideas in Oxford have happily realised that since the demise of the Faber series of wine books, to which I contributed three titles, there is a big gap in the market, and they want to fill it. To encourage you to buy a copy, either from Amazon or direct from my publishers, via their website may I quote from my introduction?  In addition, my good friend Gary MacDonald has taken some stunning photographs of the  Faugères scenery as well as perceptive portraits of several of the wine growers.   

'And why write a book on Faugères?  Because it is there. Because it is the nearest vineyard to my Languedoc home. Because I love the wines and the variety of the wines within this small area. I tasted and drank my first Faugères on an early visit to the Languedoc in 1987, when Gérard Alquier gave me a perfumed 1985, as well as his experimental cuvée of an oak-aged wine and I immediately loved the spicy flavours of fruits rouges and garrigues.  And I have never been able to resist them ever since. 
      Faugères is a compact vineyard, compared to many of the other appellations of the Languedoc, with for red wine, the same five grape varieties, grown on similar soil, but none the less the variety is infinite, prompted by the human hand and the perceptible differences between the different villages.   And the white wine, which accounts for a meagre 2% of the appellation, amply demonstrates how the white wines of the Languedoc are developing and improving with every vintage, their wonderful herbal flavours conjuring up the scents of the herbs of the garrigues, fennel and bay and thyme.  And pink Faugères, which accounts of just 18% of the appellation, provides delicious refreshing drinking with acidity and delicate fruit.  The wines of Faugères should always have a distinctive freshness, which places them amongst the finest of the Languedoc.' 

No prizes for guessing what I shall be drinking this evening to celebrate!

Friday, 26 August 2016

Domaine Barroubio

There is something rather indulgent about spending an afternoon tasting Muscat - it is the most hedonistic of wines.    Raymond Miguel at Domaine de Barroubio is intent on maintaining the reputation of Muscat de St. Jean de Minervois, a tiny appellation sandwiched between Minervois proper and St. Chinian.   Sadly the village cooperative in St Jean de Minervois has given up on sweet wine, and just concentrates on dry Muscat, and there are a couple of St. Chinian producers who have vineyards of Muscat, as well as a couple of others in the village, but Domaine /Barroubio is the biggest producer by far.   And if you think the name Miguel is familiar, Raymond is a cousin of Laurent Miguel.  Barroubio itself is a tiny hamlet, with a population of just 12!  including some other Miguel cousins.  It dates back to the 15th century.  Raymond’s house is dated 1632 and in his cellar there is a beam from 1740.

Raymond has 18 hectares of Muscat, as opposed to 11 of Minervois.  The  two appellations are mixed; Muscat grows on pure white limestone soil whereas Minervois is more on clay and limestone.  First we did taste Raymond’s Minervois - he has some very old Carignan planted in 1903 and 1907, as well as some mature vines of Syrah and Grenache planted 30 or 40 years ago.

2014 Minervois  6.00€
40% Syrah and 30% each of Carignan and Grenache Noir.  This is jolly nice glass of wine - sorry, very unprofessional tasting note, but you know what I mean.  The palate is rounded and ripe, making for easy drinking with a touch of acidity and some supple tannins.

2014 Minervois, Cuvée Jean-Miguel  - 10.00€
90% Carignan with 10% Grenache Noir, spending fifteen months in third-fill barrels.   This is quite a contrast from the first wine, firmer and sturdier with some slightly drying tannins balancing some ripe fruit.

2014 Minervois Cuvée Marie-Thérèse - 10€
Named after Raymond’s mother, who is still very much involved with the estate.  About 85% - 90% Syrah with some Grenache.  Again fifteen months in wood; this time one half new, and one half second fill barrels.  The yields are lower, thanks to some shorter pruning.  And the wine is solid  and concentrated, with good body, without being heavy.  It is nicely rounded and youthful.  Raymond reckons for a yield of 30 - 35 hl/ha for his Carignan and a little bit more for his Grenache.

And then we went on to some refreshing rosé, 2015 Minervois Rosé - 6.00€
A blend of 40% Syrah and 60% Grenache noir, saigné and blended after fermentation.  it has crisp fruit on both nose and palate, with some structure and a young fresh finish.

For the moment Raymond does not make any white wine but he could be tempted by Grenache Gris, which should be added to the appellation in 2017.  Currently the appellation for Minervois Blanc includes Grenache Blanc as well as Marsanne, Roussanne and Bourboulenc,.  Muscat à petits grains has been grown in the area since the 1700s and the appellation dates from 1950.  So onto some Muscats, starting with:

2015 Muscat Sec, Pays d’Oc - 6.00€
Raymond has vines that are between 5 - 60 years old, but with Muscat there is no advantage in having old vines; the best comes from the young vines, that give in this instance, some delicate fresh dry Muscat fruit, with a pithy finish.   The vinification is very simple.  They press the grapes and chill the juice.  The fermentation is gentle to avoid any bitterness, and Raymond does not like to pick too ripe, usually harvesting at the end of August, in order to avoid an alcoholic finish, whereas the vintage for the VDN is about three weeks later. .  The palate had a touch of honey, but was dry without being bitter.

2015 Le P’tit Dernier, Pays d’Oc - 8.00€
This has some residual sugar, just 30 gms/ l, with 12º alcohol.  There is a touch of honey on the nose, with some ripe, rounded fruit on the palate, balancing some fresh acidity, making for some easy drinking.

2010 Grain d’automne, Vin de France - 15.00€ for 50cl bottle.
This is a selection of grains nobles, late harvest grapes that are usually picked towards the end of November or beginning of December with a potential  alcohol level of 20º making 14º with 70 gms/l residual sugar, after the fermentation has been stopped by chilling.  The taste is rounded and honeyed without being heavy, with good balancing acidity, and a fresh finish that does not cloy. 

2015 Muscat de St. Jean de Minervois - 10.00€
128gms/l residual sugar with 15.3º.
Some herbal notes and dry honey o the nose, and on the palate, ripe honeyed, and gently intense and rich.  Very nicely balanced.  

2013 Muscat de St. Jean de Minervois, Cuvée Bleue - 8.00€ for a 50 .cl. bottle.
This spends 12 - 15 months in a vat, with an élevage sur lees.  Every ten days or so, Raymond injects CO2 into the vat, to stir up the lees. 130 gms/l and 15.5º.  The colour is light, but the flavour is more rounded, more intense with a ripe smooth finish.  Raymond observed that Muscat is so rich that the lees can develop off smells, so he prefers to keep the lees in suspension.  

2013 Muscat de St. Jean de Minervois, Cuvée Dieuvaille - 12.00€
Named after the chapel in the hamlet.  A later harvest, with the grapes picked at the end of October. The wine comes from just one plot; he chooses the best plot and it is rarely the same each year.  For the last two or three years it has been the youngest vines.  He ferments the juice as slowly as possible a temperature of 10-11ºC   In 2015 he muted the last vat in December.  Raymond observed that Vin Doux  Naturel can be very expressive, and then suddenly collapse.  He wants the aromas to last, and asserted that Muscat can age.  This was rounded and honeyed, smooth and unctuous and very rich.  It had 140 gms/l residual sugar with 15º alcohol. and is given 12 - 18months élevage.   That for Raymond is an excellent balance for Muscat; the appellation regulations dictate 125gms/l residual sugar with 15º alcohol.   The 2014 will be bottled in October this year.  

2011 Muscat de ST. Jean de Minervois, Cuvée Nicolas - 16.00€ for a 50 cl bottle.  
The grapes are picked in December and the feremlation entails a carbonic maceration, in other words, with whole bunches at a temperature of 28-30ºC with 400 - 450 gms/l potential sugar.  The vat is then muted, and the grapes pressed when they are ready.  This is what is called mutage sur grains, whereas the previous wines are mutage sur jus. The wine tastes quite different from the others, with a different register of flavours, with orange marmalade and confit, dry apricots.  It is very intense and very concentrated, with some balancing acidity and good body.  A wonderfully original drink and quite different from the other wines.   Raymond observed that the key thing about Muscat is keeping it cool, then you can retain the freshness and reduce the dose of sulphur.  

One of the key problems with Muscat is the difference in yield between a dry Muscat and a Vin Doux Naturel.  You might be allowed 90 hl/ha for the dry Muscat, but in St. Jean you will only ever obtain 25.30 hl/ha.   So life can be challenging.