Saturday, 21 April 2018

Wines of the Languedoc - My new book!!

Please may I blow my own trumpet?   Copies arrived yesterday and publication is set for Monday week, 30th April.  Available from Amazon or direct from the publishers, Infinite Ideas at

Monday, 16 April 2018

Corbières - A pair of cooperatives

Terroirs de Vertige, Talairan

The Talairan cooperative is one of nine cooperatives that form Terroirs du Vertige which covers an area of higher altitude vineyards from Lagrasse to Cucugnan.  It is run by Benjamin Andrieu, who studied oenology at Toulouse and arrived in Talairan in 2016.  I sense he will be a refreshing breathe of fresh air and bring new ideas to the cooperative.    The Talairan cooperative covers several villages, from Thézan at 100 metres to Cucugnan at 400 metres, taking in the Cathar castles of Peyrepertuse and Quéribus.  The altitude brings advantages and disadvantages, allowing for a diversity of grape varieties and wines styles.   The Pyrenees have a strong influence so that the harvest can last six or seven weeks, usually beginning at the end of August and in 2016 it finished on 16thNovember.  Benjamin cited the example of Merlot, that can be picked in mid-September, or delayed until the end of the month, if it is at a higher altitude. 

Asked about their tipicity, Benjamin said they were working on wines for longer keeping, using less maceration carbonic and as for flavour, he talked of tapenade for Syrah and minerality and freshness for Carignan. He wants elegance rather than concentration.  The higher altitude is good for white wines, with Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Roussanne, and Macabeo.   Vestiges, which he called the flagship of the cellar, comes from 80% Syrah with 20% Grenache Noir, with a 30 days cuvaison and elevate in vat.  The emphasis is on fruit;  that is what people really want and the wine is ripe and peppery.  Other cuvées such as Talarius and Guilhem l'Hérétique include higher proportions of Carignan and some elevate in oak.  Although they want to increase the percentage of the production that is bottled, they are also very aware that quality is a keen consideration for their bulk wines. 

Les Celliers d’Ornaisons, Ornaisons

Les Celliers d’Ornaisons is based at Ornaisons and run by Christophe Groppi, who is bright and perceptive.  Again, this is a group of cooperatives from the surrounding villages, accounting for 1000 hectares including 470 hectares of Corbières, as well as IGP.  They have known how to grow with the times.  In the 1980s they carried out a lot of replanting; in the 1990s they invested in technology, equipping the whole cellar with a cooling plant. In the 2000s they have concentrated on sélection parcellaire anfor Christophe, that is now the basis of everything, with lots of selection, with at least six different qualities of Syrah.  They have a new barrel cellar and a stream-lined vinification cellar, with a pneumatic press.  The bulk of their business is wine en vrac for the négoce,with their own wines in bottle accounting for a quarter of their turnover, but only 8% of their volume.   

L’Infernale is a blend of two thirds Grenache Noir to one third Syrah, from lower yielding vineyards, resulting in some supple spicy fruit.  B de Boutenac, for which they have seven growers, is the top of their range, from Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, with the spicy cherry fruit, characteristic of Grenache. Christophe enthused: ‘j’adore le Grenache; it is a wonderful grape variety, but alcohol can be a problem with it’.  Unlike so many cooperatives, they have not been lured by the cheapest, firmly avoiding Corbières at 1.75€ a bottle, but have built up a well-conceived range.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Four Corbières estates

Four Corbières estates, all of which produce some delicious wine, failed to make the cut for my Corbières chapter.  Here they are.


Château Grand Caumont, Lézignan-Corbières 

Château Grand Caumont is an old historic property.  You approach the property along a driveway that is lined with solid stones, that were once used to support enormous old foudres in the cellar. There was a Roman villa on the site and in the 9thcentury, Charles the Bald gave the land to his nephew. The château was burnt at the French Revolution, leaving just one tower from which there are views over the surrounding countryside.    In 1906, it was bought by the Rigal family who produced Roquefort cheese and when their cheese business was sold, they concentrated on wine.    However, they still have  a model of the town of Roquefort and an original poster advertising Rigal Roquefort.  The estate is now run by Laurent Rigal, with her loyal cellar master, Patrick Blanchard, who arrived at the property back in 1988.  Altogether they have 90 hectares in production.  The Orbiel river divides the estate, with 15 hectares of IGP on flatter land to the north of the river and the core of the estate for Corbières to the south, including some 80-year-old Carignan, all farmed by lutte raisonnée.  It was Laurent’s mother who first bottled their wine, in 1985, while her father had been content with sales en vrac.   
We tasted in the dining room, with murals from the 19thcentury.  The range comprises a Cuvée Tradition in all three colours, Cuvée Spéciale, mainly from Syrah and Carignan, with some carbonic maceration, but no oak ageing, making for spicy ripe fruit.  Réserve de Laurence is based on Syrah with some Carignan and Grenache, with a small percentage of élevagein oak, with some firm fruit.  Impatience includes 40% barrel ageing, including a proportion of new oak, and Cappus Monti comes from 60% Syrah with 40% old vine Carignan, all kept in oak for 10 months.  Impatience Blanc is mainly Grenache Blanc, with 20% Vermentino, with some oak and buttery notes on the nose, balanced by good acidity and sappy fruit on the palate.   For the moment, they do not produce Boutenac, but they have bought a five-hectare plot which includes 1.80 hectares classified as Boutenac but not yet planted.  They are considering Carignan and Mourvèdre.


Château Étang des Colombes, Lézignan-Corbières

Christophe Gualco is the 5thgeneration of his family at Château Étang des Colombes.  The property was bought at the end of the 19thcentury and encompasses 117 hectares of vines, including some IGP as well as Corbières.  Christophe’s father, Henri, was a pioneer in the region, bottling his first wine in 1973, when Corbières was still a VDQS, and during the 1980s he developed a solid range of different wines and built a Bordeaux style barrel chai in 1986.  Christophe is following in his father’s footsteps.  He is energetic and enthusiastic and has done the Etudes de l’OIV which entails work experience in Chile, Britain, at Davis in California and Mendoza in Argentina.  He wanted a vision that was different, especially for marketing.  

We tasted in a large caveau with various old foudres and vinous artefacts.  There was a machine that was once used against phylloxera that pumped water into the vineyards.   Étang des Colombes’ vineyards on the necessary fairly flat land.   An enormous chunk of tartrate crystals looked just like volcanic lava.  Our tasting included a lightly peachy Viognier, a rosé, which Christophe described as their produit phare,  of which they produce 60,000 bottles of Gris Colombes in an attractive and distinctive serigraphic bottle, from Cinsaut, Grenache Noir and a little Syrah, with some delicate fruit.  Bois des Dames Blanc is mainly old Grenache Blanc, with some Bourboulenc and aged, but not fermented in oak for eight months, while Bois des Dames rouge is based on old vine Carignan, with some Syrah and Grenache, with a rounded chunky palate. The Cuvée Tradition from equal parts of Syrah and Grenache, with 20% Mourvèdre, aged in cement vats, has tapenade, spice and a streak of tannin, making a solid mouthful.  Bicentenaire was created for the 200thanniversary of the property as a wine estate in 1981.  It comes from 40 – 55-year-old Grenache and Carignan and a little Mourvèdre, with six months ageing oak and is a ripe, rounded mouthful of wine.  


Château Grand Moulin, Lézignan-Corbières 

This is a large property on the outskirts of Lézignan.  We were greeted warmly not only by Frédéric Bousquet, who nicely opinionated,  but also by his black Labrador, Manique.  I think he worked hard to live up to his name!   Frédéric’s father, Jean-Noël, began working with one hectare of vines aged 17, and has consistently bought vineyards on good land, so that they now have 130 hectares in some 250 plots, in five villages around Lézignan.  Pierre Vialard has been the winemaker since 2006, while Frédéric studied agriculture in Toulouse and then did stages in California and Ribera del Duero and finally worked in Canada.  They lost their original cellars in the floods of 1999 and then took over this old spacious négociant cellar.  Frederic observed that they never use carbonic maceration;  when his father arrived, ‘les places étaient prises,  all the places were taken’, so he looked for a different orientation and bought an égrappoir, so that all their grapes are destalked.   55 of their 130 hectares are Syrah, as it give elegance and rondeur and they also have some old Carignan.  They aim to keep the authenticity of each terroir with their wine-making and only use pigeage for extracting flavours.  Notre richesse is our vineyard, but it is complicated to have so many plots.  

Their range is logical, an entry level, Grandes Vignes, in all three colours, that they described as modern Corbières; Vieilles Vignes and a more traditional style, and Terroirs, with three different terroirs, Terres Rouges. Grès de Boutenac et Fleur Elysée, and finally two varietal wines, Carignan and Cinsaut.   As you might imagine, an extensive tasting followed and the highlights included la Pège, a Vin de France and pure Carignan, vinified without any wood.  The palate was firm and spicy with a sympathique rustic note.  Terres Rouges, which Frédéric described as la patte, the footprint,of Grand Moulin, come from a vineyard where the soil is really red and the wine is 80% Syrah with Grenache Noir, of which one third is given 12 months in oak, making for rounded spicy fruit.  He looks for elegance, buvabilité and matière.  Grès de Boutenac is 60% Mourvèdre with 40% Carignan, both late ripening varieties that perform well in the terroir of Boutenac.  One third of the cuvée spends twelve months in oak and the firm is structure and tight knit with a fresh finish.  Fleur Elysée is also a Boutenac, a selection of the best Carignan, Syrah and Grenache, vinified in demi-muids with regular pigeage.  It is not made every year and the young wine promises well with ripe fruit.  Lastly there was a pure Cinsaut le 49.3, - the vines were planted in March 1949 - and the wine was beautifully fresh and rounded and a lovely note on which to finish.


Château la Bastide, Escales

The Chinese have arrived in the Corbières.  Château la Bastide was bought in 2015 by Min Yu and in his absence, is very efficiently managed by the bright and vivacious Mme Nan-Ping Gao.  She has lived in France most of her life, run a restaurant in Montpellier for a number of years and speaks impeccable French.  First, we talked about the history of the estate. The château was built in 1770, and the property originally housed 100 people, as well as 40 horses, with last horse leaving in 1967.  These days they are very proud of their mechanical harvester.  It was always a viticultural domaine, an autonomous bastide, with its own forge and provided the livelihood of several families.  They still have the original stone vats as well as the enormous traditional foudres that are no longer used.   Claude Gros has been the oenologist for the last  18 years.  

There are sixty hectares of vines all around the château, on terraces and the former riverbed of the Aude.   All the vineyards have been replanted, so they have none of the very old vines on which other estates pride themselves.   I really enjoyed the simple Tradition, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, aged in vat, making for an appealing balance of dry spice and fresh fruit, with a fresh note on the finish.  Other cuvées include Exubérance from equal parts of Grenache and Mourvèdre, L’Optimée which is 80% Syrah with 20% Grenache, with ripe cherry fruit and Eidos which is the opposite, coming from the best plots of Syrah, with peppery fruit.  

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Château de Gaure in Limoux

Pierre Fabre is yet another producer who has come to wine from quite a different field.  Although his father had vineyards near Sommières, in the eastern Languedoc, he ran a packaging factory in Belgium for a number of years    Then it was the moment to move on and he found the Château de Gaure outside the village of Cépie in the heart of the appellation of Limoux in 2004, and made his first wines in 2006.  It is a large property with an old château and cellar; the vines were in the cooperative. And not content just to make Limoux, Pierre has also bought vines in Roussillon, which he can sell as AOP Languedoc, rather than Côtes du Roussillon.   He has very precise ideas about his wine-making, aiming to be as natural as possible, using indigenous yeast and very little sulphur and in the vineyard, he works organically.    Philippe is also an artist and has designed some very colourful labels for his wines. 

He concentrates on still wines.  His entry level wines, both red and white are Vin de France as they are blends of Limoux and Roussillon, Chardonnay and Macabeo for the white, and Syrah and Merlot for the red.    The first Limoux Blanc, a blend of 80% Chardonnay with some Chenin Blanc, is rich and honeyed, and almost sweet on the finish.  Pierre likes really ripe grapes and these were picked at the end of October. Oppidum, a reference to the Roman origins of the property, includes a little Mauzac as well as Chenin Blanc with the Chardonnay and is a selection of the best barrels.  Best of all was a mature Mauzac, from the 2009 vintage, with dry honey and herbal notes.  The remaining two wines, both red, come from Roussillon, and are rich and warming, making a sharp contrast with the fresher flavours of red Limoux.


Thursday, 29 March 2018

Virgin Wines - A trio from the Languedoc

 Gavin Crisfield is one of my favourite (amongst many) Languedoc winemakers, producing some of the Languedoc’s most elegant wines, epitomised by his delicious Cinsaut La Traversée.  So, I was delighted to discover that Virgin Wines are selling two wines that he has made for them, based on his négociant activity.

2015 Trois Calices Réserve, Vin de France - £11.99
Medium depth of colour.  An enticingly fragrant nose, with perfumed fruit.  An elegant palate, with fresh red fruit, balancing acidity and a streak of tannin.   A blend of 40% Syrah, and 30% each of Grenache Noir and Carignan.   Deliciously fragrant and appealing. 

2016 Cirque de Navacelles, Coteaux du Languedoc, Réserve d’Héric - £9.99
A blend of 60% Grenache Noir, with 30% Syrah and 10% Carignan.   The flavours are sturdier and more tannic than les Trois Calices, but nevertheless retain their benchmark elegance with some lovely fragrant fruit.   Both the wines have an appealing freshness, coming from some of the cooler vineyards of the Languedoc, and the alcohol in both cases is a modest 13°.

 Escura des Pins, a Pays d’Oc, Alicante Bouschet.  - £10.99

The third offering from Virgin Wines comes from a grape variety that was much decried and despised as a Teinturier variety with red flesh, but these days it is beginning to make something of a comeback.  Its yields need to be restrained, which they never were in the past, and then it has some characterful flavours, with ripe spicy fruit and supple tannins.    It makes an original choice if you are looking a more unusual variety from the Languedoc. 


Tuesday, 13 March 2018

St Chinian : limestone versus schist

I went to a fascinating tasting last week, hosted by the Institute of Masters of Wine.  St Chinian is a rare appellation to have two distinct terroirs, limestone in the south and schist in the north, with the two areas separated by the river Vernazobre. There is also a little bit of sandstone, but essentially the originality of St Chinian is its dual terroir.

Two St Chinian growers, Vivien Roussignol from Domaine des Païssels and Tom Hills from Domaine la Lauzeta, were in town with a collection of wines selected with the precise aim of illustrating the differences between the two terroirs for each grape variety of the appellation.  We tasted brut de cuve, wines from the 2017 vintage, that were vat samples, and all fermented in more or less the same way, a classic vinification with no carbonic maceration and no élevage in barrel, yet.   The idea was to see the differences between the two soils and how each variety performed on each soil.  St Chinian is always a blend of several grape varieties, so ultimately all these wines would find their way into a finished blend.  

Sadly, the tasting was incomplete in that three wines went AWOL in transit between London and St Chinian, but that did not prevent us from observing differences.   We kicked off with a pair of Grenache Noir, one grown on limestone by Château Viranel, and the other on schist by Vivien Roussignol.    The difference was quite marked.  The wine on limestone was firmer and more structured, with good fruit and tannin, whereas the wine on schist was more fragrant, with fresh acidity and perfumed fruit.  It was actually a heady 15.8, as opposed to 14.8 for the Viranel, but certainly did not taste at all alcoholic.  Sadly, a pair of Grenache from Clos Bagatelle, on limestone and on schist, as they have both soils, were missing.

Next came a lone Carignan from Domaine des Païssels, grown on schist.  The limestone example from Mas Champart had also gone walkabout.   This wine showed just how delicious Carignan can be, with ripe fruit balanced with some firm tannins.  It was significantly sturdier than the Grenache and comes from very old vines, some 100 years old.  Vivien observed how well Carignan had coped with the drought conditions of 2017.  

Two limestone Syrah, from Château Viranel and Domaine Sacré Coeur, were contrasted with three Syrah grown on schist, from Moulin de Ciffre, la Lauzeta and Domaine des Païssels.   All five wines had a deep purple colour.  There was a contrast between the two limestone wines in that Château Viranel was firmer and more tannic and structured, while Domaine Sacré Coeur seemed lighter and more fragrant.  Maybe the wine had spent less time on the skins.   

Although all three of the schist wines had good acidity, the Moulin de Ciffre was the freshest of the three, with some perfumed red fruit, while la Lauzeta and Païssels seemed riper and more substantial.  I was also more aware of the alcohol levels in these wines.  Sacré Coeur was the lowest at 14.5 whereas Lauzeta and Païssels up clocked 15.4 and 15.5 respectively.   It made me think that Syrah is sometimes less suitable and less adapted to the dry warm conditions of the Languedoc; more than ever it is time to reconsider Carignan.

The next two wines were a pair of Mourvèdre, on limestone from Château Coujan, and on schist from Domaine des Païssels.   The example from limestone had substantial red fruit, with firm tannins and some acidity with a fresh finish, while the Mourvèdre on schist had fragrant red fruit, with a lift on the finish.  It too was quite substantial with some firm tannins.  

The final comparison came from the same estate, Borie la Vitarèle, which also has both terroirs, with a blend of 60% Syrah with 40% Grenache, one from limestone and the other from schist.  The wine from limestone was rounded with ripe spice and firm tannins, whereas the wine grown schist was fresher with more acidity and elegance.    

Schist soil is generally deemed to make for wines with fresh acidity and that was certainly borne out by this tasting.   Indeed, the conclusion was, if you see the flavour of a wine as a shape, as I often do, limestone makes for more horizontal wines, whereas schist gives wines that are vertical in profile, with more depth.   And by way of a postscript, the next day I went to an utterly delicious Riesling tasting hosted by Jean Trimbach who made exactly the same observation in the context of Riesling in Alsace, that limestone makes for horizontal wines, whereas Riesling from granite is vertical in profile.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Malpère, a pair of producers - Château Guilhem and Château Belvèze

Château Guilhem 

Château Guilhem, in the village of Malviès, is one of the older, more established, and also larger estates of Malepère, run and owned these days by Bertrand Gourdou, the 6th generation, with Catherine Montahuc as his winemaker.  She has worked there since 2006, but comes from Burgundy. They have 32 hectares of vines in production, of which 25 are Malepère and the rest produce varietal Pays d’Oc.  

The château itself dates from the 1870s, and on some of their labels they use an old photograph of the family from 1902. Originally the property was called Chateau Malviès, but Bertrand thought that could cause some confusion, and preferred to rename it, after the family name of his grandfather, Guilhem.  In the vineyard they work organically, and the cellar at first sight looks like the classic Languedoc cellar, with old cement vats and some old foudres.  However, they have divided the cement vats into smaller sizes, which was not easy, but nonetheless preferable to removing copious amounts of reinforced concrete.  They also have stainless steel vats; Bertrand’s grandfather was one of the first to use them for wine in the Languedoc, in the mid-1970s, inspired by the example of the dairy industry.  They were also amongst the first to plant Merlot in the area, again at the beginning of the 1970s and their oldest Cabernet Franc is 15 years old.  

As Catherine explained, the characteristics of Malepère are quite different within the appellation with the vineyards on the Carcassonne side of the hill are more languedocien in character, whereas on southern side of the Malepère, nearer to Limoux, the vineyards are more suitable for the Bordeaux varieties and Grenache would simply not ripen there.   Their Malepère rosé is a blend of equal parts of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, with some fresh fruit.  There are four red Malepère; Héritage Famille Guilhem has an emphasis on fruit with a blend of Merlot and Cabernets, with an élevage in vat.    Prestige du Château Guilhem is 50% Merlot with 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec and spends eight months in old wood.   With the Grand Vin the blend can change according to the vintage characteristics, with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with twelve months’ barrel ageing.  If it is too cool, Cabernet Sauvignon does not ripen, but it does not like hot years either, while Cabernet Franc adapts much better.  It has some firm structured cassis fruit and makes you think of Bordeaux, ’but with the sunshine’ added Catherine.  

Clos du Blason is 90% Merlot, with one barrel of Cabernet Franc and one barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon.   The idea is to show how well Merlot performs in the Malepère, especially when the vines are 40 years old.    This is serious with a firm oaky impact, with ripe vanilla and cassis fruit. How will it age in bottle?   For sheer drinkability, the Heritage cuvée was hard to beat. 

Château Belvèze

Château Belvèze is another traditional estate.  The 17th château in the village of Belvèze-du- Razès has belonged to the Mallafosse family for 150 years. Guillaume Mallafosse has 40 hectares of vines, planted with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc for Malepère and Chardonnay for a Pays d’Oc.  He bottled his first wine in 2003 and makes two cuvées of Malepère, a blend of equal parts of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with good structure and fresh fruit, and the cuvée élèvé en fût de chêne includes Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend and is more structured with oak as well as fruit.  

For Guillaume the tipicity of Malepère is its freshness, with him observing that it is easier to drink than Cabardès. He also considered the commercial difficulties;  ‘we are very few independent growers and none of us are well-known.  The cooperatives at Razès and Arzens, and also Anne de Joyeuse in Limoux, account for half the appellation, but are suffocating us, the small wine growers, and keeping the prices low”.  However, he is optimistic that Gérard Bertrand’s recent purchase of Domaine de la Soujeole should have a beneficial effect – “il est moteur”.    On verra!