Monday, 31 October 2011

Cave Cooperative futures

Like many in the region, the Cave Cooperetive at Aspiran on the west side of the central Hérault valley has been in decline. Wine hasn't been bottled for pushing a decade, no doubt because a massive investment in equipment is required to make wine to modern standards. It hasn't always been like that. 1957 saw the first, at least for a Languedoc cooperative, Vaslin horizontal presses installed (replaced in 1975). As recently as 1988 was another first when a Bucher pneumatic press was acquired.

There are similar stories in the area. The cooperative at Caux closed several years ago and is already a decayed building - the grapes go down the road to Les Caves Molière at Pézenas. Nizas has a similar tale.

The trend has been for cooperatives to combine to create even greater economies of scale, but there are notable local exceptions. Fontès and Cabrières seem to do well and are certainly good at marketing. Fontès boasts the best rosé in the area and a new customer reception salon has been constructed this year. Cabrières uses their reception space to host art exhibitions and has managed to maintain a reputation for its wine. To the south at Florensac a light and airy tasting and sales space has been created with an excellent and popular attached restaurant Bistro d'Alex serving their wine at near retail price. Adissan has more land suited to growing Clairette and their bottles line the shelves of the regions and no doubt beyond supermarkets. Much will also be supplied to make Noilly Prat in Marseillan (blog article here). Further afield I have commented on the quality of the Roquebrun Cooperative in the Saint-Chinian appellation.

Things are looking more promising for the grape growers of Aspiran to obtain a higher price. Between 1963 and 2003 eight villages combined to produce wine under the Clochers et Terroirs branding. An enormous modern facility at Puilacher now makes all the wine and the Aspiran cooperative has joined in. The relatively dull cooperative building (photo above) survives for now as the harvested grapes are collected and de-stemmed there before being tankered off to Puilacher. I tasted some of the wine at a recent village event and the Chardonnay for example was well made and offered some interest.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Dinner with friends (oh, and some wine)

I have never invited wine makers to dinner before, but with the harvest and much of the subsequent cellar work out the way it was their turn to relax and for someone else to feel some pressure. Being friends, any pressure is of course imagined and bears no resemblance to what growers experience at the climax of a years work. Nevertheless, fuelled by the presence of a sommelier, restaurateur, lawyer and finance director (all ex of course), there was no shortage of imagined pressure.

I supplied the wines and had declared my guest's products interdit in advance. For the heart of the evening I had procured three whites and three reds with some tenuous connections to the guests - grape, style and all Languedoc of course. They were served blind, but I did reveal they were from the region. Most interesting were some of the comments. A white icon of the Terrasses du Larzac was harshly deemed by one of us to have contrived acidity and no more complexity than a Picpoul. Everyone, I think, agreed on which white showed best - Domaine Fons Sanatis B… d’Agniane 2009 (Aniane, geographically in the Terrasses du Larzac). A Vermentino I tried last year that had now shrugged off most of the oak of youth and opened into a lovely clean and rounded wine full of haunting interest. A comment "Riesling of the south" sums it up.

The bottle has an attractive glass closure originally held in place by the capsule. It avoids corked bottles and is certainly a more stylish (and expensive) alternative to a screw-cap.

The three reds generated a similar number of comments. Brett was detected by one observer on the first, but for the rest of us it was an expressive start. A still youthful 10 year old icon Carignan surprised everyone and it was the best equipped to complement cheese.

We all agreed the Léon Barral Tradition 2008 (Faugères) was the red of the night. Spiralling circles of flavour captured everyone's feelings. It will be hard to dislodge as my red of the year given how delicious it was on two previous occasions. I must make an effort to procure some.

For the record the menu included: -

  • Roast aubergine and courgette with Pesto and Tapenade
  • Brandade made with olive oil from Mas Cal Demoura, fresh Paimpol beans, capers from the commune and roast red peppers
  • Pig's cheeks braised in Cévennes onions, fresh sage and bay, garlic, reduced Noilly Prat and home salted anchovies (no other added liquid) accompanied by green beans with garlic and aforesaid oil, a baked mix of Jerusalem artichokes and new potatoes.
  • Selection of cheeses including a Brebis called Nauc from the Larzac and chèvres from Le Chalet Roujan.
  • Quince Frangipane Tart with home made vanilla ice cream
  • Mature Armagnac soaked chocolate coated prunes.