Sunday, 17 February 2013

Freshness and minerality

A good chunk of my career was spent (trying to) put a simple structure on the design of IT systems - eliminating complexity and keeping things simple. That style of analysis doesn't go very far with wine and the Languedoc in particular; plenty of examples break any generalisations or hypotheses. For instance, interesting wines can be made from cold loving northern grape varieties and plenty of wines defy the style of a vintage or age well beyond all expectations. However, I have observed considerable consensus on what most wine makers are striving for these days and a single word sums it up; freshness (fraîcheur).

Freshness in a wine is principally an attractive acidity and an impact the equivalent of crushing wild fennel stalks, but there's more to it, especially with red wine. The tannins have to be just ripe and along with sugar levels must keep the resulting (usually high) alcohol level in balance. What one could coin "old school" Languedoc is the opposite - baked over ripe tannins with no grip and flabby low acidity (not to mention any rustic qualities). The trick seems to require even ripening in the vineyard backed up with picking at the right time and combined with great care in the winery over things like fermentation temperature, exposure to air and the use of oak.

With white wines the equivalent holy grail is minerality, although not all wine styles strive for it. I find minerality tricky to explain and means different things to different tasters as minerals don't really have a taste plus there's no evidence that vines extract mineral tastes from the soil. For me it's a bit like the initial sensation of licking a pebble from a mountain stream but more pleasant. In wine, proper Chablis has minerality in spades. Back in the Languedoc I find it more noticeable in the less aromatic heat loving grape varieties - Terret, Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Carignan Blanc and the like.
Vines on Basalt terroir - said to give freshness to wines but there seems to be little real evidence

Saturday, 2 February 2013

A like minded lunch

Tom Cannavan's excellent wine-pages site and forum have dedicated members (forumites) who organise regular informal BYO restaurant meals in London and the UK. One annual theme is "Less Celebrated France" which basically bypasses Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhone, and usually has good Languedoc-Roussillon representation.

We are fortunate to be hosted by one of London's finest restaurants The Ledbury. This was the menu and line up for my table. Wines are submitted by participants and the Ledbury team devise dishes to match.

Nobody was taking notes, everyone wanted to focus on the occasion and the company. The most complex wines were the pair of Coulée de Serrants. They had been double decanted the day before and each taste was like opening a new window on an Advent calender. Very much wine lovers' wines and fine accompaniments to the rabbit boudin with pumpkin soup with thyme foam (picture below). The Languedoc 1998 Marfée Les Champs Murmurés has aged magnificently, although it wasn't an ideal match for the dish. Later vintages (the Domaine only started in 1997) seem more expressive with better integrated tannins - I've been enjoying the 2000 and 2001 over the winter, but have yet to try a younger vintage.

The trio of reds were perfect with the deep flavoured lamb. The 2001 Terrasse d'Elise cuvée Elise (Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre and essentially a Terrasses du Larzac) was understated, subtle with quite gentle perfume and nice ripe fruit that avoided being jammy. Yes it was the wine I contributed, but the table concurred all three were a success. Of the Tempier Bandols I preferred the more elegant 2002 La Migoua, but that could change if I were to taste the pair in 5+ years time when the 2001 may have developed further.

Note that I posted on a range of Terrasse d'Elise wines hosted by Xavier Braujou in Montpeyroux back in 2009 here.

The third wine from the region was 1998 Domaine de la Rectorie Banyuls Cuvée Léon Parcé. Tawny port like and immensely satisfying, perfect with the Frangipane "cake".

Three final words - a real treat.