Sunday, 3 March 2013

Saint-Chinian Tasting

The characterful Maison de la Région Languedoc Rousillon in London hosted a tasting of Saint-Chinian producers to brighten up yet another grey weather day. Such a relatively specialised tasting is a brave but admirable move, but given the variety of terroirs the geology has endowed on the land a shrewd choice.

13 growers were billed, but I'd heard of less than half and tasted even fewer. The only no-show was Domaine Rimbert who make the wines I'm most familiar with, so unfortunately I lost a quality reference point. There was however the Cave Les vins de Roquebrun, the highest quality co-op I've come across in the whole of the Languedoc. They weren't showing the Terrasses de Maynard cuvée I wrote up, but their reds were solid performers although lacked the life and expression I found in most of the independents.

Saint-Chinian has slate (schist) soils to the north-east where it borders Faugères with the remainder mainly clay and limestone (argile calcaire) along with pockets of red sandstone (grès) and more schist. The majority of growers have parcels in several terroirs and either bottle them separately or blend them.

On this occasion there were no prices on display, something I welcomed as it removed a distraction from my on the day assessment. Subsequent research indicates the majority of the wines retail in France in roughly the €7 to €14 euro bracket. Relatively few are regularly imported into the UK, obviously one of the reasons for the event.

Domaine Boissezon Guiraud was the stand-out example of an estate expressing the different terroirs with their vineyards widely spread but still mainly schist sites. All the reds are un-oaked. Comme à Cayenne 2011 (mainly grenache with some carignan) has black fruits with hints of liquorice. Suite dans les idées 2011 (2/3 mouvèdre with syrah and carignan) is a bit more medicinal in a nice way with some sour plum. Temps des Cerises 2011 (half syrah) really did have fresh light fruits and a leather with cherry stone palate. Finally Terre Promise 2010 (2/3 syrah 1/3 carignan) had sweaty leathers, pepper and is a bit more baked but certainly not overdone.

Those I chatted to about the tasting afterwards praised Domaine La Madura. I enjoyed the Classic classic 2009 (carignan, grenache with some syrah and mouvèdre). A fine example of the blending of terroirs to make things more complex. Lovely texture and balance with a blackberry and savoury character.

I first came across Château de Combebelle just over two years previously in the same salon at the superb Outsiders tasting. This time Catherine Wallace was showing three vintages (2009, 20010 and 2011) of her 60% syrah 40% syrah appellation conforming reds. I particularly liked the open full of life style of the 2010 that jumps around. The 2009 has more noticeable chewy savour tannins. The 2011 needs a while to integrate and seems like it will fall between the two styles.

Clos Bagatelle has a catchy name hence I recall coming across it over the years, no doubt as the estate can be traced back to 1623 apparently. The Donnadieu Mathieu Marie 2010 (1/2 syrah with mouvèdre, grenache and carignan) had a nice floral red fruits perfume and made for delicious uncomplicated drinking. Apparently the 2006 won a Decanter medal so one would expect the wine to show well in this environment.

The tasting was about reds as befits the region. Of the whites, I found the Mas Champart Blanc 2011 (Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Grenache and from the "odds and ends" table of bottles) the most interesting. Lovely balance and structure, not too much oak, crushed fennel freshness and the most complex white I tasted. I also liked Château Bousquette Nord et Sud 2011 2/3 vermentino1/3 viognier. Perhaps a bit prickly for being harvested promptly, but nice citrus character with the viognier perfumes restrained in the background. Also worth a mention is the Domaine La Madura Classic blanc 2011 100% sauvignon blanc and unoaked (the Grand Cru blanc is oaked). Clean, nice and grassy with a good body.

Conclusions -
  • Plenty of interesting and good drinking wines were on show.
  • Excellent value on offer, especially at the lower price levels when compared to some of the more fashionable areas such as the Terrasses du Larzac.
  • Syrah seems to do particularly well in many sites. The volume seems to be turned down and it comes across as being more subtle and less of a bully in blends.
  • I'm not convinced by many of the oaked reds - most growers offered both oaked and unoaked styles. Too many seemed flatter and less expressive when compared to their "simpler" un-oaked siblings. I prefer oak you don't notice and can "see" through; the trio from Château de Combebelle being a fine example of how to get it right.