Thursday, 24 October 2013

Interesting trio

Of the new wines I've drunk over the past few weeks these three are particularly interesting.

Having tasted La Fontude's wines at the Roquebrun wine festival earlier this year I subsequently picked up a couple of bottles spotted at a Caviste. There is precious little label information, not even some creative encoding. The cork was embossed 2008 and the ABV a potentially refreshing 12.5%. The wine was certainly mature but not past it, despite suspecting the bottle had been at the caviste for some time it seemed none the worse. On opening there was a seriously pleasant surprise - nice ripe mellow and elegant sous bois followed up by a mouth feel and balance that just hit the groove. I wish more wine could be like this. Very little Mediterranean heat and pepper was noticeable, being grown high above the Lac du Salagou does limit the sea's influence. The wine is mainly Cinsault, the 12.5% along with my recollection of the wine festival line up gave that away.

Despite celebrating 20 vintages, Domaine du Poujol is one of those estates I've heard of yet never come across and struggle to place - it's roughly between the Pic St Loup and Terrasses du Larzac. I guess this follows the pattern of many larger estates, with 20 hectares the local market is just too small to warrant effort. Pico 2011 (Vermentino, Carignan Blanc with some Rousanne) was one of many wines bestowing a vintage party and was certainly the most interesting white. It reminded me of serious Italian whites, grown up hints of lime and bitters with a proper mouth grip; aromatic without being overbearing. I actually spent quite a while talking to grower and winemaker Robert Cripps before making the association and fortunately it wasn't one of those 'I wish the ground would open up' moments. I'll plan to visit next year, the one place locally where supplies can be secured.

Domaine de Cantagrel 2008 is a Marcillac, a small area near Rodez I covered back in 2010 here. We visit Belcastel every year and raided the tiny bar/gift shop run by a bubbly character from southern Italy. Amazingly about a third of his wines are Italian with another third plus local Marcillac. All the Marcillacs were under 10€. This one is extraordinary in that it is labelled a co-operative wine, the Cave des Vignerons du Vallon, which makes it by a country mile the finest co-operative wine I recall drinking. The character hasn't been processed out of it and nothing rustic is on show. Delicious fruit; rhubarb is a description I've plagiarised that resonates. In the mouth the fruit is more gentle and lets the wine express itself. Subsequent research indicates this is made from organic grapes grown by the Auréjac family so is far from a typical co-op wine, but credit to the cave for facilitating such individuality. Marcillac is the perfect antithesis to the global fashion of rich extracted ripe fruit reds.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Pas de l'Escalette

The Pas de l'Escalette is where the RN9, now replaced by the A75 autoroute tunnel, penetrated the Larzac plateau through a carved out nick in the Dolomitic limestone cliffs. The valley below down to Lodève delivers one of the most spectacular big scenery settings in the region. The Lodève tourist office has been holding a series of "Duo Vignerons" mornings consisting of a guided pastoral stroll followed by a local cave and wine tasting visit. The Domaine du Pas de l'Escalette was one of the more interesting vinously given its reputation, plus the walk on this occasion was through the domain's dramatic vineyards.

Despite being well into the second half of September the harvest had yet to start, some two weeks late as is the case for rest of the Hérault valley.

These prime Grenache bunchs are still a little rosé

Electric defences
The valley is surrounded by woodland, mainly dense native oaks which means sanglier territory. All the Domaine's vineyards use electric fence protection, something I've not seen before for vines. I have though seen the results of sanglier grazed vines, they strip grapes from the stems as cleanly as any vendanges machine.

Young Carignan Blanc vines
Delphine Rousseau joined us on the walk and explained how enthusiastic they had become over the more naturalised varieties - Grenache, Carignan and Syrah for reds and Carignan blanc, Terret and Grenache blanc for their white. For me their white Le Clapas Blanc is the icon of the estate, up there with the likes of Mas Jullien and Mas Gabriel. It was heartening to see that Carignan blanc had been planted to expand production.

Delphine Rousseau, fig basket to hand, explains all.
The cliffs of the Larzac plateau provide a spectacular backdrop
Back at their recently constructed chai we tasted Le Clapas Blanc 2012 followed by Le Clapas Rouge 2011 and the sturdily built Le Grand Pas 2011. The reds I know go well with food and benefit from a bit of bottle age. Certainly a generous tasting with the average bottle price working out at 20€.

The Domaine Pas de l'Escalette line-up

Saturday, 5 October 2013

A special oenologue and wine not for sale

Most write ups on growers, at least in English including those in this blog, rarely mention the œnologue. A bit odd perhaps given that œnologues are the doctors of the wine world and often have a massive influence on the end result. In France they are professional wine production science and technologists. Almost all independents will subscribe to their services with the œnologue making frequent cave visits at key times. Some, especially those starting up, will rely heavily on their advice while for old hands a sounding board and second opinion suffices. For all they provide lab analysis services, especially critical during early fermentation. Helping ease the completion of legal paperwork needed before wine can go on sale is another role.

Hervé Chabert is a bit of a super œnologue. He specialises in vins naturels, although the majority of his clients I am aware of are pretty conventional. Everyone has nothing but superlatives for his guidance. He is also a negociant and sources wine in cuvées from his clients. Oh, and Hervé's hobby is making wine.

Hervé is the œnologue at Domaine Ribiera and I was invited to help finish off the picking last year (2012) on the first weekend of October. The vines, several rows each of mainly Rousanne, Marsanne, Picpoul and Clarette, are on the La Clape massif between Narbonne and the sea. Instructions were to bring a change of clothes. It turned out I also needed a toothbrush.

Le Clos des Cyprès (sunshine version)
The vineyard has a postcard setting under the peak of Pech Redon and is the wildest I've been in with brambles hiding everywhere to lash legs and arms. The bunches from these old vines are mainly small, low down and numerous. Nevertheless, things were going well until the forecast storm arrived - first lightening and then a torrent. As a cyclist and mountain walker I'm used to a soaking, but the big obstacle to picking in the rain (I discovered) is mud. It clings to footwear and seriously inhibits movement. After perhaps an hour of this we abandoned picking and retired to the chai of the nearby Domaine Pech Redon where Hervé makes his wine.

Here we were treated to a mini-vertical of Hervé's Le Clos des Cyprès. These are complex wines with significant variation in style from ripe and luscious through to minerals and citrus, all understandable for a wine picked on weekends when the diary permits. Some years the earlier ripening Rousanne and Marsanne are picked first as they were this vintage.
The tasting was followed by the finest bread, charcuterie and cheeses Les Halles in Narbonne had to offer plus a couple of interesting vin naturel reds. By now the storm had passed but persistent rain had set in. We retreated chez Hervé's and finished picking the next morning.

Roll forward to 2013 and what a contrast. With a bigger team of family and friends the whole vineyard was picked in less than 5 hours of glorious autumn sunshine. With the press on its last cycle and the cleaning done we retreated to the shady lawn for wine, a picnic and grillade.

Nearly (late) lunch time

Christophe Bousquet joined us briefly with a generous selection of very grillade friendly Pech Redon reds back to 2004. I particularly liked the unoaked 2012 from an unlabelled bottle - crunchy with plenty of those supple lavender notes characteristic of La Clape reds. Back in the late 1980s Pech Redon was one of the Languedocs that got us hooked on the region's wines. It's fair to say that today the estate is in need of a bit of updating and given the quality of the terrior arguably under performs.