Saturday, 3 October 2015

Independents - an upwards trend

Aspiran took the European Weekend of Heritage (patrimoine) seriously this year and included in the events and exhibitions was a display covering wine. Specifically highlighted were the Aspiran producers who now number 10, along with the cave cooperative (Clochers & Terroirs).

The longest established are Domaine de Fabrègues (1835) and Chateau Malautié (1900). Domaine des Montèzes arrived in 1995 having been displaced by the building of the A75 autoroute above Lodeve. The grapes around their Aspiran property apparently go to the cooperative with wine being made on site from grapes brought down from their Pégairolles de l’Escalette vineyards.

It was after 2000 that new arrivals took root, possibly fuelled by the decline of the cooperative before relatively recently joining the Clochers & Terroirs clan of cooperatives. Domaines Mon Mourel, Ribiera, Clos Mathelisse, Villa Symposia, des dimanches and most recently Gregory White and Mas Troqué complete the list.

Interestingly several producers in nearby villages have vineyards in the commune, ones I know about being Mas Costefere (Adissan), Julien Peyras (Paulhan) and Domaine les Quatre Amours (Bélarga).

Are there trends here? Of the new arrivals at least two (David Caer of Clos Mathelisse and Christelle Duffours of Mas Tronqué) have strong local roots. The six most recent arrivals practice organic standards with minimal intervention in the cave. Five of them appear regularly at Vins Nature events.

Perhaps the main observation is that villages with relatively dynamic and successful cooperatives have content viticulteurs and precious little land for sale, so have few independents. Witness nearby Fontès and Cabrières that both have exciting terroirs but few independents. The nearest equivalent commune with a similarly diverse land (limestone Villafranchien and galets roulés, clay with silt and limestone, basalt et al) is Caux, where independents also thrive while the abandoned cave cooperative building decays into an eyesore.

Wine from almost all the producers can be purchased from the Aspiran Tabac which is by the village crossroads.

Friday, 25 September 2015

6th year of grape picking

My 6th season of grape picking is more or less over. Obviously the experience has become familiar with much of the mystique long gone - now more than replaced with catching up with friends. The magic remains as fresh as ever along with the collective energy and sense of common purpose of the team.

For anyone who fancies picking here are some observations.

Picking is hard on back. Well, certainly there is much bending over for hours and several muscles are in for a shock. Squatting is also necessary at times to give visibility and uses different muscles so gives gives the back some relief. Experienced pickers are generally able to avoid this and save energy. Plucking away a few obscuring leaves is the key to this.
In a well organised team porters will shift buckets and cagettes so pickers can avoid lifting. For many day 3 is the hardest before the body settles in and things ease (a little). Nevertheless, the reality is that individual backs react differently. Personally I find the whole experience helps strengthen those all important back supporting muscles.

Picking is hard work. As a sustained effort beyond a couple of hours a certain degree of stamina is required. The ability to concentrate when tired is critical. As ever, experience results in a less energetic technique.

The partying is hard. Draw your own conclusions.

Not all varieties are equal. Dealing with a waist high goblet of old Grenache with light foliage is on a par with shelling peas. Generously cropping Syrah on trellis wires that extend to above head hight is exhausting and frustrating with bunches hidden away at all levels.

Triage. Grapes grown to organic standards may produce superb fruit, but bio-diverse environments create a gamete of organisms to attack what is a monoculture crop. Selecting only perfect bunches is the main reason for hand picking and is the one area that demands experience, but the simple rule is don't pick anything you wouldn't eat.

There are dangers. Secateurs cut fingers and each season there are a couple of minor incidents and I have been a statistic - everyone does it once. Amazingly I've only witnessed one retirement. Concentration and always looking are critical.
Brambles and thistles also pose hazards. Fingers, and especially finger nails, become stained (a slice of lemon rubbed in helps clean them up). Those of a vain disposition wear gloves, but touch and feel are a crucial part of efficiently rejecting unhealthy bunches.

Allergies. Living vineyards are full of organic materials and picking some varieties entails literally burying one's head in a dry dusty vine occasionally. As the scorching summer sun retreats a second season of plant growth ensues - more pronounced with occasional rain to fuel it. Hay Fever suffers (like me) need to be aware and take precautions.

Clothing takes a battering. Yes. But at least, for some reason, grape stains wash out more easily than wine stains.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Journée oenotouristique with Les Beaux Nez Rouges

Groups of small independent growers banding together to do marketing is not new. The coopératives movement that started over 100 years ago was about collectively marketing wine before the construction of the cavés we see today. The Outsiders group and Vinifilles are two contemporary examples from the region with the themes of growers from outside the region and vigneronnes respectively. The theme for Les Beaux Nez Rouges is they share the same oenologue Hervé Chabert, albeit that for many he seems more a friend, sounding board and a man with a portable bottling line. The diverse styles of wines being made back this up - these are independently minded growers.

Lunch beckons at Villa Symposia
Apparently the group have held an annual event for 10 years. This year over 100 enthusiasts headed to Villa Symposia in Aspiran - seemingly the epicentre of the groups vineyards with the majority visible from the commune. The format of the day is an outdoor tasting followed by lunch and optional promenades en calèche (horse carriage rides). The quality of the buffet lunch created by the vigneron's families is taken as seriously as the wine making. Sensational sour-dough baguettes were ordered from the wood burning ovens in nearby Canet, pélardons from Mas Rolland, chèvre tomme from the Larzac, organic vegetables from the commune, 25 Kg of fruits including strawberries picked in the Aude the day before.

Post lunch
Promenades en calèche

Eight vignerons were showing 23 wines between them so tasting everything wasn't onerous. The majority of bottles were under €10 making it the most modestly priced tasting line up I've attended for ages.

Here are some highlights

Domaine Bonetto Fabrol (Philippe Bonetto) are north of Orange in the Rhône and had the furthest to travel. The journey will have temporarily upset their wines but enough promise and interest came through Colombier 2014 (Grenache, Syrah) and Heritage 2013 (Syrah) that I purchased a couple of bottles. Nice perfume and softness, especially pronounced on the Heritage (sic) Syrah. The only openly biodynamic producer present.

This was my first encounter with Domaine Emile et Roses (Marcel Gisclar) at a tasting. The Carignan blanc 2014 was just starting to come to life with fresh garrigue herbs and lovely integrated acidity plus a bit of body. The reds weren't for me. For Léa 2011 (Grenache, Syrah and Cabernet) I noted "woody woodpecker". Unfortunately Marcel wasn't showing his Cinsault or Aramon and I was shocked to learn that his delicious inexpensive Mouvedre is no longer made. This makes our couple of bottles sort of irreplaceable.

Mas d'Agalis (Lionel Maurel) Le Grand Carré 2014 (Terret, Clairette, Vermentino and Chenin Blanc) was certainly the wildest white on show - spiky, apples and nuts, refreshing. Will divide opinion but not mine. Yo no puedo mas 2013 (Carignan with Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault) is a red that ping-pongs savoury fruits around the palate and has become one of our favourites.

Villa Symposia (Eric Prissette) were the home team. The prevailing gale was keeping everyone cool and would have passed through their vines just seconds before reaching us. Blanc 2014 (Grenache, Carignan, Terret) is their best so far and they've absolutely nailed the level of oak to my taste i.e. you barely notice it. Amphora 2013 (Cinsault with some Syrah) is proper red wine with some grippy tannins yet supple character. Equilibre 2012 (Syrah plus Carignan, Mourvèdre amd Grenache) is more savoury with more length and obvious but well integrated oak.

Winemaker Nenko Dunev with venue owner Éric Prissette
David Caer pours his crunchy Cinsault

Clos Mathelisse (David Caer) makes one red, Exorde 2013 (Cinsault) which is our house and party wine - crunchy with hints of bitter cherries, uncomplicated inexpensive drinking. The only pure Cinsault on show but a good one. I think the secret is the cool north facing aspect of the vineyard.

Domaine Grégory White took over the promising Mas d'Arlenques a couple of years ago when the previous owner was forced to retire with back trouble. White is Rosé 2014 (Grenache, Cinsault) is a relatively rare no added sulphur rosé. Soft peach nose with a palate that lets the light in. Terret 2013 has hints of the sea and iodine and an acidity that isn't contrived. Jamais pas Soif 2014 (Grenache) I'd tasted a couple of months before and found it a touch too much heady fruit gourmandise, now seemingly calmer and more interesting.

Domaine Ribiera (Régis Pichon) have no red wine until the 2014s are bottled in a few weeks time. Y'a un Terret 2013 has a mineral flint character and structure that's rare in the midi. Canilles R... 2013 (Rousanne) manages to be a Rousanne that avoids being heavy and aromatic, the secret being no added sulphur apparently so the result is more northern Rhone than midi. Canilles 2014 (Clairette) is more subtle and understated with flowers, citrus fruits and fennel.

Grégory White enjoys his zero sulphite rosé
Cool as mid-summer's day - Christine and Régis Pichon

Friday, 1 May 2015

Montpeyroux Toutes caves ouvertes 2015

The annual Montpeyroux bash has suffered with rain over the past two editions. At least this year there were dry periods and mild temperatures with all the tasting taking place well under cover. At least the crowds were manageable and mild dull weather does not detract from the business of tasting.

There were 22 caves participating - 21 growers and the cooperative, so pretty much all the producers. An event like this requires a different perspective to a specialised wine fair where producers are selected from a wide area. Not everyone is producing wine that stands out, bears scrutiny or seeks international markets. Another challenge is there were a fair number (too many) 2014 wines on tasting that needed bottle time to integrate.

A very pleasant surprise was Le Petit Domaine, established barely 2 years ago by Julie Brosselin and Aurélien Petit. Between them they have practised oenology, being a caviste, tendering vineyards and making wine. Having restored a couple of abandoned old vine vineyards they have been able to become established in a village with some of the most expensive vine lands in the region. The Blanc with Terret and Clairette had delicious acidity and a lovely structure. The Cinsault dominated ne touche pas le grisbi 2013 (€13) was vibrant and evolving and I returned to make a purchase. Also interesting was a pure Syrah Myrmidon 2013 - crunchy, savoury, not too baked and drinking well.

Aupilhac put on a splendid show with over 16 wines on tasting including a table of mature wines going back to a somewhat peppery could be anything 2003. Showing particularly well was the "Lou Maset" 2013 a Grenache and Cinsault dominated blend. Essentially the domain's entry red (€7.80) there's a foundation of proper tannins with layers of red fruit. This is a cellar with some magical old vats. Delicious drinking that I preferred to the bigger, more leathery Montpeyroux 2012 (€14.70). The near legendary Le Carignan 2012 (€17.70) was still young and pretty tough, but extraordinarily complex in the mouth and a wine to chew on in the nicest sense.

Mas d’Amile have been making consistently excellent pure Carignan for nearly a decade. Like the Aupilhac, the Vieux Carignan 2013 (€10) was also complex en bouche. I'm surprised given the quality of the Carignan in the village more growers aren't inspired to attempt a pure cuvée.

Along with Aupilhac, Pascale Rivière's La Jasse Castel was showing a good selection. L'Égrisée (2014) blanc (Grenache with some Carignan blanc and Roussanne) was racy with intriguing floral and citrus grapefruit. The reds were all from 2013 and would have benefited from more bottle age, even the unoaked La Pimpanela was a little tight. Blue Velours (Carignan and Syrah) and Les Combariolles (Grenache) certainly showed some potential for keeping.

Disappointments? Domaine de l'Escarpolette was absent this year, unfortunate as there were some interesting wines on show two years ago. I also had hopes for Domaine du Joncas, but the reds especially were too crafted for my taste and not expressive enough to press any buttons.

The 8th (afternoon) and 9th May sees the Le Printemps Fête Ses Vignerons at nearby Saint Saturnin. This is essentially where all the domaines mainly to the east, north and west of Montpeyroux have their turn.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Wine Fair 3rd May

The 5th edition of the Festival des Vins Natures will be on 3rd May near Adissan, 10 Km north of Pezenas. The last edition was two years ago in Roquebrun - my comments are here. This years setting in a copse of trees with a commanding view and small chapel is equally attractive.

For those wishing to enjoy the late lunch the menu Roman Henry Niess is proposing (no vegetarian option - we asked) is :-

Tartine grillée à l'ail, oeufs mollets froid confits à l'huile d'olive au piment d'Espelette, ventrèche seche et jeunes pousses [essentially egg and bacon on toast]

Poitrine de cochon "Ibaiona" d'Eric Ospital, pommes de terre , condiments Savora/Moutarde [belly of pork with potatoes]

Ganache au chocolat et chantilly citron vert [chocolate with lime infused whipped cream]

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Salon des Vins Nature Bédarieux

This was a first visit to what has become a regular spring event in Bédarieux organised by Christine Cannac. Held in the small sheltered Place outside her wine bar Chai Christine Cannac, the organisation was exceptional. Having commented on the somewhat limited publicity, any more attendees would have made it overcrowded. To sustain everyone there was an efficient buffet serving inexpensive tasty plates. Live music boosted the atmosphere. All of the 64+ wines on tasting were for sale, but could only be purchased from the chai - a neat idea freeing the vignerons to devote all their attention to showing their wines. It also made buying much easier - I would have needed to return and interrupt four growers.

The overall standard of wines was high and nothing I tasted (just over half the wines) were overly volatile or funky. By and large the grapes were allowed to show some varietal characteristics. While it no doubt helped that all the bottles were brought by the producers, it can also be seen as a sign of vins naturels coming of age - at least for the growers invited and what they presented. Vintages were mainly 2013.

Mas D'Agalis is a wine I've enjoyed on several occasions but is rarely seen and overdue a mention on this blog. Made in Nébian between the "official" appellations of Terrasses du Larzac and Pezenas, the reality is that there are bits of terroir here with equivalent potential.Yo no puedo mas is a blend of the mainstream Languedoc red varieties and exudes balanced fruit with elegance and crunch. The white Grande Carré is half Terret with Vermentino plus several other varieties and showed a lovely structure with a citrus finish. With both at just under €10 a bottle these were some of the best value wines on show.

La Fontude also joins the category of rarely seen. Entremonde has Carignan and Aramon as the main grapes and I like the polished hardness and hint of nostalgic mouth feel on the palate.

The new to me Domaine Riverton was showing a particularly attractive Carignan Tombée du Ciel that oozed freshness with a fruit perfume the Roussillon can so well. The Blanc Bec was intriguing as I found it quite reductive - match head and flint - that would no doubt subside with a good decant and shake.

Mas Coutelou was showing an interesting rosé and two elegant and lively reds 5 SO (a pun on Cinsault) and Classe (Carignan). All were excellent value.

Yannck Pelletier's is an established name and his wines are seen on many of the regions best wine lists. L'Oiselet (Cinsault) has always been reliable over the years and this 2013 had nice mouth grip with cool and (but not over the top) gourmandise fruits.

Julien Peyras is another Hérault valley grower with vineyards above Paulhan north of Pézenas. My favourite was Lo Tarral (Grenach, Syrah, Carignan) with some nice supple fruit but at €14 not great value.

Léon Barral's wines stood out in more ways than one - style and price. There was more concentration and extraction than anything else tasted on the day. Potential was there for layers of complexity, but on the day integrated structure was lacking. Bottles to keep and revisit. One attendee I was chatting to was very enthusiastic over the €40 Valinières, no doubt seduced by the (well judged) oak ageing.

I deliberately tasted Domaine Ribiera and Clos Methélisse wines last as a point of reference. While I certainly had palate fatigue by then it did confirm that the the €11 and under wines were the stars on the day.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Wine Fair 4th April

A couple of Hérault wine fairs are coming up, both very much below the radar publicity wise.

Christine Cabac runs a (the) wine bar in Bédarieux and is the mastermind behind this Easter Saturday event. She emailed us the above fiche on request - better late than never. It should expand if you click on it.

The excellent list of 19 growers on the fiche is :-

François Aubry (Hérault) La Fontude, Brenas
David Auclair (Ardèche) La ferme du bout du ch’min, Étables
J. Audard, L. Boussu (Hérault) Domaine Monts et Merveilles, La Livinière
Gilles Azam (Aude) Domaine Les Hautes Terres, Roquetaillade
Didier Barral (Hérault) Domaine Léon Barral, Lenthéric
Vincent Bonnal (Hérault) Domaine de Pélissols, Bédarieux
David Caer (Hérault) Clos Mathelisse, Aspiran
Alain Castex (Pyrénées-O.) Casot des Mailloles, Banyuls-sur-Mer
Laurence Manya Krief (Pyrénées-O.) Le petit domaine de Yoyo, Albères/Banyuls
Lionel Maurel (Hérault) Mas d'Agalis, Nébian
Jean-François Nicq (Pyrénées-O.) Les foulards rouges, Montesquieu-des-Albères
Yannick Pelletier (Hérault) Saint-Nazaire-de-Ladarez
Julien Peyras (Hérault) Domaine Julien Peyras, Paulhan
Régis Pichon (Hérault) Domaine Ribiera, Aspiran
Axel Prüfer (Hérault) Le Temps des Cerises, Le Mas Blanc
Philippe Richy (Hérault) Domaine Stella Nova, Caux
Frédéric Rivaton (Pyrénées-O.) Latour-de-France
Jean-Louis Tribouley (Pyrénées-O.) Latour-de-France
Wim Wagemans (Hérault) Le bouc à trois pattes, Mons-la-Trivale

I have also been tipped off about a similar event on Sunday 3rd May near Adissan, between Pézenas and Clermont l'Hérault. Details will follow when I track them down.