Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Mas du Pountil

On the memorable Ascention walk and picnic tasting with the winemakers on the summit of the Pic Baudille one property we've never tasted stood out as producing good value drinking at a more everyday price. Mas du Pountil at Jonquières has been in the Bautou family for generations and seen it all with modern winemaking starting in 2000.
«Gourmandise» 2006 is a Grenache dominated red blend with ripe sweetness, mouth filling red fruits and streaks of pepper and liquorice. This was a brilliant barbecue wine posessing some structure and is much more than a good quaff. 6€.
The Mas du Pountil rouge is Syrah, Grenache and Carignan dominated and partly oaked. The 2002 has a browning edge and is well into its plateau of maturity. Warm with cassis and liquorice. The palate is rounded and voluptuous, rubbery yet elegant. Quite easy to drink, but for just 23 € in a local Michelin starred restaurant (De Lauzun) a steal. Around 10€ at the caviste.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Mas d'Alezon 2005 (Red Faugères)

With the Languedoc sun and chaleur now well established then any red with refreshing characteristics is most welcome. Mas d'Alezon 2005, drunk on the terrace of a restaurant, had just that. Structured ripe fruit with a cool blackcurrent undertone supported by just a little spice, both on the nose and palate. A delicious mouthful but not a quaff - the length sees to that. The 12.5% alcohol seemed to give the subtle fruits a chance to shout. From Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre this is also another wine grown at altitude; 450m in this case, right on the northern tip of the Faugères appelation. Around €13 to €14. Mas d'Alezon is actually produced by Catherine Roque of Domaine de Clovallon, who makes our favorite special occasion Viognier and a good value cool Pinot Noir.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Alain Chabanon Dinner

Serious anticipation...........
This spring has seen some terrific tastings and dinners thanks to the team at Les Mimosas and the area’s producers. The latest was none other than Alain Chabanon hosting a dinner at Le Mimosa, and a big thank you to Alain for providing the wines free of charge. We have more of Alain’s wines than any other producer by a fair margin. One reason for this is simply down to their longevity and the older reds we drank on the night will still develop further. On a day that reached the mid-30 degrees C conditions were not ideal for serious red wine. Le Mimosa’s dining room was laid out with four long tables and helped generate a convivial atmosphere with Alain introducing each wine. The delivery and standard of the dishes served to the 50 of us never faltered. Rosé Trémier 2008 aperitif. Pale colour. Strawberry sorbet, herbs. Floral palate with a hint of bitters. Has the body of a food rosé but is hugely enjoyable on its own. Trélans 2006 hummus with seed and olive bread roll Vermentino and Chenin Blanc. Gentle toast, linseed oil, fennel and grapefruit. Racy, long palate that dances in the mouth. Trélans 2002 marinated citrus scallops Pale gold colour. Nuttier – hazel. Aromatic and again grapefruit, but balancing acidity. Took the lemon sauce with the scallops in its stride. I’ve had mixed experiences with Trélans and some years such as 2004 really need food, but this pair showed very well. Les Boissieres 2000 Magnum girolle and cheese mille feuille tart Mainly Grenache. Tinted red colour. Sweet leather and warm red berries with pepper. Full flavoured without being tannic and powerful. Campredon 2007 Magnum red mullet, prawn and shellfish Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Carignan. No oak. Full red, ripe heady and warm – cherry and cherry stone. Ripe tannins avoided problems with the seafood. Drink young or keep (the 2004 is still delicious) L’Esprit de Font Caude 2003 Magnum rabbit and its abats with mash Syrah and Mourvèdre. Browning colour. Warm, bay, mushroom and farmyard with a pepper palate. The searing heat of 2003 has made this approachable now but needs time to develop complexity. (the 1999, which has more extraction, is delicious now) Le Merle aux Alouettes 2001 incontournable à point cheese board Merlot and a little Grenache. Sweet, ripe and balanced. Full flavoured – blackberry. Did as well with cheese as any red. Again needs time to develop layers of flavour (the 1999, his first vintage of Le Merle, is drinking well now) Villard 2001/2003chocolate sponge, chocolate sorbet, apricot and crème brûlée Chenin Blanc. A blend of two years to get the balance right. Amber. Orange peel, bitters, raisins and caramel all concentrated on a steel backbone. Quite an evening.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Mas Jullien tasting and dinner

Mas Jullien’s wines are part of our history in the Languedoc. We discovered and fell in love with the area by accident in April 1993, renting a converted manger of a village house in Soubes near Lodeve for just a week through friends of a friend. We also discovered the amazing Le Mimosa restaurant where we were introduced to Olivier Jullien’s wines. A bottle of warming but supple 1991 Les Depierres red by a roaring wood stove will stick in the memory forever. From a family of vignerons in Jonquières, Olivier started back in 1985 after studying viticulture and oenology. Since then his journey seems to have been a quest for the ideal combination of terroirs by acquiring various vineyards in the folds of various soils that flow from the Larzac plateau and the Pic Baudille which dominates the Herault valley. 24 years on Olivier hosted a tasting and repas vigneron at La Terrasse du Mimosa in Montpeyroux. As the cepages vary from year to year, plus even Olivier’s memory is not perfect, my notes on the grapes used will be incomplete. Given how many different wines he makes the approach was to taste ready to drink and fully mature examples. Also bear in mind that most of these wines have been stored in an air conditioned cellar since bottling so have matured slowly and evenly. Mas Jullien White 1999 the first year a single white was made. Carignan Blanc, Chenin Blanc. Melon and aromatic herbs, heaps of acidity, oils. Good length and perfect balance. Presented as a “wine of the south with a goût of the north”. Mas Jullien White 2006 presented after the 1999 to show the progression in wine making. Fresh, citrus peel, grasses and minerals with a strapping palate. Blanc 2007 served afterwards with dinner – mineral blast, citrus peel reminiscent of Alsace like steeliness. Mas Jullien Rose 2008 Grenache, Carignan Blanc and others. Scarlet colour. Gariguettes (strawberry) and quince but not overly blowsy. Full bodied but dry. Delicious alone or with food. Red Les Etats d'Ames 1997 Being a Grenache based blend makes it approachable to drink young, but this proves it ages beautifully despite 1997 being a relatively difficult and forward year. Brick red. Ripe, supple, elegant with hints of farmyard, almost burgundian. À point maturity. Red Carlan Les Etats d'Ames 2004 First year from a sandstone vineyard at altitude tucked under the Larzac plateau. Grenache, cinsault, carignan. Elegant red fruits, rubber with herbs. Still has plenty of structure. Red Les Cailloutis 1996 (Magnum) Mouvedre, Carignan, Syrah, Grenache. Heady, ripe. Bay and game. Tannic grip but rounded, balanced and long. Illustrates the ageing potential, something Olivier admires about les Britanniques with their love of ageing wines. Red Les Depierres 1996 Syrah blend from schist terroir. Fresher, racier fruit with pencil, elegant, warm weight. Perfectly cellared. Mas Jullien Red 1999 In 1997 Olivier moved to making one Mas Jullien cuvee. Claret like mature fruit and wood. Chamois and daube with juniper. Pleasantly heady. The 2001 drunk with squab pigeon had the liquorice and prune characteristic of the best 2001’s. Clairette Beudelle (sweet) Vintage not noted. Made from partially dried (passerillés) Clairette grapes. Barley and honey with lemon, terrific concentration. Mas Jullien La Méjanne Blanc 2005 (sweet) Late harvest Chenin Blanc and others. Dry, fresh but weighty and grapey. Pineapple and gentian. Long and delicious. A very special evening.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Dry Whites - some favorites

In general the Languedoc is a red wine area as befits the climate. Most well known white grape varieties struggle to make dry whites that are anything other than heavy, flabby and lifeless. Grapes more suited to the chaleur – Rousanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Clairette to name a few, result in wines that are full bodied and aromatic; more herbal and grapefruit than the fresher, grassy, lemony mineral whites from further north. Relatively recently a new generation of wine makers have been planting or rejuvenating vineyards in the relatively cooler microclimates and at altitude. This goes some way towards simulating more northerly growing conditions. These are whites that we’ve enjoyed most and have been consistently fine.

Mas Julien Blanc. The blend varies over the years, but a touch of oak and usually some viognier make this vibrant and complex. Also ages well thanks to the balancing acidity. Not much is made and it’s always been sought after. Les Clapas Blanc Domaine Le Pas de l'Escalette Carignan blanc and Terret Bourret. Rescued vines at a heady 350m on steep limestone scree right under the Larzac plateau produce a flinty mineral white that’s impossible to place in the Languedoc. First vintage was 2003.

Mas Brunet Blanc Causse de la Selle. A causse is a limestone plateau and this one is over 200m above the gorges of the Herault. A delicious blend of Roussanne, Vermentino and Viognier that has flavours dancing around the mouth. A good value alternative to Les Clapas. “Les Aires” Domaine de Clovallon is a 100% Viognier made in the slightly fresher climate at Bedariux on the river Orb. In its more successful years it competes with the best Condrieu has to offer yielding plenty of the elusive apricot and peaches factor. The Pic St Loup area north of Montpellier is cool and wet for the region. Two whites have been consistent over the years.

Manon Clos Marie from Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Maccabeu, Carignan Blance and Clairette has subtle tropical fruit tones while

Les Mûriers Mas Bruguière is a fine example using the more aromatic Marsanne (80%) and Roussanne varieties which pulls off zippy citrus flavours.

Domaine de Bridau Picpoul de Pinet. Picpoul is the region's Muscadet. Relatively light, easy to drink, and ideal with shellfish and seafood. Domaine Bridau make a brilliant everyday wine at a miracle less than 4 € a bottle. Unlike most Picpoul, the vineyards are in the hilly garrigue behind Montagnac which gives what can be a fairly low key neutral style of wine a hint of fresh aromatic herbs. Hard to source although easy to buy from the property.

Muscat sec is another good buy (around 5 €) for a simple refreshing aperitif white. Three fine examples come from Mas des Chimères at Octon near lake Salagou - the land of basalt and the extraordinary red Permien era deposits; Domaine de Barrioubio St Jean de Minervois (also the address for elegant and racy sweet Muscat) and Domaine Treloar at Trouillas in the Pyrenees-Orientales with their One Block white (and an extraordinary effort from the unfashionable Muscat d'Alexandrie).

The most complex (and rarest) Languedoc dry white comes from the Grange des Pères at Aniane made from Rousanne, Chardonnay with a touch of Viognier and aged in oak for two years. Critical is the proximity of the Larzac plateau and Herault gorge that bring lower night time temperatures.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Blind tasting is tough

Wine tasting is hard. This week at a blind tasting I thought that La Pradel from Domaine La Terrasse d'Elise, a wine that's 100% Cinsault, was Pinot Noir. There is some comfort in this - I was not alone. Fortunately I didn't then have to pronounce where this Pinot Noir came from (St Jean de Fos, Hérault). Needless to say this is an exceptional Cinsault; elegant, ripe, balanced, full of fruit and flavour but not big. Delicious drinking. Perhaps worse was yet to come. When offered three glasses of white and told two are identical then identifying the odd one out should be easy. Wrong again. The trick here was that they were the same wine, it's just that one had been diluted with water. I blame the 30 plus degree Languedoc sun on that one.