Sunday, 27 September 2009

La Terrasse d’Elise tasting and dinner

Xavier Braujou started La Terrasse d’Elise in 1998 but it was 2001 before his range started to expand. I was introduced to his wines through a mixed tasting case bought in the UK back in 2004 from Mike and Liz Berry who now run Vins Fins de la Crau in Provence. This was another terrific repas vignerons at La Terrasse du Mimosa in Montpeyroux with Xavier there to introduce his wines.

Saint Jean de Fos is where the Herault gorge exits to the plain having swathed through the high Larzac plateau and this results in a microclimate of cooler nights. Nature dominates Xavier’s total approach from minimal vineyard treatments through to several of his cuvees even avoiding the use of sulphur.

Le Puech n°8 (Chardonnay) 2008 A cask sample hence the slightly foggy grape juice colour. Grapey and honeyed with a lemon sherbet palate and gentle bitters finish. Not at all varietal, just as I recall a much earlier vintage was.

Rose 2008 Luminous garnet. Rose hips and raspberry. Sorbet like freshness. Delicious but feels alcoholic. Cinsault and Carignan.

Le Pradel 2005 (Cinsault) Light colour. Vegetable, beetroot and boiled sweets make it intriguing and attractive to smell. This was the wine I mistook for Pinot Noir at a blind tasting in the spring. Palate seems new world in style – fine tannins, clean and relatively simple fruit. Doesn’t seem Languedoc, probably because so little quality Cinsault red is made in the region.

Le Pradel 2006 (Cinsault) Red fruits, quite spirity. Plumy fruit body with good structure – serious yet remarkably fresh. Developed well over a few minutes.

Le Pigeonnier 2004 (Carignan) Fuller colour. Liquorice and soft leather. Berries and chunky but evolves all the time and is extraordinarily fresh.

Le Pigeonnier 2005 (Carignan) Rhubarb, cherry and lychees (Nico’s observation). Lemon balm palate with great acidity and finish. Yes it is red wine. The finest Carignan I recall tasting and my wine of the evening.

Elise 2002 (Syrah and Mouvedre, aged 2 years in barrels) Blackcurrant with lemon. Elegant, racy, great length. Felt like there should be more, but that’s probably from tasting too many Languedoc blockbusters – this is more Northern Rhone. Worth keeping to see if the flavours start to layer.

Elise 2003 (Syrah and Mouvedre, aged 2 years in barrels) Sweaty, animal with mouth coating tannin. Quite baked. If the 2002 is cool Rhone this is Spain. 2003 was of course the difficult year of the canicule. Went very well with the sublime roast lamb later in the evening.

Mas de Blanc 2003 (Merlot) Prunes and chocolate. Baked and hot. Not good evidence that Merlot is at home here – would have been nice to try a cooler year.

The reds all show an underlying personal style – freshness, elegance and a racy acidity. These were also drunk after the tasting with the delightful meal and were not phased by red mullet, chocolate roulade or even the strong herbed fromage Boulette d’Avesnes. My only gripe would be that after four hours of tasting and drinking the style began to tire – as would any style. I much preferred the Le Pradel and Le Pigeonnier - the latter a very reasonable €13, nearly half the retail price of the Elise.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Dégustation à l’aveugle (Blind tasting)

La Terrasse du Mimosa in Montpeyroux is running blind tastings on the second Monday of the month. It’s an informal stand-up tasting around the bar and there’s no charge. One brings a bottle (disguise the label of course) and sommelier Nico orchestrates proceedings, which is to say he pours the wine and does much of the analysis. Guessing as to what the wine is isn’t really the point. It’s to personally decide whether you like and enjoy the wine without any preconceptions generated by seeing the label and knowing the price.

This tasting was well attended; I counted 17 of us, including local star Alain Chabanon, and there were 10 wines. There’s no theme to the wines people bring so the resulting selection can be pretty eclectic.

  1. Ballade en Straminer (Gewürztraminer) 2007 Domaine de Bachellery.
    Aromatic but fresh and quite racy. At the grapefruit end of the Gewurtz spectrum that I like. Alsace on steroids – only on revealing the bottle were the more tropical flavours apparent.
  2. Malaga Blanc, Thailand Unlabelled bottle.
    Can’t recall a wine with so little colour. Dry, strange herbs and minerals. The panel though it could be Muscadet. Clearly needs some spicey Thai food. Apparently Louis XIV gifted the Malaga vines to the King of Siam 200 plus years ago.
  3. Picpoul de Pinet 2007, Domaine St. Martin de la Garrigue
    Full straw colour. Sweet oak nose (despite being no use of oak....), dry elegant acidity. Bitters finish with a touch of pine. Certainly surprised everyone.
  4. Domaine de la Petite Gallée, "Vieilles Vignes” (Gamay), Coteaux du Lyonnais
    On to the reds. Garnet colour. Firm fruit, metallic mineral, redcurrant. Good structure but straight. Could well be worth ageing. Apparently made from gamay vines planted in 1896.
  5. Domaine du Grand Crès 2002 (red), Corbières
    Ripe blackberry fruit leaps out of the glass. Delicious liquorice palate. Everyone heaped praise on it. I though it very much like Domaine Barroubio Cuvée Marie Therese
  6. Domaine Saparale Casteddu 2006 (red), Corsica
    Mulberry fruit. Hot, tannic, noticeably alcoholic. A bit edgey, almost clumsy, perhaps needs time to settle down – or is it just rustic?
  7. Domaine Croix de St Privat ''Cuvée du Papé Laurent '' 2007, Aniane
    Quite rubbery with some mineral. Peppers and cassis, brazil nut sweet ripeness. By now most peoples palates were becoming a little disorientated (Aniane is only a few kms away)
  8. Gigondas Cuvée Prestige 2006 François Arnaud
    More constrained nose than the predecessors. Soft berry fruit, quite hot finish. Food wine. I would keep this.
  9. TMV Syrah 2006, Swartland South Africa
    Spicy and leathery, smokey. Fine tannins and good balance. Not obviously Syrah – one taster suggested Cinsault.
  10. Teófilo Reyes Crianza 1996, Ribera del Duero Spain
    Browning red. Sweet ripe farmyard. Mature, long and flavoury. À point now, but old enough to be from anywhere hot.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Organic Wine - inevitable?

Shaun Hill, one of Britain’s finest chefs and restaurateur, wrote a few years ago in his book How to Cook Better that “organic is good, but not all good things are organic”. He was talking about buying vegetables and fruit, but as far as wine is concerned there may be a long way to go.

Simplistically I observe the evolution of organic wine production as having three ages: -
  1. Early enthusiasts. Here organic production is mainly by newcomers to grape growing and wine production. Results are mixed, mainly due to inexperience.

  2. Leaders convert. Established growers set out to become organic. Commercially this will add value by giving the wine a marketing edge; but for many producers I’d like to think it’s simply a case of being the right thing to do in the quest for a better environment – after all their families live and work in their vineyards.

  3. Organic is the norm, where consumers expect their purchases to be organic and not being so is a distinct disadvantage.
In the Languedoc at least, age two is now an irreversibly underway as evidenced by domains such as Aupilhac, Mas Bruguiere, Virgil Joly and Alain Chabanon. Julia’s post on the Montpellier organic wine fair suggests there are now over 300 certified producers in the Languedoc.

Personally there’s another key aspect. As someone who loves to walk and cycle in vinelands, then the sight of vines on scorched earth and skeletons of dead plants is, frankly, sad and repulsive. Just as serious is the impact of the weed killers responsible on my foraging for salade sauvage.

Of course things are never black and white. Many producers are effectively organic but haven’t become certified because they would like the option to spray in an emergency – the emergency being the otherwise severe cut in quality grape production and hence income. Then there’s time and all that certification paperwork. Growers who don’t use weed killers will at least have more natural looking vineyards and keep my eyes happier.

Will we ever get to stage three? That will depend on consumers so in general no, but for fine wine maybe.

Do organic wines taste better? I haven’t tasted enough to comment, but most I’ve had recently have been fine and do possess a purity about them. Much has been written, but one point that seems key is that organic wines need skilled winemaking as there is less scope for the winemaker to manipulate the final product. This, and consumer apathy, could leave many producers struggling to make it to the first age.

Scorched earth