Wednesday, 31 March 2010

“Traditional” Languedoc red wine?

If asked what a traditional Languedoc red wine was I would proffer a blend at least two of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Mouvèdre and perhaps Cinsault in reasonably balanced proportions. With the reality that the vines planted have come and gone over the centuries then either these varieties are it, or traditional red hasn’t been made since phyloxera forced total replanting over 100 years ago.

For most producers these are benchmark wines. One of my all time favourite examples was Domaine Alain Chabanon's Font Caude Tradition. I say was, because 2000 was the last vintage he produced. Four years later he launched Campredon, but that has a different objective – unoaked, can be drunk young and is ready to go after 6 months thus keeping the price down, making room in the cellar and no doubt providing much needed cashflow. By contrast his “Tradition”, a wine that built Alain’s considerable reputation earlier in the 1990s, took the best part of 3 years to exit the cellar. Fortunately I still have a few bottles of the 2000 to reminisce over, a 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 10% Mouvèdre blend.

Alain Chabanon Font Caude Tradition 2000 Savoury, red berries with tobacco and a touch of chocolate. An understated wine that you need to meet half-way. Consumed over two evenings the empty bottle still yielded a gentle perfume for hours.

Looking at the excellent technical fiche provided with the wines it’s interesting that the yield was 35 hectolitres/hectare – well over 50% higher than his other reds, the Syrah dominated L’Esprit, Grenache Les Boissiers and Merlot Merle aux Alouettes. While I’m all for winemakers moving on, and it’s one reason why the Languedoc is so exciting, why abandon something so good? Despite branching out as well, nearby Domaine d’Aupilhac for example still makes excellent Montpeyroux rouge usually containing all five of my “traditional” grapes.

At least I have now found a worthy alternative in Domaine Treloar's Three Peaks. Curiously, the 2007 has the identical assemblage in exactly the same proportions with the same yield as the Font Caude 2000. Even the soil types are both described as argilo-calcaire, albeit the domains are over 130 Km apart.

Domaine Treloar Three Peaks 2007 Dried cherries, bay and tobacco. Ripe, round and mellow fruit which characterises the best Roussillon reds. The next day it became deliciously brambly with good length.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Rosé tasting in London

I have to admit that, on the back of the coldest winter for 30 years, the 2nd March for a London Sud de France rosé tasting was going to need something special. This came in form of a day of Languedoc quality spring sunshine that beamed through the front window of the Maison de la Région Languedoc-Roussillon on London's Cavendish Square (the address “behind John Lewis” will make better sense to Londoners). Obviously the timing is dictated by the need for the new vintage to reach retailers and restaurants in time for, well, appropriate rosé weather.

The 109 wines were sorted by price. This makes being objective tough, but with the sheer number involved any other system would probably mean chaos. At lease a splendid brochure eased navigation. Styles ranged from plain fruity through to slightly more serious dry food wines. As would befit a statistical normal distribution most clustered in between. Personally I like rosé to be pure, fruity and balanced with something to savour – those that slip down too easily leads to regrets. I can’t taste 109 wines in one go, but managed 47 with none of the oral after effects whites or reds would have inflicted – must be a complement to the wines and their style. My selection was made by trying properties relatively near to the Herault valley along with examples from farther afield.

Overall impressions?

There were plenty of worthy specimens at all price levels. That said, the presence of volatile acidity (pear drops or at worst nail polish remover) inflicted at least six wines. It’s a fine line though; a couple had just a trace that actually enhanced the wine – a nice hint of quality tinned pears.

There were wines from big producer/blenders, cooperatives and independent vigneronnes with no one sector standing out. Some of the larger producers entered several wines and surprisingly most were inconsistent despite a house style. The several wines from Saint-Chinian and environs (Orb valley) seemed the most consistent and reliable.

Various grape varieties are used, either as a single variétal or blended. While the visibly pinker and fruitier wines contained Syrah, the hand of the winemaker seems to have more influence on the overall result.

In general the entry level wines (from €1.50 ex-cellars) were lighter with strawberry and raspberry fruit progressing to more complex peach and melon aromas that lower yields generate. Here are some solid specimens, some more interesting wines and a couple of disappointments.

Les Vinobles Montagnac, Cuvée Saint André was the cheapest wine in the tasting and had an attractive light raspberry colour; dry and clean with hints of pine and herbs. Simple food wine.

Paul Mas Claude Val Rosé was perhaps the pick of the sub €2 (ex-cellars) wines. Fresh clean simple strawberry in a touch more concentration than its peers. Also showed better than the other two Paul Mas wines.

Cave de Roquebrun Col de Lairole attractive colour with nice strawberry fruit. Herbaceous, some sweetness but nice fruit. First runs on the board for Saint-Chinian.

Mont Tauchmoint Tauch, Le Village du Sud Unclean nutty smell although the tutti-frutti palate fared better.

Les Vignerons de Montblanc, Les Fleurs Touch of pear and a pleasant flavourful fruit salad palate. Good party fayre.

Domaine Borda, Faugeres Refreshing herbs and flowers but a bit short.

Chateau Saint Martin des Champs, Saint-Chinian Floral red fruit aroma, nice mouthful. Good apero style.

Domaine de Familongue Eté and La Basitide aux Olivers These wines are virtually identical in make up and with only one tasting glass their similarities far outshone any differences. Dry, mountain ham and nuts. Plenty of interest and a good food wine. Familongue produce good value wines in an area overflowing with big names. A bargain at €2.65 (ex-cellars).

Chateau St Martin de la Garrigue Clean, simple and well made but that’s it. Probably from recently planted vines at this excellent prestigious property near Montagnac.

Chateau viranel Another Saint-Chinian that showed well – raspberry and cherry, melon in the mouth but not too sweet.

Chateau de Lancyre A well established name in the Pic St Loup, but one of the wines where pear drops upset the balance.

Les Vignobles Assemat Domaine des Garrigues Lirac (Rhone). Fresh fruit with floral peach and herbal taste. Refreshing.

Rambier Ainé et ses Enfants, Les 3 Filles The poorest wine tasted. Sweaty, musty, resins, flat. Frosted bottle and naff label says it all.

Domaine de Nizas Sherbet, clementine and some aromatic garrigue. Different from the rest and really quite intriguing.

Domaines Julien & Fils, Cabrals From the outskirts of Beziers another different style. Lingering grapefruit aroma with pleasant floral and mineral notes. More like a white wine and quite interesting.

Domaine La Croix Belle, Le Caringole Hints of liquorice and mountain ham. Melon and peach in the mouth. Nice classy party fayre and worth €4.30 (ex-cellars). Property that Rosemary George is a fan of - see Rosemary's blog article.

Domaine des Carabiniers Tavel Nutty, classy boot polish. Nice chewy palate. Closer to a very light red than rosé.