Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Domaine de Malavieille Permian Rouge

The Terrasses du Larzac's Domaine de Malavieille is just off the western edge of Lake Salagou close to Octon, home of the well known Mas des Chimères that shares a similar terroir. The landscape is dominated by a red soil and red rippling hillsides known, at least locally, as Ruffes. This is oxidised fine grained sandstone formed some 250 million years ago at the end of what Geologists call the Permian era. Mixed in with this is basalt from volcanic activity - the picture below was taken at the base of an eroded volcanic plug.

A blend of Carignan, Grenache and Cinsault the 2006 Permian Rouge is the domain's entry red. It has gentle soft red fruits with suggestions of mint and a cherry stone finish. An uncomplicated but satisfying drink and good value at €6, although younger vintages will be a bit more and sport an all red label. Definitely on my distressingly short list of red wines with some interest and character for under €6. Malavieille has also been certified bio for several years.

The domaine also makes a Carignan dominated red Le Mas de Bertrand from vineyards over the hill in the Saint Saturnin - Montpeyroux axis, a wine that also offers excellent value for that terroir.

Monday, 20 September 2010


Several northern white grapes have been planted in the Languedoc over the past 20 plus years. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc along with Viognier from the northern Rhone are the most obvious examples, mainly driven by fashion and are hence easier to sell. Chenin Blanc isn't fashionable, but does well because it keeps its acidity.

Vermentino has its base in southern Italy. In the Languedoc it was, until quite recently, commonly referred to as Rolle. This is Vermentino's northern outpost where it ripens late and is more likely to result in a more mineral style of wine. While usually a modest proportion in a blend, I would like to see more near 100% Vermentinos made - I know of less than half a dozen Languedoc examples.

Chateau Malautié is in Aspiran between Pézenas and Picpoul country to the south and the Terrasses du Larzac to the north. Malautié is a long established independent in what is a fading bastion of Clairette and a cooperative that only supplies wine tankers. Their Vermentino is gently floral with a lemon balm background. It has all the acidity of Picpoul with the tropical fruits toned down a notch, plus at €6 is at a similar price point. I love it as an apero. The 12% alcohol is also welcome.

Malautié also make an oaked version I haven't tried, but I did have a glass in a restaurant the other day of a young oaked Vermentino  Domaine Fons Sanatis from Saint-Jean de Fos in Terrasses du Larzac country. The oak transforms it into something different and it will no doubt gain in complexity, as it should for around €20.

An alternative in the Malautié mould is Domaine Saint Hilare on the edge of the Picpoul Appelation. I find their basic inexpensive un-oaked Vermentino by far their most successful wine.

Outside the region it may be easier to buy Corsican examples and, outside of France, look to Sardinia. Even so, they seem to be few and far between - something that should change.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Vendange manuelle

It’s surprising how many friends one bumps into at the excellent Pézanas Saturday market despite the crowds who flock there in season. The Cores from Mas Gabriel in nearby Caux (my previous posts here) were taking it relatively easy for a few days having bagged the Carignan Blanc vendage and were waiting for their red varieties to ripen. Would you like to come and do some picking? was almost a passing comment. After a quick assessment of my back (now improved having quit a 30 year career sat at a keyboard or in meetings) along with a “is this a polite invitation or a time of need call” I said yes.

The day started at 7 a.m. when it’s just light enough to see a bunch of grapes. The training course at three sentences was the shortest I’ve ever experienced. 1. Cut the bunches with the secateurs next to the cane as this will free two bunches at once (at least it does with Syrah). 2. Put the bunches into your bucket that can be emptied into cagettes (basically airport x-ray machine bins) strategically placed between the vines. 3. Finally, and most importantly, no grappons – these are small unripe bunches on thin tendrils resulting from later growth and flowerings.

Day 1 young syrah. Picking is done in groups of 2 or 3 to a row so the trained vine can be tackled from both sides and to make it a social event. Young vines are green harvested to give three bunches and avoid overstressing the vines. They also have relatively few leaves so easy pickings – this is definitely low hanging fruit. Picking was faster than tractor transportation to the winery so stretch breakes seemed frequent. Cloud rolled in by lunch time and kept the heat down. Before 3.30 p.m. it was job done. 1750 litres of de-stemmed grapes and juice. At the post analysis beer consumption meeting the forecast rain for the next day was discussed. Solution was to find an internet site ( that wasn’t forecasting rain.

Day 1 sunrise

Off to the winery

Day 2 adult syrah. A few more vines and a couple of less pickers. Denser foliage and more bunches made for slower picking than transport capacity so less breaks. Young girl whizzes along with Edward Scissorhands action - turns out she's done some hairdressing. Post lunch was clearly an effort with concentration needing to overtake conversation. The sun was out now. Even so, by 4 p.m. it was job done.

Day 2 and job done. Unfortunately one picker is incapable of standing.

Meanwhile, back at the cave.

For a different perspective do see Rosemary George’s account of the Mas Gabriel white harvest.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Foire aux Vins

September is the season of the French supermarket “Foire aux vins” – wine sales. It coincides with vintage time, presumably as everyone needs to move stocks on and make space in the cellars and warehouses for more wine.

Midi Libre, the department’s daily local paper, devoted a full page to the matter. I was a bit shocked to read that wine from Domaine Henry (Saint-Georges-d’Orques near Montpellier) would be appearing in the sales. This estate is long established and right up there with finest of the region, making wines that deserve some ageing – I still have some 2001. The wines are only sold to cavistes and négociants and in this case have been sold on to a supermarket as they weren’t selling or an export order fell through. The article states the wine is 18,95 € “Foire des vins” price but only 16 € from the property, which will also be the caviste price.

This isn’t an isolated example. This Midi-Vin caviste’s blog is rightly keen to point out they sell Clos Marie L'Olivette (a top Pic St Loup estate) at 13,30 € vs. 15,50 € at a supermarket, although after deliver charges there won't be much in it.

Both the intermediary and supermarket are making money out of this at the expense of the consumer who presumably thinks "foire aux vins" means a bargain. Perhaps more worrying is that these are established wines that are struggling to sell. Maybe, but I’ll be optimistic and believe that the cavistes or négociant is taking the lazy route to shift the wine in these examples.

Note that non-foire supermarket prices I’ve seem are generally identical to a caviste’s.