Friday, 29 April 2011

Montpeyroux Toutes caves ouvertes 2011

As local village wine events go this is the one to look out for. My first, back in 2003 on a sweltering June day, was a memorable family bash and included a twinning with the other Montpeyroux up in the Puy-de-Dôme. This made it replete with the likes of Aubrac cattle and aligot (melted cheese and potato). Subsequent years have been patchy on the animations and attendance front. One year it was cancelled altogether at a few weeks notice when someone twigged it clashed with the annual Roger Pingeon cycle race that needed open streets.

This year was well advertised and organised, well attended and blessed with ideal tasting sunshine. 17 Domaines is perhaps too much, especially as they they all offered at least three wines. Tactics were to start with the established stars with fresh palates.

A weeks holiday back in 1993 ended up in a nearby village by complete chance and marked a personal discovery of the region. A visit to Aupilhac was a wine highlight. These days the cave seems to have expanded into the houses next door, but there are still star wines. From a rather rapid fire tasting I would highlight Le Carignan 2009, still the regions benchmark for that grape, supple and complex with lovely grip. Montpeyroux Red 2008 and 2003 with the latter ageing well for the legendary canicule year. Cocalières 2008 red, from vines planted by Sylvain Fatat high above the village, had great elegance. Of the whites Cocalières 2010 blanc stood out - fresh white flowers and, in this vintage, the right amount of oak for me.

Along with Aupilhac, Pascale Rivière's La Jasse Castel set a very high standard. The 1998 vintage was her first and at the time the wines made a memorable impression with their clear expressive style. All four current wines impressed. L'Égrisée (2010?) blanc intriguing floral and citrus grapefruit, La Pimpanella 2009 a straightforward red with heady primary fruits and quite gourmandise, La Jasse with its seductive Syrah that doesn't bully. Finally La Combariolles proved that serious Grenache is growing on me, but is sadly expensive to make (€27). Pascale also invited us to taste a stunning library selection going back to 2000. It proves the wines age well with the great 2001 vintage shining along with 2000. Plenty of complex mushrooms and forest floor.

Also of note was Alain Chabanon's wines. Campredon 2009 rouge with a nice perfume and balance offers plenty for €10. L'Esprit de Font Caude 2006 was surprisingly expressive but needs time to develop complex layers - it has a track record, Alain has been making it for at least 10 years.

Mas d’Amile make one wine, a pure Carignan that I discovered at the 2009 Montpeyroux bash. The 2007 has developed hedgerow flavours and still has great meaty tannins. 2008 is supple and fresh while the 2009 is earthier and currently a bit chunkier. All recommended and great value at around €8.

Three other estates sadly disappointed with two hampered by following the stunning quality of La Jasse Castel. Next year will need a strategy that visits more caves.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Grand new order revisit #1

It was 8 months ago I posted here about the proposed new hierarchy for Languedoc wines. After a splendid but tiring day at the Montpeyroux's "Toutes Caves Ouvertes" I relaxed with a mug of tea to catch up on Sunday's regional daily paper the Midi Libre. The Languedoc wine hierarchy was front page news - read the on-line version, in French, here. There isn't anything particularly new in the article. Five of the appellations involved have voted and signed up, but with no indication as to whether this progress matches any plan or timetable.

I subsequently found a press dossier issued by CIVL and dated 2011 here which looks to be a key source for the Midi Libre article. Quite why this didn't appear back in August to keep up the momentum and clarify rumours perhaps hints at the politics involved. Interestingly, the introduction states the criteria for Grand Vin and Crus is "qualitatifs et économiques". The only elaboration on the quality aspect is a restriction on yield, how long the wine stays in the cellars and that wines are bottled locally - but no mention of harvesting techniques. Obviously these are in addition to the underlying AOC rules.

The press release includes this useful bit of "power point".

For me, two key points come out of the press dossier.

Firstly, it reveals hard evidence that the classification is very tenuously based on the quality of the wines and their terroir i.e. as would be revealed by a tasting or looking at current market prices. Back in August I was shocked that Faugères had only been classified as a Grand Vin and not a Grand Cru. The Terrasses du Larzac is a Grand Cru but the dossier reveals that Montpeyroux and Saint-Saturnin, villages geographically, climatically and geologically at the heart of the Terrasses du Larzac, are merely Grand Vins. If anyone from CIVL was at the Montpeyroux Toutes Caves Ouvertes and actually tasted the wines they will realise something is very wrong and there are big problems. Another upshot of the Montpeyroux and Saint-Saturnin islands is to add unnecessary complexity and confusion.

Secondly, there is a strong emphasis on the price of wine at the heart of this. Appellations that qualify geographically to be Grand Crus, a status depicted as being at the top of the pyramid, will only be able to label their wines as such if they retail at €10 or more. For the middle tier of Grand Vins the price is between €3,5 and €10. The principle here is that if producers and retailers cannot sell their wines at these price points then it will have to be labelled AOC. So, Grand Cru becomes a badge that says this wine comes from a designated AOC and can be yours for at least 10€. An upside of this is that the middlemen will need to satisfy themselves that the Grand Cru wines they buy will shift at over 10€ and hence focus them on rigorous selection. No doubt the hope over time is for Languedoc Grand Cru and Vins to gain a quality reputation with consumers. As a consumer, I would also expect hand harvested grapes for a 10€ plus bottle, a quality aspect that's not mentioned.

Here's a telling quote in the Midi-Libre article from the Director of the the AOC Languedoc Jean-Philippe Granier.
"Un grand cru à 10 €, ce n’est pas du luxe, c’est la réalité. Aujourd’hui on trouve des produits superbes à des petits prix. A l’heure actuelle seul un connaisseur peut s’y retrouver. Pas un Chinois. Un grand cru ou un grand vin, c’est plus facile à comprendre.".
My translation is that "Grand Cru quality does cost 10€ but at present only connoisseurs can unearth these great bargains. A Chinese consumer would have no chance until he/she can read "Grand Cru" on the label."
In reality little will change for connoisseurs as many of the best wines will be made outside the "Grand" territories or use non-qualifying grape varieties.

Obviously for me the Languedoc is about Independent Vignerons because they make the most exciting wines crafted from vine to bottle by characterful dedicated individuals. The problem being tackled here is the prosperity of the wine business as a whole, something as important to the region as Finance is to London. Just as politicians never please everyone, CIVL must be in the same position - they too have procedures involving voting.

Back to Montpeyroux. Today they can use the village name on labels and must see that as a bigger brand today than Terrasses du Larzac or Grand Cru. As far as only achieving Grand Vin status I propose a couple of theories; a ploy by CIVL to get them to embrace the Terrasses du Larzac combined with no big negociants producing in Montpeyroux so it's all below the radar in the overall scheme of things. Somewhere "seul un connaisseur peut s’y retrouver".

For more on this I'd recommend Ryan's O'Vinyards blog - just type CIVL in the search box. In the meantime I suspect it may be less than 8 months before returning to this topic.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

La Réserve d'O Red 2008

I've been close to commenting on the wines of Marie Chauffray's La Réserve d'O but held off while waiting for a late season repas vigneron last year that was unfortunately called off. However, this bottle of 2008 red I've just picked up impressed and is worthy of an immediate mention. I'd enjoyed the 2005 (their first vintage) and 2006 over the past couple of years, although the latter become disappointingly closed of late. La Réserve d'O 2008 oozes ripe blackberries and sweet chestnuts with an almost lemon verbina freshness. Supple with a nice mouth-filling structure yet subtle at the same time. The vineyards are 400m up the slopes of the Larzac above Arboras - a small neighbour of Montpeyroux. The cépage 50% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 10% Cinsault apparently.

I've also tasted the wine's heady and opulent big brother Le O on a couple of occasions (60% Syrah, 40% Grenache). No doubt an even better wine but most of the time I prefer the more restrained La Réserve d'O that's also two thirds the price at €11.50. Perhaps having 40% rather than 60% Syrah is one reason? All I need to do now is secure a few more bottles.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Domaine des Trinites

I'd heard good things about Simon and Monica Coulshaw's Faugères based Domaine des Trinites from friends so an opportunity to visit, albeit in a group of over 40 others, was hopefully going to be a vinous pleasure as well as a social one.

Trinites is really two domaines in one. 24 hectares are split between vines on the schist soils of Faugères around Roquessels and less than 5 Kms away around Montesquieu. Here the land is mixed and includes limestone, basalt and other schists with the result that the area has been classified in the relatively distant Pézenas appellation. My overall impression after the tasting was more than just well made wines at a price point (from €4 to €8 and not much more for the last wine). They are uncomplicated but lively, well balanced and let their lights shine. The 2007s are a glorious first effort.

First were two whites. Viognier 2009 and Rousanne 2008 were grown on the Pézenas parcels. The Viognier was more herbs and grasses than fruit and would disappoint someone expecting classic aromatic apricot notes. The Rousanne was linseed and melon meets apple peel, a very attractive food white and a bit of a bargain.

Rosé 2009 was dry and mineral with a perfumed palate, very much Provence style and ideal with a meal. Made from the free running lightly coloured juice (saignée) of mainly Syrah.

2007 was the Coulshaw's first harvest after purchasing the estate, the under performing Domaine du Moulin de Couderc and a name re-used for one of their Faugères reds.In 2008 the devastating early September hailstorm only spared the Rousanne and was a massive blow for established growers let alone new arrivals.

Simon and Monica
Pézenas Tradition 2007 showed elegant light ripe red fruits with hints of mild coffee beans. Soft with a mature roundness. Simple yet drinks well. I tried a bottle a few days later and it didn't disappoint. 70% Grenache plus Syrah and Carignan. Simon talked about the challenges making Grenache poses and he's clearly equal to the task.

Faugères Tradition 2009 has more structure and nice gripping tannins with darker fruits, pepper and spices. Do the terroirs make a difference? Here my vote would go to the differences due to the cépages. This Faugères has 40% Syrah and 30% each of Mouvedre and Grenache.

Pézenas les Dèves 2007 is a fuller version of the Tradition with more pepper and hints of thyme (Grenache reduced to 50%). Sort of a weekend wine to the midweek Tradition.

Faugères Mourels 2007 is meatier and sweeter with a richer finish than its Tradition counterpart. It also ups the Syrah content.

To finish there was an interpretation of Simon's curiosity to emulate one of his favourite wines Côte Rôtie. A Syrah/Viognier 2007 oak aged with 90% Syrah from a schist vineyard. This didn't do much for me - too much oak vanilla that hides its roots and I found the structure curious even though the idea is for the Viognier to soften the Syrah. I would keep a few years to aid integration. I also admit to not having tried a Côte Rôtie for many years.