Saturday, 21 April 2012

Bottling at Domaine Ribiera

A picture tells a thousand words, but in the case of bottling wine just a few words make it seem simple. Move the wine from the vat into a bottle, cork, add a capsule plus label and box ready for shipment. The challenge is to make this scale to over 10,000 bottles and complete the task in a couple of days.

The approach at Domaine Ribiera (Aspiran in the Pezenas terroir) is to use a compact mobile bottling unit. The advantages include the ability to set it up in a confined space, minimal wastage of wine in connecting pipes and a reasonable bottling rate; I timed over 20 a minute. A big disadvantage is that at least 7 people need to coordinate and work flat out.

The equipment is aligned like lego but requires manual intervention at every stage. One person feeds bottles into the amazing kit that precisely fills each bottle and rams in the corks (at the back of the picture above). The bottles are spewed onto a carousel where the loose capsules are placed over the neck by a number 2. The 3rd person moves these bottles onto a line that seals the capsule over the cork and rolls on the label (left of the top picture and below). The 4th person will fold cardboard into boxes so the 5th can pack cases of 6 bottles. A neat device then tapes each box up so that number 6 can pile them onto a palate (picture below). Those left over need to manage the whole operation, perform quality control, replace rolls of labels and tape, ensure a supply of new bottles, remove rubbish, manoeuvre palates and make coffee.

David Caer (Clos Mathelisse) on box duty

The wine by the way is 2011 Causse Toujours 80% Grenache 20% Syrah. I'll be sampling some after giving it a chance to settle down.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Rising Stars London Tasting

I was pleased, especially given I'm an amateur but obviously with a love of the region's wines, to be asked to nominate growers for this event and thereby join some illustrious company. The criteria was reasonably new and exciting ventures not available in the UK. All the contributions would be ranked to create an invite list and several of my nominations were exhibited. Some were present I would have nominated, but perceived them as risen stars or as having importers - a fickle thing as sadly many stockists are unable or unwilling to import regularly, or are simply not doing enough in the eyes of their suppliers.

There were 15 wineries along with samples from growers unable to travel to London. With hindsight, I would have tasted a broader range, but after 40 plus samples it becomes counter productive for my palate.

Gavin Crisfield La Traversée (Terrasses du Larzac) was my wine of the tasting - the 2009 is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault with heaps of intertwining layers of summer fruits, herbal perfumes and balancing savoury tannins. The cask sample of 2010 suggested it will be equally exciting. Until recently Gavin was the winemaker at La Sauvageonne and told me he had been eyeing up small well tended vineyards in the vicinity of nearby St Privat for years. Tucked under the cliffs of the Larzac plateau this is the area where Olivier Jullien has his sandstone Carlan vineyard. Also at the tasting, and almost a junior version of La Traversée, was the 2010 Les Vignes Oubliées. This is a venture between Jean-Baptiste Granier and Olivier Jullien to rescue abandoned vineyards in the same area. I've enjoyed previous vintages and, at roughly half the [euro retail] price of La Traversée and Carlan, excellent value.

Domaine Les Aurelles is very much an established star - I purchased a selection soon after the millennium and recall tasting older wines from the mid-1990s. What I admire about the reds is the absence of oak for wines equipped for ageing. I also admire the extensive us of Carignan. The simple, light and clean 2008 Déella and brambly meatier 2007 Solen have 60% along with Grenache. The white 2007 Aurel is a masterclass in what can be done with the tricky Roussane - youthful and understated. While memories plays tricks, I found these wines had a better balanced ripeness than older vintages.

I first tasted Domaine Turner Pageot's wines the previous July. Back then what took me by surprise, shocked even, were the whites. Le Blanc (2010?) is 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne, but for me the grapes are not the point here, as Emmanuel explained it's a wine with texture. I found concentration without being hard work to drink. 2011 La Rupture (early bottling sample) is Sauvignon Blanc for what it's worth; but with oak, indigenous yeasts and (again Emmanual explained) fermentation at a relatively warm 28 deg. it becomes something else. My previous description of coriander seeds and preserved lemon will have to do, and again there is a mystical texture. I can see these whites becoming an addiction. The reds were more conventional as it were. Grenache dominated 2010 Le Rouge showed great balance with supple tannins and is already delicious. Perhaps the nearest, in style and geography, to a Faugères at the tasting.

Domaine Sainte Cécile du Parc really does fit the term rising. Just north of Pezenas the estate was acquired in 2005 and has undergone massive replanting and winery construction. 2010 Notes Pures is Sauvignon Blanc in the freshest of styles - gooseberry and pineapple, an uncomplicated aperitif style. The reds on show were Syrah dominated. 2009 Notes d'Orphée is the unoaked version, attractive easy drinking with lovely fruit and is my pick.

Mas d'Amile make one wine, a stunning pure expressive of fresh Carignan. I've enthused about in the past here - it deserves to be imported. A favourite Domaine Jones was there as well - see my Outsiders posts.

Over in Roussillon Domaine Modat has vineyards on a 300m plateau rising to 500m. The white 2010 De ci de la (half Grenache Gris with Grenache Blanc and Macabeu) was rich, nutty, stony with lemon rind - definitely a wine I'll keep an eye out for. The reds were equally well made, although my palate fatigue was becoming advanced.

Judging from the simplistic price guide in the well presented catalogue, Mas de Cynanque in Saint Chinion could be offering some of the best value at the lower end of the price scale. 2009 Fleur rouge is Carignan dominated with a lovely drinkable cherry character. 2009 Plein grès (Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre) had interesting liquorice and mint flavours while 2010 Amicytia (mainly Grenache) was the most complex with layers of coffee, caramel and balanced fruit.

Also with wines in the value category is Chateau d'Or et de Gueules in the east of the region south of Nîmes - I liked the supple tannins and cassis with pepper of their 2009 Les Cimels (Syrah, Carignan and 20% Grenache). 20,000 bottles are listed as being available, enough I would have thought for the greediest nationwide retailer.

My overall impressions? Frankly I would enjoy drinking all the wines I tasted - the standard and consistency was high. The Languedoc factor of reds with rich ripe fruit but not shying away from a bit of tannin was on show in spades while the whites were as diverse as the region.