Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Aspiran and the now closed Champ's Avenue & Vintage

Aspiran is a traditional wine village that was once famous for Clairette, a variety many of us would have tasted after some serious transformation into that noblest of vermouths Noilly Prat (recommended for cooking when anything originating from the sea is involved - I get through a couple of bottles a year). Today Aspiran has a co-operative on its last legs and a few, but gradually growing, band of independent vignerons. For some reason, perhaps the abundance of limestone and basalt based terroirs, quite a few vineyards are worked by growers from elsewhere.

The village even lends itself to a grape variety; Aspiran blanc, gris and noir. One of the oldest known in the Languedoc, pre phylloxera it was a major workhorse grape but most of it was gone by the 1950s. Also known as Ribeyrenc there's still some at Domaine Henry at St Georges d'Orques, Domaine Thierry Navarre at Roquebrun and Domaine de Centeilles in Minervois.

Located in the central Hérault valley Aspiran has a population of some 1250. When friends told us that a Champagne Bar had opened it was both jaw-dropping disbelief and elation. The village has a typical French bar but Champ's is totally complementary - smart but not posh and a place liquids of the vine take pride and place. Update - perhaps predictably the bar closed in 2011.

The owner Jean Paul was a vigneron in the Champagne region and sold up to presumably fulfil an ambition to create and run a wine bar. In a too narrow for vehicles central street what was once a shop has been totally renovated.

Original stonework has been exposed and cleaned. The entrance leads to three rooms with the bar in the back room. A small courtyard offers relief for smokers and atop an open spiral staircase is a delightful terrace.
Champagne obviously tops the bill and is extremely reasonably priced. Respected names that barely advertise are best value - Waris Larmandier, Legras & Haas, Duchene and Villmart. These can, and have, been enjoyed for around €26 a bottle and if you're with label drinkers then big names are also available. When it's time to move on to still wine a broad selection of commune and nearby domaines is stocked, although perhaps not as rigorously selected as the Champagne to my taste. That said, there are a few I've yet to try or not sampled for several years. My pick would be reds from Terrasses du Larzac Domaine La Sauvageonne and a white Rousanne Les Canilles from village grower Domaine Ribiera.

Champ's does a selection of tapas style dishes and, like most wine bars in the region, is also a cavist.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Graham, thanks for the tip: sounds like a must-see! Best, Louise