Posts Tagged ‘Maury’
Andover Wine Friends’ September tasting featured a comparison between two very different French wine regions: Sancerre very much in the middle of this large country in the aptly named ‘Central Vineyards’ and Roussillon, 600 kilometres further south and on Spain’s Mediterranean border.
The contrasts between the two regions are marked:
The wines tasted were mainly from two estates Janet and I visited in October 2010 and June 2011: Henri Bourgeois in Chavignol, Sancerre and Domaine Gayda, near Bugairolles, just in Languedoc but with vineyards in Roussillon as well. This was a great opportunity to reassess the wines away from the ‘bonus’ factor of being at the winery.
Bourgeois’ Sancerres more than stood up to the test – they are wines with a great sense of place, full of flavour, and with a great balance between their fruit, the mineral notes and the characteristic acidity of grapes in a fairly northerly latitude. The fairly basic ‘La Bougeoisie’ AC Sancerre 2007 has sophisticated gooseberry and grapefruit fruit, with just a hint of lime and more exotic fruit and a good refreshing length. Jadis, Sancerre 2008 is a much more substantial affair: made with the fruit of old vines (50 years and more) like the other wines it is part fermented in stainless steel and part in oak. It is still extremely young but has a powerful nose and palate of melon, asparagus/grass, some enticing floral elements with some as yet unintegrated blockiness. Great persistence. By contrast, Etienne Henri, Sancerre 2002, manages to hold together the sweet roundedness of the oak (this is fermented in oak barrels) and the rich fruit, ranging from melon to grapefruit to lime peel. The ageing means there is less immediate attack but a big bonus in terms of complexity and completeness.
We stayed in central France briefly. Unfortunately our bottles of simple Sancerre Rouge had somehow mysteriously been drunk before I put this tasting together … Pinot Noir does not stand much of a chance in our house unless it is carefully secluded in the fairly impenetrable depths of the wine store. So we made do with a bottle of Pinot from Chablis producer, Vignoble Dampt, just a 100 kilometres away in the most northerly part of Burgundy – pale, mild cherry and savoury notes. I like this style because it is clearly Pinot from a cool site but many others were underwhelmed.
Meanwhile down south, Domaine Gayda shows a typical southern eclecticism: a white made with the local grape variety, Maccabeo, a single variety Grenache and then a Cabernet Franc. We tasted these with a much more typical southern blend from Les Vignerons de Lesquerde: Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. These showed the vitality of the wine scene down here under the sun.
First the three wines from Domaine Gayda. The Figure Libre, Maccabeo, Pays d’Oc IGP, 2009 is a really excellent effort – Maccabeo is more known for dull, rather acidic wines, rather than this lively palate of peach, citrus and some leafiness. Jancis Robinson found honey and granite – quite an interesting combination! The Grenache Vin de Pays d’Oc IGP, 2008 is the vivacious, delicious substantial quaffer which Gayda serve at lunch times in their roof-top restaurant. Figure Libre, Cabernet Franc, Pays d’Oc IGP 2009 is beautifully judged – great depth of ripe fruit, herbs, some chocolate notes: ‘chocolate digestive biscuits’ was the snappy description of one professional taster! This is rich without being sickly or jammy.
The wine from Lesquerde’s excellent co-operative was Hesiode, AC Côtes de Roussillon Lesquerdes, 2008. This is a special selection of the three varieties mentioned above, from very low yields of 17-25 hectolitres per hectare, half those that are typical of quality producers. The Grenache here on the village’s granite soils producing a great palate of strawberry and balsam, ripe fruit of course, then black pepper and structure from the Syrah. Excellent quality for about £8 at the co-operative in France.
We finished the evening on with a bottle of, I thought, rather undistinguished vin doux naturel from Domaine des Soulanes, Maury 2008, but it was certainly pleasantly moderately sweet with some fruit. Although an unconventional pairing, Sancerre and Roussillon showed the richness of winemaking styles in France. Sancerre – I hasten to add of this quality – showed why it is one of the great names of French viticulture and Roussillon demonstrated variety, vivacity and value-for-money.
Some wines have a defining quality. The sharp acidity and mineral quality of Chablis or the big bones of Molletieri’s Taurasi have been commented on in recent posts. The defining character of Roussillon’s wines is sunshine and lots of it. Tucked up against the Spanish border, this Catalan region is literally sun-drenched, with the most hours of sunshine in France. And it shows in the bottle and in the glass.
Here’s a typical example of the dense, red fruit, with the purple rim of a young wine. It’s a product of the hundreds of hours of sunshine and of wine making which mainly tries to preserve the fruit flavours in the finished wine.
Our guide to Roussillon was Jean Pla, negociant, vine and wine consultant, from the village of Maury. If you want to join the current gold rush into the south (cf Tuscany’s Maremma), he is your man (www.restocave.com). At the invitation of Paul Gumn, one of our members
who has a house in the area, Jean and his wife,Genevieve, flew from Beziers to lead the tasting for Andover Wine Friends. On a blustery November night, Jean’s genial nature and good humour, great pictures of Roussillon and excellent wines certainly lifted the spirits. And as the reds really cry out for food, Paul had also bought regional cheeses and wild boar sausage to go with the wines.
Jean Pla’s selection of wines showed three great strengths of the Roussillon wine scene: powerful modern reds, innovation, the tradition of world class sweet red wines.
With all that sun and the heritage of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, it is hardly surprising that Roussillon produces great, big, fruit-led reds. First, kill your wild boar, roast over a spit for half a day, gather the tribe and crack open some bottles which will stand up to any meaty challenge! 15? is common place on the label but only because of legal reasons for not declaring a higher percentage of alcohol. But this is not to say that the wines are unbalanced.
Here we have two wines at different quality levels. The Sarrat on the left is a quality wine which costs €12 in France. It’s made of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, with only the last named spending 6 months in casks – so it’s red fruits all the way, smooth, with enough acidity to make this big wine highly drinkable. By contrast the L’enfant perdu on the right is a serious customer, €20, with more use of oak ageing. It is initially more restrained on nose but with a dense bouquet with some balsamic notes and then a great intensity of fruit in the mouth. It would be great wine for ageing.
Jean Pla also introduced his every day wines with which he has had a great success in the Japanese market – how the world of wine has changed! His entry level duo, red and white, are a good value €5 and have cheeky labels!
What’s in the bottle is just as good: predictably gorgeous red fruits in the red with good grip from the acid and tannins. Made basically
from Grenache, it also has a touch of Syrah and Carignan to help with Grenache’s proneness to exposure to air in the winemaking. Also shown above is the old vine Grenache – here old vines means 80 year olds! The wine spends two years in older, large, oak barrels and is a big leap up in seriousness – again a big mouthful of red and black fruit, smooth but with great depth of flavour, satisfying.
More of a surprise was the white with its good fresh nose, herbs and slightly nutty. Made from Grenache blanc and gris (ie the white and pink version of the red grape), and grown on the schist rather than limestone/ clay, it was refreshing, with good fruit and plenty of structure to stand up to food. And with a couple of angelic grape pickers on the label!
Traditional sweet reds
Roussillon’s fame in the past has been for its sweet reds. Banyuls and Maury are the big names. These wines are made by adding high strength spirit to a part fermented wine. This stops the fermentation while there is still a ‘natural’ sweetness about the resulting wine, hence the designation, vin doux naturel. The tasting included three such wines, the first an innovation, being white! This was the product of the large company, Mas Amiel, perhaps aimed at those who will be surprised by the idea of sweet reds. The wine was fruity and herby, not too sweet, far too quaffable …
But the stars of the show were the pair of sweet reds, one a recent bottling, the other, like a grande dame, keeping her age a proper secret. These are the traditional wines of the area and it’s great that they are still being produced, alongside the new trend for big, dry red wines. Both come from the Domaine des Soulanes in Maury with the 2008 showing a delicious fruity nose and a great combination of red fruit, refreshing acidity and balance in the mouth. The trick is the relatively simple process: make wine, add alcohol, store in stainless steel for three months, bottle, sell after one year … The kick for the unwary is the 16.5? of alcohol and all for €11 for a full 75cl bottle.
By contrast the Hors d’Age was something really special. By law it must be 5 years old but this old hand was in fact the 1992 vintage. Once it was poured you could see the effect of long term ageing. The
pictures don’t quite capture the amber to brown colour, quite a shock after the vivid purple/reds of young grenache. In the glass, there was a symphony of sensations – beautiful oxidized notes of nuts, caramel or toffee, figs, and then underneath all that you could still taste red fruit. And the flavours went on and on. Here’s to the sunshine of Roussillon.
Postscript: Paul Gumn gave us a bottle of ‘Three Trees’ to taste. ‘Eating, drinking, dancing’ says the label; or more conventionally, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Catalanes, Domaines de Majas. A powerful and fresh wine made from Grenache Noir and Carignan, with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon for backbone. Great drinking, ‘only’ 13.5% alcohol, great with food, easy to drink, didn’t attempt the dancing.