Persistent driving rain in the middle of winter is no incentive to get out and enjoy the wines of the sunny south of France, even if the journey is only to London’s West End. The weather was conspiring with the economic climate. And is the most difficult financial situation most of us can remember really the time to launch yet another wine retail business? But some start ups really do show promise especially if there is a great deal more below the surface, not only a real passion for wine but a long engagement with small producers in one (large) country.
Seabright & Seabright went into business in 2010, primarily selling wines to individual consumers on the internet, but also with a local presence in North London. It specialises in regional France with a good offer across its wealth of regions. Andrew Seabright knows he has a pretty unusual CV – studied Biochemistry at Oxford, became a poker player (that will have pleased his parents!), went into the police, founded a wine company. But what really lies behind the successful launch of the company, in addition to a great deal of work, is a local and intimate knowledge of his subject. From university days onwards he has been part of a group of wine-loving friends who organised wine buying trips to France, getting to know the small producers, bringing wine back for private consumption until the group outgrew that aim and the business was launched. It is a textbook case of a business growing out of a serious hobby. But at the end of the day what really matters is how good the choice of wine is – and certainly, this selection from Languedoc-Roussillon was very good indeed. Here are the highlights.
Domaine Piquemal is a family concern of 50 hectares in Agly Valley, at the foothills of the Corbières hills. The domaine produces a good range of wines at Vin de Pays and AC levels, as well as some traditional fortified sweet wines, and two top cuvées. I loved the local character of Les Terres Grillées, red and white, the former full of gorgeous ripe fruit (Carignan, Grenache, Syrah), the latter savoury and complex (Grenache blanc, Macabeo, Vermentino).
The two top wines are in a modern style, both blends of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan if in different proportions. They are both have a whacking 45 days in the vat – no wonder they are called ‘nos cuvées mythiques’! Pygmalion 2007 is predominantly Syrah and shows super-concentrated rich red- and black-berried fruit. It is an amazing experience; I am not sure how much of this I would want to drink – though that’s not usually a problem – but in terms of depth of fruit with good structure and acidity, it is remarkable. Galatée 2008 is less in need of taming, this time with Grenache heading the blend but still with good fruit, grip and some real persistence. Definitely, wines to try and a winery to follow.
In a very good line up, the other winery which I really enjoyed was Domaine de Cabrol. As readers of this website will know, my starting point (and unusually my conclusion) is to prefer wines made from local varieties, rather than the much-travelled Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, etc. However, to demonstrate my open-mindedness, I really liked the Cabrol Cabernet blends. This is a pretty unusual part of the world with a new AC only granted in 1999. As the official website says: ‘Cabardès is the only Languedoc A.O.C. to blend in equal proportions Bordeaux grape varieties (Cabernet and Merlot) with those of the Rhone (Syrah and Grenache)’ (website). It sits on the meeting point of the South and the South West and gets cool winds from inland and warmth from the south.
All the wines here are good, featuring great ripe red-berried fruit, spice and freshness. The basic AC Cabardés 2006 is fruit-forward, very attractive, no greenness at all. Vent d’Est 2007 has more Syrah and again has super-ripe fruit and spice. La Dérive 2004, with more Cabernet and two years of barrel ageing, had splendidly concentrated flavours, was extremely bold with excellent tannins and, despite being seven years old, still tasted like a very young wine. Rather classy labels too.
Not all the wines were big reds. There were good rosés too, for Lafond Roc-Epine’s Tavel 2009, an attractive ruby-salmon colour, with an enticing palate. I particularly admired Morin-Langaran’s Picpoul de Pinet 2009, as light as a feather but floral, delicate and refreshing, an excellent example. All-in-all, these wines pierced the gloom of a damp London and promise well for the future of this new venture.