DOMAINE LA CROIX-BELLE
I’ve been regularly tasting, not to mention drinking and enjoying, the wines at Domaine la Croix-Belle in Puissaliçon for some ten years now. This is one of the leading estates of the Vin de Pays des Côtes de Thongue, in itself one of the more rewarding vins de pays of the Languedoc. Apart from Vin de Pays d’Oc, most areas of the Languedoc have a smaller, regional vin de pays, but few have much of a reputation outside their own immediate area. However, the Cotes de Thongue, as there is no parallel appellation in the area, has created a real identity of its own. All the wines of La Croix-Belle are Côtes de Thongue, rather than the more anonymous Vin de Pays d’Oc. Jacques Boyer took over his father’s estate in 1977 and has worked steadily at improving and developing his wines, supported by his friendly wife, Francoise. You immediately sense their immense commitment to their particular corner of the Languedoc.
2008 LE CHAMPS DES LYS - 5.90€
Mainly Grenache blanc, with a little Viognier, some élèvage on the lees, but no oak. Françoise is delighted that this wine made it into the Top 100 Vins de Pays this year. It has peachy notes on the nose, from the Viognier and hints of white flowers, with a rounded body and good acidity. They are reluctant to include the grape varieties on the label considering ‘grape varieties to be impersonal. It’s our cuvée.’ But they make an exception for their UK importer, Lea & Sandeman.
2008 CHARDONNAY - 5.00€
Lightly buttery on the nose, with lightly herbal hints. A light touch of oak, which is nicely integrated, just giving a little body on the palate. Quite firm acidity on the finish. I tend to prefer my Chardonnays from much further north, but this is a very acceptable example of a Midi one.
2008 MUSCAT SEC – 6.00€
This is classic Muscat, with some lovely grapey fruit. Muscat is the one grape variety that really does smell of grapes. There are some fresh pithy notes, with a hint of bitter orange and good acidity on the finish. ‘This is great with melon and ham’ observed Françoise. We proved her right the next day, but it is the wrong season to check out her other suggestion of asparagus.
2007 NUMERO 7 - 12.90€
No 7 for its seven grape varieties – which are: Chardonnay, Viognier, Muscat, Grenache blanc, Sauvignon, Carignan blanc and Chasan. The wine is all fermented and aged in oak, and then blended before bottling. The 2008 is being blended at the moment. It is nicely crafted, with some delicate oak and a rounded palate. The oak dominates the palate for the moment; but there is plenty of fruit underneath. It just needs time to develop.
2008 Rosé LE CHAMPS DES GRILLONS - 5.90€
Strawberries on both nose and palate. Very ripe and rounded, with balancing acidity. Very refreshing as a rosé should be.
2007 LE CHAMPS DU COQ – 5.90€
The name of an actual vineyard, rather than a fantasy name, and a blend of Grenache, Syrah and a little Merlot. Good colour and quite a firm nose, with a hint of oak. Less than 10%, Jacques said. The oak gives it a slight sweetness. For me this is one of their less successful wines, possibly because I have reservations about Merlot in the Midi. Or maybe the oak is just a touch too intrusive.
2008 SYRAH – 5.00€
This was new to me - the first vintage was 2007 – and it is simply delicious, classic Syrah with a firm peppery nose, with fresh spicy fruit on the palate. Wonderfully easy drinking and the discovery of the afternoon.
2006 LES CALADES – 7.00€
A blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, of which just 10% has been in oak. Deep colour, with a firm, dry cassis nose. Youthful, with firm tannins on the palate, a blend of cassis and pepper. Nicely crafted, and needing time.
2005 NUMERO 7 – 12.90€
For the red No. 7 the seven varieties are Syrah, Grenache, Carignan Cinsaut, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, in other words the classics of the Midi, with the two mainstays of Bordeaux. It has a deep colour, with a youthful, intense nose and palate, with firm tannins. The oak dominates the palate for the moment, but that will fade with bottle age. 1997 was the first vintage of red No 7.
2006 CASCAILLOU - 13.90€
Mainly Grenache, with 20% Syrah and Mourvedre, to provide some structure. Normally this cuvée is one of my favourites from la Croix Belle, but this particular afternoon it was not showing so well, with slightly jammy, ripe flavours. Maybe it was feeling the heat, or maybe we were, though the tasting caveau was nice and cool, in sharp contrast to the outdoor temperatures.
I've now had a chance to taste the 2007 Cascaillou - in September This is delicious, with a deep colour and quite firm peppery fruit on both nose and palate. There is some lovely spicy fruit, and the wine is so much more elegant than the 2006, and although it is based on Grenache, it tastes more of Syrah at the moment.
And no tasting at La Croix Belle is complete with Soulenque, their luscious dessert wine.
2006 SOULENQUE – 15€
The grapes – Muscat, Sauvignon and a little Viognier - are picked at the end of October, rather than early September. There is usually some noble rot, while some of the grapes are just passerillé and raisin-like after drying on the vines. The juice is fermented in wood, very slowly, which can take as long as six months. And the result is simply delicious, honeyed and rich, but with refreshing acidity on the finish.
The tasting caveau at Domaine la Croix Belle is open every day during the summer and if Françoise is not there to receive you, an Irish friend, Jane, helping out, and you are assured of a warm welcome.