DOMAINE BELLES PIERRES
It has been a while since I have visited Damien Coste of Domaine Belles Pierres outside the village of Murviel-les-Montpellier. He has had a well-deserved reputation for his white wines for a number of years, going back to the time when white wine was not really taken very seriously in the Languedoc. His first vintage was 1992. Before that his grapes went to the village coop, but he quickly realised that was not the way forward.
Damien now has 17 hectares of vines. His red vines are the Midi classics, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsaut, whereas the whites are an original mixture – Sauvignon, Viognier, Roussanne, and Vermentino, Muscat à petit grains, Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng, Grenache blanc and Marsanne. Also unusually white wine account for 40 % of his production.
2009 Cuvée Mosaïque, Vin de Pays d’Oc – 5.00€
Named because they found a mosaic nearby in a Roman oppidum. The name of the village Murviel means vieux murs or old walls in Occitan and the church dates back to the 11th century. This wine is a blend of Sauvignon, principally, with Viognier, Muscat and Grenache. The nose is quite peachy and perfumed, with intriguing nuances; the Muscat gives a lift on the palate, with the Grenache provides body and Sauvignon the fresh acidity, with some peachy fruit from the Viognier. It is nicely mouth filling and very good value. Damien observed that he prefers making white wines, as you have so many more choices with blending than with reds, and white wine is a growing trend all over the Languedoc.
2009 Latino d’Oc, IGP d’Oc. 6.00€
2009 was the first vintage of this pure Viognier. It is lightly peachy, with some rounded textured fruit and fresh acidity, and maybe a touch alcoholic on the finish. It comes from vines that are only eight years old. The name is a reference to the fact that Damien’s wife comes from Colombia, and since you ask, they met in Venezuela. He was visiting a friend there, and so was she.
2009 Les Clauzes de Jo, Coteaux du Languedoc 9.00€
A blend of 60% Roussanne and 40% Viognier, with some Grenache Blanc, fermented in barrel and left on the lees for twelve months. There is a touch oak on the nose, with some lightly buttery fruit and a streak of tannin. Quite rounded and mouth filling. It had just been bottled and needs time to settle down. Damien mentioned that he was one of the pioneers of barrel fermented white wine in the Languedoc; this is le vin de reference of the estate, which he has been making since 1994.
2008 Chant des Ames, St. Georges d’Orques – 15.00€
Barrel aged for 18 months. 10% new, with a preference for 500 litre barrels, rather than 225 litre barriques. A blend of 60% Roussanne, 30% Viognier and 20% Grenache Blanc. It was quite golden in colour, with peachy oak on the nose, with a rich, rounded palate. It is quite textured and long.
(2007) Ineptie, vin de table, - 12.00€
From Gros and Petit Manseng, Roussanne, Grenache blanc and Viognier, picked mid-October, rather than early September. Quite golden in colour, almost old gold and on the palate, honeyed barley sugar going to dry honey on the finish, with some acidity on the finish. Hints of dried apricots. 15 gm/l residual sugar.
On September 8th, the date of my visit, Damien had picked all his white grapes; and the first fermentations were looking good; the summer was warm, but the nights were not too hot, which is beneficial to the acidity levels.
Damien made Ineptie for the first time in 1996, by accident. He had some very ripe Roussanne which was refused its agrément for an appellation at analysis – a typical example of French wine bureaucracy - so he sold the it as vin de table, but he doesn’t make it every year.
And then on to reds:
2008 Cuvée Mosaïque, Coteaux du Languedoc – 5.00€
A blend of Cinsaut, Grenache and Syrah, kept in vat, with two to three week maceration.
Medium red colour; quite firm mineral nose. More supple ripe palate, with some tannin. Quite an elegant finish.
2007 Latino D’Oc, Languedoc – 6.00€
A 50/50 blend of Syrah and Grenache, fermented in vat, with just 10% in barrel. Quite a firm nose with some dry spice. Medium weight – he doesn’t want it too extracted. Sufficient tannin, and tasted slightly cool, it is very refreshing.
2008 Les Clauzes de Jo, St. Georges d’Orques – 8.00€
A blend of Syrah and Grenache wit h20% Mourvèdre, and twelve months in oak, no new barrels, with a four to five week maceration. Damien’s father is Jo, and clauzes are the dry stones walls surrounding many of the vineyards.
Quite a firm nose, with a nicely structured palate. There is fruit, with well-integrated oak underneath and a streak of fine tannin. Good balance with an elegant finish.
2007 is a more supple vintage, whereas 2008 enjoyed a hotter summer, so the wines are more structured and deeper in colour.
2008 Chant des Ames, St. Georges d’Orques – 15.00€
A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, with 18 months in wood; 10% new. Elevé en fût de chêne.Quite a deep colour. A firm structured nose, with some well integrated oak on the palate. The tannins are elegant, and the wine will benefit from further bottle age. It is a selection of his best plots, which are usually the same ones each year. His 17 hectares are divided into about 30 plots all round the village.. St. Georges d’Orques was one of the original crus of the Coteaux du Languedoc and is now trying to differentiate itself from the appellation of Grès de Montpellier to become one of the grands crus of the Languedoc. It includes the villages of Montarnaud and St. Paul-et-Valmalle, as well as Murviel. Asked about its tipicity, Damien referred to Burgundy, for its elegant tannins, making for reds that are quite fresh. Historically it is red rather than white, but Damien thinks that whites are successful in his vineyards as the soil provides good acidity.
And we finished with the sweet wines:
(2005) Monica, El Encuentro, vin de table de France -15.00€ for 50cl - NB in theory a table wine should not mention a vintage on the label. A blend of 90% Mourvèdre and 10% Grenache, late harvested, with two years in wood. And you might guess that Monica is the name of Damien’s wife. There is 35 gml/l of residual sugar, with a potential alcohol of 18º; the fermentation stopped at 14º. Medium colour, with some sweet spicy cherry notes on the nose and palate. It reminded me of cherries preserved in alcohol, and was potentially rather more-ish.
(2006) Passidore vin de table – 17.00€ for 50cls.
A blend of Gros and Petit Manseng with a little Viognier and Muscat – two or three tries during November and December, a lottery of fighting the birds, the weather and the wild boar. He doesn't make it every year Deep golden in colour. Rich and honeyed o the nose; very smooth and unctuous on the palate, barley sugar and balancing acidity. The name is a play on words, passerillé, which the grapes are, and his great grandfather was called Isidore
And by way of conclusion we went to listen to a fermenting barrel of Roussanne, gently whispering in the cellar.