Back to Limoux. As it happened, the next estate that I went to visit in Limoux also concentrates on still wines, though James Kinglake admits that he is beginning to experiment with a sparkling Limoux. He and his wife Catherine bought Bertie Eden’s old estate of Begude in 2004 and since then have concentrated on producing still wines for an international market, with some considerable success.
And what brought him to Limoux? He looked at about 40 estates between there and Italy. Provence appealed, but then he realised he would be too dependent on the tourist trade. He loves Burgundy, but he certainly couldn’t afford a vineyard in Burgundy, and the terroir in Limoux is great for the grape varieties of Burgundy. So he bought 22 hectares, pulled six and planted seven, and now has 29 hectares in production. He concentrates on Chardonnay, but has also played with Sauvignon and Chenin blanc, and made his first vintage of Pinot Noir in 2010, having in 2006, planted both Burgundian and champagne clones.
Domaine Begude is a stunning spot outside the village of Sépie just north of Limoux. You travel hopefully along a winding road, which apparently forms the boundary between Malepère and Limoux. It is a windy spot, with undulating vineyards at about 300 metres altitude. James has planted some Viognier in the warmest plot at 260 metres, and he has also planted some Gewurztraminer, with a first vintage anticipated for this year. He finds that he is making less and less appellation wine. You get more sunshine here than in Limoux itself as it is in the warmer Mediterranean terroir of Limoux. The altitude however compensates for the warmth, giving you fruit and acidity as well. James practices organic viticulture and he has the genial Australian winemaker, Richard Osborne as his consultant. He also produced the interesting figures that Limoux has 24 independent wine growers, as well as the enormous Sieur d’Arques coop and the smaller Anne de Joyeuse coop. The two coops account for a massive 90% of the production of Limoux.
We did a bit of barrel tasting, a couple of Chardonnay and some Pinot, and then adjourned to a rather smart tasting room. A caveat however, James may have a tasting caveau, but you do have to make an appointment first if you would like to come and taste – the number is 06 86 05 73 74 - as he does not welcome casual callers. But once you’ve made the appointment, you can be sure of a warm welcome.
2011 Le Bel Ange Chardonnay, with 14% unoaked Chenin. Pays d’Oc. 5.95€
With 14% of a second variety you can declare a monocépage; with 15% you must put both varieties on the label. Ripe rounded fruit, for easy drinking.
2011 Sauvignon Blanc - 7.18€
Quite fresh pithy nose. Some minerality. Good fruit balanced with acidity and some weight. Some skin contact. Dry finish.
2011 Pinot rosé Pays d’Oc – 7.18€
Picked at the end of August and pressed immediately. Pale pink. Quite dry on the nose, but with a riper, fuller palate. Quite broad with some strawberry fruit.
2011 L’Exotique – 8.37€
James has grafted a plot of Chenin Blanc, with Grűner Veltliner. This was a revelation. The cuttings came from a friend in Austria, Marcus Huber in Traisendal near Krems. He has blended it with 20% Chardonnay and the results of very intriguing. There is a herbal note and a definite hint of Grűner Veltliner, with some nice weight and texture and a certain pithy fruit.
He has also tried Riesling, which didn’t ripen, and has high hopes for his hectare of Gewurztraminer, aiming eventually to make a range of three Exotiques – Grűner Veltliner, Viognier and Gewurztraminer.
And then we went on to Chardonnay:
Terroir 11300 – which is the postal code for Limoux. Pays d’Oc – 7.18€
It was AC Limoux but for that you have to handpick and all the wine must be fermented in barrel. This instead is only partially oaked - 25 – 30% - in 600 litre wood, and is machine harvested at night. James finds that 600 litre barrels respect the fruit, so that the wine is not overoaked. Quite ripe and rounded, buttery, quite textured. James said that he was looking for the freshness you would want for an aperitif, but with sufficient body to go with food. I thought he had succeeded. A nice long finish,
2008 L’Etoile - 10.76€
The top Chardonnay cuvee from two particular plots, Le Puits and le Cerisier. The first is more elegant and mineral, and the second fruitier. A selection of fruit and a selection of barrels. This in contrast is all oaked, and hand-picked. Quite a deep colour. Ripe fleshy fruit. A certain lactic quality. Ripe and oaky.
And then we went onto Pinot Noir:
2011 Pinot Noir – 8.37€
Picked a little riper than the 2010. No oak. Medium colour. Ripe spice on nose and palate, with a touch of tannin, enough to balance the lovely red fruit. Very accessible and youthful.
2010 Esprit de Begude – just 280 bottles from one barrel.
Quite a serious nose. A bit of oak on the palate. Quite substantial, smoky fruit. Firm structured and texture and very youthful. James decided to experiment in 2011, with some handpicking and pigeage. And the 2011 tasted from barrel promised well too.
And then we concluded with la Folie de Begude, a Blanc de Blancs from Chardonnay alone. Not an appellation, as a monocépage is not allowed for sparkling Limoux, so a Vin Mousseux de Qualité. James makes the vin clair and then sends it away to be turned into sparkling wine. It was rounded with soft easy fruit. An interesting figure: it costs 4€ a bottle to turn a still wine into sparkling wine.
And suddenly it was the moment for an aperitif, before we all headed further down the track to our friends at Rives Blanques for dinner.