Domaine du Pas de l'Escalette
A lovely sunny afternoon in the Languedoc in mid-September. (sorry, I'm a bit behind with posts) You might have expected the vintage to be underway, but everything was running late this year. We has a picnic on the banks of the lac de Salagou, looking at the wonderful contrast of red rocks and clear blue water, and my friend, Monique, even took a dip. She pronounced the water to be refreshing. And then we headed north up the motorway to the pas de l’Escalette, which marks the passage between the Larzac and the Mediterranean. Certainly when you are driving south down the A75, you sense a change of climate and atmosphere as you can come over the pass.
Delphine and Julien Zernott have their new cellar just outside the village of Pégairolles, but first Delphine took us for a drive through the vineyards. Languedoc vineyards are often pretty dramatic; these are especially so, with views of the pass and the craggy hills on either side of the motorway. There was a gentle roar of traffic but we were well above it, so you could ignore it.
Delphine and Julien first came down to the Languedoc in 2003. Julien was making wine in Menetou Salon at the time for Henri Pellé. They started with eight hectares and now have fifteen, all cultivated biodynamically, in the villages of Lauroux and Pégairolles, at an altitude of 350 to 450 metres. For red wine they have the usual Languedoc varieties, Grenache, Carignan, Cinsaut and Syrah. Their oldest vines are 80 years old and their vineyards comprise a multitude of old terraces, 35 all together, of which the largest is just 80 ares. We stopped to taste some Cinsaut grapes. Cinsaut can be a table grape as well as a wine grape, and these were still very sour, not yet fit for either wine or the table. They also have a vineyard in the adjoining valley of Lauroux, 50 ares of beautifully restored terraces. This is colder than the main valley, so that the grapes ripen later there. And there are electric wires as a preventative measure against wild boars.
Then back to the cellar to admire the tronconique vats. It is a well planned cellar, built into the hillside and partly underground, allowing for some natural insulation.
And now for tasting. We kicked off with the 2012 rosé
2012 Ze rosé, Languedoc - 9.50€
I had enjoyed this at the Terrasses du Larzac walk earlier in the summer, and it was just as good a couple of months later. Very pale colour. Delicate rounded nose. Dry fruit on the palate. A mineral note. Firm and dry, delicate and yet powerful. Lovely balance and very satisfying. Grenache is the main variety, with some Carignan. They are the most productive vines of the estate, so destined for rosé rather than red wine.
2012 les Clapas blanc, Pays de l'Hérault – 20.90€
Clapas is the local term for the dry stones walls, les murgers, that you see in the vineyards. The blend is Carignan Blanc, Terret Bourret, which is another name for Terret Gris, and Grenache Blanc. Light colour. Notes of fennel on the nose - it grows wild in abundance around the vineyards. Good mouth feel, with leesy texture. Fennel on the palate too and a touch of spice. The Terret and the Grenache do a malo, but not the Carignan. Lovely satisfying finish and length.
2012 Ze Cinsaut - 13.60€
A short cuvaison, 15 to 20 days in stainless steel vats. All destemmed. I tend to think of Cinsaut as the Beaujolais of the Midi, and I love both. This is delicious. Light red colour. Fresh and fruity and very juicy. Some lovely spice, a streak of tannin to balance the fruit. 2012 is their first vintage of this wine. Previously the grapes have gone into red les Clapas. I thought it was delicious.
2012 Les Petits Pas - 9.90€
The name is a reference to the patter of tiny feet, of their two small children, Jules and Gabrielle. And the wine comes from new plantings of Grenache and Syrah. Élevage in vat. Dry spice on the nose. And a rounded youthful palate. Medium weight.
2011 les Clapas, Terrasses du Larzac- 13.60€.
Old Grenache and Carignan, and a little Cinsaut and Syrah. Part of the Carignan is aged in wood. Quite a firm closed nose. Some spicy nose. Some structure, some elegance, smoky and long. Julien is emphatic that it is essential to do the minimum in the cellar.
2011 Le Grand Pas -25€
80% Grenache, with some Carignan. Bottled in May. Élevage only in vat, to retain the fruit. A wine to age. Ripe cherry liqueur fruit on the nose, and on the palate youthful freshness, with rounded spicy fruit and some tannin. Ripe and long, but not heavy. They explained that this is a Grenache d’altitude, with some freshness. Grenache performs well at higher altitudes, as it does not get so alcoholic.
And they were quite sold out of le Pas de l’Escalette, a blend of Cinsaut, Grenache and Carignan, all fermented together. Never mind, it was still a great visit. Their white wine is one of the great whites of the Languedoc, and from indigenous Languedoc varieties too. And I was able to buy some of the last few bottles of that rosé