White wine in the Languedoc
I feel I have been neglecting my blog more than somewhat over the last few weeks - my excuse : research for The wines of the Languedoc, my latest book project with a deadline of the end of November, so I am feeling that the pressure is hotting up, and consequently I have been concentrating on the actual cellar visits and not doing too much about transferring them to my blog. so many apologies for that.
One of the things that has struck me over the last few visits is just how good the white wines of the Languedoc are these days. The focus of most appellations is very much on red rather than white, but the white wines of the Languedoc have improved beyond all recognition. Here are a few examples:
2013 Trélans, Domaine Alain Chabanon - 17.00€
Alain makes two white wines, Petit Trélans, a pure Vermentino, and Trélans, a blend of 50% Vermentino and 50% Chenin blanc, which spends two years in stainless steel vat and then a year in foudre. However, he now has a new ageing cellar and is working with cement eggs, so from 2017 things will change so that Trélans will spend two years in a concrete egg, and then a year in foudre. Alain has always had Chenin blanc, he bought the vineyard in 1990, which had been planned the previous year. And the flavours are very intriguing, with lots of nuances, some dry nutty notes on the nose and on the palate, very good acidity, some weight and dry honeyed fruit. The ageing in foudre in the the third year adds extra weight to the palate. As well as a new ageing cellar, Alain also has a smart new tasting caveau, so do go and visit.
2016 Orfran, Domaine Cazolle-Gazet - 13.00€
Monday morning found me in a vineyard belong to Domaine Cazolle-Gazet up in the hills above the village of Lauroux near Lodève. The altitude is about 400 metres and the vines are growing out of poor stony terrain. Alain Cazolle-Gazet’s white wine is an unusual blend of Chardonnay and Grenache blanc. The Chardonnay ripens first and begins its fermentation, so that the Grenache Blanc is added to the vat a couple of weeks later. The élevage is in tank; Alain does not like his white wine in wood, and the taste is fresh and mineral, with a hint of butter and some elegant acidity, and a salty mineral finish.
Mas Jullien blanc, Pays d’Hérault
Tuesday morning I went to see Olivier Jullien of Mas Jullien in the village of Jonquières. He was one of the first to appreciate the quality of Carignan blanc, a variety that has been much decried and almost disappeared, shrinking to as little as 20 hectares in the whole of France. However, Oliver’s very first vineyard was Chenin blanc and he retains an affection for that variety, so that the blend of Mas Julien blanc is 70% Carignan blanc and 30% Chenin blanc, all vinified in barrel. Olivier has simplified life; he used to make two white wines, including other varieties such as Petit Manseng and Grenache gris. The Carignan grows just outside his cellar; the Chenin blanc high in the hills at St. Privat. And the thing that intrigued and surprised me was to what extent Carignan and Chenin resemble each other. There is a similarity of structure; both have considerable acidity and both develop lightly honeyed notes.The flavour of the 2015 was beautifully balanced. And Olivier himself is surprised by the success of the white wines of the region - une immense surprise inattendue.
Domaine le Conte de Floris, Lune blanche 2015 - 30.00€
Wednesday morning I spent tasting with Daniel le Conte de Floris. He is also greatly attached to Carignan blanc, an enthusiasm that he owes to Oliver Jullien. Daniel makes three white wines in all, Pleine Lune based on Marsanne, la Lune Rousse based on Roussanne and Lune Blanche that is pure Carignan blanc, fermented and aged in barrel. The palace is firm and structured with very good acidity, and mineral notes on the palate. I could almost call it the Chablis du Languedoc, and then Daniel proceeded to demonstrate just how well Carignan blanc ages. The 2012 had some petrolly notes - ca pétrole un peu. 2010 was a very good vintages, with some firm stony fruit and mineral notes on nose and palate. 2008 had oxidised a little with a broader palate, and the 2005 was fading a little, but with good acidity and lightly petrol notes. It was very intriguing.
Happily other people are taking Carignan blanc seriously, observing how well it suits the conditions of the Languedoc for it retains its acidity, despite the warm summers. I can also enthusiastically recommend Clos des Papillons from Mas Gabriel in Caux and les Clapisses blanc from Bruno Peyre in Octon.
Intrigued about the new book, an update to the original book that inspired so many of us to love the Languedoc's wines?
And that was a memorable tasting at Mas Gabriel - see an earlier post.
1. Watched on youtube recently a Keith Floyd programme about the region and the wine expert was saying how it should concentrate on international grapes such as Cab Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay etc. and go for mas market wines. That happened for a while but recent years have seen the resurgence of traditional varieties
2. The decline of the co-op like most regions and the exact opposite of that video. More independent growers aiming for quality
3. The region is the main organic region of France in terms of producers, hectares etc. Even the big names such as Mas and Bertrand are heading that way
4. To use Louise Hurren's phrase, outsiders coming and making v good wine.
5. Emergence of sub regions such as Faugeres, now recognised for their own quality.
6. Sadly, it is still relatively unknown and ignored in UK supermarkets, restaurants etc
There is decent Cabernet etc in the region but I'm sure we agree that more local varieties work best.
And talking of natural wines, have you seen the June issue of Decanter with a big tasting of natural wines. Simon Woolf attributes the term to developments in Beaujolais in the 19080s.
Woolf is a good guy, my own reading would support that, part of the Chauvet influence. Kermit Lynch's book has some good background as well as those of Feiring etc