Just back from ten days in the Languedoc over New Year, and looking back on some good bottles and some rather bibulous evenings.
2016 Blanquette de Limoux from Château Rives Blanques, with delicious herbal flavours, making an original sparkling wine. And also J Laurens Cuvée Demoiselle, Crémant de Limoux, which was rounded and creamy.
White wines amply illustrated the wonderful diversity of the Languedoc and showed just how much the whites of the region are improving.
Domaine Cabrol, Cuvée Quinze, a Vin de France from a leading Cabardès estate is made from an extraordinarily eclectic blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Gros Manseng, Chenin Blanc and Semillon, with one third of the blend fermented and aged in barrel. The wine has herbal notes and hints of honey and layers of nuances. it is one of those wines that keeps you guessing.
Cascaille Blanc from Domaine Clavel in Pic St Loup is another extraordinary blend, of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Vermentino, Clairette, Viognier, Marsanne and Muscat à petits grains. They are all fermented together, with the juice of each grape variety added to the vat as it ripens. The oak is well integrated and the wine has structure and length with a satisfying depth of flavour and a balanced finish.
Mas d’Alezon’s Cabretta is a lovely white Faugères made from Clairette and Roussanne, with some intriguing herbal notes and a rounded palate.
Domaine la Louvière’s la Souveraine, a pure Chardonnay from the cooler Malepère, was nicely balanced, with buttery fruit and well integrated oak, showing Jem Harris’s talent as a winemaker.
As for reds, my discovery of the week, thanks to a new friend, Emma Kershaw, who lives in a Corbières village is Domaine des Deux Clés, an IGP Vallée du Paradis and a blend of Carignan and Grenache Noir. It had rounded spice on both nose and palate, with nicely balanced tannins. I am planning a visit with Emma in the spring. Meanwhile I do wholeheartedly recommend her cookery book, A Taste of Le Sud, which concentrates on the wonderful Mediterranean ingredients and flavours.
And on New Year’s Day, I opened some St. Chinian for a group of friends gathering for a post-walk dinner. Of the six wines, my absolute favourite was Borie la Vitarèle, les Schistes, a satisfying blend of Grenache Noir and Syrah, with some liqueur cherry fruit, balanced by some elegant tannins. But the others were good too, and much appreciated by the assembled company. There was also Château Coujan, Cuvée Bois Joli, Domaine de la Femme Allongée, a name new to me; Château Prieur des Mourgues, with some well integrated oak, and a pure Carignan Vieillles Vignes Canailles from Domaine les Eminades, with some fresh fruit, and Domaine du Sacré Coeur, Cuvée Jean Madoré. They all went splendidly with a warming boeuf bourguignon.
And just for fun I opened a trio of Gimblett Gravels from New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay, all variations on a bordelais theme, with a very New World taste. it is virtually impossible to find any New Zealand wines in the Hérault, so our languedocien friends enjoyed being taken out of their comfort zone!
Dinner with friends who are wine growers always entails a bottle or two of their own wines, so on our last evening we enjoyed a lovely rich spicy Clos des Lièvres with Deborah and Peter Core from Mas Gabriel, and dinner finished with Délice from Domaine de Monplézy, a delicious late harvest Grenache Noir, which was redolent of red fruit and spices.
Arriving early at Montpellier airport the next day, in order to avoid the gilets jaunes at our usual motorway entrance, we thought we would wash down a winter salad with a half bottle of Picpoul de Pinet. Not a good idea; I don’t think the wine had been properly stored. Also it was a 2016, and it tasted tired, and was quite golden in colour, not a good sign. So we restored our faith in Picpoul de Pinet, by opening a bottle for an aperitif when we finally reached London.