One tasting leads to another. Having enjoyed a wine from Domaine Montrose in my long line up of rosés earlier in the summer, I thought the estate merited further investigation, and indeed it did. It is a substantial property outside the village of Tourbes. You approach it along a drive lined with olive trees and oleanders on one side, and vineyards on the other. Most of their vineyards, some 100 hectares, are close by. However, the property was once important for the production of silk worms, which was much more remunerative than wine in the area back in the 18th century.
Montrose belongs to the Coste family, Olivier and his father Bernard. Olivier is the 9th generation at Montrose. The first, Joseph Alazard, was granted a coat of arms, three lizards, by the king of France, Louis XIV, in 1701. Like so many of the large estates of the Languedoc, until recently the production of bulk wine was the primary function, and Bernard Coste also opened a camp site to help with cash flow. Then in 1995 they changed direction, deciding to concentrate on wine in bottle, and employed a maitre de chai, Michel Goaec, who arrived from Provence, where he had had extensive experience of making rosé, working for Castel Roubine. This is one of the reasons that the wine production at Montrose now focuses on rosé. Then in 2018 they bought the Faugères estate of Chateau les Adouzes; they wanted to extend their range with a red appellation
The vineyards are all around the property, a mixture of different soils, volcanic - the name Montrose comes from an extinct volcano - as well as clay and limestone, argilo-calcaire, and stony villefranchien soil. The soil mix gives them plenty of blending options. We had a quick look at the cellar, a large Languedoc barn, with stainless steel vats and the old cement vats,and a state of the art pneumatic press. The old foudres have gone. And then we adjourned to the tasting room for an extensive tasting of their range. Although rosé accounts for 80% of their production, they also make some red and white wine, and also buy grapes in order to extend the range.
Michel talked about the differences between working in Provence and in the Languedoc. It is much more interesting in the Languedoc. Here you are at ‘the bottom of the slope’ so that there is plenty of room to progress. The atmosphere in the Languedoc is also much more congenial; you have confrères amongst your fellow wine growers; in Provence relations are much less amicable.
Our tasting began with some white wine
2018 Chardonnay, Côtes de Thongue - 7.00€
No oak. Quite fresh acidity and a firm finish. A simple, refreshing Chardonnay with no great depth.
2018 Viognier, Côtes de Thongue - 9.00€
A little colour. Quite rounded and fresh, with floral notes and a fresh finish, with a touch of bitterness.. I find that Viognier can sometimes be quite heavy and a tad clumsy; not this example. Most of the grapes are picked relatively early in order to retain the freshness, and then blended with a small batch of later picked grapes, making for a successful balance.
They make three different rosés. Depending on the market, the entry level wine is either a Pays d’Oc or Côtes de Thongue, but the same wine. Michel looks to make elegant rosés that are light, not dense, fitting between the simple apéro and the food rosé. He wants a combination of fruit, freshness and elegance, with a little weight, and that is what he achieves, especially in the Prestige cuvée. The best cuvées are handpicked, and the rest machine harvested, early in the morning, beginning about 3 or 4.m. and carrying on until about 10 a.m. And then it is too hot.
The principal grape varieties for rosé are Grenache Noir, usually accounting for about 65% of the blend, with about 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Syrah. The percentages vary, and they bottle throughout the year, maintaining a consistency of flavour by fine-tuning the blend. Cabernet Sauvignon gives structure, and Syrah fruit, but they really like Grenache, for its fruit. They are also tempted by Cinsaut. You can use white grapes for a rosé, up to as much as 85%, I was astonished to discover. So as well as Cinsault, they are planting Vermentino. With the trend for paler roses, they tend to favour more pressurage direct rather than saigné; originally the proportions were half and half.
2018 Rosé - 7.00€
Delicate, fresh nose, with a quite a firm palate, and a dry streak on the finish. Some light raspberry fruit.
2018 Rose Prestige - 11.00€
A blend of Grenache Noir, with 10% Vermentino. Just 5% of the blend is fermented in wood. Pale gris colour. A delicate nose, with more weight on the palate. More rounded. Some elegant concentration. Raspberry notes. A dry finish. Elegant and rounded, making a lovely glass wine. Michel explained how they take care over oxidation; they have an égrappoir on the mechanical harvest and work with dry ice, and closed boxes, covering everything with CO2.
2018 1701 - 19.00€
A blend of 90% Grenache Noir and 10% Roussanne. Ten per cent of the blend, mainly the Roussanne component, is fermented and aged in barrel, and the wine is much more structured, with some oaky notes. Much firmer fruit, with a dry finish. This is very much a food wine. Spicy food was suggested. I found the oak a little too intrusive for my palate. Michel made an observation about the time a wine takes to absorb the oak - for white wine you would allow twelve months but with rosé, with red grapes, that time can be shorter. None the less he thought the wine would be better next year. He uses wood with a very light toast.
They also have a range they call Languedoc Stars.
2018 RA - 9.00€
from 80 year old Carignan blanc vines. From grapes they buy. Fermented in vat, with no bâtonnage.
It was fresh with herbal notes and good acidity. A nicely unusual example of a once despised grape variety that is now enjoying something of a come back.
2017 Côtes de Thongue - 7.00€
A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Merlot. Easy drinking, but Merlot int he Languedoc is not for me.
2018 Côtes de Thongue - 7.00€
A different blend, with some Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Marselan, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon, and no more Merlot. This was rounded and spicy, quite soft making for easy drinking.
2016 La Balade, Côtes de Thongue
A blend of Syrah with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. No oak. Good colour, with dry spice on the nose and palate. They pick the Cabernet Sauvignon quite early so that it retains some acidity and freshness. They don’t want too much extraction, with ripe but not overripe fruit.
2016 Salamandre, Côtes de Thongue - 14.00€
60% Cabernet Sauvignon to 40% Syrah, with 12 months in oak, one third new, for all but 15% of the blend, which is used to finalise the blend, balancing the oak. There is firm spice and a hint of vanilla.
Opened to see how it had aged. Quite ripe and spicy with supple fruit, rounded and evolving very nicely. At cruising altitude.
And then we tried 2017 Château des Adouzes, le Tigre
Some 90 year old vines. No oak. They are aiming for freshness and balance. The blend is one third each of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah.
Next came the base wine for the 2018 vintage, not yet blended. It was fresh and perfumed, with ripe cherry fruit, and includes some Cinsault. Here they want power with balance.
And a barrel sample, of mainly Grenache, had some ripe fruit with a firm streak of tannin. They want to make something that contrasts with le Tigre.
2018 Cinsault - 8.00€
Includes just five percent Carignan, as they never make a pure varietal. Light red; attractive red fruit, ripe and juicy. A long three week maceration. Easy summer drinking.
2018 Alicante - 8.00€
Quite a deep colour. Berry cherry fruit on the nose. Rounded and ripe with supple fruit. Medium weight. A dry finish.
2018 Carignan - 8.00€
Medium colour. Quite fresh with ripe fruit. Juicy and spicy and easy drinking.
2015 Muscat à petits grains - 50cls - 12€
An elegant dessert wine to conclude a generously comprehensive tasting. 40 gm/l residual sugar. The fermentation is stopped by chilling. Elegantly herbal honey fruit, notes of grapefruit. Not obviously Muscat - as Michel observed , you lose the notion of Muscat with a late harvest wine. The grapes were picked during the first half of October. Refreshing acidity balancing the honey.
In conclusion this is an example of an estate that has known how to adapt and grow. As well as the estate wines, labelled Domaine Montrose, they have a négociant business. And their annual production of 1.5 million bottles breaks down half and half between estate and négoce wines, with the négoce concentrating on rosé.