Domaine Girard is an estate on the Massif de la Malepère, to the south of Carcassonne, adjoining the vineyards of Limoux. The Sunday before last was a spectacularly sunny morning; we drove towards the village of Alaigne, where Philippe Girard has his cellars, enjoying fabulous views of the snow-capped Pyrenees.
Philippe is the fourth generation of vignerons in the family. His great grandfather had vines at the beginning of the last century, practicing polyculture, with cattle as well as wheat. Subsequent generations concentrated on vines alone, with Philippe’s parents selling their wine en vrac. The first bottlings of the estate were the 2000 vintage, by which time Philippe had finished his studies in winemaking and viticulture at Libourne and then spent a year as a stagiaire in Nuits St Georges. The experience with Pinot Noir has come in very handy.
They have 37 hectares altogether, 32 around the village of Alaigne and a further five at Roquetaillade in the Haute Vallée de l’Aude at an altitude of 450 metres, planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Philippe sees a distinctive difference between the two grape varieties in the two different areas. At Alaigne the vineyards lie at 350 metres; Roquetaillade is fresher, making for wines with more tension. Currently Philippe blends the wines from the two areas; ultimately, he would like to separate them. The first Chardonnay was planted in 1987, and the first Pinot Noir in 1989, by Philippe’s father. They also have Merlot, the principal grape variety of Malepère, as well as Cabernet Franc and Malbec.
We admired the new cellar, a large functional shed, well-equipped with stainless steel vats. Ultimately Philippe would like smaller vats, allowing him to make more selections of plots and juice. There is a small barrel cellar, with 500 litres demi-muids.
Recent vintages have been tricky; they had frost in 2017; hail in 2018 and 2019 was a very small vintage thanks to frost. On the Massif, they did not suffer from excessive heat, unike the rest of the Languedoc.
2019 Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc – 7.00€
They have nine hectares of Chardonnay. The grapes come from both Limoux and Alaigne; they are picked early, with a mechanical harvester. Philippe separates the juice, making for four different selections, of pressed juice, the heart or coeur of the pressed juice; the end of the pressed juice, and the free run juice. And then he blends. The nose and palate were both lightly buttery, with nicely balanced acidity. There is no malo-lactic fermentation and the wine spends some time on its lees in vat.
2018 Chardonnay élevé sur lies fines, Pays d'Oc – 9.00€
The richest juice is used for this cuvée. The fermentation begins in stainless steel vats and is then transferred into oak, of which 40% is new. The malo takes place in oak and the wine is aged for several months, with regular bâtonnage. It was much more rounded and richer on both nose and palate than the first wine, and nicely leesy with good balancing acidity, with a fresh finish and a modest 13.5º.
2016 Limoux Blanc, les Salvios – 13€
Philippe did not produce any white Limoux in 2017, 2018 or indeed 2019, thanks to frost and hail. The grapes were hand-picked and destemmed and wine has spent ten months in barrel, with a little bâtonnage. It was nicely rounded, more elegant than the IGPs, with tighter acidity and a gentle note of maturity beginning to develop. Philippe has some Chenin Blanc too and would like to make that as a pure varietal as well.
2019 Rosé Pays d’Oc, Cabernet Franc, Gariguette – 6.50€
Gariguette is the lieu-dit of the vineyard. Saigné after a few hours. Light colour. A touch of pear drops on the nose but on the palate some ripe rounded fruit. Quite mouth filling, without being heavy or vinous. A fresh finish. Still quite young and bottled fairly recently. I felt the nose needed to settle down.
2019 Pinot Noir, Pays d’Oc – 9.00€
Light colour. Very fresh red fruit on the nose, with raspberry and liquorice on the palate. This is a lovely simple Pinot Noir, uncomplicated and refreshing. and even thirst-quenching. Would be delicious lightly chilled for a summer barbecue.
2018 Pinot Noir, Pays d ‘Oc, Pech Calvel – 11.00€
This comes fromjust one vineyard at Alaigne and spends eight months in barrel. There is a touch of oak on both the nose and palate. The palate is quite rounded, riper with more texture and weight.
All Philippe’s red wines are handpicked; altogether he produces an average of 100,000 bottles, with 300 hls of white and 500 hectolitres of red.
2018 Malepère Tradition – 8.50€
A blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc, kept separately in vat and blended at bottling. Quite a deep colour. Ripe cassis fruit on the nose, and on the palate, round with ripe almost sweet blackcurrant fruit, with supple tannins. It was quite soft for a Malepère.
2018 Malepère, Cuvée Neri – 12.00€
A blend of 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc and 10% Malbec, aged in barrel for seven months, and coming from one particular plot.
A more subtle nose than the previous wine. Some oaky vanilla notes on the palate, balanced with some ripe fruit and a fresh finish. It was bottled in February and will not be put on the market until September. It would indeed benefit from some bottle age.
NV Confidences, Crémant de Limoux – 11.50€
A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Chenin Blanc and 10% Pinot Noir. Philippe delivers the grapes to J Laurens in Limoux and they do everything, from grape to bottle, giving the wine 12 months on its lees with 6 gms/l dosage. It was nicely rounded and creamy, with fresh acidity on the finish.
Philippe has projects for the future, Chenin Blanc, Syrah, maybe another cuvée of Malepère. He thinks it is a shame that Malepère should be dominated by Merlot, when Cabernet Franc also works well in the area. He may plant some Grenache Noir, and its cousin, Lledoner Pelut, which is allowed in the appellation of Malepère, but few people have it.
And from Alaigne we took the road to Limoux, past Quillan and through the dramatic Gorges de Pierre-Lys, heading for Maury in the Agly valley. Little did I realise that this would probably be my last cellar visit for quite a while. I will try and keep this blog going with the occasional profile of a bottle enjoyed in self-isolation with my husband in London.