Mas d’Alezon and Domaine de Clovallon with Catherine Roque
Catherine Roque is a good friend, and her wine naturally comes into our conversations when we meet, but it had been a while since I had actually seen her for a cellar visit. Wine-loving Norwegian friends provided the excuse and we spent a very congenial morning with Catherine in Faugères, before adjourning up the road to the new bar, the Grands Vins du Terroir.
First we had a look round her cellar. On 15th September, Catherine had picked just one plot, some very ripe Grenache which came in at 14.5. Everything else was taking its time to ripen.
Catherine now has three eggs, as well as some barrels and a qvevri buried underground. She likes the eggs; they are made of concrete and are very neutral. Stainless steel can give salty notes. And the egg allows for auto-bâtonnage, because of the action of the CO2, meaning that there is always a gentle movement of the wine. The lees feed the wine. She bought her first egg in 2015 and now has two of 9.5 hls and one of 20 hls.
The qvevri she has had since 2019 and it is installed in an old well. It is 10 hls. and she uses it for a white wine maceration. It is very pure. It was made in Impruneta in Tuscany. Ideally Catherine would have liked to use her own clay, from Clovallon and had found somebody in Spain who would make her a qvevri, but she is still waiting ……
She also has a 15 hls Stockinger barrel, from the Austrian cooper who is considered one of the best. And at a price. She uses it for her white wine.
Catherine now farms 8.5 hectares of Faugères, including a recently acquired hectare of Cinsaut, a grape variety in which she is increasingly interested.
So first we tasted the Grenache Noir, picked earlier in the week. Catherine is very happy with it, with a good balance of ripe fruit and acidity. The juice will be run off when the fermentation finishes, but she continues the maceration all the while the CO2 protects the new wine. And then our tasting continued, with not only her wines at Mas d'Alezon, but also those of her daughter, Alex at Domaine de Clovallon.
Domaine de Clovallon 2020 En Noir et Blanc
This is a white wine from Pinot Noir, made like a white wine, and with just a touch of Riesling. It is quite golden in colour, with some firm dry fruit and a tannic streak, which almost makes it an orange wine. The Riesling is vinified in vat and the Pinot Noir in old wood.
Domaine de Clovallon 2020 Viognier, Les Aires
From vines planted 30 years ago. A two week maceration makes it an orange Viognier. Golden colour, less peachy and perfumed than some Viognier. Good texture, a dry palate, with good mouthfeel and texture. An originally successful take on Viognier.
2020 Mas d'Alezon, Cabretta, Faugères Blanc
Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Roussanne, all picked together at the end of September and pressed together, and fermented in the Stockinger barrel. At the beginning of October, Catherine picks the Clairette, which is given a ten day maceration, in vat, amphora and barrel, which makes for plenty of extraction and a rich golden colour.
The palate is rounded and textured with lots of nuances, and very intriguing with a slightly bitter finish, which gives a satisfying lift to the palate. Lovely texture and mouthfeel and a slightly tannic note. Clairette is the old traditional white grape of the Languedoc. it has been here for 2000 years, and it can also be a table grape. It has loose bunches, with oval berries with thick skins. Catherine observed that schist, the soil of Faugères, keeps the freshness in the grapes and allows for ageing. Cabretta is the lieu-dit of the vineyard, and the name implies very poor soil, only suitable for grazing goats.
Domaine de Clovallon 2020 Pinot Noir
From young vines and aged in an old barrel. Medium colour. Fresh red fruit on the nose and palate. A hint of liquorice and a streak of tannin. Nicely balanced, with an elegant finish.
Domaine de Clovallon 2019 Pomarèdes
Named after the last bandit operating on the road to Béziers, and the victim of the last public execution in the area in about 1850. Parallels could be made with Robin Hood. Elevage in a tronconic vat for about 12 months. The grapes are picked about the same time as in Burgundy; the vineyards north of Bédarieux in the Haute Vallée de l’Aude are in one of the cooler parts of the Languedoc.
Quite light colour. Much more depth of flavour and nuances than the Pinot Noir from young vines. Dry red fruit, balanced with a streak of tannin and intriguing flavours that are too difficult to describe but simply make you want to carry on tasting it.
Domaine de Clovallon 2019 Les Indigènes, Vin de France
A wine made without any sulphur at all from a walled vineyard up in the hills above Bédarieux. There are about twenty different grape varieties, red white and gris, all mixed up together and the vineyard has never succumbed to phylloxera. The colour is quite deep and the nose firm and peppery; there are leathery notes of the palate, with some quite sturdy flavours and integrated tannins.
And now back to Catherine’s wines in Faugères:
2019 Faugères, Presbytère
A blend of 60 - 65% Cinsault with some Lledoner Pelut and about 10% Carignan, vinified in an egg, with a small percentage in wood. Catherine is becoming increasingly interested in Cinsault and you can detect its elegant fragrance in the wine. The palate is ripe and rounded, while staying elegant and fresh. The tannins are well integrated. I found a note of liquorice, which Catherine said, came fro the schist. Altogether a lovely Faugères.
2019 Faugères Montfalette
Named after the lieu-dit of the vineyard which is the most northern of the appellation of Faugères. A blend of 50% Mourvèdre, with 40% Syrah and 10% Grenache, picked on 10th October and blended immediately. Elevage in wood, some chestnut as well as oak. Quite a firm sturdy palate, with some acidity and tannin and notes of pepper and spice. Nicely elegant. With ageing potential.
Catherine describes 2019 as quite an austere vintage, while 2020 is more solaire or sunny. The wine was given a six week cuvaison with all the stalks. The Syrah was ripe and generous. And on the palate the flavours are ripe and more floral, with softer tannins, but with a backbone none the less. There is liquorice and the wine is fleshier, with quite a firm tannic finish.
For her 2021 vintage, Catherine is intending to do more égrappage; previously she would do the minimum. She lets the grapes infuse gently as she does not want to disturb or secouer the wine, so she just allows for a gentle extraction. She does not use the stalks of the Grenache, as they make the flavours more vegetal.
She was pleased with how 2021 is looking. August was hot but the nights are cool. If it is too hot, the flavours become too cooked too quickly. A little rain had filled out the grapes a little and she was hoping that the fine weather forecast for the next days would hold. It did. She was pleased with 2020, but 2021 promises to be even better. She escaped the frost, and also hail, whereas Alix had a little frost at Clovallon.
And then we adjourned to the wine bar up the road and enjoyed a bottled of 2020 Domaine Cottebrune, le Cairn, a blend of Grenache, Vermentino and Roussanne, with refreshing acidity and a nicely textured palate.