Domaine de Cébène - an update
Brigitte Chevalier arrived in the Languedoc in 2004 and made her first Faugères in 2008. She comes from Bordeaux, where she had worked for a négociant, but she really wanted to make her own wine. And it was the variety of the terroir and the choice of grape varieties that brought her to the Languedoc. As she explained, ‘here you have a wonderful impression of liberty compared to Bordeaux where you are weighed down by tradition’. Cébène takes its name from the goddess of the Cevennes, the hills that form a backdrop to the vineyards of Faugères, an outline of which features on Brigitte’s labels. She now has a new cellar outside the village of Faugères, buried in schist with views across the valley to the village and the Pic de Tantajo, and even as far as the sea.
It had been a while since I had tasted Brigitte’s wines, so I accepted her invitation with alacrity, as I was interested to see how things had evolved. Brigitte has always looked for cooler sites, so that her grapes enjoy a long, slow ripening period. Her estate now comprises 10.5 hectares, mainly in two large plots, divided into smaller vineyards around her cellar.
However, her very first wine, Ex Arena, comes from a vineyard in the village of Corneilhan, well outside the appellation, closer to the coast, and lower-lying, on villafranchien soil, with 85% Grenache and 15% Mourvèdre. The grapes are picked relatively early, when they are just ripe and given quite a long maceration. This is a wine for easy drinking. Medium colour. Ripe, rounded red fruit - red cherries came to mind - on the nose and palate, with a streak of tannin and acidity and a fresh finish. 13.00€
Next came a new wine, A la Venvole. 2020 is the second vintage, and the name means à l’improviste, with an association with the singer and poet, Georges Brassens. This too is designed for easy drinking, a Faugères de bistro, as Brigitte put it. The blend includes some young Carignan, that Brigitte has planted, that is just coming into production, as well as some old Carignan, with Grenache Noir and Syrah. Medium weight, with some lovely spicy red fruit, balanced with fresh acidity and tannin and a touch of stony minerality. Nicely balanced. Not a trace of wood in the winemaking. 14€.
Next came a mini vertical of les Bancèls - 17.50€. The name means terraces of schist and Brigitte described it as her cuvée de terroir, a combination of the effect of altitude, with vineyards at 300 metres, and freshness, as they are north-facing, with plenty of breezes. And the soil is of course the schist of Faugères. The blend is Grenache Noir, with Syrah and a little Mourvèdre, with the exact proportions depending on the vintage. Again there is no wood.
2019 - Medium colour with ripe smoky, berry fruit on the nose and on the palate. Very rounded with youthful freshness and nicely balanced. The wine spends time on the lees, with a gentle infusion. Brigitte enthused about the purity of the schist of Faugères and its effect on the wine. ‘Purity is our obsession’, she observed.
None was made in 2018, as that is the year remembered for a bad attack of mildew with three weeks of humid weather in June. The Grenache was particularly affected and there was nothing to be done.
2017 - Good colour. Lots of nuances of fruit on the the nose, with some appealing freshness on the palate; balanced with acidity as well as tannin. An underlying elegant richness. Drinking very well now, but would continue to develop in bottle.
2016 - Brigitte likes this vintage a lot. It was a balanced year and not too hot. Good colour. A slightly leathery note on both nose and palate, balanced with some red fruit. Medium weight with a more rounded palate than the 2017.
Brigitte explained that she has completely given up using oak with this year’s vintage, something that she had been considering for a couple of years, and now prefers eggs and amphorae. She has found two producers of amphorae in Italy.
2019 Felgaria - 40€
Felgaria is the latin for faugères, or heather. Brigitte observed that Felgaria has three unusual factors, namely that it is predominantly Mourvèdre, which is rare in Faugères; and it is unusual for Mourvèdre to be grown at altitude, and on schist. The wine certainly has a distinctive flavour, with lovely fruit and a balanced structure with elegant richness, and plenty of ageing potential, as you would expect with Mourvèdre. The tannins are very present. The wine undergoes a long cuvaison, an infusion with some stalks, but not all the stalks. Brigitte has about seven or eight different plots of Mourvèdre, about 1.5 hectares in total. She has even grafted some Mourvèdre onto Syrah. And there is also some Syrah in the blend of Felgaria.
2018 - Medium colour. Quite firm, fresh red fruit, on the nose. And on the palate, quite tannic and structured with youthful ageing potential and underlying elegance. Brigitte considers that schist softens the tannins of the Mourvèdre, whereas in contrast limestone reinforces its structure.
2017 - Good colour. More rounded nose and palate with some firm tannins and nicely balanced fruit. Again good ageing potential. The stalks can add some salinity.
2016 - Medium colour. The nose is beginning to develop some tertiary aromas, with some leathery notes. Red fruit and spice and quite firm tannins. A balance of ripe fruit and tannins. Youthful balance and a long finish.
And then we tried Brigitte’s white wine, 2019 A la Venvole, Languedoc AC, a blend of 40% Marsanne, 60% Grenache Blanc and just a little Terret. She does not own these vines but the vigneron allows her to make a small batch from his vines, which are amongst some of highest in Faugères. 2019 is the second vintage. I liked it a lot. There is little colour and on the balance some satisfying texture balanced with some acidity. As Brigitte put it, a compromise between acidity and the ripeness of the south, with a discreet nose. It made a refreshing finish to our tasting and a delicious aperitif.