Joël Larose is vice-president of the successful cooperative in the village of Alignan-du-Vent and has 30 hectares of vines, all in Alignan and all organic. He took over the family vineyards in 2000 but for a number of years he had nursed an ambition to make his own wine. He and his wife Magali, who studied oenology at Bordeaux, simply wanted to try out things that you could not do in a cooperative. So in 2017 they took the plunge, with one red wine, and now make their own wine from just three hectares, to which they give lots of TLC. Their vineyards are farmed biodynamically and the grapes are handpicked. For the coop vines, you have to do what the coop technician tells you to do, and the grapes are all mechanically harvested.
And this is what we tasted as we chatted.
2021 Fach a l’Ostal Blanc - 6.00€
In Occitan that means made at home. Joël’s grand parents spoke Occitan. And the wine is a blend of 50% Vermentino and 50% Muscat a petits grain. The Vermentino lightens the Muscat so that the blend works very well, with some fresh pithy fruit. The Muscat character still dominates the Vermentino, but with a satisfying balance.
2021 Vent Nouveau - 10€
This is a blend of Vermentino and Roussanne. Joël talked about the methods of Burgundy, where they put the juice straight into a barrel to ferment, so he does the same. They do not have a lot of cooling equipment, and you don’t need that for barrels. The grapes are destemmed and the juice goes into new wood, for the fermentation and then an élevage until March. The two varieties are in the same vineyard and together they ripen at more or less the same time and ferment together. They make just two barrels. The wine is rounded and buttery on the nose with good acidity on the palate and some satisfying weight. The oak is present, but nicely integrated with some ageing potential.
2021 Rosé Fach a l’Ostal - 6.00€
Joël and Magali delighted in saying that this was contre mode, and much deeper in colour than the current fashion for very pale rosé. It is a blend of Malbec, with some Syrah and Grenache. And why Malbec? Joel already had some planted and he was inspired by a rosé that he tasted in Cahors, which is of course the home of Malbec. The grapes are macerated for about three hours before pressing. There is fresh acidity and firm fruit, with some body. A rosé vineux, but a modest 13º.
2021 Fruit de la Terre - 10.00€
Here they became even more experimental as they used amphora, which are still relatively rare in the Languedoc. The blend is half and half Carignan and Grenache Noir. The grapes are all destemmed. The Carignan is macerated in old barrels, with a daily pigeage. They do not want a heavy extraction, but fruit and silky tannins. The Grenache is fermented in a stainless vats again with a daily pigeage and when the fermentation is finished, the grapes are pressed and the young wine put into amphora for about six months. There is no fining and no filtering, and just a little SO2. Joël uses as little sulphur as possible. And the wine is delicious. Good colour. With rounded, spicy fruit on the nose and palate, with supple tannins and some refreshing acidity. It makes for easy undemanding drinking. I had to take my own advice and buy some. The amphora are produced in Castelnaudary and they are neutral, so that the wine evolves as it would in a barrel, but without any flavour impact.
NV Fach a l’Ostal Rouge - 9.00€
This was their very first wine. It is a blend of equal parts of Syrah and Carignan. The Carignan is destemmed and spends 15 days fermenting in an open barrel, with some pigeage, while the Syrah is fermented in vat, taking about 20 days. And then there is a proportion of Carignan from the previous vintage that has aged in barrel for twelve months. They have both French and American barrels. and then the wine is all blended together. The flavours are ripe with some oak and youthful tannins. It was characterful, but I preferred the previous red. This was more of a winter-warmer.
Qu’es Aquo - 10.00€
The final wine. The name means 'what is that' in Occitan and apparently that is what Joël’s father said when presented with the wine, as it is an orange wine. Joël has discovered orange wine with some Georgians at a wine fair in Paris in those days before Covid, and so he wanted to try out his own. It is a Vermentino that has spent 15- 30 days on the skins. The grapes are destalked. And it is very successful. The colour is lightly orange, deep enough for the tasters at the labellisation tasting to consider it oxidised! - and the flavours are very intriguing. There is some quince and some tannin, and a refreshing balance on the palate. They pick the Vermentino two or three weeks later than for the classic white wine, so that it is nearer 15º in alcohol.
Joel and Magali enthused about the Cötes de Thongue. They have an enormous choice of grape varieties, as many as 110 in the cahier des charges. And there is a wonderful liberty, so you cannot really say that there is any tipicity. And so much to discover.
And then Joël put on his vice-president’s hat, and we wandered down the road to the village cooperative for some more conventional wines. There was a refreshing Sauvignon, an award winning oaked Chardonnay, les Hauts de Montarels, and a couple of reds, an oaky Cabernet Syrah blend and a lighter Syrah Merlot. I had an impression of a cooperative that was working well for its members and for the region, offering some good value wines from the small cooperative shop.