Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette
There is a wonderful moment when you are driving down the motorway, the A75 and you come over the Pas de l’Escalette and you think you can almost see the silvery line of the Mediterranean in the distance. The temperature rises and you know that you are in the Languedoc and here are the first vines, some of which belong to Julien Zernott and Delphine Rousseau of Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette outside the village of Poujols.
They had just completed their 20th vintage, when I visited them in October 2022. When they arrived here from the Loire Valley, the Terrasses du Larzac was simply not talked about, so they have been very much part of its development. There are not so many estates in this corner of the appellation at the northern end of the valley of the League. Delphine mentioned Clos Maia and Mas Haut Buis and there is the small cooperative of Pégairolles, as well as Domaine Caujolle-Gazet. They all enjoy the cooling influence of the Larzac plateau, but otherwise the appellation is very diverse and that is part of its charm.
Delphine described the 2022 harvest as long and difficult. They had 100 mm rain on 30th August, mid-harvest, and also some hail, and then the weather turned tropical, which made for rot, until the north wind dried everything. They finished on 27th September and she admitted that they were plutôt content.
I’ve always loved their white wine and 2021 Clapas Blanc - 26€ - was no exception. A blend of 40% each of Grenache Blanc and Carignan Blanc, with 10% each of Terret and Grenache Gris. A little colour. White flowers and blossom on the nose. Some lovely texture and mouthfeel, balanced with good acidity. Very floral, with weight and elegance and a long finish. The wine spend 10 months in tronconic vats on its lees, but with no bâtonnage. Malo fait. The terroir provides the freshness.
2021 Mas Rousseau - 30€
A pure Carignan blanc, with a first harvest in 2016, planted from massale selection. Aged in 15 hls foudres. An elegant stony nose, Quite tight knit and structured, with firm acidity and stony fruit. Satisfying weight and depth, with some ageing potential.
2021 Ze rosé, Languedoc - 12€
A blend of Grenache and young Cinsault vines and a little Carignan. Pale pink orange. Indigenous yeast. Kept in vat. The ampleur, or fullness of Grenache with some weight on the nose. A rounded ripe palate with a dry finish. Good length. A serious rosé with some character.
Delphine described 2021 as the complete opposite of 2022. It rained until mid June and then the summer was dry, with the grapes taking time to ripen.
2021 Petit Pas, AC Languedoc - 13€
A blend of Syrah, Grenache and a little Carignan in cement vat, and then bottled in the spring. Medium colour. Good fruit, with a touch of tapenade on the palate. Ripe and juicy with some notes of the garrigues, and a fresh finish. AOP Languedoc as Terrasses du Larzac requires a minimum of 10 months élevage.
2021 les Clapas Rouge - 17€
Mainly Syrah, 60% and whole bunches, with Grenache and Carignan. Elevage in foudres and futs. Just bottled. Medium colour. Quite firm tight closed nose. Dry and spicy. Lovely fruit and freshness. Medium weight. An elegant concentration of flavour and very harmonious with a lift on the finish.
2020 les Clapas Rouge
Deeper colour. Bottled a year ago. Spicy tapenade fruition the nose. Nicely rounded palate with ripe fruit and an elegant finish. And more southern in character and quite a different style from 2021. Shows the two extremes.
2021 Cinsault, IGP Hérault - 24€
From 60 year old vines. Light bright colour. Elevage half in amphora made from grès or sandstone and half in barrel, for nearly a year. Lovely fresh fruit. Very perfumed, with some weight.
Delphine laughingly recalled that when they arrived, they were advised to put up the Carignan and Terret, and to only use Cinsault for rose! She admitted that Cinsault is tricky for red wines. The skins are very thin and fragile and berries large and juicy, so it is easier to make rosé. Their first Cinsault vintage was 2010.
2020 Le Pas de D - 24€
Blend of Carignan, Grenache, Cinsaut, with Carignan the dominant variety. Good colour. Quite a firm stony nose, with some rounded ripe fruit. Quite rich, but with firm acidity and youthful tannins. Needs time. An elegant finish, with none of the rusticity sometimes associated with Carignan. This is Delphine’s personal cuvée and her aim is to 'donner noblesse au Carignan'. I think she has succeeded.
2020 Le Grand Pas - 28€
70% Grenache, 20% Carignan, 10% Cinsault. Grenache from higher vineyards. Ripe cherries and spice on the nose and palate. Ripe and fresh, rounded and textured. Quite a big mouthful, and 15 abv. They called it 'Un homage au Grenache'.
In 2022 the Grenache had freshness, whereas the Syrah was not so successful, but Grenache copes better with the heat than Syrah.
2020 Les Frieys - 40€
Grenache dominant, with Carignan, Mourvèdre grown in a small terraced vineyards just 36 ares producing just 1500 bottles. They cleared the scrub and the first vintage was 2016.
Young colour. Ripe fruit on the nose and palate. Lovely ripe opulent berry fruit from the Grenache. Lots of nuances. Good length Delphine called it part of the construction of the Terrasses du Larzac.