Domaine de l”Hortus

I hadn’t been to Domaine de l”Hortus since I was researching Wines of the Languedoc back in 2017, so it was high time for another visit.  However, the day did not get off to a good start.  I had opted for the crosss country route from Aniane to Valflaunès, obliviously unaware that the road was blocked at Puechebon.   Deviation signs said to follow signs to Montpellier and St Gely du Fesc, so I duly turned round, but then in good French fashion, the deviation signs petered out and I found myself in the suburbs of Montpellier, which is any driver’s nightmare.  Thank God for Waze to extricate me.   So I was only a hour late for my appointment with Yves Orliac……

The welcome was warm and I quickly forget the angst of the morning.  The visit began with vat and barrel samples of the 2023 vintage in the cellar, with Martin who is the winemaker of the three brothers.  His first vintage was 2009 and the streamlined cellar was built in 1994.    


Grande Cuvée Blanc  

Just taken out of barrel and gently fined, and then a light filter before bottling.  Martin observed that they believe that filtering helps rather than detracts from the flavour of the wine.  No malo.  Still slightly cloudy.  A blend of 50% Chardonnay, 20% Viognier, 15% Sauvignon Gris and 15% Petit Manseng.   They keep the white grapes separately until shortly before bottling.  Essentially one plot of vines goes into one vat.  The flavours were still quite closed with some firm fruit and satisfying mouthfeel.  Plenty of potential. 

Martin is particularly enthusiastic about the 2023s.  They are delicious, the best vintage since he began making wine.  It was a good growing season, with a hot summer and a coup de chaud in August which resulted in a even ripening of the grapes and some refined tannins.

Next came unblended reds.  The proportions in the vineyard are approximately 70% Syrah, 20% Mourvèdre and about 10% Grenache.  Altogether they farm about 80 hectares.  First we tried a Grenache, which is destined for Bergerie d’Hortus.  It was light red in colour, with a delicate liqueur cherry nose, with fresh perfumed fruit and a streak of supple tannin on the palate.  

The Mourvèdre was a deeper colour, with much more structure, with tannin and acidity and fresh fruit.  Next came two Syrah, one from a warmer vineyard and one from a cooler vineyard.  The first, from an east facing vineyard, had some ripe peppery fruit, some black currant gums and quite firm but supple tannins.  The Syrah from the north facing vineyard was more structured with fresh peppery fruit.

In 2016 they extended their range to include Dit de l’Hortus from a particularly good plot of Syrah or Mourvèdre.  In the very best years, such as 2023, they make both.  The wine is kept in vat for twelve months and then in bottle for a further 10 to 12 months.  La Soulane, with the name implying south facing, is Mourvèdre with firm smoky red fruit on the nose.  The palate is quite firm, with tannins and some red fruit.   L’Ombrée, the cooler vineyard, is a Syrah with fresh peppery fruit which promised well in vat.  This is the only new wine they have developed since their first vintage in 1990.

Then we adjourned to the barrel cellar for some more informative tasting, with Martin illustrating the impact of barrels of different ages.  The blend for Grande Cuvée is 70% Syrah, nearly a third Mourvèdre and just a drop of Grenache.  The wine from a 2020 400 litre demi-muid had some oak on the nose and was quite structured and powerful.  The wine was initially  blended in December, with some fine tuning later on before bottling.  They have had 30 years experience of élevage and essentially prefer barriques to larger containers as they find the oak is better integrated.

Next came a 2022 barrique from the same cooper, with good colour, quite a firm nose and a fresh palate with some firm tannins on the finish.  With a 2023 barrique, there was oak on the nose, and the palate balanced with good fruit and some weight.  

And then it was time to taste from bottle with Yves who has the commercial brains of the three brothers.  He is also a rather good cook as l was about to find out.

2023 Rosé, Languedoc - 14€

One third each of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre.  Pressurage direct. Orange pink colour.  Dry fruit on the nose with quite a firm structured palate with good acidity and satisfying weight.  Some ageing potential -  think Bandol.  Yves called 2023 a miraculous vintage, for both its quantity and quality.

2023 Bergerie de l'Hortus Blanc, Val de Montferrand -  15€  A blend of seven grape varieties, namely Roussanne, Viognier, Sauvignon Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat à petits grains of which they have just one hectare, and Petit Manseng.  Light colour.  Quite floral fruit on the nose.  Lots of nuances on the palate, with balanced acidity.  With so many grape varieties it is difficult to determine the contribution of each.  They are looking for elegant freshness and aroma and  that is what they have achieved.  

2022 Grande Cuvée Blanc, Val de Montferrand - 30€

An abundant crop especially for whites, but better quality for reds. But not necessarily a vintage to age.  They produce 80% red to 20% white and just a drop of rosé.

Lightly perfumed, with a hint of honey and some acidity.  Quite rounded and ripe. Evolving nicely.

And then a more mature bottle, the 2019 Grande Cuvée. A little colour.  Maturing, leafy notes in the palate.  Intriguing nuances.  Satisfying mouthfeel.  Based on Chardonnay plus Sauvignon Gris and Petit Manseng.  Some lees stirring in barrel.

2022 Bergerie de l'Hortus Rouge, Pic St Loup  - 17.50€

Medium colour.  Elegant dry spicy fruit on nose and palate.  Elegant with dry red fruit on the palate.  

2022 was an abundant year compared to 2021 which was complicated by spring frosts.  

2022 Grande Cuvée Rouge, Pic St Loup 

Just bottled.  Medium colour.  More concentration than Bergerie. Firm spice on both nose and palate.  Again more weight and depth, after some time in barrel.  Just bottled. From ten hectares below the Pic st Loup that their father, Jean, planted over 30 years ago.  

2021 Grande Cuvée Rouge, Pic St Loup - 30€

Vines under the cliff face escaped the frost. Whites suffered more than reds.  Medium colour.  Firm nose, beginning to evolve.  Very good spicy fruit.   Very satisfying and promises well with plenty of potential.  

2013 Grande Cuvée Rouge, Pic St Loup  Jean observed that this was not a great year for reds but l thought it was delicious.  It was ageing nicely with dry cedary fruit and an elegant finish.  

2020 l’Ombrée, Pic St Loup- 70€.  From the historic plot of Syrah.  Eclats calcaires in the middle of the slope below the cliff.  Jean made a comparison with the position of the best vineyards in Burgundy.  One year in vat.  It does not need barrel.  Nicely rounded one and palate with peppery fruit and some elegant weight.  The vines are 40 years old.

Note.  The appellation of Pic St Loup is only red. so the white wines of Hortus are the IGP Value Montferrand and the rosé plain Languedoc.

And then it was lunch time.  Yves produced a delicious tomato salad with soft cheese and herbs and l appreciated the wonderful flavours of really ripe tomatoes.  And next came a delicious concoction of tomato and sausages.  And then Jean took me to look at some relatively new vineyards, under the Pic St Loup.  There were wild flowers galore after the damp spring including some pyramid orchids and we looked across to older vineyards under the cliff of Hortus.  The third brother François, the viticulturalist of Jean’s three sons, was busy on his tractor bringing some order to the rampant vines.

There are now about 70 independent wine growers in the Pic st Loup and Jean observed that their experience counts.  They pioneered the region in the 1990s and continue to hold their place as one of leading wine estates of the appellation.

And determined to avoid Montpellier on the way home, l headed for St Martin de Londres and then up into the hills to Causse de la Selle before turning south to follow the valley of the Hérault with its dramatic gorges to the Pont du Diable and then my route took me through Montpeyroux and Jonquières, with the Pic de Vissou as my beacon.  It was the Languedoc scenery at its finest on  a sunny summer’s afternoon. 


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