Monday, 8 March 2010

Vinisud report, part 4 - some thoughts from our first morning at Vinisud

After our rather hectic and very long day on Sunday, Bernard and I finally returned to our hotel in Marseillan at around half past midnight. I'm not saying I was tired, but after around 40 hours without any quality sleep, I was out like a light virtually as soon as my head hit the pillow. Eight hours of solid sleep later, it was time to get up again and face another day's wine tasting. Such a chore, I'm sure you'll agree, but it certainly beats what I usually have to look forward to on an average Monday morning!

Unfortunately, the hotel doesn't serve breakfast on a winter's Monday morning, so we took a stroll up the harbour to a café. 14 Euros for two coffees, two glasses of orange juice and four croissants wasn't particularly cheap, but it provided a welcome start to the day. By 9.30, we were on the road, and on this particular occasion, we took the coast road from Marseillan to Sete. Those of you with experience of this part of Mediterranean France will know that this particular stretch of beach is an enticing sight during the summer months. In winter, though, it is a different proposition - a stiff offshore breeze and a temperature of no more than 7 or 8 celsius, with the waves whipping-up to the very edge of the rocks, ensures that you don't hang around for long. Certainly makes you feel alive, though!

The beach near Marseillan Plage, with Sete in the distance.
Bernard looks impatient to get some wine tasting done!

Then it was off to the Parc des Expositions for the main event. Now believe me, Vinisud is big - very big. With around 1200 exhibitors, spread over 12 halls of sizes varying between large and very large, you could easily spend a whole week there and only really scratch the surface. But it lasts for just 3 days, and we were there for just 2. Therefore, it pays to go with a plan, otherwise it is very easy to waste a day just getting your bearings and meandering aimlessly - I know, because I've done that before. That is if you can actually get in to begin with. This is the third edition of Vinisud I have attended, and I've never seen it so busy. And I think that the organisers were taken by surprise as well, because, by the time we arrived at around 10.30, the car parks were all full. After driving around for ages, we finally gave up and drove off the site and looked for parking nearby. We eventually ended up on the side of the main road that runs along the back of the complex - not too bad, since it only entailed a 15-minute walk. Once in, we wasted no time in getting stuck in to some serious wine tasting. What follows (both in this post and a fe subsequent ones) is really just a resumé of the 2 days we spent at Vinisud - which was a mixture of planned stops at some of my own growers' stands, some new growers that Bernard and I were both interested in trying, plus a few unscheduled stops at stands that (for one reason or another) looked as if they might be interesting.

We started with an unscheduled visit to the Sud de France stand (actually, more like a giant room) which offered 421 different wines from some of the best - and perhaps not-so-best - growers in Languedoc and Roussillon who, I believe, had been asked to submit one or two wines for this line-up. The full-colour, ring-bound, A5-sized booklet produced especially for this line-up (and available free of charge) was impressive in itself. Each wine has its own page, containing just about as much information about wine and grower as you could want. At almost 3 centimetres thick, it was more of a book than a booklet! Rather than plough through the whole lot, from start to finish, we headed straight for the "Icon" wines. Here are a few brief thoughts.....

Following the recent Pinot Noir scandal, I couldn't resist trying Toques & Clochers Chardonnay "Autan" 2007 Limoux from the now infamous and discredited Sieur d'Arques co-operative. Undoubtedly a classy wine, with lots of oak treatment and really very well made. Not that I'll be jumping to buy any, in the forseeable future, whatever the price. Chateau Puech-Haut "Tete de Bélier" 2008 Coteaux du Languedoc is a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne, and has a lovely, fresh, fruity and herby nose - very elegant, with restrained use of oak. Domaine de Ravanes "Le Renard Blanc" 2005 VdP des Coteaux de Murviel is 100% Grenache Gris and is weird - quite oaky and reductive, with a combination of gunpowder and crystallised citrus fruits on the nose. A touch of residual sugar on the palate, with flavours of lemon, orange and toffee. Very whacky, but intense and really lovely. Then again, with an ex-cellars price of 22.50 Euros, it should be - that's getting on for £35 retail.

Although I didn't write any notes, the two wines from Clos Centeilles - namely, Capitelle de Centeilles 2002 Minervois and Clos Centeilles 2003 Minervois La Liviniere (yes, you read the vintages correctly) - were both hanging on beautifully. The former is from 55 year-old Cinsault vines, whilst the latter is Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. Considering that these wines were produced in two of the most difficult vintages in recent decades (for very different reasons, of course) they were remarkably fine, and still very much alive. Having been extremely impressed with the whole range, when I visited Clos Centeilles around 10 years ago, it looks like I should pay them another visit sometime soon. Chateau de Cazeneuve "Le Roc des Mates" 2006 Pic Saint-Loup was herby, spicy and rich, with black fruit flavours. Ultimately, though, it seemed a bit simple - although there might be something more appealing lurking under all those tannins.

Domaine de Montcalmes 2007 Coteaux du Languedoc Terrasses du Larzac, on the other hand, which is another 'GSM' blend, was everything I expected it to be - schisty, herby, black olive and red/black fruits (particularly redcurrant). Great cool-climate Languedoc wine, fresh, balanced and almost sexy(!) I have some 2004 and 2005 tucked away in my own cellar, which pleases me no end. Superb wine. Possibly even better (though with an ex-cellars price of 28 Euros, as opposed to 10.5 for the Montcalmes, it damn-well ought to be) was Le Clos des Fées 2007 Cotes du Roussillon Villages. Made from equal parts of Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Mourvedre, this was another supremely fresh, elegant, expressive wine, which is everything I would expect from one of the most hyped growers in Roussillon. Perhaps the fact that the yields are a miniscule 16 hl/ha and the wine is both vinified and aged in brand new oak barrels means that the production costs are high, though that ex-cellars price does suggest a retail price of around 40 quid, which is far from cheap. It is bloody lovely, though!

Domaine Gayda Chemin de Moscou 2007 VdP d'Oc is made by a "producteur/négociant" with vine holdings and suppliers in many different appellations in Languedoc and Roussillon. If this wine is anything to go by, I'd like to try some of their other wines. This wine (72% Syrah, plus Grenache and Cinsault) was fresh, perfumed and full of fruit. Very complex and really very good - especially at under 10 Euros a bottle, ex-cellars. Domaine l'Aiguiliere offered both of their flagship Coteaux du Languedoc Montpeyroux wines, namely Cote Dorée 2006 and Cote Rousse 2006, both of which are 100% Syrah, though from two totally different terroirs. The former seemed a bit green and tannic at this stage, whilst the latter was somewhat fresher, though still tannic and quite tarry. Let's be honest, they were certainly not easy wines to taste on a Monday morning, though I am loathe to damn them at such a young age. Indeed, Bernard and I enjoyed a beautiful (and only semi-mature) 2001 Cote Rousse in a restaurant the next evening, which shows that these are extremely well-structured and ageworthy wines. And at 11.50 Euros ex-cellars (so under 20 quid retail) they are pretty good value.

Finally, Bertrand-Bergé Cuvée Jean Sirven 2006 Fitou was both fruity and meaty/savoury, with a strong nose. Quite tannic, but again very fruity, if a little rich and slightly over-ripe. A lovely expression of the big (as opposed to elegant) style, and very ageworthy, I would say. We did taste some other wines from the Sud de France selection, but I only really made notes on the ones I felt to be notable in some or other way.

Just a small selection of the 400-plus wines available for tasting in the Sud de France room

And then it was time for a well-earned Toulouse sausage and onion baguette for lunch, before embarking on several more hours of intensive tasting. I'll add some more notes tomorrow.


Graham said...

Great report Leon. Have to say if I was offered a tasting of all the wines of Montpeyroux then Domaine l'Aiguiliere would be a fair way down my list. Didn't bother with it at last years Montpeyroux Toutes Caves Ouvertes.

Leon Stolarski said...

Fair comment, Graham, although that 2001 we had the next evening was pretty damn good. Clearly, though, they are difficult to taste when young.

On the subject of Montpeyroux, we tasted the current range of wines from Alain Chabanon (from whom I used to import) and they were truly disappointing. There's a guy who - at least on this showing - has lost his way. More about this in a future post.....

AlanM said...

Lovely notes, Leon. I'm pining for Marseillan even in that weather.
Graham and I have already discussed Chabanon on winepages, it does seem things have turned for the worse there, even if I liked the 04 white. I stayed near Limoux three years ago and there are some new, interesting estates being established, still an area to watch even if under a cloud at present.
Graham, what Montpeyroux wines do you favour? I was underwhelmed by Joly last year, maybe it was just the prices, but no QPR. Aupilhac remains one of my favourite Languedoc estates.

Graham said...

Alan - my Montpeyroux "file" is in Aspiran but my list would include Aupilhac, Jasse-Castel, Domaine Boisantin (made by daughter at Domaine Saint-Andrieu, has some mature stocks). Ones to watch are Villa Dondona (recent vintages) and a seriously gutsy Carignan from Mas d'Amile.
Virgil Joly is in Saint Saturnin so include that and one would have to delight in Jonquiers, St Jean de Fos, Arboras..........

Leon Stolarski said...

Graham - never mind Virgile Joly, get thee to Domaine d'Archimbaud (the only other independent grower in Saint-Saturnin). They make lovely wines!