Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Vinisud report, part 5 - some super wines from a couple of my current growers

The wines of Mas de Lavail have been an integral part of my list for some years now. Indeed, I visited the estate again last summer, to taste the wines and bring back some sample bottles for tasting at home. On the basis of those bottles, I only intended to import two of the wines (the basic "Tradition" plus the vintage Maury, both of which are excellent, year-in, year-out) since I feared that some of the other cuvées were becoming a bit too big and rich - and hot - for their own good. But I'm glad that I stopped by their stand at Vinisud to taste the current vintages, because they all showed beautifully, and were generally a lot more restrained and balanced than the previous vintages. 

First up was Le Sud 2008 Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes, which is a 50/50 blend of Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc. Aromas of honey, citrus, fennel and creamy oak vanillin. At 14.5% abv, this is still a rich, powerful wine, but so much fresher than the 2007. I liked it a lot, so it is back on my shopping list!

Next was the red Tradition 2008 Cotes du Roussillon Villages, comprising 40% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 40% Carignan, aged in vat. This is a consistently reliable wine, and offers a brilliant quality/price ratio. This one has a nose of fresh fruits and tobacco and a palate that is juicy and ripe, with velvety tannins and good acidity. It's a shame I missed out on the outstanding 2007, which was undoubtedly the best vintage of this cuvée I have tasted, but the 2008 runs it very close. Another one for the shopping list. La Desirade 2006 Cotes du Roussillon is 50% Syrah, plus Grenache and Carignan, aged in barrel for 12 months. My note is a bit sparse, save to say that it is again better than the preious vintage, soft and lush, with a lot of fruit and nicely balanced. Ego 2006 Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes is (as always) a super-ripe 100% Grenache wine. At 11 o'clock in the morning (for it has just occurred to me that this was the very first stand we visited, even before the Sud de France room) I would have expected this wine to taste big and tannic, but not a bit of it - it is soft and voluptuous. Rich, but not soupy, and with surprising balance, given that it comes in at 15% abv. Another winner.

Maury Expression 2008 is also 100% old vine Grenache, made by the "mutage sur grains" method, with the fermentation stopped by the addition of a relatively small amount of grape spirit - classic Maury. Deep red, with a fragrant nose of stewed bramble, caramel and eau de vie. Extremely complex and mouth-filling, with flavours of bramble fruits, cassis and Seville orange. It has 80g of residual sugar and, at just 15.5% abv, is elegant and delicious. As I expected, this is a must buy. Muscat de Rivesaltes 2007 was a bit of a revelation, since I'm not the biggest fan of this style. But this was absolutely gorgeous - a riot of grapes, marmalade and clementines. The palate is clean and super-fresh, but with a marmaladey richness. Very long, too. I've yet to taste a better Muscat de Rivesaltes. Finally, Maury Blanc 2007 - quite oaky on the nose, but so complex. The aromas and flavours put me in mind of orange marmalade and fennel, with a fresh, almost zesty streak of acidity. Again, I've never been a fan of white Maury, but this was wonderful.

This was a very impressive line-up of wines and I clearly have some thinking to do. Seven different wines, and each one had merit, which is going to make narrowing it down to four or five a bit difficult. Not that I would expect much take-up for Muscat de Rivesaltes or Maury Blanc, but how could I not buy at least a little to try out on my customers? I may just take some of all seven!

Although I have been importing wines from Brigitte Chevalier for over a year now, we hadn't previously met (it was though my friend Guy Vanlancker, with whom Brigitte works to produce a fine La Liviniere red, that we actually came into contact). Therefore,  it was a joy to finally meet this delightfully unassuming, softly-spoken and intelligent lady, who speaks with great passion and enthusiasm about her subject. Brigitte previously worked as an export manager for négociant company in Bordeaux until she decided to return to her native Languedoc to make wine. She began by making wines from grapes bought-in from other growers. Whilst continuing with this policy, she now also makes top-notch wines from her own estate, Domaine de Cebene, situated in the far north of the Faugeres region. If that were not enough, she also manages her own négoce company, Chevalier Vins, working closely with top quality growers to produce wines from other appellations, such as Corbieres, Minervois.
Brigitte's own Faugeres and Vin de Pays d'Oc wines are not cheap, but they are amongst the best of their kind. Although I did of course taste those very wines whilst at Vinisud, I didn't make any notes - they are comprehensively covered on the Brigitte Chevalier page on my website. I did however taste some other wines in which Brigitte has a hand in both making and marketing, in conjunction with other growers. Chateau Fabas Minervois Rosé 2009 is, as I noted, simply lovely - proper rosé! Concertino 2007 Corbieres is really lovely stuff - wild and herby, with lovely fruit and spice flavours. I liked it a lot - and it is great value at well under 3 Euros ex-cellars. Domaine du Grand Cres "La Cadella" 2007 Corbieres is finer and more serious, but again with some lovely fruity, spicy flavours. A structured but supple wine, with some potential for ageing. At around 3 Euros ex-cellars, another serious bargain. Domaine Saint-Martin d'Agel 2008 Faugeres is even better, with lovely aromas of tobacco, garrigue and bramble. The palate is is rich, yet beutifully balanced, with subtle hints of tar and even citrus fruit - a lovely, refreshing red wine, and another really serious bargain at just over 3 Euros.

I look forward very much to working with Brigitte Chevalier in the years ahead, for she is a talented winemaker, who also has the ability to sniff-out some great bargains from other producers around the region. One of whom is, of course, my friend and inspiration, Guy Vanlancker, who just happened to walk by and say hello as we were finishing our tasting with Brigitte. I'll talk about Guy and his wines tomorrow, as well as telling you about my second major new discovery of the trip.


Bob Rossi said...

Wow! What I wouldn't give to have these wines available in the US, instead of hundreds of tired Bordeaux or Argentine Malbecs.

Leon Stolarski said...


It never ceases to amaze me how few Languedoc and Roussillon growers are represented or available in the States (at least the ones I work with). I'm sure the fact that RMP and his sidekicks seem to avoid all but their chosen few favourite "cult" growers doesn't help.

Which is a great shame, because so many growers struggle to make ends meet and would jump for joy if a US importer paid them a visit.