Saturday, 13 March 2010

Vinisud report, part 6 - Domaine La Combe Blanche and Domaine de La Marfée

Blimey - before I know it, Friday night has arrived and I've not posted since Tuesday. I must find more time, though I'm not sure where from. So if anybody knows how to fit more than 24 hours into a day, would you please let me know?

Anyway, continuing into the afternoon of our first day at Vinisud, we moved from Brigitte Chevalier's stand straight on to the Domaine La Combe Blanche stand, to spend some time tasting the wines and chatting with my good friend Guy Vanlancker. Those who know the story of how I got into the wine business in the first place will know about the key role played by this man and his wines. For those who don't, you can read all about it here on my website. You can also read more about my current selection of Guy's wines in the Domaine La Combe Blanche section of the website. Although I am extremely familiar with Guys wines, it would have been remiss of me not to taste a few whilst there.

Apart from his premium cuvées (La Galine and La Chandeliere being the top reds) there were some impressive "basic" Minervois reds. The 2009 - not yet bottled - was fabulously soft and primary, supple and intensely fruity. 2008 was somewhat richer, with ultra-ripe fruit. 2007 combined the richness of the '08 with the freshness of the '09 and was absolutely delicious. 2006 was spicy and firm, with a lovely core of fruit. I currently offer the 2005, which is lovely to drink right now, but my experience of previous vintages tell me it has even more to offer. The Vins de Pays from both Tempranillo and Cinsault are lovely wines, both of which display a mix of varietal character and the local terroir. The only grape that I feel Guy has not really nailed yet - at least on a regular basis - is Pinot Noir. The hills above La Liviniere tend to be subject to all the extremes that the different seasons can offer, and whilst the winters can be harsh - especially up on the relatively high slopes and plateaus - the summers are often conversely hot and dry, meaning that growing Pinot is a hit and miss affair. Then again, we all have our follies. And the occasional miss is more than made up for by an array of successes, year after year. I've been working with Guy from the very first day I started my business - and I'll be working to sell these lovely wines just as long as he keeps making them.
After we left Guy, we strolled around the various halls, stopping here and there to taste wines from various growers. Some of the visits were planned, others just took our fancy, for one reason or another. I'll post notes and thoughts on some of the highs and lows in due course. For now, I'll tell you about our last major visit of the day - and one which I had been really looking forward to - which was Domaine de La Marfée. I've had the opportunity to taste one or two older wines from this grower before, so I know how good they can be, and how ageworthy they are. Indeed, I posted a tasting note on a particularly enjoyable Les Vignes Qu'on Abat 1999 a couple of weeks ago. But having never tasted them on release before, I didn't really have any idea what to expect of them, given that they were relatively young. But these wines are, almost without exception, brilliant. There's no other word to describe them, in my humble opinion.

With a backgound in accountancy, Thierry Hasard came relatively late to winemaking, making his first wines in 1997. He farms around 6 hectares of vines (on a dozen or so different plots) near the village of Murviel Les Montpellier, a few kilometres west of Montpellier itself. He currently makes five wines - a white and four different reds.

Frissons d'Embolles 2007 is a blend of 70% Roussanne and 30% Chardonnay. It is full of minerally character, with aromas and flavours of herbs, stone fruit and citrus. There's a hint of reduction, though it certainly doesn't detract from the wine, and a touch of classy oak, which adds richness and depth. But the overall impression is of purity and finesse. A really lovely wine.

Les Gamines 2007 is 50% Syrah, 40% Mourvedre and 10% Grenache. I was obviously too busy enjoying this wine, because my rather brief note reads "berries galore - soft but so complex!"

Della Francesca 2007 is 85% Mourvedre and 15% Syrah. Savoury and herby, but again so fruity. Grippy and quite tight at present, but full of rich, almost pastilley-sweet fruit, with excellent balancing acidity.

Les Vignes Qu'on Abat 2007 is 100% Carignan. Once again, we have gorgeous, almost lush fruit, with hints of garrigue and an almost schiste-like minerality and remarkably ripe, velvety tannins. This is another really fabulous wine, which is already surprisingly approachable. A real testament to the potential of old Carignan vines (in the hands of the right winemaker, of course).

Les Champs Murmurés 2007 is Syrah and Mourvedre, made from very old vines. It is a little bit closed on the nose at present, although the palate is much more expressive. Again, a rich core of fruit, but with a cloak of tannins that needs another 2 or 3 years to soften. Nevertheless, another beautifully structured and classy wine.

Looking at the above notes, I almost sound as if I'm damning these wines with faint praise, but I can assure you that I was completely bowled over by them. The white is up there with the very best I have tasted from Languedoc. And the reds all have one particular thing in common, whatever the blends or varieties - and that is a depth of fruit which I find hard to describe. The nearest descriptor I can think of is fruit pastilles (especially the red and black ones) with a rich, deep flavour, like ultra-ripe raspberries and blackcurrants, but alwayys with a lick of mouth-watering acidity. Monsieur Hasard has been quoted as saying that he believes terroir is more important than grape variety. Whatever it may be down to (I think it is probably a blend of great terroir, top-notch viticulture and damn fine winemaking) there appears to be a clear style to these wines, and one that I find very easy to fall in love with. They are just wonderful.

Thierry Hasard of Domaine de La Marfée,
applying a biodynamic preparation in his vineyard

As with Mas Foulaquier (whose wines I talked about in part 2 of this report), it wasn't until later that I discovered that Domaine de La Marfée is biodynamic. Which I guess should not have come as a surprise. As I have said before, whatever you think of biodynamicism (extreme organics or just plain whacky) it is a philosophy which does tend to go hand-in-hand with a healthy respect for the land and a fastidious approach to winemaking. And when the wines are this good, you can't help but begin to believe in it.

I have therefore wasted no time in placing an order for a selection of all five of the above wines from Domaine de La Marfée (along with the range of wines from Mas Foulaquier) which should arrive in stock within the next 2 to 3 weeks. To say I am excited at the prospect of having them on my list is an understatement - I can't wait!


AlanM said...

Early price thoughts Leon?

Leon Stolarski said...

Alan - as you may suspect, they won't be cheap, though we are talking about some of the Languedoc's very top wines here.

The Marfée prices will range between £13 and £24 for the reds, whilst the white will be around £15. The Mas Foulaquier wines will range from £12.50 to £18.25.

AlanM said...

Could be worse mate given the exchange rate. I'll be in.

Graham said...

I sampled Marfée wines several times at tastings up until 2005 and was never knocked out by them - frankly they were closed and brooding. In 2005 I noted that the 2002 Gamines red was ripe, sweet with red fruit berries. Over the past couple of years it's been delicious and I've still have a few bottles. The Champs and Abat 1997 were memorable a couple of years ago (not my bottles).

I guess my point is that Marfée now has a track record of ageing superbly. I've also got some 2001 Champs I'll report back on when I next open one - recall it had a nice structure.