Sunday, 8 August 2010

A visit to Domaine d'Archimbaud

As promised in my glowing write-up on that memorable sweet wine (see Friday's post below) here's a brief account of our (seemingly annual) visit to Domaine d'Archimbaud, on our way back home from Languedoc in late June. The estate is situated in the village of Saint-Saturnin de Lucian, one of the most northerly wine-growing villages in Languedoc. Since it is not really within easy reach of the main holiday areas, it is one of the least-known (and least-appreciated) appellations in the region. Last I heard, there were only 2 independent growers making wine in the Saint-Saturnin appellation, namely the oft-hyped Virgile Joly, plus d'Archimbaud. To this day, the Co-op still dominates production in the AOC. Virgile Joly's fame is due in no small part to the book Virgile's Vineyard, published a few years after he created his estate in 2000. I haven't tasted any of his wines, but have read mixed reviews from both critics and punters alike. I'd like to taste them sometime, so I could make up my own mind.

Domaine d'Archimbaud was created around the same time, when the Cabanes family decided to leave the Saint-Saturnin Co-operative and strike out on their own. They bottled their first estate wines from the 2001 vintage, and have been making some pretty remarkable wines ever since. Jean-Pierre Cabanes and his daughter Marie-Pierre make the wines, ably assisted in the background by wife/mother Marie-Claude. They are a lovely family and we have always felt extremely welcome when we've visited their cave in the centre of the village, even when turning-up (as we did this year) just before lunchtime, unannounced. Nothing is too much trouble for them.

So what of the wines? Whilst unmistakeably Languedoc, the flavours tend to the more “cool climate” in style. The village is situated in the sub-region or "terroir" known as Terrasses de Larzac, in the foothills of the Causse du Larzac, a limestone plateau on the southern edge of the Massif Central. Here the altitude is higher than many of the better-known appeallations (in this case, around 500ft above sea level) and the climate is different - the days are still sunny and hot, but the nights are cooler than the more coastal and low-lying Languedoc regions, allowing for a slightly longer growing season. The vineyards are shielded from the north winds and the worst excesses of the weather systems of the Massif Cenral by the Larzac plateau and the imposing Mont de St. Baudille, which rises to 847 metres above sea level (about 2,800 feet) a few kilometres to the north east.

Approaching Saint-Saturnin from the south, with Mont de St. Baudille in the background

The resulting wines show great balance and complexity, and not a little finesse. The Domaine d'Archimbaud vineyards are planted mainly to Syrah and Grenache, plus some Mourvedre and Carignan. The vines average around 25 years of age and yields are restricted to around 30 hl/ha. More plantings of Mourvedre are now coming into production. Although the red wines have top billing, the rosé is also noteworthy for the fact that it is a vin de pressurage – in other words, it is made from a direct pressing of the red grapes, unlike most rosés made from the “saignée” method, which is a by-product of the red winemaking process. And it shows - they make one of the best rosés I have tasted from Languedoc, and I suspect it has more than a little ageing potential.

We arrived just before midday at the cave in the centre of Saint-Saturnin. I knocked on the door and waited for a minute, then went around the side to see if anybody was in the store room. I was about to give up when Monsieur Cabanes appeared, slightly dishevelled and dusty. It turned out that he had just been in the vineyards, applying some sulphur treatment to the vines (spring had been cool and somewhat damp, so with the onset of warmer weather, this was necessary to prevent any chance of mildew). As he unlocked the door to the cave, Madame Cabanes also appeared. They greeted us like old friends and sat us down at the table to taste the wines. As I am already very familiar with the Traditon and Robe du Pourpre cuvées and the 2009 Rosé, I asked to taste only a couple of new wines they had emailed me about a few weeks before;

Les IV Pierre Blanc Vin de Pays du Mont Baudile (2009)
This is a pale-ish green/gold colour, with a pronounced floral, grapey aroma, courtesy of 10% Muscat  in the blend, The remainder is 80% Viognier and 10% Grenache Blanc. There's a nice whiff of garrigue herbs, too, with background notes of stone fruits, apples, clove and fennel. The grapiness manifests itself a little on the palate too, along with a nice lemon-infused acidity, making it very fresh on entry, before the richer, slightly oily Viognier and Grenache coat the palate with spiced fruits, with some herby, savoury notes coming in on the finish. Unless I am very much mistaken, there is no oak influence in this wine, leaving the fruit to make all the running. It isn't a quirky wine - rather, it is fresh and pure and beautifully made. That isn't to say that it won't become quirky with a year or two in bottle, but it already has lots of interest and makes for a lovely drink right now. I think I'll be importing this one, and it should come in at around £10.
As for what it says on the bottle, the 2009 is in brackets because - for reasons unknown to me - the Mont Baudile VdP does not permit a vintage to be shown on the label. Monsieur Cabanes pointed me towards a code embossed on the neck of the bottle itself (not a label) showing L010/033, meaning it was bottled in March 2010. I suggested to him that other growers (notably those who market their wines as Vins de Table) get around this little problem by putting some sort of "code" on the label itself - for example, "L2009" (i.e. Lot 2009). Not very subtle, of course, but it circumvents the problem in a way that leaves little to the imagination. I think Monsieur Cabanes might decide to use this method in the future!

l'Enfant Terrible 2008 Languedoc Terrasses du Larzac
This is made from 60% Mourvedre, the remainder being Grenache and Carignan. It was bottled in February 2010, so is still a little primary, but already very expressive. The colour is a bright, youthful, quite deep ruby red with a wide rim. The nose greets you with a huge waft of tar, woodsmoke and polished leather, with a veritable pot pourri of herbs and spices, almost like incense. It isn't oak-aged, but it smells creamy. It has bags of fruit, too - dark, brambly fruit, plums and black cherries.Like the nose, the palate is spicy, herby and tarry, with ripe tannins and just the right amount of acidity to give it a fruity, sweet and sour tanginess. It is quite rich, persistent and nicely warming. As this is such a young wine, I suspected it may be even better on day 2, and this was confirmed with a bottle we consumed this weekend, which really did come into its own after 24 hours in the decanter - a sure sign of a wine that will age and evolve nicely. It had developed more herby and spicy notes, with hints of flowers, earth and red meats. It really is rather lovely, and yet another wine which I plan to import at the end of the summer. Projected price is likely to be around £12-£13.

I then asked if I could taste the sweet Vendange d'Automne 2007, a bottle of which was sitting on the bureau in the corner of the cave. At that, Monsieur Cabanes said of course, but the bottle I saw had been standing upright in the light of the tasting room for too long, so he needed to go and get another one. If I had known he meant he needed to fetch it from the winery 2 or 3 kilometres down the road, I might have said "no, don't worry", but he was out the door and in the car before I knew it. Nothing was too much trouble. We chatted with Madame Cabanes whilst he was gone. She is a delightful, gentle lady who - along with the rest of her family - is clearly at ease with the world, and the life they lead in this beautiful corner of Languedoc. Monsieur Cabanes arrived back within 20 minutes, and presented me with that bottle, which you can read about in my previous post below - and boy was I glad I let him go and get it, for it has been a bit of an eye-opener, to say the least!

Jean-Pierre and Marie-Claude Cabanes, in their cave in the village of Saint-Saturnin de Lucian

Having spent a good hour or so in the company of these lovely people, it was time to resume our long journey to Calais. We left Saint-Saturnin, armed with 3 bottles each of the red and white we had tasted (even though I expected to pay for anything more than a bottle of each, even as a merchant/client, my offer of money was politely declined) with a warm glow. Not just from tasting the wines, but also from the fact that we get to do business with some of the nicest people it is possible to meet in the wine world. Having been importing wines from Domaine d'Archimbaud since 2004, I'm certainly not going to give up in a hurry. Lovely wines, lovely people.
The wines I have described above will be available by late summer or early autumn. You can read about the rest of the wines in the Archimbaud range, which are already available to buy, on the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines website.


Vinogirl said...

What a great write up about wonderful wine, and wonderful people!

Leon Stolarski said...

Thanks, Vinogirl - it is always nice to receive such positive feedback from a fellow blogger. :-)

Graham said...

Very much enjoyed l'Enfant Terrible at the Terrasses du Larzac circulade walk.
I read somewhere that the reason Saint-Saturnin doesn't have more independent growers is because all the grape growers signed a 50 year pledge to the cooperative (would have been back in 1950, so only expired relatively recently).

Leon Stolarski said...

If you are still in the region, Graham, you should pay the folks at Archimbaud a visit. Once I have imported the wines I have written about these last few days, I'll have all 6 of their different cuvées in stock - and not a dud amongst them. La Robe du Pourpre 2007 is a class wine. And oh, that Vendange d'Automne - my mouth is watering, just thinking about it!

Leon Stolarski said...

Oh, and an interesting little factoid there, about the 50 year agreement - sounds very feasible, given the strange ways in which the French work sometimes!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great find. Pity I am so far away.


Leon Stolarski said...

A great find indeed, Bob. You should tell the guys in your local merchant shops to check them out!

Scout-one said...


Thanks to your blog, i found these wines. All excellent. I had the good fortune to meet Jean Pierre and Marie last month when my family was in France. It is a pity it isn't imported to the States.

Many thanks,

Brian Archimbaud
Austin, Texas

Leon Stolarski said...

Very pleased to hear that, Brian. As it happens, I was there myself less than 3 weeks ago, tasting the latest vintages. It almost goes without saying that they are all top-notch. It's a shame they are not available where you are - you need to persuade your local merchant to check them out!