The location for "Dégustation Melting Potes" was Domaine de Lezigno, an ancient wine cellar on the outskirts of Béziers, which has been transformed into an urban architecture workshop and artistic space. We arrived at around 5pm, which allowed us around 75 minutes of pretty intensive tasting ,before we needed to head off to Marseillan to check into our hotel. This was an extremely well organised (and well-attended) event, for which the organisers had thoughtfully produced a hand-sized, ring-bound booklet with a page for each grower's details and plenty of room for jotting down tasting notes. The tasting glasses were also excellent - if i remember correctly, medium-sized Schott Swiesel goblets which were perfect for the job.
First up - and one of our main reasons for wanting to be at this tasting - was Champagne Henri Giraud. Until a couple of weeks ago, I had never even heard of this grower. As it turns out, they supply wines for Coutts (the bank) and also Selfridges own-label Champagnes. As far as I am aware, they are otherwise fairly rare in the UK.
We started with Esprit de Giraud Rosé NV, a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 22% Chardonnay, with the addition of 8% red wine from Ay. A lovely onion skin colour, with aromas of bread, smoke, red fruits and stewed apples. The palate is full of tangy red fruit flavours, with nice persistence. I liked it a lot.
Next was Esprit de Giraud Brut NV, a blend of 70% Pinot and 30% Chardonnay. Persistent mousse, rich in the mouth, with lemon and mineral flavours. Long, too.
Esprit de Giraud Blanc de Blancs NV is 100% Chardonnay. Again, there are aromas and flavours of lemon and mineral, this time even richer, with notes of brioche. Hugely complex and very long. A very classy wine and one which I would love to have in my cellar.
The prestige cuvée Code Noir Rosé is all Pinot, with the addition of 10% Ay red wine for the colour. It is rich and intense, strong even, with quite a lot of oak and, for my money, less elegant - at least for now. It may well age into something really intersting, though.
Grand Cru 2000 Fut de Chene is a quite deep yellow/amber colour. 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot, aged for 12 months in oak barrels. With the aromatic and taste profile of a fine Puligny-Montrachet, this is quite a wine. It has a creamy mousse, with myriad flavours, even a hint of orange, still quite oaky, but beautifully judged, and oh-so elegant and long. A very fine wine indeed.
Finally, a curio, in the Coteaux Champenois Blanc Ay Grand Cru. I'm not sure of the grape(s) but I presume Chardonnay. This is effectively a still Champagne. Again, quite oaky, but elegant with it. Quite austere and firm, but lovely and quite complex - this again is akin to a white Burgundy, such is its weight and structure. Needs food, or age - or both.
All-in-all, a brilliant range of wines, from a grower who I would dearly like to have on my list one day. For a relative Champagne "non-aficianado" such as myself, these are the sort of wines that could give Champagne a good name! ;-))
Champagne Henri Giraud - Bernard (on the right) looking stunned by the quality!
Then to a handful of wines from Clos du Gravillas, made by American John Bojanowski and his wife Nicole, up in the hills of St-Jean de Minervois. I was impressed by the wines of this estate, when I tasted them at another Vinisud fringe event few years ago, and they were impressive this time, too. l'Inattendu 2007 is a white blend of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Macabeu and Terret. Aromas and flavours of honey, grape, tangerine, lemon and a touch of oak. Nicely balanced. A really good wine. l'Inattendu 2008 has honey and fennel aromas, with an excellent level of fruit. Long and quite complex, but needs a little time to come together. Sous Les Cailloux Grillons (I didn't note the vintage) is a red blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan and is very fruity and fresh. Lo Vielh 2006 is a pure Carignan, aged in large oak barrels for 14 months. It is rich, wild and complex, with notes of briary, tar and tobacco and a backbone of minerality and firm tannins. Give it 3 to 5 years and it will really sing.
I then tasted a trio of wines from Domaine Roc des Anges, the first two of which didn't particularly impress. The Blanc 2008 was rich and hot, whilst the 2009 Blanc was very similar, though possessed of a bit more fruit, but still overly rich and alcoholic. A 2009 Grenache Gris and Macabeu blend was much better, and much more in balance - grapey, winey and quite complex.
But Mas Foulaquier is a Pic Saint-Loup grower that has gone completely under my radar - at least, until now. Foulaquier is a fairly young estate, which winemaker Pierre Jéquier (pictured right), a native of Switzerland and formerly an architect, discovered in 1998 after a long search for his dream wine domaine. When Pierre bought the estate (situated in the most northerly corner of Languedoc's most northerly appellation) the eight hectares of existing vines were just 8 years old, but happened to be planted on some great terroir. Now, at 20 years of age - and with the estate now also fully certified biodynamic - those vines are the source of some stunning wines. His associate and fellow winemaker Blandine Chauchet joined the team in 2003, bringing with her the ownership of 3 hectares of 50 year-old Grenache and Carignan vines in the "Tonillieres" vineyard in Claret. No sulphites or added yeasts are used in the winemaking process and only the tiniest amount of SO2 (between 10 and 30 mg) is added at the bottling stage. Pierre Jéquier talked us through the wines as we tasted.
Les Tonillieres 2008 Pic Saint-Loup - A 50/50 blend of Carignan and Syrah, aged 9 months in vat. Notes of cherries, bramble and tar, with distinct floral notes (particularly Parma violets). A truly elegant wine.
L'Orfée 2008 Pic Saint-Loup - 50/50 Syrah and Grenache, aged for a year in vat. Flowers again, along with crystallised fruits and a whiff of eau de vie, fine tannins and great balance. Another excellent and very elegant wine.
Les Calades 2006 Pic Saint-Loup - 60% Syrah, 40% Grenache, aged for 24 months (half in concrete vats, half in barrels and demi-muids of between 3 and 10 years old). My note is not particularly specific in its descriptors. All I wrote was "Heady, rich, winey and sooooo complex - this is wonderful!" Enough said.
Gran Tonillieres 2006 Pic Saint-Loup - 50/50 Grenache and Carignan, aged for 24 months (half in barrel, half in vat). Again, heady and rich, with intense fruit flavours, but not obvious. Another very complex and delicious wine.
Gran Tonillieres 2007 Pic Saint-Loup - Rich and explosive - a riot of blackcurrant pastille, bramble and tar. At the moment, I marginally prefer the 2006, but this is also seriously good and seriously ageworthy.
We also tasted a new wine (not yet bottled or labelled, and I didn't catch the grape mix) which displayed aromas and flavours of red and black fruits, liquorice and fennel. That's all I wrote, but it sounds like a promising tasting note to me(!)
The purity of the fruit and clean structure is what struck me about these wines. Is it down to biodynamic farming practices, or is is simply a testament to brilliant winemaking? In my experience, the two are often inextricably linked. Whether you believe in biodynamics or not (extreme organics, or just whacky mumbo-jumbo?) those very principles go pretty much hand-in-hand with a love for the land and a fastidious approach to winemaking. I should mention, of course, that these wines possess a great deal of Pic Saint-Loup "typicity", albeit at a level I have never encountered before in this appellation - and there is some serious competition, believe me. In a nutshell, these are superb wines, and ones which I would very much like to import. If all goes to plan, that could well happen within the next month or two. Watch this space.
Tomorrow, I'll talk briefly about Marseillan, Vinifilles and the first morning of Vinisud.