Tuesday, 21 June 2011

A visit to Chateau Rives-Blanques

It has been rather warm over the last few days, here in Languedoc, culminating in a real scorcher today, with the temperature rising towards 35C. Actually, the weather has been rather splendid for the duration of our holiday, although it did cool down for a day or two last week, which coincided with our trip south to Roussillon, taking in a couple of grower visits on the way.

First was Chateau Rives-Blanques, up in the hills above Cépie, near Limoux. Although we eventually turned up more than half an hour late (traffic jam near Béziers, then not one but two separate "route barrée" incidents which the Sat Nav found difficult to cope with) we were greeted warmly by owners Caryl and Jan Panman, and dog Bruno.

Jan and Caryl had lived and worked in a dozen countries on four continents before Limoux's wines and its beautiful countryside stopped them in their tracks. They bought the Rives-Blanques estate in 2001 and have since been involved in every stage of the vineyard management and wine-making process at Rives-Blanques, complementing the talents of long-time Rives-Blanques winemaker Eric Vialade and vineyard manager Mack Van Tong. I had met Caryl at the Outsiders tasting in London, last November, but this was the first time I'd had the pleasure of meeting Jan. Caryl is relatively tall for a lady, but Jan is a veritable gentle giant of a man - at least to a relative midget of 5' 7" like me!

To begin, we were treated to a tour of the vineyards, which are the highest in the Limoux region, on a rolling plateau 350 metres above sea level, with magnificent views stretching (when the weather is clear) as far as the Pyrenées. Even on a rather cloudy (though still pleasantly warm) day, the views were mightily impressive, and the air beautifully fresh. In fact, it really is a beautiful place to grow grapes!

Wherever you look, there are magnificent view from the Rives-Blanques vineyards

Rives-Blanques employs farming methods designated as Agriculture Raisonnée, which basically means the absolute minimum use of pesticides and no synthetic fertilisers. All vine cuttings, and even the pips and grapes from the winemaking process, are ploughed back into the soil, whilst pests and weeds are kept at bay by the sewing of wild flowers and cereals between the rows of vines. The soil itself is typically clay/limestone, with significant deposits of galets roulée (large pebbles) washed down over millions of years from the Pyrenées. The vineyard area comprises just over 20 hectares, with 9 ha of Chardonnay, 7 ha of Mauzac, 2.4 ha of Chenin Blanc and 2 ha of Sauvignon. Most of the vineyards were re-planted between 1972 and 1987, with the Sauvignon being planted as recently as 2006. Total production is around 100,000 bottles, with yields of around 37 hectolites per hectare.

I could be wrong, but I think these are Chenin Blanc vines

Then it was back to the winery, for a brief tour of the chais, followed by a tasting of the complete range if Rives-Blanques range in the tasting room;  

Blanc de Blancs 2008 Crémant de Limoux
Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. Lemon and apple flavours. Lovely acidity, yet very rounded and mouth-filling, with a persistent mousse. Pure and moreish, with good length. Only really beginning to get into its stride.

Vintage Rose 2008 Crémant de Limoux
This is basically the same as above, but with the addition of 5% Pinot Noir. And that 5% makes all the difference, with some lovely redcurrant and floral/honeysuckle aromas and flavours. Again, rich and rounded, with real mineral depth. Another one which will be even better with further bottle age.

Vin de Pays d'Oc 2010
Chardonnay, with 10% Chenin Blanc. A touch of peardrop on the nose to begin with, but this fades into the background to reveal some nice apple and floral notes. Medium-rich, slightly zesty, ripe and with a touch of leesy richness. This is lovely.

Occitania 2010 Limoux
100% Mauzac, aged in older oak barrels. There is actually some creamy, quite coconutty oak showing at the moment, but with bags of exotic fruit salad aromas. The palate has real depth and complexity - lime, apple, peach and apricot flavours, with soft spices and a touch of herbiness thrown in for good measure. Rich and delicate at the same time, and with really excellent length. A pure Mauzac table wine is a rare beast, even in Limoux, but this one doesn't need bubbles to show its class.

Dedicace 2009 Limoux
100% Chenin Blanc, aged in barrels of up to 5 years old, but with 8% new. Apple and stoney mineral aromas. A lemony palate, with some tropical fruit notes, but more in the way of non-fruit/mineral flavours.

Dedicace 2010 Limoux
Lots of prickly acidity here, balanced by some creamy oak and tropical fruits and lemon oil. Beautifully fresh and zesty in the mouth, but with some complexity too. Good length. Of the 2 vintages, I definitely prefer this one. As a footnote, we have enjoyed a whole bottle of this wine, over the last couple of days and it really is a classy wine - swathes of classic Chenin fruit on the nose and palate, with notes of wet wool, lemon curd, tangy apple and serious minerality, which puts me in mind of a bone dry Vouvray.

Trilogie 2010 Limoux
A blend of Mauzac, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. Complex and very winey on the nose, with notes of Calvados, apple pie, cloves and herbs, and with oak very much in the background. Apple and peach flavours on the palate. Really quite refined and complex - and very persistent. Lovely.

Odyssée 2010 Limoux
100% Chardonnay, aged in oak barrels, 25% new. Apple pie and a touch of coconutty oak. Hints of tropical fruits, but with a layer of zesty lemon/citrus and spiciness. Very long.

Sauvageon 2010 Vin de Pays d'Oc
100% young-vine Sauvignon Blanc, aged in barrels, 30% new. Hints of elderflower and pea pod on the nose. The fruit flavours are zesty and delicate, whilst the oak adds complexity without dominating. Although neither Sancerre nor Marlborough in style, I guess you could say it combines aspects of both - and the result is a really lovely wine.

Lagremas d'Aur 2006 Vin de Table de France
Made from late-harvested Chenin Blanc (60%) harvested in November and Mauzac (40%) harvested in November, fermented and aged in oak barrels for 3 years, followed by a further year in bottle before release. As with most (if not all) non-fortified sweet wines made in southern France, there is no AOC, so this qualifies only as a humble Vin de Table. But don't let that fool you, because it is delicious. It is at the same time floral, herby, minerally and crammed full with flavours of tropical fruits, soft citrus, apples, ginger and spice. Although - as with most late-harvested wines - there is a fair degree of natural sweetness, it also possesses a backbone of truly mouth-watering acidity, making for a tremendously sprightly wine, full of freshness and verve. In fact, I would hesitate to call it a full-on sweet wine, because it isn't thick or gloopy or syrupy - or even overtly sweet. Although I am loath to make comparisons, I'd compare it more with a sort of vendange tardive in the Alsace mode, or perhaps even a rich, off-dry botrytis-affected Semillon from the Hunter Valley. There is perhaps a touch of botrytis, as evidenced by a palpable whiff of honey, but any richness is down to paserillé - the drying of the grapes on the vine, prior to harvesting. Whatever the method, it is very more-ish!

Some of the above wines are already available on the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines website, but on this showing, I will certainly be adding to the range in the near future. And it was a delight to meet Caryl and Jan and to spend some time in their beautiful vineyards - and of course to taste those lovely wines!

Bruno the Springer Spaniel - I wish we could have taken him with us!

Next, I'll tell you about our visit to Domaine Gayda.


Stewart Travers said...

Bang on write up, Leon. The wines on the whole are delicious, complex dinner wines. The sweetie is particularly versatile.

I can't believe you didn't mention the grand 'spitoon' in the tasting room though!

Keep up the good work.

Gareth said...

Yeah, lovely place Leon - just turned up there, last November, on a beautiful warm, sunny day. Jan Panman and his wife were very gracious and let us taste the whole range! We thanked them profusely for the experience.