Saturday, 11 February 2012

Who says Languedoc wines don't age - two crackers from 1998

3 posts in 3 days! They are coming thick and fast now, as I am trying to get all of my notes up-to-date (or at least the ones I feel are worthy of publishing) before going off to Vinisud next weekend. Regular followers will know that Vinisud is a massive bi-annual trade fair in Montpellier - so massive, in fact, that it takes over the whole of the Parc des Expositions, with around 1,700 growers from all around the Mediterranean rim (i.e. not just French) showing their wines over a 3-day period. So although I won't have much time (or much in the way of a reliable/cheap Internet connection) to post blog entries whilst I am there, I should have plenty to write about when I get back. Meanwhile, here are my notes on 2 rather lovely Languedoc reds from the 1998 vintage.

Domaine des Creisses Les Brunes 1998 Vin de Pays d'Oc
I'm not sure I have ever even tasted a wine from this grower before, let alone drank a bottle. This is from one of a handful of lots purchased by my friend Bernard Caille, on his trip to the most recent Straker Chadwick auction. A quick look on wine-searcher reveals that current vintages go for at least £22 a bottle in France (no UK merchants listed) so this was a real snip at less than a tenner a bottle. On further investigation, I discovered that it is made from 60-80% Cabernet Sauvignon (dependent on the vintage), with the remainder being Syrah and a bit of Mourvedre. My first impression was that this is a big bruiser of a wine. The colour doesn't show a lot of age, being a dark carmine/blood red at the core, with a smallish rim showing a slight raspberry tinge. The nose is strikingly savoury and meaty, with notes of ripe bramble, earth, iodine and smoky oak. The palate is immensely concentrated, though it is remarkably supple, with flavours of sweet bramble and cassis, again quite savoury, and wrapped in a cloak of charred oak. There's a suggestion of tangy orange peel - and indeed some nice orangey acidity - and firm but surprisingly fine tannins. The finish is long and luscious, essentially dry, but leaving a strong impression of fruit. I suspect that this wine would have been rather challenging to drink in its youth, as evidenced by its performance in a rather famous taste-off in 2004, where it certainly appeared to split the jury(!) But at nearly 14 years of age, it gives the impression of a wine that is really beginning to blossom. On reflection, I like it a lot, but I think in another 10 years' time it could have evolved into something really quite brilliant.

Domaine de Ravanes Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 Vin de Pays des Coteaux de Murviel
There are two Murviels in Languedoc - Murviel Les Montpellier in the Saint Georges d'Orques appellation to the west of Montpellier, where Domaine de La Marfée make brilliant wines, and Murviel Les Béziers, set in rolling countryside about 10 kilometres north of Béziers, which is where this wine comes from. Unlike Les Brunes, this is a much more evolved colour, veering towards mahogany, but it does show a similarity (perhaps a trait of the vintage) in that it is really quite savoury/meaty, but again possesses masses of fruit. Not, as I expected, blackcurrant fruit, but more in the way of bramble and plum, with notes of cedar/cigar box and damp earth. In fact, it almost seems more Merlot in character than Cabernet, though if you search hard enough, it is possible to detect just a hint of char-grilled red capsicum. Along the way, you will also discover notes of violet, old leather, mixed spice and garrigue herbs - it is complex and compelling stuff. Although the palate is quite rich, it shows lovely balance, with myriad cherry, bramble and secondary flavours, again a bit of earthiness and spice, ample tannin and surprisingly juicy acidity. A touch of warming alcohol on the finish does nothing to detract from what really is a delicious and very moreish wine. Again, it is good to drink now, but is still a good 3 to 5 years away from its peak.

I have to say that 1998 hasn't always been my favourite Languedoc vintage, making for some big, rich, chunky wines that have sometimes seemed a little overripe and lacking in real acidity. But - on this showing, at least - they appear to be evolving in a much more elegant way than the 98's from the southern Rhone, which seem to be turning to soup. And on this showing, these Languedoc wines are going to get better and better - and I am glad I have a few more bottles of each to tuck away for the future.

As an aside, I have a feeling that both of these wines will have originated from La Vigneronne or Grand Cru Wines, through which Liz Berry MW and her husband Mike introduced so many brilliant Languedoc and Provence growers to the unsuspecting UK public. Other growers championed by the Berrys include La Marfée, Montcalmes, La Courtade, Baruel, Alain Chabanon, Terre Inconnue, Trévallon and Clos Marie (though I think I can lay claim - as a punter, at least - to having "discovered" Clos Marie before they did). That is a pretty impressive line-up, by anyone's standards, and I think Liz and Mike deserve great credit for at least trying to establish these wonderful wines into the mainstream of UK wine-buying. The fact that most of them remain relatively unknown in this country is a real shame, but I'm sure they will get there in the end - and I will continue to do my best to ensure that happens. It's just a case of unfinished business.......


Vinogirl said...

Love violets in Cabernet.
Enjoy Vinisud.

Leon Stolarski said...

Will do!

Graham said...

Have to say these were a couple of wines from La Vigneronne's range that didn't inspire me at the time - I tried them several times at their tastings. I recall they als seemed relatively pricey at time. The only 1998 Languedoc I have is Baruel and Daumas Gassac. Both atypical as they has Cabernet Sauvignon. The Baruel is ageing well but I've yet to try the Daumas Gassac case (it's supposed to be on of the better efforts of the decade, we'll see).

Leon Stolarski said...

Graham - To be honest, I probably wouldn't have liked Les Brunes when it was younger either. I bet it was a real brute of a wine (not that it is exactly tame now, but it is showing some charm and much promise). Looking at the minimum/maximum scores from that tasting, it obviously impressed at least one person (with a maximum score of 20) but the average score of just over 14/20 and last place suggested that quite a few hated it!

Of the two wines, I probably marginally preferred the Ravanes, but it was a close call - and the Ravanes is more evolved, whilst Les Brunes seemingly has more to offer in a few years' time.

As to Baruel, I have loved the few I have had, and it is a real shame this estate ceased to exist a good few years ago.