Friday, 29 June 2012

A visit to Domaine de Ravanès

Domaine de Ravanès is fairly unusual in Languedoc, insofar as the vineyards are planted predominantly (though by no means exclusively) with Bordeaux grape varieties. The estate was purchased by Felix Benin in 1955, but it wasn't until 1972 that Felix's son Guy planted Merlot, followed by other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and - of all things - Ugni Blanc (a.k.a Trebbiano). Ugni Blanc is actually the most widely-planted grape variety in France, although the majority of it is used for the production of Cognac and Armagnac. It is otherwise considered to be a rather undistinguished grape, but in the right hands, it can be the source of some really rather good wine.

In 1989, Guy's son Marc obtained a PhD in Oenology-Ampelography,  following his studies at the Institute of Oenology in Bordeaux, and took over the estate in 1990. In 1994, Marc grafted Petit Verdot (another Bordeaux variety) onto the rootstock of a Cinsault vineyard that had existed for 25 years or more. The Petit Verdot vines are therefore effectively around 45 years old. Other varieties planted include Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Macabeu. There also exists a small plot of Aramon, but this is retained merely for historical purposes, rather than wine. The total area under vine is 32 hectares.

We visited the Domaine de Ravanès stand at Vinsud in February this year, my interest having been piqued by some excellent aged red wines (sourced via auction) tasted over the previous few months. Although I found some of the younger wines challenging to taste at the end of a long day's tasting at Vinisud, I was convinced of their quality and resolved to visit the estate on this holiday. We arrived at around 6.30 in the evening, with the sun still beating down and temperatures still in the high 20's.

Marc Benin is a gentle, shy and unassuming man and was an excellent host. To begin with, we climbed into his 4X4 and took a tour of the vineyards, which are planted in many different plots surrounding the house.

Cabernet Sauvignon vines
Some plots are large, some small, and the soil (which is mainly clay/limestone) contains varying amounts of stones and pebbles (from the "gravières" - gravel pits, of which there are many here, washed down from the hills by the adjacent River Orb), making for a terroir very similar to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, or even Graves in Bordeaux. The proximity of the river also means that the late-harvested sweet white wines (extraordinary wines, made entirely from Ugni Blanc) benefit from botrytis (noble rot). Merlot ripens very easily here, and is usually harvested at the end of August, whilst the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot are often picked as late as October, depending on the characteristics of the vintage.

The River Orb runs by the estate

The house and winery are surrounded by 32 hectares of vineyards
Following our tour of the vineyards, we repaired to the cool of the wine cave, where Marc treated us to a tasting of his current range of wines.

The tasting room

Owner and winemaker at Domaine de Ravanes, Marc Benin

I did make some brief notes at the time, but Marc kindly allowed me to take the bottles away, to taste at my leisure. Here are my full notes - prices quoted are what I will be selling them for (edit, October 2012 - all are now in stock);

l'Ibis Blanc 2010 IGP Pays d'Hérault Coteaux de Murviel
50% Ugni Blanc and 50% Grenache Gris and Blanc. Delightful aromas of peaches, apricots and orange blossom, with further hints of honeysuckle, mixed herbs, patisserie and citrus zest. Gloriously fresh and zingy, yet smooth and really quite complex. There's a nice touch of firmness/grip, but it is extremely fruity, with a refreshing streak of soft citrus acidity. A delightful wine and a real bargain. £8.99.

Le Guepier Rosé 2011 IGP Pays d'Hérault Coteaux de Murviel
A blend of Merlot and Cinsault. A lovely pink rose/onion skin colour. Fragrant stuff - strawberry, peach and redcurrant fruit aromas, soft citrus too, with a touch of cream and vanilla. So many rosés (even some of the better ones) can have a bit of the sweet shop about them, but this one has none of that - it really is delightfully fresh, fruity, soft, yet properly "winey", with a touch of complexity and a soft orange and redcurrant finish. It really is lovely stuff, and definitely my rose of the year so far. £8.99.

Le Renard Blanc 2007 Vin de Pays de Coteaux de Murviel
80% Grenache Gris, 20% Macabeu, barrel fermented and aged for 1 year. A limpid straw/gold colour, with cool, fresh aromas of peach and apricot, honeysuckle and soft citrus. There's also a touch of woodsmoke and a really quite intense minerality, like rain-washed slate or stone. It is made with a low dose of sulphur and in a very slightly oxidative style, but really is as clean as a whistle. The palate is at the same time light and airy but rich and expansive, with honey and stone fruit flavours countered by a gentle pithiness. Again, it shows deep minerality and complexity, with a hint of wood tannin and ample acidity. The finish is long, cool and mouth-watering. A really cracking wine, which is good to drink now, but will also age nicely for a few nore years. £15.95.

Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 IGP Coteaux de Murviel
This is crammed full of cassis and bramble fruit, tobacco, citrus and spice aromas, with a hint of meat and new leather. The palate is bright and intensely fruity, lightly spicy and herby, with heightened tannins and lip-smacking acidity. And despite the tannic structure, it has the structure of a decent Claret, but more than enough warm, southern charm to make it very drinkable now - even lightly chilled. £9.50.

Petit Verdot 2010 IGP Pays d'Hérault Coteaux de Murviel
Classy nose - leather, meat, tobacco, citrus and a whole load of black cherry, blackcurrant, bramble, forest floor and kirsch. On the palate, it has real tannic grip, but is ever so fruity, with those dark garrigue herb-infused fruits and citrus combining beautifully in a wine of real freshness and verve. And despite the fact that it is aged exclusively in vats (i.e. no oak influence) it has real complexity, with hints of tobacco and dark chocolate and a peppery finish. Ripe but not overtly rich, generous but beautifully balanced. £11.95.

Cuvée Diogène Réserve 2008 Vin de Pays de Coteaux de Murviel
60% Petit Verdot, 30% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Now we are really entering into Languedoc territiory of ripe, almost opulent fruit, aided by 18 months' ageing in 1, 2 and 3 year-old oak barrels. Aromas of cassis and bramble, black cherry and cedar, with an intriguing note of violet. Beautifully fresh in the mouth, with bright, intense fruit flavours, just the merest hint of savoury, ripe, almost velvety tannins and bags of fresh acidity. It is so wonderfully balanced that it is eminently drinkable now, but also has enough stuffing and structure to age for at least another 10 years. A fabulous combination of ripe fruit, florality and restrained power - a really elegant wine. A stunning bargain at £13.50.

Les Gravières de Taurou Grand Réserve 2007
The estate's top red, this is a blend of 58% Petit Verdot and 42% Merlot, aged for 28 months in a mix of 1, 2 and 3 ear-old oak barrels. An opaque black cherry colour with a tiny rim, it reeks of rich, ripe, concentrated bramble and cassis, with notes of dried figs and orange peel and a cloak of fine, gently charred oak, leather and cigar box. The palate is rich and concentrated, the black fruits augmented by flavours of licourice, lapsang tea, garrigue herbs and peppermint, with a definite streak of minerality, rich, ripe tannins and plenty of acidity. As with the Diogène (and perhaps even more so) this has real ageing potential - I'd say 15 years-plus - but it has such warmth, such generosity, and is so approachable in it's youth. A quality that most classed growth Claret can only dream of having. This is a very, very fine wine, with a great future ahead of it. £22.99, and worth every penny.

This was a cracking visit, and a real treat to be able to spend some quality time in the company of Marc Benin and tasting his lovely wines. And I can't wait to get them in stock - hopefully, before the end of the summer.


Vinogirl said...

That rosé sounds lovely.

Julian O said...

I have just been drinking the rosé (spring is in the air!). Its terrific value for money - well done Leon! Actually the last wine I drank was from this Domaine also, it was Le Reynard Blanc. This is another wine with great length, and is a great success.

Leon Stolarski said...

Glad to hear the Rosé is holding-up well, Julian. And I agree Reynard is a lovely cuvée. We actually visited Ravanes again last summer, and were treated to a comprehensive tasting. Marc is such a generous and kind host. It goes without saying that all of his wines are delicious, but the Alicante Bouschet 2014 was a revelation. At under £11, well worth a punt! ;-)