Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A visit to Domaine Turner Pageot

Although I promised recently that I would be posting lots of entries on the blog, whilst on holiday in sunny Languedoc, that was before I realised just how much material I would gather in the process. At a conservative estimate, I would say we have already tasted around a hundred wines, from around a dozen different growers, with more to come tomorrow! So as you can imagine, it didn’t take long for me to begin to feel rather daunted by the prospect of transcribing my notes, not only on so many wines, but also so many growers with such interesting stories to tell. Not to mention sifting through countless photos (hopefully some of which may turn out to be half-decent). And, of course, this is our annual holiday, so whilst TLD and I cannot fail to enjoy the time we spend meeting, tasting wines (and often eating) with so many lovely people, we also need time for rest and recuperation. And the rather glorious weather we have enjoyed (save for a couple of iffy days last week) makes the patio and the pool all the more tempting. Nevertheless, I am determined to get at least something published before we leave (what I write now saves me time further down the line, especially if some of the wines are going to end up on the LSFineWines list) so here’s a good one for starters…………….

The landscape along the road heading north from Pézenas to Roujan and Gabian, then on towards Bédarieux, is almost completely dominated by vineyards. It is a landscape we know well, having been coming to this region of Languedoc on and off for the last 20 years or so. Indeed, Les Vignerons de La Carignano, the quaintly-named grower co-operative in Gabian, which lies 10 kilometres or so north of Pézenas, was one of the first wine-related visits I ever made, back in the days when I was a mere wine “amateur” (or even novice!). At the time, La Carignano was blazing a bit of a trail for Languedoc wines, garnering much praise from the likes of Oz Clarke. And they were indeed very good wines. So much so that when we first created Leon Stolarski Fine Wines, theirs were some of the first wines we added to the list.

Fast-forward to 2013 and La Carignano has long since ceased to exist - as have many other co-operatives in the region - having struggled to adapt to the changing market, dwindling demand (from both home and foreign markets) and competition from the ever-increasing number of independent growers. And frankly, the quality did take a dip in the few years before they finally closed in 2007. The upside was that some quality vineyards came up for sale, for whilst a few of the members decided to set up as independents (and no doubt a few chose to take government subsidies to rip up their vines and turn to other crops) many of the older members simply sold their vineyards and retired.

And so it was that younger vignerons like Karen Turner and her husband Emmanuel Pageot were able to seize the opportunity to move in and inject some new life and vigour into a village that shows all the signs of becoming (as Emmanuel puts it) a “dying village”. Of course, they may not change the ultimate fate of Gabian itself, but if the quality of their wines are anything to go by, they will at least succeed in fully realising the potential of those established vineyards and some great (and very varied) terroir.

I first met Emmanuel at The Outsiders tasting in London last November and really loved the wines that he and Karen were making. So it was great to meet up again with Emmanuel, this time in his cellar in Gabian. Unfortunately, I have still to meet Karen, as she was out working her day job, which just happens to be head winemaker at one of Languedoc’s most iconic estates, Prieuré de Saint Jean de Bébian. As Manu said, it helps to pay the bills!

Before tasting the wines, Manu took us on a tour of the Turner Pageot vineyards, small parcels of which are dotted around the hillsides surrounding the village. They have several different parcels of Grenache and Syrah, plus Mourvedre, Sauvignon Blanc, Roussanne, plus a small amount of Marsanne. Altitudes range between 200 and 300 metres above sea level, and the aspects and soil types are many and varied, including schiste (shale), argilo-calcaire (clay-limestone), Myocene-era clay-limestone, volcanic basalt/limestone and bauxite.

Sauvignon Blanc, lying to the south of the village

I think this is Marsanne or Roussanne - so many photos and not enough notes!

Manu, checking for signs of mildew and uneven flowering (considering the long Winter and cool Spring, things are beginning to catch up - and the vines are in remarkably rude health)

After seeing the vineyards, we repaired to the cellar, for a tasting of the current releases from bottle. The cellar and house are situated in the middle of the village - it is quite small, but well-equipped, and they are in the process of buying the house next door, which will effectively give them twice the living space and a much larger cellar. 

The cellar is cramped, but well-equipped
Unlike many growers (especially in the south) Karen and Manu like to encourage warm fermentations for their grapes (anything up to 30C) and, aside from the very occasional stuck fermentation, prefer not to add yeast, relying on the naturally-occurring yeasts to do their job. And apart from occasional spraying of sulphur and copper in the vineyards, they use no sulphites until the point of bottling, and even then, no more than 4 to 6 grams per litre. The aim is to have less than 20g/l of free sulphites in the finished wine. The reds are unfiltered. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention (though you may have already guessed!) that they are fully certified as both organic and biodynamic. And so to taste the wines (August 2013 edit - prices and website links now added, as these are now in stock)………

80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne. The former is fermented traditionally, whilst the latter sits on the skins for 3 months, resulting in what is known as an “orange wine”, which adds not only some extra colour to the wine, but also a real depth of aroma and flavour. Notes of apples, raisins and brioche. Really quite zingy, with excellent acidity to match the rich, ripe tree fruit, orange zest, basil and rosemary flavours. There is also real minerality, with an almost savoury, even saline tang. Restrained power, but with a refreshing streak, and a long, spicy/herby finish. 14.0% abv. £13.50

100% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% of which is also given the “orange” treatment. The nose is rich and apricotty, with notes of lime oil, orange marmalade, basil, flowers and a whiff of beautifully judged oak. It leads you to expect a rather muscular wine, but quite the opposite – it is a considerably complex wine, chock full of delicate white fruit and floral flavours, apple, pink grapefruit and soft citrus, with a really fine, minerally structure and wonderfully prickly acidity. And absolutely no cat pee or elderflower! In a blind tasting, not many would guess it as Sauvignon, but who cares when the wine is this good. A really brilliant, quirky and utterly delicious wine. 14.0% abv. £17.50

OK, hands up those who have had more than a handful of Clairets in their time (if any)? Clairet is a term the Bordelais use for a light red wine, or a very dark rosé. The method is basically saignée (the free-run juice) but taken only after an extended 48 hour maceration (hence the name 48H). The colour is more of a bright ruby red than rosé, and the nose is distinctly fruity, with notes of raspberry and redcurrant, subtle hints of peach and apricot and a delightful smokiness. There is a welcome hint of rusticity to the palate – and even a touch of grape skin tannin - but it is essentially soft and gloriously fruity, rich and mouth-filling. Think of a young Pinot Noir or Gamay and add a touch of soft, ripe southern fruit and you’re just about there. A really delicious, even quite serious wine. 14.0% abv. £11.95

At this point, Manu poured us a sample of his 2012 Marsanne orange wine, currently ageing in new oak barrels (Vosges oak, with a medium toast) where it will stay for up to 2 years. It smells rather like a traditional white Gran Reserva Rioja (i.e. absolutely wonderful) and the colour is quite a deep orange. The nose offers intense aromas of apricot, orange, lime oil and oak vanillin. The palate is rich and very intense, with the combination of wood and grape tannins making it quite dry and difficult to taste at the moment, but I suspect it will turn into something rather spectacular when it is ready.

60% Grenache from schiste, 20% Grenache from other terroirs and 20% Syrah from volcanic basalt. Manu described this as going through a post-fermentation infusion, by which I think he meant an extended maceration on the skins. And it is indeed deeply coloured, almost black/purple, with a tiny rim. The nose is pungent with ripe bramble and plum aromas, with notes of bitter chocolate, curry spices and polished old wood. The palate shows plenty of extract, with rich, ripe, tea-like tannins and orange/lemon acidity. It is robust, but so ripe, and full of fresh red and black fruit flavours, a pot-pourri of herbs and spices and not a little minerality, followed by a long, spicy, grippy finish. Lovely now, and should age nicely for a good few years. 14.0% abv. £13.50

70% Syrah, 30% Mourvedre, aged for 1 year in wood, after an extended 3 month maceration. Smoky, tarry and to begin with a touch reductive. Dense and smoky, with rich bramble and plum flavours, opening out with notes of spices and herbs and bright, orangey acidity. I took the bottles home with me and this really opened out nicely with a few hours of air, with the nose revealing aromas of old wood, meat, curry spices and orange peel. The palate is certainly rich, ripe and extracted, but surprisingly elegant. Redcurrant, cherry and bramble fruit flavours combine beautifully with spices, herbs and salty, stony minerality, in a deliciously tangy, sweet-sour whole. A serious (and seriously good) wine, built to age, but surprisingly good to drink now. 14.0% abv. £15.95

The current range from Turner Pageot - coming soon to a certain UK wine merchant!
Following our tasting, Manu very generously treated us to a 3-course lunch at the local café (for me, some rather good charcuterie and salad to start, followed by veal escalope with creamy potatoes, finishing up with a really delicious, dense mousse au chocolat). Then it was back to the cave for a tasting of the 2012 reds from the tanks and barrels………….

Firstly, we tasted Grenache from 3 different terroirs;

From bauxite terroir, ageing in tank – Rich, ripe and heady. Tannic, but crammed full of fruit and truffle aromas and flavours. Relatively low acidity.

From schiste terroir, ageing in barrel – Wow, what a difference! Again, quite tannic and primary, but with loads of fruit and quite wonderful acidity and minerality, making for a very refreshing wine.

From Limestone terroir, ageing in barrel – A heady perfume of black fruits and violets, iodine, licorice and a hint of fresh apple. Soft, rich, ripe, sweet fruit, with ripe tannins and good orangey acidity.

Then a couple of Syrah;

From volcanic terroir – Heady black fruit, herb and spice aromas, a touch reduced, with some tarry notes. Almost painfully intense and tannic at the moment, with the acidity hidden.

From limestone terroir – Fresher nose, very perfumed and floral, with black cherries and eau de vie. Sweeter on the palate, but with more acidity too, and soft(er) tannins. Long and powerful, and destined to be blended with Mourvedre, in the Carmina Major.

And finally, Mourvedre – The colour is almost black. Iodine, chocolate, prunes, bramble, beef and leather. Super-ripe, soft, salty/tangy, big tannin and relatively low acidity. Concentrated and grippy.

And that was it! After almost 4 hours of talking, driving, tasting, eating and more tasting, we bade farewell to Manu and made the short journey back to the sanctity of our little hideaway and a relaxing afternoon by the pool (the sun was well and truly out by then). All-in-all, a fabulous visit, and I look forward to importing the full range of wines from Turner-Pageot, as soon as we get home.


Alan March said...

You know by now how much I like the wines (and the producers!). I'd forgotten about the separately fermented schist and basalt reds and the interesting difference in 'wine'. I'm really proud that I managed to suss an excellent estate out before you mate :)

Leon Stolarski said...

I'll grant you that, Alan. Give yourself a gold star! ;-)