Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Bargains from the Languedoc

French wines do not necessarily need to be expensive. A visit to the Loire Valley earlier this year yielded a crop of interesting, well-made and very wallet friendly wines. Most of the wines I purchased were just over EUR10 (SGD17). More recently, at the cosy and convivial wine bar Pearl & Ash in New York, I enjoyed a delicious bottle of Beaujolais from natural wine producer Marcel Lapierre for just USD55 (SGD70). Compare that against wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy, the majority of which were priced above USD100 (SGD126).

For sheer range of grape varieties and styles though, it’s hard to beat the Languedoc region. Almost every grape that you can think of (and then some) has been planted here. The Mediterranean red grape varieties of Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre are well represented, while for the whites you have Piquepoul, Clairette, Rolle, and Viognier. The vastness of the Languedoc means that whatever type of wine you are looking for – still, sparkling, dry or sweet, you can be assured of finding an appellation that excels in exactly that style. 

Wein & Vin, a specialist in German and French wines, held a tasting recently to highlight some gems that they discovered at the Sud de France wine fair. I was particularly motivated to attend when I heard that one of the wines featured would be a sparkling wine from Limoux made from the obscure Mauzac grape. The locals in Limoux claim that their production of sparkling wine, made using the méthode traditionnelle, predates that of Champagne. Boon Heng of Wein & Vin says of this wine, “It is a game changer for the trade, but there must be an understanding of the difference between this wine and tank method wines.”

Boon also explained the proper technique of serving Languedoc wines. “They must be served at the correct temperature so that the alcohol does not dominate. Around 16°C is ideal.” Coincidentally, just a few days ago I had tasted some Languedoc reds and found the alcohol rather pronounced, but with the aid of ice buckets this time around the freshness was much more apparent.

Producer and tasting notes:

Château Rives-Blanques is owned by Jan and Caryl Panman who bought the property in 2001. The previous owner, Eric Vialade, is now the winemaker, with assistance from wine consultant Georges Pauli, technical director of Bordeaux second-growth Château Gruaud-Larose. 

Château Rives-Blanques Blanquette de Limoux 2010 – 90% Mauzac, with remainder being Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. Hand-harvested fruit and made using the traditional method. Pale lemon, with apple cider, light grassy aromas and a hint of lemon sherbet. Shows delicate alcohol and a light body. Refreshing and persistent. Very good value. 

Château Rives-Blanques Crémant de Limoux Blanc de Blancs 2009 – A blend of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. Citrus and honeydew fruit with hints of Mediterranean herbs. Shows some weight and presence on the palate. 

Château Rives-Blanques Cuvée Occitania Mauzac 2011 – Fermented and aged in oak. Medium gold robe, with a tinge of green. Fruit rather obscured by oak, mainly crème fraîche and vanilla notes. It would be nice to see more of the apple peel character of Mauzac. 

Château Rives-Blanques La Trilogie 2010 – The top wine of Château Rives-Blanques, with limited production. Made from separately vinified Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Mauzac. Fermented and aged in oak. Restrained dried apple, citrus and melon notes. Very elegant and layered, pinpoint balance with a long finish. Very impressive. 

Château Maris is based in Minervois La Liviniere, a sub-commune within the larger Minervois appellation. In 2007, the Languedoc AOC regional appellation was defined, placing La Liviniere at the top of the quality pyramid due to its poorer soils and slightly cooler climate than the rest of Minervois. The 33 hectare property is run by Robert Eden along sustainability lines. Their tagline is “Better for the Earth, Better for the Wine, Better for You.” 

Château Maris Organic Syrah 2011 – 85% Syrah with 15% Grenache. Aromas of spice, black fruits and game overlay a full bodied palate. Clean and pure with expressive Syrah character, balanced and refreshing. 

Château Maris La Touge Syrah 2011 – 85% Syrah with 15% Grenache grown on limestone soils and vinified in concrete and oak vats. Aged for 12 months in 30% new oak. A full bodied wine displaying notes of ripe blackcurrants lifted by spice and black pepper. A seductive wine with big and ripe tannins. 

Château Maris “Continuité de Nature” Carignan 2010 – Carignan is not widely regarded as a grape of great finesse, but here, old vines have imbued the wine with savoury complexity and concentration. Generous black plums, thyme and oregano tantalise the palate leading to a warm finish. 

Mas de Dames lies in the hills of Béziers close to the Mediterranean sea. The name, which translates to “farm of the ladies”, is run by Dutch winemaker Lidewij van Wilgen, who left her cushy job in advertising to pursue her passion in winemaking. She is often assisted by her three daughters. Yields are kept low at 35 hl / ha and the winery is on the path to organic certification. 

Mas de Dames “La Dame” Coteaux du Languedoc 2010  – 50% Grenache, 30% Carignan and 20% Syrah. A deep ruby hue. Intense aromas with notes of meat, leather, tobacco and black fruits, with a creamy edge perhaps due to oak treatment. Soft and rounded on the palate but balanced with vivid freshness. Astoundingly well-made. 

Wines available from Wein & Vin. At the time of writing, only trade prices were available but estimated retail price for these wines should be from SGD35 to SGD65.

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