Thursday, March 06, 2008

Languedoc-Roussillon Wines: 11 Tasted of 11

LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON (3) is the largest vine growing area in the world as it stretches from Spain to approaching Nîmes, and is several times larger than even Australia's regions. Roussillon at the western edge has its basis in Spanish history and stretches about eighty kilometres from the Spanish border north and east along the Mediterranean to meet Aude the west boundary of Languedoc. Languedoc takes its name from the historical language, Oc, spoken in the area and runs another one hundred and forty kilometres east and is comprised of the regions of Aude, Hérault and Gard.

Common grape varieties such as Aramon and Alicante have been systematically replaced with nobler grapes. For red it's: Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. For white it's: Macabeu, Clairette, Roussanne, Marsanne, Ugni Blanc, Bourboulenc, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc. Sweet whites are made from Muscat Blanc, Muscat Romain or Grenache.

Growing conditions are extremely good and many new vignerons have established reputations for good but
economical wines. Appellations to look for on labels are: Banyuls, Corbières, Côteaux du Languedoc, Côtes du Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, Grand Roussillon, Fitou, Minervois, Saint Chinian, Pic St. Loup.

Wines selected from this region are listed below and each will appear bold when tasted. Letting any of the following dry reds breathe an hour allows the flavours and aroma to set up and is recommended. Cheers, Ww

(V - Vintages, G - General, O - Other)

  • Château la Clotte-Fontane Cuvée Mathierou 2001, 91-2 -- O, by the Vidourle river four kilometres from Sommières northeast of Montpellier.
  • Dom Brial Euphoric Muscat de Rivesaltes NV, 89 -- V, One of France's most popular VDNs, this one from Rivesaltes is made from Muscat Blanc and quaffed young.
  • Domaine Madeloc Banyuls Cirera 2005, 88 -- V, Banyuls produces France's finest Vins Doux Naturel or VDN made mostly from Grenache Noir often shrivelled to raisins on the vine.
  • Mas Amiel Notre Terre Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2004, 88-1 -- V, Mas Amiel is the leading independent producer in Maury, a small region within the boundaries of the much larger Rivesaltes appellation and neighbouring Aude.
  • J&F Lurton Domaine des Salices Viognier 2006, 86-1 -- V, based on new vines planted near Carcassonne in western Languedoc.
  • Domaine Ferrer Ribière Tradition Côtes du Roussillon 2004, 85 -- V, located in the Pyrenean foothills in Roussillon
  • Château Saint Auriol Corbières 2003, 82 -- G, the Chateau is three miles from Lagrasse which is located west of Narbonne in the Aude region of Languedoc.
  • Les Terroirs de J P Chenet Minervois 2005, 82 -- G, grapes from north of Lézignan-Corbières at the foot of Montagne Noire. It is named after the village of Minerve.
  • Donnadieu Cuvée Mathieu et Marie St. Chinian 2005, 81 -- V, St. Chinian located in Hérault and northeast of Béziers covers 20 communes supporting over 500 winegrowers. Canada is the second largest importer of St. Chinian wines.
  • J&F Lurton Les Salices Pinot Noir 2005, 81 -- G, vineyards in Minervois region in the foothills of the Montagne Noire.
  • Domaine de Roquemale les Terrasses 2005, 79 -- V, from vineyards located near Villeveyrac just west of Montpellier in Côteaux de Languedoc.


OMAINE MADELOC BANYULS CIRERA 2005, Roussillon, France, 17.0% S, 500mL, #048041 $25.85 (Tasted March 12, 2008)

A Vintages release on February 2, 2008 described as "Many consider Banyuls to be France's answer to Port. Made in a sweet, fortified style, it is rich and robust with tons of dried fruit, spice, raisin and vanilla aromas and flavours. It is said to be one of the great matches for dark chocolate." My notes: A garnet ruby, lustrous with delicate aroma of stewed plums and black cherries. Flavours of sweet black cherries balanced with fine tannin and bright acid, nicely balanced. Finishes nippy and warm with dark fruit sweet on the tongue lasting forever. I'd guess a SC of 12. Served slightly cooler than room temperature (55-60F) with milk and dark chocolate wafers or with caramel drizzled mixed fruit, perhaps as a sipper with maple syrup on hot buttermilk pancakes with grilled sundried tomato sausage pieces. Like a chewy, fruitier, less aromatic Port (eg. Warre's Otima, #566174 $22.75) - a change as an after dinner drink. Cellar up to ten years. 88

DOM BRIAL EUPHORIC MUSCAT DE RIVESALTES NV, Roussillon, France, 15.5% S, 500mL, #040618 $21.80 (Tasted March 21, 2008)

A Vintages release on August 18, 2007 described as "This fortified Muscat from the Roussillon in the south of France does not see any oak and is bottled quickly (6-8 months after harvest) to preserve the aromatic qualities of the grape. It has flavours of fresh grapes, flowers and lemongrass, with a soft supple texture. This is the perfect wine to serve outdoors after a light summer meal with a selection of fresh fruit." My notes: A rich honey spicy floral with a touch of lemondrop and a mid golden clear colour. Served well chilled in a tulip glass the round textured, middling sweet liquid easily slips to the tonsils raising flavours of pear, apple and a touch of spice along the way. Not too tart so sipping comes easily - have as an after dinner sipper or with a nut tray and mixed cheeses. A moderate, fruity finish slightly sweet on the lips. Adds a sidelight poured over orange or mango gelato. An attractive bottle with stopper allows this to travel in mixed company, say with dry sherry or port - offer after a bridge social or on the deck in the summer - with crushed ice perhaps. 89

CORBIÈRES 2003, Roussillon, France, 13.0% XD, #036533 $16.85 (Tasted March 27, 2008)

A Vintages release on July 21, 2007 described as "This blend of Syrah, Grenache and a touch of Carignan displays all the aromatic virtues of Midi reds: garrigue (the unique smell of herbs such as rosemary, sage, lavender and lemon verbena that lingers in the Midi air), raspberry, blackberry and pepper. It is dry, flavourful with a nice cedar/fruit finish. Try it with grilled gourmet sausage." My notes: A deep sombre ruby with aromas of smoky, herb and red cherry, more smoke and herb than cherry. Perhaps a particular terroir as it's difficult to credit this to a common varietal blend and more than a 'touch of Carignan' (imho). Medium-bodied, nicely balanced acid, fine tannin and bright flavours of herbs and a red cherry blend. Finishes long with earth and herb tones leaving just a hint of bright fruit and white pepper. Letting air for an hour allowed some of the brightness to dissipate otherwise it starts cleaning the teeth if sipping. Better with hors d'oeuvres of anything on the fatty side: sausage pieces, bacon stuffed mushroom caps for instance. Even better paired with a beef entree, grilled or roasted, or with full flavoured stews. Personally I did not care for the blend - my BH did tho' - to each his own. 82

MAS AMIEL NOTRE TERRE COTES DU ROUSSILLON-VILLAGES 2004, Roussillon, France, 13.0% XD, #017418 $14.80 (Tasted March 23, 2008)

A Vintages release on March 17, 2007 described as "This blend of Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Syrah is aged for 12 months in oak, a small part of which is new. The resulting wine exhibits aromas of black cherry and cassis. It is a dry, full-flavoured, lush wine that will match many flavourful meat dishes." My notes: A poor cork was a poor start to the tasting of this bottle. After a few minutes gathering the cork floaters in the glass the nose settled from an oak prominence to a sweet plummy berry with a smoky vanilla-licorice tone. The colour is a violet tinged ruby, deep with long legs showing a medium-bodied warm blend of black cherry, licorice, and herbs. Wait ten minutes for some mint to show. As a sipper this is moody full of fruit and herb abstracts, interesting as a change from new world cab sauv or shiraz - not for everyone. Better with anything oily and either flavourful or spicy. The long finish balances herb and smoke with fruit initially with the fruit waning quickly. Likely at peak but with a few years cellaring still. A dry red to pair with grilled beef or racks of lamb, rich game or bbq'd rib racks. 88-1

CHATEAU LA CLOTTE-FONTANE CUVEE MATHIEROU 2001, Languedoc, France, 13.5% XD, CP149-2543 $19.17 (Retasted March 2, 2008)

My notes: Opimian called it right when they said "... has masses of forward fruit that combines the juicy appeal of New World reds with those of revered old vineyards. Richly flavoured and opulent, showing powerfully deep aromas with black fruit overlaid with spicy pepper and black olive, the silky subdued tannis are never far away, their subtlety adding to the lengthy structure of a thunderingly good bottle." although the 'New World' aspect has succumbed to ageing. Cellared December, 2003 and last tasted April, 2006. The website gives the blend as 60% grenache and 40% syrah calling it 'deep, fleshy, elegant, pleasant with black olives and liquorice notes." The colour is now an opaque ruby with a garnet cast... and the aroma is starting to shift to prunes with an earthy, smoky note evenly balanced so the effect is a rich dark raisin and plum compote. Full-bodied with velvet texture and the integrated flavours of dark berries and peppery spice ends in a long bacon and licorice finish. For those that prefer bold, sombre but interesting, oldworld sipper this is it. Have with prime rib, T-bone rare or rich stews. Still cellaring well and should for several more years. 91-2

DOMAINE FERRER RIBIÈRE TRADITION COTES DU ROUSSILLON 2004, Roussillon, France, 14.0% XD, #061143 $14.85 (Tasted March 29, 2008)

A Vintages release on January 05, 2008 described as "Winemakers/co-owners Denis Ferrer and Bruno Ribière craft wines that showcase the prominent grape varieties of the Côtes du Roussillon and the region's unique terroir. This deep coloured wine is an equal blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan that displays the classic fruit and spice aromas of the grapes as well as the vibrant garrigue smells (a combination of sage, rosemary, marjoram and lemon verbena) that permeate the air in the Languedoc-Roussillon. Enjoy with grilled gourmet sausage and roasted potatoes." Carries a Silver medal from the Concours des Grands Vins de France 2007. My notes: A fragrant nose of ripe dark berries with some earthy smoke - colour is a murky ruby with a blackberry tint. Nice brightness on the first sip and flavours of mint, thin blackberry, clay and forest floor. OK to sip without nibbles but most would enjoy it more with sausage pieces, rosenburg blue on rye crisps or bacon on a bun. As accompanying entrees try grilled steaks, prime rib, french onion or chorizo and bean soup. The finish lingers as a bright mineral coating carrying a silky berry. The process balances terroir and fruit for a unique combination making this an OK value. 85

DONNADIEU CUVÉE MATHIEU ET MARIE ST. CHINIAN 2005, Languedoc, France, 13.0% D, #043646 $15.85 (Tasted March 28, 2008)

A Vintages release on January 5, 2008 described as "Featuring mostly Syrah, with Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan in support, this is a classic Saint-Chinian wine with layers of dried roses, blackberry, pepper, caramel and a hint of menthol. An excellent choice for those who enjoy the mid-winter barbecue ritual - think steaks or even backribs." My notes: A garnet ruby deep and sombre with a full oaky plum aroma that subsides quickly. The flavours are delicate (light) nicely balanced with acid that's not that prominent and a soft tannin. Flavours are a mild red berry unintrusive making this a fairly innocuous social sipper. Finishes dry with a fine tannin and scant fruit. The syrah component is largely sidelined - didn't get the pepper nor pronounced spice - by the grenache and mourvedre, and the carignon makes a very subtle bright appearance. Perhaps I should call it a well balanced flavour. Serve at room temperature with pate or sour cream dip and broccoli flowers - an OK sipper. Paired with a light prime rib, chicken thighs or pork tenderloin or chops balances the lightish dry flavours well. A polite drink-now. 81

LES TERROIRS de J P CHENET MINERVOIS 2005, Languedoc, France, 13.0% D, #028597 $
12.95 (Tasted December 23, 2007)

A General listing distributed by Les Grands Chais De France, one of the largest. A blend of Shiraz and Grenache described on the label as 'In the Terroirs these varietals produce an intense, full fruity red wine'. My notes: A wider bell shaped bottle awkward for stacking flat but this wine isn't for cellaring anyway. The distributor includes mourvedre and carignan in the blend - for seasoning and body. The colour is a rich ruby and aromas of distant cherries, a slight spice and smoke form the nose - letting air twenty minutes improves first impressions. A bright cherry flavour, nicely balanced and fine tannins makes this a good sipper. Odd at first, perhaps the grenache, the finish leaves a red cherry taste, both dry and smooth with a slight pepper edge. Intense? No. Moderate? Yes. A clean, lightish medium-bodied wine for prime rib, steak tartare, grilled sausage pieces, liver and onions, even mussels and linguine in a marinara sauce. Very suitable for an open house, an open bar or a social with friends or family. A drink-now. 82

J&F LURTON DOMAINE DES SALICES VIOGNIER 2006, Languedoc, France, 13.0% D, #487272 $13.95 (Tasted March 16, 2008)

A Vintages release on March 15, 2008 described as "Over the past decade, Viognier has shown remarkable success in the vineyards of Languedoc-Roussillon... Once confined to vineyards in the northern Rhône, today Viognier is thriving not just in the Midi, but throughout other warm climate regions around the world. Savour this fruity, low acid, aromatic wonder with lightly spiced seafood dishes, turkey breast or grilled salmon." My notes: A honey floral nose and a faint straw colour, tasting nicely round on the palate with minimal sweetness and a grassy pear-lemon blend. Serve chilled, 8-12C. Medium-bodied, the finish is soft, bright with more distinct grassiness, some mineral notes and a light oil. A year or two at most cellaring - mainly a drink-now and a pleasant sipper. Have with grilled chicken breast or chicken or pork chow mein, whitefish dishes or a halibut steak. Not a dry Rhône, eg. Condrieu... more of a reasonably priced house white for the North American palate. 86-1

J&F LURTON LES SALICES PINOT NOIR 2005, Languedoc, France, 13.0% D, #028761 $11.85 (Tasted March 17, 2008)

A General listing described as "Dark ruby red colour with violet rim; aromas of cherry, beetroot and slate; dry, medium bodied, silky tannins, with good acidity. Serve with cedar planked salmon, turkey with savoury stuffing." My notes: Serve above 62F for the subtle aromas to open, a smoky strawberry-rhubarb if you sniff hard. The colour is a garnet ruby with a strawberry tint at the rim, and light legs. The flavours are of young grape clusters crushed with stems on, some light red cherry, a firm fine tannin and well balanced acid. The flavour fades on a short finish. OK as a light-bodied sipper passable with good conversation and some flavourful nibbles. Have with cold chicken, turkey breast, or sliced ham with caesar salad. Cellaring two years may smooth some of the youthfulness - the price makes it worth a try in limited numbers. 81

DOMAINE DE ROQUEMALE LES TERRASSES 2005, Languedoc, France, 12.5% XD, #042978 $16.85 (Tasted March 27, 2008)

A Vintages release on September 29, 2007 described as "Domaine de Roquemale demonstrates the Languedoc's ability to add their own twist to the typical Southern Rhône blend. They let Cinsault take the lead, adding an almost equal portion of Grenache and a touch of Syrah. This medium-bodied wine is fruit forward and charming... " The website describes this as "... a very fruity wine, elegant and fresh, which can be drunk slightly chilled during the Summer.Its liveliness will match perfectly an entire meal, from salads, “charcuteries”, grilled meat or fish." My notes: A sombre ruby with a shallow earthiness in a blend of red berries. A nice nip on the first sip and flavours of red cherry and a blackberry or two. The finish is bright, dry with some woody red cherry/berry remnants, not unpleasant but lacking an interesting texture or flavour appeal. Have with saltines and liver pate, or with hamburgers, or with salami slices on tomato pizzas. Could be cellared a few years altho' with nothing in the future. Find something else for the summer... not a value. 79

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