Monday, 28 January 2013

South of France...

By Madeline Mehalko

After my visit to the Languedoc the other week, I am much more familiar with the more entry-level side of the region - I've tasted a lot of varietals which were well made and of good quality, but my feelings remain that blends of local varieties are the main key to unlock the character of the region. It was good to taste the 2012 vintage in tank – quality is high, and quantities aren’t as catastrophically small as we were led to believe - so fear not, there will be no shortage of Southern French wine at Averys this year! I came across several examples of astonishingly light and elegant Faugeres - even ethereal at times, especially the Abbotts & Delauney Faugeres ‘Boreas’; a real departure from the robust, herby, often gamey wines I am accustomed to. As in so many regions, it's the usual battle between modern and traditional. Traditional is special... though not always to everyone’s tastes. This was illustrated perfectly by a discussion I had during the week with a couple of winemakers firmly in the 'modern' camp - they stated that they had never had a good bottle of Chave's Hermitage, that every bottle they had had was reductive or riddled with brettanomyces. Perhaps my years working nearly exclusively with more traditional producers makes me less bothered by 'brett', and call me crazy, but nothing says 'Rhone' like a big whiff of farmyard. And reduction... I almost expect it of good Syrah! Stick it in a decanter, swirl it around, no problem (disclaimer – this more applies to wines I might drink than wines I might buy for the range!). Of course both of these things are within reason... I do draw the line at manure on a hot day, or rotten eggs.

I did make a couple of new discoveries on the trip - one being Cabardès, of which I had a couple of very nice bottles in a restaurant. There isn't a lot of it made, and even less of it exported, but after doing a bit of research when I got home I discovered it's worth seeking out. It's technically Languedoc Roussillon, but right on the border of the South West, meaning there is a greater influence from the Atlantic. This led to experiments over the years with planting more 'Atlantic' varieties like Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. According to Wikipedia (yes, yes, a lazy source of information...):

"The appellation is the only AOC in France that permits the blending of grape varieties typically found in Mediterranean climates like Syrah and Grenache with varieties typically found in Atlantic climates like Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemakers are required to grow 50% Atlantic varietals and 50% Mediterranean varietals, and must also blend them - the new requirements from 2011 rule that the proportions of both Atlantic or Mediterranean varietals must be 40% or higher. This varietal composition reflects the distinctive soil qualities and dominant winds of the area."

So, the power of the Languedoc with the refinement of Bordeaux. Pas mal! Not sure yet if it’s commercially viable for the UK but it is certainly on my radar.

The second thing that caught my attention was the 'Vallée la Paradis'. Though the wine is only classified as a VDP/IGP, these are some seriously stunning vineyards with a unique microclimate and complex soil compositions - near Corbieres, but at high altitudes of 310-380 metres, the highest being up on a plateau. There are fantastic old vines here, like 100 year old Carignan and 60 year old Macabeu, protected on all sides, sunny, and teeming with wildlife - we could barely hear each other speak for the songbirds. It's like stumbling across some sort of secret garden not seen by human eyes for centuries. There is a producer of these wines that we have worked with in the past, and after visiting we will be offering them again in the coming months.

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