Annette’s Southern France adventure, Part Two

Import director Annette Peters filed this final report from her Languedoc whirlwind.  She arrives back in the states tomorrow.

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MORE NOTES FROM FRANCE

MONDAY  in Saint Chinian

After a good night’s sleep  I am off to taste Saint Chinian.

We drive north of Beziers to the town of Saint Chinian,  There are three soils here: Schist to the north, clay and calcaire, and pockets of sandstone that make up 3% or so of the terroir.  The tasting is set up in the abbey at St Chinian, 20 producers are waiting to show their wines.  Depending on what you may be looking for, there are many different styles from this appellation.    Those coming from Schist are usually darker, more brooding and have higher levels of acidity.

One of our new producers ... details later!

One of our new producers ... details later!

The first producer I go to is the Bio-dynamic Canet Valette.    The wines are fresh, spicy, balanced and have the restrained style of producers that practice bio-dynamie   The prices make me hesitate as I wonder if customers will more for the natural aspect of these wines.   I spent the next 2.5 hours tasting mostly red wines, the occasional white usually made from Grenache Blanc, Sauvignon , Chardonnay and the more recently allowed Roussanne.  Finally I arrive at a familiar name Laurent Michel who makes very good Chardonnay/Viognier and even more  lovely  St Chinian called Cazal Viel which was luscious and suave.    Also tasted wines from a one man show who left his legal job working with Beaujolais producers to start his own estate, a tiny property of 5 Ha, with very low yields.  A serious man of few words, he is intense but still proud.  The wines are more raw and are from the last reaches of the appellation before Minervois at the northernmost end of St Chinian.   Clearly his goal is to make very concentrated wines and his yields are very low.  Another young vigneron is getting started with his wife as well.  It seems that the key here is making dark wines that are rich enough to command a little more money for the smaller amount they are able to make.

Our very capable bus driver, who maneuvers this huge bus through roads I would not even attempt on my bicycle, takes us to another estate located up in the schist hills of St Chinian for lunch.  Everyone in the group is critical as they think the wines are uninteresting. They are not bad, they are just very commercially correct.  Straight forward, juicy fruity, they are good but not great wines.

They are fairly priced.  I think that sometimes what people accept from a HIGHLY commercial winery in California, they will not accept in France.  The wines may not be compelling but they still reflect terroir and are, well, correct.  I will not buy them, but I will not damn them either.  Everyone clamors for the Bio guy and the wines do show great material, however the tank wine has reduction, nobody seems to mind but I fear it is unresolvable.   The wooded wines  here are better and yet are now out of the price range for the dollar that has just sunk another 10% lower!  Four more producers and then a piping hot dinner.  Clafoutis of olives,  Sanglier Daube ( a roast of  wild boar in red wine and southern herbs), cheeses and finally figs and pears soaked in red wine.

WEDNESDAY  – FAUGERES

Tasting St. ChinianFaugeres never had an excess of production and when the wine was available it was a tannic wine that was often too overripe and so rugged it was not favored by importers.  With more wine available Faugeres now has  a problem, it is unknown especially by  Americans.     We arrive  at Domaine Liquiere for a tasting of 5 producers.  One producer been passed over by the others as the they think the wines are a little pricey.    However after I get the first wine in my glass I can see that this wine as far, far away from the pack.  Every wine gets better and better from this tiny Domaine of 5 hectare.   He is Organic and becoming Bio.  Wines made from Syrah, Grenache Carignan and Mourvedre bear a striking resemblance to wines I have had before,but from where?  Not France.  Ah yes, Spain.  We talk some more and I found out he got many of root stocks from Priorat and in fact has adopted the Priorat technique AND is very good friends of Rene Barbier.  This is the best wine I have tasted on this trip.  This name shall remain a secret until this order is confirmed!

Pintade lunchLunch is Pintade with Broccoli  tart and more Faugeres; one from the Faugeres cooperative and the other a new producer with less than a few acres.  The coop wines are good, and cheap and cheery- I like them a lot.  The new producer is passionate but the wines are not cheap, but I love her north facing vineyard, “keep the freshness plan”.
Dinner is at a Beziers wine bar.  The wine list is incredible!  Never, never let a group of wine geeks loose on a wine list like this without someone in charge!  It is pandemonium!     We had enough wine on the table that certain people stared to panic.  I thought “Are you crazy?”  The whole bill for all of us is maybe $100!   So many choices under $20 it was  like being at a penny candy store when I was a kid!

Off to bed everyone its after midnight!!!

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