Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Les Secrets des Etoiles 2010

Pinot Noir, the king of Burgundy, has recently been finding fame as a variety outside of its home ‘terroir’ and is now proving to produce very high quality wines all over the world. Pinot Noir, however is a still very delicate and fussy grape and only certain soils and climates are suited. The viticulture, winemaking and ageing have to be very precise to capture and enhance the varietal characters and although Pinot Noir wines may appear to be look light, the great ones have an underlying magnificent strength of complexity and structure with an amazing ageing potential.

Jean-Marc and I have been making the successful Champs des Etoiles since 2008, a blend of Pinot from all over the Languedoc. After learning so much about Pinot Noir in the Midi we gave ourselves the challenge of pinpointing the very best terroir to make a Chai super cuvee ‘Les Secret des Etoiles’ … on sale soon!

So back in 2010 I started scouring the secret, undiscovered micro climates and soils of the magnificent Midi and found two areas of what I think is ‘Midi Pinot’ perfection. We didn’t want to replicate a Burgundy as that is far from the point. I wanted to keep the very important varietal character but create an individual wine that also represents the local climate. At the time people would of thought I was mad so I kept it a secret and today I had the very good news that it has won one of only 12 Gold medals awarded in the Best Vin De France … the only Pinot Noir to do so!

‘Why is it so good’ may be the question you are asking? So I hope to explain why here.

Going back to Burgundy, the home of Pinot Noir, the complex soils and appellations are quite mind boggling. Some of my favourite Pinot Noir wines come from both the Côte de Nuits and the Côte Chalonnaise … for very different reasons. The likes of Nuits-Saint-Georges with its sturdy structure and the deeper-coloured, fruit-driven and all-importantly value-for-money wines from Mercurey are some of my favourites. Imagine a blend? And with a Mediterranean ripeness? Sounded like a good idea to me!

The soil is all the talk in Burgundy – rightly so – and this is where I began my investigations. In Nuits-Saint-Georges the Pinot Noir is grown on pockets of predominantly sandy marl. I found the same soil on a random trip to the northern tip of the hidden commune of Murviel-Les-Montpellier and yes, I also found some Pinot Noir (grown by Joseph, pictured right) planted but not authorised in the ‘Coteaux de Languedoc AOP’. It is now accepted in the new Vin de France appellation.

Marl, a grey, calcareous, clay-based soil is formed by the erosion of the surrounding limestone where pockets of sand are also commonly found. Vines (especially Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) planted in this high pH type of soil normally ripen later so a bit of extra Languedoc sunshine ripening time will balance out the naturally added acidity. Marl is also typically deep and lacking in stone fragments so holds water well: very important in the drier Languedoc where many ‘foreign’ varietals often suffer from drought.

But the beauty of the Vin de France appellation is the ability to blend across appellations … just what we do best. So on another separate trip to the Midi in a ‘only way to find something is to get lost’ mood, I found myself a bit further south towards Narbonne in the little-known Côtes des Pérignan in the department of Aude. It also incorporates some of the northern slopes of La Clape AOC and, lo and behold, a Pinot noir vineyard planted on limestone just as in Mercurey. So began the careful negotiation with the growers (posh way to say ‘long lunches and tastings’) which ultimately led to the persuasion of making a vat ‘my way’. Suddenly the dream blend became a reality!

As I visited more often (more long lunches inevitably included) I became closer to the growers and finally gained the trust to pick the harvest date and take control of the winemaking. These guys grow great grapes, but I knew once ferment was finished these wines had to be taken to the Chai in Bordeaux for the very-best barrel ageing. And in the Chai, the wine would be only 10 metres from my office in the Dordogne cellar.

Since late December 2010 the two wines have been separately and secretly aged at the Chai in Castillon. But now word is out. Did I mention that the final blended wine won ONE OF ONLY 12 GOLD MEDALS in the Best Vin de France blind tasting in Paris?

I learnt a lot in my time in Burgundy and have to especially thank the old master himself, Bernard Derain. Tasting with him with the huge crumpled maps, getting my hands dirty in the cellar, visiting the winemakers and their villages was a steep learning curve. But will he like my Pinot Noir? He will taste and drink and I may get a slight nod of the head but like a true Burgundian he’ll never admit it! But that’s why I love him, passionate and stubborn, rather like Pinot Noir!