Thursday, 19 April 2012

An early start at Le Chai

On Tuesday morning we got the racking of the Vent de Folie 2010 underway. All my wines are my babies but I have been working with Jean ‘JC’ Charles on the same vineyards for 11 years now, so this wine is like my grown up child! It’s therefore always a special day when the final blend comes together after 15 months’ barrel ageing.

Petit Denis moans like hell though when I make the decision to bring the Vent de Folie out of barrel because I insist on using 300-litre hogs heads; 75 litres bigger and much heavier than the Bordeaux barriques! However, once Denis smells the incredible Roussillon garrigue and black fig aromas from the old-vine Grenache (107 years old!) filling the cellar he forgets (as we both do) the graft required to hand craft this wine and is soon into the cellar groove. (Click here for more detailed info on the incredible Vent de Folie wine).

I leave late morning and do a bit of a JMS (am I becoming French?!) and get down to the Midi to meet Andrée just east of Narbonne in the beautifully named La Clape region. Admittedly I was a bit late because I stopped for lunch … I am becoming French!

When I arrived the weather was warm, the snow on the Pyrenees in the distance could clearly be seen and the Tramontane wind was in full force, but bud burst was well on its way.

The La Clape region, a unique outcrop of limestone, red clay and gravel, sits east of Narbonne along the Mediterranean coast in the Massif de la Clape and was actually an island until the River Aude silted up in the Middle Ages. It is one of the very best areas of the Côteaux du Languedoc and the main varietals are Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. La Clape is also one of the only two appellations permitted to produce white wines under the Coteaux du Languedoc appellation. However I am here to taste red and where better than at Château Pech Celeyran in Salles de l’Aude? (Be sure to get the spelling right as there is also Salleles de l’Aude which although has extra ‘l’ and an ‘e’, in the thick Languedoc accent it is pronounced exactly the same way!)

Pech Celeyran is a magnificent 18th Century Languedoc Château owned by Monsieur Saint Exubery.
Question: how do can tell you’re in a Languedoc Château?
Answer: no, not the weather, but when the owner is raking the courtyard gravel himself (and to perfection might I add!)

It’s a great place with some stunning vineyard sites and although it looks traditional, the Saint Exubery new generation aren’t scared of modern ideas. It is here where I source some amazing southern French Pinot Noir.

I had a good look in the vineyard, too. It is very dry and still no rain forecast which will mean 2012 yields will inevitably be low. But on the good side, the hedgerows were full of wild green asparagus and I gathered as much as I could to take back with me to cook up in an omelette with the in-season Bordeaux wild garlic ‘aillet’. This Midi/Bordeaux combo is the food equivalent of the Part du Boucher wine!

The cellar is dominated by huge concrete vats and the walls are so thick they can’t be knocked down so they built smaller stainless steel tanks inside them!

I then left in the direction of Beziers for a quick taste at Domaine Cousergues in Montblanc before heading into Beziers for dinner.

Beziers has a certain charm which can be described in a nice, ‘Marseille old town’ kind of way as ‘rough as hell’, but I love it! Wander down Avenue Paul Riquet (named after engineer who masterminded the mind-blowing construction of the Canal du Midi) and take a beer or, more traditionally, a pastis in the oldest bar in town, the Café La Comedie. Then a bite to eat in the very well priced l’Octopus restaurant for Michelin one star dining, or as I prefer in the La Compagnie des Comptoirs.

The following morning I headed north to the tiny lost village of Neffies high above Beziers in the foothills the Massif Central, where an original roman statue of the head of Emperor Hadrian was found. The soils are made up of schist (slate) and granite and of the many wines I tasted I noticed clearly that the Syrah here has very similar black olive characters, just like Syrah de Folie grown on the schist of Maury. It is a fascinating area with a great deal of good wines being produced and a real gem of a find. Before leaving I bagged a few local wines for home and I will certainly be back for more!

But for now it’s back to Bordeaux where I hear the good news of much-needed rain.

Bottling the Secrets des Etoiles 2010 at Le Chai tomorrow morning …

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