Gérard Bertrand Wines – Good With Everything

by Paige Donner Sure, many of them are organic, some are even natural wine. And yes, they consistently offer rich tastes and aromas, balanced with nice acidity where they’re supposed to be. And, OK, the packaging is attractive, easy to … Continue reading

Treats For Fido & Fifi All Natural And Healthy

Of course the holiday season brings lists of gifts. And top on those lists to be found are often the family pet! : ) Made In Pet is a made in the South of France pet treat that is all-natural … Continue reading

Best Red Winemaker Award

Iwc_local_food_and_wine

Announcement from Gerard Bertrand, CHATEAU L’HOSPITALET

Bonjour,
We have the pleasure to announce you that Gérard Bertrand has been awarded on Tuesday “Red Winemaker of the Year” by the International Wine Challenge after winning 46 awards and three trophies for its wines.
With 10,000 wines from around the world tasted by the jury of experts the International Wine Challenge is one of the most prestigious wine competitions in the world.
We are really honored to dedicate this Trophy to you (Gérard Bertrand is at 5’20”).
www.gerard-bertrand.com

@LocalFoodAndWine

@Cherie du Vin

Gerard Bertrand’s Jazz Fest Weekend, Sud de France [Slideshow]

All photos by Paige Donner c. 2011.

The Gérard Bertrand annual Jazz Fest took place August 4th – 8th this summer at Château l’Hospitalet just outside Narbonne.  These photos are taken at Château l’Hospitalet in Languedoc-Roussillon, “Sud de France.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To read more about Gérard Bertrand wines, his annual summer Jazz Fest and his L’Art de Vivre Les Vins Du Sud, click on Gerard-Bertrand.com.

*LOCAL FOOD AND WINE *

TWITTER.COM/LOCALFOODWINE

FACEBOOK/LOCALFOODANDWINE

Follow us On Tumblr * Follow Us On Twitter * Like Us On Facebook

Gilles Goujon, Chef of The Year 2010

Gilles Goujon, Chef of The Year, 2010

Gilles Goujon is France’s top chef for 2010. He was voted Chef of The Year by 6,000 of his peers, a group comprised of the nation’s top chefs, sommeliers and patissiers.  Goujon’s trademark is his talent of combining “radiant, inventive yet traditional cuisine based on seasonal produce.”

In 2010, Goujon’s out-of-the way restaurant nestled 50km. outside of Perpignan in the Languedoc Roussillon region received its 3rd Michelin Star. This is a very exclusive circle and one reserved for the highest achieving chefs as is the Chef of The Year distinction, an award created by Le Chef magazine back in 1987 and reserved for top gastronomic distinction. Gault & Millau also awarded Goujon 5 chef hats this year, their highest award.

Fontjoncouse, Corbieres region, Languedoc Roussillon.

Auberge du Vieux Puits (The Old Well Inn)

It was in 1992 when Goujon opened his “real adventure,” the Auberge du Vieux Puits, a modest out-of-the way inn located between vineyards and the garrigue scrubland in the 137-inhabitant village of Fontjoncouse, 50km. outside of Perpignan in the Corbières region. This little inn has earned a worldwide reputation, attracting connoisseurs from far, far  afield who wish to delight in his inventive, with a Mediterranean touch, cuisine.

Born in 1961, Gilles Goujon worked with Chefs of such prestige as the Rouquette brothers in Ragueneau (Béziers), Roger Vergé at the Moulin de Mougins, Jean-Paul Passédat at the Petit Nice in Marseille and then with Gérard Clor at l’Escale in Carry-le-Rouet before opening up his own inn in the middle of the sweet-smellig, sage-filled garrigue. It was then, in 1997, that he earned his first Michelin star and the distinction of Meilleur Ouvrier de France. In 2001 he won his second star, recognized for his innovation. And now in 2010 he has his third Michelin star.

Goujon has spent part of his Autumn in Paris, on the Champs Elysees where he has been the guest chef at the time-honored Fouquet’s. In October he and resident chef Jean-Yves Leuranguer put on a “Diner 4 Mains” for lucky and delighted gastronomy guests. Seasonal ingredients and innovative cuisine are Chef Goujon’s signature and that’s what you were treated to if you were able to catch him for the fleeting moments when he stepped off his vineyards and into the haute urban setting to share his starry talents with Parisian diners.

TWITTER.COM/LOCALFOODWINE

*LOCAL FOOD AND WINE*

FACEBOOK/LOCALFOODANDWINE

Share

Share

Saint-Chinian

St.-Chinian, AOC

by Paige Donner

Just north of the ancient town of Béziers, where Molière and his band of Troubadours once spent a winter (ca. 1656), is the lovely AOC Saint Chinian. The area which envelopes 20 some villages and 3,300 hectares from the foot of the mountains Espinouse and Caroux, also includes the sub-appellations of Berlou and Roquebrun. It is one of the earliest appellations in the Languedoc to receive that distinction, designated in 1982, and produces both reds and rosés under AOC St. Chinian, with the area’s vignerons producing whites under the AOC St. Chinian (blanc) since 2005 and also frequently under a Vins de Pays d’Oc label.

The climate, – sunny Sud de France – and the soils, primarily schistes, clay, calcareous and limestone, are typical of this Mediterranean zone and is one of the important elements that has lent itself to building this appellation’s “grand” reputation. The average temperature is a cool 14° C. The varietals used for the red blends in St. Chinian are Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Lladoner Pelut. For the most part a St. Chinian red can be expected to be rich and generous with the rosés a bit more delicate giving off their hints of red berry fruits.

Red wines dominate in this appellation, which is true of the region, with 89% of the production going towards them, while just 1% ends up as white wine and a decent 10% being produced as rosés. To visit all the wineries of St. Chinian, allow for some time. There are 100 private wineries and 8 cooperative cellars (caves coopératives) with a total of approximately 350 producers.

Saint-Chinian Roquebrun, Languedoc Roussillon, Sud de France

A Bit of History

The name St. Chinian is derived from the name of the monk, Sanch Anhan, who founded the monastery in the year 794 on the left bank of the River Vernazobre one of two rivers that run through the terrain. The Benedictine monk, beatified in 1102, became known as St. Chinian. St. Chinian is a delightful area in which to play tourist while you taste wines and stock up your cellar. You can meander along the ancient Roman road that connected Narbonne to the upper Languedoc and then all the way onto Italy – the road that Molière and the Troubadours would have travelled. Or you can drive through the Orb Valley where orange trees an eucalyptus trees flourish alongside the river gorge, and where the little jewel of a village Roquebrun nestles. Be sure to pause along the wine route to take some of the heritage walks through the vineyards.

Domaine La Grange Léon, AOC Saint-Chinian, Berlou

Joël and Véronique Fernandez named their vineyard after Joel’s great-grandfather, Leon, who himself came from a long line of vineyard managers and winemakers originating from this Languedocien patch of land not all that far from the Spanish border and Pays Basque. It was Léon who was one of the founding member of the “caves coopérative” of Berlou, credited with uplifting the quality and reputation of St. Chinian wines. Since he was 16 years old, Joël dreamed of being the owner-operator of his own vineyards and winery. He immersed himself in the seasonal rhythms of the vines, in the harvests and dedicated himself to learning the mastery of the “alchemy” of winemaking.

La Grange Leon, Saint-Chinian, Rouge “l’Audacieux”

Voilá

In 2008 Joël and Véronique established their own winery. They harvest their grapes only by hand and are rigorously attentive about the quality of the grapes they allow into the cellar. The Domaine’s vineyards are primarily schiste soils and because they’ve invested so much of themselves into their winery, they are fond of declaring that their wines are “a bit of the terroir and a bit of ourselves.”

La Grange de  Léon – Vintage Selection

La Rose de Laury, AOC Saint-Chinian Rosé This rosé has delicate fuchsia reflections with notes of strawberries and cherries. 60% Cinsault, 20% Syrah, 20% Mourvèdre.

Viognier, Vins d Pays d’Oc Blanc Sold out. Only the proprietor has a few bottles on reserve. Uncharacteristically made from 100% Viognier. [The French make blends from the appellation’s designated varietals, Americans tend toward single varietal vintages.] Notes of passion fruit, pineapple, apricot. Aromas of verveine.

D’une main à l’autre, AOC Saint-Chinian – Berlou Rouge Only available in 2010 – so get it now. Plums on the nose, black cherries; mandarin, vanilla, pepper on the tongue. Round, full, long in the mouth. For steaks on the grill in summer, Entrecôte in the winter. Also: L’insolent, AOC Saint-Chinian Rouge; L’Audacieux, AOC Saint-Chinian Rouge Visit the Maison des Vins in Saint-Chinian on the Grand Rue to start off your wine tasting of the region. Ask for Henri Miquel, the President or Nelly Belot, Director. And be sure to stop in at the Syndicat du Cru AOC Saint Chinian at 1 Rue de la Promenade, St. Chinian.

TWITTER.COM/LOCALFOODWINE

*LOCAL FOOD AND WINE*

FACEBOOK/LOCALFOODANDWINE

 

Share

Mas de Daumas Gassac

“One of the 10 best wines in the world.” – Michael Broadbent

“A Lafite in Languedoc.” – Gault et Millau

Daumas Gassac vineyards planted amidst the Languedocian garrigue and protected forestlands, Aniane, France.

By Paige Donner

My father once told me the tale about a Stradivarius. There was a Stradivarius that sat in the dusty folds of a shelf in the back of an obscure violin shop. People came and bought violins from the shopkeeper, for themselves, for their children, but the few who stumbled upon the dusty, old instrument quickly overlooked it, assuming that it couldn’t possibly be an instrument of any worth. Until one day, a master violinist stumbled into the store and like a mother to its child, was at once drawn to the exquisite instrument and knew it instantly for what it was. In his hands, beautiful music once again flowed forth from the Stradivarius.

This story came to mind as I drove away from Mas de Daumas Gassac, the 50 hectare Languedocian vineyard estate just outside of Aniane. This region, the Midi, is, of course the Languedoc-Roussillon, the region that produces the most wine not just in France but in the world. The region is, in every sense of the phrase, Sud de France.

 

Daumas Gassac vineyards and aromatic Mediterranean garrigue, Aniane.

What the region was not known for in 1970 was its quality wine. Flanked by Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Loire and Rhone Valleys, the Languedoc has long been known as the area that makes table wines or vins de table, the better ones just squeaking by with a vin de pays classification – or so goes the common perception. But not all wines need a classification in order to be good. Excellent, even. Indeed, in the case of Mas de Daumas Gassac, as much notoriety as this wine has attracted, it still eschews classification, its winemakers saying a polite “no thanks” to an AOC label.

Rooted In The Languedoc

Flash back to 1970 when a husband and wife team, Aime’ and Veronique Guibert, were in one of those life transitional phases and decided to buy a farm. What they found was this old rundown farm just outside of Aniane, situated in the middle of the Forest of Arboussas, that was still owned by two old spinster sisters of the Daumas family. It was also nestled next to the Gassac River and, in fact, was an old mill or “moulin.”

 

Mas de Daumas Gassac. Estate, Winery, Vineyards, Tasting Room.

Tout ce qui brille n’est pas d’Or.

“Everything that glitters is not gold.”

…And, conversely, all that is gold does not glitter. In what has played out over the last 40 years since the Guibert family has grown their grapes and harvested their wines at the vineyard they planted around that old dilapidated mill, now the Mas de Daumas Gassac, is nothing short of an uncovering of a long-forgotten treasure. The treasure, arguably an unofficial Tresor de France, is the terroir of the Gassac Valley.

 

Daumas Gassac red, glacial soils. A terroir specific to the estate.

50 Hectares of Vineyards Surrounded by 100 Hectares of Mediterranean Woodland

The 50 hectares that Mas de Daumas Gassac rests on are home to the first wines ever produced in the Gassac Valley. Those wines were made for Charlemagne, the first King of France ca. 780 A.D. In fact, it was St. Benoit d’Aniane, one of Charlemagne’s counsellors and an Abbey, who created the first vineyard in the “magical” valley of Gassac some 1,200 years ago.

The magic is the microclimate. The terroir was rediscovered in 1971 by Henri Enjalbert a Professor of Geology at Bordeaux University. Veronique, also a PhD (in ethnology) and husband Aime’ Guibert were successful in getting Professor Enjalbert out to the Mas to check out not just the unusual red soil, which was found to be glacial soil, the calceous limestone (for the white varietals), but also to explore the cool microclimate that is derived from multiple factors: the Gassac River, several natural springs on the property, and the cool night air that descends from the Larzac mountains throughout the valley cooling the air surrounding the vines in August and September by about 5 to 10 degrees.

 

Pere and Freres Guibert, Mas de Daumas Gassac.

It was this same Prof. Enjalbert who declared to the Guiberts that they were sitting on “the ideal and unique terroir to produce a Grand Cru wine.”

Mas de Daumas Gassac Estate Today

 

A Guibert with his grapes.

Today it is the brothers Samuel, Gael, Amelien, Roman and Basile who take care of the estate. The Mas de Daumas Gassac label, with its sister label of Moulin de Gassac, produces about 150,000 to 200,000 bottles every year.

Walking through the Daumas Gassac vineyards is not just a walk through the vines but also a walk through the Forest of Arboussas, the Languedocien garrigue and, on this sweet summer day in June, a walk through veils of frolicking white and yellow butterflies. The ladybugs are there, too, when you stop and look closely.

 

Winemaker Samuel Guibert, Mas de Daumas Gassac.

Samuel Guibert, the estate’s winemaker who spent ten years in New Zealand before coming home to help run the family business, matter-of-factly explains that no chemicals, no fertilizers, nothing of the sort has ever touched this soil. “It’s virgin land,” he says. The family themselves source their drinking water from the freshwater springs on the property, so they are not about to poison themselves – or their vines. Their approach to land is “to preserve nature’s balance.”

What’s really unique about this estate, however, in addition to the glacial red soil and everything else…is that the 63 vineyard parcels are all planted interspersed throughout the property, fully integrated with the garrigue and the 3,000 hectares of protected forestland.

When you look up the translation for garrigue, the English is “scrubbrush” or just “garrigue.” What it is in fact is clusters of lavendar, mint, thyme growing wild since the millennia. This is the real Mediterranean. Aromatic, fragrant. So like hidden gardens of fruit nestled within aromatic parcels of herbs, the vineyards are planted throughout this preserved and untouched forestland of fragrant garrigue.

 

Mas de Daumas Gassac barrel cellar. French oak used not to influence taste but to enhance age-ability.

The Cellar

When the grapes are harvested by hand, they are then deposited via gravity into the underground fermentation cellar via a trapdoor which is up top at ground level. The fermentation cellar used to be an underwater tank. “We took what existed and made the best of it,” says Guibert, emphasizing that the whole process from sorting to destemming to macerating is all moved along purely by gravity and all done by hand.

 

Fermentation cellar at Mas de Daumas Gassac. Was once an underground water tank.

This is a process not often seen any longer anywhere, including France. Some of the vineyards in Bordeaux used to use this gravity-fed process but most have since switched to automated. The difference being, explains Samuel, that the less the grapes are manipulated or handled, the better.

Similarly natural and using the resources at hand, the river next to the cellar helps to maintain the cellar at a cool 13-14 degrees C. in Winter and about 17-18 C. in summer with about 70% humidity. “It’s perfect temperatures for cellaring our wines,” says Samuel Guibert.

They only use about 5% new oak. “We don’t use oak to influence the taste of the wine, rather to enhance the capacity to age,” explains Guibert. You will often hear that a Mas de Daumas Gassac – red or white – has an ease of ability to age. “They are wines that can age, I like to say,” says Guibert, noting that the red that you drink and enjoy today will be a different wine from the one you cellar for 10, 15 and even 25 years. Different and perhaps equally enjoyable.

They blend for complex wine. The Guiberts only planted old strains of vines used before cloning, “to ensure traditional flavors and low yields.”Some of the planted vines are pre phyllaxera era and some are grafted onto American root stock. Oenologues refer to the Daumas Gassac vineyard as a “living museum” of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Manseng – a varietal that really only thrives in the south west region of France, – Viognier and also a “panoply” of 10% varietals that originate from “Biblical” Mediterranean vines – Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Armenia.

As for the vines that St. Benoit of Aniane planted for the Abbey and Charlemagne, “The existing vineyard that my parents found when they arrived at Mas Daumas in 1970 was indeed extremely ancient but no one can prove if it was the exact same vines as when St Benoit d’Aniane arrived,” says Guibert.

Emile Peynaud, the revered modern genius of oenology, told Mssr. Guibert back at the start of this quest for treasure that he had never been attendant at the birth of a Grand Cru. Forty years later, and we get to enjoy the fruits of that treasure quest.

Mas de Daumas Gassac Haute Vallée Du Gassac 34150 Aniane, France www.daumas-gassac.com

*Local Food And Wine*

Share

Share

Terrasses du Larzac

by Paige Donner

Terrasses du Larzac

Terrasses du Larzac, Coteaux du Languedoc, AOC.

Terrasses du Larzac is a relatively new appellation – AOC status since the 2004 harvest– in the Hérault region of Languedoc-Roussillon in Southern France. In this sense it is absolutely reflective of the Coteaux du Languedoc’s re-establishment of the quality and prestige of its region’s vineyards, winemakers and especially its wines.

Top 100 Wines

The Domaine de la Sauvageonne’s 2006 ‘Les Ruffes’ wine was placed in the top 100 wines of 2008 in The Wine Spectator, the leading USA wine magazine. Not only a tribute to the Domaine and its Director, Gavin Crisfield, this is proof of the quality potential in the Terrasses du Larzac.

The Terrasses du Larzac is a V-shaped area spreading from the Pic Saint Baudile, its cliffs and benches, that graduates on downward to the point of the V towards Aniane and Lake Salagou. The area encompasses 32 communes (villages such as Saint Jean de la Blaquière, Puechabon, Lodève, St.-Jean-de-Fos…) and produces some 75,000 hectoliters of AOC Languedoc, and only 9000 hl of AOC Languedoc -Terrasses du Larzac, annually. While the highest points of the natural boundaries of the Terrasses du Larzac reach over 800m high, the only planted and permitted AOC zones are between 50m and 300m high on the foothills of the Causse.

READ MORE on Local Food And Wine – Sud de France

TWITTER.COM/LOCALFOODWINE

*LOCAL FOOD AND WINE*

FACEBOOK/LOCALFOODANDWINE

Share

Picpoul de Pinet

by Paige Donner

Picpoul de Pinet

 

Picpoul-de-Pinet, cultivated on the French coast of the Mediterranean Sea, pairs perfectly with fresh, chilled oysters, prawns and other seafood.

Picpoul de Pinet, also spelled Piquepoul de Pinet, is both a rare white French grape varietal that thrives in the South of France and it is a designated appellation with its own A.O.C. classification in an area that hugs the Thau Lagoon between Sete and Agde in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of Southern France.

This fresh, crisp wine that splashes hints of lime and green apple in the mouth pairs beautifully with seafoods. It accents especially well  the oysters and fresh prawns that grow in abundance off this Languedoc coastal region and the Thau Lagoon where the sun-loving, late-blooming grape thrives and where it enjoys its own Languedocian regional appellation.

 

A.O.C.Languedoc-Roussillon

A Great Future For A Little Known Grape

Piquepoul, the grape varietal, is used to make the light acidic wine called Picpoul de Pinet, with floral and citrus fruit aromas. It follows then, that the AOC Coteaux du Languedoc, Picpoul de Pinet classification, applies only to white wines.

This rare, ancient French grape thrives in the coastal sands near Sète in the Languedoc, the fishing village that affronts the Mediterranean Sea. The refreshing acidity of this full-bodied wine pairs especially well with seafood because of its more floral, citrus and peach flavors than the minerality of a Sancerre .  Picpoul is mostly enjoyed by Languedociens or tourists visiting the area, at present, and is not yet exported as much as say, another rare French varietal, Viognier.

This clear, light-gold wine breathes appetizing aromas of peaches, juicy and fresh, with a back note of lemon-lime. Crisp and tart, white-fruit flavors and lemon-squirt acidity are fresh and cleansing in a very long finish. Not overly complex but bright and appealing, it’s a first-rate seafood wine. It has been called the Muscadet of the south of France. It is the wine that is usually served with oysters that can be found along the coasts of the Languedoc.

Serve very cool between 6 and 8°C to accompany all seafood,

Read more:  Here

Share

La Fête des Rosés & des Blancs

Silenus, tutor to Dionysus, God of Wine, holding the baby Dionysus. Louvre.

by Paige Donner

Two prevailing characteristics of the Languedoc-Roussillon are that the region is steeped in history, specifically wine history, and it is known for its ripe, red wines.

But this once again up-and-coming wine region is taking its future in its own hands by using innovative approaches to freshen up its image. One of those approaches is to celebrate its vineyards’ white and rose’ wines.

In June and then again in November, the wineries of the region are encouraged to throw open their doors to tasters and wine buyers to especially highlight their rose’ and white vintages.

Back in the region’s heyday, during the XVII c., wines of the Midi, particularly its Muscats, and especially its Muscats secs, rivalled the wines of Burgundy. Wines from St. Georges d’Orques, a village where wineries still operate today, were known from border to border throughout France.

On a tasting of the Greater Languedoc region, these are some wines you ought to get the chance to try:

Cave de Roque Brun, St. Chinian. They are in the Guide Hachette and have won a Gold Medal in Paris’s Concours Generale Agricole.

Domaines de Gallieres, a new vineyard that presented its “Salsa de la Vigne” at this year’s tasting festival, a light-hearted rose’ that pairs well with melon, prosciutto, feta wrapped in marinated red peppers.

Domaine Pibarot in Mus who handpicks their grapes and uses no pesticides.

Domaine du Silene. Legend has it that an effigy of Silenus, the tutor to Dionysius the Greek God of wine and the grape, was found on the premises and watches over the estate.  Vineyards thrive in the exceptional clay and limestone soils.

Domaine de Montnegre whose Rose’ is under the AOC Coteaux du Languedoc and made by blending Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault. Fresh and aromatic, it pairs well with light repasts.  Their white, a blend of old Carignan blanc and Ugni blanc, is vin de Pays.

Le Domaine Puech, in Saint-Clement-de-Riviere, is a local favorite. Their Vin de Pays d’Oc Chardonnay with a floral, vanilla nose and a well-balanced, ample mouth.

Les Chemins de Carabote has a Terrasses du Larzac which exhibits both strength and elegance, richness and complexity. Featured in Guide Hachette.

Les Vignerons du Pic offers their “Gres de Montpellier,” which is their wine that’s on the map.

The AOC Gres de Montpellier was obtained in 2003 and encompasses most of the villages that are situated in the “Agglomeration” Montpellier.  With this classification, the vineyards of the region are re-exerting and re-establishing their importance in the national culture of wine.

Domaine Jordy, which can be found in Le Bosc, keeps 500 hectares of vineyards under cultivation amidst 2500 hectares of garrigue, the native Mediterranean scrub brush thought to lend its aromatics of thyme, rosemary, lavendar to the wines.  To keep with their whites and rose’s try the Cers Vent, Viognier and Rose’ cuvee’ speciale, as well as their Blanc vendanges passerillees for a dessert wine.

*Local Food And Wine*

Share

You Say Tomato, We Say Tomato!

by Paige Donner

In case you missed it, July 3rd was a day to celebrate the beautiful, the wonderful, the full red-ripe and juicy glorious tomato at the Fete de la Tomate. In the south of France, on a day when both Canada and the U.S. were celebrating their days with fireworks and picnics, hundreds of farmers and locavores gathered in reverant, festive celebration of the Heirloom tomato, in all its thousands of varieties.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone could know tomatoes better than the Tomatologue knows tomatoes. This is a tomato devotee who not only grows about 1200 different varieties of tomatoes, but someone whose eyes light up as he gingerly hands you the freshly cut slice of tomato from one of his artisanal varietals and watches as the delight sweeps across your face, dancing in harmony with the sensorially exquisite taste of the tomato in all its fullness of flavor as it bursts from the fruit and splashes over your tastebuds.

Words cannot describe the beauty of these tomatoes. So we will let pictures from the Tomatologue site do all the talking…

// Chocolate Tomato

// Ester Hesse Yellow Tomato

// Merveille Blanche

// Teton de Venus

Twitter.com/localfoodwine

*Local Food And Wine*

FaceBook/LocalFoodAndWine

Share

Domaine de Saumarez

By Paige Donner

Just outside Murviel-les-Montpelliers, and not too far from St. Georges D’Orques, both villages in the heart of the Languedoc-Roussillon in Sud de France, perches Domaine de Saumarez on a pretty hillside whose sweeping views take in the Mediterranean Sea in the not-too-distant yonder.

Domaine de Saumarez "vignerons," winery proprietors.

In 2006, the winery’s top cuvee’, their “Aalenien, ’04” earned a full-bodied 92 points from Wine Spectator (Kim Marcus, 2006). “2009 is going to be another spectacular vintage,” says Williamson. Indeed, there’s not a soul in France today who isn’t singing the praises of the 2009 vintage year. As for 2010, “It was a hard winter but the vines seem to be quite happy now,” he says.

Domaine de Saumarez, Aalenien.

It was nearly a decade ago when Liz and Robin decided to shuck everything – him his banking career, her, accounting – and pursue their passion of wine. After repeated and extended wine tasting trips throughout the world and France, they settled on looking for a vineyard to call home in the region between the Spanish border and Nimes. This region, the “Midi,” or Languedoc-Roussillon, is the hub of wine making in France. It’s not its most celebrated, but it is its most voluminous.

“We looked at 30 domains from the Spanish border all the way to Nimes. This was number 30,” recounts the Williamsons who are raising their two young sons up on the vineyard. “The winery had potential, even though it was a wreck,” reminisces Robin, pointing out that there was no roof on what is now the cellar and tasting room when they bought the estate back in 2003. By 2004 they had produced their first vintage. They sold their first bottles in 2006.

“Aalenien,” is not just the name of Domaine de Saumarez’s top cuvee’, it is also the name of the type of soil to be found on the property. The rocky soils are made up of Jurassic limestone that have bands of quartz running through them. This soil, found in about a 10 sq. km radius, is particular to Murviel-les-Montpellier, the 2,500 year old Roman-Gallo village that the Domaine is situated in. At its height, Murviel had 15,000 inhabitants and was one of the main towns on the ancient route traveled between Spain and Italy.

The soil makes for minimal weed growth, hence little need for pesticides nor weed killers; it is good with heavy rains because the rocky limestone is very porous yet it retains moisture at about 1 to 2 meters below the soil surface, thus keeping the vines hydrated. The region’s 300 days of sunshine per year and tendency to get high winds dries out the vines.

Fleur de Liz, Domaine de Saumarez’s rose’.

The Languedoc region is also known for having numerous organically farmed vineyards and in fact the region as a whole is becoming specialized in organic. It has some of the highest concentrations of organic agriculture, and viticulture, in all of France. Domaine de Saumarez is no different and will be certified organic by 2012.

Robin Williamson is the type of vintner who likes to know what he’s talking about. And he does. Before he and wife Liz bought the farm, he spent two years taking courses in oenology in Brighton. He finished his studies at the level just one shy of Master in Oenology. He’ll gleefully talk to you about stirring the lees – “batonage” – and discuss with you the merits of using food-grade fiberglass fermentation tanks and square concrete ones for the reds and why they use mostly French oak barrels with only two American oak barrels thrown in the mix…But mostly he’ll tell you, “We’re farmers you know, no more or less, than farmers.”

He characterizes this as an “Old World” approach to winemaking. “In France the vigneron is still more Old World. We do it all. We’re farmers. We’re winemakers. We’re wine sellers.” He concedes that as a grape farmer and winemaker you need to remain philosophical about certain things, like the weather. “You have to always stay on the front foot,” he says, reverting to a cricket-ism.

Domaine de Saumarez makes four wines. Their top cuvee’ the Aalenien, a red. Notes of herbs, spices, minerals, olives and flowers. Their Domaine S’ red – supple, ripe, lush with a spicy edge – and their Domaine S’ white, – minerality and class, grapefruit, lemon peel that leads into a creamy width – all Coteaux du Languedoc AOC and a rose’, the Fleur de Liz, also AOC, vins de Pays de l’Herault. As a red wine with the Coteaux du Languedoc AOC classification, it will have some or all of only these varietals: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, and Cinsault.

*Local Food And Wine*

Pic Saint-Loup

Pic St. Loup in the northern part of Languedoc-Roussillon.

Pic Saint-Loup in Côteaux du Languedoc produces some of the finest wines in the Midi. As a sub-appellation of the Languedoc AOC, it is petitioning vigorously, and successfully, to become its own appellation. Many foresee that it soon will succeed in these efforts.

“The vignerons of the Pic Saint-Loup have been very smart to identify their appellation with the majestic mountain of Pic St. Loup,” comments a compatriot winemaker from the Murviel-les-Montpellier sub-appellation just to the south of Pic Saint-Loup.

The Coteaux du Languedoc appellation was replaced by the appellation Languedoc AOC in 2007, but the two names will run concurrently until 2012.

The majestic peak of the St. Loup mountain is a dominantly identifying landmark for this notable region in Sud de France and it conveys the inextricably linked mark of the terroir, that of its cooler elevated vineyards which are set apart from the lower, and hotter, Languedocien plains.

Pic St. Loup, left; Hortus Mountain, right.

The Pic Saint Loup and Hortus mountains are at the cross-roads of Legend and History. According to a children’s story, they were born from the blow of a club given by a giant who had flown into a terrible rage. Since then the mountain weeps from the Mascla spring. Pic Saint Loup also evokes the name of the sainted knight Loup who, in memory of his lady, became a hermit, singing his undying love from the top of this rocky peak…This is a land of vines and olive trees, crossed by shepherds and coal makers of every origin supplying the cities on the sea shore with wool and charcoal…

READ the complete Myth And Legend of Pic Saint Loup Wine Region on Domaine de l’Hortus

Garrigue of Languedoc

Thirty kilometers from the southern French coast, the climate is Mediterranean with the characteristic aromatic haut garrigue perfuming the terrain. The topography of the area, dominated by these two distinctive mountain peaks – Montagne de l’Hortus and Pic St. Loup itself – to the north and east means increased diurnal temperature variation which is an essential factor in the development of balanced acids and sugars in the wine grapes.

Pic Saint-Loup Sub-appellation, in Languedoc, Southern Coastal France

The Pic St. Loup is only red and roses. White varietals are grown in the appellation but are not bottled under the Pic Saint Loup AOC classification. Only reds are honored with that with the whites receiving a Coteaux du Languedoc, or the local Vin de Pays du Val de Montferrand also for the roses.

In fact they wineries have been quite strict in setting up their qualifications for the sub-appellation AOC:

The principal grapes must be Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah; a vintage must contain at least two and must comprise at least 90% of the blend. At least 20% of that must be Syrah, a vine that is not indigenous to the area, but was planted early last century, along with Mourvedre and Grenache, as cépages améliorateurs, during the re-planting of the country’s vines. Maximum yield is 45 hl/ha, minimum alcohol is 11.5% and the vines must be at least 5 years old. These conditions will only become steeper when the INAO accepts their petition for AOC classification. Other varieties in the blend can be Carignan and Cinsault which are allowed a maximum of 10%.

The mesoclimates of this limestone dominated terroir allow for the viticulturists to plant the heat-loving Mourvedre in the warmer, lower vineyards and use the higher vineyards to grow a more elegant style of Syrah, which responds well to the cool mountain nights.

Pic St. Loup Facts

  • Size: 13 villages north of Montpellier, stretching 25 km north–south and 10 km east–west
  • Area of production: 1500 hectares, with 800 ha planted to Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre
  • Producers: 3 caves co-op, 36 (and counting) individual producers

Clairette du Languedoc

Roman wine press, antiquity. Operational in 10 A.D. in Aspiran, Languedoc-Roussillon.

Many people know claret as a sweet white wine the English liked to drink back in the day. But this old-fashioned vine has the prestige of being the varietal found to have been cultivated on the oldest European vineyard discovered to this day.

That vineyard is in Aspiran, the Languedocian village in Sud de France. It once belonged to Quintus Iulius Primus who maintained the claret vineyards under cultivation as early as the year 10 A.D. when nearby Bezier was still a Roman outpost. The varietal is indigenous to this Languedocien region in the Herault.

Ancient claret vineyard of Quintus Iulius Primus of Aspiran, Languedoc from ca. 10 A.D., France.
Excavation of ancient claret vineyard from Roman times, ca. 10 A.D. in Aspiran, Languedoc region in the Herault, Southern France.

In 1948 Clairette du Languedoc was pronounced its own Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC), the first in the region.

Claret, both the dry white and sweeter varieties of the wine enjoyed popularity all throughout the Middle Ages. It is said that Rabelais and Oliviers de Serre both mentioned “Cleretz,” also called “Hypocras,” in their writings. At nearby Montpellier Rabelais lectured on the ancient physicians, Hippocrates and Galen. In 1532 he was a physician at Hôtel-Dieu, a general hospital in Lyons, the city that was France’s commercial and cultural center at the time. In the same year he published his famous comedy, Pantagruel, under the pen name Alcofribas Nasier – an anagram of Rabelais’s real name.

French Renaissance writer, Franciscan monk, humanist, and physician, whose comic novels Gargantua and Pantagruel are among the most hilarious classics of world literature, François Rabelais’ heroes are rude but funny giants traveling in a world full of greed, stupidity, violence, and grotesque jokes. The true target of his satire was the feudal and the ecclesiastical powers, and the world of the learned. Rabelais’ books were banned by the Catholic Church and later placed on The Index librorum prohibitorumon (the Index of Forbidden Books). … Read More Here

Hypocras and Cleretz were the ancient names for Claret.

During the Renaissance, in 1533, Francois The First drank claret wines in Beziers. It is said that when Moliere spent a winter in Beziers ca. 1654 he drank the famous Hypocras, “clairette moelleuse” of the age.

Claret vines like the hot, arid conditions and poor, dry soils of the Mediterranean. It tends towards high alcohol content and is often referred to as clarette blanche and blanquette. The wine was big business for the Hérault region all through the Middle Ages. After the French Revolution, claret began losing its market share in European trade. It wasn’t until 1900 when, due to phylloxera, claret vineyards fell into declining production.

Today, in addition to Aspiran, where Chateau Malautie‘ grows claret vineyards right next to the fields once maintained by Quintus Iulius Primus two thousand year ago, you can also find wineries producing claret in the villages of Adissan, Le Bosc, Cabrières, Ceyras, Fontès, Lieuran, Cabrières, Nizas, Paulhan, Péret, and St-André-de-Sangonis. There’s about 70 hectares in total under cultivation in this appellation.

In addition, claret makes (minor) appearances in blends including Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Tavel Rosé, Côtes-du-Rhône, Lirac and Blanquette de Limoux. Clairette du Languedoc production centers may also produce red or rosé Coteaux du Languedoc wines.

The archeological Museum, Musee‘ Archaologique Lattaria, in nearby Lattes, just wrapped up a half-year long series of conferences, “Wine, Nectar of The Gods, Muse of Men.”

*Local Food And Wine*