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And time for all the works and days of hands...
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the bottling of a wine sur lie’
(With apologies to TS Eliot)
VIN DE PAYS
LES CLAIRIERES, JEAN D’ALIBERT, IGP d’Oc
Plumply plummy little number from a co-operative in La Livinière. The wine is almost indecently purple with bags of
blackberry fruit and more than a smidge of (ripe) tannin.
BERGERIE DE LA BASTIDE, IGP d’Oc
This pair of wines illustrate amply that the Languedoc is where the mustard is being cut vis-à-vis bang-for-buck cheapies
(that’s not a sentence you read everyday). The Bergerie de la Bastide white is a mouthful, and then some, of 50%
Grenache Blanc, Terret and Sauvignon. It reveals typical notes of dried herbs, white flowers, fennel, juniper and green
olive with a touch of citrus to bring up the rear. A wine that will hold its own with shellfish and crustacea. The red is a
savoury assemblage of Grenache Noir, Cinsault and Merlot, a lovely effort built on the twin pillars of fruit and structure.
Ruby red with red fruit aromas of cranberries and red cherries it is light, clean and fresh on the palate with lively acidity
and recurrent flavours of cassis and vanilla. Surprisingly good with Indian and Chinese food as well as grilled fish. The
rosé is a blend of Cinsault, Syrah and Grenache. These are real wines: not whey-faced macedoines of token gumfruits.
BERGERIE DE LA BASTIDE BLANC – stelvin
BERGERIE DE LA BASTIDE BLANC – 10 litre BIB
BERGERIE DE LA BASTIDE ROUGE – stelvin
BERGERIE DE LA BASTIDE ROUGE – 10 litre BIB
BERGERIE DE LA BASTIDE ROSE – stelvin
BERGERIE DE LA BASTIDE ROSE – 10 litre BIB
VILLA SAINT-JEAN, Pays d’Oc
The vines for these wines are cultivated on soils composed of pebbly scree and clay from an area south east of Avignon.
The grapes for the white are harvested at night to preserve the natural acids, thereafter to the wine where light skin
maceration (four hours) is succeeded by pneumatic pressure and light racking of the must. The wine is distinguished by its
pale-yellow robe with straw yellow nuances. The nose is fresh with notes of citrus fruits such as grapefruit, lime and
liquorice and both round and fresh on the palate. The grapes for the red are destemmed with a traditional vinification
including two-week fermentation on skins. After a pneumatic pressing the wine is matured in stainless steel. The mouth
offers a nice freshness with a long-lasting finish and pleasing cherry, redcurrant and plum notes.
VILLA SAINT-JEAN BLANC
VILLLA SAINT-JEAN ROUGE
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Upon my mouth do crush their wine
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach
Andrew Marvell – The Garden
Cultivate simplicity, Charles Lamb counselled his friend Coleridge, advice many wine growers might heed.
DOMAINE HENRI NORDOC & LA BOUSSOLE, STEPHANE VEDEAU & CLAUDE SERRA, Pays d’Oc
Domaine Nordoc may sound like an orc-overridden enclave of Middle Earth, but is, in fact, one of Stephane Vedeau’s many
labels. Behind the label is some very good quality inexpensive vin de pays. The Chardonnay is from a selection of the best
parcels located on the hillsides along the Mediterranean Sea, well known for natural restriction of the yields and a good
microclimate. On chalky soils, the Chardonnay can give its best expression.
Grapes are harvested at night to preserve natural acidity and prevent oxidation. After fermentation, the wine matures in tank
on the fine lees for six to eight months.
and the exotic palate suggests mango and ginger.
Delicious Merlot oozing bags of primary fruit: mulberry, sweet cherry and plum, rounded off by savoury flavours of black
olive, eucalyptus leaf and white pepper. The Cabernet Sauvignon, from chalky-clay soil with broken stones, is varietally bang
on, a touch of clove-edged bitterness and Languedoc herbs mark its individuality.
The Boussole Pinot Noir displays ripe strawberry fruit flavours with secondary aromas of sous-bois and menthol. This would
be good with a lamb curry or duck with olive. The Viognier is extraordinarily rich, deep gold, with aromas redolent of lychee
and sun-ripened peach. A wine that matches modern fusion cuisine.
None of these wines are aged in oak (or in orc for that matter).
The rose is a nifty perky pink at an appealing price. This palely shimmering number comes from the commune of Caux near
Pezenas from vines grown on classic clay limestone soils. Viticulture is environmentally sensitive (lute raisonnée) and harvest
is by hand.
The blend is 80% Cinsault – providing the floral component to the mix – and Syrah, the remainder and the structure. The
vines have decent age on them – 35-40 years old. The varieties are fermented separately in stainless steel at low temperature
to preserve their aromatic properties. The resulting wine is delicate and attractive with fresh zingy strawberry fruit and
appealing notes of red flowers.
HENRI NORDOC CHARDONNAY
LA BOUSSOLE VIOGNIER
HENRI NORDOC MERLOT
HENRI NORDOC CABERNET SAUVIGNON
LA BOUSSOLE PINOT NOIR
HENRI NORDOC CINSAULT SYRAH ROSE
GRANGES DES ROCS, Coteaux du Languedoc
Very correct Picpoul made from hand harvested grapes from vineyards located in the sandy soils in Montagnac in the
heart of the appellation. Viticulture is with the minimum of treatments and fermentation is in stainless steel vats with
the malo inhibited. The result is a wine that is crisp, herbal and slightly buttery – very easy to drink indeed.
PICPOUL DE PINET
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VIN DE PAYS
DOMAINE MAS MONTEL, DOMINIQUE GRANIER, Pays du Gard
A domaine outside the village of Aspères near Montpellier that is making great strides. The terroir (Terres de
Sommières) is characterised by soils of limestone and clay with flints. Dominique Granier’s wines are always very
approachable with charming fruit. La Petite Syrah is marvellously consistent with soft ripe fruit flavours to the fore,
an uncomplicated vin de bébé showing stewed fruits flecked with cinnamon and nutmeg. Garnet colour, earthy
aromas, notes of red fruits, spice, leather and liquorice. Well balanced with elegant and rounded tannins.
LA PETITE SYRAH, IGP DU GARD
DOMAINE DE MOULINES, SAUMADE FRERES, Pays de l’Herault
These wines offer an interesting stylistic contrast to the range from Mas Montel (q.v.) The Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon
have attracted the attention of a certain Robert Parker: they are darkly coloured, dense, rich, mouth-coating wines,
almost New World in style.
traditional vinification with fermentation and maceration of 25-30 days, light extraction of fruit and ageing in tank
All the wines are unfiltered.
both elegant and pure. A sweet nose of bright red cherries opens to a plush, soft, round mouth of black fruits, fresh
plums and blackberries and more cherries, with easy tannins and a bright acidity. Monsieur Saumade recommends this
wine with gigot of lamb with cepes. The Cabernet Sauvignon has bitter fruit flavours, a nice dusting of grippy tannins
and hints of paprika and black pepper.
Appellation – What’s in a Name?
The notion of appellation was originally a charter, often a royal seal of approval. Appellation or “naming the wine” gave it an official
legitimacy. The word has since – in many people’s views – moved away from expressing the need to protect regional identity and to
promote authenticity as well as supporting good practice towards more negative associations such as died-in-the-wool protectionism,
restrictive and inflexible practice and bureaucratic authoritarianism.
Appellation was never intended to stamp a homogenous identity on wine and winegrowers. It was meant to encourage wine growers to
improve their working practices and inform consumers as to how such methods affect the way an appellation speaks though its wines.
Typicity and diversity are not mutually exclusive; within each appellation there are myriad terroirs. Wine is a soft interpreter of the grape
variety, the microclimate (the aspect, the soil, the vegetation, the sun, the heat and so forth) not to mention the technique in the winery –
there are as many wines as there are variables in a given year. Diversity is therefore, by definition, a fact of nature. But a vigneron looking
to preserve the subtlety and unique character of a specific place, to capture the essence of terroir, will never try to modify or homogenise
his or her wine by driving out nature with a pitchfork.
Typicity and terroir mean simply this; that wine duly reflects where it comes from and changes according to the unique variables of each
vintage, but the wine has an inherent identity, a singularity that tells us that it is a natural product from a “specific” place.
It is interesting finally to note that the quality charters of La Renaissance des Appellations and Slow Food France are based on
philosophical and ethical convictions as to what constitutes terroir and good farming practice and are not legal frameworks. This
highlights the problem with so many things in our world: people are bluntly told they can’t do such-and-such when it should be explained
instead why it would be a morally good idea for them to pursue a particular course of action.
Ideally, and from a consumer’s viewpoint, appellation should be inextricably connected to quality. Quality can be determined by
pinpointing origin of product and methodology or farming practice – these are objective measures – in conjunction with the subjective
evaluation of tasting panels.
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Why devote an extra page to one estate? Well, it could have been a chapter or even a book. However, the book of the story
and the wine has already been most ably penned by Alastair Mackenzie and the vintages have been scrupulously chronicled
by the redoubtable Michael Broadbent in his Vintage Wine. Daumas Gassac, a long-standing favourite, is one of only wine
estates to merit a special chapter to itself (along with Musar and Vega Sicilia).
The story of Mas de Daumas Gassac is one of vision, enterprise, passion and pride. When the Guiberts first purchased their
farm (the mas) in the charming Gassac valley they little realised that they had a particular micro-climate which would give
them the potential to make great wines. A visiting professor from Bordeaux, one Henri Enjalbert, identified a particular red
soil that was common to certain great estates in the Médoc and Grand Cru Burgundies.
Under the thick garrigue scrub and
shrubs covering the Arboussas hills, he found some 40 hectares of perfectly drained soil, poor in humus and vegetable
matter, rich in mineral oxide (iron, copper, gold etc). Formed from deposits carried in by the winds during the Riss, Mindel
and Guntz glacial periods (ranging from 180,000 – 400,000 years ago) the terroir provides the three elements necessary for
a potential Grand Cru: deep soil ensuring the vines’ roots delve deep to seek nourishment; perfectly drained soil ensuring
vines’ roots are unaffected by humidity; poor soil meaning that vines have to struggle to survive, an effort which creates
exceptionally fine aromas. Rock, scrub and tree clearing began in 1971 and the first vines, principally Cabernet Sauvignon,
were planted on the 1.6ha plot.
Soil is only one element in the cocktail that makes Gassac the great wine that it is. You only have to stand in the vineyards
to engage with the subtleties of the micro-climate. The hill is thick with garrigue; strong warm scents of wild herbs imprint
themselves in the air; the quality of light is fantastic. The vines are planted in small clearings, magical glades hidden in the
dense, forest-like garrigue. The complexity of Daumas Gassac wines derives heavily from the scents of myriad
Mediterranean wild plants and herbs: bay, thyme, rosemary, lavender, laburnum, fennel, wild mint, lentisque, strawberry
trees… It’s all part of the ‘terroir’ effect, a combination of soil, climate and environment that sets one wine apart from
another, sadly an effect that is lost in modern monoculture, where huge areas are cleared of all vegetation except vines. At
nightfall, the cold air from the Larzac (850 metres) floods into the Gassac valley, with the result that, even in the height of
summer, the vineyards benefit from cool nights and moderate daytime temperatures. The northern facing vineyards
accentuate the beneficial effect of this cool micro climate by ensuring they are exposed to less direct sunshine during the hot
summers. The micro-climate also means that the vines flower some three weeks later than the Languedoc average; that’s
why the red grapes are harvested later – in early October. The micro-climate is a huge factor in creating the outstanding
complexity and finesse of the red wines, most especially the splendidly fine balance of the great vintages’ alcohol-
The cellars have been created in the foundations of a Gallo-Roman mill; they now house 400 Merrain oak Bordeaux barrels;
one in seven is replaced each year. There are two cold water springs under the cellar’s floor, nature’s own air conditioning
system, which slows the alcohol fermentation down to between 8 – 10 days. This slow process means the complex flavours
have time to develop, something that doesn’t happen with modern high-tech fermentation. You cannot talk about Gassac
without mentioned Emile Peynaud who effectively came out of retirement in 1978 to mentor the Guiberts in their early
The wines do not lie; they have natural elegance and a purity that marks them apart. Each vintage is truly a testament to a
wine-growing season; one tastes the terroir rather than the technique.
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MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC, FAMILLE GUIBERT, Haute Vallée du Gassac
… Clarissa was passing me the bottle – a 1987 Daumas Gassac. This was the moment,
this was the pinprick on the time map.
Enduring Love – Ian McEwan
We are not making coca-cola here.
Exquisite and sublimely subtle wines that are unique for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the terroir is exceptional, the vines
growing on a deep, well-drained soil formed by glacial deposits. Secondly, the upper Gassac valley has a cool
microclimate that allows a longer growing season. Thirdly, the vineyards have been created in small plots or clearings
surrounded by forest and garrigue. The wines consequently soak up the fragrances of the surrounding plant life of laurel,
thyme, rosemary, lavender, arbutus, fennel, wild mint and lentisque. Fourthly, Daumas Gassac embraces an organic
culture, eschewing chemical fertilizers, using only natural dung compost as well as tree and straw cuttings. Fifthly, yields
are naturally low (35hl/ha), allowing the wine to express the terroir more than the grape variety & the vines are manually
harvested. The vinification for the red wines is similar to that in Médoc; long fermentation (three weeks), ageing in
wooden casks, light fining with egg whites and no filtering. The white grapes undergo skin maceration for 5-7 days
followed by fermentation in stainless steel, whereupon the juice is transferred briefly to Burgundy oak casks where it is
filtered with an alluvionaire filter.
The vineyard for the red wine is situated on a 40-hectare hill in the heart of the property and is planted with 80% of old
Cabernet Sauvignon grafted onto root-stock R110 and 41B. The remaining 20% of vines are composed of 10
complementary grape varieties: Cot from Cahors, Merlot from Pomerol, Cab Franc from the Val de Loire, Syrah from
Côte-Rôtie, Tannat from Madiran, Pinot from Burgundy, Nebbiolo from Piedmont, Grenache from the Languedoc,
Tempranillo from Navarre, Voskehat and Kontorni from Armenia, Salte from Syria as well as the small (very small)
presence of ancient grape varieties from Georgia. The white grape varieties are grown on the surrounding white lutetitian
limestone. This vineyard is composed of 20% each of the following grape varieties: Viognier from Condrieu, Chardonnay
from Burgundy, Chenin from the Loire and Petit Manseng from Jurançon. The remaining 20% of vines include grape
varieties from Georgia, Armenia, Madeira etc. Etc. As well as the slightly better known Roussanne, Marsanne, Clairette,
Muscat. These wines are quite beautiful. Treat them with reverence and you will reap rewards. The Gassac Blanc should
not be served too cold. Decant it and witness how the primary pearfruit Viognier aromas melt into the wine to be replaced
by an impression of warm butter, pollen and dried fruits. Roll the wine gently in your mouth and you will understand
harmony. The Gassac Rouge is even more complex exhibiting a fantastic bouquet of crushed blackberries and mulberries
along with an array of smoky-leathery notes and a silky finish you can taste for several minutes. It is no exaggeration to
suggest that this wine outperforms many first and second growth clarets. The Emile Peynaud is 100% Cabernet
Sauvignon. Aujourd’hui rien, but, in time, greatness. A wine of staggering potential. Start mortgaging the family silver.
The Vin de Laurence is a vin de liqueur made from a double fermentation of Sercial with Muscat à Petits Grains (these
grapes are harvested in October when roasted and shrivelled). Yields are a severe 10hl/ha. It is amber in colour and
tastes of cooked oranges, sweet apricots and cloves with a hint of garrigue honey. Superb!
MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC ROSE FRIZANT
MOULIN DE GASSAC CLASSIC BLANC
MOULIN DE GASSAC CHARDONNAY VIOGNIER
RESERVE DE GASSAC BLANC
RESERVE DE GASSAC ROSE
MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC BLANC
MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC BLANC – ½ bottle
MOULIN DE GASSAC CLASSIC ROUGE
MOULIN DE GASSAC PINOT NOIR
MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC ROUGE
MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC ROUGE – ½ bottle
MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC ROUGE – magnum
MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC ROUGE “CUVEE EMILE PEYNAUD”
VIN DE LAURENCE – 50cl
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