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The Languedoc/Roussillon region in the south of France continues to offer sensational values from both a new wave of natural wine producers and from long-established organic estates that offer delicious under-valued wines for current everyday drinking and medium-term aging.
A visit to Eric Laguerre in Saint-Martin de Fenouillet requires steep climbs through a mountain pass up to the highest vineyards in the Roussillon. Here the granite soils, cool climate, very low yields and Eric's superb organic farming produce distinctive, balanced wines with bright fruit and firm acidities. A fascinating array of grape varieties do well in this terroir, despite the hordes of hungry wild boars that attack his vines each autumn. His 2015 Eos Blanc, for example, a unique blend of Maccabeo, Grenache Blanc and Vermentino, offers pretty aromas of pear, citrus, herbs and minerals, with great balance and length - at $12.99 it's one of the best values in the store. All of the Laguerre wines are unique and distinctive - perhaps our favorite of this shipment is the 2014 Ciste Blanc, which adds Marsanne and Roussanne to the blend, creating a wine with gorgeous aromas, along with firm acidity and mineral flavors from the granite soils. We're very proud to be working with Eric, who took over the family vineyards in 1999 and has turned them into one of the finest organic estates of the Roussillon!
Thierry Navarre, the third generation on his family's estate in Saint-Chinian, tends 12 hectares of vines including Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah, Oeillade, Terret, Clairette, Grenache Gris and Ribeyrenc on mountainside slopes of brown schist. Thierry uses no chemical products, only composts and natural herbal preparations with manual and mechanical working of the soil. Thierry is particulary happy to preserve the ancient grape varieties of the Languedoc - the 2015 red and rosé Vin D'Oeillades are delightful expressions of this forgotten cepage (perhaps a relative of Cinsault), which offer lovely floral, berry and plum aromas with great freshness and low alcohol - be sure to give them a try! The 2013 Cuvée Olivier, from Thierry's oldest vines of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah, is a remarkably deep and complex wine that is delicious now and will cellar well for ten years or more. Although we love to visit Thierry at his home in Roquebrun (best rabbit stew we've ever had!), his yearly trips to the Dive Bouteille in Angers are a great opportunity to taste his new offerings, always among the finest natural wines of France.
Jeff (Jean-François) Coutelou is the third generation of his family at Mas Coutelou, at Puimisson, near Beziers in the Languedoc. "All of our vines have been cultivated organically since 1987, long before it was fashionable to do so. We can guarantee that all the soils of the domaine have seen no chemical fertilisers, nor any synthetic products for more than 28 years. The management of the vineyard is rigorous whilst fully respecting the plants and the soils. Ploughing, necessary for clay soils, is limited to ensure that the soil does not become compacted. In Spring, every vine stock is hoed manually. In the cellar, it is nature which decides... The choice of 'natural' winemaking is the end result of the work carried out in the vines. The choice is to limit external elements to allow the grapes to give the best of themselves. No adding of SO 2, no adding yeasts, no adding enzymes, ... in a phrase, leave nature alone whilst maintaining an eye for observation, a palate for tasting, a hand for helping and nurturing and a heart for sharing." The wines of Mas Coutelou have a marvelous freshness and purity, a tribute to the family's superb farming and Jeff's mastery of natural vinifications and bottling without sulfur. The two reds offered today are simply delicious - serve them cool with any casual dining, picnics and summer grilling...
North of Beziers in rugged hills of schist soils is the AOC of Faugeres, home to Clos Fantine, run by the Andrieu family of Corine, Carole and Olivier. The three siblings took over from their father in 1997 and by 2004 were working organically in the vineyard and vinifying without added sulfur. The vineyard is not plowed, only mowed, to protect the soil and provide biodiversity in the vines. The slate/schist soils impart acidity and freshness to the wines, which undergo long fermentations without extraction. The Cuvée Courtial is made from the best grapes of the vintage, and changes every year - in 2013 it's primarily Grenache - it's a profound and complex natural wine which should be decanted well in advance to reveal the purity of fruit and mineral expression from the Andrieu's beautiful vineyards.
From 40% Grenache Blanc, 30% Maccabeu and 30% Rolle (Vermentino) grown on granite soils in Eric's high-altitude organic vineyards. Very pale bronze color. The wine shows intriguing aromas of stone, dried pear, citrus and almond that deepen on the palate. Quite dense and backed with firm acidity and stone flavors, this is a real wine of the mountains, echoing the granite soils of Muscadet. This intriguing young wine will drink well over the next three to five years - it's an everyday white of great character that will accompany a wide variety of seafood and chicken dishes, goat and sheep cheeses as well. A fabulous value and highly recommended!
Another delicious wine from the affable and talented Eric Laguerre, from organic Syrah, Carignan and Grenache vines grown on granite soils high in the mountains of the Roussillon. Lovely pink/garnet color, aromas of raspberry, red currant, blood orange and spice. Beautiful bright red fruits on the palate with citrusy acids in a very firm, mineral frame and good length, really delicious! This is a real rosé of terroir that will gain complexity over the next few months and drink well through 2017. Perfect with a salade niçoise, grilled fish, chicken and pork and great to sip by itself. Highly recommended!
80% Grenache, 20% Syrah from Eric Laguerre's high-altitude vineyards in the Roussillon on granite soils. Deep red/black color, lovely blackberry and ripe black cherry fruit with hints of citrus, plum and spice. The palate is ripe and supple with bright acidity and ripe berry fruit that lingers in the finish with earthy acidity. At 13% of alcohol it's ripe but balanced and food friendly - just a great everyday red that's best with chicken and pork, grilled meats, charcuterie and full-flavored cheeses.
Eric Laguerre's "Le Passage" is from his highest parcel, at about 2,000 feet, on soils of decomposed granite. Organic farming, natural vinification, aged in used barrels. 80% Carignan with Syrah and Grenache. The 2015 is a lovely dark red/black color with deep aromas of blackberry, earth, dark chocolate brightened with violet and pepper. Dense, velvety black fruits on the palate - blackberry, prune and cocoa lifted by bright citrusy acids and finishing with a mineral kick. This is a beautiful expression of Eric's mountainside vineyards - showing the quality of his low-yielding Carignan. Drink now, served cool, with grilled meats, stews, and full-flavored cheeses, or hold a few years for a mature experieince...
40% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 15% Carignan and 15% Mourvedre grown in granite soils in Eric Laguerre's high-altitude vineyards in the Roussillon. Normally Eric's most dense and tannic red, the 2014 Le Ciste Rouge is a softer and immediately friendly wine that is delicious now and over the next 5 to 8 years. The aromas are a lovely melange of red fruits; red currant, tart cherry and blackberry with hints of earth, cocoa and spice. The palate is quite pretty and bright with raspberry and red-currant fruit, violets and licorice with soft tannins and refreshing acidity. At 12.5% alcohol it's balanced and versatile, perfect with roast or grilled chicken, grilled pork, charcuterie and mild cheeses, serve cool and enjoy!
Oeillades is an ancient Languedoc variety, probably related to Cinsault. Thierry Navarre, who is proud of his vineyards of "forgotton varieties," produces Terret and Ribeyrenc as well as this lovely light-bodied Oeillades. The 2015 has pretty high-toned red-currant, boysenberry, violet, prune and smokey aromas, quite fresh and appealing. The palate has tart cherry, red currant and plum fruit, it's light to medium-bodied, but with lovely ripeness and depth with refreshing acidity and good length. Good intensity of fruit but low alcohol, 11.5%, which makes it very food-friendly. Serve cool with charcuterie, white meats and cheeses. Highly recommended and a great value! DL
From old-vine Carignan, Grenache and Syrah grown in Thierry Navarre's beautiful mountainside vineyards in Saint-Chinian. The 2014 is particularly lovely, showing deep ripe aromas of blackberry, plum, coffee and spice. Full, soft palate of spicy red and black fruits, earth and dark chocolate, with good density and supple, palate-coating texture lifted by nice acidity. Perfect for grilled foods or steaks, stews and strong cheeses all year. A sensational value!
The new release of Thierry Navarre’s Cuvée Olivier is one of my favorites so far! 2013 was a standout vintage in the Languedoc producing wines of precision and depth that maintain freshness not often found this far south. Cuvée Olivier is a blend of Carignan, Grenache, and Syrah from Thierry’s 12-hectare practicing organic estate situated in the AOC of Saint-Chinian and the vines are planted in brown schist soils that give density to the finished wine. On the nose it is deep and complex with dusty dark plum, boysenberry, pink peppercorn, sage, lemon oil, and clementine zest. It is also a touch resinous with a hint of watermelon. The palate is poised and structured, leaning towards more smoky and mineral flavors but is balanced by fresh fruit. Blackberries, citrus, and savory herbs come to mind on the finish that lingers on the palate. On day two the palate is beginning to open up with more fruit redolent of pomegranate seeds and fresh minerals. Truly a great wine and a fantastic value. Tim Gagnon
In years past this wine has been 100% Syrah, so it was exciting to taste it this year with a bit of Grenache added! Made in the classic Coutelou way with native yeast fermentation and ageing in concrete tanks and bottled with no SO2 whatsoever. Deep purple in the glass with dark, juicy black berries, watermelon, and fresh black peppercorn. It is equally succulent on the palate with a similar profile and some pretty solid structure. I know what I’m bringing to a BBQ this summer. Tim Gagnon
This is always the seemingly more serious and broad shouldered of Jean-Francois Coutelou’s wines, and 2015 is no exception. A blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache, it is made in the same way as his other cuvées – native yeast fermentation, ageing in concrete vats, and no SO2. The nose is a bit more brambly with pomegranate seeds and plump blueberries coming forward with a subtle spice and touch of damp earth. The palate is bold and forward with darker fruit dotting the tongue and ample acidity to keep it balanced. It finishes with a rush of berries and a meaty, savory streak which has me thinking that this would be great with Mediterranean-inspired lamb dishes. Tim Gagnon
Each year the Andrieu family chooses the best grapes of the vintage for their Cuvée Courtial. In 2013 it's predominantly Grenache, grown in their beautiful organic vineyards in Faugères. The grapes are hand-harvsted into small crates, the fermentation is long and slow with no pigeage or remontage and the wine is bottled with no fining, filtration or added SO2. Dense red/black color, quite "sauvage' aromas of blackberry, cherry liqueur, spice, roast meat and clove. With aeration the aromas become more pure with red/black fruit liqueur and floral notes. The palate shows deep blackberry fruit with hints of spice, licorice and dark chocolate, finishing with earthy acidity. This is a beautiful natural wine to be enjoyed over the next ten years with grilled meats, stews, Moroccan tagines and full-flavored cheeses. Decant one to two hours in advance if drinking now.