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23.4.11

Languedoc: La Clape

I've already done that 'joke' to death, so moving on quickly to the next in my continuing series of reports and winery profiles drawn from five intensive days spent at the “Languedoc Millésimes” tastings in the region (21-25 March 2011), where I had the chance to taste mostly 2010, 2009 and 2008 vintages. As well as, more importantly perhaps and certainly more fun, meet and talk to a couple of La Clape winemakers and enjoy some of their older wines too. Once again this year, I found the whites from this wild-terrain almost-island appellation, found near Narbonne falling into the sea, had real character and class. Maybe it’s the often high proportion of the Bourboulenc variety, in particular, and white Grenache or Roussanne, say, in many of these wines? Apart from the well-suited maritime climate etc; so well done anyway, La Clape winemakers, for being brave enough to decide to give it a focus in the appellation 'rules' even though nobody's heard of it (that's clever marketing for you too). Mind you, some of them are rather expensive though even if very good.

What I don't get, with all the admittedly still on-going changes to the essentially overly complicated Languedoc appellation 'hierarchy', is why La Clape isn't called a "Grand Vin du Languedoc" (like the vast sprawling and much more variable Corbieres, for e.g.), if this actually means something, or why La Clape white wines aren't now classified under "Grand Cru du Languedoc" like their reds appear to be (are they?)? Certainly can't be on quality grounds or lacking distinctiveness. Oh well... As for those "great growth" reds, well, some of them are and do have a distinctive roasted "garrigue", and sometimes "tar" even, side (sun-dried wild herbs, earthy vs sweet thing going on underneath) to their soft ripe fruit; although others are just swamped in heavy new oak and over-extracted tannins, like they can be anywhere else, especially on the 2008s, which was obviously a vintage to go easy on the winemaking front. I could only find one 2010 red up for tasting so can't comment on potential of that vintage, although this one (Château des Monges) was very good. And if the also solitary old-vintage 1998 Château de Negly is anything to go by, then, yes, some of the best producers' wines really can age sublimely.
I’ve used my ‘new’ scoring system of one, two or three ‘ticks’ (good, very good, fabulous); or just plain 1 to 3 here, if you get my drift. Euro prices are cellar door per bottle inc. taxes, added later so didn’t influence my notes.

WHITE

2009 Château d'Anglès "Classique" (50% Bourboulenc, 40% Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne) - slightly closed on the nose, moves on to quite rich and honeyed mouth-feel with light butter and toast notes; some oily development then a touch of toasty wood on the finish, although it falls a bit flat perhaps. 1 €8.90
2009 Mas du Soleilla "Réserve" (55% Roussanne, 45% Bourboulenc; estate converting over to organic) - toasty oak and hazelnut nose, quite rich like the palate too; creamy and nutty with toasty edges, much fuller and more concentrated though, then finishing with light bitter twist vs power and some underlying lemony bite. 2 €21
2009 Château Moyau "L'Unique" (50% Bourboulenc, 50% Grenache blanc) - more floral and lees-y vs subtle buttery hazelnut undertones, starts off a bit shy and finishes quite tight still, interesting ‘mineral’ intensity and bite vs fat. 2 €16
2009 Château Capitoul "Rocaille" - complex maturing Riesling-like notes with oily, toasty and buttery touches vs greener undertones; subtle fresh acidity vs fat mouth-feel and quite toasty vs powerful finish. 2
2010 Château Abbaye des Monges (80% Bourboulenc, 15% Roussanne, 5% Rolle) - yeasty and floral, quite zingy and ‘mineral’ vs fairly concentrated and ‘chalky’ undercurrent, tight and fresh finish. Lacks a bit of weight perhaps but quite promising. 1 €6.40
2010 Château Rouquette sur Mer "Arpège" (60% Bourboulenc, 40% Roussanne) – again has youthful gummy and lees-y style, floral and melon then more honeyed, tight and crisp length. 1-2 €8.40
2010 Château de Marmorières "Les Amandiers" (40% white Grenache, 20% Bourboulenc, 30% Roussanne, 10% Viognier) - chalky and crisp vs light oily texture, tight and not showing much. Not sure. Would like to try again. 1 €8
2010 Château l'Hospitalet "Art de Vivre" - toasty vs oily nose, quite concentrated and honeyed with buttery undertones, still quite toasty but plenty underneath, fresh undercurrent keeps it focused. 2-3

RED

2008 Château de Marmorières "Les Amandiers" (50/50 Syrah, Grenache; 14% alc.) - delicious perfumed heather and lavender nose with ripe strawberry and cassis, quite mature and attractive palate with fresh bite vs light grip and lots of that sweet berry fruit and wild herbs vs weight. Subtle length too. 2 €8
2008 Domaine Maury "L'Insoupconné" (80/20 Syrah, Grenache; 14.5% alc.) - similar but riper and toastier, oak rather dominates with extracted tannins. €14.50
2008 Château Abbaye des Monges "Réserve" (30% each Syrah/Grenache/Carignan, 10% Mourvèdre) - smoky/rustic development plus perfumed garrigue, again tannins a bit dry on the finish vs needs bit more weight. €9.20
2008 Château Ricardelle "Closablieres" (Grenache/Syrah/Carignan) - less obvious nose with vanilla oak notes, some of that wild herb thing going on and maturing oily texture, again tannins perhaps a bit heavy vs the rest but quite commanding. 1 €11
2008 Château Ricardelle "Blason" - too oaky and firm. €15
2008 Mas du Soleilla "Les Bartelles" - quite rich and jammy, dark cherry and perfumed herby tones, bit of vanilla oak but adds texture rather than flavour, grippy with fair depth. 1
2008 Mas du Soleilla "L'Intrus" (50% Carignan, 25/25 Grenache/Syrah; converting over to organics) - sweeter fruit, vibrant tasty palate with nice tannins, light choco texture but much better balance than above, weight vs concentration. 2 €18
2008 Château Rouquette sur Mer "Henry Lapierre" (Syrah/Mourvèdre) - herbs and tar, developing 'sweet & savoury' style, touch of vanilla on the palate adds flavour and texture, perhaps a bit too much vs the rest, although there's some depth. 1 €19
2009 Château Abbaye des Monges "Augustine" (40% Syrah/30% Grenache/20%Carignan/10% Mourvèdre) - rich ripe fruit, dark with herby undertones, pretty firm and extracted vs some lush fruit underneath, tight and closed. 1 €7.20
2009 Château de Marmorières "Marquis de Raymond" (40% Syrah/30% Grenache/10%Carignan/20% Mourvèdre) - pretty oaky and firm, lacks charm; maybe it's in a rut. €11
2009 Château l'Hospitalet "Art de Vivre" - wild herbs and rich cassis, tangy vs concentrated fruit, bit of underlying oak adding texture vs grip vs sweet perfumed fruit. Needs a couple of years too. 2
2009 Château Rouquette sur Mer "L'Absolu" (Syrah/Mourvèdre) - toasty oak vs dark perfumed fruit, oak a bit intrusive still but quite well structured vs depth of fruit underneath. 1 €68! A typo?
2010 Château des Monges "Les Pins" - nice scented vs dark cherry and tar, structured and big vs concentrated lush fruit + subtle oak, floral herby too on finish. 2

Older vintages (well, two at least...)
1998 Château de Negly "La Falaise" – wow! That wild Clape nose comes through loud and clear, like burnt lavender plus lovely smoky mature fruit, delicious wine. 3
2007 Domaine Mont Redon "Les Eperviers" - wild herby & earthy notes vs ripe cherry and liquorice, firm vs maturing mouth-feel. 1


Lots more Clape wineries and wines here:

Gérard Bertrand update


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