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Garage wines of the Languedoc 
La Vigneronne tasting, May 2001

Jamie Goode tastes a stunning line-up of some of the emerging stars from what is probably France's most happening wine region. The only problem is getting your hands on these small-production gems... 

The Languedoc has been one of France's hottest wine areas for a while now. Once known only as a major contributor to the EU wine lake, producing anonymous plonk in fantastic quantities, there has been a move towards higher quality and lower quantity for at least a decade. Blessed with some fantastic 'terroirs' and trendy red grape varieties such as Syrah and Mourvèdre, it was inevitable that a few ambitious producers would soon be pushing at the boundaries of what this diverse region was capable of. The first 'cult' wine from the Languedoc was Mas de Daumas Gassac, surprisingly made from predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon grapes--it emerged to critical acclaim back in the late 1970s and early 1980s and is more-or-less still going strong. However, it has now fallen some way behind the leading pack of new wave Languedoc 'garagistes' -- small-scale producers with a no-holds barred approach to quality, some of whom literally are vinifying their wines in their garages. This tasting featured the wines of just a handful of the Languedoc overachievers, a club that seems to be swelling in number each year. Indeed, it's hard to keep track of the fast-changing Languedoc scene, particularly when you bear in mind that only tiny quantities of many of these wines are made each year, and they are almost all snapped up rapidly by a loyal clientele.

I was quite taken aback by the quality of these wines. There was just one (Terrasse d'Elise) that merited less than a very good/excellent rating, and two that I'd class as excellent -- the stunning Clos de la Belle, and the wonderful old vines Carignan from Terre Inconnue. The tragedy is that many of these wines will be just about impossible to find because they are made in such small quantities.

Domaine de Marfée 'Les Champs Murmurés' 1999
Thierry Hansard vinifies this wine in the basement of his house in Montpellier; first vintage was 1997. A blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Mourvèdre from low yielding vines (20 hl/ha). A concentrated red/black colour, the nose is a little bit shy but shows some smoky/toasty notes. There's a nice density on the palate, with firm, savoury, herby fruit and a touch of leather. It's a dense wine, but not in a blowsy new world style; still very youthful and no doubt worth cellaring for a few years. Very good/excellent (£18.50 La Vigneronne)

Domaine Font Caude 'Les Boissieres' 1998 Coteaux du Languedoc Montpeyroux
One of two top cuvées from Alain Chabanon, this is a blend of 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah (the other, L'Esprit de Fonte Caude is predominantly Syrah; he also makes some serious Chenin Blanc). This wine shows good varietal Grenache character; it's a bit like a supercharged Châteauneuf du Pape, showing lovely rich, spicy, herby fruit and great concentration. Despite the full-on nature of this wine, it still has quite a traditional feel to it. Delicious. Very good/excellent (£14.95 La Vigneronne)

Domaine Terrasse d'Elise 1998, Vin de Pays d'Herault
Only 100 cases of this varietal Syrah are made each year, and it's very nicely packaged in a heavy bottle with a wax capsule. Really lovely open nose is a touch volatile, with rounded, sweet fruit. It's medium bodied on the palate, with some savoury, herby, slightly funky fruit and a little bit more volatility evident. Full of interest, but a tiny bit rustic, and verging on faulty with its volatile acidity. Very good+

Domaine des Creisses 'Les Brunes' 1998
From a 23 ha domaine, the Mitjavile family (of Terte Rôteboeuf fame) produces two cuvées; this, their top wine, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre and Syrah aged in 50% new oak. More modern in style, this is a deep red/purple colour. The nose is quite exotic and shows sweet fruit and ripe, tarry, spicy notes. The rich, firm palate displays sweet fruit, good tannnic structure and some new oak, with great density and concentration. Modern, but still noticeably French in style. Very good/excellent (£22.50 La Vigneronne)

Roc d'Anglade 1999 Coteaux du Languedoc
A blend of 70% Syrah, 30% Grenache made by Rémy Pedréno, this is the first vintage. The nose is really striking, with a roasted spicy, herby, ground coffee character. The palate shows huge concentration and is rich, ripe, spicy and tannic, with olive, toast and coffee notes. A striking wine with a beguiling roasted character. Excellent (£25.00 La Vigneronne)

Château de Jonquières 'Renaissance' 1998
From a small domaine, this is mostly Syrah, aged in new oak barrels. The lush, herby nose is quite striking, with sweet fruit and tea-leaf and caramel notes. On the palate there is palate has a striking caramel character and firm tannins. Fascinating stuff. Very good/excellent

Terre Inconnue 1998
Made by a chemist from 1.5 ha of old, low-yielding Carignan vines with a bit of Syrah and Grenache, just 50 cases of this wine are produced. It's very different in style to many of the other ambitious Languedoc wines: it is quite shy on the nose with some herbs and caramel. The palate is concentrated and tannic, with stony notes, some spice and substantial structure. Quite old fashioned in style, this wine shows great character. Very good/excellent

Terre Inconnue Cuvée Léonie 1998
Just 30 cases of this pure old-vine Carignan wine are made, and it's sensational. Carignan never tasted so good. An inky red/black colour, it has a lovely herby, stony nose with toasty, smoky notes and a burnt character. The savoury, firm palate has a rich texture: it has sensational density and character. Wonderfully rich and complex. Excellent

Clos de la Belle 1998, Vin de Pays du Gard
100 cases of this breathtaking Syrah were produced; it is actually made by Rémy Pedréno of Roc d'Anglade (see above). A deep red/purple colour, it has a knockout nose of ripe fruit, herbs, liquorice, smoke, tar and olives. The palate is full with a firm tannic structure and lovely, savoury, herby character. This is wild stuff. Exotic and rich with mind-blowing complexity. Excellent

Domaine de la Grange des Pères 1998, Vin de Pays de l'Herault
Next door property to Mas de Daumas Gassac in Aniane, Grange des Pères has already arrived, commanding prices double to that of its neighbour. Vigneron Laurent Vialle created a storm with his first vintage here in 1992, and uses low yielding Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cabernet and Counoise. The 1998 has a smoky, leathery nose, with spice and herb notes. The palate has good density, an attractive 'southern' herbal character and leathery, tea-like notes. It's not a blockbuster style, but is savoury and quite complex. Very good/excellent (Adnams stock this for about £25 a pop; when La Vigneronne have it it is about £30)

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