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Grand Cru wines tasting
Languedoc-Roussillon vs. France’s finest
Weds 29th September 2004

A superb tasting, brilliantly executed. Most people are rightly sceptical about blind tastings that are deliberately engineered to demonstrate that wine X from previously unheralded region Y is better than first growth Claret, but this tasting wasn’t as superficial as that. It pitched leading Languedoc wines against established classics, but in this case it didn’t involve weaker vintages of the classics set up for a fall. And besides, the thing I don’t like about the ‘set-up’ tastings is that they rely on pooling results from tasters – while some of these tasters will be supremely able, there’ll be enough duffers in there who are going to be duped by superficial, forward, sweet, ripe wines (remember: even established trade figures can perform like duffers in blind tastings – and even those with letters after their name). In this case I was tasting on my own, and I used the tasting not as a chance to try to shatter icons, but to see whether the differences I assume exist between the different styles are apparent when I’m tasting blind.

This was a single-blind tasting (where we know which wines are in each flight but not the order) in four flights of three. We were given the identities of the wines in each flight, arranged around grape variety, and as close as possible, vintage. The task was to rate each wine, and try to guess the identity. Once you get over the fear of making a mistake, this sort of tasting is tremendous fun. Even where I hadn’t tried the wines, I’d have thought I could have spotted the difference between a Languedoc Merlot and Château Pétrus. Could you?

Notes are exactly as written at the time, blind. Retail prices are given in brackets (in some cases these are approximate)

Flight 1 Merlot based

Château Pétrus 1999 Pomerol, Bordeaux
Showing some roasted, tarry oak on the nose. Lots of class here, but a bit tight and oaky now. Concentrated, dense and firm on the palate. Savoury with some spicy but classy oak. A firm, savoury, very spicy wine. Quite oaky. Very good/excellent 90/100
My guess: the Ravanés.
Market price £400

Alain Chabanon Merle Aux Alouettes 1999 Languedoc
Dense, firm, tarry and spicy. Lots of structure and some warmth. Ripe fruit on the nose. The palate is midweight and quite elegant with some chalky minerality and good acidity. Nice stuff, perhaps lacking a bit of stuffing. Very good/excellent 91/100
Guessed correctly.

Domaine de Ravanés Les Gravières du Taurou 1999 Languedoc
Ripe, dark blackcurrant fruit nose. Quite ripe and full with lovely concentration. Serious stuff. The palate is concentrated and rich with lovely forward fruit backed up with considerable spicy structure. Hints of chocolate and herbs. Taut with lots of structure. Very good/excellent 94/100
My guess: Pétrus!

Comments: there’s no doubting it – if I were to choose a bottle from this flight to drink tonight I’d take home the Ravanés. To prefer the Pétrus now would confirm your status as a label drinker. I’m not just being fooled by concentration over elegance: the Pétrus isn’t that good a drink at the moment with its awkward woodiness.

Flight 2 Cabernet Based

Château Léoville Barton 2000 St Julien, Bordeaux
Classic claret nose: ripe, elegant blackcurrant fruit with hints of spice and minerals. It’s so obvious which one this is, it isn’t really blind tasting. Concentrated, elegant palate of firm, ripe fruit with classical proportions. Tight and a bit closed, with nice earthy, chalky structure. Very promising. Very good/excellent 92/100
Guessed correctly.
Market price £70

Domaine Les Creisses ‘Les Brunes’ 2000 Vin de Pays d’Oc
Slightly closed nose of dark chocolatey fruit – a bold style. Dense and full, with firm tannic structure, this is one for the long hall. Very good/excellent 92/100
Guessed correctly

Domaine de la Grange des Pères 2000 Vin de Pays de l’Herault
Lovely expressive nose: slightly animally with delicate ripe fruit character. The palate is profound with open, slightly sweet herbal animally edge to the savoury, intense fruit. This is a Languedoc star with a hint of the northern Rhône. Very good/excellent 93/100
Guessed correctly
Market price £35

Comments: the Leoville Barton is so different to the two Languedocs it’s a slightly odd comparison. I love the Grange des Pères, which just shades a very impressive flight.

Flight 3 Syrah Based

JL Chave Hermitage 2001
Deep spicy nose with some taut, dark fruit and subtly gamey, marmite notes in the background. The palate is spicy and expressive with beautifully poised dark fruits and good acidity. There’s a touch of meaty olive character so typical of the northern Rhône. Taut and structured: brilliant. Very good/excellent 94/100
Guessed correctly.
Market price £80

Clos de la Belle 2001 Vin de Pays du Gard
Open sweet, ripe herby nose leads to an expressive palate showing midweight sweet, ripe open fruit with a subtly gamey, herby edge. Superb stuff: warm and southern. Very good/excellent 91/100
Guessed correctly

Clot de l’Oum 2002 Côtes du Roussillon Caramanay 
Inky dark. Fantastic nose of taut, ripe, liqouricey fruit. The palate is hugely concentrated inky dark fruits. Firm tannins underly this rich, savoury, structured wine. Spicy and expressive, I like this win a lot: it has some wildness to it. Very good/excellent 93/100
Guessed correctly

Comment: three very different wines, with the first and the last not hiding their personality-full identities at all. The relative newcomer, Clot de l’Oum, is the bargain pick here – a wine showing lots of personality and richness. One to watch.

Flight 4 Grenache based

Château Rayas 2000 Châteauneuf du Pape
Lighter colour than the others. Lovely open herbal nose with complex sweet fruit and southern spices. Sweet palate: spicy, open and lush with a smooth, subtle spiciness. Notes of tea and herbs. Very expressive: a profound effort. Quite unusual. Very good/excellent 94/100
I thought this was the Abuelos.
Market price £80

Domaine Fonte Caude ‘Les Boissières’ Alain Chabanon 2000 Coteaux du Languedoc
Sweet ripe, subtly herbal nose showing rounded black and berry fruits. Spicy structured fruit on the palate: quite dense and full with ripe fruit, hints of spice and game. A very appealing southern wine. Very good/excellent 91
Guessed correctly 

Terre Inconnue ‘Los Abuelos’ 2001 Vin de Table
Lovely sweet open nose: this is very ripe Grenache. The palate has a ripe, open, tell-tale palate of sweet, subtly herbal, rounded Grenache fruit. Great depth to this but also very open. Unusual, but I like it a great deal: the very sweet, seamless fruit reminds me of the 2000 Château des Tours wines, so I think it’s the Rayas. Very good/excellent 92/100

Comments: I was surprised that I got the Rayas and Abuelos the wrong way round. I was fooled by the fact that the Abuelos was actually the darker wine and it reminded me strongly of the 2000s from Ch des Tours, with its texture and colour. Some people think Rayas isn’t as good as it used to be. This may be the case (I haven’t tried older vintages), but I still thought the 2000 was quite profound.  

The group verdict

These are the summarized data from the 35 people tasted the wines, including several top journalists. Each taster was asked to mark each wine out or 20 on its individual merits, and to indicate which wine they thought was which (comments from Grand Cru Wines.)

Flight 1, Merlot based  
As a trio, all three wines performed well, with all three wines neck and neck in terms of overall marks. Many tasters were surprised that the Pétrus didn’t stand out more.

1st               1999 Merle aux Alouettes, Alain Chabanon 16.08 points

2nd              1999 Domaine de Ravanès Les Gravieres du Taurou 16.05 points

3rd              1999 Château Pétrus, Pomerol 15.92  

Flight 2, Cabernet based  
No great surprises here, with both the Léoville Barton and the Grange des Peres very highly rated but quite different in style.

1st               2000 Château Léoville Barton, St Jullien 16.91 points

2nd              2000 Domaine de la Grange des Pères 16.88 points

3rd              2000 Domaine les Creisses Les Brunes 14.48 points

Flight 3  
Tasters liked the elegance of the Clos de la Belle and the mineral style of the Clot de l’Oum, and the Chave showed very well also. This was maybe the most exciting group of all, with three very fine wines.

1st               2002 Clot de l’Oum Numero Uno         17.09 points

2nd              2001 Hermitage, Chave                       16.17 points

3rd              2001 Clos de la Belle                             16.11 points

Flight 4  
Many tasters were surprised by the light colour of the Rayas, and opinions were divided, although many obviously liked the wine very much. Some found the Los Abuelos almost too concentrated and “late harvest” in style.

1st               2000 Les Boissières, Domaine Font Caude 16.69 points

2nd              2000 Château Rayas, Chateauneuf du Pape 16.05 points

3rd              2001 Terre Inconnue Los Abuelos      15.09 points

The overall wine votes were very even across the board, with only about 2.5 votes separating the top wine from the bottom wine, giving the following result:  



% guessing wine correctly      

highest/lowest score

average points


2002 Clot de l’Oum Numéro Uno





2000 Château Léoville Barton


19 / 11



2000 Domaine de la Grange des Pères


19 / 13



2000 Les Boissières, Alain Chabanon


19 / 11



2001 Hermitage, JL Chave


20 / 13



2001 Clos de la Belle


18.5/ 8



1999 Merle aux Alouettes, Chabanon


19 / 12



1999 Domaine de Ravanès Gravieres du Taurou


19 / 10



2000 Château Rayas, Châteauneuf du Pape


20 / 12



1999 Château Pétrus, Pomerol


20 / 10



2001 Terre Inconnue Los Abuelos


18 / 11



2000 Domaine les Creisses “Les Brunes”


20 / 10


Contact details:
Grand Cru Wines
, 1100-5 Avenue des Alpilles , 13310 Saint Martin de Crau, France
Email : gcw@wanadoo.fr Website: www.grandcruwinesltd.net  
Fax : (0033) 490 47 1321 Telephone : (0033) 490 47 2906

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