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1998 in the South of France
La Vigneronne tasting, 29 November 2000

OK, vintages are often a poor generalization, and in any one year some producers will over-perform and others do less well, but 1998 is being hyped as a superb vintage across the board in the South of France. And ask me which region of the world is currently the most exciting for those looking for interesting fine wines at reasonable prices, and I'd say it's the South of France. Together, the combination of a happening region and a stellar vintage is an explosive one, and this tasting of a mixed bag of 24 wines at one of the UK's leading sources of Southern French wines, was a fascinating one. Overall, the standard was very high, and while it seems a little unfair to single out just a few wines from such a good line up, I'll try to pick a few stand-outs. For value for money, the prize goes to a duo from Domaine Terre Mégère. The Merlot (£5.50) is a delightful blast of leafy, herbal fruit of great intensity, while the more serious Syrah-bases Les Dolomies (£6.95) is a concentrated, savoury wine with dark, smoky, meaty fruit. I was really taken by the three Bandols in the tasting. The rising star of the appellation is Domaine Gros Noré, and the 1998 is a deep, perfumed effort with considerable ageing potential. Both the regular cuvée and the Cuvée Longue Garde from Domaine Lafran-Veyrolles are pretty much compulsory purchases in 1998, the latter requiring some years in the cellar to show its best. In a completely different vein, the pair of Corbières from Tardieu-Laurent were fascinating, intense wines, but not my sort of thing. More to my liking were the offerings from Domaine Courtade, Domaine Les Aurelles, Domaine de la Marfée and Domaine La Rocalière. Of course, many of these wines are not inexpensive, especially when people are used to thinking of the South of France as a sort of bargain basement for wines. But when the prices of these fine wines are compared to wines of a similar quality from the more classic regions of Burgundy, Bordeaux and even the Northern Rhône, they are still stunning value.

The wines

Domaine de Comberousse 1998 'Roucaillat', Coteaux du Languedoc
A tasty white wine (a blend of the varieties Grenache Blanc, Rolle and Roussanne), this has an attractive mineralic nose with bright, smoky note. It has a lovely rich palate: rounded, soft and full with nutty, herbal character. Quite fat textured; full flavoured and delicious. Very good+ (£6.95 La Vigneronne)

Domaine de la Courtade Blanc 1998, Côtes du Provence
A quality-minded domaine located on the island of Porquerolles, this aromatic white wine is made from the Rolle grape. It has a floral, perfumed nose, and on the palate it is richly-textured and full flavoured, with quite low acidity. Very good+ (£13.95 La Vigneronne)

Château Simone Blanc 1998, Palette
From a tiny appellation, this expensive white wine is a bit of an oddity, but it is of high quality. The full, spicy nose leads to a full flavoured palate with a touch of spice and good balancing acidity. Dry and rich, with some potential to improve in the bottle. Very good + (£17.95 La Vigneronne)

Domaine La Bégude 1998 Bandol Rosé
This is very pale pink in colour -- only just a rosé. It has a sweet spicy nose that is followed up on the richly textured palate by some strawberry fruit and high acidity, with a touch of bitterness on the finish. Very good, but rather too expensive? (£9.95 La Vigneronne)

Château Simone 1998, Palette Rosé
Another expensive offering from Château Simone, this is an attractive pink/orange colour and has a muted nose. The palate is lovely and rich, with spicy character and good balancing acidity. Good/ very good (£16.95 La Vigneronne)

Domaine Terre Mégère Merlot 1998, Vin de Pays
A great bargain from the South of France. Deep purple/black, with a lovely blast of sweet leafy/herbal fruit on the nose, underlain by a touch of smoky complexity. On the palate this shows great concentration and lovely, ripe, mineralic fruit. All you'd want in an inexpensive red. Very good/ excellent (£5.50 La Vigneronne)

Domaine Terre Mégère Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Vin de Pays
Deep red colour with an attractive smoky/herbal nose with some ripe fruit. On the palate there is lots of fruit, but overall it is savoury and quite austere. Good concentration; a nice wine. Very good + (£5.75 La Vigneronne)

Domaine Terre Mégère 'Les Dolomies' 1998, Coteaux du Languedoc
Mostly Syrah, this is a wonderful, rustic, meaty wine of great character. Deep, rich, smoky nose with a meaty depth to it. Concentrated, earthy, rich palate: this is impressive stuff with a slightly wild, animal-like edge. (£6.95 La Vigneronne)

Domaine de Ravanès Merlot 1998, Vin de Pays
From an ambitious producer from the South of France, this is a mid-weight red with an attractive leafy/herby nose. Soft, balanced and spicy on the palate, perhaps lacking a bit of concentration, with leafy, tobaccoey undertoned. Good/very good. (£7.50 La Vigneronne)

Domaine de Ravanès Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Vin de Pays
A mide-weight red showing a refined blackcurrant and herb-laced nose. Nice balanced palate with a bit of spice and some herby notes. Unremarkable. Good/ very good. (£8.50 La Vigneronne)

Domaine de la Casa Blanca Collioure 1998
Alain Soufflet uses more Syrah than is normal in this usually Grenache-dominated appellation. This wine is a full red colour with a lighter rim. Warm Southern nose gives way to a ripe palate dominated by rich, spicy/peppery fruit. There's a bit of tannin there, too. Very good (£8.95 La Vigneronne)

Domaine La Rocalière Lirac Cuvée Prestige 1998
This large domaine makes two special Cuvées (in addition to their regular cuvée which is stocked by Majestic): one is a varietal Syrah, and this one is a varietal Mourvédre. It is impressive stuff for the price (I've previously enjoyed the 1995, which was superb). Deep red/black colour with an arresting nose of meaty fruit. Firm, tannic palate with some peppery fruit and chunky, full-on flavours. Nicely balanced. Impressive wine with nice ageing potential. Very good/excellent (£8.95 La Vigneronne)

Domaine Vaquer 'L'Exception' 1998, Vin de Pays Catalan
A blend of Carignan and Grenache. Dep red/black colour with a herby/peppery nose that has a touch of caramel about it. Ripe, full and porty palate with good density and rich, slightly sweet fruit. Warming and southern. Very good (£9.95 La Vigneronne)

Domaine Lafran Veyrolles 1998 Bandol
This is a small 10 ha domaine in Bandol with a good reputation. A blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault, this is lovely stuff. Delightful, full, animal-like nose with cinnamon spice and herbs. Dense, savoury, herbal palate; complex and tannic. Needs time. Very good/excellent (£11.95 La Vigneronne)

Domaine Lafran Veyrolles 1998 Bandol Cuvée Longue Garde
Tannic and youthful, this has a rich, herby nose that is just a little muted (as is quite common in southern wines destined for long ageing). Complex, deep and herby on the palate with firm tannins and lots of density. Needs lots of time. Very good + with the potential to be excellent in a decade or so. (£15.95 La Vigneronne)

Domaine Gros' Noré 1998 Bandol
From a new domaine owned by Alain Pascal, who rents 15 ha of vines. Deep red/black colour, this has an attractive but slightly muted nose of minerals and smoke. On the palate it is dense, youthful and tannic with a herbal edfe to the fruit. Shows great promise and needs some time in bottle to reach its potential. Very good+ (£14.95 La Vigneronne)

Domaine La Courtade 1998, Côtes du Provence
From an ambitious domaine on the island of Porqourelles, this is a really attractive Mourvèdre-based wine in a modern mould. Lovely, exotic nose of deep, smoky fruit with licqourice and menthol. On the palate it is tannic and dense -- although it is oaky, there's a nice balance between this and the fruit. Very good/excellent (£13.95 La Vigneronne)

Corbières d'Embres 1998, Tardieu Laurent
From low-yielding old vine Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, this is an opulent, sexy wine, but not instantly recognizable as Corbières. Deep red/black colour with an attrcative, full, licqouricey, smoky, herby nose. There is classy oak on the palate, together with soft, exotic fruit, lots of alcohol and a rich texture. With lots of everything, this is seductive in a modern style. Very good/excellent (£14.95 La Vigneronne)

Corbières Roquefort 1998, Tardieu Laurent
From 80 year-old Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan at heroically low yields of 15 hl/ha. Concentrated, deep red/black colour with an exotic, ripe nose of fruit, licqourice and alcohol. Very ripe and sweetly fruited on the palate hides consiberable tannic structure. Acoholic and quite port-like, with a slightly 'chemical' edge. Very good+ (£14.95 La Vigneronne)

Domaine Les Aurelles 'Aurel' 1998, Coteaux du Langeudoc
From a domaine located near Pezenas started a few years ago by Karl Mauguin and Basile Saint-Germain. This is a Grenach, Syrah, Mourvèdre blend from low-yielding old vines. A red/black colour, this has a ripe, herby, sweetly fruited nose. Soft spicy fruit is backed by firm tannins. It's chunky and savoury, and a bit like a very good Châteauneuf du Pape. Very good/excellent, but needs time. (£15.95 La Vigneronne)

Domaine de la Marfée, Les Champs Murmurés 1998, Coteaux du Languedoc
Thierry Hasard apparently vinifies this wine in the basement of his house in the centre of Montpellier, and first vintage was in 1997. This is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault A deep red/black colour, with a forward, smoky, licqourice nose. Complex and full, this has a lovely, rich palate with firm, spicy tannins and a nice mineral streak. With great balance, this is modern and delicious; for the long haul. Excellent (£18.75 La Vigneronne)

Domaine de Creisses 'Les Brunes' 1998, Coteaux du Languedoc
A blend of Cabernet, Mourvèdre and Syrah. Rich, exotic nose of ripe fruit and licqourice. Complex and full, this has a dense, rich palate with firm tannins and quite high alcohol. Nice, but expensive. Very good + (£22.50 La Vigneronne)

Domaine de la Casa Blanca, Banyuls Tradition 1998
Mainly Grenache Gris. Ripe, sweet, herbal nose -- slightly caramelized. Full, dense and rich on the palate, with great balance and sweet herbiness. This has plenty of what is known as 'rancio' character. Very good/ excellent (£10.95 La Vigneronne)

Domaine de la Casa Blanca, Banyuls Vintage 1998
Mainly Grenache Noir, matured in small oak barrels. This is darker coloured, with a less open nose than the Banyuls Tradition from the same producer, and less sweetness too. Dark red/purple, this has a complex, herby palate with some tannins. It's quite port-like, without much 'rancio' character. Super balance. Excellent (£11.50 La Vigneronne)

Contact details:

La Vigneronne
105 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 3LE
Phone: 0207 589 6113 Fax: 0207 581 2983
E-mail: lavig@aol.com
Website: www.lavigneronne.co.uk

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