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More from Minna

I recently reported on a selection of wines from the Languedoc and Provence, imported to the UK by Leon Stolarski. Prompted by my post, the team from one of the domaines featured – Minna Vineyard – kindly sent a couple more bottles for me to look at.

Minna Vineyard, 2007 & 2009 vintages

Minna Vineyard Blanc (VdP des Bouches du Rhône) 2009: A blend of 46% Vermentino, 33% Roussanne and 21% Marsanne. Yields 22.35 hl/ha, hand-picked, vinified in steel and oak and with élevage in same, with bâtonnage for those wines kept in oak. The nose is fine and fragrant, with nuances of lavender and thyme over white peach and little undercurrents of slightly sweet but subtle tropical fruit. A little of that oak comes through, although it is fine and well-framed by the other aromas present. There’s also a sense of grippy pith to it, although what comes out on the palate is a very polished texture at first, the more grippy elements only appearing in the finish. Quite full, confident and well balanced though, with a fine, slippery, vanilla-tinged substance and good acidity. A very attractive wine. 17/20 (February 2013)

Minna Vineyard Rouge (VdP des Bouches du Rhône) 2007: A blend of 58% Syrah, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Mourvèdre. Hand-picked fruit, cold maceration then pressing and fermentation in stainless steel by indigenous yeasts. The élevage lasts 24 months, with bâtonnage of the lees. A very dark, concentrated hue in the glass. The nose is redolent of sweetly roasted berries overlaid with similarly sweet oak, laced with darker tones of charcoal and black liquorice. Cool but fleshy on the start, showing more grip and dry structure through the middle. It is a wine of considerable backbone, but it has the substance to match through the middle, and there is some acid to help lift the wine here. The flavours seem rather diffuse, and there a warm, meaty presence from the tannins. Big and substantial in the finish. 15/20 (February 2013)

Rives-Blanques Revisited Again

After a recent tasting of wines from my cellar from Rives-Blanques I was delighted that proprietors Jan and Caryl Panman sent some bottles of more recent vintages of a number of their cuvées for me to taste. I have to admit that these bottles, largely from the 2010 and 2011 vintages, with a little 2009 here and there, tended to show much better than those from my own cellar, which tended to be from the 2006 and 2008 vintages.

Château Rives-Blanques

The best in that bunch was the Trilogie, the top-end cuvée, a blend of all three eligible Limoux varieties. Here though, the focus was on the single-variety cuvées, Odyssée (Chardonnay), Dédicace (Chenin Blanc) and Occitania (Mauzac). Perhaps I should look to drink these cuvées within a few years of the vintage, and just save the Trilogie (which certainly looked very youthful on my previous tasting) for the cellar?

There was pretty good quality across the board here. I was also taken by the quality of the entry-level 2010 Limoux and the IGP Chardonnay Chenin Blanc blend, both under screwcap, and also the sparkling rosé, which has a soft, fruit-rich, easy-going character. They would all be very popular when poured for non-wine-geeks over Christmas, and I expect they will all offer excellent value-for-money.

Tasting Notes

Château Rives-Blanques Crémant de Limoux Vintage Rose Brut 2009: Quite a strong and confident colour here, with a dark salmon-pink hue, with peachy-golden tinges at the rim. The nose is open and rich, with plump red fruits with a an obvious biscuity edge. It has the feel of a wine that is ready to please. And there is a fine and widespread bead, the surface of the wine a little sea of bubbles. In keeping with the character on the nose the palate is broad, open and fruit rich, with lots of appealing flavour and a fleshy texture underneath it all. A full mousse, and good acidity. Overall a real delight, accessible and easy to enjoy, with just an attractive note of bitterness in the end to offset that fleshy approachability. Good. 15.5/20 (December 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Chardonnay Chenin Blanc (IGP Haute Vallée de l’Aude) 2011: Bottled under screwcap. An attractive nose, slightly raw and obvious at first but it soon develops into a more appealing, punchy-fruit character, full of grapefruit and other more subtle citrus fruits, as well as some crunchy, stony, just-ripe pear elements. The palate has all the chutzpah that the nose suggests, with good substance, plenty of confident fruit, a powerful citrus and stone fruit character, showing the bite of pear skin and peach stone at the edge. Nice acidity. Overall, considering the likely price point, a very appealing wine, full of character and life. 14.5/20 (December 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Limoux 2010: Bottled under screwcap. A very attractive and well defined nose, with bright and expressive fruit, melons and peaches, with minerally, stony, smoky nuances rather than too sweet a character. The palate is full, expressive, and like the nose defined and bright. The texture feels supple, nicely balanced with an underpinning of pithy substance and an appealing, mouth-watering acidity, leading into a firm and grippy finish. A very attractive wine indeed. 15.5/20 (December 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Limoux Occitania 2011: This is 100% Mauzac. A vibrant, pale straw gold here. Fresh orchard fruits on the nose, lightly polished with the grey sheen of oak. Very stylish, feeling rather harmonious. A full, supple, fleshy and yet also bright and defined character on the palate. There is a good texture to it, with a good weight of fruits, partly from the orchard, partly citrus, but certainly fresh and defined. Plenty of good depth and substance here; a rich and characterful rather than delicate wine. This feeling is reinforced by a pithy bite to it in the end which I like, a bright and crunchy grip, and a long finish. 16.5/20 (December 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Limoux Odyssée 2011: This is 100% Chardonnay. A pale straw gold. Nose of sweet fruit, intense melons and peaches, a riper warm climate style. Nevertheless, given time in the glass, it shifts from being a vehicle merely for the pure, sweet fruit to a more pithy, challenging and certainly more appealing character. The palate has some fleshy fruit, with a glossy finish to the wine’s tangible, bitter, very appealing grip, There are more orchard fruits here, with a citrus freshness, and a dry pithy character to it, with texture and weight. Good bite to it in the finish. Give it time in the decanter and it works now, but there is surely potential for the cellar here, for a year or two perhaps? 16/20 (December 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Limoux Odyssée 2010: This is 100% Chardonnay. There is a rich blend of fruit on the nose, prominent orchard fruit aromas, and some tang-sherbetty citrus tones. Very confident, firmly expressed, but bright too. The palate has a confident flesh, with plenty of supple substance. There is plenty of zippy, tangy acidity to it as suggested on the nose, with some good grip as well. There is a little frame of oak here, giving some grip, but other wise it is very subtle. Lots of crunchy, sherbetty acidity on the finish. A very appealing wine, very long too. 16.5/20 (December 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Limoux Dédicace 2011: This is 100% Chenin Blanc. Pale straw hue. The nose is fruit-rich, expressive, with some tropical tinges to it, especially melon, but also with some citrus tinges, providing a bright and cool frame. There is also a little edge of chalky pith, and a lick of cashew nut, from the oak perhaps? The palate is full, cool, with plenty of style, supple and yet with good weight and character, but it still shows a bright and defined midpalate. There is some grip in he finish here. There is oak here, but it shows through structure more than flavour. Good. 15.5/20 (December 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Limoux Dédicace 2010: This is 100% Chenin Blanc. A pale lemon gold hue. The nose is very reminiscent of youthful Aussie Semillon at first, with a very firm, defined, slightly honeyed and creamy-curdy lemon fruit character on the nose. It is certainly fresh and bright, but also very firm. On the palate it is full and robust, with lemon and stone, and plenty of grip and substance behind it. An impressively solid and confident mouthful. Vigorous and full of sour and fully expressed fruit. A good effort here. 16/20 (December 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Limoux Dédicace 2009: This is 100% Chenin Blanc. A pale golden hue here. The aromatics call to mind some classic varietal elements, with notes of straw and light, crystalline, golden fruits, and there is also a nice edge of minerally crunch to it as well. It certainly seems fresh and defined which is welcome in this vintage. This first impression is backed up on the palate, which although showing a lightly creamed, lemon curd element through the middle also has good acidity, this providing some backbone along with some appealing grip as well. It feels really quite energetic and citrus-spritzy in the midpalate, before softening a little towards the end. Overall, a good wine. 16.5/20 (December 2012)

Antech Limoux 2010-2003

Here are four notes on wines tasted during a recent visit to Bordeaux. The residents of south-west France should give eternal thanks for the likes of Antech. These wines are available for a song; all those I report on here are available off the shelf in French supermarkets for about €6. At that price point they wipe the floor with the competition which includes co-operative Crémant de Bordeaux (I should know, I tried it: I couldn’t think of a tasting note that didn’t include the phrase “urinal freshener block”), négoce Saumur and green and nasty bottom-end sparkling Vouvray. I only wish a more comprehensive range of these wines were imported into the UK.

Antech

A quick recap before my notes. Crémant de Limoux (an appellation created in 1990) allows for Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, a minimum of 30% combined, maximum 20% of either, the rest Mauzac, whereas Blanquette de Limoux is more long-standing and ‘traditional’ (created 1938) and is at least 90% Mauzac, the remainder Chardonnay and/or Chenin Blanc. Quality from a few addresses – Antech is the best I know – can be very good, one of the go-to appellations outside Champagne for good quality sparkling wine. The wines reported on here are all made using the méthode traditionelle, although there is also an appellation which allows for méthode ancestrale.

The wines are all stocked by E LeClerc, should you happen to find yourself in need of visiting a French supermarket in the south-west or Bordeaux do keep an eye out for these. The 2003 Crémant and 2005 Blanquette were probably chance finds, old stock which had perhaps recently been uncovered in the warehouse. I suspect a hunt for the 2008 or 2010 Blanquette is more likely to be successful.

Tasting Notes

Antech Blanquette de Limoux Grande Réserve Brut 2010: A fresh and very primary nose here on this very young wine, with plenty of clean, youthful, white stone fruit. A good style on the palate, rather perfumed in character with notes of white peach, very primary as per the nose, and rather floral too. Later, some Mauzac honey comes to the fore, and there are little softly effusive seams of minerals to be found as well. A very attractive wine with lots of development potential. I would keep a five or six years to see it at its best. 16/20 (July 2012)

Antech Blanquette de Limoux Grande Réserve Brut 2008: A lemon gold hue and an exuberant bead here. A good Mauzac character on the nose, with honeyed fruit, tinged with little pebbly, stony notes. A good and confident style on the palate, where notes of lemon and stone fruit, especially white nectarine, mix with subtle notes of honey and musk, especially as the wine opens up. Fleshy and flavoursome, reserved and straight, yet ripe, this is a wine of great energy. Good. 15.5/20 (July 2012)

Antech Blanquette de Limoux Grande Réserve Brut 2005: A rich, lemon-gold hue here, with an effusive bead, although it is quite fine in character. The nose is honeyed and biscuity, with suggestions of orange zest and macaroons. The palate has a lovely character, maturing with biscuity and oatmealy notes, albeit with lots of energy and zip alongside. A very confident substance, with just a touch of cashew nut seduction behind the lemony backbone. A long finish too. Delicious. 16.5/20 (July 2012)

Antech Crémant de Limoux Grande Réserve Brut 2003: An incredibly exuberant mousse in the glass, the wine showing a huge foaming energy, although it does settle down eventually. It has a pale golden hue and aromatically it is clean and evolved, with scents of biscuit, honey and oatmeal alongside light citrus fruits. The palate shows a soft and mature style to match this first impression, although it has a fresh, lively, prickly mousse underneath lifting the midpalate and giving vigour and life. A fresh, approachable and interesting wine. In fact, considering the price, it’s fabulous. 16.5/20 (July 2012)

See my Antech profile for more on this producer.

Rives-Blanques Revisited

Three years ago I spent a few weeks very close to Limoux, and developed a real soft spot for the wines. I’m not sure if it is the idiosyncrasy of the appellation, which is best known for its white and sparkling wines, not a common finding in the Languedoc (apart from Picpoul de Pinet, are there any others?), which creates the appeal, or whether it is the underdog status of Mauzac, one of the principal varieties. Or perhaps it is the fact that Chenin Blanc has a strong role here, perhaps the only French appellation outside the Loire where that is the case? Or perhaps it is just the sheer quality of the wines; for sparkling wines I enjoyed those from Antech most of all, but for still wines Château Rives-Blanques would have to be pretty high up the list.

Rives-Blanques

Here are notes on four recently tasted wines from this estate:

Château Rives-Blanques Limoux Dédicace 2006: It is a couple of years since I tasted this last, when it showed classic honey and straw Chenin Blanc aromas. It has certainly changed since then; the colour in the glass has a deep and golden hue. The nose is less expressive than previously, showing some withdrawn fruit, spiced wood, with a touch of orange fruit. The palate is robust, with early evolving Chenin Blanc character, dense but with a great richness, with nuances of toffee in the supple background. The palate takes on a firm, rounded and broad feel as a result, with firm acidity, but it is well balanced by the substance and grip of the wine. Overall, quite solid, almost creamy in its character, and fairly long in the finish. Certainly an impressive, substantial, and remarkably grippy wine. having said that, I have no idea where this is going; is it going to blossom into maturity, or just dive into an impenetrable funk? It’s hard to know; I’m glad I opened this bottle now. 16.5/20 (July 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Sauvageon (VdP d’Oc) 2008: This is barrel fermented, and is not your average Sauvignon Blanc. On the nose there is a firm, rocky minerality, and exotic fruit elements suggestive of stone fruit and pear skin, although with a deep, savoury, wild and feral character. Alongside is a richer, toffee-melon edge most probably a residual element from the oak. It also has an appealing matchsticky element to it which gives it a really attractive feel, and which enhances the minerality. The palate has a similarly well defined savoury substance, surprisingly deep with a good meaty-fruit character. A fine substance, with fresh, defining acidity here, and overall a really very attractive, pithy, tropical style backed up by a dense phenolic backbone, giving a slightly bitter streak – attractively so – into the finish. It is pretty long too. Lots of winemaking and style here, but overall I like this. 16/20 (July 2012)

Rives-Blanques

Château Rives-Blanques Limoux Trilogie 2008: Perhaps the domaine’s most successful wine, this is a blend of the three varieties of Limoux, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Mauzac. There is also some oak here too, as evident on the nose, which although attractive with its sweet citrus tones reminiscent of orange zest and orange oils, rich and defined, there are also cashew nut edges from the barrels. I also find some peachy notes, and a scented character, giving it a very lightly musky edge, as well as hints of acacia. On the palate it has a sense of tense, structured poise, with lightly pithy fruit, dry and grippy, with good fruit texture. There is still quite some grip reflecting the oak élevage here. And it is still very primary, at not-quite four years of age. Clearly there is some serious potential for further development here, a thought reinforced by the wine’s sappy, lengthy, grippy finish. This is one that should have been left in the cellar. 17/20 (July 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Cuvée Xaxa Vendange d’Hiver (Vin de Table) 2004: The domaine’s sweet wine. A slightly burnished lemon gold hue in the glass, golden but with deep and dusty hints at times. The nose carries some sweetness, with scents reminiscent of lemons and marmalade, the lift of the fresh citrus fruit combining quite nicely with the sweet, lightly perfumed, orange-tinged richness. I find an overt sweetness on the start of the palate, but this is offset by a steely structure and a slightly bitter frame. This persists through the wine, which shows a dusty and very tangible substance in the very middle, a feature which stays alive right through to the finish, where a more savoury, spicy element dominates. The considerable length is where this bitter structure materialises most readily. An attractive wine. 15.5/20 (July 2012)

Rives-Blanques: harvest news

After my profile of Rives-Blanques last week, an update on the latest harvest from proprietor Caryl Panman:

So much water under the bridge since you were here: a really long harvest (Sep 3 to Oct 13), complete dream to start with, then much more complicated as a couple of fields dug their heels in and refused to budge. Press broke down on a Saturday night, full of our top hand-picked low yield chardonnay, with neither help nor replacement part within a radius of 800 km or 48 hours. These were just some of the things that beset us, but amazingly everything worked out (as it usually does), and though like everyone, our yield is somewhat down (particularly the chardonnay en cordon de royat, interestingly), the quality looks great. My 05:00 a.m. shift at the sorting table was actually redundant: the grapes were passing through like unblemished emeralds. And the weather was wall-to-wall brilliant throughout.

Only the sauvignon is still fermenting, the rest is on its way, and looks pretty good.“

So yet another report from France describing very pure, high quality fruit. Could 2009 be a great vintage across France, like 1990?

Domaine du Peras Giroflet 2006

Also tasted during my visit to Begude was this wine, 2006 Giroflet, made by Begude’s manager Laurent Girault from the fruit of his family’s vines at Domaine du Péras. This is a fascinating brew. He makes a white and a red, each sourced from 1 hectare of vines, so the entire domaine is just 2 hectares. In just 1 hectare (planted in 1925) he has at least 16 different red varieties, all of which go into this single cuvée. I didn’t manage to make a note of all sixteen, but the list is headed up by Grenache which dominates the wine; then comes (in no particular order) Syrah, Cinsaut, Carignan, Mourvèdre (although Girault used the synonym Monastrell), Alicante Bouschet, Grand Noir de la Calmette (a Petit Bouschet/Aramon cross), Aramon itself, and obviously 8 others.

Aramon is perhaps worthy of a moment’s consideration – although it is likely that you have never heard of it, it was once France’s most widely-planted variety. A workhorse variety which would give the peasant vignerons good returns (up to 400 hl/ha), the quality simply wasn’t there for the vine to maintain its position of dominance. Not at those yields, anyway! This tendency to yield great volumes of questionable worth was no doubt the origin of one of the variety’s synonyms, Pisse-Vin. When yields are controlled, however, the resulting wines are much more interesting – I am told. I don’t think it plays a sufficiently large role to really be noticed in this cuvée.

Domaine du Péras Giroflet (Vin de Table) 2006: Girault’s wine is fermented in steel, with an élevage half in steel, half in oak, for 24 months. It is bottled without fining or filtration. Immediately after opening it showed some fascinating character on the nose, with a meaty, animalistic, savage and rustic character, with little in the way of overt fruit other than some plum skin and baked liquorice. There was a little element of raisin to the fruit as well, although paradoxically this was mixed with a fresh and bright chracter on the palate. There was moderate weight, a complex panoply of meaty flavour, nice freshness in terms of middle-weight texture and acidity, and overall this had a good, clean substance and sappy-sour finish. A fascinating wine, which I grew to really appreciate as it opened up. I would recommend decanting for an hour or two. 17+/20

Although probably impossible to track down in the UK (I can’t see any stockists), it is available in the US from K&L for a fair price considering the price at the domaine, which is 70 Euros for 6.

Domaine Begude

Another enjoyable tasting event yesterday, with a return trip to Limoux to meet Laurent Girault (manager) and James Kinglake (owner), both pictured below (left and right, respectively), of Domaine Begude. Patrons of Oddbins 7 or 8 years ago will be familiar with these wines; Begude was just one of a popular cohort of lines from owner Bertie Eden that they stocked, the others coming from his mini-Empire including Chateau Maris (Minervois), Montahuc (St-Jean de Minervois – I thought the wine a benchmark Muscat) and others, all gathered together under the Comte Cathare umbrella.

Since 2003 the Begude estate has been in the ownership of Kingslake, a fact reflected by my own admittedly dated profile of Comte Cathare, but strangely not by Eden’s own site, making it at least six years out of date. Kinglake is a refugee from life in the City, where he traded shares, and it is clear that he is much happier with his new role as proprietor of Begude, which he runs with Girault, who he appointed the same year he took possession.

Today the estate focuses on Vin de Pays, Sauvignon Blanc (fresh, very true to the variety, with good and lively acidity, exceptional for a Languedoc Sauvignon), Chardonnay (which comes with a little Chenin blended in) and Pinot Noir Rosé. There is also a Vin Mousseux de Qualité, 100% Chardonnay, produced for home consumption only – a shame as it outclasses a number of Blanquettes I have tasted. These wines account for 80% of production, with the other 20% being Limoux, two wines, a screwcapped example (as are all the above still wines) and a prestigious L’Etoile de Begude, the only wine under cork, generally sourced from the best vines on a south-facing slope next to the house. The range is solid, but the L’Etoile is undoubtedly the star (as the name should suggest) as indicated by it being listed at Relais Bernard Loiseau in Burgundy – not bad for a Limoux Chardonnay!

As with my Rives-Blanques visit, I will provide a full write up with all my notes on my return.

I also tasted a fascinating red made by Laurent Girault on his own 2 hectares far to the east – more on that later.

Chateau Rives-Blanques

My most memorable tasting event so far in and around Limoux has to be my recent visit to meet Jan and Caryl Panman of Chateau Rives-Blanques. We took a walk in the vineyards, most of which lie on a plateau at about 350 metres above sea level, an altitude that no doubt helps to explain why the wines of this estate maintain their freshness and acidity despite the sometimes pervasive heat. Indeed, the Panmans and their team find they harvest their fruit two weeks after their peers on the slopes and valley floor closer to the town of Limoux itself.

Having driven and then walked to the edge of their plateau vineyard, we could look down onto the valley, where the Panmans have just 2 hectares of vines, all Mauzac, cared for using biological methods (they are in the process of Bio certification), whereas the plateau vines – a mix of Mauzac, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc (the three Limoux varieties for white wine) as well as Sauvignon Blanc – are subject to agriculture raisonnée. In the distance, beyond Limoux, are the grey silhouettes of the Pyrenees. It is a wonderful location.

Back at the domaine we tasted through the Rives-Blanques range, together with manager Eric Vialade, who has been working on the estate for about 30 years. Having been impressed by the 2004 Dédicace on previous tasting – a wine I described as the finest Chenin from outside the Loire – it was reassurring to taste similar quality in the 2006. The 2007 was more youthful and not yet showing the same Chenin character, but it will come. Also impressive were the 2008 La Trilogie (only in bottle two weeks), a blend of the best barrels of all three Limoux varieties (all Limoux has to be fermented and matured in wood, and the Panmans achieve this using 225-litre barriques) and also the 2008 Sauvageon, a fairly new project which is 100% barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc.

I will add a full report to Winedoctor, with an updated Rives-Blanques profile, after my trip.

Further information:
Chateau Rives-Blanques
Limoux wine guide
Other Languedoc profiles