Domaine de Baruel 1991
I think it is well accepted that there are terroirs in the Languedoc, for example the numerous areas of schist that can be found scattered here and there along the coast, that are beautifully suited to viticulture, and there are some fabulous wines as a result. This isn't fanciful theory, as there are a number of estates which are widely recognised as turning out very high quality wines, the gold standard perhaps being Mas de Daumas Gassac. This need to think about the vine and wine according to the terroir, and to classify accordingly, is a necessary process. Although the gradual delineation of the Languedoc vineyards is fraught with difficulty and the potential to confuse, it is essential if regions such as Pic St Loup and La Clape are to have their well deserved turn under the spotlight.
Recent news seems to suggest that this is something the INAO forget from time to time. The announcement of a pan-Mediterranean appellation running right across all of the Coteaux du Languedoc and the vineyards of Roussillon disregards any notion of terroir, and seems especially disrespectful to the vignerons of the Côtes du Roussillon who have worked hard to carve out a reputation based on the marriage of indigenous varieties and wonderfully barren terroir. I do wonder whether such a roughshod approach is really in the best interests of France and her winemakers. Of course, no one is obliged to use the new appellation, and those winemakers who find appellation regulations altogether too stringent and have no desire to compromise, such Eloi Durrbach as at Domaine de Trevallon in Provence, can always choose to bottle wines as vin de pays instead. But it is a difficult road; it is all too easy to be overlooked by merchants and wine drinkers alike.
This week's wine is a good example of what a committed winemaker can do with some old vines and a patch of dirt, working outside the bureaucracy of the appellation contrôlée system. Rainer Pfefferkorn purchased his estate when he left his career in computing and only later discovered he had also purchased a small vineyard. A true accidental vigneron. He went on to produce a string of lovely wines, with a stony and reserved quality that made them dead ringers for a decent claret in many vintages, before moving on after the 1998 vintage. The wines have a structure fit for the cellar, as evidenced by this wine, the 1991 vintage from Domaine de Baruel, bottled as a Vin de Pays du Gard (more recent vintages were bottled as Vin de Pays des Cévennes). It has a fine depth of colour for fifteen years of age, mature but still with plenty of deep red pigment. The nose is very stylish, with lots of refined, bloody-beefy-iron and mineral character that is strongly suggestive of claret, and if I had tasted this blind I would have been very reluctant in straying too far from the Gironde in my attempts to identify it. Little nuances of black olive, and a quite high-toned, slightly roasted style, are perhaps not entirely typical. Lovely entry, quite restrained, revealing a texture of extract through the midpalate, framed in a medium bodied, fresh style, reserved and well structured. There is a straight, tannic backbone which shows well on the finish, although it all fades a little quickly. Overall a really appealing glass of wine, and I only wish I had more bottles of this in the cellar. 17.5+/20 (27/11/06)