Domaine de Bellemare Les Granges de Félines 2012
The original focus of today’s ‘weekend wine’ post was to be a return to Chinon, with another cuvée from the 2009 vintage, from a top domaine, to form a matching pair (actually, the second in a short series of 2009 Chinons) with last week’s examination of the 2009 Coteau de Noiré from Philippe Alliet. But then on Saturday morning I hit the road, for a weekend of family activities (the focus of which was a wedding, as it happens), before heading on to London on Monday to take my chair on the Loire panel of the Decanter World Wine Awards judging week. As the weekend progressed I ended up in a cheap-and-cheerful bistro in Nottingham, one in a small chain, and I wasn’t hopeful of finding much that was interesting to drink. As it turned out, I was wrong.
My attention was first drawn to a Muscadet on the list, but as it was from an unfamiliar domaine and the 2011 vintage – which was plagued with rot – I excluded it as a possibility. Anybody who knows wine and who dines out has had, at some time in their lives, the unfortunate need to send back a corked wine. Even that can sometimes be difficult to explain, depending on the knowledge of the staff involved. But I didn’t fancy explaining what I didn’t like about the flavour of grey rot to the waitress, especially when every bottle would taste the same.
But then – mindful of the fact I had chosen a starter of squid, followed by pan-fried mullet – I spotted a Picpoul de Pinet on the list, from the 2012 vintage. Now I’m no expert on the Languedoc, but even I know that the limestone soils around Pinet have long given rise to an attractive, tense, sometimes minerally white, made from the Picpoul grape, which would be just as good in this setting as a bottle of Muscadet. As it happens, when the bottle arrived, it was in fact an IGP Pays d’Hérault, made using a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Picpoul and Vermentino, and bottled under screwcap. Languedoc Sauvignon Blanc, all heavy and fat, has never been my idea of heaven, but I decided that the more capable Picpoul and Vermentino varieties may well keep it aloft, and decided to plump for it. Besides, there wasn’t anything else on the list that inspired confidence. The bottle is illustrated above right, and comes with my apologies for the slightly grainy picture which replaces my usual rather ‘posed’ bottle shot this week. I did in fact take the picture with my phone, and the quality isn’t at all bad when taking that into consideration.
Researching after the fact, Domaine de Bellemare appears to have over 40 hectares of vines to its name, planted close to the Étang de Thau and a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean Sea. The plantings include the traditional red varieties of the region, as well as the aforementioned whites of course, and a few more international varieties including Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. The blend of the 2012 Les Granges de Félines seems to be roughly one-third of the three named varieties, but with a soupçon of Muscat à Petits Grains thrown in for good measure. The fermentation and presentation is just as it should be; no stems, pneumatic pressing, cold settling and very cool (12-15ºC) fermentation, with an early move into bottle, under screwcap. Other than barrel samples, this is the first 2012 I have tasted, and it was a delight, showing that there is so much more to wine than chasing über-expensive bottles, dripping in their customary points.
The wine has a pale hue in the glass, but then it was quite dark in the restaurant, I confess. Aromatically it is the Sauvignon Blanc that dominates, and I suspect that although the aromas are on the slightly raw side, this variety probably adds a welcome lift to the nose overall. There is a little stony fruit coming in alongside the light capsicum notes, but I don’t get much else likely to be coming from the other varieties, and although I sense a hint of a stony and minerally edge to the fruit this may be mere auto-suggestion. On the palate though, the Sauvignon takes more of a backseat, as although it provides some flavour the more notable and appealing aspect of the wine is the midpalate tension and firmer, more tingly and minerally edge. Not quite the hoped-for salinity of a good Picpoul, nevertheless a wine that showed vigour and shape, the Picpoul and Vermentino (or Rolle, as it is often called in southern France) coping admirably with the warm environment. As a sipping wine, this is one that found favour, as there was enough texture to cover the more structural elements. But with both of my fish courses, it also worked really well. This is a domaine from which I would buy again, that’s for sure. 15.5/20 (29/4/13)