Feminine Faugères

Brigitte Chevalier at the Outsiders tasting, London Nov 2012

Brigitte Chevalier at the Outsiders tasting, London Nov 2012

I’m a big fan of Faugères – and if asked to describe the character of the wines from this small but over-achieving Languedoc appelation, I’d probably use words like “muscular”, “spicy” and “intense” – but also “elegant” and “structured”. However, tasting Brigitte Chevalier’s Domaine de Cébène cuvées had me frantically recalibrating.

Brigitte’s terroir is at the North-Eastern limit of the Faugères AOP, with a sizeable maritime influence from the nearby Mediterranean. That’s an important element in her wines, for the sea breezes definitely moderate the hot, Southern French climate, helping her achieve elegance and balance.

Try her Ex Arena IGP Oc 2011, made from a Grenache/Mourvèdre blend grown on sandy soils near Bezier. Delicate, mineral red fruit with a rather ethereal structure. Yes, the words Mourvèdre and delicate did just appear in close proximity.

Belle Lurette Faugères 2011 is Brigitte’s equally subtle and delicious redux on Carignan. The fruit is intense, spicy and complex, but beautifully balanced. The vines are 70 years old.

Les Bancèls Faugères 2011 (a Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache blend) comes from a parcel of vines growing at 300m altitude. Very ripe, with a hint of balsamic vinegar and a slightly vegetal nature. I also tried the 2010, which seemed a tiny bit more volatile than 2011.

Domaine de Cébène Felgaria Faugères 2010 is the top cuvée, and with 50% Mourvèdre in the blend (the rest is Syrah and Grenache), you wouldn’t expect “feminine” to be an appropriate descriptor. Yet that’s the first thing in my tasting notes. The aroma is somewhat perfumed, the flavours still wild and savoury, but held beautifully in check, with freshness and poise.

How does Brigitte achieve the lightness of touch in these wines? She has old vines, with low yields, farms organically and uses wild yeasts and minimal sulphur. All winemaking choices which seem to help wines speak of themselves and their origins. Fermentation is mostly in whole bunches, again an attempt to preserve fruit characters with as little intervention as possible.

Chevalier used to be export manager for Jean-Luc Thunevin’s négociant business, and only turned her hand to winemaking in 2008. These wines are considerable accomplishments in any timeframe – let alone a mere four years.

They say that dogs and their owners become gradually more alike as they live out their lives together. Perhaps it’s the same with winemakers and their wines? Brigitte is charming, quietly confident and chic in a manner that only the French seem to be able to pull off. Her wines radiate the same qualities.

 

Domaine de Cébène wines are available to order online in the UK from Leon Stolarski fine wines

 

Birthday vinucopia

Green and Blue exterior

Green and Blue exterior, Photo by Ewan Munro

I have to write a brief post about my very enjoyable birthday celebration, last week. What better place than Green and Blue (of which I have spoken before) – good atmosphere, brilliant wines, and enough high quality nutrition to keep everyone from falling under the table.

As we ended up being a party of 14, many, many bottles of wine were dispatched over the course of a long evening. I have to admit my memory of the more advanced portions of the night is a bit sketchy, but here is a rundown of the wines I do remember:

2009 Giles Berlioz Chignin, Savoie, France

Green and Blue’s proprietor, Kate Thal, was kind enough to recommend this alpine wine, as an alternative to a Santorian white that I’d had my eye on, but which was alas out of stock. Made from an indigenous grape variety I’d not come across (Jaquere), this was beautifully pure, crisp and mineral. A great way to start the evening and excite the palate.

Vino di Anna, Sicily, Italy

A wonderful discovery, this recommendation from the helpful and knowledgeable bar manager (whose name I don’t know) is made from a “field blend” of six or more more almost unheard of grape varieties, and hails from the slopes of Mount Etna. The wine had a beguilingly light, almost brick red colour, and an explosion of baked red fruits, spices and lovely minerality, backed up with fine but sturdy tannins. All this whilst maintaining an attractive delicate finish. I might add that Vino di Anna is a perfect example of a “natural wine”. This is a fashionable term that’s come to mean wines made with minimum intervention – that means no filtration, possibly no fining, and either low or no suphur dioxide. This example did indeed have a slightly cloudly appearance, but also presented such a unique and characterful flavour palate that it could be entirely forgiven for not having the text-book “star bright” sheen.

2008 Clos Fantine, Faugeres, Languedoc, France

We decided to step up a gear with something more sturdy from Faugeres. There is so much excellent winemaking going on in this Southern French region right now, and the Clos Fantine didn’t disappoint. For such a young wine, this was rich and complex, with leathery, dark spiced fruit flavours and a smoky tinge. Non-filtered wines seem particularly popular in this part of the world, and you can really taste the full, fruit-driven punch of the grapes (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Mourvedre and Cinsault) without filtration getting in the way.

2006 Vega Sicilia Pintia, Toro, Spain

I have blogged about this excellent effort from Vega Sicilia here. It was, as usual, single-minded, hefty and delicious. I hate to say it, but it is also now out of stock of Green and Blue (we got the last bottle).

2006 Domain Jean Foillard, Morgon, Beaujolais, France

I am a big fan of the Beaujolais Crus, and Morgon can often be relied upon for some of the most structured and serious wines from the region. This was Graeme‘s recommendation – he has been raving about it ever since it cropped up at a Green and Blue tasting last year. It was certainly very fine – focused, with pure fruit character, considerable backbone and complexity. I fear I may have appreciated the subtleties more if I wasn’t still wiping the tannins from the Pintia off my chin!

Huge thanks to everyone who came,  since I  wasn’t asked to pay a penny at the end of the evening. Somehow things ended up spilling over to a nearby friend’s flat, with a serious session of didgeridoo, guitar and bongo abuse (god the neighbours must have loved us). I can’t quite remember how that took us through to 3am, but the following morning I had only the merest trace of a hangover – a sure sign that only well produced wines, with very modest doses of SO2 had been consumed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2008 Clos Fantine Faugeres