Sunday, December 12, 2010
Borie La Vitarèle
I hadn’t tasted Jean François and Cathy Izarn's wines since shortly after we bought our house in the Languedoc in 1992 which can't have been long after they started. I remember them being typically Saint-Chinian - or what was then St Chinian - quite rough and rustic.
They were one of the first Languedoc producers to have a winery restaurant so they’ve always been pioneers (I remember a particularly magnificent rabbit and olive pie - still on the menu - more memorable than the wines at that stage, if truth be told. Jean-François is also a chef).
They started farming their domaine organically and biodynamically back in 1998 and hope to get biodynamic certification next year. They don’t as a general rule add cultivated yeasts “only if there is too much alcohol” and use sulphur only at bottling.
Their winery is way up in the hills in Causses et Veyran, wild beautiful back country or arrière-pays as the French call it. The wines are much more controlled now with a more intense fruit character. I tasted four at the recent Languedoc tasting.
Les Terres Blanches 2009 St Chinian
A 50/50% blend of Syrah and Grenache, made in concrete tanks. A typical product of the excellent 2009 vintage - appealingly ripe and sweet. A very reasonable 8.30€ from the domain.
Les Schistes 2009 St Chinian
The same blend but grown on schistous terroir (similar to Faugères, Jean-François says) which creates a more structured, elegant, perfumed wine with a satisfyingly chewy finish. Aged in 3-10 year old demi-muids. Can imagine it with that rabbit pie. Delicious - my favourite wine of the line-up. 11.90€
Les Crès 2008 St Chinian
60% Syrah, 40% Mourvedre. Although only 13.5% edging towards a denser, more extracted style which I personally enjoy less. Though as usual it commands a higher price (17.40 euros from the domain). Some good dark cherry fruit though I'd like to see a bit more of that exotic Mourvèdre character coming through.
Midi Rouge, Saint Chinian 2009
Syrah 40%, Grenache 40%, Carignan 20% 14.5%
Their latest cuvée. Definitely in the modern Languedoc mould with a lot of lush ripe strawberry fruit and a strong hit of vanilla (presumably from the new demi-muids in which it is aged). Very young obviously. I wouldn’t drink it now but would like to try it 5-6 years down the line. Great label - ambitious price - I would guess about 30-40 euros in France.
Despite being a pretty well natural winemaking operation these wines would be in the comfort zone of most consumers and accurately reflect the terroir in which they’re made. I liked them much better than I remembered them though they still don't quite have that thrilling edge I'm looking for in natural wines.
They were looking for an English importer so you won't find current vintages in the UK but two of the wines, including Les Schistes, are available from the Limoux-based Languedoc Wineshop and there seem to be a number of stockists in the US.