Recently I went to a trade and press tasting of Languedoc and Roussillon wines run by Seabright and Seabright, who are importers, wholesalers and retailers for a range of regional French wines.
At the tasting there were flights of wines from eight different vignerons across the region. There were no poor wines on show and lots of extremely good ones. I was particularly taken by the wines of a couple of producers; Chateau de la Tuilerie from the Costières de Nîmes and Domaine de Cabrol from the little known appellation of Cabardès.
It's a very interesting appellation is Cabardès. It's one of the youngest in France, being official since just 1999. It's also the only appellation in the Country that allows red wine to be made from both Altantic grape varieties (allowing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and the much less known Fer) as well as Mediterranean grape varieties (allowing Grenache and Syrah). So how does this come about and why doesn't it happen more often? Well, it's mainly about soil and climate. Let's quickly look at the differences between the two sides of Southern France with the aid of my own rather fetching hand-drawn map...
[caption id="attachment_944" align="alignleft" width="640" caption="Wine Regions of Southern France"][/caption]
The wine regions from the Atlantic side of the South of France (Bordeaux and South-West France) are typified by gravel soil and humid winds coming from the ocean, plus a fair bit of rain. By contrast the wine regions of Mediterranean France (Languedoc-Roussillon, Southern Rhône and Provence) are in the land of garrigue (Mediterranean scrubland) with hot dry winds and a warmer dryer climate. Each side has their own native grape varieties that are perfectly suited to the soil and climate. The Atlantic side sports Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec (plus many others of course) which are characterised by aristocratic wines of directness, power and purity that are very well behaved. On the Mediterranean side the main varieties are Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan, which by contrast give wines of earthiness, that taste hot and Mediterranean with less stiff-upper-lip. Both sides make wines that are great in their own way.
This separation is very marked and all the appellations of the South of France lie either one side of the fence or the other, using only the grape varieties traditional to their side, nearly always in a blend. All that is, except for Cabardès! This is because the appellation is found right at the back end of Languedoc, high up in the hills on the cusp of the two different terroirs where the West Wind meets the East. Sometimes the prevaling winds are the colder and more humid ones from the West and sometimes they're the hoter and drier ones from the East. Consequently this small appellation has the unique distinction of allowing both Atlantic and Mediterranean grape varieties in its blends.
Domaine de Cabrol make a few Cabardès wines, four of which being on show at the tasting. Interestingly they have two that are called Vent d'Ouest (the Wind of the West) and Vent d'Est (the Wind of the East). Generally only one of these two wines is made on any given vintage, depending on the source of the wind that year. Both wines feature Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache, but with the Cab Sav dominating the blend in the Vent d'Ouest and Syrah dominating in Vent d'Est. It's a clever idea that makes perfect sense given the position of the appellation, and judging by the tasting, both wines are superb. The Vend d'Est 2007 in particular was terrific; with a strong but elegant fruit flavour, great structure, plenty of complexity and a long finish.
Another wine in the tasting that really stood out for me was the flagship white from Chateau de la Tuilerie. It was a 2008 Costières de Nîmes going by the name of Eole Blanc, made from the Mediterranean white varieties Clairette, Roussanne and Marsanne. With evident lees stirring and extremely well integrated oak it had the weight, power and structure of a fine white Burgundy, but at half the cost. Long and complex this was real winner. OK, at £24 it's by no means cheap and it should be good, but it was first class and is well worth the price; a Burgundy of the same quality would cost at least half as much again.
All in all it was an excellent tasting, hosted by the highly affable Andrew Seabright who is full of enthusiasm. Seabright and Seabright are quite a new outfit but they've managed to get hold of some excellent wines and I wish them the best of luck with their business. Have a look at www.seabrightandseabright.co.uk for more details.