The Languedoc's oldest winemaking region could historically be a minefield in terms of style and quality. Today wine lovers can buy with far less trepidation, as the wines have never benten better, writes James Lawther MW.
St-Chinian: Six producers to watch
Borie La Vitarèle
This is one of Saint-Chinian’s iconic domaines. Cathy and Jean-François (Jef) Izarn launched it in 1990 and since 1998 have run the 19ha vineyard biodynamically. Sadly, Jef was recently killed in a tractor accident while working on a steep slope. The different cuvées correspond to the various soil types found at the Causses-et-Veyran based property: the fruit-driven Terres Blanches from limestone, vibrant Les Schistes from schist and the more powerful Les Crès from a parcel strewn with galets roulés or large stones. All are rich and expressive with a mineral edge that provides balance. (For a tribute to Jef Izarn see the ‘Jefford on Monday’ blog: Farewell Jef ).
Domaine La Grange Léon
Joël Fernandez is one of only four independent growers based in the village of Berlou. His grandfather Léon, and father were members of the cooperative and he still delivers part of the grape harvest there but since 2008 has been making his own wine. The low-yielding (25-35hl/ha) vines are all located on schist soils and emphasis is placed on the purity and expression of fruit. All three red cuvées (L’Insolent, L’Audacieux, D’Une Main à l’Autre) are good, so keep an eye out for this domaine.
Domaine La Madura
After nine years in Bordeaux working as the technical director of Château de Fieuzal, Cyril Bourgne returned to his native Languedoc to launch La Madura in 1999. He has restructured the 13ha vineyard, which had been exempt from chemical treatments. The mix of grape varieties on different soils gives complexity to the wines, the ageing in five year-old barrels a polished Midi style. The Classic cuvée places the emphasis on Grenache, the longer ageing grand vin on Mourvèdre and Syrah.
Domaine La Linquière
Established in 2001 by Robert Salvestre, today it is run by his son, Pierre, a sixth- generation vigneron. The cellars are located in the southwest corner of the appellation at Villespassans but the parcels of the 20ha vineyard are dotted around St-Chinian, ensuring a mix of different soil types. The Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan are vinified by carbonic maceration. The top two cuvées, Le Chant de Cigales and Sentenelle, are Syrah-dominated, the latter uniquely from schist soils.
Discreet but always on song, Mas Champart is, in my opinion, the leading domaine in St-Chinian. Isabelle and Matthieu Champart created it in 1976, planting the 15.5ha vineyard on clay and limestone soils and making their first wine in 1988. The white wine is the most serious and complex in the appellation while the reds range from the racy, fruit-laden Côte d’Arbo to the more powerful Mourvèdre- dominated Clos de la Simonette.
Les Terasses de Gabrielle
Olivier Pascal’s 7ha-Berlou domaine is still a work in process. Like Joël Fernandez, he used to supply the cooperative but in 2008 produced his first wine in a garage located outside the commune. A percentage of the vineyard has been replanted but there is still some 30-year-old Grenache and Syrah, 100-year-old Carignan and a rare parcel of Lladoner Pelut, the furry-leafed version of Grenache. The wines are rich and powerful and receive a lengthy maturation of up to three years in tank and barrel.