From €6.90, 9.80 Swiss francs, $13.99, £9.50, 1,283 rubles
Spurred on by this lively thread in our Members' forum bemoaning the selection of Languedoc-Roussillon wines offered by the leading British wine retailer Majestic, I tasted through the range on offer from the much smaller, independent, specialist retailer Stone, Vine & Sun this week. SVS of Hampshire have long been a source of handpicked wines from smaller producers that are well-priced (in a UK context). To judge from the selection offered at their tasting, they, like The Wine Society and The Real Wine Company, see £7-12 a bottle as their sweet spot and there was certainly plenty of good-value, hand-crafted wine to enjoy.
I will be publishing my notes in full once Tam has caught up with the backlog but one producer caught my attention because I wrote GV (good value) next to every one of the four wines on offer - quite a feat from the point of view of the producer!
Ch des Karantes is owned by the Knysz family who also own Michigan importers Eagle Eye Brands, but the American connection is not advertised as far as I can see on their appetising website, where I see they sell direct by the six-bottle carton and on which they advertise recently upgraded holiday gîtes. While I have not visited the property, I can vouch for its location, the La Clape rocky massif just south of Narbonne, one of the most distinctive terroirs of the entire Languedoc. This was once an island and benefits from almost constant wind, both off the sea and from the Montagne Noire to the north. Soils are clay-limestone and the wines really do seem to have something marine about them - not least the full-bodied but super-zippy white featuring the Bourboulenc grapes that do so well on La Clape.
Ch des Karantes, Bergerie 2013 Languedoc Blanc (£11.50 from Stone, Vine & Sun) beautifully combines the aroma and nerviness of Bourboulenc on the nose with the weight of Marsanne on the palate with real structure. Unoaked, it gets all its considerable character from the lees - which is true of so many fine Languedoc reds, too. These wines have so much character, they don't necessarily benefit from luxurious oak barrels. I see Tam was also hugely impressed by the 2009 tasted in 2010. The wine gives the impression of having a life of two or three years, much longer than most Languedoc whites.
Also 13.5% alcohol and also unoaked is Ch des Karantes, Terres des Karantes 2012 Languedoc Rouge (£9.50 SVS). It's the usual blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan and is apparently declassified La Clape. I found it remarkably concentrated and arresting though still pretty firm. I'd ideally keep it until the end of this year or even next - or serve it with chewy food or freshly ground black pepper to tame the tannins. Good stuff and much better than the Languedoc norm.
The Ch des Karantes, Bergerie 2012 Languedoc La Clape Rouge (£11.50 SVS) is, perhaps mercifully, Carignan-free, and 14% alcohol. Again this is characterised by ripe concentrated fruit but has no suggestion of heat or heft. Instead, it is well balanced, long and satisfying - and approachable already, perhaps because there is none of the rigidity of all but the finest Languedoc Carignan. I'd drink this any time over the next five years. And then there is the top bottling, and for once it does seem to warrant its premium. Ch des Karantes 2011 Languedoc La Clape Rouge is £18.50 at Stone, Vine & Sun and is the most beautifully textured, luxurious blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache chock full of both energy and richness. The Syrah seems to be the dominant component but there is nothing remotely austere about this. That marine air clearly does great things here!
Karantes doesn't seem to be a very Languedocien name but is apparently the name of a bishop of nearby Carcassonne. They seem to make a rosé and a sweet wine, neither of which I have tasted. You can find Ch des Karantes wines in Germany, Switzerland, the US and a particularly wide range in Russia.