Jean-Marie Fourrier is a young man many would envy. His family
are growers in the world-famous village of Gevrey-Chambertin
in Burgundy and since 1994 he has been in charge of their nine
precious hectares (23 acres) there, including the irresistibly
named grand cru Griottes-Chambertin. More than enough, you
might think, to keep him and his English partner Vicky busy.
Each year his red burgundies have been more assured and have
attracted increasing attention but, like so many young
Burgundians nowadays, he is gnawed by ambition (a state of
affairs from which we wine lovers have benefited). Having
trained with the great Henri Jayer of Vosne-Romanée and
worked in Oregon at Domaine Drouhin, he felt it was not enough
simply to follow the family tradition in the little village of
Gevrey. He wanted to have an enterprise that was 100 per cent
his. Land in Burgundy being far too expensive to contemplate
(and so rarely available to those not marrying into an
appropriate family), he set about looking for somewhere else
with as strong a sense of terroir.
He turned to the hills of the Languedoc and, after two years'
search there, managed to buy what was the Domaine du Colombier
on the schists of Faugères just in time for the 2001
harvest. The 17 hectares of vineyard there are already
producing extremely fine, distinctive wines, not the only
Languedoc reds to taste rather burgundian with their delicacy
and obviously gentle vinification.
"On the other hand what I had learnt in the Languedoc taught
me how to cope with the exceptionally hot 2003 summer in
Burgundy," he explained recently. This apparently involved
chilling the warm, freshly-picked grapes in a temperature-
controlled truck, and driving it between his two locations
with the couple's small car loaded inside.
If the higher ground of the Languedoc is fertile hunting
ground for those seeking affordable vineyard, so it is for
those of us seeking affordable, hand-crafted wines that truly
express their terroir, the geographical setting that shaped
them, provided they are made by the ambitious likes of Jean-
Marie Fourrier. (I am not referring here to the oceans of Vin
de Pays d'Oc varietals which vary from basic commodity wines
to some wines which are competently made, often great value
but very rarely truly artisanal.)
For several reasons this is the perfect time to buy some of
the better Languedoc bottlings for cellaring over the next few
years. Firstly, it is still possible to find the best reds of
the quite exceptionally good 2001 vintage. Its successor was
much more challenging and variable, and 2003 was just so hot
and the grapes so ripe that many of the wines still have an
awkward excess of residual sugar - very far from classic.
Secondly, there has been an influx of expertise into the
Languedoc over the past few years so that there is now no
shortage of skilled winemakers in the region who are well able
to transform what was always exciting raw material into
sophisticated wines. Oak handling in particular is much
I used to complain that American specialist
importers (particularly Jeffrey M Davies, Daniel Johnnes,
Kermit Lynch, Neal Rosenthal and David Schildknecht) seemed
much better at scouting out the best producers in the
Languedoc than British wine merchants but a few specialists
have at last emerged in the UK. Importers making a real effort
with the Languedoc include A & B Vintners of Brenchley; Pic
Wines (www.picwines.co.uk); Leon Stolarski of Nottingham (0115
952 9387); Stone, Vine & Sun (with particularly keen prices)
near Winchester; and Terroir Languedoc
Some of the best-known overperformers in the Languedoc are,
roughly in the order in which they forged their international
reputations, Mas de Daumas Gassac, Domaine d'Aupilhac, Domaine
de l'Hortus, Prieuré St Jean de Bebian, Mas Jullien,
Domaine Font Caude, La Grange des Pères, Domaine Canet
Valette and Château de Puech Haut, but there are dozens
more - and new names are emerging with every season.
Here are some of my current favourites, in ascending order of
price - although all of these wines fall into the price
bracket that I believe tends to offer best value: not so cheap
that there is not enough left after fixed costs to pay for
decent wine; not so expensive that one is paying purely to
bolster the producer's ego.
Les Douze 2001 Fitou
£5.99 Majestic (£1 off if you buy two), £6.49 some Sainsbury's
Strong schist on the nose. Poor man's Agly/Fenouillèdes
from just north of Roussillon. Specially selected ingrediuents
from the Tuchan co-op. Good bite.
Domaine du Météore, Les Orionides 2001 Faugères
£6.95 Stone, Vine & Sun
Ridiculously good price for this amazingly intense wine - the
obverse in style to Fourrier's gentler, more nuanced
interpretation of the local schist. The same producer's
perfumed Viognier 2003 is also good value at £5.75.
Domaine Navarre, Le Lazouzil 2002 St-Chinian
£7.25 Stone, Vine & Sun, £7.60 Pic Wines
Thierry Navarre's schistous terrain. Fine, terroir-driven,
good potential over the next four years. Great grip.
Domaine des Cantarelles, Cuvée Tradition 2001 Costières de Nîmes
£7.45 Lay & Wheeler
Round, open and satisfying already from the far east of the Languedoc; strong Rhône influence. Glossy warmth and heat.
Ch de Cesseras 2001 Minervois La Livinière
£7.50 Stone, Vine & Sun, £9.55 Berry Bros & Rudd
Excellent quality. Very pure, ripe southern French Syrah that
still has a lot to give. Best to wait a year or even two
before approaching this. This was the only five star Decanter
magazine award winner in a blind tasting of more than 100
Les Vignes de l'Arque 2001 Vin de Pays Duché d'Uzès
£7.70 Leon Stolarski of Nottingham
Great value Grenache and Syrah blend given four months in oak.
Concentrated and tannic but no shortage of fruit.
Domaine des Jougla, Cuvée Classique 2001 St-Chinian
£7.99 Bennetts of Chipping Campden
Excellent fruit concentration with a gentle touch. The
Cuvée Tradition 2001 is more exotic and more obviously
Clos du Serres, Le Clos 2001 Coteaux du Languedoc
£8 Novum of London SE8 (020 8692 3606)
Very sweet southern Rhône style. Gentle, delicately
handled fruit - rather burgundian with some coffee notes. The
winemaker worked at Angelus, in Pommard and at Beaucastel.
Jean-Marie Fourrier, Finesse 2002 Faugères
£8.50 Wimbledon Wine Cellar, Uncorked of London EC2
Both this and the bottling called Elegance are aptly-named - a
delicately burgundian take on Faugères terrain.
Château de Rieux 2001 Minervois
£8.50 Vine Trail tel +44 0117 921 1770
Very mellow, convincing Syrah with a little bit of Grenache grown just west of La Livinière, the first Minervois village to have its own cru status. Apparently La Revue du Vin de France rated it joint best 2001 Minervois, So there.
Ch de la Negly, La Falaise 2001 Coteaux du Languedoc
£9.99 Wimbledon Wine Cellar, Uncorked of London EC2
Full throttle, un-ignorable essence of La Clape. No hurry
whatever to drink this. Better value than its neighbour below.
Ch d'Anglès, Croix du Bailly 2001 Coteaux du Languedoc
Syrah dominates the Grenache in this full-throated, gently-
oaked blend with a strong marine accent from La Clape, once an
island off Narbonne.
Hecht & Bannier 2001 Minervois
£10.75 James Nicholson of Ireland
Fascinating, ambitious, accomplished new negociant with
winemaking expertise from Ornellaia. The Faugeres 2001 is
good too. Turbo-charged intensity.
Ch St Martin de la Garrigue 2001 Coteaux du Languedoc
£10.95 Lay & Wheeler
Meaty and savoury with real personality and lots of fine
tannins underneath. Drink over the next three years.
Clos Centeilles 1999 Minervois
£12.41 Terroir Languedoc
Lovely gentle, fruity blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and
Grenache from Daniel and Patricia Domergue of Siran.