Some may argue that calling yourself an “outsider” in your adopted country may lead to a certain scepticism and reticence on behalf of the locals. Others would say it should be seen as a compliment and proof that people from beyond the French territoire are proud to invest their time and considerable ressource in an area that deserves recognition. Whatever your opinion it’s always great when a bunch of like-minded people group together to put on an excellent tasting.
Held in a super “cool” bistro in downtown Montpellier, Chez Boris, 11 producers from all over the region put on a total of 4 wines each. Less is often more in the wine business, a maxim that many importers should consider when presenting to buyers, and all the more manageable in what turned out to be probably the most tightly packed tasting I’ve ever attended. Sadly the crush became so intense towards the end that I couldn’t actually reach the table (long given up on the spittoon) and so was not able to get round all the producers.
Nevertheless, I did manage to give it a good go and highlights of the evening included : Rives-Blanques Dédicace, certainly one of the best 100% Chenins outside of the Loire, Classique Blanc La Clape White from Château d’Anglès, a really refreshing Bourboulenc based blend from a generally arid location, and Jones Blanc 2009 a lovely 100% Grenache Gris from the eponymous vineyard of Katie Jones in the foothills of Queribus castle.
New to me were the impressive estates of Mas des Dames, close to Saint Chinian and Domaine de Cébène on the outskirts of neighbouring Faugères. I loved the concise named ‘La Dame’ from owner and winemaker Lidewiji van Wilgen of Mas des Dames, a quintessential Languedoc red blend of Grenache/Syrah and Carignan. The Cuvée Ex Arena from Brigitte Chevalier at Cébène, on paper a blockbuster Grenache/Mourvèdre blend but in reality a triumph of subtlety and elegance, was also a revelation and a steal at what I guess amounts to around 10€ retail in France.
To round off the tasting a visit to some regular friends, Combebelle the Biodynamic Estate owned by Catherine Wallace whose “Fleurs Sauvages” captures the high-top, garrigue fuelled plateau of Saint Chinian to a tee, and O’Vineyards Proprietor’s Reserve Cabardès, a big, bold Atlantic/Mediterranean blend that would rival many a Cru Classé Bordeaux in a blind tasting challenge. The least you would expect from Ryan O’Connell , a man who has done more to put this most westerly Languedoc Appellation on the map.
With the distance to the bottles, table and spittoon increasing, the persistent inward flow of restaurant diners it became impossible to taste further so I was unable to reach Domaine Treloar, Calet, Vella Frontera and Domaine Sainte Rose. Still a good reason to visit when next in their respective areas.
All in all a very good tasting, superbly organised and arranged by Louise Hurren. I managed to catch up with some old friends and discover something new. For the record I think the Outsiders is a great name, it embodies the notion of a struggle for acceptance, a very necessary quality when setting up a domaine in the Languedoc-Roussillon ! It seems appropriate to leave with a quote from Albert Camus whose most famous novel carries the same name : “Charm is a way of getting the answer yes without asking a clear question.”
02 Feb 2011 Matthew Stubbs