Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Natural’s Not In It, aka Dead or Alive in Minervois

I don’t drink wines from the Mediterranean areas of France with anywhere near the regularity that I once did. It’s only by odd coincidence that I recently had two wines from Minervois within just a few days of each other. Read the literature on these wines from Domaine Khalkhal-Pamiès and Château d’Oupia and you'll find that both estates place themselves firmly in the center of the natural winemaking camp. Natural or not, though, only one of the wines tasted alive.

Minervois "Loriza," Domaine Lauraire des Lys (Khalkhal-Pamiès) 2005
$15. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. A Thomas Calder Selection, Potomac Selections, Landover, MD.
This bottle passed all my usual inspection parameters – a clean bottle and label, perfectly spinning capsule, no run-up or soak-through on the cork, good fill – but the stuff in the bottle tasted heat damaged. While I suppose a lightning fast hot flash could account for it, my gut tells me that this is just in a style that’s not to my liking or, worse yet, a wine made by careless hands. The heat damage could have occurred in the winery, caused by a fermentation allowed to run unchecked or perhaps by a facility ill equipped to fend off the heat and sun of the Minervois climate. Its color is a dark, muddy garnet, matching the soupy, muddled flavors of the wine. Flavors are of caramelized, baked fruit. Think of taking plums that have been allowed to ripen too far, losing not only their acidity but also their freshness. Stew them, add a little cracked pepper and then flambé them in brandy but don’t finish burning off the alcohol. Sound good? Not to me. This wine is lifeless.

Minervois, Château d'Oupia 2006
$12.50. 13% alcohol. Cork. Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.
As with “Loriza,” Oupia’s Minervois passed the spot bottle inspection with flying colors. In stark contrast, though, it also passed the all important palate check. This was full of crunchy, wholesome goodness. Dark and plummy in color, it had the vibrancy of tone that was absent in its stable mate. Aromas of spicy, dark earth and macerated red berry fruit were followed by a mouthful of similar sensations. Mulberries, ripe blueberries, black raspberries and, yes, a little plumminess. Though hardly a high acid wine, there was enough acidity and freshness here to keep the wine’s ample fruit feeling buoyant and snappy. Tannic structure was gentle but firm enough to lend balance. My palate told me that the alcohol was probably closer to 14% as opposed to the stated 13% but, as it was completely in check, I didn’t find it problematic. This is definitely a great value, something I’d be happy to buy by the case (even though I rarely buy anything by the case). If there were more Languedoc wines like it – bright and alive – I think I’d find myself revisiting old habits more often.


Anonymous said...

Do you know the "Vignoble du Loup Blanc" ? It's my favorite !! :--))


Mike Drapkin said...


Oupia a is in fact a stunning, meaty Minervois Rouge. Right on!! I love their "Les Heretiques" bottling as well. Hey, have you ever tried the wines from Chateau Coupe Rose(also in Minervois?) Their vineyards are very near many of Oupia's....I know, I worked the harvest there last year and still very soar. Ha! Anyway, they also make some wonderfully spicy, savory, sun filled reds at buy by the case prices. Cheers!

Do Bianchi said...

Always important to "see behind" the "natural" label. If the juice is no good, it's just no good. Now that natural is seeping into the mainstream, we need to be careful about its value as a marketing tool. Good call...

Wish I could have connected with you on my layover in Philadelphia yesterday.

Joe said...

Funny, your comments on Loriza sound eerily familiar, and a reason I drink less of the L-R offerings these days. I am betting on style, not heat damage.

David McDuff said...

Welcome, and thanks for the recommendation. I don't know the producer but their website is certainly cute -- hate the flash but have to like the hot club tunes.

Likewise, I've not tried the wines from Coupe Rose. With your recommendation, though, I'll be on the lookout. Cool that you got to work the harvest there. Did you know the proprietors in advance or did you just show up and offer a hand?

Well said -- exactly my point, at least in part. Sorry I missed you in Philly. Let me know in advance next time.

Thanks for the backup. Do I take it that you drank their wines more regularly in the past?

Mike Drapkin said...

Gerard_Tasted the Loup Blanc wines at a recent Jenny and Francois Selections tasting in nyc(see The Schist for tasting notes). They are indeed full of natural charm and scents of the mediterranean.

McDuff- I knew the proprietors before I went. Met them on a buying trip to France a few years back. I recommend doing a full harvest if you can swing it. As a result, I am irreversibly changed for life(in a very good way) Seeing first hand the sacrifices and pain one goes through to make artisan wine is humbling and almost surreal.

Joe Manekin said...

A good call from Mike on the Coupe Roses - I love their basic Minervois bottling. Some others from the LR I enjoy - Beau Thorey and Domaine Gauby. It must be the carignane, but I really enjoy these two wines.

Joe said...

Yes, they were my go-to value wines but I feel I can find values in many regions now. Besides, as you get to know wine better you realize that you can't pair everything with GSM! The Coupe Roses Garnaxa was nicely done, had not tasted their other bottlings...

Mike Drapkin said...

As Joe mentioned, Coupe Roses makes a lovely base cuvee called la bastide--and in most markets under $15.00. Drank the stuff like water during the harvest. Chill it.

David McDuff said...

Hey guys,

Thanks again for all the recommendations.

I've wanted to work a harvest or, for that matter, do a stage at a winery in France, Italy or Germany, ever since my first trip over. But I've yet to pull the trigger and do it. Next year might just be the year....

Mike Drapkin said...


Do it. Pull the trigger. I am trying to line up a stage in Burgundy to work as a cellar rat. It's addicting.

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