I spent today in the Languedoc, doing some work. The work was actually quite enjoyable: I was tasting a selection of 90 of the estate wines from Les Grands Chais de France, with a view to selecting 12 ‘ambassadors’ – wines that Grands Chais could use to show to the press and trade what they are capable of at the top end. They could, of course, have chosen the wines themselves. But in a group like this, with high-end wineries in several different French regions, it makes things easier for an independent third party to make the selection.
We tasted the wines at Domaine de la Baume, in between Pezenas and Beziers in the Languedoc. Back in 1990 Australian company Hardy’s purchased the domaine, and developed a brand around it, largely based on buying in grapes. The property was purchased in 2003 by Grands Chais, and they have redeveloped the vineyards, buying a neighbouring domain and replanting existing vineyards.
This was the first time I’d tried the wines for quite a while, and I was impressed. There’s a very fresh Sauvignon, a lovely, rich aromatic Viognier. a restrained, slightly mineral Chardonnay and a high-end Viognier Chardonnay of real intensity and poise. The reds consist of a sweetly fruited, dense Syrah, a more structured Cabernet Sauvignon, a sophisticated, stylish Merlot (the big surprise), and a high end Syrah Cabernet of power and intensity.
These wines are quite a step up from the more commercial offerings of the previous regime, made in an unashamedly ripe style, but showing good concentration and definition.
Of the 90-odd wines tasted, the most striking (but probably least commercially relevant) were those from two domaines Grands Chais own in the Jura: Savagny and Quillot. These were complex, quirky and intense. Wine geek heaven.
With the selection made, we had lunch on the patio, in the gently warm April sun. It was a beautiful setting, the mood was good, and there was a chance to revisit some of the wines, including an astonishing Jura Vin de Paille. A wander in the vineyards followed, before it was time to head home. Tomorrow I am back at Lords for week two of the International Wine Challenge.