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Tasting & Matching: Minervois

Characterful, food-friendly and great value for money, this tasting of Minervois wines had our tasters cooing with pleasure. Clinton Cawood takes note as the plaudits roll in


Southern France is rapidly becoming the only part of the country able to deliver real value for money. But simply doing a ‘tasting of southern French wines’ would have seen the Imbibe office buried under an avalanche of bottles. So we decided to narrow things down, asking merchants to send in wines from Minervois – ideally from La Livinière.

The latter is a region within Minervois; established as recently as 1999, it’s a small AOC as well as a new one. But still, given the quality of wines that come out of here (borne out by this tasting), we were surprised at the paucity of examples apparently available (a paltry eight) in the UK.

Fortunately, there was a good spread of examples from the wider Minervois, and at a good spread of prices, too. Mostly comprising blends of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache (with a bit of Carignan and Cinsault), they delivered complexity, food-friendliness and character at an impressive range of prices. In fact, it was heartening to see so many wines under £10 picking up good scores.


HOW IT WORKS
We asked UK agents to submit red wines from Minervois, including those from Minervois La Livinière. Beyond this, there was no restriction. All wines were tasted blind, with panellists only aware of each wine’s price. Each wine was scored out of 20, taking value for money into account. Scores were then collated to obtain a percentage score for each of the wines.
All prices listed here are ex-VAT, and all are available in the UK.


Tasting panel
Gergely Barsi Szabó, consultant
Frédéric Billet, ex-Marylebone Hotel
Clinton Cawood, Imbibe
Xavier Chapelou, consultant
Giancarlo Cuccuru, The Gilbert Scott
Jade Koch, consultant
Martin Lam, Ransome’s Dock
Gustavo Medina, Tate Catering
Ricarda Schoenemann, 28º-50º


MINERVOIS RESULTS

82 Domaine La Rouviole, Selection 2008
‘Very elegant and classy on the nose, with red berry and floral notes –
really charming. Spicy on the palate, with eucalyptus, white pepper and some blackcurrant, going into a long, well-rounded finish,’ FB. ‘Lots of fruit on the nose, with hints of rosemary,
thyme and eucalyptus, followed on the
palate by good concentration of red fruit, liquorice and cassis. Well structured, with firm tannins, and
a great finish,’ GM.
£10.38, Hallgarten Druitt, 01582 722538

80 Château Millegrand Minervois 2009
‘Blackberry fruit aromas at first, with a little green note coming through after a while. Dark fruit and spice follow on the palate, with some herbal notes that help with length. Not bad at all for the price,’ GC. ‘High-toned soft, sweet fruit with a hint of savouriness on the finish,’ ML.
£6.86, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5550

78 Domaine Anne Gros et Jean-Paul Tollot, La Ciaude 2009
‘Intense and well-balanced fruit, with raspberry and a bit of herbaceousness. The mouthfeel’s fuller, with cocoa and fruit, great acidity and good length,’ GB. ‘Purple dark fruit on the nose, with hints of violets. Warm tannins follow on the palate, with lots of fruit. Good acidity, with tannins in check,’ JK.
£16.12, Justerini & Brooks, 020 7484 6400

78 Domaine Anne Gros et Jean-Paul Tollot, Les Fontanilles 2009
‘Smokiness on the nose carries through to a dry palate, which leads into a long finish, juicy and savoury,’ RS. ‘Rustic barnyard aromas, with prickly blackberry and cassis, as well as a menthol note. This has a warm finish, with some fruit coming through,’ GC.
£13.28, Justerini & Brooks, 020 7484 6400

78 Domaine Raymond Julien, l'Azerolle Vieilles Vignes 2010
‘A clean nose of chamomile, lavender and leather, with good complexity. Cassis and liquorice on the palate, a tannic backbone and great acidity,’ GM. ‘Warm cherries and cloves lead to soft fruit on the palate, with some persistent but not overpowering tannins,’ RS.
£8.05, Les Caves de Pyrène, 01483 554750

76 Domaine L’Oustal Blanc, Giocoso 2008
‘Hints of chocolate, spice and tannins, as well as ripe, sweet berries. Well balanced overall,’ RS. ‘Dark fruit confit, spice and garrigue herbs on the palate, with good acidity. Could do with another six months, but otherwise very good,’ ML.
£13.50, H2Vin, 01737 355765

73 Château Massamier La Mignarde, Cuvée Aubin 2008
‘Fresh herbs on the nose – mint and eucalyptus – with some strawberry aromas, too. Lovely silky tannins on the palate, with black fruit and a touch of oak,’ GM. ‘A very decent wine, with
a savoury-sweet herbal palate,’ ML.
£8.50, Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360

73 Château de Sérame Minervois 2007
‘A dark meaty/savoury nose, followed by a substantial, mouth-filling palate, with perfume, spice and fruit,’ ML. ‘Lots of ripe, sweet fruit on the palate, lifted by some herbal notes. Plenty of character and flavour, at a decent price,’ CC.
£9.72, Champagnes & Châteaux, 020 7326 9655

72 Château du Donjon, Grande Tradition Minervois 2010
‘Dark red fruits, with a touch of heat/pepperiness. Overall, a good, clean, simple wine, with fairly good concentration,’ ML. ‘Silky on the palate, with rich, clean fruit characteristics – ripe cherry in particular,’ CC.
£7.16, Enotria, 020 8961 4411

71 Domaine La Rouviole, Cuvée Classique 2010
‘After a closed nose, there’s full depth to the palate, with red fruit, mushrooms and herbs, and a soft overall texture,’ GB. ‘Saucisson and green peppercorn on the nose, a juicy palate, with a significant amount of oak tannin,’ JK.
£8.76, Hallgarten, Druitt 01582 722538

70 Domaine La Rouviole, Coup de Théâtre 2009
‘Blackcurrant, mint and eucalyptus, with bags of green garrigue notes. On the palate, there’s blackcurrant jelly and very clearly defined berry fruit, with good oak integration. Needs some time, but has been very well made,’ JK.
£12.99, Hallgarten Druitt, 01582 722538

68 Château Moureau Minervois 2010
‘Leafy aromas, along with the suggestion of old leather. There’s a hint of sweetness on the palate, accompanied by shy tannins,’ FB.
‘Dark red fruit aromas, accompanied by an earthier, funkier note,’ CC.
£7.04, Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2400

65 Château d’Agel, Cuvée Agellum 2009
‘Quite spicy on the nose, followed by a somewhat dry palate, with hints of chocolate and plum skins,’ RS. ‘Some red fruit on the nose is followed by more full-on fruit on the palate, supported by high acidity and good balance,’ GB.
£7.32, Champagnes & Châteaux, 020 7326 9655

64 Château Montouliers Minervois 2011
‘Black cherry yoghurt notes on the nose, followed by warm, juicy black fruit on the palate, with some good spice on the finish, along with a little warmth,’ JK. ‘Red fruit, predominantly, with a slight sweet-shop note. Quite lean overall,’ GC.
£5.53, Enotria, 020 8961 4411

63 Château du Donjon, La Pujade 2010
‘A very developed bouquet, with blackberry, plum jam, honey and dried flowers,’ XC. ‘Green eucalyptus, followed by sweetness, with blackberry compote and a candied note,’ GC.
1£9.14, Enotria, 020 8961 441

63 Domaine Jean Baptiste Senat, La Nine 2010
‘Earthy, strawberry aromas, with good structure on the nose. Medium-bodied, with some light fruit - strawberry and redcurrants,' GB. 'Dark and brooding, with a hint of cucumber and mint. Dark, fine tannins, as well as good acidity,' JK.
£11.20, Les Caves de Pyrène, 01483 554750


MINERVOIS LA LIVINIERE RESULTS

83 Château Maris, Old Vine Syrah 2007
A complex nose of fresh herbs, as well as some leather notes. Great concentration of red-to-black fruits, firm tannins and a long finish, with some nutty flavours,’ GM. ‘A leather, farmyard character on the nose at first, with some full, cooked fruit aromas, and a savoury element. This is well structured, with good acidity and tannins, and a long, big finish. Quite pricey, but very good,’ CC.
£18.30, Jascots, 020 8965 2000

82 Domaine La Rouviole Minervois La Livinière 2006
‘An attractive nose, rich red fruit, with herbal, lifted notes. A juicy blueberry and blackberry palate,’ CC. ‘Concentrated eucalyptus and blackberry, with menthol, cassis and vanilla, followed by herbaceousness,’ GC.
£14.72, Hallgarten Druitt, 01582 722538

78 Domaine de Courbissac, Pandora 2004
‘A very savoury, funky nose, with some evolution and complexity on the palate. Very well balanced, with many facets. A serious wine in all ways,’ ML. ‘Some sweet and lightly candied fruit – definitely on the lighter side,’ RS.
£14.95, Champagnes & Châteaux, 020 7326 9655

76 Château Maris, Continuité de Nature 2009
‘Rich, full fruit on the palate – strawberry and cassis, primarily. Well-structured, with a rich finish. Good stuff.’ GB. ‘Thick coffee, chocolate and vanilla notes on the palate, with brambly, jammy fruit,
and bags of oak and tannin,’ JK.
£13.15, Vintage Roots, 0800 980 4992

76 Château Maris, Les Planels 2009
‘Really interesting on the nose, with some savoury elements, alongside rich, dark fruit and some spice. Weighty on the palate, with big tannins and lots of black fruit, right to the
finish,’ CC. ‘Olives, black tea and rhubarb aromas, this is a rich wine that maybe needs some time, but
is otherwise excellent,’ XC.
£12.25, Vintage Roots, 0800 980 4992

72 Château Maris, La Touge 2009
‘Blackcurrants and blackberries on the nose, with a hint of menthol and liquorice. This is a great wine, with a concentrated bouquet,’ XC. ‘Earthy and meaty aromas to start with, followed
by a drying palate, which offers nice fruit and substance,’ ML.
£9.35, Vintage Roots, 0800 980 4992

70 Château Maris, Las Combes 2009
‘Cedar on the nose, as well as some hay. Spiced redcurrants and a bit of pepper towards the finish – a good wine,’ GC. ‘Complex on the nose, with leather, fur and fresh herbs. Overall, some good concentration of ripe, but not over-ripe, fruit, with hints of cassis, thyme and rosemary, as well as orange peel. Great tannins and a lengthy finish,’ GM.
£12.25, Vintage Roots, 0800 980 4992

64 Château Cesseras Minervois La Livinière 2008
‘Macerated berries on the nose, with some alcohol coming through. This is then remarkably light on the palate, but with sufficient body,’ RS. ‘Cooked red fruit, with a touch of blackcurrant, too. Lots of spice and fruit on the palate,’ GC.
£10.80, Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360

Many thanks to the team at 28º-50º for hosting the tasting, and for all of their help on the day.


CONCLUSIONS

The panel’s response to this flight was overwhelmingly positive, with no wines scoring below 63%. This was particularly impressive, given the low- to mid-range pricing.

 The relatively small number of wines available in the UK from Minervois and La Livinière didn’t concern our panellists, who felt there was enough of a selection here, with a range of prices and styles.

 Stylistically, tasters identified two main schools here. On one side were the clean, modern, ripe, juicy wines; while the remainder were more traditional, with secondary, farmyard aromas more dominant.

 While price wasn’t a reliable predictor when it came to quality in the Minervois flight, it really was in La Livinière, with prices increasing steadily along with scores.

 The AOC Minervois wines in the tasting achieved a respectable average of 72% overall, at an average price of £9.72. The La Livinière flight achieved a marginally higher 75%, at an average of £13.22 per bottle.

 There was some concern raised over the age of a few of the wines, with panellists identifying some wines that could have done with a bit more time – worth considering if you don’t have a large cellar.

Panellists found the wines to be overwhelmingly food-friendly, with autumnal and wintery dishes at the forefront of their minds.


PANEL COMMENTS

Gergely Barsi Szabo, consultant
‘There was a very even spread here. These are reliable wines that you don’t have to worry about. And they’re also good value. There were two distinct styles, so you’d need to select from these wines depending on your kitchen. You obviously shouldn’t expect miracles at £8.50, but definitely a good, safe choice.’

Martin Lam, Ransome’s Dock
‘Minervois, for me, represents an overall guaranteed level of quality from modern southern French wine – I would have been surprised if there were any howlers here today, and there weren’t. We had everything from unadorned, clean wines to trophy winemaking, with prices to match. There was a decent sense of regionality here and, in some cases, a surprising lightness of hand from the winemaker.’

Jade Koch, consultant
‘The most striking wines were at the entry level, where they were pretty and pleasing, with ripe fruit. At the top end, there was a lot of new oak, and unfortunately wines like that don’t get cellared. These are good wines, but specialist ones. They’re a hand sell.’

Giancarlo Cuccuru, The Gilbert Scott
‘It was clear here that you had to pay a certain amount to get a significant level of character. With these wines I’d go for the juicier style if I was having a few glasses, but for the more barnyard-style wines if I was matching with food. Specifically, I’d definitely pair these with lamb – the wines are quite wintery. In the mid-range here, there was some good value for money on offer.’

Clinton Cawood, Imbibe
‘A common factor among these wines was a real ripeness of fruit, combined in many cases with a light touch from the winemakers. These wines are ideal for the on-trade, offering a range of prices, great value for money, and food friendliness. The wines from La Livinière offer a nice option for trading up, too.

Gustavo Medina, Tate Catering
‘When I visited this region about three years ago, I was most impressed by the value for money it represents. I saw that here again today – from good, food-friendly, entry-level wines, right up to the top wine. There was good consistency throughout. With these wines, it’s about encouraging customers to try them and we can do that by matching them with food. For this purpose, I’d look at seasonal game and bean stews. Or all year round with steak and chips.’

Xavier Chapelou, consultant
‘There were wines here that were classic, but with a new approach – maybe classic nouveau. There were many here that would work by the glass, while a number were elegant, refined and delicate. If France wants to compete with
the New World, it has to look at regions like this.’

Frederic Billet, ex-Marylebone Hotel
‘There was real consistency in style here, with blackcurrant, spice, peppercorns and cayenne pepper – and some herbal examples, too. The middle section, price-wise, was the best for me. Overall, though, you could see the justification for the prices. I’d definitely sell these by the glass. You need to help people to discover these wines, and it’s very important to match them with food. You’d need to pair them with rich dishes – stews and confits.’

Ricarda Schoenemann, 28º-50º
‘Price made a big difference to quality here – at the higher end, the wines were more integrated and more complex. It’s a region that people don’t know a lot about, so these are hand-sell wines. You’d give them to a customer to challenge their perceptions. The more rustic wines were the more expensive ones, and the more pleasant. There were a few with mushroom and forest-leaf aromas, but they were still quite fresh, and with enough fruit.’

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – July/August 2012

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