Wayne on Wine travels to France and Luxembourg, Days 7-9 

Wine storage at Saint Mont.

By Wayne Crawford
Photos by Wayne Crawford

  Wayne Crawford
  Wayne Crawford

Having spent a restful night near Narbonne, we were escorted to Chateau Notre Dame du Quatourze by Georges Ortola’s son. The estate belongs to Georges and his wife Suzanne. They graciously entertained us before guiding us through a tour of their vineyards and, then, their winery.

Their home overlooks the Bages Lake on the border of the Mediterranean Sea. The vines are grown in hard sandstone, quartz and rounded pebble soil. The Clape hills protect the vineyard from sea winds. All old wineries have myths and traditions: The castle Quatourze was founded in the 19th century and sheltered an old convent. The tithe payment linked to this region was 1/14th of the farmer’s income, or quatourze in Occitan, explaining the name.

Georges and his family are an inspiring wine team; George is teaching his son and daughter winery operations. While Chateau Notre Dame du Quatourze supports a significant cooperative effort, Georges also produces his own wine, Chateau YMYS. These wines are created using direct pressing, alcoholic fermentation with controlled temperatures and organic winemaking.

  Saint Mont wines.

We had the opportunity to taste a cross-section of his wines, including Alderaan Rouge, a red wine; Alderaan Blanc; and Alderaan Rose. The grapes include viognier, vermentino, syrah, grenache noir, cinsault and mourvedre. The white wines were fresh and crisp; the rose was fresh, fruity, light and pleasant, easy to drink and well balanced. The Alderaan Rouge was well structured, a balanced easy drinker that should cellar five years.

While we are not likely to see many of these wines in Georgia, we can take satisfaction that many of the smaller and less known wine regions of France are producing quality affordable wines that are increasingly reaching our shores.

Departing Narbonne, we travelled to Pouzolles in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France and Domaine de L’Arjolle, the only wine producer in France making Zinfandel. The trip was a short 30 miles with a lunch stop. With some navigation challenges we arrived in a courtyard including barns, winery support facilities and a well-appointed tasting room hosted by Benjamin, an intern who spoke exceptional English and had a broad understanding of the Domaine’s wine.

Our team was struck immediately by the wide variety of wines produced: 19 varieties were on display. We enjoyed a 100 percent carmenere, a one-of-a-kind zinfandel, since no other French winery is growing this grape. Prosper and Louis Marie Teisserenc acquired the land in 1974 for wine focused on quality, variety and wine pleasure. Their sons and extended family are adding land and managing the vineyard with the support of the founders.

The grape variety is extensive for any winery: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, grenache, chardonnay, merlot, sauvignon blanc, carmenere, syrah, viognier and muscat petit grains, along with zinfandel. The freedom afforded by the appellation Cotes de Thongue suits them perfectly for the production of wines by varietals and blends.

While tasting the zinfandel was a unique opportunity, I was taken especially by the 100 percent carmenere, which was bold, full-bodied and well balanced with strong, dark fruit aromas and flavors. Yet, it was the Arjolle Chaise rose wine that struck a special cord. This rose is 40 percent syrah, 10 percent grenache and 45 percent cabernet franc. When I closed my eyes, it was as if I were enjoying a syrah.

  Vignals tasting room. 
In a recent article on rose wine, I suggested several wine writers were seeing a trend toward aging selected rose wines. I think this has to be one of those collector roses, so I purchased one bottle to bring home to age. This bright salmon-pink colored wine, with aromas of strawberry and raspberry, had a bold, complex structure that radiated bouquets both on the nose and in the palette and gave a nice tartness while sustaining a long finish.

This was a remarkable visit and, if you are anywhere near Pouzolles, make the effort to stop at this winery at the commune in the Herault department in southern France.

Having spent an informative day with two well-established and engaging winery operations, we hustled to return to Narbonne for dinner with Marthe and Francois Lamaire from Chateau Aiguilloux in Thezan des Corbieres at the Fleur de Thym Restaurant in the center of Narbonne.
What made this dinner exceptional was their son is the chef at the restaurant. This was a special evening to pair both food and wine and to gain a broader appreciation for Chateau Aiguilloux wines and French culinary delights.

During this delightful evening, the winemaker introduced a wide array of wines. One of the first was Cuvee Complicite Rose 2013, a wine based on five varietals with cinsault and grenache the primary grapes. This nice acclamation dry wine, light cherry-pink in color with red fruits and flowers and a refreshing finish, complimented the salad. We progressed through the evening with multiple red wines, particularly enjoying Cuvee Anne-Georges 2009, composed of carignan, syrah and grenache, with the grapes hand-picked and sorted. This engaging wine with deep-cherry and violet tints and black currant and cherry aromas on the palate, had a long finish and achieved a gold medal in Macon in 2012. The host and hostess could not have been more engaging, and we shared an exceptional evening talking wine.

  Sarah Gavin and Chef La Grange Templiere.
Sunday, July 20, we departed for Roquefort, France, to visit an ancient cheese town that has been producing a unique blue cheese; its flavor is drawn from the soil of the local limestone caves. The cheese was excellent but I would not include this on any future visits since much of the production today does not occur in Roquefort.

Having spent more time than we anticipated travelling to Roquefort, we moved to La Grange Templiere Restaurant, Peyreleau, as we repositioned to reach Domaine des Costes Rouges to spend time with Claudine Vinas. The Templiere restaurant provided a unique lunch, not only for the location and ambiance but also for its history. The La Grange is a former Templar Grange Dimiere, built in the 12th century for the collection of tax as a property of the monks of Rozier. It was established to serve travelers and provide a relay point for mules. The Templars used this large stone barn to discreetly store food. Christine Roques and Chef Didier Cozzolino were gracious hosts, and we lingered much longer than we had planned.

Well-nurtured by a grand lunch, we travelled on to Marcillac-Vallon to join Claudine Vinas at her small winery, 14 acres on terraced, gradual slopes in the Gaillac region. Claudine and her husband Eric, a former Toulouse restaurateur, operate this winery and guesthouse with limited staff support. They take pride in doing all the vineyard work themselves.

  Claudine Vinas at Domaine Des Costes Rouges.
This organic winery grows 100 percent mansois grapes, which are hand-harvested off the terraces. Fermentation occurs belowground in cement tanks over the course of eight to 10 days. The wine then is racked and aged aboveground in cement tanks, with bottling in the late spring. The mansois grape also is known as fer, fer servadou and pinencis, a red wine grape variety grown primarily in southwest France most notable for its role in the Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC) wines of Gaillac, Marcillac and Bearn, with aromas of currants and red fruit.

We shared several wines with Claudine at Domaine des Costes Rouges, including Marcillac Tandem 2013, $16.99, and Clos de lo Ferriere Marcillac, $16.98, both available in the U.S. The Tandem had ruby-red color and fruit-forward aromas, along with cherry, blackberry and raspberry flavors with enough tannins to enhance aging. The Clos de lo Ferriere showcased a dark ruby-red color with purple hues as a young wine; the nose accents the blackberry fruits with sufficient tannins for aging with a pleasing fruit finish. Both wines shared with the winemaker were well crafted with low alcohol levels and were enhanced by the spirit and commitment of the winemaker.

Having completed a highly informative day traveling in southwest France, we pushed on to Onet-le-Chateau, Rodez, with dinner at the hotel Hostellerie de Fontange.

Day nine, July 21, 2014, found our wayfaring wine team traveling to Cestayrols, a small town in the Tarn district, to visit Chateau les Vignals. This was an excellent stop with lunch at the winery. Our host was Olivier Jean, the wine manager and engineer by training. This 172-acre vineyard estate is committed to organic farming with minimum mechanization in the vineyard. Its objective is to obtain wines that are respectful to biodiversity. The soil is clay and limestone and a diverse grape variety, including duras, braucol, syrah, mauzac, loin de l’oeil, merlot, sauvignon and cabernet sauvignon, is grown.

  YMYS wines from Georges Ortola at Chateau Notre Dame du Quatourze.
The light lunch showcased a variety of French cheeses and cold meats, which complemented the wines. Cuvee Innocent 2009 sparkling wine is 100 percent mauzac, a white grape with apple and pear aromas and flavors expressing a crisp, refreshing and well-crafted wine. We also had this as rose sparkler. Our next wines were Cuvee Tradition Gaillac AOC red 2011, 30 percent syrah, 30 percent braucol, 15 percent duras and 25 percent merlot. They produce 40,000 bottles of this wine a year. A bold, balanced and complex wine with berry aromas, full-bodied with black currant, raspberry and spice flavors.

A second wine was Cuvee Symphonie Gaillac AOC red 2012, braucol 60 percent, merlot 20 percent and cabernet sauvignon 20percent. Some 27,000 bottles a year are produced. Ruby-red, full-bodied with good red-fruit aromas, it exhibited licorice and vanilla flavors on a long finish. An exceptional visit in the French countryside, this small agricultural town is committed to hard work and quality wines.

Reluctantly, we departed Cestayrols for Saint Mont to visit the cooperative Plaimont Producteurs. Established in 1979, a group of 1,000 winegrowers produce 40 million bottles a year on 13,000 acres, united to establish Saint-Mont, Madiran, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and VIN de pays des Cotes de Gascogne. A well-designed facility with exceptional sanitation, the high-quality fermentation tanks and bottling are at the highest standards.

The Saint-Mont team graciously updated our travelling crew on winery operations in the shadow of the Pyrenees Mountains, culminating with a winetasting: a Cotes de Gascogne Colombelle L’Original, 80percent colombard, 10 percent ugni blanc and 10 percent sauvignon. Light straw color, brilliant, crisp, fresh, smoky minerality with hints of lemon fruit on the nose with grass and berry on the palate, this is a refreshing wine.

Our second wine was new addition, Le Hat-Trick, crafted to showcase three important grapes from the region: gros manseng, petit courbu and arrufiac. This is a delightful summer wine with aromas of peach, pear, grapefruit and apricot delivered in a well-balanced fresh mouthfeel with a crisp finish.

In addition to the Colombelle and Le Hat-Trick, we tasted a fresh, crisp white wine from the Gers area of Gascony. Complementing these white wines, we enjoyed a late harvest Pacherenc Du Vic-Bilh (AOC) Saint-Albert 2011, comprised of arrufiac, petit courbu, petit manseng and gros manseng, a very aromatic wine produced from raised overripe grapes handpicked from October to December each year. This exceptional wine made it back to North Georgia.

  A toast from Georges Ortola.
In addition to the white wines produced in this cooperative, we enjoyed a Maestria Madiran 2012. The Maestria de main de maître is a red wine, made by Producteurs Plaimont. Its origin is Madiran in southwest France. It is made from 70 percent tannat, 25 percent cabernet sauvignon and 5 percent cabernet franc. It has a deep-purple color, aromas of raisin and smoke and, on the palate, black currant, earth, spice and distinct tannins. It is a full-body wine with a long finish.

Having spent a highly informative visit at Saint Mont, our team relocated to Aydie to visit Chateau Aydie in Madiran, south and west of Saint Mont. We were fortunate to meet with Pierre Laplace, the head of operations and the son of owner Frederic Laplace.

The winery was established in 1927 and, today includes 143 acres in the Appellations Madiran and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh. It is worth noting a cousin of the Laplace family, Patrick Ducournau, also a winemaker, devoted considerable research to micro-oxygenation, a process used in winemaking to introduce oxygen into wine in a controlled manner.

We enjoyed three wines on our visit: Madiran Ode Aydie 2011, 100 percent tannat grape with an intense ruby-red hue, black fruit and coffee aromas, silky tannins, and nice complexity from the black ripe fruit; Chateau Aydie, another tannat wine harvested from 30-year-old vines, manually harvested, with a long fermentation aged in casks and oak barrels for 12 to 15 months and bottled after 20 months. This wine had a dark-red hue and, as before, the tannat wine projected black fruit and coffee aromas, well crafted with blackberry, black currant and wood on the palate. It was full-bodied with a long finish; the winemaker believes the wine will age for seven to 10 years. Our last wine was a special liqueur wine, Maydie 2011, made with 30-year-old tannat grapes. This wine had a dark, intense red color with aromas and flavors of black and red fruit, dried fruits, walnuts and toasted almonds. It makes a luscious liqueur with a long, fruit finish.

We departed Chateau Aydie for Hotel de Gramont in Pau and dinner next door in Le Bistrot D’A Cote with Claire and Camille Besson-Latrille from Chateau Jolys.

Note: See the full series of five articles of Wayne's tour as they are posted.


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