On the Scene at Vinisud 2010

Days 2 and 3 of Vinisud, the massive international exhibition of Mediterranean wines and spirits in Montpellier, France.

It’s been a busy two days here at Vinisud in Montpellier. After the success of day one, I was riding high on a great wine wave, giddily and excitedly meeting with numerous producers to uncover more hidden treasures that were yet to be discovered. I also felt a sincere yearning to meet with some fabulous producers whom I had met before, either on previous visits to the region or their ambassador trips to the states. Seeing as how I focused on Vin de Pays wines the first day, I decided to devote the remainder of my time to tackling the significant task of tasting only AOC wines. Sadly, I didn’t get to as many booths as I would have liked; happily, I enjoyed every tasting I had.

The story of Le Mas de L’Ecriture was one of my favorites of the show. At age 42, after 20 years of office life in the legal profession, Pascal Fullá decided it was time for a change. He had always wanted to make wine so, in 1999, he purchased vineyards in the Terrasses du Larzac area of Coteaux du Languedoc. Since then, Pascal has been carefully crafting beautiful wines of complexity, showing both strength and finesse. His motto of tranquility and patience completely translates into the wines through poise and depth. Each plot is harvested, vinified and aged separately, with the blending occurring at the very end of the process. All three wines in his range, L’Émotion, Les Pensées and L’Ecriture are fantastic examples of the true potential of the region and beautiful expressions of both the terroir and the vigneron himself. I’ll be searching out the L’Ecriture at home myself.

Liz and Joe O'Connell, Domaine O'VineyardsDomaine O’Vineyards also had a very interesting tale to tell. Though not all of their wines are AOC (in addition to AOC Cabardès, they produce some Vin de Pays d’Oc and Vin de Pays de Cité de Carcassonne), winemakers Joe & Liz O’Connell have made excellent strides through the use of social media by their son, Ryan O’Connell. Joe, originally from Massachusetts, and Liz, started making wine in 2005 after relocating to the area to chase their dreams. They originally settled in Cabardès because, at the time, it was the only AOC to allow the use of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Though they produce some Vin de Pays to accommodate their original palate preferences (like the Mediterranean Mojo with 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot and the Trah Lah Lah with 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon), they also produce an amazing Proprietor’s Reserve Cabardès which is all hand harvested and shows great richness, decadent black fruit, beautiful spice and excellent structure.

I stopped by to say hello to some friends, Stéphanie and Gontran Dondain at Château Cabezac. Based in Minervois, this estate hasStéphanie and Gontran Dondain, Château Cabezac been producing fantastic value wines for twelve years. Their concept of new world wines from the old world completely translates in their selections, with quality quaffs with a great sense of terroir offered at outrageously reasonable prices. The wines range from fresh and easy to drink to more serious, complex offerings found in top restaurants worldwide. With virtually everything coming out of this estate classified as a best buy and a wonderful sense of accommodation and hospitality, the estate and adjoining hotel (La Bastide Cabezac – labastidecabezac.com) are a must visit when touring the region, and a must buy when found in a local retailer.

Up and coming producer Virgile Joly was a new discovery for me. After starting in 2000 with 1 hectare and growing to about 100,000 bottles of total production and 15 hectares, the winemaker is finally ready to make himself known. All of the wines I tasted were fantastic; the 2008 Saturne Blanc, made of 100% Grenache blanc, was a truly outstanding Coteaux du Languedoc white with great minerality soft florals and wonderful balance in the mouth. Amazingly, the 2002 Virgile, comprised of one-third each of Grenache, Carignan, and Syrah, was still quite concentrated and firmly structured with typical notes of the garrigue along with beautiful dark red fruit, dusty tannins, peppery spice and a long finish. I love it when I come across great wines from the Languedoc that have some age and still show strength and integrity.

Christophe Laidebeure and Nicolas Laverny, Château des KarantesAfter the new discovery, I went back to another producer I was familiar with and wanted to meet with the winemaker about: Château des Karantes. I frequently get samples from the Château’s US importer for review in the magazine (visit buyingguide.winemag.com for previously printed reviews), but I wanted to check in on how the new vintages were looking. After previously reviewing the wines, I must admit I had some high expectations… and happily they did not disappoint. Samples are surely on their way shortly, but I can divulge that we can expect the same quality and value to come out of the estate with their new releases: the 2009 Blanc was fresh, aromatic, full but vibrant; the 2009 Rosé was refreshing and well-balanced with beautiful ripe red fruit and crisp acidity; the 2008 Chateau des Karantes La Clape Rouge was lush, robust and concentrated with an unbelievably creamy texture; and the 2006 Diamant was, well, amazing.

Lastly, I met with Françoise Antech-Gazeau of Antech in Limoux. As a producer of only Limoux sparkling wine (although they could Stéphanie and Gontran Dondain, Château Cabezacproduce still wines within the AOC Limoux), this sixth generation estate certainly knows what they’re doing. They produce all three types of Limoux sparkling wines: Blanquette de Limoux, Crémant de Limoux, and Blanquette Méthod Ancestrale. All of the wines were fantastic, with something produced to suit every sparkling lover’s palate. The scope of products is impressive, with a tart, fresh green apple laden Brut Nature to a fuller-bodied, more red apple with soft floral notes Grande Cuvée Brut Crémant all the way to a fantastic aperitif or dessert selection, the low alcohol (6.5%) sweeter but well balanced by fantastic acidity and crisp tropical citrus Blanquette Méthod Ancestrale. In between were also two rosé Crémants, whose addition of a small percentage of Pinot Noir (4% in one and 10% in another) completely changed the flavor profiles (in addition to producing a brilliant light pink color) with the addition of fresh wild strawberries and soft fruit sweetness on the nose and palate. Imported by Baron François, the wines should be easy to find, and well worth the search.

Sadly, Vinisud is over. It was a fantastic show with great results for exhibitors and attendees alike. I wish I had time to meet everyone there, but I’ll just have to reserve some producers for next time. And alas, my adventures will continue… in the tasting room upon my return. Until then!

Read about Day 1 of Vinisud.

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