These young Vermentino vines at Mas Gabriel enjoy a home built solution to weeding and lunching rabbits, hares and the like. Hundreds of metal bars have been bent into a hoop and supported by a central bar attached to the trellis. The blue net is a common solution to deterring the hungry while the metal enables the use of an intercep for weed control - a special plough that uproots weeds growing between the vines. An intercep happily bounces off and around a grown stump, but these vines are barely thicker than pencils.
While this construction requires considerable work, the prospect of weeding young vines by hand is equally daunting.
Growing at the base of the vine on the right is perslane (pourpier in French) - one of the finest wild salads there is. Being biodynamic perslane it was manually weeded for lunch.
Outsiders are a group of some of Languedoc-Roussillon's best and most creative producers who have relocated to the region. The tasting last November in London was a wine highlight of the year. A few members were at the London International Wine Fair to support their importers and wrapped up one of the long days with a get together, along with their founder Louise Hurren, to say a few words, chat and share a few bottles.
This was a chance to drink rather than taste. The newest Outsiders member is Domaine Sainte Rose - with the exception of La Grange de Quatre Sous the one I've known the longest, starting with Charles and Ruth Simpson's first harvest back in 2002. Les Derniers Cépages 2009 is from late ripening Mourvèdre and Petit Verdot and has heaps of velvety ripe black fruit with just the necessary tannic grip. La Garrigue is a classic Languedoc blend - Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, and a favourite red. I have bottles going back to 2002 but the 2007 has refined elegance with a wonderful fresh finish. Domaine Sainte Rose is north of the axis between Pezenas and Béziers in the Côtes du Thongue. This is also one of the region's most suitable white wine areas - their whites are just as good. Easily the best value Languedoc available, and as it happens widely available, in the UK and elsewhere.
Domaine Jones can only be described as a micro domaine at barely over 3 hectares in some of the wildest terrain imaginable. The product is simple, a Grenache rouge and a Grenache Gris blanc. The Jones Blanc 2009 was the most enjoyable wine I'd tasted all day. Since last November it seems to have relaxed a bit while retaining its extraordinary mineral structure and discreet savoury interest. Do read Katie's blog.
I rarely come across wines from La Clape, a rugged coastal ridge near Narbonne. Along with Banyuls, it's the only Languedoc-Roussillon red wine area near the cooling sea. The reds have an almost haunting perfume about them - lavender is the best association I've read. I need to get used to their character and the Château d'Anglès Rouge (2009 I recall, mainly Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre) is something I appreciate the more I try it. It combines softness with structure perfectly.
At the London International Wine Fair Sud de France were showing their prestige selection of 42 Languedoc-Roussillon wines that are available in the UK. A varied panel of 11 influential names from the UK wine scene made the selection by blind tasting 200 wines presumably submitted by participating distributors. Now 200 different wines sounds and is a lot, but for a start this is a region with over 20 recognised areas plus near infinite Vin de Pays tucked in and between. Multiply this by factors such as red, white, sweet, rosé, aromatic, mineral, oaked, full bodied, fresh, mature - let alone grape varieties - and you get the picture.
The 158 wines that didn't make the selection aren't disclosed but knowing the lists of some of the importers all could equally have made the selection. Either by chance or some judging fine tuning, the 42 do project a diverse but balanced range of styles and a good spread on the map.
I came across the stand late and wished I'd discovered it earlier, so didn't taste them all. Still, my personal highlights and observations were: -
Plenty of boutique growers were represented alongside some of the big name producer/negociants.
Four terrific Rivesaltes Ambrés - natural sweet wines usually from Grenache Blanc and/or Macabeu from around Perpignan. Totally underrated wines that are clearly easier to find in UK than much of the Languedoc. Good move to show four to make a point. Surprisingly there was no sweet muscat in the line up.
Nice to find a couple of cool Orb valley (Bedarieux) masterpieces from Domaine de Clovallon, including the Les Pomarèdes 2008 Pinot Noir.
Virgile Blanc 2005, Domaine Virgile Joly I'd tasted at Dudley & de Fleury Wines and again showed how brilliantly complex a Languedoc white can be.
The fresh and vibrant white Mas Bruguière Les Mûriers 2010 has scored twice by also showing at the overlapping London Natural Wine Fair
I was disappointed with Château de la Negly "La Falaise" 2008, a wine I'd enjoyed in the past but this was too much of an inky blockbuster. Maybe the wine has changed, but more likely my taste has moved on.
Others I'd put in this category include a 100% Syrah (not sure the excellent spiral bound booklet is accurate on this) 2007 Domus Maximus, Massamier la Mignarde from reputed Minervois la Livinière. Hot, heady and spicy - perhaps aimed at those prepared to lay it down.
A thoroughly professionally presented line-up that seems to have been kept a bit of a secret. Fingers crossed I'll get another chance and taste a few more of them.