Languedoc-Themed Euro Lunch

LANGUEDOC-THEMED EURO LUNCH – Donato Enoteca, Redwood City, California (5/15/2011)

Our monthly Sunday Euro lunches at Donato Enoteca continue to be a delightful, delicious, relaxing respite in what can otherwise be a hectic month. Over a leisurely three to four hour meal, with wonderful courses from our chef, Pedro Ayala, who has yet to repeat himself, 10 of us sample a dozen or more wines of a particular region or other theme. This month, on our several month tour of the regions of France, we focused on the Languedoc.

I’ve made a few visits to the Languedoc in person over the last several years, in part because I have some dear British friends who have a place down there. They’ve introduced me to a number of the better producers, especially in the innovative Montpeyroux AOC, near the village close to the Hérault River where my friends have remodeled a wonderful old farmhouse. I’ve been very impressed with the diversity of Languedoc wines–from sparkling, to dry whites and roses, to powerful and ageworthy reds and lots of interesting and historically significant sweet wines. So this lunch was devoted to sampling some of that diversity from a huge region whose vineyard area is three times the size of Bordeaux.

We started with a sparkling wine, a Crémant de Limoux, and proceeded to a flight of dry whites, including two Picpoul-de-Pinets. A flight of verticals of L’Oustal Blanc and Mas de Daumas Gassac followed. The L’Oustal Blancs were very good, and the ’90 Daumas Gassac was terrific. We continued with a flight of younger reds, the best of which was the ’05 La Pèira En Damaisèla — quite a wonderful wine. We concluded with two peculiarly Languedocian sweet wines: a Rivesaltes and a Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois Vin Doux Naturel. For more details on each flight, see below.

Chef Pedro Ayala

Sparkling starter

roasted tomato stuffed with noma scallops, Monterey Bay calamari, prawns and capers, with fava bean and tomato reduction sauces

This was a good start. It’s yeasty and a very good value at $12-13.

  • N.V. J. Laurens Crémant de Limoux Brut – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Crémant de Limoux
    Light straw yellow color; yeast, wheat, straw, tart lemon nose; oily textured, tart lemon, straw, chalk, mineral palate; medium finish (great value; would be ideal pairing with bean dishes, especially white beans; 60% Chardonnay, 30% Chenin Blanc, 5% Mauzac, 5% Pinot) (89 pts.)

White Flight

Prawn with lemon butter sauce, Piemontese hazelnuts and farm peas

How often does one get to try a duo of Picpouls? Picpoul-de-Pinet is one of the few French AOCs that includes the name of the varietal. The varietal is Picpoul Blanc. It’s high acid and lemony, and has a long history in the Languedoc. It goes beautifully with oysters and seafood, much like Muscadet. The Château Petit Roubié was the better of the two, and sells for only $11 to $13. Our other dry white, from Les Clos Perdus was particularly impressive. Paul Old and Hugo Stewart run this winery, whose name translates as “lost vineyards.” They look for hillside parcels of old vines. The L’Extreme Blanc bottling is from 100 year old vines of Grenache Gris, with some Grenache Blanc mixed in. The wine is fermented and raised in large oak foudres; malolactic is avoided. K&L has it for about $30.

Mas de Daumas Gassac and L’Oustal Blanc Verticals

Pan-seared Sonoma quail breasts with viane di Espana puree, guanciale, rosemary and balsamic vinegar

When we heard quail was next, we changed plans, figuring our older reds would pair better with delicate quail and that we should save the younger reds for the steak. But we’d already started pouring the L’Oustal Blanc, so we went with those and the Mas de Daumas Gassacs.

Claude and Isabel Fonquerle started Domaine L’Oustal Blanc with Chateauneuf du Pape enologist Philippe Cambie in 2002. The aim is for purity of fruit and minerality. The L’Oustal Blanc blend is dominated by old vine Cinsault, with 20% Carignan and 20% more that’s a blend of Syrah and Grenache. The Cinsault is fermented and raised in cement vats, to keep it fresh and fruity, while the other varieties spend a year in barrel before the blend is assembled and the wine then spends another three months in vat. These are delicious and very well priced wines.

I’ve written here before about Mas de Daumas Gassac, including about a tasting at Terroir with Samuel Guibert, the son of the founder and owner of Daumas Gassac, here. In the early ’80s, they were the producer that caused the wine world to focus, for the first time, on the Languedoc as a potential source of top quality wines, with wine writers calling the domaine the “Lafite” and “Latour” of the Languedoc. The reds tend to be very ageworthy wines, and our 1990 was a good example of mature Daumas Gassac. It reminds me a little of Bordeaux, and Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape, but it also had an herbal and meaty quality all its own. Very elegant though. Our ’89 had a low fill and was a little oxidized. The ’98 was a little bretty, but still quite tasty.

  • 2004 L’Oustal Blanc (Isabel et Claude Fonquerle) Minervois Naïck 4 – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Minervois
    Very dark red violet color; tart berry, vanilla, blackberry, black fruit nose; silky textured, tar, charcoal, tart black fruit, tart blackberry, green herbs, bay leaf, clove palate; long finish (very impressive, and terrific value) (93 pts.)
  • 2005 L’Oustal Blanc (Isabel et Claude Fonquerle) Minervois Naïck 5 – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Minervois
    Dark purple red violet color; black fruit, tar nose; focused concentrated, tart black fruit, plum, tar, spice, tart blackberry palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 1989 Mas de Daumas Gassac Vin de Pays de l’Hérault – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault
    Bricking dark red violet color; mature, earthy, roasted plum, beef jus nose; a little oxidized, mature, velvet textured, beef jus, meaty, tart plum palate; long finish (this had a significantly lower fill than our 1990 from the same cellar, and a cork that indicated there might have been some leakage) (89 pts.)
  • 1990 Mas de Daumas Gassac Vin de Pays de l’Hérault – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault
    Bricking dark red violet color; lovely, meaty, meat loaf, bay leaf, herbs nose; tasty, velvet textured, tart plum, herbs, bay leaf, beef palate with subtlety and elegance; long finish 94+ points (94 pts.)
  • 1998 Mas de Daumas Gassac Vin de Pays de l’Hérault – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault
    Bricking dark red violet color; brett, smoke, roasted meat nose; silky textured, tart black fruit, brett, smoke, herbs palate; long finish 92+ points (92 pts.)

Assorted Younger Red Flight

Filet mignon wrapped in prosciuto and pan seared with purple, yellow and orange carrots and turnips

Our last flight of reds featured a Grange des Pères, a Merlot from Alain Chabanon, and an outstanding La Pèira.

I’ve previously written here about Domaine de la Grange des Pères, including a post about a six-vintage vertical of their wines here. The red wine is made from about 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and roughly equal parts of Mourvedre and Syrah. Sometimes a little Counoise is added in too. Our 2002 was drinking quite well, and should go up to 10 more years. Alain Chabanon is a winemaker in Montpeyroux that I’ve gotten to know through my British friends. This Merlot that he makes is full of black fruit and minerality. La Pèira en Damaisela was started in 2004, and is located halfway between Grange des Pères and Daumas Gassac, at the foot of the Larzac plateau. The owner is London based composer Robert Dugan, and the winemaker is Jérémie Depierre, who previously worked at Château Margaux and Château Guiraud. Their 11.6 hectares of vineyards are planted to Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Viognier, Roussanne, Cinsault and Carignan. Our 2005 was made mainly from Syrah with some Grenache. It was rich, concentrated and delicious, with a long finish. It’s one of the more pricey wines from the Languedoc, with current vintages selling for about $125. It was a treat to try this one with a little age on it. We also had Chapoutier’s Domaine de Bila-Haut V.I.T., which is made from grapes from 70-year-old Grenache vines and Syrah grown on clay soils. It seemed awfully young in comparison to our other wines, and a little bretty too.

  • 2002 Domaine de la Grange des Pères Vin de Pays de l’Hérault – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault
    Bricking dark red violet color with pale meniscus; nice herb infused, rosemary, tart plum nose with brett; tasty, silky textured, tart plum, tart black fruit, brett, iron palate; drinking well now and likely to go for 8 to 10 years; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 2003 Domaine Alain Chabanon Le Petit Merle aux Alouettes – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Vin de Pays d’Oc
    Very dark red violet color with 2 millimeter clear meniscus; maturing, tart plum, tart black fruit, tar, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2004 Mas des Dames Coteaux du Languedoc – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Coteaux du Languedoc
    Bricking dark red violet color with pale meniscus; fig, black fruit, prune, tar nose; tart black fruit, prune, fig, tar, charcoal palate; medium finish (88 pts.)
  • 2005 La Pèira Coteaux du Languedoc En Damaisèla – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Coteaux du Languedoc
    Opaque red violet color; blackberry, lavender, berry, oak nose; youthful, rich, concentrated, berry, blackberry, lavender palate; delicious now and should go for 10 years or more; long finish (94 pts.)
  • 2007 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour Dom de Bila-Haut V.I.T Visitare Interiore Terrae – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour
    Very dark red violet color; brett, roasted meat, tart black fruit nose; brett, tart black fruit, roasted meat, smoke palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)

Sweet Flight

chocolate mousse

We finished with two sweet wines, both examples of long traditions of sweet wine making in Roussillon and Saint Jean de Minervois. The process by which these vins doux naturel are made, with spirit added mid-way through fermentation, before all the grape sugar has been turned into alcohol, is called “mutage.” This method is supposed to have been invented in the thirteenth century by a doctor at Languedoc’s Montpellier University, Arnaud de Villeneuve, who was given a patent by the King of Majorca in 1299. By stabilizing young wines in this way, long before glass bottles had been perfected, the wines could withstand long journeys via ship to foreign markets.

I first tried a Rivesaltes on my first visit to the Languedoc several years ago, and am quite fond of these wines, particularly when they have a lot of bottle age on them. They can be made from Grenache Blanc, Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris, Maccabéo or Torbato, as well as from Muscat of Alexandria or Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains. They vary in color depending on the varietal(s) used, and the amount of skin contact. A vin doux can be called “ambré” if it has been aged and oxidized for at least two years outdoors, usually unstoppered in a large glass container called a bonbonne.

Our 1999 ambré was quite tasty, with silky texture and smokiness. I preferred it to the younger, simpler vin doux from Saint Jean, which is a small area in the extreme north-east of the Minervois. The Saint Jean vin doux was made from Muscat a Petits Grains, the finest type of Muscat, which is all that’s allowed in this appellation.

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