The Languedoc, according Charles Hardcastle of Joseph Barnes Wines, is a rustic, peasanty land with an ancient and bloody history – a land of impenetrable dialects, heresy and repression.
The strange, earthy character of the region is also reflected in the wines, which tend towards an expressively rustic, spicy charm.
Add to this Charles’ natural showmanship and charisma, a touch of biodynamic mysticism, some meteors and space dust and it was a highly entertaining evening at the Cambridge Food and Wine Society.
The Languedoc was historically the source of Europe’s wine lake – gallons of cheap, unpleasant plonk dumped on the market. But quality has been improving for as long as I can remember and it is now a source characterful, well-made rough-and-tumble wines that can be rather serious indeed.
Chateau Le Roc Fronton, NV Â£30 magnum
This natural wine is in simple terms a pink fizz; more precisely, it is a petillant blend of Negrette and Mauzac made by a single fermentation in bottle according the euphemistically-named Methode Rurale, with no added sulphur and fined only by racking.
A cloudy pink in the glass, there are pear drops and red berries on the nose. The palate shows good acidity and primary fruit aromas of apple and galia melon. Good depth of flavour, but not especially complex and just 9% alcohol.
A very popular seller at Charles’ shop, it was well-received on the evening.
Domaine des Foulards Rouges, La Soif du Mal Blanc 2011, Â£14
This white blend is a mix of Grenache Blanc, Muscat and Macabeu; a pale yellow in the glass, there are Muscaty aromas of honeysuckled and blossom on the nose.
The palate shows a good leesy depth, with sweet acacia blossom, rounded, lemon-and-lime acidity, more Muscaty florality and a mineral edge.
Suggested food matches were sea bass with fennel or chili and ginger.
Domaine de l’Hortus, Bergerie de l’Hortus Blanc 2011, Â£12.95
This white is a blend of Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Roussane.
The nose shows pear and orchard fruit, spice, stone fruit, lemon and pineapple and a leesiness. Long on the palate, there is more orchard and tropical fruits, a soft peachy texture, good leesy depth and a persistent finish.
Chateaux Ollieux Romanis, Corbieres Rose 2011, Â£9.25
Mainly Carignan, but with some Syrah and Grenache, and a pale salmon pink colour, this is made by carbonic maceration which gives something of a bubblegum aroma.
With a savoury, spicy nose, there is watermelon on the palate, prominent rounded acidity, a touch of mint and pepper, minerality and a toasty-yeastiness with a good, leesy finish.
Domaine du Meteore, Faugeres, Les Leonides, 2008, Â£9.20
A GSM + Carignan blend, this has a rustic charm, with an earthy, funky nose of barnyardy wet hay, plus some spice, coffee and a mix of red, black and sour cherries.
On the palate, there is sour cherry fruit, garrigue herbs and tarriness.
The finish is savoury and this would match well with robust meat dishes.
The name of the domaine is a reference to a crater in the vineyard caused by a meteorite, so there may just be traces of cosmic space dust in the wine.
Ch Ollieux Romanis, Alicante-Bouschet, VdP Aude, 2011, Â£15.99
This is made from 100 year-old vines from the obscure Alicante-Bouschet grape – the last 2 hectares in France, apparently.
In the glass, it is dark and impenetrably inky – which apparently made it popular in prohibition-era America as it could be significantly watered down and still retain some colour.
With dark berry fruit and mocha on the nose, the palate shows elderberry fruit, peppy spice and mintiness.
It is concentrated and long, with a custardy texture and a lively, juicy acidity.
The finish is grippy, savoury and meaty and it would match well with spicy meat dishes such as tagine.
Chateau de Jau, Banyuls Rimage, Les Clos de Paulilles, 2008, Â£11.99 (50cl)
The final wine of the night was a Banyuls – Languedoc’s answer to tawny port.
Made from 100% Grenache, but naturally sweet due to fortification up to 16.5% alcohol with grape spirit, it had aromas of raisins and garrigue herbs and a sweetness cut through with good acidity.
Utterly delicious on its own, it was a perfect match with good quality dark, bitter chocolate, and proved very popular on the evening.
If you are looking for a reason to visit an independent wine merchant, Joseph Barnes Wines is it; characterful, rounded and quirky – and that’s just Charles Hardcastle.
What struck me was the quality of all the wines – mostly organic, often biodynamic and / or natural, they feel incredibly well-made, both technically and stylistically.
They are also unashamedly crowd-pleasing with lots of personality.
Given all this, it’s hard to pick a best overall wine of the evening but the Domaine du Meteore was especially notable for being both excellent and under a tenner.
Cambridge Food and Wine Society – http://www.cambridgefoodandwinesociety.org.uk/
Joseph Barnes Wines – http://josephbarnes.webdev.perceptive-office.com/home.aspx
Copyright Tom Lewis 2012