Refreshing Small-Batch Languedoc Blanc

Today’s Story: Domaine Saint Sylvestre

Domaine Saint Sylvestre was established at the end of 2010 by husband and wife duo Vincent and Sophie Guizard. Located in the small commune of Puéchabon within the Terrasses du Larzac appellation of the Languedoc region in France, the domaine consists of roughly 8 hectares of vines planted to Roussanne, Marsanne, Chardonnay, Viognier, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre. They produce two white wines, denoted Blanc and Le Coup de Calcaire Blanc, as well as one red, denoted Rouge. At young ages, both Vincent and Sophie joined their respective grandfathers in family vineyards and learned how to grow wine grapes. Vincent ultimately went on to learn how to produce Languedoc wines from Olivier Jullien at Mas Jullien between 1998 and 2000 before venturing on his own to clear hillsides of rolled pebbles and oak trees to plant his own vineyards. Between 2003 and 2010, Vincent worked at Domaine de Montcalmès in an effort to raise their status to become one of the top producers in Puéchabon, with the domaine using fruit from his parcels Fon de la Coste, Red Défriche, and White Défriche. These three parcels laid the foundation of Domaine Saint Sylvestre and are the source of their fruit today.

Vincent and Sophie are both highly involved in their vineyards, said to consider each vine an individual person that demands the same attention in each parcel. All vineyard work (including pruning, trellising, and de-budding) is accomplished by hand and green harvesting limits yields to a low 20 hl/ha. The vineyards are completely tilled and the only treatments used are with copper and sulphur. When it comes time to harvest their fruit, Vincent and Sophie pick by hand controlling for varietal and parcel with some picking being more selective to include only the highest quality grapes on a vine when necessary. The fruit is destemmed at the winery and crushed by variety and parcel before being fermented using only natural yeasts. The two white wines are aged in Burgundian oak for 12 months, while the red is aged in Burgundian oak for 24 months.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Domaine Saint Sylvestre Blanc

45% Roussanne, 45% Marsanne, 10% Viognier; 14% ABV

The 2016 Blanc is transparent medium gold in color with water-white variation near the rim. On the nose, this showcases aromas of lemon, apricot, stone fruit, beeswax, chamomile tea, limestone, tropical minerality, light vanilla, and brioche toast. Once on the palate, the wine displays notes of lemon and lime zest, dried orange peel, quince, mango, honeysuckle, white florals, wax, and bright spicy minerality. This wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity and a long, dry finish. 150 cases produced.

Price: $45 (though closer to $26 if you can find this in France). This is a delicious and well-made Languedoc Blanc and will be, I presume, unfortunately hard to find. The domaine’s low yields were lowered further thanks to weather with this vintage, but the quality is all there. Pair this with herb-roasted chicken, vegetable stir fry with Asian spices, or prawns.

For the Bold and the Daring

Today’s Story: Domaine Leon Barral

Domaine Leon Barral was founded in 1993 in the Faugères appellation, which lies within the heart of Languedoc-Roussillon (the Languedoc). Didier Barral, the proprietor today, is the 13th generation of his family to grow grapes though he is the first to start estate bottling his own wine under the domaine. From the domaine’s beginning, Didier devoted his 30 hectares of vineyards to biodynamic farming practices and is seen by many as a pioneer and visionary. For instance, one of the very unique aspects of Didier’s farming is his use of cows, horses, and pigs that roam the vineyards during the winter months to graze on cover crop while naturally fertilizing the soil. These animal helpers bring with them mushrooms, earthworms, ants, flies, toads, larks, and other lifeforms that all help aerate and add nutrients to the soil. For pictures of some of these helpers, check out the domaine’s website here.

If you couldn’t tell by now from what is written above, Didier is a naturalist winemaker. While it certainly starts with his biodynamic farmings practices, Didier utilizes very stringent practices in harvesting and in the cellar. During harvest, all grapes are harvested and sorted by hand and are sometimes destemmed and other times left whole cluster (depending on variety). The wine is vinified by gravity in large cement tanks, it is fermented with only natural yeasts, and maceration takes place for 3-4 weeks with manual punchdowns. Didier’s wines are also never racked, fined, or filtered and only a small dose of SO2 is added if necessary at bottling.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Faugères Valinière

80% Mourvèdre, 20% Syrah; 14.5% ABV

The Valinière is Barral’s smallest production cuvée, coming from 4.3 hectares of vines 15-30 years old. Like all of his vineyard land, these vines are planted in schist. The 2011 is deep, opaque ruby in color with garnet rim variation. There is sediment in the glass thanks to this being unfined and unfiltered (and possibly due to age). Once this opens up, the intense nose showcases aromas of blueberry, plum, black licorice, violet, nail polish remover, smoke, leather, damp soil, and a hint of barnyard. In the mouth, the wine shows notes of ripe black cherry, blueberry, red licorice, game, black pepper spice, wet rocky soil, and vibrant minerality. The 2011 Valinière is full-bodied with high acidity, dusty medium tannins, and a very long finish.

Price: $79. This wine is NOT for everybody. It is not for those who like big jammy, fruit-forward wines; it is not for those who like elegant, easy to drink wines. This being said, I was greatly impressed and enjoyed this wine (though my palate can become quite tired of the people-pleasers or the wines you can find anywhere). This is one of the greatest representations of “place” I have had to date (remember the farm animals). Pair this with grilled game meats or a dry-aged steak.