Sénat 2004 Minervois “Le Bois des Merveilles” (Languedoc) – Grenache and mourvèdre. While this shows the darkest possible fruit, there’s a sweetness and purity to it. Leather, earth, black-‘n’-blueberry, cèpes…all concentrated and very, very long. Terrific balance. Marvelous. Or rather, merveilleux. (10/06)
Sénat 1996 Minervois “Le Bois des Merveilles” (Languedoc) – Despite the name, compositionally similar to “La Nine.” Very spicy, with black earth, seared chanterelles and morels, and black truffles. The ‘shrooms dominate, but there’s also a core of wild blueberry and wild thyme. Delicious, and while it’s not fully mature, it could very well be approaching its best. (10/06)
Magnon 2005 Vin de Pays de la Vallée du Paradis “le bégou” (Languedoc) – Old-vine grenache gris. Apricot, grapefruit, and soda-spice on the finish. Fun, clean, and long, though there’s a bit of exotic complexity to the finish. (10/06)
Sénat 2005 Minervois “La Nine” (Languedoc) – Grenache, carignan, and mourvèdre. Raspberry bubblegum with a large-boned structure and a thick waist. Raw leather, blackberry, and blueberry infused with herbs rush through the palate, and there’s a good deal of earthiness underneath that occasionally hints towards a tar-like quality. Impressively long. There are little nits at which to pick here, but it’s a good wine. (10/06)
Sénat 2003 Vin de Pays des Côteaux de Peyriac “Les Arpettes” (Languedoc) – Merlot, grenache, and carignan. Mixed seed peppers smoothed by gentle applications of blueberry and black cherry. Fades on the finish, and not particularly complex. (10/06)
“The man in black.” That’s my scribbled-down description of the winemaker we’ve come to visit, and it fits; he is, in fact, dressed head-to-toe in the color of night. Dark clothing, to befit a dark wine.
Minervois is a known name, thanks to a lot of hard work on the part of a relatively small number of dedicated producers, importers, and retailers, but it’s most definitely not a well-known name, and the search for greater affirmation is a long, uphill struggle against the forces of multinational marketing. It doesn’t help that a lot of the wines that carry the name never really rise above mediocrity…though given the lack of acclaim and monetary reward that follows those that do, the desire to put in the necessary work has to come from somewhere other than the hope of remuneration.
The vignoble of Minervois is visually and functionally hardscrabble, and that probably doesn’t help in the elevation of spirits. Staring at a field of rocks from which gnarled vines struggle to emerge and plump up a few angry grapes isn’t like gazing over the verdant plains and hillsides of certain other regions, nor are many vines neatly trained into efficiently-pickable rows. One can see the work that will be necessary, and the heartbreak that sprouts from the earth, and the indifference that droops from the leaves, in every beaten-down vine. And yet the region is absolutely carpeted with vineyards. That’s a lot of despair to crush, press, and ferment. But it’s a way of life, and that’s not easily abandoned.
Thankfully, there are a few producers who put in the necessary work, and their truculent, embittered vines have decided reward the attention with a grudging but admirable harvest of quality. Jean-Baptiste Sénat is one such producer.
Clavel 1999 Coteaux du Languedoc Terroir de la Mejanelle “Les Garrigues” (Languedoc) – Fully mature, I’d say, even though there’s some scratchy tannin lingering. The “fruit” (mostly gravel-baked herbs, pork, a bit of earth) has softened, leaving an espresso-ground texture behind, and the wine’s starting to lighten and fade on the finish. (10/08)
Laboucarié “Domaine de Fontsainte” 2005 Corbières (Languedoc) – Incredibly appealing. Many Corbières are not, having this or that flaw, or a general indifference as their primary characteristic. This one is immediately drinkable, with a fine acidity enveloping tart red berries, gravelly soil with dry, arid aspects, and a cooling, brittle structure. It will probably age for a bit, but why wait? (10/08)
Villerambert-Julien 2007 Minervois Rosé (Languedoc) – Sharp, then soft, then anonymous. OK…strawberry, leaves, cranberry, some sun-dried soil, some tomato…but mostly a chug-and-forget rosé. Very, very dry, and perhaps not entirely to its benefit. This has been significantly better in other vintages. (10/08)
Boutin “Château La Roque” 2004 Pic Saint Loup “Cupa Numismae” (Languedoc) – A furrowed brow of a wine, meaty and muscular, with some smarts and a careful attention to reserve. Well-structured and full of promise. Drinking now requires charcoal-transformed flesh. The finish could be a bit longer, though, so monitor its progress with some care. (10/08)