Dwayne Perreault - Possibly the best known of the 10 Grand Crus of the Languedoc, La Clape nonetheless remained a recent discovery for me--but what a discovery! At a recent tasting held by Winefield’s Auctioneers where such luminaries as Château Giscours 1975 and Château Palmer 1970 stood on the table, I found myself coming back repeatedly to taste the La Clape “La Falaise” 1998 from Château de la Negly.
Considered by many to be the red-headed stepchild of France, the Languedoc does not get its fair share of respect. But a simple google search will show you that Château de la Negly is an exception. I happened to be in the region, and decided to pay them a visit. I was greeted by the young Dylan Tabaret, who for the past eight months has been working for the Château as an apprentice.
I tasted a total of 11 wines by Negly, but it is important to note that only four of them are called La Clape, and this does not necessarily mean that they are the best wines. La Clape is a mountain just south of Narbonne and the legal requirements state that the whites must contain at least 40% Bourbolenc, while the reds must be an assemblage made principally from Grenache, Mourvèdre or Syrah. Other permitted grapes for the whites include Grenache blanc, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Rolle and Picpoul, and for the reds, Carignan and Cinsault. Any wines made from any other proportion of grapes fail to meet these regulations, but the result is deceiving. In fact, Negly’s top wines fall under the generic Côteaux du Languedoc appellation.
The question might be asked: does La Clape give Château de la Negly name recognition, or is it the other way around? I don’t know. But as it turns out, Robert Parker had visited the Château just one week earlier. And I couldn’t help but ask Dylan, how did he find the wines? He was a bit coy. “Do you really want to know?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Then I will tell you. Parker sniffs the wine, then he walks outside, about twenty meters, and speaks into his dictafone under his jacket so nobody can hear. Then he comes back, stone-faced, and says nothing.
“It goes further,” says Dylan. “Later that evening, we had a dinner together, just a convivial gathering of friends around the table. We were drinking Rivesaltes from 1926. But even then, Parker spoke into his dictafone under his jacket so we could not hear his impressions. I found it rather strange.”
I mention this not to poke fun at Parker but to underscore just how much of an institution he is. In a world where everyone waits for his latest judgements, secrecy is an absolute must. So while the world waits for the latest Parker points to appear, I wish to release my own “pre-Parker” judgement of Château de la Negly’s wines… only there is one problem. I am of the Hugh Johnson school of wine criticism, so I refuse to give a wine a number. But here are my impressions:
La Clape, L’Écume 2010 (made from pressurage direct) and La Clape, Les Embruns 2010 (saignée made from Cinsault and Mourvèdre) are weak rosés, thin and even watery in texture and lacking acidity. Costing only €4.80 and €7.50, you could still drink a lot better wine for the money.
La Clape, La Brise Marine 2009 is a beautiful white wine made from Bourbolenc, Marsanne and Roussanne. With a bouquet of apricots and white blossom, and as its name suggests, you can practically taste the sea breeze, all for €8.
Moving to the reds, the Coteaux du Languedoc, La Côte 2008 was a bit disappointing. 70% Carignan, and I am a lover of this grape , but I know how difficult it can be. At €7.80, it is rather one-dimensional and lacks depth.
La Clape, La Falaise 2008, €15. As I said before, the hallmark of this wine is its sweet dark fruit and concentrated minerality. Made from 55% Syrah and 45% Grenache, it is well-rounded, persistent and very expressive. Aged one year in barriques, 25% new wood. I can’t imagine anyone not liking this wine.
And now for the toppers, all tasted from the vat, as bottling was scheduled to take place the following week. The Coteaux du Languedoc, L’Ancely 2009 is 100% Mourvèdre, with extremely rich, potent dark fruit. A beautiful wine at €53 per bottle.
The Coteaux du Languedoc, La Porte du Ciel 2009 is 100% Syrah with two years oak ageing. Possessing a bouquet of tobacco, cassis and black cherry, it has a buttery texture with very fine tannins and piquante notes of chocolate and spice. €82
And finally, the Coteaux du Languedoc, Clos des Truffiers 2008 is also 100% Syrah, harvested from a lot that, as its name suggests, formerly contained truffles. There is an explosion of dark fruit and… truffles! I swear, an oily texture and taste is to be discerned behind the Grand Cru price of €91, which most people would agree is a little offsetting. But as Dylan confided, a Swiss gentleman had arrived earlier in the day, had liked what he tasted, and ordered 600 bottles.