First Stop - Languedoc

by Chuck Hayward

By David Derby, Wine Buyer

Jeffrey is a regular visitor to the region and had obviously stayed at this hotel many times already judging by the warm greeting bestowed upon him by the staff and proprietor alike. Actually, warm would be an understatement as their laughter filled the lobby while they joked and quickly caught up since his last stay. It was just about now that Jeffrey’s flair began to emerge as he casually chatted with the chef who had come out to to give his regards.

He ordered some fresh vegetables and a cheese plate and picked a 2006 Domaine Mourgues de Gres Terre d' Argence to accompany. It's a blend of 80% Viognier and 20% Roussane and has a green / yellow color. Deeply scented with the 20% Roussane pushing forward with a honeyed, fresh corn aroma. Well concentrated and medium bodied, the wine was well balanced and pleasantly lively and refreshing, perfect for our lunch.

Now that we had our thirst quenched, bellies full, with the sun in the sky and a full tank of gas: HIT THE ROAD! I have to take a moment here to give praise to Jeffrey. To see Jeffrey in action is truly something to behold, for before we had finished lunch, I came to realize I was in the presence of a modern renaissance man. And lucky I filled out all the paper work for my last will and testament, as Jeffrey knows the roads like the back of his hand, with the problem being that he drives with only one hand as he points out sights to see along the way. He also tends to drive, how shall I put this, like a local.

On the way to our first stop in Languedoc, we had a running commentary on the geography and history of the region, which are linked together to form the culture we experience today. Interesting fact: many towns throughout the area we now know as France end in ‘ac’, which in the ancient Roman tongue meant the location of a well or spring.

Our first appointment was at Mas de la Barben. A ‘Mas’ is a farm house. Not as formal as a Chateau, or as business-like as a Domaine. The focus here is on farming and caring for the vine. These are people who live and work side by side with the vine to produce a wine that expresses both the terrior (soil & place) and an emotional pleasure. We walked out into the afternoon sun and strolled among the vines, a mix of Syrah, Grenache and some Cinsault that grow in this section of the property. It is sunny and dry with a steady wind blowing (known as the Mistral) that allows for "lutte raisonne" or sustainable farming, as there is virtually no rot or disease. The soil is very rocky, most inhospitable for growing anything but grapes. It has been said vines, poets and blues singers produce their best with a struggle.

We started with a fine white: 2006 Mas de la Barben made from 80% Viognier and 20% Rolle. The glass is filled with a white-gold color. The nose is a note of paraffin, mixed with white peach and jasmine. The entry is most lively, a youthful zing. Flavors of lemon zest, citrus and orange rind. I am not going to post all of my notes at this very moment, however there are some standouts that have to be mentioned.

The 2004 Mas de la Barben, Cuvee Calice is just that kind of standout wine. Calice is a chalice, and this wine bordered on a religious experience. The blend of 90% Grenache, 7% Syrah and a whopping 3% Cinsault tells nothing of this powerfully scented master piece. For those of you who are curious of what the term ‘Garrigue’ means , here is a reference wine. The term literally means the array of plants that survive and grow here in the south of France. Standing here on the property we see how these wild plants are left to separate the different blocks of the vineyard. This aroma is a dead ringer for what emerges from the glass. It is an exotic combination of sage, lavender, and thyme along with a deep smell similar to Chaparral.