So I'd be the first to admit that I've often been a bit wary of wines marketed by negociant companies - this wariness has only increased as I've made authenticity & typicity in wine a higher priority. On the other hand I'd never refuse an offer to sample wines from a wine negociant.
Such was the case in my recent Southern France wine travels, when Languedoc wine promoter extraordinaire, Louise Hurren, asked me if I'd like to taste two wines from the portfolio of the quality-conscious regional negociant team, Laurent Calmel & Jérôme Joseph. I had heard the name mentioned before but was unfamiliar with their approach. They've essentially formed a company specializing in the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon, by contracting with (presumedly) good small producers throughout the region to buy wine lots in order to offer distinctive wines within the major L-R sub-appellations. The self-description of their operation on the home page of their website perhaps borders on the notion that they actually "produce" these cuvée themselves i.e."Créateurs de Grands Vins en Languedoc-Roussillon" however the details of their "mission statement" make it clear that they are "éleveurs" (wine blenders/agers/bottlers) and not actually "vignerons". Granted, small specialized wine negociants are nothing new, especially in the more established wine regions like Rhône, Burgundy etc. However, what I found refreshing for such an operation (based on the two wines I sampled) is that Calmel & Joseph appear not just to be interested in being the hot new small negociant on the block, but they actually seem to have respect for the consumer's quest for a good quality/price ratio (i.e. value). This was all the more gratifying, after I'd recently tasted a couple of Languedoc wines from another regional negociant (whose name I won't mention here). The latter's wines were both seemingly well-made and quaffable, but not necessarily typical for their region, and worse, were grossly overpriced. In the case of Calmel & Joseph, I found both wines to be well-made, balanced & food-friendly - i.e. neither appeared to be excessively ripe, or fruit-bomb style (to garner a high score in the Spectator or Advocate!). As well, they seemed to have some subtlety and were representative of their terroir.
This brings us to the wines in question. Louise chose to have me taste two 2011 bottlings from the Roussillon: one, a Côtes du Roussillon Villages from C&J's "Les Terroirs" collection, the other, a cuvée from the village of Caramany in Roussillon from their "Les Crus" collection.
The CdR Villages was produced from a blend of syrah, grenache and carignan - grown on mostly schist soils with some clay/limestone. I found the nose a little subdued on first opening (bottle shock from the plane ride?), but on the second day it was showing aromatic notes of sandalwood and black cherry. On the palate there was plenty of bramble and dark berry character - a little 'dried fruit' in the soft finish, but overall, very good regional character. And at €8.00 ($10.50) it was perhaps an even better value than its "superior" below.
The Caramany was produced from the same blend of grape varieties, yet with a somewhat higher percentage of carignan, grown on gneiss and limestone soils. Unlike the CdR above, a portion of this wine was aged in new French oak barrels - although this wasn't very evident in tasting. Both wines shared a dark fruit core, but the Caramany tended more towards plums on the palate, with interesting notes of cologne & spice. The finish was surprisingly soft-textured, considering the youth of the wine. However, the nice balance of the components should bode well for aging potential (6-8 yrs.?). The bottle price of €13.80 seemed fair to me for a good village appellation Roussillon.
So if nothing else, this opportunity (Thanks again, Louise!) made me more receptive to exploring negociant wines - especially the smaller regional types. After all, it's the palate that guides a negociant, just as it guides the enologist.
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