While I don’t mention them by name, I’m very grateful for a small handful of restaurants and wine bars in my area that have interesting wine lists, in particular by the glass. You can generally tell when I write about their wines because the bottle photographs are different, typically featuring a glass as well. Today is one such wine, the Domaine Léon Barral Faugères 2009.
A stereotypical by the glass wine list around here will have a local sparkler and a Champagne, an aromatic white, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir, a middle weight red, and a Shiraz. Except for the Champagne, and possibly a Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, everything will be Australian, largely from South Australia. While I’m all for supporting local producers, it can be quite predictable, and if you eat out regularly, somewhat boring.
Fortunately, there are a few places I frequent which offer a wider range of wines by the glass, with roughly a third from South Australia and the rest being divided between Europe and other parts of Australia, with the occasional New World wines as well. Often I find myself with a glass in front of me and I have no idea what it is or where it’s from.
That was the case with this wine, and only subsequent reading allowed me to locate the region and identify the blend. This wine is from Faugères, an appellation located in Languedoc in the south of France. It emerged as a wine producing region in the 19th century, and was promoted from VDQS to AOC in 1982 for red and rosé wines and in 2005 for whites. The soil is primarily schist and the climate is Mediterranean with hot, dry summers and fairly cold wet winters. The grapes for red and rosé wines are traditionally Carignan and Cinsault, though Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah are not just permitted but being promoted as replacement varieties. White wine may be made of Rousanne, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Vermentino, though red wines dominate with 80% of production.
While it’s true I knew nothing about this wine when it was placed in front of me, Faugères is in fact listed as a regional entry for WSET Diploma students, so I should have known everything in the last paragraph and more. In terms of the producer, its name would likewise have been familiar had I been a better student, because in the Faugères entry in the Oxford Companion to Wine, it is mentioned as being a top quality producer.
Domaine Leon Barral was founded in 1993 by Didier Barrel and is named after his grandfather. He’s a champion for the biodynamic movement, and so his team working the vineyard consists of himself, horses, cows and pigs. His youngest vineyard is Mourvèdre and Syrah with vines that are 15 to 30 years old, though his older vineyard are dominated by Carignan vines that are up to 90 years old. He produces three AOC red blends and a white vin de pays of Terrets Blanc and Gris, Viognier and Roussanne.
Grapes are hand picked, and then fermented in concrete without the addition of sulphur or introduced yeasts. This wine was aged a further two years in tanks without oak influence, and bottled without racking, fining or filtration. (The other two reds do see time in barrel.) Based on 50% Carignan, Grenache and Cinsault make up the remainder of the blend. As this blog is no stranger to those grapes, it’s on to the tasting.
In the glass this wine is clear and bright with a dark ruby colour and quick abundant legs. On the nose it’s clean, and developing with medium plus intensity and notes of violets, sweet spice, simple red fruit, and lavender. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus intensity, medium plus alcohol, medium plus fine tannins, medium acidity, medium body, and medium length. There are notes of chocolate, simple red fruit, violets, plums, and red cherries, with some hazelnut and coffee on the finish.
This is a very good wine. The palate has a very complex and pleasing collection of flavours. The red fruit is not especially distinct, but all the other flavours are very evocative. It’s nicely balanced, and even the 14% alcohol is noticeable but not hot. A pleasant surprise and a reminder to me that I still have plenty of studying to do to be worthy of the Diploma.