Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Exploring the Reds of St-Chinian

St-Chinian is the 4th largest Languedoc appellation, with 3300 hectares under vine. The reds, approximately 90% of production, are fashioned from the grapes Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault and Lledoner Pelut grown in hillside vineyards trapped between the Mediterranean and the mountains. While the climate and grapes point towards big, heavy wines, tonight's offerings were surprisingly light - only one had 14% alcohol.

My brother-in-law picked up this 2007 Le Secret des Capitelles in Ontario, a blend of Grenache and Shiraz. A terrific nose of peppery cooked meat, leather and blackberries, violets and sour cherry, some wildflowers, rubber and ink - very complex for a wine at this price. Hot and peppery with a lengthy finish, it softened up as it aired out, but it was not as balanced as the Hecht et Bannier below. But what a great price! I may have to cross the border to get a few more bottles.
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Cost: C$14.95 (LCBO)

The 2006 Les Fiefs d' Aupenac sported a "Decanter" sticker on the bottle, which was good enough to entice me into an experiment. This wine was a "St-Chinian-Roquebrun", from the village of Roquebrun in the St-Chinian region. Mostly (60%) Syrah, with some Grenache and Mourvedre, it was less complex than the others. Deeper, darker, with peppery meat and leathery notes, some blackberries, creme brulee and violets to follow. Softer, hotter (cherry liqueur came to mind), with a good, fruity finish.
cork. 13% alcohol

Score: 16/20
Price: C$19.95 (SAQ)

I loved this 2006 Hecht et Bannier, a négociant-éleveur specializing in the Langueoc-Rousillon offerings. The nose starts off slowly - nice, but subtle. A little air and it opens beautifully, showing minerally black earth, peppered meat, vanilla and grenadine. Probably the smoothest and best balanced, with a soft velvety touch, yet tight and minerally at the same time. A plum and blackberry finish that felt lower alcohol than the others. Did I say very very very well balanced? Drink now.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$24 (SAQ)

It was a perfect blind tonight, as all were random selections and never tasted before this evening. Be forewarned, as my preference for the H&B not shared by the others who preferred the fruitier Aupenac.

Key take away? A fairly random sample of St-Chinian shows wines that recognize the big fruit available, but the winemakers have deftly crafted this fruit into more balanced wines than I have seen in other Languedoc appellations - give these a try!

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