2009 Domaine Leon Barral, Faugeres

Kermit Lynch Imports… The King of Faugeres (?)

2009 Domaine Leon Barral Faugeres  (50% Carignan, 30% Grenache, 20% Cinsault)

large-Leon Barral Faugeres 09 LABUnlike the 2008 which was so delicious right off the bat, Barrals 2009 Fargeres was so tight on release that I wasn’t sure it would be ready now, only a year later. My fears were unfounded. The wine is drinking well, but will should smooth out a couple rough edges with another 6 month to a year in the cellar.  This bottle is showing a significant amount of the yeast Brettanomyces, showing loads of dusky, earthy, leathery, with notes of mushroom, refried beans, and let’s face it, baby poop. The plus side is that often Brett tends to add cohesion to a wine, and an element of complexity. (More on Brett and a Napa Valley winemaker’s fascination with it Here.) While the Brett can be almost challenging, there is a tremendous amount of fruit to this wine. This level of fruit is miraculous since Brett can bury the fruit flavors of wine it grows in. The palate is impossibly broad and deep, spreading across the palate like a tidal wave of sweet blackberries, black plum, and raspberries, with meaty roast lamb flavors, coated by cocoa powder and espresso.  There is a massive amount of fruit and structure, but the fruit has the upper hand here, with it wrapping effortlessly around the tannins. But the tannins are evident, with the Brett hanging off them with furry, musky, gamey notes being the longest lasting impression. This is a big wine by French measure, and it pulls it off with aplomb.  On the finish there is the briefest bitterness with a

Brettanomyces yeast
Brettanomyces yeast

note similar to rubbing alcohol, riding alongside the tannins. That negative flavor was absent on the second night, so it seem that medicinal note will readily resolve itself with another year of aging.  This is a particularly interesting wine, if not an intellectual one of significant complexity. Normally I would not quote a wine critic, but how to evaluate the wine with a score, leads me to quote Rosemary George a Master of Wine who lives in the Languedoc. She writes of Leon Barral in her blog Taste Languedoc: “Domaine Leon Barral – More contentious.  I have very mixed feelings about Didier Barral’s wines, and sometimes wonder if this is not a case of the Emperor’s new clothes.  I have liked some of his wines in

the past, but more recent tastings have been a less happy experience.” So that was Rosemary’s take, in true critical fashion not mentioning Brett. At the heart of the difficulty for me is how do you evaluate Brettanomyces? It is generally considered a flaw today, but historically it was not. The British critics described it as barnyard, or in French, simply merde. But today, some beer makers are intentionally introducing Brett into their beer to give it ‘character’.  I will give it two scores, the first, considering Brett is not a flaw (those who know they are intolerant of it should already know to stay away) but this is a very solid wine in all other regards, with a long life ahead of it. Score 92 points.  For those who don’t like Brett, this is something of a failure: 82 points.  The truth lies somewhere in between.   $32

Faugeres is small in this map of Languedoc, but is in yellow, just above the center of the map.
Faugeres is small in this map of Languedoc, but is in yellow, just above the center of the map.

Domaine Leon Barral

Domaine Barral is a relatively new winery, being founded by Didier Barral in 1993 but within a decade had become one of the most highly regarded estates in Languedoc.  Didier Barral has farmed his old vines biodynamically from early in his domaine’s inception. He allows his horses, cows and pigs to munch down the cover crop across his large vineyard of 30 hectares, all the while working the soil with their hooves, and fertilizing, I suppose, as they go. There is something so simple and natural about this approach.

The schist formations beneath many of Languedoc's vineyards
The schist formations beneath many of Languedoc’s vineyards

Faugeres AOC, Languedoc

Unlike most of the other wine regions of France, Faugeres was farming community centered on the production of grains and olives, not wine grapes, before the French Revolution. Once vineyards were established, most of their production was dedicated to making eau de vie (brandy). The gradual switch to wine didn’t happen until after the second World War, and  it took until 1982 to achieve AOC status. The appellation covers 1800 hectares, and some hills in the Northern part of the appellation are up to 500 meters.

While the name Faugeres refers to the kind of shale found in the region, the vineyards of Faugeres are planted above the flaky schist rock formations that are prevalent in growing regions across the South of France. Schist is notable for its ability to retain water, an important feature in the warm Languedoc-Roussillon.  Faugeres proximity to the Mediterranean is mitigated by the cooler mountain influences ripening is enough of an issue that most vineyards are planted on south-facing slopes to ensure maximum exposure to the sun. Many winemakers there say that ‘the grapes ripen at night’, from the warmth retained by the schist dominated soils. But according to the Kermit Lynch website, Barral’s vineyards are pruned in the Goblet style to protect the fruit from the ‘blistering sun’. To say it’d difficult to separate the truth from the myths, and myths from the marketing efforts of the wine world, is and understatement. It seems like there is a spin on everything.

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Diary of a Winebuyer

About Me: Thirty years ago, I graduated with a degree in political science from the College of Letters and Science at the University of California at Berkeley. Having grown up at the height of the Cold War, I still have vivid remembrances of being instructed to hide under our elementary school desk, covering our heads. The young, white, female teacher, training us without explanation, to face away from the windows. I suppose it is not all that surprising that I had a particular interest in the realpolitik of international relations. My fascination grew with the discovery that certain conditions almost uniformly exist where all revolutions ferment. Did this mean that the revolutions which had occurred in the first half century were revolutions which had been usurped by Marxists who were in the right place at the right time? Probably. A favorite professor was A. J. Gregor. This was a man who, while rakishly wearing a Gestapo-styled black leather motorcycle jacket, exuded expertise on fascism (which he looked the part) and Marxism. Improbably, he did it with a significant swagger. Then in my last semester, I had the blind luck to take a class on Asian Marxist revolution, and the professor, who just happened to be visiting that year while he worked on some unnamed project, was Chalmers Johnson. In retrospect, I should have known his name, as he was a luminary in the political science community but at that time, I did not. It was a remarkable opportunity to experience the ivory tower, but I seem to remember being anxious to get on with life. After college, I drifted through a few of jobs that were of interest to me. One of my former high school teachers said to me. "If I were in your shoes, I'd get a job as a flight attendant." So in order to be young while I could still afford to, I accepted a job serving chicken or beef at Pan American. With that airline losing money faster than it could sell its routes, I got a job doing cellar work at David Bruce Winery. This was the beginning of my wine career. All during this period, I wrote a still unpublished novel about homegrown terrorists the U.C. Berkeley campus, attempting to use some of what I learned in school, weaving in the Vietnamese political and military strategies of Dau Tranh as professor Johnson had lectured years before. Since the early 1990's, I have been involved in the wine industry, selling fine wine in both the retail and wholesale arenas. I have approached learning about wine, by always challenging myself to question how I know what I think I know? And in an effort to try to find answers I've turned, with varying degrees of success to wine books. Overall, I've not been happy with the quality of most wine writing, finding the authors either to lack any deep knowledge, or unable to move much past what I consider to be superficial information. I recognize that wine writers have to monetize their work, but I believe this has dramatically held back our knowledge and understanding of wine. I have set out to add to our industry's base of knowledge where I can. My first series, 'The Terroir of Burgundy' (which I should probably re-edit and complete some kind of conclusion, but I got involved in this project), can be viewed here. I currently work as a sales and marketing manager for a Burgundy and Bordeaux importer based in Atherton, California.

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