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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