Posted on 21st February 2018 by JN Wine
There is reason for much of this – to ensure sufficient levels of food safety, label integrity and legally defined quality that helps protect the consumer and ensure that one gets a true representation of what they paid for. However, many of the more restrictive Geographical Indication laws – such as those of the PDO system (Protected Destination of Origin) – are often in place to protect what is seen as the unique identity of the wines of a specific region, exhibiting their inimitable typicity and ‘sense of place’, which is crucial in determining the provenance of the arguably finest, and certainly most expensive, wines of the world. However, some winemakers view some of these laws and the restrictions they impose as elitist and unnecessary in the production of a good, characterful wine, and so forego qualification (which often commands a guaranteed higher economic return) in order to produce lesser classified wine that benefits from more creative freedom. Maison Ventenac is one such example.
Located in the Cabardès AOC in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region in southern France and in the foothills of the Montagne Noire, Maison Ventenac are forging their own path. Not content with abiding by the restrictions of the Cabardès AOC which only allows only red and rosé to qualify for appellation status – of which 40% of the assemblage must be Atlantic grapes (Cabernet, Merlot) and 40% Mediterranean grapes (Syrah, Grenache), owing to its proximity to the South West France wine region and confluent climatic influence – Maison Ventenac have released two new ranges of dissenting wines that won us over upon first exposure at our annual portfolio tasting.
The first of these is ‘Les Dissidents’ range. Made up of two single-varietal, 100% Cabernet Franc cuvées, ‘Paul’ and ‘Patience’ are “prohibited by the appellation, in truly exclusive, libertarian style”, says Domaine Ventenac winemaker Olivier Ramé. The ‘Paul’ 2015 vintage, exposed to both ceramic amphorae and oak foudre, “tastes like a Loire Cab Franc on steroids”, as Jeb Dunnuck puts it in his April 2017 Wine Advocate report on current release Languedoc-Roussillon, seeing fit to award it 89-91 Points. Black fruits, herbs and pepper dominate here in a medium-full bodied wine that has good acidity and an excellent finish, and has already become a hit with JN customers in its short time since introduction to our shelves. ‘Patience’ has seen similar popularity since its arrival, although its sole exposure to oak renders it slightly more dense and heavy than ‘Paul’ lending to a greater ageing potential, as echoed by a 15.5+ score and review from Jancis Robinson in JR Purple Pages, Aug 2017. These wines are uncompromising, chiselled, precise and direct – “an uppercut – but the good sort!” as Olivier puts it. Well worth getting into the ring with, we reckon!
‘Les Dissidents’ gave birth to ‘Les Païens’ – ‘The Pagans’ – two more single varietal wines that reject the Languedoc standards of supposed good practice and what is done, refusing to “embrace any oenological or viticultural dogma”, as Oliver puts it. The first of these is ‘Préjugés’, or ‘Prejudices’, a 100% Chardonnay wine that defies the ‘prejudices’ of both the appellation in which it is grown (Chardonnay and white grapes in general are not permitted to qualify for Cabardès AOC status) and those of Oliver himself, who before this would never have considered raising a white wine in oak. The resulting wine however fresh with notes of exotic fruits and subtle wood, with good acidity and a lingering minerality. An excellent value Chardonnay that offers good food pairing experimentation. The red counterpart in the ‘Pagan’ series is ‘Le Paria’ – a 100% Grenache wine that sets out to showcase a grape that is somewhat undesired in the Cabardès locality, unfairly so according to Oliver. The grapes in this single-varietal wine are picked late to allow for maximum phenolic ripeness and sugar potential, and are fermented and aged without sulphur in concrete and undergo some malolactic fermentation, resulting in a light-medium bodied, deep crimson, intensely fruity wine that is styled as “trendy and punchy”, receiving 15 points from Jancis Robinson in J R Purple Pages, Aug 2017. Like ‘Préjugés’, ‘Le Paria’ is an approachable, attractive and chic wine that offers excellent value and a provenance afforded by great spirit and gusto – a reflection of the entire Maison Ventenac range. Try them for yourself!