“So gather ’round, gather ’round chillun’
Get down, well just get down chillun’
Get loud, well you can be loud and be proud
Well you can be proud, hear now
Be proud you’re a rebel
‘Cause the South’s gonna do it again and again.” – Charlie Daniels
Bon Temps isn’t the only place causing a ruckus in the South these days. Among wine enthusiasts the Languedoc-Roussillon area in France’s nether-regions is no longer thought of as just a producer of bulk vin de table wares. The new releases from Abbotts & Deluanay are but one example of the pride that’s now being taken in the diverse terroirs, the old vines and the character that the area is capable of generating.
Hailing from Burgundy and Beaujolais respectively, Laurent Delaunay and his wife Catherine began exploring the Languedoc in the mid-90s excited by the “freedom and opportunity for innovation” that it presented. There they met Nigel Sneyd and Nerrida Abbott, a young Australian couple who were similarly enthused by the potential of France’s deep south. “We enjoyed the wines that Nigel and Nerrida were producing under the Abbotts label. It was a very interesting meeting of minds. They both valued the old vine resources of the region and our friendship was forged.”
When a change in personal circumstances intervened in 2005 Nerrida called Laurent to let him know that they were selling up and moving on. Laurent immediately jumped at the opportunity. Nerrida stayed for a year to help with the transition. “2007 was the first vintage on our own. Nerrida and Nigel had made the wines in more of a New World style and while Catherine and I had great respect for their endeavours we were seeking more elegance, more fruit, more freshness and a greater emphasis on terroir. It took about three years to adapt and get the wines looking how we wanted them to.” And that is more or less the story of how Abbotts Wines became Abbotts & Delaunay in 2010.
The move has had its share of challenges. “It’s very difficult to sell wines at the prices they deserve in the Languedoc,” Laurent remarks. “Sommeliers have an expectation of lower prices. You have to cope with it. It’s a long-term investment.” Many have come to the Languedoc and failed to understand that. “The Languedoc are a welcoming people and are happy to have winemakers coming from other regions but not a lot succeeded because they tried to apply their original recipes to their new home. You can’t make wines in the Languedoc in the same way you can in Bordeaux or Burgundy. Being modest is very important…trying to learn what’s going on.” It is here that Laurent’s experiences in Burgundy paid off.
“I began working with my Grandfather who was both a grower and a négociant in Burgundy. I was used to forming relationships and sourcing the small quantities of grapes from the best growers that we had discovered since arriving in the Languedoc.” Perhaps the most impressive of the 2011 wines is the Alto Stratus Carignan sourced from two vineyards, one of 105 years of age and the other clocking in at 45. I ask Laurent if it was difficult to secure that fruit in particular. “No, not really. The market is not looking for Carignan. The market is niche,” he replies with a wry smile.
The yield is so low that the grower has even considered removing those century old vines but that’s not as big an issue now as payment is made per hectare rather than by weight of grapes. As for the importance of old vines? “Well, heritage is a factor but you need 30-40 years to start gaining character. Younger vines are uninteresting with Carignan.”
The obstacles don’t seem to dent Laurent’s optimism and he is happy for the wines to speak for themselves as we taste. “The reputation of the Languedoc still has to be built. But the margin for improvement in regions like Burgundy is small whereas here the potential for increasing quality is huge.” These are remarks which display a rare degree of patience. If you hear them while tasting the excellent 2011 reds then it is difficult not to get a little excited as well.
Smells fantastic. Black brambly fruit with a subtle raspberry lining, potpourri, licorice root and bouquet garni. Sits just above medium bodied. Juicy but structured with tannin you can sink your teeth into. Schisty minerality with oak (20% new) in the wings. 94
There’s only about 25% Mourvèdre in the blend but it makes its presence known. Meaty, masculine, muscular dimensions slowly take their place. Raspberry and redcurrants with darker subterranean notes. Earthy with something that smells a bit like a mushroom and thyme risotto. Complex spice, firmly structured and more than a bit wild. 93
Dark cherry, concentrated redcurrants, kirsch and custard oak on a smooth, thick and sweet palate. Doesn’t possess the freshness of the other wines but drinks well in a hearty sense. 91
2011 Abbotts & Delaunay Alto Stratus Carignan
The soil for the 105 year-old vineyard is “all rocks, very dry. Almost nothing can grow except Carignan and Muscat.” Apparently they had to use explosives to create holes for the original plantings…
The region can’t be mentioned on the label under AOC laws as it isn’t a blend. “That’s typically French,” Laurent says as he shrugs. Crushed rocks, dried herbs, grilled meat and plums with lighter cherry/berry flavours. Slightly stalky but ripe tannin, perhaps due to the incorporation of 60% whole bunches. Sweet and savoury interplay in a wine of tremendous depth, complexity and character. 95
Tasted: July 2013