February 10, 2012 Domaine Alain Chabanon
Domaine Alain Chabanon L’Esprit de Font Caude
syrah (45%), mouvèdre (42%), grenache (13%)
I was first introduced to the wines of Alain Chabanon in Paul Strang’s excellent “Lauguedoc-Roussillon: The Wines and Winemakers.” This 2002 book was one of the first to celebrate the fine new domaines that have emerged in this generally underrated region of France. “The secret of [Chabanon’s] success,” Strange noted, “must lie in his incisive intelligence, passion, and sheer application.” Words not offered lightly. I read up and took notice, put my money where his words were. And I’m very glad I did.
Alain Chabanon is not rooted in a wine-making family. He came to his passion on his own. First came oenology studies in Montpellier and Bordeaux, then concentrated time with masterful winemakers Alain Brumont in Madiran and Comte Peraldi in Corsica. In 1987 he purchased 14 hectares north of Montpellier, in Montpeyroux. He’s added a few more since, and his modest-size domaine now spreads over five municipalities.
He bottles some nine different wines, a range which he attributes to the variety of calcareous clay soils within several microclimates. The vineyards are in the foothills of the limestone plateau of Larzac, a section of Languedoc that is developing quite a name for itself among wine experts. One notable feature is a dry, cooling wind, le Tramontane, that blows from the north-west, bringing relief from the hot summers and helping prevent vineyard mildew. This wind is counter-balanced by another, Le Marin, often bringing much-needed moisture from the Mediterranean. It is a terroir well-suited to organic viticulture.
“I have always been organic in my head,” says Chabanon. His vineyards have long been certified, and are now moving toward biodynamic status. The grapes are hand-picked, brought to the chai outside the village of Lagamas, and there very carefully hand-sorted so that only the best make it to the (gravity-fed) vats. Vinification is traditional, with maceration, in the case of the flagship L’Espirit de Fond Caude, extending to seven weeks. Then at least two years in barrels, bringing to the bottle a wine of great concentration. Ni collé, ni filtré. Neither fined nor filtered.
A wine to charm a cold February night, of which there have been many recently on both sides of the Atlantic.
Domaine Alain Chabanon L’Esprit de Font Caude 2001
It would appear this wine, dark red ink in the glass, is at its peak of maturity. A fine experience from the very beginning. Old world, yet fresh; a touch of leather, yet silky, velvet tannins. Seasoned black cherry and liquorice, pepper. But to look beyond that, there is an indefinable quality that has the drinker savouring every tip of the glass. An exceptional wine. $$