David 6 October 2016
The wines of
Château Maris grabbed me straight away - they have a familiar generosity of fruit, yet an earthy savouriness and lean structure that make them typically European. Based in the Languedoc, south west France, this sunny yet savoury embodiment of the region won me over. Actually so did the price - such good value.
“One of my favorite estates in the Languedoc."Jeb Dunnuck, April 2015, The Wine Advocate #218.
“Château Maris is a great place to start for readers looking to explore the Languedoc. These wines are all beautifully made and have tons of character, and in most cases, represent rock solid values,” The Wine Advocate, April 2016.
Château Maris is one of Jancis Robinson’s (MW) favoured Languedoc producers and their wines also regularly appear in ‘Best of Languedoc’ recommendations in Wine Spectator and Decanter Magazine.
Internationally recognised Wine & Spirits Magazine announced just a few weeks ago that Château Maris had made it into their Top 100 wineries of 2016!
Languedoc is often grouped with the region to its immediate south, so you may also hear it referred to as Languedoc–Roussillon. It’s a massive area of sun-baked vineyards, almost 3 times the size of Bordeaux, that runs along the Mediterranean coast, from Montpelier almost as far as the Spanish border. It claims to be the oldest wine region in France and for centuries has captivated with its beauty and rugged wildness.
Ironically, not being one of France’s prestigious wine regions does have some benefits - namely more relaxed regulation and most importantly, affordable land. Languedoc has traditionally been a producer for the mass market but in the last decade or so a new generation of winemakers have seen it as the perfect place to realise their dreams and started producing some great wines here. Despite the positive change, the historical perception of Languedoc has ensured prices remain modest, so it’s a great place to find value - if you know where to look.
There have been efforts recently to simplify the appellation system in Languedoc, and it continues to evolve but I still find it confusing. There are a handful of appellations that stand out though, one of which is idyllic
Minervois - granted its own appellation in 1985 in recognition of the quality of its fine reds. In the late 90s, after extensive campaigning and in a first for Languedoc, the step was taken towards a Burgundy-like quality hierarchy, with the recognition of a limited number of smaller, higher quality appellations within the boundaries of other appellations.
The first of these so-called Crus (now confusingly called Grand Crus) to be recognised was La Livinière, which sits within Minervois. Taking it’s name from the sleepy village of La Livinière around which the vineyards sit, the tiny appellation of only 200ha is at the base of the Black Mountains, with the Pyrenees as a back drop. You may also see it referred to as Minervois La Livinière or Cru La Livinière.
La Livinière is a red only appellation, where Syrah and Mouvèdre must account for at least 40% of the blend, while Carignan and Cinsault are limited to a maximum of 40%. Grenache (Grenache Noir) is also grown.
“The wines of Minervois la Livinière taste of the warmth of the deep south, with the herbs of the garrigue, thyme, bay and rosemary, with the scents of cistus and broom,” Rosemary George MW.
It’s in this exclusive appellation that Château Maris has 210 acres. The estate was established in 1997 by American Kevin Parker and Englishman Robert Eden. Eden, son of an English lord and great-nephew of former British PM Anthony Eden, seemed set for a life in politics until, like many before, he was captivated by the rugged beauty of the south of France - as a place to pursue his winemaking passion. The pair purchased an existing vineyard, with the talented and gregarious Eden becoming the driving force behind the estate’s success. He was also responsible for the estate’s strong environmental bent.
The vineyards are certified organic (Ecocert and NOP) and certified biodynamic (Demeter & Biodyvin). There’s more to these certifications than I can go into here, suffice to say it’s all natural and no herbicides or pesticides. Much is made of the use of horses in the vineyard, with one of them, the mighty Karabi even having his own wine label and Facebook page.
“The Biodynamic Apostles of the Languedoc,” Wine Spectator, Nov 2005.
It’s not unusual that estates use sustainable practices in the vineyard, but I can’t think of another one that’s taken its environmental commitment to this extreme. The
winery is built entirely of untreated wood from certified sustainable forests and massive hemp bricks. Not only this, the winery is self-sufficient in power, using solar panels and a wind farm. It recycles its used water and the roof has been planted with local native plants. The entire building is also biodegradable. This extraordinary project is the first carbon neutral winery in Europe. If you’d like to read more, have a look at this article in Wine Spectator. Or
take a tour of the winery here.
In 2013 Wine Spectator named Château Maris one of the top 4 wineries in the world “confronting climate change head on.”
I didn’t know the environmental credentials of this winery when I tasted its wines - I chose it simply because I thought it was good. Château Maris exemplifies the ‘old meets new’ dynamic that’s possible in Languedoc. Using concrete eggs and tanks as well as top quality oak, they make several wines, both red and white, but this one in particular grabbed me. Delicious and great value for money.
Château Maris La Touge Syrah - Minervois La Livinière 2013
This wine is a blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache and comes from Maris’ La Touge vineyard, where the average vine age is 15-20 years.
It’s made with natural yeasts and fermented in large egg-shaped concrete vessels. It was pressed using a traditional basket press, then aged for a further 16 months in a combination of concrete eggs and tanks. The wine was not fined and saw only light filtration. Not surprisingly, the bottles are made from ultra-light recycled glass and the labels printed on recycled paper.
As for the wine, it’s a dense crimson hue with sunshine and warmth in its aroma. Rich and smooth, with flavours of jam, liquorice and woodsmoke. There’s soft, plump, dark fruit, a hint of spice and a delicious charcuterie savouriness. Generous and mouth-filling, its lovely, gentle tannins make this easy drinking.
“I found the 2013 Minervois la Livinière La Touge very Rhône-like, with subtle leather, spice and garrigue mixed with plenty or raspberry and blackberry fruit. Forward, supple and fruit loaded, with medium-bodied richness, it will drink nicely on release and evolve through 2021. The blend here is Syrah and Grenache that’s aged all in large oak tanks.” Jeb Dunnuck, Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, 91 Points. (This is a great score for a wine of this price).
“Spicy dark fruits, ground pepper, wild herbs, and hints of olive to go with a medium bodied, rich palate feel.” Winemaker’s notes.
La Touge ticks all the boxes - it even has an Australian connection. The French winemaker is married to an Adelaide girl. Feel good knowing it’s made in an environmentally friendly way, but I think you’ll enjoy it simply as a delicious tipple at a great price.
Only a small amount of this makes its way to Australia, so you won’t find it in local reviews or restaurants.
I can offer for $35 a bottle. Click here to order.