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08.27.2005

1999 Domaine de Nizas, Coteaux De Languedoc, France

The Languedoc wine region of southeast France that straddles the bottom of a the better known region of Provence produces more wine than any other area of France by volume. Most of it never makes it to the USA, and much of it never even makes it to the table of French wine drinkers, at least the discerning ones. Most of the production goes to what we would call "jug wine" here in the US, and what nizas.jpg generally passes here at Vinography for "crap wine." To dismiss the Languedoc on that basis, however, would be a grave mistake, as it also produces some excellent and distinctive wines, many of which are starting to become more available to US consumers at especially good prices.

It's not surprising that one of those wines is Domaine de Nizas, given that the owner, American John Goelet and his wife are the owners of Clos Du Val in Napa and Taltarni Vineyards in Australia. Yet another project by Goelet undertaken with the help of his advisor and friend Bernard Portet (formerly president of Clos Du Val), Domaine De Nizas began with the purchase in 1998 of about 120 acres of vineyards between the towns of Caux and Nizas in the Languedoc.

Goelet is a descendant of Francois Guestier, who in the 18th century worked for the Marquis de Segur, owner of Chateaux Lafite and Latour. Francois went on to have a son who owned Chateau Beychevelle for a time and ended up as a partner in the famous negociant firm, Barton & Guestier. Perhaps it was inevitable, then that the businessman Goelet would return to wine, sending his friend Portet off to California to look for good vineyard land when there was still plenty for sale in the Stag's Leap District. The two have collaborated on every project since.

The first vintages from Domaine de Nizas, including this 1999, were made in a rented facility nearby while renovation and construction ensued both in the vineyards and on the property. By 2001 the winery was fully self-sufficient, and the first bottlings were ready to be released to the public.

One of the first things that Portet did upon his installment as head of the domaine was to replant many of the vineyards with Syrah and Mourvèdre, removing much (but not all) of the predominantly Grenache grapes that had been planted. Both Portet and Goelet favor the dark, rich, earthy wines of the Languedoc. Additionally, Portet is dramatically reducing crop yields from the extremely high levels common in the Languedoc, in an attempt to make more concentrated, refined wines.

The 1999 Languedoc vintage was slightly troubled at the end of the year by poor weather during harvest, though many growers were able to pick selectively and make decent wines. In general wines from 1999 are not as exciting as those from the previous vintage 1998.

This wine is a blend of 60% Syrah, 35% Mourvèdre and 5% Grenache Noir, all grown on the Nizas estates sandy, pebbly soul over red clay and limestone. The grapes are 100% destemmed before crushing, and spend a long time in contact with the skins before being fermented in oak barrels and aging in a combination of stainless steel and large French Oak foudres (400 liter barrels) for 9 to 12 months. About 3000 cases are made at the moment, but as vineyards come online and more are purchased, this production will grow to tens of thousands of cases.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is a med ruby color with a tinge of purple, and its nose is thick with aromas of blackcurrant and leather and damp earth. In the mouth it tastes of black cherry, cassis, and wet sawdust, with hints of oak. The tannins are subtle, and the finish moderate.

Food Pairing:
Like many of the earthy and smoky wines of this region, this wine would go very well with these grilled lamb kebabs with coriander and cumin.

Overall Score: 8/8.5

How Much?: $19

This wine can usually be found for purchase online.

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