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02.25.2007

Domaine de Nizas, Languedoc, France: Current Releases

nizas.logo.jpgI can't tell you how many times I've heard friends say "I can't really afford French wine." Even after I suggest that there are plenty of French wines under twenty bucks, they're still liable to complain that they can't really afford "good French wine."

Whenever I have that conversation I find myself wishing I had a backpack full of wines from the Languedoc handy. I'd whip out a bottle and a corkscrew like a gunslinger from the wild west and set them straight once and for all.

The Languedoc has been the historical home to most of France's low-end table wine for decades, and indeed still is. But this massive appellation in the southeast of the country has also been home to hundreds of small family estates whose humble wines continue to be some of the country's best, and least appreciated values.

Domaine de Nizas does not quite fit the profile of most of those old country estates. It is neither old (established in 1998), nor run by a quaint family who has been farming the area for centuries (it is owned by American John Goelet, who also owns Clos du Val winery in Napa and Taltarni winery in Australia, among others). But for all of its shiny newness, this estate is making wines that fit the profile of what I have come to love about the Languedoc: solid, characterful, delicious, and relatively inexpensive.

Goelet, along with Clos du Val president Bernard Portet purchased the Nizas estate in may of 1998 and spent the next two years reworking the property -- replanting portions of the vineyards, retrellising others, and retrofitting the winemaking facilities on site. During these early years, and until their own were ready, they made the estate's wine at the facilities of a nearby winery. In 2001, with its own facilities in operation Nizas first started importing its wines to the United States.

Despite its association with a "Big American Brand" Nizas is really quite small. While it might be a newcomer to the area, the domaine seems focused on making quality wines that represent the best of what the region has to offer. All of the wines are made from 100% estate grown grapes from the roughly 140 acres on the estate. Nizas grows Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache Noir, Carignane, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cinsault, nearly all of which it picks, sorts, and de-stems by hand before fermenting in small lots. For some wines, including their Carignane, they use the painstaking and nerve-wracking carbonic maceration process in which the whole grapes begin fermenting within their own skins. Oak (most often from large, old barrels) is used judiciously and only on certain wines. The Carignane, for instance, is fermented in cement tanks and aged only in stainless steel.

In addition to the wines below, the winery produces a rose (which I have had on another occasion and found to be good) as well as a Vin de Pays d'Oc called "Mosaique."

Full disclosure: I received these wines as press samples.

TASTING NOTES:

2005 Domaine de Nizas Sauvignon Blanc Vin de Pays
A light blonde-gold color in the glass, this wine smells of golden apples and citrus. In the mouth it offers tangy apple flavors with hints of tart orange peel and reasonably good acidity, but lacks any dynamism or complexity that would merit attention. There's nothing really wrong with this wine, but nothing really interesting, either. 1900 cases made. Score: 8/8.5 Cost: $10. Where to Buy?


2001 Domaine de Nizas "Mas Salleles" Vin de Pays
Dark garnet in color, this mix of Cabernet, Syrah, and Merlot has a gamey nose with slight barnyard aromas mixing with a pleasant, herbal garrigue. In the mouth it has a beautiful smoky aspect as it sits nicely balanced on the tongue with redcurrant and tart plum flavors mixing with the distinct signature of oak that manages to keep some restraint. The wine finishes a bit shorter than I might light, but this is one of my few complaints. 4300 cases made. Score: 8.5/9 Cost: $11. Where to Buy?

2001 Domaine de Nizas Coteaux du Languedoc
Dark ruby in the glass this blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache Noir has a nose of salami and smoked meats with just the hint of a floral high note. In the mouth it has a lovely acid balance and a delicious swirling mix of cherry, sour plum, smoke and finally cedar qualities that linger into a substantial finish. Excellent, and a fantastic value. 3200 cases made. Score: 9 Cost: $18. Where to Buy?

2002 Domaine de Nizas Coteaux du Languedoc
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of smoky meats, dark cherry and redcurrant fruit. In the mouth it possesses nice balance and a smooth texture on the palate with an earthy aspect. Primary flavors of black cherry and redcurrant mix with spice box and leather notes through a nice long finish touched by very light, smooth tannins. Score: 8.5/9 Cost: $18. Where to Buy?

2004 Domaine de Nizas Carignane Vielle Vignes, Vin de Pays
Dark garnet in color, this 100% Carignane wine from 50-year-old vines has a nose of cassis and blueberry fruit. In the mouth it possesses a lovely texture and weight, but shows simpler flavors of black currant and grapey fruit that are enjoyable but don't evolve much complexity across the palate. This is a pleasant wine -- worth drinking, but not something I get very excited about. 1100 cases made. Score: 8.5 Cost: $13. Where to Buy?

Comments (17)

Per wrote:
02.25.07 at 3:00 PM

Nizas is good, small and interesting. It's definitely "new world style" for being from the Languedoc rather than traditional. And good value.

(But having recently visited some 50 growers in the region I cannot but agree with you that it deserves more attention.)

Tim Carlisle wrote:
02.26.07 at 3:00 AM

I'm a big fan of Languedoc wines - and the more I get into them the more I like them. IMHO they offer the best value quality wines in the world - and all because of the forefathers who made cheap rubbish in the languedoc bringing the reputation of the area down so even the best wines don't sell for a fortune.

St. Chinian is an appelation that is seriously worth keeping an eye out for - wines from 4 Euros upwards and serious quality starting a 7 Euros - which I'd guess would work out somewhere around $14 in the US? Look out for names like Canet-Valette, Maurel Fonsalade, Domaine Navarre, Domaine Rimbert and Mas Champart for exceptional wines - also look out for Hecht & Bannier wines a newish negociant making some great wines somewhere around the $20 mark.

02.26.07 at 3:47 PM

Huge fan of Languedoc wines, and don't think many people understand that yes, you can afford french wine. This is a great post, I wish I could get a few of my friends to read it, so theyd be more adventurous in their wine purchases.

Brian Miller wrote:
02.26.07 at 9:24 PM

Hey, Alder: Any ideas as to where to buy the Coteaux du Languedoc in the SF Bay Area?

Arthur wrote:
02.27.07 at 12:30 PM

Ditto on the Languedoc wines. Goes to show that Vin de Pays does not mean 'low end'. Thanks for showcasing this selection, Alder. To those who say: "I can't really afford French wine.", I would respectfully point out that there are also plenty of good, quality Bordeaux in the $15 to $40 range as well. A good wine merchant should have plenty of these. The one in my area very often pours wines in this price range at their regular tastings.

Per wrote:
02.28.07 at 12:18 AM

We're writing a book on Languedoc wines and have had the occasion to visit a large number. With all positive words here it makes me hope that we can get it published in the US (it will be published in Scandinavia initially). Only hope we can find a US publisher... Any ideas?

Alder wrote:
02.28.07 at 8:43 AM

Per,

I have never published a book so I don't have any contacts in that industry. My suggestion is to find American wine books and see who has published them and then contact that company.

Alder wrote:
02.28.07 at 10:13 AM

Brian,

A call to the winery informed me that these wines are available at the Jug Shop in San Francisco and at the Bounty Hunter in St. Helena.

Brian Miller wrote:
03.01.07 at 8:45 PM

Excellent Alder. Bounty Hunter is only 25 miles away from Vacaville. (We ate there two weeks ago and I bought a Mas de Gourgonnier, another rustic southern French wine.)

John Nezlek wrote:
03.05.07 at 6:09 AM

My experience with French wines "off the beaten path" (i.e., not Bordeaux or Burgundy or some Rhones) has been very positive. The wises are accessible earlier than many French wines, tend to be less expensive, and are simply good to drink. I am curious about my fellow bloggers' opinions about other Languedocs than those mentioned by Alder. (Nothing against Alder's post. In fact, I appreciate the suggestions). For example, I have been drinking the 1999 Domaine de Sainte-Rose Cuvee Laetitia, which I think cost about $7 or something like that. A simple good drinking red wine. A little more upscale is the 2004 Calvet Thunevin Cuvee Constance, nice ratings from the big boyz. And also the 2004 Mas Carlot Vdp d'Oc Clairette de Bellegarde -- a very interesting white wine. Finally, there is the little 2005 Ropiteau Pinot Noir -- again, fairly inexpensive, $7 or so, and simply good drinking. Also, what about Cotes du Ventoux? I suspect some good drinking at reasonable prices can be found there also.

Best,

John

Alder wrote:
03.05.07 at 11:29 AM

John,

Thanks for the comments. I enjoy the Mas Carlot as well. Take a look at the wines from the St. Chinian appellation (Domaine Rimbert, etc.) as well as Ch. La Roque in the Pic St. Loup appellation. I've also found excellent wines in the Coteaux du Languedoc area.

Brian Miller wrote:
03.05.07 at 6:24 PM

Somewhat (well way off) off topic, but I am always caught by the name Thunevin. John: Is the Thunevin wine produced by the infamous garage wine maker from St Emillion? I really like his wines! The Clos Badon Thunevin 1999 from St. Emillion is drinking wonderfully right now!

Alder wrote:
03.05.07 at 6:44 PM

Brian,

Thunevin has a small wine empire under his name. Dunno whether he actually makes the stuff.

Per wrote:
03.06.07 at 3:51 AM

Thunevin is the garage winemaker in Bordeaux/StE and he does also own a property in the Languedoc since a few years back. Have never had the pleasure to taste it though. Any good?

John Nezlek wrote:
03.06.07 at 4:49 AM

Dear Colleagues,

I had a bottle of the 2004 Calvet Thunevin Cuvee Constance in January, and for purposes of Cellar Tracker, I noted the following. Althiough I do not note this, my guess is that I decanted it and let it breathe for a while.

90 points. As advertised. Delicious in every respect. Pleasant nose, flavorful, smooth, with a nice finish. In the midst of this first bottle I ordered more.

A good price is $12-13. I will add that Parker also gave this a 90. I don't follow his advice slavishly, but he was on the mark with this one. I will also add that my palate is not sensitized to "truffles" "pencil lead" and the like. It's not one-dimensional, but I tend to approach tasting wines from a fairly straightforward persepctive. Is it any gooo or not? And this one was.

der Penguin wrote:
04.02.07 at 7:44 PM

Brian Miller - I can' tell you for sure about the SF Bay area, but I recently bought Domaine De Nizas at COSTCO in TX; they probably carry it in their CA stores. BtW, the price was $13/btl. in TX & it's one fine Rhône!

Denton wrote:
08.20.09 at 7:29 PM

Nice French wine; $14 @ Costco Phoenix. Great taste!

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