I live in the wild west of wine. Everyone from librarians to bankers, farm hands to ex-city dwellers, postal workers to doctors, multinationals to winos from all over the world have flocked here to press the thick juice from sun-kissed Languedocienne grapes each fall and make a libation that they can call wine. Some want to make joyful easy-drinking stuff. Others are hoping, and in some cases already with success, to make some serious thought-provoking liquids that can be boasted about on the international stage. Big wine.
Mas Belles Eaux falls into the category of multinationals whose goal is to make a big wine. It is but one of many properties owned by AXA Millésimes, (part of the AXA insurance group), who also own Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Chateau Pibran, Chateau Suduiraut, Chateau Petit-Village, Disznoko Tokaji and Quinta do Noval in Portugal. They take pride in purchasing what might be defined as “underperforming vineyards” and bringing them up to par. The 75 hectares of Mas Belles Eaux have been under AXA’s wing since 2002.
A small sign directs us off the main road and onto a tiny streak of a road traced through vineyards. The well-renovated cellar pops up on our right, and not far from it is a time-worn manor house straight out of a Jane Austen novel.
Though I have lived literally 5 minutes from the vineyard for over three years and taste two or three new bottles a week, I had not yet encountered their wines. I tend to drift towards smaller, more vagabond winemakers, so I was excited about the invitation to meet the people and wines behind Mas Belles Eaux, an estate that has the tools to make something high-class. These guys are important for the region. They have historical buildings, a beautiful estate, money to invest in their winery, and international perspective.
Many of the vines are lined with black irrigation tubes, a practice that I don’t see often in the region. Cédric, the technical director of the estate, explained that they use irrigation only as a last resort, when drought hits hard. The estate is located at the foot of the Cévennes mountain range, atop two natural springs, hence the name, Mas Belles Eaux, so it seems fitting that these vines might have the luxury of water during droughts, even with little irrigation.
The pampered life of vines who never have to die of thirst is reflected in the tasting room. I find the wines of Mas Belles Eaux to be calm and domesticated. Easy-drinking, no-stress, clean-cut wines. This opinion is coming from a lady who generally drinks more off-the-beaten path stuff, for better and for worse. There is a pattern of measured balance, always some acidity and even a hint of salinity to counter the sometimes round and heavy nature of certain Languedoc varietals. Opinions vary widely among the tasters around me. Some love the grenache blanc, others prefer the younger reds, composed of syrah, grenache, and mourvedre, while others go for the older vintages. Some are baffled by certain wines that they would think came from a cooler region, while others sip and converse gayly.
The rosé 2013 is like sucking on a refreshing strawberry with no sugar, clear and dry. Issued from immediately pressed grapes, it’s a class summer rosé. I would drink this outside on a sunny day with just about anything, note: mussels or anise-stuffed fish on the grill. (6 euros at winery)
The cuvée ‘Les Coteaux,’ sparks my imagination, a blend of syrah, grenache, and mourvedre. Sipping the 2007, I note: leather, structure, I picture a fancy saddled white horse from a fairy tale with a braided mane, so clean it is part of a fantasy world. The 2008 gives me a well-saddled horse, no braids, chestnut-brown this time, and not from a fairy tale. This horse is more real and more majestic than the 2007 horse. The 2009 and 2010 taste younger for now, no images of horses in the midst. (all are 12 euros at the winery)
After the tasting, we went to L’Auberge du Presbytère, a small restaurant housed divinely in an ancient presbytery atop the hills in the valley town of Vailhan, overlooking the petite lake of the Barrage des Olivettes. I wrote about the restaurant a few years ago in “Oh, the places you’ll go” but the owners have since changed. I had a thing for the old restaurant, but the new owners are doing a pretty good job. The style isn’t quite as joyful as before, but it remains a good deal with a classy menu “amuse-bouche, entrée, plat, dessert” at 31 euros in a beautiful location. For a little more cash, they also serve some mean-looking steaks for the carnivores out there. The wine list features a good and eclectic selection from the region. A recommendable table, especially for a day when you can dine outside on the terrace.
If you find yourself in Languedoc-Roussillon, don’t hesitate to go wine tasting or check out some of the menus in the local restaurants. During the summer Mas Belles Eaux hosts a tasting with tapas on Wednesday evenings, but you can also visit their boutique and tasting room in the ancient orangery during the day.
Mas Belles Eaux
L’Auberge du Presbytère