I’ve never tasted a Gerard Bertrand wine that I didn’t like, whether it cost $10 or more than $100.
The French winemaker, producer, entrepreneur, etc., is one of the most energetic and creative viticulturalists in the world. He is greatly respected for his passion and commitment to preserving the land, especially in the Languedoc-Roussillon region where he has helped raise biodynamic farming methods to an art form.
If Bertrand were a Marvel Comics super hero, he’d be “Lord Green of the Languedoc.”
Bertrand learned the wine business from his late father Georges who died in a tragic accident in 1987.
He launched his own wine company in 1992 and hasn’t looked back. Over the years, his success has enabled the family business to acquire more than 16 vineyards in southern France.
In September, Bertrand hosted “The Ultimate French Wine Experience” to about a dozen global wine and food writers via Zoom from his headquarters in Narbonne. Along with award-winning sommelier Andreas Larsson, Bertrand discussed the unique “terroir, time and transcendance” of crafting wine in the diverse L-R zone.
Writers also received six premium wines to taste at their leisure.
I decided to host my own tasting panel of five neighborhood “experts” (see photo below) who love to drink wine and talk about it in generous terms. (Actually, one is an expert: Craig Gandolf, the national sales director at Cynthia Hurley French Wines in Needham, MA).
The night proved to be a smash, pairing Bertrand’s wines with a variety of cheeses and scallops wrapped in bacon.
Overall, the wines racked up impressive comments from this ebullient and motivated bunch.
Domaine de L’Aigle Chardonnay Limoux 2020, $34.99 (14.7% alcohol) – This 100 percent Chardonnay takes its name from eagles (L’Aigle) that nest high in the tree line near the elevated, 100-plus acre estate located in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Bertrand’s team gives the vines a lot of loving care, with regular manual pruning, de-budding and thinning out of leaves to optimize sunlight and the grape’s development.
The panel gave L’Aigle a top recommendation. Tasters cited its freshness, creamy texture, lemony taste and crisp minerality that bolstered a dry, extended finish. “No obvious flaws” wrote one contented drinker. Overall, L’Aigle soars.
Winemaker’s pairings: Roasted poultry, fish or seafood in sauce, mushrooms in a creamy sauce, and cheese or goat cheese tarts.
Domaine de L’Aigle Pinot Noir 2019, $34.99, (14.5% alcohol) – What does Bertrand think about this wine? “This is a really approachable Pinot Noir but it will evolve with beautiful secondary flavors with a little patience,” he said during the Zoom talk.
Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to master, but the Valle de L’Aude climate – Mediterranean sea breezes, plentiful sunshine, arid landscape, spring moisture – allow the fruit to mature steadily in the limestone and schist soils.
The panel expressed many superlatives about this ruby-colored wine: mouthwatering, ripe cherry and raspberry tart flavors, spicy finish, crisp acidity, complex taste and silky tannins.
Winemaker’s pairings: Ideal match for grilled red meat, roasted poultry, fish in sauce or grilled, and fine cheeses.
Cigalus (blanc) 2018, IGP Pays d’OC, $49.99, alcohol 14% – The Languedoc-Roussillon wine region is one of the largest in France, and the IGP Pays d’OC designation gives winemakers a broad brush to innovate with a diverse array of grape varietals.
Cigalus wines are made “off the beaten track”, so to speak, and some rate them as unclassified grand crus.
Bertrand’s white is a mix of estate-grown Chardonnay (80%), Viognier (15%) and Sauvignon Blanc (5%).
He says 70 percent of the pressed juice is fermented in new French oak while the rest is vinified in stainless steel vats. After malolactic fermentation, the wine ages in barrels for 7-8 months with regular stirring.
The panel rated Cigalus highly for its “brilliant”, golden yellow color, “intense” floral aromas, and “complex” and “exotic” flavors of citrusy peach, honey and vanilla. Its smooth and buttery texture also appealed to the group.
Overall, Cigalus received the panel’s highest praise among the three whites tasted. (Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker gave it 93 points.)
Winemaker’s pairings: Fried scallops, fish cooked in sauce, or as an aperitif.
Cigalus (red) 2018, IGP Pays d’OC, $49.99, alcohol 15.5% – “When in a free zone, IGP, I use the vision to think out of the box and create the best possible wine,” said Bertrand, describing the relaxed grape and production rules that allow for experimentation.
Seven grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Caladoc, Carignan – go into the mix. “The blend is unique, the terroir distinctive,” said Bertrand.
No doubt about it, Cigalus is a sturdy, dark-colored wine done in an elegant style. Aged a minimum of one year in bottle before release, the 2018 exhibits classic structure and firm tannins that will serve it well for at least another decade and beyond. You’d want to decant this baby for at least one hour before filling a glass.
Panelists were visibly impressed with Cigalus’ black-fruit power and freshness. While big and bold, it has a supple, toasty texture that warms the palate and leads to a generous, spicy finish. With seven grapes in the mix, the layers of primary and secondary notes prompted tasters to run the spectrum on positive attributes. All agreed Cigalus is a complex wine worthy of respect.
Winemaker’s pairings: Perfect with roasted red meat, poultry “en sauce” or aged cheeses.
Chateau L’Hospitalet La Clape Grand Vin 2019, $45.99, 14.5% alcohol – La Clape has a long wine-making history but waited until 2015 to become a certified appellation for red and white wines.
Chateau L’Hospitalet sits on the eastern edge, above the cliffs, and overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. The climate is breezy, sunny and warm. Marl-limestone soils rich in fossils lend complex aromatics and flinty minerality to the estate’s wines.
This white cuvee is comprised of Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Vermentino, and Vigonier, and on first sight the wine grabs attention for its pale, yellow gold color. Next comes floral aromatics of white peach and pear, followed by bright citrusy flavors – lemon dominates – on a honeyed frame. It’s soft, smooth and flowing, and ends seamlessly in a mouthwatering, mineral finish.
Panelists expressed “contentment” with L’Hospitalet blanc, describing it as “very satisfying” in its balance and flavor profile.
Winemaker’s pairings: Served chilled with fried scallops, fish cooked in sauce, or as an aperitif.
Chateau L’Hospitalet La Clape Grand Vin Rouge 2018, $45.99, 15.5% alcohol – What a way to end an exciting night with one of Bertrand’s top wines (the 2017 version was named Best Wine in the World in 2019). It’s a lavish, concentrated blend of Syrah (60%), Grenache (30%) and Mourvedre (10%).
Bertrand hails his vin rouge as a “true destination wine.” The blend of mostly native grapes delivers a “sense of place” typical of the south of France. The fruit gains complex characteristics from limestone soils and garrigue, the vegetative scrub plants that grow in and around seacoast vineyards.
L’Hospitalet Vin Rouge is a stimulating wine, beginning with its purple-color that glows with gleaming ruby accents. It’s got a outdoors fragrance, but at the core of this beauty is its – nicely melded black cherry and strawberry flavors.
Panelists were equally impressed with the subtle, secondary layering of lavender and chocolate notes emerging mid-palate and beyond. Also, earning high esteem were the silky tannins and salivating, minty finish.
Other top buzz words emanating from the group: “elegant”, “complex” and “delicious.”
Winemaker’s pairings: Rack of lamb, game birds or mature cheeses.