Jonathan Ray

Wine Club 8 June

Wine Club 8 June
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We’ve four wines from Château Belles Eaux this week, one of the leading lights of the Languedoc and a long-standing favourite of mine. I remember a very jolly visit to the estate in the days when it was in the hands of AXA Millésimes, the vineyard-owning arm of AXA Insurance that’s led by the canniest of canny old foxes — Christian Seely.

CS is celebrated for snapping up and turning around under-performing estates and making them great again. Given that the AXA portfolio currently includes such top-notch properties as Quinta do Noval, Ch. Pichon Baron, Ch. Suduiraut, Ch. Petit-Village, Domaine de l’Arlot and Disznókó, you will have some idea of the company Ch. Belles Eaux has been used to keeping. Seely/AXA bought the estate in 2002, invested heavily, planted extensively, turned it around and sold it in 2015 to Les Grands Chais de France, one of the world’s largest drinks companies, which has continued the good work.

The 100-hectare estate lies in the hills of Caux near Pézenas. It’s wild country here, with dry, rocky, gravelly soil, the heady scent of herb scrub and a constantly blazing sun. The estate has an enviable microclimate, too, thanks in part to the many springs — the Belles Eaux themselves — that thread the property, giving freshness and nourishment to the vines.

I love the whites of the Languedoc and the 2018 Ch. Belles Eaux ‘Les Coteaux’ Blanc (1), from the estate’s middle range of wines, is one of those that I could drink all day long and probably would if Mrs Ray wasn’t keeping such a close eye on my consumption at the moment.

A blend of Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Vermentino and Roussanne (part of which spends time in oak), it’s full flavoured, rich, creamy and complex. There’s plenty of vibrantly fresh white peach here and something tasty that I can’t quite put my finger on. Baked apple maybe and something faintly spicy. Either way, it’s darn tasty and — I know such things shouldn’t matter but they do — comes in a very pukka-looking bottle that belies its modest price tag. £10.00 down from £12.75.

The 2018 Ch. Belles Eaux ‘Les Coteaux’ Rosé (2) is similarly classy although I have to say that the bottle ain’t quite so posh. A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, it’s a beguilingly pale, pale peony pink thanks to swift pressing and no maceration. Stainless-steel fermentation and a brief maturation in steel vats has led to a deliciously fresh and appealing pinkers, full of wild strawberries, peaches and herbs. If grown-up rosé is your thing, you’ll love it. £9.50 down from £11.75.

The 2017 Ch. Belles Eaux ‘Les Coteaux’ Rouge (3) is a similar blend to the rosé but a wildly different wine of course. Fermented in stainless steel and concrete to preserve freshness, the wine was then steeped for six weeks or so to give depth and colour before the cuvée was split into two, with one half being aged in French oak for 15 months to give structure and body and the other half being rested in concrete vats to ensure freshness of fruit. The result is a red wine of quite some depth and robust complexity, full of ripe black cherries, liquorice, spice and herbs. It’s one for the barbecue all right. £10.00 down from £12.75.

Finally, the 2010 Ch. Belles Eaux ‘Les Coteaux’ Rouge (4) a fully mature example of the above. The extra bottle age has softened the tannins and given an earthy, meaty, mushroomy, tobacco-laden core to it. There’s still plenty of fruit and it’s wearing its age lightly. Slosh into a carafe or decanter and enjoy. £11.00 down from £14.50.

These are ideal summer wines and corking good value given the generous discounts we managed to squeeze out of Mr W. Get stuck in and enjoy!

The mixed case has three bottles of each wine and delivery, as ever, is free.

Written byJonathan Ray

Jonathan Ray is the Spectator's wine editor.

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