Domaine La Combe Blanche

2004 'La Chandelière' Minervois La Livinière

Red Blend •Minervois La Livinière

France: Languedoc-Roussillon

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Mission Codename: Swinging from ‘La Chandelière’

Operative: Agent White

Objective: Visit the Languedoc-Roussillon and acquire a delicious Syrah-Grenache blend.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Domaine La Combe Blanche

Wine Subject: 2004 ‘La Chandelière’ Minervois La Livinière



The Minervois AOC, located in the Languedoc-Roussillon is situated inland from the coast just north of the Corbieres and west of the Coteaux du Languedoc. The vineyards in the area are dominated by its rocky clay and limestone soil, dry arid climate.

Today’s selection is from the Cru La Livinière which was officially designated in 1999. The red wines form the region are a blend of local grapes and must be at least 40% of one or more of the following grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre or Lladoner Pelut with the remainder being other local grapes. Known for its generally rustic style, good years can produce exceptional wines ranging from full designation to VDP. Today’s selection is 75% Syrah from 20 year old vines and 25% Grenache from vines that average 70 years old.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Deep garnet purple with a dark color core that allows ruby red streaks to shine through when held to the light. When swirled, clusters of fast thin legs race down the side of the glass.

Smell – Rich and rustic on the nose with spicy pepper mixing with black cherry and blackberry. Complex notes of cigar box cedar and tobacco along with oak and licorice notes invite you in to this wine.

Feel – Classic old world in style, this medium-to-full bodied dry wine has well developed tannins, lively acidity and a distinctive Minervois minerality that lingers into the finish.

Taste – Restrained fruit on the palate with a slight rustic edge of blackberry, black and red cherry along with other dark fruit blend with spiced black and hot white pepper, tobacco, mocha and a wild anise component are framed by its sturdy but not overpowering oak backbone.

Finish – Medium long in length with the fruit fading first followed by the spiced pepper and oak and lastly the tannins and minerality.

Conclusion – The *2004 Domaine La Combe Blanche ‘La Chandelière’ Minervois La Livinière * is classically Minervois in character with its old-world style and minerality. A complex nose invites you in, well structured with rich rustic fruit layered over an array of complex Syrah and Grenache flavors. This wine is a lovely fall wine and will pair well with rich stews and wild game meats. Give this wine some time to breathe to fully expose its full potential. Drink now or cellar for 3-5 years.

Mission Report:

Agent White is currently A.W.O.L. and presumed in the south of France procuring a winemaker interview. As soon as he has been located, his mission report will be posted.

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The approximate location of the Domaine La Combe Blanche in La Livinière, France can be seen in this satellite photo.

What the Winery Says

About The Wine:

Rich and full bodied with a complex nose of blackberry, cherry, cedar, pepper.

“La Chandelière” is Domaine La Combe Blanche’s premier wine. It is only produced in the best years and production is limited to about 6000 bottles. “La Chandelière” is virtually impossible to find outside of France (and even in France, locating the wine is a challenge).

A blend of 75% Syrah and 25% Grenache, “La Chandelière” 2004 is deeply colored in the glass, and solid and tight on first taste before opening with a full and fruity bouquet. It has wild berry, tobacco and spice flavors, combined with a hint of pepper and warm licorice. A full-bodied wine with a long, elegant finish and ripe tannins, the wine is memorable and truly delicious.

The wine is from the appellation of Minervois La Livinière in France’s Languedoc region (you can read more about the Languedoc region in the estate page for Domaine La Combe Blanche). Created in 1997, Minervois La Livinière is comprised of 500 acres spread over 6 villages on the foothills of the Montagne Noir, in an area known as the Petit Causse. Prior to 1997, this area was part of the Minervois AC (mee-nehr-VWAH), a small appellation that produces some of the best red wines in the Languedoc. Minervois La Livinière is the first time that a village appellation has been created in the Languedoc and its existence is a testimony to the winemakers’ commitment to quality, as well as the region’s unique geology and microclimate.

The wine is produced from 30-year-old vines grown at an elevation of 800 feet. Guy Vanlancker, the owner and winemaker of Domaine La Combe Blanche, tends the vines by hand and keeps the yields low. The grapes are vinified and aged separately by varietal. After being crushed, they are left to macerate for 10 to 20 days. Vanlancker believes that this allows for a better extraction of the phenols (the color and flavor compounds from the grape skins). Indigenous yeast then begins the fermentation, with a stirring of the lees (the dead yeast cells, pulp and skin fragments) twice a day to enhance the flavor and complexity of the wine. The Syrah is barrel-aged for 18 months in 50% new and 50% year-old barrel, while the Grenache is aged for a minimum of 15 months in a mixture of stainless steel vats and 3-year-old barrels. (The proportions are adjusted according to the dictates of the vintage.)

In her book “The Wines of the South of France: From Banyuls to Bellet,” Rosemary George MW (one of the UK’s most respected wine writers) recommended the wines from Domaine La Combe Blanche, commenting “There is no doubt that Guy Vanlancker deserves greater recognition, for his wines are stylish and individual.” A perfect example of this is Vanlancker’s hand-crafted and artisanal “La Chandelière.”

“La Chandelière” 2004 is drinking well now and will continue to gain complexity with age. Try it with game, hearty dishes (such as stews or minestrone), grilled meat and lamb. It also pairs naturally with most Mediterranean and North African cuisines (especially Moroccan and Lebanese food).

About The Winery:

Domaine La Combe Blanche is located in the fairly obscure appellation of Minervois in France’s Languedoc region.

The Languedoc is home to more than a third of France’s vineyard acreage. It stretches west from the Rhone River estuary in the west to the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains near the Spanish border, wrapping around the Mediterranean coast and including the medieval city of Carcassonne. Historically, it has had a reputation for producing plonk wines in bulk. But over the last 20 years a transformation has taken place.

Shunning the factory mentality that has gripped many of the co-operatives that have long dominated the Languedoc, a new generation of dedicated, innovative winemakers have taken advantage of the region’s reasonably-priced vineyards. Emphasizing quality over quantity, these winemakers have dramatically cut yields, instituted best practices in vineyard management, and brought back traditional, artisanal vinification methods. The results have been nothing short of revolutionary.

Look outside the large merchants, co-ops and brokers, and the Languedoc offers hand-crafted wines of real character and individuality. Some of the best I’ve found come from Guy Vanlancker’s estate, Domaine La Combe Blanche.

Domaine La Combe Blanche first caught my attention when I tried its “La Chandelier” cuvée, bought after a wine tasting in small wine shop in Narbonne (a sleepy town on an old Roman road in southern France). Made from a blend of 75% Syrah and 25% Grenache, the wine was rich and elegant, with peppery notes and black cherry. I immediately set out to track down the producer. Unable to find a phone number or website, I sent a letter to Vanlancker telling him how much I had enjoyed the wine and asking if I could arrange a visit to his domaine. He agreed and a month later, I found myself in the ancient wine village of La Livinière meeting with Vanlancker in the old stone building that he uses as his cellar.

A former schoolteacher from Belgium, Vanlancker’s dreamed for years of escaping the cold and damp of Belgium for the warm, Mediterranean climate of the Languedoc where he would make his own wine. In 1981, he fulfilled his dream and moved to the village of La Livinière where he purchased vineyards. In the beginning, he sold all of his grapes to the local cooperative. Overtime, he began to push for higher standards of winemaking, but as the “upstart” from Belgium, he did not make much headway.

In 1998, Vanlancker had the resources to leave the co-op and began to make his own wine. The rest, as they say, is history.

Domaine La Combe Blanche’s vineyards rest between 700 and 800 feet above Livinière, about 18 miles inland from the Mediterranean. The vines are at least 30 years old and grow in a rocky mixture of limestone and clay soils. The climate is arid, and because of the elevation, hot days are offset by cool nights. All combine to set the stage for Vanlancker’s remarkably-good and beautifully-concentrated wine.

Vanlancker keeps yields well below approved limits by pruning and cropping (for the aficionado, his average yield is 25 to 35 hl/ha, significantly less than to the permitted yield of 50 to 60 hl/ha). Grapes are picked by hand and collected in small trays to prevent damage and oxidation. He uses indigenous yeast to start fermentation. Each parcel is vinified and aged separately (some in oak, some in vat) before blending and bottling.

In her book “The Wines of the South of France: From Banyuls to Bellet,” Rosemary George MW (one of the UK’s most respected wine writers) praised Domaine La Combe Blanche, commenting “There is no doubt that Guy Vanlancker deserves greater recognition, for his wines are stylish and individual.”

We are currently offering two wines from Domaine La Combe Blanche: “La Chandelière” 2004, Minervois La Livinière and “Calamiac Terroir” 2005, Minervois. Both are delicious wines that are excellent value for the money.

Technical Analysis:

Varietals: Syrah 75%, Grenache 25%

Alcohol: 14.5%

Vintage: 2004

Wine Type: Red Wine

Appellation: Minervois La Livinière

Aging: Aged 18 months in 50% new barrels and 50% one-year-old oak barrels

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