A rare tasting of Didier Barral’s Languedoc wines

by Tom Fiorina on January 7, 2015

Didier Barral, right, from Domaine Léon Barral at the wine-tasting in Toulouse.

Didier Barral, right, from Domaine Léon Barral at a rare wine-tasting in Toulouse.

Didier Barral, of Domaine Lèon Barral in the Languedoc’s Faugères wine appellation, is known throughout France for his radical soil conservation techniques. Besides making biodynamic wine, he also allows a herd of cows to roam the vineyard after the grapes are harvested, fertilizing the soil and pre-pruning the grapevines.

He’s also known for rarely offering wine-tastings of his wine. For one, he doesn’t have to; even though his wines are well above the price of a normal Languedoc wine, he has no problem selling them. Secondly, tastings take time, and he would rather spend this time in his vineyard. I did a three-month winemaking internship at the Domaine Léon Barral in 2011 as part of my œnology studies. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen, working from dawn to dusk (and even often into the night) seven days a week. And the final incentive for attending this wine-tasting at one of my favorite Toulouse wine shops, Le Temps des Vendanges, was that they were from 2011, the year when I did my internship.

Here are my impressions of the wines.

Domaine Léon Barral Tradition (50% Carignan, 30% Grenache, 20% Cinsault)
Like all of this domaine’s reds, the grapes for this wine are grown in rugged schist soil. It displays power, rusticity, and incredibly fresh, pure fruit. Ripe, red-fruit flavors, along with some cranberry, are enhanced with a mineral freshness and a long, spicy after-taste.

Domaine Léon Barral Jadis (50% Carignan, 30% Syrah, 20% Grenache)
Peppery, slightly reductive cherry and berry fruit nose, with, once again, a generous helping of herbs and spice. The palate is juicy, earthy and complex, with a tension and balance that give the wine exceptional energy and a longer, more elegant finish than the traditional cuvée.

Domaine Léon Barral Valinière (80% Mourvèdre 20% Syrah)
The Syrah in Jadis comes from southern-facing vines, while the domaine’s top cuvee, Valinières, uses Syrah grapes from northern-facing vines. The cooler, northern exposure allows the grapes to remain on the vines longer, giving added maturity, greater concentration of flavors, and increased complexity. The Mourvèdre balances out, with its freshness and graphite flavors, the ultra-mature Syrah grapes. Its initial hint of animal, meat-like aromas (that, with some aeration, are soon tamed by the black fruit and fresh herbs) may be too much for those who like their wine filtered and sanitized.

Domain Léon Barral Vin de Pays de l’Herault Blanc (80% Terret Blanc and Gris, 10% Viognier, 10% Roussane)
Those wine drinkers who have difficulty with Barral’s Valinière should probably steer clear of his oxidative, peach-stone-colored white wine with a unique style. Its production goes against every œnology course that I ever had. The grapes are first pressed in the same century-old, vertical, wooden basket press that Barral uses for his red wines. This gentle pressing goes on for the better part of a day, during which time the wine is left exposed to the air without any sulfur, dry ice, nitrogen or other inert gas, or even a cover to protect it. After six or eight months in a concrete tank, the wine is aged on the fine lees for 10-12 months in well-used barrels. The result is an extraordinary white wine that has a delicious citrus-fruit, almond and peach-skin nose, a harmonious mouth of peaches, apricots, herbs, and an electric minerality.

Like all of the Domaine Léon Barral wines, it reflects the originality, individuality and uniqueness of its winemaker, Didier Barral.

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