The emergent vine area north of Limoux shares a fortuitous mixture of Bordelais and Languedoc grape varieties and similarly serendipitous influences of Atlantic and Mediterranean weather patterns. Traditionally an enclave of cereal production and sheep farming, its elevated, free-draining soils also lend themselves well to viticulture. Philippe and his brother Jean-François Girard typify a new breed of former co-opérateurs who recognised the potential of the local terroir and decided to invest in their own operations. The pair have now completed work on a smart new winery, cellars and shop for Domaine Girard on the outskirts of the village of Alaigne – 10 kilometres north-west of Limoux – where they vinify, bottle and sell a concise but cutting-edge range of cleverly conceived and keenly-priced wines.
The first of the duo's wines to capture our attention was his principal bottling of Malepère 'Tradition' which is made from a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc that is fermented and matured over the winter in thermo-regulated stainless-steel vats. The finished wine has terrific red fruit aromas and a core of dark garrigue berry fruit offset by fresh acidity and supported by supple tannins. It drinks well from release with charcuterie or freshly-foraged mushrooms. When we visited Philippe and Jean-François in situ, we had the pleasure of tasting their pure Pinot Noir which was a revelation as it is a soil-sensitive grape that requires careful cultivation. Happily, we were impressed from the outset by its ripe raspberry scents, rounded red plum flavours and delicate mineral undertones. It drinks well lightly-chilled with chicken or grilled pork chops. Our most recent addition from this 'on form' operation is their 'Garriguette' rosé - a pure Cabernet Franc that is bottled as a Pays d'Oc. With an attractive coral pink colour, a 'summer pudding' bouquet and zesty redcurrant flavours, it is a versatile wine for enjoyable al fresco imbibing.