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Clos Larrouyat: Chablis of the South

Clos Larrouyat: Chablis of the South

“Those who like acidity and tension will find it in the wines of Maxime and Lucie Salharang…” La Revue du Vin de France

The late Didier Dagueneau had a genius for producing greatness from places many thought it could not exist. Having torn up the rule book in Pouilly-Fumé, in his later years Dagueneau turned his attention to Jurançon, a beautiful region in southwestern France. It’s an area that, despite its obvious potential, he had long considered to be an underperformer. Made in tiny quantities, Dagueneau’s magical sweet wines and extraordinary, intense dry wines captivated anyone lucky enough to find them. They also challenged the convention that Jurançon had found its level: if Dagueneau could do it, surely others would follow.

Which leads us to Maxime Salharang. It’s taken us the best part of a decade to find a grower crafting the kind of pristine mineral whites that hold a torch to the quality and style we found in those unicorns from Dagueneau’s Les Jardins de Babylon label. Finally, our long, drawn-out search came to an emphatic end last year when we came across a young producer celebrating its tenth anniversary.

Clos Larrouyat is a tiny, family-run domaine planted to just three hectares in Gan, located in the commune of La Chapelle de Rousse, just south of the regional capital of Pau (the beautiful town well-known to followers of the Tour de France as the staging post to the Pyrenees). After graduating from Bordeaux, where he studied under the learned Denis Dubourdieu, in 2011 Maxime Salharang and his wife Lucie began planting their vineyard on a block of land belonging to Maxime’s grandfather. The terroir here is notable for a rare band of Triassic limestone that runs through this part of the appellation. Atop the limestone bedrock lies a blanket of poudingue (a mixture of clay with chalk, crushed pebbles and large galets stones). These soils are very tough and hard to work.

Jurançon’s Petit Manseng forms the lion’s share of the plantings, followed by Gros Manseng and the rare, underused Camaralet; all planted on sheltered, east-facing slopes in the coolest part of the appellation. Paul Strang has written [South-West France: The Wines and Winemakers] “The wines from this area are said to be more minerally and lively, to have what the French call toupet, real nerve.” This observation is certainly borne out in Salharang’s strikingly bright wines, which seldom ripen to 13% potential alcohol.

Certified organic, Maxime and Lucie’s farming borrows elements from biodynamics to achieve harmony in the local ecosystem. Natural grasses left between the rows soak up excess moisture and force the young vines’ roots deep towards the bedrock; a flock of Pyrenean sheep helps with the weeding and promotes soil health. In the cellar, fermentations are wild and the wines are raised in old oak barrels (purchased from Smith Haut Lafitte). In cooler years, Salharang stirs the lees to promote depth and texture. The wines always pass through malo, which is needed to balance the extraordinary acidity gained in this cool terroir. Added sulphur is kept under 40 mg/L and the wines are seldom fined before bottling.

Kermit Lynch, who imports Clos Larrouyat into the US, has described the Salharang’s Jurançons as “racy, mineral-infused white wines that have more in common with Chablis than with other southern whites.” That works for us. Although, while these wines will always have more body, you could also include the very finest Muscadet by way of comparison. As you can read in the wine notes, the dry wines are bursting with mouth-watering intensity, while the delicious and racy Moelleux is a lighter and more chiselled example of this famous wine style.

 

The Wines

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