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A Visit to Clos Larrouyat

March 2023
A Visit to Clos Larrouyat

 After two weeks basking under clear skies, we arrived in Jurançon—France’s wettest wine-growing region. It was, of course, dripping with rain. Regardless, Maxime Salharang gave us a tour of his tiny three-hectare vineyard, where we met his ovine gardening team: a herd of mouton d’Ouessant. This small, short-tailed breed originated in Brittany, so they don’t mind the rainfall!

Salharang graduated from Bordeaux in 2010, where he studied under the learned Denis Dubourdieu and progressed to the top of his class. For two years, he worked with the inimitable Yvonne Hegoburu at Domaine de Souch. At the same time, during the evenings and weekends, Maxime and his wife Lucie planted their home vineyard on a block of land in Gan belonging to Maxime’s grandfather, a short drive from Pau in Jurançon’s La Chapelle de Rousse commune.

At the time, Maxime didn’t know he had stuck gold: laying under the topsoil, he found the ancient limestone called Trias marl, Jurançon’s rarest soil type. This soil type is partly responsible for some of the southwest’s raciest and most mineral-infused whites—wine that the French call as having toupet, real nerve. “We got lucky,” grins Maxime. Furthermore, the low pH of these soils acts as a natural preservative, meaning Salharang can work with low sulphur additions. To illustrate his point, he poured us a glass of his 2021 Comète, a wine that had been opened for a whole month; it tasted like it had been opened for all of one hour!

The upcoming 2022 dry wines had yet to be blended, yet each component was bursting with energy, verve and compelling citrus and rocky characters. Salharang’s vineyard slopes east, and this is a terroir where the grapes struggle to reach 13°; you can taste the tension in every sip. We can’t wait to taste the finished wines. Even the domaine’s only moelleux—a cuvée named Phoenix—is packed with unusual energy and drive.

Sometime after our visit, Clos Larrouyat won its second star in France’s leading wine guide. This is some going for a domaine that bottled its first wines in 2015. “Anyone who likes acidity and tension will find what they are looking for in the wines of Maxime and Lucie Salharang,” wrote La Revue du Vin de France. We would love to ship more of this grower’s wine, but with only three hectares of vines and no immediate plans to plant more, that won’t happen anytime soon. Maxime and Lucie want to remain small enough to do all the work themselves with their herd of mouton d’Ouessant. All we can say is that if you see this name on a wine list or merchant’s shelf, do not hesitate.

The Wines

Clos Larrouyat Jurançon Sec Comète 2022

Clos Larrouyat Jurançon Sec Comète 2022

Comète is a blend of 75% Petit Manseng and 25% Camaralet. The latter variety is hardly seen in Jurançon vineyards today, although it speaks volumes that many of the appellation’s more progressive domaines are invested. Maxime and Lucie Salharang’s Camaralet (which covers 10% of the vineyard) brings spicy/citrus cut to the juicier Manseng. The Manseng itself is drawn from a small canton of the vineyards facing southwest. Salharang explains that these vines deliver more power, and he uses only the first press juices that bring the most purity and finesse.

In the cellar, fermentation is spontaneous, and the wines are raised in old oak barrels (purchased from Smith-Haut Lafitte). In cooler years, Maxime stirs his lees to promote depth and texture. The wines always pass through malolactic conversion, 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. The 2022 is the most potent Comète we have yet shipped, yet even so, there’s a refreshing spine of racy freshness offsetting the wine’s grainy texture and juicy orange and white peach-scented fruit. Unfortunately, we have very little.

“The 2022 vintage of Comète sticks to both the warm vintage and the terroir, the acidity is perfect, the salinity jovial and the balance remarkable, the coldness of the exposure gives the wine all its tonicity.”
94 points, La Revue du Vins de France
“Instantly brilliant in the glass, the 2022 Comète, a blend of 75% Petit Manseng and 25% Camaralet, reveals a pure bouquet of spices, menthol, ripe orchard fruits and spring flowers. Medium to full-bodied, fleshy and sappy, it possesses a delicate core of fruit with a saline, mineral finish enhanced by racy bitterness. This wine is eminently suitable for gastronomic purposes, but it will benefit from three to five years of cellaring before revealing its full potential.”
92 points, Yohan Castaing, The Wine Advocate
Clos Larrouyat Jurançon Sec Comète 2022
Clos Larrouyat Jurançon Sec Météore 2022

Clos Larrouyat Jurançon Sec Météore 2022

Météore is this domaine’s core wine and is a 60:40 blend of Gros and Petit Manseng rooted in the soils of Gan in the commune of La Chapelle de Rousse. The terroir here is some of Jurançon’s most austere and sits on a rare band of Triassic limestone. Atop the limestone bedrock lies a blanket of poudingue, a mixture of clay with chalk, crushed pebbles and large galet stones—the legacy of the nearby Ossau Valley.

In the tiny cellar, no larger than a medium-sized garage, the grapes are pressed as whole bunches and ferment naturally in stainless steel before aging in used oak barrels from Pessac-Léognan. Brimming with the energy the Salharangs bring to this remote corner of southwest France, it’s a layered yet compact white with a swathe of juicy texture flecked by notes of tarragon, pollen and orange rind and a mouth-wateringly succulent, mineral-infected finish.

“In Météore 2022, the gros manseng, still under the influence of wood during its tasting, also presents a fair balance and a precision which reveals the salinity of the soil.”
92 points, La Revue du Vin de France
“2022 was a challenging year at Clos Larrouyat: after the hail on June 20th, there were four heat waves during the year, according to Maxime Salharang. The 2022 Météore, a blend of 40% Petit Manseng and 60% Gros Manseng, reveals a brilliant, pure and complex bouquet with aromas of white flowers, spring flowers, jasmine, menthol and pear. Medium to full-bodied, chiseled and energetic, it’s layered and textural with bright acids and a long, mineral and saline finish.”
91 points, Yohan Castaing, The Wine Advocate
Clos Larrouyat Jurançon Sec Météore 2022

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