Julien Zernott is a well known enologist in the Loire Valley, but he was intrigued by the potential of the Languedoc. He spent years searching for an unusual vineyard site in the south of France before stumbling upon the historic Pas de l'Escalette and a small patchwork of vineyards set at an altitude of almost 1500 feet (very high for Languedoc). Pas de l'Escalette is a cliff, a calcareous rock formation that is perched above the Lergue river in the northern Languedoc at the edge of Larzac Plateau. Zernott's vines are planted on terraces that are retained by ancient stone walls, called "Clapas." Centuries ago, the only way to descend from the rock formation to the vines was by ladder! The terrain was too rugged for roads or even footpaths. Planted to Grenache, Syrah and Carignan, vines used in the production of Le Grand Pas range from 45 to 80 years of age.
There is large summer temperature fluctuation from day to night in this remote corner of the Languedoc. With the rocky soil and the cool nights, the vines are never overheated, and harvest typically takes place two weeks later than the greater part of the Languedoc or the southern Rhone. Due to the rugged climate, the harvest is conducted by hand with each harvester clipping only the ripest bunches and placing them into small hand-held bins, bringing only pristine grapes into the winery.
The 2004 Le Grand Pas is a wine that belies its origins. Unlike most of the top Languedoc reds, Le Grand Pas is not only rich and succulent, but also beautifully vibrant--a wine with mineral structure more akin to Cote Rotie than to Montpellier.This is a rare and magnificent blend of the elements of three varieties: the silkiness of Grenache, the fresh ripe berry flavors of Carignan, and the finesse and structure of Syrah.
2004 was a long growing season at Le Pas de l'Escalette without the intense heat of 2003. As a result this second release of Le Grand Pas is rich and muscular on the palate, but feminine and seductive on the nose. Ripe red fruit nose with notes of garrigue. Warm, plush, silken and concentrated on the palate, this is drinking magnificently now, but will continue to develop complexity in bottle over the next 5-7 years.
Last winter Julien treated us to a Langeudocienne delicacy, Agneau de Quercy Rouge, the wonderful AOC lamb leg that is so earthy and rich. Grand Pas was terrific here when accompanied with roasted potatoes, a simple green salad, and a Pyrenees sheep's milk cheese to finish.