Today sees the release of the long-awaited Black Knight 2016 – the flagship cuvee from Hegarty Chamans, the secluded Minervois estate on the slopes of the Montagne Noire. Black Knight is only released in top vintages - the last vintage being 2012 - and comes from the finest plots in this enchanting vineyard.
We were fortunate to taste this wine on a number of occasions earlier this year, both from barrel and following bottling. We were blown away by the quality, the textural richness of the wine, the layering of the tannins and the purity of fruit. It certainly has the signature elegance the winery has always promoted above anything else, but there is Minervois power too. Entranced by the wines, we have been following this winery for a number of years and this is undoubtedly the finest cuvee to come out of the property to date, offering fantastic value for the quality.
Hegarty Chamans is located on a very particular site, not dissimilar in its seclusion to the likes Chateau Rayas, further north in Chateauneuf du Pape, or even Soldera in Tuscany. What they all have in common, alongside very low yields, is a belief that great vineyard sites need a fully functioning, biodiverse environment to produce great wine. All these vineyards are surrounded by forests that not only protect the vineyard from chemical infiltration from neighbouring sites but benefit from a rich biodiversity that protects soil health and the vines' natural resistance to disease, increasing vine age. The ultimate goal is to have a vineyard in perfect self-sustaining health.
Winemaker Jessica Servet believes this rich biodiversity is key to the vineyard working with its surrounding environment. Animal life is fundamental here; the estate raises a small flock of sheep which eliminates the weeds that grow between the vines and provides natural fertiliser, supplemented by other organic manures. Hegarty Chamans also practices beekeeping, to preserve pollination. The team prepares its own composts which are energised using specific biodynamic preparations to encourage microbiological life and the mineral and organic richness which Jessica believes is the source of the strong terroir expression found in the wines.
The weeks leading up to harvest are when winemaker Jessica Servet knows whether there will be a Black Knight cuvee made that year. 2016 proved to be a very easy decision: “it was the most relaxed season I can remember, no heat spikes and very even ripening”, she recalls.
The cuvee is typically made from the same favoured plots. Syrah, which makes up 80% of the blend, always comes from the “Rabbit” vineyard – distinct red and white clay in the soil produces an unbelievable freshness to the Syrah from this site. The Carignan (typically around 10% of the blend) always comes from the oldest 60-70 year old vines, high up on the hill above the winery. The Grenache is selected following vinification. For Jessica, the best expression of Grenache is based on picking it at exactly the right time. It gives you incredibly pure strawberry jam flavour with white pepper. When you capture both that sweet and spicy flavour in the wine you know you have got it right.
There is certainly a bit of magic at Hegarty Chamans and the Black Knight 2016 is undoubtedly the finest cuvee we have tasted from the property. With only 300 Magnums currently available, don’t miss this limited release from the leading biodynamic estate in Southern France.
Dark and intense in the glass, this is a wine that speaks very clearly of its southern French roots. The nose is ripe and rich, yet alongside the dark bramble fruit and cassis, there’s a crunch of redcurrants. Complexity comes courtesy of notes of vanilla chai, cedar and baking spice, as well as a touch of barnyard. The Carignan shines through with its distinctive sweet spice and baked fruit character, countered by a pepper freshness from the Syrah. Intense and rich on the palate, the tannins are ripe yet chalky, offering a firm grip, cut by juicy acidity. Not by any means shy and retiring, this is bold – yet with all the requisite poise to develop over the coming decade.
FINE+RARE (April 2021) Drink 2021-2031
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"Deep fragrant lifted nose, sweet and savoury spices (vanilla, roasted cloves), with lovely peppered cured meat and roasted blackberry fruit tones. Spicy forest fruits and more savoury, grilled meat and thyme notes on the palate intertwine with long, fine, silky tannins. The texture of the wine really stands out. The purity and spectrum of fruit is also noticeable from roasted strawberry, blueberry, blackberry fruit plus floral violets, lavender and liquorice notes. The balance is exceptional. Vibrant, fresh and an energised pulse on the finish with the delineated fruit flavours lingering long on the palate. Drinking window 2020-2035" (Tasted July 2020)