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10 October 2008

Roussillon: Domaine Lafage, Perpignan /Tordères / Maury

Les Onze Terrasses in Les Aspres - see below.
Eliane (nee Salinas) and Jean-Marc Lafage have been at the helm of this expanding, tri-location estate for a relatively short time (in the scheme of things), having both travelled and worked at different wineries from California to Australia for a few years beforehand. Overall, they now have 140 hectares (345 acres) of vineyards across the Roussillon. More than half of them, planted primarily with Grenache blanc, Muscat and Syrah, are located between Perpignan and Canet overlooking the sea; the original Lafage family estate which they took over from Jean-Marc's father in 2001. The winery has since been refitted and a cellar-cum-shop renovated next to it, where you can taste the whole range (my first visit there and tasting of their wines - see below* - was in October 2006).
Back in 1996, they'd already bought about 30 ha of terraced vineyards called Le Vignon, near Tordères in central-southern Roussillon towards the mountains in an area called Les Aspres. It was largely remodelled and is home to Syrah, Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Marsanne and Muscat (see my October 2008 update below). Continuing the altitude theme, they also have a few plots in the wilds of the Agly valley, not far from Maury, planted with Muscat, Grenache and Carignan. These very different terroirs, to use the terrifying T word, allow them to fashion very good examples of all the regional styles; from dry and sweet whites - including one of the best, award-winning Chardonnays I've tried from round this way - a tasty gourmet rosé, intricate reds such as their Cuvée Léa to traditional aged Vins Doux Naturels.
2007 update: Waitrose (upmarket UK supermarket chain) listed two of Lafage's red and white Roussillon wines for their April/May 'showcase'; and I heard rumours that they'd bought Château Saint Roch (see A to Z) in Maury, but admittedly I wasn't able to go along to a couple of recent events they put on so haven't asked them what the latest is! Watch this space... Yes indeed, Saint-Roch is being integrated into the Lafage empire.

*2005 Côté Chardonnay - exotic honeyed nose (maybe some botrytis in there?), full & creamy but not oaky, quite rich fruit v fresh mineral intensity and very light coconut spice. 89+
*2005 Centenaire
Côtes du Roussillon blanc (mostly Grenache Blanc) - quite complex herbal honey and wild flower notes, nice freshness v weight and subtle spicy wood. 87
*2005 Côté Muscat sec - zippy and gummy, elegant grape and clementine flavours, nice length and bite. 87
*2005 Parfum de Vignes Côtes du Roussillon rosé - delicious floral red fruit cocktail, quite concentrated and chunky with fine dry finish bathed in aromatic fruit. 87-89
*2003 Côté Grenache noir (14.5%) - a bit cold and oxidised (been open for a few days); however, it shows attractive liquorice and leather tones, powerful mouth-feel yet not out of kilter thanks to some freshness and dry grip.
*2003 Cuvée Léa, Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres (Grenache Syrah Carignan) - interesting mixture of delicate smokiness and coconut v earthy yet ripe black fruits; a touch of oak notes and texture balanced by sufficient fruit, power and panache. 89-91
*2005 Grain de Vignes Muscat de Rivesaltes - lovely fresh fruit, once again offering zesty bite v extract, not so sweet in the end. 87-89
*2003 Rimage Rivesaltes Tuilé (Grenache) - quite closed up to start, meaty v black fruit undertones, tight and concentrated with light oak texture v depth of sweet fruit; needs a few years to mellow. 90-92
*1998 Vintage Rivesaltes (Grenache) - appealing savoury maturity v fig and raisin richness, quite chunky tannins v meaty fruit and sugar; drinking nicely now. 88-90

Lafage update October 2008
I was invited to clamber up the spectacularly located Le Vignon to witness the makings of 2008 vintage Les Onze Terrasses, their premium red wine sourced from selected parcels which are left until around mid October before picking. The view really is magnificent from just above the top of the vineyards, planted up to about 300 metres (950 feet), where you can see the terraced contours rolling down the slope (pictured above) and all points south (the Albères hills along the border with Spain), east (the Med), north (the Corbières) and, over the other side, Mont Canigou west-ish.
2005 Les 11 Terrasses is a blend of hand-selected Syrah (mostly), Carignan and Grenache, which are literally sorted grape by grape - removing any under- or over-ripe or rotten berries - and put directly into 500 litre barrels in situ. A bit of a publicity stunt perhaps, but there can't be many in the region making a red like this. There were two barrels this year the day I was there, but the quantity bottled of the 2005 suggests three. Apparently these are left for ten days, taken to the cellar then pressed down with wooden plungers and allowed to bubble away, with squashed whole berries still inside, for a further six to eight weeks before being emptied into a vat. After pressing, the wine goes back into new barrels for about 20 months. The 2005 was first released in Dec. 07, and 2006 will be available this Christmas; the attractive modernist label is designed by local artist Patrick Loste. 'T 11' is already sold in Belgium, Germany, Japan and the US, I'm told; I'll have to check the price but I know it's suitably expensive! Les Onze Terrasses (15%) - rather chocolate oak dominated to start although has lovely black fruits lurking underneath, gradually opens up to show depth, spicy intensity and purity; dark chocolate rounded texture v freshness, black olive & ripe blueberry flavours. Despite the oak (I can't help thinking they should take it out of barrel sooner), it does have nice balance and some kind of elegance, surprisingly that high alcohol is quite well-integrated. Went well with black pudding, saucisson and chorizo; a bit overpowering for the cured ham. Needs a couple of years to express itself better. 90+

More Lafage here (2009 Saint-Bacchus awards).
Plus the latest medal-winning vintages of some of these wines are featured HERE (World Grenache Competition 2013).

Mas Miraflors, Route de Canet, 66000 Perpignan. Tel: 04 68 80 35 82, contact@domaine-lafage.com, domaine-lafage.com.

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