WineWriting.com & French Mediterranean Wine
Richard Mark James' wine and travel blog

01 January 2009

Roussillon: Domaine des Balmettes, Cases-de-Pène

2013 UPDATE - see below.

Lucien Salani is, like his friend Geoffroy Marchand at Etoile du Matin, one of an increasing band of young risk-taking growers with vineyards either side of the Corbières, who is making handmade, natural and whimsical wines; sometimes breathtaking, sometimes just a little too off-the-wall for some. All of Lucien's wines are simply labelled 'Côtes Catalanes' and most of them are varietal too, although it doesn't say so on the label. Each one is named after the plot(s) where a particular variety is planted - and more specifically the type of trees alongside - reflecting the different soils and, perhaps more importantly, varied lie of the land and micro-climate that characterise his vineyards as a whole. So, paraphrasing, each wine strives to say more about terroir, or rather the different terroirs you find here, than so-called appellation, Lucien believes.


For instance, out of eight hectares (expanded from the original four when he 'launched' back in 2003) he has spreading out from the back of Cases-de-Pène towards the hills above Espira; there's "Grenache facing all ways, Syrah facing south" and a few white vines here and there too. Despite the fact that his Syrah turns out a cracking wine, Lucien thinks: "Grenache and Carignan are the best adapted varieties here... Syrah also doesn't live as long (max 60-70 years)... And why have Mourvèdre if you have to treat it because it ripens late. The ideal is to get good ripe grapes without intervening with chemicals... and (for example) using traditional field selection to choose the most resistant plants" (as opposed to clonal selection or GM). On the winemaking front, he no longer de-stems the grapes (whole bunch fermentation) and is trying to move towards using zero sulphur dioxide (already quite low).

These wines were tasted, and some of them re-tasted, between October 2008 and January 2009:

2007 Les Agaves (Macabeu) - tasty, nutty and tangy; mineral freshness v honeyed floral fullness, dry and quite fine finish.
2007 Les Amandiers (Grenache on mostly marl, 14%) - ripe, smoky, tobacco-tinged black fruit and liquorice cocktail; turning meaty on the palate with lively gripping mouth-feel, tasty and long. 90
2007 Les Oliviers (Grenache on mostly schist, south and north facing parcels picked 2 weeks later, 14%) - less developed and smoky, much tighter and firm-textured mouth-feel with a tad of chocolate; nice depth of fruit underneath those currently big tannins, needs 6-12 months to open up. 90-92
2007 Les Figuiers (Syrah 14%) - slightly reductive yet smoky nose with wild cherry and herbs; again very ripe v savoury, very firm and powerful, dark fruit v dry texture. Needs 1-2 years to open up. Yum. 92+

2008s tasted from vat:
Macabeu
- lovely, nutty and savoury, rounded v fresh.
Grenache Blanc - more exotic and fatter, powerful v crisp finish.
Grenache Gris - pinky/copper colour, deliciously spicy and full v lively and with a touch of grip even.
Agaves (red) - gorgeous fruit v meat v grip.
Oliviers - big structure and concentration but nice tannins.
Les Balmettes ('Grenache Ouest' = west: new cuvée about to go into barrel) - more austere with coating of extract/tannins v lovely dark cherry and choco twist.
Syrah - rich and dark, big concentration and tannins layered with deep fruit.
2007 Muscat de Rivesaltes (15.5%, 100 grams/litre residual sugar) - rich and honeyed with attractive freshness so doesn't taste so sweet; oily textured peachy fruit v refreshing pear flavours, much crisper finish than most. 87+
2005 Les Oliviers (14%) - maturing smoky rustic nose with fig and cooked black cherries, cheesy / savoury with volatile complexity; meaty palate with leather notes and liquorice, grippy textured tannins v concentrated wild fruit v maturing 'real cider' flavours. Something in the background like it's a tad corked? Coming back to it: ageing quite quickly yet still has a kind-of wild intensity, richer mouth-feel with more liquorice and peppery now, turning more savoury and softer v firm and powerful. Still has ever so slightly 'musty' finish but it doesn't smell corked though? 90
2006 Les Oliviers (14%) - funky/reductive(?), slightly volatile 'real cider' aromas layered with 'sweet' dried black fruit, fig and wild herbs; very concentrated & ripe with tobacco and leather edges, very solid dry coating with big spicy finish, although it's comfortable with itself. At least, it will be as it closes up a little with lots of grip v lightly savoury fruit. Not sure. Next day: less funky, more complex with dried herbs/fruit, lush liquorice and smoky too; dry coating v ripe maturing fruit with leather, fig and baked apple; tasty and savoury v structured finish. 89+
2007 Les Oliviers (14%) - complex volatile wood-smoke notes v very ripe dried fruit, liquorice v peppery herbs, toffee apple and very light leather too; very concentrated, lush & rounded v solid dry tannins, 'sweet' liquorice and fig then tight closing up finish; needs a year to come out fully. Next: intense ripe fruit with wild/volatile edges v big structure and bite; a one-off. 92+

Click here for more Balmettes ('Top Languedoc & Roussillon over €10 tasting').

2013 update
Lucien has launched a couple of 'blended' wines featuring a mix of varieties, despite what I/he said above! Meant as easy-going 'range openers' though. The red is: 2012 L'Herbe rouge (Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre) - crunchy berry vs liquorice profile, fair depth actually with earthy edges and nice fruit.
2011 Les Figuiers (Syrah) - 'inky' and intense, concentrated with almost odd mix of fresh vs very ripe mouth-feel, lively and peppery with tight firm finish, nice tannins though. Should be good when it opens out a little.
2012 Les Agaves blanc (Macabeu) - wild cider vs apricot aromas, lively and fresh palate with intense crisp bite, hints of orange peel yet exotic and quite rich too. Wow!

2 Rue des Jaoumets, 66600 Cases-de-Pène. Tel: 04 68 38 16 03 / 06 09 58 17 35, lesbalmettes.com.


No comments:

Post a Comment