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

30 October 2009

Roussillon: Domaine of the Bee, Maury


What's all this English then, you might be wondering? Bit of a giveaway but the name has a certain ring to it. The people behind the Bee are Justin Howard-Sneyd MW "biggest nose" (I quote from their website), aka former head of Waitrose wine buying then Direct Wines/Laithwaite's, and long-time enthusiast for south of France wines; Philippe Sacerdot "biggest brains" and Justin's wife Amanda "biggest hair." Back in 2003, a second family trip to the Maury area (so the story goes...) instilled a minor obsession to buy a few plots of vines, which now total nearly 4 hectares of old Grenache and Carignan, "about the size of 5 football pitches" (not being a soccer type, it never occurred to me to use that comparison to explain ha but it does the trick).
These exposed (big wind and sun) vineyard parcels are managed by Richard Case at Domaine de la Pertuisane, who also makes the wine at his / American partner's new mega-winery up the hill from Maury (more on that to follow...). I say 'wine' as there's only one so far, hence the single tasting note below on the promising 2007 vintage. Before that, the grapes went into various Pertuisane wines. There's a lot of blah blah said about yields in this area (and just about everywhere really), but they sum it up quite neatly on the site referring to quantity produced in 07: "Imagine a square 4 metres by 4 metres with one bottle sitting in the middle. That's roughly the yield that these ancient vines give us." Anyway, this translates as the wine costing £16-£20 a bottle depending on how many and whether you buy it in the UK or France. More details from www.domaineofthebee.com, where there's even an honest FAQ justifying "why is it so expensive?" I like your nerve!

Tasted in late October 2009:
2007 Domaine of the Bee vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes (Grenache, Carignan 15%) - a dusting of coconut oak layered with very ripe dark fruits; spicy and chunky mouthfeel with dry vs quite soft texture, rich and powerful yet balanced with fairly intense but not too huge finish. 87-89

UPDATE: November 2011. Click here for the latest buzzings-on at the Bee camp including a note on their recently released and rather tasty 2009 vintage red. More updates to follow e.g. the Bee has since moved wineries to Chateau Saint Roch just outside Maury.

01 October 2009

Roussillon: Domaine de l'Edre, Vingrau

Pascal Dieunidou and Jacques Castany are almost "old-timers" (relative to the many young-gun estates now around, I mean), having joined forces and vineyards in the Vingrau area eight years ago. 2002 was the first year they decided to take the winemaking plunge and actually make their own wine (one), although they've both had a few plots of vines for longer than that and previously delivered their grapes to the local co-op. Jacques' father also used to be a co-op grower and Pascal started "lending a hand" (as it says on their site, see link below) tending a friend's vineyard in 1999. And it all took off from there, as the story goes... Edre does have a pretty good reputation among in-the-know fans of small-production Roussillon wines, and my notes seem to confirm that. They now make two red blends and a very good white too. I tasted two vintages of one of the reds back in October 2009:
2007 "Carrément rouge" Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah/Grenache/Carignan 15%) - herbal funky edges on the nose underlined by spicy Syrah-dominated fruit; ripe liquorice flavours vs firm dry texture, pretty powerful finish but it's concentrated. 88(+)
2008 "Carrément rouge" - spicy minty aromas vs gorgeous lush fruit and mouthfeel, juicy and dark finishing with attractive "sweet" yet savoury profile. Yum. 90
And previously, tasted at the
6th Fenouillèdes wine show 2006:
2005 Côtes du Roussillon blanc - yeasty and fat start leads to fresh mineral poise, crisp and dry v rich mouth-feel. 87-89
2004 Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah Grenache Carignan) - rich vibrant blackberry fruit with chocolate oak texture, firm closed up finish but it reveals more with a little aeration, dense and powerful (14.5%) yet has nice bite too. Needs time. 87-89

81 rue du Maréchal Joffre, 66600 Vingrau. By appointment only, phone numbers are on www.edre.fr

Roussillon: Saint-Bacchus Awards 2009

Words
The award-winning wines gleaned from this annual French Catalan taste-off were this year (2009) billed as "the finest representation of the Roussillon region," which it probably isn't although for sure there are some good wines to pick from here. As in any competition, the winners are only as good as the wines submitted in the first place and, I assume as I don't know what the original 'pre-selected' line-up was, it appears the majority of the Roussillon's best growers and winemakers didn't/don't actually enter the Saint-Bacchus. Why don't they? Instead of moaning that it's a PR stunt for co-ops and big wineries (paraphrasing what I've heard from more than one source, and admittedly there's apparently a minimum volume requirement for any wine entered), they should put their wine where their mouth is, so to speak, so in the end it does truly represent "the region's finest." By the way, this rant certainly isn't a criticism of the tasters (I know and respect some of them) nor judging process; wine judges can only give their verdict on the bottles put in front of them. Just a missed opportunity maybe due to local wine politics! So, why not allow any wine regardless of the quantity available?
Talking of judges, just to fill you in a little on how the competition works... 158 wines out of 327 submitted (see what I mean, not that many) were singled out in Perpignan last April by local winemakers, sommeliers and wine merchants. These were then sent to London the following month to be tasted blind by an "international" panel (eight different nationalities I'm told) at the Maison de la Région Languedoc-Roussillon (yes, they've blown a load of money on some swanky premises in the West End), who picked 21 winners. I tasted all of these in September 2009, not blind and mostly in the kitchen over dinner by the way! See my notes & reviews opposite, for what it's worth... Many thanks to the CIVR (Roussillon wine industry body) for the samples, who are doing a bit of a St-Bacchus autumn road-show around France and further afield: more info from www.vinsduroussillon.com.

Wines
In no particular order, apart from colour/style and when they were opened... Search through the 'Winery A to Z' (right) for lots more wines from most of these wineries.

White
 
2008 Le Petit Blanc de Saint Roch, vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes (13%) - tastes like a closet dry Muscat (doesn't specify the grapes although it's actually 50/50 Muscat/Sauvignon blanc) with floral, grapey, orange peel notes; not bad weight and roundness, oily texture and a bit of depth vs crisp and dry, fairly simple style but attractive. €6 cellar door. 83-85
2008 Cuvée Centenaire Domaine Lafage, Côtes du Roussillon ( Grenache blanc & Roussanne 13.5%) - well-made "New Worldy" white with just a hint of oak, quite fat and creamy with "sweet" fruit vs lovely fresh mineral bite; juicy yeast-lees notes vs crisp and dry finish, nice balance and style. €8.50 cellar door, £9.50 Bibendum Wines, London; US: European Cellars, Charlotte NC. 87-89
2008 Viognier Arnaud de Villeneuve, vin de pays d'Oc (13%) - leaner zingy style showing very lightly exotic peach and pear fruit vs juicy crisp mouthfeel; not very Viognier in the end, although it's a refreshing wine and went well with a quite strong chicken curry actually! £6.99 Liberty Wines, London. 80-85
2008 Collioure Cornet & Cie (Cave Abbé Rous, mostly Grenache grisRoussanne, Marsanne, Vermentino 14%) - the second time I've tried this wine and I can't really get on with it I'm afraid: perhaps less oaky than I remember and juicier, oilier and more mineral although still rather toasted; powerful with a touch of crispness on the finish, but it's quite charred too vs not enough "fat" for me. Mind you, my neighbours liked it so there you go. €11.50 cellar door, £8.99 M&S (from November).
2008 Côtes du Roussillon Château Rombeau (14%) - peachier and spicier style with creamy lees notes too; more exotic and richer vs lightly toasted flavour/texture; honeyed leesy creamy palate vs crisp bite and spicy bitter edges, pretty weighty mouthfeel too. Perhaps better even after being open for 24 hours. €7.50 cellar door. 87+

Rosé
 
2008 Rosé des Vents Château de Caladroy, Côtes du Roussillon (GrenacheCarignanSyrah 13%) - full-on rounded fruity "vinous" style (as the French say) with lots of raspberry fruit and rose petal edges; chunky mouthfull with a tad of tannin even vs dry crisp finish. Well-made gourmet rosé. €6.50 cellar door and French supermarkets/wine shops, US importer: Vintage 59, Washington DC. 87+
2008 Parfum de Vignes Domaine Lafage, Côtes du Roussillon ( SyrahGrenacheCarignan 13%) - quite full and "chunky" with attractive rounded creamy strawberry fruit vs fresher edges and food-friendly weight; perhaps lacks a bit of zing though. €8.50 cellar door, £8.25 Bibendum. 85+
2008 "Rozy" Dom Brial, vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes (Syrah & Muscat 13%) - quite aromatic Muscaty nose, moves on to a leaner Provence style palate showing nice light floral red fruits, oily mouthfeel and dry bite; keep it well chilled though. €5.50 cellar door. 80-83
 
Red
 
2007 "Colline Matisse" Le Dominicain, Collioure ( Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan 14.5%) - a touch reduced / vegetal to start vs "sweet" liquorice and black cherry; mouth-filling and fairly soft, a bit clunky and unbalanced but it's an attractive enough, big-hearted style. €7 cellar door. 85
2006 "Le Grand A" Domaine Arguti, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (GrenacheCarignanSyrah 14.5%) - well-made polished style, powerful and peppery with maturing dark fruits vs coconut oak spice and textured tannins; drinking quite well with e.g. fillet steak although it's a bit too punchy and warm on its own. Leave it till winter. However, it does have attractive dry vs lush fruity texture vs savoury flavours; the next day, it was meatier with more savoury/leather notes vs that "sweet" dark fruit and the oak merging into it better; quite nice tannins with a bitter twist, although I still found the alcohol a touch dominant, definitely a big food wine. 89+
2007 "Les Audacieux" Pierre Audonnet Domaine Piquemal, vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes ( Merlot Syrah Grenache 13.5%) - smoky spicy liquorice aromas mingle with earthy herbal red pepper tones; turning into blackcurrant and plum with darker cherry and chocolate, chunky fruity style underpinned by a bit of grip and power; tasty and savoury vs "sweet" and spicy, nice now although has a good 2-3 years in it yet. US: Beaune Imports, Berkeley CA and Idela Wines & Spirit co. Inc, Medford MA. 87-89
2007 "Kerbuccio" Château Saint-Roch Domaine Lafage, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache, SyrahMourvèdre 15%) - dense rich colour and nose, very powerful with white pepper, liquorice, black cherry and damsons vs light background oak; juicy plump fruity palate vs dry and firm texture although rounded "chocolate" tannins adding light oak texture too (much more subtle than previous vintages); that 15% is pretty punchy and peppery on the finish, putting it out of balance (at the moment anyway) but difficult not to be seduced by its lush fruit vs dry coating. €23 cellar door, £18.95 Harrods; US: European Cellars, Charlotte NC. 89+
2006 "Soleil Rouge" Mas Baux, Côtes du Roussillon (Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache 14.5%) - has certain charm with maturing smoky raisiny fruit and leafy cassis (funny mix of ripe vs not very); dry tannins vs savoury black olive flavours on the palate, the alcohol is a bit overpowering vs lack of concentration and lushness. Quirky style that gets better with food after airing, although perhaps still lacks substance over power. €12 cellar door, US: Small Production Wines, Portland OR. 85+
2007 "Cuvée Alexandre" Domaine St. Sébastien, Collioure (14.5%) - punchy and spicy with quite attractive "sweet" liquorice fruit and hint of vanilla oak; big rounded palate, again lacks a bit of depth vs that %, although improves over 24 hours turning smoother, less fiery and strangely more chocolate oaky; again quite a nice foodie in the end. 87

VINS DOUX NATURELS

2008 Muscat de Rivesaltes Château L'Esparrou - hmm, I don't get it: I've tried much better Muscat de Rivesaltes than this! When first opened, a bit odd, simple and "chemistry lab" (sugar, alcohol, aromas...) without really coming together. But it got better with aeration turning into, well, a rather heavy sweet Muscat... €8 cellar door.
1974 Terrassous "Rancio" Cave de Terrats/Vignobles de Constance Rivesaltes Ambré "Hors d'Age" ( Grenache blanc & gris 15.5%) - yes, the vintage is right. Very complex oxidised pecan-nutty aromas with lightly cheesy Madeira-like edges; coconut sweetness vs tangy toasted nuts on the palate, turning more treacly yet with subtle cut underneath; very long and smooth sweet/sour finish with caramel and intense roasted pecan/hazelnut flavours. Keeps well in the fridge so tasted again and again: toffee apple and baked nuts, quite intensely sweet yet it gets more intricate, nuttier and tangier too. €35 cellar door. 93-95
2003 "Camille Descossy" Le Dominicain Banyuls "Grand Cru" ( Grenache 16.5%) - coffee and cherry liqueur aromas, perhaps not as oxidised as and much redder than some BGC although is characteristically dried and wild herby; the % is quite punchy supported by lush liquorice and quite firm coating, savoury vs sweet with nice cut and maturing leather and cough mixture notes! Leaves lovely dried fruit, coffee and meaty aromas in the glass and turns more savoury, toasted and complex after a few days open; smoother and less fiery too with a bit of bite vs liquorice and dried fruits. Kind of between LBV and Tawny in style. €13.50 cellar door. 90+
1993 Muscat de Rivesaltes Château les Pins / Dom Brial (15.5%) - its quite big ullage didn't really seem to have affected this unusual "oxidative" Muscat style: golden brown/amber colour, oxidised cooked marmalade fruit character; oily and exotic orange peel vs sweet nut notes, odd but very attractive with the alcohol nicely melted into its caramelised citrus and clove finish. Complex lingering sweet vs tangy flavours, turning more quince and dried apricots after a day or so open, really quite delicious and intricate fruit/citrus cake wine! €9.20 cellar door, US importer: La Ville Imports. 90-92
2005 Banyuls "Muté sur Grains Mise Tardive" Cornet & Cie ( Grenache 16%) - very different from the "Grand Cru" wine above, this "modern" LBV style ("mise tardive" means this) shows vibrant extracted blackberry and plum fruit with touches of sweet oak; nice lush palate vs good grip and power. Very attractive, although ironically it doesn't really keep for long after opening as it oxidised quite quickly! About €18 cellar door and on-line merchants, Michael Jobling Wines UK and several distributors in the US (see www.abberous.com). 89
1995 Maury "Vieille Réserve" Vignerons de Maury ( Grenache 16%) - ...whereas this one is pretty indestructible! Fragrant caramelised molasses touches and squashed dried raspberries, intricate "red Madeira" style with liquorice and brown sugar flavours vs tangy walnut, light bite of tannins and nice cut; sweet kirsch layered with marinated dried olive and mature cheese notes, not so sweet thanks to those tangy savoury flavours and lingering alcohol underneath keeping it alive. Gets richer/sweeter yet better too after opening (keeps well in the fridge actually), turning more toffee-ish and pecan pie vs complex and old; surprisingly good with apple crumble or a nice mature Cantal (cheese from the Auvergne). €13.70 cellar door. 91-93
1990 Rivesaltes Tuilé Domaine Cazes ( Grenache 16.5%) - in fact, this is "red Madeira"! Very complex pecan/walnut/hazelnut nose with molasses and dried raspberry too; rich caramel vs nice bite of alcohol/tannins, perhaps tastes drier (and certainly older) than the Maury although probably isn't, lovely tangy oxidised fruit and powerful long tasty finish. Coming back to it (again keep it in the fridge): still quite complex in a 20 year-old Tawny kind-of way, sweeter and perhaps becomes less interesting and less alive than the Maury in the end. €19 cellar door. 89-91

All rights © Richard Mark James October 2009

Roussillon: Vignerons de Terrats

This usually exemplary co-operative winery, sporting a bizarre kind of giant stack of vats work of art visible from kms around, dates from 1932 and is found in the so-called Aspres zone in the middle of Côtes du Roussillon country a little southwest of Perpignan or northwest of Collioure. The very Catalan village of Terrats is a bit dead but the scenery all around it, with its red-clay coated rolling vineyards, is very attractive (I used to live down the road, by the way). They're now part of the Vignobles de Constance alliance with local co-ops in Thuir and Fourques (I think). Tasted their wines on and off over a five-plus year period, which can be bought at the cellar shop or in all supermarkets and restaurants in the area, which were usually very reliable, although something odd happened with their 2009 rosé and white with strange background flavours on at least three bottles I tried, from memory. Anyway, here's a bit of a back-catalogue:

August-September 2005:
2004 Le Blanc de Blancs de Terrassous (Grenache Blanc Vermentino Macabeo 12.5%) - Nice and dry & smooth, interesting nutty floral leafy characters underneath, crisp but has weight too. €4 from the cellar or supermarkets. 87
2004 Le Rosé de Terrassous (13%) - Ample ripe juicy red fruits and medium-full rounded yet dry palate with a hint of crispness to balance. €3.90 from the Cave. 87
2001 Terrassous Côtes du Roussillon red (Grenache Carignan Syrah 13.5%) - Attractive ripe developed fruit showing gamey leather edges, liquorice and plum with earthy backdrop and firm-ish tannins. About €4.50 from the cellar. 89
2004 Terrassous Côtes du Roussillon red (Grenache Carignan Syrah 13.5%) - Straightforward enjoyable blackcurrant/berry and blueberry fruit, medium weight finishing with light bite of tannins and acidity. €4 from the cellars or supermarkets. 85

And some of my French "wines of the moment" originally posted on WineWriting.com...
December 05/January 06:
2005 Blanc de Blancs de Terrassous
(Grenache Blanc Vermentino Macabeo 13%) - tight and steely at this stage, subtle zesty intensity v attractive oily nutty tones, crisp and dry. 88
May-June 06:
2005 Le Rosé de Terrassous Côtes du Roussillon - fresh aromatic roses and red fruits, tight elegant palate, zesty and dry. €3.82 Auchan 87+
Summer 2007:
2006 Le Rosé de Terrassous, Côtes du Roussillon (13%) - lively raspberry fruit and full body v elegant, fresh and attractive style. €3-€4 87
Summer 2008:
2007 Le Rosé de Terrassous Côtes du Roussillon (13%) - fairly chunky red fruity style with nice food-demanding weight, turning rounded and slick with underlying wild red fruit and biscuit notes; still alive and well. €4 87
Autumn 2009:
2008 Terrassous rosé Côtes du Roussillon (13%) - quite chunky vs creamy red fruit cocktail making this a good all-round foodie rosé style; rounded and oily with wild cherry fruit and refreshing dry finish. €4.50 87

And a sensational, very old, medal-winning Rivesaltes from the 2009 Saint-Bacchus awards:
1974 Terrassous "Rancio" Rivesaltes Ambré "Hors d'Age" (Grenache blanc & gris 15.5%) - yes, the vintage is right. Very complex oxidised pecan-nutty aromas with lightly cheesy Madeira-like edges; coconut sweetness vs tangy toasted nuts on the palate, turning more treacly yet with subtle cut underneath; very long and smooth sweet/sour finish with caramel and intense roasted pecan/hazelnut flavours. Keeps well in the fridge so tasted again and again: toffee apple and baked nuts, quite intensely sweet yet it gets more intricate, nuttier and tangier too. €35 cellar door. 93-95  
terrassous.com