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22 October 2010

Chunky winter rosé: Tavel

I appreciate it's allegedly still autumn, despite the cold-ish snap, but this chunky rosé would be good any time of year really, although best with food as it's quite powerful. In typical Tavel style (southern Rhone) with 13.5% alcohol giving plenty of body, Château Castelfont's 2009 rosé is well made though: nice perfumed ripe red-fruit cocktail on the nose, with rounded "oily" palate and quite weighty vs crisp and dry finish. Pretty good with wild smoked salmon too, not always easy to match. Varieties = Grenache, Syrah, Bourboulenc, Mourvèdre. €5 at Carrefour's autumn "foire aux vins" (wine fair). Logo from tavel.tm.fr

10 October 2010

Roussillon: Mas Christine, Argelès

UPDATED AUGUST 2013 (click there).

Back in spring 2009, I called in on Philippe Gard at flagship winery Coume del Mas to catch up and tasted all his latest vintages as well as some new wines. He's taken on the lease for Mas Christine, a vineyard on the hills between Argelès and Collioure, in partnership with English winemaker Andy Cook (among others): they've launched a range of (especially) whites and reds called Consolation pitched at "around €10." In the past, the Dauré family, for example, of Chateau de Jau and Clos des Paulilles had leased vineyards at Mas Christine principally to make Muscat de Rivesaltes.
Distributed by Lance Foyster MW in the UK and Eric Solomon in the US (European Cellars, NC). If you want to visit when in the area, Philippe's winery lies on a cutting into the hillside just before and slightly below the tiny village of Cosprons (signposted off the main road before Banyuls-sur-mer: there isn't a cellar at Mas Christine): take an unmarked left plunging down an earth track and keep going until you see the open cellar door. A peaceful spot with a great sea view over waves of schist-y vineyards in all directions.

Update autumn 2010
Philippe Gard's colleague Andy Cook filled me in on all the latest goings-on at Coume del Mas and Mas Christine - the partnership company is now appropriately called Tramontane Wines after everybody's 'favourite' wind - with vintage 2010 drawing to a satisfactory close. Quality-wise at least, as, like elsewhere in the Roussillon (and parts of Languedoc), quantity was way down thanks to less and smaller, but nicely concentrated, grapes. This was mostly due to the strange and extreme weather we've seen this year (long winter, snow, cool wet spring, then very hot and very dry summer carrying on into September).
A word of explanation about their new red Consolation release: the 2008 is going under the wacky alias of "Dog Strangler" as it's made from 100% Mourvèdre (not the first one I've seen from the 08 vintage: see Dom Vinci), which the locals have traditionally nicknamed this awkward variety, although their superb wine is far from it as you'll see from my glowing review. Andy agreed about the difficulty with Mourvèdre saying: "we have to reduce it down to three bunches per vine to get it ripe," i.e. not a lot. And following on from Philippe's previous comments on 2008 for Banyuls VDNs, we (me and a couple of American visitors) only tasted one of these styles, a red 2009 from cask, as they didn't make many CdM 08s (although did a white Banyuls, for the first time?). Anyway, the first batch below was tasted in 2009 and the most recent vintages were sniffed, sampled, appreciated and spat out (it's called driving) at the beginning of October 2010!


2008 Mas Christine white (Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Grenache gris, Vermentino) - attractively aromatic and perfumed showing floral citrus and background spice tones; zesty and juicy palate vs very light toast and spice, yeast-lees fatness vs fresh acidity. 87
2008 Consolation white (Roussanne) - richer and toastier, more honeyed too with dark chocolate undertones; quite powerful and creamy with fair punch and toasted edges countered by fresh long finish. 88+
2008 Consolation rosé (Mourvèdre barrel-fermented) - less fruity / creamy than above, more rounded yet mineral too; enticing Bandol rosé style with juicy texture, full-body and elegant long dry bite. 89
2007 Mas Christine red (Grenache Syrah) - gorgeous ripe berry, cherry and spicy fruit cocktail on the nose; tangy vs 'sweet' palate with juicy texture, a touch of tannin and nice weight. 87+
2008 Mas Christine Muscat de Rivesaltes - enticing floral orange peel notes vs fat lush palate, quite fresh and zingy although is pretty sweet. €10 85-87

2009 Mas Christine Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache gris, Macabeu, Marsanne, Roussanne, Carignan gris 14%) - "mineral" floral nose with light yeast-lees notes; crisp and steely mouth-feel vs a touch creamier side, nice dry white style. €10 or $12-14. 85+
2009 Consolation white (Grenache gris from a 0.8 ha (2 acre) single vineyard; cask sample) - buttery and hazelnut nose, rich and sexy with lees/toast notes vs exotic fruit; lush and juicy palate with spicy touches, saltier/tangier finish with subtle acidity. Wow, think pretty fine Burgundy from a ripe vintage! 90-92+
2009 Mas Christine red (Syrah Grenache Carignan 14%) - herby blackcurrant aromas with vibrant cherry underneath; nice juicy mouth-feel, quite rich vs crunchy fruit with lively refreshing finish vs a bit of weight too. €10 or $12-14. 87+
2008 Consolation "the Dog Strangler" (Mourvèdre 14.5%) - gorgeous wild "animal" notes with black olive and very peppery, smoky and rich; serious mouthful of concentrated ripe and rounded fruit/tannins with firmer peppery edges, superb lush smoky finish. Quite serious price too: €28. 94

Cellar c/o CDM, Les Cosprons, 66650 Banyuls-sur-Mer. By appointment only preferably in the afternoon: best to try Andy Cook's mobile 06 11 84 16 97. tramontanewines.com.

White of the moment: Dom Brial

2009 Dom Ici Chardonnay/Macabeu from the Roussillon, vin de pays des Cotes Catalanes: Dom Brial/Vignerons de Baixas (13%) - well made "modern" unoaked style with appealing mix of white peach and citrus fruit, floral almond edges vs lightly lees/buttery texture; medium bodied and rounded vs zesty and crisp/bitter finish. €3.80

Wines of the moment: France, Hungary, Chile

2009 rosé from France (organic): Domaine Saint-Julien Les Vignes, Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence - nice classic style Provence rosé with pale pink/orange colour and fresh floral, red fruit aromas/flavours; understated yet lively and juicy with crisp dry and elegant finish. About €9 for a half-bottle in Hippopotamus restaurant, Chartres.
2009 white from the Roussillon: Dom Ici Chardonnay/Macabeu vin de pays Cotes Catalanes, Dom Brial/Vignerons de Baixas (13%) - well made "modern" unoaked style with appealing mix of white peach and citrus fruit, floral almond edges vs lightly lees/buttery texture; medium bodied and rounded vs zesty and crisp/bitter finish. €3.80
2003 Szamorodni (sweetie) from Tokaji in Hungary: Dániel, István Szepsy (13.5%) - caramel, demerara, raisins, dried apricot and honey with spicy citrus undertones; luscious dried fruits vs lemon, weighty and rounded with super sweet caramel flavours vs some cutting acidity; developing very nicely although lacks a bit of real zest. And here's what I said about this Szamorodni four years ago (from a trip to the region: much more on that here): 1 year new Hungarian oak. Voluptuous tropical honey, vibrant pure and concentrated; very light chocolate oak tones, subtle freshness v lovely fruit; drinking nicely now, maybe lacks a bit of bite.
2009 red from Chile: Casa Mayor Carmenère Single Vineyard Reserve, Bodegas Santo Domingo in Colchagua Valley - quirky mix of roasted vegetables, soy sauce and herbal red pepper (touch reduced even?) vs dark burnt/smoky damsons, peppery and punchy too; similar on the mouth with those wild herby notes coming through vs lush almost "tar" like texture, contrast of crunchy vs dried fruits giving attractive "sweet/savoury" flavours; a touch of grip and acidity add bite, quite powerful too (the label says 14% alc. but I'd say it's higher). Next day: still quirky although attractive with it, with a combo of bitter chocolate & roasted coffee beans vs ripe almost stewed fruit lending raisin and prune flavours vs tarter finish. It works though somehow! About €6.

09 October 2010

Roussillon: Domaine Serrelongue, Maury

Julien Fournier is commendably focused on Mourvèdre and Grenache, excited even judging by his up-front wine labels and the names of the red blends he creates (such as "Extrait de Passion"). Mourvèdre makes up 30% of both his 'starter' wine, Saveur de Vigne (€9), and top cuvée Esprit de Vin (with 60% Syrah and 10% Grenache, priced at an ambitious €28); and 60% M for the aforementioned "Passion Extract" (€22). Grenache makes up the remainder of the latter, is also 40% of Saveur (the rest Syrah) and 100% for Julien's Maury VDN, of course.
Confusing and geeky percentage figures aside, the Grenache all grows in classic Maury area, warm exposed and dry schist soils; and the M and S (so to speak) come from his other vineyard, made up of big pebbles on clay-limestone. He only sources from about 5 ha (12.5 acres) for the Serrelongue estate wines, with the rest of his vineyards supplying fruit to the village co-op. All in all, another very promising estate; I do hope Julien moderates his fondness for new oak! (Read on, ed.)

I tasted these two barrel samples at the Fenouillèdes wine show in April 2007:
2005 Saveur de Vigne – quite a bit of oak but it's well handled, attractive generous fruit and underlying richness with a chocolatey finish. 89-91
2006 Saveur de Vigne – lively herbal black cherry fruit tinged with chocolate oak notes, certainly promising and quite elegant.
Find more Serrelongue wines here, from the 6th Fenouillèdes Wine Fair.

Spring/summer 2009 update: yes, he does now agree about the oak! And is buying more of those bigger 'demi-muids' size casks, which impart less flavour as well. I tasted Julien's latest vintages in Tautavel in late April at the much-mentioned Fenouillèdes wine bash (I have also tasted with him in his cellar and seen some of his vines, by the way), including a brand new white wine as, well, the name says it all really ("feel like a white").
2008 Envie de Blanc (Carignan blanc/Grenache gris) - toasted honey and spice vs exotic and floral fruit; dry mineral finish vs creamy texture. 85-87
2007 Saveur de Vigne (Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre) - rich spicy fruit underpinned by softer liquorice notes; light coconut texture but plenty of dark fruit vs dry yet soft-ish tannins. 88+

2010 update: a warm, early October afternoon revealed a red-stained Julien F in his cellar in Maury, working on a bit of pressing and transferring some wines into barrel. I tried these including the maiden vintage of a white Maury:
2009 Envie de Blanc (Carignan blanc/Grenache gris) - shows a bit of yeast-lees character and texture vs underlying fresh acidity; juicy appley flavours and mouth-feel vs richer more honeyed side. Nice dry white style. €5 87+
2009 Carigno (mostly Carignan plus a splash of Mourvèdre/Syrah) - attractive nose and palate with ripe berry and spicy cassis fruit; grippy yet rounded tannins with quite tight and focused finish, again nice style. €5 87+
2008 Saveur de Vigne - enticing herby vs dark cherry notes on the nose; nice peppery punchy character with lightly coconut flavour / texture vs subtle concentration, tight and firm vs rounded on the promising finish. 88-90
2010 white Maury (Grenache gris/Grenache blanc: from cask and not ready yet, obviously!) - lots of aromatic pear fruit, turning rich in the mouth with tasty honey notes vs refreshing acidity and cut; long finish with enticing zesty citrus vs sweetness (about 100g/l residual sugar). Should be good.
2008 red Maury (Grenache 80-90 RS) - lots of sweet black fruits underpinned by light wood texture, has nice freshness and tight tannins too making it quite restrained in style. 87-89

149 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 66460 Maury - www.domaineserrelongue.com.

08 October 2010

Roussillon: Domaine de la Rectorie, Banyuls-sur-mer


The Parcé brothers Marc, Pierre and Thierry have built up this old family estate into something approaching cult, although they wouldn't like that nomenclature. Marc in particular, as president of the Collioure growers' association and a countrywide lobby group called Sève, is very committed to shaping the appellation's future and promoting it beyond the region. Click here for info on that and some of his views, from an article I did for Decanter magazine (scroll down to "Straining at the leash"). They've also created a partnership with La Préceptorie de Centernach near Maury (see A to Z list) by setting up a joint sales & distribution company. 
La Rectorie covers about 27 ha/70 acres, in as many different sites, making mainly red Collioure - and increasingly a flavoursome white and famously deep-coloured rosé - although over the last few years Banyuls production and sales "have steadily increased." Before that, the Parcés "almost gave up" on VDNs because of appellation politics and the type of wines and quality that appeared to represent its name. They were also part of a small band of pioneers of "new" Banyuls, such as "vintage" or "rimage" styles (originally, now everybody's "doin' it," so to speak) using winemaking methods that favour youthful fruit and big structure, rather than overly oxidised, pale and thin wines. Read on for my autumn 2010 update with a bit of background and explanation on that from Pierre Parcé. And it's worth clicking on the link below to their website: it's got some nice black and white pictures on it (an example used here taken by keen photographer Pierre (copyright), following in the footsteps of his grandfather). 

Here are notes on some of their sensuous Collioure & Banyuls wines tasted in March 2007:
2006 L'Argile Collioure blanc (14.5%) - barrel sample: milky toasty edges to its lovely honeysuckle fruit, powerful mouthful, concentrated and big; a bit hot on the finish but very interesting style. 88-90
2006 Côté Mer Collioure rosé (Grenache Carignan Counoise Syrah 14%) - very creamy and rich raspberry/redcurrant style, oily texture with a tart edge; nice fruity finish with fresh acidity and punchy alcohol. 87-89
2005 L'Oriental Collioure rouge (Grenache based, 15%) - a little closed to start, violets and blackberry fruit develops, powerful yet has gentle fruit concentration; firm framework with long rather alcohol dominated finish, pity as it has lovely fruit/tannin layering, would've scored it higher. 89-91
2005 Côté Mer Collioure rouge (14%) - more savoury v delicious pure fragrant and spicy black cherry fruit, better balance, length and style. 90-92
2005 Côté Montagne Collioure rouge (14.5%) - more structured and backwards than above, concentration and power but also freshness and lively length. 90-92
2005 Cuvée Léon Parcé Banyuls (Grenache 16.5%) - meaty and chocolatey with lively spicy black fruit combo, sexy coating and panache. 90-92


La Rectorie update October 2010

Pierre Parcé greeted us warmly at the family house cum tasting room in Banyuls-sur-mer and laid on a very nice tasting, accompanied by a few great stories to go with their wines. Paraphrasing and summarising his words, before taking up the family vineyards in the 1980s, the brothers used to come here on holiday as children and teenagers. Pierre remembers trying a non-fortified red wine made by their great-grandmother for family and friends' own consumption, as no doubt others had done for decades, although these were of course "humble" table wines not VDNs. So, in a way for them, there already was a "precedent" for this style of red that would later be the base of the Collioure appellation.
Pierre also shed some interesting light on how they came to influence the launch of those "new" Banyuls styles. Firstly, by understanding some of the reasons why the traditional oxidised styles continued to be made and history behind them. Part of the reason was the totally isolated nature of many of the area's vineyards at that time with no access roads. This often dictated having to pick all the grapes in one spot in one go and loading them up in a cart under the hot sun, while everything was picked; as it was just too awkward to go back and forth to the cellar several times to unload. Hence, when the grapes did finally arrive, they weren't exactly in the best health; so the skins were discarded quickly by pressing off the must after a short time fermenting, if at all, and fortifying it as soon as possible. The resultant low-colour wines were then aged for long periods of time, in big old casks that weren't topped up or outside in demijohns even to promote oxidative ageing, to compensate for any faults and create complex flavours from the maturation itself (as long as not left too long...)
The "new thinking" already gathering more momentum in the 80s was along the lines of "what if..." Given that grapes could now be delivered to the cellar as and when you wanted them, coupled with much better equipment and technical winemaking know-how; meaning the skins are in perfect condition and can be fermented with the must, like making a regular red wine, to extract colour and tannins. This must is then "muté sur grains", i.e. the fortifying spirit added onto the fermenting berries before pressing. This has an added advantage, as alcohol actually promotes greater extraction while the must is left to macerate. After pressing, the juice is typically, depending on the desired style, protected from oxygen by transfer into inert tanks before bottling or into barrels that are kept filled to the brim. These wines are thus similar to vintage or late bottled vintage Ports, for example, rather than the long cask-aged, oxidised styles that are closer to Tawnies.
Another simply commercial reason for developing young fruity "muté sur grains" Banyuls wines, was to be able to sell them much sooner. As the Parcé brothers were pretty much starting from scratch, they had no old maturing stocks like the big co-ops have always had (and some of these wines are very good, it has to be said); and it obviously takes a lot of time and investment to store VDN wines for as long as it takes before they're really interesting. After getting the ball rolling, and extending the above-mentioned winemaking logic to those old-fashioned Banyuls styles (and, as I said, sometimes just plain too old); what if they made a deliberately oxidised, complex wine using grapes that were in perfect condition to start with? The result: La Rectorie's extraordinary L'Oublée...

2009 L'Argile white Collioure (Grenache blanc gris 14.5%) - lightly toasty and spicy vs apricot and peach aromas; tighter and more "mineral/salty" in the mouth vs rounded and slightly creamy, juicy pineapple too and quite subtle finish despite its fair weight. 87+
2009 Côté Mer Collioure rosé (Grenache Carignan Syrah 14.5%) - deep pink/cherry colour with "vinous," ripe strawberry/raspberry nose; big and rounded mouth-feel, very fruity and textured. Made by 12-14 hour skin contact followed by barrel fermentation! 87-89
2008 Côté Mer Collioure (Grenache Syrah Carignan 14%) - lovely aromatic floral and spicy nose with red/black cherry; quite firm, fresh and crunchy on the palate vs ripe tannins and "sweet" fruit; closed up elegant finish. 87-89
2008 Côté Montagne Collioure (Grenache Carignan Mourvèdre Syrah Counoise) - richer spicier and "earthier" with wild flower nuances; tight mouth-feel with fairly firm tannins, again quite restrained and closed up to finish. 89-91
2008 Banyuls Rimage "mise précoce" (Grenache 16.5%) - which means early bottling: after fortifying "sur grains," this had a further 2-week maceration on skins then pressed, held in vats briefly then bottled. Delicious dark chocolate and black cherry with violet aromas too; rich and sweet vs firm and spicy, nice lush vs tight and grippy finish. €11 50cl. 87-89
2007 Cuvée Léon Parcé Banyuls (Grenache 16.5%) - initially same winemaking but then goes into (full) casks for 18 months. Similar fruit profile but meatier / more savoury; chunkier tannins too somehow although rounder as well, nice sweet vs structured mouth-feel with chocolate undercurrent. 89-91
L'Oublée (Grenache gris 16.5%) - pressed straightaway, fermented then fortified, 10+ years ageing in large tuns then barriques outside. Quite brownish/red in colour, very very different nose with nutty (walnut/pecan) vs dried raspberry/apricot/sultana profile; nutty tangy vs sweet raisin and sultana flavours, delicious complex and lingering finish. 91-93 
65 avenue du Puig del Mas, 66650 Banyuls sur mer. Tel: 04 68 88 13 45 / 06 82 67 04 10 (Pierre Parcé)www.la-rectorie.com.

07 October 2010

Roussillon: Domaine La Tour Vieille, Collioure


An amicable amalgamation of several plots of old family vineyards owned by Christine Campadieu, Vincent Cantié and Jean Baill, which lie above and around Collioure (where you'll find "the old tower," pictured, at the entrance leading down to the cellar) and Banyuls-sur-mer. LTV has become ever so slightly cult, in a laidback way echoed by the people behind it. I went to see Vincent and Jean in seaside Collioure in June 2009 and was treated to a very comprehensive and enjoyable tasting, hence my notes below (and again in Oct 2010: see below below). The estate has been rationalised and reduced in size to 19 hectares (48 acres) in recent times, out of which about 5 ha worth of grapes are sold to one of the local co-ops. Jean is the more recent member of the partnership bringing Vermentino, Mourvèdre and more Syrah to LTV's varietal fabric. Their wines are well-distributed in the US (judging by a simple Google search) via Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant in Berkeley (CA) and represented by Yapp Bros in the UK.

2008 les Canadells white Collioure (mostly Grenache blanc Grenache gris Vermentino plus Macabeu Marsanne 14%) - floral nutty nose with a touch of background oak and lightly exotic fruit; juicy apricot-tinged palate with quite weighty and rounded mouthfeel, powerful nutty finish and well-handled oak texture. €13 87+
2007 les Canadells white Collioure - more honeyed and upfront, developing oily mineral tones; colourful fruit vs still fresh and quite elegant. €13 87+
2008 Rosé des Roches Collioure - delicious creamy and red cherry fruity, zesty and lively vs big ripe fruity palate. €8 87+
2007 La Pinède red Collioure (14.5%) - resiny fruit with black olive and spicy dark cherries, turning meaty too vs lively and lush vs powerful finish. €10 90+
2007 Puig Ambeillel Collioure (Mourvèdre/Grenache 15%) - very peppery with rich black fruit, liquorice and black olive; tasty fruity palate vs savoury leather notes, powerful yet balanced, very nice and quite fine with attractive bite of tannins. You don't really notice that alcohol and there's no barrique ageing: who needs wood when a wine tastes this good! €13 92-94
2007 Puig Oriol Collioure (Grenache/Syrah, taken from vat) - more herbal and medicinal/spicy vs enticing juicy liquorice, blackberry/cherry; again has thick but ripe tannins, dry and quite fine finish; slightly firmer than above but delicious spicy lush fruit as well. €13 90-92
Mémoire white (5+ years oxidative ageing) - walnut coconut and Brazils, attractive Sherry style with oily vs crisp and dry palate; complex and tasty with long salty vs coconut/hazelnut finish. Yum. €15 50cl 92-94
2006 Banyuls "Vendanges" - aromatic dried cherries and cassis, prunes and leather too; lush vs solid & dry texture, savoury vs sweet, tasty and long with nice balance. €10 50cl 88-90
2003 Banyuls "Rimage mise tardive" - more oxidation but the barrels are kept full: more developed and savoury with sweet plummy notes, liquorice and cough mixture as well; moves on to meaty aftertaste with more power and grip yet intricate flavours. €15 90-92
Banyuls "cuvée Francis Cantié" (6 years' ageing in demijohns outside) - resiny dried and concentrated, complex and rich, toffee raspberry and nuts; still has a bit of grip and lively poise to finish. €15 50cl 92+
Banyuls "Vin de Méditation" (solera-style) - Madeira-like nutty "gassy" intricate aromas, very concentrated with pecan nuts and liquorice vs spicy alcohol; quite dry tannins vs punchy vs treacly caramelised nuts, lots of interesting flavours and long finish. €50 50cl 94-96


Oct 2010 update
Christine was on hand for another excellent full-monty tasting, while Vincent and Jean were milling around in the background pressing must and cleaning out fermentation vats. € prices for these wines same as above if not stated:
2009 Les Canadells white Collioure  (Grenache blanc & gis, Vermentino, Macabeu, Roussanne 14.5%) - fresh floral and "mineral" vs peach and apricot notes; juicy and crisp vs weightier rounder side, nice palate intensity and length. 87+
2008 La Pinède Collioure (Grenache/Carignan) - lovely "sweet" cherry and liquorice nose with pine (!) and mint tones; tighter and firmer on the palate vs attractive fruit and soft-ish tannins; again shows power vs elegant concentration and tasty fruit vs nice tannins. 87+
2007 Puig Oriol (Grenache/Syrah) - herbal edges vs baclground dark fruit; firmer and more austere palate, tight and punchy but has some underlying richness. Not so sure, especially compared to my note above on this wine tasted over a year earlier from vat. Bottle shocked perhaps?
2007 Puig Ambeillel (Grenache/Mourvèdre/Carignan) - riper fruit notes and more concentrated too, nice "sweet/savoury" profile with dark cherries and pepper; juicy and lush vs firm and powerful, good length and rounded tannins; again like that mix of power and refinement. 90-92+
2008 white Banyuls (Grenache blanc & gis) - nutty and honeyed with integrated wood grain tones; attractive fruit and texture vs punchy alcohol, sweet vs "mineral" finish. Promising. €10 50cl 87+
2006 Banyuls Vendanges (mostly Grenache) - lightly oxidised with meaty edges vs damson and liquorice; plum jam flavours vs savoury and quite mature finish. 87+
2006 Banyuls Rimage mise tardive (three and a half years in casks filled up to the top) - spicier with more coconut oak apparent vs rich "sweet/savoury" fruit; grippier more powerful mouth-feel then quite tight on the finish actually, surprising young still and impressive. 90+
Banyuls Reserva (4-5 years ageing) - more caramelised nose with cooked raspberry jam aromas, kind of Madeira/Tawny cross springs to mind; big tannins still vs rich fruit, complex tasty and savoury finish although it's pretty sweet though too. €13 92+
Banyuls Francis Cantié - roasted coffee beans and strawberry jam on the nose, pretty intense in the mouth with nuttier characters then a bit more of a kick too; but that attractive "sweet/savoury" thing takes over and it's surprisingly subtle in the end. 90+
Vin de Méditation (18%) - amazingly intricate "red Madeira" nose, very intense and nutty; sweet raspberry and pecan nut flavours, finishing with very different profile to that initial nose as new aromas/flavours keep rolling across your tongue. Wow. 95+

12 Route de Madeloc, 66190 Collioure. Tel: 04 68 82 44 82, info@latourvieille.fr.

06 October 2010

Roussillon: Coume del Mas, Banyuls-sur-Mer

UPDATED IN AUG 2013 (click there).

Underneath this blurb you'll find my notes on some of Philippe Gard's excellent range of Collioure and Banyuls wines, tasted in his winery in May 2007 (followed by updates in 2009-2010). His - and similarly enlightened growers', e.g. the Parcé brothers at La Rectorie (see A to Z, right) - Banyuls winemaking illustrates why there's a minor renaissance for these delicious Port-like red wines (think chocolate desserts or why not with a strong curry even). Perhaps the richer, fruitier, more tannic, less oxidised and livelier styles seem to appeal more to younger people turned off by sometimes tired, thin and brown-coloured wines. Having said that, the best cask-aged Banyuls 'Grand Cru' type bottles can be sublimely complex. For the CDM Quintessence, Philippe is "not looking for oxidation" and the fruit just shines through; and the sweeter Galateo style was "created in 2003 for a Belgian chocolate maker," he told me.
Perhaps the real stars though are his Collioure reds and white and rosé (actually 80% of production here): the appellation area and terroir are essentially the same as for Banyuls, although certain sites or varieties are favoured or mandatory for fortified wines. Grenache is the central grape for both at CDM - Philippe has 11 ha/27 acres of old bush vine red Grenache, which he considers the maximum as "vineyard work is too manual here" - with new plantings (about 10 years ago) of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache Gris (for the increasingly sought-after white) being phased in to the Collioure blends. Philippe is one of several who believe that appellation should be "based on crus (or quality of vineyard sites) rather than varieties," and that part of AOC Collioure's success is due to its "greater flexibility from the start" (as opposed to Côtes du Roussillon Villages where Syrah or Mourvèdre are required, however good your Grenache and Carignan are). "There are less growers here and the co-ops have less power to influence regulations." Anyway, enough of the politics; what about the wines...
2006 Folio Collioure blanc (Grenache Gris) - lightly toasty notes on top of attractively juicy and exotic apricot and honeysuckle; spicy v fat mouth-feel, nice length and freshness v ripe and toasty. 89
2006 Farniente Collioure rosé (Grenache Grenache Gris) - lovely strawberry and raspberry fruit, rich v fresh bite with a touch of dry tannin even, fleshy fruit and 14% alcohol weight v crisp length. Yum. 87-89
2005 Schistes Collioure rouge (mostly old vine Grenache 14.5%) - deliciously pure aromatic black cherry, liquorice and sweet herbs; juicy and ripe v firm and fresh structure; great balance of power, tension, lush natural fruit and spicy length. More yum. 92-94
2005 Quintessence Banyuls (Grenache 17.5% 80 grams/litre residual sugar) - piquant black fruits with light coconut tones, quite extracted tannins v rich sweet fruit with engaging purity; grippier and drier than many Banyuls, and all the better for it. 92-94

2006 Galateo Banyuls (Grenache 16% 100 grams/litre residual sugar) - attractive luscious fruit, sweeter and less extracted than the above but still vibrant and fresh too. 88-90

Spring 2009 update: I called in on Philippe to catch up and tasted all his latest vintages as well as some new wines. He's taken on the lease for Mas Christine, a vineyard on the hills between Argelès and Collioure, in partnership with English winemaker Andy Cook (among others): they've launched a range of (especially) whites and reds called Consolation pitched at "around €10." Philippe thinks 2008 "isn't very good for Banyuls as ripening was too slow, but was for Collioure wines." The CdM label wines sell for €15+ and €24+ for the top ones. Distributed by Lance Foyster MW in the UK and Eric Solomon in the US (European Cellars, NC). If you want to visit when in the area, Philippe's winery lies on a cutting into the hillside just before and slightly below the tiny village of Cosprons (signposted off the main road before Banyuls-sur-mer): take an unmarked left plunging down an earth track and keep going until you see the open cellar door. A peaceful spot with a great sea view over waves of schist-y vineyards in all directions.
2008 Mas Christine white (Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Grenache gris, Vermentino) - attractively aromatic and perfumed showing floral citrus and background spice tones; zesty and juicy palate vs very light toast and spice, yeast-lees fatness vs fresh acidity. 87
2008 Consolation white (Roussanne) - richer and toastier, more honeyed too with dark chocolate undertones; quite powerful and creamy with fair punch and toasted edges countered by fresh long finish. 88+
2008 CdM Folio white Collioure (Grenache gris) - milky yeast-lees aromas & flavours, attractive fat & exotic fruit vs nice bite of acidity and "salty" tang; full buttery finish with lively citrus peel undertones. Very good. 90+
2008 CdM Farniente Collioure rosé (Grenache noir Grenache Gris 14%) - yeasty tinges to a delicious creamy ripe red fruit nose and palate; full-on and creamy mouthfeel vs attractive tangy twist and fresh acidity. 88+
2008 Consolation rosé (Mourvèdre barrel-fermented) - less fruity / creamy than above, more rounded yet mineral too; enticing Bandol rosé style with juicy texture, full-body and elegant long dry bite. 89
2007 Mas Christine red (Grenache Syrah) - gorgeous ripe berry, cherry and spicy fruit cocktail on the nose; tangy vs 'sweet' palate with juicy texture, a touch of tannin and nice weight. 87+
2007 CdM Schistes Collioure (mostly Grenache from coastal vineyards with no barrique-ageing, 14.5%) - similar fruit style to above but richer and darker with blackberry tones; very spicy vs lush liquorice vs firmer structure too, tasty juicy fruit with lively and ripe finish. Yum. 90-92
2008 Schistes (vat sample) - similar lush style with juicy fruit although more floral and cherry-ish; firmer and bigger perhaps with lovely liquorice and spice textures and flavours, very promising.
2007 Qua Dra Tur (Grenache Mourvèdre Carignan) - hint of toasted chocolate wood on the nose but again has tons of lush spicy fruit; pretty firm, solid and big mouth-feel layered with delicious juicy fruit. €24 92+
2007 Abysses (Syrah Grenache east facing the sea, not bottled when I tried it) - spicy nose with dark cherries and floral minty notes too; juicy fruit and texture, gorgeous fruit and chalky mineral tannins build a thick structure and finale. Wow. €29 92-94
2008 Abysses - toasty aromas (new barrique) but shows similar fruit, spicier perhaps; lovely juicy vs firm vs fresh texture and length. Should be very good.
2007 Syrah "vin naturellement doux" passerillé (late-picked shrivelled berries, 16% and 50-60 grams residual sugar) - Black Forest Gateau nose, floral and spicy too with ripe black olive tones; lush and weighty vs dry bite, different for sure like a young Amarone. €28? 90+?
2007 Galateo Banyuls (Grenache, 15.5% & 100g RS) - lovely black fruits with meaty edges; attractive fruity "winey" flavours and texture, still firm and powerful softened by cherry liqueur notes and sweetness. Now available in 6cl or 10cl flasks. €15 50cl. 87+
2007 Quintessence Banyuls (Grenache, 80g RS, 16.5%) - richer, more complex and a touch oakier with more savoury / oxidised edges; more oomph and extracted lush fruit vs big tannins adding dry bite, closes up on the finish. €26 50cl. 92+

2008 Mas Christine Muscat de Rivesaltes - enticing floral orange peel notes vs fat lush palate, quite fresh and zingy although is pretty sweet. €10 85-87


Update autumn 2010
Philippe Gard's colleague Andy Cook filled me in on all the latest goings-on at Coume del Mas and Mas Christine (the partnership company is now appropriately called Tramontane Wines, after everybody's "favourite" wind) with vintage 2010 drawing to a satisfactory close. Quality-wise at least, as, like elsewhere in the Roussillon (and parts of Languedoc), quantity was way down thanks to less and smaller, but nicely concentrated, grapes. This was mostly due to the strange and extreme weather we've seen this year (long winter, snow, cool wet spring, then very hot and very dry summer carrying on into September).
A word of explanation about their new red Consolation release: the 2008 is going under the wacky alias of "Dog Strangler" as it's made from 100% Mourvèdre (not the first one I've seen from the 08 vintage: see Dom Vinci), which the locals have traditionally nicknamed this awkward variety, although their superb wine is far from it as you'll see from my glowing review. Andy agreed about the difficulty with Mourvèdre saying: "we have to reduce it down to three bunches per vine to get it ripe," i.e. not a lot. And following on from Philippe's previous comments on 2008 for Banyuls VDNs, we (me and a couple of American visitors) only tasted one of these styles, a red 2009 from cask, as they didn't make many CdM 08s (although did a white Banyuls, for the first time?). Anyway, these recent vintages from both estates were sniffed, sampled, appreciated and spat out (it's called driving) at the beginning of October!
2009 Mas Christine Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache gris, Macabeu, Marsanne, Roussanne, Carignan gris 14%) - "mineral" floral nose with light yeast-lees notes; crisp and steely mouth-feel vs a touch creamier side, nice dry white style. €10 or $12-14. 85+
2009 CdM Folio white Collioure (14%) - oily and exotic profile vs aromatic "mineral" and salty even; quite toasty and wood-spice textured at the moment vs oily juicy lees-tinged and rounded, dry and "mineral" vs concentrated with lots of flavour. Yet another great vintage of this classic (and perhaps now quite expensive, he adds cheekily) Roussillon white wine. Made by wild yeast fermentation with 6+ months in barrel on the lees. €16.50 89-91
2009 Consolation white (Grenache gris from a 0.8 ha (2 acre) single vineyard; cask sample) - buttery and hazelnut nose, rich and sexy with lees/toast notes vs exotic fruit; lush and juicy palate with spicy touches, saltier/tangier finish with subtle acidity. Wow, think pretty fine Burgundy from a ripe vintage! 90-92+
2009 Mas Christine red (Syrah Grenache Carignan 14%) - herby blackcurrant aromas with vibrant cherry underneath; nice juicy mouth-feel, quite rich vs crunchy fruit with lively refreshing finish vs a bit of weight too. €10 or $12-14. 87+
2009 CdM Schistes (mostly Grenache no oak, 14.5%) - liquorice and pepper aromas with dark cherry / chocolate even (would normally associate that with toasted barrels), lush with very light wild herby tones; "sweet" vs structured, peppery punchy and firm vs ripe and rounded with lovely liquorice; power and complex flavours to finish, drinking well now even. €16.50 92+
2008 Consolation "the Dog Strangler" (Mourvèdre 14.5%) - gorgeous wild "animal" notes with black olive and very peppery, smoky and rich; serious mouthful of concentrated ripe and rounded fruit/tannins with firmer peppery edges, superb lush smoky finish. Quite serious price too: €28. 94
2009 Quintessence Banyuls (Grenache low-yielding 70-80 year-old vines, barrel sample) - deep purple/black colour, still showing a bit of toasty chocolate oak vs very rich "Black Forest Gateau" fruit; solid firm mouth-feel, almost "fresh" despite its sweet finish balanced by grippy tannins. Lovely. €26 50cl. 90+

Les Cosprons, 66650 Banyuls-sur-Mer.
By appointment only preferably in the afternoon: best to try his mobile 06 86 81 71 32 or Andy Cook's 06 11 84 16 97. Home no. 04 68 88 37 03; coumedelmas.comtramontanewines.com.

05 October 2010

Roussillon: Domaine Força Réal, Millas/Força Réal

Cyril Henriquès, right
Yours truly, centre, and American guest
Photo: Vi Erickson
The Henriquès family's elevated hillside estate - with terrain running up from 100m to over 400m above sea level, giving you an idea of what kind of "slope" we're talking about - is accessed (and signposted) off the road between Millas (behind the town over the river) and Corneilla-la-Rivière; keep going up the track until you find the elegant orange Mediterranean villa. A personal project spanning over 15 years, Jean-Paul and now son Cyril have invested a lot of energy and money into restoring vineyards (JP started replanting in 1992), (re)building the house, a new underground barrel cellar and tasting room cum visitor reception. Cyril thinks the next step is "maybe to offer on-site accommodation by refitting the old farmhouse buildings alongside the winery." Fantastic view too, by the way.
There are now over 40 ha (100 acres) of vines in production and ten of olive trees; their extra virgin olive oil is very tasty too, if you ever get the chance to visit (don't just turn up though, as Cyril's main office is in Perpignan). Apart from the reds below I tasted in situ in May 2007 and October 2010, DFR produces quite fine Muscat de Rivesaltes and a delicious barrel-matured 'Hors d'Age' style (€6.50-€7.50 50cl), which is great with strongly flavoured cheeses or nut-based puddings. Most of their wines are sold in export markets with the US and UK “really beginning to take off,” I'm told (e.g. Mark Hughes’ Real Wine Company on-line, or see their website for distributors and on-line shop). More Força Réal wines here (Vinisud 2006, Montpellier).


2004 Mas de la Garrigue Côtes du Roussillon – nice ripe Grenache (it is mostly) fruit layered with black cherry and rustic peppery notes; attractive tight fresh palate, dry grip v fruity softness. €5 87
2005 Domaine de Força Réal Côtes du Roussillon Villages (14.5%) – more closed up with hints of chocolatey wood plumped up with lush fruit, dry tannins on its tight framework, power yet elegant too; not showing that much at the moment, it needs a few months to a year to express itself. €10 89+
2003 Les Hauts de Força Réal Côtes du Roussillon Villages (80%
Syrah + Mourvèdre Grenache) – smoky blackberry fruit with subtle coco oak, maturing rustic liquorice edges; dry structured finish v Black Forest gateau "sweetness", elegant length and style. €15-€20 90-92


UPDATE autumn 2010: I sampled all three 2008 reds with Cyril, who'd just finished picking the last of the 2010 fruit, in their cool barrel cellar at the beginning of October. By the way, good to see the price of these wines (all 3 now "classified" as Côtes du Roussillon Villages, if that makes any difference) hasn't changed much, if at all.
2008 Mas de la Garrigue (Grenache Syrah Carignan 14.5%) - lovely bright fruit with dark cherry and liquorice notes, minty and peppery touches too; attractive and quite intense fruit on the palate, light grip of tannins and a bit of oomph too. €6 87+
2008 Domaine de Força Réal (similar blend but higher-altitude vineyards, 14.5%) - similar nose to start but richer and spicier; more concentrated too with nice "sweet/savoury" style, tight fresh tannins vs lush fruit; fairly elegant too despite its (attractive) weight. €10 89+
2008 Les Hauts de Força Réal (mostly Syrah + Mourvèdre from the highest parcels) - the new oak is pretty up-front and coconutty still, but this wine shows great depth of fruit vs punchy yet subtle at the same time; firmer and more solid although its rounded tannins help absorb some of that oak, leaving a well-balanced and tight finish. Needs a few years to open up. €20 90+

Mas de la Garrigue, 66170 Millas. Tel: 04 68 85 06 07, www.forcareal.com.

Roussillon: Domaine des Soulanes, Tautavel

UPDATED summer 2013

The latest vintages (11 & 12 in fact) of Domaine Soulanes' 'table' wines sampled earlier this year (I didn't taste their usually very good Maury Vins Doux Naturels this time):
2011 Les Davaillières white (Grenache blanc & gris, Carignan blanc; barrel sample) - nutty and appley with dry 'mineral' palate vs rounded toasted hazelnut flavours too, subtle less revealing finish although not a finished wine.
2012 Kaya red (Carignan) - quite rich for a Carignan, perfumed blueberry with liquorice tones, spicy and fresh mouth-feel vs nice richness too, crunchy vs ripe fruit profile, tight elegant finish.
2011 Serrat del Mas (Grenache, Carignan, Syrah) - dark and peppery with black cherry and plum, closes up on the palate with nice 'chalky' tannins lending firm vs ripe profile, well balanced; should be good.
2011 Bastoul Laffite (Grenache) - a touch cold and closed up when I tried it, concentrated peppery palate with again a nice fresh 'chalky' side; needs a bit of time to open up, also well balanced.
2012 Les Davaillières red ("very old Carignan") - intense and concentrated, ripe blueberry and cassis, spicy tasty palate with elegant 'chalky' bite vs fair weight too, quite fine and long.
Terroir Languedoc, the UK based online shop, lists a couple of older vintages of the Bastoul and Serrat reds for £14.95. Weygandt Wines in DC in the US sells Kaya blanc and rouge for $20-$22.

Update October 2010
Cathy (pic. right, taken by Vi Erickson) was as hospitable as ever and did a nice tasting for us of all their latest vintages (some not yet bottled), followed by a picturesque spin around vineyards in their sturdy van; hubby Daniel was busy in the cellar next door up to his neck in fermenting musts, having finished picking a couple of days before. The estate, apparently named after the local word (Soulane) for a south-southeast facing hillside, is now 18 ha (= 45 acres, that's a lot of work since they do most of it themselves) in surface area including the odd isolated plot, perched up among wild scrubland on virtually inaccessible slopes. I'm pretty sure they're now certified organic too: didn't note it down but sure I spotted the AB logo (agriculture biologique) on their labels. Some of Soulanes' wines are imported into the US by Peter Weygandt-Metzler - there's a list of retailers etc. on his website as well as their own on-line shop with four of these wines ($19 to $42) - and sold by Terroir Languedoc in the UK (the ones they stock £9.95 to £13.95) among others.

2009 Kaya white (Grenache blanc & gris, Carignan blanc & gris 14%) - appley spicy aniseed nose; quite racy, "mineral" and spicy palate vs fuller finish. 85+
2009 Cuvée Jean Pull (Grenache, Carignan 14.5%) - nice juicy ripe cherry and liquorice fruit, rounded full mouth-feel vs a touch of light tannin and fresh acidity; tasty now actually. 87+
2009 Kaya red (100% Carignan) - quite rich and juicy for Carignan, attractive texture and tight length with lingering blue fruits. 87+
2009 Sarrat del Mas Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache Carignan Syrah) - fairly chunky style vs ripe and lively dark cherry fruit, peppery touches too; more structured finish yet with nice rounded tannins, needs a year or two to open up. 89+
2009 Maury white (Grenache blanc & gris with 90g RS) - enticing "mineral" vs sweet profile, could be interesting after a bit of time in bottle.
2009 Maury red (Grenache) - lovely wild-fruit nose with blackberry and liquorice; good balance of sugar, dry tannins and cut of alcohol. 88+
Maury Hors d'Age (Grenache blend of wines from 1992, 1993 & 1994) - complex toffeed ageing notes on the nose with lush liquorice coating in the mouth; very long and caramelised vs lovely savoury richness. 90+

Cathy and Daniel Laffite's 15+ lost hectares (40 acres) in the stoney hilly back-lands between Tautavel and Maury, are composed mostly of Grenache noir with a little blanc and gris too ("best for aroma and complexity" according to Cathy), plus Carignan red and white. Daniel's step-father, who they bought the property from, farmed organically until 1993, when mass spraying was done in the area from the air to combat virus. "It's more philosophical than a marketing thing for us," he explained, "now we're as organic as possible... but certain plots are surrounded by other people spraying." They spend a lot of time working the 'soil' encouraging the vines to grow deep roots to reach water, as "we only get 400mm or so of rain here (about 16 inches)."
This must be back-breaking work. Walking around part of their vineyard, I said to myself "how does anything grow in this?!" It's nothing but hard dry stones and flaky schist, hence the inverted commas around 'soil'. Daniel quipped "I get through two pairs of climbing boots a year!" The domaine itself was only set up in 2001 and now sells around 3,000 cases per annum, most of it exported. Wines below tasted on 4/9/06 in context of a rather good lunch at the Auberge du Cellier in nearby Montner - also see Fenouillèdes wine fair report a few months earlier for more Soulanes wines.

2005 Cuvée Jean Pull vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (vat sample: 2/3 Carignan 1/3 Grenache) - attractively rich blackberry and spice with inky liquorice depth and peppery black cherry undertones, lush mouth-feel yet fresh and long; power v finesse to finish. 89-91
2004 Cuvée Jean Pull vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (2/3 Grenache 1/3 Carignan) - more developed and aromatic with floral peppery black cherry notes, has rustic richness yet some elegance too; less dense and complex than the 05 with more leathery maturity, very nice to drink now. 87-89Both vintages were surprisingly good with plump savoury gambas & goats' cheese with honey, usually a bad clash combo for big reds.
2004 Sarrat del Mas Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache Carignan Syrah) - floral wild herbs combine with oak undertones, peppery rustic palate with soft fruit and texture v dry grip to finish; tight fine length: 90-92. Lovely with the rabbit dish.
2004 Maury (15% alc. 93 g/l residual sugar) - seductive liquorice and leather aromas, lightly oxidised tones v rich fruit, good balance of sweetness with dry grip and bite of alcohol; lingering leather and chocolate, quite elegant in fact. 88-90

Mas de Las Fredas, off the D69, 66720 Tautavel (although actually nearer Maury). 04 68 29 12 84 / 06 12 33 63 14, domaine-soulanes.com.

03 October 2010

Vinolodge, camping it up in style

This original, sleep in the vineyards, wine tourism under the stars project, billed as "eco-friendly," is due to be launched next year. Your intrepid reporter went over to Domaine Virgile Joly, in Saint-Saturnin in the Languedoc highlands, to check it out in mid September, where they did a test-drive for these posh tents pitched in a secluded spot alongside his vines. The accommodation itself is surprisingly plush, with nice king-size bed, small "bathroom" with electric shower and proper toilet, fridge, aircon (for wimps) etc; and sturdy too with a parquet-type floor raised off the ground on stilts, being based on military-grade tent technology developed by Vinolodge's parent company. Each unit is also fitted out with right-on bits such as a water recycling system and solar power panels; the latter are sufficient for lighting, shower, plug sockets et al although not the aircon, which obviously isn't so eco-friendly. But you can see why it's there, when you could be spending some hot nights in July or August.
All in all, it looks like a fun and back-to-nature "concept" for wine enthusiasts with a few three-star luxuries: mind you, at €200 a night, there should be! This does include breakfast and a tutored wine tasting though, and there's a dining tent with on-site caterers for breakfast and dinner too depending on the package you'd go for. The idea is to erect these designer tents on demand in the vineyard from late spring to early autumn 2011, as part of a wine tour programme planned by Joly and other participating estates. They claim they don't damage the environment and are dismantled leaving no lasting trace. Vinolodges might well appeal to wineries looking to develop their tourism income that don't have the means or desire to build a permanent structure on the estate.
If successful, we could see vinolodges being "rolled out," as the marketing speak would have it, across the Languedoc and beyond... More info here: vinolodge.com. Notes on Domaine Virgile Joly and his wines via the 'winery A to Z' in the right-hand column ('J').
Photo by Claude Cruells.

Vinolodge, camping it up in style

This original, sleep in the vineyards, wine tourism under the stars project, billed as "eco-friendly," is due to be launched next year. Your intrepid reporter went over to Domaine Virgile Joly, in Saint-Saturnin in the Languedoc highlands, to check it out in mid September, where they did a test-drive for these posh tents pitched in a secluded spot alongside his vines. The accommodation itself is surprisingly plush, with nice king-size bed, small "bathroom" with electric shower and proper toilet, fridge, aircon (for wimps) etc; and sturdy too with a parquet-type floor raised off the ground on stilts, being based on military-grade tent technology developed by Vinolodge's parent company. Each unit is also fitted out with right-on bits such as a water recycling system and solar power panels; the latter are sufficient for lighting, shower, plug sockets et al although not the aircon, which obviously isn't so eco-friendly. But you can see why it's there, when you could be spending some hot nights in July or August.
All in all, it looks like a fun and back-to-nature "concept" for wine enthusiasts with a few three-star luxuries: mind you, at €200 a night, there should be! This does include breakfast and a tutored wine tasting though, and there's a dining tent with on-site caterers for breakfast and dinner too depending on the package you'd go for. The idea is to erect these designer tents on demand in the vineyard from late spring to early autumn 2011, as part of a wine tour programme planned by Joly and other participating estates. They claim they don't damage the environment and are dismantled leaving no lasting trace. Vinolodges might well appeal to wineries looking to develop their tourism income that don't have the means or desire to build a permanent structure on the estate.
If successful, we could see vinolodges being "rolled out," as the marketing speak would have it, across the Languedoc and beyond... Notes on Domaine Virgile Joly and his wines here (goes to French Med Wine.com).
Photo by Claude Cruells.

Roussillon: Clot de l'Oum, Bélesta

Eric and Lèia Monné are making stylish wines sourced from exposed elevated vineyards around wild Bélesta country; a stunning spot for vineyard walks as well as a bit of tasting, of course (there are a few other good estates around here, such as Ch. Caladroy). Eric very neatly, and bluntly, once summed up the Roussillon's strengths and weaknesses thus: "Varied terroirs, dream landscapes, low land prices, ideal micro-climate at altitude and a new wave of talented growers often from elsewhere." On the other hand: "Building up its image, promises not kept (hinting at the powers that be), sometimes an endemic lack of sincerity (go for it), regulatory bodies favouring one wine style and production method, mafia, lack of fine wine tradition..."
Clot de l'Oum comprises 15 shrinking hectares (37 acres) planted with the region's "big four" red varieties plus a few white vines too (they make about 10% dry white wine). Over half their production is sold outside France and the rest at the cellar door or to independent wine merchants, locally and nationally. Bottle prices are typically €12, €17 and €25 respectively (see red "hierarchy" below). Eric also believes the Roussillon authorities and growers should develop more "cru" sub-zones, as long as "we're much more demanding on quality and less conservative (meaning in terms of varieties, yield, authorised methods, wine style etc.)." As for organic viticulture, "it's the only way forward and not just in the Roussillon..." Hear hear! These four wines were sampled at the Fenouillèdes wine show in April 2007 (read on for 2010 updates):

2005 La Compagnie des Papillons blanc – lightly toasty undertones on a mostly appley & juicy nose and palate, elegant and undemanding finish. 85
2004 La Compagnie des Papillons Côtes du Roussillon Villages (mostly 50+ year-old Grenache and Carignan) – perfumed violet and cherry with leather and blackberry tones; chunky v elegant and soft mouth-feel, subtle concentration and length with lightly dry bite and bitter twist. 87-89
2004 Saint Bart vieilles vignes (Syrah 'Grenache Pelut' Carignan) - less aromatic but more concentrated and weighty, again has that lovely floral dark cherry fruit with liquorice and lighter leather notes; nice coating of fruit and ripe tannins with a touch of fresh acidity as well. 88-90
2003 Numéro Uno Côtes du Roussillon Villages Caramany (85% Syrah Carignan) – rich smoky nose showing more oak although a lot of ripe fruit too; drier firmer grip balanced by attractive fruit coating, concentrated and long without being noticeably extracted. 90+
Previous vintages here (Fenouillèdes 2006).

Clot de l'Oum 2010 updates

1. I caught up with Eric and Lèia at this year's edition of Millésime Bio organic fair (Montpellier late Jan.) and tried the latest vintages below, including three of their excellent old-vine Saint Bart. They've been applying organics since the beginning in 2002, by the way, with a few biodynamic twists in the plot too. Eric was commendably honest, as seems to be his style, when talking about how he ended up in Bélesta (paraphrasing): "At the time, I knew nothing about vines but liked wine and wanted to buy a vineyard. I was lucky, as it just turned out to be one of the best spots in the Roussillon!" Their wines are sold in the UK, US, Canada and Japan among other countries (see website).

2008 Cine Panetonne (Grenache gris, Carignan blanc, Macabeu) - floral, mineral and peachy aromas underpinned by spicy oak; lively and crisp vs juicy and weighty palate, a touch of toast on the finish but it's still young and tight. 87+
2008 Compagnie de Papillons Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Carignan, Syrah) - lightly smoky with currant and cassis fruit; juicy and spicy mouthfeel vs firm tannins and nice elegant length. 87+
2005 Saint Bart (Carignan, Grenache, Syrah) - wilder nose with garrigue notes and peppery fruit; still pretty firm with chunky texture underlined by delicious maturing fruit showing savoury/tobacco edges, grippy vs lush finish. 90+
2006 Saint Bart - tighter, more "classic" and less obvious than the 05; but does have an enticing mix of dark vs savoury fruit and solid framework. Leave it for a couple of years. 88+
2007 Saint Bart - more "upfront" on the nose, riper and lush showing lovely spicy Syrah style; liquorice fruit vs dry grip, powerful yet balanced. Yum. 90-92
2007 Granito Vino (Carignan) - closed nose; gets more intense and curranty on the palate with underlying black fruits, grippy and intense with fine tight finish. Wow, needs 2-3 years to open up. 92+?


 2. Latest tasting October 2010 in the winery: what a lovely isolated spot, just outside the quiet wee and very old village of Bélesta (or used to be quiet: somebody's done up the former (now closed) co-op cellars big time and just opened a stunning-looking hotel and restaurant). Eric's father took us on a little tour of one of their fairly lofty vineyards (600m above sea level), where there's a mix of 80 to 90 year-old red, white and "grey" Carignan with some vines dating from 1905. He made a, well, cutting but fair and interesting comparison with a neighbour's vineyard, which is farmed "conventionally" (or "chemically" as Gérard Gauby would say), or "lazily" paraphrasing pa Monné; and where they still hadn't picked, unlike at Cdel'Oum where they'd already finished.
The earth here was all bare, compacted and looked like rainwater had just run off it rather than drained downwards; and the plants struggling to ripen the fruit, probably also due to the grower using too much artificial fertiliser and not spending enough time keeping on top of their growth etc. In the Oum vineyard, the soil was much looser and the vines looked trimmer and less "stressed out." His point was to emphasise how much time is required in the field, when you farm organically trying to get perfectly ripe and healthy grapes. Hence why their wines aren't cheap! Light sarcasm aside, he also made a good, and amusing, point about how people don't think twice about spending over €10 on a pizza, so why not spend more even on a very good bottle of wine? Over to those tasty bottles (refer to info above for varieties, prices etc.):


2009 white - nice appley "mineral" nose and palate with light wood grain vs steely and crisp; elegant and long with toasty vs juicy and refreshing profile. 87+
2008 Compagnie de Papillons - not much on the nose at first, moving on to nice lively cassis fruit vs light coconut and attractive dry vs rounded tannins; subtle concentration and tight finish. 87
2006 Saint Bart - subtle wood grain and spice vs concentrated berry fruit, pretty structured although again has those attractive tannins and crunchy vs ripe fruit profile; still tight with understated fruit. 88+
2004 Saint Bart - maturing smoky liquorice notes; savoury yet still firm mouth-feel, concentrated and grippy vs spicy and lovely ripe/savoury fruit flavours; more powerful too. 90+
2007 Numéro Uno - wilder riper and smokier fruit, rich and concentrated with underlying oak texture; solid and taut still with powerful although still fine finish. 92+
2007 Granito Vino - different, and difficult, profile to above with attractive spicy blueberry fruit; even tighter and fresher palate, elegant and closed up needing time to blossom (as I said about it earlier in the year, see note above).
2009 Syrah (from vat - a special cuvée they made in 09 as the Syrah was so good) - delicious pure Syrah style with dark cherry and pepper; lovely depth and tannins with smooth ripe finish. Promising. 90+


Domaine Clot de l'oum, 66720 Bélesta de la Frontière. Mobile: 06 60 57 69 62 - www.clotdeloum.com.