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29 June 2011

Roussillon: Domaine Vinci, Estagel / Espira de l'Agly

Latest vintages, new wines and some old favourites from Domaine Vinci tasted on different occasions in 2013. Sulphite levels mentioned, not for geek value but because some people are interested. The trend for recent vintages onwards of Olivier and Emmanuelle's wines is "no added sulphites, no fining or filtering" for reds and just low sulphite additions to whites. Read on for much more...

2009 Rafalot (late 19th century Carignan; total sulphites 6 mg/l) – wild smoky and dark with liquorice vs crunchier fruit profile, lush and extracted although with nice tannins and sweet fruit.
2008 Coyade white (75% Macabeu plus Carignan blanc and Grenache blanc; 8 mg/l SO2) – floral Fino sherry and hazelnut nose, appley with intense bite and length vs creamy lees texture and power, complex finish.
2008 Inferno (Grenache, 9 mg/l SO2) – 13% abv with a little residual sugar. Maury-esque with dried smoky fruit, punchy yet has fresh bite too. Wow.
2012 Roc (Grenache, Carignan; aged in vat only) – juicy fruity cassis and liquorice, tasty crunchy vs riper fruit finish with a little bite.
2011 Roc (Mourvèdre, Carignan) – darker fruit and funkier profile, smoky with black olive notes, firmer fuller finish.
Where to get them: jump to the bottom of this long page.

Update May/June 2011. Read on below for a Vinci profile and notes/reviews spanning 2007 to 2010 (years, that is, not vintages). I caught up with co-owner cum winegrower/maker Olivier Varichon at the first ‘natural’ wine fair held in London (click there for more info) and tried/retried these little 'natural' gems (again, scroll down for detail on varieties, where from, where available etc.), judged with the now world-famous 1-2-3 'scoring system' (see blurb, right hand column):
2006 Coyade white – maturing appley nutty aromas/flavours, rounded and creamy mouth-feel vs still crisp and zingy, very nice now. 1-2
2006 Rafalot red – maturing dried fruits with savoury vs liquorice tones, delicious complex fruit with style and balance. 2-3
2007 Rafalot red – ripe cherry and liquorice, concentrated and lush vs crunchy side, lovely tannins and length. 2
2005 Coste red – resin-y wild edges vs concentrated sweet dark liquorice-tinged fruit, then meaty tones on its long powerful yet classy finish. 2-3
2009 Coste rosé (Mourvèdre, Carignan) – powerful Bandol rosé style, zesty with light red fruits vs oomph and rounder finish. 1-2

You'll find Olivier Varichon and Emmanuelle Vinci's garage-cellar cum office located, unobtrusively, on the main road out of Estagel heading towards Maury. But call first if you want to visit, as they're just as likely to be elsewhere lost among their different parcels of vineyard in the Agly Valley. These four plots all have their own identity and each wine is named after them, whether a varietal or blend. In total, seven hectares are planted with Macabeu, Grenache Blanc and Carignan Blanc (now rare) for the whites; and red Grenache, Carignan (some of which dates back to the late 19th Century - see below) and a not bad amount of Mourvèdre too.
Olivier explained his philosophy: "we decided to work only with so-called local varieties to avoid any style homogenisation by having Syrah or others like Cabernet Sauvignon." All their wines are labelled as vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes, as "appellation laws are restrictive and a typically French absurdity!" coming from a slightly anarchic French winemaker, who did admittedly work in the wine biz in London for several years. He carried on letting off steam: "French wine regulations are a lung cancer for any business, and the AOC system just makes it more confusing for wine consumers. We need to keep it simple using branding and prioritising education on the Roussillon region and its wines."
The following frank comments have been taken out of context a little, due to lack of space, but you get his point: "Honesty isn't the grape-growing industry's forte, so how can you recommend a label that unfortunately doesn't necessarily reflect what the wine or terroir really is. Apologies for sticking the boot in to our viticultural hypocrisy!" Vinci's vineyards are farmed organically as "by and large, the environment gives us the freedom to. But being organic in the vineyard doesn't necessarily mean quality wine. You've got to follow through with the same logic..."


Wines below were tasted in March 2007 (and read on for annual updates, latest from Oct. 2010): all priced €20 in France; also available in the UK (approx £25, see bottom of page), Switzerland and Belgium.
2004 Coyade blanc - fresh floral tones set on hazelnut richness, nice mixture of oily rounded palate v zesty lemon and mineral bite. 87-89
2005 Coyade blanc (just bottled) - fresher chalkier style, milky with light toast v nice crispness, riper softer fruit than the 04; needs a few months to open up. 87-89
2004 Coste (Mourvèdre Carignan) - attractive dark fruit with black olive and gamey edges; herbal v 'sweet' flavours, elegant and ripe with tangy freshness v liquorice finish. 88-90
2004 Rafalot (Carignan, some of which dates from 1889!) - a bit smokier with more chocolate/coconut notes, perfumed black cherry/currant fruit; tighter firmer and more intense, fine length with light choc coating, needs a few years to express itself. 89-91
2004 Inferno (
Grenache at altitude) - a little closed up with light perfumed cherry, spice and liquorice; tighter palate still, lovely freshness and bite v power and rounded fruit, great length. 91-93
2006 Mourvèdre (vat sample) - deliciously perfumed fruit with black olive notes, fresh and peppery with pretty ripe tannins. Promising.


Vinci update 2009: I called in on loquacious and enthusiastic Olivier at the cellar in March and tasted, well, just about everything in tank and barrel plus the latest vintage releases in bottle! Very worthwhile trip that confirmed they - Olivier and Emmanuelle - really are making some of the most exciting wines in the Roussillon.
2006 Coyade white (Macabeu Grenache blanc Carignan blanc, 13.5%) - they blend the must of these three varieties before fermentation, unusually, let it settle out then drain into barriques for 12 months followed by 8 months in stainless tanks. Lightly toasty vs exotic and fat then dry and crisp; tight palate closing up a little, quite fine actually with appley tones vs yeast-lees richness, coconut spice and aniseed finish. 88+
2005 Coyade white - quirky maturing hazelnut and real cider aromas vs still perfumed floral and peachy; yeast-lees fatness vs steely, mineral, almost salty bite; full-bodied with oily texture, tasty and still quite fresh with very dry finish, spicy apple and aniseed too. 87-89
2006 La Coste (Mourvèdre Carignan 13%) - smoky liquorice and black olive tones; juicy and rich with nice crunchy fruit vs firm punchy mouthfeel, well-structured yet quite silky too with rustic fruit and wild herbs vs fine lively finish. 90
2006 Rafalot (very old Carignan, 13.5%) - perfumed floral blueberry, cassis and black cherry fruit vs smoky tobacco edges; delicious cherry fruit, very concentrated with tight acid / tannin framework although still attractively rounded, spicy long finish with lovely lingering wild fruit / herb cocktail. 92+
2007 Inferno (
Grenache tasted from 6 year-old barriques, will spend up to 18 months total, 14%) - toffee-ish & liquorice aromas turning meaty and savoury vs underlying 'sweetness'; chunky tannins vs fresh acidity, very dry long and promising finish. 90-92
2007 Rafalot (from barrel, 13%) - wild fruits with tobacco tinges, again meaty vs crunchy juicy fruit then floral cassis on the finish; delicious firm and dry palate with enticing coating of fruit and tannins, very long and quite fine really. 92+
2007 Mourvèdre - smoky yet perfumed with black olive notes, lovely liquorice fruit vs tangier and wilder side; very firm texture at the moment although has nice meaty concentration and dark fruit finish. Superb although not to everyone's taste! 93-95
2008 Rafalot and Inferno were both looking very good with dense fruit and fine dry silky tannins and 'sweet vs savoury' style. I look forward to trying all the 2008s again after a bit of barrel ageing.
2004 Coste (Mourvèdre Carignan) - powerful, complex, spicy and earthy with wild herb and savoury/leathery dark olive notes vs lively cassis & blueberry fruit; punchy palate with fresh acidity and dry bite still vs juicy spicy fruit, big and rounded turning savoury vs dark chocolate on the finish. Dense mouthful of wine yet multifaceted and maturing nicely into a kind of traditional Bandol style. Good with pan-fried lamb steak. 88-90


2010 updates
1. Olivier had the following new and older vintages up for tasting at the enigmatically named Salon du X: it's not that much of a mystery, actually, a tasting organised by his agent Xavier Peyrot des Gachons with a dozen Languedoc & Roussillon winegrowers present - there were originally 10, I think - hence the X. That was back in April at Domaine Gayda's impressive winery & restaurant complex found between Limoux and Castelnaudary. Refer to wines above for varieties, as they do more or less the same blends each year for each wine; hence the name of a wine = the name of the parcel.
2006 Coyade white - wild lees-edged nose with intense hazelnut and aniseed; concentrated and lively vs oily nutty texture, powerful and long. Lovely. 88-90
2005 Coste - very meaty with black olive notes, smoky and rich vs grip; very nice now although still pretty solid. 89-91

2004 Rafalot (sampled a few weeks earlier at a tasting of 100% Carignans) - slightly grainy tones vs quite lush blueberry, smoky earthy vs rich and spicy; nice rounded fruity mouth-feel yet still structured and quite tight, maturing vs punchy with subtle depth and spicy finish. 89+
2007 Rafalot (sampled a few weeks earlier at a tasting of 100% Carignans) - quite pungent reduced nose at first (had just been bottled I think), which did slowly lift off revealing juicy "sweet" fruit vs crunchier herby spicy profile; again concentrated and powerful, hopefully that "awkward" side should sort itself out in bottle...
2007 Rafalot - still a touch reduced or something on the nose. Moves on to lively crunchy berry fruit, concentrated and chunky with "sweet/savoury" profile, spicy and firm with tight finish needing 2-3 years to open up. Wow. 88-90
2007 Inferno - rich almost cooked nose, concentrated and meaty/leather with grippy solid mouth-feel vs lush and full-bodied. 90
2006 Rafalot - smoky liquorice notes vs cassis and blueberry; more elegant firm vs ripe profile, nice balance of full-on vs restrained. 90+


2. October 2010
Olivier and Emmanuelle had just finished picking when we called by, with Olivier describing it as a rather stressful and short vintage, to say the least. "We lost a lot this year," slightly gloomy but nevertheless characteristically enthusiastic, "...less than 50% of what we usually get!" This was thanks to strange weather throughout the growing season with huge wind during flowering (let alone the snow I've mentioned a few times beforehand back in March) followed by a vicious hailstorm followed by drought! Challenging, this winegrower/maker thing, even in a supposedly ideal climate for wine grapes. Apart from tasting some of their 2006/07/08 reds, it was also great to try four vintages of Vinci's Coyade (the 09 from barrel) side by side, which give me good reason to think this lovely white is already a Roussillon classic...
2006 Coyade (Macabeu/Grenache Blanc/Carignan Blanc 14%) - maturing nutty rich and exotic nose with nice lees edges, towards Riesling "petrol-y" almost too! Lush oily and mealy palate vs "mineral" aniseed and peach stone notes, developing well yet still has a certain freshness keeping it relatively youthful. 89-91
2007 (13%) - much less golden in colour with yeastier and lightly toastier tones; tighter less developed palate, intricate lees notes and very lively crisp and steely finish; nice balance of mouth-watering vs concentrated showing promise, needs a year to express itself. 89-91
2008 (just bottled) - closed up estery nose, more floral and nutty too; very crisp "mineral" mouth-feel with appley notes vs oily texture vs creamy toasty and hazelnut, closes up on the finish. Again v. promising, think quite fine Burgundy! 89+
2009 - quite yeasty nose (obviously), lovely and complex though; full-bodied buttery and nutty with nice refreshing balance, aniseed and mineral undertones vs quite lush finish. Could be pretty sensational... 90-92
2007 Rafalot (very old Carignan) - spicy and aromatic with wild fruits vs meaty earthy edges; quite lush vs complex (sulphide?) notes and crunchy berries, long and tight vs full and developing. 89-91
2006 - smokier with more tobacco and liquorice, spicy too; delicious "sweet/savoury" palate with attractive juicy vs dry texture, lovely tannins and maturing fruit. 92+
2006 Coste (Mourvèdre Carignan) - gorgeous nose, wild smoky and ripe with meaty leather touches yet still aromatic as well; intense concentrated mouth-feel with tasty meaty texture/flavour vs "sweet" and rounded vs dry finish. Star red. 92-94
2008 (100% Mourvèdre this vintage!) - wild aromatic and earthy with ripe black olive, liquorice, leather and pepper; firm and taut palate, intense and lively though with rich fruit underneath vs tight "chalky" finish. Promising too. 90-92+

2008 Inferno (Grenache) - very ripe and powerful nose, peppery and Porty almost; crazy wine, punchy and rich with lots of liquorice and pepper plus a touch of underlying wood grain. Wow: very popular with the Brits, I'm told! A bit OTT on its own but worth a go, has plenty of flavour for sure in a dry Maury way!

Domaine Vinci's wines are available in London from Swig, Eminent Wines, Aubert & Mascoli and the Wine Library for about £25-£30 a bottle. US distributor: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant CA.
19 avenue du Dr Torreilles, 66310 Estagel. Tel: 04.68.52.04.99 / mobile: 06.18.49.11.21, www.domainevinci.com.

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