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30 April 2008

Roussillon: Vignerons Catalans

Purists might well be purposefully tutting, while wondering why I’ve included possibly the largest producer in the Roussillon - it’s between them and the Rivesaltes/Salses cum Arnaud de Villeneuve wine factory, I think. Well, their huge winery certainly isn’t pretty to visit, sitting as it does on an industrial estate on the way into Perpignan; but their wines, and the people behind them, do merit a mention on a populist level. In addition to various bottles bought in local supermarkets and restaurants over the years, my first contact with ‘the people’ was when I tried a number of wines from their broad portfolio over dinner at the Villa Duflot restaurant in Perpignan back in 2006, where the Catalans' then export manager François Trouquet talked about their hopes and dreams.
The funky Fruité Catalan trio, launched in summer 2005 (read on for more info), has apparently sold over 1 million bottles to Sept. 06 and they'd like to exceed 10 million by 2010. Ambitious indeed: François described it as "a mission for the Roussillon" in true Blues Brothers style, even if it wasn't dark and he wasn't wearing sunglasses... To get there, they've ploughed in €4 million in the first year with at least another €5 mill to come.
FC is a "regional project" (forgive the marketing speak) to "help growers here in the Roussillon." There are 60 estates and 4 co-ops involved, who submit samples of the specified wines and then obviously bulk wine for the final blends if selected. As for the wines themselves, I found the 2005s better than the 2004s launched originally: the rosé is nice enough, fresh and crisp with light raspberry fruit; the white has benefited from more Muscat in it and red tastes a bit gutsier. VC are talking to UK supermarket buyers with a view to getting wide distribution at £4.99 or £3.99 on promotion. So we'll see. Peruse my article archive pages on the right to read a more detailed business article ("Roussillon's Identity Parade") published in 2007 including an interview with their Marketing Director, Christophe Palmowski.
Those cunning Catalans also since introduced (autumn 2006) two flowery butterfly, 2006 Primeur wines into French supermarkets (€2.95): see below and under "wines of the moment" (on WineWriting blog) too for other reviews from the stable.

And this is what I said originally about Fruité Catalan (posted 14/6/05): "In contrast, is this the new face of French wine? I stumbled across these wines in a supermarket outside Montpellier - couldn't miss them really, piled high with distinctive yet simple butterfly motif packaging and bright pinky purple capsules and plastic corks. The 'brand' sells here for €2.99, and the producer (Vignerons Catalans near Perpignan) is obviously doing some serious promotion, offering '3 for 2' backed up by billboard advertising. Perhaps this is the way to attract younger people to wine drinking (moderately, of course, given the increasingly draconian laws in France) - uncomplicated presentation and easy wine styles. I think they should make them a bit more interesting - the wines are perfectly OK, just lack a bit of substance..." Notes on the debut launch vintages:
2004 Fruité Catalan red Côtes du Roussillon (12.5%) - Easy drinking soft fruity, Beaujolais-esque style, straightforward summer BBQ red with broad appeal. 80
2004 Fruité Catalan rosé Côtes du Roussillon (12.5%) - Quite weighty restrained strawberry and raspberry fruit, juicy mouthful with dry-ish finish. Probably the best of the three, try with Roquefort risotto. 83
2004 Fruité Catalan white Vin de Pays Catalan (12.5%) - Fresh and zingy, quaffing citrus style, needs a bit more flavour but it's OK as a simple apéro. 80

Here's my pick of the ones we tasted on 4/9/06 in the restaurant mentioned earlier in addition to Fruité Catalan:
1995 Rivesaltes Ambré (16%) - strange choice to start with perhaps (strong and sweet), but this was good with the foie gras (right-off but irresistible)! Toffee and walnut flavours with smoky complex aromas and finish.
2003 Château Cuchous Côtes du Roussillon Villages (13.5%) - mint and spice notes mix with black cherry and earthy liquorice, soft yet powerful palate with rounded fruit and tannins; drinking now. 87+
2001 Caramany Haute Coutume 'Gneiss des Capitelles,' Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah Carignan Grenache  13%) - smoky mint with light red pepper tones, 'cheesy' and intricate; soft and mature yet still has nice dry grip too, making it good with the lamb dish.
2000 Caramany 'Schistes de Trémoine'  Côtes du Roussillon Villages - a little richer and more rustic than above, more developed with soft shorter finish. 87

The 'brand extension' (to use the marketing babble) continues - tasted summer 2007:
2006 Terroir Catalan rosé Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre  13%) - nice lively red fruits with light grip even, quite full and satisfying. Good but dear at €4.99. 85
2005 Caramany Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah Carignan Grenache, 13%) - deep purple ("smoke on the water...") black colour, very fruity with white pepper and earthy notes, very light oak backdrop; fairly rich and ripe black & red fruits, firm tight & elegant finish. 87+
2006 Primeur Catalan Syrah-Merlot, vin de pays d'Oc (13%) - pleasant enough, Beaujolais nouveau type - but with more oomph - fruity quaffer; not really my taste, I prefer the white below. 75-80
2006 Primeur Catalan Muscat-Viognier, vin de pays d'Oc (13%) - the latest funkily packaged release from those cunning Vignerons Catalans is very floral and zingy with nice grapey apricot notes, crisp and refreshing; drink it cold "juste comme ça," as the French might say... 83-85

And an April 2008 "wine of the moment":
2007 Rasiguères Côtes du Roussillon Villages (14%) - full-on chunky black fruit and tannins, lively and fruity modern-styled red with liquorice edges, quite serious backbone and dry grip even so. €3.95 87

UPDATE November 2011
Taken from this post on new M&S southern French reds:
2008 Cuvée Extrême Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan; 14.5%): spicy vs maturing nose, quite rich and big with a touch of 'old wood' grain, powerful and grippy vs sweet / spicy fruit finishing with meaty edges too. That 14.5 alc. is a little hot but this has plenty of flavour to counter it! £9.99 150 stores.

1870 avenue Julien Panchot, BP 29000, 66962 Perpignan Cedex 9. Tel: 04 68 85 04 51, www.vigneronscatalans.com

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