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16 April 2009

Roussillon: Château La Casenove, Trouillas

ETIENNE MONTES from rhone.vignobles.free.frI tasted most of Etienne Montès' Catalan delights on a fact (and wine) finding mission in May 2007 (and re-tasted the leftovers over the following few days), as you'll see below. Catalan indeed: Etienne now chooses to label all of his wines as vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes in stoical protest, as he fell out with the Roussillon AOC authorities (part philosophical, political and financial: it's a long-ish story...). Casenove is an enchanting serene backwater found down a dirt track signposted off the main road between Trouillas and the N9 (Perpignan-Le Boulou); even if it is located not far from the motorway and the new high-speed train line to Barcelona that's being frantically built, although you wouldn't know it once you're there.
Out stepped a laid-back colourfully cardigan-ed Etienne Montès, who takes great pleasure in showing around, talking and tasting with someone "interested in what we're doing." We discussed many things, although his views on Carignan and Les Aspres Côtes du Roussillon zone are especially worthy of note. The oldest Carignan among Casenove's 50 ha/125 acres dates from 1934, which is "still good... I'd like more old vines in general," while summarising his father's and his re/planting programme over the years. The oldest Syrah is a relative baby at 32 years old with more planted in 1994.
"It's too hot for Syrah in certain areas, and the Grenache we have here isn't so well adapted to the Aspres; you have to be selective. I think we should use more Carignan because of hotter vintages, yet we're told we should decrease the amount of Carignan so they can do a Languedoc in the Roussillon. I'm against this commercial rather than philosophical policy." The Aspres sub-appellation rules limit the amount of Carignan growers are permitted to put in their blend and also extends into the Albères (the hills bordering Spain). "We talked about it for 10 years, they should have chosen Albères for the name. I've never labelled as Aspres as it was wrong from the start by dictating the varieties," Etienne concluded. His wines are well distributed in Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Canada and the US.
2004 Masia M 'Roussillon red wine' (from the most productive Grenache & Carignan 13.5%) - he hopes to build this label into a kind-of mini-brand. Light red pepper and cherry fruit, dry grip and a little weight v easy fruit. Re-tasted: less leafy and more open, cherry with liquorice edges. €6 85
2005 Masia M - more generous and rustic than the 04 with richer fruit and chunkier tannins; bigger with rounded mouth-feel, power and grip. Re-tasted: more seductive with earthy black fruits, quite powerful and firm v lush. €6 87
2004 La Garrigue, Domaine La Casenove (Carignan Grenache Syrah 14.5%) - a bit closed on the nose (had just been bottled), black cherry elderberry and 'inky' liquorice fruit on the palate; quite powerful yet elegant too, subtle fruit v coating of tannins, balanced length closing up a little on the finish. Re-tasted: denser brambly elderberry fruit; quite rich, extracted, powerful and firm v fine fresh intensity and finish. 89-91
2004 Torrespeyres, Domaine La Casenove (Carignan Syrah 14.5%) - fragrant black cherry / blueberry with background coconut oak, fairly intense fruit with dark chocolate nuances; this has bite, grip and power on its tight long finish. Re-tasted: dense and powerful palate with peppery blueberry / blackberry and lusher liquorice; firm and commanding with floral v dark choc v savoury veneer. 90-92
2004 cuvée Francois Jaubert (Syrah) - spicy vanilla oak v chunky fruit and tannins; more 'international' in style but still shows that hallmark fine grip, bite and balanced power. Re-tasted: still quite vanilla oaky but has depth, class and savoury development; robust firm palate v fruit/oak sweetness. 88-90
2001 Rivesaltes rouge - open for a week: quite oxidised black plum and dark roast coffee tones give way to a savoury v sweet palate with bitter choc and blackberry tinges; firm tannins v rounded sweet & sour fruit, powerful but not fiery. 89-91
1998 Rivesaltes ambré (Grenache Macabeu) - the casks spent 2-3 years outside, bottled in 2006: roasted coconut and maple notes, pecan pie richness v tangy coating; oxidised sweetness v fine freshness from the alcohol and acidity. 90-92
Pedro Montès (2003 vintage Grenache Blanc, sun-dried leaving 80 grams of natural residual sugar and 9% alc) - super raisin aromas with complex Madeira type
volatility, very lush yet has nice freshness too. Different: apparently popular with a few Copenhagen restaurants. Etienne commented: "VDN wines need this kind of character otherwise they're just sugar and alcohol."
Consumed (in moderation) August 2007:
2000 Pla del Rei, Domaine St-Luc, Côtes du Roussillon (14.5%) - quite rustic and smoky nose, complex fruit development with savoury v liquorice v leather tones; rich dense palate, quite big alcohol but off-set by nice maturity v solid structure, multi-layered; quite sexy although a bit (too) rustic /
bretty? 87-90?
Casenove update 2009: I caught up with Etienne Montès on a suitably sunny spring day and tried some of his promising 2005s, as well as a couple of sublime eight year-old VDNs. He also told me he has a new importer in London and will be doing "a little bit of Côtes du Roussillon again" with the 2008 vintage, purely because "Fabrice Rieu (the new president of the CIVR, the region's trade body) is a friend of mine."2005 La Colomina vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes (Carignan Grenache Mourvèdre 14.5%) - slightly volatile and complex maturing leather tones vs attractive herbal berry, baked apple and liquorice edges; rounded 'sweet' palate with a touch of dry grip, freshness and subtle finish. Drink now to 3 years. €6 87
2005 La Garrigue vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes (Syrah Carignan Grenache 14.5%) - richer and smokier with very light chocolate spicy oak tones; more textured, firm and powerful layered with raspberry and black cherry fruit; quite concentrated with tauter tannins on the finish, although still rounded and attractive needing a year or two to open up. €?? 89+
2004 Torrespeyres (Carignan Syrah 14.5%) - more perfumed and spicier with wild herb and ripe blueberry tones; meaty savoury palate, quite complex and big mouthful showing greater depth with subtle chocolate oak texture; still pretty solid on the finish with plenty of life in it vs nicely maturing and concentrated fruit, structured and long. 90-92
2004 cuvée Jaubert (Syrah 14.5%) - attractive maturing "gravy" aromas with shades of background chocy oak; rich vs firm mouthfeel, vibrant and concentrated with underlying powerful tannins; nice "sweet vs savoury" profile too, quite a mouthful with touches of quite fine
northern Rhone actually. Yum. 92
2001 Rivesaltes Ambré (Grenache Macabeu) - this VDN spent 2-3 years in barriques outside with no topping up (losing almost a third of its volume in evaporation); final blend and bottling in January 2009. Enticing pecan / walnut tones and caramelised raspberries, Madeira-like style and complexity; big sweet palate vs intricate and endless aromas / flavours, wild volatile edges to its delicious voluptuous mouthfeel finishing with orange peel freshness. A one-off. 93-95
La Casenove, 66300 Trouillas. Tel: 04 68 21 66 33,
chateau.la.casenove@wanadoo.fr, rhone.vignobles.free.fr/pagesgb/montes.htm.

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.