"Buy my book about the Roussillon wine region (colour paperback or eBook) on Amazon UK HERE or Amazon USA HERE. Or order it direct from me (UK & EU only). Also available in the US from Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback or eBook. For other countries, tap/click on the link over the cover photo (below right)." Richard Mark James

15 March 2010

Roussillon: Domaine Singla, Rivesaltes / Opoul / Saint-Laurent

From www.domainesingla.comYoung Laurent de Besombes' stimulating range of Catalan-titled wines was originally born out of two very different vineyard sites. He used to have 70 ha/175 acres in total: 45 in the Opoul/Salses-le-Château area snuggling up to the Corbières hills (called Mas Passe Temps among other sites), and 25 near Camélas in Les Aspres zone (called Mas d'en Alby) between Thuir and Ille-sur-Têt. He relinquished the latter relatively recently for a variety of reasons: read on and see my March 2010 update below for more on that. However, for the moment only about 11 ha of selected varieties are the source of the Singla label, launched in 2001. Laurent has 24 ha of Muscat and other whites used to make Rivesaltes VDN styles, and he sells off the rest in bulk to the local co-op. His Singla reds are priced between €8 and €10 a bottle, because "I want to stay reasonably priced despite all the work involved (he farms organically too). It's difficult to try and make a name for yourself straight away with very expensive wines. In this region, you can find neighbours where one sells for €50 and the other's losing money. It's more about getting the most out of, and highlighting the different terroirs." (He's since launched a wine at this price, by the way - first tasted in 2008).
Hence Laurent claims to be "super selective about what fruit goes in," and "there's no press wine in the blends either. I use whole berries, foot treading and usually no temperature control, apart from doing 'rack and return' on the big cuve to cool it down." (Literally emptying one vat into another then back again, which helps aerate the must, lose some heat and extract colour/tannin.) The range is a mix of Côtes du Roussillon and Vin de Pays, as "if the taste matches AOC regulations, then fine; if not, I don't care." Good for you, I say...

We tasted the following wines in April 2007 in Laurent's old Rivesaltes cellar, and I tackled the leftovers over the next few days; would've been rude not to.
2004 Castell Vell (mostly 7 year-old Syrah, 14.5%) - nice juicy fruit with light coconut tones v meatier savoury edges; fairly full with attractively chunky tannins and finish, dense grippy and savoury. 87-89
2005 La Pinède, Côtes du Roussillon (old vine
Grenache Carignan Syrah, 14%) - attractive pure blackcurrant/cherry/berry fruit with very light spicy oak, turning more black olive and liquorice after one day; quite tight and firm with fine length and freshness, chunkier than above with dry textured tannins needing 6 months or more to open up. 89-91
2004 La Pinède
, Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache Carignan, 14%) - more forward and juicy-fruity with black cherry and wild herbs, nice solid yet elegant fruit and fresh length v tight firm and powerful; well-balanced and quite fine, the oak melted into the wine after one day open. 89
2004 Passe Temps
, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes (mostly Grenache, 14.5%) - succulent rich black fruits and liquorice, turning savoury/rustic on the palate with a touch of bitter chocolate oak; quite lush and weighty (14.5%) v firm and fresh bite and length with lingering wild fruits and leather. 88-90
2004 El Molí
, Côtes du Roussillon (Syrah Grenache Carignan 14%) – delicious black cherry fruit with coco/cedar oak notes, soft yet dense fruit v dry textured grainy tannins; once again nice bite and lively finish v lush liquorice and (alc) weight. 89-91
2004 La Crinyane Côtes du Roussillon (mostly old vine
Carignan plus Grenache, 14%) - a little closed to start off, light oak v fine liquorice and dark plum fruit on the palate with soy sauce edges, quite dense lush and concentrated yet elegant with attractive coating of rounded tannins; not very expressive needing a bit of time, as the fruit does come out slowly with aeration. 89-91

Update October 2008
A second visit to Laurent's cellar 18 months down the line (where do all those months slip away to?) and an opportunity to try his rather good 2006s. Not that much has changed on the growing and winemaking front, apart from the fact that all the grapes are now spring-cleaned on a sorting table (rather than just in the vineyard) before being included or rejected. Laurent told me: "I dumped quite a lot (of fruit) this year (08 vintage)," and that he's not doing any green-harvesting anymore (removing bunches just before colour-set, which certain growers don't think has much effect - or sometimes the opposite as the vine can then over-compensate - especially as some probably do it too late anyway, just to reduce so-called yields on paper).
Nonetheless, I detected something different about the wines, apart from the obvious fact that it's a different vintage, the pretty classic 06. Better balance perhaps and certainly showing more subtle oak influence, even though "all the wines now go into barriques!" So what do I know, huh.
2006 La Pinède Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache Syrah Carignan 14.5%) - nice ripe liquorice, cherry and menthol notes on the nose; firm and powerful v spicy and fruity, savoury undertones too; closes up a bit, but 6 months more in bottle will let it come out a bit (so to speak). €9 88-90

2006 Passetemps
Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes (Grenache) - more open and lusher with resiny yet spicy liquorice notes; lively, quite soft and tasty with dry although rounded tannins and elegant finish. €9 89
006 Castell Vell (Syrah) - oakier and more chocolatey on the nose but shows classic Syrah, black cherry / pepper hallmarks underneath; attractive dry v chocolate texture with plenty of pure ripe fruit carrying the palate. €17 90-92?
2006 Arrels ('roots' in Catalan: majority Grenache plus Syrah) - lovely concentration with tasty juicy dark fruits v very grippy and textured v lush mouth-feel v bite and great length. Aged entirely in new barriques but it's well-integrated; this one's worth laying down. €50 (!) 92-94?

Update March 2010
The latest news is that Laurent has downsized vineyards-wise and tweaked his range accordingly. He's no longer sourcing fruit from the Aspres, where he was actually leasing a vineyard off a cousin, to focus on his own vineyards near Opoul. So, a couple of names have disappeared while a couple of new ones have been introduced (as well as a Mourvèdre: read on), although in terms of varieties and blends overall, it's apparently not going to make a lot of difference. While I was in the cellar tasting, a couple of TV journos turned up from the local France3 station, as one of Laurent's wines - the 2006 Passetemps - was selected for the Presidential palace cellar in Paris! He's also planning to refit and extend his cellar with a tasting room in St-Laurent (where he lives) and move out of the Rivesaltes premises, perhaps this year or next.
2008 La Matine vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (majority Syrah + Grenache 14%) – gently spicy coconut notes with layers of black cherry; attractive soft juicy palate vs lightly chalky tannins and smoky savoury touches, subtle refreshing bite to finish. 87
2008 Mataro Côtes du Roussillon Villages (mostly Mourvèdre 13.5%) - a bit closed up with dark berry and olive tones, a touch peppery too; ripe with light oak texture and quite broad mouthfeel vs firm tannins, crunchy fruit and tight quite fine finish. 87-89
2008 La Crinyane Côtes du Roussillon Villages (mostly old Carignan 15%) - more perfumed and floral with blueberry notes; tight firm and fresh palate, again quite fine vs oomph and attractive dry yet subtle tannins. 89+
2008 Bressol CdRV (mostly Grenache
15%) - spicier and oakier, ripe and fat with grainy texture; closes up with fine tight and rather unrevealing finish. Need to try it again further down the line.
Castell Vell CdRV (mostly Syrah 15%) - again the oak is quite strong vs juicy dark cherry fruit, dry yet elegant bite and length; not expressing much at the moment, in a way it's lighter yet more powerful too... 89+?
2006 Passetemps (Grenache) - smoky/meaty and chunky vs herby edges, nice balance of still firm framework, concentrated fruit and power with peppery finish. 87-89

There's now a rosé, white and even more reds too ranging from €7 to €17 a bottle, except for the Arrels 'super-cuvée' still at, erm, €50...

7 Rue Pasteur, 66600 Rivesaltes (cellar); mobile 06 11 77 07 11. Home: Saint-Laurent-de-Salanque, tel: 04 68 28 30 68; laurent.debesombes@free.fr, www.domainesingla.com.

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