"Buy my book on 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

03 October 2010

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.

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