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06 October 2010

Roussillon: Coume del Mas, Banyuls-sur-Mer

UPDATED IN AUG 2013 (click there).

Underneath this blurb you'll find my notes on some of Philippe Gard's excellent range of Collioure and Banyuls wines, tasted in his winery in May 2007 (followed by updates in 2009-2010). His - and similarly enlightened growers', e.g. the Parcé brothers at La Rectorie (see A to Z, right) - Banyuls winemaking illustrates why there's a minor renaissance for these delicious Port-like red wines (think chocolate desserts or why not with a strong curry even). Perhaps the richer, fruitier, more tannic, less oxidised and livelier styles seem to appeal more to younger people turned off by sometimes tired, thin and brown-coloured wines. Having said that, the best cask-aged Banyuls 'Grand Cru' type bottles can be sublimely complex. For the CDM Quintessence, Philippe is "not looking for oxidation" and the fruit just shines through; and the sweeter Galateo style was "created in 2003 for a Belgian chocolate maker," he told me.
Perhaps the real stars though are his Collioure reds and white and rosé (actually 80% of production here): the appellation area and terroir are essentially the same as for Banyuls, although certain sites or varieties are favoured or mandatory for fortified wines. Grenache is the central grape for both at CDM - Philippe has 11 ha/27 acres of old bush vine red Grenache, which he considers the maximum as "vineyard work is too manual here" - with new plantings (about 10 years ago) of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache Gris (for the increasingly sought-after white) being phased in to the Collioure blends. Philippe is one of several who believe that appellation should be "based on crus (or quality of vineyard sites) rather than varieties," and that part of AOC Collioure's success is due to its "greater flexibility from the start" (as opposed to Côtes du Roussillon Villages where Syrah or Mourvèdre are required, however good your Grenache and Carignan are). "There are less growers here and the co-ops have less power to influence regulations." Anyway, enough of the politics; what about the wines...
2006 Folio Collioure blanc (Grenache Gris) - lightly toasty notes on top of attractively juicy and exotic apricot and honeysuckle; spicy v fat mouth-feel, nice length and freshness v ripe and toasty. 89
2006 Farniente Collioure rosé (Grenache Grenache Gris) - lovely strawberry and raspberry fruit, rich v fresh bite with a touch of dry tannin even, fleshy fruit and 14% alcohol weight v crisp length. Yum. 87-89
2005 Schistes Collioure rouge (mostly old vine Grenache 14.5%) - deliciously pure aromatic black cherry, liquorice and sweet herbs; juicy and ripe v firm and fresh structure; great balance of power, tension, lush natural fruit and spicy length. More yum. 92-94
2005 Quintessence Banyuls (Grenache 17.5% 80 grams/litre residual sugar) - piquant black fruits with light coconut tones, quite extracted tannins v rich sweet fruit with engaging purity; grippier and drier than many Banyuls, and all the better for it. 92-94

2006 Galateo Banyuls (Grenache 16% 100 grams/litre residual sugar) - attractive luscious fruit, sweeter and less extracted than the above but still vibrant and fresh too. 88-90

Spring 2009 update: I called in on Philippe to catch up and tasted all his latest vintages as well as some new wines. He's taken on the lease for Mas Christine, a vineyard on the hills between Argelès and Collioure, in partnership with English winemaker Andy Cook (among others): they've launched a range of (especially) whites and reds called Consolation pitched at "around €10." Philippe thinks 2008 "isn't very good for Banyuls as ripening was too slow, but was for Collioure wines." The CdM label wines sell for €15+ and €24+ for the top ones. Distributed by Lance Foyster MW in the UK and Eric Solomon in the US (European Cellars, NC). If you want to visit when in the area, Philippe's winery lies on a cutting into the hillside just before and slightly below the tiny village of Cosprons (signposted off the main road before Banyuls-sur-mer): take an unmarked left plunging down an earth track and keep going until you see the open cellar door. A peaceful spot with a great sea view over waves of schist-y vineyards in all directions.
2008 Mas Christine white (Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Grenache gris, Vermentino) - attractively aromatic and perfumed showing floral citrus and background spice tones; zesty and juicy palate vs very light toast and spice, yeast-lees fatness vs fresh acidity. 87
2008 Consolation white (Roussanne) - richer and toastier, more honeyed too with dark chocolate undertones; quite powerful and creamy with fair punch and toasted edges countered by fresh long finish. 88+
2008 CdM Folio white Collioure (Grenache gris) - milky yeast-lees aromas & flavours, attractive fat & exotic fruit vs nice bite of acidity and "salty" tang; full buttery finish with lively citrus peel undertones. Very good. 90+
2008 CdM Farniente Collioure rosé (Grenache noir Grenache Gris 14%) - yeasty tinges to a delicious creamy ripe red fruit nose and palate; full-on and creamy mouthfeel vs attractive tangy twist and fresh acidity. 88+
2008 Consolation rosé (Mourvèdre barrel-fermented) - less fruity / creamy than above, more rounded yet mineral too; enticing Bandol rosé style with juicy texture, full-body and elegant long dry bite. 89
2007 Mas Christine red (Grenache Syrah) - gorgeous ripe berry, cherry and spicy fruit cocktail on the nose; tangy vs 'sweet' palate with juicy texture, a touch of tannin and nice weight. 87+
2007 CdM Schistes Collioure (mostly Grenache from coastal vineyards with no barrique-ageing, 14.5%) - similar fruit style to above but richer and darker with blackberry tones; very spicy vs lush liquorice vs firmer structure too, tasty juicy fruit with lively and ripe finish. Yum. 90-92
2008 Schistes (vat sample) - similar lush style with juicy fruit although more floral and cherry-ish; firmer and bigger perhaps with lovely liquorice and spice textures and flavours, very promising.
2007 Qua Dra Tur (Grenache Mourvèdre Carignan) - hint of toasted chocolate wood on the nose but again has tons of lush spicy fruit; pretty firm, solid and big mouth-feel layered with delicious juicy fruit. €24 92+
2007 Abysses (Syrah Grenache east facing the sea, not bottled when I tried it) - spicy nose with dark cherries and floral minty notes too; juicy fruit and texture, gorgeous fruit and chalky mineral tannins build a thick structure and finale. Wow. €29 92-94
2008 Abysses - toasty aromas (new barrique) but shows similar fruit, spicier perhaps; lovely juicy vs firm vs fresh texture and length. Should be very good.
2007 Syrah "vin naturellement doux" passerillé (late-picked shrivelled berries, 16% and 50-60 grams residual sugar) - Black Forest Gateau nose, floral and spicy too with ripe black olive tones; lush and weighty vs dry bite, different for sure like a young Amarone. €28? 90+?
2007 Galateo Banyuls (Grenache, 15.5% & 100g RS) - lovely black fruits with meaty edges; attractive fruity "winey" flavours and texture, still firm and powerful softened by cherry liqueur notes and sweetness. Now available in 6cl or 10cl flasks. €15 50cl. 87+
2007 Quintessence Banyuls (Grenache, 80g RS, 16.5%) - richer, more complex and a touch oakier with more savoury / oxidised edges; more oomph and extracted lush fruit vs big tannins adding dry bite, closes up on the finish. €26 50cl. 92+

2008 Mas Christine Muscat de Rivesaltes - enticing floral orange peel notes vs fat lush palate, quite fresh and zingy although is pretty sweet. €10 85-87

Update autumn 2010
Philippe Gard's colleague Andy Cook filled me in on all the latest goings-on at Coume del Mas and Mas Christine (the partnership company is now appropriately called Tramontane Wines, after everybody's "favourite" wind) with vintage 2010 drawing to a satisfactory close. Quality-wise at least, as, like elsewhere in the Roussillon (and parts of Languedoc), quantity was way down thanks to less and smaller, but nicely concentrated, grapes. This was mostly due to the strange and extreme weather we've seen this year (long winter, snow, cool wet spring, then very hot and very dry summer carrying on into September).
A word of explanation about their new red Consolation release: the 2008 is going under the wacky alias of "Dog Strangler" as it's made from 100% Mourvèdre (not the first one I've seen from the 08 vintage: see Dom Vinci), which the locals have traditionally nicknamed this awkward variety, although their superb wine is far from it as you'll see from my glowing review. Andy agreed about the difficulty with Mourvèdre saying: "we have to reduce it down to three bunches per vine to get it ripe," i.e. not a lot. And following on from Philippe's previous comments on 2008 for Banyuls VDNs, we (me and a couple of American visitors) only tasted one of these styles, a red 2009 from cask, as they didn't make many CdM 08s (although did a white Banyuls, for the first time?). Anyway, these recent vintages from both estates were sniffed, sampled, appreciated and spat out (it's called driving) at the beginning of October!
2009 Mas Christine Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache gris, Macabeu, Marsanne, Roussanne, Carignan gris 14%) - "mineral" floral nose with light yeast-lees notes; crisp and steely mouth-feel vs a touch creamier side, nice dry white style. €10 or $12-14. 85+
2009 CdM Folio white Collioure (14%) - oily and exotic profile vs aromatic "mineral" and salty even; quite toasty and wood-spice textured at the moment vs oily juicy lees-tinged and rounded, dry and "mineral" vs concentrated with lots of flavour. Yet another great vintage of this classic (and perhaps now quite expensive, he adds cheekily) Roussillon white wine. Made by wild yeast fermentation with 6+ months in barrel on the lees. €16.50 89-91
2009 Consolation white (Grenache gris from a 0.8 ha (2 acre) single vineyard; cask sample) - buttery and hazelnut nose, rich and sexy with lees/toast notes vs exotic fruit; lush and juicy palate with spicy touches, saltier/tangier finish with subtle acidity. Wow, think pretty fine Burgundy from a ripe vintage! 90-92+
2009 Mas Christine red (Syrah Grenache Carignan 14%) - herby blackcurrant aromas with vibrant cherry underneath; nice juicy mouth-feel, quite rich vs crunchy fruit with lively refreshing finish vs a bit of weight too. €10 or $12-14. 87+
2009 CdM Schistes (mostly Grenache no oak, 14.5%) - liquorice and pepper aromas with dark cherry / chocolate even (would normally associate that with toasted barrels), lush with very light wild herby tones; "sweet" vs structured, peppery punchy and firm vs ripe and rounded with lovely liquorice; power and complex flavours to finish, drinking well now even. €16.50 92+
2008 Consolation "the Dog Strangler" (Mourvèdre 14.5%) - gorgeous wild "animal" notes with black olive and very peppery, smoky and rich; serious mouthful of concentrated ripe and rounded fruit/tannins with firmer peppery edges, superb lush smoky finish. Quite serious price too: €28. 94
2009 Quintessence Banyuls (Grenache low-yielding 70-80 year-old vines, barrel sample) - deep purple/black colour, still showing a bit of toasty chocolate oak vs very rich "Black Forest Gateau" fruit; solid firm mouth-feel, almost "fresh" despite its sweet finish balanced by grippy tannins. Lovely. €26 50cl. 90+

Les Cosprons, 66650 Banyuls-sur-Mer.
By appointment only preferably in the afternoon: best to try his mobile 06 86 81 71 32 or Andy Cook's 06 11 84 16 97. Home no. 04 68 88 37 03; coumedelmas.comtramontanewines.com.

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