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01 April 2011

Roussillon: Domaine des Chênes, Vingrau

When a small group of us called in on Alain Razungles just outside the village of Vingrau on the hot sunny morning of 5th September 2006, they were picking the first bunches of Carignan - some of the vines at least 90 years old - at his 30 ha (75 acre) domaine. It sits serenely in one of the most breathtaking spots you'd ever imagine finding vines, despite a ten year struggle to stop some indifferent multinational from turning the area into a dirty great mine.
The 'cirque de Vingrau' is edged by steep, rough limestone cliffs and hills, actually an outer limb of the Corbières, located about 30 km northwest of Perpignan. It's a haunting place where you feel isolated yet surrounded and like you're being watched; and not surprisingly popular with rock climbers. Alain has planted "quite a bit of Syrah," the youngest of which "is too productive at the moment for my best wines." Relatively speaking: yields in this wild terrain aren't large. Plantings rise from 130 to 400 metres (400-1250 feet) altitude, which could explain why he has 50% white grapes, very unusual in the area, as they retain nice fresh acidity on higher ground. Varieties include old Grenache gris & blanc and Roussanne introduced from the northern Rhone.

I bumped into Alain, whose 'day job' outside of the family estate is professor of winemaking and viticulture at Montpellier University, by the way, again in March 2011 up in funky Faugeres country, where he gave a rapid running-late lecture and tutored tasting on flavour chemistry and profiles to a hungry thirsty audience of journos, local winegrowers and politicians! Interesting though, as was the geology and history demo out in the vineyards beforehand, and we tried some lovely wines: more on that here.

2005 Les Olivettes vin de pays d'Oc (Muscat Macabeu Grenache Blanc) - lightly aromatic with clean mineral palate, refreshing acidity and intensity v weightier yet elegant length. 87+
2003 Les Sorbiers Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache Blanc Macabeu, 14%) - aged 6 months in oak: light toast and cream with spicy celery notes v fat milky mouth-feel and apricot fruit, yet fresh acidity on the finish. 90
2004 Les Magdaléniens (Grenache Blanc Roussanne, 13%) - richer and more buttery with honeysuckle fruit, again fresh mineral acidity; aromatic qualities help balance the toastiness. 88
2005 Festa Major rosé Côtes du Roussillon (mostly Syrah, 13%) - lovely creamy raspberry fruit v white pepper tones set against crisp mineral texture; delicious. 87-89
2004 Les Grands-Mères vieilles vignes Côtes du Roussillon Villages (mostly Carignan, 13%) - a bit
reductive/sulphide on the nose? Cassis and plum fruit comes through with a spicy chocolate layer, seems to lack generosity but it's rather closed up on the finish; not sure...
2004 Le Mascarou, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel (Carignan Syrah Grenache, 14.5%) - smokier and meatier, spicy cassis fruit leads to a firm tight and fresh finish; needs time, very promising. 89-91
2003 La Carissa, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel (Syrah Grenache Carignan Mourvèdre, 14.5%) - sumptuous aromatic spice with light cedar tones, nice black fruit concentration v fresh bite and elegant intensity. 90-92
2004 Muscat de Rivesaltes - richer very grapey style yet retains that hallmark freshness and mineral character, attractively full and sweet v lively cut on the finish. 90
2001 Rivesaltes Ambré - aromatic baked walnut with
volatile complexity, very intense and long, good balance of sugar and alcohol. 92-94
2001 Rivesaltes Tuilé - attractive leather notes and black plum, rich mouth coating v fresh bite, powerful yet sweet and tannic. Woof. 90
L'Oublié Rancio sec (Macabeu 13.5%) - literally one barrel forgotten about for 4 years (actually 95 vintage): dry Amontillado style, old & oxidised yet fresh tangy and very long.

Domaine des Chênes is stocked by Lea & Sandeman in London. You'll find them in situ at 7 rue du Maréchal Joffre, 66600 Vingrau. Tel: 04 68 38 92 01.

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