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14 July 2011

Domaine les Enfants Sauvages, Opoul / Fitou

Update: I chatted and tasted with Carolin and Nikolaus at the first "natural" wine fair held in London back in May (click for more info); there's a bit of detail and philosophy on "the wild children" below scribbled after a laid-back visit to their cellar a couple of years ago. These wines sell for £10-£15 in the UK available via their agent Dynamic Vines; and from two US importers: Williams Corner Wine in Charlottesville, Virginia, and another one whose name escapes me in Boston. They're all monikered as vin de pays des Cotes Catalanes (read on for explanation...) and 'scored' using my now world-famous 1-2-3 'system' (see blurb, right hand column):
2009 Cool Moon white (Grenache blanc, Grenache gris, Carignan blanc) - very appley and nutty nose, almost fino/cider like; perhaps a tad too much so as it's verging on acetic, but not quite... that's "natural" for you.
2007 Les Enfants Sauvages red (Grenache, Carignan) - no wood: nice dark berry with fruity vs tangier side, easy going and ripe style with maturing edges, soft elegant finish. 1
2007 Roi des Lézards (Carignan) - aged 2 years in large casks: perfumed ripe blueberry vs liquorice hints, again attractive maturing fruit and tannins, subtle flourish. 1-2

Hesitating whether to head up this profile as Roussillon or Languedoc, since the "wild children," aka Carolin and Nikolaus Bantlin and sons (not so savage really), have a little winery/cellar underneath and adjoining their house up the hill in the village of Fitou itself; but the wild-child vineyards lie just over the 'border' towards Opoul, which is what counts at the end of the day if we must locate them on paper, so to speak. Carolin and Nikolaus' story is the kind-of love story I've written about before on this site, but I certainly don't mind telling it again. They fell in love with a beautiful place frozen in time, which was the catalyst for leaving their native Germany and settling in the area as soon as they could. So, in 1999 they bought some old vineyards surrounded by dry scented scrubland a few kilometres inland from Fitou and an elderly house in the village, which was refitted in 2004 to accommodate a new cellar.
Right from the start, like many young couples from elsewhere turned independent growers, they decided to nurture the eight ha (20 acres) of vines that "came with the land" as naturally as possible, using that "new-old approach" as they call it and by extension a minimalist winemaking touch as well. As their goal was to be certified organic (they are, as well as practising certain biodynamic methods), they realised - encouraged by Olivier Pithon among others - it didn't make a lot of sense to carry on being co-op growers (2001-2) and waving goodbye to their treasured grapes once picked. So, they took the plunge, went back to school and fused a mini-winery into their home, as I said. Good job too, otherwise these lovely wines (notes below) might not ever have seen the light of day. All the promising 2008s were tasted from vat or barrel (unfinished obviously) in March 2009.
2008 Carignan blanc - attractive fresh acid structure, tight and long palate; the barrel fermentation doesn't overpower it at all.
2008 Grenache blanc - slightly more exotic fruit aromas, again fresh tight and long in the mouth with a tad of light coconut flavour / texture.
2008 Grenache gris - fatter and peachier with apricot notes too vs nice taut mouthfeel and framework.
2008 Grenache rosé (barrel-fermented) - rounded and full-bodied rather than overtly fruity, long dry finish. Unusual.
2008 Carignan (60%+) Grenache Mourvèdre blend - six days maceration with foot-treading. Delicious black fruits and spice, firm framework on the mouth, fresh with lively fruit and attractive tannins. Lovely.
2008 Carignan (90%) Syrah - more perfumed with enticing blueberry fruit, 'sweet' and ripe vs tangy and tight, rounded tannins again.
2006 Roi des Lézards (Carignan Grenache Mourvèdre 14%) - nice "vinous" fruit and mouthfeel (wine like!) with very light chocolate / coconut texture; cherry and black olive notes, turning savoury & leathery vs vibrant and refreshing, solid yet rounded finish. Yum. €12 88-90
Muscat Vin Doux Naturel - very aromatic orange peel and grape nose; zingy and zesty with lovely fresh bite vs quite sweet and lush. 87+

10-12 rue Gilbert Salamo, 11510 Fitou. Tel: 04 68 45 69 75, www.les-enfants-sauvages.com.

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