"Order my book on the Roussillon wine region (colour paperback) DIRECT FROM ME SAVING £4/€4 (UK & EU only), or Kindle eBook on Amazon UK. Available in the USA from Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback or eBook; or Amazon.com. For other countries, tap here." Richard Mark James
Showing posts with label Maury. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Maury. Show all posts

09 August 2023

Roussillon: Maury focus - red and fortified wines.

There's no shortage of awesome chunky vineyard vistas like in the photo above around the town of Maury, dramatically and strategically positioned in the (west-) centre of the Agly Valley in the northern Roussillon, piled up against the Corbières hills facing north, down towards the Pyrenees to the southwest and Spain/Catalonia in the sun-kissed distance to the south.

06 September 2022

Roussillon: a dozen Vins Doux Naturels.

The fourth and final part of my summer Roussillon review features a (baker's) dozen Vins Doux Naturels (plural, VDN(s) for short), probably more naturally translated as (sweet) fortified wines, some of which are anchored in regional tradition while others are relatively 'modern'. Including whites - although their colour is often far from it for reasons explained below, a style called Ambré - and reds from Rivesaltes, as well as Maury and Banyuls, also white and red, of various types and ages.

27 October 2020

ROUSSILLON ‘French Catalonia’ Wild Wine Country by Richard Mark James

This detailed book on the Roussillon wine region in deepest south of France, or far western French Mediterranean to be more precise, is available to order on Amazon as a paperback (with colour photos) and eBook (Kindle). Follow the link below to your 'marketplace' to read the blurb, get swept away and purchase a copy!
Or buy it DIRECT FROM THE AUTHOR (UK and EU only):

08 May 2014

Roussillon: Mas Amiel update

There are already several words about Mas Amiel on this blog (searches for everything) and their wide range of wines, so I won't add too many more... But MA has launched a series of single block reds called 'Terres Rares' including 'Towards the North' tasting-noted below, which, apart from this vineyard's "does what it says on the label" exposure, comes from a two hectare "parcel" called La Devèze. In particular, plots of "old-vine black Grenache and Syrah (about 8% of the latter) on schist soil with sandstone, blueish limestone and clay," apparently. Anyway, what I liked especially about this red is, unlike some of Amiel's other non-Vin Doux Naturel wines (fortified sweet reds) made a little too Bordeaux-y, it isn't smothered in flashy new oak and really lets the pure Grenache fruit and some kind of intense wild French Mediterranean thing shine through.

Vers le Nord Maury sec 2012 (Grenache, Syrah; 14% abv) - delicious ripe yet floral Grenache nose with dark berries, kirsch, liquorice, pepper and almost wild thyme/pine too; lush concentrated and structured with lovely supple vs 'chalky' tannins, powerful and spicy with nice bite; closes up on its youthful fruit finish, needs some time to open up. Quite classy red. Amiel's wines are listed in the UK and Ireland by e.g. The Perfect Cellar, Lea & Sandeman and Bubble Brothers, although none of them sell this one yet as it's new, as I said. €19.50 cellar door.

And these were (re)tasted recently in London as a reminder of how tasty their 'traditional' Maurys are, made in two very different styles (the link at the top takes you to more info about VDN winemaking). Although they do also remind us, along with the "dry" Maury above, that Amiel's wines are expensive; there's no other way of saying it!

Maury Vintage 2008 (Grenache, 16% abv) - smoky tobacco and developing savoury tones vs sweet blackberry and spice, still young vs maturing meaty side, quite elegant actually for a fortified red. £29.99
Maury 15 Ans d'Age (blend of ages averaging at least 15 years, or something like that; Grenache, Macabeu, Carignan, 16% abv) - "red Madeira" style, complex with cooked red fruits and tangy nutty flavours, long and intricate finish; lovely VDN. £49.99

23 December 2013

Roussillon and Languedoc: "festive sweeties and reds, with or without chocolate" (part 2)

Further to these recent words of wisdom on my WineWriting.com blog: Spain v Australia: festive sweeties and reds, with or without chocolate (goes there naturally), which also includes a little insight into fine chocolate making and the different types... Here are some more "festive sweeties and reds, with or without chocolate," this time sourced from the Languedoc and the Roussillon. When talking about "wine with chocolate," many people - okay, wino people rather than normal people at least - think of rugged Roussillon country and its sometimes sublime red vins doux naturels or fortified sweet reds based on Grenache, especially Banyuls from the southeastern corner bordering Spain or Maury in the region's northern flank nudging up against the Corbières hills.

Those famous demijohns, slightly predictable target for a photo, outside at Mas Amiel: mostly empty as this type of traditional 'oxidative' ageing is now only used for a small proportion of their Vin Doux Naturel (VDN) production. Photo: Vi Erickson.
Mas Amiel is arguably the most famous name in the Maury area (with suitably celeb prices to match, you might be tempted to add) and particularly well known for its old vintages. We were treated to their 1980 (in magnum no less, a special millennium bottling aged for nearly 20 years in demijohns and large casks beforehand; 16.5% abv) at the 'wine with chocolate' tasting event featured in the post mentioned at the top of the page (follow that link for more info). I've tasted this vintage before in situ (goes to profile and notes on MA penned in 2007, 2009, 2010 and updated earlier this year), although not sure if it's exactly the same wine, as that 1980 had one of their regular 'Millésime' labels, implying vintage style i.e. aged for a relatively short time in cask and the rest in bottle. In any case, the 1980 "millennium" was delicious and a fine match for the Co Couture chocs in front of us, especially the chilli flavour actually. Browning in colour with intriguing meat gravy vs liquorice nose, rich and concentrated with lush mouth-feel vs nice bite and developing savoury flavours; still alive with complex long maturing finish. Yum. £85 magnum.
Also from Maury, made by the worth-visiting Vignerons de Maury co-op winery found in the village, comes their Cuvée Centenaire (specially brewed in 2010 to celebrate 100 years, obviously; 16% abv), which was quite orangey brown with 'volatile' red-Madeira notes and sweet dried fruits vs meaty mature cheesy palate; particularly good with the ginger chocolate. About £23. More of their wines are HERE (St-Bacchus Awards) and probably elsewhere on the blog too. Banyuls was well represented by one of its top VDN producers Domaine du Mas Blanc with their 2000 Vieilles Vignes label (old vines; 16.5% abv): oxidised intricate mature-cheesy nose, lush vs savoury palate with complex toffee and dried raspberry flavours, long smooth finish. The plain choc and sea salt flavoured one almost freshened up the wine, not so good with the ginger though funnily enough. £27 approx. More on DMB HERE.
Moving on to a few 'regular' Roussillon and Languedoc reds, not deliberately tasted with chocolate (but might have been unintentionally) in recent weeks. Firstly, a pair from Naked Wines. Benjamin Darnault's 2012 La Cuvée Réservée Cotes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache, Syrah; 14.5% abv, bottled in the Aude though?) is deep purple black in colour, a 'modern' style big fruity and spicy red; peppery blackberry with firm grip vs 'sweet' rounded palate, nice dry texture vs ripe berry fruit, liquorice and spice with punchy alcohol on its lively finish. Attractive good+ co-op level red, okay at £8.49 ('Angel' price) but not worth £11.49 ('normal': more here about Naked's pricing). Same could perhaps be said about their 2012 Le Petit Train Syrah (£8.25 or £10.99) made by Katie Jones, although this wine was apparently specially commissioned by Naked after Katie was sabotaged by some jealous thug, who broke in and poured away an entire vintage of her white wine. So, there's an "investment in people" type story behind it (as is Naked's self-acclaimed style generally). Anyway, it's a very nice red showing touches of sweet coconut oak layered with really ripe black cherry/olive even, soft fruity and rounded mouth-feel with a hint of herby spice vs a light bitter twist of tannins/acidity and blast of warmth. Kept well after opening too, turning softer with the oak less obvious and nice sweet black cherry/olive fruit vs light grip.
Finishing off in Saint-Chinian in the Languedoc back-lands, I've picked out just a few of my favourites from a trip last month, which were winners in a "Grand Cru selection" competition I was on the tasting panel for. CLICK HERE for my full-monty St-Chinian special supplement, which costs £3 (about €4/$4.50) as it's not viewable on this blog (emailed as a PDF). Features several leading estates (and places to eat and stay), including Domaines Canet Valette, Cambis, Jougla, Cazal Viel, La Madura, La Femme Allongée, Boissezon Guiraud, Milhau-Lacugue and more! In the meantime then...
Laurent Miquel Bardou 2008 (100% Syrah) – still quite toasty coconut with spicy dark fruit vs nice meaty edges, the oak melts into it adding a touch of chocolatey texture/flavour, nice tannins and concentration for a 2008; still quite young and structured with substance. Good stuff. €19
La Grange Léon D'une main à l'autre 2011 (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache) - herbal red pepper, liquorice and perfumed white pepper; quite lush with ripe berry fruit, soft and approachable with bit of weight, freshness and length. Nice now. €16

Domaine la Linquière 310 La Sentenelle 2011 - lovely wild garrigue notes (= reminds of heathland flora!) plus sweet liquorice vs peppery fruit, soft tasty and quite elegant finish. €18
Borie la Vitarèle Les Crès 2005 (Mourvèdre, Syrah) - savoury touches vs dark cherry, nice 'chalky' tannins with a touch of freshness, tight and elegant, still relatively young really, lovely savoury vs liquorice and spice finish. €18.50

Above prices are cellar door in France, so these are all towards dear wines although among the producers' top cuvées; or would be in the UK, Ireland or US once you slap on eye-watering taxes!

22 August 2013

Roussillon: Domaine de Sabbat, Latour de France

Sylvain Lejeune (pic. taken from www.domainedesabbat.fr) founded his own 10 ha (25 acre) estate in 2008, having worked at several wineries in France from Bordeaux to Burgundy to Provence. The vineyards lie in different spots on very varied terrain - schist, marl and clay-chalk soils - near the brooding villages of Maury, Tautavel and Vingrau across the wildly pretty Agly Valley; Sylvain's winery/cellar and home are in nearby Latour de France though. He claims to follow organic regulations but isn't certified (time yet to put on that straight-jacket), and he makes a red Rivesaltes Grenat VDN style and a rosé too. The 'Spring 1900' label refers to a small plot of senior citizen LLadoner Pelut, a Catalan variety closely related to black Grenache, used for this particular red blend. And let's not forget helping-hand Pilou the dog, aka 'Doudou', who's apparently "priceless when it comes to making decisions..." € prices are online for delivery in France.

2011 white Côtes du Roussillon (mostly Grenache gris, Grenache blanc & Macabeu; fermented and aged in cask for 12 months) - fairly toasty yet has exotic fruit too, rounded nutty palate, quite rich and juicy with creamier side then an elegant 'mineral' touch to finish. €14
2010 red Côtes du Roussillon Villages (80% old-vine Carignan, 20% Syrah; aged in cask for 8 months plus six in tank) - nice dark 'tar' and liquorice vs crunchy berry, fresh and lively mouth-feel with light grip and a little power too. Attractive style drinking now. €12
2010 Printemps 1900 Côtes du Roussillon Villages (2/3 Grenache & LLadoner Pelut, Syrah & Carignan; 12 months in cask + 6 in tank) - more blackberry/cherry, dark and peppery; chunkier lusher and firmer too, concentrated with attractive tannins; closes up on its promising finish. €16
2009 Printemps '1900' - savoury hints with wild herby/floral character vs dried black fruits, a touch more chocolate oak texture, more powerful; still quite firm and tight with similar concentration. Typical 09 perhaps, less obvious. €16

16 August 2013

Roussillon: Domaine des Soulanes update

Fooled you - IT'S HERE actually...

Some of those Soulanes = south-facing hillside
Taken by Vi Erickson

20 April 2012

Roussillon: Domaine Lavista / Pouderoux update

Photo from domainepouderoux.fr
Click here to find a profile on Domaine Pouderoux and plenty of reds, whites and Maury VDNs to make your mouth water, all tasted on two previous trips to cellar and vineyards (2006 and 2009). The latest news is that Catherine and Robert Pouderoux have caught the organic bug, as I discovered catching up with them at this year's Millésime Bio organic wine show in Montpellier recently. Domaine Lavista consists of a few hectares of organically farmed vineyards officially 'certifed' from 2011, hence just three wines from this vintage so far tasting-noted below. More info to follow on this, which looks like an exciting "project"...

2011 Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache Mourvèdre & Syrah) – tasty juicy dark-fruited and spicy red with black cherry/berry aromas/flavours, a hint of attractive dry grip vs lush fruity finish. Already promising (not released yet).
2011 Collection white IGP Côtes Catalanes (Grenache blanc, Grenache gris, Macabeu, Malvoisie, Clairette, Carignan blanc) – enticingly crisp and juicy style with lively zingy finish, has a bit of character and weight too. Good.
2011 Muscat sec – clean and crisp grapey Muscat style, zesty dry and nice & easy too.

07 March 2012

Roussillon: 'dry' Maury, hooray...

So, it comes to pass. A little bit of common sense has arguably prevailed behind the creation of a new Cotes du Roussillon Villages (CdRV) subzone for dry red wines, also called Maury. These wines will come (first ones will be vintage 2011 appearing in about a year's time) from the same appellation area (Maury, Tautavel, Saint-Paul de Fenouillet and Rasiguères) as for the already well-known Maury 'Vins Doux Naturels' (sweet fortified reds), so a big advantage on the marketing front from the start then.
In France, they'll have to put 'sec' (dry) on the label as the 'wine authorities' are needlessly paranoid that consumers won't understand the idea of a regular 'dry' red coming from this area, since the Maury VDN name is much better established over the Channel / Sleeve than in the UK, Ireland or the US, for example. This could have been one reason why this new appellation took such a long time to surface, agreeing on the name etc. as well as all the inevitable rules & regs; but I don't think they need to worry. Rasteau, in the southern Rhone Valley, did the same thing a few years ago and it wasn't a big deal: perhaps producers should leave the 'Roussillon Villages' bit on the label for the time-being so the village-area 'concept' is clearer.
Anyway, does the Roussillon, or France even, need yet another, to non-wine die-hards at least, obscure village name on the label? Well, this one has a certain logic - perhaps more so than e.g. nearby CdRV Rasiguères (will this survive given that the latter village is within the new Maury zone? Confusing or what...) - and doesn't make the same original mistake they made with straight CdRV by telling winegrowers they had to have a certain proportion of Syrah in their wine, even if they didn't have / didn't want any. This one does say you have to have a "minimum of 60% Grenache (Noir)" in the blend, which is after all THE sexy Maury grape variety, but, whoopee, no fascist diktat ordering them to include Syrah.
Nothing against Syrah, but this really does give winemakers the opportunity of crafting distinctive wines that taste a bit different from many from the Languedoc and Roussillon. Lovely rich Mediterranean / Catalan reds. Pity the regs insist on having a blend of "at least two varieties" - why not a 100% Grenache, if the winemaker is clever enough not to make something too overblown, as can happen with pure Grenache - although this does mean growers can make up the balance with good old (being the operative word around these parts) Carignan if they like. Or Syrah, I suppose...
Looking forward to trying some of the new wines next year (goes to my World Grenache Competition 2013 report on Châteauneuf-du-Pape & Roussillon, where you'll find some 2011s), or sooner from barrel / vat in the cellar hopefully. Oh, by the way, dry white Maury might well be next on the cards, which also seems like a good idea as certain wineries are already making some excellent whites from this area (currently called plain old CdR).
Sources: Vins du Roussillon and Vitisphere.com.

A fuller version of this piece (including a few "dry Maury" recommendations drawn from this blog) is viewable on Palate Press Story Bank.

18 November 2011

Roussillon: Domaine of the Bee update

Click here for profile and note on the 2007 vintage of their sumptuous old Grenache and Carignan based red and see below for my impressions of the recently released 2009. Other news includes their 2008 vintage now being available in the US via a distributor who sells in 35 states. More details are on their website domaineofthebee.com under 'Order your wine' then select USA, obviously!
There's a special offer running at the moment too "at the Domaine of the Bee shop," as the blurb goes. Use this code £10NOV2011 and they'll "take a tenner off your bill." One bottle is usually a somewhat pricey £27.95 delivered (£20 single bottle price + £7.95 p+p) so that makes it £17.95. The price does come down as the quantity goes up, here's the maths in a nutshell: 3 bottles = £60 + £7.95 minus £10 = £57.95, or 6 bottles = £108 + £7.95 minus £10 = £105.95, for example. The catch is it's limited to the first 50 people who order and is valid until Sunday 27th November (UK deliveries only). Enough of the sales pitch, you might well be saying (I don't have shares in the Bee incidentally), although you could combine this offer with the charity row (as in boat not argument...) Justin, whose father died of prostate cancer last year, is just about to do in aid of that cause. In their words: "Amanda, Philippe and I have decided to help raise funds by donating £10 to the charity for every 6 bottle case of Domaine of the Bee we sell before 20th November."

Now over to that new-release wine:
2009 Domaine of the Bee IGP Côtes Catalanes (15%) - touches of coconut oak but not too much adding texture and roundness to its ripe tannins and fruit, offering up sweet liquorice and blackberry flavours; powerful mouthful although that 15% alc. is surprisingly well hidden among its concentrated lush black fruit and damson mix with nice peppery edges too; attractive soft tannins vs light bitter chocolate twist and subtle dry grip, this is drinking nicely already actually.

03 November 2010

Banyuls & Maury: sweet seductive red Roussillon

New wine tasting & touring feature published on FrenchMediterraneanWine: "My pick of some (25) of these red (and a few white) Vins Doux Naturels or vins mutés, as they're called in French: literally "natural sweet wines" or fortified wines, tasted in early October on a whirlwind tour of leading estates in north and south Roussillon. Plus words on how these delicious Grenache based wines are made and their different styles." Featured wineries: Amiel, Coume Mas, La Rectorie, Serrelongue, Soulanes, Tour Vieille, Vinci, Coume Majou, Mudigliza; and a new-release Maury from Mont Tauch...

01 November 2010

France: Roussillon - Banyuls and Maury, "sweet seductive red Roussillon..."

Wine tasting & touring: "Banyuls & Maury, sweet seductive red Roussillon..."
Featuring Mas Amiel, Coume Mas, La Rectorie, Serrelongue, Soulanes, Tour Vieille, Vinci, Coume Majou, Mudigliza...

"My pick of some (25) of these red (and a few white) Vins Doux Naturels or vins mutés, as they're called in French: literally "natural sweet wines" or fortified wines, tasted in early October on a whirlwind tour of leading estates in north and south Roussillon. Plus words on how these delicious Grenache based wines are made and their different styles." Featured wineries: Amiel, Coume Mas, La Rectorie, Serrelongue, Soulanes, Tour Vieille, Vinci, Coume Majou, Mudigliza; and a new-release Maury from Mont Tauch.

Demijohns outside at Mas Amiel, by Vi Erickson

Much as I like Port in its differing forms, what gives Banyuls and Maury (also named after the places they come from) the edge, for my palate at least, is the simple fact that they're a touch less alcoholic: 16%-17% (sometimes a bit more such as La Tour Vieille's sublime "Meditation Wine" reviewed below) as opposed to around 20% for Port. And it's difficult to resist the charm that seductive Grenache somehow brings to these Vins Doux Naturels (VDNs) or vins mutés: "natural sweet wines" or fortified wines. Anyway, as for a few educational words about these sumptuous stonking reds (mostly): I wrote the following paragraph previously in a blurb on La Coume du Roy, who produce pretty much all imaginable styles of Maury from "modern" to extremely old, which attempts to summarise the differences in grape handling, winemaking and maturation.
There are essentially two styles of Maury, on a basic level; in reality, there are almost as many as any producer wishes to make! (Ed: same principle for Banyuls, although clearly a different climate by the sea unlike Maury further north, inland and in a valley). Both use mainly the same variety: "black" Grenache as the French call it; and Macabeu, Grenache blanc and/or Grenache gris for the rarer white. The more (or less depending on the cuvée, release date etc.) oxidised aged one, where (for red) the grapes undergo a 4-5 day maceration on skins (or less even) and short fermentation to obtain some colour and desired sugar level; then are pressed and the juice fortified with spirit (leaving about 100 grams/litre residual sugar on average). The other style is said to date from around the mid 1980s: muté sur grains, meaning the entire must with the crushed berries still macerating in it is fortified, stopping fermentation with around 80-85 g/l RS; followed by 2 to 4 weeks maceration on the skins before pressing (avoiding contact with oxygen), which gives much richer colour and tannins. This type of "modern" Banyuls/Maury is usually bottled relatively soon, depending on the specific (sub)style you want - after a period in vat or filled-up barriques - and sometimes aged a little longer in bottle before release (so, technically similar to Vintage and Late Bottled Vintage Port, or Ruby for lower-priced blends), depending on if and how long in barrel. Whereas, the traditional approach is to mature the wine in large old casks and/or vats, and not usually topped up, or even glass demijohns outside, to promote oxidation; like e.g. Banyuls 'Grand Cru' or Tawny Port styles.

Entrance to Domaine de la Rectorie,  by Vi Erickson 

Pierre Parcé at La Rectorie in Banyuls-sur-mer (above) shed some interesting light on how the Parcé brothers, after taking on the family vineyards in the 1980s, came to influence the launch of those "new-wave" Banyuls VDNs. Paraphrasing his words: firstly, by understanding some of the reasons why the traditional oxidised styles continued to be made and history behind them. Part of the reason was the totally isolated nature of many of the area's vineyards at that time with no access roads. This often dictated having to pick all the grapes in one spot in one go and loading them up in a cart under the hot sun, while everything was picked; as it was just too awkward to go back and forth to the cellar several times to unload. Hence, when the grapes did finally arrive, they weren't exactly in the best health; so the skins were discarded quickly by pressing off the must after a short time fermenting, if at all, and fortifying it as soon as possible. The resultant low-colour wines were then aged for long periods of time, in big old casks that weren't topped up and/or outside in demijohns even to promote oxidative ageing, to compensate for any faults and create complex flavours from the maturation process itself (as long as not left too long...)
The "new thinking" already gathering more momentum in the 80s went along the lines of "what if..." Given that grapes could now be delivered to the cellar as and when you wanted them, coupled with much better equipment and technical winemaking know-how; meaning the skins are in perfect condition and can be fermented with the must, like making a regular red wine, to extract colour and tannins. This must is then "muté sur grains", i.e. the fortifying spirit added onto the fermenting berries before pressing. This has an added advantage, as alcohol actually promotes greater extraction while the must is left to macerate. After pressing, the juice is typically, depending on the desired style, protected from oxygen by transfer into inert tanks before bottling or into barrels that are kept filled to the brim. These wines are thus similar to vintage or late bottled vintage Ports, for example, rather than the long cask-aged, oxidised styles that are closer to Tawnies.
Another simply commercial reason for developing young fruity muté sur grains Banyuls wines, was to be able to sell them much sooner. As the Parcé's were pretty much starting from scratch, they had no old maturing stocks like the big co-ops have always had (and some of their wines are very good, it has to be said); and it obviously takes a lot of time and investment to store VDN wines for as long as it takes before they get really interesting. After starting the ball rolling, and extending the above-mentioned winemaking logic to those old-fashioned Banyuls styles (and, as I said, sometimes just plain too old); what if they made a deliberately oxidised, complex wine using grapes that were in perfect condition to begin with? The result: La Rectorie's extraordinary L'Oublée (see note below)...


To start, a word about wine "scores." You'll notice a departure from the usual "100-point" system proliferated across the site, as I just got plain bored of the latter narrow, although admittedly widely recognised, way of "assessing" wines. So, I've continued the schoolteacher theme here that I dreamed up a few months ago for a feature on the Ardèche, which uses a simpler scheme with one to three ticks, as below, echoing those already popular "star" ratings you see around. Still best to actually read my notes and comments at the end of the day, if that's not too dull. And, inevitably, I ended up giving some half-marks as well represented by a tick in brackets! These wines were sampled in October 2010 (unless stated otherwise) at the winery or at home.

√ = good √ √ = very good √ √ √ = fabulous


Scan down the Roussillon A to Z list for more wines and profiles on these producers including where to buy them. Prices quoted here are cellar door in euros or £ / $ retail in the UK or US.

Domaine des Soulanes 2009 Maury (Grenache blanc/gris with 90 grams/litre residual sugar (RS)) - enticing "mineral" vs sweet profile, could be interesting after a bit of time in bottle. √ €9 £11.75
Mas Amiel 2008 Maury (Grenache gris 110g/l RS, 15.5% alc.) - enticing mix of juicy, "mineral/stoney" and sweet aromas/flavours; fairly crisp and fresh underneath vs rich white/yellow fruits, a bit closed up but should turn into a very nice pudding or cheese wine. √ €15+
Domaine Serrelongue 2010 Maury (Grenache gris/Grenache blanc: from cask and not ready yet, obviously!) - lots of aromatic pear fruit, turning rich in the mouth with tasty honey notes vs refreshing acidity and cut; long finish with enticing zesty citrus vs sweetness (about 100g/l residual sugar). Should be good. √

Domaine des Soulanes
2009 Maury (Grenache) - lovely wild-fruit nose with blackberry and liquorice; good balance of sugar, dry tannins and cut of alcohol. √ €11 $24.99 £11.75
Maury "Hors d'Age" (Grenache blend of wines from 1992, 1993 & 1994) - complex toffeed ageing notes on the nose with lush liquorice coating in the mouth; very long and caramelised vs lovely savoury richness. √ √ $41.99
Mas Amiel
2006 Vintage Reserve Maury (Grenache) - seductively rich with savoury edges and light oak texture; again shows good balance of grip, lush black fruits and sugar; quite complex too. √ €20
L09 Vintage Privilege (Grenache passerillé = dried on the vine) - OK, so it's not technically Maury but... very raisin-ed and intense, intriguing and addictive too; pure blackberry and syrup aromas/flavours vs attractive dry tannins vs complex earthy tones. Wow, a one-off. √ √
Maury Prestige 15 Ans d'Age (Years Old on average) - beautiful "old Tawny" nose with molasses/treacle notes and cooked plums; meaty oxidised profile vs dark chocolate vs bite and cut vs intense "sweet/savoury" finish, roasted coffee and nuts too. √ √ √ €23
Click here for more Mas Amiel reviews and background including their superlative 1990, 1980 and 1969 vintages.
Domaine Serrelongue 2008 Maury (Grenache 80-90 RS) - lots of sweet black fruits underpinned by light wood texture, has nice freshness and tight tannins too making it quite restrained in style. €10 √
Domaine Vinci 2008 Inferno (Grenache 5 RS) - another non-Maury (and not even sweet, although it almost should be) sneaked into this feature, as "you know it makes sense." Very ripe and powerful nose, peppery and Port-y almost; crazy wine, punchy and rich with lots of liquorice and pepper plus a touch of underlying wood grain. Wow: very popular with the Brits, I'm told! A bit OTT on its own but worth a go, has plenty of flavour for sure in a dry Maury way! √ √ About €20 or £25
Cave Mont Tauch 2001 Réserve Maury (Grenache 16%) - treacle toffee liquorice and prune vs quirky "gassy" oxidised maturing nose with Bovril gravy, toasted coffee beans and leather tones; sweet smooth palate with a bit of kick (but not OTT) then more savoury finish with some lingering dry tannins. 2nd tasting (this wine kept quite well for a week, and the last drop was used for a very nice sauce): less "quirky" and "cheesy" with more toffee and raspberry cordial vs savoury/leather edges; smooth and sweet still with that light kick and touch of tannin, nice "sweet/savoury" finish. √ UK: £7.49 37.5cl at Morrison's.
Coume Majou 2008 Jolo Maury (98 y-o Grenache 17% alc.) - lovely dark fruits, damson and blackberry, beginning to turn tobacco-y; attractive bite and solid tannins, not very sweet actually with lively mouth-feel; a bit fiery at the moment but it's a delicious concentrated "vintage" style Maury. Tasted in March 2010. √ √
Mas Mudigliza (tasted summer 2010)
2008 Maury - delicious ripe black cherry fruit with savoury leather edges; tannins softening up nicely although still has good bite vs sweetness (75-80 g/l residual sugar = less than many Maurys), youthful fiery finish vs lovely balance of "sweet/savoury" fruit. √ √
2009 Maury (from tank) - very black cherry and liquorice, more intense and lush with nice peppery touches; tasty sweet vs dry finish, promising.

Domaine La Tour Vieille 2008 Banyuls (Grenache blanc & gris) - nutty and honeyed with integrated wood grain tones; attractive fruit and texture vs punchy alcohol, sweet vs "mineral" finish. Promising. √ €10 50cl
Domaine La Rectorie L'Oublée (Grenache gris 16.5%): pressed straightaway, fermented then fortified, 10+ years ageing in large tuns then barriques outside before bottling. Quite brownish/red in colour, very different nose with nutty (walnut/pecan) vs dried raspberry/apricot/sultana profile; nutty tangy vs sweet raisin and sultana flavours, delicious complex and lingering finish. √ √ √

Domaine La Tour Vieille
2006 Banyuls Vendanges (mostly Grenache) - lightly oxidised with meaty edges vs damson and liquorice; plum jam flavours vs savoury and quite mature finish. √ €10 50cl
2006 Banyuls Rimage mise tardive (three and a half years in casks filled up to the top) - spicier with more coconut oak apparent vs rich "sweet/savoury" fruit; grippier more powerful mouth-feel then quite tight on the finish actually, surprising young still and impressive. √ √ €15
Banyuls Reserva (4-5 years ageing) - more caramelised nose with cooked raspberry jam aromas, kind of Madeira/Tawny cross springs to mind; big tannins still vs rich fruit, complex tasty and savoury finish although it's pretty sweet though too. √ √ (√) €13
Cuvée Francis Cantié - roasted coffee beans and strawberry jam on the nose, pretty intense in the mouth with nuttier characters then a bit more of a kick too; but that attractive "sweet/savoury" thing takes over and it's surprisingly subtle in the end. √ √ €15 50cl
Vin de Méditation (Solera-style, 18%) - amazingly intricate "red Madeira" nose, very intense and nutty; sweet raspberry and pecan nut flavours, finishing with very different profile to that initial nose as new aromas/flavours keep rolling across your tongue. Wow. √ √ √ €50 50cl
Coume del Mas
2007 Galateo Banyuls (Grenache, 16% & 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. Available in 6cl or 10cl flasks. √ €15 50cl
2007 Quintessence Banyuls (Grenache, 16.5% & 80g RS) - 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
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. √ √
Domaine La Rectorie
2008 Banyuls Rimage "mise précoce" (Grenache 16.5%) - which means early bottling: after fortifying "sur grains," this had a further 2-week maceration on skins then pressed, held in vats briefly then bottled. Delicious dark chocolate and black cherry with violet aromas too; rich and sweet vs firm and spicy, nice lush vs tight and grippy finish. √ €11 50cl
2007 Cuvée Léon Parcé Banyuls (Grenache 16.5%) - initially same winemaking as above but then goes into (full) casks for 18 months. Similar fruit profile but meatier / more savoury; chunkier tannins too somehow although rounder as well, nice sweet vs structured mouth-feel with chocolate undercurrent. √ √

Related features:
St-Bacchus Awards 2009 including a trio of star Banyuls/Maury co-operative wines: "Camille Descossy" Le Dominicain, "Mise Tardive" Cornet & Cie, "Vieille Réserve" Vignerons de Maury.
Other recommended Banyuls and Maury producers on my "Roussillon - French Catalonia" pages: Berta-Maillol, Mas Blanc, Calvet-Thunevin, Fontanel, Mas Lavail, Clos Paulilles, Piétri-Géraud, Pouderoux, La Préceptorie, Saint-Roch, Schistes, Traginer.
A few more sexy red VDN stylists under the Rivesaltes appellation: Caladroy, Casenove, Cazes, Comelade, Hylari, Puig-Parahÿ, Rossignol, Rouaud, Sarda Malet, Valmy, Vaquer.
More generic info @ www.roussillon.wine

All rights © Richard Mark James November 2010

09 October 2010

Roussillon: Domaine Serrelongue, Maury

Julien Fournier is commendably focused on Mourvèdre and Grenache, excited even judging by his up-front wine labels and the names of the red blends he creates (such as "Extrait de Passion"). Mourvèdre makes up 30% of both his 'starter' wine, Saveur de Vigne (€9), and top cuvée Esprit de Vin (with 60% Syrah and 10% Grenache, priced at an ambitious €28); and 60% M for the aforementioned "Passion Extract" (€22). Grenache makes up the remainder of the latter, is also 40% of Saveur (the rest Syrah) and 100% for Julien's Maury VDN, of course.
Confusing and geeky percentage figures aside, the Grenache all grows in classic Maury area, warm exposed and dry schist soils; and the M and S (so to speak) come from his other vineyard, made up of big pebbles on clay-limestone. He only sources from about 5 ha (12.5 acres) for the Serrelongue estate wines, with the rest of his vineyards supplying fruit to the village co-op. All in all, another very promising estate; I do hope Julien moderates his fondness for new oak! (Read on, ed.)

I tasted these two barrel samples at the Fenouillèdes wine show in April 2007:
2005 Saveur de Vigne – quite a bit of oak but it's well handled, attractive generous fruit and underlying richness with a chocolatey finish. 89-91
2006 Saveur de Vigne – lively herbal black cherry fruit tinged with chocolate oak notes, certainly promising and quite elegant.
Find more Serrelongue wines here, from the 6th Fenouillèdes Wine Fair.

Spring/summer 2009 update: yes, he does now agree about the oak! And is buying more of those bigger 'demi-muids' size casks, which impart less flavour as well. I tasted Julien's latest vintages in Tautavel in late April at the much-mentioned Fenouillèdes wine bash (I have also tasted with him in his cellar and seen some of his vines, by the way), including a brand new white wine as, well, the name says it all really ("feel like a white").
2008 Envie de Blanc (Carignan blanc/Grenache gris) - toasted honey and spice vs exotic and floral fruit; dry mineral finish vs creamy texture. 85-87
2007 Saveur de Vigne (Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre) - rich spicy fruit underpinned by softer liquorice notes; light coconut texture but plenty of dark fruit vs dry yet soft-ish tannins. 88+

2010 update: a warm, early October afternoon revealed a red-stained Julien F in his cellar in Maury, working on a bit of pressing and transferring some wines into barrel. I tried these including the maiden vintage of a white Maury:
2009 Envie de Blanc (Carignan blanc/Grenache gris) - shows a bit of yeast-lees character and texture vs underlying fresh acidity; juicy appley flavours and mouth-feel vs richer more honeyed side. Nice dry white style. €5 87+
2009 Carigno (mostly Carignan plus a splash of Mourvèdre/Syrah) - attractive nose and palate with ripe berry and spicy cassis fruit; grippy yet rounded tannins with quite tight and focused finish, again nice style. €5 87+
2008 Saveur de Vigne - enticing herby vs dark cherry notes on the nose; nice peppery punchy character with lightly coconut flavour / texture vs subtle concentration, tight and firm vs rounded on the promising finish. 88-90
2010 white Maury (Grenache gris/Grenache blanc: from cask and not ready yet, obviously!) - lots of aromatic pear fruit, turning rich in the mouth with tasty honey notes vs refreshing acidity and cut; long finish with enticing zesty citrus vs sweetness (about 100g/l residual sugar). Should be good.
2008 red Maury (Grenache 80-90 RS) - lots of sweet black fruits underpinned by light wood texture, has nice freshness and tight tannins too making it quite restrained in style. 87-89

149 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 66460 Maury - www.domaineserrelongue.com.

05 October 2010

Roussillon: Domaine des Soulanes, Tautavel

UPDATED summer 2013

The latest vintages (11 & 12 in fact) of Domaine Soulanes' 'table' wines sampled earlier this year (I didn't taste their usually very good Maury Vins Doux Naturels this time):
2011 Les Davaillières white (Grenache blanc & gris, Carignan blanc; barrel sample) - nutty and appley with dry 'mineral' palate vs rounded toasted hazelnut flavours too, subtle less revealing finish although not a finished wine.
2012 Kaya red (Carignan) - quite rich for a Carignan, perfumed blueberry with liquorice tones, spicy and fresh mouth-feel vs nice richness too, crunchy vs ripe fruit profile, tight elegant finish.
2011 Serrat del Mas (Grenache, Carignan, Syrah) - dark and peppery with black cherry and plum, closes up on the palate with nice 'chalky' tannins lending firm vs ripe profile, well balanced; should be good.
2011 Bastoul Laffite (Grenache) - a touch cold and closed up when I tried it, concentrated peppery palate with again a nice fresh 'chalky' side; needs a bit of time to open up, also well balanced.
2012 Les Davaillières red ("very old Carignan") - intense and concentrated, ripe blueberry and cassis, spicy tasty palate with elegant 'chalky' bite vs fair weight too, quite fine and long.
Terroir Languedoc, the UK based online shop, lists a couple of older vintages of the Bastoul and Serrat reds for £14.95. Weygandt Wines in DC in the US sells Kaya blanc and rouge for $20-$22.

Update October 2010
Cathy (pic. right, taken by Vi Erickson) was as hospitable as ever and did a nice tasting for us of all their latest vintages (some not yet bottled), followed by a picturesque spin around vineyards in their sturdy van; hubby Daniel was busy in the cellar next door up to his neck in fermenting musts, having finished picking a couple of days before. The estate, apparently named after the local word (Soulane) for a south-southeast facing hillside, is now 18 ha (= 45 acres, that's a lot of work since they do most of it themselves) in surface area including the odd isolated plot, perched up among wild scrubland on virtually inaccessible slopes. I'm pretty sure they're now certified organic too: didn't note it down but sure I spotted the AB logo (agriculture biologique) on their labels. Some of Soulanes' wines are imported into the US by Peter Weygandt-Metzler - there's a list of retailers etc. on his website as well as their own on-line shop with four of these wines ($19 to $42) - and sold by Terroir Languedoc in the UK (the ones they stock £9.95 to £13.95) among others.

2009 Kaya white (Grenache blanc & gris, Carignan blanc & gris 14%) - appley spicy aniseed nose; quite racy, "mineral" and spicy palate vs fuller finish. 85+
2009 Cuvée Jean Pull (Grenache, Carignan 14.5%) - nice juicy ripe cherry and liquorice fruit, rounded full mouth-feel vs a touch of light tannin and fresh acidity; tasty now actually. 87+
2009 Kaya red (100% Carignan) - quite rich and juicy for Carignan, attractive texture and tight length with lingering blue fruits. 87+
2009 Sarrat del Mas Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache Carignan Syrah) - fairly chunky style vs ripe and lively dark cherry fruit, peppery touches too; more structured finish yet with nice rounded tannins, needs a year or two to open up. 89+
2009 Maury white (Grenache blanc & gris with 90g RS) - enticing "mineral" vs sweet profile, could be interesting after a bit of time in bottle.
2009 Maury red (Grenache) - lovely wild-fruit nose with blackberry and liquorice; good balance of sugar, dry tannins and cut of alcohol. 88+
Maury Hors d'Age (Grenache blend of wines from 1992, 1993 & 1994) - complex toffeed ageing notes on the nose with lush liquorice coating in the mouth; very long and caramelised vs lovely savoury richness. 90+

Cathy and Daniel Laffite's 15+ lost hectares (40 acres) in the stoney hilly back-lands between Tautavel and Maury, are composed mostly of Grenache noir with a little blanc and gris too ("best for aroma and complexity" according to Cathy), plus Carignan red and white. Daniel's step-father, who they bought the property from, farmed organically until 1993, when mass spraying was done in the area from the air to combat virus. "It's more philosophical than a marketing thing for us," he explained, "now we're as organic as possible... but certain plots are surrounded by other people spraying." They spend a lot of time working the 'soil' encouraging the vines to grow deep roots to reach water, as "we only get 400mm or so of rain here (about 16 inches)."
This must be back-breaking work. Walking around part of their vineyard, I said to myself "how does anything grow in this?!" It's nothing but hard dry stones and flaky schist, hence the inverted commas around 'soil'. Daniel quipped "I get through two pairs of climbing boots a year!" The domaine itself was only set up in 2001 and now sells around 3,000 cases per annum, most of it exported. Wines below tasted on 4/9/06 in context of a rather good lunch at the Auberge du Cellier in nearby Montner - also see Fenouillèdes wine fair report a few months earlier for more Soulanes wines.

2005 Cuvée Jean Pull vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (vat sample: 2/3 Carignan 1/3 Grenache) - attractively rich blackberry and spice with inky liquorice depth and peppery black cherry undertones, lush mouth-feel yet fresh and long; power v finesse to finish. 89-91
2004 Cuvée Jean Pull vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (2/3 Grenache 1/3 Carignan) - more developed and aromatic with floral peppery black cherry notes, has rustic richness yet some elegance too; less dense and complex than the 05 with more leathery maturity, very nice to drink now. 87-89Both vintages were surprisingly good with plump savoury gambas & goats' cheese with honey, usually a bad clash combo for big reds.
2004 Sarrat del Mas Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache Carignan Syrah) - floral wild herbs combine with oak undertones, peppery rustic palate with soft fruit and texture v dry grip to finish; tight fine length: 90-92. Lovely with the rabbit dish.
2004 Maury (15% alc. 93 g/l residual sugar) - seductive liquorice and leather aromas, lightly oxidised tones v rich fruit, good balance of sweetness with dry grip and bite of alcohol; lingering leather and chocolate, quite elegant in fact. 88-90

Mas de Las Fredas, off the D69, 66720 Tautavel (although actually nearer Maury). 04 68 29 12 84 / 06 12 33 63 14, domaine-soulanes.com.

01 October 2010

Roussillon: Mas Amiel, Maury

Their latest release red (2011 Maury Sec) is featured HERE (World Grenache Competition 2013) by the way...
And a magnum of 1980 "Millennium Cuvée" Maury VDN tasted with fine chocolate HERE (December 2013).

Those famous demijohns, slightly predictable target for a photo, outside at Mas Amiel.
By Vi Erickson
Arguably the most famous name in the Maury area (and suitably celeb prices to match, you might be cheeky enough to add), Mas Amiel has been owned by Bordeaux magnate Olivier Decelle (Chx. Jean Faure St-Emilion, Haut-Maurac Médoc, Bellevue Fronsac, Haut-Ballet Canon-Fronsac) since 1999, who has obviously made substantial resources available to overhaul and replant the vineyards and build a smart new tasting room/shop on-site. Amiel is a vast and beautiful estate spanning across 190 hectares (470 acres) of vines, 155 of them currently in production, in "90 parcels." The latter figure sounds a bit difficult to get your head round (where does one plot start and finish exactly?) but, if you get the chance to be driven around some of the many tracks here, there and everywhere; then you can see what they mean. The terrain varies greatly with slopes undulating in different ways with different exposure (although much of it south-facing), peaks and troughs of altitude and a colourful variety of schist etc. soils, some towards black and some not so black. In 2003, Olivier called in soil specialists Claude and Lydia Bourguignon to analyse vineyard health and if and where there were any deficiencies to rectify. Winemaking and vineyards now come under the watchful eye of Nicolas Raffy, who I tasted the following with in November 2009:

2007 Altaïr white Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache gris, Macabeu, Grenache blanc: all old vines from a mixed plot, 13%) - honeyed milky aromas with slightly exotic and very light coconut spice notes; fat, oily, smoky and nutty mouthfeel vs mineral bite and attractive bitter twist; mature now. €16 85-87
2007 Notre Terre Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan from 10 plots, 14.5%) - dark cherry and liquorice notes underpinned by creamy cassis; a touch of chocolate oak texture vs firm tannins vs very fruity on the palate, finishing with dry bite and appealing weight although not overpowering. €12 87
2006 Carerades Côtes du Roussillon Villages (old-vine Grenache, Syrah, Carignan from 3 plots; the latter two spent 18 months in barriques, 15%) - toasted dark chocolate plus quite strong "rubbery" oak tones; concentrated lush mouthfeel vs oaky texture, a bit too toasty at the moment but it does have very nice depth underneath. Not convinced the right winemaking balance is there, but it might surprise and mellow. €25 87+
2008 Vintage white Maury (Grenache gris: 110g/l residual sugar, 15.5%) - floral honeysuckle aromas, white peach and "hot stone" notes too; juicy tasty palate with fairly tight finish helping the sweetness and alcohol to blend in nicely, promising actually. €15.50 88
2007 Muscat de Rivesaltes - piercing aromatic aromas/flavours but there's something else there too; zesty and zingy vs sweet mouthful, turning oily with attractive bite of alcohol and herby / citrus finish. Rather dear though at €14! 85
2007 Vintage Maury (Grenache from about 20 different parcels, "muté sur grain" leaving c.100g/l RS, 16%) - gorgeous pure blackberry and other wild fruits, turning liquoricey too with tobacco edges; delicious fruit vs solid firm tannins and punchy 16% but it has plenty of depth; appealing sweet vs dark chocolate bite then closes up a bit on the finish. Needs 2 or 3 years just to open up, let alone actually starting to mature... €14.50 89-91
2006 Vintage Charles Dupuy (selected older Grenache + 14 months in barriques, 80g/l RS, 16.5%) - very dark colour and rich toffee & leather nose, turning meaty too vs lush dark lively fruit; a touch of oak on the palate yet it's nicely integrated with those chunky tannins, sweet/savoury profile showing truffle and Black Forest gateau flavours, then dry grip and power. Wow. €32 90-92
L08 Plentitude "Passerillé sur schiste" (dried out Macabeu berries picked at 22° potential, 145 RS & 14.5%) - strange herby spicy mineral nose; moving on to very rich honeyed flavours, explosive sweetness vs fresh cut and bite. Odd but nice. 87+
Cuvée Spéciale Maury 10 Ans d'Age (aged 1 year in demijohns outside + 9 years in large oak tuns, 16%) - brownish/red colour showing toffee and gravy aromas layered with dried fruits and roasted pecan; explosive sweetness tempered by dark roast coffee notes, fig and tobacco too vs attractive bite and coated mouthfeel. Complex and tasty with very long, sweet/savoury finish. €15.50 92+
1980 Millésime Maury (16.5%) - quite brown too but has deeper colour, cocoa and dried liquorice on the nose with intricate cheesy Madeira-like nose; still has chunky tannins and nice oomph vs lush sweet liquorice fruit then meaty spicy undertones; very alive still and very long, tasty maturing finish. Excellent. €45 93-95
1969 Millésime (16%) - lighter colour with more amber/brown hues, similar nose to above but meatier with more of that mature wild cheese Madeira thing going on; much more toffee-ish and cooked liquorice vs grip and punch, then toasted coffee, fig and tobacco. Again still alive, rich and long although the alcohol carries it more than the 80. €70 92-94

Update October 2010 (see above for more info and approx €uro prices where not quoted below) - tasted in situ:
2008 Altaïr white Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache gris, Macabeu, Grenache blanc) - yeasty vs "mineral" edges, juicy peachy fruit too with aniseed on the finish; very subtle barrel-ferment character adds a bit of fatness to the palate vs crisp and dry. 85-87
2009 Le Plaisir rosé (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan) - nice summer fruit style with juicy and quite concentrated mouth-feel; red fruits and "oily" texture vs crisp bite, pretty textbook Roussillon rosé although way overpriced at €8. 85
2007 Notre Terre Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan) - rich dark cherry, liquorice and chocolate with savoury vs minty edges; meatier palate with nice concentration vs light bitter twist of tannins, tasty now actually. 88
2007 Carerades Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, 15%) - showing a fair amount of coconut and rubber oak vs pretty dense and attractive cherry fruit; that oak's a bit strong at the moment, although the wine still has quite good balance and class despite the high-ish alcohol. Needs a year or two to come together. 89+
2008 Maury blanc (Grenache gris) - enticing mix of juicy, "mineral/stoney" and sweet aromas/flavours; fairly crisp and fresh underneath vs rich white/yellow fruits, a bit closed up but should turn into a very nice pudding or cheese wine. €15+ 87+
2006 Maury Vintage Reserve (Grenache) - seductively rich with savoury edges and light oak texture; again shows good balance of grip, lush black fruits and sugar; quite complex too. €20 87-89
L09 Vintage Privilege (Grenache passerillé = dried on the vine) - very raisin-ed and intense, intriguing and addictive too; pure blackberry and syrup aromas/flavours vs attractive dry tannins vs complex earthy tones. Wow, a one-off. 90+
Prestige Maury 15 Ans d'Age - beautiful "old Tawny" nose with molasses/treacle notes and cooked plums; meaty oxidised profile vs dark chocolate vs bite and cut vs intense "sweet/savoury" finish, roasted coffee and nuts too. €23 92+

April 2007:
2005 Mas Amiel Notre Terre, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache Carignan Mourvèdre Syrah 14.5%) - odd nose (wood?) moves on to a very nice palate, rich ripe tar and chocolate tones v very firm and fresh; powerful length yet balanced, spicy with layered tannins. €11.20 92
More on that tasting.

November 2007:
1990 Mas Amiel, Maury – toffee plum and coffee notes proceed cooked cherries, mature v solid palate with complex fruit development; nice with foie gras de canard! 92+
More on that event.

Mas Amiel, 66460 Maury. Tel: 04 68 29 01 02, www.masamiel.fr.

22 January 2010

France: "Relentless Roussillon: strange goings-on in Maury..."

There's nothing new about a high-profile "outsider investment" story round these parts: Calvet-Thunevin's stark statement winery fashioned from blocks of orange Gard stone was the boldest testament to this up until now, and has somewhat altered the view on the way into town (I also noticed, by the way, the logo on the facia now runs "Domaine Thunevin-Calvet": we probably shouldn't read too much into that?!). But the once slightly dull and dour village of Maury has rapidly become the centre of the Roussillon wine universe, maybe even of the Languedoc too. I'm constantly amazed, and pleased I have to say, that the momentum is still going strong; it's getting difficult keeping up with everything that's happening...

Mega-bucks: the Americans are here
Grenache-loving Dave Phinney (pictured) of Napa's Orin Swift fame (the man behind the, I'm told, hugely successful "Prisoner" label, a Zin/Cab/Syrah blendl), is the first to put American $$$ behind an even bigger, and arguably bolder, site just up the hill from the village centre (off the Route de Cucugnan). This huge - relatively for the area - high-tech winery, along with the whole project, is being managed by Englishman Richard Case of Domaine de la Pertuisane. As well as his own wines, Richard already does a couple of special labels for his US importer (Kimberley Jones and David Shiverick in Ohio) and has moved Pertuisane lock, stock and barrels onto the new premises. When I first called in, Richard gleefully pointed out some of the brand new equipment (including something resembling "the machine that goes ping") like a spoilt child in a toy shop.
This very contemporary winery, called Department 66 (the region's French département number = Pyrénées Orientales) was operational for vintage 2009, not a bad year to start I'd say, although the aesthetic finishing touches have recently been put in place. To fill up all these neat shiny vats and scented oak casks, Dave has bought a staggering, for this old-parcelled neck of the woods, 80 hectares (nearly 200 acres) in total dotted around Maury. I'm told much of this fine and well-established, although not very economic, vine-land was destined to be reluctantly ripped up by retiring locals glad to see the viticultural landscape being preserved. So why here and why now? I'll be meeting Dave in the near future hopefully, and tasting some of his 2009 reds no doubt, so will publish an interview and tasting notes then.
You might well question whether these new-build wineries are a sore on the area's beautiful dramatic terrain and if everyone here sees this kind of development as a good thing? Personal taste and any local jealousies aside, Charles Chivilo, mayor of Maury, told me: "Some of the old co-op growers were happy to sell and pleased the vineyards would be looked after... vines are our landscape. The winery was built on a vacant piece of land and there are vineyards behind it. There was only one objection from people who'd planned to build a cellar next to it, but it came to nothing. With the viticulture crisis, we see this kind of investment in Maury as very positive. As long as there's local dialogue and they respect the village traditions and people." Mind you, some hooligan broke into Richard's old cellar a few months ago and emptied much of his 2007 reds onto the floor, so obviously someone out there felt hard done by...

Ah, but the Mexicans were here before them!
On a less ostentatious but no less ambitious scale, the "Mexican thrust" is being headed up by Hugo d'Acosta. "La Borde Vieille" is Hugo's baby, along with a few other Mexican investors, who purchased a 25 ha (60 acre) chunk of vineyards and the cellar, previously Domaine La Colline des Vents, all in one stunning spot near Felluns (beyond Lesquerde southwest of Maury). And there's a second, even more intrepid "Mexican project" taking in a further 50 ha and two village co-ops: I'll come back to that in a minute... The soils around Borde Vieille have "lots of grey schist," as Hugo explained, with some white varieties, Carignan blanc and Macabeu, mixed in with the majority, usual-suspect reds all planted mostly on east-west facing slopes.
"Wine has always been my dream," Hugo told me more about is background. "I went to viticulture school one summer, got a qualification in agriculture then went to study winemaking at Montpellier and Torino. I've worked for 15 years in different wineries in Mexico and started my first vineyard there in 1997." My next question inevitably brought the conversation round to: why, and how, here? "I was looking for a few years in the Corbieres and Roussillon," Hugo continued and, like many who've come to the Maury area, the right thing cropped up at the right time.
So, 2007 was their maiden vintage which was looking a bit closed up when I tried it, although chunky yet quite subtle and promising. I also tasted several different 2008s and 2009s from vat and cask. They make three reds, each one dominated by each of the three main varieties - so c. 60% Carignan or Syrah or Grenache with the remainder being the other two blended according to the vintage. I won't go into detailed notes on all these unfinished wines; but my favourites included a 2008 50/50 Syrah/Carignan, another duet of the latter with 65% Syrah, a 100% Grenache and two single-plot, "oldest vines" varietals: 20 year-old Syrah and 40 to 100 year-old Carignan. And from the challenging-to-taste but radiant 2009 vintage, a north-facing Grenache, two stylish Carignans and a gorgeous Syrah.
Next stop, the former village co-op cellars in Felluns and nearby Assignan, which had both closed down. An extraordinary (ad)venture: Hugo has rallied a dozen Mexican wine producer investor friends plus a few locals, who together purchased both of these old winery buildings along with 50 hectares (125 acres) all around the two villages, which lie on splendid terraces at 250 to 500 metres altitude (850-1700 feet) divided by a patch of hillside woodland. In Felluns, they were fermenting the first reds in square-looking, small-batch plastic "tubs" (1000 litres: the cube shape allows very good skin/juice contact), as "we didn't want to use the old concrete vats this year. The plan is to split them all into two levels to make everything on a smaller scale," and get rid of any geriatric equipment and completely remodel the grape reception zone.
Naturally, I was intrigued about what investing in all of this has cost Hugo and his colleagues. He was commendably frank about it and prepared to give me some approximate figures: €500,000 for the land and buildings and €400K for the new gear, plus €3K per year to run the vineyards and €1K for winemaking and ageing costs. "Over half of the vineyards are already sold... each individual will make their own wine and handle sales themselves," but this is a kind of private co-op venture implying they're pooling their resources too. Everything is picked block by block, so some of the vats I tasted from were already mixed thanks to those traditional "field blends," e.g. an attractive 2009 Grenache / Carignan and a few different promising Syrahs.

Let's not forget the South Africans... and the Swiss
The Cape's Grier family made a move on the area a few years ago now and has vineyards and an understated winery off the main road through St-Paul de Fenouillet, ten minutes west of Maury. Heading back to Maury, located up the hill on the Cucugnan road almost next door to Dept. 66, Swiss-owned Domaine des Enfants is another great-potential "start-up" estate. Marcel Buhler made his third vintage this year (i.e. kicked off in 2007) in his compact cellar, formerly owned by Serge Rousse (of the sadly defunct Domaine Terre Rousse), gleaned from 20 ha (50 acres) split across seven sites (Maury, Caramany, Latour-de-France among others) with alarmingly low final yields of eight hl/ha. "We pick late then really select through (the fruit)," Marcel clarified, "we must've chucked away a quarter of it this year. Everything's very manual as the vineyards are old, so I've got two horses. No herbicides are used and I'm going for organic certification in 2010."
Marcel's background was in Zurich banking; he then studied winegrowing/making at Germany's esteemed Geisenheim university. "I looked (at vineyards) in the Languedoc, in the Montpeyroux and Pic St-Loup areas, and Priorat and elsewhere in Spain... but it was all too expensive. Then I stopped off in the Roussillon and met Jean Pla (proprietor of Le Pichenouille wine shop & restaurant in Maury, vineyard real estate broker and all-round "Godfather of Maury," as someone once said, affectionately)..." At the moment, Domaine des Enfants' wines are mostly sold in Switzerland and Germany, by (e)mail order or at Jean's place above. He, like other newcomers aiming high, has priced the wines at a pretty ambitious level: €18, €36 and €55. My tasting notes of Marcel's 2008 reds are here. More info @ domaine-des-enfants.com.

Small is beautiful too
No less spectacular is the continuing number of mostly French-owned, one/two-man/woman domaine start-ups in the Maury area. Last April's version of the annual Fenouillèdes wine show, which takes place in Tautavel a few kilometres up the road, threw up yet more surprises and several new names showing 2008 wines, their first vintage. Worth mentioning briefly are Domaine Deveza (Estagel), Mas Mudigliza (St-Paul), La Petite Baigneuse (Maury) and Clos Serre Romani (Maury) among others: click on those links to see profiles. Winegrowers at the show confirmed something else I've been noticing more and more: there are now quite a few cracking white wines too, making this region much more than a one trick pony ("hearty reds" are what spring to mind first). Plus a winemaking shift to youthful Vintage-style Maury, but that's another story... No doubt the Fenouillèdes 2010 fair will reveal more new names and newer wines...

Et les Anglais?
Not content with buying up holiday homes and gites, there's a handful of budding British vignerons who've either settled or purchased vineyards here. Katie Jones is no stranger to the area, at least the Fitou/Corbieres region just to the north, as she used to be marketing and export director at the Cave de Mont Tauch co-op. The lure of the land obviously proved too overwhelming for Katie, who's bought a few, more-or-less adjoining old parcels perched up behind Maury on pretty steep, very rocky soil (mostly pure grey/black schist on top), which are a challenge to access even for her old faithful 4x4. She's going to make three or four wines (two reds, one dry white? Watch this space...) including a super-late harvest Grenache gris sweetie picked from a few vines deliberately left until just before Christmas! Once again, I'll be tasting these when they're ready and will knock up a fuller profile (UPDATE: now done so click on this link for notes and more words). And have a look at her blog to keep up with the Jones'. Other English winey goings-on include Justin Howard-Sneyd MW's Domaine of the Bee and the longer established Les Clos Perdus (actually an Anglo-Oz partnership).
Meanwhile, back in Maury village: will the Maison du Terroir, Pascal Borrell's ambitious upmarket restaurant, help pull in the crowds? They're also working with the on-site Tourist Office organising wine routes and tasting suppers, for example: more info @ www.maison-du-terroir.com. And not far away in the Trilla / Bélesta area, Vincent Balansa, whose track record includes working at Le Soula, Gauby and Bizeul among others, is the man behind another new, organic-from-the-start project. He and a consortium of private investors have bought up some great parcels otherwise destined to be ripped up: more details @ biotrilla.blogspot.com, and a profile on this might follow at some point...
So, what does this all mean for lovers of authentic, terroir-oozing Mediterranean wines? In these "doom and gloom" times, the momentum just hasn't stopped in this "New Eldorado" (as the region has been called in the past but still seems appropriate), where newcomer and established winemakers alike are obviously convinced there are plenty more exciting discoveries to be made and shared here. And maybe Maury itself could finally become the wine tourism must-go place it deserves to be.
Profiles on the wineries mentioned above, along with lots of tasting notes on their wines and web details, have now been teleported across from 'old' WineWriting.com: see links in the Roussillon winery A to Z.

All rights © Richard Mark James January 2010


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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.