"Buy my book about the Roussillon on Amazon UK in paperback or eBook or black & white version, and Amazon USA: paperback or eBook or black & white. OR BUY IT DIRECT FROM ME (UK & EU only). Also available in the US from Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback or eBook. For other countries, tap on the link above the cover photo (below right)." Richard Mark James

01 February 2009

Languedoc: Les Sabots d'Hélène, Corbières

Les Sabots d'Hélène

Amiable Alban Michel established Les Sabots d’Hélène in 2005. Apart from being his girlfriend's name, this refers to a title of a George Brassens' song, I'm reliably informed from a Google search, the cult French 'folk' singer - songwriter (for want of a better word, his lyrics are often more poetic and cutting than what you might usually refer to as 'folk'). So Alban is now the other new winegrower (along with Geoffroy Marchand at L'Etoile de Matin) in the blink-and-miss-it village of Feuilla, bringing their number to a grand total of two (not much more room there for another cellar anyway). Alban is originally from the northeast, French Mosel country, and landed here after working in the southern Rhone and over the hills in the Roussillon. He talked about "the gold mine" this area represents and how the locals had missed the point, with its inexpensive vineyard land, fine old vines and climate so suitable for organic and biodynamic growing (he does). His domaine comes to a slender 4.5 hectares / 12 acres of (mostly Carignan) vines lying at altitude along the vividly wild southern chunk of the craggy Corbières hills. But he isn't very interested in expanding in size as he can do everything himself this way.

Alban's wines are priced between €9 and €14, I tasted these in Jan/Feb 2009:
2006 La LiberTerre Vin de Pays Coteaux du Littoral Audois (100% Carignan 13.5%) - 1. very cold when I tried it in his cellar: a bit dominated by woody notes at first, lush v aromatic cassis fruit underneath then tight firm length. Needs a year or so in bottle I suspect.
2. Less obvious oak when warmer and aerated a little, although still has light coco spice, texture and flavour; similarly dense and powerful with aromatic cassis & blueberry, turning more liquoricey and meaty after left open for a day; nice dry v sweet texture, chunky pure fruit and spice; beginning to turn savoury, well-balanced and tasty finish. 89+?
2007 L'Abus d'ange heureux Vin de Liqueur de Carignan - delicious raspberry, liquorice and treacle flavours / aromas balanced by spicy intensity (17%) and dry tannins; very nice and unusual too. (60 g/l residual sugar)
2006 La Mauvaise Réputation Vin de Pays Coteaux du Littoral Audois (100% Carignan 14% alc. unfiltered) - quite coconut oaky at first, but when it warmed up plus with a bit of air (in fact it was better after being open for 2 days), it had appealing aromatic cassis, black cherry & blueberry fruit; thick-textured dry tannins, concentrated pure fruit with that oak moving into the background; powerful and firm v lush, pure and tasty. 89+?
2006 Pas de Bla Blah Corbières (Syrah Carignan 13.5%) - quite intense and aromatic showing attractive lush fruit with funky edges, black cherry spice and liquorice; ripe v very dry textured, concentrated rich and spicy although a touch grainy / gritty. Full of character but again there's perhaps something slightly intrusive about those barrels, in terms of texture on the finish? 88(-90)

11510 Feuilla Tel : 04 68 64 94 20 / 06 32 88 44 63, www.sabotshelene.com.

Roussillon: Domaine Vaquer, Tresserre

Domaine Vaquer
Having unearthed a bottle of their sublime 1991 Cuvée Fernand Vaquer ("wines of the moment" April 2006), a red Vin de Pays Catalan, in a posh wine shop in Perpignan; I felt a visit was in order. Frédérique Vaquer now runs this distinctive estate located in Tresserre off the main road to Le Boulou and Spain. Frédérique described their philosophy as "looking for finesse, a lighter elegant style rather than extracted and rich... more like Burgundy that will age." I like their wines, which certainly are different (and quite pricey) and unashamedly labelled Vin de Pays, as they're not very interested in appellation rules or conforming to what's supposed to be typical of the area (actually, things have changed just a little since then - see update below). They also offer several old vintages of reds and whites even: read on for updates... 
Tasted June 2006:
2002 L'Exception blanc (Macabeu Grenache Blanc, 14%) - toasty but not too much, adding coconut spice to its complex oily texture and richness, fresh acidity and nice length. €14.50 89
1995 Blanc de Blancs Tradition (Macabeu) - mature oily aromas, oxidised fruit with steely backbone; interesting although a bit old. €8 85
2002 L'Exigence rouge (Grenache) - nice plum and liquorice nose, mature 'sweet' fruit v meaty spice, firmer rounded palate, elegant v powerful finish. €9
87+2004 L'Expression rouge (Carignan) - shows good depth of fruit and concentration, quite volatile but complex and unusual (see re-tasting below). €12 87-89
2003 Cuvée Bernard Vaquer (Carignan Grenache Syrah) - developed intricate wild herb, black cherry and liquorice tones; nice soft fruit with leather notes, rounded easy tannins and light dry finish. €7.50 88-90
1985 rouge - a little old and oxidising but its complex meaty characters, soft liquorice fruit and subtle finish give it charm; much better with food too. €18 89
2005 Muscat de Rivesaltes - very zesty floral nose with white peach and citrus notes, nice extract, intense v sweet length with balanced finish. €9 90
1995 Post-Scriptum, Rivesaltes Tuilé (Grenache) - appealing cooked red fruit nose with interesting oxidised pecan nut tones, rich and sweet yet very fruity, finishing with a touch and tannin and alcohol to balance. €13 89
Vieux Rivesaltes ambré (Grenache gris & blanc, Macabeu)  - intriguing Madeira like aromas, walnut tang with toffee richness, not too heavy thanks to subtle length. €13

Vaquer update October 2008
A long overdue re-visit to effervescent Frédérique Vaquer's cosy garage (literally) tasting shop, on a lovely sunny mid-October afternoon I may add, yielded the following notes and comments from a somewhat extensive and remarkable tasting. The wines below are 'classified' Vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes (out of choice rather than representing any preconceived ideas on quality or whatever) unless otherwise stated. However, Frédérique's L'Exception red is now AOC Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres, from the 2005 vintage, as she decided to demarcate certain plots accordingly to make a statement blend of varieties.
2007 L'Ephémère rosé (Syrah Carignan 13.5%) – pretty serious style, still vibrant with tangy raspberry and redcurrant fruit v creamy & full mouth-feel; very dry refreshing finish with a lightly bitter twist of tannin, nice food rosé as perhaps a tad 'big' to drink on its own. €5.80 87+
2006 Exigence (Grenache 14%) - delicious smoky black cherry and liquorice, spicy and savoury underpinned by lovely fruit; powerful yet with nice subtle tannins, finishing with elegant fresh length. €9.50
88-902006 L'Expression (Carignan 13%) – smokier and more complex, liquorice v herbal edges; delicious fruit and refreshing style, makes you want more; firmer tannins than above yet lovely depth and finish. €26 magnum. 90-92
2004 L'Expression (Carignan 13%) – a tad oxidised (already opened) but again shows that richness v freshness thing, dry bite v fruity depth; less vibrant than the 06 although turning nicely savoury with leather and dried fruit edges. €12 89-91
2005 L'Exception Les Aspres (Grenache Cinsault Syrah 14%) - very tasty with attractive depth of rich dark spicy fruit v savoury edges; weighty yet elegant, closes up on the finish with subtle dry texture v lush length. Promising. 90-92
2001 L'Exception (mostly Carignan 14%) – smoky savoury meaty aromas with sexy almost salty dark chocolate undertones, bitter liquorice and dried herbs / fruits too; quite big and grippy still, although would drink very nicely now with game or a mature cheese like Gruyere. €14.50 89-91
2007 L'Extrait Rivesaltes Grenat (Grenache mûté sur grain: meaning the fortifying spirit is added while still fermenting with the crushed berries before pressing, and bottled young, similar to the way they make vintage Port) - delicious blackberry/cherry, very fruity and crunchy; lively and powerful palate (17%), luscious and sweet but with nice bite and style. €11 88+
1995 Post-Scriptum Rivesaltes (Grenache) - aged for much longer in cask. Complex mature cheesy notes layered with toffee and pecan; ageing fig and burnt chocolate flavours yet still has some freshness, long and stylish with a bit of bite making it seem less sweet on the finish. €13 90+
Rivesaltes ambré Hors d'Age 'solera' (Grenache gris & blanc, Macabeu 16.5%)  - the base is 20+ year-old wines with younger ones added (like old sherry or tawny Port). Intricate Madeira like aromas, rich toffee and resiny fruit on the palate but not cloying, pecan and walnut flavours v refreshing bite and length; stays with you,  mature cheesy v pruney v nutty aftertaste. 92-94
2007 Muscat de Rivesaltes (16.5%) - fragrant and quite fine, grapey Muscat aromas; sweet v bitter citrus peel edges, floral and fresh v dried apricot richness; has more depth and unctuousness than most. €9 89
1985 Blanc de Blancs Tradition, Vin de Pays Catalan (Macabeu 13%) - intriguing kind of old Burgundy v mature Riesling v Fino sherry style, oily rounded and toasted nutty; a bit over the hill although nice with fried trout fillet.
1986 Blanc de Blancs Tradition (Macabeu 13%) - strangely, more oxidised than the 85 with a rather bitter finish; past it I'm afraid but worth trying anyway!

Winter 2009:
1986 rouge - attractive mature Burgundy style with dried "sweet" red fruits turning very savoury, cheesy and intricate; velvety mouthfeel with delicious liquorice vs meaty flavours, gets older in the glass and beginning to fade quite quickly, so enjoy it now as it's not going to keep much longer. Still very nice though. 90
The Winery in London stocks several Vaquer wines:
click here to go to their site.

1 Rue des Ecoles, 66300 Tresserre
. By appointment only: tel 04 68 38 89 53, fax 04 68 38 84 42; domainevaquer@terre-net.fr.

Roussillon: Dom Brial - Château les Pins - Vignerons de Baixas

Church in Baixas
Let me explain: the cooperative cellars in the pretty village of Baixas (west of Perpignan airport, pic.) go under the brand name Dom Brial - some of the wines with bright, sense-of-humour labels (lipstick & fruit) and others more trad - and own Château les Pins, their premium estate a stone's throw away. With this wide grape source "we can adapt to make what sells and what customers want," Claude Sarda told us during an enlightening, late summer visit. He also said there's a surplus of Vins Doux Naturels (sweet fortified whites and reds) but not really dry wines, the production ratio being about one-third to two-thirds. Their preferred solution is to come up with ideas to sell more sweet wines - this used to be a massive market in France - rather than stop making them. Either option is a brave choice...
Grapes from Les Pins are hand-sorted by about half-a-dozen people in the cellar; in general, control and traceability of the grapes' health, quality, sugar levels, provenance etc. are quite strict, as it should be in any big winery. Technical advisers work with the co-op growers (300 of them) in their vineyards, and everything is weighed and analysed on the spot when they deliver the fruit, before they proceed to unload. I'll spare you the chemical analysis but can confirm the little lab has a machine that goes ping. The winery, which takes up half of the village, has been totally refitted over the last ten years; so plenty of stainless steel and other shiny geeky stuff.

2002 Château les Pins Côtes du Roussillon blanc, vinifié en barriques (Grenache Blanc Malvoisie Roussanne) - oily oxidised development, fat-textured quite toasty yet concentrated; not for everyone and definitely needs food. €9 85+
2005 Rozy, vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (Muscat Syrah) - quirky blend for this light, cheekily packaged (bikini clad bottle) rosé: fresh and aromatic with tangy finish, perfumed and easy yet has a bit of weight too. €4.50 82-84
2004 Dom Brial les Terres Rouges, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre Carignan, 13.5%) - nice peppery rustic black cherry and cassis notes, aromatic fruit v light grip and bite. €6 87
2002 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Elevé en fût de chêne (13.5%) - smoky mature liquorice nose, rustic black fruit set on a rounded soft palate; nice for 2002 (difficult vintage here). €6 87-89
2002 Château les Pins Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre Carignan) - similar to above but more complex and liquoricey, smoky perfumed fruit with elegant long finish. They also sell quite a few older vintages in their shop. €8.50 90+

2004 Château les Pins Rivesaltes Primage (Grenache, 15.5%) - attractive mix of sweet blackberry and leathery maturity, sugar-coated mouthful cut by drier tannins. €8 87-89
Above tasted on 5/9/06 - go down to 'France' on wines of the moment ('archive' on WineWriting.com) for reviews of other Brial wines, which are mostly sold in France at the moment although they have plans to increase their presence in the UK and US. More links to updates below.

Tasted summer 2007:
2006 Le Pot rosé (Syrah Cabernet 13%) - quite fat and juicy start with strawberry and redcurrant fruit, more elegant dry fresh finish. €3.50 87

"Wine of the moment" Feb 2009:
2008 Dom Brial Côtes du Roussillon rosé (Syrah Grenache 13%) - classic storming Roussillon rosé style, deep coloured with a light touch of tannin adding dry texture; 'winey' aromatic and crunchy red fruits with rose petal edges, juicy and zingy with chunky fruity mouth-feel and full dry finish. Nice foodie (e.g. hake fillet in Provencal sauce). €4.19 87+

More Brial here (2009 Saint-Bacchus awards) and here, my Oct. 2010 "wotm": 2009 Dom Ici Chardonnay/Macabeu.
Plus the latest medal winner is HERE (World Grenache Competition 2013).

Cave des Vignerons, 66390 Baixas. Tel: 04 68 64 22 37, contact@dom-brial.com, www.dom-brial.com.

Roussillon: Clos de Paulilles, Port-Vendres

UPDATE - the Dauré family sold the property to the Maison Cazes / AdVini group in 2013...

Clos de Paulilles is a 90 hectare (220 acre) estate, the biggest in the area with most of the vines spread around the stone cellar; something you don't often see amid the intricate collage of vineyards running along the coast from Collioure to Cerbère. Vines and winery nestle close to the sea on a picturesque bay between Port Vendres and Banyuls-sur-Mer, and the outdoor restaurant is open throughout the summer. The Dauré family also offers al fresco dining at Château de Jau, their property near Cases de Pène tucked away in the northern Roussillon countryside. They own a Chilean winery as well called Viña las Niñas.

Tasted Oct 2006:
2005 Collioure blanc (Grenache blanc & gris part fermented in barriques) - a bit cold for tasting (as opposed to nice temperature for quaffing) but shows floral notes, crisp mineral and aniseed palate with nutty rounded yet fresh finish. 85
2005 Collioure rosé (Grenache Syrah) - lots of vibrant red fruit aromas and flavours, quite chunky mouth-feel, textured and tasty v crisp and long. 87-89
2002 Collioure rouge (70+% Mourvèdre & Syrah) - smoky and ripe, nice grip v mature fruit, still could develop; good for a 2002. 89
2003 Banyuls 'Vintage' (= Rimage, see below. 100% Grenache) - lovely fresh black cherry fruit, solid dry tannins v sweet fruit, attractive style. 90
2002 Banyuls Cap Béar (aged in bonbonnes = glass demijohns. 100% Grenache) - more tawny in style with rich dried fruits, softer tannins and leather & raisin notes, long fine finish. 90-92

By the way, I also tried these Château de Jau wines (a tasting measure of each I hasten to add) with the grilled lunch menu at their idyllic restaurant in September:
2005 Côtes du Roussillon blanc (Vermentino Roussanne Marsanne) - fresh and mineral with crisp citrus fruit v touches of yeast-lees. Served with fougasse aux olives, a Mediterranean flat bread.
2005 Le Jaja de Jau rosé, vin de pays d'Oc (Grenache Syrah) - fun quaffable fruit juice to go with toasted tomato bread & cured ham.
2002 Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah Mourvèdre Carignan Grenache) - mature rustic style, nice dried cherry fruit on an easy palate; drinking now, it won't get any better. Grilled lamb cutlets.
2005 Muscat de Rivesaltes - lovely intense lemon and grape aromas, refreshing bite v rich sweetness; works well with the Roquefort.

Wine of the moment February 2009:
2008 Les Clos de Paulilles rosé Collioure (Grenache Syrah 13%) - chunky, red-fruity style with nice 'vinous' style, texture and weight; dry and zingy v creamy and full. A touch pricey though at €7.50. 87+

Clos de Paulilles, 66660 Port-Vendres (signposted off the main road between Port-Vendres and Banyuls-sur-Mer). Tel: 04 68 98 07 58.

Languedoc: Domaine La Sauvageonne, Terrasses du Larzac

The city of Montpellier, or any city or town even, certainly feels very distant from aptly named La Sauvageonne, with its spectacularly rugged hilly vista perched up on the lower edges of the Massif Central range. This face-lifted 32-ha domaine (80 acres), which was bought by businessman Fred Brown in 2001 (and sold in 2011: see update below), is found about 50km northwest of Montpellier in fact; on the Terrasses du Larzac high ground just beyond the little village of St-Jean-de-Blaquière. A sommelier in a past life, English estate manager and winemaker Gavin Crisfield (no longer: see update below) nurtures premium Syrah, Carignan and Grenache from different vineyard parcels (at 150m - 400m altitude = 500-1300 feet), much of it covered in chunks of brownish red schist and rough stones (see pic) making the terroir here all the more tangible and challenging. Hence the names of each wine on the label, such as Pica Broca and Puech de Glen - the latter, curiously Occitan/Scots sounding cuvée made mostly from their best and highest-lying Syrah.

Tasted in situ February 2009:
2007 Sauvignon blanc Vin de Pays du Montbaudille (with a hint of Muscat and, from the 2008 vintage, will have Vermentino and Viognier too) - still quite fresh and zesty actually, nice lively mineral side with light citrus fruit. 80+
2008 rosé (Cinsault, 
Grenache) - lively and refreshing style, attractive raspberry and cream flavours, very drinkable on its own but would be good with most food too. 85+
2007 Les Ruffes (
Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Cinsault) - smoky v lightly herby with liquorice and leather edges; lovely fruit and 'sweet & savoury' profile with subtle bitter twist and grip in the mouth, nice depth and richness v drinkable refreshing style. €6 87-89
2007 Pica Broca (
Syrah, Grenache, Carignan) - more black cherry and chocolate aromas / flavours; firmer structure as well although again has that attractive balance of lush v tight mouth-feel, long finish too; needs 6+ months in bottle but it's still nice now! 88-90
2005 Pica Broca (
Syrah, Grenache, Carignan) - delicious smoky maturing nose; has more depth and concentration than the 07, chunky with nice coating of tannins layered with 'sweet & savoury' complexity and lovely length. 90-92
2005 Merlot/Cabernet Vin de pays - cassis and tobacco on the nose; pretty rich v very firm and powerful palate, its 14.5% adds a bit of oomph but it's also very concentrated with dry savoury finish. Wow. 90
2005 Puech de Glen (mostly Syrah) - enticing grilled wild black fruit nose with herbal v meaty edges (echoes of maturing Cote Rotie!); concentration and big tannins on the palate, stylish too with nicely developing fruit yet still plenty of life in it. €16 92-94

Previous vintages here (Vinisud 2006).

Latest news: Gavin left and is now doing his own thing called La Traversée; and the estate was recently sold to the Gérard Bertrand group (late 2011): there's a review of one wine in this report.


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