"Buy my book on the Roussillon wine region (colour paperback or eBook) on Amazon UK HERE or Amazon USA HERE. Or order it direct from me (UK & EU only). Also available in the US from Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback or eBook. For other countries, tap/click on the link over the cover photo (below right)." Richard Mark James

04 April 2009

Roussillon: Domaine Comelade, Estagel

From www.domainecomelade.comFounded by Lionel Comelade (pictured) back in 1986, this sweeping estate spreads out majestically between Estagel and Latour de France and comes to a fairly sizeable 40 ha (100 acres). These wines were tasted at the Fenouillèdes wine show in Tautavel, April 2009:

2008 "MS" Muscat sec, vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes - lively and "chalky" with grapey citrus fruit, nice style. 85
2008 Le Casot Côtes du Roussillon rosé (Grenache/Syrah) - rounded, fairly full-bodied, "winey" style; very dry and crisp vs oily fruit and texture. 85+
2008 Notre Vent vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes (Merlot/Grenache) - quite successful red blend actually showing inky vs plummy then spicy fruit; quite extracted and firm on the finish. 85
2006 Le Casot Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah/Carignan/Grenache) - enticing nose mixing liquorice with menthol and spice, resiny maturing notes too; dark fruit and toffee apple even with leather undertones, gripping tannins vs attractive savoury flavours underneath. 86-88
2003 Les Jassettes Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah/Carignan/Grenache) - herbal floral "
garrigue" aromas turning spicier and smokier on the palate vs dark fruit underneath; stonky tannins still but also has very nice maturing "sweet & savoury" fruit style. 89

And I rated one of Lionel's red Vins Doux Naturels as follows back in 2005 (on a previous trip to the area):
2003 L'Oursoulette Grenat - lots of raspberry jam on the nose then turning tobacco and spice, elegant palate with nice dry coating of tannins v sweetness. 90

Rue Docteur Cartade, Route de Latour de France, 66310 Estagel. Tel: 04 68 29 16 40, domaine.comelade@wanadoo.fr, www.domainecomelade.com.

02 April 2009

Roussillon: Domaine de la Pertuisane, Maury

Englishman Richard Case makes rich, powerful and concentrated reds sourced mostly from low yielding, old-vine Grenache and Carignan, which are labelled as Vins de Pays des Côtes Catalanes (by choice) as they don't really fit into the 'Roussillon Villages' appellation box. Meaning they either don't contain any or the "required" amount of Syrah: actually, only Le Nain Violet has a bit of Syrah in it. Richard and wife Sarah now have more than 5 ha (12.5 acres) found on very steep schist slopes around the village of Maury, where they settled a few years ago.
Richard is already making special labels for one of his US importers (especially white wines: see notes below) and has recently gone into partnership, as "project manager" with a Grenache-loving American winemaker (Dave Phinney of Napa's Orin Swift, particularly well-known for his cultish "The Prisoner" label), who has invested in a staggering 80 ha of vineyard parcels in the area and a bold new high-tech winery up the hill from the village, which will also become home to Domaine Pertuisane (more on that here). Richard now sells most of his wine ("99%") in the US market, hence why I've indicated prices in dollars.

These wines - bottled and cask samples - were tasted in situ in spring 2009.
2007 Cuvée Cuthbert "Fin Amour" (Carignan blanc & Grenache gris 14%) - barrel-fermented with wild yeasts 10 months total in third-fill Burgundy casks, no malo-lactic fermentation. Lightly toasty and rounded vs tangy yeast-lees and hazelnut edges; nice dry, crisp and fresh mouthfeel with fair power vs quite elegant mineral length; attractive white Rhone style. Importer: Kimberley Jones & David Shiverick, stockists include Backroom Wines in California. $50 87+
2007 Clos Thalès Foun del Bosc (100% Grenache gris) - a touch more exotic and bigger yet still has that tangy mineral twist, spicier and weightier too with crisp dry finish and light lees intensity; a tad more oak spice and texture but it's clean and fresh (also no malo-lactic). $50 87+
2005 Le Nain Violet (Grenache Syrah Carignan 15%) - smoky lightly toasty oak (no new wood) layered with concentrated juicy fruit, spicy vs "sweet" profile with rounded tannins yet still firmly structured; actually not so big in the end and beginning to open up nicely. $16-18 87+
2005 Vieilles Vignes (100% Grenache 15%, 50% in new oak) - smoky and turning savoury / leather notes vs enticing ripe liquorice, chunky fruit and tannins with dark tasty concentrated finish; again shows good balance and palate weight vs that quite high alcohol, attractive grip and bitter twist to finish. $30-35 90+
2005 Domaine de la Pertuisane (Grenache + 30% Carignan, all new barriques) - again lush and concentrated showing more chocolate spice yet attractive ripe vs savoury profile; solid mouthfeel although rounded tannins, dark chocolate twist vs liquorice fruit vs meaty maturing tones; big but well-done needing 2-3 years to express itself fully. $50 92+
2007 Carignan (unblended) - lovely violet blueberry cassis and cherry with a very lightly smoky backdrop; intense and concentrated vs lush tasty palate, power vs freshness. Yum. 89+
2007 Grenache (unblended) - sumptuous ripe black fruits with savoury tones, peppery too vs 'sweet' liquorice; nice tannins, concentration and weight.
50-50 blend of above two - works well, strangely tastes oakier than either two on their own but still plenty of fruit and depth.
2008 Grenache (clay-limestone soils) - juicier and richer fruit in a certain way, 18% alc. unblended but you don't really notice it!
2008 young Grenache - lovely "sweet" dark cherry (actually bone dry), juicy vs dry texture.
2008 Carignan - floral and intense with blueberry and cassis notes vs darker fruit finish, lush vs much fresher and a tad firmer.
2008 old Grenache - undergoing its malo when tasted so difficult to say, but it's certainly concentrated and structured.

And my notes on previous vintages (May 2006, click here for more):
2004 Le Nain Violet (Grenache Carignan Syrah) - closed up and difficult to taste as it had just been bottled: firm yet elegant and long with attractive underlying fruit and well handled wood texture. 88-90
2004 La Pertuisane (90% Grenache, Carignan) - similar story to above: pretty oaky at the moment with fleshy underlying fruit, very concentrated and powerful with firm grip and oak coating. However, it is balanced despite all this and 15% alc, thanks to its subtle mineral freshness and that lovely dark fruit. Needs time. 90-92

Route de Cucugnan, 66460 Maury.

01 April 2009

Chablis/Crémant de Bourgogne: Maison Simonnet-Febvre

Maison Simonnet-Febvre - Chablis

This famous Chablis house (see my review of their 2007 Chabbers below, from my 'wines of the moment' page) isn't perhaps so well-known for its Crémant de Bourgogne - actually, according to their website, they're the only one is Chablis itself making these 'traditional method' sparkling wine styles. So, there you go, you've learnt something tonight. Anyway, they've just smartened up the labelling and relaunched a range of four attractive fizzies (I doubt they'll thank me for calling them that but I don't use that word in a condescending sense, as you'll see in my Cava mini-guide. It's just that you're not allowed to say 'Champagne style' even, and why would I compare them with those overpriced wines anyway). As usual I'm going off at a tangent...

 A bit of technical blah blah, but not much. All these wines have 8-9 grams/litre dosage, i.e. residual sweetening sugars added after being 'disgorged', which puts them at the 'drier' end of Brut (some Champagnes and other sparklers have up to 12g); except the 2005 vintage with only 6g dosage. They are bottle-fermented / lees-aged for "at least nine months" I'm told, with two to three years sur lattes, meaning the total bottle-ageing time 'on the rack', so to speak, before release (I'd guess). And all four weigh in at around a relatively light 12% alcohol. Simonnet's Crémants are distributed in the UK and USA by Louis Latour's offices based in London and California, by Gilbeys in Dublin and lots of other places too - see their website below. Retail prices across this range are approx €7.95 - €10.50 (France), US$20 - US$25 or £11.99 - £15.99.

Sampled March-April 2009:
Crémant de Bourgogne Brut (60% Chardonnay 40% Pinot Noir) - restrained appley style with very lightly honeyed and toasty undertones; savoury biscuit fruit v gentle acidity, refreshing off-dry finish; attractive wine although quite straightforward, nice with salmon actually and becomes addictively light and quaffable with refreshing 'sweet v salty' finish. 80-85
Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Pinot Noir (100%) - a touch finer and more 'serious', perhaps a little toastier too v fresher structure and length; elegant acidity v rounded honeyed and bready palate, good although still didn't set the world alight. 85-87
2005 Crémant de Bourgogne Brut (65% Pinot Noir 35% Chardonnay) - toastier and richer yet more appley / 'saltier' too; yeastier weight and intensity with a drier finish than the others, tighter and finer perhaps not expressing itself fully yet. 87-89
Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé Brut (Pinot Noir + Gamay) - quite complex and delicate showing subtle red fruits then hints of chocolate biscuits; nice dried marzipan flavours v yeasty / 'salty' texture, off-dry finish with lively intensity. Attractive well-made style with 'sweet & savoury' mix, a hint of sweetness & oiliness v fairly dry bite and gently red fruity. 89

From Wines of the Moment winter/spring 09:
2007 Chablis (Chardonnay 12.5%) - you know how sometimes you really fancy a nice Chablis but are then disappointed having splashed out a little? Well, you won't be with this one. All the hallmarks which make that classic Chablis style so distinctive - attractive subtle balance of slightly exotic, buttery fruit v elusive greener, citrus mineral edges; elegant and tasty with fresh acidity lifting it up on the finish, making it good with smoked haddock even. €8 89
More info @ simonnet-febvre.com.

Roussillon: Domaine de l'Ausseil, Latour de France

Latour de France overlooking Grenache gris vines, Domaine de L'Ausseil
Latour de France overlooking Grenache gris vines
 Domaine de L'Ausseil
First of all, a few words to accompany Anne and Jacques de Chancel's inspiring bird- and bug-labelled (designed by Anne) wines. The 'company flyer' (a more than adequate A4 photocopy actually) begins thus: "Searching for a spot of terrain to make wines we like, we landed, almost by chance, in January 2001 in Latour de France..." Can't blame them, it's beautiful and very northern-Roussillon around here: a dry fractured rocky patchwork of windswept old vineyards.
Talking of which, nearly half of Ausseil's (means bird in Occitan - this area marks the ancient border between Catalan and Oc country) 12.5 ha/30 acres is planted with 70-100 year old Carignan; followed by Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Grenache Gris, Macabeu and some Merlot too. 2007 marked the beginning of the quest for organic certification, as they were already in to working the soil (instead of drenching it in nasty chemicals) and using natural compost (smelly but effective).
This first lot of wines were tasted at the Fenouillèdes wine show, held in April 2007 in Tautavel:
2005 Libellule vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes blanc (mostly Macabeu) - interesting appley intensity leads to a rounder creamier palate, mineral freshness v quite fat mouth-feel. €8 87+
2005 Papillon vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes blanc (mostly Grenache Gris) - spicier and honeyed, milky edges on a quite crisp and fresh length; lots of character and style, a tad of light oak but well-handled. €14 90
2005 P'tit Piaf rosé vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes (Mourvèdre) - fresh and aromatic yet meaty too v raspberry and cream fruit, zingy structured length. €4.90 87+
2004 Cot Côtes Côtes du Roussillon rouge (mostly Carignan) - perfumed and floral nose leads to a quite rustic soupy palate, rich with appealing fruit and light grip; a little too smoky in style but still good. €7 87
2004 La Capitelle, Latour de France Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Carignan Syrah Grenache) - tighter finer wine, lush yet floral black cherry and liquorice, nice peppery edges, firm fresh finish. €8 90-92
2003 La Capitelle, Latour de France Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Carignan Syrah Grenache) - more fruit forward than the 04 with violet and black cherry notes, liquorice v savoury palate, dry firm and powerful suffused with rich maturing fruit. €8 90
2004 Les Trois Pierres, Latour de France Côtes du Roussillon Villages (50% Syrah) - 100% barriques and it shows: more toasted chocolate on the nose, quite extracted and choco palate yet lush and firm; dry finish, closes up. €14 89-91
2003 Les Trois Pierres, Latour de France Côtes du Roussillon Villages (50% Syrah) - attractive herbal black cherry aromas, the oak is much more in the background, again solid framework v lush fruit. €14 90
2003 Drôle d'Oiseau, Latour de France Côtes du Roussillon Villages - rather barrel heavy, charred extracted palate, a bit too much. €24!

Spring/summer 2009 update: I caught up with Jacques in the lovely village hall in Tautavel, host to the groovy Fenouillèdes wine fair in April 2009. A few of his latest vintages ran as follows:
2007 Papillon white - still floral and zesty vs nutty creamy flavour/texture, fresh acidity vs fatter side on the finish. 85-87
2007 du Vent dans les Plumes Côtes du Roussillon Villages - very peppery menthol notes, spicy and intense; quite rustic too moving on to liquorice fruit vs power and fairly soft tannins to finish. 87
2005 La Capitelle Latour de France - smoky and meaty with dark plum fruit underneath, again peppery turning more savoury and leathery; power and grip vs melting tannins and rich fruit. 89-91
2005 Les Trois Pierres Latour de France - oily "vinous" nose and body vs tighter firmer mouthfeel than above; again shows nice "sweet & savoury" development vs juicier fruit too, fine grained tannins even if quite stonky. €14 90+?


18 Boulevard Carnot, 66720 Latour de France. Tel: 04 68 29 18 68 / 06 76 81 03 48, chancelj@free.fr, www.lausseil.com.

Roussillon: Domaine de la Balmière, Latour de France

I first met Laurent Marquier back in very cold January 2005 (and has been every winter since, it feels like...) - see below below for my previous tasting notes on his wines - when we lovingly trampled over a peaceful little spot on his wild vine-land. He and his wife Claudia now farm 14 hectares (35 acres) spread around the old-as-time village of Latour de France. I've tried Laurent's wines a couple of times since, most recently at the Fenouillèdes wine show in April 2009 and in November 2010, and the message is pretty consistent: he's making some quite exciting wines! Here they are:
2007 white (both Muscats) - turning quite oily, mineral and nutty vs lively citrus still; quite concentrated with maturing complex finish, not very "Muscaty" and all the better for it. 87+
2005 Tradition Latour de France Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Syrah Mourvèdre Carignan Grenache) - smoky and developed with lush fruit vs herbal edges, attractively "soupy" and spicy with a bit of grip on the finish; nice now actually. 87+
2006 Espoir - similarly smoky nose but finer and more concentrated, peppery too with plenty of character, fruit and chunky tannins; nice black olive / spicy finish, good stuff. 89
Latest note on that wine HERE (Nov 2010).

2005 Latour de France (mostly Syrah) - more balsamic with dark olives and a touch of wood spice vs rich smoky fruit; again dry and firm texture vs big rounded mouthfeel, complex with "sweet & sour" finish. 90+
2008 Tradition (tank sample) - delicious berry fruit vs chunky rich tannins, very promising.
2008 Latour  (from barrique) - similar lush fruit with vanilla overtones not surprisingly, very solid palate but "sweet" tannins and very peppery; yum.

And a few earlier vintages, tasted in May 2006 (click here for more wines from that show):
2005 Muscat sec - very lively mineral style with crisp citrus fruit v lightly rounded finish. 87
2005 Côtes du Roussillon rosé - floral white peach and redcurrant fruit, attractive dry finish and length. 87
2005 Latour de France CdRV (1/4 each of Grenache Carignan Syrah Mourvèdre) - lovely peppery ripe black fruits and olive, firm dry mouth-feel with generous rounded texture. Promising. 88-90

And in 2005 (more on that here):
2003 Latour de France - Smoky and rustic offering attractive fruit, good concentration and lingering balanced grip. 89-91

2004 Muscat - a bit closed on the nose, gummy extract with crisp citrus depth. 87

La Balmière, Route de Montner "El Mouli", 66720 Latour de France. Tel: 04 68 29 00 04 / 06 77 91 88 15, www.domainedelabalmiere.com.


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