"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

03 October 2010

Roussillon: Clot de l'Oum, Bélesta

Eric and Lèia Monné are making stylish wines sourced from exposed elevated vineyards around wild Bélesta country; a stunning spot for vineyard walks as well as a bit of tasting, of course (there are a few other good estates around here, such as Ch. Caladroy). Eric very neatly, and bluntly, once summed up the Roussillon's strengths and weaknesses thus: "Varied terroirs, dream landscapes, low land prices, ideal micro-climate at altitude and a new wave of talented growers often from elsewhere." On the other hand: "Building up its image, promises not kept (hinting at the powers that be), sometimes an endemic lack of sincerity (go for it), regulatory bodies favouring one wine style and production method, mafia, lack of fine wine tradition..."
Clot de l'Oum comprises 15 shrinking hectares (37 acres) planted with the region's "big four" red varieties plus a few white vines too (they make about 10% dry white wine). Over half their production is sold outside France and the rest at the cellar door or to independent wine merchants, locally and nationally. Bottle prices are typically €12, €17 and €25 respectively (see red "hierarchy" below). Eric also believes the Roussillon authorities and growers should develop more "cru" sub-zones, as long as "we're much more demanding on quality and less conservative (meaning in terms of varieties, yield, authorised methods, wine style etc.)." As for organic viticulture, "it's the only way forward and not just in the Roussillon..." Hear hear! These four wines were sampled at the Fenouillèdes wine show in April 2007 (read on for 2010 updates):

2005 La Compagnie des Papillons blanc – lightly toasty undertones on a mostly appley & juicy nose and palate, elegant and undemanding finish. 85
2004 La Compagnie des Papillons Côtes du Roussillon Villages (mostly 50+ year-old Grenache and Carignan) – perfumed violet and cherry with leather and blackberry tones; chunky v elegant and soft mouth-feel, subtle concentration and length with lightly dry bite and bitter twist. 87-89
2004 Saint Bart vieilles vignes (Syrah 'Grenache Pelut' Carignan) - less aromatic but more concentrated and weighty, again has that lovely floral dark cherry fruit with liquorice and lighter leather notes; nice coating of fruit and ripe tannins with a touch of fresh acidity as well. 88-90
2003 Numéro Uno Côtes du Roussillon Villages Caramany (85% Syrah Carignan) – rich smoky nose showing more oak although a lot of ripe fruit too; drier firmer grip balanced by attractive fruit coating, concentrated and long without being noticeably extracted. 90+
Previous vintages here (Fenouillèdes 2006).

Clot de l'Oum 2010 updates

1. I caught up with Eric and Lèia at this year's edition of Millésime Bio organic fair (Montpellier late Jan.) and tried the latest vintages below, including three of their excellent old-vine Saint Bart. They've been applying organics since the beginning in 2002, by the way, with a few biodynamic twists in the plot too. Eric was commendably honest, as seems to be his style, when talking about how he ended up in Bélesta (paraphrasing): "At the time, I knew nothing about vines but liked wine and wanted to buy a vineyard. I was lucky, as it just turned out to be one of the best spots in the Roussillon!" Their wines are sold in the UK, US, Canada and Japan among other countries (see website).

2008 Cine Panetonne (Grenache gris, Carignan blanc, Macabeu) - floral, mineral and peachy aromas underpinned by spicy oak; lively and crisp vs juicy and weighty palate, a touch of toast on the finish but it's still young and tight. 87+
2008 Compagnie de Papillons Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Carignan, Syrah) - lightly smoky with currant and cassis fruit; juicy and spicy mouthfeel vs firm tannins and nice elegant length. 87+
2005 Saint Bart (Carignan, Grenache, Syrah) - wilder nose with garrigue notes and peppery fruit; still pretty firm with chunky texture underlined by delicious maturing fruit showing savoury/tobacco edges, grippy vs lush finish. 90+
2006 Saint Bart - tighter, more "classic" and less obvious than the 05; but does have an enticing mix of dark vs savoury fruit and solid framework. Leave it for a couple of years. 88+
2007 Saint Bart - more "upfront" on the nose, riper and lush showing lovely spicy Syrah style; liquorice fruit vs dry grip, powerful yet balanced. Yum. 90-92
2007 Granito Vino (Carignan) - closed nose; gets more intense and curranty on the palate with underlying black fruits, grippy and intense with fine tight finish. Wow, needs 2-3 years to open up. 92+?

 2. Latest tasting October 2010 in the winery: what a lovely isolated spot, just outside the quiet wee and very old village of Bélesta (or used to be quiet: somebody's done up the former (now closed) co-op cellars big time and just opened a stunning-looking hotel and restaurant). Eric's father took us on a little tour of one of their fairly lofty vineyards (600m above sea level), where there's a mix of 80 to 90 year-old red, white and "grey" Carignan with some vines dating from 1905. He made a, well, cutting but fair and interesting comparison with a neighbour's vineyard, which is farmed "conventionally" (or "chemically" as Gérard Gauby would say), or "lazily" paraphrasing pa Monné; and where they still hadn't picked, unlike at Cdel'Oum where they'd already finished.
The earth here was all bare, compacted and looked like rainwater had just run off it rather than drained downwards; and the plants struggling to ripen the fruit, probably also due to the grower using too much artificial fertiliser and not spending enough time keeping on top of their growth etc. In the Oum vineyard, the soil was much looser and the vines looked trimmer and less "stressed out." His point was to emphasise how much time is required in the field, when you farm organically trying to get perfectly ripe and healthy grapes. Hence why their wines aren't cheap! Light sarcasm aside, he also made a good, and amusing, point about how people don't think twice about spending over €10 on a pizza, so why not spend more even on a very good bottle of wine? Over to those tasty bottles (refer to info above for varieties, prices etc.):

2009 white - nice appley "mineral" nose and palate with light wood grain vs steely and crisp; elegant and long with toasty vs juicy and refreshing profile. 87+
2008 Compagnie de Papillons - not much on the nose at first, moving on to nice lively cassis fruit vs light coconut and attractive dry vs rounded tannins; subtle concentration and tight finish. 87
2006 Saint Bart - subtle wood grain and spice vs concentrated berry fruit, pretty structured although again has those attractive tannins and crunchy vs ripe fruit profile; still tight with understated fruit. 88+
2004 Saint Bart - maturing smoky liquorice notes; savoury yet still firm mouth-feel, concentrated and grippy vs spicy and lovely ripe/savoury fruit flavours; more powerful too. 90+
2007 Numéro Uno - wilder riper and smokier fruit, rich and concentrated with underlying oak texture; solid and taut still with powerful although still fine finish. 92+
2007 Granito Vino - different, and difficult, profile to above with attractive spicy blueberry fruit; even tighter and fresher palate, elegant and closed up needing time to blossom (as I said about it earlier in the year, see note above).
2009 Syrah (from vat - a special cuvée they made in 09 as the Syrah was so good) - delicious pure Syrah style with dark cherry and pepper; lovely depth and tannins with smooth ripe finish. Promising. 90+

Domaine Clot de l'oum, 66720 Bélesta de la Frontière. Mobile: 06 60 57 69 62 - www.clotdeloum.com.

02 October 2010

Roussillon: Domaine Gauby, Calce

Gérard Gauby tasting in his cellar
Photo by Vi Erickson
An intimate party of us was treated to a tasty, and ample, dinner at La Galinette, one of Perpignan's top restaurants, on 5 September 2006, where Gérard Gauby and his son Lionel, who's gradually taking over more of the day to day vineyard and winery work, talked about their wines and values in their laid-back way (words and wines here have since been updated following visits in March 2007 and Oct 2010, so read on...). Gérard said the decisive moment for going organic (1996), then fully biodynamic in 2001, came "when I found a hundred dead birds in the vineyard after disinfecting the soil (I'm afraid growers do sometimes do this, which doesn't of course only kill off the bad bugs etc.)... we couldn't carry on like that anymore. Our production costs are now huge but the philosophy's more important." They have seven employees plus the family and up to 50 people at vintage time. Fortunately for him (and a lot of hard work too), he's now built up enough of a reputation to charge suitably ample prices to off-set those costs, although no more than great wines from anywhere else, I should add... The grapes for the following white wines are grown at 450-600 metres (+1500 feet) and retain their fresh acidity well:
2004 Vieilles Vignes blanc vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes (40% Macabeu 30% Grenache Blanc 15% Chardonnay 10% Grenache Gris 5% Carignan Blanc) - lovely crispness and intensity with 'real cider' flavours, turns creamier and more honeyed than le Soula (below) with very light toast, concentrated v crisp finish. 90
2004 Le Soula blanc, vin de pays Côtes Catalanes - very intense mineral notes and aromatic appley flavours, crisp and fresh v fatter 'sweeter' finish. 87+
Domaine Gauby comes to 48 hectares (120 acres, 30-odd ha of vines) including trees and wild vegetation, which are an integral part of its diverse terrain, in the rocky hills around the village of Calce. On average, they make 80-100,000 bottles per year so obviously yields are small: "I'd like to average 20 hl/ha (a bit more than 1 ton per acre) but we often get less from some parcels," Gérard claims. He believes that Carignan, Grenache and Mourvèdre are "the great varieties of the future... but I don't really care about the grape: I want real wine from real terroir." The irony of biodynamic viticulture is that "by seeking simplicity it gets more complicated." However, in this globalized world, "we do not want to do a McDonald's!" he quipped. To give just one example of how important it is preserving biodiversity, after the fruit passes over the sorting table, any insects that fall through are returned to the vineyard to restore a good mix of natural predators. Lucky bugs.
2002 Coume Gineste blanc (50% Grenache Blanc 50% Grenache Gris) - smoky toasted apples on the nose with crisp length and lovely acidity, very nice with the tuna dish.
2003 Le Soula rouge - earthy cassis notes, firm tannins yet elegance too, black cherry finish and again showing attractive freshness (particularly for heatwave 2003).
2003 Vieilles Vignes Côtes du Roussillon Villages (40% very old Carignan 35% Grenache 10% Syrah 15% Mourvèdre) - complex earthy black cherry and rhubarb tones, deliciously sniffable; lovely subtle richness then tight and fresh finish (the Gauby hallmark), light bite of tannins with power yet refined length. 90+
2003 Muntada Côtes du Roussillon Villages (40% very old Carignan 30% Grenache 20% Syrah 10% Mourvèdre) - a bit stinky, not sure what that is (sulphide notes?) but it dissipates with aeration revealing more morello/blackcurrant; very concentrated with dry grip yet has textured smoky fruit and as usual intense bite and length. 92+The full range is imported into the UK by Richards Walford, who are also joint-owners of Domaine Soula, and handled by Peter Weygandt-Metzler in the US (nationwide stockist info can be found on his website).

March 2007: I interviewed Gérard in his 4x4 while touring around the entire bumpy and scenic estate. Following on from what he said above, he's actually removing some Syrah, Muscat and "all early ripening varieties," which are less suitable to the microclimate, terrain and their way of thinking. He believes leading Roussillon growers should concentrate on wines based on 'grand cru' sites, as the opportunity has been missed to create meaningful sub-zones on an official level, thanks to local politics. "I make Côtes du Roussillon Villages Gauby!" he said, although also declared a fondness for the vin de pays name Côtes Catalanes (or better still just Catalan) and, like many, was annoyed that the VDP des Fenouilledes was done away with, allegedly for silly bureaucratic reasons. Finally, Gérard's reaction to the current "viticulture crisis": "the real crisis is a lack of wine culture. We didn't use to make wines that were refreshing to drink. People had a pastis or whatever as an aperitif instead." Pity they hadn't tried one of Gauby's delicious white wines (more on that above and below).
2005 Vieilles Vignes blanc, vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (40% Macabeu 30% Grenache Blanc 15% Chardonnay 10% Grenache Gris 5% Carignan Blanc) - closed up at first, slowly revealing floral honeyed fruit, light toast and rounded full palate v drinkable, lively and stylish finish.
2003 Muntada Côtes du Roussillon Villages - open for 24 hours: rich smoky and complex with liquorice, dried black cherries and herbs plus light leather; sumptuous, lightly rustic yet elegant palate with lingering interesting flavours, firm integrated tannins and balanced length. 92-94

UPDATE October 2010: another great opportunity to taste with Gérard around his Ali Baba's cave of an underground cellar, focusing on their 2008s and not yet bottled 2009s, which perhaps show hints of his son Lionel's influence? Same hallmark intensity, purity and, difficult not to use the word "minerality" as Gauby is convinced of its importance in fine wines from the Roussillon; but somehow, well erm, "fruitier" for want of a better word (I'm sure they wouldn't approve of that adjective!). And Gérard kindly opened an older vintage of one of their sublime dry whites (2002: see note below), which, in my book, are as good as any from the so-called classic white wine regions. Then again, you may already have spotted the "Roussillon now makes great whites" theme being increasingly developed in my scribblings.
We briefly bumped into Lionel busy carrying buckets around the cellar, as 2010 vintage post-picking activity was in full swing. Dad confirmed it should be another good vintage, even if yields were very low from a lack of rainwater over the summer; although growers in the Calce area were lucky to escape the freak hailstorm that blighted some vineyards to the west of here. Most of the 2009 reds tasted here were vat or cask samples; fascinating to try the same variety from different spots giving different wine profiles, especially, as you'll see, the three 09 Grenaches:
2009 Calcinaires white (Muscat Macabeu Chardonnay) - floral honeysuckle and spicy apricot; tasty juicy palate vs zesty and "mineral", quite rich vs tight and refreshing finish. 88+
2009 Calcinaires red (Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre Carignan) - lovely juicy black cherry fruit, grippy dry and spicy texture then supple rounded finish. 87+
2009 Syrah old vines - rich and chunky with nice peppery dark cherries; attractive firm vs ripe tannins and elegant long finish.
2009 Grenache (north-facing, schist) - intense fruit, firm and structured.
2009 Grenache (La Roque) - tighter with fresher acidity, less opulent and fruity.
2009 Grenache (Coume Gineste) - crunchier fruit and tighter still length.
2009 mostly 120 year-old Carignan complanté (traditional mixed planting in one plot) with about nine other varieties - very intense and lush with nice smoky side, superb length and class with lovely texture. Wow.
2008 Vieilles Vignes red (Grenache Syrah Carignan) - deep colour and nose, smoky edges plus lively berry fruit with black cherry and cassis springing to mind; very concentrated and lush vs again those fine tannins, structured vs intense and rich; lovely wine. 92+
2008 Muntada (mostly old Carignan and Grenache) - smokier nose, very intense aromas and flavours with underlining blue fruit notes; concentrated yet elegant, very long and tight and textured. 94+
2008 Vieilles Vignes white (Macabeu Chardonnay Grenache Gris Carignan Blanc) - yeast-lees and lightly toasty tones with appley vs honeyed fruit; lovely concentration vs zesty "mineral" side, long stylish and still young. 89-91
2008 Coume Gineste white (Grenache Blanc Grenache Gris) - toastier and more honeyed / exotic than above with oily, almost Riesling like characters; rich and stylish, rounded textured and powerful vs very taut finish. 91+
2002 Vieilles Vignes white - golden/green colour, not surprisingly, with an amazing nose of toasted nuts vs oily / mineral and Riesling like; still lively and spicy too vs lush maturing toasty finish, wow indeed. 93-95

La Muntada, 66600 Calce. Tel: 04 68 64 35 19, info@domainegauby.fr; www.domainegauby.fr

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.

27 September 2010

Riesling of the moment: Juilen Frey

The Freys are organic winegrowers in Dambach la Ville, Alsace: I came across this towards sublime bottle in my local supermarket recently and thought it worth sharing, so to speak (none left now though).
2008 Julien Frey Riesling "Prestige" (12%) - enticing "chalky"  lime aromas mingle with maturing linseed oil tones; subtle and quite soft palate with citrus vs celery profile, gets tighter and fresher on its elegant finish. €7.75
More Alsace Rieslings here:
Picture = the Frey family from vinsfreybio.com

Corbières day-tripper

Three profiles/updates on new and established wine estates in the northern Roussillon, southern Corbières and Fitou "highlands" areas have been beamed up to sister ship FrenchMedWine.com: Domaine Bertrand-Bergé, Domaine Jones and Domaine du Grand Arc are in the limelight - follow those links for words and wine reviews.


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