"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

07 October 2010

Roussillon: Domaine La Tour Vieille, Collioure

An amicable amalgamation of several plots of old family vineyards owned by Christine Campadieu, Vincent Cantié and Jean Baill, which lie above and around Collioure (where you'll find "the old tower," pictured, at the entrance leading down to the cellar) and Banyuls-sur-mer. LTV has become ever so slightly cult, in a laidback way echoed by the people behind it. I went to see Vincent and Jean in seaside Collioure in June 2009 and was treated to a very comprehensive and enjoyable tasting, hence my notes below (and again in Oct 2010: see below below). The estate has been rationalised and reduced in size to 19 hectares (48 acres) in recent times, out of which about 5 ha worth of grapes are sold to one of the local co-ops. Jean is the more recent member of the partnership bringing Vermentino, Mourvèdre and more Syrah to LTV's varietal fabric. Their wines are well-distributed in the US (judging by a simple Google search) via Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant in Berkeley (CA) and represented by Yapp Bros in the UK.

2008 les Canadells white Collioure (mostly Grenache blanc Grenache gris Vermentino plus Macabeu Marsanne 14%) - floral nutty nose with a touch of background oak and lightly exotic fruit; juicy apricot-tinged palate with quite weighty and rounded mouthfeel, powerful nutty finish and well-handled oak texture. €13 87+
2007 les Canadells white Collioure - more honeyed and upfront, developing oily mineral tones; colourful fruit vs still fresh and quite elegant. €13 87+
2008 Rosé des Roches Collioure - delicious creamy and red cherry fruity, zesty and lively vs big ripe fruity palate. €8 87+
2007 La Pinède red Collioure (14.5%) - resiny fruit with black olive and spicy dark cherries, turning meaty too vs lively and lush vs powerful finish. €10 90+
2007 Puig Ambeillel Collioure (Mourvèdre/Grenache 15%) - very peppery with rich black fruit, liquorice and black olive; tasty fruity palate vs savoury leather notes, powerful yet balanced, very nice and quite fine with attractive bite of tannins. You don't really notice that alcohol and there's no barrique ageing: who needs wood when a wine tastes this good! €13 92-94
2007 Puig Oriol Collioure (Grenache/Syrah, taken from vat) - more herbal and medicinal/spicy vs enticing juicy liquorice, blackberry/cherry; again has thick but ripe tannins, dry and quite fine finish; slightly firmer than above but delicious spicy lush fruit as well. €13 90-92
Mémoire white (5+ years oxidative ageing) - walnut coconut and Brazils, attractive Sherry style with oily vs crisp and dry palate; complex and tasty with long salty vs coconut/hazelnut finish. Yum. €15 50cl 92-94
2006 Banyuls "Vendanges" - aromatic dried cherries and cassis, prunes and leather too; lush vs solid & dry texture, savoury vs sweet, tasty and long with nice balance. €10 50cl 88-90
2003 Banyuls "Rimage mise tardive" - more oxidation but the barrels are kept full: more developed and savoury with sweet plummy notes, liquorice and cough mixture as well; moves on to meaty aftertaste with more power and grip yet intricate flavours. €15 90-92
Banyuls "cuvée Francis Cantié" (6 years' ageing in demijohns outside) - resiny dried and concentrated, complex and rich, toffee raspberry and nuts; still has a bit of grip and lively poise to finish. €15 50cl 92+
Banyuls "Vin de Méditation" (solera-style) - Madeira-like nutty "gassy" intricate aromas, very concentrated with pecan nuts and liquorice vs spicy alcohol; quite dry tannins vs punchy vs treacly caramelised nuts, lots of interesting flavours and long finish. €50 50cl 94-96

Oct 2010 update
Christine was on hand for another excellent full-monty tasting, while Vincent and Jean were milling around in the background pressing must and cleaning out fermentation vats. € prices for these wines same as above if not stated:
2009 Les Canadells white Collioure  (Grenache blanc & gis, Vermentino, Macabeu, Roussanne 14.5%) - fresh floral and "mineral" vs peach and apricot notes; juicy and crisp vs weightier rounder side, nice palate intensity and length. 87+
2008 La Pinède Collioure (Grenache/Carignan) - lovely "sweet" cherry and liquorice nose with pine (!) and mint tones; tighter and firmer on the palate vs attractive fruit and soft-ish tannins; again shows power vs elegant concentration and tasty fruit vs nice tannins. 87+
2007 Puig Oriol (Grenache/Syrah) - herbal edges vs baclground dark fruit; firmer and more austere palate, tight and punchy but has some underlying richness. Not so sure, especially compared to my note above on this wine tasted over a year earlier from vat. Bottle shocked perhaps?
2007 Puig Ambeillel (Grenache/Mourvèdre/Carignan) - riper fruit notes and more concentrated too, nice "sweet/savoury" profile with dark cherries and pepper; juicy and lush vs firm and powerful, good length and rounded tannins; again like that mix of power and refinement. 90-92+
2008 white Banyuls (Grenache blanc & gis) - nutty and honeyed with integrated wood grain tones; attractive fruit and texture vs punchy alcohol, sweet vs "mineral" finish. Promising. €10 50cl 87+
2006 Banyuls Vendanges (mostly Grenache) - lightly oxidised with meaty edges vs damson and liquorice; plum jam flavours vs savoury and quite mature finish. 87+
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. 90+
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 92+
Banyuls 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. 90+
Vin de Méditation (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. 95+

12 Route de Madeloc, 66190 Collioure. Tel: 04 68 82 44 82, info@latourvieille.fr.

06 October 2010

Roussillon: Coume del Mas, Banyuls-sur-Mer

UPDATED IN AUG 2013 (click there).

Underneath this blurb you'll find my notes on some of Philippe Gard's excellent range of Collioure and Banyuls wines, tasted in his winery in May 2007 (followed by updates in 2009-2010). His - and similarly enlightened growers', e.g. the Parcé brothers at La Rectorie (see A to Z, right) - Banyuls winemaking illustrates why there's a minor renaissance for these delicious Port-like red wines (think chocolate desserts or why not with a strong curry even). Perhaps the richer, fruitier, more tannic, less oxidised and livelier styles seem to appeal more to younger people turned off by sometimes tired, thin and brown-coloured wines. Having said that, the best cask-aged Banyuls 'Grand Cru' type bottles can be sublimely complex. For the CDM Quintessence, Philippe is "not looking for oxidation" and the fruit just shines through; and the sweeter Galateo style was "created in 2003 for a Belgian chocolate maker," he told me.
Perhaps the real stars though are his Collioure reds and white and rosé (actually 80% of production here): the appellation area and terroir are essentially the same as for Banyuls, although certain sites or varieties are favoured or mandatory for fortified wines. Grenache is the central grape for both at CDM - Philippe has 11 ha/27 acres of old bush vine red Grenache, which he considers the maximum as "vineyard work is too manual here" - with new plantings (about 10 years ago) of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache Gris (for the increasingly sought-after white) being phased in to the Collioure blends. Philippe is one of several who believe that appellation should be "based on crus (or quality of vineyard sites) rather than varieties," and that part of AOC Collioure's success is due to its "greater flexibility from the start" (as opposed to Côtes du Roussillon Villages where Syrah or Mourvèdre are required, however good your Grenache and Carignan are). "There are less growers here and the co-ops have less power to influence regulations." Anyway, enough of the politics; what about the wines...
2006 Folio Collioure blanc (Grenache Gris) - lightly toasty notes on top of attractively juicy and exotic apricot and honeysuckle; spicy v fat mouth-feel, nice length and freshness v ripe and toasty. 89
2006 Farniente Collioure rosé (Grenache Grenache Gris) - lovely strawberry and raspberry fruit, rich v fresh bite with a touch of dry tannin even, fleshy fruit and 14% alcohol weight v crisp length. Yum. 87-89
2005 Schistes Collioure rouge (mostly old vine Grenache 14.5%) - deliciously pure aromatic black cherry, liquorice and sweet herbs; juicy and ripe v firm and fresh structure; great balance of power, tension, lush natural fruit and spicy length. More yum. 92-94
2005 Quintessence Banyuls (Grenache 17.5% 80 grams/litre residual sugar) - piquant black fruits with light coconut tones, quite extracted tannins v rich sweet fruit with engaging purity; grippier and drier than many Banyuls, and all the better for it. 92-94

2006 Galateo Banyuls (Grenache 16% 100 grams/litre residual sugar) - attractive luscious fruit, sweeter and less extracted than the above but still vibrant and fresh too. 88-90

Spring 2009 update: I called in on Philippe to catch up and tasted all his latest vintages as well as some new wines. He's taken on the lease for Mas Christine, a vineyard on the hills between Argelès and Collioure, in partnership with English winemaker Andy Cook (among others): they've launched a range of (especially) whites and reds called Consolation pitched at "around €10." Philippe thinks 2008 "isn't very good for Banyuls as ripening was too slow, but was for Collioure wines." The CdM label wines sell for €15+ and €24+ for the top ones. Distributed by Lance Foyster MW in the UK and Eric Solomon in the US (European Cellars, NC). If you want to visit when in the area, Philippe's winery lies on a cutting into the hillside just before and slightly below the tiny village of Cosprons (signposted off the main road before Banyuls-sur-mer): take an unmarked left plunging down an earth track and keep going until you see the open cellar door. A peaceful spot with a great sea view over waves of schist-y vineyards in all directions.
2008 Mas Christine white (Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Grenache gris, Vermentino) - attractively aromatic and perfumed showing floral citrus and background spice tones; zesty and juicy palate vs very light toast and spice, yeast-lees fatness vs fresh acidity. 87
2008 Consolation white (Roussanne) - richer and toastier, more honeyed too with dark chocolate undertones; quite powerful and creamy with fair punch and toasted edges countered by fresh long finish. 88+
2008 CdM Folio white Collioure (Grenache gris) - milky yeast-lees aromas & flavours, attractive fat & exotic fruit vs nice bite of acidity and "salty" tang; full buttery finish with lively citrus peel undertones. Very good. 90+
2008 CdM Farniente Collioure rosé (Grenache noir Grenache Gris 14%) - yeasty tinges to a delicious creamy ripe red fruit nose and palate; full-on and creamy mouthfeel vs attractive tangy twist and fresh acidity. 88+
2008 Consolation rosé (Mourvèdre barrel-fermented) - less fruity / creamy than above, more rounded yet mineral too; enticing Bandol rosé style with juicy texture, full-body and elegant long dry bite. 89
2007 Mas Christine red (Grenache Syrah) - gorgeous ripe berry, cherry and spicy fruit cocktail on the nose; tangy vs 'sweet' palate with juicy texture, a touch of tannin and nice weight. 87+
2007 CdM Schistes Collioure (mostly Grenache from coastal vineyards with no barrique-ageing, 14.5%) - similar fruit style to above but richer and darker with blackberry tones; very spicy vs lush liquorice vs firmer structure too, tasty juicy fruit with lively and ripe finish. Yum. 90-92
2008 Schistes (vat sample) - similar lush style with juicy fruit although more floral and cherry-ish; firmer and bigger perhaps with lovely liquorice and spice textures and flavours, very promising.
2007 Qua Dra Tur (Grenache Mourvèdre Carignan) - hint of toasted chocolate wood on the nose but again has tons of lush spicy fruit; pretty firm, solid and big mouth-feel layered with delicious juicy fruit. €24 92+
2007 Abysses (Syrah Grenache east facing the sea, not bottled when I tried it) - spicy nose with dark cherries and floral minty notes too; juicy fruit and texture, gorgeous fruit and chalky mineral tannins build a thick structure and finale. Wow. €29 92-94
2008 Abysses - toasty aromas (new barrique) but shows similar fruit, spicier perhaps; lovely juicy vs firm vs fresh texture and length. Should be very good.
2007 Syrah "vin naturellement doux" passerillé (late-picked shrivelled berries, 16% and 50-60 grams residual sugar) - Black Forest Gateau nose, floral and spicy too with ripe black olive tones; lush and weighty vs dry bite, different for sure like a young Amarone. €28? 90+?
2007 Galateo Banyuls (Grenache, 15.5% & 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. Now available in 6cl or 10cl flasks. €15 50cl. 87+
2007 Quintessence Banyuls (Grenache, 80g RS, 16.5%) - 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. 92+

2008 Mas Christine Muscat de Rivesaltes - enticing floral orange peel notes vs fat lush palate, quite fresh and zingy although is pretty sweet. €10 85-87

Update autumn 2010
Philippe Gard's colleague Andy Cook filled me in on all the latest goings-on at Coume del Mas and Mas Christine (the partnership company is now appropriately called Tramontane Wines, after everybody's "favourite" wind) with vintage 2010 drawing to a satisfactory close. Quality-wise at least, as, like elsewhere in the Roussillon (and parts of Languedoc), quantity was way down thanks to less and smaller, but nicely concentrated, grapes. This was mostly due to the strange and extreme weather we've seen this year (long winter, snow, cool wet spring, then very hot and very dry summer carrying on into September).
A word of explanation about their new red Consolation release: the 2008 is going under the wacky alias of "Dog Strangler" as it's made from 100% Mourvèdre (not the first one I've seen from the 08 vintage: see Dom Vinci), which the locals have traditionally nicknamed this awkward variety, although their superb wine is far from it as you'll see from my glowing review. Andy agreed about the difficulty with Mourvèdre saying: "we have to reduce it down to three bunches per vine to get it ripe," i.e. not a lot. And following on from Philippe's previous comments on 2008 for Banyuls VDNs, we (me and a couple of American visitors) only tasted one of these styles, a red 2009 from cask, as they didn't make many CdM 08s (although did a white Banyuls, for the first time?). Anyway, these recent vintages from both estates were sniffed, sampled, appreciated and spat out (it's called driving) at the beginning of October!
2009 Mas Christine Côtes du Roussillon (Grenache gris, Macabeu, Marsanne, Roussanne, Carignan gris 14%) - "mineral" floral nose with light yeast-lees notes; crisp and steely mouth-feel vs a touch creamier side, nice dry white style. €10 or $12-14. 85+
2009 CdM Folio white Collioure (14%) - oily and exotic profile vs aromatic "mineral" and salty even; quite toasty and wood-spice textured at the moment vs oily juicy lees-tinged and rounded, dry and "mineral" vs concentrated with lots of flavour. Yet another great vintage of this classic (and perhaps now quite expensive, he adds cheekily) Roussillon white wine. Made by wild yeast fermentation with 6+ months in barrel on the lees. €16.50 89-91
2009 Consolation white (Grenache gris from a 0.8 ha (2 acre) single vineyard; cask sample) - buttery and hazelnut nose, rich and sexy with lees/toast notes vs exotic fruit; lush and juicy palate with spicy touches, saltier/tangier finish with subtle acidity. Wow, think pretty fine Burgundy from a ripe vintage! 90-92+
2009 Mas Christine red (Syrah Grenache Carignan 14%) - herby blackcurrant aromas with vibrant cherry underneath; nice juicy mouth-feel, quite rich vs crunchy fruit with lively refreshing finish vs a bit of weight too. €10 or $12-14. 87+
2009 CdM Schistes (mostly Grenache no oak, 14.5%) - liquorice and pepper aromas with dark cherry / chocolate even (would normally associate that with toasted barrels), lush with very light wild herby tones; "sweet" vs structured, peppery punchy and firm vs ripe and rounded with lovely liquorice; power and complex flavours to finish, drinking well now even. €16.50 92+
2008 Consolation "the Dog Strangler" (Mourvèdre 14.5%) - gorgeous wild "animal" notes with black olive and very peppery, smoky and rich; serious mouthful of concentrated ripe and rounded fruit/tannins with firmer peppery edges, superb lush smoky finish. Quite serious price too: €28. 94
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. €26 50cl. 90+

Les Cosprons, 66650 Banyuls-sur-Mer.
By appointment only preferably in the afternoon: best to try his mobile 06 86 81 71 32 or Andy Cook's 06 11 84 16 97. Home no. 04 68 88 37 03; coumedelmas.comtramontanewines.com.

05 October 2010

Roussillon: Domaine Força Réal, Millas/Força Réal

Cyril Henriquès, right
Yours truly, centre, and American guest
Photo: Vi Erickson
The Henriquès family's elevated hillside estate - with terrain running up from 100m to over 400m above sea level, giving you an idea of what kind of "slope" we're talking about - is accessed (and signposted) off the road between Millas (behind the town over the river) and Corneilla-la-Rivière; keep going up the track until you find the elegant orange Mediterranean villa. A personal project spanning over 15 years, Jean-Paul and now son Cyril have invested a lot of energy and money into restoring vineyards (JP started replanting in 1992), (re)building the house, a new underground barrel cellar and tasting room cum visitor reception. Cyril thinks the next step is "maybe to offer on-site accommodation by refitting the old farmhouse buildings alongside the winery." Fantastic view too, by the way.
There are now over 40 ha (100 acres) of vines in production and ten of olive trees; their extra virgin olive oil is very tasty too, if you ever get the chance to visit (don't just turn up though, as Cyril's main office is in Perpignan). Apart from the reds below I tasted in situ in May 2007 and October 2010, DFR produces quite fine Muscat de Rivesaltes and a delicious barrel-matured 'Hors d'Age' style (€6.50-€7.50 50cl), which is great with strongly flavoured cheeses or nut-based puddings. Most of their wines are sold in export markets with the US and UK “really beginning to take off,” I'm told (e.g. Mark Hughes’ Real Wine Company on-line, or see their website for distributors and on-line shop). More Força Réal wines here (Vinisud 2006, Montpellier).

2004 Mas de la Garrigue Côtes du Roussillon – nice ripe Grenache (it is mostly) fruit layered with black cherry and rustic peppery notes; attractive tight fresh palate, dry grip v fruity softness. €5 87
2005 Domaine de Força Réal Côtes du Roussillon Villages (14.5%) – more closed up with hints of chocolatey wood plumped up with lush fruit, dry tannins on its tight framework, power yet elegant too; not showing that much at the moment, it needs a few months to a year to express itself. €10 89+
2003 Les Hauts de Força Réal Côtes du Roussillon Villages (80%
Syrah + Mourvèdre Grenache) – smoky blackberry fruit with subtle coco oak, maturing rustic liquorice edges; dry structured finish v Black Forest gateau "sweetness", elegant length and style. €15-€20 90-92

UPDATE autumn 2010: I sampled all three 2008 reds with Cyril, who'd just finished picking the last of the 2010 fruit, in their cool barrel cellar at the beginning of October. By the way, good to see the price of these wines (all 3 now "classified" as Côtes du Roussillon Villages, if that makes any difference) hasn't changed much, if at all.
2008 Mas de la Garrigue (Grenache Syrah Carignan 14.5%) - lovely bright fruit with dark cherry and liquorice notes, minty and peppery touches too; attractive and quite intense fruit on the palate, light grip of tannins and a bit of oomph too. €6 87+
2008 Domaine de Força Réal (similar blend but higher-altitude vineyards, 14.5%) - similar nose to start but richer and spicier; more concentrated too with nice "sweet/savoury" style, tight fresh tannins vs lush fruit; fairly elegant too despite its (attractive) weight. €10 89+
2008 Les Hauts de Força Réal (mostly Syrah + Mourvèdre from the highest parcels) - the new oak is pretty up-front and coconutty still, but this wine shows great depth of fruit vs punchy yet subtle at the same time; firmer and more solid although its rounded tannins help absorb some of that oak, leaving a well-balanced and tight finish. Needs a few years to open up. €20 90+

Mas de la Garrigue, 66170 Millas. Tel: 04 68 85 06 07, www.forcareal.com.

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.

03 October 2010

Vinolodge, camping it up in style

This original, sleep in the vineyards, wine tourism under the stars project, billed as "eco-friendly," is due to be launched next year. Your intrepid reporter went over to Domaine Virgile Joly, in Saint-Saturnin in the Languedoc highlands, to check it out in mid September, where they did a test-drive for these posh tents pitched in a secluded spot alongside his vines. The accommodation itself is surprisingly plush, with nice king-size bed, small "bathroom" with electric shower and proper toilet, fridge, aircon (for wimps) etc; and sturdy too with a parquet-type floor raised off the ground on stilts, being based on military-grade tent technology developed by Vinolodge's parent company. Each unit is also fitted out with right-on bits such as a water recycling system and solar power panels; the latter are sufficient for lighting, shower, plug sockets et al although not the aircon, which obviously isn't so eco-friendly. But you can see why it's there, when you could be spending some hot nights in July or August.
All in all, it looks like a fun and back-to-nature "concept" for wine enthusiasts with a few three-star luxuries: mind you, at €200 a night, there should be! This does include breakfast and a tutored wine tasting though, and there's a dining tent with on-site caterers for breakfast and dinner too depending on the package you'd go for. The idea is to erect these designer tents on demand in the vineyard from late spring to early autumn 2011, as part of a wine tour programme planned by Joly and other participating estates. They claim they don't damage the environment and are dismantled leaving no lasting trace. Vinolodges might well appeal to wineries looking to develop their tourism income that don't have the means or desire to build a permanent structure on the estate.
If successful, we could see vinolodges being "rolled out," as the marketing speak would have it, across the Languedoc and beyond... More info here: vinolodge.com. Notes on Domaine Virgile Joly and his wines via the 'winery A to Z' in the right-hand column ('J').
Photo by Claude Cruells.


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