"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

10 October 2010

Roussillon: Mas Christine, Argelès

UPDATED AUGUST 2013 (click there).

Back in spring 2009, I called in on Philippe Gard at flagship winery Coume del Mas 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." In the past, the Dauré family, for example, of Chateau de Jau and Clos des Paulilles had leased vineyards at Mas Christine principally to make Muscat de Rivesaltes.
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: there isn't a cellar at Mas Christine): 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.

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, the first batch below was tasted in 2009 and the most recent vintages were sniffed, sampled, appreciated and spat out (it's called driving) at the beginning of October 2010!

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 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+
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

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 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+
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

Cellar c/o CDM, Les Cosprons, 66650 Banyuls-sur-Mer. By appointment only preferably in the afternoon: best to try Andy Cook's mobile 06 11 84 16 97. tramontanewines.com.

White of the moment: Dom Brial

2009 Dom Ici Chardonnay/Macabeu from the Roussillon, vin de pays des Cotes Catalanes: Dom Brial/Vignerons de Baixas (13%) - well made "modern" unoaked style with appealing mix of white peach and citrus fruit, floral almond edges vs lightly lees/buttery texture; medium bodied and rounded vs zesty and crisp/bitter finish. €3.80

Wines of the moment: France, Hungary, Chile

2009 rosé from France (organic): Domaine Saint-Julien Les Vignes, Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence - nice classic style Provence rosé with pale pink/orange colour and fresh floral, red fruit aromas/flavours; understated yet lively and juicy with crisp dry and elegant finish. About €9 for a half-bottle in Hippopotamus restaurant, Chartres.
2009 white from the Roussillon: Dom Ici Chardonnay/Macabeu vin de pays Cotes Catalanes, Dom Brial/Vignerons de Baixas (13%) - well made "modern" unoaked style with appealing mix of white peach and citrus fruit, floral almond edges vs lightly lees/buttery texture; medium bodied and rounded vs zesty and crisp/bitter finish. €3.80
2003 Szamorodni (sweetie) from Tokaji in Hungary: Dániel, István Szepsy (13.5%) - caramel, demerara, raisins, dried apricot and honey with spicy citrus undertones; luscious dried fruits vs lemon, weighty and rounded with super sweet caramel flavours vs some cutting acidity; developing very nicely although lacks a bit of real zest. And here's what I said about this Szamorodni four years ago (from a trip to the region: much more on that here): 1 year new Hungarian oak. Voluptuous tropical honey, vibrant pure and concentrated; very light chocolate oak tones, subtle freshness v lovely fruit; drinking nicely now, maybe lacks a bit of bite.
2009 red from Chile: Casa Mayor Carmenère Single Vineyard Reserve, Bodegas Santo Domingo in Colchagua Valley - quirky mix of roasted vegetables, soy sauce and herbal red pepper (touch reduced even?) vs dark burnt/smoky damsons, peppery and punchy too; similar on the mouth with those wild herby notes coming through vs lush almost "tar" like texture, contrast of crunchy vs dried fruits giving attractive "sweet/savoury" flavours; a touch of grip and acidity add bite, quite powerful too (the label says 14% alc. but I'd say it's higher). Next day: still quirky although attractive with it, with a combo of bitter chocolate & roasted coffee beans vs ripe almost stewed fruit lending raisin and prune flavours vs tarter finish. It works though somehow! About €6.

09 October 2010

Roussillon: Domaine Serrelongue, Maury

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

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

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

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

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

08 October 2010

Roussillon: Domaine de la Rectorie, Banyuls-sur-mer

The Parcé brothers Marc, Pierre and Thierry have built up this old family estate into something approaching cult, although they wouldn't like that nomenclature. Marc in particular, as president of the Collioure growers' association and a countrywide lobby group called Sève, is very committed to shaping the appellation's future and promoting it beyond the region. Click here for info on that and some of his views, from an article I did for Decanter magazine (scroll down to "Straining at the leash"). They've also created a partnership with La Préceptorie de Centernach near Maury (see A to Z list) by setting up a joint sales & distribution company. 
La Rectorie covers about 27 ha/70 acres, in as many different sites, making mainly red Collioure - and increasingly a flavoursome white and famously deep-coloured rosé - although over the last few years Banyuls production and sales "have steadily increased." Before that, the Parcés "almost gave up" on VDNs because of appellation politics and the type of wines and quality that appeared to represent its name. They were also part of a small band of pioneers of "new" Banyuls, such as "vintage" or "rimage" styles (originally, now everybody's "doin' it," so to speak) using winemaking methods that favour youthful fruit and big structure, rather than overly oxidised, pale and thin wines. Read on for my autumn 2010 update with a bit of background and explanation on that from Pierre Parcé. And it's worth clicking on the link below to their website: it's got some nice black and white pictures on it (an example used here taken by keen photographer Pierre (copyright), following in the footsteps of his grandfather). 

Here are notes on some of their sensuous Collioure & Banyuls wines tasted in March 2007:
2006 L'Argile Collioure blanc (14.5%) - barrel sample: milky toasty edges to its lovely honeysuckle fruit, powerful mouthful, concentrated and big; a bit hot on the finish but very interesting style. 88-90
2006 Côté Mer Collioure rosé (Grenache Carignan Counoise Syrah 14%) - very creamy and rich raspberry/redcurrant style, oily texture with a tart edge; nice fruity finish with fresh acidity and punchy alcohol. 87-89
2005 L'Oriental Collioure rouge (Grenache based, 15%) - a little closed to start, violets and blackberry fruit develops, powerful yet has gentle fruit concentration; firm framework with long rather alcohol dominated finish, pity as it has lovely fruit/tannin layering, would've scored it higher. 89-91
2005 Côté Mer Collioure rouge (14%) - more savoury v delicious pure fragrant and spicy black cherry fruit, better balance, length and style. 90-92
2005 Côté Montagne Collioure rouge (14.5%) - more structured and backwards than above, concentration and power but also freshness and lively length. 90-92
2005 Cuvée Léon Parcé Banyuls (Grenache 16.5%) - meaty and chocolatey with lively spicy black fruit combo, sexy coating and panache. 90-92

La Rectorie update October 2010

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

2009 L'Argile white Collioure (Grenache blanc gris 14.5%) - lightly toasty and spicy vs apricot and peach aromas; tighter and more "mineral/salty" in the mouth vs rounded and slightly creamy, juicy pineapple too and quite subtle finish despite its fair weight. 87+
2009 Côté Mer Collioure rosé (Grenache Carignan Syrah 14.5%) - deep pink/cherry colour with "vinous," ripe strawberry/raspberry nose; big and rounded mouth-feel, very fruity and textured. Made by 12-14 hour skin contact followed by barrel fermentation! 87-89
2008 Côté Mer Collioure (Grenache Syrah Carignan 14%) - lovely aromatic floral and spicy nose with red/black cherry; quite firm, fresh and crunchy on the palate vs ripe tannins and "sweet" fruit; closed up elegant finish. 87-89
2008 Côté Montagne Collioure (Grenache Carignan Mourvèdre Syrah Counoise) - richer spicier and "earthier" with wild flower nuances; tight mouth-feel with fairly firm tannins, again quite restrained and closed up to finish. 89-91
2008 Banyuls Rimage "mise précoce" (Grenache 16.5%) - which means early bottling: after fortifying "sur grains," this had a further 2-week maceration on skins then pressed, held in vats briefly then bottled. Delicious dark chocolate and black cherry with violet aromas too; rich and sweet vs firm and spicy, nice lush vs tight and grippy finish. €11 50cl. 87-89
2007 Cuvée Léon Parcé Banyuls (Grenache 16.5%) - initially same winemaking but then goes into (full) casks for 18 months. Similar fruit profile but meatier / more savoury; chunkier tannins too somehow although rounder as well, nice sweet vs structured mouth-feel with chocolate undercurrent. 89-91
L'Oublée (Grenache gris 16.5%) - pressed straightaway, fermented then fortified, 10+ years ageing in large tuns then barriques outside. Quite brownish/red in colour, very very different nose with nutty (walnut/pecan) vs dried raspberry/apricot/sultana profile; nutty tangy vs sweet raisin and sultana flavours, delicious complex and lingering finish. 91-93 
65 avenue du Puig del Mas, 66650 Banyuls sur mer. Tel: 04 68 88 13 45 / 06 82 67 04 10 (Pierre Parcé)www.la-rectorie.com.


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