The village of Calce on the edge of the Agly valley is a wonderful corner of Roussillon, which seems to attract more than its fair share of creative and talented wine making. It all began with Gérard Gauby, who is virtually representative of the development of wine making in Roussillon. The first time I went to see him, in the late 1990s, when he had been making wine for about ten years, I asked him about the history of his estate and he said quite simply: l’histoire c’est moi. And you could see what he meant; he was one of the first, if not the first, in the village of Calce, to take the family vines out of the cooperative and start putting wine in bottle. And his example has attracted others.
There was a little group of them at Millésime Bio – Thomas Lubbe from Domaine Matassa; Olivier Pithon;Jean-Philippe Padié and a more recent arrival - Thomas Teifert. Many of their wines are vin de pays, des Côtes Catalanes, rather than an appellation, for the usual reasons that appellation regulations tend to be too restrictive and limiting.
Jean-Philippe Padié has lived in Burgundy, near Beaune, studied in Lyon and Montpellier and worked at Mas Amiel and with Gerard, and has now taken on six hectares of vines at Calce and Estagel. His first vintage was 2003.
2008 Fleur de Cailloux, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes – 14.00€
A blend of Grenache Blanc on limestone, Grenache Gris on marnes calcaires and Macabeu on schist. This was very intriguing. There is a hint of honey on the nose, with herbal notes and white flowers, with a rounded palate. Half is aged in old 300 litre wood and half in stainless steel. It undergoes a malo-lactic fermentation and is kept on the lees, without any bâtonnage, after a long slow fermentation.
2008 Milouise, Côtes Catalanes. – 27€ From Jean-Philippe’s oldest Grenache Gris, between 60 and 100 years old, grown on a variety of different soils Again some lovely elegant herbal notes, with a touch oak, after time in 600 litre barrels. It is more mouth-feeling, solid and rounded than Fleur de Cailloux.
2007 Petit Taureau, Côtes du Roussillon – 12€
From 100 year old Carignan vines on limestone, and much younger Syrah, 20 or 30 years old, on schist. This is dense and rounded with a smoky palate, some acidity and tannin, nicely in balance with plenty of promise. It is aged mainly in cement vats, with some old wood, and blended after twelve months.
2006 Ciel Liquide, Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 21€
Jean-Philippe called this un vin mosaique for it is a blend of several different plots, including his oldest Grenache and Carignan, as well as a little Syrah and Mourvèdre. It spent twelve mouth in old demi-muids and two years in concrete vats and was bottled in the summer 2009. The colour is deep and young, with an intense rounded nose and palate. It is very concentrated, but with freshness and minerality. That is the terroir of Calce observed Jean-Philippe.
Thomas Lubbe is the talent behind Domaine Matassa. He was born in South Africa and grew up in Auckland. He first came to Calce in 1999. All his wines are vin de pays. He is very scathing about the appellation Cotes du Roussillon; for him it is synonymous of the wine lake. He wants to concentrate on Calce and the Cotes Catalanes; even better would have been the original vin de pays des Fenouilledes, which covered a more limited part of the Agly valley, but that name has been scrubbed by French officialdom. He is now well-integrated in to village life in Calce, as he married Gerard Gauby’s sister in 2003. He makes four whites and four reds. This is what I tasted.
2008 Three Trees white, Côtes Catalanes – 8.00€ from vineyards at Caudiès de Fenouillèdes, one of the cooler parts of the area. It is a blend of Rolle 40%; Macabeu 50% with just 10% white Carignan, all fermented in concrete vat. The fruit is firm and fresh, with herbal notes, some fleurs blanches and a touch of minerality. There is also a red version, with some exuberantly ripe spicy fruit.
2008 Domaine Matassa, Cuvée Marguerite – 22.€
Half Muscat à petits grains and half Viognier. This was quite intriguing as neither grape variety dominated the palate, even though they both have quite powerful characteristics.. The vinification in oak came into play, and there were touches of fennel on the nose, with mineral notes, and a youthful intense finish.
Domaine Matassa white – 30€ From old vines, Grenache Gris and Macabeu, which have spent 15 months in demi muids. Firm dry fruit on the nose, with some leesy hints, and quite full and oak, almost resinous on the palate. The palate is quite tight knit, but for my taste there is a touch too much oak at the moment.
2006 Cuvee Romanissa -24€
Mainly Grenache, 70%, with some Carignan and Mourvèdre, and a little Cabernet Sauvignon, grown on schist. Rounded smoky fruit, with a certain freshness and stony minerality on the palate. Quite intense berry fruit. Beginning to drink very nicely. Thomas considers that the wines from Calce need a long ageing, two years in demi muids and at least 18 months in bottle.
The same wine in 2007, but without the Cabernet , was firm and intense with a stony minerality. There were layers of flavours, texture and depth and plenty of promise.
Thomas Teifert is the young German behind the new estate of Domaine de l’Horizon in Calce. He came to Calce in 2005, dreaming of vineyards near the Mediterranean, and he assured me that you can indeed see the sea on the horizon from his vineyards. He has 15 hectares altogether in 12 plots in the garrigues around Calce. His first serious vintage was 2007 and he is already receiving accolades, from the Revue du Vin de France amongst others. His white 2008 Côtes Catalanes is a blend of 70 % Macabeu and 30% old Grenache Blanc, grown on limestone and on schist. It is kept in foudres, 5 to 30- hectolitres in size. I found it very intriguing, there is a slightly resinous note, and also some herbal flavours, with a textured mouth feel, and a fresh finish, with minerality and acidity. How will it age is the question.
The same wine in 2007 was heavier on the nose, quite broad and nutty. The 2008 was more elegant, and I thought more successful. Thomas observed this came from the vintage difference, and from the experience of the previous vintage.
His red wine, also Côtes Catalanes, is a blend of two parts Carignan to one part Grenache, and has spent a year in wood. Again it was very intriguing, with some firm mineral notes and a fresh finish, with good fruit, and layers of flavour. It promises well for the future.
Olivier Pithon comes from Coteaux du Layon in the Loire Valley. He came to Roussillon by chance, and stayed. He was looking for a challenge, for vineyards with stones, on hillsides and with old vines,all of which you can find in the Agly Valley. The old vines give you a quality opportunity right from the start. He has six hectares in twenty plots around Calce and Estagel and his first vintage was 2001.
At Millésime Bio he was showing:
2008 Cuvée Laïs Côtes Catalanes, 15.50€ A blend of Macabeu, Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc that are fermented and aged in 500 litre demi-muids. The oak is still quite present, but will tone down with age, and there were some leesy herbal notes on both nose and palate. It was quite rich and powerful with a firm mineral character. And masses of potential.
2007 D18 - 30€ Named after a narrow scenic road that goes out of Calce towards the Col de la Dona. A blend of Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc fermented in 22 hectolitre wooden vats. It is tight knit and intensely mineral, with fresh acidity. Again the potential is considerable.
2009 Mon P’tit Pithon, Côtes Catalanes, 7.50€ This is Olivier’s red entrée de gamme, a pure Grenache Noir, giving fresh ripe fruit and lightly spicy notes on the palate. It is medium weight and all too easy to drink.
2008 Cuvée Laïs rouge, Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 15.50€ A blend of Grenache Noir and Carignan with a little Mourvèdre and Syrah, aged mostly in concrete tanks. This had wonderful minerality. It was tight knit and structured with red berry flavours and a firm minerality, with freshness on the finish, combining power and elegance, and also ageing potential.
2007 Le Pilou, Côtes Catalanes comes from a 75 ares vineyard of 100 year old Carignan. The wine has spent eight months in wooden vats, but despite the oak influence it was intensely mineral, with red berries and smokey fruit, firm and structured. The minerality was the dominant character, so intense that you could almost taste the roche mère, bedrock
Eric Monné at Clot de l’Oum in the village of Bélesta is another relative newcomer to the region. At least he was born in Perpignan, but spends four days a week at the European Patent Office in the Hague. He bought his vines in 1995 and his first vintage was 2001. He has 14 hectares, including just one of white, divided into 30 different plots around Bélesta and Maury.
2008 Côtes du Roussillon blanc, Cine Panetonne – a reference to bad films that come out for Christmas, and a blend of Carignan blanc and Grenache Gris. Intriguing herbal notes on both nose and palate with good acidity on the finish. Aged in old wood for twelve months, which gives body rather than flavour. Fresh and youthful
2008 Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Compagnie des Papillons, which apparently is a children’s game. 13.00€ A blend of Carignan and Grenache Noir, with 12 months élevage in old wood. Deep colour; a solid nose, with ripe concentrated fruit, balanced with tannin and acidity. Ripe and youthful.
2007 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Saint Bart Vieilles Vignes, including a plot of 100 year old Carignan, with 50 – 60 year old Grenache Noir, and rather more youthful 25 year old Syrah, a blend of one third of each, with 15 months in old wood. This is dense and ripe, rounded with spicy fruit. It is eminently gouleyant, but with an edge of tannin, and warmth on the finish. 18.00€
2007 Numéro Uno, 90% Syrah with 10% Carignan and 15 months in old wood. A dense firm spicy notes, with a smokey plate and some mineral notes. A firm structured palate. Long and youthful. Plenty of ageing potential. 28.00€
2007 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Granito Vivo. Mainly 60 year old Carignan grown on pure granite. A deep colour, with some berry fruit and some oak. Rounded dense palate, with spice. The oak has ironed out any edges. You can immediately taste that Carignan is drier and firmer than the Syrah dominant wines.
And that is all from me for little bit, as I am off to Argentina tomorrow night, to taste in their annual wine competition along with eleven other Masters of Wine. But there will be lots more to tell about the Languedoc when I am back in early March.