One of my dessert island wines would be Rivesaltes Ambré, wonderful old Rivesaltes that has been matured in barrel and bottle for years and turned a golden amber brown colour, with flavours of walnuts and honey and figs and other delicious things. These wines are grossly underrated, and are more than overdue for a revival in their popularity. They need to be saved for posterity, savoured and treasured. And one way to do that is to buy them – they represent extraordinarily good value for money.
The Rivesaltes Ambré from Domaine de Rancy has won a trophy in the Decanter World Wine Awards this year, so that provided a good excuse for a visit. Brigitte Verdaguer gave us a friendly welcome in her little tasting room in the village of Latour de France. She has series of small cellars scattered around the village where the Rivesaltes matures in old barrels. The aroma is intoxicating and delicious. They are the oldest wine estate in the village, with wines going back to 1919. She and her husband Jean-Hubert took over his parents’ vineyards in 1989, and in 2001 they began producing red wine as well as vin doux. These days it is their daughter, Delphine, who actually makes the wine.
They have 17 hectares, 12 hectares of Macabeu for the Rivesaltes Ambré, and five hectares of red vines, Carignan, and Grenache that are both nearly 100 years old, and Mourvèdre that is 35 years old. Their yields average a meagre 15 – 18 hl/ha. The vineyards are on the schist of the Latour de France. Brigitte explained that they work organically, and were officially labelisé in 2010, but only for their red wines. If your vin doux is organic, the alcohol that you use to stop the fermentation must also be organic, and organic alcohol is five times more expensive than ordinary alcohol,. And they simply cannot afford it, or justify the significantly higher price to their customers. For the vins doux a long élevage is critical. Their youngest wine is 4 years old, and their oldest wine in bottle is 1948. Brigitte talked of how people did not believe in vin doux; personne ne s’y croyait. And how difficult it is to sell; at times it is certainly an uphill struggle.
I was amused by the notice in the tasting room – il vaut mieux boire du vin d’ici que de l’eau de la. It is better to drink the wine from here, than the water from over there.
2011 Mourvèdre, Côtes Catalanes – 8.20€
Élevage in vat, with no wood, and just bottled. Good young colour. Quite a firm sturdy nose and still quite closed. On the palate, also quite firm and tannic with youthful fruit, and hints of liquorice and violets and some dry spice. Needs time and promises well.
2011 Grenache Noir Côtes Catalanes – 8.20€
From 80 years and older vines, grown on schist. With an emphasis on fruit,. a long cuvaison of three to four weeks. Medium young colour. Liqueur cherry fruit on the nose, and even more so on the palate. A warm finish, with some lovely rich flavours. Very drinkable.
2011 Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 8.20€
Equal parts Mourvèdre and Carignan. Deep young colour, rounded, warm and sturdy on the nose, with very good fruit on the palate. A firm tannic streak, some richness and also some freshness on the palate. Warming but not heavy. It tastes as though it might have been in oak, but Brigitte assured me not.
2008 Le Carignan, Côtes Catalanes – 10.00€
This was bottled in 2012 after a long élevage in concrete vats, and then it is left to mature in bottle. The vines are centenarian. Quite a solid nose, warm and confit. Some lovely fruit on the palate, very concentrated, red fruit and the warmth of Roussillon on the finish A certain rugged quality, with lots of nuances.
2003 Rancio Sec Macabeu 17º - 13.50€
Currently labelled vin issu de raisins surmuris, but from the 2011 vintage it can be called Côtes Catalanes Rancio Sec, but that wine will not be on sale for ten years ... But maybe they will be able to come to an agreement with the INAO about the earlier vintages.
As for the wine, it was simply delicious and very intriguing. The vines are 70 years old and the grapes are the last to be picked when they are overripe at the end of September. It’s a traditional vinification with natural yeast, and the fermentation in a cement vat stops naturally when all the sugar has gone, with an alcohol level of 17º, so no added alcohol. This may take two years, depending on the weather. They check the VA levels and once the fermentation is finished, the wine is transferred into old barrels where it remains for ten years. The colour is golden amber, with a dry nutty nose. The palate is quite austere, and yet quite rich, firm and dry and powerful and very long. With the oxidative wine making, you could compare this to vin jaune, or is it the French equivalent of fine old oloroso sherry?. Brigitte said that her father- in-law had always made wine like this and they have been fighting for its legal recognition for 20 years. We wondered what to eat with it – I suggested Cantal cheese; Brigitte countered with a salade catalane and mentioned that there were recipe ideas on their website.
And next came a range of what for me were sublime Rivesaltes, all made from Macabeu.
Rivesaltes Ambré, 4 ans d’Age – 13.50€
This is the result of a solera system; the youngest wine is four years old. Amber colour.. A dry nutty nose. Rounded biscuity palate, quite soft and rounded, with some nutty notes. Wonderful depth of flavour and originality
1993 Rivesaltes Ambré – 19.50€
This was Decanter’s trophy winner – and well deserved. Yellow green rim. Firm dry nutty nose. Slightly sweeter than the rancio, richer on the palate, with lovely depth and length and lots of nuances of flavour.
1982 Rivesaltes Ambré – 40€
1982 was their daughter’s birth year. A yellow green rim and brown colour. More austere on the nose. Firmer darker and also rich and concentrated. Quite a sweet finish. Very long and rich with lots of nuances. Lovely walnut flavours
1973 – 60€
Bottled January 2013. Quite a brown colour with a yellow green rim. Firm and dry and nutty on the nose, with underlying richness. Wonderful dry and nutty, with length and complexity and depth. As you can see, I am running out of adjectives that even attempt to do this justice.
1959 – 150.00€
Bottled 4 years ago, just 800 bottles. Deep amber green yellow rim. Smells like wonderful Madeira, with a subtle burnt quality. Very intense, the rich and dry character of Madeira with very good acidity and great length.
1948 – 200€ and just 500 bottles. This is my husband’s birth year, so it turned out to be rather an expensive morning, but the wine is fabulous. Deep chocolate colour, with the distinctive yellow green rim. A very dry nutty nose. Lots of nuances. And on the palate, firm and dry and nutty, with very good balancing acidity. Very intense and concentrated and long. A magnificent finale to a memorable visit.