Hervé Bizeul was a wine journalist who changed directions, and now enjoys the practical side of the business. He has only ever made wine in Roussillon. His very first vintage was 1998, and his first serious vintage 2004. I had visited him a few years ago in his old cellars in the village of Vingrau. This time I had to admire his brand new cellar on the edge of the town of Rivesaltes. It was being used for the first time in 2015. And he has vines at Tautavel and Vingrau, 130 plots in 44 hectares, which give lots of blending possibilities, and he is also buying more old vines. And then we settled down to taste, in an elegant tasting room, equipped with an oenomatic. Given the price of some of Hervé’s wines, this seems like a very sound investment.
2014 les Sorcières du Clos des Fées, Côtes Catalanes – 12.00€
The 2015 vintage of this will be Côtes du Roussillon. 50% Vermentino, 20% Roussanne, 30% Grenache. Very good herbal fruit. Good pithy acidity and stony firm fruit. Fresh and youthful. 12.5⁰ Aged in vat on the lees and then bottled in February.
Hervé had almost finished the harvest, which he described as ‘magnificent’, very healthy, with no need to sort the grapes'. All the red grapes were looking good, Carignan in particular, and not prone to understatement, Hervé asserted that the best Carignan comes from the Agly valley. Spain is too hot – this is a reference to Priorat.
Hervé has planted Vermentino – he likes the Vermentino that you get in Corsica and here in Roussillon it produces well and does not mind the wind. Roussanne for him is complicated and debatable. And then there is Grenache Blanc. We admired his new press, with drains that can be chilled, He macerates whole bunches for six hours, to keep the acidity. And we tasted some pure Vermentino juice which was very agrume, citrus, very pineapple and still quite bitter. A reference to grand vin: l’air est leur ami.
2014 Grenache Blanc, Vieilles Vignes, Côtes Catalanes – 18.00€
With 20% Grenache Gris. ‘Grenache Blanc doesn’t need wood’. Rounded and textured with white blossom. Quite soft. Slightly bitter finish. Depending on the weather they leaf pluck just before the harvest to help the ripening. And he has 40 pickers for the harvest,all local people, and 44 hectares in production, as well as Domaine de la Chique at Salses with 30 hectares.
2012 Clos des Fées, Côtes Catalanes - 70.00€
Pure Semillon, surgreffé 7 years ago. Hervé enthused about a mature bottle of Château Laville Haut Brion that had inspired him. And he makes just 900 bottles of this, from 50 ares. Quite golden; quite rich lanolin nose. Very good acidity. Very good matière. Rich and long. Spends nearly two years in wood. Lots of nuances. Dry honey balanced with good acidity. And absolutely delicious.
2014 Modeste, Côtes Catalanes - 8.50€
From four plots. Hervé is looking for low alcohol, which he achieved at 12.5⁰, with light colour and low tannins. ‘Simplicity rather than complexity’. Indeed quite a light colour, with fresh cherry fruit. Lightweight. Almost like a Roussillon Passetoutgrains. A little Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and Mourvèdre, but mainly from quite a productive plot of Grenache. A refreshing finish.
2013 Domaine de la Chique, Côtes du Roussillon – 6.00€
Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Cinsaut. Medium colour. Quite rounded and ripe, with a streak of firm tannin and some red fruit. ‘Le petit vin t’apprend beaucoup; stay in touch with reality!’
2014 Sorcières, Côtes du Roussillon – 12.00€
Elevage in vat. 50% Syrah, plus 25% each of Carignan and Grenache. Medium colour. ‘Lots of colour on the blending palate, but with a continuity of what goes into what’. Attractive concentration. Quite ripe and rounded; quite intensive fruit. Youthful. Some tannin on the finish. Not heavy. Youthful and harmonious. Makes 100,000 bottles of this. ‘A question of getting the right pieces for my puzzle’. Vingrau and Tautavel are nearly all calcaire, with a little schist and a little marnes at Espira.
2011 Vieilles Vignes, Côtes du Roussillon – 25.00€
40% each Grenache and Carignan, from 35 – 80 years vines old, with 10% Syrah. Hervé wants a wine that is typical of Vingrau and Tautavel. Aged in large concrete vats for 12 months. 2009 was the first vintage, Deep colour. Quite rounded, ripe fresh red fruit. Quite firm with some youthful tannins. Quite tight knit. Needs time.
2011 Clos des Fées, Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 50.00€
50% Syrah, with Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre. 60% new wood as well as small cement vats. Concentrated; boisé, A vin de garde; to drink in ten years time. Deep colour. Solid, dense and ripe and quite tannic, with firm fruit; quite textured. Youthful with good matière. Quite alcoholic on the finish at 15⁰.
And what is tipicity of Vingrau? Limestone, which is very hard, and also clay. Cool mornings – it was 11⁰C the previous morning at the end of September. The harvest is usually a month and a half later than the first picking of grapes in Roussillon. Altitude and aspect play their part. Naturally silky tannins, but fruit the most important thing as that, rather than oak, gives the wine its character.
2011 La Petite Sibérie, Côtes du Roussillon Villages - 200.00€
Grenache Noir, topped up with Syrah and Mourvèdre. 'Ca m’ennuyerait de passer en IGP'. Now just two varieties are allowed for Côtes du Roussillon Villages; it used to be three. . 12 months in oak.
Very deep colour. Quite a rounded nose, and rounded black fruit on the palate. 16.6⁰. Intense, firm concentration and alcohol, though some freshness on the finish. Expansive. Length. Powerful tannins, will last about ten year, says Hervé, and Clos des Fées will last longer. Very intense. The vineyard is just 1.16 hectare making eight barriques. His old cellar ‘decided a lot of things for him, but with the new cellar there are many more choices’, but he will leave things as they are working on the ‘don’t fix it , if it ain’t broke principle’.
2012 Clos des Fées.
Quite smoky red fruit. Ripe and rounded and supple oak. Rich and concentrated. I found the balance better than in La Petite Sibérie.
2013 Clos des Fées.
Deep colour. Solid rounded ripe red fruit. Quite sweet and rich, with tannin and texture. Quite dense body..
Hervé has planted Pinot Noir between Tautavel and Paziols – just 1.80 hectare, making a first wine in 2015, to see what happens, pour voir. It will be kept in Burgundian pièces.
2014 De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté - 18.00€
Syrah on granite from Lesquerde. Bottled early at Easter. Deep colour. Ripe black fruit. Firm tannins. Mineral notes. A southern Syrah. Hervé observed that the Rhône producers, Chapoutier are buying vines at Lesquerde; ‘the village is paradise for Syrah’. Hervé has 2 ½ hectares there, which he bought 7 – 8 years ago.
2013 Un faune avec son fife, Côtes Catalanes – 35.00€
70% Cabernet Franc with Merlot. Herve planted these as gobelet vines. Deep colour. Ripe and rounded and tannic. Concentrated. Lots of cassis and quite different structure. A complete contrast from the more classic flavours of Roussillon.
And later for dinner that evening:
2006 Clos des Fées
Very rich intense, deep young colour. Very rounded and youthful. It simply did not taste nine years old. However, the wine was much more concentrated than the younger vintages, emphasising the change of style in recent years, especially when re-tasting the 2012. A move away from wood, leaving the place to fruit.