I had first visited this estate in Trouillas for The Wines of the South of France in the last century! So it was good to have a catch up Etienne Montès, and his wife Frédérique.
Domaine la Casenove had promised well in the 1990s, but somehow this time I felt that its reputation, for reasons I know not, has never quite fulfilled its earlier promise. The wines are very good, and really do deserve a wider following.
2015 has not been an easy year for Etienne. A bit of rain before the harvest affected the état sanitaire and led to some dilution, but none the less Etienne feels the wine has turned out quite successfully.
He has 42 hectares including some very old vines of Carignan, the oldest from 1934, with further plantings in 1950 and 1955. He planted his first Syrah in 1985. All his wines are Côtes Catalanes, which makes them expensive for a vin de pays.
2012 la Colomina, Côtes Catalanes - 9.90€ 14.5⁰
La Colomina is the name of the vineyard and the blend is 40% Carignan with 35% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre and the balance Grenache. The Carignan and Mourvèdre are fermented together; with a fifteen days maceration in vat. The wine is kept in vat, blended after the winter and was bottled in the summer of 2014. Quite rounded ripe fruit on the nose. Nicely integrated spice, harmonious and youthful. I liked this a lot.
In good years Etienne makes two cuvées.
2011 la Garrigue, Côtes Catalanes – 15.00€
Deep colour. Carignan and Syrah with a little Grenache. A selection from the best vineyards. No wood. Etienne explained that he has two very good terroirs. The vines close to the cellars are sand and clay, and on higher land he has terraces of pebbles, where his oldest vines are. Everything is handpicked, and the fermentation and maceration usually takes about a month, with three years ageing in vat. It is much easier to keep wine in vat than in bottle and in any case ageing in concrete vat soften the tannins Some of Etienne’s vats are made of brick rather than concrete and are one metre thick.
Quite deep colour. Fresh fruit with supple tannins. Good balance, Youthful with more concentration than la Colomina. Medium weight with some fresh fruit and another jolly nice glass of wine. Rounded harmonious finish.
Yields are low 25 hl/ha. Etienne is not organic but he has not used herbicides for over 20 years. He uses sulphur against oidium; mildew can be a problem.
2010 la Garrigue, Côtes Catalanes
A good year, with an easy harvest. No stress. And the flavours were a little more intense, firm and ripe with more tannin. Good black fruit and spice. Bottled 8th September 2014. 14.8⁰. An observation that yields have dropped as a result of the climate, and the age of the vines. And a comment about Priorat, that five people created it, whereas Roussillon is so much more varied.
2010 Jaubert, or to give the wine its full name, Cuvée Commandant François Jaubert, Côtes Catalanes, after Etienne’s great-uncle who owned the estate at the end of the 19th century. – 30€
One plot providing Etienne’s top cuvée. Originally it was pure Syrah but these days there is a little Carignan, from the old vines of 1934, with a yield of 15 hl/ha. Etienne observed that Carignan is more aristocratic than Syrah. Carignan gives style, whereas Syrah is bourgeois! The wine is blended in vat and then spends eighteen months in old barrels from Chateau Phelan Ségur.
Just 6000 bottles. And 317 magnums - almost 15⁰ Very deep colour. Very rounded rich nose, redolent of black fruit. Very tannic and very concentrated. A firm youthful tannic streak surrounded by black fruit. Very intense and still very youthful.
2013 La Garrigue, Côtes Catalanes
A vat sample; it would have been bottled before Christmas. Methods have not changed over the years. Etienne described both 2013 and 2014 as une jolie année. All his wines are quite tendu with a certain tension, and not fat. Deep colour. Quite a firm nose; good dense ripe fruit. Quite sturdy youthful dense fruit.
Taken out of fût, and now in vat. Deep colour. Very youthful. Very closed. Very intense. Firm tannins. Youthful and intense and masses of potential. Etienne observed that although he likes Carignan a lot, he does not have enough of it to make a wine that is mainly Carignan.
Very deep young colour. Rounded dense youthful berry fruit on the nose. And rounded and ripe on the palate; quite dense with firm youthful fruit. Chocolatey. Quite a smooth rich texture.
Etienne described this as very pretty, rich, sympathique and généreux. We tasted it from barrel. Deep colour. 2014 is more supple than 2013, with riper softer fruit. with tannins, but so much more ready to drink.
And no tasting in Roussillon is ever complete without some Rivesaltes.
2001 Rivesaltes Tuilé – 18.00€ for 50 cls
Muté sur grains. Bottled after 2 years. Pure Grenache Noir. Medium colour. Liquorice notes on both nose and palate and nicely maturing. Quite smooth. Good tawny port is the obvious comparison but this is smoother and less spirity. Great length with red fruit and lots of nuances and a lovely balance.
2002 Rivesaltes Ambré - 25€
A blend of Grenache Blanc 70% with Macabeo. Picked on 15th October. Left in barriques outside in sun or rain. Quite nutty and rich. Rounded smooth nutty fruit, with a dry bite on the finish. Bottled on 27th November 2012 with 115 gms/l sugar, after 4 years in vat and 3 years in wood and then another 2 years in vat to homogenise it. It was deliciously oxidised.
Then we went to look at the barrels that are outside; they came originally from Cognac and have been subjected to extreme weather conditions. In the summer Etienne sprays water on them, to prevent them drying out completely. We tasted several different barrels, Intense brown amber colour. Some rounded, almost sweet, intensive honey, orange; others were drier with much firmer fruit, other with dried fruits, and fuller with a volatile note and anther smoother and rounded with quite sweet fruits confits. All quite delicious!!
And we finished with a quick look at the cellar, with was state of the art when it was built in 1910, with the thick brick vats - 90 cms thick. – and now of course it is rather old functioned, but still perfectly functional. Etienne had some 1986 Ambré in a barrel: Deep amber colour a dry oloroso nose, firm, concentrated and intense, with acidity and firm finish.. And the 1993 was richer and smoother in comparison, almost like black treacle. What a finale!