Frédérique first came to Roussillon in 1985, and her first vintage at Domaine Vaquer was 1991. She comes from Burgundy and that is where she met her husband, Bernard. Rather than staying closer to home and studying in Montpellier, Bernard had wanted to discover Burgundy and the wines of eastern France, Jura and Alsace. He took over his father’s vineyards in 1990 but sadly died very suddenly in 2001. Frédérique has been making the wine at Domaine Vaquer ever since, though her father-in-law, Fernand, is still very much around.
She has 18 hectares of vines, in the village of Tresserre, including ten in one large plot, at an altitude of 200 metres, with Grenache Noir from the 1950s and Carignan planted in 1937. The battle of Le Boulou from the Napoleonic Wars was fought close by and they have found cannon balls in the vineyard. Her harvest began on 23rd August and took a couple of weeks, so that she has just finished, before the rain. Frédérique sees 2015 as a very balanced year, with freshness, but not high acidity.
And she described the area of Les Aspres as lots of small plots surrounded by garrigues. There should have been a great view from her vineyards, with the sea in the distance, but the Canigou was in the cloud. She talked about ‘le toit de mon monde’, with the village, the wine, birdsong, the Pyrenees and the Canigou, and views on all sides towards the hills of the Albères, the sea, Perpignan, Rivesaltes and the peak of Força Real. Her vineyards are not certified organic, but she works an organically as possible; it can be difficult with fragile old vines, so a thoughtful culture raisonnée is a more accurate description. I enjoyed a short walk in the vineyards, near an old mas and back at the cellars we settled down to some tasting in an attractive room with high chairs made from old barrels – an interesting example of recycling. .
2014 Esquisse, Côtes du Roussillon - 9.80€ - 14.5⁰
A blend of 40% each Roussanne and Macabeu with 20% Grenache Blanc, from vineyards at 200 metres. The Roussanne was planted in 2000. Fermentation and élevage in vat, on the lees with some bâtonnage. No malo. Aeration kills the malo bugs. Bottled in January to keep the freshness. Delicate leafy white flowers on the nose. Lovely texture. White flowers. Good acidity with structure. Rounded matière. Esquisse means a sketch, as in a drawing, and there is one done by Frédérique’s grandfather on the label. She used to change the sketch at every vintage, but has given up on that.
2013 l’Exception, Côtes du Roussillon – 18.00€
30% Macabeu with Grenache Blanc and Gris, all planted together. Fermented and 12 months ageing in wood, a demi-muid of one wine. Bâtonnage. Just 1000 bottles. Quite a deep colour. Ripe rounded and textured, with herbal notes and nicely integrated oak, and good body and weight.
2014 L’Exception, Côtes du Roussillon.
Bottled in September. The almond notes of Macabeo, with a less expressive nose, quite a tight knit structured palate, with some firm acidity, as well as mineral notes, and length.
Frédérique observed that she juggles, knowing which wine will cope with new wood.
2014 Rosé, l’Ephémère, Côtes du Roussillon – 7.00€
One third each Syrah, Carignan and Grenache. Carignan and Syrah are saigné; the Grenache is pressed, and an élevage in vat. Quite a deep orange pink colour. Rounded nose and quite a sturdy palate with some firm dry fruit, and quite a vinous finish, even though it is only 13.5⁰. Definitely a food rosé.
2014 Rosé Est-ce special? – 10.00€
Vinified in old wood of five or six wines, until March, and bottled in June. . Mainly Grenache, pressed. Fresh structured cherry fruit. Tighter knit and more elegant with a dry finish.
2014 Côtes du Roussillon, Cuvée Bernard, – 8.90€
Blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah. Youthful quite deep colour. This is intended to be a vin de plaisir, and it just what it is with some red fruit on the nose, and ripe easy fruit on the palate. Very harmonious and rounded, with a light streak of tannins.
2012 Exigence, Côtes Catalanes,– 10.00€
A pure Grenache Noir, and not made every year. Medium colour. Rounded cherry fruit. Midweight. Ripe fruit. good acidity and tannin. Very fresh and elegant.
2014 Exigence, Côtes Catalanes
Quite deep colour. Some ripe cherry fruit, on both nose and palate, with quite firm youthful tannins. Tastes more alcoholic than the 2012, but is in fact the same, at 14.5⁰.
Frédérique observed that Grenache gives lots of colour here, as the yields are low. She destalks and keeps it in vat. She finds that it can be quite complicated as a grape variety. It can oxidise easily, and the sugar levels can come quickly whereas the skins and pips take more time to ripen.
2011 Expression, Côtes Catalanes, Carignan – 12.00€
The first vintage of this pure Carignan. Frédérique considers Carignan to be the best grape variety to express the terroir of the Aspres. She has old vines that were planted in 1936, three and a half hectares of them. I loved this with lots of nuances, red fruit, nicely balanced tannins, with a note of acidity and also salinity. Medium weight. Frédérique keeps it in vat, to keep the fruit pure. A wonderful freshness and a delicious glass of wine.
2014 Expression, Côtes Catalanes, Carignan
Bottled in September and a modest 13.5⁰. good colour. More closed nose; more concentrated plate. Quite intense red fruit with some firm tannins. Promises to be another lovely glass of wine
2012 L’Exception, Côtes du Roussillon les Aspres
A blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah. Rounded ripe fruit with some spice and quite furry tannins. Ripe with an elegant finish. 14.5⁰. I liked this too.
2013 L’Exception, Côtes du Roussillon les Aspres – 15.00€
Again a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah, élevage mainly in vat, with a little barrique, less than for 2012. Quite a firm nose. More structured, Tighter knit red fruit with tight tannins. Elegant and youthful. Frédérique observed that in rich vintages it is difficult to keep the elegance and the complexity. I wondered about the influence of her Burgundian origins, and she observed that as une femme bourguignonne her palate was formed in Burgundy; and that ‘I make the wines that I enjoy drinking: je vinifie comme j’aime’. She is a friend of Anne Gros, another Burgundian who is making wine in the south (see an earlier post)
2013 Epsilon, Côtes du Roussillon les Aspres – 25.00€
Mainly Syrah, aged in barrels of one wine for 18 months. A selection of barrels. Deep colour. Firm and structured on the nose, with firm peppery fruit on the palate, and still quite tight and oaky. Frédérique is aiming for fruit and spices, and ageing potential. and she has vinified it like the Carignan. Destalked with a short cuvaison. The grapes are not overripe as she wanted to keep acidity. Two aerations a day to damp the cap and no hard remontages.
However, she is fairly laissez-faire in her winemaking, using a little s02 at harvest, and lets the wine get on with it, and then ‘sees if it is as it should be, going in the right direction or needs any help. You will have time to react. It’s a bit like children; you give them an education and then let them choose’. You sense that she is thoughtful and sensitive; she talked about her an oenologist, André Bruigirard, who had given her the courage to be more laissez-faire.
And then we adjourned for lunch at a nearby wine estate cum restaurant. Domaine de Nidolières. This was one of the best meals I had during my week in Roussillon, a delicious skate salad, with capers and leaves, followed by Boles du Picoulat which translates literally as rolled balls, some very tasty meat balls, a mixture of different meats, with a link of foie gras, with some savoury beans. And we drank older vintages.
1985 Macabeo pure. Blanc de Blancs Tradition, Vin de Pays Catalan 13⁰
Light golden, extraordinarily alive for a white wine that was 30 years old. Some tannins and acidity and wonderful layers of flavour and textured. Quite peachy rounded and rich with some mature herbal notes. A privilege to be able to drink it. We compared with the 1986, but that was more oxidised and deeper in colour, but characterful none the less
Frédérique talked about her father-in-law, Fernand. He was 85 last summer. The first wines he bottled in the 1970s were white, from Macabeo, and he used to have ice delivered into a well, and used that water to cool his vats. Fernand made his first red wine in 1988, a blend of Carignan with some Grenache. .
2010 Exigence, Grenache Noir
Quite a developed colour. Fresh red fruit. Medium weight. Ripe and rounded with fresh fruit and streak of tannin.
1988 Fernand Vaquer, Vin de Pays Catalan 13⁰
Fernand used to age his wines at 1300 metres at the foot of the peak of the Puigmal, which entailed a different atmospheric pressure than at a lower altitude. It would have spent two years in vat and then 23 years in bottle, in the mountains. It was the colour of Burgundy, with elegant ethereal fruit and still remarkably fresh and very much alive.
1980 Vaquer Rouge - appropriate words to describe the older vintages began to fail me here. Elegantly evolved nose and palate; it is almost Burgundian in elegance and style.
And then came Post Scriptum 1995, Rivesaltes – 14€ for a 50 cl bottle
100% Grenache Noir and Syrah fermented in vat and aged in vat for six years before bottling. Muted sur grain. Lovely tawny colour. Rich and rounded. Lovely nutty rich notes. Delicious.
Rivesaltes Hors d’Age Ambré – 18.00€
A 25 year old solera. The base of the solera could be as old as 40 or 50 years. Grenache Gris and Blanc and Macabeu. Amber colour. Drier and nuttier than the Post Scriptum with a very good firm bite. Delicious. They bottle a little each June.
A grand finale to a great visit. Thank you Fred!