There is something rather indulgent about spending an afternoon tasting Muscat - it is the most hedonistic of wines. Raymond Miguel at Domaine de Barroubio is intent on maintaining the reputation of Muscat de St. Jean de Minervois, a tiny appellation sandwiched between Minervois proper and St. Chinian. Sadly the village cooperative in St Jean de Minervois has given up on sweet wine, and just concentrates on dry Muscat, and there are a couple of St. Chinian producers who have vineyards of Muscat, as well as a couple of others in the village, but Domaine /Barroubio is the biggest producer by far. And if you think the name Miguel is familiar, Raymond is a cousin of Laurent Miguel. Barroubio itself is a tiny hamlet, with a population of just 12! including some other Miguel cousins. It dates back to the 15th century. Raymond’s house is dated 1632 and in his cellar there is a beam from 1740.
Raymond has 18 hectares of Muscat, as opposed to 11 of Minervois. The two appellations are mixed; Muscat grows on pure white limestone soil whereas Minervois is more on clay and limestone. First we did taste Raymond’s Minervois - he has some very old Carignan planted in 1903 and 1907, as well as some mature vines of Syrah and Grenache planted 30 or 40 years ago.
2014 Minervois 6.00€
40% Syrah and 30% each of Carignan and Grenache Noir. This is jolly nice glass of wine - sorry, very unprofessional tasting note, but you know what I mean. The palate is rounded and ripe, making for easy drinking with a touch of acidity and some supple tannins.
2014 Minervois, Cuvée Jean-Miguel - 10.00€
90% Carignan with 10% Grenache Noir, spending fifteen months in third-fill barrels. This is quite a contrast from the first wine, firmer and sturdier with some slightly drying tannins balancing some ripe fruit.
2014 Minervois Cuvée Marie-Thérèse - 10€
Named after Raymond’s mother, who is still very much involved with the estate. About 85% - 90% Syrah with some Grenache. Again fifteen months in wood; this time one half new, and one half second fill barrels. The yields are lower, thanks to some shorter pruning. And the wine is solid and concentrated, with good body, without being heavy. It is nicely rounded and youthful. Raymond reckons for a yield of 30 - 35 hl/ha for his Carignan and a little bit more for his Grenache.
And then we went on to some refreshing rosé, 2015 Minervois Rosé - 6.00€
A blend of 40% Syrah and 60% Grenache noir, saigné and blended after fermentation. it has crisp fruit on both nose and palate, with some structure and a young fresh finish.
For the moment Raymond does not make any white wine but he could be tempted by Grenache Gris, which should be added to the appellation in 2017. Currently the appellation for Minervois Blanc includes Grenache Blanc as well as Marsanne, Roussanne and Bourboulenc,. Muscat à petits grains has been grown in the area since the 1700s and the appellation dates from 1950. So onto some Muscats, starting with:
2015 Muscat Sec, Pays d’Oc - 6.00€
Raymond has vines that are between 5 - 60 years old, but with Muscat there is no advantage in having old vines; the best comes from the young vines, that give in this instance, some delicate fresh dry Muscat fruit, with a pithy finish. The vinification is very simple. They press the grapes and chill the juice. The fermentation is gentle to avoid any bitterness, and Raymond does not like to pick too ripe, usually harvesting at the end of August, in order to avoid an alcoholic finish, whereas the vintage for the VDN is about three weeks later. . The palate had a touch of honey, but was dry without being bitter.
2015 Le P’tit Dernier, Pays d’Oc - 8.00€
This has some residual sugar, just 30 gms/ l, with 12º alcohol. There is a touch of honey on the nose, with some ripe, rounded fruit on the palate, balancing some fresh acidity, making for some easy drinking.
2010 Grain d’automne, Vin de France - 15.00€ for 50cl bottle.
This is a selection of grains nobles, late harvest grapes that are usually picked towards the end of November or beginning of December with a potential alcohol level of 20º making 14º with 70 gms/l residual sugar, after the fermentation has been stopped by chilling. The taste is rounded and honeyed without being heavy, with good balancing acidity, and a fresh finish that does not cloy.
2015 Muscat de St. Jean de Minervois - 10.00€
128gms/l residual sugar with 15.3º.
Some herbal notes and dry honey o the nose, and on the palate, ripe honeyed, and gently intense and rich. Very nicely balanced.
2013 Muscat de St. Jean de Minervois, Cuvée Bleue - 8.00€ for a 50 .cl. bottle.
This spends 12 - 15 months in a vat, with an élevage sur lees. Every ten days or so, Raymond injects CO2 into the vat, to stir up the lees. 130 gms/l and 15.5º. The colour is light, but the flavour is more rounded, more intense with a ripe smooth finish. Raymond observed that Muscat is so rich that the lees can develop off smells, so he prefers to keep the lees in suspension.
2013 Muscat de St. Jean de Minervois, Cuvée Dieuvaille - 12.00€
Named after the chapel in the hamlet. A later harvest, with the grapes picked at the end of October. The wine comes from just one plot; he chooses the best plot and it is rarely the same each year. For the last two or three years it has been the youngest vines. He ferments the juice as slowly as possible a temperature of 10-11ºC In 2015 he muted the last vat in December. Raymond observed that Vin Doux Naturel can be very expressive, and then suddenly collapse. He wants the aromas to last, and asserted that Muscat can age. This was rounded and honeyed, smooth and unctuous and very rich. It had 140 gms/l residual sugar with 15º alcohol. and is given 12 - 18months élevage. That for Raymond is an excellent balance for Muscat; the appellation regulations dictate 125gms/l residual sugar with 15º alcohol. The 2014 will be bottled in October this year.
2011 Muscat de ST. Jean de Minervois, Cuvée Nicolas - 16.00€ for a 50 cl bottle.
The grapes are picked in December and the feremlation entails a carbonic maceration, in other words, with whole bunches at a temperature of 28-30ºC with 400 - 450 gms/l potential sugar. The vat is then muted, and the grapes pressed when they are ready. This is what is called mutage sur grains, whereas the previous wines are mutage sur jus. The wine tastes quite different from the others, with a different register of flavours, with orange marmalade and confit, dry apricots. It is very intense and very concentrated, with some balancing acidity and good body. A wonderfully original drink and quite different from the other wines. Raymond observed that the key thing about Muscat is keeping it cool, then you can retain the freshness and reduce the dose of sulphur.
One of the key problems with Muscat is the difference in yield between a dry Muscat and a Vin Doux Naturel. You might be allowed 90 hl/ha for the dry Muscat, but in St. Jean you will only ever obtain 25.30 hl/ha. So life can be challenging.