Monday, 29 February 2016

Domaine du Mas Blanc

I first visited this estate  in the late 1980s, with André Parcé, and have been back a couple of times since, and this time met his son, Jean-Michel.  The cellars are right in the centre of Banyuls, close to the sea front.  They are part of the labyrinth of cellars in the town, and have a rather old-fashioned atmosphere, despite some new stainless steel vats.  There are old fûts stored in an oxaline system; Jean-Michel buys a few new barrels each year, and uses them for white wine, but does not want any oak taste in his red wine.  

His vineyards comprise 15 hectares, with a balance of two thirds dry wine to one third sweet; 20 years ago it was the opposite.   And he was generally pleased with 2015.  We began by tasting a few tank samples of wines that have barely finished fermenting.  They promised well to my inexpert palate, but tasting wine that is barely a week old is definitely not my field of expertise.   

Jean-Michel gave me a bit of family history.  The Parcé family go back to the 1600s.  His great grand-father was a painter; his grandfather, father and brother were doctors – his father had a medical laboratory and Jean-Michel became a wine grower. He recognises Lucien Peyraud, the founder of Bandol and Domaine Tempier, as his spiritual father for it was Lucien who kindled his enthusiasm for Mourvèdre.   And it was Jean-Michel’s father, André, who created the reputation of Collioure, while is grandmother developed Banyuls vinegar. 

We tasted in a rather old fashioned tasting room.

2014 Signature Colline – 13.50€
Mainly élevage in vat, with a touch of wood.  A touch of oak on the nose; quite a bitter finish, but lots nuances from the different varieies.  The blend, as the two hectare vineyard is planted, is 40% Grenache Blanc, 30% Grenache Gris, with 10% each of Marsanne, Roussanne and Torbat, or Malvoisie.  Jean-Michel grafted Marsanne onto Grenache when an appellation for white Collioure was first being considered.   That appellation was recognised in 2002.  He observed that people need to look for the best sites for white wine, in other words, vineyards at altitude, and east facing and on sandstone, grès. He thinks that Roussanne has great potential

2013 Terres de Schistes, Collioure – 9.50€
70% Grenache, with 15% each of Syrah and Mourvèdre.  From lower vineyards of schist and gravel.  Very mineral; tight knit. Elegant fruit  Élevage in vat.  An elegant balance of fruit, minerality and tannin and a long elegant finish.  

2013 La Llose, Collioure – 10.50€
From higher vineyards, making for more complexity in the wine.   50% Grenache with 25% each Syrah and Mourvèdre.  Structured, firmer fruit, more peppery, torrefié, and more elegant.  No wood and an elegant finish.  Needs time.  Lauze in Occitan means sheets of schist., and the vineyard does indeed comprise flat stones, or leaves of schist. 

2012 Cosprons Levants, Collioure – 19.50€
The name of the vineyard.  60% Syrah, 30% Mourvèdre and 10% Grenache, aged in wood for 12 months.  Deep colour.  When they blend, varies.  If all the grapes are ripe at the same time, Jean-Michel will fermented then all together, or if not, he will pick them separately and blend before ageing.  Quite a solid mouthful.  Firm fruit; peppery notes from the Syrah,  More  tannins; quite fleshy.  A youthful balance, will age, Red fruit, some stony notes  Quite fleshy but elegantly so, and long.

2012 Clos du  Moulin, Collioure  – 24.50€
With 90% Mourvèdre and some Counoise, this is a homage, a thank you to Lucien Peyraud,  and Collioure’s answer to Bandol.  Aged in fut. Quite a deep colour.  Quite firm nose, tight knit red fruit.  rounded fruit, quite firm tannins, elegant and tight knit and more structured than the wines with a higher proportion of Grenache.

2008 les Junquets, Collioure   - 28.50€
Predominantly Syrah, with five percent each of Marsanne and Roussanne, ‘à la Hermitage’.  Blended during fermentation.   Gerard Chave is a good friend and they have exchanged cuttings of Syrah.  Élevage en fut.   Very low yields – in 2015 just 10 hl/ha in this vineyard.  Elegantly peppery fruit; youthful fresh peppery with youthful tannins. 

And then on to the Vin Doux.

2014 Banyuls Blanc – 14.50€
Light colour.  A touch of white flowers of the nose   Fresh orange notes on the palate. Quite rounded with a firm note on the finish, and also some alcohol  - 17.  Muted juice, rather than sur grains for the white Vin Doux. A blend of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Torbat and just a splash of Muscat d’Aléxandrie.  The blend for Banyuls Blanc can vary quite considerably.  Jean-Michel decried Grenache Blanc as water; Gris is much better and Torbat is underrated, but hardly anyone has it.

2012 Collita, Banyuls  – 15.50€ – 17.5
Spicy red fruit.  Medium weight, fresh rounded and ripe.  Alcohol, tannin and fruit.  Jean-Michel talked of their three styles of young red Banyuls.  There is Le Mas Blanc Fruité, when the juice spends just a week on the skins.  Collita is given two or three weeks more maceration and is less rounded than Rimage, while Rimage spends five weeks on the skins.  All are muté sur grains.

2000 Banyuls Vieilles Vignes  --31.50€
The vines are 35 years old, and the wine has been kept in 350 hls foudres, without any topping up, and was bottled eighteen months ago.  Jean-Michel keeps back 250 litres to sell as Collection Vintage, and has wine from 1945 to 1969 to sell.  He talked about the notion of grand cru.  A cru should have the name of the vineyard, and he doesn’t use grand cru, which is a category of Banyuls, entailing 75% Grenache and 3 years in small wood, with mutage on the skins. This Vieilles Vignes has a brick rim and was rounded and  smooth with notes of fig, liquorice and spice,  with rounded sweet spice and great length.  What a delicious note on which to finish.   A classic Banyuls.  

Friday, 26 February 2016

Clos des Fées

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.  12.5  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 15.

And what is tipicity of Vingrau?   Limestone, which is very hard, and also clay.  Cool mornings – it was 11C 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.  16.6.  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.   

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Domaine des Chênes

A lovely tasting with Alain Razungles, who I had first met at the Salon des Vignerons Independents in Paris a few years ago. 

For Alain, Roussillon is the most complicated of terroirs, it has everything except volcanic rock.  He talked about Vingrau where his vineyards and cellar are.  There are a lot of galets roulées, and the soil is dominated by clay and limestone.  It is very stony, thanks to éboulis calcaires from the nearby cliffs.  There is marl impermeable, and lots of springs, fed by the water table, so that Vingrau fears drought less than some areas.

Alain’s great grandfather bought Domaine des Chênes in 1919; it was already a wine estate, winning a medal in 1912.   In the next generation one of the three sons was his grandfather, and then his uncle and father continued, but there was no room for Alain on the estate so he studied agriculture and oenology and became a professor at Montpellier, and then took over the 35 hectare estate when his father retired. Until he retires himself in two years time, he has two careers, as a vigneron and as a  professor.  We caught up with him while he was in Vingrau for a short afternoon.  And he has three daughters, one of whom is interested in wine.   

Alain talked about two particularities of style of Roussillon, of the whites with a wonderful freshness, and the côté tannique of the reds, with the clay and limestone soil making them vins de garde.   Vingrau has clay and limestone in the valley, and is surrounded by cliffs.  Part of the vineyard is on grès, or sandstone, which is the parent of schist.  However, those wines are quite different.  Alain has a lot of Grenache on the sandstone, but it does not suit Syrah which needs deeper soil.

Vingrau is part of the cru of Tautavel; they called it Tautavel as the name was already well-known for prehistoric man.   He was found by the curé of Vingrau at the end of the 1960s.  Alain enthused about the quality of the terroir: ‘tout est bon, comme dans le cochon’.  The altitude goes from 110 to 400 metres.  The cliffs provided shade so some vineyards do not get the sun until 10 a.m.  Some of the vineyards for the white varieties are north-facing, so only enjoy short periods of sunshine.  And Tautavel also enjoys the influence of the river Verdouble, a tributary of the Agly. And there is some schist in vineyards closer to Maury.  It makes for wonderful blending possibilities. 

Syrah is mad; c’est une folle, and grows non-stop, even in a drought.  It needs to be controlled.  And Alain is pleased with 2015 – he called it une jolie millésime, with a good quantity of Grenache.  He began his harvest on 22nd August, with the first whites and he makes white wines for ageing, and in that context enthused about Alsace,  and about Hugel in particular. 

2012 les Olivettes, Côtes Catalanes, 7.50€
Muscat and Macabeo.  The aim is a simple wine, with quite a firm Muscat nose.  There was a bitter note and some firm acidity, with quite fresh fruit.  Macabeo works best with Muscat.  There are floral notes, with some lemony herbal hints.  No malo.  To do a malo here would be to tirer une balle dans le pied or shoot yourself in the foot.  Northern France does malo as it needs to lower the acidity; but he does not consider that there is any benefit to the aroma.  We need acidity.  Very youthful for 2012.

Alain talked of the trend in the 1980s when 'people  tried to get us to lower yields', but they went too far, especially economically speaking.  These days the average is 25 / 28 hl/ha for old vines, and red wines, and 35 hl/ha for whites, and rising to 50 – 55 hl/h for young vines.  An aside about the wld boar and angels eating everything. one in the vineyard, the other in the cellar!

2012 les Sorbiers, Vieilles Vignes, Côtes du Roussillon. 9.90€
Forty years old plus.  Grenache Gris and Blanc planted together with selection massale, and Macabeo    Élevage in old wood, but not fermented in wood.  Bâtonnage in vat.  Nice weight.  Very good acidity. Good mouth feel; the lees give gras and stabilise the wine.  Some biscuity oaky notes, and still quite youthful.  Six years is the optimum ageing for this wine, Alain thought.  

He was the first to plant Roussanne in Roussillon in 1981.  It was a defining moment for Roussillon when they were allowed to plant Vermentino. Roussanne and Marsanne.  Vermentino gives acidity, Marsanne quantity and Roussanne he remembered tasting with ‘ le grandpère Jaboulet’ at the end of 1980s, which inspired him.  

2013 les Magdaléniens, Côtes du Roussillon
Grenache Gris and Blanc from les Sorbiers vineyard and Roussanne. Fermented and élevé in wood.  Quite a golden colour and richer than les Sorbiers.  White flowers.  Fresh, almost saline and sapid with some weight.  A fond de fraicheur and vivacity.      When he planted the vineyard 30 years ago, he found a large number of fossils and weapons, arrow points and so on, at the geological level of the Magdaléniens, dating from 30,000 years ago, so the planting was delayed for a year and when he came to look for a name for his wine, the choice was obvious.

2011 Les Grands Mers, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Vieilles Vignes – ie 50 years old.  8.50€ 
Includes a lot of Carignan, as well Grenache and a little Syrah.  In vat, and carbonic maceration for the Grenache.  Quite rounded and supple, with a youthful tannic edge.   Good fruit.  Quite dry on the finish, as still very young and still with ageing potential.  A touch of liquorice.

2011 le Mascarou, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Tautavel – 10.70€
A vineyard at the bottom of the circle of Vingrau.  A blend of one third each of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah.   He does not blend immediately; it is a gradual process.  Some Syrah and Grenache go into wood, and also the pressed wine, while Carignan stays in vat.  Quite rich and intense.  A mouthful of ripe fruit with some firm tannins.   Very youth, with black olives.  The Syrah gives black olives, laurel, and there is liquorice too.  The old barrels add rounded  tannins, but he does not believe in micro-oxygenation.  It ages the wine too quickly; and it is the same if wine is kept in wood too long.

2009 La Carissa – lieu dit.  Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 19.70€
40% each of Syrah and Grenache ; 10% each of Carignan and Mourvèdre.  All élevage in wood, for 12 -14 months.   One fifth new barrels, and then into vat, where it stays for a while.   Alain likes mature wine.  Twenty day cuvaison with pigeages and remontages, but no fining.  Quite rich with tapenade and black fruit.  Quite firm tannins.  Quite a drying finish.  Quite spicy quite fleshy, but with a dry notes on the finish.

2011 Muscat de Rivesaltes – 10.80€
Rounded and honeyed with a slightly bitter finish.  Not too aromatic; clay and limestone does not make for a lot of aroma, Alain observed.  Pure Muscat à petits grains.  No skin contact.  Pressed immediately so muted on juice.  110gms/l residual sugar

2006 Tuilé, Rivesaltes  - 14.70€
Grenache Noir with 10 – 15% Grenache Gris.  Quite a deep red colour with a brick rim.  Quite rounded, quite dense and quite firm.  Prunes and sweet fruit. Mutage sur grains.  Quite a sweet finish, with a spirity note.   Figs, liquorice, fruit confit.  Lots of nuances.  ‘You mustn’t think you are drinking sugar’.  It will last a life time, and still tasted very young.,

There are four families of flavour, namely fresh fruit; confit fruit, chocolate torrefaction, and rancio.  A good tuilé needs three out of the four – this is not yet rancio. And the rancio note must not dominate.   Very Grenache on the finish, with rosemary, garrigues, thyme. 

2005 Rivesaltes Ambré – 15.00€
Amber colour.  Quite deep.  A touch of green on the rim.  Alain said that he learnt how to make wine like this in Portugal.  Very rounded and balanced.  Long ripe nutty fruit.  In wood, but not too long.  Grenache and Macabeo and 5 – 10% Muscat. 

Muscats are now being aged.   At one time there was nothing between a cheap one litre bottle of Muscat or a type of rancio, but now new styles have developed with mutage in barriques and all kinds of élevage and other variations.  Tuilé takes four to five years to age, and likewise Ambré. 

1999 Rancio Sec L’Oublie, Côtes Catalanes  - 15,00€ for 50cls. 
Pure Macabeo.  The barrel was quite literally forgotten, left in the courtyard.  No voile.  A firm nutty austere nose, very dry almost like old oloroso and very severe. Very good acidity. 6 hectolitres of Macabeo reduced to 5 hectolitres over five years.   Very first vintage of this was 1990, which was sold in 1995, and is now part of Alain’s repertoire. 


Monday, 22 February 2016

Roc des Anges

I had been wanting to visit Roc des Anges for a while now, after tasting Marjorie and Stéphane’s wines at various events in both France and London, and I was not disappointed.   They now have a smart new cellar close to the village of Latour de France, so we admired lots of concrete vats of various sizes,  to accommodate their numerous different parcels of vines.  Altogether they have about 100 plots in just 35 hectares.  60 ares is a big plot for them.  Virtually all their vines are in Montner, with a few in Tautavel and also close to Calce; the vines by their cellar are not theirs.  Montner has very poor schist soil; and yields are low.  And they also have a vineyard in Tautavel, Terres de Fagayra, for Maury, 

We talked about their vinification methods, they try to leave the berries as in tact as possible, while removing the stems, so they use an egrenoir, which drains, as opposed to an egrappoir.  Carbonic maceration starts inside the berries, making for more précoce, earlier drinking wines.  This is something they have done since 2008.

There is an extensive underground barrel cellar which Marjorie observed was a significant part of the cost of the building. However the amount of ouillage has been significantly reduced.  2011 was the first vintage in this cellar. 

They have Grenache Gris, Macabeo which have been replanted by massale selection, as well as Carignan Gris, Carignan Blanc and Grenache Blanc, and for reds, Carignan Noir, which they have also replanted, and also Grenache Noir and Syrah, as well as a little Cinsaut which they planted in 2015.  Marjorie thinks that Cinsaut may give them more elegance, and they are certainly moving towards more finesse; The soil here gives elegance’.  She admitted that they would not replant Syrah; ‘the truly Mediterranean varieties work best'.  Ninety percent of their vineyards are on grey schist, with a little limestone, as well as granite and some galets roulées.   Their highest vines are at 300 metres and north facing, and closer to the mountains than to the sea, so that they enjoy the effect of cool air, but no maritime influence. The average age is 65, but a lot have been replanted.    They have been certified organic since 2010, and have worked biodynamically since 2011.  It has been a long process of adaptation; the vines suffered initially.

They created the estate in 2001, when Marjorie graduated from Montpellier at the age of 23.  She had met Stephane who then got a job working at Mas Amiel, so looking for vines in Roussillon was the obvious decision, even though she comes from the northern Rhone.   Côte Rôtie would have been much more expensive; 'but here in Roussillon everything is possible. And the schist is the same as in Côte Rôtie,  but the climate is different'. 

The harvest in 2015 was going well.  They began on 10th August with Grenache Gris and finished on 26th September, a full seven weeks, with various pauses, all handpicked.  They are always the first to pick their whites.

We are settled down to taste in their comfortable tasting room:

2014 Llum – 18.50€
Meaning light in Catalan.  A blend of 13 different plots.  Grenache Gris, Blanc and Macabeo.  80% are old vines, meaning 40 years or more.   Marjorie observed that you see a change in the profile of the grapes when the vines are about 40 years old.   The soil is poor so the roots take time to grow deep.  The roots are tortuous with a long chemin de seve, a path of sap.  2014 is a complete contrast to 2015.  It was not a hot year.  They decide their picking date by tasting the grapes.  Acidity is not important.  The ph is low, indicating real freshness; that is the crucial thing.

And the wine had a  little colour, with a delicate herbal nose.  There was fresh firm acidity on the palate.  It was youthful and tight knit, with almost green note.

The wine is fermented in wood, mostly old wood, with just 5% new wood, and stays in wood for nine months.  They buy old barrels from Burgundy.  The oak in nicely integrated and the wine concentrated but not heavy.  They bottle early.  In  Burgundian terms, this is their village wine.    

2014 Iglesia Veila, Côtes Catalanes – 36.00€
One plot, meaning Old Church – their ‘grand cru’.  From Grenache Gris planted in 1954.  All their white grapes are vinified in the same way so they can see the different nuances.  The character of the vintage decides the length of cuvaison.  The oak was more apparent, making for a youthful tight knit wine, with firm acidity, and structure.  It was more powerful but not heavy, and it will take longer to be ready for drinking.

2014 l’Oca – 36.00€
Meaning oie or goose.  The vineyard is in the shape of a goose on the cadastre.  From Macabeo planted in 1957.  A little red clay, as well the schist.  The red clay makes it quite ferrique.   Light golden; more rounded with lots of nuances.  Very good acidity; textured, a little fuller, elegant and restrained. 

Marjorie observed that their wines do not necessarily do very well in blind tastings; they reveal themselves à table.  And commenting on Macabeo, she observed that it is more delicate than Grenache Gris, with an aromatic purity.  It can be quite neutral.  You need to pick it at the right moment, not too late nor too early.  It really talks of the soil, with very little varietal aroma.   Grenache Gris has more personality.  It is easier to tell when to pick.  It has structure and minerality; ‘it‘s a great variety.  We like it a lot.  Macabeo is more delicate, whereas Grenache Gris is more forgiving of mistakes’.

2014 Segna de Cor = Roc des Anges backwards.  Côtes du Roussillon Villages.  14.00€
A blend of their youngest vines, that is, less than 40 years old. Lots of Grenache, with some Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre.  The wine develop quicker and is quite different from the old vines.   Kept in a cement vat and bottled in June.  It has lovely spicy cherry fruit.  Medium weight with a certain freshness.  'Very 2014', observed Marjorie.   The grapes were very large, but there was nothing in them- they were maigre, nothing dans le ventre, but the wine has turned out very well, with some elegant cherry fruit and a streak of tannin.  Some blending in vat and before élevage, and final blend before bottling; it’s a gradual process.  Some vats of whole bunches add extra nuances; the carbon dioxide comes of its own accord and the grapes are neither destalked nor crushed, so that you have an inter-cellular fermentation, as you do in Beaujolais. 

2013 Reliefs – 25.00€

A blend of old plots, Carignan is the dominant variety, with some Syrah and Grenache, kept in both cement and foudres, and then in bottle for 6 months before sale.  Montner is very vallonné with lots of different aspects and relief. Good young colour.   More substance than Segna de Cor.  Rounded and ripe; more nuances with ampleur, but not heavy.  Spicy cherry fruit.  Quite structured.  Se revele avec l’air; or develops in the glass.  

We talked the flavours and trends of Roussillon.  Everyone is now looking for freshness and drinkability since the last ten years.  However, some areas are better when the grapes are riper.   There are two currents or styles, the oaky concentrated powerful wines, possibly fuelled by the Wine Advocate, and the more elegant wines.  Vineyards in Roussillon are influenced either by the mountains or by the sea.  The other trend is the improvement in quality; 'we are not standing still, and we are avoiding excessive extraction and wood, and learning to maitrise terroir and concentrate on finesse'.  Marjorie’s wines are certainly all very elegant and light in alcohol, at around 13.5

2013 Carignan 1903, Côtes Catalanes – 36.00€
Pure Carignan.  This wine has been made since their first vintage.  They pulled up one of four plots in 2013 and replanted by massale selection.  Part is aged in vat; part in foudres.  A certain richness and power, but not heavy, with freshness on the finish.  A tannic streak.  Very mineral.  Very Carignan and long. 

Marjorie admitted that it used to be 15.5 and aged in new wood: on s’y retrouve plus.  Their wine style changed, the whites in 2010 and the reds in 2011, initially by accident.  They thought they had picked too early, but you can learn by your mistakes.  Their aim is to have a style that is unique to their estate; their style maison.

2013 Las Trabasseres, Côtes Catalanes.  – 50.00€  12
The name of the lieu-dit; it means traversée par un chemin, or crossed by a path.   Schist and stony, with virtually no soil; most of their vineyards have no more than 50 cms of soil.  Quite a deep young colour.  Marjorie made comparisons with Burgundy; the hautes coteaux are more mineral and the mi-coteaux more powerful.  Very intense sour cherries.  Quite solid, quite intense youthful fruit.  A firm streak of tannin.  Quite powerful;  not heavy and plenty of nuances. Only in vat. 

2014 Maury, Fagayra rouge – 28.00€
Apparently Fagayra means resistant in Arab, and Moors were of course in the region in the 8th century.  Or it could mean fougères or heather, but there is not much of that in the area.  2008 was their first vintage of  this cuvée, and as a Maury it has to be vinified in Maury.  Grenache noir on calcaire and schist.  Red fruit. Very rounded ripe and quite sweet with black and red fruit  16.5 and 88 gm/l of residual sugar.  Picked early.  Muté sur grains.  Indigenous yeast with a slow fermentation for half the wine.  Maceration of fruit rather than alcohol.   Very fresh; very garrigues.  

2013 Maury Grenat, Op Nord – 32.00€
Grenache with 5 – 15% Carignan depending on the vintage.  On pure schist.  The same vinification as the previous wine, but more concentrated with more depth, but not heavy.  A lot of fruit, and the same amount of sugar.  The differences come from the soil, rather than from the effect of the addition of  Carignan.

Marjorie commented that Maury Sec is doing well, and is seen as a cru of the Côtes du Roussillon Villages.  It was indeed one of the villages before obtaining an appellation in its own right.  Maury is a great terroir for Vin Doux.  There is a risk that Maury Sec will kill Maury Doux.  If the best plots are used for Sec, that could weaken the Doux.  Will Maury Doux still have the same quality in ten years time?  Personally I do sincerely hope so.

2014 Maury Blanc -28.00€
A blend of Grenache Gris and Blanc, with some Macabeo and a little Carignan blanc, which should not be in there, but never mind.  Initially picked separately, but now all picked together, depending on the ripening of the earliest variety.  Peachy nose and more pineapples on the palate.  Fermented in vat – no wood.  A mineral note.  Some acidity.  A salty note.  The alcohol is nicely integrated.  108 gms/l residual sugar.  The ph drops with concentration.

And then we chatted over a delicious lunch of local charcuterie and a variety of cheeses.  Stephane comes from Normandy, which is not known for its wine, and he drank his first wine at the age of  24.  Roussillon is a diversity of terroirs, with an equal diversity of vignerons.  It is not just vins de soleil.  Roussillon has been moving and developing for fifteen years, it really only has 15 years of history.

And we finished with a 1969 Rivesaltes, made before Marjorie was born.  They bought the barrels two years ago, one 120 litres and one 225 litres, after tasting them and bottled the wine in November 2014. It was absolutely delicious; I adore this sort of wine and cannot understand why not more of it is drunk.  There were dry figs and nuts, with lots of subtle nuances, balanced by a firm biting acidity, a wonderful energetic drink.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Mas Amiel

It had been a while since my last visit to Mas Amiel in Maury, so it was great to go back for an update, with Nicolas Raffy who has been the winemaker there since 2003.  He had initially done research as a bio-chemist, but changed direction to study oenology at Montpellier.  He worked at Château Montus in Madiran, before coming to Mas Amiel.

It was raining and the dramatic Maury scenery was somewhat muted.   At the end of September they still had 11 hectares left to pick, some of their higher vineyards.  They began the harvest on 26th August, and hoped to finish in a couple of days time on 30th September.   Altogether they have 152 hectares in 130 different plots.  There are 75 hectares of Grenache Noir; 18 of Syrah, 27 of Carignan and the rest are white varieties.  The average age of their vines is 40 years old.  The soil is the grey schist of Maury and there is also some red limestone. The average yield about 23 hl/ha; in 2014 it went as high as 27 hl/ha and can be as low as 12 hl/ha.  All the vineyards are organic.  In 2000 they experimented with biodynamics, but stopped in 2004 and have stayed organic.  And sadly it was not the day for a walk in the vines.

When I very first went to Mas Amiel, I met the previous owner, Charles Dupuy, but since 1997 it has been the property of Olivier Ducelle, who also owns estates in Bordeaux, Châteaux Jean Faure in St. Emilion, Haut Maurac in the Medoc and Haut Balet in Fronsac, as well as 6 hectares of Savigny les Beaune and Marsannay.  He also has a négociant business dealing in about 20 Burgundy crus.

At Mas Amiel they still use the enormous foudres that I remembered from my very first visit.  They are ‘notre patrimoine’ observed Nicolas.  Mas Amiel is known for its Vin Doux and there is no doubt that the mature Vin Doux opens doors for them.  These days half their production is vin doux, and the other half table wine, or vin sec.  The cellar was built in 1890 and the old foudres would have been constructed in situ. There are 17 of them, 350 hectolitres beasts.   

And then we looked at the more modern part of the cellar, with a forest of stainless steel vats.  They have inverted tronconique  stainless vats, which open up the chapeau of marc, diminishing its thickness.   They also make it easier to do mutage, it is more homogeneous – and délèstage is easier too.   And then there are concrete vats with a square base and tapered top, which apparently helps combat any reduction in the wine.   Mas Amiel is on schist, which can encourage reductive notes, especially for more fragile grape varieties.  The porosity of the cement helps stabilise tannins and colour.   They work without pumps. .

There are eggs which are good for their permanent micro-convection, you might call it a permanent microbullage.   And there is a demi-muid en concrete, as they like the shape but did not want the oak impact, as they want to emphasise minerality, which can be less obvious with oak.  They have had amphora for two years, as they wanted small containers, and also have some tiny concrete vats.  They prefer these to the larger containers; the temperature stays more stable – as Nicolas put it there is ‘plus de verité de fruit et de terroir.’  He tasted his first amphora wine with Yves Leccia in Corsica and really struck by the difference in fruit and minerality and tension.  There is a little basket press for small quantities, and also some more modest sized foudres

They make a varied range of wines, Vertigo is a range for younger vines; Origine is their Côtes du Roussillon Villages and they have several single plots for various different cuvées.   There is Maury, and Côtes du Roussillon, as well as vins de pays, and then of course the various selections of vin doux, both fresh and oxidative. 

So this is what I tasted, in their spacious shop with a long tasting counter..

2014 Vertigo blanc, Côtes du Roussillon – 11.00€  
Mainly Grenache Blanc, plus Macabeo, Roussanne and Marsanne, from younger vines. .
Quite a lemony nose; firm and mineral.  Tight knit, structured palate.  Youthful and very fresh.

2014 Vertigo red, Côtes du Roussillon - 12.50€
80% Grenache with Syrah, again from younger vines.   Good colour.  Ripe red fruit, stony notes, plus spicy black fruit with a stony tannic streak.  A youthful streak of tannin.  Quite a short elevage in stainless steel and bottled January / February

2013 Origine, Côtes du Roussillon Villages – 26.50€
From foudre.  It will be bottled in May 2016 and sold in two years time.   One third each Grenache Noir, Syrah and Carignan.  Blended after malo.  Deep young colour.  Quite elegant black fruit on the nose.  Lovely ripe fleshy fruit on the palate.  Quite  rounded, with lovely spicy fruit and elegant tannins.   Some body, but not heavy.  Nicolas thought it very representative of the Mas Amiel, calling it ‘sudiste, solaire’.

2012 Altaïr, Côtes du Roussillon Blanc. – 20.00€
Altaïr is a constellation.  In  stainless steel and also an egg and a demi-muid until the May following the harvest. 75% Grenache Gris, from 70 year old vines, with 15% Macabeo and 10% Grenache Blanc.  The blend is according to the components of the plot.  No malo.  For Nicolas, Grenache Gris is ‘revelatoire of the terroir,; it provides tension, and a light touch of tannin, makes the wine tendu.  A little colour.  Quite a firm nose.  Firms structured palate.  A peachy note from the Grenache Gris.  Firm structured, long mineral.  Very tight knit.  Very youthful but with ageing potential.

For Nicolas the signature of Mas Amiel is wine that is not immediately exuberant but develops in the glass.

2014 Maury Sec, Vers le Nord – 26.00€
Grenache Noir 92% with Syrah.  From a single vineyard, la Devèze, which is south east facing, schist with a vein of red clay.   Classic vinification. About one third is not destemmed, providing the stalks are ripe, as they provide structure.  In vat for twelve months.  Bottled 4th September 2015.  Deep young colour.  Some red and black fruit.  .  Very fresh.  Elegant red and black fruit and spice.   An observation that 2014 will be a better vintage than 2013.

2014 Alt 433M, Maury Sec – 26.00€
Half Grenache Noir, half Lledoner Pelut; co-planted .  From a south east facing vineyard of mica schist and granite at an altitude of 433 metres, their highest vineyard, with 60 year old vines.   Only in vat, in order to retain the fruit.   A lighter colour than Vers le Nord.  A firm nose.   And on the palate more floral and spicy, with a hint of cherry.  A structured palate.  Youthful and elegant.   For Nicolas it is atypical, more like a Gamay or a Pinot Noir.  And very surprising.

2013 Vol de Nuit, Côtes Catalanes – 32.00€
The name refers to the St. Exupéry story that Anne Ducelle was reading when they were choosing a name for this cuvee, and relates to the idea of a journey, with some mystery. 3 plots of old Carignan, one planted in 1900 and two in 1925, at an altitude of 140 – 240 metres.  Half in an oval foudre, and half in a stainless steel vat.  Bottled September 2014.   Very deep colour.  An explosion of fruit, black cherry and spice.   Some peppery fruit too..  An elegant but rustic note and some firm tannins and acidity.  Very youthful.  Needs at least five years.  The first  vintage of this cuvée was 2010.  Nicolas talked about Carignan.  ‘It is a variety that is close to my heart’.  Carignan can be reductive in its youth, and it can be difficult to control the aeration, giving tanals, or notes of old apple - this was a new one for me.  .

Nicolas observed how taste in Roussillon has evolved, with a move towards drinkability, so that the wines are lighter, and especially compared to Château Montus, which was very structured.   Nicolas wants ripe grapes, but also wants to avoid over extraction, so he uses less wood, less barriques and works much less on the fermentation. 

2012 Maury Vintage Blanc – 18.00€
100%  Grenache Gris, – with 24 months in foudres.. Light golden.  Quite soft and rounded ,with light spice and ripe peachy almost honeyed notes, with a bite.  Very harmonious.

For Nicolas, the tipicity of Maury is based on schist, which gives fresh minerality.  In contrast Collioure is not as fresh.   He talked about the philosophy of the estate.  It has been producing wine since 1816, so they have experience and savoir faire, and there is ‘une âme dans la maison’..  They know their strengths and their weaknesses, their good and their bad plots.

There are now 30 wine growers in Maury, and they are the second biggest producer, after the coop, representing 15% of the production of Maury. . 

And now on to Vins Doux.  They have single vintage Vin Doux, with 1969 is the oldest, as well blended Hors d’Age, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 years old..  

2009 Vintage Charles Dupuy – 37.50€
From the oldest plot of Grenache planted in 1914, a south east facing vineyard.  Deep colour.  Very ripe red fruit.  Almost ruby port, but less spirity, with very well integrated alcohol.  Sweet but not heavy.  Very harmonious.  All their vins doux are muté sur grains.   

20 year old Maury – 34.00€
20 years is the age of their youngest Maury. Pure Grenache Noir.  Amber brick edge.  Medium depth of colour.  Lovely and rich and figlike with spice.  Long elegant red fruit.  Lots of nuances.  Very harmonious and elegant.

40 year old Maury – 67.00€
Again, pure Grenache Noir.  More a tawny brick colour.  Drier, more mature.  Very elegant.  Lots of nuances.  90 gms/l sugar and also for the 20 year old.  Oxidation gives length, while the sugar stays the same, but the perception changes.  One year outside in bonbons and then in foudres.

1969 Maury 
It was still in foudres when Olivier Ducelle bought the estate.  Very intense, with very firm dry figs. Elegant fruit.  Dry orange and figs.  Very intense and long.  And absolutely delicious!
And what about future projects?  ‘To refine what they have today, to progress and fine tune’.   I would anticipate more than that.  This is an estate that is going places.  Watch that space!

Domaine la Casenove

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€  14.5
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.  14.8.  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 15  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.

2013 Jaubert
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.

2014 Garrigue
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.

2014 Jaubert,
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!

Monday, 15 February 2016

Domaine la Perdrix

André and Virginie Gil had nearly finished the harvest, with just one plot of old vines left to pick, and they thought the quantity was higher than average and the quality very good, with healthy grapes.   Altogether they have 30 hectares of vines around the village of Trouillas, with the usual southern quintet of Grenache, Cinsaut, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Syrah, and for white wine, Grenache Blanc and Gris, Macabeo, Roussanne, and both Muscat d’Aléxandrie and Muscat à petits grains.    They have a new cellar on the edge of the village, and there was a nice buzz of activity.

André’s grandfather was a painter,  André Susplugas, and one of his paintings inspired the name of the estate, and his great grandfather – Joseph Sébastien Pons was a poet.  After a wander round the cellar, we tasted through the range.

2014 Muscat Sec, Côtes Catalanes – 6.00€
Muscat à petits grains.  Fresh pithy Muscat nose.  And on the palate some acidity and quite soft grapey fruit, with a hint of sweetness on the finish, avoiding the bitterness that you sometimes get with Muscat.  

In the vineyard they practice lutte raisonnée; André admitted that organic viticulture really only tempts them as a question of public opinion.  He thought there was a conflict between France and the rest of Europe about organic viticulture.  Who would control it?  Who would be the 'chef des bios' ?

2014 Tradition  T14 Côtes du Roussillon – 7.00€
A blend of Grenache Blanc and Roussanne.  Light colour.  Quite rounded ripe and soft.  Floral white blossom.  Easy drinking.

2014 Cuvée Jena-Sebastien Pons – 15.000€
90% Grenache blanc with some Macabeo fermented in new wood, and then aged for 6 – 9 months.  Rounded buttery nose, and quite firm oak.  Youthful and tight knit.  I wondered  how it would develop.  The oak seemed quite drying and the palate not so harmonious.

2014 Charackter, Côtes du Roussillon – 18.00€
Pure Roussanne  fermented in 600 litre acacia barrel and then élevage for 6 – 7 months.  A little colour.  The wood is well integrated, giving some depth and balance.  Rounded, with white blossom and good body.  Nicely harmonious.

2014 Tradition T14, Côtes du Roussillon Rosé – 7.00€
Syrah and Grenache.  The Grenache is saigné and the  Syrah pressed.   Orange pink colour.  Quite a rounded, ripe nose and a full ripe palate, Quite vinous and harmonious.

2014 Jean-Sebastien Pons rosé – 9.50€
An experiment.  Nearly all Mourvèdre, that is saigné.  Fermented in acacia with a further three months élevage.  Quite a bright pink.  Quite firm and structured.  Some raspberry fruit and a firm finish.  Works nicely.

T14 Rouge, Côtes du Roussillon – 8.50€
Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre.  Medium young colour.  Dry peppery nose.  Quite a ripe rounded palate, and quite a soft finish.  Easy drinking.

2013 Cuvée Jean-Sébastien Pons  - 12.50€
Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre with 11 months élevage in wood, a little new and a little in a one year old barrel.  Some spicy oak.  Quite rounded and ripe, with some spice, but the finish was slightly drying.

2013 Charackter – 22.00€  
Grenache Noir – the idea is something really exceptional for the vintage.   The 2009 was also pure Grenache, while 2011 was Syrah and Grenache, and 2012 and 2014 pure Syrah.  15 months élevage in new wood.  Quite a light colour.  Spice and oak on the nose.  Quite a sturdy ripe palate.  Quite rich and a tad alcoholic on the finish, but not too heavy.  Still quite young.

2014 Corto – 7.00€
An experiment with American oak chips.   70% Syrah and 30% Carignan  Medium colour.  Quite tannic but also quite sweet with some vanilla.  André  made a comment about the pouvoir seducteur of the American oak.  I was not so sure.

And asked about projects, André immediately replied ‘more fun.  To carry on with what they have begun.  Their first vintage was 2000 and the first vintage in the new (ish) cellar 2009.  He is considering a sparkling wine, from Grenache and Roussanne.  And they hold concerts in the cellar on Thursday evenings in the summer.

And then we finished with some Vin Doux:

2013 Muscat de Rivesaltes, 8.90€
A blend of the two Muscats, muted at 95 – 100 gms/l residual sugar.  Muscat de Rivesaltes is the least sweet of all the vin doux, and indeed this did not taste especially sweet, but rounded and honeyed.  

2009 Muscat de Rivesaltes, Collection – 21.00€
Muscat is usually sold young, but this has been aged in wood so that it is amber in colour, and presented in a whisky bottle.  Firm and nutty with orange fruit on the nose, and a honey palate, and much nuttier than the young wine.  Very smooth with good depth.

2011 Rivesaltes Ambré.
Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris with some Muscat.  At least 36 months in old barrels left outside. Lovely amber colour.  A lemony note on the nose.  Lemon and honey and a fresh note on the finish.   Mutage in barrel  The fresh fruit goes slightly confit on the finish, and nicely so. 

2008 Rivesaltes Tuilé – 13.00€
Grenache Noir, with at least 3 years in wood.  Tawny colour with a brick rim.  Dry nutty fruit – dates and raisins, liquorice and walnuts.  Quite firm body with medium weight, making a delicious finale; I can never have enough of this style of Rivesaltes. 

Friday, 12 February 2016

Domaine Vaquer with Frédérique Vaquer

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€  - 14.5
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 13.5.  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 14.5

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 13.5.  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 13
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 13
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!