Wed 15 Mar 2017
Roussillon lies within the great curve where the French Mediterranean coastline aims south at Spain. Technically part of the vast Languedoc-Roussillon region that stretches from Provence in the east to the Pyrenees in the west, Roussillon nestles within a rugged amphitheater of dry hills that do not detract from the charm of the landscape and its isolated villages. This is primarily red wine territory, though rose wines and vins doux naturels are well-known; there is little white wine. Vines were first planted some 3,000 years ago by Greek sailors, who did so much to bring wine and civilization to the distant shores of the inland sea. The harsh terrain and uncompromising sunny Mediterranean climate, spurred by the northwest wind called Tramontane, make this ideal territory for Rhone Valley red grapes like grenache and mourvedre, especially in the valley of the Agly river and in the small enclave called La Tour de France. Roussillon has had to overcome a reputation as a hotbed for cheap, acidic wines fostered by overproduction and plantations in inappropriate climats, but the past 30 years or so, with the influx of a new generation of winemakers and more thoughtful vineyard methods, has brought great success. I find it interesting that among the five wines considered today, the use of new oak is negligible, while even aging in barrels at all is kept to a minimum. The result is wines that express the spirit of the grapes from which they are made, though in a couple of these examples, high alcohol mutes the effect. These wines were samples for review.
Chateau Saint-Roch “Kerbuccio” 2014, Maury sec, is a blend of 60 percent grenache and 20 percent each syrah and mourvedre that aged no more than nine months in 70 percent concrete vats, 30 percent 500-liter barrels, that is, about twice the size of a standard barrique. The color, if that’s the right word, is as opaque as motor oil, shading, if that’s the right word, to a violet rim; the wine bursts with notes of ripe blackberries and currants, with a touch of juicy plums and a hint of blueberry tart, all permeated by lavender and graphite, leather and tar. It’s fairly plush with dusty, velvety tannins riven by bright acidity devolving to a keen mineral edge, these elements comfortably supporting delicious spicy black and blue fruit flavors. 15 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $18.
Imported by Eric Solomon, European Cellars, Charlotte, N.C.
Domaine La Tour Vieille “La Pinede” 2014, Collioure, is a blend of 70 percent grenache with a mixed 30 percent mourvedre and carignan,
according to the back label, OR 75 percent grenache and 25 percent carignan, according to the technical material I received. The wine received very traditional treatment, with hard-harvesting and destemming and foot treading; it saw no oak, only concrete vats. The color is glowing medium ruby; notes of red cherries and currants are darkened by hints of cherry pits and skins and touches of cloves, briers and brambles. The wine is spare, lithe and dry, yet displays, beyond those basic virtues, a riveting personality of earthy, foresty qualities, graphite minerality, dried fruit and spices, leather and vivid acidity that it seems an epitome of a style and place. When we finished this bottle, LL said, “Do you have a case of it?” Alas, no. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $21.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Calif.
I am not privy to the percentages of the blend for the Bila-Haut “L’esquerda” 2013, Cotes du Roussillon Villages Lesquerde — even the importer’s website doesn’t reveal this information –but not surprisingly the grapes involved are syrah, grenache and carignan. The wine ages 90 percent in cement vats, 10 percent in oak barrels. The color is an almost eerie glowing dark ruby with a nuclear violet rim, while the bouquet seethes with notes of cloves, allspice and sandalwood, woven through floral-tinged aromas of very ripe blackberry, currant and plum; this is very dry red wine, solid and robust, stuffed with dust and graphite and revealing touches of tar and forest floor in the depths, all sustained by bright acidity. 14% alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $21.
An R. Shack Selection for HB Wine Merchants, New York.
The flaw in the Hecht & Bannier Cotes du Roussillon Village 2011 is that it feels more Californian in size and depth than its origins in the south of France would dictate. The wine is a blend of 65 percent grenache, 15 percent syrah and 10 percent each mourvedre and carignan; it aged in oak demi-muids of 500 liters (40 percent), barriques (30 percent) and cement vats (30 percent). In the glass, the wine is an opaque black-purple with a lighter purple rim; boy, this one pours out the rich, spicy, macerated black fruit scents and flavors, with notes of roasted plums, lavender, toasted herbs and bitter chocolate. Tannins are plush and chewy, while a lithe supple texture paves the way for a graphite-packed finish. 15 percent alcohol. It’s all a bit too much. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Very Good+. About $22.
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
The Agly Brothers Cotes du Roussillon 2010 — the current vintage on the market — is a collaboration between Michel Chapoutier, owner of the well-known Rhone producer M. Chapoutier, and Ron Laughton, owner of Jasper Hill of Victoria, Australia. (Chapoutier also owns the Bila-Haut estate mentioned above.) The wine is composed of one-third each carignan, grenache and syrah grapes cultivated on bio-dynamic principles; it fermented in cement vats and aged 16 to 20 months in French oak, one to three years old. This is one of those wines that feels unusual, individual and special from the first sniff and sip. It’s an opaque black-purple hue that lightens a bit to a glowing magenta rim; the initial impression is of a wine permeated by ripe, roasted, fleshy and meaty elements of spiced and macerated black currants, blueberries and plums; a few minutes in the glass bring out exotic notes of potpourri and violets, licorice and sandalwood, tobacco leaf and wood smoke; an arrow of profound graphite minerality and vibrant acidity penetrates the wine from beginning to end, bolstering the presence of dusty, velvety tannins and a rigorous underbrush and forest character. You feel the alcohol a bit on the finish; that’s the only flaw in an otherwise stylish, impeccable and impressive performance. 15.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $40.