Sunday, 14 June 2009

Cult wines from Roussillon - Emperor's New Clothes?

There is an interesting thread currently running on the wine-pages forum about some of the more lauded wine growers in the Roussillon and how the wines (clearly) split the jury. The person who created the thread visited three growers; Domaine Treloar, Domaine Matassa and Domaine Olivier Pithon. The overall impression was that the wines from all three growers were good. I know the wines from Treloar are good, because I sell them and make a point of recommending them to every new customer who comes along looking for some guidance. Although not the cheapest on my list, they undoubtedly represent good value for money. And the top cuvées (Motus and Tahi, for example) are indeed world-class, and certainly very age-worthy (give 'em 5-10 years and I think you will be richly rewarded).

But many of the "cult" wines from the region certainly do not represent good value. You only have to look at the prices quoted for the Olivier Pithon wines and (especially) the Matassa wines. Their prices start at the price of Treloar's most expensive wine! I haven't tasted the Pithon wines, so I am not qualified to comment on whether or not they are of particularly good quality, or whether they represent value for money.

But I have tasted some of the Matassa wines and, in my opinion, they not only represent truly awful value for money, but they are also (again, in my opinion) pretty awful wines. And that opinion was echoed by most (or all) of those present at the tasting I attended- and there are some pretty serious palates in that tasting group, I can tell you! In fact, I would take their opinion(s) over most wine journalists I know of. Of course, the great and the good of the wine media (or, at least, the ones who can be bothered with tasting Roussillon wines - or perhaps have some sort of vested interest) will tell it differently. They tend to use terms such as "quirky", "interesting", "made in an oxidative style", "age-worthy" and "world-class". In fact, they tell you that these wines must be aged, in order to get the best out of them. Perhaps they know something I don't - that these ugly ducklings will eventually turn into beautiful swans. All I can say is that the wines I tasted were reductive, over-oaked, over-sulphured, over-acidic and under-fruited.

I would jump at the chance to taste these very same wines again in (say) 5 years and see how they develop. Even though the "experts" say they will age and evolve to (near) perfection, I cannot see it happening. But I would love to be proved wrong - especially as many people who hold the journalists' words in high esteem have presumably bought them for that very purpose.

One of my most important mantras in choosing wines from Languedoc and Roussillon (or any other wines, for that matter) is that if they smell and taste nice when they are young, they will smell and taste even nicer when they reach their optimum age. But it also works the other way round - if they smell and taste faulty when they are young, then they ain't going to age.

Jonathan Hesford - owner and winemaker of Domaine Treloar

I will be visiting my friend Jonathan Hesford (owner and winemaker of Domaine Treloar) in a few weeks' time and we may well decide to visit some of the other "cult" growers in Roussillon, to taste some of their wines and see whether the fuss is merited. I will go with an open mind, but will make my judgements using Jon's wines (and others in my Roussillon portfolio) as a benchmark. Watch this space.........

1 comment:

Andy Leslie said...

Nice post Leon. Just to add to the picture, I tasted through the Olivier Pithon range last year. Never having tried them before, and unaware of any reputation, I approached them with an open mind and ended-up summarising the range as VGI.

Two whites and three reds were presented - the top white (La D18 - crazy name!) 2004 was complex and interesting and very good while the top red (Saturne) also 2004 was nicely slightly bretty with good balance, solid backbone and worth a VGI.

Looking at Winesearcher I see that the D18 is around £25 retail and the Saturne £20ish. No doubt in my mind that Treloar are great value in comparison.