I use the brackets because the label of a "mere" Vin de Table is not, strictly speaking, allowed to display a vintage. I promise you that I wouldn't waste my time buying and drinking any old Vin de Table - a denomination normally reserved for France's most lowly (and, generally speaking, vile) wines. But my view is that any quality wine grower serious enough and determined enough (and some may say stupid enough) to eschew not just the local "Appellation d'Origine Controlée" (AOC) but even the local "Vin de Pays" denomination must be making some seriously interesting and quirky wines. And they usually tend to find a way of circumventing the rules by indicating the vintage somewhere on the label - in this case, with the none-too-subtle use of the code L : 1999 in the bottom right corner(!)
My friends Andy Leslie and Bernard Caille picked some of this wine up at a recent auction for an all-in price of £12 per bottle and I think my two bottles represent £24 well spent - especially if the second bottle is anywhere near as good as this one. A little research tells me that Les Bruyeres is the "basic" wine of this cult Languedoc grower, and tends to retail for somewhat less than a tenner (for the current vintage) although it is not currently available in the UK. But I'm happy to have paid a bit of a premium for a wine that has some decent bottle age and seems to me to be at the peak of its drinking window.
It was only after tasting this wine that I did any research, yet I sensed all the hallmarks of a weird and wonderful Carignan. And, indeed, that is exactly what it turns out to be - 100% Carignan, picked fairly late, I would guess, and made in quite a rich, baked style, with what seems like extended maturation before bottling. It is now almost tawny in colour, with a very pale amber/brick, almost onion skin rim - very light in colour. And it has the hallmark plummy, high-toned, almost beetrooty aroma of aged Carignan, with all sorts of other things going on, such as decaying leaves, cranberry, wild strawberry and hints of garrigue herbs and exotic spices - and a noticeable, though very pleasant, dose of volatile acidity (think nail polish remover). All-in-all, a very complex and quirky nose, not a million miles away from Chateau Musar in structure.
The palate is fruity, in a decaying sort of way, but there is still a fresh, sweet, almost fruit pastille quality about it. Add to that a refreshingly acidic backbone, almost fully-resolved tannins, herbs and spices and a long, warming finish and you have one very lovely and very intersting wine. Not one for the purists, perhaps, but hugely interesting. I have a feeling that this is not going to evolve further and perhaps needs drinking fairly soon. And indeed, the last glass, consumed 24 hours after opening, is a bit less voluptuous than last night. But what a lovely wine, while it lasted.
Since none of the wines of Terre Inconnue seem to be available in the UK at present, it may be that I should pay them a visit, next time I am in the region......... ;-)