Thursday, 13 May 2010

Two more Roussillon wines - a full-bodied dry white and a stunning sweet red

Mas de Lavail is a grower whose wines I have been listing for several years now, though my stocks of their wines had dwindled to virtually zero by the middle of last year. But following another visit to the estate in July 2009, together with a stop-by at their stand at Vinisud in February 2010, it was clear to me that the standard of their range of wines just gets better and better. Here are my notes on a couple of them, tasted over the last 2 days.

Very pale gold colour with a water rim. The nose is intensely fragrant, combining grape, apple and stone fruit aromas, with notes of honeysuckle, marmalade, orange blossom, herbs and spices and creamy, smoky oak. It's a very complex nose, for such a young wine. The palate is equally intense and extremely full-bodied, rich and expressive - and equally complex. The flavours are of spiced fruit salad laced with Calvados, with some distinctly herbal notes (think fennel, oregano). There's a healthy lick of acidity, which provides a nice counter to the rich, almost tangy marmalade mid palate and the long, warming finish. You often read that a wine "wears its alcohol well", by way of mitigating a perceived drawback. But this wine wears its 14.5% abv proudly on its sleeve. It isn't a quaffer, it is a food wine (perhaps chicken or pork, or fish with a herby sauce) and is not for the faint-hearted. It is undoubtedly big and rich and packed with flavour, but for all that power, it is curiously elegant and quirky - and very lovely. I think it will be a keeper, too - watch it develop over the next 5 or more years. Shame I only bought a few cases! £14.50.

Made from 100% old vine Grenache, harvested at the peak of maturity, the grapes are given a long maceration, followed by "mutage" (the addition of a small amount of grape brandy) which halts fermentation and retains some of the grape sugars. The colour is densely purple and opaque, with a tiny, vivid pink rim. The nose is all about dark fruits of both the fresh and dried varieties. Bramble and blackcurrants, cherries and prunes steeped in eau de vie mingle with dark chocolate, forest floor and cedar wood. The palate is a riot of intensely sweet, concentrated fruit, combining tangy black cherries, stewed brambles, cassis and prunes, with a hint of Seville orange marmalade. Notes of molasses and dark chocolate add an intense richness, like liquid Christmas cake. And through it all runs an enticing, refreshing streak of acidity. I guess there are some healthy tannins in there somewhere, but the balance and the richness render them almost unnoticeable. This wine is so delicious and so more-ish that I simply cannot fault it. And although it is so lovely now, I can only see it getting better and better for at least a decade, perhaps a lot longer. I took it along to a blind tasting at Nottingham Wine Circle, where it compared more than favourably to the Graham's 1977 Vintage Port that followed. The Port was superb (and so it should be) but the Maury showed magnificently. And at just 16% abv - as opposed to the 20% of the Port - this gently fortified wine provides the sort of balance and freshness that Port can rarely (if ever) attain. Food pairings would include rich puddings (even with chocolate) or fruitcake, raspberry sorbet, cheese, or even as an accompaniment to duck with cherry sauce. And when Christmas comes around, it is the perfect match for mince pies. Better still, just enjoy it on its own.  Vintage Maury is truly one of the world's best and most underrated sweet red wine styles - and this is a truly exceptional example, and a steal at £14.95.


Graham said...

Leon - very fine detailed tasting notes. From my (limited) experience of young vintage Maury and Banyuls I've always been surprised how fresh and elegant they are - sort of minty tannins.

Presumably the Expression would have seen some oak otherwise it wouldn't be so approachable so young, unlike most vintage port. Also, any idea how long would an open bottle last - days, weeks.......

Leon Stolarski said...

Graham - Thanks for the compliment. I occasionally get the feeling that some of my tasting notes get a bit too detailed. When there is so much going on in a wine, I have a tendency to want to get everything in there, by way of building the picture. I wish I could be a bit more "poetic" and a bit less wordy in simply describing the enjoyment in a particular wine, a la Jancis or Broadbent, whereas I sometimes feel I am veering towards Parker prose (heaven forbid)! That said, I guess I need to cover all the bases - Jancis, Broadbent etc concentrate more on giving a brief impression, whereas I am trying to give a pen picture.

Anyway, surprisingly, I don't think I've ever posed the question to winemaker Nicolas Batlle of whether the Maury Expression is oak-aged, as such. The Mas de Lavail website (which is excellent) describes the elévage as "Vin élevé 12 mois en milieu réducteur et mis en bouteilles". In reality, I think it is probably aged in larger (and older) oak barrels or foudres, since any impression of oak is on the "cedary" or cigar box side, rather than anything younger. As I said, though, the tannins are masked by the sheer depth of fruit and the sweetness (and damn fine acidity, too). But it is indeed, very approachable - so much so that I am enjoying the last half-glass immensely, as I type, following a long and taxing day at work. ;-) The reason it (and many other similar VDNs from Roussillon) is so much more approachable than Vintage Port is the mutage and hence the high proportion of fruit/wine to spirit.

Does it last, once opened? You bet - if you can resist drinking it all, that is. My experience of several vintages of this wine (the first vintage I sold was 2002) tells me that it keeps its freshness for literally weeks - and exposure to air actually improves it. It really is a fantastic wine, even though I do say so myself. :-)