Saturday, 25 September 2010

Domaine of The Bee - un bon vin

On Wednesday evening in London, I presented a tasting of a selection of my southern French wines made by "outsiders" - Brits, Poles, Swiss, plus a handful from other regions of France. Afterwards, the organiser gave me a glass of red wine made by a friend of his, Justin Howard-Sneyd MW, and asked me what I thought of it. I must admit that I gave it rather short shrift on the night, as it came across as a bit of a fruit bomb with a heavy coating of oak - the sort of wine that tends to impress the critics at trade tastings, but leaves me wanting something a bit more subtle and elegant. That said, it came at the end of a very long, tiring day, so I thought I'd take a glassful home with me, so I could contemplate further and give it a fair hearing. After all, at £20 a bottle, I was hoping it might have hidden depths.

So here I was with a glass of wine that had been poured a full 48 hours ago (albeit sealed under a layer of clingfilm) with no great expectations.

Domaine of The Bee 2008 Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes
A blend of old Grenache and Carignan, dry farmed in the hills of Roussillon near Maury and aged for 14 months in new, one and two year-old oak barrels. The colour is dark purple with a tiny rim. There's still a fair amount of new oak on the nose, but it is quite well integrated and doesn't overpower the fruit - bramble and blackcurrant, with hints of garrigue herbs, mint and orange peel, with a touch of eau de vie.Two evenings ago, when I first tasted it, the palate was very oaky and savoury/meaty, very much to the detriment of the fruit. But now, on day 3 - and from the very same glass - the fruit has come to the fore. The wine seems much more together, with those oaky/savoury notes having faded into the background, to be replaced by some lovely sweet and sour flavours. Although rich and warming, and certainly well-extracted, it is also nicely balanced, with juicy lemon acidity and grippy but fine tannins.

To be honest, I wasn't keen to begin with, but after a couple of days of air it has begun to show some class and even a little bit of elegance. If I had a bottle or two (which I don't) I'd probably stick them away for a few years. Five should soften it up nicely, and it will surely go for ten or more, during which time I can see it losing a little weight, but gaining some complexity. Admittedly, there is a slightly modern feel to it, but it doesn't feel spoofy or formulated. Yes, it starts off as a bit of an oak monster, but there is plenty of wine lurking in there too, which just needs a chance to blossom. Stylistically, it feels like Roussillon meets California, and I bet the Americans like it. Actually, I do too, and I'd love to taste it again in a few years' time. My only beef is with the name. Why Domaine of The Bee? Seems a bit pretentious to me. OK, so the wine is made by Brits, but it is a French wine, so why not be true to its origins and call it simply Domaine d'Abeille? Yes, I know, I'm being picky, but I'm a bit of a traditionalist. And yes, I know Johnny Foreigner comes over here and cocks a snook by giving his restaurant a name that is invariably anything but English. But we don't need to get our own back by giving English-sounding names to little corners of Roussillon. As the saying goes, "When in Rome....... (or Roussillon)". ;-)  Nice wine, though.

See the Domaine of The Bee website for more details.


David Bennett- Optometrist and Contact Lens Practitioner said...

dit sounds utterly revolting! the 15.5% alchohol might have somethng to with it...

Jonathan Hesford said...

It's actually made by my friend Richard Case of Domaine de la Pertuisane. California meets Roussillon is a good description of his style.

Leon Stolarski said...

David - it was ultimately very enjoyable. One shouldn't write a wine off so quickly, especially when it clearly needs a few years.

Jon - I didn't realise that Richard was still making it. The Bee website suggests that it is made these days by the owner. It isn't a wine I would actively search out and buy (your wines are better and provide better qpr) but it shows promise.

Jonathan Hesford said...

Unfortunately there are quite a few wine personalities who are not prepared to credit or even mention the winemakers who manage their vineyards, pick their grapes, make and bottle their wine.

I think that is a bit sad.

Justin said...

Hi Leon,
Thanks for your write-up about our wine, and thanks for persevering past your first impressions - I always think it is worth getting towards the bottom of the bottle before passing judgement...
Richard is very much still our winemaker, and is very much credited by us, both on the back-label, and on the website - we are very proud of what he does for us.
I have just updated one section of the website to make this even clearer -


Justin said...

Oh, and as for the name, we tried registering Domaine de l'Abeille, but had an objection from a Monsieur Abeille, so we opted for the English version. Actually, I am very pleased we did, as I think it is more memorable to an English-speaker (where we will sell most of it), but I aware that not everyone will agree.


Leon Stolarski said...

Justin - nice of you to pop by and post a comment. I agree about giving wines a chance to reveal hidden depths. In fact, I fear that my own wines probably didn't get a fair hearing at the aforementioned London tasting. I got the distinct impression that many of the attendees were dyed-in-the-wool Claret drinkers who wouldn't ordinarily give Languedoc wines the time of day. Not that the tasting lasted very long - 10 or so wines and the whole thing was over in about an hour!

Oh, and pay no heed to my friend Mr Bennett's jibes - he should know better than to write-off a wine so quickly (especially when he hasn't tasted it). Indeed, he presented a tasting of Maconnais wines to our local group last night, and I wrote-off several of them in double-quick time! ;-))

Thanks for the explanation about the name. Monsieur Abeille should be pleased that you tried to name your estate after him, instead of getting a bee in his bonnet(!) I guess it could have been worse - if you'd wanted to call it Domaine de l'Haricot, you would have had an irate Mr Bean to deal with!