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.