Monday, 18 February 2013

More new stuff - Roussillon (Part 1) - Classy white, chunky reds and an exceptional vintage Maury

Following on from yesterday's post on some new wines from Domaine Gayda and Chateau Rives-Blanques, here are my notes on more new wines, this time from Domaine Mas de Lavail in Roussillon. I discovered this wonderful estate, just outside the village of Maury, in the summer of 2004 and have been importing from them ever since - though not as often as I would like. Winemaker Nicolas Batlle and his father Jean make a brilliant range of wines, from dry-farmed old (in many cases, very old) Grenache (Noir, Gris and Blanc), Syrah and Carignan. For some reason that I can't put my finger on, they have always been relatively difficult to shift, which is a shame, because they represent some of the best wines (in terms of both quality and value for money) that Roussillon has to offer. In fact, were it not for an article by Jancis Robinson MW in March 2005, in which she recommended the Mas de Lavail 2003 Tradition (resulting in a fair number of sales of that wine) I might still be struggling to find any kind of market for them at all.

In many ways, Mas de Lavail epitomises the struggle for a small merchant like me, who chooses to import wines from quality, artisan growers who have little or no track record in the UK. Other than the occasional review by some or other wine writer, tutored tastings, or word-of-mouth from intrepid customers who are willing to chance their arm on something other than the usual suspects, it can be nigh on impossible to get them noticed. Unless of course a bigger or better-known importer suddenly finds out about them - as has happened to me on a number of occasions. One of the perils of trying to innovate, I guess - there's little to be gained by keeping it a secret.

Anyway, here are my notes on the latest vintages of my favourite Mas de Lavail wines. And because I  import them in such tiny quantities (just a handful of cases of each), there is little point in me firing off a few samples in the hope of gaining favourable reviews. So you'll just have to take my word for how good they are!

A blend of Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris. Intensely aromatic and floral, with notes of honeysuckle, pine and orange blossom, with subtle notes of lemon zest/oil and wet stone. A mix of both soft and tart citrus on the palate, with apple pie, mixed spice and hints of white pepper and star anise. Essentially rich, honeyed and nutty, it is very pure and focused, with plenty of acidity and a perception of stoney minerality, which kicks in at the end and lingers for a good while on the finish. That said, this is a robust, quite muscular wine, which would not appeal to those who like their white wines light, airy and delicate. But if you like your white wines rich, powerful and nutty/spicy, then you will love this. It will age nicely, too. £13.99

All I can say is damn and blast - I wish I had bought (a lot) more! Frankly, even though I have never stocked this in large (or even medium) quantities, I have still had trouble selling it, even despite the relative bargain price. Perhaps even because of it - perhaps people think that it would be a cheap imitation of the real thing, despite the fact that this is a top-notch grower, with yields averaging just 25-30 hl/ha across their range. My goodness, this really is such a cracking wine, with a tremendously evocative nose of raspberries, blackberries, plums and cherries and a whiff of mothballed old clothes kept in an old mahogany wardrobe. Background notes of molasses, mixed spices and fine cigar leaf make for a considerably complex nose. Fanciful, perhaps, but there is only one way for you to find out! The palate is rich, but perfectly balanced and fruity - and elegant. Yes, this is the oft-maligned Carignan we are talking about, but I defy any lover of good red wine not to love this. It has an amazing depth of ripe, concentrated cherry and bramble fruit, complemented by a lick of fennel and liquorice. A wine of restrained power - and yet another wonderful Carignan. £9.50

40% Carignan, 40% Syrah, 20% Grenache, all from vines in excess of 50 years of age. A pungent nose of red and bramble fruits, garrigue herbs, spice and leather, with a gently smoky, meaty character and subtle notes of orange peel, polished mahogany and incense. The palate displays ripe, succulent flavours of summer and autumn fruits, combined with velvety soft tannins and bracing acidity. The classic blend of dry-farmed Carignan, Syrah and Grenache grapes harvested at full maturity makes for a full bodied, complex and concentrated wine that is extremely enjoyable to drink now, but with enough stuffing to age and evolve for a few years yet. This is benchmark Roussillon, made without recourse to oak-ageing (this is aged in vats). And who needs oak, when the fruit is this good? Enjoy it now, or age it for another 3 to 5 years - possibly more. Either way, you are onto a winner. £10.25

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 it is hard to fault. And although it is so lovely now, it will surely age and evolve beautifully for at least a decade, perhaps a lot longer. Vintage Maury is one of the world's best and most underrated sweet red wine styles - and this is a truly exceptional example. £15.25 

More wines from Roussillon tomorrow.........


charlie said...

If I could suggest something that increasingly puts me off buying southern French reds - they are too alcoholic. 13% is enough.

Leon Stolarski said...

In an ideal world, Charlie, I would agree with you. Unfortunately, climate change has put paid to low(er) alcohol in most wine regions. Having said that, balance is everything - if extraction, fruit, tannin, acidity and alcohol are all in harmony, then the wine will taste harmonious.

Of course, a good Maury or Banyuls is wonderfully balanced, and at around 16% abv, much more in balance than most Port or other heavily fortified wines. :-)