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I've been fascinated by the Agly valley in Roussillon for at least a decade now. Le Soula Blanc showed as early as the 2001 vintage just how good the dry whites could be and I have been particularly interested in the progress of the reds. Summers are hot down here and, with the notable exception of biodynamic pioneer Gérard Gauby, the tendency has been to make strapping, rather porty wines from overripe grapes.
At times it has seemed as though every wine person and their dog has tried
their hand at making wine here, on varied soils including schist around the biggest village of Maury. They include a fellow Master of Wine Justin Howard-Sneyd
, his wife Amanda and a friend of theirs Philippe Sacerdot, who looks after matters financial. This is very much a weekend wine business as Justin and Amanda have demanding responsibilities at Laithwaites and Comic Relief in London respectively. They make only a few thousand bottles a year from their four hectares of vines and, although the vineyard in the picture looks delightfully dramatic, I must confess that I was less than bowled over by the first few vintages from 2007 to 2010 inclusive. I found them a bit heavy and overripe for my taste (although I see Richard very much liked the 2009, while admitting that he wouldn't necessarily have put it in France).
But I have just tasted and was seriously impressed by their two bottlings from the relatively generous 2011 vintage - so generous that the yield from their oldest vineyard, Coume de Roy, was a massive 11.5 hl/ha, nearly twice the usual crop. They were helped by the fact that the Grenache did not suffer coulure (unlike the 2013 experience
and so many other years) and found that their musts of old Carignan vines and Grenache were both (relatively) copious and had particularly attractive fruit.
Because of this quantity they have been able to bottle the produce of Coume du Roy separately, calling it Les Genoux (the knees - bees' knees, geddit?). This 1.6-ha vineyard on black schist is made up of a mix of 80+ year-old vines, including Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Maccabeu but mainly Grenache Noir with about 20% Carignan. When I tasted Dom of the Bee, Les Genoux 2011 IGP Côtes Catalanes
first I absolutely loved it. It is, apparently, 15% alcohol but you would never know it. I wrote, 'Headily perfumed and more transparent somehow than the regular bottling. In fact you could easily gobble this up immediately. Really very fine. Lifted like a fine red burgundy. Lovely fine texture. Sweet but not sickly. It does rather remind me of that vat of Clos des Papes with the super-high alcohol but no trace of it on the palate. Feels very nourishing. But fresh. The tannins are all but imperceptible. Well done, Brits!' I gave it 17.5 and suggested that it could be enjoyed over the next three or four years.
When I re-tasted it with the regular bottling two or three days later, however, the regular bottling was still in great shape whereas the fruit of this wine seemed to have faded a little. So I am still recommending Les Genoux, but would suggest you ensure you finish the bottle at the first sitting - not difficult given its charm, I'm sure. It's not given away, however. Everything is done by hand, including sealing the cork with beeswax provided by 'some bee-keeping friends'. Price from the Domaine of the Bee website
is £42 a bottle.
Probably better value is the regular bottling Dom of the Bee 2011 IGP Côtes Catalanes
at £24 a bottle. It too is 15% alcohol but it too disguises this beautifully. Apparently this year the blend was about 55% Carignan and 45% Grenache, a blend of wine from their three vineyards: Coume de Roy, Bac de Genièvres (1.4 ha of 50+ year-old Grenache on limestone-rich soil) and La Roque (1.0 ha of 70+ year-old Carignan on decomposed schist and clay). All vines are the old bushvines typical of this part of the world, and the Grenache is fermented in upended open-ended 500-litre demi-muids.
With winemaker Richard Case of Domaine Pertuisane, the wine was made at Dave Phinney's winery
and aged for 14 months in a mixture of new, one-year-old and two-year-old barriques and demi-muids. The nose of this regular bottling is intense but not overripe or alcoholic and the palate is obviously that of a substantial wine but the texture is delightful and the aromas - burnt black fruits, dried herbs, something mineral - unfurl with real grace. While under the influence of this wine, I wrote that these aromas unfurled 'slowly like a cat stretching'. There is considerable tannin well covered with fruit and I'd suggest ideally drinking this well-packaged wine over the next five years.
From the 2012 vintage, the wine is being made by Jean-Michel Lafage, who has an excellent track record in this exciting region, which, annoyingly, doesn't have its own appellation so wines are generally sold under the catch-all IGP Côtes Catalanes or occasionally Côtes du Roussillon. For more suggestions of seriously good wines made here see Le Soula - my how you've grown
and Great value from Languedoc-Roussillon
. The 2013 harvest is pictured below.
Order this wine
(it can be delivered to the UK, US and France)