From €15, 21 Swiss francs, £18.95
One of the most impressive ranges of wines I tasted at the recent RAW Wine Fair in London was from Domaine de l’Horizon, the 14-ha wine estate on a hillside in Calce in Roussillon, where Domaine Gauby is also based. This wild, rocky countryside is way up the Agly Valley towards the Pyrenees from the flatlands around Perpignan and has an air of the wine region that time forgot. Except of course that the region has seen all manner of incomers – even as long ago as 2003 when I first wrote about it (see Maury/Fenouillèdes – a brand new dry French red). It is not surprising therefore that l’Horizon’s vines are between 40 and 100 years old, and nor is it surprising, on the basis of the wines that have since emerged from this corner of the world, that the whites are every bit as exciting as the reds.
Domaine de l’Horizon is run by Tomas Teibert, European representative of the fashionable cooper Franz Stockinger of Austria, with Doris and Joachim Christ. You can read Tomas’s journey from his native Germany to Roussillon in the introduction to last year’s Roussillon compilation. Or you can find it on the winery’s website.
I was particularly taken by how much flavour and sheer exuberance the Horizon wines had despite having really very low alcohols. L’Esprit de l’Horizon Blanc 2014 Côtes Catalanes is just 11.8% alcohol, so I thought it could be very useful for those who are watching their consumption – but I gave it 16.5 out of 20 regardless of this. It certainly doesn’t taste at all wimpy but has both spiciness (perhaps from 20% Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains that has long been grown in quantity in Roussillon for Muscat de Rivesaltes and the like) and raciness (presumably from the 80% Macabeu, a grape variety of which I am a big fan – see this article). Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised by how much flavour is concentrated in here since average yields are just 12 to 15 hl/ha.
There’s an agreeable slight chewiness and a strong hint of iodine in this wine that Teibert assured me is a perfect accompaniment to oysters. I reckon it will still be drinking well next year but, says Teibert, ‘there aren’t enough good light whites in the world’.
According to wine-searcher.com, L’Esprit de l’Horizon Blanc 2014 is available in France, Spain, Belgium, Austria (of course) and Switzerland. As for the UK, it should be available from Caviste shops in Hampshire at £17.95 as well as from Henri Fine Food in Edinburgh and Mission Wines of Cornwall at £18.95.
I should point out that this domaine is certified by both Ecocert and BioDyvin. Roussillon offers France’s most extreme combination of low rainfall and high temperatures, so it is easier to farm organically and biodynamically here than in most of the rest of France.
Domaine de l’Horizon Blanc 2014 Côtes Catalanes, about £27 a bottle but the 2014 does not seem to have reached the UK, is an even more serious wine, with 13% alcohol and made of a blend of two-thirds Macabeu with one third of another favourite southern French grape of mine, Grenache Gris (Grenache of all colours being the principal varieties planted in Roussillon – originally for vins doux naturels). This wine was aged for 12 months on the lees in 500-litres barrels and is still very youthful. I would wait until next year before broaching it. But it has real substance and that great mix of lemons and stoniness that characterises the best whites from this part of the world – such as dear old Soula Blanc. (Le Soula, originally created by UK importers Roy Richards and Mark Walford, is now run exclusively by the latter, who was at RAW, busy pouring wine – a far cry from being chauffeured to Le Gavroche as per our Vintners’ Tale for the BBC.)
Perhaps the most unusual red I tasted from this domaine at RAW was the keenly priced (£14.95) Mar i Muntanya 2015 Côtes Catalanes, a new wine described happily by Teibert as ‘Beaujolais from the Roussillon'. For the moment it is much easier to find the 2014 Mar i Muntanya (sea and mountain), which is still drinking delightfully and is only 12% alcohol. The grape blend of this light, bright wine is equal parts of Grenache and Syrah but there is a strong terroir influence with pure fruit, but with an intriguing overlay of chewy stoniness. Both vintages of Mar i Muntanya with its bizarre blue label featuring not just sea and mountain but a cow held aloft by balloons (?), were more charming to me than the decidedly tough Domaine de l’Horizon Rouge 2011. In the UK, Mar I Muntanya 2014 is about £15 from Caviste, Mission Wines of Cornwall, Harper Wells of Norwich, Salut Wines of Manchester and Woodwinters of Scotland.
But perhaps my favourite wine of all was Domaine de l’Horizon Rosé 2014 Côtes Catalanes, a wine with real ageing potential made from very low yielding Grenache grown on slate. Wine-searcher list a total of about a dozen stockists in Spain, France and Germany from about €27 a bottle. If you want to find it in the UK, then the Ledbury restaurant is probably your best bet. Indeed the wines may in general be easier to find in restaurants than on retailers’ shelves and lists.
Anyway, they are definitely worth checking out. There is a list of importers here, including Andrew Guard of Sydney and Acid Ink Selections of New York, who seem in general to be a vintage behind, but wine-searcher.com lists several US stockists of the Mar i Muntanya 2014.