Two red wines, from a hot, arid region, which you can chill and drink in a heatwave, plus a superb skin-contact white.
From €17, £22.99, $28
When François-Xavier Dauré (aka FX) first started his own cellar in 2015, he was working for New Zealander Tom Lubbe of Domaine Matassa in his home commune of Espira-de-l’Agly in the Agly Valley of Roussillon. Trying to squeeze in vineyard work between and around his day job at Matassa, he’d get up while it was still dark and prune vines by the light of a head torch. As Stew Travers of Cambridge Wine Merchants tells me, as this little light was bobbing up and down in the vineyard in the darkness, a friend happened to pass by and called out, ‘FX, is that you?’. ‘Yes, it’s me!’ he replied, and his friend chuckled: ‘You look like a firefly!’. And thus the domaine got its name, Domaine des Lampyres; domaine of the fireflies.
FX comes from a long line of grape growers who supplied the local co-operative, and he’d got his degree in oenology and winemaking at a time when, he told Travers, organic farming was taught in an afternoon. He went on to make chemically farmed, chemically adjusted wine for seven years before stepping in to help his father, who was working for Matassa in the vineyards and cellar, but struggling with back problems. This was his first introduction to organic farming and minimal-intervention, low-sulphites winemaking – ways of working that Lubbe has championed for years (along the way, mentoring some of the brightest stars in the ‘lo-fi’ wine world, including Craig Hawkins).
Five years of working with Lubbe and helping out brothers Sébastian and Benoît at their superb Roussillon estate Danjou-Banessy convinced FX that he wanted to make terroir wines. His first vintage was 2016 – wines made in his small garage in Espira (just a few minutes down the road from both Matassa and Danjou-Banessy), just two cuvées, just 640 bottles, the rest of the grapes still going to the co-op. But he’s gradually grown to 17 ha (42 acres) of vineyards, 12 quirky cuvées, and in 2022 converted an old farmhouse into a smart new cellar. Production is still small, but now around 20,000 bottles.
I’d not come across Lampyres until three bottles of his wine ended up on my desk for a pending Roussillon article. What followed was a scrabble of internet searches, emails, and Instagram messages to a US importer (who was very patient, I might add, with my barrage of questions). We always try to make sure that the wine of the week is available in the US and Wine-Searcher was not looking hopeful. But I so wanted to write about these wines. Each of the three was, for me, a coup de coeur.
There are so many reasons why. For one, they sum up the essence of Roussillon. Slightly wild, defiantly fresh, edgy, Catalan, windswept, resilient: wines of stone, sun and relentless winds and utterly themselves. But it is also the complexity of the wines, the endless length, the vibrating terroir transmission, the interesting artisan/garagiste honesty of them, the intensity of the fruit. The fruit… oh the fruit. ‘Natural wines’ can have a tendency toward bony dryness; delivering more kombucha tang, salt and herbs and fermenting apple peel than actual fruit. The Lampyres wines have an abundance of fruit so succulent that my mouth waters now, just writing about them. They also offer texture, energy and layers of flavour. They’re fun, witty, but dead serious at the same time. These are not simple wines, not by any definition.
The second reason that I was in such a rush to write about these wines is that we, and many other regions around the world, are in the grip of a series of heatwaves and serious drought. I believe that regions like Roussillon, which have so long been arid, hot and extreme, which have long grappled with the issues of drought and heat, and which have some of the richest reserves of old-vine and old-vine-DNA material in the world, have much to teach us about how to face the now-inevitable future.
Wines from Roussillon also show that just because it’s hot, it doesn’t mean there is no option but to produce high-octane, high-alcohol wines. The Lampyres wines prove this, along with many other wonderful wines I will be writing about in the aforementioned upcoming Roussillon feature.
The third reason, no less important for being a little frivolous (and last) is that the two reds are so damn delicious when cooled! I was intrigued to see that one oft-asked question of Google is, ‘Can I chill red wine?’. Yes, you can. Especially these two reds! They’re so freaking sappy and juicy that stick them in the fridge for 30 minutes (or overnight) and on a heatwave day you’re going to love them even more than a red-cherry gelato.
Yesterday, one of our members described my writing as ‘unabashed, immoderate, rapturous wordlust’. I’ll own that. And paste in, below, the wordlust tasting notes for these three bewitching wines.
Lampyres, Luminescence Espira de L'Agly Roussillon 2021 Vin de France
Full bottle 1,322 g. A roughly 50/50 blend of Muscat d'Alexandrie and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. Hand-picked. The Muscat à Petits Grains was whole-bunch macerated on skins for one month in stainless steel, and the Muscat d'Alexandria was macerated on skins for one month in clay amphora. The wines were then pressed and aged in 5-hl barrels and 10-hl amphora for eight months. The only addition is 20 mg/l of sulphites at bottling. Bottled 'with the moon' in April 2022. 2,000 bottles produced.
This took me totally by surprise. Cloudy gold with a faint touch of pink, the wine smells absolutely extraordinary. The perfume soars out the glass on angels' wings, transcendent. Attar of roses, orange blossom, Seville orange peel, potpourri, lily of the valley, quince, sandalwood sawdust. It changes, iridescent as a dragonfly, every time I lift the glass to my nose. It feels like finely crinkled tissue paper – the kind you find wrapped around eye-wateringly expensive gifts which come in boxes that reek of luxury. And yet this wine is so earthed! It tastes just like it smells, but diaphanous, even more complex. Ginger and quince, satsuma, kumquat, physalis. Dry, but it tastes as if there is a microscopic droplet of bee-balm nectar in every molecule. The fruit has breath-catching limpidity, a rustling-textured juiciness. Whispering gossamer and yet firmly rooted within itself. Heart-racing stuff. Dauré must be a bit of a wine shaman… (TC) 10.5%
Drink 2022 – 2027
Lampyres, Contre-Attaque Espira de L'Agly Roussillon 2021 Vin de France
Full bottle 1,325 g. Organic farming. 100% Mourvèdre which underwent five days of whole-bunch maceration. Fermentation in fiberglass vats, aged in fiberglass for four months. The only addition is 20 mg/l of sulphites at bottling. Bottled 'with the moon' in January 2022. 6,000 bottles made.
It's been a while since I have felt this excited about a producer I've not come across before. François-Xavier Dauré's wines are simply thrilling. This pale red-pink wine lit up my whole mouth – an instant infusion of energy. A firecracker explosion redcurrant and cranberry fruit, winter-picked lingonberries and a zip-zap of cinnamon-scented acidity. The tannins are standing on street corners doing pop-up break-dancing gigs for the delighted crowd and every now and then they simply disappear into the sheer, lavish juiciness of this wine, only to pop back up in another corner of my mouth. Gouleyant, glou-glou, gluggable, lip-smacking yum. You'd have to be seriously grumpy not to instantly love this wine, not to grin like a lunatic when you drink it. VGV (TC) 13%
Drink 2022 – 2024
Lampyres, Calentu 2021 Vin de France
Full bottle 1,319 g. 100% Grenache Noir grown in Espira-de-l'Agly, Roussillon. Organic viticulture. Hand-picked, macerated on skins for eight days with whole bunches. Fermented in stainless steel and aged in clay amphora for eight months. The only addition is 20 mg/l of sulphites at bottling. Bottled 'with the moon' in May 2022. 2,300 bottles.
A few tiny bubbles in the bottle of this pale-red, gypsy-wild Grenache, but they only add to the sense of barely concealed excited anticipation of the wine. It jumps out at me like a wickedly naughty little strawberry-drenched jack-in-a-box. It's a wine of funky, punky strawberries, and sun-hot blackberries plopped straight into the mouth with sticky, stained fingers. It raises a cheeky, fleeting, one-fingered, one-second salute of barnyard and then it dives straight back into the fruit, coming up covered in cherries and pomegranate and licking raspberry balsamic vinegar off its spiky, skinny elbows. It's purple, pink and red with a flash of orange; it's liquid ADHD and it does somersaults on tables and all sorts of disgraceful things, but have one sip of this wine and you'll forgive everything. Chill it a little, and the only person you'll have to forgive is yourself (the next morning). (TC) 13.5%
Drink 2022 – 2025
As I mentioned earlier, Wine-searcher (which rarely fails us), seems to struggle to pick up these shape-shifter wines. So if you’re in the UK, all three wines are available from Cambridge Wine Merchants; Luminescence and Calentu for £24.99 and Contre-Attaque for £22.99. And if you're in the US, all three wines are imported by Terres Blanches Wine Merchants, @terresblanches. They have just received their allocation of the Contre-Attaque 2021, with shipments of the other two wines arriving in September. They’ll be able to direct you to their stockists. The white Luminescence will retail for around $34 and the reds for around $28.
Production is tiny, so we’re incredibly lucky that these wines are available on both sides of the Atlantic. Don’t waste time. They’re a breath of fresh air from a young maverick who will, mark my words, become a cult winemaker.