Researching the Rousillon
I love my job – well actually as I live 7 months of the year in the Languedoc-Roussillon running vineyard tours what’s not to love! One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is the research; I love to find new vignerons to work with, new routes, new restaurants and of course new wines to taste. I arrived in Languedoc on April 1st and immediately headed to the Roussillon region to do some research as this year I am offering a new Roussillon Day tour plus a Rousillon long weekend concentrating on this up and coming wine region of southern France.
To help me with my research I had commandeered two fabulous and courageous wine makers Corin and Jayne Fairchild of Domaine Vella Fronterra in Maury. They have been welcoming my tours for the last 2 years and had happily agreed to help me get to grips with this region. First stop was the well-known Rivesaltes producers Cazes where we tasted 3 great examples of the VDN sweet wines produced here starting with the Ambres. This is made from Grenache Blanc plus a little Maccabeo – beautiful orange gold colour and fabulous orange peel flavours. Next we tasted the Grenat so named because it’s made with 100% Grenache Noir – smoky raspberries, delicious. Then it was on to the Tuilé which is also 100% Grenache Noir but is aged in big oak barrels called foudre for 15 years giving it more complexity and mature flavours of prune and raisin and an earthy character – the nose had hints of a smokey malt whiskey. We had a good lunch in the restaurant there called La Table d’Aimé before heading to the village of Vingrau not far away. We were in search of Domaine du Clos des Fées which we found in the heart of the village. Hervé Bizeul is a former sommelier, caviste and wine journalist who makes some excellent Côtes du Roussillon Village wines from his unassuming converted garage. He has the vines planted on various terriors and many of them are over 100 years old. Dominating the plantings are Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris however he also has some unexpected varietals including Tempranillo and Cabernet Franc. Claudine his wife greeted us and gave us a superb tasting of all the wines and so impressed was I that I have booked a visit next week on my first Roussillon tour of the season.
Last year I had tasted a very unusual wine made from Carignan Gris at a winery called Riberach and one of my aims this day was to find the producer. Corin and Jayne were not aware of this so I was amazed that the next place they took me was this very winery tucked away in the little village of Bélesta. Not only is it a winery but also a very impressive hotel and restaurant going by the name of Riberach. The owners have made a superb job of converting a huge old cave co-operative building to offer 18 contemporarily designed bedrooms from the old concrete tanks plus a restaurant where Chef Laurent Lemal produces fresh, seasonal produce and presents you with dishes of a contemporary style. In the winery we met the wine maker Patrick Rodrigues and tasted some interesting wines but the one that blew me away was the rosé made by direct pressing Carignan grapes to produce a pale pink wine with intense cherry and mineral flavours. We had it last night with some goose rillettes and it was a perfect match. I will definitely be booking my place at this table in the near future and the winery is also now on my list of wineries to visit next week on the first of my Roussillon tours.