It is getting increasingly difficult to make balanced, fresh wines in this hot, arid part of the wine world. Enter the new guard vigneron like Domaine des Schistes’ Mickaël Sire. Organic farming, early-pick dates, minimal oak and lower extraction in the winery are a few of methods he uses to make expressive, flavourful, terroir-driven wines. As you’d expect, this is big, intense and brimming with ripe red fruits. But it is balanced beautifully by a salty, meaty minerality and vibrant acidity that make this both delicious and food-friendly. No overt oak character here. Just pure Roussillon pleasure.
Made primarily from old vine Carignan. There are also small amounts of Grenache and Syrah to add roundness and ripe fruit. Until recently, Carignan had fallen out of favour with Mediterranean winemakers. It is a fairly difficult grape to grow, being particularly sensitive to various forms of mildew. It ripens late and is extremely vigorous, often making rather ordinary wines when yields are not checked. But it has experienced a bit of a renaissance of late, as consumers’ thirst for full, concentrated and deeply-coloured wines continues to grow. It is usually blended with other grapes, almost exclusively in southern France and northern Spain.
Roussillon is all too often lumped together with its eastern neighbour, Languedoc. And while the two regions do share similarities—namely warm temperatures and common grapes—there are significant and important differentiators as well. From a cultural standpoint, Roussillon is more Catalan than French, located just over the Pyrenees mountains where the Mediterranean coast runs north before veering east. The climate here is harsh and severe, with extreme heat, minimal rain and a constant, fierce wind, known locally as the Tramontane. The soils are incredibly poor, with barely a trace of earth on top of a hard shale, schist and limestone base. All of these factors combine to naturally create incredibly low yields and, as a result, intense, characterful wines. Low yields and small estates also mean higher production costs. On average, the wines of Roussillon are more expensive than those from Languedoc. They are also a little more demanding for the drinker in terms of profile and style. They are most definitely wines that show best with food; and they usually reward patience, be it via decanter or time in the cellar. But they are some of the most expressive, complex and terroir-driven wines you will find.
Grapes are sourced from a vineyard named after the cave located at the mountain’s apex, ‘Joffre’s Cave’. Planted in the 1960s, it is the highest plot on the property. It is densely planted with primarily Carignan and the soil is clay on top of limestone scree.
Grapes are harvested and sorted by hand. One third of the bunches are de-stemmed, the others are fermented whole cluster in concrete via native yeasts. The 15-day fermentation was accompanied by daily manual cap integration. Aged for 12 months in concrete.