The Sire family have been grape growers in Roussillon since 1906, as long standing members of the local cooperative. But it wasn’t until 1989 that they decided to vinify and bottle their prized fruit under the name,Domaine des Schistes. As the name suggests, their 50 hectares of vines are planted in predominantly schistous soils around the villages of Estagel and Tautavel. This unique soil-type is found in pockets throughout the region and provides the ideally poor, rocky foundation for quality viticulture in this corner of France. The winery is now under the stewardship of young, energetic Mickaël Sire, a part of France’s next generation of vignerons obsessed with quality and sustainability. Like many young winemakers, Mickaël travelled and worked extensively abroad before returning home to Roussillon to take over the family estate. He farms organically and adheres to the principles of low- intervention winemaking: native yeast ferments; minimal oak; no fining or filtering. These wines are loaded with Roussillon character.
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.
Planted in patches of slate throughout the Estate vineyards near the town of Estagel. These are some of the younger vines the winery works with, reserved for the “Illico” line of wines, meant to be enjoyed young and fresh.
Syrah/Grenache based wines have been made for many centuries. Both members of the blend prefer warm climates, such as those found in southern France. To this blend, Grenache contributes its classic bright, stewed-strawberry and raspberry flavors, juicy palate and high potential alcohol. Syrah, the “darker” variety of the pair, provides structure and spice, with notes of blueberry, licorice and the occasional gamey note.
Hand-harvested early in the morning to maintain cooler temperatures, the grapes are given a soft press, followed by maceration on the skins and a steady, temperature-controlled fermentation after a gentle racking. Aged for about 6 months in stainless steel, with another 6 months of bottle aging.
Fresh red berries on the nose, with the fruit on the nose coming across a little riper than what the palate gives. There is a touch of sweetness up front, but the red berry replays are less ripe than the nose, with tart raspberry and underripe strawberry giving way to watermelon and crunchy minerality on the finish. Medium-bodied and quaffable, this wine would pair wonderfully with grilled shrimp skewers or sipped on a patio.