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.
Grapes are hand-harvested from old vines planted in brown schist and sand, on south-facing slopes surrounding the town of Tautavel. These vineyards are bush vine trained.
Grenache, also known as Garnacha in Spain, is one of the most widely planted red wine grape varieties in the world. It ripens late, so it needs hot, dry conditions such as those found in Spain and the South of France. It is generally spicy, berry-flavoured and soft on the palate, and it produces wine with a relatively high alcohol content. The best examples can produce stunning wines, but sadly many examples are low on flavour and high in alcohol.
During the fermentation process, a “Mutage” (a neutral spirit) is added to the must, bringing the alcohol to 16% and arresting the fermentation. This is done with some sugar still left in the must, so there is some residual sweetness. The wines are intentionally oxidized to provide stability by aging them in large, heritage oak tuns. The aging process is as important as the vinification process for these wines.
Amber, brown and ruby elements in this intriguing coloured VDN. An intense nose of figs, black cherry jam, earth, tobacco and some oxidative nutty notes. The palate is rich and silky, but not thick or cloying. Black cherry, kirsch, anise, cocoa and soy/savoury on the palate, with a nice warmth and long finish. Serve lightly chilled with dark chocolate, sweet nuts or a sheep Tomme.