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 Gris is the rare, pink-skinned relative of Grenache Blanc. Like its cousin, acidity levels are low and flavour levels are high. If not picked on an optimal date, both tend to make flabby, fat wines. Macabeu, known across the Pyrenees as Macabeo, produces a relatively neutral profile when vinified. Its higher acidity makes it a useful partner in blended white wines, as a base for sparkling wines such as Spain’s Cava or to add balance to sweet wines in Maury.
The grapes are hand-harvested from low trained, old bush vines. After crushing into concrete vats, a “Mutage” of neutral alcohol is added to the fermenting wine to arrest fermentation, leaving residual sugars. The wine is then left to age in concrete eggs for thee years, then in oak casks for more time before being transferred to glass demi-muids. These are only partially filled, leaving room for oxidation to occur. The Solera was started in 1987 and every year some wine is bottled from those original containers, which are never emptied below a third. Since 1988, wine from each vintage is added to the original, allowing this precious wine to have a consistent flavour every year.
Semi-sweet and funky! This is old school, traditional Vin Doux Naturels from one of the best producers in the region. Amber-brown with the faintest hint of pink. Rich, nutty aromas of hazelnut and almond, dates, soy sauce and citrus. On the palate, it is unctuous and smooth. The nutty on the nose continues on the palate with raisin, toast, burnt sugar and a hint of meaty savoury. This wine screams for an after dinner cheese plate.