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MWG February 18th tasting: Clos du Rouge Gorge rouge

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A transplant from the Loire Valley, Cyril Fahl owns and farms a number of parcels around the village of Latour-de-France in the Côtes Catalanes region of the Roussillon, inland from the Mediterranean coast and just north of the Spanish border. The area forms the historic boundary between France and Catalonia and lies on the geologic frontier between Corbières and the foothills of the Pyrenees. Fahl’s hillside vineyards, which face north and east, are biodynamically farmed, worked by hand or horse and planted to local varieties (his reds don’t qualify for the AOC because they don’t contain Syrah or Mourvèdre, neither of which is native to the region). The winemaking is non-interventionist, even minimalist. As a result, the terroir is there for the tasting.

IGP Côtes Catalanes 2013, Cuvée du Patron, Clos du Rouge Gorge ($30.25, private import, NLA)
A blend of Grenache and Cinsault. Fermented with indigenous yeasts and matured in 500-litre wooden barrels. Bottled unfiltered and unfined. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Reduced, sulphurous nose that eventually gives up some red fruit and earth notes (so carafe it a couple of hours before serving, all right?). No funk in the mouth, though, just pure, rich yet ethereal fruit on a frame of silky smooth acidity and supple tannins that turn a little raspy on the clean finish. Straightforward and eminently drinkable, this would be the perfect everyday red if only it were a few dollars cheaper. (Buy again? Sure.)

IGP Côtes Catalanes 2013, Jeunes vignes, Clos du Rouge Gorge ($38.00, private import, NLA)
100% Grenache from 30-year-old vines in a single parcel with gneiss subsoil. Manually harvested, trod by foot, vinified with indigenous yeasts in wooden vats for three months, matured eight months in stainless steel. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Cherry cough drop, slate, hints of violet and dill. Medium- to full-bodied, smooth, supple, dry. A delicious mouthful of ripe-sweet spicy fruit, silky tannins and bright acidity. Longer and deeper than the Cuvée du Patron, cooler and more satiny that your typical Rhône Grenache. Lip-smackingly good. (Buy again? Yes.)

IGP Côtes Catalanes 2012, Vieilles vignes, Clos du Rouge Gorge ($55.75, private import, NLA)
A blend of Carignan (80%) and Grenache (20%) from 50- to 100-year-old vines rooted in gneiss. After light foot-treading, the whole bunches are transferred to wooden vats for low-temperature fermentation with no punch-downs or pump-overs. Matured 12 months in 500-litre barrels and old casks. Unfiltered and bottled by gravity. Total sulphur dioxide is less than 20 mg/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Fragrant, terroir-redolent nose of raspberry, turned earth and wood with earthy and floral overtones and the promise of much more. Dense but not weighty. The fruit is profound – “soulless dark” to quote one taster, like the eidos of black currant juice – and perfectly balanced by the round/soft tannins and sleek acidity. Smoky minerals inhabit the long, savoury finish. The wonder is how it manages to be both immediate and remote, both upfront and enigmatic. The sweet spot of the flight. (Buy again? Imperatively.)

IGP Côtes Catalanes 2012, Ubac, Clos du Rouge Gorge ($93.75, private import, NLA)
100% Cinsault from a single parcel of 40-year-old vines. The gneiss slope is steep and faces due north. Extremely low yields (c. 15 hl/ha). The whole berries are macerated for 10 days, then foot-trod and transferred with the stems to wooden vats for fermentation. Matured 20 months in Austrian demi-muids. Bottled by gravity. Total sulphur dioxide around 20 mg/l. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Brooding, profound, turning more fragrant as it breathed: raspberry cordial, turned earth, garrigue.
Fluid yet dry and velvety tannined. Young, so primary and closed, but hinting at great depth. The dark fruit is both savoury and sweet-tart, while the mineral substrate is most apparent on the minutes-long finish. Absolutely gorgeous: du grand vin as they say around here. Probably won’t peak for another 10 to 15 years. (Buy again? If the price isn’t prohibitive, go for it!)

Demand for the Jeunes vignes is high (so much so that oenopole requires that purchasers also buy a case of the Vieilles vignes). One of the reasons is that restaurateurs find it hard to convince customers to lay down a C-note and change – what the VV will run you in a resto – for a vin de pays, however amazing. And while the MWG has been buying the white, JV and VV since they first became available in Quebec, the JV – largely because of its price – has always elicited the most interest. Yet this flight, our first time tasting the reds side by side, showed the VV to be the real QPR winner, combining some of the JV’s fruity appeal with much of the Ubac’s complexity and depth.

(Flight: 4/5)

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