AT THE BAR garnacha/grenache
FRANCE: ROUSSILLON, A GRENACHE LEADER
Roussillon, Southern partner of the Languedoc-Roussillon
wine region, is the sunniest French wine region. It’s shaped like
an amphitheater and fronts the Mediterranean with mountains
on three sides, which protects it from harsh weather.
With 2,800 year-old artifacts manifesting ancient wine
production, the region has strong winemaking traditions and
five AOPs (appellations of protected origins, formerly AOCs)
dedicated to fortified sweet wines. Roussillon produces 80% of
France’s famous vins doux naturels. Close to Catalonia in culture,
language and winegrowing, the area is selling more quality dry
red, rosé and white grenache from eight dry wine AOPs.
Founded in 1895, Domaine Cazes is a heritage estate with
organic certification for more than 20 years. Wine ambassador Emmanuel Cazes’ grandfather
planted the vines for the estate. The flagship Clos de Paulilles brand ranges from the salmon-colored rosé to the sweet Grand Cru Banyuls. Cazes innovates with modern labels such as Alter
and Ego, with a range of descriptors from fresh and fruity to wooded and powerful.
Mas Amiel is a grand mix of history and innovation in Maury. The late-19th century aging cellar
adjoins the modern tasting room. The fortified wines are aged outdoors in traditional glass demi-johns,
where the change of temperature, sunlight and barometric pressure result in a one-third loss of wine
during aging. New owners helped initiate the Maury AOP for dry wines and increased dry wine to half of
production. With organic-certified vineyards, the winery is focused on biodynamic certification. Origine
is the top-selling wine, and popular Vertigo is crafted from steep schist-laden slopes.
Vignobles Dom Brial is a co-op winery representing 2,046 growers from seven villages. The
tasting room and labels are modern and the cellar has an optical grape sorter to select the highest-quality grapes. Yet the Les Pins and Co. label references the Château les Pins winery located in a
historic building in Baixas village. The winery produces both dry and fortified sweet wines from the
well-known Rivesaltes AOP.
Victor Gardiés, the 7th-generation winemaker of Domaine Gardiés in Espira de l’Agly, uses
modern techniques. “We young winemakers talk about the spice of the juice from our rugged terroir
at the edge of limestone cliffs—we aren’t so interested in smooth wines,” he says. The winery’s
Clos des Vignes Red Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel offers a freshness and vibrancy that
Gardiés says pairs well with daube marinated in a red wine sauce. Gardiés produces his vins doux
naturels with minimum sugar to pair well with spicy Asian food.
After working with Gina Gallo of E. & J. Gallo in Chile and other global consulting gigs, Jean-Marc Lafage returned to his home region around Perpignan, the central town of Roussillon. At
Domaine Lafage he focuses on grenache, producing mostly dry wines from prime grapes from his
estate and his friends’ vineyards within the Côtes du Roussillon AOP. Lafage designed the winery,
the shape of the tanks and a special cooling system for gentle processing. His Miraflores Rosé label
has a large U.S. presence, as does Lafage Narassa and the Saint-Roch Chimères blends.
GARNACHA/GRENACHE ON A SINGULAR PATH
At The Market, Connelly finds growing appreciation for garnacha. “There are so many styles
of the wine, because of variations in growing regions, that there is much room for it to be noticed
and loved around the world,” she says.
In the Roussillon area of Collioure, vintner Vincent Cantié of Domaine La Tour Vielle likes
to compare wine to people. Grenache, he says, “is like Buddha, a chubby good friend who is
dominant yet elegant, and always there for you.”
DEBORAH GROSSMAN IS A SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA JOURNALIS T WHO WRITES ABOUT PEOPLE, PLACES AND PRODUC TS THAT IMPAC T THE FOOD-AND- WINE WORLD.
The unique schist soils of
Roussillon have attracted well-known vintners to launch estates.
The quality-minded approach of
French winemaking consultants
François Lurton and Jean-Luc
Thunevin has helped elevate
winemaking in the region.
Lurton is a celebrated “flying
winemaker” and vintner who owns
wineries in France, Argentina, Chile
and Spain. In 2006, attracted
by the schist soils located at the
bottom of a limestone cliff near
Corbières by the Mediterranean,
Lurton purchased Mas Janeil. He
likes the freshness of the schist
reflected in the wine. The mule on
the label of the flagship Mas Janeil
wine reflects the Catalan name for
the animal, janeil, and the hard work
of the winery team. Lurton and his
team preserve the garrigue aromas
from the bushy, fragrant plants of
the terroir by nurturing yeast during
fermentation and adding minimal
sulfur. The result is a wine with
smoky, licorice notes and minerality
from the schist, which pairs well
with a peppery steak.
As a young winemaker, Jean-Roger
Clavet worked in a large co-op. Later,
he spun off to become a garagiste,
or small-production vintner making
wine in garages or borrowed cellars.
In 2002, Thunevin took took note
of Clavet, and they launched the
new winery. Thunevin gained fame
as a garagiste in Bordeaux. Later,
he launched Château Valandraud
in St. Émilion with his wife, and
began consulting with many wineries.
Intrigued by the unique terroir and
old vines of Roussillon, Thunevin
brought the methods of St. Émilion to
the partnership. Thunevin and Clavet
prefer to harvest riper grapes and age
the wine in new barrels. The results
are full-bodied ageable wines such as
Hugo and the elegant Trois Marie.
ABOVE: Domaine Lafage tasting room.