April is the month that I hit the road visiting vignerons across the region as I taste and select wines for the busy summer season. Each year I try to find either new domains to work with, or I revisit those that I haven’t seen for several years, to discover what is new.
Yesterday I headed to Villerouge-Termenès in the Corbières to meet Olivier Fouquet and Aline Costella of ‘Domaine Les Pierres Bleues’. A small, 6ha, organic winery hidden in les Hautes Corbières. The pretty village of Villerouge is more famous for its attractive Cathar castle (https://bit.ly/2uXGbze) than its wine making, as since the cave co-operative closed down there are very few vines left and only two winemakers remain in the village.
Olivier is the driving force behind the ‘Pierres Bleues’ as Aline runs the busy ‘Librairie – Le Nom de l’Homme’ in Lagrasse. Olivier is originally from the north of France, where he studied agriculture at university. He fast became disillusioned with the over-industrialised farming methods that were being taught, finding it so far removed from the poly-culture farm methods of his grandparents in Normandy. So, turning away from agriculture, Olivier decided to study oenology and it was on completion of his studies in Tours that he answered a job advertisement for a winery in the Corbières just outside of Lagrasse, ‘Le Borde Rouge’.
It was here that Olivier initially started winemaking and where he fell in love with the wild landscape of the Corbières. He later went on to work at ‘Domaine de la Rune’, an organic estate outside of Taliran. Then in 2008 he bought his first vines in Villerouge-Termenès.
Olivier has worked organically since the beginning, converting the vines that he acquired, and his approach is a healthy respect for nature with minimal intervention in the winery. That said he makes a point of explaining that his wines are not ‘vin nature’ as he does use sulphur, albeit in very small doses and only at the bottling stage. That, combined with the cool temperatures, (we are at 400m above sea level here), and the schistous soil, gives his wines a clean fruit character and a distinct mineral freshness.
With only 6ha he has small plantings of Roussanne (1ha), Syrah (2ha), Grenache (2ha) and Carignan (40a) ranging between 30 and 60 years old. Then four years ago he planted some more white varieties; Marsanne, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc and Macabeu and he tells me that if we get any rain this year he might be able to make his first white Corbières!
His wines are divided into two categories; Vin de France and the AOP Corbières. Below are my notes:
Blanc 2017 Vin de France
Pale, golden lemon with a gently aromatic nose of fresh pears and blossoms that benefit being served not too cold, at around 12ºC. A dry, crisp, fresh mouthfeel that follows on from the nose with a pleasing mineral finish. Drink in its youth with oysters, a fresh goats cheese or asparagus.
Rosé 2018 Vin de France
80% Grenache, 20% Syrah
He usually makes this in the saignée method, but this year was done by gentle pressing the grapes. A very pretty coppery pink colour with a rhubarb and strawberry bonbon nose. The palate is off-dry, with 9g of residual sugar left. Slightly funky on the palate, perhaps a tad too ‘natural’ for my taste, but with a very appealing colour!
Rouge 2017 Vin de France
50/50 Syrah and Grenache
The Rouge undergoes malolactic fermentation which gives the vibrant purple/pink colour to the wine. An appealing nose of black fruits and elderberry. Youthful tannins give way to crunchy currants with a hint of aromatic black pepper spice and pencil shavings.
I would serve this slightly chilled with a peppered tuna steak or a herby, duck saucisson sec.
Mémère 2017 Vin de France
Predominately Carignan with a hint of Ugni Blanc. Mémère translates as ‘granny’; so named due to the 60 year old gnarled Carignan vines that are bent and twisted and held up with a cane (like a grandma with her walking stick!) The small quantity of Ugni Blanc that grows alongside the Carignan is added for its freshness. A deep and intense looking wine with notes of damsons and violets that progresses into a savoury, earthy finish.
This is a wine that could benefit with a bit of aeration and I would serve it with a grilled, herby, pork brochette.
Morphée 2016 AOP Corbières
60% Syrah and 40% Grenache. Vibrant purple in colour with plenty of youthful black fruits and spice. Currants and spice dominate the palate, finishing with a crisp, mineral length.
I would serve this with fatty dishes; think charcuterie, grattons de canard or pork. That nervous acidity would cut through the fat, allowing the fruit to shine through.
Morphée 2017 AOP Corbières – tank sample
This was a fascinating example of how vintage variation can be very pronounced when wines are made in a more spontaneous style. There was more Syrah in this vintage than the 2016 and the wine was much deeper and robust in both flavour as well as colour. Dark, ripe black fruits, earthy notes and spice dominated. It was very interesting. Being a tank sample it wasn’t yet the finished deal, but I have ordered a case as he plans to bottle it within the month.
Quartz 2016 AOP Corbières
50/50 Syrah and Grenache. These are the last vines to be harvested, they then undergo a slow fermentation and ageing in 400l barrels, for up to 14 months. The wine is intense and opaque, with a pronounced nose of ripe cassis and an oaky creaminess. Chewy tannins developing into a smoky, blackcurrant and liquorice palate, marked acidity and a long length.
Decant for a good hour before serving and serve with a confit de canard and Lauragais lentils.
All of the wines are very good value, Olivier’s philosophy is that he wants everyone to be able to purchase his wines. He is a very amiable, generous character and I appreciated his honest and simple approach to both winemaking and business! You can purchase his wines directly from the domain, there is also a very good shop, ‘Esprit de Garrigue’, in the village selling ‘produits de terroir’. A selection of his wines are also available at many of the Bio Co-op shops across the region.