A naturally beautiful wine from the Roussillon

by Tom Fiorina on November 2, 2013


Unenhanced beauty

This bottle of Domaine des Soulanes wine (a 17-ha property near the small village of Maury in the French Roussillon region on the border with Spain) had been in my cellar since I first visited that area with my family several years ago.

My knowledge of the vineyard is limited to the domaine’s barebones website and some importer notes on the Internet about the dry red and white wines and Vins doux Naturels wines made by owners Daniel and Cathy Laffite from old Grenache, Carignan and Syrah vines once used to make the sweet, fortified VdN wines that the Roussillon region was best known for.

Bordered by the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean, this region was once part of the kingdom of Aragon. Even today, many people here identify culturally with neighboring Catalonia in Spain more than they do with the rest of France. It’s wild, hot and windy country, and the dry, barren schist and limestone land is well suited for growing grapes or olives.

The 2007 Bastoul Laffite is either, depending on which importer website you look at (and the domaine’s website has no information about the whether it is a varietal wine or a blend), 95% or 100% Grenache. Garnet red with some brown highlights, the wine’s nose was earthy, but elegant, with a mix of red fruits, leather and spicy herbs.

The wine has great complexity and sophistication, with a delicious spiciness. Rich coffee flavors, dried herbs and tobacco mingle harmoniously with perfectly ripened fruit. And that beauty lasts even after you have drained your glass. This wine has an incredibly long finish that can literally be measured in days, not just seconds.  As a test, I left my unwashed wine glass on the counter overnight, and the next day—just like when you smell the glass from the Armagnac that you had the evening before, and there are still remnants of the brandy’s characteristic licorice or chocolate aromas—I could still smell the Bastoul Laffite’s seductive Grenache blend of black cherries, tobacco and spicy herbs.

This is what I love about the best Roussillon wines. They’re the exact opposite of big, impossibly intense, deeply colored red wines made with over-ripe grapes and then finished off with centrifuges that spin out water and concentrate the alcohol and flavors into a thick-and-chewy international style.

The Bastoul Laffite is no light-weight—it comes in at 14.5% alcohol, but it is expressive and place-driven with a naturally elegant earthy spiciness. I’d compare it to a naturally beautiful mature woman whose facial character lines and other natural aging features are infinitely more attractive than a botex-treated, immovable forehead mounted over surgically-enlarged lips.

Wine, like women, is best when it’s naturally elegant.

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David Johnstone November 4, 2013 at 17:02

I’ve always enjoyed the wines from Soulanes though it’s been limited over the years to the Cuvée Jean Pull. Natural elegance is an apt description.

Tom Fiorina November 4, 2013 at 19:12

Thanks, David, for your comment. I’ll definitely try the Cuvée Jean Pull.

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