Both sets of Dominique and Valérie Ibanez's parents were co-opérateurs, supplying grapes for the local growers' collective, but they harboured dreams of making their own wine in their own winery and took the plunge in 2001, purchasing a 6 hectare parcel of vines. Today, their vine holdings extend over 12 hectares, all of which are farmed organically. Based in the village of Villeveyrac, near the historic Abbaye de Valmagne, they benefit from having an iron-rich Bauxite soil which helps give their wines a fresh acidity despite the low altitude at which the grapes are gown. As well as cultivating traditional varieties such as Syrah and Grenache, they also own a plot of Alicante Bouschet from which they make their terrific red 'Meli-Melo' bottling known affectionately as 'the Beaujolais of the South'. It has a bright red fruit bouquet and juicy palate of crushed garrigue berries supported by fondant tannins and is terrific served lightly chilled with soft cheese or charcuterie.
Domaine de Montcalmès
Based in the hill village of Puéchabon on the eastern flank of the Terrasses de Larzac, Frédéric Pourtalié's Domaine de Montcalmès is rightly regarded as one of the region's brightest stars by savvy sommeliers and canny cavistes. Made from a blend of 60% Syrah and 20% each of Mourvèdre and Grenache Noir grown on lacustrine limestone soils, the eponymous red wine undergoes a 24 month élévage in vat and barrel prior to blending and bottling without filtration. After three years under conversion, Frédéric's entire 25 hectares of vines were awarded organic certification in the 2015 vintage. Despite crop depletion from frost and wild boars, the recent vintage run has been terrific and there has been a lot of positive press. With evocative wild herb and berry aromas and a complex core of dark stone fruit supported by peppery tannins, the finished wine is approachable on release (if decanted) but will age well for a decade or more, especially in larger bottle formats.
Jancis Robinson OBE, MW made the following observations on the 2016 vintage, giving a score of 17/20 and a drinking window of 2019-2025: "Bright garnet. Mineral lift – really high toned. Then glorious rich fruit on the palate. All of it skilfully corseted and showing every sign of being a great wine for the long term. Very smart indeed."
Domaine de la Grange des Pères
The 2018 growing season saw the introduction of high tension anti- wild boar fencing at Laurent Vaillé's iconic Domaine de la Grange des Pères in the hills above Aniane, north-west of Montpellier, after half the potential 2017 harvest was consumed by marauding sangliers in the late summer. Happily, the quality of the fruit that was picked was excellent but there is going to be a paucity of supply for a wine for which demand is burgeoning. The 2018 vintage saw higher yields harvested in optimum conditions so hopefully we will be able to redress the balance somewhat when that is blended and bottled.
For those who haven't been paying attention or have acquired a copy of this list for the first time, Laurent is the visionary son of co-opérateur grape growers who gave up a career as a physiotherapist to pursue his passion for wine. After training at a roll-call of top estates (including Domaine de Trévallon, J-L Chave and Coche-Dury) he produced the first vintage of Grange des Pères in 1992 – a bottle of which sold for €5,219 at auction last December. Somehow a bottle crossed the path and palate of the 'Emperor of Wine' Robert Parker who enthused thus: "Voluptuously-textured, with superb concentration, this full-bodied, beautifully pure, intense, layered wine is a dead-ringer for a top-notch Châteaunuef-du-Pape or Coteaux de Baux." The rest, as they say, is history.
The base grape at Grange des Pères is Mourvèdre which typically comprises 40% of the blend along with 35% Syrah, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Counoise. Each grape variety is vinified separately and racked in Burgundy barrels for around 24 months prior to fastidious blending and bottling. The finished wine can be surprisingly accessible in youth but positively relishes bottle age; we have yet to sample a vintage that isn't still drinking well.