Côtes du Roussillon Wine
Serious Syrah enthusiasts and practitioners of organic viticulture the Laughton family (from Jasper Hill in Heathcote, Australia) and Michel Chapoutier (of Hermitage renown) started a joint venture in the Agly river valley in 2002 which they elected to call 'Agly Brothers'. Hailing from elevated slopes of Syrah and Grenache Noir surrounding the village of Latour de France, this top flight Côtes du Roussillon is approachable from release (if decanted) and can age well for a decade. With a deep purple colour, briary berry scents and a concentrated palate of dark stone-fruit with hints of pepper and spice and enough tannic grip to support 5 to 7 years bottle age, this is a versatile crowd-pleaser that pairs well with cassoulet or a slowly-cooked beef stew.
Hervé Bizeul is an insightful and questing former sommelier and wine journalist who recognised the potential of some ancient, abandoned terraces of vines growing in the steep hills above the Agly valley and decided to back himself. On a necessarily modest budget, he rented some cellar space in Vingrau and produced his first vintage in 1998. Over the ensuing years Hervé's wines have garnered a wealth of positive, international press and, perhaps unsurprisingly, have been well received by the hospitality community. Meanwhile he has steadily added to his vine holdings and invested in contemporary wine making equipment and premises. Today, Domaine du Clos des Fées extends to 50 hectares of vines encompassing soils of schist, granite and limestone that are planted with both international and Mediterranean grape varieties.
Amongst the estate's most prolific and popular bottlings are two cuvées of Côtes du Roussillon both named 'Les Sorcières' ('the Witches') which are intentionally designed to approachable on their youthful fruit - an important cash-flow consideration in the early days. The white is made from a blend of Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Roussanne and Maccabeo that are aged on their lees for 8 months in stainless-steel vats prior to bottling. The finished wine – bottled in clear glass - has a limpid yellow colour, appealing citrus and camomile scents and a bright stonefruit palate offset by fresh acidity. It doesn't demand a food accompaniment but would be a safe bet with shellfish or sushi. The red version is blended from 50% Syrah, 35% Grenache Noir and 10% Carignan and 5% young-vine Mourvèdre and has soft red fruit aromas and a palate of hedgerow berry fruit supported by supple tannins.
Hervé also makes smaller batches from old-vine rootstock that are more complex, ageworthy and have a strong sense of terroir. A Grenache Blanc (that also contains a modicum of Grenache Gris for freshness) comes from 80 year-old vines located 400 metres above sea level. With a bouquet of ripe orchard fruit, complex peach and apricot palate with uplifting mineral streaks, it pairs well with Catalonian dishes rich in garlic, herbs and chilli. Its red sibling is made from an innovative blend of Grenache Noir, Lladoner Pelut, Carignan and Syrah aged in both vat and barrel before blending and bottling. With a wealth dense, black fruit on the nose and a core of briary garrigue berries, notes of ground pepper and enough weight to age well for a decade or more, it merits decanting and would be a perfect partner to cassoulet however you choose to make it.