Fitou, a wild and remote subzone on the Languedoc-Roussillon border, is the very first granted appellation in that region. It consists of two small enclaves within Corbières: Fitou Maritime, a clay-limestone band around the saltwater lagoons on the coast, and Fitou Montagneux, a patch of mountainous schist fifteen miles inland. It’s in the former terrain, in the village of Leucate, on the north shore of L’étang de Leucate, where Mireille and Pierre Mann have been steadily building their estate, Mas des Caprices, into one of the top producers in the region.
This is a rugged land kissed by both the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. High yields are impossible to achieve here. Indeed, many of the wines from this region are produced with similar (or even smaller) yields to the most sought after wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy.
The couple, both children of Alsace winemakers, ran a restaurant near the city of Colmar for 10 years. While they loved providing their patrons fresh local products, they felt the need for greater challenges. So they decided to rebuild their lives closer to the earth. In 2003 they moved to southern France and began reinventing themselves as winemakers.
Their passion was evident from the start. The duo eventually settled on the Mediterranean coast and quickly made a name for themselves by producing tasty, genuine wines. Certified organic in 2009, their guiding philosophy is meticulous work in the vineyard while respecting nature with the goal of producing wines that are both expressions of their unique environment and utterly delectable. Forget pudding, the proof of the wine is in the drinking.
Special prices based on purchase of 6-pack (mix-and-match).
~$27 “ZE” (Fitou 2015) Dry Red
A blend of 40% Carignan, 35% Grenache, and 25% Mourvèdre from the windswept Leucate cliff. Fruit, both ripe and fresh, provides the foundation for this crowd-pleasing red. Maturation takes place for nine months, mainly in concrete vats, with around 20% aging in old barrels. Exceptionally floral on the nose, a sip seduces the palate with velvety tannins and silky berry salad. Pop a bottle for pizza, shawarma, or game night with friends.
~$33 “Retour aux Sources” (Fitou 2015) Dry Red
45% Carignan, 25% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache, and 10% Syrah from the Fitou maritime hillsides where pink schist and limestone mix. Maturation takes place for nine months, mainly in concrete vats, with around 20% aging in old barrels. Maturation takes place for nine months, with roughly 70% of the wine in concrete vats and the rest in old barrels. Bold ripe fruit, excellent structure, and heady aromas of ripe fruit and herbs make a wine ideal for hearty vegetable dishes like ratatouille and olive tapenade.
~$33 “Anthocyane” (Fitou 2015) Dry Red
The tête de cuvée from Mas des Caprices is composed of 47% Mourvèdre, 36% Carignan, and 17% Grenache from the estate’s most noteworthy parcels on the limestone plateau of the Leucate peninsula. The wine is matured for close to 16 months in both barrel and demi-muid. It is a broad-shouldered, concentrated wine that still shows finesse. Lovely aromas of bursting ripe black fruit and delicate spice will pair exceptionally well with slow-braised meats and creamy starches.
~$26 “g grenat” (Rivesaltes Grenat 2015) 500ml Sweet Red
The Rivesaltes designation is for the “Vin Doux Naturel” wines that are fortified during fermentation to leave natural residual sugar. Grenat defines a particular Rivesaltes that is both a vintage wine and must be produced with at least 75% Grenache Noir. “g grenat” is actually 100% Grenache Noir that is fresh and full of jellied fruit with a hint of cocao. It has just enough tannin and acidity to avoid being syrupy yet maintaining a softness and ease. It makes a fine dessert on its own or paired with dried fruit, salted nuts, and fresh cheeses.
The Côte Vermeille (vermillion coast) is a 13 mile long stretch of beaches, small bays, creeks, and coves nested along the coastline of southern France on the border of Catalunya. This romantic yet rugged land is where the Massif des Albères, the eastern extremity of the Pyrenees, tumbles into the blue waters of the Mediterranean. The massif’s red rock gives the region its name, and the schist composition of the rock is one of the elements that endow the region’s wines with their earthy, mineral frame, forcing the vine roots deep into the earth to seek moisture and nutrients.
The seaside towns of Collioure and Banyuls-sur-Mer are situated within the small footprint of the Côte Vermeille. Both are centers of the region’s wine production with terraced vineyards carved into the foothills rising up behind them. This is no easy place to be a wine producer. Most of the vineyards are cut into steep slopes and are organized by stone walls and drainage canals that surround them and help to resist erosion. The 37 acres of vineyards at Coume del Mas mainly reside on slopes so steep not even a horse can reach the top, let alone a tractor. Tending and harvesting the vines is done by hand both as a tradition and by necessity. There, the studious vigneron is intimate with every vine and plot of soil.
Coume del Mas was created by Philippe and Nathalie Gard in 2001. The couple produce two types of wines from this challenging terroir: The dry wines, both red and white, of Collioure, and the somewhat Port-like Vin Doux Naturel wines of Banyuls that are fortified during fermentation to leave natural residual sugar. The landscape yields concentrated fruit from the local grape varieties of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Carignan. While this fruit is the backbone for these enchanting and distinctive wines, it is the Gard’s careful work in the vineyard and winery that ensures balance and finesse in each bottle. Today, the couple is recognized as one of the leading producers in the region.
Special prices based on purchase of 6-pack (mix-and-match).
~$34 “Folio” (Collioure 2017) Dry White
90% Grenache Gris and 10% Grenache Blanc from schist soils, “Folio” is fermented with indigenous yeasts and ages on its lees for six months in barrel. Low yields produce a wine that is rich, yet clean and elegant. Herbal and fruit blossom aromas precede a sip of medium-bodied peach fruit to finish with a bit of lime peel. It is a classic Mediterranean white that will pair exceptionally well with rich seafood and poultry dishes.
~$34 “Schistes” (Collioure 2017) Dry Red
100% old vine Grenache from 30 different parcels reveal the unique terroir of Côte Vermeille. The fruit is hand-sorted, destemmed, and crushed into stainless steel tanks where fermentation takes place. The wine macerates on its skins for about five weeks before it is pressed and aged for nine months in tank. The result is a medium-bodied wine redolent of cherry liqueur, licorice, and crushed stone that is quite versatile at the dinner table paired with everything from spicy stir-fry to hunks of red meat.
~$49 “Quadratur” (Collioure 2016) Dry Red
A classic blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, and 20% Carignan from the highest altitude, low yielding old vines on the Coume del Mas estate. Rigorous sorting and a long maceration extracts maximum aromatics and flavor before aging takes place for 12 to 14 months in barrel. Raspberry and black cherry fruit mingle with exotic spices over a medium to full-bodied frame. It is a firm wine, capable of pairing with the heartiest fare, yet also possesses wonderful layers of depth.
~$29 “Galateo” (Banyuls 2017) 500ml Sweet Red
Produced from 100% old vine Grenache grown on prime sites near the sea. The cooling effect of the winds accentuate the fruit character. The wine is fortified on skins to reduce oxidation before aging in oak casks for a minimum of six months. Spiced plums, cherry preserves, milk chocolate, and violets fill your senses before a sip reveals a balanced juiciness that’s not cloyingly sweet nor obviously dry. A perfect accompaniment with fresh fruit and mild cheeses or merely as an apéritif.
$45 “Quintessence” (Banyuls 2015) 500ml Sweet Red
100% Grenache from very low yielding old vines on the estates best sites. Severe selection and a long maceration extract intense flavors for this profound and age-worthy cuvée. The wine is fortified on skins to reduce oxidation before aging in oak barrels (50% new) for a minimum of eight months. A Port-like bouquet of ripe blackberries, cedar spice, and anise precedes a full-bodied, ripe character ideal for pairing with intense hard cheeses and pâtés.
Bernard Baudry “Les Grézeaux” (Chinon 2017) RED
Special 6-pack Price: $146 (~$24/bottle)
Bernard Baudry is easily one of Chinon’s best producers. Born into a winemaking family, Bernard studied oenology in Beaune and began his professional life as a vine-tending consultant at the Tours laboratory. In 1975 he decided to start his own estate with five acres of vines in the village of Cravant-les-Coteaux. Today the estate is 79 acres and Bernard’s son, Matthieu, works with his father to continue producing the consistent, high-quality wines for which the domaine is celebrated.
The Baudry vineyards have always been cultivated according to environmentally friendly methods and have been organically farmed since 2006. To rebalance the organic matter in the soils they maintain their own compost based on cow manure and straw. Yields are controlled by partial disbudding of the vines but the ultimate goal is to find the right balance based on vintage conditions where the vines naturally restrict their own yields. Harvest is done 100% by hand and post-harvest all fruit is de-stemmed and placed into gravity-fed vats where fermentation takes place with indigenous yeasts.
With gravel, sand, limestone, silica, and clay across several distinct parcels, the diversity of soils allows the Baudrys to produce singular wines that express their individual terroir through the lens of Cabernet Franc. The Grézeaux vines are the Baudry’s oldest at around 50 years and were one of the first plots that were purchased when the estate was established 45 years ago. They lie on a bed of gravel and clay near the River Vienne which helps to create a wine of concentration. Fermentation takes place in cement vats and then the wine matures for 12 months in oak barrels, 3-5 years old.
The generosity of the 2017 vintage is revealed by Les Grézeaux’s ripe, dense fruit and soft tannins. The nose is all full of crushed berries, wet slate, and fresh-cut flowers. It presents a bit more structure and gravitas than the price indicates. Drink now paired with a simple but classic Porc aux pruneaux and allow a few bottles to blossom in the cellar over the next decade.
“Le Clos Guillot” (Chinon 2016)
~$31 (when purchased as part of 6-pack with “Les Grézeaux”)
We have a small amount of this 100% Cabernet Franc produced from a plot of a little less than 10 acres in size that was planted between 1993 and 2000. The parcel is situated on a south-southwest exposed slope with clay soils on top of the hill, and yellow tuffeau lower down the grade. After fermentation the wine matures for 12 months in oak barrels, 3-5 years old, and a further nine months in unlined cement vats. The result is a wine that is robust, flinty, and full of tension. The Baudrys are traditionalists and it shows in this classic Chinon.
Maxime Magnon Rozeta (Corbières 2016) RED
Special 6-pack Price: $205 (~$34/bottle)
We’ve been bringing in young star winemaker Maxime Magnon‘s gorgeous expressions of Corbières from reclaimed old-vine plots in high-altitude vineyards for several years now. A native of the Burgundy region, he studied under some of the most respected winemakers in the Northern Rhône and Beaujolais. Influenced by the Beaujolais school (cold maceration, whole cluster fermentation, and minimal use of sulfur) Maxime has studiously harnessed this approach to produce wines that not only speak of the land from where they come but also made in a way which emphasizes purity of fruit and immediate drinkability, unique in Corbières where weight and extraction are the norm.
Maxime’s style and philosophy couldn’t be more apparent in the 2016 vintage of “Rozeta,” a field blend of Carignan, Grenache, and Cinsault from vines of 50-60 years in age. A glassful exudes heady aromatics of strawberry jam and pink floral arrangements that rise above subtler scents of fennel frond and dusty earth. A sip is concentrated red fruit on a fine frame of coiled energy that unfolds over the course of a lengthy, mineral finish. Its deft balance will pair with nearly any protein you put against it but it might be ideal with Julia Child’s Roast Chicken.
Stylistically Maxime Magnon‘s wines may be quite different than his illustrious friend Didier Barral from the nearby appellation of Faugères but he shares a similar naturalist philosophy with Didier. Maxime cultivates his vines with respect for nature and the soil – although what stands for soil in his vineyards is mostly just pure rock and Mediterranean shrubland. He’s certified organic, but also incorporates biodynamic practices into his vineyard management. A mule and several cattle serve for weed control and fertilization.
Maxime mainly farms in Hautes Corbières, a sub-appellation within A.O.C. Corbières that borders Fitou, and sits at a higher elevation with very rocky terrain. The vines are all trained in the ancient gobelet style. Aging of “Rozeta” is done in second-hand, Burgundian barrels sourced from a producer in Chassagne-Montrachet.
~$43 Maxime Magnon “Campagnes” (Corbières 2016)
Maxime Magnon’s tête de cuvée “Campagnès” is a single vineyard field blend of about 95% hundred-year-old Carignan vines co-planted with Grenache, Syrah, Grenache Gris, Macabou, and Terret from soils of clay and limestone on a slope above the river Berre. All grapes are co-fermented prior to aging in second-hand, Burgundian barrels sourced from a producer in Chassagne-Montrachet. “Campagnès” is the most concentrated and age-worthy wine in Maxime’s line-up. It will reward the patient drinker for a decade or more when properly stored.
Happy New Year! Stop by the shop for all your bubbly needs. We have sparkling wines from France, Spain, and Italy starting at $15.
As usual, we’ll have our elaborate selection of small-production sparkling wines, and grower Champagnes from Grand and Premier Cru vineyards. These are the work of passionate small producers and individual growers who are deeply connected to the particularities of each of their vine parcels and believe that wine is made in the vineyard first. They craft wines that express terroir by rigorous work in the vineyards, picking fruit at its peak, and employing minimal intervention in the cellar.
This year we went deep into the cellars of Champagne Tarlant to feature nearly their entire lineup of available Champagne and we even have a handful of their still wines (Coteaux Champenois).
The Tarlant family has tended vines in the Vallée de la Marne since 1687. They began producing their own wine in the 1870s. Such a long and rich history has allowed Benoît Tarlant, the latest family member to head the estate, to continue their reign as one of the region’s most distinguished growers. Benoît’s sister, Mélanie, works the business and marketing side of the operation.
Benoît’s ultimate goal is to make zero-dosage Champagne by means of harvesting his fruit when it reaches its “prettiest” maturity — full of flavor with the acidity in balance. But he is not an absolutist. He will adjust his philosophy when the wines call for it, although it is rare for him to produce a wine that receives more than 6g/L dosage (just a hair over Extra Brut).
Based in the village of Oeuilly, the estate totals 34 acres spread across 57 parcels, each vinified separately. The vines average around 30 years old. Benoit embraces the diversity of his many plots but finds it a challenge to cultivate so many distinct sites using one strict technique. Subsequently, he employs a range of methods depending on the site. Some parcels are managed with biodynamic techniques, some organic, and some with Benoît’s form of “herbal therapy,” where various beneficial herbs are planted among the vines.
$59 “Zero” Brut Nature (2010 Base)
“Zero” is one of Champagne’s best Brut Nature wines. There are decades of effort in perfecting the cuvée as Benoît’s father, Georges, has been making it since the early 1980s, long before it became trendy. The blend is roughly equal proportions of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier. Ripe fruit based on the 2010 harvest, several vintages of reserve wine, and six years aging on the lees combine to produce a wine of beautiful depth. Layers of ripe yellow plum, peach, and citrus precede a honey-toasted richness. Disgorged February 2018.
375ml Half-size “Zero” Brut Nature (2012 Base)
~$31/bottle when purchased by the case
These half-size bottles are based on the 2012 harvest, several vintages of reserve wine, and four years aging on the lees. Disgorged November 2017, half bottles of this quality are rare.
$65 “Zero” Rosé Brut Nature (2013 Base)
A blend of 50% Chardonnay, 44% Pinot Noir, and 6% Pinot Meunier. “Zero” rosé is typically composed of 80% base vintage (currently 2013) with 20% barrel-aged reserve wine. The fruit is from estate parcels in four villages (Oeuilly, Boursault, St-Agnan, and Celles-lès-Condé) in the Vallée de la Marne. This bottling was disgorged in September 2018 and received no dosage. An inviting red berry and floral character reaches the nose before a sip offers notable richness, quite rare for a non-dosé Champagne.
$120 “L’Aérienne” Brut Nature (2004)
$140 “L’Aérienne” Rosé Brut Nature (2004)
The long maturation of the fruit in the 2004 vintage contributed to an intense aromatic expression and a superb balance to this wine, an almost aerial sensation — hence the name of the cuvée, L’Aérienne. The blend is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir from the lieux-dits L’Enclume, Les Marguiniers, Les Forgeottes, and Pierre de Bellevue, consisting of chalk and both friable and hard limestone. It was fermented with natural yeasts and aged in barrel before bottling in May 2005. Disgorgement was performed in 2017 and the wine was finished with zero dosage. The rosé version of this cuvée was disgorged in March of 2018.
$140 “Cuvée Louis” (2002/2003 Base)
Cuvée Louis is named for Benoît’s great-great grandfather Louis, who was the first to bottle the family’s estate wines in 1928. The fruit is from the Tarlant’s original and chalkiest vineyard Les Crayons, named for the high chalk (craie) content of its soils. A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from vines with an average age of 65 years, this is a radiant and monumental Champagne. The bottle spent 14 years with lees and was disgorged in March 2018 and finished with zero dosage.
$180 “La Vigne d’Or” Brut Nature (2004)
A “Blanc des Noirs” 100% Pinot Meunier from a single parcel called Pierre de Bellevue planted in 1947 by the Tarlants’ paternal grandfather. The particular clay-limestone soils there are specific to the Marne Valley and particularly suited for Pinot Meunier. The bottle spent 11 years with lees and was disgorged in October 2015 and finished with zero dosage. Miniscule yields resulted in a ripe and lively wine, with loads of peach and plum fruit balanced with plenty of the tension that is characteristic of the vintage.
$180 “BAM!” Brut Nature (2009 Base)
“BAM!” is produced from the far less common varieties of Pinot Blanc, Arbanne, Petit Meslier. The vines grow in limestone, sand, and silica-based soils of the Four à Chaux – les Sables lieu-dit in the Tarlant’s home village of Oeuilly. This bottling is a 2009 base (50%) plus 2007 & 2008 (50%). It was fermented with natural yeasts and aged in barrel before bottling in May 2010. Disgorgement was performed in April 2016 and the wine was finished with zero dosage. The result is a wine of great texture and harmony.
$190 “La Vigne Royale” Brut Nature (2003)
A “Blanc des Noirs” 100% Pinot Noir from a single parcel of vines called Mocque Tonneau planted in 1972 on a steep, chalky hillside in Celles-lès-Condé. The bottle spent 10 years with lees and was disgorged in October 2014 and finished with zero dosage. This is a rich and powerful Champagne, filled with ripe fruit and spices blanketing a fine core. Full-bodied and complex with impressive length, its name befits its regal character.
$270 “La Vigne d’Antan” Brut Nature (2002)
“La Vigne d’Antan” (The Vines of Yesteryear) is 100% Chardonnay from a single, ungrafted vineyard on sandy soils in Oeuilly. After nine months of aging in fourth-use oak barrels, the wine rested in bottle for over 11 years before disgorgement in May of 2014. Even after nearly two decades, there is still plenty of youthful lemon and apple fruit to go along with the mature layers of honey and brioche. Its flavor intensity is as equally profound as its resonant personality. This is a one of a kind Champagne.