Many describe the Roussillon as the new frontier of French wine, a result of producers like Domaine Vinci creating compelling cuvées from dramatic vineyards in the rugged highlands of French Catalonia. These arid, sun-drenched inclines are home to a number of extremely old vines in a diversity of soil types, often planted at high elevation—a recipe for concentrated wines with freshness and striking complexity derived from their terroir. The cuvée Rafalot comes from century-old dry-farmed Carignan in rugged clay and limestone soils, tended with the utmost care and respect for the environment. Olivier Varichon and his wife, Emmanuelle Vinci, stomp the grapes by foot and let them ferment naturally before aging the wine in neutral barrels before an unfined, unfiltered bottling with minimal added sulfur. Imposingly structured with deep, powerful black fruit, licorice, and spicy herbal tones, this big, bad Roussillon red makes a serious case for the Wild West of French wine.
It took Olivier Varichon and Emmanuelle Vinci years of dabbling in various careers before finally settling down and establishing their domaine in the heart of the Roussillon. They fell in love with the wild, rugged landscape of the Agly Valley, and in 2001 Domaine Vinci was born. They now organically farm six hectares of stunning vineyard sites, nestled at high altitudes amid scraggly garrigue and perilous outcrops. Due to the steep grades, everything is worked by hand. As a result, each vineyard represents a stable, balanced ecosystem in which native Maccabeu and Carignan Blanc, along with Grenache Blanc, Carignan, Mourvèdre, and Grenache Noir, are able to thrive and express the rustic wonder of this unique terroir.
Ask wine drinkers around the world, and the word “Languedoc” is sure to elicit mixed reactions. On the one hand, the region is still strongly tied to its past as a producer of cheap, insipid bulk wine in the eyes of many consumers. On the other hand, it is the source of countless great values providing affordable everyday pleasure, with an increasing number of higher-end wines capable of rivaling the best from other parts of France.
While there’s no denying the Languedoc’s checkered history, the last two decades have seen a noticeable shift to fine wine, with an emphasis on terroir. Ambitious growers have sought out vineyard sites with poor, well draining soils in hilly zones, curbed back on irrigation and the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and looked to balance traditional production methods with technological advancements to craft wines with elegance, balance, and a clear sense of place. Today, the overall quality and variety of wines being made in the Languedoc is as high as ever.
Shaped like a crescent hugging the Mediterranean coast, the region boasts an enormous variety of soil types and microclimates depending on elevation, exposition, and relative distance from the coastline and the cooler foothills farther inland. While the warm Mediterranean climate is conducive to the production of reds, there are world-class whites and rosés to be found as well, along with stunning dessert wines revered by connoisseurs for centuries.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
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