28 Nov 2010

Wine of the week 1

 Domaine Sarda Malet, La Carbasse, Rivesaltes Grenat, 2005

I have decided to introduce a "wine of the week" column in this blog. Whether I manage to keep up the schedule will depend, to some extent, on the quality of the wines I taste each week, but there are usually quite a few candidates. I will only select wines that I think are really good, and maybe often a little bit off the beaten track.

The sweet red, amber or white wines from the Roussillon region in Southern France, near the border with Spain, are just a part of those insufficiently-sung glories of French wines. Overshadowed in international markets by ports and sherries, and relatively ignroed even in the French domestic market (which, paradoxically, imports vast quantities of poor-quality ports), they form a category to which only a few aficianados pay much attention. Production, fast shrinking, is kept alive by a few tenacious individual estates and a number of cooperative wineries. Most of these wines used to be of the amber/tawny coloured, oxidised type, raised sometimes for decades in large oak containers, but, to counter the port styles of vintage and lbv, growing numbers of sweet reds, bottled much younger and sometimes with tannins as in vintage ports, are now available. The designation "Rivesaltes Grenat" on the label of this wine signifies its red colour and therefore indicates, to some extent, its style. Rivesaltes is a far-flung appellation that covers large parts of the Roussillon area near Perpignan.

Some of the Rivesaltes vineyard area from the air

Sarda Malet is one of the very good producers of this unsual type of wine, as well as of a fine range of dry reds. The wine's colour is deep and its smell reminsicent of very ripe plums, overlaid with a strong touch of spices and something almost like wax. The fruit is totally scrumptious on the palate, and the balance of the wine finely set so that one cannot feel the 16% alcohol (these are fortified wines, like port). It fact is feels fresh and very more-ish. There is also a lively tannic grip to it that slightly puckers the mouth and, by its dryness, balances the sweetness. This is absolutely delicious on its own, or with strongly-flavoured cheeses, but I would give it a go with one of those chocolate desserts that is runny in the midddle and crunchy on the outside. This is not a hugely expensive wine and should be available in most markets for around 20 euros or the equivalent. It is well worth this sum, especially as it lasts very well for a week or two after opening and welcomes slow and meditative drinking.

both photographs by David Cobbold

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