15 Apr 2012

Wines of the week: Le Roc des Anges in the Roussillon

Its not that I am getting to be blasé or anything, but it does happen that weeks can go by without any single wine in particular really impressing me. About a fortnight ago I tasted a very special Valpolicella from Masi, but I didn't take any notes or photos at the time: I was enjoying it too much! I taste many wines in most weeks, and some may be good or even very good. But not that many leave me with that kind of feeling that I want to try them again as soon as possible, maybe even buy some, or perhaps go to see the place they come from.

Maury Op. Nord 2009 from Domaine Les Terres de Fagayra,
and Roc des Anges vin de pays des Pyrenées Orientales 2008

Last week a couple of the wines from an estate called Le Roc des Anges (the Angels' Rock: great name for a place) did all three things for me. Actually one of them is called by another name as it comes from a different estate, but they are both made by the same wife and husband team, Marjorie and Stéphane Gallet. This other wine is a red fortified Maury and is called Op. (for Opus) Nord from the 4 hectares estate that the Gallets acquired 4 years ago and which is named Domaine Les Terres de Fagayra.

The Roussillon is the name given to French Catalonia, and its capital is Perpignan, which a painter whose work I dislike, called Dali, famously described (actually its railway station) as "the centre of the world". But then he was the number one poseur. The area lies against the north-east Spanish border, squeezing itself into the narrow band of land between the Pyrenees mountains and the Mediterranean sea, wrapping itself around the mountains in a precarious balancing act. Although much of the plains and coastal reaches of the Roussillon have been ruined by the usual horrific sub-urban sprawl, laced with motorways, "commercial" zones, caravan sites, billboards and the rest of the usual trash, most of this region is ruggedly beautiful land which bears the imprint of its violent topography, not to mention past wars, winds that may blow for more than half the year, hot sun and frequent droughts.

Marjorie at work in her winery

The Gallets met while they were both oenology students at Montpellier University. Marjorie started the estate more or less on her own as Stephane had a job managing a large estate nearby called Mas Amiel. Now they work together. The 26 hectares of Le Roc des Anges are comprised of something like 50 different plots of vines, which, in this rock-strewn and constantly folding landscape makes for some very variable orientations, altitudes, and soil types, not to mention the varieties planted since they have acquired, bit by bit, many plots planted with old vines. This hard-to-work area has been progressively abandoned by the older generation of local vinegrowers, who, with rare exceptions, did not make their own wines but delivered their grapes to merchants or cooperative wineries. As there is an altitude factor involved, their whites are incredibly fresh for southern whites, but it is the reds, or one of them, that I am going to try to describe here. 

This is produced from a plot of very old (over 100 years) Carignan vines. I first sampled this wine, in Marjorie's first vintage, back in 2002 and it knocked me out then. This week I tasted the 2008 vintage. Don't be fooled by the label and the 1903 printed in bold type: that is the year in which the vines were planted. 

Carignan is a much maligned grape variety as it was for some time planted in the wrong places. But is particularly suited to this extreme climate and the low yields than result from the terrain and the lack of water, as it retains acidity despite the summer heat. Hence it never feels heavy, as can be the case with grenache, also widely planted around these parts. Carignan produced from old vines can be quite remarquable, like this one. 

The aromas are as intense as they are closely intermingled, and so are pretty hard to describe. The have shades of spices, wild black fruit, wood smoke and seem rich and warm without being overbearing. The natural warmth of the flavours is perfectly tempered by the ingrained acidity which makes the wine seem vibrant and crisp. The texture is still slightly rough, but that simply evokes images of the ruggedly sharp rocks that litter the land. The freshness continues right to the finish, drawing the wine along a passage of flavours that continue to delight one. I would like another glass please.

The Maury is comparable to a Vintage port on account of the fortification technique used to produce it. It is hence slightly sweet, having been fortified with 10% added alcohol during fermentation. But its tannins, acidity and texture are sufficient to make one almost forget the 16.5% alcohol content. Made with Carignan and Grenache (I think) it will probably last for a long time and I would be very interested to try a bottle in 20 years or so if I'm still around. Maybe I shouldn't have another glass of this, but it tempts me....here's some blue cheese, let's see if that works.

And here is the link to their very well-designed web site, in case you want to know more: http://www.rocdesanges.com/fr/index.html

As for me, I think I'll be heading there sometime this summer on my new bike (that's another story to be told sometime soon).


  1. Sorry to interfere but I think Maury VDN should be 100% grenache noir - if the rules have not changed recently again, that is. In their case, it will probably be just that, as far as I know. And the wine is truly excellent indeed.
    One of the top two estates ....

  2. You should be right Luc as you are on the spot. I just thought that I heard Marjorie mention Carignan when she presented the wine. But I could well be wrong. Damned memory gone to the dogs!