On Saturday May 10, we picked up a car at the Barcelona airport and drove North over the French-Spanish border. We stayed in the sleepy little town of Sorede in the foothills of the Massif des Alberes.
Wine-wise, this was easily the most disappointing trip to France I have ever taken. Local wines I tried were all very mediocre, to say the least. I always try to drink local wines and if possible AOC wines from the area. The Corbieres, Minervois, and Vins de Pays I sampled were all extremely forgettable. Amazing to see how much land is under vineyards, but how little of the local wine is any good.
The big exception to the rule was the Domaine Mas Blanc. I tasted through their entire lineup with none other than Dr. Parce himself. The bottlings that impressed me most were his:
2001 Collioure AOC Agoulle, which is a 100% Grenache wine that gets its name from the gutter that fringes the vineyard in a V-fashion. Impressively dense wine that despite its great ripeness still shows loads of freshness and depth. Not heavy at all, the nose is effusive and changing all the time. I bought a bottle and followed it over 3 days and the wine just kept changing. No need to drink this anytime soon. One word of caution on this wine…it is very funky and at times has almost seashell-like aromas, so I am not sure this is for everyone.
2003 Collioure AOC Clos de Moulin, which is a 100% Mourvedre blend. Just awesome and somewhat reminiscent of some wines from Bandol. Rather deep and brooding and supremely tannic, but all in great balance. Will last a minimum of 10-15 more years. Another wine that shows great finesse and power.
2006 Collioure AOC Signature Blanc, which is mostly Grenache blanc with a few other varietals blended in (IIRC Viognier and Roussanne). Superb freshness but also great depth and palate presence. To me, it reminded of CdP blanc. Apple and melon with pure limestone and crushed rock. Just a pleasure to drink, especially with local shellfish like Langoustines.
All of Parce’s Banyuls dessert wines were sensational, so I won’t pick one out as my favorite, but I need to mention that he makes two kinds of Banyuls. Those who are fermented without contact with air and those that are intentionally oxidized. My personal preference was for the wines that were intentionally oxidized (by allowing the barrels to be stored outside and leaving a layer of airt in them instead of topping off). Those wines were more interesting, had more character, and showed a little more spice and advanced notes of age. Surely, the non-oxidized wines will develop in the same direction, but they will take longer to get to the same point. All Banyuls doux are 100% Grenache Noir.
The other wine highlight came in form of a 2005 Bel-Air Pomerol I purchased for 15 Euros at the local Carrefour. Just a lovely wine that had superb balance and great depth and layers. If this is indicative of the quality of the vintage, then I’m glad I ended up buying some more recently, especially considering that this is a value wine.
On the food front, we made a pilgrimage to Castelnaudary to eat the famous Cassoulet de Castelnaudary in its birthplace. And I thought it was worth the drive for sure, despite not being able to eat it at the place that makes the best Cassoulet in town (closed on that day).