As specialists in Burgundy, Barolo and Germany, a wine coming from the Southern French appellation of Roussillon was always going to have to be really quite special in order to truly pique our interest. But so it was that while tasting scores of producers from France’s Mediterranean zones one in particular caused us to sit up and take note.
Jean Boucabeille’s estate is perched on the schist slopes of the Forca Real hill, approximately 20 kms west of Perpignan. The self-contained vineyard amounts to 28 hectares laid out in one hundred metre terraces. Orientation is south easterly, giving the vines protection from the fierce evening sun and allowing direct access to the cool breezes coming off the Mediterranean. Holdings comprise Syrah, Grenache and Mouvedre, alongside Grenache Blanc, Rousanne and Macabeo. Everything is grown organically, and certified so, with a huge emphasis on the healthy state of the vineyard and surrounding countryside (there are over 100 beehives on the estate). The entire crop is worked and harvested by hand, and fermentations are allowed to happen naturally without recourse to cultured yeasts.
The estate has historical importance, however it’s current guise, in Jean’s own words, was borne out of a “hair brained gamble: to replant vines on the very hillside where for centuries the best wines in the region originated” Representing too much work for too little pay off, the steep schist soils of the Forca Real had been abandoned during the early 20th Century. Replanting eventually took place in the mid-1970s, the vines today having reached excellent maturity at almost 40 years old. Winemaking involves concrete vats for the entry level wines, and judicious use of oak for the more serious cuvees. Extraction is kept to a wonderfully gentle level.
Up and down the range, the wines speak clearly of Roussillon yet remain eminently drinkable. Generous, schist and garrigue infused dark fruit characters are allied to exceedingly suave tannic structures. Alcohol levels are modest for the region and almost inconspicuous in the finished wines – and the general sense of freshness that pervades the range means that you find yourself returning to these most characterful wines over and over again. For a weeknight glass of something extremely satisfying, Les Terrasses punches above its weight. Monte Nero offers silk textured dark fruits on very fine slate minerality. Jean’s top wine, in both white and red, is Les Orris, a wine which deserves cellaring, but which could be approached today if a decanter was employed. For what it is worth, the 2011 Orris Rouge found favour with Jeb Dunnuck from erobertparker – the 2013 should be entirely its equal. There is grace and poise in these wines, some of Roussillon’s finest, and we are delighted to have them on board.