This is a story about being drawn to a place.
One story follows people who left this place, where their family had been for generations, and how, when the opportunity arose, they were able to return to this place where for them, it all began.
The other story is of a stranger who unexpectedly discovered this place and fell in love with it.
You will find links to my colleagues’ articles at the bottom and you can join us Saturday, June 19th on Twitter and use the hashtag #Winophiles to follow or join the conversation.
This place? It is Maury, located in the Roussillon in southern France on the West side of the Mediterranean Sea. (look to the bottom of the map just at the top of the section that is shades of purple, you will find Maury)
I first learned of this place, not through wine but from a friend and colleague. She and her parents had spent their lives traveling. Her parents realized their dream of settling and opening an Inn, in an idyllic village, where the French and Spanish languages and cultures blend at the Pyrénées in the region of Maury.
The Pyrénées -Orientales
The region known as the Pyrénées-Orientales (or Roussillon for the wine world) was Spanish until 1659 when it reverted to France. The people here often consider themselves Catalan and the Catalan language is widely used.
The overall region of Roussillon is a large amphitheatre, with Spain to the south with the Albères mountains, the Mediterranean to the east, the Corbieres mountains to the North, and the foothills of the Canigou to the West. With the diversity of this region and its wines (24 different varieties, 14 AOPs, and 2 IGPs) there is an immense amount of wine to explore. We wrote about this diverse region before in our piece: Snow-capped Pyrénées to the Mediterranean Sea – Exploring the Stunning and Diverse Roussillon Wine Region.
Maury sits at the top of the Roussillon wine region, this region that is exploding with potential.
About a 35-minute drive north-west of Perpignan you find Maury. The area is protected by the Corbieres Mountain range to the north. Nearby is the Castle of Queribus a medieval fortress sitting high above the valley at 728 meters. This citadel, now crumbling was the last stronghold of the Cathar resistance, falling to the crusaders in 1255.
The Wines of Maury
The region is known for its sweet wines, fortified red wines, vin doux naturel under the Maury AOP. The wines are based on Grenache or Garnacha, depending on if you are speaking French or Spanish.
The AOP Maury Sec was approved in 2011 for dry red wines.
Other wines from Maury fall under the AOP Côtes du Roussillon for reds whites and rosés or the IGP Côtes Catalanes. These are the categories that our two wines fall under.
The soils here are black marl and black schist in the hills and are surrounded by the garrigue.
On to our stories and our wines.
The tale of coming home…
Jean-Marc Lafage is the 7th generation of a wine-growing family. The first 5 generations lived in the village of Fenouillèdes in Maury, with vineyards out in the countryside.
Jean-Marc grew up working the vineyard with his father and grandfather. As a boy he decided he wanted to be a winemaker, his father encouraged him by putting him in charge of a batch of the vineyards finest fruit.
His father dreamed of owning a vineyard with a farmhouse in Maury (the family, as I said, lived in the village, not on the vineyards), but as fate would have it he inherited a vineyard in Canet en Roussillon, which later Jean-Marc took over. This is Domaine Lafage.
When Château Saint Roch came up for sale, Jean-Marc quickly bought it, excited to share this place vineyard with a Chateau with his father. They returned to a place that they both loved and felt a deep connection to, his father’s dream was at last realized.
The Castle of Queribus looks over the vineyard from the North. The 44 hectares of vineyard have clay-schist soils on the slopes over a limestone base and the Tramontane winds blow through, keeping the vines healthy. They grow Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre, and Syrah, but we are focusing on their white wine.
2017 Chateau Saint Roch Vieilles Vignes Blanc
On the sides of the Saint Martin de Fenouillet near Fenouillèdes and the Caudiès de Fenouillèdes further northwest, they have Grenache Blanc planted at over 400 meters, which retains beautiful acid in the wine.
This wine is a blend of 80% Grenache Blanc and 20% Roussanne from vines that average 50 years old. This is fermented in tank and aged mostly in concrete with some aged in French oak demi-muids.
This wine took a moment to open up. Perhaps we had it overchilled. It is mildy lush, warm and likeable. I got meyer lemon, wet stones and a creaminess, before it lulled me into just enjoying it and not over-thinking it. Michael and I both found ourselves drawn to this wine, without being able to tell precisely why. It was comfortable, refreshing but round, soft spoken but present.
The tale of discovering…
You will undoubtedly be familiar with Dave Phinney’s work. This California winemaker is responsible for The Prisoner, Orin Swift Cellars, and Locations.
Well, as the story goes, Dave got a call in 2008 from a distributor telling him he had found something special. Dave jumped on a plane and flew to French Catalonia and drove into Maury on a windy rainy day when the Tramontane winds were wicked.
The next day, things had cleared and he could see the 100-year-old Grenache vines in the beautiful schist soil and fell in love. He bought 40 acres and then built a state-of-the-art winery to make small-lot wines.
I don’t know that the neighbors at first approved. Catalonians can be distrustful of strangers and this Californian buying up vineyards and building this fancy-schmancy winery…well. They seem to have warmed to him now.
What would he name the winery? Would it be a Domaine or a Chateau? Nope. Like his other labels, this one would be unique yet tied to the place. Department 66, is the Department for this French Region of the Pyrénées -Orientales, and so “Department 66” it was.
You can see the origin story for D66 here.
2015 Department 66 Others
The wine we tasted was the “Others”. It is a blend of 75% Grenache, 10% Syrah and then the rest is a mix of Carignan, Mourvèdre, and Lledoner. (Geek Alert, Lledoner Pelut is a name for a form of Grenache Noir, that is less rot-prone source)
This wine was an opaque ruby in color. Aromas of redcurrant and black cherry tried to peek out from behind the garrigue, spice, mocha, cloves, cinnamon, leather, and wet leaves. This is a high alcohol wine sitting at 14.5%.
In my mouth, it was cooked and dried fruit, a bit of prune, then a lavender-like note, something peppery, bright, and a little numbing in my mouth. Again those notes of clove, and wet leaves, and a bit of tobacco. With the deep color, it had more acidity to the palate than I expected and it went well with more of our pairings than I expected.
Pairing Catalan style
Today we focus on the wine, dining Catalan style with small bites: Sardines and tuna in oil and fried goat cheese with crusty bread, dried apricots, peach to compliment the Chateau Saint Roch. Cured meats, roasted peppers, olives, drunken goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, and grilled bread with tomatoes called “pa amb tomàquet” in Catalan to pair with the “Others”.
The fried goat cheese went amazingly well with the Chateau Saint Roch (thanks Nicole for the inspiration!), as did the peach and apricot. The cured meats and pa amb tomaquet were the stars with the “Others”, but I was surprised that many of the lighter foods paired well with this wine also!
The French #Winophiles and their virtual trek to Maury
I can’t wait to see what my colleagues with the French #Winophiles uncovered about this region! You can read their pieces below.
You can also join us on Twitter Saturday, June 19th at 8 am Pacific or 11 am Eastern time to talk about the wines of Maury. Just use the hashtag #Winophiles to follow or add to the conversation!
- “Linguini with Tuna and White Beans and a Rose from Maury” written by Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm
- “Clapassade + Chateau Saint Roch Chimeres 2016” from Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- “Sipping sweet Maury Vin Doux Naturel in strawberry season” from Linda, My Full Wine Glass
- “The Maury Region” from Cathie at Side Hustle Wino
- “Looking at the Sweeter Side of Maury” from Susannah at Avvinare
- “Maury Savory and Sweet” shared by Jeff at Food Wine Click!
- “Two Sides of Maury in Roussillon: Sweet and Dry” from Lynn at Savor the Harvest
- “A Search for Roussillon’s Maury #Winophiles” shared by Gwendolyn from Wine Predator
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.