Each Wednesday we engage in an educational wine tasting. It is an opportunity for staff to talk, taste and even teach wine. We choose a particular theme typically based on grapes, regions, or age. This week we had a succinct, but impressive line-up of wines from Southern France. We mainly learned that it may be more apt to consider Southern France as Northern Spain. The historical and cultural influence of the Catalan is not only seen, but vigorously celebrated and protected by its people. Over the course of 3 posts, we’ll revisit our tasting from Wednesday. Let’s begin by exploring one of my favorite wines on our list, the Le Soula white blend.
Le Soula is a joint enterprise between the famed Languedoc-Roussillon winemaker Gérard Gauby and Richards Walford, a wine importer who also handles the marketing. Gérard Gauby is sometimes called “King of the Roussillon”, which could be considered an outrageous nickname except his wines are that good. Le Soula is located in Fenouillèdes, where Gérard discovered defunct vineyards in 2001. He had a good feeling about the terrior and was spot on.
The Fenouillèdes is an ancient route to Spain, situated between Catalonia and the Languedoc. Historically, this region has always been attached to the Languedoc, but its French was still informal until the Treaty of Pyrenees in 1659. It is now defined as part of the Pyrenees-Orientales. Though many of its inhabitants are French-speaking, the historical and protected language is Occitan.
I’ve heard two stories about the name. The first refers to the name fenouille or fennel, citing the abundance of fennel covering these hillsides. The other says the name ‘Fenouillèdes’ comes from the latin – ‘Pagus Fenolietensis’, meaning the country of hay. Either way, the sun is here more than 300 days of the year, allowing for impressive growth of herbs, plants, and flowers on the wild and arid hills. Definitely a place I intend to check out.
Le Soula: shrubs, flowers, herbs and vines growing on beautiful hillside
So, if youre wondering how it could’ve possibly taken so long for these wines to receive proper due, it’s because Roussillon for a long time was lumped into the broader, Languedoc- Roussillon appellation, also unceremoniously referred to as France’s, “Wine Lake”. It was as bad it sounds.
Named for grotesque overproduction, commercial wineries-not artisan estates-were the defining trait of the region, which still produces about a third of the entire output of French grapes. Along with rigid AOC labeling laws, there was little motivation for quality-oriented endeavors to step out and explore the global wine market, as they were essentially unsupported in distinguishing their products from the surrounding Vin de Pays glut. Therefore, projects like Le Soula have only recently begun to appear on wine lists and shelves in the States. In fairness, this doesn’t really apply to, “the King”, who is in the enviable position of selling everything he makes. But, hey, that’s why he’s the King.
We tasted the 2008 Le Soula Blanc, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Marsanne. This is a wine lovers wine. It is engaging, complex and generous. From the time it’s opened, it makes a series of introductions, each of them different, all of the impressive. Aromatically the adventure begins with spiced pear and a smoky (Chablis-like) minerality. This is evidently a byproduct of its beginnings in decomposed granite topsoil and crumbly subsoil. It was utterly unique. Pauly, (our samurai flatbread maker and Francophile) pegged the weird orchard fruit and smoke combo as bourbon-like. That is crazy, but I think he is right. The palate is rich and effortlessly stylish with the texture of whole milk. It shows more minerality and a very pure and focused expression of pear. Again, this is really a great exercise in terrior, in this case, a testament to old vines, sun and altitude. This is truly remarkable wine. I can’t wait for y’all to come in an form your own opinions!
Homage to truly great wine
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