Cave de Roquebrun: Attractive and Age Worthy Wines from the Languedoc
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Cave de Roquebrun: Attractive and Age Worthy Wines from the Languedoc

I guess I have been living under a rock lately because it was not until a few months ago that I was introduced to the remarkable and alluring wines of Cave de Roquebrun, a co-operative on the steep slopes of St. Chinian in the Languedoc, France.  Not only have the wines been selling here in Quebec for the past 30 years, the director and winemaker, Alain Rogier makes no less than two trips a year to Montreal.  I thought I had a decent grasp of the all the great wines that’s available on our market, but I was humbly put in my place.  “Roquebrun!!  Where have you been all my life?!?!”

Cave de Roquebrun is a co-operative of about 80 members, holding approximately 650 ha of vines.  Being a co-op is nothing to sneer at, as the wines are astonishing and age-worthy.  The fact they go through carbonic maceration makes them even more charming and interesting, if that’s even possible.

When Alain arrived at Roquebrun, he found cellars and equipment used to make wine via carbonic maceration (see the basic explanation of CM on the infographic below).  Carbonic maceration (CM for short) is famous in Beaujolais where Gamay is King, and produces easy drinking wines that are soft, fruity, and (most of the time) meant for early consumption.

Although he could have done away with the ‘equipment’, Alain was intrigued and took the risk of using this technique for his wines, which include grapes like Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre,  Grenache, and Cinsault  – not the typical grapes associated with CM.  They are now the largest and most successful producers of carbonic macerated wines in the Languedoc.

All the grapes are carefully hand harvested.  They have to be, since the slopes are too steep for any machine to work there, but also due to the fact that they go into the vat with whole clusters.  All the grapes are put into separate vats by variety and also by plot.  The next step at Roquebrun is what sets it apart from the rest.  Usually with CM, grapes are sealed in a vat that is sealed with CO2.  The grapes go through intercellular fermentation (essentially fermentation taking place inside the grape), once the must reaches 1.5-2% the grapes ‘die’ and then undergo a second fermentation with yeasts.  At Roquebrun, the yeast is added immediately and then everything is left alone for roughly a month, give or take a few days.  The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation, and sometimes micro-oxygenation, but only when necessary.

Tasting all the way back to the 1994 vintage, it is remarkable how these wines reflect elegance and complexity while still holding on to so much life, and all made by carbonic maceration! I was (wrongfully) under the impression that wines made by CM were made for early drinking. Having experienced a vertical tasting going back 24 years, I am astonished at the level of complexity, longevity and intense flavours of the wines from Cave de Roquebrun.

Although all of the wines at the event were incredibly exciting and attractive, I have listed below my top favourites.  I have a tendency to always lean towards wines with high acidity, so the younger vintages seem to have especially stolen my heart.

Cave de Roquebrun Roche Noires

Tasting all the way back to the 1994 vintage, it is remarkable how these wines reflect elegance and complexity while still holding on to so much life, and all made by carbonic maceration! I was (wrongfully) under the impression that wines made by CM were made for early drinking. Having experienced a vertical tasting going back 24 years, I am astonished at the level of complexity, longevity and intense flavours of the wines from Cave de Roquebrun.

Although all of the wines at the event were incredibly exciting and attractive, I have listed below my top favourites.  I have a tendency to always lean towards wines with high acidity, so the younger vintages seem to have especially stolen my heart.

1994: Generous notes of violet, sweet plums, cherries cooked blackberries and sweet spices, amongst the bits of leather and coffee grains.   The acidity is very well maintained with the fruit.  The notes of dark chocolate and supple tannins create softness in the wine, leading to a very complex and persistent finish.  Outstanding.

1998: Cooked blackberries, black cherries and fig that unfold into a rich and spicy palate, with impressions of earth and leather.  The acidity is still bright and tannins which are round and supple.  The long finish has layers of complexity leaving notes of chocolate-covered black fruit. A very elegant wine.

2008: This wine sings with notes of concentrated cherries, blackberries and plum with a bit of cinnamon spice.  Rich and expressive, the excellent acidity carries the fruit along nicely as it evolves into layers of oak, dried herbs and blueberry.  The finish is long, where the above flavours are extraordinarily layered and balanced.  Drink now or in the next 6-8 years.

2009:  Beautiful, complex flavours of blackberries, black cherries, sweet spice and violet.  Mid way through the palate the bright acidity hits, along with a meaty edge.  Tannins are soft yet chalky.  The finish has an excellent core of fruit.

2011:  Similar to the ’09 with a deeper edge of dark chocolate, coffee and balsamic.  Concentrated blackberries and cherries with a mineral streak for good balance.  The acidity is bright and on point with the fruit and fine tannin structure.  The finish is delicious and round with the slightest touch of sweet and savoury spice.  Drink now or in the next 10-12 years.

 

Les Fiefs d’Aupenac

 

1995: So bright and youthful with attractive notes of black cherries, blackberries and plum integrated with sweet spice, violet and a hint of balsamic.  A very round and supple palate with fine grained tannins and excellent acidity.  Lots of balance and structure with layers of fruit revealing themselves as it leads into a very fine finish.

2006:  Juicy and vibrant, this is bursting with cherries, plum,  and dark chocolate covered cranberries.  The tertiary notes come to play here too, having bits of leather and dried raisin fruit.  This wine is very concentrated and smooth textured but with a very good line of acidity.  Incredibly easy to drink. Absolutely delicious and long finish.  Drink now or in the next 4-5 years.

2009: Savoury, dense, blackcurrant and blueberries with approachable spicy tannins.  Bits of dried herbs and cedar. This is a very youthful and elegant wine.  Ready to drink, but give it some time and you will be supremely rewarded.  Drink now orin the next 8-10 years.

2013:  A great expression of intense blackberries, blueberries, and cherries with a very nice spicy edge.  The palate has elegant, seductive appeal and has intense, ripe black fruit where the oak and spice is dancing around the palate perfectly.  Great structure.  Drink now or in the next 8-10 years.

*Alain Rogier was named Red Winemaker of the Year in 2016 by the International Wine Challenge and the La Grange des Combes, along with numerous awards and medals over the years.  Lucky for us, his wines are readily available at the SAQ.  A very special thank you to A.O.C & Cie and Alain Rogier for the stellar vertical tasting and meal held at La Colombe here in Montréal.  

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