I was very excited for my first visit to a winery in the Roussillon to be the charming Chateau des Hospices, where we were warmly greeted by Marc Benassis, a dynamic young vigneron who represents the fourth generation of his family. Marc speaks English almost like a native because in 2004 he went to UC Davis for a bit and did a winemaking stage (internship) at Matanzas Creek winery and also at Kendall-Jackson.
The charming winery is located in the heart of Canet village, one of the oldest villages in the region. The house was built in 1863 and stands out for its unique architecture and its excellent location, which is between the Catalan coast and Perpignan (the largest city in the area).
Marc’s great grandfather was a wine negocient, a term that generally refers to a person who purchase grapes, juice or bulk wine from small farmers, which they then produce, bottle and market on a larger scale under the négociant‘s label. It wasn’t long until he realized that the unique terroir and Mediterranean climatic were perfect for quality wine growing. For example, the nearby river is great for acidity, and the many stones in the soil keep the vines warm at night. Winds keep the vines safe from rot and healthy.
Marc takes us on a tour of the winery. The cellar is gorgeous and romantic with very high ceilings and stone walls. And of course, the enticing aromas of wine aging in large barrels. Many varieties of grapes are grown here: Syrah, Carignan, Grenache Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Blanc a Petites Grains, Grenache Blanc, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. In addition to the vineyards, the family also grows fruit (peaches, apricots, nectarines) and have gites (self-catering accommodations) that can be rented. Wine lovers can also visit the property, but advance reservations are necessary.
We begin the tasting with a white wine, the Chateau de Hospices Grande Terre, a blend of Grenache Blanc (70%) and Grenache Gris (30%). It is delicious, the terrior expressing itself in the ripe concentrated fruit and fresh acidity. You can get a hint of new French oak, but it is subtle as the barrels are 400 hl. It has a salty minerality and aromas of fresh almond.
Next is the unique Marselan 2017, is a red French wine grape variety that is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. It was first bred in 1961 by Paul Truel near the French town of Marseillan. The vine is grown mostly in the Languedoc wine region with some plantings in the Northern Coast of California and usually produces a medium body red wine. Here at Chateau de Hospieces it is indeed easy drinking with remarkable freshness, yet great ripeness. The quartz minerals in the soil give it an influence of metal. It has gentle tannins that you can pair with fish or meat. For this reasons, it is very popular in restaurants in the area and abroad.
Ortemis 2015 is the next wine we taste, an incredibly delicious wine of the popular trio of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache Noir. There is a great deal of complexity in this wine, restrained fruit such as blackcurrant, blueberries, and blood orange and some other flavors of cocoa beans. Though the complexity and structured tannins suggests new oak was used, there is very little oak here. Instead, a very complicated method of production that includes the Carignan grapes undergoing carbonic maceration. At the same time, the Mourvedre is vinified and aged in barrels. Then the varietals are blended together and aged.
Next up is the Petite Vermeille Hors d’Age Vin Doux Natural, a Rivesaltes Ambre wine made in a unique solera-like method. It has aromas and flavors of orange peel, honey, and nuts.
The 2016 Muscat is a refreshing, aromatic and delicious wine, very vibrant despite its 15.5% abv and 100 g/L of residual sugar. Every year he tries to adjust the vinification so it is fresher and fresher. It has aromas of fresh grapes, melon, white flowers, honey, and pear.
It was a wonderful visit, and great meeting the charming and vivacious Marc Benassis, seeing his winery and tasting his fabulous terroir-driven wines.