A lovely visit to Domaine LaFage in Perpignan in the gorgeous Roussillon. Jean-Marc LaFage grew up in a Maury-based winemaking family, but left to make wines all over the world before returning home to replant the vines on his family’s steep plots. He also bought vineyards in nearby regions with specific regard to the terroir.
Today Jean-Marc and his wife Eliane Lafage farm 160 hectares of vines located just south of the capital of French Catalonia, Perpignan. Some of their vineyards are situated a few kilometers from the Mediterranean, while others can be found in the foothills of the Pyrenees. This range of sites, with their different soils and climatic conditions, allows them to make both refreshing whites as well as concentrated reds and fortified wines as well.
Mr. LaFage says he chose three major soil types to create a range of different expressions that seemed best suited to the profile of the wines he wanted to create. For example, the Agly Valley offers soils of black schist at altitudes of 150 – 400 meters, which helps the power and concentration of traditional Cataln reds. Then then there are old vine vineyards located near the sea, containing pebbles of the Quaternary period which brings a saline minerality to the wine. And of course there is the Les Aspres vineyard at 400 meters above sea level, planted to bush vines. Yields are low here, about 20 ha/hl which is about a bottle per vine so you can imagine the intensity of the concentration in the wine.
LaFage grows primarily Grenache (Blanc, Gris & Noir), Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, Marsanne, Roussanne and Chardonnay with a significant proportion of the vines well over 50 years old. They harvest by hand with the majority of fermentation and maturation in stainless steel for the fresher whites but mostly concrete tanks for the reds with a small amount of French oak demi-muids.
The tasting on this beautiful afternoon begins with Le Grande Cuvee Blanc 2015, a blend of Grenache Gris and Macabeo. It is from grapes grown in the highest altitude vineyard, undergoes partial malolactic fermentation to reduce acidity and for texture, and then aged in a wooden tank for a year. The wines are made in very limited quantities.
One thing interesting Jean-Marc does is to bottle the wine with the vinolok closure, as he feels it better protects the wine, even though it is four times the price of a normal cork. It’s obvious with this that he is a man not only passionate about terroir, but willing to invest in packaging elements that also improve the quality.
We taste the 2016 Domaine Nicholas, named after his young son, which is made from 100% Grenache Noir from 65 year old vines, lots of concentrated strawberry and spice. A cuvee blend of Syrah (80%) and Grenache follows made from grapes grown at an altitude of 350 and from terroir of sand and granite. The wine is absolutely delicious – it has complexity and aromas that include black licorice, juicy fruit, violets, and cloves.
The sweet wine from the wild Maury soils clocks in at 105% g/L of residual sugar, but it is balanced with zesty acidity and does not takes that sweet. In explaining the difference between Maury and Banyuls, Mr. Lafage says that Maury is a more vibrant color, and Banyuls has historically been considered more gentle and refined. Both areas have grey schist, but Banyuls is near the sea so it is fresher and often lighter.
The LaFage Muscat Grain de Vigne has aromas of succulent white flowers and racy acidity that balances out the wine and makes the 110 g/L of residual sugar taste sweet. This is a delicious wine with aromas and flavors of apricot, white pears, fresh ginger, jasmine, and cardamom. It is 15.5% abv.
The last wine we taste is the Hors d’Age Ambre. It is a delicious wine at 15.5% abv that is picked normally at harvest, but the fermentation is stopped when it reaches 8% abv, leaving significant residual sugar. It is left to macerate for two weeks before it is put in tank and then aged in a deliberately oxidative way.
The wines of LaFage have won several very important international awards and are widely available in top wine shops around the world. It was a great visit with a producer passionate about the unique soils and climate of the Roussillon.
The website has some great detailed food pairing ideas for the wines.