A Vine Vacation

POSTED ON 17/08/2010

Until yesterday, Charmaine and I were on holiday in one of our favourite spots, the little village of Paziols which is in the Aude close to the border with the Pyrénées Orientales (or, just in Languedoc, close to the Roussillon border if that helps). With the slightly larger town of Tuchan at the head of the valley, and Paziols three kilometres away at its foot, it’s one of the prettiest little villages in the region, and bang in the heart of Fitou. It’s mostly red wine country here, a rugged land of rugby heroes and wild boar.


In fact Sunday signalled the start of the wild boar season, and though we didn’t see the four beasts they’d shot and distributed among the hunters and dog-handlers of Tuchan, we had witnessed one such scene last time we were down here at that time. It was a Sunday morning, and, as we heard the Church bell ring at the top of the village, and saw blood running down the gutter, we followed it to a garage where three freshly dispatched wild boar were being butchered and distributed to the village-folk to stash in their freezers.

Because it’s set back from the Mediterranean (it’s about 40 minutes drive from Perpignan), Paziols doesn’t see the heavy tourist traffic of the coastal area, but with its Cathar castles of Quéribus, Aguilhar and Peyrepertuse, natural rivers you can swim in, bustling village markets and good local restaurants, you can hide away and completely relax without ever feeling the need to get to the seaside or do anything very much at all.

A handy parasolA handy parasol

We were house-sitting for our friend Katie Jones, who had recently left her job in sales and marketing at the Mont Tauch Co-operative to pursue her dream of becoming a winemaker. For some reason, I hadn’t grasped that she’d already completed the first vintage of Domaine Jones, but once I’d tasted the wines, a red made from Grenache, a dry white Grenache Gris and a medium-sweet Muscat, I was so struck by the quality that I bought a mixed case on the spot for us to drink while staying. Katie’s story is so compelling that I won’t short-change you by trying to condense it here. I’ll be will writing it up shortly.

Katie Jones, vigneronneKatie Jones, vigneronne

What is it about the English and the South of France? Justin Howard-Sneyd MW, the new global director of Laithwaites, was also in the area to pick up a few cases of his wine, the Domaine of the Bee, made at Maury. Apparently not yet having quite acquired the business nous of his boss, Tony Laithwaite, Justin was busy hand-delivering a few cases to friends in the area, with the help of his wife Amanda, son Sam, and dog, Otto. Justin’s wine couldn’t be more different from Katie’s, but it’s also good, and his story deserves telling, so I’ll come back to that too.

Justin and OttoJustin and Otto

We met Justin and family in Maury at the little restaurant, Le Pichenouille, owned by Jean Pla. We were joined by Marcel Buhler, a Swiss ex-banker who's being taught to plough using a horse at his estate, Domaine Les Enfants, by Franck, ex-European champion ploughman. Marcel's 2008 Domaine des Enfants, l'Enfant Perdu, is a model of its kind. Vivid purple and brimming with fruit, it has a fragrant, violety character with a spicy, liquoricey aspect and a pure vibrancy of mulberry and blackberry fruit that's beautifully balanced by savoury acidity. Unfortunately he doesn't export to the UK yet as his main markets are Germany and Switzerland, but I’m hoping someone in the UK will pick up his excellent wine.

Marcel and NinaMarcel and Nina

As we left, we bought a bottle of 1995 Maury Vieille Reserve from the Maury Co-opertive shop, to go with our Saint-Agur and Petit Billy. Costing a princely 9.80 euros, it’s the Roussillon's answer to tawny port, only it's 16% per cent alcohol rather than port's 19.5 – 20%. It's wonderfully aromatic with undertones of prune and cola-spice, while the rich caramel and prune-like fruit weight is moderated by an aged nuttiness and fresh acidity. Apparently the Maury Co-op has back vintages of every year until kingdom come. Wouldn't it be good if we could buy some of this exotic elixir back home, especially at these ridiculously modest prices? Importers please note.

Charmaine demo-ing her Aussie skillsCharmaine demo-ing her Aussie skills

Mostly we spent the time bbqing chez nous using desiccated carignan vines for fuel, but one evening we went out for dinner to Lou Barral, a charming open air Catalan restaurant at Vingrau, a little village in the Roussillon east of Paziols that nestles (sorry about the cliché but it really does), at the foot of the mountain behind it. The wine list is short but there's some good stuff on it, including Gardiès, one of my favourite Roussillon growers. It was a warm evening, so we stuck to rosé, specifically the 2009 Rosé from the excellent Embrès et Castelmaures Co-operative. It was lovely, all red fruits and refreshing acidity, though whether it would translate to a wet Wednesday in Wensleydale I couldn’t be 100% sure.


Wake me someone, please, when the Premiership season is over.

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