Last year I was asked by a dear friend and long standing student of wine if I would arrange a weekend tour to the Roussillon to celebrate his very special birthday. The distances involved from my base in the Minervois meant that this would have to take the form of a residential tour based closer to the wineries we wanted to visit. The tour was advertised on my web site and I was thrilled when the numbers were sufficient for the tour to go ahead.
So it was with great anticipation that six like-minded clients, myself and Kate my right hand woman and expert cook spent an amazing 4 days based in the village of Alenya close to Perpignan. I had rented a spacious Catalonian Mas (farmhouse) and with Kate’s expert work in the kitchen I had been able to offer the tour on a fully inclusive basis. Lunch was taken either at a winery or in a local restaurant and in the evening Kate created some excellent dining based on local and seasonal produce.
The 4 day tour started with an afternoon in the entertaining and hospitable company of winemakers Corin and Jayne Fairchild of Domaine Vella Fronterra in the village of Maury who hosted lunch and gave a tour around their winery and tasting of their wines. After lunch, but still in Maury, we paid a visit to Thunevin-Calvert’s state of the art eco winery, where we discovered a truly charming Grenache Gris they’ve dubbed L’Amourette. We were in the thick of it as grapes had just been harvested and we saw the production taking place including the sorting table exhibiting their commitment to quality.
Back at the Mas and after settling into our rooms and taking a quick dip in the pool we took an apéro on the terrace surrounded by olive groves and with the Pyrénées silhouetted in the distance. Supper of duck confit with crispy roast potatoes and crunchy green beans afforded us the chance to pair our meal with Vella Frontera’s sumptuous syrah and the chocolate fondant pudding called for us to try the Maury, the sweet Grenache based wine that we had purchased that day. It was all delicious.
The next day after a leisurely French breakfast of fresh bread and croissants we headed south, today’s agenda was AOC Banyuls and Collioure. We had made our appointment to visit La Rectorie in Banyuls, some months earlier; with charming wife of Pierre Parcé and truthfully, this was one of the best, most enchanting and most generous tastings we have ever experienced. Pierre greeted us at the door and swept us through the Maison de Maitre which is not only their home but a gallery displaying his photography as well as serving as a tasting room and settled our group around an immense old oak table. Then he simply started to talk. He regaled us with the history not only of the region but of his family’s connection to it. His fierce love of the business, their wines and their patrimony that is woven into everything the family creates. You hardly needed to taste the wines to know that they were going to be personal, intricate and steeped in generational pride as well as being delicious. We all learnt a lot and the complexity and confusion surrounding the AOC within Banyuls and Collioure melted away.
Full tasting notes were taken, but suffice it to say that the opening wine of the extensive flight was simply stunning – L’argile, a white produced by tri seléctif of Grenache Blanc and Gris and the rest of the flight hardly disappointed !
We reluctantly took our leave and headed for the restaurant Al Fanal at the far end of the port in Banyuls where we enjoyed a superb lunch accompanied with local wines then we set off for Collioure. This seaside village about 20 minutes along the coast from Banyuls is famed by artists for its wonderful light, and famed by food enthusiasts as a mecca for anchovies!
Keen to enjoy the delights of our Mas, we returned home where those who fancied a dip in the pool or a quick nap before supper had the chance to enjoy a little down time before we returned to the table. This time we ate al fresco on the terrace. The beef bourguignon that Kate had set to slow cook whilst we were out was comforting and tasty and the wine and conversation flowed in equal measure.
Our third day in The Roussillon took us to the wonderful Domaine des Chénes in the village of Vingrau where the charismatic owner, winemaker and wine teacher, Alain Razungles hosted a tour and tasting which we were still talking about the next day – for all the right reasons ! His appellation Côtes du Roussillon Tautavel wines are superb and his commentary was priceless.
Lunch was at Chateau de Jau, a restaurant famed for once hosting French Premier Valerie Giscard d’Estaing. It’s always a great sign to find locals enjoying the food and ambience of a restaurant and this didn’t disappoint. Lunch was leisurely, the food very much ‘home style’ and paired with wines from the Estate and it would be hard to criticize the charm and authenticity of the venue.
And so we had reached our last night in Alenya, our home from home for the past few days. Kate had rustled up a superb dish of garlic and tarragon roasted chicken accompanied by my favorite roasted potatoes, golden and crispy from duck fat plus an immense ratatouille and Vichy carrots. We had been saving the groups favorite wine of the tour for this final dinner – the magnum of L’Argile from La Rectorie, a surprise gift from the wonderful Pierre Parcé. Thank you Pierre.
The next day, hard as it was to believe that we were reaching the end of the tour we breakfasted, packed our belongings and prepared to head off for our final vineyard visit at Chateau Corneilla, home of the owners of our Mas! The Jonquieres d’Oriola family home is a feudal castle built to emulate a miniature Le Palais des Rois de Majorques in Perpignan and constructed in the 13th Century. We all felt immensely privileged to
be hosted in such an awe inspiring setting. Guilhem, the winemaker and son of M and Mme Jonquieres d’Oriola offered us an astonishing tasting finished off with a visit to his own private cellar. Long ago in the history of the château a well had been built to capture and hold the rainwater from the roof and elsewhere. Today it is home to Guilhem’s private wine collection and we each took turns to climb down the ladder and admire the contents.