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The wines of Coume del Mas

by Andy Cook, 02/06

The tiny hamlet of Cousprou nestles in the hills, in between the towns of Collioure and Banyuls, which both give their names to the Appellations of the area (the first for dry wines, the second for fortified wines). This is harsh, rugged Roussillon country where the weather ranges from searingly hot sunshine to bitterly cold and violent winds (the Tramontaine, which blows off the Pyrenées). Phillipe Gard produces wines from both appellations at his Coume del Mas winery, and has examples shine out with their purity and honesty.

Phillipe began his career as an agricultural engineer and moved into wine through consulting on terroir and vineyard sites. He worked in Chablis and Right Bank Bordeaux, before coming to the South on holiday and falling in love with the region.

He began looking for vineyard sites in 1997, and in two years he had found 33 small different parcels of land that suited his needs.

Phillipe believes the region's schisteous soils give minerality and backbone that is the perfect foil to very ripe Grenache. He demarcates according to climatic differences within the area: vines nearer the sea are the driest and hottest, but they do receive a certain foggy humidity and less temperature variation. Inland, his east-facing vines in the Coume del Mas valley are at around 300 metres above sea level. There is more rain, cooler nights and slightly richer soils. Right: looking over Coume del Mas' vineyards to the Mediterranean.

Once the grapes arrive in the winery, Phillipe is obssessive about hygiene. He wants zero oxidation, so he doesn't pump over or rack any of his wines, and has a floating cap on his fermentation vats. He is happy if his wines have a slightly carbonic spritz to them (which disappears once bottled), as this means no oxygen has tainted the wine.

 

He is not afraid to fully ripen the grapes - stating that full physiological ripeness means potential alcohol as high as 16-18%. This means either strong wines, or some residual sugar. Given the similarities in soil and climate between here and Priorato, why not?

His other obsession is time - wine, he says, needs time to flourish, and most winemakers are in too much of a hurry. When I visited in January, some of his barriques of white picked last September where still fermenting, and some of his Banyuls has taken over a year to finish. He is happy to let his Grenache wines sit in tank for a year to round out and settle.

In the modern winery, simple and not at all ostentious, we tasted our way through the wines of the last two years. With yields from 10-15 hl/ha, these are rare and superbly crafted wines, and Phillipe spoke with honesty and vigour about them all.

the wines

Cuvées des Enfants Collioure Blanc 2005 (from barrel)
A Roussanne/ Vermentino blend that is full of aromatics and ripe oak notes. Apparently very low in acid when analysed, but rides beautifully on the minerality of the terroir. Hard to judge from Barrique, but seems pure and exquisitely concentrated.

Collioure Rosé 2005 (from tank)
A very reductive nose, not showing terribly well at the moment. Made from a 2nd pressing of Grenache Gris, this hasn't been disturbed or pumped over so not much on offer apart from some red fruits and a touch of muskiness. Phillipe was confident it would blossom in bottle!

Schistes Collioure Rouge 2005 (from tank)
This 100% Grenache wine, harvested early September, has a long fermentation, sees no oak at all and was still on the lees in January. This, for me, is what Collioure Red is all about and already has a real exuberance to it. Bitter chocolate, cherries, soaring mineral notes, stone fruit and some powerful grape tannins. Big, honest and outstanding in its field.

Quadratur Collioure Rouge 2004
The fruit from this wine is all from the prime Coume del Mas site, and is 50% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre and 20% Carignan. After only one month in bottle, this is a hugely smoky and viscous wine with sweet, very dark fruit and ostentatious structure. I asked Phillipe when he would drink this and he replied 'If a wine is not good in its youth, it will never be good'! A rich, ripe, turbo-charged Collioure that is very good indeed.

Abysses Collioure Rouge 2005 (from barrel)
This 50% Grenache 50% Syrah came on line when Phillipe wanted to 'fill a hole' in some of his Grenache sites, and found that the mighty Syrah did the trick. This is a very modern style of wine (the Syrah was harvested 6th October!) with a massive oaky attack, glycerol and quite hot, with the new oak (50% of the final blend) very evident.

Galateo Banyuls Rouge 2004
100% Grenache Noir, and 100g/l sugar here, giving an awesome dessert wine with really beautiful berry fruit and luscious mouthfeel. We also tried the 05, which showed the variation from vintage to vintage with darker black cherries. Both wines were perfectly balanced, not too heavy, and absolutely excellent.

Quintessence Banyuls Rouge 2004
This wine was harvested at with huge sugar levels, and given 50% new oak barrique ageing. Tiny yields and a very slow fermentation give an astonishingly concentrated Banyuls with layer upon layer of sweet, harmonious fruit and oak that is already well integrated. A more complete and concentrated sweet red wine is very hard to find - excellent stuff.

To finish we tried an unfortified Mourvedre harvested on 12th December that cannot be sold commercially. It married the spicy, sexy elements of Mourvedre (a grape I adore) with high natural sweetness. It took over a year to ferment, and was astonishingly good. It summed up the iconoclastic, meticulous approach to winemaking that Phillipe pursues. Like all his wines, it was not subtle or understated, but by God it was good!

Coume del Mas
3 rue Alphonse Daudet
Banyuls. 04 68 88 37 03

These wines are imported by FWW Wines, London. Tel: 020 8567 3731.
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  Andy started work in the wine trade in France, including time as winemaker's assistant in Provence, the Ardeche and Fitou. In the late 1990s he set up Luvians, an independent fine wine and whisky merchant in St. Andrews, Fife. However, the lure of winemaking returned and having graduated with a degree in oenology from Lincoln University in New Zealand, Andy took his first wine making job in the Roussillon region of France. From a recent fact-finding mission he sends this report on an estate that really impressed him - Coume del Mas.


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