Several of the wineries that I visited during my time in France were chosen based on some research that I did prior to my trip. One of my sources of information was Andrew Jefford’s book, The New France, which I quite enjoyed as supplementary reading material when I was studying for my WSET Level 3. Also, during my stop in London I picked up the latest Decanter Magazine and the cover feature was all about the wines of Southwest France, written by Andrew Jefford; how fitting! It was an interesting article and I ended up visiting a couple of the wineries listed. One of the wineries that I had on my list fairly early on was Mas Amiel. In addition to liking what I read about it in the book, I loved their website and a French friend here also highly recommended it to me. I was very excited when I realised that it was located only about 10-15 minutes away from my first accommodation in the South of France! So on my first day of driving, after visiting Béziers, Coursan and Fitou, I continued south until I was in Rivesaltes. There, I turned off the highway and headed west, toward Quillan. As I exited the village of Estagel there were several large signs for Mas Amiel and I turned off the main road. Unfortunately I turned a little bit too sharply and ended up on the wrong road. It did however lead me on a lovely little tour of some local vineyards full of old bush vines! They were quite beautiful and I took my time getting back on track.
I arrived at Mas Amiel shortly before closing time (not something I like to do, out of respect for the tasting room staff). However, Loïc welcomed me into the tasting room and assured me it was no trouble at all; there were still other people tasting as well. He led me through a comprehensive tasting, giving me a chance to try several of their different lines of wines. We began with the 2010 Altaïr, a Côtes de Roussillon AOC white blend of Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc, Macabeo, Marsanne and Roussanne. It was a pale straw colour with a fresh nose of lemon with some nice minerality. It was dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-plus body and some real complexity on the palate. It had nice richness and crisp acidity with flavours of lemon and spice with a long finish. Le Plaisir Rosé 2012 was up next, another Côtes de Roussillon AOC wine. This was a blend of Grenache Noir, Carignan and Syrah. It was a pale pink with a bit of a salmon hue. It had a clean nose that was quite fruity, with aromas of strawberry. It was dry with medium acidity and a medium-minus intensity. It was fresh and very light but pleasant, with flavours of citrus and strawberry. It also had a beautiful label. The Notre Terre 2011 is a Côtes de Roussillon AOC red blend, consisting of 42% Grenache Noir, 38% Carignan and 20% Syrah. It was a medium-plus purple colour with medium-plus intensity on the nose and aromas of cassis, cherry and dark fruits. It was dry with medium-plus-plus tannins, medium-plus acidity and medium-plus body with flavours of dark fruits and spice and a long finish. The Carerades 2008 is a Côtes de Roussillon-Villages AOC red blend broken into thirds of Grenache Noir, Carignan and Syrah. It was medium-plus purple but starting to head to a bit more ruby. It was dry, medium acidity, medium silky tannins, medium body with aromas and flavours of dark fruit with some savoury notes and spice. It had some really nice complexity and a lovely long finish. Vers Le Nord 2012 is from a relatively new appellation in the Languedoc-Roussillon area, Maury Sec AOC. Ever since Maury became a recognized AOC in 1936, it had always been for Vins Doux Naturels, the sweeter fortified wines made up of a minimum of 75% Grenache (although the blends are often 90-100% Grenache) and the remainder was allowed to contain Macabeo, which is limited to no more than 10% of the blend, Carignan, Cinsault, Listan Negra and Syrah which collectively cannot make up more than 10% of the blend. If a non-fortified wine was produced in this region it had to be labelled under Côtes de Roussillon-Villages AOC or as a Vin de Pays. However, beginning with the 2011 vintage, non-fortified wines made up of the same grape varietals allowed for Maury AOC, and must contain 60-80% Grenache Noir, could now be given their own Maury Sec AOC designation (‘sec‘ meaning ‘dry’ in French). So this is only the second vintage of Vers Le Nord. It is a blend of 80% Grenache Noir and 20% Syrah. The colour was deep purple with a fuchsia rim and had pronounced intensity on the nose with quite an aromatic nose of floral, violets and dark fruit. It was dry, full-bodied with big tannins and high acidity. On the palate it features intense fruit flavours of dark plum and black cherry and a very long finish. I think this wine will be great for some cellar age and bought a bottle to bring home. Considering this wine had only been bottled 3 weeks previously, I think it was showing incredibly well.
Next, we moved on to the Vins Doux Naturels beginning with the Vintage Blanc 2010 Maury AOC. This is made with 100% Grenache Gris. It was very pale in colour with a nose of citrus, pear, lime and lemon. It was sweet with medium-plus acidity, not at all cloying. It had great complexity on the palate with minerality, and citrus flavours and a long finish; I quite enjoyed it. The Vintage 2011 Maury AOC is made with 100% Grenache Noir. It was deep purple with aromas of cassis and black cherry. It was sweet but balanced with high acidity and had stewed and dried fruit on the palate. We finished up with the Cuvée Spéciale, a Vin Doux Naturel Oxydatif that has 10 years of age. After these wines have been fortified, they are aged outdoors in glass demijohns for one year, exposed to the changing elements, and then aged a further 9 years in large oak casks. This wine is a blend of 90% Grenache Noir, 5% Syrah and 5% Carignan. It was tawny-brown in colour with aromas and flavours of nuts, caramel and fruitcake. It is sweet with high acidity and has an almost Oloroso Sherry-like quality, a hint of brininess; it is truly delicious! I am definitely a fan of the wines of Mas Amiel and I hope to be able to find them in BC soon.