25-07-2015

A wine excursion in Viens à Vingrau

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then the French village of Vingrau is flattering the crap out of nearby Calce. You see, for some time Calce has put on a little annual wine fair for its local cellars that produce wines under the AOPs of Côtes Catalanes or Côtes du Roussillon Villages. They have called it, “Les Caves se Rebiffent” or most cheesily, “The cellars fight back” and yes, the posters are replete with “borrowed” Star Wars imagery that illustrate why owning pirated copies of Photoshop should be a felony for some people.

Apparently this wine fair was a fun little event and so this year, the village of Vingrau that sits about 8km just to the north of Calce, decided to do their own version of it called, “Viens à Vingrau” or, “Come to Vingrau”. Of course there may have been some pun with this along the lines of “Return to Vingrau” as you just can’t have enough Star Wars puns. Needless to say, it seemed worth checking out, especially as one of the organizers contacted us after visiting the Vin’Aqui event a few weeks previous.

To arrive to Vingrau (which is original Catalan sounds much nicer than the Frenchified “Vawn Grow”) there are two options, of which we chose the latter that was ultimately much longer, yet more rewarding. Passing just north of Perpignan and before the Château de Salses (the name, “Castle of Sauces” never doesn’t elicit a giggle from me) there is a turn off which initially seems like no big deal until you start winding up in to the hills. And you keep winding up until you come to a point where you see the photo above.

You don’t see this view from the south and that, is unfortunate as it’s quite striking to see all these vineyards rambling up and down the sides of the very limestone-rich valley. And as you make your way along the side of it, you eventually come to Vingrau at the bottom. A village of some 600 people, it is as remarkable as any other village in the region in that it has a couple of restaurants, a baker, and a generally laid back feel to it which is pleasant. It also happens to feel a great deal more like a Catalan village that what you find just a bit more to the north in “proper” France.

The tasting event was exactly how I liked my French tasting events, loose and easygoing. They don’t use this bullshit ticket system you find plaguing Spanish tastings and at each of these small cellars there were the winemakers, hanging out with friends and happy to let you taste their wines. All the wines were under the AOPs of Côtes du Roussillon or Côtes du Roussillon Villages-Tautavel, Tautavel being the larger village just down the road.

You cannot really achieve grand tasting notes or find true depth in a tasting like this. It serves to give general impressions and what I found with Vingrau was that the red wines are overall decent. Domaine de l’éléphant was quite good but unfortunately quite expensive at some 45€ a bottle. Les Vents du Sud had some good lower-end wines such as the Tango that for the price was quite good. He was also the only winemaker to follow up with me to come back and do a more serious tasting so he gets definite bonus points on that front.

Le Clos des Fées is unarguably the most well-known cellar in this village and gets the most press. The winemaker was in a strange way that day with only offering wines to taste and nothing to buy. He also only had three wines to try which to me were all extremely tight, young, and green. Again, this is a winery that will need to be revisited for a further evaluation and taste the full range of wines. And Domaine de l’Edre also had some good value reds as well as being native Catalan speakers which is one of those interesting things you find up in old Catalunya Nord.

I didn’t mention the whites yet as honestly I think that they’re the stars of this village. The majority are based upon Grey or White Grenache and there is a quality to the limestone soils that gives even the most basic wine a great deal of depth. Crisp and mineral, they carry their fruit well and whether it’s the orientation or the winds that sweep through this valley from the sea, they’re all very enjoyable and again, are in need of a proper, full tasting to see how they stack up to one another as well as to truly enjoy the countless old white vines that they have.

Ultimately, a fun little visit which allowed me to explore more of this region, including AOP Maury but which will need a bit more exploration to truly enjoy.