The thousand vines of Domaine Les Mille Vignes may be metaphorical, but the thousand points of light that light up my tongue when I drink the wine is very real indeed.
First, Fitou is first: The first Languedoc red wine to achieve AOC status.
Second, Fitou is often thought of a secondary wine in comparison to its sister appellation Corbières—Languedoc-Roussillon largest AOC—responsible for nearly 50% of the region’s prodigious output which size-wise is nearly three times larger than Bordeaux.
Third, I just tried a trio of Fitou reds that convinced me that any attempt by Corbières to swallow it’s much smaller companion should be met with the sort of resistance that the French Underground displayed in World War II.
‘Le Vent Qui vent à Travers la Montagne Me Rendra Fou…’
Domaine Les Mille Vignes was founded by former enology professor Jacques Guérin in 1979 and named for the multitude of old vines established on the thirty acres he purchased near La Palme, primarily in Fitou but also extending into Rivesaltes and Muscat de Rivesaltes.
One of the defining characteristics of the terroir Guérin and his winemaking daughter Valérie inherited with the property is the tramontane, a fierce wind that blows down from the northwest, accelerating as it passes between the Pyrenees and the Massif Central. So relentless is the wind that it said to drive some people bonkers: Victor Hugo paid the tramontane tribute in his poem ‘Gastibelza’: In English, the section heading means, “The wind coming over the mountain will drive me mad…”
In Mr. Hugo’s case, the drive may have been even shorter than the drive from La Palme to the Gulf of Lion in the Mediterranean Sea. The combined forces of water and wind wreak havoc and harmony among the vineyards located here, and the flavors of brine and garrigue—the coastal herbs that include both sage and lavender, are present in varying degrees in the wines.
Valérie Guérin, who ‘took over the fields’ in 2000, says, “I am continuing the quality requirement my father requires; creating wines that are non-standard.”
I’ll drink to that, and specifically, I’ll drink Guérin’s Cadette, Atsuko and Violette; Fitou bottling where the ‘non-standard’ is in overdrive. In general, wines from Fitou come across as countrified—rustic blends that have not, traditionally, aspired to tremendous heights of quality or price. The wines of Domaine Les Mille Vignes reflect both the splendor that can be achieved with low yields and a focus on organics, and the costs inevitably associated with them. Far from the ten dollar bottle of blue tag Fitou in the grocery cart in the wine section, Guérin’s top wines sell for the equivalent of a Super Second Bordeaux.
That said, and if you are prepared for the investment and if you are fittin’ to tie one on, Fitou is fit to tie on the ribbon.
How many bottles of Domaine Les Mille Vignes do you think it took to dredge up that drone of dreadful drivel?
Three, at least:
Domaine Les Mille Vignes ‘Cadette’, Fitou, 2012 ($46): An equal blend of Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre, the wine has a distinct iodine scent that is reminiscent of a briny breeze on the seashore; it is unusual to whiff in a red wine, but there you have it. There is a foundation of minerality and flavors I associate with chicory—leafy and somewhat bitter. The wine is broad on the palate but finishes somewhat abruptly.
Domaine Les Mille Vignes ‘Atsuko’, Fitou, 2013 ($79): 100% Grenache, the wine reflects the intensity of 75-year-old vines; the soils are sandier in this plot of vineyard and the wine is a yeasty slice of blueberry pie, all fruit and warm toasted crust. The voluminous, velvety mouthfeel is peppered with a bit of spice toward the middle and a long, new-oak finish seems a bit too young for true balance. The structure is solid enough that it would be well worth cellaring for another year to see those tannins settle down.
Domaine Les Mille Vignes ‘Les Vendangeurs de la Violette’, Fitou 2011: ($90): A sensory-surrounding masterpiece filled with bright raspberry jam, much livelier than the gamey, overly-reductive Mourvèdres sometimes encountered in nearby Bandol. The wine is a bit harder on the palate than Atsuko, but offers notes that remind me of dried cherries over oatmeal—the warm-toast qualities of all three of these wines are among their signature ‘non-standard’ profiles.