I'll admit to having had a kind of skeptical interest in attending a recent tasting with winemaker Valérie Guérin of Domaine Les Milles Vignes at my friend Josh's cave in the 1ère, Spring Boutique. Like many wine geek friends, Josh and I tend to gently rag on each other's tastes now and then. I accuse him of liking everything too sleek: silky tannins, quiet acid, polite persistence. He rightly accuses me of drinking mostly oxidative unprofessional farmer wines.
We had differed on Domaine Les Milles Vignes' 2007 Vin de Pays de l'Aube Rosé. At 28€ retail, it's up there with the Château Simones and Domaine Tempiers of the world, in terms of baller rosé. Josh was all bee's knees about it. After sharing a bottle with some friends the week before, I was more ambivalent. I appreciated its waxen dark cherryness, its length, and the fact that it was still proudly drinkable after 4 years - but found it a bit unnuanced, particularly for the price.
A second tasting didn't persuade me otherwise. The tasting with Mme. Guérin was nevertheless quite worthwhile, for the impressive back vintages of Fitou that appeared towards the end of the tasting, and for introducing me to Guérin's superb Muscat de Rivesaltes, the best of its type I can remember encountering.
Admittedly, it's not a style of wine I encounter very often. In France one is never at a loss for pleasant apéro options, from Pernod to Pommeau to Pineau to Lillet, not to mention the continual allure of a simple glass of white wine or rosé. I suspect it's this market overcrowding, and the unavoidable after-dinner associations of the Muscat grape,* that have prevented me from sampling more Muscat de Rivesaltes. It's a fortified vin doux from Rousillon made from a variable blend of Muscat à Petits Grains and Muscat d'Alexandria. For some reason its not the first thing that rolls off the tongue when a waiter arrives.
Anyway, on the strength of Guérin's, I ought to keep in in mind. Domaine Les Milles Vignes' Muscat de Rivesaltes is as close to the notion of drinking perfume as one can get, without actually carrying out the impractical idea. Honeysuckle, cucumber, hawthorne - the scents so visceral they seemed to project holographically from the mouth of the glass. From what I understannd its made from principally or exclusively Muscat à Petits Grains. Guérin tells me the chief challenge in making her MdR is managing the temperature during fermentation to a minute degree (literally), without which oversight the resulting vin doux loses its aromatic fireworks.
The Milles Vignes reds overall were excellent, even as they mostly conformed to my previous characterisation of Josh's taste in wine. From the blood-scented, steel-aged Grenache "Cuvée Chasse Filou" 2008, to the taciturn Fitou 2006, to the barky, blackfruited 2001 Fitou, all tannins were rolled to a fine powder, all acid was integrated, all fruit firm and expressive. I guess my only half-articulate sticking point with wines like these is they taste like luxury to me, and it puts me off. By which I mean to say they cater, whether intentionally or not, to What The Man In The Suit Wants In His Wine Choice. They are red, and rich, and responsible: an accounts manager for your meal.
Being by nature obstinate, contrary, and suspicious of authority, my own tastes have diverged accordingly. It's not that I don't appreciate these wines, or the craft that goes into them. (Guérin's father Jacques, who founded the estate in 1979, was a professor of Oenology in Orange in the Rhône.) Just that I find them a little conservative at times. An exception was the Grenache cuvée "Atsuko," made from 70-year-old vines that were evidently so soulful that no amount of massaging could tamp down their tannic thrust, their exuberant red-currant rhubarb verve.
So my first question for Valérie Guérin had been: how is it that 2007 is her most recent vintage of the Vin de Pays de l'Aube rosé? It wasn't intentional, she said; she just hasn't made any rosé since 2007. For a relatively renowned 12.5ha estate like Les Mille Vignes, it's not because the reds are easier to sell; everything sells. But there's only so much raw material to work with, and however much rosé she produces, she produces that much less red Mourvredre, and conditions have preferred red production for the past few vintages. Guérin says she's considering producing more rosé in 2011, but no promises.
Suffice it to say that on the strength of her reds and her Muscat de Rivesaltes, I'd be very curious to taste the rosé again in a fresher state, should it ever arrive.
52, rue de l'Arbre Sec
Tel: 01 58 62 44 30
A surprisingly informative, if probably outdated, profile of Domaine Les Milles Vignes @ Vins-Fr