Tell people that you feel tired after blending wine all day and inevitably they roll their eyes and wonder why anyone could complain about such a job, never mind be paid for it! It would be churlish to expect sympathy but blending wine often happens in the cold months that follow the vintage and standing in draughty cellars tasting young wine that is still a little grumpy following the rigours of fermentation, is not the same as sitting at the dinner table sharing a glass with your beloved. But as I said, I’m not expecting sympathy…
Occasionally when you blend, each component part of the wine feels so complete that there is literally nothing to do other than smile and look knowingly at those fortunate to be tasting with you; that is where we are at with the 2020 Immortelle. Seven vintages have passed since Liam (Master of Wine & Owner of Red & White) decided to fulfil his dream of making his own wine in this strikingly arresting part of the Roussillon. In my opinion this, the seventh, is the best yet, balancing the richness of the fruit, the heft of the tannins and the vigour and vitality provided by the acid line to deliver a wine that is both refined and cosseting.
On leaving the Roussillon, we drove north into the Languedoc and the highest slopes of the Minervois where our principal task was to fine-tune a new rosé called le Colibri (the hummingbird), that will sit alongside two of our range’s best sellers: le Lievre (the hare) and l’Abeille (the bee). It’s not just about getting the right blend of fruit and acid but also about texture and length. It also needs to have the guts to perform well over 12 months as it is no good being brilliant now if it becomes a flaccid shadow of its former self once in bottle. In the end we found that a blend of our two favourites, one with oodles of crunchy red fruit and the other whose metaphorical silhouette was a little more curvaceous and alluring, ensured that between them we had the verve we needed to provide a rosé’s call to be refreshing but not at the expense of a little softness to woo the crowd.
Following our trip to the Minervois, our next mission was a rendezvous with Picpoul. During the last fifteen years, Picpoul has seen its popularity soar as people began to realise that this little known southern French variety, served fridge cold on almost any night of the year, has the ability to improves one’s mood immeasurably. Grown in the fields that overlook the Bassin de Thau, a huge sea lagoon dedicated to the production of oysters and mussels, this is the seafood wine of the south of France. If I had a criticism of the appellation in which Picpoul sits (Picpoul de Pinet AOP), it is simply that the style of Picpoul we all recognise has been so extraordinarily successful that it appears to have stymied any attempt to be innovative in its production. Well we have always wanted to push and improve every wine in which we are involved, and the latest demonstration of that desire will appear in our Département range (it will be number 34), in late Spring of 2022, a new, revelatory Picpoul of astonishing complexity and rarity.
Heading east, we eventually arrived at the crinkled hills, still blackened in part from the ravages of the summer fires, that sit above Saint Tropez in the Côte d’Azur. Our task was to blend our flagship rosé: Maïa. Everybody (or certainly nobody has ever said otherwise) appears to love Maïa, and with adoration comes a certain amount of pressure to ensure we don’t bugger it up when the time comes for this year’s blend to be conceived. Of course, the varietal mix stays roughly the same with the backbone provided by the red-fruited ebullience of Cinsault whilst Grenache adds interest through its delivery of a herbal twist and palate depth. Maïa 2021 continues in the same vein as previous vintages, delivering a Provencal rosé that not only looks the part, but more importantly tastes like it belongs to the small band of wines that represent the very best that this region has to offer.
I’m not sure that when drinking these brilliant wines that you will be inclined to spare a thought for the cold toes and bones that were endured whilst they were being assembled, but I can live with that. All I really hope is that our enthusiasm and love for this part of France manages to be echoed in the glass in front of you, if so any minor discomfort of mine will be as pale in significance as the strawberry hued reflections in a glass of Maïa. Cheers!
Written by Mark Pygott MW