Tasting with Cathar(tic) Wines, with Richard Bray and his UK agent, Gus Gluck of GB Wine Shippers
A wonderfully eclectic range of wines with Richard Bray who is the talent behind Cathar(tic) Wines, which he makes in the cellars of Mas Cristine outside Argelès-sur-Mer, with his friends and colleagues, Andy Cook and Philippe Gard of Coume del Mas in Banyuls.
I first met Richard when I was researching The wines of Roussillon a year or so ago, when he kindly brought some bottles round for us to taste at my kitchen table. He explained that the label Cathar(tic) Wines refers the history of the Cathars and also reflects the cathartic experience of wine-making.
A small group of us gathered recently at the Drapers Arms in Barnsbury, in north London and Richard poured bottles generously. His enthusiasm was infectious. And this is what we tasted.
2019 Cartharsis, Côtes du Roussillon Blanc - £17.00
A blend of Macabeo and Vermentino, fermented in tank. The components of this wine can vary from year to year. The very first vintage was 2013, a pure Vermentino, whereas in 2020 Richard only made 300 bottles, of Macabeo. He described 2021 as awesome. The 2019 was fresh and stony on the nose with satisfying weight and texture on the palate, balanced with firm acidity. The two varieties complement each other very nicely.
2020 Neuks n’ Crannies, Côtes Catalanes - £27.50
A blend of Grenache Gris and Roussanne. 2020 was a difficult year, so there was no Carignan Gris. Light golden. A tight herbal nose, with firm acidity on the palate and stony herbal notes. The wine has been kept in old oak. And promises well.
The 2019 is a blend of Carignan Gris, Roussanne and Grenache Gris and had benefitted from the extra year of bottle development, with more depth and tension combined with firm fruit. A rounded finish. Carignan Gris is a version of Carignan that has been much overlooked, but may be in line for a revival of interest. These vines are 120 years old. Richard observed that he likes tension, and surprisingly although Roussillon is one of the hotter vineyard areas of France, the region does produce white wines with firm acidity and tension.
2016 Fool Me Once, Côtes Catalanes
A Grenache Gris that was fermented on its skins and then pressed by foot. The colour is not especially orange; indeed, it was fairly light in colour, with firm fruit and a streak of tannin. Richard likes to do something different every year and this was his experiment for 2016.
2020 Fingers Crossed, Côtes Catalanes - £25.00
A rosé made from Mourvèdre and kept in old oak, a demi-muid. Pale orange pink. A dry nose and a firm palate with a hint of sweet ripeness on the finish. Medium weight. The result of a very gentling pressing. 2020 was not an easy harvest and Richard was pleased how well this had turned out.
2019 By Any Other Name - £25.00
Another pure Mourvèdre rosé. And from a much easier harvest in comparison with 2020, which Richard described as a balance of sunshine and richness. A little lees stirring. Three barrels from younger vines. Pale pink colour with a firm dry nose. Firm young fruit on the palate. Nicely rounded finish with depth and balancing acidity. Think pink Bandol, by way of inspiration.
2017 Blanc de Noirs
A rosé from Grenache Noir, but more light golden than pink in colour, the result of a very light pressing. Quite rounded with good texture a note of red fruit. Medium weight palate.
And then came vintages of Syrahcha, a pure Syrah. Richard is particularly enthusiastic about the potential Syrah in Roussillon, considering it to have what he described as the honesty of ripe fruit in a hot place.
2017 was the first vintage for which he did a whole bunch pressing, with a carbonic maceration, followed by some punching down. This is a fairly new technique for Roussillon. You have to take care with the stems as the heat means that you do not always get lignification when the grapes are ripe. A solution is to leave the stems to dry.
Rounded ripe black tapenade on the nose, with fresh youthful fruit on the palate. Richard wants the perfume from the whole bunches, and then he did some pigeage or punching down, to extract more flavour. He observed that you have to be honest about the sun; Roussillon is hot; you cannot avoid ripeness, with fruit and structure.
2018 - £32.00 - was a riper year than 2017. Deep young colour. Elegantly dense black fruit on the nose. Quite rounded and ripe on the palate. Some firm tannins with some weight. Spicy black fruit. The stems provide some backbone to balance the low acidity.
2019 - £32.00 - from a new vineyard. Deep young colour. Firm black fruit and a touch of olive tapenade. Ripe fruit, with ripe spice balanced with a tannic streak. Very satisfying. Good mouthfeel.
Few of Richard’s wine conform to appellation requirements about blends, so they are Côtes Catalanes and the vineyards are farmed organically, although the labels do not actually say so.
And if you would like to read more about making wine in Roussillon I can wholeheartedly recommend Richard’s book Salt and Old Vines which conveys the enthusiasm and fun, but also the immense hard work.
Current retail stockists are
Quality Wines Farringdon (http://www.qualitywinesfarringdon.com)
The Good Wine Shop (https://www.thegoodwineshop.co.uk)
St Andrews Wine Company (https://www.standrewswine.co.uk)