No one really knows the origins of the Masters of Wine. Mythos suggests that it was in medieval Scotland. Their ranks have included Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez; an Egyptian with a Spanish name and thick Scottish accent and a Scotsman played by a Frenchman. The wine trade is nothing if not inclusive. MW’s famously engage in battles to the death using only ancient bladed weapons, for…there can be only one. Wait…it seems that what I’ve done here is confuse the Institute of Masters of Wine with the 1980’s cult classic Highlander. It’s an easy mistake to make. And in fairness, many an MW student has lost their head…
This is down to one MW in particular (this mistaken identity, not losing heads). His name is Liam Steevenson (of the Clan Steevenson) and his Petite Immortelle. Not only did Liam battle and defeat The Kurgan he also became the youngest person to pass the famously difficult MW exam in 2004 (aged 29; a record that has since been beaten…honestly, these MW’s get younger every year). Liam Steevenson MW works all around the globe and part of his business is creating new wine brands and crafting the juice to back them up.
This bottle was recommended to me by Bin Two, most recent winners of The Prize. Yes, they are the nation’s best indie and what’s more impressive is that they won this title without having to behead anyone. They are Princes Of The Universe…well, Padstow at least, and suggested this lovely southern French fayre. The name Petite Immortelle doesn’t actually refer to mystically immortal humans locked in a to-the-death battle but in fact a flower – Helichrysum Italicum. This flower has numerous aliases including the curry plant and Italian starflower. It’s a member of the daisy family and is native to the Cotes du Roussillon. The name Immortelle is derived from the fact it retains its colour and structure long after picking. Alongside the cockroach it’s the only living thing that can survive a nuclear blast. (Not really, I made that up)
This wine is made from grapes grown in the Agly Valley, 20 clicks north of Perpignan. Some of these vines are over 100 years old (although not suspected to be immortal) and are sourced from 40 hectares of vines planted and maintained by Bousquet family. Grapes are hand harvested and fermented in large concrete tanks with regular remontage and delestage. No oak was used in the production of this film and thus no fruit was hurt. It’s a blend of Carignan, Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah. At this point there would usually be a tasting note but I don’t do those. It’s a superb value wine with that real flavour of southern France. You know that scene in Ratatouille when the food critic is taken back to his rustic kitchen? It does that for me…taking me to the gentle rolling hills near the Mediterranean coast.
Southern France was my own gateway to the wines of France; I grew up drinking (that’s probably a complete sentence on its own to be honest) Australian wine. I liked the more fruit forward, higher alcohol wines…as well as the lack of rules. Yeah, I’m a total punk y’all. French wine was very confusing to me, not just structurally but also in terms of trying to understand all the rules. Southern France was much simpler, it had varietal labelling and was made in a style my own palate could access. I slowly moved north (similar to my Italian journey) and eventually worked out the greatness of the Rhone, Bordeaux and even Burgundy.
Whilst it’s possible to imagine a lack of rules, there has over time developed a layer of complexity, but one that is easy to understand. The Roussillon is an area between the Pyrenees and the Languedoc and the AoC Cotes du Roussillon was created in March 1977. It was something of a catch all; designed to give a designation to wines that were better than simple Vin de Table or Vin de Pays. The region itself was much more well known for the production of Vins du Naturels. No, not the mousy thing hipsters get all excited about today but fortified wines. These VDN’s are Maury, Banyuls and Rivesaltes; they offer some great value.
Over time, a level of geographic specificity has been added. Roussillon now includes the sub regions of Les Aspres and Collioure as well as the Cotes Du Roussillon Villages. This sits in the northern section of Roussillon, south of the Languedoc’s Corbieres and Fitou. There are a total of 25 villages in the more undulating terrain, of which 4 are specifically named (and can thusly be shown on the label if the grapes are exclusively from said village.) These named villages are Caramany, Latour de France, Lesquerde and Tautavel. The other villages are engaged in a to-the-death battle to obtain The Prize of….you get where this is going.
This wine is made from fruit sourced from around the two villages of Latour de France and Tautavel. Tautavel is the furthest east of the 4 and latest to be inducted in to the Roussillon Villages Hall Of Fame; after a lengthy series of play offs they qualified for the title in 1997. I don’t know much about sports so can’t continue that analogy any further (I can hear the sigh of relief from both my readers) Tautavel technically sits within the zone of Rivesaltes and has soils of granite and quartz. Great for acid retention in the fruit. Latour de France is situated between Tautavel and Caramany and also falls within the Rivesaltes zone. It covers soils of schist, gneiss, clay and limestone too.
The CdR Villages is for reds only. In fact the wider Cotes du Roussillon appellation is 68% red and 28% rose; only a small amount of white wine is made. When it comes to Villages Carignan is the most planted and it may occupy up to 60% of the blend. Syrah & Mourvedre come next and between them must make up a minimum of 30% – they can do that as a blend or singly. Finally are the varieties Grenache Noir and Lladoner Pelut. The final blend must contain at least 3 of these. There’s a lot of numbers here…I’ll take my chances with the big guy with the sword I think.
I’ve already mentioned that this wine represents tremendous value and that is true of this region in general. There’s some rocking producers down south including Cazes, Thunevin and Mas Amiel. Make a point of looking out some of these wines, especially this Immortal. Remember; there can be only one…and this one is a Kind Of Magic.
As an aside; I judged at this year’s IEWA and was on a table where Liam Steevenson MW was chair. As with most MW’s I absorbed information and learned a huge amount just by being seated near him. At one point however he said the words “What did I do to deserve being on this table?” I am hoping it was in response to the ‘challenging’ flight of reds we were judging, but it could quite easily have been in response to me being there…and who would blame him?
Remember: it’s just grapes.