A Syrah For Summer
The Languedoc-Roussillon, in the South of France, is the largest vineyard area in the world, comprising over 280,000 hectares. Within this land, Pays d'Oc IGP wines (IGP signifies Protected Geographical Indication), produced in four regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea, offer distinctive tastes of tradition, quality and "terroir" with a modern outlook. Nearly 1500 producers work with a variety of grapes known for expressing aromatic intensity and diverse characteristics associated with the many geographical features, soil types and microclimates. Around 650 million bottles a year of Vin de Pays d'Oc are sold worldwide, with an emphasis on good value for money. One producer which has won several awards for its wines is Les Jamelles, created in 1991 by husband and wife, Catherine and Laurent Delaunay from Burgundy. Having worked in California, they settled in the Languedoc-Roussillon area, determined to produce characterful, well-balanced and complex wines that are approachable, unpretentious and which express the qualities of the grape varieties. In their wines, they strive to reflect both the terroir and also the personality and way of life of the region. Only local growers are used and vinification is carried out close to the vineyards, using modern techniques adapted for the demands of each wine and vintage.
One of the top wines in the "Les Jamelles" collection is the Syrah, made from low-yielding vines, with an average age of 20 years, grown on hillside slopes in three locations chosen for their specific terroirs. The mix of clay and limestone soils imparts a combination of richness, roundness, freshness and fruit. In order to add greater complexity to this wine, about 10% of the final blend is aged in oak barrels. However, to further accentuate the fruit quality, 30% of the grapes undergo carbonic maceration, sometimes known as "whole berry fermentation". Under this method, commonly used for Beaujolais, entire bunches of grapes are placed in a vat. As a result of gravity, grapes at the bottom are crushed by those at the top, releasing carbon dioxide (although this can be manually added), which kick starts the fermentation of the juice while still within the grapes. This also has the effect of delaying the action of yeast. Importantly, the amount of tannin extracted is reduced, the intensity of fruit is heightened and the resultant wine is lighter and best for drinking young.
Les Jamelles Syrah is an award-winning wine and the 2012 vintage is no exception. On the nose, notes of blackberries and blueberries are complemented by cloves, nutmeg, violets and mint. On the palate, a similar fresh and fruity character persists with the same spices present throughout plus some gentle black pepper notes coming through on the finish. Remember Palma Violets sweets from your youth? Well there's a hint of these too. Tannins are silky smooth and the alcohol level of 13.5% ABV does not feel overpowering.
This wine would go particularly well with a spicy lamb tagine or braised lamb shoulder in a red wine sauce, game dishes and charcuterie. However, if you're in a sport-watching mood, the renowned annual cycle race, the Tour de France, begins on Saturday July 5th in Leeds. What better way to toast the opening stage in Yorkshire than with a glass or two of Les Jamelles Syrah! Then, on July 20th, when the pack of cyclists arrives in Nîmes, an ancient city in Languedoc-Roussillon, it'll be time to crack open another bottle. Enjoy!
Les Jamelles Syrah is available in the UK from The Co-operative Group for a very reasonable £6.49.
(Editor's note: Les Jamelles is also available at select merchants in the US, at about $12.00 a bottle.)
More information on Pays d'Oc wines can be found here.