After the initial pleasing shock at what I had just tasted had subsided, those were the words that first came to mind.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Today I finally had the opportunity to open a smallish bottle (the far-too-seldom-seen half-litre size) of a wine that, despite being made with a grape variety appropriate for its provenance in a well-known district of Roussillon, is far enough outside of the vaunted French appellation system that it can only be called a Vin de France. This does not have to be a bad thing. For winemakers with an eye to doing something different – or for whom a wine doesn’t turn out quite as planned (and doesn’t meet the given appellation’s “typicity” requirements) – the Vin de France category allows considerable flexibility and room for creativity. Selling that wine for a decent price when it only carries that humble designation is a different matter altogether, but it helps if you have a name for quality.
Which brings me to the producer: Domaine Jones.
A (little) bit about Domaine Jones
I am working on a much longer, more detailed post about Domaine Jones and all of the wines I have been able to taste from the estate. For that reason, I will now be brief – certainly briefer than I normally manage, at least.
Domaine Jones was started by one Katie Jones, a transplanted Englishwoman, as recently as 2008. She and her husband, Jean Marc, work a paltry 12 hectares of vines spread out over Maury, Paziols and Touchan, with a focus on grape varieties that are typical for the area. These include Grenache, Carignan, Grenache Gris, and others. The vineyards are very old, as are many, if not all, of the vines, and they cover very demanding soils and slopes.
I discovered Domaine Jones for myself only recently, as I was sourcing wines in Germany from another producer making wines in Spain. The importer that I tracked down was carrying several of the wines from Domaine Jones, and so I ordered a couple to see what they were all about – and I enjoyed them a great deal. At ProWein I was able to meet Katie personally, which was a pleasure, and was able to try a few more of her excellent wines. Finally I ordered a number of her wines, and asked her to throw in a couple I didn’t know but that I would find interesting. This was one of her choices:
Domaine Jones – Vin de France, “Blanc Barrique” 2010, 13.5% abv
The “forgotten barrel” has entrenched itself as a kind of winemaking folklore. I can think of no less than six winemakers off the top of my head who have somehow misplaced a barrel or two for a few years, rediscovered them, tasted them, and were pleased with what they found. Nevertheless, having visited more than a few cellars in my day, I don’t actually find it much of a stretch to imagine how such a thing could happen from time to time. This seems to have been the case here; the barrel was discovered in 2014, the wine was tasted – and it was good. Not only good, in fact, but something very special.
We’re talking about Grenache Gris, which is found primarily – or even nearly exclusively – in Roussillon. It is a white mutation of the Grenache Noir (or Garnacha) that everyone knows as a powerful, fruity, spicy red. And there isn’t too much of it around. It is more aromatic than that other white mutation called, creatively, Grenache Blanc, and is usually found in blends with that grape and/or Macabeu (Macabeo in Spain, where it is almost always encountered as a component of Cava. Jones has a monovarietal bottling of Macabeu as well!)
The Tasting Note
The colour was much the same brassy lemon as the “normal” (and very delicious) bottling of Grenache Gris that Katie does.
The nose was immediately a surprise…lemon peel and fizzy candy, pineapple and a bit of mint – but also a balsamic element followed by roasted, salted almonds and raw hazelnut that were immediately reminiscent of a fine Amontillado sherry, but with freshness and lightness! A tang of dried orange peel and herbs punctuated that initial impression.
The palate is ever-so-slightly unctuous, making me think that there might be a hint more residual sugar than I might otherwise have expected. The wine is fresh enough to be appetising, light enough to be refreshing, but lacks neither concentration nor complexity. A bit of rosemary and candied orange join the mix, and such a wonderful, salty, mineral finish – not at all bitter, which often happens when a wine spends a lot of time in new wood. Yes, there is a clear wood character to the wine, but it is so well-integrated that it barely registers as such.
Truly, this wine was a revelation for me. I enjoyed its complexity immensely and was utterly surprised by the freshness and lightness it offers after four years in wood and three more in bottle – and just a half-litre bottle at that! I would buy it again in a heartbeat.
The One-Line Takeaway
Superb value for money, this wine will delight you with every sip and is well worth the adventure you will most likely have to undertake to track it down.