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Le Soula 2004 - an Ageless white from the land of Cathars

A couple of friends, Richard and Tiffany, came to supper and gave us a bottle. It was filthy, covered in thick dust with a rather grimy old label. He had been advised to buy it in the Caves de Marly, a wine shop to the west of Pairs (Marly-le-Roi near St Germain) that specialises in interesting wines that are generally affordable, well chosen and often mature. Now that I am partly retired and often collect my daughter from school in St Germain, it is an evil temptation that I must resist as I almost drive past it every day. I suspect that we will see a few more of their dusty old bottles on these pages...

Anyway, here is a white wine from the south, Languedoc-Roussillon, not a place that I admit I think of for white wine (my ignorance). But it had Gerard Gauby on the label, probably the superstar of the area, best known for his expensive red Muntada which I fear I cannot comment upon.

The only white from Roussillon that I recall was when we tasted at Clos des Fees. My wife Kathy knew the owner (and well known wine journalist and personality) Herve Bizeul. As so often when on holiday and at a winery, it seemed delicious down there, but when we returned to the cold reality of the north it was 15% and, to put it politely, too heavy for our tastes.

The funniest thing about our visit was what we (almost) bought. Blame it on my arrogance (not, I assure you our wealth), but I thought that reds from the Roussillon were good value and never going to cost as much as the top Bordeaux or Burgundies. Hah! At the end of the tasting Herve served us La Petite Siberie, an old vines single plot of grenache if I recall. Seemed impressive, and of course better than the wines that had preceded it, so in cavalier fashion I asked him to throw a couple into a box that we'd buy (too embarrassing to go to tastings and leave empty handed after enjoying wine, time and company). I didn't ask what the wines cost as I presumed it would not be much and it seemed a bit vulgar to be asking... which moment his wife took me quietly aside and very elegantly murmured into my ear that the little SIberian was two hundred euros. A bottle. She wasnt quite sure what I had wanted to order...

Bless her.

By the way Les Sorcieres, their basic Cotes du Roussillon (syrah-grenache-carignan) is very nice and much more sensibly priced. Luckily for me.

Anyway, back to Le Soula. It seems that Gauby believed that the cooler climate up at Fenouilledes, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, a long stone's throw from Spain, was a place to make serious wine. He convinced Mark Walford and Roy Richards to come in on it in the 1990s and Le Soula was born. Coincidentally we met Roy at a lunch kindly held by Mark Williamson not long ago, though by then they had sold their wine importing business to Berry Bros and Roy was out of Le Soula. His knowledge of wine is encyclopedic.

The white vineyards (there are red too) reach up to 660 metres and are biodynamic, an interesting mixture of Macabeu, Marsanne/Rousanne, Vermentino and little parcels of Grenache Blanc and Gris as well as some Malvoisie. So, a mountain wine grown with a broad southern grape mix in the old Occcitan region (as in the langue d'oc, or language of Oc which gives its name to the region now). A land of Cathars, with medieval castles and abbeys perched upon hilltops, a place of crusades and walled cities, of French and Catalans, of paella and cassoulet.

Ah, but yes, the wine. Look at that colour, not bad for a 16 year old white!

The taste, for someone more at home with northern whites, is intriguingly different. It's gently oxidative (but in no way oxidised), burnished, with a rich, ripe fruit of, I don't know, baked apples? It's waxy, long and, a blessing for a wine with a Mediterannean suntan, finished with nicely refreshing acidity. It really shows none of its age and will doubtless last longer. Lovely. Perhaps appropriately it reminds me of some of the old school wines from just across the mountains in Rioja, the whites of Lopez de Heredia, wines that are ageless and rich in that traditional oxidative style.

Great stuff. And at 25 euros for such an old wine, just a bargain. Thankyou Richard, I feel the car veering into the carpark at Marly already...

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