Le Soula was created in 2001 as a partnership between UK wine importers Richards Walford and local biodynamic superstar Gérard Gauby, who had found a number of old and abandoned vineyards with great potential. It now has 27 hectares of vines situated in the deep south of France in the Agly valley in and around the village of St. Martin de Fenouillet. The winery itself recently moved about 5 miles to refurbished and larger premises at Prugnanes; a visible sign of success.
Historically the reputation of the Agly valley was for vin ordinaire defined by high alcohol and a quaffing rusticity. Now this area has become one of the most exciting wine making regions in France, where a new generation of ambitious producers are using biodynamics and making magnificent wines from indigenous vines – and Le Soula, with Gauby’s guidance, have become one of the top exponents.
Le Soula make a simply stunning white wine but it is the red Soula Rouge that is featured here, an assemblage in 2005 of 25% ancient bush trained Carignan with 10% Syrah, 35% Grenache Noir and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, grapes that are all native to this part of France. The exact blend differs annually, based on the harvest conditions and although it might be similar in make-up to those from the Southern Rhône, it reveals all the terroir and finesse of the Agly valley.
The vineyards are populated with vines of various ages, the majority old, some now approaching their doddery centenary. Precious little else will grow commercially amidst the stone outcrops and scratchy thin granite and schist soils of the garrigue at an altitude of between 350 and 550 metres. Le Soula can be translated from the local Catalan as “sunny” but altitude means that the heat of the day is leavened by cooler nights, so ensuring slow ripening – always good for the creation of complexity and the retention of refreshing acidity in the grapes.
Le Soula’s winegrowing philosophy is to be as natural and “hands-off” as possible in the vineyard and the winery. Biodynamics is employed and they have now started on a journey to organic certification. Hence the fruit is handpicked and whole bunch fermented (stalks on) with wild yeasts. Extraction, the bane of so many modern warm-climate wines, is studiously avoided; the alcohol level of 13% is enough to balance the wine while leaving it easy to drink and a good match with food. As may be expected, there is no chaptalisation (the addition of artificial sugar), acidification or filtration.
After fermentation, a third of the wine is matured in 500 litre oak casks (30% of which are new), the rest aged in tank. There is therefore little overt wood influence. Final blending and bottling of this 2005 vintage took place after 18 months. Yields are usually low and in 2005 were 15 hl/ha, thanks to the exceptionally dry year – there’s no irrigation here! Just 8,400 bottles were made.
At five years old, I think this wine is now showing at the best stage of its development, though it has several years ahead of it. There’s a melding of primary fruit flavours but with the added complexity of some secondary development in bottle. It was decanted for an hour or so before serving as a precaution against the expected sediment.
In colour, a deep garnet core is attractively crimson edged. The nose has good intensity of red berry scents but with secondary notes poking through that will doubtless become more dominant over time. Earth, liquorice and tar show early after pouring, gamey hints appear if the wine is left longer in the glass.
This wine has restrained alcohol and a racy acidity that lends it a rather burgundian elegance and mouthfeel. A depth of red berry and damson fruit were perhaps to be expected, but the additional mulberry flavours were a pleasant surprise. On a long slow fade there is also a meaty and mineral complexity to tempt you back for more. Good concentration, balance and intensity mean that this is a stylish and exciting red wine.
Food wise, rack of lamb with plenty of rosemary works a treat. However, this versatile red wine will match a wide range of dishes, from charcuterie to winter stews.
Domaine Le Soula, Soula Rouge, Vin de Pays de Côtes Catalans, Roussillon, France, 2005. 13%. Biodynamic