I first visited Paul Meunier just after his maiden vintage in 2014 after a tip-off that a bright, young, talented winemaker was breathing life back into former co-operative winery in a village called Centernach, just south of Maury in the Agly Valley in the southern Roussillon region. Such was the excitement during the visit that The Good Wine Shop decided to be the first and sole importer of these wines into the UK.
Over the preceding years Paul had been buying a few small prize plots of ancient vineyards in the hills surrounding Centernach and has been energetically nurturing the vines so that they can produce, fresh, refined, savoury, terroir-driven wines again. Powerful, sun-kissed darkly fruited and spicy, oaky wines are what you might expect from this district but Paul’s wines are light, pure and thrilling – the polar opposite.
In part, this could be explained by Paul’s upbringing; the son of a Burgundian vintner, so wine must be in his blood. He gained immensely valuable experience making wine across the globe for 5 years, rapidly accelerated by working vintages each year in both northern and southern hemispheres. Having completed his apprenticeship Paul fell in love with the beautiful, wild vineyard landscape in this area, the towering Pyrenes as a backdrop. He also had the freedom and energy, which sometimes only a young, highly-ambitious vigneron has, to expertly express this place in his wines.
Official recordings of vineyard plantings only commenced in 1950, so many of Paul’s vineyards are at least 78 years old and some exceed 100 years. His highest site is 350 meters and whilst the soil types vary, schists, of varying colours, dominate. Very low yields of organically grown and hand harvested Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Macabeu and Grenache Gris are naturally fermented in small, inert concrete vats, concrete eggs and ceramic amphora, all with the purpose of letting the wine & terroir express themselves.
My favourites wine is the 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Blanc made from Macabeu and Grenache Gris planted in, or before, 1950 from a 269 meter high, rugged, black schist site near the neighbouring village of St Paul de Fenouillet. It is bright with generous stone fruit flavours, a stony salinity and perfect poise and presence.
The debut 2014 vintage of the red Cotes du Roussillon Villages is carefully assembled from vineyards in the villages of St-Arnac, Lesquerde, St-Paul and Maury. Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, Lladoner Pelut (aka ‘the hairy Grenache’), Macabeu come from 10 to 100 years old vines grown at elevations from 130 to 300 meters. It is delightfully low in alcohol, especially for this part of the world and it has great elegance, refined red fruits, crunchy acidity and a note of schist. Comparisons have been made with Premier Cru Cotes de Nuits Burgundy – high praise indeed.
From a single vineyard of 100% Grenache Noir planted in 1981 at 200 meters on a 0.58 hectare plot of windswept black schist is Paul’s Maury, a Vin Doux Naturel, that has a sweet, yet grippy port-like quality with a generous level of alcohol, aided by a light fortification. I believe he is doffing his hat to the vintage port houses as I established that part of it is made like port, part like a traditional Maury. It is my choice as an alternative to port this Christmas and is a more moderate, in terms of both alcohol and price.
Rave reviews from Jancis Robinson have followed but there are absolutely no signs of the dreaded DSAS – ‘difficult second album syndrome’. The opposite in fact as the current releases seem to point to stardom.
Intrigued? Click here to browse the range of wines from this great estate.
As an interesting post script, Napoleon disapproved of the Occitan language, which was widely used then, and renamed Centernach, ‘Saint Arnac’. Amusingly, Paul points out that there is no such Saint and that when spoken in French the word arnaque means a swindle! Paul understandably prefers to use the original spelling…