March 19, 2010 Borie la Vitarèle
Borie la Vitarèle Les Terres Blanches
grenache (80%), syrah
Anyone looking for a clear demonstration of the effect of terroir on wine need look no further than this gem of a domaine down a narrow road just a few kilometres outside the village of Causses-et-Veyran. The surroundings are modest, but the wines are anything but. They are to be found on the wine lists of several very fine restaurants throughout France.
Jean-François and Cathy Izarn have 60 hectares, 15 of which they cultivate. Since 1998 the approach has been biodynamic. The beauty of the property is the diverse soils to be found here — limestone mixed with clay, schist, fossil pebbles from what had once been a river bed — and the distinct character they impart to each of the cuvées. The soils are healthy and alive, yields are kept low, harvest is by hand, work in the chai is carefully managed. Borie la Vitarèle is deep enough in the country that it escapes any chemical blow-over from other domaines. Nature has nowhere been compromised.
Jean-François Izarn is an artist, not just in his wine-making. We sit at a long table to sample his wines, surrounded by his paintings in progress. He also has a particular interest in growing bonsai. He is a chef, and with his wife operates a ‘ferme auberge’ on the property. A man of many interests and talents, someone for whom viniculture is part of a broad world view.
The individual character and complexities of the wines of Borie la Vitarèle are impressive. There is not one — from the lighter-bodied, summer-drinking La Cuvèe des Cigales to the much deeper, limited-production Les Crès — that wouldn’t find pride of place at any table. Neither do they bear any pretensions. Their prices present the opportunity for everyone to drink well. These attributes would seem to be a natural extension of the process that brought the wine to the bottle, a reflection of the philosophy that let to the creation of Borie la Vitarèle.
Among the wines set out for tasting is Les Terres Blanches. All the wines leave a lasting imprint, but I am particularly taken with this one, and decide to further the experience with a full bottle. (Another time, and it could have equally been Les Schistes or Les Crès that held the day.) It’s ironic then that a few days following, as I am due to uncork it, Languedoc is blanketed with snow. Les Terres Blanches indeed! A rare occurrence, perhaps 20 years since such an accumulation. The local people don’t quite know what to make of it. The young woman at the boulangerie next door seems not quite as amused as her Canadian customer. But then, I have the comfort of very good wine.
Borie la Vitarèle Les Terres Blanches 2008
Young, but with great character, Les Terres Blanches holds forth in a manner that belies its age. It is a wine that would suit many occasions — easy drinking (while looking out on snow) to an elaborate dinner with friends (Jean- François suggests Mediterranean cuisine). There is a subtle rustic air, with tannins well on their way to smoothing out. Such interesting depth in such a recent vintage. Not profound, not endless, but richly authentic. The careful work of a vigneron able to get special qualities from his terroir. As with any exceptional wine, the charms of the fruit — here, the spice, the compote qualities — are in good measure, but it would seem to be the clay-limestone (‘argilo-calcaire’) mix of soil that offers up something extra, giving the wine its distinctive, enduring appeal. $
Not the wine nor a day of snow melting on palm trees will be forgotten.
[first two photos by ACM]