February 18, 2011 Le Soula
Le Soula Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes
grenache blanc et gris (35%), sauvignon (35%), marsanne, roussanne, macabeu, chenin (30%)
I am not fond of top-ten lists. They turn personal taste into a ratings game. So last fall when The Independent newspaper in the UK listed “The Ten Best Organic Wines” I could only think, has this writer tasted every organic wine produced (or even every one available in the UK)? Let’s be honest, it is one wine writer’s tally on a given day, using the database of organic wines she knows something about.
On the top of the list was a white, Le Soula, from the Roussillon region of France, a wine which for several years has been garnering very positive press. If the list accomplished anything for me, it was to put the wine back on my radar.
And for that I am grateful. It is a fabulous wine.
Le Soula is a relatively new enterprise (2001), initiated by one of the shining lights of winemaking in the south of France, Gérard Gauby. (A red from his own Domaine Gauby is a much anticipated posting for another day.) Gauby had discovered abandoned vines on some south-facing slopes at an altitude of 400-550 metres in Région des Fenouillèdes, the ancient route between Languedoc and Catalonia in Spain. The possibilities excited him and he drew into the venture the UK wine importers Roy Richards and Mark Walford.
Today La Soula, farmed using the principles of biodynamics, is made up of 22 hectares under vine (producing just two whites and two reds). The subsoil is generally granite (and in a few places black schist). The topsoil is decomposed granite. In 2008 Gérald Standley assumed the day-to-day operations of the domaine, as joint manager and winemaker with Gauby. Standley had worked previously in New Zealand, South Africa, and Bordeaux. A somewhat controversial technique that he uses is to generate a yeast culture from the naturally occurring winery yeasts, create a solution from it, then spray it on the vineyards. Good man.
The year 2008 also saw the move into larger cellar space, a co-operative cave that had fallen out of use in the 1970s. It was renovated to suit the winery needs, into something environmentally friendly, that would allow the wines to develop away from the heat of summer. At the elevation of La Soula fermentation is slower and a natural clarification occurs, adding to the refinement of the wines. What to some might seem a melting pot of varietals actually combines (sans oak) in a terroir-focussed, delicious wine, one which some would compare in structure to white Burgundy. The label’s symbol (taken from an old sign posted on the original cellar door) is, appropriately enough, a bee.
Le Soula Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes 2004
This is a wine with depth, with …flavourful sting. Dark straw in colour, it invites the revelation of its fresh intensity — mild sauerkraut for some, olives and nuts for others, a fine savoury mineral lift. A complex wine of great appeal. Flavourful charm that lives on and on. Of it Berry Bros & Rudd (wine merchant, granted) has said, “Surely the finest white in the South of France.”
This wine seems to have made a lot of lists, including those of Michelin-starred restaurants and that of the annual guide of La Revue du Vin de France. I’ve had South of France whites that have been entirely memorable (La Pèira’s Deusyls for one, Domaine Navarre’s Terret for another). And La Soula…add that to the list. $$