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Les Foulards Rouges is a long-standing favorite of Chambers Street Wines for a good reason: Jean-François Nicq is producing some of the best, most drinkable and consistent natural wines in France. Nicq grew up in the north of France, and studied geology before he discovered wine and later entered school for oenology. There he met Thierry Puzelat who introduced him to the burgeoning natural wine movement. After receiving his diploma, he moved to the southern Rhône near Tavel and in 1989 he became Director of the Estézargues Coopérative, which, under his direction, became famous for high-quality and organic methods. After working briefly with Eric Pfifferling at Domaine L'Anglore, he found his paradise - 9 hectares of vines at the foothills of the Canigou mountains overlooking the little harbor of Collioure, the “Vermeille Coast” and the Mediterranean sea. Here you find, at 100 meters elevation, decomposed gneiss and granitic soils: these terroirs, with lighter soils, can give lighter wines than elsewhere in the Roussillon, and with the influence of the sea especially at night, they give fresher wines as well. Farming is organic of course. A mixed cover crop (legumes, rye, cloves, etc.) and organic composts are used to create more humus rich topsoil. Yields are low, usually between 15 to 20 hl/ha. In the cellar, things are simple but precise. The goal is to make clean, highly drinkable wines with the minimum addition possible - sulfur dioxide is used sparingly or not at all.
A few words on the region and the estate from our dear friend Pascaline Lepeltier: "Les Foulards Rouges is located in the little village of Montesquieu-des-Albères, 6 miles from the Mediterranean Sea and 3 miles from the Spanish border in the heart of the historical Catalogne, in the southernmost part of the Roussillon. Here, the Pyrénées create natural boundaries between France and Spain (the Albera Massif, where Jean-François’s vineyards are, became the official boundary between France and Spain in 1659 with the Pyrénées Treaty signed when Louis XIV took control of the French Roussillon from Philippe IV of Spain.) This is a traditional winemaking region dating back to the Romans. The hillsides of the commune used to be covered with head-pruned vines, the fruits of which were sold until the 1980s to the local cooperative. Today, these slopes are overrun by bushes, the vineyards relocated down from the slopes to the flat land to allow for the use of machines, and the co-op business died. The rising costs, the laborious nature of farming, and the changing taste preferences of the residents led to the disappearance of older independent vignerons. This painful reality became a blessing for Jean-François as he could buy his property for very little money. He was not the only one. Alain Castex was the first to arrive in the area, years before Jean-François, Bruno Duchêne and Jean-Louis Tribouley also started their domain thanks to the cheap price of land. It was thought that no one wanted to break his or her back on the sun-drenched slopes which could not be tilled by machine. Together they would start, with Castex as their mentor, the natural wine revolution of the region (If you are interested in the subject, I suggest watching the documentary called “Wine calling: le vin se lève” by Bruno Sauvard)." (Thanks Pascaline!)
In 2021, Jean-François produced a sensational line up of wines, showing dark fruit and earth and impressive elegance and depth. We can't stress enough how truly elegant these wines are, epecially considering that Nicq is working with mostly old vines of Grenache in the deep south of the Roussillon, where it's typically unexpected for wines from the region to be so balanced and finessed.
If anyone would like to read more, we highly suggest checking out Pascaline's incredibly detailed and passionate article on the domaine. Click here to read more! Thanks to the fine folks at Steven Graf Wines for bringing in the wines and keeping such detailed notes!
Potemkine is a blend of Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris, from young vines on granitic soil. Literally 4 years old, 2021 was the first year that these young vines were used to make a wine. Grapes see whole-cluster fermentation for 10 days and the wine is aged in 500L neutral barrels. Technically not an "orange wine," the whole cluster fermentation allows for some skin contact, and gives the wine a very light, fleshly feel. Very fresh, textured, with a long mineral (granitic) finish. -EL
'Frida' is from three very small parcels of 100 year-old vines. Carignan, Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris, and Grenache Blanc are co-planted here, with red varieties higher up on the hillside. Terroir is deep sand over granite bedrock. Grapes are de-stemmed and see 3 weeks of maceration, and the wine is aged in 500L neutral barrels for 6-8 months. This is a beautifully balanced red, showing dark fruit, earth and cassis notes. Pure, with vibrance and energy, and remarkably elegant for a wine with this level of structure and aging potential. -EL
This old vines cuvée comes from 100 year old head-pruned vines, on sandy/granitic soils. Hand-haversted, the grapes are chilled on arrival, and macerated whole-cluster. Free-run and press juices are blended than aged in 500 liters barrels (used) before being bottled by hand beginning of Spring without any SO2 addition. Pascaline notes: "the Arabic spelling was made by Jean-François's mom who started to learn the language: he found it beautiful and thought it was a great way to name this cuvée." On the nose, this cuvée is the most open and exuberant. On the palate, this is truly elegant Grenache, very fine at 13% abv, it reminded me of a Pinot Noir. Lovely wine! -EL
Glaneurs comes from a single vineyard of Grenache that was planted in 1970. The vines are planted on a steep hillside of decomposed granite, and yields are particularly low here (usually 15hl/ht or less). Half of the grapes are de-stemmed, and the other half see whole cluster carbonic maceration. After this, the free fun and press juices are blended, and the wine is aged for 6 months in neutral barrels. This is a young wine, showing more predictable tannic structure, albeit refined and integrated. The wine maintains brightness and has a pleasant level of acidity, as do all of Jean-François' cuvées. To me this was the clearly the wine to age for several years (at least), but given the balance, it would be perfectly appropriate on the dinner table with perhaps an hour to breath before serving. 14% abv.-EL