Joli Vin imports
Élian Da Ros - Southwest / Côtes du Marmandais
If you pay attention to where your tomatoes come from in France, then you are familiar with Marmande. If not, then you’ve probably never heard of the Côtes du Marmandais at all, let alone as a wine producing region, and certainly not as one of distinction. In fact, since 1790 this little corner of France’s South West had been relegated to viticultural obscurity because it was beyond the Gironde border. It was elevated to Appellation Contrôlée in 1990 but in 1997, 98% of the grapes still wound up at one of the two local coopératives where they were destined to be transformed into generic, inexpensive, supermarket wines. And then came Élian Da Ros.
In 1998, after having spent 5 years at the iconic Alsatian domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Élian returned to the Côtes du Marmandais to take over 5 ha of vineyards from his father. That year, 1% fewer grapes went to the co-ops. Before Élian Da Ros, wine of note was not made in the Marmandais. It didn’t exist. Since 1998 it does and that is largely due to the work of this one man. Today there are a small number of independent vignerons in the appellation making and bottling wine under their own names and Élian Da Ros is still regarded as the pioneer for the region and setting the standard for wines of distinction.
Tasting with Élian unfolds in familiar enough fashion: sampling barrels by parcel and cépage, each vinified separately. It is as if you were still in the Côte d’Or, where one grows accustomed to tasting individual parcels and appreciating their subtle and not so subtle differences. Except this isn’t Burgundy. This is the Côtes du Marmandais, where the vast majority of the grapes are destined for anonymous blending, as is the fate of the vast majority of wines produced and sold in the appellation. Indeed, Élian is quick to point out that he views his winemaking more within the Burgundian framework and traditions, favoring entirely de-stemmed fruit (with the exception of the Abouriou grape), native yeast ferments, open top fermenters over sealed tanks, punching down during fermentation as demanded by the cuvée and the vintage, and fermenting parcel and varietal selections separately.
Élian’s winemaking is informed by his own curiosity and constant tasting, the first indication of a thoughtful and inquisitive winemaker. The inspiration to tinker with some details of the winemaking for each cuvée might vary from year to year, but the blends and the provenance of fruit for each cuvée remain the same. The varietals for the reds are the usual Bordeaux suspects, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec, along with the unexpected additional splash of Syrah, and a little used, local varietal called Abouriou which, when vinified in the “Beaujolais style” by semi-carbonic maceration, lends its dark color, fruity and spicy character and tense structure. While the appellation permits yields up to 55 hl/ha for A.O.C. wines, Élian's yields are typically in between 15 and 35 hl/ha which goes a long way to explain the density of the finished wines and the prices he is obligated to ask, in contrast to much of what is typical pricing for the appellation.
The cuvées tend toward expressions of the two primary soil types at Élian’s disposal: argilo-graveleux, a clay and pebble based soil to that found in Pomerol, which is best suited to Merlot and produces wines that are round and lush. Chante Coucou, one of Elian’s most age-worthy bottlings comes from this soil. The second soil typ is argilo-calcaire, a clay-limestone mix that leads to more tense and mineral driven wines, with less power and more finesse. Clos Baquey tends more towards this profile.
Regardless of the varietal, vintage and provenance, what emerges from each barrel tasted, are wines that shimmer with energy, vitality and definition. They are dense yes, and there is structure but, there is air and levity as well. There is balance, freshness and finesse. For a more in depth accounting of his work, with detailed technical information, have a look at the excellent domaine website.
Coucou Blanc60% Sauvignon Blanc with 30% Semillon and the balance Sauvignon Gris. A white wine atypic for the region and an hommage to his time spent in Alsace.
Abouriou90% Abouriou with 10% Merlot. Vinified by semi-carbonic maceration, which is to say, whole cluster fermentations with occassional punch downs.
Le Vin Est une FêteThe emphasis is on fruit and freshness here so no rigourous extration. Majority Merlot with Cabernet Franc and Abouriou supporting roles…
Le Vignoble d’ÉlianPrimarily Cabernet Franc, with some Merlot and Syrah. The deft use of Syrah here adds a note of Northern Rhône meets Bordeaux.
Chante CoucouIssued from a clay based, gravelly soils and mirroring a wine one might expect to find in Saint-Emilion or Pomerol, this is a wine marked by plush dark, berry fruit and a soft, seductive texture.
Clos BaqueyBy any measure a grand and complex wine. Dark concentrated fruit, wild herbs and minerality build a rich aromatic profile while fine and well integrated tannins extend the palate…
Sua Sponte30% Sauvignon Blanc and 70% semillon of which 50% is Botrytised.