High on a Hill
Domaine Peyre Rose makes powerful Rhône-style reds
By Kim Marcus
In a region as huge as the Languedoc, it's hard to define a true heart. There are, however, plenty of arteries, and one of them is the Hérault River (others are the rivers Orb and Aude). On a remote plateau that flanks the Hérault river valley is a pioneering estate that is making the best Syrah-based reds the Languedoc has to offer.
Near the small village of St.-Pargoire, the sky is big and the countryside rugged but fairly open. After many twists and turns, the narrow and rutted road drops into a small valley. At its end is Domaine Peyre Rose, the creation of soft-spoken real estate agent turned pioneering vintner Marlene Soria, who set a new standard with her massive Clos des Cistes and Clos Leacute;one.
Last year, the 1994 Clos Léone received our highest rating yet for a Languedoc wine: 93 points. Its sister wine, the '94 Clos des Cistes, was close behind, at 91 points.
"I planted them at the same time, with the same techniques, and I make them the same way, but the Syrah is very fickle," says Soria of her two plots. "Many times people compare it to the Rhône of Cornas, but it's a different wine."
Soria is at the center of a land rush on the St.-Pargoire plateau, with other vintners -- and even the Pourcel brothers, chef-owners of Michelin three-star restaurant Jardin des Sens -- buying vineyard land near her property.
Soria came to the garigue of St.-Pargoire in the early 1980s with her husband, looking for a quiet semiretirement. However, she found that part of her property was within the Coteaux de Languedoc appellation. By 1988, she was making her first wine.
Clos Léone and Clos des Cistes are separated by a small valley. Both vineyards are mostly planted to Syrah, the noble grape of the Rhône. Clos Léone has about 15 percent Mourvèdre; Clos des Cistes, about 15 percent Grenache. The grapes are grown on a windswept plateau in reddish soils, interspersed with limestone, that keep yields to just 20 hectoliters per hectare (about 1.5 tons per acre). The air is cool but dry, even on an early summer day, with the Mediterranean in sight.
The wind dries the vegetation quickly after a rain, though it can be tough on the vines themselves. Her vineyards seem as wild as the land -- she uses no chemicals, and the vines are low-growing. Around them grow native grasses, herbs and flowers (of which one type, small and pinkish, is the namesake of Cistes).
Soria considers her Clos Léone the more powerful of the two wines, and the Mourvèdre does seem to give it just a tad more richness and density than the Cistes has. The two bottlings are some of the most expensive wines of the Languedoc -- the '94 Clos Léone and Clos des Cistes were $33 each -- yet both have enough stuffing and sophisticated tannins to age well into the next decade, with structure similar to some of the best Northern Rhône wines. Tasted at the domaine, the '91 vintage -- Soria's second -- was still going strong last summer, with exotic spice flavors and a smooth but broad texture.
Soria releases her wines after they mature for two years in bottle; they are see no filtration and are made in a converted barn with no artificial cooling or heating. The only power at the winery (and her adjacent home) is provided by a diesel-powered generator. However, change is in the air. She's expanding the winery with a new concrete cellar, she's planting more Syrah and Grenache, and she plans a new wine: a white blend made from Ugni Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier and Rolle, the local name of the Vermentino grape of southern Italy.