The Cotes du Marmandais, near Bordeaux, remained for many years in the shade of the Bordeaux AOC, situated only a few kilometers away, and would have lingered there if not for a new generation of winemakers defending the unique identity of their terroir.
This appellation of 1 300 hectares, almost entirely devoted to red wines (70%, mostly Cabernet, Merlot, and local varieties such as Abouriou or Cot), is too close to Bordeaux, and not quite in the South West of France. It has an identity of its own, a twist to the over- notorious and much-publicized Grands crus of Bordeaux. To beat the trend, winemakers of this region had to bet on their originality, their confidence in an exceptional terroir that benefits from a unique microclimate.
The terroir, situated in the west of the Lot-et-Garonne region, is an extension of the southern terroirs of Grave and Entre-dux-Mer, separated by the Garonne river on two banks: right and left. The cooperative produces 90% of the appellation’s volume, but some independent boutique wineries propose interesting wines, very out of the box. The native Abouriou grape is under way of becoming a distinctive grape variety for the appellation. It’s a grape varietal presenting big seeds and a thin skin, loaded with tannins that matures end of September, and it gives to wines spicy and rustic aromas, really enjoyable.
Considered as the apostle of the local Abouriou grape, Elian Da Ros turned out to be one of the most important change makers of the entire South West of France region.
Starting with a completely unknown 16 acres parcel near Cocumont village, Elian da Ros entirely transformed it in a few years (The winery started in 1998 only), into a renowned domain, whose production sells in less than 6 months throughout the world.
When I visited Elian Da Ros last summer, it was like visiting an old friend. I had been drinking his wines in Singapore for a while, and I know the Marmande region very well, my family living in the next-door village. But I was deeply astounded by the variety and quality of his wines. Indeed, while I tried the full red wines ranges, the aromatic profile and complex structure of each wine revealed itself step by step. From Le vin est une Fête to Vignoble d’Elian, Chante Coucou and finally reaching the summit with Clos Baquey.
But most importantly and proving me wrong, Cotes du Marmandais is not only about the deep and charismatic reds. I discovered Elian Da Ros’s fantastic whites, which blew my mind off, and even a full bodied rose and an unexpected sparkling white. This is Elian’s Sua Sponte, of an admirable richness and freshness, and 10 grms of residual sugar that gives the wine its self-insurance.
When I shared my surprise with Elian at finding so remarkable white wines here, he laughed, and told me that it was his Alsatian heritage. Indeed he spent 5 years with Leonard and Olivier Humbrecht in Alsace, cultivating very aromatic white grape varietals. He came back to Cocumont when his father died following a Leukemia caused by the phyto chemicals used on vineyards. That resolvedly decided him to move to biodynamic practices in his vineyard, which means no pesticides, no chemicals and a certain philosophy of the work of the winemaker.
Of course, when he took over in 1998, he had to make difficult technical and financial choices to follow his philosophy: build a underground cellar that would allow naturally humidity and freshness to influence the wines (it is covered with rot and mushrooms), prune the vines short, limit the crop’s yields, and of course put an end to all chemicals and synthetic products in the vineyards and cellars.
You can feel this philosophy and his personality in the wines. They are strong and charismatic, and at the same so entirely unique and different. I’ve discovered something new and exciting, and its trully promising.
Le vin est une fete 2011 : Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon – Elian’s motto is that in Marmande, “Le Vin est une fête!” (Wine is a party!”). This is the entry level wine of Elian Da Ros. It carries its name well, being a popular wine focusing on fruits ( 50 % Merlot), freshness and roundness. It is as well a structured wine, with a lot of tannins, thanks to South West grape varietals. As the name suggests, it’s light, fresh, fruity and bright; full of tart red fruit flavors as well as a solid backbone of herbal minerality and tannins. This red is tasty and versatile with a variety of dishes, even some summer grilling.
L’Abouriou 2011: Thanks to semi-carbonic maceration, Elian Da Ros has managed to reveal the deep expression of this native local grape varietal. Abouriou is thus a fruity wine with notes of spices and subtle tannins. Distinctive grape varietal of the South West also exported in the Loire Valley, its rarely vinified by itself, and is generally blended with other varietals, although it is a very resistant grape.
Le Vignoble D’Elian 2010: Of course not at the same level as Clos Baquey, this wine allows you to discover the power and charisma of Elian Da Ros’s wines, at a reasonable price. This wine is typical of Elain Da Ros, with its mix of spicy, liquorice notes from the South West, blended with typical bordelais style and structure.
Chante Coucou Red, 2009: 50% merlot – 20% Cabernet sauvignon – 20% Malbec – 10% Syrah. Structured wine (Malbec / Merlot) as well as complex, with spicy aromas ( Syrah) and freshness ( Cabernet Sauvignon). The vinification is soft, respectful of the fruit, with a long maturing (24months) in barrels. Pairs well with meat with sauce, and can be kept for a long time.
Chante Coucou Rose 2010 : An UFO in the roses is the Coucou Rose with its blend of Merlot / Malbec / Abouriou / Cabernet Franc with a color closer to bordeaux clairets. 80% of the grapes are pressed directly (Abouriou, Malbec and Syrah) and 20% come from a bleeding rose (Cabernet Franc and Merlot). The result is a jammy, winny and milky style on the nose. In the mouth, red fruit jellies explose in a variety of aromas. A spectacular surprise.
Clos Baquey 2009: An anthology vintage! This is THE reference of the South west of France. Thanks to the rustic Abouriou grape that makes up for 20% of the blend, the wine is enriched with delicate flavors of fruits and flowers, while the rich tannins give it color and structure. Elian Da Ros has magnified this vintage by keeping it fresh, while the wine showcases a deep color, a natural density. Dark fruits, spices and minerality, with astonishing tannins make of this wine a highlight of the appellation.
Chante Coucou Blanc 2010 : A blend of Semillon / Sauvignon, this wine is perfectly mature and ends up being a dry one. (other vintages sometimes have over 15g/l residual sugar). A beautiful yellow straw color, its complexity will, depending on your state of mind, on notes of white peach, apple and honey and citrus. The wine is structured with a delectable unctuousness. Who said this region could not do great white wines?
Sua Sponte VDT: A slightly sparkling and slightly sweet white wine, at the same time rich and spontaneous. Deep aromas of yellow fuits, with notes of white pepper and musk. Thanks to its low residual sugar level, and its majority Semillon grape, this white is reminiscent of great Alsatian wines. Very unusual.