Domaine Matha Cuveé Lairis 2015
Winegrower: Domaine Matha
Region: Marcillac AOC, Southwest France
Grape: Fer Servadou (Mansois)
Globally, around 1,500 different grapes are used to make commercial quantities of wine. However, less than 20 varieties make up practically all the wine we find on retail shelves. That’s a pity because today’s wine is from what is basically a small, obscure winegrower, Jean-Luc Matha, and from just as obscure grape, Fer Servadou, and region, Marcillac – but it’s delicious, food friendly, with good minerality, bright fresh fruit, full of energy and personality and deliciously drinkable. It has a sense of place: a personality of a particular grape grown in particular soils. It’s a wine that you can open alone and it’s gone in 45 minutes… and you don’t know how it happened. And, at $27, it can be served on scale. Forget about points and tasting notes. Some might call this a ‘fringe’ wine, but if this is what fringe wines are about, bring them on. Besides, isn’t food friendly, good minerality, bright fresh fruit and deliciously drinkable what a wine should be all about? Oh, and did I mention low alcohol?
The southwest of France is perhaps the country’s most overlooked wine region. It’s easy to find bottles from Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, or the Rhone and Loire Valleys at your local wine shop. Languedoc-Roussillon is showing up on more and more shelves, as are wines from the Jura and Savoie. But outside of a few isolated outposts (notably Cahors and Madiran), Southwest France goes largely unseen. This is unfortunate because there are a lot of exciting grapes grown there that aren't found anywhere else or are only available in very limited quantities. And because of the region’s obscure profile there is low global demand and therefore most of the best wines can be bought for very reasonable prices, but that is changing.
The region stretches south of Bordeaux towards the Spanish frontier and east to the Mediterranean Sea. Marcillac is a tiny, enigmatic AOC tucked away in the northeast corner just south of Cahors. The region has a long wine history; vines are believed to have grown here since the Abbey of Conques first planted these beautiful, rolling red hillsides between the 8th and 10th centuries. Though it borders the Mediterranean, there was no major port through which winegrowers could export their wines, so their only option was the port in Bordeaux. But because the merchants there had their own wines to sell, they created commercial barriers to discourage outside competition. The result was that the winegrowers of the region were basically shut out of foreign markets and could not develop a reputation outside of their own locale.
Marcillac’s 180 hectares of vineyards are located in the valleys of two streams, the Ady and Créneau, and the very best sit high up on the hillsides. The vineyards are rich in iron oxide, and, as a result, the soil and rocks are coloured red.
Fer Servadou, or ‘Mansois’ as it is known in Marcillac, derives from the Latin word ‘ferus’ meaning wild and savage and suggests that the grape was domesticated from local vines. Servadou means ‘well suited to conservation’ implying that wines made from this variety would keep well. The variety is rarely seen outside of France.
Jean-Luc Matha first studied to become a priest before he took over his family’s estate 30 years ago. The estate has been in his family for generations and now totals 15 hectares of vineyards. These are scattered around the town of Bruejouls on slopes so steep that access by four-wheel-drive is not for the faint-hearted. His vines are massale selections from his vineyards rather than commercial clones and this adds to their local authenticity. All vineyard work is by hand and in the cellar, he uses a very light touch.
Jean-Luc’s wines are some of the finest, fruitiest and most forwardly aromatic of the region. They are favourites of sommeliers and are to be found in some of the best restaurants and specialty wine shops in Europe, the United States and Japan.
Cuvée “Lairis” 2015 comes from 30+ year old vines and has been likened to Loire Valley Cabernet Franc meets Cru Gamay. The grapes are handpicked and destemmed then fermented for 10 to 12 days in cement tanks with natural yeasts. The wine is then aged in stainless steel tanks before being bottled lightly filtered and with just a touch of sulphur added. This medium bodied wine is deep ruby in colour; aromas of cassis and strawberry, ginger, paprika and white pepper burst out of the glass. On the palate the fruit carries through alongside a noticeable minerality and wonderful freshness that compliments the smooth tannins. Uncork this wine for an hour or so then serve on the cool side – say 15˚ to 16˚ – in a Burgundy stem with baked ham, turkey, duck or quail or this delicious chicken with tarragon dish. Enjoy!