TN: Domaine La Tour Vieille Collioure and Banyuls

DOMAINE LA TOUR VIEILLE COLLIOURE AND BANYULS - Rich and Peggy’s Home in Los Altos, California (2/28/2011)

How often does one get to enjoy an evening devoted to the wines of Collioure and Banyuls? All I know is, this was my first. The venue was the semiweekly blindtasting group in this area that has been going for over 30 years. The organizer of these tastings, who normally provides all the wines, had collected wines for several years for this tasting, which is very cool, as Collioure is such a tannic, powerful red that it requires some bottle age to reveal its depth and complexity.

Collioure is a picturesque port-resort town way down in the southeastern corner of France, just 10 miles or so north of the Spanish border. It’s also the name of a small AOC, which is co-extensive with the Banyuls AOC. (To make it all the more confusing, Banyuls-sur-Mer is the name of yet another lovely port town south of Collioure.) Both AOCs amount to 1700 hectares of that southeastern corner of France, above the Spanish border. Banyuls is the appellation for France’s finest and most complex vins doux naturels. Vins doux naturels are made by arresting the conversion of grape sugar to alcohol by adding spirit before fermentation is complete, resulting in a particularly strong, sweet wine with prominent grape flavors–i.e., a fortified wine, like Port. Unlike the vins doux made in Roussillon, there is no Muscat in Banyuls. Grenache Noir must constitute at least 50% of the blend. The dry red wine produced from the same vineyards is called Collioure. The Mourvèdre grown in this region is for the Collioure, however, as Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre must make up at least 60% of the blend for Collioure. Cinsault and Carignan (and a little Counoise, in the case of Domaine du Mas Blanc) may also be included, as long as the 60% minimum is met from GSM. The vineyards are on the terraced coastal cliffs surrounding and south of the village. The soil is full of broken slate. The relative proportions of Collioure or Banyuls made in a particular vintage will depend on the nature of that vintage, but grapes for the Collioure are picked before those destined for Banyuls, and typically represent less than a third of the production of Banyuls. Collioure is therefore a fairly rare wine. The fortified wine, Banyuls, comes in two styles–a vintage style, made only in better years, known as “rimage,” which is usually bottled within a year of harvest to retain the fresh fruit flavors; and an oxidative style that experiences longer aging, up to five years or more, in barrels or glass bonbonnes. We got to sample one of each style of Banyuls in this tasting.

Domaine La Tour Vieille was founded by the wife and husband team Christine Campadieu and Vincent Cantié in 1982. Christine, who grew up in Banyuls-sur-Mer, is the winemaker and Vincent, a Collioure native, is the viticulturalist. They have planted 16 separate parcels, totaling about 32 acres, spread across several mountain ridges. In this tasting, we had ten wines from La Tour Vieille, including eight dry reds from individual vineyards, and two Banyuls. Each vineyard has a different varietal mix, with Puig Oriol made up primarily of Grenache and Syrah; Puig Ambeille comprised of roughly equal parts of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignane; and La Pinède being primarily Grenache with a substantial amount of Carignane.

We started with a few pre-tasting wines, including a Collioure from another major Collioure/Banyuls producer, Domaine du Mas Blanc. For the group’s and my scoring of our blind wines, and my tasting notes, see below:
Pre-tasting wines

The '04 Pillot Morgeot Les Fairendes was easily the best of our pre-blindtasting wines. The '03 Mas Blanc Collioure was a little disappointing and chunky, and the brett level did it no favors. But I have yet to taste a Mas Blanc Collioure that I really enjoyed. I think their strength is in Banyuls.

La Tour Vieille Collioures Blindtasted - Group scoring and my TNs
The group placed the '04 Puig Ambeille first. I thought it was good, if tight, and brettier on the nose than I care for. In general there were brett issues with at least half of these wines. The brett was so heavy on the '05 La Pinède that I had to downgrade it accordingly. My number one wine–the group’s number two, and the one that received the most number one place votes–was our oldest wine, the '01 Puig Oriol. I found this very tasty and complex, and a great indicator as to how tasty Collioure wines can be, at least if they have eight to 10 years of bottle age. My number two was the '07 Puig Ambeille. (Ross, our tasting organizer, asked if anyone knew any Catalan and had any idea what Puig Ambeille meant. I volunteered, with joking authority in my voice, that it meant “ambiguous pig.” The name stuck, and for the rest of the tasting, when Matt was unveiling the wines, we referred to it as ambiguous pig.) My #3 was the '03 La Pinède, which I identified blind as a wine made primarily from ripe Grenache. It had wonderful garriguey flavors too. Fourth and fifth for me were the remaining Puig Ambeilles–'07 and '02.

In general these were delicious wines, especially those that had some age on them. I think the owners need to do some serious cellar and barrel cleaning to diminish brett levels, but their fruit sources, from very low yield, steep hillside terraces, are excellent. I just wish older samples like these weren’t so hard to come by.

  • 2004 Domaine La Tour Vieille Collioure Puig Ambeille - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Collioure
    Group’s #1 (my #6) – 32 pts; 2 firsts, 1 second, 3 thirds, 0 last places – very dark red violet color; brett, chicken manure, roasted fruit, savory nose with a sense of pepper; tight, structured, tart black fruit, garrigue palate, needs 4-5 more year; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2001 Domaine La Tour Vieille Collioure Puig Oriol - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Collioure
    Group’s #2 (my #1) – 36 pts.; 4, 0, 1, 0 - slightly bricking dark purple red violet color; tart plum, garrigue, green peppercorn, green herb nose; tasty, poised, balanced, most mature, sweet green herb, roasted black plum palate; medium-plus finish 93+ points (93 pts.)
  • 2005 Domaine La Tour Vieille Collioure La Pinède - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Collioure
    Group’s #3 (my #7) – 37 pts.; 1, 1, 3, 0 - dark purple red violet color; brett, earthy, chicken manure nose; heavy brett, chicken poop, tart roasted plum, kelp palate with firm tannins; medium-plus finish (84 pts.)
  • 2003 Domaine La Tour Vieille Collioure La Pinède - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Collioure
    Group’s #4 (my #3) – 41 pts.; 1, 3, 1, 1 - bricking, cloudy, dark plum red color; nice violet, roasted berry, ripe Grenache, black cherry nose; a little tight, ripe wild berry, garrigue, rich ripe cherry, anise, green herb, tart black fruit, fennel palate; long finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 2002 Domaine La Tour Vieille Collioure Puig Ambeille - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Collioure
    Group’s #5 (my #4) – 43 pts.; 1, 1, 1, 1 - dark purple red violet color; tart red berry, charcoal, violet, roasted berry nose; concentrated, tart berry, wild berry, mineral, garrigue, anise palate, needs 4-plus years; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Domaine La Tour Vieille Collioure Puig Ambeille - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Collioure
    Group’s #6 (my #2) – 44 pts.; 0, 3, 2, 0 - medium dark red violet color; heavy brett, chicken manure, pepper nose; tasty, cold climate Syrah, pepper, tart black fruit, roasted black fruit palate, needs 3-4 years; long finish (93 pts.)
  • 2006 Domaine La Tour Vieille Collioure Puig Ambeille - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Collioure
    Group’s #7 (my #5) – 53 pts.; 0, 1, 0, 0 - very dark red violet color, starting to brick; very tart roasted red fruit, currant, brett, pepper nose; tight, tart red currant, roasted red fruit, roasted and peppery lamb, herbes de Provence, smoke palate, needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2005 Domaine La Tour Vieille Collioure Puig Oriol - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Collioure
    Group’s #8 (my #8) – 71 pts.; 1, 0, 0, 8 - dark red violet color; major TCA, brett nose; TCA, brett palate; short-medium finish NR (flawed)

La Tour Vieille Banyuls
We finished with this lovely pair of Banyuls, which we also poured blind, but didn’t rank. The vintage, or rimage, Banyuls was easily the best for me, with its very rich, youthful and complex palate. The Reserva had a touch of TCA, but still maintained a long finish and had some very nice flavors. I will definitely seek out this producer when looking for Banyuls in the future.

  • 1997 Domaine La Tour Vieille Banyuls - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Banyuls
    Very dark red violet color; dried berry, rich plum, roasted black fruit, tart chocolate nose; tasty, youthful, ripe black fruit, berry, baked berry palate; long finish (93 pts.)
  • N.V. Domaine La Tour Vieille Banyuls Reserva - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Banyuls
    Bricking dark red violet color; dried berry, ripe berry, herbs nose with a touch of TCA; tasty, ripe berry, black fruit, dried black fruit, tar, licorice palate; long finish 91+ points (91 pts.)


Great notes on a producer who I just discovered. I have only tasted the 2007 Pinede and my experience was similar to the one you had with the 2003. I hate hearing about a bretty mess like it sounds like the 2005 offered. I’m definitely seeking out more of these bottlings after reading this and I’m notably interested in the Banyuls.

Good stuff as always- thanks for sharing this!

Thank you for your kind words on the post. I’m glad you enjoyed the '07 Pinede.

Have you been to Collioure Richard?

I have been through the area but not tasted in Collioure, Gene. If you’re referring to my comment about the surprisingly small amount of time Parker’s new designated critic for California and Burgundy has spent in those regions, for a paid subscription publication, what’s your point? I’m not charging for my very limited report on Collioure.

nope, was not going there. already said the AG thing was not an issue for me. i was wondering if your description of Collioure was based on personal observation or someone else’s.