Malcolm Jolley talks to Mark Walford about his exceptional winery in the Côtes Catalanes, Le Soula.
Mark Walford was in town recently to promote the wild and wonderful wines of Le Soula, the winery he co-founded and co-owns in the South of France near the town of Perpignan. Walford is one half of the legendary wine merchant firm of Richards Walford, famous for ‘discovering’ Château Le Pin in the early 1980’s and now part of Berry Brothers and Rudd. He became involved Le Soula at the winery’s inception in the late 1990’s, at the insistence of renown winemaker Gérard Gauby who found two hectares of vineyards in the Agly Valley he wanted to buy. “Those two hectares turned out to be 20,” Walford explained with a chuckle, “but the price was right so I signed the cheque.” The area had once been prized as producing the best grapes for the production of Vermouth. Over the past half century, as the market for Vermouth waned, the local growers lost interest, but thankfully did not pull up their old, high altitude vines (from 350 to 600 m), and the stage was set for the first vintage, in 2001, for one of Roussillon’s most unique, expressive and sought after wines. After so many vintages, and complete organic certification awarded in 2008, and bio-dynamic in 2011, Le Soula has established a passionate legion of followers among the wine world cognoscenti.
Nicole Campbell from Le Soula’s Canadian agency, Lifford, had Walford on a tight and jam-packed schedule. I met them, and a few sommeliers, at the end of the afternoon at Midfield Wine Bar, where we tasted through a few of Le Soula’s current and back vintages of reds and whites. Innfact we started, in Burgundian style, with the reds. First up was Trigone Red No. 15, a non-vintage wine (!), that Lifford has on consignment for just under $30 (see here), and Walford calls Le Soula’s “little wine”, and is a Syrah and Grenache dominated blend. It’s a surprisingly delicate and gentle wine with soft fruits and a touch white pepper. It was actually somewhat confounding in its elegance. In fact this turned out to be a bit of a theme as we ran through more of the wines: the newer wines were often, confusingly, softer and more delicate than their older vintages. Walford explained this had to do with both evolving practices in the cellar and the field, with an emphasis on the latter. Seek out this wine on enlightened lists.
After the Trigone, we tasted Le Soula Red vertically: 2011, 2008 and 2005 (from magnum). The two later vintages are dominated by the great Catalonian red grape Carignan, followed by Syrah and Grenache. Both were surprising in that despite a wonderfully lush concentration of fruit they were exquisitely complex and incredibly light on their feet. When we remarked on this, Walford said, “Big wines are ultimately boring.” Point well made. The 2005 was a different thing, made principally form Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon. Walford actually apologized for the inclusion of the Bordeaux varietal and claimed to be “ashamed” of its presence. The wine was poured out of a half or less full magnum at 4:30 in the afternoon, having been opened hours ago at the first tasting in the morning. It was astonishingly fresh, alive and still quite structured. It seemed younger, in fact, than the two previous wines.
From what I’ve read, Le Soula made it’s initial reputation on its whites, which are blended from nine different varietals, including Vermintino, Sauvignon Blanc and Macabeu. We tasted Le Soula White through four vintages: 2012, 2011, 2009 and 2006 (from magnum). Walford told us that Le Soula white pairs well with asparagus, which would make it a unique wine, indeed. I’ll have to try and test this in the spring, but I am tempted to take his word for it. As with the reds, the whites had this strange procession of tastes as we went from the youngest to the eldest. The 2012 seemed the most gentle and aromatic with pineapple and tangerine notes, the 2011 had more peach and yogurt notes (or maybe just peach flavoured yogurt), the 2009 had a more honeyed with a citrus lift, and the 2006 was salty and lemony and bright. All were delicious in their own right and, again, well worth ordering from a list if you spot them. Walford claims that with the Le Soula whites, age brings out the taste of his terroir. Who am I to disagree?
Le Soula wines are available in Canada through Lifford Wines & Spirits (click here).