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Château Vaugelas Corbières 'V' 2004

Chateau Vaugelas Corbières 'V' 2004The appellation of Corbières is a large region, the fourth largest in all France in fact, which has a reputation more for easy drinking wines based on Carignan rather than anything grand. For that reason, perhaps, I did not come to this bottle with any great expectation. In retrospect perhaps that was a mistake. After all, the Bonfils family, who have owned and tended the vines at Château Vaugelas for five generations, have employed oenologist Georges Pauli in recent years, so it is clear that they have some ambition. And this wine, Cuvée V, is what might be called the estate's premium cuvée, so we are looking at the very top rung of the ladder here.

As I have just alluded, historically the Corbières appellation has been one based on Carignan (for the red wines, at least), but thanks to updated appellation laws this is changing. Today the varieties Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Lledoner Pelut must account for at least half of the wine, which means the Carignan is now squeezed down to a maximum of 50%, although its contribution may in fact be much smaller. Other grapes that may be added to the blend include Piquepoul Noir, Terret Noir and Cinsault, although the latter of this trio is limited to 20%. This means that Corbières is in fact set up to make great wine, using noble varieties such as Syrah and Mourvèdre. Indeed, this is the situation here; this wine is a blend of 30% each of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, with 10% Mourvèdre, selected from old and low-yielding vines. After fermentation the wine sees 12 months in oak before bottling.

And so to the wine, the Château Vaugelas Corbières 'V' 2004, which has a really dark and dense hue in the glass, with a deep red-black core fading out to a plump, ripe, raspberry rim. The nose is just entrancing, although perhaps not for the usual reasons. I am not usually an admirer of overt oak on the nose, but here we have a broad layer of complex, spicy aromas much of which is derived from those 12 months I think. There are fresh, dark, cedary shavings, joined by little notes of butterscotch and charcoal, alongside dark and savoury fruits. The palate remains really very fresh and lively despite this, with ripe and plump fruits backed up by a core of tannins and an envelope of charred, spiced-oak characteristics. It has a wonderful presence on the palate, clean and well defined, a little lactic, with plenty of grip and structure beneath, and moderate acidity. I have to confess I find this delicious and easy to drink, I think because the oak seems to add spice and a touch of Mouton-like exoticism rather than the usual drab toffee-like aroma, but I accept that those allergic to such character in a wine may not find this so appealing. It finishes with a flourish of ripe tannins, and shows plenty of substance. This is great (and great-value) wine. 17/20 (1/12/08)

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