Vins Doux Naturel 1961-1991


With the Festive season not a million miles away, it’s time to think about cracking open some Vins Doux Naturels. Readers will know that I have been following Philippe Gayral for some years now, a man on a mission to rescue precious and often forgotten vats down in Roussillon, picking out the best and sprucing them up. The wines are remarkably popular in restaurants since they offer the chance to try mature vintages at bargain prices. Following a Bordeaux tasting in October, I sampled half-a-dozen new releases that included some of the best I have tasted. 

Let’s start with three releases from Château Villargeil. Bear in mind that although I state drinking windows, these are academic. These VdN are meant for immediate consumption, and while they will keep for many years, they will not necessarily benefit from bottle maturation. The 1961 Rivesaltes has a well-defined, airy bouquet with hazelnut, smoke and just a touch of nougat. The palate is well balanced with a viscous opening, touches of ginger, walnut and hints of Turkish delight. Beautifully balanced, very nuanced and elegant towards the finish. This is a top-flight Vin Doux Naturel from Philippe Gayral. 96/Drink 2021-2050. The 1963 Rivesaltes has a marginally warmer, perhaps not quite as precise bouquet as the 1961. Touches of red fruit here, strawberry and maraschino cherry, hazelnut and a very light yet appealing oxidative element. The palate is well balanced with a lemongrass-tinged entry, fine acidity and somewhat honeyed with a finish that is akin to a slightly oxidized Sauternes. Excellent. 92/Drink 2021-2040. The 1964 Rivesaltes has a lifted bouquet with walnut, dried honey, touches of cola and toffee apple. The palate is well balanced and quite concentrated - more so than the 1963. Very poised and fresh with captivating underlying salinity, this is just a delectable and quite elegant Rivesaltes. 94/Drink 2021-2045.

Then there are two releases from Château Riveyrac; in fact, they are two bottlings of the same vintage. The 1966 Rivesaltes bottled in 2015 is much deeper in colour than the 2021 bottling. It has a more oxidized nose, treacle and syrup, fig and touches of barley sugar. The palate is rounded and viscous on the entry, spicy with stem ginger and lemongrass, displaying very good weight on the finish. Excellent...though I have a preference for the more recent bottling. 91/Drink 2021-2035. The 1966 Rivesaltes bottled in 2021 has a concentrated nose with dried honey, tangerine, Seville orange marmalade and stewed figs. The palate is viscous, intense and irresistible with gorgeous honeyed fruit, fig, dates, white pepper and a touch of stem ginger. It fans out wonderfully on the finish. Superb. 95/Drink 2021-2045. 

There is one addition to Gayral’s L’Archiviste range. The 1991 Maury has a very oxidized nose that might be too much for some readers. The palate is well balanced with a viscous entry, tangy marmalade, smoke, bitter orange and mandarin. Very fine delineation on the finish. This is an uncompromising Maury, but one that I can imagine killing it with some hard cheese. 92/Drink 2021-2035.

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