00:00 / 07:26

Roucas Toumba

'Les Restanques de Cabassole'


The second my snout inches toward the rim of the glass it is hit with a lavish and bloodied perfume.  My head doesn’t muse on the particular notes, my heart on the minutiae, they just shake as though suddenly hit with static, as though it were my birthday and I’d forgotten and just walked into a room full of my screaming friends.  And I holler, if not aloud, with every inner inch of me — ‘Fuck!’


‘Fuck!’  Because of the promise in the air, on the nose and wetting the glass.  ‘Fuck!’  Because sometimes there are no other words.  ‘Fuck!’ Because this is what I want when I crack a fresh bottle: I want the wine to be as curious of me as I am of it.  ’Fuck!’ Because it feels like the crawling click-clack of a rollercoaster making it’s virgin ascent, as the carriage rolls high you can properly catch the horizon and the seconds of joy at the apex just before it drops, that’s when you enjoy a deep intake of breath,  that’s when you know there’s no turning back, that’s when you think ‘Fuck!… this… is gonna be good..


And it is this ‘Fuck!’ that deserves to join the great lexicon of single-word declamations alongside Stella!  Adriaaan!  Free-dom!  Schwing! and Hoo-ah!  Say what you will about the legacy of Mister Pacino, tainting a quiet and brooding youth with the more recent outbursts of a waning geriatric, it is for my mother that I will always remember the blind guy calling out his burgeoning erection with a ‘Hoo-ah!’


The wines of Roucas Toumba are home runs.  They are a great study of place, of a sort, of time.  Eric Bouletin, a vigneron (grape-wrangler) formally selling to a co-operative, shifted his efforts in 2006 to see what juice he might mark from the fruit he’d long grown and given over to others.  When I’m next on my knees I’ll add Mr. Bouletin, and my gratitude that he played the curious cat and turned vintner, to my prayers.  His wines are equal parts romance and rustic.  His wines are art captured in glass; complex, consumable, consummate art.    His wines have my heart.


Today I’m quaffing the ‘Les Restanques de Cabassole’ 2016.  And as aforementioned, before I’d even lifted it up to the light, before I’d taken my first sip, it had me reeling.  In Vacqueryas, where the grapes are grown and the wine is made, they adhere to the same varietal blending as their neighbours in the Southern Rhone; that is to say a classic mix of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.  Grenache gives a more exuberant and candied fruit profile with soft cinnamon spice, and must be at least 50% of a blend.  Syrah gives an upfront, darker and more brooding quality with flecks of bacon fat whilst Mourvèdre gives much of the tannin, some floral notes and aids a longer finish, combined the two must be at least 20% of a GSM blend.


GSM, as a blend, might do for a wine what MSG does for greasy-spoon Chinese food: adding complexity, adding savouriness, allowing for balance and ensuring that the various ingredients harmonise and seem complete; only with GSM hopefully you won’t get hives or have an asthma attack.  (I used to love going to the local Chinese restaurant when I was kid, watching the trolley dart across the room with large stacks of steaming dim sum and siu mai.  A huge fish tank by the door and salmon coloured linen adorning the tables; my father and his friends necking ice-cold bottles of Crown Lager, engaging in a pissing contest over the competitive consumption of various chilli oils and sauces.  And not to denigrate the affair, but there were definitely dishes spinning across the lazy susan with lashings of MSG in them, that had my parents pit-stopping at the late night chemist on the way home for inhalers and antihistamines to feed their young son, wheezing and rash covered in the back seat licking hoisin sauce off his chin).


The ‘Les Restanques de Cabassole’ is the colour of hard-won rubies adorning the crown of a violent and yet sensitive king.  And, yes, when the perfume of it jumps out the glass it will make you say something equally as expletive as it did me.  It’s spicy.  And succulent.  And hot.  (Not from a hot year, but hot in the glass, and hotter than its northern neighbours.  Which is understandable given it sits at a muscular 15% ALC).  A bit of mushroom funk on the nose and worn saddle from years of having arses bounce upon it, the rippling muscles of a brutish and yet obedient horse slapping underneath you as the handsome old trees of woodlands rise, savouring afternoon winds in their strong and outstretched arms.  There’s something of the heavy leather boots you wear tromping out in the wild, catching and kicking up mud and the occasional fallen nut, fruit and flower.


And then there’s kirsch and cassis coming at you like the left and right hooks of a dancing bruiser, landing his bleeding knuckles square on your porcelain cheeks.  Pow!  Blam!  It doesn’t apologise for hitting you in the face.  It pulls back, assessing how you might have felt about the first blow, before sliding in for the next.  If it’s with Roucas Toumba, village welterweight of the Vacqueryas, I’ll get in the ring a few rounds.  


There’s vanilla bean in the mixing bowl.  And bushels of blackberries and dark-skinned plums, ripe for the picking.  The wine achieves an applaudable balance of dried currants and smoke, waves of sugar dusted fruit skins wrinkling with age and a touch of bitterness to finish.  Masculine.  Toasted.  Coffee torn and chocolate run.  A kind of cobblers delight that has that animal hide aroma to it of tanning oils, hard nails and fresh twine.  On account of Grenache’s propensity to yield higher sugar levels and higher alcohol there’s a stickiness to the fruit; the Grenache going for reds, the Syrah and Mourvèdre for blacks and blues.  With GSM you get the tannic grip of all three grapes, marking the mouth whole.  And with 18 months ageing in 500 litre puncheon and 225 litre barrique this old boy gives a fair amount of oak, not overwhelming but ensuring the muscle is felt and the loud music is heard through the whole village, from the first ‘Fuck!’ to the lingering and rough-hewed epilogue.


These days at the Chinese feast, though I have replaced my fathers beers and chilli fights with Gruner Veltliner, I’m always partial to a slap of GSM when the duck comes round.  And in the backseat on the way home, minus the wheezing and the flaring rash, if I’m lucky I’ll be accompanied by the long legs and romance, the sensual rusticity of ‘Les Restanques de Cabassole’, as I pull the seatbelt into place licking hoisin sauce off my chin.

tasted April 2021

Bradley Tomlinson