There's nothing more exciting than discovering new producers that defy conventional thinking on what their region's are capable of. Looking closer at the landscape where France and Spain converge at the Pyrenees I've found a domaine both raw and genuine. But, it's the refinement that comes from this absolutely gnarly and mind-bending terroir that defines this moment of impact. This is Domaine de l'Horizon.
l'Horizon was created when German-born Thomas Teibert met Gerard Gauby (Arguably SW France's most respected vigneron) while consulting for small wineries. He was introduced to a small village with just 200 residents. Before we move onto the wines, we need to talk about place.
Calce is a village in France about 20 miles away from the Spanish border. Yes, this is part of the Languedoc-Roussillon, but please just forget that because it is Catalan. Calce sits on a specific spot where, during the Ice Age, the slate soils of the Pyrenees collided into the limestone of Corbières. The result is what importer Neal Rosenthal appropriately dubbed, a geologist's dream. Under only 8 inches of top soil we reach an amalgamation of black and brown slate, gravel, and red-tinged iron-influenced marl, and a surface littered with river stones à la Chateauneuf du Pape (see below). And, we cannot leave out the wind: the violent Tramontane from the Pyrenees mountains meets the Marin coming north from the Mediterranean.
It's this setting at the foot of the Pyrenees that mirrors something out of a fantasy novel. 100+ yr-old vines here give minuscule yields from digging deep into these wildly unique, porous soils. The domaine produces two whites and two reds. Fermentation and aging is split between concrete tanks and neutral wood from Austria's Stockinger large barrels and foudres.
To touch on the sense of place again, these rocky soils bring spine-tingling minerality, with warm days full of intense sunlight, but absolutely frigid nights (acid's loyal friend). Wines clock in with very modest levels of alcohol, topping out at 13% even.
L’Esprit de l’Horizon Blanc is a blend of 80% Macabeau and 20% Muscat, all from old vines. On one hand it shows some of the faint honeyed notes you'd expect from the varieties, but it's really an acid-driven mineral showstopper with lime in the forefront supported by an array of other citrus fruits.
l'Horizon Côtes Catalanes Blanc is an equal blend of Macabeau and Grenache Gris. Co-fermented in neutral Stockinger large barrels. This, the top white of the domaine, takes on the mineral-driven personality from L'Esprit and doubles down on the intensity. The very oldest vines of the estate bring a different level of saturating minerality that's surely appeals to devoted followers of Grand Cru Chablis. The first time I saw a bottle of l'Horizon was on a shelf in Burgundy sitting next to Raveneau and Dauvissat.
L’Esprit de l’Horizon Rouge is comprised of 60% Carignan and 40% Syrah and fermented with about 1/3 whole clusters, bringing spice, structure, and complexity. Fermentation sees only gentle pigeage (punching down) by foot, with remontage (pumping over) providing the even gentler extraction. At 12.5% alcohol, this proves that SW France can indeed be built on concentration of fruit, but with freshness ultimately being the major take away.
l'Horizon Côtes Catalanes Rouge is comprised of 70% Carignan and 30% Grenache, sourced from vines over 120-yrs of age. As you can imagine, the intensity of fruit here is through the roof with yields well below 15 hectoliters per hectare. Yet, there's no heft. It's the ultimate reflection of what separates very good wines from great ones: immense concentration without palate weight. This is in that red cherry-dominant camp, with crazy focus and precision, like a finely tuned Porsche.
I see no prize in beating the drum for unknown appellations just for the sake of obscurity. I judge all wines in the context of the benchmarks. I highly recommend tasting what the other-worldly terroir of Calce is all about. Burgundy may have a head start, but this perfect storm of a setting has just as compelling a story to tell.
2016 Domaine de l'Horizon "L'Esprit de l'Horizon" Blanc IGP
$34 per bottle.
2016 Domaine De L'Horizon "L'Esprit De L'Horizon" Rouge IGP
$34 per bottle.
2016 Domaine de l'Horizon Côtes Catalanes Blanc IGP
$59 per bottle.
2016 Domaine de l'Horizon Côtes Catalanes Rouge IGP
$65 per bottle.