I begin this report on the wines of Domaine of the Bee with an apology to owning partner, Justin Howard-Sneyd. Justin sent me these wines in summer 2020, when I tasted them then for the purpose of reviewing them, but then a rush of samples arriving, plus an avalanche of online tastings during the Covid 19 lockdown, meant my report was not published until now.
Englishman Justin and his wife Amanda, along with Philippe Sacerdot, run this domaine in the Roussillon in the South of France, and I have told their story before in this report from 2019. This was an opportunity to taste their latest vintages, and though my tardiness means some of the wines have moved on to the subsequent vintage, others are still available in retailers and via Domaine of the Bee’s online store.
(2021) I came over all Arthurian drinking this, "Made in the Realm of Albion," as it says on the label. Domaine of the Bee teamed up with Ridgeview in Sussex, who made this wine for them, from fruit selected by Justin Howard-Sneyd: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Very fine on the nose, with a suggestion of ripe fruit, but plenty of creamy, bready, autolytic character, Cox's pippin apples and zestiness. In the mouth that nutty, nicely developed apple fruitiness again, a bit of breadth and fruit sweetness to this, before the balanced finish where the acidity runs like rapier cut, but always softened by the fruit and creamy lees ageing into the finish. Club members can buy at £28.00
(2021) A fine follow-up to the 2018 for this blend of very old vine Grenache Blanc and Gris, appearing under the 'Field of the Bee' label as the fruit comes from Jean-Marc Lafage's vineyard, rather than one owned by Domaine of the Bee. The four months a small proportion of the wine spent in barrel is barely discernable aromatically, as the floral, spice and citrus and melon-rind notes dominate, a hint of exotic mango in there too. The oak adds a touch of warming toast in the background of the expansive palate, the rich texture and intense concentration giving definition and weight to a still fresh and vibrant wine, but one with a bit of grippy, spicy structure. £12.80 for Bee Club members.
(2021) 100% Grenache made in oak vats, around 50% was fermented with 'whole bunches', and the rest destemmed. After pressing the wine was aged 18 months in 500-litre barrels, with a very small proportion of new oak. It has an attractively pale but bright colour, the nose a little earthy and showing the wood component, the fruit a little shy at first but bursts into bloom in the mouth, with juiciness and richness, good concentration, some spicy notes and savoury cherry fruit. A stripe of tannin and acidity gives a mouth-watering tartness in the finish. £14.40 to club members.
From a tiny, 80-year-old Carignan vineyard of low yielding bush vines, fermentation took place in both stainless steel tanks and 500-litre barrels , before maturation in barrel, 50% new. Much more depth of colour than the Bee-side, the nose deep and fruity with a nuttiness I often find in Carignan - almost chestnut-like - and he spice and pencil-shaving notes of the barrel. Creamy in texture, there is mouth-filling richness here, effortless concentration of lush, creamy black cherry fruit, a hint of gaminess, but a rasp of tannin and juicy cherry-pit acidity cut through the creamy density of fruit very nicely to balance, finishing on spice. £17.60 to club members.
(2021) Hand-sorted at the winery, the first pick of Carignan is fermented in a stainless steel tank, with the rest of the Carignan and Grenache fermented in large wooden barrels. After pressing, the whole lot spends 18 months in a mix of 500-litre and 225-litre barrels, approximately a quarter of which were new. Dense, deep crimson colour, the nose showing a little violet and Indian ink, vinous density. In the mouth the sweet punch of the fruit is delicious, a combination of red and black fruits, plenty of spices here, clove and black pepper, and the weighty, rounded mouthfeel balanced by creamier tannins than in the Carignan, and very good acidity, giving this both svelteness and freshness into a long, powerful finish. £20 for club members.
(2021) This single-vineyard bottling of Grenache, Carignan with Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc is only produced in the best years, with 967 bottles made in 2018. 15% is made up of white wine grapes, giving both a more delicate colour and perhaps helping with the relatively low 13.5% alcohol (for this region). The vines here are more than 100 years old, fermented with a combination of destemmed and whole bunches in large oak barrels, then into a new Seguin-Moreau 600-litre barrel, with one barrique of Grenache pressings blended in. There is lightness and airiness on the nose here, definitely some floral lift and lighter, more raspberry-like fruit, but underpinning is a graphite mineral sense of concentration. In the mouth it is supple and delicious, salty and ozoney, with raspberry pip tartness and a fine framework of tannin and acid that suggest a bit of longevity. It is, however, delicious now, and both powerfully concentrated and juicy to the end. £32 for club members.