Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mas Amiel Maury AC 1964

Armand Hurst, winemaker in Turckheim, France, gave me this bottle on my birthday in 1990. He told me this wine would be a surprise. I knew something about Banyuls as one of the famous sweet red wines from the Pyrénées-Orientales region, but I had never heard of Maury or Mas Amiel.

Knowing little more about it and left only with the delight of being presented with a wine that is as old as one self, I put it somewhere in my cellar and completely forgot about it. Until last June.

While rearranging my cellar, I stumbled across the lone bottle. Quick research on the web disclosed this to be a fortified wine that can mature to respectable age, sometimes up to 35 years. So I decided to open the bottle at a dinner party with some good friends to see on the off chance if this wine might still be 'alive'.
And boy, were we in for a surprise, as Armand had predicted!

Mas Amiel is the leading independent producer in Maury, a small region within the boundaries of the much larger Rivesaltes appellation. There are only a handful of such independent vignerons, with the local co-operative controlling most of the Maury vignoble.

According to legend, this particular domaine originated in 1816 when Raymond Étienne Amiel won the deeds to the property from the Bishop of Perpignan in a game of cards. Sadly, for the church at least, there was no divine intervention that night. The bishop left, deprived of what could have been a prime source of communion wine, and Mas Amiel was born.

Mas Amiel was sold to Charles Dupuy in 1910, and both Dupuy and his son Jean did much to improve quality at the estate. The next generation, also Charles, continued their work. After his death in 1997 the estate was sold to Olivier Decelle. 

The Maury Cuvée Spéciale is made in the traditional method. The fruit is manually harvested and de-stemmed. Alcohol is added (mutage) directly on the fruit, then the whole is allowed to steep for 30 days in order to extract the color and tannins from the grapes. This is what determines the balance of fruit, alcohol and sugar. After one year in glass demijohns, out in the open air (pictured), the wine is matured for a long period (up to 38 years) in large oak casks.

The Maury Cuvée Spéciale is normally non-vintage, made from Grenache Noir with 5% Maccabeu and 5% Carignan and comes in ten and fifteen year old bottlings. This specific cuvée however is a rare, vintaged Maury, I believe to be made purely from Grenache.

Tasting notes

From my experiences with Banyuls, I was expecting a deep dark red wine, perhaps a purple haze. Obviously I was a little shocked by the somewhat pale amber color on the edges moving to a roof tile brownish red in the middle. I was beginning to fear this wine had passed away. The nose was clearly oxidative but still impressive, revealing notes of toffee and cocoa but also roses and macerated red fruit.
Full and warm on the palate. Delightful sweetness balanced by surprising presence of delicate fruit. Much to our surprise, this truly remarkable wine had survived the 48 years with splendor.

A wonderful but alas also very rare treat!

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