Etienne Montes has a tick. It's a quick squint of his left eye, a snapshot.
Montes is from Catalan, the hot, dry region of southwestern France that almost borders Spain. As a young man, he was always looking for excitement, trying to enlarge his world. So, he left Trouillas and became a photojournalist. While working for Paris Match, he went on assignment to Somalia, Bangladesh, El Salvador, and Colombia. Then one day the impossible happened, a photojournalist's dream shot: in the Barcelona airport, he surreptitiously snapped the only known photo of Carlos the Jackal.
In 1991, Montes packed up his gear and returned to his family's estate in Trouillas. We first met Etienne with a number of producers who call themselves "Les Rhone Vignobles." It's an impressive group: Vernay, Gerin, Combier, Sabon (La Janasse), Cheze--a dozen producers joined by friendship and a common viticultural spirit. The energy that day in Cornas was contagious. Everyone spoke with the same intensity--Syrah, organic farming, family, children, truffles, and three-star chefs. There was only one producer from the Languedoc in attendance that day in Cornas--the Catalan photojournalist with the twitching left eye.
The Montesses' estate is an ancient stone farmhouse and wine cellar with a tower that dates back to the time of the Crusades. When Etienne came home, he found himself with almost 200 acres of vineyards planted with a range of different varieties. The estate's winery was almost derelict, and so was the wine. Etienne was determined to turn things around. He traveled the wine routes and listened, taking mental snapshots of vineyards. Each visit to Spain, Condrieu, or Chateauneuf-du-Pape brought innovation to Chateau la Casenove. Montes cut his yields in half. More impressively, he managed to tame the harsh tannins while retaining the concentration and fruit intensity of his grapes. Nowadays, every release from Chateau la Casenove is of Rhone Vignobles quality.
"La Garrigue" is French for "scrubland," and the name describes Chateau la Casenove's clayey, rocky hillside vineyards near Perpignan. This terroir and the warm Mediterranean climate are ideal for the Rhone and Languedoc varietals in Etienne's "La Garrigue," a densely concentrated wine that is subtle, evocative, and deeply flavored with aromas of dark fruit, warm stones, and sensuous tannins. It's fiery yet soft.
This is a supple, spicy, concentrated blend of Rhone varieties--Syrah, Grenache and Carnignan. Serve with grilled meat, poultry, even meaty fish, like salmon or tuna. Drink now-2009.