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Mas De Libian

A Beauty Spot on the Cheek of the Southern Rhône

Although this free-spirited Ardèche grower can trace its roots as far back as 1670, the Domaine as we know it began to make a name for its wines somewhat more recently. Under the name Caves des Deux Jean-Pierre, Mas de Libian took root when Jean-Pierre Thibon took over management of the farm from his parents and built the original winemaking cellar in 1970. Some years later, in 1995, Jean-Pierre was joined by his daughter Hélène Thibon and her husband Alain Macagno, creating the ‘Mas de Libian’. A decade later, Catherine Thibon, Hélène’s sister, began work in the vineyards and today Hélène (who acts as the face of the Domaine), Catherine, and Alain are joined by the newest generation, Hélène’s son Aurélien. Together the family tends twenty-five hectares of mature vines (and 8 hectares of “nourishing” land planted with olive trees, grains, hay, a vegetable garden and flower garden, as well as a few beehives).

We often talk about the Côtes-du-Rhône as though it was one homogenous region. In reality, it is a vast area of land the size of a small country that encompasses many different climates, altitudes and soil types. Mas de Libian is in Saint Marcel d’Ardèche on the hilly western slopes of the Rhône, at the tip of the visually stunning gorge of the Ardèche. The vineyards grow high on top of an ancient river terrace that rises steeply behind the Domaine. Here the mature goblet vines of Grenache and Mourvèdre et al. bathe in the Rhône sunlight while simultaneously enjoying excellent drainage and root penetration. The vineyards’ altitude provides cool evenings, which, when coupled with the rocky limestone terroir and the bracing Mistral, guarantees their wines vibrancy and freshness, traits for which this bohemian Domaine is highly respected. The breathtaking views of the Trois Becs, Mont Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail only add further lustre to this unique and magical place.

All the wines show the remarkable, vivid intensity and complex mineral personality, born from both this estate’s earth-to-glass philosophy and exceptional vineyard sites rooted in the cooler and rocky province of the south. To paraphrase the great Claudia Roden, they resonate like a landscape in a bottle.

The model at Mas de Libian is the farm is a self-sustaining environment instead of a production unit. It’s an idea that resonates through the wines, which ooze all the natural wealth and charm of this great region. The vines are cultivated and hand-harvested, the soils hoed by hand in the spring and Catherine Thibon ploughs roughly one-third of the vineyards’ clay-limestone terroir with the help of Nestor and Bambi, the estates two Franche-Comté workhorses. The vineyards classified as Côte-du-Rhône Villages are composed of large round river rocks (galets roulés) and red clay and, as such, are worked by tractor.

Hélène takes little credit for her farms’ organic management, which she says has been practiced here for generations. A continuation of this philosophy, and an important milestone for the Domaine, was becoming certified biodynamic (Demeter) in 2005. No chemicals are used and even in generous vintages, very low yields are the norm. As the Mas de Libian biotope has come to offer an incredibly healthy environment for grape growing, Hélène has little recourse for sulphur, which is often not used at all during the winemaking process.

The wines are crafted in unlined concrete vats with—cuvée depending—a portion of each wine being aged in large old foudres or older demi-muids. The cellar was expanded in 1984 and then again in 2011 to house the growing inventory of large oak barrels from various coopers (including Rousseau and Grenier), but mostly houses a small collection of 30 and 40 hectolitre barrels from Austria’s Stockinger cooperage.  There are no yeast additions here, and sulphur additions are kept to the barest minimum.  Often the wines are raised without the addition of any sulphur at all save for a few milligrams at bottling. We should note that the gentle handling, precise winemaking and strict hygiene in the cellars render Mas de Libian’s wines amongst the most stable low sulphur wines we know of.  The wines are never fined or filtered.

Three ‘levels’ of wine are produced. The juicy, crunchy and floral scented Vin de Pétanque, the rosé, and the Domaine’s pulpy white (Cave Vinum) are bottled under the IGP Ardèche. Then come the two terroir-specific Côtes-du-Rhône bottlings Bout d’Zan and Khayyâm, while the glowing Mourvèdre, La Calade – drawn from a pure galets roulés terroir – is labelled Côtes-du-Rhône Villages. The hallmark of each is silky, low yield concentration parried by vibrancy and vitality of fruit; these are pure, brightly fruited and perfumed wines that clearly reflect an intuitive and honest dedication to the Domaine’s stony terroir and gnarled old goblet vines. All the factors outlined above, and the quality of the mesmerising wines that arise, place Mas de Libian as one of the most exciting addresses of the Southern Rhône.

Currently Available

Mas de Libian Côtes du Rhône Bout d'Zan Rouge 2022

Mas de Libian Côtes du Rhône Bout d'Zan Rouge 2022

Biodynamic. This gem has become one of the smartest buys in our portfolio. It’s drawn from 35-year-old biodynamically managed vines rooted in a range of Mas de Libian’s highland Ardèche soils: some galets roulés (rolled alluvial ‘pudding’ stones); some sandy clay; and some lower-lying parcels on limestone soils. Give or take a few bunches, the blend is 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah, co-fermented (Hélène’s father once told her, “The earlier you consummate the marriage, the better the relationship!”) and raised in a mix of Stockinger foudre and cement vats.

Mas de Libian Côtes du Rhône Bout d'Zan Rouge 2022
Mas de Libian Côtes du Rhône Khayyâm 2021

Mas de Libian Côtes du Rhône Khayyâm 2021

Biodynamic. This wine is named in honour of the 11th century Persian poet, philosopher, booze-hound and mathematician, Omar Khayyam. This vibrant, supple bottling comes entirely from a single highland plot which is above the house at the top of the Saint Marcel d'Ardèche plateau. The site is littered with galets roulés and was planted between 1960 and 1980—mostly to Grenache, with 10% Syrah and 15% Mourvèdre. Some 30% of the fruit was aged in large casks on lees, bringing a seductive, supple and layered texture to the bright, cleansing structure.

Again, the breezy character of the vintage shines through here; this is fresh and vibrant, brimming with purity of fruit and crunchy energy. It is also charming and perfumed, with bright blue fruits and touches of pepper and liquorice.

Mas de Libian Côtes du Rhône Khayyâm 2021
Mas De Libian Côtes du Rhône La Calade 2021

Mas De Libian Côtes du Rhône La Calade 2021

Biodynamic. La Calade is the Mourvèdre-dominant cuvée of the Mas de Libian line-up, finessed by 10% Grenache—a unique wine that we believe deserves a wider audience. Granted, it is labelled as a humble Côtes du Rhône, yet it offers the depth and class usually associated with a top Gigondas, Rasteau or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Calade is old Provençal patois for a steep, stony path, which gives you an insight into the terroir for this wine. It comes from a very low-yielding parcel of 50-year-old vines (grown in galets roulés) that run between 1.5 and three metres deep. Almost half of this wine is vinified in glass and porcelain jars, which Hélène believes brings more freshness than oak or steel, as well as helping to avoid reduction. The remainder sees time in 600L Stockinger demi-muids (oak is the servant, not the master) and cement. The 2021 is a compelling wine with livewire energy, cool freshness, perfumed elegance and densely concentrated and complex flavours. Finely woven aromas of bright fruits, earth, pepper spice and some salty minerality are jointed to beautifully integrated oak, acidity and al dente tannins; it strikes an impressive balance. In our experience, few Mourvèdre wines from the south combine refreshment and satisfaction like this. It will taste even better with a light decant and a ribeye cooked over flame.

The 2021 is a compelling wine with livewire energy, cool freshness, perfumed elegance and densely concentrated and complex flavours. Finely woven aromas of bright fruits, earth, pepper spice and some salty minerality are jointed to beautifully integrated oak, acidity and al dente tannins; it strikes an impressive balance. In our experience, few Mourvèdre wines from the south combine refreshment and satisfaction like this. It will taste even better with a light decant and a ribeye cooked over flame.

Mas De Libian Côtes du Rhône La Calade 2021
Mas de Libian Vin de France Cave Vinum Blanc 2022

Mas de Libian Vin de France Cave Vinum Blanc 2022

Biodynamic. Hélène Thibon’s small-batch white comes from a blend of low-cropped, hand-harvested Roussanne, Viognier and Clairette. There’s more Roussanne this year than usual (barrel-fermented and zero malo). The Viognier was raised entirely in cement and stainless-steel vats, while the Clairette was fermented in Stockinger demi-muids. The latest release is another example of how sophisticated the whites from this part of France can be in the right hands. Aromatic, silky, and deftly woven, the contoured 2022 combines flavours of stone fruit, apricot kernel, citrus leaf and hawthorn blossom with impressive length and poise. It’s a deeper release this year, its fleshy palate countered by refreshing acidity and mouth-watering grip. Hélène Thibon suggests serving this with “… chèvre fleshier cheese, or classic Mediterranean fish dishes. This is a white wine that can hold its own against a bit of garlic (though don’t get carried away).” From experience, we’ll throw terrine and grilled fish into the mix. Bon appétit.

“There are some delicious whites made in this southern tip of the Ardèche, and Mas de Libian’s Cave Vinum is one of the best.”
Matt Walls, Decanter
Mas de Libian Vin de France Cave Vinum Blanc 2022

“Perhaps these relatively lowly appellations are one reason these wines aren’t better known – or higher in price. Or perhaps it’s because the Thibon family doesn’t market the wines as energetically as they could. But my advice is to seek them out, as these are wines that feel nourishing to drink. Not just for the body, but for the soul.” Matt Walls, Decanter

Country

France

Primary Region

Southern Rhône

People

Winemaker: Hélène Thibon

Availability

National

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