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Redefining Spanish Wines: Catalunya’s Deeply Rooted, Daringly Innovative Wine Culture In The New Age Four Neo-vignerons (9-Bottle Red, White & Rosé Pack For $285)

All Things Catalunyan:  Join Us for Saturday Sips To Usher In “La Diada de Sant Jordi’

‘La Diada de Sant Jordi’ falls on April 23 in the Catalan holiday calendar, a day of books and roses, and it is a great reason to resume our all-day, in-store Saturday Sips. Among the themes we will be exploring in weeks to come is ‘vinecology’—the agricultural and techno-fixes that will alter the world of wine as profoundly as global climate change is altering traditional (and non-traditional) wine growing areas.


(Climate) Change Is Afoot In Catalunya

With apologies to Professor Higgins, the rain in Spain is not only dodging the plains, it’s playing havoc up and down the entire Mediterranean coast, extending from Spain to North Africa and Sicily as well. Last year, this persistent drought ranked among the ten most costly climate disasters in the world, and in real time, Catalunya is undergoing the worst drought in a century, with water reserves at 16% of capacity. Hotels are filling swimming pools with seawater and those whose livelihoods are tied to agriculture are wondering what the intensity of this summer will bring; last year, fruit growers threw out entire crops in order to use their diminishing water supplies to save their trees. Even traditionally dry-farmed industries like olive production and wine growing are crippled by these severe heat waves, and farmers who irrigate have it even worse, since by law, they are the first ones to relinquish water rights.

Adaptation to the climate crisis is happening throughout Catalunya; there is no other choice. But to date, much of it improvised and tends to take place only when the worst has already happened. Like the old Inuit following the caribou, modern winemakers are being forced to follow the thermometer, and this has led to an exploration of vineyard space in regions that were once too cold to produce reliable harvests.

The Vigneron’s Dilemma

It’s no secret that grape vines have been known to produce the best wines where the challenges are greatest. Vines placed under natural stress, struggling to find water and nutrients, tend to produce fruit that is more vibrant in flavor and balanced in acid with smoother tannins. Sites that are flat, well-irrigated and sunny have long been considered ‘no-brainer terroirs’ that over-produce and under-perform.

When challenged by drought, producers of this industrial-style wine reach into pockets deeper than the aquifers, and they will survive. The small winegrower, faced with mounting losses and plummeting harvests, are like the vines themselves: Sooner or later, they simply wither away.

And it is not just dryness. In Penedès, 2020 brought two times the rain of a normal year, which was followed by three years of drought. The unpredictable nature of climate change takes an emotional toll on the winemakers as well as a financial one. The dilemma they face is often less about a desire to change and more about the clock: It is well-established that vineyards stationed at higher altitudes are able to retain more water and produce higher-quality grapes, and that some varieties are more drought-resistant than others. But starting over in new regions takes time, and as climatic conditions worse, sadly, time is a resource that many wineries simply do not have.

Counter Or Adapt

With equal apologies to Jim Morrison and The Doors: Girl, when your vineyards becomes as hot as a funeral pyre, take it higher. The most delicious irony in changing weather patterns may be that regions once considered too cold for vines are warming to the point that they can produce quality wines. In Catalunya, vineyards at the foothills of the Pyrenees are being planted at altitudes up to 4,000 feet. “Twenty-five years ago, it would have been impossible,” says Miguel Torres Maczassek of Familia Torres. “At higher elevations, peak temperatures are not necessarily much cooler, but intense heat lasts for shorter periods and nighttime temperatures are colder than at lower altitudes. This increased diurnal shift (the temperature swing over the course of a day) helps grapes to ripen at a more even pace, over a longer period of time, than where temperatures remain relatively stable.”

But pushing altitudes also creates challenges: Soils, particularly on slopes, are generally poorer, water is scarcer and unexpected weather events like frosts and hailstorms are always a threat. Whereas this may ultimately result in better wine overall, the challenges for winemakers are prodigious. In the northeast of Spain, including coastal vineyards, the response has been two-fold: Adapt current vineyards to the ‘new normal’ by replanting to more heat-tolerant varietals, or eke out space at higher elevations to take advantage of the plus-side of a global negative.


Penedès

Uphill, Wealth Of Indigenous Grape Riches

About an hour south of Barcelona, nestled splendidly between the mountains and the sea, Penedès is most active growing region in Catalunya. The region contains some of the oldest wine-growing appellations in Europe, and produces consistently and reliably thanks to a multitude of terroirs. The region is best known for Cava, Spain’s answer to Méthode Champenoise sparkling wine, generally produced from the trinity of indigenous grapes, Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel·lo, occasionally fattened-up with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Garnatxa and Monastrell. All are permitted in various concentrations for Cava blends.

Roughly divided into three subzones, the mountainous Alt-Penedès produces the highest quality wine, followed by Baix Penedès in the low-lying coastal areas and Penedès Central, responsible for most of the region’s bulk production.

Although the area has been making wine since the days of the Phoenicians, Penedès’ modern era began in 1960 when its DO designation was granted, and—largely through the efforts of Miguel Torres—the region as a whole began to upgrade production methods, including temperature-controlled fermentation in stainless steel tanks and experimentation with non-indigenous grape varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since then, although quality has skyrocketed among all the wines of Penedès, the region remains known primarily for its sparkling wines, making the highly regarded, oak-aged reds and crisp, vibrant whites (especially those made with the Cava standby Xarel·lo) part of a remarkable journey of discovery.

VallDolina

The name ‘VallDolina’ is a description of the landscape surrounding Can Tutusaus, an estate which has stood amid these pine groves since 1348. ‘Dolinas’ are depressions formed in areas rich in limestone soils while ‘vall’ is Catalan for valley. In 1987, seduced by this mysterious land, Joan Badell bottled his first wines and planted his first trained vines. In 1999, his son Raimon, who was then studying oenology, became a close collaborator and opted to turn the estate toward ecological and biodynamic agriculture.

“Bottling the land,” is the way that Raimon Badell describes his interpretation of winemaking. “We only work with grapes picked from this estate,” he says, “where vines are situated between 800 and 1500 feet above sea level, bordering the Natural Park of the Massís del Garraf. The vineyards grow on hills with calcareous-clay soil and produce where the climate is distinctly Mediterranean, strongly influenced by the vicinity of the sea.”

Raimon Badell

As a team, Raimon and his wife Anna have replanted the ancient terraces set in a property otherwise dominated by pine trees interspersed with glimpses of the Mediterranean Sea. The oldest vines at Tutusaus were planted during a last-century’s craze for international grape varieties, and the Merlot remains an outstanding Spanish example of this variety.

Anna adds, “VallDolina identifies with the territory with the aim that our wines offer a sensitive expression of the landscape, with the idea of determining the different tasks following the lunar calendar as our grandparents did and at the same time using agricultural concepts the most environmentally friendly.”

 1  VallDolina, 2020 Cava Reserva Brut-Nature ($19) Sparkling
The three traditional Cava varieties, 38% Xarel·lo, 32% Macabeu, 22% Parellada with 8% splash of Chardonnay sourced from estate-owned, organically certified vineyards with red clay and limestone soils. Vinified and fermented in stainless steel tanks, with secondary fermentation inside the bottle and 24 months on lees before disgorgement.

 

 

 

 

 


Alemany i Corrio

There are matches made in Heaven and those made in vineyards; credit the latter to the life partnership of Irene Alemany and Laurent Corrio, whose small-batch, low-intervention wines are proving that the Alt-Penedès is among the most exciting places to be making wine today. Great wine is a technical beast, but without the intensity of passion, it loses much of its savor: “Our wine is as soft as a gentle kiss, but one where you end by biting your partner’s lip,” says Irene.

Irene Alemany

The couple met at the University of Burgundy in Dijon, then apprenticed together in vineyards in France and California. But their future was written in chalk and loam following a visit to Irene’s parents in Lavern in the Penedès; that was when Irene’s father suggested that they consider using the family vines to start their own operation. This treasure trove encompassed several varieties of grapes between 25 and 60 years old. They leapt at the opportunity—their first harvest was in 1999 and their first bottling in 2002. From the beginning, they followed their French training, remaking the classics in their own way, keeping the process as natural as possible while seeking to reflect the expression of the varieties and the character of the terroir to the maximum extent.

In the process, they are credited with producing the first ‘garage’ wines of New Penedès. Their ‘Vi de Garatge’ series may be thought of as ‘tailor-made’ wines relying on precision in both field and cellar.

“What we want to accomplish,” says Irene, “is that when people taste our wines there is something in the soul of the wine that talks to them and will make them remember.”

2  Alemany i Corrió ‘Principia Mathematica’, 2022 Vi de Garatge ‘Penedès’ ($30) White
100% Xarel·lo – Originating with low-yields from a seven-acre plot where the vines are over fifty years old, Principia Mathematica was fermented in French oak (10% new) and aged for ten months in foudres/stainless steel. The wine shows a Meursault-esque intensity beneath crisp white stone fruit, notably apricot, defined by a light toasted-almond undertow. 665 cases produced.

 

 

 


 3  Alemany i Corrió ‘Cargol Treu Vi’, 2021 Vi de Garatge ‘Penedès’ ($31) White
Another pure Xarel·lo beauty; Cargol Treu Vi comes from 75 year old vines planted on chalky soil, then vinified on wild yeast in 300 liter French oak barrels, 25% new. The wine shows spring flowers, stone fruit and lemon zest behind hints of smoke with a long, salt-tinged finish. 175 cases produced.

 

 

 

 


Can Sumoi

Into a rarified atmosphere of Catalunyan pride and passion and secessionist spirit, Pepe Raventós has embellished the canvas with his own unique set of colors. Born to the vine and enamored of the bosky hills and sprawling vineyards of Catalan wine country, Raventós spent his childhood picking grapes at Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. Sant Sadurní is, of course, the home of more than eighty Cava producers and wine is cornerstone of the local economy. It’s also where 21 generations of Pepe Raventós’ family have lived, dating back to the 15th century.

Pepe Raventós

At two thousand feet above sea level (in the Serra de l’Home range) Can Sumoi is the highest estate in the Penedès; Mallorca and the Ebro Delta are visible from the rooftop of the winery’s 350-year-old farmhouse. Below, 50 acres of vineyards sprawl across limestone-rich soil between stands of oak and white pine, which to the ecology-driven Raventós, share equal importance with the vines. “Forests,” he says, “protect the biodiversity of the estate; they are the green lungs of the world.”

The wines of Can Sumoi are also green insofar as they are produced using Certified Organic methods; vineyards are tended with natural compost, free of pesticides and with minimal intervention; a herd of sheep and goats is allowed to graze semi-freely among the vines. Certain esoteric biodynamic techniques may sound strange to laymen (such as timing vineyard activity to the phases of the moon) but to Raventós, they make perfect sense: “When the moon is ascendant, plant fluids concentrate more towards the roots of plants, and that’s when you want to do the pruning—so you don’t damage the plant.”

 4  Can Sumoi ‘Montònega’, 2021 Espumoso ‘Ancestral’ Brut-Nature ($27) Sparkling
Montònega is a pink-berried clone of Parellada capable of producing excellent monovarietal sparkling wines, particularly when cultivated in the high-altitude Pla de Manlleu of Penedès. The wine is Pet-Nat, meaning that it is made via the traditional method without additives, stabilization or filtration. The wine is dry and savory with delicate aromas of apple skin and citrus.

 

 

 


 Can Sumoi ‘Garnatxa Blanca’, 2022 ‘Penedès’ ($28) White
This golden-hued mutation of the dark-skinned Garnatxa Negra originated in northern Spain. Can Sumoi’s is drawn from vineyards in the Serra del Montmell, nearly two thousand feet above sea level where the soils are stony and limestone-based. The wine shows apricot and lychee as well as green fruits like honeydew and pear, but the herbal quality is a defining feature.

 

 

 

 


 6  Can Sumoi ‘La Rosa’, 2022 Penedès ($26) Rosé
An aromatic rosé made from high-altitude Xarel·lo and Sumoll, destemmed, lightly crushed and briefly macerated, with fermentation carried out in stainless steel tanks on indigenous yeasts.  A distinct and elegant expression of Mediterranean character with wild strawberry and citrus notes behind a springtime floral bouquet.

 

 

 

 


 7  Can Sumoi ‘Garnatxa – Sumoll’, 2021 ‘Penedès’ ($28) Red
Mountain grapes from the highest estate in the Penedès, showing boysenberry, cinnamon and pomegranate while combining rusticity with an essential elegance that is, like salinity, a Can Sumoi trademark.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Priorat

Goliath Into David

In the ever-popular Godzilla trope, the beast periodically rises from slumber and emerges from unforgiving depths to make his presence … well, obvious.

For most of the 20th century, sleepy Priorat remained below the same sort of radar, with vineyards struggling up steep slate hills southwest of Barcelona, content (for the time being) to leave production to cooperatives, who largely made cheap, indifferent wine.

Priorat’s first rage from the obscure into the noteworthy came in the late twentieth century, when young winemakers recognized the potential of the unique Priorat soils—stuff that the Catalans call ‘llicorella’. They found this stony brown slate, occasionally sparkling with quartzite, filled with old-vine Garnatxa and Carinyena that was capable of producing muscular wines of largesse and longevity, and the first wave of truly presentable Priorat wines hit the wine world like a tsunami.

Around 2010, winemakers began to question this style; as tastes changed, such oak-heavy blockbusters lacked the most vital element toward which wine fashion was leaning: Freshness and finesse. In yet another rediscovery of identity and potential, Priorat winemakers began to change their techniques, employing Burgundian methods in part to find floral tones and mineral undercurrents in the classic indigenous grapes, and transforming the gargantuan to the graceful; Goliath, perhaps, into David, or Godzilla into the sleek and streamlined dragons of Greek mythology.

Along with this evolution, the concept of terroir has come to the forefront, with DOQ Priorat exploring a new category, Vi de Vila, in which wine from 12 areas may add the name of the local village to their labels, bringing a sense of identity into an appellation that spent most of its history being somewhat unidentifiable.

Ona

A native Spaniard, born, raised and educated in Barcelona, Núria Garrote i Esteve has dedicated many years to pursuing wine from an elite Franco-Iberian group of trailblazers. Through her partnership with several extraordinarily innovative Catalunyan winemakers, she has assembled a few special collaborative cuvées named after her daughter, Ona. The original labels were written in Ona’s own five-year-old hand, and each wine has a story to tell.

“There are as many points of view articulated through wine and cultivation techniques as there are good wines,” Núria says. “My producers are as different from each other as their farms.”

Masos de Falset hillside composed of ‘Llicorella’ consisting of reddish-black slate with small particles of mica quartz, different layers of soil filled in by clayey soil. Clos Petitona winemaker Blai Ferré i Just, right

Among Núria’s Ona-producing partners is Blai Ferré, their first collaboration was in 2013. Blai fell in love with winemaking while a teenager working the fields with one of Priorat’s leading producers, Alvaro Palacios. He then purchased a handful of acres, much of it former vineyard land that had been abandoned, and set to work planting drought-adapted rootstocks and adopting a style of under-extraction to better nurture these wines so that the dazzling minerality of Priorat’s smoky schist can shine through.

 8  Ona, 2020 Priorat ($22) Red
A blend of 40% Garnatxa, 40% Syrah and 20% Carinyena 20% grown on Blai Ferré’s 12 acres; the wine is aged in stainless steel and shows ripe cherry and plum misted in smokiness, spice with wet-stone minerality on the finish. About 5000 bottles produced.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 9  Clos Petitona, 2018 Priorat – Masos de Falset ($74) Red
Clos Petitona (Little Ona) is produced from a single plot located in the village of Falset, and is typical of the extreme slopes of the region, terraced against the ravages of time. It was planted in 1949 with equal parts Garnatxa Negra and Garnatxa Peluda vines, with a south-east orientation and a surface area just under four acres. Due to the age of the vines, yields are extremely low, giving the wines superb concentration and structure.

Like the plot itself, Petitona is equal parts traditional Catalan Garnatxa and a variety known as Garnatxa Peluda—‘Hairy’ Garnatxa—because the vine leaves are covered in fine hairs that make it drought resistant. Perfumed rather than floral, the wine shows an earthen nose with baking spice and especially, a touch of licorice-ash, allowing the llicorella soil to live up to its name.

 

 

 

Clos Petitona, Priorat – Vi de Vila ‘Masos de Falset’


Costers-del-Segre

Higher Grounds, Resurrecting Ancient Land

Gradually moving into the modern spotlight, Costers del Segre is a Spanish Denominación de Origen for wines produced in the Catalan province of Lleida. The name is derived from the Segre river which flows from the Pyrenees mountains and reaches the Ebro River south of Lleida. The region grew to prominence as a result of a single estate, Raimat, located near the DO’s westernmost point. Raimat is Spain’s largest privately-owned winery and is considered to be one of its most inventive.

Somewhat unique in the annals of appellations, Costers del Segre was created from four separate sub-zones within a larger region; three further sub-zones were identified in 1998. Altitudes range from 800 feet to 2400 feet, and the influence of the Pyrenees offers a continental climate but the proximity of the Mediterranean reduces the risk of frost when the vines are most vulnerable. The days are warm but the nighttime temperatures are low, ensuring that the grapes retain an excellent spine of acids and structure.

Old vine plots of bush-trained Garnatxa and Macabeu can be found scattered through the region but most of the activity in the last two decades has been new plantings, especially of international varieties in innovative, wire-trained vineyards.

Castell d’Encus, Talarn, Lleida

Castell d’Encus

“Our philosophy is that of an organic vineyard, without herbicides, insecticides or fungicides that are not included in organic practices.” – Raül Bobet

Above all, Castell d’Encus is an experiment, and one that has been approached with all the precision and insight of a research scientist. The goal, from the outset, was to discover the methodology behind reflective, subtle, non-explosive and low-alcohol wines with aging potential at an altitude where even the old-time winemakers claimed that grapes could not thrive.

Raül Bobet

But the grand experiment has a more ecological edge, and according to Bobet, “It was vital to us to pair an excellence in mountain winemaking with environmental protection. We want to channel new actions to increase biodiversity and create awareness as an example that everyone can get involved in taking care of the Earth. From our situation, we carry out actions in order to reduce the human impact on the land, the vineyard and the environment, without using herbicides or fungicides. We take advantage of the force of gravity and geothermal energy for certain tasks in the winery.”

Castell d’Encus ‘Ekam’, 2019 Costers-del-Segre ‘Pallars Jussà’ ($45) White
85% Riesling and 15% Albariño sourced from a cool, southwest-facing plot in the Pallars Jussà comarca, located between the Lleida Plain and the Pyrenees. Ekam means ‘divine unity’ in Sanskrit and offers an intense bouquet of kiwi, grapefruit, peach and ripe green apple and light kerosene notes which will develop and mature with age. Fermented in 2500 and 5000-liter tanks at low temperature, it is ‘trocken’, or dry. 2500 cases made.

 

 


Castell d’Encus, 2018 ‘Taleia’ Costers-del-Segre ‘Pallars Jussà’ ($48) White
95% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Semillon; this classic Bordeaux lowland blend as interpreted by Raül Bobet’s mountain sensibilities: Fermented on native yeast in a combination of medieval stone vats, French oak and stainless steel, a time on the lees adds richness and complexity. The wine presents notes of vanilla from the barrel-time, which melds wonderfully with the fruit’s essential quince, apricot, lime and straw flavors. 1700 cases made.

 

 


Castell d’Encus ‘Acusp’, 2018 Costers-del-Segre ‘Pallars Jussà’ ($66) Red
Hand-harvested using small, 10 kg crates, this 100% Pinot Noir wine, drawn from high-density vines, was fermented in a combination of stainless-steel tanks and in the open-air stone vats. It underwent secondary, malolactic fermentation in French oak barrels and has a light, silky mouthfeel with modest tannins and acidity behind savory, earthy aromatics accented by scents of white peaches, lilac and bright citrus, raspberry and chalk. 1500 cases made.

 

 


Castell d’Encus ‘Thalarn’, 2018 Costers del Segre ‘Pallars Jussà’ ($63) Red
100% hand-harvested Syrah fermented in the 12th century carved stone vats on the property, the remainder in new French wood and stainless-steel vats. 100% of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation in French oak barrels, where it then aged for 12 months. The wine shows notes of chocolate and plum with a lighter hints of tobacco, blackberry jam and a dusting of cinnamon, with licorice on the finish.

 

 

 


Castell d’Encus ‘Quest’, 2017 Costers-del-Segre ‘Pallars Jussà’ ($66) Red
‘Quest’ is the heart of the matter—the question itself: Can Bordeaux varieties produce at such elevations? The answer is yes, as this elegant blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petit Verdot demonstrates. 100% fermented in the estate’s famous stone vats, Quest displays a nicely concentrated profile with bright summer fruit and the hint of green pepper that is often a hallmark of cool climate reds. The tannins are finely-grained and linger with the acidity, showing great potential for cellaring. 360 cases made.

 

 

 

12th Century Stone Vats (Fermenters)

 

 

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Posted on 2024.04.23 in France, Saturday Sips Wines, Penedes, Priorat DOQ, Wine-Aid Packages, Catalunya, Costers del Segre  |  Read more...

 

A Year In Burgundy: The Incomparable 2015 Côte de Nuits Wines Realize Their Potential, And Articulately Express The Distinctive Characters Of The Region’s Diverse Terroirs

What do you get when you blend an ideal vintage with top terroirs and then let the wine mature within a perfect setting for nearly a decade?

You get the ideal expression of Pinot Noir in all its textural plenitude, aromatic complexity and sapid savoriness.

The wines in this collection represent the glory that our finest producers were able to coax from the iconic 2015 vintage in the Côte de Nuit, and although many of them drank well upon release, it is only with bottle age that such wines are able to offer their genuinely incomparable insight into the character of the land and the families which have translated this into wine.

The Value Of Burgundy, Regardless Of The Price

Burgundy ‘the concept’ has always hovered in the empyrean—even if the best of the physical stuff drifted out of most rational price ranges. More than stately, austere Bordeaux, more than hedonistic Rhône, more than transcendent Champagne, more than ethereal Loire, Burgundy represents beauty and power recombinant; the Athena of wine.

Its value in the perception outstrips its value on the palate; whereas wine prices are set on reputation of terroirs, the poetry of our mental landscapes remains beyond our ability to quantify. It can only be considered by sense, not cents.

In the retail business, we’re charged with vigilance to ensure that the prices we charge is balanced by the products we sell and few places present more of a challenge than Burgundy, the most coveted wine on the planet. The changing climate may have brought more fine Burgundy appellations to market, but there are fewer of the wines themselves—yields are often a trade-off when vineyards are increasingly dry and hot throughout the season and erratic weather produces more and more crop-devastating storms. Prices have risen so sharply that sticker-shock is an inevitable part of Burgundy shopping and the shelf-dressing domains have priced themselves virtually beyond reach.

Still, although the concept of value may be on a sliding scale in Burgundy, relative bargains abound. And in any case, we can ascend straight up the hierarchy, from village wines to Premier Crus to the highly-rarefied domains of the Grand Cru, nothing will ever quite approach the finesse that Burgundy plays on the imagination.

Making Sense Of Burgundy: What Makes It So Singular

Above all, terroir is an ideology; a flight of vinous fancy that insists a wine’s taste and aroma reflect its place of origin. This reflection may be subtle or overt, but there’s plenty of science behind it. Terroir includes specific soil types, topography, microclimate, landscape characteristics and biodiversity—all features that interact with a winemaker’s choice of viticultural and enological techniques.

Nowhere is this more in evidence than Burgundy, where the notion of place-identity is sacrosanct. The central role that terroir plays in every hierarchal level is not only part of the culture, but it is based on centuries’ worth of confirmation. Although in loose geological terms the entire appellation sits on an ancient limestone seabed, this unity is shattered into an immense mosaic of thousands of individual ‘climats’ from which the vine draws color and flavor. Some are ludicrously tiny—renowned Romanée, for example, is under five acres—and the secret alchemy of terroir may be diversified throughout a village, a vineyard, and even in vine rows within that vineyard.

Burgundian labels reflect that; the quality-focused grades with which we have become so familiar—Bourgogne, Village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru—each have individual sets of rules regarding yield, grapes and production methods that winemakers are legally required to follow. From there, we may or may not find the name of a climat, a term used interchangeably with lieu-dit. Although the Grand Cru wines are generally considered to be classified on the vineyard-plot level and defined as separate AOPs (with the exception of Chablis Grand Cru), some Grand Crus are in fact divided into several lieux-dits. Echézeaux, for example, includes 10, one of which has two alternative names: Les Cruots is also known as Vignes Blanches. Although it is illegal to use the name of lieux-dits on Grand Cru labels, the law is flouted in Clos de Vougeot and one or two other Grand Crus to consumer-friendly ends.

2015 Burgundy: Hedonist’s Vintage

No one could better sum up Burgundy 2015 more splendidly than Jacques Devauges of Clos de Tart: “To make bad wine in 2015, one must wake up and say to yourself, ‘I will make bad wine.’”

This is not to say that it was an easy vintage—just a successful one. In fact—if the pun may be forgiven—the challenges ran hot and cold. Frost affected many Grand Cru vineyards early in the season and proved to be a harbinger of wet and cool temperatures in May. In mid-June, the weather became balmy, then hot, then seriously dry. According to Eric Remy at Domaine Leflaive, “Between June to August, we had 35 days when the temperature was above 30 degrees C and 15 days when the temperature was above 35 degrees C.”

The grapes were under hydric stress for most of that time; August brought off and on downpours, effectively saving the vintage, although the harvest window was narrow because potential alcohol levels were creeping up while acidity was dropping. White wine producers harvested end of August and nearly all the red wine producers harvested in the first week of September.

In all, there were many decisions a grower could have made in 2015 because there was so much material to work with. Some of the reds are elegant and ethereal—purposefully made so with light maceration and gentle handling. Others are dense, chewy and full-bodied, reminiscent of wine from warmer climates. Cécile Tremblay of the eponymous Vosne-Romanée domain says, “2015 had the best ripeness at harvest since I started winemaking. There was big quantity of polyphenols and too much of everything – I kept thinking of what to do with it. The big question was: Who am I making this wine for and what is the wine’s drinking window?”

In all, 2015—especially for red wines—has been heralded as having ‘nearly the concentration of 2005 allied with the sensuality of 2010.’

Ten Years After

That the finest Burgundies improve over time is no revelation. What is particularly interesting is that, unlike many age-worthy wines, Burgundy follows a somewhat unique path. There is no ‘peak’, for example—you make that discovery over the years as you sample a specific vintage from given label. There is a sort of ‘sine’ wave with multiple peaks and valleys. If a wine is unfriendly today, don’t assume it has passed its pinnacle—just push it further back in the cellar, and you’ll likely be rewarded.

For every rule in Burgundy, there are countless exceptions, but an experienced cellar master will tell you that after a few years in the bottle (generally between five and eight), when the fruit begins to fade a bit, there is a period when the wine may taste thin and a bit shrill. You might revive the old optimistic tombstone inscription: ‘Not dead, but sleeping.’

If the original wine was from a good vintage and was produced with circumspection, it will reanimate with tertiary notes—the fruit dries out to evoke raisin, fig or prune and more savory and musky aromas emerge as well, evocative of licorice, leather, mushroom, tobacco and dried bracken on a forest floor.

The wines in this collection have just entered this phase where the springtime purple notes have grown into the russet tones of autumn; along with us all, the refreshing, youthful smells of blackberry and cherry cola have matured into the introspective richness of adulthood.


Côte de Nuits

The Champs-Elysées Of Burgundy

Named after its principal town, Nuits-St-Georges, the Côte de Nuits produces the greatest red wines of Burgundy. As in its counterpart, the Côte de Beaune, not all the wines are created equal; the best are from a narrow, mid-slope band of limestone and from vineyards facing south-east to maximize exposure to the sun. This precise mix of soil and sunshine allows Pinot Noir to showcase an extraordinary range of textures and flavors.

Côte de Nuits is subdivided into eight designated villages; Chambolle-Musigny, Fixin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Marsannay (which also has a separate designation for rosé), Morey-Saint-Denis, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vosne-Romanée and Vougeot. The area includes 24 superlative vineyard sites clustered around six communes and designated Grand Cru and over a hundred Premier Cru sites. In addition, there are two district appellations: Côtes de Nuits-Villages, which are wonderfully elegant and affordable reds that are ready to drink upon release, and Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, which consists of some 20 villages in the hills west of the vineyards of the Côte de Nuits that produce wines with this appellation.


Marsannay

Within Burgundy’s hierarchy, Marsannay is a fairly new invention. The northernmost commune in Burgundy’s heart only achieved Village status in 1987; prior to that, its grapes were restricted to use in regional wine. Suffice to say that the growing pains of such a phenomenon may take decades, and to date, Marsannay contains none of the storied Grand or Premier Crus in the carefully delineated Burgundy classification system.

And this is good news for bargain hunters. In Burgundy most emphatically, wine prices are set on reputation as much as anything else. As such, Marsannay wines represent unparalleled value, especially since many individual estates have forged new commitments to improve what history and nature has provided.

Méo-Camuzet Frère & Soeurs

Méo-Camuzet Frères & Sœurs is the Méo-Camuzet négociant entity of Domaine Méo-Camuzet and works closely with local growers to source the best fruit available; the Méos oversee vineyard management, and they care for the wines in the cellars with the same attention to detail and respect of terroir that they do those of the domain.

Méo-Camuzet Frère & Sœurs, Marsannay ($150)
The 2015 Marsannay is full-bodied, lively and muscular with fine tannins, good length and plenty of staying power under the hood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Domaine Bart

Sixteen years ago, the winegrowers of Marsannay started the process of having part of the appellation upgraded to Premier Cru. At Domaine Bart, which produces as many as nine different Marsannay bottlings in a given vintage, it is believed that 25% and 30% of the appellation is up for this bump upstairs. Pierre Bart, the sixth generation to run Domaine Bart, says, “We are trying to show which climats would be of interest and which ones should remain in the village appellation. My guess is that there will be five or six Premier Crus. probably the largest ones like Champs Perdrix, Champ Salomon, Clos du Roi, Longeroies and Montagne.”

The Bart domain covers 54 acres, mostly in Marsannay, but with a few parcels in Fixin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny and Santenay.

“My grandmother comes from the same family as Domaine Bruno Clair,” explains Pierre Bart. “Part of the vines come from that side of the family, part from my grandfather’s side. The Bonnes-Mares and the Chambertin-Clos de Bèze mainly come from my grandmother. 35 years ago, when my uncle arrived at the domain, the style of the wines changed. He increased the size of the holding, mainly in Marsannay. He chose to improve quality, both in terms of equipment and in winemaking. Since then we haven’t changed our vision a single iota.”

Domaine Bart, Marsannay ‘Les Echezots’ ($68)
‘Echezots’ parcel in Marsannay is one of the coolest in the entire commune—it is in the northern reaches of the appellation, which is already in the north of Burgundy. Echezots soil is pebbly with lots of stones and gray silts from the nearby Combe du Pré. As such, the wine displays an austere character where the fruit is lively and integral, but somewhat background compared to the mineral textures and iodine hints.

 

 

 


Domaine Bart, Marsannay ‘Au Champ Salomon’ ($78)
Au Champ Salomon is a mid-slope vineyard with south/southeast exposure; soils are clay-limestone formed from cone pebbles. The grapes were drawn from 40-year-old vines, hand harvested, fermented with native yeasts and aged for 18 months in 30% new oak.
 

 

 

 


Fixin

Fixin is the crème in an Oreo cookie formed by Marsannay to the north and Gevrey-Chambertin to the south; it boasts a superb terroir and unlike Marsannay, it contains six Premier Cru vineyards—La Perrière, Clos du Chapître, Arvelets, Clos Napoléon, Le Meix-Bas and Hervelets. Soils are similar, with homogenous brown limestone exploited best in exposures running east to south-east. Some vineyard plots (Hervelets, for example) have more marl, and those wines are predictably heavier and longer-lived.

Fixin is solidly red wine country; Pinot Noir accounts for 96% of total production. Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc are also grown in small quantities, whereas Pinot Gris was decommissioned in 2011. Although the legislation permits up to 15% of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc to be used as accessory grapes in red wines, this is rarely done. The few white wines are generally made entirely of Chardonnay, although blending with Pinot Blanc is permitted. Not much Fixin Blanc makes it out of the appellation; it remains a locally-kept, locally-consumed secret.

Domaine Bart, Fixin Premier Cru Hervelets ($110)
‘Hervelets’ wines (currently a bit under-the-radar) are typified by their robust, tannic, and sometimes ‘sauvage’ character. So celebrated have they been over the centuries that they were once mentioned in the same breath as Chambertin and Corton. The wine undergoes 20% whole-bunch vinification and 25% new wood.

 

 

 

 


Méo-Camuzet Frère & Sœurs, Fixin ($160)
Grapes sourced from Le Clos, Les Herbues and En Olivier lieux-dits. Wines from these parcels show more fruit than from nearby Marsannay and less spice on the finish.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Gevrey-Chambertin

As those schooled in Burgundian lore know, during the nineteenth century it became fashionable for villages in the Côte d’Or to adopt double-barreled names, adding a hyphen followed by the name of their most famous vineyard: Thus Chambolle added Musigny and Gevrey added Chambertin.

In minimalism, less may be more, and in wine—especially those with a hyphenated name—more may be less; a village-level Gevrey-Chambertin, for example, does not seek to compete with the quality of ‘Le Chambertin’ itself. But if nothing else, its name reminds you that it comes from a rarefied zip code. And to be sure, the region is hallowed grapeland, graced with the Holy Trinity of terroir—elevation, climate and soil structure. Contained within the appellation are nine Grand Crus and 26 Premier Crus (whose name on the label may be followed by the name of the climat of origin) as well as nearly a thousand acres of Village wine.

Domaine Gallois

Prior to taking over the family estate in 1989, Dominique Gallois studied catering in Paris and ran his own restaurant for six years. When he returned to Burgundy, the domain consisted of six acres in Gevrey-Chambertin which his father had managed for forty years, selling the grapes to négociants. Dominique began to renovate the property and in 1989 (after purchasing additional acreage in Combe aux Moines, Petits Cazetiers and Goulots) to bottle his own product, looking first to private customers to build a reputation. Recognizing that he works in terroir that is the envy of the world, Dominique takes special care to work the domain by hand, without pesticides or herbicides. Says Gallois, “Our year is quite full; winter months are dedicated to vine maintenance and Guyot-style pruning. During spring and summer, several tasks are performed allowing yields to be controlled and managing the healthiness of the future grapes. Harvesting is manual—we count on a small, faithful team to carry out the first sorting on the vine. Thereafter, grapes pass over a sorting table where bunches are inspected so as to conserve only the best fruit.”

Domaine Gallois, Gevrey-Chambertin ($130)
Made up of a blend of 10 parcels situated around the village of Gevrey-Chambertin leading to a fully-rounded cuvée—contributing climats are En Songe, En Jouise, En Billard, En Dérée, Croix des Champs, Sylvie, La Justice, Charreux and two parcels of the clos surrounding Gallois’ home, where the average vine age is around fifty years. This is a textbook Gevrey-Chambertin with massive, yet velvet-smooth tannins and notes of wild game.

 

 

 


Domaine Régis Bouvier

Only a few producers in the Côte d’Or’s northernmost zone of Marsannay have gained international attention for the quality, specificity, and ambitiousness of their wines. Régis Bouvier is regularly mentioned among them. He has a lengthy track record of both consistency and value in this appellation that is quickly growing in prestige.

Régis owns nearly 25 acres of vineyards, mostly in Marsannay, with a few prime parcels in Morey-Saint-Denis and Gevrey-Chambertin. He vinifies all three colors – red, white, and rosé, but the red wines are his crowning achievement, managing to be simultaneously bold and refined, with aromatics to spare. This is all the result of managed yields and high quality terroirs.

Domaine Régis Bouvier, Gevrey-Chambertin ($93)
Régis’ Village-level Gevrey is drawn from several plots (Les Crais, Aux Corvées, Les Murots, La Croix des Champs, Prince-Vin and La Justice) totaling only a little over an acre. Soils are limestone with marly clay and the vines are about 40 years old. Aged in oak—30% new—for 18 months.

 

 

 

 


Domaine Bart, Chambertin Clos de Bèze Grand Cru ($590)
Clos-de-Bèze is one of several Grand Cru sites in one contiguous plot, of which the Chambertin vineyard is at the heart, covering the best part of the hill. The soils of de Bèze are he nearly identical to Chambertin, made up of pebbly, free-draining limestone with a good proportion of clay. This is nutrient-poor terroir that ensures the vines do not expend too much effort on leafy vigor, instead producing small, intensely flavored berries that make high-quality wines. The sunny southeastern aspect ensures that grapes reach full ripeness while retaining essential acidity in Burgundy’s cool continental climate, and as a result, Clos-de-Bèze wines are known to be incredibly well balanced. The wine sees 40% whole-bunch vinification and 50% new wood; Pierre Bart thinks Clos de Bèze tends to taste almost too ready to drink at bottling, so at the end of fermentation he brings the temperature back up and gives the wine a couple of powerful punch downs to fix a bit more tannin.

 


Morey-Saint-Denis

Forming a stylistic bridge between the firm, fleshy wines of Gevrey-Chambertin and the perfumed wines of Chambolle-Musigny, Morey-Saint-Denis is a wealth of Crus, including twenty Premier Crus and five Grand Crus: Clos de Tart, Bonnes-Mares, Clos de la Roche, Clos Saint-Denis and Clos des Lambrays. The best sites are planted on thin, well-drained, oolitic limestone soils that date from the Middle Jurassic, and occupy the middle slopes while lesser quality wines are produced on the highest and lowest elevations.

Even among Burgundy enthusiast, the Premier Cru climats are sometimes unfamiliar, due in part to the practice of blending several vineyards as a generic Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru bottling, something that is somewhat more common here than in other communes.

Domaine Alain Michelot

Slow evolution is a hallmark of the Alain Michelot philosophy. With twenty acres of vines, nearly all in Nuits-Saint-Georges and half of them Premier Crus, they have slipped under the radar of wine media attention, especially in the United States—despite Matt Kramer’s unbridled praise in ‘Making Sense of Burgundy.’

Change happens gradually at Domain Alain Michelot, and only in increments, methodically and rationally. But the significant shift at the top happened when Alain retired as winemaker and was succeeded by his daughter, the poetically named Élodie Michelot. Her touch has been delicate and judicious; slightly smaller yields, slightly less oak employed. As always, the grapes are 90% destalked, and cuvaison lasts around three weeks. After pressing, the must settles for a good month—a process known as ‘debourbage’—and only then is transferred to Allier and Limousin barrels. The age of the wood depends on the vintage, but is roughly a third new oak. There is no racking for the next 20 months, resulting in very fine tannins, and as is the tradition in Nuits-Saint-Georges, the wines are bottled lightly filtered, but not fined.

Domaine Alain Michelot, Morey-Saint-Denis ($77)
Having spent 18 months in oak barrels (25% new), the wine reflects the best of the site—opulent cherry framed by bramble, violet and licorice with ‘wildwood’ emerging, especially moss and truffle.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Domaine Alain Michelot, Morey Saint Denis Premier Cru Les Charrières ($130)
One of 20 Premier Cru climats in Morey-Saint-Denis, the six-acre Les Charrières vineyard lies on shallow, free draining marl just below the famed Clos de la Roche Grand Cru. It faces east, angling gently toward the rising sun, allowing vines to develop sugars and phenols in cool seasons but retaining enough acidity that these wines are typically described as ‘lean.’

 

 

 


Domaine Bart, Bonnes Mares Grand Cru ($550)
One of five Grand Cru vineyards in Morey-Saint-Denis, the 38-acre site straddles the demarcation line where Chambolle begins; for this ‘split-personality’ reason, it is one of the most often overlooked Grand Cru climats in Burgundy. 30% whole bunch and one-third new wood; the grapes come from a 3-acre holding comprised of two large parcels sitting just above those of Domaine Comte de Vogüé.

 

 

 

 


Chambolle-Musigny

Along with Vosne-Romanée, the communes of Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin round out the ‘Big Three’ of Burgundy reds. Much has been written to compare the last two, perhaps best summarized by Nadine Gublin of Domaine Jacques Prieur: “Chambertin has a colder climate and tends to have more structure than Musigny; Musigny is more forward and elegant; it has a body that is very silky and satiny, while Chambertin has greater finesse, but needs more time to reveal itself—it is more serious and discreet.”

There is a marked difference in size, too: Chambolle-Musigny is relatively small, covering five hundred acres, of which 180 are Premier Cru—the appellation has 24. There are also two Grand Cru climats, Bonnes-Mares, which links its vineyards to those of Morey-Saint-Denis, and Musigny, overlooking the Clos de Vougeot. The prestigious Premier Cru site Les Amoureuses, however, is doubtless on their level.

Méo-Camuzet Frère & Sœurs, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Feusselottes ($390)
Les Feusselottes is a large climat located in a geological hollow between Chambolle-Musigny and Les Charmes; in general, the vineyard faces southeast, but a slight undulation makes for a variety of microclimates. Sitting on a wide alluvial fan spreading out from the Combe Ambin, Les Feusselottes has the deepest and richest soil of Chambolle-Musigny’s Premier Crus. Distinguished by this red, silty earth, the high proportion of limestone results in the wines’ pronounced mineral character.

 

 


Méo-Camuzet Frère & Sœurs, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Cras ($390)
The hillside on which Les Cras lies curves slightly around towards the west into the Combe Ambin, providing a unique terroir that makes Les Cras markedly different than many of the other top Chambolle-Musigny vineyards, offering more sunlight exposure than those on slopes that face due east. The limestone-marl soils are similar to Bonnes-Mares, but with higher clay content, giving the wines a little more muscle—the clay contributes minerals and hard-to-extract moisture to the vines, but the topsoil (even on the traditionally heavier lower slopes) is markedly shallow.

 

 


Vougeot

The Vougeot commune should be distinguished from its most famous vineyard, Clos de Vougeot, since it also encompasses several other fine climats (several of which are Premier Cru) and has a reputation for excellent white wines as well as reds—rather unusual for the Côte de Nuits. Even red wines from the tiny appellation are allowed to add up to 15% ‘accessory’ varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris.

Deriving its name from the small Vouge river, Vougeot (both the Clos and the satellite climats) owes its reputation to the powerful abbey of Cîteaux, who established these vineyards in the 12th century. The best wines of Vougeot are among the most masterful in Burgundy, succulent and mellow allowing a seamless balance between elegance and delicacy and meaty fullness.

Domaine Alain Michelot, Clos Vougeot Grand Cru ($370)
Entirely walled, Clos Vougeot is iconic—one of the best known Grand Crus in Burgundy. It covers 125 acres of land, second in size only to Corton, and is equally famous for its fragmentation: It is divided into 100 different parcels owned by nearly as many producers. This creates quality issues; prior to this territorial crumble, grapes from the various microclimates in the vineyard could be blended to create a single harmonious wine. Now, a producer relies on his/her little slice of glory, and may not always produce Grand Cru-quality wares. It is safe to say, however, that the Michelot family makes a consistently wonderful Clos Vougeot, ripe with balanced fruit and soil tones.

 

 


Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair

Cousin to Vicomte Liger-Belair of La Romanée fame, in 2001 Thibault Liger-Belair took over storied family property in Nuits-Saint-Georges, reclaiming vineyards which had been contracted out to various share croppers and creating a new domaine under his own name. The properties include some of the most hallowed vineyards in Burgundy: The Grands Crus of Richebourg and Clos de Vougeot, as well as the Premier Cru of Les Saint-Georges that is one of the few vineyards in modern-era Burgundy to be considered for promotion to Grand Cru.

Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair, Clos Vougeot Grand Cru ($490)
The grapes are drawn from an acre-and-a-half located in the southern part of the appellation, at the corner of the wall separating the Echézeaux and Clos-Vougeot; it was planted in 1948 in long rows (almost 700 feet long) on three different soils: one, with a high limestone/clay ratio, then a terroir filled with small stones, and lastly, fine silt. Harvesting is manual with 40% whole clusters; 50% of the wine is aged in new barrels between 18 to 24 months.

 

 


Domaine Méo-Camuzet

Located in the heart of Vosne-Romanée, Méo-Camuzet’s 35 acres extend through some of Burgundy’s top Crus. So much sub-dividing within families underlines the drama that is Burgundy’s legacy that it rare enough for a grower to have enough vines to be able to bottle one Grand Cru. Méo-Camuzet has six.

This is in part the work of the late Henri Jayer, one of Burgundy’s legendary winemakers. Henri spent over forty years farming parcels from Méo-Camuzet under his own label, and for three years, he mentored Jean-Nicolas Méo as he prepared to retire.

Opting to spend his time in the cellar, Jean-Nicholas has put the vineyards in the hands of Christian Faurois, the son of one of domain’s original métayeurs—a sort of sharecropper who tends the land for a portion of the produce. Beside the six Grand Crus astounding grands crus (Richebourg, Clos de Vougeot, Echézeaux, Corton Clos Rognet, Corton Les Perrières, and Corton La Vigne au Saint), Méo produces ten Premier Crus from the communes of Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-St-Georges, Chambolle-Musigny, and Fixin.

Domaine Méo-Camuzet, Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru ($590)
Jean-Nicolas Méo asks and answers: “Is this a wine which expresses the Cistercian rigor which gave birth to it? No, its image is rather that of a refined gentleman.”

The 7-acre plot that the domain owns is near the top of the vineyard where there is less than 16 inches of topsoil and roots must work their way down through the cracks in the rocks to find water. About a third of the vines were planted in 1920, another third in 1960. Extraction is the name of the game in vinification and leads to remarkable length on a picture-perfect Clos Vougeot.

 

 


Domaine François Lamarche

Sixth-generation winemaker Nicole Lamarche has taken her 28 remarkable acres, from which she produces fourteen wines, and re-established the property as one of the top estates in Vosne-Romanée. This return-to-the-past of vineyards dating back to 1797, is the result of integrated viticulture, in which she manages each plot individually and restricts the use of new oak to produce wines that are paradigms of elegance and fragrance—the obligation of all fine Burgundies.

“We are graced with outstanding terroir,” Lamarche maintains. “Our vines are planted in soils of oolite and limestone that contain plenty of iron, giving it the ability to produce full-bodied, well-structured wines with deep color and an excellent capacity for aging.

Domaine François Lamarche, Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru ($390)
The monks who tended Clos de Vougeot for nearly a thousand years clearly counted their blessings; it is also one of the few Grand Crus large enough to have multiple lieux-dits within it. Lamarche has three parcels—one near the château by Mugneret-Gibourg; one in the middle near Petit Maupertuis and one along the road by Faiveley. The gentle extraction and long ageing have given us wine for the ages.

 

 

 


Flagey-Echezeaux

Flagey-Echézeaux is commune, not an appellation, and as such, it tends to get a cursory nod in the region, even though it is home to the famous Grand Cru vineyards Echézeaux and Grands Echézeaux; its non-Grand Cru wines are sold as Vosne-Romanée or the generic regional Bourgogne appellation.

Like the Clos de Vougeot (from which they are separated only by a wall), the most famous vineyards of Flagey were founded by the monks of the abbey of Cîteaux in 12th and 13th centuries. Terroir is fairly homogeneous, with clay overlying Bajocien limestone, but there are a number of climats with more diverse soils consisting of marls with pebbly at mid-slope, and higher up, deeper soil with red alluvium, yellowish marl to create a highly prized mosaic.

Domaine François Lamarche, Échezeaux Grand Cru ($390)
From parcels in Les Champs Traversins, Les Cruots and Clos Saint-Denis, making up about three acres with vines, on average, 30-years-old. Nicole Lamarche works with very low yields, which alongside the Domaine’s delicate extraction results in a supremely elegant expression of this terroir.

 

 

 

 

 


Vosne-Romanée

Originally named just Vosne, the village took the suffix Romanée in 1866 in honor of its most prized vineyard, La Romanée—a habit of many Burgundy communes of the era. From the perspective of a wine lover, it may be grouped together with neighboring Flagey-Echézeaux; while the villages are entirely separate, their finest vineyards are clustered together immediately north of Vosne-Romanée and take that latter title.

The entire surface area of Vosne-Romanée Grand Crus vineyards (excluding Flagey-Echézeaux) is 67 acres, about half the size of the single Clos de Vougeot climat just across the commune boundary. Even so, the commune of Flagey-Echézeaux with the Echézeaux and Grands-Echézeaux sites included, has more Grand Cru surface area than the Premier Crus and Villages combined. Vosne-Romanée is divided between six individual climats—La Grande Rue, La Tâche, Richebourg, La Romanée, Romanée-Saint-Vivant and the most famous, Romanée-Conti. The best vineyards lie on the mid-slope of the Côte d’Or escarpment. Around these prestigious sites are dotted the Premier Cru vineyards and some entirely unclassified land—the difference between a Grand Cru vine and one deemed worthy only of the regional Bourgogne appellation is sometimes a matter of a few feet.

Domaine Méo-Camuzet, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Chaumes ($490)
The 16-acre Les Chaumes vineyard is on the southern end of Vosne-Romanée, somewhat low on the slopes, giving it unique terroir: The limestone-based marl under the vineyard is deeper and richer than in the climats further up the Côte d’Or. It is one of the warmer climats in Vosne and often among the first to be harvested. The domain owns five acres planted in the 1950s and the 1970s.

 

 

 

 


Domaine Méo-Camuzet, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Aux Brûlées ($890)
As fans of the classic custard-based dessert know, ‘brûlée’ means ‘burnt.’ And although the grapes here don’t quite ignite, they tend ripen quickly in this 11-acre site at the northeastern end of Vosne-Romanée. There is little topsoil and the vineyard tends to be dry, exaggerating the effect; Méo-Camuzet’s plot was planted in the 1930s. This is a wine intended to age slowly, and as such, it treated to top Bertranges and Tronçais oak.

 

 


Domaine François Lamarche, La Grande Rue Grand Cru ‘Monopole’ ($990)
One of six Grand Cru vineyards Vosne-Romanée, it is by far the youngest, only given Grand Cru status in 1992, 56 years after the rest of Vosne-Romanée’s top vineyards. It is also one of the smallest at just under four acres. The Lamarche family acquired the vineyard as a wedding present in the early 1930s, and have been the sole proprietors ever since. During the mid-20th Century, they exchanged some small parcels of vines with Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, expanding La Grande Rue to its current size.

 

 


Nuits-Saint-Georges

With the village of Nuits-St-Georges itself as the fulcrum, the robust appellation extends to the north as far as the border of Vosne-Romanée, while the southern section lies partly in Nuits-Saint-Georges and partly in Prémeaux. The wines from each section are unique in style and according to experts, with differences defined (in the main) by the lay of the land. The soils in the northern sector are built around the pebbly alluvium that washes down from up-slope, or in the low-lying parts, around silty deposits from the river Meuzin. In the southern sector the alluvia at the base of the slopes originate in the combe of Vallerots where there are deep marly-limestone soils, while at the top of the slope, the soil has nearly all eroded away and the rock is near the surface. In both regions, favored exposures are mostly to the east or southeast.

Producing predominantly red wine, Nuit-Saint-George bottles display the muscularity and breeding most sought after in Burgundy—the ability to improve with bottle age. When young, the wine display aromas of cherry, strawberry and blackcurrant, and when matured, leather, truffle, fur and game.

Méo-Camuzet Frère & Sœurs, Nuits-Saint-Georges ($190)
A blend of domaine and négoce fruit, and although the latter is purchased on the vine, it is not handle in the typical manner of the négociant. Several interventions are carried out during the growing season and most of these plots are monitored for several years, which makes it possible to get to know them as well as the grower does. Jean-Nicolas describes it ‘like renting land.’

 

 

 

 


Domaine Alain Michelot ‘Vieilles Vignes’, Nuits-Saint-Georges ($89)
Two vineyard sites are used for sourcing grapes, one in the southern part of the village itself, where vines range from 65 and 77 years old, and another in Primeaux-Prisey, with vines about 50 years old.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Domaine François Lamarche, Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Cras ($160)
Les Cras and La Richemone are adjacent Premier Crus, but Les Cras is lower on the slope, and the soils are shallower, stonier and contain more clay, giving the wines not only more meat, but more bone with a distinct chalkiness. Lamarche’s plot is smaller than an acre.

 

 

 

 

 


Domaine Méo-Camuzet, Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Aux Murgers ($390)
Aux Murgers is a mid-slope vineyard at the northern end of the Nuits-Saint-Georges commune, and boasts a southerly exposure. This wine is from a single-vineyard parcel on one of the family’s most primely positioned slopes, using vines planted between 1965 and 1972 on soils fairly evenly divided between clay, Comblanchien limestone, sand and gravel.

 

 

 

 


Domaine Alain Michelot, Nuits Saint Georges Premier Cru Aux Chaignots ($150)
Chaignots is a 13-acre vineyard located in northern part of Nuits-Saint-Georges. Situated mid-slope on limestone soils, the wines tend toward earthy elegance. Because there are no Grand Cru vineyards in Nuits-Saints-Georges, the appellation’s considerable reputation rests on its excellent Premier Crus like this one.

 

 

 

 


Domaine Alain Michelot, Nuits Saint Georges Premier Cru Les Vaucrains ($160)
Les Vaucrains is one of the most highly regarded vineyards in Nuits-Saint-Georges; the 15-acre site is on the steep, upper slope of the Côte d’Or, just below the line on the famous escarpment where vineyard becomes forest, with the Premier Cru vineyards of Les Chaboeufs and Chaines Carteaux lying north and south respectively. It is the vineyard’s position at the top of the hill that accounts for the weight of these wines; the calcareous soil is quite rocky as the process of erosion has sent much of the smaller material down the hill. The lack of water in this free-draining soil makes for concentrated grapes.

 

 


Domaine Alain Michelot, Nuits Saint Georges Premier Cru Les Cailles ($150)
Les Cailles lies between Les Saint-Georges and Les Porrets-Saint-Georges in the southern part of the commune; it is a 17-acre mid-slope climat often considered worthy of Grand Cru status. The vineyard’s position is perfectly angled to take advantage of the morning sunlight; as it slopes gently toward the east, the vines are bathed in sunlight for a good portion of the day. The soil is pebbly and sandy, and derives its name from this; ‘cailloux’ is the French term for a pebble.

 

 


Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair, Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Saint-Georges ($290)
Of Nuits-Saint-Georges’ 41 Premier Cru vineyards, Les Saint-Georges is arguably among the top three. Located halfway between Premeaux-Prissey and Nuits-Saint-Georges, this site has been famous for many centuries as a source of excellent wines and is considered by most to be of Grand Cru quality. The soils are deep, made up of several different kinds of limestone, giving a complex and varied terroir containing influences from Comblanchien, Premeaux and oolite limestones, with enough clay throughout to provide hydration as well as good drainage. The slope is fairly gentle and angled toward the south-east, both of which make for an excellent environment for raising top-flight Pinot Noir.

 

 

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Posted on 2024.04.02 in Vosne-Romanée, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, Vougeot, Morey-Saint-Denis, Premeaux-Prissey, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Marsannay, France, Burgundy, Wine-Aid Packages  |  Read more...

 

Rosés Deserve To Live A Little: 2021 Rosés in Full Bloom, Show Character And Dimensions With Two Years of Maturity … 13-Bottle Pack $299 (Limited)

Any remaining stigma attached to rosé remains within the dark soul of the stigmatized; those of us on the right side of wine appreciation understand that rosé is enjoying the fruits—quite literally—of its historical labor. This is especially true in France, where the past several decades have seen rosé coming into its own.

Since 2000, white wine sales in France have plateaued while rosé’s have doubled; over that same timespan, red wine has declined in popularity at such a staggering rate that even if rosé does not win over a single new fan, it may well surpass red wine sales in France in the future.

As a springboard to spring, we will offer a fresh look at this old style through a series of French rosés that span the country from north to south in a 13-bottle package for $299.


Start With Red Grapes

Of the five thousand or so red wine grapes on the planet, the number that are unsuitable for making rosé is precisely zero. And yet, in France, more than 40% of rosé production comes from Provence—an appellation that alone accounts for more than 5% of rosé production worldwide. And in Provence, wine production is dominated by four grapes: Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. The other rosé-producing appellations (as can be surmised) use the red grapes best suited to their terroirs.

Often considered the benchmark rosé in France, Provence has four appellations that each yield distinct wines; Coteaux d’Aix en Provence allows Cabernet Sauvignon to be added to the blend and this results in arguably the most structured rosé from the appellation.

In Bordeaux, Cabernet’s ancestral and spiritual ground zero, the rosé tradition is less pronounced; the AOP for pink production is slightly under nine thousand acres, about half the area for white and a fifth that of red. In Bordeaux, however delicious, rosé is definitely an afterthought. Unsurprisingly, the pink wine is also made from Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Loire makes its own claim on the style, and is certainly the preference of many. Rosé de Loire and Val de Loire cover Anjou and Touraine, where—taking advantage of the cool climate—the quality is uncompromised; lightly textured, immediately drinkable with raspberry and red currant flavors. Anjou rosés, grown near the Atlantic, are made from Grolleau, Gamay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Pineau d’Aunis.

From the icy limits of the north to the sweltering extremes of the south, styles of rosé are determined by many factors but there is certainly a strong case to made for them all.

Making A Rosé With The Capacity To Age, To Evolve, To Stand Up To Food

Even rosé’s most ardent fans may think of it as fun and festive springtime beverage; a crisp quaff meant to be consumed chilled within a year or two of vintage, and for the most part, they are not wrong.

There is a second style, however—one deserving not only of notice, but of understanding: The age-worthy rosé.

All wines have a unique dynamic created by a combination of terroir and target. In other words, a winemaker is bound by soil but not by motive; a number of factors go into the rather complex process of creating a rosé, beginning in the field and carrying through to the cellar. In order to create a wine that has the capacity to mature and improve, decisions are often made before the first vine is planted. Some grapes seem to have a natural affinity for aging—acidity and tannin levels are a large part of it, and so is a susceptibility to noble rot, since a concentration of sugars acts as a natural preservative. In making rosé, neither palate-parching tannin nor botrytis are particularly desirable, but acidity—in balance with natural fruit-forward dryness—is key.

So is having a full, unadulterated, un-doctored body: According to Nicole Rolet of Chêne Bleu in Vaucluse, “Some love-’em-and-leave-’em rosés are made with additives like tartaric acid to achieve the pale color and crisp flavors. That’s the stuff that’s generally going to condemn your wine to a short shelf life. It separates out over time, and the wine will fall apart and lose its aging potential.”

The inconvenient truth, however, is there are no surefire indicators of which rosés are meant to improve with age and which are meant for tonight; color can fool you and so can price; both are indicators that the product may be suited for the long-haul, but is not reliable enough to be fail safe. Color of the bottle may actually be a better gauge than color of the varietal since a producer will not package a seriously-structured rosé in a clear bottle.

The best strategy is to trust your purveyor, so naturally, you can safely assume that the wines offered below are the product of winemakers who took time and care to craft their wares, whenever you choose to drink them.

The 2021 Vintage: A Moment To Celebrate Classical Freshness And Moderate Alcohol Levels?

Something that can be said for certain about Vintage 2021 in France: Every region except Provence registered an output decline. Yields were 13% lower than the average of the last six vintages and 20% lower than the 2020 harvest, while the hardest hit AOPs (Loire Valley, Burgundy, Savoie and the Jura) were down 34% over 2020. This is the result of the worst French frost-related agricultural disaster since systematic record-keeping began in 1947, with 98% of the country affected and the wine industry given a particularly brutal wallop. Neither did the summer do its part; it was wet and cool in the north, dry and hot in the south.

And now the silver lining: Low yields may be a financial hardship on wineries, but they can be a quality godsend for consumers. Cool weather often leads to enhanced acidity (freshness) and lower sugar content, translating to lower alcohol-by-volume.


THE SOUTHERN RHÔNE 

So dark in color are some of the Southern Rhône’s most celebrated rosés that they nearly defy the ‘blush’ concept. Of the vivid ruby tones found in Tavel, for example, Thomas Giubbi (co-president of the Syndicat Viticole de l’Appellation Tavel winemakers association) said, “We think of our wines as light red wines.”

But that isn’t fair to the category. In its very soul, rosé qualifies as neither red wine nor white wine. It may be (although rarely is; the practice is frowned upon) a blend of the two, but in nearly all cases, it is produced by crushing red-skinned, white-fleshed grapes and allowing a period of maceration lasting from a few hours to a couple days in which the juice is ‘dyed’ to a specific level; alternately, there is méthode saignée, which is essentially fermented free-run juice from red wine pressings.


Gigondas

Like nearby Châteauneuf-Du-Pape, Gigondas depends heavily on Grenache. Based on appellation laws, both the reds and the rosés must be made from up to 80% Grenache, with at least 15% comprised of Syrah and Mourvèdre. The grapes are grown at a higher elevation than Châteauneuf’s, often in terraced vineyards threaded with limestone under the looming Dentelles de Montmirail, with rocky, sandy, free-draining soils on the flatter, lower-lying land to the north and west. Although rosé only accounts for a scant 1% of the production in the entire appellation, it tends to be noteworthy stuff—serious and gastronomic a wine that recalls the rosés of yore that drank well into the years that followed.

 1  Domaine Saint Damien, 2021 Gigondas Rosé ($33)
Spreading over 112 acres, of which around 40 are in Gigondas, Domaine Saint Damien is the brainchild of Joël Saurel and his son Romain, who have lifted the estate—named for the patron saint of doctors—from humble roots to becoming one of the most reputable domains in Southern Rhône. This especially true in his superlative Gigondas, where fruit is drawn from the lieux-dits of Le Gravas, Pigières, La Louisiane, Les Souteyrades, La Moutte and La Tour.

80% Cinsault (planted in 1970) and 20% Syrah (planted in 2000) in the organically-farmed lieu-dit of La Moutte, this small production wine undergoes cold maceration for six hours followed by slow pneumatic pressing and fermentation in stainless steel tanks with occasional lees stirring. Delicately tinted, it shows rose petal, honeydew, lychee, pineapple and garrigue with a hint of pepper and crushed rock on the finish.


Côtes-du-Rhône

Côtes-du-Rhône is one of the largest single appellation regions in the world, covering millions of acres and producing millions of bottles of wine of varying degrees of quality. In Southern Rhône, it encompasses the majority of vineyards and includes hallowed names like Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The latter wines prefer to use their individual, highly specific ‘Cru’ names, but the truth is, many generic Côtes du Rhônes may come from plots just outside official ‘Villages’ boundaries—some only across the road or a few vine rows away from top vineyards—and among them, you can find wines with nearly the same level of richness at a fraction of the cost.

 2  Domaine Les Grands Bois, 2021 Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé ($16)
If more sommeliers became vignerons, the world might see more low-yield, unfiltered gems like those of Marc Besnardeau, who worked as a wine steward in Paris before following his dream into the vineyard. With wife Mireille Farjon, he took over Domaine Les Grands Bois, whose vines were planted in 1929 by Mireille’s grandfather. The estate is well-situated between St. Cecile and Cairanne, and after selling initially to négociants, the couple began bottling at the estate in 1997. They replanted some fields with Syrah and Mourvèdre, bought new vineyards, and expanded their holdings to its current size, 116 acres spread across seven communes: Sainte Cécile les Vignes, Lagarde-Paréol, Suze la Rousse, Tulette, Cairanne, Rasteau and Travaillan.

60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Carignan grown on chalky clay and harvested from vines ranging in age from 15-60 years. The wine shows black raspberries, cassis and clementine in a spicy package that highlights anise and honey up front, and with aeration shows deeper savory notes of fresh earth, mushrooms, wildflowers and crushed stone.


 Domaine La Manarine, 2021 Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé ($22)
Created in 2001, Gilles Gasq established both the winery of Domaine La Manarine and the vineyards on a plateau northeast of Orange within the commune of Travaillan. He has expanded his holdings ever since, and now works with over eighty acres situated largely on ‘Le Plan de Dieu’—a terroir universally heralded for its deep, layered soils consisting of more than 60% hard limestone ‘galets’ which giving a unique minerality to the wines. Gasq says, “Our climate is typically Mediterranean: Relatively hot and dry with rains coming in the form of thunderstorms in late August; this helps provide the vines with the water necessary to finish the maturation process. Grenache is our main grape variety as it performs particularly well on this type of soil and gives wines more elegance and aroma than is otherwise common.”

60% Grenache, 40% young-vine Mourvèdre and 10% Syrah produced solely via direct-press and aged in stainless steel and concrete vats on fine lees prior to being bottled in the early spring following harvest. It is a friendly wine, full of spring berries and pink flowers with a fresh acidity that makes it a refreshing quaff as well as a potentially age-worthy bottle.


Ventoux

Ventoux is a large wine region in the far southeast of the southern Rhône, 25 miles northeast of Avignon and bordering Provence. Covering 51 communes, the vines are planted on the western slopes of Mt. Ventoux, a sort of ‘stray’ Alp removed from the range and towering over the landscape for miles around. Ventoux terroir and varieties are typical for Rhône, although noteworthy are the region’s Muscat produced for table grapes, which has its own AOP—Muscat du Ventoux.

 4  Château Valcombe ‘Epicure’, 2021 Ventoux Rosé ($22)
Originally owned by Paul Jeune of Domaine Monpertuis, he opted to sell to Luc and Cendrine Guénard who worked under Jeune’s tutelage during the transition period. They now are proudly independent vignerons with a compulsion to further improve this jewel; their first efforts can be seen and tasted in the 2009 vintage. Certified organic in 2013, the 70 acres of Valcombe are situated in the shadow of the mountain, reaching one thousand feet. Four red grape varieties (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and Cinsault) balance four white grape varieties (Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Bourboulenc); many vines over sixty years old, although parcels of Carignan and Grenache were planted in 1936. Soils are essentially limestone covered with the area’s famous galets, although deep in the subsoil, an unusual blue-inflected clay helps define the unique characteristics of Valcombe wines.

Vinified via the direct press method from a blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Cinsault, 10% Carignan and a touch of Clairette; all vines are of an average age of 40 years. It has a rich, focused plush texture with strawberry and peach in the foreground and an earthy and intriguing dose of eucalyptus behind.


Luberon

The list of grape varieties permitted in the relatively youthful Luberon appellation (created in 1988) is long, but Syrah and Grenache dominate plantings and must both be present in reds from here. Mourvèdre is also considered a primary red grape. Rosé represents about half the region’s output, and are generally made from the permitted red grapes, although they may legally incorporate up to 20% of white varieties, primarily Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Ugni Blanc and Vermentino.

 5  Domaine de La Bastide du Claux ‘Poudrière’, 2021 Luberon Rosé ($25)
Domaine de La Bastide du Claux was born in 2002 when Sylvain Morey—whose family’s roots in Chassagne-Montrachet goes back 400 years—uprooted. In the hills of Luberon, he chose to transplant some of his Burgundian know-how to Provence’s up and coming appellation. In the heart of the Luberon Natural Park, Morey cultivates a fragmented vineyard spread over 42 acres. Finding Luberon’s rich combination of soils, climates and exposures suited to a number of different grapes, he planted 14 varieties, each location chosen with circumspection. “When I arrived, there were not many growers bottling their own wines,” he says. “The vast majority of the production in Luberon was made by local cooperatives, and many of them valued quantity over quality and began to replant vineyards so that they could produce the maximum amount of grapes possible and save money with machine harvesting. These trends made it possible for me to affordably purchase interesting, low-yielding old-vine parcels that were no longer valued.”

50% Grenache from 55-year-old vines, 30% Cinsault, and 20% and Syrah, from south facing vines around the villages of Peruis and Ansouis. The grapes were pressed directly, the majority without maceration, with a portion of Grenache and Cinsault spending six or so hours on their skins after the pressing. Everything is done in cement and the wine ferments naturally, resulting in a great mineral character that shows its soil influence clearly and offers subtle red fruits and vigorous acidity along with a salty tang that typifies Mediterranean rosé.


PROVENCE

Tucked into the southeastern corner of France, Provence covers 125 miles of coastland—no vineyard in the appellation is more than 25 miles from the Mediterranean. And as suits the French Riviera, 3000+ hours of sunshine annually (paired with strong Mistral winds to keep things dry), allow vines to thrive in a hot, maritime climate without risk of fungal disease. Even so, as conditions become even hotter, a new way of thinking has begun to animate this deeply traditional region: Older varietals like Carignan, Barbaroux and Calitor being replaced by more commercially viable grapes like Grenache, Syrah and even Cabernet Sauvignon, although native standbys Mourvèdre, Tibouren and Vermentino continue to hold their ground.

There are pockets of well-received red and white wines throughout Provence, but the name of the game is pink; 82% of the Provençal output is rosé, nearly all crisply acidic and bone dry and in color, ranging from pale coral when made predominantly from Grenache to more deeply tinted Syrah-based wines. In fact, each shade has an official name based on a color chart developed by the Centre de Recherche and d’Expérimentation sur le Vin Rosé: Peach, Melon, Mango, Pomelo, Mandarin and Redcurrant.


Bandol

Conventional wisdom has taught us that wine grapes fare best in places where nothing else will grow; rocky, water-starved soil on precipitous hillsides make vine roots work harder, ramifying and branching off in a search of nutrients and, in consequence, producing small grapes loaded with character. Cue Bandol, the sea-and-sun-kissed region along the French Riviera, which is not only good country for grapes, it’s good country for the soul. Made up of eight wine-loving communes surrounding a cozy fishing village, Bandol breaks the Provençal mold by producing red wines that not only outstrip the region’s legendary rosé, but make up the majority of the appellation’s output. In part that’s due to the ability of Bandol vignerons to push Mourvèdre—generally treated as a blending grape in the Côtes-du-Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape —to superlative new heights.

 6  Château Pradeaux, 2021 Bandol Rosé ($41)
Situated on the outskirts of the town of Saint Cyr-sur-Mer, directly on the Mediterranean between Toulon and Marseilles, Château Pradeaux has been in the hands of the Portalis family since the French Revolution. In fact, Jean-Marie-Etienne Portalis helped draft the Napoleonic Code and assisted at the negotiation of the Concordat under Napoleon the First. Today, the domain is run by Cyrille Portalis, who continues to maintain the quality traditions of his forbears, assisted by his wife Magali, and their sons Etienne and Edouard. Although vineyards are planted almost exclusively to old-vine Mourvèdre, Château Pradeaux Bandol Rosé is composed of Cinsault as well.

Although the skin contact during a slow, gentle press only lasts about 24 hours, that is plenty of time for the perfectly ripe Mourvèdre to work its magic, and the addition of Cinsault (about half the cépage) creates an ideal structure that will allow this wine to evolve with grace. Layers of wild strawberry, blood orange and an herbal undertow of garrigue unfold beautifully.


Cassis

The entire vineyard area of Cassis is under five hundred acres, but most of the properties overlook the sea, which moderates the heat and creates an ideal climate for vine growing; the commune is known primarily for its herb-scented white wines, principally from Clairette and Marsanne (about 30% of Cassis production is rosé) and despite its name, it does not produce Crème de Cassis.

 7  Domaine du Bagnol, 2021 Cassis Rosé ($41)
Sitting just beneath the imposing limestone outcropping of Cap Canaille, 700 feet from the shores of the Mediterranean, Domaine du Bagnol is the beneficiary of the cooling winds from the north and northwest and as well as the gentle sea breezes that waft ashore. Cassis native Jean-Louis Genovesi and his son Sébastien run the 18-acre estate.

Grenache, Cinsault and a touch of Mourvèdre combine to produce a wine that is perfumed with red-currant and strawberry aromas and provides a crisp and refreshing wash of citrus and crushed stone/slate minerality on the palate.

 


Côtes-de-Provence

The massive Côtes-de-Provence sprawls over 50,000 acres and incorporates a patchwork of terroirs, each with its own geological and climatic personality. The northwest portion is built from alternating sub-alpine hills and erosion-sculpted limestone ridges while to the east, and facing the sea, are the volcanic Maures and Tanneron mountains. The majority of Provençal vineyards are turned over to rosé production, which it has been making since 600 B.C. when the Ancient Greeks founded Marseille.

 8  Domaine Gavoty ‘Grand Classique’, 2021 Côtes-de-Provence Rosé ($30)
Roselyn Gavoty (the eighth generation of Gavoty to helm her family’s Roman-era farm; her ancestor Philémon acquired it in 1806) is on the cutting edge of viticulture. Situated along the Issole River in the northwestern corner of the Côtes-de-Provence, surrounded by oak and pine forests, the Gavoty family has worked the land without synthetic chemicals for decades, obtaining organic certification in recent years. The vineyard covers 150 acres in the commune of Cabasse (‘harvest field’ in the old Provençal language). Roselyn says, “Our vines are planted on clay-limestone soil, and produce a majority of rosé by the saignée method, involving bleeding off a portion of red must to create structure and depth.”

‘Grand Classic’ contains Grenache and Cinsault in roughly equal proportions, with Carignan playing a minor role. Rather than being pressed immediately after harvest, the wine macerates for several hours, and the saignée and first-press juice are vinified separately and blended until the wine displays its uncanny equilibrium—racy acidity wed to gleaming fruits and just the right amount of earthiness.


Bouches-du-Rhône

‘IGP’ (Indication Géographique Protégée) is a Europe-wide category that focuses on geographical origin rather than style and tradition, giving winemakers greater stylistic freedom than ‘AOP’ (Appellation d’Origine Protégée). As such, the boundaries of Bouches-du-Rhône are geographical, with the Durance river delimiting the north and the Rhône river making up the western border. The soils of the region tend to be poor, free draining and made up of anything from limestone-clay to gravel and sandstone; the lack of water forces vines to produce more concentrated grapes, leading to more concentrated and flavorful wine.

 9  Mas de Valériole ‘Grand Mar’, 2021 IGP Bouches-du-Rhône – Terre de Camargue Rosé ($25)
Mas de Valériole’s eighty-acre vineyards reflect diversity in multiple soil types: sand, clay, limestone, and alluvial loam deposited by the Grand Rhône. The reliably steady mistral wind blowing in from the Mediterranean mitigates the heat and facilitates the domain’s chemical-free approach to farming while ensuring modest alcohol levels in the wines. The property was acquired by the Michel family in the late 1950s and is now run by Jean-Paul and Patrick Michel. Produced from a variety of cépages, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, plus crossings like Caladoc (Grenache and Malbec) and Marselan (Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon) which are particularly well-suited to the Camargue’s climate, Mas de Valériole’s wines combine the breezy freshness of Provence with a sense of wildness and an underlying salinity that is representative of Bouches-du-Rhône.

‘Grand Mar’ Rosé is 100% Caladoc, fermented with indigenous yeasts (unusual for rosé production) in stainless steel tanks to preserve freshness. The wine is enticing with vibrant notes of ruby-red grapefruit and white peach behind crackling acidity—a wine that never met a salmon dish it did not love.


LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON 

Sun-baked and sensual, threaded with rivers and capped by the mountains of Corbières, Languedoc-Roussillon relies on over a hundred grape varieties to produce more than a third of all French wine. Historically, this wine was copious, inexpensive and rather forgettable—everyday wine for the tables of ordinary people. Since the mid-twentieth century, however, with the advent of irrigation in the foothills and coastal plains of Southern France coupled with improved techniques, the region now boasts fewer vines that produce wines of increasing quality. A jigsaw of soils and a broad swath of microclimates creates ideal terroir for the warm-weather, full-bodied varietals often associated with the Rhône, while sharp diurnal shifts allow for the preservation of aroma and natural acidity, resulting in wines of extraordinary balance. A further plus is that Languedoc-Roussillon’s hot, dry climate discourages the growth of mildew and fungi, making synthetic pesticides and herbicides less necessary. As such, it has become a proving ground for organic and biodynamic producers.

 10  Mas Jullien, 2021 Languedoc Rosé ($35)
Among the early pioneers of the modern ‘Larzac style’ is Olivier Jullien: His forty terraced acres, with two distinct soil types—calcaire and argilles—was established in 1985, and his domain, Mas Jullien, is a paradigm of the region. Having witnessed first-hand Languedoc’s tradition of over-cropping to produce bulk wine, he recognized that the economic plight of local independent farmers may have failed to take advantage of the appellation’s promise. With a degree in enology to shore up his conviction that the area had the potential to produce world-class wine, he showed his iconoclastic hand early by pulling out vineyards and re-planting trees in an effort to restore balance to the local ecosystem. His wines are delightful examples of this balance, imbued with the distinct characteristics permitted by elevation and proximity to the sea.

A saignée rosé made from juice that is bled off the skins of red grapes from Jullien’s vineyards on the Terrasses-du-Larzac. A blend of Cinsault, Carignan and Mourvèdre, though the blend can change from vintage to vintage. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel with native yeast, aging in Stockinger foudres of mixed ages. It is a structured and somewhat wild wine of deep, earthy complexity showing garrigue and wet stone behind strawberry and watermelon.


BORDEAUX

Today, rosé is a serious wine in Bordeaux, but still, ‘serious’ must be viewed on a sliding scale compared to the reds. Even this is an improvement; in days not too long ago, it was not only uneconomical to turn red wine grapes into pink, it was generally only made in weaker vintages, when juice might be bled off reds to make a ‘weak red’ or darker pink or from fruit from vines too young to make viable reds. In 2010, the Bordeaux Wine Board reviewed its marketing strategy and the role of Bordeaux in the international market and started to actively encourage Bordeaux rosé as a means of attracting younger drinkers to old-guard wines. In part, the campaign has succeeded, and sales of rosé (as opposed to ‘clairet’, the darker red version that is often the product of saignée rather than direct-press) have grown. Fresh Bordeaux rosés remain a unique beast in that they have a blue tinge, with no hints of orange-salmon in their youth, although with age, they fade toward this hue.

 11  Château La Rame, 2021 Bordeaux Rosé ($24)
La Rame’s fifty acres overlook the Garonne; they face south and the vineyards are planted in clay-limestone with an exceptional substratum marked by fossilized oyster shells dating from the Tertiary era. Further down the slope, where sandier soils predominate, the estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot thrive. The property was purchased by the father of the current owner, Yves Armand, at a time when the appellation had fallen out of favor. The family has undertaken to re-establish their Sainte-Croix-du-Mont AOP as an appellation to rival the great estates nearby.

A relatively new addition to the Rame portfolio, the grapes (80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot) are sourced from a five-acre parcel of younger vines on the flanks of a hill that descends towards the Garonne. The wine is produced via the direct-press method and is fermented in temperature-controlled vats for six months before it is bottled. It shows fine aromatic persistence with notes of red currant, raspberry and pear with a hint of banana. About 15,000 bottles are produced annually and only a few thousand are exported to the USA.


THE LOIRE VALLEY

Rosé de Loire adds yet another dimension to French blush. Extending across the Anjou and Touraine AOPs, it covers about 2000 acres and is responsible for more than a million gallons of rosé every year. Its color lends itself to dramatic descriptors ranging from ‘flamingo pink with a hint of poppy’ to ‘gleaming raspberry pink with a glimmer of violet.’ These wines are generally dry, but there is a subset that is off-dry and another subset, Crémant, that sparkles. There is even a ‘Primeur’ (or ‘Nouveau’) style, a much fruitier wine that is almost entirely free of tannins—a result of being fermented using the Beaujolais method of carbonic maceration. Like the red wines of Loire, the principle grapes used in the rosé are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grolleau (Noir and Gris), Pineau d’Aunis, Gamay and/or Pinot Noir. Beyond color, Rosé de Loire is delightful elegance in a glass; Rosé d’Anjou in particular is noted for its reflection of terroir.


Saumur

As a fair representation of the Middle Loire, Saumur—radiating outward from the town center into neighboring administrative departments of Vienne and Deux-Sèvres—is primarily Chenin country, with a strong tradition of producing sparkling wines, for which the geology is particularly well suited. The town sits on a mound of tuffeau—the porous, sandy-yellow rock which underpins several of the central Loire’s top vineyard areas. Many miles of underground cellars have been cut directly into this soft rock, providing a cool, temperature-moderated environment perfect for storing méthode traditionelle wines during their lees aging. The reds, making up around 20% of the output, are built around Cabernet Franc, although Cabernet Sauvignon and Pineau d’Aunis can figure into the blend in minor quantities. Rosé gets afterthought focus and is only around 5% of total output; the appellation for rosé wines ‘Cabernet de Saumur’ has the same borders as Saumur AOP and is reserved for off-dry wines with at least 10 grams per liter residual sugar.

12 Château de Chaintres ‘Les Hirondelles’, 2021 Saumur Rosé ($32)
The de Tigny family has not only owned this property since 1938, a good number of the vines planted back then are still in production. In 2017, the estate hired Jean-Philippe Louis as cellar master, and he immediately began to transform the vinification philosophy with a precise, intuitive and non-interventionist hand. The property’s tuffeau makes for Chenin of vigorous acidity and penetrating precision as well as transparent Cabernet Franc, which thrives in the heat-retaining sand that covers the limestone, possessing a complexity and longevity that extends far beyond its fresh, finesse-driven profile.

100% Cabernet Franc, pressed directly, fermented spontaneously, and aged in steel with a bare minimum of sulfur. Floral up front with rose petal and geranium notes that meld into strawberry and mandarin flecked with flint over a chalky framework.


Anjou

Anjou sprawls across 128 communes, mostly south of the towns of Angers in the west and Saumur in the east. Monasteries played the largest role in developing Anjou’s wine trade, as each enclave had its own walled vineyard. But it was French royalty who secured the region’s reputation, beginning nearly a thousand years ago when Henry Plantagenet became King Henry II of England. Anjou’s terroir is a matter of black and white: it’s divided into two subsoils as different as day and night. First, Anjou Noir, composed of blackish, dark, schist-based soil along the south-eastern edge of the Massif Armoricain, then, Anjou Blanc, lighter-colored soils made up of the altered chalk at the south-western extremity of the Paris Basin.

 13  Château Soucherie ‘L’Astrée’, 2021 Rosé-de-Loire ($30)
Perched on a rise overlooking the Layon river, Soucherie is considered one of the most beautiful domains in Anjou. Roger-François and Pascal Beguinot have transformed 90 acres of limestone, clay and schist into multiple lieux-dits spread across Anjou, Chaume, Coteaux-du-Layon and Savennières. Around the winery, 54 acres are planted on a southern hillside sheltered from the winds; the 11 acres in Chaume contain vines over 70 years old while the four acres in Savennières (Clos des Perrières), loaded with shale, produce wines noted for their minerality. Maître de chai Thibaud Boudignon is leading the charge towards 100% organic viticulture through the principles of ‘agriculture integrée’—a ‘whole farm’ management system intended t deliver more sustainable agriculture by combining modern technologies with traditional practices according to a given site and situation.

The wine is dry and mineral-driven, produced from 70% Grolleau and 30% Gamay planted to clay, sandstone and schist soils. A ‘direct press’ rosé with élevage in cuve and bottling in April of the spring following harvest. The nose of white peach is underscored by herbal notes of dandelion greens and pineapple sage are complimented by a palate juicy with strawberry and watermelon notes.

 

 

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Posted on 2024.03.22 in Luberon, Ventoux, Terrasses du Larzac, Gigondas, Côte-de-Provence, Rosé de Loire, Anjou, cassis, Bandol, France, Bordeaux, Wine-Aid Packages, Languedoc-Roussillon, Loire, Provence, Southern Rhone  |  Read more...

 

Gigondas Steps Out of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s Shadows: A Dozen Southern Rhône Producers Make The Case Gigondas 2021 & 2020 Ten-Bottle Pack For $399 + A Rhône With Substance, But No Pretense 12-Bottle ‘Cairanne’ Pack For $159 (Limited)

The long shadow cast by Châteauneuf-du-Pape over Southern Rhône is bit like Mount Doom’s shadow over Mordor, only with a bit more garrigue and spice. So synonymous has the powerhouse cru been with style and standing in the region that nearby appellations cannot escape comparisons—generally to the unfavorable side—and until recently, could not really compete.

As such, it is high time somebody challenged the CdP supremacy, and Gigondas seems the appellation best poised to make a clean break from its glossier embossed cousin.

It’s a struggle that began in 1971, when Gigondas became the first of the Côtes du Rhône Villages appellations to be elevated to Cru status. Gigondas vineyards are found along the base and slopes of the first Dentelles de Montmirail foothills, where the combination of limestone soils on the Montmirail slopes to the east, and rocky, sandy, free-draining soils on the flatter, lower-lying land to the north and west create an ideal terroir across a multitude of microclimates, each with its own distinct claim to fame.

Southern Rhône River Crus

The Rhône is generally divided into north and south; but they are by no means equal in either style or output. Whereas the north contains some heavy-hitting Crus (Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage, to name a couple), it only represents 5% of the Rhône’s total production. In Northern Rhône, the sole red wine grape allowed is Syrah.

The south, fanning out from both banks of the Rhône River, is not as Syrah-focused, relying on a cornucopia of other varieties—Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Cinsault for reds and for whites, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Clairette and Viognier, although many reds from the region—depending on AOP regulations—make use of white grapes in red wine blends to add floral highlights and soften harsh tannins.

The south is further divided into nine individual Crus—Beaumes des Venise, Cairanne (elevated in 2016), Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Tavel, Cairanne, Rasteau (changed in 2009), Vacqueyras and Vinsobres. Each has its own legion of fans, and each expresses the multiple terroirs of the south with individual interpretations: Tavel, of course, is known for its dry rosé, Vinsobres for it’s vividly acidic reds, Cairanne for its fleshy, Grenache-dominant quaffers, Lirac for its juicy, complex reds and fresh, floral whites. Southern Rhône’s most famous appellation, however, is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and for good reason: These wines are impressively structured, deep in black fruits and spice with hints of roasting meats and occasionally a dash of funk; top examples run an equally impressive price tag.

Which brings us to Gigondas. Once referred to as ‘the poor man’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape’, quality improvements have been so striking over the past decade or so that it is high time we started thinking of it Châteauneuf-du-Pape affordable equal, perhaps ‘the smart man—and woman’s—Châteauneuf-du-Pape.’

Gigondas vineyards at the Dentelles de Montmirail foothills.

Geological map of the Dentelles de Montmirail formations. The town of Gigondas is in the middle. (Courtesy of Gargantuan Wine)

Gigondas, A Red That Takes You Into The Woods And To The Shore

Bastien Tardieu is the lead oenologist at family-operated négociant Tardieu-Laurent, which works with more than 100 growers throughout the Rhône Valley.

He’s also one of Gigondas’ most vocal flag-wavers: “Quality has improved immeasurably the last ten years,” he says. “Advances can be attributed to Cru appellations like Gigondas being held to the same restrictive regulations as Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Topography also plays a role: Gigondas, along with neighboring Vacqueyras and Beaumes de Venise, sits along the slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail, the ragged limestone formation that towers above the Southern Rhône. The outcrops of the Dentelles protect against the morning sun and extend the growing season. Its altitude allows for a wide day-night temperature range that maintains acidity and balance in the grapes.”

The ideal Gigondas displays a bouquet evoking fresh forest berries, classic potpourri and botanical herbs that are complemented by exotic spice notes that build in the glass. The wine should stain the palate with intense raspberry, cherry cola and lavender pastille, flavors that steadily deepen with aeration.

Like most of Southern Rhône, Grenache is the appellation’s backbone, augmented by Mourvèdre and Syrah and—minus Carignan—a handful of other traditional Rhône varieties are ‘blend-approved.’

But the unique flavors of Gigondas extend beyond the familiar garrigue, which takes herbal hints from the nearby woodlands and native scrub bushes—wild thyme, sage, rosemary and lavender. According to Louis Barruol, owner of Château de Saint Cosme, a Gigondas estate that dates to the 15th century, “There is an unmistakable freshness about Gigondas wines—a quality that does not arise from altitude or acidity alone. It is a saltiness and minerality reminiscent of the sea.”


Gigondas 2021 & 2020: Ten-Bottle Package For $399

The producers featured in this week’s package (10 bottles 2021 and 2020 Gigndas, numbered below) are sensitive to the traditions of their appellation and the nuances of their terroir, and are convinced that a return to the herbal essence of Southern Rhône—something occasionally lost amid Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s pursuit of power and ultra-ripe fruitiness—should be their signature distinction.


 

Domaine de Font-Sane

As in much of modern Gigondas, especially among forward-looking producers, sustainable agriculture has become less an option and more a mandate. Such is the case at Domaine de Font-Sane, where Véronique Cunty-Peysson and her husband Bernard run the160-year-old estate.

“Fertilization is done every year by adding organic compost,” says Véronique. “These natural products help maintain the humus levels and promote good exchanges between the soil and the plant, and quality is always preferred over quantity.”

Having recently completed his Master’s degree in International Wine Business, their son Romain has joined the team and speaks to the unique quality of the 40 acre estate: “We have the advantage of a rich variety of soils boasting five unique terroirs—clay-limestone, pebbly, sandy, alluvium, sandy loam. The blending of these makes for a complete wine enriched by the multiple characteristics that each soil type gives.”

In 2020, Font-Sane obtained a new certification called HVE (High Environmental Value); this a program awarded to wineries who take a ‘lutte raisonnée’, or reasoned approach, from wine cultivation to bottling, by promoting environmentally friendly practices.

 1.  Domaine de Font-Sane ‘Tradition’, 2021 Gigondas ($25)
An exhuberant and youthful wine, full of fiery red fruit, savory complexity and fine-grained tannins. Three-quarters Grenache blended with around 25% Syrah and small amounts Mourvèdre and Cinsault, it’s big wine at 15% abv., but one which is quite well integrated and does not seem to need a lot of cellar time—drink to enjoy tonight.

 

 

 

 


 

Domaine des Pasquiers

“Provence is naturally a land of vine,” says Philippe Lambert, who along with his brother Jean-Claude and their children, Matthieu and Perrine, run des Pasquiers, founded by their grandfather in 1935. The sprawling estate, over 200 acres, stretches across multiple appellations including IGP Vaucluse, Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages ‘Plan de Dieu’, Côtes du Rhône Villages ‘Sablet’ and Gigondas.

“Our situation is at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail,” Jean-Claude explains, “where terraces of red clay are covered by pebble stones which reflects the sun’s heat at night and keep coolness during day. The slopes of Sablet are gentle and the sandy soil and gravel brings finesse and mineral qualities to the wine. Finally, Gigondas, where the soil, combination of the Secondary to the Quaternary Periods, produces structured and unique terroirs for very complex wines.”

 2.  Domaine de des Pasquiers, 2020 Gigondas ($30)
50% Syrah and 50% Grenache, with a pure Provençal style replete with blackberries, sandalwood, garrigue and white pepper. Tannins are ripe and the acids striking, but both are beautifully integrated into the flesh of the wine and create a backbone that suits both early drinking and long-term cellaring.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Pierre Amadieu

Amadieu family roots have been digging into Gigondas soils for nearly a hundred years, but with each new generation comes a new focus.

For Pierre Amadieu Jr. it is paramount to improve wine quality every year: “We look for elegance, length on the palate and a ‘Burgundy’ freshness in our wines. A careful parcel selection allows us today to elaborate different cuvées of Gigondas which express each of our exceptional terroirs in its own way.”

The family affair includes three of his cousins: Henri-Claude, the eldest son of Claude and Muriel, who heads the sales department, his brother Jean-Marie—an agricultural engineer and oenologist, who works closely with Pierre in the winery, and their sister Marie who caters to their private customers. With production at over 50,000 cases annually, there is work enough to go around.

The Amadieu situation inspires a bit of eno-envy. It is located on north/northwest-facing hillsides in the north-east Gigondas where altitudes range from 750 and 1600 feet. With 338 acres surrounded by garrigue and holm oaks, Amadieu is the largest landowner in the appellation.

Strolling the vineyard, Claude Amadieu waxes philosophically on these beautiful acres: “Our exposure gives a perfect aeration to vines and avoids an excessive period of sunshine in full summer. It brings our wines freshness and allows long maturation without risking drought or bitterness. The expression of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault (for rosé) and Clairette (for white wine) on these terroirs among the highest of the appellation, is very personalized—our wines are powerfully spiced.”

 3.  Pierre Amadieu ‘Romane Machotte’, 2021 Gigondas ($31)
80% Grenache, 20% Syrah from 45-year-old vines grown on hillside terroirs of limestone and marl. An expressive wine with blackberry, boysenberry and smoked plum notes laced with violet and white pepper on the nose while the palate shows dusty earth, sweet tobacco and charred mesquite.

 

 

 

 

 


 4.  Domaine Grand Romane ‘Cuvée Prestige – Vieilles Vignes’, 2021 Gigondas ($36)
65% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, 15% Syrah. Domaine Grand Romane is a unique vineyard located on the highest part of Amadieu estate, 1600 feet above sea level, where the pebbly limestone terroir is poor and forces the vines to put down deep roots. Black fruits and cinnamon appear in the bouquet, and the silken mouthfeel is washed with generous creamy berries, pepper and vanilla with a long finish showing flavors of grilled meat.

 

 


 

Domaine Saint-Damien

With well over a hundred acres spread between Gigondas, Plan de Dieu, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages appellations, IGP and Vin de France, the terroir at Saint-Damien is varied. But in Gigondas, the focus is on plot specific sites, including the lieux-dits Gravas, Pigieres, La Louisiane, Les Souteyrades and La Moutte.

Joël Saurel, along with his wife Amie and winemaking son Romain, runs the estate in its modern incarnation, but the Saurel family had been tending vineyards her since 1821, selling to négociants. Joël began producing wine in 1996, and in 2012, the vineyards were certified by Agriculture Biologique.

Gigondas remains the flagship of the estate; Romain says of the family’s Gigondas acres: “Most of the vines are quite old and cropped low. The wines are aged in large, traditional concrete vats and old foudres and usually bottled on the young side to preserve freshness.”

 5.  Domaine Saint-Damien ‘Vieilles Vignes’, 2021 Gigondas ($41)
80% Grenache planted in 1964, 20% Mourvèdre planted in 1977 in several lieux-dits located on the lower terraces of the Dentelles de Montmirail. The grapes are hand-harvested and fermented on skins in large concrete vats for five weeks before ageing another year in old foudres. The wine shows a touch of cedary oak on the nose alongside the black cherries and subtle garrigue notes ending in a gentle wash of dusty tannins and a hint of licorice.

 

 

 


 

Domaine des Florets

Jerome Boudier has owned the 20-acre Domaine des Florets since 2007—and he followed a circuitous path to get there. After advising CAC companies for 25 years on environmental protection and sustainable development, he wanted to launch a second career in direct contact with nature and make wine by integrating sustainable development concepts into the art of vinification.

He is almost zen in his approach: “In winemaking, as in all pursuits in life, there are no ready-made solutions. We must constantly seek the right balance and identify the necessary compromises to build a sustainable and benevolent model. My mission goes far beyond making good wine, but it must also be well-made wine that honors sacred nature.”

In the field, he puts this philosophy into practice by choosing an environment favorable to species beyond grape vines, developing the rich biodiversity inherent in terroir. He has nice spot with which to work—the top of the Dentelles de Montmirail at an altitude of 1650 feet, on steep terrain protected by high limestone rocks.

The same deep thinking attends Boudier in the cellar: “Throughout the winery, I strive to limit inputs and limit consumption as much as possible. Beyond the water and biodiversity aspects, a low-carbon and eco-responsible approach is favored from planting to packaging. We have a duty to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions through our practices and the carbon storage capacity of our soils.”

 6.  Domaine des Florets ‘Synchronicité’, 2020 Gigondas ($53)
From a mountaintop vineyard, the grapes (95% Grenache and 5% Syrah) undergo a gentle cold maceration, and a two-to-three-week long vatting punctuated by pigéage, following which the wine is aged for a year in oak. It shows crushed red fruit up front—strawberries, raspberries and pomegranate—and then with aeration, savory notes appear as subtle cocoa powder and pie spice.

 

 

 


 

Domaine Raspail-Ay

Aÿ is a name irrevocably linked to Champagne; remove the umlaut and the story becomes Gigondas. Domaine Raspail-Ay is run by single-minded producer Dominique Ay, whose portfolio is limited to a single bottling of Gigondas—no more than 6000 cases annually—and a handful of rosés, consistently rated among the most iconic wines of the region.

Ay’s are traditionally produced wines; classical blends given classical treatments in concrete vats and aged in large oak foudres. With the imposing rock formations of the Dentelles de Montmirail (the last outcrop of the mighty Alpine chain) looming as a backdrop, this estate represents the embodiment of the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

His plantings are 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre, all on the plain in front of the quaint village of Gigondas; old vines and limited yields are responsible for naturally high level of ripeness and concentration.

Ay describes the process after harvest: “We destem entirely and ferment in cement vats, filling each with a mix of the three varieties as they ripen during the harvest, keeping track of what parcels and varieties wind up in each vat with a small chalkboard on the wall. There’s a modest single pump-over per day, some pigéage before the vats settle on their own. The assemblage is done soon after malo, and the wine is then racked off into a range of large foudres and some demi-muids as well as a portion that remains in cement.”

In the last several years, as the domain achieves near cult-like status, Dominque’s son Christophe and daughter Anne-Sophie have joined him in the endeavor.

 7.  Domaine Raspail-Ay, 2020 Gigondas ($51)
The 2020 vintage produced many superlative wines, and this is one of them: 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre, destemmed and aged in concrete vats, 600-liter oak casks and large, neutral foudres, it offers upfront notes black raspberry, kirsch, and garrigue mingled with exotic spices and subtle hints of violet.

 

 

 

 


 

Domaine de Cabasse

The three-star hotel at Domaine de Cabasse, housed within a traditional Provençal ‘mas,’ may garner more press, but the working winery’s 90 acres of vines (30 of which surround the hotel) produce world class Gigondas. The name Cabasse comes from the Italian ‘Casa Bassa,’ meaning ‘the house under the village’—a reference to the14th century when the pope used to live in Avignon.

In 1991, the Haeni family, originally from Switzerland, acquired the domain to focus on the vineyard, their true passion. It is currently run by the gregarious Benoît Baudry and his wife Anne.

Branching beyond Gigondas into Séguret and Sablet and Gigondas, the varietal selection covers the gamut of Southern Rhône standbys—Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Counoise, Carignan, Clairette along with a host white grape varieties, which Cabasse bottles as Côtes-du-Rhône Villages appellation. The plots are not overly large and are surrounded by hedges and trees that protect the vines from the cold mistral which can blow violently from the north. The soils are mainly composed of weathered limestone with varying clay, sand and stone.

 8.  Domaine de Cabasse ‘Jucunditas’, 2020 Gigondas ($51)
A traditional blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, and 10% Mourvèdre; red cherry syrup and raspberry compote appear up front in both aroma and palate, with blackberry, plum, and pepper rounding out a long finish that whispers garrigue.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Domaine Les Pallières

Woven into the foothills of the brooding Dentelles de Montmirail, Les Pallières has been a force in Gigondas requiring reckoning since the fifteenth century. And up until the end of the last century, it was in the hands of the same family.

In 1998, Daniel and Frédéric Brunier of Vieux Télégraphe were convinced to take a shot at reviving Les Pallières from a couple decades of neglect, and the Pallières’ renaissance soon followed. The raw material was superb, with vineyards ranging from a few hundred feet to over one thousand in altitude, with varying proportions of sand and clay interwoven with limestone scree that has descended from the Dentelles. Among the improvements seen to immediately were reinforced terraces to allow for better water retention and a new winery building capable of receiving harvested parcels individually in gravity-fed tanks. The many lieux-dits, once blended into a single cuvée, have been separated into two in an effort to best express two remarkable personalities. Cuvée ‘Terrasse du Diable,’ encompasses the low-yielding vines from the higher altitudes while Cuvée ‘Les Racines’ highlights the vineyard parcels surrounding the winery—the origin of the domaine with the oldest vines—with the emphasis on freshness and extravagant cornucopian fruit.

 9.  Domaine Les Pallières ‘Les Racines’, 2021 Gigondas ($58)
Les Racines is a parcel-selection of the oldest vines in the lieu-dit Les Pallières. 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah and Cinsault (co-planted) and 5% Clairette; the palate is high-toned and elegant, lush with black cherries, garrigue, olives and crushed stones.

 

 

 

 

 


 10.  Domaine Les Pallières ‘Terrasse du Diable’, 2021 Gigondas ($53)
90% Grenache, 5% Mourvèdre, 5% Clairette from a 25-acre vineyard site of red sandy clay, limestone and scree—vines average 45-years-old. A very representative array of Provençal high-notes, plum, cherry and forest berries wreathed in black olive, licorice, mint, eucalyptus and rosemary.

 

 

 

 


Domaine Les Pallières ‘Terrasse du Diable’, 2018 Gigondas ($58)
90% Grenache, 5% Mourvèdre, 5% Clairette. A blend of rustic elegance, with elements of smokey plum near the surface and chalky tannins beneath the surface.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Domaine Santa Duc

At Santa Duc, in the verdant environs of Gigondas, heritage is as deep as the iron-rich soils. Six generations have leapfrogged each other as caretakers of the storybook estate at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail hills and each has brought to the party a unique respect for terroir and tradition. Yves Gras, Domaine Santa Duc’s winemaker for 32 years, became a standard bearer for innovation with his elegant wines; he replaced barrels with 3600-liter casks to tone down the oak and championed a greater percentage of Mourvèdre used in cuvées. His ongoing quest for cooler terroirs capable of producing great wines ultimately took him from the plateau of Gigondas to Châteauneuf-du-Pape (10 miles to the southwest), where he was able to purchase several choice parcels.

With the 2017 vintage, Yves’ son Benjamin Gras took over the domain and quickly proved himself to be as much a visionary as his father, switching immediately to biodynamic agriculture and building a state-of-the-art winemaking facility on the property. Benjamin has the passion, the Gras DNA, but also the educational pedigree to buoy his future: After obtaining a diploma in oenology at the University of Bourgogne in Dijon, he spent time at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Bodega Vega-Sicilia, and the OIV MSc in Wine Management program gave him the unprecedented opportunity to visit more than two dozen wine producing countries and study their techniques, their terroirs, and their traditions.

Domaine Santa Duc ‘Clos Derrière Vieille’, 2018 Gigondas ($57)
An iron butterfly, with both weight and lyrical lightness from the limestone-rich clos behind the village of Gigondas; 80% Grenache and 10% each Mourvèdre and Syrah, the wine is resinous with orange peel, pomegranate and raspberry. smoked garrigue, fresh thyme and lavender.

 

 

 

 

 


Domaine Santa Duc ‘Les Hautes Garrigues’, 2018 Gigondas ($73)
50% Grenache, 50% Mourvèdre—this is Santa Duc’s flagship, a biodynamic gem sourced from 75-year-old vines planted on the sandy soils of the Les Hautes Garrigues lieu dit. It offers a brilliant bouquet of ripe wild strawberries, dried plums, blueberries, ground pepper, garrigue and sweet leather with a long, mineral-driven finish.

 

 

 

 


The Pinnacle

 

Domaine des Bosquets

“Since Julien Brechet took control of his family’s 64-acre estate in 2006, Domaine des Bosquets has been moving steadily up the Gigondas hierarchy, and in 2016 they produced not only some of the best wines of the appellation but of the entire southern Rhône.”

That song of praise, well-deserved, is from Antonio Galloni’s widely read ‘Vinous’ and reflects the spirit of the Domaine des Bosquets estate. Prior to taking over, Julien Brechet apprenticed at Château de Vaudieu under Philippe Cambie, and at Bosquets, he begun to map out his terroirs through careful studies and micro-vinifications. Rather than rob his Villages-level Gigondas of its best parts, his parcel wines are only made in limited quantities. Among the lieux-dits Julien farms are Jasio, La Colline, Le Plateau, Les Bosquets, Roche, Les Routes, and Les Blânches, where the planting principal grape variety is Grenache (70%), with 20% Syrah, 8% Mourvèdre, and 2% Cinsault with tiny percentages of other permitted varieties, both red and white.

His estate is now certified organic, a process he started in 2015, and he’s begun implementing biodynamically practices. Cover crops are encouraged and are plowed under to provide nutrients to the soils and ensure the vines penetrate deep into the subsoil. The average age of his vines is 50 years, and the soils range from sand to various gravels and types of clay – some with high levels of chalk. Average yields are 23 hl/ha for vines destined for the village Gigondas, while it drops down to as low as 15 hl/ha for some of the parcel wines. Harvests are manual to ensure a strict selection of fruit, and fermentations are now entirely with indigenous yeasts.

With these farming changes, Julien has noticed better stem maturation at harvest and uses up to 30% whole clusters. His Gigondas wines are aged for two winters in French oak barrels ranging in size from 228 liter to 2300 liter. He prefers seasoned barrels to new and ages his parcel wines entirely in neutral French oak.

Domaine des Bosquets ‘Le Regard Loin’, 2020 Gigondas ($288)
The culmination of Julien Brechet process of strict selection and micro-cuvée blending fruit from La Colline, Le Plateau, Les Routes, and Les Roches lieux-dits. 70% Grenache with 20% Syrah, 8% Mourvèdre and 2% Cinsault with tiny percentages of other permitted varieties, both red and white, the wine spends 12 months in second-fill oak barrels before blending, then another 12 months in sandstone amphorae before bottling. A nice mix of black raspberries, blueberries, licorice, and herbes de Provence.

 

 


RECENT ARRIVAL


 

Cru ‘Cairanne’: The Birth Of A New Cru In Southern Rhône

Cairanne picked up Cru status in 2016, and with the stroke of that bureaucratic pen, no longer had to label itself a Côtes du Rhône Villages. Found east of Orange, the soils of Cairanne are predominantly built of alluvial limestone from several local rivers and streams; red, iron-rich earth over sandstone bedrock is also found throughout the appellation. Topography ranges from the glacial plateau to the south of the town to the slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail foothills to the north and west.

“This new appellation status was only made possible thanks to the passion, determination and high expectations of a bunch of local enthusiasts,” says Denis Alary, president of the local winegrowers syndicate, told Wine Spectator. “No decision could better illustrate Côtes du Rhône-Villages dynamism.”

Cairanne is often called ‘the gateway to the Southern Rhône’, combining the typically northern Syrah grape with the much heat-loving Grenache and Mourvèdre. The Mediterranean is dry with plenty of sunshine, and most importantly, vineyard health is heavily influenced by the Mistral wind.


 

Domaine Alary
Cru Cairanne

Denis Alary of Domaine Alary considers himself a perfectionist as well as a grand idealist; his seventy acres of vineyard, entirely in Cairanne, is where he goes to relieve the stress that accompanies the loftiness of his ambitions …

“Alone,” he says: “Without a cell phone.”

As he took over the estate from his father Daniel, the oenologist is now passing responsibility to his son Jean-Étienne who brings an international reputation to this dry, dusty corner of France, having vinified at New Zealand’s Seresin, Australia’s Henschke and in France at Confuron-Cotetidot in Burgundy.

Domaine Alary ‘Vieilles Vignes’, 2020 Cairanne ($23)
From old vines grown on the terraces of the Dentelles de Montmirail; grapes are hand-harvested separately, sorted and a separate vinification of each different grape variety is made. Bottled without fining, the wine shows profusion of black fruit flavors and soft spices on the nose and a rich full-bodied palate sustained by a mineral touch.

 

 

 

 


A Rhône With Substance, But No Pretense: Buy A Dozen For $159

Cave de Cairanne Chantecôtes ‘Les Terres Vierges’, 2019 Côtes du Rhône (A Dozen for $159)
First, the difference between a ‘cave’ and a ‘domaine’: Created in 1929, the Vaucluse-based Cave de Cairanne is a collective of 65 winemakers who work over 1300 acres of vines in the Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages, Villages Plan de Dieu, Cru Cairanne and Cru Rasteau. Chantecôtes is located in Sainte Cécile Les Vignes; the wine is 50% Grenache, 40% Mourvèdre, 10% Syrah showing macerated raspberries, a round and racy palate filled with spice and smoke.

 

 


Southern Rhône Vintage Journal

2021 – Classic and Fresh

After six blessed harvests in a row, 2021 brought earth back to earth: Temperatures were unpredictable throughout the growing season, without heat spikes, and random thunderstorms later in July served to test vignerons, including a torrential downpour in mid-September right at harvest-time. Early-budders like Syrah, having been jeopardized by spring frost and the late-ripening grapes also found themselves under threat. Despite this, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Carignan fared well, while the quality of Grenache was mixed, some of it (almost unaccountably) particularly good. The best of 2021 wines focus on red rather than black fruit, on lean but elegant tannins rather than any attempts to overcompensate with an ambitious extraction regime or indulgent use of oak.

2020 – Silky and Tender

Fingers were crossed after a brief frost followed an early bud-break, but damage was light; flowering began in mid-May, two weeks earlier than 2019. Amenable conditions continued with hot weather from June, July and August, with the Mistral causing a bit of early damage, but ultimately breathed freshness over the vines all summer. A period of drought culminated in temperatures that peaked at 107°F on August 1. As might be expected, harvest came early, and overall, 2020 will be remembered as one of Southern Rhône’s finest. Sophie Armenier of Domaine de Marcoux (Châteauneuf-du-Pape) comments, “The maturity, the degrees of ripeness, the quantity and the sunshine—everything just came together!”

2019 – Rich and Balanced

Southern Rhône kept a nervous eye on heavy winter rains but in spring, precipitation remained at normal levels. The Mistral, which had been disquietingly calm in ’18, blew strongly in January and February, drying the leaves and removing concerns about mildew. Pleasant weather graced both March and April, the Mistral came back with a vengeance at the beginning of May, resulting in a few damaged leaves but otherwise aerating the vineyards and keeping the vines healthy. An even flowering in late May followed by a successful fruit set in June suggested, much to the growers’ relief, a vintage where yields would be normal. Then came the heatwave, with temperatures as high as 111°F in June, without much nighttime respite. With the lack of rain, this might have proved disastrous but for the high winter rainfall which had filled underground water reserves.

2019 is considered a heat-wave vintage in the Southern Rhône. Those who managed the vines correctly during the excess temperatures of the summer made superlative wines since the hot and dry conditions resulted in small berries with intensity and—crucially—freshness, thanks to the concentration of the grapes’ natural acidity. Growers who worked organically and biodynamically did especially well in ’19, as their vines are so well adapted to manage nature’s whims.

2018 – Supple and Perfumed

2018—largely remarkable throughout France—was hit and miss in Southern Rhône. Although the winter and spring were wet and mild and further rainfall in June caused difficulties with mildew throughout Southern Rhône. Producers sprayed, but a large amount of the crop was still lost, and Grenache, the south’s mainstay grape, is particularly prone to rot and the result was devastating. Winemakers who typically used Grenache as a dominant component of their blends had to shift the focus onto others, chiefly Mourvèdre. Eventually, the damp weather dried up and a hot, dry summer took its place, and by the time it came to harvest, temperatures were high and producers had to work quickly when managing the grapes.

The wines tended to be more densely concentrated than typical with strong fruit flavors and structure. The reds of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vacqueyras and Gigondas were especially good. The whites suffered slightly from low acidity but still had good fruit character and are generally best suited for early drinking.

 

 

 

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Posted on 2024.03.05 in Côtes-du-Rhône, Gigondas, Cairanne, France, Wine-Aid Packages, Southern Rhone  |  Read more...

 

Champagne Haute Couture: Jean-François Clouet, An Outstanding Practitioner of Pinotism, Stitches Together Bouzy’s Finest Parcels into Grand Expressions

In any assemblage, individual grape varieties will find their niche; each performs according to its purpose and potential, whether it is power, perfume or polish. In Champagne, the Big Three—Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier—jockey for position in the hearts of Chefs de Cave, and although quality depends on location, the ability to eke out or find these locations is an indispensable tool in the belt of vignerons and the pinnacle of Champagne as an artform.

Jean-François Clouet, who was not only born and raised in Bouzy, but still lives in the 18th century village house built by his ancestors, is an example of this ideology at its finest. He says, “The vineyards are like beautiful fabrics, each one contributing textures and colors that once assembled, are transformed into a designer gown. Successfully pieced together, it is Haute Couture.”

The following wine selection represents Clouet’s slice of Champagne, a cellar where Pinot Noir rules but does not monopolize; it is terroir with the standing and privilege of its winemaker, and when it comes to Pinot-based Champagnes, an Eden for expression.

The Montagne de Reims: Pinot Noir Country

Located between Reims and Épernay, the Montagne de Reims is a relatively low-lying (under a thousand feet in elevation) plateau, mostly draped in thick forest. Vines find a suitable home on the flanks, forming a horseshoe that opens to the west.

So varied are the soils, topography and microclimates here that it is not possible to speak of the region in any unified sense. Grande Montagne de Reims, which contains all of the region’s Grand Cru vineyards, covers the northern, eastern and southern slopes of the viticultural area, and Pinot Noir plantings dominate at 57%, followed by Chardonnay (30%) and Meunier (13%). Its vineyards face a multitude of directions, and soil type varies by village, giving rise to a breadth of Pinot Noir expressions, as well as exceptional Chardonnay.

To the west, the Grande Montagne de Reims gives way to the Petite, whose bedrock is chalk, but softer than the chalk found further south on the Côte des Blancs. This sort, called ‘tuffeau’, is an extremely porous, sand-rich, calcium carbonate rock similar to what is found in wine regions of the middle Loire Valley.

Grand Cru Bouzy: The Epicenter Of Pinot Noir

A village known for its alcohol production named Bouzy? Almost as perfect as its situation on the south-facing side of the Grande Montagne de Reims. This exposure is ideal for ripening Pinot Noir, as its sister village Ambonnay—less than half a mile away—can also attest. Chalky soils provide stimulating freshness as well as housing the deep, cool cellars essential to aging Champagne.

Bouzy has more vineyard acres than citizens (924 to 850) and 87% of the former are Pinot Noir. On the now-defunct ‘échelles des crus’, Bouzy was rated 100%, which make it a Grand Cru village. In recent years, more emphasis has been placed on individual named-sites, either vineyards or portions of vineyards; each lieu-dit is said to possess its own personality which may be exhibited as such, or blended with the others to highlight specific qualities.

The Rare And Demanding Blancs de Noirs

All Champagne is food wine, but not many are ‘gastronomical.’ Meaning, of course, that the ethereal qualities of effervescence, along with high levels of acidity and a small amount of sugar, complement elements in almost any food, from simple poached salmon to red-hot Thai. But few Champagnes are powerful enough in aroma and palate potency to assert themselves as equals in complexity to gourmet dishes.

Many Champagnes are simply about the bubbles; in Blanc de Noir, we see the true emergence of Champagnes that are about great wines that happen to have bubbles.

Blanc de Noirs is made from Pinot Noir, Meunier, or both. The former brings bouquet and body; the latter, supple fruit and roundness. Both grapes, of course, have white flesh and are generally used to make white wine. With Blanc de Noir, a period of maceration on the skins allows the juice to soak up color, and with it, some of the character we associate with Burgundian Pinot Noir—especially, the ability to mirror qualities found in the particular soil in which it grows.

Upon release, a well-made Blanc de Noir is characterized by mouthfeel—a rich and structured texture—but perhaps even more so, powerful aromatics reminiscent of stone fruits, spices, honey, mocha, smoked wood and even a touch of leather. With vintage Blanc de Noir, allowed cellar time, tertiary notes emerge—coffee, cocoa, dried cherry and more mature yeast flavors of brioche and toast.


Champagne André Clouet

Haute Couture Viticulture

In the imagination of most casual drinkers, Champagne is typified by the Grandes Marques, and especially, the Cuvée Prestige bottles. 24 names have enjoyed a marketing monopoly for many decades; brand loyalty, as in all commodities, is built on reputation and unyielding allegiance.

Somewhat less prominent are Champagne’s grower-producers; farmers who make wine. And compared to the Les Grandes Marques (Billecart-Salmon, Bollinger, Krug, et al), Champagne André Clouet has been around longer.

The Clouet family traces its Bouzy roots to 1492 and at one time was the official printmakers for the court of King Louis XV; the classically pretty labels that grace their Champagne bottles today pay homage to their aesthetic history. Clouet grapes are sourced exclusively from 20 acres of coveted mid-slope vineyards in the Grand Cru villages of Bouzy and Ambonnay.

 

Jean-François Clouet

Born and raised in Bouzy, Jean-François Clouet still lives in his family’s 18th century home; with inimitable wit, he refers to himself as ‘a combination of winemaker and circus ringmaster.’ In fact, the French refer to him as ‘Chef de Cave’—the cellar master. He is arguably the region’s most qualified historian and insists that, without acknowledging the role that the past has played on his winemaking decisions, you can’t truly appreciate his wines.

“To understand Champagne as a whole you need to understand its political history,” he says. “Attila the Hun, the Crusaders, the Templars and Marie Antoinette have all walked here; the birth of the monarchy and the Battle of the Cathalunian Fields took place nearby. In 1911, my great grandfather designed the label that graces our bottles today; I like the idea of the work of human hands in pruning, performing the same actions as my grandfather and even the Romans, who planted vines here 2000 years ago.”

Champagne André Clouet ‘Silver’, Grand Cru Bouzy Brut Nature ($51)
Clouet’s ‘Silver Label’ Champagne is made entirely with Pinot Noir from the Grand Cru village of Bouzy, mostly from the 2010 vintage (so that it has a lot of age and complexity to it already). While this cuvée has no dosage, it was aged in a former Sauternes barrel and bottle-aged for longer than the standard, resulting in additional richness. The wine displays notes of brioche and cream with buttered pastry, citrus, and a lightly oxidized apple note.

*click photo for more info

 

 


Champagne André Clouet ‘Silver’, Grand Cru Bouzy Brut Nature ($99) 1.5 Liter
A little bit of sugar is unnecessary to help this medicine go down, but a smaller ratio of cork to vino is definitely beneficial. The magnum version of the Silver Label.

*click photo for more info

 

 

 

 

 


Champagne André Clouet ‘The V6 Experience’, Grand Cru Bouzy Brut ($58)
According to Jean-François Clouet, “Pinot Noir does not mature directly, in linear fashion. Upon reaching its sixth year, it passes into a phase known as ‘The Whirlwind.’ Propelled by an unseen force it reaches outward, taking on another dimension. The wine becomes charged with energy and vibrations.”

V6—with a rocket on the label—refers to this mysterious sixth year; the wine is a blend of 80% Pinot Noir aged between 72 and 90 months on the less and 20% Pinot from the solera. It is dosed at 5 gram per liter, based on a liqueur of barrel-aged Chardonnay and refined sugar.

*click photo for more info

 

 


Champagne André Clouet ‘Grand Réserve’, Grand Cru Bouzy Brut ($370) 3 Liter
100% Pinot Noir from Bouzy. There’s nothing poetic about the term ‘3 liter’, but in Champagne parlance, this is a Jeroboam. It shows fresh, fine aromatics of apricot and yeast with a fruit-intense palate and a chalky-minerality and salty finesse on the finish with a nice jolt of lemony acidity.

*click photo for more info

 

 

 


Champagne André Clouet ‘Grand Réserve’, Grand Cru Bouzy Brut ($650) 6 Liter
Who’s your daddy? 6 liter is a Methuselah—not the largest bottling format made in Champagne, but the biggest that mere mortals are likely to encounter.

*click photo for more info

 

 

 

 

 


Champagne Andre Clouet ‘No 3’, Grand Cru Bouzy Rosé Brut ($58)
92% Pinot Noir, 8% vin rouge from Bouzy; the ‘3’ represents the style of the wine on an odd Clouet scale (inspired by Coco Chanel) where 1 is the lightest wine and 10, the richest. Driven by the chalky minerality of the terroir, the wine offers seductive notes of wild strawberry, raspberry, pomegranate, cherry blossoms, fresh red and pink flowers, crushed chalk, and orange zest.

*click photo for more info

 

 

 


Champagne Andre Clouet ‘No 3’, Grand Cru Bouzy Rosé Brut ($110) 1.5 Liter
The magnum format of the above.

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Champagne d’Auteur: Deeply Rooted, Daringly Innovative

It’s an interesting perspective: Terroir, not only as a sense of place, but as a sense of self. But of all the various elements that combine to make a wonderful bottle of wine—soil and sunshine, rain and rootstock—perhaps the most significant touch is the human one. Give two winemakers identical grapes, and they will make two different wines.

Says Jean-François Clouet, “A signature wine is one which expresses the philosophy or personality of a winemaker working in conditions of freedom and creativity. When surrounded by high quality fruit, and when dedicated to small volume production, the hand of the winemaker will be very present. Such a professional is free to play according to his own criteria, pampering the wine and trying methods that is, in many cases, outside the rules and production guidelines.”

Champagne Andre Clouet ‘Spiritum 96’, Grand Cru Bouzy Rosé Brut ($81)
“Rosés are usually enjoyed while they are still young and fresh,” says Jean-François Clouet. “But I was looking for that complexity and fullness that exceptional wines acquire only after a very long maturation. I didn’t want to offer a rosé that had merely aged well; I wanted to combine the freshness and youth of a rosé wine with the essence of a great vintage. The key element in accomplishing this feat was going to be the liqueur!”

That goal led Clouet to use a concentration half that of a classic liqueur, giving the wine a final proportion of 88% Grand Cru Pinot Noir, 9% Rouge de Bouzy 2018 and around 3% Liqueur de Millésimé 1996.

*click photo for more info

 

 


Champagne André Clouet ‘Cuvée 1911’, Grand Cru Bouzy Brut ($81)
At dosage of 0.5 grams per liter, 50% of the wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks and 50% in Sauternes barrels. 50% perpetual reserve with an assemblage that also includes four vintages: all of which are made from Grand Cru Bouzy estate-grown fruit. The wine is delicately perfumed with sweet rose petal and jasmine and framed in austere minerality and balanced autolytic notes. Despite the relatively recent disgorgement, the mousse presents itself as extraordinarily elegant.

*click photo for more info

 

 


Le Clos: Jewel In The Crown, Single Vineyard

A walled garden is of itself a place of mystery and promise; add Jean-François Clouet’s secret ‘Bouzy Black Powder’, a substance he claims is found within the enclosed vineyard that hosts “our most beautiful genetic combinations of Pinot Noir” and you have a real storyline. The northwest-facing Clos contains chalky subsoil in thick layer, with soil amendments that are entirely organic, but the magical properties of the black powder were known only to the Druids, and after much experimentation, himself.

What can be said without needling the fact-checkers is this: There are only four Grand Cru Clos in all of Champagne, and Clouet’s ‘Le Clos’ is among the best.

Champagne André Clouet ‘Le Clos’, 2012 Grand Cru Bouzy Brut ($320) 1.5 Liter
2012 is widely acknowledged as one of Champagne’s greatest vintages in decades, the result of a relatively warm winter moved into an extremely wet spring where both frost and a vicious hailstorm devastated yields. This cost growers, but benefitting drinkers as the reduced yields resulted in concentrated grapes that produced wines with great depth, complexity and aromatics along with balanced acidity.

This wine is only released in magnum format; the wine is aged in the Sauternes barriques of Château Doisy Daëne. The nose shows peach and almond evolving into a mineral finish quite reflective of the chalk terroir.

*click photo for more info

 

 


Champagne André Clouet ‘Le Clos’, 2009 Grand Cru Bouzy Brut ($380) 1.5 Liter
Vintage 2009: An exceptionally good vintage preceded by a dry winter that left the soils eagerly awaiting the spring rain, which came at an opportune time to ensure a successful budburst and flowering. After a stormy July, August delivered warm sunny days and cool, refreshing evenings as well as intense, dry heat that helped prevent rot and disease from taking hold. The resulting Champagnes tend to display rich, ripe orchard fruit reflecting the warm year and although acidity was far from searing, it was still very much present.

Bottled exclusively in magnums, the wine shows complex and dense scents of apple and cherry with a nice oxidative touch; chalk and discreet oak and mushroom aromas waft from the glass.

*click photo for more info

 

 


Champagne André Clouet ‘Le Clos’, 2007 Grand Cru Bouzy Brut ($320) 1.5 Liter
Vintage 2007: An unseasonably mild winter was followed by a sweltering April, prompting both early budburst and flowering. Then the rains began, signaling the beginning of an unusually cool and damp summer in which fighting rot and disease was an uphill battle. August finally brought warm weather and cleansing breezes which helped dry out the grapes, but harvest still came early, the result of the spring heatwave. Careful sorting was de rigeur, both in the field and in the cellar, and with due diligence the best producers were able to create wines of some merit.

‘Le Clos’, 2007 is one such wine. Post-harvest, the vin clair was fermented in stainless steel and selected barrels, with malolactic fermentations occurring there in these vessels respectively. En magnum.

*click photo for more info

 

 


The Magnum Effect

A magnum contains 1.5 liters of wine; a quantitative fact. Less understood is why Champagne producers consider this the ideal format for the vintage wines that connoisseurs intend to cellar for the long haul.

The reasons are several fold: First, since magnums hold twice as much as a standard 750 ml bottle but have the same ‘ullage’, or the space between the bottom of the cork and the wine’s surface, the wine’s exposure to oxygen is reduced in proportion. On a molecular level, this exchange of air and wine is key to the maturation process, generally leading to more complex flavors. The additional volume in a magnum also means that the wine is less sensitive to temperature fluctuations.

Autolysis is another chemical process in traditional sparkling wine production whereby yeast used for second fermentation in bottle breaks down and imparts flavor to the wine, especially the brioche/biscuit notes. In a magnum, the process is measurably slower since they have proportionally more glass surface than standard bottles, so there is more contact between lees on the inside of the bottle and the wine. This slows autolysis while greater contact with the yeast generates more roundness and greater complexity.


Millésimé Champagne: The Signature Of A Year

‘Millésimé’ refers to the process of harvesting, producing and bottling the grapes of a given year—a bit of information virtually always indicated on the label and the cork. Unlike terroir, which remains the same from year to year, Millésimé declarations are the result of exceptional weather in that site; a season in which the grapes achieve the perfect balance between two essential parameters, sugar and acidity.

It is a phenomenon that makes each Millésimé a special and rare Cuvée.

A vintage year is declared by the producer alone, and the well-known Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne cannot intervene. To reach this conclusion, the winemaker must recognize truly sublime characteristics in the vintage, meaning that the personality and aromatic intensity of the wines are such that they deserve special recognition. Additionally, since Millésimé Champagnes age for three to 10 years or more in the cellar before being marketed, it must be made from grapes with an ideal acid-sugar balance.

Interesting to note that Millésimé Champagnes may be declared in different years depending on the grape variety—an exceptional year for Chardonnay will not necessarily be so for Pinot Noir or Meunier, and vice versa.

Champagne André Clouet ‘Léopard’, Millésimé 2015 Grand Cru Bouzy Brut ($63)
A leopard can’t change its spots, but a Chef de Cave can change his Assemblage. This blend is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay—the Champagne ages and then ferments in Sauternes barrels. The grapes are sourced from 100% Grand Cru vineyards in Bouzy, and from clay-calcareous parcels that face south and south-east to make the most of the sun and to ensure that the grape ripening is total and balanced. The Pinot Noir is intended to provide body and volume on the palate while the Chardonnay offers chalky length. At 5 grams per liter dosage, the wine promises a minimum of 20 years improvement in the bottle.

*click photo for more info

 

 


Champagne André Clouet ‘Dream’, Millésimé 2015 Grand Crus ‘Bouzy & Le Mesnil-sur-Oger’ Brut ($63)
Founded in 1937, so remarkable is the terroir of Le Mesnil that 100% of its vineyards are ranked Grand Cru. It is situated at the heart of the prestigious Côte des Blancs, so-called (in part) because of the omnipresence of superb Chardonnay. East-facing slopes dominate the village, but vary from steeper inclinations close to the forest on top of the Côte des Blancs hill to almost flat land below the village.

The Chardonnay grapes are sourced as a grower swap for Pinot Noir, and the union of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Bouzy Chardonnay works to delightful effect. The tension and minerality of Le Mesnil is bolstered by the body and richness of Bouzy. Layered with spice, grapefruit and white peach.

*click photo for more info

 

 


The Vintage 2015: Champagne Is Heating Up

The 2015 vintage in Champagne has been referred to as ‘glittering.’ It was, for starters, the hottest vintage ever recorded in the region, and the extreme heat prevented the development of disease and rot; a few producers commented that these unusual circumstances meant their wines ended up adhering to organic standards purely through circumstance rather than intent. The intense heat ran from June through to August, with the end of August seeing a touch of relieving rain along with cooler nights. Along with being the hottest growing season on record, it was also one of the shortest: Harvest began late August and continued into early September.


Coteaux-Champenois Bouzy Grand Cru: Still Champagne

Covering the same territory as Champagne, Coteaux Champenois may be the wine world’s most celebrated oxymoron: Flat Champagne. By ‘flat’, of course, we are not talking about the week-old Chandon’s Brut in the back of the fridge or the after-effects of shaking a bottle of Cristal after winning the Grand Prix, but the intentional act of releasing a still wine from the same terroir that would otherwise undergo the extraordinary process used to create Champagne.

Spread across 319 communes, Coteaux Champenois producers are entitled to use seven varieties, alone or in tandem, including the Champagne staples Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier along with Arbane, Petit Meslier and the Pinot derivatives, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. In general, all these grapes thrive at region’s latitude (48 – 49° North) although like their sparkling counterparts, Coteaux Champenois wines tend to be dry and light-bodied with naturally high acidity. The reds are much better in the warmer vintages of recent years, as the predominant variety, Pinot Noir, is able to ripen more consistently.

Domaine André Clouet ‘Versailles Diamant’, 2015 Coteaux-Champenois Grand Cru Bouzy Blanc ($108)
Tyson Stelzer (Wine Spectator, Decanter, Vinous) refers to Diamant as ‘the best Coteaux Champenois I have tasted to date.’ Sourced from the Grand Cru vineyards of Bouzy and Ambonnay, the 100% Chardonnay wine spends 20 months in Vicard barrels. Beautifully textured, the wine shows green apple, lemon, tropical fruit, pineapple, dried flowers with a persistent lemon and lime finish.

*click photo for more info

 

 


Domaine André Clouet ‘Versailles Rubis’, 2015 Coteaux-Champenois Grand Cru Bouzy Rouge ($108)
Produced from pure Pinot Noir sourced from Grand Cru vineyards in the heart of the Montagne de Reims, the varieties undisputed home. Like the Blanc, the Rouge is aged for 20 months in Vicard barrels—one of the finest coopers in the region. The wine shows tart cherry behind silky tannins a clear and pronounced minerality on the palate.

*click photo for more info

 

 

 


Notebook …

Drawing The Boundaries of The Champagne Region

To be Champagne is to be an aristocrat. Your origins may be humble and your feet may be in the dirt; your hands are scarred from pruning and your back aches from moving barrels. But your head is always in the stars.

As such, the struggle to preserve its identity has been at the heart of Champagne’s self-confidence. Although the Champagne controlled designation of origin (AOC) wasn’t recognized until 1936, defense of the designation by its producers goes back much further. Since the first bubble burst in the first glass of sparkling wine in Hautvillers Abbey, producers in Champagne have maintained that their terroirs are unique to the region and any other wine that bears the name is a pretender to their effervescent throne.

Having been defined and delimited by laws passed in 1927, the geography of Champagne is easily explained in a paragraph, but it takes a lifetime to understand it.

Ninety-three miles east of Paris, Champagne’s production zone spreads across 319 villages and encompasses roughly 85,000 acres. 17 of those villages have a legal entitlement to Grand Cru ranking, while 42 may label their bottles ‘Premier Cru.’ Four main growing areas (Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, the Côte des Blancs and the Côte des Bar) encompass nearly 280,000 individual plots of vines, each measuring a little over one thousand square feet.

The lauded wine writer Peter Liem expands the number of sub-regions from four to seven, dividing the Vallée de la Marne into the Grand Vallée and the Vallée de la Marne; adding the Coteaux Sud d’Épernay and combining the disparate zones between the heart of Champagne and Côte de Bar into a single sub-zone.

Courtesy of Wine Scholar Guild

Lying beyond even Liem’s overview is a permutation of particulars; there are nearly as many micro-terroirs in Champagne as there are vineyard plots. Climate, subsoil and elevation are immutable; the talent, philosophies and techniques of the growers and producers are not. Ideally, every plot is worked according to its individual profile to establish a stamp of origin, creating unique wines that compliment or contrast when final cuvées are created.

Champagne is predominantly made up of relatively flat countryside where cereal grain is the agricultural mainstay. Gently undulating hills are higher and more pronounced in the north, near the Ardennes, and in the south, an area known as the Plateau de Langres, and the most renowned vineyards lie on the chalky hills to the southwest of Reims and around the town of Épernay. Moderately steep terrain creates ideal vineyard sites by combining the superb drainage characteristic of chalky soils with excellent sun exposure, especially on south and east facing slopes.

… Yet another reason why this tiny slice of northern France, a mere 132 square miles, remains both elite and precious.

 

 

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Posted on in France, Champagne, Wine-Aid Packages  |  Read more...

 


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