A true masterpiece is composed of many elements, and all the details must be in precise balance: The forearm musculature on Michelangelo’s ‘David’ for example—the intake of breath in the nostril of Sanmartino’s ‘Veiled Christ.’ This is as true for a magnificent meal as it is for a sculpture, and any constituent of your Thanksgiving Day spread that’s treated as an afterthought may glare more than the successes.
Naturally, we consider wine to be an indispensable part of this annual meal, not only to reinforce the overall sensory enjoyment, but as a nod to a greater sense of appreciation for things that we, as human beings, get right.
It’s possible to overanalyze your wine choices, of course—many of the other elements of a Thanksgiving feast are as fixed as the solar system. Wine is one factor that is not only less preordained, but can (and should) change with vintages and tastes. Our suggestions for Thanksgiving 2022 are culled from new arrivals and old standbys, and are offered as interval highlights at various stages of the meal. They reflect the balance that all cooks, winemakers and artists strive for in rhythm, emphasis, unity and variety.
In addition, the regional origins of these wines are diverse, but they all have something in common: They come from countries that don’t celebrate Thanksgiving on the third Thursday of November. As a nod to their culture, we’ve listed a few native dishes that have evolved with the style of wine, with the idea that they might be a way to shake up the status quo of the traditional Thanksgiving menu.
When your guests arrive, an icebreaker does not need to contain ice, but the appropriate chill is always appreciated. Red wines, in particular, tend to be served too warm. In this case, the light and perfumed Gamay-based wine from the Marionnet family in Touraine hits its refreshing high water mark around 55°F, somewhat lower than the typical household room temperature. Likewise, the tendency is to transfer white wine directly from refrigerator to glass, which is too cold to appreciate the nuance of an Alsatian Riesling. Give it ten or fifteen minutes to pick up some ambient room warmth—it will show much better.
Domaine Mann ‘Happy Lemon’, 2020 Alsace Riesling ($27)
In Alsace, winegrowers claim that it takes a minimum of fifteen years for grape vines to showcase the true potential of their terroir, and in the meantime, most of them bottle young harvests as a blend with juice from older vines. No so with ‘Happy Lemon’, a wine which playfully celebrates the youth of the Riesling from which it’s made. Selection Massale cuttings from prized vines are planted at high density to produce a highly aromatic wine that is fermented on indigenous yeasts and allowed to age on the lees for a year prior to bottling. As the name suggests, citrus notes are the predominate feature of both bouquet and palate.
The wine would pair marvelously with Truite au Bleu, an Alsatian dish in which, prior to being poached, a fresh trout first soaks in vinegar, turning the natural exterior of the fish blue.
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After stints in Côte-Rôtie and Champagne, where he learned the value of biodynamics from Bertrand Gautherot, Sébastien Mann has been making wine at the family estate since 2009, taking over from his father. He says, “I think that thanks to biodynamics, we have succeeded in bringing an additional element to our vines. My father made wines essentially linked to the earth; I have a much more holistic style, linked to the stars.”
Domaine Mann’s 32 acres were founded upon the theory that in order to produce terroir-driven wines with aging potential, legally allowable yields have to be cut in half. From the outset, the estate produced 35 cuvées, one for each parcel.
“The style of the wines changed very quickly when I came on board,” Sébastien maintains. “95% of the wines we produce now are dry. It was not an easy task, since Alsace is one of the warmest and driest regions in France. Grapes can easily ripen with a high sugar level. I don’t think my father could imagine that with biodynamics we would be able to achieve such a great evolution, achieving phenolic maturity while making dry wines.”
Ludovic Chanson ‘Les Pêchers’, 2019 Montlouis-sur-Loire White Demi-Sec ($37)
Montlouis-sur-Loire sits on a promontory between the Loire and the Cher rivers. Having specialized in Chenin Blanc for centuries, it produces a wine so unique that when the AOC system developed in the 1940s, it retained its own appellation. There are now about fifty producers.
During the 2019 harvest, Ludovic Chanson recognized botrytis on the grapes and it was a matter for celebration, like the wine. ‘Noble rot’ lends depth and complex layers of fruit and savory tones to the finished wine, which lists as having 17g residual sugar and 32ppm total SO2. A classic example of semi-dry Chenin blanc.
This wine would be a beautiful foil for a spread of charcuterie, especially andouillette, one of the specialties of nearby Tours.
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‘Song’ is an ideal name for this beautiful fifteen acre estate: It means ‘song’. It’s also the surname of the owner, Ludovic Chanson, who took over from retiring winemaker Alex Mathur in 2009. The vineyards lie on the plateau near the village of Husseau, a five-minute drive outside of Montlouis. Most of Chanson’s property is planted in Chenin Blanc; the rest to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Soils are clay heavy with a deep limestone base and many of the parcels are littered with silex and flint and the average vine is about 40 years old.
Song trusts his processes and focuses on farming; the estate was converted to organic before Ludovic took over, and he has since achieved certification. Harvesting is done by hand in small baskets, with one pass for the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and multiple passes for the Chenin Blanc, depending on the cuvée for which the grapes are being picked.
Domaine de la Charmoise ‘First Harvest’, 2021 Touraine ‘natural’ ($24)
Undergoing a light filtration just prior to bottling, this wine is whole-cluster fermented in cement without sulfur, non-indigenous yeast or pigeage—a French term meaning ‘to punch down the cap.’ When crushed grapes ferment in vats, the skins rise to the surface to create a thick cap that may or may not be punched down; here, the technique is avoided and the result is a wine that is more complex than is typical for a Loire Gamay, largely because without sulfur, the yeasts have a longer time to work and release secondary aromas and flavors. The wine is medium ruby in color with aromas of plum, cherry, dried flowers and spices; dry on the palate with moderate tannin and acidity, and additional notes of grilled meat and forest floor.
This would pair well with an iconic Touraine specialty, rillettes of pork spread on a slice of fresh baguette.
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Domaine de la Charmoise nestles deep with the forests of La Sologne, home to the great Limousin oak trees that makes the best of French wine barrels. But the Marionnets, who run the domain, both father (Henry) and son (Jean-Sébastien), eschew wood as ‘unnatural’ in their winemaking process.
The family has owned the estate since the mid-19th century and unlike so many of their counterparts in France, they kept control throughout the 20th century and now, well into the 21st. Domaine de la Charmoise’s 150 acres are mostly dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay and grow at the highest point between the Loire and Cher rivers, where a combination of situation and geology provides plenty of sunshine and shelter against spring frost. Having recently succeeded his father in managing the estate, Henry’s son Jean-Sébastien has brought his own perspective to Domaine de la Charmoise, expanding the range to include Côt (Malbec) and Chenin Blanc as well as some Loire’s rare varieties. To be sure, however, Henry’s presence is still widely felt, especially in the vineyard.
A post-pandemic world has as much to toast as it has to mourn, so take a moment with your guests to toast our survival and perhaps, to commemorate those who were not so fortunate.
France’s ingenious champenoise method and ancestral method make the quintessential toasting wine, but such singular improvements have been made throughout the world of bubbles that now is an ideal time to expand your horizons beyond the familiar world of Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blends. Even Cava, Spain’s answer to Champagne, relies primarily on Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo grapes, but there’s another dimension to Spanish sparklers that takes a different, and exciting, route.
An ideal pairing for high-quality Spanish cured ham, jamón, layered atop a pa-amb-tomàquet—grilled bread rubbed with tomato and drizzled with olive oil, a daily staple at our home.
Can Sumoi ‘Ancestral Montònega’, 2021 Brut Nature ($27)
100% Montònega, a pink-skinned clone of Parellada grown in Pla de Manlleu in Penedès, and produces a wine that shimmers with citrus and fennel notes and the Mediterranean herbs that grow along the Catalunyan coast. This beguiling citrus-herb profile is the result of the ancestral method, made without additives, stabilization or filtration.
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At two thousand feet above sea level in the Serra de l’Home mountain 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, vineyards sprawl across limestone-rich soil between stands of oak and white pine, which to the ecology-driven Pepe 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, whose family has lived here for 21 generation, 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.”
When the curtain rises on the main event, cast and crew must be on cue; no more dress rehearsal holidays, this is opening night. And although we’d only recommend diva wines for this important matchup, the fact is that fancy-costume labels should not be a deciding factor when there are plenty of remarkable main-floor wines available for mezzanine prices.
Domaine des Ardoisières ‘Argile’, 2020 IGP Vin de Allobroges ‘St-Pierre de Soucy’ White ($36)
A blend of superstar Chardonnay (40%) and lesser known Jacquère (40%) and Mondeuse Blanc (20%) from Savoie in eastern France, a region in the mountainous areas just south of Lac Léman on the border with Switzerland. Jacquère is a clean, high-acid alpine variety while Mondeuse Blanche, nearing extinction, is found in a small foothold in the Bugey sub-region halfway between Annecy and Lyon. Vines are planted to a mix of shale marl, hard black shale, and clay soil and the wine ferments in a mix of stainless-steel tanks and French oak barriques, then aged in used barrels for about eight months before bottling. The wine shows beautiful weight and tension, with smoke on the nose, ripe citrus on the palate, and salinity on the finish.
This would be wonderful alongside Raclette, a Swiss-style cheese that is melted and served with potatoes.
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To the white clay (Argile Blanc) of Bauges foothills, Brice Ormont brings expertise from his native Champagne. Domaine des Ardoisières was created in 1998 by the iconic grower Michel Grisard; Brice Ormont joined the team in 2005 and took over upon Grisard’s retirement five years later. The vineyard was planted on slopes up to 60% in grade with local grape varieties like Jacquère, Mondeuse, Altesse, and Persan. So steep is the region that Ormont claims that it receives two hours less sunlight per day, an hour in the morning and another in the evening. “You’d think that ripening grapes would be a problem but this is not the case,” Ormont insists. “Seven of our acres face the rising sun in the east and seven more face the setting sun in the west, with the east-facing vineyards reaching incredibly high temperatures of up to 120°F during the day when the sun bounces off the schist rock and magnifies the temperature. During summer the working day stops at 1 pm as working these south-facing slopes in the afternoon is physically impossible.”
Domaine Philippe Gilbert, 2021 Menetou-Salon Rosé ($30)
Menetou-Salon is an AOP in the Centre-Val de Loire with vineyards extending over 820 acres and covering 10 communes, including Menetou-Salon itself. Only 3600 bottles of Menetou-Salon Rosé reach American shores each year, so if you can serve it, you are in an exclusive club. 100% Pinot Noir, this wine displays crisp strawberry and raspberry highlights with a bit of smoke and earth on the nose.
Such a rose would go nicely with game; wild turkey as opposed to farm-raised would be a great change-up for any Thanksgiving, although more typically Menetou-Salon would be Geline de Touraine, a small black hen that is highly prized in Loire.
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At the helm of Domaine Philippe Gilbert is Phillipe himself, a self-styled ‘dramaturg’ who has written and produced for the stage. Today he is a foremost winemaker, having returned to the village of Faucards in Menetou-Salon to run the family estate, a winery whose history dates back to 1778 and his forefather François Gilbert. His 67 acres, sprinkled across prime sectors of Menetou-Salon, make it one of the most important in the appellation.
The soils beneath the estate are Kimmeridgean, similar to Sancerre and Chablis. With the assistance of his colleague, Jean-Philippe Louis, Philippe Gilbert has plunged headlong into the system of biodynamic viticulture and the domain is now certified as an organic producer.
Château du Moulin-à-Vent, 2019 Moulin-à-Vent ‘Champ de Cour’ ($57)
Beaujolais is an always-safe go-to wine with turkey, but it’s even safer if you upgrade from Village-level Beaujolais to Cru, and best of all if you can find a lieu-dit. ‘Champ de Cours’ is a parcel found on a slight slope between the hills of the famous windmill and Fleurie, with an eastern exposure that is fully sheltered from the winds. Granite surface rocks force the roots to dig down deeply to seek their nutrients; clay-rich soil contains five specific minerals that give the wine a unique character. Dominated by explosion of red fruit with roasted pepper and saffron notes, it is a full-bodied wine of considerable elegance with lively tannins and superb length to make it a worthy table-mate for the variety of flavors that your Thanksgiving spread will contain.
Frisée with lardons and pomegranate seeds and dried cherries, especially with goat cheese, is a standard salad course in Beaujolais.
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At the top of Beaujolais, geographically and (arguably) in terms of quality, Moulin-à-Vent’s oddly toxic soils produce wines of great merit. Manganese exists here in quantities not found anywhere else in Beaujolais; it retards leaf growth and creates smaller bunches, resulting in wines of phenomenal concentration that can be cellared for a decade or more.
In the 18th century Château du Moulin-à-Vent was called Château des Thorins, named for the renowned vines on the hillsides of Thorins. A Mâconnais proverb runs, “Every wine is good with a meal, but a meal cannot be enjoyed without Thorins.” The estate was purchased in 2009 by the Parinet family, who has made a marvelous effort to extract the most from the chemical-rich terroir—the underlying granite soil contains iron oxide, copper and, of course, manganese.
Domaine Michel Juillot, 2020 Burgundy ($30)
100% Pinot Noir from 26- and 41-year-old vines planted on clay limestone and marl soils. Temperature controlled fermentation is used (and only natural yeasts) in an open top fermenter. Aged 12 months in oak barrels. Ripe aromas of black raspberry, cherry and earth give way to exceptionally rich, suave and solidly dense flavors that are surprisingly powerful in context of what is typical for the appellation.
Beef from white Charolais cattle would appear on the Burgundian feast table before turkey, but cold ham with fresh parsley—ham parsley—would satisfy a regional inclusion on the side board.
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Based in the village of Mercurey in Burgundy’s Côte Chalonnaise, Juillot’s 77 acres roll across a good piece of Burgundy, including plots in the Corton Les Perrières and Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru climats and six Premier Cru vineyard parcels in Mercurey. Breaking rules in a region where tradition is sacrosanct is a risky venture. Fortunately, shored up by world travels, especially to the new world, Laurent Juillot (founder Michel’s grandson) returned to Burgundy with notions of how to innovate successfully. Among the changes he brought to the domain was a switch to sustainable agriculture while maintaining a regimen of hand-picking fruit and relying on indigenous yeasts. He has excelled in his single-parcel cuvées.
On Thanksgiving, there are those who consider dessert an entirely separate meal, generally offered after a breather and, in the case of football fans, a nail-biter game. Hedonism is a given, and a sugar blast from confections is as easy as pie or as complex and elaborate as your inner pastry chef can concoct.
Fortunately for the wine decision, Spain offers a wide array of honeyed, nutty, unctuous and wildly satisfying dessert-style wines which stand up to nearly anything you can put in front of them, and work equally well as a stand-alone for sipping.
Gutiérrez Colosía, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry ‘Pedro Ximénez’ ($37)
While responsible for perhaps the world’s sweetest wine, Andalusia’s Pedro Ximénez is among the most harmonious on the palate. This is the result of the natural process of ‘raisining’—drying the grapes in the sun—a technique that concentrates the sugars but preserves the natural acidity.
Aged an average of 4 years in solera, the bouquet of Colosía’s example is reminiscent of dried figs and dates accompanied by the aromas of honey, grape syrup, jam and candied fruit, with finishing notes of toasted coffee, dark chocolate, cocoa and licorice.
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“In Sanlúcar they talk about being close to the sea, but nobody is closer to the sea than we are.” – Juan Carlos Gutierrez.
Sea air, of course, is critical to the production of sherry, and that is why the official name of Jerez-Xérès-Sherry is restricted for use outside the DO. Gutiérrez Colosía are heirs to a long viticulture and wine producing tradition. Seated in the historic city of El Puerto de Santa María and perched on the banks of Río Guadalete (River of Oblivion), their first Bodega was built in 1838 and it has been preserved almost as such to this day. It was acquired by José Gutiérrez Dosal in the 1920s, and in 1969, and in 1997, Gutiérrez Colosía made the transition from almacenista to bottling their own sherries.
Like the vast appellation ‘Bourgogne’, the Appellation Régionale ‘Crémant de Bourgogne’ includes effervescent wines made by the traditional method and includes commues up and down the length of Burgundy. There are, in fact, 300 producing communes in Yonne, the Côte-d’Or and Saône-et-Loire and 85 in the Department of Rhône, spanning more than five thousand acres. Allowable grapes are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, with the secondary varieties Aligoté, Melon and Sacy permitted in delineated quantities depending on the wine’s color—white or rosé. Terroirs are understandably varied, ranging from the chalky subsoil of Joigny in the north to the granites of southern Burgundy and especially, the limestones and marls of the Côtes where most Crémant de Bourgogne originates.
As part of the strategy by Crémant de Bourgogne producers to boost the quality of the appellation, the Eminent and Grand Eminent denomination were introduced in 2013. These wines must meet a number of specifications, the most important of which is the amount of time they are aged on laths* to bring out the subtle aromas of the varietals. The Crémant de Bourgogne Eminent denomination requires minimum aging of 24 months, while the Crémant de Bourgogne Grand Eminent denomination calls for 36.
* The term ‘aged on laths’ appears frequently in the technical sheets of Crémant and refers to the wooden supports that enable bottles to be piled on their sides after the liqueur de Tirage has been added to the base wine in the bottles to produce secondary fermentation . CO2 is generated and must have a minimum pressure of 3.5 bar. Higher pressures (4-6 bar) make for a finer mousse.
Although as a paradigm, Puligny-Montrachet has been likened to Helen of Troy, in modern times, it might be more appropriate to consider it the Marilyn Monroe of Chardonnay. It is certainly a cultural gold standard and as far as we know, nobody alive ever actually saw the face that launched all those ships. Home to four Grand Cru vineyards and 17 Premier Cru sites, the village was simply Puligny until 1879, when the Montrachet section was added in homage to its iconic Grand Cru vineyard, Le Montrachet.
The combination of topography, soil structure and climate heightened by the trial and error of many generations of winemakers has resulted in a detailed map of the area, marking those sites best suited to quality viticulture. A high content of limestone on which the vines grow give these wines a pronounced minerality that is more typical of Puligny’s profile than the more accessible wines of neighboring Chassagne and the more perfumed wines of Meursault.
Spreading across 37 acres and five communes of the Côte de Beaune—Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault, Saint-Aubin, Volnay and Pommard—Domaine Chavy-Chouet has been family-owned and managed for seven generations, but it was not until Romaric Chavy took the reins in 2014 that the wines reached top-tier status. His youthful appearance is deceiving: Only twenty-two when he took over from his father, he already had a decade’s worth of training under his belt. Starting wine school at 12, he went on to work as an apprentice for his godfather François Mikulski in Meursault, then did stints in South Africa, Spain, Greece and Languedoc.
In part, the wine’s status is due to the age of the vines, which now average more than forty years, but it is undeniably a result of a switch to earth-friendly winemaking. Says Romaric, “Although we do not choose to pursue certification at this point, we are organic and follow the principals of reasoned control. Our regimen is resolutely non-interventionist and includes plowing by horse rather than tractor. After harvest and sorting, the fruit is lightly pressed and allowed to settle; the must is then passes by gravity into tank and is fermented over indigenous yeasts. To maintain purity, there is no batonnage and our wine ages on its lees in Gillet barrels with a maximum of 20% new oak for 9-12 months and is bottled unfined and with only a light filtration if necessary.”
Chavy-Chouet, Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs Brut ($33)
From a scant acre of young Chardonnay vines (seven years) in Puligny-Montrachet, the wine shows pure, taut Puligny fruit—a yeasty, mineral-driven nose with crisp apple peel and candied lemon gives over to an exquisitely delicate palate with notes of lime, pink grapefruit and white flower blossoms and pave the way to a clean, precise finish with beautiful length.
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Posted on 2022.11.17 in Savoie, Côte Chalonnaise, Givry, Moulin-à-Vent, Beaujolais-Villages, Puligny-Montrachet, Montlouis-sur-Loire, Menetou-Salon, Crémant du Bourgogne, France, Beaujolais, Spain DO, Penedes, Burgundy, Wine-Aid Packages, Loire, Sherry/Jerez, Cava, Alsace  | Read more...
The faces of Rhône wear many expressions, and no one makes a firmer imprint on the senses than the two dynamic winemakers represented in this week’s North/South Rhône package. Though frequently conflated under an all-encompassing carpet of ‘Rhône wines’, in terms of climate, soil structure, elevation, grape varieties and overall attitude, these two regions couldn’t be more different. Whereas Northern Rhône’s steeply terraced hillsides and granite soils can only produce a handful of varieties (mainly Syrah and Viognier), Southern Rhône—being flatter and subject to milder winters, hotter summers that are often influenced by Mistral winds—is the home of some of the most complex grape blends in winedom.
There is no better path to discovering both sides of the coin than sampling two of the most intriguing winemakers in Rhône: Johann Michel in the North and Isabel Ferrando in the South. Both are representative and neither are ‘typical’; both are as iconic as they are iconoclastic. Pick your favorite or love them both equally, as we do.
The vineyards of Northern Rhône may be the oldest in France, but one thing is certain: Harvesting them ages the workforce. The terraced hillside sites are so steep that the grapes sometimes have to be lowered by pulley, like on a ski slope. It’s said that, in order to make a commercially viable product on sites with sufficient sunlight to fully ripen grapes, you have either to inherit an established right-bank vineyard or produce a wine so good that you can charge an exorbitant price.
Indeed, the most famous producers of the Northern Rhône are family enterprises; these are wineries that vinify grapes they grow, but also purchase fruit from vineyards along length of the entire Rhône valley. The smallholders are the ones who put the sweat equity into these demanding sites, and traditionally, only a handful of them have bottled under their own labels.
This is beginning to change as ambitious newcomers have entered the foray as grower/producers and, at least among those who have been up to the test, have improved the overall quality of the appellation.
Why Syrah, Syrah? Just the facts, ma’am: Red wine from Northern Rhône is made nearly entirely from Syrah with an occasional sprinkling of Viognier for spice, and produces these bottles that can age for generations. And it is fair to say that the region sets the global standard on how Syrah is judged.
And that’s because it is terrain ideally suited for such a thick-skinned grape known for its ability to withstand drought-like conditions. It thrives in many warmer viticultural regions, true, but nowhere better than along the steep, sun-soaked terraces of Northern Rhône, where irrigation is all but impossible. Syrah also produces loose bunches of big grapes, meaning that its susceptibility to various mildew diseases is minimal: The Mistral wind, upon which Southern Rhône depends to dry out the damp, is unnecessary here, and that works out fine: By a quirk of geography, the peculiar shape of the Rhône Valley protects the northern vineyards from these strong, cold, northwesterly winds.
Northern Rhône Package $299
We are pleased to offer one bottle of each of the following four wines from Domaine Johann Michel for a package price of $299.
Give a man a bottle and he’ll drink for a day; teach him to make wine and he’ll drink for a lifetime. Still, there is something in the spirit of the man who figures it all out for himself that excites us even more.
Johann Michel developed a passion for fine wine while tasting old vintages with his grandfather, and from there, taught himself the art of vinification. Today, with his wife Emmanuelle, he works 14 acres spread between three Rhône AOP’s. This includes a scant acre in Saint-Joseph planted entirely to Syrah, two-and-a-half acres in the extreme south of Saint-Péray planted to Marsanne and Roussanne, and his most celebrated wines made from lieux-dits in the steep, granite infused slopes of Cornas.
Michel may be self-taught, but the effusive praise for his product is very much the domain of experts. In what may be the most hyperbolic wine review I’ve ever read, critic Jeb Dunnuck (Northern Rhône: 2019s From Bottle, February 16th 2022) wrote: “The Cornas from Johann Michel is a majestic, full-bodied, incredibly seamless beauty that does everything right, showing the ripe, sunny style of the vintage and bringing ample fruit, richness and power with incredible focus as well as purity and freshness. It will evolve for 15 years or more, and I doubt it will ever close down. Those who like flawlessly balanced Cornas should back up the truck for this sensational wine.”
A truism in the world of viticulture is that grape vines often grow in places where nothing else will. This is certainly the case among those grapes cultivated on slopes so steep as to nearly (but not quite) defy sanity. To find examples of death-defying hillside vineyards, look to the Mosel and Rhine valleys in Germany, Ribeira Sacra in Spain, the Douro in Portugal and Cornas in the Northern Rhône Valley.
One of the smallest appellations in Rhône, Cornas is, in its entirely, under three hundred acres—smaller than some single estates in Bordeaux. It produces only red wines made exclusively from Syrah—a variety that ripens with greater ease here than virtually anywhere else in Northern Rhône.
Celtic for ‘burnt earth’, Cornas wines—in homage to the name or vice versa—frequently reflect smoky notes with deep, burly earth tones. Once considered country wines of value only to those who love rusticity, the reputation of Cornas has skyrocketed in recent vintages to become one of the most sought-after wines in France.
The quality of these wines is the culmination of many factors, but among the most singular is the fact that Cornas sits on a large chunk of granite. Unlike Cote Rôtie to the north, where there is plenty of schist, or Hermitage, where the granite merges into alpine soils, Cornas is almost purely Massif Central granite, giving the wines a pronounced and savory minerality.
When you see ‘whole cluster fermentation’ in a winemaker’s description, he or she is referring to a technique where entire grape bunches, including stems, go into the fermenter. In other words, the wine grapes do not go through a destemmer-crusher to destem individual berries and crush out the juice.
Advocates of whole cluster fermentation assert it produces wines with more complexity, and with additional herbal and spice flavors, toning down high acidity while adding tannic structure. The practice may be seen frequently with Pinot Noir in Burgundy and Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and in Northern Rhône, winemakers claim that it enhances the savory qualities and peppery notes of Syrah. Where grapes are fully ripened, as they tend to be in Cornas, stems bring significant tannin to the party, and so the wine requires intense fruit for balance. But by binding chemically with tartaric acid, stems tend to lower acidity in the process, so a careful balancing act must be maintained. It should be noted that the more mature the stems, brown and woody instead of green, the more subtle the influence.
Domaine Johann Michel ‘Cuvée Jana’, 2020 Cornas ($79) (Lieux-dits Chaillot / Bayonnet) (One Bottle)
Named after Johann and Emmanuelle’s daughter Jana, this blend comes from two of Michel’s favorite lieux-dits: Chaillot, which was planted in 2000 by Johann himself and nearby Bayonnet where soils are made of granitic sand. The wine shows black raspberry, licorice, sizzling bacon and campfire smoke along with integrated tannins and crunchy acidity
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Domaine Johann Michel ‘Cuvée Mère Michel’, 2020 Cornas ($152) (Lieu-dit Les Côtes) (One Bottle)
‘Mother Michel’ refers to Emmanuelle rather than Johann’s mom; we’ll leave further interpretation to Freudians. The wine was first introduced in 2016 and is not produced every year; it is Selection Massale—the replanting of new vineyards with cuttings from exceptional old vines—in this case, from the 1947 Yves Cuilleron vineyard at Chavanay. Les Côtes is a south-facing lieu-dit sits at an altitude of 900 feet and here produces an intense nose of black fruit, spices and wood smoke. On the palate, the wine is meaty and crisp with bright plum and anise, showing the sweet opulence of Syrah fruit.
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Domaine Johann Michel ‘Grain Noir’, 2020 VdF Northern Rhône Rouge ‘Syrah’ ($29) (Lieu-dit Le Moulin) (One Bottle)
Johann Michel says, “The Grain Noir cuvée is produced in the commune of Cornas but outside the appellation—hence, the VdF designation. The Le Moulin vineyard is located in the north of Cornas, near the Rhône, where sandy soils and pebbles exist at an altitude between three and four hundred feet.”
The wine shows Michel’s characteristic wine power; big structure backed up with ripe, fleshy, vibrant fruitiness and finishing with silky tannins and the bite of minerality.
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According to Joël Durand of Domaine Eric & Joël Durand, “Saint-Joseph isn’t really a Rhône wine. It’s a collection of crus.”
That describes most Rhône appellations, of course, but Saint-Joseph is unique in that, despite its long, thin size, it remains relatively unknown. Stretching more than 40 miles down the right bank of the river and taking in more than two dozen towns and villages in two departments, the Ardèche and the Loire, its strung-out geography have been likened to Chile. But while South America is known for bold, fruity Syrah, Saint-Joseph produces elegant, tightly focused reds and whites that often have more in common with the wines of Burgundy than their Chilean counterparts.
But the diversity is there: The main component in the appellation’s soils is granite, but other minerals may equally impact production. The southern portion is made up of tender gneiss and gives the wines a unique character.
Where there is less diversity is in the varietal selection; for the vast majority of Saint-Joseph’s wines, the reds are exclusively Syrah, representing about 86% of total production, while the whites, making up 14%, are Roussanne and Marsanne—as stand-alones or as a blend.
Domaine Johann Michel, 2019 Saint-Joseph ($39) (Lieu-dit Les Pras) (One Bottle)
Bold ripe black fruits, 100% destemmed grapes and matured in seasoned French oak, the plummy, generously textured wine is marked by delicately smoky, spicy hints of char and crushed peppercorn, then spice, complexity, velvety tannic grip and a powerful finish.
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The magic of the blend is the keystone in Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s rock-solid reputation; fifteen varieties are legally permitted in the appellation, and the proportion of each used in the final cuvée is a reflection of the vineyard’s potential, the estate’s philosophy and the vigneron’s artistry. The palette is juice, the canvas is the élevage and on opening day—and for many years to come—the exhibition wears the familiar embossed insignia of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape bottle.
But is blending always the goal in Châteauneuf-du-Pape? Red wine comprises 95% of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s output, and most of it is built around the Big Four—Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and more recently, Cinsault. But as a quartet, they are hardly equal: As of 2014, 73% of the vineyards in the appellation were planted to Grenache, with Mourvèdre making up about 7% and Syrah, just under three percent—a number that may soon be supplanted by Cinsault as Syrah continues to lose popularity in the region. Even so, so dominant is Grenache in most blends that a winemaker would likely have to provide a vivisection of varietal profiles to explain how each trace addition affects the final cuvée. The blending spectrum in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, therefore, covers extremes: Château de Beaucastel frequently uses all the allowable grapes in their cuvée while another of Châteauneuf’s most important names, Château Rayas, uses only Grenache.
Despite its potential for splendor in the glass, Grenache has never made the leap into the rarified atmosphere of the ‘noble’ grapes. But in the right hands, grown in the correct lieu-dit and farmed correctly, it can be as expressive of terroir as Pinot Noir and as complex and age-worthy as Cabernet Sauvignon. In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it produces most favorably on sandy soils that provide delicacy and finesse, but where there is also limestone for structure, red clay for the development of rich (but not harsh) tannins and the small stones known as ‘galets’ for power.
For a grape that produces such bold and muscular wines, Grenache is thin-skinned and not overly acidic, so it must be picked at an optimum period of phenolic ripeness to avoid becoming flabby and aggressively alcoholic. Vine age is of extreme importance for Grenache, with younger cultivars making pale-colored and often mediocre wines—60 -100 years appears to be an ideal age for producing wine of consistently good quality.
Southern Rhône Package $324
We are pleased to offer one of each of the following four wines from Domaine Saint Préfert for a package price of $324.
If a ‘Grenachiste’ is a loyalist who fights for Grenache, it would be hard to find a High Priestess more qualified than Isabel Ferrando. A former banker who learned winemaking at Domaine Raspail-Ay in Gigondas, she purchased the seventy-year old Domaine Saint-Préfert from the Serre family (one of the region’s first domains to estate bottle) in 2003. That year, the property stood at a little over thirty acres, all in the Les Serres lieu-dit south of the village of Châteauneuf.
Once a successful first vintage was in the cellar, Ferrando began to purchase more land in the appellation, expanding her holdings to its current 55 acres. Among her acquisitions was a small parcel of old-vine Grenache vines that became Domaine Ferrando Colombis. Meanwhile, in 2013, Domaine Saint Préfert earned its certification for using 100% biodynamic farming, an agricultural technique that is somewhat easier pull off in Châteauneuf thanks to the sporadic but predictable Mistral winds that naturally protect vines from pests and mildew.
Still, it is Ferrando’s ever-growing expertise and hands-on winemaking that produces her outstanding portfolio. Says ‘The Grenachiste’: “There is no secret formula to making great wines in Châteauneuf. I work with a young team who is always open to new ideas. We rely on tradition without being trapped by it, working with whole-cluster fermentations without added yeasts because we discovered that it increased freshness in the wines and lowered alcohol, giving the wines vibrancy. Aging occurs in a mix of concrete and used foudres for up to 18 months.”
Domaine Saint Préfert ‘Collection Charles Giraud’, 2019 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($159) (One Bottle)
60% Grenache, 35% Mourvèdre and 5% Syrah, Isabel Ferrando’s ‘tête de cuvée’ is made from the oldest vines in two parcels—les Serres and le Cristia. The former features the famous, multipurpose galet stones of Châteauneuf that retain heat and night and protect the soil from erosion. Le Cristia is a sandy block with drainage ideal for Mourvèdre’s root system, which does not produce well otherwise. The wine shows concentrated boysenberry and violet pastille and candied fruit and bright, chewy back-end lift. As Auguste Favier was Isabel Ferrando’s maternal grandfather, Charles Giraud was her father’s father.
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Domaine Saint Préfert ‘Réserve Auguste Favier’, 2019 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($82) (One Bottle)
The label’s eponymous Auguste Favier was Isabel Ferrando’ maternal grandfather; the lieu-dit that produces this blend— 85% Grenache and 15% Cinsault—is also named for an original owner. Les Serres, a vineyard in the southernmost part of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, takes its name from Fernand Serre, who planted it in 1928. The grapes are hand-picked and vinified separately; the Grenache is aged in cement and the Cinsault in 600L barrels. Floral and exotic, the wine expresses a full-bodied core of blackberry draped with a lacy texture, showing rich cassis and raspberry coulis flecked with the garrigue herbs that are native to the area. A long, elegant finish with a surprisingly tannic edge.
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Domaine Saint Préfert ‘Classique’, 2019 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($53) (One Bottle)
With a base cuvée of 85% Grenache and 5% each of Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault, aged entirely in concrete tanks, is classic varietal choice as well as in name. Vinified from middle-aged vines—30 years old, tops—this wine is an expression of exuberance crammed with juicy raspberry and bright cherry and light hints of licorice. The sharp subcurrents of smoke and minerality provide a clue that these vines, and the wines they produce, will continue to improve with age.
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Domaine Saint Préfert “Clos Beatus Ille’, 2020 Côtes-du-Rhône ($30) (One Bottle)
‘Beatus Ille’ is Latin for ‘Happy Man’—it’s a line from Horace’s 2nd Epode and no doubt includes happy women as well. The wine is 85% Grenache blended with about 15% Cinsault from two parcels—La Lionne in the Sorgues district, just at the southern border of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and another parcel in Vedène. It also contains a bit of Syrah from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. A supple and affordable entryway into Isabel Ferrando’s world, the wine shows the traits of the great Crus in Southern Rhône in an approachable package; cassis, plum and fresh red berries with hints of Asian spice and truffles.
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Top: 1. Domaine Préfert (Isabel Ferrando), Châteauneuf-du-Pape ‘Colombis’ 2019, 2. Domaine Saint Préfert, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2020, 3. Domaine Préfert (Isabel Ferrando), Châteauneuf-du-Pape ‘F601’ 2018
Bottom: 4. Domaine Saint Préfert, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2020 Magnum, 5. Domaine Saint Préfert, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc’Cuvée Spéciale Vieilles Clairettes’ 2019 Magnum
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The main features of the year were drought, heat and a very early harvest. Thankfully there were heavy rains in October, November and December 2019 which created reserves for the vines to draw on. There were also welcome rains in May and June that helped sustain the plants. The rest of the year, however, was exceptionally dry. The vineyards roused early thanks to warm weather in March, but mercifully there were no spring frosts here. They held on to this lead throughout the year, resulting in the earliest vintage since 2003.
Northern Rhône: A reliably fresh, balanced and approachable vintage – a return to classicism after a series of powerful years. Excellent white wines.
Southern Rhône: Fresh, juicy and immediate reds with lower alcohol than recent years, though some lack concentration. Beautiful white wines.
Marking the fifth consecutive vintage in which the wines of Northern Rhône can be considered very good or even truly exceptional, 2019 endured an abnormally hot and dry growing season by historical standards (though by current measures, increasingly typical). It began with pockets of spring hail and frost, but nothing so major as to precipitate a short crop. The hot, dry summer that followed definitely induced some angst among the growers, who noted that it was critical to maintain healthy vine canopies to protect the grapes from the heat and sun. Fortunately, for those making such a viticultural move, there was basically no rain during the summer, meaning that mildew that might have formed under the canopies was a non-issue. Also, while it was definitely hot, temperatures were not excessive. Well-timed and beneficial rains in late August and early September helped freshen the vineyards and keep acidity levels sound.
Northern Rhône: A very hot, dry growing season resulting in some rich, opulent reds – sometimes overripe and alcoholic. Côte-Rôtie leads the pack, with Hermitage and Cornas not far behind.
Southern Rhône: A swelteringly hot, very dry year that was surprisingly successful, especially in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, both reds and whites. Elsewhere there are mixed results; some excellent wines, others with unbalanced alcohol or tough tannins.
Thanks to its proximity to Dijon, Marsannay is known as the ‘Porte d’Or’ or the Golden Gate to the Côte de Nuits. In showcasing a specific wine region, we try to emphasize wines that reflect both the spirit of the appellation and the skill and reputation of the winemakers. The four producers represented in this week’s eight-bottle pack have established their place not only in Marsannay, but in the Burgundy vigneron hierarchy.
Marsannay—the northernmost village in Burgundy’s heart—is a stellar introduction to the galaxy of possibilities offered by the Côte d’Or. That is because, as a fairly new invention within the wine hierarchy (Marsannay only achieved Village status in 1987, prior to which its grapes were used for regional wines), price has not yet caught up to quality, even among other Village-level wines.
Perhaps more than in any other wine region, Burgundy’s fans are label-obsessed and purchase accordingly—and appropriately. Since Marsannay contains none of the storied Grand or Premier Crus in the carefully delineated Burgundy classification system, these wines represent unparalleled value, especially since many individual estates have forged new commitments to improve what history and nature has provided.
Having been offered an upgraded seat in Burgundy’s Villages section, Marsannay has set to work ensuring that it remains worthy of the promotion. Many people still think of it as primarily rosé country, and it is, in fact, the only village entitled to produce in all three tones, red, white and blush. And there is no reason for it to entirely shed this reputation.
Stretching from Fixin at its southern end to Dijon in the north, three villages (Marsannay-la-Côte, Chenôve and Couchey) contain vineyards that are allowed to declare themselves Marsannay. All three are on the hill that continues north from Gevrey-Chambertin, where the best vineyards are on gentle slopes that face east or southeast and feature terroirs rich in fossil-rich Bajocian limestone. As can be witnessed throughout the Côte d’Or, inferior vines come from the east side of Route Nationale 74 (now called, prosaically, the D974).
In the case of Marsannay, any red or white wine produced east of the road only merits Bourgogne status; technically, the rosés are labeled ‘Marsannay Rosé.’
With new status comes heightened responsibilities, and winemakers in Marsannay find themselves with both the need and the means to rehabilitate reputations once maligned in the Côte de Nuits. Beyond technical investments in state-of-the-art equipment, new theories about working the soil, machines for optical sorting and for pressing and maturing wine, there have been human investments in both field and cellar. Even so, at the heart of it, is Burgundy’s table-stakes: Reverence for the past, nods to the future and above all, a heartfelt respect for terroir and the commitment to identify the best parcels and vinifying those grapes separately.
‘Pinotism’ is a term coined by the great Andrew Jeffords in describing the cult-like affection that Burgundy lovers have for their pet Pinot Noir, a finicky, difficult-to-ripen grape that commands loyalty like no other red wine variety, in part from the elusive mystery of its rocks-and-roses sensuality, and also—paradoxically—because the opposite is also true: Pinot Noir can appear as a sparkling, white, red or rosé; it goes with nearly everything, salmon to steak, which explains its popularity in restaurants.
In Burgundy, Pinot Noir reaches its fascinating apogee because of its most admirable trait: Given the correct environment, Pinot Noir can reflect the site where it is grown with greater clarity than any other varietal.
In Marsannay—a village once known for its Gamay—it is now the most widely planted grape, as integral to rosé (which also contains Pinot Gris and around 10% Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc) as it is to the robust reds of Chenôve and Couchey. In all, 445 acres of Marsannay’s vineyards are dedicated to red and rosé wine production with 69 acres used for Chardonnay-based whites.
We are pleased to offer one bottle of each of the following four producers in eight wines for a package price of $399.
Nobody knows the terroir of Marsannay quite like the Audoins. Having worked the soil and sold to négociants for multiple generations, 1972 heralded the year when the domain started bottling its own product. Under the management of Charles Audoin, the Audoin name on the label coincided with the expansion of the holdings from 6 acres to nearly 35.
Charles’s son Cyril took the reins in 2009, but Charles still remains active in the day to day operations, particularly in the vineyards. Cyril chose to keep the domain under his father’s name, as he credits his father with bringing the most change and attention to the property.
Says Cyril, “Farming at the domain falls under the sustainable lutte raisonnée method, and we farm almost exclusively with organic practices. I have chosen to farm with the environment in mind, and all harvesting is done by hand with selective sorting done at several stages. Our wines are made in a very traditional manner—reds see a varying degree of whole cluster inclusion during ferments, though rarely more than 30%, and in some years, there is no stem inclusion at all. This is dependent on the vintage and ripeness of the fruit and stems. Extractions are on the lighter side, keeping with our focus on allowing the fruit to show the elegance and grace of our terroir.” Élevage for all their wines is carried out in barrel, mostly neutral but with varying degrees of new oak depending on the cuvée.
Although the domain owns and bottles a couple of wines from Village-level sites in both Gevrey-Chambertin & Fixin, the heart of the domain is in Marsannay, where they produce seven different red bottlings, four whites and a rosé (as well an Aligoté). Of those bottlings, seven Pinots and Chardonnays are from single sites; 3 whites and 4 reds.
Domaine Charles Audoin ‘Cuvée Marie Ragonneau’, 2018 Marsannay ($44)
Named after Cyril’s great-grandmother, the blend originates from several top Audoin old vine parcels—Champs-Salomon, Les Crais, La Pucine, Herbues and Les Echezeaux. It’s intended as a representation of the village rather than a single vineyard. Tart cherry, cranberry and raspberry weave through a taut mineral core with black pepper and earth notes emerging on a mineral-driven finish.
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Domaine Charles Audoin, 2017 Marsannay ‘Les Longeroies’ ($50)
Les Longeroies is the largest of the Marsannay appellation lieux-dits; it sits on the northern side of town, halfway up the hill and just south of Clos du Roy. At higher elevations, the berries get smaller and are more susceptible to the uneven sizes (called millerandage), whereas the grapes produce larger, denser bunches on the deeper soils below. The wine is delicate and expressive, revealing notes of cherry, raspberry, violets, mushroom, and damp earth layered with fine tannins and bright acidity, ending with a seamless finish framed with minerals and earth.
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Domaine Charles Audoin ‘Cuvée Marie Charlie’, 2019 Marsannay Blanc ($44)
100% Chardonnay from Charme aux Prêtres and Clos du Roy, as well as a small portion of grapes from Les Récilles, Le Poiset and Les Crais. The bunches are 100% destemmed and cold macerated, and not crushed during pneumatic pressing in order to preserve the aroma and freshness. The wine then spends a year in 20% new oak barrels from the Vosges and six months in tanks, after which the wine is bottled without fining or filtration. The wine shows notes of honeysuckle and citrus while the oak provides a touch of toasted vanilla.
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The pilot of Domaine Guillon & Fils is indeed a pilot: When he first established himself in Burgundy in 1980, he flew planes for the French Navy—neither he, nor anyone in his family, had ever been involved in the wine trade. But he loved Burgundy, so he took an analytical approach and studied what experienced masters in the region did (including Rousseau, Dugat-Py and Denis Bachelet) and built up relationships that ultimately led to his acquisitions of vineyards. Today, the domain covers 35 acres including parcels in the Grand Cru sites of Clos de Vougeot and MazisChambertin.
In 2005 his son Alexis joined the business, and today carries forward the family legacy. He says, “Our goal is to produce succulent wines that retain a clear sense of style and grace while remaining identifiably Pinot Noir. This can only be attained by attention to detail in the vineyard with yields kept low to produce the best fruit, and scrupulous vinification methods using 100% of the finest new oak. This is an approach we carry across the entire range of our wines, including the Marsannay.”
Domaine Jean-Michel Guillon & Fils, 2018 Marsannay ‘Clos des Portes’ Monopole ($60)
Jean Michel purchased the entire Clos des Portes lieu-dit in 2005, making it a monopole. Farmed at yields similar to his Grand Crus, it’s said to resemble Gevrey-Chambertin before a Marsannay. Either way, it is a delicious and concentrated wine with lovely black raspberry fruit, spice, garrigue and fine nuances of raspberry pulp, lime and hints of hibiscus and jasmine.
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Domaine Jean-Michel Guillon & Fils, 2018 Marsannay ‘Les Quenicières’ ($57)
A discreet application of wood serves as a backdrop for the pretty plum, violet, earth and slightly gamy aromas; there is a mild touch of austerity to a balanced and refreshing finish.
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Having been founded in the 1950s by Fernand Lécheneaut, the domain launched modestly, with five acres of vineyard in Nuits-Saint-Georges, Chambolle-Musigny and Morey-Saint-Denis. During these early years, Lécheneaut sold bulk wine to négociants, but in 1985, his sons Philippe and Vincent took over and brought with them an expanded vision. They grew their vineyard holdings while they began to bottle at the estate. The new Lécheneaut plots, including several Premier Cru vineyards in Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin, speckle the map of the Côte de Nuits from north to south, but judiciously—many of the holdings are under an acre. With vines in 23 appellations, the total land under their management is around thirty acres.
As the Lécheneaut brothers approach retirement, Vincent’s son Jules has joined the team with a view toward combining lessons learned in his experiences working vines in Oregon with the exceptional terroir his family nurtures. He says, “The essence of our terroir philosophy is that a given wine should demonstrate—through its weight, smell, taste and nuance—its place of birth. Failing to prepare for this goal even before the first root stock goes into the ground can compromise the results years down the line. In the vineyard, Burgundian sensibility is a practice that involves ecology, and soil is only one part of that. Of equal importance is a thorough understanding of the site and which clone will best mirror the available orientation, the local topography and the climate.”
Domaine Lécheneaut, 2018 Marsannay ‘Les Sampagny’ ($72)
Les Sampagny, facing east southeast, is found on a Couchey hillside where the soils lie on bedded sediment strata from the mid-Jurassic, with marls of oestra acuminate. With a production of 1500 bottles, this is a highly allocated wine that shows ripe cherry and blackberry compote enmeshed in a matrix of supple tannins and bright acidity.
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Philippe Collotte is a tall, quiet and unassuming man, said to be cut from the Gary Cooper cloth; his wines, perhaps, do the talking. Specializing in lower yields, intensive selection before and at harvest and de-stemmed fruit, he bottles everything unfiltered from old vines, most over fifty years and one parcel planted in 1947. Tillage is done by plowing, without chemical weed-killers with yields are well below the appellation’s allowances. All fermentations are done with indigenous yeasts.
Recently, having completed viticulture school, Philippe’s daughter Isabelle has joined her father and specializes in making the family’s superb Marsannay blancs. She speaks with great enthusiasm about the estate: “There was a time when Domaine Collotte in Marsannay-la-Côte only had three hectares of vineyards. In recent years it has grown considerably. In 2015 there was 13 hectares (32 acres) under vines; in 2016 there was 15 hectares (37 acres) and in 2017, 17 hectares (42 acres). And that’s is about as much as we can handle. There is a limit to what we can do with our resources and still do a good job with our terroirs.”
Domaine Collotte, 2019 Marsannay ‘Les Boivins’ ($41)
The rounded hilltop in Marsannay where Les Boivins sits is similar to the one in Gevrey where the top Premier Crus reside. Boivins occupies the same relative position as Combe aux Moines in Gevrey. The soil is likewise the same: Crinoidal limestone rich in fossilized sea urchins and starfish. The grapes are 100% de-stemmed and spend 18 months in élevage, resulting in an open-knit bouquet with crushed strawberry mixed with orange pith and loamy aromas of pine, black olive and sweet cherries with hints of spice.
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Domaine Collotte ‘Cuvée Vieilles Vignes’, 2019 Marsannay ($31)
Cuvée Vieilles Vignes is assembled from five different terroirs with Collotte control, Combereau, Favières, Grasses Têtes, Boivins and Récilles where vines average 50 years old. Completely destemmed, the wine’s fruit expression is ‘joie de vivre’; medium-bodied with supple, grainy tannins, bright acidity and red cherry and blackberry fruit through to the finish.
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The following wines are also available. These older vintages have been kept at optimal conditions and will demonstrate the amazing ability of well-made and properly-curated Marsannay to mature and evolve.
Fifteen 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, 2015 Marsannay ‘Les Echezots’ ($68)
Les Echezots sits at one of the highest elevations in Marsannay, with parts of the vineyard at over 900 feet as it snuggles against the Bois des Francs forest. Because of this, it is the last plot that the Bart family harvests in a given year. Echezots benefits from stronger winds, which keeps rot and other maladies away from the grapes. Domaine Bart considers this their ‘brightest’ wine; it is always made in 600-liter demi-muids instead of the standard sized Burgundy barrel. It displays wild strawberries and slight smokiness above a velvety-textured body where the acidity, though sharp, is enveloped in the fruit.
Domaine Bart, 2015 Marsannay ‘Au Champ Salomon’ ($78)
Situated in the southern part of Marsannay, Au Champ Salomon is one of the premier vineyards in Couchey. The vineyard is planted mid-slope, producing wines that combine power and elegance with a propensity to age extremely well. It shows a complex, mature bouquet of wild mushrooms and earthy aromas with a rich burst of fruit in the mid-palate and a shivery minerality on the finish.
Located amid the rolling hills of Vosne-Romanée, Méo-Camuzet covers 35 acres in some of the most prestigious appellations and crus of Burgundy. As a rule, Burgundy is highly parceled land, making it rare for anyone to have enough vines to be able to bottle one Grand Cru—the Méos have six.
Étienne Camuzet and Jean Méo, after whom the estate is named, were politicians—Méo served as a member of Charles De Gaulle’s cabinet and Camuzet represented the Côte d’Or in Paris. As a result, the stewardship of the vines was left to the métayeurs, or share-croppers. When, in 1985, Jean-Nicolas Méo took over as director of sales and the cellar, he opted to put the vineyards in the capable hands of Christian Faurois, son of one of domain’s métayeurs, who had dedicated himself to these vineyards since 1973.
In the wines, Jean-Nicolas aims for balance and purity of fruit. “Delicate and fine even in their youth”, he says, “the concentration and intensity make them ideal for long cellar; they are a Burgundy lover’s dream. We bottle six Grand Crus from Richebourg, Clos de Vougeot, Echézeaux, Corton Clos Rognet, Corton Les Perrières, and Corton La Vigne au Saint, ten premier crus from the communes of Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-St-Georges, Chambolle-Musigny, and Fixin several village wines and one Bourgogne Rouge.”
His Marsannay comes from a parcel where the vine age averages more than sixty years.
Méo-Camuzet Frère & Sœurs, 2015 Marsannay ($150)
A négoce label (otherwise known as a négociant or micro-négoce), indicates a wine merchant who purchases grapes, juice, or finished wines and vinifies/bottles them under his/her own name. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and remains plush on the attack, offering a mix of sweet dark berries, black cherries, dark soil tones, espresso and a smoky top-note.
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Méo-Camuzet Frère & Sœurs, 2013 Marsannay ($150)
Again, a négoce label: One reason a winemaker may choose to operate this way is that vineyard sites, especially in prestigious regions, are extremely expensive, so a simple way for winemakers to cut costs is by purchasing fruit from an existing grower. The wine offers mature red berry fruit, raspberry jam, a little sour cherry; there is some green tea mid-palate and modest tannins.
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Jean-Yves Bizot is a professor of viticulture and oenology in Beaune who lives in Vosne- Romanée across the street from the old residence of the legendary winemaker Henri Jayer. With neighboring parcels in Vosne, the two vignerons used to discuss technique while working their vines and Bizot decided to adapt some of Jayer’s tricks in his own cellar, such as cooler temperatures for pre-fermentation. He still swears by his own methods, including the exclusive use of whole clusters grown organically and his refusal to use sulfur during vinification and élevage.
Bizot generally produces tiny quantities of under-the-radar Burgundy, but the distinct and rigorous philosophy he has forged for his domain ensure that it will be a model for future generations.
Recently, the professor made two purchases in the far north of the Côtes-de-Nuits, terroir that he believes are under-valued by the current generation, although they were highly regarded in past centuries. Both old-vine vineyards are just south of Dijon: Bourgogne Le Chapitre and in Marsannay, Clos du Roy.
Domaine Bizot, 2014 Marsannay ‘Clos de Roy’ ($140)
Clos du Roy, located in Chenôve, is the northernmost lieu-dit in Marsannay; it sits at vineyard sits at 900 feet and faces southeast. Soils are light, gravelly, calcium-rich ‘grèzes litée ‘near the top of the slope with red sandy marl toward the bottom. The wine is filled with savory notes of earth, herbs and forest floor with a touch of menthol and dried coriander; the core fruit remains, evolve into berry compote.
The name Henri Jayer resurfaces in the Mortet story as well. An iconic figure in Burgundy who started his career working with his father at Domaine Charles Mortet, Denis Mortet took over the winemaking duties in the 1980s, at which time, he met Henri Jayer, leading to a lifelong friendship… and mentorship. In 1991, when Charles Mortet retired, he split his holdings between his two sons. Denis took his vineyard inheritance and launched Domaine Denis Mortet; his wines drew influence and techniques from Jayer. When Denis died suddenly in 1999, his son Arnaud took the helm with a similar respect for both his father’s skills and those of his father’s mentor.
With the assistance of his sister Clémence and his mother Laurence, Arnaud Mortet has enhanced the quality of the farming for which the original estate was known. At the same time, he has evolved the style of the wines, reducing new wood, lessening the level of extraction and fine-tuning vinification to a point where the wines are considerably more elegant and chiseled than in the past, but without losing the tremendous grain and sensual quality that has made Mortet one of the ongoing leaders of the Jayer school.
Domaine Denis Mortet, 2006 Marsannay ‘Les Longeroies’ ($150)
For a fuller description of the climat, see below ‘Les Longeroies’. The northern portion of Marsannay rests on a large block of rock with younger oolite at the very top of the slopes. These rocks include White Oolite at the top and hard, pink Prémeaux limestone below. The middle and lower portions include sandy marl and ancient alluvium from the old Ouche riverbed. The wine is elegant and structured, showing glossy cherry inflected with minerality; of Mortet’s 2006 in particular, Jancis Robinson said, “Arnaud Mortet is clearly determined to live up to the high standards of his late father Denis.”
Domaine Denis Mortet, 2005 Marsannay ‘Les Longeroies’ ($160)
Les Longeroies—a combination of the words for ‘long’ and ‘narrow’—is an 89-acre vineyard more than a half a mile long from north to south and sitting at an elevation exceeding nine hundred feet. It is divided into three parcels: Dessus des Longeroies, Bas des Longeroies, and En Montchenevoy. Slopes, facing southeast, are moderate. Mortet’s 2005 example is filled with exquisite dense fruit and is still developing despite nearly two decades in the bottle.
As Marsannay is the northernmost appellation in the Côte de Nuits, Maranges in the southernmost wine-producing commune in the Côte de Beaune. Technically, of course, Maranges is inside the Saône et Loire administrative district, the Côte d’Or, but the local geology and wine style here mean that it continues to be considered a part of the Côte de Beaune.
Granted AOC status in 1989, the zone is formed from three communes; Cheilly-lès-Maranges, Dezize-lès-Maranges and Sampigny-lès-Maranges.
Maranges has a handful of Premier Cru vineyards clustered between its villages, and they run contiguously with those of neighboring Santenay to the east, where the soils are reminiscent of those further up the Côte d’Or escarpment, containing a relatively high level of limestone and clay.
Bertrand Bachelet took over the family estate from his father Jean-Louis in 2011, making him the fourth generation in an unbroken line of winegrowers. Like the generations that came before, he was driven by passion, both for making wine and for finding the voice of the terroir. Bachelet currently covers 32 acres stretching from in Dezize-lès-Maranges (one of the three villages that makes up the Maranges appellation) to Pommard in the Côte de Beaune.
Relatively unknown until recently, the increasing prices of more established villages has opened the door for smaller, relatively young appellations like Maranges to strut their stuff. From a terroir perspective, Maranges is similar to the rest of the Côte, the more clay dominated vineyards of the plains giving way to the limestone slope that rises into the distance.
While managing the vines, Bachelet applies the principles of lutte raisonnée, with as little intervention in the winery as possible. For his red wines, the fruit is partially or completely destemmed and a gentle extraction is employed—a technique particularly useful for Maranges grapes, of which Bachelet says, “It can be quite sturdy so I try to bring out the fruit profile more. The amount of new oak I use ranges from 20% to 50%, according to the vineyard site.”
Domaine Bertrand Bachelet, 2019 Maranges Premier Cru La Fussière ($45)
The hundred-acre La Fussière is the most important vineyard in Maranges, located near Cheilly and Dezize-lès-Maranges at the very southern end of the Côte d’Or. The climat has an unusual aspect: the Côte d’Or hillside curves westward at this end, which means that the hillside of Maranges faces directly south rather than the usual southeast, giving the vines all-day exposure to sunlight, helping with ripening and ensuring that the wines are richly perfumed and full-bodied. This one is soft and vibrant, with classic Burgundian cherry and plum.
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Domaine Bertrand Bachelet, 2019 Maranges ($37)
100% Pinot Noir in clay and limestone soil; extractions are made with minimal intervention, just some pigeage and remontage, the placed in barrels for one year using about 10% new oak. The wine shows a silky texture, fresh and elegant with airy aromas that exhibit background nuances of earth, flowers and spice.
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Excitement around the 2019 Burgundy vintage remains high, although the summer put climate change front and center; much of the crop was lost due to vines either being too stressed or grapes being sunburnt. The berries that did survive were, in general, richly concentrated. The red wines are, in general, complex, richly fruit-forward and refined, with the best examples likely to cellar well. The whites are also extremely concentrated, rich, and ripe, but without losing the crucial balance and elegance. In both categories, small yields means limited allocations, particularly of the top wines, and demand is high.
Noteworthy for having the hottest and driest growing seasons since the intense heatwave of 2003, 2018 provided perfect weather during flowering and again at harvest, with some drought between. The crop was among the biggest in years with the red wines of Côte de Nuits acclaimed for being mostly complex wines, enjoyable young, with good potential to age.
Low yields may or may not produce excellent vintages, but high yielding vintages like 2017 tend to produce what the French refer to as ‘restaurant wines,’ meaning that they offer plenty of fragrance, attractive fruit, lacy tannins, reasonably strong terroir characters and an overall air of approachability. 2017 was the most consistent growing season in several years, and many of the vines that had suffered badly in the previous year’s frosts went into overdrive and were, in some cases, overladen with fruit. Some producers chose to green harvest to counter this problem, as too much fruit can result in a lack of concentration in the individual berries. The Pinot Noir harvest began in early September and was finished before the heavy rains of October set it, leading to some spectacular wines.
An ideal growing season until excessive July heat began to pose some problems, which were eased by intermittent rains in August. Results were excellent overall with lush, ripe, broad-beamed wines produced in most Premier Cru sites.
A warm, dry spring led to early bud break, but in late June, hailstorms decimated some vineyards in the north, causing reduced yields and (the silver lining) more highly concentrated wines. A drying wind and a sunny September made this vintage especially friendly to Chardonnay while the Pinot Noir produced wines with a freshness ideal for early drinking, but the best examples tended to have enough character and structure to warrant long-term cellaring.
The ‘Vintage of the Century’ (2005) is a tough act to follow, and as a result, many of the top red wines from 2006 have been overlooked. Some tough weather spells throughout the growing season cut into yields, with a freak July hailstorm that devastated some vineyards, but for the most part, Côte de Nuits red wines were pretty and aromatic examples, light on their feet up front, with the best examples reaching their peak about now.
t’s hard to find a bad word to say about the Côte de Nuits’ 2005 vintage—the wines are full and texturally smooth, while retaining freshness and elegance. But to rank as a truly outstanding vintage, a wine requires more, and 2005 delivered, an unusually harmonious and complex balance of fine elements to edge the synergies into the ethereal.
Christophe Roumier (of Domaine Georges & Christophe Roumier) says, “The weather for red Burgundy 2005 in the Côte de Nuits was perfect, a vintner’s dream. Summer came early, with warm weather in June and a cool August that was notably dry. A little rain in September was just sufficient to give a last boost to the maturation, but not to dilute the grapes. The evolution of the sugar and acidity was excellent, encouraged by slow maturation, yielding good sugar levels and ripe tannins while retaining the acidity. This generosity is unusual, and adjustments were, in this case, entirely unnecessary.”
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.
This week’s package contains a number of exemplary wines from eight top producers; they represent the scope of style and quality from this beautiful corner of France, which proudly claims to be the home of Mourvèdre’s peak expression.
It may be impossible to find a region where the winemaking pedigree is more impressive; Phoenicians were fermenting grapes here 2500 years ago, long before the Romans showed up and named the wine ‘Massilia.’ As the late-afternoon Bandol heat sends wafts of violet, black pepper and thyme into the air above an azure sea, it’s easy to see why this seacoast resort town has been both a destination and a home since prehistory.
About an hour’s drive east from Marseille, the microclimate that sets Bandol apart from the rest of Provence is the result of altitude and its natural amphitheater; the vines are planted on steep hills where the soils are composed of limestone, red clay and silica sand and the vines are protected from the harshest winds by the natural bowl formed in the low coastal mountain ranges between La Ciotat and Toulon. This combination of features makes it ideal for ripening finicky, late-budding Mourvèdre, which might otherwise be challenged by the proximity of the Mediterranean.
The ecological niche that makes Bandol’s Mourvèdre unparalleled in the world is the work of both man and nature. While Syrah and Grenache are planted on Bandol’s cooler, north-facing slopes, Mourvèdre is strategically placed on warmer, south-facing slopes to help nudge along the ripening process—the varietal is notorious for the time it needs to reach the level of phenolic ripeness required for the big, brooding, spicy, age-worthy reds for which the appellation is famous. Even so, the vines cling desperately to the slopes, making mechanical harvesting impossible. But hand-gathering is preferred in any case, ensuring a finer selection of grapes, in better condition and with smaller yields.
Meanwhile, the variety itself seems custom-designed for Bandol; Mourvèdre is an upright bush vine that forms a short stumpy trunk that will stand up to the Mistral winds. Bandol growers give preference to goblet pruning in order to reduce the amount of foliage and to help the low-producing vine bear triangular bunches with small, tight grapes bunches.
To say that Bandol’s climate is ideal for Mourvèdre is not to say that growers have a smooth path to success: On the contrary, constant vigilance is table-stakes for successful winemaking operations; understanding the AOP regulations is a task in itself; following them is that much harder. For example, young vines intended for the production of red wines are not allowed to contribute until the eighth leaf has appeared on their trunk, and from that point, during every stage of cultivation, yields are controlled. Vine density must be at least 5,000 per hectare while spur pruning (leaving two-bud spurs on the trunk) is required. Chaptalization (adding sugar to unfermented grapes to increase the wine’s alcohol content) is banned, as is ‘any enrichment or concentration operation, even within the limits of the legal prescriptions in force.’
Things don’t get any easier in the cellar. Technology may have lightened certain workloads, allowing better control and new progress in quality, but the old ways reign supreme. Maturation is an essential factor in red wine production, and here, the vigneron’s know-how is irreplaceable. The primary goal in producing Bandol is to achieve balance through a process of slow, natural stabilization, and at each stage, wines are carefully selected and tasted and are accepted only if they meet the requirements of their status. A blind tasting test is carried out in June of the first year following harvest to allow the wine growers to examine the evolution of the vintage. It’s considered a ‘mock exam’ from which each wine grower learns critical lessons.
In with the old, in with the new: In September, 2022, after 25 years of ownership, Guillaume and Soledad Tari sold Domaine de la Bégude to the Roulleau family, who then became the fifth family to own the wine estate since the Middle Ages. Christian Roulleau immediately appointed Laurent Fortin as Managing Director. Fortin, who has managed Château Dauzac (also Roulleau-owned) since 2016, says, “The Roulleau family fell in love with this site, these exceptional terroirs set in the garrigue and these wines with strong personality. We are following in the footsteps of the Tari family to make La Bégude shine at the top of the Bandol appellation. The challenge is exciting, in the continuity of Château Dauzac, to build a family group of inspired vineyards.”
The synergy between the Tari and Roulleau clans has been immediately apparent, both in viticultural dynamism and in the pioneering spirit that shares the common value of respect for nature and biodiversity. Under the Tari family, Bégude was a place of natural agro-forestry, home to the International Conservatory of Mourvèdre, which farms an exceptional vine collection of 150 Mourvèdre varieties, the largest in the world. Going forward, the intention is to reinforce and maintain this collection.
The estate itself encompasses more than 1200 acres, of which 75 are under vine—65% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache and 10% Cinsault, now at an average age of 25 years. The vineyards sit at elevations exceeding 1300 feet, and as such, are among the highest in the appellation. The plan is to increase the cultivation to 100 acres over the next few years and to continue to produce Bégude’s hallmark rich, acidic, fruit-driven wines that develop in the cellar with elegance. The Roulleaus are proud to age their own wines in the old chapel of Miséricorde of Conil, dating from the 7th century—a vestige of the presence of the Abbey of Saint Victor on the estate.
Domaine de la Bégude ‘Cadet de la Bégude’, 2020 IGP Méditerranée ($25)
A nice declassified Bandol made from young vines (around 10 years old) and without oak, 34% Mourvèdre, 33% Grenache, 33% Cinsault. Scents of black cherries, with hints of mint, lavender and spice gives rise to a warm and dense palate with an evocative, herbal finish.
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Domaine de la Bégude ‘La Brulade’, 2017 Bandol ($99)
95% Mourvèdre, 5% Grenache grown on clay marl. ‘La Brulade’ is the name of a select slope located at an altitude of 1300 feet overlooking the Mediterranean Sea between La Baie d’Amour in the south and La Sainte Baume in the north, one of the highest parcels in Bandol; the wine is only made in exceptional vintages. With 24 months of foudre aging behind firm and tannic fruit, the wine is dark and brooding and shows blackberry, boysenberry, licorice and peppery garrigue. It should continue to develop nuance for years to come.
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Domaine de la Bégude ‘L’Irréductible’, 2020 Bandol Rosé ($43)
90% Mourvèdre and 10% Grenache from vines averaging 45 years of age, it is a quintessential Bandol rosé with expressive red berry notes along with nectarine and orange pith softening the finely integrated minerality and closing whiff of iodine and saline … as if from a sea breeze.
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A further selection from our favorite producers in Bandol—estates that have delivered reliably over the years and whom we trust with the assured bonhomie of old friends:
Founded in 1979 by Henri and Geneviève Tournier, Roche Redonne is situated among the Bandol foothills surrounded by olive groves and garrigue scrub just outside the pretty village of La Cadière d’Azu. The 30-acre vineyard is farmed using organic methods and the vines now average more than 40 years old, with the youngest vines at 20 years and the oldest at 60 years. The yields are kept low, and in fitting with the appellation laws, the steeply hilled vineyards are harvested by hand.
Domaine Roche Redonne ‘Cuvée Les Bartavelles’, 2019 Bandol ($69)
‘Bartavelles’ means ‘Royal Partridges’, and there is certainly a noble delivery here: On the nose, lovely scents of ripe black fruit, licorice and sweet spice waft above a powerful, full-bodied palate with notes of blueberry, wild herbs and peppery spice.
Michel and Louis Bronzo purchased Bastide Blanche in the ‘70s in the belief that the terroir could produce a wine to rival those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. With that in mind, the brothers planted Carignan, Cinsault, Clairette, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. Vintage 1993 proved to be their breakaway year, putting both Bandol and themselves on the wine map. The estate is located in the foothills of Sainte-Baume Mountain, five miles from the Mediterranean Sea on land that is primarily limestone scree.
Domaine de la Bastide Blanche, 2018 Bandol ($30)
72% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache, 6% Cinsault, 1% Syrah and 1% Carignan. A muscular core of earthy dark fruit is highlighted by classic leather, garrigue, underbrush and sweet black raspberry notes.
With AOP standards that exceed those of Burgundy and Bordeaux, the third ‘B’ in age-worthy French reds is, unmistakably, Bandol. Much smaller than the first two, the wines of Bandol are built primarily around Mourvèdre; 50% of Bandol must be composed of this grape, but assemblages frequently contain 95% Mourvèdre—only because the law requires two varieties in any bottle, white, red or pink. The truth is, many Bandol vignerons would like to get rid of this stricture to allow for 100% Mourvèdre wines.
Mourvèdre naturally produces a smaller crop of grapes than either Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon, but even so, Bandol restricts the production per acre to levels much lower than either Burgundy and Bordeaux. There is a saying in Bandol: “One vine, one bottle,” which speaks to this extremely low-yield type of viticulture. Additionally, Mourvèdre vines must be at least eight years old before they are allowed to be used for red Bandol wine, double the minimum age required for vines in Burgundy and Bordeaux. Bandol red wine must also be aged in barrel a minimum of 18 months, though many producers age their wines much longer.
The effect of all these regulations ensures the highest possible quality for Bandol reds and the most expressive potential for their star variety, which tends to be aggressively tannic in its youth, viticulturally and oenologically. Lower yields, older vines, and extended aging helps moderate and soften Mourvèdre’s forceful profile, leading to wines of finesse with remarkable ageability, as this selection of Bandol wines with a few years of correct cellaring will demonstrate:
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.
Château Pradeaux, 2015 Bandol ($50)
95% Mourvèdre, 5% Cinsault. In contrast to the three years preceding it, the 2015 vintage yielded a classic and deeply typical Pradeaux Bandol: a wine of grainy, spicy fruit, medium in weight but rippling with underlying power, and with an intoxicating aromatic overlay of violets and smoked meats.
Château Pradeaux ‘Cuvée Vesprée’, 2020 Bandol Rosé ($46)
95% Mourvèdre, 5% Cinsault. After spending a year on the lees in demi-muids and concrete eggs, the wine shows the creamy redolence of the richest rosé; the nose offers orange peel, grilled plums, wild strawberry. Dry and gently acidic, it finishes with the tang of dried garden herbs.
Château Pradeaux, 2021 Bandol Rosé ($37)
80% Mourvèdre, 20% Cinsault. The wine is a coppery, flamingo-pink, with more extraction and tannin than your typical Bandol rosé. It shows round and ripe on the palate, medium to full-bodied, with cherry and lime notes and a long, almost dusty finish. It is a limited production wine, as most of the Mourvèdre production at Château Pradeaux is used to make the formidable Bandol Rouge.
Robert Parker Jr. once referred to Domaine Tempier’s rosé as ‘the world’s greatest’, but the backstory isn’t bad either: Gifted the property by her father in 1936 upon her marriage to Lucien Peyraud, Lucie ‘Lulu’ Tempier found herself the owner of an active Bandol farm near Le Plan du Castellet that had been in the family since 1834. Her husband did extensive research into the terroir, and immediately halted the ongoing effort to tear out Mourvèdre vines in favor of higher-yielding varieties. In went new Mourvèdre, some of which are still producing.
With the assistance of neighboring vignerons, Lucien worked with the I.N.A.O. to establish Bandol as its own AOC, whereupon a large-scale replanting of Mourvèdre ensued across the region, As a result, Lucien will forever be celebrated as the Godfather of Bandol as well as the man who revived Mourvèdre to its former glory. Part of that glory includes their three single-vineyard releases, La Migoua, La Tourtin, and Cabassaou.
Domaine Tempier ‘La Migoua’, 2016 Bandol ($85)
50% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache, 26% Cinsault, 4% Syrah. La Migoua’s terroir is primarily made up of heterogeneous clay that varies in color between red, ochre, and blue. At 885 feet, it sits at the highest altitude of all Tempier’s vineyards. The 60 acres are surrounded by garrigue and pine forest, and the grapes produce earthy, gamey wines. La Migoua has the smallest amount of Mourvèdre in the blend, with the highest percentage of Grenache of the three cuvées.
Domaine Tempier ‘La Tourtine’, 2016 Bandol ($85)
80% Mourvèdre, 10% Grenache, 10% Cinsault. La Tourtine sits just above Cabassaou, where the soil is more homogeneous and rich with clay. As a result, the 30-acre La Tourtine produces powerful, tannic wines with gorgeous fruit character.
Domaine Tempier ‘Cabassaou’, 2016 Bandol ($129)
95% Mourvèdre, 4% Syrah, 1% Cinsault. At 4 acres, Cabassaou is the smallest Tempier vineyard, but with the oldest vines, now surpassing fifty years. It sits lower on the hillside where it is protected from the strength of the Mistral, enjoying temperate breezes and maximum sunshine, which is evidenced by is ripeness, density and power in the wines.
‘Gros’ means big, but as for ‘Noré, the translators are silent. But ‘big’ is the operative word anyway since it describes the proprietor in body, mind and legend. A former boxer and an avid hunter, Alain Pascal spent many years as a grower who sold his Bandol fruit to Domaine Ott and Château de Pibarnon. Along with his father, he bottled wine for family consumption only. But in 1997, after his father’s death, Alain launched Domaine du Groś Noré, and now, along with his brother Guy, bottles 5000 cases annually drawn from his forty acres of prime Cadière d’Azur vineyard.
The brothers work within the strictures of the region and often, beyond them, leaving the grapes to mature fully on the vine, lending great intensity to the fruit, and where appellation law demands that each blend includes at least 50% Mourvèdre, Alain ups the assemblage ante to 80%. The wine reflects the man; big and bold up front, while underneath is a core of character—depth, complexity, soul and finesse.
Domaine du Groś Noré, 2011 Bandol ($79)
80% Mourvèdre, 15% Grenache, 5% Cinsault. The 35-acre vineyard contains vines of about 30 years in age. With a decade under its belt, the harsh tannins have softened and the wine has given over its aggressive fruit to cool notes of eucalyptus and fresh fennel.
Domaine du Groś Noré ‘Cuvée Antoinette’, 2010 Bandol ($99)
95% Mourvèdre, 5% Cinsault/Grenache from a small, two-acre vineyard. Black cherry and stewed plum notes remain to enliven balsa, tobacco, game, graphite and iron.
Domaine du Groś Noré ‘Cuvée Antoinette’, 2013 Bandol ($99)
95% Mourvèdre, 5% Cinsault/Grenache. A beautiful composition with notes of underbrush and mushroom behind the dark red fruits and spice. The tannins are resolved and the acidity is suitably tempered.
Sitting pretty at an elevation of 500 feet on 35 acres of red earth, clay, sand, and gravel over a sturdy limestone plateau in Le Brûlat du Castellet in the northwestern corner of Bandol, Domaine de la Tour du Bon is the culmination of commitment and sweat equity. The property, cleared by plough, has been a full-time farm since 1925 and has been worked by the Hocquard family since 1968. At the helm is Agnès Henry, who spent a number of years at the apron strings of a hired winemaker, but when she decided to approach the job herself, she found that her person expression of terroir was quite unique. The wines she claims as her own have both power and precision in equal measure, but effectively display the finesse and charm of her lyrically named vineyards, La Rémoise (The Dweller), Saint Ferréol (a local saint), Ensoleillade (Place Bathed in Sunshine), Clos des Aïeux (Clos of the Forefathers), l’Aire (the Aerie) and Bellevue (Beautiful View).
Domaine de La Tour du Bon, 2016 Bandol ($38)
55% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 5% Carignan. Agnès Henry explains the assemblage: “The Grenache counters the Mourvèdre’s tannin, rusticity, and spice while adding higher-toned notes; Carignan for freshness and Cinsault to bind it all together harmoniously.”
Domaine de La Tour du Bon ‘En Sol’, 2017 IGP Méditerranée ($85)
A half-acre site produces this extraordinary non-blended Mourvèdre, but since it breaks Bandol AOP regulations requiring a two-grape minimum, Henry has chosen to declassify the wine and release it as IGP Méditerranée. Grippy yet accessible tannins underscore flavors of ripe dark fruit, berries, scorched earth and a touch of smoked meat.
Owning a winery may be the whispered dream of many sommeliers, but Georges Delille put his francs where his mouth was. In 1963, he bought an idyllic property in Ollioules, just east of Bandol, framed by the Mediterranean and the Big Brian mountain (Gros-Cerveau). The site was dotted with olive groves and scenic views, but no vines. Georges spent ten years renovating the property; he terraced hillsides, refashioned the masonry, replanted vineyards following the advice of Lucien Peyraud, designated soils to lie dormant and regenerate, and built a new cellar. In 1980, his son Reynald joined him after attending winemaking school, and together they launched their first bottled vintage of Domaine de Terrebrune, which Reynald named in honor of the rich, brown soils they farm.
There is plenty of diversity in this soil, though. Throughout Terrebrune’s 75 acres, beneath the layers of clay and earth, blue, fissured limestone is at work, lending a more noticeable minerality to the wine. Reynald’s personal credo of “Philosophy, rigor, and respect” is not a catch-phrase, but an ideology for living.
Domaine de Terrebrune, 2016 Bandol ($54)
85% Mourvèdre, 10% Grenache, 5% Cinsault grown in limestone-pebbled brown clay above blue limestone bedrock. A full-bodied dose of Terrebrune terroir that should continue to mature and drink well for another two decades. Shows blackberries, dark cherries and cedar with hints of black pepper, game, licorice and dark chocolate.
Often referred to as the ‘Lord of Graves’, Haut-Brion sealed its reputation for quality in 1855 when its red wine was classified as a First Growth along with three prestigious Médoc properties. A new classification of Graves red wines was carried out in 1953, with dry white wines added in the 1959 update.
It’s fair to say that the creation of the Pessac-Léognan appellation in 1987 changed the appellation’s direction. Located in the north of Graves and intended to cover the district’s finest dry red and white wines, it contains many of its most respected producers, including Haut-Brion and its co-owned neighbor, the recent star performer La Mission Haut-Brion. Pessac-Léognan extends from the parish of Pessac and the southern outskirts of the city around 5 miles south to Léognan.
Founded in the 16th century, Haut-Brion has been owned by the Dillon family since 1935. As is the pattern in Bordeaux, the estate produces second labels: Le Clarence de Haut-Brion for red wines, meant to be drunk earlier than its big brother, and La Clarté de Haut-Brion, made in tiny quantities and originating in part from the vines of La Mission Haut-Brion.
The winter of 2018-2019 was mild and dry, and in the spring, flowering took place under ideal conditions, without the poor fruit set of coulure or millerandage. During the summer, regular rainfall was conducive to growth, leading the vines to develop an impressive leaf canopy. A series of successive heatwaves hit midsummer, and July was the third hottest in history, with temperatures reaching a record-breaking 108°F. Fortunately, rain fell by month’s end, followed by cool nights in August. Véraison was slow but uninterrupted and September was marked by fine, dry and sunny conditions interspersed by welcomed rainfall. Thanks to this ideal spell of weather, all the grape varieties were harvested at peak ripeness and at a leisurely pace.
Jean-Philippe Delmas, who took over management of Château Haut-Brion in 2006, expressed his delight with the 2019 vintage: “It is a rich, dramatic and unusually powerful vintage, a great success for both Château Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion.”
In discussing his white wines, he says, “The weather conditions are pointing to more Sauvignon Blanc in our assemblage; Sémillon tends to lose its acidity rapidly in warm vintages. The vineyard team are working to mitigate the effects of climate change and minimize the quantities of copper employed in treatments throughout the year. White grapes are whole-cluster pressed with great attention to pH, the musts protected with dry ice, and bottled with some 25 parts per million free sulfites, without much in the way of dissolved carbon dioxide.”
Château Haut-Brion & Château La Mission Haut-Brion ‘La Clarté de Haut-Brion’, 2019 Pessac-Léognan Blanc ($119)
Describing 2019 La Clarté, he says, “Aromas of confit citrus fruit, peaches, grapefruit and pastry cream make the 2019 La Clarté de Haut-Brion full-bodied, deep and fleshy, with a satiny attack and an ample core of fruit underpinned by lively acids and chalky structure. Overall the wine is richer and headier in style than its 2018 predecessor.”
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More than angular Bordeaux or earthy Burgundy, or even the fat, smoky offerings from Northern Rhône, the wines of the Southern Rhône epitomize the notion of ‘user friendly.’ Big and luscious when young, rich and fruit-centered as they age, these wines are not only sumptuous at all stages, they are often available at price points very congenial to consumers. A veritable varietal free-for-all with up to 19 different grapes legally permitted, this includes using white-skinned grapes (in particular, Viognier) in red wine to add perfume and spice and results in some of the most distinctive cuvées in France.
The irony of Southern Rhône, perhaps, is that the most famous name, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, may bludgeon a drinker with its sheer, high-alcohol hedonism. But in honesty, in the broader context, Châteauneuf operates in a personal orbit somewhat removed from the greater appellation, with its own PR machine, workforce and identity.
This week’s wine package highlights seven of CdP’s Southern Rhône co-stars. None are really rivals, and they certainly are not also-rans, and although a few may style themselves after Châteauneuf, they are all unique representatives of their individual places of origin.
They’re also examples of the realities of the global warming in Southern Rhône, where vineyards at higher elevations are finding that changing conditions can actually work in their favor. If nothing else, it this combination of pluck, reason and savoir faire that may be viewed as the benchmark ideology behind the elegant and opulently textured wines of Southern Rhône beyond du Pape.
The core of the cuvée concept in any wine region is that individual varieties tend to have both strengths and weaknesses; if a vintner can take advantage of a strength and compensate for a weakness, success is achieved. In Southern Rhône, the industry slang ‘GSM’ refers to the magical synergy that comes from a classic marriage of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, although not necessarily in that order. Grenache provides abundant fruit and soft spice while Syrah is responsible for a tannic backbone and body-structure with black pepper notes and Mourvèdre adds color, complexity and elegance.
Although the acronym ‘GSM’ likely originated in Australia, the spiritual home for this triumvirate is Southern Rhône, where the complementary meshing of the three varieties became the official mode of the region in 1937. By local law, a minimum of 30% GSM must make up at least 70% of the blend. That said, the blends tend to be a bit lopsided in Southern Rhône. Grenache is the most widely planted grape and tends to make up the lion’s share of overall blends, with other varieties adding counterpoint notes, but not dominance.
To say that the wines of Lirac are lyrical is not just a pun; the noted combination of elegant perfume and savory grace softens the might. Lirac’s reds are similar in style to the softest of the Côtes du Rhône Villages but miles ahead in complexity: 85% of Lirac production is red, with rosés accounting for 5% and whites the remaining 10%.
Lirac’s two thousand acres are directly across the Rhône from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and the appellation shares the same iconic galets roulés scattered throughout the sandy limestone soils. Vineyards on Lirac’s upper terraces are generally made of red clay and the large pebbles are here known as ‘terrasses villafranchiennes’; the soil of the lower vineyards shows more loess and clay-limestone. All elevations are prone to summer drought and, under certain strictures, irrigation is allowed.
“The terroir of Lirac is often hidden in the shadows of Châteauneuf-du-Pape,” says Laure Poisson of Les Vignerons de Tavel & Lirac. “But in recent years, Lirac has emerged from the shadows to become something different, something unique.”
GSM represents the Big Three in Southern Rhône, but at Domaine de la Mordorée, the most significant trio is Christophe and Fabrice Delorme along with their father Francis. In 1986, they purchased an estate in Tavel with the intention of producing world-class wine while remaining dedicated to an ecologically-sound stewardship of their land. The success of the venture may be measured by the glowing praise heaped upon them by Robert Parker Jr. in 2007: “With 135 acres spread throughout some of the most impressive appellations of the Southern Rhône, Christophe Delorme and his brother have produced one exquisite wine after another. Of course, the top cuvées of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are rare and expensive, but this is a place to find terrific Côtes-du-Rhônes and Liracs as well. Delorme is equally adept at dry whites as well as reds, and turns out some stunning rosés both under the Côtes-du-Rhône and Tavel appellations.”
With the untimely passing of Christophe in 2015, his daughter Ambre has stepped in; also invaluable to the current team is winemaker Rémy Chauvet, who worked as Christophe’s cellar manager. The 135 acres mentioned by Parker Jr. cover 38 parcels in Tavel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Lirac, Côtes-du-Rhone and Condrieu; the variety of terroirs thus explored make trellising a vital consideration. Says Fabrice, “Goblet training is used for older, untrellised vineyards, with the canopy remaining free, a traditional pruning method provides better resistance to wind and drought and lesser sensitivity to trunk diseases. Cordon de Royat training is used for newer, trellised vineyards. The newer method allows for higher vines, leaving a larger leaf surface exposed to the sun, which yield colorful grapes that are richer in tannins and in sugar. Exposure to sunlight also produces healthier grapes and allows a greater development of aromas.”
Land stewardship remains vital to the Mordorée culture, which adheres to the raisonnée method—intervening in the vineyard only when necessary. The yield is reduced in the vineyard by ébourgeonnage (de-budding in spring) and vendanges vertes (green harvesting) in the summer.
1. Domaine de la Mordorée ‘La Reine des Bois’, 2019 Lirac ($38)
40% Syrah and 30% each of Grenache and Mourvèdre grown on 40-year-old vines among the famous ‘galets roulés’—large stone pebbles—that mark this part of the Rhône’s sand and clay soils. While 10% is fermented in older casks, 90% of the wine goes into stainless steel; the wine shows juicy forest berry behind crushed-stone minerality livened up with sizzling black spice. It’s lush and velvety with violet notes and a touch of mocha.
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2. Domaine de la Mordorée ‘La Dame Rousse’, 2019 Lirac ($26)
The ‘Redheaded Lady’ is a blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah grown on 50 acres of 40-year-old vines. It’s loaded with smoky black cherries, licorice, scorched terra cotta and a richly expressed minerality that is characteristic of this pebble-littered terroir.
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Where the terrain of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is sun and wind, Gigondas is forest and scrubland filled with wild lavender, sage and thyme, forming the archetypal ‘garrigue’ of Southern France. These brambly, herbal aromatics are a common in tasting notes of Gigondas wines, and it is perhaps testimonial to the phenomenal power of terroir that grapes and wildflowers can coax the same flavors from the earth: a combination of limestone soils on the Montmirail slopes to the east, and rocky, sandy, free-draining soils on the flatter, lower-lying plains to the north and west.
Maximum yield in Gigondas is set at 36 hectoliters per hectare, only slightly more than the restrictions of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. As an additional quality assurance, a technique known as ‘triage’ is employed—the mandatory separation of healthy grapes from imperfect grapes.
With forty acres of prime Gigondas terroir facing the rocky slopes of Les Dentelles de Montmirail and another 55 in Vacqueyras, brothers Jean-Michel and Frédéric Vache credit success to a number of factors, including old-vine parcels, a conscientious approach to winemaking and their atmospheric 11th century cellar. Among the technical aspects favored by their process are long maceration periods, extended élevages and no new oak.
In the Vacqueyras, their vineyards grow on somewhat exclusive terroir; the safres and marls of the Miocene era represent less than 10% of the appellation. In the extreme south of Gigondas dominated by the remains of an old, 8th century watchtower (La Tour Sarrasine), the southerly exposures of the hillside vines receive ideal sunshine balanced by cool nights and enhanced by the clay-rich soils.
Of the origins of the estate’s name, Frédéric explains: “The Vache and Archimbaud families are among the oldest families in Vacqueyras. Indeed, they are already present in the first Clerical registers of the 17th century. The oldest part of the building, currently our tasting cellar, dates from the 12th century and would have belonged to the Knights Templar. A farmer was then in charge of livestock and crops. This farmer was called ‘Chasal’, a word which over time was to become ‘Cazaux’, the current name of the estate.”
Jean-Michel adds, “The first plantations of vines date from the middle of the 19th century, on the poorest soils, where nothing else could grow. In these times when food sufficiency was at the center of all concerns, the vines simply ensured the family consumption of wine. In the 20th century, the cultivation of the vine intensified to become a monoculture from 1957, immediately after the catastrophic frosts of 1956 which ravaged the olive, apricot and cherry orchards.”
3. Domaine Le Clos des Cazaux ‘La Tour Sarrasine’, 2020 Gigondas ($31)
A blend of 70% Grenache and 15% each of Syrah and Mourvèdre from vines between 30 and 60 years old. The wine is redolent of black bramble-berries and shows notes of new saddle leather, lavender and Herbes de Provence. The fruit is in the forefront behind tannins, and a great balance between the two offers a pure and seamless mouthfeel.
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Quality will out: Vacqueyras was once one of the Côtes du Rhône villages, but the consistent quality of its wines—in particular, its intensely concentrated reds—earned it an upgrade to a full, independent AOC in 1990. With Gigondas to the northeast and Châteauneuf-du-Pape to the northwest, Vacqueyras is a wine that resembles both, although it is generally considered to be slightly less refined. By law, the wines of Vacqueyras are required to contain at least 50% Grenache, while Syrah and Mourvèdre must together account for at least 20%. Any of the other Côtes du Rhône varieties may make up 10 percent—Carignan was formerly excluded, but is now permitted.
Vacqueyras nestles at the feet of the Dentelles de Montmirail foothills, and the finest vineyard sites are on the steep, southwest-facing limestone slopes just to the east of the town. These hills demonstrate the origins of the landscape, divided between limestone ridges at 1650 feet and an alluvio-glacial terrace formed many thousands of years ago. The climate is strictly Mediterranean—the sea is 50 miles to the south—blessing the region with a long, hot, dry growing season, ensuring maximum ripeness in its vineyards. This, combined with south-westerly exposures, explains the relatively high density of vines in Vacqueyras’ vineyards.
4. Domaine Le Clos des Cazaux ‘Cuvée des Templiers’, 2018 Vacqueyras ($28)
50% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre from vines between 30 and 50 years old; Plush and juicy, the fruit-jamming quality of Grenache is balanced by sharper, savory tones of Syrah and Mourvèdre to make a keenly balanced, silky-textured red nuanced by hints of toast, wet earth and cocoa powder.
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Domaine de La Colline St. Jean has been family-owned for several generations; the dynamic Roland Alazard, who passed away in 2013, has passed down the reins to his son Cyril and his daughter Aurélie, who have dedicated themselves to preserving the character and traditions of this classic Côtes-du-Rhône wine.
Their sixty acres of south facing vineyards in Vin de Pays du Vaucluse (IGP), Côtes-du-Rhône, Vacqueyras, Gigondas and Beaumes de Venise include vines of an average age of 50 years and are planted primarily on clay and limestone.
5. Domaine de La Colline Saint Jean ‘Vieilles Vignes’, 2019 Vacqueyras ($33)
80% Grenache and 20% Syrah from vines between 85 and 110 years old. Picked manually, then sorted and destemmed, following which, the must is macerated on the skins for 20 days in concrete vats. The wine displays ripe black fruits, plum, brandied cherries, and finely-grained tannins that leave the impression of chocolate dust.
In the world of wine, longevity is the consummation devoutly to be wished; it means staying power, both on the palate and in the field. Domaine La Garrigue was founded in 1850 by the same family that runs the property today. Brothers Maxime and Pierre Bernard are at the helm, with wives, children, nieces and nephews all at work, and there is plenty to be done: At over two hundred acres, it is the largest domain in Vacqueyras and the Bernard family was instrumental in having the region elevated to Cru status.
There are three terroirs in Vacqueyras, and La Garrigue has plots in each of them, aware of what each brings to the party. Red-clay-under-galets plateau of La Garrigue (not coincidentally, where Domaine la Garrigue is located) offers power and depth, the sandy soils around the village of Vacqueyras bring finesse and the rocky limestone slopes at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail mean structure.
This property focuses on making wines with minimal manipulation to let the terroir speak through the wines. The oldest vines of Domaine de la Garrigue were planted in the late 1940’s, just after the Germans left the area after World War II.
6. Domaine La Garrigue ‘Albert & Camille’, 2019 Vacqueyras ($26)
75% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, 5% Cinsault grown on clay-limestone and sand on an ancient river terrace. La Garrigue’s flagship wine is a quintessential and charming Vacqueyras loaded with brandied cherry, Damson plum and mulberry above complex undertones of leather, pepper and spice.
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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.
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.
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.
7. Domaine Alary ‘L’Estévenas’, 2019 Cairanne ($26)
60% Grenache, 40% Syrah. Blackberries, a wine jammed with black cherries, applewood, garrigue and floral notes with loads of Provençal charm, notable complexity, fine tannins and a long, mineral-crisp finish.
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“Rasteau is a powerful wine,” says Helen Durand of Domaine du Trapadis. “Power and freshness aren’t opposites here. Even if acidity is soft, there is freshness from minerality and finesse, particularly with age.”
Long considered one of the best of the Côtes du Rhône Villages, the appellation obtained Cru status for dry red wines in 2010—previously, it had been heralded for its fortified sweet wine, Vin Doux Naturel (VDN). The climate is typical of Southern Rhône except that the south-facing hillsides provide protection from the cool Mistral winds; the soils are relatively diverse, though it is the higher proportion of clay which gives the red wines their distinctive body and richness. Rootstocks are chosen to take account of the soil type, so each vine can be grown in the most suitable location. Many parcels are covered in rounded cobbles, carried down from the Alps by the Ouvèze when the glaciers melted over 18 million years ago. These retain heat well, storing it by day and releasing it to the vines at night to produce excellent concentration in the grapes. In summer, the vines must search deeper to find the nutrients they require. They develop strong root systems which helps minimize hydric stress; thus, as in most wine regions, the poor soils of Rasteau soils can produce extremely high-quality wines.
A family-run estate for eight generations, brothers Daniel & Frédéric Coulon and Daniel’s sons Victor and Antonin carry forward the torch amid a mosaic of limestone, round pebbles on a clay substrate with varying amounts of iron and fine sedimentary sand. There are 13 legally permitted varieties in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and Beaurenard grows them all. After allowing a specific plot to remain fallow for twelve years, the Coulons splice-grafted each allowable grape variety chosen from the estate’s oldest vines and created a Conservatory: “Our primary goal was to safeguard the natural genetic heritage that is particularly well adapted to the terroir. But we were also mindful of future generations, and if global warning continues, to increase the proportion of varieties that contain less sugar and contribute aromatic complexity.”
8. Domaine de Beaurenard, 2019 Rasteau ($33)
80% Grenache, 17% Syrah and 3% Mourvèdre from Beaurenard’s sixty acres in Rasteau, the wine displays an array of floral scents in the nose in the nose with garrigue and wild blackberry notes. Fruity and spicy on the palate with wild raspberry, rosemary and thyme with an appealing tannic structure.
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To say ‘Tavel rosé’ is to repeat yourself since, by law, all wine from Tavel is rosé. Creeping along the right bank of the Rhône River in the Gard, the soils of Tavel are a potpourri of small stones called galets roulés, fine sand and fractured limestone, and the hot, dry climate allows the grapes (predominantly Grenache, Syrah and Clairette) to achieve full phenolic ripeness. As a result, Tavel rosé tends to be richer and more deeply colored than the salmon-pink wines from other regions, with an associated complexity of flavor in the glass.
The estate (which has belonged to the Congregation of Missionary Fathers of the Holy Family since the 18th century) operates under the motto, ‘Auspice clara Manissy Stella’, or, ‘beneath the protection of the bright star of Manissy.’ Since 2004, it has also operated under the auspices of Florian André, whose winemaking and cellar skills have upheld the Château’s reputation for Tête de Cuvée barrel-aged rosé.
9. Château de Manissy ‘Cuvée des Lys’, 2021 Tavel ($19)
60% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 20% Clairette from vines that average 45 years old, grown in clay, river rock and fine-grained sand. It opens with aromas of white flowers and spring strawberries, filling out in a silky blend of watermelon and pomegranate; it is rich in minerality and intriguingly peppery on the finish with notes of honeysuckle and lime.
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Sweet wines have been made in Beaumes de Venise since the 14th century; they were granted their own controlled appellation in 1945. The village is known for red wines as well, sold under the Beaumes-de-Venise appellation, created in 2005. Surrounded by Côtes du Ventoux in the south and east and Vacqueyras and Gigondas to the west and north, the land is Provençal in essence, with alternating sunbaked hills and fields of scree and lavender, with soils ranging from heavy clay to sand and gravel.
Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is made from Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains and a darker version with a similar, if slightly darker profile. The technique employed involves the traditional process of ‘mutage’ wherein grapes are picked in whole bunches, with several passes to ensure optimum ripeness and to ensure that the grapes have natural sugar level of 252 grams per liter or more. Grape spirit (at a minimum of 96 percent pure) is added to the partially fermented grape must to kill the yeast and stop the fermentation. It in turn results in a high level of residual sugar – at least 100 grams per liter must be achieved in the finished wine. Alcohol content must be a minimum of 15 percent by volume.
The word ‘Beaumes’ gives an idea of how far back this part of France traces human habitation—it means ‘caves’, which was the domestic arrangement of the original neighbors of current Domaine des Bernardins owners Andrew and Elisabeth Hall.
The winemaking tradition here is nearly as storied; the property was previously owned by Bernardin monks and was transformed into a wine estate by Louis Castaud, who was concerned about the village’s production methods were disappearing. Within ten years, in 1945, he had achieved appellation status for Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, and today, his daughter Renée Castaud is still active in running the estate, assisted by granddaughter Elisabeth and husband Andrew, and now, their son Romain. The family still has one bottle of 1847 Muscat that is very highly prized.
The vineyards consist of 54 acres, with 37 acres of Muscat and 17 acres of Syrah and Cinsault for Côtes du Rhône Rouge production. The viticulture is traditional; pruning, de-budding, trellising, leaf removal and picking are done by hand while the soil is prepared by good, old-fashioned ploughing, using organic compost made from grape marc of the discarded stalks and skins. Domaine des Bernardins follows standards for sustainable agriculture.
10. Domaine des Bernardins ‘Hommage’, nv Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (VDN) ($41) 500 ml
75% Muscat Petits Grains Blancs, 25% Muscat Petits Grains Noirs; golden and grapey, unctuous with honey, grilled pineapple, lemon zest, rosewater, baked apple and fresh ginger. A great viscosity carries a long finish of lavender and crème brûlée with a touch of oak and cayenne at the end.
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Preceding the 2018 growing season, both the winter and spring were wet and mild, but despite some light rain falling during flowering, it was still reasonably successful. Unexpected storms in June caused some difficulties with mildew and rot, more pronounced the further south you look. The rot meant many producers had to spray but, unfortunately, a large amount of the crop was still lost. Eventually, the damp weather dried up and a hot, dry summer took its place. By the time it came to harvest, temperatures were high and producers had to work quickly when handling the grapes.
Mildew was a particular problem for susceptible Grenache and, as one of the mainstay grapes of the Southern Rhône, this was particularly devastating. Many organic growers who didn’t spray suffered horrendously with heavily reduced yields. Winemakers who typically used Grenache as a dominant component of their blends and suffered heavy losses had to shift the focus onto others, namely Mourvèdre. Even so, the vintage is generally considered to have produced a few wonderful densely concentrated wines with strong fruit flavors and excellent structure.
The 2019 vintage began well and finished better; a cold, dry winter delayed budburst a bit, but it arrived under idyllic conditions and progressed evenly. Likewise flowering a fruit set without the mildew of 2018.
Sizzling midsummer heatwaves striking in June and lasting through July have become the norm in southern France, but rains in August were welcome relief. The harvest was mostly done in September and the resulting wines are very good. For the reds, reports suggest that they are extremely concentrated – unsurprising considering the summer heat – but very well balanced with great acidity, indicating that the grapes had crucial periods of time, such as chilly nights, to cool down.
Another in string of fine vintages for Southern Rhône, the year began with a mild winter which transitioned into to a balmy and unusually dry and frost-free spring, prompting both an early budburst and flowering. Early summer brought welcome rain showers before an intensely hot arid summer set in. In sharp relief to the sweltering sunbaked days, chilly nights helped to cool and regulate the vines, while the odd intermittent shower helped to both rehydrate and revive the vines. The warm weather occasionally delivered periods of humidity which made powdery mildew and other diseases a concern, however, most producers were able to mitigate the risks.
The high temperatures made for an earlier than usual harvest and pickers set to work early in the day to avoid the extreme midday heat. Picking at cooler times is also better for the grapes as it tends to preserve their aromatic character. Both whites and reds were picked well ahead of their usual timeframes and light rains fell over the harvest, helping to rehydrate the last grapes on the vines.
As benign as the spring weather was in 2020, 2021 unleashed the opposite. Unusual highs in March prompted unseasonable vine growth, which was then hit by a climactic freight train in April when a series of bitter frosts dramatically cut yields. The summer was spotty, with persistent drizzle in June and cataclysmic thunderstorms in July and August, leaving in its wake, alongside vine damage, humidity that encouraged disease.
Such a seesaw of conditions meant that grapes were slow to reach phenolic ripeness and, as a result, the harvest came later and was longer and slower than normal. Fortunately, picking occurred in better weather and the resulting wines were quite good. In general, both the reds and whites have been described as sophisticated with firm structure and acidity and although alcohol was lower than in other years, there was still enough to give sufficient body. Like the alcohol, the fruit character was less intense than in previous years but what was there was fresh, clear and pretty.
In a recent review, the scientific community outlined the 2021 assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; the panel uncovered how the last four decades have been sequentially warmer than any other decade since 1850.
A spoonful of grape-sugar may help the science go down: “In order to maintain proper growing temperatures, many vineyard owners have sought expansion towards elevation, where not only are mean temperatures lower but there is a higher thermal amplitude and global radiation, particularly in the UV spectrum. Additionally, under higher altitudes, grapes display higher anthocyanin content and higher acidity, alleviating the effects of CC conditions that cause a premature ripening” and concluded that they had noticed how “wines produced from high altitude vineyards tend to have better color, higher acidity and more desirable aromatic profiles.”
In plain English, this means that the vineyards of Rhône’s south, which in the past were not overly concerned with elevation, have begun to edge upward into the mountains. Throughout most of its viticultural history, grapes were grown primarily on rocky flatlands where ample sunlight could pump richness and alcohol into the wines, and elevations of 500 feet or more were, in cooler times, considered marginal for grape growing. Over the past twenty years, however, with the average daily temperature in the valleys rising, experimental vignerons have begun to explore the terroirs of the hillsides surrounding the current vineyards. The wines they are producing are ripening earlier and display a freshness and precision unlike anything you’d expect from the Southern Rhône.
Still, it’s a panacea, not a cure: “It’s going to be an adaptation which will allow us to keep making balanced wines,” says Louis Barruol, president of the Gigondas growers’ syndicate and the proprietor of the historic Château de Saint Cosme. Higher altitude vineyards are considered one of the many answers to global warming, for sure. But there is no miracle.
As one of Chablis’ most respected holders of Grand Cru vineyard land, Domaine Laroche is in many ways synonymous with the appellation. Shored up by a thousand years of history, the first Laroche to own land was Jean Victor whom in 1850, bought his first parcels of vines in the village of Maligny, a short distance from the village of Chablis. Passed along from father to son, the Laroche vineyards continued to expand gradually and by the mid-1960s totaled fifteen acres. In 1967, when Henri Laroche inherited this land, he had witnessed three years in the 1950s and 1960s in which there was no production at all; his vines yielded very little, and it was impossible to make a living from vine-growing alone—local farmers had turned to cereal crops and animal rearing to survive. Winemaking became something of a Chablisean afterthought, and so plagued was the region with spring frosts that Henri managed to save a section using rudimentary techniques such as burning straw and old tires.
With his son Michel joining the team, Laroche expanded into the best Crus in Chablis, for a current total of 222 acres, including 15 acres of Grand Crus, 52 acres of Premier Crus, and 156 acres of Chablis AOP. Only Chardonnay grapes are grown, of course, and the best vineyards are planted primarily on the region’s unique Kimmeridgian soil—a mixture of clay, chalk and fossilized oyster shells, renowned for producing crisp, mineral-driven, precise and elegant wines prized throughout the world.
In 2000, Michel Laroche founded the Union des Grands Crus de Chablis for the purpose of promoting Chablis wines. He implemented quality controls still used by the members, with specific requirements regarding the management of the vineyards (density of plantings) and winemaking (at least 13 months of aging). Domaine Laroche is still an active member of the Union today, confirming its position as a leader in the appellation.
According to Louis Moreau, president of the Chablis Commission, “2020 mild in the winter, dry in spring and enjoyed a summer with high temperatures along with a drought in August. Most of the Bourgogne region saw a very early bud-break this year, with seasonal temperatures above normal to kick off the growing season. Therefore the challenge was to preserve the vine, harvest early but at maturity and being able to maintain our Chablis typicity—which is a purity of minerality which will shine through in the 2020 vintage.”
As the northernmost region in Burgundy (situated between Paris and Beaune), Chablis is planted entirely to Chardonnay on characteristic Kimmeridgian subsoil—primarily marl with bands of fossil-rich limestone. Chablis is prone to hot summers and harsh winters, with spring frost and hail storms counted among common threats, and these threats have been multiple whammies in the past few vintages.
“This year was kind to Chablis in terms of these climactic events; a reprieve in a year of nearly constant tension,” writes Cécile Mathiaud, head of public relations for the Bourgogne Wine Board.
2020 Domaine Laroche ‘Vieille Voye’ Chablis ($44)
Vieille Voye (the ‘Old Way’) encompasses 17 continuous acres located beneath Premier Cru Les Vaillons on typical Kimmeridgian terroir. Even when full ripeness is achieved, the wine maintains the typical salty character of the terroir.
2020 Domaine Laroche Chablis Premier Cru Les Beauroys ($69)
Les Beauroys is a left-bank (of the Serein river) Premier Cru vineyard; the wines are typically flinty and crisp.
2020 Domaine Laroche Chablis Premier Cru Côte de Léchet ($72)
The 150-acre Côte de Léchet vineyard lies just above the small village of Milly on a steep slope topped with forest. Its southeasterly exposure tempers the morning sun, in contrast to the sunset-facing slopes on the other side of the valley, encouraging slower ripening in Chablis’ relatively cool continental climate and ensures that the acidity that typifies the region’s wines flourishes.
2020 Domaine Laroche Chablis Premier Cru L’Homme Mort ($82)
The grimly named ‘Dead Man’ vineyard is one of the most northerly Premier Crus in Chablis. It’s located within the larger Fourchaume Premier Cru vineyard, just south of the town of Maligny. The wines are tight, with toasted bread hints and a strongly tangy character.
2020 Domaine Laroche ‘La Réserve de l’Obédience’ Chablis Grand Cru Les Blanchots ($234)
Located on the easternmost side of Chablis, Les Blanchots is unique among the Grand Crus of Chablis. Its clay and limestone soil contains ferrous clay and its aspect offers an exceptional amount of morning sunlight, giving the wine a distinctive and dominating floral character and remarkable finesse.
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Posted on 2022.10.20 in Gigondas, Tavel, Rasteau, Vacqueyras, Lirac, Cairanne, Chablis, Côtes-du-Rhône, Muscat de Beaume de Vanise, France, Burgundy, Wine-Aid Packages, Southern Rhone  | Read more...