So far we have looked at the northern Crus (part 1), Châteauneuf-du-Pape (part 2) and other southern Crus (part 3). Now it’s the turn of wines from the regional Côtes du Rhône appellation plus one of the stars of Ventoux, not a cru as such but one of the best of the other AOCs in the Rhône.
Domaine André Brunel “Cuvée Sommelongue” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (14.0%, RRP €18.30 at Karwig Wines)
It would be very rare for a wine drinker to have not had a bottle of Rhône, and it’s close to a certainty that they have tried an AOC Côtes du Rhône. The reason is simple – 48% of the whole region’s production has that AOC with a further 11% being Côtes du Rhône-Villages [2016 vintage: source: http://www.rhone-wines.com/en/en-chiffre].
What would be unusual, however, would be for that drinker to have tried a CDR with five or six years of age – most are very approachable in their youth and so are enjoyed when young. Just because a wine can be enjoyed young doesn’t mean that it should be – and this is the perfect example of a CDR that has benefitted from ageing.
This tastes quite different from the exuberantly fruity young CDRs; primary fresh fruit has mellowed and the herbal garrigue notes are more prominent. This Cuvée Sommelongue would be perfect with a hearty stew, and adding a dash or two as you make it would be highly appropriate!
Domaine Roche-Audran “César” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (15.0%, RRP €22.95 at Baggot Street Wines)
Just like buses, there seem to be no 2012 CDRs and then two come along together! This shows that well made wines can age gracefully, despite a modest appellation. I say gracefully, but César is a bit of a bruiser – with 15.0% abv it has as much power as Greyskull. You don’t need to be He-Man to drink it though – this biodynamic beauty has lots of lovely red fruit and herbal notes from 100% Grenache grapes. If it’s cold outside, pop the cork and warm yourself up!
Château Pesquié “Quintessence” Ventoux 2015 (13.5%, RRP €27.95 at Searsons)
René & Odette Bastide bought Château Pesquié in the early 1970s, around the same time that the Côtes du Ventoux appellation was created (it dropped the “Côtes du” from 30th November 2008). They replanted much of the vineyards while still selling their grapes to the local co-operative. A decade or so later their daughter Edith and her husband Paul Chaudière joined the family firm and took up oenology seriously. Together they built a winery and started producing Château Pesquié wines from the 1990 vintage – including Quintessence which was (and remains) a statement of quality for the region.
The slopes of Mont Ventoux provide much needed cool air to the area, thus making Syrah a key variety down here as it is in the north. Quintessence is 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache, full of dark black fruit and savoury tapenade. Although drinking nicely now, it has the structure and acidity to age for several decades – if you can manage not to touch it!
Château Pesquié “Artemia” Ventoux 2014 (14.5%, RRP €46.50)
Edith and Paul Chaudière’s sons Alex and Fred became the next generation to join the family wine business, bringing additional enthusiasm and know-how. Artemia became the new flagship wine, the combination of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah from two individual low-yielding old vine single vineyards. Maturation is 18 months in oak, split half and half between new and used barrels.
Given the blend, Artemia is more fruit forward and less obviously structured than Quintessence – more elegant and more approachable, though still with an intense concentration of fruit. The oak is well integrated and adds a little gravitas. This is a very different expression of Ventoux from its sibling, and preference between the two is very much down to personal preference. My own….I’ll take both please!
Rhône Wine Week is the fourth such celebration of the wines of the Rhône Valley and runs in Ireland from 29th October to 5th November 2016. Events and promotions will be held at good independent wine shops and restaurants throughout the country.
Each day during this year’s celebration will have its own wine to try:
Domaine de la Janasse “Tradition” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (13.5%, €18 – €19 at 64 Wine, Glasthule)
(Monsieur) Aimé Sabon took over his family’s vineyard on returning from military service in 1967. He decided to make wine from his own grapes, building a winery in 1973 and gradually expanding his landholdings. Domaine de la Janasse was named after the family’s farm in Courthézon.
Janasse Châteauneuf du Pape has been a firm favourite of mine since the first Rhône Wine Week some years ago, and of course is the Twitter pic of DNS Wine Club of which I am a member! The Côtes du Rhône is made from organically grown vines just outside Châteauneuf, and is the first real southern-Rhône blendin this series: 50% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, 15% Carignan (60+ years old) and 5% Cinsault.
It would be unfair to compare it with its big brother, as it’s a lighter wine and considerably cheaper, but it is one of the better CDRs around and would embarrass some other producers’ Châteauneufs! Think strawberries, but not the ones grown in poly tunnels in Ireland ot Holland, think smaller alpine strawberries with much more intense flavours.
Part one gave the background to the BIG Rhône tasting at Ely as part of Rhône Wine Week in Ireland and some of the whites which really caught my eye.
So now we’re on to the main event:
Of course the Rhône is much more celebrated for its red wines, so below are some of the red beauties that really stood out for me (in no particular order). Once again, apologies for the image quality – the low light downstairs at Ely is very atmospheric but smartphone cameras struggle.
Pierre Gaillard Cornas 2012 (Mitchell & Son, €45.99)
The only AOC (well AOP now, but you know what I mean) that mandates 100% Syrah, Cornas in the northern Rhône is reputed to be rustic – and given the label you might have no reason to think otherwise – but this was anything but rustic. Pierre Gaillard’s most southerly vineyard is a parcel of old vines over the age of 70, situated on altered granite slopes, offering good drainage and warmth from the hot temperatures of its micro-climate.
Perhaps it’s modern, hygienic winemaking equipment that banishes rusticity, or maybe the east-facing aspect of the vineyard that endows the wine with power. Whatever the cause, it’s a delicious wine that showcases some of the best that Rhône Syrah can do. There is bacon and black olives, pepper and spice, but above all refined power from the fruit.
As a former Cornas doubter, I doubt no more.
M. Chapoutier Rasteau 2012 (Findlater, €19.99)
Maison M. Chapoutier (M for Max, then his sons Michel and Marc) produces wine from all across the Rhône region, though is most well known for their top Hermitage wines, of both colours. Chapoutier’s wine labels are distinctive because of their raised Braille dots on the labels – and as a happy coincidence they are aesthetically pleasing for sighted people as well.
Rasteau AOC was well known as a Vin Doux Naturel for a long time, its dry reds were Côtes du Rhônes Villages-Rasteau until their promotion with effect from the 2009 vintages. It is therefore one of the more modest Cru but this bottle really delivers – plump red and black fruit from the Grenache, with a little spicy edge from the Syrah. At a fairly modest price this is something that would stand up to hearty winter dishes but would be great sipped out of a big glass on its own.
Château de Montmirail Gigondas “Cuvée de Beauchamp” 2012 (Didier Fiat, €26.00)
Gigondas is now the unofficial second-ranked Cru in the southern Rhône behind Châteauneuf-du-Pape. With the heavy, embossed bottle there’s no doubt it’s trying to ape its more famous neighbour. A small amount of rosé is made here, but the main event is the red, made from a maximum 80% Grenache, a minimum 15% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre, then the balance made up of certain other Rhône varieties.
The Cuvée de Beauchamp consists of 75% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre, a classic GSM blend. It’s big and powerful without being jammy – supercharged strawberries was my main tasting note!
Les Vignerons d’Estézargues Côtes du Rhône Villages-Signargues “Sy” 2012 (Tyrrell & Co, €22.00)
“Sy” is actually short for Syrah which is 90% of this blend which is almost unheard of from the Southern Rhône – and this area is within touching distance of the Mediterranean, it’s so far south. The southerly latitude accounts for the additional weight and power compared to average Rhône Syrahs – 14.5% alcohol and a huge mouthfeel.
The high proportion of Syrah planted in the area is a result of moving from mixed agriculture (particularly olives) to predominantly viticulture in the 1960s – landowners were free to choose the most appropriate Rhône variety and many went for the prestigious Syrah.
Of all the Rhône Syrahs I’ve tasted recently this is the closest to a New World Shiraz. Blackberry and plum with exotic spice combine on the palate, with enough acidity to keep it from being blowsy. Every New World Shiraz fan should try this!
Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2012 (Tyrrell & Co, €45.00)
Like a drunken reveller leaving a nightclub, Ventoux has dropped its Côtes, which signifies a step up in status and quality. Although it is situated in the southerly reaches of the Rhône, the cool winds coming off the Mont de Ventoux and Valcluse mountains help maintain acidity and freshness.
Château Pesquié is named after the Provençal word for a fishpond – springs and natural water sources being very important in such a warm climate. Artemia is their premium bottling made of equal parts of Grenache and Syrah, both from low-yielding sites. All the grapes are handpicked and after ruthless selection they are destemmed and given a long fermentation and maceration. Malo and maturation take place over 18 months in 50% new and 50% two and three year old oak barrels.
Everything about the making of this wine is designed to make it epic!
And is it! It’s rich and unctuous, dark black fruit and spice compete for your attention. But it’s not all about big fruit, there’s also acidity and minerality there. This is obviously very very young, but it is already drinkable. Do you mind if I say “epic” again?
Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2006 en magnum (n/a)
Just to show what the wines look like with a bit – but only a bit – of age, Monsieur Chaudière brought along a magnum of Artemia 2006, the third release.
Even accounting for the slower ageing in magnum, this was still a baby. It had started to add a few more developed notes to the primary fruit, but this will be drinking well in another fifteen years. Want!
Vacqueyras became the third major Cru of the southern Rhône in 1990, and is one of the very rare AOCs that produces wine in all three colours (though is predominantly known for its red). The Domaine was created by the Vache family (no sniggering please, it’s childish) a few years before, in 1987, and now has 20 hectares under vine. “Monarde” is a medicinal herb similar to bergamot which grows widely in the area.
A blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah, the grapes are hand picked and sorted then fully destemmed. Wild yeast is used rather than commercial yeast. The two grapes are fermented separately for two to three weeks – the Syrah is punched down to extract colour, flavour and tannin, whereas the thinner skinned Grenache is treated more lightly. Maturation is 12 months in concrete tanks and barrels and then bottling is done without fining or filtration.
There’s lots of primary cherry and blackcurrant fruit here – particularly coming from the Grenache – but also lots of herbs and spices. It’s a veritable spice rack in a bottle!
JL Chave Côtes du Rhône “Mon Coeur” 2012 (La Rousse Wines, €22.90)
Although this is “only” a Côtes du Rhône the quality in the bottle is a lot higher than the appellation might suggest. It also commands a higher price than other basic CDRs, but the producer’s name carries a lot of weight. The Chave family have been growing grapes in the Rhône for half a millennium, with the current man in charge being Jean-Louis (JL).
The fruit comes from the Southern Rhône’s northerly villages of Valréas, Vinsobres and Visan which are fairly high in altitude and have more Syrah than usual in the south – perfect for a house from Hermitage! This is quite serious for a Côtes du Rhônes and has firm tannins, but its red and black fruits with a savoury black olive streak are just delicious!
Santa Duc Rasteau “Les Blovac” 2009 (Le Caveau, €18.45)
As you might expect from Le Caveau this is an organic wine made by a small producer. After over a hundred years selling their grapes, they began making their own wines in 1985. Their home base is in Gigondas at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, but they make wines from several appellations across the southern Rhône. The Domaine’s name is taken from the Provençal for a calling owl which is common to the area – there’s no saint or duke involved!
Once again we have a typical southern Rhône blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre (the precise blend does change from vintage to vintage). The grapes are picked when fully ripe, but then have a long fermentation with gentle extraction. At five years old it’s starting to become more even interesting and adds smoky, gamey notes to the dark black fruit. Espresso and dark chocolate make for a full house of flavour.
JL Chave Hermitage “Farconnet” 2009 (La Rousse Wines, €58.00)
So we’ve already seen what Chave can do with a basic Rhône appellation, now to look at the most prestigious appellation of the northern Rhône – Hermitage. Famed as the original home of Syrah, Hermitage became almost synonymous with the grape itself – hence Penfolds icon Grange was labelled as Grange Hermitage until 1989 (though I’m not sure how it became the name for Cinsaut in South Africa!).
Ostensibly a négotiantwine, the grapes are sourced from both Chave’s own vineyards and those of long term contract growers on the western slopes of the granitic Hill of Hermitage. The power of the vintage really comes through in the fruit – some dried but mainly fresh black berries with the signature Syrah spice.