Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 2)

Part 1 covered some fantastic northern Rhône reds to try this autumn.  Now we move onto the most famous appellation of the Rhône – and possibly the whole of France – Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Although aspects of quality are built in to the AOC rules, it doesn’t mean the wines are always great – some negotiants have released wines which aren’t balanced and do the CNDP name little good – they are usually found in discount supermarkets.  Thankfully there are quality conscious producers who make outstanding wines that show why Châteauneuf is held in such high regard.

Mas Saint-Louis Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 (14.0%, RRP €36.00 at Searsons)

chateauneuf-du-pape mas saint louis

Tasted among its peers this wine stands out for its lightness and elegance rather than its power – in fact its appellation would be a surprise to many as it is perhaps more like a Pommard than a typical blockbuster CNDP.  The blend here is 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah and the remaining 15% a mix of Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Picpoul Noir.

Red and black fruits abound, but it is the beguiling manner of their delivery which is so compelling.  With a touch of spice and a long finish, this is the Châteauneuf that you will want to keep as a secret!

Domaine Roche-Audran Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 (14.0%, RRP €49.00 at 64 Wine)

Roche Audran Chateauneuf du pape

Domaine Roche-Audran was set up as recently as 1998, but began biodynamic practices soon after in 2006.  They have three distinct terroirs, and it’s the third of a hectare in Châteauneuf-du-Pape which concerns us here, described as “molassic sand covered with round pebbles originating from the river Rhône”.  Sand loses heat quickly so the vines get something of a rest at night, helping to preserve acidity and delicacy.

Quite unusually for CNDP the Roche-Audran vineyard is 100% Grenache – it’s only due to the sandy soil that it doesn’t become over-ripe and over-alcoholic.  The vines are 60 years of age and cropped at 28 hl/ha.

The result is a gentle, enticing, inviting and seductive wine.  It slips down the throat and demands another glass be consumed.  Although the alcohol is not that high for the area it’s an intoxicating wine.

Domaine André Brunel “Les Cailloux” Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2013 (14.0%, RRP €45.55 at Karwig Wines)

Andre Brunel CNDP Les Cailloux

“Cailloux” are river-rounded stones, not quite as big as the famous “galets” pudding stones of the area, but serving a similar function of maintaining easy drainage and thus keeping the vines on their toes.

The Brunel family have been making wine in the area since the 17th century, but things were put on a more serious footing in 1954 when Lucien Brunel set up the Les Cailloux label.  His son André took over in 1971 and expanded the family’s holdings into other Rhône areas, but also introducing several innovations – he among was the first in CNDP to do away with chemicals in the vineyard and also created the super-premium “Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire”.  André’s son Fabrice joined in 2012 to keep the family tradition going.

Les Cailloux Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre; my tasting notes for this wine are compact and bijou – bloody amazing!  It’s smooth and fluid, a real pleasure to drink and it doesn’t bash you over the head!

Domaine de Mourchon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 (15.0%, RRP €39.00)

Mourchon CNDP

Situated just outside the beautiful village of Séguret, Domaine de Mourchon has vines around the winery and in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Their flagship wine is 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre and 10% Syrah – a slight re-ordering of the typical GSM blend.  The vines range from 60 to 80 years old and are planted on sandy soils and in “le Crau” lieu-dit.  Maturation is for 12 months split between demi-muid 600L barrels (70%) and concrete tanks (30%).

This is an amazingly perfumed wine – one that you hesitate to taste as it would interrupt your appreciation of the aromas – but once you have tasted you delight in its lithe red fruit and exotic spices.  The stated alcohol is fairly punchy at 15%, but it never stands out as the wine wears it very well.  Such a fine wine!

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Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #8

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:

Château Pesquié “Terraces” Ventoux 2012 (13.5%, €18 – 19, Donnybrook Fair; 64 Wine; Jus de Vine)

terrasses

Happily, I am quite familiar with Château Pesquié wines, including sampling the range at a tasting meal at Belleek Castle.  Further up the range, Quintessence then Artemia are amazingly concentrated.

This bottle is an estate blend named after the terraces cut into the hillsides of Mont Ventoux.  Although it has (just) a majority Grenache, which tends to produce generous amounts of alcohol, it’s not a huge blockbuster. 35 % of this vintage is aged in oak barrels (2 to 4 years old) or in oak tanks for about one year.  The key to Terrasses is drinkability without dumbing down – accessibility but still with some complexity.  It’s one of the best value Rhônes on the market!

Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #6

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:

Fondrèche “Cuvée Nadal” Ventoux 2012 (14.5%, €23 – 24 at Donnybrook Fair; 64 Wine; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock)

nadal

This wine is a  multi-faceted blend:

  • It’s a GSM assemblage (45% old vine Grenache, 45% Syrah & 10% Mourvèdre) with the Grenache vines in particular being old;
  • Also, the wine is aged in a mix of foudres (600L large vats), concrete eggs (for softness and a bit of a hippy touch) and barrels (228L, more traditional);
  • Finally, the wine is the labour of love of two people, Nanou Barthélemy & Sebastien Vincenti

It’s full of blackberry fruit with a liquorice – or is it black olive? – tang.  The different methods of ageing each add something a little different to the whole, and the age of the vines shows in the intensity of flavours.

Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #3

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:

Mas Oncle Ernest “Patience et longeur du temps” Côtes du Rhône 2011 (13.5%, €19.20 at Wines Direct)

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Alex Roux is a young winemaker (only 30 years old) transforming his family’s vineyard and making organic wines in the increasingly sought-after Ventoux A/C in the Southern Rhône. The mountainside property is named after his great grandfather, Ernest, who was the first to plant vines here. The cooling breezes of Mont Ventoux enable Alex to make a lighter style of wine than the southerly location would otherwise suggest.

This blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Grenache has typical black fruit and pepper on the nose followed by blackberry and strawberry on the palate, with just a lick of vanilla.

Opinion, Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #2

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:

E.Guigal “Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph” Saint-Joseph 2005 (13.5%, 2009 is €49.00 at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)

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St Joseph was allegedly the saint of scorned husbands, a fact on which I make no comment! A vineyard was named after him centuries ago, becoming a small appellation in 1956, expanded to its current size in 1971.

This wine is 100% Syrah from the original Saint Joseph vineyard (“lieu-dit”), with vines between 20 – 75 years old giving great concentration. It gets more oak than Rhône master Guigal’s regular St Joe, with 50% new and 50% second use French oak. The result? Amazing! There is still sweet oak on the nose but it has integrated beautifully in the ten years since harvest. Tasted blind this might be guessed as coming from the new world, it’s so smooth and drinkable.

Tasting Events

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #1

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:

Cave de Tain Crozes Hermitage 2011 (12.5%, €19.45, O’Briens)

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The Hill of Hermitage is named after a…erm…Hermitage at the top of the hill, and the famous vineyards on the hill are classified as AOC Hermitage. Those in the surrounding areas are called Crozes Hermitage; they are not quite as good but can still produce excellent Syrah, at a much more reasonable price.

The Cave de Tain is an excellent co-operative which takes around 50% of all grapes grown in the AOC. This 100% Syrah 2011 has lots of dark bramble fruit, with a dry, savoury finish. There’s just a hint of black olive and liquorice adding interest.

Tasting Events

The BIG Rhône Tasting at Ely Bar and Brasserie, Dublin (Part two)

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:

thinkredthinkCDRW vertical

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)

Pierre Gaillard Cornas 2012
Pierre Gaillard Cornas 2012

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)

M. Chapoutier Rasteau 2012
M. Chapoutier Rasteau 2012

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)

Château de Montmirail Gigondas "Cuvée de Beauchamp" 2012
Château de Montmirail Gigondas “Cuvée de Beauchamp” 2012

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)

Les Vignerons d'Estézargues Côtes du Rhônes Villages-Signargues "Sy" 2012
Les Vignerons d’Estézargues Côtes du Rhônes Villages-Signargues “Sy” 2012

“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)

Château Pesquié Ventoux "Artemia" 2012
Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2012

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)

Château Pesquié Ventoux "Artemia" 2006 en magnum
Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2006 en magnum

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!

Domaine La Monardière “Les 2 Monardes” Vacqueyras 2010 (JN Wine, €22.85)

Domaine La Monardière Vacqueras 2010
Domaine La Monardière “Les 2 Monardes” Vacqueyras 2010

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)

JL Chave Côtes du Rhône "Mon Coeur" 2012
JL Chave Côtes du Rhône “Mon Coeur” 2012

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)

Santa Duc Rasteau "Les Blovacs" 2009
Santa Duc Rasteau “Les Blovac” 2009

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)

JL Chave Hermitage "Farconnet" 2010
JL Chave Hermitage “Farconnet” 2010

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 négotiant wine, 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.

Tasting Events

The BIG Rhône Tasting at Ely Bar and Brasserie, Dublin (Part one)

November 2014 saw the second Rhône Wine Week extravaganza in Ireland, hugely expanded on the already successful inaugural Week in 2013.  The expansion was both geographical and in terms of the number of events – it would have been physically impossible to get to all of them, even just the Dublin ones.  Kudos to my team mates Morgan, Diarmuid and Suzanne of Team Slapshot, together we came a creditable joint 3rd in the Big Rhône Quiz.

Spearheaded by Tyrrell & Co. Wine Importers and Inter Rhône, this year other importers and venues joined the fray – see rhonewineweekireland.com for the full calendar of events and participants

This post (and the next) will concentrate on the Big Rhône Tasting held at Ely Bar and Brasserie in the IFSC, Dublin.  A former 200 year old tobacco and wine warehouse in Dublin’s Financial district, it has spectacular vaulted cellars.  My smartphone pics below of the tables set up for tasting really don’t do it justice!

Didier Fiat

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So now onto a few of the white wines that really stood out for me:

Château la Canorgue Pays du Vaucluse Viognier 2012 (Le Caveau, €18.45)

Château la Canorgue Pays du Vaucluse Viognier 2012
Château la Canorgue Pays du Vaucluse Viognier 2013

Viognier isn’t a grape I tend to pick off the shelf very often.  Some of the examples I’ve tasted have been too dry and not flavoursome enough to be enjoyed on their own; while I applaud the continental practice of drinking wine mainly at the table, the reality is that I’m far more likely to pop a cork sat in the lounge rather than the dining room.

However THIS is a Viognier that drinks very well on its own, and at a very reasonable price.  It has ripe stone fruit and an oily, rich viscosity that make it a real pleasure.

Domaine Grand Veneur Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “La Fontaine” 2012 (Mitchell & Son, €48.99)

Domaine Grand Veneur Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc "La Fontaine" 2012
Domaine Grand Veneur Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “La Fontaine” 2012

White Châteaneuf-du-Pape can be made of any or all of the six white grapes in the list of eighteen permitted grapes for the AOC.  It’s pretty rare though, making up only around 5% of total CNDP production – and even rarer is it cheap!

Made from 100% Roussanne grown in the wind-swept northern slopes of Châteauneuf, the grapes are hand picked and gently pressed.  Fermentation and maturation is carried out in oak barriques, 50% new and 50% one year old, for ten months.

Surprisingly, oak doesn’t dominate the palate – Roussanne gives a rich and fat body plus plenty of fruit which can stand up to the oaking.  As a youngster the main fruit flavour is pear – but not the pear drop flavour which is common on many modern cool-fermented whites.  Instead, imagine that you’ve been lost in a desert for a few days with nothing to eat or drink and then you find a few fresh, juicy pears – it’s that intense!

The vineyard’s windy aspect helps maintain acidity and this comes through in the freshness – it’s rich but not at all flabby.  White Châteauneuf needs a good while before it starts to develop tertiary flavours – we tasted a 2006 at the Big Rhône Quiz which was only just approaching middle age!

Eric Texier Opâle 2012 (La Rousse Wines, €21.90)

Opale Viognier
Eric Texier Opâle

And now for something completely different!  This is the first time I had come across anything like this from the Rhône – it’s a sweet Viognier, not made by fortification as with Vins Doux Naturels, but rather by reducing the temperature to stop fermentation once the must has reached 7% alcohol.  The grapes were picked early to maintain acidity so the resulting sweetness has a balance – it’s not at all cloying.

While this wine does reveal some varietal characteristics, stylistically it reminded me of a Mosel Riesling – and thankfully that’s what Monsieur Texier is aiming for.  Being fairly low in alcohol also means you can have a small glass and still drive afterwards!

Part two will be the main course – the Rhône Reds!