Dorianne and I did our annual visit to California’s Central Coast Wine Regions this past week. In this post, I will cover the three wineries we visited in the Paso Robles area (LINK TO PRIOR POSTS ON PASO). In another post, I will cover two days in the Santa Rita Hills/Lompoc area.
As we always do, we joined two other couples at the Kon Tiki Inn in Pismo Beach (LINK), a beautifully preserved gem from the 1960’s (no online reservations). This gives us a based to roam from Paso Robles in the North to the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Ynez in the south. We usually cover three wineries per day, have wine and cheese at the Kon Tiki, then go to dinner in one of Pismo Beach’s good restaurants.
Ancient Peaks (LINK): Our drive up toward Paso Robles led us first to Ancient Peaks Winery Tasting Room in Santa Margarita. Ancient Peaks has the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles Eastern AVA, and the tasting room is just off the 101 Freeway. None of us had been there before; in fact, all three winery visits were firsts for just about all of us (two people had been to Sextant Winery before).
Ancient Peaks has a nicely arranged tasting room with plenty of space and areas to relax with a glass or two of their wines. There is even a café. We arrived just at the 11:00 am opening time. We tasted five wines – all were nicely crafted and well balanced. These are good wines. We tasted five of the ten wines listed for sale on the Ancient Peaks website. Dorianne and I purchased the 2015 White Label Chardonnay, the 2015 Zinfandel, and the 2014 Oyster Ridge Red Blend. I would say that Ancient Peaks represents what we have found in Paso Robles wines for the last three years – consistently well-crafted wines which are true to their fruit and terroirorigins. The staff was professional, friendly, and generally well-informed. One kindly recommended that we visit Clos Solène (and called for the appointment) since we are now living in France – more about them in a bit.
Sextant Winery (LINK): Sextant is located between Templeton and Paso Robles on the west side of the 101 Freeway that divides the area. The vineyards are on rolling hills and the tasting room is elevated on one of these hills. Beautifully appointed, with the nautical theme that runs through all of Sextant’s products, the tasting room and member’s lounge are worth your time to visit. And, happily, the wines (LINK) are very good as well. We were able to taste from their regular and member’s tasting lists during our visit.
The wines are nicely balanced, made to go with food, and easy to drink. I did not have a negative comment about any of them. Of particular note was the 2015 Kamal Cabernet Sauvignon, a beautifully crafted wine with notes of dark fruit, green pepper, and a rich minerality. Definitely a hit. Sextant is worth a visit if you are in Paso Robles, and you can order their wines online.
Clos Solène Winery (LINK): A gem of a small winery, Clos Solène is also on Paso Robles’ West Side, nestled among low hills. Guillaume and Solène Fabre (LINK) are a French couple who grow grapes and make wine here – in the French style. Guillaume stopped by during our tasting for a chat. Production is under 2000 cases total, so these are all limited production (and expensive) wines. We tasted on the outdoor patio (a rare rainfall had just stopped) from their tasting menu (LINK).
The entire list consists of excellent wines. Of particular note is the 2016 Homage Blanc blend of 75%Roussanne and 25% Viognier; the 2015 Harmonie red blend of 56%Grenache, 30% Mouvedre, and 14% Syrah; and the 2015 Homage a nos Pairs red blend of 95%Syrah, 3% Grenache, and 2%Viognier. As the French would say, these wines are Tres Cher (very costly), but they are beautiful wines – as good as anything I have tasted in Paso Robles. Clos Solène Winery is open by appointment.
Paso Robles never fails to please those in search of new and unique wine experiences – and, increasingly, those in search of excellent wines!
I was invited to an industry-only tasting in London yesterday. Titled “Artisans of Australian Wines,” it featured 43 labels being introduced by 15 British distributors. Held during the day at Cargo, a trendy nightclub in the Shoreditch area of London, the event was both fun and very interesting.
I had heard of exactly none of the 43 labels before the tasting. Indeed, most are smaller producers who do not export to the U.S., and who are just trying to break into the British market. I spent about 3 hours exploring, tasting, speaking to the people pouring (sometimes someone from the winery/vineyard, but most frequently someone from one of the distributors). I did not taste everything (there were at least 200 wines), not even close. But I will give you my impressions of what I did taste and who I did meet. And I will list all of the labels at the end of the blog post, in case you happen across any of them.
General impressions: there were some very nice wines here; in fact, most were very good or better. That would make sense, as they had been vetted by the distributors. Australia has no restrictions on who can grow what grapes where, and no blending rules, like there are in France and Spain, therefore, there is a great variety of both the varietals grown and the blends that are produced. There were a couple of wines that did knock my socks off, but only a couple. That said, pretty much all of these wines could have a place in my cellar or on my table or both.
So with my apologies to those labels that I did not get to taste (mostly in that really crowded section in the front room), let’s see what I did taste.
Adelina and VineMind Wines: The winemaker, Col McBryde was here pouring wines from his two labels. He produces about 2,000 cases/year and has been exporting to the UK for 6 years. Of most interest to me are his Rieslings, one from each label – both nicely balanced with minimal residual sugar.
Yangarra Estate: Nicely polished, well-crafted wines from a producer owned by Jackson Family Wines of California. Winemaker Peter Fraser (Australian Winemaker of the Year for 2016), has crafted two wonderful McLaren ValeGrenache wines from single vineyards. The 2013 High Sands Grenache is of particular note.
Chalmers Wines:Kim Chalmers, daughter of the owner, was pouring the Chalmers Wines at the tasting. I tasted four of the ten Italian varietal wines (3 labels) on hand – a 2014 Vermentino, which was one of the best whites I tasted all day – smooth, velvety, with green fruit and a hint of minerality on the finish – simply excellent. The 2013 Fiano, a varietal I had not previously encountered, was like a younger sister to the Vermentino in character – which makes me think that the winemaker has a large influence on the wines. The red, I tasted, a 2015 Nero d’Avila, was well-structured but young – it needs some time. The 2016 Schioppettino, under the Chalmers Project label, was tannic and bold, with red fruit and a strong finish. Another varietal that is new to me.
Castagna Wines: The father and son team of Julian and Adam Castagna were presiding over their table with aplomb. Their Rhône-focusedvineyard & winery deliver the goods. Their wines were consistently well made and nicely balanced. I tasted 8 of 9 wines available (choosing not to taste their Shiraz Vermouth). Standouts were the 2016 Rousanne, bottled a week ago, and already moving toward becoming a great white wine. The highlight, however, is their 2008 Sparkling Genesis Shiraz-Viognier, a dark red sparkler that delivers great taste and can be paired with just about anything, including meat. This is an amazing wine.
Bill Downie Wine: Apparently, Bill Downie is fairly well-known in Australia as a producer of small quantity, high quality wines. The lone representation of his work, sitting at the end of a table where about 5 other labels were being poured by distributor reps, would have been easy to overlook – in fact, I did on my first pass. Only after reading about it in the catalog did I return to try the 2015 Riverland Biodynamic Petit Verdot. This was my favorite wine of the day. I liked everything about it – the nose was beautifully balanced, inviting you to taste, the mouthfeel was like velvet, with red and black fruit, some leathery tones, and a smoothness that carried into the finish. If I could have purchased a case, I would have. Be on the lookout for this wine.
L.A.S. Vino: Aside from good marketing and design (something that was in abundance here – no doubt a reflection of the assistance that a good distributor can provide) this winery makes some good wine. I only tasted the 2013 ‘Portuguese Pirate’ Margaret River Blend made with Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao, and Souzao grapes. I cannot honestly attest as to whether this blend is on a par in style or quality to a similar blend in Portugal, but I can say that this wine is of very high quality and would be an excellent companion to a leg of lamb, a steak, or a good cigar. Think smooth, a bit jammy (but not too much), and rich in black fruit. Very nice.
Vinteloper Wines: This Adelaide Hills winery is operated by winemaker David Bowley, who was present and pouring. I tasted three of his excellent wines, two Pinot Noirs – which were nicely crafted and very good, especially his 2012 OPN Lenswood Pinot Noir, a single vineyard beauty. We had a good discussion about Pinot Noir, and I told him about some of the great Burgundian style wines coming out of the Santa Rita Hills AVA in California.
Bowley’s other wine, the 2015 ‘Urban Winery Project #3’ Shiraz/Malbec comes with a story. This nice table wine is the result of a project that Bowley undertakes every year at harvest time. He moves parts of his winemaking operation to a city and, for one month, opens the operation to the locals, who can do everything from stomping grapes to blending wines. It is a great marketing idea – and a great way to invite people into the winemaking process. Kudos to David Bowley.
Sami Odi Wines: Two wines from this small producer were available for tasting – both are a bit unusual in packaging and presentation. The distributor rep, a very nice young woman, spoke so fast that I did not get a lot of information from her (my issue, being an American – she was speaking The King’s English after all). But the wines were very good – a ‘Little Wine #5’ Syrah and a 2014 Syrah ‘XIV’. The former comes from a vineyard with vines planted in different years. Both bring out the best aspects of Syrah.
Chaffey Bros Wines: Producing in the Barossa and Eden Valleys, Chaffey Bros make a number of wines. I would say that their strength is in their whites. I tasted 5 of 7 wines available. Their Rieslings were very good, the best being a 2015 Tripelpunkt Riesling, with fruit from three vineyards – dry with a hint of sweetness, floral notes, and smooth finish – what I like to see in a Riesling. Of interest is a true field blend, called 2015 ‘Düfte Punkt’ with Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Weißer Herold (Kerner). The field blend was nicely balanced – not a great wine, but of interest because of the willingness to experiment.
S.C. Pannell/The Other Wine Co.: Side-by-side on the tasting table, these wineries bring good tasting wines at value price-points. I tasted the 2014 S.C Pannell Adelaide Hills Syrah (McLaren Vale) – very rich, even for a Syrah, almost jammy; but nice red and black fruit notes with chocolate and slate later on. Long finish. I tasted the 2015 The Other Wine Co. Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris (before the Syrah) – a decent table wine with notes of lemon grass and pear.
Again, I did not taste them all – my bad – but suffice to say that there were a range of good quality wines on display. Aside from a growing tendency to call Syrah by its original name, instead of Shiraz, the most remarkable thing about this group was the wines – good quality and individual character. The UK wine market will be looking up thanks to these Aussie newcomers.
As promised, a list of all of the producers present:
Lethbridge Wines Deviation Road Adelina VineMind Yangarra Estate Mac Forbes Chalmers Gembrook Hill Teusner Eden Road Ruggabellus Eperosa Strenua Ochota Barrels Jamseed Wines Luke Lambert Wines Timo Mayer Delinquente Wine Co. Si Vintners Patrick Sullivan Wines Xavier Gentle Folk Wines Castagna Jauma Bill Downie La Línea L.A.S. Vino S.C. Pannell The Other Wine Co. Chaffey Bros Bellwether Vinteloper Bremerton Wines The Pawn Wine Co. smallfry BK Wines Massena Sami Odi Byrne CRFT David Franz La Violetta Ministry of Clouds
You may be seeing some of these labels in your area soon.
On a recent visit to New York to visit our daughter, Grace, we decided to purchase a starter case of wine for her and to set up an account at a wine shop. There are a number of very good wine shops in Manhattan, as you might imagine. We chose Union Square Wine Shop (LINK)after some online and in-person research, because of proximity to Grace’s school, a good selection of value-priced wines, and free delivery in the city when you purchase $95 or more worth of wine.
Grace, at 22, has developed a pretty good palate. She has been to France a few times and enjoys French wines very much, especially Bordeaux blends. My thoughts in filling the starter case were to take that preference into account and expand her experience a bit with reds, plus add some whites and rosès since summer is just around the corner. I also wanted to keep the prices under $25, being mindful of the budget of a starving aspiring Broadway star.
After discussing our goals with some of the sales staff, we (Dorianne, Grace and I) began to fill the case. I wanted to find some French wines that she would like first, which we did – one Bordeaux red blend, a Pomerol, two Sancerres, a BurgundianChardonnay, and a wonderful rosè from Tavel, the only French A.O.P. that produces Au Bon Climat only rosès. To this, we added a reliable California Pinot Noir from, a favorite of ours; a nice Oregon Pinot Noir to compare to the Au Bon Climat; a wonderful Rhône-style blend from Tablas Creek in Paso Robles; a Spanish Tempranillo blend; an Italian Barbara d’Asti and a Nebbiolo from Langhe; and an Australian Shiraz.
Here is the list:
There is nothing here from Germany or eastern Europe, no New Zealand or South America, etc. Fortunately, Grace has a long future to explore these and other options as she chooses.
Now, you can argue with any or all of these selections, but this starter case was built with some preferences in mind. That is the idea – you decide the parameters of the selections and then you find the best representatives of those parameters based on availability, price, and certain intangibles. Our bias was toward France, with an additional parameter of expanding outward from there and focusing on the Old World with some New World representation as well. That is a lot to cover in twelve bottles.
My suggestion to her was to make tasting notes of each wine as she drinks it and then replace bottles with a balance of things she likes and things she would like to try. Having a set of preferences helps when she is at a restaurant or a party and there are a variety of options. She already knows to steer clear of the bulk wines and the cheap “critter wines” that populate lots of party bars among people her age (and, unfortunately, people my age as well).
To create your ownstarter case, for yourself or for your children, my suggestion is to begin where you, or they, are. Start with what you already like and populate part of the case with those wines, then expand outward from there. The value of a good wine shop is that they will have staff who can make good recommendations – something you will not get at most supermarkets or places like Target and Costco (with some exceptions).
I can’t overemphasize the importance of finding a wine store employee or owner who you feel comfortable with. I was recently in an independent wine shop in Baltimore that stocked many wines with which I was unfamiliar. When I asked for recommendations from the owner/manager, he told me that he could only help me with Kosher wines; “That’s all I taste,” he said. No one else in the shop had tasted any of the non-Kosher wines! Interesting business model.
A good wine shop staff member will be of great assistance, especially when deciding what to add to your own preferences. He/she will have the experience needed to make recommendations that are very similar to those, or that are different enough to give you a new tasting experience. Good wine shops will also have tastings that you can attend to expand your wine experience.
It is important that you be clear about what you want. Don’t let the sales staff give you a wine that you are not interested in, or one that is too expensive for your budget.
Keeping these things in mind, creating a starter case can be a really great experience. Your comments, as always, are appreciated.
The Umpqua Valley AVA (LINK) in south-central Oregon does not yet have a signature varietal, and it may not have one in the future. This rambling AVA contains many micro-climates and a range of soils, so it may well remain home to dozens of varietals over time, which is not a bad thing at all.
Visiting friends near Roseburg, we head out to the wineries, which are about a 30 minute drive to the southwest. A stop at the Lighthouse Center Bakery and Café (LINK), for a vegetarian lunch of huge proportions, fortifies us for an afternoon of wine tasting. Two wineries are on the schedule for this first day, Ruestle Prayer Rock Vineyards (LINK), and Abacela Winery and Vineyard (LINK). Our hosts, Andy and Bonnie Anderson, assure us that these are representative of the wines of the area.
Ruestle Prayer Rock Vineyards is set in rolling hills and has been developed, built and planted by someone with an eye for beauty. Everything about this 200 acre patch of Oregon is lovely to behold. Stephen and Gloria Reustle made their money in marketing in New York and moved west to explore entry into the wine business. After a few false starts in California, they discovered this part of Oregon and fell in love with it. The first vines went into the ground in 2003 and now they produce about 8000 cases annually. The Reustles are devout Christians, and there are quotes form the Bible on the winery floors and elsewhere on the property. There is also a Men’s Bible Study group that meets at the winery and studies The Bible while they taste wine. Not a bad idea.
All of the wines produced here are estate grown. There are currently 6 red varietals – Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Syrah, Malbec, Merlot, and Grenache; and 6 whites – Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Muscat, and Semillon. There are reserves of most of these and several blends, and both a red and a white port. There is also an amphitheater nearby for events.
We were shown around by Kevin Kline, Wine Educator and Events Coordinator for the winery, and escorted to one of the private tasting rooms and served appetizers with each wine tasting. The tasting rooms, production area, and the wine cave (which includes tasting rooms and event space), are located in a lovely building that has been designed to look like old stone caves by a designer/architect who does a lot of work for Disney. In the cave are the barrels of French and American oak, where the reds are stored; the whites are in aluminum tanks in the production area.
Okay, let’s cut to the chase. The tasting was of four wines – the 2013 Grüner Veltliner, the 2013 Pinot Noir, the 2013 Syrah, and the 2013 Tempranillo. The Grüner Veltliner, with 1% residual sugar, was a bit sweet for me, but others may like it; the reds were all young with good tannins and acidity, indicating that they will age well. Nothing outstanding, but all well-crafted wines and good values at their respective price points.
I requested a taste of the 2013 Blanco Dulce, the white port. Mr. Kline was kind enough to open a bottle, and it was a revelation. This wine was aged in Acacia wood barrels for nearly two years, adding to the wine’s complexity and depth. It is a 50/50 blend of Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. Smooth, with just the right amount of sugar, fortified with brandy (sourced elsewhere) to 19% alcohol content, this is everything a white port should be. We bought 2 half-bottles, as did one of the other couples with us. I love making a find like this.
Our next stop was Abacela Winery and Vineyard, again featuring a nicely designed and appointed tasting room area set atop a hill overlooking 40 acres of vines. In 1995, Earl and Hilda Jones planted the first vines here. The focus here is Tempranillo, and they make several of them, most for wine club members only (although available for tasting). They also make small amounts of Albarino, Viognier, and Muscat, plus a Grenache Rosè; and in addition to the Tempranillo, Garnacha(Grenache), Malbec, Dolcetto, Graciano, Syrah, Tinta Amarela (a very nice wine), and a Tannat is coming soon.
For the tasting, you get to pick any 8 of 17 wines, so Dorianne and I each did a tasting and alternated and shared – so we tasted 16 of the 17 available on the general tasting. You can also taste their reserve wines for an additional $5 per taste.
The highlights were the Tempranillos and, a bit surprisingly, the 2015 Muscat, a semi-sweet white wine, that is a great light sweet wine; and the 2013 Blanco Dulce, a late-harvest Albarino that is made into a faux ice-wine by freezing the grapes at the local creamery before fermenting. The wine was not too sweet and very elegant on the nose and the palate.
Back to the Tempranillos – the “Barrel Select” versions, and especially the 2009 Paramour ($100), which we tasted were all very well-crafted and balanced wines; they are not the same as you find in Spain, even though this part of Oregon is at about the same latitude as Ribero del Duero and Rioja. Nevertheless, good wines and all of them should age well or a decade or two. I really like what Abacela is doing with this amazing Spanish varietal. Given more time, they will likely become known for the Tempranillos they are producing.
The Umpqua Valley AVA is shaping up nicely and should mature well in the future. It is worth a visit.
Each year at the Garagistè Festival, there are two seminars held as part of the VIP package for the Saturday events. This year’s seminars were “Exploring the Aroma Wheel” with Madeline Puckette of WineFolly.com (LINK) and “Techniques of the Garagistè: The Secret of Stems,” with Mikael Sigouin, Ryan Pease, and Stewart McLennan.
“Exploring the Aroma Wheel” explored how to discover the various aromas of wine and how to go a bit deeper than the normal surface sniff of the glass. Madeline Puckette is a very good presenter and the seminar was interactive. Each table had 8 covered and numbered coffee cups, each containing a different scent. We were to begin by sniffing each cup and noting what we thought the aroma was. Then, we were provided two glasses, one with Pinot Noir, the other Cabernet Sauvignon. We were asked to sniff the glasses (some instructions were given) and to list three fruit aromas and three non-fruit aromas that we noted in each.
Then, we were asked to sniff one or two of the cups again, and then sniff the wines. The experience of most people was that the aroma of the wine changed after sniffing one or two of the cups (the cups had odors like chocolate, mint, vanilla, smoke, etc.). Ms. Puckette noted that sniffing the aroma in the cup tended to eliminate that odor from the wine for the person sniffing; that changed the aromatic experience of the wine. The workshop was a good experience, and yes, we did get to drink the wine.
“Techniques of the Garagistè: The Secret of Stems” featured three Paso Robles winemakers: Mikael Sigouin of Kaena Wine Company (LINK), Ryan Pease of Paix Sur Terre (LINK), and Stewart McLennan of Golden Triangle (LINK). Each of these winemakers uses stems and whole clusters in making some or all of their wines. The idea is to bring more of the sense of the terroir to the wines and to broaden the flavor profile beyond the fruit itself.
The wines were:
Kaena: 2013 Grenache – Terra Alta Vineyard
Paix Dur Terre: 2013 “The Other One,” 100% Mourvedre
Golden Triangle: 2013 50% Cabernet Sauvignon 50% Syrah
Each was very different in character, although all were the result of whole cluster fermentation. It was very interesting to hear what each winemaker seeks to get from the process and how this process is impractical for large-scale producers.
After the seminars, a lunch was served and then the VIP ticket holders had first shot at the Grand Tasting, with over 70 Garagistè winemakers, producers making under 1500 total cases each year.
We will explore the Grand Tasting in the next post.
This past Saturday, Dorianne and I returned to Châteauneuf-du-Pape (LINK) for lunch and a tasting at a wine cave – a retail wine store. It was a beautiful day, and we drove through the lovely Provençal countryside, with its vineyards, orchards, scenic homes and farms, and lush vegetation. Our friendly GPS took us along about 5 kilometers of single-lane road through vineyard after vineyard before we entered the town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the most storied Appellation (LINK) of this part of France.
Lunch was at Restaurant Le Pistou (LINK) on a little side street off of the main town square. We sat outside and expected a light lunch, but the servings were very large – gambas salad for Dorianne, and grand gambas with salad and vegetables for me. As you can see, the plates were sizeable. We washed this down with the house white – a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Before this trip, I did not know that whites were made here – but they are, compromising about 6% of the total production. The whites of Châteauneuf-du-Pape stand alongside the storied reds as excellent wines.
Le Caves Saint Charles (LINK) was highly recommended in Tripadvisor.com (LINK), which we used as a means of sorting through the dozens and dozens of caves du vin in the town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We wanted to ensure that we were tasting really good wines. After deciding, we made an appointment via email to meet the owner, Guy Brèmond, for 3:30 pm. We were a bit late, having had some trouble locating the cave – our GPS being little help – and in finding a place to park. When we arrived at the cave, which is at the top of the highest hill in town, only overlooked by the nearby ruins of the original Château of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it was locked up. We knocked on the door to no avail. We called the number, and did connect. It turned out that Guy was later than we were, having been stuck in traffic in Marseilles earlier. After a few minutes, we were in the temperature controlled cave, which is under the home of the owner.
The actual cave structure of Le Caves Saint Charles dates from the 13th Century. There is another section underneath that dates from the 12th Century that is going to be renovated in the coming year. The cave in use has four rooms carved out of the rock with stone walls and vaulted ceilings – a lobby area, the tasting area, a small storage area and an area converted into a modern kitchen. There are bottles of wine in wooden boxes from the 45 producers that Guy represents throughout the cave rooms. We started in the tasting area.
Guy Brèmond is a Master Sommelier and a very personable and outgoing man. Once we established that Dorianne and I knew something about wine, although not that much about Châteauneuf-du-Pape, we were off and tasting. He spoke in depth about the philosophy and history of the appellation, and about the way the wines are made and the misconceptions that many have about Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We tasted 8 wines, two whites and six reds. The reds were made in three different styles, or methods.
The 90 minutes or so that we were at Le Caves Saint Charles with Guy Brèmond went by quickly. I kept having the feeling that this was a really special experience, and it was. The depth of his knowledge of wine in general and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines specifically, combined with his enthusiasm, was a bit hypnotic. I will share now that we did purchase a mixed case of wine at the end of our visit to have shipped to California; but we were intending to do that when we arrived, if the wines were good. Guy is a very good businessman, but there was no pressure to purchase beyond what may naturally arise when you are in a fabulous environment, tasting exceptional wines, with an enthusiastic and knowledgeable host.
Now to the wines – to be tasted in huge stemmed glasses, by the way:
We began with two whites. As I said, I was surprised to find whites here, as I have never seen them in the U.S., nor read about them. We had tried a Mont-RedonChâteauneuf-du-Pape white shortly after arriving here in Provence and found it delicious.
First, we tasted a 2012 Domaine de Nalys Blanc (LINK)(LINK), a blend of 40-56% Grenache blanc, 14-34% Clairette, 13-27% Bourboulenc, 3-10% Roussanne, 1-5% Picardan, 1-3% Picpoul. The white wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are, like the reds, complex. This wine gives you a lot to experience on the nose, in the mouth, and through the finish. There is green fruit, minerality (always), some floral notes on the nose; apple, pear, and hints of earth and anise on the tongue; with a smooth lingering finish that returns to the mineral notes from the bouquet. This wine would be exceptional with lighter cheeses and seafood – oysters and shellfish in particular. We bought 3 bottles at 31€ and change.
Next, we went to the 2013 Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (LINK)(LINK), a blend of 40% Grenache Banc, 40% Clairette, and 20% Rousanne. This is a beautiful wine from one of the most highly regarded producers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. A wine that is very drinkable now, but should age well. The nose is peach and floral, but with that ever-present minerality; mouthfeel is rich and viscous with hints of vanilla; long, smooth finish. We bought 3 of these, too, at 34€ and change. (That’s half a case so far.) I think that we will continue to explore the whites of Châteauneuf-du-Pape; in fact, I am certain of it.
As we move to the reds, I should point out of few things (this will be a rather long post). As we taste, there is a lot of conversation going on. Dorianne is full of questions. I ask a few myself. Guy Brèmond is expounding on each wine, each producer, their philosophy, their practices, the market, his business, and more. It is quite lively and very interesting.
There are a number of misconceptions that are very common when it comes to Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines:
Many people do not know about the white wines, as their small production limits their distribution.
Many believe that all Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds come from thirteen varietals. There are, depending upon who you speak to, anywhere from 14 to 18 varietals in the appellation. Some do not count the white varietals other than Granache Blanc. Others count only some of them. So there are, essentially 13 varietals of red, but some of the white varietals may be blended into the red wines. The appellation currently allows 18 varietals under a Châteauneuf-du-Pape label.
Many believe that all Chateauneuf-Du-Pape reds must be blends. This is not true. For example, you can have a 100% Granache, which we have tasted (not at the Cave). Most reds are a blend of three to five varietals. The basis for almost all Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds is the classic GSM Blend – Granache, Syrah, and Mourvedre.
Why so many varietals in a small appellation? Guy says that it was because when the appellation was developed and the rules created in 1923 (amended in 1936 and 2009), all of the varietals under cultivation at the time were included. This “democratic” move forestalled the inevitable infighting that might have jeopardized the pact.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is part of the Côtes du Rhône, or the Rhône Valley Area. It has 3161 hectares, or 7811 acres under cultivation. Total production is 2,686,841 gallons, or about 21,000 cases per year. 94% is red and about 6% is white. (LINK)
So on to the reds. We tasted six, from three different philosophies of making Châteauneuf-du-Pape red wines, as described by The Wine Cellar Insider website (LINK):
The Traditional, Modern & Neoclassical styles – “Much of the difference between traditional and modern, is the ripeness of the grapes, effective yields, amount of stems used and most importantly, the percentage of new oak barrels used in aging the wine. Producers making wines in a more traditional style do not use oak, preferring to age the wine in older, neutral, massive barrels, cement lined vats or foudres that are widely used in the region. They do not destem the grapes. In other words, they follow the traditional practices of the region. There are numerous high quality traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines made all over the appellation today” (LINK). So the use of smaller oak barrels designed to impart its characteristics onto the wine is a hallmark of the Modern Method. The Neoclassical Method is a hybrid of the other two, some oak barrels are used, but only for a portion of the harvest.
Our first two red wines are from the Modern Method:
First, a 2012 Clos Saint Jean “Vieilles Vignes” Châteauneuf-du-Pape (LINK), a blend of 85% Grenache with the remainder a mix of Mourvedre and Syrah (Guy says that Syrah is used only for “cosmetic purposes” – to provide a richer color). This is a big wine, full-bodied, with deep red fruit and minerality on the nose and the palate. A wine that will age well, I think. If this is typical of the Modern Method, it is very much like a California or New World wine – bold, high alcohol, fruit forward. In my research, I noticed that Robert Parker generally gave higher marks to Modern Method wines.
The next Modern Method wine is a 2012 Domaine Roger Perrin Chateauneuf-du-Pape(LINK) the website lists an average blend of 70-75% Grenache, 15-20% Syrah, 10-15% Mourvedre, 2-5% Cinsault or Clairette and 1-2% Counoise or Vaccarese. Another big, fruit-forward wine. Dark red fruit, a bit of mushroom on the nose, minerality throughout. Very similar to the Clos Saint Jean, but with a bit more finesse.
The next three wines are from the Traditional Method:
First, a 2010 Domaine du Pegau Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Reservee (LINK), a blend of 80% Grenache, 6% Syrah, 4% Mourvedre and 10% other varietals. This is an amazing wine – you can immediately see the difference between this method and the Modern Method – something that would carry through with the rest of the wines tasted. It is more mineral than fruit, more elegant than bold, with a beautifully balanced structure of tannins. This is my style of wine. But we did not buy this one.
Next, a 2010 Château Fortia Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tradition (LINK), a blend of 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 15% Mourvedre. Aged in foudres (concrete tanks). This wine is pretty much everything that the Domaine du Pegau is, but it takes it to a higher level, but is very much its own wine. You get some barnyard on the nose, which begins to dissipate after a few minutes, but remains. I did not find it off-putting, but some may. There is ripe fruit in there, but it is subdued in a minerality – dirt, terroir – that permeates the wine. On the palate it is very nicely structured and balanced and the fruit began to come through. This is a wine that will age well and one that would benefit from decanting. We bought 3 of this one at 35€.
Next, a 2010 Beaurenard domain Cuvee Boisrenard Chateauneuf-du-Pape (LINK), a Grenache blend but the winery does not release specifics as far as I can tell – only that up to 13 varietals may be included in the wine. Parker 91, Wine Spectator 97 points. A long, smooth finish. The initial tasting bottle had been opened too long, Guy opened a new bottle and got us clean glasses. This one, too, could benefit from decanting a while. We probably would have bought some of this wine, too, but a case was our limit, and we couldn’t pass up the next wine.
Finally, a wine in the Neoclassical Method – meaning a mixture of traditional and modern. A Château Jas de Bressy Châteauneuf-du-Pape (LINK)(LINK), a blend of 80% Grenache; 15% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre. This wine has lots of mushroom on the nose and a nice peppery sense as well. Fruit is secondary to the minerality on the palate, plus a sense of chocolate. The tannins were there to ensure a relatively long life for this wine. A very nice wine. We added three of these at 36€ and change to round out our case purchase.
After our tasting, we had a quick tour of the rest of Les Caves Saint Charles with Guy Brèmond. There is another small storage room in the cave and a modern kitchen also where gourmet dinners are prepared to pair with these amazing wines. Guy also takes his act on the road, bringing dinners to private homes in the U.S. with a Michelin-Star chef. You can find out more about this at his website (LINK). This experience has been the wine highlight of our six weeks in France. I am very grateful to have discovered so much about the joys of Provence, and the wines of this amazing region.
I haven’t posted in a while, because Dorianne and I have been focusing on some writing projects and dining in our apartment for the most part. We are sill in Villeneuve-les-Avignon, the picturesque village across the Rhône River from Avignon in northern Provence.
This weekend, we were invited by our friend Richard Major, who lives in Mazan in the Ventoux region, to a party being hosted by an ex-pat American couple celebrating one year of living in France. There would be ex-pats from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and other nations, plus a few French neighbors. So, of course, we were interested in attending. I won’t use any names here, because I did not get permission to do so. Here is the sunset from the home.
The home was located in the hills above Bédoin, a picturesque (they are ALL picturesque) village near the base of Mont Ventoux. The couple, from California, and their two children seemed very happy with their choice to move to Provence. We also spoke with a number of other ex-pats and a couple visiting from the U.S., also from California, who own a home nearby, but still live in the States.
The dinner was pot-luck, and there was a good bit of local wine. The Ventoux Region (LINK) is known for Grenache, Syrah and Mouvèdre, with Cinsault and Carignan – the usual Rhône Valley suspects. In the Ventoux A.O.P., no varietal can be more than 30% of the blend. Here are some images of some of the wines served at the party.
Suffice to say, Dorianne and I were impressed by the lifestyle and the conviviality of the English-speaking ex-pats in this part of Provence. It gave us more food for thought about our future home base.
After an overnight at Richard’s in Mazan, we headed for a day in Tavel, the only A.O.P. in France where only rosè wines are allowed; and then over to Châteauneuf-du-Pape for lunch and a visit to Les Caves St Charles, which will be detailed in a separate post.
It was a very special day. If you stay off of the highways, this part of France is a treat for the senses – beautiful panoramas of low hills, valleys, fields of grapes and olive trees, rustic farmhouses – simply beautiful. We traveled down one-lane roads through vineyards and tiny villages, smelled the aromas in the air, and heard almost nothing – silence. It was a very peaceful way to travel.
Tavel (LINK) is located on the right bank of the Rhône River, bordering the Lirac A.O.P., and very close to Avignon. First, let’s look at A.O.C. and A.O.P.
The French government, not too long ago, officially announced that the long standing A.O.C. (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) system for wine is being replace by an new quality ladder with the top step being an A.O.P. (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) (LINK). So, since about 2009, the correct designation is A.O.P.– – That’s just F.Y.I.
We chose Château de Manissy (LINK) in the Tavel A.O.P. from a list online. We are very glad that we did. Owned by the Holy Family’s Missionaries, it has produced rosè wines since the beginning of the 20th century and acquired a famous reputation with the “Tête de Cuvée” wine, a barrel-aged rosé. The monks turned over the viticulture and wine-making to a young many from Tavel, Florian André, who was in his early 20’s at the time. MonsieurAndré has continued some of the traditions of the monks, and oversaw the conversion to an organic winery in 2009. He has also modernized some of the techniques, while keeping that barrel-aged rosé in production. By the way, the monks still live in the Château.
We arrived a bit early for our 2:00 pm appointment, so we wandered the grounds a bit before being met by Anaïs, the Tasting Room Manager. She took us out to the vineyards and we discussed the viticulture of the region. It turned out that her English was so good because she spent a year (2013) working at Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles, known for their Rhône varietals and techniques. As it happened, Dorianne and I were in the Tablas Creek wine club in 2013. Anaïs told us that her father is the winemaker at Famille Perrin/Perrin & Fils in Tavel, and they partner with Tablas Creek in a number of ventures. Small world.
It also turned out that our guide on a previous tour (LINK) of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, Valentina of MistralTour.fr, used to work at Château de Manissy. Smaller world.
We did a tasting and then toured the wine-making operation.
First, we tasted a white from another area of vineyards and a Côtes du Rhône – Rosé of Grenache 40% – Carignan 40% – Cinsault 10% – Syrah 10%. This wine, not from 100% Tavel fruit, was closer to the rosé wines of the larger Provencal region. It was lighter and crisper than the wines to follow. They also make some other wines from vineyards outside of Tavel, all were good and very reasonably priced, but they are not why you want to visit Château de Manissy, or the wines you want to try.
The rosé wines of Château de Manissy, and of Tavel in general, are unlike other rosé wines from Provence. They tend to have a deeper pink to red color and be bolder. This is true of the 2013Tavel Rosé that we tasted, a blending of principally Grenache, Clairette, Cinsault and Bourboulenc, from about 40 years old vines. This is a bolder, more structured rosé with a sense of terroir, unusual in a rosé. There is also a nice balance of fruit – this wine manages to be refreshing and structured enough to pair with chicken or other fowl. This wine is a good representative of the moden Tavel A.O.P. rosés.
Then, we had the unique2013 Tête de Cuvée, the barrel-aged roséthat is the last vestige of the monks’ style of wine making. This is a unique roséin almost every respect. It is aged in small oak barrels, bottled in brown glass like a red wine, it pairs with beef and other meats, it is made to age for decades, and it is made to consume year-round. It is a blending of Grenache, Clairette, Cinsault, Bourboulenc and Carignan. It is mentioned but not listed for sale on their website, and there is very little information about this wine on the internet that I could find. This would be a wonderful wine for Thanksgiving Dinner, strong enough to stand up to turkey and gravy and such, but supple enough to match pretty well with all the other appetizers and side dishes that show up at that feast that is so hard to find good wine parings for. We have two bottles that will travel home with us for this purpose. Oh, and the 2013 Tête de Cuvéewas priced at 11€ or about $12.00 – one of their more expensive wines!
It is also worth noting that Anaïs told us that we were the very first visitors in 2015 from the United States. I found this surprising, but then again, Tavel is not well known in the U.S. If you are looking for rosés for the remainder of the summer and into the cooler days of autumn – see if your wine retailer has wines from Tavel – you won’t be disappointed.
I will post about the other part of our day – a return to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, in the next post.
Last week, Dorianne, Grace and I joined our friend Richard Major, who was raised in the Luberon region for an afternoon drive thought the region. We started with a wonderful lunch at his home in Mazan, sharing a couple of bottles of local wines, then drove through a beautiful gorge into the Luberon Valley. As we approached the town of Bonnieux, one of the places where Richard grew up, he turned into a driveway marked Château La Canorgue (LINK). “Let’s see if they are still open,” he said – it was 6:45 pm. As we drove up the driveway through the scenic property, Richard said casually, “The winemaker, Jean-Pierre Margan and I went to high school together. I haven’t seen him for forty years.”
We digested that bit of information as we pulled into the parking area, and Richard spotted Jean-Pierre standing outside of the tasting room. They engaged in conversation while we went inside, where we met his daughter, Nathalie, who now represents the 5th generation of winegrowers at this storied property.
This beautiful property was featured in the movie “A Good Year” (A Big Year) with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard directed by Ridley Scott. They produce 100% organic wines(LINK) .
It was getting late, so we got right to a tasting of several of their wines next to a wall that contained a few dozen award certificates that the Chateau had amassed over the years.
We started with their Château La Canorgue label Luberon Rosé, a blend of Grenache Blanc and Syrah. A nice, refreshing wine.
Then we tasted their Château La Canorgue label Luberon White Blend (LINK), a winner of the Gold Medal in the 2015 Concours Général Agricole Paris. This blend of Rousanne, Marsanne, Clairette and Bourboulenc makes for a very refreshing, complex wine. An excellent white wine – something that I was coming to realize as a trait of this area in the northern reaches of Provence, normally known for the reds produced here.
Next, we tasted their La Canorgue 100% Viognier (LINK), a wine that cannot carry the Chateau label because it does not meet the AOP (formerly known as AOC) regulations for blending. Nathalie Margan said that this wine was so good as a single varietal that they just went ahead and labeled it this way. It is a very fruity and light wine that would be excellent with shellfish, and has a very pleasing, long finish.
Moving to the reds, we started with their second label, Béret Frog, a blend of Cabernet, Grenache,Merlot &Syrah that sells for about 7 euros a bottle. It is a good everyday wine, with some complexity, but is more of a table wine that would be a cut above most vin ordinaire.
Next, the Château La Canorgue label Luberon Red blend (LINK), a blend of 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache, and 10% old vine Carignan and Mourvedre. This is the flagship wine of the property. It is a first-class wine, with great structure, a nose of dark fruit and minerals, and flavor of the terroir balanced nicely with fruit and cassis, and a smooth long finish.
Finally, the 2012 La Canorgue Red, a limited production 100% Grenache. A truly delicious wine with a nice tannic structure. This small production wine is generally absent from the internet, but you can order it from their website.
We purchased 8 bottles of wine to take back to our apartment near Avignon, and headed out to explore another village or two and then have dinner back in Mazan. A great day in The Luberon Valley. If you get up this way, don’t miss Château La Canorgue, a beautiful location with some wonderful wines.
Château La Canorgue, Route du Pont Julien, 84480 Bonnieux
As a wine blogger, I really like to explore the wine regions I visit. We are in the Avignon area for six weeks, and I had been itching to get to Châteauneuf-du-Pape to taste some of their fantastic wines on-site and to learn more about the culture and process of this renowned region. At the recommendation of Lauren, proprietor of the wonderful Art, Wine, and Design Shop in Villeneuve-les-Avignon, I called Valentina of MistralTour.fr and set up an all-day tour this past Friday. Dorianne and our daughter, Grace, joined us. Most of the photographs in this post were taken by Grace – here is a (LINK) to her website.
Valentina is a delight – an Italian who lives in France and speaks perfect English; she is very vivacious and professional. She is an excellent guide.
Our tour took us to the Village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where we went up to the ruins of the original chateau and surveyed the beautiful countryside laced with vineyards in all directions. Along the way, Valentina talks about all things wine – she really has a good degree of knowledge and makes everything clear. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a storied wine region centered around the town of the same name. The AOC (LINK) allows for 18 varietals (not 13 as is commonly believed). From Wikipedia.com:“Both red and white varieties are allowed in both red and white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. There are no restrictions as to the proportion of grape varieties to be used, and unlike the case with other appellations, the allowed grape varieties are not differentiated into principal varieties and accessory varieties. Thus, it is theoretically possible to produce varietal Châteauneuf-du-Pape from any of the eighteen allowed varieties. In reality, most Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are blends dominated by Grenache. Only one of every 16 bottles produced in the region is white wine.”
I was unfamiliar with whites and rosés from this region, but let me tell you, there are some amazing wines here. U.S. retailers and restaurants should be getting on the bandwagon for the whites and rosés of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas.
Then we drove just down the road to Chateau de Vaudieu (LINK) for a tour and a private tasting with the winemaker, Christophe. Chateau de Vaudieu dates from 1767. They have 70 hectares (173 acres) of grapes under cultivation, all around the chateau.
Lirac is an AOC just across theRhône Riverfrom Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It has similar varietals and soils, and the wines are a bargain. Quite a few Châteauneuf-du-Pape growers bottle Lirac Wines.
Next, we went into the village to the wine shop of Domaine Durieu, where the winemaker was also present for part of our stay, then we tasted four of their wines. I should add that Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are among the best in France. No photos here.
Then a long drive through he region to La Verrière, in Crestet up on a mountain, where we had a wonderful lunch, a conversation with the owner (Nicole Rolet who co-owns with her husband, Xavier) and the winemaker, and tasted the award winning Chene Bleu Rhône wines (LINK); then we had a complete tour of the facilities. This is one of the most beautiful wine estates I have ever seen in France, and after speaking with the principals, I can see why.
This team produces some excellent wines and they have created an atmosphere of success at their beautiful property. The wines were smooth, well-crafted, beautifully balanced and simply delicious. They are available in the U.S. and elsewhere, so check their website (LINK) for more information, or Google the wine names.
Note that the Chene Bleu wines are made outside of the French AOC system – Nicole and Xavier felt too bound by the rules of the local AOC, so they deviated, and it has been a battle for acceptance. Of course, the wines speak for themselves and have received numerous awards and recognitions.
Then we were off to Gigondas, another storied region, for a tasting at Domaine des Bosquets (LINK), owned by the same family as Chateau de Veudieu. We tasted several wines with the owner/winemaker at this location as well. Winemaker Julien Bréchet hosted our tasting. The Gigondas is very similar to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with a focus on Grenache and Syrah as the primary varietals. The main difference is the type of soil – less gravely and with more limestone and sand than Châteauneuf-du-Pape, plus a higher elevation with more verticality to the vineyards. The wines at Domaine des Bosquets were similar in style to those from Chateau de Veudieu– smooth, well-structured and elegant. The Gigondas is a great wine region.
Then we explored the nearby hilltop town of Gigondas a bit before heading back to our apartment.
It was an amazing day that filled my need to explore somewhat more n depth the areas we visited and to learn more about the wines. We made purchases at every stop! This is a very rich region, part of the overall Rhône Valley Region, so there is much, much more to explore. So we will have to do some more exploring on this trip, and we will have to come back.
And again, I cannot give enough praise to Valentina of MistralTour.fr (LINK) – she is a professional and makes your time together very enjoyable, while giving you as much, or as little inside information as you would like. And her prices really are a bargain.
Continuing our series on the wineries I visited on a group wine tour in the Santa Rita Hills Appellation on Saturday, we will take a look at Margerum Wine Company (LINK). Our group tasted at the winery near Buellton, but the regular tasting rooms (LINK) are in Santa Barbara. Assistant Winemaker Sam Smith conducted our tasting on Saturday.
Margerum produces a number of wines from a variety of vineyards (LINK) in Santa Barbara County. They produce small quantities of each wine, seeking to maximize the quality. Their stable of wines runs from Sauvignon Blanc (including a rare late harvest dessert version), to Pinot Gris and a Grenache Rosé on the white side, with Syrah, Pinot Noir,Grenache, and Rhone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape style blends under a couple of labels. You can read about each of the wines at the link above. I really enjoyed the 2013 LATE HARVEST SAUVIGNON BLANC, a very light and smooth dessert wine that has a light mouthfeel and not too much sweetness.
I found the wines we tasted to be well-crafted with a tendency toward lightness and elegance, even a sense of understatement, which is consistent with the style that many winemakers adopt in this region. As noted in earlier posts, if you want the big fruit-bomb reds, you need to head north a bit to Paso Robles, where that style is more prevalent.
The owners of Margerum Wine Company are also involved in the Wine Cask Restaurant (LINK) in Santa Barbara. The restaurant has an excellent reputation, and, I am pretty sure, you can get some Margerum Wines on the premises.
Later, more posts on the other two wineries we visited, LaFond and Tyler, each very interesting in its own right.