Tag Archives: Rhône Valley

MY YEAR IN WINE – 2017

This has been a very unique year for me in terms of wine exploration and enjoyment. After traveling full time between North America and Europe for 2 ½ years, Dorianne and I have settled in Lyon, France. Although we continue to travel for various reasons (I’m writing this in Southern California), we have been exploring the local wine scene in and around Lyon since July – and have discovered that there is a lot to learn, and even more to enjoy.

Lyon France

The year began with our annual few days in Pismo Beach, CA with our friends to explore wineries from Paso Robles, the Edna Valley, Santa Maria, and the Santa Rita Hills AVAs. The highlights of that trip were Sculptera Vineyards in Paso Robles (we all joined the wine club and bought two cases), Presqu’ile Vineyards in Santa Maria, and Pence Winery in the Santa Rita Hills. (LINK to Post about the last two)

The cases from Sculptera (mixed cases) were sent to Roam Miami (LINK), where Dorianne and I stayed last winter. A co-living/co-working space, Roam offered a haven of tropical peace and calm right next to downtown Miami and the Brickell area. We were surrounded mostly by Millennial digital nomads, and we conducted a few wine tastings and seminars to help educate them about wine enjoyment. (LINK to Post about Millennials and Wine).

In late March, we headed back to southern Oregon, Medford and Ashland, to see friends and explore more of the Rogue Valley wine scene. A month there took us to several wonderful wineries (LINK to Post) and some great restaurants.

The next highlight was two weeks in New York, staying in my daughter’s Harlem apartment, where we got to explore the burgeoning Harlem French wine and restaurant scene (LINK to Post about Harlem). Lots of good experiences there.

In June I traveled solo to Kelowna, British Columbia, the heart of the rich Okanagan Wine Region in western Canada (Link to Post about the Okanagan). Here I explored a variety of wineries and wines, as global warming has opened the region to growing red grapes, from Cabernet Sauvignon, to Tempranillo, to Syrah. Kelowna is a boomtown for vacation homes and recreation on its 90-mile-long glacial lake. The wine scene is growing more sophisticated with over 200 wineries in the area. Dirty Laundry Winery showcases much of what is fun in the Okanagan (LINK to Post).

After Kelowna, we spend some time in London (LINK to Post) it was off to Ireland’s Connemara area, where we drank Guinness for the most part. Then, in July, we made the move to Lyon (LINK to Post on Living in France).

Lyon has been a revelation in terms of wine. Centered between Burgundy to the north, the Rhône Valley to the south, Beaujolais to the west, and Jura to the east, there is an embarrassment of riches. And some surprises.

  1. The French don’t like to spend a lot of money on wine. I’m sure that there are exceptions, but you rarely see a bottle above 20€ in a grocery store or over 40€ in the local wine cave (shop). Restaurants generally sell wine bottles at or just above retail. And winemakers sell wines for half to 2/3’s what they would cost in the US. A potis a 460ML bottle – a bit more than a half-bottle – of house wine which will cost 8 to 12€ in a Bouchon (Lyonnaise for bistro). There are also demi-pots and rare 500ML bottles.
  2. Box wines are better quality than I expected. For about 25€ you can get a 5-liter box of a very drinkable Luberon Valley red wine; 18€ for the rosé.
  3. Rosé wines are very good at 4€ per bottle, excellent at 7 to 10€. We drank rosés almost exclusively during the hot summer months.
  4. Maconnais Chardonnays are wonderful wines. Just north of Lyon, the vineyards of Macon produce some wonderfully approachable wines which sell for ½ or 1/3 of what their Burgundian cousins to the north fetch. Another nice surprise was Aligoté, the other Burgundy white – crisp, with a mineral/floral nose, it is a great value choice from the same winemakers who make the expensive stuff.
  5. In France, Cabernet Sauvignon is just Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc is just Sauvignon. Cases in France are 6 bottles. Just FYI.

As I noted in the Moving to France Post (LINK), we tend to shop every day for fresh items at the open-air marchés and the mom-and-pop bakeries, butchers, etc. This may also include a stop at the wine cave to pick up a bottle or two and have a conversation with the proprietor about what is new and interesting.

We have not yet begun to explore the wineries and vineyards in the area – our focus has been on learning French, getting to know the city, and finding a flat to purchase – however, we expect to do a lot of that in 2018.

We are winding up 2017 in Southern California with friends and family. Our New Year’s Eve dinner with friends will feature a cold lobster appetizer that I am making and a Ken Brown Chardonnay to accompany it; then roast leg of lamb with a 2005 Opus One and a 1994 Harlan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon to see the year out with something wonderful.

Next week, we return to Pismo Beach to explore the Central Coast some more, then . . .

Who knows?

Thanks for being a part of this year on the blog.

As always, your comments and suggestions are welcomed!

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

A RETURN VISIT TO PASO ROBLES

Earlier this week, Dorianne and I spent a couple of days in the California Central Coast Wine Country with friends. We stayed at the KonTiki Inn, a mid-20th Century gem in Pismo Beach. Don’t try to reserve a room at the KonTiki online – you can’t. They have a website (LINK), but you can’t reserve there or on the other online hotel sites. It’s very retro, very well maintained, very inexpensive, every room has an ocean view, and it’s very comfortable.

On Monday, we drove up to Paso Robles and visited three wineries. The first was Peachy Canyon (LINK) on Paso’s West Side. The tasting room is picturesque – they have been around for a while, since 1988 – and their wines are very drinkable. There is a nice selection of clothing and wine stuff in the tasting room shop. The $10 tasting fee is waived with a two-bottle purchase. Peachy Canyon is known for their Zinfandels, but their whites are also worth a look, as well as their other reds.

Next, we went over to Paso Robles’ East Side, to Sculptera Winery & Sculpture Garden (LINK). This was my first visit to Sculptera, even though I have been to Paso Robles many times. The first thing that you notice about Sculptera, after passing through the vineyards, is the amazing front sculpture garden. Here is a sample of what is there – there is another garden behind the tasting room.

Inside, the tasting room is nicely appointed, with more sculptures, including miniature versions of some of the larger sculptures. At this point, my suspicions were aroused – how often does an impressive winery and tasting room that clearly cost millions of dollars produce mediocre and overpriced wines?

Well, Sculptera is not in that category. The wines were uniformly excellent – so much so, that all three couples – all knowledgeable about wine – ended up joining the wine club. As I write this, two cases of their wines are on the way to our temporary residence, Roam.co (LINK), in Miami. And the tasting room staff was knowledgeable and very good at what they do. Their wines are priced from the low $20’s to $60.

Several of the wines on the tasting list (8 wines) were exceptional, including the first one poured, the newly-released 2015 Viognier, one of those whites that hits your palate and you instantly know that it is exceptional; it has everything you want, a rich bouquet – floral with hints of minerality; a slightly viscous mouthfeel; lots of green fruit and levels of complexity; and a smooth and very pleasing finish. At $26 retail, this wine is a bargain. Other highlights were the 2013 Pinot Noir, which was peppery and earthy, but the fruit held its own (yes, a good Pinot Noir from Paso Robles); the 2014 Primitivo (and the 2013 Primitivo Reserve, which was not on the list, but was poured for us), a big wine that also showed complexity and balance; the 2012 Merlot, also nicely balanced; and the two blends we tried, 2013 Figurine (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Primitivo, & 13% Merlot), and the 2013 Statuesque (38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Syrah, 28% Petite Syrah). There is also a second label called Héroe Wines, which are also very good as well, and they honor the workers who produced it on the labels, front and back.  So many good wines.

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The Gang at Sculptera’s Wine Tasting Room

Our final stop was at Cass Winery (LINK), where we had lunch from their excellent kitchen. We did not do a tasting here, but had glasses of wine with lunch. Cass produces very good Rhône-style wines, and their whites – Rousanne & Marsanne and the blend they make with them are superior. It is a great lunch spot with indoor and outdoor seating and a very convivial atmosphere in the tasting room.

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Paso Robles is one of the most interesting wine regions in California right now. There are some wineries that have been around long enough to develop some great wines, there are some who are very nearly at that point, and there are a lot of very innovative things happening with interesting varietals and new viticulture and wine making techniques. A great place to visit.

The next day, we drove south to the Bien Nacido area and the Santa Rita Hills AVA to visit two very interesting wineries – more about that in the next post.

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

AUSTRALIAN WINE TASTING IN LONDON

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 Vale Grenache wines from single vineyards. The 2013 High Sands Grenache is of particular note.

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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 finishsimply 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.

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Castagna Wines: The father and son team of Julian and Adam Castagna were presiding over their table with aplomb. Their Rhône-focused vineyard & 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.

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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 winesgood 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.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

SPANISH WINE IN ANDALUCIA’S RONDA

Dorianne and I are staying in Málaga and Granada for six weeks. The other day, we took a tour of the beautiful white town, Ronda. We were going to go there anyway, but found a local tour company that combines your tour of the town with stops at two local wineries. All in all, a very nice day.

Southern Spain’s Andalucía region is an expansive area the borders the Mediterranean Sea on the south and east, Portugal on the west, and central Spain on the north. It includes cities like Seville, Granada, Málaga, Cordoba, Cadiz, and a host of other smaller towns and villages. The topography and climate are very much like southern California – warm and dry inland, slightly cooler and more humid near the sea. It is the home of millions of olive trees – and, where you can grow olives, you can usually grow grapes.

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Andalucian Valley

The wines of Andalucia are often sweet and/or fortified, such as the famous Sherry wines of the area around Jerez (LINK). Málaga is also known for sweet red wines (vino tinto dulce). But elsewhere, small producers are making dry wines out of unexpected varietals in the midst of olive country.

Our first stop was at Bodega Joaquín Fernández (LINK), just 3km north of Ronda. The bodega is located on a sloped property, and there are five hectares under cultivation, with an additional hectare about a mile away. They produce about 5,000 cases per year. Also, there is a rental unit where you can stay right at the vineyard.

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Moises Fernandez

Our tour was led by Moises Fernández, the son of the owner. He gave a very thorough tour of the vineyard and winemaking operation, with great detail on their organic processes. Only red varietals are grown at the bodega – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot (pronounced Mer-LOT here), Syrah (pronounced SEE-rak), and Garnacha.  A white wine and a rosé (Rosado) made from Merlot are signature wines here along with some red blends.

All wines are fermented in large stainless steel tanks – a fermentation for alcohol, and then a malolactic fermentation. The wines are then stored in oak barrelsFrench and American, for periods from 3 months to two years. This is regulated by the local D.O. Malaga Hills/Mountain. Another regulation is that Tempranillo, the most popular red wine grape of Spain, cannot be grown here. That is why local wine makers rely on Bordeaux and Rhône varietals. In keeping with their organic philosophy, then do not use foils on their wine bottles. Instead, they seal them with a thin coating of beeswax.

Of interest, they have been experimenting with storing bottled wine under water. Here is a sample.

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After the tour, we had a tasting and tapas in the bodega’s outdoor tasting room that overlooks the vines. We tasted all of the wines produced – six in total. Dorianne and I were both impressed with the craftsmanship here – the wines were uniformly well-balanced, and all were very enjoyable. Two favorites were the 2015 Blanco de Uva Tinta – a white Merlot, and the 2014 Garnacha, a blend of 90% Garnacha & 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Their wines sell in the 11€ to 15€ range – great values.

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The line up – note the beeswax seals.

Next, we had a couple of hours to tour Ronda – a beautiful city bisected by a river canyon that runs about 300 feet deep or more. If you visit Andalucía, Ronda should be on your list of places to visit. But back to the wine.

Our second stop would include lunch. We were driven a few kilometers out of town to a small bodega called Bodega Garcia Hildago, a small producer – about 1,000 cases annually. Here, we received a tour by Miguel Hildago, the owner and then a four-course lunch with some of his wines. His wife is an amazing cook, but she was away for the day, so he served the food that she had prepared earlier at a table on the patio of their beautiful home.

Miguel grows the same varietals as Bodega Joaquín Fernández, on about 2 hectares on his property. A few of his wines are in local restaurants, but otherwise, you have to visit the bodega to enjoy them. He makes four wines using organic techniques in his vineyard.

We particularly enjoyed his 2014 Zabel de Alcobazin, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. It was rich, full bodied, and had a nice hint of minerality to it. There was a good tannin structure, so it should age well. It sells for 14€.

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Our tour company, Tannin Trail (LINK), offered a great experience. The van was comfortable (only two couples on the tour, which may have been a factor), the guide, Kelly, who originates from South Africa and has lived in Spain for eight years, was very knowledgeable about the local viniculture and the wines of the region, and the two bodega stops were interesting and fun. The tour company is in the process of expanding their operations to the Rioja Region as well, and have been re-branding from Trippy Vines to Tannin Trail during that time. Their Tripadvisor.com ratings are also excellent (LINK).

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It was good to get out and visit some of the wine makers who are making dry wines in this area of mostly sweet wine production. To be sure, Andalucía has a lot to offer.

 

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

CREATING A STARTER CASE OF WINE

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 Starter case -USQLogo_WBShop (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 Burgundian Chardonnay, 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:

Starter Case Chart
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.

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Union Square Wines and Spirits Shop

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 own starter 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.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

A DAY IN NORTHERN SANTA BARBARA COUNTY – THREE WINERIES

I love the Santa Barbara County AVAs. Not only do they produce great wines, have lovely scenery, and a host of great winemakers and tasting rooms; they are easily accessible from the Los Angeles area.

On Tuesday, Dorianne and I were joined by Mary Stec and Richard Clark for a day trip to Santa Barbara County (LINK). We visited three wineries and had lunch at Industrial Eats in Buellton. Mary is a home chef and runs a cooking school & is a weight-loss coach (LINK) (LINK); Richard is the winemaker for the Conejo Valley Wine Co-op (LINK to previous post).

Our plan was to visit two wineries in the Santa Rita Hills AVA (LINK), have lunch, then visit two wineries in the northern section Stana Ynez Valley AVA (LINK), north of Los Olivos. The Santa Rita Hills are known for Burgundian varietalsChardonnay and Pinot Noir; the northern Santa Ynez Valley is Rhône varietals – especially Syrah, but also Mouvedre, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, and Cinsault.

A late start and a few other things shifted out plans a bit, but we made the most of a magnificent sunny day in the 80’s.

Our first stop was Babcock Winery (LINK) along Rt. 246 near Lompoc. Babcock has been around for a while and they make some excellent wines, with Pinot Noir leading the way. Our tasting room host Jamie showed the four of us through two different tastings, one featuring their estate fruit, the other wines sourced from elsewhere in the Santa Rita Hills AVA. Babcock’s new and updated tasting room is filled with their wines mixed with places to sit, antiques and other items, some of which are for sale.

Babcock’s strongest suit is their Pinot Noir. They produce several estate wines and a blend of several vineyards. All of them drink well and show excellent craftsmanship, balance, and quality. We purchased a bottle of their 2013 Radical Pinot Noir, which showed the most character (to us) and will age well. We will be laying this one down for a while. Their Cabernet Sauvignon is notable as well, as is their Backroads Red BlendBabcock offers tours and you can have events there. It is a great winery to visit.

The next stop was lunch at the wonderful Industrial Eats (LINK) in the warehouse area of Buellton (of “Sideways” fame). This artisanal eatery also features a number of local wines on tap for $9 a glass, beer, cider, and more. You eat at common tables and can watch the pizza maker use the brick ovens.

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Menu Wall at Industrial Eats

As we were leaving the restaurant, we noted that the tasting room next door, Alma Rosa, showed the proprietors to be Thekla and Richard Sanford, well-known pioneers of the Santa Rita Hills. Richard is in the Vintner’s Hall of Fame. It turns out that I did not know that Alma Rosa was the Sanfords’ (relatively) new wine operation. So, our plans changed and in we went.

Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards (LINK) has been around since 2005. Like most in the Santa Rita Hills AVA, they specialize in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, also producing Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and a Pinot Noir-Vin Gris Rosé. They have two levels of tastings, so each couple had one of them. The wines here are uniformly well-crafted and each has unique characteristics. There are five Pinot Noirs (three are single vineyard/clone) and two each of the Chardonnays, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blancs. We purchased some of the La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Gris and the Clone 667 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir. We would have purchased more, but our wine locker is nearly full (really).

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The Tasting Crew at Alma Rosa
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Rena of Alma Rosa Wine

The tasting room staff included Rena, who is both knowledgeable about the wines and the process and very outgoing. This small wine tasting room is really lovely (and you can have food sent over from Industrial Eats to boot!).

Next, it was on up the 101 Freeway to Zaca Mesa Road near Los Olivos. Our destination was Andrew Murray Wines (LINK) and their new facility at the former Curtis Winery which was purchased and added to the Andrew Murray operation a few years ago. Long known as the producer of the best Syrahs along the Central Coast, Andrew Murray has expanded into some additional Rhône varietals plus a few others since taking over Curtis. Our tasting was a reminder that these are truly exceptional wines. Highlights of the tasting were, of course, the Syrahs, especially the 2013 Thompson Vineyard Syrah, and the 2014 Watch Hill Vineyard Syrah. Both had nicely balanced fruit and minerality, a beautiful bouquet, and a smooth finish.

Also notable were the 2014 Estate Grown Cinsault, and the 2013 Curtis Vineyard Mourvèdre. Both were very well crafted and balanced with minerality and fruit that alternately competed for your attention. We bought some of the Cinsault. And finally, the 2015 Espérance Rosè, a light and crisp rosé made of nearly 100% Cinsault. It results in a surprising rich and flavorful rosé reminiscent of the wines of the Tavel A.O.P. (LINK to previous post) in the Rhône Valley. This is one of the best rosés I have had in some time. Richard and I took a case of this beauty home. Well – it was on sale and I will find the space!

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That was our day – we headed home with wine in the trunk and some great memories that will be rekindled each time we open a bottle.

And a reminder – our amazing Wine Tour of the southern Rhône Valley and Provence (including Tavel) still has some space left. Visit (LINK – Deluxe Wine Tours) to get all the information and to register.

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Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

APPLEGATE VALLY AVA – TWO WINERIES

Yesterday, several of us went to the Applegate Valley AVA area in southern Oregon to taste some wines. This area, just to the west of Ashland, is in the foothills of the Coastal Range near the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest. Beautiful country, a growing number of  wineries in the area , but you travel a bit of a distance to get from winery to winery.

The AVA does not have a signature varietal. There are a number of micro-climates present, soil variations, and annual rainfall amounts vary from around 20 to 40 inches in different parts of the AVA. So you have Italian varietals like Sangiovese, Spanish Tempranillo, Rhône Syrah, Rousanne and Marsanne, plus Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and others.

We wanted to taste some of the best of the area, so our local friends took us to Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden (LINK) and to Red Lily Winery both off of Route 238 southwest of the quaint town of Jacksonville.

Cowhorn represents a number of good things about growing and making wine. First of all, the quality of the wines is simply superb. Producing a total of 2300 cases of Rhône varietals – Grenanche, Mouvedre, Syrah, ViognierRousanne and Marsanne, the owners and winemakersBill and Barbara Steele, use state-of-the-art biodynamic techniques. The wines that we tasted (and we didn’t even get to taste the reserve wines, which are spoken for by the wine club – hint) were beautifully crafted, balanced, and tasted much like wines we have had in the Rhône Valley. Their wines consistently score in the low to mid 90’s from such reviewers as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Robert Parker.

The 2012 Syrah was beautifully crafted and needs a couple more years in the bottle to reach it’s peak. The whites – a Spiral 36 Blend of ViognierRousanne and Marsanne  is delicious and a bargain. The 100% Viognier was a revelation – a beautiful mouth feel with apple, pear, and other green fruit, some minerality, and a very smooth finish. The Marsanne/Rousanne 50/50 was also quite good – all of the whites could have been from top Rhône Valley producers. We did take some of these home with us.

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Some of Cowhorn’s Wines
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Jim & Bill Steele

Second, they are operating a highly eco-sensitive and sustainable operation. Under construction is a new tasting room that is being built to the exacting standards of  the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) (LINK), meaning that the building will add as much as it takes from the environment at every step of the building and operating process. While we were there, a beautiful table made from recovered wood and custom-designed for wine tasting by Barbara Steele, was delivered and set up. Here are a few photos.

If you can get your hands on some Cowhorn wines, do it.

Our next stop, after getting a bit lost on the scenic back roads of the area, was Red Lily Vineyards (LINK), a beautiful property along the roaring Applegate River. Here, Tempranillo is king. Les and Rachel Martin own and operate the vineyard and winery. The tasting room building is beautifully designed and contains facilities for special events. They also have a kitchen that produces some very good food. We had lunch here, accompanied by some of the Red Lily Wines.

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Red Lilly Tasting Room

The wines that we tasted were primarily Tempranillo, some mixed with Cabernet Sauvignon. The 100% 2012 Tempranillo in the tasting was the best of that group. I had a glass of a 2006 100% Tempranillo that showed how well these wines age. Great tannin structure, well balanced between dark red fruit and minerality. A beautiful wine (and, at $51, the most expensive). They also sell some wines made in Spain to compliment the Spanish varietals grown here.

The wine tastings are available poured into test tubes and put in a rack that you can pour yourself when you are ready. There are tasting notes for each wine. You can also have the friendly and knowledgeable tasting room staff pour each taste for you. The Red Lily wines are very well crafted, not up to the level of the Cowhorn, which would be exceptional in any AVA or appellation, but very drinkable and reasonably priced.

Both of these wineries were a joy to visit, with the usual great people that one tends to meet in the wine industry. If you are visiting southern Oregon soon, make it a point to check these two out.

We will be doing some more exploration on this visit – so watch this space.

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Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

 

WINEMAKERS’ MIXER AT THE 2015 GARAGISTÉ FEST IN PASO ROBLES.

The Garagistè Festival (LINK), for the uninitiated, is a gathering that promotes and celebrates small production winemakers from Paso Robles and elsewhere in California. These are folks who produce under 1500 cases per year. Some are new and plan to grow into the future Mondavis or Kendall-Jacksons of the world; others are doing it as a labor of love and have no plans to expand; still others are winemakers for larger concerns and this is their hobby-like “side venture.”  There are also now Garagistè Festivals in Solvang and in Los Angeles each year.

This is the fifth annual Paso Robles event, and I have attended all of them. Dorianne and I drove up from LA County where we are staying with friends for last night’s Winemakers’ Mixer and today’s workshops and Grand Tasting (which I will blog about later).

The mixer was added a few years ago, and has been held in different places. This year, it was in the barrel room at Broken Earth Winery (LINK). There were about 35 wineries represented (and one local hard cider maker), including about 1/2 dozen who had been at all five festivals. There were some snacks provided and the Pairing Knife Food Truck (LINK) was also on hand with some great food.

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The focus of the evening was new releases and tastings of wines that had not yet been released. You might say that this concept is loosely observed. There were some new releases, and some yet-to-be-released wines (one, just pressed and served from a 5 gallon plastic container), but there were also some 2007 Cabernets and other regular production wines, but really, who cares?

The fun of this evening was meeting young (and not-so-young) winemakers who are following their dream and doing what they love. They are eager to talk about their wines and really enjoy it when someone with some knowledge shows up. There were over 70 wines to taste, so spitting was in order. The general quality of the wines at the Garagistè Festival has improved significantly over the past five years. But, there is still a pretty wide range of quality, which is also part of the fun.

Here are a few highlights from the evening for us – we did not taste every single wine (you can get wines from most of these small producers via their website):

Ascension Cellars (LINK), Paso Robles. Currently produces 8 wines in the Rhône style. We tasted their GSM called Trinity and a Syrah – both were very well-crafted and balanced.

Deno Wines (LINK), Templeton, CA. The last wine we tasted before departing, the wine was a pre-release of the blend of 50% Zinfandel and a 50% GSM blend. This surprising combination produced a very spicy and well-balanced wine. Dennis Sharpe will have some other GSM’s out today for the Grand Tasting.

Incendium Wines (LINK), Napa Valley, CA. Winemaker Vince Kalny is a firefighter for Cal Fire. His wines reflect his primary calling, with beautifully designed labels. A portion of the proceeds from sales go to The National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation. That said, his wines are very well made. There were 3 Chardonnays, 2 Cabernet Sauvignons and a Syrah to taste. The Cabs (2012 & 2013 – pre-release) stood out as very well-crafted and were smooth and ready to drink.

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Incendium Wines – The Reds
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Vince Kalny – Firefighter and Winemaker.

Stanger Vineyards (LINK), Paso Robles, CA. Last year, when we entered the mixer, the first person we saw was J.P. French holding a 5 gallon plastic water jug that was filled with Malbec that had just been pressed. He sloshed some of the juice into our glasses and moved on. Later, we returned to his table and discovered some amazing wines. J.P. was back this year, with the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon in the plastic jug – again, just pressed. He also had a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon that was spicy, earthy, but with nice red fruit on the nose and palate. If you are into wine, Stanger Vineyards is a good bet.

Theopolis Vineyards (LINK), Anderson Valley, CA. Theopolis, run by Theodora Lee, a Texan and an attorney by trade, had 7 or 8 wines (we were well into the tasting) on display. Theopolis  has a focus on Petite Syrah on the red side, and the Symphony Grape – a California crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris developed in 1948 (but not commercially released until 1982) by the late Harold Olmo, professor of viticulture at the University of California, Davis.   As its pedigree suggests, it is a seductively aromatic wine with delightfully captivating aromas that are markedly floral with slightly spicy flavors (from their website). She also produces a very seductive Petite Syrah Rosè. The wines were among the best of the evening and I look forward to visiting her again today at the Grand Tasting.

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Theodora Lee of Theopolis Vineyards

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Turiya Wines (LINK), Lompoc, CA.  Turiya means “pure consciousness” in Sanskrit. Winemaker Angela Soleno brings a consciousness to winemaking that produces some exceptional wines. We tasted a Sangiovese  and a Bordeaux Blends, and both were excellent. A one-woman operation, Angela produces about 200 cases annually, all reds, featuring a number of varietals – Red Blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese. Wine prices begin at about $100/bottle and you have to be on the allocation list to receive wine. Visit the website for more information.

Angela Soleno of Turiya Wines.
Angela Soleno of Turiya Wines.

Vinemark Cellars (LINK), Paso Robles, CA. Mark Wasserman, who runs Vinemark with his wife, Julie, was present with two wines, a 2013 Reserve Pinto Noir and a 2012 Mezzanote, a blend of 75% Primitivo and 25%  Petite SyrahMark is the classic Garagistè, in it for the love of winemaking. He loves to talk about his wines, and they are wonderful.

Mark Wasserman of Vinemark Cellars.
Mark Wasserman of Vinemark Cellars.

So that is a taste of the tasting mixer. There were a number of other quality wines present and, again, try as we might, Dorianne and I did not get to taste everything. Today – the Classic Tasting with about 70 producers and a couple of hundred wines. We will do our best.

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SIX WEEKS IN PROVENCE DRINKING WINE – SUMMING UP

How to sum up six weeks in Provence?

I can begin by saying that we only visited a portion of the region. We were based in the northern part of Provence, in the village of Villeneuve-les-Avignon on the Rhône River, where two major wine regions converge: Languedoc-Roussillon and Côte-du-Rhône. In our immediate area were over a dozen A.O.P.’s, or Appellation d’Origine Protégée, which replaced the A.O.C. or Appellation d’origine Contrôlée designation in France in 2009 (LINK). So there were plenty of wines to taste and vineyards to visit very close to us.

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The View from our AirBnB Apartment in Villeneuve-les-Avignon.

And, this trip was not just about wine (!) it was also a time for Dorianne and I to write, to explore the history of the region and meet people, and to see if we might want to settle here someday soon. And, as it turned out, to see if I am going to extend my new wine tour business to this area.

I have already blogged about several of our experiences during our stay (best key word to search is Provence), and Tweeted just about every wine we had on my Twitter account – @JimLockardWine.

But, some additional tidbits.

We first encountered Lauren, proprietor of the marvelous Arts, Design, and Wine Shop in Villeneuve-les-Avignon on the day we arrived. The shop is on the town square and has a nice selection of local wines plus design items from wristwatches to sunglasses to home décor items and wine glasses – all very nice stuff, by the way. Lauren spent some time living in Los Angeles, so his English is excellent. We asked him about the local wines and he gave us a lot of information and sold us our first two bottles of local wine, a 2014 Château d’Estoublon le Rosè and a 2014 Château La Verrerie Blanc, a Provençal Rosè and a white from the nearby Luberon Valley. We were off an running.

It was Lauren who told us to serve the area wines, including most of the reds, chilled – Châteauneuf-du-Pape being an exception. And, after asking if we had appropriate glassware in our apartment, Lauren loaned us two sets of very nice wine glasses for our stay, which was six weeks. He also pointed us to MistralTour.fr (LINK) and the amazing Valentina Cavagna, who took on a memorable tour of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, and to Domaine de la Verrière in Crestet that I blogged about previously (LINK). So Lauren is the kind of key person that you want to look for on journeys such as this – the one who knows the local scene and, ideally, loves to talk about it.

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Dorianne and I had most of our meals in our two bedroom apartment [AirBnB.com listing(LINK)], so we bought wines, mostly rosès, from Lauren and other local shops until we began visiting the wineries. Local wines start at around 3€ and go up, the top end being under 30€, except in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and one or two other places. Wine here is a great value. We found a nice sweet spot for rosès at around 10€ per bottle.

If I take away two main revelations from this trip, it will be these:

  1. The rosès of Tavel, the only O.P. in France devoted exclusively to rosè wines. These wines were a revelation of complexity, some even being age worthy. Definitely a departure from the standard Provençal rosè, in the way that a great Napa Cabernet differs from an everyday supermarket Cabernet. The other rosès were fine to drink, but the Tavels raised the bar quite a bit. It’s the sort of thing that you don’t know you are missing until you have some.
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Age Worthy Tavel Rosè Wine.

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  1. The white wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Lirac, and Gigondas were also a pleasant discovery. I did not know that whites were a factor, r even necessarily present, in these regions, and the complexity, beauty and approachability of these wines converted me instantly. If you can find white Châteauneufs in your area, try one. Cold, but not too cold – maybe out of the fridge for 15-20 minutes before serving. These blends of Grenache Blanc and Rousanne with small amounts of other varietals are among the best white wines I have ever tasted. Lirac in particular was a revelation – Châteauneuf – style wines, same varietals, different side of the river, at much lower price points, often made by the Châteauneuf wine makers themselves.
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Château Vieudieu in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
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Château Vieudieu’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wines

 I know that there is much more to the Provençal wine scene – we did not get to the south on this trip, although we have been there before. I do think that the north, with it’s proximity to the Rhône River Valley is where the bulk of the better wines are cultivated and made.

As far as places to visit in northern Provence, I strongly recommend Avignon for the history and the food and wine in some of its better restaurants; the hill towns in the Ventoux and in the Luberon Valley, where good wine is cheap and the history and the landscape are so captivating; Nimes for really spectacular Roman ruins and a great old town center; and Gigondas for great wine and a very vertical hill town overlooking the Rhône River Valley. It gets pretty cold in the winter in the region as the Mistrals, the cold north winds, blow through the valleys, but spring, summer, and fall are all beautiful in Provence. But you probably already knew that.

We will be leading tours here beginning in the second half of 2016, so stay tuned.

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Copyright 2015 by Jim Lockard

THE BEST OF CHATEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE – LES CAVES SAINT CHARLES

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.

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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.

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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-Redon Châteauneuf-du-Pape white shortly after arriving here in Provence and found it delicious.

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The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Whites.

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 BlendGranache, 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:

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The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Modern Method Reds.

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:

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The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Neoclassical Method wine (Left) and the three Traditional Method Reds.

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.

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Guy in the kitchen. Behind him is a terrace with an amazing view.
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Some of the Cave wines in the kitchen.
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A Cave Storage Room
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Every Chef needs some Wine for Cooking – and for the Cook!