Tag Archives: Rhône Valley

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!

LIVING THE LIFE IN PROVENCE AND A VISIT TO TAVEL – THE BEST ROSÉ

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.

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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.

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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 TavelFlorian André, who was in his early 20’s at the time. Monsieur André 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.

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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.

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Anaïs – Tasting Room Manager.
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Manissy’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape – from a Single Hectare Vineyard. 100% Grenache.

It also turned out that our guide on a previous tour (LINK) of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and GigondasValentina 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 2013 Tavel 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.

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Then, we had the unique 2013 Tête de Cuvée, the barrel-aged rosé that is the last vestige of the monks’ style of wine making. This is a unique rosé in 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 Cuvée was priced at 11€ or about $12.00 – one of their more expensive wines!

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Tête de Cuvée Rosés Gone Back to 1977

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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.

Photos and text Copyright Jim Lockard 2015.

CHATEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, GIGONDAS, AND CRESTET – THE BEST OF NORTHERN PROVENCE

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.

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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.

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Chateau de Vaudieu. Side entrance.
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La Cave at Chateau de Vaudieu.

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.

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Winemaker Christophe and his wines.
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A White Chateauneuf-du-Pape – whites make up 15% of Chateau de Vaudieu’s production. Grenache 75% – Roussanne 25%.
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Another White Chateauneuf-du-Pape – whites make up 15% of Chateau de Vaudieu’s production. 100% Grenache Blanc.

Lirac is an AOC just across the Rhône River from 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.

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is 2012 Plateau des Red Oak , Lirac. Grenache/Syrah blend.
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2012 Chateau de Vaudieu Red. AOC CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE. Grapes : Grenache 74% – Syrah 26%

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 systemNicole 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.

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Owner Nicole Rolet, our guide, Valentina, and the wines of Chêne Bleu at Domaine de la Verrière.
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The Chêne Bleu (Blue Oak) at Domaine de la Verrière – painted with copper paint.
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The wines of Domaine de la Verrière, labeled Chêne Bleu.

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Me and the Winemaker, Jean-Luis Gallucci.

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.

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2014 Domaine des Bosquets Blanc – 80% Grenache – 20% Roussane – This white is made on the high elevation plot called “Cheval Long”. Handpicked, and vinified in oak barrels, only several cases are released.
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2013 Domaine des Bosquets Rouge cuvée « Le Lieu dit… » – The laying down wine from the estate’s celebrated plot, vinified and matured pure. This is a Grenache in all its splendor, in turn opulent, soft, elegant and blessed with beautiful length on the palate.
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2013 Domaine des Bosquets Rouge cuvée « La Colline… » – This parcel was planted into the rocks by our ancestors. It overlooks the estate and stretches as far as the edge of the Dentelles de Montmirail.
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2009 Domaine des Bosquets Rouge cuvée « Le Lieu dit… »
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Grace (our official photographer for the trip), Me, and Dorianne in the vineyard at Domaine des Bosquets

Then we explored the nearby hilltop town of Gigondas a bit before heading back to our apartment.

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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.