When I moved to Lyon over 3 years ago, I had had little experience with the wines of the Northern Rhône Valley. There are a few reasons for this, the most prominent are that this small region with eight AOC’s has low production, making it harder to obtain; and its better wines are rather expensive. Since arriving here, my experience of the wines of the region, which begins about 20 miles south of the city where I live, has been limited to the ubiquitous St. Josephs and Croze-Hermitages to be found on just about every wine list in town. And these two wines represent the largest AOC’s in the Northern Rhône Valley and are very reasonably priced as a rule.
Having recently read Kermit Lynch’s classic book Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France (LINK), (something else I should have done sooner) which features a chapter on the Northern Rhône Valley, and with confinement restrictions being lessened in France, my wife and I booked a 6-hour tour of part of the region. Dorianne and I were joined by friends from the American Club of Lyon, Mark Gallops and Ann Bingley Gallops, both fans of the wines of St. Joseph.
I booked the tour through Lyon Winetours(LINK)and we were not disappointed by the tour in any way, other than wishing it were longer. Our tour guide was Vincent Pontet, the founder of the company, who was raised in Condrieu and lives there today. He began working in the vineyards at 14, obtained his bachelor’s degree in Wine making in Burgundy, and spend several years learning wine making in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and in California, before returning home to start his tour business. He is now preparing a wine bar for opening in late summer – called Les Enfants du Rhône, he is partnering with another Condrieu native. We look forward to visiting after the opening.
As I noted, the Northern Rhône Valley(LINK)(LINK)is a small region, under 3,000 hectares (or less than 7,400 acres) and is divided into 8 appellations or AOC’s (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée). For comparison, the Southern Rhône Valley (LINK)has over 68,000 hectares (168,000 acres) and 23 AOC’s.
We left from Place Bellcour in Lyon at 10:00 am and headed south. About 30 minutes later, we were driving through Côte–Rôtie (the Roasted Hill), the northernmost AOC of the Northern Rhône Valley. You immediately notice the steep, terraced slopes on the west side of the Rhône River. Vines were first planted here 2400 years ago by the early Romans who settled here. Most of the appellations of the region, the best ones anyway, feature these steep slopes, where everything must be done by hand. Vignerons cannot use tractors or other heavy machinery, and working these slopes by hand is hot, hard work.
Côte–Rôtie consists of two major slopes, Côte Blonde and Côte Brune. The major differences are in the soil composition, with Côte Blonde having sandy soil in granite and a light schist. Côte Brune is just schist and granite. The wines of Côte–Rôtieare Syrah blended with a small percentage of Viognier, a white grape. The blending is set when the vineyards are planted. At harvest time, whatever Syrah and Viognier are harvested by each producer are fermented together before going into barrels or foudres for aging. We tasted several Côte-Rôties and each had a distinctive nature, but with a commonality of tannins, smoothness, and dark red fruit on the nose and the palate.
Condrieuis located just south ofCôte–Rôtie on the west side of the Rhône. The only grape grown here on the granite slopes is Viognier. The viogniers here are richer and more full-bodied than viogniers I have had from elsewhere. Rich and lush, with a range of notes from nutty to floral to fruity, these are wines that are appropriate for sipping as well as for pairing with any foods you might pair with a Chardonnay.
We tasted a couple of St. Josephs and one Cornas at the tasting room at Cave Yves Cuilleron(LINK)in Condrieu. St. Joseph is one of two rather large AOC’s in the region, along with Croze-Hermitage, and the wines are generally more available and priced lower than the rest of the region’s production. St. Joseph is spread over 30 miles and there is a fair amount of variety in the quality and styles of the wine – although the only red is Syrah and the whites are Rousanne and Marsanne. The wines we tasted at the cave, a red and a white, were both very nicely crafted, but with less complexity than the Côte–Rôties or the Condrieus, which is not surprising.We made some purchases and moved on.
The next stop was lunch on the terrace at Bar et Gourmet (LINK), a wonderful spot in Condrieu with excellent food and, as you might expect, a representative wine list.
After lunch, it was more tasting and a winery tour at Cave Guy Bernard(LINK), where Vincent has been working to help with the most recent bottling. We toured the winery and the barrel cellar, then tasted a series of Côte-Rôtiewines from 2017 and 2018, and a Condrieu from a separate parcel. All excellent! We made some more purchases, then headed back to Lyon through rush-hour traffic (called a bouchon, or a cork in a bottleneck, in France).
In the future, we plan more exploration of this amazing region. Even though it is small, there is more to cover than you can do in a day. And we want to return to Vincent’s wine bar, Les Enfants du Rhône, where he plans to have bottles from his library available to pour. Whether you are a Syrah lover (and this is ground-zero for great Syrah), or savor the unique white wines and blends of the Northern Rhône, there is much here to enjoy. Ask your wine merchant about these wines and give them a try.
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.
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.
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.
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, Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne, the owners and winemakers, Bill 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 Viognier, Rousanne 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.
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.
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.
Dorianne and I did a post-Christmas trip to Paso Robles this week. We were accompanied by her sister Debby and Debby’s husband, Mike, who live in Oklahoma, but love wine very much. The trip was really a good experience, so I will cover it in two posts.
Paso Robles has become the premier region of California’s Central Coast, which is saying something, as there are a lot of great wines coming from Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties. With over 200 producers, Paso Robles is the largest region (it includes 11 AVA’s), but it is also the place where the most experimentation and innovation is happening, which is by design. The focus is mainly on Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, but there are dozens of varietals being grown and the Rhône-style wines produced there are world-class.
I have written before of our trips there to attend the Garagiste Festivals (LINKS). This time, we selected just a few wineries to visit, three on the east side and two on the west side; HWY 101 is the divider. This post will speak to the east side and Part 2 the west side.
Our arrival on Sunday night began with dinner at Mistura (LINK), a Peruvian themed restaurant located at a golf course on the east side of town. This highly rated restaurant was an excellent choice for food and beverage, but our timing was off. The Sunday after Christmas is a very unpredictable night, and they were a bit over-crowded. We did not get seated for our 7:00 pm reservation until about 7:45 pm and our dinner did not arrive until almost 8:30 pm. That said, the staff was very gracious and helpful the wine list is very good, and the venue is very nice. Avoid the holidays and you should have a great experience.
On Monday, joined by our daughter, Grace, who was in the area with her father for the holidays, we began our tours at Eberle Winery (LINK)on Route 46. A relatively large producer for Paso Robles, Eberle provides a very good customer experience when you visit: complimentary tastings and winery tours (Dave Olcott and his team do a very professional job), a nicely appointed main tasting room, and knowledgeable staff. We felt well cared for and enjoyed our tour and experience very much. The venue is also available for special occasions and there is a VIP Tasting experience in the Wine Caves offered for a fee that looked very nice. Some photos from Eberle.
The wines at Eberle range from whites like Chardonnay, Viognier, and a Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc blend; a Syrah Rosé; and reds that include Barbera, Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a red blend. Most of the wines on their website are available for tasting. You get to choose up to five wines to taste. Overall, I would rate Eberle as a very competent wine producer and many of their wines are good values. We particularly enjoyed (and purchased) the 2014 Viognier, Mill Road Vineyard, the 2013 Zinfandel, and the 2013 Barbera.
The next stop was Tobin James Cellars (LINK), farther east just off of Route 46 East. Tobin James has a unique branding look and their tasting room facility is set like a saloon in the wild west. Very campy. The place was packed when we arrived (about noon on a Monday), with three large bars pouring complimentary tastings. One thing that appeals to me – they have Tommy Bahama brand (LINK)shirts with their logo and name on them. Probably 2/3 of my wardrobe is Tommy B.
Tobin James takes a little getting used to for the serious wine drinker – getting past the colorful hype if you will. In the tasting room, you have your choice of a variety of wines on the tasting menu, but only one Zinfandel. Since I know Tobin James as a producer of high-quality Zinfandels, I asked Bethany, our very personable and competent tasting room staff person, if there was another menu. She smiled and produced a second menu with 6 Zinfandels, a Primitivo, and seven other Reserve wines. Also complimentary for tasting. Now we were getting somewhere.
Dorianne and I did side-by-side tastings of the 6 Zins, which were all excellent. We purchased three after getting Grace to expand her pallet a bit. When you get to the higher-end wines, Tobin James excels. Their other wines are good for everyday use as well.
Our final stop of the day was a Cass Winery (LINK) in Creston, just southeast of Paso Robles. We know Cass Winery as a primary source of fruit for our Agoura Hills-based wine cooperative that I have posted about in the past (LINK). Cass, run by Steve Cass, is very well-known as both a reliable and innovative producer of a number of varietals. With 17 wines featured on their website, they are also very versatile. I am a big fan of Cass’s Rhône-style whites, particularly the Rousanne and Marsanne varietals.
Since our tasting included lunch in the winery cafe, it was an opportunity to experience their wines with some food. I opted for their award-winning burger, which was not the best choice for the whites, but . . . I was hungry.
Suffice to say that the Rousanne and Marsanne that we tasted were excellent – rich and fruity with a nice sense of minerality. The reds, a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon, were also very nice.
So our first day of tasting came to a close at about 2:30 pm. Then we said farewell to Grace and headed for the market to get chicken and some other provisions for dinner at our AirBnB house that evening. The Eberle Viognier and Zinfandel purchased that morning would prove up to the task of the appetizer and main courses.
Wine travelis indeed rewarding, the wines, the places, and the people.
Next post – Paso Robles’ west side, featuring Tablas Creek and Calcareous Wineries, and a great Mexican restaurant.
This past Saturday, Dorianne and I returned to Châteauneuf-du-Pape (LINK) for lunch and a tasting at a wine cave – a retail wine store. It was a beautiful day, and we drove through the lovely Provençal countryside, with its vineyards, orchards, scenic homes and farms, and lush vegetation. Our friendly GPS took us along about 5 kilometers of single-lane road through vineyard after vineyard before we entered the town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the most storied Appellation (LINK) of this part of France.
Lunch was at Restaurant Le Pistou (LINK) on a little side street off of the main town square. We sat outside and expected a light lunch, but the servings were very large – gambas salad for Dorianne, and grand gambas with salad and vegetables for me. As you can see, the plates were sizeable. We washed this down with the house white – a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Before this trip, I did not know that whites were made here – but they are, compromising about 6% of the total production. The whites of Châteauneuf-du-Pape stand alongside the storied reds as excellent wines.
Le Caves Saint Charles (LINK) was highly recommended in Tripadvisor.com (LINK), which we used as a means of sorting through the dozens and dozens of caves du vin in the town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We wanted to ensure that we were tasting really good wines. After deciding, we made an appointment via email to meet the owner, Guy Brèmond, for 3:30 pm. We were a bit late, having had some trouble locating the cave – our GPS being little help – and in finding a place to park. When we arrived at the cave, which is at the top of the highest hill in town, only overlooked by the nearby ruins of the original Château of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it was locked up. We knocked on the door to no avail. We called the number, and did connect. It turned out that Guy was later than we were, having been stuck in traffic in Marseilles earlier. After a few minutes, we were in the temperature controlled cave, which is under the home of the owner.
The actual cave structure of Le Caves Saint Charles dates from the 13th Century. There is another section underneath that dates from the 12th Century that is going to be renovated in the coming year. The cave in use has four rooms carved out of the rock with stone walls and vaulted ceilings – a lobby area, the tasting area, a small storage area and an area converted into a modern kitchen. There are bottles of wine in wooden boxes from the 45 producers that Guy represents throughout the cave rooms. We started in the tasting area.
Guy Brèmond is a Master Sommelier and a very personable and outgoing man. Once we established that Dorianne and I knew something about wine, although not that much about Châteauneuf-du-Pape, we were off and tasting. He spoke in depth about the philosophy and history of the appellation, and about the way the wines are made and the misconceptions that many have about Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We tasted 8 wines, two whites and six reds. The reds were made in three different styles, or methods.
The 90 minutes or so that we were at Le Caves Saint Charles with Guy Brèmond went by quickly. I kept having the feeling that this was a really special experience, and it was. The depth of his knowledge of wine in general and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines specifically, combined with his enthusiasm, was a bit hypnotic. I will share now that we did purchase a mixed case of wine at the end of our visit to have shipped to California; but we were intending to do that when we arrived, if the wines were good. Guy is a very good businessman, but there was no pressure to purchase beyond what may naturally arise when you are in a fabulous environment, tasting exceptional wines, with an enthusiastic and knowledgeable host.
Now to the wines – to be tasted in huge stemmed glasses, by the way:
We began with two whites. As I said, I was surprised to find whites here, as I have never seen them in the U.S., nor read about them. We had tried a Mont-RedonChâteauneuf-du-Pape white shortly after arriving here in Provence and found it delicious.
First, we tasted a 2012 Domaine de Nalys Blanc (LINK)(LINK), a blend of 40-56% Grenache blanc, 14-34% Clairette, 13-27% Bourboulenc, 3-10% Roussanne, 1-5% Picardan, 1-3% Picpoul. The white wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are, like the reds, complex. This wine gives you a lot to experience on the nose, in the mouth, and through the finish. There is green fruit, minerality (always), some floral notes on the nose; apple, pear, and hints of earth and anise on the tongue; with a smooth lingering finish that returns to the mineral notes from the bouquet. This wine would be exceptional with lighter cheeses and seafood – oysters and shellfish in particular. We bought 3 bottles at 31€ and change.
Next, we went to the 2013 Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (LINK)(LINK), a blend of 40% Grenache Banc, 40% Clairette, and 20% Rousanne. This is a beautiful wine from one of the most highly regarded producers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. A wine that is very drinkable now, but should age well. The nose is peach and floral, but with that ever-present minerality; mouthfeel is rich and viscous with hints of vanilla; long, smooth finish. We bought 3 of these, too, at 34€ and change. (That’s half a case so far.) I think that we will continue to explore the whites of Châteauneuf-du-Pape; in fact, I am certain of it.
As we move to the reds, I should point out of few things (this will be a rather long post). As we taste, there is a lot of conversation going on. Dorianne is full of questions. I ask a few myself. Guy Brèmond is expounding on each wine, each producer, their philosophy, their practices, the market, his business, and more. It is quite lively and very interesting.
There are a number of misconceptions that are very common when it comes to Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines:
Many people do not know about the white wines, as their small production limits their distribution.
Many believe that all Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds come from thirteen varietals. There are, depending upon who you speak to, anywhere from 14 to 18 varietals in the appellation. Some do not count the white varietals other than Granache Blanc. Others count only some of them. So there are, essentially 13 varietals of red, but some of the white varietals may be blended into the red wines. The appellation currently allows 18 varietals under a Châteauneuf-du-Pape label.
Many believe that all Chateauneuf-Du-Pape reds must be blends. This is not true. For example, you can have a 100% Granache, which we have tasted (not at the Cave). Most reds are a blend of three to five varietals. The basis for almost all Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds is the classic GSM Blend – Granache, Syrah, and Mourvedre.
Why so many varietals in a small appellation? Guy says that it was because when the appellation was developed and the rules created in 1923 (amended in 1936 and 2009), all of the varietals under cultivation at the time were included. This “democratic” move forestalled the inevitable infighting that might have jeopardized the pact.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is part of the Côtes du Rhône, or the Rhône Valley Area. It has 3161 hectares, or 7811 acres under cultivation. Total production is 2,686,841 gallons, or about 21,000 cases per year. 94% is red and about 6% is white. (LINK)
So on to the reds. We tasted six, from three different philosophies of making Châteauneuf-du-Pape red wines, as described by The Wine Cellar Insider website (LINK):
The Traditional, Modern & Neoclassical styles – “Much of the difference between traditional and modern, is the ripeness of the grapes, effective yields, amount of stems used and most importantly, the percentage of new oak barrels used in aging the wine. Producers making wines in a more traditional style do not use oak, preferring to age the wine in older, neutral, massive barrels, cement lined vats or foudres that are widely used in the region. They do not destem the grapes. In other words, they follow the traditional practices of the region. There are numerous high quality traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines made all over the appellation today” (LINK). So the use of smaller oak barrels designed to impart its characteristics onto the wine is a hallmark of the Modern Method. The Neoclassical Method is a hybrid of the other two, some oak barrels are used, but only for a portion of the harvest.
Our first two red wines are from the Modern Method:
First, a 2012 Clos Saint Jean “Vieilles Vignes” Châteauneuf-du-Pape (LINK), a blend of 85% Grenache with the remainder a mix of Mourvedre and Syrah (Guy says that Syrah is used only for “cosmetic purposes” – to provide a richer color). This is a big wine, full-bodied, with deep red fruit and minerality on the nose and the palate. A wine that will age well, I think. If this is typical of the Modern Method, it is very much like a California or New World wine – bold, high alcohol, fruit forward. In my research, I noticed that Robert Parker generally gave higher marks to Modern Method wines.
The next Modern Method wine is a 2012 Domaine Roger Perrin Chateauneuf-du-Pape(LINK) the website lists an average blend of 70-75% Grenache, 15-20% Syrah, 10-15% Mourvedre, 2-5% Cinsault or Clairette and 1-2% Counoise or Vaccarese. Another big, fruit-forward wine. Dark red fruit, a bit of mushroom on the nose, minerality throughout. Very similar to the Clos Saint Jean, but with a bit more finesse.
The next three wines are from the Traditional Method:
First, a 2010 Domaine du Pegau Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Reservee (LINK), a blend of 80% Grenache, 6% Syrah, 4% Mourvedre and 10% other varietals. This is an amazing wine – you can immediately see the difference between this method and the Modern Method – something that would carry through with the rest of the wines tasted. It is more mineral than fruit, more elegant than bold, with a beautifully balanced structure of tannins. This is my style of wine. But we did not buy this one.
Next, a 2010 Château Fortia Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tradition (LINK), a blend of 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 15% Mourvedre. Aged in foudres (concrete tanks). This wine is pretty much everything that the Domaine du Pegau is, but it takes it to a higher level, but is very much its own wine. You get some barnyard on the nose, which begins to dissipate after a few minutes, but remains. I did not find it off-putting, but some may. There is ripe fruit in there, but it is subdued in a minerality – dirt, terroir – that permeates the wine. On the palate it is very nicely structured and balanced and the fruit began to come through. This is a wine that will age well and one that would benefit from decanting. We bought 3 of this one at 35€.
Next, a 2010 Beaurenard domain Cuvee Boisrenard Chateauneuf-du-Pape (LINK), a Grenache blend but the winery does not release specifics as far as I can tell – only that up to 13 varietals may be included in the wine. Parker 91, Wine Spectator 97 points. A long, smooth finish. The initial tasting bottle had been opened too long, Guy opened a new bottle and got us clean glasses. This one, too, could benefit from decanting a while. We probably would have bought some of this wine, too, but a case was our limit, and we couldn’t pass up the next wine.
Finally, a wine in the Neoclassical Method – meaning a mixture of traditional and modern. A Château Jas de Bressy Châteauneuf-du-Pape (LINK)(LINK), a blend of 80% Grenache; 15% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre. This wine has lots of mushroom on the nose and a nice peppery sense as well. Fruit is secondary to the minerality on the palate, plus a sense of chocolate. The tannins were there to ensure a relatively long life for this wine. A very nice wine. We added three of these at 36€ and change to round out our case purchase.
After our tasting, we had a quick tour of the rest of Les Caves Saint Charles with Guy Brèmond. There is another small storage room in the cave and a modern kitchen also where gourmet dinners are prepared to pair with these amazing wines. Guy also takes his act on the road, bringing dinners to private homes in the U.S. with a Michelin-Star chef. You can find out more about this at his website (LINK). This experience has been the wine highlight of our six weeks in France. I am very grateful to have discovered so much about the joys of Provence, and the wines of this amazing region.
As a wine blogger, I really like to explore the wine regions I visit. We are in the Avignon area for six weeks, and I had been itching to get to Châteauneuf-du-Pape to taste some of their fantastic wines on-site and to learn more about the culture and process of this renowned region. At the recommendation of Lauren, proprietor of the wonderful Art, Wine, and Design Shop in Villeneuve-les-Avignon, I called Valentina of MistralTour.fr and set up an all-day tour this past Friday. Dorianne and our daughter, Grace, joined us. Most of the photographs in this post were taken by Grace – here is a (LINK) to her website.
Valentina is a delight – an Italian who lives in France and speaks perfect English; she is very vivacious and professional. She is an excellent guide.
Our tour took us to the Village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where we went up to the ruins of the original chateau and surveyed the beautiful countryside laced with vineyards in all directions. Along the way, Valentina talks about all things wine – she really has a good degree of knowledge and makes everything clear. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a storied wine region centered around the town of the same name. The AOC (LINK) allows for 18 varietals (not 13 as is commonly believed). From Wikipedia.com:“Both red and white varieties are allowed in both red and white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. There are no restrictions as to the proportion of grape varieties to be used, and unlike the case with other appellations, the allowed grape varieties are not differentiated into principal varieties and accessory varieties. Thus, it is theoretically possible to produce varietal Châteauneuf-du-Pape from any of the eighteen allowed varieties. In reality, most Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are blends dominated by Grenache. Only one of every 16 bottles produced in the region is white wine.”
I was unfamiliar with whites and rosés from this region, but let me tell you, there are some amazing wines here. U.S. retailers and restaurants should be getting on the bandwagon for the whites and rosés of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas.
Then we drove just down the road to Chateau de Vaudieu (LINK) for a tour and a private tasting with the winemaker, Christophe. Chateau de Vaudieu dates from 1767. They have 70 hectares (173 acres) of grapes under cultivation, all around the chateau.
Lirac is an AOC just across theRhône Riverfrom Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It has similar varietals and soils, and the wines are a bargain. Quite a few Châteauneuf-du-Pape growers bottle Lirac Wines.
Next, we went into the village to the wine shop of Domaine Durieu, where the winemaker was also present for part of our stay, then we tasted four of their wines. I should add that Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are among the best in France. No photos here.
Then a long drive through he region to La Verrière, in Crestet up on a mountain, where we had a wonderful lunch, a conversation with the owner (Nicole Rolet who co-owns with her husband, Xavier) and the winemaker, and tasted the award winning Chene Bleu Rhône wines (LINK); then we had a complete tour of the facilities. This is one of the most beautiful wine estates I have ever seen in France, and after speaking with the principals, I can see why.
This team produces some excellent wines and they have created an atmosphere of success at their beautiful property. The wines were smooth, well-crafted, beautifully balanced and simply delicious. They are available in the U.S. and elsewhere, so check their website (LINK) for more information, or Google the wine names.
Note that the Chene Bleu wines are made outside of the French AOC system – Nicole and Xavier felt too bound by the rules of the local AOC, so they deviated, and it has been a battle for acceptance. Of course, the wines speak for themselves and have received numerous awards and recognitions.
Then we were off to Gigondas, another storied region, for a tasting at Domaine des Bosquets (LINK), owned by the same family as Chateau de Veudieu. We tasted several wines with the owner/winemaker at this location as well. Winemaker Julien Bréchet hosted our tasting. The Gigondas is very similar to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with a focus on Grenache and Syrah as the primary varietals. The main difference is the type of soil – less gravely and with more limestone and sand than Châteauneuf-du-Pape, plus a higher elevation with more verticality to the vineyards. The wines at Domaine des Bosquets were similar in style to those from Chateau de Veudieu– smooth, well-structured and elegant. The Gigondas is a great wine region.
Then we explored the nearby hilltop town of Gigondas a bit before heading back to our apartment.
It was an amazing day that filled my need to explore somewhat more n depth the areas we visited and to learn more about the wines. We made purchases at every stop! This is a very rich region, part of the overall Rhône Valley Region, so there is much, much more to explore. So we will have to do some more exploring on this trip, and we will have to come back.
And again, I cannot give enough praise to Valentina of MistralTour.fr (LINK) – she is a professional and makes your time together very enjoyable, while giving you as much, or as little inside information as you would like. And her prices really are a bargain.