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Day 4: One Last Stop in Châteauneuf, Then Up into the Hills

I made a quick stop in Châteauneuf-du-Pape at the new La Consonniere, then headed up to Domaine de Mourchon in Séguret
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jun 27, 2012 1:00pm ET

I had to make one last quick stop in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Even though the generational sea change in producers and proliferation in number of cuvées has slowed down here in recent years, there are still new vignerons popping up that are worth keeping an eye on. One of them is Sebastien Cuscusa of Domaine La Consonniere.

Cuscusa, 40, worked a few vintages with Marie and François Giraud as well as at Pierre Usseglio, and studied agriculture in Orange before taking the plunge to start his own domaine. Along with his wife, Corinne, 47, he has converted the bottom level of their house into the domaine's tasting room, located just up the street from Olivier Hillaire's shop, in the middle of town. Cuscusa is currently making his wine in rented space at the Brotte facility and is getting some help from consultant Philippe Cambie.

Cuscusa's wine debuted in the 2009 vintage and his production will increase slightly in the coming years as he continues to recoup his family parcels that had been rented out by his grandmother. With old vines in the Pignan, Font du Loup and Valoris lieux-dits primarily, Cuscusa's domaine is built on the sandy soil sector around Courthézon. By the 2013 harvest, Cuscusa will have19 acres of vines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and in 2011 he debuts a Côtes du Rhône bottling that includes fruit from within the Lirac appellation.

The 2011 Côtes du Rhône is a 50/50 blend of Grenache and Syrah which has been bottled already. From vines on sandy soils around Courthézon as well as some Lirac fruit, it is fermented and aged in cement vat before bottling. It shows dusty-edged red cherry and red licorice notes with a perfumy finish that lingers nicely

The 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape is all Grenache and destemmed entirely before fermenting in cement vat. One-third of the wine is aged in demi-muid, the rest stays in concrete. There are 580 cases of the 2010, which has deliciously silky raspberry fruit at the core offset by bitter cherry, licorice snap, blood orange and black tea notes along the edges. It's very fine-grained on the finish. It's more serious, has better purity and a more persistent finish than the debut 2009, which earned a very good rating when I reviewed it last September. This is a domaine to keep an eye on.

Domaine de Mourchon

After finishing up in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it was time to head into the hills. The town of Séguret is a beautiful spot, a hillside town perched above the plateau, which gets bathed in sun but refreshed by a prevailing breeze, even on a warm day in June.

Here, Kate McKinlay is following in her father's footsteps, sort of. She decided to take her father's offer of living at his Provence estate in the hills of Séguret for a year to leave the hustle and bustle of London behind. She didn't really have a plan to stay, and now, 10 years later, she's helping to run the growing Domaine de Mourchon full time. She found herself consumed by the place, just as her father did.

"My dad's idea was to come and take over something and fix up a place, not build it all from scratch. But when he saw a few overlooked vineyards up here he just fell in love with the place and off he went. I got in late on the deal, so I got the last job left, accounting," said McKinlay, 46, with a wry smile.

McKinlay's husband, Hugo Levingston, laughed. "You were offered the keys to the tractor," he said.

"Between my father and you, there was no way I was getting the tractor," she retorted. "Besides, when I saw the look on your face the first day you got on it, I knew it was your childhood dream come true."

"No, it was necessity," quipped Hugo. "The driver had hurt his shoulder rolling the damn thing. My childhood dream was when I was coming out of a gig and found myself in an elevator with James Brown. That was when I thought I'd made it."

Levingston, 47, a former cameraman for rock and pop bands, found himself falling in love with the land as well at Domaine de Mourchon, located on a winding road out the back of the parking lot at the top of the hillside town of Séguret.

"It took five years, but now I realize, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it," he said.

The couple now lives on the property along with their three children. McKinlay's father and mother still live there as well, though the energetic Walter McKinlay, at the spry age of 79, still travels constantly to carry his wares to the marketplace, and thus was not there today.

My last visit here was in 2006 and I was overdue for a return stop.

The 247-acre property now totals 86 acres of vines as the family has continued to plant and develop the site, along with winemaker Sébastian Magnouac who has been at the estate since 2000. Some of the more interesting spots being planted are well-exposed terraces situated on soils littered with a craggy blue marl limestone, that Levingston loves for the minerality it brings to the wine. The vein connects across the hill into Gigondas, but with different exposure to sun and wind and differing altitude, the wines take on a different profile-not as fleshy or perfumed as Gigondas, and with a more strident structure. See the accompanying video as Levingston talks about the new plantings.

Domaine de Mourchon produces 8,333 cases annually and still sends a hefty proportion to the U.S. A small side négociant operation is augmenting the production now. We started with the young 2011s before moving to the bottled 2010s.

All of the 2011s are in tank and the samples drawn approximate their final blends. The 2011 Côtes du Rhône-Villages Séguret Tradition is a Grenache, Syrah and Carignane blend that comes off as very taut now, with licorice-edged cassis fruit and a nice firm, warm stone edge on the finish. It has nice stuffing though and this should fill out. The 2011 Côtes du Rhône-Villages Séguret Grande Réserve (65/35 Grenache and Syrah) has a really good spine showing already, with chalk and warm stone notes cutting through the plum skin and cassis fruit. It's tighter grained and longer than the Tradition.

The 2011 Côtes du Rhône-Villages Séguret S Family Reserve is the all-Syrah bottling which debuted in the '06 vintage, sourced from a 3.7-acre parcel of the estate's oldest Syrah vines planted in 1970. Aged in a mix of barrel and demi-muids, it's bright and high-pitched, with the lightly sweet feel of the vintage and good kirsch and cherry notes backed by a sanguine flash on the finish. It's sister wine is the 2011 Côtes du Rhône-Villages Séguret G Family Reserve, an all-Grenache bottling which also came on line in '06. Sourced from a 2.5-acre parcel of the estate's oldest Grenache vines and aged entirely in demi-muid, it's quite lively, with plum sauce, cherries jubilee and red licorice notes melding together and held together by a stitching of spice on the finish.

The 2010s here show more amplitude and depth, in line with the vintage. But while they have guts, they still stay racy and fresh.

"Séguret is really three levels. Down by the river, the middle terraces and then up here where we are," explained Levingston. "And we run [a few] degrees cooler so we see things a little differently up here. The wind really dries things out in an instant and we get concentration, but the cooler temperature really keeps the freshness too."

All of the 2010 reds have been bottled here. The 2010 Côtes du Rhône-Villages Séguret Tradition is silky and pure, with lovely mouthfeel and persistent red licorice, violet and cherry paste notes allied to a lightly chalky spine on the finish that gives enough tension for balance. The 2010 Côtes du Rhône-Villages Séguret Grande Réserve is sappy and intense, with lots of currant, plum and blackberry pâte de fruit notes riveted with a strong iron edge that takes over on the finish. It's still a bit tight and should unwind nicely over the next two to three years.

The 2010 Côtes du Rhône-Villages Séguret S Family Reserve has the power of a southern Rhône, but the cut and tangy side of a Northern Rhône Syrah, with dark olive, bramble and licorice snap notes wrapped around a core of plum and fig. The bramble edge reemerges on the finish where ample but integrated toast hangs on nicely. The 2010 Côtes du Rhône-Villages Séguret G Family Reserve pumps out deliciously lively blackberry, cherry pit and steeped currant notes along with flashes of spice, black tea and iron on the finish. A lingering pepper edge adds even more character and length.

From the small négoce side that the McKinlays are developing, comes the 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, aged in demi-muid after being sourced from four different growers. Made from 75 percent Grenache with the rest split between Syrah and Mourvèdre, it shows a beam of dark linzer and warm currant paste laced with taut licorice and briar notes. The finish picks up a strong tarry edge and has nice chewy grip.

"It's really creative to have the négoce side of things, but you've got to do your homework. There's so much out there to choose from you have to decide what exactly you're looking for," said Levingston.

Also from the négoce line is the 2011 Côtes du Rhône White, which debuted in the 2010 vintage. The blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Clairette and Bourboulenc is fermented in stainless steel and delivers a fresh green almond and white peach profile with a lightly brisk edge on the finish that maintains a refreshing feel.

The wines from Domaine de Mourchon are some of the best values in full-bodied, ageworthy, character-filled Southern Rhônes. And keeping to his Scottish origins, Walter McKinlay has a short golf hole just out his back door, so I think I'll be back ...

Tomorrow, I head back into the hills for a stop in Gigondas before heading north.

You can follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/jmolesworth1.

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