Upon my arrival in France's Rhône Valley last week, I immediately had to cope with my newest rental car, then visited Domaine Tour St.-Michel to taste the 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Papes. On my second day I visited Domaine de Boursan, Domaine Charvin and Jean-Paul Daumen at Domaine de la Vielle Julienne. Then it was off to Clos des Papes, Domaine Giraud, Clos St.-Jean and Château de la Font du Loup. Yesterday I visited Château Mont-Redon for the first time, then Beaucastel and Famille Perrin, Domaine de la Janasse and Christophe Sabon and, finally, Vieux Télégraphe and Daniel Brunier. Today, tastings at Domaine des Bosquets, St.-Cosme and Sang de Cailloux.
Today was not an Erik Estrada day for the Dentelles de Montmirail. The limestone outcroppings that look like jagged teeth above the town of Gigondas can stand out pearly white at times. But with the south wind blowing and a swirling mass of dark gray clouds and intermittent showers, the Dentelles were having more of an angry-old-man-with-bad-dentures day.
“You can see on days like this why we have grass between the vine rows,” said young Julien Bréchet, as we toured his family's estate, Domaine des Bosquets. Other vineyards have muddy water spilling off them, while at Bosquets, the water is draining more gently and with less erosive force.
This is one of the most exciting new domaines in Gigondas, owned by the Bréchet family of Châteauneuf-du-Pape's Château de Vaudieu (for background on that estate, you can reference my blog entry from my November 2010 visit).
Bréchet, just 31, started at the estate in 2007. His cellarmaster, Benoit Laurent, just 26, started earlier this year. Julien's older brother Laurent is also in the mix, along with consultant Philippe Cambie.
Though the wines coming from here are new, the estate itself is not. Records indicate vine plantings in the Gigondas lieu-dit as early as the 14th century, while the estate has buildings dating from the 18th century. The estate had been in the Bréchet family for many generations, but they sold it in 1862. Exactly 100 years later, it was bought back into the family by Julien's grandfather, Gabriel Meffre. From there, the wines were vinified either at the Meffre facility, or for a period at Vaudieu, only to be sold off in bulk.
“We knew we had good quality terroir, but we were losing it by delivering the grapes elsewhere to be made,” said Bréchet. So, with that in mind, a new cellar was built on the property in 1995 and by 1999, the estate was finally vinifying and bottling its own wine. Today, about 60,000 bottles are produced annually.
“A long history, but most of the change is in the last 15 years,” said Bréchet wryly.
Today, there are 26 hectares of vines, with the majority of the estate on blue marl and limestone soils, the former giving power and density to the wine, the latter minerality and finesse. The 2-hectare parcel known as the lieu-dit is all on sandy soils. Some of the terraced parcels are quite large, an anomaly in the appellation, and the old-vine Cinsault the Bréchets have is also a rarity in Gigondas. The winemaking here combines modernity and tradition—stainless steel fermentation, but then aging in cement vat and some barrels (used oak, from Vaudieu).
The 2010 Gigondas features 70 percent Grenache, with 20 percent Syrah, 7 percent Mourvèdre and the rest Cinsault. It's broad and fleshy, with lots of fig and blackberry fruit, and a dark but juicy finish that lets more perfumy black tea and spice notes weave through. It shows the long, racy feel of the vintage on the finish. In contrast, the 2010 Gigondas Lieu-Dit is made from entirely Grenache, and the sandy soils create a wine that features its perfume right from the start, with invigorating red currant, plum and raspberry fruit rushing along mouthwatering acidity—it's more red fruit to the regular cuvée's black fruit profile, but it's also longer, with gorgeous minerality in reserve. While the debut 2009 Lieu-Dit bottling was a head-turner, the 2010 vintage is an absolute showstopper in the making.
“The 2010 has the acidity of the soil and the vintage,” said Bréchet with emphasis. “The '09 has the acidity of the soil, but not the vintage.”
On a sullen day, the Dentelles de Montmirail still strike a pose, but just not quite the Erik Estrada type.
There is also a small amount of Côtes du Rhône-Villages made as well by the Bréchets, from a separate vineyard near Séguret. The 2010 Côtes du Rhône-Villages Domaine de la Jérôme is made from a 60/40 blend of Grenache and Syrah which is co-fermented in concrete vat and aged for just nine months before bottling. The result is a fresh, forward, yet mouthfilling wine that delivers tasty blueberry, fig and loganberry fruit with a long graphite finish.
The Bréchets also showed me a new parcel selection bottling from Château de Vaudieu, sourced from a mix of clay and sandy soils that border the Pignan lieu-dit, located at the opposite end of the estate from where the Bréchet's Val de Dieu parcel bottling is sourced from. The 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Amiral G. is 100 percent Grenache, delivering a lush beam of blueberry compote, roasted fig and charcoal, along with a taut licorice snap edge that harnesses the finish nicely.
And for fun, there are just three barrels made of the Bosquets 2011 Côtes du Rhône White, made from Grenache Blanc and Clairette vines within the Gigondas AOC, in which white wine is not permitted. Vinified entirely in oak barrels, but none new and with its malolactic blocked, it delivers crunchy green fig, plantain and green almond notes and a bright, enticing finish.
The secret on the Bréchets' efforts at Domaine des Bosquets won't last long. As one top Gigondas vigneron said to me, “Bosquets has always been one of the real high-potential estates. And now it's getting the attention it has always needed.”
If you've been following along here in recent years, you know that I consider Louis Barruol to be one of the top vignerons in all of the Rhône. What he has done in Gigondas is no less impressive than what Michel Chapoutier has done with Hermitage, breaking down its micro-terroirs to produce compelling, distinctive wines. Barruol is also more than a qualitative leader. He's an ambassador for the appellation. He understands it's better if everyone around him succeeds as well. He's enthused with the Perrins and their burgeoning Gigondas project, as well as with the improving quality as estates like Domaine des Bosquets, Pierre Amadieu, Thierry Faravel and more.
Barruol has his own Northern Rhône négociant lineup under St.-Cosme (any of those wines are noted accordingly below), as well as another top-flight lineup of Northern Rhône wines he produces with American importer Kermit Lynch, both of which are profiled in depth in previous blogs. For this visit, I focused on his Southern Rhône offerings which center primarily on his own estate in Gigondas.
The 2010 St.-Cosme Côtes du Rhône White blends Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and Picpoul to deliver a mouthfilling wine loaded with fig, banana and almond notes all carried by a creamy texture and kept honest by a floral hint on the finish. Sourced from old vine Clairette within the Gigondas appellation, the 2010 Côtes du Rhône White Le Poste once again delivers stunning purity, with sleek starfruit, Jonagold apple and pear fruit flavors and a long, minerally finish that just sails on and on.
The latest bottling of the Vin de France Little James' Basket Press includes 50 percent juice from the 2010 vintage, with the remainder a solera-styled blend of all the previous vintages back to 1995. The Grenache bottling is forward, smoky and full of bay and plum notes with an open-knit finish and represents one of the best values in the region. Barruol joked about the regulations which prohibit him from mentioning a vintage or grape on the label, due to the blending of vintages.
“When you make Vin de Table, or Vin de France, you're a convict,” he said. “You can't do anything that might help people understand the wine.”
The 2010 St.-Cosme Côtes du Rhône is an all-Syrah bottling which shows a bold, prominent tobacco streak, with a bay leaf hint as well running through the core of crushed plum and fig fruit. The 2010 Côtes du Rhône Les Deux Albion is a slightly chunky mix of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignane and Clairette, which deliver a solid introduction to the house style here—lots of fig and plum fruit with briar-edged tannins, backed by tar and hoisin sauce notes on the finish. It's one of a handful of consistently outstanding Côtes du Rhônes (along with those from Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, Domaine Charvin and Beaucastel's Coudoulet bottling) that can deliver nice aging potential over a three- to five-year period as well. It's also an example of Barruol's tendency to co-ferment varieties, in this case, the Syrah and Clairette together in one vat, with all the other varieties together in another vat, before aging in cement vats.
The vintage is an unqualified success for Barruol, who was surprised to see a bountiful harvest (for him) of 30 hectoliters per hectare, especially following the hail damage of the 2009 vintage, which can sometimes affect the following season's crop. “Not only was the yield good for me—I rarely get that much—but summer was mild, the ripening was slow and we could manage things easily. The concentration is there, the pH is good and the wines have never stopped improving during the élevage. So yeah, basically '10 was pretty much perfect for me," he said, and he is not prone to hyperbole.
The core of Barruol's estate bottlings starts with his 2010 Gigondas. It (and the other reds to follow here) were all blended three weeks ago and given a light sulfuring, as Barruol prefers to sulphur early in the élevage rather than just before bottling, to keep the fruit as pure as possible. The wine opens slowly but steadily, with fig, espresso, charcoal and blackberry pâté de fruit notes all taking a turn, before serious grip strides in on the finish. The 2010 Gigondas Valbelle shows stunning richness from the get-go, with Linzer, warm currant confiture, loganberry reduction and bramble notes all woven with mulled spice and cocoa and backed by a muscular but racy finish. It flirts with potentially classic quality.
The 2010 Gigondas Le Claux is always the suavest of the Gigondas bottlings here, with lush, inviting cocoa, fig bread and currant paste notes and ample, but sleek tannins. The finish smolders with dark fruit and tobacco, while mouthwatering acidity stays nicely buried.
The 2010 Gigondas Hominis Fides correlates to the Le Méal terroir in Hermitage, stylistically. It's all heft and muscle, with bay, Linzer, roasted apple wood, black currant preserve and a hint of chocolate-covered mint that cuts a broad but superbly defined path through the finish. It's incredibly dense, but still has polish and freshness. In contrast, the 2010 Gigondas Le Poste is more like Hermitage's L'Ermite parcel in style, delivering a torrent of iron-bound minerality that blazes through the core of plum, fig and Linzer, before giving way to a stunning graphite-fueled finish.
The Gigondas lineup here is easily on par with Barruol's classic '07s and '09s, and following the élevage, they are likely to merit consideration as his best vintage yet.
Not to be overlooked, Barruol has an impressive 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, made from 50 percent Grenache and 30 percent Mourvèdre from the gales portion of La Crau, offset by the rest of the blend coming from Cinsault and Syrah on sandy soils. It's a brute once again (it's typically one of the most backward wines in the appellation), with roasted fig, baker's chocolate, tar, tobacco, lavender and iron. It's a massive throwback-styled wine that could take two decades to fully mature.
Louis Barruol is on such a roll right now, I may have to stop calling him the Chapoutier of the South, and instead call Michel Chapoutier the Barruol of the North …!
A ferocious rain storm erupted in the afternoon as I left Gigondas, part of the weather system that has been dumping rain in the area for several days now. Driving down from the hillside town, every drain pipe on the roofs in Gigondas was maxed out and the road to Vacqueyras was mildly treacherous. Luckily Serge Férigoule's estate is right off the main road, making it an easy find. Alas, with the weather uncooperative, we were unable to see any vineyards so it was a short visit as there are just three wines to taste. It was my first time visiting this estate, so there are no previous blog entries.
Férigoule's domaine was partially inherited from another vigneron with whom Férigoule worked starting in 1979. Without any heirs to eventually assume control of the estate, he made Férigoule a partner in 1982 and gave him the estate in 1989 when he fully retired. Férigoule then named it Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux that year, the first official year that Vacqueyras had AOC status. From there, Férigoule, now 59, has added additional vineyards to bring the estate to a total of 18 hectares of vines, all in the plateau Les Garrigues. He produces about 60,000 bottles annually, using minimalist winemaking—destemming, cement vat vinification and a mix of foudre and barrel aging, with no new oak.
“Very simple,” said Férigoule matter-of-factly, quickly waving his hand at the row of tanks in the winery before opening his wines.
There is one basic Vacqueyras bottling here—though it carries one of three labels: Cuvée Azalaïs, Cuvée Floureto or Cuvée Doucinello. The names rotate in honor of Férigoule's three daughters.
“It's the obligation of being a father,” said Férigoule, with a tiny wink. Férigoule sports a very bushy, arching mustache that carries more hair than on his close-shaved head. His steely blue eyes intensified as he talked about his wines.
The 2010 Vacqueyras Cuvée Floureto is a classic blend of 70 percent Grenache with 20 percent Syrah and the rest split between Mourvèdre and Cinsault. It's in a silky, perfumy style, with bright floral notes, tangy red currant fruit and a lively iron streak on the finish, which fleshes out nicely as it sits in the glass.
“2009 was a little heavy in style for me,” said Férigoule, puffing his cheeks for effect. “But the '10 is fresh, pure, racy.”
The second wine is Férigoule's old-vine bottling, the 2010 Vacqueyras Cuvée de Lopy, which blends three-quarters Grenache (from 60-year-old vines) with the rest 40-year-old Syrah. Aged entirely in 450-liter double barrels, it's much darker in profile, with plum sauce, currant paste and toasted raisin hints, but it stays perfumed, with freshly brewed espresso and tobacco leaf notes cutting in on the finish.
We finish with the 2010 Vacqueyras White Un Sang Blanc, a kitchen sink blend of Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne that is vinified entirely in barrel, none new, though it does go through malolactic. The result is a plump, creamy, peach-, fig- and macadamia nut-filled wine that is very flattering, one to match with mushrooms, said Férigoule.
“Perhaps giroles in a cream sauce?” I pressed. His blue eyes sparkled once again as he nodded his head in agreement.
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