Tag Archive: Grenache



Medieval-Disney-Times

OK. So, there’s not really much in the way of wine made immediately around Carcassonne. But, it is really cool and it’s a nice (if somewhat illogical) place to settle in for a tasting lunch with a winemaker from 140+ miles away.

This was specifically chosen as just a fun place to spend part of the day, and it was that. The site of many a fortress dating back to Roman settlements in the 6th century B.C., Carcassonne (the fortified city) as it stands today dates to the mid 13th century A.D. and was restored in the mid 18th century. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but is more-or-less a tourist trap now (albeit a very engaging one) filled with souvenir shops, restaurants, and a Best Western (seriously, many of the one-time homes and shops of the city have been converted to hotel rooms). We all had fun exploring the city and I was taken with imagining what the lifestyle of a commoner in a largely self-contained and self-sufficient city must have been like. It all seems pretty idyllic…with the exception of the numerous sieges of the city endured.

Within the fortified city. What must life have been like in the 13th century?

Once convened at Brasserie le Donjon within the city, we settled in (with Jacques Calvel) for lunch and to meet with Raphaël Troullier of caravinsérail. caravinsérail is the umbrella under which Troullier produces three lines of wines from the Southern Rhône and the Côtes de Ventoux: the value-driven Vin de Pays de Méditerranée, “elicio”; the entry-level AOC Ventoux, “in fine.”; and the elegant AOC Ventoux organic terroir expressions, “cascavel”.

The elicio (Vermintino, Grenache/Cinsault rose, Grenache/Merlot) and in fine (Clairette/Bourboulenc, Grenache/Cinsault/Syrah rose, Grenache/Syrah) wines clearly expressed their freshness and immediately satisfying profiles exhibiting fine value. But, it was the cascavel (“Le Cascavel”: Grenache/Carignan/Syrah, and “Léonor”: Grenache/Syrah), the wines that put Troullier on the map, that resonated best, showing a richness, complexity, structure, and (most importantly) sense of place that far exceeded their estimated prices.

Raphaël Troullier prepares to present his wines at Brasserie Donjon in Carcassonne.

Raphaël Troullier prepares to present his wines at Brasserie Donjon in Carcassonne.

So, this ended up being a visit with a winery in the Southern Rhône while in a restaurant in the Western Languedoc. No matter, as Carcassonne was a wonderful site to visit, Mr. Calvel offered a palate-refreshing magnum of crémant, Brasserie Donjon provided near-deadly cassoulet, and Mr. Troullier graciously traveled nearly 300km to present his wines (as well as presenting us each with a gift of a jar of prepared figs—a local Ventoux specialty). But, this would mark only the beginning of a very strange day…

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Hidden deep within the dramatic landscape of Roussillon, there is a power dismissed as rumour.

 

View from “The Disco Bus”. The last “real” thing I can confirm.

Layers of subterfuge and encryption prohibit a true understanding of the goings-on within what appears to be a simple garage facility from its unassuming front door. 

…and others may happen here


Some of the things that are said to happen happen here..

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are things said and done within Vingrau in the heart of Roussillon that I heard, and saw, and tasted that deny tradition, deflect rational thought, and defy all I have learned.

 

Confusing the senses.


 

There are things that may or may not be occurring in Vingrau that, like the elephant in the room, are undeniable but about which one does not speak.

 

Subterfuge of a mad scientist.

There was a man — a bright and genial, but shadowy, man — who spoke in clear and concise language of methods and intents. He told us of truths while casually diverting attention from facts.

 

Renaud Chastagnol (unconfirmed).

There are things happening in Vingrau…I felt them…there are things I can not comprehend, but I know them to be true. 


That’s right — more CdP! 

From the center of town we make a short trip to the property of Domaine de Chateaumar. Here, as with several generations before, father and son, Jean-Felix and Frédéric Souret, sustainably manage the vineyards and make the wine at the winery just steps away from the majority of vineyard plantings. 

The family business. Sly Bastien is next in line.


 

This is the most modernized facility we have visited so far. Pristine, and well-organized, it is a stark contrast to the ancient Roman structures on the property.

The entrance to the Chateaumar tasting room and winery.


Ancient Roman farm structure adjacent to the Chateaumar winery.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vines grown with no herbicides. The soil around the vines is turned frequently to discourage other flora from leeching off water and nutrients.


Here we see that the soil is clay-heavy, richer, and more forgiving than at Gradassi’s property. These vines produce generous fruit, much of which goes into juicy, lush, declassified wines at very attractive prices.

Today we tasted the 2011 and 2012 vintages of Châteauneuf-du-Pape As well as two custom cuvées made for Bourgeois Family Selections: “Bastien”, a 100% Grenache; and “Vincent”, a (very unusual for the region) 100% Syrah.

Discussing the 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape at the pristine, new winery facility at Domaine de Chateaumar.


I already carry the “Bastien” in the store and knew that it was a ripe, approachable expression of Grenache. This bears out through the 2011 and 2012 (barrel sampled and to be bottled in June) vintages. The surprise was the “Vincent”. It is fair to be somewhat leery of a Southern Rhône Syrah with expectations of high extraction and difficult alcohol heat. Fears were unwarranted as both vintages produced well structured wines that integrate the relatively high alcohol well. 

The Châteauneuf-du-Pape samples showed similar characteristics. Very ripe, jammy raspberry/blackberry fruit on both, but not at the expense of acid or soft tannins. Lots of spice and licorice show on both the 2011 bottling and the 2012 barrel sample. These will be wines that may not age too well and should be enjoyed primarily in their youth, but they are just so satisfying and fairly priced that none of that should matter.

All-in-all, these are wines with character and prices for all to enjoy made by a kind and friendly family. Its hard not to like that combination.


Today begins with an early jaunt over to the ruins of the castle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. What a fascinating place! Situated high atop a hill with a view extending about 30 miles, this was a prime location for a fortified home of, arguably, the most powerful man of his time, Pope John XXII (1316-1334).

View from Castel Gandolfo

Ruins of Castel Gandolfo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a time, before its repeated sacking and burning by protestants in the 16th century and the destruction of its north face by German forces stationed there in 1944, that this was a cultural center of the civilized world as well as the home of the finest wine cellar on the planet. From this location, one will marvel at vineyards planted as far as the eye can see.

So many world-renowned wineries exist here that it is mind-boggling. Today, we will visit with one of the tiniest wineries in the region, Domaine Jerome Gradassi. Mr. Gradassi, the former owner of a Michelin-starred restaurant (a fact that will reveal its value soon enough) biodynamically farms only 3.3ha of vineyards in the nearby outlying area of Bois-Dauphin.

First we got a look at some of Mr. Gradassi’s vineyards. Two vineyard locations just about half-a-mile from one-another exhibited strikingly different soil types.

Grenache and Mourvèdre vines atop a hill. More forgiving soils here.

It’s tough to make a living as a Grenache vine here on the valley floor. Old river bed stones dominate the landscape and force vine strain.

All of these vines are harvested manually in small containers then driven to the small garage winery in the center of the town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape where they are sorted for quality and, ultimately, vinified.

Domaine Jerome Gradassi’s garage winery.

Tight quarters in the tiny garage winery of Jerome Gradassi.

You will notice a large horizontal wooden press and large fiberglass tank dominating about a third of the space of this garage. Sorting, pressing, and fermentation of the red wine takes place here. Below is a small barrel cellar where the white wine is fermented and all the wines are aged. Here we tasted through the 2009-2011 red bottlings as well as barrel samples of the 2012 white and red. Mr. Gradassi provided an impressive buffet showing off his equally obvious skills in the kitchen.

Large horizontal wooden press.

The tiny Gradassi barrel cellar. This represents all of the winery’s production.

  • 2012 Domaine Jerome Gradassi Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (tank sample): See that very small fiberglass tank in the back of the cellar in the photo above? That’s all the white wine produced annually here (roughly 350 bottles). Tasting this was a very special opportunity. 90% Clairette/10% Grenache Blanc vinified and aged entirely in fiberglass tank. Golden with green edges. Rich pear, melon, and ginger flavors. Full and fruitful with a grainy mineral edge. Mr. Gradassi projects 20 years of ageabilty with this wine.

It’s gold, Jerry! Gold!

The reds (typically 80% Grenache/18% +/- Mourvèdre with a touch of Syrah, Clairette, and Bourbolenc field blended in) were sensational across the board. These are all wines I would love to drink and offer my customers. Vintage variances were obvious, however, with the 2009 and 2011 showing denser, riper, gamier blackberry fruit. The 2010 was a far leaner, higher-toned raspberry expression.

The Gradassi home-cooked buffet. Brilliant winemaker and chef?!?This man is the catch of the century.

  • 2012 Domaine Jerome Gradassi Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge (slated for April 2014 release) will be a star. Lithe, bright, and focused raspberry fruit with sanguine and earthy undertones, this is already showing exceptional balance though a bit light on its feet. I cannot wait for this release.
These wines are very traditional. I have stated repeatedly over the last few years that I have never been more disappointed in wines than when I have opened Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the last decade. It is refreshing to find a winemaker who is not looking to meet the American palate and make flabby, short-lived, unstructured Châteauneuf-du-Pape as has been the mode of so many for the last two decades. These are wines of elegance and finesse, never sacrificing structure for extraction. These are wines I want to drink.
Here’s a poll:

A good, long drive from the Pierres Dorées to Orange for an after-dark arrival at Domaine de la Berthete marked this leg of the trip. Upon stepping out of the Disco Bus, we were all nearly knocked off of our feet by the bone-chilling Mistral winds. Probably about 35℉ with winds gusting at about 40MPH here this evening (which probably only seems unbearable after an afternoon of napping in a van).

Pascal Maillet explaining his winemaking methods.


 

Here, winemaker/owner of Domaine de la Berthete, Pascal Maillet, graciously gave us a tour of the vinification area adjacent to his home. Maillet practices as close to organic (technically “sustainable”) as possible in his vineyards planted to Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache Blanc, and Bourboulenc. His vines are planted in Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages, and Principauté d’Orange and average over 30 years of age. Red wines are fermented in the large (60hL) stainless steel tanks seen above and whites in stainless steel and fiberglass tanks. Some of the reds then see up to a year in new French oak barrels. 

 

A cute display of the wines in the tiny tasting room at Domaine de la Berthete.


From here, we escaped the chill stepping into the tasting room adjacent to the winery offices. The tasting included three 2012 barrel samples (including Maillet’s first Châteauneuf du Pape bottling from a friend’s one-acre parcel) as well as a makeshift approximation of the 2012 “Sensation” red blend.

The rosé is a blend of, predominately, Cinsault, with Grenache and Carignan making up the balance. It is made in the Saignée method, which is, essentially, a bleed of the first gentle press of the grapes that will become red wine. However, this wine is a carefully constructed blend of the juice from those pressings rather than the afterthought that is frequently the case with such wines. The resultant wine is gentle, Provençal-style, pale salmon-colored with a a faint violet cast showing strawberry and peach on the palate with a soft, mouth-filling texture.

The Côtes du Rhône (normale) shows rich, dark wildberry fruit and licorice more or less belies the simple stainless steel vinification and aging. This will be a great little everyday wine when ready.

The Côtes du Rhône Villages (Plan de Dieu) will be a lovely wee beastie when bottled. Deep red with violet edges, this wine is carried by very ripe blackberry, a lively acid streak cutting through a velvet-soft mouthfeel, and a long licorice-tinged finish.

The 200 case-production Châteauneuf du Pape bottling will be a fine showing after about six more months in barrel and some time to settle in bottle. Translucent garnet with blueish edges; currently a very closed nose; palate of rich, floral wildberries.

 

The “Sensation” blend is a proprietary label for Bouurgeois Family Selections. It is comprised of all of the red varieties planted by Maillet in the Côtes du Rhône Villages region, aged up to 12 months in new French oak barrels, and then blended with up to 15% of the prior vintage’s wine. This makes for a rich, soft and ready-to-drink wine. Our tasting sample of this wine was approximated on the fly by Mr. Maillet in a graduated flask. Ultimately, this should end up a well-structured wine with a richness and oak-spice influence built for the American palate. I currently carry the 2011 in the store and it is one of our best-selling Rhône wines.

Upon conclusion of the tasting our group was invited into the Maillet’s beautiful home for a lovingly prepared home-cooked meal (highlighted by lentil soup with foie gras, and a ridiculous cheese plate). The welcoming nature and generosity of the family will not be forgotten. These are lovely people making wonderfully approachable wines priced for all to enjoy. 

We made our way back to the hotel in Orange with a quick stop to see the Arc de Triomphe d’Orange. Regrettably, I was too exhausted to make a trek to the brilliant-looking Roman amphitheater in Orange the following morning. Next time . 

 

 

 

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