Rhone


I thought the 2008 version of Tardieu Laurent’s Les Becs Fins Côtes-du-Rhône Villages was terrific, and I feel the same way about the rendition for 2009. The wine is a blend of 60 percent grenache grapes, from a 60-year-old vineyard, and 40 percent syrah, from 20-year-old vines. Les Becs Fins 09 was made all in stainless steel tanks; there’s no oak influence. The color is deep ruby with a faint bluish/magenta rim; pure aromas of ripe black currants and plums are permeated by notes of black olives, dried thyme, smoke, ash, leather and a bit of syrah’s signature wet fur element, all making for a bouquet that while fresh and brisk is a little funkier and earthier than the bouquet of the 2008. The earthy and leathery aspects translate into the mouth, where a dense, chewy texture, freighted with dusty graphite, fine-grained tannins and pinpoint acidity, supports spicy and luscious (but not opulent or jammy) black and blue fruit flavors. This is, in other words, textbook Côtes-du-Rhône Villages that displays real varietal and regional personality and offers a huge amount of pleasure, now through 2014 or ’15. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $22.
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The Tardieu Laurent “Guy Louis” Côtes-du-Rhône 2008 is excellent in a different manner than its cousin, Les Becs Fins 2009. It, too, is composed of 60 percent grenache and 40 percent syrah, the former from 50-year-old vines, the latter from 35-year-old vines. One difference is that this wine matures in new and one-year-old French oak barrels rather than stainless steel; another is that the color is a shadowy shade darker. The emphasis here is on a combination of rustic power and sleek stylishness (not the same as elegance), on intensity and concentration; in the mouth, one immediately notices the presence of considerable tannins that are supple, lithe and dry. Still there’s black and blue fruit a-plenty here, with a deeply spicy, dried floral quality and a top-note of sweet ripeness, all imbued with smoke and lavender, cedar and juniper. Loads of character married to granite-and-loam-like minerality that ties the wine to the earth. 14 percent alcohol. 200 six-bottles cases imported, yes, that’s 1,200 bottles for the U.S.A. Drink now, with roasted or grilled meat, through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $28.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ If you’re looking for a white wine that melds high-toned elegance and austerity with lovely sensual appeal, try the Tardieu Laurent “Guy Louis Blanc” Côtes-du-Rhône 2009. Matured in new and one-year-old French oak, the wine is a blend of 60 percent marsanne grapes, 15 percent roussanne, 15 percent viognier and 10 percent grenache blanc. In fact the wine’s steel-edged and chalk-and-limestone-laced minerality feel, at first, as if you’re drinking the White Cliffs of Dover. A few minutes in the glass, however, bring in whiffs of jasmine and camellia, peach and nectarine and notes of bee’s-wax and dried thyme. This is a clean, crisp savory white wine whose stone fruit flavors are tinged with sage, ginger and quince, all backed by scintillating acidity for liveliness and freshness and that unassailable minerality. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. 250 six-bottle cases imported, that’s right, 1,500 bottles for the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. If I were compiling a restaurant wine list, though, I would want a few bottles of this wine. Excellent. About $28.
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Here’s another rosé wine on another gloomy day in Memphis, Tennessee, where the water’s still high as an elephant’s eye. Last week we had the air conditioner on; today I had to turn on the heat. Nothing like a great rosé, then, to lift the spirits. Oops, wait, a bulletin from the Great Outdoors; the sun is shining, rather fitfully, it’s true, but that’s something anyway.

Tavel in the southern Rhone Valley has a centuries-old reputation for rosé wines, a reputation too often merely rested upon than reasonably proved. Fine models exist, however, and some of the finest are produced by the Prieuré de Montèzargues, pictured here. The original priory was established in 1119; grapes have been grown on the property and wine made since sometime shortly after 1300. Winemaker in the present manifestation of the estate — it long-since ceased its function as a religious house, the Revolution looking unkindly on monastic sinecures — is Guillaume Dugas. Grapes grown at Prieuré de Montèzargues are grenache, cinsault, syrah, mourvèdre and carignan for red and clairette, picpoul and bourboulenc for white, all the typical southern Rhône or Provençal varieties. The intriguing blend for the Prieuré de Montèzargues 2010, Tavel, is 55 percent red and white grenache; 30 percent cinsault, 13 percent clairette and 2 percent of mere dollops of syrah, mourvèdre, carignan and bourboulenc. I don’t know about you, but I picture Monsieur Dugas poised over the vats with an eye-dropper, administering impossibly minute quantities of wine.

The wine is fermented in stainless steel and then aged briefly in concrete vats. The entrancing color is radiant light melon with a slightly tawny topaz cast, as if lit from within; aromas of lightly macerated strawberries, raspberries and red currants are grounded in earthy elements that reminded me of sun-warmed rocks and damp, dusty roof tiles, yeah, all quite Provençal, and boy, do I wish I had a little plate with some rabbit terrine and a basket of crusty bread. Flavors tend toward melon and peach permeated by touches of dried thyme and lavender and a distinct slatey quality that runs like a taut thread through the finish. Bright acidity and a moderately lush texture offer gratifying balance in a way that seems sweetly competitive and cooperative; all great wines are about tension and resolution. The Prieuré de Montèzargues 2010 is ultimately spare and bone-dry, even a bit austere in the finish, as we expect from well-made rosé from the southern Rhône Valley, though the hauteur doesn’t detract one whit from the delightful fruity/floral character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Excellent. About $24.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.

Why don’t people drink more Chateauuneuf-du-Pape? Unfamiliarity with the grapes and the geography perhaps? A strange sort of name, maybe? Limited availability? Bad marketing?

In any case, Chateauneuf-du-Pape — “the pope’s new castle” — deep in the southern Rhone Valley, north of Avignon, was the first wine region in France to be subject to rules of self-regulation, proposed in 1923 by Baron Le Roy of Chateau Fortia. The wine is unusual in that the red Chateauneuf-du-Pape may officially contain the juice of 13 grapes, though the reality today is that most renditions consist of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre. Traditional producers, however, often include dollops of the other permitted varieties, which include cinsault, muscardin, vaccarèse, picpoul, terret noir and counoise, as well as the white grenache blanc, clairette, bourboulenc and roussanne grapes. These white grapes also make the region’s rare Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, about 3 to 5 percent of the production.

During the so-called “Babylonian Captivity” of 1309 to 1378, the papacy moved to Avignon. Pope John XXII selected the village of Calcernier — not called Chateauneuf-du-Pape until the 19th Century when the wine began to gain renown — as the site of his summer palace, the ruins of which are seen in the accompanying image.

Today’s Wines of the Week are a red and a white Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine Vieux Lazaret. Owned by the Quiot family, the domain is named for an ancient hospice for the poor and sick in the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, once operated by the Lazarists, a silent order of monks founded in 1625 by St. Vincent de Paul.

Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event. Image of the pope’s summer palace from sablethouse.com.
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The Domaine Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2008 is a beautifully knit and bountifully spicy wine blended of 45 percent grenache blanc, 30 percent clairette, 20 percent bourboulenc and 5 percent barrel-fermented roussanne. One expects from the best Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc a seamless melding of roundness and lushness with lithe, spare elegance, a character this example provides in spades, along with bell-ringing acidity for crisp liveliness and a kind of vast, gradual unveiling of limestone-like minerality. Hints of peaches and pears, decked out with roasted almonds and a touch of almond blossom and some waxy floral element are supremely enticing; a few minutes in
the glass bring up notes of cloves, quince and ginger and touches of dusty dried herbs like thyme and marjoram. Well-made versions of these wines age well; drink this now with pleasure or let it develop more depth and dimension through 2015 to ’18. A lovely effort. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $25 to $35.

Definitely needing time is the Domaine Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2008, made from 67 percent grenache, 22 percent syrah, 5 percent mourvèdre and 6 percent of smidgeons of the 10 other grapes allowed in the wine by law. The wine ferments in concrete vats and then spends 18 months in large vats and foudres, meaning no new oak, no small barriques. The aromas form a seductive weaving of black and red currants, black raspberries and plums, potpourri, lavender and allspice, with fairly stark notes of briers and brambles, new leather and sandalwood. In the mouth, however, these sensual qualities fade out, and the wine leans more toward the dry, forest and underbrush nature of grainy tannins and the imposing flank of granite-like minerality; the finish is tight and austere, though the tannins are not the blunt, scorching tannins that afflict some renditions of red Chateauneuf-du-Pape. While you’re enjoying the Vieux Lazaret Blanc 2008, allow its rouge cousin to rest until 2013 or ’14, for drinking through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $24 to $36.

Imported by David Milligan Selections, Sagaponack, N.Y.
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The Quiot family has been making wine in France’s Rhône Valley since 1748. Some 260 years later, they own numerous properties in the South of France, including Domaine du Vieux Lazaret and Domaine Duclaux in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine Houchart in Provence and, our concern today, Chateau du Trignon in the Côtes du Rhône region of the lower Rhone Valley. Among the wines made at the latter property is the tremendously refreshing and downright pretty Chateau du Trignon Roussanne 2009, Côtes du Rhône. Made completely from roussanne grapes, this white wine is not exposed to oak, retaining all the liveliness and pert acidity that come from being fashioned in stainless steel tanks. Delicate aromas of peach, pear and apricot are woven with hints of jasmine and camellia, cloves and almonds. The wine is more emphatically ripe in the mouth, with flavors of spiced and macerated peaches and yellow plums highlighted by notes of lime peel, dried thyme and limestone-like minerality. It glides across the tongue with dreamy aplomb. The essence of a delicious and appealing spring and summer wine. Very Good+. About $16 to $20.

Imported by David Milligan Selections, Sagaponack, N.Y. Tasted at a trade event.

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