Rhone


Purely by coincidence, wines sometimes come to my door in pairs, like animals entering the Ark, or I encounter a pair of wines at a tasting event that naturally fall together. Such was the case with the duos of wines that I will be writing about over the next few weeks, each from the same winery or estate. You could say that such a categorization is artificial, but so is the allocation of wine into cases of 12 bottles or, for that matter, the divisions of time into seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years. Don’t forget that September is not the seventh month, nor is October the eighth month; how arbitrary is that? What I’m saying is that reviewing pairs of wines together may be whimsical, but it’s fun and convenient and educational, and besides, this is my blog.

The first pair is from Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe in Chateaunef-du-Pape. The estate is named for a late 18th Century communications tower that stood on a nearby hilltop and aided in the transmission of semaphore signals from Marseilles to Paris. The property was established in 1898 by Hippolyte Brunian; since 1988, his great-grandsons Daniel and Frédérick have run the estate, which is somewhat larger than it was more than a 100 years ago. Of the property’s 173 acres, 65 are devoted to red grapes and 5 to white.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, California. Tasted at a wholesaler trade event. Image from wineblog.goedhuis.com.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
“Télégramme” is the second label for Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe and is typically made from vines that are 25 years old or less, primarily being between 20 and 25 years. Télégramme tends to consist mainly of grenache grapes with up to 10 percent mourvèdre, but for 2009 it’s 100 percent grenache. The wine ages 10 months in concrete cuves and 6 months in foudres, that is large oak barrels of varying size; the point is that the wine does not age in small barriques and sees no new oak. The color is dark ruby-purple with a hint of violet-magenta at the rim. The bouquet is extraordinary, ravishing, beguiling, a finely-knit amalgam of crushed violets, potpourri, smoke, cloves and sandalwood, with a wild, unfettered strain of ripe and roasted black currants, blackberries and plums; give this a few minutes in the glass and notes of mulberry, blueberry and fruitcake emerge; a few more minutes and you sense a vast undertow of dusty tannins and graphite-like minerality, a profound character that anchors the wine to your palate from start to finish, because these tannins are gigantic, formidable, dense, chewy, leaning toward austerity but always keeping a foothold in the wine’s deep, spicy, fathomless fruity nature. 14.5 percent alcohol. Great stuff for drinking 2013 or ’14 through 2019 to ’24 with roasts, braised meats or, um, pork belly tacos. Excellent. About $35.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
So, could the Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, be better than Télégramme ’09? “Better” is not precisely the word; how about even more profound, denser, darker, deeper, more intense and concentrated, even more tannic, more powerfully permeated by sleek and finely-sifted mineral qualities? Yet, despite the air of Stygian depth and vast dimension, the wine is hypnotically beautiful because every element is precisely focused and exquisitely balanced; the bouquet is practically deliriously seductive. The blend is 65 percent grenache, 15 percent each mourvèdre and syrah and 5 percent cinsault, clairette and other permitted grapes; it aged 10 months in cuves and 12 months in foudres. The plateau of La Crau is where Hippolyte Brunian planted vines 114 years ago; the designation “La Crau” on the label does not indicate a special cuvée or grande marque, since all the grapes for this wine and Télégramme derive from the vineyard, some parts of which now go back 65 years. Rather, Télégramme exists to draw away the younger grapes from the primary wine, while certainly, as far as I’m concerned, asserting its own pronounced and complex character. It will take a decade for the brooding, austere Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009 to unfurl its more beneficent nature and company manners; try from 2016 to ’18 through 2024 to ’30. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $85.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

You know me. I like to write extensive reviews of individual wines or groups of wines that include notes on history, geography, climate and terroir, the techniques and methods of winemaking and evaluations of the wines that weigh them in terms of detail and dimension, philosophy and spirit. I don’t, unfortunately, have either time or space to perform that educational and critical function for all the wines I taste, and so this week, in the spirit of the still fairly new New Year, I am launching “Friday Wine Sips,” a new feature on BTYH that will present quick reviews of wines that otherwise might not make it onto the blog. In these “Sips,” I forgo the usual attention to personalities and family history, weather conditions, oak aging, malolactic fermentation and such in favor of stealth missions that present the brief essence of each wine, along with a rating. I’m not giving up my preferred treatment; it’s simply the case that I receive too many wines to give the full FK treatment. Unless otherwise indicated, these were samples for review. Today: nine white wines. (Hmmm, a couple of these are longer than I meant them to be: I have to get used to brevity.)
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles 2010, Côtes du Rhônes blanc. Clairette 80%, roussanne 20%. Palm Bay International. Fresh and clean and snappy, lanolin and bee’s-wax, camellia and honeysuckle, roasted lemon; spicy and taut with bracing acidity but moderately soft texture, peachs and pears, celery seed and thyme. Very Good+. About $12, Good Value.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Michel Dutor La Roche Pouilly-Fuissé 2009. 13% alcohol. Stacole Fine Wines. Lean and minerally, limestone, jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and ginger, roasted lemon; very dry but a lovely, almost talc-like texture encompassing lithe, scintillating acidity and profound limestone with a hint of chalk. Classic. Very Good+. About $20. Not a sample.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Michael Torino Estate Cuma Torrontés 2010, Cafayate Valley, Argentina. 13.5% alcohol. Frederick Wildman & Sons. Organic grapes. Melon, lemon drop and lemon balm, pea shoots, thyme and tarragon, jasmine and camellia; very dry, very crisp, a spare, slightly astringent sense of almond skin, peach pit and bracing grapefruit bitterness. A terrific torrontes. Very Good+. About $15.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Veramonte Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alcohol. Huneeus Vintners. Fresh, clean, crisp and snappy, pea shoot, grapefruit and lime peel, tangerine; brings in celery seed and green grapes, touch of earthiness; taut with acidity and limestone, stand-up grapefruit bitterness on the finish. Screw-cap. Very Good+. About $12, Good Value.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Roth Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Alexander Valley. 13.2% alcohol. 2% viognier grapes. Very clean, fresh, pure and intense; distinctive without being exaggerated; lime and limestone, tangerine, peach and pear, slightly floral, very spicy, vibrant acidity, grapefruit on the finish. Lots of personality. Very Good+. About $16.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cadaretta SBS 2010, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.1% alcohol. 75% sauvignon blanc, 25 % semillon. Sleek and suave, beautifully balanced, no edges except for a crisp line of vibrant acidity; lime and lime peel, camellia, dried thyme and tarragon, pent with energy and vitality; very dry, heaps of limestone and chalk. Lovely wine. Excellent. About $23.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
J. Moreau & Fils Le Croix Saint-Joseph Chablis 2009. 12.5% alcohol. Boisset America. Radiant medium gold color; slightly green, flint, pears, roasted lemon, jasmine and verbena; touch of slightly earthy mushroom element; “wow” (in my notes) “what a structure, what a texture”; heaps of powdery limestone and shale and talc but riven by chiming acidity, bracing salt-marsh-like breeziness, all enrobing pert citrus and stone-fruit flavors. Classic Chablis, cries out for a platter of just-shucked oysters. Excellent. About $20. Not a sample.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Leitz Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling Spätlese 2009, Rheingau. 8.5% alcohol. Michael Skurnick. Pale straw color, hint of spritz; subtle and nuanced, peach and pear, damp hay, jasmine, baked goods; quite spicy, lip-smacking acidity, almost lush texture but with real “cut,” a bit sweet initially but finishes quite dry, even austere, like sheaves of limestone and quartz; superb balance and intensity. Try with trout or skate sauteed in brown butter. Excellent. About $33.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Wine of the Week doesn’t always have to be a bargain; that’s not the point. Today, however, we definitely have a terrific value. This is the Chateau des Rozets 2009, Coteaux du Tricastin, from a region in the southern Rhone Valley east of the Rhone River and directly north of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Avignon. In this red wine area, the Bernard family, producers of Domaine des Rozets, has been cultivating vines since 1794, and, yeah, I’m a sucker for that kind of longevity and dedication. The wine is a blend of 65 percent grenache grapes, 35 percent syrah and 5 percent cinsault; it’s made completely in stainless steel tanks, so what you smell and taste are pure fruit and its attendant characteristics. Heady aromas of black currants, blackberries and plums are woven with notes of briers and brambles, cloves and back-notes of violets and tar, and I mean tar in the very best sense. Chateau de Rozets 2009 is robust but not rustic, with vivid black and blue fruit flavors, a mildly earthy-leathery nature and slightly grainy tannins, all supported by clean, bright acidity. Nothing earthshaking, but boy how satisfying it was with a roasted Cornish hen. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12.

Imported by Chloé Wines, Seattle, Wash.

Clayhouse Vineyard, owned by Middleton Family Wines, specializes in Rhone-style wines at several grades of production, the Estate level at the top, next the Vineyard level, which adds zinfandel and sauvignon blanc, and, third, the Adobe label, for inexpensive blended red and white wines. The wines offered under the Estate label are produced in very limited quantities, unfortunately, but they are impeccably made and definitely Worth a Search. The two wines under consideration today evoke the plenitude and generosity of the southern Rhone Valley, and they’re versatile wines, suitable for a variety of foods and cuisines. Winemaker is Blake Kuhn.

These were samples for review.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Clayhouse Estate Cuvée Blanc 2010, Red Cedar Vineyard, Paso Robles, is a blend of 50 percent grenache blanc grapes and 50 percent viognier, made all in stainless steel. The wine is sleek, spare, elegant, a lovely melange of pear and roasted lemon with a touch of peach, a bit of dried thyme and, after a few minutes in the glass, hints of lemongrass and crystallized ginger; there’s a brisk, slightly astringent floral element in the bouquet, like some shy little white flower that does not give up its perfume easily. The texture is lithe, winsome, crisp, and the finish brings in spicy qualities and a penetrating limestone motif. 13 percent alcohol. Very attractive. Drink through 2013. Production was 142 six-pack cases. Very Good+. About $23. We consumed this wine with a simple dinner of seared wild sockeye salmon, steamed bok choy and grated sweet potatoes sauteed with shallots.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

As might be expected, the Clayhouse Grenache Blanc 2010, Red Cedar Vineyard, Paso Robles, packs a little more heft and displays more presence than its cousin mentioned above. Not that the wine is ponderous or obvious, far from it; it’s still deftly balanced, almost balletic in its lift and appeal, but the grenache blanc grape simply embodies rather more character than viognier, so by itself, and aided by brief aging in stainless steel and neutral oak barrels, it provides more depth and texture. That texture is transparent, supple, almost sinewy, yet poised between moderate lushness and crisp, resonant acidity. This is all spiced and softly poached stone fruit — and an intriguing high bell-tone of red currant — given the rigor of scintillating shale and limestone; there are back-notes of dusty thyme and sage and an earthy aspect that does not keep the wine earthbound. Quite a performance. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Production was 140 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $23. We had this with one of our favorite dishes from November through March, the cod and chorizo stew with leeks and potatoes.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

« Previous Page