Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wine tasting -- just before Harvest

A day of wine tasting: the weather was perfect, the clients lovely, the wines superb, the wineries welcoming. All that one could wish for right? Well, let's make this a two part article. This part is all about the wine, and the next one will be about the 'glitch' we experienced. That is, ahem, technical difficulties. Or, as I occasionally view these things, a test from the universe. But I'll get to that later.

My seven dynamic, young and multi-national clients and I started the day by heading off to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Clos du Caillou in Courthézon to be exact. There we were warmly received on a Monday (a day they don't normally do tastings) and just after harvest had begun (and the day before a serious rain storm!). Privileged as we were, we tasted the full range of wines they have:

Two whites (one marvelously concentrated clairette, and one blend of roussanne, viognier, grenache blanc and clairette). The first was bright and lively in the mouth, rich in citrus fruits (grapefruit) with a nice length to it. Hmmmm - yes, I brought home a case! It was their Côte du Rhône 2009. The second was quite different, from 2008, softer, warmer, more orchard fruits, creamier, and yet this one too had not gone through oak. We were tasting the grapes and only the grapes.

Onward to their two red Côte du Rhônes -- these differing in their vinification. The first rich in grenache, syrah and mourvedre, and vinified/aged in cement tanks. The second a similar blend but aged as they do their Châteauneufs, that is 18 months in large oak barrels.

I'd been to taste at this winery before, and as I remembered, they have great Châteauneufs, but I remember being blown away by their 'smaller' wines, their Côte du Rhônes. The winery is situated just beside the far better known Domaine Beaucastel, and like their neighbor, they too are working organically and soon bio dynamically -- always a good sign.

These wineries are located in a small island apart from the main portion of Châteauneuf AOC. If you see the map of Châteauneuf, you see one large chunk delineated and marked out, and then a small chunk of land off to the West, with more winery land between it and the large chunk. It's rather complicated to understand -- no doubt a political choice back when the geographic outlines of the AOC were determined. In any case, that line of land between the big and little chunks? well it has lovely vineyards too, but they can't be called Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This is where the Clos du Caillou Côte du Rhône vineyards are and do they make a magnificent one! It is the rare Côte du Rhône that could be mistaken for a Châteauneuf -- truly jammy and dense in flavor and bouquet, not farmy or vegetal or rude at all. And yes, I brought home a case of each too.

Their bonafide Châteauneuf-du-Papes are nothing to sneeze at. Truly they are dense and chewy, jammy yet fresh. The 2008 has finesse and elegance, something to drink soon or in ten years when it will no doubt evolve to new heights.

It was as we were leaving this elegant winery, after visiting the aging cellar and seeing their casks of three dimensions -- small and medium size new/multi-passage oak barrels and large casks. Yes, as we were trying to leave this winery that my car went kaput. Silence. Lights yes, but no motor, not even after pushing it down hill and putting it into second (something I'm quite skilled at after these past couple of years on my own). Nope. It chose to not budge. However, I shall go into detail on this event in the next post. Here I will continue with our tastings which -- after an unexpected and unintended pause of about 2-3 hours, did continue!

And so, later than desired, thirsty and eager, we arrived at our second winery, Domaine Jean David in Séguret, a village of the Côte du Rhône Villages region. I've known Jean David for years now and adore his selection of organic wines (he's a pioneer and a devoted one at that in the organic world).
We were able to taste his white -- a blend of roussanne and bourbelenc (that unusual grape in the 13 cépages of Châteauneuf-du-Pape) vinified in stainless steel. It is a simple and pleasant white with notes of orchard fruits and flowers. Then onward to his selection of reds, which is quite wide these days. He has a Côte du Rhône with a funky new label in reds with green notes (designed by his daughter and appreciated by his Japanese clientele), his 'green label' Côte du Rhône Village Séguret -- a lovely, concentrated classic to be appreciated often.
His very special cuvée Le Beau nez (or le Bonnet) identified by an image of a man with either a red nose, or a red knit cap!. This is his drink it now no-sulfites wine. Rich in fruit, dense, high in alcohol. Enjoy now! Tomorrow may not come. And, with his oldest vines -- 50-80 years' old -- he makes his splendid Les Couchants. A dense and nearly syrupy grenache dominant blend. Wow. None of these see wood. He's a purist of his grapes and his terroir. And all are worthy. From the simplest to the most complex.

Jean David told us stories about how he came to work organically (much against his father's wishes!) after tasting fresh organic vegetables from an 'older brother's' garden. He is just a tad younger than the "soixante huitard" generation, one marked by the return of many young people to the countryside, fleeing the materialism and regimen of city life. He was an early convert, and due to his father's animosity at such backward thinking, set off on his own to travel Europe on foot for a year rather than back down. His father finally agreed to pass him 5 hectares (12 acres) to work in his new fangled ways. And, yes, Jean David and his wife Martine were able to make a go of it. Slowly, he took over more of the family vineyards and surely, he did it his way. His father still has moments of contrariness to all this, but grudgingly respects his son's dream and realization of it.

From Jean David's we took a quite ten minute ride to Gigondas, the second best known "cru" of the Southern Rhône wines. (the first being Châteaneuf-du-Pape). Our destination was a young winery with a young winemaker -- Domaine Les Florets. It's dynamic vintner--of almost local stock (a couple villages' away) has been in place since 2006. A young father of three he is working a small area of vineyards (8 hectares, which is actually about standard for the AOC) with a few extra hectares in Cairanne (another of the Village wines). Young, working organically (if not as yet certified as such), he has taken on vineyards high up in the hills (a tiny tractor could get there, but not much else!) and is perfecting his own recipe for a spicy, berry-filled yet refined and elegant Gigondas. His is not the chewy power punch of many who have vineyards lower down the slopes. His is surprising and pleasing. And he's willing to have me represent him towards the US. What a treat!

He has a rich and flavorful rosé -- grenache, syrah and cinsault. A marvelous and fruit filled Cairanne -- quite startling in the expression of ripe red berries. His classic Gigondas -- with no oaks -- and his far more heavily oaked special cuvée (a blend of grenache and mourvedre) which was spicy, tobacco, and for some reminiscent of a Barollo... Quite the surprise. It will be interesting to see where he goes as the years pass, and to accompany him for part of that voyage!

With vineyards high up in the hills, he is not yet ready to harvest (perhaps next week?) and will be harvesting through to mid/late October! Quite late compared to other Souther Rhône areas. We chatted about the chilly Mistral winds of last week, the soon to be upon us rain storms (not as yet a catastrophe -- the water could help finish off the ripening, particularly if it is followed by sun and some good breezes), and the possibility of returning to see how things are advancing and even/maybe joining his harvesters up in those hill-top vineyards to pick a bit? perhaps a hike to be followed by... -- I think I've now decided where we'll be hiking late September with my group!

As per my methods (and pleasure) I purchased wine in each of the wineries -- one of the ways I maintain my contacts and a way to be received warmly the next time. So, should you be stopping by to visit.. perhaps I'll pull a lovely bottle out for you?

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