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Archive for July, 2009

IMG_1335Since I enjoyed the Les Laurentides so much, I thought I might as well try and find a bottle of La Sagasse. I knew I had a couple of bottles, but it took a little bit of digging to find one. One of these days I will get my wine life organized.

As I have written before, Domaine Gramenon is one of the most respected producers in the Rhône. In his book on the wines of the Rhône valley, Robert Parker classified Gramenon in the same category as Beaucastel and Fonsalette. In 1998, owner Phillipe Laurent nearly doubled the area of his vineyards by purchasing some 50 acres in Vinsobres. A year later, he died in a tragic accident and his wife decided to sell some 35 acres the Perrin brothers at Beaucastel. Michelle Aubery-Laurent and her son Maxim-François continue making wines in a pretty natural way, with sulphur dioxide used just at assemblage. Their vineyards are farmed organically, and they never filter or fine their wines.

Their wines are not very well known in the United States as they are available on a limited basis. I found Gramenon’s wines through Kermit Lynch’s newsletter. He described them as a pure expression of biodynamically farmed, old vine Grenache with knock-out fruit flavors tempered by a core of strong minerality. Some might not want to pay $30 for a bottle of Côtes du Rhône, but I was able to pick up a sampler pack of their wine from Kermit Lynch at 25% off and each one of the wines has been a winner.

La Sagasse is 100% old vine Grenache. I like Gramenon’s wines a bunch and given that I am a card carrying member of the Grenache-positive movement, I had pretty high expectations prior to opening. The wine had me at first pour, showing a beautiful crushed purple velvet color in the glass. Provocative nose of dark cherry, blackberry with some pepper, garrigue and a little motor oil. On the palate, silky smooth, ripe and dense fruit. Black cherry, blackberry, raspberry with plum, espresso and graphite. La Sagesse is my favorite of the 2007s from Gramenon (though Les Laurentides is a close second) and to date, this wine along with the wines from Domain Richaud and Les Aphillanthes are my favorite Côtes du Rhônes from the ’07 vintage. Strongly recommended.

14% alcohol. 50 cases imported by Kermit Lynch.

Favorites from Côtes du Rhône 2007
Domaine Gramenon Sierra du Sud
Domaine Gramenon La Sagesse Côtes du Rhône
Domaine Gramenon Les Laurentides Côtes du Rhône
Les Aphillanthes Côtes du Rhône
Domaine Richaud Côtes du Rhône-Villages-Cairanne
Domaine Richaud Côtes du Rhône Terres de Galets
Escaravailles Côtes du Rhône

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IMG_1329Domaine Gramenon is one of the most respected producers in the Rhône. In Robert Parker’s book on the wines of the Rhône valley, he classified Gramenon in the same category as Beaucastel and Fonsalette.

In 1998, owner Phillipe Laurent nearly doubled the area of his vineyards by purchasing some 50 acres in Vinsobres. Unfortunately, he in 1999 died in a tragic accident and his wife decided to sell some of the fields, selling 35 acres the Perrin brothers at Beaucastel. Michelle Aubery-Laurent and her son Maxim-François continue making wines in a pretty natural way, with sulphur dioxide used just at assemblage. They don’t go for much high-tech in their very traditional cellar. Their vineyards are farmed organically, and they never filter or fine their wines.

Their wines are not very well known in the United States as they are available on a limited basis. I found Gramenon’s wines through Kermit Lynch’s newsletter. He described them as a pure expression of biodynamically farmed, old vines Grenache. The fruit flavors they attain are knock-out and tempered by a core of strong minerality. Some might not want to pay $30 for a bottle of Côtes du Rhône, but I was able to pick up a sampler pack of their wine from Kermit Lynch at 25% off and each one of the wines has been a winner.

Laurentides is one of several special cuvees the estate produces, this one a blend of old-vine Grenache with Syrah. Dark ruby red in color. Dark cherry and raspberry with notes of Dr. Pepper, underbrush and Twizzler on the nose. On the palate, lots of ripe fruit (but not overdone) — with dark cherry, pomegranate and currant with graphite/crushed asphalt, earth and a hint of bubble gum. Very approachable while still being just a bit austere. It’s not always easy to pick out a wine from a line up of Côtes du Rhônes, but this is unique and a stand out.

14% alcohol. Imported by Kermit Lynch. Recommended.

Other wines from Domaine Gramenon:
Domaine Gramenon Sierra du Sud 2007
Domaine Gramenon La Sagesse Côtes du Rhône 2007
Domaine Gramenon Côtes du Rhône Blanc Vie on y Est 2008

Other Côtes du Rhônes from the 07 vintage:
Escaravailles Côtes du Rhônes 2007
Côtes du Rhône Maxime-François Laurent Il Fait Soif 2007
Domaine Depeyre Côtes du Roussillon Villages 2007
Domaine Richaud Côtes du Rhône Terres de Galets 2007
Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2007

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IMG_1325Jaboulet was founded in the early 19th Century. The exact date is unknown, but when records began in 1834, there was a Jaboulet making wine in Tain l’Hermitage. The jewel in the portfolio has usually been the Hermitage La Chapelle, matched only by the white Hermitage Chevalier de Sterimberg. Jaboulet own approximately 25 hectares of vines on the hill, second only in terms of vineyard holdings to the local co-operative in Tain l’Hermitage and Chapoutier.

This a blend of 66% Marsanne and 34% Roussanne from 35 year old vines. The grapes are grown in clay-chalk and sandy, pebble soils on steep slopes, producing complex and elegant white Hermitage wines. Light pale yellow in color. Peach, apple, lemon peel with a little bit of musty, damp cement on the nose. On the palate, peach, pear, apple, quince paste with a hint of tangerine and honey. Creamy and rich with great acidity and longevity. This is one of the best white wines I have had in the last year. Strongly recommended.

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IMG_1321Chapoutier has a long history of wine production in the Rhone Valley. Chapoutier was established in 1808 by Polydor Chapoutier. The firm was passed from father to son and in the mid-twentieth century Max Chapoutier was at the helm. In 1977, Max retired, and responsibility for managing the family business was passed to his sons, Michel and Marc. Marc continued to manage the business and distribution and Michel took on the responsibility for the vineyards and cellar. With Michel came many changes that resulted in improvements to overall quality and reputation.

As is the case with many top winemakers Michel Chapoutier believes that great wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar, and so it is here that some of the most dramatic changes were made. Michel favors lower yields and launched a crusade against chemicals, fertilizers and sprays.  He adopted biodynamic and organic farming techniques in his estate vineyards, harvesting grapes by hand and using only natural yeasts to produce unfiltered wines.

Overall, the Chapoutier style is intended to be approachable young, but with the structure to age. Chapoutier’s style that has been criticized is the use of oak. Michel in fact reduced the period of aging in oak from two years to eighteen months, but of the barrels used up to one third are new, which can make for a very oaky impact on the wine.

Chapoutier owns plots that occupy a significant proportion of the hill of Hermitage, in a number of vineyards, including Les Bessards, Greffieux, Chapelle, Méal, Muret and Chante-Alouette. From these plots come a number of red and white Hermitage cuvées. In addition, Chapoutier owns vines in Cote Rotie – source of La Mordorée and Les Bécasses, Crozes Hermitage – source of the excellent Les Varoniéres as well as Les Meysonniers, St Joseph – source of red and white Les Granits cuvées. Most other wines of the northern Rhone are made from purchased fruit. Outside the northern Rhone, Chapoutier also own the Bernadine vineyard in Chateauneuf du Pape. Chapoutier also has a presence in Tricastin, Provence, Roussillon and even Australia in the form of Mount Benson wine.

Michel Chapoutier Domaine Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon 2007
Michel Chapoutier Domaine Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2007

These wines are from the Chapoutier’s operation in Roussillon, under the direction of winemaker Gilles Troullier. The Cotes du Roussillon and the Occultum Lapidem are blends of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The Syrah in both of the wines is a higher percentage than most of the wines from Roussillon. The grapes are manually harvested and 100% destemmed. For the Cotes du Roussillon, the ageing takes place in vats, while the Occultum Lapidem is matured 50% in barrel and 50% in tank. Both wines were very good and quite similar. Deep red garnet in color. Compote of dark fruits, violets with some graphite, resin and earthiness on the nose. Lots of dark fruit on the palate with dark cherry, blackberry with some tar, black olive and graphite.  Sweet, meaty tannins with good accidity and focus. 

The Occultum Lapidem was certainly the bigger of the two wines — more dense, dark and concentrated, rich/lush, intense and profound (and 14.5% alcohol vs. 14%). The oak was also a differentiator. I liked both wines and thought they were very good values ($12 and $18 a bottle), but I have to give a nod to the Cotes du Roussillon. Imported by HB Wine Merchants.

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IMG_1315Txakoli (pronounced chac-o-lee) is traditionally made as a white wine (though there are a few rosés as well) with a hint of effervescence. The Basque serve these wines along side their local version of tapas (Pintxos). I figured I better start prepping for the trip to San Sebastian in September, so I picked up a couple of bottles last week.

There are three sub-zones for Txakoli: Getariako, Bizkaiko, and Arabako; all have stylistic differences.  Getarikoa will show the more traditional Txakoli syles of wet stone and citrus with more CO2 presence; Bizkaiko are slightly more full-bodied and sometimes even tropical, and wines from Arabako tend to have less CO2 and have more petrol and smoke from the Tufa soil underneath. The Gurrutxaga rosé is from Bizkaiko Txakolina — a wine region that consists of 69 vineyards, which produce 1 million liters of wine annually.

Ignazio Ameztoy makes this rosé from the Hondarribi Beltza grape. Beautiful color with strawberry, floral and salt water aromatics. On the palate, very crisp with bracing acidity and slight effervescence. Watermelon, strawberry, tart citrus with some salty minerality and spice.

Add this to my list of favorite rosés along with the Mas des Bressades, Lopez de Heredia Rioja Tondonia and Chateau D’Esclans Whispering Angel — interesting, unique and almost as provocative as the Lopez de Heredia. It is also a quaffer and a great food wine — and the salty minerality and slight sparkle are a perfect fit for summer. 10.5% alcohol.

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IMG_1320Arnot-Roberts Wines is a joint project of Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts. Their goal is to make natural wines that express the uniqueness and beauty of their variety and location.

All of Arnot-Roberts wines are aged in French oak barrels built by Nathan and Duncan. Fermentations occur on native yeast and the wines are bottled without fining or filtration.  Production is around 700 total cases per year of five wines.

The Coast Range Mountains in Northern California take a sudden dip and nearly disappear around Bodega Bay in Sonoma County, reemerging as the foot of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County to the south. It is at this point that cool air over the Pacific Ocean is drawn inland via convective forces through what is referred to as the “Petaluma Wind Gap”. This cool and windy swath of the Sonoma Coast appellation is home to few vineyards. Clary Ranch is one of those vineyards, planted on a hillside in the Middle Two Rock Valley.

This wine was fermented retaining 100% whole clusters on native yeasts and was aged in one new and two neutral French oak barrels. Three barrels produced.

Beautiful bright and inky ruby in color. Aromatics of blueberry, violets, forest floor with bacon fat and lots of black pepper.  On the palate, more blueberry, blackcurrant and cherry with some tar, smoke and gamey notes. There is some size to this wine (though by no means big by California standards), well balanced (13% alcohol), structured and showing some restraint. The wine seemed a little closed (I probably won’t touch any more of this for another 1-2 years), but was still very good and think it will show even better over the next 1-3 years and beyond.

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IMG_1307 Vincent Ricard farms 42 acres of vineyards in the Touraine, located outside the village of Thésée la Romaine, near the banks of the river Cher, in the heart of central Loire Valley. He incorporated Domaine Ricard in 1999,  after returning to his family’s property in 1998 following a two-year internship with Philippe Alliet in Chinon and François Chidaine in Montlouis.

Vincent believes strongly in the merits of natural farming. Exposed to biodynamic principles through his work with Chidaine and well versed in organic techniques, he picks and chooses the farming practices which make the most sense for his vines and his wines. Herbicides are never used. He allows grass to grow between every row, though he may eventually cut back to every other row to reduce the nitrogen richness the grasses impart to the soil.

Most consider “Les Trois Chênes” to be Ricard’s flagship wine. He makes other Sauvignons (his specialty), at lower and higher price points, but this one really captures the balance between his terroir, natural farming and talented winemaking. The wine is produced from 80 year old Sauvignon vines. The fruit is hand-harvested and then sees a slow, three-month barrel fermentation, part of the wine’s total eight-month aging regime. After fermentation, the lees (or dead yeast sediment which falls to the bottom of the vessel) are occasionally stirred to keep the wine oxygenated and fresh.

Aromatics of lemon zest, white peach, candied grapefruit and wet stones. On the palate, lemon meringue, key lime, green apple with some lychee and kumquat. Rich and muscular with bright acidity and flinty minerality. I thought this was very good to excellent and a great value at $20 a bottle. 13% alcohol. Recommended.

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