There’s a buzz across the Southern Rhône, as the region’s up-and-coming producers – whether second or third generation, fresh from the cooperative, or new to the area – create wines guaranteed to generate excitement. MARY DOWEY profiles 10 new faces
There is no better time to salute the new generation of winemakers whose skill, energy and optimism are moulding the future of the Southern Rhône. Why? Because, after a full year of gloom, it is important to look beyond the difficulties posed by the extreme vintages of 2002 (wet and condemned) and 2003 (scorching and hyped), leaving in their wake an ocean of unsold wine. The alluring first releases of 2004 suggest that this more classic year will soon be in high demand. Besides, warm, spicy Southern Rhône reds are superb for winter drinking.
All over the region, regeneration is in the air. Second-generation winemakers with ambition are taking over from their parents. Growers who once supplied cooperatives are bottling quality wines under their own name. There are new arrivals, too – drawn by the promise of exceptional terroir, old vines and sun.
The 10 producers profiled below have been running their estates along current lines for less than a decade. Seek out their wines before the winter is out and you’ll be well rewarded. One caveat: in a centrally heated house, room temperature is too warm for reds like these – especially the ripe, alcoholic 2003s. Serve them a shade cooler to do them justice.
CATHERINE & SOPHIE ARMENIER, Domaine de Marcoux, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
The Armenier sisters joined forces 10 years ago to run the family vineyards which their brother Philippe had managed after their father’s death. With Catherine as fervent viticulturalist and Sophie, 15 years her junior, the fastidious winemaker, they make a formidable team.
‘There were very few women when we started in 1995,’ Catherine explains. ‘As we were into biodynamics as well, a lot of people wondered whether we would do anything worthwhile.’
As seems appropriate for an ancient Châteauneuf family with roots dating back to 1344, their wealth lies in substantial holdings of old vines, including century-old Grenache with a little Mourvèdre at Charbonnière. Half their output goes into the glorious Cuvée Vieilles Vignes, with the other half adding depth to the regular cuvée. The estate totals 20ha (hectares) in over a dozen parcels.
So what is the Armenier aim? ‘For the bottle on the table to be emptied. It’s all about pleasure!’ They achieve it with hedonistic wines.
Domaine de Marcoux, Vieilles Vignes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2003 *****
Enticing nose of dark red fruits paves the way for a luscious palate with fine tannins in a very long finish. Up to 2015 or beyond. £45–55; AlW, Gns, ONe
BP 81, 84230 Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Tel: +33 4 90 34 67 43
SEBASTIEN VINCENTI, Domaine de Fondrèche, Côtes du Ventoux
Lucky fellow, you think, as Sebastien Vincenti shows his magnificently sited estate on a plateau above Carpentras with views to the Dentelles de Montmirail and Mont Ventoux.
The main vineyard of 28ha for red grapes has several terroirs, with limestone pebbles and sand and clay layers. Vincenti has planted enough Syrah to match his Grenache and Mourvèdre in equal proportion. A further seven hectares on sandy soil has been acquired for white grapes. Both vineyards are farmed organically.
There are no plans for expansion because Vincenti is hands-on and exacting. ‘On est très maniaque’. He uses both barriques and demi-muids for a stylish range which includes two white wines, L’Eclat Blanc and Persia Blanc (the latter 100% Roussanne) and three reds, Fayard (see below), Nadal (old-vine Grenache and oaked Syrah with Mourvèdre) and Persia (mainly Syrah). All have the freshness at which he aims – helped by the cool nights of the Ventoux.
Domaine de Fondrèche, Fayard, Côtes du Ventoux 2004 ***
Not one of Vincenti’s more expensive wines, but this blend – 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 20% old-vine Carignan – is a polished effort, perfumed, heady and moreish. Up to 2008. £7; Cpy, Gen
84380 Mazan. Tel: +33 4 90 69 61 42
PASCAL & VINCENT MAUREL, Clos Saint Jean, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
In charge since their father’s death over 20 years ago, the Maurel brothers’ far-sighted great-grandfather planted the vineyards which now support 100-year-old vines. But since 2002, with the help of well-known Southern Rhône consultant Philippe Cambie, they have abandoned a traditional style which took years to soften in favour of seductively fruity, modern wines.
The Maurels own 40ha – half on the famous, galet-strewn plateau of La Crau and half on clay and limestone in the northwest and southwest of Châteauneuf. Having finally gained control of parcels which were owned by various family members, they can now focus on improving quality. They produced plump, round and flavoursome wines in 2003 and 2004 – an estate white and red and two special cuvées, La Combe des Fous (Grenache with Syrah, Cinsault and Vaccarèse) and Deux Ex Machina (see below).
Clos Saint Jean, Deux Ex Machina, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2003 ***
Not cheap, but this blend of old-vine Grenache and Mourvèdre is sumptuous stuff – an explosion of plums and pepper with a long, velvety finish. Up to 2015. h48. N/A UK; +33 4 90 83 58 00
18 Ave Général de Gaulle, 84231 Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Tel: +33 4 90 83 58 00
JEROME BRESSY, Domaine Gourt de Mautens, Rasteau
There is a sophistication about Jérôme Bressy that has shaped his handsome new cellar, his smart logo with its chiselled Roman letters, his luxuriously textured wines – and, some might say, their ambitious prices. But these are wines with soul, combining finesse with the power and spicy richness that are this region’s hallmarks. And Bressy is, above all, an impassioned vigneron.
A third-generation grower, he has 13 organically farmed hectares spread over seven terroirs in Rasteau. About 70% is planted with 50–90-year-old vines, including some very old Carignan – a variety which Bressy rates second in importance after Grenache, followed by Mourvèdre: he is not a fan of Syrah in the south. For complexity, he is reintroducing old varieties like Counoise, Vaccarèse and Muscardin, planted in among other grapes in the old-fashioned way.
Because his ambition has always been to make ‘un grand vin’, Bressy stopped selling his grapes to the coop in 1996. Using meticulous methods, he makes just two wines, a white and a red. Grapes are hand-picked into small baskets, then carefully sorted before destemming and basket-pressing. He has also moved away from new oak, abandoning both barriques and Burgundy barrels in favour of 600-litre demi-muids and 1,500-litre foudres for a third of his production.
Domaine Gourt de Mautens, Rasteau 2003 ****
A glorious wine which showcases Bressy’s skill at achieving fine, ripe tannins and a silky texture. Hints of earthy minerality emerge on the long length. Up to 2010. £21; Rae
84110 Rasteau. Tel: +33 4 90 46 19 45
WALTER McKINLAY, Domaine
de Mourchon, Séguret
The address ‘La Grande Montagne, Séguret’ does not fully convey the drama of the site bought in 1998 by Walter McKinlay, a Scot who sold his international IT business at retirement age to live the wine dream. Mourchon perches on the mountain top. A daring move – especially when there was no cellar, a house with only one wall and a new owner with no experience of wine production.
Assured that the limestone/clay/ sandstone terroir was worthwhile, McKinlay bought 17ha of vineyard, wedged a smart gravity-flow cellar into the hillside and ‘recreated’ the house, besides adding another for his daughter Kate and her husband Hugo Levingstone – the generation who will take Mourchon forward. Forward, that is, from a fast start, for the two red cuvées, Tradition and Grande Réserve, have been regularly praised in the press (Decanter included) since the 1998 vintage.
The style is meaty and macho – except for the mouthwatering Grenache-based rosé.
Domaine de Mourchon, Tradition, Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages 2003 ***
A harmonious 2003 with abundant red fruit compote notes upfront lifted by hints of garrigue and underpinned by fine tannins. Up to 2008.
£6.75-9.15; Ave, Bls, IRo, Wts
84110 Séguret. Tel: +33 4 90 46 70 30
DENIS DESCHAMPS, Les Vignerons d’Estézargues, Côtes du Rhône Villages & Côtes du Rhône
Even before Denis Deschamps took over as chief winemaker in 2002, Les Vignerons d’Estézargues had begun to gain recognition as one of the most dynamic coops in the Southern Rhône. The move from bulk production to bottled wine, now at the halfway mark, began in the early 1990s and Deschamps was consultant from 1999. But scale and terroir also play their part. This coop has just 10 members with a total of 400ha only around the village of Estézargues, in the Gard west of Avignon. Applicants from further afield are turned down: the plan is to stay small, stay local, and to make better wines.
Eight of the 10 members now produce their own cuvées – a major quality step. Although he vinifies everything, Deschamps says his main contribution has been in viticulture – knowing the vineyards, assessing maturity and making careful grape selections. He has good fruit to work with: old Grenache vines thrive on a plateau topped with galets which provides the grapes for Côtes du Rhône Villages, while the remaining vineyard area, on clay and sand, generates Côtes du Rhône. In the cellar the emphasis is on ‘vins naturels’ with minimal intervention, no sulphur until bottling, no filtration. The result: coop wines with an artisanal feel.
Domaine Grès St Vincent, Côtes du Rhône Villages 2004 ***
Fresh, delicious and very suave
indeed, this young red with juicy blueberry overtones offers heaps of appeal at an extremely affordable price. Up to 2007. £6.50; SVS
Tel: +33 4 66 57 03 64
MARC & EMMANUELLE KREYDENWEISS, Domaine Marc & Emmanuelle Kreydenweiss, Costières de Nîmes
From an Alsace family dedicated to white wines for 400 years, Marc Kreydenweiss was keen to make reds. With two grown-up sons involved in the Alsace winery, he decided to move his winemaker wife Emmanuelle south to supervise a new venture. In 1999 he settled on a 20ha domaine in the Costières de Nîmes. Did he deliberately choose one of the Southern Rhône’s less fashionable appellations? He laughs. ‘I didn’t think about the appellation at all! It was the terroir that won me over.’
With sandstone and quartz galets and schist, the vineyard reminded Kreydenweiss of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It was half old-vine Carignan, a quarter Grenache and a quarter Syrah. He has planted Mourvèdre, a little Merlot and Marselan, the Grenache-Cabernet Sauvignon cross-breed which he believes is ideal for the climate. He follows a biodynamic regime, ploughing four or five times a year.
Emmanuelle and the couple’s two small children live here for most of the summer while Marc commutes between the Costières and Alsace. Emmanuelle makes Les Grimaudes (half Carignan with Grenache and Cinsault) while Marc makes Perrières (see below) and Ansata (mainly Syrah with Grenache and Merlot). Picking earlier than most, the Kreydenweisses create super wines which marry elegance with depth.
n Marc Kreydenweiss Perrières, Costières de Nîmes 2003 ****
A wonderfully refined and restrained wine for 2003 – 60% Carignan, 20% Syrah and 20% Grenache – with spicy, peppery complexity. One year in barrique, but the oak influence is subtle. Up to 2008. £7.75; Adn
30129 Manduel. Tel: +33 3 88 08 95 83
HELENE THIBON, Mas de Libian, Côtes du Rhône Villages
There is no doubting Hélène Thibon’s passion for her vineyards – 17ha on galets and red clay, fringed by forest, at the northwestern limit of the Southern Rhône in the Ardèche. She says she is, above all, a farmer. She has worked every inch of this land since she was a teenager earning money for riding lessons. But she is a glamorous farmer and a poetic one, too – influenced, perhaps, by her grandfather who was both a writer and philosopher. ‘I don’t want to make wines with so much oak or extraction that all the work shows through. They would be like ballet dancers with biceps.’
Although she has been the winemaker since 1995, Thibon stresses that her parents and her husband Alain Macagno share the workload of cellar and vineyards.
Half planted to Grenache with the remainder Syrah, Mourvèdre and several white varieties, these have been farmed organically for 35 years and are in transition to biodynamic viticulture. Thibon’s wines are wonderfully exuberant and pure, 40% of the whites going into new demi-muids while about 40% of the reds are matured in used foudres. La Calade 2004 is made almost entirely from Mourvèdre – rare in the Ardèche: it only works, Thibon says, because yields are 15hl/h.
Mas de Libian Khayyam Côtes du Rhône Villages 2004 ***
Round and pleasurable with
generous and rewardingly pure, liquorice-edged flavours. Already available: Hélène Thibon doesn’t believe in holding her wines back.
Up to 2007. £94.50 (case 12); HHC
07700 Saint Marcel d’Ardèche.
Tel: +33 4 75 04 66 22
BAPTISTE GRANGEON, Domaine de Cristia, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
When the Grangeons sold their entire output to Guigal in 1998, a long tradition of supplying négociants ended. They were ready to bottle their own wines. The following year, 20-year-old Baptiste joined his father and grandfather in the family business where homes, offices and cellars face each other across a Courthézon street. It was an inauspicious start: much of the 1999 vintage was corked. But the young oenology graduate was soon granted a free hand, taking on full responsibility for vineyards and cellar in 2002.
The estate, which has applied for organic certification, takes its name from the two prime vineyards among the family’s four plots totalling 21ha. One is sandy, yielding great Grenache (from 100-year-old vines) and the other clay and limestone, performing well with Syrah and Mourvèdre. The breakdown of the grapes in the vineyard – 85%, 10% and 5% respectively – is reflected in the regular unoaked cuvée. Since 2000 Grangeon has produced a special cuvée, Renaissance, with barrique-aged Syrah and Mourvèdre complementing Grenache in slightly higher proportions.
‘I want to make red wines with plenty of soft fruit – wines which can be enjoyed by themselves as well as with food,’ says Baptiste Grangeon.
Domaine de Cristia Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2003 ***
One of the more affordable reds of this pricey appellation which, although showing the heat of the vintage, balances very ripe fruit with smoother tannins than were achieved by many. Up to 2011. £15–17; Hax, HBa
31 Fb St Georges, 84350 Courthézon. Tel: +33 4 90 70 24 09
DANIEL BOULLE, Domaine des Aphillanthes, Plan de Dieu, Côtes du Rhône Villages
Named after a flower of the garrigue, Daniel Boulle’s 37ha estate is widely spread across various soils on the Plan de Dieu, with some vineyards stretching towards Sérignan and Ste-Cécile-les Vignes, while others abut Rasteau and run into Cairanne. Boulle, a stocky, down-to-earth man whose father and grandfather were growers, admits that not all of his land is exceptional. ‘It was acquired before terroir was much talked about,’ he shrugs. He will gradually replace less satisfactory parcels with better ones.
Even so, Boulle’s wines are already impressive – powerful but finely tuned with a striking minerality. So assured is his touch that it is difficult to believe he has only been making wines under his own name since 2000, having previously sold his grapes to the Rasteau and Cairanne coops. A request from Robert Parker in 1999 for samples led to a positive review – an early boost for exports.
In his transition to lower yields (around 30hl/ha) and higher quality, Boulle regards rigorous pruning as crucial and has followed organic methods since 2003. A champion of Mourvèdre – which he finds a better partner for Grenache than the more dominating Syrah (he also vinifies it alone in a stirring barrique-aged cuvée) – he is lucky to own a plot of 100-year-old vines high up in Cairanne and is replanting with Mourvèdre elsewhere. Recent plantings of Counoise will add interesting nuances.
Domaine Les Aphillanthes, Vieilles Vignes, Côtes du Rhône Villages 2003 ****
A tour de force in terms of finesse and sheer vibrancy – 80% Grenache from 50-year-old vines, 20% Mourvèdre from 45-year-old vines. Outstanding value. Up to 2009. h13. /A UK; +33 4 90 37 25 99
Quartier Saint Jean, 84850 Travaillan. Tel: +33 4 90 37 25 99
Mary Dowey is a wine writer and lecturer who runs courses in the Southern Rhône (see www. winefeast.com)
Written by Mary Dowey