French Wine from Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley

For this week’s tasting, we will sample wine from some of the most renowned regions of the world, Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley. There will be three to sample from each place, and altogether one white, two roses, and three reds. The wines are all incredible “values” meaning that, considering the prestigious regions from which they come combined with the fact that they are all artisanally-produced, terroir-driven offerings, the price range of $9.99-$15.99 for the tasting is quite a bargain!

Three of the wines are imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant, two by Bourgeois Family Selections, and one by Luneau USA. These importers are all family-owned, representing “Old World” producers who make wines of quality that also offer a sense of place.

Rosenthal Wine Merchant is owned by Neal Rosenthal, a pioneer in the American Wine Importing business who, since the beginning of his company in 1977, represents distinct wines that reflect his devotion to the concept of terroir. Terroir is the combined effects of a particular site (such as soil, climate, altitude, etc.) that makes each wine produced from that site distinct from any other; the concept of terroir in wines is that each should reflect the particulars of the site from which they come, and that they should, as Neal would say “reveal their characters slurp by slurp as they speak of their origins and their traditions.” Wines that are made from blends of multiple sites (either close by or quite far apart), or wines made by purchased fruit blended from multiple sites or multiple growers, likely will not display a sense of terroir. Anyway, as most of you are aware, Rosenthal’s wines are always authentic, artisanal, hand-crafted examples, that regardless of if you “like the wine or not,” demand respect for their honesty and purity. We will taste a Bordeaux rose, Cotes du Rhone rouge and Cotes du Vaucluse rouge imported by RWM.

Bourgeois Family Selections, owned by Philippe Bourgeois, is a family-owned and operated, specialized importer focusing on French wine from small estates who produce organically and have never before been available in the US market. Philippe is a sixth generation Frenchman in the wine and spirits industry, so he is an expert at finding estate-grown, “undiscovered gems of the Old World” from both emerging regions, as well as traditional ones. His wines present quality and value, and also reflect the places from which they come. From Bourgeois’ portfolio we will try a Bordeaux rouge and Rhone Valley rose.

Luneau USA, Inc. is a French-owned importing company, with a portfolio of mostly French wine, that like Bourgeois, present quality and value. The retail portion of the company was founded in Paris in 1822 when Nicolas Luneau opened its first three stores there. Today there are over 400 Nicolas stores throughout Europe. Here in the United States, Luneau USA Inc. is the sole importer for Castel Freres, the owner of the Nicolas wine shops and the largest wine negociant in France, as well as the fourth largest wine company globally. Castel is also the largest owner of wine in the Medoc region, and the owner of 14 Chateaux in Bordeaux. Needless to say, Luneau USA is altogether a much larger company than either Rosenthal or Bourgeois, but nevertheless, the Bordeaux blanc that we will sample at the tasting offers value and approachability, and is an excellent entry-level Bordeaux!

Chateau La Gravieres Bordeaux Blanc 2011– Entre Deux Mers. A blend of mostly Sauvignon Blanc with 30% Semillon and 5% Muscadelle, made from estate-grown fruit. Lime, lychee, citrus and grapefruit are present on the nose with stone and mineral flavors following on the vibrant palate. It is clean and with nice texture and a peachy finish. An excellent value. Imported by Luneau USA. Tasting $10.99

“Situated 40 kilometers southeast of the city of Bordeaux, Chateau La Rame is among the oldest and most renowned properties in the Sainte Croix du Mont appellation. The house and chai sit on a hill overlooking the Garonne River. The estate was the property of the Baron de Vertheuil, Governor of the Ile d’Oleron, after the French Revolution.  It has been recognized throughout its history as one of the prime sites for producing outstanding wine (gold medals at exhibitions in Bordeaux in 1895 and in Paris in 1900).  The property was purchased by Claude Armand, the father of the current owner, Yves Armand, at a time when the appellation had fallen out of favor. The Armand family has undertaken to re-establish Sainte Croix du Mont as an appellation of merit set to rival the great estates of Sauternes and Barsac. We have represented Chateau La Rame in the US market since the 1989 vintage.

The 20 hectares of Chateau La Rame are set on a clay-limestone soil blessed with an exceptional substratum marked by a bed of fossilized oysters dating from the Tertiary era. The hillside vineyards overlook the Garonne River and face full south as they slope down towards the river. The vineyards are planted 75% to Semillon and 25% to Sauvignon Blanc with an average age of 50 years (as of 2011).  It is from these vineyards that the Bordeaux Blanc Sec (Sauvignon) and the Sainte Croix du Mont “vin liquoreux” is produced. On the sandier soils of the property where the land slopes toward the river, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are planted and are used to produce a Bordeaux Rouge and Bordeaux Rosé.  An additional six hectares are sited on a hillside around the neighboring village of Monprimblanc.  Here, the Armand family produces a Cadillac Cotes de Bordeaux Rouge from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.”

Chateau La Rame Bordeaux Rose 2011– “This wine is a relatively recent addition to the range of wines produced at La Rame.  The grapes are sourced from a two hectare parcel of younger vines (20 years of age as of 2011) that are on the flanks of a hill that descends towards the Garonne River in the village of Sainte Croix du Mont.  The wine is produced via the direct-press method  and is fermented in temperature-controlled vats for six months before it is bottled and released in the spring following the harvest.  The grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon (80%) and Merlot (20%).  About 15,000 bottles are produced annually and we reserve 4200 for our use in the USA.” Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant. Tasting $14.99

“The Château spreads over 40 hectares including 29 hectares of vineyards and 11 of woods and fields. It is located in the village of Villegouge in the Fronsac region, only a few miles from the Grand Cru Saint Emilion and Pomerol. The vines from the Chateau Roc Meynard are right on the border of the Fronsac AOC, separated by just a small dirt alley. The soils are mainly composed of chalk and clay and the vineyards are planted primarily of Merlot. Winemaking at Meynard is ancestral, and like the map of Belleyme dating from the 18th century, tradition proves it. The estate was bought by the Ray family, already winemakers in Fronsac, at the end of the 19th century. During the hard freezes of 1956, the vineyards, at the time half planted in red and  half in white grapes, were partially destroyed and the vines left to the coop. When Philippe Hermouet took over the vineyard in 1987, there were only 4 hectares of red vines left. The replanting and buying back parcels of red grapes lasted until early 2000. This choice was made to respect the terroir and follow the great tradition surrounding the Chateau, from Saint Emilion, Pomerol, and Fronsac. The entire estate was modernized during this time to improve quality and production. The Chateau Roc Meynard is now in perfect condition to produce high-quality wines.”

Chateau Roc Meynard Bordeaux Rouge 2010– “The vines are planted on hillsides within a perfectterroir with chalk, clay, and sandy soils. Aged for 20 months in tank. This is a robustyet elegant and well balanced wine with a perfect expression of ripe red and black fruits with darker spices. Enjoy with all meats and cheeses. A true value Bordeaux! 90% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc.” Imported by Bourgeois Family Selections. Tasting $12.99

“In the “Land of Winds”, producers passionate about their soil have “grown, harvested and made wine from beautiful grapes for you.” In fine (to conclude, in Latin) brings evenings to a close as nicely as it starts them! Dense, fresh and spicy wines. In Fine is the baby project from Raphael Trouiller, rising star of the Ventoux with his garage wine Domaine de Cascavel, a small biodynamic estate making handcrafted, tiny production Ventoux wines.” The In Fine estate practices Sustainable Farming.

In Fine Rose Cotes du Ventoux 2011– “A bright pink color and a nose packed with berries (strawberries, blackberries) for this wine, whose palate confirms the aromas revealed by the nose. A well balanced wine with a good aromatic persistence. The 2008 will perfectly accompanies hams, fish, pizzas and summer barbecues. Serve cold (46.5°F). 100% Stainless Steel Tanks. Grenache 80%, Syrah 10%, and Cinsault 10%.” Imported by Bourgeois Family Selections. Tasting $9.99

“The brothers Soard, Patrick and Vincent, own and operate this impeccable domaine the cellars of which are situated in the village of Beaumes de Venise, in the shadows of Mont Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail.  They trace their lineage as vignerons back to their great-grandfather, Casimir Soard, whose wines were winning medals as early as 1902.  Their grandfather, Louis Soard, specialized in the production of the celebrated Muscat de Beaumes de Venise during the 1950s and his son, Yvon, father to Patrick and Vincent, continued to work and expand the vineyards in Beaumes de Venise and the surrounding communes, although he rendered his grapes to the local cooperative rather than vinifying and commercializing the wines of the domaine.  In 1988, Patrick and Vincent, with the encouragement of their mother, Nicole, decided to renew the fame of the estate and constructed the chai and cellars necessary to vinify and bottle the full range of appellations available.  In 1989, at the outset of this project, we had the good fortune to encounter the family and we immediately engaged to be their importer for the American market.

The vineyards of the domaine are scattered over seven different communes, including, of course, Beaumes de Venise and the surrounding villages.  The appellations include Vin de Pays de Vaucluse, Ventoux (vineyards in the communes of Saint Hippolyte, Piniere, Aubignan and Barroux), Muscat de Beaumes de Venise and Beaumes de Venise (vineyards in Beaumes de Venise, La Roque Alric and Suzette).  The Soard family has always farmed with great concern for the environment and  now all of the wines produced at the domaine are certified “organic”.”

Domaine de Fenouillet Cotes du Vaucluse Vin de Pays 2011– “This lovely “bargain” is a blend of the hybrid grape “Marsellan” and Merlot, a curious concoction that produces a silky wine redolent of red fruit mingled with “sous-bois”.  The grapes are crushed, destemmed and then macerated and fermented for a week or so before being racked into cement cuve for six months before bottling.  We import 7500 to 9000 bottles per year for the US market.” Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant. Tasting $12.99

“This “petite” domaine was created by Gilles Gasq in April 2001. The vineyards are located within the commune of Travaillan, on a splendid plateau northeast of Orange in the southern Rhone. Gilles is a talented vigneron who has honed his skills working as an assistant to Paul Jeune, the proprietor of Domaine Monpertuis in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Domaine La Manarine now encompasses 18 hectares of vineyards situated primarily on what is known as the “Le Plan de Dieu”. For generations, this specific terroir has been recognized as unique. Recent research has identified the particular character of the underlying soil: a deep layer consisting of more than 60% hard limestone “galets” (large smooth pebbles). The climate is typically Mediterranean: relatively hot and dry with an average rainfall of between 600 and 800 mm per year. The rains usually come in the form of thunderstorms in late August which provide the vines with the water necessary to finish the maturation process (which tends to shut down under stressful drought conditions). Grenache Noir is the main grape variety of the region. It performs particularly well on this type of soil and gives wines with more elegance and aroma than is otherwise common. Gilles has recently acquired one hectare of Syrah vines which, when they mature and are used to supplement the Grenache (probably with the 2011 vintage), will then enable the Manarine wines to bear the appellation: Cotes du Rhone Villages – Le Plan de Dieu.  Domaine La Manarine practices organic viticulture.

The vineyards are principally devoted to Grenache but include several parcels planted to white grape varieties.  Gasq vinifies a Cotes du Rhone Blanc, a Cotes du Rhone Rosé and produces two different cuvées of red wine from separate plots of vines. For the moment, the two red Cotes du Rhone are 100% Grenache Noir.”

Domaine de la Manarine Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2010– “The standard bearer of the domaine is the Côtes du Rhône Rouge produced from the younger (but not young) vines (average 35 years old) of the estate.  This wine is 100% Grenache and produces a classically spicy, full-bodied wine that speaks clearly of the “garrigue” of the region. The grapes are destemmed before the fermentation and the cuvaison is on the order of three weeks duration.  The wine is bottled without filtration after twenty to twenty-four months of “elevage”.  The Manarine Cotes du Rhone is our essential wine in this category.  We now purchase 15,000 bottles per annum.” Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant. Tasting $15.99

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Philippe Bourgeois reflections of a wine merchant

Philippe Bourgeois                      Neal Rosenthal’s memoir “Reflections of a Wine Merchant”

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