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Rhone Night at Studio TEW

Last Monday, we hosted a tasting of 21 Rhone wines, with a number of selections from Chateauneuf du Pape.  In the past year, we’ve added three producers to the Rhone portion of our book–Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, Chateau Maucoil, and Domaine des Espiers. And so today, I sat with Patrick Burke, our French Portfolio Director, to discuss the aim behind these selections, and the future of our French book.

“When we add someone to the book,” says Patrick, “there has to be a main theme to the story that fits with what we do.  The histories of Vieille Julienne and Chateau Maucoil go way back.  There’s a sense of history passed down from generation to generation.”  And while “We don’t rule out anyone if they’re [practicing and] not certified organic, it’s good to have a stable of winemakers who share our philosophy, of how to treat their vines naturally.”

Biodynamic practices in the vineyard help reduce yields, as does old vines, which help intensify the flavors, paving a pathway for the high acidity to come through.  We see this exemplified in the wines of Vieille Julienne, an estate that has been practicing biodynamic and Demeter certified with some very old (100+ years) since 2002; and in the wines of Chateau Maucoil, a winery that has supported vineyards on its property since the 17th century, with 70+ year old vines that go into the production of “Privilege”.  Domaine des Espiers has been practicing organic since 1989 and are set to become certified by 2012; and Domaine de l’Harmas, a small husband and wife team with 4ha of vines, also practice organic farming, but are too small to justify certification.

Partially driven by his personal preference for the wines of Chateauneuf du Pape, Patrick was also moved by the sudden death of Luc Perrin in 2010.  The son of Roger Perrin, who passed in 1986, Luc was seen as a rising star at the helm of Domaine Roger Perrin in Chateauneuf du Pape.  It was the inner turmoil that followed that inspired Patrick to extend his outlook.

“If you’re not careful with the vinification process or with vineyard treatments, you can end up with fruit bombs from Southern Rhone or Chateauneuf du Pape,” says Patrick.  All four of our Chateauneuf du Pape producers are located in the northern section of the appellation, where the soil is sandy, which leads to higher acidity in the wines.

Looking forward, Patrick hopes to investigate Northern Rhone next year, seeking producers with whom he/we can develop friendly relationships.  In addition to sharing the same philosophy, Patrick prefers that an estate “makes one great wine rather than 20 different cuvées,” he said.  “Domaine du Murinais from Crozes Hermitage is a good example, a producer with a lot of vineyards, but Luc Tardy chose to be the first in his family to be a winemaker.  He could have many wines, but he chose the best parcels of his land to keep for himself, to make one great wine.  The rest he sells to the co-op.”

Domaine Roger Perrin Chateauneuf du Pape “Reserve des Vieilles Vignes” 2007–With 43ha of vineyards, spread out over 61 plots, Domaine Roger Perrin farms property that’s been in the family since the early 1900’s.  Here, you’ll find vines that are 100+ years in age, with 60 years old being the average age of vines.  The “Reserve des Vieilles Vignes” offers big black fruit with whispering notes of cocoa and licorice, followed by red berry acidity and spice that really lingers.

Domaine Gourt de Mautens Rasteau 2007–Certified organic since 1998, these 13ha of vines have been in the family for four generations. Grapes are hand-harvested and two-thirds of the vines range in age from 45-90 years old.  The 2007 vintage shows aromas of plum fruit before the bite.  On the palate, the fruit is large and fresh, but not jammy, with a hint of licorice upholding as the backbone of the fruit.  The tannins texture like cocoa, and the wine is delicious!

Chateau Maucoil Chateauneuf du Pape “Privilege” 2006–With sustainable practices in the vineyard that includes no chemical fertilizers or insecticides, Chateau Maucoil began their conversion to full organic viticulture this year.  The 2006 “Privilege” offers voluptuous fruit that further ripens on the palate with cocoa and tea leaf tannins that smoke near the end.  Dark spices part to make room for a final cherry pop at the finish.

Chateau Maucoil Chateauneuf de Pape “L’Espirit de Maucoil” 2000–Made from a selection of the finest barrels of “Privilege”, “L’Espirit de Maucoil” 2000 is a chocolate covered cherry with great minerality, a touch of salinity on the fruit, black tea and acidity that approaches the palate as a wave nears the shore. Wow!

Domaine de la Vieille Julienne Chateauneuf du Pape 2005–In the family since 1905, these vineyards are biodynamically farmed, producing wines that have been critically acclaimed since 1998.  With graphite minerality and bright acidity, the 2005 is approachable now with much promise in the bottle for years to come.

Domaine de la Vieille Julienne Chateauneuf du Pape Réservé 2005–Round, ripe black plum with bloom on skin that evolves to red on nose and palate.  Cinnamon spice heats and tickles the back of the throat.  Sour cherry takes the standing ovation.

Domaine de la Vieille Julienne Chateauneuf du Pape Réservé 2006–Chocolate and cherry blossoms with gripping tannins like nightfall in a black and white print photograph.

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