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DOMAINE DU TUNNEL

This small estate is relatively young...founded in 1994.  And Stephane Robert took over some vineyards from a vigneron named Alain Juge.  

The Northern Rhone appellation of Cornas has long been in the shadows of Cote-Rotie and Hermitage, but with skilled vintners, the appellation is becoming slightly more well-known.

Stephane Robert may be considered for membership in that elite group and his wines are well known these days amongst Rhone aficionados.

His father worked for an insurance company and Stephane spent his youth in the Jura region, between the Rhone and Switzerland.  As a kid, Robert worked for the Grippat estate in Saint-Joseph.  While working for Grippat, he set about assembling his own modest domaine, renting vineyards in Cornas.   Today the Domaine du Tunnel features a precious few hectares in Cornas and small holdings in St. Joseph and Saint-Peray. 
 


Wines from Cornas have not been put in the bottle for a particularly long time.  Syrah from this little area was often sold in bulk.  Bordeaux was known to be a good customer of these wines, for example.  Local restaurateurs might come and haul away bulk wine to serve by the pichet in their dining establishment.  It was only in the 1950s that some enterprising fellow, one Georges Bessanay, started bottling wine he'd made in Cornas.  Since most of the production from this region was handled by negociant firms, actual winery facilities are scarce in town.
 


Further, it's a small appellation that's had more than its share of hardship.  With rugged, terraced hillside vineyards to tend, the task of grape-growing is not a challenge welcomed by many.  If it wasn't a war taking prospective viticulteurs from the region, there were the vagaries of the climate wreaking havoc.  Recent statistics indicate there are but close to 100 hectares of Cornas under vine, less than half the size of Cote-Rotie and less than one-third of Hermitage.  (For comparison, Crozes-Hermitage is approximately 1200 hectares and St. Joseph tallies to a bit more than 900.)
 


Stephane Robert has Syrah vines in various sites within the Cornas appellation. Combe is a sandy, granitic site with vines dating back to the early 1900s.  Sauman has vines planted in the early 2000s and it's a more pure granite vineyard site.  There are tiny patches in several other parts of Cornas, allowing Robert to assemble a really good wine with many components.  We suspect this explains the rather complex nature of his Syrah, a fantastically good wine, even in its youth.  While some Northern Rhone Syrahs are 'closed' and very shy when young, one of the nice features of this wine is how obviously good it is shortly after bottling.  Yes, there is "light at the end of the tunnel" as they say.
 
We have the 2008 in stock.  Two decades ago the notion of opening (and enjoying) a 2 year old bottle of Cornas was unthinkable.  The wines were too hard, harsh, coarse, astringent and bitter.  So we're a bit taken aback to find such a well-made Syrah with bright berryish red fruit aromas and hints of spice and pepper that's actually approachable as a young wine.  And it's going to improve, soften and evolve with additional time in the bottle.

Well-priced, too.  
 

Currently in stock:  2008 DOMAINE du TUNNEL Cornas $49.99


The Chien du Cave.

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DOMAINE D'AERIA

Though he's primarily specializing in wines and spirits from the Southwest of France, Charles Neal became familiar with this Rhône property thanks to his acquaintance with a pharmacist in Montréal du Gers where he found the wonderful wines of Château de Pellehaut.  Though he lacked a prescription for Rhône wines, the pharmacist gave him a bottle of wine from Domaine D'Aeria and Monsieur Neal was impressed enough to pay a visit to the estate. 

The estate has been "in the family" since the 1700s.  The domaine comprises some 18 hectares presently, 12 of them being Grenache, with 2 hectares each of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignane.

Monsieur Gap pours some of his wares.
We have the outstanding 2006 Cairanne. The appellation of Cairanne is one of the better sites in the southern Rhône and it's typically bottled with that "superior" designation.  Bob is a big fan of the wines from this village (not far from Gigondas and Vacqueyras). D'Aeria's wine is made of about 70% Grenache, the vines being 40+ years of age.  The balance is Syrah and Mourvèdre.  Bottled unfiltered, this shows the classic berry and spice notes of top Rhône wines.  It is drinkable now and likely to cellar well for another 3-5 years.
 

The winery is a very traditional, functional facility.


Given that there's still a calendar hanging up on the wall from 1967, I'm guessing not much has changed over the past several decades.



The 2006 has recently arrived.  This is a beautifully balanced wine.  The color is dark, but not inky.  The aromas are teeming with red fruits and I find a note of camellias with an underlying floral tone.   It's ripe, but not jammy and over-ripe.  The wine has a bit of weight on the palate without being heavy.  It's lovely now and ought to really blossom over the next year with some bottle aging.  I expect it may go 5-8 years if you have that much "won't power" to not open the bottles!  At its modest price, don't miss it!
Currently in stock:  2006 Cairanne Cuvée Tradition $14.99

MY DINNER WITH THE GAPS
I have actually dined Chez Gap three times...each time it's been memorable!
The "Tour de France" link in the frame to the left and down below will get you, eventually, to a dinner with Magalie and Roland.  
 









DOMAINE CATHERINE LE GOEUIL

We're big fans of the wines of the Cairanne appellation, finding them to be some of the most complex of the Southern Rhône. 

Catherine Le Goeuil has about 17 hectares of vineyards, the average age of her vineyards being about 40 years.   She's a big fan or organic farming and does not use any herbicides or pesticides.  Her vineyards were designated as "biologique" as of the 2000 vintage.

We had a lovely 2001 bottling from this estate and today her wines are imported by Kermit Lynch.  The 2005 La Felsch bottling of Cairanne is terrific.  It's Grenache-based, of course, but there are numerous other varieties in the mix:  Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Counoise.  I like the dark cherry and brushy, spice notes.  The wine is medium-full on the palate and immediately drinkable.  It can probably be cellared for several years, too.

Currently in stock:  2005 Cairanne "La Felsch" $19.99






MAISON ARNOUX
Ancestors of the Arnoux family trace the roots of the family tree back to the early 1700s.  

By 1936 the Arnoux clan realized demand for their wines was greater than their 24 hectares of vineyards could handle, so they started buying grapes from their neighbors.  Today they have a nice, but smallish negociant business and offer a range of Rhône wines.

We tasted through their range of wines and found a 2005 vintage Châteauneuf-du-Pape that's worth a look.  It's not made for today's wine critics who enjoy powerful, high-octane red wines.  The alcohol level is rather modest and the wine doesn't have 50 years' worth of tannin.

It's 65% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre, 5% Cinsault and 5% of the very obscure grape called Terret Noir.  The wine is medium-bodied, not a heavy, powerful blockbuster, with nice bottle bouquet.  There's an earthy aspect to this wine and light spice notes with a touch of cherry in the background.  It's a wine well-suited to roasted chicken, mild lamb dishes, etc.  Drinkable now and it should last well for another 5-10 years.

Currently in stock:  2005 VIEUX CLOCHER Chateauneuf-du-Pape  $29.99

 

 
 


The light yellow-colored zone in the northwest corner of this map depicts the Côtes du Vivarais appellation,

 

 

 

 



DOMAINE GALLETY

Not many people have heard of the Côtes du Vivarais appellation.  Part of its obscurity is due to the fact that it only was granted AOC-status in 1999 and part because most of the wine produced there is made by grower's cooperative wineries.

One of the few leading lights in the Côtes du Vivarais is Alain Gallety, a fellow whose wine career, I believe, began farther north in the Beaujolais region.  After seeing growers use all sorts of chemical treatments in the vineyards, Gallety realized there had to be a healthier, cleaner path in viticulture.  

His father, a business man from Lyon, had purchased the weekend get-away property in 1974 in a region situated at the northern limits of the Southern Rhône Valley.  Alain cultivates about 15 hectares of vines, Grenache and Syrah dominating the estate.  And the vineyards are handled using biodynamic farming methods...

It's easy to say the wine has elements of both Northern & Southern Rhône, not merely because of their geographical location, but because the wine does have elements of cooler climate Syrah and Grenache.  

The 2007 is a deep, dark-colored wine with intense berry notes and some spice tones.  I thought there was a nice bit of wood showing, too.  Thoroughly drinkable and showing well now, this should cellar handsomely for another ten years, maybe more.  But it's too much to resist drinking in its youth...

Currently in stock:  2007 DOMAINE GALLETY  $23.99
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
DOMAINE DE LA DAMASE
This is a smallish family-run domaine in the town of Violes in the southern Rhône.  A young California winemaker has befriended the Latour family and now imports a small quantity of their wines.

He's had some input as to the production and blending of a few things and we found a couple of interesting wines in the portfolio.

Most interesting is a wine called "Le Clochard," a French term for "hobo."  Winemaker Kenny Likitprakong makes wines under his "Hobo" label in California and he's imported some terrific wines from the Domaine de la Damase.

Le Clochard is a mere "vin de table" because for southern Rhône producers, the wine must have a minimum of 40% Grenache for the Côtes du Rhône designation.  This wine is a mere 5% Grenache, 5% Syrah and 90% Mourvèdre.   That means it cannot be sold as Côtes du Rhône and it's "merely" a Vin de Table.  No vintage date can appear on the label, either, so they put a small icon of a rooster, as 2005 in the Chinese calendar is a year of the rooster.  The wine is remarkably good and quite soulful.  It's a bit more supple than most Bandol wines, for example, but you can still find the fragrances and flavors of Mourvèdre.

A second wine from this estate is labeled as "Vin de Pays de Vaucluse," since Merlot is not high on the list of approved varieties in this part of the world.
We were surprised to find Merlot to be included in this wine, since to us, frankly, it resembles more a nice Côtes du Rhône.  It's medium-light bodied and offers a lovely fragrance of cherries, berries and a hint of spice.  This is the sort of red you'll want to serve lightly cooled to cellar temp.

Currently in stock:  LE CLOCHARD Vin de Table  SALE $17.99
DOMAINE DE LA DAMASE Vin de Pays de Vaucluse Sold Out
 

 

 

 


DOMAINE SAINT-AMANT
The Wallut family was looking for a vacation residence and they found a nice little place in the Rhône. 

They're located way up in the hills, the nearest town being Suzette.  Beaumes de Venise is the appellation for the Côtes-du-Rhône wines here.  The soils are much like those in Gigondas, 

Jacques Wallut is an older gentleman who's a wine fancier.  He made some money working in the computer industry and now he's got a nice little wine cellar and vineyards well off the beaten path in the Southern Rhône Valley.  The property had some 50 to 80 year old Grenache vines and some 30 to 40 year old Syrah.  But Wallut planted Viognier, the first vines being put into the ground in 1992.    There's a tiny bit of Roussanne planted as well.
 


The Saint Amant name comes from a large mountain peak that's above their vineyards.  Wallut's first vintage was 1995 and he made some reds.  But it's a particular bottling of a special cuvée that's predominantly Viognier as well as an unusually serious Côtes du Rhône that are of interest.


Dubbed "Tabardonne," the wine is 95% Viognier.  The grapes are whole cluster pressed and the juice is put into stainless steel tanks for two or three days so it clarifies just a little bit.  Then it is racked into wood, something like one-quarter to one-third of the oak barrels being brand new.  Allier oak, they think.  The wine has a fantastic aroma of ripe peach fruit and just a touch of vanillin from the wood.  

Currently in stock:  2007 DOMAINE SAINT-AMANT "BEAUMES DE VENISE"  Tabardonne (Viognier/Roussanne) Sold Out

 






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