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DOMAINE PRADELLE

The Pradelle family history dates back to the mid-1800s in the Northern Rhone.

These days it's Jean-Louis and Antoine Pradelle who work in the vineyards and cellar.

The domaine comprises something close to 35 hectares, most in the Crozes-Hermitage appellation.

There is a small holding in the nearby Saint Joseph appellation as well.

We're currently enthralled with their Crozes-Hermitage Blanc, a wine made from vineyards situated on clay and chalk soils.  The wine is 95% Marsanne with the rest being Roussanne.

After a few months in tank, the wine is typically bottled in February following the harvest to capture the bright, fresh fruit aromas and flavors.

It displays a touch of peach and apricot with a faintly honeyed quality.  The wine is dry and features the grape rather than the barrel.  It's a good wine for seafood, pork, ham, turkey, chicken and on and on...
 

Currently in stock:  DOMAINE PRADELLE 2015 CROZES-HERMITAGE BLANC $21.99

 

 

 

DOMAINE LUCIEN BARROT

There's Châteauneuf-du-Pape and there's Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

This is Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  

But it's more of a traditional style rather than the souped-up versions some importers are demanding of their producers so they can get high numerical scores from various critics who seem to rate wines based upon "size" rather than elegance and complexity.
That's why we find so many wines "on steroids," or so it seems.

You see, to obtain a high score, it's best to have a wine of intense color and high impact.  To do that you typically need ripe to over-ripe grapes.  

We were dismayed a few years ago to taste so many high octane Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines.  I asked "Who's your winemaker, Jim Beam or Jack Daniels?"
I found the wines to be undrinkable.

Now I'll admit that with increasingly warm growing seasons compared to 20 or 30 years ago, even old-timers are making more potent wines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  

So the key is balance.  Some importers urge their producers to blend their wine to have features which will appeal to those who spend all of a couple of minutes with a wine so they can rack up 90+ point scores.

Lucien Barrot launched his wine adventure in 1975, though his family traces its roots back to the late 1600s in the Southern Rhône.  They have 16 hectares of vineyards in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation and 2 hectares which are "merely" Vins de Pays.  The Châteauneuf vineyards are scattered around the region which helps them hedge their bets in the event of an untimely hail storm.  But also the different parcels allow them to assemble a nicely complex bottle of wine.

They're an old school producer.  Lucien's son Regis runs the place and they have a lot of old vines.  Something like 80% of their vineyards are 60 years of age or older.

Regis prefers traditional, old-fashioned winemaking it seems and he does not de-stem the grapes when they arrive at the cellar door.  The juice is fermented in old cement tanks and then the wine is matured in large "foudres" for aging.  No small barrels are employed and Barrot doesn't want oak to get in the way of the Grenache.  There's 10% Syrah in most vintages and another 10% split between Mourvèdre and Cinsault.  These are all co-fermented.  The wine spends maybe three to four weeks on the skins, so it picks up a bit of tannin.  Barrot then ages the wine in large wood until he feels it's at the proper stage for bottling.
 
 
We have had a number of vintages of Barrot Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the wines have been consistently good.  We sometimes use the word "rustic" to note wines which are a bit quirky, but it's an appropriate adjective for these as they're not slick, gussied-up, woodsy fruit bombs.  

The 2011 is the current vintage.  It's a charming Châteauneuf-du-Pape and you can certainly enjoy it now.  On the other hand, another 5 to 10 years of bottle aging isn't out of the question, either.

Pairing this with a classic Provençal leg of lamb ain't a bad idea.  Neither is duck or a daube of lamb.  We normally decant this an hour, or so, before dinner.  Cellar temp is ideal, especially on warm California evenings.  

Currently in stock:  2011 LUCIEN BARROT CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE Sale $44.99

 


A late winter-time snapshot in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

 

DOMAINE BRUNELY

The Brunely winery is owned by the Carichon family and home-base is located in the Vacqueyras appellation, though they own vineyards in Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape as well.

They winery is situated in the little town of Sarrians, so you'd need a ten minute drive south of Vacqueyras or a 20 minute ride east from Orange to get there.

Charles Carichon, who took over managing the estate from his Pop in 1990, now has about 70 hectares of vineyards.  They make a nice range of wines, but the one which caught our attention is a white wine from the Vacqueyras appellation.

It's a 2013 vintage bottling and the vineyard is on an alluvial terrace with lots of little stones and pebbles.

The blend is intriguing and it seems to be a puzzle which fits together beautifully.  The blend is 45% Marsanne with 25% Roussanne.  Then add to the mix 15% Grenache Blanc and 15% Viognier.  We like the white fruit notes of these various grapes, but we think the Viognier may account for the lovely peach notes and a touch of apricot.  
They leave the wine in the concrete tanks after the fermentation and actually do a lees-stirring once or twice a week for two to three months.  This may help add a little bit of weight to the wine, though it's not a big or ponderous white.

In fact, we find the acidity gives a nice 'snap' to the wine.

It's a remarkably charming bottle and pairs handsomely with shrimp and prawns, though we did have a bottle with some quickly seared sea scallops (actually, we paid a lot for those $ea $callops!) and this was a good match.

It's a thoroughly delicious dry white, so conduct you own experimentation and see what you find.

Currently in stock:  2013 BRUNELY VACQUEYRAS  $19.99

 

 

DOMAINE CÉDRIC PARPETTE

The seeds for this small domaine were planted in 1986 when 2.5 hectares of abandoned vines were purchased by René Fernandez, father-in-law of Cédric Parpette.  

You can understand why the parcel might have been abandoned in those days.  Grape and wine prices were low and working a steep vineyard site with 35° to 40° slopes was not walk in the park.
 
Most people would not be remotely interested in working such a vineyard site.  It's called Montmain and this is located in the Côte Brune part of the Côte-Rôtie appellation, as opposed to the Côte Blonde.  Wines from this area are described as being darker and more structured than those of the Côte Blonde.

Parpette's vineyard sites now comprise 3.5 hectares and the average age of his vines is 30 years.  He makes but 6000 bottles of wine in a bountiful vintage, so we are lucky to have a few bottles in the shop.

The grapes are hand-harvested, of course, as you'd topple head over heels into the river if you were foolish enough to think you could drive a machine harvester in the vineyard.  The grapes are de-stemmed and the juice is fermented in concrete tanks.  There's a two to three week maceration period, depending upon the vintage.  The new wine is then racked into 228 liter barrels, with some of the cooperage being brand new and some having had one or two wines.  Parpette likes to bottle the wine after a year, or so, in wood.
 
 
The wine, with a relatively short evolution in wood, then needs a bit of time to blossom in the bottle.  If you have experience with young Côte-Rôtie, then you know how these Syrah wines, a bit like Barolo or Barbaresco, need bottle aging to develop and hit a point of development where they are seriously interesting and complex.  Otherwise, these sorts of bottles are tight and wound-up.
 

Cédric bottles his wine without filtering it, so with a few years in the bottle, decanting it is probably a good idea.  And if you're going to drink the 2013 in its youth, decanting it for aeration is also a good idea.

We currently have the 2012...a beautiful baby of a wine, but nicely charming to drink presently and it ought to age handsomely.
 

Currently in stock:  2012 CÉDRIC PARPETTE CÔTE-RÔTIE "Montmain" $56.99

 

 


DOMAINE PIERRE GONON

The appellation which is today called Saint-Joseph, is said to once have been called Vin de Mauves once upon a time.  It was even mentioned in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables.

It's a large appellation, along with Crozes-Hermitage.  The domaine of Pierre Gonon is regarded by most as a benchmark for the appellation.

Pierre Gonon has been instrumental in elevating Saint-Joseph to a level of prestige and he helped draw up the delimited boundaries for the Saint-Joseph appellation.  

Gonon Senior hung up his picking knife in 1989 when his sons Jean and Pierre took over the estate, which comprises 10.5 hectares within the Saint-Joseph appellation.

The sons cultivate in an organic fashion and the vines are, within the Saint-Joseph appellation, almost all planted around the mid-1980s.  They do have a small parcel of Chasselas (hey, they're not too far from Switzerland) whose vines are said to be more than a century old.  There's a "young" parcel of fifteen year old Syrah vines which, while situated within the Saint Joseph area, is declassified to merely a "Vin de Pays" as the Gonon brothers will tell you it's on a flatland and the soil does not produce as noble a wine to be worthy of the grander appellation.


Jean Gonon


Midway through a tasting of various vintages of Saint-Joseph...


...nearing the end of a vertical tasting of Gonon's magnificent Saint Joseph wines.

Most Rhône wine aficionados will tell you Pierre Gonon is the benchmark for the wines of Saint-Joseph and, given the limited production, you can understand why these have cult status.

The brothers are a bit old-fashioned.  For example, the vineyards are plowed by horse except for the ultra-steep areas where they have the plow on a cable and it's motored by a winch.  And yet a few spots are even too treacherous for this!

We have a 2014 Saint-Joseph and it's a baby.  It needs until maybe 2012, or so, before it will hit its stride.  

In visiting the domain and being privileged to taste numerous vintages, one could see, apart from vintage variation, a learning curve.  The older vintages were quite good, though, but I'd say the more recent vintages are even more compelling.

Currently in stock:  GONON 2014 SAINT-JOSEPH Rouge  Sale $49.99

What do you serve with good Saint-Joseph?

How about a great leg of lamb?

 


The Chien du Cave.

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