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Daumen of the Rhône

scott

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Daumen Vaucluse Principauté d'Orange IGP
Vaucluse, France
Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Syrah, Merlot, Cinsault
$16

Daumen Gigondas
Vaucluse, France
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Counoise
$40

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The wines of Jean-Paul Daumen hit Nashville last week, upping the ante on simple, honest wines from the Rhône. Good. We need it.

See, the truth is, wine is not that complicated. Complicated is what the mass-production wineries want, because complicated means you, the end consumer, is less likely to pierce the veil. And they're more likely to increase their profits.

 
 

One of the frustrations in this game is the huge gap between wine drinkers and wine makers. There's a lack of understanding. That's why I'm always telling the stories of the men and women behind the glass. Not so much because they deserve some hagiography for their endeavors (although some do), but because you deserve the truth. You deserve to know who is making this stuff, and how, and with what ideas.

Otherwise, buying wine is like buying ketchup. If you think hard, you know it comes from tomatoes. But who knows what happens in between? Swipe. It's in the cart. Done.

Wine should not be ketchup. Wine is produce, grapes! — farmed, cultivated, bottled, aged.

The Daumen family bought Vieille Julienne, in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, in 1905. Jean-Paul, two generations later, futzed around for a while until he settled back at home in 1990. At that point, Vieille Julienne had been bottling their own wines for about 30 years, under his father's care. But it was JP who converted the land to organic and biodynamic viticulture. Meaning, he took the long view. A lot of hard work up front for a huge payoff decades later.

That brings us to now.

His newest project is simply called Daumen. With Daumen, JP takes what he's learned in his own vineyard, making Vieille Julienne, and turns a shrewd eye to his neighbors. He buys fruit from nearby farmers with whom he has a close working relationship. The vines are tended much in the same way he tends his own vines. But now he isn't constrained to the family estate in Chateauneuf. With this model, he can source fruit from his favorite parcels around the Rhône — Gigondas, Lirac, Orange — and make wine that is, in his words, modest and from the heart.

Daumen wines are also a lot cheaper than those of Domaine de la Vieille Julienne. I cracked a bottle of the Vaucluse IGP last night and shared it with a friend over lamb meatballs. It killed! Rich vibrant black fruits with a backbone of sturdy but not-harsh tannins. There's a savory, spicy, herbaceous pluck to the wine. For $16, I can't think of a single other Rhône wine available right now that competes. Maybe the Côtes-du-Rhône from Saint Cosme, but that wine is all syrah and has a totally different feel.

And the Daumen Gigondas? Don't get me started. Ridiculously good wine that could stand up next to wines at twice the price. Not that it's all about $$. But we're in the serious value zone.

Jean-Paul says this project allows him to make simple and authentic wines. Sourcing the best fruit allows him to guide the wines, rather than twist them into shape. And it shows. He's a humble giant. Because beyond being delicious, these wines don't just taste great, they feel right. And that's not something we find all that often.