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Purveyor of uncommon wine, spirits & beer.

Filtering by Tag: Rhone

Hervé Souhat: Does Not Intervene

scott

It's little wonder why Hervé Souhaut of Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet has risen to stardom within the geeky world of natural wine. He's smart, unpretentious, and very good at what he does. Formerly trained as a biologist, Hervé takes great pains to know the science of vineyard management. Not the "better living through science" type of science, mind you, that ends again and again in a cul-de-sac of monoculture. But the basic, elemental geology and ecology of the vines. Where they come from, how they got here and what they need to keep on transcending.

In doing so, he allows for what I've heard termed a 'greater transparency.' It's this idea of the wine as a lens into its beginnings, but let me back up. I haven't met Souhaut and I think his English is about as good as my French, so if we did meet it would be a lot of smiling and nodding and probably me making an ass of myself using the three expletives I know en français. So I haven't asked, but my impression from those who know him is that he keeps his theorizing to a minimum and lets his wines speak for themselves. Rightly.

Hevré Souhaut courtesy Jenny & Francois Selections

I do know he makes wines that make me feel. It's a sensual experience. And while I like to peel back the layers of the wine and find out about his soil composition and even read that he owns a wine press used by one of his stylistic predecessors and heroes Jules Chauvet—after all, this is the kind of thing that makes the man himself charming and not only his wines—it matters not to my actual encounter with what's in the glass. That's between me and the glass. And to make me feel, the wine has to win my heart every time.

Through the meticulous management of his vineyards in Ardeche (the little sliver between the regions of Northern & Southern Rhone), Souhaut brings a purer version of the elements into his cellar. The land, its history and prehistory, the dynamic ecosystem it is today, the sun and rain and wind: all that we call terroir in this business, and more. Transparency as I understand it—and that's what I'm claiming Souhaut's wines achieve—means allowing the raw combination of those elements to ring out with clear voices in the end. And it has to happen in the vineyard, because once the grapes hits the press M. Souhaut does not intervene.

It takes an exceptional amount of control. He takes his hands away, lets the juice just be. Call it alchemy (I'll call it spontaneous fermentation) but the juice, as if filled with a divine breath, comes bubbling to life. And through it we get a clear sense of the particularity of that place at that time, the special combination of the elements of those grapes. Transparent, with no smudges or fingerprints clouding our view. What makes a Romaneaux-Destezet different than an average wine? He really doesn't muck about the way other winemakers do. Even less so than many who practice organic farming, or use native yeasts. These are pure vineyard, and it's amazing to taste what pure vineyard really is.

We only get these wines every so often. So if you like stuff, and think stuff should be done right, I suggest you come face to face with a wine that will challenge your very notions of itself.

Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet

Gamay "La Souteronne " — $25 delicate like you'd think of a gamay, but inky and floral with a touch of wild animal

Syrah — $29 bacon fat and black cherry with a modest curviness for the tooth

Domaine Gramenon: Impressions

scott

Michèle Aubèry-Laurent embodies an abstract quality that I love about wine. I have not met her, and yet in tasting what she makes I feel a connection to the land she cultivates, the life she leads, the culture she inhabits. Over vast space and time I am transported by her wines, from where I sit and commune with friends to a place between my world and hers, a third dimension that, at its most artful, is also spiritual. But it's just booze, right? Why all the metaphysics? The thing is, Domaine Gramenon captures a realness of experience that is hard to put into words, and so I can only relate it to certain other encounters, a Cezanne painting or an Antonioni film. A bottle of L'Elementaire between friends creates an impressionistic affectation, a pathway through the senses into something altogether new. No, I'm not glasses deep in a bottle just now, as I write this, but I remember the last time I was and I look forward to the next time with a fondness and anticipation. Mostly, I hope to share one of these bottles with someone who has never had one, because like playing Leonard Cohen to someone for the first time, I know the look that will fall across her face and the sense of strangeness we will share, that we are traveling together in the world without moving.

Enough of all that. At some point it is just a bottle of wine, nothing more. But even then Gramenon is something special. Michèle and her husband Philippe bought the Gramenon property in 1978 and produced their first vintage in '79. They have farmed the same way since the beginning, what she says they used to call "normal work" but is now referred to as "natural methods." Philippe died tragically in 1999, at which point Michèle took over tending the vines and raising their three children. Her son Maxime has helped since 2006, and now makes two cuvees of his own. Their vines are all organic, some biodynamic, and their cellar strategy is one of minimal intervention. No fining, no filtration, no additives. Some new oak imparts a strength to the otherwise delicate character of the wine, and in this case subtracts absolutely nothing from the wine's integrity.

If you can't tell, I'm a little enamored. Forgive the nostalgia, it's just a little case of longing, wishing every bottle of wine were as good as these.

Domaine Gramenon
Côtes-du-Rhône "Poignée Raisins" (grenache) — $28

youngish vines, concrete-tank aging, fresh and vibrant nose opens into juicy palate, subtle meatiness for a firm finish

Côtes-du-Rhône "L'Elementaire" (grenache) — $33

45-y.o. vines, more grip and grain than her other cuvees, rich red color, sun-ripened sweet fruit balanced by firm tannins

Côtes-du-Rhône "Sierra du Sud" (syrah) — $38

young and old vines, darkly colored, meaty but fresh, peppery notes, strongly aromatic, rich palate

Tavel Trinquevedel

scott

Tavel is the only wine region in all of France whose sole product is rosé. This unique disposition means that, unlike most rosé producers in other regions, rosé is the final destination for grapes in this appellation and not a stop along the way. That means the vines themselves are farmed with the exact balance of rosé in mind. So if good wine is made in the vineyard, then the region of Tavel has every advantage for making superior wine. For centuries Tavel was known as the wine of kings—this was the favorite wine of the Sun King, Louis XIV. And today it is one of only a small number of appellations with grand cru status.

In the last couple decades, however, the wines have become somewhat pricey. And tradition has kept much of the region at a standstill while other, less rigid appellations have been able to experiment and forge new bonds with an ever-broadening fan base. So in the U.S. it's something of a hidden gem.

Chateau de Trinquevedel is a fourth-generation estate located on some of Tavel's most prized land. The soil here is made up primarily of the big round stones (called galets rouléts) for which Chateauneuf-du-Pape is so famous. And for me, Trinquevedel is priced exactly right. About half of this wine comes from Grenache; the other half is a blend of several other Southern Rhône varietals. This is a sturdy and intense rosé, bulging with primary red fruit in the glass.

The Wine

Chateau de Trinquevedel Tavel — $20 Firm tannins lend muscle to the bright flavors of ripe red berries and spicy garrigue.

Xavier Vignon

scott

I can think of several reasons to love a wine. Lately, I've been focused on the stories inside the bottles, the farming, the philosophy, the history. But it doesn't end there. Sometimes a wine has so much character that everything else just sort of fades behind the radiance of the experience. So it is with the wines of Xavier Vignon, a master oenologist who has put his mark on Châteauneuf-du-Pape by consulting with many of the best producers in this storied appellation. The Xavier brand is his own private label, under which he has released offerings of rosé, Côtes du Rhone rouge and blanc, as well as several crus appellations including a Gigondas and his crowning achievement, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape "Anonyme."

At the shop, we've taken a pretty strong position on these wines, bringing in two vintages of the "Anonyme" (2007, 2009), the Gigondas, and his basic red and rosé. And while value might not be the first thing any of us associate with Gigondas or Châteauneuf-du-Pape, tasting the "Anonyme" and knowing the sort of expertise and care that goes into its making, value is exactly what springs to mind. It comes in well under the cost of the big names for whom Vignon consults, and yet is every bit as complex and mind-meltingly delicious.

Hard to imagine a better set of wines for Easter. Wild herbs and dark fruits mingle for a spicy, luscious, old-meets-new fantasia of aroma and flavor.

The Wines

Xavier Châteauneuf-du-Pape "Cuvée Anonyme" 2007 — $70 Xavier Châteauneuf-du-Pape "Cuvée Anonyme" 2009 — $75

Xavier Gigondas — $43

Xavier Côtes du Rhône rouge — $20 Xavier Côtes du Rhône rosé — $13