From Gigondas, France to Rotie Cellars in Washington State

Autumn Grape Vines, Red Mountain, Benton City, Washington

Autumn Grape Vines, Red Mountain, Benton City, Washington

Compare Rotie Cellars 2012, Southern Blend, Washington State 

With 65% Grenache, 25% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah this is a blend of the grapes similar to the  Southern Rhone that will approximate Guigal’s Gigondas Rouge.

It  would appear at first impressions that more new oak has been used on the Rotie wine.  Oak

Rotie Cellars 2012 Southern Blend

Rotie Cellars 2012 Southern Blend

aromas and ripe dark fruit dominate on the nose.  Prune (for some noses, plum) with coffee and smoke create a solid aromatic foundation.  The expected effects of Mourvedre are easily detected.  This is a much darker wine than the Gigondas and although the individual flavors are not so apparent on the nose, a soft attack (which this dark wine does not forecast) is however what we find on the palate.  The synchronism of the elements make for a harmonious experience in the mouth.  This is a soft monster.

A New World wine often shows these characteristics: fullness and softness.  Riper fruit, deeper tones, application of noticeable oak and the overall attempt by the winemaker clearly stated by this wine that “I am something.”  Both wines stimulate our emotional responses.  The Rotie also asks the question, “Do you really think I come from the New World and am crafted for New World palates?  And have I succeeded?”  Answer: Yes, if this is your style.

What about Old World mineralogy?  Any of that here?  Hardly!  One might strain to notice it, but the design is fruit at its fullest with character added for distinctiveness.  Personally the prune/plum character is not my favorite and the grapes were a little too ripe at harvesting for me, but that’s a style issue.

Make your analysis.  Which do you like best and why?  What are the similarities and dissimilarities?  Does the comparison advance your knowledge of what is happening in France these days?

Rating:  89

Wine from the Heart of the Southern Rhone: Gigondas

Grapes growing in Cotes du Rhone vineyards in Gigondas, Vaucluse Provence south of France.

Grapes growing in Cotes du Rhone vineyards in Gigondas, Vaucluse Provence south of France.

Following the advances of vineyard management in the New World, winemakers in Gigondas are vinifying small lots within a vineyard and trying to discover the important variations in quality that their vineyards offer.  New oak is being used and wines of longevity and great depth are being fashioned.  Grenache is still the dominant grape and the use of Syrah is lessening.

A popular wine is Guigal’s Gigondas Rouge 2011, which is very much in keeping with the style of a New World wine.  Rich, smooth and full of flavor, this superbly balanced wine borders on not being characterful enough to give it a distinctive expression of place.  Balance often brings to the fore the description of finesse and this wine is an expression of fine harmony, if not of distinctive character.

Light aromatics due to such a perfect blend of flavors still offers a raspberry lift on the edges.  Touches of redcurrant, peach and apricot (Grenache flavors) on a licorice base with hints of undergrowth are present.  It is a powerful, full-bodied wine with soft tannins and a smooth attack.

France is (in some of its wine regions) beginning to show us wines that reflect the style of New World wines, as this one does.

We’ll compare Rotie Cellars 2012, Southern Blend, Washington State in our next article.

Rating 89

A ‘Modernized’ Grand Cru Wine from St. Emilion

St Emilion vineyardChateau Haut-Segottes St Emilion Grand Cru 2010

Like all of Bordeaux, St. Emilion is undergoing some major changes in the way their wines are being made — in both the vineyard and the winery.  In the past, it has been known for rich red wine and that remains true.  While that remains true, but as more attention is being paid to the vineyard practices, the wines are becoming richer, showing more fruit and alcohol as the grapes ripen more.  Climate change, whether cyclical or the result of a warmer climate due to polluted air as some feel, is making a difference.

This wine is promoted as Grand Cru and therein lies a caution for the uneducated buyer.  Unless it says Grand Cru Classe, the term does not mean what one would commonly think.  The top ranking is Premier Grand Cru Classe and the second, Grand Cru Classe.  All the rest are lumped under the term Grand Cru.  There are hundreds of the latter, so don’t expect when you see ‘Grand Cru’ that you are buying the top class wine.  That said, some of the Grand Crus can be excellent wines and very impressive.

The main grapes are Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  This one shows a little age and will illustrate some aspects of both St. Emilion and the modernization of winemaking.  It is deep, ruby and almost completely opaque, raising our expectations of a rich concentrated wine.

Fruit, earth and oak flavors emerge, creating a complex wine of medium aromatic intensity.  Reminders of dark chocolate and licorice fold over a vanilla, blackberry, and blackcurrant base.  The wine has a smooth texture, but there is, as we should expect of French wines in general, a minerality that suggests its Old World origin.

Affordable Introduction to Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Vignobles de Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Vignobles de Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvee de Nalys of Domaine de Nalys, 2014

It’s hard to make a wine from this region without it giving itself away on the first whiff.  In this case, the wine is leathery, with smoke, tar, slightly burnt toast, clove, hints of pepper, and loads of blackberry livened by a dried strawberry edge.  To me, because of my love of rare teas, it is reminiscent of Lapsong Souchong a Chinese smoked, black tea.

To introduce you to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which can be very expensive, here is an inexpensive  Chateauneuf-du-Pape — Cuvee de Nalys of Domaine de Nalys, 2014, marketed under the Kirkland brand.  The grapes are: Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Vaccarese, Counoise, and Mourvedre — six of the eighteen allowed in this French appellation.  It is also difficult to find a New World wine that is made of the same grapes to compare Old World and New World realistically, so we will hail the wines from this region as uniquely French.  This one can be a pleasant sipping wine and a great food accompaniment.  However, for some it will be an acquired taste, just like the Chinese tea I referenced.

The wine is deep in color (lighter than some Chateauneuf-du-Pape) and cannot hide its mineral notes, which are so much a signature of this region.  Galet (stones) are everywhere in this arid region and it is known for vines growing in the rocks.  But the soils vary greatly from clay to loam to galet.  Many of the wineries source grapes from the different soils so as to further layer their wines with flavors and depth.  Chateauneuf-du-Pape is the prize wine of the Southern Rhone.  This is wine with power.  An alcohol of 15.5% is now about the minimum you will find, although the minimum allowed by law is 12.5%.  The challenge, always, is to produce a wine with such potency in balance.  If you detect lavender and thyme, they are the wild herbs of the region that are often reflected in the wine.  The styles vary but the wines are always strong with spice and usually very rich.

Now that you have been introduced to this individualistic, unique French wine region, begin to work your way up to some the world’s most famous producers and spectacular wines, but you will have to be prepared for high prices at the top quality wines.  Two of the top producers are Chateau de Beaucastel and Clos des Papes.  Enjoy, as you tour France’s wine regions.

Old World vs New World Rosé Wines

The Southwest of France and the Cotes de Gascogne

Hillside Vineyards 2015 Rosé vs Colorado and Creekside Cellar’s Rosé N/V

France’s indigenous grape varieties are to be found in Gascogne more than in any other part of France.    Modern winemaking techniques are changing the way wine is made and, hence, some of the rough and rustic character of previous decades is being replaced by technically wonderful wines and a reinvention of what wine can be in this region.  Red grapes predominate and you will find both of these wines a true adventure.

Let’s compare a Rosé from the Cotes de Gascogne with a Rosé from Creekside Cellars in Colorado, USA — both less known on the international scene and similarly priced.

Both wines are clean and well made and if I were to hazard a guess, I would say the French wine was made as a food wine and certainly reveals this intent.  The grapes are various. Therefore, the comparison is of the wines, not the way they have fashioned the same grapes, albeit from divergent terroir.

Minerality is very obvious in the French wine;  less fruit and more of the red wine’s phenolics appear.  In the Colorado wine, we have a softer texture with much more fruit, recommending the wine for easy drinking and a summer’s refreshing lift.  Another element is obvious this time in the Colorado wine:  its fresh acidity and salivating potential.  More fruit lasts on the finish, but both have a short finish and fill the expectancy of typical Rosé wines.  Although the French wine is of a lower alcohol, note its warming effect due to less fruit and acid.

More acid brings out more fruit, so it is sometimes difficult to tell if the fruitiness of the wine is due to the acid level or the potency of fruit flavors in the grape.  é

Note, also, how the balance of the wine is affected on the finish by more or less acid, more or less fruit, and more or less alcohol.