Posts Filed Under elegant wines

2 Legit 2 Quit (The Revitalization of Château Pédesclaux)

Vinted on June 13, 2019 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, overachiever wines, wine review
Château Pédesclaux lineup

Ah, good old, dependable Château Pédesclaux.

Well, for those in the know when it comes to Bordeaux, this Pauillac producer was dependable for decades… in that one could usually depend on it to under-perform.

Established back in 1810 by the wine broker who gave it its name (Pierre Urbain Pédesclaux), Pédesclaux rose to prominence rather quickly by Bordeaux standards, being classified as Fifth Growth in 1855. The 20th Century saw successions of ownership and neglect; at one point in the 1950s, the estate was tagged for demolition.

In 2009, Pédesclaux was picked up by Françoise and Jacky Lorenzetti (owners of Chateau Lilian Ladouys), who, according to current manager Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen (with whom, through the miracles of modern technology, I had a nice remote online chat) set about to “legitimize” the estate. This started with the vineyards, which were replanted, reworked, expanded, and eventually given a treatment so detailed that they are now classified into nineteen different terroirs (ranging from gravel to limestone to clay), vinified into 116 different tank fermentations, and aged in barrels from nine different coopers, all to make about 270,000 bottles of just two wine labels.

The aim now is to surprise with a bit of over-performance, even at the $50/bottle price tag. Bache-Gabrielsen put it this way: “The idea is to have freshness, tannins that are just mature, and to make you salivate and want another glass.” Pédesclaux now puts a borderline-obsessive amount of effort into their Grand Vin’s texture. “We want precision in our tannins,” Bache-Gabrielsen explained. He describes their harvest as “al dente” (now my new favorite term for picking ripeness).

The result? Pretty damned nice…

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Cairanne’s Long Game

Cairanne views 1

No one could accuse the Southern Rhône cru Cairanne of rushing into things.

For much of its history, Cairanne seems to have been metaphysically hiding from the fine wine world behind its own rocky outcrops. While technically part of the Côtes du Rhône designation since 1953, it took Cairanne 87 years to reach cru AOC status, the aim that originally brought together several of its local growers to establish a regional Cave Coopérative back in 1929.

In the last three years, however, Cairanne’s best producers have been making up for lost time. In a first for France, their cru regulations specify sulfite maximums, along with banning the use of herbicides, and requiring hand-harvesting of the grapes grown from its garrigue-surrounded, clay-and-stone soils. “Now we are lucky,” noted Domaine Brusset‘s Laurent Brusset when I visited the area on a media tour, “it’s a nice picture for the next generation.”

Cairanne soils

You probably have yet to hear much about Cairanne, but if you’re a lover of Southern Rhône Grenache-based reds (which must encompass 50% of the blend), or even the occasional Clairette-based white sipper (a mere 3% of the area’s production), you owe to yourself to get more closely acquainted. Cairanne has a defining quality, but it’s something almost ethereally illusive.

“There is something common [about Carianne with respect to the S. Rhône]; different, but common” noted Domaine Roche‘s Romain Roche. Denis Alary of Domaine Alary describes it more succinctly: “Cairanne is elegance and finesse, always.” Generally speaking, I agree, as you’ll see below…

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Height Matters (Exceptional Gigondas)

Gigondas Dentelles de Montmirail

Smack up against the Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range sits Gigondas, a former ancient Roman soldier retirement home area and Southern Rhône cru that, technically, contains more woodlands than vineyards. And that’s after a killer frost in the 1960s wiped out a good portion of olive tree plantings, ushering in a shift towards more vine plantings. All in all, Gigondas is about one third the size of its more famous, direct-competitor cousin, Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Terroir here is “like a layer cake,” noted Domaine Pierre Amadieu’s Henri-Claude Amadieu when I visited on a media tour last year. “A layer cake of limestone and clay, limestone and clay…” While Grenache is the name of the game here, there are a few main differences between Châteauneuf and Gigondas, excluding the fact that Gigondas’ slightly warmer climate has a tendency to make their reds even more powerful than CdP.

The entire Gigondas AOC has a North-Northwest orientation, and it’s plantings are almost exclusively at elevation – in some cases, upwards of 500m. It’s rugged, hillside farming on soils that range from marls, to sandstone, to Miocene sand, to Cretaceous limestone rich in fossilized marine life.

The short version when it comes to Gigondas: height matters (see what I did there?). The higher elevation makes for stout reds that might be compact, but pack a big, tall punch…

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“Big Character” (Diving Into Rasteau’s New-Old Identity)

Rasteau old vine 1

Well… I’m in the unenviable position of having to date myself.

Embarrassingly (not because of my age, about which I mostly don’t care, but because of my obvious lack of knowledge), I knew little about the Rasteau appellation prior to visiting it on a recent Rhône media jaunt, aside from the fact that it was the home of some bad-ass Vin doux naturel sweet wines (which were permitted under the Rasteau AOC since the 1940s). Ok, more like I knew nothing about the appellation outside of its VdN wines.

But the area has been making its dry red wines based primarily on Grenache, with Syrah and Mourvèdre playing heavy roles) under the Rasteau AOC for nearly two decades now, having been approved in 2010. That’s a long enough time that a self-professed wine pro type should have known something about it, but in the relative Rhône timeline is recent enough to force dry Rasteau producers into a market game of catch-up.

And catch up they have. Rasteau’s best producers are doing well by their appellation’s new-old identity, now exporting over 40% of their collective production. There’s a bit more soil variety in Rasteau than in much of its neighboring Rhône AOCs, to the point where its wines have enough going on to mark them as distinct.

Specifically, Rasteau reds are, as Domaine Combe Julière‘s Laurent Robert put it during my visit, “Big character” experiences. “Spicy wines; well-concentrated and powerful, but with elegance.” This was a sentiment echoed by other vintners and proprietors in the area. Réjane Pouzoulas of Domaine Wilfried had this to say when asked about Rasteau ‘s typicity: “You can have full-bodied wine, of course; but with finesse.”

“In Rasteau, you can have wine that can age,” remarked Lavau‘s Benoît Lavau. “The appellation has the potential to do whatever you want. It’s always [about] the balance between tannins and acidity.” He went on to describe their wines as “sunny and strong!” That’s an impressively consistent set of responses based on Rasteau’s new-ish identity; either that, or an equally impressive effort of coordinated marketing planning. Based on my tastings, I suspect the former…

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