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.”
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…
Laurent Brusset is a quiet, chain-smoking, third-generation vintner whose hands were stained from grape juice when I met him, and whose family has been producing wine in Cairanne since the `40s on land formerly dedicated to apricots, cherries, and olive trees. Now, he is lucky enough to farm Grenache vines that are over 100 years old. This blend of Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Clairette is not from those vines, but its loveliness does show a deft wine-making hand. Exuberant stone fruit aromas, white flowers, and an expressive, mineral, fresh palate… this is a winner.
An hommage to Brusset’s grandfather, who I’m now assuming dug wood-aged Viognier/Roussane/Grenache Blanc white blends. Creamy, floral, and citric, this is a reserved sipper, that lacks not a bit of elegance despite its fuller, richer mouthfeel.
Grenache and Syrah that come from old-soul vines well over eighty years young on average go into this deep, plummy, leathery, floral, and spicy red. It’s blacker fruits are all boosted by vibrancy and pepper hints, enough so that it would be surprisingly adaptable at the dinner table even though it has almost abyss-like depth.
A 50/50 blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre, subtle spices of pepper and wood kick things off, followed by violets and blue fruits. Buoyant, abundant, savory, lithe, harmonious, and balancing depth and breadth, you’e left with an overall feeling of satisfying beauty.
This family estate has 16 hectares in Cairanne, with a cellar built in 1957 by Bruno Boisson’s grandfather. Boisson’s father began selling in bottle in the `80s, and now they produce about 65,000 bottles per year. Their oldest vineyard plots are still horse-plowed, and the entire operation comes off as fairly humble. “Cru is a recognition of culture and the way of making wine,” he told me, “it’s not to change things; wine is also drinking a culture.” I’m down with sipping this kind of culture any time. A blend of Roussanne, Clairette, and Grenache Blanc from higher-clay soils, the tropical and stone fruits are in no short supply here; ditto with the white flowers, citrus, and exotic fruit notes. A nice roundness and grip create tension against the freshness. Tasting back to the 2010 suggests a nice, long aging curve ahead (think grilled fruits, ginger, tastiness, toastiness, andspicy deliciousness).
The big brother in this lineup is a single vineyard (mostly) Grenache that’s brambly, broad, plummy, savory, and dense, with ample spices and violets, and excellent structure throughout. It’ll put some hair on the ol’ chest, and you won’t complain about it.
Brothers Frédéric and François Alary oversee production at this 20 hectare biodynamic and organic domaine, surrounded by olive trees and named after St. Martin, and purchased by their grandfather simply because the parcels had, in his opinion, produced the area’s best wines. This Grenache/Mourvèdre mix comes from their oldest plantings, dating back to 1905. It’s aged in foudre, and it’s not a shy offering. Dark, peppery, floral, ripe, with almost stewed red and blue fruits, things get funky and leathery here in a hurry. Come for the power, stay for the spices.
Atypical in that there’s 60% Mourvèdre along with the Grenache and Syrah (I’m still not sure exactly how they got “Cairanne” on the label, but whatever), this is a silky, deep red that announces itself with hints of smoke, meat, earth, and violets. The palate is muscular, and chewy enough that one could snack on it.
Brotte has releases spanning much of the Southern Rhône, with vines dating back to 1880s and experience dating back to the 1930s. Their entry-level Cairanne is a great introduction to what the new-ish cru is all about – dark plums, spices, enticing floral notes, and vibrancy balancing its palate depth.