Rhône Valley Wines

Michel Gassier and Dauvergne-Ranvier

Tasting Event February 7, 2012

I recently sat down with the representatives of two Rhône producers to taste through some of their wines. I've always enjoyed wines from the region: there are a variety of styles, along with quality and cost profiles that are fairly easily understandable, and the wines themselves have remained good value. Morever at least at the lower end of the spectrum, wines from the region have been relatively available in Ontario, and while I would appreciate more depth and variety on offer, there are usually enough examples at any time to find something of interest.

These thoughts led me to write another, very introductory article "Exploring the Southern Rhone", which appears on TheSceneInTO.com, and in fact this article is going to be the first of a series of "Exploring" articles that will appear monthly going forward. The focus there is on promoting an understanding of the region in general. But here I want to record some notes on the specific wines I tasted, most of which are not currently available, and I hope this is the beginning of more detailed explorations of the Rhône in the future.

An important discussion point, born out by the tasting, was that these two producers, and perhaps the majority of those in the region, want to avoid the excesses of over-oaking and over-extracted fruit that attracts a certain segment of the market. Only one of the seven reds tasted showed signficiant oak, and herbal aromas and flavours abounded. That's not to say that winemaking isn't evolving, and certainly clean fruit flavours are important in these wines. But a goal is to find a balance that embraces both tradition and modern winemaking. xxxx

GassierMichel Gassier of Château de Nages

Michel Gassier is the winemaker and fourth-generation owner of his family's estate Château de Nages in the Costières de Nîmes, the southern most AC of the Rhône wine region. The Costières is on the west side of the Rhône, and stretches from Nîmes down to the northern part of the Rhône delta. While it is south of the traditional Côtes du Rhône AC, it focuses on varieties and wine styles similar to those of the southern Rhône, and has recently become part of the Rhône valley wine region.

Some of these wines from Michel Gassier will be listed at the LCBO, others are available only on consignment. If I find details either way, I will add them.

  • 2010 Les Pilliers Viognier Costières de Nîmes VDP, 13.8% alc., approximately $17. Earlier vintages have been listed in Ontario, and I believe this one will be listed shortly. Whites from Costières de Nîmes must be blends to qualify as AOC, and so this 100% Viognier is classified as a Vin de Pays. But the VDP level is not an indication of lower quality. The wine was straw-yellow, and the nose was rich with apricot and grapefruit. The palate showed the same fruits, and was bright with lively acidity, and the alcohol was very balanced. I happen to prefer Viognier when, like this one, the emphasis is on fruit rather than floral, and I will be on the lookout for the release of this wine.
  • nostre_paisNostre Païs
    2009 Nostre Païs Costières de Nîmes AOC, This is a red blend of 35% Grenache, 25% Carignan, 20% Mourvèdre, 15% Cinsault, and 5% Syrah. The wine was dark ruby with a pink showing at the rim, and a medium intensity nose of black licorice, herbs, black berries and cherries. The palate was medium-bodied, with balanced alcohol, soft tannins, and good acidity. The wine had a pleasant medium or longer finish, fresh with no apparent oak.
  • 2010 Les Halos de Jupiter, Vacqueyras AOC (sample, not yet bottled). The "Les Halos de Jupiter" label is a joint venture between Michel Gassier and consultant Philippe Cambie, one of the “star” consulting winemakers of southern France. Michel is extremely excited about this series of wines with Cambier, of which this is just one recent example.  This wine is a blend of 85% Grenache matured in concrete tanks and 15% Syrah matured in second-use barrels. Obviously very young, the wine was dark ruby, with a nose of black licorice, herbs, black berries and cherries. The palate showed more complexity, with a huge burst of garrigue and pepper on the initial attack, followed by the fruit and licorice. The wine is more than medium-bodied, well balanced, with good acidity and a long finish. I can’t wait until this wine begins to mature!
  • lou_coucardieLou Coucardié
    2007 Michel Gassier Lou Coucardié Costières de Nimes AOC. This is a slightly unusual blend dominated by 60% Mourvèdre, with 10% Syrah and 30% Grencache.  Though a 2007 vintage, the wine was still dark purple, with a fairly intense nose of smoke, earth, dark fruit, berries, vanilla and garrigue. The aromas repeat on the palate, which is full-bodied, dense and rich, with definite oak nuances — overall the "biggest" wine of the three reds.
ZorelOlivier Zorel of Dauvergne-Ranvier

The second group of wines were presented by Olivier Zorel of Dauvergne-Ranvier. The company began in 2004 with the goal of creating their own wines as a négociant, contracting with growers, supervising vineyard work, harvest, vinification and bottling. At the moment they don't own their own vineyards, but they take an extremely active role in the whole process of grapegrowing, vineyard management and winemaking.

You might be interested in noting that the following four wines are labeled "AOP" or "AP" rather than "AOC" or "AC": this is the new appelation designation "Appellation d’Origine Protégée", which will replace AOC going forward.

  • LuberonLuberon Rouge
    2010 Dauvergne-Ranvier Luberon Red Vin Gourmand, Luberon AOP, approximately $12. From the Luberon area, southeast of the Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC, this wine is 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah. Dark ruby in colour, it has pretty berry and cherry fruit, with a dash of garrigue and pepper. The fruit and herbs repeat on the palate which has a medium body, very soft tannins, and a medium finish. This is a very pleasant and tasty wine, very competitive with basic Côtes du Rhône AOC offerings, and very good value.
  • VacqueyrasVacqueyras
    2009 Dauvergne-Ranvier Vacqueyras Vin Rare, Vacqueyras AOP, approximately $26. 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah, the wine was purple with ruby highlights, and had a a fairly intense nose of garrigue, violets, blackberry, kirsch, forest floor and black licorice. The aromas repeated on the palate, which featured good acidity and soft tannins, and the finish was close to long.  This wine is actually available for order on line through the LCBO.

The final two wines were 100% Syrah from two of the northern Rhône Crus:

  • 2009 Dauvergne-Ranvier Crozes-Hermitage Vin Rare, Crozes-Hermitage AOP, approximately $26. The wine was dark ruby, with an expressive nose of pepper, flowers, violets, licorice and cassis. The wine was full-bodied, with firm tannins, good acidity, and balanced alcohol. A very good wine that will benefit from some time in bottle.
  • 2009 Dauvergne-Ranvier Saint-Joseph Vin Rare, Saint-Joseph AOP, approximately $26. The wine was dark ruby, and at first the nose was dominated by some burnt matchstick, suggesting reduction in the bottle. As the wine ages this should right itself, and vigorous aerating drove this away. I was left with a nose of violets, anise and blackberries. Tannins were firm, the alcohol was balanced, and acidity was medium.