Domaine du Gour de Chaule Gigondas 2015

Given how long and extensively we have worked with the Rhone, and the southern Rhone in particular, it’s a little surprising that this is only our second go around with this stylish Gigondas estate.  Our first foray, the 2010 Gour de Chaule Gigondas was a huge hit and lot of boxes disappeared from the old location.  This is actually the first volley in the newer spot, and the price is a little bit more than it was five years ago (that’s to be expected), but we are big fans of what this estate is doing.

The fact sheet reads something like this, with deference to the importer’s extensive and accessible information.  The Domaine du Gour de Chaulé, situated in the heart of the village of Gigondas, was founded in 1900 by Eugene Bonfils, the great-grandfather of the current proprietor, Stephanie Fumoso. All the wine produced at the estate was sold in bulk to negociants until 1970 when Madame Rolande Beaumet, Eugene’s daughter and the grandmother of the current owner, Stéphanie, began to bottle a small percentage of the estate’s wine for sale to private clients.

Madame Beaumet’s daughter, Aline Bonfils, took the reins of the domaine in the early 1980s and it was she that broadened the tradition of estate bottling significantly.  Stephanie was at the helm when we flipped over that 2010, and we were immediately captivated by a wine that, while it had all of the moxie one would expect from a Gigondas, it also had a polished presence that was considerably less ‘rough and tumble’ than most of the other ‘local produce’.

Were going to go out on a limb and suggests that a woman’s touch is clearly evident here (are we allowed to say that any more?) as the wine has the size and substance to stand among most Gigondas, but without the gritty tannins that are so often a part of wines from this appellation.  Dark berries, stony minerality, pepper, and garrigue here, typicite is not an issue but this is a more white tablecloth version of the genre.

This Grenache based cuvee comes from three separate plots with the average vine age approaching age 60.  Yields are most and the grapes are hand harvested, never destemmed, and sees no new oak.  The wine is put into large foudres for 18 months before it is bottled unfiltered and unfined.  Bottom line, this is a classy example from an often rustic area.

This is still kind of an under-the-radar property in the broad market, but the media is starring to take notice.  Wine Advocate’s  Joe Czerwinski had this to say, “Still in foudres and concrete, the 2015 Gigondas Cuvee Tradition is incredibly creamy, ripe and fresh. This full-bodied wine is bursting with ripe Grenache fruit, while the finish displays plush tannins. It’s not hugely complex—or maybe the fruit is just covering some of that complexity right now—but it sure is delicious…90-92 points.”  He got the delicious part right, but that review was posted in Oct., 2017, which means it was tasted well before that.  A lot can change in a year and a half (or more).

Even more upbeat was the prose from Josh Raynolds of Vinous, “Brilliant ruby. A heady bouquet evokes ripe red and blue fruits, Indian spices and smoky minerals, along with a hint of candied lavender in the background. Deeply concentrated yet energetic black raspberry, boysenberry and spicecake flavors unfold slowly, picking up a licorice quality that expands on the back half. Shows excellent clarity and mineral cut on a sweet, seamless finish shaped by smooth tannins…92-94 points.”

We know a lot of folks out there aren’t necessarily convinced by ‘barrel scores’.  We tasted the Domaine du Gour de Chaule Gigondas 2015 out of the bottle.  It’s delicious, complex and all we can say is ‘you go, girl’.

Special Red: ‘Superior’ Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore

This is a difficult category for a lot of people because of the diversity.  The basic story is that a Ripasso spends time on the lies of the Amarone which enriches and amplifies the Valpolicella.  So what is it?  Is it the glorious and memorable (and very expensive) efforts from the likes of Dal Forno, Tommaso Busoll, and Accordini?  Or is it the sweetish, slightly oxidized Amarone wanna-be that, sadly, too many are.

While there are some exceptional and identifiable labels out there, all too often it is a crapshoot.  So when we find something new that works at a high level, we get very excited.  The Corte Sant’Alda Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore Campi Magri 2015 is one of those rare finds that brings the magic.  The first order of business for this kind of wine is texture.  There must be a luxurious mouth feel,  smooth edges from front to back, and, in the best cases, weightiness without being ponderous.  Bingo, the Corte Sant’Alda has it all.

Dark fruit, a little bit of a roasted character yet fresh at every point, this wine is deceptively full sized and definitely grabs your attention.  For those who know the genre, this is a beautiful version that is among the best examples we have had at any price.  If you are more of the New World school, we’d be surprised if you had many Italian wines sporting this kind of palate weight and plush demeanor.   The warm 2015 harvest was great for this genre of wine and this came from a densely planted vineyard of head trained bush vines farmed biodynamically. Corte Sant’Alda Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore Campi Magri 2015 then sees a 24 month sojourn is large and is made from ‘the usual suspects’ (Corvina Grossa, Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and Molinara).

James Suckling took a shine to this one as well, commenting “An expansive yet elegant nose of dried mulberries, blueberry tart, mince pies and hints of ash and bark. The palate taps into the wonderful freshness but there is also a nicely structured palate, grainy tannins and a pretty finish. What a find! Drink now. … 95 Points!”  What a find indeed.

‘Modern’ (Easy Dinking) Chianti

Chianti as a category can be a bit daunting.  You’ve got commercial stuff in straw fiascos in the red checkered cloth Italian restaurants, the $100+ single vineyard bottlings from Castello di Ama, and a rainbow of stuff in between.  It’s all called Chianti even though some have nothing in common.  To further complicate matters, you have a variety of terroirs like Chianti Classico, Rufina, and Greve that make their own unique contribution to the finished wine.  Finally, you have individual styles of the wineries themselves.

While most of the producer names that come to mind fall into more or less in what would be the ‘traditional’ camp, today we thought we’d touch on a couple that were more ‘new school’ at least in how they come across.  While the whole discussion of ‘camps’ doesn’t really come up a lot relative to Chianti, we felt the need to share a couple of wines that have a plumper, sweeter core of fruit that gives a more fruit-driven, ‘modern’ element to their profiles.

The first was a staple at the Orange store for years, though this is the first time this ‘regular’ bottling of the Fattoria Basciano Chianti Rufina 2015 has appeared here.  We hadn’t seen the wine in a while.  The fact that this came from the juicy 2015 vintage made a perfect platform for Basciano’s gregarious stylistic bent.  Key words that seem to come up consistently when we talk about Basciano are ‘lip smacking’ and ‘juicy’.  Father Renzo and son Paolo Masi run something of a negociant enterprise with the idea of consistently getting high quality fruit to create enviable quality at attractive prices.  This they have done quite well for a long time.

The 2015 has the bright, slippery, ripe black and blue fruit core that should appeal to anyone.  The wine is packed with tender fruit, has plenty of energy, and is far too easy to haul off and drink for something from Rufina.  At this point we don’t see a lot of the minerally terroir that appears in a supporting role in most efforts from this part of Chianti.  This wine is the proverbial, succulent ‘fastball down the middle’.

Wine Spectator’s descriptors work efficiently here, “Pure aromas and flavors of cherry, blackberry and floral gain depth from earth and leafy tobacco accents. Firms up on the finish, with a pleasant astringency.”  One doesn’t write paragraphs on this one.  One drinks it with relish.  The Basciano simply wants to be liked and it succeeds admirably on that score.  Don’t let the $12 price scare you either.  This delivers plenty of character and value as well.

The Gagliole Chianti Classico Rubiolo 2016 plays to the same crowd, but for different reasons.  We have had a few presentations of this Gagliole bottling in past vintages, but this is the first one to ‘make the cut’.  We are probably not going out on too much of a limb to suggest the 2016 vintage may have had something to do with that, ome article suggesting later harvesting during this cooler vintage probably did a lot to elevate and enrich this wine’s fruit core.

It is that outgoing fruit that makes the Rubiolo appealing to a larger audience.  Not sure if ‘fruit driven’ and ‘modern’ was the intent here but that is what this delivers.  The Rubiolo is 95% Sangiovese, clearly a big beneficiary in the 2016 vintage as a varietal, but also contains five percent Merlot to give the edges a bit of polish.

While this is our first dance with the Rubiolo that we can recall, there seems to be a ready audience with a 91 from Wine Advocate with comments, “This wine is an absolute steal…” James Suckling tossed a 92 on it and it got two glasses from Gambero Rosso to boot.  Plump, seamless, focused on a joyous core of plumy fruit, it is easy to like, and won’t break the bank at $14.98.

Tenuta di Trinoro Toscana IGT Le Cupole 2015

That bizarre red and yellow label with the picture of a swan on it that kind of looks like it was botched at the printer has been a fixture around here for some time.  That’s because we are big fans of the pioneering work of Andrea Franchetti in this part of southwestern Tuscany.  His Tenuta di Trinoro wines have a serious following but it is with the Tenuta di Trinoro Toscana IGT Le Cupole 2015 that we get the most excited.  Here is a meticulously produced blend of Bordeaux varietals that has the seamless nature, polish, and fruit driven style of his icon bottlings but is a fraction of the price.  It is a true ‘second wine’ as it faultlessly emulates the harmonious style of the house and is a great window into the workings of this unique estate.  The ripe 2015 vintage didn’t hurt either.

Our ‘little wines from great producers’ mantra is in full array here and we think this 2015 is one of the juiciest in the series.  From Advocate’s Monica Larner, “…(it) is far more sophisticated and richly textured compared to the great majority of wines from the surrounding hillsides of Tuscany. Black cherry, sweet spice and tarry earth converge on the bouquet. The mouthfeel is slightly sweet and rich in texture…92 points.”   With 2018 showcasing such an amazing volume of great efforts from Italy in general and Tuscany in particular, a lot of really exciting stuff like this is still ‘on deck’ as far as email offers and may never get its time in the spotlight.  But this is a versatile and appealing red not to be missed.

VTV Cotes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel Silex 2015: Poster Child for the New Roussillon

We marvel everyday and try to understand why some things we expect to be big aren’t and others for which we have no expectations are.    The VTV Cotes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel Silex 2015 falls into that first category.  Yeah, the name is a little long and even after a couple of decades there is still rather limited awareness of the Roussillon.   Beyond that all of the descriptors are ‘aces’.  From Jeb Dunnuck, “… The 2015 Cotes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel Les Vingt Marches is a hidden gem in this vintage. Made from mostly Syrah, with 20% Grenache and 10% Carignan, this full-bodied, deep and voluptuously textured red is loaded with notions of plums, violets and spice, with some Syrah meatiness developing with air. Completely destemmed and aged all in tank, I’d enjoy bottles over the coming 4-6 years. 93 points.”
You’ve got all of the right stuff here…old vines (the original review mentioned 50 year-old vines), unique terroir, an outstanding vintage, and a talented winemaker.  Everything you would expect out of a wine with those parameters is there and then some.  At $25 it can give a lot of Chateauneufs a run for their money.  Is the market so saturated with great wines that something like this can be invisible?  The wines emerging from the Roussillon these days are the best to ever come out of the region, and this powerhouse red is a poster child for that.  You can buy a great Roussillon or a mediocre Cabernet for this kind of price…easy choice for us.

‘House’ Barbera: Bosco Agostino Barbera d’Alba Volupta 2015

Barbera is one of Piedmont’s great go-to wines.  Steaming plate of pasta? Barbera.  Hearty lasagna?  Barbera.  A good, ripe Barbera can hit it with a burger and fries as well.  It’s about the juice.  Barbera can be fussy to grow.  The acids can be too high and, when the vintage isn’t cooperative, you can get the lifeless examples of 2013 and 2014.  The thing is, most top Piedmont estates grow some Barbera.  It’s what’s for dinner.  But so often it is an afterthought to the more famous Nebbiolo grown higher on the hill.   But there are a few guys that do take their little wines as seriously as their flagships and one of them we have been working with for a long time is Agostino Bosco.

Year in and year out Andrea Bosco seems to stuff more fruit into his Barbera than almost anyone we can think of.  That riper, somewhat plump palate has an almost New World feel to it, yet the personality of the fruit itself is unmistakably Italian.

As we mentioned, we have sold many vintages of this, but the Bosco Agostino Barbera d’Alba Volupta 2015 might be the juiciest yet.  Why don’t more people know about this producer?  Well, first off, this isn’t some fancy Piedmont estate trying to pass itself off as a ‘small family farm’.  This actually is a small family farm with good holdings and a good dose of passion.

Second, they are not with one of those large international import companies that make sure they have all of their wines in front of critics.  This hands-on operation doesn’t have the staff to do that.   So you see little in the way of press, though this did get a 91 from James Suckling and comments, “Plenty of blue fruit, slate and violets to this Barbera on the nose as well as hints of resin. Full body, fine acidity and a fruity finish. Drink now.”  But this wine delivers in the glass as a compelling, easy going, authentic mouth full, especially this year.

The estate itself consists of four hectares in the La Morra area divided among Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto.  The family existed as growers for decades until they decided to make their own wines in 1979.  This Barbera is a blend of two different vineyards, one with 20-year-old vines in clay and limestone and a southwest exposition, the other 30-year-old vines in tufa and limestone with a southeast exposition.  The blend yields a wine with ripe dark red and black fruit, sufficient but never intrusive acidity, not a lot of evident tannin, and a minerality that adds an interesting textural underpinning.   In other words, perfectly tasty yet deceptively serious Barbera.

 

FRANCOIS LECLERC GEVREY: ANOTHER DELICIOUS, WELL-PRICED 2015

Everybody enjoys a good tale about a wine, and, frankly, we like telling them.  But ultimately it is about the juice and sometimes there isn’t always riveting discourse to accompanying the offer.  We accept that sometimes, particularly with Burgundy houses which are often the toughest  to find info.  These are people tied to the land that make small bits of multiple wines, not the easiest fodder for their stories or ours.

But Burgundy in particular isn’t about glossy brochures and state-of-the-art websites.  Those things don’t actually fit in with the general vibe of the place.  There isn’t a lot of ‘technical’ discussion at most places either as most of the successful domaines these days are reaching back into the less-manipulative past as the game plan for the future.  Plowing by horses, harvesting by hand, using the minimal treatment in the vineyards and dialing back the oak are the current trends.

The story on Rene Leclerc is pretty straight-forward.  The current generation is the third to run the domain since its inception in 1976.  The reins have been quietly passed from father Rene to son Francois who still respects his father’s approach but has instituted a number of changes including lower yields, no new oak in the cellar, and an adherence to the current trend toward non-interventionist protocols.  Francois did some time in Oregon and has a clear vision of how he wants to play it here in the home estate.

We tell this rather typical story because we absolutely love this village Gevrey from the juicy 2015 vintage.  The Francois Leclerc Gevrey Chambertin 2015 is everything good about both this ripe, round harvest and the classic dark cherry fruit with some earth and mineral elements as dictated by this particular, special terroir.  The Rene Leclerc Gevrey Chambertin 2015 comes from 11 different parcels over 5.33 hectares including Pressonier, Croix des Champs, and Clos Prieur.  This is why people get hooked on Burgundy…tender edges, subtle, layered dark cherry fruit infused with notes of earth and darker mineral that support but don’t interfere with the fruit.  Complete, satisfying, and clearly sure about its origins.

We have had the good fortune to taste this wine on three different occasions, and it has been a consistent crowd-pleaser.  The price is at the lesser end of the quality ‘village’ Burgundy choices and the well expressed terroir and tender palate makes it our preference over similarly priced domestic versions.  The engaging 2015 vintage is in full array here.

2015 CHATEAUNEUF UPDATE

These are the ‘best of times’ when it comes to the southern Rhone.  Yes, we have sold through a number of great vintages before.  But we don’t ever remember a back-to-back quite like 2015 and 2016 in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Yet it’s hard to know even how to approach the current all-star lineup on the floor.  We could quietly hum ‘these are a few of our favorite things’ because this lineup is stocked with a number of offerings that truly are favorites.  Bosquet des Papes, Cristia Vielle Vignes, Saje and Bastide la Dominique all predominantly showcase gorgeous, sappy old-vine Grenache laced with complex spice and mineral unlike anywhere else on the planet.  They remind one of a richer version of great Burgundy.

The still Grenache-heavy Pegau, Mayard Crau du Ma Mere, and Cristia Rennaissance offer variations on that theme with higher proportions of the other varietals like Mourvedre and Syrah that add lift, darker fruit notes, and different nuance to the mix.   We could echo the campaign of a certain gas station snack area that claims ‘too much good stuff’, but this is so far beyond that.  Let them eat nachos.  We truly are proffering some of the best you can buy in an elite category from top producers in an excellent year.

If you are into reviews, this lineup has them in spades.  If you haven’t seen an overall vintage report, here is an excerpt from Vinous’ Josh Raynolds entitled 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape: Power and Balance, “…While the 2015s are definitely on the rich side, they’re much more in the style of the 2009s than the superripe 2007s or the frequently roasted 2003s. Broadly speaking, I view 2015 as a cross between the richness of 2009 and the energy and structure of 2010, with the overall personality of the wines leaning closer to ’09 than to ’10. The best examples show serious depth along with very good definition and back-end vivacity, and little in the way of cooked-fruit character…”

In other words, what you have here is very tasty Chateauneuf from top producers.   This lineup is also in the sweet spot, elite efforts where the prices aren’t crazy.  The one thing that is difficult here is to make a mistake.  This lineup is ‘all killer and no filler’, the only mistake being not grabbing some to enjoy now and ten years on.

If this is the toughest choice you have to make today…it’s a pretty special day.  Here are some quick notes with full reviews below.  Don’t miss these and good hunting!  Quantities are definitely finite…

Bosquet Des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape Gloire De Mon Grand Pere 2015- “… Made from mostly (60-70 year old vine) Grenache… another beauty that’s up with the crème de las crème of the vintage. Kirsch, strawberries, dried flowers and spice notes give way to a full-bodied, supple, sexy red that has sweet tannin and a great finish. While it’s a big, rich wine, it glides across the palate and is never heavy. It should keep for 10-15 years. 95 points-“  Jeb Dunnuck

Bastide Dominique Chateauneuf du Pape Secrets De Pignan 2015- From vines planted in 1920, “…Coming from the Pignan lieu-dit, … just beside Rayas …it offers a beautiful, singular style in its blackberry, currant, leafy herbs, thyme, and olive scented bouquet. This carries to a full-bodied, sexy Grenache that has loads of fruit, terrific purity and a blockbuster finish…95 points”- Jeb Dunnuck

Cristia Chateauneuf du Pape Renaissance 2015-This has an intense core of crushed plum, raspberry and boysenberry fruit flavors, draped with melted licorice notes and backed by a wave of warm fruitcake. Hedonistic for sure, but accents of anise, violet and singed apple wood dart around, adding extra facets of intrigue to hold your attention. Grenache (60% from 100-yeaar old vines) and Mourvèdre (50 yr. old vines). ..96 points – Wine Spectator (also WA 95, JD 95)

Cristia Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes 2015- “…This delivers a lush, enticing blast of cassis and raspberry and boysenberry preserve flavors, carried by a silky structure that lets the fruit play out at length, giving adequate time for black tea, singed apple wood, dried anise and fruitcake notes to fill in throughout. Dreamy. Grenache (80-100 year old vines). –97 Points.” Wine Spectator (also JD 95)

Mayard Chateauneuf du Pape Crau De Ma Mere 2015-  “… fabulous notes of strawberries, black cherries, saddle leather and garrigue. Full-bodied, impeccably balanced, concentrated and layered, it’s a terrific cuvée and is certainly one of the standouts in this vintage. It’s also the finest wine I’ve tasted from this estate…95 points– Jeb Dunnuck

Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Reservee2015- “…A vintage compared to 2010 by Laurence, the 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape looks to be one of the big successes in the vintage. Possessing a ripe, rounded, sexy style backed up by solid density and concentration, it offers classic Pegau notes of currants, pepper, and cured meats. Big, rich, concentrated and beautifully textured, it offers a rare depth of fruit and richness in the vintage…95-97 Points“-Jeb Dunnuck

Saje Chateauneuf du Pape Marquis Anselme Mathieu  2015- “I enjoyed all of the wines from this estate, but I was blown away by the complexity and purity of the 2015 Chateauneuf du Pape Marquis Anselme Mathieu … Not only does it show beautiful cherry and stone fruit notes, it layers on hints of clove, allspice, garrigue and green peppercorn. There’s ample weight and texture on the palate, with the plush tannins drawing to a silky, spicy finish that lingers for minutes…96 Points!”  – Joe Czerwinski, Wine Advocate

BURGUNDY BARGAIN HUNTER: EPISODE 2

The Haute Cotes refers to some of Burgundy’s highest vineyards along the crest of the generally east facing hills, typically above the more famous vineyards on the upper slopes.  Usually fairly rugged land with the vines planted in more rock than dirt, these are typically firm and sturdy and require a bit of time to come around.  The difference a little bit more sunshine makes is that there is more ripe fruit over the typically edgy acidity and sometimes stern minerality.  That changes the whole personality of these wines for the good and gives them a more fruit driven persona.

The Clairs have owned parcels in the region for generations but sold mainly to negociants.  Denis founded the domaine in 1986 with the intention of bottling his own wine.  Here the dark red leaning to blue fruits has a tension with the more typical fresh acidity to create a rather compelling mouthful, and the extra weight from the vintage makes the whole proposition work in a way that it rarely does giving the wine a tenderness and weight that will appeal to a larger audience, though there is still plenty of tension from these elevated sites.

The Francois & Denis Clair Haut Cotes de Beaune 2015 comes from 35 year-old vines situated with a south-east exposure looking out over Maranges.  All hand harvested, the wine sees 15 months in vat.  What a difference a little bit more flesh can make and, once again, the area’s more typical lack of fame helped keep the price down.  It’s a rather screaming bargain for a red Burgundy in the in-demand 2015 vintage at under $20.

BURGUNDY BARGAIN HUNTER: EPISODE 1

Named for the 300-year-old Southern Burgundy village in which it is located, Monthelie-Douhairet was run by the Douhairet family for many years.  In 1989, Madame Douhairet asked renowned winemaker André Porcheret to take charge and added his name to the domaine.  One of the great figures in Burgundy during the past half-century, André was the cellar manager at the Hospices de Beaune from 1976–1988, before he was hired by Lalou Bize Leroy to make wines at the newly created Domaine Leroy from 1988–1993. He returned to the Hospices de Beaune from 1994–1999, and since 1989, he has also been overseeing Monthelie Douhairet Porcheret’s 15 acres, mainly in the Côte de Beaune appellations of Pommard, Volnay, Meursault and Monthelie.

Located between Volnay and Auxey Duresses set back a bit from the main route through Burgundy, this is one of those spots that has a solid history but only hits the high notes in top vintages.  For a winemaker like Porchoret in a warm year like 2015, the sweet red fruits pulled all of the minerality and earth notes together within one elegant presentation.  The Monthelie Douhairet Porcheret Monthelie 1er Cru Les Duresses 2015 presents dusty cherries, a bit of mulberry, and some subtle stony minerality underneath.

What a vintage like 2015 does is provide the additional flesh and weight that this area usually is a little short on, which changes the whole dynamic of the wine.  And, with the less exalted reputation of the region overall, there is an upper limit to what vintners can charge,  making the price something of a bargain.  In truth this producer has been a go-to in warmer vintages here for several years now.   A fine effort.