Rhône Grenache Noir

Not only a natural kingdom populated with green oak, aromatic Mediterranean shrub, and stands of Aleppo pine trees, the small rumpled mountain chain called the Dentelles de Montmirail is also home to a group of historically and culturally preserved hamlets like Sablet, Gigondas, and this week’s featured wine source, Séguret. Anchored and rising upward from the jagged lace work (dentelles) of limestone outcrops, the tight cluster of Terra Cotta roofed stone houses, shops, and cobbled alleys reveal the town’s medieval history while evoking more distant roots. For over 500 years as of 1274, this large parcel of land and connecting waterways were part of a Papal realm known as the Comtat Venaissin. Ceded to the Catholic church by various minor French rulers, the enclave was a home for a succession of 9 displaced Popes who had fled Rome due to political revolt. It remained in their control up until 1791 when it was reintegrated into France as part of a new order that followed the French revolution. Geographically framed by the Rhône River bank to the west and the modern boundary of Provence to the south, this desirable region that includes Châteauneuf-du-Pape (the Papal Castle) had already benefited from the agricultural influence of Greek settlers who planted Olive groves, and Romans who developed regionally-appropriate grape cultivars, built terraced vineyards and exported their wine via barge down the Rhône and its tributaries!

Winemakers in the Southern Rhône region have been cultivating Grenache Noir and Syrah grapes for at least 14 centuries. Well suited to a regional climate in which daytime heat is tempered by the cooling Mistral breezes, and where the sufficiently long growing season allows the fruit to reach full maturity, these two plump and prolific varieties are the backbone for the Rhône’s signature, blended red wine recipes. In more recent history, Cave Le Gravillas began producing high quality, terroir-specific wines in the mid-1930’s and with multiple generations of practice later, they’ve confidently grown into an internationally recognized brand.

seguret

Séguret is one of 18 select villages who are permitted to add their name to the AOC designation of Côtes du Rhône – Villages. Generally, ‘Villages’ suggests that their wines are produced under more stringent requirements of planting density, harvest yields, blending proportions and minimum alcohol levels. Whether or not these factors directly translate into a consistently better grade of wine than the more generic standard is debatable, and variable from year-to-year. What’s less uncertain, is that the terroirs surrounding each village, coupled with localized finishing traditions do produce discernibly distinctive flavour profiles.

For my tastes, as an admitted fan of medium to full-bodied, earthy, berry-forward wine with polished tannins and less oak influence, this Villages – Séguret 2014 is a balanced bottling that’s equally satisfying when served up as apéritif or with dinner fare. Beyond those baseline credentials, note that it earned a Gold Medal at the Concours Général Agricole de Paris in 2015; in a category always packed with notable competition from the Rhôneland vineyards!

Le Gravillas

LE GRAVILLAS COTES DU RHONE – VILLAGES SEGURET 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #309260 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
14% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Rhône, France
By: Le Gravillas
Release Date: March 19, 2016

Tasting Note
As Grenache makes up most of the blend, rich black fruit aromas and flavours dominate this bottling, with the Syrah adding some zippy pepper notes. Try this alongside braised or curried lamb, beef Kefta brochettes or spicy squash tagine.

Corbières Alert

Proudly displaying the dramatic cross of the Visigoths dating to the 7th century,
later known as the Languedoc Cross or Cross of the Cathars, this vintner’s
very apt emblem also includes 2 doves drinking from a single cup – symbolizing
both sharing and communion. Begun by father Georges, a winemaking pioneer
in the Languedoc region who worked diligently to foster a spirit of cooperation
by local growers in the 1970’s, this benchmark winery has consistently been
at the forefront of quality development for an impressive range of regionally
distinctive wine styles. The multi-generational philosophy is being carried forward
by the founder’s son. Namesake of the current, burgeoning portfolio of vineyards,
Gérard Bertrand, now has its primary facilities based in Narbonne.

The Corbières terroir stretches from the base of the Pyrenees in the southwest
to Montagne Noire (Black Mountain) further north. A kaleidoscope of geology
and complex climates, the combinations serve to produce outstanding vines and
resulting, herb-scented wines. The prolific region was granted their official AOC
classification in 1985. The soils here consist of gravely clay and limestone with a
surface cover of stone pebbles, providing good drainage and healthy root stock.
The South of France, as a whole, is playfully described as a European wine lake,
containing 40% of France’s total vineyard acreage. The process of replacing
traditional, high-yielding grape varieties with lower yielding varieties to produce
smaller quantities of better wine, continues. What also carries forward, is that
they remain comparatively inexpensive and outstanding value.

A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre is the traditional output from an
arid landscape where no crop thrives except vines. Often counter-intuitive, the
most challenging terroirs yield the most interesting wine. Grapevines do well by
beingstressed. Here, they are stressed by wind, heat and poor organic soil. The
odd appropriateness of this land is manifest by creating a rippling sea of lush
green leaves. Stony white Limestone outcrops, tough, spiky Garrigue (herb-like
bushes), lines of Cyprus tree windbreaks and Terracotta covered stonework
houses, completes the complex picture.

The best Corbières wines can now hold their own with classic French vintages
of Bordeaux and Burgundy. Though you will find many bottlings from this prolific
vintner on the regular LCBO shelves, note that this limited release is only found
in the Vintages section and represents a value well above the sticker price!

Corbieres

GÉRARD BERTRAND CORBIERES 2011
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #394288 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 18.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Roussillon, France
By: Gerard Bertrand
Release Date: Nov. 8, 2014

Tasting Note
This is a firm and spicy wine style that is best enjoyed with foods such as stuffed
peppers, meatballs in spiced tomato and olive sauce, grilled meats of all sorts
and ripe cheeses.

Côtes du Rhône Alert

Providing Domaine de la Valériane with its namesake, Valérie Collomb
is building an enviable reputation for the 40 hectare family farm. Located in the
small village of Domazan just outside the city of Avignon, the current property
was consolidated by her parents from several existing vineyard plots in the early
1980’s. Geographically, this is at the lower end of the crescent-shaped areas in
the Southern Rhône Valley – renowned for the prolific output of so-called ‘GSM’
blends (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre) among numerous other variations.

As far as familiar French wine regions go, these demarcated areas represent a
relatively newer set of AOC’s (Appellation d’Origin Contrôlée), most of which were
only created in the late 1930’s, with another 10 areas added in 2004. Primary
groupings for wines produced fall into 3 categories: Côtes du Rhône – the least
stringent, Côtes du Rhône–Villages is more noteworthy, particularly those with
the actual village name added and finally so-called Cru, representing the highest
quality available. All in all, with very healthy and sustainable production levels of
around 350 million bottles a year, CDR wines will continue to be offered at highly
competitive pricing well into the foreseeable future.

This week’s DéClassé recommended bottling is an unusually limited blend that
uses only 2 equal parts drawn from 23 allowable grape varieties: 50% Syrah
and Grenache. Notably though, this offering is being produced from the fruit of
30 to 40-year-old vines, which thrive here in the clay-limestone soils covered with
large stone pebbles – thus justifying the moniker of ‘vielles vignes’ (old vines). As
well, fermentation and aging of the harvest only takes place in concrete vats, so
this particular blend never sees the influence of wood – thereby displaying much
softer tannins and more natural character than a wine that has been Oak-aged.

This is ready to go now, though will hold up for another year or so. As the vintner
is unsure of which Gold Medal stickers to place on the bottle: either the equally
prestigious Concours de Mâcon or the Concours Général de Paris 2013, this
wine is selling quickly –buy at least 2 if not half a case to cover your summer!

Valeriane

DOMAINE DE LA VALÉRIANE VIEILLES VIGNES CÔTES DU RHÔNE 2012
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #374280 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Rhône, France
By: Valérie Collomb, Prop.-récolt
Release Date: May 24, 2014

Tasting Note
This is a medium-bodied, fruit-driven wine that will develop some spiciness when
paired with a broad variety of food fare from the oven or the grill. These might
include ratatouille, Porcini-crusted roast lamb, chicken Tikka Masala and Chevre,
Brie and Camembert cheeses.