Thursday, 14 January 2010

Sampling the wines of Provence - some established old favourites and a rising star

Winter is "themed tasting" time at the weekly Nottingham Wine Circle and, with a good few blank dates in the diary at the moment, it was an opportunity for me to present a line-up of wines from Provence, whilst also showcasing wines from some of my own growers. It also presented me with the opportunity to taste my whole range of wines from Chateau d'Estoublon side by side for the very first time, whilst also pitching them against other top-notch wines from the likes of Domaine de Trévallon and Chateau Simone. Some recent vintages of Chateau Pradeaux were also up against a much older one, along with another grower's Bandol. And it proved to be a very interesting evening. Not that I ever see an event like this as an opportunity to sell wine. After all, whilst we have a pretty broad range of age groups in the Wine Circle, a fair few are - how can I put this? - somewhat more advanced in years than I am, and have already amassed some pretty amazing cellars from back in the days when top-notch wines could be had for relative peanuts. And none of these wines in this line-up are exactly cheap! But I am a sucker for punishment and am always keen to put my wines through this most rigorous of tests because, if I can get some positive noises out of such a demanding bunch, then I know I must be doing at least some things right. Nobody pulls their punches in this group, when they are passing judgement on the wines. And the same goes for the cheese, too!

The prices shown are either what I paid for them (in the case of the ones I don't sell) or the retail price on my website.We began with some lovely whites;

Chateau Simone Blanc 2005 Palette
I bought this when visiting the Chateau a couple of years ago, for approx 22 Euros. It is also available for £29.95 at Terroir Languedoc. There - who says I never plug the opposition?!
Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Muscat, Ugni Blanc. 13.5% abv. I believe this has seen some oak, but I'm not sure how much. A touch reductive or sulphurous, perhaps even a bit oaky at present, but with plenty of honey, stone fruit, citrus and herby notes and a hint of earthiness. Zingy, yet rich, more winey than fruity on the palate, but very long and spicy. Drinking well now, but will go for another 5 to 8 years. I loved it. As a postscript, I'm just enjoying the last few drops (a full 24 hours later) and a lot of the richness has dissipated to reveal a tightly-wound, quite dry wine that needs further ageing to show its best. Still lovely, though.

Domaine d'Estoublon Blanc 2008 Vin de Pays des Alpilles
This was a sample bottle, but would retail for about the same as the 2006 and 2007 below - £20.50. Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc. Around 13.5% abv. The first in a flight of 3 vintages of the same wine, this absolutely reeks of lime oil and spring flowers - incridibly intense on the nose, but in a way that makes the mouth water. This one is also zingy, but rich and intense at the same time. An immense core of fruit, with lots of spicy nuances. Actually, there are some striking similarities to my Jurancon wines, here, in that there is a remarkable purity and intensity of fruit - less acidity than Jurancon, granted, but still ample. For now, it remains firm and tightly-wound, with an almost tannic grip, but it is very long. An absolute cracker of a wine.

Domaine d'Estoublon Blanc 2007 Vin de Pays des Alpilles - £20.50
Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc. 13.6% abv. A year older and markedly deeper in colour (yellow/gold, with orange tinges) but with a very similar profile. Starting to open out a bit, with extra richness and layers of flavour and complexity by the bucket-load. Another cracker.

Domaine d'Estoublon Blanc 2006 Vin de Pays des Alpilles - £20.50
Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc. 13.6% abv. Yet another year older and this is even deeper in colour, and really beginning to sing. To be honest, there is little to choose between this and the 2007 and 2008 - they have obviously settled on a style and are sticking to it. And it is clearly a wine that improves with some age, and this one still has plenty of miles left in the tank. 5 more years? 10 might be pushing it, but who knows? Suffice to say, I think the white wine of Domaine d'Estoublon is quite simply stunning and - if compared to a top white Chateauneuf or white Trévallon, even at 20 quid it offers a pretty big bang for your buck.

Then we had a rosé and a whole bunch of different reds;

Chateau Pradeaux Rosé 2008 Bandol - £15.50
55% Mourvedre, 45% Cinsault. 13.5% abv. I think I am safe in saying that the wines of Chateau Pradeaux tend (at the very least) to split the jury. In fact, most seemed to be a bit underwhelmed by this rosé. Some said it was a bit confected, but I don't think it is. It is fairly light (as all goos rosé should be) but elegant and even soft, whilst still a bit tight and not yet revealing its true colours. With notes of citrus and red fruits, together with ample acidity and a touch of tannin, it really needs a few years to blossom.

Chateau Pradeaux 2004 Bandol - £19.95
95% Mourvedre, 5% Grenache. 13.5% abv. Notes of blackcurrant leaf, iodine, iron and cedar. There are some strong tannins on the palate which will take a few years to soften, but there is also a substantial core of red and black fruit lurking in there, along with mouth-watering acidity. Despite the fact that it really needs food, this showed well on the night. Give it 5 years to start coming together and another 5 before its peak.

Chateau Pradeaux 2001 Bandol - £26.50
95% Mourvedre, 5% Grenache. 14.5% abv. This is a product of its vintage - big and rich, with fruitcake and prune aromas and flavours, with a hefty tannic backbone. I have had several bottles of this particular vintage over the last 2 or 3 years (indeed it went down a storm at the Wine Circle a couple of years ago) and believe that it is now entering into a bit of a closed phase. My guess is that it will start to emerge again in 5 to 8 years and will reach its peak in 15 to 20 years.

Chateau d'Estoublon Jeunes Vignes 2005 Les Baux de Provence - £15.99
Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. 13.6% abv. This came across as rich and earthy and Grenache-dominated, but it is still relatively young. I like it a lot, although others around the table were less enthusiastic. It also blossoms nicely after 24 hours - indeed, in my experience, it is even better after almost a week(!)

Chateau d'Estoublon Jeunes Vignes 2003 Les Baux de Provence - £15.99
Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. 13.6% abv. This one created a real divide in opinion - basically virtually everyone else's versus mine! I have actually described this elsewhere (though not on my website) as bearing certain similarities to Chateau Musar - a young one, before it has really started to develop all of its famous "faults". This wine is crammed full of raspberry, cherry and bramble flavours, with a touch of volatile acidity which gives it a tremendous lift. To my mind, it is one of the best 2003's I have tasted from any French region. One or two others saw some redeeming features in it, but the rest were fairly damning. I'm not known as a betting man, but I like a good argument, so I will save one or two of these to unleash on the Wine Circle in another 5 or even 10 years - and I'd wager it will blow their socks off! It has absolutely years of development left in it.

Chateau d'Estoublon 2006 Les Baux de Provence - £18.49
Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Mourvedre. 13.6% abv. I wrote a glowing note on this one in my post of 10 December 2009 and don't really have much more to add. It showed really well again here, and is a great wine, with a great future.

Chateau d'Estoublon 2005 Les Baux de Provence - £18.49
Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Mourvedre. 13.8% abv. With an extra year's development under its belt, this one is really singing and is possibly - if only by a hair - the better of the two vintages. Only time will tell which one wins out, but either way, it is another great wine. And, as with the whites from this grower, offers a fantastic quality/price ratio.

Domaine d'Estoublon Syrah 2008 Vin de Pays des Alpilles
Another sample bottle, which would (if I wanted to sell it) retail for approx £24.00
100% Syrah. Aged in barrique. The information I have from Estoublon is that when they created the “assemblage” for the 2007 vintage, they had 10 barriques made from old Syrah vines with real character, so they decided not to blend them into the main wine, but create a varietal wine instead. I was therefore expecting great things from this wine, but it failed to deliver. I am always loath to dismiss a wine based on one (possibly iffy) bottle, but there was definitely something not quite right about it. It actually smells a bit dirty, even medicinal, as if something has got at the wine and stripped it of its freshness and flavour - and it certainly doesn't display any particular Syrah characteristics. It also seemed a little hot, overly tannic and somewhat blowsy. One thing I am certain about is that it was not corked, although I am fairly sure that some sort of compound or bacteria had affected the wine. So, rather than dismiss it out of hand as a bad wine, I'll just dismiss it as a bad bottle.

Domaine de Trévallon 2006 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhone - £33.75
50% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. 13.0% abv. This is my first taste of this vintage, so please forgive the long note, which is designed to go on my website. Slightly transluscent blood red core, with a narrow ruby rim. The nose is classic Trévallon - a touch of pastilley sweetness peeping through on the nose, along with blackcurrant, herbs, polished mahogany and a whiff of iodine. The palate has masses of red and black fruit flavours - almost with a suggestion of sweetness - along with flavours of garrigue herbs, spices, a touch of savoriness. Delve a little deeper and there is a lovely, refreshing cranberry quality giving extra lift and interest. Juicy, almost citrussy acidity and a backbone of firm, but very fine tannins completes the package. Everything is there, in complete harmony - a truly elegant wine. OK, so it is still young, but it is actually a joy to drink now. But give it the benefit of another 5 to 10 years and it will be yet another in a long line of really great Trévallons.

Chateau Pradeaux 1989 Bandol
An auction purchase from a few years ago - probably around £12-£14.
95% Mourvedre, 5% Grenache. 13.0% abv. I loved this, although it again split the jury - which surprised me a little, since there are a good few lovers of "traditional" wines here. There is still plenty of fruit left in this wine, together with plenty of secondary/tertiary/cedary notes and hints of garrigue and that trademark iodine I so often get in Mourvedre. It is in a good place right now, as the tannins are well on the way to becoming resolved and it has utterly delicious acidity. For me (and a few others) a charming old dame of a wine - for the rest, a tired old slapper. But then I am a lover of old, fruity, tannic, acid-laden wines. Yummy!

Chateau de Pibarnon 1990 Bandol
Brought along by Wine Circle member David Selby, who is never less than generous in sharing the fruits of his wonderful cellar. It goes without saying that this 20 year-old wine is of impeccable provenance, having been cellared by David since release. And it provided a fascinating comparison between two different (but mature) vintages and different winemaking styles. Altogether richer and more "generous" than the Pradeaux. Again, there is a whiff of iodine, but also some rich, almost heady bramble and blackcurrant fruit, undergrowth and herbs. However, the palate (for me) shows a little too much in the way of sweetness and - although there are some healthy tannins - the acidity is a bit lacking.Drinking the last few drops, at the end of the evening, it actually felt a touch blowsy. Not a great Bandol, but still a very good one. Ditto the Pradeaux 1989, which just wins for me because of that lovely acidity and touch of leanness.

Conclusions? Pradeaux is (overall) a jury splitter. Then again, I never expected this sort of wine to be an easy sell - but it will find its fans (and hopefully vice-versa). Trévallon still makes benchmark wines (both red and white) and tends to have the widest appeal. It is no longer cheap, though, and I think they need to start reining the prices in a bit, if it is to avoid losing some devotees. Then again, my price of £33.75, compared to something like £55 at Berry Brothers, makes it look positively cheap! As for Chateau d'Estoublon, well I guess I am biased, but I think their wines are very special indeed - particularly the main "Chateau" white and red - not forgetting the super cuvée Mogador, of course, which is simply sensational. A definite star estate of the future, and Trévallon finally has a worthy competitor.

1 comment:

AlanM said...

That was a hell of a tasting, lucky people in that Circle, Leon. Trevallon is my benchmark though the Estoublon is running it a close second (reds I'm talking). I must try more Bandol, I do love that grape.