Monday, 10 September 2012

Some delicious red and white wines from a new Provence grower - Villa Minna Vineyard

Villa Minna Vineyard is a 15 hectare family estate situated in the heart of Provence, between Aix and Salon, established in 1929 by the grandfather of current owner, former rally driver Jean-Paul Luc. Until the mid-1990's, the grapes were sold to the local co-operative, but Jean-Paul and his wife Minna (after whom the estate is now named) were more ambitious. They grafted new varieties onto existing vines that previously yielded grapes of poor quality and also planted their first parcel of Syrah. In 1996, Minna graduated from her studies in viticulture and oenology and for 3 years (1996, 1997 and 1998) Minna and Jean-Paul made their first small batches of wines, purely for the enjoyment of their family and friends.

1999 was the inaugural commercial vintage of Minna Vineyard, with just 2,900 bottles of red wine produced. But this wine gained instant recognition with 2 stars awarded in the Guide Hachette, as well as being listed by some of the best restaurants in Provence. In 2005 the first vintage of Minna Vineyard white wine was made. Since then, the estate has gone from strength to strength, garnering some excellent reviews in France's top wine publications. The estate is now in its third year of conversion towards official organic status, a philosophy which Minna and Jean-Paul have adopted all along. No pesticides or artificial fertilizers are used and weeding is kept to a minimum, whilst all cuttings from the vines and other flora are ploughed back into the ground. The soil is limestone and characterised by the presence of many fossils - difficult to work, but good for heat retention and for encouraging the roots to grow deep.

I received an invitation from Jean-Paul to visit the Villa Minna stand at the Vinisud fair in Montpellier in February 2012, and was sufficiently intrigued by the description of the wines and the impressive list of citations in the various French publications to pay them a visit. And I am glad we did, for TLD and I were bowled over by them. The white wines are quirky, elegant and full of life, whilst the reds are ripe, beautifully balanced and show excellent ageing potential. And in comparison to many of their Provençal counterparts, they are very competitively priced, considering their undoubted quality. The labels for each wine in each vintage are all different, being extracts from various childhood paintings by Jean-Paul and Minna's daughters, Tytti (pronounced Tutti) and Meryl. All of the following wines are now available to buy from the LSFineWines online shop. Give them a try - I think you will be suitably impressed! All are priced at £17.80.

Minna Vineyard Blanc 2007 Vin de Table
45% Vermentino, 36% Roussanne, 19% Marsanne. 14.0% abv. Beautifully fragrant with aromas of honeysuckle and orange blossom, hay, baked apples and pears infused with cinnamon, clove and anise. There's a herby element too, redolent of oregano and basil. But most of all, there is a quality to it that can best be described as "winey" - everything seems to have melded together beautifully, at the same time possessing the youthful attributes of a white Hermitage and the somewhat more evolved apple and mineral characteristics of a Loire Chenin Blanc. This quality also shows through on the palate, which, whilst beautifully focused, displays a mellowness that makes it a delight to drink already, offering complex flavours of soft peach, apple, apricot, spiced orange and a subtle herbiness, with refreshing acidity and a very long finish. A rather compelling Provençal white wine. £17.80

Minna Vineyard Blanc 2008 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhône
45% Vermentino, 26% Roussanne, 29% Marsanne. 13.0% abv. A slightly different blend than the 2007 (though from the same 3 grape varieties) - and also now with Vin de Pays (IGP) status. It is somewhat lighter-bodied and perhaps even a touch more elegant than the 2007 - not better, just different. The nose is more high-toned, more prickly, more fruity, lemon/limey, with an abundance of fresh herbs on the nose, a hint of granny smith and clove, orange pith and a whole load of minerality. It is lighter on the palate, too, but no less flavoursome - delicious flavours of herb and spice-infused apple, peach and soft citrus abound, with wonderful grip, succulent acidity and no sign of the pithy, slightly bitter flavours that can often be found in Provencal/southern Rhone whites. It really is gloriously fresh, fruity, herby and - once again - winey. The finish is tangy and mouth-watering and keeps you coming back for more. Furthermore, it really does benefit from a night in the decanter, becoming richer and more complex with plenty of air. Delicious, but will it age? I think so, but whether you want to drink it now, or keep it for a few years, you are onto a winner!

Minna Vineyard Rouge 2005 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhône
49% Syrah, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Mourvedre. 13.5% abv. Brooding blackberry and blackcurrant aromas, damp earth, some lifted orange peel and citrus notes and a touch of leafy herbaceousness, with enticing polished wood and subtle eau de vie in the background. A hint of meat/savoury and iodine add further complexity. The palate is medium-to-full bodied and grippy, with some healthy tannins underpinning the ripe, tobacco and herb-infused bramble and raspberry fruit, whilst a backbone of juicy, orangey acidity keeps everything tightly-knit and focused. It is a cracking wine, pure and clean, with a fabulous structure, which should ensure it evolves and gains yet more complexity over the next ten years or so.

Minna Vineyard Rouge 2006 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhône
46% Syrah, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Mourvedre. 14.5% abv. The nose is crammed full of bramble, cassis, black cherry and dried fig aromas. At the other end of the spectrum, we have violets, mixed herbs, spices and polished wood. There's a gentle yeastiness too, with subtle hints of iodine and warm eau de vie. It is certainly complex stuff! It is equally impressive on entry, with intense red and black fruit flavours, rich but not sweet, with cracking acidity. The tannins are vigourous and quite grippy, but succulent rather than drying, and combined with all of that fruit and heightened acidity, it grips the bottom of your mouth and the back palate, rather than the sides. Indeed, it is really rather refreshing and mouth-watering, for a relatively young wine, which carresses rather than assaults the senses. And oh, that nose! Drink now, or let it age and evolve for at least another 10 years.

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