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Southern French Wines
A Provençal designation, where the foothills to the Alps meet the warm Mediterranean. The Bandol AOC requires at least 50% Mourvedre grape in the blend, with other grapes including Grenache, Alicante Bouchet, Syrah and others. I have been chasing the elusive Mourvedre for years now, and this region creates some of the most rustic, intense and tannic mourvedre-based wines in the world. Their flaws include a tendency towards the underripe grassy (or maybe Bretty) qualities that this grape can fall towards.
1999 Domaines Ott Bandol (Tasted Jan-Feb. 2003)
Upon opening, this wine was so tight that I re-corked the bottle for a week to see how it would develop following some exposure to air. Upon first opening, the nose was restrained and briary, with a faint reminder of cherry cough syrup and red meat (iron mineral.) As it opened in the glass for about an hour, the nose came forward a bit with hints of caramelized vanilla and crushed blackberry leaves. The palate showed a strong lingering tannic bitterness, with anise, coffee and cocoa butter along with woody dryness. I would wait at least five years before opening this wine again. I decided not to buy any due to apparent lack of ripeness, just too wierd for my tastes.
1998 Bunan Bandol (tasted Feb. 2003)
The 1998 vintage was classic throughout Southern France, but I expected more from this wine. I'll come back to it in a year or two and see if it has more to offer. This tasted simply of cherry with coconut and chocolate, with medium-high tannin and relatively low acidity, some Brettanomyces. Good fruit-forward clarity, but lacking the complexity that I like from French wines.
Chateauneuf du Papes
Among my personal favorite appelations in the world. These wines range from light, floral, grenache based food wines to gigantic dark ageworthy monsters full of figs and chocolate.
1989 Couvée des Cadets La Nerthe Chateauneuf du Pape (tasted '03)
A nose of extreme oxidation from age, very raisiny and port-like, yet without the acetaldehyde that often accompanies those qualities. After breathing for two hours, the nose begins to clarify into "bread pudding" raisins, nutmeg, and baked apples. With such a sweet nose, the palate is surprisingly dry, with the age characters masking the remaining fruit; still bright acidity, hints of strawberry and chocolate, but mostly just age. Good with dark chocolate.
1998 Chateau de la Gardine Chatauneuf du Pape (tasted '03)
When I first tasted this in 2000, it was brightly acidic but full of big dark fruit. Three years later it deepened into something luscious and complex. Figs dominate the nose, with elements of pepper, chocolate, coconut and smokey earth. On the palate it shows large resolved tannins, not too much oak, dark ripe fruit and a finish of cocoa and dusty black pepper.
1998 E. Guigal, Chateauneuf du Pape (tasted 4/04)
Balanced and elegant, big and ripe. Hints of fig and anise in the nose, with chocolate, coconut, black pepper, dusty herbs. Fruit driven palate but not simple. Layers of ripe fruit seem to unfold over time on the tongue, with velvety tannins.
1999 Chapoutier Croix de Bois Chatauneuf du Pape (tasted 03)
A vanilla bomb, overoaked to my taste. I think the French would call this maquillage (make-up). Nose of sweet caramel vanilla taffy, toasted coconut. At the very tip of the tongue shows the beginnings of good ripe fruit, well extracted with hints of dark chocolate and cherries. Then, the oak comes back center-tongue to bury the fruit with coconut oil and caramilized flavors, which completely overtake the finish. After leaving the glass open for two hours, these effects don't diminish. Either this wine is way too young or sadly overoaked.
2000 Domaine de Marcoux Chatauneuf du Pape (tasted '03)
Showing beautiful classic Chatauneuf character, I prefer this to the '99 Chapoutier tasted the same day. Nose has a subtle cinamon oak profile well integrated with brambly fruit, pepper, briary crushed leaves, cocoa butter and anise. The palate tastes cleansing and dark, with bitter chocolate, cocoa butter, black pepper, tart cherries, very bright with big lingering tannins. As it breathes it opens up to more velvety cocoa oiliness. I think this would age well for at least 5-10 years, likely to show good (or interesting) personality changes.
2000 Domaine de la Charbonniere Cuvée Mourre des Pedrix Chateauneuf du Pape
(Tasted 2003) A dry dusty nose of dark toasted oak, autumn leaves, soft cherries and cocoa, herbs resembling Greek oregano, pepper, brambly stems. Some of the fragrances imply austerity, others imply a sumptuous oily ripeness. The palate delivers spicy and meaty flavors, black pepper, hot raspberries, chocolate and rust. Firm acidity and low oak lets the fruit show its full complexity. Beautiful! (15.5% alc.)
1996 Guigal Cote-Rotie (tasted 2003)
Allowed to breathe for about 30 minutes before tasting, the nose gives off intense barnyard and blueberry tones, with grass, salty minerals and seawater. Not as austere or bizarre as some Cote-Roties (Gangloff comes to mind), this shows good fruit characters along with the earthy bitterness. The palate is clean and grassy, with hayloft flavors, blueberry fruit and low oak. (13% alc.)
1998 Yves Gangloff Cote Rotie (tasted 2003)
Not exactly a food wine unless served with strong goat cheese or something equally intense. A bizarre earthy nose with blueberry tannins, barnyard smells of manure and hay, metallic (tin?) overtones. The closest association is the smell of chemically burnt hair after someone gets a perm. Tannic palate with huge structure and dark blueberry fruit, an expression of the more austere side of Syrah, with few of the floral tones of that grape, except perhaps hints of violets by suggestion.
1999 Mathilda & Yves Gangloff Condrieu (tasted 2003, re-tasted 4/04)
A white with the complexity and ripeness of a big red. With amber honey color, both nose and palate give clear Viognier character. The flowery nose shows caramalized sugars, honey, apple, peach/apricot fleshy fruits, orange blossoms, at times almost perfumey like an orange muscat. In the mouth it starts by showing full malolactic with a viscous glycerin feel, buttered caramel in the center, lingering hints of anise and herbs around subdued fruit, with medium to low acidity and little oak. After several hours, warming to room temperature and opening, the nose expands into blossoming clover, chamomile and honey. The mouth becomes smoother and almost sweet with pineapple and orange fruit, beautifully detailed and very complex. (14% alc.)
1998 Domaine Santa Due Gigondas (tasted '03)
Very ripe and generous nose of blueberries, prunes, cocoa butter and chocolate covered cherries. The palate is all about big ripe fruit, centered, not complex. Low tannin, medium acidity, light (not oily) mouth feel, bright and clean finish. (14.5% alc.)
1995 Paul Jaboulet Aine, "La Chapelle" (tasted 3/04)
This Hermitage offers itself mostly in the nose, with intricate grassy Syrah character, elusive herbs resembling wintergreen and shiso leaf, sweet basil and Greek oregano. Very tight on the palate, with strong tannins and acidity, cleansing and somewhat austere, gracefully complex around its restrained fruit.
1999 Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras (tasted 10/03)
A musky nose, sweaty and earthy, blueberries and pond water, hints of pepper and cinnamon spice, caramel, and growing qualities of metallic tin and oceanic iodine. After these extremely complex smells, the palate seems quite simple, delivering the basic profile of cherries and bitter chocolate. Leave this one in the glass and just breathe it. (13.8% alc.)
1999 Domaine la Monadière Vacqueras (tased 7/04)
This reminds me of some of the stranger Bandols that I have tasted, with rather odd spicy herbal smells and an acidic earthy grip on the palate. It seems dominated by Mourvèdre grapes that didn't see enough sun, with some additional Brettanomyces yeast. Odors include fermenting pomace, aged washed-rind cheese (Morbier in particular), decayed grape leaves, stems and brambles. Oddly, one texture among the fragrances reminds me of peanut butter. Once in the mouth, a palate of chocolate mint and unripe red cherries takes over, with cocoa tannins, aged meat and dirt, with a rather grassy finish. High points for complexity, low points on the pleasure scale.
Cotes du Rhone
2003 Chateau la Renjardière Cotes du Rhone Rosé, Pierre Dupond (tasted 5/05)
Nose of strawberries and cream, cranberry, rosehips, chalk and nutmeg, bright yet rich with a mineral complexity. Palate also shows bright clear character, with crisp acidity and a lingering complex oily finish carrying hints of lemon and orange. An excellent food wine, especially with turkey or salmon.
2000 Bouquet des Garrigues, les Clos du Caillou, Cotes du Rhone (tasted 3/03)
Nose is restrained at first, slightly peppery. Opens to dark cherry and rose petals with a subdued cinnamon oak profile. After about an hour, more complex smells of dust and cocoa butter enter the nose, showing good ripeness. The palate is rich and friendly, brightly fruity but with some deep toasted qualities, slightly smokey notes, hints of pepper and cocoa butter smoothness. (14% alc.)
1998 Chateau de Fonsalette Cote du Rhone (tasted 2003)
A hedonistic fruit forward wine which reveals increasing complexity over time. At first the nose just delivers pure fruit, deep and ripe. Later, spicy floral hints of Szechuan pepper corns, liquorice, cocoa butter, and then a growing soft earthy mushroom quality, hints of dust and coriander. The palate delivers ripe plums and soft cocoa butter, almost as if fermentation had stopped before total dryness. Great with lamb, decadent on its own. (14% alc.)
2000 Domaine Clape Carnas (Rhone red) (tasted 2003)
Nose all of ripe crisp fruit, dominated by blueberry, with raspberry, black pepper, chocolate, hints of nutmeg, cinamon, and distant wet limestone. Spicy palate, very tannic, with black pepper, and spiced bell pepper slightly reminiscent of chile relleños. In the empty glass, brambly smells overtake the usual lingering oak profile, indicating low oak and dominant fruit. An honest complex palate-cleansing wine, better with food than alone.
2001 Vacheron-Pouizin, les Clos du Caillou, Cotes du Rhone ($17) (tasted 4/03)
Very balanced and big ripe fruit. Not much complexity, but definitely rich and satisfying in a classic centered way. Nose of cherries and other red fruits, hint of vanilla. Palate is big and ripe, centered and one-dimensional with lingering cocoa oiliness, hint of cherry/vanilla and tannin. Lovely but simple.
2001 Laurance Feraud Plan Pégau ($14) (tasted 2/05)
A value wine found at Carolina Wine Company. A good French balance beween ripeness and strong acidity, with bright red fruit, which then opens up with surprising complexity into smells of bergamot mint, anise, milk chocolate, summer haystacks, sweat and a hint of fish integrated with a citric acid bite. As soon as one's palate gets accompanied to the bright acidity (rich food helps) flavors of tart cranberry and unripe cherries finish into coconut and clean oakless fruity tar with well-hidden long lasting tannins. A personality split between ripe oily smells and tightly pinched fruit. A great value for a complex food friendly very intense wine.
2003 Chateau de Mattes-Sabran "Le Viala" Corbières ($15) (tasted 5/05)
A blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Carignan. This wine showed good value in the 2001 vintage. The 2003 summer was notoriously hot in Europe, and this '03 vintage definitely shows the results of overripe grapes. It's a raisiny wine, with smells of figs and smoke. Taffy and chocolate on the palate, with a ripe berry finish hinting at mourvedre cocoa-butter tannins. A bit soft for my taste. 13.4% alc.
1994 Domaine Peyre Rose Clos des Cistes Languedoc (tasted 2003)
A lovely complex and earthy-smelling wine, with much more happening in the nose than on the palate. Deep smells of armpit and human pheremones (these are good things), sweet horse manure, barnyard, hints of caramel. The fruit may be fading a bit, but still shows good light ripe character.
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