A Tasting of Importer Martine’s Rhônes

Out of all the wine tastings I have attended, the best ones have always been those at which I have had time to swirl and savor each sip. Such is the case with a recent tasting of importer Martine’s selection of Rhônes.

To start, I was offered an aperitif that I haven’t had the pleasure of tasting for quite some time, Gaston Riviѐre’s Pineau François 1er. This is a Pineau des Charentes, or Vin de Liqueur, a strong, sweet style of wine that is made from brandy and grape juice (must) in the Cognac region of France.  Produced by the fantastically un-inspiring Colombard grape which, when fermented, would make your mouth pucker and your eyes cross with its marked acidity, but when distilled into Cognac will invite you back for years to come.

Next came two Rhônes from producer Ch âteau des Tours. Though 2006 was not considered to be an outstanding vintage, this Côtes du Rhône Blanc will pleasantly persuade.  A brilliant, star bright golden hue with minerally and honeycomb aromas, a bit of citrus and a smooth, dense mid-palate.  Grenache blanc is a grape which naturally contains modest acidity, but there is enough of it in this wine to carry through the creaminess and viscosity initially apparent on the palate to a refreshing finish.

Turning to the reds, the 2004 Vacqueyras, a blend of 80% Grenache Noir and 20% Syrah produced a wine considered to represent the classic vintage from which it came. As with the white, a minerality is evident in the aromas and flavors along with a touch of graphite in this ruby-colored wine.  Very approachable, medium-bodied, another great food wine.

My favorite of the reds was Féraud-Brunel’s, 2007 Côtes du Rhône. A blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Cinsault (a traditional blend in this region) the style was inspired by Philippe Cambie, a terroir-driven winemaker/consultant who has made a name for himself in Southern France.  As with many winemakers in the Southern Rhône, imparting oak flavor does not play a major role in wine production, and this wine was no exception.  Fermented and aged in ceramic tile lined vats for ten months, dark ripe blackberry and black current fruit dominated the aromas. It was then I had one of those “ah-ha” moments when a meatiness wafted into my nostrils.  Originally mistaking this as a sign of oak, I realized that this aroma was inherent in the Syrah grape itself and was manifesting itself even as a minority component in the wine’s blend. This meatiness is often found in Rhônes, especially in the North.  It would seem that M. Cambie had achieved his purpose in making a wine which is an expression of the grapes and the terroir in which it was grown.

Finally, a luscious finish with Tour des Farges’ 2005 Vin Doux Naturel, a sweet wine from a tiny appellation called Muscat de Lunel, also a name of a very aromatic grape.  Amber in color, its butterscotch and candid orange peel aromas coupled with an underlying acidity was a perfect finish to the tasting.

Cheers, and let us not forget that a great wine begins in the vineyard!

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